Born a slave in Maryland c. 1817 and working as a houseboy for a family in Baltimore, he had a rough childhood-- and told of times when he had to fight with dogs for table scraps. He was taught to read and write by his owner. Refusing to "act like a slave," he was sent to a slave breaker, one who would beat or work a slave into submission. Not broken, he managed to escape to New York where he married a free African-American woman. At the request of abolitionists, he spoke on the evils of slavery. He fled to England because of the possibility of recapture under the Fugitive Slave Law. His friends bought his freedom and he later returned to America, continuing to protest and agitate. Appointed a civil servant and U.S. marshall after the Civil War, he was an advisor to five U.S. presidents.