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Frederick Douglass' Letters

Frederick Douglass Letter "To My Old Master"

September 8, 1848
I have selected this day on which to address you, because it is the anniversary of my emancipation. Just ten years ago this beautiful September morning, yon bright sun beheld me a slave - a poor degraded chattel - trembling at the sound of your voice, lamenting that I was a man…

When but a child about six years old, I imbibed the determination to run away. The very first mental effort that I now remember on my part, was an attempt to solve the mystery - why am I a slave?

And with this question my youthful mind was troubled for many days, pressing upon me more heavily at times than others. When I saw the slave-driver whip a slave-woman, cut the blood out of her neck, and heard her piteous cries, I went away into the corner of the fence, wept, and pondered over the mystery.

Since I left you, I have had a rich experience.

So far as my domestic affairs are concerned, I can boast of as comfortable a dwelling as your own. I have four dear children. The three oldest are now going regularly to school - two can read and write, and the other can spell, with tolerable correctness, words of two syllables. Dear fellows! they are all in comfortable beds, and are sound asleep, perfectly secure under my own roof. There are no slaveholders here to rend my heart by snatching them from my arms. These dear children are ours - not to work up into rice, sugar, and tobacco, but to watch over, regard, and protect, and to rear them to the paths of wisdom and virtue, and, as far as we can, to make them useful to the world and to themselves. Oh! sir, a slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children. It is then that my feelings rise above my control… The grim horrors of slavery rise in all their ghastly terror before me; the wails of millions pierce my heart and chill my blood. I remember the chain, the gag, the bloody whip; the death-like gloom overshadowing the broken spirit of the fettered bondman; the appalling liability of his being torn away from wife and children, and sold like a beast in the market. Say not that this a picture of fancy.

You well know that I wear stripes on my back, inflicted by your direction; At this moment, you are probably the guilty holder of at least three of my own dear sisters, and my only brother, in bondage… Sir, I desire to know how and where these dear sisters are. Have you sold them? or are they still in your possession? What has become of them?

Are they living or dead? And my dear old grandmother, whom you turned out like an old horse to die in the woods - is she still alive?

And my sisters - let me know all about them. I would write to them, and learn all I want to know of them, without disturbing you in any way, but that, through your unrighteous conduct, they have been entirely deprived of the power to read and write. You have kept them in utter ignorance, and have therefore robbed them of the sweet enjoyments of writing or receiving letters from absent friends and relatives.

Your wickedness and cruelty, committed in this respect on your fellow-creatures, are greater than all the stripes you have laid upon my back or theirs. It is an outrage upon the soul, a war upon the immortal spirit, and one for which you must give account at the bar of our common Father and Creator.

I will now bring this letter to a close; you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery - as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening the horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men.

I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy - and as a means of bringing this guilty nation, with yourself, to repentance.

In doing this, I entertain no malice toward you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other.

I am your fellow-man, but not your slave.
Frederick Douglass

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