Frederick Douglass Biography
Fredrick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. He became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York after escaping from slavery in Maryland where he gained note for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.
He was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens during his time. Northerners at that time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.
He was born in February 1818 and died on 20 February 1895 and hence died when he was 77 years old. He was of American nationality and of White ethnicity.
Frederick Family life
Douglass and Anna had five children: Rosetta Douglass, Lewis Henry Douglass, Frederick Douglass Jr., Charles Remond Douglass, and Annie Douglass who died at the age of ten. Charles and Rosetta helped produce his newspapers.
His wife remained a loyal supporter of her husband’s public work. His relationships with Julia Griffiths and Ottilie Assing, two women with whom he was professionally involved, caused recurring speculation and scandals. In 1856, Assing, a young German woman, interviewed Douglass and fell passionately in love with him. She then introduced Douglass to her nation’s poetry, philosophy, and a wide range of cultures.
In 1882, Anna died. Douglass married again in 1884, to Helen Pitts, a white suffragist, and abolitionist from Honeoye, New York. Pitts was the daughter of Gideon Pitts Jr., an abolitionist colleague, and friend of Fredrick. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Pitts worked on a radical feminist publication named Alpha while still living in Washington, D.C. where she later worked as Douglass’s secretary.
Their marriage provoked a storm of controversy because Pitts was both white and nearly 20 years younger than Douglass. Her family stopped speaking to her; his children considered the marriage a repudiation of their mother. But feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton congratulated the couple. Douglass responded to the criticisms by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.
Frederick Douglass Final Years in Washington D.C.
On 29 June 1874, The Freedman’s Savings Bank went bankrupt, just a few months after he became its president in late March. During that same economic crisis, his final newspaper, The New National Era, failed in September. When Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President, Fredrick accepted an appointment as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, this helped assure his family’s financial security.
Douglass visited Thomas Auld in 1877, who was by then on his deathbed, and the two men reconciled. Some years prior, Douglass had met Auld’s daughter, Amanda Auld Sears. She had requested the meeting and had subsequently attended and cheered one of Douglass’ speeches. Her father complimented her for reaching out to Douglass.
Douglass bought the house that was to be the family’s final home in Washington D.C. that same year, on a hill above the Anacostia River. He and Anna named it Cedar Hill. They expanded the house from 14 to 21 rooms and included a china closet. 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.
Douglass also continued his speaking engagements and travel, both in the United States and abroad. With his new wife, Helen, Douglass traveled to England, Ireland, France, Italy, Egypt and Greece from 1886 to 1887. Douglass also became known for advocating Irish Home Rule and supported Charles Stewart Parnell in Ireland.
In addition to his travel abroad during these years, he also lectured in small towns in the United States. On Dec. 28, 1885, the aging orator spoke to the literary society in Rising Sun, a town in northeastern Maryland a couple of miles below the Mason–Dixon line. The program, “The Self-Made Man,” attracted a large audience including students from Lincoln University in Chester County, PA, the Oxford Press reported. “Mr. Douglass is growing old and has lost much of his fire and vigor of mind as well as body, but he is still able to interest an audience. He is a remarkable man and is a bright example of the capability of the colored race, even under the blighting influence of slavery, from which he emerged and became one of the distinguished citizens of the country,” the Chester County PA newspaper remarked.
President Harrison appointed Douglass as the United States’ minister resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti and Chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo in 1889, but Douglass resigned the commission in July 1891. In 1893, Haiti made Douglass a co-commissioner of its pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Frederick Douglass Death
Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C on 20 February 1895. He was brought to the platform and received a standing ovation during that meeting. Fredrick died of a massive heart attack shortly after he returned home. He was 77 years by then.
Fredrick’s funeral was held at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. To show their respect, thousands of people passed by his coffin. Douglass had a pew here and donated two standing candelabras when this church had moved to a new building in 1886 although he had attended several churches in the nation’s capital. He also gave many lectures there, including his last major speech, The Lesson of the Hour.
His coffin was transported back to Rochester, New York, where he had lived for 25 years, longer than anywhere else in his life. He was buried next to Anna in the Douglass family plot of Mount Hope Cemetery, and Helen joined them in 1903.
Frederick Douglass Autobiography
His best-known work is his first autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written and published in 1845 during his time in Lynn, Massachusetts. Some skeptics questioned whether a black man could have produced such an eloquent piece of literature during that time.
That book received generally positive reviews and became an immediate bestseller. It had been reprinted nine times within three years, with 11,000 copies circulating in the United States. It was also translated into French and Dutch and then published in Europe.
Fredrick published three versions of his autobiography during his lifetime and revised the third of these, each time expanding on the previous one. The 1845 Narrative was Fredrick’s biggest seller and probably allowed him to raise the funds to gain his legal freedom that the following year.
He published My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855. After the Civil War, Douglass published Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881, which he revised in 1892.
Frederick Douglass Photography
He considered photography very important in ending slavery and racism since he believed that the camera would not lie, even in the hands of a racist white, as photographs were an excellent counter to the many racist caricatures, particularly in blackface minstrelsy.
Fredrick was the most photographed American of the 19th Century, self-consciously using photography to advance his political views. He specifically never smiled so as not to play into the racist caricature of being a happy slave. Douglass tended to look directly into the camera to confront the viewer, with a stern look.
Frederick Douglass Works
A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845
– The Heroic Slave
– My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855
– Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881, then revised in 1892
– Douglass founded and edited the abolitionist newspaper the North Star from 1847 to 1851. He merged the North Star with another paper to create the Frederick Douglass’ Paper.
– In the Words of Frederick Douglass: Quotations from Liberty’s Champion. Edited by John R. McKivigan and Heather L. Kaufman. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2012.
– The Church and Prejudice
– Self-Made Men
– The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, 1852
– Speech at National Hall, Philadelphia July 6, 1863, for the Promotion of Colored Enlistments.
– What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July