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African-American History

Frederick Douglass: Significant Moments in His Life in Maryland in His Words

Frederick Douglass. Frontispiece from "Life an Times of Frederick Douglass," 1884.

Frederick Douglass.
Frontispiece from “Life an Times of Frederick Douglass,” 1884.

Two hundred years ago this month, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born at Holmes Hill Farm in Talbot County, Maryland. His mother Harriet Bailey, was a slave, and it is believed that his father was Aaron Anthony, Harriet’s master and an overseer on one of the Lloyd family farms on the Eastern Shore. This child born in chains in February 1818 would become one of the most prominent and vocal social reformers in American history.

Young Frederick Bailey, or “Freddy” as he was called, lived with his grandmother on a different farm approximately twelve miles away from his mother, as was custom at the time. This distance led to very little contact with her, one of the most devastating effects of slavery – the separation of families. In 1825, the same year as the death of his mother, he was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld to take care of their son Thomas. Sophia, took a liking to him, showed him kindness, and taught him how to read until her husband forbade her from doing so. His childhood in Baltimore had a tremendous impact on his life.

“I must say here that I regard my removal from Col. Lloyd’s plantation as one of the most interesting and fortunate events of my life. Viewing it in the light of human likelihoods, it is quite probable that but for the mere circumstance of being thus removed, before the rigors of slavery had fully fastened upon me ; before my young spirit had been crushed under the iron control of the slave-driver, I might have continued into slavery until emancipated by the war.”( Image from Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass written by himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including… (Hartford: Park Publishing Co., 1884) (reference photo)

“I must say here that I regard my removal from Col. Lloyd’s plantation as one of the most interesting and fortunate events of my life. Viewing it in the light of human likelihoods, it is quite probable that but for the mere circumstance of being thus removed, before the rigors of slavery had fully fastened upon me ; before my young spirit had been crushed under the iron control of the slave-driver, I might have continued into slavery until emancipated by the war.”(1)
Image from Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass written by himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including… (Hartford: Park Publishing Co., 1884) (reference photo)

In 1833, Bailey returned to Talbot County after the death of his owner Aaron Anthony to be appraised of his worth before being transferred to Anthony’s daughter, Lucretia Auld (Hugh Auld’s sister-in-law). After a few years of bouncing back and forth between the Hugh and Sophia Auld Baltimore household and the Thomas and Lucretia Auld Eastern Shore household, Frederick Bailey was hired out to a cruel slave-breaker named Edward Covey. He was physically punished and deprived of human necessities and comforts, yet young Frederick Bailey, a literate enslaved man, could not be broken. One day he fought Covey and refused to submit, knowing that the assault of a white man had very serious consequences. In a strange twist of fate, Covey’s own pride would not allow him to publicly acknowledge the fight between the slave-breaker and the slave who could not be broken. After his altercation with Covey and another unsuccessful escape attempt, Frederick Bailey was sent to the Baltimore shipyards of Fells Point to work as a caulker. In 1838, he successfully escaped by borrowing seaman’s protection papers of a free African American and impersonated him. (2)

Shortly after his escape, he and Anna Murray married in New York and took the last name of Douglass. He began his oratory career in 1841 when asked to speak about his life as a slave at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket. Afterwards, he was hired to work for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845, he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. He became quite famous, but his status as a fugitive slave meant that he lived under the constant threat of capture and re-enslavement. For protection, Douglass spent the following two years touring the United Kingdom, speaking about the evils of slavery. British friends who supported abolition raised funds to buy his freedom in 1846 for 150 pounds sterling ($711.66). Frederick Douglass returned to the United States a free man and continued to write and speak throughout the country until his death.

In Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881, he recalled his visit to the Eastern Shore as a free man stating “… St. Michael’s was at one time the place of my home and the scene of some of my saddest experiences of slave life…My return, therefore, to this place in peace, among the same people, was strange enough in itself ; but that I should, when there, be formally invited by Captain Thomas Auld, then over eighty years old, to come to the side of his dying bed, evidently with a view to a friendly talk over our past relations, was a fact still more strange, and one which until its occurence, I could never have thought possible.” (3)

Frederick Douglass resolved that “He was to me no longer a slave holder either in fact or in spirit, and I regarded him as I did myself , a victim of the circumstances of birth, education, law, and custom.” As Thomas Auld, his former master, lay on his deathbed, Douglass asked how he felt about the former fugitive’s escape. Auld responded, “Frederick, I always knew you were too smart to be a slave, and had I been in your place I should have done as you did. I said Capt. Auld, I am glad to hear you say this. I did not run away from you, but from slavery…” (4)

In June 1881, Douglass determined that he wanted to visit Col. Edward Lloyd, the grandson of Gov. Edward Lloyd who Douglass knew in his enslaved life. When he landed on the banks of the Lloyd estate, he stated, “I left there a slave, and returned as a free man ; I left there unknown to the outside world, and returned well known ; I left there on a freight boat, and returned on a revenue cutter ; I left on a vessel belonging to Col. Edward Lloyd, and returned on one belonging to the United States.” (5)

Douglass was greeted graciously by the Lloyd family when he visited in June 1881. He specifically asked to visit the 200-year-old Lloyd family cemetery, now 400-years-old. In Life and Times, Douglass acknowledged his desire to visit the Lloyd family in correspondence to Hon. John L. Thomas. Image from Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass written by himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including… (Hartford: Park Publishing Co., 1884) (reference photo); Frederick Douglass to John L. Thomas, June 7, 1881, MS 1521, MdHS (reference photo)

Douglass was greeted graciously by the Lloyd family when he visited in June 1881. He specifically asked to visit the 200-year-old Lloyd family cemetery, now 400-years-old. In Life and Times, Douglass acknowledged his desire to visit the Lloyd family in correspondence to Hon. John L. Thomas.
Image from Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass written by himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including… (Hartford: Park Publishing Co., 1884) (reference photo); Frederick Douglass to John L. Thomas, June 7, 1881, MS 1521, MdHS (reference photo)

His accomplishments were many – he spent his life fighting for equality for African Americans and women. He attended the Seneca Falls convention in New York. He was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln. He recruited African American soldiers to fight in the Union army, which included two of his sons. He spoke at the Baltimore celebration of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, the largest gathering in the country in 1870. He held official appointments from Presidents Hayes, Garfield, and Harrison. Frederick Douglass died at Cedar Hill in Washington, DC on February 20, 1895 and is buried in Rochester, New York. Two hundred years later, Americans continue to celebrate and commemorate his achievements and his legacy of  civil and equal rights.

(Debbie Harner)

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Sources and Further Reading:

(1) Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass written by himself. His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time, Including… (Hartford: Park Publishing Co., 1884) 90.

(2) Douglass, Frederick, and Benjamin Quarles, ed.. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969.) XXV.

(3) Life and Times of Frederick Douglass…, 533-534.

(4) Ibid, 535-536.

(5) Ibid, 540.

Frederick Douglass to John L. Thomas, June 7, 1881, John L. Thomas Papers, MS 1521, Maryland Historical Society.

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/manumission-frederick-douglass

http://www.hstc.org/museum-gardens/frederick-douglass

https://www.nps.gov/frdo/learn/historyculture/frederickdouglass.htm

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1539.html

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