LIFE AND TIMES OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS 157
LIFE AS A FREEMAN.
Loneliness and Insecurity—"Allender's Jake"—Succored by a Sailor—David Ruggles—Marriage—Steamer "J. W. Richmond"—Stage to New Bedford—Arrival There—Driver's Detention of Baggage—Nathan Johnson—Change of Name—Why called "Douglass"—Obtaining Work—The Liberator and its Editor.
My free life began on the third of September, 1838. On the morning of the 4th of that month after an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a free man; one more added to the mighty throng which like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway. Though dazzled with the wonders which met me on every hand my thoughts could not be much withdrawn from my strange situation. For the moment the dreams of my youth and the hopes of my manhood, were completely fulfilled. The bonds that had held me to "old master" were broken. No man now had a right to call me his slave or assert mastery over me. I was in the rough and tumble of an outdoor world, to take my chance with the rest of its busy number. I have often been asked, how I felt, when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the "quick round or blood," I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York I said: "I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions." Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil. During ten or fifteen years I had, as it were, been dragging a heavy chain, which no strength of mine could break; I was not
only a slave but a slave, for life. I might become a husband, a father, an aged man, but through all, from birth to death, from the cradle to the grave, I had felt myself doomed. All efforts I had previously made to secure my freedom, had not only failed, but had seemed only to rivet my fetters the more firmly, and to render my escape more difficult. Baffled, entangled, and discouraged, I had at times asked myself the question. May not my condition after all be God's work, and ordered for a wise purpose, and if so, was not submission my duty? A contest had in fact been going on in my mind for a long time, between the clear consciousness of right, and the plausible make-shifts of theology and superstition. The one held me an abject slave—a prisoner
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