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Delmarva Heritage Series

* Frederick Douglass: Slavery To Freedom

Salisbury Times - November 7, 1958

Many probably do not know that one of the foremost Negro leaders in American history was born and reared as a slave on the Delmarva Peninsula.

This famous abolitionist, orator, and journalist, was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after his escape from slavery he assumed 

the name of Frederick Douglass. He was born at Tuckahoe, near Hillsboro, or about 12 miles from Easton, the son of a white father, and Harriet Bailey, a slave who also had some Indian blood.

Douglass in 1845, said in his book, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave" (upon which much of the material in this article is based): "He (the father) admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me."

Douglass and his mother were separated when he was an infant - even before he had a chance to know her. According to the record she was sent to another plantation right after his birth and was able to visit him only four or five times before her death a few years later. The time cannot be exact for Douglass did not know whether he was born in 1817, 1818, or 1819 as accurate records of this nature were not kept on slaves.

His first master was Captain Anthony, who was Col. Edward Lloyd's clerk and superintendent -" overseer of overseers." Col. Lloyd's plantation was much like a country village, with its Great House, numerous buildings and several hundred slaves. At first Douglass seemed destined to become a house slave, for between the age of seven and eight he was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld's family (brother to Anthony's son-in-law) for the purpose of taking care of their son, Thomas, who was about the same age as Douglass.

The mistress of this household at first was most kind and she taught Douglass along with her son the ABC's. But the master, learning of the situation, informed his wife that for slaves to learn to read and write was very dangerous for they then would be more difficult to control.

This taste of learning, however, served to wet the desires of the young slave. During the seven years that Douglass lived in Baltimore he succeeded in learning to read and write by very clever means. Whenever he had the chance he used the textbooks and papers that young Thomas brought home from school, and also he often tricked the white children of the neighborhood into reading the billboards and writings on the sidewalks to him.

Because of a property settlement in his master's family he was returned to St. Michaels temporarily, when Capt. Anthony died and Lucretia, the daughter, became his master rather then her brother. This arrangement permitted him to go back to Baltimore for two more years. In March of 1832, Douglass was called back to St. Michaels because of an argument between Hugh Auld and his brother Thomas, husband of Lucretia.

Capt. Thomas Auld was not born a slaveholder, but became one by marriage. According to Douglass he was a very cruel master - " Bad as all slaveholders are, we seldom meet one destitute of every element of character commanding respect. My master was one of this rare sort." According to Douglass, after the master had "experienced religion" at a camp meeting in August, 1832, he became worse for he justified his cruelty with his religious fervor.

Because Douglass was known as somewhat of a troublemaker and one not used to working in the fields, he was hired out to Edward Covey, a well-known slave breaker of the area, from January 1833 to January 1834. He rebelled against the treatment at Covey's hands to the extent of fighting the slave breaker, one of the greatest of crimes in the slave code. But Covey did not report this for he valued highly his reputation as an efficient slave breaker.

On January 1, 1834, William Freeland, who lived about three miles from St. Michaels hired Douglass for the coming year. Freeland must have been quite a different sort for Douglass had a good word to say about this "educated southern gentleman."

It was at this time that Douglass established a Sunday school for slaves, and used the opportunity to teach reading and writing to the other slaves. Of this period of his life Douglass wrote: "I look back on those Sundays with and amount of pleasure not to be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The work of instructing my dear fellow slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed."

Again in 1835 he was hired to out to Freeland, and although he at least had a reasonable master, escape was utmost in his thoughts. "But, by this time, I began to want to live upon free land as well as with Freeland: and I was no longer content, therefore to live with him or any other slaveholder." Somehow his plan to escape along with others was discovered and he was jailed, expecting now to be sold in Georgia and Alabama. But after a short stay in jail, his master, because of public opinion by the slaveholders against staying in Talbot County, sent him back to Baltimore, after an absence of about three years.

In the shipyards of Baltimore he learned the trade of a caulker, but there was difficulty because the free white workers did not like to work with slaves. After this Douglass received permission from his master to work on his own and pay the master a specified sum of money each week. This arrangement gave Douglass more freedom and he began to attend meetings with the Free Negroes of Baltimore.

It was on September 3, 1838, that Douglass made good his escape by using the papers of a Negro sailor on a train to New York. A few days later Anna Murray, a Free Negro whom he had met in Baltimore, came to New York and they were married before going to New Bedford, Massachusetts to live.

After Douglass had made good his escape and gone to live in New England his career as an abolitionist, orator, and journalist began. Persons who heard Douglass on the platform doubted his story of slavery because of his fine educated manner.

"They questioned if this man who spoke good English and bore himself with independent self-assertion could ever have been a slave." To prove his story, he published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which gave names, places, and dates to prove his story. With the publication of this work in 1845, Douglass was forced to leave the country, and make an extended visit to England, Ireland, and Scotland. He was able to meet many of the English liberals of the day, and it was friends in England who collected the $750 necessary to purchase his freedom back in the United States. Thomas Auld sold him to brother Hugh Auld and then a Philadelphia lawyer secured the final manumission papers through the Baltimore authorities December 5, 1846.

Upon his return to the States in 1847 he was able to establish a Negro newspaper, the North Star, with $2,500 the English people had given him. The paper was published in Rochester, NY where Douglass now made his home.

Douglass was well acquainted with many of the leaders of American thought during this period of our history. Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Sumner, James Russell Lowell, Bronson Alcott, Lucretia Mott, William Lloyd Garrison and Anne Royall to mention a few. And, activity in the "Underground Railroad" Brought him in close association with John Brown, whom he greatly admired. Douglass knows of Brown's plans in Kansas and later of his plans in Western Maryland at and at Harper's Ferry. In fact Douglass, again had to leave the country because Virginia wanted him as one of the "criminals" associated in some way with the John Brown raid in 1859.

When the Civil War broke out, Douglass pushed for the use of Negro troops, until finally the Lincoln Administration gave the orders. His two sons were among the first to sign up with Negro troops of Massachusetts. After the Union Army had suffered a costly defeat, mainly the Negro troops, at Fort Wagnor, SC in 1863, Douglas was sent by Lincoln and others, and during the period of reconstruction he continued to press for suffrage and civil rights for the greed men. But, it was not only for the Negro that he worked; he was one of the nation's strongest supporters for women's suffrage.

Although his earlier years had been ones of difficulty and hardship, after the Civil War his days for the most part were of ease and honor, well earned. President Hayes appointed him U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia. This was a position of honor as well as of importance, for one duty of the marshal was to present all guests to the President at state functions. Later he was appointed Recorder of Deeds of Columbia, which, because it was supported by the fee system, was a well - paying office. When Cleveland, the first Democrat to hold the presidential office in 24 years, took office in 1885 he kept Douglass in office and continued to invite him to the White House for receptions. In 1889 Douglass had the honor of being appointed the American minister to the Negro Republic of Haiti. With all of these honors it still must have pleased him much to have lived to see one of his sons return to the Eastern Shore of Maryland as a school teacher.

On August 4, 1882, his wife, Anna Murray, died just before they were to move into their new home at Anacostia. About two years later, he contracted a marriage, which brought about a flurry of criticism. This was his marriage to a daughter of old friends of his. Although Helen Pitts was a white woman, by the time they returned from an extended tour of Europe and the Mediterranean, the matter was not longer of much public interest.

Douglass was active in the reform movement to the end of his days: in fact, he attended a woman - suffrage convention in Washington on the day of his death, February 20, 1895.

The Douglass home in Anacostia Heights, just outside of Washington, on Cedar Hill has been made into a museum in his honor.

Besides publishing the North Star for 17 years, and giving hundreds of lectures, Douglass was the author of the following books: Narrative of Frederick Douglass, 1845; My Bondage and My Freedom, 1855; Life and Times of Fredrick 1893. The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, although somewhat biased, gives a detailed account by the author of his life on the Shore. For those who like a dash of fiction along with their history, there is the recent (1947) novel by Shirley Graham, There Was Once A Slave. Most of Miss Graham's book deals with Douglass' life after he escaped from slavery, while Douglass' Narrative tells the story of the preceding period.

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