This section connects you to Douglass in his own words. Luckily for us, he left a lot of them. He wrote three autobiographies (the last one in two rather different editions published a few years apart). He founded or co-founded a number of newspapers, for which he wrote much of the editorial content. His long life generated a great deal of other written material which you can consult in research libraries; some of those papers have been published in book form, and some of them are also online at the links below.
books by douglass
As Frederick Douglass writes in the last paragraph of this autobiography, in 1841 he became an orator for the Anti-Slavery Society. By 1845 he had become well-known for his performances at abolitionist rallies, but he was so articulate and intelligent that many people had begun to doubt he had ever actually been a slave. He wrote his Narrative both to "prove" his identity, and to bring his eloquent indictment of slavery to a wider audience. It was probably the best-selling of all the fugitive slave narratives: 5000 copies were sold within four months of its first printing, and 6 new editions were published between 1845 and 1849. Douglass published two later versions of his autobiography: My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).
Frederick Douglass' second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, significantly revises key portions of his original 1845 Narrative and extends the story of his life to include his experiences as a traveling lecturer in the United States as well as England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Douglass also frames his second autobiography differently, replacing the prefatory notes by white abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips with an introduction by the prominent black abolitionist Dr. James M'Cune Smith. While the appendix to his first autobiography serves primarily as a clarification about Douglass' views on religion, the appendix to My Bondage and My Freedom includes a letter to a former master, Thomas Auld—a ship captain—and various excerpts from Douglass' abolitionist lectures. These prefaces and appendices provide the reader with a sense of the larger historical movement(s) in which Douglass plays an important part. Douglass later expanded and republished this autobiography twice more, in 1881 and 1892, both under the title Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is Douglass’ third autobiography published in 1881 and revised in 1892. In it he revisits events of his previous autobiographies and connects them to later events in his life such as his relationship with John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, his life after the Civil War during reconstruction and his advocacy for women’s suffrage. In this last autobiography he feels free to describe details of his escape from slavery and the transportation means he used, he also names individuals who helped him. In his two previous autobiographies he was unable to discuss this chapter of his life because it would have endangered other fugitive slaves and his own family. He gives details of the Underground Railway and how it worked.
newspapers by douglass
The North Star (1847 – 1851)
Frederick Douglass, one of the best known and most articulate free black spokesmen during the antebellum years, was born a slave... After he ran away, Douglass tirelessly fought for emancipation and full citizenship for African Americans. Despite the failure of earlier African American newspapers, Douglass founded the The North Star in December 1847. The masthead contained the motto: "Right is of no sex; truth is of no color, God is the Father of us all-- and all are brethren." In 1851 it merged with the Liberty Party Paper and soon changed its name to the Frederick Douglass Paper. A contemporary African American journalist observed that Douglass' ability as a newspaper editor and publisher did more for the "freedom and elevation of his race than all his platform appearances."
Frederick Douglass's Paper (1851 – 1858)
Frederick Douglass' first paper was The North Star, which he edited along with Martin Delany and published in Rochester from 1847 to 1851. Financial difficulties led him in 1851 to merge the paper with Gerrit Smith's Liberty Party Paper and to call the new four-page weekly Frederick Douglass' Paper. Smith helped with money, Julia Griffiths, a Rochester abolitionist, volunteered editorial assistance, and William J. Watkins was listed on the masthead as Editorial Assistant, but Douglass had complete editorial control. The first issue appeared 6 June 1851, and the last in 1858, when its place was taken by Frederick Douglass' Monthly. Douglass' Paper was specifically dedicated to the related causes of abolishing slavery and improving the condition of "colored people in the North." It also featured stories and editorials on a wide range of liberal reform topics, from temperance to woman's rights. It paid some attention to local events in and around Rochester, but its real focus, like its readership, was national, or at least Northern.
Douglass's Monthly (1858 – 1863)
Douglass’ Monthly ran from 1858 to 1863. It was one of four papers published by Frederick Douglass, all of them dedicated to abolitionism and social reform. The August, 1862 issue celebrates the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
New National Era and Citizen (1870 – 1874)
In 1870, Frederick Douglass assumed control of The New Era, a weekly newspaper established in Washington, D.C. to serve former slaves. He renamed it The New National Era, and [with his sons] published it until it dissolved in 1874.
The papers of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) span the years 1841 to 1967, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1862-1895. The collection consists of correspondence, speeches and articles by Douglass and his contemporaries, a draft of his autobiography, financial and legal papers, and miscellaneous items.
This project seeks to digitize all of the Frederick Douglass materials held in the collections of the University of Rochester Library. The work will be undertaken by undergraduates, that they may have a greater understanding of Douglass by working with the letters and newspapers he composed.
Frederick Douglass spent 25 crucial years of activism in Rochester. The University's collections hold over 100 letters that date from before the Civil War, when Douglass was editor of The North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper which he published in Rochester, to a few years prior to his death in 1895. In addition, the collection also includes photographs of Douglass and copies of his newspapers.
The edition's aim remains true to [its original] vision: to make the papers of this prolific African American figure in his historical context available to a broad audience, much as similar projects have done for the papers of notable white historical and literary figures. The heart of the project is the publication of fourteen volumes of Douglass’s speeches and writings, but the project has also begun exploring the use of electronic texts and of web sites to broaden access to the project’s resources. For the digital edition, visit here.