BLACK HISTORY FEBRUARY 11, 2017
BY: DON BARKER
She was born free in Caroline County. He was born across the river in Talbot, enslaved. They followed separate paths to Baltimore. Anna met Frederick for the first time at the city wharves. He was 19, she was 24. Frederick was an enslaved shipbuilder. Anna had a day job and her own business. She had means. She told him he should escape his bondage and live free.
Anna would lose everything if caught aiding and abetting a slave’s escape. She gave him sailor’s clothes for disguise, money for the trip north, and contacts with the Underground Railroad. When Frederick broke free, Anna packed her household and followed him north. They married in New York. Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass raised five children and worked 40 years together for civil rights and social justice.
Their daughter Rosetta reminded those who admired her father:
“The story of Frederick Douglass’ hopes and aspirations and longing desire for freedom … was a story made possible by the unswerving loyalty of Anna Murray…
“Anna Murray was born in Denton, Caroline County, Maryland, an adjoining county to that in which my father was born. The exact date of her birth is not known. Her parents, Bambarra Murray and Mary, his wife, were slaves, their family consisting of twelve children, seven of whom were born in slavery and five born in freedom. My mother, the eighth child, escaped by the short period of one month, the fate of her older brothers and sisters, and was the first free child.
“Remaining with her parents until she was seventeen, she felt it time that she should be entirely self-supporting and with that idea she left her country home and went to Baltimore, sought employment in a French family by the name of Montell whom she served two years. Doubtless it was while with them she gained her first idea as to household management which served her so well in after years and which gained for her the reputation of a thorough and competent housekeeper.
“On leaving the Montells’, she served in a family by the name of Wells living on S. Caroline Street. Wells was Post-master at the time of my father’s escape from slavery. … [S]he had lived with this family seven years and an attachment sprang up between her and the members of that household, the memory of which gave her pleasure to recall.
Baltimore shipyard like the one where Frederick Dougass was hired out as a ship’s caulker by his owner.
“The free people of Baltimore had their own circles from which the slaves were excluded. The ruling of them out of their society resulted more from the desire of the slaveholder than from any great wish of the free people themselves. If a slave would dare to hazard all danger and enter among the free people he would be received. To such a little circle of free people – a circle a little more exclusive than others – Frederick Baily was welcomed. Anna Murray, to whom he had given his heart, sympathized with him and she devoted all her energies to assist him. The three weeks prior to the escape were busy and anxious weeks for Anna Murray.
“She had lived with the Wells family so long and having been able to save the greater part of her earnings was willing to share with the man she loved that he might gain the freedom he yearned to possess. Her courage, her sympathy at the start was the mainspring that supported the career of Frederick Douglass. As is the condition of most wives, her identity became so merged with that of her husband, that few of their earlier friends in the North really knew and appreciated the full value of the woman who presided over the Douglass home for forty-four years.
“When the escaped slave and future husband of Anna Murray had reached New York in safety, his first act was to write her of his arrival and as they had previously arranged she was to come on immediately. Reaching New York a week later, they were married and immediately took their wedding trip to New Bedford. In “My Bondage of Freedom,” by Frederick Douglass, a graphic account of that trip is given.
“The little that they possessed was the outcome of the industrial and economical habits that were characteristic of my mother. She had brought with her sufficient goods and chattel to fit up comfortably two rooms in her New Bedford home – a feather bed with pillows, bed linen, dishes, knives, forks, and spoons, besides a well filled trunk of wearing apparel for herself.”
[Anna Murray Douglass, My Mother As I Recall Her, by Rosetta Douglass Sprague (Series: Family Papers), The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress]