Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 20

_Apprenticeship Life_


Well! dear reader, I am not, as you may have already inferred, a
loser by the general upstir, described in the foregoing chapter.
The little domestic revolution, notwithstanding the sudden snub
it got by the treachery of somebody--I dare not say or think
who--did not, after all, end so disastrously, as when in the iron
cage at Easton, I conceived it would. The prospect, from that
point, did look about as dark as any that ever cast its gloom
over the vision of the anxious, out-looking, human spirit. "All
is well that ends well." My affectionate comrades, Henry and
John Harris, are still with Mr. William Freeland. Charles
Roberts and Henry Baily are safe at their homes. I have not,
therefore, any thing to regret on their account. Their masters
have mercifully forgiven them, probably on the ground suggested
in the spirited little speech of Mrs. Freeland, made to me just
before leaving for the jail--namely: that they had been allured
into the wicked scheme of making their escape, by me; and that,
but for me, they would never have dreamed of a thing so shocking!
My <236>friends had nothing to regret, either; for while they
were watched more closely on account of what had happened, they
were, doubtless, treated more kindly than before, and got new
assurances that they would be legally emancipated, some day,
provided their behavior should make them deserving, from that
time forward. Not a blow, as I learned, was struck any one of
them. As for Master William Freeland, good, unsuspecting soul,
he did not believe that we were intending to run away at all.
Having given--as he thought--no occasion to his boys to leave
him, he could not think it probable that they had entertained a
design so grievous. This, however, was not the view taken of the
matter by "Mas' Billy," as we used to call the soft spoken, but
crafty and resolute Mr. William Hamilton. He had no doubt that
the crime had been meditated; and regarding me as the instigator
of it, he frankly told Master Thomas that he must remove me from
that neighborhood, or he would shoot me down. He would not have
one so dangerous as "Frederick" tampering with his slaves.
William Hamilton was not a man whose threat might be safely
disregarded. I have no doubt that he would have proved as good
as his word, had the warning given not been promptly taken. He
was furious at the thought of such a piece of high-handed
_theft_, as we were about to perpetrate the stealing of our own
bodies and souls! The feasibility of the plan, too, could the
first steps have been taken, was marvelously plain. Besides,
this was a _new_ idea, this use of the bay. Slaves escaping,
until now, had taken to the woods; they had never dreamed of
profaning and abusing the waters of the noble Chesapeake, by
making them the highway from slavery to freedom. Here was a
broad road of destruction to slavery, which, before, had been
looked upon as a wall of security by slaveholders. But Master
Billy could not get Mr. Freeland to see matters precisely as he
did; nor could he get Master Thomas so excited as he was himself.
The latter--I must say it to his credit--showed much humane
feeling in his part of the transaction, and atoned for much that
had been harsh, cruel <237 CHANGE IN LITTLE TOMMY>and
unreasonable in his former treatment of me and others. His
clemency was quite unusual and unlooked for. "Cousin Tom" told
me that while I was in jail, Master Thomas was very unhappy; and
that the night before his going up to release me, he had walked
the floor nearly all night, evincing great distress; that very
tempting offers had been made to him, by the Negro-traders, but
he had rejected them all, saying that _money could not tempt him
to sell me to the far south_. All this I can easily believe, for
he seemed quite reluctant to send me away, at all. He told me
that he only consented to do so, because of the very strong
prejudice against me in the neighborhood, and that he feared for
my safety if I remained there.

Thus, after three years spent in the country, roughing it in the
field, and experiencing all sorts of hardships, I was again
permitted to return to Baltimore, the very place, of all others,
short of a free state, where I most desired to live. The three
years spent in the country, had made some difference in me, and
in the household of Master Hugh. "Little Tommy" was no longer
_little_ Tommy; and I was not the slender lad who had left for
the Eastern Shore just three years before. The loving relations
between me and Mas' Tommy were broken up. He was no longer
dependent on me for protection, but felt himself a _man_, with
other and more suitable associates. In childhood, he scarcely
considered me inferior to himself certainly, as good as any other
boy with whom he played; but the time had come when his _friend_
must become his _slave_. So we were cold, and we parted. It was
a sad thing to me, that, loving each other as we had done, we
must now take different roads. To him, a thousand avenues were
open. Education had made him acquainted with all the treasures
of the world, and liberty had flung open the gates thereunto; but
I, who had attended him seven years, and had watched over him
with the care of a big brother, fighting his battles in the
street, and shielding him from harm, to an extent which had
induced his mother to say, "Oh! Tommy is always safe, when he is
with <238>Freddy," must be confined to a single condition. He
could grow, and become a MAN; I could grow, though I could _not_
become a man, but must remain, all my life, a minor--a mere boy.
Thomas Auld, Junior, obtained a situation on board the brig
"Tweed," and went to sea. I know not what has become of him; he
certainly has my good wishes for his welfare and prosperity.
There were few persons to whom I was more sincerely attached than
to him, and there are few in the world I would be more pleased to

Very soon after I went to Baltimore to live, Master Hugh
succeeded in getting me hired to Mr. William Gardiner, an
extensive ship builder on Fell's Point. I was placed here to
learn to calk, a trade of which I already had some knowledge,
gained while in Mr. Hugh Auld's ship-yard, when he was a master
builder. Gardiner's, however, proved a very unfavorable place
for the accomplishment of that object. Mr. Gardiner was, that
season, engaged in building two large man-of-war vessels,
professedly for the Mexican government. These vessels were to be
launched in the month of July, of that year, and, in failure
thereof, Mr. G. would forfeit a very considerable sum of money.
So, when I entered the ship-yard, all was hurry and driving.
There were in the yard about one hundred men; of these about
seventy or eighty were regular carpenters--privileged men.
Speaking of my condition here I wrote, years ago--and I have now
no reason to vary the picture as follows:

There was no time to learn any thing. Every man had to do that
which he knew how to do. In entering the ship-yard, my orders
from Mr. Gardiner were, to do whatever the carpenters commanded
me to do. This was placing me at the beck and call of about
seventy-five men. I was to regard all these as masters. Their
word was to be my law. My situation was a most trying one. At
times I needed a dozen pair of hands. I was called a dozen ways
in the space of a single minute. Three or four voices would
strike my ear at the same moment. It was--"Fred., come help me
to cant this timber here." "Fred., come carry this timber
yonder."--"Fred., bring that roller here."--"Fred., go get a
fresh can of water."--"Fred., come help saw off the end of this
timber."--"Fred., go quick and get the crow bar."--"Fred., hold
on the end of this fall."--"Fred., go to the blacksmith's shop,
and get a new punch."--<239 DESPERATE FIGHT>

"Hurra, Fred.! run and bring me a cold chisel."--"I say, Fred.,
bear a hand, and get up a fire as quick as lightning under that
steam-box."--"Halloo, nigger! come, turn this grindstone."--
"Come, come! move, move! and _bowse_ this timber forward."--"I
say, darkey, blast your eyes, why don't you heat up some
pitch?"--"Halloo! halloo! halloo!" (Three voices at the same
time.) "Come here!--Go there!--Hold on where you are! D--n you,
if you move, I'll knock your brains out!"

Such, dear reader, is a glance at the school which was mine,
during, the first eight months of my stay at Baltimore. At the
end of the eight months, Master Hugh refused longer to allow me
to remain with Mr. Gardiner. The circumstance which led to his
taking me away, was a brutal outrage, committed upon me by the
white apprentices of the ship-yard. The fight was a desperate
one, and I came out of it most shockingly mangled. I was cut and
bruised in sundry places, and my left eye was nearly knocked out
of its socket. The facts, leading to this barbarous outrage upon
me, illustrate a phase of slavery destined to become an important
element in the overthrow of the slave system, and I may,
therefore state them with some minuteness. That phase is this:
_the conflict of slavery with the interests of the white
mechanics and laborers of the south_. In the country, this
conflict is not so apparent; but, in cities, such as Baltimore,
Richmond, New Orleans, Mobile, &c., it is seen pretty clearly.
The slaveholders, with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by
encouraging the enmity of the poor, laboring white man against
the blacks, succeeds in making the said white man almost as much
a slave as the black slave himself. The difference between the
white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to
_one_ slaveholder, and the former belongs to _all_ the
slaveholders, collectively. The white slave has taken from him,
by indirection, what the black slave has taken from him,
directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the
same plunderers. The slave is robbed, by his master, of all his
earnings, above what is required for his bare physical
necessities; and the white man is robbed by the slave system, of
the just results of his labor, because he is flung into
<240>competition with a class of laborers who work without wages.
The competition, and its injurious consequences, will, one day,
array the nonslaveholding white people of the slave states,
against the slave system, and make them the most effective
workers against the great evil. At present, the slaveholders
blind them to this competition, by keeping alive their prejudice
against the slaves, _as men_--not against them _as slaves_. They
appeal to their pride, often denouncing emancipation, as tending
to place the white man, on an equality with Negroes, and, by this
means, they succeed in drawing off the minds of the poor whites
from the real fact, that, by the rich slave-master, they are
already regarded as but a single remove from equality with the
slave. The impression is cunningly made, that slavery is the
only power that can prevent the laboring white man from falling
to the level of the slave's poverty and degradation. To make
this enmity deep and broad, between the slave and the poor white
man, the latter is allowed to abuse and whip the former, without
hinderance. But--as I have suggested--this state of facts
prevails _mostly_ in the country. In the city of Baltimore,
there are not unfrequent murmurs, that educating the slaves to be
mechanics may, in the end, give slavemasters power to dispense
with the services of the poor white man altogether. But, with
characteristic dread of offending the slaveholders, these poor,
white mechanics in Mr. Gardiner's ship-yard--instead of applying
the natural, honest remedy for the apprehended evil, and
objecting at once to work there by the side of slaves--made a
cowardly attack upon the free colored mechanics, saying _they_
were eating the bread which should be eaten by American freemen,
and swearing that they would not work with them. The feeling
was, _really_, against having their labor brought into
competition with that of the colored people at all; but it was
too much to strike directly at the interest of the slaveholders;
and, therefore proving their servility and cowardice they dealt
their blows on the poor, colored freeman, and aimed to prevent
_him_ from serving himself, in the evening of life, with the
had served his master, during the more vigorous portion of his
days. Had they succeeded in driving the black freemen out of the
ship-yard, they would have determined also upon the removal of
the black slaves. The feeling was very bitter toward all colored
people in Baltimore, about this time (1836), and they--free and
slave suffered all manner of insult and wrong.

Until a very little before I went there, white and black ship
carpenters worked side by side, in the ship yards of Mr.
Gardiner, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Walter Price, and Mr. Robb. Nobody
seemed to see any impropriety in it. To outward seeming, all
hands were well satisfied. Some of the blacks were first rate
workmen, and were given jobs requiring highest skill. All at
once, however, the white carpenters knocked off, and swore that
they would no longer work on the same stage with free Negroes.
Taking advantage of the heavy contract resting upon Mr. Gardiner,
to have the war vessels for Mexico ready to launch in July, and
of the difficulty of getting other hands at that season of the
year, they swore they would not strike another blow for him,
unless he would discharge his free colored workmen.

Now, although this movement did not extend to me, _in form_, it
did reach me, _in fact_. The spirit which it awakened was one of
malice and bitterness, toward colored people _generally_, and I
suffered with the rest, and suffered severely. My fellow
apprentices very soon began to feel it to be degrading to work
with me. They began to put on high looks, and to talk
contemptuously and maliciously of _"the Niggers;"_ saying, that
"they would take the country," that "they ought to be killed."
Encouraged by the cowardly workmen, who, knowing me to be a
slave, made no issue with Mr. Gardiner about my being there,
these young men did their utmost to make it impossible for me to
stay. They seldom called me to do any thing, without coupling
the call with a curse, and Edward North, the biggest in every
thing, rascality included, ventured to strike me, whereupon I
picked him up, and threw <242>him into the dock. Whenever any of
them struck me, I struck back again, regardless of consequences.
I could manage any of them _singly_, and, while I could keep them
from combining, I succeeded very well. In the conflict which
ended my stay at Mr. Gardiner's, I was beset by four of them at
once--Ned North, Ned Hays, Bill Stewart, and Tom Humphreys. Two
of them were as large as myself, and they came near killing me,
in broad day light. The attack was made suddenly, and
simultaneously. One came in front, armed with a brick; there was
one at each side, and one behind, and they closed up around me.
I was struck on all sides; and, while I was attending to those in
front, I received a blow on my head, from behind, dealt with a
heavy hand-spike. I was completely stunned by the blow, and
fell, heavily, on the ground, among the timbers. Taking
advantage of my fall, they rushed upon me, and began to pound me
with their fists. I let them lay on, for a while, after I came
to myself, with a view of gaining strength. They did me little
damage, so far; but, finally, getting tired of that sport, I gave
a sudden surge, and, despite their weight, I rose to my hands and
knees. Just as I did this, one of their number (I know not
which) planted a blow with his boot in my left eye, which, for a
time, seemed to have burst my eyeball. When they saw my eye
completely closed, my face covered with blood, and I staggering
under the stunning blows they had given me, they left me. As
soon as I gathered sufficient strength, I picked up the hand-
spike, and, madly enough, attempted to pursue them; but here the
carpenters interfered, and compelled me to give up my frenzied
pursuit. It was impossible to stand against so many.

Dear reader, you can hardly believe the statement, but it is
true, and, therefore, I write it down: not fewer than fifty white
men stood by, and saw this brutal and shameless outrage
committed, and not a man of them all interposed a single word of
mercy. There were four against one, and that one's face was
beaten and battered most horribly, and no one said, "that is
enough;" but some cried out, "Kill him--kill him--kill the d--d
<243 CONDUCT OF MASTER HUGH>nigger! knock his brains out--he
struck a white person." I mention this inhuman outcry, to show
the character of the men, and the spirit of the times, at
Gardiner's ship yard, and, indeed, in Baltimore generally, in
1836. As I look back to this period, I am almost amazed that I
was not murdered outright, in that ship yard, so murderous was
the spirit which prevailed there. On two occasions, while there,
I came near losing my life. I was driving bolts in the hold,
through the keelson, with Hays. In its course, the bolt bent.
Hays cursed me, and said that it was my blow which bent the bolt.
I denied this, and charged it upon him. In a fit of rage he
seized an adze, and darted toward me. I met him with a maul, and
parried his blow, or I should have then lost my life. A son of
old Tom Lanman (the latter's double murder I have elsewhere
charged upon him), in the spirit of his miserable father, made an
assault upon me, but the blow with his maul missed me. After the
united assault of North, Stewart, Hays and Humphreys, finding
that the carpenters were as bitter toward me as the apprentices,
and that the latter were probably set on by the former, I found
my only chances for life was in flight. I succeeded in getting
away, without an additional blow. To strike a white man, was
death, by Lynch law, in Gardiner's ship yard; nor was there much
of any other law toward colored people, at that time, in any
other part of Maryland. The whole sentiment of Baltimore was

After making my escape from the ship yard, I went straight home,
and related the story of the outrage to Master Hugh Auld; and it
is due to him to say, that his conduct--though he was not a
religious man--was every way more humane than that of his
brother, Thomas, when I went to the latter in a somewhat similar
plight, from the hands of _"Brother Edward Covey."_ He listened
attentively to my narration of the circumstances leading to the
ruffianly outrage, and gave many proofs of his strong indignation
at what was done. Hugh was a rough, but manly-hearted fellow,
and, at this time, his best nature showed itself.

The heart of my once almost over-kind mistress, Sophia, was again
melted in pity toward me. My puffed-out eye, and my scarred and
blood-covered face, moved the dear lady to tears. She kindly
drew a chair by me, and with friendly, consoling words, she took
water, and washed the blood from my face. No mother's hand could
have been more tender than hers. She bound up my head, and
covered my wounded eye with a lean piece of fresh beef. It was
almost compensation for the murderous assault, and my suffering,
that it furnished and occasion for the manifestation, once more,
of the orignally{sic} characteristic kindness of my mistress.
Her affectionate heart was not yet dead, though much hardened by
time and by circumstances.

As for Master Hugh's part, as I have said, he was furious about
it; and he gave expression to his fury in the usual forms of
speech in that locality. He poured curses on the heads of the
whole ship yard company, and swore that he would have
satisfaction for the outrage. His indignation was really strong
and healthy; but, unfortunately, it resulted from the thought
that his rights of property, in my person, had not been
respected, more than from any sense of the outrage committed on
me _as a man_. I inferred as much as this, from the fact that he
could, himself, beat and mangle when it suited him to do so.
Bent on having satisfaction, as he said, just as soon as I got a
little the better of my bruises, Master Hugh took me to Esquire
Watson's office, on Bond street, Fell's Point, with a view to
procuring the arrest of those who had assaulted me. He related
the outrage to the magistrate, as I had related it to him, and
seemed to expect that a warrant would, at once, be issued for the
arrest of the lawless ruffians.

Mr. Watson heard it all, and instead of drawing up his warrant,
he inquired.--

"Mr. Auld, who saw this assault of which you speak?"

"It was done, sir, in the presence of a ship yard full of hands."

"Sir," said Watson, "I am sorry, but I cannot move in this matter
except upon the oath of white witnesses."

"But here's the boy; look at his head and face," said the excited
Master Hugh; _"they_ show _what_ has been done."

But Watson insisted that he was not authorized to do anything,
unless _white_ witnesses of the transaction would come forward,
and testify to what had taken place. He could issue no warrant
on my word, against white persons; and, if I had been killed in
the presence of a _thousand blacks_, their testimony, combined
would have been insufficient to arrest a single murderer. Master
Hugh, for once, was compelled to say, that this state of things
was _too bad;_ and he left the office of the magistrate,

Of course, it was impossible to get any white man to testify
against my assailants. The carpenters saw what was done; but the
actors were but the agents of their malice, and only what the
carpenters sanctioned. They had cried, with one accord, _"Kill
the nigger!" "Kill the nigger!"_ Even those who may have pitied
me, if any such were among them, lacked the moral courage to come
and volunteer their evidence. The slightest manifestation of
sympathy or justice toward a person of color, was denounced as
abolitionism; and the name of abolitionist, subjected its bearer
to frightful liabilities. "D--n _abolitionists,"_ and _"Kill the
niggers,"_ were the watch-words of the foul-mouthed ruffians of
those days. Nothing was done, and probably there would not have
been any thing done, had I been killed in the affray. The laws
and the morals of the Christian city of Baltimore, afforded no
protection to the sable denizens of that city.

Master Hugh, on finding he could get no redress for the cruel
wrong, withdrew me from the employment of Mr. Gardiner, and took
me into his own family, Mrs. Auld kindly taking care of me, and
dressing my wounds, until they were healed, and I was ready to go
again to work.

While I was on the Eastern Shore, Master Hugh had met with
reverses, which overthrew his business; and he had given up ship
building in his own yard, on the City Block, and was now acting
as foreman of Mr. Walter Price. The best he could now do for me,
<246>was to take me into Mr. Price's yard, and afford me the
facilities there, for completing the trade which I had began to
learn at Gardiner's. Here I rapidly became expert in the use of
my calking tools; and, in the course of a single year, I was able
to command the highest wages paid to journeymen calkers in

The reader will observe that I was now of some pecuniary value to
my master. During the busy season, I was bringing six and seven
dollars per week. I have, sometimes, brought him as much as nine
dollars a week, for the wages were a dollar and a half per day.

After learning to calk, I sought my own employment, made my own
contracts, and collected my own earnings; giving Master Hugh no
trouble in any part of the transactions to which I was a party.

Here, then, were better days for the Eastern Shore _slave_. I
was now free from the vexatious assalts{sic} of the apprentices
at Mr. Gardiner's; and free from the perils of plantation life,
and once more in a favorable condition to increase my little
stock of education, which had been at a dead stand since my
removal from Baltimore. I had, on the Eastern Shore, been only a
teacher, when in company with other slaves, but now there were
colored persons who could instruct me. Many of the young calkers
could read, write and cipher. Some of them had high notions
about mental improvement; and the free ones, on Fell's Point,
organized what they called the _"East Baltimore Mental
Improvement Society."_ To this society, notwithstanding it was
intended that only free persons should attach themselves, I was
admitted, and was, several times, assigned a prominent part in
its debates. I owe much to the society of these young men.

The reader already knows enough of the _ill_ effects of good
treatment on a slave, to anticipate what was now the case in my
improved condition. It was not long before I began to show signs
of disquiet with slavery, and to look around for means to get out
of that condition by the shortest route. I was living among
_free_<247 MY CONDITION IMPROVES>_men;_ and was, in all respects,
equal to them by nature and by attainments. _Why should I be a
slave?_ There was _no_ reason why I should be the thrall of any

Besides, I was now getting--as I have said--a dollar and fifty
cents per day. I contracted for it, worked for it, earned it,
collected it; it was paid to me, and it was _rightfully_ my own;
and yet, upon every returning Saturday night, this money--my own
hard earnings, every cent of it--was demanded of me, and taken
from me by Master Hugh. He did not earn it; he had no hand in
earning it; why, then, should he have it? I owed him nothing.
He had given me no schooling, and I had received from him only my
food and raiment; and for these, my services were supposed to
pay, from the first. The right to take my earnings, was the
right of the robber. He had the power to compel me to give him
the fruits of my labor, and this power was his only right in the
case. I became more and more dissatisfied with this state of
things; and, in so becoming, I only gave proof of the same human
nature which every reader of this chapter in my life--
slaveholder, or nonslaveholder--is conscious of possessing.

To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It
is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far
as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able
to detect no inconsistencies in slavery. The man that takes his
earnings, must be able to convince him that he has a perfect
right to do so. It must not depend upon mere force; the slave
must know no Higher Law than his master's will. The whole
relationship must not only demonstrate, to his mind, its
necessity, but its absolute rightfulness. If there be one
crevice through which a single drop can fall, it will certainly
rust off the slave's chain.

Frederick Douglass

Sorry, no summary available yet.