Fredrick Douglas may have lived at a time when slavery was rife and child labor was not an issue. However, being a black man in America during those times meant a lot to the society because it was around that time when abolitionism started. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that Fredrick Douglas was amongst the first slaves to learn how to read and write thanks to the wife of Hugh Auld- Mrs. Sophia Auld who taught Fredrick ABC at the tender age of seven. Perhaps one of the main advantages that Douglas enjoyed was being a slave in a city because this was equal to a freeman. This means that he could learn new skills, and enjoy some luxuries that most slaves could not even dream of.
Born in Maryland, Fredrick and without proper recollection of who his father was or what his father could have looked like, Douglas was made to understand that his master is his father. The masters owned the slaves body and spirit because "it is the wish of most masters. . . to keep their slaves thus ignorant" (Wilkie and Hurt 994-1060). Without proper recollection about his mother after seeing her less the four times, Douglas must have been the perfect none entity for the slave. However, despite being amongst the lucky slaves to have lived both in the plantation and the city, it was the brutal treatment that the slaves were given that made Douglas amongst the lucky witnesses of the slave era.
Douglas worked as a child slave in Colonel Edward Lloyd’s plantation. Here the living condition of the slaves is explained to be deplorable through the life of Douglas. For example, Douglas states that the slaves had no bed. He states, "I had no bed, I would sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in [a sack for carrying corn] and feet out" (Wilkie and Hurt 994-1060). He also argue that "old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed,—the cold, damp floor,—each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets" (Wilkie and Hurt 994-1060).
Douglas was not spared the slave punishment either. For example, he was brutally whipped as it custom. Slaves could be beaten for even the slightest mistakes. Douglas states that it was normal to hear a slave being whipped for not doing something h did not understand. The slave masters also had very high expectation of the slaves.
Liberty in the city
As a ship carpenter help in the city, Douglas was expected to understand all the trade rules at the tender age of seven. For example, he was asked expected to understand everything about shipbuilding as he worked. However, through Douglas, it becomes clear that the slaves were not supposed to gain academic knowledge because knowledge made them threats to the slave masters. For example, Hugh stopped his wife from teaching Douglas how to read and write because the lessons “would forever unfit him to be a slave." However, despite all these, Douglas got inspired to read more because he really wanted to learn how to read and write. This saw him offer to do additional work to learn. He states, “I succeeded in learning to read and write. . . [through] various stratagems," from the days he was warned, he agreed to work for seven years in order to learn. He had to forego his meals in order to give to the white chicken in exchange for an opportunity to learn.
When he was sent back to Colonel Lloyd’s farm as a slave to Thomas auld who was working as a ship captain, Douglas is once again made to feel what it meant to be a slave. For example, he had to sleep on hungry stomach. However, during the days, when there was no work, he would be hired out as a tool to another white family. For example, Thomas auld hired Douglas out to another slave master called Edward Covey. Perhaps it is also important to note that it is not the work the slaves were doing, but the way they were used and misused. For example, it would be very degrading to be hired out as a working tool. For example, most of the time, he was either hired out to Edwards covey or, or William Freeland. He could be moved between the city and the plantation based on the workload. Having to lead a life without hopes is what killed many slaves. Never the less, as he grew strong, he would be beaten with varying intensity. For example, occasionally, he was beaten, and made to sleep outside the house in a biting cold. He would escape and be captured back to the plantation. He would be beaten severely for trying to run away just as he was beaten for doing a chore wrongly. He quits Mr. Covey as saying, "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man" (Wilkie and Hurt 994-1060). He concludes by saying "From that time until now, I have been engaged in pleading the cause of my brethren," Douglass writes, leaving the future open for hopeful possibilities (Gatewood 340–344).
In as much as Douglas fails to provide adequate details of his final escape, it is not because he does not have any recollection of the harrowing events, but the fear of being recaptured back into the plantation. It is the desire of escaping the whipping and beating that made his realizes the importance of being free. For example, he states that he planned to escape whenever he was sent to Baltimore shipyard. Hi finally states "a moment of the highest excitement I have ever experienced. . . I felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions" (Wilkie and Hurt 994-1060). It is the fear of being recaptured that he changed his name to Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (Douglass, p. 50).
Willard B. Gatewood Jr. "Frederick Douglass and the Building of a ‘Wall of Anti-Slavery Fire’, 1845–1846. An Essay Review". The Florida Historical Quarterly 59 (3): 340–344. 1981. Print
Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: his early life as a slave, his escape from bondage, and his complete history, p. 50. Dover Value Editions, Courier Dover Publications, 2003. Print
Wilkie, Brian, and James Hurt. Literature of the Western world. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 994-1060.