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Frederick Douglas is the son of a slave black woman and unknown white man. He was born in a slave cabin located in the small town of Easton on Maryland Eastern shore in February, 1818. His name at birth was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but he later changed it to Fredrick Douglass. Douglass was apparently raised by his grandparents after his parents left him. He was only weeks old. His own grandmother betrayed him when she abandoned him in the plantation (Fredrick, 1892). This was a big blow to him and he was unable too recover from it. He was not fortunate enough since he only saw his mother countable times before she died when he was only at the age of seven. When he was aged 8, he was sent to live with his master’s relatives Sophia and Hugh Auld who was a ship carpenter in Baltimore.
After his arrival in Baltimore, his new mistress taught him the alphabet, but she was unfortunately put off from doing so by her husband on the grounds that teaching slaves to read was termed unlawful. Douglas was determined to learn and was not ready to give up that easily despite the setbacks. He thus sacrificed his food and gave it to the neighborhood boys whom he had made his teachers in exchange of reading and writing lessons. It was at this point in time that he heard the words, abolition and abolitionist for the very first time (Anthony, 1998). When he was around the age of thirteen, he had saved enough to purchase a popular schoolbook of that time ‘’The Columbian Orator.’’ This book was very helpful since it made him appreciate and more so understand the power contained in both written and spoken words. With this regard, it dawned on him that positive and permanent change is only brought by the combination of the power of reading and writing.
The best time of Douglas’ childhood was the seven years he spent in Baltimore. He had a very good life before he was sent back to his country, where he was hired to the farm of Edward’s Covey – the notorious and brutal slave breaker. He got first hand experience of the brutality that slaves get while on the hands of the white. Despite any effort he showed while working on the farm, he received a brutal treatment, whipping and was barely fed (Carnes et al, 1999). This treatment was so severe that it indeed broke into the body, soul and spirit of Douglas.
Douglas apparently made a resolution on 1st January, 1836 to free himself by the end of the same year. He carefully planned his escape day in day out, but unfortunately, his plans were discovered and he was sent to the jail on April that year. He was sent to Baltimore upon release from the jail two years later. While in Baltimore, he was acquainted with Anna Murray and fell in love with her. Murray was five years Douglas’ senior and was apparently a free black, thus giving Douglas a possibility of his own freedom.
It was not until the 3rd September, 1838 that Douglas escaped successfully from his master’s firm in Baltimore. Murray gave him a sailor’s uniform for disguise during the escape, part of her savings to cater for part of his travel cost and he also had with him some identification papers which he obtained from him. He used a ferry stationed at Havre de Grace to cross the Susquehanna River and arrived at Wilmington, Delaware by means of a train. In order to reach Philadelphia, Pennsylvania he had to board a steam boat. The whole trip took around 24 hours to reach New York in the house of David Ruggles the abolitionist. A few weeks after his arrival in New York, he settled with his newly wedded wife in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His new name after settling in New York was Fredrick Douglas.
Douglas had a great desire to educate himself and thus continued reading and joined organizations such as black church in New Bedford. He was a regular member of the Abolitionists’ meetings and to further enlighten himself on current issues by subscribing to the weekly journal, the Liberator by Lloyd Garrison in 1841. He was so much inspired by Garrison when he addressed people at the annual meetings of the Bristol Antislavery Society’s. Douglas mentioned how impressed he was with Garrison’s sentiments against slavery.
A few days later, Douglas was invited to address people at the annual convention of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s in Nantucket. His speech was described by an editor as one with eloquence, which pierced flinty hearts and made cold ones melt (Carnes et al, 1999). It was after the speech on his own personal life that he was encouraged to become an Anti-Slavery lecturer. His acceptance to become lecturer for the Society for three years as requested was the launch of a lifetime career throughout Douglas’ existence.
The fact that he had become a lecture for the society was not all for Douglas since he was still driven by the spirit of achievement and liberation. He thus was a participant of the 1843 American Anti-Slavery Society Hundred Conventions project. This was basically a six months tour that took place throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States. It was rather unfortunate since he was confronted frequently during these trips. As a matter of fact, he was chased and attacked when he was busy lecturing in Pendleton, Indiana by an angry crowd. It was rather fortunate for him that he was rescued by the Hardys, a local Quaker family (Anthony, 1998). During this awful incident, his broke one of his hands that apparently healed improperly and became a bother for the rest of his life. In commemoration of this attack, there is a stone marker set in Falls Park that is located in the Pendleton Historic District.
Douglas wrote his own autobiography named Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass an American Slave, printed in 1845. Some people argued and doubted his eloquence; bearing in mind he was just but an Afro American. This book became a bestseller immediately after its release and due to the fact that it had received positive reviews. It was quite an achievement since had been nine times reedited with 11,000 copies all over the United States (Fredrick, 1892). Apparently, Douglas’ book was translated into French and Dutch languages thus attracting a large portion of readers. During his lifetime, he published three versions of his own autobiography elaborating more than the previous one each time he wrote a new one. His book My Bondage and My Freedom that he published in 1855 was the second after the best seller the Narrative of 1845, the third one being Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass which was apparently revised in 1892.
He got a lot of publicity especially after publishing his books and thus feared his old master would hear about his whereabouts and come to take him back since he was the master’s property. His close friends feared the occurrence of an incident where his ex-master Hugh Auld would come to take him back and hence inspired him to move to Ireland just as many slavery escapees had done. On 16th August 1845, he sailed on the Cambria for Liverpool and actually came to Ireland in the beginning of the Famine in Ireland.
During his stay in Ireland, he met and as a matter of fact became a great friend to Daniel O’Connell, an Irish nationalist who became a great inspiration to Douglas. He gave a lot of lectures in churches and chapels located in both Ireland and Britain attracting very large crowds. One of such successful speeches is his most popular London Reception Speech that was held at Alexander Fletcher’s Finsbury Chapel in May 1846. It was an achievement and Douglas appreciated the people of England due to the fact that unlike in the US, he was accepted as a human and not as a color.
His British supporters were so generous that the raised funds to purchase Douglas’s freedom from Thomas Auld his American owner (Fredrick, 1892). Ellen Richardson led the British people to collect the needed funds. In 1846, he met one of the few living abolitionists Thomas Clarkson who had achieved persuading the British Parliament to abolish slavery in Great Britain. Despite the fact that he was persuaded by many individuals to remain in England for safety purposes, he left for the US in 1847 on a mission to liberate the three million blacks in slavery.
It was after his return to the United States that he served as the president of the reconstruction era Freedman’s Savings Bank. This was immediately after the civil war. He later resigned and moved to Washington D.C in 1872. It was only later in 20th February, 1895 that Douglas died after attending a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. he was given a standing ovation at this meeting but it was unfortunate that he succumbed to a heart attack when he reached his home that very day (Fredrick,1892). He was buried in the cemetery of Mount Hope located in Rochester, New York.
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