A PLAQUE to honour abolitionist Frederick Douglass who is regarded as one of the most influential African Americans of the 19th Century was unveiled in Hawick last week.

Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 but by the age of 20 he had escaped, changed his name from Frederick Bailey, and become involved in the abolitionist movement.

Border Telegraph: Plaque to honour Frederick Douglass - Photo John Hislop

His autobiography - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave - was published in 1845.

For two years he addressed packed halls across every area of Great Britain and Ireland and shared his story.

READ MORE: Police make arrest following death of man in Borders town

His final speaking engagement in Scotland was at a rally in Hawick on November 2 1846.

It proved controversial, with officials at the original venue at the Relief Chapel making a last-minute decision not to grant permission for the meeting to go ahead.

The elders and managers at the nearby West End Chapel stepped in to host Douglass and the other abolitionist speakers.

During his tour Douglass was bought out of slavery by supporters, and he returned to the US a free man the year after speaking in Scotland.

He would go on to publish abolitionist newspapers, use his home as part of the Underground Railroad for fleeing slaves, and become a recruiter for the all-black Massachusetts 54 regiment to fight in the Civil War.

READ MORE: Bravery of Tweedsmuir man recognised at awards ceremony

Douglass met President Abraham Lincoln several times at the White House, and would go on to become the first black US Marshall in 1877.

It is widely claimed that Frederick Douglass was the most photographed man of the 19th Century.

And today buildings, bridges, streets and an airport are named after him in the United States.

The ceremony was held at the site of the old West End Chapel in Myreslawgreen Hawick and was opened by Honourary Provost and Convener of Scottish Borders Council Watson McAteer who welcomed guests and hundreds of spectators.

READ MORE: Turkish cafe owner 'overwhelmed' by generosity of Borderers

A reading from Reverend Alistair W Cook, Minister of St Mary’s & Old Parish Church linked with Teviot and Robertson followed before keynote speaker Dr Alisdair Pettinger provided an entertaining and informative talk on the life of Frederick Douglass.

He pointed out the name Douglass was taken from a character in the Lady of the Lake poem by Sir Walter Scott.

Border Telegraph: Organisers of ceremony to honour Frederick Douglass at his plaque in Hawick Photo John HislopOrganisers of ceremony to honour Frederick Douglass at his plaque in Hawick Photo John Hislop

The plaque was unveiled by U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Jack Hillmeyer and a vote of thanks was given by Cameron Knox, Vice-Chair of Hawick Community Council.

Mr Hillmeyer said: “It’s a tremendous honour to be here to unveil this plaque and to come to the Borders and meet the people.

"I think you know more about Frederick Douglass in Scotland than most Americans’ do.

Frederick Douglass to us in America is a character who comes into play in the US Civil War.

“He met with President Lincoln in the White House many times. And he was someone who helped Lincoln really understand the relationship between slavery and America which probably led him to the emancipation proclamation.

“But it was here that I learned about Frederick Douglass’s younger life and how he came over to Scotland and the rest of the UK to express that and I think he really found his voice here.

"And I was really amazed to learn about his connection to Scotland. The name Douglass is from a Waverley novel and that is something that most American’s wouldn’t know.

“But these connections between the U.S. and Scotland go so far back and are so deep, this is just the latest one.

“Of course slavery is scourge on American history. Slavery is part of our sad history but here it’s a way to celebrate how that sadness could then blossom into something like this where you have wonderful Scots here in the Borders laying a plaque to an American who, during his time was controversial but today we all celebrate as one of our fabulous leaders and a hero to any American."