The son of a slave, Douglass, whose original name had been Frederick Augustus Washington
Bailey, was a self-educated man whose hatred for slavery led to his successful escape in 1838
from Maryland to Massachusetts. In 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Douglass
addressed the convention and revealed himself to be an exceptional orator and eloquent
speaker. This led to his being employed as an agent for the Anti-Slavery Society, and in the
following years his work for the Underground Railway helped to further the cause of the
abolitionist movement. Leaving for England in 1845 to escape possible capture under the
Fugitive Slaves Act, Douglass lectured and won support for the anti-slavery cause. He returned
to America in 1847 and became the main proponent of the Underground Railway in New York.
He also established the North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, which he edited until 1860.
Whilst in New York, Douglass befriended John Brown, the fervent abolitionist. When he
learned of Brown's plan to attack the U.S. Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, he objected and withdrew
from further support of Brown's cause. He again fled to Europe after the unsuccessful raid and
remained there for around six months.
He returned to America in 1860 and campaigned for Abraham Lincoln during the presidential
election. During the Civil War, he helped to raise two regiments of black soldiers in
Massachusetts. After the war, he served as U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia (1877-81).
He thereafter served as recorder of deeds for Washington DC (1881-86) and finally the position of minister
to Haiti (1889-91). His first autobiographical work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an
American Slave (1845), was a major success. In 1882, a revised form of this work, entitled Life
and Times of Frederick Douglass, was published.