Frederick Douglass was born a slave, taught himself how to read and write, lectured in the United States and England, and wrote three autobiographies. He was also one of President Abraham Lincoln’s friends.
Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born on a Maryland plantation as a slave in February of 1818, according to his master’s inventory. His slave mother, named Harriet Bailey, was a field hand while his father was a white man. As a young boy, he was sent to a plantation run by Colonel Lloyd.
Frederick worked for Colonel Lloyd until 1826 when he is sent to work for the Auld family. When Sophia Auld taught Frederick the alphabet, her husband, Hugh Auld, got angry because he thought that if a slave learned to read, he would become discontent with his state as a slave. After Sophia stops teaching him, he read the boy of the house’s school book. He also befriended the neighborhood kids and borrowed a book from them named The Columbian Orator to practice his reading.
After his master dies in 1832, he was sent back to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. Then, he was selected to be sent to Lucretia Auld in Baltimore. After she dies, he is sent to Thomas Auld, on the eastern shore of Maryland. In 1833 He is then sent to a “slave-breaker” named Edward “the snake” Covey. A slave breaker was a master that would break a slave’s will to escape by being incredibly cruel. Covey was called “the snake” because he would sneak along the fields on his belly to catch any slaves not working. Covey “beats Frederick until he is sick.” (P.g. 80)1 He ran back to Thomas Auld and was returned to Edward Covey. After this, he brawled with Covey for two hours. Covey never whipped Frederick after that.
In 1834, he is hired by a master named Mr. William Freeland. At a secret Sunday school, Frederick taught the other slaves to read. In 1835, he devised a plan to escape with the other slaves: they would escape on a large canoe with passes he forged. But someone they never knew betrayed them, and when they went to breakfast, they were bound and thrown in jail.
In 1836, Frederick was sent to the Auld family in Baltimore. There, Hugh Auld helped him learn a trade. While he earned as much as a white worker, he had to turn over all his money to his master at the end of the week. So he came to Hugh Auld with a proposal: “If he were allowed to hire himself out but keep part of his wages, he could live on his own, pay his room and his board, and buy his tools. In return for that liberty, he would pay Master Hugh three dollars at the end of every week.” (P.g. 15)1 During this time, he fell in love with a free woman named Anna Murray. By using clever words and a sailor’s papers obtained by some friends, he escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and there married Anna Murray in 1838. There, he changed his name to Frederick Douglass and moved into a small farm with Anna. She had two daughters and three sons.
After settling down in New Bedford, he became an abolitionist. He lectured on the evils of slavery throughout the Northeast. After indirectly revealing his actual identity in his first autobiography in 1845, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself, he fled to England, where slavery was abolished. There, he was a celebrity and lectured through Wales Scotland and Ireland. While in England, his friends there give his owner $710 (now $17,000) for manumission. He started his abolitionist newspaper North Star in 1847. In 1848, he moved to Rochester, New York, and used his home as a safe house for runaway slaves. That year, he attended the first convention in Seneca Falls, New York. In March of that year, their first daughter Annie was born. He met Harriet Tubman in 1851 as she was leading her group to Canada. That same year, he combined North Star and Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper to make Frederick Douglass’s Paper. In 1855, he published My Bondage and My Freedom, his second autobiography. After his friend, John Brown, attacked the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry and was found guilty, Douglass was declared an accomplice on the basis of a letter. To escape arrest, he first went to Canada and then England to lecture.
In the March of 1860, Annie dies back in Rochester. When Douglass returned to the United States In April that year, he was not charged with anything. In February of 1863, he became a recruiter of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. His sons Lewis and Charles enlist there. His other son Frederick Douglass Jr. also became an army recruiter. On August 10, he met with Lincoln to talk about the “unequal pay and poor treatment”4 that the black soldiers received. A year and nine days later, in 1864, they met again so Lincoln could ask Frederick to “prepare an effort to assist slaves escaping to the north”4 in case the Union did not win. On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He died the next day. Later that year, on December 18, slavery was outlawed through The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Starting in 1865, he lectures on women’s rights and Reconstruction. In 1870, Douglass first edited then owned the New National Era, which was “a weekly newspaper for African Americans.”4. When the newspaper folded, he lost 10 thousand dollars. That year, the 15th amendment was adopted, which stated that all citizens could vote regardless of race. In 1871, Ulysses S. Grant appointed Frederick to the investigation commission on the “possibility of annexing the Dominican Republic to the U.S.”4. The next year, The Equal Rights Party nominated him as their candidate for vice-president of the U.S. That year, in 1872, he and his family moved to Washington, D.C. after a fire burned his house down. In march, 1874 he became the president of the failing Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company. He worked with the Senate Finance Committee’s chairman, but Douglass could not save it. The same month next year, a Civil Rights Act that prohibited “discrimination in public places”4
In 1877, Frederick was made the U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia under President Hayes. He bought his last home, Cedar Hill, a 20 room house, in 1878. It was in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. He later bought 15 acres of land next to it. In 1881, he published his last autobiography. Later that year, he was appointed as the Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia by President Garfield, which was a well-paid job back then. On August fourth, 1881, Frederick’s 44-year-old wife, Anna Murray Douglass, died after a stroke. After this, he went into depression. In 1883, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional.
On January 24, 1884, he married Helen Pitts, his white secretary when Frederick was the recorder of deeds. From 1886 to 1887, he toured Europe and Africa with her. On July first, 1889, he was made “U.S minister resident and consul general, Republic of Haiti, and chargé d’affaires, Santo Domingo.”4 He arrived there in October. In 1890, he was instructed by the U.S. to ask Môle St. Nicholas, a Haitian port town, if the U.S. Navy could use it as a refueling port. Haiti rejected it in 1891 as “too intrusive”4. Frederick resigned in July because the U.S. press blamed him for the rejection. Because he was the minister in Haiti, he was in charge of the Haitian exhibit in the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. On February 20, 1895, Frederick Douglass, age 77, died at home at Cedar Hill, Washington D.C. from heart failure while reenacting a meeting of the National Council of Women that he spoke at that day.
Frederick Douglass, originally Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, for a short time Frederick Johnson, was one of the most prominent figures of the abolitionist movement, and possibly one of less prominent figures of the women’s rights campaign. He was born a slave, taught himself how to read, escaped to freedom, and went on to become one of the most important speakers in the history of the United States. The most important thing we need to learn about this person is not just that he was a slave or that he lectured; it is that Frederick Douglass, a slave, taught himself how to read, escaped to freedom, wrote three autobiographies, and changed at least the northern part of the nation.