Frederick Douglass (born in Talbot County, Maryland, in February 1818; passed away in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 1895) Abolitionist, author, newspaper proprietor, and orator of African American descent, best known for his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. In addition to becoming the most photographed American of the 19th century, he became the first Black marshal in American history.
Early life and enslavement of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, the ancestor of Douglass, was born into slavery on Holme Hill Farm in Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass calculated that he was born in February 1818, even though his exact birth date was unknown.
He thereafter observed his birthday on February 14. (The best source for information about the events of Douglass’s life is his own speeches and writings, particularly his three autobiographies, which have been revised and clarified by his biographers but whose specifics have generally been verified when available.)
Frederick Douglass’s with Capt. Aaron Anthony and Harriet Bailey:
Capt. Aaron Anthony, the superintendent of overseers and clerk for Edward Lloyd V. (Colonel Lloyd), a wealthy landowner and slave owner in eastern Maryland, was the owner of Douglass. Like many other kids under slavery, Douglass was extremely little when he was taken from his mother, Harriet Bailey. During his early years, he lived with his maternal grandmother Betsey Bailey, who was in charge of nurturing small slave children.
Working as a field hand on a nearby plantation, Harriet Bailey had to go over 12 miles (19 km) to see her son, who she had only seen a few times during his childhood. Her features were regular, her skin dark and glossy, and she was “tall and finely proportioned, of remarkably sedate and dignified among the slaves,” according to his description.
He was just seven years old when she passed away. Frederick Douglass discovered as an adult that his mother had been the only Black person in Talbot County at the time to be literate—an incredibly uncommon accomplishment for a field worker.
Douglass was brought to reside on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, Wye House, when he was five or six years old. At Lloyd’s plantation, everything ran like in a tiny town. Douglass was a young slave who was forced to compete with other young slaves for food and other luxuries. He was brought to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld at Fells Point, Baltimore, in 1826, when he was about eight years old.
The owner of Douglass, Aaron Anthony, was the son-in-law of Hugh’s brother, Capt. Thomas Auld. In Baltimore, Douglass’s job was to take care of Thomas, the baby son of Hugh and Sophia. Douglass and Sophia’s son started receiving reading instruction from Sophia.
But the lessons came to an abrupt halt when Hugh told Sophia that literacy would “spoil” a slave and found out what had been going on. Hugh said that a slave would “take an ell [a unit of measure equal to about 45 inches]” if offered one inch, according to Douglass.
It was illegal to educate enslaved persons to read and write in Maryland, as it was in many other states that allowed slavery. Douglass proceeded to learn surreptitiously by following the letters in Thomas’s old schoolbooks and trading bread for lessons from the impoverished white lads he played with in the neighborhood.
From Baltimore to St. Michaels
Douglass was transferred from Baltimore to St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in March 1832. Douglass’s owner became Captain. Thomas Auld, the widow of Aaron Anthony, after Lucretia passed away. Living with Auld, who was infamous for his violent behavior, put teenage Frederick Douglass in more difficult living circumstances.
Douglass was leased to a nearby farmer named Edward Covey in January 1833. Slaves were frequently hired or leased as a means of making money. Farmers would provide care, food, and housing for enslaved individuals in exchange for a monthly fee paid to slaveholders. Covey was referred to as a “slave breaker,” someone who mistreated enslaved people both physically and mentally to increase their compliance.
After Covey mistreated Frederick Douglass, he claims that six months into their relationship, there was a pivotal altercation. Douglass once came under attack from Covey, but Douglass retaliated. The two males got into a furious two-hour physical brawl. In the end, Douglass prevailed, and Covey refrained from attacking him going forward. Douglass came out of the experience vowing never to let anyone physically harm him again.
Frederick Douglass was transferred to William Freeland’s property in January 1834. Even though Freeland provided better living and working conditions, Douglass still yearned for independence. He established a Sabbath school where he taught local Black residents how to read and write while residing with Freeland.
Douglass and four other enslaved men had plans to escape north by traveling to Pennsylvania in a huge canoe up the coast of Maryland, but their scheme was uncovered. Douglass and the other attendees were taken into custody. Douglass was then transported back to Baltimore by Captain Auld to live once more with Hugh and Sophia Auld and to pick up a trade.
Douglass’s Employment with Hugh Auld
Douglass was employed as a ship caulker by Hugh Auld at nearby shipyards. Douglass was now employed by the shipyards as a skilled craftsman, and they paid him for his labor. After that, he would give Auld his money, and the latter would give Douglass a tiny portion of his earnings.
In due course, Douglass would hire out his own time, paying Auld a fixed weekly salary but bearing the cost of his own clothing and food. Douglass met Anna Murray, a Black lady who was born free, at this period when he started getting more involved in Baltimore’s Black community. They would later get married.
Watch a podcast or biography documentary on the life of Frederick Douglas
Heart of Black History:
Few characters in the colorful tapestry of Black History Month stand out as much as Frederick Douglass. As an escaped slave who went on to become an abolitionist, writer, and statesman, Frederick Douglass’s life story serves as a potent example of fortitude, bravery, and an unrelenting dedication to justice. This blog examines how Frederick Douglass, who broke free from the bonds of slavery to become a major figure in the struggle for liberty and equality, significantly influenced the annals of Black history.
Explore Frederick Douglass’s unwavering spirit as we examine his influential writings, speeches, and action that questioned the current status quo. Learn about the historical background of Frederick Douglass’s time and his significant contribution to the abolitionist cause by collaborating with well-known individuals such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. Examine the ways that Frederick Douglass’s legacy continues to inspire social justice movements and provide doors for a future that is more inclusive and egalitarian.