Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Summary and Analysis of Chapter III


The most beautiful component of Lloyd's plantation was the garden, tended by four slaves. There was a plethora of delicious fruit and many of the slaves, from children to the elderly, could not resist breaking into it and taking a fruit. The Colonel tried to dissuade them by beating those he discovered, but this did not work well. Finally he put tar on the outside of the fence, and when this revealed the slaves who had violated his command, they were severely beating. Tar itself came to be associated with violence and defilement.

The colonel kept a respected stable and carriage-house. It was tended by two slaves, Old Barney and Young Barney. They did not have an easy job because their master was extremely particular about his horses; any perceived problem or suspicion of improper care or want of attention resulted in the severest beatings for the father and son. The Colonel often took this to a terrible limit, pretending he noticed some issue in his horses and blaming the slaves for the horses' behavior. Old Barney, despite being feeble and elderly, was often forced to kneel down in the cold and receive more than thirty lashes.

Colonel Lloyd had three sons – Edward, Murray, and Daniel – and three sons-in-law – Mr. Winder, Mr. Nicholson, and Mr. Lowndes – and they also enjoyed beating the slaves. They had complete freedom to do so whenever they pleased.

Douglass wrote that to "describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd would be almost equal to describing the riches of Job." He had nearly one thousand slaves, ten to fifteen which were house servants. He had so many that he did not know all of their names and often did not even recognize all of them. One day he came upon a slave working out on the road and asked him who his master was. The slave replied that it was Colonel Lloyd but clearly did not recognize his master as the man before him. Lloyd asked the slave if his master treated him well, and the slave replied that he worked him too hard and did not give him enough to eat. The colonel said nothing and left the slave in the road.

A few weeks later it was revealed that the slave was to be sold to a Georgia trader, forever removed from his family and friends. His overseer told him it was because he has found fault with his master. This "was the penalty of telling the truth, in answer to a series of plain questions."

The previous anecdote revealed why, when questioned about their masters and working conditions, most slaves lied and said they were happy and contented. They never breathed a negative word about their situation, especially to people they did not know. They spoke positively of their masters and mistresses and always repressed the truth.

Indeed, slaves often "imbibe prejudices quite common to others. They think their own masters better than that of others." Sometimes there were even fights between slaves of one master and slaves of another; when they encountered each other they would criticize the others' master and often entered into a physical altercation. These slaves "seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave, but to be a poor man's slave was deemed a disgrace indeed!"


In this brief chapter Douglass wrote more of life on Colonel Lloyd's plantation. He detailed the temptation faced by the slaves to sneak into the verdant garden for a piece of exotic fruit and further illustrated the unjustness and brutality that characterized a slave's life through the capricious treatment of the slaves who tended the stable – Old Barney and Young Barney. He also explained why most slaves would say positive things about their masters when questioned, for they never knew to whom they were talking. White southerners, known or unknown, could not be trusted, as the poor slave out on the road who did not know Colonel Lloyd's face and accidentally told him directly that he was treated poorly by his master discovered firsthand.

In reference to the previous point of slaves speaking well of their masters and situations, Douglass included a maxim: "...a still tongue makes a wise head" (23). Douglass embraced the use of proverbs throughout the Narrative. Literary scholar Wolfgang Mieder writes of Douglass's use of biblical and proverbs in his speeches, autobiographies, letters, and journalism. Proverbs were important because they contained the insights and experiences of people without an underlying philosophical system. They "reflected the dichotomies and contradictions of life" and "may serve good as well as evil designs."

Many of Douglass's proverbs were biblical in origin. He was deeply rooted in the language of the Scriptures and combined his Biblical knowledge with his reading of the works of the great minds during his abolitionist years. He refused to write with the dialect of the plantation and tried to make clear the inherent possibility for a black man to be as intelligent and articulate as a white man. The biblical proverbs also came from Douglass's frequent visits to church, where he listened to black preachers who often utilized proverbs to appeal to their congregations.

Oftentimes the religious proverbs were used to "strengthen his rhetorical arguments that slaveholders will, in due time, be punished for their evil deeds." One example of a biblical proverb from the Narrative was actually uttered by Master Thomas, who misused it to legitimate his cruel treatment of Henny: "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes" (44).

The folk proverbs were used to add "a colloquial and metaphorical favor to his arguments" and to appeal to his audience. The references helped Douglass express fear, doubt, and hope. He was able to make himself known and accessible to readers of all ages, races, and creeds through his writings. As Mieder concludes, "he believed in the rhetoric of common sense, and proverbs were the perfect verbal tools for his efforts."