At the age of seven or eight years, Frederick was separated from his mother and the rural Maryland setting where he was born and sent to work as a houseboy in a home in Baltimore. He spent the next five years of his life working in the home of Hugh and Sophia Auld.
As a houseboy, his work could have included any number of tasks involved in helping the household and its residents. He may have been responsible for tasks such as cleaning shoes or boots, fetching items, delivering messages, and other chores as directed by his owners. The key formative event that took place during this time in Frederick's life was the beginning instruction in reading that he received from Sophia Auld, who taught him the alphabet.
It was when he was older, during the 1830s, that Douglass began the skilled manual labor job of caulking ships in Baltimore. This was to be the last job he would endure as a slave. From there, Douglass escaped North in 1838 to find his freedom.