Frederick Douglass Additional 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.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111204680-Douglass.jpg Frederick 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....

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(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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.


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.


(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...

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(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...

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(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...

(The entire section is 589 words.)