Frederick Douglass’s Experiences

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Can one ever imagine being imprisoned, branded, whipped, but still wanting to be educated? Well, there was a slave that wanted to be educated more than anything and he was Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was an American orator who gave speeches about slavery, women rights, and education. He was also a writer who mostly wrote autobiographies. Douglass was born into slavery sometime in the 1800’s in Maryland. Being born into slavery led Douglass to write about his early life and his time in slavery in his autobiographies. He became very popular with his speeches and autobiographies since everyone was interested in learning about slavery from a former slave. A lot of people enjoyed learning about his time in slavery and experiences because Douglass was writing about his actual experiences that he faced during his time in slavery. Some of Frederick Douglass’s experiences, such as being taught by his owner’s wife and being a slave that escaped, led him to write The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and My Escape from Slavery.

The first major experience that Frederick Douglass experienced was being taught how to read and write by Sopia Auld, his owner’s wife. When Douglass was really young he knew that the ability to read was the key to freedom (Ramsey 1). Douglass grew up thinking this because he used to see American students that were about his age go to school and be successful in their lives. Seeing other people be successful led Douglass to believe that being educated is the only way to be free and successful. Believing this he was sent to Philadelphia where he was taught by Sophia Auld. When Hugh Auld, Douglass’s owner, found out that Sophia has been teaching Douglass how to read and write he was very furious with her because teaching slaves how to read and write was unsafe and unlawful (“Biography-Early Life” 1). Owners of slaves believed that it was unsafe and unlawful because they were worried that if slaves learned too much then the slaves won’t have any respect or value towards them. Hugh believed this, too, so he influenced Sophia to treat Douglass cruelly and to stop teaching him. However, Frederick still wanted to learn, so Douglass came up with the idea to trade small pieces of bread to the American students in his neighborhood in exchange for them to help him read (“Frederick Douglass” 1). Douglass was so determined to learn that he managed to learn outside of the household when he had to run errands for Hugh and Sophia. This is just one way Douglass managed to learn how to read and write outside of the household.

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Another experience that Frederick Douglass experienced was his escape from slavery that took place on September 3, 1838. He disguised himself as a black sailor and boarded a train to Philadelphia (Blight 1). To be in disguise he wore a red shirt, a hat, and a black scarf tied loosely around his neck. Anna Murray, his wife, whom he married in Philadelphia, brought him sailor clothes and papers that an actual sailor had. Even though Douglass has a failed attempt in escaping slavery before this it just made him more determined to escape slavery this time instead of giving up. “When Douglass was separated from his grandmother was the first time he felt betrayal and abandonment.” When Douglas was in slavery his feeling of betrayal and abandonment felt like the time he was being seperated from his mom and grandmother which was one of Douglass’s motives to escape slavery. Another motive for Douglass to escape slavery was seeing his mom and grandmother being whipped by the slave masters just becasue they didn’t follow their orders quickly enough which showed Douglass the brutality of slavery (Shapley 1). Seeing all of this when he was a young boy made him more determined to escape from it and fight it.When Douglass reached Philadelphia he changed his name from Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey to Frederick Douglass (“ Today in History” 1). He changed his name so that he can hide his identity from the slave catchers and to keep his wife, Anna Murray, safe. These are just a few things on how and why Frederick Douglass escaped slavery.

Frederick Douglass’s experience of being taught by his owner’s wife led him to write The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This novel discusses the systematic methods that many Americans used to acquire and retain power over the African Americans from birth. It also talks about how slave owners kept slaves unaware of basic facts about themselves, like their birthday or their family. Douglass wrote The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to rebut charges that said it was impossible for Douglass to be a slave with all of his accomplishments (“Biography-Early Life” 1). Since slaves didn’t have an education society believed that if Douglass was a slave then he can’t be literate. Society was filled with Americans and it was imbedded in their minds that African Americnas cannot be literate which led them to believe that Frederick was lying, so they pressed charges against him. Douglass was a former slave who was taught by his owner’s wife, Sophia Auld. Learning from her led Douglass to abolish slavery and fight against the slave masters (Ramsey 1). Being a former slave gave Douglass courage and determination to stop slavery, but learning from Sophia gave him the education that he needed to help other slaves by educating them. This is how Frederick Douglass used the knowledge he got from Sophia Auld.

Another experiences of being a slave that escaped led Frederick Douglass to write My Escape from Slavery. This novel talks about how Douglass escaped and what obstacles he faced while escaping. Some obstacles that Douglass faced were being separated from his mother and grandmother, seeing his mother and grandmother being whipped in front of him, not knowing about his family, for example, his father, and not knowing simple information about himself, such as his birthday. Whe Douglass attempted to escape slavery the first time, he failed, and went to jail, but that did not discourage him from gaining his freedom (“Frederick Douglass” 1). Douglass went to jail because one of the other slaves ratted him out. However, when he went to jail he made friends, and they helped him escape, the second time, by giving him ideas on what to do. When the slave masters found out, they sent Douglass to Baltimore to work under, Hugh Auld, one of the slave masters and his wife, Sophia Auld. When he escaped from them to Philadelphia to be free, he needed papers to prove that he was free, but he had a problem since, he didn’t have any papers he had to buy his freedom which was really expensive. Douglass couldn’t pay for his freedom, so his supporters raised money to buy his freedom (“Today in History” 1). After Douglass reached Philadelphia, he started gaining popularity among the society because of his passion for abolition. His supporters, from the society, raised the money for him to purchase his freedom. Therefore, Frederick Douglass’s escape from slavery and time in jail relate to the book My Escape from Slavery.

There were mixed reviews on the book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. One critic, Petra-X said, “ What I like more about Douglass than anything else at all is his clear thinking on subject peoples. He saw that discrimination against blacks and women was from an identical stance” (“Narrative of the…” 1). Douglass saw and experienced the discrimination against the blacks and women by seeing how his mom and grandmother were being treated when he was in slavery. Experiencing and seeing this gave Douglass clear thinking on subject peoples, discrimination, and slavery. The critic, Ephraim Burrell, didn’t like the book very much. He thinks that people would learn more if the book wasn’t edited that much ( “Frederick Douglass” 1). Douglass might have experinced a lot while escaping slavery and if he wrote everything he experienced the book might have been too long or there may have been too many disturbing parts for people to read. If the book was too long some people might not be interested in reading it or if there were a lot of disturbing parts then some people might not like reading all those brutal parts, so the editors might have edited out some small or brutal details from the book. Nonetheless, many critics liked The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, even though some critics gave this book negative criticism.

Just like The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass the novel My Escape from Slavery, also, had mixed reviews. However, some critics did not like the book very much. For example, a critic named Darwin wasn’t very fond of this novel. He wanted Douglass to go into more detail and talk more about his experiences (“Escape from Slavery” 1). Some of the situations that Douglass has been in or experienced might have been too hard for him to talk about. For instance, if Douglass wanted to talk about the slaves that helped him escape and give them credit he might have been scared to say their names because if the slave masters found out then the other slaves could have been punished, so Douglass is just trying to protect the other slaves.. Regardless, some critics were very fond of this novel. A critic, named Frank Chiaro, loved this novel. She said, “ I loved this book!…The main reason I liked this book so much was because it was a true story” ( “Frederick Douglass” 1). Frank and many other critics loved this book because it was an honest story, and they have never read a true story about an African American escaping slavery. Overall, even though there was negative criticism, most of the general population liked this novel.

Finally, some of Frederick Douglass’s experiences, such as being taught by his owner’s wife and being a slave that escaped led him to write The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and My Escape from Slavery. Frederick Douglass was a slave that wanted to be educated more than anything. Being a slave was very difficult for Douglass since he has to face many obstacles, such as being separated from his mom and grandmother, seeing them be whipped, and not knowing simple information about himself. However, these are only some obstacles that Douglass faces. During slavery he learned to read and write from his owner’s wife, Sophia Auld, in Baltimore. Douglass tried to escape slavery twice, but the first time he was told on and was sent to jail. Although, that happened the first time, the second time his cellmates helped him escape. After he escaped he went to Philadelphia, where he became a free man by law. In conclusion, this is why Frederick Douglass became one of the most influential speakers on slavery, women rights, and education. 


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