Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Collections >> Related titles >> Review of this title in The Liberator, March 30, 1838

SLAVERY.
From the London Christian Advocate.

FROM The Liberator, 30 March 1838.


A NARRATIVE of the Adventures and Escapes of Moses Roper from American Slavery, with a Preface by the Rev. T. Price, D. D. London: Darton, Harvey, and Darton. 55 Gracechurch-street. Birmingham: B. Hudson, 18, Bull-street, and of the Author, 31, Cherry-street.

So little real liberty is there in the United States, which pretends to be pre-eminently 'the land of liberty, that to make his escape from slavery complete, the interesting author and subject of this artless narrative was obliged to take refuge in a foreign country.' Those of the States which are called 'free,' are required by law to give up to their owners such slaves as flee to them. Our own land was never so bad as this; but, even when the Imperial Parliament permitted slavery to exist in the British colonies, she proclaimed the soil of Britain a city of refuge for the oppressed, sacred to liberty. Did a West India negro touch these shores, the best title-deed in the world could not deprive him of the freedom he thus secured; and what England then was to the bondsmen of her own colonies, she is still to those of every other land. In grateful acknowledgement of this glorious fact, Moses Roper has placed the memorable words of freedom's bard, as the motto of his book:—

'Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free;
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
That's noble! and bespeaks a nation proud
And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then,
And let it circulate through every-vein.'

From Dr. Price's preface we learn, that, through the illness of the good Dr. Morison, Moses Roper's generous Patron, the task of revising the manuscript devolved upon him. He has performed it with evident judgment, for we have not Dr. Price telling the story of the self-liberated captive for him, but Moses Roper telling 'his own unvarnished tale.' Roper was introduced to Dr. Morison by a letter from 'an eminent American abolitionist,' in the United States. Whoever the writer was, he bore honorable testimony to the general character of the fugitive, and to the soundness of his religious views. 'He has spent about ten days in my house,' says Dr. Morison's correspondent; 'I have watched him attentively, and have no doubt that he is an excellent young man, that he possesses uncommon intelligence, sincere piety, and a strong desire to preach the gospel; and I believe, that, if he should receive an education, he would be able to counteract the false and wicked misrepresentations of American slavery, which are made in your country, by our priests and Levites who visit you.' This was in the autumn of 1835; and when it is considered that to this day Moses Roper continues to enjoy the countenance of such men as Drs. Morison, Price, and F. A. Cox, nothing need be added by way of convincing the reader that he is an object worthy of the regard and sympathy of the British public. 'His great ambition,' observes Dr. Price, 'is to be qualified for usefulness amongst his own people (as a missionary in the West Indies, we understand;) and the progress he has already made justifies the belief, that if the means of education can be secured for a short time longer, he will be eminently qualified to instruct the children of Africa in the truths of the gospel of Christ. He has drawn up the following narrative, partly with the hope of being assisted in this legitimate object, and partly to engage the sympathies of our countrymen on behalf of his oppressed brethren. I trust that he will not be disappointed in either of these expectations; but that all the friends of humanity and religion among us, will cheerfully render him their aid, by promoting the circulation of his volume. Should this be done to the extent that is quite possible, the difficulties now lying in his way will be removed.' We feel quite sure that the religious public in general, and the Anti-Slavery public in particular, will show their sympathy with the author in his generous desire to render himself, in some measure at least, independent of elemosynary [sic] support, and that none of our readers, who can possibly spare two shillings, will permit the brief outline of the poor fellow's 'eventful history,' which we purpose to subjoin, to prevent them from purchasing at least one copy of the little volume. If we could so far distrust the feelings of our readers, we could stay our pen at once, and not disclose a single fact which it contains; for we feel that the honor of the British name is at stake, when a fugitive slave publishes the story of his successful flight with the manly and benevolent desire of realising thereby the means of educating his own emancipated mind, that he may become the instrument of emancipating the minds of his 'kinsmen according to the flesh.'

Moses Roper was born in Caswell county, North Carolina; his mother being a slave, his father (whose name he bears) her master. Almost as soon as born, he narrowly escaped being murdered by his father's wife, on account of the comparative whiteness of his skin, and his striking resemblance to her husband: for the same reasons, probably, Mr. Roper sold both him and his mother shortly after her confinement. At six years of age, he was again sold to one master, and his mother to another. Afterwards he passed rapidly through several hands, though not very saleable, on account of the whiteness of his skin. One of his masters was a medical man, and set him to compound medicines, but afterwards, having a cotton plantation, sent him into the plantation that 'he might be burnt darker by the sun.' The same master put him with a tailor to learn the trade; but, (and how very strikingly does the fact illustrate the American prejudice against color,) the journeymen would not submit to his presence on the boards. One of the places at which Moses passed from one pair of hands to another, is called 'Liberty Hill.' He was at this time about twelve years old, and at this tender age began to experience the horrors of his condition. Whilst the property of one Hammans, he made several unsuccessful attempts to run away, 'having determined from his youth to regain his freedom;' but he was caught, and got a hundred lashes each time. Such was Mr. Hammans, but 'his wife (we are told) was still worse: she used to tie me up, and flog me while naked.' His propensity to freedom being found incurable even by processes like this, Hammans disposed of him to Gooch, who was still more cruel than himself. From Gooch he made two attempts to escape: the first time, subdued by hunger, he begged a morsel of bread at a house, the heartless owner of which restored him to Gooch, who gave him fifty lashes with the cow-hide, and threatened still severer measures, to avoid which Moses again escaped, when he fell in with a slaveholder named Ballad:—

'I knew that he was not so cruel as Mr. Gooch, and, therefore, begged of him to buy me. Mr. Ballad, who was one of the best planters in the neighborhood, said, that he was not able to buy me, and stated, that he was obliged to take me back to my master, on account of the heavy fine attaching to a man harboring a slave. Mr. Ballad proceeded to take me back. As we came in sight of Mr. Gooch's, all the treatment that I had met with there came forcibly upon my mind, the powerful influence of which is beyond description. On my knees, with tears in my eyes, with terror in my countenance, and fervency in all my features, I implored Mr. Ballad to buy me; but he again refused, and I was taken back to my cruel and dreaded master. Having reached Mr. Gooch's, he proceeded to punish me. This he did by first tying my wrists together, and placing them over the knees; he then put a stick through, under my knees and over my arms, and having thus secured my arms, he proceeded to flog me, and gave me five hundred lashes on my bare back. This may appear incredible, but the marks which they left at present remain on my body, a standing testimony to the truth of this statement. He then chained me down in a log-pen with a 40 lb. chain, and made me lie on the damp earth all night. In the morning, after his breakfast, he came to me, and, without giving me my breakfast, tied me to a large heavy barrow, which is usually drawn by a horse, and made me drag it to the cotton field for the horse to use in the field. Thus, the reader will see, that it was of no possible use to my master to make me drag it to the field, and not thro' it; his cruelty went so far as actually to make me the slave of his horse, and thus to degrade me. He then flogged me again, and set me to work in the corn-field the whole of that day, and at night chained me down in the log-pen as before. The next morning he took me to the cotton-field, and gave me a third flogging, and set me to hoe cotton. At this time I was dreadfully sore and weak with the repeated floggings and harsh treatment I had endured. He put me under a black man, with orders, that, if I did not keep my row up in hoeing with this man, he was to flog me. The reader must recollect here, that not being used to this kind of work, having been a domestic slave, it was quite impossible for me to keep up with him, and, therefore, I was repeatedly flogged during the day.
'Mr. Gooch had a female slave about eighteen years old, who also had been a domestic slave, and, through not being able to fulfil her task, had run away; which slave was at this time punishing for that offence. On the third day, he chained me to this female slave, with a large chain of 40 lbs. weight round the neck. It was most harrowing to my feelings thus to be chained to a young female slave, for whom I would rather have suffered a hundred lashes than she should have been thus treated; he kept me chained to her during the week, and repeatedly flogged us both while thus chained together, and forced us to keep up with the other slaves, although retarded by the heavy weight of the leg chain.
'On Friday morning, I entreated my master to set me free from my chains, and promised him to do the task which was given me, and more if possible, if he would desist from flogging me. This he refused to do until Saturday night, when he did set me free. This must rather be ascribed to his own interest in preserving me from death, as it was very evident I could no longer have survived such treatment.'

This man Gooch (we beg pardon for calling such a being a man) was a member of a Baptist church: if he is a specimen of American Christians, we wonder what sort of creatures thoss [sic] who make no profession of religion are. The reader will find a good deal more of this Baptist worthy in the book: we have room only to add, that he would have shot one of his own slaves on one occasion, had not his daughter prevented him from affording so striking a proof of his piety. Even Gooch, however, ingenious as he was in the invention of instruments of torture, was surpassed by some of his 'fellow citizens.' For example:—

'A large farmer, Colonel M'Quiller, in Cashaw County, South Carolina, was in the habit of driving nails to a hogshead so as to leave the point of the nail just protruding in the inside of the cask, into this he used to put his slaves for punishment, and roll them down a very long and steep hill. I have heard from several slaves (though I had no means of ascertaining the truth of the statement,) that in this way he killed six or seven of his slaves. This plan was first adopted by a Mr. Perry, who lived on the Catarba River, and has since been adopted by several planters.'

At length, Moses made a clean escape, in effecting which he was aided by the whiteness of his skin, and the air of probability it gave to his statement in answer to jealous enquirers that he was a runaway apprentice. Travelling northward, after many perils and much hunger and fatigue, he reached the neighborhood in which he had reason to believe his mother's lot was cast; and here we must transcribe one of the most touching scenes in the English language:

'I shortly came up with a little girl about six years old, and asked her where she was going, she said to her mother's, pointing to a house on a hill about half a mile off. She had been to the overseer's house, and was returning to her mother. I then felt some emotions arising in my breast, which I cannot describe, but will be fully explained in the sequel. I told her I was very thirsty, and would go with her to get something to drink. On our way I asked her several questions, such as her name, and that of her mother. She said her's was Maria, and her mother's Nancy. I inquired if her mother had any more children? She said five besides herself, and that they had been told that one had been sold when a little boy. I then asked the name of this child? She said it was Moses. These answers, as we approached the house, led me nearer and nearer to the finding out the object of my pursuit, and of recognising in the little girl the person of my own sister. At last I got to my mother's house!! My mother was at home; I asked her if she knew me? She said no. Her master was having a house built just by, and the men were digging a well; she supposed that I was one of the diggers. I told her I knew her very well, and thought that, if she looked at me a little, she would know me; but this had no effect. I then asked her if she had any sons? She said yes; but none so large as me. I then waited a few minutes, and narrated some circumstances to her, attending my being sold into slavery, and how she grieved at my loss. Here the mother's feelings on that dire occasion, and which a mother only can know, rushed to her mind: she saw her own son before her, for whom she had so often wept, and, in an instant, we were clasped in each other's arms, amidst the ardent interchange of caresses and tears of joy. Ten years had elapsed since I had seen my dear mother.'

We must refer the reader to the volume itself for the beautiful parallel which Moses draws between his own case in this meeting and that of Joseph, as recorded in Genesis xliii—xiv. But, alas! the blood-hounds in human shape discovered his retreat, and dragged him from his mother's hearth to prison, there to be claimed by his cruel owner, or to be sold to one still more cruel for the payment of the gaol fees.—

'I was told afterwards (says Moses) that some of those men who took me, were professing Christians, but to me they did not seem to live up to what they professed; they did not seem, by their practices at least, to recognise that God as their God who hath said, 'Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose, in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him.'—Deut. xiii. 15, 16.

After a loathsome imprisonment of thirty-one days, he was re-claimed by his master, and has never seen his mother since. On their way southward, he met with kind treatment from a member of the Society of Friends, at whose house his master was probably obliged to put up for a night, and at another place he heard of a Quaker being in prison, 'waiting to be hung for giving a free pass to a slave.' Though great pains had been taken to secure him, he contrived to make an escape. A rasp which he had concealed in the saddlebags carried by the horse he rode was discovered by his one of his master's attendants, and the discovery brought additional precautions against escape. Nevertheless, while they were baiting, he urged his horse to its speed. He was closely pursued, and having been thrice commanded to stop, attempted to be fired at with a pistol when within pistol-shot, which 'the law allows.' The pistol missed fire, and, the chase continuing, he was overtaken.

'Breaking off several stout branches from the trees, they gave me about 100 blows. They did this very near to a planter's house; the gentleman was not at home, but his wife came out, and begged them not to kill me so near the house; they took no notice of this, but kept on beating me. They then fastened me to the axle-tree of their chaise: one of them got into the chaise, the other took my horse, and they run me all the eight miles as fast as they could, the one on my horse going behind to guard me. In this way we came to my old master, Mr. Gooch. The first person I saw was himself; he unchained me from the chaise, and at first seemed to treat me very gently, asked me where I had been, &c. The first thing the sons did was show the rasp which I had got to cut my chain. My master gave me a hearty dinner, the best he ever did give me, but it was to keep me from dying before he had given me all the flogging he intended. After dinner he took me to a log-house, stripped me quite naked, fastened a rail up very high, tied my hands to the rail, fastened my feet together, put a rail between my feet, and stood on one end of it to hold it down: the two sons then gave me fifty lashes each, the eldest another fifty, and Mr. Gooch himself fifty more. While doing this, his wife came out and begged him not to kill me—the first act of sympathy I ever noticed in her. When I called for water, they brought a pail full, and threw it over my back, ploughed up by the lashes. After this, they took me to the blacksmith's shop, got two large bars of iron, which they bent round my feet, each bar weighing twenty pounds, and put a heavy log chain on my neck.'

Again, and again, and again, he made his escape, and as often was retaken. For a detailed account of the torturous punishments with which these noble aspirings after freedom were visited, we refer to the narrative. One, however, deserves to be transcribed:—

'Mr. Gooch had gone to church, several miles from his house. When he came back, the first thing he did was to pour some tar on my head, then rubbed it all over my face, took a torch, with pitch on, and set in [sic] on fire. He put it out before it did me very great injury; but the pain which I endured was most excruciating, nearly all my hair having been burnt off.'

We quote this for its novelty; it was far exceeded by other modes in point of actual suffering. We hope the reader has not forgotten that Mr. Gooch is a pious Baptist. This eminent Christian seems to have borrowed many of his notions of practical Christianity from the Holy Inquisition. When Roper refused to tell him who knocked off his chains on one of these occasions, he resorted to the following amiable means of persuasion:—

'Upon this, he put the fingers of my left hand into a vice, and squeezed my nails off. He then had my feet put on an anvil, and ordered a man to beat my toes till he smashed some of my nails off. The marks of this treatment still remain upon me, my nails never having grown perfect since. He inflicted this punishment in order to get out of me how I got my irons off; but never succeeded. After this, he hardly knew what to do with me—the whole stock of his cruelties seemed to be exhausted.'

Who can wonder at the earnest desire of the English Baptists to enter into friendly relations with the American Baptists, if all of them are such shining characters as the saintly Gooch? for numerous illustrations of whose transcendent piety we refer the reader to the book.

Finding that Moses's propensity to run away was incurable, in spite of all that his Baptist Christianity could do to cure it, the godly Gooch sold him, and he fell into hands much less pious it may be, but a good deal more humane. He was now employed as a kind of overseer of the blacks in a trader's gang, his principal task being to keep them in good selling condition, by clothing them well, feeding them well, and oiling their faces well. And here we have another striking instance of Methodist as well as Baptist piety:—

'During this time, we stopped once at White House Church, a Baptist association; a protracted camp meeting was holding there, on the plan of the revival meetings in this country. We got there at the time of the meeting, and sold two female slaves on the Sunday morning, at the time the meeting broke up, to a gentleman who had been attending the meeting the whole of the week. While I was with Mr. Rowland, we were at many such meetings, and the members of the churches are by this means so well influences towards their fellow creatures, at these meetings for the worship of God, that it becomes a fruitful season for the drover, who carries on immense traffic with the attendants at these places. This is common to Baptists and Methodists.'

Moses now passed through the hands of several persons, amongst whom was one Beveridge, a Scotchman; but none of them being planters, his work was light, and his masters were merciful. Beveridge, however, sold him to Register, a planter in West Florida. Apprehensive of the consequences, Moses Roper laid a plan of suicide, in which he was defeated by the providential interference of an old negro. Before they arrived at his home, Register, by getting drunk and sleeping more soundly than usual, afforded Roper an opportunity of escape, which, with his accustomed resolution, he embraced. This time he was much assisted by this inventive faculty in evading enquiries, 'not then knowing,' as he observed, 'the sin of lying,['] and in fording rivers by his tall stature, which is 'six feet two inches.' When approaching Savannah, he obtained the following free pass from a cotton planter, who was deceived by his showing him the remains of a false pass which he had purposely defaced by dipping it in water, to prevent the forgery from being detected:—

'John Roper, a very interesting young lad, whom I have seen and traveled with for eighty or ninety miles on his road from Florida, is a free man, descended from Indian and White. I trust he will be allowed to pass on without interruption, being convinced from what I have seen that he is free, and, though dark, is not an African. I had seen his papers before they were wetted.'

The truth is, that his mother was part Indian and part African; but, had he confessed the latter, he would have been stopped, the least particle of African blood, though in relation to blood of other descriptions, but as one to a hundred, being damnatory. Passing uninterrupted through the slaveholding city of Savannah, when he had traveled five hundred miles, he was fortunate enough to procure a situation in a schooner bound to New York, where he arrived in August, 1834. Finding that he was not safe even in that city, he removed from place to place, subsisting in a precarious manner till he reached the State of Vermont in New England, where, as the people 'seemed opposed to slavery,' he relieved his bosom of the secret that 'he was a runaway slave.' Learning that his master was in hot pursuit of him, he removed from place to place, till he came back again to New York, having in the mean time, attended several places of worship, and thereby discovered his sinfulness and need of a Saviour. At New York, he remained in secret till he heard of a ship, the Napoleon, sailing to England, and on the 11th of November, 1835, he sailed, taking with him letters of recommendation, to the Rev. Drs. Morrison and Raffles, and the Rev. Alexander Fletcher. 'The time (he observes) I first started from slavery, was in July, 1834, so that I was nearly sixteen months in making my escape. On the 29th of November, 1835, I reached Liverpool, and my feelings, when I first touched the shores of Britain, were indescribable, and can only be properly understood by those who have escaped from the cruel bondage of slavery.' From the gentleman to whom he was introduced, and others, he has received continued kindness, which he gratefully acknowledges.

'At Hackney I remained half a year, going through the rudiments of an English education. At this time I attended the ministry of Dr. Cox, which I enjoyed very much, and to which I ascribe the attainment of clearer views of divine grace than I had before. I had attended here several months, when I expressed my wish to Dr. Cox, to become a member of his church; I was proposed, and after stating my experience was admitted, March 31st, 1836. Here I feel it a duty to present my tribute of thankfulness, however feebly expressed, to the affectionate and devoted attention of the Rev. Doctor, from whom, under God, and I received very much indeed of spiritual advice and consolation, as well as a plentiful administration to my temporal necessities. I would not forget also to mention the kindness of his church generally, by whom I was received with Christian love and charity. Never, I trust, will be effaced from my memory, the parental care of the Rev. Dr. Morison, from whom I can strictly say, I received the greatest kindness I ever met with, and to whom, as long as God gives me lips to utter, or mind to reflect, I desire to attribute the comfort which I have experienced since I set my foot upon the happy shores of England.'

We trust the deeply interesting and clearly written narrative, of which we have given this brief outline, will meet with a rapid and extensive sale. It contains many very interesting facts and details which we have, from necessity as well as on principle, passed over. But the grounds on which we would urge our readers to purchase it are, that by so doing, they would lend a helping hand to the extinction of that monstrous system which spoils all that is good in America, while they would be encouraging one of the noblest ambitions that can actuate the human mind; the desire, mainly, of adding to liberty

——'the glorious privilege
Of being independent.'

But they would also be encouraging an ambition nobler even than this, the desire of carrying to his 'kinsmen according to the flesh,' bond or free, the glorious intelligence that they 'whom the Son makes free, are free indeed.'

MOSES ROPER has been in England about two years, during which period he has been eighteen months at school, in the neighborhood of London. He has hitherto been supported by a few ministers and gentlemen; his object in visiting some of the principal towns now, is to sell a sufficient number of his books to educate himself; which will enable him fully to carry out the object he contemplates, that of being qualified to labor amongst the children of Africa. And he hopes that he may in time be an humble instrument in liberating his mother, brothers and sisters from slavery. For further particulars, the reader is referred to Dr. Price's Preface of the book.

The following ministers and gentlemen are amongst those of his friends who have assisted him in his object, and subscribed to the work. The Rev. Dr. Morison, Rev. Dr. Fletcher, Rev. Dr. Cox, Dr. Tracy, Dr. Price, Rev. Hugh Stowell, Rev. Daniel Wilson, Rev. J. Stratten, Rev. J. Burnet, Rev. Alex. Fletcher, Rev. J. Hunt, Rev. East Giles, Rev. W. Vevers, Rev. J. Anderson, Rev. J. Ely, T. F. Buxton, Esq. Sir Thomas Blomfield, Samuel Gurney, Esq. Edward Baines, Esq. M. P.

Related title(s)