Douglass’s Escape from Slavery

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The hardships of slavery along with the childhood and escape of the historical figure, Frederick Douglass, are all depicted by him in his memoir released in 1845, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”. Throughout this slave narrative, friendship played a rather prominent role for the development of the theme. Whenever Douglass wrote about his fellow slaves at Freeland’s farm, he stated that they loved each other and would die for one another. Friendship was one of the only things that allowed slaves to tolerate their enslavement.

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Whenever they were taken away from their families, they had no choice but to rely on their fellow slaves for both emotional and mental support. In this paper, the reader will get a chance to get a summary of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, understand the positive and negative components of the story, and get to comprehend my opinions on this bestselling novel.

The novel began with the author giving a brief introduction of himself and other significant characters. Douglass was born into slavery around 1817 in Maryland, but he, like a majority of slaves, was not certain about his precise date of birth. Immediately after he was born, he was taken away from his mother, Harriet Bailey. There had been rumors that Douglass’ father was his master, Captain Anthony, but he was not certain of the factuality of these statements. Captain Anthony worked for Colonel Lloyd, who was an awfully rich and ruthless slaveholder. In Lloyd’s plantation, the slaves who obeyed and disobeyed were tortured and even shot by the overseers. They were given little food and clothing, and were regularly overworked and exhausted. However, Douglass’ life was not as challenging as the other slaves because he worked in the household, not the fields. When Douglass was about seven or eight years old, he happily left Colonel Lloyd’s plantation to Mr. Hugh Auld, the brother of his old master’s son-in-law. Under the ownership of Hugh Auld, Douglass experienced much more freedom in his life. This move to Baltimore was the first of many significant changes that occurred in his life.

In the middle of the novel, the reader got a chance to witness the contrasting personalities one has before and after they are consumed by slavery. At first, Sophia Auld expressed extreme compassion towards Douglass because she had not yet been infected by the side effects of slaveholding. She began teaching him how to read and write, but had to stop soon after her husband found out. According to her husband, slaves who received education became unfit to be a slave, became unmanageable, and held no value to their master. As time passed, Sophia Auld began to have a harsher attitude towards Douglass. It was evidently visible that the side effects of slave ownership had begun to form. Even though Douglass was not being taught by the mistress any longer, he was able to teach himself how to read with the assistance of the local children. Learning how to read and write allowed Douglass to formulate his own ideas about slavery which caused him to feel pure hatred toward his masters. It also made him aware of his current despicable condition, which made him feel hopeless when it came to becoming free. He revealed that he often had suicidal thoughts because death may be his only escape to freedom.

After the passing of Captain Anthony, all of his possessions, including his slaves, were divided between his children. Fortunately, Douglass was able to remain with Mr. Hugh Auld. However, his contentment was short-lived when Hugh and his brother, Thomas Auld, got into a squabble that caused Douglass to be sent to live with Thomas. He was not upset about leaving his master and the mistress because slavery and alcohol caused their once affectionate souls to be tainted with enmity. However, he was disappointed to be leaving his local friends because they had such a strong bond.

Thomas Auld was a callous man who was duplicitous when it came to his religious faith. He attended church retreats and prayed frequently every day, but still had a heart of stone. He severely beat Douglass for no reason and kept one lacerated woman tied up for hours. Overall, the two had a horrible relationship. After being under his ownership for nine months, Thomas had told Douglass that he could not stand him any longer and sent him to Edward Covey, a poor farm-renter known for his “breakage” of slaves, for a year.

At the end of the novel, the author provides information about his life with Edward Covey and his strategies to escape to freedom. On January 1, 1833, Douglass left Master Thomas’ house and went to stay with Covey. While he resided with Covey, Douglass suffered greatly. He was lashed at many times for the most ridiculous reasons, such as being awkward. This brutal lifestyle of Douglass caused him to lose his keen interest in getting educated and becoming a free man. One day in August, 1833, Douglass had become extremely feverish and, therefore, could not fulfill his necessary task. When Covey witnessed this, he senselessly bludgeoned him. A little after his tormentor walked away from him, Douglass went to the residence of Master Thomas and begged him to be sent to a new home because he believed that he would die if he remained with that sadist any longer. Auld told Douglass that he probably got beaten because he deserved it. He believed that there was no danger of Mr. Covey killing him [Douglass] because he was a “good” man. He also explained to Douglass that if he were to move him into a new home, he would lose the wages for the whole year.

On his way back to Covey, Douglass stopped at the home of the free wife of Sandy Jenkins, one of his acquaintances. Sandy invited Douglass to go home with him and gave him plentiful advice for his unfortunate situation. Once he returned to the farm, Edward Covey began lashing at him again. However, this time, Douglass decided that he was going to stand strong and resist his attacks. Approximately two hours later, Covey backed down and did not bother Douglass for the rest of the period he stayed with him. This event was the turning-point in Douglass’ life as a slave that also rekindled his fierce determination for freedom.

On December 25, 1833, Douglass’ service to Edward Covey had come to an end. After, he had gone to go live with William Freeland, an educated southern gentleman. Freeland was much kindlier than Covey not only because he showed some respect for people, but he also gave his slaves lots of food and necessary tools. While he stayed at Freeland’s farm, Douglass had begun to his fellow slaves how to read and write in Sunday school. He also devoted three evenings in the week during the winter season to teaching the slaves at home. The dedication and determination of the slaves were admirable because they were willing to receive 39 lashes just to get an education. Two years later, Douglass had decided to formulate an escape plan with some other slaves. They planned to get one of the large canoes belonging to Douglass’ master’s father-in-law and paddle up the Chesapeake Bay. Then they would turn the canoe adrift and follow the north star until they were past Maryland. This escape attempt failed when the plot was discovered and all those involved were thrown into jail. During his time in jail, Douglass was extremely melancholic and lost all hope of freedom. However, his optimism was revived when Captain Auld took him out and sent him back to Baltimore to live with Mr. Hugh Auld. Hugh Auld hired him to William Gardener, a shipbuilder, so he can learn how to calk ships. Nevertheless, he was forced to switch shipyards when his white coworkers began to pugnaciously threaten him because they feared that free blacks would start taking their jobs. In the other shipyard, Douglass worked diligently and began receiving high earnings, which he had bitterly given to his Master.

Douglass articulated a new escape plan, but did not provide any details because he did not want to reveal his escape plan to slaveholders. At first, Douglass had tried to get permission to hire out his time from Mr. Thomas Auld, but he immediately refused because he believed he was planning to run away. Two months later, Douglass asked Mr. Hugh Auld to grant him the privilege to hire out his time. He eventually agreed but only under certain terms that allowed him to receive all the benefits of slaveholding without its evils. Douglass successfully achieved this plan and arrived to New York as a free man. When he arrived, he felt lonely and anxious because not only was he in a place where he had no family or friends, but he also had a high risk of getting recaptured. Fortunately, Mr. David Ruggles, a man who had helped fugitive slaves in the past, came to his rescue and was a great source of guidance, during his time in distress. While he was in New York, he married his lover, Anna Murray and the two moved out of danger’s way to New Bedford. Douglas found a job at the place and changed his last name from Bailey to Douglass. Although he faced some prejudice while working in New Bedford, he continued to participate in the abolitionist movement and share his story with millions during anti-slavery conventions.

Overall, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” was an outstanding novel, but there were some negative components as well. One major positive thing about the novel was the poignant way it was written. Douglass used figurative language and diction that allowed him to tell his story in a poetic way. The imagery used gave the reader descriptive details that emphasized the harsh, cruel realities of the life of a slave. One other thing I really enjoyed about the book was the preface. The preface gave an idea of what we are about to read and assured that all information stated in the novel was indeed factual.

The main thing in “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” that I was not fond of was the limited information. I had hoped that Douglass would give us more information on how life was like once he finally reached the slave state. I also had wanted to gain more knowledge of how he navigated through the slave states to New York, but I understand why he chose not to. His wife, Anna Murray, was introduced towards the last few pages of the novel. It was never revealed when, where, or how they met. In my opinion, she should have at least been mentioned earlier in the novel.

Despite the few negative things in the novel, I still gained a plethora of historical knowledge. After reading this slave narrative, I got to fully understand the difficulties and brutal lifestyles of slaves in the 1800s and the enduring and arduous journey of one of the most famous abolitionists, Frederick Douglass. I would recommend this book to everyone because each and every person needs to know the harsh truths of slavery.

In summation, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” is a slave narrative that provides information regarding the journey of Frederick Douglass to his escape from slavery. The beginning of the novel gives information about the early life and family of the author, while the middle talks about Douglass’ life under the ownership of the Auld family. The end of the novel provides us with information about Douglass’ attempt and eventual escape to freedom. This was a tremendously educational and intriguing novel, and the fact that it was a short novel made it an easy read. It successfully exposed the atrocities of bondage through the understanding of a first hand experience. Through Frederick Douglass’ account in “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, the people of modern society are able to discover the actual foundation of today’s thriving world. 

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Douglass's Escape from Slavery. (2022, Feb 09). Retrieved from