NARRATIVEOF THE LIFE OFFREDERICK DOUGLASS,AN AMERICAN SLAVEBYFREDERICK DOUGLASS7 WYS f f 77 T a a ] e
NARRATIVEOF THELIFEOFFREDERICK DOUGLASS,ANAMERICAN SLAVE.WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.BOSTONPUBLISHED AT THE ANTI-SLAVERY OFFICE,NO. 25 CORNHILL1845
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1845,BY FREDERICK DOUGLASS,in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.COPYRIGHT INFORMATIONBook: Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassAuthor: Frederick Douglass, 1817?–95First published: 1845The original book is in the public domain in the UnitedStates and in most, if not all, other countries as well. Readersoutside the United States should check their own countries’copyright laws to be certain they can legally download thisebook. The Online Books Page has an FAQ which gives asummary of copyright durations for many other countries, aswell as links to more official sources.This PDF ebook wascreated by José Menéndez.
PREFACE.IN the month of August, 1841, I attended an anti-slaveryconvention in Nantucket, at which it was my happiness tobecome acquainted with FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the writer ofthe following Narrative. He was a stranger to nearly everymember of that body; but, having recently made his escape fromthe southern prison-house of bondage, and feeling his curiosityexcited to ascertain the principles and measures of theabolitionists,—of whom he had heard a somewhat vaguedescription while he was a slave,—he was induced to give hisattendance, on the occasion alluded to, though at that time aresident in New Bedford.Fortunate, most fortunate occurrence!—fortunate for themillions of his manacled brethren, yet panting for deliverancefrom their awful thraldom!—fortunate for the cause of negroemancipation, and of universal liberty!—fortunate for the landof his birth, which he has already done so much to save andbless!—fortunate for a large circle of friends and acquaintances,whose sympathy and affection he has strongly secured by themany sufferings he has endured, by his virtuous traits ofcharacter, by his ever-abiding remembrance of those who are inbonds, as being bound with them!—fortunate for the multitudes,in various parts of our republic, whose minds he has enlightenedon the subject of slavery, and who have been melted to tears byhis pathos, or roused to virtuous indignation by his stirringeloquence against the enslavers of men!—fortunate for himself,as it at once brought him into the field of public usefulness,
viPREFACE“gave the world assurance of a MAN,” quickened the slumberingenergies of his soul, and consecrated him to the great work ofbreaking the rod of the oppressor, and letting the oppressed gofree!I shall never forget his first speech at the convention—theextraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind—the powerfulimpression it created upon a crowded auditory, completelytaken by surprise—the applause which followed from thebeginning to the end of his felicitous remarks. I think I neverhated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, myperception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, onthe godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clearthan ever. There stood one, in physical proportion and staturecommanding and exact—in intellect richly endowed—in naturaleloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly “created but a littlelower than the angels”—yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,—trembling for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on theAmerican soil, a single white person could be found who wouldbefriend him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity!Capable of high attainments as an intellectual and moralbeing—needing nothing but a comparatively small amount ofcultivation to make him an ornament to society and a blessing tohis race—by the law of the land, by the voice of the people, bythe terms of the slave code, he was only a piece of property, abeast of burden, a chattel personal, nevertheless!A beloved friend from New Bedford prevailed on Mr.DOUGLASS to address the convention. He came forward to theplatform with a hesitancy and embarrassment, necessarily theattendants of a sensitive mind in such a novel position. Afterapologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience thatslavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, heproceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as aslave, and in the course of his speech gave utterance to many
PREFACEviinoble thoughts and thrilling reflections. As soon as he had takenhis seat, filled with hope and admiration, I rose, and declaredthat PATRICK HENRY, of revolutionary fame, never made aspeech more eloquent in the cause of liberty, than the one wehad just listened to from the lips of that hunted fugitive. So Ibelieved at that time—such is my belief now. I reminded theaudience of the peril which surrounded this self-emancipatedyoung man at the North,—even in Massachusetts, on the soil ofthe Pilgrim Fathers, among the descendants of revolutionarysires; and I appealed to them, whether they would ever allowhim to be carried back into slavery,—law or no law,constitution or no constitution. The response was unanimousand in thunder-tones—“NO!” “Will you succor and protect himas a brother-man—a resident of the old Bay State?” “YES!”shouted the whole mass, with an energy so startling, that theruthless tyrants south of Mason and Dixon’s line might almosthave heard the mighty burst of feeling, and recognized it as thepledge of an invincible determination, on the part of those whogave it, never to betray him that wanders, but to hide theoutcast, and firmly to abide the consequences.It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr.DOUGLASS could be persuaded to consecrate his time andtalents to the promotion of the anti-slavery enterprise, apowerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow atthe same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a coloredcomplexion. I therefore endeavored to instil hope and courageinto his mind, in order that he might dare to engage in avocation so anomalous and responsible for a person in hissituation; and I was seconded in this effort by warm-heartedfriends, especially by the late General Agent of theMassachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Mr. JOHN A. COLLINS,whose judgment in this instance entirely coincided with myown. At first, he could give no encouragement; with unfeigned
viiiPREFACEdiffidence, he expressed his conviction that he was not adequateto the performance of so great a task; the path marked out waswholly an untrodden one; he was sincerely apprehensive that heshould do more harm than good. After much deliberation,however, he consented to make a trial; and ever since thatperiod, he has acted as a lecturing agent, under the auspiceseither of the American or the Massachusetts Anti-SlaverySociety. In labors he has been most abundant; and his success incombating prejudice, in gaining proselytes, in agitating thepublic mind, has far surpassed the most sanguine expectationsthat were raised at the commencement of his brilliant career. Hehas borne himself with gentleness and meekness, yet with truemanliness of character. As a public speaker, he excels in pathos,wit, comparison, imitation, strength of reasoning, and fluency oflanguage. There is in him that union of head and heart, which isindispensable to an enlightenment of the heads and a winning ofthe hearts of others. May his strength continue to be equal to hisday! May he continue to “grow in grace, and in the knowledgeof God,” that he may be increasingly serviceable in the cause ofbleeding humanity, whether at home or abroad!It is certainly a very remarkable fact, that one of the mostefficient advocates of the slave population, now before thepublic, is a fugitive slave, in the person of FREDERICKDOUGLASS; and that the free colored population of the UnitedStates are as ably represented by one of their own number, inthe person of CHARLES LENOX REMOND, whose eloquentappeals have extorted the highest applause of multitudes onboth sides of the Atlantic. Let the calumniators of the coloredrace despise themselves for their baseness and illiberality ofspirit, and henceforth cease to talk of the natural inferiority ofthose who require nothing but time and opportunity to attain tothe highest point of human excellence.
PREFACEixIt may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any otherportion of the population of the earth could have endured theprivations, sufferings and horrors of slavery, without havingbecome more degraded in the scale of humanity than the slavesof African descent. Nothing has been left undone to cripple theirintellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature,obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yethow wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a mostfrightful bondage, under which they have been groaning forcenturies! To illustrate the effect of slavery on the white man,—to show that he has no powers of endurance, in such acondition, superior to those of his black brother,—DANIELO’CONNELL, the distinguished advocate of universalemancipation, and the mightiest champion of prostrate but notconquered Ireland, relates the following anecdote in a speechdelivered by him in the Conciliation Hall, Dublin, before theLoyal National Repeal Association, March 31, 1845. “Nomatter,” said Mr. O’CONNELL, “under what specious term itmay disguise itself, slavery is still hideous. It has a natural, aninevitable tendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man. AnAmerican sailor, who was cast away on the shore of Africa,where he was kept in slavery for three years, was, at theexpiration of that period, found to be imbruted and stultified—he had lost all reasoning power; and having forgotten his nativelanguage, could only utter some savage gibberish betweenArabic and English, which nobody could understand, and whicheven he himself found difficulty in pronouncing. So much forthe humanizing influence of THE DOMESTIC INSTITUTION!”Admitting this to have been an extraordinary case of mentaldeterioration, it proves at least that the white slave can sink aslow in the scale of humanity as the black one.Mr. DOUGLASS has very properly chosen to write his ownNarrative, in his own style, and according to the best of his
xPREFACEability, rather than to employ some one else. It is, therefore,entirely his own production; and, considering how long anddark was the career he had to run as a slave,—how few havebeen his opportunities to improve his mind since he broke hisiron fetters,—it is, in my judgment, highly creditable to his headand heart. He who can peruse it without a tearful eye, a heavingbreast, an afflicted spirit,—without being filled with anunutterable abhorrence of slavery and all its abettors, andanimated with a determination to seek the immediate overthrowof that execrable system,—without trembling for the fate of thiscountry in the hands of a righteous God, who is ever on the sideof the oppressed, and whose arm is not shortened that it cannotsave,—must have a flinty heart, and be qualified to act the partof a trafficker “in slaves and the souls of men.” I am confidentthat it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing hasbeen set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawnfrom the imagination; that it comes short of the reality, ratherthan overstates a single fact in regard to SLAVERY AS IT IS. Theexperience of FREDERICK DOUGLASS, as a slave, was not apeculiar one; his lot was not especially a hard one; his case maybe regarded as a very fair specimen of the treatment of slaves inMaryland, in which State it is conceded that they are better fedand less cruelly treated than in Georgia, Alabama, or Louisiana.Many have suffered incomparably more, while very few on theplantations have suffered less, than himself. Yet how deplorablewas his situation! what terrible chastisements were inflictedupon his person! what still more shocking outrages wereperpetrated upon his mind! with all his noble powers andsublime aspirations, how like a brute was he treated, even bythose professing to have the same mind in them that was inChrist Jesus! to what dreadful liabilities was he continuallysubjected! how destitute of friendly counsel and aid, even in hisgreatest extremities! how heavy was the midnight of woe which
PREFACExishrouded in blackness the last ray of hope, and filled the futurewith terror and gloom! what longings after freedom tookpossession of his breast, and how his misery augmented, inproportion as he grew reflective and intelligent,—thusdemonstrating that a happy slave is an extinct man! how hethought, reasoned, felt, under the lash of the driver, with thechains upon his limbs! what perils he encountered in hisendeavors to escape from his horrible doom! and how signalhave been his deliverance and preservation in the midst of anation of pitiless enemies!This Narrative contains many affecting incidents, manypassages of great eloquence and power; but I think the mostthrilling one of them all is the description DOUGLASS gives ofhis feelings, as he stood soliloquizing respecting his fate, andthe chances of his one day being a freeman, on the banks of theChesapeake Bay—viewing the receding vessels as they flewwith their white wings before the breeze, and apostrophizingthem as animated by the living spirit of freedom. Who can readthat passage, and be insensible to its pathos and sublimity?Compressed into it is a whole Alexandrian library of thought,feeling, and sentiment—all that can, all that need be urged, inthe form of expostulation, entreaty, rebuke, against that crime ofcrimes,—making man the property of his fellow-man! O, howaccursed is that system, which entombs the godlike mind ofman, defaces the divine image, reduces those who by creationwere crowned with glory and honor to a level with four-footedbeasts, and exalts the dealer in human flesh above all that iscalled God! Why should its existence be prolonged one hour? Isit not evil, only