Birth-place—Earliest Recollections—Slave Girl Flogged—Fear of a Slaveholder during a Thunderstorm—Father and Mother—Piety of Grandmother, a Native African—Systematic Degradation of Slave Children—Grandmother the first Person I saw Flogged—Feeding of Slaves—Grandmother’s Happy Death—Cunning of Slaves.
I WAS born in Fauquier County, in Old Virginia. My remembrance, as nearly as I can reckon, extends back to my eighth or ninth year of age. Some little striking incidents occur, now and then to my mind, which happened when I was somewhat younger even than that. My master’s house, a frame one, as it is called in America, was situated on a gently rising ground, skirted by a small stream, emptying itself into a deep rivulet, named the Cedar Run. This rivulet was from twenty to thirty yards wide, and during the rainy season dashed along at a headlong pace, carrying with it trees and logs, and overflowing very often large tracts of the surrounding country, which was mostly of a level character. But although near so fine a body of water, unlike most slaves, I never learned to swim, which deficiency, as you will find in the sequel, was one of the greatest misfortunes of my life. Almost the first circumstance which I recollect is this. A Mrs. R—, the wife of a Colonel R—, who had a large plantation near to my master’s, possessing four or five hundred slaves, thinking she did not receive as many eggs as she ought to do from the girl who collected them, asked a negro whether she ought to receive an egg from each hen a-day. “It would be a very good hen to lay an egg every day,” replied the negro. Mistaking the meaning of the answer, and imagining that she had been cheated, she gave the poor girl a flogging every time she failed to bring the required number, notwithstanding all her protestations of innocence, and frantic entreaties not to be whipped. At last a lady residing near, told Mrs. R— that it was absurd to expect anything of the kind. Colonel R— one day sent his servant-man to bring some groceries from the stores; when he returned with the groceries, the Colonel said, “Why did you bring me such inferior sugar as this?” The slave replied that it was the same kind as he always had. The Colonel said it could not be so, as the price was too low, adding, “go and tell Mr. V. at the stores to send me some better at once.” The slave went with the message; Mr. V. smiled, and doubled the price on a new bill, and sent the same sugar back. The Colonel looked first at the bill, and then at the sugar. “Aye, this is something like; this is as it ought to be,” he said. I merely relate this anecdote to show what kind of persons the slave-owners, in some instances, are, and that the slaves are not always kept in subjection by a consciousness of their master’s intellectual superiority, for the slaves often, behind their backs, laugh at their absurdities; but by a brutal system of terrorism practised upon them from their very birth.
A circumstance of a different nature is the next I can call to mind. The weather was warm and sultry, scarcely a breath of air stirred, and clouds of an inky blackness began to rise from the distant uplands. Colonel R— had just returned from his tobacco-fields; the rain began to fall in large drops. “Bring in the niggers!” shouted Colonel R—. Some fifteen or twenty soon entered his sitting-room, and were arranged around the Colonel, who sat on a chair in the centre of the room. A distant thunder-clap was heard. “Come nearer,” he cried “stand close to me.” And there sat this master of 500 niggers, cowering and trembling during the whole of the thunderstorm. I was told that this was his invariable custom whenever it thundered or lightened, imagining that the Almighty would not strike the slaves, consequently, being surrounded by them, the Colonel thought he should certainly escape. We slaves often talked together about this cowardice of Colonel R—’s, and attributed it to his fear of God, on account of his sins, although he was not a man remarkable for cruelty. But there is, even in the minds of those most accustomed to slavery, and born and brought up amongst it, a secret misgiving that all is not right; although, when no danger is near at hand, they will not only defend it, but eulogize it and expatiate upon its advantages, even to the negro himself. My mother told me that the Colonel thought the negroes could drive the lightning away. However, whether his conduct arose from this absurd notion or fear, it only proves the weak character of this tyrant over the souls and bodies of men. My father and mother were slaves, and worked for different masters. My mother had nine children, two boys and seven girls. The children are always the property of the mother’s master.
Piety of Grandmother, a Native African.
My grandfather and grandmother were stolen from Africa and, and taken from thence to Virginia. My grandmother was to repeat the Prayers and Liturgy of the Protestant Church. My grandmother could not read, yet in spite of every disadvantage, she was very anxious about religion, and always eager to impart any religious knowledge she might have acquired to her children and grandchildren, or, in fact, to any one about her.
Systematic Degradation of Slave Children.
My grandmother showed she was actuated on every occasion by truly Christian principles. She wished very much to teach me the Prayers and Liturgy which she had learnt.
But the conduct of my master caused great perplexity to me, and made me indifferent about any such thing. My master was in the habit of sending for all the slave children from the cabins, then standing on the verandah, he would say, “Look! Do you see those horses?” “Yes, Sir,” all replied together. “Do you see the cows?” “Yes, Sir.” “Do you see the sheep?” “Yes, Sir.” “Do you see the mules?” “Yes, Sir.” “Look, you niggers! you have no souls, you are just like those cattle, when you die there is an end of you; there is nothing more for you to think about than living. White people only have souls.” My mother, when I was a boy, had no notion of what religion is, and to my good grandmother alone I am indebted for any instruction I at this time received. She was ever, as I have said before, anxious to acquire religious knowledge and to attend prayer-meetings as often as she possibly could; for doing so on one occasion, I witnessed the first flogging I ever saw in my life. But before I describe the flogging, I will explain about the overseers. Many masters possessing large plantations, and some hundreds of slaves, being desirous to divest themselves as much as possible of the cares of managing the estate, hire white men, at a salary of from 1,200 to 1,400 dollars per annum, to look after the whole property. These are the best and most humane overseers. But other slave proprietors, in order to save the cost of an overseer, but chiefly to exact as much work as possible out of the niggers, make a nigger an overseer, who if he does not cruelly work the slaves is threatened with a flogging, which the master cannot give to a white man. In order to save his own back the slave overseer very often behaves in the most brutal manner to the niggers under him. My grandmother’s master was one of the hard kind. He had made her son an overseer.
My Grandmother Flogged.
Consequently, my grandmother having committed the crime of attending a prayer-meeting, was ordered to be flogged by her own son. This was done by tying her hands before her with a rope, and then fastening the rope to a peach tree, and laying bare the back. Her own son was then made to give her forty lashes with a thong of a raw cow’s-hide, her master standing over her the whole time blaspheming and threatening what he would do if her son did not lay it on.
My master had about 100 slaves, engaged chiefly in the cultivation of tobacco, this and wheat being the staple produce of Virginia at that time. The slaves had to work very hard in digging the ground with what is termed a grub hoe. The slaves leave their huts quite early in the morning, and work until late at night, especially in the spring and fall. I have known them very often, when my master has been away drinking, work all night long, husking Indian corn to put into cribs.
Feeding of Slaves.
Slaves every Monday morning have a certain quantity of Indian corn handed out to them; this they grind with a handmill, and boil or use the meal as they like. The adult slaves have one salt herring allowed for breakfast, during the winter time. The breakfast hour is usually from ten to eleven o’clock. The dinner consists generally of black-eyed peas soup, as it is called. About a quart of peas is boiled in a large pan, and a small piece of meat, just to flavour the soup, is put into the pan. The next day it would be bean soup, and another day it would be Indian meal broth. The dinner hour is about two or three o’clock; the soup being served out to the men and women in bowls; but the children feed like pigs out of troughs, and being supplied sparingly, invariably fight and quarrel with one another over their meals. I remember when a boy I did not care how I was fed, all I was anxious about was to get sufficient. This mode of living is no doubt adopted for the express purpose of brutalizing the slaves as much as possible, and making the utmost difference between them and the white man. Slaves live in huts made of logs of wood covered with wood, the men and women sleeping indiscriminately together in the same room. But English people would be perfectly surprised to see the natural modesty and delicacy of the women thus huddled together; every possible effort being exerted, under such circumstances, to preserve appearances—an unchaste female slave being very rarely found.
As a lad, hearty, and only poorly fed, I was always delighted, if I could get any extra food; and my memory seems to be very tenacious of anything having reference to eating. I remember my mother baking some short cake, and giving a piece to me, and a piece to my cousin, who was a lad of my own age—eight or nine. I quickly dispatched mine; but my cousin danced about before me, with his piece, tantalizingly crying out, “I’ve got bread, and you’ve got none! I’ve got bread, and you’ve got none!” as rapidly as he could. I snatched the piece out of his hand, and ran away from him, and soon had a portion in my mouth. He threw himself down, and shouted, “I’m dead! I’m dead! I’m dead!” rolling, kicking, and screaming, as rapidly as he could, for full ten or fifteen minutes. His mother gave me a good beating that night. I felt very proud, however, and bragged about what I had done, for some days; but I made a great mistake soon after, which took me down a peg. I was wrestling with one of the children, and threw him, and hurt him, which displeased my grandmother, who said I should get a flogging. I made haste in the evening to get into the straw, and to cover myself with an old rug for the night. I began to snore away, as hard as I could, as if fast asleep; thinking they would not wake me to whip me. When my uncle came in, my grandmother said, she had promised me a good flogging, and she would be as good as her word. My uncle said, “Where is he? I’ll give it to him.” One of the women said, “There he is, in his bed, asleep.” I snored louder and faster. Another woman said, “He is not asleep.” “But he is asleep.” “He isn’t asleep.” “But, me tell you, he be asleep.” Thus the women disputed. I thought I would help myself a little, and said, “Yes, I be asleep!” I forgot. But my uncle did not forget to take me out of the straw, and to flog me well.
My good grandmother’s figure and general appearance will always be indelibly impressed upon my mind. She was above the middle height in England, and had short black hair, inclined to curl, but very sparse upon the head.
My grandfather was about six feet in height, a well-proportioned, muscular man; his hair was longer than my grandmother’s, and very thick upon the head: from his appearance, I should suppose he was not of the same tribe in Africa as my grandmother.
Grandmother’s happy Death.
I never knew any woman so religious as my grandmother; in all her oppressions and trials, her heart was full of the love of God. In looking back now, after so many years, I am filled with admiration of her conduct. When any troubles had come to her, or when she had been whipped, she would speak of her home, far away beyond the clouds, where there would be no whipping, and she would be at rest. This seemed to be her greatest, indeed her sole comfort, in the hour of trial. This would be a source of joy, when seated, on a Sabbath evening, under the shade of the peach trees, she talked to her fellow-slaves, or to those who came from the neighbouring plantations to see her. I was standing by, one Sunday, and heard a woman say to her, “Selling is worse than flogging. My husband was sold six years ago. My heart has bled ever since, and is not well yet. I have been flogged many times, since he was torn from me, but my back has healed in time.”
My grandfather never was a professing Christian; his greatest stumbling-block was the conduct of the slaveholders, in, and then going, after doing so, and perhaps partaking of the Sacrament. “How,” he would say, “can Jesus be just, if He will allow such oppression and wrong? Don’t the slaveholders justify their conduct by the Bible itself, and say, that it tells them to do so? How can God be just, when He not only permits, but sanctions, such conduct?” My grandmother would reason with him, and endeavour to show him that the slaveholders, at the Last Day, would have to account for their actions, and that we slaves should look to our own conduct. However, no real, abiding change, such as had been produced upon my grandmother, ever was effected upon him.
As the closing scenes of life approached, my grandmother’s faith became stronger and stronger. She looked forward to the future, when all would be set right; and delighted to talk about heaven, and to ask those about her to be good, that they might all meet together in the next world. Her illness was short; and ladies came to her bedside, for her good life was a subject of conversation even among them; and many a truthful lesson did they learn from her. She bore everything with Christian fortitude; her sons and daughters stood around her deathbed, receiving her blessing, or listening to her good advice. I was not present when she died, but my mother said, she died gently and happily, as if her last hours were a foretaste of what was in store for her.
A badge of aristocracy among slaveholders is the number of slaves they hold, and white people of equal fortune are not generally allowed to visit slaveholders, who look down upon them with a species of contempt. One remarkable fact which I wish to impress upon my readers is this, that the white men born in those districts in America where slaves are held, are just as capable of bearing the heat as the black men. And the proof is this, that in the harvest-time, when the two are working together in the fields, the white men can actually beat the negroes at the work, and very often the black man has to give up, and is laughed at by the white labourer. They say, “Only give us sufficient wages, and we will work by the side of any nigger alive.” It is quite shocking to hear slaveholders distorting even the Bible itself to prove that a negro alone was made for hard work.
Cunning of Slaves.
I remember a slave, who was not treated very well with respect to food and other things, when he had done his work being lectured by his mistress on the duties of a slave, she telling him that in proportion to his obedience and servility as a slave he would be loved by God. One day, on receiving the Bible from his mistress, he began as follows,—”Give your slaves plenty of bread and meat, and plenty of hot biscuit in a morning, also be sure and give him three horns of whiskey a-day.” “Come, come, stop that, Bob,” his mistress cried; “none of your nonsense, Bob, there is nothing of that kind there.” Bob, throwing down the book, said, “There, there, take it yourself, read it; you says a great deal more than you’ll find there.” Slaves are all of them full of this sly, artful, indirect way of conveying what they dare not speak out, and their humour is very often the medium of hinting wholesome truths. Is not cunning always the natural consequence of tyranny? One of my master’s neighbours had lost two pigs. The overseer was ordered to search the cottages to try to find any portions of the missing pigs. An old woman, who had one of the pigs, seeing the overseer coming to search, and having heard that the person who had stolen them was to receive 200 lashes when discovered, threw the pork, blood and all, into a tub of persimum, which is a kind of beer in America. The overseer, having searched diligently all the nooks and corners of the cabin, even having opened the bed, said, “Well, Molly, I am very glad to find that you have not got the pigs. Now draw me some beer.” Molly, with trembling hand, drew a bowl of it. “Why does your hand tremble, Molly?” said the overseer. “Because,” said Molly, “old woman has been sick all night.” “Very good, this beer,” said the overseer; “draw me another.” Molly now was frightened that the blood would betray her. She drew another bowl. “This is the very best beer I ever in my life tasted,” said the overseer; “here is a shilling for you. I shall be sure and tell your master, Molly, that you have not got the pigs.”
Scene on Leaving Virginia for Kentucky—Cross the Alleghany Mountains—Arrive at my Master’s New Plantation in Mason County—Become a House Slave—Difficulties of Training me—A Burglar Encountered—Social Affections of Slaves—A Sunday at Chapel—Christmas, how spent by the Slaves—Slave Patrols—Brutalizing Effect of Slavery upon the Ladies—Consequences to the Slaves of Resisting Tyranny.
I HAD arrived at about my fourteenth year of age, without having been engaged in any definite employment,—running errands, tending the corn-fields, looking after the cattle, in short, doing anything and everything in turns about the plantation. My master had determined to give up his plantation in Virginia, and to go to another in Kentucky. I shall never forget the heart-rending scenes which I witnessed before we started. Men and women down on their knees begging to be purchased to go with their wives or husbands, who worked for my master, children crying and imploring not to have their parents sent away from them; but all their beseeching and tears were of no avail. They were ruthlessly separated, most of them for ever. Still, after so many years, their wailings and lamentations and piercing cries sound in my ears whenever I think of Virginia.
Cross the Alleghany Mountains.
We had to pass over the Alleghany mountains to Wieland, in New Virginia. Wieland lies on the banks of the Ohio. We set out with several waggons and a sorrowful cavalcade on our way to Kentucky. After several days’ journey, we saw at a distance the lofty range of the Alleghany mountains. My master, by the use of his glass, had told us two or three days before that the mountains were near. They now became visible, looming in the distance something like blue sky. After a while we approached them, and began to pass over them through what appeared to be a long, winding valley. On every side, huge, blue-looking rocks seemed impending. I thought, if let loose, they would fall upon us and crush us. Our journey was, I may say, almost interrupted every now and then, by immense droves of pigs, which are bred in Kentucky, and were proceeding from thence to Baltimore, and other places in Virginia. These droves contained very often 700 or 800 pigs. When we halted for the night we lit our fires, and baked our Indian meal on griddles; sometimes the cakes were very much burnt, but these, together with salt herrings, were the only food we had. Our drink was water from the surrounding rills running down the mountain-sides. In fact, torrents of water, arising from the ice and melting snow, were rushing down in hundreds of directions. The scenery was what I may term hard and wild, the tops of the mountains being hid by the clouds, in many places rolling far beneath. But my thoughts in passing over these mountains then were rather those of amazement and wonder than those of a curious and inquiring mind, such as now, with some enlightenment, I might have. I only remember large flights of crows, and what are called in America, black birds, which make a loud screaming noise, instead of a beautiful note, like the English bird of this name.
Two or three times during the night, when we were encamped and fast asleep, one of the overseers would call our names over, every one being obliged to wake up and answer. My master was afraid of some of us escaping, so uncertain are the owners of the possession of their Slaves. The masters are ever feverishly anxious about the slaves running away, and this being always continued, necessarily produces an irritability characteristic of the slave-holder. The howling of the wolves, and other wild animals, broke the solemn stillness which reigned widely around us. Now and then my master would fire his gun to frighten them away from us, but we never were in any way molested. Perhaps the fires kept them at a distance from us.
Arrive at my Master’s new Plantation in Mason County.
From Welland we took boats to Maysville, Kentucky. My master had bought a farm in Mason County, about twenty miles from Maysville. When we arrived there we found a great deal of uncultivated land belonging to the farm. The first thing the negroes did was to clear the land of bush, and then to sow blue grass seed for the cattle to feed upon. They then fenced in the woods for what is called woodland pasture. The neighbouring planters came and showed my master how to manage his new estate. They told the slaves how to tap the sugar-tree to let the liquid out, and to boil it down so as to get the sugar from it. The slaves built a great many log-huts; for my master, at the next slave-market, intended to purchase more slaves.
Become a House-slave.
I wasto learn to wait at table—a fortunate chance for me, since I had a better opportunity of getting food. I shall never forget my first day in the kitchen. I was delighted to see some bread in the pantry. I took piece after piece to skim the fat from the top of the boiling-pot, overjoyed that I could have sufficient.
Difficulties of Training me.
My mistress took a fancy to me, and began to teach me some English words and phrases, for I only knew how to say “dis” and “dat,” “den” and “dere,” and a few such monosyllables. It is a saying among the masters, the bigger fool the better nigger. Hence all knowledge, except what pertains to work, is systematically kept from the field-slaves. My mistress made me stand before her to learn from her how I was to take a message. “Now, Francis,” she said, “I want to make you quite a ladies’ man. You must always be very polite to the ladies. You must say, ‘I will go and tell the ladies.'” I repeated some hundreds of times, “I will go and tell the ladies.” After some days’ training, she thought she had made me sufficiently perfect to deliver a message. “Francis!” “Yes, marm,” I said. “Go and tell Mrs.— that I shall feel obliged by her calling upon me at half-past twelve o’clock to-morrow.” “Yes, marm,” I said; and she made me repeat the message some dozens of times. When perfect, as she thought, away I went, repeating all the way, “Missis will feel obliged by your calling upon her at half-past twelve; Missis will,” &c., until I met a gentleman on the road who had seen and heard me repeating the words over and over again before I saw him. He called out, “Whom are you talking to?” I jumped, and every word jumped out of me, for I forgot it all. I ran back to my mistress and told her I had forgotten it, but did not tell her the reason why. “Just as I thought,” she said. The teaching re-commenced, and, after some scores of repetitions of the message, I started again, determined that no one should hear me. I went whispering the words all the way as fast as ever I could, hastened into the lady’s house, and hurriedly said the words over two or three times to the lady, and then ran back. Upon one occasion my mistress’s sister said that she wanted me to do some washing, and gave me a dress to wash. I picked it up, and put it on the wash-board, and immediately tore it on purpose. She had left the room to fetch some thing for me to wash it with, and, returning in a minute, “Francis,” she said, “I hope you have not begun to wash that dress yet?” “Oh, yes, missis, I have,” I answered, holding up the torn dress at the same time. “You blockhead!” she said, “I shall never be able to teach you anything; I can never drive anything into your thick skull. I have a good mind to take a stick and kill you, you worthless good-for-nothing.” But I was sufficiently cunning by this stratagem to escape what appeared to me the degrading womanly occupation of washing. In the same way I acted when she attempted to teach me to milk the cow. By no possible ingenuity could she, as she thought, make me learn the right side of the cow to milk upon; consequently, the cow invariably kicked when I was on the wrong side, and upset the milk-pail. I saw one day some cotton drying by the fire; I thought I would try whether I could make it blaze, thinking, if it did, I could easily put it out. I lit a stick, and set the cotton on fire. Every one in and about the house rushed to the kitchen to extinguish the flame; after some time they succeeded. I told my mistress that a spark had fallen upon it and made it blaze. This story seemed to satisfy her at the time. Some weeks afterwards my mistress called me into her room, and gave me some treacle and bread, and asked me if it was sweet. “Yers, missis,” I said. “We are very good friends now, are we not?” “Yers, missis.” She gave me two more pieces. “Now, Francis,” she said, “don’t friends always tell one another the truth?” “Yers, missis.” “Don’t friends tell each other every thought?” “Yers, missis.” “Now, Francis,” she added, fixing her eyes fully upon mine, “did you not set fire to the cotton?” “Ye-ye-yers, missis,” I replied. “Now you shall have a good whipping for your lies and for setting fire to the cotton,” she said; and sure enough I was flogged right soundly.
My mistress’s sister was writing a letter one morning; I looked over her shoulder, and thought what pretty marks she was making. Having half finished one line, she put her pen down and left the room to take her breakfast. I took the pen up, and completed the line with crooks, and commenced another line, and ended just under the part where she had left off. I was examining what I had done, thinking it looked better and more distinct than her’s, when in darted my mistress’s sister, and began to beat me most unmercifully. “What has he done? what has he done?” cried my uncle, who was cook, and utterly at a loss to know what I had been doing. “The young rascal has been spoiling my writing,” she said, laying on all the time, until my back was severely cut. I thought at the time it was cruel. A day or two afterwards my mistress took me into her room and talked to me kindly; she said it was wicked to do such things as those for which I had been flogged. I was surprised at a good deal of what she said, for I did not understand exactly in what the wrong consisted.
I merely mention these three or four little incidents to show how grossly ignorant I was, and that what is known to a child mixing in civilized society is a complete mystery and puzzle even to men working in the fields in a state of slavery. It was found utterly impossible to get on with me in the house unless I was instructed in something. But the most debasing ignorance is systematically kept up amongst the outdoor hands, any one manifesting superior intelligence being weeded out of the working gang, lest he should spoil the other slaves. My mistress was anxious to teach me to pick some wool. “You must pick it very quickly,” she said. “Your master’s brother will watch you, and tell me if you don’t.” She placed me in a room where my master’s brother’s portrait hung on the wall. “There he is,” she said, “looking at you. Now, mind, you must pick away as fast as you can. Don’t stop, or he will come and tell me.” I thought it was my master’s brother, and worked as hard as I could until I became very thirsty. I stopped, and looked anxiously at him, went up to him, and, putting my hand to my head, “Please, massa,” I said, “may I go and get a drink?” He did not answer. This occurred for several days, until at last I thought I never saw a man who did not wink. I went slowly and cautiously up to the picture, and, after some hesitation, I felt it and turned it over, looked at the back, and, whilst thus engaged, in came my mistress. “What are you doing there,” she said, “I will teach you to mind your work;” and she took the horsewhip and gave me a good flogging. She was no doubt annoyed that I had found out she was fooling me. When working within sight of the picture afterwards, I would say, “I’s not going to work. You don’t know nothing. They don’t give us nothing. I’s not going to work for nothing.” And I did not half work, only just doing a little. A remarkable incident occurred soon after I was in our new house, and it evidently had a great deal to do with making me a favourite amongst them.
A Burglar Encountered.
I was sleeping one night, when my master was from home, on a mat near the foot of my mistress’s bed. She called out to me, “Francis, Francis! get up! get up! come here! look!” pointing out of the window, “there is some one trying to break into the house.” I saw a man climbing up a ladder, which he had placed against the wall. “Missis, oh, missis!” I said, “I’ll put de poker in de fire,” and in an instant I thrust the poker into the fire. We stood watching the movements of the man, my mistress trembling and being very frightened. He ascended the ladder, and cautiously opened the window, and put his arm in as if feeling. I seized the poker out of the fire and thrust it up his sleeve. “Oh, Lord!” he cried out, and instantly threw himself down from the top of the ladder and disappeared, no doubt well burnt.
My mistress was delighted with my quickness in devising in a moment such a scheme, and always took great pleasure in relating the adventure to any visitors, so that I was looked upon as a faithful and intelligent lad.
Another incident tended also to attach my mistress to me. My grandfather had gone to the mill for some meal. He got drunk, the bag of meal fell from the horse’s back, and the pigs devoured the meal whilst my grandfather had gone for some one to help him. When he returned home, my master said, “Will, where is the meal?” My grandfather said, “Don’t ask me about the meal; the pigs have eaten it up.” My master said, “I will give you a beating.” “You had better try it on,” said my grandfather. They both began to wrestle with one another. My master tried to get hold of the hair of my grandfather, but, being nearly bald, this was impossible; but my grandfather pulled the hair out of my master’s head by handfuls. I danced about in great distraction to see them contending with one another, and ran and got a bowl of water, and threw it on them both, which instantly made them gasp and desist from the struggling. My master fetched the horsewhip, and threatened to kill me for throwing the water, but, at the intercession of my mistress, I escaped. My mistress, the next day, said, “Francis, what made you throw that water on your master and your grandfather?” I said, “Missis, don’t you know?” She said, “No.” I said, “When ladies and gemmens come to see you and the dogs come wid ’em, dey come in de kitchen, and our dogs jump at ’em, dey get to fighting, den my uncle he throw de cold water on dem, and dat part ’em. Missis, I thought you always know’d dat we parted de dogs in dat way.”
Social Affections of Slaves.
I went about this time to see several person baptized, all adults, both black and white, and I shall never forget the anxiety displayed by the black men when their wives were being dipped. The black men protested that their wives were held under the water longer than the white women, although there was not a shade of difference in the time of the immersion. The affection of the men for their wives and children would be noticed by any one. The men never, if possible, allow their wives to carry the young ones, but are always delighted to have them in their arms, and to walk by the side of the women.*
*A slave possessing nothing, and rarely hoping to possess anything, except a wife and children, has all his affections concentrated upon them; hence often, when torn from them, he pines away and dies.
The social affections are so strong, that no hard usage can weaken them. Indeed, brutality, on the part of the master, seems to make the slave cling closer and closer; thus intensifying his sufferings, when the “trader” comes to tear him away.
In answer to a question, which has often been put to me, I may here state, that no slave-children are ever christened: a name is agreed upon between the black woman and her mistress, or her mistress’s daughters. They take a Bible in their hands, and say, let such be the name.
When I was about fourteen years of age, my mother whipped me, because I had hurt one of my sisters in play. I felt very ill after it, and thought if I feigned to be dead, she would get a whipping. I began to groan out. The women in the spinning-room ran out, thinking I was dying. My mistress’s sister, and two young lady visitors, ran into the room; and, feeling I was cold, and noticing that I breathed but slowly—which I was managing, as well as I could, taking a good gasp every time—they turned me over. They also were afraid that I was dying. They began to cry, which brought my mistress into the kitchen. She began to cry, at first; and then, looking stedfastly at me, “Stand by,” she said, taking out a pin, unseen by me, she thrust it right into me. I struck out with my feet, and sent a black woman, who had been rubbing me, sprawling on the ground. I holloed out, “Oh! oh! oh!” until they could hear me a mile off. Some ran away instantly, from fear; others burst into loud fits of laughter; my mistress joining in the laugh. “Well,” she said, “I never saw such an artful nigger in all my life. He is always up to of his tricks.”
I had a tolerably good time of it now, being in the kitchen, helping to cook, or waiting at the table, listening eagerly to any conversation going on; and thus learning many things, of which the field-hands were totally ignorant.
Sunday at Chapel.
On Sundays we were sent to chapel; all the slaves being seated in the galleries, apart from the white people.
Mr. Pain, the minister, was absent from chapel, one Sabbath; but, appearing next Sunday, he explained his absence, by informing his congregation that two of his slaves had run away. Immediately, there was a general lamentation, because brother Pain had lost his slaves; and many calculations were made about their value. The following Sunday, the minister, with a face radiant with joy, announced to his audience, that his slaves had been brought back to him. On hearing this, a hubbub of delight pervaded the chapel; but, when he further informed them, that he had administered to each eighty lashes, in order to teach them their duty, and to deter them and others from running away in future, the audience were overjoyed; one saying to another, “Brother Pain has done perfectly right. He has taught them, and all the slaves who hear, what their duty is, and how they are to be dealt with, if they attempt to run away.”
When first I came to England, I was surprised to find every clergyman and Dissenting minister, to a man, denouncing slavery, as contrary to Christianity. But the reverse is the case in the Southern States of America. All the Methodists, Baptists, and Independents—in fact, every minister of religion—uphold slavery, and defend it by passages from the very same Book out of which the clergy, in this country, make quotations to condemn it.
I leave the natural inference to be drawn by themselves; merely suggesting, that, perhaps, self-interest may, in other cases also, cause fatal delusions and compliances.
Christmas, how spent by Slaves.
About Christmas, my master would give four or five days’ holiday to his slaves; during which time, he supplied them plentifully with new whiskey, which kept them in a continual state of the most beastly intoxication. He often absolutely forced them to drink more, when they had told him they had had enough. He would then call them together, and say, “Now, you slaves, don’t you see what bad use you have been making of your liberty? Don’t you think you had better have a master, to look after you, and make you work, and keep you from such a brutal state, which is a disgrace to you, and would ultimately be an injury to the community at large?” Some of the slaves, in that whining, cringing manner, which is one of the baneful effects of slavery, would reply, “Yees, Massa; if we go on in dis way, no good at all.”
Thus, by an artfully-contrived plan, the slaves themselves are made to put the seal upon their own servitude. The masters, by the system, are rendered as cunning and scheming as the slaves themselves.
“Joe,” said a master, “if you will work well for me, you shall be buried in my grave.” The slave said nothing, in reply; but thought, Massa is a bad man, and that he would not like to be buried near him. The slave thought he had been too near his master, all his life, and had rather be away from him, when he died. Seeing the slave idling, “Joe,” shouted his master, “have you forgotten what I promised you, if you work well?” “No, Massa, me bemember; but me don’t want.” “What for, Joe?” “Because de debbil might some day come, and steal me away, in mistake for you, Massa.” His master was silent on this subject ever afterwards.
On New Year’s Day ten white men are chosen, who are called patrols; they are sworn-in at the court-house, and their special duty is to go to the negro cabins for the purpose of searching them to see whether any slaves are there without a pass or permit from their masters. The head of the ten is called Captain. He sends the men into the cabins, waiting outside himself at some distance with the horses, the patrol being a mounted body. If any slaves are found without a pass they are brought out, and being made to strip are flogged, the men receiving ten and the women five lashes each.
Brutalizing Effect of Slavery upon the Ladies.
This is looked upon as great fun by the patrol and the white people, young ladies and gentlemen from the verandahs laughing and enjoying the scene. When I have told of my being flogged, I often hear persons in this country say, “Oh! but he should not have whipped me in that manner; I would have resisted, I would have done this, that, or the other.” But, my dear reader, I will tell you a true story, what I know and saw.
Consequences to the Slaves of Resisting Tyranny.
Two slaves, who were perhaps not so completely cowed as the rest, said to my master, who was about to flog them, “No, massa, we not going to be flogged so much, we won’t submit.” “What is that you say?” my master said, starting back. They repeated, “We are not going to allow you to beat us as you have done.” “How will you prevent it?” he said. “You’ll see, you’ll see, massa,” speaking half threateningly. He was evidently afraid of them. When they went home at night he spoke mildly to them, and told them, “he only wanted them to do their work, that it would be better if they could get on in the fields without him. Don’t hurry yourselves, my boys.” For two or three days he never went much among them, and when he did he spoke in a very quiet, subdued manner. But mounted negroes were sent with letters to all the plantations around. The slaves had been sent to a species of barn where they shell the Indian corn. Suddenly above a hundred slaveholders, armed with revolvers, marched from different points, and at one time, evidently agreed upon, surrounded the place where the negroes were. All the slaves were ordered out, and the two who had refused to be flogged were made to strip, and my master first had one tied up, and flogged him as hard as he could for some time, the poor slave calling out, “Oh, pray, massa! Oh, pray, massa!” My master, pausing to take breath, one of the slaveholders said, “I would not flog him in that way, I would put him on a blacksmith’s fire, and have the slaves to hold him until I blew the bellows to roast him alive.” Then my master started again and flogged until the poor fellow was one mass of blood and raw flesh. The other was tied up and served in a similar manner, one of the slaveholders saying he ought to be tied to a tree and burnt alive. And now I would ask, How can an unarmed, an unorganized, degraded, cowed set of negroes prevent this treatment? The slaveholders can and do flog them to death, and nothing more is thought of it than of a dog being killed, and not so much.
Negroes’ Wedding—Vanity Exposed—Love of Long Words—Death of my old Master—Cruelly treated by my dissipated young Master—Slaves sold to pay my Master’s Gambling Debts—Slaveholder’s own Children sold to Infamy.
THE first wedding which I remember being at certainly afforded a good deal of amusement to me and others who were present. I will, therefore, endeavour to describe it as well as I can. The black man was named Jerry, and his intended, Fanny. Jerry went to learn from Fanny’s master and mistress whether they would allow him to take her for his wife. Fanny’s mistress said, “Jerry, do you love her?” He said, “Yers, marm.” “How do you know?” she said. “Because me lub ebery ting on de plantation since me lub Fanny,—de hosses, and all de tings on de plantation seems better dan anybody else’s. It seems to me Fanny got de best missis in de country; me give most anyting if me could fall into dis family,” said Jerry. Mr. Ord, Fanny’s master, said, “Come, Elizabeth, you must let him have her.” She said, “Well, Jerry, you can have her, but we don’t whip Fanny, and you must not whip her.” Jerry bowing low, said, “No, missis, if she never get a whipping till me gives it to her, she’ll neber get one, cause me lub her too well to whip her.” Fanny’s mistress said, “Because I know if you were to whip her, she would not deserve it, and I should never let you come on the premises again.” Jerry replied, “By de time me have had her one year me know you’ll give me as good name as Fanny, for Fanny’s mistress shall be my mistress, and Fanny’s master shall be my master.” “Well, Jerry,” said Fanny’s mistress, “you must bring January’s Tom or Morton’s Gilbert to marry you, two weeks from this night, if your master and mistress consent, and tell your master and mistress that we have agreed to give Fanny a supper, and we shall be very glad to see them, since we are going to have a great many ladies and gentlemen come to see the wedding.” Jerry in ecstasy answered, “Yers, marm; thank you thousand and thousand times, missis.”
On the Saturday night appointed, Jerry went with January’s Tom to Fanny’s master’s. Jerry had a pair of black trousers of his master’s on, a little too large in the leg, and a coat fitting very well, except that the tails were too long; some one had given him a white waistcoat and a white cravat, which was only a little less stiff than its wearer, and a pair of white gloves, contrasting very much with the coal black of Jerry’s shining face. Fanny’s mistress had dressed her in a white muslin gown and very nice light shoes, her head being decked with white and red artificials, made from goose’s down, which accorded well with her woolly hair. Her bridesmaid was attired somewhat similarly, only with not quite so many artificials. The happy pair were seated in the middle of a large kitchen; Fanny had a very pleasant countenance, a tawny complexion, and was admired very much by her mistress and her friends, but most of all by Jerry. He was asked if he would have her. “Yers, indeed me will,” he said. Fanny was very bashful, and spoke very low, and bowed. “Come, where is the parson?” said her mistress, “it is time for him to be marrying them.” “Parson!” some of the ladies called out, “Parson!” At the sound of this dignified title, bolt upright jumped January’s Tom. “Marm, yers, marm.” “It is time for you to marry them.” “Yers, marm, yers, marm!” said Tom.
Now, January’s Tom not being able to read, had listened to his master’s grandson reciting the marriage service until he had it by heart, and as luck or mischief would have it, the Prayer-book was laid upside down. Tom now commenced, with the book in this position, to read the service, amidst the infinite mirth of the ladies, who every now and then glanced over his shoulder at the inverted book. Tom, however, thinking all the laughter was at the happy couple, persevered in the most solemn manner. Having finished repeating the marriage service to the satisfaction of all, Fanny’s mistress said, “Parson, make him salute his wife.” Now, Jerry being a field hand, knew nothing about this grammar word “salute.” “What! do what?” he said. “Salute your bride,” said the parson. “Wh-a-t! do what?” said Jerry, as much puzzled as if it had been a Chinese word. Perceiving the perplexity, Fanny’s mistress said, “Parson, tell him to kiss his wife.” The parson said, “Kiss your wife.” Jerry said, “Do you mean me to ‘bus’ her? What for you not tell me afore?” and instantly seizing Fanny round the neck, he made the room resound with the smacks, amidst the roars of laughter of all, until Fanny’s mistress told him that would do, when, reluctantly, he desisted. Fanny’s master then wished Jerry to tell the company how he got his wife. He said, “Ladies and gemmen, me will tell you how me come to see Fanny. Me went to see Mr. Marshall’s Charlotte for two years, she promised to hab me. Me promised to bring her a straw bonnet, but de grubs had eaten all on my truck-patch (the piece of ground allotted by some good masters for the slave to cultivate for his own benefit). Me went to see Charlotte on de Sunday, and she asked me to sit down in de kitchen, and she say, ‘Where de bonnet?’ Me told her de reason me didn’t get it. And she said, ‘You worthless nigger, you can’t hab me,’ and she run de fork into my arm, and me run home and say, ‘De debble must be in dat gal.’ Me went, to see good many gals after dat; me see good many like Charlotte, but me wouldn’t stop, me leave, till me come to see Fanny. She seem to be good natured gal, but she hab me come to see her good while afore she say she hab me. Me tell her dat me lub her better dan all de people in de world. She say, ‘if she could believe dat, she would hab me.’ Me said me would treat her kind, and treat our chilun kind; but when me say dis about de chilun, she ran out of de house, and me didn’t see her of three or four weeks apter dat. Me den see her, but me didn’t tink dat she would run de fork in my arm, as Charlotte did. Fanny ask me ‘if me rebberence her.’ Me say, ‘Fanny, don’t know what you mean.’ She say, ‘Massa rebberence Missis, and you must rebberence me.’ Me say, ‘Oh, yes, to be sure; and you be good to me?’ She say, ‘If you be kind to me, I be kind to you.’ And dat made me feel happy.”
Thus ended Jerry’s interesting account of his courtship.
Then about 300 slaves, friends of the happy couple, sat down to a good supper. Fanny being a house-servant, presided, with considerable tact, at the head of the table, and Jerry at the opposite end, in rather a confused and awkward, but good-humoured manner. A bottle of whiskey was on the table, and Jerry was called upon to give a toast. “Me don’t know what you mean by de toast,” said Jerry. Fanny’s mistress said, “We’ll tell you.” He said, “Me can’t talk, but me do as well as me can. Dis is my heart dat will be talking to you. Me hope Fanny’s massa and missis neber will come to want, and me hope all de family, when dey die, may go to heben, and me hope dat Fanny and myself neber will be parted from each other, nor our chilun.” At the last word all laughed heartily.
During twenty years after their wedding, I knew this happy pair, with a dutiful family of sons and daughters around them. A kind Providence had granted poor Jerry’s prayer; a good master and an indulgent mistress were vouchsafed to them, on the same plantation their children were, some of them working, and the little ones playing about; and my sincere wish is, that no change of their master’s fortune may send the “dealer” to tear asunder those whom affection of the purest kind had so firmly cemented together.
Having been made cook, I got on for some time tolerably well, sending up the dinners in first-rate style, exerting myself to the utmost, for I had a favour to ask, and I knew the best way to get at the hearts of my master and mistress was through their stomachs. I had noticed three or four watches hanging about the house, and one very old-fashioned, and evidently not of much value; I thought I should like to have it to wear on a Sunday at chapel. I asked my mistress, who was friendly towards me, to intercede with my master for the loan of it. “Yes, Francis,” she said; “be a good fellow; manage the dinners well.” “Yers, missis,” I said, “I am sure to do that.” And, sure enough, all was dished up carefully. In the course of a short time the watch was given to me, and off I went to the chapel, having made myself as spruce as possible. On my way, every time I passed any one I pulled my watch out to display it. I walked up into the gallery of the chapel and looked down upon my fellow-negroes without watches as ten degrees beneath me in point of dignity. During the sermon I pulled out the watch several times, catching the eye of the preacher. At last he paused, and, looking at me, he said, “Ah! that must be a very good negro, a very good negro indeed; I see he has got a watch. Pray (looking stedfastly at me) can you tell me what o’clock it is?” I looked hastily at my watch, and replied, “Five o’clock.” Instantly there was a loud laugh through the chapel, for it was only half-past twelve. My mistress ridiculed me afterwards, and said she could teach me nothing, and all my fellow-negroes made me a perpetual butt for their jokes. The fact was, I knew no more about the watch than the watch, knew about me.
Love of Long Words.
I one day overheard a young lady who was visiting at our house say to my mistress, “My intended will be here in a few days, I wish you would have everything put right.” I thought, “When he comes, I’ll hear what he has to say to you, and then shall know how to court the black girls when I go out.” Two or three days afterwards the young gentleman arrived, and I was on the alert to hear what he had to say to the young lady. I thought I heard him say, “Miss, I do admire your beauty, I respect your ingenuity, and I adore your virtue; I do love you, because I cannot help it.” I was listening like a cat watching for a mouse. I repeated what I had heard over and over again until I got it perfect, and I then felt proud, because I thought I should have something superior to say when I went among the girls. But the next time I listened I made a great mistake. I heard a gentleman who was talking to some young ladies say, “I learnt my grammar well when I went to school.” In a few minutes afterwards I heard him make use of the word characteristic. I thought he said, “cutting up sticks.” I was delighted, and went on repeating “cutting up sticks.” I thought it was a nice grammar word to speak when I should go among the black girls. The first time when I went among some who were having a little spree, a black man was seated by a very nice girl I knew; I said to her, “I can speak grammar;” she said, “You can? what is it?” I said, “It is cutting up sticks.” She gave the black man a blow with her elbow and said, “Go away; I am going over to sit with our friend; he can speak grammar; it’s cutting up sticks.” It was sometime before I found out my mistake. I knew I could not learn anything from the slaves, and I was, therefore, constantly listening to the gentlemen and ladies, and endeavouring to learn as many words as possible from them. Many times I was mistaken, but, right or wrong, I could march into a room with full-blown importance, and cut out a dozen men by bumptiously repeating anything which I had overheard. The black girls always like something which is a little better than common conversation.
The Death of my old Master.
I was about twenty-eight or thirty years of age when my old master was seized with a fever. He was upwards of seventy years of age, and, prior to this, had been a healthy man. No change whatever of a serious nature had taken place in his conduct or conversation; indeed, a few days before the fever, he had been cursing and blaspheming at a slave-woman. When he was taken ill, the family wished to send for a doctor. “No,” he said, “I know it is of no use; I shall die.” However, one was sent for. Some of the planters, his neighbours, came, to be with him, and, as the fever increased, he began to rave and cry out, “Oh, take it away! take it away!” One of the slaveholders was very much frightened, for he also thought that he saw something. In a few days my master died, but he never made any sign that he had any hope for the future. His will had been recently made, his slaves were apportioned to his four children, and his son said that his father had never wished them to free the slaves.
Cruelly treated by my dissipated young Master.
My young master now was about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age; he did not seem to mourn much for his lost father, but said, “You slaves have been living upon white bread, but I will soon teach you something different from that. You shall now have the treatment proper for niggers. I have been wishing for some time to tan your hides for you.” Of course his discourse was interlarded with oaths and curses, with which I cannot pollute my page. I soon began to wish that I was a field-hand, for day by day he was drunk and hanging about the kitchen.
I began to have a terrible life of it. A few years before his father’s death, he had led a riotous, dissipated life, losing money by gambling, and then borrowing. All his neighbours were astonished at the amount of his debts, for the sheriff’s officers were constantly on the premises. No doubt the state of his circumstances made him drink more.
Slaves Sold to pay my Master’s Gambling Debts.
The slaves are in general the first property parted with, a dozen likely niggers bringing in a tolerably round sum. Aunt Aggy was the first slave sold; she had a little boy eight or nine years of age, and when she was driven to the chained gang on the road he ran after her, crying, “Mother—mother; oh my mother.” My master ordered one of the slaves to fetch him the waggon whip. He took it and lashed the poor little fellow, round the neck and legs until he fell down, then he flogged him until he got up again, and still my master cut at him until the boy shrieked out dreadfully, writhing in agony, the blood streaming down his little legs. His mother was driven off with the gang, and her little boy never saw her more. In three or four weeks after this, a “trader” was seen talking to my master. The slaves were in a state of consternation, saying, “Is it me? Is it me? Who’ll go next?” One of the slaves said, “See, they are selling the pigs to go to Virginia. They don’t seem to care, but we can’t be like pigs, we can’t help thinking about our wives and children.”
The slaves were all taking their dinners in their cabins about two o’clock. My master, the “trader,” and three other white men walked up to the cabins, and entered one of them. My master pointed first to one, and then to another, and three were immediately handcuffed, and made to stand out in the yard. One of the slaves sold had a wife and five children on another plantation; another slave had a wife and three children; and the other had a wife and one child. My master, the dealer, and the others then went into another large cabin, where there were eight or nine women feeding the children with Indian-meal-broth. My master said, “Take your pick of the women.” The poor things were ready to drop down. The “trader” said, “I’ll give you 800 dollars for that one.” My master said, “I’ll take it.” The “trader,” touching her with a long cane he had in his hand, said, “Walk yourself out here, and stand with those men.” She jumped up and laid her child out of her arms in an old board-cradle, and walked to the chained men. My master said, “Take your pick of the rest.” The “trader” looked round and said, “I’ll give you 750 dollars for that one.” “I’ll not take it,” my master replied. “What will you take?” said the “trader;” “what is the least you’ll take?” My master answered, “Not a dollar less than I took for the other.” The “trader” paused a minute or two, surveying her, and then said, “I’ll give it.” Then, holding his cane out, said, sternly, “Walk out of this, and stand with those men.” She laid her child in one of the women’s arms, and speaking low, said, “Take care of my child, if you please.” The women were so terrified that they dared not say a word, for three or four weeks before this time this very “trader” had given 1,000 dollars for a slave to a Mr. W., a neighbouring planter. The slave had said it was hard for him to be carried away from his wife and children, the “trader” instantly beat him so unmercifully, that Mr. W. thought the poor slave would be killed, and said, “You are not going to throw away your money in that way, are you ?” “I don’t care,” said the “trader,” “I have bought him, he is mine, and for one cent. I would kill him. I never allow a slave to talk back to me after I have bought him.” He had beaten the poor fellow so severely that he could not walk. The “trader” said to Mr. W. he should be passing that way again in about a month, and if they would take care of the slave and cure him, he would pay the damage, and either call or send for him. The three men and two women were driven out to the gang on the highway, and chained together, two and two. We never heard of them again. One of the wives left behind was nearly driven mad, she took it so to heart. No doubt those sent away were quickly used up in the sugar plantations and rice swamps of the South. But the masters soon replace the dead ones with others. There is an abundant supply in the markets of the breeding States, of all kinds, field and house hands, some bringing long prices, so that a slaveowner finds the sale of them the readiest mode of extricating himself from any pecuniary difficulty.
Slaveholders’ own Children Sold to Infamy.
Even his own child, by a black woman or a mulatto, when the child is called a quadroon, and is very often as white as any English child, is frequently sold to degradation. I knew a — S—, Esq., he sold his own daughter, a quadroon, to a gentleman of New Orleans for 1,500 dollars, who said “he only wanted her to be housekeeper for him, and to be mistress over the other niggers, and to do just as he wanted her, for he had no wife.” This startled the poor girl, who said she would not have cared if she had been going to marry him. She took it very much to heart, and so did her unhappy mother, especially when she heard her child say, “Oh, mother, I hope there will come a day when those left behind will not be forced as I shall be.” And surely that day is being heralded in now, amidst the flaming homesteads and the slaughter of the sons and dishonour of the daughters of these heartless oppressors of their fellow-man, aye, of their own flesh and blood. There are thousands upon thousands of mulattoes and quadroons, all children of slaveholders, in a state of slavery. Slavery is bad enough for the black, but it is worse, if worse can be, for the mulatto or the quadroon to be subjected to the utmost degradation and hardship, and to know that it is their own fathers who are treating them as brutes, especially when they contrast their usage with the pampered luxury in which they see his lawful children revel, who are not whiter, and very often not so good-looking as the quadroon.
I remember, one bright moonlight night, a fine young man, a quadroon, striping his shirt off, and showing me his lacerated back. He cried, and I cried too, to see him in such a state. He said the next time his father attempted to flog him, he would run a dirk-knife through him. He produced the dirk, and said he had bought it on purpose. I begged of him not to think of such a thing. He swore he would; and the next time his master was going to whip him, he pulled out the dirk, and ran through the house. His father sold him soon after this. I saw him afterwards. He had been sold to a hatter, and a smarter or more gentlemanly-looking young fellow I have rarely seen. He said, “Oh, Francis, I am so glad that you persuaded me not to kill my master. I have got a good master now, and, if not sold, I shall be happy.” That which in my own case weighed most heavily upon my mind was the thought that all my work was for another; and that even the flesh and blood, the bone and sinew, which God had given me, I could not call my own. I never had parted with them, but another called them his. Heaven will, no doubt, in its own good time, redress this shameless, cruel, infamous wrong.
Corn Songs in Harvest-time—Conversion.
IN harvest-time, thirty or forty years ago, it was customary to give the slaves a good deal of grog, the masters thinking that the slaves could not do the hard work without the spirits. A great change has taken place now in this respect; many of the planters during harvest give their slaves sixpence a-day instead of the whiskey. The consequence is there is not a fifth of the sickness there was some years ago. The country is intensely hot in the harvest-time, and those who drank grog would then want water; and, having got water, they would want grog again; consequently, they soon either were sick or drunk. All round where I dwelt the sixpence was generally substituted for the spirits; the slaves are looking better, and there are fewer outbreaks in the fields. In the autumn, about the 1st of November, the slaves commence gathering the Indian-corn, pulling it off the stalk, and throwing it into heaps. Then it is carted home, and thrown into heaps sixty or seventy yards long, seven or eight feet high, and about six or seven feet wide. Some of the masters make their slaves shuck the corn. All the slaves stand on one side of the heap, and throw the ears over, which are then cribbed. This is the time when the whole country far and wide resounds with the corn-songs. When they commence shucking the corn, the master will say, “Ain’t you going to sing any to-night?” The slaves say, “Yers, Sir.” One slave will begin:—
“Fare you well, Miss Lucy.
ALL. John come down de hollow.”
The next song will be:—
“Fare you well, fare you well.
ALL. Weell ho. Weell ho.
CAPTAIN. Fare you well, young ladies all.
ALL. Weell. ho. Weell ho.
CAPTAIN. Fare you well, I’m going away.
ALL. Weell ho. Weell ho.
CAPTAIN. I’m going away to Canada.
ALL. Weell ho. Weell ho.”
One night Mr. Taylor, a large planter, had a corn shucking, a Bee it is called. The corn pile was 180 yards long. He sent his slaves on horseback with letters to the other planters around to ask them to allow their slaves to come and help. On a Thursday night, about 8 o’clock, the slaves were heard coming, the corn-songs ringing through the plantations. “Oh, they are coming, they are coming!” exclaimed Mr. Taylor, who had been anxiously listening some time for the songs. The slaves marched up in companies, headed by captains, who had in the crowns of their hats a short stick, with feathers tied to it, like a cockade. I myself was in one of the companies. Mr. Taylor shook hands with each captain as the companies arrived, and said the men were to have some brandy if they wished, a large jug of which was ready for them. Mr. Taylor ordered the corn-pile to be divided into two by a large pole laid across. Two men were chosen as captains; and the men, to the number of 300 or 400, were told off to each captain. One of the captains got Mr. Taylor on his side, who said he should not like his party to be beaten. “Don’t throw the corn too far. Let some of it drop just over, and we’ll shingle some, and get done first. I can make my slaves shuck what we shingle tomorrow,” said Mr. Taylor, “for I hate to be beaten.”
The corn-songs now rang out merrily; all working willingly and gaily. Just before they had finished the heaps, Mr. Taylor went away into the house; then the slaves, on Mr. Taylor’s side, by shingling, beat the other side; and his Captain, and all his men, rallied around the others, and took their hats in their hands, and cried out, “Oh, oh! fie! for shame!”
It was two o’clock in the morning now, and they marched to Mr. Taylor’s house; the Captain hollowing out, “Oh, where’s Mr. Taylor? Oh, where’s Mr. Taylor?” all the men answering, “Oh, oh, oh!”
Mr. Taylor walked, with all his family, on the verandah; and the Captain sang,
“I’ve just come to let you know.
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. The upper end has beat.
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. But isn’t they sorry fellows?
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. But isn’t they sorry fellows?
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. But I’m going back again,
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. But I’m going back again.
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. And where’s Mr. Taylor?
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. And where’s Mr. Taylor?
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. And where’s Mrs. Taylor?
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. I’ll bid you, fare you well,
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. For I’m going back again.
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
CAPTAIN. I’ll bid you, fare you well,
And a long fare you well.
MEN. Oh, oh, oh!
They marched back, and finished the pile. All then went to enjoy a good supper, provided by Mr. Taylor; it being usual to kill an ox, on such an occasion; Mr., Mrs., and the Misses Taylor, waiting upon the slaves, at supper. What I have written cannot convey a tenth part of the spirit, humour, and mirth of the company; all joyous—singing, coming and going. But, within one short fortnight, at least thirty of this happy hand were sold, many of them down South, to unutterable horrors, soon to be used up. Reuben, the merry Captain of the band, a fine, spirited fellow, who sang, “Where’s Mr. Taylor?” was one of those, dragged from his family. My heart is full when I think of his sad lot.
One day, when I was between twenty-five and thirty years of age, an elderly lady, who was on a visit to my mistress, came into the kitchen, and, after speaking to me about things in general, for a short time, she took a Bible out of her pocket, and said, “Would you like to hear me read something about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?” I said, “Please, marm.” She said, “If your mistress should get to know that I have been reading to you, she would be very angry, and drive me from the house.” She then read that portion of Scripture, where it says, “All that forget God shall be turned into hell.” There was such an evident sincerity about the good old lady, and her manner was so kind, that every word which she either read or spoke to me went to my heart. Here was truth presented to me, by one whose only possible object could be to do me good.
I listened eagerly to every word which fell from her lips. She told me, if I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, I should be saved; that God was no respecter of persons; that He loved all His people, black as well as white. She told me, if I loved God, and showed it by my conduct, He would love me, and at last take me to heaven, to live with Him; that the Gospel was commanded, by our Saviour, to be preached to all people; and that He died for the sins of all men, that they, through Him, might be saved. And many such encouraging passages, she either quoted, or gave me the substance of. She promised, that, when she came again, she would give me a spelling-book.
She said, “I know you are allowed to go to the chapel, but there the preachers only preach what will be agreeable to your masters. The real naked truth of the Gospel, the glad tidings that were intended to comfort all hearts, you never hear.”
All this conversation was carried on in a secret manner, lest my master or mistress should have the slightest hint of any such thing.
At night, I turned over in my mind every word which had been said; and I resolved, from that time forward, to put my trust in God, and get to know as much as I possibly could about Jesus Christ.
The good lady, true to her promise, brought me the spelling-book, and told me to lay it aside, and when she came again, she would teach me one word at a time. I put it into the pastry-room, where my mistress’s sister found it. She asked me, what I was doing with such a book? She said, for one cent she would break my head with it; and that she would make my master give me one hundred lashes, if she ever knew me to have another.
When the good lady who had given me the book learnt what had been done and said about it, she was very much grieved, and said, she was truly sorry that the Bible should be kept a sealed book from the poor benighted heathen.
Kind readers, you who have been anxious to send your missionaries to the East and the West, to the North and the South, to men of every nation and race, what can be your opinion of those who deliberately keep millions of men in the grossest ignorance? It cannot be pretended for one moment, truthfully, that we are not capable of understanding if we were taught. I myself am a living witness against such an absurdity; after fifty years of age I have learnt to read and write. No, no. It is not our stupidity, but the slaveowners’ lust of power and gain which makes them directly oppose the precepts of our Lord and His apostles to teach all to search the Scriptures. It is only by keeping the poor slaves in brutish ignorance that they can uphold slavery. Let the slaves have the same opportunity as the freemen to learn to read and write, and nothing could prevent their rising, and freeing themselves. But I would have my readers mark the effect of the accursed system even upon the gentle nature of woman. Imagine any lady in this country threatening 100 lashes because a poor servant was found trying to read; why the whole country would ring with the brutality of such a thing.
The kind lady who gave me the spelling-book removed to Lexington, and I never saw her again; but her words of sympathy and goodness will abide with me as long as life lasts. But Providence, who had by her hands sown the good seed, soon sent another friend to nurture it, and endeavour to bring it to maturity. A planter, a truly Christian gentleman, a neighbour of my master’s, saw me standing by the road-side one Sunday. “Come to my house this evening,” he said. I replied; “Yes, Sir;” but I was not aware what he wanted me for. When it was dark, that very evening, I went to his house. “Does your master know that you have come?” he said. “No, Sir,” I answered. “I am glad of that,” he said, “he would be annoyed if he knew what I wanted with you. I wish to speak to you about your soul.” He put several questions to me concerning religion; but he soon discovered by my answers that I was relying too much upon myself and upon works. He read the words to me, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.” What the gentleman said to me made me very anxious about religion, and about my salvation. I was very distressed in my mind, and the next night I went from the house of my master down into a valley to pray, and to think about heaven and everything which had been read to me. Oh, how I longed for the Lord to change my heart, and make me fit for His heavenly kingdom. I came to a spot in the vale where the roots of the trees protruded some distance out of the ground. I bruised my knees against these, thinking that the Lord would the sooner convert me, out of pity for the way in which I had hurt myself I prayed earnestly in the best way I could to God to enlighten my mind and to save me. I went in the course of a few days to the kind planter, and told him all I thought and felt, and showed him how I had bruised my knees. He told me that the Lord looked at the heart, and wished that to be changed, that self-mortifications and cuttings and woundings were what the heathens did to propitiate their false gods, but that a broken and a contrite heart was alone acceptable to God. That I was not to put my faith in works, but in the Lord Jesus our Saviour. Thus it was that I came to a true knowledge of the Almighty and of religion. Through many and many a trial, and in deep suffering and anguish, both of body and mind, what I learnt from this good man has been a source of comfort to me. The weary burden of slavery has been lightened by it, my days of freedom are rejoiced by it, and to it as to an anchor I hope to hold fast until the closing scenes of life.
Superstition of the Slaveholders—Slaves’ Party—Reckoning up the White Folks.
THE slaveholders, as a body, are very superstitious, and are continually haunted with fears of ghosts and goblins. No one ought, therefore, to wonder at the poor ignorant slave being imbued with fear of what he considers supernatural; but an anecdote, which I have omitted to relate, will best illustrate what I mean.
Superstition of the Slaveholders.
It was a common practice among our slave-women to say to their children, if they shouted out, “Ole boy, I’ll pully your ears!” the old boy would answer, “Ha! ha! Ha!” you might often, therefore, hear the children calling out these words in the fields in their play. One day when they were returning from the bush, crying out, “Ole boy, I’ll pully your ears!” I got behind a large hogshead, and cried out as dismally as I could, prolonging the sound through my hands, “Ha! ha! ha! Ha! ha! Ha!” They instantly ran with all their might, shouting, “We didé hear someting, we didé hear someting.” They after a few minutes, as if to assure themselves, returned, calling the same words again, “Ole boy, I’ll pully your ears,” and I gave the same reply as before, “Ha! Ha! ha!” They scampered off as quickly as their legs would carry them, half frightened to death. I looked round the hogshead, and saw them running towards my master’s house, and then observed them standing by him, as if telling him, and then the horn gave three or four quick blasts for all hands to return from the fields. Soon I saw the slaves hastening towards the house, and my master motioning to the women to come from the spinning-rooms, and calling out all his own family. He then, with the children in front, came towards where I was, and I heard him say to the children, “Whereabouts do you think, he was when you heard him answer?” They said, “We no ideah yet, its waysh, uppé yonder.” He said, “When near the place you must holla again.” So very soon they hollowed again, “Ole boy, I’ll pully your ears.” Then I shouted as loudly as I could, “A—a— a,” and I heard a tremendous running and screaming, “Oh, Lord! oh, Lord!” some tumbling over one another. In about five minutes I heard them talking and returning, and my master asking the slaves if they did not hear something, the slaves said they did, and my mistress said she was sure she did. “Well,” thought I, “if you didn’t you shall; only holla again.” He told the children to cry out again, and this time, with all my might, like some wild beast, I replied, “U—U—U—h!” and men, women, and children, hand over head, scrambling in terror, ran back, evidently nearly out of their senses. I kept quiet some time, and then secretly hastened to the cabin. My mistress was laid up some days from the combined effects of fear and running. The devil was now known to be at hand.
After this, I never in my life saw such a change as there was on my master’s plantation; he spoke to every one so kindly, and went about crying, “Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do? I heard the Old Boy, I did, I did!” and crying, “O Lord, O Lord, don’t let him take us; oh, don’t, oh, don’t!” He called out to my uncle on the Saturday, about two o’clock, when the slaves were coming out of their cabins from dinner, “My good fellow, my good fellow!” in a most piteous tone, “come here! come here! I hope you all have had plenty of dinner; I told the missis to give more meat; I hope you all have had enough!” “Yers, sir, yers, sir,” the slaves said; “we have enough to-day, we have enough to-day.” He, in the utmost anguish of tone and manner, said, “Because I want you all to have enough; to be better fed and not to work so hard. Oh, Lord! oh, Lord!” Crying, he said, “You know to-day is Saturday.” My uncle said, “Yers, sir, to-day is Saturday.” “Go and make all the hands get their wood chopped for Sunday: they must not do any work on Sunday. Let the slaves get all their chose done, for there must be no work done on Sunday. We heard the old boy answer the other day. He is coming to take us all away.” And he cried like a child, “What shall I do! what shall I do! what shall I do! Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear!” When my mistress was well, after the fright and the running, I have every reason to believe, from what I had heard said, that my master would have liberated all his slaves; but, boy-like, I could not keep the secret, and told one of the slaves how cleverly I had acted the Ole Boy, behind the hogshead, and frightened them all. The woman went and told my mistress that it was Francis. My mistress laughed and cried too, and said, “What will be done with that little nigger?” She told my master about it, and he declared he would whip me to death. He sent for me to come to the house; he stood with the raw cow’s hide, and said, brandishing the whip, “You little nigger, I will whip the life out of you.” I danced about and screamed, “I won’t do it again!” Raising the lash, he said, “I’ll take good care you don’t; I’ll kill you, you little nigger!” My mistress begged so hard, “Oh, don’t! oh, don’t! he is too little,” and so I escaped. In two or three months’ time all the effects had vanished, and Satan’s kingdom was worse than ever through the whole plantation; it was a regular torment, and I was made the most wretched being imaginable, all the slaves blaming me because they were so cruelly treated, saying I had told the secret and brought misery again upon them all. It was a common saying for the slaves months after, “Massa’s gone back to de begging elements of de world.”
The Negroes’ Party.
Among the American planters there are some of a kind, humane, and generous nature, who do everything they possibly can to mitigate the evils of slavery. But, however strange it may appear, these are the greatest supports to the system. Indeed, if it were not for these bright exceptions shedding a humanizing light upon the unspeakable evils of slavery, the world would long ago have been so horrified by it, that it must have been rooted out. If all were bad, and acted as the majority do, with the greatest severity and brutality, we should not hear persons palliating this enforced servitude by arguments drawn from the conduct of a few. I knew a gentleman, a planter, whose name and merits I wish to hold in remembrance, a Mr. Franklin, having above a hundred slaves, cultivating chiefly tobacco and hemp in Kentucky. He was a bachelor. His overseer was Thomas, a black man, who had some portion of his master’s kindness about him in managing the estate. His housekeeper, Thomas’s wife, Sookey, looked after the household matters in somewhat of the same spirit. To these two were entrusted the entire management of everything during the absence from home of Mr. Franklin, which frequently was for three or four months at a time. He had often heard his neighbours say, “Why, Mr. Franklin, when you are from home, there are pretty doings at your house. The place is full of niggers, and Thomas and Sookey carry on a nice game, treating all hands.” Mr. Franklin was resolved to find out for himself exactly the state of affairs. So calling Thomas and Sookey to him, he told them it was his intention to go from home for three or four months, and ordered them to get his things ready for the journey. His clothes were duly packed up by Sookey, and his horse was brought out ready harnessed by Thomas. But Mr. Franklin had secretly put away his clothes in a drawer, and had adroitly substituted the oldest and most ragged things he could lay his hands on, not forgetting a battered old hat. On his supposed journey he started. Early in the evening Sookey sent the slaves round to announce that her master had gone from home, and that a party was to assemble that evening. Not fewer than forty or fifty, when it was dark, hastened to Mr. Franklin’s house to enjoy themselves of the best which Sookey could provide. The parlour and the drawing-room were quickly filled with men and women eagerly bent upon pleasure. Their conversation was of the most animated description,—about how many lashes one had received because the apportioned work had not been done; how many cuts another had to spin and reel off; how one had cunningly escaped, and another had been lashed. About half-past eleven at night a knock was heard at the door; an old white beggar begged to be allowed to enter and warm himself Sookey, with a large turban on her head, stepped forward and asked what he wanted. “Oh no,” she said, “you can’t come in to-night, I have got a party of friends here; certainly not.” Her husband Thomas came at this moment to the door, dressed in the best suit that was left at home, and, with his fingers in the waistcoat arm-holes, and drawing himself up, “Oh! let poor beggar come in,” he said. “Come in and warm yourself.” In hobbled the poor benighted beggar, and took his seat by the fire. Some of the party now came into the kitchen, and peering at him, “Aunt Sookey, where did that old beggar come from?” one would say. “See here, old beggar man, where you live?” The beggar, in a low tone, replied, “Don’t live far from here.” One of the women, taking hold of her petticoats, and gliding up to him, said, “Old beggar man, dese de best close you got?” “Yers, marm,” he said. “Old beggar, if we didn’t give all our workey for noting, we give you better clothes. We get noting for work, massa gets all. Beggar man! you got any slaves?” she said. “No, I’ve got no slaves.” “Would you have any if you was able to buy ’em?” “Well,” he said, “if I had ’em I would treat ’em well.” The woman said, “But if you get into debt, wouldn’t you sell ’em?” He said, “I’m too poor to talk about owning anything.” The women having hold of the men’s arms with one hand, and their gowns with the other, walked past the poor old man with all the airs of duchesses, making various remarks as they went by.
One of Mr. Franklin’s slaves said to another slave, “If me was as old as Methioseleh, me wouldn’t run away, massa, be so good.” One of the black maids had taken a dress of her young mistress out of the drawer to show off in this night, when, as bad luck would have it, one of the men accidentally trod upon it, and rent it up; dire was the distress and confusion, and the endeavouring to mend it, lest the mishap should be discovered. “My massa,” said one of the slaves, “aint very good massa. I’s going to run away, de first chance I get, to Canada, I tell you; I’s going to leave him.” Another said, “What for?” “Why, because I know when he gets in debt he go sell me, sure as you born.” The other replied, “No, he aint going sell you.” Then all the slaves cried out together, “I wish somebody would knock dat nigger in de head. Now, don’t you hear im say dat massa wouldn’t sell im when he gets in debt? Eberybody know better en dat.”
Now, cheered by the best drink which the establishment could afford, many were the knowing remarks which they made concerning the qualities of the liquors. “Dis is de best brandy dat I ever did drink in my life.” “Well, I don’t know about dat, jus give me some of de old gin, dat is as good as anyting.” “Jus give me some of dat ole rye whisky, and dat is jus all I want;” each speaking according to his taste or fancy. One said, “Well, I must go and see arter dis old beggaroowe. Come, now, ole beggar man,” he said, “I want you to be getting out o’ dis,” reeling one step forward, and two back, having got pretty well drunk. One of the women said, “Oh, no, now jus let dat ole beggar man alone. He must have someting to eat and drink afore he go away, because,” she said, “now who knows but dat ole beggar may get up in de world some day, and we be sold, an’ he buy some of us in de slave-market, and treat us well for dis—one good turn deserves anoder; and so I aint going to have dat beggar man run upon here tonight.”
When the supper was all laid, the women, having hold of the arms of the men, walked with all the consequence, and imitating all the manners of their mistresses, into the dining-room, and seated themselves at the tables. The supper had been delayed for some time, because four or five of the young women who were waiting-maids refused to enter the dining-room, being indignant at the thought that the old beggar was to sit along with them. However, the difficulty was got over by the old woman who took an interest in the beggar saying there was nothing like peace, and she would send something into the kitchen to him, “and den,” she said, “he should come to de table when we genfolks had done.” While they were taking supper, Nelly said, “Me send someting into ole beggar man, since he get hungry, we genfolks sitting chatting so long.” One of the women seized Nelly by her arm, who was reaching to put some pound cake on the plate for the old beggar. “You shan’t,” she said, “you make youself very busy about dat beggar. You an im, too, will go out faster den you come in, if you don’t mine.” The grace before meat was, “Lord, bless dat good massa of Thomas and Sookey, dat managed so well to leave so many good tings to set before us, and hoping dat he turn home all right;” and they all responded, “A—men, A—men.”
After they had eaten a little, the conversation began afresh. “There ain’t such a nice lady in de country as my missis,” said one. Another disputed eagerly with her, saying that “her misses was as good, if not better;” all who were kindly treated praising their mistresses as unequalled. One young man protested that his young master knew more than any young gentleman he ever saw in his life, “because,” he said, “my young massa is going to get married in two or three weeks. Now, how do you tink he got his wife? Why, because a young lady was praising his hoss, and he said, ‘How would you like its massa?’ and dat de way de work commenced; and she might have praised all de gemmen’s hosses in de country, and none would have made de answer; because my Massa has got more approbranchen (apprehension) den all de gemmens in de country.” “My Massa,” said another, “he whip me ebery time I go away from home without asking im, and de next new moon I going to make way to Great Britain’s land, to Canada, jus as sure as you born.” Another said, “If I had such a massa as Mr. Franklin, uncle Thomas and aunt Sookey’s massa, den I tink myself well off.” Another said, “I see jus as good a massa in de country as Mr. Franklin, and when he got into debt he sold all his slaves.” And all the company; cried out to this observation, “True, true.” Some of them said, “We couldn’t be no happier if it wasn’t for selling.” One said, “You see de hen in de morning got twelve chickens, and before night de hawk take dem all away but five;” and she said, “Brethren, though we be enjoying ourselves to-night, before de end of de week some of us may be sold down de river.” And all said, “True, true, true. My God!” One of the women said, “My massa and missis very kind, but my massa get into debt, and I see him dodging away from de sheriffs dis two months, and he gone and sold all his hemp and tobacco, and den he gone and sold all de wheat, and so he sold all his fat pigs and three or four beeves, and I hear my fellow-servant, de waiter, he say dat he habent half de debt paid; so every morning I get down on my knees and kiss all my little chilun before I go into de fields because dey might sell me in de field, and I mightn’t come back home to see dem no more.” And many said they had witnessed the same thing. And many a one said, “Jus give me my freedom, and pay me for my work, and I work for my massa from daylight till dark. I wouldn’t leave my plantation to go nowhere else if me jus had my freedom, so, I wouldn’t be sold away from my family. I lub my wife and chilun.” And one old woman said, “I says so too, because de worst whipping I ever had in all my life was because I cried when dey sold my son, and dey would have sold me, but when dey stripped my shoulders at de market, I was whipped so bad dey said dey wouldn’t hab me.” Aunt Lucy said, “Now, uncle Harry, you say you a Christian man.” He said, “Yers, I do, I trust I am a Christian.” “Massa last week,” Lucy said, “whipt my back awful because I went to a prayer-meeting. He say, ‘Why don’t you ask me?’ But when I ask he won’t let me go, and I see im since he whipt me take de Lord’s-supper. I was sitting in de gallery looking at im. To see de oaths coming out of his mouth when he was whipping me, and den to see him sitting dare and taking de Lord’s-supper, I had to turn my head away and not look at im. Now, uncle Harry, what do you tink of im?” Uncle Harry said, “Well, Lucy, if it’s true what you say, hell is full of such Christians.”
Aunt Amy came up, and began to tell about her master whipping her because she had not done her task in spinning. Fanny and Melvey said, “Now, uncle Harry, hear what we have got to say. Half de times dat aunt Amy gets whipt it be her own fault. ‘Cause when her massa calls her ‘You ugly old devil,’ for all she knows dare ain’t an uglier white man in all Kentucky dan he is, she talks right back to im, and she say, ‘I have seen cleverer gemmens dan you.’ What can she expect when she insult im?” Several of the slaves spoke up and said, “Amy was wrong in talking back, dey could not expect noting else from dare massas.” Humphery said, “Dat ole beggar will tell what you all be talking about; I tell you, he sits dare listening.” Somebody said, “For Lor sake let de ole beggar alone, for de white folks as good as de black folks, as long dey behave demselves.” Mimey said, “Well, uncle Harry, my missis is not a good missis; she was up in de garret to-day, and dat is as near heben as she ever will get. I will give de debble his due, she do chain de debble up all day Sunday, but she let im out on de Monday morning.” Billy said, “Well, uncle Harry, what do you say about all dese bad white folks?” Uncle Harry said, “Well, I want you all to be good; you be talking so much about your bad massas, and I hab been telling you all dis long time about your duty to be good Christians.” Billy said, “Well, if my massa was as good man as I believe you are, I could be a good man; but he say he be Christian, and he does such tings as I wouldn’t do. He seem to stand right before me, he seem to get right in my way. I tink if my massa die de way he is now, de debble would have him, he worse den de debble.” Up came Dinah and Grace, and said, “Well, uncle Harry, I know dat we have lost four slaveholders dat I don’t tink de debble would put em wid de rest. He must hab some place to put em by demselves, dey so bad he wouldn’t put em wid de rest.” It was decided by two-thirds of the company that ‘the debil was but a debil,’ but that their masters professed to be Christians, and yet their acts made them worse than the devil. Cupid, a smart nigger, a waiter, with his hands under his coat-tails, strutted up to the beggar, and said, “How dare you to come here to-night, where dere is ladies and gemmens, with such clothes as dese on? Now, you must never be catched doing such a ting again. Now,” said Cupid, standing before him with one hand under his coat-tails, and motioning with the other, “you may always know, from dis time for ever, dat de black folks are de best folks, ’cause you see now we allow you to sit now where dere is ladies and gemmens, and you are not taken by de pole of your neck and throwed out of doors, as de white people would do wid one of us if we was to come into such a party with such rags.” Then Cupid, placing his fingers in his waistcoat armholes, bowing to the beggar, said, “Well, you are a very civil ole fellow, after all; won’t you hab a glass of something to drink?” “Yes, please,” answered the beggar. Cupid poured out a glass of brandy, and walked up to him, “Here, take dis, you are good ole fellow, after all.” Uncle Harry said, “I want you all to pray and ask de Lord to give us all such massas as Thomas and Sookey’s massa, dat we may hab some more places to get such good things to eat. And now I wish you all to rise.” And they all rose up, and he said, “In the midst of slavery dere is something to be thankful for. To-night, we are blessed to have good food given. Oh, Lord, make us thankful, and bless de good massa of dis house.” And all said, “Amen, amen.”
The beggar was now called into the dining-room, and Aunt Sookey gave him some of the good things. He then went and sat down by the fire again. It happened that two or three years before this Mr. Franklin, had been helping the men to chop some firewood, and he had cut his foot very badly. Aunt Sookey had attended to the wound. After it was well, there was still a large sear on the foot. The old beggar by the fire began to pull off his shoe and sock. His foot was stretched out. Aunt Sookey, coming to the fire, said, “I wish you would be getting ready to go away. You needn’t be pulling off your shoe; you ain’t going to stop here.” She looked stedfastly at the foot for a few moments, and then, stepping backwards and coming forwards again, repeating these movements three or four times, as if some dreadful thought had seized her, she said, “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy!” “What, what?” he said. She said, “Come here, come here! Don’t you tink dat massa, Johnny’s foot?” Uncle Tommy, taking her by the shoulders and turning her round, said, “Oh, you go away.” Then he walked towards the beggar’s foot, looking anxiously at it, and starting affrighted back; and then stepped forward again, as if to make himself sure of something, and then ran back again terrified, and cried out, “It is massa Johnny’s foot. It is, it is massa Johnny’s foot.” And Aunt Sookey shouted out, “Oh, oh!” and ran away, she out of one door, and he out of the other. Now ensued a scene of indescribable confusion. The first hat that any one could seize he put on his head and ran off. In one minute all had disappeared; and, what surprised me the most, was that, although five minutes before several men were staggering drunk, not one found the slightest difficulty in understanding the nature of the discovery, and scampering off as nimbly as if he had not tasted a drop.
The old white beggar, changed to be Mr. Franklin, the master of the establishment, called to his ostler, and ordered him to go into the woodland pasture, and directed him where he would find his horse and gig fastened up to a tree, and told him to bring it to the house. Another slave he ordered to call Thomas and Sookey, and tell them to come in and put everything away and he would not disturb them. When the servant went to call them in, and told them what their master said, they came in, and Mr. Franklin called Aunt Sookey, saying, “Sookey, come here.” Sookey entered the room, and began to beg his pardon. He said, “I only want you to get me some clothes to put on. You shall not hear anything more about it.” Uncle Thomas wished to come in to beg his pardon. Aunt Sookey told Mr. Franklin that Thomas wanted to beg his pardon, and he said, “Tell Thomas to get on putting things away. There will be nothing more about it.”
In about five or six weeks afterwards I saw Aunt Sookey, and asked her if Mr. Franklin had ever whipped her and Uncle Thomas about the spree. She said, “No;” and she told me how, when all had gone, Mr. Franklin had acted kindly. She said she had heard her master say to a gentleman, that he had been to a good many theatres, but he never in his life was at one where he had so enjoyed himself as at the Niggers’ Spree. He said if some of the black women had had white faces, he should have thought it was their mistresses, their manners and demeanour being exact copies of the white ladies; and Sookey told me that Mr. Franklin said, “Indeed, he never could have believed it if he had not seen it.” He said (evidently alluding to the kind attention he had received from Nelly) that “certainly in woman’s nature there was the milk of human kindness.” I hope that no debt or other misfortune has compelled this good man to part with any of his slaves, or assuredly they will find a difference elsewhere.
Labour of any kind despised—Slaves the Badge of Distinction among Planters—Impudence of the Ladies.
A CONTEMPT for workers characterizes every one in any way connected with slavery. Nothing seems so degrading to them as to do the slightest menial office, such as the making a pie, or tart, or any little article of cooking. They talk generally about doing such things as a person in England would talk about a gentleman dragging a cart, or a lady carrying a basket upon her head. Slaves do everything; and I have often heard the ladies say, when they had been to the North, that they were pleased they had returned home, as they hated to be waited upon by white folks.
Slaves the Badge of Distinction among Planters.
The principal badge of distinction among the Southerners in America is the possession of slaves. A very nice young gentleman, whose father had no slaves, but yet was wealthy, came to pay his addresses to a young lady of similar fortune to his own. She wished him to discontinue his visits, since his father, she said, had not the toenail of a nigger in the world. She said to her footman, “Vincent, I wish you could play some trick upon him, so that he would not come again.” “I can do it nicely,” said Vincent. “I shall consider you a clever fellow if you can,” she said; “and I will make you a present if you do.” When the gentleman came again, Vincent had ready a piece of shoemaker’s wax, flattened out thin, and, holding with his right hand the gentleman’s horse, whilst he was going to mount, he slipped with his left the piece of wax on to the saddle. The gentleman rode home, but when the servant came to take the horse, he found his master could not dismount, and ran into the house and told the family that his young master could not get off his horse. They all came on the verandah, and asked him what was the matter. He said “he did not know, but he was fast to the saddle.” After considerable difficulty, amidst a good deal of laughter, he was separated from the saddle, his father saying, “I would advise you to stay at home another time, since you may see that you are not wanted where you have been.”
This kind of practical jokes is very common among the Southern young ladies. Their black footmen are prompted to pass them off upon young gentlemen whose fathers are not slaveholders. Hence, if a young gentleman should politely take the reins of a horse to assist the lady to mount, the footman would hold fast and saucily say, “I come for dis purpose.” The gentleman, looking in the laughing face of the lady, would perceive in an instant that he was not wanted, and walk away directly.
First Attempt to Escape—Pursued by Bloodhounds—Reach Bear’s Wallow, a Dismal Swamp—Conceal myself in a Cavern—Driven by hunger, give myself up to my Master—Receive 107 Lashes—Brutally treated afterwards by my Master.
WORK, work, work, one day like another, only I had now been to several prayer-meetings, and had got a knowledge of religion, which comforted me. I thought about the future, when I should be free from my master, when I could join in psalms and hymns and prayers without being afraid of the lash. Such consolation and joy did I receive from these meetings, that I have run the risk over and over again of being flogged for attending them. Thus one weary day, and week, and month, and year passed on with me, being turned out of the kitchen sometimes, when my master was in his drunken fits, to work in the fields. I had been flogged for going to a prayer-meeting, and, before my back was well, my master was going to whip me again. I determined, therefore, to run away. It was in the morning, just after my master had got his breakfast, I was ordered to the back of the premises to strip. My master had got the thong of raw cow’s-hide; when off I ran, towards the swamp.
Pursued by Bloodhounds.
He saw me running, and instantly called three bloodhounds, kept for the purpose, and put them on my track. I saw them coming up to me, when, turning round to them, I clapped my hands, and called them by name; for I had been in the habit of feeding them. I urged them on, as if in pursuit of something else. They instantly passed me, and flew upon the cattle. I saw my master calling them off, and returning. No doubt, he perceived it was useless to pursue me, with dogs which knew me so well.
Reach Bear’s Wallow, a dismal Swamp.
I now hurried on further, into a dismal swamp, named the Bear’s Wallow; and, at last, wearied and exhausted, I sat down at the foot of a tree, to rest, and think what had best be done.
I knelt down, and prayed earnestly to the Almighty, to protect and direct me what to do. I rose from my knees, and looked stealthily around, afraid that the dogs and men were still in pursuit. I listened, and listened again, to the slightest sound, made by the flapping of the wings of a bird, or the rustling of the wild animals among the underwood; and then proceeded further into the swamp. My path was interrupted, every now and then, by large sheets of stagnant, putrid, green-looking water, from which a most sickening, fetid smell arose; the birds, in their flight, turning away from it. The snakes crawled sluggishly across the ground, for it was autumn time, when, it is said, they are surcharged with their deadly poison. Their tameness frightened me, as I stood admiring their various hues, and immense coils. A kind Providence seemed to have made them harmless to me, for they never bit or molested me.
Conceal myself in a Cavern.
I came, at length, to an overhanging rock, forming a species of natural cavern, into which I crept, to rest me. I was footsore, and torn by the thorns, and parched with thirst. After a short time, I crept out, to pluck some berries, to quench my thirst; and then re-entered the cavern, to lie for the night; but the barking of the wild dogs, the growling of the bears, and sounds of wild animals, of various kinds, made me start from my feverish sleep.
When awake in the morning, I tried to plan out some way of escape, over the Ohio River, which I knew was about thirty miles from where I was. But I could not swim; and I was well aware that my master would set a watch upon every ferry or ford, and that the whole country would be put on the alert, to catch me; for the planters, for self-protection, take almost as much interest in capturing another man’s slaves, as they do their own.
I walked for some distance, round about the cavern; having determined to make it my place of abode, until I could hit upon some plan of escape. I was in continual fear, when I plucked the berries, to eat them, lest I should be poisoned; for I had known that slaves, especially children, had been killed by eating some kinds of wild berries. Sometimes I vomited very much, after eating some; at other times, those which I plucked agreed with me better. But I am unable to describe the difference of the berries, in other respects.
I came, several times, near to dead polecats, the stench from which was dreadful, and, in my weak state, produced sickness. One day and night were very much like another, except that I occasionally heard the noise of men and dogs—no doubt, in pursuit of other negroes. My mind, whenever I heard the barking of dogs, was distressed, beyond all description. I felt sure, until the sounds ceased, that they would scent me out; and strange dogs would have torn me to pieces; the masters preferring their slaves to be devoured, rather than to allow them to escape.
At length, driven by hunger and desperation, I approached the edge of the swamp; when I was startled by seeing a young woman ploughing. I knew her, and called her by name. She was frightened, and shocked at my appearance—worn, from hunger, almost to a skeleton; and haggard, from the want of sound sleep. I begged of her to go to get me something to eat. She, at first, expressed her fears, and began to tell me of the efforts which my master was making to capture me. He had offered 500 dollars’ reward—had placed a watch all along the Ohio River—had informed all the neighbouring planters, who had cautioned all their slaves not to give me any food or other assistance,—and he had made it known, that, when I should be caught, he would give me a thousand lashes.
The woman went, and fetched me about two ounces of bread, of which I eat a small portion—wishing to keep the rest to eat in the swamp,—husbanding it, as much as possible. When she told me that I should receive a thousand lashes, I felt horrified, and wept bitterly. The girl wept also. I had seen a slave, who had escaped to the Northern States, and, after an absence of four years, had been brought back again, and flogged, in the presence of all the slaves, assembled from the neighbouring plantations. His body was frightfully lacerated. I went to see him, two or three weeks after the flogging. When they were anointing his back, his screams were awful. He died, soon afterwards—a tall, fine young fellow, six feet high, in the prime of life, thus brutally murdered.
All this flashed across my mind, when I heard, from the girl, the threat of the thousand lashes. “Oh, dear,” I said, “shall I ever suffer one thousand lashes? Shall I ever get to free Canada?” I went on, repeating these sentences, over and over again, in the most distracted manner, all the way to my place of retreat.
Driven, in a day or two after this, to seek some food, I ventured across the country again, about two or three miles, when I came to a log-house. I approached slowly, looking anxiously around, lest any one should be about. It was a fine moonlight night, and, I think, a little after twelve o’clock. I listened, and, not hearing any one stirring, I looked through the window, and saw a white man and woman in bed. At first, I thought I would make my wants known to them; and then—remembering that white people had given up slaves, and had received rewards, and had threatened, if the slaves attempted to run away, to shoot them—I hesitated, and, looking around, I saw a piece of wood, with which I gently raised the window. I first cautiously put one leg in; and then, listening, I heard them snoring. I drew my other leg in, and passed the bed gently, and went, into what, from the pots and pans about, I guessed was the kitchen. I looked and felt about, for something to eat; not finding anything, I was coming out, when my elbow knocked against a cupboard-door. I felt in, and found a ham-bone, with about an ounce of meat on it. I hastened out of the window, as quickly as possible, and closed it. I soon picked every morsel from the bone. In my cavern, I sucked the bone, until I went to sleep, and when I awoke in the morning, I sucked it again, until it was completely polished. Whenever I now see a dog picking a bone, I remember the luxury it was to me.
A few nights afterwards, driven by hunger, I ventured out again, and, about four miles from the swamp, I came up to where I saw a house. I noticed, on the ground, what I thought was a goose, and, going gently up, I caught hold of it, when instantly it barked, for it was a dog. Having been caught in its sleep, it was evidently frightened, and howled fearfully. I ran back, towards the bush, but had not proceeded many yards, before a shot whistled past me, and I heard the report of a gun. I was running in a stooping position, or I think the shot would have penetrated my head. I regained my hiding-place—faint, wearied, and disheartened.
Driven almost to desperation, the next night I went again in search of food. I had wandered about for some hours, without finding anything, when I saw a number of stumps of trees, two or three feet high; and about a hundred and fifty yards away from them, I noticed a log hut. I approached it, by degrees, hiding first behind one stump, and then another. I waited for a short time, looking round to spy out something to eat. I observed a white woman, with an Indian basket, come out of the house and walk towards a brick oven at some distance from the house, which is usual in that country; she opened the oven-door and took some loaves out, until she had filled her basket, and then taking it in her arms she carried it into the house. As soon as she had entered the house I ran to the oven, hoping to pick up a few crumbs, when to my utter surprise I found a loaf (surely the Lord had so ordained it); I hastily bit two or three pieces from it, and ran back to a stump. The woman came out of the house again, this time without the basket, and went to the oven, looked into it, and then, as if the devil himself were after her, she ran, as I never saw a woman run before or since, to the house.
I made all the haste I could to the cavern in the swamp. Oh! what a luxury that loaf was! I was afraid to let the mouthsful go down my throat, it was so pleasant to taste the bread, and I was afraid it would soon be all gone. Never shall I forget that heaven-sent loaf and the prayers of gratitude I offered up to the Giver of all good things for it.
Driven by Hunger, give myself up to my Master.
My loaf was soon gone, and I was in the same state of hunger and desperation as before, when driven almost to my wits’ end, and seeing no possible mode of escape (not being able to swim, I could not cross the Ohio River), I resolved to go to a Methodist preacher of the name of Brush, whom I knew, and entreat him to intercede with my master for me. I went towards his house, hesitating and pausing every now and then, hoping something would suggest itself to my mind even now by which I might escape. At length I knocked at the door, he came and looked at me, I spoke a few words to him, when he asked me who I was. I told him; he said he only knew me by my voice. His wife came to me, and wanted to give me some food, for she seemed shocked at my appearance. Her husband insisted that she should not, since, he said, I was hungred, and the food would perhaps kill me, and he should be blamed. However, she gave me one cup of tea and a slice of bread. Mr. Brush had promised to ask forgiveness for me, but he did not speak kindly to me. He put his hat on to go, and I followed him across the street, when a crowd of thoughts rushed across my mind,—the 1,000 lashes, the poor man whom I had seen flogged to death, the threats the woman ploughing in the fields had told me my master had made. I felt my strength gone, I stood, my brain swimming round, I thought I should fall; when Mr. Brush, turning suddenly round, in a sharp tone said, “Come on! Come on! Quick!” I followed him; we had ten or twelve miles to walk; he said but very little, and that not kindly, all the way. He seemed sullen. He said I should not have run away. At length, wearied and ready to drop, we got to my master’s house. Mr. Brush entered, and I heard him say, “I have brought your slave Francis.” My master exclaimed, “What! you have! Well, I will do for him.” I heard his footsteps, he came and looked at me, but said nothing. My mistress came, and said, “Francis! is that you?” I said, “Yes, missis, I have been longing to see you.” “Come in,” she said, “you are very bad for running away; now you must promise me only to eat just what I shall give you.” I was weak, and sat down in the kitchen. A black woman was doing my work. Small portions of food were given me at a time each day. A little tea and dry toast, then a little milk, then a little bread and butter. I remained in the kitchen assisting, as my strength returned, the black woman. In about three weeks I found my former strength returning. During the three weeks, I had from time to time begged of my mistress not to have me whipped. She said she would do all she could if I would be a good slave in future. She spoke and treated me kindly.
Receive 107 Lashes.
At the end of about a month my master, one morning, came into the kitchen; he had a rope and a cow-hide whip in his hands. “Francis!” he said. “Yers, massa,” I answered. “Come this way, I will now settle with you; you have been away nine weeks, and I will now reckon with you.” I dropped on my knees, and begged hard for mercy. But all in vain. He produced a revolver, and said, “Look here, if you attempt to run away, I will shoot you as sure as you are alive. Strip instantly.” I took my clothes off, and he fastened me to an apple-tree behind the house, and flogged me until he was tired. I could not cry any more. The slaves who were watching me told me afterwards that I had received 107 Lashes. He untied me, I could scarcely walk. For one cent he swore he would shoot me. He threatened, if ever I attempted to do so again, he would certainly do for me. I crawled into the kitchen. I thought I should die. After dinner was over in the parlour, the servants looked at my back, which was frightfully lacerated, and rubbed it with something. Generally before this, after I had had a whipping, my master had ordered my back to be attended to, and salt to be applied, but this time he did not seem to care whether I recovered or not. In the evening my mistress came into the kitchen, and said, “Francis, you have had a very severe flogging. I could not prevent it. I hope you will never attempt to run away again. I thought your master would have killed you (she had been watching the flogging from a window); you must not be sullen or sulky to him in any way, or he will flog you again. I shall send you something into the kitchen to rub your back with,” and after some more advice and cautions she went away.
Brutally Treated by my Master.
Slowly I began to recover; but now, after about fourteen years, I feel the effects of it, especially in bad weather. I was dreadfully frightened of my master ever after this flogging. Whenever he had been whipping any of the slaves in the fields, and came into the kitchen, he would cut at me, or when drunk would make me stand with my hands down, and strike me in the face and ribs, and threaten, if I got out of his way, to shoot me with his revolver, which he always carried with him. “Blast the lot of them,” he used to say; “when I begin, if I had strength, I would flog the whole plantation round.” When he had been in the fields flogging the slaves for anything or nothing, and was returning home, he would stop to scratch his pet pig, which would stretch itself out, evidently enjoying life. He would call it master’s pig, master’s pig. He would then pat his favourite dog, which had run to meet him, and was gambolling about him, calling it master’s dog, master’s dog. Then coming into the kitchen he would make a dash at me, striking and lashing me several times, not caring whether he hit me on the head or elsewhere. The girl would rush out of the kitchen, but calling her back, he would curse her, and ask her “what the h— she was screaming for,” and threaten to give her a whipping. After having lashed her two or three times he would then pass upstairs. Oh, how often have I looked at that pig and dog and wished I was either rather than a black man!
Produce of Kentucky—Climate of Kentucky—How the Kentuckians Spend the Winter—Fevers Rage in Summer—Slaveholders frequently administer Medicine to Slaves—Anecdote—The Domestic Animals—The Birds—Change of Property, how it affects the Slaves—Resignation of a Female Slave.
I STILL had to work on, now hopeless of ever getting my liberty. I was now very busy in the kitchen preserving various kinds of fruits. The fruit trees are generally in bloom in March. There are large orchards containing apple, peach, plum, pear, and damson trees, also gooseberries, currants, and raspberries. What we termed the sweet grape grows abundantly in the gardens; in the bush a vine grows wild bearing a very large grape, but it is sour. There are also great quantities of mulberries grown. There is a very nice fruit in the bush called the black and red haugh. In the beginning of June there are plenty of ripe apples, indeed, there are apples of different kinds becoming ripe until December; large quantities of them are preserved. The apples are peeled and cut from the core, then stewed down in a pan containing cider, and put into jars; this is called apple butter, and is very nice and sweet to put upon bread in the winter time. There are enormous quantities of preserved fruits of all kinds put away in jars in the cellars. The slaves gather the apples and peaches when ripe, and take them to the distillery, and there beat them up in large troughs. This is put into tubs and ferments. Apple brandy, which is very strong, is made from it. Peach brandy, made in a similar manner, is mild. The spouse (pulp) is thrown out into the distillery-yard for the pigs; hence there are drunken pigs as well as teetotal pigs. The pigs, after eating some spouse, will get up and grunt, grunt, grunt, and then down they will fall, to the infinite delight of the children. Some of the pigs, after being drunk two or three times, will not touch the spouse afterwards, thus teaching a very good lesson to us.
The principal produce of Kentucky is flax, hemp, tobacco, and excellent crops of wheat, except when the weevil and other insects, owing to the shortness of the winter and want of frost, destroy, in some measure, the crops. Large tracts of land are cultivated with Indian corn, which is the chief article of food for the negroes, and it is cooked for the use of the planters in a variety of ways, and is very much liked by strangers at the tables of the planters. I myself can cook it in ten different ways. Lately, prior to the war, the slaveholders of Kentucky had large patches of cotton. I must not forget to mention the excellent crops of sweet potatoes. Many of the slaves are allowed to keep the small potatoes for seed; and as the white people do not save the seed, the negroes sell them in the spring, and thus have a little money with which to purchase a few things for themselves. There is a very pleasant drink made from cherries, called cherry bounce, by mixing two-thirds of the juice with one-third of whiskey. Although such great quantities of fruit are grown, the slaves dare not, generally, touch any except it is given to them, which is very seldom; the Almighty not having sent the fruits of the earth for the slaves, but for their masters.
Climate of Kentucky.
The weather in Kentucky is very hot from the beginning of June to the middle of October. Europeans at first with difficulty can bear the heat in July and August. The cause of the intense heat is the absence of rain for some time. The heat from the sun in these months is very often such that it dazzles the eyes so that persons can only see distinctly at short distances. I remember at two large Camp Meetings in Fleming County, water was sold at fourpence per cup. The heat having dried up all the streams around, the water had to be brought three or four miles. The winters generally commence a little after Christmas, the cold, sharp winds beginning then to blow. It freezes for a day or two, when the ground becomes as hard as a brick, and then a thaw sets in, and in a day or two more it freezes again. The winters vary very much; one winter the ice will come floating down the river Ohio, in large pieces, the next winter perhaps the Ohio will be frozen so hard that hundreds of teams are crossing and recrossing it in all directions. The ice generally breaks up about the end of February.
How the Kentuckians Spend the Winter.
From Christmas to March the planters keep up a perpetual succession of evening parties; there is nothing but fiddling and dancing, and “ladies-chain,” and “cross half over.” Many ladies dance so long that often they are carried in a fainting state out of the room. Balls and visiting continue the whole winter through; they seem to live for nothing else. The weather is so changeable that often when parties have gone over the snow on a sledge, the next day there is not a vestige of ice or snow left, and they are compelled to return on wheels. Generally winter is the easiest time for the slaves, who if they can get out for a dance do so, at least as many as are inclined. The slaves in Kentucky are better clothed and fed, far better, than in Virginia.
Fevers Rage in Summer.
Fevers are very prevalent in Kentucky, many of the planters losing during the summer months large numbers of slaves. I have seen the planters, who have lost their slaves by fever, walking about with clenched fists distracted, and saying, “I shall have to take the money I put away to buy more slaves,” and almost cursing the Almighty for depriving them of their property. My master was one of this stamp.
Slaveholders Frequently Administer Medicine to Slaves.
The planters are in the habit of giving all their slaves medicine at the commencement of spring, that it may go easier with them in case of fever. In fact, they constantly resort to medicine in case of the slightest indisposition.
I had a cousin who was fond of drink. One night he went to a distillery, where a black man was distilling, and got some whiskey, which made him drunk. Next morning he was crying, “Oh! oh! oh! me can’t work to-day. Jee-e-ry,” he said, “can’t you go to de house and tell Massa I’s sick to-day? I’s so sick, me couldn’t live to get out into de fields if me was to start.” Jerry went to the house and told my master that Reuben was very sick. My master took some calomel with him, and went to the cabin. “Well, Reuben,” he said, “are you sick to-day?” Reuben putting his hand to the side of his head, said, “Yes, Massa, I’s very sick indeed, Massa.” “Where is the pain?” said my master. “All over me, in my head and back, all over me, Sir,” said Reuben. “What time did your illness commence?” said my master. “Me tinks, as well as me can bemember, two clock dis morning,” answered Reuben. “I have got something which will suit all your complaints,—calomel and jalap,” said my master. Reuben’s eyes flew wide open, “Massa, Massa,” he said, “don’t you tink if me was to walk bout in de air it might help me widout takin dat?” “No, no,” said my master, “I want you to take this and stay in to-day, and if you feel better you can go out to-morrow.” He ordered Aunty, who takes care of the children, to give him some blood-warm water in a cup. “Now, Reuben,” he said, “you drink this physic down, and then take a little water after it, and rinse your mouth with some more.” Reuben swallowed the physic, and pulled such a face as I never saw in all my life. My master left the cabin saying, “Now, if you feel better you can go out to-morrow.” Reuben got drunk again, another night about three months afterwards. Next morning he was holloing out, “Oh! oh! oh! me know me die afore night, me does feel so bad.” “Reuben,” said Jerry. “Wh-a-at deyah want?” answered Reuben. “Can me go to de house and tell Massa dat you sick gen?” replied Jerry. “No, no, M–Massa,–M– Massa will come down ‘ere an bring some more of dat calomer and jolloper,” stammered out Reuben. But to return from this little digression to my account of the produce of Kentucky.
The Domestic Animals.
They pride themselves very much on the breed of their horses, mules, bullocks, sheep, and pigs. The winter destroys a great many sheep, because they are housed without sufficient ventilation. They are compelled to house the sheep on account of the great number of wolves roaming about in winter.
The Kentuckians do not in general begin to break in their horses until they are four or five years old, consequently many accidents happen to the riders, their horses being often very restive. The houses of the planters are built of brick and stone, and generally a verandah runs right round them; the kitchens are situated at a short distance from the house, so that the cooking may not be smelt.
The woods are full of birds, with plumage of almost every colour, black, blue, green, &c.—the mocking bird, whip-poor-will, and many others whose names I do not know, and birds with most melodious notes. There is a large bird called the Turkey buzzard, which lives upon dead animals. It is wonderful to see them perched in the trees by hundreds when a dead animal is near. They watch until the bald-eagle comes and takes the eyes out of the carcase, apparently being afraid as long as the eyes are there; but they are no sooner out than down the buzzards fly and swarm about it, picking every morsel of flesh from the bones. The quill of the buzzard is valued to make pens of, being much better than the goose quill. They are a very harmless bird, and not easily frightened by the presence of man, since he rarely disturbs them, on account of their being such excellent scavengers to clear the ground of dead animal matter. There is a fowl living in the water as large as a wild duck, called the waterwitch, which is as black as jet. It can be approached within a yard, and any one would suppose that, being so near, he could easily strike it. But in a twinkling, when aimed at, it darts down, appears again at some distance, and will allow you to approach near again, seemingly thinking that it can avoid the intended blow. Although I have struck at many, and seen others strike, I never once saw one hit. Hence, I should suppose its name. There are the woodcock and woodpecker, and a variety of squirrels, some of them, especially the fox-squirrel, being very large, which destroy great quantities of corn. In short, Kentucky is a very beautiful country; and, as I heard a gentleman remark, “All but the spirit of man is divine.”
Change of Property.—How it affects the Slaves.
And so, my reader, you would think if I could bring before your mind’s eye the lovely landscape, and then open out to you the interior of that fine house, with a splendid lawn in the front, looking upon as magnificent scenery as you perhaps ever saw. I will tell you something about its owner. His name is O— B—, the nephew of a kindhearted planter, Mr. P—, recently dead, and who had left a fine tobacco plantation and 150 slaves to Mr. B—, of Virginia, a slave-breeding State. Being a house-slave myself, I became acquainted with the housemaids, waiting-maids, and other slaves about Mr. P—’s house. And I am sure I never saw more modest and better-behaved girls in my life than they were. Perfect models of propriety. Their neatness, good conduct, and virtuous conversation were praised by all. Mr. P— left this property in Kentucky to his sister’s eldest son, the present proprietor.
But, oh, what a sad change! My heart is full when I recall to mind the forced pollution of one after another of these good girls. Satiated with one, he would force another to submit to his lusts, in spite of all their entreaties. Soul and body they were bound to him. Louisa was the first who was taken, and in secret, among her friends, the sorrowful conversation about her degradation I well remember. Aunt Celia, poor Louisa’s mother, went one day to the house to ask that her daughter might spend a night at her cabin. “Come in, come this way,” said Mr. B—, quite mildly. Aunt Celia followed him. He took her into a spinning-room, tied her to a loom, tore the clothes from her back and said, “How dare you insult me by asking such a thing?” and flogged her within an inch of her life, her wretched son and daughter, who heard her shrieks for mercy, not daring to intercede. Imagine the feelings and thoughts of the unhappy girl spending that night by the side of her mother’s torturer and her tyrant polluter.
Surely ungoverned lust makes man a fiend. Poor Jane made an attempt to resist, but he presented a loaded revolver at her head, and threatened to send all its contents into her. She shared the same fate as Louisa. Two or three more were served in a similar manner. But why need I dwell upon the sickening details. Good reader, you can imagine them; and the worst you can imagine will not be a tenth part so bad as the reality. Such is the ever-impending fate of the slave. To-day kindly treated, virtuous, timorous of the future, yet comparatively happy. A death, a debt, or any change of property, plunges them, in spite of themselves, into unspeakable horrors, brutality, shame, and woe. Surely the Lord of all will soon blot out such things from the face of His fair creation.
Resignation of a Female Slave.
I can scarcely convey by any description the spirit of complete resignation and hope for the future manifested by religious slaves when suffering as no one but slaves could suffer. The following anecdote will illustrate what I mean. My master had a slave, by name Milly, who used to sing when she was milking the cow (for Milly was constantly singing psalms and hymns); when she stopped singing, the cow gave no milk, but as soon as the cow heard the song again, she gave her milk. My mistress has often taken visitors to see this. Poor Milly was one day being flogged for some trifling fault, and my master threatening to kill her because she did not say what slaves being whipped generally do cry out, “Oh, pray massa; oh, pray massa,” she looked round at him so innocently and pitifully, and said, “De sooner you kill me de sooner me go home to Jesus; He be better massa dan you.” At last he did not whip her for any little error, and the slaves said he was afraid of killing her, lest she should be happy.
Cruelty to Slaves Concealed from Strangers—Slaveholders traduce the English—Slaves’ Opinions of the English—Slaves always anxious to be Free.
TRAVELLERS and strangers passing through the Southern States have no conception of the cruelty practised around them; it is kept in the back ground. My master was ordering two slaves to strip, for the purpose of flogging them, for having been out without leave during the night. Two gentlemen rode up to the house, and called to my master, and asked him, in a nasal tone, if he had 1,000 cattle for sale, a boasting way, characteristic of the Yankees. My master, perceiving instantly that they were Northerners, said to the two slaves, “Put your things on quickly. Make haste, boys;” and, addressing the gentleman, said, “I have got nine or ten;” and turning to the two slaves, “Now, my boys, fetch up the cattle for the gentlemen; be as quick as you possibly can, that’s good fellows,” speaking in the kindest and blandest tones possible. The cattle broke away, and got into the field again; my master, not appearing in the least irritated, encouraged the two slaves, in a very kind way, to bring them up again, which, after some time, they succeeded in doing. The cattle were sold and driven northwards, by some men belonging to the two gentlemen. Some slaves heard one of the gentlemen call to the drivers, and say, “Did you ever hear a northern gentleman speak more kindly to his men than that slaveowner did to his slaves?” “Never, never in all our lives,” the drivers replied. “Well, then,” said the gentleman, “I will never, as long as I live, believe one word about the cruelty of the slaveowners; it is all a foul libel; they are only a great deal too kind.”
As soon as the two gentlemen who had purchased the cattle had departed, my master took the money which he had received and put it away in the house, and then called the two slaves to him and said, “Now, you scoundrels, come and have your rations.” Each one was stript, and received a most cruel whipping, their backs being cut in the most horrible manner, the pour slaves calling and shrieking out for mercy, but calling in vain; their cries ascending to heaven at the very time when the two northern gentlemen were protesting that every word about the cruelty of the southern planter was false.
Opinions of Slaves concerning the English.
Is it to be wondered at that slaves are almost always, when they have a chance, talking privately about escaping, and getting away to Great Britain’s land, as Canada is called? “You had better be a slave here than live in any of the British Islands,” said a gentleman, a neighbour of my master, one day to his slave. “If you were in any of the British possessions, and were to speak against the Government, they would take you, put your head upon a block, and chop it off. It would then dance up and down apart from the body, which would be wriggling about.” “Massa, is dat de way dey do?” said the slave, laughing. “Yes; and if you were to speak against the Queen, they would make a great fire and burn you alive.” “Massa, is dat de way dey do?” said the slave, still laughing; “will Massa let me go see?” “No; go along to your work,” answered the irritated master. The negroes, although kept in the grossest ignorance, cannot but be aware of the systematic means adopted to debase them, and, in spite of all the masters can do, the slaves see through their shallow pretended reasons for oppressing them. However sedulously the slaveholders may shut their slaves up from the outer world, and may distort anything and everything which is contrary to their interests, yet the power of truth is too great for them. Wonderfully subtle is the atmosphere of opinion, penetrating where it is least wanted. Every slave to a man has the most exalted idea of Great Britain and her possessions. Whenever we slaves have been together talking, we have always wished to be among the “Britainers.” We looked upon them as something very much superior to Americans. There was a charm about the word British which I cannot convey to any one. It meant, associated as it was in our minds with the abolition of slavery, everything which was noble and good.* I never in my life knew a slave who did not wish to escape. Several I have known who were well-treated, and, if liberated, would willingly and gladly have remained with their masters, but the fear of the “trader” constantly made them uneasy.
* I remember anxiously asking, when I escaped into Canada, to be shown a Britainer, and a fine portly specimen was pointed out to me, who, to my infinite delight, shook me by the hand, and congratulated me upon my escape.
An Abolitionist Planter contrives my Escape—My Escape by the “Underground Railway”—Land in Canada—Employed by the Anti-Slavery Society—Marry—Arrive in England—Conclusion.
SINCE My first attempt to escape I was so uniformly treated badly, that my life would have been insupportable if I had not been soothed by the kind words of the good abolitionist planter who had first conveyed to me a true knowledge of religion. I had been flogged, and went one day to show him the state in which I was. He asked me what I wanted him to do. I said, “To get me away to Canada.” Oh, what a delightful word to us poor slaves! It was like speaking of some heavenly country. There was music in its sound to our ears. Never did tempest-tossed sailor long so much for a haven as we did for that land of the free. When I mentioned Canada to the gentleman, he sat for full twenty minutes thoughtfully, and at last said, “Now, if I promise to take you away out of all this, you must not mention a word to any one. Don’t breathe a syllable to your mother or sisters, or it will be betrayed.” Oh, how my heart jumped for joy at this promise. I felt new life come into me. Visions of happiness flitted before my mind. And then I thought before the next day he might change his mind, and I was miserable again. I solemnly assured him I would say nothing to any one. “Come to me,” he said, “on the Friday night about ten or eleven o’clock; I will wait till you come. Don’t bring any clothes with you except those you have on. But bring any money you can get.” I said I would obey him in every respect. I went home and passed an anxious day. I walked out to my poor old mother’s hut, and saw her and my sisters. How I longed to tell them, and bid them farewell. I hesitated several times when I thought I should never see them more. I turned back again and again to look at my mother. I knew she would be flogged, old as she was, for my escaping. I could foresee how my master would stand over her with the lash to extort from her my hiding-place. I was her only son left. How she would suffer torture on my account, and be distressed that I had left her for ever until we should meet hereafter in heaven I hoped. At length I walked rapidly away, as if to leave my thoughts behind me, and arrived at my kind benefactor’s house a little after eleven o’clock. He said but little, and seemed restless. He took some rugs and laid them at the bottom of the waggon, and covered me with some more. Soon we were on our way to Maysville, which was about twenty miles from his house. The horses trotted on rapidly, and I lay overjoyed at my chance of escape. When we stopped at Maysville, I remained for some time perfectly quiet, listening to every sound. At last I heard a gentleman’s voice, saying, “Where is he? where is he?” and then he put in his hand and felt me. I started, but my benefactor told me it was all right, it was a friend. “This gentleman,” he added, “will take care of you; you must go to his house.” I got out of the waggon and shook my deliverer by the hand with a very, very grateful heart, you may be sure; for I knew the risk he had run on my account. He wished me every success, and committed me to his friend, whom I accompanied to his house, and was received with the utmost kindness by his wife, who asked me if I was a Christian man. I answered yes. She took me up into a garret and brought me some food. Her little daughters shook hands with me. She spoke of the curse of slavery to the land. “I am an abolitionist,” she said, “although in a slaveholding country. The work of the Lord will not go on as long as slavery is carried on here.” Every possible attention was paid to me to soothe my troubled mind. The following night the gentleman and his son left the house about ten o’clock, and had not returned at twelve. I was crying, being afraid they could not manage it. The lady assured me her husband would get a skiff, if even he had to break the lock (skiffs are chained and locked to the shore). However, a little after twelve o’clock the gentleman returned, and said he had got a boat and I was to go with him. His lady bid me farewell, and told me to put my trust in the Lord, in whose hands my friends were, and asked me to remember them in my prayers, since they had hazarded everything for me, and, if discovered, they would be cruelly treated. I was soon rowed across the river, which is about a mile wide in that place. The son remained with me in the skiff whilst his father went to a neighbouring village to bring some one to take charge of me. After some time, he brought a friend, who told me never to mention the name of any one who had helped me; and that when I got to Canada I might write and tell my master of my escape, but never to allude to those who had in any way assisted me, and to ask the blessing of the Lord for them. He took me to his house outside the town, where I had some refreshment, and remained about half-an-hour. A waggon came up, and I was stowed away, and driven about twenty miles that night, being well guarded by eight or ten young men with revolvers. It would do any real Christian man good to see the enthusiasm and determination of these young Abolitionists. Their whole heart and soul are in the work. A dozen such men would have defied a hundred slaveholders. From having seen over and over again slaves dragged back chained through their country, and having heard the tales of horrible treatment of the poor hopeless captives, some having been flogged to death, others burnt alive, with their heads downwards, over a slow fire, others covered with tar and set on fire,—these noble, courageous, self-sacrificing men have been so wrought upon, that they are heroes of the highest stamp, and I verily believe they would willingly lay down their lives rather than allow one fugitive slave to be taken from them.
On I went, from one station to another, everywhere where being received and lodged as if I were a chosen guest. If it was after midnight, all in the house, even to the old grandmother and little children, would get up and crowd round me, listening to my sorrows, and shedding alternately tears of joy and grief for my escape and the bitter pangs I had had to endure. How shall I, who, to the age of fifty, was a poor illiterate slave, find adequate language to express my eternal gratitude to them! He who is above, and is the Lord and Master of us all, I know will reward them for their goodness. To Him I pray as I pass on in the day, and as I lie awake in the silent hours of the night, to pour blessings upon them.
I came at last to a large station of what is called the Underground Railway, about 160 miles from the banks of the Ohio river. But think not, you who read this, that my mind was at rest. Two or three nights in succession I dreamt that I was taken by my master, and all the details of the capture were so vividly depicted in my dreams, that I could scarcely, when awake, believe it was all a vision of the night. I should have been pleased to have entered more fully into particulars concerning these journeys from station to station, but my Quaker friends tell me it would be very injudicious to do so, since one or two fugitive slaves, having described things too minutely, had put the slaveholders upon the right track, and the Underground Railway had been torn up, to the injury of my brethren in bondage, who might otherwise have escaped.
At this large station I remained over the winter, from November to the middle of May. I had now got pretty well assured of my safety, and had the range of a large house. There was a family of eleven or twelve children, some grown-up young men and women. The younger portion of the children soon became very much attached to me, following me from room to room, and asking me to learn to read. I told them I was fifty years of age, and too old. Oh, no, they said; I could learn, and they would soon teach me. One day little Johnny, a fine fellow about twelve years of age, and his sister Charlotte, about ten, stood by my side with a book with the A, B, C, in large letters. “Can you see that?” said Johnny, pointing at the first letter. “Yes,” I replied. “Well, then,” they rejoined, laughing, “you can learn, for you can see. Now, that is A.” Pointing to the next, “That is B. Oh, I see you can know them,” said Johnny; and I felt I could tell the difference. Regularly did they teach me, often laughing at my mistakes, but still delighted whenever I, stupid enough, no doubt, made an effort. I soon found I had conquered the letters. My little master and mistress were as proud of this victory as if it had been some noble achievement. Yes, and so it was, for it opened the gates of ignorance, and displayed to me a new world, part of which I could make permanently my own. Day by day I said to my little instructors my spelling, first of one syllable, and then of two, dozens of times over. It would have tired the patience of man or woman, but my little teachers were never out of temper, but persevered until I finally could read the first chapter of John.
Bless all the children in the world! I should have remained in ignorance if I had not been taught by them. When I see them gambolling about in their sports, how delighted I am. Often and often have I stood among them in the Sunday-school, and when the teacher has said “Boys,” I have straightened myself up, and thought I was one of them. Where-ever I go, I find they feel the influence of this kindly disposition towards them. They hang about me, take me by the hand, and never am I so happy as when I am surrounded by them. I can truly say, reverently, in the words of my sacred Master, “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
About the middle of May, I was sent to Sindusky city, on the borders of Lake Erie. But I shall never forget the prayers offered up for my welfare by the master, and the pain it gave me to part from my dear young friends. They would have willingly kept me always, they said; but I knew, although there was not much danger, yet there was risk, and I longed to be on British soil. I heard my friends bargain with the captain of a steamer to take me across the lake. He said, “Have you only one? I wish you had a hundred. I would gladly take them over.” A noble, generous-hearted man he was!
I was landed at some town in Michigan, but I forget the name of the town. The mate took me to an Abolitionist’s house, who said he would forward me on to Canada. From this town I went to another place in Pennsylvania, and from thence to a minister’s house in York State, who said jocosely that he had the strongest fort, next to Gibraltar, in the world. He said, for fifteen miles round they were all Abolitionists, and I was perfectly safe; that, although he was acting contrary to the Fugitive Slave Law, he did it with pleasure, since he believed that law to be contrary to the law of God, and he willingly trampled it under his feet; that he had had at least thirty fugitive slaves before me.
After a few months, the Abolitionist gentlemen held a Meeting, and I told them some of my sufferings in slavery. They prayed with me; and I remember an old Quaker lady, shaking me by the hand, and speaking kindly, said, “Thee must not, when thee gets to Canada, say, ‘I have done it ‘cute; I have been Smart.’ Thee must remember, that it is the Lord who has been thy friend. Ask Him to give thee a portion of His Spirit; and give Him the glory and honour.”
I was passed on to Louistown, on Lake Ontario, to be sent across to Toronto.
Land in Canada.
On Lake Ontario—unlike when I was on Lake Erie—although it was rough, I was not sick or ill; for my mind seemed so much on the stretch, and so elated with the thought that Canada was at hand, I felt nerved for anything, and could almost bound out of the steamer.
I gazed upon the people on shore, until I thought they would think I was wild; and, at last—thank the Lord for ever!—placed my foot on free British soil, in Toronto.
But now, when I was in Toronto, under the British flag and the British ride, I found there was still the Yankee prejudice existing against my race, and a distinction, and badge of inferiority, still clinging to me. Going into a barber’s shop, one day, to be shaved, the master said, “What do you want?” I replied, “To be shaved.” “Oh, we don’t shave black men here,” he said. I went towards the door, when, following me, the barber said, “If I were to shave you, I should lose all my customers; but you will find a shop down the street where they shave black men exclusively.”
Now, when I came to Liverpool, and went into a shop, to be shaved, when it came to my turn, I declined, saying, the other gentlemen, who had come in after me, had better be shaved first; but, after three or four more had been operated upon they insisted that I should take the next turn. No one can possibly understand my delight and mingled feelings of pleasure and gratitude, that I was, at last, placed on an equality with the white man; and, rising up, I could not refrain from ejaculating, loudly and sincerely, “God save the Queen!” to the astonishment and merriment of those in the place. Aye, true liberty is surely a pearl of great price. I felt, at last, completely disenthralled in mind and body.
Employed by the Anti-Slavery Society.
But, to return to Toronto, I was soon employed by the Anti-Slavery Society there, to look after the fugitive slaves. And I can assure my readers that this was to me, who could truly sympathize with them, a most heart-rending occupation. Haggard and emaciated, from anxiety and want of rest, men and women presented a most deplorable picture. Some of them were mulattoes and quadroons, and, being employed generally in household duties, they were very intelligent, and, in many cases, except to a practised eye, they could scarcely be distinguished from the pure white. Others were of coal-black colour, and, having been degraded to the uttermost, by abuse hardship, on the plantations, seemed but little removed from an animal; but a short period of kindness and attention, and freedom, seemed to work wonders in the development of their minds.
I soon found that, at least in the minds of the English, there was not such a repugnance to, and prejudice against, my race; for I formed an attachment—I suppose, at my age, I must not call it love—to a Devonshire female, who was residing in Toronto, and I have the best of all reasons to suppose it was reciprocated, for I was accepted by her, and married her; and it was owing to her wishing to come among her friends, that has brought me to this grand old land of liberty.
Arrive in England.
Armed with recommendations from the Rev. J. S. Ellerby, minister of the First Congregational Church, Toronto, to the Rev. Dr. Raffles, of Liverpool, I bid farewell to that land of many sorrows, and, in the last few months, some joys and regrets to part from my kind benefactors.
I was kindly received, on my presenting my credentials, by that gentleman. Since then, to the best of my humble ability, and as much as my enfeebled health would permit, I have been engaged in various parts of the country, speaking concerning my own experience and escape from slavery, and lecturing, as well as I could, about slavery generally; thus doing my best for many who are still enduring what a merciful Providence has rescued me from.
I am not competent to enter into learned arguments about the natural rights of man, and the consequent wrongs inflicted by slavery on the African race. I have but little acquaintance with literature; but there is one Book, which I read as much as I can, and what it says I believe, and all the arguments of all the learned in the world are nothing to me, if they are opposed to what it says and teaches.
I was reading, the other day, the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and I found a passage there so interesting to me, that I cannot refrain from transcribing it, and asking you, candid reader, to see whether Philip—who is a greater authority, I have no doubt, with you, than all the slaveholders, and their clerical supporters, put together—objected to the Ethiopian, that his skin was black, and that he was of the African race?
No. No such things were suggested. The one thing required by Philip was, belief in the Lord Jesus Christ; and, in order to induce that belief, the Apostle himself preached, that is, explained, to the Ethiopian, the wondrous prophecy concerning our Lord contained in the fifty-third chapter of the Prophet Isaiah.
Thus, I find, long before the Gospel was known to the ancestors of the slaveholders, the Lord had sent His heavenly messenger, with the glad tidings to my countrymen in Africa. There can be no true controversy about this. It is so plain that he that runs may read; and, although my race may, by an inscrutable Providence, have been permitted to be oppressed for generations, yet, as they were among the first to receive His Spirit, I believe there is a good time at hand, when a fresh outpouring of it will be felt amongst them; the barriers being now breaking down, amidst the horrors of civil war.
Depend upon it, when the Gospel shall be preached to them, in its purity, the negro race will receive it, in its simplicity, and will show a higher Christian capacity than the world has given them credit for. The Gospel is just suited to their simple, forgiving, humane nature. May God hasten that time! is my sincere prayer.
LONDON: WERTHEIM, MACINTOSH, and HUNT, 24, Paternoster-row, and 23, Holles-street, Cavendish-square.