Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, who later became known as Frederick Douglass, was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, between Hillsboro[3] and Cordova, probably in his grandmother's shack east of Tappers Corner and west of Tuckahoe Creek.[4] He was separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey, when he was still an infant and lived with his maternal grandmother Betty Bailey. His mother died when Douglass was about seven.

The identity of his father is obscure. Douglass originally stated that he was told his father was a white man, perhaps his master Aaron Anthony. Later he said he knew nothing of his father's identity. At age seven, Douglass was separated from his grandmother and moved to the Wye House plantation, where Anthony worked as overseer.[5] When Anthony died, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld. She sent Douglass to serve Thomas' brother Hugh Auld in Baltimore.

When Douglass was about twelve years old, Hugh Auld's wife Sophia started teaching him the alphabet despite the fact that it was against the law to teach slaves to read. Douglass described her as a kind and tender-hearted woman, she treated Douglass like one human being ought to treat another. When Hugh Auld discovered her activity, he strongly disapproved, saying that if a slave learned to read, he would become dissatisfied with his condition and desire freedom. Douglass later referred to this statement as the "first decidedly antislavery lecture" he had ever heard.[6] As detailed in his autobiography, Douglass succeeded in learning to read from white children in the neighborhood and by observing the writings of men with whom he worked. Mrs.Auld one day saw Douglass reading a newspaper she ran over to him and snatched it from him, with a face that said education and slavery were incompatible with each other.

He continued, secretly, to teach himself how to read and write. Douglass is noted as saying that "knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom."[7] As Douglass learned and began to read newspapers, political materials, and books of every description, he was exposed to a new realm of thought that led him to question and then condemn the institution of slavery. In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator, which he discovered at about age twelve, with clarifying and defining his views on freedom and human rights.

When Douglass was hired out to William Freeland, he taught other slaves on the plantation to read the New Testament at a weekly Sunday school. As word spread, the interest among slaves in learning to read was so great that in any week, more than 40 slaves would attend lessons. For about six months, their study went relatively unnoticed. While Freeland was complacent about their activities, other plantation owners became incensed that their slaves were being educated. One Sunday they burst in on the gathering, armed with clubs and stones, to disperse the congregation permanently.

In 1833, Thomas Auld took Douglass back from Hugh after a dispute ("[A]s a means of punishing Hugh," Douglass wrote). Dissatisfied with Douglass, Thomas Auld sent him to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had a reputation as a "slave-breaker." There Douglass was whipped regularly. The sixteen-year-old Douglass was indeed nearly broken psychologically by his ordeal under Covey, but he finally rebelled against the beatings and fought back. After losing a confrontation with Douglass, Covey never tried to beat him again.

In 1837, Douglass met Anna Murray, a free black in Baltimore. They married soon after he obtained his freedom.

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