Frederick Douglass and His Connection to Rochester, NY

Frederick Douglass (February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American abolitionist, social reformer, writer, orator and statesman. He began his life born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland. Through a series of events, he found himself leaving plantation life and began working for a family in the city of Baltimore. His interest in reading began during that time and through the years he not only taught himself how to read and write, but he also began to teach other slaves to read the Bible at a weekly Sunday school.

After a few failed attempts at escaping slavery, in 1838, Douglass was successful when he boarded a train and reached Havre de Grace, Maryland. He sent for his love, Anna Murray (a free black woman) to follow him north to New York. They married on September 15, 1838 just eleven days after they reached New York.

From 1838 to 1847, Douglass became an integral part of the anti-slavery and social reformation movements. He also traveled to Ireland and Great Britain where he gave lectures in churches and chapels. In 1846, Douglass met Thomas Clarkson, one of the last living British abolitionists. It was Clarkson who persuaded Parliament to finally abolish slavery in Great Britain, and during their visit, British supporters helped Douglass to become legally free by raising funds to buy his freedom from his last American Owner.  After his time in Britain, Douglass returned to the United States to his wife and they moved to Rochester, NY.

Frederick Douglass’ Ties to Rochester, NY

Douglass lived in Rochester from 1847 to 1872 – he lived in Rochester longer than he lived anywhere else in his life. It was in Rochester that he began publishing his newspapers, The North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper.

In 1848, he attended the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York. He was the only African American to attend the first women’s rights convention. His powerful words helped to pass the resolution for women’s suffrage.

During his years in Rochester, Frederick Douglass was an important part of many triumphs in the abolition of slavery and the women’s suffrage movement. In 1872, he became the first African American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States. Though he did not win that election, he continued to work tirelessly for social reform until his death in 1895. After he died, Douglass was buried in Rochester’s history Mount Hope Cemetery, which is also the final resting place of suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

Representations of Frederick Douglass in Rochester Today

The Frederick Douglass Monument is believed to be the first public statue to memorialize an African American in the US. The statue is located in Highland Park only steps from the former site of his home. 

In 2007, the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge (informally called the Freddie-Sue Bridge) was completed carrying interstate I-490 over the Genesee River and NY 383 in downtown Rochester, NY.

Rochester Museum & Science Center also features the “Flight to Freedom” exhibit, one which explores the life and legacy of Douglass, as well as Rochester’s Underground Railroad Stops

Celebrate the Work of Frederick Douglass Year Round with a Frederick Douglass T-Shirt

Promote one of the real fighters and greatest heroes in American history by purchasing a Rochester-made Frederick Douglass Tee.