Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave


Frederick Douglass was a key figure in helping to secure the abolition of slavery in America – discover his Narrative this Black History Month.

A masterpiece … [Douglass] was not only self-educated, with a love of language which should still be an inspiration; he was also self-created’ New York Times

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. After his escape in 1838 he became an ardent abolitionist, and his autobiography was an instant bestseller upon publication in 1845. In it he describes with harrowing honesty his life as a slave – the cruelty he suffered at the hands of plantation owners; his struggles to educate himself in a world where slaves are deliberately kept ignorant; and ultimately, his fight for his right to freedom. A passionately written, intelligent and highly emotive indictment of slavery, his principle preoccupation was that slavery could be eradicated only through education. This text was key in helping to secure its eventual abolition.


  • Slavery, color, racism and the struggle for equal rights all come together in the Douglass story...a declaration of freedom by a runaway slave that became a powerful antislavery tract
    New York Times

About the author

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey to a slave woman and an unknown white man in either 1817 or 1818. He was enslaved in Baltimore and Maryland for twenty years, first as a servant and then as a farm hand. He escaped in 1838, married, and settled in Massachusetts where he began work as an anti-slavery crusader. Following a fantastically eloquent speech at an anti-slavery convention he was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to lecture about his life as a slave. He was such a brilliantly gifted public speaker that many doubted he had ever been a slave, and this stereotype – that a slave couldn’t be intelligent or articulate – was something he fought ardently against. He wrote his autobiography partly to address this – it became an instant bestseller on publication. After the outbreak of the civil war he successfully persuaded President Lincoln to allow black soldiers to enlist. He was, at various times, Federal Marshall of the District of Columbia, President of the Freedman’s Bank, United States Minister to Haiti, and charge d’affaires for the Dominican Republic. He died in 1895 shortly after delivering a speech at a women’s rights rally.
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