What are the plain facts about Douglass's birth and early years, and how are such facts significant?

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Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, around 1818. One key part of his childhood was that he lived in the same home as the plantation owners—it is speculated that one of the owners may have been his father. When he was ten, a slave owner's wife taught Douglass the alphabet. Douglass would prove a quick and hungry learner who learned to read from others in the neighborhood even though it was forbidden to teach slaves to read. Douglass would later be hired out to William Freeland who did not interfere with Douglass teaching other slaves to read the New Testament.

Douglass would later go on to be hired out to Edward Covey. At the age of sixteen, after taking considerable abuse, Douglass fought back. After beating Covey, the white man never abused Douglass again. Douglass would eventually escape to the North where he would become an activist against slavery.

Douglass came of age at a great time in American history to be associated with the abolitionist movement. Douglass would have been in his thirties and forties at the movement's height. By the time of the Civil War, he was already one of the most prominent black abolitionists in the country. Douglass's thirst for knowledge also led him to be highly literate. Douglass learned that whites did not want blacks to read; from this, he learned that education is power and that it could help end slavery. Douglass also learned that abusive slaveholders were cowardly, in that men like Covey backed down when the slave fought back. Douglass's formative years helped to shape the man he would become later in life.

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