In the preface of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, written by himself, William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist and member of the Anti-Slavery Society, said of Frederick Douglass, after hearing him speak, “Patrick Henry, of revolutionary fame, never made a speech more eloquent in the cause of liberty than the one I had just listened to from the lips of that hunted fugitive.” Garrison and other abolitionist convinced Fredrick Douglass to continue to tell his story of slavery, but Douglass was not a free man and warily told, “only fragments of his life story, guarding always the details of names, places and means of escape which might have identified him to his master and exposed friends and accomplices who had helped him in his way.”
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was Douglass’ first autobiography. In it he revealed all the details of his childhood that he could remember, which he had never spoken to anyone prior to writing the narrative because a slave with any knowledge of anything besides obeying his master was often punished by death. From listening intently to conversations of both his negro family and his white masters, he knew he was born in Tuckahoe, near Easton, in Talbot country, Maryland. Years later, when he thought he was about seventeen years old, he heard his master say it was 1835, so he at that time, set a near estimate of his own birth to be around 1818.
Frederick was raised until the age of seven by his grandmother, Harriet Bailey, in a cabin with many of his other cousins, who were taken from their parents. It was the white master’s intent to separate slave families so the slaves would remain ignorant of who they were. Frederick knew his mother, Betsey Bailey, visited him a few times when he was very small, but she died of hardship and suffering during Frederick’s childhood. It was the opinion of the slaves on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation that Frederick’s father was his master. This practice of slave owners, fathering slave children was very popular in the South as, for the slave owner, its benefits were twofold. Not only did it satisfy the master’s sinful lusts, but it added to his wealth because slaves had considerable value.
When Frederick was about seven or eight years old he was taken to the main house to be worked as a slave. It was at the main house that Frederick saw for the first time a slave being beaten. In a short time Frederick came to understand that the beating of slaves was a way of life and that no slave could avoid this fate. Frederick quickly learned to avoid the offenses that brought the punishment of a beating, but he also came to understand, that beatings were often not punishments at all, but were given because the masters and overseers got much pleasure out of beating their slaves.
The first person Frederick witnessed being beaten was his Aunt Hester, a servant at the main house. Frederick describes in his narrative what he saw looking...