Frederick Douglass Escapes ► Throwback Thursday

Born into slavery in what might have been 1818, Frederick Douglass eventually became an icon of the Abolitionist Movement.

Although it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, Sophia Auld, the wife of Douglass’ owner Hugh, taught him the alphabet around the age of 12. When Hugh Auld heard of this he forbade the lessons, but Douglass had already tasted education and couldn’t get enough of it. He continued to learn from the White children around him and read whatever he could get his hands on. According to Biography

It was through reading that Douglass’ ideological opposition to slavery began to take shape. He read newspapers avidly, and sought out political writing and literature as much as possible. In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator with clarifying and defining his views on human rights. Douglass shared his newfound knowledge with other enslaved people. Hired out to William Freeland, he taught other slaves on the plantation to read the New Testament at a weekly church service. Interest was so great that in any week, more than 40 slaves would attend lessons. Although Freeland did not interfere with the lessons, other local slave owners were less understanding. Armed with clubs and stones, they dispersed the congregation permanently.

After 2 unsuccessful attempts to escape, Frederick Douglass finally freed himself from the shackles of slavery on this date in 1838. After his escape he married Anna Murray, a Free Black Woman, and they lived for a while under the assumed name of Johnston, eventually settling back on Douglass as their married name.

Douglass subscribed to the anti-slavery weekly The Liberator, published by William Lloyd Garrison. He started to tell his story of life as a slave in Abolitionist meetings in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which had a large free Black population. Eventually Garrison wrote about Douglass and urged him to write his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which was published in 1845.

The book, translated and sold around the world, was a best seller. However, there was a downside to fame. Douglass had to escape once again, this time to Ireland, where he lectured for 2 years until his supporters could purchase his freedom.

Douglass returned home and continued to fight for the end of slavery. He published several other books: My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), which was revised 11 years later. He died of a heart attack or stroke in 1895 after being honoured at a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. Thousands attended his funeral. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York, where Susan B. Anthony is also buried.


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Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.