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Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, near Hillsborough.
He doesn’t know for sure of his age, he has seen no proof and his master
will not inform him. Most masters prefer for their slaves to stay
ignorant. He believes that he was around twenty-seven and twenty-eight
when he began writing his narrative - he overheard his master say he was
about seventeen years of age during 1835. His mother, Harriet Bailey,
was separated from him when he was an infant and she died when he was
seven years old. Frederick’s father was a white man who could have been
his master but he never found out.
Education was of utmost importance in his life. He received his first
lesson while living with Mr. and Mrs. Auld. Sophia Auld, Frederick’s
"mistress", was very humane to him and spent time teaching him the A, B,
C’s. After he mastered this, she assisted him in spelling three and
four letter words. At this point in his lesson Mr. Auld encountered
what his wife was doing for Frederick and forbid her to continue. He
believed that "if you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell" and
continuing with "learning would spoil the best nigger in the world".
The masters felt that an ignorant slave formed a choice slave and any
beneficial learning would damage the slave and therefore be futile to
his master. His next step on the road to success was during his seven
years living with Master Hugh’s family. Frederick would make friends
with as many white boys as he possibly could on the street. His new
friends would be transformed into teachers. When he could, Frederick
carried bread on him as a means of trade to the famished kids for
knowledge. He would also carry a book anytime he had an errand to run.
The errand would be completed quickly, allowing extra study time. When
Frederick was working in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard he would notice
timber marked with various letters. He soon discovered how the letters
matched the type of wood and the names of these letters. Any boy he met
that could write he would challenge them to a writing contest.
Frederick would use the letters he recently learned and told the child
to challenge that. He then copied the Italics in Webster’s Spelling
Book until he knew them well. All this hard work and years of practice
gave Frederick the knowledge to write. After his relocation to Mr.
Freeland, who was the owner of two slaves, Frederick devoted his Sundays
teaching these two and other slaves how to read.
Frederick heard the word abolitionists a few times but it wasn’t for a
while until he found out what it meant. If a slave succeeded in
escaping from his Master or performing a radical action such as burning
a barn or killing his Master, it was considered to be a form of
abolition. One day while running an errand, Frederick ran into two
Irishmen hard at work. Frederick assisted the Irishmen and soon after
they asked if he was a slave. The men then advised Frederick to run
away to the north to find friends and freedom. Ever since this
encounter he has dreamed of the day he could safely escape. An attempt
to carry out his dreams surfaced during his stay with Master Thomas. He
did not attempt to escape, however he regrets not doing so since the
chances of succeeding are ten times greater from the city than from the
Anthony, one of Frederick’s two masters, was not a humane slaveholder.
Frederick was awakened habitually by the sounds of his own aunt being
whipped repeatedly because she was caught away for the evening with a
man. Slaves, when unhappy, sing songs to help drown their sorrow.
Frederick would often sing for this purpose, and not to express his
happiness as some slaves also do. The men and women slaves received
eight pounds of pork or fish and one bushel of corn meal monthly. On a
yearly basis, they received very little along the lines of clothing.
The children unable to work in the field were given two shirts per
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