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Frederick Douglass Essay, Research Paper

David W. Blight, ed., Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave,

Written by Himself (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martian?s Press, 1993)

Frederick Douglass was one of the most prominent figures of the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery within the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. A brilliant speaker, Douglass engaged in a tour of lectures, and became recognized as one of America’s first great black speakers. David W. Blight, an associate professor of history and black studies at Amherst College, offers an edited version of Frederick Douglass? autobiography that was first published in 1845.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, near the town of Easton in Talbot County. Douglas?s? mother, Harriet Baily, worked the cornfields surrounding Holmes Hill. He knew little of his father except that the man was white. As a child, he had heard rumors that the master, Aaron Anthony, had sired him. Because Harriet Baily was required to work long hours in the fields, Frederick had been sent to live with his grandmother, Betsey Baily. At age 6, Douglass was taken to his master Captain Anthony on the Lloyd Plantation, where he was given little clothing or anything else. He and the other slave children were fed cornmeal mush that was placed in a trough, to which they were called. Frederick later wrote “like so many pigs” (p. 54). Douglass was later chosen live Hugh Auld, the brother of his master?s son-in-law, who managed a ship building firm in Baltimore, Maryland.

Upon Frederick’s arrival at the Auld Home, his only duties were to run errands and care for the Auld’s young son, Tommy. Frederick enjoyed the work and grew to love the child. Sophia Auld was a religious woman and frequently read aloud from the Bible. Frederick asked his mistress to teach him to read and she readily consented. He soon learned the alphabet and a few simple words. Auld became furious at this because it was unlawful to teach a slave to read. Hugh Auld believed that if a slave knew how to read and write that it would make him unfit for a slave. Douglass learned from his master?s outburst that if learning how to read and write was his pathway to freedom, then gaining this knowledge was to become his goal. He gained command of the alphabet on his own and made friends with poor white children he met on errands and used them as teachers. He paid for his reading lessons with pieces of bread. At home Douglass read parts of books and newspapers when he could, but he had to constantly be on guard against his mistress.

During this time, Captain Anthony died, and his Daughter Lucreatia Auld died placing Douglass in the hands of Thomas Auld. He was sorry to leave Baltimore because he had recently become a teacher to a group of other young blacks. In addition, a black preacher named Charles Lawson had taken him under his wing and adopted him as his spiritual son. The now fifteen year old Douglass was sent to live at Thomas Auld’s new farm near the town of Saint Michaels, a few miles from the Lloyd plantation. Douglass was again put to work by his new master and was extremely unhappy about his situation. Thomas Auld starved his slaves, and they had to steal food from neighboring farms to survive. He received many beatings and saw worse ones given to others. He then organized a Sunday religious service for the slaves, which met in near by Saint Michaels. The services were soon stopped by a mob led by Thomas Auld. Thomas Auld had found Douglass especially difficult to control and decided to have someone break him. In January 1833, he was sent to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had gained a reputation around Saint Michaels for being a “nigger- breaker”(p.71). The slaves on Covey’s farm worked from dawn until after nightfall. Although, the men were given plenty of food, they had very little time allotted to eat before they were sent back to work.

After being on the farm for one week, Douglass was given a serious beating for letting an oxen team run wild. During the months to follow, he was continually whipped until he began to feel that he was “broken”. On one hot August afternoon his strength failed him and he collapsed in the field. Covey kicked and beat him and finally walked away in disgust. Douglass mustered the strength to get up and walk to the Auld farm, where he pleaded with his master to let him stay. Auld had little sympathy for him and sent him back to Covey. When he returned to the farm Covey began tying him to a post in preparation for a whipping, Douglass said, “At that moment – from whence came the spirit I don’t know – I resolved to fight” (p.78). Covey and Frederick fought for almost two hours until Covey finally gave up.

After working for Covey for a year, Douglass was sent to work for a farmer named William Freeland, who was a relatively kind master. But by now, all he wanted was his freedom. His first escape attempt failed and Dougass was imprisoned. To his surprise, Thomas Auld came and released him. He was then sent again to Hugh Auld in Baltimore and was hired out to a local shipbuilder so that he could learn the trade. Within a year, he was an experienced caulker and was being paid wages, which he in turn gave to Hugh Auld.

In September 1838, Douglass made his mind up to try to escape again. It was a tough decision for hi to make because he would be leaving his fianc?e, Anna Murray, and did not know when and if he would see her again. Despite his worries Douglass managed to pull of a successful escape disguised as a sailor. In New York He met David Ruggles, who was associated with the Underground Railroad. Frederick sent for his fianc?e, and the two were married on September 15, 1838. Ruggles told Frederick that in the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, he would be safe from slave catchers and he could find work in his trade as a caulker. Although amazed at the wealth and industry of New Bedford it was not a paradise. White shipyard employees would not allow skilled black tradesmen, such as Douglass, to work beside them. Unable to find work as a caulker, Douglass had to work as a common laborer.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential men of the anti-slavery movement, as well as being a supporter of woman?s rights. As great orator he often used his first hand experience as a slave to help build support for the abolitionist movement. Blight includes a selection of those speeches in this work along with other primary sources that help explain the climate of the time such as a review of the original work published by the New York Tribune in 1845. This work was wonderful first hands account of American slavery and would be useful to any student of American history.


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