Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Chapter 2

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My master's family consisted of two sons, Andrew and Richard; onedaughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld. They lived inone house, upon the home plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. My masterwas Colonel Lloyd's clerk and superintendent. He was what might becalled the overseer of the overseers. I spent two years of childhood onthis plantation in my old master's family. It was here that I witnessedthe bloody transaction recorded in the first chapter; and as I receivedmy first impressions of slavery on this plantation, I will give somedescription of it, and of slavery as it there existed. The plantation isabout twelve miles north of Easton, in Talbot county, and is situatedon the border of Miles River. The principal products raised upon it weretobacco, corn, and wheat. These were raised in great abundance; so that,with the products of this and the other farms belonging to him, he wasable to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop, in carryingthem to market at Baltimore. This sloop was named Sally Lloyd, in honorof one of the colonel's daughters. My master's son-in-law, Captain Auld,was master of the vessel; she was otherwise manned by the colonel'sown slaves. Their names were Peter, Isaac, Rich, and Jake. Thesewere esteemed very highly by the other slaves, and looked upon as theprivileged ones of the plantation; for it was no small affair, in theeyes of the slaves, to be allowed to see Baltimore.

Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundred slaves on his homeplantation, and owned a large number more on the neighboring farmsbelonging to him. The names of the farms nearest to the home plantationwere Wye Town and New Design. "Wye Town" was under the overseership ofa man named Noah Willis. New Design was under the overseership of aMr. Townsend. The overseers of these, and all the rest of the farms,numbering over twenty, received advice and direction from the managersof the home plantation. This was the great business place. It was theseat of government for the whole twenty farms. All disputes amongthe overseers were settled here. If a slave was convicted of any highmisdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to runaway, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on boardthe sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or someother slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining.

Here, too, the slaves of all the other farms received their monthlyallowance of food, and their yearly clothing. The men and women slavesreceived, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork,or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel of corn meal. Their yearlyclothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linentrousers, like the shirts, one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter,made of coarse negro cloth, one pair of stockings, and one pair ofshoes; the whole of which could not have cost more than seven dollars.The allowance of the slave children was given to their mothers, or theold women having the care of them. The children unable to work in thefield had neither shoes, stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given tothem; their clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per year.When these failed them, they went naked until the next allowance-day.Children from seven to ten years old, of both sexes, almost naked, mightbe seen at all seasons of the year.

There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket beconsidered such, and none but the men and women had these. This,however, is not considered a very great privation. They find lessdifficulty from the want of beds, than from the want of time to sleep;for when their day's work in the field is done, the most of them havingtheir washing, mending, and cooking to do, and having few or none ofthe ordinary facilities for doing either of these, very many of theirsleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day;and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married andsingle, drop down side by side, on one common bed,--the cold, dampfloor,--each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets;and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver'shorn. At the sound of this, all must rise, and be off to the field.There must be no halting; every one must be at his or her post; and woebetides them who hear not this morning summons to the field; for ifthey are not awakened by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense offeeling: no age nor sex finds any favor. Mr. Severe, the overseer, usedto stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stickand heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate as notto hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready tostart for the field at the sound of the horn.

Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. I have seen him whip awoman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this,too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother'srelease. He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendishbarbarity. Added to his cruelty, he was a profane swearer. It was enoughto chill the blood and stiffen the hair of an ordinary man to hear himtalk. Scarce a sentence escaped him but that was commenced or concludedby some horrid oath. The field was the place to witness his crueltyand profanity. His presence made it both the field of blood and ofblasphemy. From the rising till the going down of the sun, he wascursing, raving, cutting, and slashing among the slaves of the field, inthe most frightful manner. His career was short. He died very soon afterI went to Colonel Lloyd's; and he died as he lived, uttering, with hisdying groans, bitter curses and horrid oaths. His death was regarded bythe slaves as the result of a merciful providence.

Mr. Severe's place was filled by a Mr. Hopkins. He was a very differentman. He was less cruel, less profane, and made less noise, than Mr.Severe. His course was characterized by no extraordinary demonstrationsof cruelty. He whipped, but seemed to take no pleasure in it. He wascalled by the slaves a good overseer.

The home plantation of Colonel Lloyd wore the appearance of a countryvillage. All the mechanical operations for all the farms were performedhere. The shoemaking and mending, the blacksmithing, cartwrighting,coopering, weaving, and grain-grinding, were all performed by the slaveson the home plantation. The whole place wore a business-like aspect veryunlike the neighboring farms. The number of houses, too, conspiredto give it advantage over the neighboring farms. It was called by theslaves the _Great House Farm._ Few privileges were esteemed higher, bythe slaves of the out-farms, than that of being selected to doerrands at the Great House Farm. It was associated in their minds withgreatness. A representative could not be prouder of his election toa seat in the American Congress, than a slave on one of the out-farmswould be of his election to do errands at the Great House Farm. Theyregarded it as evidence of great confidence reposed in them by theiroverseers; and it was on this account, as well as a constant desire tobe out of the field from under the driver's lash, that they esteemedit a high privilege, one worth careful living for. He was called thesmartest and most trusty fellow, who had this honor conferred uponhim the most frequently. The competitors for this office sought asdiligently to please their overseers, as the office-seekers in thepolitical parties seek to please and deceive the people. The same traitsof character might be seen in Colonel Lloyd's slaves, as are seen in theslaves of the political parties.

The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthlyallowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarlyenthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods,for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at oncethe highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose and sing asthey went along, consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that cameup, came out--if not in the word, in the sound;--and as frequently inthe one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the most patheticsentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentimentin the most pathetic tone. Into all of their songs they would manage toweave something of the Great House Farm. Especially would they do this,when leaving home. They would then sing most exultingly the followingwords:--

"I am going away to the Great House Farm!
O, yea! O, yea! O!"

This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seemunmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning tothemselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of thosesongs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character ofslavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subjectcould do.

I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude andapparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle; so that Ineither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told atale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension;they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer andcomplaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tonewas a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverancefrom chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit,and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself intears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs, evennow, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression offeeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I tracemy first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery.I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, todeepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethrenin bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killingeffects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, onallowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him,in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambersof his soul,--and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because"there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."

I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to findpersons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence oftheir contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of agreater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songsof the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved bythem, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, suchis my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom toexpress my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alikeuncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man castaway upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered asevidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; thesongs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.