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This chapter is filled with details about the plantation Douglass grew up on. It's a large plantation, with three to four hundred slaves. Douglass gives a lot of details about the kinds of food and clothing the slaves were given, which range from very little to none at all. Children were often naked, a rough wool blanket was all they had to sleep on, and the food was fit for hogs.
Because the slaves had to work so hard, no one had any trouble with insomnia. When they finished working in the fields they returned home to more work, not getting to sleep until the early hours of the morning. At dawn they had to be up and ready to be back in the fields or face the wrath of the overseer, the aptly named "Mr. Severe."
No one ever laughed at Mr. Severe's name, because he worked hard to live up to it. Douglass, who is eager to show us that he is a good Christian, is almost as offended by Mr. Severe's foul language as he is by his cruelty in punishing slaves at the slightest provocation.
When Mr. Severe dies, Douglass calls it a mercy from heaven. He is replaced by a man the slaves regard as a good overseer: Mr. Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins still whips the slaves, but at least he doesn't enjoy his job. (Apparently the standards for being a decent overseer are pretty low.)
Douglass describes how happy it made slaves to be selected to work in the "Great House Farm": Colonel Lloyd's plantation. It was the highest honor a slave could hope to achieve.
When slaves were happy or sad, they sang a particular kind of song. Some people claimed that these songs were proof of the slaves' contentment, but Douglass says they sang the most when they were the most unhappy.