As I looked a little more in depth, with more attention to detail, at Douglass's time on Fells Point, I realized that he lived at the Aliceanna St. site for only a few months. He had arrived in Baltimore sometime in March 1826, and the Aulds moved away from that address in sometime in 1827, around the time that Douglass returned to Talbot County to be appraised as part of Aaron Anthony's estate.
I always feel weird referring to Douglass -- or any person -- as property to be owned and appraised. I wonder if there might be some less impersonal, more human way to describe the relationship; but, really, the impersonal and inhuman is quite precise in describing his legal status, and it always underlay the de facto relationship to his masters.
Seeing the individual, the one to whom I have an intellectual relationship, referred to as property places me imaginatively into his reality in which this externally imposed status as property does not align with his own sense of human, conscious, sentient self. This is not adequately explaining what I mean -- but, I'll work on it.
It's something that I'm trying to articulate in these seminars in which I'm seeing that many of these rebelling Africans do not understand themselves as slaves fighting for freedom. They understand themselves as free people already -- that Enlightenment "endowed by the Creator" free -- trying to force the masters to recognize that freedom. This I understand of the Africans; but the African Americans may have a different consciousness, complicated by birth into the system. Douglass, I think, tries to explain this African American consciousness, this self-knowledge of humanity within a system that denies that humanity.
Up until he went to Baltimore, Douglass lived in a system in which all of the slaves understood their position and roles, and all of the masters and overseers understood theirs. He described his own education into his role as a slave, and later in opposition to slavery. In Sophia Auld, he found an example of a white person being educated into her role as a mistress of slaves and in support of slavery.
Sophia was the wife of Hugh, this proxy master in Baltimore. When Douglass first met her, he described her as kind, not requiring the performance of submission expected of a slave. He wrote, "she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed on human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so."
An eight year old child when he went to live in the Auld household, Douglass was beginning to understand his position as a slave. No one since his grandmother, and perhaps also his mother according to My Bondage and My Freedom, had granted him humanity. Now, here was a woman -- a white woman, no less -- willing to look at him and see a human child worthy of affection and, more important in empowering him, education. Yet, she too had her own lessons to learn as a white woman overseeing an enslaved person in a slave society.
Hugh Auld was not a slaveholder, and both he and Sophia were both skilled laborers in the working class. He was a ship carpenter and she was a weaver. Douglass was in their household as a loan or a favor from Hugh's brother. Sophia was raised Methodist, and her family, the Keithlys, supposedly entertained anti-slavery ideas. I have to check the primary sources for the veracity of this claim.
Once Sophia's husband forbid her to educate Douglass, her demeanor toward Douglass changed. He wrote, "It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute." She not only ended their lessons, but became furious with him when she saw him with reading material. "She seemed to think that here lay the danger," he wrote. "I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension."
In my last post, I quoted his passage on being watched. If Hugh Auld were at the shipyard all day, and Douglass was assigned the duty of watching the small child Thomas Auld, then that leaves Sophia as the person keeping watch on Douglass's actions around books.
This particular relationship seems open for much more analysis than I've come across in most of the biographies of Douglass. First, we have the question of Sophia's education as a slaveholder, her transformation from charitable instructor subverting in a small way the slave system by simply assuming that Douglass had the capacity to be educated, and by offering him the weapon of literacy -- although she probably did not understand her actions in such terms, but, rather, the actions of a charitable Christian. I really need to understand more about Methodism and anti-slavery sentiment (although not necessarily abolition) on the Eastern Shore and in Baltimore. In these seminars, Sylvia Frey spoke to us, and she placed extreme importance upon evangelical denominations such as Methodism in slave resistance, so I will have to read deeper into that and look into the Methodist congregations in Talbot and Baltimore.
Second, we have Sophia's position as a wife under the control of her husband in that tiny little space of a house. Third, we have Douglass as the mediator of her experience within a form that served as propaganda for a particular movement. How did his audience of Christian women in the north -- women who might identify with Sophia -- shape his depiction of this proxy mistress?
Fourth -- and this will take much more reading and questioning to understand -- how did his experience with Sophia shape his relationship to white women later in his life? Many of his close female relationships were with white women, and this is a subject around which I skirt but which I have not quite figured out how to approach. I see it, but I'm not yet sure how to get near it.
Meanwhile, back on Fells Point, Douglass lived on Aliceanna Street for less than a year. Sometime between November 1826 and October 1827, he returned to Talbot County to be appraised and to have Thomas Auld assume ownership of him. Then, in 1827, he was sent back to Baltimore. By that time, Hugh and Sophia Auld, along with their children, had moved to Philpot Street. I want to check the directories myself, but my secondary sources say that the address is unknown. Douglass, however, describes the abuse of two female slaves in the household across the street from the Aulds, and that address was 22 Philpot Street.
Do you want to know what Philpot street looks like now? Well, I can't really show you since it no longer exists. See the big, new construction toward the back, right of this image?:
Well, the part closest to me, the photographer, sits right on top of Philpot street. There are no signs, no buildings, no nothing but an open concrete expanse beyond it. Even this image from Mapquest doesn't quite show you exactly how it looks (and Google Maps is even more outdated):
Douglass also wrote of seeing slaves sold there at the foot of Philpot Street. In the first picture above, that would be about where the building on the left side of the image stands. I find myself getting quite sentimental when I visit these sites sometimes. When I first found that place, and thought of the ships on the docks, of a little boy alone in the city, and of all of the people lined up, sold away from their families, I felt moved almost to tears. The place should be more haunted, more remembered, the grief honored in some way, not paved over with concrete and achievement stories.
In March 1833, Douglass was sent back to Talbot County. Between 1833 and April 1837, he lived in St. Michaels, suffered at the hands of Edward Covey the slave breaker (incidentally, I heard today that Donald Rumsfeld recently bought the property owned by Covey -- boy, do I want to check that out because, damn!, the soil of that piece of land must ooze evil), tried to escape by water up the Chesapeake, and was dragged from St. Michaels to the Easton jail. In April 1837, he got very lucky when Thomas Auld sent him back to Hugh in Baltimore rather than to a slave trader who would sell him south. Sometime around then, the Baltimore Aulds had moved to the east end of the Point to Fells Street.
Today, we had a speaker, Marcus Rediker, who discussed port cities as the nexus of several different worlds, a place of not only commercial exchange, but also intellectual exchange. He said that this process would have concentrated in the first three streets from the waterfront. Aliceanna is about four streets from the waterfront, and Philpot and Fells are right there on the waterfront. Douglass also describes being in the streets, playing with poor white boys, tricking them into teaching him more letters and words, running to bring messages from Sophia to Hugh at the shipyards, working in the shipyards himself. He ran among whites and free blacks. He "acquired" his first book only a block or two from Philpot, right on the waterfront.
Rediker and I discussed what this context might be for the 8-15, then 17-20 year old Douglass. What was in the air there on the streets of the waterfront? What news circulated? What gossip? What stories of insurrections from the Caribbean and further south? What ideas? After all, Daniel Walker's Appeal was circulating, William Lloyd Garrison was publishing the Genius of Universal Emancipation and getting arrested for libel right there in the city, all during these years. What impact did all of this have on his intellectual development? He didn't spring fully-formed, nor tabula rasa, just for the Garrisonians in Nantucket in 1842.
The bigger project here is about the women. I've discussed Sophia Auld, but a more important woman walked these streets, a woman who was intensely private and who probably knew Douglass better than anyone else in his life. The more difficult task here will be to find Anna Murray in Fells Point. What was life like for a single, free black woman in this entrepot? What was she doing, and how much might she have been a part and parcel of subversive activity in the black community there?
But, again, I do go on. Anna will have to wait for another time.