Frederick Douglass


(Exact date unknown) Frederick Douglass is born as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, a slave at Holme Hill Farm, Talbot County, Maryland.

His mother, Harriet Bailey, was a field slave from whom he was separated during his infancy. Douglass only saw his mother four or five times thereafter and for only a few hours each time. She had been sold to a man who lived twelve miles from where Douglass lived, and to see her son required that after her day's work in the field she walk the twelve miles, visit with him for a short time during the night, walk the twelve miles back to her home, and work a second day in the fields without rest. She died when Douglass was about seven.

FD never knew for certain whom his father was. He did know that his father was white, and he believed he was his master, Aaron Anthony.


Sent to live with Hugh Auld family in Baltimore.


Asks Sophia Auld to teach him his letters. Hugh Auld stops the lessons because he feels that learning makes slaves discontented and rebellious.


Hired out to Edward Covey, a "slave breaker", to break his spirit and make him accept slavery.


Tries to escape from slavery, but his plot is discovered.


Works in Baltimore shipyards as a caulker. Falls in love with Anna Murray, a free Negro (daughter of slaves).


Escapes from slavery and goes to New York City. Marries Anna Murray.


Daughter Rosetta (1839-1906) is born. FD subscribes to William Garrison's The Liberator.


Son Lewis Henry (1840-1908) is born.


Speaks at a meeting of the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society, and subsequently, at the urging of William Lloyd Garrison, becomes a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and travels widely in the East and Midwest lecturing against slavery and campaigning for rights of free Blacks.


Son Frederick Douglass, Jr. (1842-1892) is born.


Organized by Abner A. Frances, Henry Moxley, Charles L. Reason (the first Black math professor at a white college), and others, a National Convention of Colored Men is held in Buffalo to find ways to end slavery. The keynote speaker, Samuel H. Davis of Buffalo, calls on northern Blacks to take part in the great battle for our rights in common with other citizens of the United States. Meeting in Buffalo around the same time was the abolitionist National Convention of the Liberty Party. However, William Wells Brown did not trust the Liberty Party, a white man's organization. FD attends and speaks at both conventions.


Son Charles Remond (1844-1920) is born.


Publishes the first of three autobiographies: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. To escape recapture following publication, goes to England lecturing on the American anti-slavery movement throughout the British Isles.


Becomes legally free when British supporters purchase his freedom from Hugh Auld, his former master.


FD and Anna Murray Douglass, attracted by Susan B. Anthony's very active women's movement, move their family to Rochester, New York. Even their prejudice forced the Douglass' children to be educated elsewhere.

FD and others found The North Star newspaper, printed in the basement of Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, a flourishing center for "underground" activities. Some local citizens were unhappy that their town was the site of a black newspaper, and the New York Herald urged the citizens of Rochester to dump FD's printing press into Lake Ontario. Gradually, Rochester came to take pride in The North Star and its bold editor. Starting The North Star marked the end of his dependence on Garrison and other white abolitionists. The paper allowed him to discover the problems facing blacks around the country. FD had heated arguments with many of his fellow black activists, but these debates showed that his people were beginning to involve themselves in the center of events affecting their position in America.


FD attends the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY and advocates the right to vote for women. While he roamed far beyond his original bounds, his wife, though hard-working, remained uneducated and politically unambitious. In England he met Julia Griffiths and brought her home to live with him in the Rochester family house as a tutor for his children and for wife Anna in 1848. But his effort with his wife failed and Anna remained almost totally illiterate until her death.

A scandal erupts when Julia Griffiths began to serve as FD's office and business manager and soon becomes his almost constant companion. She arranges his lectures, deals with the paper's finances and accompanies him to meetings. People in Rochester gradually adjust to the sight of the black leader and the white woman walking arm in arm down the street.


Annie Douglass, FD's last child, is born.


5 May: FD is attacked by gang of toughs when he walks along Battery in New York City with two British women friends, Julia and Eliza Griffiths.


Publishes an attack on the Compromise of 1850 and the new fugitive-slave law.


Changes the name of North Star to Frederick Douglass' Paper. Helps three fugitive Maryland slaves escape to Canada as "Station Master" of the Rochester terminus of the Underground Railroad.


Splits with Garrison over the means to achieve the abolition of slavery. Chosen vice-presidential candidate at the Liberal Party convention. Delivers his famous speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York.

Griffiths decides to spare FD further embarrassment by moving out of his home. She remains his close associate until she leaves the United States in 1855.


FD writes a second autobiography: My Bondage and My Freedom.


FD meets Ottilie Assing. Ottilie (1819-1884), a German (half-Jew) journalist for the prestigious German newspaper Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, who traveled to Rochester to interview him. Assing spent the next 22 summers with the Douglass family, working on articles, the translation project, and tutoring his children.

Anna Douglass was somewhat older than FD, illiterate, and also ill much of the time. She shared little of her husband's intellect or interests, and seemed unable to cope with the large household.

Assing, on the other hand, was a passionate abolitionist, politically astute, and contributed a great deal to FD's work. The affair was never confined to the domestic sphere, and it was never a secret. For most of their 26-year friendship, when apart, FD and Ottilie weekly wrote each other. Assing was confident that, upon Anna's death, FD would marry her. (However, when Anna died, he wed another woman - white, bright and 20 years his junior. Heartbroken and ill with breast cancer, Assing walked into a park, opened a tiny vial and swallowed the potassium cyanide within. Still Ottilie left FD as the sole heir in her will.)


The Rochester public schools desegregate after years of FD's protestations.


John Brown stays at the Douglass home in Rochester while developing plans for encouraging a slave revolt.


Escapes to Canada to avoid being arrested as an accomplice in John Brown's plan to seize Harper's Ferry and sails to England. FD knew and supported John Brown in his assisting escaped slaves to reach Canada. But when Brown told him of the plan to assault the Harpers Ferry Arsenal and to arm the slaves for an insurrection, Douglass knew that his friend had gone too far and declined to participate in the raid. Brown's confiscated papers mentioned FD's name, and a request for his arrest was issued. This led FD to take an immediate unplanned voyage to Europe, where he met up with Ottilie Assing, and, on the lecture circuit he acclaimed, from afar, the martyrdom of John Brown.

Eleven-year old daughter Annie Douglass dies.


Returns to the United States upon hearing of the death of Annie.


Calls for the use of Black troops to fight the Confederacy through the establishment of Negro regiments in the Union Army.


Congress authorizes black enlistment in the Union army. The Massachusetts 54th Regiment is the first black unit to be formed, and the governor of the state asks FD to help in the recruitment. FD agreed and wrote an editorial that was published in the local newspapers. In "Men of Color, to Arms," he urged blacks to "end in a day the bondage of centuries" and to earn their equality and show their patriotism by fighting in the Union cause. His sons Lewis and Charles are among the first Rochester African Americans to enlist.

FD visits President Abraham Lincoln to protest discrimination against Black troops.


FD serves as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and fights for the adoption of constitutional amendments that guarantee voting rights and other civil liberties for blacks.


FD speaks at memorial meeting on life and death of Lincoln called by Negroes of New York City after New York Common Council refused to permit Negroes to participate in the funeral procession when Lincoln's body passed through the city. Later Mrs. Lincoln sends him the martyred president's walking stick.


Attends convention of Equal Rights Association and clashes with women's rights leaders over their insistence that the vote not be extended to Black men unless it is given to all women at the same time.


Turns down President Andrew Johnson's offer to name him commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau inasmuch as the National Black Leadership supported General Oliver O. Howard's continuation in the post.


Becomes owner and editor of The New National Era, a weekly newspaper in Washington. DC.


Appointed Assistant Secretary to the Commission of Inquiry into the possible annexation of Santo Domingo.


Nominated for vice-president by Equal Rights Party on a ticket headed by Victoria Woodhull. Chosen as one of the two electors-at-large from New York, the men who carried the sealed envelope with the results of the state voting to the capital. After the election, FD expected that he would be given a position in the Ulysses S. Grant administration, but no post was offered, so he returned to the lecture circuit. Later his Rochester home went up in flames. None of his family was hurt, but many irreplaceable volumes of his newspapers were destroyed. Although friends urged him to rebuild in Rochester, FD decided to move his family to the center of political activity in Washington, D.C.


Named president of Freedman's Savings and Trust Company.


Appointed US marshall of the District of Columbia.


Appointed Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. He publishes a third autobiography: Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.


Anna Douglass dies after a long illness.


Resigns as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.

FD marries his secretary Helen Pitts, a white woman from Honeoye New York, who was nearly 20 years younger than he. Both families recoiled; hers stopped speaking to her; his was bruised for they felt his marriage was a repudiation of their mother.

Helen Pitts was a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, and daughter of Gideon Pitts, Jr., an abolitionist colleague and friend of Douglass's. Gideon's home was a station on the Underground Railroad.. While living in Washington, D.C. before her marriage, Helen had worked on a radical feminist publication called The Alpha.

Helen is a direct descendent of John and Priscilla Alden and a cousin to Presidents John and John Q. Adams. As a result, the marriage of a Mayflower Daughter to a former slave was yet another source of outrage to those who opposed the inter-racial marriage with Douglass. It was Pitts's race, and not her age upset both the black and the white communities. Douglass' response was, "My first wife was the color of my mother, my second is the color of my father."

FD's lover of 26 years, Ottilie Assing commits suicide.


FD and Helen travel to England, France, Italy, Egypt and Greece.


Appointed Consul General to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison


Appointed Charge d'Affaires for Santo Domingo as well as Minister Resident to Haiti.


Resigns as Minister to Haiti.


Announces plans to establish Freedom Manufacturing Co., a textile manufacturing firm, on a site near Norfolk, Virginia, where he hopes to employ 300 blacks. The scheme proves to be a sham by unscrupulous promoters using his name and prestige.


20 February: at Cedar Hill, Anacostia, after attending a women's rights meeting, FD is struck by a massive heart attack and dies.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.