From Douglass’s fight with Covey through end of Chapter X


In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death.

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The fight with Covey causes Douglass to regain his spirit and defiance, as well as his resolve to be free. He never receieves a whipping from anyone during his remaining four years as a slave. Douglass’s year with Covey ends on Christmas Day, 1833. It is customary for slaves to enjoy a holiday from Christmas to New Year’s. Slaveholders typically encourage slaves to spend the holiday drinking, rather than resting or working industriously for themselves. Douglass explains that this strategy helps keep blacks enslaved. By giving slaves a brief span of time each year to release their rebellious spirit, slaveholders keep them manageable for the rest of the year. By encouraging them to spend the holiday riotously drunk, slaveholders ensure that freedom comes to seem unappealing.

On January 1, 1834, Douglass is sent to live with Mr. William Freeland. Mr. Freeland, though quick‑tempered, is more consistently fair than Covey. Douglass is grateful that Mr. Freeland is not a hypocritically religious man. Many men in the community profess to be religious, but merely use their religion as justification for their cruelty to their slaves.

Freeland works his slaves hard, but treats them fairly. Douglass meets and befriends other slaves on Freeland’s property, including the intelligent brothers Henry and John Harris. Sandy Jenkins also lives at Freeland’s at this time, and Douglass reminds readers about Sandy’s root and reports that Sandy’s superstition is common among the more ignorant slaves.

Douglass soon succeeds in getting some of his fellow slaves interested in learning how to read. Word soon spreads, and Douglass surreptitiously begins to hold a Sabbath school in the cabin of a free black. This is a dangerous undertaking, as educating slaves is forbidden; the community violently shuts down a similar school run by a white man. Yet the slaves value their education so highly that they attend Douglass’s school despite the threat of punishment.

Douglass’s first year with Freeland passes smoothly. Douglass remembers Freeland as the best master he ever had. Douglass also attributes the comfort of the year to his solidarity with the other slaves. Douglass recalls that he loved them and that they operated together as a single community.

Though Douglass remains with Freeland for another year in 1835, by this time he desires his freedom more strongly than ever. Here Douglass puns on the comfort of living with “Freeland” as his master and his stronger desire to live on “free land.” Douglass, resolving to attempt an escape sometime during the year, sets about offering his fellow slaves the chance to join him. Douglass recalls how daunting the odds were for them. He describes their position as facing the bloody figure of slavery and glimpsing the doubtful, beckoning figure of freedom in the distance, with the intervening path full of hardship and death. Douglass points out that their decision was far more difficult than that of Patrick Henry, whose choice between death and an oppressed life—“Give me liberty or give me death”—was merely rhetorical. As slaves, Douglass and his companions had to choose doubtful liberty over nearly certain death.