Frederick Douglass

Burial Location Visited
Rochester, New York April 17, 2010


At the end of a long day, my                                                    Though he passed away in 1895, Frederick
father and I stopped in Rochester                                              Douglass is still remembered today as one
to pay our respects to Frederick                                                 of the most famous abolitionists of the
Douglass.                                                                                19th century.


Douglass was not just a supporter of equal                                 His first autobiography, Narrative of the
rights for African Americans, but for women                                Life of Frederick Douglass, an American
as well. He was an attendee of the Seneca                                 Slave, was one of the most popular slave
Falls Convention in 1848.                                                          memoirs ever written.

                                       *** Interesting Facts ***

* Though born in "the land of the free", the word free hardly describes the early life of Frederick Douglass. Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, his mother worked as a slave in Maryland. His father, who's identity has remained unknown, is speculated to be his mother's master, Captain Aaron Anthony. Anthony was the clerk for Colonel Edward Lloyd, who was Frederick's actual owner. When Frederick was still an infant, his mother was forced to go back and continue working as a slave, leaving the child to to cared for by his grandparents. Frederick lived with them until he was six years old. It was at this point that his grandmother took him to the plantation and left him to endure the harsh reality of slavery. At some point, Frederick was sent to live with his son in-law's brother, Hugh Auld, and his wife in Baltimore. Sophia Auld, Frederick's new mistress, took it upon herself to teach the child the alphabet and, after he asked, began to teach him how to read. This greatly angered Mr. Auld when he found out, as it was illegal to teach slaves how to read. Also, it was thought that reading would corrupt a slave and make him or her unwilling to continue working as a slave. All the same, Frederick was able to overcome the obstacles in his way and learn how to both read and write, having been taught to read by a group of white children. He also learned to write by watching and observing others.

* Where the young slave worked and toiled varied, as he changed hands several more times during his captivity. Usually, he simply went to work for one of the Auld couples and then used by the other, but worked as a slave for those outside of the Auld family as well. In 1833, Frederick was lent to a man named Edward Covey, who made the boy work as a field hand for the first time in his life. Covey was another cruel man who beat Frederick savagely. Eventually, Frederick decided it was best for him to escape the "peculiar institution" that was slavery, and that it would be better to be killed trying to escape than to remain in "hopeless bondage". In September of 1838, after several failed attempts, Frederick was indeed able to escape. While working at a shipyard in Baltimore, he procured a friend's seaman's protection papers, the first step in earning his freedom. In order to prove that they were not slaves, blacks would either need to carry identification papers stating they were free or, if they were sailors, carry their seaman's protection papers. Frederick could not find any freed black whose description fit his, which is why he chose to try his luck passing himself off as a sailor. On the morning of September 3rd, dressed as a sailor, he boarded a northbound train. When, in the midst of the train ride, the conductor asked him for his identification papers, Frederick replied he never carried them to sea, but showed him the seaman's protection papers he was carrying. A quick glimpse was enough for the conductor, who moved on to the next person in the car. By a miracle, the escaped slave was on his way to freedom.

* After the short trip to Havre de Grace, Maryland, the escapee took a ferry ride to Wilmington Delaware, eventually finding his way to New York. Finally having stepped onto free soil, Frederick said "A new world had opened upon me." Feeling that he would be even safer if he left New York, he relocated to New Bedford, Massachusetts to live with his new wife, Ann, who he had met while back in Maryland. Having already changed his last name to Johnson in order to avoid suspicion, Frederick had it changed again upon arriving in New Bedford, this time to Douglass, the name by which he is known today. At this time, Douglass became involved in abolitionist activities, such as reading The Liberator, a newspaper put out by the influential William Lloyd Garrison. The paper helped to educate Douglass about the politics of slavery, as did the anti-slavery meetings and conventions that he began to attend. At one particular convention in Nantucket in 1841, Douglass felt inclined to speak his mind and was encouraged to do so by William C. Coffin, a man who had heard the former slave talk at a meeting in New Bedford once. Though nervous about talking in front of so many white people, Douglass was able to deliver a fine impromptu speech. Receiving good feedback, Douglass went on to speak out against slavery at conventions in various towns across the Northeast. He even wrote an autobiography, titled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

* With the success of his autobiography, Frederick Douglass and his story became well-known. In order to avoid the possibility of recapture, Douglass went on a tour of Europe in 1845, speaking out against slavery in England, Ireland, and Scotland. During this time, a group of abolitionists from England raised some money and negotiated Douglass' freedom with Hugh Auld, making him legally free from slavery. In 1847, after twenty months in Europe, Douglass returned to the United States. While in Europe, he had earned enough money to establish his own newspaper, which he called The North Star. The paper was distributed from Rochester, New York, where Douglass relocated his family subsequently. Eventually, the publication would merge with The Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass' Paper. Showing that he was just as supportive of equal rights for women as he was for equal rights for blacks, Douglass attended the famed Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. When the topic of women's suffrage was met with opposition, Douglass spoke in favor of the revolutionary idea, which helped the resolution get passed. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments, which asked for the equality of women in all matters.

* Slavery was a major issue in America in the 1850's, and continued to cause trouble as time went on. It was one of the several fundamental causes of the secession of eleven southern states during the winter of 1860-1861 as well as the Civil War. Though the abolition of slavery was not the driving force behind President Lincoln's desire to win the conflict, he did show his distaste for the institution and issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. That August, Douglass met for the first time with Lincoln to discuss important matters concerning African Americans, such as the fact that black soldiers were not being paid as much as other Union soldiers. The two men had a similar meeting the following year and also began corresponding through letters. At the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1876, Douglass spoke about Lincoln, saying that, though he was late in joining the cause for the elimination of slavery, he did indeed join the cause and was a great individual. Sometime after, the president's widow presented Douglass with her husband's walking stick, which he gratefully accepted. Both during and following Reconstruction, Douglass was appointed to several committees and a few government posts. He served as the U.S. marshal for Washington, D.C., the city's recorder of deeds starting during the Garfield administration, and as minister to Haiti. He was even nominated for vice president and president in 1872 and 1888, respectively. Douglass died in the capital city after attending a meeting of the National Council of Women on February 20, 1895.

Spouse: Anna Murray Douglass (1813-1882)
              Helen Pitts Douglass (1838-1903)

Last Words:

* Like many slaves and former slaves, Frederick Douglass did not know the exact date of his birth. Virtually no records of slave births were taken at this time, so we will never be quite sure which day the abolitionist was born. Douglass himself was not sure when he took his first breath, but adopted February 14th as his birthday, as his mother used to call him her "little valentine". Historians estimate that he was born in either 1817 or 1818.
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