Douglass Begins Work in Shipyard as General Assistant

Very soon after I went to Baltimore to live, Master Hugh [Auld] succeeded in getting me hired to Mr. William Gardiner, an extensive ship builder on Fell’s Point.

I was placed here to learn to calk, a trade of which I already had some knowledge, gained while in Mr. Hugh Auld’s shipyard, when he was a master builder. Gardiner’s, however, proved a very unfavorable place for the accomplishment of that object. Mr. Gardiner was, that season, engaged in building two large man-of-war vessels, professedly for the Mexican government. These vessels were to be launched in the month of July of that year, and, in failure thereof, Mr. G. would forfeit a very considerable sum of money. So, when I entered the shipyard, all was hurry and driving. There were in the yard about one hundred men; of these about seventy or eighty were regular carpenters — privileged men.

Frederick was in jail for about a week. While imprisoned, he was inspected by slave traders, and he fully expected that he would be sold to "a life of living death" in the Deep South. To his surprise, Thomas Auld came and released him. Then Frederick's master sent him back to Hugh Auld in Baltimore. The two brothers had finally settled their dispute. Frederick was now 18 years old, 6 feet tall and very strong from his work in the fields. Hugh Auld decided that Frederick should work as a caulker (a man who forced sealing matter into the seams in a boat's hull to make it water tight) to earn his keep. He was hired out to a local shipbuilder so that he could learn the trade. While apprenticing at the shipyard, Frederick was harassed by white workers who did not want blacks, slaves or free, competing with them for jobs. One afternoon, a group of white apprentices beat up Frederick and nearly took out one of his eyes. Hugh Auld was angry when he saw what had happened and attempted to press charges against the assailants. However, none of the shipyard's white employees would step forward to testify about the beating. Free blacks had little hope of obtaining justice through the southern court system, which refused to accept a black person's testimony against a white person. Therefore, the case had to be dropped.