Friday, October 21, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Betrayal
In my last posted episode, Frederick and several of his friends had planned to escape their bondage by stealing a canoe from one of their masters, a Mr. William Hambleton, and paddle up the Chesapeake Bay and a canal to the Delaware River to reach the free state of Pennsylvania. This was to occur on the Saturday before Easter. 

According to plan, Frederick went to work as usual that Saturday morning.  While spreading manure, he felt a “sudden presentiment, which flashed upon me like lightning in a dark night.”  Turning instantly to Sandy Jenkins, working next to him, he said, “Sandy, we are betrayed.”  Sandy replied, “Man, dat is strange; but I feel just as you do.”  Frederick said no more.  When the horn sounded for breakfast—which, in his anxiety, he could not even think about—he started for the house.  As he came near to it, he looked down the long lane to the gate and saw four white men on horseback, leading two black men, lashed.  Charles Roberts and Henry Bailey had been dragged over from the Hambleton farm, down the St. Michael’s road.  Seeing them, Frederick knew that it was “all over…. We are surely betrayed.”  William Hambleton, who seldom moved his horse above a walk, galloped up the lane, rolling dust behind him.  Reining his horse—and his anger—he asked, with his usual circumspection, where Freeland was.  Frederick directed him to the barn (McFeely 53).

Mr. Hambleton, without dismounting, rode up to the barn with extraordinary speed.  In a few moments, he and Mr. Freeland returned to the house.  By this time, the three constables rode up, and in great haste dismounted, tied their horses, and met Master William and Mr. Hambleton returning from the barn; and after talking awhile, they all walked up to the kitchen door.  There was no one in the kitchen but myself and John.  Henry and Sandy were up at the barn.  Mr. Freeland put his head in at the door, and called me by name, saying, there were some gentlemen at the door who wished to see me.  I stepped to the door, and inquired what they wanted.  They at once seized me, and, without giving me any satisfaction, tied me—lashing my hands closely together. …

In a few moments, they succeeded in typing John.  They then turned to Henry, who had by this time returned, and commanded him to cross his hands.  “I won’t!” said Henry, in a firm tone.  … “Won’t you?” said Tom Graham, the constable.  “No, I won’t!” said Henry, in a still stronger tone.  With this, two of the constables pulled out their shining pistols, and swore, by their Creator, that they would make him cross his hands or kill him.  Each cocked his pistol, and, with fingers on the trigger, walked up to Henry, saying, at the same time, if he did not cross his hands, they would blow his damned heart out.  “Shoot me, shoot me!” said Henry; “you can’t kill me but once.  Shoot, shoot,--and be damned!  I won’t be tied!” This he said in a tone of loud defiance; and at the same time, with a motion as quick as lightning, he with one single stroke dashed the pistols from the hand of each constable.  As he did this, all hands fell upon him, and, after beating him some time, they finally overpowered him, and got him tied.

During the scuffle, I managed, I know not how, to get my pass out, and, without being discovered, put it into the fire.  We were all now tied; and just as we were to leave for Easton jail, Betsy Freeland, mother of William Freeland, came to the door with her hands full of biscuits, and divided them between Henry and John.  She then delivered herself of a speech, to the following effect:--addressing herself to me, she said, “You devil!  You yellow devil!  It was you that put it into the heads of Henry and John to run away.  But for you, you long-legged mulatto devil! Henry nor John would never have thought of such a thing.”  I made no reply, and was immediately hurried off towards St. Michael’s.  Just a moment previous to the scuffle with Henry, Mr. Hambleton suggested the propriety of making a search for the protections which he had understood Frederick had written for himself and the rest.  But, just at the moment he was about carrying his proposal into effect, his aid was needed in helping to tie Henry; and the excitement attending the scuffle caused them either to forget, or to deem it unsafe, under the circumstances, to search. 

When we got about half way to St. Michael’s while the constables having us in charge were looking ahead, Henry inquired of me what he should do with his pass.  I told him to eat it with his biscuit, and own nothing: and we passed the word around, “Own nothing,”  and “Own nothing!” said we all.  Our confidence in each other was unshaken (Douglass 95-97).

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.