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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass


by Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass Timeline and Summary

  • Douglass is born a slave on Colonel Lloyd's plantation in Maryland.
  • As he recounts his childhood in the first few chapters, his memories range from the just kind of bad to the really bad.
  • When his mother dies, he isn't allowed to go to her funeral. Then again, he's only met her a handful of times.
  • He is traumatized by seeing his Aunt Hester beaten badly by her master.
  • When he's slightly older, a really bad overseer, Mr. Severe, is replaced by a kind of bad overseer, Mr. Hopkins.
  • But then Mr. Hopkins is replaced by a really, really bad overseer, Mr. Gore.
  • One day Douglass watches Mr. Gore shoot a slave in the face.
  • When Douglass is about seven, something good finally happens: he is sent to Baltimore to work for a new master, Mr. Auld.
  • In Baltimore, Mrs. Auld starts to teach him to read, but when Mr. Auld makes her stop, Douglass learns an invaluable lesson: education must be a powerful thing!
  • He continues to learn to read when his master isn't around, mostly by making friends with white children who haven't yet learned to treat him badly.
  • When Colonel Lloyd dies, Douglass has to return to the plantation in Maryland, while the lawyers decide how the inheritance will be divided up.
  • This is a traumatic event for everyone involved. Families are separated and many slaves are sent away from the only home they've ever known.
  • All of his grandmother's children are taken away from her, and since she is quite old, she is sent off into the woods to die.
  • Douglass is one of the lucky ones; he gets sent back to Baltimore. But he doesn't get to stay there long before he is sent back to work for Master Thomas in the countryside.
  • Master Thomas is a terrible master, who doesn't feed his slaves nearly enough. Douglass wishes he had taken the opportunity to escape while he was still in Baltimore.
  • When Douglass argues with Master Thomas, Thomas gets fed up and sends him to work for a year for a farmer named Covey.
  • At first Douglass is optimistic and thinks he might finally get enough to eat. But Covey has a reputation as a slave-breaker, and he immediately sets to work "breaking" Douglass.
  • After six months of regular beatings and back-breaking work as a field hand, Douglass tells us that his spirit is broken.
  • He has an epiphany while watching some ships sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. He sees the ships sailing free and delivers a big emotional speech about freedom.
  • One day, Douglass decides he has nothing to lose, and when Covey tries to whip him, he fights back. After a long confrontation, Covey retreats and never whips him again. Douglass then makes a vow that he will sooner die than be whipped again.
  • After his year at Covey's farm is over, Douglass gets hired out to a new master, Mr. Freeland.
  • Mr. Freeland is a much better master than Covey, but when Douglass starts teaching other slaves to read, a group of the local slave masters bursts into their little schoolroom and chases them out with sticks and clubs.
  • Even though Mr. Freeland is a relatively good master, Douglass has decided he wants to live in a real "free land."
  • When Douglass gets together with a bunch of other slaves to figure out how to escape, one of the slaves tells the masters and they all get caught.
  • Douglass is blamed for the escape attempt and sent back to work for Mr. Auld.
  • For some reason, Mr. Auld sends Douglass to Baltimore, renting him out to a ship-builder, from whom he begins to learn a trade.
  • Douglass works side by side with white workers on the docks but eventually gets in a fight when the white carpenters try to beat him up.
  • Douglass escapes from slavery! He doesn't give us any details; he just tells us that he made his way to New York.
  • He gets married.
  • He decides that New York is unsafe for him, so he and his wife move to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
  • He subscribes to an abolitionist magazine and starts becoming involved with the cause.
  • The book ends with Douglass speaking about his experiences at an anti-slavery convention.