Home > English > Literature Classic Books > Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass > Chapter 9
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Classic Book   



Chapter 9

I have now reached a period of my life when I
can give dates. I left Baltimore, and went to live
with Master Thomas Auld, at St. Michael's, in
March, 1832. It was now more than seven years
since I lived with him in the family of my old mas-
ter, on Colonel Lloyd's plantation. We of course
were now almost entire strangers to each other. He
was to me a new master, and I to him a new slave.
I was ignorant of his temper and disposition; he
was equally so of mine. A very short time, however,
brought us into full acquaintance with each other.
I was made acquainted with his wife not less than
with himself. They were well matched, being equally
mean and cruel. I was now, for the first time during
a space of more than seven years, made to feel the
painful gnawings of hunger—a something which I
had not experienced before since I left Colonel
Lloyd's plantation. It went hard enough with me
then, when I could look back to no period at which
I had enjoyed a sufficiency. It was tenfold harder
after living in Master Hugh's family, where I had
always had enough to eat, and of that which was
good. I have said Master Thomas was a mean man.
He was so. Not to give a slave enough to eat, is
regarded as the most aggravated development of
meanness even among slaveholders. The rule is, no
matter how coarse the food, only let there be enough
of it. This is the theory; and in the part of Maryland
from which I came, it is the general practice,—though
there are many exceptions. Master Thomas gave us
enough of neither coarse nor fine food. There were
four slaves of us in the kitchen—my sister Eliza, my
aunt Priscilla, Henny, and myself; and we were al-
lowed less than a half of a bushel of corn-meal per
week, and very little else, either in the shape of
meat or vegetables. It was not enough for us to
subsist upon. We were therefore reduced to the
wretched necessity of living at the expense of our
neighbors. This we did by begging and stealing,
whichever came handy in the time of need, the one
being considered as legitimate as the other. A great
many times have we poor creatures been nearly
perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay
mouldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our
pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that
mistress and her husband would kneel every morn-
ing, and pray that God would bless them in basket
and store!
Bad as all slaveholders are, we seldom meet one
destitute of every element of character commanding
respect. My master was one of this rare sort. I do
not know of one single noble act ever performed by
him. The leading trait in his character was mean-
ness; and if there were any other element in his
nature, it was made subject to this. He was mean;
and, like most other mean men, he lacked the ability
to conceal his meanness. Captain Auld was not born
a slaveholder. He had been a poor man, master only
of a Bay craft. He came into possession of all his
slaves by marriage; and of all men, adopted slave-
holders are the worst. He was cruel, but cowardly.
He commanded without firmness. In the enforce-
ment of his rules, he was at times rigid, and at times
lax. At times, he spoke to his slaves with the firmness
of Napoleon and the fury of a demon; at other times,
he might well be mistaken for an inquirer who had
lost his way. He did nothing of himself. He might
have passed for a lion, but for his ears. In all things
noble which he attempted, his own meanness shone
most conspicuous. His airs, words, and actions,
were the airs, words, and actions of born slave-
holders, and, being assumed, were awkward enough.
He was not even a good imitator. He possessed all
the disposition to deceive, but wanted the power.
Having no resources within himself, he was com-
pelled to be the copyist of many, and being such, he
was forever the victim of inconsistency; and of con-
sequence he was an object of contempt, and was held
as such even by his slaves. The luxury of having
slaves of his own to wait upon him was something
new and unprepared for. He was a slaveholder with-
out the ability to hold slaves. He found himself in-
capable of managing his slaves either by force, fear,
or fraud. We seldom called him "master;" we gen-
erally called him "Captain Auld," and were hardly
disposed to title him at all. I doubt not that our
conduct had much to do with making him appear
awkward, and of consequence fretful. Our want of
reverence for him must have perplexed him greatly.
He wished to have us call him master, but lacked
the firmness necessary to command us to do so. His
wife used to insist upon our calling him so, but to
no purpose. In August, 1832, my master attended a
Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Tal-
bot county, and there experienced religion. I in-
dulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead
him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not
do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind
and humane. I was disappointed in both these re-
spects. It neither made him to be humane to his
slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect
on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful
in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much
worse man after his conversion than before. Prior
to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity
to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity;
but after his conversion, he found religious sanction
and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made
the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the
house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and
night. He very soon distinguished himself among
his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and
exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he
proved himself an instrument in the hands of the
church in converting many souls. His house was the
preachers' home. They used to take great pleasure
in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he
stuffed them. We have had three or four preachers
there at a time. The names of those who used to
come most frequently while I lived there, were Mr.
Storks, Mr. Ewery, Mr. Humphry, and Mr. Hickey.
I have also seen Mr. George Cookman at our house.
We slaves loved Mr. Cookman. We believed him to
be a good man. We thought him instrumental in get-
ting Mr. Samuel Harrison, a very rich slaveholder, to
emancipate his slaves; and by some means got the
impression that he was laboring to effect the emanci-
pation of all the slaves. When he was at our house,
we were sure to be called in to prayers. When the
others were there, we were sometimes called in and
sometimes not. Mr. Cookman took more notice of
us than either of the other ministers. He could not
come among us without betraying his sympathy for
us, and, stupid as we were, we had the sagacity to
see it.
While I lived with my master in St. Michael's,
there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who
proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction
of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read
the New Testament. We met but three times, when
Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders,
with many others, came upon us with sticks and
other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet
again. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the
pious town of St. Michael's.
I have said my master found religious sanction
for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of
many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen
him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with
a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing
the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification
of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of
Scripture—"He that knoweth his master's will, and
doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes."
Master would keep this lacerated young woman
tied up in this horrid situation four or five hours at
a time. I have known him to tie her up early in the
morning, and whip her before breakfast; leave her,
go to his store, return at dinner, and whip her again,
cutting her in the places already made raw with his
cruel lash. The secret of master's cruelty toward
"Henny" is found in the fact of her being almost
helpless. When quite a child, she fell into the fire,
and burned herself horribly. Her hands were so
burnt that she never got the use of them. She could
do very little but bear heavy burdens. She was to
master a bill of expense; and as he was a mean man,
she was a constant offence to him. He seemed
desirous of getting the poor girl out of existence.
He gave her away once to his sister; but, being a
poor gift, she was not disposed to keep her. Finally,
my benevolent master, to use his own words, "set
her adrift to take care of herself." Here was a re-
cently-converted man, holding on upon the mother,
and at the same time turning out her helpless child,
to starve and die! Master Thomas was one of the
many pious slaveholders who hold slaves for the
very charitable purpose of taking care of them.
My master and myself had quite a number of
differences. He found me unsuitable to his purpose.
My city life, he said, had had a very pernicious effect
upon me. It had almost ruined me for every good
purpose, and fitted me for every thing which was
bad. One of my greatest faults was that of letting
his horse run away, and go down to his father-in-
law's farm, which was about five miles from St.
Michael's. I would then have to go after it. My
reason for this kind of carelessness, or carefulness,
was, that I could always get something to eat when
I went there. Master William Hamilton, my master's
father-in-law, always gave his slaves enough to eat.
I never left there hungry, no matter how great the
need of my speedy return. Master Thomas at length
said he would stand it no longer. I had lived with
him nine months, during which time he had given
me a number of severe whippings, all to no good
purpose. He resolved to put me out, as he said, to
be broken; and, for this purpose, he let me for one
year to a man named Edward Covey. Mr. Covey
was a poor man, a farm-renter. He rented the place
upon which he lived, as also the hands with which
he tilled it. Mr. Covey had acquired a very high
reputation for breaking young slaves, and this repu-
tation was of immense value to him. It enabled him
to get his farm tilled with much less expense to
himself than he could have had it done without
such a reputation. Some slaveholders thought it not
much loss to allow Mr. Covey to have their slaves
one year, for the sake of the training to which they
were subjected, without any other compensation.
He could hire young help with great ease, in con-
sequence of this reputation. Added to the natural
good qualities of Mr. Covey, he was a professor of
religion—a pious soul—a member and a class-leader in
the Methodist church. All of this added weight to
his reputation as a "nigger-breaker." I was aware of
all the facts, having been made acquainted with
them by a young man who had lived there. I never-
theless made the change gladly; for I was sure of
getting enough to eat, which is not the smallest
consideration to a hungry man.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error
Classic Book Go to top