Frederick Douglass Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

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  • 0:04 Douglass' Early Life & Escape
  • 1:25 Life as a Free Man
  • 2:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

Frederick Douglass started his life as a slave in the early 1800s, but he would be remembered for his bravery and his life's work as a writer and speaker against slavery.

Early Life & Escape

Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist leader in 19th century America, was actually not born Frederick Douglass; he was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey and was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. He was moved around a bit as a child. First, he lived with his grandmother, Betty, then he was moved to the slave owner's home. Later he was sent to live in Baltimore, where he learned the alphabet.

At this time, it was strictly forbidden to teach reading and writing to slaves, but Frederick was luckily able to learn more from people in his neighborhood. Frederick soon became an eager reader. He read everything that he could, including newspapers, and even taught other slaves how to read at weekly Bible reading lessons.

Sadly, Frederick was beaten very often by one of his slave owners as a teenager, but these beatings only strengthened his determination to be free one day. Frederick was a man of determination and persistence! After being captured and punished for trying to escape twice before, in 1838 (when he was twenty years old) Frederick successfully made the long, daring journey from Maryland to New York. Frederick had to travel by train and ferry boat during his trip, and he disguised himself to look like a free black sailor. There were many times during his escape when he feared being recognized and captured, but luckily he eventually made it to freedom. Once he became a free man, Frederick chose the last name Douglass for himself.

Life as a Free Man

On September 15, 1838, Frederick married Anna Murray, a free black woman in New York who had helped Frederick escape from slavery. The happy couple soon settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts where there was a successful, blossoming community of other free blacks. Frederick regularly attended abolitionist meetings at a local black church. At these meetings he and others spoke about things that they may do to end slavery, such as reaching out to government leaders and publicly protesting.

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