Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # cph. 3b02728

Born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) would rise to become one of the foremost African American leaders of the nineteenth century.  Sent to Baltimore while still a boy to be trained as a house servant, he started to learn to read and write with the assistance of his owner’s wife, Sophia Auld, although it was against the law in Maryland at that time to educate slaves. In 1838, Douglass escaped slavery by traveling to New York in the disguise of a sailor. He soon thereafter married a free black woman, Anna Murray, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A regular subscriber to The Liberator, the abolitionist journal edited by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass was invited to speak at a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1841.  The oratorical power of the former slave amazed the audience and opened up a new career as a lecturer. More fame would come his way with the 1845 publication of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies that he would write. In 1847, Douglass founded and assumed the editorship of The North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass believed strongly in emancipation as a war aim, and that it was critically important for blacks to be allowed entry into the armed forces in the fight to end slavery.  A good portion of his energies in 1863 were involved in the successful recruitment drives for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments, in which his own sons Lewis and Charles served.  Following the Civil War, Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., and held several government positions, including the United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, and the United States Minister to Haiti. A life-long advocate for the rights of women and minorities, he was in attendance at a women suffrage meeting on the day of his death.

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