Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, aka Frederick Douglass

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn about one of the great figures in American history: the African American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.

—Frederick Douglass

Exactly 119 years ago today, on 20 February 1895, America suddenly and unexpectedly lost one of its most impressive abolitionists, reformers, orators, writers, statesmen, and advocates for equal rights of all people: Frederick Douglass.

photo of Frederick Douglass

Photo: Frederick Douglass. Credit: Wikipedia.

Wanting to know more about this great African American, I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to look for old articles to learn about his life and times. I was not disappointed with my research findings.

This obituary of Frederick Douglas appeared in an 1895 New York newspaper. All of us genealogy fans can always appreciate a well-written obituary, and this certainly is one.

Death of Frederick Douglass, Irish American Weekly newspaper obituary 25 February 1895

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 25 February 1895, page 4

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

Born about 1817 as an African American slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, Frederick Douglass was born with the name of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He proceeded to spend his life breaking just about every mold people tried to force him to fit.

Runaway Slave & Man of Many Names

Douglass tried to escape slavery twice before he was finally successful, but once free, he was a wanted man. As a result, he had to change his name from Bailey, to Johnson, and then to Douglass—and as genealogy fans we can appreciate Douglass writing his autobiography, which helps us understand his changing name history.

Rising to Be a Famous American Abolitionist

Just how impressive was Frederick Douglass? Take a look at this article from a 1909 Chicago newspaper with its subheading calling Douglass “…One of the Sublimest and Most Noble Characters…”

The 92nd Anniversary of the Birth of Frederick Douglass, Broad Ax newspaper article 13 February 1909

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 13 February 1909, page 1

Douglass rose from the hardship of being born into slavery and the cruelty of being removed from his mother’s care as an infant (which was a customary practice in slavery at the time), to finally managing to escape to freedom—and became, at the time, America’s premier African American voice against slavery. One of my favorite quotes by Douglass is captured in this article from a 1952 Kansas newspaper. It is short, but really powerful:

I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.

Frederick Douglass' Statement, Plaindealer newspaper article 11 July 1952

Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas), 11 July 1952, page 7

Facing Abolitionist Opponents

While we all wish this was the case throughout American history, we all know it certainly was not. For an unvarnished view of just how challenging Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery stand was, I strongly suggest that you look up and read this article from a 1930 Kansas newspaper.

The Truth about the Great Frederick Douglass, Plaindealer newspaper article 30 August 1930

Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas), 30 August 1930, section: illustrated feature section, page 3

Running an entire page, this article often graphically relates what kinds of perils Douglass faced in his quest to speak out against slavery. Here is one horrifying example:

At Pendleton, Ind., the mob tore down the platform on which he was speaking. When the mob attacked him, he defended himself with a club until his arm was broken and he was battered into unconsciousness. When he regained it, with is arm in a sling, he insisted on speaking again.

Strong Advocate for Women’s Rights

Slavery was not the only cause that Frederick Douglass fought for. As you can read in this article from an 1848 Washington, D.C., newspaper, he supported the Women’s Rights Movement as well. Douglass spoke (he was the only African American invited to speak) at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, where he continued his strong advocacy for equal rights for women.

article about Frederick Douglass speaking at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 16 August 1848

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 16 August 1848, page 2

Frederick Douglass Meets President Lincoln

This article from an 1864 Louisiana newspaper reported on Douglass meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. In a speech he gave afterward, Douglass said:

Now, you will want to know how I was impressed by him [Lincoln]. He impressed me as being just what every one of you have been in the habit of calling him—an honest man.

article about Frederick Douglass meeting President Abraham Lincoln, New Orleans Tribune newspaper article 26 July 1864

New Orleans Tribune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 July 1864, page 2

This old article from an 1891 Nebraska newspaper reported that Frederick Douglass advised President Lincoln on the Emancipation Proclamation, and was appointed the U.S. Minster to Hayti (now Haiti).

He (Frederick Douglass) Advised the (Emancipation) Proclamation, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 7 August 1891

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 7 August 1891, page 4

His Home a National Historic Site

Moving toward more current times, the Douglass family home, known as Cedar Hill, became a National Historic Site and a part of our National Park Service, as you can read in this article from a 1972 Wisconsin newspaper.

(Frederick) Douglass Honored, Milwaukee Star newspaper article 24 February 1972

Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 24 February 1972, page 10

Frederick Douglass’ Newspaper

Note: one of the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank’s collection is the very newspaper edited and published by Frederick Douglass himself! It is the Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York), where you can read entire issues of this newspaper from 1847 to 1860.

I’d encourage you to take some time, delve into the newspapers of GenealogyBank’s online collection, and really investigate Frederick Douglass, one of America’s finest!

Key Historical Newspapers Online at GenealogyBank.com

With over 3,500 newspapers on GenealogyBank it might be difficult to be familiar with all of them.

GenealogyBank is packed with obituaries, birth records and marriage announcements – but here are some quick facts you might not know about some of our historical newspapers.

Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Maryland)
Although this prominent paper published some of Edgar Allen Poe’s earliest poetry, Poe was unable to secure a job on its staff as he had hoped. Includes 3,619 issues published between 1826 and 1838.

Blackfoot Register (Idaho)
The Register covers the Idaho mining boom and the run up to statehood. Publisher William Wheeler used his persuasive writing skills to bolster the population of the then-struggling Idaho Territory. Includes 255 issues published between 1880 and 1886.

Boston Journal (Massachusetts)
One of the first newspapers to conduct a census of its readers, the well-known Journal offered a balance of businessnews and general interest stories, especially those that focused on life in New England. Includes 14,438 issues published between 1870 and 1917.

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau)
The Dispatch offers detailed coverage of shipwrecks, volcano eruptions and other dangers that settlers faced in the harsh northern lands. Includes 5,724 issues published between 1900 and 1919.

Frankfort Argus (Kentucky)
One of the first newspapers west of the Appalachians. Includes 283 issues published between 1808 and 1821. Alternate Title: Argus of the Western World.

Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York)
Including its predecessor the North Star, this powerful anti-slavery newspaper had a circulation of 4,000 readers worldwide. Includes 136 issues published between 1847 and 1860.

Hobart Republican (Oklahoma)
Founded the year Oklahoma achieved statehood, the Republican reflects conservative middle-American views on World War I and the Russian Revolution. Includes 7,438 issues published between 1907 and 1920.

Hokubei Jiji or The North American Times (Seattle, Washington)
This was the first Japanese newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. Includes 57 issues published between 1916 and 1918.

Jeffersonian (Thomson, Georgia)
The Jeffersonian was the official mouthpiece of Georgia’s controversial fire-brand Populist and former presidential candidate, Thomas E. Watson. Will include issues published between 1909 and 1914.

Milwaukee Sentinel (Wisconsin)
The Sentinel provides national and international coverage as well as a glimpse into the northern fur trade. Includes 5,929 issues published between 1837 and 1866.

New-Bedford Courier (Massachusetts)
This important weekly newspaper from the U.S. whaling capital covers the industry at its height. Includes 181 issues published between 1827 and 1833.

New York Tribune (New York City)
For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Horace Greeley’s newspaper was one of the most powerful and successful in America. Will include issues published between 1856 and 1922.

Prescott Daily Courier (Arizona)
This early daily covered Arizona in the years before statehood, after the Desert Land Act significantly increased the territory’s population. Includes 2,173 issues published between 1891 and 1908.

Steamer Pacific News (San Francisco, California)
One of the most popular California newspapers, the Pacific News was shipped east during the height of the Gold Rush. Will include issues published between 1849 and 1851.

St. Louis Republic (Missouri)
This respected daily provided firsthand coverage of Midwestern events such as the Great Tornado of 1896 and the death of Sitting Bull. Includes 3,955 issues published between 1888 and 1900.

Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City, Nevada)
Nevada’s most important early newspaper featured articles written by young staffer Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twain. Will include issues published between 1874 and 1881. It will be loaded soon.

Texas Gazette (Austin)
The first English-language newspaper in the state, this important but short-lived title set the standard for frontier journalism. Will include issues published between 1829 and 1832. It will be loaded soon.

Die Washingtoner Post (Washington, Missouri)
This German-language title portrayed the lives of immigrants along the Mississippi River in the 1870s. Will include issues published between 1870 and 1878. It will be loaded soon.

Click here to see the complete list of newspapers on Genealogy Bank.

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