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Harriet Bailey

Books: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Genres: Biography/Autobiography

Authors: Douglass, Frederick


The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is an inspirational story about a man's escape from slavery. This is an autobiography of Frederick Douglass taking place in the nineteenth century. Frederick Bailey, his birth name, was a slave in Maryland who made an escape to New York, and eventually to Massachusetts. He must fight for his survival and freedom while watching and experiencing atrocious punishments to the slaves. The only trait that caused his slavery was the color of his skin. This essay will describe Frederick's life and survival in bondage, to his escape.

 In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, he describes his life as a slave and his constant search for freedom. The theme of the narrative is that with determination and hard work, any man can accomplish even the impossible. Because he understood the key to freedom was knowledge, Frederick concentrated his efforts on education, finding creative ways to learn to read and write. The setting of the book mostly took place in the Northeastern part of the United States, and each place he was sent had an important impact on his life as a slave and his desire to be free.

His mother was Harriet Bailey, the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey. His father was a white man, and it was said that his father was his master. On the plantation where he was raised for seven years, the major cash crops were tobacco, corn and wheat. It was here that he first encountered the harsh reality of slave life, when he watched his own aunt whipped until bloodied. She was whipped by Mr. Severe, who was the overseer of the slaves on the plantation. The master’s family consisted of two sons, Andrew and Richard, one daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld, with the father, Captain Anthony at the head of the family.

Frederick was born into slavery in 1818 in Tuckahoe, Maryland. His mother was a black slave named Harriet Bailey, and his father was a white slave owner. Frederick was separated from his mother at a very young age, before he knew Harriet as his mother. She would travel about four or five times to see him at night. She would lie down with him at night, but was gone long before he awakened in the morning. When Frederick was about seven years old, Harriet passed away, and Frederick was not allowed to be present at her funeral. Frederick continued to live under the power of his master, Captain Anthony, along with other slaves. Anthony was a cruel master, who often whipped his slaves. The slaves would sing songs of freedom at night to help ease the pain of oppression.

Frederick was sold at a young age to another slave owner by the name of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Colonel Lloyd was an unbelievably wealthy slave owner in Maryland, owning three or four hundred slaves on his home plantation and many more on his other farms. Despite his wealth, his slaves received very little food and clothing. Colonel Lloyd was much more brutal to Frederick than Anthony. "I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered little from any thing else than hunger and cold." (Douglass fifty-six) Frederick was able to leave his plantation when he was about eight years old. "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." (Douglass forty-five) He attributes his good fortune to G-d, saying that even at the lowest points of his life as a slave; he would be urged on by his faith in G-d. Out of all the slave children on the Great House Farm, Douglass is chosen to go live in Baltimore. He is sent to live with Hugh Auld, the brother of Captain Thomas Auld. The three days leading up to his move to Baltimore is considered the happiest days of his life.

When he arrives in Baltimore, he is greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Auld, along with their son, Thomas. For the first time in his life, Frederick encounters something in a white slave owner that he has never seen before- kindness. Sophia Auld spent time with Frederick teaching him to read, before Mr. Auld forbid her to do so anymore. She becomes cold-hearted and vile. "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." (Douglass forty-six) Sophia's husband tells her that a slave knowing how to read can be dangerous to them. Frederick takes what he had learned from Sophia, and gains outside knowledge of how to read. He succeeds, and reads whenever he has the opportunity to do so.

In 1833, Frederick goes to live with a man by the name of Edward Covey for a year, who is known to be very cruel to blacks. For the first six months with Covey, Frederick is beaten regularly. "I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!" (Douglass seventy-three) Frederick hits a low point in his life when he no longer wishes to read, think, or even live. He describes himself as having been transformed from a man into a brute.

One day, when Frederick and three other slaves are fanning the wheat, Frederick falls to the ground from exhaustion, and is beaten by Covey. Frederick manages to escape to his true master's house, but is commanded to go back. When he arrives back at Covey's farm, he is beaten yet again. Frederick escapes to the cornfield, and meets an old slave named Sandy Jenkins. Sandy is very superstitious, and advices Frederick to carry a root over his right shoulder so that he will not be beaten. He does so, and when faced with Covey, he is not beaten. This is a great turning point for Frederick. He now considers himself as a man.

Douglass goes to work for Mr. William Freeland, a fair and respectable slaveholder who is devoid of religious pretensions. He enjoys beating his slaves and even considers the whippings his religious duty. Frederick is able to gather the slaves and teach them to read and write. This was known as Sabbath School, because it met on Sundays. While working for Freeland, his uncle, Henry Bailey, refuses to be tied up and whipped, so he and the other slaves are taken to Easton Jail. Frederick is released days later and sent back to live with Hugh Auld. He is sent to Baltimore years later, allowing him to easily plan an escape. Frederick is forced to pay Master Hugh his earnings of the week, and gets little reward for doing so. He gets a job at a shipyard to earn more money for Hugh, making him very happy. This allows Frederick to escape. He does not speak of the details of his escape so that other slaves had a chance for freedom as well. Frederick makes his way to New York, and later to Bedford, Massachusetts. Frederick Bailey changes his name to Frederick Johnson, and later to Frederick Douglass. He marries a free black woman named Anna, and becomes one of the foremost figures of the abolitionist movement.

This was an amazing novel, with strong representation. It is terrible that one man is considered superior to another just by the color of his skin. Douglass showed his strong endurance by his survival as a slave, and escaping to freedom. Aside from some minor details, this autobiography was very well written and extremely uplifting. The idea of his escape from bondage was inspiring as that he can manage to be so tolerant and gracious even after suffering through a tough life. Even through the harshest times of bondage, freedom and humanity lurks within us all.