Frederick Douglass: Quick Facts
Birth Name: Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (Later changed to Frederick Douglass)
Date of Birth: February 1818
Place of Birth: Cordova, Maryland
Date of Death: 20 February 1895 (77 Years of Age)
Place of Death: Washington, D.C.
Place of Burial: Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York
Spouse(s): Anna Murray (Married in 1838; Died in 1882); Helen Pitts (Married in 1884)
Children: Rosetta Douglass; Charles Remond Douglass; Lewis Henry Douglass; Annie Douglass; Frederick Douglass Jr.
Father: Anthony Aaron (Disputed)
Mother: Harriet Bailey
Occupation: Former Slave; Abolitionist; Suffragist; Author; Diplomat; Editor
Best Known For: Commitment to abolitionism and his belief in equality for all.
Political Affiliation: Republican Party
Quick Facts About Douglass
Quick Fact #1: Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery along the east short of Cordova, Maryland. Historians remain uncertain as to the exact day of his birth. In later life, however, Douglass chose February 14th as his official birthday. Douglass was of mixed race, with a Native American and African heritage on his mother’s side. It is also believed that his father was likely white. In later recollections, Douglass admitted that he never knew his mother, as he was separated from her at a very young age. However, Frederick did live with his maternal grandmother, Betty Bailey.
Quick Fact #2: At the age of six, Douglass was separated from his grandmother after being moved to the Wye House Plantation, where his father (still disputed) served as overseer. However, after only a few years, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, and later sent to serve her husband’s brother, Hugh Auld, in Baltimore. Under the instruction of Auld’s wife, Sophia, Douglass was taught the alphabet and how to read (though she eventually became convinced that teaching slaves was wrong). Through this newfound ability, Douglass continued to read in his spare time, and, in the process, developed strong feelings against slavery. He later used his reading ability to teach slaves on a nearby plantation to read the New Testament during Sunday School. Upon learning of his teaching, however, Douglass was quickly taken away from Auld and sent to work for Edward Covey (a well-known slave-breaker).
Quick Fact #3: After enduring regular beatings from Covey as well as psychological torment on a daily basis, Douglass eventually did the unthinkable. Prompted to wrath by a fierce beating, Douglass decided to fight back against Covey; beating him in the process. The event so shocked Covey that he never attempted to beat Douglass again. Shortly after the incident, Douglass began making attempts to escape. After his first attempt failed in 1836, he tried once more in 1838 (motivated by the new love of his life, Anna Murray – a free black woman who resided in Baltimore). Douglass succeeded in his escape by covertly boarding a train for the North. Dressed in a sailor’s suit provided to him by Anna Murray, the disguised Douglass was able to cross the into Delaware, into Pennsylvania, and finally New York City. Murray followed suit, and the couple married soon after on 15 September 1838. After changing his name, the couple then settled in Massachusetts, where he joined a church and became active with the abolitionist movement.
Quick Facts Continued...
Quick Fact #4: Douglass became a major component of the abolitionist movement through his speeches and autobiography that discussed the horrors of slave-life. In 1845, his autobiography was published for the first time, entitled: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and American Slave. The book sold more than 5,000 copies in just a few months. Douglass also published two additional autobiographies entitled: My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). After gaining fame for his first work, Douglass went into hiding in August 1845 to Ireland and Britain, where he remained for two years (due to fears of being sent back to his old master). After raising funds, supporters in England were able to contact his former master, Hugh Auld, and purchase Douglass’s freedom, legally. After the formal paperwork was signed, Douglass returned home the following year, a free man, protected legally from being taken back into slavery.
Quick Fact #5: Although Douglass was a member of the abolitionist movement, he never supported radical abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown. After learning of Brown’s plan to lead an armed uprising in the South, Douglass refused to support the initiative and distanced himself from Brown and his followers. Because of Douglass’s refusal to accept radical efforts, a great divide opened within the abolitionist movement.
Quick Fact #6: Apart from his ability to speak with great enthusiasm and fervor, Douglass also became a well-known and prominent writer. In 1847, he even established his own newspaper called The North Star. The newspaper become one of the most influential anti-slavery publications of the antebellum era.
Quick Fact #7: Following the end of the Civil War, Douglass continued to play a role in social and political issues that gripped America during Reconstruction. Aside from anti-slavery efforts, Douglass became a major voice for women’s suffrage, as well as the right for African-Americans to vote. Douglass continued in these endeavors until his death on 20 February 1895. After returning home from a meeting in Washington, D.C., Douglass suffered a fatal heart-attack; thus, ending the career of one of the Nineteenth Century’s most prominent figures.
Fun Fact #1: The name “Douglass” was only used as a cover for young Frederick as he escaped to the North. Douglass selected the surname after a character from a poem entitled: The Lady of the Lake (By Sir Walter Scott).
Fun Fact #2: After his wife Anna passed away in 1882, Douglass remarried in 1884 to Helen Pitts. The marriage was quite scandalous for its time due to the fact that Helen was not only twenty years younger than Douglass, but also white. Despite the controversy, the couple remained together for the rest of Douglass’s life.
Fun Fact #3: Douglass became the first black U.S. Marshall, and also served as U.S. Minister to Haiti in 1889. He was also the first African-American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States. Later, in 1888, Douglass was also the first African-American to receive a vote for President of the United States during a Party roll call vote.
Fun Fact #4: Douglass was the Nineteenth Century’s most photographed American. With nearly 160 different portraits made of Douglass, he had more pictures than either Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman.
Fun Fact #5: Although Douglass refused to support the radical efforts of abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown, he nevertheless played a major role in encouraging black soldiers to enlist in the Union Army. Two of Douglass’s sons eventually joined the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”— Frederick Douglass
Quotes by Douglass
Quote #1: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Quote #2: It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Quote #3: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
Quote #4: “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
Quote #5: “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s history.”
Quote #6: “A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.”
Quote #7: “There is not a man beneath the canopy of Heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”
Quote #8: “The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”
Quote #9: “I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.”
Quote #10: “A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.”
Have you ever read any of Frederick Douglass's autobiographies?
In closing, Frederick Douglass remains one of the most important and influential figures to emerge from the Nineteenth Century. His contributions to the abolitionist movement, as well as his devotion to social issues facing America during the Reconstruction Era played key roles in the development of basic rights for both African-Americans and women. Without Douglass’s contributions, American culture and society would likely look much different than it appears today. As more research is conducted on the life of this American hero, it will be interesting to see what new information can be learned about his life and contributions to American society.
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Blight, David W. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Dover Publications, 1995.
Wikipedia contributors, "Frederick Douglass," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Frederick_Douglass&oldid=888392109 (accessed March 20, 2019).
© 2019 Larry Slawson