My friends, it is not the purpose of the writer to place before the public something to bias the minds of the people or instill a spirit of hatred. My book reveals in every chapter either the pathetic moan of slaves in almost utter despair, yet panting, groaning, bitterly wailing and still hoping for freedom, or of slaves with their hearts, lifted to God, praying for deliverance from the cruel bonds, the auction block, and years of unrequited grinding toil for those who had no right to their labor.
Realizing, as I do, the injunction of the Lord Jesus, when he said, in Matthew VII, 12: “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them, for this is the law and the prophets” my deliberations have been many and constant that God would take out of my heart all the spirit of retaliation or revenge. This is why my book has not been before the public years ago. I wanted to be assured of the fact that I could give to the world at least some thoughts that would not only be a remembrance, but would prove beneficial to all in whose hands this book may chance to fall. I would not have this all important fact pass from the mind and memory of men, that they should not give their consent, nor cast their ballot for the enslavement of any human being.
To some of the noble men of this country, yea to many whose blood has stained the earth at Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia, Roanoke Island, North Carolina, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge Arkansas, Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, Williamsburg, Virginia, and many other places too numerous to mention, it is but as yesterday since the noble men, who are sleeping in unknown graves, left their homes and loved ones to lay their lives on the sacrificial altar of their country, to perpetuate this government and help to shake the shackles of bondage from a race hewn from a slab of ebony. It is but yesterday, in our memories, since mothers gave their only sons, wives their husbands, sisters their brothers, sweethearts their intended, to take part in shaking the manacles from this unfortunate race. It is but yesterday since the sad message came that many of those loved ones had fallen in the forefront of the battle, saturated in their own blood, fighting for human liberty.
Gratitude will not pay for the loss of those dear ones, nor for those who returned limbless, and with shattered health, but it is the greatest gift in human reach. May God ever bless. and he will bless, the Caucasian race for the Moses, in the person of an Abraham Lincoln, who led us across the Red Sea of slavery into the promised land of liberty, where today we can worship God under our own vine and fig tree, and no one dare molest us or make us afraid.
Having given you this short preface I will at once proceed to give you a history of my life as a slave, and of slavery from a historical standpoint; also eleven months of my life in England, where I received my first alphabetical training.
I was born in Wilmington, a town in North Carolina, March 11, 1848. Wilmington is situated near the mouth of the Cape Fear river, on the Atlantic coast. It has a good harbor on the tidal waters of Cape Fear river. The chief exports are cotton and tobacco from the uplands, and lumber, rosin and turpentine from the yellow pine forests of the coastal plains. The swampy coastal lowlands produce great quantities of rice.
In reading Stanley and Livingston on Africa we notice that the negro race is divided into different tribes. Among them is the Madagascar tribe, who are noted for their mechanical skill. To this tribe my parents both belonged.
My parents, Peter and Rosy, belonged to a very wealthy ship and slave holder, who owned two farms and over five hundred slaves.
My father was an engineer and towed vessels in and out of Wilmington harbor into the Atlantic ocean. He pursued this occupation for over fifteen years and received many tips by being courteous and always on the alert for ships heaving in sight. While the master received pay for the towage, my father by constant contact with white men, received money in many other ways. “As association breeds assimilation” so my father learned the art of making and saving money until he had accumulated about eleven hundred dollars.
My mother was a cook at the great house, but hired her time from her mistress, for which she paid three dollars per month.
It becomes necessary to explain how slaves would get money to pay for their time There were shipped from Wilmington a great many ground-peas or peanuts, as we now call them. They were brought from the country in bulk and so had to he sacked and sewed up. The slaves were hired for this work, for which they received one cent and a half per sack. This is one of the great mediums through which they made money. Another was, a great many hogsheads of molasses were brought from New Orleans and unloaded on the docks, and the hot sun would cause them to ferment and run out through the chimes. The negro women would catch this molasses by running their hands over the hogshead and wiping the molasses from their hands into a pail. I am often made to wonder now when I see people gagging at the idea of eating bread made up by black hands, when in those days the poor whites were truly glad to buy the molasses caught in the hands of our mothers, and like Elijah, who was fed by the ravens, they ate it and asked no questions.
Father enjoyed the friendship of two very distinguished Quakers, Mr. Fuller and Mr. Elliott, who owned oyster sloops, and stood at the head of what is known in our country as the underground railroad, or an organization filled with love of freedom for suffering humanity, that had for its end the liberation of slaves and that only. Hundreds of men belonging to this organization sacrificed their lives in carrying out this noble purpose.
Father was with Messrs Fuller and Elliott every day towing them in and out from the oyster bay. This gave them an opportunity to lay and devise plans for getting many into Canada (the only safe refuge for the negro this side the Atlantic.) and my father was an important factor in this line.
The system of deliverance by thewas to divide the country off into sections, and at every fifteen or twenty miles would be a station or depot. One man would haul the slaves at night to the end of his station and get back home before daylight, undiscovered, then they would be conveyed the next night in wagons from that station to the next, and so on until they reached Canada.
Often the wagons had double linings, with corn or wheat visible, while the cavity was filled with women and children.
Father having a foretaste of liberty to some extent, and growing weary of the life of a slave, with the assistance of his Quaker friends plans were laid for him to purchase his own freedom and go to Canada. Then his family would be sent to him by the underground railroad. If any one connected with the underground railroad was caught the penalty was a heavy fine and expulsion from the state.
Allow me to state here that in 1875, while on the train going to Wilmington, North Carolina, in search of a sister and brother, I met a white man having the appearance of a lawyer. He talked very freely with me and I soon learned that he was from Boston, Massachusetts, and that he was a merchant instead of a lawyer. His continued conversation with me attracted the attention of nearly all the passengers in the car, and they were not careful or considerate in their criticism, for they were heard to say several times, “he is a Northern negro lover,” or, “one of Lincoln’s hirelings,” and such like expressions We were truly glad when we reached Wilmington and could get away from the scrutinizing eyes and listening ears of the passengers in the car. He asked me if Wilmington was my home. I told him it was, but that I did not love a grain of sand of that soil. He assured me that this was the case with him, for said he, “my father lost his life here trying to help a colored man to liberty.” I asked him who his father was. He said, “Sam Fuller.” When he learned that I had known his father from my childhood days it seemed to draw him closer to me, and we were both dumbfounded for a moment when it was made known that his father had lost his life because he had tried to help my father secure his freedom. We both broke down and wept for a few moments, but I recognized the danger we were in, even in 1875, in a southern state. So we parted with the understanding that we keep in touch with each other until we got to Indianapolis, Indiana. As there was danger of both being murdered we passed each other almost as strangers on the streets of Wilmington for over a week, and finally we both left on the same train. We spent a week together in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. From the way he spent money on me it seemed that he thought he owed me some gratitude instead of my owing it to him.
He now told me the story of the death of his father and how it came about. My master became suspicious, or mistrusted from surrounding circumstances, that Mr. Fuller was the deviser of father’s attempt to buy his freedom. A few nights after father was sold from Wilmington a posse of men notified Mr. Fuller to leave the state at once, and they left a crossbone and skull on a stick in front of his door. He left his wife and four children, Samuel, Jr., the man I met on the train being the oldest, with the understanding that he would send for them in a few days. He has never been heard from since. The supposition is that he was murdered. The family remained there until the rebellion, when they left for Indiana, afterward going from there to Massachusetts.
The young man’s business in Wilmington was to look after the little homestead, which was about forty acres of land. I was not successful in finding my sister and brother, but felt amply paid by meeting an old friend to the negro race and one who helped my father in many different ways.
The plans to free father were put into execution in 1858 My father went to his master to ascertain what he would take for him. The first question master asked him was, what white man had put him up to this? His suspicion at once fell on these two Quakers. Father finally succeeded in convincing him that no white man was implicated. Then his next question was, “how much money have you?” Father told him $450, so he agreed to take $1,150 for him. This was an exorbitant price and he didn’t think father would ever be able to pay it. He could have paid him the amount down, but in counsel the Quakers had thought it would not be the best thing to do for fear it would confuse the whole plan and jeopardize their lives.
He was to pay for himself on the installment plan, paying $450 down, with the understanding that he continue six months on the tug to teach another man to run it, then he could work wherever he pleased. Every year he was to pay as much as he could, which he did, together with the interest.
At this time the subject of slavery was being greatly agitated in the north, and slaves were depreciating in value. In 1859 my father went to California with a surveying company, staying one year. He returned during the holidays, paying $350 more on himself, making a total of $800 paid on his debt. He went back to California after the holidays and was gone about three months, when the news came to us that he was returning in chains. We knew exactly what that meant; to rob him of what he had paid and sell him away from us, and we were not mistaken, for this was the exact purpose.
You may wonder how we received the news, knowing we had no access to the telegraph or postoffice. Now, to explain this. To get news from one farm to another one slave would tell the other, and so on, until by this means and that of the underground railroad, it would reach it’s destination. So father sent us the news in this way, clear from California to North Carolina.
For two months we went every day when the boat came, to see if father was on it. At last the sad hour came when the boat arrived, bringing father bound in chains. We saw him pulling his whiskers (a mark of deep sorrow with him.) When they took him off the boat we found he had worn handcuffs fourteen days and his ankles, from the manacles, were as raw as a piece of beef.
That night they took him to the, and there we left them trying to unlock the handcuffs, for the flesh had swollen so it made it almost impossible to unlock them. The negro trader ordered mother and five of us children to go home, assuring us that we would see father in the morning.
That night I saw mother in every attitude of prayer a human being could assume. Sometimes she would be prostrate upon her face on the floor; sometimes on her knees and again in a sitting posture, imploring God to use his power in some way to keep father from being sold from us.
Then about twelve o’clock that night mother said we would go to the great house, and so we went, notwithstanding the rigidness of the law; for there was a standing law, that any negro caught out after nine o’clock at night should be struck thirty-nine lashes. But now, as the war was dawning, they were more rigid than ever, and raised it to forty-nine lashes.
There were four classes of men who made their living on the blood of the negro The first class is the master proper. He feels himself too honorable to drive the slave from two or three o’clock in the morning until nine or ten at night, therefore he sees the necessity of the second class, so he hires a poor white man as overseer, to do this dirty work.
The overseer had the authority, if the slave – man, woman or child – failed to do his task, to tie him up and whip him, but not to exceed one hundred and fifty lashes. If the crime demanded more than that he must get special authority from the master. The punishment, as will he shown further on, was very high for trivial offenses.
Sometimes the task was too heavy for the negro and he could not complete it, and would rise up in his manhood and would not be whipped. Then his only alternative was to run away, and this usually was the first thought in his mind. The third man raised blood hounds and trained them to hunt nothing but negroes. He made his living by catching runaway negroes, receiving the paltry sum of three dollars per head. The fourth man is the negro trader, who made a perpetual business of buying and selling negroes, as men do cattle in this country. He would buy up eight, ten or twenty, as the case might be, and locate them at some central point until he had from three to five hundred. Then he would have a long chain and handcuff them on either side of the chain and march them to Richmond, Virginia, which was the central slave market of the south, owned and conducted by the Lees and known as Lee’s negro trader’s pen, and when there they would auction them off to the highest bidder.
The prosperity of the poor whites, with but few exceptions, depended upon the amount of brutality that be showed towards the negro. His word was not valued as highly as that of the negro if it was not in favor with that of his employer. He lived in no better homes, and many of them not as good as the negro quarters. I need not say that they had but little or no aspirations, save that of raising blood hounds to catch the slaves with when they ran away. They were usually very illiterate, many of them had no education at all; they had no association only among themselves and the negroes. Their wives were glad to do the drudgery for that class of whites who would not own slaves. There were no free school systems, and they had not aspirations enough to pay for schooling their children. When they went before their employer they put their hats under their arms, as any negro would do, and usually were as afraid of him as the negro was of the overseer. They dressed as hideously as they possibly could in order to strike terror to the hearts of the negroes; they wore broad brimmed slouch hats, their pants down in their boots and a long blacksnake whip across their shoulders; they trained their voices to be as harsh as possible. Their very appearance would cause one to shiver. Their living was not as good as that of the average negro, for the slaves were industrious and would work by the light of the moon to earn a few pennies, while the overseer was lazy and seemed to be satisfied with most any kind of fare.
Every week he drew a certain amount of fat meat, corn meal, and a little flour from his master’s smoke houses just the same as the slaves did. He often hired the slaves to steal hogs or chickens for him and if caught the slaves would have to take it all upon themselves in order to keep the good will of the overseer. They used the same dialect as the negro in every respect. While the negro looked for a day of deliverance the overseer looked for nothing. He was at the height of his ambition while driving the negro.
Let us go back to the “great house” where we left my mother. She awoke Master Tom and thought she would reach him through his religious views, so she said: “Master Tom, have you forgotten your religion? Have you the heart to sell my husband from me and my children after he has served you all these days and made you a fortune?” He said, “No, Rosy, I’ve nothing to do with that. Your husband is in the hands of the state of California, but I’ll see that he is not taken out of this state.”
Of course he knew that mother was ignorant as to the laws of the state, that he would have had to have been tried in the state where the offense was committed had there been any offense, but this was only a pretext he used to rob her of her husband, and her children of their father; the father of his money and liberty.
Mother asked why he was brought back as a slave when he was buying himself and had already paid eight hundred dollars. He told her that father had become intimate with a white lady. (She could not have been a lady and be intimate with a negro, and that negro a slave.) After assuring mother that father would not again be taken out of the state, Master Tom wrote us a pass and we went back home.
About three a. m. mother concluded we had better go to the jail, so we went, and saw father standing at the window. I called him once, but he waved his hand to us, as if to tell us some one was down stairs, and motioned for us to go back home.
Mother cooked a good breakfast for him, and between eight and nine o’clock we went back to the negro trader’s pen, but before we got there we heard singing of two clases. Some religious songs, such as “God has delivered Daniel,” and other melodies, while others were singing the songs of the world, all seemingly rejoicing in their own way. Some were rejoicing because they were sold, hoping to fall into the hands of better masters, while others were rejoicing because of the hope of meeting their mother, father or child.
We knew exactly what that meant; we knew that the number was complete and about to start for Richmond, and we were not mistaken, for there were three hundred men, women and children ready to start within thirty minutes from the time we got there. We hastily scanned the line over for father, but he was not in that gang. But there was a vehicle built something like our omnibuses, which convey passengers from the depot, only it was built of heavy oak boards, with staples driven in them. They would handcuff men that were valuable and men that would not be whipped. I climbed upon the wheel of this vehicle and saw father sitting with his face buried in his hands. As I spoke he came to the iron grating or window, and asked where mother was. I told him she was there, then he said to me, “William, never pull off your shirt to be whipped. I want you to die in defense of your mother; for once I lay in the woods eleven months for trying to prevent your mother from being whipped.” He shook my hands and kissed me good bye through the iron bars. Then three sisters and two brothers climbed upon the wheel and bade him good bye. Now the most trying scene of all is at hand. Mother climbed upon the wheel and father said, “Rosy, I’m bound for Richmond, Virginia, and from there to some Southern market, I don’t know where. We may never meet again this side of the shores of time, hut Rosy, keep the faith in God, and meet me in heaven. I want this one assurance from you before we part: I want to know if you believe the charge brought against me, for which they are robbing me of my liberty?” My mother assured him she did not believe it.
The trader came up, ordered mother down from the wheel, and the vehicle to start. Father kissed her good bye, with a mutual agreement that they would never marry any one else, even though they never met again. Forty years passed into eternity from that sad hour until mother’s death, in 1898, and father and mother never met again until they met on the other shore.
This was the beginning, of sorrow in our home. It was not over three weeks from the time that father was sold away until mother and three children were taken to the great house, and the other children scattered around on the different farms. I was taken into the house to wait on table.
About a month after I entered upon my new occupation my master told me one day, while sitting on the porch, to light his pipe. He smoked a pipe with a long reed stem and would rest the bowl of it on a shelf. After I lit the pipe he ordered me to bring him a glass of water. I went for it, but on returning I found he had turned a sallow complexion. I spoke to him but he did not answer. I called old mistress, (this is the way we distinguished her from the children, as we called all, from the least to the biggest, mistress and master.) She came and spoke to him, but there was no reply. He had died sitting there in his chair.
It was the custom among the slave holders to have the older slaves come and view the remains of their masters or mistresses while they lay in state, and if the master was an man of any humanity, or what we termed a good master, they would actually shed tears over his body. So as usual, they called the slaves in, but old mistress did not know that Master Tom had incurred the ill-will of every slave on the place by selling father.
Father was almost a prophet among my people, because he secured all the news through his Quaker friends, and other white men that were friendly to him, with whom he came in contact. Then he would tell it to our people. Of course the slaves held him in high esteem, and when Master Tom sold him they never again had any good feeling for him. They came as usual, but just outside the door they wet their fingers with saliva and made “crocodile tears” and passed on pretending to be crying, and saying, “Poor Massa
Tom is gone.” Of course they didn’t say where he had gone.
This may appear very deceptive, but had we not made some demonstration of grief our very lives would have been in danger.
About three weeks later they began to look up the will, for boys then were like a good many are today, just waiting for the old man to die, so they could run through with what he had accumulated. We have many young men of that class today. They are not worthy to bear their father’s name. It was found in the will that mother and three of the children had fallen to Scott Cowens – the meanest of all the Cowens family. He was a drunkard and a gambler, for he had taken three different women’s sons, between the ages of twelve and fourteen years, and gambled them off and came back home without them, leaving the parents in anguish, We went to his home, mother as cook, the rest as servants in general.
We had been there but a few months when he called my mother one day and asked her why she said “that God had sent swift judgment upon his father.” Of course mother denied it, but in her grief she had thoughtlessly said it, and somehow it had reached his ears. He threatened mother very strongly, but didn’t strike her.
He left home one evening, telling me to be ready to accompany him when he returned. He did not come back until the next morning. I saw at once that he had been drinking heavily. He sat down to the breakfast table and ordered me to bring him a glass of cool water right from the spring. I put the glass of water in front of him. He immediately picked it up and threw the water in my face, saying “I will show you how to bring me dirty water to drink.”
One morning a few days later, he found fault with the biscuits and asked me what was the matter with them. I told him I didn’t know. He then jumped up from the table and called mother. We, from the least to the largest, were taught when called by our mistress, or master to answer and go toward that voice. So mother was coming to him and he met her on the porch, between the kitchen and the dining room. He asked mother why she was crying – I had told her about his throwing the water in my face – and before she could answer him he knocked her from the porch to the ground. This was more than I could endure. An ax handle was on the opposite side from which mother fell. He stood over her, cursing and kicking her, and I knocked him down with the ax handle.
I knew my only hope of escape was to run away, so I started at once. I had often heard ex-runaway slaves, men and women, tell the adventures of when they were in the woods and about their hiding places or rendezvous. I had heard it told so often at my father’s fireside that I knew almost directly where they were, for I had passed close by them many times, so I started to look for them. I went to the three mile farm, arriving there about the time they were going to dinner. I went to an old mother – we were taught to call each old woman mother, and they called us son or daughter. It seemed there was a natural bond of sympathy existing in the heart of every woman for the children of others. I told her what I had done. She gave me a chunk of fat meat and half of a corn dodger and directed me the way to a hiding place. Then with her hand upon my head she prayed one of those fervent prayers for God to hasten the day when the cruel chains of slavery would fall, and women’s children would not be forced to leave home and take refuge among the beasts of the forest for trying to protect their mothers.
Quite late that night I got opposite the hiding place. It was a low swampy place back of a thick cane brake. It was so dark and the cane so thick when I got to the place where I had been directed to turn in I was afraid to venture. But as I stood there I imagined I could hear the baying of blood hounds, and so strong was the imagination that it drove me in. I had several things to fear, for that country was infested with bears. More than once I had seen a bear come out of a corn field with his arms full of corn, go up to the fence and throw it over, get over, pick it up like a man, and walk off. Then we had reptiles, such as water moccasins and rattle snakes. Sometimes I could walk upright, sometimes I was compelled to crawl through the cane. About three o’clock the next morning I came out of the cane brake on the banks of a large pond of almost stagnant water. I could see the rocky mound or cave that I had heard so much talk of.
There was no boat around and I was afraid to go into the water, but the same impulse that drove me into the cane brake caused me to go into the water.
With a long reed for a staff I waded into the water until I heard the voice of a man, in the real coarse negro dialect, “who is dat?” My hair was not extremely long, yet it seemed so to me, as I imagined I felt my hat going up, and I answered “dis is me.” (Of course he knew who “me” was.) He then began to question me as to my name and my parents’ name. It was necessary for him to be very cautious whom he admitted, because white men often disguised themselves and played the role of a runaway, and in this way many runaways had been captured. I finally succeeded in convincing him that I was not a spy but an actual runaway. Then he allowed me to advance, and as I sat on the top of the rocky mound with him he prayed long and earnestly for the time to come when God would raise up a deliverer to lead us in some way out of bondage. And while he was thus praying I heard this peculiar sound, “gaw goo.” The old man saw I was in a terrible dilemma, and he said, “son, you need not be uneasy, that is only some men below snoring.” In a few minutes I looked across the field and saw two men coming with poles on their backs, and I got excited again, and called his attention to the fact. He assured me that they were men who had been off seeking food. They were stealing.
Our people in those days were naturally good hunters, but never shot anything larger than a coon nor smaller than a chicken, always good on the wing with the latter. They threw their game down. It consisted of some fat hens and meat they had returned to their homes and secured.
There was always an understanding between the slaves, that if one ran away they would put something to eat at a certain place; also a mowing scythe, with the crooked handle replaced with a straight stick with which to fight the bloodhounds.
The cook came out, made a hot fire of hickory bark, thoroughly wet the chickens and wrapped them in cabbage leaves and put them in the bed of ashes; then he proceeded to make his bread by mixing the corn meal in an old wooden tray and forming it into dodgers, rolling them in cabbage leaves and baking in the ashes. These are known as ash cakes, the most nutritious bread ever eaten. Of course the chickens retained all their nutriment because the intestines had not been taken out of them. But now he returned to them and catching them by both feet he stripped the skin and feathers off, then took the intestines out and put red pepper and salt in them and then returned them to the oven to brown. Parched some corn meal for coffee. Breakfast being ready, the guests came from the sleeping place, fifteen in number, the two huntsmen made seventeen, the old man and myself making nineteen in all, all runaways.
Among them was a man named Frank Anderson. His father, James Anderson, a white man of Wilmington, was his master. Yet he was a runaway slave, with a standing reward of one hundred dollars for his head.
He had been a fugitive eleven months, and had stripes on his back like the ridges of a wash board, put there by his father’s overseer and by the command of that father, simply because he had so much of his father’s blood in him that he would not allow them to lacerate his back only when they overpowered him.
Uncle Amos, as the watchman was called, was a prophet among us. He would watch every night, and took me as his companion, as I was the only boy. So I slept in the day and watched with him at night. He was a great astrologer, although he could not read a word; but strange to say, he would go out and lie flat on his back and watch the moon and stars, go through some peculiar movement with his hands, then the next morning he could tell almost anything you wanted to know. Many times it came just as he prophesied.
One morning, after I had been to the hiding place about three weeks, the runaways inquired, as was the custom. “if everything was all right, or what would happen.” If he answered them in the affirmative, they were perfectly satisfied with his decision. But on this memorable morning he told them that we would have to get away at once, for if we did not we would be attacked within three days by negro hunters, for said he, “God has shown me the hounds and the men, and that some one will lose his life if the attack is made here.”
So they decided to go to another rendezvous fourteen miles away. Uncle Amos advised each one to get his weapon in shape, and get provisions enough that night to last a few days, or until they learned something about the country surrounding the other hiding place.
When men ran away, if in the day, they returned at night and secured a mowing scythe and took the crooked handle off and put a straight handle on it. Then they made a scabbard of bark, and would swing their saber to their side. This was to fight blood hounds with, and if the negro hunters got too close, many times they were hew ndown.
On that night three different parties were out foraging, and returned with considerable provisions. But the next morning, while we were eating breakfast, negro hunters suddenly appeared with shot guns and drawn revolvers, and demanded every one of us to wade over to them. They had negro men to hold the hounds and cut the cane so they could pass through. These men had worked noiselessly all night, cutting the way through the cane.
I told Uncle Amos several times that I thought I heard something, but he seemed to think it more fear in me than reality, and he failed to give the proper attention.
We all jumped to our feet, with instructions from the old man to march over in a body, and each choose his man and dog to cut down when they reached the other shore, but the hunters were on the alert and demanded all to stand in a row, then march over one at a time. One of the hunters said to Frank Anderson, “if you run I’ll blow your brains out.” We formed a line and in a moment Frank Anderson bounded off like a deer. We heard the crack of a gun, saw Frank throw up both his hands and fall, and in a minute he lay cold in death. Murdered because he wouldn’t consent to be tied up and whipped when he was late returning home from a Saturday night dance.
One by one we all marched over and were handcuffed to each other and marched off to the road, and the colored men who were with the hunters carried Frank over and put him in the mule cart which they had with them, and he could he tracked for thirteen miles by the blood which dropped through the cracks in the cart. His father rode over the sand stained by the blood of his son, whom he had commanded to be murdered.
This is but a small portion of the horrors through which my people passed. No tongue has ever been able to utter, nor has the pen been forged that can pen the horrors through which my people have passed. But they kept a constant knocking by faith at mercy’s door, until God moved in his mighty power and touched the heart of Lincoln, who was a type of a second Moses, through whom he delivered us. They surrendered us to the jailor or keeper of the negro pen. There was no jail after all, only negro pens for slaves. If a poor white man transgressed the law, they simply took what he had and gave him time to get out of the country. The Lords, who were our masters, hoodwinked the law. If the negro transgressed, he paid the penalty with a lacerated back, from fifty to three hundred lashes. So you see there was no need for jails, only negro pens where slaves were bought and sold as goods and chattels.
These men received for capturing us the paltry sum of three dollars per head as the reward for the capture of runaway negroes, and the additional two hundred offered for the head of Frank Anderson, which had been a standing reward from his master, as be couldn’t be captured in the first six months after he ran away. This was equivalent to his father’s saying that it was better his own son should die than have all the other negroes spoiled. Nearly all of us were struck thirty-nine lashes according to the law, then returned to our several masters.
For some cause I was among the few exempted from the thirty-nine lashes. My master paid the stipulated amount of three dollars and ordered me home. I walked off in front of him under a storm of oaths and threats, and expecting him to kick me or knock me down at every step. But I was agreeably disappointed.
When I arrived home I found that my mother, one brother and one sister that were with her when I left, had been sold to negro traders, and three brothers who fell to Hezekiah Cowens were also sold away, and no one could tell me anything about their whereabouts. Of course my master wouldn’t tell me. This was the hour of great sorrow and distress with me. My master gave me the task of piling up stove wood, and for three weeks nearly every stick of wood I picked up was wet with tears of grief and sorrow, weeping for that mother who was the best friend on earth to me, and for my brothers and sisters, and expecting every day to be whipped. And this suspense was one of the most severe punishments or whippings I could have undergone.
There was another old woman whom I called mother, doing the cooking. One day at the expiration of the third week, master sent me to the store to get some goods, and in the packages there was a cow-hide in its crude state, but I didn’t see it wrapped up. After unwrapping the cow-hide my master asked me how I liked the looks of it. I told him that I didn’t like it at all. We were in his bed room. He stood between me and the door. His wife came in with his decanter of whiskey, glass and water and he locked the door, then demanded me to pull off my shirt. I had not forgotten the promise I made my father, so I fully made up my mind to fight him until I got a chance to jump out of the window. But I looked toward the bureau and saw an old fashioned pistol which you load from the muzzle and fired with a cap. My master was standing very close to this and the sight of it knocked all the manhood out of me, so I reluctantly pulled off my shirt with their assistance, and he tied my hands behind me, my feet together, and ran a stick between them. This left me in a doubled up position on the floor. He whipped and cursed me until he had cut my back to pieces. My mistress tried to take the whip from him, but he pushed her away so violently that once she fell on the floor. The second time she fell on the bed, but had secured the whip. He gave me a kick in my side, from which I have never recovered, and staggered from the room, being too drunk to whip me any more. His wife untied me and at the same time the old mother came to the door and said, “Master Scott, I came here to break this door open, for it’s a shame for any woman’s son to be cut up as you have done that child.” He knocked the old lady down. I went up stairs and lay down on my stomach with my face across my arms. The next morning when I awoke the blood had dried the shirt in the wounds on my back. The cook had to grease the shirt so as to get it out of the wounds. Then he gave her medicine to heal my back. Every day after this when I would go to pile up wood I had to stoop my whole body, for my back was so sore that I couldn’t bend it, and if I had not been so young (I was only eleven years,) the marks would have been visible until now, and like many other slaves, I would have carried them to judgment as a testimony against him.
After four or five weeks, when my back had become somewhat healed up, he told me one day if any one asked me if I had ever been whipped to tell them no. Is it not a wonder that negroes are not inveterate thieves and liars? They worked all the week for their masters, with only a peck of meal and three pounds of fat bacon, and after each day’s labor they were compelled to go to their master’s smoke house or chicken roost and steal enough to subsist upon the next day, to do that master’s work, then, after this master had cut his back all to pieces he would compel him to tell a lie in order to sell him. But, thank God, we, like other nations, are born with the same natural instinct that others are, and although manhood was crushed for two hundred and forty odd years, yet, with the same surroundings and opportunities to develop them, we have risen above our environments.
One afternoon five negro traders came; my master called me, met me at the door, and repeated his former command “if any one asked me had I been whipped, to tell them no.” I walked into the parlor; there sat five men wearing broad brimmed straw hats, their pants in their boots and a black snake whip across their shoulders. The first question they addressed to me was, had I ever been whipped. I suspect I was too slow in speaking, for the punishment had been too severe, and was too fresh in my memory for me to tell a lie on the spur of the moment. I had on a long straight gown which reached to my feet. The trader raised that and looked at my back and that told the story. They offered my master a small price for me, he refused it, and they left. I remained with him about three or four weeks longer, when one day he wrote a note and sent me to the trader’s pen. The keeper, Mr. Howard, read it and told me to take it back to James, the negro turnkey, who also did all the whipping in the jail. He ordered me put in a cell and closed the big iron door, which told me that I was bound for Richmond, or some other slave market, and I was truly glad, for I now hated the soil upon which I was born.
I was in the trader’s pen about three weeks. There were from one to ten slaves brought in every day. All of my brothers and sisters save two had been sold from Wilmington. Other slaveholders passing through had bought them, and it was said they were taken to Georgia. At the end of three weeks the gang of three hundred and fifty was made up and we were chained and started for Richmond, Virginia. In this gang was a woman named Fannie Woods. She had two children, the oldest about eight years, the other a nursing baby. She was not handcuffed as the others were, but tied above the elbow so she could shift the nursing baby in her arms. She led the older one by the hand. The first half of the day the little boy kept up pretty well; after that he became a hindrance in the march. The trader came back several times and ordered her to keep up. She told him she was doing the best she could. He threatened each time to whip her if she did not keep up, and finally he ordered a negro, a strong muscular man six feet in height, who went along to give us water and help drive, to untie her, made her give the baby to another woman, then ordered her to take off her waist. They buckled a strap around each wrist and strapped her to a large pine tree less than ten feet from the rest of us, and with a blacksnake whip the colored man was made to hit her fifty lashes on her bare back. The blood ran down as water but she never uttered a sound. She was ordered to put on her waist. They retied her and told her to see if they could keep up.
After going a few miles farther they sold the little boy she was leading to a man along the way. I heard the wails of the mother and the mourning of the other slaves on account of her sorrow, and heard the gruff voice of the trader as he ordered them to shut up. We marched until nine or ten o’clock, when we came to a boarding house that was kept especially for the accommodation of negro traders. This was a large log house of one room, about eighteen by twenty feet, with staples driven in all around the room and handcuffs attached to chains about four feet long. They would handcuff two or three slaves to each chain. In the summer they had nothing but the bare floor to lie upon; in the winter straw was put upon the floor. There was a very large fire place in this room.
We stopped at this boarding house. This was our first night’s stop after leaving Wilmington. The keeper of the boarding house tried to buy Fannie Wood’s baby, but there was a disagreement regarding the price. About five the next morning we started on. When we had gone about half a mile a colored boy came running down the road with a message from his master, and we were halted until his master came bringing a colored woman with him, and he bought the baby out of Fannie Woods’ arms. As the colored woman was ordered to take it away I heard Fannie Woods cry, “Oh God, I would rather hear the clods fall on the coffin lid of my child than to hear its cries because it is taken from me.” She said, “good bye, child.” We were ordered to move on, and could hear the crying of the child in the distance as it was borne away by the other woman, and I could hear the deep sobs of a broken hearted mother. We could hear the groans of many as they prayed for God to have mercy upon us, and give us grace to endure the hard trials through which we must pass.
We marched all that day, and the second and third nights we stopped in the same kind of a place as the first night. They were buying and selling all along the way, so when we reached Richmond about ten o’clock the fourth night, there were about four hundred and fifty of us, footsore, hungry and broken-hearted.
We were taken to Lee’s negro traders’ auction pen, which was a very large brick structure with a high brick wall all around it. A very large hall ran through the center. There was no furniture in it, not even a chair to sit upon. In this pen the handcuffs were taken off for the first time since we left home. There were possibly three or four hundred in there when we arrived. Many found relatives. One woman found her husband who had been sold from her three or four years before. But I was not so fortunate as to find any of my people.
The next morning the back door was open and we went down to wash. There were three or four pumps in the yard and long troughs near each. Some one would pump these troughs full of water and we would wash our faces and hands. There were no towels to wipe on, so some woman would give us her apron or dress skirt to dry our faces with. We then waited for our breakfast. The cooks handed out our tin pans with cabbage, or beans and corn bread, without knife, fork or spoon. Many having been sold before, and knowing how they would fare, carried such things with them. We sat around on the floor and ate our breakfast, after which we were ordered into a long hall, where we found wire cards, such as are used for wool, flax or hemp. We were ordered to comb our hair with them. Of course when we started we had on our best clothes, which consisted of a pair of hemp pants and cotton shirt; most of us were barefoot. The women, and sometimes the men, wore red cotton bandanas on their heads. After our toilets were completed we were ordered into a little ten by twelve room; we went in, ten or twelve at once. There were five or six young ladies in the gang I went in with. The traders, forgetting the sacredness of their own mothers and sisters, paid no respect to us, but compelled each one of us to undress, so as to see if we were sound and healthy. I heard Fannie Woods as she pleaded to be exempt from this exposure. They gave her to understand that they would have her hit one hundred lashes if she did not get her clothes off at once. She still refused, and when they tried to take them off` by force, fought them until they finally let her alone.
After this humiliating ordeal of examination was over we went into the auction room. This was a large room about forty by sixty feet, with benches around the sides, where we were permitted to sit until our turn came to get on the auction block. The auctioneering began about nine o’clock each day and lasted until noon, began again at one o’clock and continued until five p. m. This was a perpetual business every day in the year, and the prices were quoted on the bulletin and in the papers the same as our stock and wheat are quoted today. At these sales we could find the best people of the South buying and selling.
I remember when I got on the block, the first bid was one hundred and fifty dollars. It went up to seven hundred, when the bidding ceased. The negro trader went to the auctioneer and told him that I came from the Madagascar tribe and that my father was an engineer and a skilled mechanic. Then the bidding became brief. I recall that the auctioneer said, “right and title guaranteed,” as he slapped me on the head, then continued by saying “he’s sound as a silver dollar.” I was knocked off at eleven hundred and fifty dollars.
A poor man in East Virginia, named William Scott, bought me, paying four hundred and fifty dollars cash and giving a mortgage on his sixty acres of land, his stock and everything he owned, including one colored girl, whom he had bought four years before. The next morning after I was sold they brought a man to the traders’ pen to he whipped. This man would not allow his overseer to whip him. He had chains on him that looked as though they were welded on. They took him upstairs in the big building where there were about seven or eight hundred men, women and children. It was about noon and they left him handcuffed while they went to dinner. He explained to us why they were about to whip him. He had gone to church without a pass on two occasions and refused to allow his master to whip him for so doing. His master declared he would whip him or kill him. They took the irons off, and ordered him to strip himself of all of his clothing. He promptly did so. His master said, “you might just as well have done this at home and you might have gotten off with a few hundred lashes.”
But to their surprise, when they told him to lie down, he began to knock men down right and left, with his feet and hands. Many went down before him. Then they picked out ten or twelve strong colored men, made them run in upon him, and though he knocked many of them down they were too many for him, so they overpowered him, and with straps fastened him taut upon the floor to six strong rings. These rings were arranged in two rows of three rings each, opposite each other and covering a space something over six feet in length.
Then his master, with four or five other men, came up to see him whipped, one man with his tally book, and a negro with his black snake whip and paddle; they brought their demijohn of whiskey, each one taking a drink before they began their bloody work. They even gave the negro who was compelled to do the whipping, a drink. After they were well drunk the whipping began. One man would count out until he counted nine, then with the tenth he would cry tally. When the whipping first began the slave would not say a word, but after awhile as they cut his back all to pieces, he would cry out, “pray, master,” and in this way he pleaded for mercy until he grew so weak he could not utter a word. They gave him three hundred lashes, then washed his back with salt water and paddled it with a leather paddle about the size of a man’s hand, with six holes in it. As they paddled him it sounded as a dead thud; you could hardly hear him grunt as each lick fell upon him. He was whipped from head to foot and the floor, where he was lying was a pool of blood when the brutal work was ended. His master congratulated the negro whipping master for the way he accomplished his part of the work, gave him another big drink of whiskey and ordered him to untie the man.
They all went down stairs and the other colored people who were in the room put the man’s clothing on him. This was late in the afternoon. The next morning when I awoke I saw the men and women kneeling around in a circle, praying, groaning and crying. I walked up and looked to see what the trouble was, and I found the man they had whipped the day before cold in death. He was swollen so that his clothing had. bursted off. A jury of white men came up and held a mock inquest. I never heard what the verdict was. The colored men came with a mule cart, rolled him up in a sheet and took him to his last resting place.
I stayed in this trader’s pen three days after my new master bought me, and during this time I saw hundreds of mothers separated from their children. I heard the wail of many a child for its mother, and of the mother for her child. While one buyer had the mother, going in one direction, another with the child would be going the opposite way. I saw husband and wife bidding each other farewell and sisters and brothers being separated. There could not have been any darker days to them than these; it was with them as it was with Job, when he spake in the Third Chapter of Job, and said:
“Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it is said there is a man child conceived, let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.”
“Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it, let the blackness of the day terrify it. As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months. Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein. Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning. Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none, neither let it see the dawning of the day; because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.”
These were the lamentations of the poor slaves, but still they prayed for the dawn and light of a better day. Like Israel, many looked long and eagerly for freedom but died without the sight. Thank God, over three million lived to see the sunlight in all its brilliancy, and we can now look back and say: “The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.”
On the fourth morning after I was sold, I got on the horse behind my new master. I had a handcuff on my right wrist, with a chain extending down to my right foot and locked around my ankle. We rode until late in the afternoon, when we stopped at a hotel. He chained me to the porch and left me until after supper time; then gave me a piece of bread and meat, and left me until about ten o’clock at night, while he talked. Then he came after me and we went up stairs to his room. He chained me to his bed post, and gave me a quilt to lie on by the side of his bed, on the floor.
The next morning we had breakfast by daylight and started again on our journey; to my surprise he didn’t handcuff me this time. He talked very freely with me, told me he had a nice girl and if I acted all right we would have a good time, and he would soon buy my mother and father, when the poor fellow was not able to buy me; he had just finished paying the mortgage which he gave when he bought the girl, and remortgaged to buy me. About nine o’clock the succeeding night we arrived home; when quite a distance from the house he called out in a loud voice for Fanny to open the gate. As we neared the gate, she threw it open. I had ridden until my limbs would not hold me up when I slid off the horse, so I fell prostrate upon the ground, but with the assistance of the girl and my master, I was able to get on my feet.
His residence was a large log building of one room. He left me at the door and told me to stay there until he called me. Now, it was a custom with my people, when a white man went on the inside and closed the door and left a black man, woman or child outside, just so sure a black ear went to the key hole. I didn’t want to make an exception to this rule, so when he went in, my ear went to the key hole. After the usual mode of family greeting of a man that had been away from home a week or ten days, he said: “The one who guesses what I have brought, may have it.” The oldest boy said, “A pair of boots, for you promised me a pair;” the nine-year-old girl said, “A large china doll,” but when the guessing came to the smallest one, a little girl between the age of three and four years, to my surprise she said, “A nigger.” “Correct,” said my master, “the rigger’s yours; come in here, Bill” I went in and the formal introduction was made He said, beginning with the boy, “This is your master Charles, this is your Miss Mary,” but when it came to the youngest girl, he said, this is your Miss Alice and you belong to her. Now, if you are a good and obedient nigger, when she is grown and at her death she will set you free.” If I had believed this story I would have prayed to God to kill her then, wicked as it was. Then he gave me an introduction to his wife. As long as I had been with him he had not introduced himself until now. He really grew enthusiastic in introducing himself; his face grew red, and his voice trembled as he said: “I want you to understand that I’m a nigger breaker. I hear you came from a family of niggers that won’t be whipped, but I’ll break you or kill you.” I knew he could not afford to do the latter, for I had overheard Robert E. Lee, from whom he had bought me, say to him. “I understand you have abused the girl you bought from me, shamefully. If you abuse this boy it will cost you all you are worth.”
He then called the girl, who was once a pretty octoroon, but now her face was much disfigured where the mistress had stuck the hot tongs to it because she was so overworked she would fall asleep while she would be carding wool at night. You could hardly see the traces of a once beautiful girl, now about fourteen years old.
He said, “you two have got a good home and can be happy here together.” Jokingly, he said, “I’ll have the preacher come over and marry you.” He thought through this union – he had formed in his mind – that he would raise his own slaves.
After supper the mistress ordered her to bring in her tin pan and quart cup, at the same time wondering what dishes to give me to use. My master said. “Oh yes, I forgot to tell you I bought Bill a new pan and cup.” The children scampered away for the old saddle bags. They brought my cup and pan, and after using the latter for a looking glass for a time, handed it to me. In the tin pans she put a little gravy and a corn dodger on each, and filled the cups with skimmed milk – the milk had been skimmed and skimmed until there was not an eye of cream to be seen on it. We called it blue John. Fannie and I went into the kitchen
She said to me, “don’t eat yet, we’ll milk first.” I was very hungry, but did as she asked me. We took our milk buckets and went to the cow pen; there were two cows, so we got them close together. Fannie milked both, for I had never before tried to milk. We poured our cup of blue John into the milk pail. She milked both our cups full, and with our hoe cakes of corn bread, we ate our supper, drinking the warm, unstrained milk. The mistress often complained, and spoke of selling the cows because tbey gave such poor milk. We would then milk the cows into the pail where we had poured our skimmed milk and return it to our mistress. We continued this as long as I was there, which was three or four months.
My master was overseer for a man on an adjoining farm, named Howard, for which he was paid thirty dollars per month. He would leave home at three o’clock in the morning, giving the girl and me our task the night before. He would eat his dinner each day in the field with the slaves, and return home at about nine or ten o’clock at night. He hired the slaves at night, and sometimes in the day he would slip them over to work in his crop. I have known the slaves many times to work in his field from ten o’clock at night until near day-break the next morning; yet he never allowed the girl or me to visit the slaves on any other farm, or them to visit us. He was the meanest overseer in that section of the country, for he would have a whipping bee every Monday morning.
He had whipping posts on the farm and the slaves were tied to this and whipped; you could hear the cries of slaves all around from that place. I have heard him laugh many times and tell how the slaves would squirm under the lash.
The farm on the other side of us belonged to a man named Wilkerson; he had seventy five or a hundred slaves, and he, also, was a cruel man. Every day, in going for the cows I would have to pass his farm. I heard him say to one of the rail splitters, “if you don’t have your task of rails split tomorrow I will hit you one hundred lashes.” The man told him he was doing all he could do and would die before he would take a single lick. I made it my business the next day to go after the cows about the time for him to go out; I saw him and four or five other men; he asked the rail splitter if he had his task completed. The man answered in the negative; he then ordered him to pull off his shirt, which the man did, then tied his pants around his waist with his suspenders. The reason the slaves would so readily pull off their shirts was so they could not have anything to hold them by, their flesh being moist they could not easily hold them. When his master told him to cross his hands he began to fight, knocking white men down as fast as they could come to him. Finally they made five or six other rail splitters, working near by, help take him. There were saw logs from five to six feet through, all round; some of the colored men caught him by the head and hands, while others had hold of his feet, and they bent him back over one of the saw-logs while he was fighting and cursing. His master seized the maul, which the man had been using to split rails with, and struck him across the abdomen; bent over in the position he was the lick sounded like a pop-gun, and the man’s intestines ran out, and he died across the log; murdered because he could not perform the task imposed upon him. These are some of the horrible deeds which have stained the pages of American history, and which it will take centuries to mitigate.
It was a common thing to hear the cries of the slaves all around on Monday morning. Some being whipped for one thing, some for another. Some were whipped for attending religious services on Sunday; some for going to frolics; sometimes a man’s wife was owned by other masters five or six miles away; they would slip-off after their work was done at night to see them; sometimes they would be late returning, so they would be whipped for that. There would be a perfect pandemonium around that community all the time.
I would often talk to Fannie about running away; she would plead with me and beg me not to, because it would be so lonesome for her, but there was a constant yearning in my soul for that freedom which God intended for all human beings. Ultimately, after a careful planning of the route to be taken and a survey of the country, as far as I had been over, I made up my mind to leave. One morning my master sent me to the field to gather corn. I carried a basket and two sacks, and at noon I was to fill them and hitch up the mule cart and bring them home. I got the corn ready and sat down in the corn row. I realized then for the first time that there must be some efficacy in prayer. My mother had taught me to get on my knees and say my prayers, as far back as I could remember, yet I never knew the power there was in prayer, until on this memorable morning, I knelt down in a corn row and prayed with that fervent, childlike simplicity for God in some way to get me hack to my mother or into Canada, or else let me die and go to heaven. The Queen of England had said that if the slaves could reach the shores of Canada she would protect them, if it took the whole navy of England to do so. While I was thus in prayer it seemed that all nature was in sympathy with me, for not even the rustling of the leaves could be heard. The only thing to break the monotony was the wooing of a turtle dove that sat in the branches of a distant tree, and seemed to he saying to me, “I am in deep sympathy with you.” Reasoning came to me as audibly as though some one was speaking to me, saying “you shall see your mother again.”
I became so much elated over this message, though received from an unseen power, that I jumped up and at once fully decided what course to take. Immediately I proceeded to put my decision into action, so I emptied the corn out of the two sacks and the basket; put the sacks in the basket on my arm and left that corn field with the full intention of going back to Richmond, Virginia.
It may seem strange to the reader that I would go back to this place of human misery; but I had learned from older men and women who had been sold to some poor man, that if they would run away and go back to their former master, and tell him “that your master was so mean that you could not live with him, and for this reason you had run away and come back to him,” nine times out of ten he would accept this piece of deception practiced by the slave, and compel the poor man to take his money back, believing that the negro thought more of him than of the man he had sold him to, and for this reason I was going back to Richmond, Virginia.
I went about seven or eight miles that day through the woods, and about dusk I came in sight of a cabin in the distance. I was satisfied this was the home of some old mother or father who had outlived the days of their usefulness, and was given a peck of meal each week and cast off to fish or hunt for the rest of their living. I was not disappointed, for I found an old woman eighty years old; it was hard to discover until she spoke whether she was white or slave. The first words the old lady said were, “Son, you is a runaway, aint you? I told her that I was, and she told me “the overseer haven’t been around yet cause dey aint done milking yit, but you take this path (as she pointed to a path) and follow it till you come to a log across de creek, with a fish box upon it; you sit there until you hear me singing this song, God has delivered Daniel, and why not deliver me?” She went into the house, while I went to the log mentioned. I sat there for three-quarters of an hour. I heard the milk maids while milking singing different melodies, then I heard the command of the overseer for them to take the cows to pasture, and in a short while I heard the feeble voice of the old mother as it rang out on the still, balmy air, singing:
He delivered Daniel from the lion’s den,
Jonah from the body of the whale,
The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace,
And why not deliver poor me?
Hold up your head with courage bold,
And do not be afraid;
For my God delivered Daniel,
And He will deliver poor you.
I started for the house and met her coming. We went into the cabin where she had prepared supper, and I assure you I enjoyed it. The supper consisted of boiled fresh fish and “ash cake.” As I ate she sat with her hands on my head, telling me how to get along in the world, and pointing me to that friend that sticketh closer than a brother. She repeatedly said, “if God be for you it is more than all the world against you.” She made me a pallet upon the floor, and I slept there until about three-thirty o’clock the next morning, when she awoke me and gave me breakfast of the same diet I had had the night previous for supper. She also gave me four or five onions, and told me upon the peril of my life, not to eat a single one of these onions, because they would make me sleepy and I would be liable to be caught. But she said negro hunters came along there every two or three hours in the day; and I learned for the first time how to decoy the blood hounds, for she told me whenever I heard the baying of hounds on my trail, to rub the onions on the bottoms of my feet and run, and after running a certain distance to stop and apply the onions again, then when I came to a large bushy tree, to rub the trunk as high up as I could reach, then climb the tree.
About four o’clock in the morning, at the old woman’s command, I knelt by her side, she placed her hand upon my head and prayed fervently for my safe return to Richmond, and that God would touch Massa Lee’s heart, that he might buy me back from my present owner. When she quit praying she told me that I would reach Richmond safely. She kissed me good bye, with tender, parting words, as a mother would her own son, and I left, with directions from her how to reach my intended destination. I had not gone far when an opportunity presented itself to test the efficacy of the onions, for about nine o’clock that day I heard the baying of the blood hounds in the distance behind me. I rubbed the onions on my feet as directed, and ran as fast as I could the distance of half a mile, when I repeated the application. I continued this process for about one mile and a half, going across the fields and through the woods, dodging the roads and farms where people were at work. I came to a thickly branched out tree in the woods. I rubbed onions on the trunk and climbed the tree. I could tell when the hounds came to the place where I first put the onions on my feet, because they would retrace their steps, until finally their voices died away, and I heard them no more that day. I traveled all of that day, and that night I slept in a low, swampy place between two huge logs, on some brush, with the two sacks over me which I took when I left the corn field. By daylight the next morning I started on my journey, but had not gone many miles when I came in sight of a river. I saw that I was not far from a house, and went close enough to see that a ford was near the house where they crossed the river. The white man who had charge of the ford lived in the house. So I knew I couldn’t get across the river without taking a boat, and that he wouldn’t hire me one without word from my master, therefore that necessitated my waiting until night, so I went back in the woods to wait.
I saw some colored men coming across the field and went to meet them, and learned through them their master’s name and three or four slaves that he owned, and name of a farmer on the other side of the river. They told me to go to the ferryman and tell him that Mr. Howard, my master, had sent me to take the basket and two sacks to Mr. Owens, who lived on the other side of the river. They told me that the ferryman would question me very minutely, but if he asked how long Mr. Howard had owned me to tell him he bought me from negro traders two weeks before – for traders had crossed there just two weeks ago with three or four hundred slaves. They then left me and told me to wait until they returned. I did so, but under great suspense, because one of the men belonged to a tribe of negroes known as the Guineas, who would divulge any secret for a little whiskey or wheat bread; therefore I was afraid I would be betrayed. But in a short time they returned, relieving me of the great suspense, and bringing me something to eat. They told me I was in an easy day’s walk of Richmond after I crossed the river; told me what to say to Massa Lee when I got back, but not to go into Richmond until after dark. They prayed an ardent prayer for God’s protection and guiding hand to go with me, and bade me good bye and God speed. I went to the ford, called out hello; the harsh voice of the ferryman cried out, “whose thar.” At the same time he was coming towards the river, I was fast rehearsing in my mind the story I was to tell him. When he got near me his first words were, “where in hell are you going this time of night?” I started to tell him that Mr. Howard had sent me to Mr. Owen’s to take the basket and sacks, but before I could finish telling him, he ordered me to pull off my hat: that he would teach me some manners if I came there talking to him with my hat on. He then asked how long Mr. Howard had owned me, at the same time flashing his lantern in my face. But when I told him he said, “yes, I remember seeing you in that gang; untie the boat.” He sat down and lit his pipe while I pulled the boat over. When we reached the other side he said “tie her up thar.” He looked at his watch and said “its a quarter up thar and a quarter back.” I’ll give you fifteen minutes each way, if you sent back in that time I’ll skin you alive.” If he’s waiting he is having a good long wait. I went on my way rejoicing and saying, as the little colored boy said who had been accustomed to climbing the ladder and sleeping in one of his mistress’s bed rooms when his master was not at home.
But one memorable night when he got to the bed he found old master was there, so he said. “may I, old master, may I?” Master said, “may you what, you black rascal, you.” Sambo as quick as lightning, said, “may I feed the little pigs with the big ones?” With an oath his master told him yes; for him to get out of there. Sambo was so much elated over his success that he said, as he started down the ladder, “wasn’t dat well turned?” The master hearing him, inquired “what’s that well turned?”
Sambo was ready again with an answer. He said, “my foot slipped and I fell twice around de ladder and cotched myself and didn’t fall yit.”
After crossing the river that night I went but a short distance, when I made me a bed in a shock of fodder. The next morning before daylight as I came out of the shock two more runaways came out of the shock ahead of me. When they saw me they ran as fast as they could go and I after them. They did not wait to see whether I was white or black. They ran across a large field, and came to a fence. One, a very tall man, put his hand on the top and vaulted over. The other one attempted to follow but fell back. By that time I had caught up with him. He asked me why I did not tell him I was colored. I replied, “I couldn’t cotch you.”
They were men who had been sold from Richmond and were now running away from their masters as I was, and trying to get back to Lee. They had with them plenty to eat, so we had about as good a time that day as runaways could have in the woods. Long before dusk we could see the
statue of, which stood at Richmond, Virginia, with a negro boy chained at its base, and Washington pointing with his right hand, saying, “take the negro south.” This very great man, who, with Hancock, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence, and said the colonies were and ought to be free, loosed them from the iron hand of Great Britain; and yet that was the inscription written on his statue, which adorned the public square of the once .
We hid around until dusk, when we went down to a spring and ate our lunch slaking our thirst from the clear cool water as it bubbled out from the spring, by lying flat down and lapping the water. I happened to be the first of the three to get up, and to my surprise there stood five negro hunters with their guns and revolvers pointing toward us. I said to my companions “here is some white men.” They said “whar.” Their eyes looked like great balls of cotton. The men commanded us to come to them. I can best illustrate how we appeared when we found out that we had been captured, by a cartoon which I once saw. The cartoon represented an old colored man who saw an opossum in a tree close to his house; he was so elated over the idea of possum and sweet potatoes that he climbed the tree. The possum jumped upon the limb the man was on, but it got between him and the trunk of the tree; the old man had his saw and began in earnest to saw the limb off, thinking of nothing but the possum; he said to his boy and dog below, “look out down dar, cause sumphin gwine to drap.” And “something did drap,” but it was the old man himself. Likewise, when we three looked up into the muzzles of the guns and revolvers we thought something was going to drop, and sure enough something did, for we dropped, each one of us in handcuffs, and we were marched into Richmond.
When we arrived at the negro trader’s pen, Mr Lee happened to be there. He wanted to know of the negro hunters where they found us; they told him. Then he began to interrogate each of us; I told him that “Massa Scott was so mean to me that I could not live with him, so I ran off and came back to you.” The other two men told the same kind of story; so Mr. Lee ordered the negro hunters to take the handcuffs off, and if they wanted to make money to go and find negroes that were not coming back to him. They, with their hats in their hands, the same as the slaves, began to form excuses, when Lee ordered them off the premises without any reward. Had we not been returning to Mr. Lee they would have been entitled to three dollars per head. According to the law they were entitled to it at any rate, for we were runaways, but they were poor men with low occupations and their word didn’t go as far as that of the slaves they were driving. One of the men he ordered locked up stairs, telling him that he had a good master, and if he behaved himself he would he treated all right. The man begged very hard not to be sent back, but his begging was all in vain. This man’s master was wealthy, while mine and the other man’s master were poor men, so he kept us and sent the other man back.
Mr. Lee told me that the man who had my mother had been there twice and wanted to buy me, and Scott, he said “was behind anyhow.” I think he meant that his second payment was overdue- – and he assured me that he shouldn’t have me back. Mr. Lee wrote a note and sent me to his own house. I met an old colored mammy at the gate. She asked me, “where is you gwine?” I said, “to see Miss Lee.” She said, “You look like gwine to see Miss Lee. Wha dat you got in your han?” I said, “a letter for her.” She said, “gin it to me.” She took the note, telling me to wait. Mrs. Lee raised the window and called me to come up. She asked about my parents, and said Mr. Scott should not take me back again. She told the colored mammy to take me and clean me up. When I got in the cabin I discovered it was wash day, for she had a kettle of hot water on the fire place. She took a couple of handfuls of soft soap out of the gourd and stirred it in the water. When she found I was not undressing she looked very much surprised and said, “gwine out of dem rags.” She scrubbed my back till my flesh burned. About the time she was through the sixteen-year old maid came in with clothing for me. I tried to hide behind the old mother. The girl threw the clothes down and ran out. I put the clothes on and stayed at the trader’s pen that evening. After that I was privileged to stay at the house, or pen, as I chose. I thought I was almost a free man, for I had on a pair of shoes, a nice suit of clothes and a large brass watch and chain.
Master Lee told me that a man named Jake Hadley, who lived in Greenville, Tennessee, had my mother, two brothers and a sister. He also said Mr. Hadley drove a big black horse so it seems that I thought there was only one black horse in all Virginia and that the Jew owned him; therefore I met with many disappointments. I waited and watched for more than a month for my new master to come, during which time I assisted Peter around the pen. Peter looked after the slaves, and did all the whipping. I cleaned the office and was errand boy. Most of my work was about the office. During the time I was there I saw thousands of slaves bought and sold. I saw one woman who had five children; she and two children, one a nursing baby, and a girl about eleven years old, were sold to negro traders, while the husband and the other three children were bought by a farmer who lived somewhere in east Virginia. The farmer went with the father and three children to see the mother and the other two children leave for Mississippi. As the boat pulled out from the shore and the husband and wife bade each other good bye, the woman, with one loud scream, made a sudden leap and landed in the deep water, with her baby clasped in her arms and the little girl handcuffed to her. She had preferred death to life separated from her husband and children. They were not picked up until the next day.
I saw another woman whipped seventy-five lashes on her bare back because she wouldn’t strip her clothing any further down than her waist, to be examined. They took her back the second time, but she fought them until they were compelled to leave her alone.