Few Americans have had as much of an impact on this nation as Frederick Douglass. Born on a plantation, he later escaped slavery and helped others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In time he became a bestselling author, an outspoken newspaper editor, a brilliant orator, a tireless abolitionist, and a brave civil rights leader. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the years leading up to the Civil War, and when war broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House for counsel and advice.
Frederick Douglass for Kids follows the footsteps of this American hero, from his birth into slavery to his becoming a friend and confidant of presidents and the leading African American of his day. And to better appreciate Douglass and his times, readers will form a debating club, cook a meal similar to the one Douglass shared with John Brown, make a civil war haversack, participate in a microlending program, and more. This valuable resource also includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and Web resources for further study.
About the Author
Nancy I. Sanders is the author of many books, including America’s Black Founders and A Kid’s Guide to African American History
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Frederick Douglass for Kids
His Life and Times with 21 Activities
By Nancy I. Sanders
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2012 Nancy I. Sanders
All rights reserved.
"FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS AGO ..."
A Life Enslaved
Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, about 12 miles from Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland. He was born into slavery and grew up an innocent victim of its hardships. The institution of slavery separated mothers from their children, as Frederick experienced when his mother was sent to work on a plantation far from her infant son. The system of slavery kept records for purposes of inventory, profit, and loss. Records were often kept listing the names of those who were enslaved along with a list of the names of the horses on the plantation.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave, yet the journey he embarked upon took a road not traveled by many. He discovered literacy, the key he used to unlock freedom's door, and flung wide that door to step into manhood. Bursting onto a scene ripe with political tension and strife over the "slave issue," Douglass raised his newfound voice and challenged America.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was the name given to him by his mother Harriet, whose shadow was a dim comfort to him during his earliest years. Not long after Frederick was born, she was sent to work on a farm 12 miles from the cabin where he was left behind with his grandmother. Some of his earliest memories included the warmth of feeling his mother's embrace while he slept during the night. His mother walked 12 miles after a full day of hard labor to be close to her son for those few brief moments. She would then walk back those same 12 miles to return before sunrise to avoid punishment for being late to her work.
Her nighttime visits were few, given the difficulty of her situation. One day young Frederick learned that his mother had died from illness. He was about seven years old at the time.
A Log Cabin Home
The cabin where Frederick was born, took his first steps, and learned to walk was the cabin of his grandparents, Betsey and Isaac Bailey. As was common among slaveholders, small children were left with the elderly, those too old to work in the field. A number of young children, most of them probably Frederick's cousins, lived in the Bailey cabin, too.
It was a log cabin built in an impoverished district known as Tuckahoe, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Situated in the woods near Tuckahoe Creek, the cabin was built of clay, wood, and straw. "At a distance," Frederick said, "it resembled — though it was much smaller, less commodious and less substantial — the cabins erected in the western states by the first settlers."
Frederick loved his grandmother dearly. Her arms comforted him when he fell, and her nurturing care fashioned his earliest memories. She tenderly shielded him from the knowledge that he was a slave as long as she could.
Frederick respected his grandmother, for she was truly a remarkable woman. She was a good nurse and knew how to treat most any ailment. These were valued skills in that area, for the region of Tuckahoe, with its low marshes, swamps, and mosquitoes, was known by its residents for its fever and ague, an illness marked with fits of shaking or shivering.
Betsey Bailey was an excellent fisherwoman. Her skills at net-making as well as fishing for shad and herring were known around the region. Frederick remembered seeing her stand for hours in the water up to her waist, fishing with a net using a method known as seine-hauling. For this technique, she placed the net in the water so it surrounded the fish, then drew it up by pulling a rope that was looped along its edge. The fish were gathered together as the net formed a bag around them.
Frederick's grandmother was also an expert gardener. Her methods of planting and growing sweet potatoes made her a local legend. People from neighboring areas sent for her to place their stash of seedling potatoes into the ground. During the following harvest, she was rewarded for her efforts with gifts and a share of the bountiful crop.
Frederick recalled the tender care his "Grandmother Betty" gave the seedling sweet potatoes to keep them over the winter for next year's planting. Each fall, before the cold chill of frost could damage their fragile roots, she took the seedlings inside her cabin and buried them under the floor near the fireplace.
Despite the simple memories of childhood spent under his grandmother's loving care, the shadow of slavery darkened every corner of the small rustic cabin where Frederick spent his early years. His grandmother frequently spoke with a hushed fear of "Old Master." Gradually, with an awakening of his young years, Frederick learned that his grandparents' cabin belonged to "Old Master," that the woods and lot he played in belonged to "Old Master," and that even he, his grandmother, and his cousins were somehow the property of this mysterious person. Frederick later recalled, "Thus early did clouds and shadows begin to fall upon my path."
He never knew who his father was, but as a child Frederick heard whispers that it was "Old Master." His mother died before she could reveal the true identity to Frederick, but one thing was known for certain: his father was white. Once again, the institution of slavery had made its mark on Frederick. He stated realistically, "Slavery had no recognition of fathers, as none of families. That the mother was a slave was enough for its deadly purpose. By its law the child followed the condition of its mother." Brothers with the same father could be separated in life — one brother as the slave owner and the other brother as the slave. Many children born thus into the slave quarters were so fair-skinned that they looked as white as their brothers and sisters living in the master's house on the plantation. Yet they remained enslaved because the law stated that any child whose mother was a slave remained a slave as well.
Chief Clerk and Butler
Eventually, Frederick came to learn that his owner was Captain Aaron Anthony, the chief clerk and butler on an immense plantation owned by Colonel Lloyd, a plantation that was one of the most prosperous in the state of Maryland. The plantation was so large that it took over a thousand enslaved workers to maintain it. The vast property was made up of various farms with different overseers, and all these overseers answered to Captain Anthony. The captain carried the keys to Colonel Lloyd's storehouses, measured out the allowances allotted to every slave at the end of each month, oversaw all the goods brought onto the plantation, distributed the raw materials to the craftsmen, and shipped out the grain and tobacco and other produce grown on the plantation. Captain Anthony also oversaw the coopers' shop, wheelwrights' shop, blacksmiths' shop, and shoemakers' shop.
Captain Anthony had two sons and a daughter named Lucretia. His daughter had married Thomas Auld by the time Frederick was aware of the family. The captain, as he was commonly known because of his experience sailing on Chesapeake Bay, owned about 30 slaves and three farms in Tuckahoe. He lived with his family in a house on Colonel Lloyd's plantation, where he could conveniently command his post as the chief clerk and butler of the vast empire.
A Long Journey
One warm summer day, a day Frederick could never forget, his grandmother took him by the hand and led him into the woods. He could sense something was wrong, but he did not understand why deep sorrow seemed to weigh down his grandmother's shoulders like a dark cloak too heavy to bear. Mile after mile, he followed along, at times frightened by the shapes and shadows of the stumps and trees in the woods. Imagining them to be monsters eager to eat him, he clung more tightly to his grandmother's hand. At times, she toted him on her shoulders, providing a short rest for his tired legs. Finally, their long journey came to an end. Emerging from the woods, Frederick found himself surrounded by a group of children in the midst of unfamiliar buildings and houses, with men and women working in nearby fields.
Overcome with sadness, his grandmother disappeared while Frederick was being introduced to his new acquaintances, many of them his slightly older cousins. Even his brother, Perry, and sisters Sarah and Eliza were there. He had heard of them but had never met them. When Frederick turned around and discovered his grandmother was gone, he wept inconsolably, eventually sobbing himself to sleep that night. The bitter sadness that filled his heart that day haunted him for the rest of his life and became a seedbed of protest against this terrible system called slavery that held him and his loved ones in its horrible grasp.
A New Chapter in Life
Like the other children who lived in his new home at Captain Anthony's, Frederick was given only a shirt to wear. It was made of rough sackcloth and came down to his knees. The freezing days of Maryland winters were unbearable, but the nights were even worse. Frederick was always cold, and often after everyone else had gone to bed, he snuck from the kitchen closet he slept in and crawled inside a burlap sack that was used to carry corn.
His stomach always gnawed at him with hunger because there was never enough food to eat. Frederick remembers fighting with the dog, Old Nep, over crumbs that fell from the table where the cook prepared food for the master's family. Dipping a piece of bread into the pot of water that boiled a piece of meat was considered a luxury.
During these days of extreme hunger and harsh exposure, however, Frederick discovered a friend in Mrs. Lucretia, Captain Anthony's married daughter. Frederick learned that if he stood outside Mrs. Lucretia's window and sang a song when he was overcome with hunger, she would give him a piece of bread. This simple act of kindness toward him, as well as her occasional kindness toward others, meant a great deal.
Still quite young, Frederick was not yet required to do heavy work. He was assigned small tasks such as carrying firewood, bringing in the cows, or running errands.
Yet life on a large plantation swirled around Frederick. Overseers drove the field workers. House slaves served Captain Anthony. Men, women, and children worked to supply the needs of the plantation in never-ending ways.
The things young Frederick saw and heard filled his heart with sorrow and fear. Every day, he watched other slaves be whipped or treated with brutality and cruelty. He witnessed what happened to the older children and adults who were enslaved. He knew that one day he would grow to be as old as the other slaves. Deep inside, he knew that his time of reckoning would come, and it filled him with dread.
Colonel Lloyd's Plantation
Frederick lived in Captain Anthony's house, which was situated at one end of a large green, or field. Commanding the view of the green was the colonel's stately mansion, known to everyone on the plantation as the "Great House." This was where Colonel Lloyd, Captain Anthony's employer, lived with his family, and it was a place of wealth and prominence. The Great House was the hub of the bustling and prosperous plantation.
Frederick recalled, "The road, or lane, from the gate to the great house, was richly paved with white pebbles from the beach, and, in its course, formed a complete circle around the beautiful lawn. Carriages going in and retiring from the great house made the circuit of the lawn, and their passengers were permitted to behold a scene of almost Eden-like beauty."
The Great House was a large wooden mansion, painted white, with stately columns and wings built on its sides. It was surrounded by a number of buildings, each bustling with activity. "There were kitchens," Frederick remembered, "wash-houses, dairies, summer-house, greenhouses, hen-houses, turkey-houses, pigeon-houses, and arbors, of many sizes and devices, all neatly painted, and altogether interspersed with grand old trees, ornamental and primitive, which afforded delightful shade in summer, and imparted to the scene a high degree of stately beauty."
Colonel Lloyd was a man of immense riches. All the bounties of local game, fish, and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay; vegetables and fruits from carefully tended gardens; and delicacies transported from overseas filled his tables. His family dressed in the finest fashions of the day and entertained dignitaries as well as other wealthy families. The Lloyd plantation was held in high esteem.
Leaving the Plantation Behind
When Frederick was about seven years old, his life on Colonel Lloyd's plantation suddenly came to an end. He was told that his old master, Captain Anthony, had decided to send Frederick to Baltimore, Maryland. He would live with Hugh Auld, the brother of Mrs. Lucretia's husband.
Frederick's young heart filled with joy. The next three days were remembered as some of the happiest of his life. He had heard stories of Baltimore and the fine houses that people lived in. Ever since his mother had died, he had felt lost and lonely. Even though he hadn't seen her much, he still missed his mother's warm arms wrapped around him and knowing that someone loved him as her very own. Now he hoped that he would somehow find a home and the comforts of a family, even if he were only to be serving its members as their slave.
For three days young Frederick was sent down to the creek to scrub away the filth and mange, or deadened skin, that he had gotten from his crude living conditions. Mrs. Lucretia promised him his own pair of trousers if he scrubbed himself clean. This seemed like a fine prize indeed.
Saturday finally arrived and Frederick was put on board a sloop, or small boat, heading for Baltimore. Sailing down the Miles River and away from Colonel Lloyd's plantation, Frederick took one last look at the only home he had ever known. In his heart, he said what he hoped would be a final good-bye.
Walking to the bow at the front of the ship, Frederick looked toward Baltimore with dreams of a happy future filling his every breath. For the rest of the trip, he didn't look back.
A New Home in Baltimore
Early Sunday morning, the sloop arrived at Smith's Wharf in Baltimore. After unloading a flock of sheep, Frederick accompanied one of the sailors to deliver the sheep to the slaughterhouse. From there, the sailor took Frederick to his new home, the residence of Hugh and Sophia Auld.
The Auld's house was located on Alliciana Street in an area known as Fell's Point, near one of the shipyards in Baltimore. It was here that Frederick would spend the next seven years of his boyhood.
Both Hugh and Sophia were at home when young Frederick arrived. They had a young son named Thomas and introduced him to "Freddy," as they called their new house member. It would be Frederick's duty to take care of Thomas and help watch the little boy.
During the next few years in Baltimore, Frederick learned the power that knowledge offered to those who could read and write. These lessons influenced him and shaped him into the great leader he would one day become.
As Simple as A B C
It all started innocently enough. Frederick's new owner, Sophia, taught young Frederick to read the letters of the alphabet shortly after he arrived in their home. Seeing how quickly he learned, she then began to teach him how to group three or four letters together to spell words. During one of these simple spelling lessons the master of the house, Hugh Auld, walked into the room. Seeing his wife teaching a slave to read, he insisted that the lessons stop at once.
If she taught Frederick to read, Hugh explained passionately, "There would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master." Hugh also reminded his wife that it was against the law to teach a slave to read.
In that very instant, Frederick Douglass realized the power of reading and writing. "From that moment," he recalled, "I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom." From that point in time, with a willpower and focus that characterized many of his actions throughout the rest of his life, young Frederick resolved to take determined steps down that path toward liberty.
Frederick now had a plan. Forbidden to read in the Auld home, he enlisted the poor white children in his Baltimore neighborhood as his personal tutors.
Each time Frederick was sent on an errand through the streets of Fell's Point, he was sure to carry a book and morsels of bread with him. Meeting his hungry friends in hidden alleyways, Frederick quickly exchanged the bread for what he hungered for most of all: reading lessons.
As he grew older, bonds of friendship deepened between Frederick and his white companions. Some days the boys talked about slavery, Frederick's biggest concern by the time he was about 12 years old. "I would sometimes say to them, 'I wished I could be as free as they would be when they got to be men.' ... These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free."
Even though Frederick could read, he didn't yet know how to write. He got the idea to learn how to write from his frequent visits to Durgin and Bailey's shipyard. Watching the carpenters saw the wood, Frederick observed how they wrote letters on each piece to designate its eventual position on the ship they were building. Frederick soon learned to copy and write his first four letters: L for larboard, S for starboard, F for forward, and A for aft.
"After that," Frederick remembered, "when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he." This was sure to bring the response, "I don't believe you. Let me see you try it," upon which Frederick would write the four letters he knew. His friend then wrote more letters of the alphabet, and Frederick eventually learned them all.
Excerpted from Frederick Douglass for Kids by Nancy I. Sanders. Copyright © 2012 Nancy I. Sanders. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 "Four Score and Seven Years Ago ..." A Life Enslaved,
2 "Our Fathers Brought Forth on This Continent ...",
3 "A New Nation Conceived in Liberty ..." A Brand New Life,
4 "Dedicated to the Proposition That All Men Are Created Equal ..." New Heights of Achievement,
5 "Now We Are Engaged in a Great Civil War ...",
6 "That This Nation, Under God, Shall Have a New Birth of Freedom ..." The Nation's New Hour,
7 "And That Government of the People, by the People, for the People, Shall Not Perish from the Earth" To Honor a Great Man,
Websites to Explore,
Places to Visit,
Books to Read,
What People are Saying About This
"Thoughtful and well-researched . . . a thorough and involving examination of a great man, equally suited to individual immersion and classroom collaboration." —Booklist
"Classrooms are closed for the summer but teachers take note: this is an excellent educational tool for next year that will fit right into your curriculums and won’t put students to sleep." —"Letter Blocks" Barnes & Noble parenting and educators blog
"Written for children ages nine and up to easily read and understand, Frederick Douglass is both well-researched and succinct all at once." —The Pioneer Woman
"In the hands of educators, this book will be a valuable tool on the life and times of a great orator. However, it is written at a fairly high level, so the title slightly misrepresents the book’s intended audience. For elementary grade children needing sources for a report, this would not be the title of choice; far too much reading is required to draw out the facts relevant for that purpose. Those interested in the subject, however, will appreciate the insightful look at this remarkable individual." —School Library Journal
"The 21 activities in the book, such as forming a debate club, taking action in the current world slave market and making a carpet bag, are among the best I’ve seen in any of the Chicago Review Press books I’ve read...Frederick Douglas for Kids: The Life and Times with 21 Activities is an invaluable resource and a spectacular book that should be read by every American child (and parent too)." —Good Reads with Ronna