Slavery is a thing of the past, or so it is thought. However, this road to freedom has not been a walk in the park. Numerous authors have put pen to paper to explain to posterity about the difficulties endured during periods that slavery was a common practice. In particular, the African-American race has numerous stories to tell about slavery. One particular author, Fredrick Douglas, explains the life he endured as the son of a slave and his fight against oppression and racism to become a friend of the then president, Abraham Lincoln and furthermore champion for the abolishment of slavery. All this is explained in his narrative
The life of Fredrick Douglass
Born on February 1818, the birth date and his specific age were a mystery to him. He was born to Harriet Bailey while various speculations surrounded his father. According to rumors, his father was his mother’s master and was known as Aaron Anthony.it is, therefore, no surprise that his birth name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. During this slavery period, there was no authentic record of the birth date of a slave. Furthermore, the mother-child attachment was highly disregarded and he was separated from his mother at a very tender age. According to him, ‘…before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it….’ (Douglass, 1845). In this, he was unable to have the strong bond towards his mother who only visited him at night times, the times she was away from her work as a slave. Away from his mother, he was under the care of his grandmother who, considered too weak to work, was mandated with the responsibility of taking care of the children of the younger women. After her death, he followed her footsteps and became a slave, at first the farms of Captain Anthony. As with many other masters, Captain Anthony was barbaric practicing inhumane and barbaric acts on his slaves. The time that he actually spent on the plantation was two years and thereafter became a slave of Colonel Lloyd.
The first master was the overseer of the overseer of Colonel Lloyd. During his time with Colonel Lloyd as a slave, he witnessed outright murders of two slaves on separate incidences with no follow-ups. On his part, he was, to some extent, under the protection of the son of Colonel Lloyd, Daniel Lloyd. The colonel’s son had grown fond of him and as he describes, ‘my connection with Master Daniel was of some advantage to me and was a sort of protector of me…… I was seldom whipped by my old master and suffered little from anything else…’ (Douglass, 1845)He was about 6 years old and was not able to work on the plantation as the older slaves then.
Later on, he moved to Baltimore after his former master allowed him to go and stay with Mr. Hugh Auld. He describes the information that he was going to leave Maryland to have been the best of his life. Afterwards, during his stay at Mr. Auld, he learned some alphabet which he was taught by Mrs. Auld. He would, later on, teach himself more after the lessons were abolished. As he describes the words of his master Hugh Auld,’ ….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….’ (Douglass, 1845).After various shifts between masters, he managed to move to New York.
After his marriage to Ms. Anna in New York, they both set forward to New Bradford. The city was rather safe and as he states,’ We now began to feel a degree of safety, and to prepare ourselves for the duties and responsibilities of a life of freedom’ (Douglass, 1845). One of the problems he faced was the name to be adopted. He had disposed of the middle two names such that he was called Fredrick Bailey on leaving Maryland. In Baltimore, he was known as Stanley but later on in New York changed the name to Frederick Johnson. The name Johnson was so common that he decided to drop it for a less common name. Upon consultation with a friend of his, he adopted the name, Douglass.
Fredrick Douglass learned how to read and write while he was at Mr. Hugh’s house. It is this knowledge of reading and writing that provided the platform of describing the extent of slavery he had witnessed in his lifetime. In his narrative, he says ‘…It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have today, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery’ (Douglass, 1845).
Basically, the narrative describes his life as a slave and all the implications that come with being a slave. He tries to describe the dehumanizing aspect of slavery. In one instance, he describes the death, by the trigger of the overseer, of a slave who had tried to shell himself from the whipping. The death was not investigated.Furthermore, he describes the dilapidated conditions of living that the slaves were subjected to: not enough food, not enough clothing etc. They were basically put in the same category as the other animals. He goes on to state, ‘. …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..’ (Douglass, 1845)
Men and Women as slaves
The living conditions experienced by both genders was basically the same. He states ‘old and young, male and female, married and single, drops down side by side… no age nor sex finds any favor (Douglass, 1845). The allowance to be granted to the children was basically given to their mums in addition to their monthly allowance, giving them some sort of allowance advantage over the men.
On the other hand, the mistreatment of the two genders was generally different. Women were subjected to heavy whipping while the men were basically shot. In one part, he describes,’ 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…’.In another part, he tries to describe the death of a male slave, ‘…without consultation or deliberation with anyone, 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..’ (Douglass, 1845)
Fredrick Douglass and Benjamin Franklin
These two figures played a major role in shaping the society as it is today. One major observation from the two biographies is that their roles in the society are connected with their family background and childhood. As per Benjamin Franklin, his family lived through their own sweat in which he was acquainted with trade through apprenticeship. In particular, the idea of long apprenticeship was not appealing to him and as he describes ‘.I disliked the trade…’ (Franklin, 1914).In this, he ventured out to teach himself how to read and write as a tool that he was to use to control men.
On the other hand, Fredrick Douglass was born in slavery and as the tradition went on to become a slave after the death of his mother. Out of the hardships, Douglass managed to teach himself how to read and write, the same as Benjamin Franklin. The knowledge of reading and writing gave him the necessary tool for his escapade from the clutches of slavery where he went on to meet Abraham Lincoln and fight for anti-slavery.
Douglass, F. (1845). Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: an American slave. John Harvard Library.
Franklin, B. (1914). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Macmillan.