timeline of Frederick Douglass and family


1818. (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.
Douglass 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.

1826. Sent to live with Hugh Auld family in Baltimore.

1827. Asks Sophia Auld to teach him his letters. Hugh Auld stops the lessons because he feels that learning makes slaves discontented and rebellious.

1834. Hired Out to Edward Covey, a "slave breaker", to break his spirit and make him accept slavery.

1836. Tries to escape from slavery, but his plot is discovered.

Frederick Douglass

1836-38. Works in Baltimore shipyards as a caulker. Falls in love with Anna Murray, a free Negro (daughter of slaves).

1838. Douglass escapes from slavery and goes to New York City. Marries Anna Murray.

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

Anna Murray Douglass

1840. Son Lewis Henry (1840 - 1908) is born.

1841. Speaks at a meeting of the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society, and subsequently, at the urging of William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass became 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.

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

1843. Organized by Abner A. Frances, Henry Moxley (see 1832), the Charles L. Reason (the first Black math professor at a white college), and others, a National Convention of Colored Men was held in Buffalo to find ways to end slavery. The keynote speaker, Samuel H. Davis of Buffalo, called 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 (see 1836).

Frederick Douglass attended both conventions. He reports:

For nearly a week I spoke every day in this old post office to audiences increasing in numbers and respectibility til the [Michigan Avenue] Baptist church was thrown open to me. When this became too small I went on Sunday into the open park and addressed an assembly of 4,000 persons. [Goldman]

1844. Son Charles Remond (1844 - 1920) is born.

1845. 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.

1846. Becomes legally free when British supporters purchase his freedom from Hugh Auld, his former master.


1847a. Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass, attracted by Susan B. Anthony's very active women's movement, moved their family (8 year old Rosetta, 7 year old Lewis, 5 year old Frederick, and 3 year old Charles) to Rochester New York. Even their prejudice forced the Douglass' children to be educated elsewhere.

The presence of Frederick Douglass, a famous ex-slave who became a prominent abolitionist, publisher and spokesman against slavery, helped to enhance Rochester's reputation as a liberal minded city. In fact, Douglass used his own Rochester home as one of the stops used for fugitive slaves.

1847b. Martin R. Delany moves from Pittsburgh to Rochester in order to found with and work with Frederick Douglass and William Cooper Nell on a new paper, North Star, 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 Douglass'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. Douglass 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. [Rollin]

Once the North Star began to circulate, Douglass's friends in the abolitionist movement rallied to join in praising it. However, not everyone was pleased to see another antislavery paper - especially one edited by an ex-slave. 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 Douglass's printing press into Lake Ontario. Gradually, Rochester came to take pride in the North Star and its bold editor.

The town had a reputation for being pro-abolitionist. Rochester's women were active in antislavery societies, and through them Douglass kept in close contact with the leaders in the fight for women's rights, among them Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Along with the good will of Rochester's abolitionist and female political activists, Douglass received encouragement from the local printer's union. The North Star received a number of glowing reviews, but unfortunately the praises did not translate into financial success. The cost of producing a weekly newspaper was high and subscriptions grew slowly. For a number of years, Douglass was forced to depend on his own savings and contributions from friends to keep the paper afloat. He was forced to return to the lecture circuit to raise money for the paper. During the paper's first year, he was on the road for six months. In the spring of 1848, he had to mortgage his home.

In the midst of these troubles, a friend from England arrived to help Douglass with his financial problems. Julia Griffiths had raised enough money to help launch the paper, and now she was prepared to fight for its survival. Griffiths put the North Star's finances in order, and Douglass was eventually able to regain possession of his home. By 1851, he would be able to write to his friend, the abolitionist publisher and politician Gerrit Smith, "The North Star sustains itself, and partly sustains my large family. It has reached a living point. Hitherto, the struggle of its life has been to live. Now it more than lives." Despite the ups and downs, Douglass's newspaper continued publication as a weekly until 1860 and survived for three more years as a monthly. After 1851, it would be titled Frederick Douglass' Paper. Douglass's newspaper symbolized the potential for blacks to achieve whatever goals they set. The paper provided a forum for black writers and highlighted the success achieved by prominent black figures in American society.

The paper survived as a weekly until 1860 and then for three more years as a monthly.

1848. Douglass 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 erupted when Julia Griffiths began to serve as Douglass's office and business manager and soon became his almost constant companion. She arranged his lectures, dealt with the paper's finances and accompanied him to meetings. People in Rochester gradually adjusted to the sight of the black leader and the white woman walking arm in arm down the street.

1849a. Annie Douglass, Frederick's last child, is born.

1849b. On May 5 Douglass is attacked by gang of toughs when he walks along Battery in New York City with two British women friends, Julia and Eliza Griffiths.

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

1851a. 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(read more).

1851b. Julia Griffiths helped put the 'North Star's' finances in order.

Julia Griffiths was one of six founders of the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery and Sewing Society. The "Sewing" was later dropped. By March, 1852, the Society had grown to nineteen members, when they held the first of their Festivals, or bazaars. In these events, held annually for over a decade, the women of the Society raised money through the sale of items made locally or contributed by other anti-slavery societies as far away as Britain, and through gate receipts for lectures by Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, or other activists held in the Corinthian Hall. The first Festival was advertised in newspapers as far away as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., and by all accounts, it was a rousing success, netting over $250. Following on the heels of this bazaar, the Society intensified their fund raising efforts, matching success with success. In 1853, Julia Griffiths edited Autographs for freedom, a collection of antislavery essays by William Wells and Black mathematician Charles Reason and others, with facsimile signatures of the contributors, which sold so well that a second edition was prepared the following year. In the winter of 1854-55, the Society also sponsored its first annual lecture series, bringing in renowned speakers. Once again, the Society found a large and receptive audience for their message. Colleagues in British antislavery societies provided an important and regular source of funds through bazaars held on behalf of the Rochester Society. By the late 1850s, the annual receipts of the Society surpassed $1,500.

The bulk of the money raised by the Society was used in the important task of keeping Frederick Douglass' Paper solvent, but money was also used to help support a school for freedmen in Kansas and for the publication and distribution of anti-slavery literature in Kentucky. The Society played a crucial support role in one stretch of the Underground Railroad, providing small cash gifts directly to fugitive slaves to aid them on the last leg of their escape to Canada. The Society's annual reports for 1855 and 1856 listed 136 fugitives who had passed through Rochester with the Society's help, and by the following year, they had begun to develop a connection with veteran "railroad" engineer, Harriet Tubman. The pro-slavery pessure and Black and White lover scandal became too much and in 1855 Julia Griffiths returned to England and got married

1851c. Douglass aids three fugitive Maryland slaves, wanted for murdering their former master when he tried to recapture them in Pennsylvania in escaping to Canada. The three are among hundreds Douglass helps flee to freedom as "station master" of the Rochester terminus of the Underground Railroad.

1852a. 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.

1852b. Griffiths decided to spare Douglass further embarrassment by moving out of his home. She remained his close associate until she left the United States.

1853. With Frederick Douglass as a draw, the National Negro Convention (also known as the Colored National Convention) meets in Rochester.

1855a. Douglass writes a second autobiography: My Bondage and My Freedom.

1855b. Aware that Douglass' enemies were using his highly public relationship with Griffith as negative fodder, Julia Griffith returns home to England.

1855c. Douglass meets Ottilie Assing. Ottilie (1819-1884) was a German (half-Jew) journalist for the prestigious German newspaper Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, who traveled to Rochester, New York, in 1856 to interview Douglass. Assing spent the next 22 summers with the Douglass family, working on articles, the translation project, and tutoring his children.

Anna Douglass, Frederick's wife, was somewhat older than Frederick and illiterate, was als 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, was politically astute, and contributed a great deal to Douglass' 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, Frederick and Ottilie weekly wrote each other. Assing was confident that, upon Anna's death, Douglass would marry her. Oh, bitter news! 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 Frederick Douglass as the sole heir in her will. 

Ottilie Assing

[Note. The Douglass's letters to Assing were burned, and only a handful survive from Assing to Douglass. There is a book by a professor of American Studies at University of Muenster in Germany: Love across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass. By Maria Diedrich. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999. xxx, 480 pp. $35.00, isbn 0-8090-1613-3.) ]

1857. The Rochester public schools desegregate after years of Frederick Douglasses protestations.

1858. John Brown stays at the Douglass home in Rochester while developing plans for encouraging a slave revolt.

1859a. Escapes to Canada to avoid being arrested as an accomplice in John Brown's plan to seize Harper's Ferry and sails to England:
Douglass knew and supported John Brown in his assisting escaped slaves to reach Canada. But when in 1859 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 round the bend and declined to participate in the raid. Brown's confiscated papers mentioned the name of Douglass, and a request for his arrest was issued. This led Douglass 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.

1859b. Ottilie Assing, vividly described for a German paper, a demarcation line that surrounded Douglass's home: "This is the house of FD, the famous colored orator, who lives in the country close to Rochester , and American color prejudice is the demon which surrounds this house like a Chinese wall, beyond which only the most determined and ardent abolitionists dare to step."

1859c. Eleven-year old daughter Annie Douglass dies.

1860. Returns to the United States upon hearing of the death of his, Annie. Her death had the effect of curtailing Douglass' European speaking tours.

1861. Calls for the use of Black troops to fight the Confederacy through the establishment of Negro regiments in the Union Army.

1863a. Congress authorized black enlistment in the Union army. The Massachusetts 54th Regimate was the first black unit to be formed, and the governor of the state asked Frederick Douglass to help in the recruitment. Douglass agreed and wrote an editorial that was published in the local newspapers. "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 were among the first Rochester African Americans to enlist. Douglass visited President Abraham Lincoln to protest discrimination against Black troops.

1863b. Rosetta Douglass , daughter of Frederick, returns to Rochester with new husband Nathaniel Sprague.

1863c. Douglass visits President Lincoln, protests discrimination against black troops; visits President Lincoln in White House to plead the case of the Negro soldiers discriminated against in the Union army; receives assurance from Lincoln that problem will be given every consideration; visits secretary of War Stanton and assured that he will receive a commission in Union Army to Recruit Negro soldiers in South.

1864. Frederick Douglass served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and fought for the adoption of constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for blacks. Douglass provided a powerful voice for human rights during this period of American history and is still revered today for his contributions against racial injustice.

1865. Douglass 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.

1866. 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.

1867. 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.

1869. Frederick's son Lewis marries Amelia Loguen, daughter of Bishop Jermain Loguen.

1870. Becomes owner and editor of The New National Era, a weekly newspaper in Washington. DC.

1871. Appointed Assistant Secretary to the Conimission of Inquiry into the possible annexation of Santo Dorningo.

1872. Douglass is nominated for vice-president by Equal Rights Party on a ticket headed by Victoria Woodhull. During the 1872 presidential election, and Frederick Douglass was given an unexpected honor. He was 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, Douglass 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 Douglass's 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, Douglass decided to move his family to the center of political activity in Washington, D.C.

1874. Named president of Freedman's Savings and Trust Company.

1877. Appointed US marshall of the District of Columbia.

Douglass 188_

1878. Douglass purchases "Cedar Hill" a 9-acre estate in the Anacostia section of Washington, DC.

1881. Frederick Douglass is appointed Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. He publishes a third autobiography: Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

1882a. Florence Sprague and Viola VanBuren where the first Black teachers in the Rochester School District. (note: it appears not to be true that Florence is daughter of Rosetta Douglass Sprague, see 1863)

1882b. Anna Douglass, died after a long illness.

1883. Distinguished Men of New York

1884a. Resigns as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.

1884b. Frederick Douglass marries his secretary Helen Pitts, a white woman from Honeoye New York (not 20 miles distant Honeoye Falls), 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. 

Hellen Pitts was a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, and daughter of Gideon Pitts, Jr., an abolitionist colleague and friend of Douglass'. 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' 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.

Pitts, nevertheless, would prove to be most influential at establishing the Frederick Douglass home and maintaining the legacy of Douglass after his death..

Helen Pitts Douglass

1884c. Frederick Douglass' lover of 26 years, Ottilie Assing commits suicide (see 1856 above).

1886. 1986-87 Frederick and Helen travel to England, France, Italy, Egypt and Greece in 1886-87.

1888. Appointed Consul General to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison

1889. Appointed Charge d'Affaires for Santo Domingo as well as Minister Resident to Haiti.

1891. Resigns as Minister to Haiti.

1892. Below - President Benjamin Harrison attends ceremony at Kodak Park with Frederick Douglass, Mayor Hiram Edgerton and Civil War veterans.

1893. 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.

1895. On February 20, Frederick Douglass at Cedar Hill, Anacostia, after attending a women's rights meeting, was struck by a massive heart attack and died at the age of 77. As news of Douglass's death spread throughout the country, crowds gathered at the Washington church where he lay in state to pay their respects. Black public schools closed for the day, and parents took their children for a last look at the famed leader. His wife and children accompanied his body back to Rochester, where he was laid to rest. Helen works to preserve the Douglass home in memory of Frederick.

The Frederick Douglass Home. At the request of Helen Pitts Douglass, Congress chartered the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, to whom Mrs. Douglass bequeathed the house. Joining with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, the association opened the house to visitors in 1916. The property was added to the National Park system on September 5, 1962 and was designated a National Historic Site in 1988. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is located at 1411 W Street, SE in Washington, D. C. and it is opened to the public.

1896. Rosetta Douglass Sprague was a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women.

1898. The first monument to a black man, Frederick Douglass (also see 1847), was established in Rochester.

1910. While serving as president of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Association, Mary Talbert was responsible for the restoration of the Frederick Douglass Home in Anacostia, Maryland. She also served as a delegate to the International Council of Women in Norway, and lectured internationally internationally on race relations and women's rights. For more on Talbert click Talbert.

Children of Frederick Douglass:
Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Frederick, Jr., Charles Resmond, Annie

Mary Louise was the daughter of Charles Resmond Douglass. Her siblings were Charles Frederick, Joseph Henry, Annie Elizabeth, Julia Ada, Edward and Haley George.

Mount Hope Cemetery Graves of

Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts Douglass,

in Rochester New York, .



Some references:

  1. Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History Written by Himself. New York: Collier Books, 1962.
  2. Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself. Ed. Benjamin Quarles. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1960.
  3. Douglass, Helen Pitts. In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
  4. Diedrich, Maria. Love across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass. Hill and Wang, 1999, 480 pp. $35.00, isbn 0-8090-1613-3.)
  5. Douglass, Frederick. The Heroic Slave. (published in Autographs for Freedom, edited Julia Griffiths [Cleveland: John P. Jewett & Company, 1853]
  6. May 2003 letters from Jean Czerkas <JFCZERKAS@msn.com>. Florence Sprague is not a child of Rosetta Douglass. Rosetta, her husband Nathan, three of their daughters and only son are interred in historic Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. There children are:
    Alice Louisa; Annie Rosine; Harriet Bailey; Estelle Irene; Fredericka Douglass; Herbert Douglass; Rosebelle Mary.

Other sites:

Frederick Douglass home.

Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center.

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