This icon of Frederick Douglass is made from the floorboards of the Nathan and Polly Johnson House in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It is now the headquarters of the New Bedford Historical Society. From the early years of the 19thCentury until the onset of the Civil War, this house was an important stop on the Underground Railroad for many escaped slaves who either settled in New Bedford or continued their journey further North to freedom. The Johnsons were prosperous African-Americans well known for their extensive abolitionist activities. They were instrumental in providing Frederick Douglass and his wife, Anna, safe refuge in their New Bedford home following his escape from slavery in 1838.
The Douglass’s lived at the Johnson House for a year when in 1839 they moved into their own lodgings in New Bedford’s West End. Four years later, and after three of their five children were born, the family moved to Lynn, Massachusetts. Of his first home as a free man, Douglass wrote in 1855: “Mr. Johnson assured me that no slaveholder could take a slave from New Bedford; that there were men there who would lay down their lives before such an outrage should be perpetuated.” (My Bondage and My Freedom)