Frederick Douglass or Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland in February 1818, the time when African slaves were prominent in America. Frederick’s mother, Harriet Bailey, was a slave working for Captain Aaron Anthony. There are a few details which are uncertain in Frederick Douglass’ childhood, but he knew that his father was a white man, and he is uncertain as to his exact birthday. Frederick has no idea as to the name of his father, however, when he was young, he heard rumours that his father is his mother’s current master. Captain Aaron Anthony was a former sea captain and was very rich to afford thirty slaves. Frederick’s family was included in Aaron Anthony’s house of slaves, and they referred to Anthony as “the old master”. Anthony was also a known clerk and manager of the Wye House, a known plantation in Maryland.
When Frederick was young, he had no clear memories as to how his mother was like. A few months after his birth, Harriet had moved to another farm owned by Captain Anthony. In the 1800s, women slaves that get pregnant would give their children to a relative, preferably their grandmother or an aunt for them to be raised. Since elderly women were too old to do labor, they can at least prepare the next generation of slaves from the children they raised. In Frederick’s case, he was raised by his grandparents Betsey Bailey and Isaac Bailey. Isaac was a free black who earned by cutting and selling trees for lumber. Betsey was a former slave that was said to be a descendant of slaves from the Caribbean Islands. Betsey was the closest thing Frederick could have of a mother figure in his life. In his biography, Frederick saw his life with Betsey as a “spirited, joyous, uproarious, and happy” time as Betsey tried to provide him with a carefree life despite their family’s condition. Frederick played like a normal young kid around the woods, unaware that he would become a slave like his other family members. When Frederick turned six, Betsey Bailey led him to Wye House in the pretence to introduce him to his sisters Sarah and Eliza and his brother Perry. That was the last time Frederick would have met his grandmother as Betsey left Frederick to the Wye House to start his job as a slave with his siblings. Frederick was heartbroken, and found his life in the Wye House to be a nightmare due to Aunt Katy, the slave who led the kitchens and practiced strict discipline to those who would disobey her and to young children.
However, in his stay in the Wye House, he slowly met his mother Harriet who was then working on the nearby plantation twelve miles from the Wye House. Harriet would often complete her chores early to see Frederick and would usually see him at the Wye House kitchen in the evenings. In these visits, Harriet would comfort Frederick and try to become the mother she never had to Frederick. Frederick loved the attention his mother gave to him since he missed his grandmother greatly. However, one day, Aunt Katy refused to give Frederick food without any reason. Frederick decided to pull out some Indian corn in the fields and cooked it, coincidentally; Harriet arrived and saw what her son was eating. When she asked him the reason why he had no food, Frederick said Aunt Katy refused to give him food. Harriet confronted Aunt Katy and threatened to tell Katy’s abuse of power to the owner. It is by that time that Frederick he was really loved by his mother. However, the next day, he found himself alone, and it was the last time he would meet her as she died a year later. As he got older, he found out that it was his mother who managed to learn how to read and is the only black to manage this feat. He became very proud of her .
Life as a slave was hard for Frederick and to the other children as they were given chores that would have been possible in finishing if they were adults. Their meals were only enough for them, and they had little taste to satisfy their appetites. Two years after he was left in the Wye House, Captain Anthony lent him to his Huge and Sophie Auld in Baltimore. Sophia greeted the young Frederick with a warm smile, which surprised the young boy as he was sent there to be a slave. Frederick’s job as the Auld’s slave was to run errands and babysit his masters’ young son Tommy. Frederick’s live with the Aulds was different from his life in the plantation, he was given clothes, fed properly, and was even allowed his own bed and blanket. Sophia, who was not as resentful to slaves, treated Frederick like a son. She would read the Bible for both him and Tommy and sing hymns. It was through Sophia that Frederick learnt how to read, but Hugh stopped Sophia to teach him. Slaves were not permitted to learn how to read and write.
It is in his time with the Aulds that he realized his dream to find freedom from slavery thanks to his first bought a book “The Columbian Orator”. It took Frederick six years to buy this said book and learnt how to read and write himself. The book detailed positions by some people that slaves are also like their masters, they should be given freedom and rights. He agreed to this concept and dreamed to have his freedom. When he was let alone, he would sneak to read a newspaper or a book, figuring out what the words meant. He believed that if education as a key to get out of slavery, he had no time to lose to understand it. He also attended lessons in church lead by a free black named Dr. Lewis Wells. Frederick then learnt passages in the Bible which depicted stories of the Hebrews being freed from an evil Pharaoh. For Dr. Wells, Frederick was like Moses, a bridge that would open a road to freedom for the rest of the slaves in the region.
However, his life yet again changed when his original owner, Captain Anthony died and was given to Thomas Auld, a relative of the Aulds Frederick first served. With Thomas Auld, they moved to St. Michaels. Once there, Frederick applied what he learned with Dr. Lewis Wells and taught other slaves to read and write. Thomas Auld did not like what Frederick was doing so he sent him to work for a farmer, infamous for his cruelty with slaves. Frederick had to work both day and night and was whipped if the farmer believed he was not working hard enough. For Frederick, it was the main turning point for him to find the courage to break free from slavery. However, he knew that finding a method to escape his fate would be dangerous especially if they would be found. He tried to talk some slaves to come with him in 1836. However, before they could even enact the plan, the plan was discovered. Slave owners wanted Frederick to be sold, others wanted Frederick dead. The consensus ended up returning Frederick back to Hugh and Sophia. Once back in Baltimore, he worked in the ship docks and even met Anna Murray, the woman who caught his eyes. Since he was a slave, he could not marry Anna as slaves do not have the right to get married to the people they wished.
Frederick yet again tried to escape his fate as a slave and borrowed a sailor’s travelling papers to move to New York. Black people were required to carry papers that would prove that they are free and are allowed to travel around. Should a person be found without these papers, they may find being sold as a slave to be their fate even if he is a free man. By 1838, he managed to reach New York, where slavery was not tolerated or permitted. To escape his pursuers, he changed his last name to Douglass after the character in “The Lady of the Lake” by Sir Walter Scott. In New York, Frederick had to work various jobs to earn money. Earning gave Frederick a sense of pride as he did not need to give the money to his master. He managed to marry Anna Murray and settled in Massachusetts. Once there, he began to speak regarding the abolishment of slavery around the country. He toured various northern cities to build support for his campaign. Many were enticed by Frederick as his rhetorical style speeches managed to portray the disadvantages of slavery. It is in these tours that he met William Lloyd Garrison, known for his newspaper The Liberator. He first began writing for the known anti-abolitionist newspaper in 1841, impressing Garrison with Frederick’s stories of his time in slavery and how he perceives slavery all together. Frederick was able to prove what black people like him could accomplish if they were given a chance. A few years later, he wrote his autobiography entitled “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”. The biography concentrated in his struggles to break free from slavery and was not afraid to name his former owners. The book became a bestseller, and yet became a way for his pursuers to find him. He was then forced to leave America and move to England to avoid capture. He met friends while in England, who contributed funds to purchase him from slavery, finally receiving his freedom.
Once the Civil War began in 1961, he used his talents to recruit blacks to work under the Federal Army. For Frederick, the Civil War was a way to free slaves and the creation of a true democracy. However, he saw how badly the blacks were treated in the army, forcing him to complain to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln told Frederick to be patient as his fight to entice rights would be a slow process. Frederick became one of Lincoln’s trusted advisers throughout the Civil War and through him, he was able to push amends to ban slavery and give blacks the respect they deserved. When the Civil War ended, the Northern troops freed many slaves from their masters, slowly ending slavery. The victory in the Civil War also paved the way for the establishment of the 13th Amendment which bans slavery, the 14th Amendment which gave citizenship to all American born babies, and the 15th Amendment that allowed males over the age of 21 to vote. However, Frederick did not enjoy his victory in advocating for the end of slavery as Lincoln was shot to death in April 14, 1865. Despite this, opportunities for the freed slaves were increasing. Frederick held a couple of positions for the US government even after Lincoln. Rutherford Hayes appointed Frederick as the Federal Marshal in 1877. By 1881, he was appointed as the recorder of deeds in Washington. Eight years later, he became the ambassador or minister to Haiti. He still continued to talk about the restrictions in black rights and racism. He was able to visit Egypt, which was the land that inspired him to begin his search for freedom. Frederick Douglass died on February 20, 1985 after his attendance for a rally advocating for women’s rights to suffrage .
Ruffin, Frances. Frederick Douglass: Rising Up From Slavery. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2008. Print.
Spengler, Kremena. Frederick Douglass: Voice for Freedom. Mankato: Capstone Press, 2006. Print.