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Introduction to American History - Frederick Douglass

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Introduction to American History

Essay 2: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born a slave. He was given no choice. There was no arguing, no rebellion from his mother to give him freedom. He had no control of his future. The only option he had he was born with. He was to be a slave for the rest of his life. As he grew, lived, and learned he made new choices that were worth risking his life to be free. Many significant events that occurred in his life from childhood to adulthood molded his choices that were not given to him at birth. Events ranging from the death of his mother to learning how to read led him to his eventual escape from slavery.

Frederick was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland in February of 1818. Immediately, he was sent to live with his grandparents till the age of six. He only saw his mother four or five times in his lifejavascript:activate_paper(120913)time. She would visit him at night and get him to sleep. Come morning when he awoke she would be gone. There was very little connection or communication between the two of them. "I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger. (Douglass, 18)

The relationship with his mother shaped how he related and felt towards others in the future. He had no real sense of family since they were all separated. The absence of a mother-son relationship left him with a better connection to the family he was assigned to then his own flesh and blood, such as Sophia Auld. She showed him the first bit of kindness and taught him how to read. He is forever grateful to her but not to his mother who gave birth to him.

The first abuse he witnessed as a child was burned in Frederick's mind. At a young age he describes how his Aunt Hester was stripped, tied up, left hanging, taunted, and whipped till she was dripping blood. Her punishment was for going out one night and found in the company of another slave from another plantation. Her beating was like looking into a crystal ball to him. It was the first moment seeing what laid ahead for him.

"It was a blood-stained gate, the entrance to hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it," he said. (Douglass, 20)

Songs sung during his time of slavery were not an event, but a significant memory into how he traced his history of feelings while in slavery. "To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery." (Douglass, 26)

Also, it was his first comparison in the difference of actions between slaves and the free white men and women. He noticed the difference in how each race cried and sang for different reasons. "Crying for joy, and singing for joy, was alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery." (Douglass, 26)

The first slave assignment to the Llyod farm showed him little punishment. It did often leave him cold, tired, hungry, and barely dressed. When he was sent on assignment to work for Sophia Auld it changed his life. "Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity." (Douglass, 39)

It was Sophia's first time holding a slave in her custody. His job was to take care of her son but she never really wanted to control Frederick. She is the one who started to teach him how to read. Until, her husband scolded and made her aware of the consequences.

"If you teach that nigger how to read, 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. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy," said Mr. Auld. (Douglass, 41) Those words let Frederick understand his pathway to freedom.

His passion to learn how to read continued and helped him understand the world around him. "It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out." (Douglass, 41)

When his original master had died he was sent to be valued.



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