Douglass and Anna Murray Arrive in New Bedford

NEW BEDFORD — The arrival of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass in New Bedford on Sept. 16 of 1838 was unexceptional, but their four-year stay in the city, as the history books tell, would be anything but.

Anna Murray Douglass is best known as the first wife of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Her life illustrates the challenges facing women who were married to famous men. Born as a free black in rural Maryland, her parents, Mary and Bambarra Murray, were manumitted shortly before her birth. She grew up in Baltimore, where she met a ship caulker six years her junior, Frederick Washington Bailey. Although it is unclear how they met, Murray facilitated his second escape attempt by providing money for a train ticket and a sailor’s disguise. She followed him to New York City, where they were married by the prominent black minister, Rev. J.W.C. Pennington. They adopted the surname Douglass when they moved to a Quaker community in New Bedford, Massachusetts.