The 'Story of the Slave' Labour camp ledger, Maryland

‘Frederick Augustus son of Harriott’

As can be seen in this document, held in the Maryland State Archives, ‘Frederick Augustus son of Harriott’ is listed as born in ‘Feby…1818’ in a ‘chattel record’ tabulating ‘Negros ages’ kept by Aaron Anthony, Douglass’s white enslaver. Another document that has also been preserved in the Maryland State Archives provides an ‘Account of Sales and Inventories’ from 1827 and identifies a nine-year old enslaved child solely by the name of ‘Frederick’ and valued at ‘110’ US dollars: a later writer has written the word ‘Douglass’ next to his first name in order to ensure his identity is unmistakable. A young child, Douglass appears as number seventeen in a list of twenty-five enslaved individuals. While many of these women, children and men were his close family members and friends, their lives have yet to be told.

To the day he died, Douglass never saw this record confirming his age and he powerfully declared:

‘I never met with a slave who could tell me how old he was. Few slave-mothers know anything of the months of the year, nor of the days of the month. They keep no family records, with marriages, births, and deaths. They measure the ages of their children by spring time, winter time, harvest time, planting time, and the like; but these soon become undistinguishable and forgotten. Like other slaves, I cannot tell how old I am. This destitution was among my earliest troubles. I learned when I grew up, that my master--and this is the case with masters generally - allowed no questions to be put to him, by which a slave might learn his age. Such questions are deemed evidence of impatience, and even of impudent curiosity.’