Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Summary and Analysis of Chapter XI and Appendix


It was now time for Douglass to tell how he finally planned and executed his escape. He could not, however, give too many details, for to do so would cause trouble for many of the people who had helped him out. Slaveholders might even become more vigilant and suspicious if they knew the details of this particular escape. There was no possible way Douglass would electively impair the escape of another brother or sister in slavery.

Douglass was somewhat disdainful of the very public discourse surrounding the Underground Railroad. He was pleased that slaves found their way to freedom, but thought that the "open declarations are a positive evil to the slaves remaining, who are seeking to escape."

In 1838 Douglass was becoming restless, wondering why he needed to keep giving the contents of his purse to his master. He believed he should try and hire himself out in order to save more money for his escape. When Master Thomas came to town, Douglass inquired if he would hire Douglass out, but the man refused, calling it a "stratagem by which to escape" and encouraged Douglass to remain content with his situation.

Douglass then asked Master Hugh for the same thing two months later, and after some careful thought, Mater Hugh agreed. The deal was that Douglass could find work but pay Master Hugh three dollars a week and cover his own food, room, calking tools, and clothing. This arrangement favored Master Hugh because "it relieved him of the need of looking after me. His money was sure. He received all of the benefits of slaveholding without its evils; while I endured all of the evils of a slave, and suffered all the care and anxiety of a free man."

Nevertheless, Douglass went forward with this arrangement and found work. One night, however, he encountered the ire of Master Hugh because he did not show up for something when he was supposed to. Douglass explained that he did not know he had to tell Master Hugh where he was going, and this disconcerted Master Hugh. Douglass tried to demonstrate his character by not working for a week and then not giving his master his wages, but abandoned this plan when he realized he needed to try and make his second attempt at freedom.

Douglass began working steadily, which convinced Master Hugh that his slave was back to normal and not up to no good. The most difficult thing for Douglass as he planned his escape was the thought of leaving his close friends behind. Surely many slaves remained in chains because it was too hard to abandon their loved ones.

Douglass finally executed his plan and reached New York in September 1838. He gives no details as promised. However, it was "a moment of highest excitement" when he first experienced freedom. This, of course, faded quickly when he became afraid and lonely in the city. He feared being recaptured and believed he could trust no one. He had no friends or allies. Thankfully he encountered Mr. David Ruggles, to whom he owed the profoundest gratitude and service for his assistance at this time in his hour of need. Ruggles sought Douglass out and brought him to his boardinghouse. Ruggles and Douglass agreed that it was better that the latter sought out calking work in another town, such as New Bedford.

Douglass wrote to his intended wife, Anna, a free woman, and told her of his plan. She arrived in New York and the two were married on September 15th, 1838. When the couple reached New Bedford they stayed with an abolitionist couple, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.

Douglass began to experience a measure of freedom for the first time in his life. Douglass decided to settle on a new name, having dropped his two middle names given at birth and having discarded other names he used along his path to freedom. He decided upon "Douglass" as a surname because Mr. Johnson had been reading "The Lady of the Lake."

Douglass was disappointed with New Bedford; he assumed it would be like the poorer areas in the South, comparing the non-slaveholding southerners with these northerners. However, he saw "the strongest proofs of wealth." He observed men and women working hard and clearly enjoying their work and deriving dignity from it. He admired the architecture, gardens, and dwellings of the city and marveled at the display of prosperity. The people even looked "more able, stronger, healthier, and happier, than those in Maryland. "Even Mr. Johnson was healthier, better paid, and better informed that the richest of slaveholders in the South, and he was only a working man!

Douglass found employment soon after arrival and delighted in the fact that he was finally his own master. However, he still experienced prejudice because the white calkers did not want to work with him and soon he could get no employment. He took on other jobs in the interim.

One day he discovered "The Liberator," an abolitionist newspaper. He began subscribing and was awed and inspired by its contents. It spared no expense in its condemnation of the evils of slavery. Douglass attended anti-slavery meetings. One time, at a slavery convention in Nantucket, he was asked to speak. This was a cross he took up reluctantly, but from that moment on he tirelessly orated and campaigned for abolition.

In the Appendix, Douglass sought to clarify his views on religion. What he said about religion in the Narrative only applied to the "slaveholding religion of this land, and with no reference whatsoever to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked." The "religious pomp and show" of slaveholders' Christianity disgusted him. He loathed the fact that "we have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members." There was an incredible amount of hypocrisy and prevarication. Slaveholders denied slaves the opportunity to read the Bible, to keep their families intact, to learn the name of the God who made them, and more. The auctioneer's bell chimed at the same time as the church bell.

The picture of Christianity in America was a bleak one. Douglass criticizes these Christians as being like the Pharisees of the Bible. He noted their willingness to sacrifice but not to show mercy, their professions of love of God but their hatred towards their brethren.


As Douglass details in this final chapter, he did not want to reveal the facts concerning his escape in order to prevent harm from coming to those who helped him, or make it more difficult for those blacks still bound by the chains of servitude who might escape via the same means. In 1881 he finally revealed the facts, which were that on September 3rd, 1838, he boarded a train from Baltimore bound to New York, borrowed the uniform and seaman's protection papers of a free black friend, and rode the train without being recognized by white acquaintances or being challenged by the conductor.

Douglass has thus physically escaped from slavery, and psychologically escapes by changing his name from Frederick Bailey to Frederick Douglass. He marries, earns employment and keeps his own wages, and embraces abolitionism. When he escaped from the South he felt a "moment of the highest excitement I ever experience," (74) and later marveled that "I was now my own master" (79). He turns his discerning eye upon the people of New Bedford and observes a world without the crippling effects of slavery. At the very end of the autobiography, he begins a new chapter of his life as a public figure: he begins to share his story, which will become a central narrative in the abolitionist movement. Like most autobiographies, he has charted his path from ignorance to enlightenment, from boy to man, from literal slave to master. He is now autonomous, fully individualized, and a member of the human community.

Douglass's work has remained relevant ever since its initial publication. In 1975 the scholar Leslie Friedman Goldstein turned to the Narrativeto discern a way in which to sustain a mode of ethnic loyalty "that would be viable, morally and politically, in a heterogeneous nation like our own." He stated that Douglass was most assuredly not a separatist; rather, he was a "singularly thoughtful integrationist". Of course, Douglass did indicate an abiding and profound loyalty to his own oppressed black brethren. He did not focus on "color" but understood and argued that black Americans were "united by a common bond of duty to struggle against the enslavement, the oppression, the disenfranchisement, and the unjust treatment of their fellow blacks" and that it was a fact "that to be 'colored' in America meant to be linked to derogatory prejudice, to the slander of inferiority, to social and political injustice, and to slavery itself." This was where race loyalty came from, although not all brothers with the same skin color felt the same spiritual bond.

Douglass believed that his black brethren had an obligation to work to correct the abuses and injustice against their race. They had to build respect for themselves. Only they could change the way they were perceived. Bad behavior by one Negro reflected poorly on the whole race. The American people valued common sense and a defense of one's own rights. Douglass did not appreciate blacks who turned their backs on their obligation to one another. Douglass did identify limits, however, on this special obligation: "the obligation to be true to the black cause implied absolutely no restrictions on personal, social matters such as the choice of associates, friends, or even wife;" by the logic of its claim this type of racial loyalty would move blacks toward, not away from, other non-black progressive groups; and that it contained a "progressively self-limiting quality."

In the Appendix Douglass had to make sure to clarify his views on religion as to not alienate some of his readers with the assumption that he was critical of religion as a whole. He endeavored to demonstrate how the Christianity of white slaveholders was detrimental and how the Christianity of the slaves was more authentic and true to the spirit of the Gospel. Critic James Matlock observed that Douglass "appeals to the religious sensibilities of his audience throughout the Narrative. He shows his knowledge of the Bible, uses scriptural idiom, and give suitable professions of his own belief and his incredulity at the perversions of ostensible Christians." The Appendix cements this for his readers.