Step 1: A Biographical Sketch of Frederick Douglass Next

One of our first books was a biography of Frederick Douglass, a well-known abolitionist. Our first draft wasn't very good because we were simply listing facts instead of telling a story. And who wants to read a bunch of dull facts? Here is an example from our first draft:

First Draft

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in February 1817. His slave master's wife, Mrs. Sophia Auld, taught him how to read. Once he could read, Frederick was determined to be free. His master hired him out to work on ships in Baltimore's large shipping industry. Frederick worked all week, but his pay went to his master. Frederick used a sailor's protection papers to escape to New York. Once free, Frederick became an abolitionist who spoke out against slavery. He wrote his autobiography and edited The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper. He died in 1895.

Then we got smart! Instead of trying to cram in all the facts, we chose one very important story from Douglass's life ("Frederick used a sailor's protection papers to escape to New York"). Using the colorful details and data we found through our research, we developed a much more interesting biographical sketch. The story served as a hook for our facts. Take a look at our final draft below.

Final Draft

In 1838, the primary political issue in Baltimore, Maryland, was slavery. Frederick Douglass was a slave in Baltimore, but he was determined not to stay one. It was just a matter of time before he would escape.

Frederick's master, Hugh Auld, hired him out as a ship caulker. One day at lunch, Frederick met Benny — a black sailor whose ship had sailed without him. Benny decided to stay in Baltimore. Frederick helped him get a job in the shipyard, and the two young men became friends. Benny introduced Frederick to fellow members of the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society. Most of these young men and women were free blacks who could read and write. Although his master's wife, Mrs. Sophia Auld, had taught Frederick to read and write when he was very young, he felt self-conscious because he was a slave. But his new friends didn't seem to mind that he was a slave — especially Anna Murray.

Frederick and Anna fell in love. But he wouldn't marry her until he was free. On September 2, 1838, Frederick put his escape plan into action. He dressed in Benny's sailor suit. Then, using Benny's sailor's protection papers, Frederick boarded the train and bought a ticket. If the conductor had examined the papers closer, he would have realized that the person it described looked nothing like Frederick.

The train sped through Maryland, then crossed into Delaware, which was still a slave state. Frederick had to be very careful. He kept telling himself to stay calm and not look worried or frightened. In Wilmington, Delaware, Frederick took a steamship up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. Again, the borrowed papers were not closely inspected! From Philadelphia, Frederick took another train and arrived in New York on Tuesday, September 4, 1838. Freedom!

The first thing Frederick did was send an important message to Anna Murray. Just as she had promised, she rushed to New York, where she and Frederick were married immediately.

Frederick Douglass could have lived a quiet, peaceful life in freedom, but instead he chose to take a stand against slavery. Pro-slavery supporters accused Douglass of being a fraud because he was "too literate," and "too articulate." To prove that he had been a slave, Douglass wrote his autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, giving names, dates, and places. He also started an abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, which was a symbol for all runaways. Frederick Douglass died in 1895 after spending a lifetime fighting for the complete abolition of slavery, equal rights for women, and justice for all.