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Frederick Douglass Hugh Auld, October 4, 1859


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO HUGH AULD1Born in Talbot County, Maryland, Hugh Auld, Jr., (1799-1861) moved to Baltimore as a young man. There, with his wife Sophia Keithley, he worked as a ship’s carpenter, master shipbuilder, shipyard foreman, and occasionally as a magistrate. Between 1826 and 1833, and again between 1836 and 1838, Douglass lived and worked in their household, lent to them by his owner, Hugh’s brother Thomas. In 1845, incensed by Douglass’s depiction of his family in the , Hugh Auld bought Douglass from Thomas Auld. According to the , Auld was determined to reenslave Douglass and “place him in the cotton fields of the South” if the fugitive ever returned to the United States. In 1846 the British abolitionists Anna and Ellen Richardson raised $711.66 (£150 sterling) from British reformers and offered to buy Douglass’s freedom from Auld. Auld agreed to the sale and signed the manumission papers that made Douglass a free man. Walter Lourie to Ellis Gray Loring, 15 December 1846, reel 1, frame 644; Benjamin F. Auld to Douglass, 11, 27 September 1891, reel 6, frames 240-41, 257-58; Douglass to Benjamin F. Auld, 16 September 1891, reel 6, frames 246-47; J. C. Schaffer to Helen Pitts Douglass, 21 October 1896, reel 8, frames 92—93, all in General Correspondence File, FD Papers, DLC; Talbot County Records, V.60, 35-36, MdTCH (a copy found on reel 1, frames 637-39, FD Papers, DLC); Hugh Auld Family Genealogical Chart, prepared by Carl G. Auld, Ellicott City, Md., 5 June 1976; , 26 February 1846; ., 6 March 1846; Preston, , 81, 84-85, 92, 143, 173-75.

Rochester[, N.Y.] 4 Oct[ober] [1859.]2Internal evidence leads to the conclusion that this letter was composed in 1859 not 1857, as handwritten on the manuscript. There is no record that Hugh Auld ever responded to Douglass. Preston, Young , 168.



My heart tells me that you are too noble to treat with indifference the request I am about to make. It is twenty years Since I ran[]away from you,3Not until 1881 did Douglass publicly reveal the details of his escape from slavery. On 3 September 1838, he boarded a train bound north from Baltimore. Douglass had borrowed the uniform and seaman’s protection papers of a free black friend in Baltimore. Fortunately for Douglass, the conductor did not check the description in the papers carefully, and several white acquaintances on the train failed to recognize him. After changing trains several times, Douglass reached New York City and freedom. Douglass, “My Escape from Slavery," , 23:125-31 (November 1881); , ser. 2, 3:153-56. or rather not from you but from , and Since then I have often felt a Strong desire to hold a little correspondence with you and to learn Something of the position and prospects of your dear children4Hugh and Sophia Auld had six children. Douglass was sent to Baltimore to act as a companion to the eldest, Thomas “Tommy” Auld (1824-48). The other Auld children were Ann Elizabeth Auld (1826-91), Benjamin Franklin Auld (1828-98), Hugh William Auld (1831-91), Edward H. Auld (1836-?), and Zepporah Frances Auld (1838-72). Preston, , 95, 165-66, 228n.—They were dear to me—and are Still—indeed I feel nothing but kindness for you all—I love you, but hate Slavery. Now my dear Sir, will you favor me by dropping me a line, telling me in what year I came to live with you in Aliceanna st5Neither the 1824 nor 1827 Baltimore directories, the only extant directories in this period, list Hugh Auld’s residence. The Baltimore City Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation established that Hugh Auld’s house was on the southeast corner of Aliceanna and Durham, formerly Happy Alley, streets in Fells Point. Contemporary sources spelled the street “Alisanna" (1824 or “Alice Anna” (1827). (Baltimore, 1824), 343; (Baltimore, 1827), 1 (street register); Fielding Lucas, Jr., comp., (Baltimore, 1836); Preston, , 223. the year the Frigate was built by Mr. Beacham6The firm of J. S. Beacham & Brothers, headed by James Beacham, was a leading builder of the speedy two-masted pilot schooner today remembered as the Baltimore clipper. Built in shipyards in St. Michaels and Baltimore, Beacham ships were sold to customers around the world and made their way into the opium and slave trades as well as more legitimate maritime commerce. Beacham constructed the sixty-four-gun frigate at his Fells Point shipyard for the Brazilian navy in 1826. J. Thomas Scharf, (Philadelphia, 1881), 293; Geoffrey M. Footner, (Centreville, Md., 1998), 9, 130, 134, 146, 151, 158-59.—The information is not for publication—and Shall not be published— We are all hastening where all distinctions are ended, kindness to the humblest will not be unrewarded[.]

Perhaps you have heard that I have Seen 7Born in Hillsborough, Maryland, Arianna Amanda Auld Sears (1826-78) was the only child of Thomas and Lucretia Anthony Auld. In 1826, after her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage, she fell under the charge of her stepmother, Rowena Hambleton Auld. In 1843 she married John L. Sears, a Philadelphia coal merchant, with whom she had four children. The Searses moved to Philadelphia, but returned to Maryland in the early 1860s, settling in Baltimore. Amanda Sears’s childhood acquaintance with Frederick Douglass was reestablished in early October 1859 when he called upon her while on a speaking engagement in Philadelphia. Douglass and Amanda maintained a warm friendship over the years that followed. After her death, in 1878, Amanda’s husband wrote to Douglass, “God bless you for your kindness to her.” John L. Sears to Douglass, 10 January 1878, Thomas E. Sears to Douglass, 1 February 1878, General Correspondence File, reel 3, frames 215-16, 225, FD Papers, DLC; Auld Family Bible (courtesy of Carl G. Auld); New York , 6 September 1866; Philadelphia , 6 September 1866; Preston, , 30, 106-07, 168-70; Roberts, “Visitation of Western Talbot," 245. that was, Mrs Sears that is, and was treated kindly Such is the fact, Gladly would I see you and Mrs. Auld—or Miss Sopha as I used to call her.8Sophia Keithley Auld (1797-1880) was born in Talbot County, Maryland, to Richard and Hester Keithley. Her parents were poor devout Methodists who held to the antislavery teachings of their church. Before marrying Hugh Auld, she worked as a weaver. Soon after their marriage, the
couple moved to Baltimore. Both Douglass and Sophia Auld retained enormous affection for each other long after Douglass had established himself in the North. Douglass tried to visit Auld in Baltimore during the Civil War. Years after her death, Auld’s son Benjamin told Douglass, “Mother would always speak in the kindest terms of you, whenever your name was mentioned.” Benjamin F. Auld to Douglass, 11 September 1891, General Correspondence File, reel 6, frame 240, FD Papers, DLC; Baltimore , 5 July 1880; Preston, , 87, 165-66, 168.

I could have lived with you during life in freedom though I ran[]away from you so uncerimoniously, I did not know how Soon I might be sold. But I hate to talk about that. A line from you will find me Addressed Fred Douglass Rochester N. York.

I am dear Sir very truly yours.


ALS: Hall Collection, MdAHR.




Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


October 4, 1859


Yale University Press 2018


Maryland Hall of Records: Hall Collection



Publication Status