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Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was born into slavery sometime around in Talbot County, Maryland. As was often the case with slaves, the exact year and date of Douglass' birth are unknown, though later in life he chose to celebrate it on February


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As Frederick Douglass approached the bed of Thomas Auld, tears came to his eyes. He had not seen Auld for years, and now that they were reunited, both men could not stop crying. Douglass and Auld clasped hands and spoke of past and future, confronting death and reminiscing over their years of acquaintance and separation. But now, the two men stood on different terms. Now, with the abolition of slaveryDouglass could confront his former master without fearing arrest or re-enslavement.

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He became the first Black U. Frederick Douglass was born in slavery to a Black mother and a white father. At age eight the man who owned him sent him to Baltimore, Maryland, to live in the household of Hugh Auld. Douglass attempted to escape slavery at age 15 but was discovered before he could do so.

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At an antislavery convention, he was asked to recount his experience as an enslaved person. He so moved his audience that he became an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. His autobiography cemented his prominence as an abolitionist.

Abraham Lincoln. Douglass played a crucial role in persuading Lincoln to arm enslaved people and prioritize abolition. During Reconstruction Douglass became the highest-ranking Black official of his time and advocated for full civil rights for Black people as well as for women.

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Frederick Douglass published three autobiographies. Frederick Douglass was a prolific writer and a masterful orator who captivated readers and listeners throughout the U. His talents contributed to the rise of antislavery sentiments in public consciousness. Although the date of his birth was not recorded, Douglass estimated that he had been born in Februaryand he later celebrated his birthday on February Douglass was owned by Capt. Aaron Anthony, who was the clerk and superintendent of overseers for Edward Lloyd V also known as Colonel Lloyda wealthy landowner and slaveholder in eastern Maryland.

Like many other enslaved children, Douglass was separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey, when he was very young.

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He spent his formative years with his maternal grandmother, Betsey Bailey, who had the responsibility of raising young enslaved children. Harriet Bailey worked as a field hand on a neighbouring plantation and had to walk more than 12 miles about 19 km to visit her son, whom she met with only a few times in his life.

As an adult, Douglass learned that his mother had been the only Black person in what was then Talbot county who could read, an extraordinarily rare achievement for a field hand.

Early life and enslavement

Young Douglass found himself among several other enslaved children competing for food and other comforts. Sophia began teaching Douglass how to read, along with her son. In March Douglass was sent from Baltimore to St. After both Aaron Anthony and his daughter Lucretia died, her husband, Capt. Teenage Douglass experienced harsher living conditions with Auld, who was known for his abusive practices.

In January Douglass was leased to local farmer Edward Covey. Leasing or hiring out enslaved persons was a common revenue-generating practice. Farmers would pay slaveholders a monthly fee for enslaved people and take responsibility for their care, food, and lodging. One day Covey attacked Douglass, and Douglass fought back.

Walking the cruel shores of douglass’s youth

The two men engaged in an epic two-hour-long physical struggle. Douglass ultimately won the fight, and Covey never attacked him again.

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Douglass emerged from the incident determined to protect himself from any physical assault from anyone in the future. Living and working conditions were better under Freeland; however, Douglass still desired his freedom. While living with Freeland, he started a Sabbath school at which he taught area Blacks how to read and write.

Along with four other enslaved men, Douglass plotted to escape north by taking a large canoe up the coast of Maryland and to proceed to Pennsylvania, but their plot was discovered. Douglass and the other participants were arrested. Hugh Auld hired out Douglass to local shipyards as a ship caulker.

From orphaned slave to conscience of a nation

Now working as a skilled tradesman, Douglass was paid by the shipyards for his efforts. He would then submit his earnings to Auld, who gave Douglass a small percentage of the wages. Douglass would eventually hire out his own time, which meant that he paid Auld a set amount every week but was responsible for maintaining his own food and clothing.

Douglass moved about Baltimore with few restrictions, but that privilege came to an end when he decided to attend a religious meeting outside of Baltimore on a Saturday evening and postpone paying Auld his weekly fee.

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The following Monday, when Douglass returned, Auld threatened him. After that encounter, Douglass was determined to escape his bondage.

Quick facts

He escaped in September by dressing as a sailor and traveling from Baltimore to WilmingtonDelaware, by train, then on to Philadelphia by steamboatand from there to New York City by train. Black sailors in the 19th century traveled with documents granting them protection under the American flag.

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Douglass used such documents to secure his passage north with the help of Anna, who, according to family lore, had sold her feather bed to help finance his passage. New York City was a dangerous place for enslaved people seeking freedom. Numerous slave catchers traveled to the city to track down those who had escaped. Many locals, Black and white, were willing, for money, to tell the authorities about people trying to escape enslavement. For his own protection, Douglass still months from assuming that name changed his name from Frederick Bailey to Frederick Johnson.

A chance meeting with Black abolitionist David Ruggles led Douglass to safety. Anna arrived in New York several days later, and the two were married by the Reverend J. Because many families in New Bedford had the surname Johnson, Douglass chose to change his name again. The newly minted Frederick Douglass earned money for the first time as a free man. Consequently, Douglass spent his first years in Massachusetts working as a common labourer.

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Douglass remained an avid reader throughout his adult life. At the meeting, abolitionist William C. Coffin, having heard Douglass speak in New Bedford, invited him to address the general body. He and other persons who had escaped conditions of enslavement frequently described their own experiences under those conditions. Douglass strongly promoted this philosophy during the early years of his abolitionist career. In his speech at the National Convention of Colored Citizens in Buffalo, New York, Black abolitionist and minister Henry Highland Garnet proposed a resolution that called for enslaved people to rise up against their masters.

The controversial resolution ignited a tense debate at the convention, with Douglass rising in firm opposition. His belief in moral suasion would repeatedly place him at odds with other Black abolitionists during this phase of his career. Work as an agent provided Douglass with the means to support his family.

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The book also challenged the conventional employment of ghostwriters for slave narratives by boldly acknowledging that Douglass wrote it himself. In the spring ofDouglass returned to the United States a free man with the funding to start his own newspaper.

The move to Rochester surrounded Douglass with political abolitionists such as Gerrit Smith.

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Constitution was an invalid document, and discouraged participation in American politics because it was a system corrupted by slavery. Inhowever, Douglass announced his split from Garrison when he declared that the Constitution was a valid legal document that could be used on behalf of emancipation. Consequently, Douglass became more engaged in American politics and constitutional interpretation.

Brown invited Douglass to participate in the planned raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers FerryVirginia now in West Virginiawhich Brown hoped would inspire a massive uprising by enslaved people.

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Douglass declined the invitation. Shortly after the raid October 16—19Douglass received word that the authorities were looking to arrest him as an accomplice. He quickly fled to Canada before heading to Europe for a scheduled lecture tour.

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Douglass returned home in April after learning that his youngest daughter, Annie, had died. With the outbreak of the Civil WarDouglass strongly advocated for inclusion of Black soldiers in the Union army. He became a recruiter for the Massachusetts 54th, an all-Black infantry regiment in which his sons Lewis and Charles served.

In Douglass visited the White House to meet with Pres. Abraham Lincoln to advocate for better pay and conditions for the soldiers. Lincoln then invited Douglass to the White House in to discuss what could be done for Blacks in the case of a Union loss.