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Frederick Douglass

American social reformer, orator, writer, abolitionist, former slave and statesman

Top 10 Frederick Douglass related articles

Frederick Douglass
Douglass in 1879
United States Minister Resident to Haiti
In office
November 14, 1889 – July 30, 1891
PresidentBenjamin Harrison
Preceded byJohn E. W. Thompson
Succeeded byJohn S. Durham
Personal details
Born
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

c. February 14, 1818
Cordova, Maryland, U.S.
Died(1895-02-20)February 20, 1895 (aged 78)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeMount Hope Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)
(m. 1838; died 1882)

(m. 1884)
ParentsHarriet Bailey[1]
Aaron Anthony (allegedly)[2]
RelativesDouglass family
OccupationAbolitionist, suffragist, author, editor, diplomat
Signature

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1817[a] – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory[5] and incisive antislavery writings. Accordingly, he was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counterexample to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.[6][7] Likewise, Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.[8]

Douglass wrote three autobiographies, notably describing his experiences as a slave in his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). Following the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, the book covers events both during and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women's suffrage, and held several public offices. Without his approval, Douglass became the first African-American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.[9]

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all peoples, be they white, black, female, Native American, or Chinese immigrants.[10] He believed in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, as well as in the liberal values of the U.S. Constitution.[11] When radical abolitionists, under the motto "No Union with Slaveholders", criticized Douglass' willingness to engage in dialogue with slave owners, he replied: "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."[12]

Frederick Douglass Intro articles: 19

Life as a slave

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, Maryland. The plantation was between Hillsboro and Cordova;[13] his birthplace was likely his grandmother's cabin[b] east of Tappers Corner, (38°53′04″N 75°57′29″W / 38.8845°N 75.958°W / 38.8845; -75.958) and west of Tuckahoe Creek.[14][15][16] In his first autobiography, Douglass stated: "I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it."[17] However, based on the extant records of Douglass's former owner, Aaron Anthony, historian Dickson J. Preston determined that Douglass was born in February 1818.[3] Though the exact date of his birth is unknown, he later chose to celebrate February 14 as his birthday, remembering that his mother called him her “Little Valentine.”[18][19]

Birth family

Douglass was of mixed race, which likely included Native American[20] and African on his mother's side, as well as European.[21] In contrast, his father was "almost certainly white", according to historian David W. Blight in his 2018 biography of Douglass.[22] Douglass said his mother Harriet Bailey gave him his name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey and, after escaping to the North years later, he took the surname Douglass, having already dropped his two middle names.[23]

He later wrote of his earliest times with his mother:[24]

The opinion was…whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion I know nothing. … My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant. … It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. … I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.

After separation from his mother during infancy, young Frederick lived with his maternal grandmother Betsy Bailey, who was also a slave, and his maternal grandfather Isaac, who was free.[25] Betsy would live until 1849.[26] Frederick's mother remained on the plantation about 12 miles (19 km) away, only visiting Frederick a few times before her death when he was 7 years old.

Early learning and experience

The Auld family

At the age of 6, Frederick was separated from his grandparents and moved to the Wye House plantation, where Aaron Anthony worked as overseer.[16] After Anthony died in 1826, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld, who sent him to serve Thomas' brother Hugh Auld in Baltimore. Lucretia was essential in Douglass' formation, as she shaped his experiences and took special interest in him from his childhood, wanting to give him a better life.[27] Douglass felt that he was lucky to be in the city, where he said slaves were almost freemen, compared to those on plantations.

When Douglass was about 12, Hugh Auld's wife Sophia began teaching him the alphabet. From the day he arrived, she saw to it that Douglass was properly fed and clothed, and that he slept in a bed with sheets and a blanket.[28] Douglass described her as a kind and tender-hearted woman, who treated him "as she supposed one human being ought to treat another."[29] Hugh Auld disapproved of the tutoring, feeling that literacy would encourage slaves to desire freedom; Douglass later referred to this as the "first decidedly antislavery lecture" he had ever heard.[30] Under her husband's influence, Sophia came to believe that education and slavery were incompatible and one day snatched a newspaper away from Douglass.[31] She stopped teaching him altogether and hid all potential reading materials, including her Bible, from him.[28] In his autobiography, Douglass related how he learned to read from white children in the neighborhood, and by observing the writings of the men he worked with.[32]

Douglass continued, secretly, to teach himself how to read and write. He later often said, "knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom."[33] As Douglass began to read newspapers, pamphlets, political materials, and books of every description, this new realm of thought led him to question and condemn the institution of slavery. In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator, an anthology that he discovered at about age 12, with clarifying and defining his views on freedom and human rights. First published in 1797, the book is a classroom reader, containing essays, speeches, and dialogues, to assist students in learning reading and grammar. He later learned that his mother had also been literate, about which he would later declare:

I am quite willing, and even happy, to attribute any love of letters I possess, and for which I have got—despite of prejudices—only too much credit, not to my admitted Anglo-Saxon paternity, but to the native genius of my sable, unprotected, and uncultivated mother—a woman, who belonged to a race whose mental endowments it is, at present, fashionable to hold in disparagement and contempt.[34]

William Freeland

When Douglass was hired out to William Freeland, he taught other slaves on the plantation to read the New Testament at a weekly Sunday school. As word spread, the interest among slaves in learning to read was so great that in any week, more than 40 slaves would attend lessons. For about six months, their study went relatively unnoticed. While Freeland remained complacent about their activities, other plantation owners became incensed about their slaves being educated. One Sunday they burst in on the gathering, armed with clubs and stones, to disperse the congregation permanently.

Edward Covey

In 1833, Thomas Auld took Douglass back from Hugh ("[a]s a means of punishing Hugh," Douglass later wrote). Thomas sent Douglass to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had a reputation as a "slave-breaker". He whipped Douglass so frequently that his wounds had little time to heal. Douglass later said the frequent whippings broke his body, soul, and spirit.[35] The 16-year-old Douglass finally rebelled against the beatings, however, and fought back. After Douglass won a physical confrontation, Covey never tried to beat him again.[36] Recounting his beatings at Covey's farm in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass described himself as "a man transformed into a brute!"[37] Still, Douglass came to see his physical fight with Covey as life-transforming, and introduced the story in his autobiography as such: "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man."[38]

Frederick Douglass Life as a slave articles: 234