This "man who wore his diploma on his back" helped lead his race out of slavery.
In 1818 Harriet Baily, a Maryland slave, bore a son and named him Frederick. Like
many other slave women, she never was able to introduce him to a father. She could
only tell him his father was a master named Aaron Anthony. And like many slave mothers,
she never saw her son after age 7.
Young Frederick learned starvation and degredation and for his first, but by no means last, time
watched a beating at the Anthony plantation. Naturally charming, he did find his way
into the good graces of Anthony's relatively kind daughter who arranged for him
to go to Baltimore as a house servant to Hugh and Sophia Auld.
In their home Sophia Auld read to him from the Bible and consented to teach him to read.
But when Hugh heard of the lessons, he furiously forbad them. Reading, besides being illegal
for a slave, would make Frederick discontent and troublesome. He would no longer be a suitable slave.
That was enough for young Frederick. If learning to read was the path to freedom, he
would learn to read. Ever creative, he bartered pieces of bread to poor white children for reading
lessons. And by age 13 he had acquired a copy of The Columbian Orator and was reading
newspapers. From the Orator's fiery exaltations of liberty and the newspapers'
accounts of abolitionists, Frederick developed a deep hunger for freedom.
At age 15, due to Aaron Anthony's death, Frederick went to work as a field hand for
Thomas Auld. He was part of Thomas's share of the estate - an estate who's division
dispersed his family far and wide. Most devastating to Frederick was his grandmother's
fate. Judged too old to work, she was sent into the woods to die.
Thomas did not like Frederick's independence of mind and sent him to a local
slave breaker, Edward Covey. Covey was a truly brutal man and nearly succeeded
in breaking the 15-year-old Frederick's will. But one day when Covey was tying him
up for a beating, Frederick got the urge to fight back. The two fought for 2 hours
before Covey retired from the struggle, saying that if Frederick had submitted,
he wouldn't have been beaten so badly. Why Covey didn't kill him is uncertain for the
law would have permitted it. One story simply says that doing so would have been to
admit he couldn't beat a 15-year-old boy and he did not want turn hurt his
tough reputation. Another says that a kind-hearted relative of Covey's who was
visiting hid his shotgun. Either way, Frederick had learned that he could fight back.
After working a couple other places and having one escape attempt foiled, Frederick
went back to work for Hugh Auld in Baltimore. Hugh taught Frederick to caulk ships,
a trade in high demand in the Eastern ports. Soon Douglass was making good money --
for his master. Having had his appetite for freedom whetted, seeing the money he made
and turning it all over to Auld angered him. He worked a deal with Auld so that he
provided for his own accomadations and paid Hugh a set amount. This allowed Frederick
both to save a little money and have a measure of freedom. It was also good
preparation for the responsibilities of complete freedom in the future.
During this time of partial freedom, Frederick met Anna.
More of this story is coming soon!
For more information on Douglass' life, see http://www.history.rochester.edu/class/DOUGLASS/home.html
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