Perhaps the most powerful and influential black American of his time, Frederick Douglass ( 1818-1895) embodied the tumultuous social changes that transformed the United States during the nineteenth century. In a career of unprecedented breadth, Douglass rose from the oppression of his slave's birth to become an internationally famous writer and orator, one of the most visible spokesmen for the Abolition movement before the Civil War and a key player in the political intrigues that followed the enfranchisement of the emancipated slaves after the Confederate surrender. An effective molder of public opinion, Douglass was a tireless lecturer and essayist and the editor of a succession of periodicals that solidified his renown while contributing significantly to the public discourse on a variety of issues.
Douglass' own experiences as a former slave formed the basis of his immensely captivating presence as an orator, and served as a major component of the three autobiographies published during his lifetime. The first of these, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, appeared in 1845, a few years after Douglass' dramatic 1841 début into the world of professional moral oratory. Written in part to counter the incredulity of audiences dubious that a speaker of Douglass' eloquence could have emerged virtually unaided from such a lowly background, and featuring introductions by noted white abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, the Narrative was an immediate sensation, inflaming antislavery sentiments in the North and abroad.
The 1845 text reprinted here is especially valued among Douglass' writings as the most immediate account of his youthful captivity; Douglass' expanded second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom ( 1855), is also available from Dover Publications (ISBN 0-486-22457-0).