Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 37 (Frederick Douglass)

Narrative of the Life...
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Douglass, Frederick
Narrative of the Life
of Frederick Douglass
An American Slave
Written by Himself

I think this book was pilfered from the shelves of my younger brother. I remember reading it in high school, portions of it anyway, but I think we read it from one of those gargantuan text books that seem to exist solely for the purpose of sucking the life out of every word contained therein and thus turning students away from reading for the rest of their lives. My later success as a student in college (which followed my utter failure as a student in high school) had much to with the fact that I no longer was forced to read from the cramped columns of high school text books. I take great pleasure in owning the books I read and keeping them after I have done so. Libraries are great, but I always feel cheated when I have to give a book I just read back to someone else. I feel like I own it once I have read it. This has at times led me to exhibit a callous disregard for the property rights of others. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.

from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen years old.

My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather.

My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me. My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant--before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

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