Frederick Douglass


Robert Shetterly's portrait of Frederick Douglass"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States."

DOUGLASS, FREDERICK (1817—1895), American orator and journalist, was born in Tuckahoe, Talbot county, Maryland, probably in February 1817.


His mother was a negro slave of exceptional intelligence, and his father was a white man. Until nearly eight years of age, he was under the care of his grandmother; then he lived for a year on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd, of whose vast estate his master, Captain Aaron Anthony, was manager. After a year he was sent to Baltimore, where he lived in the family of Hugh Auld, whose brother, Thomas, had married the daughter of Captain Anthony; Mrs Auld treated him with marked kindness and without her husband’s knowledge began teaching him to read. With money secretly earned by blacking boots he purchased his first book, the Columbian Orator; he soon learned to write “free passes” for runaway slaves.


Upon the death of Captain Anthony in 1833, he was sent back to the plantation to serve Thomas Auld, who hired him out for a year to one Edward Covey, who had a wide reputation for disciplining slaves, but who did not break Frederick’s spirit. Although a new master, William Freeland, who owned a large plantation near St Michael’s, Md., treated him with much kindness, he attempted to escape in 1836, but his plans were suspected, and he was put in jail. From lack of evidence he was soon released, and was then sent to Hugh Auld in Baltimore, where he was apprenticed as a ship caulker.


He learned his trade in one year, and in September 1838, masquerading as a sailor, he escaped by railway train from Baltimore to New York city. For the sake of greater safety he soon removed to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he changed his name from Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey to Frederick Douglass, “Douglass” being adopted at the suggestion of a friend who greatly admired Scott’s Lady of the Lake. For three years he worked as a day labourer in New Bedford. An extempore speech made by him before an anti-slavery meeting at Nantucket, Mass., in August 1841 led to his being appointed one of the agents of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and in this capacity he delivered during the next four years numerous addresses against slavery, chiefly in the New England and middle states.


To quiet the suspicion that he was an impostor, in 1845 he published the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Fearing his recapture, his friends persuaded him to go to England, and from August 1845 to April 1847 he lectured in Ireland, Scotland and England, and did much to enlist the sympathy of the British public with the Abolitionists in America. Before his return a sum of £150 was raised by subscription to secure his legal manumission, thus relieving him from the fear of being returned to slavery in pursuance of the Fugitive Slave Law. From 1847 to 1869 he conducted an anti-slavery weekly journal, known as The North Star, and later as Frederick Douglass’s Paper, at Rochester, New York, and, during this time, aMo was a frequent speaker at anti-slavery meetings. At first a follower of Garrison and a disunionist, he allied himself after 1851 with the more conservative political abolitionists, who, under the leadership of James G. Birney, adhered to the national Constitution and endeavoured to make slavery a dominant political issue.


He disapproved of John Brown’s attack upon Harper’s Ferry in 1859, and declined to take any part in it. During the Civil War he was among the first to suggest the employment of negro troops by the United States government, and two of his sons served in the Union army. After the war he was for several years a popular public lecturer; in September 1866 he was a delegate to the national Loyalist convention at Philadelphia; and in 1869 he became the editor, at Washington, of a short-lived weekly paper, The New National Era, devoted to the interests of the negro race. In 1871 he was assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo commission, appointed by President Grant. He was marshal of the District of Columbia from 1877 to 1881, was recorder of deeds for the district from 1881 to 1886, and from 1889 to 1891 was the American minister resident and consul-general in the Republic of Haiti. He died in Anacostia Heights, District of Columbia, on the 20th of February 1895. He was widely known for his eloquence, and was one of the most effective orators whom the negro race has produced in America.




How Frederick Douglass got his name

The following is an extract from 'A Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave - by Frederick Douglass'.

On the morning after our arrival at New Bedford, while at the breakfast-table, the question arose as to what name I should be called by. The name given me by my mother was, "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey." I, however, had dispensed with the two middle names long before I left Maryland so that I was generally known by the name of "Frederick Bailey." I started from Baltimore bearing the name of "Stanley." When I got to New York, I again changed my name to "Frederick Johnson," [He had changed his name from Frederick BAILEY] to that of JOHNSON.  and thought that would be the last change. But when I got to New Bedford, I found it necessary again to change my name. The reason of this necessity was, that there were so many Johnsons in New Bedford, it was already quite difficult to distinguish between them. I gave Mr. Johnson the privilege of choosing me a name, but told him he must not take from me the name of "Frederick." I must hold on to that, to preserve a sense of my identity. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the "Lady of the Lake," and at once suggested that my name be "Douglass." From that time until now I have been called "Frederick Douglass;" and as I am more widely known by that name than by either of the others, I shall continue to use it as my own.



Birth  Feb 1817 Talbot Co., MD, USA 
Died  20 Feb 1895  Washington, District of Columbia Co., DC, USA 
Buried  May 1895  Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, Monroe Co., NY, USA 
Mother  Harriet Bailey 
Family 1  Anna Murray 
Married  1838  New York City, New York Co., NY, USA 
  1. Rosetta Douglass
  2. Anna Marie Douglass
  3. Lewis Henry Douglass
  4. Frederick Douglass
  5. Charles Remond Douglass

Anna Murray was born free in Denton, Maryland, around 1813. As a young woman, she moved to Baltimore, where she met and helped a young man named Frederick Bailey escape from slavery in 1838. After Frederick escaped to New York City, Anna joined him there and they married. They decided to move to Massachusetts, where they adopted the last name "Douglass" and began their family. Anna supported Frederick's public career and participated in anti-slavery activities, even opening their home to fugitives on the Underground Railroad when they lived in Rochester, New York. She and Frederick remained married for 44 years until her death from a stroke in 1882.   Helen Pitts was born into an abolitionist family in Honeoye, New York, in 1838. She worked for racial equality and women's rights, eventually finding employment as a clerk in Frederick Douglass's office in the 1880s. Helen and Frederick married in 1884, after Anna's death. When Frederick died in 1895, Helen devoted herself to making Cedar Hill a memorial to his life and legacy. Before her death in 1903, she created the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association to carry on her preservation work.



See also:

•  Descendants to Nettie Washinton Douglass tree (Illustrated)

This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

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