Chapters 1-4

Written by the influential abolitionist, Douglass's autobiography bears witness to the horrors of slavery. Read the full text here.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. impertinent
    improperly forward or bold
    He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit.
  2. intimation
    a slight suggestion or vague understanding
    Called thus suddenly away, she left me without the slightest intimation of who my father was.
  3. ordain
    issue an order
    The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable;
  4. invariably
    without change, in every case
    I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remark that such slaves invariably suffer greater hardships, and have more to contend with, than others.
  5. dispose
    make receptive or willing towards an action or attitude
    She is ever disposed to find fault with them; they can seldom do any thing to please her; she is never better pleased than when she sees them under the lash, especially when she suspects her husband of showing to his mulatto children favors which he withholds from his black slaves.
  6. infernal
    extremely evil or cruel
    She now stood fair for his infernal purpose.
  7. evince
    give expression to
    If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining.
  8. privation
    the act of stripping someone of food, money, or rights
    There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be considered such, and none but the men and women had these. This, however, is not considered a very great privation.
  9. providence
    a manifestation of God's foresightful care for his creatures
    His death was regarded by the slaves as the result of a merciful providence.
  10. rapturous
    feeling great delight
    They would sometimes sing the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone.
  11. obdurate
    showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings
    If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,--and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because "there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."
  12. desolate
    providing no shelter or sustenance
    The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.
  13. brook
    put up with something or somebody unpleasant
    Colonel Lloyd could not brook any contradiction from a slave.
  14. unrelenting
    not to be placated or appeased or moved by entreaty
    He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment's warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.
  15. maxim
    a saying that is widely accepted on its own merits
    The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head.
  16. imbibe
    receive into the mind and retain
    Moreover, slaves are like other people, and imbibe prejudices quite common to others.
  17. execrate
    curse or declare to be evil or anathema
    At the very same time, they mutually execrate their masters when viewed separately.
  18. eminent
    standing above others in quality or position
    Mr. Hopkins was succeeded by Mr. Austin Gore, a man possessing, in an eminent degree, all those traits of character indispensable to what is called a first-rate overseer.
  19. persevere
    be persistent, refuse to stop
    Mr. Gore was proud, ambitious, and persevering.
  20. impudence
    a disrespectful statement
    He was one of those who could torture the slightest look, word, or gesture, on the part of the slave, into impudence, and would treat it accordingly.
  21. avail
    be of use to, be useful to
    No matter how innocent a slave might be--it availed him nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of any misdemeanor.
  22. reprove
    reprimand, scold, or express dissatisfaction with
    He was cruel enough to inflict the severest punishment, artful enough to descend to the lowest trickery, and obdurate enough to be insensible to the voice of a reproving conscience.
  23. scourge
    He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out.
  24. subversion
    the act of overthrowing or destroying, as a government
    He was setting a dangerous example to the other slaves,--one which, if suffered to pass without some such demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the total subversion of all rule and order upon the plantation.
  25. arraign
    call before a court to answer an indictment
    Thus she escaped not only punishment, but even the pain of being arraigned before a court for her horrid crime.
Created on August 16, 2013 (updated June 28, 2018)

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