In 1877, Frederick Douglass, the iconic African American author and abolitionist, met with a man named Thomas Auld. This was no ordinary occasion: not only was Auld dying, but he had also once owned Douglass as his slave master.
Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. He was owned by Aaron Anthony before Anthony gave him to his daughter Lucretia Auld and her husband Thomas. Douglass was passed back and forth between Thomas and his brother Hugh. He fell in love with a free black woman from Baltimore, Anna Murray, who later helped him escape to the North. The two ultimately settled in Rochester, New York and raised a family together.
It was his involvement in the growing abolitionist movement that inspired Douglass to share his experiences as a former slave. Not only did he found The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, but Douglass also became an in-demand speaker across the North.
His 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, described both his emotional life in captivity, as well as his escape and new work as an abolitionist. Douglass was nearly captured by bounty hunters searching for former slaves. After briefly escaping to the United Kingdom, his followers paid for his safe return.
In 1857, Thomas Auld’s daughter Amanda Auld Sears attended one of Douglass’ lectures in Philadelphia. The two then met at her home, where Douglass discovered that others in his family were still owned by Thomas – and that Amanda had become an abolitionist in her own right.
When Thomas and Douglass finally met again in 1877, Thomas expressed sincere remorse. Douglass explained that “I did not run away from you. I ran away from slavery.” The two parted ways amicably, and Douglass continued his work to dismantle the lasting effects of such a horrific institution.