Imagine yourself back in the early eighteen hundreds as black slave living on a plantation with death knocking on your door at any second. The only chance to survive this born-into captivity, is to humble yourself before a white master or attempt to escape to an unknown safe haven. To chance an escape would put your life at risk to the bounty hunters and cause severe brutality upon those you left behind. The only logical way to live ones life in these situations would be submissive from birth to death and to die quietly, so those remaining dont lose what little faith they have left. This is an example of the atrocities that occurred throughout our Great Nations history, and will forever be a scar for everyone to see. One individual lived through this time period and wrote about what he saw and endured. Frederick Douglass wrote an autobiographical account, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. This account of slavery is a prime example of what life on a plantation was like, and illustrates the effects of captivity, along with the sense of personal identity.Order now
Frederick Douglass wrote his first autobiography when he was about twenty-seven years old. This age, which he had given himself, was not an actual written account, but a verbal comment that his master made when Douglass was about age seventeen. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it (970). Douglass gives comments to the fact that he, and other slaves, was not allowed to know such information about themselves. If a slave would ask about their birthday or what age they were, harsh treatment would generally be the resulting answer. The only recollection of a slaves birthday would revolve around the time of harvest during the seasons. They seldom came nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall time (970). This lack of personal identity would become one of the fundamental elements of oppression to a slave. Such personal information is vital to a slave, to know what day is the day of their birth and how long they have lived in captivity. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege (970). To not know a part of ones own history, especially their age, is to leave a deep void within the slave; a burning desire to know such information would cause madness and any action of inquiry, would be met with equal amounts of physical pain. Physical pain was the key factor of submission, but when slave children were raised only knowing physical brutality, emotional pain tormented the soul even more.
Another action taken by the white masters was the act of making their female salves their personal concubines and then robbing the slave-mothers of their newly born children. This act was performed when the child was about twelve months old, just being old enough to be stripped from the breast that fed and nourished them. Even though most of the slave-children were of mulatto decent from their white fathers, sparing a child from the loss of its mother was not considered and highly deemed as showing favoritism towards the slaves. Slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father (971). The mother of the slave-child was usually sold off to some plantation some distance away. This was done to keep her from trying to make any attempt to see her child and to rid the plantation of any witness of the mulatto creation. The slave-child was then placed under the care of an old woman, who was too old for both fieldwork and escape. This action was done to further oppress the masses of slaves through example and to hinder the child under oppression from their first earliest memory. For what this separation is done, I do now know, unless it be to hinder the development of the childs affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result (970). Unlike most slave-children, Douglass was able to see his natural mother. She was sold to a plantation about twenty miles away from Douglass home. She traveled at night by foot to see her son, even though her punishment would be severe. I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day (970). This lack of motherly affection is another effect of the oppression slavery has caused on the mental perceptions of slave-children.
Douglass was sold to a slave-owner named Anthony. This master was not a wealthy man, owning two or three farms, and about thirty slaves. Douglass talks about a man who was in charge of disciplining the slaves on the plantation. He refers to this man as Mr. Plummer, a drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster (972). Douglasss accounts of this man are defiant of human compassion and further illustrate the harsh brutality suffered by all held in captivity.
He would at times seem to take a great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heartrending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped the longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.
The acts of Mr. Plummer are atrocious, but deemed as necessary by the white man to control the acts and wants of the slaves. For a slave to achieve the upper hand would be a true act of defiance, and this was the last thing that any white man would want, anarchy on his own lands. For this kind of brutality to occur almost on a daily routine would be physical evidence to all slaves that opposition would be met with severe punishment. To live ones life with this act of cruelty hanging above ones head would create a sense of suppression towards any hope of freedom or emancipation. The only clear evidence to a slave would be that their lives were under the strictest control of some barbaric brute that had no sense of compassion for humans of another skin color.
Frederick Douglass was a man of great abilities. After escaping the submissive control from his owners, he fled to the North where he married and became skilled in the trade of caulking. Douglass then became intellectually competent about the antislavery movement, learning everything he could to achieve the upper hand over his white fellow men, and giving speeches to anyone who would listen. He was able to control a crowd with his magnificent oratory skills, leaving crowds of mixed-race audiences compelled to his thoughts of equality and antislavery. Douglasss accounts of his life are harsh but compelling facts that human nature will always find a way to overcome the abuse that is given. Douglass himself was a true role model for all slaves, by being knowledgeable and optimistic that the moral decay in the social order that slaves were considered would end in the not-so-distant future of that time. The writings of such a great man are a true testimonial that knowledge is power and anyone has the ability to become powerful, despite situations that are oppressive and brutal.
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