The Hard Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born into a world of hate, brutality, racism, and deprived from a formal education. His narrative story elaborates on sex exploitations, the dysfunctional upbringing of slaves, and the difficult hardships slaves endured while captivated on their master’s plantation. His commemorative approach in exposing slave treatment revealed the cruel and inhumane abuse that most slaves had to endure. In explaining his complicated journey to freedom, as well as others like him, reveals how the government justifies slavery. Slavery was a despicable practice of dehumanizing nonwhite men and women.

They were oppressed, mutilated, and regrettably most succumbed to depression, suicide or homicidal death. The acts of slavery festered years of bitterness, sadness, and corruption that settled in the souls of many. The institution of slavery taught in secondary academic curriculum level does not sufficiently express the truth of how our nation, during this era, supported and expanded this brutality across southern territories.

The information discovered while reading the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” unveiled the visualization of the naked truth of slavery in his own words.

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After the abolishment of the slave trade, slave owners, to multiply the slave population on their plantation, forcibly impregnated slave women. These children were automatically born into slavery according to the “slaveholders ordained”; which stated the “ law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers”. (1) Slave children were taught early on how to submit and obey white authorities or they would severely suffer the consequences.

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In some incidences, the mistress would harshly beat mixed race slaves, no matter what they did, out of hatred due to remembrance of the master conceiving them in fornication.

The slave code law forbade educating slaves to read or write. The reason being, according to slave owners and masters, is “that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read”. A slave who would indulge their self in knowledge could result in corporal punishment. Most, if not all, white southerners agreed and thought similarly to how Mr. Auld expressed himself stating, “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”. (3) It was from that turning point, the mistress who was so loving and caring towards Douglass resorted to the horrid customs of slavery.

The fear of punishment and law penalties prevented many white people from teaching slaves; while most believed blacks would attempt to gain superiority. Douglas realized at a young age, education was the key to his freedom. The thought of freedom had ignited his will to learn; motivated him to absorb words and expand his knowledge to further out wit the dominant race. Slavery did not discriminate between black men or women. Both sexes were treated violently, but black women; I believe; suffered the most by being victims of rape, unwanted pregnancies, beatings, and torture. These women would often have their children taken away at a young age by either the master or overseer and sold. With no regard of family, children, husbands, and wives were sold away to different plantations, often in other states. Separation of life would occur soon after childbirth or when a child reaches 12 months old. The obscured reasoning to separate mother from her offspring was to “hinder the development of the child’s affection towards its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child”.

I could not fathom living my whole life not knowing where your children are, whether they are dead or alive and what kind of treatment they were receiving. One could equate this to the treatment of domestic animals. How could anyone grasp knowing nothing about where he or she has come from or who he or she is? ‘Slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs.’ Douglass could only estimate his date of birth from over hearing his master indirectly announcing his age at seventeen. Very few slaves knew there exact date of birth and age. Documentation of slave’s birth were recorded by the owners but never revealed. This thinking was to keep slaves ignorant. This indulgence on the slaveholder’s part led them to maintain order among the slaves. By keeping them mentally and physically incapacitated, slaveholders could profit off younger men and women if they were to be sold again.

Douglass’ life as a slave was similar to many slaves who first came to America during the middle passage until the abolishment of slavery. A young man by the name of Demby had resided with Douglas on the “Great House Farm”, owned by Colonel Lloyd, but supervised and managed by Mr. Gore, the overseer, who frequently demonstrated no tolerance among the slaves. This demonstration was lashed out on Demby, who ran away and “plunged himself into a creek”, refusing to get out. (5) After Mr. Gore gave him three warnings, he was shot in the face and killed. Mr. Gore was acknowledged as the sheriff, the judge and the executioner because the “-killing of a slave, or any colored person” “is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community”. Demby was used as an example to others who considered running away or disobeys commands.

The black men and women, who did survive the afflicting cowhide lashings on their backs, not only physically bared the scars, but also dealt with a lifetime of inner wounds contributing to depression. A colored woman, who went by the name of Old Elizabeth, had survived a life long of pain, disappointment and depression. Her life as a slave resembled much of what Frederick Douglass describes in his narrative story. She, too, was separated from her family “in the eleventh year of” her age and “-sent to another farm, several miles” away. She “-grew so lonely and sad” that she was “…unable to take enough food to sustain nature” but she “-was still required to do all” of her work. As I read the narrative stories of Frederick Douglas and Old Elizabeth, it confirmed my knowledge of what I knew of slavery from watching movies such as “Roots” and “Amistad”, as well as, reading history books. Reading about slavery and slaves suffrage can graphically describe actual events, which I feel, allows the reader to connect and associate themselves with history. Slavery, as evil as it was, is part of American history, which should have never existed.

Cite this page

The Hard Life of Frederick Douglass. (2022, Jan 26). Retrieved from

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