Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Even many Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.
Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller and influential in supporting abolition, as did the second, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, it covered events during and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women’s suffrage, and held several public offices. Without his approval, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the radical and visionary Equal Rights Party ticket.
A firm believer in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, Douglass famously said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, (on the state’s Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay), and was given his name by his mother, Harriet Bailey. The plantation was located between Hillsboro and Cordova. His birthplace was likely his grandmother’s shack east of Tappers Corner, (38.8845°N 75.958°W) and west of Tuckahoe Creek. Years later, after escaping to the North, he took the surname Douglass, having already dropped the use of his two middle names.
The exact date of Douglass’s birth is unknown. He later chose to celebrate it on February 14. The exact year is also unknown (on the first page of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”, he stated: “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.”) He was of mixed race, which likely included Native American on his mother’s side, as well as African and European.