Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

18. Describe Douglass’s life in Baltimore. How was he received in his job there and why?

Frederick Douglass

Narratives of a Slave

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At the age of seven or eight, Douglass is selected to go to Baltimore to live with Captain Anthony’s son‑in‑law’s brother, Hugh Auld. For three days, Douglass happily prepares to leave Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. He cleans himself thoroughly and is rewarded with his first pair of trousers from Lucretia Auld, Captain Anthony’s daughter. Douglass is not sad to leave the plantation, as he has no family ties or sense of home, like children usually have. He also feels he has nothing to lose, because even if his new home in Baltimore is full of hardship, it can be no worse than the hardships he has already seen and endured on the plantation. Additionally, Baltimore seems to be a place of promise. Douglass’s cousin Tom describes to Douglass the impressive beauty of the city.

Douglass sails on the river to Baltimore on a Saturday morning. He looks once back on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, hoping it will be the last time he sees it. He then sets his sights ahead in the distance. The ship docks at Annapolis first, briefly. Douglass recalls being thoroughly impressed by its size, though in retrospect Annapolis now seems small compared to Northern industrial cities. The ship reaches Baltimore on Sunday morning, and Douglass arrives at his new home. At the Aulds’ he is greeted by the kindly face of Mrs. Sophia Auld, her husband, Hugh Auld, and their son, Thomas Auld, who is to be -Douglass’s master.

Douglass considers his transfer to Baltimore a gift of providence. If he had not been removed from Colonel Lloyd’s plantation at that time, Douglass believes he would still be a slave today, rather than a man sitting freely in his home writing his autobiography. Douglass realizes that he may appear superstitious or self‑centered to suppose that providence had a hand in his delivery to Baltimore, but the feeling is still strong. From his earliest memory, Douglass recalls sensing that he would not be a slave forever. This sense gives him hope in hard times, and he considers it a gift from God.


Douglass is astounded by the strange kindness of his new mistress, Sophia Auld. Mrs. Auld has never owned a slave before and seems untouched by the evils of slavery. Douglass is confused by her. Unlike other white women, she does not appreciate his subservience and does not punish him for looking her in the eye. Yet, after some time, the disease of slaveholding overtakes Mrs. Auld too. Her kindness turns to cruelty, and she is utterly changed as a person.

When Douglass first comes to live with the Aulds, Mrs. Auld begins to teach him the alphabet and some small words. When Hugh Auld realizes what she is doing, he orders her to stop immediately, saying that education ruins slaves, making them unmanageable and unhappy. Douglass overhears Mr. Auld and experiences a sudden revelation of the strategy white men use to enslave blacks. He now understands what he must do to win his freedom. Douglass is thankful to Hugh Auld for this enlightenment.

Slaves in the city enjoy relatively greater freedom than plantation slaves. Urban slave owners are careful not to appear cruel or neglectful to slaves in the eyes of non‑slaveholding whites. Exceptions to this rule certainly exist, however. The Hamiltons, for example, neighbors of the Aulds, mistreat their two young slaves, Henrietta and Mary. The women’s bodies are starved and mangled from Mrs. Hamilton’s regular beatings. Douglass himself witnesses Mrs. Hamilton’s brutal treatment of the girls.