Frederick Douglass was an Escaped
Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who became a prominent and staunch abolitionist. He was born into slavery in or around 1818—the precise year remains a mystery, even to Douglass himself. His mother was of Native American descent. Meanwhile, his father was of European and African ancestry. Frederick Douglass’ surname was Bailey (his mother’s), but after his escape, he decided to change his last name to Douglass. He was separated from his parents at birth, and he lived with his grandmother until the age of six. At the age of six, he was moved away from her to live and work on the Wye House plantation in Maryland.
Then, he was “given” to to Lucretia Auld, whose husband, Thomas, sent him to work with his brother Hugh in Baltimore. Douglass attributes Hugh’s wife, Sophia, as the person who introduced him to the alphabet. From there, he taught himself how to read and write. One of the ways Douglass fought back against his oppressors was by teaching other slaves to read by using the bible. Unfortunately, upon hearing of his efforts to educate fellow slaves, Auld took him back and “gave him” to Edward Covey, a farmer who was known for treating the slaves he owned with brutality. After many failed escape attempts, in 1838, he boarded a train and went to the safehouse of abolitionist Dave Ruggles in New York.
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After marrying Anna Murray, a free black woman from Baltimore he met while in captivity with the Aulds, the couple moved to to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where they met Nathan and Mary Johnson, a married couple who were born “free persons of color.” It was the Johnsons who inspired the couple to take the surname Douglass, after the character in the Sir Walter Scott poem, “The Lady of the Lake.” In New Bedford, Douglass began attending meetings of the abolitionist movement. During these meetings, he was exposed to the writings of abolitionist and journalist William Lloyd Garrison. The two men eventually met when both were asked to speak at an abolitionist meeting, during which Douglass shared his story of slavery and escape.
It was Garrison who encouraged Douglass to become a speaker and leader in the abolitionist movement. By 1843, Douglass had become part of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s “Hundred Conventions” project, a six-month tour through the United States. Douglass was physically assaulted several times during the tour by those opposed to the abolitionist movement. In one particularly brutal attack, in Pendleton, Indiana, Douglass’ hand was broken. The injuries never fully healed, and he never regained full use of his hand.
Two years later, Douglass published the first and most famous of his five autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. In it, he wrote: “From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom.” He also noted, “Thus is slavery the enemy of both the slave and the slaveholder.” Frederick Douglass’ legacy permeates time. His work served as an inspiration to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and his legacy inspires contemporary political movements such as Black Lives Matter to this day.