Thursday, May 19, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Good Fortune
 
Frederick Douglass’s peculiar existence at Wye House ended in 1826.  It was caused by the decline of Aaron Anthony’s health and his removal as manager of Colonel Lloyd’s farms.  A new manager was chosen and Anthony moved to one of his Tuckahoe farms, taking his slaves and his family with him.  Thomas Auld, Lucretia’s husband, gave up his position as captain of the Sally Lloyd and bought a small store in Hillsboro, not far from Grandmother Betsy Bailey’s cabin.  He and Lucretia would manage the store.  Aunt Katy was hired out to another farmer.  Frederick was released at last from her persecution, but what now was to become of him?
 
His brothers and sisters had become and would become field workers.  Frederick, however, had attracted Lucretia Anthony Auld’s attention.  The promise that he had shown, a specialness that had marked him different from the other Anthony chattel, affected Lucretia enough to cause her to want to protect him from their dreary existence.  She persuaded her father to send Frederick to the house of her husband’s brother, Hugh Auld, in Baltimore.  Hugh and wife Sophia had a two year old son.  Frederick could be the boy’s companion.  He could assist Sophia in the boy’s rearing, although that chore could more logically be done by a teen-age slave girl.  These were reasons that Lucretia manufactured.  Although he could be useful to Hugh and Sophia Auld, he was not particularly needed.  In sending him to them Lucretia fulfilled her own need to change favorably the direction of Frederick’s life.  It was the first of three instances in which the Aulds – Lucretia, and later Thomas – would do the unexpected at a crisis point in Frederick’s life.
 
I received this information about three days before my departure.  They were three of the happiest days I ever enjoyed.  I spent the most part of all these three days in the creek, washing off the plantation scurf, and preparing myself for my departure.
 
The pride of appearance which this would indicate was not my own.  I spent the time in washing, not so much because I wished to, but because Mrs. Lucretia had told me I must get all the dead skin off my feet and knees before I could go to Baltimore; for the people in Baltimore were very cleanly, and would laugh at me if I looked dirty.  Besides, she was going to give me a pair of trousers, which I should not put on unless I got all the dirt off me.  The thought of owning a pair of trousers was great indeed!  It was almost a sufficient motive, not only to make me take off what would be called by pig-drovers the mange, but the skin itself.  I went at it in good earnest, working for the first time with the hope of reward.
 
The ties that ordinarily bind children to their homes were all suspended in my case.  I found no severe trial in my departure.  My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying.  My mother was dead, my grandmother lived far off, so that I seldom saw her.  I had two sisters and one brother, that lived in the same house with me; but the early separation of us from our mother had well nigh blotted the fact of our relationship from our memories.  I looked for home elsewhere, and was confident of finding none which I should relish less than the one which I was leaving (Douglass 44-45).
 
He came, as a child, from the country to the city, and he never willingly went back.
 
… When the door opened, “I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions; it was the face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld.”
 
… Sophia took him into the house, and he met her husband, Hugh Auld, a broad shouldered shipbuilder, and their two-year-old son, Tommy.  The little one was told that this was “his Freddy”: Frederick was to look after him, a task that, initially, consisted largely of seeing that he did not toddle into the street crowded with wagons carrying cargoes and fittings for the ships at the docks close by.  The Aulds lived in Fells Point, Baltimore’s busy shipbuilding center on the east side of the harbor (McFeely 26).
 
Frederick’s new home was inviting, and he welcomed the change in his life.  His tow shirt-in the city, he would have had to learn to be embarrassed when it flew up as he ran-was replaced with pants and a tuck-in shirt; instead of a grain sack to pull around himself on cold nights, there was a “good straw bed, well furnished with covers”; and instead of cornmeal mush or, worse, dry cracked corn, there was bread.  But more critical than these dignities and comforts was the “natural and spontaneous” warmth of Sophia Auld, who brought him into a family. 
 
Sophia Kenney came from a poor family near St. Michaels; she is reported to have worked for wages as a weaver before marrying Hugh Auld and moving with him to Baltimore.  It is unlikely that she had much education, but as a committed Methodist, she was devoted to her Bible and labored to read from it.  As she sat with Tommy on one knee and the book on the other, she drew Frederick to her side, and read-or told-its stories to both boys (McFeely 27).
 
 
Fredrick Bailey was alive and alert, in a household that gave him the security and a neighborhood that gave him the stimulation he needed to expend his wonderfully curious mind.  He could run in the streets, watching the older boys while dodging their taunts, and return to a house that was a haven of cheerful affection.  Sophia sang hymns as she worked; the two boys tumbled around her, singing snatches of the songs in imitation of her.  Frederick began paying strict attention when she read to them from the Bible.  In later years, acutely conscious of the process of his education and perceptive in his remembrance of it, Douglass recalled being fascinated by the relationship between the words coming from her mouth and the marks on the pages of the book she held.  He was curious about “this mystery of reading,” and “frankly, asked her to teach me to read.”  Sophia, drawn to his quick mind, and perhaps intrigued by the thought of testing the educability of an African child, began to do so” (McFeely 29).
 
Frederick had begun his second year with the young Auld family in Baltimore before the reality of who and what he was began to destroy the tranquility of his new life.
 
In November of 1827 Aaron Anthony died.  Because he had left no will, his property was to be divided between his daughter, Lucretia (Anthony) Auld, and his two sons, Andrew, a cruel alcoholic, and Richard, an unsuccessful farmer.  Before that division was scheduled to be made, Lucretia unexpectedly died; now her husband, Thomas Auld, had legal claim to her share of Anthony’s property.  He would receive her portion.  What that portion would be had to be determined among the family members and the lawyers that settled Anthony’s estate.  With apprehension the Aulds in Baltimore waited for the letter that would request Frederick’s return to the Tuckahoe farm.  In October 1827 it came.
 
It was a “sad day” as Frederick, in his city clothes, was put aboard a wide, shallow-draft sloop that took him down the bay and then, slowly, up the Choptank River and into the shallow Tuckahoe Creek.  He had left, in a sense, a mother and a brother-“We, all three, wept bitterly”-to go back to the place of his earliest recollections.  He arrived to find himself in the midst of a cruelly convened family reunion (McFeely 27).
 
We were all ranked together at the valuation.  Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine.  There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. 
 
After the valuation, then came the division.  I have no language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves during this time.  Our fate for life was now to be decided.  We had no more voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked.  A single word from the white men was enough … to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings.  In addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of Master Andrew … a most cruel wretch,-a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property.  We all felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as to pass into his hands. 
 
…Master Andrew … just a few days before, to give me a sample of his bloody disposition, took my little brother by the throat, threw him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose and ears.  … After he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he turned to me, and said that was the way he meant to serve me one of these days,- meaning, I suppose, when I came into his possession (Douglass 59, 60-61).
 
On October 18, 1827, Betsey Bailey, her children and grandchildren, Frederick amongst them, were lined up outside Aaron Anthony’s farm house and waited while two estate lawyers checked lists of names and assigned their relative value.  Then they conferred.  At last the disposition of property was made.
 
Betsey and four of her daughter Harriet’s children would remain on the Tuckahoe farm with Andrew Anthony.  Aunt Katy and her family were now the property of Richard.  Thomas Auld, the widowed husband of Lucretia, received Frederick’s favorite aunt, Milly, her four children, and Frederick and his sister Eliza.
 
There was no obvious logic in the assignment of Frederick and Eliza to Thomas Auld; had the lawyers continued to observe family groupings, as they did in other instances, the two would have gone with Betsy to Andrew Anthony.  Instead they went to Auld, who, for whatever private reason, almost certainly had asked particularly for Frederick.  By so doing, he saw to it that he and not his inept and callous brothers-in-law would own Frederick; and then, to the boy’s immense relief, he completed the rescue by sending him back to the mothering home of Sophia Auld in Baltimore.  For a second time, [an] Auld had interceded in Frederick’s behalf (McFeely 29).
 
Their joy at my return equaled their sorrow at my departure.  It was a glad day to me.  I had escaped a worse than lion’s jaws.  I was absent from Baltimore, for the purpose of valuation and division, just about one month, and it seemed to have been six (Douglass 61).
 
 
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.