Frederick Douglass

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorCollege, Undergraduate February 2008

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Frederick Douglass can tell us much about American history and contemporary black thought. According to Frederick Douglass, the violence that is endemic to slavery shaped the identities of both black and whites in the antebellum South. Douglass's experiences of violence in his life contributed to the foundation of his identity as a man and a slave.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1817, in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Because his slave mother, Harriet Bailey, used to call him her "little valentine," he adopted February 14th as his birthday, not knowing the exact date of his birth. During the beginning of his life, like every slave, Frederick experienced gross mistreatment. To keep from starving, on many occasions, he competed with his master's dogs for table scraps and bones. In 1825, he was sent to serve as a houseboy in the home of Hugh and Sophia Auld in Baltimore. Mrs. Auld grew fond of him and sought to teach him to read and write.

At the point of Frederick's progress in reading and writing, Mr. Auld found out what was happening and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct Douglass any further. Mr. Auld continued to tell her that, "if you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell," (p.57). The reason for Mr. Auld's actions were based purely on fear. Slave owners were terrified that if slaves were educated it would lead to a rebellion. But by the time the deed was discovered and was put to a stop, Douglass had acquired enough of the rudiments to carry on by himself.

His life in Baltimore was interrupted in 1832 with the death of Captain Anthony. Captain Anthony's "property" was to be valued as his inheritance to his kin. All the slaves, men, women, old and young, were ranked together...