Moments in History: Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.

Douglass was born into slavery in February 1818, on the Eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County Maryland.

Although his actual birthdate is unknown, he chose to celebrate the 14th of February as his birthday.

After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.

Accordingly, he was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

Likewise, Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.

In 1837, Douglass met and fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore about five years older than he.

Her free status strengthened his belief in the possibility of gaining his own freedom.

Murray encouraged him and supported his efforts by aid and money.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, notably, his best-known work describing his experiences as a slave in his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published 1845, which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom  published in 1855.

In 1847, Frederick Douglass explained to friend and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, “I have no love for America, as such; I have no patriotism. I have no country. What country have I? The Institutions of this Country do not know me—do not recognize me as a man.

Following the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, the book covers events both during and after the Civil War.

Douglass also actively supported women’s suffrage, and held several public offices.

Without his approval, Douglass became the first African-American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all peoples, be they whiteblackfemaleNative American, or Chinese immigrants.

He was also a believer in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, as well as in the liberal values of the U.S. Constitution.

In 1876, after Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President, Douglass was offered and accepted an appointment as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.

In 1877, Douglass bought the house that was to be the family’s final home in Washington D.C., on a hill above the Anacostia River.

He and his wife, Anna, named it Cedar Hill.

One year later, Douglass purchased adjoining lots and expanded the property to 15 acres. The home is now preserved as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

His wife Anna Murray-Douglass died in 1882, leaving the widower devastated.

After a period of mourning, Douglass found new meaning from working with activist Ida B. Wells.

Douglas met and fell in love with Helen Pitts, a white suffragist and abolitionist from Honeoye, New York.

He was remarried in 1884

On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C.

During that meeting, he was brought to the platform and received a standing ovation.

Shortly after he returned home, Douglass died of a massive heart attack. He was 77.

He was buried next to Anna in the Douglass family plot of Mount Hope Cemetery, and Helen joined them in 1903.

To learn more about the life of Frederick Douglas, check out the article on TNC Network, which has several links and resources… and please subscribe to our newsletter.


Check out these resources for further reading:

Works by Frederick Douglass at LibriVox

Link to Video: Descendants of Frederick Douglass read his 4th July 1852 speech


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