Frederick Douglass

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12270

Despite its problems and abuses, the U.S. is still a land of opportunity. Meet a slave who was horribly abused, yet through the kindness of others and great courage, became an adviser to Lincoln!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What former slave was asked to be an advisor for President Abraham Lincoln?

In the previous lesson in our Famous Abolitionists series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, you learned what an abolitionist was and got to know one of the most famous abolitionists.

Take a few minutes to review what you have learned by completing the true-or-false quiz.

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In this lesson, learn about another famous person who worked to end slavery in the United States: Frederick Douglass. Like Harriet Tubman, Douglass was an escaped slave who dedicated his life to ending slavery.

As you read and watch the information in this section, be sure to take notes on any interesting facts you see about Frederick Douglass. You will be able to use your notes to help you with the activities in the Got It? and Go! sections.

Frederick Douglas

Since birth records were not kept for slaves, Frederick Douglass’ exact birthday is not known, but historians believe he was born in 1818. He was raised by his mother and grandparents because his father was a white slave owner.

When Douglass was eight years old, the man who owned him sent him to work for Hugh and Sophia Auld in Baltimore, Maryland. The Auld family was kind to Douglass, and Sophia even taught him how to read and write.

Slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write. When Hugh found out, he forbid Sophia from teaching Douglass anything else. Hugh told her that teaching slaves to read and write would cause them to run away. When Douglass overheard their conversation, he became even more determined to learn so that he could be free.

When Douglass was 15, he was returned to the home where he had been born.

His new life was entirely different from life with the Auld family. The plantation owners regularly beat him. Douglass tried to run away twice but was unsuccessful at each attempt, causing the beatings to increase.

Despite the beatings, Douglass never stopped trying to escape, and at the age of 20, he finally found his way to freedom by pretending to be a sailor. He traveled more than 400 miles to reach Boston, Massachusetts, where slavery was illegal.

wrists breaking chains apart

After gaining freedom, Douglass was determined to help other slaves and see slavery outlawed in all of the United States. He used the writing skills he had learned to write three books, each describing his life as a slave.

The first book he wrote, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, became very successful because it was the first true insight many had ever been given into a life of slavery.

Having this book published was an extreme act of courage for Douglass because it revealed information about who he was and where he had escaped from. At the time, it was legal for slave catchers to enter northern territory and take escaped slaves back to the South.

To keep from being captured, Douglass moved to Europe where slavery had already been made illegal. While in Europe, Douglass spent two years traveling to churches, where he would speak about racism and equality.

People were so impressed with Douglass’ story and speaking abilities that they began raising money to purchase Douglass’ freedom in the United States. After enough money had been raised, Douglass returned to the United States and officially became a free American. Then, he was able to live without fear of being returned to the South by slave catchers.

After purchasing his freedom, Douglass continued to use his writing and speaking abilities to help other slaves. He began a newspaper, The North Star, which he ran for 17 years. In the newspaper, he published articles that promoted equality for all people in the United States.

His newspaper also played a role during the Civil War because it was used to print articles that advanced the cause of the Union army.

During the war, Douglass also recruited African-American troops and, most importantly, served as an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln. In that position, he shared his opinions about different issues with the president and worked with the president to end slavery.

After the war, Douglass’ work received the attention of many political leaders. In a time when the opinions of African Americans were not valued, even in the North, Douglass was appointed to many high-ranking government positions.

He served as a federal marshal for the District of Columbia. In that position, he acted as an officer of the law. He also served as the Recorder of Deeds, who was responsible for maintaining public property records.

He also continued to travel the country to share his life story and encourage equality for all.

Douglass died in 1895. Throughout his life, he never stopped working to help all people achieve freedom.

Watch the video below to learn more about Frederick Douglass and to see images from his life. As you watch, continue taking notes on what you see and hear.

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When you have finished watching the video, use the notes you took to help you answer these questions.

  • Which of Frederick Douglass’ accomplishments do you find to be the most interesting?
  • How was Douglass an abolitionist?
  • Why do you think Douglass was asked to be an advisor for President Lincoln?
  • How did Douglass’ work play a role in ending slavery in the United States?

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to create a document that will help you with the abolitionist book you are creating. Remember to keep the notes you have been taking with you!

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