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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

3.9 331
by Frederick Douglass

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He was eloquent and articulate - obviously well-educated. And sophisticated, too. He was also a slave who escaped to freedom.

But no one believed that, so he published his life story in 1845 to answer the skeptics. Not content to rest on the favorable attention his book received, he recruited black soldiers for the Union army and organized a campaign to educate the


He was eloquent and articulate - obviously well-educated. And sophisticated, too. He was also a slave who escaped to freedom.

But no one believed that, so he published his life story in 1845 to answer the skeptics. Not content to rest on the favorable attention his book received, he recruited black soldiers for the Union army and organized a campaign to educate the newly freed citizens. He saw that only knowledge could ensure true freedom.

"Insightful, comprehensive, dramatic." (Chicago Tribune)

Editorial Reviews

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's subtitle—Written by Himself —was 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's 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's 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's 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—faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts—and 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.

Product Details

CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.24(d)

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

Meet the Author

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, (1818 - 1895) was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement from Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings.

In his time he was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855).

After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, it covered events during and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women's suffrage, and held several public offices.

Without his approval, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He was also a believer in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, and in the liberal values of the American Constitution. When radical abolitionists under the motto "No Union With Slaveholders", criticized Douglass' willingness to dialogue with slave owners, he famously replied: "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

Brief Biography

Tuckahoe, Maryland
Date of Birth:
Date of Death:
February 20, 1895
Place of Death:
Washington, D.C.

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 331 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In reading Frederick's narrative it truly teaches you about the life inside slavery and how powerful the faith of a person can be to escape the evil of the world. He writes so well and I will always remember his story because it has inspired me.
Rubyrasc More than 1 year ago
This Narrative was amazing. His writing was clear and easy to understand. I could not put this book down and read it in one day because it takes you back to that time and paints a vivid picture of the horrors of slavery. This special book will stay close to my heart forever and I will definitely pass it down to my future children. Although it is a bit short, it is worth it and makes a great addition to any book lovers book shelf!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Our assignment in English class was to find a book written by an American author before World War II. In order to find a book, I went to Barnes and Noble. The man that helped me find a book recommended many books, but this one stood out in my mind. He said that this book was very interesting and eye-opening. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, and American Slave is about a colored man named Frederick Douglas and his life journey as a slave. The book goes into detail about the events Frederick had to overcome like learning to read and write, the horrible sites he had to see, and the tough situations he had to go through. This book is a fairly easy read and hooks the audience in a touching and thrilling way. This non-fiction narrative is a great book that allows readers to understand and walk in the shoes of slaves centuries ago. It makes readers think about their own lives and how lucky they are to have what they have. "You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I AM A SLAVE FOR LIFE!" (page 44)
Jackkeg More than 1 year ago
To not have read this book is to have missed an important part of our history. The writings of a former slave with the perspective that knowledge brings and the expressions of freedom heretofore unknown. A moving read and a true picture of the life of the average slave in the south. Not for the faint of heart.
GeoffreyC More than 1 year ago
This was the first first-person narrative on slavery I had read. Douglass' writing style is great. He presents his material in a factual, yet riveting manner. I could not put this book down. I learned so much more about the era than I ever have through textbooks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a short interesting read, easy enough to finish while on a plane ride. The book highlights some of the various details in Douglass's life as a slave. If you're looking for more detail, I would suggest starting with this book, then moving on to Douglass's other narrative (later published) "My Bondage. . ."
Guest More than 1 year ago
My name is Jane, and I am a student at Parkview High school. I have been taught about slavery in many past history classes. As I read this book about Frederick Douglass, my view of slavery was moved tremendously. Douglass explains the horror and cruelty of slavery in every chapter of this book. As a child, he witnessed a brutal whipping that his aunt encountered. From this point on, he realizes what slavery truly is and how it dehumanizes African Americans. Douglass was moved from being a plantation slave to a house slave when he was under the age of 10. He enjoyed the life as a house slave because he was treated more like a human-being. However, this did not last long. The mistress, Mrs. Auld, who taught him how to read and write also turned into a cruel slave owner when Mr. Auld showed her the dangers of educating a slave. Douglass, however, continued to learn how to read and write. By his consistency, Douglass accomplished his dream and became a free man. The topic of slavery should not be lightly comprehended. Although, I am not able to put my feet in Douglass' shoes, he truly is an inspirational writer that not only touched me but the hearts of thousands across the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this very exquisite slave narrative by Frederick Douglass, the reader is immersed into a first-person perspective account of slavery. Frederick Douglass was a writer and speaker who was very involved with abolitionism. Douglass was born into slavery under his mother Harriett Bailey. Like most slaves living back then, Frederick Douglass was separated from his mother at a young age. Controversially, his father is implied to be his master Captain Anthony. At just seven years old, Douglass was sold to the distant relative of Captain Anthony, Hugh Auld, who lives in Baltimore, where Douglass lives a more leisurely life than before at first. Auld¿s wife Sophia has never owned a slave since Douglass and therefore had no idea how it worked, so she was surprisingly more sympathetic toward him however, as time goes on, Sophia become less kindlier and eventually becomes crueler along with her husband. In correlation with this, Douglass learns how to read and becomes more aware of the evils of slavery and abolitionism. After the ending of Captain Anthony¿s family line, Douglass is sent to serve Thomas Auld. Douglass becomes unmanageable and uncomfortably resistant as a slave. Then, he was sent to Edward Covey, who was known for breaking slaves to a point where any resistant is futile by means of cruel punishment. However, there was a huge fight between Covey and Douglass later on that result in Covey leaving Douglass alone. Douglass is then sent to William Freeland and begins educating other blacks and plots an escape but is betrayed by a friend and gets sent back to Thomas Auld who sends him back to Hugh Auld to learn ship caulking. In Baltimore, he experienced many racist situations with his coworkers, sometime turning violent. Even through these trials and tribulations, he earns a very decent profit that he turns to his master. Bit by bit, he receives what money he can make in his free time and escapes to New York and ends up marrying Anna Murray, a woman of Baltimore decent. Douglass¿s life is then written into this biography.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This narrative is a fundamental element in the history of our nation, in one of its darkest times. Douglass is sold and 'broken in' to the slave lifestyle very cruelly, being whipped and beaten. When he is 'broken in' he loses all previous desire to try and escape from his fate, and becomes apathetic to everything. Only when he is sold again, this time to a kinder keeper, does he realize that if he can share the education he learned as a child, and pass it on to others he can start an escape plan. Due to his knowledge he receives a higher position, and eventually begins to earn wages for the work he carries out. Now saving all the money he earns, he is able to buy his own freedom, escape to New York City, and get married. The narrative highlights the fact that it was only though the un education of slaves that white owners felt they had the power. If one became educated, like Douglass, they were able to escape, gain support, or buy their way out of from their oppressive lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Personally, this was not the most exciting book I have ever read on slavery but I do thin it is important to let one express their opinion, especially first hand knowledge. Frederick gives a detailed tale about his life, but it is not one that I had fun digging into. This book is good to be taught in the classroom as a fundemental part to share apart of one's own culture and experiences with the rest of the world, but I do think this book is over rated a bit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The autobiography of an African American slave before the Civil War. Beautifully, simply told. Last few pages a disappointing screed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The amazing story of someone born in chains, self educated, who educated others and wanted freedom so bad -- he attained it. Who became an orator for the Abolitionist Movement. This is a man who squared shoulders with Lincoln on the Emancipation Proclamation. This story describes how he helped himself, his race, and his Nation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great read, but it wouldn't hurt to have some of the imperfections corrected...sometimes it gets a bit confusing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I reckamend this book for every person
Mzdooly More than 1 year ago
This book demonstrated faith, strength, and ambition. Enjoyed this book alot.
cookiebookie More than 1 year ago
As a devoted, long term scholar of the Civil War era I find this book invaluable. For the scope of the time leading up to the war itself this work sheds a great light. That Frederick Douglas triumphed over such painful beginnings is another of a long line of such stories but is important for any civil war library for what it brings to the discussion on "why", "who for" and the "worth" of that great struggle toward eventual emancipation. This particular edition was affordable and adequately presented.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book Frederick Douglass, gives us a descrpitive image on how they were threated. The book is so emotional and it mke us appreciate our freedom that we have now..And it makes you feel proud for his accomplisments and depress for his losses. I recomend this book to every one...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good topic boring dialog
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book, written so thoughtfully and articulately describes the horrific existence and unthinkable life those in slavery had very little choice but to endure. The courage required to escape to freedom cannot be adequately appreciated without personally experiencing it. Douglass vividly paints the picture from his first hand experience and this is a captivating account if our country's worst hour....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frederick Douglas was a Baaad Dude! This book was totally awesome. I gave it to my kids to read. It should be required reading for High School Lit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok, I'll read it on your "recommendation". Love history shnarker.
Kerstin Sweeney More than 1 year ago
I read this in college and its a really good book. Most of the time school's give you boring books to read but i enjoyed this one a lot. It makes you understand what slaves went through, and how much he had to overcome inn his life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a good and informative read. I found out just how resilient a man (slave) can be in order to succeed even under the worse circumstances and this can be applied to life today - just when you think things can't get any worse, they sometimes do, but you gotta keep fighting - great book cl10801
Sir_Robert More than 1 year ago
A really good book, one I enjoyed reading cover to cover.