Cover image for The Frederick Douglass papers. Series two, Autobiographical writings
The Frederick Douglass papers. Series two, Autobiographical writings
Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895.
Physical Description:
volumes <1 > : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
v. 1. Narrative.
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E449 .D734 1999 V.1 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E449 .D734 1999 V.1 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This volume contains the first and most famous of Frederick Douglass's three autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass . First published in Boston in 1845, only seven years after Douglass's escape from bondage, the Narrative provided the foundation for its author's antebellum reputation as a writer. Douglass went on to write two more autobiographies, becoming one of a very small number of nineteenth-century Americans to publish more than one account of their lives. His books provide an unparalleled record not only of the events of his life but also of his shifting perceptions of the complex worlds of slavery and freedom that he inhabited. The autobiographies reflect the differences in his age (the first was written when he was twenty-seven, the last when he was in his seventies), his memory, and his objectives at the various times of his writing.

This authoritative edition of Douglass's first autobiography is comprehensively annotated and is accompanied by reproductions of historical documents relating to its publication and critical reception. The volume includes a series introduction, volume introduction, historical annotation, and appendixes.

Author Notes

Born a slave in Maryland in about 1817, Frederick Douglass never became accommodated to being held in bondage. He secretly learned to read, although slaves were prohibited from doing so. He fought back against a cruel slave-breaker and finally escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1838 at about the age of 21. Despite the danger of being sent back to his owner if discovered, Douglass became an agent and eloquent orator for the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. He lectured extensively in both England and the United States. As an ex-slave, his words had tremendous impact on his listeners.

In 1845 Douglass wrote his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which increased his fame. Concerned that he might be sent back to slavery, he went to Europe. He spent two years in England and Ireland speaking to antislavery groups.

Douglass returned to the United States a free man and settled in Rochester, New York, where he founded a weekly newspaper, The North Star, in 1847. In the newspaper he wrote articles supporting the antislavery cause and the cause of human rights. He once wrote, "The lesson which [the American people] must learn, or neglect to do so at their own peril, is that Equal Manhood means Equal Rights, and further, that the American people must stand for each and all for each without respect to color or race."

During the Civil War, Douglass worked for the Underground Railroad, the secret route of escape for slaves. He also helped recruit African-Americans soldiers for the Union army. After the war, he continued to write and to speak out against injustice. In addition to advocating education for freed slaves, he served in several government posts, including United States representative to Haiti.

In 1855, a longer version of his autobiography appeared, and in 1895, the year of Douglass's death, a completed version was published. A best-seller in its own time, it has since become available in numerous editions and languages.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

After escaping from his boyhood Maryland plantation in the 1830s, Frederick Douglass began a remarkable career as a serial autobiographer, fiery antislavery orator, editor of the black abolitionist organ The North Star, advisor to presidents, diplomat, and champion of human freedom. This volume begins Series 2 of the most authoritatively researched and annotated compilation of his writings. Series 1 (v.1, CH, Dec'79; v.2, CH, Jun'83), begun more than 20 years ago, covered addresses, essays, and oratory of Douglass. This series, covering his autobiographical writings, begins with Douglass's original 1845 autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. Volume 1 also includes a valuable introduction placing Douglass's text in the milieu of self-fashioning autobiographers as well as slave narratives, a short explanation of the editors' methods, and extensive annotations identifying and explaining virtually everything of significance. The volume concludes with a series of reviews of the original work, attacks on Douglass's credibility, and Douglass's own extremely able and polemical self-defenses. This is the definitive edition of Douglass's great work, a must for research libraries and scholars of African-American literature and history. All levels. P. Harvey; University of Colorado at Colorado Springs