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Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

“I would unite with anybody to do right; and with nobody to do wrong.”

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818. His exact date of birth is not known. His mother died when he was about 10. Douglass was raised by his grandmother until he was sold to another slave owner.

As a teenager, Douglass was sent to live with his owner’s brother, Hugh Ald, and his wife in Baltimore. Ald’s wife, Sophia, taught young Douglass the basics of reading; at that time educating a slave was illegal in Maryland. Douglass had learned enough that it enabled him to continue secretly to educate himself from what he was taught and what he’d learned from white children.

Douglass taught other slaves how to read

When he was hired out to slave owner William Freeland’s plantation, he started to teach Freeland’s slaves to read the Bible at church on Sunday. Freeland didn’t pay much attention to what the slaves were doing. Soon the word got out about the classes, infuriating other slave owners. They raided the classes and shut them down.
As punishment, Douglass was sent to owner Edward Covey, who was known as a slave-breaker. One day 16-year-old Douglass fought back. Unable to defeat him, Covey ended the abuse.

Unsuccessful in his previous efforts to escape, Douglass would succeed with the help of Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore. Wearing a sailor’s uniform, carrying a small sum of money and identification she gave him, Douglass was able to travel to Havre de Grace, Maryland, and then to a safe house in New York owned by abolitionist John Ruggles. Once there, he sent for Murray, and on Sept. 15, 1838, they got married. The couple settled in Massachusetts and adopted the surname of Douglass.

Douglass also wrote a best-selling autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” in 1845. He later wrote three versions of his autobiography. His fame drew attention to his runaway status, so he fled to Ireland for two years and gave anti-slavery lectures. Supporters raised funds to buy his freedom, and he was able to return to the United States in 1847.

Upon his return to the United States, Douglass became a newspaper publisher.

During the Civil War, Douglass met with President Lincoln to advocate for black soldiers. After the war, he became president of the Freedman’s Saving and Trust Co.

Frederick and Anna Douglass had five children. After Anna’s death, in 1884, Douglass married Helen Pitts in 1884. She was a white feminist who was 20 years younger and the daughter of one of his abolitionist colleagues. They remained married till his death from a massive stroke or heart attack on Feb. 20, 1895. He was 77.



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