The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass Character Analysis

Douglass, the Narrative’s author and protagonist, was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, to a woman named Harriet Bailey. His father was an unknown white man who may have been his master. Douglass begins life belonging to Captain Anthony, who is a steward on Colonel Edward Lloyd’s plantation. Later, Douglass is moved Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld and Sophia Auld, relatives of Anthony’s son-in-law, Thomas Auld. Douglass believes that education is a path to self-emancipation, and for this reason, he teaches himself to read and write in Baltimore. Douglass then suffers as a slave to Thomas Auld, then Edward Covey and, after Covey, William Freeland. Under Freeland, he attempts his first escape, which fails. Throughout his enslavement, Douglass finds that the most religious masters are, hypocritically, often the cruelest to their slaves. Douglass spends his final months of slavery in Baltimore with Hugh, where he learns the trade of caulking ships. Douglass successfully escapes to New York, where he marries Anna Murray, and then makes his way to Massachusetts, where he becomes an antislavery advocate.

Frederick Douglass Quotes in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

The The Narrative of Frederick Douglass quotes below are all either spoken by Frederick Douglass or refer to Frederick Douglass. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of The Narrative of Frederick Douglass published in 1995.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

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On watching Captain Anthony whip Aunt Hester: “I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood- stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Captain Anthony, Aunt Hester
Related Symbols: The Whipping of Aunt Hester
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness…I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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“I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

On Old Barney and Young Barney: “No excuse could shield them, if the colonel only suspected any want of attention to his horses—a supposition which he frequently indulged, and one which, of course, made the office of old and young Barney a very trying one. They never knew when they were safe from punishment. They were frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped whipping when most deserving it.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Colonel Edward Lloyd, Old Barney and Young Barney
Related Symbols: Old Barney and Young Barney
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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“…slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

“I speak advisedly when I say this,—that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Symbols: Demby
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“The ties that ordinarily bind children to their homes were all suspended in my case. I found no severe trial in my departure. My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying…I looked for home elsewhere, and was confident of finding none which I should relish less than the one which I was leaving.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

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“From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

On Sophia Auld’s transformation of character: “But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Sophia Auld
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

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“I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man… The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering… and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Hugh Auld, Sophia Auld
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

On reading The Columbian Orator: “The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Columbian Orator
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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“The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Columbian Orator
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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“As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Columbian Orator
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

“We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination…at this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

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“at this time, this most needful time, the time for the exercise of that tenderness and affection which children only can exercise towards a declining parent—my poor old grandmother, the devoted mother of twelve children, is left all alone, in yonder little hut, before a few dim embers. She stands—she sits—she staggers—she falls—she groans—she dies—and there are none of her children or grandchildren present, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death, or to place beneath the sod her fallen remains. Will not a righteous God visit for these things?”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Betsy Bailey
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

“A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay mouldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that mistress and her husband [Rowena Hamilton and Thomas Auld] would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store!”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Captain Thomas Auld, Rowena Hamilton
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

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“In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion…if it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Captain Thomas Auld
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

“If at any one time of my life more than another, I was made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the first six months of my stay with Mr. Covey…I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Edward Covey
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

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“This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood…My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Edward Covey
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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“For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

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“I held my Sabbath school at the house of a free colored man, whose name I deem it imprudent to mention; for should it be known, it might embarrass him greatly, though the crime of holding the school was committed ten years ago. I had at one time over forty scholars, and those of the right sort, ardently desiring to learn…I look back to those Sundays with an amount of pleasure not to be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“The impression which I had received respecting the character and condition of the people of the north, I found to be singularly erroneous. I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at the north, compared with what were enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south…The people looked more able, stronger, healthier, and happier, than those of Maryland. I was for once made glad by a view of extreme wealth, without being saddened by seeing extreme poverty.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 66-67
Explanation and Analysis:

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“The [Liberator] paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds—its scathing denunciations of slaveholders—its faithful exposures of slavery—and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution—sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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Appendix Quotes

“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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Frederick Douglass Character Timeline in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

The timeline below shows where the character Frederick Douglass appears in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
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Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Like most slaves, he does not know when he was... (full context)
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Douglass’s mother is named Harriet Bailey, and his father is an unknown white man rumored to... (full context)
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Because of his separation from his mother, and her untimely death, Douglass has no idea who his father is. Ultimately, this fact makes little difference, since slaveholders... (full context)
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If this mulatto population keeps growing, Douglass observes that slavery will no longer be able to persist under its so-called biblical justification,... (full context)
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Douglass has had two masters. The first was a sailor from the Chesapeake named Captain Anthony.... (full context)
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...whipped by Anthony for spending time with a slave from a nearby plantation, named Ned. Douglass remembers that Hester was very attractive. Anthony seems to be jealous of her spending time... (full context)
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Fearful that he may be next, the young Douglass hides in a closet after witnessing the whipping. This was his first real glimpse of... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...slaves receive a whipping regardless of whether or not they could have controlled the problems. Douglass has even seen Old Barney, a sixty-year-old man, forced to kneel and receive thirty lashes.... (full context)
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...was sold to a Georgia trader as punishment for his truthful responses. This, according to Douglass, is the sort of fate that befalls any slave who speaks truthfully. (full context)
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...is considered better to suppress the truth than to face the consequences of telling it. Douglass himself remembers lying about his happiness when asked. (full context)
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...better than others’, and will sometimes fight amongst themselves about the goodness of their masters. Douglass writes that “it was considered as being bad enough to be a slave; but to... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...prideful, and he can twist any action into a punishable act of impudence. According to Douglass, Gore lives by the maxim, “It is better that a dozen slaves should suffer under... (full context)
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Douglass observes that killing a black person, slave or free, is not treated as a crime... (full context)
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Lastly, Douglass recounts the story of Colonel Lloyd’s neighbor, Mr. Beal Bondly, who killed one of Lloyd’s... (full context)
Chapter 5
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While a child on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, Douglass wasn’t subjected to much hard labor, and only had to perform a few chores. He... (full context)
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At age seven or eight, Douglass is sent away from the Lloyd plantation in order to live in Baltimore with Mr.... (full context)
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On the boat ride over to Baltimore, Douglass stops in Annapolis, the state capital. He is awed by the city’s size, though he... (full context)
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Douglass arrives in Baltimore and is taken to his new home in Fells Point, near a... (full context)
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To Douglass, his move to Baltimore laid the foundations for his freedom. He believes it quite possible... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Sophia Auld is, at first, everything Douglass expected her to be. Her dedication to her trade as a weaver has left her... (full context)
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However, Mrs. Auld is soon warped by the corrupting power of owning slaves. After Douglass moves in, she generously begins teaching him his ABC’s, but just as Douglass is beginning... (full context)
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Mr. Auld’s words affect Douglass deeply, and he realizes that Mr. Auld’s exhortations against educating slaves must mean that learning... (full context)
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In Baltimore, Douglass notices that slaves are treated much more humanely, and live almost like freemen. City-dwelling slaveholders... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Douglass spends seven years living with Master Hugh’s family. During this time, he manages to teach... (full context)
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Douglass observes that slavery has harmed mistress Sophia Auld as much as it has damaged him.... (full context)
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Sophia's efforts to stifle Douglass’s education fall short, because Douglass is determined to educate himself. His most successful ploy is... (full context)
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After Douglass learns to read, he comes across two books that he reads over and over. The... (full context)
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While Douglass’s reading brings him an intellectual means of confronting his enslavement, it also forces him to... (full context)
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Douglass becomes miserable, and begins to regret his existence and wish himself dead. Meanwhile, he listens... (full context)
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Douglass encounters two Irish dockworkers, who sympathize with his life of enslavement and encourage him to... (full context)
Chapter 8
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When Douglass is roughly ten or eleven, his old master, Captain Anthony, dies. Douglass is summoned back... (full context)
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Because Douglass knows what it is like to be treated kindly, the evaluation makes him even more... (full context)
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Shortly after Douglass returns to Baltimore, his mistress, Lucretia, dies. Soon after, Master Andrew dies as well. The... (full context)
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...a woman named Rowena Hamilton. Thomas and Hugh have a falling-out, and as a consequence, Douglass is taken from Hugh and sent to live with Thomas in St. Michael’s, a town... (full context)
Chapter 9
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At this point, Douglass can now give accurate dates when describing his experience. He left Baltimore and arrived at... (full context)
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...of 1932, 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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Douglass and Master Thomas do not get along, because Thomas thinks Douglass’s city upbringing has made... (full context)
Chapter 10
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On January 1st, 1833, Douglass leaves Master Thomas’s to work as a field hand for Mr. Covey. Douglass’s city upbringing... (full context)
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During Douglass’s first six months living with Covey, he was whipped roughly once a week. Covey works... (full context)
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...fieldwork. Covey often sings hymns with his family, but is not a strong reader, and Douglass is usually required to read the hymns. However, Douglass often refuses, which unsettles Covey, and... (full context)
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Douglass is broken by his six months with Covey. He is forced to work in every... (full context)
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Covey’s house is on the Chesapeake Bay, and Douglass’s regular sight of the far-ranging ships in the harbor makes him fearful and sad about... (full context)
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While fanning wheat for Covey in August of 1833, Douglass collapses from heat exhaustion and is unable to continue working. Covey hits Douglass and demands... (full context)
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Douglass spends the night in St. Michael’s, and returns to Covey’s the next day. He sees... (full context)
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The next day, Sunday, Douglass returns to Covey’s carrying the root on his right side. On his way back, he... (full context)
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The fight with Covey renews Douglass’s self-confidence and his desire to be free, and he experiences a satisfaction that could only... (full context)
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Douglass is at first surprised that Covey doesn’t have him whipped by a constable. Douglass theorizes... (full context)
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Douglass’s year of service to Mr. Covey ends on Christmas Day of 1833. Slaves are given... (full context)
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On January 1st, 1834, Douglass is sent to live with William Freeland, who lives near St. Michael’s. Freeland is a... (full context)
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Mr. Freeland treats Douglass more fairly than Covey did, giving his slaves both enough to eat and enough time... (full context)
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Douglass passes a relatively easy year with Mr. Freeland. He attributes some of his comfort to... (full context)
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It is important to Douglass to convince his fellow slaves to escape with him. They meet frequently to plan their... (full context)
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Douglass’s escape plan involves his group of slaves paddling a canoe up the Chesapeake to reach... (full context)
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On the day the slaves had planned to flee, Douglass goes to work as usual. However, he is overcome with an inexplicable feeling of betrayal.... (full context)
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...appraise and demean the imprisoned slaves. After some time in jail, all the slaves except Douglass are taken home; this separation pains Douglass dearly. Douglass believes that he will be the... (full context)
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While languishing in jail, Douglass abandons hope. His master, Thomas Auld, announces plans to send him to Alabama. However, Thomas... (full context)
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When Douglass arrives in Baltimore, he is apprenticed to a ship-builder named William Gardner, who will teach... (full context)
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Douglass returns to Master Hugh that day, and Sophia cares for his wounds. Hugh is outraged... (full context)
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With no chance for redress, Hugh nurses Douglass back to health in his home, and then apprentices the slave to another caulker, Mr.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Douglass introduces this chapter as a description of his successful escape. However, he says that he... (full context)
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Douglass also expresses his frustration with the very public way in which the underground railroad—a network... (full context)
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In 1838, Douglass grew dissatisfied with forfeiting all of his earnings to Master Hugh. Sometimes, Hugh would let... (full context)
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Master Thomas comes to Baltimore, and Douglass requests that he be allowed to work for pay. Thomas refuses this request, and tells... (full context)
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After a few months of this arrangement, Douglass neglects to pay Hugh his weekly tribute on time because he has gone to spend... (full context)
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After this confrontation, Douglass decides to attempt an escape on the third of September. He works extremely diligently in... (full context)
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Douglass has mixed feelings about escaping, because he will be forced to part with the beloved... (full context)
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Douglass reaches New York City on September third, and initially feels great relief. However, this relief... (full context)
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Fortunately, Douglass is aided by a free black abolitionist and journalist, Mr. David Ruggles, who takes the... (full context)
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Douglass and his new wife board a steamboat for Newport, Rhode Island. Despite having no money... (full context)
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Douglass begins to feel safe with Johnson. Douglass realizes that the name he had picked for... (full context)
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The comfort and splendor of life in New Bedford astounds Douglass, because he didn’t think such prosperity would have been possible without owning slaves. He had... (full context)
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On his third day in town, Douglass finds work loading oil onto a ship. He is unable to make use of his... (full context)
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After a few months spent in New Bedford, Douglass begins to read the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper run by William Lloyd Garrison. Douglass becomes... (full context)
Appendix
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Douglass realizes that his tone in the body of his narrative may have resembled a condemnation... (full context)
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Douglass condemns the hypocrisy of so-called Christians who brutally beat slaves, use them for prostitution, disband... (full context)