At this point, Douglass can now give accurate dates when describing his experience. He left Baltimore and arrived at St. Michael’s in March of 1832. It has been seven years since Douglass lived with Master Thomas Auld, and Douglass is soon reminded of the cruel spirit of Thomas and his wife. Thomas does not adequately feed his slaves. Douglass and the other slaves—his sister, Eliza; his aunt, Priscilla; and a woman named Henny—are forced to beg and steal in order to subsist. While the slaves starve, the Aulds’ storeroom overflows with bounty, and they pray for still more.
Thomas and Rowena are archetypes of the hypocritical Christian slaveholder. While they withhold their plentiful food from their slaves, who are reduced to utter wretchedness, the masters feign piety and pray for more bounty.
Thomas Auld is particularly mean and immoral because he gained his slaves by marriage. He attempts to adopt the mannerisms of people who were brought up owning slaves, but ends up relating to his slaves in an awkward and inconsistent manner. Because of this, the slaves hold him in contempt, and do not even address him as “master.”
Even the slaves themselves recognize the awkward status that Thomas’s slave ownership has conferred upon him. Their knowledge of their master’s insecurity is enough to dash what little respect they may have had for him.
In August of 1832, Thomas Auld goes to a Methodist camp-meeting and returns with strong religious faith. Douglass hopes that this faith might make Thomas emancipate his slaves, or at least treat them more humanely, but Thomas instead becomes a crueler man. Thomas now uses religion to justify owning slaves, and prays enthusiastically.
The Christianity of the slaveholders is not a genuine Christianity, as it only makes the slaveholders crueler to their fellow human beings.
Preachers routinely come to Thomas Auld’s house, and eat well while the slaves starve. However, not all of the white people Douglass meets are unkind: one of the preachers, Mr. Cookman, is sympathetic to the slaves, and the slaves respect him for it. Another white man named Mr. Wilson sets up a Sabbath school to teach the slaves to read the new testament, but the school meets only three times before it is broken up by some of the most pious men in the town who dislike the idea of slaves learning to read anything, and who storm in wielding sticks.
The selfishness of the preachers and the destruction of the Sabbath school highlight the hypocrisy of the “Christian” slaveholders. Slaves are violently forbidden to learn to study the Bible solely because literacy threatens to empower them. The white Christians are trying to stop others from coming closer to Christ because they want to ensure nothing interferes with slavery.
Master Thomas is particularly abusive to Henny, whose deformed arms prevent her from doing any work but bearing burdens. He brutally whips Henny and then quotes scripture to justify his actions.
Even though Henny as an invalid is most deserving of Christian charity, Thomas finds the most excuses to treat her inhumanely.
Douglass and Master Thomas do not get along, because Thomas thinks Douglass’s city upbringing has made him headstrong. Douglass regularly lets Thomas’s horse escape so that he can go to a neighboring farm and get something to eat. Thomas tries to discipline Douglass, but his whippings fail. Thomas decides to lend Douglass for a year to a farmer named Edward Covey, who is known for his ability to break slaves. Douglass is once again glad to for the change in ownership, as he hears that Covey will feed him well.
Douglass’s taste of relative freedom has given him the courage to defy his master’s authority. When he is to be given to Covey, Douglass’s optimism again prevails to help him negotiate changing circumstances