Life

Frederick Douglass, whose birth name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, was born in February 1818. His exact birthday in unknown because slaves at the time were forbidden from knowing their date of birth.  Douglass was a revolutionary in his era, suffering through the horrors of slavery and exposing a pre-Civil War United States to his first person accounts of life as a slave.  Frederick Douglass’ super human characteristics like his iron will motivate him to a path of action.   He rebelled against the cruelty forced upon him and took a stand not only for himself but for every other enslaved African-American.  It was challenging and rare for physically abused and mentally broken down slaves to take action.  However, Frederick Douglass proved to be different, he found the strength and willpower to rise to action and expose Americans to the truths about slavery, regardless of the consequences.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in eastern Maryland and was immediately separated from his mother at childbirth.  Douglass served his first years in the household of Colonel Lloyd, a rich, brutal and unforgiving plantation owner.  The Colonel employed a superintendent named Captain Anthony who took joy in making life miserable for slaves.  Douglass experienced punishments like whippings numerous times at a young age, both personally and as a witness.   While a young child, however, Douglass avoided the backbreaking labor of working in the fields and at age eight was sent to live with Hugh Auld in Baltimore as a servant.  Douglass did not fear being forced to travel the road since all ties to his family were cut, and instead he saw Baltimore as a place for new opportunity in a hopefully healthier environment.

Douglass arrived in Baltimore on a Sunday morning, greeted by his new owners Hugh Auld, his wife Sophia and their son Thomas.  Douglass immediately noticed something different about Sophia Auld.  Unlike other slave holding women of her time, she treated Douglass with kindness and respect.  Mrs. Auld eventually even helped Douglass pursue his passion by teaching him the alphabet and small words.  Unfortunately Hugh Auld discovered his wife’s tutoring sessions and demanded they stop, and Douglass overheard Hugh Auld telling his wife the broadly accepted theory that education corrupts slaves.  This enlightened Douglass as to why slaveholders keep their slaves uneducated and thus ignorant of the terrible life they were forced to live.  Douglass thus developed a plan to pursue education and escape his slavery.

Frederick Douglass, desperate to learn to read and write, found rations of bread to give to poor local boys in exchange for reading lessons.  Remarkably, he learned how to read, and stumbled across a book called The Columbian Orator. The book, a collection of political essays, poems, and dialogues, included a dialogue resulting in a slave convincing his master to free him.  This story of human rights and equality that had a strong influence on Douglass.  Unfortunately for Douglass he paid a price after the book enlightened him of the unfairness and cruelty that constituted his life.  Suicidal and emotionally crippled, Douglass still managed to teach himself to write by watching ship workers draw letters on the boat yard.  With practice Douglass soon challenged the local boys who taught him how to read all kinds of writing games.  Meanwhile Hugh and Thomas Auld had a disagreement and Hugh was punished when Thomas Auld reclaimed Douglass.

In March 1832, Douglass arrived at the household of his new master Thomas Auld.  Douglass was given meager amounts of food and had to steal from neighbors to survive.  Douglas’s new master Thomas Auld had a very inconsistent temper, and justified his unfair treatment of Douglass through his religion.  After Douglass repeatedly released Thomas Auld’s horses so he could escape the house for a break, Auld figured out his routine and loaned Douglass to Ed Covey, a notorious and infamous slave breaker.  Douglass was soon mentally exhausted by the backbreaking field labor and frequent punishments on Covey’s farm.  After fleeing Covey’s farm to avoid more punishment, Douglass met a man named Sandy Jenkins.  Jenkins and his wife took pity on Douglass and gave him what they claimed was a magical root.  Douglass understandably was skeptical about this root.  The next day when Douglass returned to Covey’s farm, he was attacked by Covey but for the first time in Douglass’ if he took action and fought back.  After this experience, Covey decided to never lay a finger on Douglass again.

After the fight, Douglass regained his fire and spirit.  On Christmas day he was sent to live with William Freeland, who also had temper problems, but treated his slaves somewhat fairly.  It did not take long for Douglass’s strong character to win over the other slaves on Freeland’s farm.  Within a year Douglass planned an escape with Henry and John Harris, Henry Bailey and Charles Roberts. Unfortunately, the plan of escape was foiled when Douglass’ crew was betrayed by one of their fellow workers on the farm.  Douglass was jailed as the leader of the escape plan.

When Douglass finished his jail time he was sent back to live with Hugh Auld.  Earning a weekly revenue of three dollars, he was able to apprentice as a ship builder and experience some of the responsibilities of a free man.  Hugh Auld collected all of Douglass’ revenues, which greatly angered Douglass.  Soon Douglass only turned over portions of his pay to Auld.  Craving freedom now more than ever, Douglass makes a successful escape attempt to New York, where he met a kind and very generous man named David Ruggles.  Ruggles advised Douglass to move to a safer city for escaped slaves.  Douglass moved to Bedford, Massachusetts and established a new life working as a caulker.

Douglass soon married his fiancé, Anna Murray, who he had met earlier while working at a shipyard in Baltimore.   Frederick Douglass lives his new free life to the fullest.  He joined the anti- slavery abolitionist movement and became one of its most important leaders through his exceptional speaking and writing skills.  He writing included several influential autobiographies documenting his terrible slavery experiences.

Douglass was a remarkable man.  His never ending will power backed by his strong personality pushed him to take action and overcome cruelties forced upon him.  His actions and the bravery he repeatedly demonstrated through his writings and speeches are recognized as playing an important role to advance the abolitionist cause and abolish the terrible mental and physical experience known as slavery.

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