Douglass, Frederick

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Douglass was born in Maryland to a slave woman and named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; his father was white - quite possibly his mother's owner (a common practice). As a young child of six he was taken from his mother and raised by his grandmother, whose job was raising young slaves until they could work. When he was seven he was moved to a new plantation, owned by the same master, where his brother and two sisters were already working.

They were very badly treated and he rarely saw his mother during the next year; she died when he was seven. He was sold again and rented out several times, but one owner's wife taught him to read.

He eventually escaped to the North, established an abolitionist newspaper, the North Star (1845), and became one of the greatest abolitionist orators and agitators. Even then he was in fear of slave-catchers (bounty hunters who specialized in catching escaped slaves and returning them to their owners for the reward money) and had to escape to England. Friends bought his freedom and he was able to return to America.

He continued speaking and writing, was an adviser to President Lincoln, and after emancipation he served as US Marshall of the District of Columbia and as ambassador to Haiti. His home is now a US National Monument. One authority names him as arguably the greatest orator in the history of America.


Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97
Dictionary of American Biography
Davidson, Margaret. Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1968)
Frederick Douglass, edited by Bertram A. Fitzgerald, Jr. 2 parts. (Dix Hills: Fitzgerald Pub. Co., 1969-70) (Golden Legacy series)
Russell, Sharman Apt. Frederick Douglass. (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988) (Black Americans of Achievement)
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. (1881). Extract (from William Lloyd Garrison's Preface). Also available as: "Douglass the Orator" at:
"A Short Biography of Frederick Douglass." [Includes portraits]. Available at:


19th Century
Civil Rights, Advocacy
Government, Politics, Civil Service, Public Administration
Poor Educational Opportunities, Self-taught
Trans-Racial, Trans-Tribal, International or Trans-Cultural Adoption or Fostering
Birth Siblings Placed Together
Tracing Impossible or Birth Family Extinct
Related Topics
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