Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave By Frederick Douglass Summary and Analysis Chapter VIII

Summary

In a digression, Douglass tells us that about five years after he had been living in Baltimore, his old master, Captain Anthony, died, and Douglass was sent back to the plantation for a valuation so that all of the captain's property could be appraised and divided up among his relatives. "Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine" for the purpose of this evaluation. He was indeed nervous about his future, for it was possible that he would be sold to a crueler master or to a Georgia trader. Anthony had two children, Andrew and Lucretia (a third child had died earlier), and Douglass was awarded to Lucretia, which meant that he would be returned to her relatives (by marriage), the Aulds in Baltimore. This turn of events was fortunate for Douglass because during his short visit, Andrew demonstrated his cruelty by crushing the head of Douglass' brother.

Soon after Douglass' return to Baltimore, both Lucretia and Andrew died, and all of the slaves were once again slated to be sold or given away. Douglass was particularly angry about how his grandmother, after years of service to Anthony, was left to die in an isolated hut in the woods. Lucretia's surviving husband, Master Thomas, now owned Douglass. A misunderstanding arose between Thomas and his brother Hugh Auld, and, as a spiteful gesture, Thomas took Douglass away from Hugh. Douglass was not entirely unhappy to leave Baltimore, for alcohol had changed Hugh's character, just as slavery had corrupted Sophia's.

Analysis

The death of Captain Anthony presented a perilous and frightening time for Douglass. When owners of property died, got married, or changed their familial ties, their property often changed hands. Slaves were particularly afraid of being sold to Georgia traders or to other plantations where conditions were reportedly much worse.

Appraisers valued the slaves much the same way they assessed animals. Douglass' description of the evaluation process may well make us feel uncomfortable. Douglass adds: "At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder."

Master Andrew's brutalizing of Douglass' brother is another particularly vivid episode. The fact that it may be one half-brother brutalizing another is an underlying theme. Although Douglass does not mention it, his brother and Andrew could easily have been related since in the beginning of the Narrative, he himself speculates that Captain Anthony could have been his father.

Douglass again criticizes the use of female slaves to populate a plantation. He refers to the episode of his abandoned grandmother with great pain; after having served Captain Anthony for many decades, "peopling his plantation with slaves" ("the source of all his wealth"), she is abandoned. The raping of slaves for profit is an implicit sub-text here.

Glossary

schooner a ship with two or more masts, as well as fore and aft sails.

profligate dissipation extravagant spending.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) American abolitionist and poet. Douglass quotes from Whittier's poem "The Farewell: Of a Virginia Slave Mother to her Daughter Sold into Southern Bondage."

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