Frederick Douglass is born into society as a slave, but soon grows to become rebellious with a strong willpower to be a free man. The laws in America were designed to secure the subordination of slaves, and also free blacks, to white authority (Kolchin, 127) reducing black independence. Laws such as blacks not being allowed to testify against whites in court or blacks not being able to learn how to read and write affected Douglass while he was a slave. To keep slaves from rebelling, whites would control them by using whips, intimidation, religion, slave codes, and possibly death to, create a habit of perfect dependence (Kolchin, 119).
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Literature was handed out to slave owners so they could know how to properly manage and control their property. Political and social standards encouraged slave owners to be less harsh when it came to disciplining their slaves. The new laws wanted them to act more Christian towards their slaves, making slave owners rethink their morals. Many whites were encouraged to treat slaves like family, even though most slaves were treated like savages or in the traditional way where they used to treat the enslaved.
Furthermore, Douglass explains about slaves who had no family, were treated cruelly and usually they were forced to work more than those who had family. The most common way to control and discipline blacks was whipping. Douglass describes of witnessing different masters and overseers swing a blood-clotted cowskin until fatigue to the body of his own aunts (Douglass, 343). He recalls them being tied up and whipped. Whipping was commonly used to enforce rulership of slave owners and it was also used as a consequence if a slave did not perform as expected or simply broke a rule of the plantation. Douglass summarizes how overseers would whip slaves for their own sadistic desires. The prevalence of whipping was such a stark reminder of slave dependence that to bondspeople the lash came to symbolize the essence of slavery (Kolchin, 121).
Douglass additionally specifies witnessing and hearing about deaths of slaves by the hands of whites while they were still in their childhood. Acts of violence were regularly acted due to laws that blacks could not testify against whites, and the vast majority of whites escaped detention, let alone punishment (Kolchin, 130). An overseer of the plantation, Mr. Gore, killed Demby, for not coming to him when he was called. He killed Demby in front of other slaves and threatened them that they are potentially next. Douglass quotes that killing a slave, or any other colored person, in Talbot country, Maryland, is not treated as a crime (Douglass, 357). The frequent use of strong order and intimidation ensured leadership of the plantation.
On the other hand, interference in the family lives of slaves stood as the starkest reminder of their dependent status (Kolchin, 122). Douglass was separated from his mother as a baby boy. He believes that many of the children in Maryland were separated from their mothers before the age of 12. The separation between mother and child was another method that slave owners used to control the emotional bond between slaves. Slaves that have no mother, have a feeling of senseless and hopelessness, which makes them easier to control. Douglass states that the early separation affected the lack of relationships he had with his brother and sisters that lived within the same household. Douglass describes a want of information concerning my own as a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood (Douglass, 341).
If slaves were honest about the way they were treated and the poor conditions that they had to endure, they could be removed from their family by the slave owner if they found out. Douglass describes about Colonel Lloyd questioning a colored man he passes on the road if his master treats him well. The man replies No he then asks the man if his master gives him enough food in which the man replies Yes (Douglass, 352). The man that Douglass interacts with is eventually sold to a Georgia slave trader. He was sold because slaves were forced to say that they were happy and that they were treated well by their own master, whenever that was not the case. If a slave was brave enough to express how they were being treated, they could be snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death (Douglass, 353). Since slaves did not want to be taken away from their kin, they were forced to comply with whatever the master wanted them to do.
As a young boy, Douglass is sent to Baltimore to live with Mr. Hugh Auld to care for his son, Thomas. Douglass considers his leaving of the plantation remarkable and that he for once was clean and had enough to eat. Douglass immediately notices the differences of freedom that city slaves had compared to plantation slaves. Douglass says Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent personality begins to fade into a rebellious one as he adapts to city life.
Mrs. Auld, the mistress of Douglass master, begins to teach him the alphabet and four letter words shortly after arriving when Mr. Auld interferes. Douglass hears Mr. Auld say If you teach him how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave (Douglass, 364). For Douglass, this motivates him to be free of captivation and he starts to be rebellious. He becomes self-driven to become literate so he can run away and become a free man. It doesnt take long for Douglass to discover that education and slavery were incompatible with each other (Douglass, 368). Douglass felt that he received a blessing and a curse by being literate and fell into depression. He regained his confidence after learning the word abolition and meetings with anti-slavery whites that encourage him to gain his independence.
Captain Thomas Auld attended a two week Methodist camp while Douglass is with him. The camp makes Douglass hopeful that he will be freed or be treated more kind and humane from Auld. Douglass sees that religion instead made Captain Auld more cruel and hateful in his ways (Douglass, 380). Religion was another common method whites used to control slaves and monitor their behavior assuming slaves were the descendants of Ham and God wished them to be punished by slavery. Douglass describes how Captain Auld used religious sanctions and support for his slaveholding cruelty reciting during whippings He that knoweth his masterr’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes (Douglass, 381). Douglass believed that the religious slave owners were the most cruel ones.
Resistance affected masters attempts to control slaves. Slaves resisted by slowing down work, confrontations, and running away. Douglass became more determined to run away after being in the hands of Captain Auld. Especially that his city living in Baltimore made him more comfortable for the country to plantation slavery environment. Douglass would free horses so he would have an excuse to go after them. While he was pursuing the horses, he would go find food. This made Douglass look like a terrible slave, so Mr. Auld sends him to Mr. Covey for a year to be broken in. This caused Douglass to be more rebellious and intolerant of slavery.
Mr. Covey would work and beat Douglass to the point it affected his overall intellect, happiness, and his well-being to that of a beast (Douglass, 387) in an effort to control him after. Douglass tries to find help, so he goes to his master Thomas, but he refused to acknowledge the issue. One day, Douglass decides to resist Coveyr’s abuse and he aims for his throat. Mr. Covey was surprised and he was overpowered by Douglass. They both fight for hours and after the long altercation, Douglass was never whipped again by Mr. Covey. Douglass describes feeling like a man after the altercation and it boosts his self-confidence.
Douglass goes through a few owners before he settled with Mr. Freeland. With Mr. Freeland, Douglass teaches new slaves how to read and write. By 1835, Douglass begins to reject his slave status. Douglass is sent to jail before Mr. Auld can retrieve him after attempting to retrieve his freedom from Mr. Freeland. Auld sends Douglass back to Baltimore to learn how to caulk since he was of no use anymore on the plantation.
Douglass convinces his masters to let him hire his own time as he begins to plan for his freedom. Master Hugh sees the opportunity as privileged in earning Douglass earnings without having to handle him. Douglass provides Hugh a false sense of contentment before he leaves for Baltimore. He finally becomes a free man and settles in a free black community in New York.
Slavery as an institution was explosive to the mind, brutal, unjust, and on a general level all slaves detested it and longed for the day when they would be free (Kolchin, 168). Douglass rejoices in gaining complete liberty despite of the obstacles her’s had to face. Douglass proceeded to celebrate his freedom and resist slavery by becoming a leader, writer, and a national leader of the abolitionist movement.
Experience Of Free Black Life. (2019, Jun 10).
Retrieved September 25, 2022 , from
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