Narrative of Dan Josiah Lockhart (1856)


In The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada, published in 1856, Dan Josiah Lockhart, a formerly enslaved man, tells the story of his escape from slavery first to Pittsburgh, where his former owner attempted to kidnap him, and eventually to Canada, where his story was recorded. This narrative, along with other slave narratives, offer a composite portrait of authors’ self-styled personal stories. The amanuensis’ interests, lived experiences, and editing choices, as well as their social relations and expectations shaped the relationship and conversation with the authors. Although the narratives aren’t unmediated autobiographies, they are no less authentic and are just as fruitful a source for reconstructing historical experience.


I belonged in Frederick county, Va. I was sold at five years of age; and when I first saw my mother to know her, I had a wife and child. My business was to clean knives, forks, candlesticks, etc., until my mistress died, say when I was twelve or thirteen. My master remained a widower some time—say eighteen months,—when he married the daughter of a farmer, upon which he quit merchandise, and went on a small farm. The hands in a rainy day worked in the shop with tools. I was made overseer. The management was pretty much left to me. I would carry my gun down into a hollow, and have a book,—the children had taught me to read. Every thing worked pretty comfortably with me.

One of the women called me a liar. I punished her. My master took me to the granary to whip me,—he told me to take off my coat. Said I, “master, whip me with my coat on!” I prayed hard for him to whip me with my coat on. He did final whip me with my coat on, and slightly at that. He was an Irishman. He said he would whip me till I was as striped as a zaybra.

I was harder on the servants than he wanted I should be. At another time he undertook to whip me, and I told him I would leave him if he did. I had my mind on my wife, Maria. She was sold to a man in Winchester, eight miles. This was too far,—so I wanted to be sold. He said if he sold me, he would sell me where I would never see her. At this time I was studying divinity, having met with a change of heart. I took my books and started off in daytime. I went on five miles,—then I met Mr.——, who asked me where I was going. I told him I was sold. He persuaded me back. I was thinking of trying to be free. Mr.——said he would buy me. I told him, “I will do the best I can for you.” He slapped his hand on his pocket and said, “I’ve got the money in my pocket for you.” He then rode forward to see my master. The bargain was made there, and money paid to——, a Methodist preacher. Mr.——took me, and southern traders who came for me were too late. I lived with my new master three years and two months. Then he whipped my wife and children,—(I had now ten children by Maria). I could not stand this abuse of them, and so I made up my mind to leave. I told my wife so. She said she was afraid they would catch me and bring me back and—-you know what then.

It was in the year 1847, that I made my escape. My master had gone to Philadelphia. I told my mistress that my father was sick, and she gave me permission to go and see him. Between two and three o’clock next morning, Sunday, I got up and dressed myself to leave. One of my little children came to me when I had stepped out. Said I, “Jane, where are you going?” “Daddy, I’m looking for you.” My feelings were very tender at the time. I took her up in my arms, and carried her and laid her back in the bed with her mother and the other child, Julia. I sat down and waited till they were all asleep; I then got up, looked at the mother and the two little children,—said “Farewell!” and started on my journey.

The night previous I had got some meat and bread, and had taken my master’s saddle-bags, cramming both ends full of provisions. By daybreak I was out of the neighborhood of the folks that knew me…

When I reached the Potomac River, the ferry-boat had left the shore for the last time. I sung out “Ferry, ahoy!” They put about and came for me. I got in and seated myself with a colored man and white man. I inquired the damage for crossing? Ferryman said “Fippenny bit.” I gave him a ten cent piece, and told him may be I’d be passing again, and he could make it right next time. The colored man asked me, “Are you a free man?” It staggered me at first to think that a colored man should ask me that question. The white man reproved him. “What the d—l do you ask that question for? Do you think a man dressed like him can be a runaway?” I got across safely.

…[Some highly interesting portions of Lockhart’s narrative are omitted from prudential considerations.]

I got employment in Pittsburg, but my mind being uneasy, I wrote to a friend to tell my wife that I was there, and assuring her of my continued affection. My old master got hold of this letter, and so pursued me with two officer, K—- and J——, with a bill of sale specifying the sum paid for me. They secured themselves in Crawson’s Hotel, Pittsburg,—-set the r trap, baited their hook, put out a reward of one hundred and fifty dollars for my arrest. One very smart gentleman came down to Diamond Square,—-I was there looking at a busy knife-grinder with a crowd, under the pretence that he wished me to carry a trunk—told me he would give me a quarter of a dollar for it. I went to the place where he directed me, expecting to find the trunk,—-went to the Monongahela House,—he conducted me up stairs: going down the hall, to a lady, sweeping, he says; “Where is the 160th room?” “Yes, that middle door.” “Sure enough,” said he,—-then to me, “Open the door, and bring out my trunk.” However, he opened the door,—when lo! Up jumped the old man! He gave me a pat on the shoulder,—”Hallo, Dan! Don’t you want to go back and see your wife and children?” I said nothing,—I couldn’t say anything. Then came up K. and J. to me,—”Dan, you’ve got the best master in Virginia,—and come, go back with me.” The old man then left the room and went away. I began to feel like speaking—had a watch in my pocket,—I put my hand to it, to see if it was safe, and K. said, “Dan, you needn’t do that,—we knew you’d fight, but we’ve come prepared to take you—don’t want to hurt you.” This was on a Friday, between eleven and twelve o’clock, A. M. Said I, “Gentlemen,”—this was the first time I had spoken, and I called no name,—-“let me go; you have no business with me here.” This was all out in the hall; they had irons in the room, but they couldn’t get me in there. We were now engaged very smartly for a time, each man for himself. The noise reached the people in the house, and some of the servants came up to see what was the trouble; I called them,—”Come to me;” some of them were colored, but being alarmed, they did not interfere. I spoke out,—”You go to John—-, and tell him that I am in trouble here; that I am in kidnappers’ hands.” In a short time, the landlord came up stairs. Says he to the officers, “This man has got to go down, or there’ll be bloodshed here,—-it will ruin my house to have the word go abroad that there are kidnappers here.” By this time John—-, Peter——, Hadley—-, and old Uncle Sammy—-, had marshalled a troop; they came and surrounded Crawson’s Hotel, started in, and came up the stairs. I was hollowing “murder!” and “fire!” being in the hands of K. and J. I said to the colored men,—-“I thought I had friends in Pittsburg.” They answered,—”Mr. Lockhart, you have friends,—we did not know you were here until just now.” John—- and Peter——took hold of me, and told K——to let go. He answered,—”You let go—if you don’t I’ll shoot you.” Peter—- said,—-“We are going to get K. and J. in where your master is,—he is safe.” They were arrested and tried for breaking the peace of the city, so it was told me. Some new act had been passed, and the judge wanted some time to see how it differed from the former law. On Monday afternoon he decided that there was no violence on the part of the whites, but that the colored men had been seen to knock down some persons; that my master had a right to take me; and that K—- and J—- had acted in discharge of their duty as officers. I was told on Tuesday morning how the law was, and that I could be carried back if I remained in the United States. I then started off for Canada by the underground railroad…

My work is as hard here as it was in slavery. The hardest thing in slavery is not the work,—it is the abuse of a man, and, in my case, of a man’s wife and children. They were not punished severely,—but I did not want her whipped—I don’t want any man to meddle with my wife,—I bothered her enough, and didn’t want anybody else to trouble her at all. It is ignorance that keeps the slaves there. I was told before I left Virginia,—- have heard it as common talk, that the wild geese were so numerous in Canada, and so bad, that they would scratch a man’s eyes out; that corn wouldn’t grow there, nor anything else but rice; that every thing they had there was imported.

I attended a church for colored people in Virginia, and had good privileges in religion. The children showed me to read and write.

The slave narrative of Dan Josiah Lockhart is published in The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada.
APA Citation:
Lockhart, Dan. Narrative of Dan Josiah Lockhart (1856). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Lockhart, Dan. "Narrative of Dan Josiah Lockhart (1856)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 20 May. 2024
Last updated: 2022, July 29
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