Frederick Baily was born on a Maryland plantation around FEBRUARY 7, 1817, though no accurate records exist as he was a slave.
He later chose the birth date of February 14 as he remembered his mother calling him her “little valentine.”
He never saw his mother in the daylight, as he was separated from her as an infant. He did not know who his father was.
Around 12 years old, his master’s sister-in-law taught him to read, despite this being against the law.
Frederick voraciously read newspapers, books, and a publication titled The Columbian Orator. He is noted as saying “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
Frederick was hired out to the William Freeland plantation where he taught other slaves to read the New Testament at a weekly Sunday school. Enthusiasm in learning to read drew more than 40 slaves to attend.
Neighboring plantation owners knew slaves could be more easily manipulated and controlled if they could not read, so one Sunday they burst in with clubs and dispersed Frederick’s congregation.
In 1837, Frederick fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black in Baltimore.
She helped provide him with a sailor’s uniform and some identification papers from a free black seaman, and on September 3, 1838, Frederick escaped by boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland, and from there fled to New York.
Frederick and Anna Murray were married eleven days later by a black Presbyterian minister, and they change their last name from “Baily” to “Douglass” to hide Frederick’s former identity.
They joined a black church and regularly attended abolitionist meetings, where, in 1841 they heard William Lloyd Garrison, a founder of the Liberty Party, which was replaced by the Free-Soil Party and then the Republican Party.
When Frederick Douglass was unexpectedly asked to speak, William Lloyd Garrison was so impressed that he eventually hired Douglass to sell subscriptions to the anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator.
In 1843, Douglass went on a 6-month speaking tour through Eastern and Midwestern States with the American Anti-Slavery Society. He was frequently accosted by pro-slavery Democrats, even having his hand broken, which never healed properly.
In 1845, Frederick Douglass published his autobiography and it became an instant best-seller, being translated into French and Dutch.
Skeptics could not believe a former slave could have written such an eloquent book, so they began to question Douglass’ real identity.
Douglass had to flee to Ireland to avoid slave-catchers.
The Irish were supportive of Douglass, as during the 17th century, more Irish were sold into slavery than Africans, either by British to the Caribbean or by Muslim Corsair pirates to Africa’s Barbary Coast.
Douglass met with Irish reformer Daniel O’Connell, and then traveled to England where English abolitionist friends raised over $700 to buy Douglass’ freedom.
Douglass returned to New York where he founded The North Star newspaper and wrote in support of abolition and women’s suffrage.
His motto was: “Right is of no sex-Truth is of no color-God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”
Frederick Douglass was an advisor to the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, even raising the first all Black Regiment, the “54th Massachusetts.”
Frederick Douglass stated:
“I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.”
Douglass told the story of his conversion:
“I loved all mankind, slaveholder not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light…
I gathered scattered pages of the Bible from the filthy street gutters, and washed and dried them, that…I might get a word or two of wisdom from them.”
William J. Federer is a nationally known speaker, best-selling author, and president of Amerisearch, Inc., a publishing company dedicated to researching America’s noble heritage.
To learn more about the author please visit William Federer
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