Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Thoughts of Escape
 
I went, one day, on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a large scow of stone, or ballast, I went on board, unasked, and helped them.  When we had finished the work, one of the men came to me, aside, and asked me a number of questions, and among them, if I were a slave.  I told him “I was a slave and a slave for life.”  The good Irishman gave his shoulders a shrug, and seemed deeply affected by the statement.  He said “it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life.”  They both had much to say about the matter, and expressed the deepest sympathy with me, and the most decided hatred of slavery.  They went so far as to tell me that I outh to run away, and go to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I would be as free as anybody.  I, however, pretended not to be interested in what they said, for I feared they might be treacherous.  White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then—to get the reward—they have kidnapped them, and returned them to their masters (McFeely 33).
 
Frederick’s encounter with these sympathetic white men was an important emotional experience.  Because of it, he put aside his pessimism.  Instead, he “looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape.  I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass.  I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance.  Meanwhile, I would learn to write” (Douglass 57)
 
He could read; he knew the letters, but he had seldom written them and had never transferred his thoughts to paper.
 
            … when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he.  The next word would be,”I don’t believe you.  Let me see you try it.”  I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that.  It this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way.  During this time, my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk.  With these, I learned mainly how to write.  I then commenced and continued copying the italics in Webster’s Spelling Book, until I could make them all without looking on the book.  … Master Thomas had … learned how to write, and had written over a number of copy-books.  These had been brought home, and shown to some of our near neighbors, and then laid aside.  My mistress used to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meetinghouse every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house.  When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written.  I continued to do this until I could write a hand every similar to that of Master Thomas (Douglass 57-58).
 
As Frederick Bailey worked to shape his own destiny, events occurred elsewhere that would complicate it.
 
About two years after the death of Lucretia (Anthony) Auld, her husband (Frederick’s master now) remarried.
 
            Rowena Hambleton was the daughter of a prosperous farmer living five miles west of the little port [St. Michaels].  She was also an ill-tempered woman; having married a shopkeeper-postmaster, she sought to compensate for her diminished social status by being imperious with her slaves.  She was also determined that her husband drive hard bargains in dealing with this property.  Frederick’s cousin Henny had been painfully crippled by a fall into a fire as a child and her hands were permanently closed.  Rowena, resenting both the care of this useless slave and the fact that her brother-in-law and his wife in Baltimore had, gratis, the use of a now-strong adolescent male who belonged to Thomas, insisted that the Hugh Aulds take Henny as well as Frederick.  They did, but Sophia soon found Henny to be too much trouble, and persuaded her husband to send her back.  Thomas’s response to his brother’s action was, As Frederick  recalled it, “If he cannot keep ‘Hen’ he shall not have ‘Fred.’” (McFeely 36-37).
 
Frederick’s biographer McFeely speculates that there may have been other reasons why Hugh and Sophia Auld gave Frederick back to Thomas Auld.  The year was 1833, two years after Nat Turner’s slave insurrection.  Nat Turner had been a “too-bright slave, hired out and not under a master’s direct discipline.”  He was self-educated and eloquent.  What influence might he have had on Frederick, who possessed many of the same qualities?  Also, Frederick was fifteen; he had grown phys8cally powerful and “with that growth came the approach of sexual maturity.  Puberty put a gulf between him and his ‘family.’  … Hugh Auld had long had a sense of what he had to deal with in Frederick.  … He may actually have discussed Frederick’s rebelliousness with his brother.  … They must have realized that the bright, big, unsubmissive, unhappy boy was likely to try running away, or might get involved in antislavery or other forbidden activities that could easily lead to a slave’s death.  The Aulds may have reasoned that the boy becoming a young men would be safer out of Baltimore and back on the Eastern Shore, living like any other ordinary field-hand slave” (McFeely 37, 39).
 
The announcement that he was to return to the Eastern Shore must have been a crushing blow to Frederick.  As for his separation from Hugh and Sophia Auld, however, Frederick felt little regret.  “… a great change had taken place in Master Hugh and his once kind and affectionate wife.  The influence of brandy upon him, and of slavery upon her, had effected a disastrous change in the characters of both.  … It was not to them that I was attached.  It was to those little Baltimore boys that I felt the strongest attachment. … and the thought of leaving them was painful indeed.
 
            I then had to regret that I did not at least make the attempt to carry out my resolution to run away; for the chances of success are tenfold greater from the city than from the country.
 
            I sailed from Baltimore for St. Michael’s in the sloop Amanda, Captain Edward Dodson.  On my passage, I paid particular attention to the direction which the steamboats took to go to Philadelphia.  I found, instead of going down, on reaching North Point they went up the bay, in a north-easterly direction.  I deemed this knowledge of the utmost importance.  My determination to run away was again revived.  I resolved to wait only so long as the offering of a favorable opportunity.  When that came, I was determined to be off (Douglass 63-64).
 
 
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.