For this year’s Douglass Day celebration, we will be featuring the correspondence of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). We are pleased to present this new transcription project with our partners at the Library of Congress and ByThePeople.
Join us for Douglass Day 2024
Frederick Douglass was born in 1818. He was enslaved in Talbot County, Maryland until 1838 when he emancipated himself and relocated to Massachusetts. He soon became a prominent orator, author, and activist. While his earliest public appearances took place at anti-slavery meetings, he soon became a fixture at the national movement of Colored Conventions and as one of the leading editors of the early Black press. He lived in Rochester, NY for many years. In 1870, he moved to Washington, DC where his home in Anacostia became a center of Black life. He continued to agitate for the rest of his life to secure Black civil rights, the rights of citizenship, and racial justice. He passed away in 1895.
Douglass left behind an extraordinary body of writing. He wrote autobiographies, edited newspapers, delivered countless speeches and wrote constantly for newspapers. Throughout his career, he was also a prolific letter writer. He maintained regularly correspondence with a stunning number and diversity of people.
Major Life Events
1818 – Born on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, Maryland
1838 – Emancipated himself; married Anna Murray (1813-1882); changed name to Frederick Douglass
1841 – Addressed Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention, Massachusetts
1843 – Attended his first national Colored Conventions in Buffalo, NY
1847 – Started publishing The North Star newspaper
1848 – Attended first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York
1851 – The North Star changed to Frederick Douglass’ Paper
1855 – Published My Bondage and My Freedom
1870 – Began editing the New National Era newspaper
1881 – Published Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
1884 – Married suffragist Helen Pitts (1838–1903)
1889-1891 – Served as minister and consul general to Republic of Haiti, and chargé d’affaires to the Dominican Republic
1895 – Died in Washington, D.C. at age 77
Correspondence of Frederick Douglass at the Library of Congress
Text below is copied from the LOC page – About this Collection
The papers of nineteenth-century African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), who escaped from slavery and then risked his freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher, consist of approximately 7,400 items (38,000 images), most of which were digitized from 34 reels of previously produced microfilm. The collection spans the years 1841-1964, with the bulk of the material dating from 1862 to 1895. Many of Douglass’s earlier writings were destroyed when his house in Rochester, New York, burned in 1872.
For a fuller overview of the collection, please consult the Scope and Content Note in the collection finding aid to the Frederick Douglass Papers, which is available online (PDF and HTML) with links to the digital content on this site. Also see the essay on this site titled Provenance, Publication History, and Scope and Contents.
General Correspondence, 1841-1912 (Reels 1-9): General and family letters received and drafts and copies of letters sent with miscellaneous attachments. Includes letters Douglass received from prominent reformers and politicians, including Susan B. Anthony, Grover Cleveland, William Lloyd Garrison, Benjamin Harrison, Russell Lant, Gerrit Smith, and Ida B. Wells. Arranged chronologically. An index to the names in this series (PDF), created in 1974 before the original finding aid was published by the Library of Congress in 1976, is available online in PDF form.
Brief History of the Papers
The Frederick Douglass Papers were originally in the library at Cedar Hill, Douglass’s home in Anacostia, Washington, D.C., from 1878 until his death in 1895. In 1900 Helen Pitts Douglass, Douglass’s second wife, established the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association so that the home and its contents might be maintained after her death. The association held the property from 1903 until 1916, when it joined forces with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. In 1962 Congress declared Cedar Hill a national historical site, and ownership of the home and its contents was transferred to the National Park Service.
The National Park Service transferred the Frederick Douglass Papers to the Library of Congress between 1972 and 1974 to ensure their proper custodial care and to make them more readily accessible to researchers. In 1975 additional Douglass materials were acquired by the Library of Congress and added to the Frederick Douglass Papers as the Addition I Series. The papers were microfilmed and made available to the public. The online Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress has been digitally scanned from a thirty-four-reel microfilm set. Since the microfilming was performed, additional materials have been received; they are currently contained in the Addition II and Addition III series. These new materials have not been microfilmed and are not included yet in this online collection. For more history of the collection, see the essay on this site titled Provenance, Publication History, and Scope and Contents.
Frederick Douglass documented many instances of racial prejudice and violence in his papers. Therefore, some of the materials in this online historical collection contain language or negative stereotypes that may be offensive to some readers.
Suggested Resources to Learn More
- Frederick Douglass’s, “What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (NEH Edsitement + student activities)
- National Portrait Gallery Presents “One Life: Frederick Douglass” | Smithsonian Institution (runs until April 2024 in Washington, DC)
Frederick Douglass | The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century
Biography of Frederick Douglass for Kids: American Civil Rights History for Children