Portrait of Frederick Douglass

On July 5, 1852, during a holiday celebration sponsored by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, Douglass delivered what many consider to be his most famous speech, entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” [Wikimedia Commons]

Frederick Douglass - Facts

February 1818–February 20, 1895

Key facts about escaped slave and famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

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Full Name:

  • Frederick Douglass (aka Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey)

Birth Date:

  • c. February 1818

Birth Location:

  • Talbot County, Maryland

Parents:

  • Harriet Bailey (father unknown)

Education:

  • None

Occupation:

  • Anti-slavery lecturer
  • author
  • newspaper editor and publisher

Career Summary:

  • Lecturer for New England Anti-Slavery Society
  • Lecturer for Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society
  • editor and publisher of the North Star
  • editor and publisher of Frederick Douglass’ paper, New National Era

Spouse:

  • Anna Murray
  • Helen Pitts

Place of Death:

  • Washington, D.C.

Date of Death:

  • February 20, 1895

Place of Burial:

  • Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York

Significance:

  • Frederick Douglass’ birth name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.
  • As was the case with many slaves, Frederick Douglass did not know the exact date of his birth, but he chose to celebrate it on February 14.
  • Frederick Douglass’ mother, Harriet Bailey, was an African American slave, whose lineage may have included some Native American forebears.
  • Frederick Douglass’ father was an unknown white man, possibly his mother’s owner.
  • Separated from his mother as an infant, Frederick Douglass lived the first years of his life with his maternal grandmother, Betty Bailey, on another plantation.
  • Frederick Douglass’ mother died when he was about seven years old.
  • About the time Frederick Douglass’ mother died, he was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld. The Aulds subsequently sent Douglass to Baltimore to serve Thomas’ brother Hugh Auld.
  • When Frederick Douglass lived in Baltimore, Hugh Auld’s wife, Sophia, began teaching him the alphabet, a clear violation of statutes against educating slaves. When Auld’s husband learned of his wife’s activities, he forbade her from continuing the lessons.
  • In March 1832, when he was fourteen years old, Frederick Douglass returned to Thomas Auld’s custody at St. Michael’s plantation in eastern Maryland.
  • On January 1, 1833, Thomas Auld sent Frederick Douglass to toil as a field hand on the small farm of Edward Covey.
  • In January 1834, Thomas Auld next hired out Frederick Douglass to William Freeland.
  • In 1835, Frederick Douglass’ term of indenture was cut short when authorities arrested him for plotting an escape with two other slaves. Expecting to be sold into the Deep South, Douglass was elated to learn that Thomas Auld was instead sending him back to live again with his brother in Baltimore.
  • In 1835, Hugh Auld hired out Frederick Douglass to William Gardner, from whom he learned to caulk ships..
  • While living in Baltimore, Frederick Douglass began a love affair with Anna Murray, a free black woman.
  • On September 3, 1838, Frederick Douglass escaped from bondage.
  • On September 15, 1838, the Reverend James Pennington, who was also a fugitive slave from Maryland, married Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray.
  • In 1838, to avoid discovery by bounty hunters, Frederick Douglass assumed the surname of Johnson and moved farther north to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
  • In 1838, Frederick Douglass assumed the surname Douglass.
  • While living in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Frederick Douglass began attending anti-slavery meetings and became active in the abolitionist movement.
  • On August 11, 1841, Frederick Douglass gave his first anti-slavery speech.
  • After hearing Frederick Douglass speak on August 11, 1841, John A. Collins, the general agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, hired the escaped slave as a speaker on the spot.
  • In 1843, at the urging of William Lloyd Garrison, the New England Anti-Slavery Society hired Frederick Douglass to join its corps of speakers.
  • In 1845, Frederick Douglass published the first of four autobiographies, entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Receiving positive reviews, the book quickly became a bestseller.
  • From 1845 to 1847, Frederick Douglass lectured in England and Ireland.
  • During Frederick Douglass’ stay in England, British supporters purchased his freedom from Hugh Auld at a cost of 150 pounds sterling ($711.66 in American currency) on December 5, 1846.
  • In 1847, Frederick Douglass moved to Rochester, New York.
  • In Rochester, New York, on December 3, 1847, Frederick Douglass published the first edition of the North Star, a weekly anti-slavery publication that remained in circulation until June 1851 when it merged with Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper (based in Syracuse, New York) to form Frederick Douglass’ Paper.
  • In December 1847, Frederick Douglass had his first meeting with the radical abolitionist John Brown in Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • In July 1848, Frederick Douglass was the only African American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention.
  • During the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, Frederick Douglass delivered an impassioned speech that persuaded the majority of delegates to approve a resolution advocating for the enfranchisement of women.
  • During the 1850s, Frederick Douglass became increasingly active in the anti-slavery Liberty Party and later with the fledgling Republican Party.
  • On July 5, 1852, during a holiday celebration sponsored by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, Douglass delivered what many consider to be his most famous speech, entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
  • During the late 1850s, Frederick Douglass met with John Brown, spoke on his behalf, and solicited funds for the zealous abolitionist’s militant exploits to end slavery.
  • On August 20, 1859, Frederick Douglass met with John Brown to discuss Brown’s plan to take up arms against the U.S. government and attack the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Douglass disapproved of the scheme, and refused to get involved.
  • After John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, on November 13, 1859, Virginia Governor Richard Wise requested President James Buchanan’s assistance in apprehending Douglass who was charged with “murder, robbery, and inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia.”
  • On November 12, 1859, Frederick Douglass departed Canada for England where he remained for six months.
  • On February 24, 1861, Frederick Douglass signed on as an agent for the U.S. government to recruit black soldiers for the volunteer army.
  • As the Civil War progressed, Frederick Douglass became one of President Abraham Lincoln’s trusted advisors, and he endorsed the president’s reelection in 1864.
  • Following the Civil War, Frederick Douglass actively crusaded for enactment of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, bestowed citizenship on African Americans, and granted black Americans the right to vote.
  • Frederick Douglass’ support of the 14th and 15th amendments led to a rift with leading members of the American Equal Rights Association, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, because the proposed reforms granted voting rights to African American men, but did not enfranchise women.
  • In January of 1870, Frederick Douglass joined the staff of the New National Era as corresponding editor.
  • In December 1870, Frederick Douglass purchased the New National Era and became the newspaper’s editor-in-chief.
  • In 1872, when the Equal Rights Party nominated Frederick Douglass as the vice-presidential running-mate of their U.S. presidential candidate Victoria Claflin Woodhull, Douglass did not seek the position, nor, in fact, was he aware that he had become the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States until after the party’s delegates selected him.
  • On June 2, 1872, Frederick Douglass’ home in Rochester burned to ruins. Arson was suspected but never proven.
  • In 1872, Frederick Douglass relocated to the Washington, D.C., area where he resided for the remainder of his life.
  • In March 1874, trustees of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company (also known as Freedmen’s Bank) appointed Frederick Douglass as president of the institution.
  • On March 18, 1877, Frederick Douglass became the first African American confirmed for a presidential appointment in U.S. history when the U.S. Senate approved his appointment as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.
  • In 1877, Frederick Douglass purchased an estate of nearly ten acres overlooking the Anacostia River, which he and his wife, Anna, named Cedar Hill. Located at 1411 W Street SE, Washington, D.C., the home is now preserved as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service.
  • In 1881, President James A. Garfield installed Frederick Douglass as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.
  • In 1881, Frederick Douglass published his third autobiography, entitled Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Sales of the book, as well as a revised edition published the following year, were disappointing.
  • On August 4, 1882, Frederick Douglass’ wife, Anna, died unexpectedly of a stroke.
  • On January 24, 1884, Frederick Douglass married his former secretary and notable feminist, Helen Pitts. Because Helen was white and nearly twenty years younger than Douglass, the marriage was not well received by either family, or by many citizens—white or black.
  • On January 5,1886, Frederick Douglass resigned his position as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia and embarked on an extended tour of Europe, visiting England, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt, and Greece.
  • In 1887, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Frederick Douglass as Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti on July 1, 1889. Two months later, Harrison also named Douglass as Charge’ d’Affaires for Santo Domingo, as well as Minister to Haiti.
  • In 1891, Frederick Douglass resigned his appointments in Haiti following a dispute with the state department.
  • In 1893, Haiti named Douglass a co-commissioner of its pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
  • On February 20, 1895, Frederick Douglass suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of seventy-seven.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Frederick Douglass - Facts
  • Coverage February 1818–February 20, 1895
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 28, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021
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