Captain Anthony’s family is made up of two sons, Andrew and Richard, a daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld. Together, they live on a single house on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd, for whom Anthony serves as a superintendent.
Despite having—and abusing—absolute authority over his slaves, Anthony himself is also a cog in a larger structure of power.
Colonel Lloyd’s plantation generates so much tobacco, corn, and wheat that a ship must travel constantly to and from Baltimore in order to sell the goods. This ship is captained by Thomas Auld and manned by a small group of slaves. The slaves who worked on the ship were esteemed by the plantation slaves, as it was considered a privilege to get to visit Baltimore.
Social hierarchies exist even among the slaves. Despite their universal misery, the ability to go to Baltimore is viewed as a clear symbol of status.
Colonel Lloyd owned three or four hundred slaves, and his operation also includes over twenty farms that neighbor his plantation. Overseers of the farms report to the central plantation, and errant slaves are sent there to be disciplined. The central plantation also provides slaves with their monthly food and yearly clothing. For food, the slaves received eight pounds of meat and a bushel of corn meal. The slaves’ annual clothing consists of two linen shirts, one pair of linen pants, a jacket and trousers for the winter, and a single pair of shoes and socks. Children are given only two linen shirts, and must go naked if their clothes fail.
Colonel Lloyd’s extravagant wealth contrasts sharply with the utterly inadequate supplies his slaves are given for subsistence.
The slaves are not given proper beds, but they hardly have time to sleep anyway. What little time they don’t spend working in the fields is often taken up by domestic chores. Any slave late for work will be whipped by the overseer, Mr. Severe.
The slaves’ lack of comfort hurts them less than the deprivation of their basic human needs, like sleep.
Mr. Severe was a cruel and profane overseer who had no qualms whipping a slave bloody in front of her own children. He died soon after Douglass arrived at Colonel Lloyd’s. Severe was replaced by the less sadistic Mr. Hopkins, who was seen by the slaves as a good overseer.
Even after being worked hard and forced to live in miserable conditions, the slaves face gratuitous violence from Severe. The slaves feel genuine relief when this violence is diminished under Mr. Hopkins.
Colonel Lloyd’s plantation looked like a small village, and was called “The Great House Farm” by the slaves. Working at the Great House Farm was seen as an honor by the slaves: it showed the master’s confidence in them, and allowed them to avoid the slave-driver’s lash in the fields.
Working at the Great House Farm is another way that slaves differentiate themselves and develop stratification within their ranks.
The slaves selected to retrieve the monthly allowances at the Great House Farm perform the job enthusiastically. On their way to the farm, they sang incoherent-seeming songs of woe and prayer that filled Douglass with an inexpressible sorrow whenever he heard them. To Douglass, these songs indicate the dehumanizing nature of slavery, and better express slaves’ misery than the written word can. Douglass is aghast when he hears people cite the singing as evidence of the slaves’ happiness, because, to Douglass, there is no more miserable sound.
To Douglass, words can be inadequate to encapsulate the horrors of enslavement, especially when compared to the visceral emotion of the slaves’ singing.