Frederick Douglass was a well known abolitionist, orator, and statesman in the 19th century United States. His antislavery writings made him famous. He believed in equal rights for all peoples.
Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 on a plantation on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay
Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he dropped “Augustus Washington Bailey” and took Douglass after he escaped slavery. Most likely born February of 1818, he later chose February 14th as his birthday. His mother was a slave of both Black and Native American heritage, and his father is thought to have been one of the white plantation owners.
When Douglass was an infant, he was separated from his mother and went to live with his grandmother, Betsy Bailey. Betsy Bailey was another slave; his grandfather was a freeman.
Around 1824, when Douglass was six years old, he was taken from his grandparents and sent to work at the Wye House Plantation. The overseer, Aaron Anthony, died in 1826, however, and Douglass was then given to Lucretia Auld. Wife to Thomas Auld, she had a particular interest in Douglass as a child. Her desire to give him a better life helped shape the experiences he had going forward.
As a young boy slave, Frederick Douglass was moved from location to location by his owner.
When he was about eight years old, Thomas Auld sent him to his brother Hugh in Baltimore, Maryland. At first, upon his arrival, Sophia, Hugh’s wife, started teaching him to read and write. Unfortunately, at the time, Baltimore had a growing movement that was against educating slaves. It was believed that to educate them also taught them to desire freedom. Eventually Sophia came to agree with Hugh and stopped teaching Douglass. She hid the reading materials from him. Douglass, however, now with a solid foundation for learning, continued his education on his own. Often he would learn from the white children in the neighborhood and from any other written material he could find.
Through his reading, he started questioning slavery and then denoucing it. So, when Hugh Auld sent him to work for William Freeland, Douglass started teaching the slaves to read the New Testament. This greatly upset the other local slave owners who within six months began attacking the lessons. The violent outburst ended the lessons.
When Douglass was 15, in 1833, Thomas Auld retrieved him from Hugh and sent Douglass to work for Edward Covey. Covey’s reputation for beating his slaves was well known, and he regularly whipped Douglass. Finally, when he was sixteen, Douglass fought back and won the confrontation with Covey. The beatings ceased at that point, and Auld returned him to Baltimore, MD.
Frederick Douglass attempted to escape slavery several times before he succeeded.
His first attempt was actually in 1833 when he was working for William Freeland. His second was later in 1836. Having decided in January of that year to try again, he was discovered once and jailed in April. Finally, however, he managed to escape successfully on 3 September 1886. He was 20 years old.
While in Baltimore again, Douglass met and fell in love with Anna Murray. She was a free Black woman and assisted his escape. She gave him sailor clothes to don, money and identification papers. He also possessed protection papers given to him from a free Black seaman.
Douglass traveled by rail on the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad line to escape.
On the train, he arrived at Havre de Grace, Maryland. From there, he traveled by train along through Delaware to Wilmington. There he continued his journey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Steamboat. Once in Philadelphia, PA, he made his way to a safe house owned by David Ruggles in New York City. Ruggles assisted Douglass once he arrived, and then they sent for Anna Murray.
Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray were married on 15 September 1838.
He and his wife settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts after they were married. New Bedford was a strongly abolitionist city and the home of many former slaves. When he first escaped, Douglass changed his surname from Bailey to Johnson. However, there were so many Johnsons in New Bedford that he eventually changed it to Douglass.
Douglass and his wife, Anna, eventually had five children– Rosetta Douglass, Lewis Henry Douglass, Frederick Douglass Jr., Charles Remond Douglass, and Annie Douglass, who died at the age of 10. Rosetta and Charles helped him with the newspaper he started, North Star, in 1847.