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Frederick Douglass was an American author and former slave who worked to gain his freedom and would end up becoming a major influence in the abolitionist movement. He wrote, “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass,” in 1845 where he talked about his experiences as a slave and how he tried to polish the American Slave System.
Frederick Douglass’s exact date of birth isn’t recorded since during this time period slaves had no birth records, but it’s believed he was born between 1817 and 1818 in Tuckahoe, Maryland.
Douglass was the son of a white slave owner who was never known, and a black slave woman named Harriet Bailey (Douglass 20). It was common in Maryland for young African Americans to be separated from their mothers at a young age, so Douglass never developed a close relationship with his mom or remembered how she looked like. Instead he was raised by his grandmother who was the only parent figure he had (Douglass 21).
Douglass had two masters during his childhood, the first one was a Captain named Anthony who seemed to derive pleasure from whipping his slaves and making them suffer. Thanks to Captain Anthony, Douglass experienced slavery by seeing his fellow slaves take beatings and not by getting whipped. He would later be sent to Colonel Lloyd where he would spend the rest of his childhood. Since he was still very young when he was sent to serve Colonel Lloyd, he would do small errands instead of working in the plantations. Douglass was lucky to never receive whipping from his master and the work he had to do wasn’t excruciatingly hard.
Lloyd provided slave women and men with a monthly provision of eight pounds of pork, or fish and a bushel of corn mean. Slaves would be given a yearly clothing that “consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers for winter, one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes,” which were only given to those who worked in the field. The allowance for children was given to their mothers which consisted of “two coarse linen shirts per year.” Children weren’t given shoes, stockings, jackets, or trousers and would have to go naked if they tore or ripped their clothes regardless of the season and weather (Douglass 26).
Frederick was sent to Baltimore, he left the plantation and Maryland without any regrets, his mother was dead and had left his grandma before he went to Coronel Lloyds plantation, Frederick was about seven or eight years old went he was sent to Baltimore. Baltimore was the starting point for Fredericks remarkable life (Douglass 46). His new mistress Mrs. Auld started teaching Frederick the A, B, C and with that began to practice words with three to four letters but Mr. Auld found out about this and forbade her to continue with her teachings, but it was too late, Fredericks interest in learning how to write and read were there already. Writing and reading began to be the passage from a slave life to a free life (Douglass 48). Frederick lived with his master Hugh and his family during those seven years he learned how to read thanks to all the kind white boys around town, Frederick was efficacious at making friends with them, friends who transformed into teachers, he also exchanged bread for lessons with the poor ones. At twelve years old he acquired the book “The Columbian Orator”, a book that he read every chance he had (this book was about slavery also).
The book impacted Frederick about his enslavement and made him hate the fact that he was a slave, from that point on he began to do something about it (Douglass 58). Frederick departed from Baltimore to his master Thomas Auld in St. Michael’s where he was badly whipped. Since Frederick didn’t have a good relationship with master Auld, he (Frederick) was sent to Mr. Covey a poor man who was a farm-renter with a high reputation of breaking slaves will, people often called him “Slave breaker”. Mr. Covey and Frederick never had a good relationship due to Fredericks actions he would behave badly and sometimes he didn’t do as his master said. After the first 6 months at Mr. Coveys the most remarkable event was the time when Frederick decided that he was not going to get whipped again nor by Mr. Covey or anyone else, they had a fight at the stable Mr. Covey was trying to tie up Frederick with a rope and then whip him with the cowskin but as said before he was not going to take any more whippings from him or anyone else, he fought back grabbing Mr. Covey tight by the neck and made him bleed, Mr. Hughes aided Mr. Covey but ended up in the flor by one of Fredericks kicks (Douglass 81).
“I had several fights, but was never whipped”, his time with Mr. Covey expired on December 25, 1833 and was a step closer to freedom. His new place was three miles away from St. Michaels with Mr. William Freeman during the first month of 1834 where he met two other slaves Mr. Freeman had, they both were in fact smart. Frederick nurtured the other two slaves teaching them how to read, Henry and John took a liking from reading and convinced Frederick to have a sabbath school for all the slaves, rumors started to spread around, and neighboring slaves started coming to this little sabbath teachings Frederick held every Sunday and during the winter time he dedicated three evenings a week to teach them at home, all of this happened in a matter of a year (Douglass 89). Him and his peers (the other two slaves) built a strong love towards each other. During the year of 1835 Frederick decided that he was going to become a free man, but he wanted all his pears to be free as well, Frederick managed to convince them after changing their views towards slavery and they both decided to follow him on the journey.
The plan was to get a canoe big in size owned by Mr. Hamilton and float throughout the Chesapeake Bay. At the end they were caught before they were even able to get ready for the departure. Frederick, Henry and John were then tired up and incarcerated. When Frederick was out of jail, he returned to Master Hugh and was sent to work for eight months for a ship-builder named William Gardner. Mr. Hugh sent him to work at a ship-yard where he was the foreman and worked for Mr. Walter Price. At the ship-yard he learned how to caulk and would bring all his allowance to Master Hugh which was nine dollars per week, when he became better at caulking Fredrick founded his own small jobs but again all his money went to Master Hugh (Douglass 105).
Frederick kept Master Hugh happy by giving him all his allowance to not make him suspect about his plans of scaping, September 3, 1838 Frederick triumphantly escaped from Master Hugh reaching New York without any trouble. Living in New York was not easy at first, did not have a home, money or any friends that could help him settle down, he was also afraid of slave hunters and didn’t want to be caught and get sent back to the south. A blind man named Mr. Ruggles person who Frederick was most grateful decided to help him out, Mr. Ruggles encouraged him to go to New Bedford and work as a Caulker. At this time Anna came along, Frederick had written her a letter as soonest he arrived, Frederick and Anna contracted marriage. At New Bedford he changed his last name to what it is now “Douglass” found a job after he settle down, he assisted to an Anti-slavery meeting where he gave a speech to share his experience as a slave and why slavery should be abolished (Douglass 121). During the year of 1855 he wrote a second part of this book named My bondage and my freedom, in 1882 he wrote his Autobiography named The life and times of Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass sorrowfully died on February 20, 1895.
At the time when Frederick Douglas had published his book slaves were going through a lot of hardship. The United States had passed Fugitive Slave Laws that allowed slave holders to take repossession of freed slaves that they had previously owned, such laws prompted the creation of The American Anti-Slave Society and forced Douglass to flee to Europe to avoid recapture by his previous master. In 1845 abolitionist were fighting against slave owners to outlaw slavery, abolitionist even founded the Oberlin College and constructed free Churches for the public use.
Frederick Douglass found a way to teach himself how to read and write despite being a slave. Reading and writing opened many doors even though it was regarded as taboo and could have led to his death. He not only tells his experience as a slave but of all his fellow slaves, starting from his early years experiencing the harsh treatments slaves had to endure. He illustrates how a normal day for a slave was full of physical and emotional abused by their masters. Slaves would get worked from sunrise to downfall taking beatings all day, nor counting with enough food, clothing, or a bed. Frederick was whipped several times growing up. Families were usually separated and sent to different plantations in the south leaving children behind. The book tries to make people imagine how hard life was for slaves back in the 19th century. It addresses the unfairness of the situation of slaves and how bad of a treatment they had. The reason why Frederick Douglass wrote this book was to create awareness on how bad life was in the south, another reason why he wrote this book was so that there were recorded events that future generations could use to learn about the inhumane living conditions that most African Americans had to endure. The stigma challenged here is that one of being a slave based on skin color, if the person was black that person had to be a slave, and the stigma its being challenged by addressing how poorly African Americans were treated. It challenges the treatment of Colored people in general and how they should have been treated because they had the same right as human beings.
Frederick Douglass’s, “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass,” relates to what has been learned in class since it gives a different perspective of American history since it’s seen through the eyes of the suppressed. The book talks about the fact that slaves weren’t allowed to read and write subject that was also discussed in class. Slaves could only get married with the master’s consent and if this consent was not conceived slaves’ marriage was invalid and pointless.
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