Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

Start Free Trial

How did Frederick Douglass describe slave life on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation in his Narrative?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Colonel Lloyd has a massive plantation with 300-400 slaves. They are given very little food and clothing, and children who are too young to work in the fields go almost naked because they are given no clothing. The slaves work almost constantly and drop with weariness when they stop working. They sleep with blankets but no beds, but they are too weary to notice the difference.

Mr. Lloyd's house and estate are run like a well-oiled business, as slaves carry out functions such as blacksmithing, weaving, coopering, and other tasks. Slaves vie for the right to serve in his plantation house and believe that it's a great honor to receive this right. Mr. Lloyd cares deeply for his horses and severely punishes any slave who is not perfect in his or her duties with the horses. Slaves must listen attentively to Mr. Lloyd when he speaks, and they are beaten harshly if they do not show the utmost respect and attention at all times.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Douglass describes life on the plantation as harsh and violent. He compares it unfavorably to being a slave in a city. When he was a slave in Baltimore, he noted that the proximity of homes to one another made it less likely that the owners would be too abusive. He also had a chance, while running errands in the city, to mingle with free people.

The plantation, however, was horrific. He describes being traumatized as a child the first time he saw his aunt beaten by their master, Colonel Lloyd. He says the following of Lloyd's frequent beatings of her:

He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood.

He also states that the comforting testimony of slaves, when questioned by whites, that their owners are good to them is a lie. He tells the story of a slave who had never met his master, Colonel Lloyd, but who was questioned by a white man about how the plantation slaves were treated. The slave answered honestly that they were treated badly. The white man turned out to be Lloyd. The slave was sold south to Georgia to set an example to the other slaves not to complain.

Overall, Douglass remembers the time on the plantation as frightening and unhappy. Slaves lived in very poor conditions. For example, young children had almost no clothing:

the children unable to work in the field had neither shoes, stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to them; their clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per year. When these failed them, they went naked . . .

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Douglass describes the slaves on Colonel Lloyd's massive plantation as living in fear of beatings and other forms of physical abuse. He is a child, but he remembers seeing older slaves whipped for even very minor offenses. Labor on the plantation was back-breaking, and slaves were generally supplied with only very bare necessities for survival. In addition to agricultural labor, the slaves also did all sorts of skilled work, including "shoemaking and mending, the blacksmithing, cartwrighting, coopering, weaving, and grain-grinding." The slaves had different overseers, one of which, Mr. Severe, was very cruel and almost sadistic, beating slave mothers in front of their children. The whole plantation was run in a very business-like way, and slaves tended to differentiate among themselves based on division of labor on the farm.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team