Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, ..
Every white person mentioned at St. Michael’s in the is identifiable in some one of the county record books located at the Easton Court House: Talbot County Wills, 1832–1848; Land Index, 1818–1832 and 1833–1850; and Marriage Records for 1794–1825 and 1825–1840. Included among the nineteen St. Michael’s whites are five for whom Douglass could supply only last names. Sometimes, as in the case of Sheriff Joseph Graham, the occupation listed in the official records is the same as that given in the . Douglass had not always caught the name clearly: the man he called William Hamilton was undoubtedly William Hambleton; the Garrison West of the was Garretson West, and the clergyman Douglass called Mr. Ewery was very likely the Reverend John Emory.
A final reason for the influence of the is its credibility. The book is soundly buttressed with specific data on persons and places, not a single one of them fictitious. Indeed, one reason that Douglass produced an autobiography was to refute the charge that he was an impostor, that he had never been a slave. No one seems ever to have questioned the existence of any person mentioned in the .
The publication in 1845 of the was a passport to prominence for a twenty-seven-year-old Negro. Up to that year most of his life had been spent in obscurity. Born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838, going to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Here for four years he turned his hand to odd jobs, his early hardships as a free man being lessened by the thriftiness of his wife. In August 1841, while attending an abolitionist meeting at Nantucket, he was prevailed upon to talk about his recollections of slavery. His sentences were halting but he spoke with feeling, whereupon the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society lost no time in engaging him as a full-time lecturer. For the following four years the young ex-slave was one of the prize speakers of the Society, often traveling the reform circuit in company with the high priests of New England abolitionism, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.