Friday, May 6, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Aunt Katy and Daniel
 
I need to differentiate now the white people that possessed legal authority to determine the course of Frederick Douglass’s early life.
 
Aaron Anthony, Frederick’s initial master, was an important employee of Colonel Edward Lloyd, a former Maryland governor and U. S. senator.  Anthony, once the master of the Sally Lloyd, the sloop that carried Colonel Lloyd’s abundance of crops, tobacco, corn and wheat to market at Baltimore, was at the time of Frederick’s arrival the overseer of Lloyd’s vast land holdings and some 1,000 slaves.  Anthony and his family lived in the Wye House, a cottage on the spacious grounds of the main Lloyd estate not far from the Great White House, where Lloyd frequently lodged and entertained important guests. 
 
Anthony had three grown children: two sons, Andrew and Richard, and a daughter, Lucretia, who was married to a Thomas Auld.  Thomas and Lucretia, who would eventually own Frederick, would impact considerably Frederick’s future.
 
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The Anthonys kept apart from Colonel Lloyd and his family, they being of a subservient class.  Anthony’s slaves at the Wye House were expected as well to separate themselves from the slaves of the Colonel.  When Anthony rode out each morning to adjacent farms to do his work, he left behind the tyrannical slave cook. Aunt Katy, to administer his dictates.
 
“Aunt Katy stood in the long tradition, both fictional and all too real, of cooks who tyrannized the families they defiantly served.”  If she was related to Frederick, it was a distant relationship.  “Women and men who presided over critical plantation enterprises, like the laundry sheds, carpentry shops, and harness rooms, were called ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ often by their owners and always by the younger slaves.  Katy’s particular authority, if limited, was great.  As Douglass put it, ‘What he [Anthony] was to Col. Lloyd, he made Aunt Katy to him.’  She ruled Anthony’s household with an iron hand.  ‘Ambitious, ill-tempered and cruel,’ she was responsible not only for her own children, but for the young Baileys in the Anthony household” (McFeely 18).  Isolated from the Lloyds, the Anthony children, even though they were young adults, were intimidated by Katy as well.
 
At one time Frederick slept on the floor of a closet in her kitchen.  He ate mush with an oyster shell or a piece of shingle from a wooden trough with the other slave children, “like so many pigs.  … He that ate fastest got most.”  When he was too aggressive, Katy punished him either by whipping him or by sending him away from the food.  Soon he became a primary target of her persecution.
 
One reason undoubtedly was the consequence of a chance visit of Frederick’s mother, Harriet, to Katy’s kitchen.  Other than this one encounter, Frederick would only remember seeing his mother five or six times during the two year period he lived at Wye House, and always in the middle of the night.  Harriet Bailey was a field hand, hired out to the owners of adjacent farms, one man, a Mr. Stewart, fourteen miles away.  “… a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary-a permission which they seldom get …  She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.  Very little communication ever took place between us.  Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived.  … I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial.  She was gone long before I knew any thing about it” (Douglass 22).
 
On this one last afternoon visit, Harriet discovered that Frederick had been denied food the entire day.  “With fiery indignation” Harriet told Katy never to deny Frederick food again; and then, in the slave woman’s own kitchen, Harriet made Frederic a sugar cake.  Upon her lap he ate his cake, “a king upon his throne.”  It was the last time he saw her.  It was an experience that stoked the cook’s resentment of him (McFeely 19).
 
The childless Lucretia Anthony Auld, captive by circumstance in her father’s house, made this relationship even worse.  Lucretia “was allowed by Katy little to do.  … Finding Frederick an engaging companion, she made something of a pet of him, and when she too discovered him to be hungry, she got food to the child, thereby increasing Katy’s ire.  Katy had in some way twisted her resentment of a cheating world into an almost pathological need to abuse Frederick.  She wanted no one in her charge to outstrip her own children or herself in importance in the household; it was as if by withholding food she was starving a rival into puniness and insignificance” (McFeely 21).
 
A third reason for Katy’s persecution was that Frederick refused to stay away from the Lloyd slaves and the great house of the master.  The magnificent garden with its exotic trees and strange fruit, the graveyard, and the imposing house were irresistible temptations for a young boy of imagination and intelligence. 
 
Frederick’s access to the Lloyd house, garden, and grounds was made possible by his friendship with the Colonel’s youngest son, Daniel
 
Daniel, laden with privilege, may have been almost as lonely amidst the crowd of people at the great house as Frederick was.  Far younger than his siblings, he had no peers.  The nearest neighbors of the Lloyds’ rank, if any there were, were miles away.  The boy surely could not play with the children of the overseers.  The only appropriate companion, paradoxically, was a slave, who could present no threat of encroachment on Lloyd superiority since his position was unequivocally fixed.  Although Daniel was five years older than Frederick, the two boys probably achieved their friendship on their own (McFeely 12).
 
About Daniel, Frederick wrote, “he became quite attached to me, and was a sort of protector of me.  He would not allow the older boys to impose upon me, and would divide his cakes with me” (Douglass 43).  In return, during most of his leisure time, Frederick went hunting with Daniel and helped retrieve the birds that the white boy shot.
 
Frederick was not old enough to work in the field.  There was little else than field work to do for slaves, except for the household work of servants.  The most he had to do was move cows at evening, keep fowls out of the garden, keep the front yard clean and run errands for Lucretia Anthony Auld.  Despite his friendship with Daniel Lloyd and the slight advantages it gave him, Frederick, as every slave child did at the Wye House, suffer from neglect.
 
I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered little from any thing else than hunger and cold.  I suffered much from hunger, but much more from cold.  In hottest summer and coldest winter, I was kept almost naked-no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no t rousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees.  I had no bed.  I must have perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill.  I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and the feet out.  My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes (Douglass 43).
 
The real benefit of Frederick’s friendship with Daniel was that he had opportunities to exercise and develop his intelligence.  Already acknowledged as a skillful mimic of farm animals before he was brought to Wye House, Frederick learned the speech patters of the privileged beings residing in the Great White House, and he amused Anthony’s slaves with this mimicry as well.  When the Lloyds hired a New England tutor, Joel Page from Massachusetts, to refine and culture their son, Frederick learned as well the speech characteristics of the educated Northerner.
 
Frederick’s appetite for knowledge about the life that eluded him caused him to ask Daniel a deluge of questions.  “Who was coming on the Sally Lloyd for the week?  Who was sleeping in what room?  What were the big, square silver dishes used for?  What did people say at the table?  What was a governor?  A senator?”
 
He was ceaselessly curious about this world from which he was excluded (McFeely 22).
 
At the age of seven Frederick had seemingly decided that he would not be what his master, Aunt Katy, and the system of slavery insisted he had to be.
 
 
Works Cited:
 
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.