Faithful Heroes: Frederick Douglas
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey is estimated to be born around 1818, although his exact birth date is unknown. He chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14.
He believed the master was his father and was parted from his mother at a young age. He then lived with his grandmother until he was six and he moved in to learn from an overseer. His mother died when he was ten.
After his master’s wife began to teach him to read and recanted, he taught himself to read and learned from the white children of the area. He then began to teach other slaves to read.
He later wrote of his faith, “I was not more than thirteen years old, when in my loneliness and destitution I longed for someone to whom I could go, as to a father and protector. The preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson, was the means of causing me to feel that in God I had such a friend. He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God: that they were by nature rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ.
I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me, but one thing I did know well: I was wretched and had no means of making myself otherwise. I consulted a good old colored man named Charles Lawson, and in tones of holy affection he told me to pray, and to “cast all my care upon God.” This I sought to do; and though for weeks I was a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.”
After meeting Anna Murray, a free black woman, he eventually succeeded in escaping. He later wrote about his freedom “I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”
After he was settled, he sent for Murray and they were married. The couple would have five children. After escaping north, he took the surname and chose to go by Frederick Douglas.
In 1839, he became a licensed preacher. He served in many roles in the church and began speaking. He often included Biblical allusions and metaphors in his speeches.
He published his first autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845. He revised his autobiography and published two additional narratives in the years to come.
In 1845, he traveled to Ireland and Great Britain, where he spent the next two years.
He began publishing his first abolitionist newspaper, North Star, in 1847.
He continued to work through the Civil War and reconstruction period for the equality of African-Americans and women. He continued traveling around the United States and Europe on speaking engagements.
His wife, Anna, died in 1882 and two years later he married Helen Pitts, a white suffragist
Frederick Douglas died on February 20, 1895, at the age of seventy-seven. He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Hope Cemetery.