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Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass

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Overview

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.

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

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Overview

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)

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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: 9781607961215
  • Publisher: Beta Nu Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/11/2009
  • Pages: 116
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert B. Stepto is Professor of English, African American Studies, and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative.

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

Foreword
Preface
INTRODUCTION: "A Psalm of Freedom"
Pt. 1 The Document 25
Editor's Note on the Text 27
Preface by William Lloyd Garrison, May 1,1845 29
Letter from Wendell Phillips, Esq., April 22,1845 36
Narrative Of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself 39
Notes on the Text 109
Pt. 2 Selected Reviews, Documents, and Speeches 117
Caleb Bingham, "Dialogue Between a Master and a Slave," in The Columbian Orator (1797) 119
Margaret Fuller, Review of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, New York Tribune, June 10, 1845 121
Ephraim Peabody, "Narratives of Fugitive Slaves," excerpt, Christian Examiner, July 1849 124
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 Freedom, February 16,1844 128
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 130
Frederick Douglass, Letter to Thomas Auld, September 3, 1848, published in The North Star, September 8,1848; and The Liberator, September 22, 1848 134
Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" speech delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852 141
App. A Douglass chronology (1818-1895) 147
App. Questions for Considerarion 153
App. Selected Bibliography 155
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The "Narrative" Is A Must Read For Students Learning American History

    I am a high school Social Studies teacher. Each year when I teach about the Reform Period (1820-1860), I require my students to read the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass." The abolitionist movement is the most visible element of the Reform Period, and Douglass is a giant among men in the movement.

    If you want to learn about what life was really like for African Americans trapped in the institution of slavery then this is your book. When my classes read this book, we read one chapter a day for eleven consecutive days. The book is not all that lengthy, and when presented in this fashion it allows them the opportunity to slowly filter all of what Douglass is relating about his topic.

    Douglass does an excellent job of getting his readers to understand how "ignorance" is used as a tool of slavery. He also vividly conveys how male and female slaves alike are victimized by their masters. Lastly, and most importantly I believe, he conveys how slavery creates a perversion of Christianity.

    This book is a classic and more Americans should find time to read it.

    23 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2008

    awesome for history!

    this was the most intriguing book about Fredric Douglas.It is a great read and I hope that other young people become involved with learning more about a man like Fredric Douglas. -Caiti

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    A Must Read

    Douglass' poignantly recounts his life as a slave and his coming to freedom. Throughout his Narrative he demonstrates a sensitivity to himself and to those around him including insight into human behavior and its effects on character. In his appendix Douglass clarifies his comments concerning religion -- Christianity -- words which resonant even today. This Narrative is more than historically significant and an unveiling the reality of American slavery. It portrays much of the psychological impact of slavery on slaveholders as well as slaves, provides an insightful critique of religious practice and justification, and shares generously of his journey to claim freedom and manhood. I consider this a must read for citizenship for all Americans. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2013

    This book allows you to go into the deepest darkest thoughts of

    This book allows you to go into the deepest darkest thoughts of an american slave as Frederick Douglass vividly and intensively describes the lifestyle of a slave in both the south and the north. The book allows the reader to get a point of view on why slavery should have been ended from a slave who unfortunately had to participate in the harmful acts of slavery. From the beginning of the book to the end, Frederick Douglass does a fantastic job at proving that African Americans at the time could indeed be knowledgeable  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    An excellent role model for all American children An excellent role model for all American children An excellent role model for all American children An excellent role model for all American children

    Frederick Douglass was elegant and eloquent. When you give serious consideration to the incredible circumstances he overcame to achieve success in the 1800s, it is truly impressive and inspiring. He wrote with honesty and honor. It is a shame that most Americans know nothing of this man or his works.

    Whether you are history buff or not, everyone should read this book as there are lessons to be learned by us all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2008

    American History

    I loved this book. It gave me an important look into American history. It is a story that we can all learn from, and that everyone should have a chance to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

    This book cool

    Dejehwhywgwgw

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    Frederick Douglass

    Haven't read the book yet, but fast service, excellent book quality.

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