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Speech in Ayr: 24 March 1846
Anti-Slavery Songs

Speech in Ayr: 24 March 1846

On 23 March 1846, Douglass and Buffum travelled to Ayr, where they were welcomed by Rev. Renwick of the Relief Church, Cathcart Street. Renwick took them to visit the cottage where Robert Burns was born and the Monument built to honour his memory; and they spent some time as guests in the home of the poet's youngest sister, Isabella Burns Begg. That evening and the evening following, the abolitionists addressed enthusiastic audiences at the church. This is a report of the second speech which appeared the following week in the Ayr Observer.

Anti-Slavery Meeting: Second Lecture

On Tuesday evening last, Mr Frederick Douglas delivered his second lecture in the Relief Church, which was crowded in every part. The chair was again occupied by the Rev. Mr Renwick who, after engaging in prayer, stated that, to remove all doubt as to the character of Mr Douglas, he could assure the audience he was not an imposter, that he came aided by the very best testimonials; and, as a proof of his sincerity, he would only say that he came not here pleading for money, but merely for the purpose of giving information as to the state of his countrymen in America. The rev. gentleman concluded by recommending to the attention of the audience the cause and its pleader, and introduced Mr Douglas.

Mr Douglas said He had great pleasure in standing there that night before so large and intelligent an audience. He was always delighted to meet with those who assembled to consider the condition and wrongs of their fellow men. He was there for the purpose of bringing before them the wrongs of a people for whom Christ died; and, although time would not permit him to give all the details of the miseries of three millions of human beings, yet he would strive to place before them sufficient facts to enlist their sympathies in behalf of these slaves. Having last night directed attention to the relation of masters and slaves, he would content himself that evening with stating a few facts regarding slavery, as they had come under his own observation. He was born a slave. His master's name was Thomas Auld. He had a number of other slaves; and at present four sisters of his (the lecturer's) and one brother were in slavery in the United States. He had a grandmother who had reared twelve children, all of whom had been driven to the southern market for sale; and now she was desolate, and without one to give her a drop of water in her declining years. Hence it would be seen that slavery took the children from the slave mother, the husband from the wife, and the brother from the sister, and sold them for the sake of poor paltry gold. Slaves lived together without the form of marriage, because marriage was not respected by the slave-masters; yet there were cases where such persons lived together honourably and true to each other joined, no doubt, by him whose ties no one could break asunder. But the slave-holder tore these parties asunder. He had an aunt sold a thousand miles away from his grandmother, and three or four other relatives who had shared the same doom. Slaves were denied every right moral, social, political, and religious and stripped entirely of all that distinguished man as a rational being. He (the lecturer) was never taught to read English, having learned all he knew by stealth; and in order to give some idea of how he learned to read, he communicated a little of his history. When about seven years of age, he was sent by his master to his son-in-law's house. When he went there to live he found Mrs Auld a very kind, warm-hearted woman, and disposed to treat him as a human being. She never had had a slave under her control before, being but newly married. She treated him very kindly; and also commenced to learn him the letters of the alphabet, until she succeeded in teaching him to spell words of three or four letters. But she learned that by so doing she was breaking the law. As soon as his master found out what was going on, he told her to stop immediately, because it would never do to instruct a negro. Mrs Auld ceased to instruct him; but the words of his master sunk deeply into his heart. Young as he was, the opposition thus given to his progress only incited him the more in the pursuit of education. When sent on an errand, if he met with little boys playing on the streets, he would ask them to give him lessons, which they readily did. In four years he could in some measure read the Scriptures; and many a time had he lifted from the street, the soiled and waste leaf, cleaned and dried it, pored over it till he had mastered its contents. When grown up, he was put into a ship-yard, for the purpose of waiting upon the men, boiling pitch and running errands. Having thus occasion to be often in the ship-yard beside the men, he observed them making marks upon the wood when giving it out for a particular part of the ship; and in a little he was able to make a letter which letter he found was L. He inquired what L was for, and was told it stood for larboard. Again, he found he was able to make an S, and inquired what S was for, and was told it stood for starboard. In this way he mustered all that could be safely communicated there, and he again had recourse to the boys on the streets, boasting of his little powers in order to excite them to a trial, by which he learned what he was as yet all but ignorant of. He would say to them - "Boys, I can write." They would reply, "No, you cannot write, negroes cannot write"; and in order to show him their superiority (gratifying at once their own vanity and his most earnest wishes), they would take out their chalk, and make an excellent capital, and in this way he got a good idea of how to write. He made all the letters without the aid of a teacher or a book. About this time he fell in with some old copy books belonging to his young master, and by writing on the spaces between the lines, he soon rendered himself pretty expert in penmanship. The he went on still further. He got a book, and by similar means learned the multiplication table frequently the sand being the only place he had to practice on. Then persevering, he at last acquired, unknown to his master, a considerable knowledge of the English language, writing and arithmetic; and it was just as his master said it convinced him that he was held unjustly to slavery, and determined him the more to gain liberty. He looked upon slave-holders, no matter what was their profession of religion, as robbers.He shuddered at the very presence of men who had robbed him of father, mother, and friends who had stripped him of every right which God had given him, and who would, if they had been able, have crushed every aspiration after freedom in his bosom. He determined to be free; and from ten years of age he was constantly devising some plan by which he might snap the chain and get his freedom; but it was not till he was nearly twenty-one years of age that he accomplished his object. About seven years ago he succeeded in escaping from slavery. The mode of that escape he had resolved to keep secret; for should he publish how he escaped, it would be the means of making known to the slave-holder that which might be of use to his victims. He was anxious to keep the slave-holders in utter darkness. The time might come when he would disclose this; but never would it be said that he had help up the lamp to the tyrant, in order to show the way by which he might prevent slaves from making their escape. He would not tell him the evils that he knew hovered over his path; he would rather show him that, even when surrounded by those he thought he had subdued, he was yet in the midst of death, and that the negro had it in his heart to level him with the dust. About seven years ago he went to live in New Bedford, where he did anything that presented itself. "Yes ladies and gentlemen (bowing to the audience), you must know that your humble servant occupied at one time the elevated situation of a chimney-sweep." (Laughter.) It might be said that he worked harder after he became a free man than he did when a slave; but this work was not hard because he had some object to work for he wrought for himself and for his wife, and he felt contented and happy. After being in New Bedford for about three years, he was asked to attend an anti-slavery meeting, having by this time succeeded in getting himself into good circumstances. After some persuasion, he resolved to attend; and when there was called again by a white gentleman, who had heard him speak in a Methodist meeting. That gentleman was anxious that he should tell what he knew of the working of slavery, to aid the abolitionists to the cause of the slaves. He went forward, trembling, and spoke a few words against slavery, which created great excitement. His words had the desired effect. The abolitionists then insisted upon his going out into the United States. He, however, had to keep concealed the facts of his case. He had to conceal the name of his master, the name of the town and country from which he had ran. He had to conceal himself from the pursuit of those who thirsted for his blood; for there was no spot on the vast domains over which waves the star-spangled banner where the slave is secure. Go east, go west, go north, go south, he is still exposed to the bloodhounds that may be let loose against him; there is no mountain so high, no valley so deep, no spot so sacred, but the man-stealer may enter and tear his victim from his retreat. (Cheers.) Suspicions were raised by the slave-holders, who were very much disturbed by his appearing in public, that he was an imposter. To counteract this, he at length published his life, which only exposed him still more to the rage of his persecutors. It was asked, "Why does he not tell me who was his master?" Mr Douglas at length discovered that it was no longer safe to remain in America, and he took an opportunity of leaving the country as soon as the excitement was somewhat over. He had to be very cautious in order to get liberated. He was yet a fugitive slave, and denied a place at home. He had trod upon the sacred soil of Britain, and he rejoiced that he had found that safety which had been denied him under the wide-spread wings of the American eagle. The slave-holders of America might haunt him in New England; but in the name of the British lion, they dare not come hither. The publication of his narrative endangered his freedom; and since he had left, an answer had been published by a Mr Thomson, a friend of his master, who, as an argument against him, contended that he had none of the features of a slave, and particularly of the individual he represented himself to be. He could face white men, was learned, had not the crouching character of the negro, and in short, was very different from the generality of slaves. In reply to the defence of the slave-holder, which represented him as a "recreant slave," and his former master as all that was kind and charitable, he wrote an answer, which was published in the American abolitionist journals. He told them that Frederick the free was a very different person from Frederick the slave; that although they had represented him as having been but an ordinary slave when in his master's hands (and indeed, he did not claim to be anything extraordinary yet), they must remember that emancipation made a slave a man, and little did they know his thoughts even when he was in their thraldom. (Great applause.) He was, however, aware that no sensible, unprejudiced person would credit such a ridiculous publication it had falsehood upon every passage. When he was a slave, his master knew him by the name of Frederick Augustus Washington Baillie; but in order to prevent himself from being identified, he had called himself Frederick Douglas. He told them, likewise, that they were greatly deceived if they judged of the minds of their slaves by their carriage before them. The poor slaves knew that if they showed any symptoms of intelligence, heavy punishment awaited them; and thus they felt it to be their interest to look as much as possible like insensible brutes in the presence of their master. Mr Douglas, after some farther remarks, alluded to the wrongs of the slaves. He said he would like to call their attention to some of the laws of slavery. He could not better appeal to them than by exposing to them these laws. He had told them of the slave holders' religion. He ought to have told them that his own master was a class-leader in a Methodist chapel, and considered in every way, according to the standard of the place, a very pious individual; yet he has seen that man tie up his (Mr D.'s) own cousin, a young woman, and, with his own hands, whip her on the bare back till the warm red blood was dropping to her heels, at the same time quoting the Scripture passage - "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." This he had seen. It was quite customary to brand slaves just as customary as it is to mark cattle in this country. The process is one of a most horrible and agonising description. The arm of the slave is stripped where the instrument is to be applied, and the branding iron, almost red-hot, broils the name of the master into the quivering flesh of the unhappy man, causing the most excruciating agony. This he had seen done by men calling themselves christians; and not only this, but deeds of darkness to revolting to be told, and from which humanity would shudder. He knew a girl who attempted to escape from slavery. She was overtaken and carried back; and her cruel master deliberately nailed her ear to a post; but yet so desperate had the cruelties inflicted on her person rendered her, that she tore away from the post, leaving the half of her ear behind her. She succeeded after all in escaping; but she is not now the woman she once was. Thousands are thus bored and beaten, and all done under the sanction of the majesty of law, and in a country, too which boasts of its liberty. About five years ago, continued Mr Douglas, it was discovered that slavery had her stronghold in the church that under the very droppings of the sanctuary the chains and fetters of the slaves were forged, and that indeed Christianity had become so linked with slavery, that it was time for some great effort to be mad to remedy the awful state of affairs. An effort was made. The churches in the northern states stood out against the accursed system, and declared that they should no longer hold fellowship with slave-holding bodies. Large denominations were rent in twain; but the cause of the poor slave prospered. Public opinion became arrayed on his side, and the feelings of the country were enlisted in his behalf. The cause was triumphing gloriously, when it was doomed to receive a blow from an unsuspected quarter. The Free Church of Scotland, finding that it required money to build its churches, and pay its ministers, sent a deputation to the United States, for the purpose of soliciting aid to the cause of Christ in this country. A mission came, and when it arrived in the United States, its members were met at New York by a Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society, and beseeched not to go among the slave-holders, so they would state the cause of Christ and state that of the slaves. They were told the state of public sentiment; and that nothing would give the slave-holders greater delight than to have their practices sanctioned by the descendants of Knox. But the deputation heeded them not: they went among the slave-holders, entered the pulpits, joined in fellowship, and engaged in the Lord's Supper with the very men who were the props of slavery. They took their blood-stained money money wrung from the groans, the sweat, the tears, and the blood of the slave; and now they were at home quietly enjoying the accursed thing. Was not this too bad? Was it Christian? Was that mission a fair representation of the feelings and opinions of the people of Scotland, or of this audience? (Cries of No, no.) He was wont, when addressing an American assembly, to refer to the various movements in the cause of freedom, going on in different parts of the world, add amongst them to the rise of the Free Church, and they might well conceive the grief he felt at hearing of this act. Look for a moment at what the slave-holder does, and then they would have some idea of the body with which this Church had linked herself. He is a being who considers his slave only valuable to him as a brute is valuable, and who takes it upon him to degrade his soul and grind his faculties in every possible manner who separates all the social ties, and crushes him in the dust who bereaves him of all that makes life worth enjoying, and looks upon him only as a soulless and senseless creature. This is slavery, and it rises before us a solitary horror; yet to this monstrous curse the Free Church allied herself; she has received it into her bosom, and welcome it into her fellowship. After dwelling upon this point for some time, and with much ability, showing the grievous sin against humanity of which the Free Church had been guilty, he went on growing warmer as he proceeded to show that it was with men-stealers that the Church had allied herself. The slave-holder took that which belonged to another. He (the lecturer) maintained that the body of the slave belonged to himself. His hands, the strength of his arms, and the passions of his heart, God had given to him; and if God had given him all the power which he possessed, what right had any man to take it away? After some farther remarks, he said If there was a church of sheep-stealers if the minister in the pulpit was a sheep-stealer, precentor was a sheep-stealer, if all the congregation were sheep-stealers what would this audience say of a church that went and took this sheep-stealing church by the hand? The cases were the same, only the case that had occurred was a more infamous. He changed the Free Church of Scotland with going to a land of men-stealers, while they had a good right to know that all these men possessed was the gains of man-stealing. He charged them with going to the United States, with an understanding that they were going among men upholding the cause of slavery, and with an intention to take the money of slave-masters to build Free Churches and pay Free Church ministers. He charged them, while here, with preaching only such doctrines as would be received by slave-holders, and with having adopted the name of Free Church while they were particularly doing the work of a slave church. He then called upon the Free Church, if they were willing to do anything against slavery, to SEND BACK THE MONEY! Let the cry go abroad among the community here SEND BACK THE BLOOD-STAINED MONEY! The Free Church had it in their power to do more for the anti-slavery causes than any other Church had the power to do; but he was afraid they would take money from anybody. O'Connell, with all his fondness for money, could not find it in his heart to take the blood-stained American dollars; but the Free Church had none of these scruples. Better would it be for them to go begging upon their hands and knees, than to sin their souls with the blood of men in slavery; for it would be required of them at the day of judgment. Mr Douglas then, after a few farther comments, concluded, reiterated in his remarks the cry SEND BACK THE BLOOD-STAINED MONEY!

Mr Buffum then rose and addressed the meeting at some length. He said it would be presumption on his part to detain them with any remarks regarding the wrongs of the slaves, after what had been advanced by his friend Mr Douglas. He showed the character of the ministers in the slave-holding States. One of them he knew made it his boast how well he could apply the whip to the back of his female slaves; another kept bloodhounds to let loose on those who ran off; and an elder he knew could only engage in the exercises of the sanctuary with warmth and zeal if he had scourged a slave before coming; with many similar examples of brutality. He then rebuked the Free Church for the part they had taken in encouraging slavery. He exhibited a number of instruments used by the slave-holders for punishing runaway slaves: they consisted of iron collars, handcuffs, fetters, whips, &c., and excited feelings of horror and indignation in the minds of the audience. Mr B. accompanied the exhibition with accounts of the way in which he got possession of the various instruments. He concluded by saying that he felt, except for their conduct in the matter of the slave dollars, no enmity at all to the Free Church.

Mr Douglas again rose, and expressed his thanks, and those of his friend Mr Buffum, to the managers of the Relief Church, for having so kindly thrown upon its doors, to allow himself and friend to address them on the subject of slavery. At some future time, he said, he might be again in Ayr; and he was proud of having been in the land of him who had spoken out so nobly against the oppressions and the wrongs of slavery he alluded, of course, to Robert Burns. Mr Douglas thanked the audience for the attention with which they had listened, and sat down amidst much applause.

Mr Renwick pronounced the blessing, and the meeting broke up.

Ayr Observer. Tuesday 31 March 1846

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