Wednesday, October 10, 2007



_By a principle essential to Christianity, a PERSON is eternally
differenced from a THING; so that the idea of a HUMAN BEING,
necessarily excludes the idea of PROPERTY IN THAT BEING_.
Entered according to Act of Congress in 1855 by Frederick
Douglass in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the
Northern District of New York
A Small but most Sincere Acknowledgement of
This Volume is Respectfully Dedicated,
EDITORS PREFACE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
I--CHILDHOOD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
II--REMOVED FROM MY FIRST HOME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
III--PARENTAGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
VII--LIFE IN THE GREAT HOUSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
VIII--A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
IX--PERSONAL TREATMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .101
X--LIFE IN BALTIMORE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111
XI--"A CHANGE CAME O'ER THE SPIRIT OF MY DREAM". . . . . . . . . . .118
XII--RELIGIOUS NATURE AWAKENED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127
XIII--THE VICISSITUDES OF SLAVE LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .135
XIV--EXPERIENCE IN ST. MICHAEL'S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .144
XV--COVEY, THE NEGRO BREAKER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .159
XVI--ANOTHER PRESSURE OF THE TYRANTS VICE. . . . . . . . . . . . . .172
XVII--THE LAST FLOCCING. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .180
XVIII--NEW RELATIONS AND DUTIES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .194
XIX--THE RUN-AWAY PLOT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .209
XX--APPRENTICESHIP LIFE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .235
XXI--MY ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .248
XXII--LIBERTY ATTAINED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .261
XXIII--INTRODUCED TO THE ABOLITIONISTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .278
XXIV--TWENTY-ONE MONTHS IN GREAT BRITAIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . .284
XXV--VARIOUS INCIDENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .304
RECEPTION SPEECH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .318
LETTER TO HIS OLD MASTER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .330
THE NATURE OF SLAVERY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .337
INHUMANITY OF SLAVERY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .343
WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS THE FOURTH OF JULY? . . . . . . . . . . . . . .349
THE INTERNAL SLAVE TRADE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .354
THE SLAVERY PARTY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .358
THE ANTI-SLAVERY MOVEMENT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .363
If the volume now presented to the public were a mere work of
ART, the history of its misfortune might be written in two very
simple words--TOO LATE. The nature and character of slavery have
been subjects of an almost endless variety of artistic
representation; and after the brilliant achievements in that
field, and while those achievements are yet fresh in the memory
of the million, he who would add another to the legion, must
possess the charm of transcendent excellence, or apologize for
something worse than rashness. The reader is, therefore,
assured, with all due promptitude, that his attention is not
invited to a work of ART, but to a work of FACTS--Facts, terrible
and almost incredible, it may be yet FACTS, nevertheless.
I am authorized to say that there is not a fictitious name nor
place in the whole volume; but that names and places are
literally given, and that every transaction therein described
actually transpired.
Perhaps the best Preface to this volume is furnished in the
following letter of Mr. Douglass, written in answer to my urgent
solicitation for such a work:
ROCHESTER, N. Y. _July_ 2, 1855.
DEAR FRIEND: I have long entertained, as you very well know, a
somewhat positive repugnance to writing or speaking anything for
the public, which could, with any degree of plausibilty, make me
liable to the imputation of seeking personal notoriety, for its
own sake. Entertaining that feeling very sincerely, and
permitting its control, perhaps, quite unreasonably, I have often
<2>refused to narrate my personal experience in public antislavery
meetings, and in sympathizing circles, when urged to do
so by friends, with whose views and wishes, ordinarily, it were a
pleasure to comply. In my letters and speeches, I have generally
aimed to discuss the question of Slavery in the light of
fundamental principles, and upon facts, notorious and open to
all; making, I trust, no more of the fact of my own former
enslavement, than circumstances seemed absolutely to require. I
have never placed my opposition to slavery on a basis so narrow
as my own enslavement, but rather upon the indestructible and
unchangeable laws of human nature, every one of which is
perpetually and flagrantly violated by the slave system. I have
also felt that it was best for those having histories worth the
writing--or supposed to be so--to commit such work to hands other
than their own. To write of one's self, in such a manner as not
to incur the imputation of weakness, vanity, and egotism, is a
work within the ability of but few; and I have little reason to
believe that I belong to that fortunate few.
These considerations caused me to hesitate, when first you kindly
urged me to prepare for publication a full account of my life as
a slave, and my life as a freeman.
Nevertheless, I see, with you, many reasons for regarding my
autobiography as exceptional in its character, and as being, in
some sense, naturally beyond the reach of those reproaches which
honorable and sensitive minds dislike to incur. It is not to
illustrate any heroic achievements of a man, but to vindicate a
just and beneficent principle, in its application to the whole
human family, by letting in the light of truth upon a system,
esteemed by some as a blessing, and by others as a curse and a
crime. I agree with you, that this system is now at the bar of
public opinion--not only of this country, but of the whole
civilized world--for judgment. Its friends have made for it the
usual plea--"not guilty;" the case must, therefore, proceed. Any
facts, either from slaves, slaveholders, or by-standers,
calculated to enlighten the public mind, by revealing the true
nature, character, and tendency of the slave system, are in
order, and can scarcely be innocently withheld.
I see, too, that there are special reasons why I should write my
own biography, in preference to employing another to do it. Not
only is slavery on trial, but unfortunately, the enslaved people
are also on trial. It is alleged, that they are, naturally,
inferior; that they are _so low_ in the scale of humanity, and so
utterly stupid, that they are unconscious of their wrongs, and do
not apprehend their rights. Looking, then, at your request, from
this stand-point, and wishing everything of which you think me
capable to go to the benefit of my afflicted people, I part with
my doubts and hesitation, and proceed to furnish you the desired
manuscript; hoping that you may be able to make such arrangements
for its publication as shall be best adapted to accomplish that
good which you so enthusiastically anticipate.
There was little necessity for doubt and hesitation on the part
of Mr. Douglass, as to the propriety of his giving to the world a
full account of himself. A man who was born and brought up in
slavery, a living witness of its horrors; who often himself
experienced its cruelties; and who, despite the depressing
influences surrounding his birth, youth and manhood, has risen,
from a dark and almost absolute obscurity, to the distinguished
position which he now occupies, might very well assume the
existence of a commendable curiosity, on the part of the public,
to know the facts of his remarkable history.
When a man raises himself from the lowest condition in society to
the highest, mankind pay him the tribute of their admiration;
when he accomplishes this elevation by native energy, guided by
prudence and wisdom, their admiration is increased; but when his
course, onward and upward, excellent in itself, furthermore
proves a possible, what had hitherto been regarded as an
impossible, reform, then he becomes a burning and a shining
light, on which the aged may look with gladness, the young with
hope, and the down-trodden, as a representative of what they may
themselves become. To such a man, dear reader, it is my
privilege to introduce you.
The life of Frederick Douglass, recorded in the pages which
follow, is not merely an example of self-elevation under the most
adverse circumstances; it is, moreover, a noble vindication of
the highest aims of the American anti-slavery movement. The real
object of that movement is not only to disenthrall, it is, also,
to bestow upon the Negro the exercise of all those rights, from
the possession of which he has been so long debarred.
But this full recognition of the colored man to the right, and
the entire admission of the same to the full privileges,
political, religious and social, of manhood, requires powerful
effort on the part of the enthralled, as well as on the part of
those who would disenthrall them. The people at large must feel
the conviction, as well as admit the abstract logic, of human
equality; <5>the Negro, for the first time in the world's
history, brought in full contact with high civilization, must
prove his title first to all that is demanded for him; in the
teeth of unequal chances, he must prove himself equal to the mass
of those who oppress him--therefore, absolutely superior to his
apparent fate, and to their relative ability. And it is most
cheering to the friends of freedom, today, that evidence of this
equality is rapidly accumulating, not from the ranks of the halffreed
colored people of the free states, but from the very depths
of slavery itself; the indestructible equality of man to man is
demonstrated by the ease with which black men, scarce one remove
from barbarism--if slavery can be honored with such a
distinction--vault into the high places of the most advanced and
painfully acquired civilization. Ward and Garnett, Wells Brown
and Pennington, Loguen and Douglass, are banners on the outer
wall, under which abolition is fighting its most successful
battles, because they are living exemplars of the practicability
of the most radical abolitionism; for, they were all of them born
to the doom of slavery, some of them remained slaves until adult
age, yet they all have not only won equality to their white
fellow citizens, in civil, religious, political and social rank,
but they have also illustrated and adorned our common country by
their genius, learning and eloquence.
The characteristics whereby Mr. Douglass has won first rank among
these remarkable men, and is still rising toward highest rank
among living Americans, are abundantly laid bare in the book
before us. Like the autobiography of Hugh Miller, it carries us
so far back into early childhood, as to throw light upon the
question, "when positive and persistent memory begins in the
human being." And, like Hugh Miller, he must have been a shy
old-fashioned child, occasionally oppressed by what he could not
well account for, peering and poking about among the layers of
right and wrong, of tyrant and thrall, and the wonderfulness of
that hopeless tide of things which brought power to one race, and
unrequited toil to another, until, finally, he stumbled upon
<6>his "first-found Ammonite," hidden away down in the depths of
his own nature, and which revealed to him the fact that liberty
and right, for all men, were anterior to slavery and wrong. When
his knowledge of the world was bounded by the visible horizon on
Col. Lloyd's plantation, and while every thing around him bore a
fixed, iron stamp, as if it had always been so, this was, for one
so young, a notable discovery.
To his uncommon memory, then, we must add a keen and accurate
insight into men and things; an original breadth of common sense
which enabled him to see, and weigh, and compare whatever passed
before him, and which kindled a desire to search out and define
their relations to other things not so patent, but which never
succumbed to the marvelous nor the supernatural; a sacred thirst
for liberty and for learning, first as a means of attaining
liberty, then as an end in itself most desirable; a will; an
unfaltering energy and determination to obtain what his soul
pronounced desirable; a majestic self-hood; determined courage; a
deep and agonizing sympathy with his embruted, crushed and
bleeding fellow slaves, and an extraordinary depth of passion,
together with that rare alliance between passion and intellect,
which enables the former, when deeply roused, to excite, develop
and sustain the latter.
With these original gifts in view, let us look at his schooling;
the fearful discipline through which it pleased God to prepare
him for the high calling on which he has since entered--the
advocacy of emancipation by the people who are not slaves. And
for this special mission, his plantation education was better
than any he could have acquired in any lettered school. What he
needed, was facts and experiences, welded to acutely wrought up
sympathies, and these he could not elsewhere have obtained, in a
manner so peculiarly adapted to his nature. His physical being
was well trained, also, running wild until advanced into boyhood;
hard work and light diet, thereafter, and a skill in handicraft
in youth.
For his special mission, then, this was, considered in connection
with his natural gifts, a good schooling; and, for his special
mission, he doubtless "left school" just at the proper moment.
Had he remained longer in slavery--had he fretted under bonds
until the ripening of manhood and its passions, until the drear
agony of slave-wife and slave-children had been piled upon his
already bitter experiences--then, not only would his own history
have had another termination, but the drama of American slavery
would have been essentially varied; for I cannot resist the
belief, that the boy who learned to read and write as he did, who
taught his fellow slaves these precious acquirements as he did,
who plotted for their mutual escape as he did, would, when a man
at bay, strike a blow which would make slavery reel and stagger.
Furthermore, blows and insults he bore, at the moment, without
resentment; deep but suppressed emotion rendered him insensible
to their sting; but it was afterward, when the memory of them
went seething through his brain, breeding a fiery indignation at
his injured self-hood, that the resolve came to resist, and the
time fixed when to resist, and the plot laid, how to resist; and
he always kept his self-pledged word. In what he undertook, in
this line, he looked fate in the face, and had a cool, keen look
at the relation of means to ends. Henry Bibb, to avoid
chastisement, strewed his master's bed with charmed leaves and
_was whipped_. Frederick Douglass quietly pocketed a like
_fetiche_, compared his muscles with those of Covey--and _whipped
In the history of his life in bondage, we find, well developed,
that inherent and continuous energy of character which will ever
render him distinguished. What his hand found to do, he did with
his might; even while conscious that he was wronged out of his
daily earnings, he worked, and worked hard. At his daily labor
he went with a will; with keen, well set eye, brawny chest, lithe
figure, and fair sweep of arm, he would have been king among
calkers, had that been his mission.
It must not be overlooked, in this glance at his education, that
<8>Mr. Douglass lacked one aid to which so many men of mark have
been deeply indebted--he had neither a mother's care, nor a
mother's culture, save that which slavery grudgingly meted out to
him. Bitter nurse! may not even her features relax with human
feeling, when she gazes at such offspring! How susceptible he
was to the kindly influences of mother-culture, may be gathered
from his own words, on page 57: "It has been a life-long
standing grief to me, that I know so little of my mother, and
that I was so early separated from her. The counsels of her love
must have been beneficial to me. The side view of her face is
imaged on my memory, and I take few steps in life, without
feeling her presence; but the image is mute, and I have no
striking words of hers treasured up."
From the depths of chattel slavery in Maryland, our author
escaped into the caste-slavery of the north, in New Bedford,
Massachusetts. Here he found oppression assuming another, and
hardly less bitter, form; of that very handicraft which the greed
of slavery had taught him, his half-freedom denied him the
exercise for an honest living; he found himself one of a class--
free colored men--whose position he has described in the
following words:
"Aliens are we in our native land. The fundamental principles of
the republic, to which the humblest white man, whether born here
or elsewhere, may appeal with confidence, in the hope of
awakening a favorable response, are held to be inapplicable to
us. The glorious doctrines of your revolutionary fathers, and
the more glorious teachings of the Son of God, are construed and
applied against us. We are literally scourged beyond the
beneficent range of both authorities, human and divine. * * * *
American humanity hates us, scorns us, disowns and denies, in a
thousand ways, our very personality. The outspread wing of
American christianity, apparently broad enough to give shelter to
a perishing world, refuses to cover us. To us, its bones are
brass, and its features iron. In running thither for shelter and
<9>succor, we have only fled from the hungry blood-hound to the
devouring wolf--from a corrupt and selfish world, to a hollow and
hypocritical church."--_Speech before American and Foreign Anti-
Slavery Society, May_, 1854.
Four years or more, from 1837 to 1841, he struggled on, in New
Bedford, sawing wood, rolling casks, or doing what labor he
might, to support himself and young family; four years he brooded
over the scars which slavery and semi-slavery had inflicted upon
his body and soul; and then, with his wounds yet unhealed, he
fell among the Garrisonians--a glorious waif to those most ardent
reformers. It happened one day, at Nantucket, that he,
diffidently and reluctantly, was led to address an anti-slavery
meeting. He was about the age when the younger Pitt entered the
House of Commons; like Pitt, too, he stood up a born orator.
William Lloyd Garrison, who was happily present, writes thus of
Mr. Douglass' maiden effort; "I shall never forget his first
speech at the convention--the extraordinary emotion it excited in
my own mind--the powerful impression it created upon a crowded
auditory, completely taken by surprise. * * * I think I never
hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my
perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it on
the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clear
than ever. There stood one in physical proportions and stature
commanding and exact--in intellect richly endowed--in natural
eloquence a prodigy."[1]
It is of interest to compare Mr. Douglass's account of this
meeting with Mr. Garrison's. Of the two, I think the latter the
most correct. It must have been a grand burst of eloquence! The
pent up agony, indignation and pathos of an abused and harrowed
boyhood and youth, bursting out in all their freshness and
overwhelming earnestness!
This unique introduction to its great leader, led immediately
[1] Letter, Introduction to _Life of Frederick Douglass_, Boston,
<10>to the employment of Mr. Douglass as an agent by the American
Anti-Slavery Society. So far as his self-relying and independent
character would permit, he became, after the strictest sect, a
Garrisonian. It is not too much to say, that he formed a
complement which they needed, and they were a complement equally
necessary to his "make-up." With his deep and keen sensitiveness
to wrong, and his wonderful memory, he came from the land of
bondage full of its woes and its evils, and painting them in
characters of living light; and, on his part, he found, told out
in sound Saxon phrase, all those principles of justice and right
and liberty, which had dimly brooded over the dreams of his
youth, seeking definite forms and verbal expression. It must
have been an electric flashing of thought, and a knitting of
soul, granted to but few in this life, and will be a life-long
memory to those who participated in it. In the society,
moreover, of Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy, William Lloyd
Garrison, and other men of earnest faith and refined culture, Mr.
Douglass enjoyed the high advantage of their assistance and
counsel in the labor of self-culture, to which he now addressed
himself with wonted energy. Yet, these gentlemen, although proud
of Frederick Douglass, failed to fathom, and bring out to the
light of day, the highest qualities of his mind; the force of
their own education stood in their own way: they did not delve
into the mind of a colored man for capacities which the pride of
race led them to believe to be restricted to their own Saxon
blood. Bitter and vindictive sarcasm, irresistible mimicry, and
a pathetic narrative of his own experiences of slavery, were the
intellectual manifestations which they encouraged him to exhibit
on the platform or in the lecture desk.
A visit to England, in 1845, threw Mr. Douglass among men and
women of earnest souls and high culture, and who, moreover, had
never drank of the bitter waters of American caste. For the
first time in his life, he breathed an atmosphere congenial to
the longings of his spirit, and felt his manhood free and
<11>unrestricted. The cordial and manly greetings of the British
and Irish audiences in public, and the refinement and elegance of
the social circles in which he mingled, not only as an equal, but
as a recognized man of genius, were, doubtless, genial and
pleasant resting places in his hitherto thorny and troubled
journey through life. There are joys on the earth, and, to the
wayfaring fugitive from American slavery or American caste, this
is one of them.
But his sojourn in England was more than a joy to Mr. Douglass.
Like the platform at Nantucket, it awakened him to the
consciousness of new powers that lay in him. From the pupilage
of Garrisonism he rose to the dignity of a teacher and a thinker;
his opinions on the broader aspects of the great American
question were earnestly and incessantly sought, from various
points of view, and he must, perforce, bestir himself to give
suitable answer. With that prompt and truthful perception which
has led their sisters in all ages of the world to gather at the
feet and support the hands of reformers, the gentlewomen of
England[2] were foremost to encourage and strengthen him to carve
out for himself a path fitted to his powers and energies, in the
life-battle against slavery and caste to which he was pledged.
And one stirring thought, inseparable from the British idea of
the evangel of freedom, must have smote his ear from every side--
_ Hereditary bondmen! know ye not
Who would be free, themselves mast strike the blow?_
The result of this visit was, that on his return to the United
States, he established a newspaper. This proceeding was sorely
against the wishes and the advice of the leaders of the American
Anti-Slavery Society, but our author had fully grown up to the
conviction of a truth which they had once promulged, but now
[2] One of these ladies, impelled by the same noble spirit which
carried Miss Nightingale to Scutari, has devoted her time, her
untiring energies, to a great extent her means, and her high
literary abilities, to the advancement and support of Frederick
Douglass' Paper, the only organ of the downtrodden, edited and
published by one of themselves, in the United States.
<12>forgotten, to wit: that in their own elevation--selfelevation--
colored men have a blow to strike "on their own hook,"
against slavery and caste. Differing from his Boston friends in
this matter, diffident in his own abilities, reluctant at their
dissuadings, how beautiful is the loyalty with which he still
clung to their principles in all things else, and even in this.
Now came the trial hour. Without cordial support from any large
body of men or party on this side the Atlantic, and too far
distant in space and immediate interest to expect much more,
after the much already done, on the other side, he stood up,
almost alone, to the arduous labor and heavy expenditure of
editor and lecturer. The Garrison party, to which he still
adhered, did not want a _colored_ newspaper--there was an odor of
_caste_ about it; the Liberty party could hardly be expected to
give warm support to a man who smote their principles as with a
hammer; and the wide gulf which separated the free colored people
from the Garrisonians, also separated them from their brother,
Frederick Douglass.
The arduous nature of his labors, from the date of the
establishment of his paper, may be estimated by the fact, that
anti-slavery papers in the United States, even while organs of,
and when supported by, anti-slavery parties, have, with a single
exception, failed to pay expenses. Mr. Douglass has maintained,
and does maintain, his paper without the support of any party,
and even in the teeth of the opposition of those from whom he had
reason to expect counsel and encouragement. He has been
compelled, at one and the same time, and almost constantly,
during the past seven years, to contribute matter to its columns
as editor, and to raise funds for its support as lecturer. It is
within bounds to say, that he has expended twelve thousand
dollars of his own hard earned money, in publishing this paper, a
larger sum than has been contributed by any one individual for
the general advancement of the colored people. There had been
many other papers published and edited by colored men, beginning
as far back as <13>1827, when the Rev. Samuel E. Cornish and John
B. Russworm (a graduate of Bowdoin college, and afterward
Governor of Cape Palmas) published the _Freedom's Journal_, in
New York City; probably not less than one hundred newspaper
enterprises have been started in the United States, by free
colored men, born free, and some of them of liberal education and
fair talents for this work; but, one after another, they have
fallen through, although, in several instances, anti-slavery
friends contributed to their support.[3] It had almost been
given up, as an impracticable thing, to maintain a colored
newspaper, when Mr. Douglass, with fewest early advantages of all
his competitors, essayed, and has proved the thing perfectly
practicable, and, moreover, of great public benefit. This paper,
in addition to its power in holding up the hands of those to whom
it is especially devoted, also affords irrefutable evidence of
the justice, safety and practicability of Immediate Emancipation;
it further proves the immense loss which slavery inflicts on the
land while it dooms such energies as his to the hereditary
degradation of slavery.
It has been said in this Introduction, that Mr. Douglass had
raised himself by his own efforts to the highest position in
society. As a successful editor, in our land, he occupies this
position. Our editors rule the land, and he is one of them. As
an orator and thinker, his position is equally high, in the
opinion of his countrymen. If a stranger in the United States
would seek its most distinguished men--the movers of public
opinion--he will find their names mentioned, and their movements
chronicled, under the head of "BY MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH, in the
daily papers. The keen caterers for the public attention, set
down, in this column, such men only as have won high mark in the
public esteem. During the past winter--1854-5--very frequent
mention of Frederick Douglass was made under this head in the
daily papers; his name glided as often--this week from Chicago,
[3] Mr. Stephen Myers, of Albany, deserves mention as one of the
most persevering among the colored editorial fraternity.
<14>week from Boston--over the lightning wires, as the name of
any other man, of whatever note. To no man did the people more
widely nor more earnestly say, _"Tell me thy thought!"_ And,
somehow or other, revolution seemed to follow in his wake. His
were not the mere words of eloquence which Kossuth speaks of,
that delight the ear and then pass away. No! They were _work_-
able, _do_-able words, that brought forth fruits in the
revolution in Illinois, and in the passage of the franchise
resolutions by the Assembly of New York.
And the secret of his power, what is it? He is a Representative
American man--a type of his countrymen. Naturalists tell us that
a full grown man is a resultant or representative of all animated
nature on this globe; beginning with the early embryo state, then
representing the lowest forms of organic life,[4] and passing
through every subordinate grade or type, until he reaches the
last and highest--manhood. In like manner, and to the fullest
extent, has Frederick Douglass passed through every gradation of
rank comprised in our national make-up, and bears upon his person
and upon his soul every thing that is American. And he has not
only full sympathy with every thing American; his proclivity or
bent, to active toil and visible progress, are in the strictly
national direction, delighting to outstrip "all creation."
Nor have the natural gifts, already named as his, lost anything
by his severe training. When unexcited, his mental processes are
probably slow, but singularly clear in perception, and wide in
vision, the unfailing memory bringing up all the facts in their
every aspect; incongruities he lays hold of incontinently, and
holds up on the edge of his keen and telling wit. But this wit
never descends to frivolity; it is rigidly in the keeping of his
truthful common sense, and always used in illustration or proof
of some point which could not so readily be reached any other
way. "Beware of a Yankee when he is feeding," is a shaft that
strikes home
[4] The German physiologists have even discovered vegetable
matter--starch--in the human body. See _Med. Chirurgical Rev_.,
Oct., 1854, p. 339.
<15>in a matter never so laid bare by satire before. "The
Garrisonian views of disunion, if carried to a successful issue,
would only place the people of the north in the same relation to
American slavery which they now bear to the slavery of Cuba or
the Brazils," is a statement, in a few words, which contains the
result and the evidence of an argument which might cover pages,
but could not carry stronger conviction, nor be stated in less
pregnable form. In proof of this, I may say, that having been
submitted to the attention of the Garrisonians in print, in
March, it was repeated before them at their business meeting in
May--the platform, _par excellence_, on which they invite free
fight, _a l'outrance_, to all comers. It was given out in the
clear, ringing tones, wherewith the hall of shields was wont to
resound of old, yet neither Garrison, nor Phillips, nor May, nor
Remond, nor Foster, nor Burleigh, with his subtle steel of "the
ice brook's temper," ventured to break a lance upon it! The
doctrine of the dissolution of the Union, as a means for the
abolition of American slavery, was silenced upon the lips that
gave it birth, and in the presence of an array of defenders who
compose the keenest intellects in the land.
_"The man who is right is a majority"_ is an aphorism struck out
by Mr. Douglass in that great gathering of the friends of
freedom, at Pittsburgh, in 1852, where he towered among the
highest, because, with abilities inferior to none, and moved more
deeply than any, there was neither policy nor party to trammel
the outpourings of his soul. Thus we find, opposed to all
disadvantages which a black man in the United States labors and
struggles under, is this one vantage ground--when the chance
comes, and the audience where he may have a say, he stands forth
the freest, most deeply moved and most earnest of all men.
It has been said of Mr. Douglass, that his descriptive and
declamatory powers, admitted to be of the very highest order,
take precedence of his logical force. Whilst the schools might
have trained him to the exhibition of the formulas of deductive
<16>logic, nature and circumstances forced him into the exercise
of the higher faculties required by induction. The first ninety
pages of this "Life in Bondage," afford specimens of observing,
comparing, and careful classifying, of such superior character,
that it is difficult to believe them the results of a child's
thinking; he questions the earth, and the children and the slaves
around him again and again, and finally looks to _"God in the
sky"_ for the why and the wherefore of the unnatural thing,
slavery. _"Yes, if indeed thou art, wherefore dost thou suffer
us to be slain?"_ is the only prayer and worship of the Godforsaken
Dodos in the heart of Africa. Almost the same was his
prayer. One of his earliest observations was that white children
should know their ages, while the colored children were ignorant
of theirs; and the songs of the slaves grated on his inmost soul,
because a something told him that harmony in sound, and music of
the spirit, could not consociate with miserable degradation.
To such a mind, the ordinary processes of logical deduction are
like proving that two and two make four. Mastering the
intermediate steps by an intuitive glance, or recurring to them
as Ferguson resorted to geometry, it goes down to the deeper
relation of things, and brings out what may seem, to some, mere
statements, but which are new and brilliant generalizations, each
resting on a broad and stable basis. Thus, Chief Justice
Marshall gave his decisions, and then told Brother Story to look
up the authorities--and they never differed from him. Thus,
also, in his "Lecture on the Anti-Slavery Movement," delivered
before the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, Mr. Douglass
presents a mass of thought, which, without any showy display of
logic on his part, requires an exercise of the reasoning
faculties of the reader to keep pace with him. And his "Claims
of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," is full of new and fresh
thoughts on the dawning science of race-history.
If, as has been stated, his intellection is slow, when unexcited,
it is most prompt and rapid when he is thoroughly aroused.
<17>Memory, logic, wit, sarcasm, invective pathos and bold
imagery of rare structural beauty, well up as from a copious
fountain, yet each in its proper place, and contributing to form
a whole, grand in itself, yet complete in the minutest
proportions. It is most difficult to hedge him in a corner, for
his positions are taken so deliberately, that it is rare to find
a point in them undefended aforethought. Professor Reason tells
me the following: "On a recent visit of a public nature, to
Philadelphia, and in a meeting composed mostly of his colored
brethren, Mr. Douglass proposed a comparison of views in the
matters of the relations and duties of `our people;' he holding
that prejudice was the result of condition, and could be
conquered by the efforts of the degraded themselves. A gentleman
present, distinguished for logical acumen and subtlety, and who
had devoted no small portion of the last twenty-five years to the
study and elucidation of this very question, held the opposite
view, that prejudice is innate and unconquerable. He terminated
a series of well dove-tailed, Socratic questions to Mr. Douglass,
with the following: `If the legislature at Harrisburgh should
awaken, to-morrow morning, and find each man's skin turned black
and his hair woolly, what could they do to remove prejudice?'
`Immediately pass laws entitling black men to all civil,
political and social privileges,' was the instant reply--and the
questioning ceased."
The most remarkable mental phenomenon in Mr. Douglass, is his
style in writing and speaking. In March, 1855, he delivered an
address in the assembly chamber before the members of the
legislature of the state of New York. An eye witness[5]
describes the crowded and most intelligent audience, and their
rapt attention to the speaker, as the grandest scene he ever
witnessed in the capitol. Among those whose eyes were riveted on
the speaker full two hours and a half, were Thurlow Weed and
Lieutenant Governor Raymond; the latter, at the conclusion of the
address, exclaimed to a friend, "I would give twenty thousand
[5] Mr. Wm. H. Topp, of Albany.
<18>if I could deliver that address in that manner." Mr. Raymond
is a first class graduate of Dartmouth, a rising politician,
ranking foremost in the legislature; of course, his ideal of
oratory must be of the most polished and finished description.
The style of Mr. Douglass in writing, is to me an intellectual
puzzle. The strength, affluence and terseness may easily be
accounted for, because the style of a man is the man; but how are
we to account for that rare polish in his style of writing,
which, most critically examined, seems the result of careful
early culture among the best classics of our language; it equals
if it does not surpass the style of Hugh Miller, which was the
wonder of the British literary public, until he unraveled the
mystery in the most interesting of autobiographies. But
Frederick Douglass was still calking the seams of Baltimore
clippers, and had only written a "pass," at the age when Miller's
style was already formed.
I asked William Whipper, of Pennsylvania, the gentleman alluded
to above, whether he thought Mr. Douglass's power inherited from
the Negroid, or from what is called the Caucasian side of his
make up? After some reflection, he frankly answered, "I must
admit, although sorry to do so, that the Caucasian predominates."
At that time, I almost agreed with him; but, facts narrated in
the first part of this work, throw a different light on this
interesting question.
We are left in the dark as to who was the paternal ancestor of
our author; a fact which generally holds good of the Romuluses
and Remuses who are to inaugurate the new birth of our republic.
In the absence of testimony from the Caucasian side, we must see
what evidence is given on the other side of the house.
"My grandmother, though advanced in years, * * * was yet a woman
of power and spirit. She was marvelously straight in figure,
elastic and muscular." (p. 46.)
After describing her skill in constructing nets, her perseverance
in using them, and her wide-spread fame in the agricultural way
he adds, "It happened to her--as it will happen to any careful
<19>and thrifty person residing in an ignorant and improvident
neighborhood--to enjoy the reputation of being born to good
luck." And his grandmother was a black woman.
"My mother was tall, and finely proportioned; of deep black,
glossy complexion; had regular features; and among other slaves
was remarkably sedate in her manners." "Being a field hand, she
was obliged to walk twelve miles and return, between nightfall
and daybreak, to see her children" (p. 54.) "I shall never
forget the indescribable expression of her countenance when I
told her that I had had no food since morning. * * * There was
pity in her glance at me, and a fiery indignation at Aunt Katy at
the same time; * * * * she read Aunt Katy a lecture which she
never forgot." (p. 56.) "I learned after my mother's death,
that she could read, and that she was the _only_ one of all the
slaves and colored people in Tuckahoe who enjoyed that advantage.
How she acquired this knowledge, I know not, for Tuckahoe is the
last place in the world where she would be apt to find facilities
for learning." (p. 57.) "There is, in _Prichard's Natural
History of Man_, the head of a figure--on page 157--the features
of which so resemble those of my mother, that I often recur to it
with something of the feeling which I suppose others experience
when looking upon the pictures of dear departed ones." (p. 52.)
The head alluded to is copied from the statue of Ramses the
Great, an Egyptian king of the nineteenth dynasty. The authors
of the _Types of Mankind_ give a side view of the same on page
148, remarking that the profile, "like Napoleon's, is superbly
European!" The nearness of its resemblance to Mr. Douglass'
mother rests upon the evidence of his memory, and judging from
his almost marvelous feats of recollection of forms and outlines
recorded in this book, this testimony may be admitted.
These facts show that for his energy, perseverance, eloquence,
invective, sagacity, and wide sympathy, he is indebted to his
Negro blood. The very marvel of his style would seem to be a
development of that other marvel--how his mother learned to read.
<20>The versatility of talent which he wields, in common with
Dumas, Ira Aldridge, and Miss Greenfield, would seem to be the
result of the grafting of the Anglo-Saxon on good, original,
Negro stock. If the friends of "Caucasus" choose to claim, for
that region, what remains after this analysis--to wit:
combination--they are welcome to it. They will forgive me for
reminding them that the term "Caucasian" is dropped by recent
writers on Ethnology; for the people about Mount Caucasus, are,
and have ever been, Mongols. The great "white race" now seek
paternity, according to Dr. Pickering, in Arabia--"Arida Nutrix"
of the best breed of horses &c. Keep on, gentlemen; you will
find yourselves in Africa, by-and-by. The Egyptians, like the
Americans, were a _mixed race_, with some Negro blood circling
around the throne, as well as in the mud hovels.
This is the proper place to remark of our author, that the same
strong self-hood, which led him to measure strength with Mr.
Covey, and to wrench himself from the embrace of the
Garrisonians, and which has borne him through many resistances to
the personal indignities offered him as a colored man, sometimes
becomes a hyper-sensitiveness to such assaults as men of his mark
will meet with, on paper. Keen and unscrupulous opponents have
sought, and not unsuccessfully, to pierce him in this direction;
for well they know, that if assailed, he will smite back.
It is not without a feeling of pride, dear reader, that I present
you with this book. The son of a self-emancipated bond-woman, I
feel joy in introducing to you my brother, who has rent his own
bonds, and who, in his every relation--as a public man, as a
husband and as a father--is such as does honor to the land which
gave him birth. I shall place this book in the hands of the only
child spared me, bidding him to strive and emulate its noble
example. You may do likewise. It is an American book, for
Americans, in the fullest sense of the idea. It shows that the
worst of our institutions, in its worst aspect, cannot keep down
energy, truthfulness, and earnest struggle for the right. It
proves the <21>justice and practicability of Immediate
Emancipation. It shows that any man in our land, "no matter in
what battle his liberty may have been cloven down, * * * * no
matter what complexion an Indian or an African sun may have
burned upon him," not only may "stand forth redeemed and
disenthralled," but may also stand up a candidate for the highest
suffrage of a great people--the tribute of their honest, hearty
admiration. Reader, _Vale!
In Talbot county, Eastern Shore, Maryland, near Easton, the
county town of that county, there is a small district of country,
thinly populated, and remarkable for nothing that I know of more
than for the worn-out, sandy, desert-like appearance of its soil,
the general dilapidation of its farms and fences, the indigent
and spiritless character of its inhabitants, and the prevalence
of ague and fever.
The name of this singularly unpromising and truly famine stricken
district is Tuckahoe, a name well known to all Marylanders, black
and white. It was given to this section of country probably, at
the first, merely in derision; or it may possibly have been
applied to it, as I have heard, because some one of its earlier
inhabitants had been guilty of the petty meanness of stealing a
hoe--or taking a hoe that did not belong to him. Eastern Shore
men usually pronounce the word _took_, as _tuck; Took-a-hoe_,
therefore, is, in Maryland parlance, _Tuckahoe_. But, whatever
may have been its origin--and about this I will not be
<26>positive--that name has stuck to the district in question;
and it is seldom mentioned but with contempt and derision, on
account of the barrenness of its soil, and the ignorance,
indolence, and poverty of its people. Decay and ruin are
everywhere visible, and the thin population of the place would
have quitted it long ago, but for the Choptank river, which runs
through it, from which they take abundance of shad and herring,
and plenty of ague and fever.
It was in this dull, flat, and unthrifty district, or
neighborhood, surrounded by a white population of the lowest
order, indolent and drunken to a proverb, and among slaves, who
seemed to ask, _"Oh! what's the use?"_ every time they lifted a
hoe, that I--without any fault of mine was born, and spent the
first years of my childhood.
The reader will pardon so much about the place of my birth, on
the score that it is always a fact of some importance to know
where a man is born, if, indeed, it be important to know anything
about him. In regard to the _time_ of my birth, I cannot be as
definite as I have been respecting the _place_. Nor, indeed, can
I impart much knowledge concerning my parents. Genealogical
trees do not flourish among slaves. A person of some consequence
here in the north, sometimes designated _father_, is literally
abolished in slave law and slave practice. It is only once in a
while that an exception is found to this statement. I never met
with a slave who could tell me how old he was. Few slave-mothers
know anything of the months of the year, nor of the days of the
month. They keep no family records, with marriages, births, and
deaths. They measure the ages of their children by spring time,
winter time, harvest time, planting time, and the like; but these
soon become undistinguishable and forgotten. Like other slaves,
I cannot tell how old I am. This destitution was among my
earliest troubles. I learned when I grew up, that my master--and
this is the case with masters generally--allowed no questions to
be put to him, by which a slave might learn his <27
GRANDPARENTS>age. Such questions deemed evidence of impatience,
and even of impudent curiosity. From certain events, however,
the dates of which I have since learned, I suppose myself to have
been born about the year 1817.
The first experience of life with me that I now remember--and I
remember it but hazily--began in the family of my grandmother and
grandfather. Betsey and Isaac Baily. They were quite advanced
in life, and had long lived on the spot where they then resided.
They were considered old settlers in the neighborhood, and, from
certain circumstances, I infer that my grandmother, especially,
was held in high esteem, far higher than is the lot of most
colored persons in the slave states. She was a good nurse, and a
capital hand at making nets for catching shad and herring; and
these nets were in great demand, not only in Tuckahoe, but at
Denton and Hillsboro, neighboring villages. She was not only
good at making the nets, but was also somewhat famous for her
good fortune in taking the fishes referred to. I have known her
to be in the water half the day. Grandmother was likewise more
provident than most of her neighbors in the preservation of
seedling sweet potatoes, and it happened to her--as it will
happen to any careful and thrifty person residing in an ignorant
and improvident community--to enjoy the reputation of having been
born to "good luck." Her "good luck" was owing to the exceeding
care which she took in preventing the succulent root from getting
bruised in the digging, and in placing it beyond the reach of
frost, by actually burying it under the hearth of her cabin
during the winter months. In the time of planting sweet
potatoes, "Grandmother Betty," as she was familiarly called, was
sent for in all directions, simply to place the seedling potatoes
in the hills; for superstition had it, that if "Grandmamma Betty
but touches them at planting, they will be sure to grow and
flourish." This high reputation was full of advantage to her,
and to the children around her. Though Tuckahoe had but few of
the good things of <28>life, yet of such as it did possess
grandmother got a full share, in the way of presents. If good
potato crops came after her planting, she was not forgotten by
those for whom she planted; and as she was remembered by others,
so she remembered the hungry little ones around her.
The dwelling of my grandmother and grandfather had few
pretensions. It was a log hut, or cabin, built of clay, wood,
and straw. At a distance it resembled--though it was smaller,
less commodious and less substantial--the cabins erected in the
western states by the first settlers. To my child's eye,
however, it was a noble structure, admirably adapted to promote
the comforts and conveniences of its inmates. A few rough,
Virginia fence-rails, flung loosely over the rafters above,
answered the triple purpose of floors, ceilings, and bedsteads.
To be sure, this upper apartment was reached only by a ladder--
but what in the world for climbing could be better than a ladder?
To me, this ladder was really a high invention, and possessed a
sort of charm as I played with delight upon the rounds of it. In
this little hut there was a large family of children: I dare not
say how many. My grandmother--whether because too old for field
service, or because she had so faithfully discharged the duties
of her station in early life, I know not--enjoyed the high
privilege of living in a cabin, separate from the quarter, with
no other burden than her own support, and the necessary care of
the little children, imposed. She evidently esteemed it a great
fortune to live so. The children were not her own, but her
grandchildren--the children of her daughters. She took delight
in having them around her, and in attending to their few wants.
The practice of separating children from their mother, and hiring
the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting,
except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and
barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the
grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce
man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of
obliterating <29 "OLD MASTER">from the mind and heart of the
slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of _the family_, as an
Most of the children, however, in this instance, being the
children of my grandmother's daughters, the notions of family,
and the reciprocal duties and benefits of the relation, had a
better chance of being understood than where children are
placed--as they often are in the hands of strangers, who have no
care for them, apart from the wishes of their masters. The
daughters of my grandmother were five in number. Their names
last named was my mother, of whom the reader shall learn more byand-
Living here, with my dear old grandmother and grandfather, it was
a long time before I knew myself to be _a slave_. I knew many
other things before I knew that. Grandmother and grandfather
were the greatest people in the world to me; and being with them
so snugly in their own little cabin--I supposed it be their own--
knowing no higher authority over me or the other children than
the authority of grandmamma, for a time there was nothing to
disturb me; but, as I grew larger and older, I learned by degrees
the sad fact, that the "little hut," and the lot on which it
stood, belonged not to my dear old grandparents, but to some
person who lived a great distance off, and who was called, by
grandmother, "OLD MASTER." I further learned the sadder fact,
that not only the house and lot, but that grandmother herself,
(grandfather was free,) and all the little children around her,
belonged to this mysterious personage, called by grandmother,
with every mark of reverence, "Old Master." Thus early did
clouds and shadows begin to fall upon my path. Once on the
track--troubles never come singly--I was not long in finding out
another fact, still more grievous to my childish heart. I was
told that this "old master," whose name seemed ever to be
mentioned with fear and shuddering, only allowed the children to
live with grandmother for a limited time, and that in fact as
soon <30>as they were big enough, they were promptly taken away,
to live with the said "old master." These were distressing
revelations indeed; and though I was quite too young to
comprehend the full import of the intelligence, and mostly spent
my childhood days in gleesome sports with the other children, a
shade of disquiet rested upon me.
The absolute power of this distant "old master" had touched my
young spirit with but the point of its cold, cruel iron, and left
me something to brood over after the play and in moments of
repose. Grandmammy was, indeed, at that time, all the world to
me; and the thought of being separated from her, in any
considerable time, was more than an unwelcome intruder. It was
Children have their sorrows as well as men and women; and it
would be well to remember this in our dealings with them. SLAVEchildren
_are_ children, and prove no exceptions to the general
rule. The liability to be separated from my grandmother, seldom
or never to see her again, haunted me. I dreaded the thought of
going to live with that mysterious "old master," whose name I
never heard mentioned with affection, but always with fear. I
look back to this as among the heaviest of my childhood's
sorrows. My grandmother! my grandmother! and the little hut, and
the joyous circle under her care, but especially _she_, who made
us sorry when she left us but for an hour, and glad on her
return,--how could I leave her and the good old home?
But the sorrows of childhood, like the pleasures of after life,
are transient. It is not even within the power of slavery to
write _indelible_ sorrow, at a single dash, over the heart of a
_The tear down childhood's cheek that flows,
Is like the dew-drop on the rose--
When next the summer breeze comes by,
And waves the bush--the flower is dry_.
There is, after all, but little difference in the measure of
contentment felt by the slave-child neglected and the
slaveholder's <31 COMPARATIVE HAPPINESS>child cared for and
petted. The spirit of the All Just mercifully holds the balance
for the young.
The slaveholder, having nothing to fear from impotent childhood,
easily affords to refrain from cruel inflictions; and if cold and
hunger do not pierce the tender frame, the first seven or eight
years of the slave-boy's life are about as full of sweet content
as those of the most favored and petted _white_ children of the
slaveholder. The slave-boy escapes many troubles which befall
and vex his white brother. He seldom has to listen to lectures
on propriety of behavior, or on anything else. He is never
chided for handling his little knife and fork improperly or
awkwardly, for he uses none. He is never reprimanded for soiling
the table-cloth, for he takes his meals on the clay floor. He
never has the misfortune, in his games or sports, of soiling or
tearing his clothes, for he has almost none to soil or tear. He
is never expected to act like a nice little gentleman, for he is
only a rude little slave. Thus, freed from all restraint, the
slave-boy can be, in his life and conduct, a genuine boy, doing
whatever his boyish nature suggests; enacting, by turns, all the
strange antics and freaks of horses, dogs, pigs, and barn-door
fowls, without in any manner compromising his dignity, or
incurring reproach of any sort. He literally runs wild; has no
pretty little verses to learn in the nursery; no nice little
speeches to make for aunts, uncles, or cousins, to show how smart
he is; and, if he can only manage to keep out of the way of the
heavy feet and fists of the older slave boys, he may trot on, in
his joyous and roguish tricks, as happy as any little heathen
under the palm trees of Africa. To be sure, he is occasionally
reminded, when he stumbles in the path of his master--and this he
early learns to avoid--that he is eating his _"white bread,"_ and
that he will be made to _"see sights"_ by-and-by. The threat is
soon forgotten; the shadow soon passes, and our sable boy
continues to roll in the dust, or play in the mud, as bests suits
him, and in the veriest freedom. If he feels uncomfortable, from
mud or from dust, the coast is clear; he can plunge into <32>the
river or the pond, without the ceremony of undressing, or the
fear of wetting his clothes; his little tow-linen shirt--for that
is all he has on--is easily dried; and it needed ablution as much
as did his skin. His food is of the coarsest kind, consisting
for the most part of cornmeal mush, which often finds it way from
the wooden tray to his mouth in an oyster shell. His days, when
the weather is warm, are spent in the pure, open air, and in the
bright sunshine. He always sleeps in airy apartments; he seldom
has to take powders, or to be paid to swallow pretty little
sugar-coated pills, to cleanse his blood, or to quicken his
appetite. He eats no candies; gets no lumps of loaf sugar;
always relishes his food; cries but little, for nobody cares for
his crying; learns to esteem his bruises but slight, because
others so esteem them. In a word, he is, for the most part of
the first eight years of his life, a spirited, joyous,
uproarious, and happy boy, upon whom troubles fall only like
water on a duck's back. And such a boy, so far as I can now
remember, was the boy whose life in slavery I am now narrating.
_Removed from My First Home_
That mysterious individual referred to in the first chapter as an
object of terror among the inhabitants of our little cabin, under
the ominous title of "old master," was really a man of some
consequence. He owned several farms in Tuckahoe; was the chief
clerk and butler on the home plantation of Col. Edward Lloyd; had
overseers on his own farms; and gave directions to overseers on
the farms belonging to Col. Lloyd. This plantation is situated
on Wye river--the river receiving its name, doubtless, from
Wales, where the Lloyds originated. They (the Lloyds) are an old
and honored family in Maryland, exceedingly wealthy. The home
plantation, where they have resided, perhaps for a century or
more, is one of the largest, most fertile, and best appointed, in
the state.
About this plantation, and about that queer old master--who must
be something more than a man, and something worse than an angel--
the reader will easily imagine that I was not only curious, but
eager, to know all that could be known. Unhappily for me,
however, all the information I could get concerning him increased
my great dread of being carried thither--of being <34>separated
from and deprived of the protection of my grandmother and
grandfather. It was, evidently, a great thing to go to Col.
Lloyd's; and I was not without a little curiosity to see the
place; but no amount of coaxing could induce in me the wish to
remain there. The fact is, such was my dread of leaving the
little cabin, that I wished to remain little forever, for I knew
the taller I grew the shorter my stay. The old cabin, with its
rail floor and rail bedsteads upstairs, and its clay floor
downstairs, and its dirt chimney, and windowless sides, and that
most curious piece of workmanship dug in front of the fireplace,
beneath which grandmammy placed the sweet potatoes to keep them
from the frost, was MY HOME--the only home I ever had; and I
loved it, and all connected with it. The old fences around it,
and the stumps in the edge of the woods near it, and the
squirrels that ran, skipped, and played upon them, were objects
of interest and affection. There, too, right at the side of the
hut, stood the old well, with its stately and skyward-pointing
beam, so aptly placed between the limbs of what had once been a
tree, and so nicely balanced that I could move it up and down
with only one hand, and could get a drink myself without calling
for help. Where else in the world could such a well be found,
and where could such another home be met with? Nor were these
all the attractions of the place. Down in a little valley, not
far from grandmammy's cabin, stood Mr. Lee's mill, where the
people came often in large numbers to get their corn ground. It
was a watermill; and I never shall be able to tell the many
things thought and felt, while I sat on the bank and watched that
mill, and the turning of that ponderous wheel. The mill-pond,
too, had its charms; and with my pinhook, and thread line, I
could get _nibbles_, if I could catch no fish. But, in all my
sports and plays, and in spite of them, there would,
occasionally, come the painful foreboding that I was not long to
remain there, and that I must soon be called away to the home of
old master.
I was A SLAVE--born a slave and though the fact was in <35
DEPARTURE FROM TUCKAHOE>comprehensible to me, it conveyed to my
mind a sense of my entire dependence on the will of _somebody_ I
had never seen; and, from some cause or other, I had been made to
fear this somebody above all else on earth. Born for another's
benefit, as the _firstling_ of the cabin flock I was soon to be
selected as a meet offering to the fearful and inexorable
_demigod_, whose huge image on so many occasions haunted my
childhood's imagination. When the time of my departure was
decided upon, my grandmother, knowing my fears, and in pity for
them, kindly kept me ignorant of the dreaded event about to
transpire. Up to the morning (a beautiful summer morning) when
we were to start, and, indeed, during the whole journey--a
journey which, child as I was, I remember as well as if it were
yesterday--she kept the sad fact hidden from me. This reserve
was necessary; for, could I have known all, I should have given
grandmother some trouble in getting me started. As it was, I was
helpless, and she--dear woman!--led me along by the hand,
resisting, with the reserve and solemnity of a priestess, all my
inquiring looks to the last.
The distance from Tuckahoe to Wye river--where my old master
lived--was full twelve miles, and the walk was quite a severe
test of the endurance of my young legs. The journey would have
proved too severe for me, but that my dear old grandmother--
blessings on her memory!--afforded occasional relief by "toting"
me (as Marylanders have it) on her shoulder. My grandmother,
though advanced in years--as was evident from more than one gray
hair, which peeped from between the ample and graceful folds of
her newly-ironed bandana turban--was yet a woman of power and
spirit. She was marvelously straight in figure, elastic, and
muscular. I seemed hardly to be a burden to her. She would have
"toted" me farther, but that I felt myself too much of a man to
allow it, and insisted on walking. Releasing dear grandmamma
from carrying me, did not make me altogether independent of her,
when we happened to pass through portions of the somber woods
which lay between Tuckahoe and <36>Wye river. She often found me
increasing the energy of my grip, and holding her clothing, lest
something should come out of the woods and eat me up. Several
old logs and stumps imposed upon me, and got themselves taken for
wild beasts. I could see their legs, eyes, and ears, or I could
see something like eyes, legs, and ears, till I got close enough
to them to see that the eyes were knots, washed white with rain,
and the legs were broken limbs, and the ears, only ears owing to
the point from which they were seen. Thus early I learned that
the point from which a thing is viewed is of some importance.
As the day advanced the heat increased; and it was not until the
afternoon that we reached the much dreaded end of the journey. I
found myself in the midst of a group of children of many colors;
black, brown, copper colored, and nearly white. I had not seen
so many children before. Great houses loomed up in different
directions, and a great many men and women were at work in the
fields. All this hurry, noise, and singing was very different
from the stillness of Tuckahoe. As a new comer, I was an object
of special interest; and, after laughing and yelling around me,
and playing all sorts of wild tricks, they (the children) asked
me to go out and play with them. This I refused to do,
preferring to stay with grandmamma. I could not help feeling
that our being there boded no good to me. Grandmamma looked sad.
She was soon to lose another object of affection, as she had lost
many before. I knew she was unhappy, and the shadow fell from
her brow on me, though I knew not the cause.
All suspense, however, must have an end; and the end of mine, in
this instance, was at hand. Affectionately patting me on the
head, and exhorting me to be a good boy, grandmamma told me to go
and play with the little children. "They are kin to you," said
she; "go and play with them." Among a number of cousins were
Phil, Tom, Steve, and Jerry, Nance and Betty.
Grandmother pointed out my brother PERRY, my sister SARAH, and my
sister ELIZA, who stood in the group. I had never seen <37
BROTHERS AND SISTERS>my brother nor my sisters before; and,
though I had sometimes heard of them, and felt a curious interest
in them, I really did not understand what they were to me, or I
to them. We were brothers and sisters, but what of that? Why
should they be attached to me, or I to them? Brothers and
sisters we were by blood; but _slavery_ had made us strangers. I
heard the words brother and sisters, and knew they must mean
something; but slavery had robbed these terms of their true
meaning. The experience through which I was passing, they had
passed through before. They had already been initiated into the
mysteries of old master's domicile, and they seemed to look upon
me with a certain degree of compassion; but my heart clave to my
grandmother. Think it not strange, dear reader, that so little
sympathy of feeling existed between us. The conditions of
brotherly and sisterly feeling were wanting--we had never nestled
and played together. My poor mother, like many other slavewomen,
had many _children_, but NO FAMILY! The domestic hearth,
with its holy lessons and precious endearments, is abolished in
the case of a slave-mother and her children. "Little children,
love one another," are words seldom heard in a slave cabin.
I really wanted to play with my brother and sisters, but they
were strangers to me, and I was full of fear that grandmother
might leave without taking me with her. Entreated to do so,
however, and that, too, by my dear grandmother, I went to the
back part of the house, to play with them and the other children.
_Play_, however, I did not, but stood with my back against the
wall, witnessing the playing of the others. At last, while
standing there, one of the children, who had been in the kitchen,
ran up to me, in a sort of roguish glee, exclaiming, "Fed, Fed!
grandmammy gone! grandmammy gone!" I could not believe it; yet,
fearing the worst, I ran into the kitchen, to see for myself, and
found it even so. Grandmammy had indeed gone, and was now far
away, "clean" out of sight. I need not tell all that happened
now. Almost heart-broken at the discovery, I fell upon the
ground, and <38>wept a boy's bitter tears, refusing to be
comforted. My brother and sisters came around me, and said,
"Don't cry," and gave me peaches and pears, but I flung them
away, and refused all their kindly advances. I had never been
deceived before; and I felt not only grieved at parting--as I
supposed forever--with my grandmother, but indignant that a trick
had been played upon me in a matter so serious.
It was now late in the afternoon. The day had been an exciting
and wearisome one, and I knew not how or where, but I suppose I
sobbed myself to sleep. There is a healing in the angel wing of
sleep, even for the slave-boy; and its balm was never more
welcome to any wounded soul than it was to mine, the first night
I spent at the domicile of old master. The reader may be
surprised that I narrate so minutely an incident apparently so
trivial, and which must have occurred when I was not more than
seven years old; but as I wish to give a faithful history of my
experience in slavery, I cannot withhold a circumstance which, at
the time, affected me so deeply. Besides, this was, in fact, my
first introduction to the realities of slavery.
If the reader will now be kind enough to allow me time to grow
bigger, and afford me an opportunity for my experience to become
greater, I will tell him something, by-and-by, of slave life, as
I saw, felt, and heard it, on Col. Edward Lloyd's plantation, and
at the house of old master, where I had now, despite of myself,
most suddenly, but not unexpectedly, been dropped. Meanwhile, I
will redeem my promise to say something more of my dear mother.
I say nothing of _father_, for he is shrouded in a mystery I have
never been able to penetrate. Slavery does away with fathers, as
it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either
fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their
existence in the social arrangements of the plantation. When
they _do_ exist, they are not the outgrowths of slavery, but are
antagonistic to that system. The order of civilization is
reversed here. The name of the child is not expected to be that
of its father, and his condition does not necessarily affect that
of the child. He may be the slave of Mr. Tilgman; and his child,
when born, may be the slave of Mr. Gross. He may be a _freeman;_
and yet his child may be a _chattel_. He may be white, glorying
in the purity of his Anglo-<40>Saxon blood; and his child may be
ranked with the blackest slaves. Indeed, he _may_ be, and often
_is_, master and father to the same child. He can be father
without being a husband, and may sell his child without incurring
reproach, if the child be by a woman in whose veins courses one
thirty-second part of African blood. My father was a white man,
or nearly white. It was sometimes whispered that my master was
my father.
But to return, or rather, to begin. My knowledge of my mother is
very scanty, but very distinct. Her personal appearance and
bearing are ineffaceably stamped upon my memory. She was tall,
and finely proportioned; of deep black, glossy complexion; had
regular features, and, among the other slaves, was remarkably
sedate in her manners. There is in _Prichard's Natural History
of Man_, the head of a figure--on page 157--the features of which
so resemble those of my mother, that I often recur to it with
something of the feeling which I suppose others experience when
looking upon the pictures of dear departed ones.
Yet I cannot say that I was very deeply attached to my mother;
certainly not so deeply as I should have been had our relations
in childhood been different. We were separated, according to the
common custom, when I was but an infant, and, of course, before I
knew my mother from any one else.
The germs of affection with which the Almighty, in his wisdom and
mercy, arms the hopeless infant against the ills and vicissitudes
of his lot, had been directed in their growth toward that loving
old grandmother, whose gentle hand and kind deportment it was in
the first effort of my infantile understanding to comprehend and
appreciate. Accordingly, the tenderest affection which a
beneficent Father allows, as a partial compensation to the mother
for the pains and lacerations of her heart, incident to the
maternal relation, was, in my case, diverted from its true and
natural object, by the envious, greedy, and treacherous hand of
slavery. The slave-mother can be spared long enough from <41 MY
MOTHER>the field to endure all the bitterness of a mother's
anguish, when it adds another name to a master's ledger, but
_not_ long enough to receive the joyous reward afforded by the
intelligent smiles of her child. I never think of this terrible
interference of slavery with my infantile affections, and its
diverting them from their natural course, without feelings to
which I can give no adequate expression.
I do not remember to have seen my mother at my grandmother's at
any time. I remember her only in her visits to me at Col.
Lloyd's plantation, and in the kitchen of my old master. Her
visits to me there were few in number, brief in duration, and
mostly made in the night. The pains she took, and the toil she
endured, to see me, tells me that a true mother's heart was hers,
and that slavery had difficulty in paralyzing it with unmotherly
My mother was hired out to a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve
miles from old master's, and, being a field hand, she seldom had
leisure, by day, for the performance of the journey. The nights
and the distance were both obstacles to her visits. She was
obliged to walk, unless chance flung into her way an opportunity
to ride; and the latter was sometimes her good luck. But she
always had to walk one way or the other. It was a greater luxury
than slavery could afford, to allow a black slave-mother a horse
or a mule, upon which to travel twenty-four miles, when she could
walk the distance. Besides, it is deemed a foolish whim for a
slave-mother to manifest concern to see her children, and, in one
point of view, the case is made out--she can do nothing for them.
She has no control over them; the master is even more than the
mother, in all matters touching the fate of her child. Why,
then, should she give herself any concern? She has no
responsibility. Such is the reasoning, and such the practice.
The iron rule of the plantation, always passionately and
violently enforced in that neighborhood, makes flogging the
penalty of <42>failing to be in the field before sunrise in the
morning, unless special permission be given to the absenting
slave. "I went to see my child," is no excuse to the ear or
heart of the overseer.
One of the visits of my mother to me, while at Col. Lloyd's, I
remember very vividly, as affording a bright gleam of a mother's
love, and the earnestness of a mother's care.
"I had on that day offended "Aunt Katy," (called "Aunt" by way of
respect,) the cook of old master's establishment. I do not now
remember the nature of my offense in this instance, for my
offenses were numerous in that quarter, greatly depending,
however, upon the mood of Aunt Katy, as to their heinousness; but
she had adopted, that day, her favorite mode of punishing me,
namely, making me go without food all day--that is, from after
breakfast. The first hour or two after dinner, I succeeded
pretty well in keeping up my spirits; but though I made an
excellent stand against the foe, and fought bravely during the
afternoon, I knew I must be conquered at last, unless I got the
accustomed reenforcement of a slice of corn bread, at sundown.
Sundown came, but _no bread_, and, in its stead, their came the
threat, with a scowl well suited to its terrible import, that she
"meant to _starve the life out of me!"_ Brandishing her knife,
she chopped off the heavy slices for the other children, and put
the loaf away, muttering, all the while, her savage designs upon
myself. Against this disappointment, for I was expecting that
her heart would relent at last, I made an extra effort to
maintain my dignity; but when I saw all the other children around
me with merry and satisfied faces, I could stand it no longer. I
went out behind the house, and cried like a fine fellow! When
tired of this, I returned to the kitchen, sat by the fire, and
brooded over my hard lot. I was too hungry to sleep. While I
sat in the corner, I caught sight of an ear of Indian corn on an
upper shelf of the kitchen. I watched my chance, and got it,
and, shelling off a few grains, I put it back again. The grains
in my hand, I quickly put in some ashes, and covered them with
embers, to roast them. All this I <43 "AUNT KATY">did at the
risk of getting a brutual thumping, for Aunt Katy could beat, as
well as starve me. My corn was not long in roasting, and, with
my keen appetite, it did not matter even if the grains were not
exactly done. I eagerly pulled them out, and placed them on my
stool, in a clever little pile. Just as I began to help myself
to my very dry meal, in came my dear mother. And now, dear
reader, a scene occurred which was altogether worth beholding,
and to me it was instructive as well as interesting. The
friendless and hungry boy, in his extremest need--and when he did
not dare to look for succor--found himself in the strong,
protecting arms of a mother; a mother who was, at the moment
(being endowed with high powers of manner as well as matter) more
than a match for all his enemies. I shall never forget the
indescribable expression of her countenance, when I told her that
I had had no food since morning; and that Aunt Katy said she
"meant to starve the life out of me." There was pity in her
glance at me, and a fiery indignation at Aunt Katy at the same
time; and, while she took the corn from me, and gave me a large
ginger cake, in its stead, she read Aunt Katy a lecture which she
never forgot. My mother threatened her with complaining to old
master in my behalf; for the latter, though harsh and cruel
himself, at times, did not sanction the meanness, injustice,
partiality and oppressions enacted by Aunt Katy in the kitchen.
That night I learned the fact, that I was, not only a child, but
_somebody's_ child. The "sweet cake" my mother gave me was in
the shape of a heart, with a rich, dark ring glazed upon the edge
of it. I was victorious, and well off for the moment; prouder,
on my mother's knee, than a king upon his throne. But my triumph
was short. I dropped off to sleep, and waked in the morning only
to find my mother gone, and myself left at the mercy of the sable
virago, dominant in my old master's kitchen, whose fiery wrath
was my constant dread.
I do not remember to have seen my mother after this occurrence.
Death soon ended the little communication that had <44>existed
between us; and with it, I believe, a life judging from her
weary, sad, down-cast countenance and mute demeanor--full of
heartfelt sorrow. I was not allowed to visit her during any part
of her long illness; nor did I see her for a long time before she
was taken ill and died. The heartless and ghastly form of
_slavery_ rises between mother and child, even at the bed of
death. The mother, at the verge of the grave, may not gather her
children, to impart to them her holy admonitions, and invoke for
them her dying benediction. The bond-woman lives as a slave, and
is left to die as a beast; often with fewer attentions than are
paid to a favorite horse. Scenes of sacred tenderness, around
the death-bed, never forgotten, and which often arrest the
vicious and confirm the virtuous during life, must be looked for
among the free, though they sometimes occur among the slaves. It
has been a life-long, standing grief to me, that I knew so little
of my mother; and that I was so early separated from her. The
counsels of her love must have been beneficial to me. The side
view of her face is imaged on my memory, and I take few steps in
life, without feeling her presence; but the image is mute, and I
have no striking words of her's treasured up.
I learned, after my mother's death, that she could read, and that
she was the _only_ one of all the slaves and colored people in
Tuckahoe who enjoyed that advantage. How she acquired this
knowledge, I know not, for Tuckahoe is the last place in the
world where she would be apt to find facilities for learning. I
can, therefore, fondly and proudly ascribe to her an earnest love
of knowledge. That a "field hand" should learn to read, in any
slave state, is remarkable; but the achievement of my mother,
considering the place, was very extraordinary; and, in view of
that fact, I am quite willing, and even happy, to attribute any
love of letters I possess, and for which I have got--despite of
prejudices only too much credit, _not_ to my admitted Anglo-Saxon
paternity, but to the native genius of my sable, unprotected, and
uncultivated _mother_--a woman, who belonged to a race <45
PENALTY FOR HAVING A WHITE FATHER>whose mental endowments it is,
at present, fashionable to hold in disparagement and contempt.
Summoned away to her account, with the impassable gulf of slavery
between us during her entire illness, my mother died without
leaving me a single intimation of _who_ my father was. There was
a whisper, that my master was my father; yet it was only a
whisper, and I cannot say that I ever gave it credence. Indeed,
I now have reason to think he was not; nevertheless, the fact
remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that, by the laws of
slavery, children, in all cases, are reduced to the condition of
their mothers. This arrangement admits of the greatest license
to brutal slaveholders, and their profligate sons, brothers,
relations and friends, and gives to the pleasure of sin, the
additional attraction of profit. A whole volume might be written
on this single feature of slavery, as I have observed it.
One might imagine, that the children of such connections, would
fare better, in the hands of their masters, than other slaves.
The rule is quite the other way; and a very little reflection
will satisfy the reader that such is the case. A man who will
enslave his own blood, may not be safely relied on for
magnanimity. Men do not love those who remind them of their sins
unless they have a mind to repent--and the mulatto child's face
is a standing accusation against him who is master and father to
the child. What is still worse, perhaps, such a child is a
constant offense to the wife. She hates its very presence, and
when a slaveholding woman hates, she wants not means to give that
hate telling effect. Women--white women, I mean--are IDOLS at
the south, not WIVES, for the slave women are preferred in many
instances; and if these _idols_ but nod, or lift a finger, woe to
the poor victim: kicks, cuffs and stripes are sure to follow.
Masters are frequently compelled to sell this class of their
slaves, out of deference to the feelings of their white wives;
and shocking and scandalous as it may seem for a man to sell his
own blood to the traffickers in human flesh, it is often an act
of humanity <46>toward the slave-child to be thus removed from
his merciless tormentors.
It is not within the scope of the design of my simple story, to
comment upon every phase of slavery not within my experience as a
But, I may remark, that, if the lineal descendants of Ham are
only to be enslaved, according to the scriptures, slavery in this
country will soon become an unscriptural institution; for
thousands are ushered into the world, annually, who--like
myself--owe their existence to white fathers, and, most
frequently, to their masters, and master's sons. The slave-woman
is at the mercy of the fathers, sons or brothers of her master.
The thoughtful know the rest.
After what I have now said of the circumstances of my mother, and
my relations to her, the reader will not be surprised, nor be
disposed to censure me, when I tell but the simple truth, viz:
that I received the tidings of her death with no strong emotions
of sorrow for her, and with very little regret for myself on
account of her loss. I had to learn the value of my mother long
after her death, and by witnessing the devotion of other mothers
to their children.
There is not, beneath the sky, an enemy to filial affection so
destructive as slavery. It had made my brothers and sisters
strangers to me; it converted the mother that bore me, into a
myth; it shrouded my father in mystery, and left me without an
intelligible beginning in the world.
My mother died when I could not have been more than eight or nine
years old, on one of old master's farms in Tuckahoe, in the
neighborhood of Hillsborough. Her grave is, as the grave of the
dead at sea, unmarked, and without stone or stake.
_A General Survey of the Slave Plantation_
It is generally supposed that slavery, in the state of Maryland,
exists in its mildest form, and that it is totally divested of
those harsh and terrible peculiarities, which mark and
characterize the slave system, in the southern and south-western
states of the American union. The argument in favor of this
opinion, is the contiguity of the free states, and the exposed
condition of slavery in Maryland to the moral, religious and
humane sentiment of the free states.
I am not about to refute this argument, so far as it relates to
slavery in that state, generally; on the contrary, I am willing
to admit that, to this general point, the arguments is well
grounded. Public opinion is, indeed, an unfailing restraint upon
the cruelty and barbarity of masters, overseers, and slavedrivers,
whenever and wherever it can reach them; but there are
certain secluded and out-of-the-way places, even in the state of
Maryland, seldom visited by a single ray of healthy public
sentiment--<48>where slavery, wrapt in its own congenial,
midnight darkness, _can_, and _does_, develop all its malign and
shocking characteristics; where it can be indecent without shame,
cruel without shuddering, and murderous without apprehension or
fear of exposure.
Just such a secluded, dark, and out-of-the-way place, is the
"home plantation" of Col. Edward Lloyd, on the Eastern Shore,
Maryland. It is far away from all the great thoroughfares, and
is proximate to no town or village. There is neither schoolhouse,
nor town-house in its neighborhood. The school-house is
unnecessary, for there are no children to go to school. The
children and grand-children of Col. Lloyd were taught in the
house, by a private tutor--a Mr. Page a tall, gaunt sapling of a
man, who did not speak a dozen words to a slave in a whole year.
The overseers' children go off somewhere to school; and they,
therefore, bring no foreign or dangerous influence from abroad,
to embarrass the natural operation of the slave system of the
place. Not even the mechanics--through whom there is an
occasional out-burst of honest and telling indignation, at
cruelty and wrong on other plantations--are white men, on this
plantation. Its whole public is made up of, and divided into,
blacksmiths, wheelwrights, shoemakers, weavers, and coopers, are
slaves. Not even commerce, selfish and iron-hearted at it is,
and ready, as it ever is, to side with the strong against the
weak--the rich against the poor--is trusted or permitted within
its secluded precincts. Whether with a view of guarding against
the escape of its secrets, I know not, but it is a fact, the
every leaf and grain of the produce of this plantation, and those
of the neighboring farms belonging to Col. Lloyd, are transported
to Baltimore in Col. Lloyd's own vessels; every man and boy on
board of which--except the captain--are owned by him. In return,
everything brought to the plantation, comes through the same
channel. Thus, even the glimmering and unsteady light of trade,
which sometimes exerts a civilizing influence, is excluded from
this "tabooed" spot.
Nearly all the plantations or farms in the vicinity of the "home
plantation" of Col. Lloyd, belong to him; and those which do not,
are owned by personal friends of his, as deeply interested in
maintaining the slave system, in all its rigor, as Col. Lloyd
himself. Some of his neighbors are said to be even more
stringent than he. The Skinners, the Peakers, the Tilgmans, the
Lockermans, and the Gipsons, are in the same boat; being
slaveholding neighbors, they may have strengthened each other in
their iron rule. They are on intimate terms, and their interests
and tastes are identical.
Public opinion in such a quarter, the reader will see, is not
likely to very efficient in protecting the slave from cruelty.
On the contrary, it must increase and intensify his wrongs.
Public opinion seldom differs very widely from public practice.
To be a restraint upon cruelty and vice, public opinion must
emanate from a humane and virtuous community. To no such humane
and virtuous community, is Col. Lloyd's plantation exposed. That
plantation is a little nation of its own, having its own
language, its own rules, regulations and customs. The laws and
institutions of the state, apparently touch it nowhere. The
troubles arising here, are not settled by the civil power of the
state. The overseer is generally accuser, judge, jury, advocate
and executioner. The criminal is always dumb. The overseer
attends to all sides of a case.
There are no conflicting rights of property, for all the people
are owned by one man; and they can themselves own no property.
Religion and politics are alike excluded. One class of the
population is too high to be reached by the preacher; and the
other class is too low to be cared for by the preacher. The poor
have the gospel preached to them, in this neighborhood, only when
they are able to pay for it. The slaves, having no money, get no
gospel. The politician keeps away, because the people have no
votes, and the preacher keeps away, because the people have no
money. The rich planter can afford to learn politics in the
parlor, and to dispense with religion altogether.
In its isolation, seclusion, and self-reliant independence, Col.
Lloyd's plantation resembles what the baronial domains were
during the middle ages in Europe. Grim, cold, and unapproachable
by all genial influences from communities without, _there it
stands;_ full three hundred years behind the age, in all that
relates to humanity and morals.
This, however, is not the only view that the place presents.
Civilization is shut out, but nature cannot be. Though separated
from the rest of the world; though public opinion, as I have
said, seldom gets a chance to penetrate its dark domain; though
the whole place is stamped with its own peculiar, ironlike
individuality; and though crimes, high-handed and atrocious, may
there be committed, with almost as much impunity as upon the deck
of a pirate ship--it is, nevertheless, altogether, to outward
seeming, a most strikingly interesting place, full of life,
activity, and spirit; and presents a very favorable contrast to
the indolent monotony and languor of Tuckahoe. Keen as was my
regret and great as was my sorrow at leaving the latter, I was
not long in adapting myself to this, my new home. A man's
troubles are always half disposed of, when he finds endurance his
only remedy. I found myself here; there was no getting away; and
what remained for me, but to make the best of it? Here were
plenty of children to play with, and plenty of places of pleasant
resort for boys of my age, and boys older. The little tendrils
of affection, so rudely and treacherously broken from around the
darling objects of my grandmother's hut, gradually began to
extend, and to entwine about the new objects by which I now found
myself surrounded.
There was a windmill (always a commanding object to a child's
eye) on Long Point--a tract of land dividing Miles river from the
Wye a mile or more from my old master's house. There was a creek
to swim in, at the bottom of an open flat space, of twenty acres
or more, called "the Long Green"--a very beautiful play-ground
for the children.
In the river, a short distance from the shore, lying quietly at
anchor, with her small boat dancing at her stern, was a large
sloop--the Sally Lloyd; called by that name in honor of a
favorite daughter of the colonel. The sloop and the mill were
wondrous things, full of thoughts and ideas. A child cannot well
look at such objects without _thinking_.
Then here were a great many houses; human habitations, full of
the mysteries of life at every stage of it. There was the little
red house, up the road, occupied by Mr. Sevier, the overseer. A
little nearer to my old master's, stood a very long, rough, low
building, literally alive with slaves, of all ages, conditions
and sizes. This was called "the Longe Quarter." Perched upon a
hill, across the Long Green, was a very tall, dilapidated, old
brick building--the architectural dimensions of which proclaimed
its erection for a different purpose--now occupied by slaves, in
a similar manner to the Long Quarter. Besides these, there were
numerous other slave houses and huts, scattered around in the
neighborhood, every nook and corner of which was completely
occupied. Old master's house, a long, brick building, plain, but
substantial, stood in the center of the plantation life, and
constituted one independent establishment on the premises of Col.
Besides these dwellings, there were barns, stables, store-houses,
and tobacco-houses; blacksmiths' shops, wheelwrights' shops,
coopers' shops--all objects of interest; but, above all, there
stood the grandest building my eyes had then ever beheld, called,
by every one on the plantation, the "Great House." This was
occupied by Col. Lloyd and his family. They occupied it; _I_
enjoyed it. The great house was surrounded by numerous and
variously shaped out-buildings. There were kitchens, washhouses,
dairies, summer-house, green-houses, hen-houses, turkeyhouses,
pigeon-houses, and arbors, of many sizes and devices, all
neatly painted, and altogether interspersed with grand old trees,
ornamental and primitive, which afforded delightful shade in
<52>summer, and imparted to the scene a high degree of stately
beauty. The great house itself was a large, white, wooden
building, with wings on three sides of it. In front, a large
portico, extending the entire length of the building, and
supported by a long range of columns, gave to the whole
establishment an air of solemn grandeur. It was a treat to my
young and gradually opening mind, to behold this elaborate
exhibition of wealth, power, and vanity. The carriage entrance
to the house was a large gate, more than a quarter of a mile
distant from it; the intermediate space was a beautiful lawn,
very neatly trimmed, and watched with the greatest care. It was
dotted thickly over with delightful trees, shrubbery, and
flowers. The road, or lane, from the gate to the great house,
was richly paved with white pebbles from the beach, and, in its
course, formed a complete circle around the beautiful lawn.
Carriages going in and retiring from the great house, made the
circuit of the lawn, and their passengers were permitted to
behold a scene of almost Eden-like beauty. Outside this select
inclosure, were parks, where as about the residences of the
English nobility--rabbits, deer, and other wild game, might be
seen, peering and playing about, with none to molest them or make
them afraid. The tops of the stately poplars were often covered
with the red-winged black-birds, making all nature vocal with the
joyous life and beauty of their wild, warbling notes. These all
belonged to me, as well as to Col. Edward Lloyd, and for a time I
greatly enjoyed them.
A short distance from the great house, were the stately mansions
of the dead, a place of somber aspect. Vast tombs, embowered
beneath the weeping willow and the fir tree, told of the
antiquities of the Lloyd family, as well as of their wealth.
Superstition was rife among the slaves about this family burying
ground. Strange sights had been seen there by some of the older
slaves. Shrouded ghosts, riding on great black horses, had been
seen to enter; balls of fire had been seen to fly there at
midnight, and horrid sounds had been repeatedly heard. Slaves
know <53 WEALTH OF COLONEL LLOYD>enough of the rudiments of
theology to believe that those go to hell who die slaveholders;
and they often fancy such persons wishing themselves back again,
to wield the lash. Tales of sights and sounds, strange and
terrible, connected with the huge black tombs, were a very great
security to the grounds about them, for few of the slaves felt
like approaching them even in the day time. It was a dark,
gloomy and forbidding place, and it was difficult to feel that
the spirits of the sleeping dust there deposited, reigned with
the blest in the realms of eternal peace.
The business of twenty or thirty farms was transacted at this,
called, by way of eminence, "great house farm." These farms all
belonged to Col. Lloyd, as did, also, the slaves upon them. Each
farm was under the management of an overseer. As I have said of
the overseer of the home plantation, so I may say of the
overseers on the smaller ones; they stand between the slave and
all civil constitutions--their word is law, and is implicitly
The colonel, at this time, was reputed to be, and he apparently
was, very rich. His slaves, alone, were an immense fortune.
These, small and great, could not have been fewer than one
thousand in number, and though scarcely a month passed without
the sale of one or more lots to the Georgia traders, there was no
apparent diminution in the number of his human stock: the home
plantation merely groaned at a removal of the young increase, or
human crop, then proceeded as lively as ever. Horse-shoeing,
cart-mending, plow-repairing, coopering, grinding, and weaving,
for all the neighboring farms, were performed here, and slaves
were employed in all these branches. "Uncle Tony" was the
blacksmith; "Uncle Harry" was the cartwright; "Uncle Abel" was
the shoemaker; and all these had hands to assist them in their
several departments.
These mechanics were called "uncles" by all the younger slaves,
not because they really sustained that relationship to any, but
according to plantation _etiquette_, as a mark of respect, due
<54>from the younger to the older slaves. Strange, and even
ridiculous as it may seem, among a people so uncultivated, and
with so many stern trials to look in the face, there is not to be
found, among any people, a more rigid enforcement of the law of
respect to elders, than they maintain. I set this down as partly
constitutional with my race, and partly conventional. There is
no better material in the world for making a gentleman, than is
furnished in the African. He shows to others, and exacts for
himself, all the tokens of respect which he is compelled to
manifest toward his master. A young slave must approach the
company of the older with hat in hand, and woe betide him, if he
fails to acknowledge a favor, of any sort, with the accustomed
_"tank'ee,"_ &c. So uniformly are good manners enforced among
slaves, I can easily detect a "bogus" fugitive by his manners.
Among other slave notabilities of the plantation, was one called
by everybody Uncle Isaac Copper. It is seldom that a slave gets
a surname from anybody in Maryland; and so completely has the
south shaped the manners of the north, in this respect, that even
abolitionists make very little of the surname of a Negro. The
only improvement on the "Bills," "Jacks," "Jims," and "Neds" of
the south, observable here is, that "William," "John," "James,"
"Edward," are substituted. It goes against the grain to treat
and address a Negro precisely as they would treat and address a
white man. But, once in a while, in slavery as in the free
states, by some extraordinary circumstance, the Negro has a
surname fastened to him, and holds it against all
conventionalities. This was the case with Uncle Isaac Copper.
When the "uncle" was dropped, he generally had the prefix
"doctor," in its stead. He was our doctor of medicine, and
doctor of divinity as well. Where he took his degree I am unable
to say, for he was not very communicative to inferiors, and I was
emphatically such, being but a boy seven or eight years old. He
was too well established in his profession to permit questions as
to his native skill, or his attainments. One qualification he
undoubtedly had--he <55 PRAYING AND FLOGGING>was a confirmed
_cripple;_ and he could neither work, nor would he bring anything
if offered for sale in the market. The old man, though lame, was
no sluggard. He was a man that made his crutches do him good
service. He was always on the alert, looking up the sick, and
all such as were supposed to need his counsel. His remedial
prescriptions embraced four articles. For diseases of the body,
_Epsom salts and castor oil;_ for those of the soul, _the Lord's
Prayer_, and _hickory switches_!
I was not long at Col. Lloyd's before I was placed under the care
of Doctor Issac Copper. I was sent to him with twenty or thirty
other children, to learn the "Lord's Prayer." I found the old
gentleman seated on a huge three-legged oaken stool, armed with
several large hickory switches; and, from his position, he could
reach--lame as he was--any boy in the room. After standing
awhile to learn what was expected of us, the old gentleman, in
any other than a devotional tone, commanded us to kneel down.
This done, he commenced telling us to say everything he said.
"Our Father"--this was repeated after him with promptness and
uniformity; "Who art in heaven"--was less promptly and uniformly
repeated; and the old gentleman paused in the prayer, to give us
a short lecture upon the consequences of inattention, both
immediate and future, and especially those more immediate. About
these he was absolutely certain, for he held in his right hand
the means of bringing all his predictions and warnings to pass.
On he proceeded with the prayer; and we with our thick tongues
and unskilled ears, followed him to the best of our ability.
This, however, was not sufficient to please the old gentleman.
Everybody, in the south, wants the privilege of whipping somebody
else. Uncle Isaac shared the common passion of his country, and,
therefore, seldom found any means of keeping his disciples in
order short of flogging. "Say everything I say;" and bang would
come the switch on some poor boy's undevotional head. _"What you
looking at there"--"Stop that pushing"_--and down again would
come the lash.
The whip is all in all. It is supposed to secure obedience to
the slaveholder, and is held as a sovereign remedy among the
slaves themselves, for every form of disobedience, temporal or
spiritual. Slaves, as well as slaveholders, use it with an
unsparing hand. Our devotions at Uncle Isaac's combined too much
of the tragic and comic, to make them very salutary in a
spiritual point of view; and it is due to truth to say, I was
often a truant when the time for attending the praying and
flogging of Doctor Isaac Copper came on.
The windmill under the care of Mr. Kinney, a kind hearted old
Englishman, was to me a source of infinite interest and pleasure.
The old man always seemed pleased when he saw a troop of darkey
little urchins, with their tow-linen shirts fluttering in the
breeze, approaching to view and admire the whirling wings of his
wondrous machine. From the mill we could see other objects of
deep interest. These were, the vessels from St. Michael's, on
their way to Baltimore. It was a source of much amusement to
view the flowing sails and complicated rigging, as the little
crafts dashed by, and to speculate upon Baltimore, as to the kind
and quality of the place. With so many sources of interest
around me, the reader may be prepared to learn that I began to
think very highly of Col. L.'s plantation. It was just a place
to my boyish taste. There were fish to be caught in the creek,
if one only had a hook and line; and crabs, clams and oysters
were to be caught by wading, digging and raking for them. Here
was a field for industry and enterprise, strongly inviting; and
the reader may be assured that I entered upon it with spirit.
Even the much dreaded old master, whose merciless fiat had
brought me from Tuckahoe, gradually, to my mind, parted with his
terrors. Strange enough, his reverence seemed to take no
particular notice of me, nor of my coming. Instead of leaping
out and devouring me, he scarcely seemed conscious of my
presence. The fact is, he was occupied with matters more weighty
and important than either looking after or vexing me. He
probably thought as <57 "OLD MASTER" LOSING ITS TERRORS>little of
my advent, as he would have thought of the addition of a single
pig to his stock!
As the chief butler on Col. Lloyd's plantation, his duties were
numerous and perplexing. In almost all important matters he
answered in Col. Lloyd's stead. The overseers of all the farms
were in some sort under him, and received the law from his mouth.
The colonel himself seldom addressed an overseer, or allowed an
overseer to address him. Old master carried the keys of all
store houses; measured out the allowance for each slave at the
end of every month; superintended the storing of all goods
brought to the plantation; dealt out the raw material to all the
handicraftsmen; shipped the grain, tobacco, and all saleable
produce of the plantation to market, and had the general
oversight of the coopers' shop, wheelwrights' shop, blacksmiths'
shop, and shoemakers' shop. Besides the care of these, he often
had business for the plantation which required him to be absent
two and three days.
Thus largely employed, he had little time, and perhaps as little
disposition, to interfere with the children individually. What
he was to Col. Lloyd, he made Aunt Katy to him. When he had
anything to say or do about us, it was said or done in a
wholesale manner; disposing of us in classes or sizes, leaving
all minor details to Aunt Katy, a person of whom the reader has
already received no very favorable impression. Aunt Katy was a
woman who never allowed herself to act greatly within the margin
of power granted to her, no matter how broad that authority might
be. Ambitious, ill-tempered and cruel, she found in her present
position an ample field for the exercise of her ill-omened
qualities. She had a strong hold on old master she was
considered a first rate cook, and she really was very
industrious. She was, therefore, greatly favored by old master,
and as one mark of his favor, she was the only mother who was
permitted to retain her children around her. Even to these
children she was often fiendish in her brutality. She pursued
her son Phil, one day, in <58>my presence, with a huge butcher
knife, and dealt a blow with its edge which left a shocking gash
on his arm, near the wrist. For this, old master did sharply
rebuke her, and threatened that if she ever should do the like
again, he would take the skin off her back. Cruel, however, as
Aunt Katy was to her own children, at times she was not destitute
of maternal feeling, as I often had occasion to know, in the
bitter pinches of hunger I had to endure. Differing from the
practice of Col. Lloyd, old master, instead of allowing so much
for each slave, committed the allowance for all to the care of
Aunt Katy, to be divided after cooking it, amongst us. The
allowance, consisting of coarse corn-meal, was not very
abundant--indeed, it was very slender; and in passing through
Aunt Katy's hands, it was made more slender still, for some of
us. William, Phil and Jerry were her children, and it is not to
accuse her too severely, to allege that she was often guilty of
starving myself and the other children, while she was literally
cramming her own. Want of food was my chief trouble the first
summer at my old master's. Oysters and clams would do very well,
with an occasional supply of bread, but they soon failed in the
absence of bread. I speak but the simple truth, when I say, I
have often been so pinched with hunger, that I have fought with
the dog--"Old Nep"--for the smallest crumbs that fell from the
kitchen table, and have been glad when I won a single crumb in
the combat. Many times have I followed, with eager step, the
waiting-girl when she went out to shake the table cloth, to get
the crumbs and small bones flung out for the cats. The water, in
which meat had been boiled, was as eagerly sought for by me. It
was a great thing to get the privilege of dipping a piece of
bread in such water; and the skin taken from rusty bacon, was a
positive luxury. Nevertheless, I sometimes got full meals and
kind words from sympathizing old slaves, who knew my sufferings,
and received the comforting assurance that I should be a man some
day. "Never mind, honey--better day comin'," was even then a
solace, a cheering consolation to me in my <59 JARGON OF THE
PLANTATION>troubles. Nor were all the kind words I received from
slaves. I had a friend in the parlor, as well, and one to whom I
shall be glad to do justice, before I have finished this part of
my story.
I was not long at old master's, before I learned that his surname
was Anthony, and that he was generally called "Captain Anthony"--
a title which he probably acquired by sailing a craft in the
Chesapeake Bay. Col. Lloyd's slaves never called Capt. Anthony
"old master," but always Capt. Anthony; and _me_ they called
"Captain Anthony Fred." There is not, probably, in the whole
south, a plantation where the English language is more
imperfectly spoken than on Col. Lloyd's. It is a mixture of
Guinea and everything else you please. At the time of which I am
now writing, there were slaves there who had been brought from
the coast of Africa. They never used the "s" in indication of
the possessive case. "Cap'n Ant'ney Tom," "Lloyd Bill," "Aunt
Rose Harry," means "Captain Anthony's Tom," "Lloyd's Bill," &c.
_"Oo you dem long to?"_ means, "Whom do you belong to?" _"Oo dem
got any peachy?"_ means, "Have you got any peaches?" I could
scarcely understand them when I first went among them, so broken
was their speech; and I am persuaded that I could not have been
dropped anywhere on the globe, where I could reap less, in the
way of knowledge, from my immediate associates, than on this
plantation. Even "MAS' DANIEL," by his association with his
father's slaves, had measurably adopted their dialect and their
ideas, so far as they had ideas to be adopted. The equality of
nature is strongly asserted in childhood, and childhood requires
children for associates. _Color_ makes no difference with a
child. Are you a child with wants, tastes and pursuits common to
children, not put on, but natural? then, were you black as ebony
you would be welcome to the child of alabaster whiteness. The
law of compensation holds here, as well as elsewhere. Mas'
Daniel could not associate with ignorance without sharing its
shade; and he could not give his black playmates his company,
without giving them his intelligence, as well. Without knowing
<60>this, or caring about it, at the time, I, for some cause or
other, spent much of my time with Mas' Daniel, in preference to
spending it with most of the other boys.
Mas' Daniel was the youngest son of Col. Lloyd; his older
brothers were Edward and Murray--both grown up, and fine looking
men. Edward was especially esteemed by the children, and by me
among the rest; not that he ever said anything to us or for us,
which could be called especially kind; it was enough for us, that
he never looked nor acted scornfully toward us. There were also
three sisters, all married; one to Edward Winder; a second to
Edward Nicholson; a third to Mr. Lownes.
The family of old master consisted of two sons, Andrew and
Richard; his daughter, Lucretia, and her newly married husband,
Capt. Auld. This was the house family. The kitchen family
consisted of Aunt Katy, Aunt Esther, and ten or a dozen children,
most of them older than myself. Capt. Anthony was not considered
a rich slaveholder, but was pretty well off in the world. He
owned about thirty _"head"_ of slaves, and three farms in
Tuckahoe. The most valuable part of his property was his slaves,
of whom he could afford to sell one every year. This crop,
therefore, brought him seven or eight hundred dollars a year,
besides his yearly salary, and other revenue from his farms.
The idea of rank and station was rigidly maintained on Col.
Lloyd's plantation. Our family never visited the great house,
and the Lloyds never came to our home. Equal non-intercourse was
observed between Capt. Anthony's family and that of Mr. Sevier,
the overseer.
Such, kind reader, was the community, and such the place, in
which my earliest and most lasting impressions of slavery, and of
slave-life, were received; of which impressions you will learn
more in the coming chapters of this book.
_Gradual Initiation to the Mysteries of Slavery_
Although my old master--Capt. Anthony--gave me at first, (as the
reader will have already seen) very little attention, and
although that little was of a remarkably mild and gentle
description, a few months only were sufficient to convince me
that mildness and gentleness were not the prevailing or governing
traits of his character. These excellent qualities were
displayed only occasionally. He could, when it suited him,
appear to be literally insensible to the claims of humanity, when
appealed to by the helpless against an aggressor, and he could
himself commit outrages, deep, dark and nameless. Yet he was not
by nature worse than other men. Had he been brought up in a free
state, surrounded by the just restraints of free society--
restraints which are necessary to the freedom of all its members,
alike and equally--Capt. Anthony might have been as humane a man,
and every way as respectable, as many who now oppose the slave
system; certainly as humane and respectable as are members of
society generally. The slaveholder, as well as the slave, is the
victim of the slave <62>system. A man's character greatly takes
its hue and shape from the form and color of things about him.
Under the whole heavens there is no relation more unfavorable to
the development of honorable character, than that sustained by
the slaveholder to the slave. Reason is imprisoned here, and
passions run wild. Like the fires of the prairie, once lighted,
they are at the mercy of every wind, and must burn, till they
have consumed all that is combustible within their remorseless
grasp. Capt. Anthony could be kind, and, at times, he even
showed an affectionate disposition. Could the reader have seen
him gently leading me by the hand--as he sometimes did--patting
me on the head, speaking to me in soft, caressing tones and
calling me his "little Indian boy," he would have deemed him a
kind old man, and really, almost fatherly. But the pleasant
moods of a slaveholder are remarkably brittle; they are easily
snapped; they neither come often, nor remain long. His temper is
subjected to perpetual trials; but, since these trials are never
borne patiently, they add nothing to his natural stock of
Old master very early impressed me with the idea that he was an
unhappy man. Even to my child's eye, he wore a troubled, and at
times, a haggard aspect. His strange movements excited my
curiosity, and awakened my compassion. He seldom walked alone
without muttering to himself; and he occasionally stormed about,
as if defying an army of invisible foes. "He would do this,
that, and the other; he'd be d--d if he did not,"--was the usual
form of his threats. Most of his leisure was spent in walking,
cursing and gesticulating, like one possessed by a demon. Most
evidently, he was a wretched man, at war with his own soul, and
with all the world around him. To be overheard by the children,
disturbed him very little. He made no more of our presence, than
of that of the ducks and geese which he met on the green. He
little thought that the little black urchins around him, could
see, through those vocal crevices, the very secrets of his heart.
Slaveholders ever underrate the intelligence with which <63
really understood the old man's mutterings, attitudes and
gestures, about as well as he did himself. But slaveholders
never encourage that kind of communication, with the slaves, by
which they might learn to measure the depths of his knowledge.
Ignorance is a high virtue in a human chattel; and as the master
studies to keep the slave ignorant, the slave is cunning enough
to make the master think he succeeds. The slave fully
appreciates the saying, "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to
be wise." When old master's gestures were violent, ending with a
threatening shake of the head, and a sharp snap of his middle
finger and thumb, I deemed it wise to keep at a respectable
distance from him; for, at such times, trifling faults stood, in
his eyes, as momentous offenses; and, having both the power and
the disposition, the victim had only to be near him to catch the
punishment, deserved or undeserved.
One of the first circumstances that opened my eyes to the cruelty
and wickedness of slavery, and the heartlessness of my old
master, was the refusal of the latter to interpose his authority,
to protect and shield a young woman, who had been most cruelly
abused and beaten by his overseer in Tuckahoe. This overseer--a
Mr. Plummer--was a man like most of his class, little better than
a human brute; and, in addition to his general profligacy and
repulsive coarseness, the creature was a miserable drunkard. He
was, probably, employed by my old master, less on account of the
excellence of his services, than for the cheap rate at which they
could be obtained. He was not fit to have the management of a
drove of mules. In a fit of drunken madness, he committed the
outrage which brought the young woman in question down to my old
master's for protection. This young woman was the daughter of
Milly, an own aunt of mine. The poor girl, on arriving at our
house, presented a pitiable appearance. She had left in haste,
and without preparation; and, probably, without the knowledge of
Mr. Plummer. She had traveled twelve miles, bare-footed, barenecked
and bare-headed. Her neck and shoulders <64>were covered
with scars, newly made; and not content with marring her neck and
shoulders, with the cowhide, the cowardly brute had dealt her a
blow on the head with a hickory club, which cut a horrible gash,
and left her face literally covered with blood. In this
condition, the poor young woman came down, to implore protection
at the hands of my old master. I expected to see him boil over
with rage at the revolting deed, and to hear him fill the air
with curses upon the brutual Plummer; but I was disappointed. He
sternly told her, in an angry tone, he "believed she deserved
every bit of it," and, if she did not go home instantly, he would
himself take the remaining skin from her neck and back. Thus was
the poor girl compelled to return, without redress, and perhaps
to receive an additional flogging for daring to appeal to old
master against the overseer.
Old master seemed furious at the thought of being troubled by
such complaints. I did not, at that time, understand the
philosophy of his treatment of my cousin. It was stern,
unnatural, violent. Had the man no bowels of compassion? Was he
dead to all sense of humanity? No. I think I now understand it.
This treatment is a part of the system, rather than a part of the
man. Were slaveholders to listen to complaints of this sort
against the overseers, the luxury of owning large numbers of
slaves, would be impossible. It would do away with the office of
overseer, entirely; or, in other words, it would convert the
master himself into an overseer. It would occasion great loss of
time and labor, leaving the overseer in fetters, and without the
necessary power to secure obedience to his orders. A privilege
so dangerous as that of appeal, is, therefore, strictly
prohibited; and any one exercising it, runs a fearful hazard.
Nevertheless, when a slave has nerve enough to exercise it, and
boldly approaches his master, with a well-founded complaint
against an overseer, though he may be repulsed, and may even have
that of which he complains repeated at the time, and, though he
may be beaten by his master, as well as by the overseer, for his
temerity, in the end the <65 SLAVEHOLDERS IMPATIENCE>policy of
complaining is, generally, vindicated by the relaxed rigor of the
overseer's treatment. The latter becomes more careful, and less
disposed to use the lash upon such slaves thereafter. It is with
this final result in view, rather than with any expectation of
immediate good, that the outraged slave is induced to meet his
master with a complaint. The overseer very naturally dislikes to
have the ear of the master disturbed by complaints; and, either
upon this consideration, or upon advice and warning privately
given him by his employers, he generally modifies the rigor of
his rule, after an outbreak of the kind to which I have been
Howsoever the slaveholder may allow himself to act toward his
slave, and, whatever cruelty he may deem it wise, for example's
sake, or for the gratification of his humor, to inflict, he
cannot, in the absence of all provocation, look with pleasure
upon the bleeding wounds of a defenseless slave-woman. When he
drives her from his presence without redress, or the hope of
redress, he acts, generally, from motives of policy, rather than
from a hardened nature, or from innate brutality. Yet, let but
his own temper be stirred, his own passions get loose, and the
slave-owner will go _far beyond_ the overseer in cruelty. He
will convince the slave that his wrath is far more terrible and
boundless, and vastly more to be dreaded, than that of the
underling overseer. What may have been mechanically and
heartlessly done by the overseer, is now done with a will. The
man who now wields the lash is irresponsible. He may, if he
pleases, cripple or kill, without fear of consequences; except in
so far as it may concern profit or loss. To a man of violent
temper--as my old master was--this was but a very slender and
inefficient restraint. I have seen him in a tempest of passion,
such as I have just described--a passion into which entered all
the bitter ingredients of pride, hatred, envy, jealousy, and the
thrist{sic} for revenge.
The circumstances which I am about to narrate, and which gave
rise to this fearful tempest of passion, are not singular nor
<66>isolated in slave life, but are common in every slaveholding
community in which I have lived. They are incidental to the
relation of master and slave, and exist in all sections of slaveholding
The reader will have noticed that, in enumerating the names of
the slaves who lived with my old master, _Esther_ is mentioned.
This was a young woman who possessed that which is ever a curse
to the slave-girl; namely--personal beauty. She was tall, well
formed, and made a fine appearance. The daughters of Col. Lloyd
could scarcely surpass her in personal charms. Esther was
courted by Ned Roberts, and he was as fine looking a young man,
as she was a woman. He was the son of a favorite slave of Col.
Lloyd. Some slaveholders would have been glad to promote the
marriage of two such persons; but, for some reason or other, my
old master took it upon him to break up the growing intimacy
between Esther and Edward. He strictly ordered her to quit the
company of said Roberts, telling her that he would punish her
severely if he ever found her again in Edward's company. This
unnatural and heartless order was, of course, broken. A woman's
love is not to be annihilated by the peremptory command of any
one, whose breath is in his nostrils. It was impossible to keep
Edward and Esther apart. Meet they would, and meet they did.
Had old master been a man of honor and purity, his motives, in
this matter, might have been viewed more favorably. As it was,
his motives were as abhorrent, as his methods were foolish and
contemptible. It was too evident that he was not concerned for
the girl's welfare. It is one of the damning characteristics of
the slave system, that it robs its victims of every earthly
incentive to a holy life. The fear of God, and the hope of
heaven, are found sufficient to sustain many slave-women, amidst
the snares and dangers of their strange lot; but, this side of
God and heaven, a slave-woman is at the mercy of the power,
caprice and passion of her owner. Slavery provides no means for
the honorable continuance of the race. Marriage as imposing
obligations on the parties to it--has no <67 A HARROWING SCENE>
existence here, except in such hearts as are purer and higher
than the standard morality around them. It is one of the
consolations of my life, that I know of many honorable instances
of persons who maintained their honor, where all around was
Esther was evidently much attached to Edward, and abhorred--as
she had reason to do--the tyrannical and base behavior of old
master. Edward was young, and fine looking, and he loved and
courted her. He might have been her husband, in the high sense
just alluded to; but WHO and _what_ was this old master? His
attentions were plainly brutal and selfish, and it was as natural
that Esther should loathe him, as that she should love Edward.
Abhorred and circumvented as he was, old master, having the
power, very easily took revenge. I happened to see this
exhibition of his rage and cruelty toward Esther. The time
selected was singular. It was early in the morning, when all
besides was still, and before any of the family, in the house or
kitchen, had left their beds. I saw but few of the shocking
preliminaries, for the cruel work had begun before I awoke. I
was probably awakened by the shrieks and piteous cries of poor
Esther. My sleeping place was on the floor of a little, rough
closet, which opened into the kitchen; and through the cracks of
its unplaned boards, I could distinctly see and hear what was
going on, without being seen by old master. Esther's wrists were
firmly tied, and the twisted rope was fastened to a strong staple
in a heavy wooden joist above, near the fireplace. Here she
stood, on a bench, her arms tightly drawn over her breast. Her
back and shoulders were bare to the waist. Behind her stood old
master, with cowskin in hand, preparing his barbarous work with
all manner of harsh, coarse, and tantalizing epithets. The
screams of his victim were most piercing. He was cruelly
deliberate, and protracted the torture, as one who was delighted
with the scene. Again and again he drew the hateful whip through
his hand, adjusting it with a view of dealing the most paingiving
blow. Poor Esther had never yet been severely whipped,
and her shoulders <68>were plump and tender. Each blow,
vigorously laid on, brought screams as well as blood. _"Have
mercy; Oh! have mercy"_ she cried; "_I won't do so no more;"_ but
her piercing cries seemed only to increase his fury. His answers
to them are too coarse and blasphemous to be produced here. The
whole scene, with all its attendants, was revolting and shocking,
to the last degree; and when the motives of this brutal
castigation are considered,--language has no power to convey a
just sense of its awful criminality. After laying on some thirty
or forty stripes, old master untied his suffering victim, and let
her get down. She could scarcely stand, when untied. From my
heart I pitied her, and--child though I was--the outrage kindled
in me a feeling far from peaceful; but I was hushed, terrified,
stunned, and could do nothing, and the fate of Esther might be
mine next. The scene here described was often repeated in the
case of poor Esther, and her life, as I knew it, was one of
_Treatment of Slaves on Lloyd's Plantation_
The heart-rending incidents, related in the foregoing chapter,
led me, thus early, to inquire into the nature and history of
slavery. _Why am I a slave? Why are some people slaves, and
others masters? Was there ever a time this was not so? How did
the relation commence?_ These were the perplexing questions
which began now to claim my thoughts, and to exercise the weak
powers of my mind, for I was still but a child, and knew less
than children of the same age in the free states. As my
questions concerning these things were only put to children a
little older, and little better informed than myself, I was not
rapid in reaching a solid footing. By some means I learned from
these inquiries that _"God, up in the sky,"_ made every body; and
that he made _white_ people to be masters and mistresses, and
_black_ people to be slaves. This did not satisfy me, nor lessen
my interest in the subject. I was told, too, that God was good,
and that He knew what was best for me, and best for everybody.
This was less satisfactory than the first statement; because it
came, point blank, against all my <70>notions of goodness. It
was not good to let old master cut the flesh off Esther, and make
her cry so. Besides, how did people know that God made black
people to be slaves? Did they go up in the sky and learn it? or,
did He come down and tell them so? All was dark here. It was
some relief to my hard notions of the goodness of God, that,
although he made white men to be slaveholders, he did not make
them to be _bad_ slaveholders, and that, in due time, he would
punish the bad slaveholders; that he would, when they died, send
them to the bad place, where they would be "burnt up."
Nevertheless, I could not reconcile the relation of slavery with
my crude notions of goodness.
Then, too, I found that there were puzzling exceptions to this
theory of slavery on both sides, and in the middle. I knew of
blacks who were _not_ slaves; I knew of whites who were _not_
slaveholders; and I knew of persons who were _nearly_ white, who
were slaves. _Color_, therefore, was a very unsatisfactory basis
for slavery.
Once, however, engaged in the inquiry, I was not very long in
finding out the true solution of the matter. It was not _color_,
but _crime_, not _God_, but _man_, that afforded the true
explanation of the existence of slavery; nor was I long in
finding out another important truth, viz: what man can make, man
can unmake. The appalling darkness faded away, and I was master
of the subject. There were slaves here, direct from Guinea; and
there were many who could say that their fathers and mothers were
stolen from Africa--forced from their homes, and compelled to
serve as slaves. This, to me, was knowledge; but it was a kind
of knowledge which filled me with a burning hatred of slavery,
increased my suffering, and left me without the means of breaking
away from my bondage. Yet it was knowledge quite worth
possessing. I could not have been more than seven or eight years
old, when I began to make this subject my study. It was with me
in the woods and fields; along the shore of the river, and
wherever my boyish wanderings led me; and though I was, at that
time, <71 EARLY REFLECTIONS ON SLAVERY>quite ignorant of the
existence of the free states, I distinctly remember being, _even
then_, most strongly impressed with the idea of being a freeman
some day. This cheering assurance was an inborn dream of my
human nature a constant menace to slavery--and one which all the
powers of slavery were unable to silence or extinguish.
Up to the time of the brutal flogging of my Aunt Esther--for she
was my own aunt--and the horrid plight in which I had seen my
cousin from Tuckahoe, who had been so badly beaten by the cruel
Mr. Plummer, my attention had not been called, especially, to the
gross features of slavery. I had, of course, heard of whippings
and of savage _rencontres_ between overseers and slaves, but I
had always been out of the way at the times and places of their
occurrence. My plays and sports, most of the time, took me from
the corn and tobacco fields, where the great body of the hands
were at work, and where scenes of cruelty were enacted and
witnessed. But, after the whipping of Aunt Esther, I saw many
cases of the same shocking nature, not only in my master's house,
but on Col. Lloyd's plantation. One of the first which I saw,
and which greatly agitated me, was the whipping of a woman
belonging to Col. Lloyd, named Nelly. The offense alleged
against Nelly, was one of the commonest and most indefinite in
the whole catalogue of offenses usually laid to the charge of
slaves, viz: "impudence." This may mean almost anything, or
nothing at all, just according to the caprice of the master or
overseer, at the moment. But, whatever it is, or is not, if it
gets the name of "impudence," the party charged with it is sure
of a flogging. This offense may be committed in various ways; in
the tone of an answer; in answering at all; in not answering; in
the expression of countenance; in the motion of the head; in the
gait, manner and bearing of the slave. In the case under
consideration, I can easily believe that, according to all
slaveholding standards, here was a genuine instance of impudence.
In Nelly there were all the necessary conditions for committing
the offense. She was <72>a bright mulatto, the recognized wife
of a favorite "hand" on board Col. Lloyd's sloop, and the mother
of five sprightly children. She was a vigorous and spirited
woman, and one of the most likely, on the plantation, to be
guilty of impudence. My attention was called to the scene, by
the noise, curses and screams that proceeded from it; and, on
going a little in that direction, I came upon the parties engaged
in the skirmish. Mr. Siever, the overseer, had hold of Nelly,
when I caught sight of them; he was endeavoring to drag her
toward a tree, which endeavor Nelly was sternly resisting; but to
no purpose, except to retard the progress of the overseer's
plans. Nelly--as I have said--was the mother of five children;
three of them were present, and though quite small (from seven to
ten years old, I should think) they gallantly came to their
mother's defense, and gave the overseer an excellent pelting with
stones. One of the little fellows ran up, seized the overseer by
the leg and bit him; but the monster was too busily engaged with
Nelly, to pay any attention to the assaults of the children.
There were numerous bloody marks on Mr. Sevier's face, when I
first saw him, and they increased as the struggle went on. The
imprints of Nelly's fingers were visible, and I was glad to see
them. Amidst the wild screams of the children--"_Let my mammy
go"--"let my mammy go_"--there escaped, from between the teeth of
the bullet-headed overseer, a few bitter curses, mingled with
threats, that "he would teach the d--d b--h how to give a white
man impudence." There is no doubt that Nelly felt herself
superior, in some respects, to the slaves around her. She was a
wife and a mother; her husband was a valued and favorite slave.
Besides, he was one of the first hands on board of the sloop, and
the sloop hands--since they had to represent the plantation
abroad--were generally treated tenderly. The overseer never was
allowed to whip Harry; why then should he be allowed to whip
Harry's wife? Thoughts of this kind, no doubt, influenced her;
but, for whatever reason, she nobly resisted, and, unlike most of
the slaves, <73 COMBAT BETWEEN MR. SEVIER AND NELLY>seemed
determined to make her whipping cost Mr. Sevier as much as
possible. The blood on his (and her) face, attested her skill,
as well as her courage and dexterity in using her nails.
Maddened by her resistance, I expected to see Mr. Sevier level
her to the ground by a stunning blow; but no; like a savage bulldog--
which he resembled both in temper and appearance--he
maintained his grip, and steadily dragged his victim toward the
tree, disregarding alike her blows, and the cries of the children
for their mother's release. He would, doubtless, have knocked
her down with his hickory stick, but that such act might have
cost him his place. It is often deemed advisable to knock a
_man_ slave down, in order to tie him, but it is considered
cowardly and inexcusable, in an overseer, thus to deal with a
_woman_. He is expected to tie her up, and to give her what is
called, in southern parlance, a "genteel flogging," without any
very great outlay of strength or skill. I watched, with
palpitating interest, the course of the preliminary struggle, and
was saddened by every new advantage gained over her by the
ruffian. There were times when she seemed likely to get the
better of the brute, but he finally overpowered her, and
succeeded in getting his rope around her arms, and in firmly
tying her to the tree, at which he had been aiming. This done,
and Nelly was at the mercy of his merciless lash; and now, what
followed, I have no heart to describe. The cowardly creature
made good his every threat; and wielded the lash with all the hot
zest of furious revenge. The cries of the woman, while
undergoing the terrible infliction, were mingled with those of
the children, sounds which I hope the reader may never be called
upon to hear. When Nelly was untied, her back was covered with
blood. The red stripes were all over her shoulders. She was
whipped--severely whipped; but she was not subdued, for she
continued to denounce the overseer, and to call him every vile
name. He had bruised her flesh, but had left her invincible
spirit undaunted. Such floggings are seldom repeated by the same
overseer. They prefer to whip those <74>who are most easily
whipped. The old doctrine that submission is the very best cure
for outrage and wrong, does not hold good on the slave
plantation. He is whipped oftenest, who is whipped easiest; and
that slave who has the courage to stand up for himself against
the overseer, although he may have many hard stripes at the
first, becomes, in the end, a freeman, even though he sustain the
formal relation of a slave. "You can shoot me but you can't whip
me," said a slave to Rigby Hopkins; and the result was that he
was neither whipped nor shot. If the latter had been his fate,
it would have been less deplorable than the living and lingering
death to which cowardly and slavish souls are subjected. I do
not know that Mr. Sevier ever undertook to whip Nelly again. He
probably never did, for it was not long after his attempt to
subdue her, that he was taken sick, and died. The wretched man
died as he had lived, unrepentant; and it was said--with how much
truth I know not--that in the very last hours of his life, his
ruling passion showed itself, and that when wrestling with death,
he was uttering horrid oaths, and flourishing the cowskin, as
though he was tearing the flesh off some helpless slave. One
thing is certain, that when he was in health, it was enough to
chill the blood, and to stiffen the hair of an ordinary man, to
hear Mr. Sevier talk. Nature, or his cruel habits, had given to
his face an expression of unusual savageness, even for a slavedriver.
Tobacco and rage had worn his teeth short, and nearly
every sentence that escaped their compressed grating, was
commenced or concluded with some outburst of profanity. His
presence made the field alike the field of blood, and of
blasphemy. Hated for his cruelty, despised for his cowardice,
his death was deplored by no one outside his own house--if indeed
it was deplored there; it was regarded by the slaves as a
merciful interposition of Providence. Never went there a man to
the grave loaded with heavier curses. Mr. Sevier's place was
promptly taken by a Mr. Hopkins, and the change was quite a
relief, he being a very different man. He was, in <75 ALLOWANCE
DAY AT THE HOME PLANTATION>all respects, a better man than his
predecessor; as good as any man can be, and yet be an overseer.
His course was characterized by no extraordinary cruelty; and
when he whipped a slave, as he sometimes did, he seemed to take
no especial pleasure in it, but, on the contrary, acted as though
he felt it to be a mean business. Mr. Hopkins stayed but a short
time; his place much to the regret of the slaves generally--was
taken by a Mr. Gore, of whom more will be said hereafter. It is
enough, for the present, to say, that he was no improvement on
Mr. Sevier, except that he was less noisy and less profane.
I have already referred to the business-like aspect of Col.
Lloyd's plantation. This business-like appearance was much
increased on the two days at the end of each month, when the
slaves from the different farms came to get their monthly
allowance of meal and meat. These were gala days for the slaves,
and there was much rivalry among them as to _who_ should be
elected to go up to the great house farm for the allowance, and,
indeed, to attend to any business at this (for them) the capital.
The beauty and grandeur of the place, its numerous slave
population, and the fact that Harry, Peter and Jake the sailors
of the sloop--almost always kept, privately, little trinkets
which they bought at Baltimore, to sell, made it a privilege to
come to the great house farm. Being selected, too, for this
office, was deemed a high honor. It was taken as a proof of
confidence and favor; but, probably, the chief motive of the
competitors for the place, was, a desire to break the dull
monotony of the field, and to get beyond the overseer's eye and
lash. Once on the road with an ox team, and seated on the tongue
of his cart, with no overseer to look after him, the slave was
comparatively free; and, if thoughtful, he had time to think.
Slaves are generally expected to sing as well as to work. A
silent slave is not liked by masters or overseers. _"Make a
noise," "make a noise,"_ and _"bear a hand,"_ are the words
usually addressed to the slaves when there is silence amongst
them. This may account for the almost constant singing <76>heard
in the southern states. There was, generally, more or less
singing among the teamsters, as it was one means of letting the
overseer know where they were, and that they were moving on with
the work. But, on allowance day, those who visited the great
house farm were peculiarly excited and noisy. While on their
way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around,
reverberate with their wild notes. These were not always merry
because they were wild. On the contrary, they were mostly of a
plaintive cast, and told a tale of grief and sorrow. In the most
boisterous outbursts of rapturous sentiment, there was ever a
tinge of deep melancholy. I have never heard any songs like
those anywhere since I left slavery, except when in Ireland.
There I heard the same _wailing notes_, and was much affected by
them. It was during the famine of 1845-6. In all the songs of
the slaves, there was ever some expression in praise of the great
house farm; something which would flatter the pride of the owner,
and, possibly, draw a favorable glance from him.
_I am going away to the great house farm,
O yea! O yea! O yea!
My old master is a good old master,
O yea! O yea! O yea!_
This they would sing, with other words of their own improvising--
jargon to others, but full of meaning to themselves. I have
sometimes thought, that the mere hearing of those songs would do
more to impress truly spiritual-minded men and women with the
soul-crushing and death-dealing character of slavery, than the
reading of whole volumes of its mere physical cruelties. They
speak to the heart and to the soul of the thoughtful. I cannot
better express my sense of them now, than ten years ago, when, in
sketching my life, I thus spoke of this feature of my plantation
I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meanings of those
rude, and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the
circle, so that I neither saw or heard as those without might see
and hear. They told a tale which was <77 SINGING OF SLAVES--AN
EXPLANATION>then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they
were tones, loud, long and deep, breathing the prayer and
complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish.
Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God
for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes
always depressed my spirits, and filled my heart with ineffable
sadness. The mere recurrence, even now, afflicts my spirit, and
while I am writing these lines, my tears are falling. To those
songs I trace my first glimmering conceptions of the dehumanizing
character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception.
Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and
quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one
wishes to be impressed with a sense of the soul-killing power of
slavery, let him go to Col. Lloyd's plantation, and, on allowance
day, place himself in the deep, pine woods, and there let him, in
silence, thoughtfully analyze the sounds that shall pass through
the chambers of his soul, and if he is not thus impressed, it
will only be because "there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."
The remark is not unfrequently made, that slaves are the most
contended and happy laborers in the world. They dance and sing,
and make all manner of joyful noises--so they do; but it is a
great mistake to suppose them happy because they sing. The songs
of the slave represent the sorrows, rather than the joys, of his
heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is
relieved by its tears. Such is the constitution of the human
mind, that, when pressed to extremes, it often avails itself of
the most opposite methods. Extremes meet in mind as in matter.
When the slaves on board of the "Pearl" were overtaken, arrested,
and carried to prison--their hopes for freedom blasted--as they
marched in chains they sang, and found (as Emily Edmunson tells
us) a melancholy relief in singing. The singing of a man cast
away on a desolate island, might be as appropriately considered
an evidence of his contentment and happiness, as the singing of a
slave. Sorrow and desolation have their songs, as well as joy
and peace. Slaves sing more to _make_ themselves happy, than to
express their happiness.
It is the boast of slaveholders, that their slaves enjoy more of
the physical comforts of life than the peasantry of any country
in the world. My experience contradicts this. The men and the
women slaves on Col. Lloyd's farm, received, as their monthly
<78>allowance of food, eight pounds of pickled pork, or their
equivalent in fish. The pork was often tainted, and the fish was
of the poorest quality--herrings, which would bring very little
if offered for sale in any northern market. With their pork or
fish, they had one bushel of Indian meal--unbolted--of which
quite fifteen per cent was fit only to feed pigs. With this, one
pint of salt was given; and this was the entire monthly allowance
of a full grown slave, working constantly in the open field, from
morning until night, every day in the month except Sunday, and
living on a fraction more than a quarter of a pound of meat per
day, and less than a peck of corn-meal per week. There is no
kind of work that a man can do which requires a better supply of
food to prevent physical exhaustion, than the field-work of a
slave. So much for the slave's allowance of food; now for his
raiment. The yearly allowance of clothing for the slaves on this
plantation, consisted of two tow-linen shirts--such linen as the
coarsest crash towels are made of; one pair of trowsers of the
same material, for summer, and a pair of trowsers and a jacket of
woolen, most slazily put together, for winter; one pair of yarn
stockings, and one pair of shoes of the coarsest description.
The slave's entire apparel could not have cost more than eight
dollars per year. The allowance of food and clothing for the
little children, was committed to their mothers, or to the older
slavewomen having the care of them. Children who were unable to
work in the field, had neither shoes, stockings, jackets nor
trowsers given them. Their clothing consisted of two coarse towlinen
shirts--already described--per year; and when these failed
them, as they often did, they went naked until the next allowance
day. Flocks of little children from five to ten years old, might
be seen on Col. Lloyd's plantation, as destitute of clothing as
any little heathen on the west coast of Africa; and this, not
merely during the summer months, but during the frosty weather of
March. The little girls were no better off than the boys; all
were nearly in a state of nudity.
As to beds to sleep on, they were known to none of the field
hands; nothing but a coarse blanket--not so good as those used in
the north to cover horses--was given them, and this only to the
men and women. The children stuck themselves in holes and
corners, about the quarters; often in the corner of the huge
chimneys, with their feet in the ashes to keep them warm. The
want of beds, however, was not considered a very great privation.
Time to sleep was of far greater importance, for, when the day's
work is done, most of the slaves have their washing, mending and
cooking to do; and, having few or none of the ordinary facilities
for doing such things, very many of their sleeping hours are
consumed in necessary preparations for the duties of the coming
The sleeping apartments--if they may be called such--have little
regard to comfort or decency. Old and young, male and female,
married and single, drop down upon the common clay floor, each
covering up with his or her blanket,--the only protection they
have from cold or exposure. The night, however, is shortened at
both ends. The slaves work often as long as they can see, and
are late in cooking and mending for the coming day; and, at the
first gray streak of morning, they are summoned to the field by
the driver's horn.
More slaves are whipped for oversleeping than for any other
fault. Neither age nor sex finds any favor. The overseer stands
at the quarter door, armed with stick and cowskin, ready to whip
any who may be a few minutes behind time. When the horn is
blown, there is a rush for the door, and the hindermost one is
sure to get a blow from the overseer. Young mothers who worked
in the field, were allowed an hour, about ten o'clock in the
morning, to go home to nurse their children. Sometimes they were
compelled to take their children with them, and to leave them in
the corner of the fences, to prevent loss of time in nursing
them. The overseer generally rides about the field on horseback.
A cowskin and a hickory stick are his constant companions. The
<80>cowskin is a kind of whip seldom seen in the northern states.
It is made entirely of untanned, but dried, ox hide, and is about
as hard as a piece of well-seasoned live oak. It is made of
various sizes, but the usual length is about three feet. The
part held in the hand is nearly an inch in thickness; and, from
the extreme end of the butt or handle, the cowskin tapers its
whole length to a point. This makes it quite elastic and
springy. A blow with it, on the hardest back, will gash the
flesh, and make the blood start. Cowskins are painted red, blue
and green, and are the favorite slave whip. I think this whip
worse than the "cat-o'nine-tails." It condenses the whole
strength of the arm to a single point, and comes with a spring
that makes the air whistle. It is a terrible instrument, and is
so handy, that the overseer can always have it on his person, and
ready for use. The temptation to use it is ever strong; and an
overseer can, if disposed, always have cause for using it. With
him, it is literally a word and a blow, and, in most cases, the
blow comes first.
As a general rule, slaves do not come to the quarters for either
breakfast or dinner, but take their "ash cake" with them, and eat
it in the field. This was so on the home plantation; probably,
because the distance from the quarter to the field, was sometimes
two, and even three miles.
The dinner of the slaves consisted of a huge piece of ash cake,
and a small piece of pork, or two salt herrings. Not having
ovens, nor any suitable cooking utensils, the slaves mixed their
meal with a little water, to such thickness that a spoon would
stand erect in it; and, after the wood had burned away to coals
and ashes, they would place the dough between oak leaves and lay
it carefully in the ashes, completely covering it; hence, the
bread is called ash cake. The surface of this peculiar bread is
covered with ashes, to the depth of a sixteenth part of an inch,
and the ashes, certainly, do not make it very grateful to the
teeth, nor render it very palatable. The bran, or coarse part of
the meal, is baked with the fine, and bright scales run through
the bread. <81 THE CONTRAST>This bread, with its ashes and bran,
would disgust and choke a northern man, but it is quite liked by
the slaves. They eat it with avidity, and are more concerned
about the quantity than about the quality. They are far too
scantily provided for, and are worked too steadily, to be much
concerned for the quality of their food. The few minutes allowed
them at dinner time, after partaking of their coarse repast, are
variously spent. Some lie down on the "turning row," and go to
sleep; others draw together, and talk; and others are at work
with needle and thread, mending their tattered garments.
Sometimes you may hear a wild, hoarse laugh arise from a circle,
and often a song. Soon, however, the overseer comes dashing
through the field. _"Tumble up! Tumble up_, and to _work,
work,"_ is the cry; and, now, from twelve o'clock (mid-day) till
dark, the human cattle are in motion, wielding their clumsy hoes;
hurried on by no hope of reward, no sense of gratitude, no love
of children, no prospect of bettering their condition; nothing,
save the dread and terror of the slave-driver's lash. So goes
one day, and so comes and goes another.
But, let us now leave the rough usage of the field, where vulgar
coarseness and brutal cruelty spread themselves and flourish,
rank as weeds in the tropics; where a vile wretch, in the shape
of a man, rides, walks, or struts about, dealing blows, and
leaving gashes on broken-spirited men and helpless women, for
thirty dollars per month--a business so horrible, hardening and
disgraceful, that, rather, than engage in it, a decent man would
blow his own brains out--and let the reader view with me the
equally wicked, but less repulsive aspects of slave life; where
pride and pomp roll luxuriously at ease; where the toil of a
thousand men supports a single family in easy idleness and sin.
This is the great house; it is the home of the LLOYDS! Some idea
of its splendor has already been given--and, it is here that we
shall find that height of luxury which is the opposite of that
depth of poverty and physical wretchedness that we have just now
been contemplating. But, there is this difference in the two
extremes; <82>viz: that in the case of the slave, the miseries
and hardships of his lot are imposed by others, and, in the
master's case, they are imposed by himself. The slave is a
subject, subjected by others; the slaveholder is a subject, but
he is the author of his own subjection. There is more truth in
the saying, that slavery is a greater evil to the master than to
the slave, than many, who utter it, suppose. The self-executing
laws of eternal justice follow close on the heels of the evildoer
here, as well as elsewhere; making escape from all its
penalties impossible. But, let others philosophize; it is my
province here to relate and describe; only allowing myself a word
or two, occasionally, to assist the reader in the proper
understanding of the facts narrated.
_Life in the Great House_
The close-fisted stinginess that fed the poor slave on coarse
corn-meal and tainted meat; that clothed him in crashy tow-linen,
and hurried him to toil through the field, in all weathers, with
wind and rain beating through his tattered garments; that
scarcely gave even the young slave-mother time to nurse her
hungry infant in the fence corner; wholly vanishes on approaching
the sacred precincts of the great house, the home of the Lloyds.
There the scriptural phrase finds an exact illustration; the
highly favored inmates of this mansion are literally arrayed "in
purple and fine linen," and fare sumptuously every day! The
table groans under the heavy and blood-bought luxuries gathered
with painstaking care, at home and abroad. Fields, forests,
rivers and seas, are made tributary here. Immense wealth, and
its lavish expenditure, fill the great house with all that can
please the eye, or tempt the taste. Here, appetite, not food, is
the great _desideratum_. Fish, flesh and fowl, are here in
profusion. Chickens, of <84>all breeds; ducks, of all kinds,
wild and tame, the common, and the huge Muscovite; Guinea fowls,
turkeys, geese, and pea fowls, are in their several pens, fat and
fatting for the destined vortex. The graceful swan, the
mongrels, the black-necked wild goose; partridges, quails,
pheasants and pigeons; choice water fowl, with all their strange
varieties, are caught in this huge family net. Beef, veal,
mutton and venison, of the most select kinds and quality, roll
bounteously to this grand consumer. The teeming riches of the
Chesapeake bay, its rock, perch, drums, crocus, trout, oysters,
crabs, and terrapin, are drawn hither to adorn the glittering
table of the great house. The dairy, too, probably the finest on
the Eastern Shore of Maryland--supplied by cattle of the best
English stock, imported for the purpose, pours its rich donations
of fragant cheese, golden butter, and delicious cream, to
heighten the attraction of the gorgeous, unending round of
feasting. Nor are the fruits of the earth forgotten or
neglected. The fertile garden, many acres in size, constituting
a separate establishment, distinct from the common farm--with its
scientific gardener, imported from Scotland (a Mr. McDermott)
with four men under his direction, was not behind, either in the
abundance or in the delicacy of its contributions to the same
full board. The tender asparagus, the succulent celery, and the
delicate cauliflower; egg plants, beets, lettuce, parsnips, peas,
and French beans, early and late; radishes, cantelopes, melons of
all kinds; the fruits and flowers of all climes and of all
descriptions, from the hardy apple of the north, to the lemon and
orange of the south, culminated at this point. Baltimore
gathered figs, raisins, almonds and juicy grapes from Spain.
Wines and brandies from France; teas of various flavor, from
China; and rich, aromatic coffee from Java, all conspired to
swell the tide of high life, where pride and indolence rolled and
lounged in magnificence and satiety.
Behind the tall-backed and elaborately wrought chairs, stand the
servants, men and maidens--fifteen in number--discriminately
selected, not only with a view to their industry and faith<85
HOUSE SERVANTS>fulness, but with special regard to their personal
appearance, their graceful agility and captivating address. Some
of these are armed with fans, and are fanning reviving breezes
toward the over-heated brows of the alabaster ladies; others
watch with eager eye, and with fawn-like step anticipate and
supply wants before they are sufficiently formed to be announced
by word or sign.
These servants constituted a sort of black aristocracy on Col.
Lloyd's plantation. They resembled the field hands in nothing,
except in color, and in this they held the advantage of a velvetlike
glossiness, rich and beautiful. The hair, too, showed the
same advantage. The delicate colored maid rustled in the
scarcely worn silk of her young mistress, while the servant men
were equally well attired from the over-flowing wardrobe of their
young masters; so that, in dress, as well as in form and feature,
in manner and speech, in tastes and habits, the distance between
these favored few, and the sorrow and hunger-smitten multitudes
of the quarter and the field, was immense; and this is seldom
passed over.
Let us now glance at the stables and the carriage house, and we
shall find the same evidences of pride and luxurious
extravagance. Here are three splendid coaches, soft within and
lustrous without. Here, too, are gigs, phaetons, barouches,
sulkeys and sleighs. Here are saddles and harnesses--beautifully
wrought and silver mounted--kept with every care. In the stable
you will find, kept only for pleasure, full thirty-five horses,
of the most approved blood for speed and beauty. There are two
men here constantly employed in taking care of these horses. One
of these men must be always in the stable, to answer every call
from the great house. Over the way from the stable, is a house
built expressly for the hounds--a pack of twenty-five or thirty--
whose fare would have made glad the heart of a dozen slaves.
Horses and hounds are not the only consumers of the slave's toil.
There was practiced, at the Lloyd's, a hospitality which would
have <86>astonished and charmed any health-seeking northern
divine or merchant, who might have chanced to share it. Viewed
from his own table, and _not_ from the field, the colonel was a
model of generous hospitality. His house was, literally, a
hotel, for weeks during the summer months. At these times,
especially, the air was freighted with the rich fumes of baking,
boiling, roasting and broiling. The odors I shared with the
winds; but the meats were under a more stringent monopoly except
that, occasionally, I got a cake from Mas' Daniel. In Mas'
Daniel I had a friend at court, from whom I learned many things
which my eager curiosity was excited to know. I always knew when
company was expected, and who they were, although I was an
outsider, being the property, not of Col. Lloyd, but of a servant
of the wealthy colonel. On these occasions, all that pride,
taste and money could do, to dazzle and charm, was done.
Who could say that the servants of Col. Lloyd were not well clad
and cared for, after witnessing one of his magnificent
entertainments? Who could say that they did not seem to glory in
being the slaves of such a master? Who, but a fanatic, could get
up any sympathy for persons whose every movement was agile, easy
and graceful, and who evinced a consciousness of high
superiority? And who would ever venture to suspect that Col.
Lloyd was subject to the troubles of ordinary mortals? Master
and slave seem alike in their glory here? Can it all be seeming?
Alas! it may only be a sham at last! This immense wealth; this
gilded splendor; this profusion of luxury; this exemption from
toil; this life of ease; this sea of plenty; aye, what of it all?
Are the pearly gates of happiness and sweet content flung open to
such suitors? _far from it!_ The poor slave, on his hard, pine
plank, but scantily covered with his thin blanket, sleeps more
soundly than the feverish voluptuary who reclines upon his
feather bed and downy pillow. Food, to the indolent lounger, is
poison, not sustenance. Lurking beneath all their dishes, are
invisible spirits of evil, ready to feed the self-deluded
gormandizers <87 DECEPTIVE CHARACTER OF SLAVERY>which aches,
pains, fierce temper, uncontrolled passions, dyspepsia,
rheumatism, lumbago and gout; and of these the Lloyds got their
full share. To the pampered love of ease, there is no resting
place. What is pleasant today, is repulsive tomorrow; what is
soft now, is hard at another time; what is sweet in the morning,
is bitter in the evening. Neither to the wicked, nor to the
idler, is there any solid peace: _"Troubled, like the restless
I had excellent opportunities of witnessing the restless
discontent and the capricious irritation of the Lloyds. My
fondness for horses--not peculiar to me more than to other boys
attracted me, much of the time, to the stables. This
establishment was especially under the care of "old" and "young"
Barney--father and son. Old Barney was a fine looking old man,
of a brownish complexion, who was quite portly, and wore a
dignified aspect for a slave. He was, evidently, much devoted to
his profession, and held his office an honorable one. He was a
farrier as well as an ostler; he could bleed, remove lampers from
the mouths of the horses, and was well instructed in horse
medicines. No one on the farm knew, so well as Old Barney, what
to do with a sick horse. But his gifts and acquirements were of
little advantage to him. His office was by no means an enviable
one. He often got presents, but he got stripes as well; for in
nothing was Col. Lloyd more unreasonable and exacting, than in
respect to the management of his pleasure horses. Any supposed
inattention to these animals were sure to be visited with
degrading punishment. His horses and dogs fared better than his
men. Their beds must be softer and cleaner than those of his
human cattle. No excuse could shield Old Barney, if the colonel
only suspected something wrong about his horses; and,
consequently, he was often punished when faultless. It was
absolutely painful to listen to the many unreasonable and fretful
scoldings, poured out at the stable, by Col. Lloyd, his sons and
sons-in-law. Of the latter, he had three--Messrs. Nicholson,
Winder and Lownes. These all <88>lived at the great house a
portion of the year, and enjoyed the luxury of whipping the
servants when they pleased, which was by no means unfrequently.
A horse was seldom brought out of the stable to which no
objection could be raised. "There was dust in his hair;" "there
was a twist in his reins;" "his mane did not lie straight;" "he
had not been properly grained;" "his head did not look well;"
"his fore-top was not combed out;" "his fetlocks had not been
properly trimmed;" something was always wrong. Listening to
complaints, however groundless, Barney must stand, hat in hand,
lips sealed, never answering a word. He must make no reply, no
explanation; the judgment of the master must be deemed
infallible, for his power is absolute and irresponsible. In a
free state, a master, thus complaining without cause, of his
ostler, might be told--"Sir, I am sorry I cannot please you, but,
since I have done the best I can, your remedy is to dismiss me."
Here, however, the ostler must stand, listen and tremble. One of
the most heart-saddening and humiliating scenes I ever witnessed,
was the whipping of Old Barney, by Col. Lloyd himself. Here were
two men, both advanced in years; there were the silvery locks of
Col. L., and there was the bald and toil-worn brow of Old Barney;
master and slave; superior and inferior here, but _equals_ at the
bar of God; and, in the common course of events, they must both
soon meet in another world, in a world where all distinctions,
except those based on obedience and disobedience, are blotted out
forever. "Uncover your head!" said the imperious master; he was
obeyed. "Take off your jacket, you old rascal!" and off came
Barney's jacket. "Down on your knees!" down knelt the old man,
his shoulders bare, his bald head glistening in the sun, and his
aged knees on the cold, damp ground. In his humble and debasing
attitude, the master--that master to whom he had given the best
years and the best strength of his life--came forward, and laid
on thirty lashes, with his horse whip. The old man bore it
patiently, to the last, answering each blow with a slight shrug
of the shoulders, and a groan. I cannot think that <89 A
HUMILIATING SPECTACLE>Col. Lloyd succeeded in marring the flesh
of Old Barney very seriously, for the whip was a light, riding
whip; but the spectacle of an aged man--a husband and a father--
humbly kneeling before a worm of the dust, surprised and shocked
me at the time; and since I have grown old enough to think on the
wickedness of slavery, few facts have been of more value to me
than this, to which I was a witness. It reveals slavery in its
true color, and in its maturity of repulsive hatefulness. I owe
it to truth, however, to say, that this was the first and the
last time I ever saw Old Barney, or any other slave, compelled to
kneel to receive a whipping.
I saw, at the stable, another incident, which I will relate, as
it is illustrative of a phase of slavery to which I have already
referred in another connection. Besides two other coachmen, Col.
Lloyd owned one named William, who, strangely enough, was often
called by his surname, Wilks, by white and colored people on the
home plantation. Wilks was a very fine looking man. He was
about as white as anybody on the plantation; and in manliness of
form, and comeliness of features, he bore a very striking
resemblance to Mr. Murray Lloyd. It was whispered, and pretty
generally admitted as a fact, that William Wilks was a son of
Col. Lloyd, by a highly favored slave-woman, who was still on the
plantation. There were many reasons for believing this whisper,
not only in William's appearance, but in the undeniable freedom
which he enjoyed over all others, and his apparent consciousness
of being something more than a slave to his master. It was
notorious, too, that William had a deadly enemy in Murray Lloyd,
whom he so much resembled, and that the latter greatly worried
his father with importunities to sell William. Indeed, he gave
his father no rest until he did sell him, to Austin Woldfolk, the
great slave-trader at that time. Before selling him, however,
Mr. L. tried what giving William a whipping would do, toward
making things smooth; but this was a failure. It was a
compromise, and defeated itself; for, imme<90>diately after the
infliction, the heart-sickened colonel atoned to William for the
abuse, by giving him a gold watch and chain. Another fact,
somewhat curious, is, that though sold to the remorseless
_Woldfolk_, taken in irons to Baltimore and cast into prison,
with a view to being driven to the south, William, by _some_
means--always a mystery to me--outbid all his purchasers, paid
for himself, _and now resides in Baltimore, a_ FREEMAN. Is there
not room to suspect, that, as the gold watch was presented to
atone for the whipping, a purse of gold was given him by the same
hand, with which to effect his purchase, as an atonement for the
indignity involved in selling his own flesh and blood. All the
circumstances of William, on the great house farm, show him to
have occupied a different position from the other slaves, and,
certainly, there is nothing in the supposed hostility of
slaveholders to amalgamation, to forbid the supposition that
William Wilks was the son of Edward Lloyd. _Practical_
amalgamation is common in every neighborhood where I have been in
Col. Lloyd was not in the way of knowing much of the real
opinions and feelings of his slaves respecting him. The distance
between him and them was far too great to admit of such
knowledge. His slaves were so numerous, that he did not know
them when he saw them. Nor, indeed, did all his slaves know him.
In this respect, he was inconveniently rich. It is reported of
him, that, while riding along the road one day, he met a colored
man, and addressed him in the usual way of speaking to colored
people on the public highways of the south: "Well, boy, who do
you belong to?" "To Col. Lloyd," replied the slave. "Well, does
the colonel treat you well?" "No, sir," was the ready reply.
"What? does he work you too hard?" "Yes, sir." "Well, don't he
give enough to eat?" "Yes, sir, he gives me enough, such as it
is." The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged,
rode on; the slave also went on about his business, not dreaming
that he had been conversing with his master. He thought, said
and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeks
after<91 PENALTY FOR TELLING THE TRUTH>wards. The poor man was
then informed by his overseer, that, for having found fault with
his master, he was now to be sold to a Georgia trader. He was
immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment's
warning he was snatched away, and forever sundered from his
family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than that of
death. _This_ is the penalty of telling the simple truth, in
answer to a series of plain questions. It is partly in
consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to
their condition and the character of their masters, almost
invariably say they are contented, and that their masters are
kind. Slaveholders have been known to send spies among their
slaves, to ascertain, if possible, their views and feelings in
regard to their condition. The frequency of this had the effect
to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue
makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the
consequence of telling it, and, in so doing, they prove
themselves a part of the human family. If they have anything to
say of their master, it is, generally, something in his favor,
especially when speaking to strangers. I was frequently asked,
while a slave, if I had a kind master, and I do not remember ever
to have given a negative reply. Nor did I, when pursuing this
course, consider myself as uttering what was utterly false; for I
always measured the kindness of my master by the standard of
kindness set up by slaveholders around us. However, slaves are
like other people, and imbibe similar prejudices. They are apt
to think _their condition_ better than that of others. Many,
under the influence of this prejudice, think their own masters
are better than the masters of other slaves; and this, too, in
some cases, when the very reverse is true. Indeed, it is not
uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves
about the relative kindness of their masters, contending for the
superior goodness of his own over that of others. At the very
same time, they mutually execrate their masters, when viewed
separately. It was so on our plantation. When Col. Lloyd's
slaves met those of Jacob Jepson, they <92>seldom parted without
a quarrel about their masters; Col. Lloyd's slaves contending
that he was the richest, and Mr. Jepson's slaves that he was the
smartest, man of the two. Col. Lloyd's slaves would boost his
ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson; Mr. Jepson's slaves would
boast his ability to whip Col. Lloyd. These quarrels would
almost always end in a fight between the parties; those that beat
were supposed to have gained the point at issue. They seemed to
think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to
themselves. To be a SLAVE, was thought to be bad enough; but to
be a _poor man's_ slave, was deemed a disgrace, indeed.
_A Chapter of Horrors_
As I have already intimated elsewhere, the slaves on Col. Lloyd's
plantation, whose hard lot, under Mr. Sevier, the reader has
already noticed and deplored, were not permitted to enjoy the
comparatively moderate rule of Mr. Hopkins. The latter was
succeeded by a very different man. The name of the new overseer
was Austin Gore. Upon this individual I would fix particular
attention; for under his rule there was more suffering from
violence and bloodshed than had--according to the older slaves
ever been experienced before on this plantation. I confess, I
hardly know how to bring this man fitly before the reader. He
was, it is true, an overseer, and possessed, to a large extent,
the peculiar characteristics of his class; yet, to call him
merely an overseer, would not give the reader a fair notion of
the man. I speak of overseers as a class. They are such. They
are as distinct from the slaveholding gentry of the south, as are
the fishwomen of Paris, and the coal-heavers of London, distinct
from other members of society. They constitute a separate
fraternity at the south, not less marked than is the fraternity
of Park Lane bullies in New York. They have been arranged and
classified <94>by that great law of attraction, which determines
the spheres and affinities of men; which ordains, that men, whose
malign and brutal propensities predominate over their moral and
intellectual endowments, shall, naturally, fall into those
employments which promise the largest gratification to those
predominating instincts or propensities. The office of overseer
takes this raw material of vulgarity and brutality, and stamps it
as a distinct class of southern society. But, in this class, as
in all other classes, there are characters of marked
individuality, even while they bear a general resemblance to the
mass. Mr. Gore was one of those, to whom a general
characterization would do no manner of justice. He was an
overseer; but he was something more. With the malign and
tyrannical qualities of an overseer, he combined something of the
lawful master. He had the artfulness and the mean ambition of
his class; but he was wholly free from the disgusting swagger and
noisy bravado of his fraternity. There was an easy air of
independence about him; a calm self-possession, and a sternness
of glance, which might well daunt hearts less timid than those of
poor slaves, accustomed from childhood and through life to cower
before a driver's lash. The home plantation of Col. Lloyd
afforded an ample field for the exercise of the qualifications
for overseership, which he possessed in such an eminent degree.
Mr. Gore was one of those overseers, who could torture the
slightest word or look into impudence; he had the nerve, not only
to resent, but to punish, promptly and severely. He never
allowed himself to be answered back, by a slave. In this, he was
as lordly and as imperious as Col. Edward Lloyd, himself; acting
always up to the maxim, practically maintained by slaveholders,
that it is better that a dozen slaves suffer under the lash,
without fault, than that the master or the overseer should _seem_
to have been wrong in the presence of the slave. _Everything
must be absolute here_. Guilty or not guilty, it is enough to be
accused, to be sure of a flogging. The very presence of this man
Gore was <95 AUSTIN GORE>painful, and I shunned him as I would
have shunned a rattlesnake. His piercing, black eyes, and sharp,
shrill voice, ever awakened sensations of terror among the
slaves. For so young a man (I describe him as he was, twentyfive
or thirty years ago) Mr. Gore was singularly reserved and
grave in the presence of slaves. He indulged in no jokes, said
no funny things, and kept his own counsels. Other overseers, how
brutal soever they might be, were, at times, inclined to gain
favor with the slaves, by indulging a little pleasantry; but Gore
was never known to be guilty of any such weakness. He was always
the cold, distant, unapproachable _overseer_ of Col. Edward
Lloyd's plantation, and needed no higher pleasure than was
involved in a faithful discharge of the duties of his office.
When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and
feared no consequences. What Hopkins did reluctantly, Gore did
with alacrity. There was a stern will, an iron-like reality,
about this Gore, which would have easily made him the chief of a
band of pirates, had his environments been favorable to such a
course of life. All the coolness, savage barbarity and freedom
from moral restraint, which are necessary in the character of a
pirate-chief, centered, I think, in this man Gore. Among many
other deeds of shocking cruelty which he perpetrated, while I was
at Mr. Lloyd's, was the murder of a young colored man, named
Denby. He was sometimes called Bill Denby, or Demby; (I write
from sound, and the sounds on Lloyd's plantation are not very
certain.) I knew him well. He was a powerful young man, full of
animal spirits, and, so far as I know, he was among the most
valuable of Col. Lloyd's slaves. In something--I know not what--
he offended this Mr. Austin Gore, and, in accordance with the
custom of the latter, he under took to flog him. He gave Denby
but few stripes; the latter broke away from him and plunged into
the creek, and, standing there to the depth of his neck in water,
he refused to come out at the order of the overseer; whereupon,
for this refusal, _Gore shot him dead!_ It is said that Gore
gave Denby three calls, telling him that <96>if he did not obey
the last call, he would shoot him. When the third call was
given, Denby stood his ground firmly; and this raised the
question, in the minds of the by-standing slaves--"Will he dare
to shoot?" Mr. Gore, without further parley, and without making
any further effort to induce Denby to come out of the water,
raised his gun deliberately to his face, took deadly aim at his
standing victim, and, in an instant, poor Denby was numbered with
the dead. His mangled body sank out of sight, and only his warm,
red blood marked the place where he had stood.
This devilish outrage, this fiendish murder, produced, as it was
well calculated to do, a tremendous sensation. A thrill of
horror flashed through every soul on the plantation, if I may
except the guilty wretch who had committed the hell-black deed.
While the slaves generally were panic-struck, and howling with
alarm, the murderer himself was calm and collected, and appeared
as though nothing unusual had happened. The atrocity roused my
old master, and he spoke out, in reprobation of it; but the whole
thing proved to be less than a nine days' wonder. Both Col.
Lloyd and my old master arraigned Gore for his cruelty in the
matter, but this amounted to nothing. His reply, or
explanation--as I remember to have heard it at the time was, that
the extraordinary expedient was demanded by necessity; that Denby
had become unmanageable; that he had set a dangerous example to
the other slaves; and that, without some such prompt measure as
that to which he had resorted, were adopted, there would be an
end to all rule and order on the plantation. That very
convenient covert for all manner of cruelty and outrage that
cowardly alarm-cry, that the slaves would _"take the place,"_ was
pleaded, in extenuation of this revolting crime, just as it had
been cited in defense of a thousand similar ones. He argued,
that if one slave refused to be corrected, and was allowed to
escape with his life, when he had been told that he should lose
it if he persisted in his course, the other slaves would soon
copy his example; the result of which would be, the freedom of
the slaves, and the enslavement of the <97 HOW GORE MADE PEACE
WITH COL. LLOYD>whites. I have every reason to believe that Mr.
Gore's defense, or explanation, was deemed satisfactory--at least
to Col. Lloyd. He was continued in his office on the plantation.
His fame as an overseer went abroad, and his horrid crime was not
even submitted to judicial investigation. The murder was
committed in the presence of slaves, and they, of course, could
neither institute a suit, nor testify against the murderer. His
bare word would go further in a court of law, than the united
testimony of ten thousand black witnesses.
All that Mr. Gore had to do, was to make his peace with Col.
Lloyd. This done, and the guilty perpetrator of one of the most
foul murders goes unwhipped of justice, and uncensured by the
community in which he lives. Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael's,
Talbot county, when I left Maryland; if he is still alive he
probably yet resides there; and I have no reason to doubt that he
is now as highly esteemed, and as greatly respected, as though
his guilty soul had never been stained with innocent blood. I am
well aware that what I have now written will by some be branded
as false and malicious. It will be denied, not only that such a
thing ever did transpire, as I have now narrated, but that such a
thing could happen in _Maryland_. I can only say--believe it or
not--that I have said nothing but the literal truth, gainsay it
who may.
I speak advisedly when I say this,--that killing a slave, or any
colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a
crime, either by the courts or the community. Mr. Thomas Lanman,
ship carpenter, of St. Michael's, killed two slaves, one of whom
he butchered with a hatchet, by knocking his brains out. He used
to boast of the commission of the awful and bloody deed. I have
heard him do so, laughingly, saying, among other things, that he
was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and that
when "others would do as much as he had done, we should be
relieved of the d--d niggers."
As an evidence of the reckless disregard of human life where the
life is that of a slave I may state the notorious fact, that the
<98>wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, who lived but a short distance from
Col. Lloyd's, with her own hands murdered my wife's cousin, a
young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age--mutilating
her person in a most shocking manner. The atrocious woman, in
the paroxysm of her wrath, not content with murdering her victim,
literally mangled her face, and broke her breast bone. Wild,
however, and infuriated as she was, she took the precaution to
cause the slave-girl to be buried; but the facts of the case
coming abroad, very speedily led to the disinterment of the
remains of the murdered slave-girl. A coroner's jury was
assembled, who decided that the girl had come to her death by
severe beating. It was ascertained that the offense for which
this girl was thus hurried out of the world, was this: she had
been set that night, and several preceding nights, to mind Mrs.
Hicks's baby, and having fallen into a sound sleep, the baby
cried, waking Mrs. Hicks, but not the slave-girl. Mrs. Hicks,
becoming infuriated at the girl's tardiness, after calling
several times, jumped from her bed and seized a piece of firewood
from the fireplace; and then, as she lay fast asleep, she
deliberately pounded in her skull and breast-bone, and thus ended
her life. I will not say that this most horrid murder produced
no sensation in the community. It _did_ produce a sensation;
but, incredible to tell, the moral sense of the community was
blunted too entirely by the ordinary nature of slavery horrors,
to bring the murderess to punishment. A warrant was issued for
her arrest, but, for some reason or other, that warrant was never
served. Thus did Mrs. Hicks not only escape condign punishment,
but even the pain and mortification of being arraigned before a
court of justice.
Whilst I am detailing the bloody deeds that took place during my
stay on Col. Lloyd's plantation, I will briefly narrate another
dark transaction, which occurred about the same time as the
murder of Denby by Mr. Gore.
On the side of the river Wye, opposite from Col. Lloyd's, there
lived a Mr. Beal Bondley, a wealthy slaveholder. In the
direction <99 NO LAW PROTECTS THE SLAVE>of his land, and near the
shore, there was an excellent oyster fishing ground, and to this,
some of the slaves of Col. Lloyd occasionally resorted in their
little canoes, at night, with a view to make up the deficiency of
their scanty allowance of food, by the oysters that they could
easily get there. This, Mr. Bondley took it into his head to
regard as a trespass, and while an old man belonging to Col.
Lloyd was engaged in catching a few of the many millions of
oysters that lined the bottom of that creek, to satisfy his
hunger, the villainous Mr. Bondley, lying in ambush, without the
slightest ceremony, discharged the contents of his musket into
the back and shoulders of the poor old man. As good fortune
would have it, the shot did not prove mortal, and Mr. Bondley
came over, the next day, to see Col. Lloyd--whether to pay him
for his property, or to justify himself for what he had done, I
know not; but this I _can_ say, the cruel and dastardly
transaction was speedily hushed up; there was very little said
about it at all, and nothing was publicly done which looked like
the application of the principle of justice to the man whom
_chance_, only, saved from being an actual murderer. One of the
commonest sayings to which my ears early became accustomed, on
Col. Lloyd's plantation and elsewhere in Maryland, was, that it
was _"worth but half a cent to kill a nigger, and a half a cent
to bury him;"_ and the facts of my experience go far to justify
the practical truth of this strange proverb. Laws for the
protection of the lives of the slaves, are, as they must needs
be, utterly incapable of being enforced, where the very parties
who are nominally protected, are not permitted to give evidence,
in courts of law, against the only class of persons from whom
abuse, outrage and murder might be reasonably apprehended. While
I heard of numerous murders committed by slaveholders on the
Eastern Shores of Maryland, I never knew a solitary instance in
which a slaveholder was either hung or imprisoned for having
murdered a slave. The usual pretext for killing a slave is, that
the slave has offered resistance. Should a slave, when
assaulted, but raise his hand in self defense, the white
assaulting <100>party is fully justified by southern, or
Maryland, public opinion, in shooting the slave down. Sometimes
this is done, simply because it is alleged that the slave has
been saucy. But here I leave this phase of the society of my
early childhood, and will relieve the kind reader of these heartsickening
_Personal Treatment_
I have nothing cruel or shocking to relate of my own personal
experience, while I remained on Col. Lloyd's plantation, at the
home of my old master. An occasional cuff from Aunt Katy, and a
regular whipping from old master, such as any heedless and
mischievous boy might get from his father, is all that I can
mention of this sort. I was not old enough to work in the field,
and, there being little else than field work to perform, I had
much leisure. The most I had to do, was, to drive up the cows in
the evening, to keep the front yard clean, and to perform small
errands for my young mistress, Lucretia Auld. I have reasons for
thinking this lady was very kindly disposed toward me, and,
although I was not often the object of her attention, I
constantly regarded her as my friend, and was always glad when it
was my privilege to do her a service. In a family where there
was so much that was harsh, cold and indifferent, the slightest
word or look of kindness passed, with me, for its full value.
Miss Lucretia--<102>as we all continued to call her long after
her marriage--had bestowed upon me such words and looks as taught
me that she pitied me, if she did not love me. In addition to
words and looks, she sometimes gave me a piece of bread and
butter; a thing not set down in the bill of fare, and which must
have been an extra ration, planned aside from either Aunt Katy or
old master, solely out of the tender regard and friendship she
had for me. Then, too, I one day got into the wars with Uncle
Able's son, "Ike," and had got sadly worsted; in fact, the little
rascal had struck me directly in the forehead with a sharp piece
of cinder, fused with iron, from the old blacksmith's forge,
which made a cross in my forehead very plainly to be seen now.
The gash bled very freely, and I roared very loudly and betook
myself home. The coldhearted Aunt Katy paid no attention either
to my wound or my roaring, except to tell me it served me right;
I had no business with Ike; it was good for me; I would now keep
away _"from dem Lloyd niggers."_ Miss Lucretia, in this state of
the case, came forward; and, in quite a different spirit from
that manifested by Aunt Katy, she called me into the parlor (an
extra privilege of itself) and, without using toward me any of
the hard-hearted and reproachful epithets of my kitchen
tormentor, she quietly acted the good Samaritan. With her own
soft hand she washed the blood from my head and face, fetched her
own balsam bottle, and with the balsam wetted a nice piece of
white linen, and bound up my head. The balsam was not more
healing to the wound in my head, than her kindness was healing to
the wounds in my spirit, made by the unfeeling words of Aunt
Katy. After this, Miss Lucretia was my friend. I felt her to be
such; and I have no doubt that the simple act of binding up my
head, did much to awaken in her mind an interest in my welfare.
It is quite true, that this interest was never very marked, and
it seldom showed itself in anything more than in giving me a
piece of bread when I was hungry; but this was a great favor on a
slave plantation, and I was the only one of the children to whom
such attention was paid. <103 REALMS OF SUNLIGHT>When very
hungry, I would go into the back yard and play under Miss
Lucretia's window. When pretty severely pinched by hunger, I had
a habit of singing, which the good lady very soon came to
understand as a petition for a piece of bread. When I sung under
Miss Lucretia's window, I was very apt to get well paid for my
music. The reader will see that I now had two friends, both at
important points--Mas' Daniel at the great house, and Miss
Lucretia at home. From Mas' Daniel I got protection from the
bigger boys; and from Miss Lucretia I got bread, by singing when
I was hungry, and sympathy when I was abused by that termagant,
who had the reins of government in the kitchen. For such
friendship I felt deeply grateful, and bitter as are my
recollections of slavery, I love to recall any instances of
kindness, any sunbeams of humane treatment, which found way to my
soul through the iron grating of my house of bondage. Such beams
seem all the brighter from the general darkness into which they
penetrate, and the impression they make is vividly distinct and
As I have before intimated, I was seldom whipped--and never
severely--by my old master. I suffered little from the treatment
I received, except from hunger and cold. These were my two great
physical troubles. I could neither get a sufficiency of food nor
of clothing; but I suffered less from hunger than from cold. In
hottest summer and coldest winter, I was kept almost in a state
of nudity; no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no trowsers;
nothing but coarse sackcloth or tow-linen, made into a sort of
shirt, reaching down to my knees. This I wore night and day,
changing it once a week. In the day time I could protect myself
pretty well, by keeping on the sunny side of the house; and in
bad weather, in the corner of the kitchen chimney. The great
difficulty was, to keep warm during the night. I had no bed.
The pigs in the pen had leaves, and the horses in the stable had
straw, but the children had no beds. They lodged anywhere in the
ample kitchen. I slept, generally, in a little closet, without
even a blanket to cover me. In very cold weather. I sometimes
got down the bag in which corn<104>meal was usually carried to
the mill, and crawled into that. Sleeping there, with my head in
and feet out, I was partly protected, though not comfortable. My
feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which
I am writing might be laid in the gashes. The manner of taking
our meals at old master's, indicated but little refinement. Our
corn-meal mush, when sufficiently cooled, was placed in a large
wooden tray, or trough, like those used in making maple sugar
here in the north. This tray was set down, either on the floor
of the kitchen, or out of doors on the ground; and the children
were called, like so many pigs; and like so many pigs they would
come, and literally devour the mush--some with oyster shells,
some with pieces of shingles, and none with spoons. He that eat
fastest got most, and he that was strongest got the best place;
and few left the trough really satisfied. I was the most unlucky
of any, for Aunt Katy had no good feeling for me; and if I pushed
any of the other children, or if they told her anything
unfavorable of me, she always believed the worst, and was sure to
whip me.
As I grew older and more thoughtful, I was more and more filled
with a sense of my wretchedness. The cruelty of Aunt Katy, the
hunger and cold I suffered, and the terrible reports of wrong and
outrage which came to my ear, together with what I almost daily
witnessed, led me, when yet but eight or nine years old, to wish
I had never been born. I used to contrast my condition with the
black-birds, in whose wild and sweet songs I fancied them so
happy! Their apparent joy only deepened the shades of my sorrow.
There are thoughtful days in the lives of children--at least
there were in mine when they grapple with all the great, primary
subjects of knowledge, and reach, in a moment, conclusions which
no subsequent experience can shake. I was just as well aware of
the unjust, unnatural and murderous character of slavery, when
nine years old, as I am now. Without any appeal to books, to
laws, or to authorities of any kind, it was enough to accept God
as a father, to regard slavery as a crime.
I was not ten years old when I left Col. Lloyd's plantation for
Balitmore{sic}. I left that plantation with inexpressible joy.
I never shall forget the ecstacy with which I received the
intelligence from my friend, Miss Lucretia, that my old master
had determined to let me go to Baltimore to live with Mr. Hugh
Auld, a brother to Mr. Thomas Auld, my old master's son-in-law.
I received this information about three days before my departure.
They were three of the happiest days of my childhood. I spent
the largest part of these three days in the creek, washing off
the plantation scurf, and preparing for my new home. Mrs.
Lucretia took a lively interest in getting me ready. She told me
I must get all the dead skin off my feet and knees, before I
could go to Baltimore, for the people there were very cleanly,
and would laugh at me if I looked dirty; and, besides, she was
intending to give me a pair of trowsers, which I should not put
on unless I got all the dirt off. This was a warning to which I
was bound to take heed; for the thought of owning a pair of
trowsers, was great, indeed. It was almost a sufficient motive,
not only to induce me to scrub off the _mange_ (as pig drovers
would call it) but the skin as well. So I went at it in good
earnest, working for the first time in the hope of reward. I was
greatly excited, and could hardly consent to sleep, lest I should
be left. The ties that, ordinarily, bind children to their
homes, were all severed, or they never had any existence in my
case, at least so far as the home plantation of Col. L. was
concerned. I therefore found no severe trail at the moment of my
departure, such as I had experienced when separated from my home
in Tuckahoe. My home at my old master's was charmless to me; it
was not home, but a prison to me; on parting from it, I could not
feel that I was leaving anything which I could have enjoyed by
staying. My mother was now long dead; my grandmother was far
away, so that I seldom saw her; Aunt Katy was my unrelenting
tormentor; and my two sisters and brothers, owing to our early
separation in life, and the family-destroying power of slavery,
were, comparatively, stran<106>gers to me. The fact of our
relationship was almost blotted out. I looked for _home_
elsewhere, and was confident of finding none which I should
relish less than the one I was leaving. If, however, I found in
my new home to which I was going with such blissful
anticipations--hardship, whipping and nakedness, I had the
questionable consolation that I should not have escaped any one
of these evils by remaining under the management of Aunt Katy.
Then, too, I thought, since I had endured much in this line on
Lloyd's plantation, I could endure as much elsewhere, and
especially at Baltimore; for I had something of the feeling about
that city which is expressed in the saying, that being "hanged in
England, is better than dying a natural death in Ireland." I had
the strongest desire to see Baltimore. My cousin Tom--a boy two
or three years older than I--had been there, and though not
fluent (he stuttered immoderately) in speech, he had inspired me
with that desire, by his eloquent description of the place. Tom
was, sometimes, Capt. Auld's cabin boy; and when he came from
Baltimore, he was always a sort of hero amongst us, at least till
his Baltimore trip was forgotten. I could never tell him of
anything, or point out anything that struck me as beautiful or
powerful, but that he had seen something in Baltimore far
surpassing it. Even the great house itself, with all its
pictures within, and pillars without, he had the hardihood to say
"was nothing to Baltimore." He bought a trumpet (worth six
pence) and brought it home; told what he had seen in the windows
of stores; that he had heard shooting crackers, and seen
soldiers; that he had seen a steamboat; that there were ships in
Baltimore that could carry four such sloops as the "Sally Lloyd."
He said a great deal about the market-house; he spoke of the
bells ringing; and of many other things which roused my curiosity
very much; and, indeed, which heightened my hopes of happiness in
my new home.
We sailed out of Miles river for Baltimore early on a Saturday
morning. I remember only the day of the week; for, at that time,
<107 ARRIVAL AT BALTIMORE>I had no knowledge of the days of the
month, nor, indeed, of the months of the year. On setting sail,
I walked aft, and gave to Col. Lloyd's plantation what I hoped
would be the last look I should ever give to it, or to any place
like it. My strong aversion to the great farm, was not owing to
my own personal suffering, but the daily suffering of others, and
to the certainty that I must, sooner or later, be placed under
the barbarous rule of an overseer, such as the accomplished Gore,
or the brutal and drunken Plummer. After taking this last view,
I quitted the quarter deck, made my way to the bow of the sloop,
and spent the remainder of the day in looking ahead; interesting
myself in what was in the distance, rather than what was near by
or behind. The vessels, sweeping along the bay, were very
interesting objects. The broad bay opened like a shoreless ocean
on my boyish vision, filling me with wonder and admiration.
Late in the afternoon, we reached Annapolis, the capital of the
state, stopping there not long enough to admit of my going
ashore. It was the first large town I had ever seen; and though
it was inferior to many a factory village in New England, my
feelings, on seeing it, were excited to a pitch very little below
that reached by travelers at the first view of Rome. The dome of
the state house was especially imposing, and surpassed in
grandeur the appearance of the great house. The great world was
opening upon me very rapidly, and I was eagerly acquainting
myself with its multifarious lessons.
We arrived in Baltimore on Sunday morning, and landed at Smith's
wharf, not far from Bowly's wharf. We had on board the sloop a
large flock of sheep, for the Baltimore market; and, after
assisting in driving them to the slaughter house of Mr. Curtis,
on Loudon Slater's Hill, I was speedily conducted by Rich--one of
the hands belonging to the sloop--to my new home in Alliciana
street, near Gardiner's ship-yard, on Fell's Point. Mr. and Mrs.
Hugh Auld, my new mistress and master, were both at home, and met
me at the door with their rosy cheeked little son, Thomas,
<108>to take care of whom was to constitute my future occupation.
In fact, it was to "little Tommy," rather than to his parents,
that old master made a present of me; and though there was no
_legal_ form or arrangement entered into, I have no doubt that
Mr. and Mrs. Auld felt that, in due time, I should be the legal
property of their bright-eyed and beloved boy, Tommy. I was
struck with the appearance, especially, of my new mistress. Her
face was lighted with the kindliest emotions; and the reflex
influence of her countenance, as well as the tenderness with
which she seemed to regard me, while asking me sundry little
questions, greatly delighted me, and lit up, to my fancy, the
pathway of my future. Miss Lucretia was kind; but my new
mistress, "Miss Sophy," surpassed her in kindness of manner.
Little Thomas was affectionately told by his mother, that _"there
was his Freddy,"_ and that "Freddy would take care of him;" and I
was told to "be kind to little Tommy"--an injunction I scarcely
needed, for I had already fallen in love with the dear boy; and
with these little ceremonies I was initiated into my new home,
and entered upon my peculiar duties, with not a cloud above the
I may say here, that I regard my removal from Col. Lloyd's
plantation as one of the most interesting and fortunate events of
my life. Viewing it in the light of human likelihoods, it is
quite probable that, but for the mere circumstance of being thus
removed before the rigors of slavery had fastened upon me; before
my young spirit had been crushed under the iron control of the
slave-driver, instead of being, today, a FREEMAN, I might have
been wearing the galling chains of slavery. I have sometimes
felt, however, that there was something more intelligent than
_chance_, and something more certain than _luck_, to be seen in
the circumstance. If I have made any progress in knowledge; if I
have cherished any honorable aspirations, or have, in any manner,
worthily discharged the duties of a member of an oppressed
people; this little circumstance must be allowed its due weight
<109 A TURNING POINT IN MY HISTORY>in giving my life that
direction. I have ever regarded it as the first plain
manifestation of that
_Divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough hew them as we will_.
I was not the only boy on the plantation that might have been
sent to live in Baltimore. There was a wide margin from which to
select. There were boys younger, boys older, and boys of the
same age, belonging to my old master some at his own house, and
some at his farm--but the high privilege fell to my lot.
I may be deemed superstitious and egotistical, in regarding this
event as a special interposition of Divine Providence in my
favor; but the thought is a part of my history, and I should be
false to the earliest and most cherished sentiments of my soul,
if I suppressed, or hesitated to avow that opinion, although it
may be characterized as irrational by the wise, and ridiculous by
the scoffer. From my earliest recollections of serious matters,
I date the entertainment of something like an ineffaceable
conviction, that slavery would not always be able to hold me
within its foul embrace; and this conviction, like a word of
living faith, strengthened me through the darkest trials of my
lot. This good spirit was from God; and to him I offer
thanksgiving and praise.
_Life in Baltimore_
Once in Baltimore, with hard brick pavements under my feet, which
almost raised blisters, by their very heat, for it was in the
height of summer; walled in on all sides by towering brick
buildings; with troops of hostile boys ready to pounce upon me at
every street corner; with new and strange objects glaring upon me
at every step, and with startling sounds reaching my ears from
all directions, I for a time thought that, after all, the home
plantation was a more desirable place of residence than my home
on Alliciana street, in Baltimore. My country eyes and ears were
confused and bewildered here; but the boys were my chief trouble.
They chased me, and called me _"Eastern Shore man,"_ till really
I almost wished myself back on the Eastern Shore. I had to
undergo a sort of moral acclimation, and when that was over, I
did much better. My new mistress happily proved to be all she
_seemed_ to be, when, with her husband, she met me at <111
KINDNESS OF MY NEW MISTRESS>the door, with a most beaming,
benignant countenance. She was, naturally, of an excellent
disposition, kind, gentle and cheerful. The supercilious
contempt for the rights and feelings of the slave, and the
petulance and bad humor which generally characterize slaveholding
ladies, were all quite absent from kind "Miss" Sophia's manner
and bearing toward me. She had, in truth, never been a
slaveholder, but had--a thing quite unusual in the south--
depended almost entirely upon her own industry for a living. To
this fact the dear lady, no doubt, owed the excellent
preservation of her natural goodness of heart, for slavery can
change a saint into a sinner, and an angel into a demon. I
hardly knew how to behave toward "Miss Sopha," as I used to call
Mrs. Hugh Auld. I had been treated as a _pig_ on the plantation;
I was treated as a _child_ now. I could not even approach her as
I had formerly approached Mrs. Thomas Auld. How could I hang
down my head, and speak with bated breath, when there was no
pride to scorn me, no coldness to repel me, and no hatred to
inspire me with fear? I therefore soon learned to regard her as
something more akin to a mother, than a slaveholding mistress.
The crouching servility of a slave, usually so acceptable a
quality to the haughty slaveholder, was not understood nor
desired by this gentle woman. So far from deeming it impudent in
a slave to look her straight in the face, as some slaveholding
ladies do, she seemed ever to say, "look up, child; don't be
afraid; see, I am full of kindness and good will toward you."
The hands belonging to Col. Lloyd's sloop, esteemed it a great
privilege to be the bearers of parcels or messages to my new
mistress; for whenever they came, they were sure of a most kind
and pleasant reception. If little Thomas was her son, and her
most dearly beloved child, she, for a time, at least, made me
something like his half-brother in her affections. If dear Tommy
was exalted to a place on his mother's knee, "Feddy" was honored
by a place at his mother's side. Nor did he lack the caressing
strokes of her gentle hand, to convince him that, though
_motherless_, he was not _friendless_. Mrs. Auld <112>was not
only a kind-hearted woman, but she was remarkably pious; frequent
in her attendance of public worship, much given to reading the
bible, and to chanting hymns of praise, when alone. Mr. Hugh
Auld was altogether a different character. He cared very little
about religion, knew more of the world, and was more of the
world, than his wife. He set out, doubtless to be--as the world
goes--a respectable man, and to get on by becoming a successful
ship builder, in that city of ship building. This was his
ambition, and it fully occupied him. I was, of course, of very
little consequence to him, compared with what I was to good Mrs.
Auld; and, when he smiled upon me, as he sometimes did, the smile
was borrowed from his lovely wife, and, like all borrowed light,
was transient, and vanished with the source whence it was
derived. While I must characterize Master Hugh as being a very
sour man, and of forbidding appearance, it is due to him to
acknowledge, that he was never very cruel to me, according to the
notion of cruelty in Maryland. The first year or two which I
spent in his house, he left me almost exclusively to the
management of his wife. She was my law-giver. In hands so
tender as hers, and in the absence of the cruelties of the
plantation, I became, both physically and mentally, much more
sensitive to good and ill treatment; and, perhaps, suffered more
from a frown from my mistress, than I formerly did from a cuff at
the hands of Aunt Katy. Instead of the cold, damp floor of my
old master's kitchen, I found myself on carpets; for the corn bag
in winter, I now had a good straw bed, well furnished with
covers; for the coarse corn-meal in the morning, I now had good
bread, and mush occasionally; for my poor tow-lien shirt,
reaching to my knees, I had good, clean clothes. I was really
well off. My employment was to run errands, and to take care of
Tommy; to prevent his getting in the way of carriages, and to
keep him out of harm's way generally. Tommy, and I, and his
mother, got on swimmingly together, for a time. I say _for a
time_, because the fatal poison of irresponsible power, and the
natural influence <113 LEARNING TO READ>of slavery customs, were
not long in making a suitable impression on the gentle and loving
disposition of my excellent mistress. At first, Mrs. Auld
evidently regarded me simply as a child, like any other child;
she had not come to regard me as _property_. This latter thought
was a thing of conventional growth. The first was natural and
spontaneous. A noble nature, like hers, could not, instantly, be
wholly perverted; and it took several years to change the natural
sweetness of her temper into fretful bitterness. In her worst
estate, however, there were, during the first seven years I lived
with her, occasional returns of her former kindly disposition.
The frequent hearing of my mistress reading the bible for she
often read aloud when her husband was absent soon awakened my
curiosity in respect to this _mystery_ of reading, and roused in
me the desire to learn. Having no fear of my kind mistress
before my eyes, (she had then given me no reason to fear,) I
frankly asked her to teach me to read; and, without hesitation,
the dear woman began the task, and very soon, by her assistance,
I was master of the alphabet, and could spell words of three or
four letters. My mistress seemed almost as proud of my progress,
as if I had been her own child; and, supposing that her husband
would be as well pleased, she made no secret of what she was
doing for me. Indeed, she exultingly told him of the aptness of
her pupil, of her intention to persevere in teaching me, and of
the duty which she felt it to teach me, at least to read _the
bible_. Here arose the first cloud over my Baltimore prospects,
the precursor of drenching rains and chilling blasts.
Master Hugh was amazed at the simplicity of his spouse, and,
probably for the first time, he unfolded to her the true
philosophy of slavery, and the peculiar rules necessary to be
observed by masters and mistresses, in the management of their
human chattels. Mr. Auld promptly forbade continuance of her
instruction; telling her, in the first place, that the thing
itself was unlawful; that it was also unsafe, and could only lead
to mischief. To use <114>his own words, further, he said, "if
you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell;" "he should know
nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it." "if
you teach that nigger--speaking of myself--how to read the bible,
there will be no keeping him;" "it would forever unfit him for
the duties of a slave;" and "as to himself, learning would do him
no good, but probably, a great deal of harm--making him
disconsolate and unhappy." "If you learn him now to read, he'll
want to know how to write; and, this accomplished, he'll be
running away with himself." Such was the tenor of Master Hugh's
oracular exposition of the true philosophy of training a human
chattel; and it must be confessed that he very clearly
comprehended the nature and the requirements of the relation of
master and slave. His discourse was the first decidedly antislavery
lecture to which it had been my lot to listen. Mrs. Auld
evidently felt the force of his remarks; and, like an obedient
wife, began to shape her course in the direction indicated by her
husband. The effect of his words, _on me_, was neither slight
nor transitory. His iron sentences--cold and harsh--sunk deep
into my heart, and stirred up not only my feelings into a sort of
rebellion, but awakened within me a slumbering train of vital
thought. It was a new and special revelation, dispelling a
painful mystery, against which my youthful understanding had
struggled, and struggled in vain, to wit: the _white_ man's power
to perpetuate the enslavement of the _black_ man. "Very well,"
thought I; "knowledge unfits a child to be a slave." I
instinctively assented to the proposition; and from that moment I
understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom. This was
just what I needed; and I got it at a time, and from a source,
whence I least expected it. I was saddened at the thought of
losing the assistance of my kind mistress; but the information,
so instantly derived, to some extent compensated me for the loss
I had sustained in this direction. Wise as Mr. Auld was, he
evidently underrated my comprehension, and had little idea of the
use to which I was capable of putting <115 CITY SLAVES AND
COUNTRYSLAVES>the impressive lesson he was giving to his wife.
_He_ wanted me to be _a slave;_ I had already voted against that
on the home plantation of Col. Lloyd. That which he most loved I
most hated; and the very determination which he expressed to keep
me in ignorance, only rendered me the more resolute in seeking
intelligence. In learning to read, therefore, I am not sure that
I do not owe quite as much to the opposition of my master, as to
the kindly assistance of my amiable mistress. I acknowledge the
benefit rendered me by the one, and by the other; believing, that
but for my mistress, I might have grown up in ignorance.
I had resided but a short time in Baltimore, before I observed a
marked difference in the manner of treating slaves, generally,
from which I had witnessed in that isolated and out-of-the-way
part of the country where I began life. A city slave is almost a
free citizen, in Baltimore, compared with a slave on Col. Lloyd's
plantation. He is much better fed and clothed, is less dejected
in his appearance, and enjoys privileges altogether unknown to
the whip-driven slave on the plantation. Slavery dislikes a
dense population, in which there is a majority of nonslaveholders.
The general sense of decency that must pervade
such a population, does much to check and prevent those outbreaks
of atrocious cruelty, and those dark crimes without a name,
almost openly perpetrated on the plantation. He is a desperate
slaveholder who will shock the humanity of his non-slaveholding
neighbors, by the cries of the lacerated slaves; and very few in
the city are willing to incur the odium of being cruel masters.
I found, in Baltimore, that no man was more odious to the white,
as well as to the colored people, than he, who had the reputation
of starving his slaves. Work them, flog them, if need be, but
don't starve them. These are, however, some painful exceptions
to this rule. While it is quite true that most of the
slaveholders in Baltimore feed and clothe their slaves well,
there are others who keep up their country cruelties in the city.
An instance of this sort is furnished in the case of a family
<116>who lived directly opposite to our house, and were named
Hamilton. Mrs. Hamilton owned two slaves. Their names were
Henrietta and Mary. They had always been house slaves. One was
aged about twenty-two, and the other about fourteen. They were a
fragile couple by nature, and the treatment they received was
enough to break down the constitution of a horse. Of all the
dejected, emaciated, mangled and excoriated creatures I ever saw,
those two girls--in the refined, church going and Christian city
of Baltimore were the most deplorable. Of stone must that heart
be made, that could look upon Henrietta and Mary, without being
sickened to the core with sadness. Especially was Mary a heartsickening
object. Her head, neck and shoulders, were literally
cut to pieces. I have frequently felt her head, and found it
nearly covered over with festering sores, caused by the lash of
her cruel mistress. I do not know that her master ever whipped
her, but I have often been an eye witness of the revolting and
brutal inflictions by Mrs. Hamilton; and what lends a deeper
shade to this woman's conduct, is the fact, that, almost in the
very moments of her shocking outrages of humanity and decency,
she would charm you by the sweetness of her voice and her seeming
piety. She used to sit in a large rocking chair, near the middle
of the room, with a heavy cowskin, such as I have elsewhere
described; and I speak within the truth when I say, that these
girls seldom passed that chair, during the day, without a blow
from that cowskin, either upon their bare arms, or upon their
shoulders. As they passed her, she would draw her cowskin and
give them a blow, saying, _"move faster, you black jip!"_ and,
again, _"take that, you black jip!"_ continuing, _"if you don't
move faster, I will give you more."_ Then the lady would go on,
singing her sweet hymns, as though her _righteous_ soul were
sighing for the holy realms of paradise.
Added to the cruel lashings to which these poor slave-girls were
subjected--enough in themselves to crush the spirit of men--they
were, really, kept nearly half starved; they seldom knew <117
MRS. HAMILTON'S CRUELTY TO HER SLAVES>what it was to eat a full
meal, except when they got it in the kitchens of neighbors, less
mean and stingy than the psalm-singing Mrs. Hamilton. I have
seen poor Mary contending for the offal, with the pigs in the
street. So much was the poor girl pinched, kicked, cut and
pecked to pieces, that the boys in the street knew her only by
the name of _"pecked,"_ a name derived from the scars and
blotches on her neck, head and shoulders.
It is some relief to this picture of slavery in Baltimore, to
say--what is but the simple truth--that Mrs. Hamilton's treatment
of her slaves was generally condemned, as disgraceful and
shocking; but while I say this, it must also be remembered, that
the very parties who censured the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton, would
have condemned and promptly punished any attempt to interfere
with Mrs. Hamilton's _right_ to cut and slash her slaves to
pieces. There must be no force between the slave and the
slaveholder, to restrain the power of the one, and protect the
weakness of the other; and the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton is as
justly chargeable to the upholders of the slave system, as
drunkenness is chargeable on those who, by precept and example,
or by indifference, uphold the drinking system.
_"A Change Came O'er the Spirit of My Dream"_
I lived in the family of Master Hugh, at Baltimore, seven years,
during which time--as the almanac makers say of the weather--my
condition was variable. The most interesting feature of my
history here, was my learning to read and write, under somewhat
marked disadvantages. In attaining this knowledge, I was
compelled to resort to indirections by no means congenial to my
nature, and which were really humiliating to me. My mistress--
who, as the reader has already seen, had begun to teach me was
suddenly checked in her benevolent design, by the strong advice
of her husband. In faithful compliance with this advice, the
good lady had not only ceased to instruct me, herself, but had
set her face as a flint against my learning to read by any means.
It is due, however, to my mistress to say, that she did not adopt
this course in all its stringency at the first. She either
thought it unnecessary, or she lacked the depravity indispensable
to shutting me up in <119 EFFECTS OF SLAVEHOLDING ON MY
MISTRESS>mental darkness. It was, at least, necessary for her to
have some training, and some hardening, in the exercise of the
slaveholder's prerogative, to make her equal to forgetting my
human nature and character, and to treating me as a thing
destitute of a moral or an intellectual nature. Mrs. Auld--my
mistress--was, as I have said, a most kind and tender-hearted
woman; and, in the humanity of her heart, and the simplicity of
her mind, she set out, when I first went to live with her, to
treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.
It is easy to see, that, in entering upon the duties of a
slaveholder, some little experience is needed. Nature has done
almost nothing to prepare men and women to be either slaves or
slaveholders. Nothing but rigid training, long persisted in, can
perfect the character of the one or the other. One cannot easily
forget to love freedom; and it is as hard to cease to respect
that natural love in our fellow creatures. On entering upon the
career of a slaveholding mistress, Mrs. Auld was singularly
deficient; nature, which fits nobody for such an office, had done
less for her than any lady I had known. It was no easy matter to
induce her to think and to feel that the curly-headed boy, who
stood by her side, and even leaned on her lap; who was loved by
little Tommy, and who loved little Tommy in turn; sustained to
her only the relation of a chattel. I was _more_ than that, and
she felt me to be more than that. I could talk and sing; I could
laugh and weep; I could reason and remember; I could love and
hate. I was human, and she, dear lady, knew and felt me to be
so. How could she, then, treat me as a brute, without a mighty
struggle with all the noble powers of her own soul. That
struggle came, and the will and power of the husband was
victorious. Her noble soul was overthrown; but, he that
overthrew it did not, himself, escape the consequences. He, not
less than the other parties, was injured in his domestic peace by
the fall.
When I went into their family, it was the abode of happiness and
contentment. The mistress of the house was a model of
affec<120>tion and tenderness. Her fervent piety and watchful
uprightness made it impossible to see her without thinking and
feeling--"_that woman is a Christian_." There was no sorrow nor
suffering for which she had not a tear, and there was no innocent
joy for which she did not a smile. She had bread for the hungry,
clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came
within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her
of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early
happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence. Once
thoroughly broken down, _who_ is he that can repair the damage?
It may be broken toward the slave, on Sunday, and toward the
master on Monday. It cannot endure such shocks. It must stand
entire, or it does not stand at all. If my condition waxed bad,
that of the family waxed not better. The first step, in the
wrong direction, was the violence done to nature and to
conscience, in arresting the benevolence that would have
enlightened my young mind. In ceasing to instruct me, she must
begin to justify herself _to_ herself; and, once consenting to
take sides in such a debate, she was riveted to her position.
One needs very little knowledge of moral philosophy, to see
_where_ my mistress now landed. She finally became even more
violent in her opposition to my learning to read, than was her
husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as
_well_ as her husband had commanded her, but seemed resolved to
better his instruction. Nothing appeared to make my poor
mistress--after her turning toward the downward path--more angry,
than seeing me, seated in some nook or corner, quietly reading a
book or a newspaper. I have had her rush at me, with the utmost
fury, and snatch from my hand such newspaper or book, with
something of the wrath and consternation which a traitor might be
supposed to feel on being discovered in a plot by some dangerous
Mrs. Auld was an apt woman, and the advice of her husband, and
her own experience, soon demonstrated, to her entire
satisfaction, that education and slavery are incompatible with
each other. When this conviction was thoroughly established, I
was <121 HOW I PURSUED MY EDUCATION>most narrowly watched in all
my movements. If I remained in a separate room from the family
for any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected
of having a book, and was at once called upon to give an account
of myself. All this, however, was entirely _too late_. The
first, and never to be retraced, step had been taken. In
teaching me the alphabet, in the days of her simplicity and
kindness, my mistress had given me the _"inch,"_ and now, no
ordinary precaution could prevent me from taking the _"ell."_
Seized with a determination to learn to read, at any cost, I hit
upon many expedients to accomplish the desired end. The plea
which I mainly adopted, and the one by which I was most
successful, was that of using my young white playmates, with whom
I met in the streets as teachers. I used to carry, almost
constantly, a copy of Webster's spelling book in my pocket; and,
when sent of errands, or when play time was allowed me, I would
step, with my young friends, aside, and take a lesson in
spelling. I generally paid my _tuition fee_ to the boys, with
bread, which I also carried in my pocket. For a single biscuit,
any of my hungry little comrades would give me a lesson more
valuable to me than bread. Not every one, however, demanded this
consideration, for there were those who took pleasure in teaching
me, whenever I had a chance to be taught by them. I am strongly
tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys,
as a slight testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear
them, but prudence forbids; not that it would injure me, but it
might, possibly, embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable
offense to do any thing, directly or indirectly, to promote a
slave's freedom, in a slave state. It is enough to say, of my
warm-hearted little play fellows, that they lived on Philpot
street, very near Durgin & Bailey's shipyard.
Although slavery was a delicate subject, and very cautiously
talked about among grown up people in Maryland, I frequently
talked about it--and that very freely--with the white boys. I
<122>would, sometimes, say to them, while seated on a curb stone
or a cellar door, "I wish I could be free, as you will be when
you get to be men." "You will be free, you know, as soon as you
are twenty-one, and can go where you like, but I am a slave for
life. Have I not as good a right to be free as you have?" Words
like these, I observed, always troubled them; and I had no small
satisfaction in wringing from the boys, occasionally, that fresh
and bitter condemnation of slavery, that springs from nature,
unseared and unperverted. Of all consciences let me have those
to deal with which have not been bewildered by the cares of life.
I do not remember ever to have met with a _boy_, while I was in
slavery, who defended the slave system; but I have often had boys
to console me, with the hope that something would yet occur, by
which I might be made free. Over and over again, they have told
me, that "they believed I had as good a right to be free as
_they_ had;" and that "they did not believe God ever made any one
to be a slave." The reader will easily see, that such little
conversations with my play fellows, had no tendency to weaken my
love of liberty, nor to render me contented with my condition as
a slave.
When I was about thirteen years old, and had succeeded in
learning to read, every increase of knowledge, especially
respecting the FREE STATES, added something to the almost
intolerable burden of the thought--I AM A SLAVE FOR LIFE. To my
bondage I saw no end. It was a terrible reality, and I shall
never be able to tell how sadly that thought chafed my young
spirit. Fortunately, or unfortunately, about this time in my
life, I had made enough money to buy what was then a very popular
school book, viz: the _Columbian Orator_. I bought this addition
to my library, of Mr. Knight, on Thames street, Fell's Point,
Baltimore, and paid him fifty cents for it. I was first led to
buy this book, by hearing some little boys say they were going to
learn some little pieces out of it for the Exhibition. This
volume was, indeed, a rich treasure, and every opportunity
afforded me, for <123 _The Columbian Orator_--A DIALOGUE>a time,
was spent in diligently perusing it. Among much other
interesting matter, that which I had perused and reperused with
unflagging satisfaction, was a short dialogue between a master
and his slave. The slave is represented as having been
recaptured, in a second attempt to run away; and the master opens
the dialogue with an upbraiding speech, charging the slave with
ingratitude, and demanding to know what he has to say in his own
defense. Thus upbraided, and thus called upon to reply, the
slave rejoins, that he knows how little anything that he can say
will avail, seeing that he is completely in the hands of his
owner; and with noble resolution, calmly says, "I submit to my
fate." Touched by the slave's answer, the master insists upon
his further speaking, and recapitulates the many acts of kindness
which he has performed toward the slave, and tells him he is
permitted to speak for himself. Thus invited to the debate, the
quondam slave made a spirited defense of himself, and thereafter
the whole argument, for and against slavery, was brought out.
The master was vanquished at every turn in the argument; and
seeing himself to be thus vanquished, he generously and meekly
emancipates the slave, with his best wishes for his prosperity.
It is scarcely neccessary{sic} to say, that a dialogue, with such
an origin, and such an ending--read when the fact of my being a
slave was a constant burden of grief--powerfully affected me; and
I could not help feeling that the day might come, when the welldirected
answers made by the slave to the master, in this
instance, would find their counterpart in myself.
This, however, was not all the fanaticism which I found in this
_Columbian Orator_. I met there one of Sheridan's mighty
speeches, on the subject of Catholic Emancipation, Lord Chatham's
speech on the American war, and speeches by the great William
Pitt and by Fox. These were all choice documents to me, and I
read them, over and over again, with an interest that was ever
increasing, because it was ever gaining in intelligence; for the
more I read them, the better I understood them. The reading of
<124>these speeches added much to my limited stock of language,
and enabled me to give tongue to many interesting thoughts, which
had frequently flashed through my soul, and died away for want of
utterance. The mighty power and heart-searching directness of
truth, penetrating even the heart of a slaveholder, compelling
him to yield up his earthly interests to the claims of eternal
justice, were finely illustrated in the dialogue, just referred
to; and from the speeches of Sheridan, I got a bold and powerful
denunciation of oppression, and a most brilliant vindication of
the rights of man. Here was, indeed, a noble acquisition. If I
ever wavered under the consideration, that the Almighty, in some
way, ordained slavery, and willed my enslavement for his own
glory, I wavered no longer. I had now penetrated the secret of
all slavery and oppression, and had ascertained their true
foundation to be in the pride, the power and the avarice of man.
The dialogue and the speeches were all redolent of the principles
of liberty, and poured floods of light on the nature and
character of slavery. With a book of this kind in my hand, my
own human nature, and the facts of my experience, to help me, I
was equal to a contest with the religious advocates of slavery,
whether among the whites or among the colored people, for
blindness, in this matter, is not confined to the former. I have
met many religious colored people, at the south, who are under
the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery, and to
wear their chains with meekness and humility. I could entertain
no such nonsense as this; and I almost lost my patience when I
found any colored man weak enough to believe such stuff.
Nevertheless, the increase of knowledge was attended with bitter,
as well as sweet results. The more I read, the more I was led to
abhor and detest slavery, and my enslavers. "Slaveholders,"
thought I, "are only a band of successful robbers, who left their
homes and went into Africa for the purpose of stealing and
reducing my people to slavery." I loathed them as the meanest
and the most wicked of men. As I read, behold! the very
discontent so graphically pre<125 MY EYES OPENED>dicted by Master
Hugh, had already come upon me. I was no longer the lighthearted,
gleesome boy, full of mirth and play, as when I landed
first at Baltimore. Knowledge had come; light had penetrated the
moral dungeon where I dwelt; and, behold! there lay the bloody
whip, for my back, and here was the iron chain; and my good,
_kind master_, he was the author of my situation. The revelation
haunted me, stung me, and made me gloomy and miserable. As I
writhed under the sting and torment of this knowledge, I almost
envied my fellow slaves their stupid contentment. This knowledge
opened my eyes to the horrible pit, and revealed the teeth of the
frightful dragon that was ready to pounce upon me, but it opened
no way for my escape. I have often wished myself a beast, or a
bird--anything, rather than a slave. I was wretched and gloomy,
beyond my ability to describe. I was too thoughtful to be happy.
It was this everlasting thinking which distressed and tormented
me; and yet there was no getting rid of the subject of my
thoughts. All nature was redolent of it. Once awakened by the
silver trump of knowledge, my spirit was roused to eternal
wakefulness. Liberty! the inestimable birthright of every man,
had, for me, converted every object into an asserter of this
great right. It was heard in every sound, and beheld in every
object. It was ever present, to torment me with a sense of my
wretched condition. The more beautiful and charming were the
smiles of nature, the more horrible and desolate was my
condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, and I heard nothing
without hearing it. I do not exaggerate, when I say, that it
looked from every star, smiled in every calm, breathed in every
wind, and moved in every storm.
I have no doubt that my state of mind had something to do with
the change in the treatment adopted, by my once kind mistress
toward me. I can easily believe, that my leaden, downcast, and
discontented look, was very offensive to her. Poor lady! She
did not know my trouble, and I dared not tell her. Could I have
freely made her acquainted with the real state of my mind, and
<126>given her the reasons therefor, it might have been well for
both of us. Her abuse of me fell upon me like the blows of the
false prophet upon his ass; she did not know that an _angel_
stood in the way; and--such is the relation of master and slave I
could not tell her. Nature had made us _friends;_ slavery made
us _enemies_. My interests were in a direction opposite to hers,
and we both had our private thoughts and plans. She aimed to
keep me ignorant; and I resolved to know, although knowledge only
increased my discontent. My feelings were not the result of any
marked cruelty in the treatment I received; they sprung from the
consideration of my being a slave at all. It was _slavery_--not
its mere _incidents_--that I hated. I had been cheated. I saw
through the attempt to keep me in ignorance; I saw that
slaveholders would have gladly made me believe that they were
merely acting under the authority of God, in making a slave of
me, and in making slaves of others; and I treated them as robbers
and deceivers. The feeding and clothing me well, could not atone
for taking my liberty from me. The smiles of my mistress could
not remove the deep sorrow that dwelt in my young bosom. Indeed,
these, in time, came only to deepen my sorrow. She had changed;
and the reader will see that I had changed, too. We were both
victims to the same overshadowing evil--_she_, as mistress, I, as
slave. I will not censure her harshly; she cannot censure me,
for she knows I speak but the truth, and have acted in my
opposition to slavery, just as she herself would have acted, in a
reverse of circumstances.
_Religious Nature Awakened_
Whilst in the painful state of mind described in the foregoing
chapter, almost regretting my very existence, because doomed to a
life of bondage, so goaded and so wretched, at times, that I was
even tempted to destroy my own life, I was keenly sensitive and
eager to know any, and every thing that transpired, having any
relation to the subject of slavery. I was all ears, all eyes,
whenever the words _slave, slavery_, dropped from the lips of any
white person, and the occasions were not unfrequent when these
words became leading ones, in high, social debate, at our house.
Every little while, I could hear Master Hugh, or some of his
company, speaking with much warmth and excitement about
_"abolitionists."_ Of _who_ or _what_ these were, I was totally
ignorant. I found, however, that whatever they might be, they
were most cordially hated and soundly abused by slaveholders, of
every grade. I very soon discovered, too, that slavery was, in
some <128>sort, under consideration, whenever the abolitionists
were alluded to. This made the term a very interesting one to
me. If a slave, for instance, had made good his escape from
slavery, it was generally alleged, that he had been persuaded and
assisted by the abolitionists. If, also, a slave killed his
master--as was sometimes the case--or struck down his overseer,
or set fire to his master's dwelling, or committed any violence
or crime, out of the common way, it was certain to be said, that
such a crime was the legitimate fruits of the abolition movement.
Hearing such charges often repeated, I, naturally enough,
received the impression that abolition--whatever else it might
be--could not be unfriendly to the slave, nor very friendly to
the slaveholder. I therefore set about finding out, if possible,
_who_ and _what_ the abolitionists were, and _why_ they were so
obnoxious to the slaveholders. The dictionary afforded me very
little help. It taught me that abolition was the "act of
abolishing;" but it left me in ignorance at the very point where
I most wanted information--and that was, as to the _thing_ to be
abolished. A city newspaper, the _Baltimore American_, gave me
the incendiary information denied me by the dictionary. In its
columns I found, that, on a certain day, a vast number of
petitions and memorials had been presented to congress, praying
for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and for
the abolition of the slave trade between the states of the Union.
This was enough. The vindictive bitterness, the marked caution,
the studied reverse, and the cumbrous ambiguity, practiced by our
white folks, when alluding to this subject, was now fully
explained. Ever, after that, when I heard the words "abolition,"
or "abolition movement," mentioned, I felt the matter one of a
personal concern; and I drew near to listen, when I could do so,
without seeming too solicitous and prying. There was HOPE in
those words. Ever and anon, too, I could see some terrible
denunciation of slavery, in our papers--copied from abolition
papers at the north--and the injustice of such denunciation
commented on. These I read with avidity. <129 ABOLITIONISM--THE
ENIGMA SOLVED>I had a deep satisfaction in the thought, that the
rascality of slaveholders was not concealed from the eyes of the
world, and that I was not alone in abhorring the cruelty and
brutality of slavery. A still deeper train of thought was
stirred. I saw that there was _fear_, as well as _rage_, in the
manner of speaking of the abolitionists. The latter, therefore,
I was compelled to regard as having some power in the country;
and I felt that they might, possibly, succeed in their designs.
When I met with a slave to whom I deemed it safe to talk on the
subject, I would impart to him so much of the mystery as I had
been able to penetrate. Thus, the light of this grand movement
broke in upon my mind, by degrees; and I must say, that, ignorant
as I then was of the philosophy of that movement, I believe in it
from the first--and I believed in it, partly, because I saw that
it alarmed the consciences of slaveholders. The insurrection of
Nathaniel Turner had been quelled, but the alarm and terror had
not subsided. The cholera was on its way, and the thought was
present, that God was angry with the white people because of
their slaveholding wickedness, and, therefore, his judgments were
abroad in the land. It was impossible for me not to hope much
from the abolition movement, when I saw it supported by the
Almighty, and armed with DEATH!
Previous to my contemplation of the anti-slavery movement, and
its probable results, my mind had been seriously awakened to the
subject of religion. I was not more than thirteen years old,
when I felt the need of God, as a father and protector. My
religious nature was awakened by the preaching of a white
Methodist minister, named Hanson. He thought that all men, great
and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that
they were, by nature, rebels against His government; and that
they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God, through
Christ. I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what
was required of me; but one thing I knew very well--I was
wretched, and had no means of making myself otherwise. Moreover,
I knew that I could pray for light. I consulted a good colored
man, named <130>Charles Johnson; and, in tones of holy affection,
he told me to pray, and what to pray for. I was, for weeks, a
poor, brokenhearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and
misery of doubts and fears. I finally found that change of heart
which comes by "casting all one's care" upon God, and by having
faith in Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer, Friend, and Savior of
those who diligently seek Him.
After this, I saw the world in a new light. I seemed to live in
a new world, surrounded by new objects, and to be animated by new
hopes and desires. I loved all mankind--slaveholders not
excepted; though I abhorred slavery more than ever. My great
concern was, now, to have the world converted. The desire for
knowledge increased, and especially did I want a thorough
acquaintance with the contents of the bible. I have gathered
scattered pages from this holy book, from the filthy street
gutters of Baltimore, and washed and dried them, that in the
moments of my leisure, I might get a word or two of wisdom from
them. While thus religiously seeking knowledge, I became
acquainted with a good old colored man, named Lawson. A more
devout man than he, I never saw. He drove a dray for Mr. James
Ramsey, the owner of a rope-walk on Fell's Point, Baltimore.
This man not only prayed three time a day, but he prayed as he
walked through the streets, at his work--on his dray everywhere.
His life was a life of prayer, and his words (when he spoke to
his friends,) were about a better world. Uncle Lawson lived near
Master Hugh's house; and, becoming deeply attached to the old
man, I went often with him to prayer-meeting, and spent much of
my leisure time with him on Sunday. The old man could read a
little, and I was a great help to him, in making out the hard
words, for I was a better reader than he. I could teach him
_"the letter,"_ but he could teach me _"the spirit;"_ and high,
refreshing times we had together, in singing, praying and
glorifying God. These meetings with Uncle Lawson went on for a
long time, without the knowledge of Master Hugh or my mistress.
Both knew, how<131 FATHER LAWSON--OUR ATTACHMENT>ever, that I had
become religious, and they seemed to respect my conscientious
piety. My mistress was still a professor of religion, and
belonged to class. Her leader was no less a person than the Rev.
Beverly Waugh, the presiding elder, and now one of the bishops of
the Methodist Episcopal church. Mr. Waugh was then stationed
over Wilk street church. I am careful to state these facts, that
the reader may be able to form an idea of the precise influences
which had to do with shaping and directing my mind.
In view of the cares and anxieties incident to the life she was
then leading, and, especially, in view of the separation from
religious associations to which she was subjected, my mistress
had, as I have before stated, become lukewarm, and needed to be
looked up by her leader. This brought Mr. Waugh to our house,
and gave me an opportunity to hear him exhort and pray. But my
chief instructor, in matters of religion, was Uncle Lawson. He
was my spiritual father; and I loved him intensely, and was at
his house every chance I got.
This pleasure was not long allowed me. Master Hugh became averse
to my going to Father Lawson's, and threatened to whip me if I
ever went there again. I now felt myself persecuted by a wicked
man; and I _would_ go to Father Lawson's, notwithstanding the
threat. The good old man had told me, that the "Lord had a great
work for me to do;" and I must prepare to do it; and that he had
been shown that I must preach the gospel. His words made a deep
impression on my mind, and I verily felt that some such work was
before me, though I could not see _how_ I should ever engage in
its performance. "The good Lord," he said, "would bring it to
pass in his own good time," and that I must go on reading and
studying the scriptures. The advice and the suggestions of Uncle
Lawson, were not without their influence upon my character and
destiny. He threw my thoughts into a channel from which they
have never entirely diverged. He fanned my already intense love
of knowledge into a flame, by assuring me that I was to be a
useful man in the world. When I would <132>say to him, "How can
these things be and what can _I_ do?" his simple reply was,
_"Trust in the Lord."_ When I told him that "I was a slave, and
a slave FOR LIFE," he said, "the Lord can make you free, my dear.
All things are possible with him, only _have faith in God."_
"Ask, and it shall be given." "If you want liberty," said the
good old man, "ask the Lord for it, _in faith_, AND HE WILL GIVE
Thus assured, and cheered on, under the inspiration of hope, I
worked and prayed with a light heart, believing that my life was
under the guidance of a wisdom higher than my own. With all
other blessings sought at the mercy seat, I always prayed that
God would, of His great mercy, and in His own good time, deliver
me from my bondage.
I went, one day, on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two
Irishmen unloading a large scow of stone, or ballast I went on
board, unasked, and helped them. When we had finished the work,
one of the men came to me, aside, and asked me a number of
questions, and among them, if I were a slave. I told him "I was
a slave, and a slave for life." The good Irishman gave his
shoulders a shrug, and seemed deeply affected by the statement.
He said, "it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should
be a slave for life." They both had much to say about the
matter, and expressed the deepest sympathy with me, and the most
decided hatred of slavery. They went so far as to tell me that I
ought to run away, and go to the north; that I should find
friends there, and that I would be as free as anybody. I,
however, pretended not to be interested in what they said, for I
feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to
encourage slaves to escape, and then--to get the reward--they
have kidnapped them, and returned them to their masters. And
while I mainly inclined to the notion that these men were honest
and meant me no ill, I feared it might be otherwise. I
nevertheless remembered their words and their advice, and looked
forward to an escape to the north, as a possible means of gaining
the liberty <133 HOW I LEARNED TO WRITE>for which my heart
panted. It was not my enslavement, at the then present time,
that most affected me; the being a slave _for life_, was the
saddest thought. I was too young to think of running away
immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, before
going, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I now not
only had the hope of freedom, but a foreshadowing of the means by
which I might, some day, gain that inestimable boon. Meanwhile,
I resolved to add to my educational attainments the art of
After this manner I began to learn to write: I was much in the
ship yard--Master Hugh's, and that of Durgan & Bailey--and I
observed that the carpenters, after hewing and getting a piece of
timber ready for use, wrote on it the initials of the name of
that part of the ship for which it was intended. When, for
instance, a piece of timber was ready for the starboard side, it
was marked with a capital "S." A piece for the larboard side was
marked "L;" larboard forward, "L. F.;" larboard aft, was marked
"L. A.;" starboard aft, "S. A.;" and starboard forward "S. F." I
soon learned these letters, and for what they were placed on the
My work was now, to keep fire under the steam box, and to watch
the ship yard while the carpenters had gone to dinner. This
interval gave me a fine opportunity for copying the letters
named. I soon astonished myself with the ease with which I made
the letters; and the thought was soon present, "if I can make
four, I can make more." But having made these easily, when I met
boys about Bethel church, or any of our play-grounds, I entered
the lists with them in the art of writing, and would make the
letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask them
to "beat that if they could." With playmates for my teachers,
fences and pavements for my copy books, and chalk for my pen and
ink, I learned the art of writing. I, however, afterward adopted
various methods of improving my hand. The most successful, was
copying the _italics_ in Webster's spelling book, until <134>I
could make them all without looking on the book. By this time,
my little "Master Tommy" had grown to be a big boy, and had
written over a number of copy books, and brought them home. They
had been shown to the neighbors, had elicited due praise, and
were now laid carefully away. Spending my time between the ship
yard and house, I was as often the lone keeper of the latter as
of the former. When my mistress left me in charge of the house,
I had a grand time; I got Master Tommy's copy books and a pen and
ink, and, in the ample spaces between the lines, I wrote other
lines, as nearly like his as possible. The process was a tedious
one, and I ran the risk of getting a flogging for marring the
highly prized copy books of the oldest son. In addition to those
opportunities, sleeping, as I did, in the kitchen loft--a room
seldom visited by any of the family--I got a flour barrel up
there, and a chair; and upon the head of that barrel I have
written (or endeavored to write) copying from the bible and the
Methodist hymn book, and other books which had accumulated on my
hands, till late at night, and when all the family were in bed
and asleep. I was supported in my endeavors by renewed advice,
and by holy promises from the good Father Lawson, with whom I
continued to meet, and pray, and read the scriptures. Although
Master Hugh was aware of my going there, I must say, for his
credit, that he never executed his threat to whip me, for having
thus, innocently, employed-my leisure time.
_The Vicissitudes of Slave Life_
I must now ask the reader to go with me a little back in point of
time, in my humble story, and to notice another circumstance that
entered into my slavery experience, and which, doubtless, has had
a share in deepening my horror of slavery, and increasing my
hostility toward those men and measures that practically uphold
the slave system.
It has already been observed, that though I was, after my removal
from Col. Lloyd's plantation, in _form_ the slave of Master Hugh,
I was, in _fact_, and in _law_, the slave of my old master, Capt.
Anthony. Very well.
In a very short time after I went to Baltimore, my old master's
youngest son, Richard, died; and, in three years and six months
after his death, my old master himself died, leaving only his
son, Andrew, and his daughter, Lucretia, to share his estate.
The <136>old man died while on a visit to his daughter, in
Hillsborough, where Capt. Auld and Mrs. Lucretia now lived. The
former, having given up the command of Col. Lloyd's sloop, was
now keeping a store in that town.
Cut off, thus unexpectedly, Capt. Anthony died intestate; and his
property must now be equally divided between his two children,
Andrew and Lucretia.
The valuation and the division of slaves, among contending heirs,
is an important incident in slave life. The character and
tendencies of the heirs, are generally well understood among the
slaves who are to be divided, and all have their aversions and
preferences. But, neither their aversions nor their preferences
avail them anything.
On the death of old master, I was immediately sent for, to be
valued and divided with the other property. Personally, my
concern was, mainly, about my possible removal from the home of
Master Hugh, which, after that of my grandmother, was the most
endeared to me. But, the whole thing, as a feature of slavery,
shocked me. It furnished me anew insight into the unnatural
power to which I was subjected. My detestation of slavery,
already great, rose with this new conception of its enormity.
That was a sad day for me, a sad day for little Tommy, and a sad
day for my dear Baltimore mistress and teacher, when I left for
the Eastern Shore, to be valued and divided. We, all three, wept
bitterly that day; for we might be parting, and we feared we were
parting, forever. No one could tell among which pile of chattels
I should be flung. Thus early, I got a foretaste of that painful
uncertainty which slavery brings to the ordinary lot of mortals.
Sickness, adversity and death may interfere with the plans and
purposes of all; but the slave has the added danger of changing
homes, changing hands, and of having separations unknown to other
men. Then, too, there was the intensified degradation of the
spectacle. What an assemblage! Men and women, young and old,
married and single; moral and intellectual beings, in open
contempt of their humanity, level at a blow with <137 DIVISION OF
OLD MASTER'S PROPERTY>horses, sheep, horned cattle and swine!
Horses and men--cattle and women--pigs and children--all holding
the same rank in the scale of social existence; and all subjected
to the same narrow inspection, to ascertain their value in gold
and silver--the only standard of worth applied by slaveholders to
slaves! How vividly, at that moment, did the brutalizing power
of slavery flash before me! Personality swallowed up in the
sordid idea of property! Manhood lost in chattelhood!
After the valuation, then came the division. This was an hour of
high excitement and distressing anxiety. Our destiny was now to
be _fixed for life_, and we had no more voice in the decision of
the question, than the oxen and cows that stood chewing at the
haymow. One word from the appraisers, against all preferences or
prayers, was enough to sunder all the ties of friendship and
affection, and even to separate husbands and wives, parents and
children. We were all appalled before that power, which, to
human seeming, could bless or blast us in a moment. Added to the
dread of separation, most painful to the majority of the slaves,
we all had a decided horror of the thought of falling into the
hands of Master Andrew. He was distinguished for cruelty and
Slaves generally dread to fall into the hands of drunken owners.
Master Andrew was almost a confirmed sot, and had already, by his
reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, wasted a large
portion of old master's property. To fall into his hands, was,
therefore, considered merely as the first step toward being sold
away to the far south. He would spend his fortune in a few
years, and his farms and slaves would be sold, we thought, at
public outcry; and we should be hurried away to the cotton
fields, and rice swamps, of the sunny south. This was the cause
of deep consternation.
The people of the north, and free people generally, I think, have
less attachment to the places where they are born and brought up,
than have the slaves. Their freedom to go and come, <138>to be
here and there, as they list, prevents any extravagant attachment
to any one particular place, in their case. On the other hand,
the slave is a fixture; he has no choice, no goal, no
destination; but is pegged down to a single spot, and must take
root here, or nowhere. The idea of removal elsewhere, comes,
generally, in the shape of a threat, and in punishment of crime.
It is, therefore, attended with fear and dread. A slave seldom
thinks of bettering his condition by being sold, and hence he
looks upon separation from his native place, with none of the
enthusiasm which animates the bosoms of young freemen, when they
contemplate a life in the far west, or in some distant country
where they intend to rise to wealth and distinction. Nor can
those from whom they separate, give them up with that
cheerfulness with which friends and relations yield each other
up, when they feel that it is for the good of the departing one
that he is removed from his native place. Then, too, there is
correspondence, and there is, at least, the hope of reunion,
because reunion is _possible_. But, with the slave, all these
mitigating circumstances are wanting. There is no improvement in
his condition _probable_,--no correspondence _possible_,--no
reunion attainable. His going out into the world, is like a
living man going into the tomb, who, with open eyes, sees himself
buried out of sight and hearing of wife, children and friends of
kindred tie.
In contemplating the likelihoods and possibilities of our
circumstances, I probably suffered more than most of my fellow
servants. I had known what it was to experience kind, and even
tender treatment; they had known nothing of the sort. Life, to
them, had been rough and thorny, as well as dark. They had--most
of them--lived on my old master's farm in Tuckahoe, and had felt
the reign of Mr. Plummer's rule. The overseer had written his
character on the living parchment of most of their backs, and
left them callous; my back (thanks to my early removal from the
plantation to Baltimore) was yet tender. I had left a kind
mistress <139 MY SAD PROSPECTS AND GRIEF>at Baltimore, who was
almost a mother to me. She was in tears when we parted, and the
probabilities of ever seeing her again, trembling in the balance
as they did, could not be viewed without alarm and agony. The
thought of leaving that kind mistress forever, and, worse still,
of being the slave of Andrew Anthony--a man who, but a few days
before the division of the property, had, in my presence, seized
my brother Perry by the throat, dashed him on the ground, and
with the heel of his boot stamped him on the head, until the
blood gushed from his nose and ears--was terrible! This fiendish
proceeding had no better apology than the fact, that Perry had
gone to play, when Master Andrew wanted him for some trifling
service. This cruelty, too, was of a piece with his general
character. After inflicting his heavy blows on my brother, on
observing me looking at him with intense astonishment, he said,
"_That_ is the way I will serve you, one of these days;" meaning,
no doubt, when I should come into his possession. This threat,
the reader may well suppose, was not very tranquilizing to my
feelings. I could see that he really thirsted to get hold of me.
But I was there only for a few days. I had not received any
orders, and had violated none, and there was, therefore, no
excuse for flogging me.
At last, the anxiety and suspense were ended; and they ended,
thanks to a kind Providence, in accordance with my wishes. I
fell to the portion of Mrs. Lucretia--the dear lady who bound up
my head, when the savage Aunt Katy was adding to my sufferings
her bitterest maledictions.
Capt. Thomas Auld and Mrs. Lucretia at once decided on my return
to Baltimore. They knew how sincerely and warmly Mrs. Hugh Auld
was attached to me, and how delighted Mr. Hugh's son would be to
have me back; and, withal, having no immediate use for one so
young, they willingly let me off to Baltimore.
I need not stop here to narrate my joy on returning to Baltimore,
nor that of little Tommy; nor the tearful joy of his mother;
<140>nor the evident saticfaction{sic} of Master Hugh. I was
just one month absent from Baltimore, before the matter was
decided; and the time really seemed full six months.
One trouble over, and on comes another. The slave's life is full
of uncertainty. I had returned to Baltimore but a short time,
when the tidings reached me, that my friend, Mrs. Lucretia, who
was only second in my regard to Mrs. Hugh Auld, was dead, leaving
her husband and only one child--a daughter, named Amanda.
Shortly after the death of Mrs. Lucretia, strange to say, Master
Andrew died, leaving his wife and one child. Thus, the whole
family of Anthonys was swept away; only two children remained.
All this happened within five years of my leaving Col. Lloyd's.
No alteration took place in the condition of the slaves, in
consequence of these deaths, yet I could not help feeling less
secure, after the death of my friend, Mrs. Lucretia, than I had
done during her life. While she lived, I felt that I had a
strong friend to plead for me in any emergency. Ten years ago,
while speaking of the state of things in our family, after the
events just named, I used this language:
Now all the property of my old master, slaves included, was in
the hands of strangers--strangers who had nothing to do in
accumulating it. Not a slave was left free. All remained
slaves, from youngest to oldest. If any one thing in my
experience, more than another, served to deepen my conviction of
the infernal character of slavery, and to fill me with
unutterable loathing of slaveholders, it was their base
ingratitude to my poor old grandmother. She had served my old
master faithfully from youth to old age. She had been the source
of all his wealth; she had peopled his plantation with slaves;
she had become a great-grandmother in his service. She had
rocked him in infancy, attended him in childhood, served him
through life, and at his death wiped from his icy brow the cold
death-sweat, and closed his eyes forever. She was nevertheless
left a slave--a slave for life--a slave in the hands of
strangers; and in their hands she saw her children, her
grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, divided, like so many
sheep, without being gratified with the small privilege of a
single word, as to their or her own destiny. And, to cap the
climax of their base ingratitude and fiendish barbarity, my
grandmother, who was now very old, having outlived my old master
and all his children, having seen the beginning and end of all of
them, and her present owners finding she <141 DEATH OF MRS.
LUCRETIA>was of but little value, her frame already racked with
the pains of old age, and complete helplessness fast stealing
over her once active limbs, they took her to the woods, built her
a little hut, put up a little mud-chimney, and then made her
welcome to the privilege of supporting herself there in perfect
loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die! If my poor
old grandmother now lives, she lives to suffer in utter
loneliness; she lives to remember and mourn over the loss of
children, the loss of grandchildren, and the loss of greatgrandchildren.
They are, in the language of the slave's poet,
_Gone, gone, sold and gone,
To the rice swamp dank and lone,
Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings,
Where the noisome insect stings,
Where the fever-demon strews
Poison with the falling dews,
Where the sickly sunbeams glare
Through the hot and misty air:--
Gone, gone, sold and gone
To the rice swamp dank and lone,
From Virginia hills and waters--
Woe is me, my stolen daughters_!
The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children,
who once sang and danced in her presence, are gone. She gropes
her way, in the darkness of age, for a drink of water. Instead
of the voices of her children, she hears by day the moans of the
dove, and by night the screams of the hideous owl. All is gloom.
The grave is at the door. And now, when weighed down by the
pains and aches of old age, when the head inclines to the feet,
when the beginning and ending of human existence meet, and
helpless infancy and painful old age combine together--at this
time, this most needful time, the time for the exercise of that
tenderness and affection which children only can exercise toward
a declining parent--my poor old grandmother, the devoted mother
of twelve children, is left all alone, in yonder little hut,
before a few dim embers.
Two years after the death of Mrs. Lucretia, Master Thomas married
his second wife. Her name was Rowena Hamilton, the eldest
daughter of Mr. William Hamilton, a rich slaveholder on the
Eastern Shore of Maryland, who lived about five miles from St.
Michael's, the then place of my master's residence.
Not long after his marriage, Master Thomas had a misunderstanding
with Master Hugh, and, as a means of punishing his brother, he
ordered him to send me home.
As the ground of misunderstanding will serve to illustrate the
character of southern chivalry, and humanity, I will relate it.
Among the children of my Aunt Milly, was a daughter, named Henny.
When quite a child, Henny had fallen into the fire, and burnt her
hands so bad that they were of very little use to her. Her
fingers were drawn almost into the palms of her hands. She could
make out to do something, but she was considered hardly worth the
having--of little more value than a horse with a broken leg.
This unprofitable piece of human property, ill shapen, and
disfigured, Capt. Auld sent off to Baltimore, making his brother
Hugh welcome to her services.
After giving poor Henny a fair trial, Master Hugh and his wife
came to the conclusion, that they had no use for the crippled
servant, and they sent her back to Master Thomas. Thus, the
latter took as an act of ingratitude, on the part of his brother;
and, as a mark of his displeasure, he required him to send me
immediately to St. Michael's, saying, if he cannot keep _"Hen,"_
he shall not have _"Fred."_
Here was another shock to my nerves, another breaking up of my
plans, and another severance of my religious and social
alliances. I was now a big boy. I had become quite useful to
several young colored men, who had made me their teacher. I had
taught some of them to read, and was accustomed to spend many of
my leisure hours with them. Our attachment was strong, and I
greatly dreaded the separation. But regrets, especially in a
slave, are unavailing. I was only a slave; my wishes were
nothing, and my happiness was the sport of my masters.
My regrets at now leaving Baltimore, were not for the same
reasons as when I before left that city, to be valued and handed
over to my proper owner. My home was not now the pleasant place
it had formerly been. A change had taken place, both in Master
Hugh, and in his once pious and affectionate wife. The influence
of brandy and bad company on him, and the influence of slavery
and social isolation upon her, had wrought disastrously upon the
<143 REASONS FOR REGRETTING THE CHANGE>characters of both.
Thomas was no longer "little Tommy," but was a big boy, and had
learned to assume the airs of his class toward me. My condition,
therefore, in the house of Master Hugh, was not, by any means, so
comfortable as in former years. My attachments were now outside
of our family. They were felt to those to whom I _imparted_
instruction, and to those little white boys from whom I
_received_ instruction. There, too, was my dear old father, the
pious Lawson, who was, in christian graces, the very counterpart
of "Uncle" Tom. The resemblance is so perfect, that he might
have been the original of Mrs. Stowe's christian hero. The
thought of leaving these dear friends, greatly troubled me, for I
was going without the hope of ever returning to Baltimore again;
the feud between Master Hugh and his brother being bitter and
irreconcilable, or, at least, supposed to be so.
In addition to thoughts of friends from whom I was parting, as I
supposed, _forever_, I had the grief of neglected chances of
escape to brood over. I had put off running away, until now I
was to be placed where the opportunities for escaping were much
fewer than in a large city like Baltimore.
On my way from Baltimore to St. Michael's, down the Chesapeake
bay, our sloop--the "Amanda"--was passed by the steamers plying
between that city and Philadelphia, and I watched the course of
those steamers, and, while going to St. Michael's, I formed a
plan to escape from slavery; of which plan, and matters connected
therewith the kind reader shall learn more hereafter.
_Experience in St. Michael's_
St. Michael's, the village in which was now my new home, compared
favorably with villages in slave states, generally. There were a
few comfortable dwellings in it, but the place, as a whole, wore
a dull, slovenly, enterprise-forsaken aspect. The mass of the
buildings were wood; they had never enjoyed the artificial
adornment of paint, and time and storms had worn off the bright
color of the wood, leaving them almost as black as buildings
charred by a conflagration.
St. Michael's had, in former years, (previous to 1833, for that
was the year I went to reside there,) enjoyed some reputation as
a ship building community, but that business had almost entirely
given place to oyster fishing, for the Baltimore and Philadelphia
markets--a course of life highly unfavorable to morals, industry,
and manners. Miles river was broad, and its oyster fishing <145
ARRIVAL AT ST. MICHAEL'S>grounds were extensive; and the
fishermen were out, often, all day, and a part of the night,
during autumn, winter and spring. This exposure was an excuse
for carrying with them, in considerable quanties{sic}, spirituous
liquors, the then supposed best antidote for cold. Each canoe
was supplied with its jug of rum; and tippling, among this class
of the citizens of St. Michael's, became general. This drinking
habit, in an ignorant population, fostered coarseness, vulgarity
and an indolent disregard for the social improvement of the
place, so that it was admitted, by the few sober, thinking people
who remained there, that St. Michael's had become a very
_unsaintly_, as well as unsightly place, before I went there to
I left Baltimore for St. Michael's in the month of March, 1833.
I know the year, because it was the one succeeding the first
cholera in Baltimore, and was the year, also, of that strange
phenomenon, when the heavens seemed about to part with its starry
train. I witnessed this gorgeous spectacle, and was awe-struck.
The air seemed filled with bright, descending messengers from the
sky. It was about daybreak when I saw this sublime scene. I was
not without the suggestion, at the moment, that it might be the
harbinger of the coming of the Son of Man; and, in my then state
of mind, I was prepared to hail Him as my friend and deliverer.
I had read, that the "stars shall fall from heaven"; and they
were now falling. I was suffering much in my mind. It did seem
that every time the young tendrils of my affection became
attached, they were rudely broken by some unnatural outside
power; and I was beginning to look away to heaven for the rest
denied me on earth.
But, to my story. It was now more than seven years since I had
lived with Master Thomas Auld, in the family of my old master, on
Col. Lloyd's plantation. We were almost entire strangers to each
other; for, when I knew him at the house of my old master, it was
not as a _master_, but simply as "Captain Auld," who had married
old master's daughter. All my lessons concerning his <146>temper
and disposition, and the best methods of pleasing him, were yet
to be learnt. Slaveholders, however, are not very ceremonious in
approaching a slave; and my ignorance of the new material in
shape of a master was but transient. Nor was my mistress long in
making known her animus. She was not a "Miss Lucretia," traces
of whom I yet remembered, and the more especially, as I saw them
shining in the face of little Amanda, her daughter, now living
under a step-mother's government. I had not forgotten the soft
hand, guided by a tender heart, that bound up with healing balsam
the gash made in my head by Ike, the son of Abel. Thomas and
Rowena, I found to be a well-matched pair. _He_ was stingy, and
_she_ was cruel; and--what was quite natural in such cases--she
possessed the ability to make him as cruel as herself, while she
could easily descend to the level of his meanness. In the house
of Master Thomas, I was made--for the first time in seven years
to feel the pinchings of hunger, and this was not very easy to
For, in all the changes of Master Hugh's family, there was no
change in the bountifulness with which they supplied me with
food. Not to give a slave enough to eat, is meanness
intensified, and it is so recognized among slaveholders
generally, in Maryland. The rule is, no matter how coarse the
food, only let there be enough of it. This is the theory, and--
in the part of Maryland I came from--the general practice accords
with this theory. Lloyd's plantation was an exception, as was,
also, the house of Master Thomas Auld.
All know the lightness of Indian corn-meal, as an article of
food, and can easily judge from the following facts whether the
statements I have made of the stinginess of Master Thomas, are
borne out. There were four slaves of us in the kitchen, and four
whites in the great house Thomas Auld, Mrs. Auld, Hadaway Auld
(brother of Thomas Auld) and little Amanda. The names of the
slaves in the kitchen, were Eliza, my sister; Priscilla, my aunt;
Henny, my cousin; and myself. There were eight persons <147
STEALING--MODE OF VINDICATION>in the family. There was, each
week, one half bushel of corn-meal brought from the mill; and in
the kitchen, corn-meal was almost our exclusive food, for very
little else was allowed us. Out of this bushel of corn-meal, the
family in the great house had a small loaf every morning; thus
leaving us, in the kitchen, with not quite a half a peck per
week, apiece. This allowance was less than half the allowance of
food on Lloyd's plantation. It was not enough to subsist upon;
and we were, therefore, reduced to the wretched necessity of
living at the expense of our neighbors. We were compelled either
to beg, or to steal, and we did both. I frankly confess, that
while I hated everything like stealing, _as such_, I nevertheless
did not hesitate to take food, when I was hungry, wherever I
could find it. Nor was this practice the mere result of an
unreasoning instinct; it was, in my case, the result of a clear
apprehension of the claims of morality. I weighed and considered
the matter closely, before I ventured to satisfy my hunger by
such means. Considering that my labor and person were the
property of Master Thomas, and that I was by him deprived of the
necessaries of life necessaries obtained by my own labor--it was
easy to deduce the right to supply myself with what was my own.
It was simply appropriating what was my own to the use of my
master, since the health and strength derived from such food were
exerted in _his_ service. To be sure, this was stealing,
according to the law and gospel I heard from St. Michael's
pulpit; but I had already begun to attach less importance to what
dropped from that quarter, on that point, while, as yet, I
retained my reverence for religion. It was not always convenient
to steal from master, and the same reason why I might,
innocently, steal from him, did not seem to justify me in
stealing from others. In the case of my master, it was only a
question of _removal_--the taking his meat out of one tub, and
putting it into another; the ownership of the meat was not
affected by the transaction. At first, he owned it in the _tub_,
and last, he owned it in _me_. His meat house was not always
open. There was a strict watch kept on that <148>point, and the
key was on a large bunch in Rowena's pocket. A great many times
have we, poor creatures, been severely pinched with hunger, when
meat and bread have been moulding under the lock, while the key
was in the pocket of our mistress. This had been so when she
_knew_ we were nearly half starved; and yet, that mistress, with
saintly air, would kneel with her husband, and pray each morning
that a merciful God would bless them in basket and in store, and
save them, at last, in his kingdom. But I proceed with the
It was necessary that right to steal from _others_ should be
established; and this could only rest upon a wider range of
generalization than that which supposed the right to steal from
my master.
It was sometime before I arrived at this clear right. The reader
will get some idea of my train of reasoning, by a brief statement
of the case. "I am," thought I, "not only the slave of Thomas,
but I am the slave of society at large. Society at large has
bound itself, in form and in fact, to assist Master Thomas in
robbing me of my rightful liberty, and of the just reward of my
labor; therefore, whatever rights I have against Master Thomas, I
have, equally, against those confederated with him in robbing me
of liberty. As society has marked me out as privileged plunder,
on the principle of self-preservation I am justified in
plundering in turn. Since each slave belongs to all; all must,
therefore, belong to each."
I shall here make a profession of faith which may shock some,
offend others, and be dissented from by all. It is this: Within
the bounds of his just earnings, I hold that the slave is fully
justified in helping himself to the _gold and silver, and the
best apparel of his master, or that of any other slaveholder; and
that such taking is not stealing in any just sense of that word_.
The morality of _free_ society can have no application to _slave_
society. Slaveholders have made it almost impossible for the
slave to commit any crime, known either to the laws of God or to
the laws of man. If he steals, he takes his own; if he kills his
master, <149 SELFISHNESS OF MASTER THOMAS>he imitates only the
heroes of the revolution. Slaveholders I hold to be individually
and collectively responsible for all the evils which grow out of
the horrid relation, and I believe they will be so held at the
judgment, in the sight of a just God. Make a man a slave, and
you rob him of moral responsibility. Freedom of choice is the
essence of all accountability. But my kind readers are,
probably, less concerned about my opinions, than about that which
more nearly touches my personal experience; albeit, my opinions
have, in some sort, been formed by that experience.
Bad as slaveholders are, I have seldom met with one so entirely
destitute of every element of character capable of inspiring
respect, as was my present master, Capt. Thomas Auld.
When I lived with him, I thought him incapable of a noble action.
The leading trait in his character was intense selfishness. I
think he was fully aware of this fact himself, and often tried to
conceal it. Capt. Auld was not a _born_ slaveholder--not a
birthright member of the slaveholding oligarchy. He was only a
slaveholder by _marriage-right;_ and, of all slaveholders, these
latter are, _by far_, the most exacting. There was in him all
the love of domination, the pride of mastery, and the swagger of
authority, but his rule lacked the vital element of consistency.
He could be cruel; but his methods of showing it were cowardly,
and evinced his meanness rather than his spirit. His commands
were strong, his enforcement weak.
Slaves are not insensible to the whole-souled characteristics of
a generous, dashing slaveholder, who is fearless of consequences;
and they prefer a master of this bold and daring kind--even with
the risk of being shot down for impudence to the fretful, little
soul, who never uses the lash but at the suggestion of a love of
Slaves, too, readily distinguish between the birthright bearing
of the original slaveholder and the assumed attitudes of the
accidental slaveholder; and while they cannot respect either,
they certainly despise the latter more than the former.
The luxury of having slaves wait upon him was something new to
Master Thomas; and for it he was wholly unprepared. He was a
slaveholder, without the ability to hold or manage his slaves.
We seldom called him "master," but generally addressed him by his
"bay craft" title--_Capt. Auld_." It is easy to see that such
conduct might do much to make him appear awkward, and,
consequently, fretful. His wife was especially solicitous to
have us call her husband "master." Is your _master_ at the
store?"--"Where is your _master_?"--"Go and tell your _master"_--
"I will make your _master_ acquainted with your conduct"--she
would say; but we were inapt scholars. Especially were I and my
sister Eliza inapt in this particular. Aunt Priscilla was less
stubborn and defiant in her spirit than Eliza and myself; and, I
think, her road was less rough than ours.
In the month of August, 1833, when I had almost become desperate
under the treatment of Master Thomas, and when I entertained more
strongly than ever the oft-repeated determination to run away, a
circumstance occurred which seemed to promise brighter and better
days for us all. At a Methodist camp-meeting, held in the Bay
Side (a famous place for campmeetings) about eight miles from St.
Michael's, Master Thomas came out with a profession of religion.
He had long been an object of interest to the church, and to the
ministers, as I had seen by the repeated visits and lengthy
exhortations of the latter. He was a fish quite worth catching,
for he had money and standing. In the community of St. Michael's
he was equal to the best citizen. He was strictly temperate;
_perhaps_, from principle, but most likely, from interest. There
was very little to do for him, to give him the appearance of
piety, and to make him a pillar in the church. Well, the campmeeting
continued a week; people gathered from all parts of the
county, and two steamboat loads came from Baltimore. The ground
was happily chosen; seats were arranged; a stand erected; a rude
altar fenced in, fronting the preachers' stand, with straw in it
for the accommodation of <151 SOUTHERN CAMP MEETING>mourners.
This latter would hold at least one hundred persons. In front,
and on the sides of the preachers' stand, and outside the long
rows of seats, rose the first class of stately tents, each vieing
with the other in strength, neatness, and capacity for
accommodating its inmates. Behind this first circle of tents was
another, less imposing, which reached round the camp-ground to
the speakers' stand. Outside this second class of tents were
covered wagons, ox carts, and vehicles of every shape and size.
These served as tents to their owners. Outside of these, huge
fires were burning, in all directions, where roasting, and
boiling, and frying, were going on, for the benefit of those who
were attending to their own spiritual welfare within the circle.
_Behind_ the preachers' stand, a narrow space was marked out for
the use of the colored people. There were no seats provided for
this class of persons; the preachers addressed them, _"over the
left,"_ if they addressed them at all. After the preaching was
over, at every service, an invitation was given to mourners to
come into the pen; and, in some cases, ministers went out to
persuade men and women to come in. By one of these ministers,
Master Thomas Auld was persuaded to go inside the pen. I was
deeply interested in that matter, and followed; and, though
colored people were not allowed either in the pen or in front of
the preachers' stand, I ventured to take my stand at a sort of
half-way place between the blacks and whites, where I could
distinctly see the movements of mourners, and especially the
progress of Master Thomas.
"If he has got religion," thought I, "he will emancipate his
slaves; and if he should not do so much as this, he will, at any
rate, behave toward us more kindly, and feed us more generously
than he has heretofore done." Appealing to my own religious
experience, and judging my master by what was true in my own
case, I could not regard him as soundly converted, unless some
such good results followed his profession of religion.
But in my expectations I was doubly disappointed; Master Thomas
was _Master Thomas_ still. The fruits of his righteousness
<152>were to show themselves in no such way as I had anticipated.
His conversion was not to change his relation toward men--at any
rate not toward BLACK men--but toward God. My faith, I confess,
was not great. There was something in his appearance that, in my
mind, cast a doubt over his conversion. Standing where I did, I
could see his every movement. I watched narrowly while he
remained in the little pen; and although I saw that his face was
extremely red, and his hair disheveled, and though I heard him
groan, and saw a stray tear halting on his cheek, as if inquiring
"which way shall I go?"--I could not wholly confide in the
genuineness of his conversion. The hesitating behavior of that
tear-drop and its loneliness, distressed me, and cast a doubt
upon the whole transaction, of which it was a part. But people
said, _"Capt. Auld had come through,"_ and it was for me to hope
for the best. I was bound to do this, in charity, for I, too,
was religious, and had been in the church full three years,
although now I was not more than sixteen years old. Slaveholders
may, sometimes, have confidence in the piety of some of their
slaves; but the slaves seldom have confidence in the piety of
their masters. _"He cant go to heaven with our blood in his
skirts_," is a settled point in the creed of every slave; rising
superior to all teaching to the contrary, and standing forever as
a fixed fact. The highest evidence the slaveholder can give the
slave of his acceptance with God, is the emancipation of his
slaves. This is proof that he is willing to give up all to God,
and for the sake of God. Not to do this, was, in my estimation,
and in the opinion of all the slaves, an evidence of halfheartedness,
and wholly inconsistent with the idea of genuine
conversion. I had read, also, somewhere in the Methodist
Discipline, the following question and answer:
"_Question_. What shall be done for the extirpation of slavery?
"_Answer_. We declare that we are much as ever convinced of the
great evil of slavery; therefore, no slaveholder shall be
eligible to any official station in our church."
These words sounded in my ears for a long time, and en<153 FAITH
AND WORKS AT VARIANCE>couraged me to hope. But, as I have before
said, I was doomed to disappointment. Master Thomas seemed to be
aware of my hopes and expectations concerning him. I have
thought, before now, that he looked at me in answer to my
glances, as much as to say, "I will teach you, young man, that,
though I have parted with my sins, I have not parted with my
sense. I shall hold my slaves, and go to heaven too."
Possibly, to convince us that we must not presume _too much_ upon
his recent conversion, he became rather more rigid and stringent
in his exactions. There always was a scarcity of good nature
about the man; but now his whole countenance was _soured_ over
with the seemings of piety. His religion, therefore, neither
made him emancipate his slaves, nor caused him to treat them with
greater humanity. If religion had any effect on his character at
all, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways. The
natural wickedness of his heart had not been removed, but only
reinforced, by the profession of religion. Do I judge him
harshly? God forbid. Facts _are_ facts. Capt. Auld made the
greatest profession of piety. His house was, literally, a house
of prayer. In the morning, and in the evening, loud prayers and
hymns were heard there, in which both himself and his wife
joined; yet, _no more meal_ was brought from the mill, _no more
attention_ was paid to the moral welfare of the kitchen; and
nothing was done to make us feel that the heart of Master Thomas
was one whit better than it was before he went into the little
pen, opposite to the preachers' stand, on the camp ground.
Our hopes (founded on the discipline) soon vanished; for the
authorities let him into the church _at once_, and before he was
out of his term of _probation_, I heard of his leading class! He
distinguished himself greatly among the brethren, and was soon an
exhorter. His progress was almost as rapid as the growth of the
fabled vine of Jack's bean. No man was more active than he, in
revivals. He would go many miles to assist in carrying them on,
and in getting outsiders interested in religion. His house being
<154>one of the holiest, if not the happiest in St. Michael's,
became the "preachers' home." These preachers evidently liked to
share Master Thomas's hospitality; for while he _starved us_, he
_stuffed_ them. Three or four of these ambassadors of the
gospel--according to slavery--have been there at a time; all
living on the fat of the land, while we, in the kitchen, were
nearly starving. Not often did we get a smile of recognition
from these holy men. They seemed almost as unconcerned about our
getting to heaven, as they were about our getting out of slavery.
To this general charge there was one exception--the Rev. GEORGE
COOKMAN. Unlike Rev. Messrs. Storks, Ewry, Hickey, Humphrey and
Cooper (all whom were on the St. Michael's circuit) he kindly
took an interest in our temporal and spiritual welfare. Our
souls and our bodies were all alike sacred in his sight; and he
really had a good deal of genuine anti-slavery feeling mingled
with his colonization ideas. There was not a slave in our
neighborhood that did not love, and almost venerate, Mr. Cookman.
It was pretty generally believed that he had been chiefly
instrumental in bringing one of the largest slaveholders--Mr.
Samuel Harrison--in that neighborhood, to emancipate all his
slaves, and, indeed, the general impression was, that Mr. Cookman
had labored faithfully with slaveholders, whenever he met them,
to induce them to emancipate their bondmen, and that he did this
as a religious duty. When this good man was at our house, we
were all sure to be called in to prayers in the morning; and he
was not slow in making inquiries as to the state of our minds,
nor in giving us a word of exhortation and of encouragement.
Great was the sorrow of all the slaves, when this faithful
preacher of the gospel was removed from the Talbot county
circuit. He was an eloquent preacher, and possessed what few
ministers, south of Mason Dixon's line, possess, or _dare_ to
show, viz: a warm and philanthropic heart. The Mr. Cookman, of
whom I speak, was an Englishman by birth, and perished while on
his way to England, on board the ill-fated "President". Could
the thousands of slaves <155 THE SABBATH SCHOOL>in Maryland know
the fate of the good man, to whose words of comfort they were so
largely indebted, they would thank me for dropping a tear on this
page, in memory of their favorite preacher, friend and
But, let me return to Master Thomas, and to my experience, after
his conversion. In Baltimore, I could, occasionally, get into a
Sabbath school, among the free children, and receive lessons,
with the rest; but, having already learned both to read and to
write, I was more of a teacher than a pupil, even there. When,
however, I went back to the Eastern Shore, and was at the house
of Master Thomas, I was neither allowed to teach, nor to be
taught. The whole community--with but a single exception, among
the whites--frowned upon everything like imparting instruction
either to slaves or to free colored persons. That single
exception, a pious young man, named Wilson, asked me, one day, if
I would like to assist him in teaching a little Sabbath school,
at the house of a free colored man in St. Michael's, named James
Mitchell. The idea was to me a delightful one, and I told him I
would gladly devote as much of my Sabbath as I could command, to
that most laudable work. Mr. Wilson soon mustered up a dozen old
spelling books, and a few testaments; and we commenced
operations, with some twenty scholars, in our Sunday school.
Here, thought I, is something worth living for; here is an
excellent chance for usefulness; and I shall soon have a company
of young friends, lovers of knowledge, like some of my Baltimore
friends, from whom I now felt parted forever.
Our first Sabbath passed delightfully, and I spent the week after
very joyously. I could not go to Baltimore, but I could make a
little Baltimore here. At our second meeting, I learned that
there was some objection to the existence of the Sabbath school;
and, sure enough, we had scarcely got at work--_good work_,
simply teaching a few colored children how to read the gospel of
the Son of God--when in rushed a mob, headed by Mr. Wright
Fairbanks and Mr. Garrison West--two class-leaders<156>--and
Master Thomas; who, armed with sticks and other missiles, drove
us off, and commanded us never to meet for such a purpose again.
One of this pious crew told me, that as for my part, I wanted to
be another Nat Turner; and if I did not look out, I should get as
many balls into me, as Nat did into him. Thus ended the infant
Sabbath school, in the town of St. Michael's. The reader will
not be surprised when I say, that the breaking up of my Sabbath
school, by these class-leaders, and professedly holy men, did not
serve to strengthen my religious convictions. The cloud over my
St. Michael's home grew heavier and blacker than ever.
It was not merely the agency of Master Thomas, in breaking up and
destroying my Sabbath school, that shook my confidence in the
power of southern religion to make men wiser or better; but I saw
in him all the cruelty and meanness, _after_ his conversion,
which he had exhibited before he made a profession of religion.
His cruelty and meanness were especially displayed in his
treatment of my unfortunate cousin, Henny, whose lameness made
her a burden to him. I have no extraordinary personal hard usage
toward myself to complain of, against him, but I have seen him
tie up the lame and maimed woman, and whip her in a manner most
brutal, and shocking; and then, with blood-chilling blasphemy, he
would quote the passage of scripture, "That servant which knew
his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according
to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes." Master would
keep this lacerated woman tied up by her wrists, to a bolt in the
joist, three, four and five hours at a time. He would tie her up
early in the morning, whip her with a cowskin before breakfast;
leave her tied up; go to his store, and, returning to his dinner,
repeat the castigation; laying on the rugged lash, on flesh
already made raw by repeated blows. He seemed desirous to get
the poor girl out of existence, or, at any rate, off his hands.
In proof of this, he afterwards gave her away to his sister Sarah
(Mrs. Cline) but, as in the case of Master <157 BARBAROUS
TREATMENT OF HENNY>Hugh, Henny was soon returned on his hands.
Finally, upon a pretense that he could do nothing with her (I use
his own words) he "set her adrift, to take care of herself."
Here was a recently converted man, holding, with tight grasp, the
well-framed, and able bodied slaves left him by old master--the
persons, who, in freedom, could have taken care of themselves;
yet, turning loose the only cripple among them, virtually to
starve and die.
No doubt, had Master Thomas been asked, by some pious northern
brother, _why_ he continued to sustain the relation of a
slaveholder, to those whom he retained, his answer would have
been precisely the same as many other religious slaveholders have
returned to that inquiry, viz: "I hold my slaves for their own
Bad as my condition was when I lived with Master Thomas, I was
soon to experience a life far more goading and bitter. The many
differences springing up between myself and Master Thomas, owing
to the clear perception I had of his character, and the boldness
with which I defended myself against his capricious complaints,
led him to declare that I was unsuited to his wants; that my city
life had affected me perniciously; that, in fact, it had almost
ruined me for every good purpose, and had fitted me for
everything that was bad. One of my greatest faults, or offenses,
was that of letting his horse get away, and go down to the farm
belonging to his father-in-law. The animal had a liking for that
farm, with which I fully sympathized. Whenever I let it out, it
would go dashing down the road to Mr. Hamilton's, as if going on
a grand frolic. My horse gone, of course I must go after it.
The explanation of our mutual attachment to the place is the
same; the horse found there good pasturage, and I found there
plenty of bread. Mr. Hamilton had his faults, but starving his
slaves was not among them. He gave food, in abundance, and that,
too, of an excellent quality. In Mr. Hamilton's cook--Aunt
Mary--I found a most generous and considerate friend. She never
allowed me to go there without giving me bread enough <158>to
make good the deficiencies of a day or two. Master Thomas at
last resolved to endure my behavior no longer; he could neither
keep me, nor his horse, we liked so well to be at his father-inlaw's
farm. I had now lived with him nearly nine months, and he
had given me a number of severe whippings, without any visible
improvement in my character, or my conduct; and now he was
resolved to put me out--as he said--"_to be broken."_
There was, in the Bay Side, very near the camp ground, where my
master got his religious impressions, a man named Edward Covey,
who enjoyed the execrated reputation, of being a first rate hand
at breaking young Negroes. This Covey was a poor man, a farm
renter; and this reputation (hateful as it was to the slaves and
to all good men) was, at the same time, of immense advantage to
him. It enabled him to get his farm tilled with very little
expense, compared with what it would have cost him without this
most extraordinary reputation. Some slaveholders thought it an
advantage to let Mr. Covey have the government of their slaves a
year or two, almost free of charge, for the sake of the excellent
training such slaves got under his happy management! Like some
horse breakers, noted for their skill, who ride the best horses
in the country without expense, Mr. Covey could have under him,
the most fiery bloods of the neighborhood, for the simple reward
of returning them to their owners, _well broken_. Added to the
natural fitness of Mr. Covey for the duties of his profession, he
was said to "enjoy religion," and was as strict in the
cultivation of piety, as he was in the cultivation of his farm.
I was made aware of his character by some who had been under his
hand; and while I could not look forward to going to him with any
pleasure, I was glad to get away from St. Michael's. I was sure
of getting enough to eat at Covey's, even if I suffered in other
respects. _This_, to a hungry man, is not a prospect to be
regarded with indifference.
_Covey, the Negro Breaker_
The morning of the first of January, 1834, with its chilling wind
and pinching frost, quite in harmony with the winter in my own
mind, found me, with my little bundle of clothing on the end of a
stick, swung across my shoulder, on the main road, bending my way
toward Covey's, whither I had been imperiously ordered by Master
Thomas. The latter had been as good as his word, and had
committed me, without reserve, to the mastery of Mr. Edward
Covey. Eight or ten years had now passed since I had been taken
from my grandmother's cabin, in Tuckahoe; and these years, for
the most part, I had spent in Baltimore, where--as the reader has
already seen--I was treated with comparative tenderness. I was
now about to sound profounder depths in slave life. The rigors
of a field, less tolerable than the field of battle, awaited me.
My new master was notorious for his fierce and savage
disposition, and my only consolation in going to live <160>with
him was, the certainty of finding him precisely as represented by
common fame. There was neither joy in my heart, nor elasticity
in my step, as I started in search of the tyrant's home.
Starvation made me glad to leave Thomas Auld's, and the cruel
lash made me dread to go to Covey's. Escape was impossible; so,
heavy and sad, I paced the seven miles, which separated Covey's
house from St. Michael's--thinking much by the solitary way--
averse to my condition; but _thinking_ was all I could do. Like
a fish in a net, allowed to play for a time, I was now drawn
rapidly to the shore, secured at all points. "I am," thought I,
"but the sport of a power which makes no account, either of my
welfare or of my happiness. By a law which I can clearly
comprehend, but cannot evade nor resist, I am ruthlessly snatched
from the hearth of a fond grandmother, and hurried away to the
home of a mysterious `old master;' again I am removed from there,
to a master in Baltimore; thence am I snatched away to the
Eastern Shore, to be valued with the beasts of the field, and,
with them, divided and set apart for a possessor; then I am sent
back to Baltimore; and by the time I have formed new attachments,
and have begun to hope that no more rude shocks shall touch me, a
difference arises between brothers, and I am again broken up, and
sent to St. Michael's; and now, from the latter place, I am
footing my way to the home of a new master, where, I am given to
understand, that, like a wild young working animal, I am to be
broken to the yoke of a bitter and life-long bondage."
With thoughts and reflections like these, I came in sight of a
small wood-colored building, about a mile from the main road,
which, from the description I had received, at starting, I easily
recognized as my new home. The Chesapeake bay--upon the jutting
banks of which the little wood-colored house was standing--white
with foam, raised by the heavy north-west wind; Poplar Island,
covered with a thick, black pine forest, standing out amid this
half ocean; and Kent Point, stretching its sandy, desert-like
shores out into the foam-cested bay--were all in <161 COVEY'S
RESIDENCE--THE FAMILY>sight, and deepened the wild and desolate
aspect of my new home.
The good clothes I had brought with me from Baltimore were now
worn thin, and had not been replaced; for Master Thomas was as
little careful to provide us against cold, as against hunger.
Met here by a north wind, sweeping through an open space of forty
miles, I was glad to make any port; and, therefore, I speedily
pressed on to the little wood-colored house. The family
consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Covey; Miss Kemp (a broken-backed
woman) a sister of Mrs. Covey; William Hughes, cousin to Edward
Covey; Caroline, the cook; Bill Smith, a hired man; and myself.
Bill Smith, Bill Hughes, and myself, were the working force of
the farm, which consisted of three or four hundred acres. I was
now, for the first time in my life, to be a field hand; and in my
new employment I found myself even more awkward than a green
country boy may be supposed to be, upon his first entrance into
the bewildering scenes of city life; and my awkwardness gave me
much trouble. Strange and unnatural as it may seem, I had been
at my new home but three days, before Mr. Covey (my brother in
the Methodist church) gave me a bitter foretaste of what was in
reserve for me. I presume he thought, that since he had but a
single year in which to complete his work, the sooner he began,
the better. Perhaps he thought that by coming to blows at once,
we should mutually better understand our relations. But to
whatever motive, direct or indirect, the cause may be referred, I
had not been in his possession three whole days, before he
subjected me to a most brutal chastisement. Under his heavy
blows, blood flowed freely, and wales were left on my back as
large as my little finger. The sores on my back, from this
flogging, continued for weeks, for they were kept open by the
rough and coarse cloth which I wore for shirting. The occasion
and details of this first chapter of my experience as a field
hand, must be told, that the reader may see how unreasonable, as
well as how cruel, my new master, Covey, was. <162>The whole
thing I found to be characteristic of the man; and I was probably
treated no worse by him than scores of lads who had previously
been committed to him, for reasons similar to those which induced
my master to place me with him. But, here are the facts
connected with the affair, precisely as they occurred.
On one of the coldest days of the whole month of January, 1834, I
was ordered, at day break, to get a load of wood, from a forest
about two miles from the house. In order to perform this work,
Mr. Covey gave me a pair of unbroken oxen, for, it seems, his
breaking abilities had not been turned in this direction; and I
may remark, in passing, that working animals in the south, are
seldom so well trained as in the north. In due form, and with
all proper ceremony, I was introduced to this huge yoke of
unbroken oxen, and was carefully told which was "Buck," and which
was "Darby"--which was the "in hand," and which was the "off
hand" ox. The master of this important ceremony was no less a
person than Mr. Covey, himself; and the introduction was the
first of the kind I had ever had. My life, hitherto, had led me
away from horned cattle, and I had no knowledge of the art of
managing them. What was meant by the "in ox," as against the
"off ox," when both were equally fastened to one cart, and under
one yoke, I could not very easily divine; and the difference,
implied by the names, and the peculiar duties of each, were alike
_Greek_ to me. Why was not the "off ox" called the "in ox?"
Where and what is the reason for this distinction in names, when
there is none in the things themselves? After initiating me into
the _"woa," "back" "gee," "hither"_--the entire spoken language
between oxen and driver--Mr. Covey took a rope, about ten feet
long and one inch thick, and placed one end of it around the
horns of the "in hand ox," and gave the other end to me, telling
me that if the oxen started to run away, as the scamp knew they
would, I must hold on to the rope and stop them. I need not tell
any one who is acquainted with either the strength of the
disposition of an untamed ox, that this order <163 FIRST
ADVENTURE AT OX DRIVING>was about as unreasonable as a command to
shoulder a mad bull! I had never driven oxen before, and I was
as awkward, as a driver, as it is possible to conceive. It did
not answer for me to plead ignorance, to Mr. Covey; there was
something in his manner that quite forbade that. He was a man to
whom a slave seldom felt any disposition to speak. Cold,
distant, morose, with a face wearing all the marks of captious
pride and malicious sternness, he repelled all advances. Covey
was not a large man; he was only about five feet ten inches in
height, I should think; short necked, round shoulders; of quick
and wiry motion, of thin and wolfish visage; with a pair of
small, greenish-gray eyes, set well back under a forehead without
dignity, and constantly in motion, and floating his passions,
rather than his thoughts, in sight, but denying them utterance in
words. The creature presented an appearance altogether ferocious
and sinister, disagreeable and forbidding, in the extreme. When
he spoke, it was from the corner of his mouth, and in a sort of
light growl, like a dog, when an attempt is made to take a bone
from him. The fellow had already made me believe him even
_worse_ than he had been presented. With his directions, and
without stopping to question, I started for the woods, quite
anxious to perform my first exploit in driving, in a creditable
manner. The distance from the house to the woods gate a full
mile, I should think--was passed over with very little
difficulty; for although the animals ran, I was fleet enough, in
the open field, to keep pace with them; especially as they pulled
me along at the end of the rope; but, on reaching the woods, I
was speedily thrown into a distressing plight. The animals took
fright, and started off ferociously into the woods, carrying the
cart, full tilt, against trees, over stumps, and dashing from
side to side, in a manner altogether frightful. As I held the
rope, I expected every moment to be crushed between the cart and
the huge trees, among which they were so furiously dashing.
After running thus for several minutes, my oxen were, finally,
brought to a stand, by a tree, against which they dashed
<164>themselves with great violence, upsetting the cart, and
entangling themselves among sundry young saplings. By the shock,
the body of the cart was flung in one direction, and the wheels
and tongue in another, and all in the greatest confusion. There
I was, all alone, in a thick wood, to which I was a stranger; my
cart upset and shattered; my oxen entangled, wild, and enraged;
and I, poor soul! but a green hand, to set all this disorder
right. I knew no more of oxen than the ox driver is supposed to
know of wisdom. After standing a few moments surveying the
damage and disorder, and not without a presentiment that this
trouble would draw after it others, even more distressing, I took
one end of the cart body, and, by an extra outlay of strength, I
lifted it toward the axle-tree, from which it had been violently
flung; and after much pulling and straining, I succeeded in
getting the body of the cart in its place. This was an important
step out of the difficulty, and its performance increased my
courage for the work which remained to be done. The cart was
provided with an ax, a tool with which I had become pretty well
acquainted in the ship yard at Baltimore. With this, I cut down
the saplings by which my oxen were entangled, and again pursued
my journey, with my heart in my mouth, lest the oxen should again
take it into their senseless heads to cut up a caper. My fears
were groundless. Their spree was over for the present, and the
rascals now moved off as soberly as though their behavior had
been natural and exemplary. On reaching the part of the forest
where I had been, the day before, chopping wood, I filled the
cart with a heavy load, as a security against another running
away. But, the neck of an ox is equal in strength to iron. It
defies all ordinary burdens, when excited. Tame and docile to a
proverb, when _well_ trained, the ox is the most sullen and
intractable of animals when but half broken to the yoke.
I now saw, in my situation, several points of similarity with
that of the oxen. They were property, so was I; they were to be
<165 SENT BACK TO THE WOODS>broken, so was I. Covey was to break
me, I was to break them; break and be broken--such is life.
Half the day already gone, and my face not yet homeward! It
required only two day's experience and observation to teach me,
that such apparent waste of time would not be lightly overlooked
by Covey. I therefore hurried toward home; but, on reaching the
lane gate, I met with the crowning disaster for the day. This
gate was a fair specimen of southern handicraft. There were two
huge posts, eighteen inches in diameter, rough hewed and square,
and the heavy gate was so hung on one of these, that it opened
only about half the proper distance. On arriving here, it was
necessary for me to let go the end of the rope on the horns of
the "in hand ox;" and now as soon as the gate was open, and I let
go of it to get the rope, again, off went my oxen--making nothing
of their load--full tilt; and in doing so they caught the huge
gate between the wheel and the cart body, literally crushing it
to splinters, and coming only within a few inches of subjecting
me to a similar crushing, for I was just in advance of the wheel
when it struck the left gate post. With these two hair-breadth
escape, I thought I could sucessfully{sic} explain to Mr. Covey
the delay, and avert apprehended punishment. I was not without a
faint hope of being commended for the stern resolution which I
had displayed in accomplishing the difficult task--a task which,
I afterwards learned, even Covey himself would not have
undertaken, without first driving the oxen for some time in the
open field, preparatory to their going into the woods. But, in
this I was disappointed. On coming to him, his countenance
assumed an aspect of rigid displeasure, and, as I gave him a
history of the casualties of my trip, his wolfish face, with his
greenish eyes, became intensely ferocious. "Go back to the woods
again," he said, muttering something else about wasting time. I
hastily obeyed; but I had not gone far on my way, when I saw him
coming after me. My oxen now behaved themselves with singular
<166>propriety, opposing their present conduct to my
representation of their former antics. I almost wished, now that
Covey was coming, they would do something in keeping with the
character I had given them; but no, they had already had their
spree, and they could afford now to be extra good, readily
obeying my orders, and seeming to understand them quite as well
as I did myself. On reaching the woods, my tormentor--who seemed
all the way to be remarking upon the good behavior of his oxen--
came up to me, and ordered me to stop the cart, accompanying the
same with the threat that he would now teach me how to break
gates, and idle away my time, when he sent me to the woods.
Suiting the action to the word, Covey paced off, in his own wiry
fashion, to a large, black gum tree, the young shoots of which
are generally used for ox _goads_, they being exceedingly tough.
Three of these _goads_, from four to six feet long, he cut off,
and trimmed up, with his large jack-knife. This done, he ordered
me to take off my clothes. To this unreasonable order I made no
reply, but sternly refused to take off my clothing. "If you will
beat me," thought I, "you shall do so over my clothes." After
many threats, which made no impression on me, he rushed at me
with something of the savage fierceness of a wolf, tore off the
few and thinly worn clothes I had on, and proceeded to wear out,
on my back, the heavy goads which he had cut from the gum tree.
This flogging was the first of a series of floggings; and though
very severe, it was less so than many which came after it, and
these, for offenses far lighter than the gate breaking
I remained with Mr. Covey one year (I cannot say I _lived_ with
him) and during the first six months that I was there, I was
whipped, either with sticks or cowskins, every week. Aching
bones and a sore back were my constant companions. Frequent as
the lash was used, Mr. Covey thought less of it, as a means of
breaking down my spirit, than that of hard and long continued
labor. He worked me steadily, up to the point of my powers of
endurance. From the dawn of day in the morning, till the
dark<167 CUNNING AND TRICKERY OF COVEY>ness was complete in the
evening, I was kept at hard work, in the field or the woods. At
certain seasons of the year, we were all kept in the field till
eleven and twelve o'clock at night. At these times, Covey would
attend us in the field, and urge us on with words or blows, as it
seemed best to him. He had, in his life, been an overseer, and
he well understood the business of slave driving. There was no
deceiving him. He knew just what a man or boy could do, and he
held both to strict account. When he pleased, he would work
himself, like a very Turk, making everything fly before him. It
was, however, scarcely necessary for Mr. Covey to be really
present in the field, to have his work go on industriously. He
had the faculty of making us feel that he was always present. By
a series of adroitly managed surprises, which he practiced, I was
prepared to expect him at any moment. His plan was, never to
approach the spot where his hands were at work, in an open, manly
and direct manner. No thief was ever more artful in his devices
than this man Covey. He would creep and crawl, in ditches and
gullies; hide behind stumps and bushes, and practice so much of
the cunning of the serpent, that Bill Smith and I--between
ourselves--never called him by any other name than _"the snake."_
We fancied that in his eyes and his gait we could see a snakish
resemblance. One half of his proficiency in the art of Negro
breaking, consisted, I should think, in this species of cunning.
We were never secure. He could see or hear us nearly all the
time. He was, to us, behind every stump, tree, bush and fence on
the plantation. He carried this kind of trickery so far, that he
would sometimes mount his horse, and make believe he was going to
St. Michael's; and, in thirty minutes afterward, you might find
his horse tied in the woods, and the snake-like Covey lying flat
in the ditch, with his head lifted above its edge, or in a fence
corner, watching every movement of the slaves! I have known him
walk up to us and give us special orders, as to our work, in
advance, as if he were leaving home with a view to being absent
several days; and before he got half way to the <168>house, he
would avail himself of our inattention to his movements, to turn
short on his heels, conceal himself behind a fence corner or a
tree, and watch us until the going down of the sun. Mean and
contemptible as is all this, it is in keeping with the character
which the life of a slaveholder is calculated to produce. There
is no earthly inducement, in the slave's condition, to incite him
to labor faithfully. The fear of punishment is the sole motive
for any sort of industry, with him. Knowing this fact, as the
slaveholder does, and judging the slave by himself, he naturally
concludes the slave will be idle whenever the cause for this fear
is absent. Hence, all sorts of petty deceptions are practiced,
to inspire this fear.
But, with Mr. Covey, trickery was natural. Everything in the
shape of learning or religion, which he possessed, was made to
conform to this semi-lying propensity. He did not seem conscious
that the practice had anything unmanly, base or contemptible
about it. It was a part of an important system, with him,
essential to the relation of master and slave. I thought I saw,
in his very religious devotions, this controlling element of his
character. A long prayer at night made up for the short prayer
in the morning; and few men could seem more devotional than he,
when he had nothing else to do.
Mr. Covey was not content with the cold style of family worship,
adopted in these cold latitudes, which begin and end with a
simple prayer. No! the voice of praise, as well as of prayer,
must be heard in his house, night and morning. At first, I was
called upon to bear some part in these exercises; but the
repeated flogging given me by Covey, turned the whole thing into
mockery. He was a poor singer, and mainly relied on me for
raising the hymn for the family, and when I failed to do so, he
was thrown into much confusion. I do not think that he ever
abused me on account of these vexations. His religion was a
thing altogether apart from his worldly concerns. He knew
nothing of it as a holy principle, directing and controlling his
daily life, <169 SHOCKING CONTEMPT FOR CHASTITY>making the latter
conform to the requirements of the gospel. One or two facts will
illustrate his character better than a volume of
I have already said, or implied, that Mr. Edward Covey was a poor
man. He was, in fact, just commencing to lay the foundation of
his fortune, as fortune is regarded in a slave state. The first
condition of wealth and respectability there, being the ownership
of human property, every nerve is strained, by the poor man, to
obtain it, and very little regard is had to the manner of
obtaining it. In pursuit of this object, pious as Mr. Covey was,
he proved himself to be as unscrupulous and base as the worst of
his neighbors. In the beginning, he was only able--as he said--
"to buy one slave;" and, scandalous and shocking as is the fact,
he boasted that he bought her simply "_as a breeder_." But the
worst is not told in this naked statement. This young woman
(Caroline was her name) was virtually compelled by Mr. Covey to
abandon herself to the object for which he had purchased her; and
the result was, the birth of twins at the end of the year. At
this addition to his human stock, both Edward Covey and his wife,
Susan, were ecstatic with joy. No one dreamed of reproaching the
woman, or of finding fault with the hired man--Bill Smith--the
father of the children, for Mr. Covey himself had locked the two
up together every night, thus inviting the result.
But I will pursue this revolting subject no further. No better
illustration of the unchaste and demoralizing character of
slavery can be found, than is furnished in the fact that this
professedly Christian slaveholder, amidst all his prayers and
hymns, was shamelessly and boastfully encouraging, and actually
compelling, in his own house, undisguised and unmitigated
fornication, as a means of increasing his human stock. I may
remark here, that, while this fact will be read with disgust and
shame at the north, it will be _laughed at_, as smart and
praiseworthy in Mr. Covey, at the south; for a man is no more
condemned there for buying a woman and devoting her to this life
of dishonor, <170>than for buying a cow, and raising stock from
her. The same rules are observed, with a view to increasing the
number and quality of the former, as of the latter.
I will here reproduce what I said of my own experience in this
wretched place, more than ten years ago:
If at any one time of my life, more than another, I was made to
drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the
first six months of my stay with Mr. Covey. We were worked all
weathers. It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain,
blow, snow, or hail too hard for us to work in the field. Work,
work, work, was scarcely more the order of the day than the
night. The longest days were too short for him, and the shortest
nights were too long for him. I was somewhat unmanageable when I
first went there; but a few months of his discipline tamed me.
Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul
and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed; my intellect
languished; the disposition to read departed; the cheerful spark
that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed
in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
Sunday was my only leisure time. I spent this in a sort of
beast-like stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree.
At times, I would rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would
dart through my soul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope,
flickered for a moment, and then vanished. I sank down again,
mourning over my wretched condition. I was sometimes prompted to
take my life, and that of Covey, but was prevented by a
combination of hope and fear. My sufferings on this plantation
seem now like a dream rather than a stern reality.
Our house stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake bay, whose
broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the
habitable globe. Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white,
so delightful to the eye of freemen, were to me so many shrouded
ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched
condition. I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer's
Sabbath, stood all alone upon the banks of that noble bay, and
traced, with saddened heart and tearful eye, the countless number
of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. The sight of these
always affected me powerfully. My thoughts would compel
utterance; and there, with no audience but the Almighty, I would
pour out my soul's complaint in my rude way, with an apostrophe
to the moving multitude of ships:
"You are loosed from your moorings, and free; I am fast in my
chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale,
and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom's swiftwinged
angels, that fly around the world; I am confined in bands
of iron! O, that I were free! O, that I were on one of your
gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! betwixt me
<171 ANGUISH BEYOND DESCRIPTION>and you the turbid waters roll.
Go on, go on. O that I could also go! Could I but swim! If I
could fly! O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute!
The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left
in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God,
deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a
slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or
get clear, I'll try it. I had as well die with ague as with
fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed
running as die standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles
straight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me, I
will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will
take to the water. This very bay shall yet bear me into freedom.
The steamboats steered in a north-east coast from North Point. I
will do the same; and when I get to the head of the bay, I will
turn my canoe adrift, and walk straight through Delaware into
Pennsylvania. When I get there, I shall not be required to have
a pass; I will travel without being disturbed. Let but the first
opportunity offer, and come what will, I am off. Meanwhile, I
will try to bear up under the yoke. I am not the only slave in
the world. Why should I fret? I can bear as much as any of
them. Besides, I am but a boy, and all boys are bound to some
one. It may be that my misery in slavery will only increase my
happiness when I get free. There is a better day coming."
I shall never be able to narrate the mental experience through
which it was my lot to pass during my stay at Covey's. I was
completely wrecked, changed and bewildered; goaded almost to
madness at one time, and at another reconciling myself to my
wretched condition. Everything in the way of kindness, which I
had experienced at Baltimore; all my former hopes and aspirations
for usefulness in the world, and the happy moments spent in the
exercises of religion, contrasted with my then present lot, but
increased my anguish.
I suffered bodily as well as mentally. I had neither sufficient
time in which to eat or to sleep, except on Sundays. The
overwork, and the brutal chastisements of which I was the victim,
combined with that ever-gnawing and soul-devouring thought--"_I
am a slave--a slave for life--a slave with no rational ground to
hope for freedom_"--rendered me a living embodiment of mental and
physical wretchedness.
_Another Pressure of the Tyrant's Vice_
The foregoing chapter, with all its horrid incidents and shocking
features, may be taken as a fair representation of the first six
months of my life at Covey's. The reader has but to repeat, in
his own mind, once a week, the scene in the woods, where Covey
subjected me to his merciless lash, to have a true idea of my
bitter experience there, during the first period of the breaking
process through which Mr. Covey carried me. I have no heart to
repeat each separate transaction, in which I was victim of his
violence and brutality. Such a narration would fill a volume
much larger than the present one. I aim only to give the reader
a truthful impression of my slave life, without unnecessarily
affecting him with harrowing details.
As I have elsewhere intimated that my hardships were much greater
during the first six months of my stay at Covey's, than during
the remainder of the year, and as the change in my condition was
owing to causes which may help the reader to a better
understanding of human nature, when subjected to the terrible
extremities of slavery, I will narrate the circumstances of this
<173 SCENE IN THE TREADING YARD>change, although I may seem
thereby to applaud my own courage. You have, dear reader, seen
me humbled, degraded, broken down, enslaved, and brutalized, and
you understand how it was done; now let us see the converse of
all this, and how it was brought about; and this will take us
through the year 1834.
On one of the hottest days of the month of August, of the year
just mentioned, had the reader been passing through Covey's farm,
he might have seen me at work, in what is there called the
"treading yard"--a yard upon which wheat is trodden out from the
straw, by the horses' feet. I was there, at work, feeding the
"fan," or rather bringing wheat to the fan, while Bill Smith was
feeding. Our force consisted of Bill Hughes, Bill Smith, and a
slave by the name of Eli; the latter having been hired for this
occasion. The work was simple, and required strength and
activity, rather than any skill or intelligence, and yet, to one
entirely unused to such work, it came very hard. The heat was
intense and overpowering, and there was much hurry to get the
wheat, trodden out that day, through the fan; since, if that work
was done an hour before sundown, the hands would have, according
to a promise of Covey, that hour added to their night's rest. I
was not behind any of them in the wish to complete the day's work
before sundown, and, hence, I struggled with all my might to get
the work forward. The promise of one hour's repose on a week
day, was sufficient to quicken my pace, and to spur me on to
extra endeavor. Besides, we had all planned to go fishing, and I
certainly wished to have a hand in that. But I was disappointed,
and the day turned out to be one of the bitterest I ever
experienced. About three o'clock, while the sun was pouring down
his burning rays, and not a breeze was stirring, I broke down; my
strength failed me; I was seized with a violent aching of the
head, attended with extreme dizziness, and trembling in every
limb. Finding what was coming, and feeling it would never do to
stop work, I nerved myself up, and staggered on until I fell by
the side of the wheat fan, feeling that the earth had fallen
<174>upon me. This brought the entire work to a dead stand.
There was work for four; each one had his part to perform, and
each part depended on the other, so that when one stopped, all
were compelled to stop. Covey, who had now become my dread, as
well as my tormentor, was at the house, about a hundred yards
from where I was fanning, and instantly, upon hearing the fan
stop, he came down to the treading yard, to inquire into the
cause of our stopping. Bill Smith told him I was sick, and that
I was unable longer to bring wheat to the fan.
I had, by this time, crawled away, under the side of a post-andrail
fence, in the shade, and was exceeding ill. The intense
heat of the sun, the heavy dust rising from the fan, the
stooping, to take up the wheat from the yard, together with the
hurrying, to get through, had caused a rush of blood to my head.
In this condition, Covey finding out where I was, came to me;
and, after standing over me a while, he asked me what the matter
was. I told him as well as I could, for it was with difficulty
that I could speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side,
which jarred my whole frame, and commanded me to get up. The man
had obtained complete control over me; and if he had commanded me
to do any possible thing, I should, in my then state of mind,
have endeavored to comply. I made an effort to rise, but fell
back in the attempt, before gaining my feet. The brute now gave
me another heavy kick, and again told me to rise. I again tried
to rise, and succeeded in gaining my feet; but upon stooping to
get the tub with which I was feeding the fan, I again staggered
and fell to the ground; and I must have so fallen, had I been
sure that a hundred bullets would have pierced me, as the
consequence. While down, in this sad condition, and perfectly
helpless, the merciless Negro breaker took up the hickory slab,
with which Hughes had been striking off the wheat to a level with
the sides of the half bushel measure (a very hard weapon) and
with the sharp edge of it, he dealt me a heavy blow on my head
which made a large gash, and caused the blood to run freely,
saying, <175 ESCAPE TO ST. MICHAEL'S>at the same time, "If _you
have got the headache, I'll cure you_." This done, he ordered me
again to rise, but I made no effort to do so; for I had made up
my mind that it was useless, and that the heartless monster might
now do his worst; he could but kill me, and that might put me out
of my misery. Finding me unable to rise, or rather despairing of
my doing so, Covey left me, with a view to getting on with the
work without me. I was bleeding very freely, and my face was
soon covered with my warm blood. Cruel and merciless as was the
motive that dealt that blow, dear reader, the wound was fortunate
for me. Bleeding was never more efficacious. The pain in my
head speedily abated, and I was soon able to rise. Covey had, as
I have said, now left me to my fate; and the question was, shall
I return to my work, or shall I find my way to St. Michael's, and
make Capt. Auld acquainted with the atrocious cruelty of his
brother Covey, and beseech him to get me another master?
Remembering the object he had in view, in placing me under the
management of Covey, and further, his cruel treatment of my poor
crippled cousin, Henny, and his meanness in the matter of feeding
and clothing his slaves, there was little ground to hope for a
favorable reception at the hands of Capt. Thomas Auld.
Nevertheless, I resolved to go straight to Capt. Auld, thinking
that, if not animated by motives of humanity, he might be induced
to interfere on my behalf from selfish considerations. "He
cannot," thought I, "allow his property to be thus bruised and
battered, marred and defaced; and I will go to him, and tell him
the simple truth about the matter." In order to get to St.
Michael's, by the most favorable and direct road, I must walk
seven miles; and this, in my sad condition, was no easy
performance. I had already lost much blood; I was exhausted by
over exertion; my sides were sore from the heavy blows planted
there by the stout boots of Mr. Covey; and I was, in every way,
in an unfavorable plight for the journey. I however watched my
chance, while the cruel and cunning Covey was looking in an
opposite direction, and started <176>off, across the field, for
St. Michael's. This was a daring step; if it failed, it would
only exasperate Covey, and increase the rigors of my bondage,
during the remainder of my term of service under him; but the
step was taken, and I must go forward. I succeeded in getting
nearly half way across the broad field, toward the woods, before
Mr. Covey observed me. I was still bleeding, and the exertion of
running had started the blood afresh. _"Come back! Come back!"_
vociferated Covey, with threats of what he would do if I did not
return instantly. But, disregarding his calls and his threats, I
pressed on toward the woods as fast as my feeble state would
allow. Seeing no signs of my stopping, Covey caused his horse to
be brought out and saddled, as if he intended to pursue me. The
race was now to be an unequal one; and, thinking I might be
overhauled by him, if I kept the main road, I walked nearly the
whole distance in the woods, keeping far enough from the road to
avoid detection and pursuit. But, I had not gone far, before my
little strength again failed me, and I laid down. The blood was
still oozing from the wound in my head; and, for a time, I
suffered more than I can describe. There I was, in the deep
woods, sick and emaciated, pursued by a wretch whose character
for revolting cruelty beggars all opprobrious speech--bleeding,
and almost bloodless. I was not without the fear of bleeding to
death. The thought of dying in the woods, all alone, and of
being torn to pieces by the buzzards, had not yet been rendered
tolerable by my many troubles and hardships, and I was glad when
the shade of the trees, and the cool evening breeze, combined
with my matted hair to stop the flow of blood. After lying there
about three quarters of an hour, brooding over the singular and
mournful lot to which I was doomed, my mind passing over the
whole scale or circle of belief and unbelief, from faith in the
overruling providence of God, to the blackest atheism, I again
took up my journey toward St. Michael's, more weary and sad than
in the morning when I left Thomas Auld's for the home of Mr.
Covey. I was bare-footed and bare-headed, and in <177 BEARING OF
MASTER THOMAS>my shirt sleeves. The way was through bogs and
briers, and I tore my feet often during the journey. I was full
five hours in going the seven or eight miles; partly, because of
the difficulties of the way, and partly, because of the
feebleness induced by my illness, bruises and loss of blood. On
gaining my master's store, I presented an appearance of
wretchedness and woe, fitted to move any but a heart of stone.
From the crown of my head to the sole of my feet, there were
marks of blood. My hair was all clotted with dust and blood, and
the back of my shirt was literally stiff with the same. Briers
and thorns had scarred and torn my feet and legs, leaving blood
marks there. Had I escaped from a den of tigers, I could not
have looked worse than I did on reaching St. Michael's. In this
unhappy plight, I appeared before my professedly _Christian_
master, humbly to invoke the interposition of his power and
authority, to protect me from further abuse and violence. I had
begun to hope, during the latter part of my tedious journey
toward St. Michael's, that Capt. Auld would now show himself in a
nobler light than I had ever before seen him. I was
disappointed. I had jumped from a sinking ship into the sea; I
had fled from the tiger to something worse. I told him all the
circumstances, as well as I could; how I was endeavoring to
please Covey; how hard I was at work in the present instance; how
unwilling I sunk down under the heat, toil and pain; the brutal
manner in which Covey had kicked me in the side; the gash cut in
my head; my hesitation about troubling him (Capt. Auld) with
complaints; but, that now I felt it would not be best longer to
conceal from him the outrages committed on me from time to time
by Covey. At first, master Thomas seemed somewhat affected by
the story of my wrongs, but he soon repressed his feelings and
became cold as iron. It was impossible--as I stood before him at
the first--for him to seem indifferent. I distinctly saw his
human nature asserting its conviction against the slave system,
which made cases like mine _possible;_ but, as I have said,
humanity fell before the systematic tyranny of slavery. He first
walked <178>the floor, apparently much agitated by my story, and
the sad spectacle I presented; but, presently, it was _his_ turn
to talk. He began moderately, by finding excuses for Covey, and
ending with a full justification of him, and a passionate
condemnation of me. "He had no doubt I deserved the flogging.
He did not believe I was sick; I was only endeavoring to get rid
of work. My dizziness was laziness, and Covey did right to flog
me, as he had done." After thus fairly annihilating me, and
rousing himself by his own eloquence, he fiercely demanded what I
wished _him_ to do in the case!
With such a complete knock-down to all my hopes, as he had given
me, and feeling, as I did, my entire subjection to his power, I
had very little heart to reply. I must not affirm my innocence
of the allegations which he had piled up against me; for that
would be impudence, and would probably call down fresh violence
as well as wrath upon me. The guilt of a slave is always, and
everywhere, presumed; and the innocence of the slaveholder or the
slave employer, is always asserted. The word of the slave,
against this presumption, is generally treated as impudence,
worthy of punishment. "Do you contradict me, you rascal?" is a
final silencer of counter statements from the lips of a slave.
Calming down a little in view of my silence and hesitation, and,
perhaps, from a rapid glance at the picture of misery I
presented, he inquired again, "what I would have him do?" Thus
invited a second time, I told Master Thomas I wished him to allow
me to get a new home and to find a new master; that, as sure as I
went back to live with Mr. Covey again, I should be killed by
him; that he would never forgive my coming to him (Capt. Auld)
with a complaint against him (Covey); that, since I had lived
with him, he almost crushed my spirit, and I believed that he
would ruin me for future service; that my life was not safe in
his hands. This, Master Thomas _(my brother in the church)_
regarded as "nonsence{sic}." "There was no danger of Mr. Covey's
killing me; he was a good man, industrious and religious, and he
would not think of <179 THE SLAVE IS NEVER SICK>removing me from
that home; "besides," said he and this I found was the most
distressing thought of all to him--"if you should leave Covey
now, that your year has but half expired, I should lose your
wages for the entire year. You belong to Mr. Covey for one year,
and you _must go back_ to him, come what will. You must not
trouble me with any more stories about Mr. Covey; and if you do
not go immediately home, I will get hold of you myself." This
was just what I expected, when I found he had _prejudged_ the
case against me. "But, Sir," I said, "I am sick and tired, and I
cannot get home to-night." At this, he again relented, and
finally he allowed me to remain all night at St. Michael's; but
said I must be off early in the morning, and concluded his
directions by making me swallow a huge dose of _epsom salts_--
about the only medicine ever administered to slaves.
It was quite natural for Master Thomas to presume I was feigning
sickness to escape work, for he probably thought that were _he_
in the place of a slave with no wages for his work, no praise for
well doing, no motive for toil but the lash--he would try every
possible scheme by which to escape labor. I say I have no doubt
of this; the reason is, that there are not, under the whole
heavens, a set of men who cultivate such an intense dread of
labor as do the slaveholders. The charge of laziness against the
slave is ever on their lips, and is the standing apology for
every species of cruelty and brutality. These men literally
"bind heavy burdens, grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's
shoulders; but they, themselves, will not move them with one of
their fingers."
My kind readers shall have, in the next chapter--what they were
led, perhaps, to expect to find in this--namely: an account of my
partial disenthrallment from the tyranny of Covey, and the marked
change which it brought about.
_The Last Flogging_
Sleep itself does not always come to the relief of the weary in
body, and the broken in spirit; especially when past troubles
only foreshadow coming disasters. The last hope had been
extinguished. My master, who I did not venture to hope would
protect me as _a man_, had even now refused to protect me as _his
property;_ and had cast me back, covered with reproaches and
bruises, into the hands of a stranger to that mercy which was the
soul of the religion he professed. May the reader never spend
such a night as that allotted to me, previous to the morning
which was to herald my return to the den of horrors from which I
had made a temporary escape.
I remained all night--sleep I did not--at St. Michael's; and in
the morning (Saturday) I started off, according to the order of
Master Thomas, feeling that I had no friend on earth, and
doubting if I had one in heaven. I reached Covey's about nine
o'clock; and just as I stepped into the field, before I had
reached the house, Covey, true to his snakish habits, darted out
at me <181 RETURN TO COVEY'S>from a fence corner, in which he had
secreted himself, for the purpose of securing me. He was amply
provided with a cowskin and a rope; and he evidently intended to
_tie me up_, and to wreak his vengeance on me to the fullest
extent. I should have been an easy prey, had he succeeded in
getting his hands upon me, for I had taken no refreshment since
noon on Friday; and this, together with the pelting, excitement,
and the loss of blood, had reduced my strength. I, however,
darted back into the woods, before the ferocious hound could get
hold of me, and buried myself in a thicket, where he lost sight
of me. The corn-field afforded me cover, in getting to the
woods. But for the tall corn, Covey would have overtaken me, and
made me his captive. He seemed very much chagrined that he did
not catch me, and gave up the chase, very reluctantly; for I
could see his angry movements, toward the house from which he had
sallied, on his foray.
Well, now I am clear of Covey, and of his wrathful lash, for
present. I am in the wood, buried in its somber gloom, and
hushed in its solemn silence; hid from all human eyes; shut in
with nature and nature's God, and absent from all human
contrivances. Here was a good place to pray; to pray for help
for deliverance--a prayer I had often made before. But how could
I pray? Covey could pray--Capt. Auld could pray--I would fain
pray; but doubts (arising partly from my own neglect of the means
of grace, and partly from the sham religion which everywhere
prevailed, cast in my mind a doubt upon all religion, and led me
to the conviction that prayers were unavailing and delusive)
prevented my embracing the opportunity, as a religious one.
Life, in itself, had almost become burdensome to me. All my
outward relations were against me; I must stay here and starve (I
was already hungry) or go home to Covey's, and have my flesh torn
to pieces, and my spirit humbled under the cruel lash of Covey.
This was the painful alternative presented to me. The day was
long and irksome. My physical condition was deplorable. I was
weak, from the toils of the previous day, and from the want of
<182>food and rest; and had been so little concerned about my
appearance, that I had not yet washed the blood from my garments.
I was an object of horror, even to myself. Life, in Baltimore,
when most oppressive, was a paradise to this. What had I done,
what had my parents done, that such a life as this should be
mine? That day, in the woods, I would have exchanged my manhood
for the brutehood of an ox.
Night came. I was still in the woods, unresolved what to do.
Hunger had not yet pinched me to the point of going home, and I
laid myself down in the leaves to rest; for I had been watching
for hunters all day, but not being molested during the day, I
expected no disturbance during the night. I had come to the
conclusion that Covey relied upon hunger to drive me home; and in
this I was quite correct--the facts showed that he had made no
effort to catch me, since morning.
During the night, I heard the step of a man in the woods. He was
coming toward the place where I lay. A person lying still has
the advantage over one walking in the woods, in the day time, and
this advantage is much greater at night. I was not able to
engage in a physical struggle, and I had recourse to the common
resort of the weak. I hid myself in the leaves to prevent
discovery. But, as the night rambler in the woods drew nearer, I
found him to be a _friend_, not an enemy; it was a slave of Mr.
William Groomes, of Easton, a kind hearted fellow, named "Sandy."
Sandy lived with Mr. Kemp that year, about four miles from St.
Michael's. He, like myself had been hired out by the year; but,
unlike myself, had not been hired out to be broken. Sandy was
the husband of a free woman, who lived in the lower part of
_"Potpie Neck,"_ and he was now on his way through the woods, to
see her, and to spend the Sabbath with her.
As soon as I had ascertained that the disturber of my solitude
was not an enemy, but the good-hearted Sandy--a man as famous
among the slaves of the neighborhood for his good nature, as for
his good sense I came out from my hiding place, and made <183 THE
ASH CAKE SUPPER>myself known to him. I explained the
circumstances of the past two days, which had driven me to the
woods, and he deeply compassionated my distress. It was a bold
thing for him to shelter me, and I could not ask him to do so;
for, had I been found in his hut, he would have suffered the
penalty of thirty-nine lashes on his bare back, if not something
worse. But Sandy was too generous to permit the fear of
punishment to prevent his relieving a brother bondman from hunger
and exposure; and, therefore, on his own motion, I accompanied
him to his home, or rather to the home of his wife--for the house
and lot were hers. His wife was called up--for it was now about
midnight--a fire was made, some Indian meal was soon mixed with
salt and water, and an ash cake was baked in a hurry to relieve
my hunger. Sandy's wife was not behind him in kindness--both
seemed to esteem it a privilege to succor me; for, although I was
hated by Covey and by my master, I was loved by the colored
people, because _they_ thought I was hated for my knowledge, and
persecuted because I was feared. I was the _only_ slave _now_ in
that region who could read and write. There had been one other
man, belonging to Mr. Hugh Hamilton, who could read (his name was
"Jim"), but he, poor fellow, had, shortly after my coming into
the neighborhood, been sold off to the far south. I saw Jim
ironed, in the cart, to be carried to Easton for sale--pinioned
like a yearling for the slaughter. My knowledge was now the
pride of my brother slaves; and, no doubt, Sandy felt something
of the general interest in me on that account. The supper was
soon ready, and though I have feasted since, with honorables,
lord mayors and aldermen, over the sea, my supper on ash cake and
cold water, with Sandy, was the meal, of all my life, most sweet
to my taste, and now most vivid in my memory.
Supper over, Sandy and I went into a discussion of what was
_possible_ for me, under the perils and hardships which now
overshadowed my path. The question was, must I go back to Covey,
or must I now tempt to run away? Upon a careful survey, the
latter was found to be impossible; for I was on a narrow neck of
land, <184>every avenue from which would bring me in sight of
pursuers. There was the Chesapeake bay to the right, and "Potpie"
river to the left, and St. Michael's and its neighborhood
occupying the only space through which there was any retreat.
I found Sandy an old advisor. He was not only a religious man,
but he professed to believe in a system for which I have no name.
He was a genuine African, and had inherited some of the so-called
magical powers, said to be possessed by African and eastern
nations. He told me that he could help me; that, in those very
woods, there was an herb, which in the morning might be found,
possessing all the powers required for my protection (I put his
thoughts in my own language); and that, if I would take his
advice, he would procure me the root of the herb of which he
spoke. He told me further, that if I would take that root and
wear it on my right side, it would be impossible for Covey to
strike me a blow; that with this root about my person, no white
man could whip me. He said he had carried it for years, and that
he had fully tested its virtues. He had never received a blow
from a slaveholder since he carried it; and he never expected to
receive one, for he always meant to carry that root as a
protection. He knew Covey well, for Mrs. Covey was the daughter
of Mr. Kemp; and he (Sandy) had heard of the barbarous treatment
to which I was subjected, and he wanted to do something for me.
Now all this talk about the root, was to me, very absurd and
ridiculous, if not positively sinful. I at first rejected the
idea that the simple carrying a root on my right side (a root, by
the way, over which I walked every time I went into the woods)
could possess any such magic power as he ascribed to it, and I
was, therefore, not disposed to cumber my pocket with it. I had
a positive aversion to all pretenders to _"divination."_ It was
beneath one of my intelligence to countenance such dealings with
the devil, as this power implied. But, with all my learning--it
was really precious little--Sandy was more than a match for me.
"My book learning," he said, "had not kept Covey off me" (a
powerful <185 THE MAGIC ROOT>argument just then) and he entreated
me, with flashing eyes, to try this. If it did me no good, it
could do me no harm, and it would cost me nothing, any way.
Sandy was so earnest, and so confident of the good qualities of
this weed, that, to please him, rather than from any conviction
of its excellence, I was induced to take it. He had been to me
the good Samaritan, and had, almost providentially, found me, and
helped me when I could not help myself; how did I know but that
the hand of the Lord was in it? With thoughts of this sort, I
took the roots from Sandy, and put them in my right hand pocket.
This was, of course, Sunday morning. Sandy now urged me to go
home, with all speed, and to walk up bravely to the house, as
though nothing had happened. I saw in Sandy too deep an insight
into human nature, with all his superstition, not to have some
respect for his advice; and perhaps, too, a slight gleam or
shadow of his superstition had fallen upon me. At any rate, I
started off toward Covey's, as directed by Sandy. Having, the
previous night, poured my griefs into Sandy's ears, and got him
enlisted in my behalf, having made his wife a sharer in my
sorrows, and having, also, become well refreshed by sleep and
food, I moved off, quite courageously, toward the much dreaded
Covey's. Singularly enough, just as I entered his yard gate, I
met him and his wife, dressed in their Sunday best--looking as
smiling as angels--on their way to church. The manner of Covey
astonished me. There was something really benignant in his
countenance. He spoke to me as never before; told me that the
pigs had got into the lot, and he wished me to drive them out;
inquired how I was, and seemed an altered man. This
extraordinary conduct of Covey, really made me begin to think
that Sandy's herb had more virtue in it than I, in my pride, had
been willing to allow; and, had the day been other than Sunday, I
should have attributed Covey's altered manner solely to the magic
power of the root. I suspected, however, that the _Sabbath_, and
not the _root_, was the real explanation of Covey's manner. His
religion hindered him from breaking the <186>Sabbath, but not
from breaking my skin. He had more respect for the _day_ than
for the _man_, for whom the day was mercifully given; for while
he would cut and slash my body during the week, he would not
hesitate, on Sunday, to teach me the value of my soul, or the way
of life and salvation by Jesus Christ.
All went well with me till Monday morning; and then, whether the
root had lost its virtue, or whether my tormentor had gone deeper
into the black art than myself (as was sometimes said of him), or
whether he had obtained a special indulgence, for his faithful
Sabbath day's worship, it is not necessary for me to know, or to
inform the reader; but, this I _may_ say--the pious and benignant
smile which graced Covey's face on _Sunday_, wholly disappeared
on _Monday_. Long before daylight, I was called up to go and
feed, rub, and curry the horses. I obeyed the call, and would
have so obeyed it, had it been made at an earilier{sic} hour, for
I had brought my mind to a firm resolve, during that Sunday's
reflection, viz: to obey every order, however unreasonable, if it
were possible, and, if Mr. Covey should then undertake to beat
me, to defend and protect myself to the best of my ability. My
religious views on the subject of resisting my master, had
suffered a serious shock, by the savage persecution to which I
had been subjected, and my hands were no longer tied by my
religion. Master Thomas's indifference had served the last link.
I had now to this extent "backslidden" from this point in the
slave's religious creed; and I soon had occasion to make my
fallen state known to my Sunday-pious brother, Covey.
Whilst I was obeying his order to feed and get the horses ready
for the field, and when in the act of going up the stable loft
for the purpose of throwing down some blades, Covey sneaked into
the stable, in his peculiar snake-like way, and seizing me
suddenly by the leg, he brought me to the stable floor, giving my
newly mended body a fearful jar. I now forgot my roots, and
remembered my pledge to _stand up in my own defense_. The brute
was endeavoring skillfully to get a slip-knot on my legs, before
I could <187 THE FIGHT>draw up my feet. As soon as I found what
he was up to, I gave a sudden spring (my two day's rest had been
of much service to me,) and by that means, no doubt, he was able
to bring me to the floor so heavily. He was defeated in his plan
of tying me. While down, he seemed to think he had me very
securely in his power. He little thought he was--as the rowdies
say--"in" for a "rough and tumble" fight; but such was the fact.
Whence came the daring spirit necessary to grapple with a man
who, eight-and-forty hours before, could, with his slightest word
have made me tremble like a leaf in a storm, I do not know; at
any rate, _I was resolved to fight_, and, what was better still,
I was actually hard at it. The fighting madness had come upon
me, and I found my strong fingers firmly attached to the throat
of my cowardly tormentor; as heedless of consequences, at the
moment, as though we stood as equals before the law. The very
color of the man was forgotten. I felt as supple as a cat, and
was ready for the snakish creature at every turn. Every blow of
his was parried, though I dealt no blows in turn. I was strictly
on the _defensive_, preventing him from injuring me, rather than
trying to injure him. I flung him on the ground several times,
when he meant to have hurled me there. I held him so firmly by
the throat, that his blood followed my nails. He held me, and I
held him.
All was fair, thus far, and the contest was about equal. My
resistance was entirely unexpected, and Covey was taken all aback
by it, for he trembled in every limb. _"Are you going to
resist_, you scoundrel?" said he. To which, I returned a polite
_"Yes sir;"_ steadily gazing my interrogator in the eye, to meet
the first approach or dawning of the blow, which I expected my
answer would call forth. But, the conflict did not long remain
thus equal. Covey soon cried out lustily for help; not that I
was obtaining any marked advantage over him, or was injuring him,
but because he was gaining none over me, and was not able, single
handed, to conquer me. He called for his cousin Hughs, to come
to his assistance, and now the scene was changed. I was
compelled to <188>give blows, as well as to parry them; and,
since I was, in any case, to suffer for resistance, I felt (as
the musty proverb goes) that "I might as well be hanged for an
old sheep as a lamb." I was still _defensive_ toward Covey, but
_aggressive_ toward Hughs; and, at the first approach of the
latter, I dealt a blow, in my desperation, which fairly sickened
my youthful assailant. He went off, bending over with pain, and
manifesting no disposition to come within my reach again. The
poor fellow was in the act of trying to catch and tie my right
hand, and while flattering himself with success, I gave him the
kick which sent him staggering away in pain, at the same time
that I held Covey with a firm hand.
Taken completely by surprise, Covey seemed to have lost his usual
strength and coolness. He was frightened, and stood puffing and
blowing, seemingly unable to command words or blows. When he saw
that poor Hughes was standing half bent with pain--his courage
quite gone the cowardly tyrant asked if I "meant to persist in my
resistance." I told him "_I did mean to resist, come what
might_;" that I had been by him treated like a _brute_, during
the last six months; and that I should stand it _no longer_.
With that, he gave me a shake, and attempted to drag me toward a
stick of wood, that was lying just outside the stable door. He
meant to knock me down with it; but, just as he leaned over to
get the stick, I seized him with both hands by the collar, and,
with a vigorous and sudden snatch, I brought my assailant
harmlessly, his full length, on the _not_ overclean ground--for
we were now in the cow yard. He had selected the place for the
fight, and it was but right that he should have all the
advantges{sic} of his own selection.
By this time, Bill, the hiredman, came home. He had been to Mr.
Hemsley's, to spend the Sunday with his nominal wife, and was
coming home on Monday morning, to go to work. Covey and I had
been skirmishing from before daybreak, till now, that the sun was
almost shooting his beams over the eastern woods, and we were
still at it. I could not see where the matter was to terminate.
He evidently was afraid to let me go, lest I should again <189
BILL REFUSES TO ASSIST COVEY>make off to the woods; otherwise, he
would probably have obtained arms from the house, to frighten me.
Holding me, Covey called upon Bill for assistance. The scene
here, had something comic about it. "Bill," who knew _precisely_
what Covey wished him to do, affected ignorance, and pretended he
did not know what to do. "What shall I do, Mr. Covey," said
Bill. "Take hold of him--take hold of him!" said Covey. With a
toss of his head, peculiar to Bill, he said, "indeed, Mr. Covey I
want to go to work." _"This is_ your work," said Covey; "take
hold of him." Bill replied, with spirit, "My master hired me
here, to work, and _not_ to help you whip Frederick." It was now
my turn to speak. "Bill," said I, "don't put your hands on me."
To which he replied, "My GOD! Frederick, I ain't goin' to tech
ye," and Bill walked off, leaving Covey and myself to settle our
matters as best we might.
But, my present advantage was threatened when I saw Caroline (the
slave-woman of Covey) coming to the cow yard to milk, for she was
a powerful woman, and could have mastered me very easily,
exhausted as I now was. As soon as she came into the yard, Covey
attempted to rally her to his aid. Strangely--and, I may add,
fortunately--Caroline was in no humor to take a hand in any such
sport. We were all in open rebellion, that morning. Caroline
answered the command of her master to _"take hold of me,"_
precisely as Bill had answered, but in _her_, it was at greater
peril so to answer; she was the slave of Covey, and he could do
what he pleased with her. It was _not_ so with Bill, and Bill
knew it. Samuel Harris, to whom Bill belonged, did not allow his
slaves to be beaten, unless they were guilty of some crime which
the law would punish. But, poor Caroline, like myself, was at
the mercy of the merciless Covey; nor did she escape the dire
effects of her refusal. He gave her several sharp blows.
Covey at length (two hours had elapsed) gave up the contest.
Letting me go, he said--puffing and blowing at a great rate--
"Now, you scoundrel, go to your work; I would not have whipped
you half so much as I have had you not resisted." The fact was,
<190>_he had not whipped me at all_. He had not, in all the
scuffle, drawn a single drop of blood from me. I had drawn blood
from him; and, even without this satisfaction, I should have been
victorious, because my aim had not been to injure him, but to
prevent his injuring me.
During the whole six months that I lived with Covey, after this
transaction, he never laid on me the weight of his finger in
anger. He would, occasionally, say he did not want to have to
get hold of me again--a declaration which I had no difficulty in
believing; and I had a secret feeling, which answered, "You need
not wish to get hold of me again, for you will be likely to come
off worse in a second fight than you did in the first."
Well, my dear reader, this battle with Mr. Covey--undignified as
it was, and as I fear my narration of it is--was the turning
point in my _"life as a slave_." It rekindled in my breast the
smouldering embers of liberty; it brought up my Baltimore dreams,
and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being
after that fight. I was _nothing_ before; I WAS A MAN NOW. It
recalled to life my crushed self-respect and my self-confidence,
and inspired me with a renewed determination to be A FREEMAN. A
man, without force, is without the essential dignity of humanity.
Human nature is so constituted, that it cannot _honor_ a helpless
man, although it can _pity_ him; and even this it cannot do long,
if the signs of power do not arise.
He can only understand the effect of this combat on my spirit,
who has himself incurred something, hazarded something, in
repelling the unjust and cruel aggressions of a tyrant. Covey
was a tyrant, and a cowardly one, withal. After resisting him, I
felt as I had never felt before. It was a resurrection from the
dark and pestiferous tomb of slavery, to the heaven of
comparative freedom. I was no longer a servile coward, trembling
under the frown of a brother worm of the dust, but, my long-cowed
spirit was roused to an attitude of manly independence. I had
reached the point, at which I was _not afraid to die_. This <191
RESULTS OF THE VICTORY>spirit made me a freeman in _fact_, while
I remained a slave in _form_. When a slave cannot be flogged he
is more than half free. He has a domain as broad as his own
manly heart to defend, and he is really _"a power on earth_."
While slaves prefer their lives, with flogging, to instant death,
they will always find Christians enough, like unto Covey, to
accommodate that preference. From this time, until that of my
escape from slavery, I was never fairly whipped. Several
attempts were made to whip me, but they were always unsuccessful.
Bruises I did get, as I shall hereafter inform the reader; but
the case I have been describing, was the end of the brutification
to which slavery had subjected me.
The reader will be glad to know why, after I had so grievously
offended Mr. Covey, he did not have me taken in hand by the
authorities; indeed, why the law of Maryland, which assigns
hanging to the slave who resists his master, was not put in force
against me; at any rate, why I was not taken up, as is usual in
such cases, and publicly whipped, for an example to other slaves,
and as a means of deterring me from committing the same offense
again. I confess, that the easy manner in which I got off, for a
long time, a surprise to me, and I cannot, even now, fully
explain the cause.
The only explanation I can venture to suggest, is the fact, that
Covey was, probably, ashamed to have it known and confessed that
he had been mastered by a boy of sixteen. Mr. Covey enjoyed the
unbounded and very valuable reputation, of being a first rate
overseer and _Negro breaker_. By means of this reputation, he
was able to procure his hands for _very trifling_ compensation,
and with very great ease. His interest and his pride mutually
suggested the wisdom of passing the matter by, in silence. The
story that he had undertaken to whip a lad, and had been
resisted, was, of itself, sufficient to damage him; for his
bearing should, in the estimation of slaveholders, be of that
imperial order that should make such an occurrence _impossible_.
I judge from these circumstances, that Covey deemed it best to
<192>give me the go-by. It is, perhaps, not altogether
creditable to my natural temper, that, after this conflict with
Mr. Covey, I did, at times, purposely aim to provoke him to an
attack, by refusing to keep with the other hands in the field,
but I could never bully him to another battle. I had made up my
mind to do him serious damage, if he ever again attempted to lay
violent hands on me.
_ Hereditary bondmen, know ye not
Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow?
_New Relations and Duties_
My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas
day, 1834. I gladly left the snakish Covey, although he was now
as gentle as a lamb. My home for the year 1835 was already
secured--my next master was already selected. There is always
more or less excitement about the matter of changing hands, but I
had become somewhat reckless. I cared very little into whose
hands I fell--I meant to fight my way. Despite of Covey, too,
the report got abroad, that I was hard to whip; that I was guilty
of kicking back; that though generally a good tempered Negro, I
sometimes "_got the devil in me_." These sayings were rife in
Talbot county, and they distinguished me among my servile
brethren. Slaves, generally, will fight each other, and die at
each other's hands; but there are few who are not held in awe by
a white man. Trained from the cradle up, to think and <194>feel
that their masters are superior, and invested with a sort of
sacredness, there are few who can outgrow or rise above the
control which that sentiment exercises. I had now got free from
it, and the thing was known. One bad sheep will spoil a whole
flock. Among the slaves, I was a bad sheep. I hated slavery,
slaveholders, and all pertaining to them; and I did not fail to
inspire others with the same feeling, wherever and whenever
opportunity was presented. This made me a marked lad among the
slaves, and a suspected one among the slaveholders. A knowledge
of my ability to read and write, got pretty widely spread, which
was very much against me.
The days between Christmas day and New Year's, are allowed the
slaves as holidays. During these days, all regular work was
suspended, and there was nothing to do but to keep fires, and
look after the stock. This time was regarded as our own, by the
grace of our masters, and we, therefore used it, or abused it, as
we pleased. Those who had families at a distance, were now
expected to visit them, and to spend with them the entire week.
The younger slaves, or the unmarried ones, were expected to see
to the cattle, and attend to incidental duties at home. The
holidays were variously spent. The sober, thinking and
industrious ones of our number, would employ themselves in
manufacturing corn brooms, mats, horse collars and baskets, and
some of these were very well made. Another class spent their
time in hunting opossums, coons, rabbits, and other game. But
the majority spent the holidays in sports, ball playing,
wrestling, boxing, running foot races, dancing, and drinking
whisky; and this latter mode of spending the time was generally
most agreeable to their masters. A slave who would work during
the holidays, was thought, by his master, undeserving of
holidays. Such an one had rejected the favor of his master.
There was, in this simple act of continued work, an accusation
against slaves; and a slave could not help thinking, that if he
made three dollars during the holidays, he might make three
hundred during the year. Not to be drunk during the holi<195
EFFECTS OF HOLIDAYS>days, was disgraceful; and he was esteemed a
lazy and improvident man, who could not afford to drink whisky
during Christmas.
The fiddling, dancing and _"jubilee beating_," was going on in
all directions. This latter performance is strictly southern.
It supplies the place of a violin, or of other musical
instruments, and is played so easily, that almost every farm has
its "Juba" beater. The performer improvises as he beats, and
sings his merry songs, so ordering the words as to have them fall
pat with the movement of his hands. Among a mass of nonsense and
wild frolic, once in a while a sharp hit is given to the meanness
of slaveholders. Take the following, for an example:
_We raise de wheat,
Dey gib us de corn;
We bake de bread,
Dey gib us de cruss;
We sif de meal,
Dey gib us de huss;
We peal de meat,
Dey gib us de skin,
And dat's de way
Dey takes us in.
We skim de pot,
Dey gib us the liquor,
And say dat's good enough for nigger.
Walk over! walk over!
Tom butter and de fat;
Poor nigger you can't get over dat;
Walk over_!
This is not a bad summary of the palpable injustice and fraud of
slavery, giving--as it does--to the lazy and idle, the comforts
which God designed should be given solely to the honest laborer.
But to the holiday's.
Judging from my own observation and experience, I believe these
holidays to be among the most effective means, in the hands of
slaveholders, of keeping down the spirit of insurrection among
the slaves.
To enslave men, successfully and safely, it is necessary to
<196>have their minds occupied with thoughts and aspirations
short of the liberty of which they are deprived. A certain
degree of attainable good must be kept before them. These
holidays serve the purpose of keeping the minds of the slaves
occupied with prospective pleasure, within the limits of slavery.
The young man can go wooing; the married man can visit his wife;
the father and mother can see their children; the industrious and
money loving can make a few dollars; the great wrestler can win
laurels; the young people can meet, and enjoy each other's
society; the drunken man can get plenty of whisky; and the
religious man can hold prayer meetings, preach, pray and exhort
during the holidays. Before the holidays, these are pleasures in
prospect; after the holidays, they become pleasures of memory,
and they serve to keep out thoughts and wishes of a more
dangerous character. Were slaveholders at once to abandon the
practice of allowing their slaves these liberties, periodically,
and to keep them, the year round, closely confined to the narrow
circle of their homes, I doubt not that the south would blaze
with insurrections. These holidays are conductors or safety
valves to carry off the explosive elements inseparable from the
human mind, when reduced to the condition of slavery. But for
these, the rigors of bondage would become too severe for
endurance, and the slave would be forced up to dangerous
desperation. Woe to the slaveholder when he undertakes to hinder
or to prevent the operation of these electric conductors. A
succession of earthquakes would be less destructive, than the
insurrectionary fires which would be sure to burst forth in
different parts of the south, from such interference.
Thus, the holidays, became part and parcel of the gross fraud,
wrongs and inhumanity of slavery. Ostensibly, they are
institutions of benevolence, designed to mitigate the rigors of
slave life, but, practically, they are a fraud, instituted by
human selfishness, the better to secure the ends of injustice and
oppression. The slave's happiness is not the end sought, but,
rather, the master's <197 A DEVICE OF SLAVERY>safety. It is not
from a generous unconcern for the slave's labor that this
cessation from labor is allowed, but from a prudent regard to the
safety of the slave system. I am strengthened in this opinion,
by the fact, that most slaveholders like to have their slaves
spend the holidays in such a manner as to be of no real benefit
to the slaves. It is plain, that everything like rational
enjoyment among the slaves, is frowned upon; and only those wild
and low sports, peculiar to semi-civilized people, are
encouraged. All the license allowed, appears to have no other
object than to disgust the slaves with their temporary freedom,
and to make them as glad to return to their work, as they were to
leave it. By plunging them into exhausting depths of drunkenness
and dissipation, this effect is almost certain to follow. I have
known slaveholders resort to cunning tricks, with a view of
getting their slaves deplorably drunk. A usual plan is, to make
bets on a slave, that he can drink more whisky than any other;
and so to induce a rivalry among them, for the mastery in this
degradation. The scenes, brought about in this way, were often
scandalous and loathsome in the extreme. Whole multitudes might
be found stretched out in brutal drunkenness, at once helpless
and disgusting. Thus, when the slave asks for a few hours of
virtuous freedom, his cunning master takes advantage of his
ignorance, and cheers him with a dose of vicious and revolting
dissipation, artfully labeled with the name of LIBERTY. We were
induced to drink, I among the rest, and when the holidays were
over, we all staggered up from our filth and wallowing, took a
long breath, and went away to our various fields of work;
feeling, upon the whole, rather glad to go from that which our
masters artfully deceived us into the belief was freedom, back
again to the arms of slavery. It was not what we had taken it to
be, nor what it might have been, had it not been abused by us.
It was about as well to be a slave to _master_, as to be a slave
to _rum_ and _whisky._
I am the more induced to take this view of the holiday system,
<198>adopted by slaveholders, from what I know of their treatment
of slaves, in regard to other things. It is the commonest thing
for them to try to disgust their slaves with what they do not
want them to have, or to enjoy. A slave, for instance, likes
molasses; he steals some; to cure him of the taste for it, his
master, in many cases, will go away to town, and buy a large
quantity of the _poorest_ quality, and set it before his slave,
and, with whip in hand, compel him to eat it, until the poor
fellow is made to sicken at the very thought of molasses. The
same course is often adopted to cure slaves of the disagreeable
and inconvenient practice of asking for more food, when their
allowance has failed them. The same disgusting process works
well, too, in other things, but I need not cite them. When a
slave is drunk, the slaveholder has no fear that he will plan an
insurrection; no fear that he will escape to the north. It is
the sober, thinking slave who is dangerous, and needs the
vigilance of his master, to keep him a slave. But, to proceed
with my narrative.
On the first of January, 1835, I proceeded from St. Michael's to
Mr. William Freeland's, my new home. Mr. Freeland lived only
three miles from St. Michael's, on an old worn out farm, which
required much labor to restore it to anything like a selfsupporting
I was not long in finding Mr. Freeland to be a very different man
from Mr. Covey. Though not rich, Mr. Freeland was what may be
called a well-bred southern gentleman, as different from Covey,
as a well-trained and hardened Negro breaker is from the best
specimen of the first families of the south. Though Freeland was
a slaveholder, and shared many of the vices of his class, he
seemed alive to the sentiment of honor. He had some sense of
justice, and some feelings of humanity. He was fretful,
impulsive and passionate, but I must do him the justice to say,
he was free from the mean and selfish characteristics which
distinguished the creature from which I had now, happily,
escaped. He was open, frank, imperative, and practiced no
concealments, <199 RELIGIOUS SLAVEHOLDERS>disdaining to play the
spy. In all this, he was the opposite of the crafty Covey.
Among the many advantages gained in my change from Covey's to
Freeland's--startling as the statement may be--was the fact that
the latter gentleman made no profession of religion. I assert
_most unhesitatingly_, that the religion of the south--as I have
observed it and proved it--is a mere covering for the most horrid
crimes; the justifier of the most appalling barbarity; a
sanctifier of the most hateful frauds; and a secure shelter,
under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal
abominations fester and flourish. Were I again to be reduced to
the condition of a slave, _next_ to that calamity, I should
regard the fact of being the slave of a religious slaveholder,
the greatest that could befall me. For all slaveholders with
whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I
have found them, almost invariably, the vilest, meanest and
basest of their class. Exceptions there may be, but this is true
of religious slaveholders, _as a class_. It is not for me to
explain the fact. Others may do that; I simply state it as a
fact, and leave the theological, and psychological inquiry, which
it raises, to be decided by others more competent than myself.
Religious slaveholders, like religious persecutors, are ever
extreme in their malice and violence. Very near my new home, on
an adjoining farm, there lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, who was
both pious and cruel after the real Covey pattern. Mr. Weeden
was a local preacher of the Protestant Methodist persuasion, and
a most zealous supporter of the ordinances of religion,
generally. This Weeden owned a woman called "Ceal," who was a
standing proof of his mercilessness. Poor Ceal's back, always
scantily clothed, was kept literally raw, by the lash of this
religious man and gospel minister. The most notoriously wicked
man--so called in distinction from church members--could hire
hands more easily than this brute. When sent out to find a home,
a slave would never enter the gates of the preacher Weeden, while
a sinful sinner needed a hand. Be<200>have ill, or behave well,
it was the known maxim of Weeden, that it is the duty of a master
to use the lash. If, for no other reason, he contended that this
was essential to remind a slave of his condition, and of his
master's authority. The good slave must be whipped, to be _kept_
good, and the bad slave must be whipped, to be _made_ good. Such
was Weeden's theory, and such was his practice. The back of his
slave-woman will, in the judgment, be the swiftest witness
against him.
While I am stating particular cases, I might as well immortalize
another of my neighbors, by calling him by name, and putting him
in print. He did not think that a "chiel" was near, "taking
notes," and will, doubtless, feel quite angry at having his
character touched off in the ragged style of a slave's pen. I
beg to introduce the reader to REV. RIGBY HOPKINS. Mr. Hopkins
resides between Easton and St. Michael's, in Talbot county,
Maryland. The severity of this man made him a perfect terror to
the slaves of his neighborhood. The peculiar feature of his
government, was, his system of whipping slaves, as he said, _in
advance_ of deserving it. He always managed to have one or two
slaves to whip on Monday morning, so as to start his hands to
their work, under the inspiration of a new assurance on Monday,
that his preaching about kindness, mercy, brotherly love, and the
like, on Sunday, did not interfere with, or prevent him from
establishing his authority, by the cowskin. He seemed to wish to
assure them, that his tears over poor, lost and ruined sinners,
and his pity for them, did not reach to the blacks who tilled his
fields. This saintly Hopkins used to boast, that he was the best
hand to manage a Negro in the county. He whipped for the
smallest offenses, by way of preventing the commission of large
The reader might imagine a difficulty in finding faults enough
for such frequent whipping. But this is because you have no idea
how easy a matter it is to offend a man who is on the look-out
for offenses. The man, unaccustomed to slaveholding, would be
astonished to observe how many _foggable_ offenses there are in
<201>CATALOGUE OF FLOGGABLE OFFENSES>the slaveholder's catalogue
of crimes; and how easy it is to commit any one of them, even
when the slave least intends it. A slaveholder, bent on finding
fault, will hatch up a dozen a day, if he chooses to do so, and
each one of these shall be of a punishable description. A mere
look, word, or motion, a mistake, accident, or want of power, are
all matters for which a slave may be whipped at any time. Does a
slave look dissatisfied with his condition? It is said, that he
has the devil in him, and it must be whipped out. Does he answer
_loudly_, when spoken to by his master, with an air of selfconsciousness?
Then, must he be taken down a button-hole lower,
by the lash, well laid on. Does he forget, and omit to pull off
his hat, when approaching a white person? Then, he must, or may
be, whipped for his bad manners. Does he ever venture to
vindicate his conduct, when harshly and unjustly accused? Then,
he is guilty of impudence, one of the greatest crimes in the
social catalogue of southern society. To allow a slave to escape
punishment, who has impudently attempted to exculpate himself
from unjust charges, preferred against him by some white person,
is to be guilty of great dereliction of duty. Does a slave ever
venture to suggest a better way of doing a thing, no matter what?
He is, altogether, too officious--wise above what is written--and
he deserves, even if he does not get, a flogging for his
presumption. Does he, while plowing, break a plow, or while
hoeing, break a hoe, or while chopping, break an ax? No matter
what were the imperfections of the implement broken, or the
natural liabilities for breaking, the slave can be whipped for
carelessness. The _reverend_ slaveholder could always find
something of this sort, to justify him in using the lash several
times during the week. Hopkins--like Covey and Weeden--were
shunned by slaves who had the privilege (as many had) of finding
their own masters at the end of each year; and yet, there was not
a man in all that section of country, who made a louder
profession of religion, than did MR. RIGBY HOPKINS.
But, to continue the thread of my story, through my experience
when at Mr. William Freeland's.
My poor, weather-beaten bark now reached smoother water, and
gentler breezes. My stormy life at Covey's had been of service
to me. The things that would have seemed very hard, had I gone
direct to Mr. Freeland's, from the home of Master Thomas, were
now (after the hardships at Covey's) "trifles light as air." I
was still a field hand, and had come to prefer the severe labor
of the field, to the enervating duties of a house servant. I had
become large and strong; and had begun to take pride in the fact,
that I could do as much hard work as some of the older men.
There is much rivalry among slaves, at times, as to which can do
the most work, and masters generally seek to promote such
rivalry. But some of us were too wise to race with each other
very long. Such racing, we had the sagacity to see, was not
likely to pay. We had our times for measuring each other's
strength, but we knew too much to keep up the competition so long
as to produce an extraordinary day's work. We knew that if, by
extraordinary exertion, a large quantity of work was done in one
day, the fact, becoming known to the master, might lead him to
require the same amount every day. This thought was enough to
bring us to a dead halt when over so much excited for the race.
At Mr. Freeland's, my condition was every way improved. I was no
longer the poor scape-goat that I was when at Covey's, where
every wrong thing done was saddled upon me, and where other
slaves were whipped over my shoulders. Mr. Freeland was too just
a man thus to impose upon me, or upon any one else.
It is quite usual to make one slave the object of especial abuse,
and to beat him often, with a view to its effect upon others,
rather than with any expectation that the slave whipped will be
improved by it, but the man with whom I now was, could descend to
no such meanness and wickedness. Every man here was held
individually responsible for his own conduct.
This was a vast improvement on the rule at Covey's. There, I
<203 NOT YET CONTENTED>was the general pack horse. Bill Smith
was protected, by a positive prohibition made by his rich master,
and the command of the rich slaveholder is LAW to the poor one;
Hughes was favored, because of his relationship to Covey; and the
hands hired temporarily, escaped flogging, except as they got it
over my poor shoulders. Of course, this comparison refers to the
time when Covey _could_ whip me.
Mr. Freeland, like Mr. Covey, gave his hands enough to eat, but,
unlike Mr. Covey, he gave them time to take their meals; he
worked us hard during the day, but gave us the night for rest--
another advantage to be set to the credit of the sinner, as
against that of the saint. We were seldom in the field after
dark in the evening, or before sunrise in the morning. Our
implements of husbandry were of the most improved pattern, and
much superior to those used at Covey's.
Nothwithstanding the improved condition which was now mine, and
the many advantages I had gained by my new home, and my new
master, I was still restless and discontented. I was about as
hard to please by a master, as a master is by slave. The freedom
from bodily torture and unceasing labor, had given my mind an
increased sensibility, and imparted to it greater activity. I
was not yet exactly in right relations. "How be it, that was not
first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and
afterward that which is spiritual." When entombed at Covey's,
shrouded in darkness and physical wretchedness, temporal
wellbeing was the grand _desideratum;_ but, temporal wants
supplied, the spirit puts in its claims. Beat and cuff your
slave, keep him hungry and spiritless, and he will follow the
chain of his master like a dog; but, feed and clothe him well--
work him moderately--surround him with physical comfort--and
dreams of freedom intrude. Give him a _bad_ master, and he
aspires to a _good_ master; give him a good master, and he wishes
to become his _own_ master. Such is human nature. You may hurl
a man so low, beneath the level of his kind, that he loses all
just ideas of his natural position; <204>but elevate him a
little, and the clear conception of rights arises to life and
power, and leads him onward. Thus elevated, a little, at
Freeland's, the dreams called into being by that good man, Father
Lawson, when in Baltimore, began to visit me; and shoots from the
tree of liberty began to put forth tender buds, and dim hopes of
the future began to dawn.
I found myself in congenial society, at Mr. Freeland's. There
were Henry Harris, John Harris, Handy Caldwell, and Sandy
Henry and John were brothers, and belonged to Mr. Freeland. They
were both remarkably bright and intelligent, though neither of
them could read. Now for mischief! I had not been long at
Freeland's before I was up to my old tricks. I early began to
address my companions on the subject of education, and the
advantages of intelligence over ignorance, and, as far as I
dared, I tried to show the agency of ignorance in keeping men in
slavery. Webster's spelling book and the _Columbian Orator_ were
looked into again. As summer came on, and the long Sabbath days
stretched themselves over our idleness, I became uneasy, and
wanted a Sabbath school, in which to exercise my gifts, and to
impart the little knowledge of letters which I possessed, to my
brother slaves. A house was hardly necessary in the summer time;
I could hold my school under the shade of an old oak tree, as
well as any where else. The thing was, to get the scholars, and
to have them thoroughly imbued with the desire to learn. Two
such boys were quickly secured, in Henry and John, and from them
the contagion spread. I was not long bringing around me twenty
or thirty young men, who enrolled themselves, gladly, in my
Sabbath school, and were willing to meet me regularly, under the
trees or elsewhere, for the purpose of learning to read. It was
[6] This is the same man who gave me the roots to prevent my
being whipped by Mr. Covey. He was "a clever soul." We used
frequently to talk about the fight with Covey, and as often as we
did so, he would claim my success as the result of the roots
which he gave me. This superstition is very common among the
more ignorant slaves. A slave seldom dies, but that his death is
attributed to trickery.
<205 SABBATH SCHOOL INSTITUTED>surprising with what ease they
provided themselves with spelling books. These were mostly the
cast off books of their young masters or mistresses. I taught,
at first, on our own farm. All were impressed with the necessity
of keeping the matter as private as possible, for the fate of the
St. Michael's attempt was notorious, and fresh in the minds of
all. Our pious masters, at St. Michael's, must not know that a
few of their dusky brothers were learning to read the word of
God, lest they should come down upon us with the lash and chain.
We might have met to drink whisky, to wrestle, fight, and to do
other unseemly things, with no fear of interruption from the
saints or sinners of St. Michael's.
But, to meet for the purpose of improving the mind and heart, by
learning to read the sacred scriptures, was esteemed a most
dangerous nuisance, to be instantly stopped. The slaveholders of
St. Michael's, like slaveholders elsewhere, would always prefer
to see the slaves engaged in degrading sports, rather than to see
them acting like moral and accountable beings.
Had any one asked a religious white man, in St. Michael's, twenty
years ago, the names of three men in that town, whose lives were
most after the pattern of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the
first three would have been as follows:
GARRISON WEST, _Class Leader_.
THOMAS AULD, _Class Leader_.
And yet, these were men who ferociously rushed in upon my Sabbath
school, at St. Michael's, armed with mob-like missiles, and I
must say, I thought him a Christian, until he took part in bloody
by the lash. This same Garrison West was my class leader, and I
must say, I thought him a Christian, until he took part in
breaking up my school. He led me no more after that. The plea
for this outrage was then, as it is now and at all times--the
danger to good order. If the slaves learnt to read, they would
learn something else, and something worse. The peace of slavery
would be disturbed; slave rule would be endangered. I leave the
reader to <206>characterize a system which is endangered by such
causes. I do not dispute the soundness of the reasoning. It is
perfectly sound; and, if slavery be _right_, Sabbath schools for
teaching slaves to read the bible are _wrong_, and ought to be
put down. These Christian class leaders were, to this extent,
consistent. They had settled the question, that slavery is
_right_, and, by that standard, they determined that Sabbath
schools are wrong. To be sure, they were Protestant, and held to
the great Protestant right of every man to _"search the
scriptures"_ for himself; but, then, to all general rules, there
are _exceptions_. How convenient! What crimes may not be
committed under the doctrine of the last remark. But, my dear,
class leading Methodist brethren, did not condescend to give me a
reason for breaking up the Sabbath school at St. Michael's; it
was enough that they had determined upon its destruction. I am,
however, digressing.
After getting the school cleverly into operation, the second time
holding it in the woods, behind the barn, and in the shade of
trees--I succeeded in inducing a free colored man, who lived
several miles from our house, to permit me to hold my school in a
room at his house. He, very kindly, gave me this liberty; but he
incurred much peril in doing so, for the assemblage was an
unlawful one. I shall not mention, here, the name of this man;
for it might, even now, subject him to persecution, although the
offenses were committed more than twenty years ago. I had, at
one time, more than forty scholars, all of the right sort; and
many of them succeeded in learning to read. I have met several
slaves from Maryland, who were once my scholars; and who obtained
their freedom, I doubt not, partly in consequence of the ideas
imparted to them in that school. I have had various employments
during my short life; but I look back to _none_ with more
satisfaction, than to that afforded by my Sunday school. An
attachment, deep and lasting, sprung up between me and my
persecuted pupils, which made parting from them intensely
grievous; and, <207 FRIENDSHIP AMONG SLAVES>when I think that
most of these dear souls are yet shut up in this abject
thralldom, I am overwhelmed with grief.
Besides my Sunday school, I devoted three evenings a week to my
fellow slaves, during the winter. Let the reader reflect upon
the fact, that, in this christian country, men and women are
hiding from professors of religion, in barns, in the woods and
fields, in order to learn to read the _holy bible_. Those dear
souls, who came to my Sabbath school, came _not_ because it was
popular or reputable to attend such a place, for they came under
the liability of having forty stripes laid on their naked backs.
Every moment they spend in my school, they were under this
terrible liability; and, in this respect, I was sharer with them.
Their minds had been cramped and starved by their cruel masters;
the light of education had been completely excluded; and their
hard earnings had been taken to educate their master's children.
I felt a delight in circumventing the tyrants, and in blessing
the victims of their curses.
The year at Mr. Freeland's passed off very smoothly, to outward
seeming. Not a blow was given me during the whole year. To the
credit of Mr. Freeland--irreligious though he was--it must be
stated, that he was the best master I ever had, until I became my
own master, and assumed for myself, as I had a right to do, the
responsibility of my own existence and the exercise of my own
powers. For much of the happiness--or absence of misery--with
which I passed this year with Mr. Freeland, I am indebted to the
genial temper and ardent friendship of my brother slaves. They
were, every one of them, manly, generous and brave, yes; I say
they were brave, and I will add, fine looking. It is seldom the
lot of mortals to have truer and better friends than were the
slaves on this farm. It is not uncommon to charge slaves with
great treachery toward each other, and to believe them incapable
of confiding in each other; but I must say, that I never loved,
esteemed, or confided in men, more than I did in these. They
were as true as steel, and no band of brothers could have been
more <208>loving. There were no mean advantages taken of each
other, as is sometimes the case where slaves are situated as we
were; no tattling; no giving each other bad names to Mr.
Freeland; and no elevating one at the expense of the other. We
never undertook to do any thing, of any importance, which was
likely to affect each other, without mutual consultation. We
were generally a unit, and moved together. Thoughts and
sentiments were exchanged between us, which might well be called
very incendiary, by oppressors and tyrants; and perhaps the time
has not even now come, when it is safe to unfold all the flying
suggestions which arise in the minds of intelligent slaves.
Several of my friends and brothers, if yet alive, are still in
some part of the house of bondage; and though twenty years have
passed away, the suspicious malice of slavery might punish them
for even listening to my thoughts.
The slaveholder, kind or cruel, is a slaveholder still--the every
hour violator of the just and inalienable rights of man; and he
is, therefore, every hour silently whetting the knife of
vengeance for his own throat. He never lisps a syllable in
commendation of the fathers of this republic, nor denounces any
attempted oppression of himself, without inviting the knife to
his own throat, and asserting the rights of rebellion for his own
The year is ended, and we are now in the midst of the Christmas
holidays, which are kept this year as last, according to the
general description previously given.
_The Run-Away Plot_
I am now at the beginning of the year 1836, a time favorable for
serious thoughts. The mind naturally occupies itself with the
mysteries of life in all its phases--the ideal, the real and the
actual. Sober people look both ways at the beginning of the
year, surveying the errors of the past, and providing against
possible errors of the future. I, too, was thus exercised. I
had little pleasure <210>in retrospect, and the prospect was not
very brilliant. "Notwithstanding," thought I, "the many
resolutions and prayers I have made, in behalf of freedom, I am,
this first day of the year 1836, still a slave, still wandering
in the depths of spirit-devouring thralldom. My faculties and
powers of body and soul are not my own, but are the property of a
fellow mortal, in no sense superior to me, except that he has the
physical power to compel me to be owned and controlled by him.
By the combined physical force of the community, I am his slave--
a slave for life." With thoughts like these, I was perplexed and
chafed; they rendered me gloomy and disconsolate. The anguish of
my mind may not be written.
At the close of the year 1835, Mr. Freeland, my temporary master,
had bought me of Capt. Thomas Auld, for the year 1836. His
promptness in securing my services, would have been flattering to
my vanity, had I been ambitious to win the reputation of being a
valuable slave. Even as it was, I felt a slight degree of
complacency at the circumstance. It showed he was as well
pleased with me as a slave, as I was with him as a master. I
have already intimated my regard for Mr. Freeland, and I may say
here, in addressing northern readers--where is no selfish motive
for speaking in praise of a slaveholder--that Mr. Freeland was a
man of many excellent qualities, and to me quite preferable to
any master I ever had.
But the kindness of the slavemaster only gilds the chain of
slavery, and detracts nothing from its weight or power. The
thought that men are made for other and better uses than slavery,
thrives best under the gentle treatment of a kind master. But
the grim visage of slavery can assume no smiles which can
fascinate the partially enlightened slave, into a forgetfulness
of his bondage, nor of the desirableness of liberty.
I was not through the first month of this, my second year with
the kind and gentlemanly Mr. Freeland, before I was earnestly
considering and advising plans for gaining that freedom, which,
<211 INCIPIENT STEPS TOWARDS ESCAPE>when I was but a mere child,
I had ascertained to be the natural and inborn right of every
member of the human family. The desire for this freedom had been
benumbed, while I was under the brutalizing dominion of Covey;
and it had been postponed, and rendered inoperative, by my truly
pleasant Sunday school engagements with my friends, during the
year 1835, at Mr. Freeland's. It had, however, never entirely
subsided. I hated slavery, always, and the desire for freedom
only needed a favorable breeze, to fan it into a blaze, at any
moment. The thought of only being a creature of the _present_
and the _past_, troubled me, and I longed to have a _future_--a
future with hope in it. To be shut up entirely to the past and
present, is abhorrent to the human mind; it is to the soul--whose
life and happiness is unceasing progress--what the prison is to
the body; a blight and mildew, a hell of horrors. The dawning of
this, another year, awakened me from my temporary slumber, and
roused into life my latent, but long cherished aspirations for
freedom. I was now not only ashamed to be contented in slavery,
but ashamed to _seem_ to be contented, and in my present
favorable condition, under the mild rule of Mr. F., I am not sure
that some kind reader will not condemn me for being over
ambitious, and greatly wanting in proper humility, when I say the
truth, that I now drove from me all thoughts of making the best
of my lot, and welcomed only such thoughts as led me away from
the house of bondage. The intense desires, now felt, _to be
free_, quickened by my present favorable circumstances, brought
me to the determination to act, as well as to think and speak.
Accordingly, at the beginning of this year 1836, I took upon me a
solemn vow, that the year which had now dawned upon me should not
close, without witnessing an earnest attempt, on my part, to gain
my liberty. This vow only bound me to make my escape
individually; but the year spent with Mr. Freeland had attached
me, as with "hooks of steel," to my brother slaves. The most
affectionate and confiding friendship existed between us; and I
felt it my duty to give them an opportunity to share in my
<212>virtuous determination by frankly disclosing to them my
plans and purposes. Toward Henry and John Harris, I felt a
friendship as strong as one man can feel for another; for I could
have died with and for them. To them, therefore, with a suitable
degree of caution, I began to disclose my sentiments and plans;
sounding them, the while on the subject of running away, provided
a good chance should offer. I scarcely need tell the reader,
that I did my _very best_ to imbue the minds of my dear friends
with my own views and feelings. Thoroughly awakened, now, and
with a definite vow upon me, all my little reading, which had any
bearing on the subject of human rights, was rendered available in
my communications with my friends. That (to me) gem of a book,
the _Columbian Orator_, with its eloquent orations and spicy
dialogues, denouncing oppression and slavery--telling of what had
been dared, done and suffered by men, to obtain the inestimable
boon of liberty--was still fresh in my memory, and whirled into
the ranks of my speech with the aptitude of well trained
soldiers, going through the drill. The fact is, I here began my
public speaking. I canvassed, with Henry and John, the subject
of slavery, and dashed against it the condemning brand of God's
eternal justice, which it every hour violates. My fellow
servants were neither indifferent, dull, nor inapt. Our feelings
were more alike than our opinions. All, however, were ready to
act, when a feasible plan should be proposed. "Show us _how_ the
thing is to be done," said they, "and all is clear."
We were all, except Sandy, quite free from slaveholding
priestcraft. It was in vain that we had been taught from the
pulpit at St. Michael's, the duty of obedience to our masters; to
recognize God as the author of our enslavement; to regard running
away an offense, alike against God and man; to deem our
enslavement a merciful and beneficial arrangement; to esteem our
condition, in this country, a paradise to that from which we had
been snatched in Africa; to consider our hard hands and dark
color as God's mark of displeasure, and as pointing us out as the
proper <213 FREE FROM PROSLAVERY PRIESTCRAFT>subjects of slavery;
that the relation of master and slave was one of reciprocal
benefits; that our work was not more serviceable to our masters,
than our master's thinking was serviceable to us. I say, it was
in vain that the pulpit of St. Michael's had constantly
inculcated these plausib]e doctrine. Nature laughed them to
scorn. For my own part, I had now become altogether too big for
my chains. Father Lawson's solemn words, of what I ought to be,
and might be, in the providence of God, had not fallen dead on my
soul. I was fast verging toward manhood, and the prophecies of
my childhood were still unfulfilled. The thought, that year
after year had passed away, and my resolutions to run away had
failed and faded--that I was _still a slave_, and a slave, too,
with chances for gaining my freedom diminished and still
diminishing--was not a matter to be slept over easily; nor did I
easily sleep over it.
But here came a new trouble. Thoughts and purposes so incendiary
as those I now cherished, could not agitate the mind long,
without danger of making themselves manifest to scrutinizing and
unfriendly beholders. I had reason to fear that my sable face
might prove altogether too transparent for the safe concealment
of my hazardous enterprise. Plans of greater moment have leaked
through stone walls, and revealed their projectors. But, here
was no stone wall to hide my purpose. I would have given my
poor, tell tale face for the immoveable countenance of an Indian,
for it was far from being proof against the daily, searching
glances of those with whom I met.
It is the interest and business of slaveholders to study human
nature, with a view to practical results, and many of them attain
astonishing proficiency in discerning the thoughts and emotions
of slaves. They have to deal not with earth, wood, or stone, but
with _men;_ and, by every regard they have for their safety and
prosperity, they must study to know the material on which they
are at work. So much intellect as the slaveholder has around
him, requires watching. Their safety depends upon their
vigilance. Conscious of the injustice and wrong they are every
hour perpe<214>trating, and knowing what they themselves would do
if made the victims of such wrongs, they are looking out for the
first signs of the dread retribution of justice. They watch,
therefore, with skilled and practiced eyes, and have learned to
read, with great accuracy, the state of mind and heart of the
slaves, through his sable face. These uneasy sinners are quick
to inquire into the matter, where the slave is concerned.
Unusual sobriety, apparent abstraction, sullenness and
indifference--indeed, any mood out of the common way--afford
ground for suspicion and inquiry. Often relying on their
superior position and wisdom, they hector and torture the slave
into a confession, by affecting to know the truth of their
accusations. "You have got the devil in you," say they, "and we
will whip him out of you." I have often been put thus to the
torture, on bare suspicion. This system has its disadvantages as
well as their opposite. The slave is sometimes whipped into the
confession of offenses which he never committed. The reader will
see that the good old rule--"a man is to be held innocent until
proved to be guilty"--does not hold good on the slave plantation.
Suspicion and torture are the approved methods of getting at the
truth, here. It was necessary for me, therefore, to keep a watch
over my deportment, lest the enemy should get the better of me.
But with all our caution and studied reserve, I am not sure that
Mr. Freeland did not suspect that all was not right with us. It
_did_ seem that he watched us more narrowly, after the plan of
escape had been conceived and discussed amongst us. Men seldom
see themselves as others see them; and while, to ourselves,
everything connected with our contemplated escape appeared
concealed, Mr. Freeland may have, with the peculiar prescience of
a slaveholder, mastered the huge thought which was disturbing our
peace in slavery.
I am the more inclined to think that he suspected us, because,
prudent as we were, as I now look back, I can see that we did
many silly things, very well calculated to awaken suspicion. We
were, <215 HYMNS WITH A DOUBLE MEANING>at times, remarkably
buoyant, singing hymns and making joyous exclamations, almost as
triumphant in their tone as if we reached a land of freedom and
safety. A keen observer might have detected in our repeated
singing of
_O Canaan, sweet Canaan,
I am bound for the land of Canaan,_
something more than a hope of reaching heaven. We meant to reach
the _north_--and the north was our Canaan.
_I thought I heard them say,
There were lions in the way,
I don't expect to Star
Much longer here.
Run to Jesus--shun the danger--
I don't expect to stay
Much longer here_.
was a favorite air, and had a double meaning. In the lips of
some, it meant the expectation of a speedy summons to a world of
spirits; but, in the lips of _our_ company, it simply meant, a
speedy pilgrimage toward a free state, and deliverance from all
the evils and dangers of slavery.
I had succeeded in winning to my (what slaveholders would call
wicked) scheme, a company of five young men, the very flower of
the neighborhood, each one of whom would have commanded one
thousand dollars in the home market. At New Orleans, they would
have brought fifteen hundred dollars a piece, and, perhaps, more.
The names of our party were as follows: Henry Harris; John
Harris, brother to Henry; Sandy Jenkins, of root memory; Charles
Roberts, and Henry Bailey. I was the youngest, but one, of the
party. I had, however, the advantage of them all, in experience,
and in a knowledge of letters. This gave me great influence over
them. Perhaps not one of them, left to himself, would have
dreamed of escape as a possible thing. Not one of them was selfmoved
in the matter. They all wanted to be free; but the serious
thought of running away, had not entered into <216>their minds,
until I won them to the undertaking. They all were tolerably
well off--for slaves--and had dim hopes of being set free, some
day, by their masters. If any one is to blame for disturbing the
quiet of the slaves and slave-masters of the neighborhood of St.
Michael's, _I am the man_. I claim to be the instigator of the
high crime (as the slaveholders regard it) and I kept life in it,
until life could be kept in it no longer.
Pending the time of our contemplated departure out of our Egypt,
we met often by night, and on every Sunday. At these meetings we
talked the matter over; told our hopes and fears, and the
difficulties discovered or imagined; and, like men of sense, we
counted the cost of the enterprise to which we were committing
These meetings must have resembled, on a small scale, the
meetings of revolutionary conspirators, in their primary
condition. We were plotting against our (so called) lawful
rulers; with this difference that we sought our own good, and not
the harm of our enemies. We did not seek to overthrow them, but
to escape from them. As for Mr. Freeland, we all liked him, and
would have gladly remained with him, _as freeman_. LIBERTY was
our aim; and we had now come to think that we had a right to
liberty, against every obstacle even against the lives of our
We had several words, expressive of things, important to us,
which we understood, but which, even if distinctly heard by an
outsider, would convey no certain meaning. I have reasons for
suppressing these _pass-words_, which the reader will easily
divine. I hated the secrecy; but where slavery is powerful, and
liberty is weak, the latter is driven to concealment or to
The prospect was not always a bright one. At times, we were
almost tempted to abandon the enterprise, and to get back to that
comparative peace of mind, which even a man under the gallows
might feel, when all hope of escape had vanished. Quiet bondage
was felt to be better than the doubts, fears and uncertainties,
which now so sadly perplexed and disturbed us.
The infirmities of humanity, generally, were represented in our
little band. We were confident, bold and determined, at times;
and, again, doubting, timid and wavering; whistling, like the boy
in the graveyard, to keep away the spirits.
To look at the map, and observe the proximity of Eastern Shore,
Maryland, to Delaware and Pennsylvania, it may seem to the reader
quite absurd, to regard the proposed escape as a formidable
undertaking. But to _understand_, some one has said a man must
_stand under_. The real distance was great enough, but the
imagined distance was, to our ignorance, even greater. Every
slaveholder seeks to impress his slave with a belief in the
boundlessness of slave territory, and of his own almost
illimitable power. We all had vague and indistinct notions of
the geography of the country.
The distance, however, is not the chief trouble. The nearer are
the lines of a slave state and the borders of a free one, the
greater the peril. Hired kidnappers infest these borders. Then,
too, we knew that merely reaching a free state did not free us;
that, wherever caught, we could be returned to slavery. We could
see no spot on this side the ocean, where we could be free. We
had heard of Canada, the real Canaan of the American bondmen,
simply as a country to which the wild goose and the swan repaired
at the end of winter, to escape the heat of summer, but not as
the home of man. I knew something of theology, but nothing of
geography. I really did not, at that time, know that there was a
state of New York, or a state of Massachusetts. I had heard of
Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, and all the southern
states, but was ignorant of the free states, generally. New York
city was our northern limit, and to go there, and be forever
harassed with the liability of being hunted down and returned to
slavery--with the certainty of being treated ten times worse than
we had ever been treated before was a prospect far from
delightful, and it might well cause some hesitation about
engaging in the enterprise. The case, sometimes, to our excited
visions, <218>stood thus: At every gate through which we had to
pass, we saw a watchman; at every ferry, a guard; on every
bridge, a sentinel; and in every wood, a patrol or slave-hunter.
We were hemmed in on every side. The good to be sought, and the
evil to be shunned, were flung in the balance, and weighed
against each other. On the one hand, there stood slavery; a
stern reality, glaring frightfully upon us, with the blood of
millions in his polluted skirts--terrible to behold--greedily
devouring our hard earnings and feeding himself upon our flesh.
Here was the evil from which to escape. On the other hand, far
away, back in the hazy distance, where all forms seemed but
shadows, under the flickering light of the north star--behind
some craggy hill or snow-covered mountain--stood a doubtful
freedom, half frozen, beckoning us to her icy domain. This was
the good to be sought. The inequality was as great as that
between certainty and uncertainty. This, in itself, was enough
to stagger us; but when we came to survey the untrodden road, and
conjecture the many possible difficulties, we were appalled, and
at times, as I have said, were upon the point of giving over the
struggle altogether.
The reader can have little idea of the phantoms of trouble which
flit, in such circumstances, before the uneducated mind of the
slave. Upon either side, we saw grim death assuming a variety of
horrid shapes. Now, it was starvation, causing us, in a strange
and friendless land, to eat our own flesh. Now, we were
contending with the waves (for our journey was in part by water)
and were drowned. Now, we were hunted by dogs, and overtaken and
torn to pieces by their merciless fangs. We were stung by
scorpions--chased by wild beasts--bitten by snakes; and, worst of
all, after having succeeded in swimming rivers--encountering wild
beasts--sleeping in the woods--suffering hunger, cold, heat and
nakedness--we supposed ourselves to be overtaken by hired
kidnappers, who, in the name of the law, and for their thrice
accursed reward, would, perchance, fire upon us--kill some, wound
others, and capture all. This dark pic<219 IMAGINARY
DIFFICULTIES>ture, drawn by ignorance and fear, at times greatly
shook our determination, and not unfrequently caused us to
_Rather bear those ills we had
Than fly to others which we knew not of_.
I am not disposed to magnify this circumstance in my experience,
and yet I think I shall seem to be so disposed, to the reader.
No man can tell the intense agony which is felt by the slave,
when wavering on the point of making his escape. All that he has
is at stake; and even that which he has not, is at stake, also.
The life which he has, may be lost, and the liberty which he
seeks, may not be gained.
Patrick Henry, to a listening senate, thrilled by his magic
eloquence, and ready to stand by him in his boldest flights,
could say, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH, and this saying was
a sublime one, even for a freeman; but, incomparably more
sublime, is the same sentiment, when _practically_ asserted by
men accustomed to the lash and chain--men whose sensibilities
must have become more or less deadened by their bondage. With us
it was a _doubtful_ liberty, at best, that we sought; and a
certain, lingering death in the rice swamps and sugar fields, if
we failed. Life is not lightly regarded by men of sane minds.
It is precious, alike to the pauper and to the prince--to the
slave, and to his master; and yet, I believe there was not one
among us, who would not rather have been shot down, than pass
away life in hopeless bondage.
In the progress of our preparations, Sandy, the root man, became
troubled. He began to have dreams, and some of them were very
distressing. One of these, which happened on a Friday night,
was, to him, of great significance; and I am quite ready to
confess, that I felt somewhat damped by it myself. He said, "I
dreamed, last night, that I was roused from sleep, by strange
noises, like the voices of a swarm of angry birds, that caused a
roar as they passed, which fell upon my ear like a coming gale
<220>over the tops of the trees. Looking up to see what it could
mean," said Sandy, "I saw you, Frederick, in the claws of a huge
bird, surrounded by a large number of birds, of all colors and
sizes. These were all picking at you, while you, with your arms,
seemed to be trying to protect your eyes. Passing over me, the
birds flew in a south-westerly direction, and I watched them
until they were clean out of sight. Now, I saw this as plainly
as I now see you; and furder, honey, watch de Friday night dream;
dare is sumpon in it, shose you born; dare is, indeed, honey."
I confess I did not like this dream; but I threw off concern
about it, by attributing it to the general excitement and
perturbation consequent upon our contemplated plan of escape. I
could not, however, shake off its effect at once. I felt that it
boded me no good. Sandy was unusually emphatic and oracular, and
his manner had much to do with the impression made upon me.
The plan of escape which I recommended, and to which my comrades
assented, was to take a large canoe, owned by Mr. Hamilton, and,
on the Saturday night previous to the Easter holidays, launch out
into the Chesapeake bay, and paddle for its head--a distance of
seventy miles with all our might. Our course, on reaching this
point, was, to turn the canoe adrift, and bend our steps toward
the north star, till we reached a free state.
There were several objections to this plan. One was, the danger
from gales on the bay. In rough weather, the waters of the
Chesapeake are much agitated, and there is danger, in a canoe, of
being swamped by the waves. Another objection was, that the
canoe would soon be missed; the absent persons would, at once, be
suspected of having taken it; and we should be pursued by some of
the fast sailing bay craft out of St. Michael's. Then, again, if
we reached the head of the bay, and turned the canoe adrift, she
might prove a guide to our track, and bring the land hunters
after us.
These and other objections were set aside, by the stronger ones
which could be urged against every other plan that could then be
<221 PASSES WRITTEN>suggested. On the water, we had a chance of
being regarded as fishermen, in the service of a master. On the
other hand, by taking the land route, through the counties
adjoining Delaware, we should be subjected to all manner of
interruptions, and many very disagreeable questions, which might
give us serious trouble. Any white man is authorized to stop a
man of color, on any road, and examine him, and arrest him, if he
so desires.
By this arrangement, many abuses (considered such even by
slaveholders) occur. Cases have been known, where freemen have
been called upon to show their free papers, by a pack of
ruffians--and, on the presentation of the papers, the ruffians
have torn them up, and seized their victim, and sold him to a
life of endless bondage.
The week before our intended start, I wrote a pass for each of
our party, giving them permission to visit Baltimore, during the
Easter holidays. The pass ran after this manner:
This is to certify, that I, the undersigned, have given the
bearer, my servant, John, full liberty to go to Baltimore, to
spend the Easter holidays.
Near St. Michael's, Talbot county, Maryland
Although we were not going to Baltimore, and were intending to
land east of North Point, in the direction where I had seen the
Philadelphia steamers go, these passes might be made useful to us
in the lower part of the bay, while steering toward Baltimore.
These were not, however, to be shown by us, until all other
answers failed to satisfy the inquirer. We were all fully alive
to the importance of being calm and self-possessed, when
accosted, if accosted we should be; and we more times than one
rehearsed to each other how we should behave in the hour of
These were long, tedious days and nights. The suspense was
painful, in the extreme. To balance probabilities, where life
and liberty hang on the result, requires steady nerves. I panted
for action, and was glad when the day, at the close of which we
were to start, dawned upon us. Sleeping, the night before, was
<222>out of the question. I probably felt more deeply than any
of my companions, because I was the instigator of the movement.
The responsibility of the whole enterprise rested on my
shoulders. The glory of success, and the shame and confusion of
failure, could not be matters of indifference to me. Our food
was prepared; our clothes were packed up; we were all ready to
go, and impatient for Saturday morning--considering that the last
morning of our bondage.
I cannot describe the tempest and tumult of my brain, that
morning. The reader will please to bear in mind, that, in a
slave state, an unsuccessful runaway is not only subjected to
cruel torture, and sold away to the far south, but he is
frequently execrated by the other slaves. He is charged with
making the condition of the other slaves intolerable, by laying
them all under the suspicion of their masters--subjecting them to
greater vigilance, and imposing greater limitations on their
privileges. I dreaded murmurs from this quarter. It is
difficult, too, for a slavemaster to believe that slaves escaping
have not been aided in their flight by some one of their fellow
slaves. When, therefore, a slave is missing, every slave on the
place is closely examined as to his knowledge of the undertaking;
and they are sometimes even tortured, to make them disclose what
they are suspected of knowing of such escape.
Our anxiety grew more and more intense, as the time of our
intended departure for the north drew nigh. It was truly felt to
be a matter of life and death with us; and we fully intended to
_fight_ as well as _run_, if necessity should occur for that
extremity. But the trial hour was not yet to come. It was easy
to resolve, but not so easy to act. I expected there might be
some drawing back, at the last. It was natural that there should
be; therefore, during the intervening time, I lost no opportunity
to explain away difficulties, to remove doubts, to dispel fears,
and to inspire all with firmness. It was too late to look back;
and _now_ was the time to go forward. Like most other men, we
had done the talking part of our <223 APPEALS TO COMRADES>work,
long and well; and the time had come to _act_ as if we were in
earnest, and meant to be as true in action as in words. I did
not forget to appeal to the pride of my comrades, by telling them
that, if after having solemnly promised to go, as they had done,
they now failed to make the attempt, they would, in effect, brand
themselves with cowardice, and might as well sit down, fold their
arms, and acknowledge themselves as fit only to be _slaves_.
This detestable character, all were unwilling to assume. Every
man except Sandy (he, much to our regret, withdrew) stood firm;
and at our last meeting we pledged ourselves afresh, and in the
most solemn manner, that, at the time appointed, we _would_
certainly start on our long journey for a free country. This
meeting was in the middle of the week, at the end of which we
were to start.
Early that morning we went, as usual, to the field, but with
hearts that beat quickly and anxiously. Any one intimately
acquainted with us, might have seen that all was not well with
us, and that some monster lingered in our thoughts. Our work
that morning was the same as it had been for several days past--
drawing out and spreading manure. While thus engaged, I had a
sudden presentiment, which flashed upon me like lightning in a
dark night, revealing to the lonely traveler the gulf before, and
the enemy behind. I instantly turned to Sandy Jenkins, who was
near me, and said to him, _"Sandy, we are betrayed;_ something
has just told me so." I felt as sure of it, as if the officers
were there in sight. Sandy said, "Man, dat is strange; but I
feel just as you do." If my mother--then long in her grave--had
appeared before me, and told me that we were betrayed, I could
not, at that moment, have felt more certain of the fact.
In a few minutes after this, the long, low and distant notes of
the horn summoned us from the field to breakfast. I felt as one
may be supposed to feel before being led forth to be executed for
some great offense. I wanted no breakfast; but I went with the
other slaves toward the house, for form's sake. My feelings were
<224>not disturbed as to the right of running away; on that point
I had no trouble, whatever. My anxiety arose from a sense of the
consequences of failure.
In thirty minutes after that vivid presentiment came the
apprehended crash. On reaching the house, for breakfast, and
glancing my eye toward the lane gate, the worst was at once made
known. The lane gate off Mr. Freeland's house, is nearly a half
mile from the door, and shaded by the heavy wood which bordered
the main road. I was, however, able to descry four white men,
and two colored men, approaching. The white men were on
horseback, and the colored men were walking behind, and seemed to
be tied. _"It is all over with us,"_ thought I, _"we are surely
betrayed_." I now became composed, or at least comparatively so,
and calmly awaited the result. I watched the ill-omened company,
till I saw them enter the gate. Successful flight was
impossible, and I made up my mind to stand, and meet the evil,
whatever it might be; for I was not without a slight hope that
things might turn differently from what I at first expected. In
a few moments, in came Mr. William Hamilton, riding very rapidly,
and evidently much excited. He was in the habit of riding very
slowly, and was seldom known to gallop his horse. This time, his
horse was nearly at full speed, causing the dust to roll thick
behind him. Mr. Hamilton, though one of the most resolute men in
the whole neighborhood, was, nevertheless, a remarkably mild
spoken man; and, even when greatly excited, his language was cool
and circumspect. He came to the door, and inquired if Mr.
Freeland was in. I told him that Mr. Freeland was at the barn.
Off the old gentleman rode, toward the barn, with unwonted speed.
Mary, the cook, was at a loss to know what was the matter, and I
did not profess any skill in making her understand. I knew she
would have united, as readily as any one, in cursing me for
bringing trouble into the family; so I held my peace, leaving
matters to develop themselves, without my assistance. In a few
moments, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Freeland came down from the barn to
the house; and, just as they <225 THE MANNER OF ARRESTING US>made
their appearance in the front yard, three men (who proved to be
constables) came dashing into the lane, on horseback, as if
summoned by a sign requiring quick work. A few seconds brought
them into the front yard, where they hastily dismounted, and tied
their horses. This done, they joined Mr. Freeland and Mr.
Hamilton, who were standing a short distance from the kitchen. A
few moments were spent, as if in consulting how to proceed, and
then the whole party walked up to the kitchen door. There was
now no one in the kitchen but myself and John Harris. Henry and
Sandy were yet at the barn. Mr. Freeland came inside the kitchen
door, and with an agitated voice, called me by name, and told me
to come forward; that there was some gentlemen who wished to see
me. I stepped toward them, at the door, and asked what they
wanted, when the constables grabbed me, and told me that I had
better not resist; that I had been in a scrape, or was said to
have been in one; that they were merely going to take me where I
could be examined; that they were going to carry me to St.
Michael's, to have me brought before my master. They further
said, that, in case the evidence against me was not true, I
should be acquitted. I was now firmly tied, and completely at
the mercy of my captors. Resistance was idle. They were five in
number, armed to the very teeth. When they had secured me, they
next turned to John Harris, and, in a few moments, succeeded in
tying him as firmly as they had already tied me. They next
turned toward Henry Harris, who had now returned from the barn.
"Cross your hands," said the constables, to Henry. "I won't"
said Henry, in a voice so firm and clear, and in a manner so
determined, as for a moment to arrest all proceedings. "Won't
you cross your hands?" said Tom Graham, the constable. "_No I
won't_," said Henry, with increasing emphasis. Mr. Hamilton, Mr.
Freeland, and the officers, now came near to Henry. Two of the
constables drew out their shining pistols, and swore by the name
of God, that he should cross his hands, or they would shoot him
down. Each of these hired ruffians now cocked their pistols,
<226>and, with fingers apparently on the triggers, presented
their deadly weapons to the breast of the unarmed slave, saying,
at the same time, if he did not cross his hands, they would "blow
his d--d heart out of him."
_"Shoot! shoot me!"_ said Henry. "_You can't kill me but once_.
Shoot!--shoot! and be d--d. _I won't be tied_." This, the brave
fellow said in a voice as defiant and heroic in its tone, as was
the language itself; and, at the moment of saying this, with the
pistols at his very breast, he quickly raised his arms, and
dashed them from the puny hands of his assassins, the weapons
flying in opposite directions. Now came the struggle. All hands
was now rushed upon the brave fellow, and, after beating him for
some time, they succeeded in overpowering and tying him. Henry
put me to shame; he fought, and fought bravely. John and I had
made no resistance. The fact is, I never see much use in
fighting, unless there is a reasonable probability of whipping
somebody. Yet there was something almost providential in the
resistance made by the gallant Henry. But for that resistance,
every soul of us would have been hurried off to the far south.
Just a moment previous to the trouble with Henry, Mr. Hamilton
_mildly_ said--and this gave me the unmistakable clue to the
cause of our arrest--"Perhaps we had now better make a search for
those protections, which we understand Frederick has written for
himself and the rest." Had these passes been found, they would
have been point blank proof against us, and would have confirmed
all the statements of our betrayer. Thanks to the resistance of
Henry, the excitement produced by the scuffle drew all attention
in that direction, and I succeeded in flinging my pass,
unobserved, into the fire. The confusion attendant upon the
scuffle, and the apprehension of further trouble, perhaps, led
our captors to forego, for the present, any search for _"those
protections" which Frederick was said to have written for his
companions_; so we were not yet convicted of the purpose to run
away; and it was evident that there was some doubt, on the part
of all, whether we had been guilty of such a purpose.
Just as we were all completely tied, and about ready to start
toward St. Michael's, and thence to jail, Mrs. Betsey Freeland
(mother to William, who was very much attached--after the
southern fashion--to Henry and John, they having been reared from
childhood in her house) came to the kitchen door, with her hands
full of biscuits--for we had not had time to take our breakfast
that morning--and divided them between Henry and John. This
done, the lady made the following parting address to me, looking
and pointing her bony finger at me. "You devil! you yellow
devil! It was you that put it into the heads of Henry and John
to run away. But for _you_, you _long legged yellow devil_,
Henry and John would never have thought of running away." I gave
the lady a look, which called forth a scream of mingled wrath and
terror, as she slammed the kitchen door, and went in, leaving me,
with the rest, in hands as harsh as her own broken voice.

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