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NARRATIVE
OF THE LIFE OF
FREDERICK DOUGLASS,
AN AMERICAN SLAVE
BY
FREDERICK DOUGLASS
7^WYS`f f 7
7 T a a ] e
NARRATIVE
OF THE
LIFE
OF
FREDERICK DOUGLASS,
AN
AMERICAN SLAVE.
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.
BOSTON
PUBLISHED AT THE ANTI-SLAVERY OFFICE,
NO. 25 CORNHILL
1845
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1845,
BY FREDERICK DOUGLASS,
in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION
Book: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Author: Frederick Douglass, 1817?–95
First published: 1845
The original book is in the public domain in the United
States and in most, if not all, other countries as well. Readers
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ebook. The Online Books Page has an FAQ which gives a
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This PDF ebook was
created by José Menéndez.
PREFACE.
IN the month of August, 1841, I attended an anti-slavery
convention in Nantucket, at which it was my happiness to
become acquainted with FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the writer of
the following Narrative. He was a stranger to nearly every
member of that body; but, having recently made his escape from
the southern prison-house of bondage, and feeling his curiosity
excited to ascertain the principles and measures of the
abolitionists,—of whom he had heard a somewhat vague
description while he was a slave,—he was induced to give his
attendance, on the occasion alluded to, though at that time a
resident in New Bedford.
Fortunate, most fortunate occurrence!—fortunate for the
millions of his manacled brethren, yet panting for deliverance
from their awful thraldom!—fortunate for the cause of negro
emancipation, and of universal liberty!—fortunate for the land
of his birth, which he has already done so much to save and
bless!—fortunate for a large circle of friends and acquaintances,
whose sympathy and affection he has strongly secured by the
many sufferings he has endured, by his virtuous traits of
character, by his ever-abiding remembrance of those who are in
bonds, as being bound with them!—fortunate for the multitudes,
in various parts of our republic, whose minds he has enlightened
on the subject of slavery, and who have been melted to tears by
his pathos, or roused to virtuous indignation by his stirring
eloquence against the enslavers of men!—fortunate for himself,
as it at once brought him into the field of public usefulness,
vi
PREFACE
“gave the world assurance of a MAN,” quickened the slumbering
energies of his soul, and consecrated him to the great work of
breaking the rod of the oppressor, and letting the oppressed go
free!
I shall never forget his first speech at the convention—the
extraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind—the powerful
impression it created upon a crowded auditory, completely
taken by surprise—the applause which followed from the
beginning to the end of his felicitous remarks. I think I never
hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my
perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on
the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clear
than ever. There stood one, in physical proportion and stature
commanding and exact—in intellect richly endowed—in natural
eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly “created but a little
lower than the angels”—yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,—
trembling for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on the
American soil, a single white person could be found who would
befriend him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity!
Capable of high attainments as an intellectual and moral
being—needing nothing but a comparatively small amount of
cultivation to make him an ornament to society and a blessing to
his race—by the law of the land, by the voice of the people, by
the terms of the slave code, he was only a piece of property, a
beast of burden, a chattel personal, nevertheless!
A beloved friend from New Bedford prevailed on Mr.
DOUGLASS to address the convention. He came forward to the
platform with a hesitancy and embarrassment, necessarily the
attendants of a sensitive mind in such a novel position. After
apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience that
slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, he
proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as a
slave, and in the course of his speech gave utterance to many
PREFACE
vii
noble thoughts and thrilling reflections. As soon as he had taken
his seat, filled with hope and admiration, I rose, and declared
that PATRICK HENRY, of revolutionary fame, never made a
speech more eloquent in the cause of liberty, than the one we
had just listened to from the lips of that hunted fugitive. So I
believed at that time—such is my belief now. I reminded the
audience of the peril which surrounded this self-emancipated
young man at the North,—even in Massachusetts, on the soil of
the Pilgrim Fathers, among the descendants of revolutionary
sires; and I appealed to them, whether they would ever allow
him to be carried back into slavery,—law or no law,
constitution or no constitution. The response was unanimous
and in thunder-tones—“NO!” “Will you succor and protect him
as a brother-man—a resident of the old Bay State?” “YES!”
shouted the whole mass, with an energy so startling, that the
ruthless tyrants south of Mason and Dixon’s line might almost
have heard the mighty burst of feeling, and recognized it as the
pledge of an invincible determination, on the part of those who
gave it, never to betray him that wanders, but to hide the
outcast, and firmly to abide the consequences.
It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr.
DOUGLASS could be persuaded to consecrate his time and
talents to the promotion of the anti-slavery enterprise, a
powerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow at
the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a colored
complexion. I therefore endeavored to instil hope and courage
into his mind, in order that he might dare to engage in a
vocation so anomalous and responsible for a person in his
situation; and I was seconded in this effort by warm-hearted
friends, especially by the late General Agent of the
Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Mr. JOHN A. COLLINS,
whose judgment in this instance entirely coincided with my
own. At first, he could give no encouragement; with unfeigned
viii
PREFACE
diffidence, he expressed his conviction that he was not adequate
to the performance of so great a task; the path marked out was
wholly an untrodden one; he was sincerely apprehensive that he
should do more harm than good. After much deliberation,
however, he consented to make a trial; and ever since that
period, he has acted as a lecturing agent, under the auspices
either of the American or the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery
Society. In labors he has been most abundant; and his success in
combating prejudice, in gaining proselytes, in agitating the
public mind, has far surpassed the most sanguine expectations
that were raised at the commencement of his brilliant career. He
has borne himself with gentleness and meekness, yet with true
manliness of character. As a public speaker, he excels in pathos,
wit, comparison, imitation, strength of reasoning, and fluency of
language. There is in him that union of head and heart, which is
indispensable to an enlightenment of the heads and a winning of
the hearts of others. May his strength continue to be equal to his
day! May he continue to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge
of God,” that he may be increasingly serviceable in the cause of
bleeding humanity, whether at home or abroad!
It is certainly a very remarkable fact, that one of the most
efficient advocates of the slave population, now before the
public, is a fugitive slave, in the person of FREDERICK
DOUGLASS; and that the free colored population of the United
States are as ably represented by one of their own number, in
the person of CHARLES LENOX REMOND, whose eloquent
appeals have extorted the highest applause of multitudes on
both sides of the Atlantic. Let the calumniators of the colored
race despise themselves for their baseness and illiberality of
spirit, and henceforth cease to talk of the natural inferiority of
those who require nothing but time and opportunity to attain to
the highest point of human excellence.
PREFACE
ix
It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other
portion of the population of the earth could have endured the
privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery, without having
become more degraded in the scale of humanity than the slaves
of African descent. Nothing has been left undone to cripple their
intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature,
obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yet
how wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a most
frightful bondage, under which they have been groaning for
centuries! To illustrate the effect of slavery on the white man,—
to show that he has no powers of endurance, in such a
condition, superior to those of his black brother,—DANIEL
O’CONNELL, the distinguished advocate of universal
emancipation, and the mightiest champion of prostrate but not
conquered Ireland, relates the following anecdote in a speech
delivered by him in the Conciliation Hall, Dublin, before the
Loyal National Repeal Association, March 31, 1845. “No
matter,” said Mr. O’CONNELL, “under what specious term it
may disguise itself, slavery is still hideous. It has a natural, an
inevitable tendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man. An
American sailor, who was cast away on the shore of Africa,
where he was kept in slavery for three years, was, at the
expiration of that period, found to be imbruted and stultified—
he had lost all reasoning power; and having forgotten his native
language, could only utter some savage gibberish between
Arabic and English, which nobody could understand, and which
even he himself found difficulty in pronouncing. So much for
the humanizing influence of THE DOMESTIC INSTITUTION!”
Admitting this to have been an extraordinary case of mental
deterioration, it proves at least that the white slave can sink as
low in the scale of humanity as the black one.
Mr. DOUGLASS has very properly chosen to write his own
Narrative, in his own style, and according to the best of his
x
PREFACE
ability, rather than to employ some one else. It is, therefore,
entirely his own production; and, considering how long and
dark was the career he had to run as a slave,—how few have
been his opportunities to improve his mind since he broke his
iron fetters,—it is, in my judgment, highly creditable to his head
and heart. He who can peruse it without a tearful eye, a heaving
breast, an afflicted spirit,—without being filled with an
unutterable abhorrence of slavery and all its abettors, and
animated with a determination to seek the immediate overthrow
of that execrable system,—without trembling for the fate of this
country in the hands of a righteous God, who is ever on the side
of the oppressed, and whose arm is not shortened that it cannot
save,—must have a flinty heart, and be qualified to act the part
of a trafficker “in slaves and the souls of men.” I am confident
that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has
been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawn
from the imagination; that it comes short of the reality, rather
than overstates a single fact in regard to SLAVERY AS IT IS. The
experience of FREDERICK DOUGLASS, as a slave, was not a
peculiar one; his lot was not especially a hard one; his case may
be regarded as a very fair specimen of the treatment of slaves in
Maryland, in which State it is conceded that they are better fed
and less cruelly treated than in Georgia, Alabama, or Louisiana.
Many have suffered incomparably more, while very few on the
plantations have suffered less, than himself. Yet how deplorable
was his situation! what terrible chastisements were inflicted
upon his person! what still more shocking outrages were
perpetrated upon his mind! with all his noble powers and
sublime aspirations, how like a brute was he treated, even by
those professing to have the same mind in them that was in
Christ Jesus! to what dreadful liabilities was he continually
subjected! how destitute of friendly counsel and aid, even in his
greatest extremities! how heavy was the midnight of woe which
PREFACE
xi
shrouded in blackness the last ray of hope, and filled the future
with terror and gloom! what longings after freedom took
possession of his breast, and how his misery augmented, in
proportion as he grew reflective and intelligent,—thus
demonstrating that a happy slave is an extinct man! how he
thought, reasoned, felt, under the lash of the driver, with the
chains upon his limbs! what perils he encountered in his
endeavors to escape from his horrible doom! and how signal
have been his deliverance and preservation in the midst of a
nation of pitiless enemies!
This Narrative contains many affecting incidents, many
passages of great eloquence and power; but I think the most
thrilling one of them all is the description DOUGLASS gives of
his feelings, as he stood soliloquizing respecting his fate, and
the chances of his one day being a freeman, on the banks of the
Chesapeake Bay—viewing the receding vessels as they flew
with their white wings before the breeze, and apostrophizing
them as animated by the living spirit of freedom. Who can read
that passage, and be insensible to its pathos and sublimity?
Compressed into it is a whole Alexandrian library of thought,
feeling, and sentiment—all that can, all that need be urged, in
the form of expostulation, entreaty, rebuke, against that crime of
crimes,—making man the property of his fellow-man! O, how
accursed is that system, which entombs the godlike mind of
man, defaces the divine image, reduces those who by creation
were crowned with glory and honor to a level with four-footed
beasts, and exalts the dealer in human flesh above all that is
called God! Why should its existence be prolonged one hour? Is
it not evil, only evil, and that continually? What does its
presence imply but the absence of all fear of God, all regard for
man, on the part of the people of the United States? Heaven
speed its eternal overthrow!
xii
PREFACE
So profoundly ignorant of the nature of slavery are many
persons, that they are stubbornly incredulous whenever they
read or listen to any recital of the cruelties which are daily
inflicted on its victims. They do not deny that the slaves are
held as property; but that terrible fact seems to convey to their
minds no idea of injustice, exposure to outrage, or savage
barbarity. Tell them of cruel scourgings, of mutilations and
brandings, of scenes of pollution and blood, of the banishment
of all light and knowledge, and they affect to be greatly
indignant at such enormous exaggerations, such wholesale
misstatements, such abominable libels on the character of the
southern planters! As if all these direful outrages were not the
natural results of slavery! As if it were less cruel to reduce a
human being to the condition of a thing, than to give him a
severe flagellation, or to deprive him of necessary food and
clothing! As if whips, chains, thumb-screws, paddles,
bloodhounds, overseers, drivers, patrols, were not all
indispensable to keep the slaves down, and to give protection to
their ruthless oppressors! As if, when the marriage institution is
abolished, concubinage, adultery, and incest, must not
necessarily abound; when all the rights of humanity are
annihilated, any barrier remains to protect the victim from the
fury of the spoiler; when absolute power is assumed over life
and liberty, it will not be wielded with destructive sway!
Skeptics of this character abound in society. In some few
instances, their incredulity arises from a want of reflection; but,
generally, it indicates a hatred of the light, a desire to shield
slavery from the assaults of its foes, a contempt of the colored
race, whether bond or free. Such will try to discredit the
shocking tales of slaveholding cruelty which are recorded in this
truthful Narrative; but they will labor in vain. Mr. DOUGLASS
has frankly disclosed the place of his birth, the names of those
who claimed ownership in his body and soul, and the names
PREFACE
xiii
also of those who committed the crimes which he has alleged
against them. His statements, therefore, may easily be
disproved, if they are untrue.
In the course of his Narrative, he relates two instances of
murderous cruelty,—in one of which a planter deliberately shot
a slave belonging to a neighboring plantation, who had
unintentionally gotten within his lordly domain in quest of fish;
and in the other, an overseer blew out the brains of a slave who
had fled to a stream of water to escape a bloody scourging. Mr.
DOUGLASS states that in neither of these instances was any thing
done by way of legal arrest or judicial investigation. The
Baltimore American, of March 17, 1845, relates a similar case
of atrocity, perpetrated with similar impunity—as follows:—
“Shooting a slave.—We learn, upon the authority of a letter
from Charles county, Maryland, received by a gentleman of this
city, that a young man, named Matthews, a nephew of General
Matthews, and whose father, it is believed, holds an office at
Washington, killed one of the slaves upon his father’s farm by
shooting him. The letter states that young Matthews had been
left in charge of the farm; that he gave an order to the servant,
which was disobeyed, when he proceeded to the house,
obtained a gun, and, returning, shot the servant. He
immediately, the letter continues, fled to his father’s residence,
where he still remains unmolested.”—Let it never be forgotten,
that no slaveholder or overseer can be convicted of any outrage
perpetrated on the person of a slave, however diabolical it may
be, on the testimony of colored witnesses, whether bond or free.
By the slave code, they are adjudged to be as incompetent to
testify against a white man, as though they were indeed a part of
the brute creation. Hence, there is no legal protection in fact,
whatever there may be in form, for the slave population; and
any amount of cruelty may be inflicted on them with impunity.
xiv
PREFACE
Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of a more horrible
state of society?
The effect of a religious profession on the conduct of
southern masters is vividly described in the following Narrative,
and shown to be any thing but salutary. In the nature of the case,
it must be in the highest degree pernicious. The testimony of
Mr. DOUGLASS, on this point, is sustained by a cloud of
witnesses, whose veracity is unimpeachable. “A slaveholder’s
profession of Christianity is a palpable imposture. He is a felon
of the highest grade. He is a man-stealer. It is of no importance
what you put in the other scale.”
Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and
purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with
the former, then are you the foe of God and man. If with the
latter, what are you prepared to do and dare in their behalf? Be
faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every
yoke, and let the oppressed go free. Come what may—cost what
it may—inscribe on the banner which you unfurl to the breeze,
as your religious and political motto—“NO COMPROMISE WITH
SLAVERY! NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS!”
WM. LLOYD GARRISON.
BOSTON, May 1, 1845.
LETTER
FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.
BOSTON, April 22, 1845.
My Dear Friend:
You remember the old fable of “The Man and
the Lion,” where the lion complained that he should not be so
misrepresented “when the lions wrote history.”
I am glad the time has come when the “lions write history.”
We have been left long enough to gather the character of
slavery from the involuntary evidence of the masters. One
might, indeed, rest sufficiently satisfied with what, it is evident,
must be, in general, the results of such a relation, without
seeking farther to find whether they have followed in every
instance. Indeed, those who stare at the half-peck of corn a
week, and love to count the lashes on the slave’s back, are
seldom the “stuff” out of which reformers and abolitionists are
to be made. I remember that, in 1838, many were waiting for
the results of the West India experiment, before they could
come into our ranks. Those “results” have come long ago; but,
alas! few of that number have come with them, as converts. A
man must be disposed to judge of emancipation by other tests
than whether it has increased the produce of sugar,—and to hate
slavery for other reasons than because it starves men and whips
women,—before he is ready to lay the first stone of his antislavery life.
xvi
LETTER FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.
I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the most
neglected of God’s children waken to a sense of their rights, and
of the injustice done them. Experience is a keen teacher; and
long before you had mastered your A B C, or knew where the
“white sails” of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I see,
to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by his hunger and
want, not by his lashes and toil, but by the cruel and blighting
death which gathers over his soul.
In connection with this, there is one circumstance which
makes your recollections peculiarly valuable, and renders your
early insight the more remarkable. You come from that part of
the country where we are told slavery appears with its fairest
features. Let us hear, then, what it is at its best estate—gaze on
its bright side, if it has one; and then imagination may task her
powers to add dark lines to the picture, as she travels southward
to that (for the colored man) Valley of the Shadow of Death,
where the Mississippi sweeps along.
Again, we have known you long, and can put the most
entire confidence in your truth, candor, and sincerity. Every one
who has heard you speak has felt, and, I am confident, every
one who reads your book will feel, persuaded that you give
them a fair specimen of the whole truth. No one-sided
portrait,—no wholesale complaints,—but strict justice done,
whenever individual kindliness has neutralized, for a moment,
the deadly system with which it was strangely allied. You have
been with us, too, some years, and can fairly compare the
twilight of rights, which your race enjoy at the North, with that
“noon of night” under which they labor south of Mason and
Dixon’s line. Tell us whether, after all, the half-free colored
man of Massachusetts is worse off than the pampered slave of
the rice swamps!
In reading your life, no one can say that we have unfairly
picked out some rare specimens of cruelty. We know that the
LETTER FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.
xvii
bitter drops, which even you have drained from the cup, are no
incidental aggravations, no individual ills, but such as must
mingle always and necessarily in the lot of every slave. They
are the essential ingredients, not the occasional results, of the
system.
After all, I shall read your book with trembling for you.
Some years ago, when you were beginning to tell me your real
name and birthplace, you may remember I stopped you, and
preferred to remain ignorant of all. With the exception of a
vague description, so I continued, till the other day, when you
read me your memoirs. I hardly knew, at the time, whether to
thank you or not for the sight of them, when I reflected that it
was still dangerous, in Massachusetts, for honest men to tell
their names! They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the
Declaration of Independence with the halter about their necks.
You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with danger
compassing you around. In all the broad lands which the
Constitution of the United States overshadows, there is no
single spot,—however narrow or desolate,—where a fugitive
slave can plant himself and say, “I am safe.” The whole armory
of Northern Law has no shield for you. I am free to say that, in
your place, I should throw the MS. into the fire.
You, perhaps, may tell your story in safety, endeared as
you are to so many warm hearts by rare gifts, and a still rarer
devotion of them to the service of others. But it will be owing
only to your labors, and the fearless efforts of those who,
trampling the laws and Constitution of the country under their
feet, are determined that they will “hide the outcast,” and that
their hearths shall be, spite of the law, an asylum for the
oppressed, if, some time or other, the humblest may stand in our
streets, and bear witness in safety against the cruelties of which
he has been the victim.
xviii
LETTER FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.
Yet it is sad to think, that these very throbbing hearts which
welcome your story, and form your best safeguard in telling it,
are all beating contrary to the “statute in such case made and
provided.” Go on, my dear friend, till you, and those who, like
you, have been saved, so as by fire, from the dark prison-house,
shall stereotype these free, illegal pulses into statutes; and New
England, cutting loose from a blood-stained Union, shall glory
in being the house of refuge for the oppressed;—till we no
longer merely “hide the outcast,” or make a merit of standing
idly by while he is hunted in our midst; but, consecrating anew
the soil of the Pilgrims as an asylum for the oppressed, proclaim
our welcome to the slave so loudly, that the tones shall reach
every hut in the Carolinas, and make the broken-hearted
bondman leap up at the thought of old Massachusetts.
God speed the day!
Till then, and ever,
Yours truly,
WENDELL PHILLIPS.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS.
NARRATIVE
OF THE
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS.
CHAPTER I.
I WAS born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about
twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have
no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any
authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the
slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and
it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep
their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a
slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer
to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time,
or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a
source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white
children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be
deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any
inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such
inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and
evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give
makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of
age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time
during 1835, I was about seventeen years old.
My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the
daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite
2
NARRATIVE OF THE
dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my
grandmother or grandfather.
My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by
all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also
whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness
of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was
withheld from me. My mother and I were separated when I was
but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common
custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part
children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently,
before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is
taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable
distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old
woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done,
I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the
child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the
natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the
inevitable result.
I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than
four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very
short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart,
who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her
journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on
foot, after the performance of her day’s work. She was a field
hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at
sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her
master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get,
and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a
kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the
light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down
with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was
gone. Very little communication ever took place between us.
Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
3
with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about
seven years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I
was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or
burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it.
Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing
presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of
her death with much the same emotions I should have probably
felt at the death of a stranger.
Called thus suddenly away, she left me without the slightest
intimation of who my father was. The whisper that my master
was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of
but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in
all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and
by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all
cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too
obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a
gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as
pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in
cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of
master and father.
I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remark that such
slaves invariably suffer greater hardships, and have more to
contend with, than others. They are, in the first place, a constant
offence to their mistress. She is ever disposed to find fault with
them; they can seldom do any thing to please her; she is never
better pleased than when she sees them under the lash,
especially when she suspects her husband of showing to his
mulatto children favors which he withholds from his black
slaves. The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of
his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife;
and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell
his own children to human flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate
of humanity for him to do so; for, unless he does this, he must
4
NARRATIVE OF THE
not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one
white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker
complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to his naked
back; and if he lisp one word of disapproval, it is set down to
his parental partiality, and only makes a bad matter worse, both
for himself and the slave whom he would protect and defend.
Every year brings with it multitudes of this class of slaves.
It was doubtless in consequence of a knowledge of this fact, that
one great statesman of the south predicted the downfall of
slavery by the inevitable laws of population. Whether this
prophecy is ever fulfilled or not, it is nevertheless plain that a
very different-looking class of people are springing up at the
south, and are now held in slavery, from those originally
brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase do no
other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God
cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right. If the
lineal descendants of Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved,
it is certain that slavery at the south must soon become
unscriptural; for thousands are ushered into the world, annually,
who, like myself, owe their existence to white fathers, and those
fathers most frequently their own masters.
I have had two masters. My first master’s name was
Anthony. I do not remember his first name. He was generally
called Captain Anthony—a title which, I presume, he acquired
by sailing a craft on the Chesapeake Bay. He was not
considered a rich slaveholder. He owned two or three farms,
and about thirty slaves. His farms and slaves were under the
care of an overseer. The overseer’s name was Plummer. Mr.
Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a
savage monster. He always went armed with a cowskin and a
heavy cudgel. I have known him to cut and slash the women’s
heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his
cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
5
himself. Master, however, was not a humane slaveholder. It
required extraordinary barbarity on the part of an overseer to
affect him. He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of
slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in
whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of
day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine,
whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back
till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no
prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart
from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he
whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped
longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her
to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he
cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first
time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a
child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I
remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such
outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a
participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the bloodstained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I
was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I
could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.
This occurrence took place very soon after I went to live
with my old master, and under the following circumstances.
Aunt Hester went out one night,—where or for what I do not
know,—and happened to be absent when my master desired her
presence. He had ordered her not to go out evenings, and
warned her that she must never let him catch her in company
with a young man, who was paying attention to her belonging to
Colonel Lloyd. The young man’s name was Ned Roberts,
generally called Lloyd’s Ned. Why master was so careful of
her, may be safely left to conjecture. She was a woman of noble
form, and of graceful proportions, having very few equals, and
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NARRATIVE OF THE
fewer superiors, in personal appearance, among the colored or
white women of our neighborhood.
Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out,
but had been found in company with Lloyd’s Ned; which
circumstance, I found, from what he said while whipping her,
was the chief offence. Had he been a man of pure morals
himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting the
innocence of my aunt; but those who knew him will not suspect
him of any such virtue. Before he commenced whipping Aunt
Hester, he took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck
to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked.
He then told her to cross her hands, calling her at the same time
a d——d b——h. After crossing her hands, he tied them with a
strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the
joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and
tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal
purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that
she stood upon the ends of her toes. He then said to her, “Now,
you d——d b——h, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!”
and after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the
heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heartrending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came
dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the
sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till
long after the bloody transaction was over. I expected it would
be my turn next. It was all new to me. I had never seen any
thing like it before. I had always lived with my grandmother on
the outskirts of the plantation, where she was put to raise the
children of the younger women. I had therefore been, until now,
out of the way of the bloody scenes that often occurred on the
plantation.
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
7
CHAPTER II.
MY master’s family consisted of two sons, Andrew and
Richard; one daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain
Thomas Auld. They lived in one house, upon the home
plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. My master was Colonel
Lloyd’s clerk and superintendent. He was what might be called
the overseer of the overseers. I spent two years of childhood on
this plantation in my old master’s family. It was here that I
witnessed the bloody transaction recorded in the first chapter;
and as I received my first impressions of slavery on this
plantation, I will give some description of it, and of slavery as it
there existed. The plantation is about twelve miles north of
Easton, in Talbot county, and is situated on the border of Miles
River. The principal products raised upon it were tobacco, corn,
and wheat. These were raised in great abundance; so that, with
the products of this and the other farms belonging to him, he
was able to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop,
in carrying them to market at Baltimore. This sloop was named
Sally Lloyd, in honor of one of the colonel’s daughters. My
master’s son-in-law, Captain Auld, was master of the vessel;
she was otherwise manned by the colonel’s own slaves. Their
names were Peter, Isaac, Rich, and Jake. These were esteemed
very highly by the other slaves, and looked upon as the
privileged ones of the plantation; for it was no small affair, in
the eyes of the slaves, to be allowed to see Baltimore.
Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundred slaves on
his home plantation, and owned a large number more on the
neighboring farms belonging to him. The names of the farms
nearest to the home plantation were Wye Town and New
8
NARRATIVE OF THE
Design. “Wye Town” was under the overseership of a man
named Noah Willis. New Design was under the overseership of
a Mr. Townsend. The overseers of these, and all the rest of the
farms, numbering over twenty, received advice and direction
from the managers of the home plantation. This was the great
business place. It was the seat of government for the whole
twenty farms. All disputes among the overseers were settled
here. If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor,
became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away,
he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on
board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin
Woolfolk, or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves
remaining.
Here, too, the slaves of all the other farms received their
monthly allowance of food, and their yearly clothing. The men
and women slaves received, as their monthly allowance of food,
eight pounds of pork, or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel of
corn meal. Their yearly clothing consisted of two coarse linen
shirts, one pair of linen trousers, like the shirts, one jacket, one
pair of trousers for winter, made of coarse negro cloth, one pair
of stockings, and one pair of shoes; the whole of which could
not have cost more than seven dollars. The allowance of the
slave children was given to their mothers, or the old women
having the care of them. The children unable to work in the
field had neither shoes, stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to
them; their clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per
year. When these failed them, they went naked until the next
allowance-day. Children from seven to ten years old, of both
sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year.
There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse
blanket be considered such, and none but the men and women
had these. This, however, is not considered a very great
privation. They find less difficulty from the want of beds, than
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
9
from the want of time to sleep; for when their day’s work in the
field is done, the most of them having their washing, mending,
and cooking to do, and having few or none of the ordinary
facilities for doing either of these, very many of their sleeping
hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day;
and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married
and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed,—the
cold, damp floor,—each covering himself or herself with their
miserable blankets; and here they sleep till they are summoned
to the field by the driver’s horn. At the sound of this, all must
rise, and be off to the field. There must be no halting; every one
must be at his or her post; and woe betides them who hear not
this morning summons to the field; for if they are not awakened
by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense of feeling: no age
nor sex finds any favor. Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand
by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and
heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate
as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from
being ready to start for the field at the sound of the horn.
Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. I have
seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour
at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children,
pleading for their mother’s release. He seemed to take pleasure
in manifesting his fiendish barbarity. Added to his cruelty, he
was a profane swearer. It was enough to chill the blood and
stiffen the hair of an ordinary man to hear him talk. Scarce a
sentence escaped him but that was commenced or concluded by
some horrid oath. The field was the place to witness his cruelty
and profanity. His presence made it both the field of blood and
of blasphemy. From the rising till the going down of the sun, he
was cursing, raving, cutting, and slashing among the slaves of
the field, in the most frightful manner. His career was short. He
died very soon after I went to Colonel Lloyd’s; and he died as
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NARRATIVE OF THE
he lived, uttering, with his dying groans, bitter curses and horrid
oaths. His death was regarded by the slaves as the result of a
merciful providence.
Mr. Severe’s place was filled by a Mr. Hopkins. He was a
very different man. He was less cruel, less profane, and made
less noise, than Mr. Severe. His course was characterized by no
extraordinary demonstrations of cruelty. He whipped, but
seemed to take no pleasure in it. He was called by the slaves a
good overseer.
The home plantation of Colonel Lloyd wore the appearance
of a country village. All the mechanical operations for all the
farms were performed here. The shoemaking and mending, the
blacksmithing, cartwrighting, coopering, weaving, and graingrinding, were all performed by the slaves on the home
plantation. The whole place wore a business-like aspect very
unlike the neighboring farms. The number of houses, too,
conspired to give it advantage over the neighboring farms. It
was called by the slaves the Great House Farm. Few privileges
were esteemed higher, by the slaves of the out-farms, than that
of being selected to do errands at the Great House Farm. It was
associated in their minds with greatness. A representative could
not be prouder of his election to a seat in the American
Congress, than a slave on one of the out-farms would be of his
election to do errands at the Great House Farm. They regarded
it as evidence of great confidence reposed in them by their
overseers; and it was on this account, as well as a constant
desire to be out of the field from under the driver’s lash, that
they esteemed it a high privilege, one worth careful living for.
He was called the smartest and most trusty fellow, who had this
honor conferred upon him the most frequently. The competitors
for this office sought as diligently to please their overseers, as
the office-seekers in the political parties seek to please and
deceive the people. The same traits of character might be seen
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
11
in Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, as are seen in the slaves of the
political parties.
The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the
monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were
peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make
the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their
wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest
sadness. They would compose and sing as they went along,
consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up,
came out—if not in the word, in the sound;—and as frequently
in the one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the most
pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most
rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone. Into all of their
songs they would manage to weave something of the Great
House Farm. Especially would they do this, when leaving
home. They would then sing most exultingly the following
words:—
“I am going away to the Great House Farm!
O, yea! O, yea! O!”
This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many
would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were
full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that
the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some
minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of
whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.
I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of
those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within
the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might
see and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether
beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long,
and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls
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NARRATIVE OF THE
boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a
testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance
from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed
my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have
frequently found myself in tears while hearing them. The mere
recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am
writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found
its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first
glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of
slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still
follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my
sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be
impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to
Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place
himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence,
analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his
soul,—and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because
“there is no flesh in his obdurate heart.”
I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the
north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among
slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is
impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most
when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent
the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an
aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my
experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom
to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy,
were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The
singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as
appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and
happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of
the other are prompted by the same emotion.
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
13
CHAPTER III.
COLONEL LLOYD kept a large and finely cultivated garden,
which afforded almost constant employment for four men,
besides the chief gardener, (Mr. M’Durmond.) This garden was
probably the greatest attraction of the place. During the summer
months, people came from far and near—from Baltimore,
Easton, and Annapolis—to see it. It abounded in fruits of almost
every description, from the hardy apple of the north to the
delicate orange of the south. This garden was not the least
source of trouble on the plantation. Its excellent fruit was quite
a temptation to the hungry swarms of boys, as well as the older
slaves, belonging to the colonel, few of whom had the virtue or
the vice to resist it. Scarcely a day passed, during the summer,
but that some slave had to take the lash for stealing fruit. The
colonel had to resort to all kinds of stratagems to keep his slaves
out of the garden. The last and most successful one was that of
tarring his fence all around; after which, if a slave was caught
with any tar upon his person, it was deemed sufficient proof that
he had either been into the garden, or had tried to get in. In
either case, he was severely whipped by the chief gardener. This
plan worked well; the slaves became as fearful of tar as of the
lash. They seemed to realize the impossibility of touching tar
without being defiled.
The colonel also kept a splendid riding equipage. His stable
and carriage-house presented the appearance of some of our
large city livery establishments. His horses were of the finest
form and noblest blood. His carriage-house contained three
splendid coaches, three or four gigs, besides dearborns and
barouches of the most fashionable style.
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NARRATIVE OF THE
This establishment was under the care of two slaves—old
Barney and young Barney—father and son. To attend to this
establishment was their sole work. But it was by no means an
easy employment; for in nothing was Colonel Lloyd more
particular than in the management of his horses. The slightest
inattention to these was unpardonable, and was visited upon
those, under whose care they were placed, with the severest
punishment; no excuse could shield them, if the colonel only
suspected any want of attention to his horses—a supposition
which he frequently indulged, and one which, of course, made
the office of old and young Barney a very trying one. They
never knew when they were safe from punishment. They were
frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped
whipping when most deserving it. Every thing depended upon
the looks of the horses, and the state of Colonel Lloyd’s own
mind when his horses were brought to him for use. If a horse
did not move fast enough, or hold his head high enough, it was
owing to some fault of his keepers. It was painful to stand near
the stable-door, and hear the various complaints against the
keepers when a horse was taken out for use. “This horse has not
had proper attention. He has not been sufficiently rubbed and
curried, or he has not been properly fed; his food was too wet or
too dry; he got it too soon or too late; he was too hot or too
cold; he had too much hay, and not enough of grain; or he had
too much grain, and not enough of hay; instead of old Barney’s
attending to the horse, he had very improperly left it to his son.”
To all these complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must
answer never a word. Colonel Lloyd could not brook any
contradiction from a slave. When he spoke, a slave must stand,
listen, and tremble; and such was literally the case. I have seen
Colonel Lloyd make old Barney, a man between fifty and sixty
years of age, uncover his bald head, kneel down upon the cold,
damp ground, and receive upon his naked and toil-worn
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
15
shoulders more than thirty lashes at the time. Colonel Lloyd had
three sons—Edward, Murray, and Daniel,—and three sons-inlaw, Mr. Winder, Mr. Nicholson, and Mr. Lowndes. All of these
lived at the Great House Farm, and enjoyed the luxury of
whipping the servants when they pleased, from old Barney
down to William Wilkes, the coach-driver. I have seen Winder
make one of the house-servants stand off from him a suitable
distance to be touched with the end of his whip, and at every
stroke raise great ridges upon his back.
To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd would be almost
equal to describing the riches of Job. He kept from ten to fifteen
house-servants. He was said to own a thousand slaves, and I
think this estimate quite within the truth. Colonel Lloyd owned
so many that he did not know them when he saw them; nor did
all the slaves of the out-farms know him. It is reported of him,
that, while riding along the road one day, he met a colored man,
and addressed him in the usual manner of speaking to colored
people on the public highways of the south: “Well, boy, whom
do you belong to?” “To Colonel Lloyd,” replied the slave.
“Well, does the colonel treat you well?” “No, sir,” was the
ready reply. “What, does he work you too hard?” “Yes, sir.”
“Well, don’t he give you enough to eat?” “Yes, sir, he gives me
enough, such as it is.”
The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged,
rode on; the man also went on about his business, not dreaming
that he had been conversing with his master. He thought, said,
and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeks
afterwards. The poor man was then informed by his overseer
that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be
sold to a Georgia trader. He was immediately chained and
handcuffed; and thus, without a moment’s warning, he was
snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and
friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death. This is the
16
NARRATIVE OF THE
penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple truth, in answer
to a series of plain questions.
It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when
inquired of as to their condition and the character of their
masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that
their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to
send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and
feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has
had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a
still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather
than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove
themselves a part of the human family. If they have any thing to
say of their masters, it is generally in their masters’ favor,
especially when speaking to an untried man. I have been
frequently asked, when a slave, if I had a kind master, and do
not remember ever to have given a negative answer; nor did I,
in pursuing this course, consider myself as uttering what was
absolutely false; for I always measured the kindness of my
master by the standard of kindness set up among slaveholders
around us. Moreover, slaves are like other people, and imbibe
prejudices quite common to others. They think their own better
than that of others. Many, under the influence of this prejudice,
think their own masters are better than the masters of other
slaves; and this, too, in some cases, when the very reverse is
true. Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and
quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their
masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own
over that of the others. At the very same time, they mutually
execrate their masters when viewed separately. It was so on our
plantation. When Colonel Lloyd’s slaves met the slaves of
Jacob Jepson, they seldom parted without a quarrel about their
masters; Colonel Lloyd’s slaves contending that he was the
richest, and Mr. Jepson’s slaves that he was the smartest, and
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
17
most of a man. Colonel Lloyd’s slaves would boast his ability to
buy and sell Jacob Jepson. Mr. Jepson’s slaves would boast his
ability to whip Colonel Lloyd. These quarrels would almost
always end in a fight between the parties, and those that
whipped were supposed to have gained the point at issue. They
seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was
transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad
enough to be a slave; but to be a poor man’s slave was deemed
a disgrace indeed!
18
NARRATIVE OF THE
CHAPTER IV.
MR. HOPKINS remained but a short time in the office of
overseer. Why his career was so short, I do not know, but
suppose he lacked the necessary severity to suit Colonel Lloyd.
Mr. Hopkins was succeeded by Mr. Austin Gore, a man
possessing, in an eminent degree, all those traits of character
indispensable to what is called a first-rate overseer. Mr. Gore
had served Colonel Lloyd, in the capacity of overseer, upon one
of the out-farms, and had shown himself worthy of the high
station of overseer upon the home or Great House Farm.
Mr. Gore was proud, ambitious, and persevering. He was
artful, cruel, and obdurate. He was just the man for such a place,
and it was just the place for such a man. It afforded scope for
the full exercise of all his powers, and he seemed to be perfectly
at home in it. He was one of those who could torture the
slightest look, word, or gesture, on the part of the slave, into
impudence, and would treat it accordingly. There must be no
answering back to him; no explanation was allowed a slave,
showing himself to have been wrongfully accused. Mr. Gore
acted fully up to the maxim laid down by slaveholders,—“It is
better that a dozen slaves should suffer under the lash, than that
the overseer should be convicted, in the presence of the slaves,
of having been at fault.” No matter how innocent a slave might
be—it availed him nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of any
misdemeanor. To be accused was to be convicted, and to be
convicted was to be punished; the one always following the
other with immutable certainty. To escape punishment was to
escape accusation; and few slaves had the fortune to do either,
under the overseership of Mr. Gore. He was just proud enough
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
19
to demand the most debasing homage of the slave, and quite
servile enough to crouch, himself, at the feet of the master. He
was ambitious enough to be contented with nothing short of the
highest rank of overseers, and persevering enough to reach the
height of his ambition. He was cruel enough to inflict the
severest punishment, artful enough to descend to the lowest
trickery, and obdurate enough to be insensible to the voice of a
reproving conscience. He was, of all the overseers, the most
dreaded by the slaves. His presence was painful; his eye flashed
confusion; and seldom was his sharp, shrill voice heard, without
producing horror and trembling in their ranks.
Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a young man, he
indulged in no jokes, said no funny words, seldom smiled. His
words were in perfect keeping with his looks, and his looks
were in perfect keeping with his words. Overseers will
sometimes indulge in a witty word, even with the slaves; not so
with Mr. Gore. He spoke but to command, and commanded but
to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words, and bountifully
with his whip, never using the former where the latter would
answer as well. When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a
sense of duty, and feared no consequences. He did nothing
reluctantly, no matter how disagreeable; always at his post,
never inconsistent. He never promised but to fulfil. He was, in a
word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like
coolness.
His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate
coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage
deeds upon the slaves under his charge. Mr. Gore once
undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, by the name
of Demby. He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to get
rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek,
and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come
out. Mr. Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and
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NARRATIVE OF THE
that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him.
The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood
his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same
result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with
any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his
musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and
in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank
out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he
had stood.
A thrill of horror flashed through every soul upon the
plantation, excepting Mr. Gore. He alone seemed cool and
collected. He was asked by Colonel Lloyd and my old master,
why he resorted to this extraordinary expedient. His reply was,
(as well as I can remember,) that Demby had become
unmanageable. He was setting a dangerous example to the other
slaves,—one which, if suffered to pass without some such
demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the total
subversion of all rule and order upon the plantation. He argued
that if one slave refused to be corrected, and escaped with his
life, the other slaves would soon copy the example; the result of
which would be, the freedom of the slaves, and the enslavement
of the whites. Mr. Gore’s defence was satisfactory. He was
continued in his station as overseer upon the home plantation.
His fame as an overseer went abroad. His horrid crime was not
even submitted to judicial investigation. It was committed in the
presence of slaves, and they of course could neither institute a
suit, nor testify against him; and thus the guilty perpetrator of
one of the bloodiest and most foul murders goes unwhipped of
justice, and uncensured by the community in which he lives.
Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael’s, Talbot county, Maryland, when
I left there; and if he is still alive, he very probably lives there
now; and if so, he is now, as he was then, as highly esteemed
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
21
and as much respected as though his guilty soul had not been
stained with his brother’s blood.
I speak advisedly when I say this,—that killing a slave, or
any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated
as a crime, either by the courts or the community. Mr. Thomas
Lanman, of St. Michael’s, killed two slaves, one of whom he
killed with a hatchet, by knocking his brains out. He used to
boast of the commission of the awful and bloody deed. I have
heard him do so laughingly, saying, among other things, that he
was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and that
when others would do as much as he had done, we should be
relieved of “the d——d niggers.”
The wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, living but a short distance
from where I used to live, murdered my wife’s cousin, a young
girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age, mangling her
person in the most horrible manner, breaking her nose and
breastbone with a stick, so that the poor girl expired in a few
hours afterward. She was immediately buried, but had not been
in her untimely grave but a few hours before she was taken up
and examined by the coroner, who decided that she had come to
her death by severe beating. The offence for which this girl was
thus murdered was this:—She had been set that night to mind
Mrs. Hicks’s baby, and during the night she fell asleep, and the
baby cried. She, having lost her rest for several nights previous,
did not hear the crying. They were both in the room with Mrs.
Hicks. Mrs. Hicks, finding the girl slow to move, jumped from
her bed, seized an oak stick of wood by the fireplace, and with it
broke the girl’s nose and breastbone, and thus ended her life. I
will not say that this most horrid murder produced no sensation
in the community. It did produce sensation, but not enough to
bring the murderess to punishment. There was a warrant issued
for her arrest, but it was never served. Thus she escaped not
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NARRATIVE OF THE
only punishment, but even the pain of being arraigned before a
court for her horrid crime.
Whilst I am detailing bloody deeds which took place during
my stay on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, I will briefly narrate
another, which occurred about the same time as the murder of
Demby by Mr. Gore.
Colonel Lloyd’s slaves were in the habit of spending a part
of their nights and Sundays in fishing for oysters, and in this
way made up the deficiency of their scanty allowance. An old
man belonging to Colonel Lloyd, while thus engaged, happened
to get beyond the limits of Colonel Lloyd’s, and on the premises
of Mr. Beal Bondly. At this trespass, Mr. Bondly took offence,
and with his musket came down to the shore, and blew its
deadly contents into the poor old man.
Mr. Bondly came over to see Colonel Lloyd the next day,
whether to pay him for his property, or to justify himself in
what he had done, I know not. At any rate, this whole fiendish
transaction was soon hushed up. There was very little said about
it at all, and nothing done. It was a common saying, even among
little white boys, that it was worth a half-cent to kill a “nigger,”
and a half-cent to bury one.
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
23
CHAPTER V.
AS to my own treatment while I lived on Colonel Lloyd’s
plantation, it was very similar to that of the other slave children.
I was not old enough to work in the field, and there being little
else than field work to do, I had a great deal of leisure time. The
most I had to do was to drive up the cows at evening, keep the
fowls out of the garden, keep the front yard clean, and run of
errands for my old master’s daughter, Mrs. Lucretia Auld. The
most of my leisure time I spent in helping Master Daniel Lloyd
in finding his birds, after he had shot them. My connection with
Master Daniel was of some advantage to me. He became quite
attached to me, and was a sort of protector of me. He would not
allow the older boys to impose upon me, and would divide his
cakes with me.
I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered little
from any thing else than hunger and cold. I suffered much from
hunger, but much more from cold. In hottest summer and
coldest winter, I was kept almost naked—no shoes, no
stockings, no jacket, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow
linen shirt, reaching only to my knees. I had no bed. I must have
perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a
bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl
into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with
my head in and feet out. My feet have been so cracked with the
frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the
gashes.
We were not regularly allowanced. Our food was coarse
corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large
wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The
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NARRATIVE OF THE
children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many
pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oystershells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands,
and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was
strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough
satisfied.
I was probably between seven and eight years old when I
left Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. I left it with joy. I shall never
forget the ecstasy with which I received the intelligence that my
old master (Anthony) had determined to let me go to Baltimore,
to live with Mr. Hugh Auld, brother to my old master’s son-inlaw, Captain Thomas Auld. I received this information about
three days before my departure. They were three of the happiest
days I ever enjoyed. I spent the most part of all these three days
in the creek, washing off the plantation scurf, and preparing
myself for my departure.
The pride of appearance which this would indicate was not
my own. I spent the time in washing, not so much because I
wished to, but because Mrs. Lucretia had told me I must get all
the dead skin off my feet and knees before I could go to
Baltimore; for the people in Baltimore were very cleanly, and
would laugh at me if I looked dirty. Besides, she was going to
give me a pair of trousers, which I should not put on unless I
got all the dirt off me. The thought of owning a pair of trousers
was great indeed! It was almost a sufficient motive, not only to
make me take off what would be called by pig-drovers the
mange, but the skin itself. I went at it in good earnest, working
for the first time with the hope of reward.
The ties that ordinarily bind children to their homes were
all suspended in my case. I found no severe trial in my
departure. My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on
parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing
which I could have enjoyed by staying. My mother was dead,
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
25
my grandmother lived far off, so that I seldom saw her. I had
two sisters and one brother, that lived in the same house with
me; but the early separation of us from our mother had well
nigh blotted the fact of our relationship from our memories. I
looked for home elsewhere, and was confident of finding none
which I should relish less than the one which I was leaving. If,
however, I found in my new home hardship, hunger, whipping,
and nakedness, I had the consolation that I should not have
escaped any one of them by staying. Having already had more
than a taste of them in the house of my old master, and having
endured them there, I very naturally inferred my ability to
endure them elsewhere, and especially at Baltimore; for I had
something of the feeling about Baltimore that is expressed in
the proverb, that “being hanged in England is preferable to
dying a natural death in Ireland.” I had the strongest desire to
see Baltimore. Cousin Tom, though not fluent in speech, had
inspired me with that desire by his eloquent description of the
place. I could never point out any thing at the Great House, no
matter how beautiful or powerful, but that he had seen
something at Baltimore far exceeding, both in beauty and
strength, the object which I pointed out to him. Even the Great
House itself, with all its pictures, was far inferior to many
buildings in Baltimore. So strong was my desire, that I thought
a gratification of it would fully compensate for whatever loss of
comforts I should sustain by the exchange. I left without a
regret, and with the highest hopes of future happiness.
We sailed out of Miles River for Baltimore on a Saturday
morning. I remember only the day of the week, for at that time I
had no knowledge of the days of the month, nor the months of
the year. On setting sail, I walked aft, and gave to Colonel
Lloyd’s plantation what I hoped would be the last look. I then
placed myself in the bows of the sloop, and there spent the
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NARRATIVE OF THE
remainder of the day in looking ahead, interesting myself in
what was in the distance rather than in things near by or behind.
In the afternoon of that day, we reached Annapolis, the
capital of the State. We stopped but a few moments, so that I
had no time to go on shore. It was the first large town that I had
ever seen, and though it would look small compared with some
of our New England factory villages, I thought it a wonderful
place for its size—more imposing even than the Great House
Farm!
We arrived at Baltimore early on Sunday morning, landing
at Smith’s Wharf, not far from Bowley’s Wharf. We had on
board the sloop a large flock of sheep; and after aiding in
driving them to the slaughterhouse of Mr. Curtis on Louden
Slater’s Hill, I was conducted by Rich, one of the hands
belonging on board of the sloop, to my new home in Alliciana
Street, near Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard, on Fells Point.
Mr. and Mrs. Auld were both at home, and met me at the
door with their little son Thomas, to take care of whom I had
been given. And here I saw what I had never seen before; it was
a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions; it was the
face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld. I wish I could describe
the rapture that flashed through my soul as I beheld it. It was a
new and strange sight to me, brightening up my pathway with
the light of happiness. Little Thomas was told, there was his
Freddy,—and I was told to take care of little Thomas; and thus I
entered upon the duties of my new home with the most cheering
prospect ahead.
I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd’s plantation
as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible,
and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of
being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have
to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the
enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
27
Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery. Going
to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the
gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity. I have ever regarded
it as the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which
has ever since attended me, and marked my life with so many
favors. I regarded the selection of myself as being somewhat
remarkable. There were a number of slave children that might
have been sent from the plantation to Baltimore. There were
those younger, those older, and those of the same age. I was
chosen from among them all, and was the first, last, and only
choice.
I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in
regarding this event as a special interposition of divine
Providence in my favor. But I should be false to the earliest
sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be
true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of
others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.
From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep
conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me
within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in
slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not
from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me
through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I
offer thanksgiving and praise.
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NARRATIVE OF THE
CHAPTER VI.
MY new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first
met her at the door,—a woman of the kindest heart and finest
feelings. She had never had a slave under her control previously
to myself, and prior to her marriage she had been dependent
upon her own industry for a living. She was by trade a weaver;
and by constant application to her business, she had been in a
good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing
effects of slavery. I was utterly astonished at her goodness. I
scarcely knew how to behave towards her. She was entirely
unlike any other white woman I had ever seen. I could not
approach her as I was accustomed to approach other white
ladies. My early instruction was all out of place. The crouching
servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave, did not
answer when manifested toward her. Her favor was not gained
by it; she seemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem it
impudent or unmannerly for a slave to look her in the face. The
meanest slave was put fully at ease in her presence, and none
left without feeling better for having seen her. Her face was
made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.
But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain
such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her
hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful
eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage;
that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh
and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a
demon.
Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she
very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
29
learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three
or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found
out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to
instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was
unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his
own words, further, he said, “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,” said he, “if you teach that nigger
(speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping
him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once
become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to
himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It
would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank
deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay
slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of
thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark
and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding
had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had
been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white
man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand
achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I
understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just
what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it.
Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my
kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction
which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master.
Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a
teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at
whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided
manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife
with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to
convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was
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NARRATIVE OF THE
uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the
utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow
from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most
desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to
him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great
good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so
warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to
inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning
to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my
master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the
benefit of both.
I had resided but a short time in Baltimore before I
observed a marked difference, in the treatment of slaves, from
that which I had witnessed in the country. A city slave is almost
a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation. He is much
better fed and clothed, and enjoys privileges altogether
unknown to the slave on the plantation. There is a vestige of
decency, a sense of shame, that does much to curb and check
those outbreaks of atrocious cruelty so commonly enacted upon
the plantation. He is a desperate slaveholder, who will shock the
humanity of his non-slaveholding neighbors with the cries of
his lacerated slave. Few are willing to incur the odium attaching
to the reputation of being a cruel master; and above all things,
they would not be known as not giving a slave enough to eat.
Every city slaveholder is anxious to have it known of him, that
he feeds his slaves well; and it is due to them to say, that most
of them do give their slaves enough to eat. There are, however,
some painful exceptions to this rule. Directly opposite to us, on
Philpot Street, lived Mr. Thomas Hamilton. He owned two
slaves. Their names were Henrietta and Mary. Henrietta was
about twenty-two years of age, Mary was about fourteen; and of
all the mangled and emaciated creatures I ever looked upon,
these two were the most so. His heart must be harder than stone,
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
31
that could look upon these unmoved. The head, neck, and
shoulders of Mary were literally cut to pieces. I have frequently
felt her head, and found it nearly covered with festering sores,
caused by the lash of her cruel mistress. I do not know that her
master ever whipped her, but I have been an eye-witness to the
cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton. I used to be in Mr. Hamilton’s house
nearly every day. Mrs. Hamilton used to sit in a large chair in
the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her
side, and scarce an hour passed during the day but was marked
by the blood of one of these slaves. The girls seldom passed her
without her saying, “Move faster, you black gip!” at the same
time giving them a blow with the cowskin over the head or
shoulders, often drawing the blood. She would then say, “Take
that, you black gip!”—continuing, “If you don’t move faster,
I’ll move you!” Added to the cruel lashings to which these
slaves were subjected, they were kept nearly half-starved. They
seldom knew what it was to eat a full meal. I have seen Mary
contending with the pigs for the offal thrown into the street. So
much was Mary kicked and cut to pieces, that she was oftener
called “pecked” than by her name.
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NARRATIVE OF THE
CHAPTER VII.
I LIVED in Master Hugh’s family about seven years. During
this time, I succeeded in learning to read and write. In
accomplishing this, I was compelled to resort to various
stratagems. I had no regular teacher. My mistress, who had
kindly commenced to instruct me, had, in compliance with the
advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct,
but had set her face against my being instructed by any one else.
It is due, however, to my mistress to say of her, that she did not
adopt this course of treatment immediately. She at first lacked
the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental
darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training
in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the
task of treating me as though I were a brute.
My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted
woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when
I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one
human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties
of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to
her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as
a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery
proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there,
she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was
no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had
bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for
every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved
its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its
influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike
disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
33
step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me.
She now commenced to practise her husband’s precepts. She
finally became even more violent in her opposition than her
husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as
well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better.
Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a
newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have
had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch
from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her
apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience
soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and
slavery were incompatible with each other.
From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a
separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be
suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an
account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step
had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given
me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking
the ell.
The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most
successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys
whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I
converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at
different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in
learning to read. When I was sent of errands, I always took my
book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I
found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry
bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and
to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in
this regard than many of the poor white children in our
neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry
little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable
bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of
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NARRATIVE OF THE
two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude
and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;—not that it
would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost
an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian
country. It is enough to say of the dear little fellows, that they
lived on Philpot Street, very near Durgin and Bailey’s shipyard. I used to talk this matter of slavery over with them. I
would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free as
they would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as
soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I
as good a right to be free as you have?” These words used to
trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy,
and console me with the hope that something would occur by
which I might be free.
I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being
a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about
this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.”
Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much
of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a
master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run
away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the
conversation which took place between them, when the slave
was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument
in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of
which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say
some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his
master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect;
for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of
the slave on the part of the master.
In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty
speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were
choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with
unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
35
my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind,
and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained
from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of
even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold
denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human
rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my
thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain
slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they
brought on another even more painful than the one of which I
was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and
detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a
band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone
to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land
reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as
well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the
subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh
had predicted would follow my learning to read had already
come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I
writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had
been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of
my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes
to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In
moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their
stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the
condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no
matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting
thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no
getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within
sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of
freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom
now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in
every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to
torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw
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NARRATIVE OF THE
nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it,
and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it
smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in
every storm.
I often found myself regretting my own existence, and
wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have
no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done
something for which I should have been killed. While in this
state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery. I
was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something
about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the
word meant. It was always used in such connections as to make
it an interesting word to me. If a slave ran away and succeeded
in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn,
or did any thing very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was
spoken of as the fruit of abolition. Hearing the word in this
connection very often, I set about learning what it meant. The
dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was “the act
of abolishing;” but then I did not know what was to be
abolished. Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask any one
about its meaning, for I was satisfied that it was something they
wanted me to know very little about. After a patient waiting, I
got one of our city papers, containing an account of the number
of petitions from the north, praying for the abolition of slavery
in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between the
States. From this time I understood the words abolition and
abolitionist, and always drew near when that word was spoken,
expecting to hear something of importance to myself and
fellow-slaves. The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went
one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two
Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked, and
helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me
and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, “Are
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
37
ye a slave for life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman
seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the
other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be
a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both
advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends
there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested
in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand
them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have
been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the
reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was
afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I
nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I
resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it
would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think of
doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write,
as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled
myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance.
Meanwhile, I would learn to write.
The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to
me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently
seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of
timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part
of the ship for which it was intended. When a piece of timber
was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked thus—
“L.” When a piece was for the starboard side, it would be
marked thus—“S.” A piece for the larboard side forward, would
be marked thus—“L. F.” When a piece was for starboard side
forward, it would be marked thus—“S. F.” For larboard aft, it
would be marked thus—“L. A.” For starboard aft, it would be
marked thus—“S. A.” I soon learned the names of these letters,
and for what they were intended when placed upon a piece of
timber in the ship-yard. I immediately commenced copying
them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters
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NARRATIVE OF THE
named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could
write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next
word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I
would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to
learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many
lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have
gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy-book was
the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was
a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. I
then commenced and continued copying the Italics in Webster’s
Spelling Book, until I could make them all without looking on
the book. By this time, my little Master Thomas had gone to
school, and learned how to write, and had written over a number
of copy-books. These had been brought home, and shown to
some of our near neighbors, and then laid aside. My mistress
used to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meetinghouse
every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the
house. When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the
spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had
written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very
similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious
effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
39
CHAPTER VIII.
IN a very short time after I went to live at Baltimore, my
old master’s youngest son Richard died; and in about three
years and six months after his death, my old master, Captain
Anthony, died, leaving only his son, Andrew, and daughter,
Lucretia, to share his estate. He died while on a visit to see his
daughter at Hillsborough. Cut off thus unexpectedly, he left no
will as to the disposal of his property. It was therefore necessary
to have a valuation of the property, that it might be equally
divided between Mrs. Lucretia and Master Andrew. I was
immediately sent for, to be valued with the other property. Here
again my feelings rose up in detestation of slavery. I had now a
new conception of my degraded condition. Prior to this, I had
become, if not insensible to my lot, at least partly so. I left
Baltimore with a young heart overborne with sadness, and a
soul full of apprehension. I took passage with Captain Rowe, in
the schooner Wild Cat, and, after a sail of about twenty-four
hours, I found myself near the place of my birth. I had now been
absent from it almost, if not quite, five years. I, however,
remembered the place very well. I was only about five years old
when I left it, to go and live with my old master on Colonel
Lloyd’s plantation; so that I was now between ten and eleven
years old.
We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and
women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with
horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and
women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale
of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow
examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and
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NARRATIVE OF THE
matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this
moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of
slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.
After the valuation, then came the division. I have no
language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which
were felt among us poor slaves during this time. Our fate for life
was now to be decided. We had no more voice in that decision
than the brutes among whom we were ranked. A single word
from the white men was enough—against all our wishes,
prayers, and entreaties—to sunder forever the dearest friends,
dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings. In
addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of
falling into the hands of Master Andrew. He was known to us
all as being a most cruel wretch,—a common drunkard, who
had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation,
already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We all
felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders,
as to pass into his hands; for we knew that that would be our
inevitable condition,—a condition held by us all in the utmost
horror and dread.
I suffered more anxiety than most of my fellow-slaves. I
had known what it was to be kindly treated; they had known
nothing of the kind. They had seen little or nothing of the world.
They were in very deed men and women of sorrow, and
acquainted with grief. Their backs had been made familiar with
the bloody lash, so that they had become callous; mine was yet
tender; for while at Baltimore I got few whippings, and few
slaves could boast of a kinder master and mistress than myself;
and the thought of passing out of their hands into those of
Master Andrew—a man who, but a few days before, to give me
a sample of his bloody disposition, took my little brother by the
throat, threw him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot
stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose and
LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
41
ears—was well calculated to make me anxious as to my fate.
After he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he
turned to me, and said that was the way he meant to serve me
one of these days,—meaning, I suppose, when I came into his
possession.
Thanks to a kind Providence, I fell to the portion of Mrs.
Lucretia, and was sent immediately back to Baltimore, to live
again in the family of Master Hugh. Their joy at my return
equalled their sorrow at my departure. It was a glad day to me. I
had escaped a worse than lion’s jaws. I was absen…
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