James Walter Douglas was born in Virginia in November 1797. After completing his primary education Douglass moved to the village of Christiana, Delaware, where he obtained a position as a trainee clerk. The teenaged Douglass also became a pious and active member of the local church. The extent of his faith is evident in Douglass’s personal diary.
In its pages, he explains his reasons for not using a rope swing, popular with numerous other young men in Christiana:
“A very high and quite expensive swing was put up in the village by the young men [and has become] a great resort for the young people of the town. I was very much in doubt whether I ought to attend it, and at length determined that I ought not, for these reasons:
1. It takes time and we must account for our time.
2. It is setting an example of levity.
3. The Lord Jesus would not attend such a place.
4. Nor [would] his apostles.
5. Nor [would] our minister Mr Latta…
6. Please when carried to excess is criminal. Is this not excess?
7. What good can I get [from the swing]. Will I be more virtuous? Wiser? Better tempered? More full of grace? No, no I will not…”
In October 1816, Douglass had another moral dilemma when he visited New York. Out walking, he found himself continually drawn towards the printed handbills of the theatre, which threatened to “inflame [his] imagination”. But Douglass triumphantly reported being able to return to his lodgings without passing the theatre and looking inside.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Douglass later entered the church. By 1823, he was preaching in North Carolina and in 1833, he married a woman from Virginia. He died prematurely in August 1837, just weeks before his 40th birthday.