Sunday, April 17, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Brutalizing Slaves
 
Aunt Hester went out one night and happened to be absent when my master desired her presence.  He had warned her that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man who was paying attention to her.  The young man’s name was Ned Roberts, generally called Lloyd’s Ned.  She was a woman of noble form and of graceful proportions, having few equals in personal appearance among the colored or white women of our neighborhood.
 
Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out but had been found in company with Lloyd’s Ned.  I learned this from what he [Anthony] said while whipping her.  Before he commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took her into the kitchen and stripped her from neck to waist.  After crossing her hands he tied them with a strong rope and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist put in for the purpose.  He made her get upon the stool and tied her hands to the hook.  Her arms were stretched up at their full length so that she stood upon the ends of her toes.  He then said to her, “Now you …, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!”  After rolling up his sleeves he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood came dripping to the floor.  I was so terrified and horror-stricken that I hid myself in a closet.  It was all new to me.  I had always lived with my grandmother on the outskirts of the plantation where she was put to raise the children of the younger women” (Bontemps 33-34). 
 
Aaron Anthony, Frederick’s master, was fifty-seven and a widower for eight years when Frederick moved into the plantation manager’s house to live.  Anthony himself owned two or three farms and about thirty slaves.  He left the management of his own property to an overseer named Plummer, “a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer and a savage monster” (Bontemps 32).  As a young man Anthony had gotten a job on Colonel Lloyd’s sloop, which transported the former governor’s bounty of produce and products to nearby Baltimore, and Anthony earned the title, “Captain.”  Eventually he became the “overseer of overseers,” the manager of Colonel Lloyd’s vast land holdings and some 1,000 slaves.
 
Frederick’s exposure to the violent treatment of slaves by their masters and overseers occurred at an impressionable age.  The beatings that he witnessed and the stories of other beatings told to him during his two year residence at Wye House he remembered with clarity and used years later to enthrall and repel those in the Northern states who came to hear him speak for the abolition of slavery.
 
The first overseer to whom Frederick was directly responsible was a man named Severe.
 
Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man.  I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of crying children, pleading for their mother’s release.  Added to his cruelty, he was a profane swearer.  It was enough to chill the blood and stiffen the hair of an ordinary man to hear him talk. … From the rising till the going down of the sun, he was cursing, raving, cutting, and slashing among the slaves of the field, in the most frightful manner.  His career was short.  He died very soon after I went to Colonel Lloyd’s … His death was regarded by the slaves as the result of a merciful providence.
 
Mr. Severe’s place was filled by a Mr. Hopkins.  He was a very different man.  He was less cruel, less profane, and made less noise … He whipped, but seemed to take no pleasure in it.  He was called by the slaves a good overseer.
 
 
Mr. Hopkins remained but a short time in the office of overseer.  Why his career was so short, I do not know, but suppose he lacked the necessary severity to suit Colonel Lloyd.  Mr. Hopkins was succeeded by Mr. Austin Gore … Mr. Gore had served Colonel Lloyd, in the capacity of overseer, upon one of the out-farms, and had shown himself worthy of the high station of overseer upon the home of Great House Farm.
 
… There was no answering back to him; no explanation was allowed a slave, showing himself to have been wrongfully accused.  … No matter how innocent a slave might be—it availed him nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of any misdemeanor.  To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished … He was, of all the overseers, the most dreaded by the slaves” (Douglass 29-30).
 
 
… Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, by the name of Demby.  He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scouring, he ran and plunged himself in a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out.  Mr. Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him.  Demby made no response, but stood his ground.  The second and third calls were given with the same result.  Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, … raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more.  His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.
 
… He was asked by Colonel Lloyd and my old master, why he resorted to this extraordinary expedient.  His replay was … that Demby had become unmanageable.  He was setting a dangerous example to the other slaves … He argued that if one slave refused to be corrected, and escaped with his life, the other slaves would soon copy the example … Mr. Gore’s defence was satisfactory.  He was continued in his station as overseer upon the home plantation” (Douglass 38-40).
 
Killing a slave was not considered a crime.  However, it was a practice that was not looked upon favorably.  A slave killed was property forever lost.  Better to sell an unmanageable slave to the labor-killing plantations of Georgia.  Nonetheless, when it did occur, the murderer knew he would not be convicted in a court of law.  To illustrate this fact, Frederick wrote about the murder of a cousin of his wife.
 
The wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, living but a short distance from where I used to live [years later in Baltimore], murdered my wife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age. … The offence for which this girl was thus murdered was this:-She had been set that night to mind Mrs. Hick’s baby, and during the night she fell asleep, and the baby cried.  She, having lost her rest for several nights previous, did not hear the crying.  They were both in the room with Mrs. Hicks.  Mrs. Hicks, finding the girl slow to move, jumped from her bed, seized an oak stick of wood by the fireplace, and with it broke the girl’s nose and breastbone, and thus ended her life” (Douglass 41).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna.  Free at Last: The Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print. 
 
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.  Print.