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Battling the Slave Breaker

Frederick Douglass' time with famed "slave breaker" Edward Covey is considered a turning point in his life. Seen as unruly, Douglass was sent to Covey, who subjected him to verbal and physical abuse. It culminated in a two-hour long fight between them, where Douglass emerged even more determined to escape into freedom. This module explores a turning point in young Frederick Douglass's life. Students will analyze a primary source image and map, close read an excerpt from Frederick Douglass first autobiography, and consider discussion prompts for more dialogue and deeper reflection.

Essential Question:

How were enslaved people active in their resistance to enslavement and their fight for freedom, and the abolition of slavery?

Thinking Questions:

  • Why were enslavers determined to “break” enslaved people like Frederick Douglass?
  • What motivated Frederick Douglass to confront Edward Covey?
  • How did Douglass “use his mind” to defeat Covey?
  • How was the physical altercation with Covey a “turning point” for Douglass?
  • What did Douglass mean when he says after defeating Covey, “I was nothing before, I was a
    man now."?

Examine the personal narrative manuscript, Image 78 of Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave.

  • What is the purpose of this personal narrative?
  • What do you notice, wonder, and feel after reading the narrative?
  • What do you learn from this personal narrative that you might not learn anywhere else?
  • How does engaging with Frederick Douglass’s story firsthand create an emotional impact for you?
  • What do you learn about the relationship of Frederick Douglass with the man who enslaved him?

Analyze the map, Talbot Co., Maryland.

  • What do you notice first?
  • What other details do you observe on the map?
  • Does the map have special features, such as a legend, a scale, descriptions, notes, or a compass? What information do the features provide?
  • Why do you think this map was made?
  • What do you learn by examining the map?

Analyze the photograph, Frederick Douglass.

  • What do you notice first? What people or objects are shown?
  • Look closely at the image and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • What can you learn from examining this image?
  • Why do you think this photograph was taken?
  • Who do you think was the audience for this photograph?