My Bondage And My Freedom ... By Frederick Douglass. With An Introduction. By Dr. James M'Cune Smith.

My Bondage And My Freedom ... By Frederick Douglass. With An Introduction. By Dr. James M'Cune Smith.

by Frederick Douglass

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Overview

Ex-slave Frederick Douglass's second autobiography-written after ten years of reflection following his legal emancipation in 1846 and his break with his mentor William Lloyd Garrison-catapulted Douglass into the international spotlight as the foremost spokesman for American blacks, both freed and slave. Written during his celebrated career as a speaker and newspaper editor, My Bondage and My Freedom reveals the author of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) grown more mature, forceful, analytical, and complex with a deepened commitment to the fight for equal rights and liberties.

Edited with an Introduction and Notes by John David Smith

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781425551650
Publisher: University of Michigan Library
Publication date: 09/13/2006
Pages: 468
Product dimensions: 0.94(w) x 6.14(h) x 9.21(d)

About the Author

Frederick Douglass, an outspoken abolitionist, was born into slavery in 1818 and, after his escape in 1838, repeatedly risked his own freedom as an antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher.

John David Smith is Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Masters in Public History Program at North Carolina State University.

Hometown:

Tuckahoe, Maryland

Date of Birth:

1818

Date of Death:

February 20, 1895

Place of Death:

Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Life as a Slave.

The Author's Childhood.

PLACE OF BIRTH -- CHARACTER OF THE DISTRICT -- TUCKAHOE -- ORIGIN OF THE NAME -- CHOPTANK RIVER -- TIME OF BIRTH -- GENEALOGICAL TREES -- MODE OF COUNTING TIME -- NAMES OF GRANDPARENTS -- THEIR POSITION -- GRANDMOTHER ESPECIALLY ESTEEMED -- "BORN TO GOOD LUCK" -- SWEET POTATOES -- SUPERSTITION -- THE LOG CABIN -- ITS CHARMS -- SEPARATING CHILDREN -- AUTHOR'S AUNTS -- THEIR NAMES -- FIRST KNOWLEDGE OF BEING A SLAVE -- "OLD MASTER" -- GRIEFS AND JOYS OF CHILDHOOD -- COMPARATIVE HAPPINESS OF THE SLAVE-BOY AND THE SON OF A SLAVEHOLDER.

In Talbot county, Eastern Shore, Maryland, near Easton, the county town of that county, there is a small district of country, thinly populated, and remarkable for nothing that I know of more than for the worn-out, sandy, desert-like appearance of its soil, the general dilapidation of its farms and fences, the indigent and spiritless character of its inhabitants, and the prevalence of ague and fever.

The name of this singularly unpromising and truly famine stricken district is Tuckahoe, a name well known to all Marylanders, black and white. It was given to this section of country probably, at the first, merely in derision; or it may possibly have been applied to it, as I have heard, because some one of its earlier inhabitants had been guilty of the petty meanness of stealing a hoe -- or taking a hoe -- that did not belong to him. Eastern Shore men usually pronounce the word took, as tuck; Took-a-hoe, therefore, is, in Maryland parlance, Tuckahoe. But, whatever may have been its origin -- and about this I will not be positive -- that name has stuck to the districtin question; and it is seldom mentioned but with contempt and derision, on account of the barrenness of its soil, and the ignorance, indolence, and poverty of its people. Decay and ruin are everywhere visible, and the thin population of the place would have quitted it long ago, but for the Choptank river, which runs through it, from which they take abundance of shad and herring, and plenty of ague and fever.

It was in this dull, flat, and unthrifty district, or neighborhood, surrounded by a white population of the lowest order, indolent and drunken to a proverb, and among slaves, who seemed to ask, "Oh! what's the use?" every time they lifted a hoe, that I -- without any fault of mine -- was born, and spent the first years of my childhood.

The reader will pardon so much about the place of my birth, on the score that it is always a fact of some importance to know where a man is born, if, indeed, it be important to know anything about him. In regard to the time of my birth, I cannot be as definite as I have been respecting the place. Nor, indeed, can I impart much knowledge concerning my parents. Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves. A person of some consequence here in the north, sometimes designated father, is literally abolished in slave law and slave practice. It is only once in a while that an exception is found to this statement. I never met with a slave who could tell me how old he was. Few slave-mothers know anything of the months of the year, nor of the days of the month. They keep no family records, with marriages, births, and deaths. They measure the ages of their children by spring time, winter time, harvest time, planting time, and the like; but these soon become undistinguishable and forgotten. Like other slaves, I cannot tell how old I am. This destitution was among my earliest troubles. I learned when I grew up, that my master -- and this is the case with masters generally -- allowed no questions to be put to him, by which a slave might learn his age. Such questions are deemed evidence of impatience, and even of impudent curiosity. From certain events, however, the dates of which I have since learned, I suppose myself to have been born about the year 1817.

The first experience of life with me that I now remember -- and I remember it but hazily -- began in the family of my grandmother and grandfather, Betsey and Isaac Baily. They were quite advanced in life, and had long lived on the spot where they then resided. They were considered old settlers in the neighborhood and, from certain circumstances, I infer that my grandmother, especially, was held in high esteem, far higher than is the lot of most colored persons in the slave states. She was a good nurse, and a capital hand at making nets for catching shad and herring; and these nets were in great demand, not only in Tuckahoe, but at Denton and Hillsboro, neighboring villages. She was not only good at making the nets, but was also somewhat famous for her good fortune in taking the fishes referred to. I have known her to be in the water half the day. Grandmother was likewise more provident than most of her neighbors in the preservation of seedling sweet potatoes, and it happened to her -- as it will happen to any careful and thrifty person residing in an ignorant and improvident community -- to enjoy the reputation of having been born to "good luck." Her "good luck" was owing to the exceeding care which she took in preventing the succulent root from getting bruised in the digging, and in placing it beyond the reach of frost, by actually burying it under the hearth of her cabin during the winter months. In the time of planting sweet potatoes, "Grandmother Betty," as she was familiarly called, was sent for in all directions, simply to place the seedling potatoes in the hills; for superstition had it, that if "Grandmamma Betty but touches them at planting, they will be sure to grow and flourish." This high reputation was full of advantage to her, and to the children around her. Though Tuckahoe had but few of the good things of life, yet of such as it did possess grandmother got a full share, in the way of presents. If good potato crops came after her planting, she was not forgotten by those for whom she planted; and as she was remembered by others, so she remembered the hungry little ones around her.

The dwelling of my grandmother and grandfather had few pretensions. It was a log hut, or cabin, built of clay, wood, and straw. At a distance it resembled -- though it was much smaller, less commodious and less substantial -- the cabins erected in the western states by the first settlers. To my child's eye, however, it was a noble structure, admirably adapted to promote the comforts and conveniences of its inmates. A few rough, Virginia fence-rails, flung loosely over the rafters above, answered the triple purpose of floors, ceilings, and bedsteads. To be sure, this upper apartment was reached only by a ladder -- but what in the world for climbing could be better than a ladder? To me, this ladder was really a high invention, and possessed a sort of charm as I played with delight upon the rounds of it. In this little hut there was a large family of children: I dare not say how many. My grandmother -- whether because too old for field service, or because she had so faithfully discharged the duties of her station in early life, I know not -- enjoyed the high privilege of living in a cabin, separate from the quarter, with no other burden than her own support, and the necessary care of the little children, imposed. She evidently esteemed it a great fortune to live so. The children were not her own, but her grandchildren -- the children of her daughters. She took delight in having them around her, and in attending to their few wants. The practice of separating children from their mothers, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution.

Most of the children, however, in this instance, being the children of my grandmother's daughters, the notions of family, and the reciprocal duties and benefits of the relation, had a better chance of being understood than where children are placed -- as they often are -- in the hands of strangers, who have no care for them, apart from the wishes of their masters. The daughters of my grandmother were five in number. Their names were JENNY, ESTHER, MILLY, PRISCILLA, and HARRIET. The daughter last named was my mother, of whom the reader shall learn more by-and by.

Living here, with my dear old grandmother and grandfather, it was a long time before I knew myself to be a slave. I knew many other things before I knew that. Grandmother and grandfather were the greatest people in the world to me; and being with them so snugly in their own little cabin -- I supposed it be their own -- knowing no higher authority over me or the other children than the authority of grandmamma, for a time there was nothing to disturb me; but, as I grew larger and older, I learned by degrees the sad fact, that the "little hut," and the lot on which it stood, belonged not to my dear old grandparents, but to some person who lived a great distance off, and who was called, by grandmother, "OLD MASTER." I further learned the sadder fact, that not only the house and lot, but that grandmother herself, (grandfather was free,) and all the little children around her, belonged to this mysterious personage, called by grandmother, with every mark of reverence, "Old Master." Thus early did clouds and shadows begin to fall upon my path. Once on the track -- troubles never come singly -- I was not long in finding out another fact, still more grievous to my childish heart. I was told that this "old master," whose name seemed ever to be mentioned with fear and shuddering, only allowed the children to live with grandmother for a limited time, and that in fact as soon as they were big enough, they were promptly taken away, to live with the said "old master." These were distressing revelations indeed; and though I was quite too young to comprehend the full import of the intelligence, and mostly spent my childhood days in gleesome sports with the other children, a shade of disquiet rested upon me.

The absolute power of this distant "old master" had touched my young spirit with but the point of its cold, cruel iron, and left me something to brood over after the play and in moments of repose. Grandmammy was, indeed, at that time, all the world to me; and the thought of being separated from her, in any considerable time, was more than an unwelcome intruder. It was intolerable.

Children have their sorrows as well as men and women; and it would be well to remember this in our dealings with them. SLAVE-children are children, and prove no exceptions to the general rule. The liability to be separated from my grandmother, seldom or never to see her again, haunted me. I dreaded the thought of going to live with that mysterious "old master," whose name I never heard mentioned with affection, but always with fear. I look back to this as among the heaviest of my childhood's sorrows. My grandmother! my grandmother! and the little hut, and the joyous circle under her care, but especially she, who made us sorry when she left us but for an hour, and glad on her return -- how could I leave her and the good old home?

But the sorrows of childhood, like the pleasures of after life, are transient. It is not even within the power of slavery to write indelible sorrow, at a single dash, over the heart of a child.

The tear down childhood's cheek that flows,

Is like the dew-drop on the rose --

When next the summer breeze comes by,

And waves the bush -- the flower is dry.

There is, after all, but little difference in the measure of contentment felt by the slave-child neglected and the slaveholder's child cared for and petted. The spirit of the All Just mercifully holds the balance for the young.

The slaveholder, having nothing to fear from impotent childhood, easily affords to refrain from cruel inflictions; and if cold and hunger do not pierce the tender frame, the first seven or eight years of the slave-boy's life are about as full of sweet content as those of the most favored and petted white children of the slaveholder. The slave-boy escapes many troubles which befall and vex his white brother. He seldom has to listen to lectures on propriety of behavior, or on anything else. He is never chided for handling his little knife and fork improperly or awkwardly, for he uses none. He is never reprimanded for soiling the table-cloth, for he takes his meals on the clay floor. He never has the misfortune, in his games or sports, of soiling or tearing his clothes, for he has almost none to soil or tear. He is never expected to act like a nice little gentleman, for he is only a rude little slave. Thus, freed from all restraint, the slave-boy can be, in his life and conduct, a genuine boy, doing whatever his boyish nature suggests; enacting, by turns, all the strange antics and freaks of horses, dogs, pigs, and barn-door fowls, without in any manner compromising his dignity, or incurring reproach of any sort. He literally runs wild; has no pretty little verses to learn in the nursery; no nice little speeches to make for aunts, uncles, or cousins, to show how smart he is; and, if he can only manage to keep out of the way of the heavy feet and fists of the older slave boys, he may trot on, in his joyous and roguish tricks, as happy as any little heathen under the palm trees of Africa. To be sure, he is occasionally reminded, when he stumbles in the path of his master -- and this he early learns to avoid -- that he is eating his "white bread," and that he will be made to "see sights" by-and-by. The threat is soon forgotten; the shadow soon passes, and our sable boy continues to roll in the dust, or play in the mud, as bests suits him, and in the veriest freedom. If he feels uncomfortable, from mud or from dust, the coast is clear; he can plunge into the river or the pond, without the ceremony of undressing, or the fear of wetting his clothes; his little tow-linen shirt -- for that is all he has on -- is easily dried; and it needed ablution as much as did his skin. His food is of the coarsest kind, consisting for the most part of cornmeal mush, which often finds it way from the wooden tray to his mouth in an oyster shell. His days, when the weather is warm, are spent in the pure, open air, and in the bright sunshine. He always sleeps in airy apartments; he seldom has to take powders, or to be paid to swallow pretty little sugar-coated pills, to cleanse his blood, or to quicken his appetite. He eats no candies; gets no lumps of loaf sugar; always relishes his food; cries but little, for nobody cares for his crying; learns to esteem his bruises but slight, because others so esteem them. In a word, he is, for the most part of the first eight years of his life, a spirited, joyous uproarious, and happy boy, upon whom troubles fall only like water on a duck's back. And such a boy, so far as I can now remember, was the boy whose life in slavery I am now narrating.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five, by Frederick Douglass, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Northern District of New York.

Table of Contents

Editor's Preface1
Introduction5
Life as a Slave
Chapter I.The Author's Childhood
Place of Birth21
Character of the District21
Time of Birth--My Grandparents21
Character of My Grandmother23
The Log Cabin--Its Charms23
First Knowledge of Being a Slave24
Old Master--Griefs and Joys of Childhood25
Comparative Happiness of the Slave-Boy and His White Brother25
Chapter II.The Author Removed from His First Home
The Name "Old Master" a Terror29
Home Attractions--Dread of Being Removed from Tuckahoe30
The Journey to Col. Lloyd's Plantation31
Scene on Reaching Old Master's32
First Meeting with My Brothers and Sisters32
Departure of Grandmother--Author's Grief33
Chapter III.The Author's Parentage
Author's Father Shrouded in Mystery35
My Mother--Her Personal Appearance36
Her Situation--Visits to Her Boy37
Cruelty of "Aunt Katy"--Threatened Starvation38
My Mother's Interference39
Her Death39
Her Love of Knowledge40
Penalty for Having a White Father40
Chapter IV.A General Survey of the Slave Plantation
Slaveholding Cruelty Restrained by Public Opinion43
Isolation of Lloyd's Plantation44
Beyond the Reach of Public Opinion45
Religion and Politics Alike Excluded45
Natural and Artificial Charms of the Place46
The "Great House"47
Etiquette among Slaves49
The Comic Slave-Doctor50
Praying and Flogging50
Business of Old Master52
Sufferings from Hunger53
Jargon of the Plantation54
Family of Col. Lloyd--Mas' Daniel55
Family of Old Master--Social Position55
Chapter V.Gradual Initiation into the Mysteries of Slavery
Growing Acquaintance with Old Master--His Character57
Evils of Unrestrained Passion--A Man of Trouble58
Supposed Obtuseness of Slave-Children58
Brutal Outrage on My Aunt Milly by a Drunken Overseer59
Slaveholders' Impatience at Appeals Against Cruelty59
Wisdom of Appealing to Superiors60
Attempt to Break Up a Courtship62
Slavery Destroys All Incentives to a Virtuous Life62
A Harrowing Scene63
Chapter VI.Treatment of Slaves on Lloyd's Plantation
The Author's Early Reflections on Slavery65
Conclusions at Which he Arrived65
Presentiment of One Day Being a Freeman66
Combat Between an Overseer and a Slave-Woman67
Nelly's Noble Resistance68
Advantages of Resistance69
Mr. Sevier, the Brutal Overseer, and His Successors70
Allowance-Day on the Home Plantation70
The Singing of the Slaves No Proof of Contentment71
Food and Clothing of the Slaves73
Naked Children74
Nursing Children Carried to the Field75
Description of the Cowskin75
Manner of Making the Ash Cake--The Dinner Hour75
Contrast at the Great House77
Chapter VII.Life in the Great House
Comfort and Luxuries--Elaborate Expenditure79
Men and Maid Servants--Black Aristocracy81
Stable and Carriage House81
Deceptive Character of Slavery82
Slaves and Slaveholders Alike Unhappy82
Fretfulness and Capriciousness of Slaveholders82
Whipping of Old Barney by Col. Lloyd83
William Wilks, a Supposed Son of Col. Lloyd84
Curious Incident--Penalty of Telling the Truth86
Preference of Slaves for Rich Masters87
Chapter VIII.A Chapter of Horrors
Austin Gore--Sketch of His Character89
Absolute Power of Overseers90
Murder of Denby--How It Occurred91
How Gore Made Peace with Col. Lloyd92
Murder of a Slave-Girl by Mrs. Hicks93
No Laws for the Protection of Slaves Can Be Enforced95
Chapter IX.Personal Treatment of the Author
Miss Lucretia Auld--Her Kindness97
A Battle with "Ike," and Its Consequences98
Beams of Sunlight99
Suffering from Cold--How We Took Our Meals99
Orders to Prepare to Go to Baltimore--Extraordinary Cleansing100
Cousin Tom's Description of Baltimore101
The Journey102
Arrival at Baltimore103
Kindness of My New Mistress--Little Tommy103
A Turning Point in My History104
Chapter X.Life in Baltimore
City Annoyances--Plantation Regrets105
My Improved Condition105
Character of My New Master, Hugh Auld106
My Occupation--Increased Sensitiveness107
Commencement of Learning to Read--Why Discontinued108
Master Hugh's Exposition of the True Philosophy of Slavery108
Increased Determination to Learn109
Contrast between City and Plantation Slaves110
Mrs. Hamilton's Brutal Treatment of Her Slaves110
Chapter XI."A Change Came o'er the Spirit of my Dream."
Knowledge Acquired by Stealth113
My Mistress--Her Slaveholding Duties113
Deplorable Effects on Her Character114
How I Pursued My Education--My Tutors116
My Deliberations on the Character of Slavery116
The Columbian Orator and Its Lessons117
Speeches of Chatham, Sheridan, Pitt, and Fox118
Knowledge Ever Increasing--My Eyes Opened119
How I Pined for Liberty120
Dissatisfaction of My Poor Mistress120
Chapter XII.Religious Nature Awakened
Abolitionists Spoken of123
Eagerness to Know What the Word Meant123
The Enigma Solved--Turner's Insurrection125
First Awakened on the Subject of Religion125
My Friend Lawson--His Character and Occupation126
Comfort Derived from His Teaching126
New Hopes and Aspirations127
The Irishmen on the Wharf--Their Sympathy128
How I Learned to Write128
Chapter XIII.The Vicissitudes of Slave Life
Death of Young Master Richard131
Author's Presence Required at the Division of Old Master's Property132
Attachment of Slaves to Their Homes133
Sad Prospects and Grief133
General Dread of Master Andrew--His Cruelty134
Return to Baltimore--Death of Mistress Lucretia135
My Poor Old Grandmother--Her Sad Fate136
Second Marriage of Master Thomas137
Again Removed from Master Hugh's137
Regrets at Leaving Baltimore138
A Plan of Escape Entertained139
Chapter XIV.Experience in St. Michael's
The Village and Its Inhabitants141
Meteoric Phenomena--Author's Impressions141
Character of My New Master and Mistress142
Allowance of Food--Sufferings from Hunger143
Stealing and Its Vindication144
A New Profession of Faith145
Morality of Free Society Has No Application to Slave Society145
Southern Camp-Meeting--Master Thomas Professes Conversion147
Hopes and Suspicions148
The Result--Faith and Works Entirely at Variance148
No More Meal Brought from the Mill--Methodist Preachers149
Their Utter Disregard of the Slaves--An Exception150
A Sabbath School Instituted151
How Broken Up and by Whom152
Cruel Treatment of Cousin Henny by Master Thomas152
Differences with Master Thomas, and the Consequences153
Edward Covey--His Character154
Chapter XV.Covey, the Negro Breaker
Journey to My New Master's155
Meditations by the Way155
View of Covey's Residence--The Family156
Awkwardness as a Field Hand157
First Adventure at Ox Driving157
Unruly Animals--Hair-Breadth Escapes159
Oxen and Men--Points of Similarity160
Sent Back to the Woods161
Covey's Manner of Proceeding to Whip161
His Cunning and Trickery--Severe Labor162
Family Worship163
Shocking Contempt for Chastity--An Illustration164
Author Broken Down--His Only Leisure Time165
Freedom of the Ships and His Own Slavery Contrasted165
Anguish beyond Description167
Chapter XVI.Another Pressure of the Tyrant's Vice
Experience at Covey's Summed Up169
Scene in the Treading Yard170
Author Taken Ill170
Unusual Brutality of Covey171
Escape to St. Michael's--Suffering in the Woods172
The Case Prejudged--Driven Back to Covey's174
Circumstances Narrated to Master Thomas--His Bearing175
Chapter XVII.The Last Flogging
A Sleepless Night--Return to Covey's177
His Conduct--Again Escape to the Woods178
Deplorable Spectacle--Night in the Woods178
An Alarm--A Friend, Not an Enemy179
Sandy's Hospitality--The Ash Cake Supper180
A Conjuror--His Advice--The Magic Root180
Want of Faith--The Talisman Accepted181
Meeting with Covey--His Sunday Face182
His Manner on Monday--A Defensive Resolve182
A Rough and Tumble Fight183
Unexpected Resistance184
Covey's Ineffectual Commands for Assistance184
The Victory and its Results186
Effects upon My Own Character186
Chapter XVIII.New Relations and Duties
Change of Masters--Resolve to Fight My Way189
Ability to Read a Cause of Prejudice190
Manner of Spending the Holidays190
The Effects--Sharp Hit at Slavery191
A Device of Slavery192
Difference between Master Freeland and Covey194
An Irreligious Master Preferred--The Reasons Why195
The Reverend Rigby Hopkins195
Catalogue of Floggable Offenses196
Rivalry among Slaves Encouraged197
Improved Condition at Freeland's198
Reasons for Continued Discontent198
Congenial Society--The Sabbath School199
Its Members--Necessity for Secrecy200
Affectionate Relations of Master and Pupils202
Confidence and Friendship among Slaves202
Slavery the Inviter of Vengeance202
Chapter XIX.The Run-Away Plot
New Year's Thoughts and Reflections205
Again Hired by Freeland206
Still Devising Plans for Gaining Freedom206
A Solemn Vow--Plan Divulged to the Slaves207
Arguments in Its Support--The Scheme Gains Favor208
Danger of Discovery--Difficulty of Concealment209
Skill of Slaveholders--Suspicion and Coercion209
Hymns with a Double Meaning210
Author's Confederates--His Influence over Them211
Preliminary Consultations--Pass-Words212
Conflict of Hopes and Fears--Ignorance of Geography212
Survey of Imaginary Difficulties213
Effect upon Our Minds213
Sandy Becomes a Dreamer215
Route to the North Laid Out--Objections Considered215
Frauds Practiced on Freeman--Passes Written216
Anxieties as the Time Drew Near217
Appeals to Comrades--A Presentiment218
The Betrayal Discovered218
Manner of Arresting Us219
Resistance Made by Henry Harris--Its Effects220
Unique Speech of Mrs. Freeland222
Our Sad Procession to Easton222
Passes Eaten--The Examination at St. Michael's223
No Evidence Produced--Who Was the Betrayer?224
Dragged Behind Horses--The Jail a Relief224
A New Set of Tormentors225
Release of My Companions226
Author Taken Out of Prison and Sent to Baltimore227
Chapter XX.Apprenticeship Life
Nothing Lost by the Attempt to Run Away229
Reasons for Sending the Author Away230
Unlooked for Clemency in Master Thomas230
Return to Baltimore--Change in Little Tommy231
Trials in Gardiner's Ship Yard231
Desperate F

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