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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Study Guide

Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass | Biography


Frederick Douglass was born around 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. His given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. As an infant, Frederick was separated from his mother, who was a slave. He saw her only a handful of times before she died when he was around seven. All he knew about his father was that he was white; he suspected that his mother's white master was his father.

Frederick lived with his maternal grandmother until he began working in the home of the plantation owner. Early on, he witnessed the horrors of slavery, including brutal whippings. Along with the other slaves, he was often cold and hungry.

Later, Frederick was sent to Baltimore to serve in the home of Hugh and Sophia Auld. Sophia taught Frederick the alphabet and some simple words but stopped teaching him after her husband forbade her. However, Frederick continued to learn to read and write on his own and with help from others in the neighborhood. This skill impacted him greatly and inspired him to challenge the idea of his enslavement.

After being returned to the plantation, Frederick fought back against a slave breaker (a person who specializes in destroying the wills of unruly slaves) and began orchestrating an escape to freedom, but his plan was discovered before it could be carried out. He was then sent back to Baltimore and the Auld's. Frederick eventually escaped to New York, where he married Anne Murray, a free black woman he'd met while in Baltimore. The couple settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and adopted the surname Douglass.

Douglass regularly attended abolitionist meetings and eventually shared his story. Other abolitionists were impressed with Douglass, and he became a regular speaker and lecturer. Douglass wrote his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (the first of his three autobiographies) around this time. It was well received, became a best seller, and brought Douglass publicity in the United States and in Britain.

Douglass went on to become one of the most renowned African Americans of his time. He was a prolific writer and speaker. He was the first African American to be nominated for the vice presidency of a political party, the Equal Rights party. He was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln and served as minister to Haiti. He died on February 20, 1895, in Washington, DC.

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