Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Respite
On the first of January, 1834, I left Mr. Covey, and went to live with Mr. William Freeland, who lived about three miles from St. Michael’s.  I soon found Mr. Freeland a very different man from Mr. Covey.  Though not rich, he was what would be called an educated southern gentleman.  … [He] seemed to possess some regard for honor, some reverence for justice, and some respect for humanity.  … [He] was open and frank, and we always knew where to find him.
… Mr. Freeland … gave us enough to eat; but, unlike Mr. Covey, he also gave us sufficient time to take our meals.  He worked us hard, but always between sunrise and sunset.  He required a good deal of work to be done, but gave us good tools with which to work.  His farm was large, but he employed hands enough to work it, and with ease, compared with many of his neighbors.  My treatment, while in his employment, was heavenly, compared with what I experienced at the hands of Mr. Edward Covey (Douglass 86, 88).
From the worn old fields of the Freeland farm, Frederick Bailey could look out across the Chesapeake Bay.  Once again, the beautiful expanse of water seemed to awaken something in him; indeed, here he was to have perhaps the most intense emotional experience of his life.  Living on the Freeland farm for something over a year, he achieved friendship.  “I had become large and strong,” he wrote, “and had begun to take pride in the fact.”  And now the seventeen-year-old found himself working with other young men as restless, as energetic, as he.
John and Henry Harris were brothers owned by the Freelands; the others, like Frederick, had been hired.  Handy Caldwell was a slave living nearby; Sandy Jenkins was the … black man who had given Frederick a root to protect him in his struggle with Edward Covey the year before.
The five made a kind of sport of their hard work, competing to see who could swing the widest scythe or hoist the heaviest heifer, but they “ were too wise to race with each other very long” lest Freeland, whose depleted soil needed a lot of working, learn just how much labor they were capable of. 
And there was excitement of another kind-other “mischief” to be done; “I had not been long at Freeland’s before I was up to my old tricks,” Frederick recalled.  The Harrises were “remarkably bright and intelligent, but neither of them could read,” so out came Webster’s speller and The Columbian Orator.  Frederick Bailey, teacher, was back at work that summer-on Sundays, under an oak tree-conducting school.  The “contagion spread.  I was not long in bringing around me twenty or thirty young men.”  His pupils were as eager as he: “It was surprising with what ease they provided themselves with spelling books.”  Perhaps these were the castoffs of their young masters; if not, the owners may have wondered, as their mothers switched them, how they had managed to misplace books they remembered carrying home from school. 
Douglass later claimed that he and his friends kept the school “as private as possible,” but in fact there was little possibility of maintaining privacy.  Three strapping young men might have managed, for a time at least, to find a hidden place for study, but not thirty.  They were aware that the good people of St. Michael’s would have preferred them to get drunk and wrestle away their Sundays instead of engaging in the subversive business of learning, and they cannot have believed that their masters did not know what they were up to.  But where they met was a mystery; writing about the school twenty years later, Douglass did not give the name of the free black man who let them meet in his house when cold drove them indoors, lest he be punished (McFeely 49-50).
The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed.  We loved each other, and to leave them at the close of the Sabbath was a severe cross indeed.  … I kept up my school nearly the whole year I lived with Mr. Freeland; and, beside my Sabbath school, I devoted three evenings in the week, during the winter, to teaching the slaves at home.  And I have the happiness to know, that several of those who came to Sabbath school learned how to read; and that one, at least, is now free through my agency.
The year passed off smoothly.  It seemed only about half as long as the year which preceded it.  I went through it without receiving a single blow.  I will give Mr. Freeland the credit of being the best master I ever had, till I became my own master.  …[M]y fellow slaves … were noble souls; they not only possessed loving hearts, but brave ones.  We were linked and interlinked with each other.  I loved them with a love stronger than anything I have experienced since … and especially those with whom I lived at Mr. Freeland’s.  I believe we would have died for each other (Douglass 90-91).
At the beginning of 1835 Thomas Auld, Frederick’s owner, rented Frederick to William Freeland for a second year.  The contentment that Frederick had experienced no longer satisfied him.  He wanted to be much more than the recipient of fair treatment from a humane master.  The fact that he was a leader among a large number of his peers, many of whom were older than he, and that he had established binding friendships with several of them, was not enough to compensate for his state of existence, for his being a slave.
I was fast approaching manhood, and year after year had passed, and I was still a slave.  These thoughts roused me-I must do something.  I therefore resolved that 1835 should not pass without witnessing an attempt, on my part, to secure my liberty.  But I was not willing to cherish this determination alone.  My fellow-slaves were dear to me.  I was anxious to have them participate (Douglass 91).
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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Locating Aquascogooc
The showdown battle I will stage between Wingina’s warriors and Piemacum’s braves will be just south of the village of Aquascogooc on the eastern bank of the Pungo River just south of Fishing Creek.  Here is a map.
I took several weeks to decide where I wanted to locate the village.  Historians do not know the exact location.  Each seems to have his own opinion of the location.  Archeological digging has revealed several sites containing potsherds of various pottery styles as well as animal bones, chipped stone, hammerstones, and rocks used as tools.  Stephen Davis, Associate Director of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina answered my email inquiry about the location of the three important archeological sites along the Pungo River where it is generally believed Aquascogooc existed in 1584.
“These three sites are located on the east shore of Pungo River between the mouth of Slade Creek and Fishing Creek.”  The most northerly site (greater access to fresh water) is where I located the village.
My next task was to determine the route Wingina’s canoes would take to reach Aquascogooc from Croatoan, where I have the Dasemunkepeuc and Roanoke braves gather prior to their crossing Pamlico Sound.  Here is an inaccurate map (wrong locations of Aquascogooc and Secotan and too many openings in the Outer Banks) of where the crossing would take place.  I estimated that the open-water crossing to Bluff Point on the southeast corner of the Pamlico Sound mainland would be 42 miles.  The map gives you some perspective of distance and risk.
Their journey begins.
It was definitely arduous.  Wanchese knew it. He had traveled to Aquascogooc once before.  He knew how the wind god could make travel from Croatoan across the endless waters impossible.  The wind-blown wavelets were striking the canoe’s left side, forcing its five paddlers – three on the left side – constantly to correct its course. Well ahead, Wingina’s two long canoes carried his warriors and the women. An entire day of paddling toward a landless horizon might find them – near the disappearance of the sun – north of the point of marsh [Bluff Point] shaped like a deformed foot, or at it, or to the south in vast open water. Finding it, they would paddle past it and turn north along the saw grass, black needlerush shoreline to a little creek where they would push the canoes into the marsh vegetation, eat smoked trout, drink fresh water from their gourds, and arrange themselves, touching their weapons and each others’ arms and legs, to sleep until the new day’s rays awakened them.
What follows is the route that the three canoes take to reach a final destination close to Aquascogooc.  Use this map and move the cursor to follow along.
Second Day
Continue east past Juniper Bay Point (6.5km/4 miles)
Go through Great Island Narrows to Crab Point before Swanquarter Bay (8km/5 miles)
Travel through Shell Narrows north of Swanquarter Island and two islands north of Swanquarter Island and the huge Judith Island farther north to reach the west end of the long lateral Swanquarter Island (7.5km/4.7 miles)
Pass through the narrows between the southernmost peninsula of Judith Island and a smaller island south of it and head northwest to reach Point of Narrows on the westernmost point of Judith Island. (5.5km/3.4 miles)
Travel slightly northwest in open water to Roos Point, passing the expansive opening to Spencer Bay (3500m/2.2 miles)
Travel northwest along the swampy coastline past Abel Bay to Currituck Point and the very wide mouth of the Pungo River (9000m/5.6 miles)
Stay second night (24.5 miles)
General Information about the Marshland Passed
More than one-half of the Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge has been designated Wilderness: Judith Island, Swanquarter Island, Great Island, Marsh Island, and portions of the mainland along Juniper Bay. Judith, Swanquarter, and Great Islands are entirely estuarine, dominated by black needlerush, intermittently under water usually due to wind tides. Marsh Island is almost entirely estuarine, with a small upland forest section on the extreme northern boundary. Along the mainland of Juniper Bay, the Wilderness is approximately half estuarine and half upland forest.  In uplands forested in loblolly pine you may catch a glimpse of white-tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and squirrels. Pond pine and bald cypress are also present.  Yellow-bellied turtles and water snakes inhabit the needlerush and saw grass that blankets most of the refuge, and a few of the northernmost American alligators live here in brackish water.  Most visitors come to fish from May through November for croaker, spot, speckled trout, flounder, puppydrum (young redfish), and bluefish. Crabbing is a popular sport in the warmer months.
Here are a few pictures to help you visual this area.
Swan Quarter Bay
Judith Marsh
Here is what one sailboat traveler had to say about the area.
November 12, 2012 – “We turned back toward North Creek and decided to take a shortcut behind Judith Island.  I wish I could properly capture this place on film, but I haven't managed it at all.  The marsh grass goes on for miles, with watery channels all running through it so all you see is water, grass and sky all around.  When the sky is blue, the water is blue and at dusk and dawn the grass turns all shades of brown, gold and rust.  It's very quiet sailing in there.  The water is smooth and gentle, protected by the marshes, everything is wild and free.  We find this deeply soothing.”
My narration:
Wanchese awoke suffering pain.
His right shoulder seemed locked in place. He rotated his arm, slowly, thoughtfully; tightened the center of his face; increased gradually the arc of the motion. Both knees were sore. Sitting in the bottom of the canoe, he flexed them. He wondered if standing in the three foot depth of water might soothe them.  Keme was already in the water.
Wanchese looked westward. The contour of the marsh shoreline meandered. The water was calm. He looked across the mainland; flat saw grass and needlerush extended beyond his vision! No place to sit on ground and build a fire. They would again follow the sun for most of its journey before they found earth upon which to sleep.
Wanchese labored now at the left side of the canoe, the waves striking behind when they paddled northwest, against their left side when they traveled due west, Wanchese could not remember accurately which island of marsh grass, which passage between islands of marsh grass, which point of a distant marsh island to be reached over extensive water determined how much farther they had to labor. His mind fixated on his frustration, and his pain.
          There were diversions, though. The shore birds especially. He had always loved to watch birds in flight. Laughing gulls had swooped at them when the canoe had approached their transitory territories. In one inlet of water, slicing through needlerush, seven or eight black-headed royal terns bobbed. One, then two more -- “kree, tsirr,”they  sounded -- had taken flight, running and flapping initially across the water. They had headed north, their beautiful bodies arrow-straight, in search of more welcoming marshland to search for shrimp and crabs.
          While Wanchese and his companions had rested, while he had been bent over, he had seen two feet below the surface of the water the drifting shapes of two speckled trout. He knew that elsewhere in tiny coves and narrow channels red and black drum and young speckled trout co-existed. Fishing was excellent here but too far from where a man could hunt, drink fresh water, build a fire, and sleep! Diverted, he had looked for yellow-bellied turtles and water snakes but had not been rewarded. He had hoped to see within a partially closed channel a sleeping alligator. There was hope yet.
          The sun was still visible when Tanaquincy returned from attending the meeting of leaders. They had beached their canoes in a little cove [Hobb Creek] that gave them some protection against the southwest wind. “You may take your chances sleeping on land,” Tanaquincy gestured, grimaced. “I will be drier in the canoe.”
          “What have they decided?” Taraquine moved closer  to Wanchese, placed his left hand on Wanchese’s right shoulder. Wanchese winced.
          “Ah, too hard for you?” Tanaquincy grinned. “Today we traveled a little more than half what we did the sleep before.” He laughed.
          “And the next day we fight,” Wanchese answered.
          “No, actually,” – he paused to enjoy their anticipatory expressions – “ we mostly rest.”
          Wanchese, Taraquine, and Machk continued  to stare.
          “We, Wingina, and Andacon paddle to a meeting place across the river. Where Osacan and his canoe waits.”
          “This river? This is the river?” Taraquine pointed outside the canoe.
          “The River of Many Fish! We have reached it! This is your first time here?”
          Taraquine nodded.
          “It has been an experience,” Machk said. He smiled. “Kiwasa must have enjoyed watching us.”
          “We will all be spreading tobacco tomorrow on these waters!”
          “Where is this place where we meet?” Wanchese asked quickly. How close to Aquascogooc would it dare be? he thought.
          “Not far. We have to cross the river, which is very wide. We do not want to be seen paddling along this side where we know small settlements might be located. Then we rest, wait for dark. Before first light we go our separate ways.”
Third Day
Cross the river in the northwest direction to Grass Point (3.4 miles)
Travel up the west bank to Wilkins Point and enter Jordan Creek and rest (2.6 miles)
During the night:
Osacon’s Canoe:
Travel north to Woodstock Point (2,2 miles)
Cross the river, arrive just south of fishing Creek, and land occupants 200 meters above Aquascogooc (2.2 miles)
Altogether 4.4 miles 
Wingina’s Two Canoes: 
Travel north to Woodstock Point (2.2 miles)
Cross the river due east and land occupants 200 meters south of Aquascogooc (2.3 miles)
Altogether 4.5 miles
Wanchese’s Canoe: 
Cross the river near dusk in a northeast direction to Sandy Point near the mouth of Slade Creek (2.2 Miles)
Enter Slade Creek and travel to July Point 1 mile)
Travel along the north bank to Hog Pen Point (1.75 miles)
Travel across Slade Creek and enter the mouth of Neal Creek (.5 miles)
Travel up Neal Creek to its navigable end (1.25 miles)
Travel overland in a northwesterly direction toward the Indian village to await dawn (1.7 miles)
Altogether 8.4 miles 
Pungo River Information
The Pungo River begins in the East Dismal Swamp in Washington County, about 10 miles south of Plymouth. As it flows southeast, it becomes the Beaufort and Hyde County border. Less than 20 miles from the source, the Pungo begins to widen rapidly as it passes under US 264 at Leechville. Several miles downstream, the Pungo River is connected to the Alligator River by a 21-mile canal, which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Pungo is over a mile wide here, and the Intracoastal Waterway follows the Pungo as it turns west to pass Belhaven. Below Belhaven, the Pungo turns south to join the Pamlico River close to Pamlico Sound. At its mouth, the Pungo River is over 3 miles wide. In the 1950s, the Pungo River Canal was dug to improve drainage for farmland in the upper Pungo watershed. The canal runs near the natural river channel. Pungo Lake is part of the Pungo National Wildlife Refuge and connects to the river by a canal. 
Not as renowned as the Neuse or the Roanoke, the Pungo River is a prolific fishery loaded with pristine shorelines and waters that are rich in speckled trout. Early Native Americans identified it as "matcha punga" or the "river of many fish."   The name stuck, and the river continues to maintain its rich heritage.  The influx of fresh and salt waters, as well as a high variation in depths, creates every condition available for fish and plant species utilizing the area. The river and the Pamlico Sound contain thousands of acres of premier habitat important to more than 75 species of finfish and shellfish.
I wanted to know specifically what vegetation lined the banks of the Pungo River.  I could not find any internet source to inform me.  I asked via email a prominent fisherman based in Belhaven to provide me information.  He has not responded. I must depend, therefore, on pictures.  Here are several.
Looking toward Jordon Creek
Slade Creek
Upper Slade Creek near Sladeville
Pictures near Belhaven, which is north of where I place Aquascogooc
Pictures near Pantego Creek
Now to narrate the battle.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Triumph
… On one of the hottest days of the month of August, 1833, Bill Smith [another hired slave], William Hughes [Edward Covey’s cousin], a slave named Eli, and myself, were engaged in fanning wheat.  Hughes was clearing the fanned wheat from before the fan.  Eli was turning.  Smith was feeding, and I was carrying wheat to the fan.  The work was simple, requiring strength rather than intellect; yet, to one entirely unused to such work, it came very hard.  About three o’clock of that day, I broke down; my strength failed me; I was seized with a violent aching of the head, attended with extreme dizziness; I trembled in every limb.  Finding what was coming, I nerved myself up, feeling it would never do to stop work.  I stood as long as I could stagger to the hopper with grain.  When I could stand no longer, I fell, and felt as if held down by an immense weight.  The fan of course stopped; every one had his own work to do; and no one could do the work of the other, and have his own go on at the same time.
Mr. Covey was at the house, about one hundred yards from the treading-yard where we were fanning.  On hearing the fan stop, he left immediately, and came to the spot where we were.  He hastily inquired what the matter was.  Bill answered that I was sick, and there was no one to bring wheat to the fan.  I had by this time crawled away under the side of the post and rail-fence by which the yard was enclosed, hoping to find relief by getting out of the sun.  … He came to the spot, and after looking at me awhile, asked me what was the matter.  I told him as well as I could, for I scarce had strength to speak.  He then gave me a savage kick in the side, and told me to get up.  I tried to do so, but fell back in the attempt.  He gave me another kick, and again told me to rise.  I again tried, and succeeded in gaining my feet; but, stooping to get the tub with which I was feeding the fan, I again staggered and fell.  While down in this situation, Mr. Covey took up the hickory slat with which Hughes had been striking off the half-bushel measure, and with it gave me a heavy blow upon the head, making a large wound, and the blood ran freely; and with this again told me to get up.  I made no effort to comply, having now made up my mind to let him do his worst.  In a short time after receiving this blow, my head grew better.  Mr. Covey had now left me to my fate.  At this moment I resolved, for the first time, to go to my master, enter a complaint, and ask his protection. 
… I … watched my chance, while Covey was looking in an opposite direction, and started for St, Michael’s; I succeeded in getting a considerable distance on my way to the woods, when Covey discovered me, and called after me to come back, threatening what he would do if I did not come.  I disregarded both his calls and his threats, and made my way to the woods as fast as my feeble state would allow; and thinking I might be overhauled by him if I kept the road, I walked through the woods, keeping as enough from the road to avoid detection, and near enough to prevent losing my way.  I had not gone far before my little strength again failed me.  I could go no farther.  I fell down, and lay for a considerable time.  The blood was yet oozing from the wound on my head.  For a time I thought I should bleed to death; and think now that I should have done so, but that the blood so matted my hair as to stop the wound.  After lying there about three quarters of an hour, I nerved myself up again, and started on my way, through bogs and briers, barefooted and bareheaded, tearing my feet sometimes at nearly every step; and after a journey of about seven miles, occupying some five hours to perform it, I arrived at master’s store.
From the crown of my head to my feet, I was covered with blood; my shirt was stiff with blood.  My legs and feet were torn in sundry places with briers and thorns, and were also covered with blood.  … In this state I appeared before my master; humbly entreating him to interpose his authority for my protection.  I told him all the circumstances as well as I could, and it seemed, as I spoke, at times to affect him.  He would then walk the floor, and seek to justify Covey by saying he expected I deserved it.  He asked me what I wanted.  I told him, to let me get a new home; … that Covey would surely kill me.  … Master Thomas ridiculed the idea … and said that he knew Mr. Covey, that he was a good man, and that he could not think of taking me from him; that, should he do so, he would lose the whole year’s wages; that I belonged to Mr. Covey for one year, and that I must go back to him, come what might; and that I must not trouble him with any more stories, or that he would himself get hold of me.  … He gave me a very large dose of salts, telling me that I might remain in St. Michael’s the night.
 … I remained all night, and, according to his orders, I started off to Covey’s in the morning (Saturday morning) wearied in body and broken in spirit.  I got no supper that night, or breakfast that morning.  I reached Covey’s about nine o’clock; and just as I was getting over the fence … out ran Covey with his cowskin, to give me another whipping.  Before he could reach me, I succeeded in getting to the cornfield; and as the corn was very high, it afforded me the means of hiding.  He seemed very angry, and searched for me a long time.  …. I spent that day mostly in the woods, having the alternative before me, -to go home and be whipped to death, or stay in the woods and be starved to death.  That night, I fell in with Sandy Jenkins, a slave with whom I was somewhat acquainted.  Sandy had a free wife who lived about four miles from Mr. Covey’s; and it being Saturday, he was on his way to see her (Douglass 79-80).
… Jenkins was warm, witty, and generous.  … Sandy Jenkins believed in magic.  Taking Frederick home with him for the night—he and his wife risked much in harboring a runaway—he gave the confused boy a root to protect him from Covey’s blows.  Jenkins said it had always worked for him, and the next morning, Sunday, it seemed to work for Frederick too.  When, in fear, he went back to the farm, Covey smiled at him and drove off to church—perhaps, in part, to discover in town if [Thomas] Auld was likely to intercede for the boy.
Before dawn on Monday, Frederick was in the barn caring for the horses.  When Covey came in, he gave the impression that he would ignore the slave’s having run away.  But as Frederick sat in the loft, with his legs dangling, Covey suddenly grabbed and tried to tie them.  Resisting, the boy braced himself firmly.  Covey tugged, and Frederick “gave a sudden spring” and landed on top of the man.  “Whence came the daring spirit necessary to grapple with a man who, eight-and-forty hours before, could, with his slightest word have made me tremble like a leaf in a storm, I do not know; at any rate, I was resolved to fight, and  what was better still, I was actually hard at it.  … I felt as supple as a cat, and was ready for the snakish creature at every turn.”  Wrestling furiously, Frederick grabbed Covey by the throat.  Totally surprised by the attack and quaking as Frederick’s fingernails drew blood, Covey croaked out a call for help to William Hughes, his cousin.
Hughes pulled Frederick’s hands away in order to bind them, but Frederick gave a powerful kick and Hughes doubled over in pain.  When Covey, frightened, ordered the furiously aroused slave to be still, Frederick thundered that six months brutality were enough.  The two lunged for each other again, and Covey dragged Frederick out into the yard toward a piece of lumber that he could use as a weapon.  At this point Covey spotted Bill Smith, who had just returned after spending Sunday night with his wife, and called to him to help subdue Frederick.  But Bill, with splendid nonchalance, instead treated Covey to a bit of black American’s verbal rebellion.  By feigning misunderstanding of his orders, the black man on the street—or the hand in the field—could outwit the white man.
Douglass, looking back, recognized that this was what occurred; there was “something comic” afoot.  In response to Covey’s order to grab Frederick, Bill, “who knew precisely what Covey wished him to do, affected ignorance.  … ‘What shall I do, Mr. Covey,’ said Bill.  ‘Take hold of him-take hold of him!’ said Covey.  With a toss of his head, peculiar to Bill, he said, ‘indeed, Mr. Covey, I want to go to work.’  This is your work,’ said Covey; ‘take hold of him.’  Bill replied, with spirit, ‘My master hired me here, to work, and not to help you whip Frederick.’  It was now my turn to speak.  ‘Bill,’ said I, ‘don’t put your hands on me.’  To which he replied, ‘My God!  Frederick, I ain’t goin’ to tech ya,’ and … walked off.”
Suddenly another danger loomed.  Caroline, a slave owned by Covey, arrived to milk the cows; “she was a powerful woman, and could have mastered me very easily, exhausted as I now was.  As soon as she came into the yard, Covey attempted to rally her to his aid.  Strangely—and, I may add, fortunately--Caroline was in no humor to take a hand in any such sport.  We were all in open rebellion, that morning.”
 Frederick and Covey fought on in the intimacy of battle—“He held me, and I held him”—and, crucial to an understanding of the outcome, Frederick neither knocked out Covey nor pinned him.  Instead, they grappled for what Douglass, no doubt exaggerating but making a telling point, said was “nearly two hours.”  In impotent rage, Covey struggled against Frederick’s remarkably strong arms and firm hands—and struggled too against the mocking grins of Frederick and the other slaves. 
… They, not he alone, bested Covey.  Bill and Caroline helped not simply by disobeying Covey’s orders to hold Frederick, but by bringing into play the psychological counterattack.  Caroline was later whipped for her insolence; Bill was not, because his master forbade it.
More surprisingly, neither was Frederick; for the remaining months of his stay with Covey, he was not struck.  Conceivably, Auld had sent word that there were to be no more beatings.  Douglass himself attributed his luck to Covey’s embarrassment; calling in the constable to whip a slave would have been an admission that he was not the Negro breaker he claimed to be.  But it seems at least as likely that Covey’s restraint was a direct result of the action of the slaves; one slave had fought back physically—and bravely—but all three had attacked him psychologically, with telling effect (McFeely 46-48).
Frederick saw great significance in his victory over the slave-breaker.
… I felt as I never felt before.  It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom.  My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.  I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me (Douglass 83).
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.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Nigger-Breaker
… Mr. Covey had acquired a very high reputation for breaking young slaves, and this reputation was of immense value to him.  It enabled him to get his farm tilled with much less expense to himself than he could have had it done without such a reputation.  Some slaveholders thought it not much loss to allow Mr. Covey to have their slaves one year, for the sake of the training.  … Added to the natural good qualities of Mr. Covey, he was a professor of religion-a pious soul-a member and a class-leader in the Methodist church.  All of this added weight to his reputation as a “nigger-breaker.” …
I left Master Thomas’s house, and went to live with Mr. Covey, on the 1st of January, 1833.  I was now for the first time in my life, a field hand.  In my new employment, I found myself even more awkward than a country boy appeared to be in a large city.  I had been at my new home but one week before Mr. Covey … sent me, very early in the morning of one of our coldest days in the month of January, to the woods, to get a load of wood.  He gave me a team of unbroken oxen.  He told me which was the in-hand ox, and which the off-hand one.  He then tied the end of a large rope around the horns of the in-hand ox, and gave me the other end of it, and told me, if the oxen started to run, that I must hold on upon the rope.  I had never driven oxen before, and of course I was very awkward.  I, however, succeeded in getting to the edge of the woods with little difficulty; but I had got a very few rods into the woods, when the oxen took fright, and started full tilt, carrying the cart against trees, and over stumps, in the most frightful manner.  I expected every moment that my brains would be dashed out against the trees.  After running thus for a considerable distance, they finally upset the cart, dashing it with great force against a tree, and threw themselves into a dense thicket.  How I escaped death, I do not know.  There I was, entirely alone, in a thick wood, in a place new to me.  My cart was upset and shattered, my oxen were entangled among the young trees, and there was none to help me.  After a long spell of effort, I succeeded in getting my cart righted, my oxen disentangled, and again yoked to the cart.  I now proceeded with my team to the place where I had, the day before, been chopping wood and loaded my cart pretty heavily, thinking in this way to tame my oxen.  I then proceeded on my way home.  I had now consumed one half of the day.  I got out of the woods safely, and now felt out of danger.  I stopped my oxen to open the woods gate; and just as I did so, before I could get hold of my ox-rope, the oxen again started,  rushed through the gate, catching it between the wheel and the body of the cart, tearing it to pieces, and coming within a few inches of crushing me against the gate-post.  Thus twice, in one short day, I escaped death by the merest chance.  On my return, I told Mr. Covey what had happened, and how it happened.  He ordered me to return to the woods again immediately.  I did so, and he followed on after me.  Just as I got into the woods, he came up and told me to stop my cart, and that he would teach me how to trifle away my time, and break gates.  He then went to a large gum-tree, and with his axe cut three large switches, and, after trimming them up neatly with his pocket-knife, he ordered me to take off my clothes.  I made him no answer, but stood with my clothes on.  He repeated his order.  I still made him no answer, nor did I move to strip myself.  Upon this he rushed at me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time.  This whipping was the first of a number just like it, and for similar offenses (Douglass 70, 71-72).
During the first six months that Frederick lived with Covey he was whipped at least once almost every week.  “My awkwardness was almost always his excuse for whipping me.” Frederick was seldom free from a sore back.
Although Covey fed his slaves well enough, he gave them the briefest of times to eat, often but five minutes before they were forced to continue their work.  They worked in the fields “by the first approach of day … till its last lingering ray had left us,” and they worked hard.
Covey would be out with us.  … He would spend the most of his afternoons in bed.  He would then come out fresh in the evening, ready to urge us on with his words, example, and frequently with the whip.  Mr. Covey was one of the few slaveholders who could and did work with his hands.  He was a hard-working man.  He knew by himself just what a man or a boy could do.  There was no deceiving him.  His work went on in his absence almost as well as in his presence; and he had the faculty of making us feel that he was ever present with us.  This he did by surprising us.  He seldom approached the spot where we were at work openly, if he could do it secretly.  He always aimed at taking us by surprise.  Such was his cunning, that we used to call him, among ourselves, “the snake.”  When we were at work in the cornfield, he would sometimes crawl on his hands and knees to avoid detection, and all at once he would rise nearly in our midst, and scream out. “Ha, ha!  Come, come!  Dash on, dash on!”  This being his mode of attack, it was never safe to stop a single minute.  His comings were like a thief in the night.  He appeared to us as being ever at hand.  He was under every tree, behind every stump, in every bush, and at every window, on the plantation.  He would sometimes mount his horse, as if bound to St, Michael’s, a distance of seven miles, and in half an hour afterwards you would see him coiled up in the corner of the wood-fence, watching every motion of the slaves.  He would, for this purpose, leave his horse tied up in the woods.  Again, he would sometimes walk up to us, and give us orders as thought he was upon the point of starting on a long journey, turn his back upon us, and make as though he was going to the house to get ready; and, before he would get half way thither, he would turn short and crawl into a fence-corner, or behind some tree, and there watch us till the going down of the sun (Douglass 73-74).
Frederick was contemptuous of Covey in another respect.  Covey, a poor man, owned but one slave, a large, strong twenty-year-old woman named Caroline.  Covey had bought her to breed children.  He planned to increase his slave-holdings in this manner.  Before Frederick was rented to him, Covey had hired another black worker, a married slave, for one year, and had forced him to spend each night with Caroline.  At the end of the year Caroline gave birth to twins.  Frederick witnessed the deferential treatment she received from Covey and his wife during her pregnancy: “nothing they could do for Caroline during her confinement was too good, or too hard, to be done.  The children were regarded as being quite an addition to his wealth.”
Frederick’s work continued, unrelentingly.  He and his slave companions worked in all kinds of weather.  Heat, bitter cold, harsh rain, nothing kept them from the fields.  “The longest days were too short” for Covey, “the shortest nights too long.”  The beatings, the psychological stress, the unending hard work took its toll on Frederick.  In but a few months “Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me.  I was broken in body, soul, and spirit.  My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me, and behold a man transformed into a brute!
Sunday was my only leisure time.  I spent this in a sort of beast-like stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree.  At times I would rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would dart through my soul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope, that flickered for a moment, and then vanished.  I sank down again, mourning over my wretched condition.  I was sometimes prompted to take my life, and that of Covey, but was prevented by a combination of hope and fear (Douglass 75).
Work Cited:
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.  Print.