In his novella The Heroic Slave, Frederick Douglass offers a fictional portrait of an actual person, Madison Washington, who led a revolt against the captain and crew of a ship. In1842, he and some 100 other enslaved people were onboard the Creole, being transported from Virginia to New Orleans. Having been captured as a fugitive escaped slave, he was punished by being sold away from his family. Washington’s success at commandeering the ship and having it sail to WHERE, where they were all eventually declared free, outraged U.S. advocates of slavery. White writers condemned him for the use of force and generally painted him in stereotypical terms, emphasizing the ostensibly violent nature of Black people.
Douglass took the opposite perspective. A thesis that addresses his characterization of Washington should address the heroism and leadership that Douglass emphasizes. He contextualizes the revolt within both other events of Washington’s life and the injustice of slavery as a system. Douglass stresses the reasons that Washington ended up on the ship and his commitment to helping others.
Although Washington himself had previously escaped and gone to Canada, he returned to Virginia. Unable to feel truly free while his family was still enslaved, he was caught while trying to help his wife leave bondage. Douglass not does ignore the violent aspects of the uprising, but paints them as a necessary evil in the service of the greater good of liberation. Washington’s motivation is shown as noble and righteous: Washington acts from the courage of his anti-slavery convictions.