It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born on this day in Talbot County, Maryland, USA in 1818. Today is the 195th anniversary of his birth.
The exact day and year of his birth is unknown, but he decided on February 14th, 1818. He never met his father, a white man, and almost never saw his mother. He lived with his grandparents in their cabin west of the Tuckahoe Creek. In his first autobiography he wrote:
“I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. … She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.” [Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Written by himself. (1851)
At seven he was sent to Wye House plantation near Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland. Soon he was sent to Hugh Auld a Baltimore carpenter. Auld’s wife, Sophia, taught him to read until the master (her husband) stopped her. Hugh Auld thought teaching slaves lead to rebellious slaves. Frederick practiced reading and writing in secret. When he was in Baltimore he heard about Abolition for the first time, and in 1831 he read an article “on John Quincy Adams’s antislavery petitions in Congress” [Frederick Douglass Timeline]
At 13 he was sent to the shipping town of St. Michael’s, Maryland to work for Thomas Auld. When Auld discovered that Frederick was teaching other slaves to read he rented him out to a brutal slavebreaker, Edward Covey.”The treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was “broken in body, soul, and spirit.” “ [PBS.org]
In 1838 he was back in Baltimore hired out to work as a caulker in a shipyard. He made his escape to freedom by…
Travelling by train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New York City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, living with his newlywed bride (whom he met in Baltimore and married in New York) under his new name, Frederick Douglass. [Ibid]
Douglass became active in the Abolitionist movement. He became a “licensed preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.” [Frederick Douglass Timeline] In 1841 he spoke at an antislavery meeting in New Bedford about his life in Maryland. The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society hired him as a speaker.
Some people didn’t believe that a former slave could speak so eloquently and assumed Douglass was a fraud. In response to that criticism he wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In 1845 he toured England and Ireland to raise money to buy his freedom. (Auld manumitted him for $711.66.) Douglass used the remaining money from the Great Britain tour to buy a printing press and began to publish the North Star, a weekly Abolitionist paper. The paper later became the Frederick Douglass’ Paper and is joined in 1859 by the Douglass’ Monthy.
In 1855 he published his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom. During the American Civil War Douglass was a recruiter for the all African-American 54th Massachusetts Infantry.
After the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (which outlaws slavery) Douglass continued to fight for civil rights and woman’s rights. A fringe political party, The Equal Rights Party nominated Douglass as its vice-presidential Nominee in 1872.
In 1881 he published his final autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
He was appointed to the post of US Marshal of the District of Columbia and the Recorder of Deed of the District of Columbia before becoming Minister Resident and Consul General to the Republic of Haiti in 1889.
Frederick Douglass died on February 20th, 1895 of heart failure.
- How Frederick Douglass’s first speech got him noticed (constitutioncenter.org)
- D.C.’s Frederick Douglas statue to move to U.S. Capitol Building (wjla.com)