February 20, 2015
Frederick Douglass, originally named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, was born the son of a slave and a white man in Talbot County, Maryland. Some believe Douglass’s father was the owner of the very plantation he spent the first eight years of his life on. Before the end of his life Douglass would go on to become a free man, and a steadfast advocate of human rights everywhere.
At the age of eight Douglass was sent to Baltimore, Maryland to work for a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. During his time there Auld’s wife Sophia taught Douglass the alphabet. Mr. Auld quickly put an end to the lessons; however, he couldn’t stop Douglass’s education. He was an avid reader of Newspapers and political essays and it was during this time that Douglass first learned of the Abolitionist movement in the United States. These experiences in the early part of his life would serve to mold his fervent opposition to slavery and its abhorrent abuses of human rights.
Douglass was eventually hired out to a slave owner named William Freeland. During his time at the Freeland plantation Douglass began to hold a weekly church service during which he would teach other slaves to read. His services and education of slaves enraged local slave owners who formed a mob and put an end to Douglass’s lessons. At the age of sixteen Douglass was sent to work for Edward Covey, a slave owner known locally as a “slave breaker”. Though Douglass suffered incredible cruelty at the hands of Covey, he was never truly broken; and by 1838 he was planning his final attempt to escape from slavery.
On September 3, 1838, with the help of Anne Murray, a free black woman from Baltimore whom he had fallen in love with, Frederick Douglass boarded a train in Havre de Grace, Maryland disguised as a sailor. He then made his way to the house of David Ruggles, a New York abolitionist. Once he was safely in New York he sent for Murray, and on September 15, they were married.
Douglass and his new wife moved to a free black community in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was there that he adopted the last name Douglass. While living in New Bedford Douglass was inspired to become active in the anti-slavery movement by William Loyd Garrison, a white abolitionist and journalist who ran the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator.
In 1841, at the age of 23 Frederick Douglass delivered his first speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in Nantucket. Following his speech Douglass began his career as a traveling lecturer spreading the word of the abolitionist movement. In 1843, while Douglass was conducting a lecture tour in the Midwest, he was attacked by an angry mob after one of his speaking engagements. Douglass published his first autobiography in 1845 entitled, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”. The book became a national best seller, and was translated into several languages. The book was so eloquently written that some critics could not believe a former slave had written it. After his book was published Douglass fled to Ireland to escape his recapture and return to bondage. While in the United Kingdom Douglass continued to lecture and advocate for the abolition of slavery. He garnered a large base of British supporters, who eventually raised funds to buy Douglass his Freedom. In 1847 Douglass was able to return to America as a free man. That same year Douglass would publish the first issue of The North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper.
Douglass had been a longtime supporter of women’s rights and suffrage, and in 1848 he attended the first ever Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. During the convention Douglass delivered a speech in which he proclaimed that as a black man, he could not accept the right-to-vote until, women across the country were also granted that liberty. Following the end of the civil war Douglass was appointed to several political positions by and within the U.S government. He served as the president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, a private institution used by the U.S government to encourage the economic vitality of the newly freed slaves. He also served as a U.S diplomat in the Dominican Republic, and was appointed Minister-Resident and Consul-General to the Republic of Haiti in 1891.
Douglass gave the last speech of his life in 1895 at a meeting of the National Council of Women. It was shortly after this event that Douglass became ill and eventually died.
“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” – Frederick Douglass