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Douglass' Mother

Notes & Transcripts

Frederick Douglass grew up as a slave in Maryland in the early nineteenth century. He escaped and became one of the century's leading abolitionists, who fought to end slavery forever. He writes in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave about being torn away from his mother's love

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. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about 12 miles from my home.

Nonetheless, young Frederick's mother several times found ways to see her son:

She made her journeys to see me in the night, traveling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping was the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise…. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.

That’s pretty amazing! Douglass’s mother worked all day long in the scorching heat of the tobacco fields, and then, when her body was crying for rest, she walked 12 miles in the dark to see her son. After comforting him and holding him as he fell asleep, she had to walk another 12 miles back. She gave up a night's sleep. She risked getting a severe whipping if she were discovered, or if she got home late. But nothing could keep this mother from her son. Why not? Because she loved him, and she knew if she was going to have a relationship with him, it would cost her something.

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