- Frederick Douglass was born on a plantation in Maryland. The year of his birth is unknown. He was separated from his mother when he was just a baby and his grandmother and grandfather raised him.
- When he was six years old, Frederick was sent to work in another house and later given to a man named Thomas Auld. Thomas’s wife, Lucretia, took an interest in young Frederick and wanted a better life for him. She sent him to Baltimore to live with Thomas’s brother, Hugh.
- Hugh’s wife Sophia was very kind to him. She gave him good food and a real bed with sheets and blankets. She also taught him the alphabet.
- But Hugh thought that teaching slaves to read was a bad idea. Under his influence, Sophia stopped teaching Frederick and hid reading material in the house. But Frederick was determined. He secretly taught himself to read.
- When he was twelve, he read a book called “The Columbian Orator,” as well as newspaper articles about human rights and slavery. These materials inspired him to want freedom.
- Later, he was sent to work on a plantation. He began teaching other slaves to read and soon had regular meetings with 40 or more people.
- The slave owners were furious. Thomas took Frederick back from Hugh and sent him to Edward Covey, a man known for his cruelty to slaves. He whipped Frederick almost daily. Frederick says his body, spirit, and mind were broken by this man.
- When he was 16, Frederick fought back. After that, Edward didn’t beat him again.
- Frederick tried to escape from slavery twice before he finally succeeded with the help of Anna Murray, who would later become his wife. He arrived in New York City and wrote about his excitement and joy. He said he lived more in that first day of freedom than he had in his whole life as a slave.
- Frederick Douglass believed in equality for all people. He thought it was important to talk with others, even those he disagreed with, to try to reach compromise.
- He became a preacher and was deeply religious. He believed God loved all people and expected them to care for each other. He wrote newspaper articles and books, and gave fiery speeches about the evils of slavery. Many Southerners at the time thought black people were mentally incapable of being independent citizens. Frederick Douglas was articulate, intelligent, and educated. He had also been a slave. He forced people to change their perceptions.
- After the Civil War, Frederick continued to speak out on social issues.
Watch a video about Frederick Douglass.