Day Four:

Thursday, June 20
My Bondage and My Freedom in Auburn


Scholars have interpreted Frederick Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) as a product mainly of his abolitionist activism on the national and international stages. During the morning session, Samuels and Gustafson will highlight the ways that Douglass revised the life story that he told in his Narrative (1845) in a context that includes the regional network of reformers in the Rochester area. Rochester was the site where, in 1852, Douglass delivered his famous oration, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" This session will also focus on the significance of Auburn, New York as a regional printing center with abolitionist ties. My Bondage and My Freedom was printed in Auburn two years after Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave appeared from the Auburn press of Derby and Miller. The presence of William Seward's home, with its Underground Railroad station in the basement, provides further context for Douglass's second autobiography, as does Harriet Tubman's decision to accept Seward's invitation to move to Auburn in 1858. The presence of Auburn Prison, where Austin Reed produced the manuscript account of his life, casts further light on the significance of Douglass's work. We will interpret the revisions Douglass made both in the context of his first autobiography and through the lens of the activism he engaged in while living in Rochester and visiting Seneca Falls and Auburn, the locations of the next day's field trip.

Tentative Readings:

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852); My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

Optional Readings:

Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave (1853); Austin Reed, Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict (2016, ed. Caleb Smith)

NEH Logo

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this seminar do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

View of the Erie Canal by John William Hill (1829)