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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
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I had left Master Thomas's house, and went to live with Mr. Covey, on the 1st of January,
1833. I was now, for the first time in my life, a field hand. In my new employment, I
found myself even more awkward than a country boy appeared to be in a large city. I had
been at my new home but one week before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping,
cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my
little finger. The details of this affair are as follows: Mr. Covey sent me, very early in the
morning of one of our coldest days in the month of January, to the woods, to get a load of
wood. He gave me a team of unbroken oxen. He told me which was the in-hand ox, and
which the off-hand one. He then tied the end of a large rope around the horns of the in-
hand ox, and gave me the other end of it, and told me, if the oxen started to run, that I
must hold on upon the rope. I had never driven oxen before, and of course I was very
awkward. I, however, succeeded in getting to the edge of the woods with little difficulty;
but I had got a very few rods into the woods, when the oxen took fright, and started full
tilt, carrying the cart against trees, and over stumps, in the most frightful manner. I
expected every moment that my brains would be dashed out against the trees. After
running thus for a considerable distance, they finally upset the cart, dashing it with great
force against a tree, and threw themselves into a dense thicket. How I escaped death, I do
not know. There I was, entirely alone, in a thick wood, in a place new to me. My cart was
upset and shattered, my oxen were entangled among the young trees, and there was none
to help me. After a long spell of effort, I succeeded in getting my cart righted, my oxen
disentangled, and again yoked to the cart. I now proceeded with my team to the place
where I had, the day before, been chopping wood, and loaded my cart pretty heavily,
thinking in this way to tame my oxen. I then proceeded on my way home. I had now
consumed one half of the day. I got out of the woods safely, and now felt out of danger. I
stopped my oxen to open the woods gate; and just as I did so, before I could get hold of
my ox-rope, the oxen again started, rushed through the gate, catching it between the
wheel and the body of the cart, tearing it to pieces, and coming within a few inches of
crushing me against the gate-post. Thus twice, in one short day, I escaped death by the
merest chance. On my return, I told Mr. Covey what had happened, and how it happened.
He ordered me to return to the woods again immediately. I did so, and he followed on
after me. Just as I got into the woods, he came up and told me to stop my cart, and that he
would teach me how to trifle away my time, and break gates. He then went to a large
gum-tree, and with his axe cut three large switches, and, after trimming them up neatly
with his pocketknife, he ordered me to take off my clothes. I made him no answer, but
stood with my clothes on. He repeated his order. I still made him no answer, nor did I
move to strip myself. Upon this he rushed at me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off my
clothes, and lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to
leave the marks visible for a long time after. This whipping was the first of a number just
like it, and for similar offences.
I lived with Mr. Covey one year. During the first six months, of that year, scarce a week
passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back. My awkwardness