Frederick Douglass: "The Lion of Anacostia"

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass, the man who became a strong symbol and a vocal advocate for freedom for American slavers, was born into slavery, with the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. His mother was a black slave and father was a white man. He once said that he believed his father was his mother's owner, but later said he did not really know who his father was.

The laws governing slavery, and the relations between white and black were detailed and severe. Whites were not allowed to teach blacks how to read or write. The young Frederick Douglass was taught to read by his owner's wife, Sophia Auld. With his basic reading skills, Douglass then learned more from white children he knew, as well as by observing the world and the people around him as they went about their normal day, using their reading and writing skills.


Douglass escaped from slavery on September 3, 1838, disguised as a free black sailor. Using the other man's identification papers, he boarded a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. He eventually ended up New York City. His entire escape to freedom took him less than twenty-four hours.

After achieving his freedom, Douglass honed his reading and writing ability. He became a member of a black church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and he began attending abolitionist meetings. An abolitionist was a person who sought to abolish, or end, slavery in America. The most famous abolitionist in the 1840s was William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison published a weekly abolitionist newspaper called The Liberator. Garrison often gave speeches against the evils of slavery, and Douglass first heard Garrison speak at the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society's annual meeting in 1841. The two men met at this meeting, and each was deeply impressed by the other. Encouraged by Garrison, Douglass agreed to speak at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention in Nantucket. Douglass described his life in slavery to this fervent abolitionist audience. His career as a public voice for the abolition of slavery had begun.

Two years later, in 1843, Douglass took part in the American Anti-Slavery Society's "Hundred Conventions" project, a six-month tour of meeting halls and churches the American Midwest and along the east coast. In July, 1848, Douglass participated in the Seneca Falls Convention. This convention, attended by many abolitionists and suffragettes, began what is considered the starting point for the early feminist movement. A suffragette was a person who sought suffrage, better known today as "the right to vote," for women. In the 1800s, women did not possess the right to vote in political elections. Douglass and other attendees to the convention signed the "Declaration of Sentiments", which called more rights for women.

Taking his abolitionist efforts to a new level, Douglass began a newspaper dedicated to the abolition of slavery. He called it the North Star.

Douglass met with President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and discussed the treatment of black soldiers fighting in the Civil War. Douglass was instrumental in convincing President Lincoln and the U.S. Army to raise regiments of former slaves and free northern blacks to help fight the war and liberate their enslaved brethren in the South. He later met with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage. Though the slaves were free after the war, they did not get the right to vote until the 15th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution in July of 1868, over three years after the war's end.

In 1868, Douglass actively supported the presidential campaign of former Army General Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican. After winning the election, President Grant enforced the Klan Act and the Enforcement Act, two laws that aided the newly freed blacks in the South against white Southern attempts to dominate and intimidate them. Among other things, these laws suspended the right of habeas corpus in South Carolina, and allowed the President to send troops into the southern states in order to suppress the Klu Klux Klan, which at that time was using terrorism to undermine the authority of the United States government and to prevent free blacks from voting and using their other newly won rights.

Douglass wrote several books, the best known, and the most influential book he wrote is his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, first published in 1845. It became a best seller in the 1840s, and even today, in the early 21st Century, it is considered one of the most eloquent documents describing slavery, as written by a man who lived, suffered, and eventually escaped from, the cruelty of Southern slavery.

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Links and Resources

Internet Links:

Frederick Douglass--Biography of Frederick Douglass, the 19th century abolitionist and escaped slave. Covers his early life, his career as an abolitionist writer, and his life after Emacipation. Also includes a Douglass timeline.

Frederick Douglass--Biographical sketch based on PBS's Africans in America series.

Frederick Douglass - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia--Article on the life of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site--Dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Frederick Douglass, the famous 19th century African American abolitionist. Includes a Douglass biography and information about his home in Washington, D.C., now a museum.

New York Times: Death of Fred Douglass --1895 New York Times obituary for abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass NHS - Douglass' Life--Biography of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass (American Memory, Library of Congress)--Online collection of papers and writings by Frederick Douglass, the 19th century African American abolitionist who escaped from slavery. Also includes a Douglass timeline and family tree. From the Library of Congress.

Frederick Douglass--Frederick Douglass once told a group of African American students from a school in Talbot County, Maryland, "What was possible for me is possible for you. ...

Biography of Frederick Douglass-Champion of Civil and Women's RightsThe life, pholosophy, achievements, and principles of success of Frederick Douglass are used to empower people to believe in themselves and maximize their ...

Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass ...Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Contents. Preface by William Lloyd Garrison Preface by Wendell Phillips Chapter I ...

Frederick Douglass : Keele University : American StudiesFrederick Douglass National Historic Site (Washington DC) ... Photograph of Frederick Douglass, courtesy of the Library of Congress ...

Africans in America: Frederick Douglass --Profile of Frederick Douglass, the 19th century abolitionist activist and escaped slave. From the PBS series Africans in America.

Frederick Douglass Museum & Cultural Center --Dedicated to the abolitionist.

Frederick Douglass Institute - West Chester University --Academic program that supports, promotes, and advocates the study of Douglass and multiculturalism as a way of broadening our understanding of excellence in the human condition.

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Personal Data

Role in the war years: Douglass was instrumental in convincing the North to recruit African-Americans into the Army. Douglass also spoke and wrote in support of the war effort

Date of Birth: February, 1818

Date of Death: February 20, 1895

Occupation: Public speaker, publisher, author

Pre-War: Public speaker, publisher, author

Post-War: Public speaker, publisher, author, United States Marshal (appointed , 1877). Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia (appointed , 1881).


Family Connections:

--Anna Murray --1st Wife (m. 1838)

--Helen Pitts Douglass --2nd Wife (m. 1884)


Political Connections:

--Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Abolitionist & Suffragette.--Friend and political ally of Douglass.

--Ida B. Wells-Abolitionist & Suffragette.--Friend and political ally of Douglass.

--William Lloyd Garrison -Abolitionist. Political ally of Douglass.

--Wendell Phillips--Abolitionist. Political ally of Douglass.


Published Works:

A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)

"The Heroic Slave." Autographs for Freedom. Ed. Julia Griffiths Boston: Jewett and Company, 1853. 174-239.

My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892)

World Biography-More pages on contemporaries of Frederick Douglass.

Clara Barton-- The "Angel of the Battlefield" who brought nursing care to wounded soldiers during the Civil War and later founded the American Red Cross.

Mathew Brady-- The "Father of Photojournalism" whose photos of Civil War battlefields brought the horrors of war home to civilians on the homefront.

Dr. Benjamin Rush-- Signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Constitutional Convention, noted physician and ardent supporter for the abolition of slavery.

Thomas Nast-American political cartoonist.

General George Armstrong Custer-- Famous American Cavalry officer who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

General Robert E. Lee-- The commanding general for the South in the American Civil War.--New

Lorenzo de Zavala--First Vice-President of the Republic of Texas.

Frederick Douglass-- The famous orator, author, and champion against slavery.


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