“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” Patrick Henry, although dead before Frederick Douglass was ever born, used his words and poetically described Douglass’s life. Originally known as Frederick Bailey, he was born into slavery but lived to become Frederick Douglass and accomplish an impressive legacy. His childhood was filled with only awful memories of cruelty and inhumanity. When Frederick had learned of the significance of literacy, he educated himself and immediately planned an escape to success. He became one of the most prominent African American of the nineteenth century who represented the black minority as a successful orator, journalist, and anti-slavery leader. As a young man, he deviously escaped slavery and headed north toward freedom, or at least the closest thing to freedom for men of color at that time. He spoke to many people in this area, instilling the importance of eradicating human bondage. While living in the New England area, he became a great author, writing many articles for local newspapers and even composing three versions of his autobiography. During this time in his life, Mr. Douglass also campaigned for the elimination of slavery and civil rights for minorities. He became an inspiration to all and held governmental positions as he persistently worked for constitutional rights throughout his entire life. Frederick Douglass’s arduous past led to his successful influence on the abolition of slavery and effort to end racial discrimination.
Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Bailey in Tuckahoe, Marylany. He was unaware of his exact age, for he never saw any authentic records containing it. Supposedly his birth was around February 1818, but since many of the slaves and other siblings he grew up with had no accurate knowledge of their own age, the fact was left a mystery for his entire life. Several slave masters prevented the distribution of slaves’ birth dates and obstructed the ability to visit their parents as an effort to keep them ignorant and stripped from individuality. Even if he tried, Frederick would not have been able to visit his father because he had no idea who he was. It was known that his father was white and many rumors led Douglass to believe that he was his mother’s master, but nothing was ever certain. However, Frederick was fully aware of who his mother was, but, unfortunately they were separated when he was an infant and were only able to see each other approximately five times during his childhood . Due to this occurrence, Frederick strongly felt that “slavery made his mother a myth and his father a mystery”. Douglass, therefore, lived with his grandmother, Betsey Bailey until he was old enough to work . During this time Douglass was raised to believe that he was a special individual and was completely na?ve to the fact that he was born a slave. Ms. Bailey repeatedly tried to instill a feeling of self-worth into her grandson by verbally reinforcing his strengths.
Frederick Douglass finally reached the age when he could no longer be sheltered from the future that he was destined. At the age of six, Frederick’s grandmother had told him that they were taking a long journey, when in actuality she was bringing him into the world of slavery . After many days of traveling westward, they approached an enormous elegant home, the Lloyd Plantation, where several children were playing on the front grounds. Ms. Bailey pointed out three of the children whom were Frederick’s brother and sisters and instructed Douglass to join his siblings . Within five minutes of this command, his grandmother was gone along with his freedom; he now belonged to Aaron Anthony. At this time, Mr. Anthony was not considered a rich slaveholder, he owned only two or three farms, but still needed the help of an overseer, Mr. Plummer, to manage his plantations . Plummer was most notable for his inhumane treatment of Anthony’s slaves . Douglass recalls being awaked in the middle of the night by the high pitched shrieks of his own aunt, whom Plummer used to tie up to a pole, and whip her naked back until she was literally drenched in her own blood (. “No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped the longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cow skin.”. It was at this point Frederick reassessed his position in life and realized he could no longer work under this cruel individual and decided he would do whatever he could to get out of this terrible situation.
Douglass used his natural charm and tactfulness, which many people found engaging, to become noticed and stand out from the rest of the slaves. Aaron Anthony’s daughter, Lucretia Auld, was immediately drawn to these unique characteristics and took a liking to Frederick, doing whatever was within her power to protect him . In 1826, she informed him that he was being sent to live with her brother-in-law, Hugh Auld, to run errands and care for his infant son, Tommy . Frederick enjoyed this easy work and grew to love the young boy . Sophia Auld, Tommy’s mother, would frequently read aloud from the Bible and Douglass would often listen, extremely intrigued. One day, when Frederick was about ten-years-old, he asked his mistress to teach him to read and she readily consented . Sophia became so excited about how well the young slave was doing, she told her husband what she had done . Hugh became enraged. It was prohibited by the state to teach a slave to read and felt a slave was considered “unfit” if he was competent and literate . Mr. Auld instructed Sophia to cease the lessons immediately, but this restriction failed to hinder Frederick by any means. It was from this outburst of disapproval from his master that Frederick discovered that learning how to read and write was his pathway to freedom.
Douglass adopted a plan to make friends with poor white children he met on errands and use them as teachers . He would pay for these “lessons” with pieces of bread taken from the Auld household . This strategy was proved to be successful by its positive results; Mr. Douglass gradually obtained the knowledge to read. At the age of twelve, he used the little money he had earned from doing tedious errands and bought a copy of The Columbian Orator. This piece of literature contained a collection of speeches and essays dealing with liberty, democracy, and courage. Frederick was greatly affected by the speeches on freedom and began reading local newspapers to learn more about abolitionism. His dreams of emancipation were encouraged by the example of other blacks in Baltimore, most of who were free . However, Douglass’s imaginings were delayed because of new laws passed by southern state legislatures that made it extremely difficult for owners to free their slaves. Frederick’s dreams of his own freedom and civil rights for all seemed to be put on hold.
Nevertheless, Frederick would not let these new regulations impede his primary goal of attaining independence. He began to organize a Sunday religious service for slaves, which met near Saint Michael’s church every week. It was at these congregations that blacks were schooled and plans were made for an escape to the North. The group planned to steal a boat, row to the northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay and flee on foot to the free state of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, one of Frederick’s associates had exposed the plot and a group of armed white men captured the slaves and put them in jail. Douglass was imprisoned for about a week, when surprisingly, Thomas Auld came and released him. Auld promised Frederick that if he worked hard, he would be freed when he turned twenty-five, but Douglass knew better than to trust any slaveholder.While working for Thomas, Douglass met a group of free sophisticated blacks and became a member of an educational association called the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society . It was within this party that Frederick learned his debating skills and met his future wife, Anna Murray. After spending so much time with this assembly of free individuals, Douglass’s need for freedom was enhanced.