THE FLAT STREETS behind the Fells Point docks, wedged tightly with three-story brick houses, had changed less than the young man who walked them. Frederick Bailey was trying to regain his bearings. He had loathed field-hand slavery, but leaving it behind, he had also left the closest friends he would ever know. He and they had tried to set themselves free; caught—and spared, to their shame, by their masters—the others had gone back to their bleak fields, perhaps for ever. Alone, Frederick had hung suspended over the void of lynching and the abyss of being sold south, only to be pulled back by the merciful hand of his master, who wrenched repentance from him. Thomas Auld had warned his slave that if he insisted on being free-willed and freewheeling, he would end up dead or sold into alien Southern fields bleaker than any his friends would know. But, Auld told Frederick, if he behaved, someday, perhaps when he reached twenty-five, he would be set free.
As he wandered through the streets of Baltimore with his master's vague promise of manumission in mind, Frederick Bailey asked himself what being a free black man in that city would mean. He remembered that ten years ago, when he pointed out "anything that struck me as beautiful or powerful," his cousin Tom, who worked on the Sally Lloyd, would reply "that he had seen something in Baltimore far surpassing it." To black Marylanders the city was a haven; being there gave Frederick courage. His self-confidence had been born in Betsy Bailey's cabin and restored on the floor of Covey's barn, as he wrestled for his sense of self. It had gathered strength as other men followed him in his escape attempt; it had weakened in the solitude of the Easton jail. He had been frightened,