Study Questions

Frederick Douglass
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

What is the purpose of William Lloyd Garrison's preface? In what context does he place Frederick Douglass's book? How does Wendell Phillips connect the book to American principles?
Note: If the names of Garrison and Phillips are unfamiliar to you, look them up in Wikipedia or in another source.

What memories did Douglass have of his family and early childhood?

What were conditions like for slaves on large plantations like Colonel Lloyd's? According to Douglass, why did slaves sing? How did Colonel Lloyd treat his slaves, both those he knew (like old Barney) and those he didn't?

Why did slaves fear Mr. Gore, the overseer? When whites murdered slaves, how was the crime treated?

What food and clothing did small slave children get? Why was Douglass sent to Baltimore? Why did he consider this to be such an important event in his life?

"Irresponsible power" was an abolitionist phrase that denoted the fact that slaveowners were not responsible to anyone for the way they treated slaves; irresponsible power was supposed to corrupt even the kindliest master. How did "irresponsible power" corrupt Mrs. Auld? What reason did Mr. Auld give that slaves should not be taught to read? How did that reason affect Douglass's attitude? How did Douglass teach himself to read and to write, even though he was watched and it was illegal? How did Douglass learn about emancipation? How did he first get the idea of escaping north?

What happened to Douglass when Captain Anthony died and his estate was divided? What was the fate of his grandmother? Why did Douglass have to return to the countryside, and what regrets did he feel?

Why did Douglass regard Captain Thomas Auld as unusually mean? What made him so? How did Captain Auld's conversion to Methodism affect him as a master? Why was Douglass given to the slave "breaker," Mr. Covey?

What was Douglass's life like in the first six months of working for Covey? What event occurred that made Douglass's life much easier for the remainder of his year with Covey? How did the event affect Douglass's attitude? What were holidays between Christmas and New Year's Day like for slaves, and what according to Douglass was the purpose of these holidays? Why did Douglass prefer unreligious masters? What did Douglass do at his secret Sunday meetings? What was Douglass's plan for escaping slavery and why did it not succeed? How did Douglass end up back in Baltimore, and how did he learn a trade? Who received his wages?
Some explanation of terms:
"Classes" were the Methodist term for congregations without a regular minister. Periodically classes would meet with the circuit-rider (a preacher) as he made his rounds. Later, when enough settled preachers became available, the "classes" would evolve into churches. "Class-leaders" were unordained lay preachers. Note also that belief in the supernatural power of certain roots and the fear of witchcraft were some of the few survivals of African religion.

Why did Douglass not describe the details of his escape to the North? How did Douglass become discontented and determined to escape slavery? What were the arrangements for Douglass hiring himself out, and why did they end? What regrets did he have about leaving? What feelings did he have after he successfully escaped? How did the appearance of the North exceed Douglass's expectations? How did he end up in New Bedford, and why was he not able to practice his trade?
Note: If you are curious how Douglass escaped, you can read online the account he wrote after the Civil War, in the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), Part II, chapter 1.

Considering Douglass's remarks on religious slaveowners, what was his own view of religion?