Frederick Douglass: Young Defender of Human Rights by Elisabeth P. Myers, Cathy Morrison |, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Frederick Douglass: Young Defender of Human Rights

Frederick Douglass: Young Defender of Human Rights

by Elisabeth P. Myers, Cathy Morrison

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The inspiring story of Frederick Douglass’s rise from slavery to prominence as an early abolitionist and civil rights champion is featured in this volume of the Young Patriots series. Focusing on Douglass’s early years, this profile details his difficult upbringing as a slave on a Maryland plantation, his early separation from his mother, and his move


The inspiring story of Frederick Douglass’s rise from slavery to prominence as an early abolitionist and civil rights champion is featured in this volume of the Young Patriots series. Focusing on Douglass’s early years, this profile details his difficult upbringing as a slave on a Maryland plantation, his early separation from his mother, and his move as an adolescent to the home of the Auld family in Baltimore. From a young age, Douglass knew that knowledge was a passport out of slavery, and this biography reveals his fierce dedication to education. Lively drawings illustrate the climate in which he grew up and the hurdles faced on the road to equality and freedom. Special features include a summary of Douglass’s adult accomplishments, including his position as advisor to President Lincoln; little-known facts about him; and a time line of his life.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Debbie Levy
This fictionalized account of Frederick Douglass' youth was originally published in 1970 as part of the "Childhood of Famous Americans" series. In this reissue by Patria Press, the story retains a vintage feel, thanks in part to Morrison's pencil drawings, which are new to this edition but reminiscent of illustrations from children's books of days gone by. The text and drawings lend a somewhat burnished sheen to the story of Douglass' days as a slave on Maryland's Eastern Shore and in Baltimore. The hardships of slavery are conveyed, but the horror and inhumanity that Douglass described graphically in his own account, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, are muted. Many middle grade readers could probably handle a greater dose of Douglass' raw material. At the same time, however, Myers' emphasis on Douglass' self-education, his growing sense of injustice about slavery, and his mentoring of other slaves all underscore another important aspect of slavery—how slaves retained their humanity under the most trying circumstances. This is historical fiction, and Douglass' early life makes a compelling story line, but young readers should be told that the conversations and many of the details they are reading are imagined. (One particular quibble: the author has Douglass say, admiringly, of Thomas Jefferson, "Yes, he freed his own slaves"—but Jefferson freed only a handful of enslaved people out of the hundreds that he owned during his life.) Back matter includes a nonfiction summary of Douglass' achievements as an adult, and a "Fun Facts" section; both provide interesting information. A timeline of Douglass' life is also included. Part of thepublisher's "Young Patriots" series.
From the Publisher
"Hook kids on history with this series."  —Learning magazine

"Children are sure to be inspired by stories of ordinary children who do extraordinary things."  —The Old Schoolhouse magazine

Product Details

Patria Press, Inc
Publication date:
Young Patriots Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Frederick Douglass

Young Defender of Human Rights

By Elisabeth P. Myers, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison

Patria Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Elisabeth P. Myers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-882859-90-0


Life with Aunt Betsey

Five-year-old Fred Bailey knelt on the hard-packed dirt outside the cabin. He held a kernel of corn between his brown fingers. "Come squirrel, squirrel!" he said softly, making a soft chirruping sound in his throat.

A red squirrel, running along the rail fence, stopped and flicked its tail. Fred chirruped again, and the squirrel jumped to the ground. Then Fred held himself still, and the squirrel inched itself closer to him step by careful step.

A slight noise from the cabin broke the spell. The squirrel scampered away even before Fred's grandmother, Aunt Betsey Bailey, appeared in the doorway with a large wooden bucket.

"Here, Fred," she said. "Will you take this bucket and get me some water from the well?"

Fred popped the kernel of corn into his mouth and ran to his grandmother. "Yes, I'll get some water," he said proudly, taking the bucket from his grandmother's outstretched hands.

He went to the well and lowered the bucket in, then brought it up brimming full of water. He unhooked the bucket carefully, trying not to spill any of the water. As he trudged slowly toward the cabin, a little water sloshed over his dusty hands.

"That's fine, Fred," his grandmother called encouragingly.

She spoke a moment too soon. Suddenly Fred stumbled over a tree root in his path. He kept a tight hold on the bucket, but most of the water spilled on the ground.

Aunt Betsey made a clicking sound with her tongue. "You're lucky Old Master wasn't around to see you, Fred," she said, "or you'd get a licking for sure."

Fred shivered. He had never seen the person Aunt Betsey referred to, but he knew he and his grandmother both belonged to a man named Captain Anthony. They were the man's slaves, and he could do whatever he wanted to do with them. He could even take Fred away from his grandmother.

"When you're big enough, you'll have to go to the home place," Aunt Betsey told all the children in her care.

This home place was a large Maryland plantation situated on the River Wye. It was the largest of many farms owned by Colonel Edward Lloyd. Fred's master, Captain Anthony, was chief clerk for Colonel Lloyd, though he owned several farms in Talbot County himself.

Aunt Betsey had worked hard for Captain Anthony for many years. When she grew too old to do field work, he had moved her to a cabin on one of his most distant farms. There she cared for all the babies born to his slave women. More often than not, these babies were her grandchildren, but he didn't realize this. If he had known, he would have made other plans for them. He separated children from their mothers to break their family ties.

Fred, having been placed in his grandmother's care, was luckier than many other enslaved children. Aunt Betsey cared for him lovingly, and he loved her in return. He respected and admired her, too, because she was held in high esteem in the neighborhood. Also, she had a reputation for being a very skilled fisherwoman. The shad and herring just seemed to jump into her nets.

Aunt Betsey was the only mother Fred had known. He didn't remember ever seeing his mother. She came occasionally to visit Aunt Betsey, but always after Fred was fast asleep. This was the only time she could come because she was hired out as a field hand to a Mr. Stewart, who lived many miles away. Unless she could somehow borrow a mule to ride, she couldn't cover the distance back and forth in time to be present for roll call at dawn.

Fred turned back toward the well with the bucket. This time he transferred the full bucket safely to his grandmother's hands. He followed her into the cabin and watched as she poured the water into a large black pot. She hung the pot from an iron hook dangling from a crane and swung it into the fireplace, where a small fire was burning.

"While the water's coming to a boil, we'll go down to the river to catch us a mess of herring," Aunt Betsey said.

"Both of us?" cried Fred. His grandmother seldom invited him to go fishing.

"You're the only person I see around," Aunt Betsey answered.

Fred clapped his hands. "I'll go get the new net!" he cried.

He could see the net she had finished making the night before, hanging from a post of her pine bedstead. It looked to him just like the oriole's nest that swung in a willow tree near the river.

"I was thinking of selling this new net," his grandmother objected.

Selling nets which she made was almost the only way she had of making money. She had a reputation for making nets strong and tight and could sell them in the villages thereabouts.

"Do you have to sell the net?" asked Fred. He hoped that Aunt Betsey didn't need the money from the sale of one net now and could wait until allowance day.

At the end of each month, the enslaved people from the different farms got their monthly allowance of salt, corn, and pickled pork at the "home place." The amount given was never generous, and especially not to a slave like Aunt Betsey, who did not work in the fields. The allotment for the children in her care was even less.

So Aunt Betsey not only fished but raised a little patch of sweet potatoes, and she always had food for hungry stomachs. The few pennies she made from selling her fishnets went for molasses or some other kind of sweetening. She always bought the molasses at the end of the month, when she had an excuse to pass through the village.

"I'll see," Aunt Betsey said in answer to Fred's


She couldn't read, but she could count and she kept a calendar of sorts. Her calendar was a square of clay beside the fireplace, where she scratched a little line every day with a sharp stick. At the beginning of each month she rubbed out the lines and started fresh on the new month.

The fire was not very bright, but except for the open door, it provided the only light in the windowless log cabin. Aunt Betsey had to kneel with her face very close to the hearth in order to see her scratches. When she looked at them she found that the month was only half over. This meant she would have time to make other nets to sell.

"You can get the new net," she told Fred.

Standing on tiptoe, Fred lifted the net carefully from the bedpost. He hugged it tightly against his body, afraid he might catch it on something and tear it.

"I declare, a person would think you are carrying a baby," his grandmother said.

They walked down the hill on which the cabin stood. In the valley below, beside the river, they came to a water mill, where the villagers brought their corn to be ground into meal. One of Fred's favorite pastimes was watching the huge millwheel turn slowly round and round. Watching the wheel was also a favorite pastime of the other children in Aunt Betsey's household. Two of them were watching it now as Fred and his grandmother came by. Two others were trying to fish in the millpond with string and hooks made of bent wire.

"Where are you going?" the children cried with one voice.

"We're going fishing," said Fred, who knew from experience that they wouldn't catch anything with their baitless hooks.

"May we go, too?" asked the others, but Aunt Betsey shook her head.

"So many of you together would scare the fish away," she said. "You may go sometime later. Just wait awhile."

Fred took his grandmother's hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back, then freed herself. "Come," she said. "We're wasting time."

She walked on downstream, until suddenly she changed her course and waded into the water up to her waist. Fred started to follow her, but the current pulled at his legs and he felt frightened. "It's too strong for me," he said. He started to cry because he had wanted to hold one end of the new net.

"There's nothing to cry about," Aunt Betsey said, coming to take the net. "The rains have flooded the river, that's all. I'm having a little trouble myself."

Fred went back to the bank and sat down. After a few minutes, he started to pick the daisies that grew within arm's reach. When he had a lap full of them, he plaited their stems together to make a crown.

He was still working on the crown when Aunt Betsey came ashore, her net half full of small, wriggly fish. "We have enough for supper and some to salt down," she said. (Image: 1.1)

Fred got up, careless of the daisies that scattered around him. He looked gloatingly at his grandmother's catch. "That's surely a fine mess of fish," he said, licking his lips as if already tasting the fish stew he would have for supper. He was hungry, even though he'd had a cold sweet potato to eat at midday.

The thought of the stew lent wings to Fred's feet. He raced on ahead of his grandmother but stopped short at the top of the hill. In front of the cabin he saw a horse-drawn wagon with a white man sitting on the seat.

Fred rushed back to tell his grandmother. "We have company, Grandmother," he cried. "There's a white man waiting in a wagon. What do you suppose he wants?"

Aunt Betsey put her free hand up to her eyes as if to shade them. "I don't have to suppose, Fred," she said, and her voice sounded as if it were cracking. "I'm afraid I know."

She quickened her steps. Fred ran to keep up with her and tugged at her skirt. "What's the matter, Grandmother?" he asked anxiously. "What is it?"

Aunt Betsey freed herself gently. "You'll find out soon enough," she said. "Now run away and play until I call you." As Fred stopped in the path, confused, she walked on toward the cabin and the man waiting for her in the wagon.


New Faces and New Places

Fred hurried back down to the water mill to tell the other children about their grandmother's visitor. They all wanted to see the stranger for themselves, but they knew Aunt Betsey would be angry if they came near.

They watched from the hill, and for a while there was nothing to see but the horse and wagon. The man had gone into the cabin to talk with Aunt Betsey. "I hope she doesn't forget about our fish stew," Fred said. "I hope the stranger isn't eating it," said one of his cousins.

"I hope the stranger isn't eating it," said one of his cousins.

This dreadful thought made all the children gasp. Just then the man appeared and drove quickly away, without sparing a nod for Aunt Betsey, who stood in the doorway.

Aunt Betsey stared at the cloud of dust he left in his wake, not moving until the sound of the wheels died away. Then, making a megaphone with her hands around her mouth, she called, "Children! You may come now!"

The fish stew was good and hot, and she gave them bits of corn bread to eat with it. She never mentioned the visitor, and some how Fred and his cousins knew that she didn't intend to, at least not then.

Days passed, and the memory of the visitor dimmed. Fred would have forgotten him entirely, except that since his visit, Grandmother seemed different. Somehow she was quieter. She didn't sing quite so often. Occasionally, when Fred was lying in the loft, half awake, half asleep, he heard her make moaning sounds. Could she be sick, he wondered?

One summer morning, a few weeks later, Aunt Betsey roused all the children early. "Fred and I are going for a long walk," she said. "Mr. Lee, at the mill, is going to keep an eye on the rest of you. Do what he tells you to do."

She gave Fred the linen shirt which she had washed and ironed for him after he had gone to bed the night before. She wound a crisp white bandanna turban around her head. She packed some food for them. Then she sent all the children outside, stepped out herself, and closed the cabin door firmly behind her.

Fred felt all tingly. He and Grandmother must be going a long way, because she almost never closed that door in the summer time.

Aunt Betsey didn't explain. She just set out down the road, without even looking back to see whether he was following her. He had to run to stay near her. Soon his legs became tired and he began to lag farther and farther behind. Finally she turned back and picked him up. Being carried made him feel ashamed, and he said, "I'm not a baby, Grandmother! Put me down, please!"

Grandmother put him back down. "Try to keep up then," she said. "We're still a long way from where we're going."

The road grew less and less open and finally ran into a forest. Fred was glad to be where it was dark and cool. The glare of the sun on the unshaded road had made him very hot.

In a clearing, where there was a brook, Aunt Betsey stopped. "We'll have something to eat and sit for a while," she said. "Put your feet in the water to rest them."

Fred was barefoot, as usual, because he had no shoes. He also had no stockings, jacket, or pants, nor was he likely to have any for years. The only clothing an enslaved child had until he was old enough to work in the field was a long shirt, which hung to his knees. Two shirts a year each was the allowance for both boys and girls, winter and summer. (Image 2.1)

Aunt Betsey's sitting spell lasted only a few minutes. Then she was up and trudging on, and Fred had no choice but to follow.

They left the woods behind and came to huge fields of wheat, rye, oats, corn, and tobacco which stretched out in every direction. Many men and women were working in the fields, their arms and bodies bending and twisting. They seemed to be keeping time to the songs they were singing.

Fred was interested in what he saw, because everything was different from the country around Aunt Betsey's cabin. The soil in her neighborhood was too poor for farming. The people there had little means of making a living except by fishing in the river.

"Those workers seem to be having fun," Fred said to his grandmother.

Aunt Betsey snorted. "Don't be fooled by their singing, child," she said. "They have to sing while they work. Overseers are afraid that quiet slaves might be thinking, and thinking could lead to trouble."

"How, Grandmother?" Fred asked, but Aunt Betsey didn't answer.

The shadows grew longer and longer as the afternoon advanced. At last Aunt Betsey walked between two big stone posts into a deeply rutted cart road, and Fred guessed they had almost reached their destination. He was glad, because he was very, very tired.

The cart road ended in a great yard filled with both noisy children and noisy animals. The children varied in color from black, brown, and copper-colored to almost white. The animals included chickens, ducks, and other feathered creatures, dogs and cats, and even a little curly-tailed pig. They made such a racket with their clucking and quacking, their bow-wowing and their squealing, that Fred held his hands over his ears.

Aunt Betsey took one of his hands and led him up a few steps into a big room. There a black woman was cutting vegetables into a bowl. She stopped when she saw them coming.

"Is this the new boy, Betsey?" she said, nodding at Fred, who moved closer to Aunt Betsey.

Aunt Betsey nodded in answer. "Yes, and his name is Fred."

"Fred," the other woman said. "Well, you may call me Aunt Katy."

Fred did not answer. He only stood and looked at the floor.

"Is he stubborn?" asked Aunt Katy.

"No, he's a good boy," Aunt Betsey said. She smoothed Fred's stubbly head. "Go out now and play with the other children."

"I'd rather stay here," Fred said.

Aunt Betsey took him to the door. Then she pointed to some of the children and said, "Those are your brothers and sisters. The others are cousins like the children back in Tuckahoe. Go and play with them."

She gave him a little push and he walked reluctantly down the steps. At first, the children were so busy playing some kind of game with pebbles that they didn't notice him. They were having so much fun he was curious and moved closer to see what they were playing.

The children had drawn a number of squares in the hard-packed dirt and were tossing pebbles into them. Sometimes one child's pebble would hit another's pebble and knock it out of a square. Then there were shouts of glee and cries of disappointment.

One of the children whom Aunt Betsey had pointed out as Fred's sister finally noticed him and smiled. "You're Fred and I'm Sarah," she said. "We have the same mammy." The other children stopped playing. They crowded around Fred, giving him their names as Sarah had done. His brother's name was Perry and another sister's name was Eliza.

"Do you want to play?" Perry asked. "Here, take my shooters. I'll get some more."

Fred was surprised but took the three pebbles that Perry handed him. They were warm from Perry's fingers, and smooth.

Perry immediately darted off to the stone driveway that led to the front of the house. He returned shortly, clutching a new supply of pebbles. "I didn't get caught," he said with evident pride to the other children.

Fred was puzzled by this remark. "Get caught by what?" he asked.


Excerpted from Frederick Douglass by Elisabeth P. Myers, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison. Copyright © 2007 Elisabeth P. Myers. Excerpted by permission of Patria Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Elisabeth P. Myers is the author of more than 20 children's books, including some of the books in this original Childhood of Famous Americans series from which the Young Patriots series was derived. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana. Cathy Morrison is the illustrator of Ignacio's Chair and the Young Patriots series. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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