Summary: Chapter XI
Douglass explains that the final chapter of his Narrative portrays the part of his life during which he escaped from slavery. He explains, however, that the chapter does not describe the exact means of his escape, as he does not want to give slaveholders any information that would help them prevent other slaves from escaping to the North. In fact, Douglass hopes slaveholders will become frantic with thoughts of unseen foes around them, ready to snatch their slaves away from them or hinder them in their quest to reclaim their slaves.
Douglass resumes his narrative in the spring of 1838, when he begins to object to turning over all his wages to Hugh Auld. Auld sometimes gives Douglass a small portion of the wages, which only confirms Douglass’s feeling that he is entitled to the wages in their entirety. Auld appears to sense this unfairness and tries to remedy his guilt by giving Douglass small portions of the money.
Thomas Auld visits Baltimore, and Douglass approaches him asking to be allowed to seek work on his own. Thomas Auld refuses him, assuming that Douglass intends to escape. Two months later, Douglass asks the same of Hugh Auld, who agrees, with the stipulation that Douglass must find all his own work and pay Auld three dollars each week to buy his own tools, board, and clothing. Though it is an ungenerous arrangement, Douglass looks forward to having the responsibilities of a free man.
For four months, Douglass hires his own time and pays Hugh Auld on Saturdays. Then, one Saturday in August, Douglass gets delayed at a meeting outside Baltimore and is unable to give Auld his wages until the next day. Hugh Auld is furious and revokes Douglass’s privilege of hiring his own time, fearing that Douglass will soon attempt to escape. In protest, Douglass does no work the following week, to Auld’s anger and dismay. Then Douglass resolves to escape on the third of September. He decides to work diligently until that date to keep Auld from growing suspicious.
As the date of escape draws closer, Douglass experiences anxiety about leaving his many Baltimore friends and about the possibility of failure. Nonetheless, he carries his plan through and reaches New York City smoothly on the third of September. Rather than feeling relieved upon reaching New York, however, Douglass is seized with terror. He finds himself in an unfamiliar city, without shelter, food, money, or friends. He is surrounded by people, but afraid to speak with anyone for fear they will turn him in. Soon, though, a free black named David Ruggles takes Douglass in. Ruggles, an abolitionist and journalist, advises Douglass to go to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to find work as a caulker. Douglass writes to his fiancée, Anna Murray, a free black woman from Baltimore. Anna joins Douglass in New York. Ruggles witnesses their marriage and gives Douglass five dollars and a letter of recommendation.
When Douglass and Anna reach New Bedford, they receive help from Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Johnson, who pay their travel debt and help Douglass choose a new name. Mr. Johnson suggests “Douglass,” the name of a knight in Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake.