Essay on the Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass

Published: 2021/11/23
Number of words: 2117

Many events happened that enabled Fredrick Douglass to escape from slavery. The difficult life in the slavery areas made him think of ways to make him a free person from slavery. Fredrick was born in 1818 in Maryland State, whereby he worked on a plantation as a slave because slavery had been existing and people would be introduced into it even at a very young age. In the plantations where he worked as a slave, their leaders in slavery were called masters, and they planned where the slaves would go and work. They were changed from one place to another to work for their masters. When Fredrick Douglass was seven years old, his master decided to change Fredrick from the plantation in Maryland to go and work in the family unit of Hugh Auld, located in Baltimore. While working there, he learned how to read and write, which turned to be helpful to him in the journey of freedom from slavery. Eight years later, after working in the family of Hugh, Fredrick was transferred to work in the plantation of Hugh’s brother, Thomas. Thomas viewed him as a dangerous person because of his ability to read and had also committed several offenses. One of the offenses is that Fredrick had set plans to escape, which were unfortunately discovered by Hugh’s brother, which made him be taken back to his original master’s plantation. As Fredrick had grown, he was assigned the job of closing spaces in ships to make them waterproof in the shipyard of his master (Harris, 2020). While working there, he helped several black men escape slavery, although he did not escape. He was given a little freedom by his master while working there, but the many deaths of other slaves made him feel oppressed. All the earning they gained from working in the plantations was robbed, which was normal while being a slave.

Money was one of the things that enabled Fredrick to escape from slavery. To accomplish his mission of escaping, he would need money to help him in his journey to where he could escape to. He did this by talking to his master about working extra hard with the other slaves to earn extra money. His master denied that request because he did not trust Fredrick due to the previous escaping, which made him closely monitored to escape anytime. He requested for the second time to work with other employers to earn extra money, and his master agreed because gaining more money meant that the master stopped providing for the needs of Fredrick as he did earlier (Harris, 2020). A slave who worked for other additional employers would cater for their needs in terms of food, clothing, materials for work and pay a portion to their masters. The extra work for the other employers made him save some money to enable him in his escape journey. Fredrick left without permission from the shipyard, an action which annoyed his master and vowed to make his life very difficult in work.

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The experiences of the hard work in slavery made Fredrick have thoughts of escaping. After the second escape from the plantation without permission, his master vowed to harden his life, whereby he saw this as the best opportunity to escape since he knew what kind of life he would go through if sent to the Deep South. Life in the Deep South was very hard, whereby one would be closely monitored by the masters there. This little freedom he had back in the plantation of Hugh would not be granted in the new work, and this would make his escape journey impossible if he accepted to be taken to the South.

The incidences of Fredrick borrowing papers also enabled him to escape. Black people were required to have papers that showed that they were free from slavery, as indicated in those papers when traveling. Fredrick borrowed those papers from a sailor and also clothes so that he could resemble the sailor. Borrowing these materials was a very dangerous act because if caught, the freedom of both parties would be lost and taken back to slavery. This did not stop the sailor from helping Fredrick, as generosity and empathy filled the sailor, which made him help Fredrick. He jumped onto a moving train which helped him avoid scrutiny while buying a ticket. Another incidence that helped Fredrick escape is that by wearing the clothes from the sailor, he was sure that he would not be thoroughly investigated as sailors were more respected than other people. The ability to speak like a sailor also helped him escape on the train. The journey to New York involved using many trains and ships to reach the destination, and many escapees were caught and taken back if found escaping. Fredrick encountered a man who worked in the shipyards. Although this man recognized him, he did not set him up to the slave catchers, which helped him board the last train to New York City, where he was finally free.

Fredrick Douglass settled in New York, where he married a black woman they met in the slavery were relocated to New Bedford to stay there. He started attending abolitionist movement meetings where he learned the mission of the movement. He was officially introduced to the movement by William Lloyd where he narrated his slavery story in the meeting. William made him an agent of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society (MAS) due to his ability to speak in public, and this started the journey of his support for antislavery activities. The role of Fredrick in the movement in the U.S was to travel and deliver speeches as he was very vocal and never feared anything. This was one of the reasons that made him be included in the movement (Harris, 2020). He also used his ability to lure many people into this movement and gave people leaflets with information supporting antislavery. This made the movement famous, and its mission was known to many people. The people who opposed this movement attacked him on various occasions and injured him. However, this did not stop him from making the movement popular by continuing his tours on various places advocating for the antislavery movement. Many people doubted him as a slave because of his ability to read and write which made to write about his autobiography in 1945, which made him be in a dangerous situation, forcing him to flee to the United Kingdom.

While abroad, Fredrick was inspired by the freedom present in the countries he toured for all the types of people, which was the opposite of what he faced back in the United States. He continued giving speeches about the abolishment of slavery and promoting the antislavery movement abroad. He found that slavery had already been abolished in the U.K, and this inspired him in the dream of fighting for the antislavery movement back home. He got inspiration from various antislavery leaders who became his supporters. Some of the supporters who were Henry and Ellen Richardson, were inspired by him and raised funds to help him secure his freedom from slavery by paying his owner (Blight, 2020). He was finally set free from slavery laws and returned to the United States. He started publishing a newspaper he called the North Star, which reached many people in the dream of advocating for antislavery. Fredrick viewed the constitution as a valid document that could advocate for the freedom of slaves and the civil rights of African Americans. He acknowledged the validity of the constitution, which made the people of American view him as a part of the society, and he said that every citizen of the U.S must use the constitution to bring back the country to their normal ways. The constitution offered him the way to advocate for freedom and the rights of all citizens of the U.S, including African American men and women.

Fredrick viewed the civil war as the best platform which would initiate change in ending slavery and advocating for the rights of the freed slaves. He was appointed as a consultant for President Abraham Lincoln, who was unwilling to include the African American troops in the union to fight in the civil war. During the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the president accepted, and the African American troops were included in the Union army. Fredrick began recruiting black soldiers into the union army and even recruited his two sons to serve in the army. But the president did not give them the right to vote after they had fought in the Union army, which made the two friends differ. They later reconciled, and an amendment was passed in 1864, abolishing slavery in the United States (Blight, 2020). The government’s view on the black Africans changed overtime during the civil war, and before the war ended, the government had agreed to award them citizenship. This was done after the fourteenth amendment was passed, whereby they were given citizenship and the guarantee of equal protection regardless of race and religion.

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The similarities between Douglass’s experiences and those of Foner that he discussed in his articles is that the slaves used the same mode of transport to escape from slavery. They used boats, canoes that helped them travel to the North, where they hide to travel without being noticed. This is because they could be asked various documents necessary to travel, which they did not have. The slaves escaping were also assisted by the crew members in those boats and trains who worked there, and they were black. This made their escape journey simple as they assisted them until they reached their destination. The slaves also did not escape with their family members as it proved difficult to escape with them. They left back some of their members who followed them later. Like Douglass escaped alone, leaving behind his wife, who later joined him in New York after settling. This was to avoid difficulties that may emerge during the process of escaping. Another similarity is that most people who escaped were young, in their twenties, because this was the most targeted group by the masters in the slave activities. They were viewed as strong and productive, which made them escape from the difficult life in slavery. Another similarity between the experiences of Douglass and Foner is that there were patrols by slave catchers who were used to check whether the people traveling are escaping. They asked for the various documents which showed whether you are free or not. If it was found that it was an escape, slaves were taken back to the plantations to continue serving their masters. Most black people who had freedom helped and saved their fellows slaves to escape from the South to the North in New York City or Philadelphia. They even assisted them in settling once they reached the cities in various ways.

The reasons that made the slaves escape, according to Erick Foner, were; the abuse and violence that they received from their masters. The slaves were forced to work in demanding jobs and paid very little amounts, and from these amounts, they were supposed to give a portion to their master. The masters always whipped them thoroughly if not able to complete work and forced them to work without resting. Others were shot to death after they resist the terrible treatment of their masters. Another reason for escape was that the slaves feared that they would be sold to the lower South, where the slave trade has become a profitable business. This made them start escaping to evade being sold to other masters who may be very violent. The number of slaves who managed to escape to New York City was about one hundred thousand. Foner’s opinion on the fugitive slave act was that it led the black people living in the Northern to migrate to Canada as this state did not return the slaves to the city. This act was not fair because people had migrated to New York for many years, but when the Law was formed, people were captured and taken back to their masters in slavery. This made people flee to enjoy their freedom in other states, even if it meant to be ruled by a foreign government rather than to be taken back to slavery. The source of information in Foner’s books came from the Record of Fugitives which was found by Howard Gay.


Blight, D. W. (2020). Frederick Douglass: prophet of freedom. Simon & Schuster.

Harris, L. M. (2020). The Nineteenth-Century World of Frederick Douglass. Reviews in American History48(1), 48-55

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