Frederick DouglassBorn a slave in Talbot County Maryland, in 1818, Frederick Bailey would escape his chains in 1838 and become Frederick Douglass, one of the most notable men of the nineteenth century and the ideal of an American self-made man.

Fred Bailey boarded a train in Baltimore in 1838, escaped north to freedom dressed in a sailor’s uniform stitched by his fiancée, a free woman, Anna Murray. His escape route on the underground railroad would take him to New York, Newport, Rhode Island and finally to New Bedford, MA where he received the help of Nathan and Polly Johnson, well known African American abolitionists. It is in New Bedford that Douglass and his bride, Anna began their life together and raised their young family.

He rose quickly to prominence as a favorite abolitionist and anti-slavery speaker, traveling throughout the country and world to shed light on the horrors of America’s “peculiar institution.” He was a powerful orator and influential political figure, using his personal experience to give a human face to the sufferings of slavery. His own memories and knowledge of the slave experience formed a forceful attack on America’s racial problems: slavery in the South and racial prejudice in the North.

Against all odds, Douglass worked tirelessly for the equal treatment of all races and genders. He was one of the few men who attended the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848; he fought for the right for black men to serve in the Union Army in the Civil War; he served as a political delegate in the Reconstruction South to ensure black suffrage; he spoke out frequently in support of equal employment and social opportunities and against lynchings, discrimination and “Jim Crow.”

By the end of his life, Douglass could proudly claim to have served as advisor, political ally, and friend to six presidents, abolitionists Gerrit Smith and William Lloyd Garrison; women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott; and authors Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Frederick Douglass will long be remembered as a noted orator, writer, publisher, politician, entrepreneur, political activist, national celebrity, and historical figure. He left an indelible mark on the social, economic, and political landscape of the nineteenth century.

For more information on Douglass in New Bedford, please download the New Bedford Historical Society brochure.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

National Park Service Newsletter
Network to Freedom

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Frederick Douglass Sermon
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Frederick Douglass Anecdotes
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Frederick Douglass Obituary
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Partial Speaking Itinerary, 1839-46
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