Nov 2, 2017 in History


In early 1880’s, slavery in Europe was rampant and considered a normal need by the whites. Slaves would be shifted from one home to the other to serve different masters. They were severely punished and treated inhumanly. In fact, they were placed in the same category with farm animals like horses, cows and swine among others. Similarly to these animals, they were not even offered a place to sleep, or have a comfortable rest during the night. All this is evident from the life of one slave who is considered exceptional to date. He managed to survive the hard times and stand out from other slaves. Below is a narration of the slave who goes down in history for recording his accounts during that era. He published several Autobiographies, which are used to date in history as they reflect a picture of slavery times. This paper will discuss this particular slave, Frederick Douglass, who wrote down his life experience from slavery till he became a free man. However, although he gives a full account of his life, this paper will put more emphasis on his will and need to learn. This is because this is one of the impossible achievements for slaves that Douglass achieved.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was a man who was born in slavery in Tuckahoe, near Hills borough about 12 miles from Easton, Talbot County in Maryland. His real name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He changed his name to Frederick Douglass in 1841, some few years after he escaped from slavery to New York from Baltimore. Although it is not clear when he was born, he believed that he was born between 1817 and 1818.  Also, he was a slave, his farther, not much about him is known, is said to have been a white man; probably one of her mother’s masters. On his autobiography, Frederick notes that he was separated from his mother when he was an infant, long before she even knew her. This he says was routine among slaves and their children. He would only see her on very rare occasions, which would be at night if he got lucky. He later lost his mother when he was about seven years old.

Douglass first experienced the wrath of slavery at Colonel Lloyd’s plantation after watching his aunt being beaten mercilessly. However, this was not to last long as he was relocated from the Lloyd’s plantation to Baltimore. He left the plantation with much joy because he considered the place to be horrible. He says: “shall never forget the ecstasy with which I received the intelligence that my old master (Anthony) had determined to let me go to Baltimore.” (Douglas, 1845) At Baltimore, he went to live with Mr. Hugh Auld as his new master. This is where his life would start to take a turn around. He says: “Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity.” (Douglas, 1845)

On arriving in Baltimore, he was assigned the master’s little boy. He was supposed to take care of him all the time. It is here that he met the master’s wife, Sophia. She was affectionate to him and did not treat him harshly. He describes her as having the kindest heart. However, this did not last long. She soon got cold, horrid and treated him badly. 

Soon after he then went on to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld. It is here that his learning process began. Mrs. (Horn, 2013) Auld started teaching him the alphabets and soon he was learning how to spell three and four letter words. This was also short lived. Mr. Auld found out about it and warned Mrs. Auld not to teach him again (Horn, 2013). He said that a nigger should know nothing else except to obey his master. He heard Mr. Auld say that teaching a nigger would make him unmanageable and unfit to be a slave. These words cut him deep as he wanted to learn. More over, it dawned on him the tool that the white man uses to enslave the black, education. The words from Mr. Auld answered a lot of question that he had for long. He prized this discovery highly and made it his quest because he had found his ticket from slavery to freedom. (Douglas, 1845)

He made it his plan to learn how to read. Mrs. Auld had given him an inch by teaching him the alphabet, and now he had to take an ell. He knew that he needed to learn how to read to become a freeman. Losing his teacher, Mrs. Auld was saddening but it never pulled him back. He embarked on a plan to make as many friends as he could. He made lots of friends whom he converted into teachers since they were white and already learning. Finally, his plan was a success and he could now read with the help of his friends. Douglass uses the word “finally” (Douglas, 1845) in his autobiography when he says he can finally read and write. This shows how bad he needed to learn. After Douglass was able to read and write he would pick up the newspaper and try to read it. However, his mistress, who used to teach her, had now gotten cold. She would snatch the paper off him and warn him with a furious face. (Puchner et al., 2012)

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This neither stopped him from becoming learning how to read and write better. His need for learning had become too much that whenever he was seen around, he was suspected to be hiding somewhere with a book. Also, each time he was sent to run some errands, he always took his book with him. He would run the errands quickly and make sure that he has a lesson or two before returning back to the house. He also adopted another plan that helped him learn easily. (Puchner et al., 2012) There were many poor urchins around the neighborhood. Since bread was in plenty, he made it a habit to carry bread with him each time he went out. He would then offer the bread to the little hungry urchins who would also offer him knowledge in return. He learned a lot from the hungry urchins to the extent that he gives them special gratitude in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. This shows the desire he had to study and acknowledges those who helped him achieve it.

Just as it  is said that learning is continuous, Douglass never stopped; he continued to learn from other bys as he grew up. He would challenge other white boys that he could read and write as well as they could. The boys would not believe him and usually took upon the challenge. This way, he would learn a lot from them. (Puchner et al., 2012) Douglass was now about 12 years old. He got a hold of a book called:”The Columbian Orator.” He used to read the book on every opportunity he got. It is from this book that he would learn about slavery and how they were taken from Africa.

Douglass continued to learn even after he could read and do basic writings. He got a hold of Webster’s spelling book. He used the book until he could now write the words without looking from the book. By this time, his little master was now attending school and had his old books stashed in the house. On Monday’s, the mistress would go to class meeting and leave Douglass to look after the house. He would sneak and take his little master’s books, Thomas, and copy what he had written. This continued until he could write like Thomas. After several years of such hard work, he had succeeded to learn how to write. (Douglass, 1845)

Douglass is returned to slavery once again, he meets with the harsh conditions slavery had to offer. He gets beaten almost weekly due to his apparently different behavior. Once he fights his master and gets sent to another plantation. At the plant, he makes friends with other slaves and teaches them how to read. They plan an escape with others but caught and jailed. After two years, he is released and sent back to Baltimore. He escapes from slavery and marries Anna Murray. (Puchner et al., 2012) He was a superb orator that people doubted that he was ever a slave. Hence, he decided to write the book: “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” He even became the first African American to be nominated for vice president of the United States of America as a running mate of Victoria Woodhull. He met his death in the year 1895.

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