Frederick Douglass was one of the most important black leaders of the Antislavery movement. He was born in 1817 in Talbot County, MD. He was the son of Harriet Bailey and an unknown white man. His mother was a slave so therefore he was born a slave. He lived with his grandparents until the age of eight, so he never knew his mother well. When he turned eight, he was sent to “Aunt Kathy,” a woman who took care of slave children on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. When he was nine, he was sent to Baltimore where he lived with Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Auld. He started to study reading with Mrs. Auld but Mr. Auld forbid it.
However, he still managed to learn anyway. To cause him to comply with slavery more easily, Mr. Auld sent to him to Edward Covey, a man who specialized in breaking down the spirits of rebellious slaves, or a “slave breaker. ” While there, he was beaten daily for the slightest offense against the strict rules. One day he finally fought back in a fight that lasted two hours, and forced Covey to stop trying to “break” him. He was returned to Auld, where he was sent to a shipyard to learn the caulker’s trade. But that didn’t stop his education, he not only learned caulking but he also learned to write by tracing he letters on the ship front.
Using seaman’s papers given to him by a free black he escaped by sea. He tried to get work as a caulker but racial discrimination forced him to become a common laborer. To avoid being taken back, he changed his last name to Douglass. He soon became a large part of the antislavery movement when he came in association with The Liberator, which belonged to William Lloyd Garrison, and he also joined the black Garrisonians of New Bedford. He attended the Massachusetts Anti- Slavery Society in Nantucket, in 1841. When they asked him to speak, he spoke of his experiences as a slave.
His speech made a deep impression, and the society hired him as a full-time speaking agent. He spoke at many conventions and spoke against slavery and the rights of free blacks. Sometimes white mobs broke up his conventions but he continued as a lecturer. He soon became one of the leading black abolitionists and on of the most famous lecturers of that time period. As his speeches grew and became more cultivated, people began to doubt that he was ever a slave. So he wrote an autobiography entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845. In this book he described every detail of his life as a slave.
He then later wrote two more autobiographies entitled My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855 and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1882. Since his books were so greatly detailed, he was in danger of being recaptured. So he went away. He toured Britain for two years. While there he spoke against slavery and his speeches had as much impact on audiences as they did in the United States. He returned to the United States after his British friends acquired his freedom. Since blacks were considered inferior then, Douglass decided to start a newspaper of his own that was run entirely by blacks.
Garrison complained saying hat Douglass’ talents as a speaker would be wasted. Yet in spite of Garrison’s objections, Douglass moved to Rochester, N. Y. , and started the weekly The North Star which was later changed to Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He continued to publish it from December 1847 to May 1863. In the paper he advocated the rights of free blacks and slaves. Douglass also supported may causes such as women’s rights. Since Douglass was a Garrisonian he didn’t believe in politics since it supported the constitution which Garrisonians thought supported slavery. When he moved to Rochester, he met “political abolitionists”.
They supported the constitution saying that it forbid slavery. The called for electing abolitionists into public office. Garrison felt that the north should separate its self from the south. However, Douglass was convinced that this would leave the slaves to their masters. Garrison then accused him as an “apostate” and the two parted. Douglass worked closely with the small Liberty Party which called for the total elimination of slavery, from 1848 to the 1850’s. However, on occasion he supported the Free Soil and Republican parties, which only called to prevent to the spread of slavery.
Douglass soon came to decline Garrison’s philosophy on slavery. Douglass’ house in Rochester was a station in the “Underground Railroad,” a group of people who helped runaway slaves escape to Canada. He approved of John Brown’s advocacy of armed forces to help slaves escape. But he opposed Brown’s plan to attack the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Va. , in 1859. Yet when they captured Brown in the assault, Douglass was accused as an accomplice. He had to flee to Canada to avoid being arrested and tried for treason. Douglass later returned in 1860 when the confusion had diminished.
During the Civil War, Douglass said that the true cause of the war was slavery and that blacks should be admitted into the Union army. His own sons were of the first volunteers for the all black regiment formed in Massachusetts. In 1865 there were 300,000 blacks in the Union army. In 1865-1877, he campaigned for black vote and full civil rights for the freedmen. He was a leading Republican advocate, and held several federal posts. Douglass was minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. He died on February 29, 1895. He was honored as the nation’s greatest black leader.