Fredrick Douglas was born in Tuckahoe, Hillsborough, about twelve miles from Easton in Talbot county of Maryland to a white father (though not mentioned) and a black mother, Harriet Bailey. He never knew his real age or year of birth, though this was common to most the black slaves’ children in America unlike the white children who were told of their age and date of birth.
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After his birth barely a year he was separated from his mother who was taken to a further distance to offer labour to the whites farms a distance of about twelve miles. He reveals that the slave’s children were left at the care of aged women who were unable to provide labour, and that this was meant to break the strong affection of the child and the mother.
Douglas says the only time he was able to be with his mother was during the night. She used to work in Mr. Stewart‘s farm some twelve miles from their home lived and had to walk the distance at night to come and see him. By early the next day, she was expected to be in the farm offering some service in the field, failure of which the penalty was being whipped thoroughly unless one had special permission from the master.
At the age of seven, he received the news about the death of his mother just as one gets the news about the death of a stranger. The loss of his mother was a big blow to him especially on the point that she had not revealed to him his father (Douglass 3).
Despite being born of two distinct worlds, he shares that the child had to bear the wrath of the mother so he was equally a slave, because any black woman who had a child with a white man had to undergo more hardships than any other slave especially if it was with the master.
At his childhood he was under two slave masters; the first one being Anthony who had thirty slaves in number under an overseer called Mr. Plummer “a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster” (Douglass 15). He was a very cruel man who always went to the farm with a cowskin and a heavy cudgel which he used to whip, cut and slash women’s heads so horribly.
The inhumane nature of Plummer forced the master to intervene and warned him of his cruelty. Douglass tells of an ugly ordeal he experienced for the first time and it was on his aunt called Hester, the mistake being she went out at night and was found in company with Lloyd`s Ned. She was made to strip off her clothes from the neck to the waist level; hands held up and crossed then tied on a hook up leaving her resting on her toes and what followed he could not comprehend until he hid himself in a closet (Douglass 17).
His second service as a slave was at Colonel Lloyd and Captain Thomas Auld`s plantation and these is where he came to the full wrath endured by the slaves, the bloody sinister. Furthermore the annual allowances given to the slaves were unbearable, as for men one coarse linen shirt and trouser and one winter trouser all made of coarse Negro cloth and any one who, missed had to go naked until the next season.
This plantation had different kinds of overseers both the barbaric and the kind hearted ones as we had those who found pleasure in whipping the slaves and even killing them. Douglas was the lucky one as his age did not allow him to work in the fields, but chase the fowls from the farm and other small duties.
A message of good hope came to him concerning his move to Baltimore and indeed it was good news just from the way he is to disguise himself that is to be smart. Even after moving to the place got a warm welcome from his master to be and put in charge of young Thomas Auld whom he was to take care of. It opened his desire to get knowledge and write about the slavery life. His mistress, a kind hearted woman, laid the foundation by starting to teach him the alphabets and later how to spell words of three or four letters.
The master was in great objection of these saying “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learning would ~spoil~ the best nigger in the world. Now” (Douglass 31). These did not deter his efforts to get knowledge which he would use to liberate his fellow slaves but sparked a strong desire to want to learn more.
He discovered that their existed a large rift between the slaves in the city and those that lived in the countryside. Those in cities were less mistreated, given good food and clothing and the work they did was not an overload that’s why he notes that “a city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation” (Douglass 32).
Most of the masters in the city were after providing the best to their slaves except for one Mr. Thomas Hamilton and his wife who mistreated their two slaves Mary and Henrietta. The two were emaciated and skinny as a result of denial of enough food thus leading to Mary contending with the pigs on the streets for the thrown offal.
Though he was denied access to learning materials in his master’s house, Fredrick planned his own strategy of getting knowledge and that was by befriending many white children on the streets who taught him how to read. Having acquired skills on how to read, he came across a book that inspired him a lot “The Columbian Orator” where he learned of emancipation of slaves after the incidence of a slave who tried to escape thrice but was later emancipated by his master.
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It also talked of Catholic Emancipation a speech given by one Sheridan and this was enough knowledge to him as he was able to know of the benefits the slaves had to gain and their human rights.
Although, he had all these within his confines but their was little he could do to save them as he was only twelve years old. He felt like he had poisoned himself with that knowledge that had opened to him his whole but nothing could be done. One word that its clear meaning was not known to him was “abolition”.
After helping some Irishmen to unload their stones from their truck they heed to him the idea to escape and head to the North but the biggest fear was they mighty monopolize from his escape by getting him back and then being paid by his master. So he pretended to have heard nothing from them. These helped him plan his escape effectively and made much effort in knowing how to write which he perfected after a long struggle.
After years of being subjected to torture by his former slave masters, Douglas was at last a free man on the 3rd September 1838. These was the time he arrived in New York although starting life and trying to adapt to it was a hard task as he knew nobody, and the other thing being he feared he might fall prey of kidnappers who were after stranded fugitives. But his happiness was that he was no longer a slave, at a place where everybody was friendly, though he had no place to call home or anybody he knew.
Before he could stay long in that state of disarray in a strange city, came a very kind hearted man called Mr. David Ruggles who took him to his house where also took care of other fugitive slaves. He inquired to know more about him and where he wished to go and when Douglas told him of his desire to go to Canada he objected and advised to go to New Bedford where he could secure some employment to sustain my survival.
There was a religious marriage between Douglas and Ann who was also a slave but free organized by Mr. Ruggles who invited Rev J.W.C. Pennington who presided over the ceremony. They were kindly hospitalized when they arrived in New Bedford; even where they had left their luggage for lack of fare it was settled by the owner of where they were welcomed.
He thought at first that people of the North were extremely poor considering the fact that they owned no slaves that they never enjoyed any luxuries unlike the southern slaveholders, but that was not the case when he stepped in New Bedford, their were so many riches and everybody lived and enjoyed the life.
He lived with one Mr. Johnson, a humble, kind and hardworking man, together with his wife the kind of life he had never lived with the likes of Covey, Hugh and many other slave masters.
It gave him confidence to fight for the liberation of all slaves in the South and to preach for the abolition of slavery. Douglas openly admits that the religion in the South among the masters was indeed a false pretence because they claimed to be devoted Christians and even had church leaders come to their houses often but they never ceased from mistreating their subjects.
He observed that people in the North had strong faith in Christianity that’s why everybody was working thereby not being able to note the difference between the master and the servant. He further brings out how they would pray for God to bless them and fill their stores with more grain yet on the other side they are extra mean starving their slaves, the worst of all being their whipping of the slaves and even slashing their heads and feeling pleasure in doing so yet claim to be religious people.
Douglass, Frederick (1963). Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. New York: Forgotten Books. Print.