Frederick Douglass’ Experiences as a Slave

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Cotton, fish, tobacco and sugar were few of the famous items traded between the New World and other regions due to the triangular trading routes. The triangular trade was where raw goods went from the New World to Western Europe from there Western Europe provided manufactured goods to the New World as well as Africa. It was during this time that the Atlantic slave trade came to be with their number one item being traded were of course African slaves.

“The Atlantic slave trade would later be condemned by statesmen and general opinion as a crime against humanity.” Frederick Douglass was one of the many slaves already born into slavery rather than taken from his native country like some of his past ancestors had been. In his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass he speaks on his experience as a slave.

Douglass describes the day-to-day atrocities he either witnessed or experienced, his journey on how he became an educated slave, and also the differences in his experiences as a slave in multiple locations. It is because Frederick Douglass wrote and published his experiences as a slave that the abolitionist movement was as strong as it was. His narrative became famous almost instantly reaching the hands of many people who ultimately supported him and the abolitionist movement entirely.

Frederick Douglass never lived a day as a slave without witnessing or experiencing something horrific, and it was because of these experiences that the flame inside him grew larger each day wanting a taste of freedom. He became very familiar of these hardships at a young age being separated from his mother caused him to grow up with no connection or sense of love to his mother, he viewed her as simply another stranger. Douglass even goes as far as to mention that once he learned of her passing he felt no change in his emotions, he was not moved at all by it.

One of the experiences that stood out to me was one in which Douglass recalls a woman being whipped in front of her own children. “I have seen him whip a woman, causing blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release.” I know he included this as a way to show the readers that the slave owners had no remorse whatsoever, they were willing to beat a woman nearly to death in front of her own crying children without showing any emotion other than anger and at times contentment.

Frederick Douglass also included in detail the ways in which they were fed and also what it was they were fed. In a way the food they were fed was similar to that of animal food since it was pretty much just a boiled corn meal that they called mush. The slaves would gather around the food which was thrown on the floor and eat it with their bare hands. This experience alone gives a clear image of how the slaves were treated which was of course like animals.

What was even worse is that some slaves ate little to nothing due to being too weak or slow to secure a spot for the food. Douglass made sure to include every aspect of his experiences that way we as the reader are able to read and feel the pain Douglass had also felt. Throughout these experiences without even realizing it at first Frederick Douglass had a spark lit in him to be free, he no longer wanted to live a life chained to a white man.

Education was one of the strongest foundations Frederick Douglass knew he needed if he one day wished to be free from slavery. His path on education all started in Baltimore with Mrs. Auld. She introduced the alphabet to him as well as taught him how to spell short words, it was because Mr. Auld found out about these private lessons that Mrs. Auld came to a realization of her wrongdoings. It was at this point in which Frederick Douglass realized that even though the white men used whips as a form of intimidation it was a book and pencil which ultimately held the upmost power.

“I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty- to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly.” The slave owners knew that by prohibiting a slave to learn to read and write he is keeping the slave ignorant with no knowledge about anything other than to work and do as they are told. Now with the opportunity given to him to seek out more knowledge Douglass did not let that pass by.

With the new taste of not only knowledge but also freedom Douglass began searching for other teachers to learn from. Which then led him to befriending the little white boys in the neighborhood who kindly agreed to help Frederick, as a result of their generous lessons Douglass finally learned to read. It wasn’t until a later point in his life that Frederick Douglass met different slaves with whom he spoke with and lit their spark of hunger for knowledge which spread like a wildfire among other slaves as well. Douglass used the day of Sabbath to hold lessons for everyone teaching them to read.

This point in his narrative is really the turning point not only for Frederick’s life but also for the abolitionist movement as well. He was able to gather many slaves from different locations in one area to unlock the knowledge they had in their heads. No longer being kept ignorant by the white masters, these slaves were growing stronger by each new word they learned to read and write. It was at this point you could see the important role of leadership Frederick Douglass would have in the abolitionist movement since at this time he is already being viewed as a leader. “It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.

As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm.” Reading this part of the narrative you can really sense the anger as well as the hint of fear Mr. Auld has when he found out Douglass was learning to read. It was a threatening feeling for the white slaveowners to find out their slaves are learning to read and write. For a slave to learn to read and write meant they are no longer lesser of a person than the white owners, learning for slaves was seen as the forbidden fruit it kept them from questioning their lives and also kept them from challenging the owners.

Douglass had his first taste of what it was like to be a free man when he moved from the rural area to the urban location which is why he was so excited to move in the first place, he knew moving locations would open new doors. “A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation. He is much better fed and clothed, and enjoys privileges altogether unknown to the slave on the plantation.” While living at Baltimore Douglass mentions how drastically everything changed, he did not have to worry about food or clothes since he was given enough of both.

What also stood out was the way the slaveowners treated the slaves, while at the plantations Douglass was treated no better than an animal but in the city he actually felt like a human being. It was at the rural area where Douglass witnessed countless deaths, he saw his own brother killed in front of him as well as the raw scars bleeding continuously on the backs of his fellow slaves. Food there was also fought for and nights were spent nearly freezing to death, it was as though they were already all dead and living in hell.

The transition to an urban area was a complete shift because not only did Frederick not have to worry about dying in the hands of his master, he also did not have to witness any more deaths. It was at Baltimore where the door of education opened for him and he finally learned to read and write. If Frederick Douglass had never experienced the life on a plantation then his outlook on slavery and life would be completely different. It is because he experienced all that pain that he was able to understand what it was like to rather be dead than a slave, it was because he moved from hell to his own heaven that he learned kindness and how it felt to be human.

Living in both areas both tie in because without one experience Frederick Douglass would have lived a different life. If he had not gone to Baltimore he perhaps would have never been introduced to reading and writing. If Douglass had never lived on the plantations then he would never have had the scar of pain and sadness, which would have never led him to using his voice to help other slaves learn and ultimately would have never been a leader in the abolitionist movement. Both experiences are required for Douglass to be the man and leader he ended up becoming.

Frederick Douglass a slave who ultimately became a leader in the abolitionist movement used his experiences to be the man he was. The dangers and hardships he faced such as having to witness his brother die before his eyes lit the flame inside him to seek freedom. Once given the opportunity Douglass used education as a stepping stones to keep moving forward on his path to freedom. It was also the different forms of slavery he experienced in his life while at plantations or in the city that he was able to fight not only for himself but for his fellow slaves as well. It is because Frederick Douglass wrote and published his experiences as a slave that the abolitionist movement was as strong as it was. He was one of the many important keys that opened doors not only himself but for other slaves as well.


Cite this paper

Frederick Douglass’ Experiences as a Slave. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/frederick-douglass-experiences-as-a-slave/



What are 3 important events in Douglass life?
Douglass was born into slavery in February 1818 on a Maryland plantation. He escaped from slavery in September 1838 by boarding a train from Baltimore to Philadelphia.
What challenges did Frederick Douglass face as a slave?
Frederick Douglass faced many challenges as a slave. He was beaten, starved, and treated like a piece of property. He was denied an education and any chance at a better life.
What lessons about life did Douglass learn as a slave?
He learned that life was hard and that he was not free.
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