Frederick Douglass American Abolitionist


Frederick Douglass

"Who would be free themselves must strike the blow....I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the Government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity."
...Frederick Douglass
"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."
"There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the american people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution."
Voice of Freedom
Voice of Freedom
A Story About Frederick Douglass

Interesting for both children and adults, this book does much to evoke the strong-minded, highly-principled person who inspired so many others

Frederick Douglass saw the Civil War as the inevitable consequence of man's inhumanity to man and a necessary conflagration to break the bonds of slavery. He saw immediately that if former slaves could fully participate in the fighting, they could not be denied full citizenship in the Republic. George Luther Turner, one of the original backers of John Brown, became a major in the Union Army. He immediately turned to Douglass to help recruit "Colored" Troops.

The March issue of "Douglass Monthly" issued the well known challenge "Men of Color To Arms." Douglass recruited over one hundred free blacks from upstate New York for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts. Among the recruits arriving at boot camp were two of Douglass' sons Lewis and Charles.

Lewis, the older son, served as the first sergeant major of the 54th and he was in the thick of the fighting at Fort Wagner where 1515 Union troops were mowed down by a blistering barrage from the Confederate stronghold. Lewis marveled that he returned unharmed from the assault.

President Lincoln sought Douglass' advise and invited him to the White House. Apparently the two men came to an immediate understanding and respect for one another. Douglass left that meeting feeling that his concerns would be addressed and he agreed to continue to do more recruiting. Douglass had one more meeting with Lincoln on behalf of the black soldiers concerning equal pay.

He felt that his advise was sincerely sought and duly considered. Nevertheless, Douglass was often frustrated by Lincoln's procrastination in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863, was a decisive moment in the relationship of Douglass and Lincoln. Once having been issued, the slavery system was doomed. Douglass had persuaded Lincoln to make the pronouncement, and once having done so, the course of the war and the future of the nation were profoundly changed.

  On March 2, 1863, eminent abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass sent out this powerful message in his newspaper, Douglass Monthly . Titled "Men of Color, to Arms!" it urged black men to support the nation's war and the crusade to end generations of slavery. Approximately 180,000 African American soldiers took up the call to fight for the Union, comprising more than 10% of all Federal forces. Knowing that a Northern loss could mean possible reenslavement, freemen and former slaves showed dedication to their country and a commitment to the freedom of their people forever.  
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Black Slaveowners

Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860
An analysis of all aspects and particularly of the commercialism of black slaveowning debunks the myth that black slaveholding was a benevolent institution based on kinship, and explains the transition of black masters from slavery to paid labor.

Frederick Douglass Timeline
1818 Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, a slave, in Tuckahoe, Talbot County, Maryland. Mother is a slave, Harriet Bailey, and father is a white man, rumored to be his master, Aaron Anthony. He had three older siblings, Perry, Sarah, and Eliza.
1819-23 Raised by grandmother Betsey Bailey at Holme Hill Farm, where he was born; sees his mother only a few times.
1820 Sister Kitty is born.
1822 Sister Arianna is born.
1824 Moves to plantation on Wye River, where he lives with his siblings Perry, Sarah, and Eliza.
1825 Sees his mother for the last time.
His mother dies.
Sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld and his wife Sophia. His master, Aaron Anthony, dies late in the year; Frederick becomes the property of Thomas Auld, Anthony's son-in-law. Thomas Auld sends him back to Hugh Auld.
1827 Asks Sophia Auld to teach him to read. She does so until Hugh Auld stops them, believing that education makes slaves rebellious.
1829-30 Works in shipyard as general assistant; practices reading and writing in secret.
1831 Reads newspaper article on John Quincy Adams's antislavery petitions in Congress; learns of the abolitionist movement.
Buys copy of a compilation of speeches, Caleb Bingham's The Columbian Orator , with which he hones his reading and speaking skills.
1832 Sister Sarah is sold to a planter in Mississippi.
1833 Sent to St. Michaels, Maryland, where he works for Thomas Auld. Tries to teach other slaves to read until Auld discovers it and stops him.
1834 Auld rents him out to farmer Edward Covey, known as a "slave breaker." He is beaten several times and finally fights back. Covey never tries to beat him again.
1835 Hired out to work for William Freeland, a Talbot County, Maryland, farmer. Secretly organizes Sunday school and teaches other slaves to read.
1836 Makes an escape plan but is discovered, jailed, and then released. He returns to work for Hugh and Sophia Auld in Baltimore and is hired out to work as a caulker in a Baltimore shipyard. The knowledge he gains there helps him escape slavery two years later.


Joins the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, a debating club of free black men. Through the society, he meets a free African-American housekeeper, Anna Murray.
1838 September 3
Borrowing papers from a free black sailor, he escapes from slavery to New York and changes his last name to Johnson.

September 15
Marries Anna Murray. The ceremony is performed by minister James W. C. Pennington, who is also an escaped Maryland slave.

  The newlyweds move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Frederick works as an unskilled laborer. They stay with caterers Mary and Nathan Johnson. Nathan suggests that Frederick take on the last name Douglas, from a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake. He does so, spelling it Douglass.
  Tries to get job as a caulker, but white workers threaten to quit if he is hired.


June 24
Daughter Rosetta is born.

Douglass subscribes to William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist weekly The Liberator. Hears Garrison speaking in April.

Becomes a licensed preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.


October 9
Son Lewis Henry is born.


Speaks at an antislavery meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Abolitionist William C. Coffin talks him into speaking about his life as a slave at a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention. William Lloyd Garrison follows his remarks with a speech of his own, encouraging Douglass. The Society is impressed and he is hired as a speaker. Douglass becomes closely allied with Garrison and his abolitionist views.


March 3
Son Frederick is born.

Meets black abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond.


At an antislavery meeting in Pendleton, Indiana, he is beaten by a mob. His right hand is broken in the scuffle and he never fully recovers the use of his hand.


October 21
Son Charles Remond is born.


Publishes Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass . In it, he reveals details that could lead to his arrest as a fugitive slave.

He meets Susan B. Anthony while on a speaking tour. Later he becomes a champion of women's rights.

Begins tour of Great Britain and Ireland, lecturing on slavery with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. English friends raise money to "purchase" his freedom; Douglass is manumitted after Hugh Auld receives $711.66 in payment.

1847 Returns from overseas tour; moves to Rochester, New York.

With money raised by English and Irish friends, buys printing press and begins publishing the abolitionist weekly North Star. He continues publishing it until 1851.

1848 Participant in first women's rights convention, Seneca Falls, New York.

Meets and becomes acquaintance of abolitionist John Brown.

Begins sheltering escaped slaves fleeing north on the "underground railroad."

Daughter Rosetta is asked to leave school in Rochester because she is African-American; Douglass begins struggle to end segregation in Rochester public schools.

1849 March 22
Daughter Annie is born.

Hires a tutor to teach his wife, Anna, to read, but the effort is unsuccessful.

1851 Merges North Star with Gerrit Smith's Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass' Paper (printed until 1860). Agrees with Smith that the Constitution is an antislavery document, reversing his earlier statements that it was pro slavery, an opinion he had shared with William Lloyd Garrison. This change of opinion, as well as some political differences, create a rift between Douglass and Garrison. Douglass begins to assert his independence in the antislavery movement.
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin , an antislavery novel. It sells three hundred thousand copies its first year in print and helps galvanize opinions on both sides of the slavery issue.
1855 Publication of his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom .
1856 Becomes friends with Ottilia Assing, a German journalist living in New Jersey. She eventually translates My Bondage and My Freedom into German.
1857 In the Dred Scott case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that African Americans are not U.S. citizens and that Congress has no authority to restrict slavery in U.S. territories.
1859 John Brown and other abolitionist followers raid the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, then in Virginia. He plans to start a slave insurrection and provide refuge for fleeing slaves. Federal troops capture him, and he is eventually tried and hanged. Authorities find a letter from Douglass to Brown. Douglass flees to Canada and then to a planned lecture tour of England to escape arrest on charges of being an accomplice in Brown's raid.
1859-63 Begins publishing Douglass' Monthly , first as a supplement to Frederick Douglass' Paper. It becomes an independent publication the following year and is distributed until 1863.
1860 March
Daughter Annie dies in Rochester.

Returns to the United States and is not charged in the John Brown raid.

Abraham Lincoln is elected president.

South Carolina secedes from the Union.

1861 The Civil War begins.


Congress abolishes slavery in Washington, D.C.


Jan. 1
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation takes effect, abolishing slavery in the states that are "in rebellion."

Douglass becomes a recruiter for the 54 th Massachusetts Infantry, the first regiment of African-American soldiers; his sons Lewis and Charles join the regiment. Eventually his son Frederick Douglass Jr. becomes an army recruiter also. About 180,000 African Americans serve in the Civil War on the Union side.

August 10
Meets with President Lincoln to discuss the unequal pay and poor treatment black soldiers receive.


August 19
Meets with Lincoln again. In case the war is not a total Union victory, Lincoln asks Douglass to prepare an effort to assist slaves escaping to the North.


April 14
Lincoln is assassinated.

December 18
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery, is ratified.


Douglass lectures on Reconstruction and women's rights.


Edits and then owns the New National Era , a weekly newspaper for African Americans. He loses ten thousand dollars when the paper folds in 1874.

Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution adopted. This amendment states that the rights of citizens to vote cannot be denied "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."


President Ulysses S. Grant appoints Douglass to the commission investigating the possibility of annexing the Dominican Republic to the U.S.


The Equal Rights Party nominates Douglass for vice-president of the United States on a ticket headed by Victoria C. Woodhull.

Douglass moves his family to Washington, D.C., after a mysterious fire destroys his home in Rochester. He attributes the fire to arson.


Becomes president of the troubled Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company. Works with the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to save the bank, which ultimately fails.


Congress passes a Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination in public places.
1877 Douglass is appointed U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia by President Hayes.
1878 Purchases Cedar Hill, in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. The twenty-room house sits on nine acres of land. He later expands the estate by buying fifteen acres of adjoining land.
1881 Publishes his third and final autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.  Address for John Brown
President Garfield appoints one of his own friends to the post U.S. Marshall and makes Douglass recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, then a high-paying job.
1882 August 4
Douglass's wife of forty-four years, Anna Murray Douglass, dies after suffering a stroke. Douglass goes into a depression.
1883 The U.S. Supreme Court rules the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional.
1884 January 24
Douglass marries Helen Pitts, a white woman who had been his secretary when he was recorder of deeds. The interracial marriage causes controversy among the Douglasses' friends, family, and the public.
1886-87 Tours Europe and Africa with wife.
1889 July 1
Appointed U.S. minister resident and consul general, Republic of Haiti, and chargé d'affaires, Santo Domingo. Arrives in Haiti in October.
1890 The U.S. government instructs Douglass to ask permission for the U.S. Navy to use the Haitian port town of Môle St. Nicholas as a refueling station.
1891 In April Haiti rejects the Navy's proposal as too intrusive. The U.S. press reports that Douglass is too sympathetic to Haitian interests. Douglass resigns as minister to Haiti in July.
1892-93 Douglass is commissioner in charge of the Haitian exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

February 20
Speaks at a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. Dies suddenly that evening of heart failure while describing the meeting to his wife.

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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