Excerpts from My Bondage and My Freedom
Part 1: Life as a Slave
Chapter 1The Author’s Childhood, pp. 30-32
The first experience of life with me that I now remember and I remember it but hazily–began in the family of my grandmother and grandfather, Betsey and Isaac Baily. They were quite advanced in life, and had long lived on the spot where they then resided. They were considered old settlers in the neighborhood, and from certain circumstances, I infer that my grandmother, especially was held in high esteem, far higher than is the lot of most colored persons in the slave states. She was a good nurse, and a capital hand at making nets for catching shad and herring; and these nets were in great demand, not only in Tuckahoe, but at Denton and Hillsboro, neighboring villages. She was not only good at making the nets, but was also somewhat famous for her food fortune in taking the fishes referred to. I have known her to be in the water half the day.
My Bondage and My Freedom, Part 1: Life as a Slave
Chapter 2 The Author Removed From His First Home. pp 38-40
The distance from Tuckahoe to Wye river–where my old master lived–was full twelve miles, and the walk was quite a severe test of the endurance of my young legs… As the day advanced the heat increased; and it was not until the afternoon that we reached the much dreaded end of the journey, …this was, in fact, my first introduction to the realities of slavery.
My Bondage and My Freedom. Part 1: Life as a Slave.
Chapter 2 The Author’s Removed From His First Home. pg. 39
Grandmother pointed out my brother Perry, my sister Sarah, and my sister Eliza, who stood in the group. I had never seen my brother nor my sister Eliza, who stood in the group. I had sometimes heard of them, and felt a curious interest in them, I really did not understand what they were to me, or I to them. We were brothers and sisters, but what of that? Why should they be attached to me, or I to them? Brothers and sisters we were by blood; but slavery had made us strangers. I heard the words brothers and sisters, and knew they must mean something; but slavery had robbed these terms of their true meaning. The experience through which I was passing, they had passed through before. They had already been initiated into the mysteries of old master’s domicile, and they seemed to look upon me with a certain degree of compassion; but my heart clave to my grandmother.
Acrylic on Canvas, 30 in x 40 in.2017
Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by himself.
Boston Published at the Anti-Slavery Office, NO. 25 Cornhill 1845
We were not regularly allowanced. Our food was coarse corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied.
My Bondage and My Freedom. Chapter 3 The Author’s Parentage, pg. 45
The friendless and hungry boy, in his extremist need–and when he did not dare to look for succor–found himself in the strong, protecting arms of a mother; a mother who was, at the moment (being endowed with high powers of manner as well as matter) more than a match for all his enemies. I shall never forget the indescribable expression of her countenance, when I told her that I had had no food since morning: and that Aunt Katy said she ” meant to starve the life out of me.” There was pity in her glance at me, and a fiery indignation at Aunt Katy at the same time; and, while she took the corn from me and gave me a large ginger cake, in its stead, she read Aunt Katy a lecture, which she never forgot. My mother threatened her with complaining to old master in my behalf; for the latter, though harsh and cruel himself, at times, did not sanction the meanness, injustice, partiality and oppressions enacted by Aunt Katy in the kitchen. That night I learned the fact, that I was not only a child, but somebody’s child.
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time. pp. 37 -38
Esther is mentioned. This was a young woman who possessed that which was ever a curse to the slave girl–namely, personal beauty. She was tall, light-colored, well formed, and made a fine appearance. Esther was courted by “Ned Roberts,” the son of a favorite slave of Col. Lloyd, who was as fine-looking a young man as Esther was a woman. Some slave-holders would have been glad to have promoted the marriage of two such persons, but for some reason, Captain Anthony disapproved of their courtship. He strictly ordered her to quit the company of young Roberts, telling her that he would punish her severely if he ever found her again in his company. But it was impossible to keep this couple apart. Meet they would, and meet they did. Had Mr. Anthony been himself a man of honor, his motives in this matter might have appeared more favorably. As it was, they appeared as abhorrent as they were contemptible. It was one of the damning characteristics of slavery, that it robbed its victims of every earthly incentive to a holy life. The fear of God and the hope of heaven were sufficient to sustain many slave women amidst the snares and dangers of their strange lot; but they were ever at the mercy of the power, passion, and caprice of their owners. Slavery provided no means for the honorable perpetuation of the race. Yet despite of this destitution there were many men and women among the slaves who were true and faithful to each other through life.
But to the case in hand. Abhorred and circumvented, as he was, Captain Anthony, having the power, was determined on revenge. I happened to see its shocking execution, and shall never forget the scene. It was early in the morning, when all was still, and before any of the family in the house or kitchen had risen. I was, in fact, awakened by the heartrending shrieks and piteous cries of poor Esther. My sleeping-place was on the dirt floor of a little rough closet, which opened into the kitchen, and through the cracks in its unplanned boards I could distinctly see and hear what was going on, without being seen. Esther’s wrists were firmly tied, and the twisted rope was fastened to a strong iron staple in a heavy wooden beam above, near the fireplace. Here she stood on a bench, her arms tightly drawn above her head. Her back and shoulders were perfectly bare. Behind her stood old master, with cowhide in hand, pursuing his barbarous work with all manner of harsh, coarse, and tantalizing epithets. He was cruelly deliberate, and protracted the torture as one who was delighted with the agony of his victim. Again and again he drew the hateful scourge through his hand, adjusting it with a view of dealing the most pain-giving blow his strength and skill could inflict. Poor Esther had never before been severely whipped. Her shoulders were plump and tender. Each blow, vigorously laid on, brought screams from her as well as blood. “Have mercy! Oh, mercy!” she cried. “I wont do so no more.” But her piercing cries seemed only to increase his fury. The whole scene, with all its attendants, was revolting and shocking to the last degree,
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Chapter 10 pg. 59
Mr. Covey sent me, very early in the morning of one of our coldest days in the month of January, to the woods, to get a load of wood. He gave me a team of unbroken oxen. He told me which was the in-hand ox, and which the off-hand one. He then tied the end of a large rope around the horns of the in-hand ox, and gave me the other end of it, and told me, if the oxen started to run, that I must hold on upon the rope.
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time
My life, hitherto, had been quite away from horned cattle, and I had no knowledge of the art of managing them. What was meant by the “in ox,” as against the “off ox,” when both were equally fastened to one cart, and under one yoke, I could not very easily divine; and the difference implied by the names, and the peculiar duties of each, were alike Greek to me. Why was not the “off ox” called the “in ox?” Where and what is the reason for this distinction in names, when there is none in the things themselves? After initiating me into the use of the “whoa,” “back,” “gee,” “hither,”– the entire language spoken between oxen and driver,–Mr. Covey took a rope about ten feet long and one inch thick, and placed one end of it around the horns of the “in hand ox,” and gave the other end to me, telling me that if the oxen started to run away (as the scamp knew they would), I must hold on to the rope and stop them. I need not tell any one who is acquainted with either the strength or the disposition of an untamed ox, that this order was about as unreasonable as a command to shoulder a mad bull. I had never driven oxen before, and I was as awkward, as a driver, as it is possible to conceive. I could not plead my ignorance to Mr. Covey; there was that in his manner which forbade any reply. Cold, distant, morose, with a face wearing all the marks of captious pride and malicious sternness, he repelled all advances. He was not a large man–not more than five feet ten inches in height, I should think; short-necked, round-shouldered, of quick and wiry motion, of thin and wolfish visage, with a pair of small, greenish-gray eyes, set well back under a forehead
without dignity, and which were constantly in motion, expressing his passions rather than his thoughts, in sight but denying them utterance in words. The creature presented an appearance altogether ferocious and sinister, disagreeable and forbidding, in the extreme. When he spoke, it was from the corner of his mouth, and in a sort of light growl, like a dog, when an attempt is made to take a bone from him.
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time. Chapter XVI.pg. 122.
Another Pressure of the Tyrant’s Vice.
There I was in the deep woods, sick and emaciated, pursued by a wretch whose character for revolting cruelty beggars all opprobrious speech, bleeding and almost bloodless. I was not without the fear of bleeding to death. The thought of dying in the woods all alone, and of being torn in pieces by the buzzards, had not yet been rendered tolerable by my many troubles and hardships, and I was glad when the shade of the trees and the cool evening breeze combined with my matted hair to stop the flow of blood. After lying there about three-quarters of an hour brooding over the singular and mournful lot to which I was doomed, my mind passing over the whole scale or circle of belief and unbelief, from faith in the over-ruling Providence of God, to the blackest atheism, I again took up my journey toward St. Michaels, more weary and sad than on the morning when I left Thomas Auld’s for the home of Covey. I was bare-footed, bare-headed, and in my shirt sleeves. The way was through briers and bogs, and I tore my feet often during the journey. I was full five hours in going the seven or eight miles; partly because of the difficulties of the way, and partly because of the feebleness induced by my illness, bruises, and loss of blood.
On gaining my master’s store, I presented an appearance of wretchedness and woe calculated to move any but a heart of stone. From the crown of my head to the sole of my feet, there were marks of blood. My hair was all clotted with dust
and blood, and the back of my shirt was literally stiff with the same. Briers and thorns had scarred and torn my feet and legs. Had I escaped from a den of tigers, I could not have looked worse. In this plight I appeared before my professedly Christian master, humbly to invoke the interposition of his power and authority, to protect me from further abuse and violence