Life in the Plantation


“Freedom of choice is the essence of all accountability”

When Frederick Douglass was about 15 years old he moved to St Michael to live with his new master Thomas Auld and his new wife, Rowena. Rowena was mean and cruel, Thomas was stingy and selfish and never fed his slaves enough.

Reading School – Sabbath

Douglass was not allowed to read or teach under the Aulds. One Sunday while in church, Frederick was asked to assist in a Sabbath school to teach slaves to read the scriptures. He was naturally very excited and honored as he was the only black slave in the area who knew how to read and write. The school lasted one Sunday, the following week a group of men armed with sticks and led by Thomas Auld broke up the school and were prohibited from ever meeting again. Slave holders were aware that education would prevent a slave to be a good slave and that they would want to run away, so the best way was to keep them ignorant.

Edward Covey, the slave breaker

Frederick was unhappy and constantly thinking of freedom, he was frequently absent minded and did not follow instructions of his new master. Thomas Auld considered Douglass unfitted to work, he was considered a reluctant slave, so he was sent to a slave breaker, Edward Covey. His year with Covey was a life changing experience. Covey was a poor land renter who took slaves and used them to work his land while receiving training and discipline. Covey was known for his inhumane and harsh treatment of slaves.

Under Covey, Douglass worked the land day and night and in all weathers, hot or cold, rain or snow. For the first six months he was constantly beaten and severely punished sometimes to increase his productivity but most of the times for no apparent reason. He was whipped with sticks or cow skin. Covey was successful in breaking his spirit and soul, he crushed his intellect and any thought of happiness and was transformed into a beast like condition. One day Douglass could not stand the brutal treatment any longer and gathered courage to put a stop to Covey’s beating, he was resolved to fight. Douglass came out victorious and in the next six months of his stay Covey did not dare put a hand on Frederick. His resistance to Covey had given Douglass a new sense of empowerment, an attitude of independence and self determination to fight for his freedom.

William FreemanSecond attempt to a Reading School

At the end of his first year with Covey, Douglass was rented out to another land owner, William Freeman. According to Douglass, Freeman was the best master he had ever had. His slaves never went hungry and working hours were more humane, they were not allowed to work after dark.

He developed good friendships and decided to restart a Sabbath School to teach them to read. They illegally met in the house of a free colored man; the school was so popular that soon they had over 40 students.

First attempt to escape

In 1835 Douglass and his friends, Henry Harris, John Harris, Henry Bailey and Charles Roberts planned their escape. Douglass was to write free passes to each one of them and they would escape in pairs. The free passes stated that they were free men. The day they intended to run away they were betrayed, as soon as the authorities came they ate their passes and none were found as prove of their plan. The five were taken to Easton jail where they were interrogated. After days in jail, Frederick’s owner and master, Hugh Auld, released him from prison.

This failed attempt to escape did not change Frederick disposition to attain his freedom. He knew the right time would come. In the meantime, Hugh Auld sent Douglass to Baltimore to his brother Thomas.


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