On Tuesday, August 10, 1841, Frederick Douglass, three years a fugitive from slavery, paced the top deck of the ferry that was taking him from New Bedford to the island of Nantucket.
At twenty-three, he stood above the six-foot mark and, having labored in shipyards in Maryland and Massachusetts, was both broad and muscular. His skin was golden brown. His wide forehead and prominent cheekbones framed dark and penetrating eyes, a broad nose, and a generous mouth. His hands were tough and leathery.
With Douglass on the little steamer was a large and sometimes boisterous crowd of passengers, most of them white, some of them...