Frederick Douglass Papers Edition

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Douglass Biography

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Series 1: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews
Series 2: Autobiography
Series 3: Correspondence
Series 4: Editorials


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Douglass Biography

The most famous African American opponent of slavery, Frederick Douglass's career spanned nearly the entire nineteenth century. He lectured on issues of race and gender with a power that resonated a century beyond his death. He began his speaking career with the Garrisonian abolitionists, narrating his experiences as a slave. The popularity of his speaking led to the publication of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of his three autobiographies, in which he told the harrowing tale of his childhood as a slave, for the first time revealing names and locations. His meeting with Ida B. Wells-Barnett convinced him to support the movement for women's equality from its beginnings at the Seneca Falls meeting in 1848, although he eventually parted ways with many supporters of woman suffrage due to the exclusion of women from the fifteenth amendment. Douglass twice toured England and published a series of newspapers to support the antislavery cause, gradually shifting his tactics from the non-political and non-violent methods of the abolitionists centered around William Lloyd Garrison in Boston, Massachusetts, to support of the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln and active recruitment of African American soldiers for the Union Army, including two of his own sons, during the Civil War.

After Emancipation, and the subsequent disbandment of abolition societies, Douglass's public role changed dramatically. He continued to struggle for African American equality, but within established channels rather than outside them. He held various positions in the federal government, including Minister-Resident and Consul-General to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, having already served as president of Freedmen's Bank, and U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia. Throughout the latter period of his life, he maintained an active speaking schedule, continuing to advocate woman suffrage and equality until his dying day. After speaking at a women's rights rally in Washington, D.C., on 20 February 1895, Douglass returned to his house in Anacostia where, while recounting his morning's events to his wife, Helen Pitts, he died.

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c. 14 February

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey born on Holme Hill farm in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Harriet Bailey, a slave. His father was rumored to be a white man, possibly his master, Captain Aaron Anthony.

1826 Aaron Anthony died. Frederick Bailey was inherited by Anthony's son-in-law, Thomas Auld. Auld then hired Bailey to his brother, Hugh Auld, in Baltimore, where Douglass worked in the shipyards. Hugh Auld's wife, Sophia, began to teach Bailey to read, but the lessons ceased at the insistence of her husband. Bailey continued his reading lessons among the white boys on the streets of Baltimore and using Caleb Bingham's The Columbian Orator/.
1834 Sent to the "slave breaker," Edward Covey. Bailey's resistance to Covey's violent methods became a defining moment in his life and his resolve to run away.
1835 First attempted to escape with a group of slaves.  They were betrayed by one of their number and jailed.
1837-38 oman working in Baltimore, while attending the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society. She helps him plan his escape.
3 September
Frederick Bailey escaped from slavery using the forged papers of a sailor. He traveled by railroad from Maryland to New York City.
15 September
Bailey and Anna Murray married and moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. He adopted the name Frederick Douglass.
24 June
Rosetta Douglass, first daughter, born.
9 October
Lewis Henry Douglass, first son, born.
10-12 August
Attended an antislavery meeting on Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he made an impromptu speech (although not his first) that captured the attention of William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison then hired Douglass as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
3 March
Frederick Douglass, Jr., second son, born.
21 October
Charles Remond Douglass, third son, born.
1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave published in the United States.
1845-47 Tour of England, Scotland and Ireland
1846 Rumors that Douglass's former master plans to return him to slavery prompted Douglass's friends and supporters in Britain to raise money and buy his freedom.
1847 Returned to the United States and relocates to Rochester, New York, an industrial town on the shore of Lake Ontario.
Began publication of the North Star with partners Martin R. Delaney and John K. Dick.
1848 Attended the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.
22 March
Annie Douglass, second daughter, born.
1851 Ended publication of the North Star, began publication of Frederick Douglass' Paper.
1855 Second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, published.
1859 Began publication of Douglass' Monthly, a supplement to Frederick Douglass's Paper.
After assisting John Brown in planning a raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in order to incite a slave revolt, Douglass declined to join the expedition. When the plan failed, Douglass fled to England for six months to avoid prosecution
Annie, his younger daughter, died in Rochester while Douglass was still in England.
Douglass returned from England.
1860 Ended publication of Frederick Douglass's Paper, continued publication of its supplement, Douglass' Monthly.
1861 Civil War began.
1 January
Emancipation Proclamation effective.
1863 Douglass ended publication of Douglass' Monthly.
Recruited members for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, a black regiment in the Union Army.  Sons Charles and Lewis joined the regiment. Son Frederick Douglass, Jr., became a recruiter.
18 December
13th Amendment ratified: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their Jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
28 July
14th Amendment ratified: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
1870 Began publication of New National Era in Washington, D.C.
30 March
15th Amendment ratified: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Congress shall have poser to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
1872 The Equal Rights Party, headed by it presidential nominee, Victoria Woodhull, nominated Douglass as its vice-presidential candidate.  Douglass does not publicly associate himself with this party, and did not meet Woodhull until his third trip to Europe over a decade later.
1872 Arsonists allegedly burned the Douglass home in Rochester, destroying many of Douglass's papers.  The family moved to Washington, D.C.
Appointed head of the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company.
1874 Ended publication of New National Era.
1877 Appointed U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia.
1878 Purchased Cedar Hill, an estate in Anacostia, District of Columbia.
1881 Appointed Douglass recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia.
1881 Third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published.
4 August
Anna Murray Douglass died.
24 January
Frederick Douglass married Helen Pitts.
1886-87 Toured Europe and northern Africa
1888-91 Served as minister and consul to Haiti. Resigned amid charges that he was too sympathetic to the Haitian interests.
1891 Revised edition of Life and Times of Frederick Douglass published.
1892-93 Led Haitian legation to World's Columbian Exposition
20 February
Died at Cedar Hill.


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