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4 - Electric Speed

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 May 2021

Alasdair Pettinger
Affiliation:
Scottish Music Centre
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Summary

Soon after his arrival in Liverpool, Douglass was on the move again, crossing the Irish Sea to rendezvous with abolitionists in Dublin. After a four-month speaking tour that took him to Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and finally Belfast, he prepared to depart for Scotland. Having paid twelve shillings each for a firstclass cabin on the paddle steamer Firefly or Glow-Worm, he and Buffum sailed from Donegal Quay at 10 o’clock on the morning of Saturday 10 January 1846, across the North Channel and up the Firth of Clyde to dock at the fashionable resort of Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast.

Here they would have transferred to a connecting train to Glasgow, which followed the arc of the bay before heading inland, passing weavers’ cottages, country houses and castle ruins, through fertile fields, verdant meadows and neat plantations, halting at small towns with their church spires, mill chimneys, collieries and iron foundries. Douglass would pass through these towns again in the coming months, addressing eager audiences in some of them. Looking north, they may have caught a glimpse in the fading afternoon light of a snow-capped Ben Lomond in the distance. Fellow passengers may have proudly drawn their attention to Elderslie House, the ancient seat of William Wallace, and told them about the famous oak in which Wallace often hid from English troops. Leaving the dense industrial concentration of Paisley, where many factories still lay idle after the town was badly hit by a depression in trade in 1837 and again in the early 1840s, they would have had their first sight of ships’ masts on the Clyde, and the dim outline of the Strathblane and Kilpatrick Hills beyond.

Whether Douglass was enjoying a period of quiet contemplation, or eavesdropping on his fellow passengers, attuning himself to their unfamiliar cadences and turns of phrase (some of which he would adapt in the speeches he would give in the coming days), that time was nearly over. There was work to be done, and there were new faces to greet. Perhaps he took out the ‘golden gift’ he had been presented at his farewell breakfast in Belfast, a small, elegantly bound Bible, and drew strength from its inscription, which expressed admiration for the ‘eloquent lectures’ he had recently delivered there.

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Information
Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846
Living an Antislavery Life
, pp. 33 - 45
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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