Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. As a result his exact birth date is unknown. However, most historians believe that it was sometime during the year 1818, in Tolbert County, Maryland. Frederick was raised by his grandmother near the banks of Tuckahoe Creek. When he was just 6 years old he served as the personal slave of the plantation owner's child. If Frederick did not perform his duties to his owner's satisfaction he was punished severely. While still a child, he witnessed the beating of his Aunt Hester who was tied up and beaten viciously for disobedience. Life would improve dramatically when a few years later Frederick was sold to a caring family. The new owner was named Hugh Auld, and his wife violated the law and taught Frederick to read the Bible. Frederick soon read everything he could get his hands on.
At the age of 15, Frederick was sent to work in the Baltimore shipyards where he learned how to caulk (seal) parts of a boat together, making them watertight. The boatyard proved to be an eyeopening experience as Douglass witnessed boat loads of slaves arriving from Africa before being transported to various parts of the United States. At this time, for the first time, Douglass came into contact with former slaves who had been set free. They were free because they had either purchased their freedom or they had been set free when their owners had died. It was in Baltimore where Frederick met Anne Murray who was a former slave. They quickly feel in love, but Anne wanted Frederick to also be free. A short time later she sold her poster bed and with the money Frederick started his journey to freedom in a Northern state. Frederick Douglass obtained papers that said he was a sailor on his way to a port in Delaware. His journey began when he first boarded a train and then caught a ship to the free state of Pennsylvania. After leaving Pennsylvania, he continued on until he reached New York where he married Anne. Eventually, they settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
In 1841, Douglass became aware of William Loyd Garrison and his abolitionist movement. Frederick became known to his abolitionist group called the American Anti-Slavery Society when he attended a meeting. At the meeting he was asked by Garrison to say a few words about his experiences as a slave. Douglass kept the audience spellbound for two hours with the richly detailed stories of his life. Soon afterward, Frederick began touring the free states and speaking at abolitionist meetings. In 1845, he released his first book entitled the “Life of Frederick Douglass.” It sold sold more than 30,000 copies over the next 5 years. It was so well written that many doubted a slave could have written it.
When the Southern states seceded from the Union in 1861, they formed a new pro-slavery country called the Confederate States of America. Douglass was happy to see the Civil War begin. He was convinced that the war would end slavery once and for all. He pressured President Lincoln to allow African Americans the opportunity to enlist on the side of the Union. Then after the United States finally decided to allow African American recruits he became an active recruiter. Frederick spoke to large audiences all across the North. As a result, by the wars end he had amassed a great deal of money from both speaking and publishing. Consequently, he purchased a home in Washington D.C. that overlooked the Anacostia River. Soon afterward, he was made the U.S. Minister to Haiti, and then the marshal of the District of Columbia.