She named her son Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He never knew or saw his father. Frederick took the name Douglass much later. As a slave, Douglass was not allowed to have much of a childhood. He was separated from his parents, and he was forced to work hard and suffered cruel treatment while working on the property of Captain Aaron Anthony.
In Anthony, who often hired his slaves out to others, decided to send Douglass to Baltimore, Maryland, to live with a man named Hugh Auld and his family. Douglass's life improved somewhat while working for the Aulds. Auld was a northerner, and northern slaveholders generally did not treat their slaves as badly as people in the South did. She even taught young Douglass the basics of reading and writing until her husband stopped her. Even though things were a little better than they had been, Douglass was still unhappy with his situation and began to think of ways to change it.
After the death of Captain Anthony, Douglass became the property of Anthony's son-in-law. He was then hired out to a professional slave breaker, a man who would beat and mistreat slaves until they gave up and did whatever they were told. After weeks of being whipped, Douglass finally fought back; after that the whippings stopped. The Aulds then brought him back to Baltimore and put him to work in the shipyards. There in he borrowed the identification papers of an African American sailor.
By passing himself off as the sailor, he was able to escape to New York. He adopted the name Douglass and married a free African American woman from the South. They settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where several of their children were born. Douglass tried to make a living doing manual labor, and he quickly became involved in the antislavery movement that was gaining strength in the North. In , at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts, he delivered a moving speech about his experiences as a slave and was immediately hired by the Massachusetts Antislavery Society to give lectures.
Douglass was an eloquent speaker; that is, his speeches were well thought out and forceful, and he was able to inspire those who heard him. Some Harvard students who had heard him speak were so impressed that they persuaded him to write an autobiography the story of his life.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published in Ten years later an enlarged autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, appeared. His third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, was published in and enlarged in Publishing Frederick Douglass. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. Fearing capture, Douglass fled to Britain, staying from to to speak on behalf of abolition and to earn enough money to purchase his freedom once he returned to America.
Upon his return Douglass settled in Rochester, New York, and started a newspaper, North Star, which called for an end to slavery. The paper would continue to be published under various names until In , as a result of his fame and position as the voice of African Americans, Douglass was sought out by abolitionist John Brown — Brown asked Douglass to help him in an attack on an arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which he thought would help the antislavery cause.
Douglass, however, could see no benefit from Brown's plan and refused to lend his support. With the beginning of the Civil War — , a war between Northern and Southern states in which the main issues were slavery and the Southern states' decision to leave the Union and form an independent nation, Douglass insisted that African Americans should be allowed to fight.
After all, they would be fighting for their own freedom. In , as a result of Douglass's continued urging, President Abraham Lincoln — asked him to recruit African American soldiers for the Union Northern army. As the war proceeded, Douglass had several meetings with Lincoln to discuss the use and treatment of African American soldiers by the Union forces. As a result, the role of African American soldiers was upgraded each time, making them a more effective force in the fight.
The end of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves did not mean that Douglass was able to rest. The Reconstruction period, as the years after the Civil War came to be known, presented a new set of challenges for the country. While slavery had ended, the racism unequal treatment based on race that went along with slavery was still in place.
Some Southerners even went to court to try to overturn the slaves' emancipation freedom. He used the newspaper to make statements on these issues. In Douglass was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes — to the post of U. From this time until approximately two years before his death Douglass held a succession of offices, including that of recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia and minister to the Republic of Haiti. The coffle headed west out of Alexandria. Today the road leaving town becomes U. Route 50, a big-shouldered highway.
Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the two Confederate generals. But when the slaves marched, it was known as Little River Turnpike. The coffle moved along at three miles an hour. People sang. Sometimes they were forced to. Slave traders brought a banjo or two and demanded music. The turnpike ran farther west—40 miles to Winchester, and then to the brow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every few miles, Armfield and his chained-up gang came to a toll station. He would stop the group in its tracks, pull out his purse and pay the man.
The tollkeeper would lift the bar, and the coffle would march under it. About August 25, they reached Winchester and turned south, entering the Shenandoah Valley. Among the people who lived in these parts was John Randolph, a congressman and a cousin of Thomas Jefferson.
Along the way, the coffle met other slave gangs, construction crews rebuilding the Wagon Road, widening it to 22 feet and putting down gravel. They were turning out the new Valley Turnpike, a macadam surface with ditches at the sides. The marchers and the roadwork gangs, slaves all, traded long looks. Route 11, a two-lane that runs between soft and misty mountains, with pretty byways. Long stretches of U. Northern Shenandoah was wheat country then, with one in five people enslaved and hoeing in the fields.
Today a few of the plantations survive. I stop at one of the oldest, Belle Grove. The Valley Turnpike once ran on its edge, and the coffle of saw the place from the road. Relatives of President James Madison put up the stone mansion at Belle Grove during the s, and it lives on as a fine house museum run by a historian, Kristen Laise. A walk through the house, a look at the kitchen where all the work was done, a walk through the slave cemetery, a rundown of the people who lived and died here, white and black—thanks to Laise, Belle Grove is not a house museum that shorts the stories of slaves.
Recently, Laise tells me, she stumbled on evidence that in the s a large number of people went up for sale at Belle Grove. Hite expressed regret that he had to charge interest if buyers insisted on using credit. The nicest families in the Shenandoah tipped people into the pipeline south. Frederick County Visitor Center. In Edinburg, a history bookshop. In Staunton, the Visitor Center. People do know, however, about Civil War battles. The bloodletting here has a kind of glamour. A few people launch into stories about the brave Confederates. A few bring up their own ethnic lore.
A woman at a tourist store clarified. My oh my, the Scots-Irish—they were like made of brass. The children were asleep in some tents; and the males, in chains, were lying on the ground, in groups of about a dozen each. Featherstonhaugh, a geologist on a surveying tour for the federal government, described the slave trader as a raw man in nice clothes.
John Armfield wore a big white hat and striped pants. He had a long dark coat and wore a mustache-less beard. Early the next morning, the gang readied again for the march. On September 6, the gang was marching 50 miles southwest of Roanoke. They came to the New River, a big flow about feet across, and to a dock known as Ingles Ferry.
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Armfield did not want to pay for passage, not with his hundreds. So one of his men picked a shallow place and tested it by sending over a wagon and four horses. Armfield then ordered the men in irons to get in the water. This was dangerous. If any man lost his footing, everyone could be washed downstream, yanked one after another by the chain. Armfield watched and smoked. Multiply that by The men made it across.
Next came wagons with the young children and those who could no longer walk. Last came the women and girls. Armfield crossed them on flatboats. Today, on the same spot, a six-lane bridge crosses the New River, and there is a town called Radford, population 16, Born 50 miles that way, Radford for 20 years. On the dark slope after 40, since you ask. Daniel is pleasant, happy to talk about his hardscrabble days. He is white, a face etched by too much sun. It is an easy chat between strangers, until I bring up the slave days.
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He shakes his head. His face acquires a look that suggests the memory of slavery is like a vampire visiting from a shallow grave. Armfield and his caravan came to the Shenandoah from Alexandria. Other coffles came from the direction of Richmond. One of them was led by a man named William Waller, who walked from Virginia to Louisiana in with 20 or more slaves. In the deep archive of the Virginia Historical Society I discovered an extraordinary batch of letters that Waller wrote about the experience of selling people he had known and lived with for much of his life.
He was an amateur slave trader, not a pro like Armfield, and his journey, though from another year, is even better documented. Waller was 58, not young but still fit. Thin and erect, a crease of a smile, vigorous dark eyes. She was fancier than he. The Wallers lived outside Amherst, Virginia, and owned some 25 black people and a plantation called Forest Grove. They were in debt. They had seen the money others were making by selling out and decided to do the same. Their plan was to leave a few slaves behind with Sarah as house servants and for William to march nearly all the rest to Natchez and New Orleans.
Waller and his gang reached the Valley Turnpike in October. But something happened early on, although it is not clear just what. The people who accompanied him included a boy of 8 or 9 called Pleasant; Mitchell, who was 10 or 11; a teenage boy named Samson; three teenage sisters, Sarah Ann, Louisa and Lucy; Henry, about 17; a man named Nelson and his wife; a man in his 20s called Foster; and a young mother named Sarah, with her daughter Indian, about age 2.
There were others. The three sisters had been taken from their parents, as had Pleasant, Mitchell and Samson. Most of the others were under Waller planned to sell all of them. Days and nights down the Valley Turnpike, the spine of the Blue Ridge, destination Tennessee, where Armfield would hand over his coffle and board a stagecoach back to Alexandria. Here the mountains thicken into the Appalachian South of deep hollows and secret hills.
In the old days, there were few black people here, a lot of Quakers and the beginning of an antislavery movement. The Quakers have largely gone, and there are still many fewer black people than back in Virginia, miles east. I take the old route to Knoxville, but then get onto the freeway, Interstate The path of I west roughly matches a turnpike that once ran miles across the Cumberland Plateau. At this point in the journey, other spurs, from Louisville and Lexington to the north, joined the main path of the Slave Trail.
The migration swelled to a widening stream. Armfield and his gang of had marched for a month and covered more than miles.
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When they reached Nashville, they would be halfway. He had grown up near Gallatin, 30 miles northeast of Nashville, and he went there during off months. He called it Fairvue. Columned, brick and symmetrical, it was just about the finest house in the state, people said, second only to the Hermitage, the estate of President Andrew Jackson. Fairvue was a working plantation, but it was also an announcement that the boy from Gallatin had returned to his humble roots in majesty.
In Gallatin, I drive out to look at the old Franklin estate. After the Civil War, it held on as a cotton plantation, and then became a horse farm. But in the s, a developer began building a golf course on the fields where the colts ran. The Club at Fairvue Plantation opened in , and hundreds of houses sprang up on half-acre plots.
Approaching the former Franklin house, I pass the golf course and clubhouse. A thicket of McMansions follows, in every ersatz style. People still come to show their money at Fairvue, like Franklin himself. I ring the doorbell at the house the Slave Trail built. It has a double portico, with four Ionic columns on the first level and four on the second. No answer, despite several cars in the drive. More than one preservationist had told me that the current owners of Fairvue are hostile to anyone who shows curiosity about the slave dealer who built their lovely home.
The man may be gone, but generations later, some of his people are still around. I ask a Nashville museum director, Mark Brown, for help in finding a member of the family in the here and now. Two phone calls later, one of the living Franklins answers. Kenneth Thomson opens the door to his house, which is clapboard and painted a pretty cottage yellow—quaint, not grand.
Thomson says he is 74, but he looks Short white hair, short white beard, khakis, cotton short-sleeve with flap pockets and epaulets. Shoes with crepe soles. A reedy voice, gentle manners. Thomson is an antiques dealer, mostly retired, and an amateur historian, mostly active. It hangs in the living room, above the sofa. The house bursts with 19th-century chairs, rugs, settees, tables and pictures. Reading lights look like converted oil lamps. He takes a seat at his melodeon, a portable organ that dates from the s, and plays a few bars of period-appropriate music. It is plain that in this branch of the Franklin family, the past cannot be unremembered.
But he had three brothers, and there are hundreds of their descendants living all around the country. Which means that Isaac Franklin was my great-great-great-great-uncle. Taking a seat in an armchair upholstered in wine-colored brocade, he picks up the story. It was at the beginning of the s. When the brothers were growing up in Gallatin, James Franklin, eight years older than Isaac, took his sibling under his wing.
He showed young Isaac how it was done, apprenticed him. Now, I heard this more than 50 years ago from my great-grandfather, who was born in , or two generations closer than me to the time in question. So it must be true. The family story is that after Uncle Isaac came back from service during the War of , which sort of interrupted his career path, if you call it that, he was all for the slave business.
I mean, just gung-ho. Thomson gets up and walks through the house, pointing out the ample Franklin memorabilia. A painting of the mansion at Fairvue.
A Bible from the family of John Armfield. He had six plantations and slaves. Most slave traders at that time were considered common and uncouth, with no social graces. Uncle Isaac was different. He had the equivalent of an eighth-grade education. He was not ignorant. He could write a letter. But bad habits concerning sex were rampant among some of those men. You know they took advantage of the black women, and there were no repercussions there. Before he married, Isaac had companions, some willing, some unwilling.
That was just part of life. And here, someone close to the memory of it says much the same. In , at age 50, he married a woman named Adelicia Hayes, age 22, the daughter of a Nashville attorney. It is possible, of course, that Isaac Franklin sold his daughter. It would have been the easiest thing to do. How does a person inside the family measure the inheritance of slave trading? Thomson takes a half-second. It was a part of life in those days. Take the Bible. Many things in the Old Testament are pretty barbaric, but they are part of our evolution.
Thomson warms up, shifts in his seat. I mean, people who do not understand the old lifestyles—their standpoint on life, and their education, are what today we consider limited. That applies to Southern history, to slave history. They are great people. When I grew up, we were servanted. All the servants were black.
We had a nurse, a woman who used to be called a mammy. We had a cook, a black man. We had a maid, and we had a yard man. We had a guy that doubled as a driver and supervised the warehouse. And we had all these servants till they died. There were free blacks in the South that owned slaves. And there were lots of them. Thomson emphasizes these last sentences. It is a refrain among Southern whites who remain emotionally attached to the plantation days—that one in 1, slaveholders who were black vindicates in some fashion who were not. We are not accountable for what happened then.
We are only accountable if it is repeated. I never heard of any mistreatment. You see, blacks were better off coming to this country. It is a fact that the ones over here are far ahead of the ones over there in Africa. And you know that the first legal slaveholder in the United States was a black man? You need to look that up. I think slavery developed here primarily because of the ignorance of the blacks. They first came over here as indentured servants, as did the whites. But because of their background and lack of education, they just sort of slid into slavery. I grew up in the Deep South, and I am familiar with such ideas, shared by many whites in Mr.
I do not believe that black people were responsible for their own enslavement, or that African-Americans should be grateful for slavery because they are better off than West Africans, or that a black man was author of the slave system. But I recognize the melody, and let the song pass. Kenneth Thomson brings out some daguerreotypes of the Franklins and others in his family tree. The pictures are beautiful. The people in them are well-dressed. They give the impression of perfect manners. To get rid of their attitudes. Ben Key was a slave to Isaac Franklin at Fairvue.
He was born in in Virginia. Franklin probably bought him there and brought him to Tennessee in the early s. For reasons unknown, Franklin did not send Key through the burning gates of the Slave Trail, but made him stay in Tennessee. At Fairvue, Key found a partner in a woman named Hannah. Their children included a son named Jack Key, who was freed at the end of the Civil War, at age Florence Hall Blair, born and raised in Nashville, is 73, a retired nurse.
She lives 25 miles from Gallatin, in a pretty brick, ranch-style house with white shutters. After 15 years at various Tennessee hospitals, and after 15 years selling makeup for Mary Kay Cosmetics and driving a pink Cadillac, because she moved a ton of mascara , she now occupies herself with family history.
A lot of black people, she said, do not want to know about their ancestry. You see the names. Some names in the lists are familiar. You find them repeatedly. He was a minister. It must be in the genes, because I have a brother who is a minister, and a cousin who is a minister, and another relative. And in Gallatin there is a church named after one of the Key family preachers.
And that includes about Isaac Franklin. I think Franklin was a cruel individual, but he was human. His humanity was not always visible, but it was there. Time kind of mellows you out. The older I get, the more tolerant I become. It was like that.
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He did it, but it is what it is. If you carry hatred or strong dislike for people, all you are doing is hurting yourself. She laughs, surprisingly. Oh, no. Now I have five adult children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. I am married to a man with four children. Put them all together, we are like a big sports team. On holidays it is something, we have to rent a community center. As autumn gathered in , the caravan that John Armfield handed over left Tennessee, bound for Natchez.
Records of that part of the journey do not survive, nor do records about the individual slaves in the coffle. Like other Franklin gangs, the probably got on flatboats in the Cumberland River and floated three days down to the Ohio River, and then drifted down another day to reach the Mississippi.
A flatboat could float down the Mississippi to Natchez in two weeks. There—and this is conjecture, based on what happened to other gangs—half of the big gang might have been sold. As for the other half, they were probably herded onto steamboats and churned miles south to New Orleans, where Isaac Franklin or one of his agents sold them, one or three or five at a time. And then they were gone—out to plantations in northern Louisiana, or central Mississippi, or southern Alabama.
In Knoxville, in October , Waller readied his gang of 20 or more for the second half of their journey. He expected another month on the road. It would turn out to be four. On Tuesday, October 19, the troop headed southwest, Waller leading from his horse and his friend James Taliaferro bringing up the rear, both men armed.
No steamboats for this group. Waller was pinching pennies. In Virginia, the coffles marched from town to town. But here, they were marching through wilderness. But during the 50 years coffles were sent on the Slave Trail, the road most taken was the Natchez Trace. The Natchez people first carved the footpath some years before and used it until about , when they were massacred and dispersed, at which point white travelers took possession of their highway.
The Natchez Trace Parkway, with asphalt flat like silk, now follows the old route. Remnants of the original Trace remain out in the woods, yards from the breakdown lane, mostly untouched. Starting in Nashville I drive down the parkway.
Overland coffles would have used the road that molders off in the trees. These were stores and taverns with places to sleep in the back. Gangs of slaves were welcome if they slept in the field, far from business. Their drivers paid good money for food. Waller reached Mississippi by that November. At the village of Benton a week before Christmas , Waller huddled with his gang in a ferocious storm. Although today is Sunday my hands are engaged in repairing the road to enable us to pass on. I put the car on the shoulder and walk into the woods to find the real Natchez Trace.
It is easily stumbled into. And it really is a trace, the faint line of what used to be a wagon road. The cut is about 12 feet wide, with shallow ditches on each side. Spindly pine and oaks away off the roadbed, a third-growth woods. Cobwebs to the face, bugs buzzing, overhanging branches to duck. On the ground, a carpet of mud, and leaves beneath it, and dirt under the leaves. The path the slaves took is beautiful. Nearly enclosed by green curtains of limbs, it feels like a tunnel. I squish through the mud, sweating, pulling off spiders, slapping mosquitoes and horseflies.
The fireflies come out in the dwindling dusk. And as night closes, the crickets start their scraping in the trees. A sudden, loud drone from every direction, the natural music of Mississippi. It was typical on the Slave Trail: People like Waller marched a coffle and sold one or two people along the way to pay the travel bills. Sarah and Indian, the mother and daughter, wanted to be sold together. The three sisters, Sarah Ann, Louisa and Lucy, also wanted to be sold together, which was not likely to happen, and they knew it. When cotton retailed high in New York, slaveholders in Mississippi bought people.
When cotton went low, they did not. In winter , cotton was down. Buyers by the hundreds crammed the viewing rooms of dealers in Natchez and the auction halls of brokers in New Orleans. There was one place en route, however, with a small slave market—Aberdeen, Mississippi. Waller decided to try to sell one or two people there. Waller dragged his gang northwest, four days and 80 miles, to Oxford, but found no buyers. Thomas Dabney was an acquaintance from Virginia who had moved to Raymond, on the Natchez Trace, 12 years earlier and doubled his already thick riches as a cotton planter.
Today as then, Raymond, Mississippi, is a crossroads, population 2, A magnificent Greek Revival courthouse stands next to a one-room barbershop with a corrugated metal front. Pretense and bluster rub shoulders with the plain and dejected. The old railroad station, a wooden building with deep eaves, is a used-record store. Near a school playground in the middle of Raymond, I find the Dabney family graveyard, surrounded by an iron fence. Dabney has taken Henry and is security for the balance—the three sisters to one man.