Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery on an unknown day in early 1817. He was reared with other slave children until he was nine years old. At that age he was sent to Baltimore where he became a household slave and was taught to read. In 1833 he was sent to a farm where he did hard labor; he was miserable but pushed himself to avoid being flogged by his master. His master soon apprenticed him to a ship caulker in Baltimore.
Douglas escaped from slavery on September 2, 1838, married a free woman named Anna Murray, and fled to New Bedford, Massachusetts. There he took the name of Frederick Douglass and began to speak publicly about slavery. He began working with abolitionists in 1841 and soon devoted all of his time and talents to helping his people.
When rumors began flying that he had never actually been a slave, Douglass wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and published it in 1845. His book revealed the name and residence of his master and thus exposed Douglass’ to the possibility of returning to the life of a slave. To avoid this danger, Douglass traveled and lectured in England, Scotland, and Ireland for two years. Friends purchased his freedom, and he returned to the United States.
Douglas published a weekly paper for sixteen years. The paper began as the North Star but its name was later changed to Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Douglass claimed that employers were hiring white immigrants before black Americans. During the Civil War he was active organizing “Negro” for the Union.
By the end of the war, Douglass was much in demand as a lecturer. He served as assistant secretary to the Santo Domingo Commission. In 1877 President Hayes appointed Douglass as the first “Negro” to hold the office of U.S. Marshall of the District of Columbia. He remained a prominent spokesman for his people and served as president of many national conventions on “Negro” rights.
Anna Murray, Douglass’ first wife and the mother of his five children, died in 1882. In January 1884 he married Helen Pitts. He served as minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. He passed away on February 20, 1895 in Washington, D.C.