The Life of Frederick Douglass
"There was no path out of the Republican party that did not lead directly into the Democratic Party -- away from our friends and directly to our enemies."
- Frederick Douglass, Life and Times, written about the National Convention of Colored People at New Orleans, 1872.
February 1818 - Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey is born a slave, the property of Aaron Anthony, near Easton in Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Anthony lives on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd, for whom he is chief clerk and general overseer of the Lloyd estates.
1824 - Frederick Bailey, who has previously been raised by his grandmother, is brought to the Lloyd plantation to live with the other slave children.
1826 - Frederick is sent to Baltimore to live with the family of Hugh Auld, brother of Anthony's daughter's husband, and serves as a companion to Auld's young son, Thomas.
1827 - Frederick is taught the alphabet and rudimentary reading by Sophia Auld, Thomas's wife, until her husband tells her to stop the lessons. Frederick gets white playmates to help him with his letters.
1829 - Frederick is put out to work in Auld's shipyard doing errands and assisting carpenters where needed. He continues to practice his reading skills by copying the notations the carpenters write on their lumber and with a school book he purchases called the Columbian Orator. He learns about the abolitionist movement from reading the Baltimore American newspaper.
1833 - Frederick is sent back to Talbot County on the demand of Thomas Auld who has inherited him from the deceased Aaron Anthony. Frederick teaches reading in a Sunday School for slaves. Since this makes him a danger to the slave system, Thomas Auld sends him for a year to the notorious slave breaker Thomas Covey.
1834 - Frederick works on the Covey farm where his is severely whipped and brutally treated. In August, he fights with Covey and is never whipped again.
1835 - Frederick is hired out to farmer William Freeland. He again begins teaching Sunday School in secret.
1836 - Frederick plans with several other slaves to escape. The plot is discovered and he is put in the Easton jail. After a time, he is released to Auld who sends him back to Baltimore. Hugh Auld hires him out to a shipyard as a caulker.
1837 - Frederick joins the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, a group of mostly free blacks. There he meets Anna Murray, a free black woman to whom he eventually becomes engaged.
1838 - He escapes from Baltimore and goes to New York where he is joined by Anna Murray. They are married. The couple moves to New Bedford, MA, where he takes the name Douglass and works at whatever odd jobs he can find.
1841 - After increasing involvement in the abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass is invited to speak at the convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society where he comes to the attention of William Lloyd Garrison and other noted abolitionists. Douglass is invited to travel with abolitionists and tell his story. He is ultimately hired as an agent of the Society in the next year, traveling throughout the Northeast.
1845 - Douglass' first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by Himself is published by the Anti-Slavery Office in Boston with a prefatory letter by Wendell Phillips. Concerned that publication of the book might lead to his recapture, he departs for a lecture tour of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
1846 - Douglass' British friends raise £150 to purchase his freedom from Hugh Auld (to whom he has been sold by Thomas Auld). Manumission papers are filed by Auld in Baltimore on December 5th.
1847 - Douglass returns to the United States. He moves to Rochester, NY and founds the abolitionist paper North Star.
1850 - Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Law, making it a crime to harbor a runaway slave.
1851 - Douglass breaks with many of the abolitionists (such as Garrison) who oppose involving themselves in politics, believing that the system is corrupt. Douglass re-founds the North Star as Frederick Douglass' Newspaper and is an active member of the underground railroad, moving escaped slaves from Rochester to Canada.
1853 - The bitter feud between Douglass and Garrison continues. Douglass works with Harriet Beecher Stowe to found an industrial school to train blacks in trade and simple academic skills, but Stowe ultimately withdraws her support.
1855 - Douglass' second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, is published.
1856 - Douglass endorses Republican Presidential candidate John. C. Fremont.
1859 - Douglass, who has been friends with John Brown for some years, meets him outside Chambersburg, PA and is told of Brown's plan for the raid on Harper's Ferry. Douglass refuses to join, believing that the plan is doomed to fail. When Virginia authorities capture Brown, they find a letter from Douglass and demand that Douglass be extradited to Virginia. Douglass flees to Canada and ultimately travels again to Britain.
1860 - Douglass returns to the United States and writes favorably about Abraham Lincoln. In December, he calls for the use of force against slavery in the South.
1863 - After several years of criticizing Lincoln for failing to act against slavery, Douglass changes his position to one of support after the Emancipation Proclamation. He becomes a recruiting agent for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first black regiment. He meets with Lincoln in the summer and discusses the unequal pay, treatment, and supplies that black troops receive.
1865 - Douglass delivers the eulogy to Lincoln in Rochester. He quickly becomes a critic of President Johnson's reconstruction policy. He continues lecturing.
1868 - Douglass becomes a strong campaigner in support of Grant's candidacy for the Presidency.
1869 - Douglass is elected President of the National Convention of Colored Citizens.
1870 - Douglass becomes corresponding editor (and eventually editor-in-chief) of The New Era, a weekly newspaper for blacks published in Washington, DC.
1872 - After his house in Rochester burns, Douglass moves to Washington, DC and campaigns extensively for Grant's second term. Douglass serves as a Presidential Elector for New York State.
1874 - Douglass is named president of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, but discovers after taking office that it is bankrupt, partly due to the corruption of his predecessors. He is unable to save it, resulting in the loss of the savings of many depositors. The New National Era, which Douglass had turned over to his sons, ceases publication when it is unable to collect from its subscribers. Douglass lobbies heavily for the civil rights bill being considered by Congress.
1875 - Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Douglass continues to lecture, calling for renewed efforts to protect black suffrage in the South from growing white violence. He warns black audiences that the Republican commitment to reconstruction is weakening and urges them to develop their own leaders and newspapers.
1876 - Campaigns for Hayes in the Presidential election.
1877 - President Hayes appoints Douglass U. S. Marshall for the District of Columbia, and he is confirmed by the Senate in March.
1878 - Douglass moves with his family to Cedar Hill in Anacostia.
1880 - Attends the Republican National Convention in Chicago and supports Grant's return as a candidate. He ultimately campaigns for the party's choice, James Garfield.
1881 - President Garfield fails to reappoint Douglass as Marshall, giving the office to a personal friend, but does appoint Douglass as recorder of deeds. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is published in November.
1882 - Anna Murray Douglass dies in Washington, DC.
1883 - Douglass denounces the decision by the Supreme Court to invalidate the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which forbade discrimination in public accommodations and transportation.
1884 - Douglass marries Helen Pitts. He campaigns for James G. Blaine. Democrat Grover Cleveland ultimately wins the election.
1886 - Douglass resigns the office of recorder of deeds at President Cleveland's request despite the support of Senate Republicans. He begins year-long European tour.
1888 - Douglass attends the Republican National Convention in Chicago, calling for a strong civil rights platform and supporting John Sherman. He ultimately campaigns for the nominee, Benjamin Harrison, after the latter supports an item in the platform calling for federal protection of black citizens' voting rights.
1889 - President Harrison appoints Douglass as Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti.
1891 - Douglass resigns as Minister to Haiti.
1892 - Douglass publishes an expanded edition of Life and Times to include the events since 1882. He attends Republican National Convention in Minneapolis and supports Harrison's renomination. He meets and becomes friends with Ida Wells.
1895 - Douglass dies of heart failure at Cedar Hill. He is buried in Rochester's Mount Hope Cemetary with his first wife, Anna, and his daughter Annie.
This chronology is adopted from Douglass' Life and Times, William S. McFeely's biography Frederick Douglass, published in 1991, and the excellent and more detailed chronology found in The Library of America's Frederick Douglass, Autobiographies, published 1994.
The photos of Frederick Douglass on this web site are taken from public domain photos available from the Library of Congress and from the various autobiographies.
Home page: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-cwpbh-05089
First photo, this page: Published in Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855
Second photo, this page: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-15887