Frederick Douglass Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111204680-Douglass.jpg(Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Douglass’ lifelong concerns were with freedom and human rights for all people. He articulated these concerns most specifically for black Americans and women.

Early Life

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Talbot County, Maryland, and originally was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He was of mixed African, white, and Indian ancestry, but other than that, he knew little of his family background or even his exact date of birth. Douglass believed that he was born in February, 1817, yet subsequent research indicates that he may have been born a year later in February, 1818. Douglass never knew his father or anything about him except that he was a white man, possibly his master. Douglass’ mother was Harriet Bailey, the daughter of Betsey and Isaac Bailey. Frederick, his mother, and his grandparents were the property of a Captain Aaron Anthony.

In his early years, Frederick experienced many aspects of the institution of slavery. Anthony engaged in the practice of hiring out slaves, and Douglass’ mother and her four sisters were among the slaves Anthony hired out to work off the plantation. Consequently, Douglass seldom saw his mother and never really knew her. The first seven years of his life were spent with his grandmother, Betsey Bailey, not because she was his grandmother but because as an elderly woman too old for field work she had been assigned the duty of caring for young children on the plantation.

The boy loved his grandmother very much, and it was extremely painful for him when, at the age of seven, he was forced by his master to move to his main residence, a twelve-mile separation from Betsey. It was there, at Anthony’s main residence, that Douglass received his initiation into the realities of slavery. The years with his grandmother had been relatively carefree and filled with love. Soon, he began to witness and to experience personally the brutalities of slavery. In 1825, however, Douglass’ personal situation temporarily improved when Anthony sent him to Baltimore as a companion for young Tommy Auld, a family friend. Douglass spent seven years with the Aulds as a houseboy and later as a laborer in the Baltimore shipyards. The death of Anthony caused Douglass to be transferred to the country as a field hand and to the ownership of Anthony’s son-in-law. Early in 1834, his new owner hired him out to Edward Covey, a farmer who also acted as a professional slave-breaker. This began the most brutal period of Douglass’ life as a slave.

After months of being whipped weekly, Douglass fought a two-hour battle with Covey that ended in a standoff, and the beatings stopped. Douglass’ owner next hired him out to a milder planter, but Douglass’ victory over Covey had sealed his determination to be free. In 1836, Douglass and five other slaves planned an escape but were detected. Douglass was jailed and expected to be sold out of state, but the Aulds reprieved him and brought him back to Baltimore, where he first served as an apprentice and then worked as a ship caulker. However improved Douglass’situation might be in Baltimore, it was still slavery, and he was determined to be a free man. On September 3, 1838, Douglass borrowed the legal papers and a suit of clothes of a free black sailor and boarded a train for New York.

In New York, he was joined by Anna Murray, a free black woman with whom he had fallen in love in Baltimore. Douglass and Anna were married in New York on September 15, 1838, and almost immediately moved further north to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where there were fewer slave catchers hunting fugitives such as Douglass. It was also to elude slave catchers that Douglass changed his last name. He had long abandoned his middle names of Augustus Washington; he now dropped the surname Bailey and became Frederick Douglass. The move and the name change proved to be far more than symbolic; unknown to Douglass, he was about to launch on his life’s work in a direction he had never anticipated.

Life’s Work

New Bedford was a shipping town, and Douglass had expected to work as a ship caulker; however, race prejudice prevented his working in the shipyards and he had to earn a living doing any manual labor available: sawing wood, shoveling coal, sweeping chimneys, and so on. Anna worked as a domestic when she was not caring for their growing family. Anna bore Douglass five children: Rosetta, Lewis, Charles, Frederick, Jr., and Annie. Unexpectedly, the abolition movement of the 1830’s, 1840’s, and 1850’s changed both Douglass’ immediate situation and his whole future.

Within a few months of his escape to the North, Douglass chanced on a copy of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. The Liberator so moved Douglass that, in spite of his poverty, he became a subscriber. Then, on August 9, 1841, less than three years after his escape, Douglass and Garrison met. This and subsequent meetings led to Garrison offering Douglass an annual salary of $450 to lecture for the abolitionist movement. Douglass was so convinced that he would not succeed as a lecturer that he accepted only a three-month appointment. In fact, he had begun his life’s work.

Scholars have debated whether Douglass’ greatest accomplishments were as an orator or a writer; both his speaking and his writing stemmed from his involvement with the abolition movement, and both were to be his primary activities for the remainder of his life.

From the beginning, Douglass was a powerful, effective orator. He had a deep, powerful voice which could hold his audiences transfixed. Moreover, Douglass was an impressive figure of a man. He had a handsome face, bronze skin, a leonine head, a muscular body, and was more than six feet in height. He stood with dignity and spoke eloquently and distinctly. Indeed, his bearing and speech caused critics to charge that Douglass had never been a slave; he did not conform to the stereotypic view of a slave’s demeanor and address. Even Douglass’ allies in the abolition movement urged him to act more as the public expected. Douglass refused; instead, he wrote his autobiography to prove his identity and thus began his career as a writer. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845) remains his most famous and widely read book. It was an instant success. Yet in the narrative, Douglass had revealed his identity as Frederick Bailey, as well as the identity of his owners, making himself more vulnerable than ever to slave catchers. Anna was legally free, and because of her their children were free also, but Douglass was legally still a slave. To avoid capture, he went to England, where he remained for two years.

In England, Douglass was immensely successful as a lecturer and returned to the United States, in 1847, with enough money to purchase his freedom. By end of the year, he was legally a free man. Also in 1847, Douglass moved to Rochester, New York, and began publication of his own newspaper, North Star. While editing North Star, Douglass continued to lecture and to write. In 1855, he published an expanded autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom; he also published numerous lectures, articles, and even a short story, “The Heroic Slave” in 1853. Much later in life, he published his third, and most complete, autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).

In all of his writings and speeches, Douglass’ major concerns were civil rights and human freedom. As a person born in slavery, and as a black man living in a racially prejudiced society, Douglass’ most immediate and direct concerns were to end slavery, racial prejudice, and discrimination. Yet he always insisted that there was little difference between one form of oppression and another. He proved the depth of his convictions in his championing of the women’s rights movement at the same time he was immersed in his abolitionist activities. In fact, Douglass was the only man to participate actively in the Seneca Falls Convention which launched the women’s rights movement in the United States in 1848. Moreover, his commitment was lasting; on the day of his death, in 1895, Douglass had returned only a few hours earlier from addressing a women’s rights meeting in Washington, D.C.

By the 1850’s, Douglass was active in politics. He also knew and counseled with John Brown and was sufficiently implicated in Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid to leave the country temporarily after Brown’s capture and arrest. From the beginning of the Civil War, Douglass urged President Abraham Lincoln not only to save the Union but also to use the war as the means to end slavery. Douglass also urged black men to volunteer and the president to accept them as soldiers in the Union armies. By the end of the Civil War, Douglass was the most prominent spokesman for black Americans in the country. With the end of the war and the advent of Reconstruction, Douglass’ work seemed to have reached fruition. By 1875, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of that year, not only had slavery been ended and the Constitution amended but also the laws of the land had guaranteed black Americans their freedom, their citizenship, and the same rights as all other citizens. Yet the victories were short-lived. The racism, both of North and of South, that had dominated the antebellum era triumphed again in the 1880’s and 1890’s. According to the Constitution, black Americans remained equal, but it was a paper equality. In fact, prejudice and discrimination became the order of the day across the whole United States.

For Douglass personally, the years following the Civil War contained a number of successes. He was financially solvent. He served in a number of governmental capacities: secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, marshal and recorder of deeds in the District of Columbia, and United States minister to Haiti. For twenty-five years, he was a trustee on the board of Howard University. Nevertheless, these personal successes could not alleviate Douglass’ bitter disappointment over the turn of public events, and he never ceased to fight. He continued to write, to lecture, and even began another newspaper, New National Era.

Summary

Frederick Douglass’ career and his personal life were all the more remarkable when one considers the times in which he lived. His life was an example of the human will triumphing over adversity. Born into slavery, by law a piece of chattel, surrounded by poverty and illiteracy, he became one of America’s greatest orators, an accomplished writer and editor, and for more than fifty years he was the most persistent and articulate voice in America speaking for civil rights, freedom, and human dignity regardless of race or sex. Douglass, more than any other individual, insisted that the ideals of the Declaration of Independence must be extended to all Americans.

Douglass’ personal life reflected the principles for which he fought publicly. He always insisted that race should be irrelevant: Humanity was what mattered, not race, and not sex. In 1882, Anna Murray Douglass died after more than forty years of marriage to Frederick, and in 1884, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white woman who had been his secretary. The marriage caused a storm of controversy and criticism from blacks, whites, and Douglass’ own family. Yet for Douglass there was no issue: It was the irrelevance of race again. His own comment on the criticism was that he had married from his mother’s people the first time and his father’s, the second.

Douglass is most frequently thought of as a spokesman for black Americans and sometimes remembered as a champion of women’s rights as well. Up to a point, this is accurate enough; Douglass was indeed a spokesman for black Americans and a champion of women’s rights, because in his own lifetime these were among the most oppressed of America’s people. Douglass’ concern, however, was for all humanity, and his message, for all time.

Bibliography

Douglass, Frederick. Frederick Douglass: The Narrative and Selected Writings. Edited by Michael Meyer. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. In addition to being a readily accessible, complete edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, this book includes excerpts from Douglass’ two later autobiographies and twenty selected writings by Douglass on various topics which are not easily obtainable.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845. Reprint. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1963. Originally published in 1845, the work covers Douglass’ life up to that time; it was his first book and remains the most widely read of his three autobiographies.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1855. Reprint. New York: Dover Publications, 1969. Originally published in 1855, this is the least read of Douglass’ autobiographies.

Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Hartford, Conn.: Park Publishing Co., 1881. Reprint. New York: Citadel Press, 1984. First published in 1881 and reissued in 1892. The 1892 edition is the most commonly reproduced and the most complete of the three autobiographies.

Foner, Philip. Frederick Douglass. New York: Citadel Press, 1969. A thorough biography, unfortunately out of print, but available in libraries.

Factor, Robert L. The Black Response to America: Men, Ideals, and Organization from Frederick Douglass to the NAACP. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1970. Factor offers an interesting theoretical interpretation of Douglass as a black spokesman and informative comparison of Douglass with other black spokesmen and leaders.

Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1980. Brief and readable, this is among the later publications on Douglass.

Meier, August. Negro Thought in America: 1880-1915. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963. Meier offers a good account of the varieties of thought among black Americans for the period covered and suggests an intriguing, plausible thesis regarding shifts of opinion in the black community. Although the era dealt with by Meier covers only the last fifteen years of Douglass’ life, it is still worth reading the book for insight into Douglass and especially for any comparison or contrast of Douglass with later black spokesmen such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois.

Quarles, Benjamin. Frederick Douglass. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1948. Reprint. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1976. Originally published in 1948, this is an easily available, thorough biography.

Frederick Douglass Biography

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Frederick Douglass
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Introduction

“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” That is one of the essential beliefs held by Frederick Douglass. He was born as a slave and spent his life working to end slavery and to create equality for everyone. His first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, was published in 1845. Many readers at the time suspected it was actually authored by a white man because no one expected such eloquence from a black writer. It became an enormous success and was reprinted nine times in three years and translated into numerous languages. Douglass wrote two other autobiographies, but none was as successful or critically acclaimed as his first.

Essential Facts

  1. In 1838, Douglass escaped slavery in an elaborate scheme where he wore a sailer’s uniform and borrowed papers from a free African-American seaman. In a journey that took less than twenty-four hours, he left Baltimore by train and travelled through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Philadelphia. He says, though, that he did not feel safe until he reached New York City.
  2. Douglass’ second wife was a white woman named Helen Pitts. Their marriage was scandalous at the time because they were not of the same race and because she was nearly twenty years his junior.
  3. There is some discrepancy over when Douglass was born. He chose February 14 as his birthday and said he was born in 1816. Many other accounts say he was actually born in 1818.
  4. Douglass became an honorary member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity posthumously in 1921.
  5. Douglass was the first African American to be nominated for the office of Vice President of the United States.

Frederick Douglass Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Frederick Douglass remains an icon in American history. His three published autobiographies span the years 1818 to 1891(four years prior to his death). Thus, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave; My Bondage and My Freedom; and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass are a rare legacy. Douglass’s autobiographies are also valuable as landmark publications in African American prose literature. Douglass and his fellow slave autobiographers influenced the early African American novelists such as William Wells Brown, a slave autobiographer and author of Clotel (1853); Frank J. Webb, author of The Garies and Their Friends (1857); and Frances E. W. Harper, author of Iola Leroy (1892). Douglass and his contemporaries have also influenced the works of twentieth and twenty-first century novelists such as Arna Bontemps, Octavia E. Butler, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Margaret Walker Alexander, Ernest J. Gaines, Alex Haley, Charles Johnson, Edward P. Jones, Toni Morrison, Lalita Tademy, and Sherley Anne Williams, all of whom evoke images of slavery in their writing. Douglass’s additional contributions include speeches such as his 1852 oration, What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? and his periodicals, North Star, which was renamed Frederick Douglass’ Papers, and Douglass’ Monthly. Thus, Douglass remains an important historical and literary figure for future generations.

Frederick Douglass Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111204680-Douglass.jpgFrederick Douglass. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Frederick Augustus Bailey, who changed his name to Frederick Douglass after escaping slavery, was the son of a slave mother and a white man, probably his mother’s master, Captain Aaron Anthony. He grew up in a variety of slavery conditions, some very harsh. He nevertheless taught himself to read and write and became a skilled caulker at the Baltimore shipyards.

In 1838, he escaped to New York disguised as a free sailor. After marrying Anna Murray, a freewoman who had helped him escape, they moved to Massachusetts. He took the name Douglass and began working for the abolitionist cause. For four years he was a popular and eloquent speaker for antislavery societies and in 1845 published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, one of the finest slave narratives.

As a precaution against recapture following the publication of his autobiography, Douglass went to England to lecture on racial conditions in the United States. In late 1846, British friends purchased and manumitted Douglass, and the following year he returned to New York a free man.

Moving to Rochester, Douglass began an abolitionist newspaper, The North Star (later renamed Frederick Douglass’ Paper), became an Underground Railroad agent, wrote in support of women’s rights and temperance, and revised and expanded his autobiography. In 1859, he narrowly escaped arrest following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry. Although Douglass had not supported the raid, he was a friend of Brown. He fled to Canada, then England, returning months later when he learned of his daughter Annie’s death.

During the Civil War, Douglass urged the recruitment and equal treatment of blacks in the military (his two sons were early volunteers) and became an unofficial adviser to Abraham Lincoln on matters of race. After Lincoln’s death, he opposed Andrew Johnson’s procolonization stance and worked for black civil rights, especially suffrage.

A loyal supporter of the Republican Party, he was appointed to various posts by five presidents. In 1881, Douglass again updated his autobiography. The following year Anna Murray Douglass died. Two years later, Douglass married Helen Pitts, his white secretary, a marriage that shocked many. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Douglass minister to Haiti. Douglass retired in 1891 but remained a powerful voice speaking out for racial equality until his death in 1895. He is remembered as not only the most prominent black American of his era but also a man whose life of commitment to the concept of equality made him an outstanding American for all times.

Frederick Douglass Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111204680-Douglass.jpgFrederick Douglass (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Author Profile

Born a slave, Frederick Bailey escaped to freedom in 1838, changed his name to Douglass, and soon began delivering speeches throughout the North for William Lloyd Garrison’s American Antislavery Society. In 1845 the society published The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. The book became a best seller and secured Douglass’ position as the leading black abolitionist in the United States. The volume was also published overseas, despite the efforts of Douglass’ British publisher to censor his criticism of Christian slaveholders as hypocrites.

In 1847 Douglass split with Garrison and began publishing an antislavery newspaper, The North Star (renamed Frederick Douglass’ Paper in 1851). Garrison’s supporters tried unsuccessfully to prevent Douglass from producing a periodical to rival The Liberator, the American Antislavery Society’s journal. Douglass editorialized in his newspapers about slavery, prejudice, politics, and other issues. In 1855 he published My Bondage and My Freedom, which was more critical of slavery and slaveholders than the Narrative had been.

After the Civil War Douglass stood as the most influential African American of his era. He later served as marshal of the District of Columbia and U.S. minister to Haiti.

Bibliography

Andrews, William L. The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Collects the most notable of Douglass’s speeches, fiction, journalism, and autobiographical writings in one volume.

McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass. New York: Norton, 1991. (See Magill’s Literary Annual review) A solid and well-researched biography with a lengthy bibliography.

Martin, Waldo E., Jr. The Mind of Frederick Douglass. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. An excellent study of the evolution of Douglass’s thought.

Preston, Dickson J. Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. Recommended, especially as background to the Narrative of Frederick Douglass.

Starling, Marion Wilson. The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American History. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1988. A consideration of the Narrative of Frederick Douglass in its larger historical context.

Stone, Albert E. “Identity and Art in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative.” CLA Journal 17 (1973). A seminal article; Stone’s analysis is probably the first to consider Douglass’s 1845 autobiography as a major work of literary art.

Sundquist, Eric J., ed. Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Provides essays on Douglass from a variety of perspectives.

Frederick Douglass Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, the son of Harriet Bailey, an African American slave, and a white man. He never knew his birthday or his father’s name. He hardly ever saw his mother. His autobiographical writings show a lifelong interest in his origins and the need to establish an identity and a heritage for himself. In later life Douglass even returned to Tuckahoe, Maryland, to see the place where he had been born.{$S[A]Bailey, Frederick Augustus Washington;Douglass, Frederick}

Frederick was originally owned by Aaron Anthony, the general overseer for Edward Lloyd. Frederick’s early years were passed in the care of his grandmother, Betsey Bailey. When he was six years old she took him to his master’s plantation house, where he was assigned to serve as a companion to Lloyd’s twelve-year-old son Daniel, from whom Frederick learned a “correct” dialect such as the one spoken by the white ruling class. His education continued when in 1826 he was sent to the home of Hugh and Sophia Auld in Baltimore; Sophia began to teach Frederick to read, but Hugh stopped the lessons for fear that education would make a slave rebellious. Frederick continued his reading lessons on his own after he began working on the shipyards in 1829. In 1831 he purchased a copy of The Columbian Orator, edited by Caleb Bingham. From this collection of the great speeches of the Western tradition Frederick learned rhetoric and oratory.

After Aaron Anthony’s death, ownership of Frederick passed to Hugh Auld’s brother Thomas, and in 1833 he was sent to Thomas Auld’s home in St. Michaels, Maryland. There Frederick began to teach reading to other slaves at Sunday school meetings until Thomas forbade it. In hopes of breaking Frederick’s spirit, Thomas rented him to a brutal farmer, Edward Covey. Here Frederick endured many savage beatings before he finally resisted and successfully fought Covey. In his autobiographies this battle serves as a climactic moment, the point at which Frederick ceased to consider himself a slave and began to consider himself a man.

Continuing his clandestine Sunday school meetings, Frederick forged an escape plan with five other slaves in 1836. The plan was discovered, probably because one of the conspirators revealed it. Frederick returned to Baltimore and arranged to learn caulking. In 1838 he successfully escaped to the north, married Anna Murray, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. At the suggestion of a friend, he assumed the name “Douglass,” which is taken from a character in Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.

While working as a laborer on the docks Douglass gradually acquired a reputation among abolitionists. In 1842 the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society hired him as a touring speaker. In 1845 the Anti-Slavery Office published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The emotion in this book, which continues to be one of Douglass’s most enduringly popular writings, is unmatched by his later autobiographies, although My Bondage and My Freedom makes up in complexity what it loses in pathos. Later critics of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself have speculated about the extent to which the concerns of white abolitionists, Douglass’s own concerns about appealing to white readers, and his propagandistic aims may have played a part in shaping the book. Despite the flaws imposed upon it by the circumstances surrounding its composition and publication, the book remains an important work of the American Renaissance. Douglass shares with writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau a concern that physically, spiritually, and intellectually each person should be free and self-reliant.

Worried that the details he had revealed about his past might lead to his being recaptured by his master, Douglass began a lecture tour of Ireland, Scotland, and England. Friends he made while in England arranged to buy his freedom, and he returned to America in 1847 a free man at last. In that year he began his career as a newspaper editor; the first issue of his North Star appeared in December. His newspapers provided a necessary forum for African American concerns.

For the rest of his life Douglass was an important public figure. He lectured widely on slavery, racism, and the need for civil rights for African Americans and for women. He advised presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield. After his wife, Anna, died in 1882, Douglass married the women’s rights activist Helen Pitts in 1884.

Literary scholars remember Douglass for his three autobiographies (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, My Bondage and My Freedom, and the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass) and for his powerful speeches, especially his What to a Slave Is the Fourth of July? A comparison of the autobiographies provides a fascinating insight into the changing man and his changing times.

Frederick Douglass Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Frederick Douglass, renowned abolitionist, orator, journalist, editor, autobiographer, and statesman, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February, 1817, at Holme Hill Farm, near Tuckahoe Creek, in Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass was the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and a white man. Douglass was the fourth of at least sixth children born to Bailey. At birth, Douglass and his siblings were designated slaves because the law was that a slave mother’s status was transferred to her progeny.

From 1818 to 1823, Douglass was raised on Holme Hill Farm by Betsey Bailey, his grandmother. In 1824, Bailey took her grandson to Colonel Edward Lloyd’s plantation, where he resided until he moved to Baltimore in 1826. Douglass lived with Hugh and Sophia Auld and was ordered to take care of their two-year-old son. Sophia Auld gave Douglass his first reading lessons. In 1829, Douglass learned to write while working at a shipyard. In 1831, Douglass purchased a used copy of The Columbia Orator and was inspired by its speeches on liberty.

In 1834, Douglass was hired out to Edward Covey, a Talbot County farmer who was known for his ability to physically and mentally break slaves. Douglass received frequent beatings from Covey until they fought in August, 1834, and Douglass was never beaten by Covey again. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in 1836, Douglass was jailed before he returned to the Auld residence in Baltimore and learned the caulking trade.

In 1838, Douglass became engaged to Anna Murray, a free African American who worked as a domestic. He was required to give most of his shipyard wages to Hugh Auld, yet he managed to save money for his escape. With additional money from Murray and the seaman’s protection papers of a retired sailor, Douglass, dressed as a sailor, boarded a train to Wilmington on September 3, then a steamer to Philadelphia, and finally a train to New York. He arrived in New York on September 4 and used Johnson as his surname. Douglass slept on wharves to avoid detection by slave catchers until he met David Ruggles, who assisted fugitive slaves. Douglass stayed at Ruggles’s house and was reunited with Murray; they were married on September 15. The couple moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. They changed their surname to Douglass, and he worked as a general laborer while Anna took in washing and did domestic work. The Douglasses had five children.

At the 1841 convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Douglass recounted his life as a slave. The audience was so impressed with his remarks that Douglass became a full-time lecturer for the society. He held the position for four years. In 1845, Douglass’s first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, was published. The initial edition of five thousand copies was sold in four months, and more than thirty thousand copies were sold from 1845 to 1850. After the book’s publication, Douglass’s status as a fugitive slave was in danger; in order to avoid slave catchers, he lectured in England and Ireland for two years. Douglass’s freedom was purchased by his British friends in 1846, and in 1847, he returned to the United States.

Douglass and his family moved to Rochester, New York, and with funds from British donors, he founded North Star, a weekly newspaper; it was renamed Frederick Douglass’ Paper when it merged with the Liberty Party Paper in 1851. Douglass’s newspaper contained editorials that denounced slavery and reported incidents such as the Harpers Ferry raid. In July, 1848, Douglass was the only man who was featured prominently at the Seneca Falls, New York, convention that advocated equal rights for women; this meeting marked the formal start of the women’s rights movement in the United States. On July 5, 1852, Douglass delivered his most memorable speech, What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? In March, 1853, Douglass’s novella, The Heroic Slave, based on a mutiny aboard the slave ship Creole and considered the first work of long fiction in African American literature, was published in Julia Griffiths’s edited collection of antislavery works, Autographs for Freedom. Douglass’s second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, was published in 1855. In 1858, he established Douglass’ Monthly. Frederick Douglass’ Paper was published until 1860, and Douglass’ Monthly was published until 1863. Douglass’s Rochester printing shop was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and he helped more than four hundred slaves escape to Canada.

On June 2, 1852, fire destroyed Douglass’s home and the only complete archive of his newspapers, and the Douglass family relocated to Washington, D.C. While residing in the nation’s capital, Douglass began a new career as a statesman as he was appointed assistant secretary of the Commission on the Annexation of Santo Domingo by President Ulysses Grant in 1871, District of Columbia marshall by President Rutherford Hayes in 1877, recorder of deeds of the District of Columbia by President James Garfield in 1881, and consul general to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889. Douglass’s additional honors included being nominated in 1872 for the vice presidency on the Equal Rights Party’s ticket; however, he supported Grant’s reelection, and in 1874, Douglass was named president of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. His third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself, was published in 1881, and one year later, an expanded edition was printed. Also in 1882, Anna Douglass died in August after suffering a stroke in July. In 1884, Douglass married Helen Pints, a white woman who was his former clerk at the Office of Record of Deeds and was active in the women’s rights movement. Two years later, they traveled to Great Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and Egypt.

Douglass, who fled from slavery and became one of the nineteenth century’s most influential leaders, died at his Washington residence after a heart attack on February 20, 1895. Only hours earlier, he delivered a speech at the National Convention of Women. Thus, to the very end of his life, Douglass was a crusader for freedom.

Frederick Douglass Biography (Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Born on a plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, in February 1818, Frederick Douglass is best known as an orator and writer who campaigned...

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