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Douglass was born to an enslaved woman named Harriet Bailey. He was believed to be the son of a white plantation owner, but had no proof to that effect. In any case, Douglass's little family was very quickly divided by the institution of slavery, it being a tradition, according to Douglass, "to part children from their mothers at a very early age." He was separated from his mother before he turned one year of age, and was raised, he thinks, by an elderly woman who was too old to work in the fields. Indeed, he only saw his mother, he recollects, "four or five" times in his life, when she visited (at night, to avoid slave patrols) before her death, which occurred when he was seven. In any case, his case was typical of many slaves, whose families were viewed as secondary to the requirements of slavery.
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