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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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What was Frederick Douglass's life like as a young slave in Maryland?

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On the plantation in Maryland, the boy slave Frederick found life unhappy and frightening because of the abuse the slaves suffered. In Baltimore, his life as a slave was easier, but the knowledge that he would always be owned ate away at him as unfair and caused him to desire freedom.

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The young Frederick Douglass had several different experiences as a slave boy in Maryland. In his early youth, he was found plantation life frightening. His master, who was rumored also to be his father, was cruel to the slaves, while the overseer, Mr. Plummer, was a "monster" and a drunk...

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who beat the slaves without mercy.

The young Douglass's most frightening early experience was watching the behavior of his master, Captain Anthony. He was "hardened" to slavery and seemed to enjoy whipping his slaves. Douglass was horrified one day to be ordered, with other slaves, to witness him beating a slave named Hester bloody. Douglass was newly arrived at the great house of the plantation after being raised during his early years by his grandmother and was terrified by what he saw.

Later, when Douglass was sent to live in Baltimore with the Aulds, his lot improved. He noted that because the houses in the city were close together, masters were less likely to abuse their slaves cruelly. His mistress, newly married and new to slave owning, at first treated him kindly and began to teach him to read. After this was stopped, Douglass, while out running errands in the streets, would trade bread with white boys for help with reading.

While life was better for Douglass in Baltimore, it was here he realized he would always be a slave, even after he grew up, and the knowledge ate into him as unfair. He developed a deep desire for freedom and a deep hatred of the humiliations of being a slave, both of which would later impel him to seek freedom.

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What was life like for Frederick Douglass as a young American slave boy in Maryland?

To add on the the post above, Douglass comments on his days on the plantation as being somewhat idle.  He, along with the other slave children, live with his grandmother, and they spend their days doing small chores.  Douglass is too small to work in the fields, so he must run errands in the meantime.  This all changes when he is sent to live with Master Hugh in Baltimore.  While there, he occupies his time during the day getting literacy lessons (until it is deemed that he should not be taught to read and write), running errands around town, and making "friends" with the poor white boys down the street.  In Baltimore, Douglass's life as a slave began to show some opportunity, unlike his idle days on the plantation.

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What was life like for Frederick Douglass as a young American slave boy in Maryland?

From the opening chapter of Douglass' narrative, there is much to reflect the horrific nature of America's original sin of slavery.  Notice the lack of definition in the life of a slave.  Douglass does not know his age because slaves were not permitted to keep birth certificates and were treated as less than human, as the offspring of a slave was a commodity just like their parents.  This uncertainty is continued when Douglass is not entirely certain the identity of his father, to be presumed to be the master of the plantation.  This would reflect another horrific aspect of slavery in the frequent rape and violation of female slaves that was never prosecuted nor discouraged.  Additionally, Douglass knows little of his mother because they were separated by birth, reflecting the cruelty of dividing families of slaves.

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What was life like for Frederick Douglass as a young American slave boy in Maryland?

When Frederick was a baby, he was separated from his mother and sold to a different plantation, so his memories of her consist of the times she was able to walk for 12 miles to come visit him for a short time at night. At the plantation where he is a slave, he witnesses many cruelties, one of them being an especially cruel overseer tying up his aunt and whipping her. The slaves have to be very careful about what they say or do, because they can be punished. If a slave stole some fruit, or if they say something disapproving about the Master, then they would be severely punished for it. There is no legal repercussions for hurting or even killing a slave. Frederick lives in fear of this, and also has to live in very poor conditions, never having adequate clothing or food. Eventually, he gets to go live with the Auld family, and the woman is kind to him and begins to teach him to read until her husband finds out and stops her. This is the real beginning of Frederick's quest to learn as much as he can and eventually work his way to freedom.

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What was life like for Frederick Douglass as a young American slave boy in Maryland?

Horrible.  Inhuman.  Terrible.  Any word of misery you can think of to ascribe to Douglass' life as a young boy would be appropriate. 

It took me only seconds to find the passage in which Douglass so vividly and unflinchingly relates his childhood, and life under Captain Anthony and Mr. Plummer, the overseer:

Mr Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster.  He always went armed with a cowskin and a heavy cudgel.  I have known him to cut and slash the women's heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself.  Master, however, was not a humane slaveholder.  It required extraordinary barbarity on the part of the overseer to affect him. ...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.  No words, no tears, no prayers from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose.  The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped...

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According to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what was life like for Frederick Douglass as a young American slave boy in Maryland?

This depends on where in Maryland Douglass is at the time of inquiry.  Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, and spent the early years of his childhood on a large plantation.  Because he was too young to work in the fields, he spent much time driving cows and cleaning the front yard.  In his leisure time, he helped his master's son on errands such as chasing after downed birds that Master Daniel shot while hunting. 

When Douglass was around five years old, he was sent to Baltimore to live with his master's brother.  There he was to be the companion of the master's son.  Since he lived in the city, his life was much easier than it had been on the plantation.  Master Hugh gave him enough food to eat, and the living conditions were much more comfortable.  Douglass says that people who lived in the city took pride in how well they treated their slaves.

During the day in Baltimore, Douglass made haste running his errands which allowed him to have extra time for his own interests, namely finding poor white boys who would agree to give him reading lessons.  So life for young Douglass in Baltimore had considerable freedoms compared to life on the plantation.

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