Taking Refuge

Nineteenth-century Americans look north

In August 1840, Ellis Gray Loring, an anti-­slavery lawyer in Boston, sent a letter to his friend Reverend Hiram Wilson, of Toronto. He mentioned a lecturer named Fred, an ex-slave who had escaped “two years ago” from his owner, Thomas Auld. Loring suggested this lecturer’s powerful oratorial abilities could “produce great effect,” and that Wilson should consider buying his freedom.

“Fred,” as it turned out, was the leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass. While nothing ever came of Loring’s proposal, just think how close we came to having the great statesman and social reformer writing his best-­selling autobiography, Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, in Canada.

Douglass, like others who face personal hardship and turmoil, understood that freedom was a cherished value in a democratic society. Their stories remind us that the ability to speak, think, practise, protest...