‘My husband is battling with the minions of oppression, why not I endure hardship that my race may be free? I will do my duty as a wife towards him and our children; they shall look neat and spruce on the street, in the house, in the school-room.’
Anna Murray (1813-1882) was born free in Denton, Maryland, the daughter of Bambarra and Mary Murray. She met Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) while he was living as an enslaved man on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Anna Murray singlehandedly raised the funds that paid for his ticket to freedom when he assumed the disguise of a free sailor and boarded a train in Baltimore. After his arrival in New York, she journeyed to meet her husband-to-be and on 15 September 1838 they began a marriage which lasted forty-four years.
Challenging the myth that it was only Frederick Douglass who worked on the Underground Railroad, Rosetta Douglass (1839-1906) wrote of her mother, ‘Being herself one of the first agents of the Underground Railroad she was an untiring worker along that line. It was no unusual occurrence for mother to be called up at all hours of the night, cold or hot as the case may be, to prepare supper for a hungry lot of fleeing humanity.’
Lewis Henry Douglass (1840-1908) shared his elder sister’s pain that their mother’s activism was written out of official history. He repeatedly criticised journalists for refusing to do justice to Anna Murray’s ‘struggles for liberty.’ As he urged, it was she and she alone ‘worked early and late by the sunlight of day and the burning of the midnight oil at her duties of the household.’
Anna Murray Douglass passed away on 4 August 1882. 3000 people attended her funeral in Washington D.C.: an enduring testament to the world-changing importance of her revolutionary activist life.
Excerpt from Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, ‘Anna Murray Douglass: My Mother As I Recall Her’, May 10, 1900 (Reprinted by Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry, 1923):
ANNA MURRAY was born in Denton, Caroline Co., Maryland, an adjoining county to that in which my father was born. The exact date of her birth is not known. Her parents Bambarra Murray and Mary his wife were slaves, their family consisted of twelve children seven of whom were born in slavery and five born in freedom. My mother the eighth child escaped by the short period of one month the fate of her older brothers and sisters, and was the first free child. Remaining with her parents until she was seventeen, she felt it time that she should be entirely self-supporting and with that idea she left her country home and went to Baltimore, sought employment in a French family by the name of Montell whom she served two years. Doubtless it was while with them she gained her first idea as to household management which served her so well in after years and which gained for her the reputation of a thorough and competent housekeeper. On leaving the Montells’, she served in a family by the name of Wells living on S. Caroline Street, Mr. Wells was Post-master at the time of my father’s escape from slavery. It interested me very much in one of my recent visits to Baltimore, to go to that house accompanied by an old friend of my parents of those early days, who as a free woman was enabled with others to make my father’s life easier while he was a slave in that city. This house is owned now by a colored man. In going through the house I endeavored to remember its appointments, so frequently spoken of by my mother, for she had lived with this family seven years and an attachment sprang up between her and the members of that household, the memory of which gave her pleasure to recall.
The free people of Baltimore had their own circles from which the slaves were excluded, the ruling of them out of their society resulted more from the desire of the slaveholder than from any great wish of the free people themselves. If a slave would dare to hazard all danger and enter among the free people he would be received. To such a little circle of free people - a circle a little more exclusive than some others, Frederick Bailey was welcomed. Anna Murray, to whom he had given his heart, sympathized with him and she devoted all her energies to assist him.
The three weeks prior to the escape were busy and anxious weeks for Anna Murray. She had lived with the Wells family so long and having been able to save the greater part of her earnings was willing to share with the man she loved that he might gain the freedom he yearned to possess. Her courage, her sympathy at the start was the main-spring that supported the career of Frederick Douglass. As is the condition of most wives her identity became merged into that of the husband. Thus only the few of their friends in the North really knew and appreciated the full value of the woman who presided over the Douglas home for forty-four years. When the escaped slave and future husband of Anna Murray had reached New York in safety, his first act was to write to her of his arrival and as they had previously arranged she was to come on immediately – reaching New York a week later, they married and at once took their wedding trip to New Bedford.