The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Chapter 1
Frederick Douglass begins his narrative by placing his birth in Tuckahoe, Talbot county, Maryland. He does not know how old he is because his masters have deliberately kept it from him. Growing up, this is a great source of unhappiness for young Douglass. At the time of his writing, he estimates that he is between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of age from having heard his master say in 1835 that he is almost seventeen years old. His mother's name is Harriet Bailey, daughter of Isaac and Betsy Bailey. Although they are all quite dark, it is generally acknowledged that his father is a white man, even rumored to be his master, Captain Anthony. Douglass does not know if this is true or not. As is the general custom, he is separated from his mother early in infancy and put under the care of his grandmother. Douglass recalls having met his mother several times, but only during the night. She would make the trip from her farm twelve miles away just to spend a little time with her child. She dies when Douglass is about seven years old. He is withheld from seeing her in her illness, death, and burial. Having limited contact with her, the news of her death, at the time, is like a death of a stranger. Thus, he never finds out who his father is. Douglass points out that many slave children have their masters as their father.
"The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slave the double relation of master and father." Chapter 1, pg. 49
These mulatto children are often treated more harshly because they are a source of shame for the white mistress. She often takes great pleasure in seeing them beaten. Usually, the master sells his mixed children out of deference for his wife and ironically, as an act of humanity-that neither he, nor their white siblings be their tormentors. For Douglass, this growing class of children with mixed parentage nullifies the argument that slavery is scriptural because God has cursed the descendants of Ham only.
Douglass's master, Captain Anthony, is not considered a rich landowner. He owns two or three farms and about thirty slaves. Captain Anthony is a hard man. Douglass recalls the first time he witnesses a whipping. His aunt, Hester, a woman of few superiors in appearance, is caught with a slave named Ned Roberts, whom Master Anthony has forbidden her to see. He takes her into the kitchen, strips her to her waist, ties her hands, puts her on a hook, and whips her until she is bloodied. Thinking that he will be next, Douglass hides in a closet. Before this incident, Douglass has never encountered such horror because he had grown up on the outskirts of the farm.