Thursday, October 6, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Escape Plan
 
Frederick’s close companions “began to see that they too must seek a way out of bondage.  They started using the dangerous word ‘escape.’ There were many arguments about the wisdom of trying to run away, to escape, particularly when they began talking with others about it” (McFeely 51).
 
At times we were almost disposed to give up, and try to content ourselves with our wretched lot; at others, we were firm and unbending in our determination to go.  Whenever we suggested any plan, there was shrinking—the odds were fearful.  Our path was beset with the greatest obstacles.  … We knew nothing about Canada.  Our knowledge of the north did not extend farther than New York; and to go there, and be forever harassed with the frightful liability of being returned to slavery—with the certainty of being treated tenfold worse than before—the thought was truly a horrible one … [W]hen we permitted ourselves to survey the road [to freedom], we were frequently appalled.  Upon either side we saw grim death, assuming the most horrid shapes.  Now it was starvation, causing us to eat our own flesh; --now we were contending with the waves, and were drowned;--now we were overtaken, and torn to pieces by the fangs of the terrible bloodhound.  We were stung by scorpions, chased by wild beasts, bitten by snakes, and finally, after having nearly reached the desired spot,--after swimming rivers, encountering wild beasts, sleeping in the woods, suffering hunger and nakedness,--we were overtaken by our pursuers, and, in our resistance, we were shot dead upon the spot (Douglass 92-93)!
 
Frederick did know much more than his fellow conspirators about how to proceed.   He knew that they had to go northward on the Chesapeake; he had noticed in Baltimore that boats went up the bay and, he had learned, through a canal that crossed to the Delaware River.  Up the Delaware River was Pennsylvania, where there was no slavery.  To the east of the Chesapeake and the Delaware River were Maryland and the state of Delaware, slave-holding states that they had to avoid.  Using Frederick’s knowledge, they agreed on a plan of escape.
 
They would travel most of the way, seventy or eighty miles, by water.  None of them knew how to sail, so they decided they would steal William Hambleton’s large oyster-gathering canoe the night previous to Easter Sunday and row their way northward close to the Eastern Shore’s many-fingered coast, always within swimming distance should their canoe capsize.
 
We were less liable to be suspected as runaways; we hoped to be regarded as fishermen; whereas, if we should take the land route, we should be subjected to interruptions of almost every kind.  Any one having a white face, and being so disposed, could stop us, and subject us to examination.
 
The week before our intended start, I wrote several protections, one for each of us.  As well as I can remember, they were in the following words, to wit:--
 
“This is to certify that I, the undersigned, have given the bearer, my servant, full liberty to go to Baltimore, and spend the Easter holidays.  Written with mine own hand, &c., 1836.
 
William Hambleton,
Near St. Michael’s, in Talbot County, Maryland
 
We were not going to Baltimore; but, in going up the bay, we went toward Baltimore, and these protections were only intended to protect us while on the bay (Douglass 93-94).
 
Near the town of North Point, which Frederick understood was on the canal that linked Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River, they planned to abandon the canoe and by foot, unseen, reach Pennsylvania.
 
Unlike the others, Sandy Jenkins was influenced by superstition.  One morning he told Frederick, “I dreamed, last night, that I was roused from sleep, by strange noises, like the voices of a swarm of angry birds that caused a roar as they passed.   … I saw you, Frederick, in the claws of a huge bird, surrounded by a large number of birds, of all colors and sizes.  These were all picking at you, while you, with your arms, seemed to be trying to protect your eyes.”  Sandy told Frederick to take his dream as a warning.
 
Sandy dropped out of the conspiracy (it is not clear if he ever intended to leave his wife and accompany the others), but Frederick and his companions would not be dissuaded.  On Friday, April 1, 1836, their food and clothes bundled tightly, the band slept what they deeply hoped would be their last night in bondage (McFeely 52).
 
 
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.