Short Biography

Date and Place of Birth:

c.1818; Talbot County, Maryland.

Date and Place of Death:

February 20, 1895; Washington, DC.


Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bayle. Both his parents were slaves and he was raised by his grandmother, Betsy Bayle. At age 6 he went to work for the Auld family in Baltimore to take care of their infant son. Sophia Auld taught Frederick how to read but stopped after her husband forbade her to keep teaching a slave as it was illegal. However, Frederick was always curious and continued to learn on his own by secretly borrowing white kids’ books. As a young boy he discovered the Columbian Orator which game him the concept of freedom and human rights.

Douglass defied the authority of his master so he was sent to a “slave breaker” to learn how work in the field, he was physically and mentally abused.

He acquired the skills of a caulker and worked in the shipbuilding industry where he was able to save money for his escape. In 1838 at age 20,he escaped dressed as a sailor and with the help of the Underground Railroad supporters he settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts.


Douglass described himself as a “self made man”, the title of one of his most famous speeches. In addition to teaching himself how to read and write he also practiced the art of oratory. He was discovered by William Coffin while Douglass was speaking in church. Coffin introduced him to William Lloyd Garrison who became his mentor and set to start his abolitionist career. Douglass was offered a job as an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass, with the support of Garrison, published his first, of three autobiographiesNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

After 8 years of alliance Douglass broke with Garrison because he had developed a different view of abolition by influencing policy and not just public opinion. Douglass met with President Lincoln and consulted him on the political issue of slavery.

After the Emancipation Proclamation Douglass set to recruit African American soldiers for the Union Army, his sons, Charles and Lewis, were one of the first to enroll in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He toured the country giving recruitment speeches. He believed that fighting for the Union was a path to citizenship. In fact, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 giving African Americans citizenship and the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 giving them the right to vote.


Read the full biography of Frederick Douglass