Frederick Douglass Biography

He stood up for himself, his own pride, and eventually for the slave population to dethrone slavery and to find a place, equal in social status and justice. The life of Frederick Douglas―a story of a battle of survival.
Historyplex Staff
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born on the 17th of February 1818. Born as a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, he was separated from his mother while still a baby. She died when he was 7 years old. When his master Captain Aaron Anthony died, he was given to Mrs. Lucretia Auld, the wife of Captain Thomas Auld. She then sent Frederick to Baltimore to serve the Captain's brother, Hugh Auld.

Hugh Auld's wife Sophia taught Frederick the alphabet when he was 12 years old. This was against the law of those times. He continued to learn to read by observation. When Mr. Auld discovered this, he became furious. He did not want him to learn how to read so that he would not discover his true condition and want freedom.

That's why Auld sent him to Edward Covey, who was a poor farmer but known as a 'slave-breaker'. Covey regularly beat up young Frederick. But one day, he rebelled against him and Covey lost out in the confrontation. Covey never tried to beat him again.

Fredrick Douglas: Life and Death

Frederick met Anna Murray while still a slave, in 1837. In 1838, he escaped slavery and fled to New York and married her. He then joined many anti-abolitionist activities. He was highly inspired by William Lloyd Garrison and so was Garrison. Douglass gave his first speech at Nantucket at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention about his life as a slave.

In 1843 he participated in the American Anti-Slavery Society's Hundred Conventions Project and also participated in the Seneca Falls Convention which was the birth place of the feminist movement and was among its signatories. In 1845 he published his first autobiography called 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave'. This was a major bestseller and the most critically acclaimed book of the time. This book was revised by Douglass two more times - once in 1855 titled 'My Bondage and My Freedom' and then in 1881 titled 'Life and Times of Frederick Douglass' which he again revised in 1892. Many critics actually attacked the book and called it a fraud because it was quite eloquent and a literary masterpiece. He also published several newspapers namely, The North Star, Frederick Douglass Weekly, Frederick Douglass Paper and the New National Era. These were later managed by his children.

Douglass was able to 'buy his freedom back from his owner' in 1846 after some British sympathizers paid the slaveholder who still 'owned' him. Till that time, moving around was quite difficult for Douglass.

In 1863 he conferred with President Abraham Lincoln about the treatment of black soldiers and later on with President Andrew Johnson about the subject of black suffrage. At the time of Lincoln's death, Douglass delivered such an eloquent speech about the great man, that he got a standing ovation. Lincoln's wife gifted Douglass with Lincoln's favorite walking stick.

After the Civil War, Douglass served at many positions in the government. Chief among them are Marshal of the District of Columbia, Consul General to the Republic of Haiti, and the Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

In 1882, his wife died, and he was quite heartbroken and depressed. In 1884 he married Helen Pitts, a white feminist from New York. This marriage was a subject of controversy for both the families - Helen Pitts being white and 20 years his junior. Douglass' family stopped speaking to him because they thought that this marriage was unjust to their mother's memory. The couple traveled widely and continued the cause of anti-abolitionism.

On the 20th of February 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington DC, came home and died of a massive heart attack. His biography is an account of a fearless man who lived all that he believed in. To put it in his own words:

'Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.'