Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself / Edition 2

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Overview

This second edition of Douglass's Narrative reprints this classic document together with speeches and letters, all in a volume designed for undergraduate students. An extensive introduction places the Narrative in its historical and literary contexts with annotations on needed background.

Born into slavery from a white father, Frederick Douglass secretly taught himself to read and write--a crime punishable by death--and thus passed on to us this eloquent indictment of the institution of slavery.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A century and a half after its first publication, Frederick Douglass's Narrative retains its hold on us, capturing us with its first-person story of the abolitionist's passage from bondage to freedom.
Sacred Life

When it was first published, many critics doubted that The Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass had even been written by Frederick Douglass. As odd as it may seem now, that criticism was not completely unfounded: In the mid-nineteenth century, the antislavery movement produced hundreds of slave narratives, many of them ghostwritten by white abolitionists and tailored to create sympathy for their movement. But this book, by this remarkable man, was different. The tag line at the end of the book&#39s subtitle&#8212Written by Himself &#8212was vitally important. Although clearly written with the abolitionist cause in mind, this book is not merely a political tract. True, its dispassionate prose brought to light the "injustice, exposure to outrage, and savage barbarity" of slavery as Douglass observed and experienced But also brought to life an uncommon man and the particular concerns seared into him during his experience of bondage. Douglass recounts that during slavery, he and his people were denied life&#39s fundamentals: faith, family, education, the capacity for bold action, a sense of community, and personal identity. Douglass saw reclamation of these things as the key to his and his people&#39s survival, redemption, and salvation.

The autobiography opens with a description of the aspects of his own life that Douglass was never allowed to know: the identity of his father, the warmth and care of his mother (who was a stranger to him), and even the fact of his own date of birth. As a child, he suffered from and observed savage beatings firsthand, including the fierce beating of his Aunt Hester at the hands of their master, Captain Aaron Anthony. As he grew older, Douglass liberated himself in stages: mentally, spiritually, and, eventually, physically. His mental freedom began when he was taught to read and write and realized the power of literacy; his spiritual freedom came when he discovered the grace of Christianity and the will to resist his beatings; his physical freedom arrived when he finally escaped to the North.

After escaping, Douglass was committed to telling the world about the condition of the brothers and sisters he left behind. Aside from telling Douglass&#39s personal story, his autobiography takes us to the fields and the cabins and the lives of many slaves to reveal the real human cost of slavery. Douglass focused on the dehumanizing aspects of slavery: not just the beatings, but the parting of children from their mothers, the denial of education, and the sexual abuses of slave masters. He ends the book with this statement: "Sincerely and earnestly hoping that his little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds&#8212faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts&#8212and solemnly pledging myself anew to the sacred cause, I subscribe myself, Frederick Douglass."

The book was an incredible success: It sold over thirty thousand copies and was an international bestseller. It was the first, and most successful, of three autobiographies that Douglass was to write. The other two, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, update the story of his life and revise some of the facts of his earlier autobiography.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312257378
  • Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's
  • Publication date: 12/28/2002
  • Series: Bedford Cultural Editions Series
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 188
  • Sales rank: 103,843
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.23 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

David W. Blight is Professor of History at Yale University; he taught at Amherst College for thirteen years. His scholarly work is concentrated on nineteenth-century America, with a special interest in the Civil War and Reconstruction, African-American history, and American intellectual and cultural history. He has lectured widely on Frederick Douglass and served as a consultant to documentary films on African-American history, including the PBS television film Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History. His book, Frederick Douglass' Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee is an award-winning intellectual biography of Douglass and a study of the meaning of the Civil War. His work Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory was awarded the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. He is the author of numerous essays on abolitionism and African American intellectual history, and his latest work is a colelction of essays entitled Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the Civil War.

Biography

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, in February 1818. He became a leading abolitionist and women's rights advocate and one of the most influential public speakers and writers of the nineteenth century.

Frederick's mother, Harriet Bailey, was a slave; his father was rumored to be Aaron Anthony, manager for the large Lloyd plantation in St. Michaels, Maryland, and his mother's master. Frederick lived away from the plantation with his grandparents, Isaac and Betsey Bailey, until he was six years old, when he was sent to work for Anthony.

When Frederick was eight, he was sent to Baltimore as a houseboy for Hugh Auld, a shipbuilder related to the Anthony family through marriage. Auld's wife, Sophia, began teaching Frederick to read, but Auld, who believed that a literate slave was a dangerous slave, stopped the lessons. From that point on, Frederick viewed education and knowledge as a path to freedom. He continued teaching himself to read; in 1831 he bought a copy of The Columbian Orator, an anthology of great speeches, which he studied closely.

In 1833 Frederick was sent from Auld's relatively peaceful home back to St. Michaels to work in the fields. He was soon hired out to Edward Covey, a notorious "slave-breaker" who beat him brutally in an effort to crush his will. However, on an August afternoon in 1934, Frederick stood up to Covey and beat him in a fight. This was a turning point, Douglass has said, in his life as a slave; the experience reawakened his desire and drive for liberty.

In 1838 Frederick Bailey escaped from slavery by using the papers of a free seaman. He traveled north to New York City, where Anna Murray soon joined him. Later that year, Frederick and Anna married and moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Though settled in the North, Frederick was a fugitive, technically still Auld's property. To protect himself, he became Frederick Douglass, a name inspired by a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem Lady of the Lake.

Douglass began speaking against slavery at abolitionist meetings and soon gained a reputation as a brilliant orator. In 1841 he began working full-time as an abolitionist lecturer, touring with one of the leading activists of the day, William Lloyd Garrison.

Douglass published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845. The book became an immediate sensation and was widely read both in America and abroad. Its publication, however, jeopardized his freedom by exposing his true identity. To avoid capture as a fugitive slave, Douglass spent the next several years touring and speaking in England and Ireland. In 1846, two friends purchased his freedom. Douglass returned to America, an internationally renowned abolitionist and orator.

Douglass addressed the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. This began his long association with the women's rights movement, including friendships with such well-known suffragists as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

During the mid-1840s Douglass began to break ideologically from William Lloyd Garrison. Whereas Garrison's abolitionist sentiments were based in moral exhortation, Douglass was coming to believe that change would occur through political means. He became increasingly involved in antislavery politics with the Liberty and Free-Soil Parties. In 1847 Douglass established and edited the politically oriented, antislavery newspaper the North Star.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln called upon Douglass to advise him on emancipation issues. In addition, Douglass worked hard to secure the rights of blacks to enlist; when the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers was established as the first black regiment, he traveled throughout the North recruiting volunteers. Mo< Douglass's governmental involvement extended far beyond Lincoln's tenure. He was consulted by the next five presidents and served as secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission (1871), marshal of the District of Columbia (1877-1881), recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia (1881-1886), and minister to Haiti (1889-1891). A year before his death Douglass delivered an important speech, "The Lessons of the Hour," a denunciation of lynchings in the United States.

On February 20, 1896, Frederick Douglass died of a heart attack. His death triggered an outpouring of grief and mourning; black schools in Washington, D.C. closed for a day, and thousands of children were taken to the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church to view his open casket. In his third autobiography, Douglass succinctly and aptly summarized his life; writing that he had "lived several lives in one: first, the life of slavery; secondly, the life of a fugitive from slavery; thirdly, the life of comparative freedom; fourthly, the life of conflict and battle; and fifthly, the life of victory, if not complete, at least assured."

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

Good To Know

Douglass's mother Harriet referred to Frederick as her "little Valentine," so he unofficially adopted February 14th as his birthday.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Tuckahoe, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      1818
    1. Date of Death:
      February 20, 1895
    2. Place of Death:
      Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

I have often been utterly astonished, since I came north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy….Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion. -- from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface

INTRODUCTION: "A PSALM OF FREEDOM"

PART I. THE DOCUMENT

A Note About the Text
Preface by William Lloyd Garrison, May 1, 1845
Letter from Wendell Phillips, Esq., April 22, 1845
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself

PART II. SELECTED REVIEWS, DOCUMENTS, AND SPEECHES

Caleb Bingham, "Dialogue Between a Master and a Slave," in The Columbian Orator 1797
Margaret Fuller, Review of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, New York Tribune, June 10, 1845
Ephraim Peabody, "Narratives of Fugitive Slaves," excerpt, Christian Examiner, July 1849
Nathaniel P. Rogers, "Southern Slavery and Northern Religion: Two Addresses" delivered in Concord, New Hampshire, February 11, 1844, as reported in Concord, N.H. Herald of Freedom, February 16, 1844
Frederick Douglass, "My Slave Experience in Maryland," an address delivered in New York City, May 6, 1845, as recorded in National Antislavery Standard, May 22, 1845
Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" speech delivered in Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852

APPENDIXES

A Frederick Douglass Chronology (1818–1895)
Questions for Consideration
Selected Bibliography

Index

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 81 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 81 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 27, 2010

    A Must Read

    Over the years many times I have heard reference to this book but had never read it. I picked it up out of curiosity and to be honest because it was on the bargain table, but this small book of the slave story and later writings, speeches and lectures of Mr. Frederick Douglass are a real treasure and a must read. His words and life cut to the heart as you hear him tell what he experienced as a man held in bondage.
    The terror, fear and brutal cruelty of the times and the daily suffering of slaves, men, women and children,is sad,unbelievable, but true.
    It also sheds a light on the attitudes and thinking of slave owners.
    Learning to read was the spark in young Frederick that set him on his long and hard path to freedom.I found it interesting to read about the different people and chance encounters that brought him to a free state and eventually to be able to speak so strongly and beautifully against slavery as an evil against God and against our fellow human beings.
    This narritive is a powerful and thought provoking read.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2014

    Tell me

    Tell me if this is a good school report.
    Ello! Im kanaja. I belive by what misstress told me i am 16. I was born i te didder plantation. My job on the plantation is being a nanny.but one day i heard a song it was"when that old charriot comes im gonna leave you.when that old charriot comes friends whos coming with me?"i started to cry but then i said when that old charriot comes i going with you. Then we ssid we were going to escape when it was stormy.see you in my next post;)

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2014

    Review

    When i was assigned to read this for history my first thought was: ughh this is gonna make me fall asleep like the other books i have been forced to read BUT this actually turned out to be a good book I was appalled by the abuse that Frederick Doughlass had to go through as a slave and it is very interesting how he vividly remembers his time in bondage If you ever have the urge to read a book about the harsh realities of slavery, definately read this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    very informative for school report

    Well written, and informative--I give this book a thumbs up.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2008

    Great Book

    This is a jaw dropping stpry that displays a great picture in your head. I thought that Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was a very informational book. It showed how rough it was in the 1800¿s. Frederick Douglass struggled through watching and receiving many beatings. His masters were treating him awful and he couldn¿t do much to anything about it. As the story goes on Frederick Douglass gets sent around to differnt farms to work. At all of the farms he encounters at least one enemy. Overall ths stroy is full of infomation and is very powerful

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    Reading sections of Douglass' narrative gave me chills and made me think about the way African Americans were treated by white masters. This book gave me ideas of the hardships the African Americans faced when shipped from town to town and master to master. The words in Douglass' speech at the anti-slavery convention show his intelligence and views of being an Abolitionist. I recommend this book to any person willing or wanting to learn about slavery of African Americans in the 19th century.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2005

    Very inspiring!

    Part of my reading curriculum for my Oral Communications class, I loved it so much I had everyone in my family read it!!! Definitely recommend to those looking for a good book on slaves and slavery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2004

    MDC Virtual College Student, June 7, 2004

    I gained personal inspiration from reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. There were many things that I already knew about American slavery, but Douglass' details were very intense and helped bring my understanding of the whole cruel era to a new height. It was the idea of being free that helped drive him to gain his own personal freedom. After reading this story, I felt a need to excel and strive for more in my own life. Not things, because things do not make a man, but the spirit of man is what is important. Douglass' spirit led him to be a great thinker, speaker, writer, leader, and his spirit empowered him as a human being. He escaped the bondage of slavery through his strength and endurance over many, many hardships. I highly recommend this book for reading. It tells of a history that is extraordinary, and one that must never be forgotten.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2004

    The Life of a Slave

    This book is amazing. Every African American should read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    Excellent Period Read!

    This book was enlightening as well as moving. To read an account of slavery from the mind of a former slave gives great insight as to the true brutality of the institution of slavery. Mr. Douglass was an amazingly well educated man by his own will and persistance. His personal narrative is very eloquently written and easily understood.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2003

    GUT WRENCHING

    While I'd heard of the book and passed it by many times in the book store I'd never gotten around to reading it. Douglass coveys the barbarity and savagery that is slavery in such a way that, that I cannot fully convey. To know that these unspeakable acts actually took place in a land that espoused freedom and liberty made me want to be sick. I¿ve read about the treatment of slaves in many history texts and I¿ve found that Douglass¿ personal account relays such raw emotion that the reader cannot help but be pulled in. The fact that the story is in the first person makes this book the best way of learning about the true nature of slavery, not a ¿cut and dry¿ matter like most text books. I was immersed in the life of this man. If it¿s not required reading, it should be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2003

    AN INTENSE " MUST READ " BOOK

    I highly recommend this superbly written book to everyone. I am certain this book will touch the heart of all those who read it. The majority of the people have developed their concept of what slavery entailed through what they learned in history books. However, this book provides the facts behind the suffering and torment of the African Americans. As such, this book provides a detailed behind-the-scene re-inactment of the cruel and immoral actions exhibited by ignorant white people. Yet, it will demonstrate how determination and perseverance can overcome all obstacles. Finally, this book will transport you to the 19th century where you will love, hate, and cry through the eyes of Frederick Douglas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2003

    Johnst - African American Literature online student

    This book was exceptional to read. Frederick Douglas's writings captured in great detail his life as a slave. The book was very well written. Although he was self taught, this educated man, took your attention. At times I thought I was there. This book was a great insight on the life of a slave.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2001

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself

    not for high school students... for all humans with legs

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2001

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself

    i read this book. I found it to be.. well, words cant describe some of my emotions. It was sad, Shocking, Harrowing- and some parts tender and even slightly funny. The man is a legend. A Legend...make no mistake! No Mistake. I am white and scottish... but his humaneness...i feel in me. After all.. we are all 1 .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2011

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