Douglass’ experience with his few owners varied in different aspects, but everywhere he went there was always injustice. The way Douglass explains the behavior of his masters is with stories including specific details of the physical actions taken by his masters to him and to others. He goes into depth and paints a picture of what he saw through his own words. In his experience, his masters could be described as greedy, cruel, and evil.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland; his mother a slave and his father the slave owner. Starting from the moment he or any other child born into slavery, their masters were set on taking control of their lives. Starting off their lives, the masters would separate and “destroy the natural affection of [a] mother for the child”. (Narrative 14) This tactic made sure the children grew up without the guidance or love of their immediate family due to being separated. This injustice shows the cruel actions slave owners would inflict on not only their slaves, but to children. Since the children were not of important use until they were of age, they were deemed purposeless. Without purpose, their masters did not care about giving them the extra necessities that they needed and left many “almost naked… at all seasons of the year.” (Narrative 18) The difficulties Douglass and many others endured such as not having beds were directly influenced by their owners. (Narrative 18)
Colonel Lloyd is an example of greed. The slaves not having enough to eat were tempted by the beautiful garden that had apples and oranges and other fruits. Colonel Lloyd built a tar fence in order to keep out all slaves and if they were found with any traces of tar they were whipped and beaten. (Narrative 21) His greed not only kept his slaves starved but gave him a reason to physically abuse them. Master Thomas is another example of being greedy with food. “Not to give a slave enough to eat, is regarded as the most aggravated development of meanness even among slaveholders.” (Narrative 40) He intentionally didn’t feed his slaves enough. Another example of greed Douglass experienced with a master of his was with Master Hugh. While working all week doing hard labor jobs, making one dollar and fifty cents a day, at the end of the week Douglass would give all his earnings to Master Hugh. (Narrative 66) This left Douglass astonished with himself and added to his yearn for freedom.
Throughout Douglass’ life he was a witness to many atrocities that would mentally scar people in the 21st century. The cruel acts he had witnessed throughout his life shaped him into who he was and made his strive to freedom more meaningful. Mr. Plummer would “cut and slash the women’s heads” (Narrative 15) Master Anthony “would take great pleasure in whipping a slave”. (Narrative 16) Mr. Auld “forbade” Mrs. Auld from teaching Douglass to read and write and made her “tender heart [become] stone”. (Narrative 30,33) All of these cruel acts that Douglass witnessed made his strive for freedom more prominent. These acts encouraged him to teach himself to read and write. (Narrative 32)
Mr. Gore and Mr. Covey were evil forces in the life of Frederick Douglass. Mr. Gore was a force that was unstoppable and unquestionable. “It is better that a dozen slaves should suffer under the lash, than that the overseer should be convicted, in the presence of the slaves, of having been at fault.” (Narrative 24) “To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished” (Narrative 24) These mottos that Mr. Gore lived by were not helpful to the slaves at all. This basically gave all the power to Mr. Gore. His word held more value compared to the word of a slave. When Demby, a slave, stood up for himself and disobeyed Mr. Gore, he ultimately gave up his life. Mr. Gore shot and killed him with no repercussions or punishment. (Narrative 25) Mr. Covey is another figure in Douglass’ life that was ruthless and unforgettable. From the very start he had a problem with Douglass. For his first week Mr. Covey had already gave him a “severe whipping” that left him with “[raised] ridges” (Narrative 44) For Douglass’ first-time doing field hand duties there were “similar offences” that led to him being whipped. His time with Mr. Covey was extremely traumatizing since there was “scarce a week passed without his whipping me”. (Narrative 45) Mr. Covey always wanted to strike up conflict with Douglass until he was fed up. Douglass “seized Covey hard by the throat” in an act to stand up for himself. (Narrative 51) That was the last time Covey attempted to whip Douglass. Did Sandy’s root really work? (Narrative 50) Was it a coincidence or was Covey scared of the uprising Douglass could have brought if he acknowledged and punished him for standing up for himself.
The way masters treated slaves were extremely violent, inhumane, and brutally forceful. Children, men and women salves were held on the same scale as “horses, sheep, and swine” (Narrative 37) While Douglass was in jail, he was made to believe that while the others went home, they would sell him “as a warning to the others that remained.” (Narrative 62) Not only did he experience physical abuse in his life, but also mental. The masters used a power over their slaves that was not obtainable by the slaves themselves. Their education is a huge factor that separated master from slave. “In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master”. (Narrative 31) This was his key to freedom; his education.
Frederick Douglass withstood many hardships throughout his life. Many slave owners and overseers did not have good relations with him. He was self-educated. Without the constant fight and opposition, Douglass would not have pushed himself to work as hard to accomplish his goals of becoming a free man.