Douglass was born in a slave cabin, in February, 1818, near the town
of Easton, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Separated from his mother
when only a few weeks old he was raised by his grandparents. At about
the age of six, his grandmother took him to the plantation of his master
and left him there. Not being told by her that she was going to leave
him, Douglass never recovered from the betrayal of the abandonment.
When he was about eight he was sent to Baltimore to live as a houseboy
with Hugh and Sophia Auld, relatives of his master. It was shortly after
his arrival that his new mistress taught him the alphabet. When her
husband forbade her to continue her instruction, because it was unlawful
to teach slaves how to read, Frederick took it upon himself to learn.
He made the neighborhood boys his teachers, by giving away his food
in exchange for lessons in reading and writing. At about the age of
twelve or thirteen Douglass purchased a copy of The Columbian Orator,
a popular schoolbook of the time, which helped him to gain an understanding
and appreciation of the power of the spoken and the written word, as
two of the most effective means by which to bring about permanent, positive
Returning to the Eastern Shore, at approximately the age of fifteen,
Douglass became a field hand, and experienced most of the horrifying
conditions that plagued slaves during the 270 years of legalized slavery
in America. But it was during this time that he had an encounter with
the slavebreaker Edward Covey. Their fight ended in a draw, but the
victory was Douglass', as his challenge to the slavebreaker restored
his sense of self-worth. After an aborted escape attempt when he was
about eighteen, he was sent back to Baltimore to live with the Auld
family, and in early September, 1838, at the age of twenty, Douglass
succeeded in escaping from slavery by impersonating a sailor.
He went first to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he and his new wife
Anna Murray began to raise a family. Whenever he could he attended abolitionist
meetings, and, in October, 1841, after attending an anti-slavery convention
on Nantucket Island, Douglass became a lecturer for the Massachusetts
Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison. This
work led him into public speaking and writing. He published his own
newspaper, The North Star, participated in the first women's rights
convention at Seneca Falls, in 1848, and wrote three autobiographies.
He was internationally recognized as an uncompromising abolitionist,
indefatigable worker for justice and equal opportunity, and an unyielding
defender of women's rights. He became a trusted advisor to Abraham Lincoln,
United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds
for Washington, D.C., and Minister-General to the Republic of Haiti.