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The Life and Sufferings of John Joseph,
a Native of Ashantee, in Western Africa:
Who Was Stolen from His Parents at the Age of 3 Years,
and Sold to Mr. Johnstone, a Cotton Planter,
in New Orleans, South America:

Electronic Edition.

Joseph, John

Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities
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First edition, 2000
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Source Description:
(title page) The Life and Sufferings of John Joseph, a Native of Ashantee, in Western Africa: Who Was Stolen from His Parents at the Age of 3 Years, and Sold to Mr. Johnstone, a Cotton Planter, in New Orleans, South America
John Joseph
8 p.

Call number E441 .J64 1848 (Miller-Nichols Library Special Collection, University of Missouri - Kansas City)

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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition, 1998

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Revision History:

Ashantee, in Western Africa:
Who was stolen from his Parents at the age of 3
years, and sold to MR. JOHNSTONE, a Cotton
Planter, in New Orleans, South America.


"Man's inhumanity to man,
Makes countless thousands mourn."


Page 2


        In preparing this book for the press, it is hoped that the intelligent and critical reader will pardon its defects in style and composition, inasmuch as it is written by an operative tradesman--the dictation of the African author himself. From the appearance of his skin we have ample proof of the whip having been severely applied. Indeed, the many marks on his back show to what extent the inhuman taskmasters heat these poor creatures, who are as much the children of God as themselves, for hath not God made of one blood all the nations of the earth.

        In making an appeal to the sympathies of a Christian people in behalf of a fellow-man, it is almost needless for me to relate the many cruel sufferings which the poor negroes have to endure. It would also be taking up too much space to enter into the arguments against such a monster iniquity as that of slave-holding. It will be a dark spot on the boasted freedom of America, so long as she allows it to remain on her statute book.

        The Americans may boast of their plans of education and of their withdrawal of the causes of crime; but the keeping of their fellow beings in bondage is a source of crime without a parallel. They, by treating them like beasts of burden, irritate their passions, and goad them on to destruction; aye, even to suicide itself, and then draw a conclusion from their destructive conduct, that they, the blacks, are unfit to be trusted; never pausing to reflect that this destruction itself is an effect, the cause of which, the enslaving of their coloured brethren, ought to be removed. Well has the poet expressed the poor Negro's condition, when he says:--

                         "Their's was a wretched state exposed
                         "To men and angel's view;
                         A slave to man, a slave to sin,
                         A slave to Satan too."

        It is might usurping the power of right, and knowledge, wrongly applied, taking the advantage of ignorance. Although Bacon tritely observes that "knowledge is power," it does not always follow that power is exercised in a just and right way; and I think it would be better to term it, when used in the case of slavery--"an acquired ignorance," which is a great deal worse for society then the bare negation of education. In the Scriptures we have the best guide to knowledge--real knowledge--the knowledge of right and wrong. There we find the grand principle by which to test conduct laid down by Christ himself.--"Do unto others as you would they should do unto you;" all that is opposed to this may be justly termed, "acquiring ignorance, and a neglect of moral duty." This, I think, is the best, aye, the only clear definition of moral rectitude that can be given; notwithstanding the many attempts made by many so-called learned in the present day.

        If those who make traffic of the bodies of their coloured fellow men would reflect upon this saying of Him who was without guile, and then inquire if they have been trying to conform to it, they would find themselves to be very far from bearing any resemblance to Him who

                         "Makes the meanest soul
                         An object of his care,
                         Attends to what his heart would say,
                         And hears the Negro's pray'r."

        All we, who profess to do so, should not only give our voice for the freedom of the Negro, but also lend our pecuniary aid to any who may have been fortunate enough to effect their escape from bondage, and trust their feet on our shore of freedom. I think the best mode of doing so, in the present instance,

Page 3

would be to purchase one of these little books. It would be but little from each of us, and a great deal to John Joseph. One cannot help the many, but the many can help the one.

        Reflect, my countrymen, upon the horrid idea of persons of fair skin taking to themselves the prerogative of selling and enslaving their darker brethren to men whose interest it is to keep them in ignorance of the word of God. We, in our country, have various shades of colour and learning; but if we grant the power to one class of men to sell another, where shall we stop; might not the lighter sell the darker, the more learned the less learned, and so on ad infinitum, according to learning and colour.

        Besides, it is unjust to keep a black man in ignorance, and then accuse him of it, and because he is ignorant, to claim a right to him as your property. The Scriptures tell all men to be perfect as God is perfect. Slave-holders attempt to oppose this by keeping the slave as he finds him. What wretched cruelty they must endure, when, rather than suffer, they attempt to escape at the risk of life. Oh! when we think of this, we thank God that we are placed where we are--in a civilized land--a land of freedom--a land where the benign influence of the gospel has shed its light. We hope yet to see this light reflected on Afric's burning shore, where, so soon as it prevails, slavery in all its forms will be extinguished. Then shall there be neither physical nor intellectual slavery. Moral degradation and irreligious feelings will be classed among the things that were. Men will look back with horror on the doings of their ancestors, and wonder how they could be ignorant that a Christian's duty is

                         "To do the utmost good he can,
                         And save from woe his fellow man."

        Let us therefore, by all the means in our power, whether pecuniary or otherwise, endeavour to promote their welfare. Let those who have been poor think upon the poverty of a bondsman, and see whether it be not their duty to assist him, when freed from that bondage, to

                         "Seek the face of wisdom fair,
                         Or read her works so rich and rare;
                         Whose pages gemm'd with precious things,
                         Are beauteous as a Seraph's wings."

        And those who are rich will sympathise with us if we follow virtue, and know that

                         "Her costly book may teach us how
                         To best perform our solemn vow"

        to God and our neighbour. That you will take the contents of these pages into consideration, and do your utmost to assist John Joseph in his enterprise, to enable his poor benighted countrymen to "loose their neck from the ignoble chain, and boldly say they are free," is the fervent and eager desire of the author of this introduction.

Page 4

        I, JOHN JOSEPH, the subject of this narrative, am a native of Ashantee, in Western Africa. I was born of respectable parents, my father being a distinguished Chief of one of the Tribes. He was a man of great strength and agility. When I was about three years of age, my father engaged in a deadly war with one of the tribes, and in an unsuccessful encounter with the enemy he was completely routed, and a great many of our tribe taken prisoners. The enemy ransacked my father's habitation, and savagely dragged me and my beloved sister, from the arms of a dear distracted mother. We were then taken to the coast, together with three hundred prisoners of war, where we were put on board a slave ship, sent to New Orleans, in the state of Louisina, South America, and there sold as slaves. I was bought at the public auction, by one Mr. Johnstone, a cotton planter, in New Orleans. I was then put by him in the calaboosh, or prison, (a place for keeping slaves when they are brought from Africa, and also runaway slaves.) I was kept there until I was old enough to work, when I was placed on a cotton plantation. My occupation there was to press the cotton, under the superintendence of what is called the negro-driver, who often punished me very severely for the least fault, in a most cruel and inhuman manner, as the following statements will shew. He would fasten my wrists with a cord, and throw it over a beam; I was then drawn up by my arms as high as possible without raising my feet from the ground, they being fastened to something prepared on the floor, and in this distorted posture, this inhuman monster, this demon in the shape of man, beat me with a short whip, and while bleeding from head to foot, my lacerated back was washed in salt and water, to prevent mortification. After my inhuman punishment, I was heavily laden with chains by night, to prevent any possibility of my escape from this den of horrors, and on one ocasion on my remonstrating with my cruel persecutor he struct me a blow on the mouth with the butt end of his whip which knocked out three of my front teeth.

        (John Joseph came to a knowledge of his family's misfortunes through a slave who was purchased at the same time he was bought by Mr. Johnstone, who informed him of his high birth, and how he came into the possession of the said Mr. Johnstone, of New Orleans.)

        After some time I had these irons taken off and then I ran away, concealing myself by day, and travelling by night.

Page 5

Whilst I was travelling the third night, I was stopped by a man on horseback, who presented a pistol at me, and demanded if I had a certificate to prove that I was free from slavery. I answered, no sir; when he heard this he dismounted from his horse, handcuffed me, and led me to the nearest prison and had me immediately advertised, it being the custom to keep a slave fourteen days, and if not owned he is sold to another Master, the same as you would sell cattle in England. I entreated him to let me go, but he only replied by giving me a severe blow on my chin, which inflicted a very severe wound.

        Within fourteen days my master, Mr. Johnstone, came and claimed me as his property; chained me like a dog to his horse, and dragged me back to his estate, where I was immediately fastened to a whipping-post, and received thirty-nine lashes, after which, though exhausted with my journey, and almost dead with my punishment, my back was washed with salt and water, and I was once more sent back to the horrid calaboosh. "Oh! wretched and infatuated men, do you not think a negro's heart can feel."

        After I recovered from the punishment, I was taken to the market for sale. I was then put up (at what the auctioneer termed) the exceeding low price of 200 dollars; which he bawled out lustily, only two hundred dollars for Jack Sambo. Who bids for this strong healthy slave, Jack Sambo, a fine, hardy, strong, young fellow. Whilst he went on thus, my blood boiled in my veins. The blood of my noble father was rekindled in my bosom, I gazed at him with contempt and said, "Sir, I am the son of one of the principal chiefs of Africa, although the tide of fortune has made me at present a slave; you may be wicked enough to sell my body, but thank God, it is not in the power of a master or auctioneer, to buy and sell my precious and immortal soul, for thanks be to God, Jesus suffered on the tree, to save the slave as well as the free." At length I was knock'd down to the highest bidder (who was Mr. Smith, of Charleston, in South Carolina,) for 250 dollers, with another boy. I was placed by Mr. Smith on a rice and Indian corn plantation, under the superintendence of a cruel driver, who used to beat us in a most barbarous manner, without the consent and in opposition to the express wishes of Mr. Smith, who was a very kind master to his slaves, giving them good food and clothing.

Page 6

One day he found the driver flogging us very severely; he enquired the cause of his doing so against his command, fined him five dollars, and forthwith discharged him. I remained with Mr. Smith five years, during which time he allowed the Rev. Mr. Howard and Mr. Brown, (two very pious and benevolent gentlemen, who had the freedom and salvation of the slave at heart,) to instruct us in spiritual things, and through their instrumentality I was brought to see and feel myself a sinner in the sight of God, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ as my only Saviour and mediator; instead of bending, as I had been accustomed to do, to the Sun, Moon, and Stars. It gladden'd the hearts of the poor slaves, to hear that God was no respecter of persons, but that he accepts the black as well as the white man; that he who cometh to him with a lowly and contrite heart, whatever be the colour of his skin or his condition in life, whether bond or free, he will in no wise cast out; he would gather his sons from the east and his daughters from the west, for all the nations of the earth shall see the salvation of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, through whose merits alone we can be saved, and adopted as the children of God, by faith, and made heirs and joint heirs with him in glory: Africans as well as Europeans. I felt that the gospel preached by these gentlemen, was very different from that preached to us by the slave holders and their preachers, whose doctrine always was, obey your masters and mistresses, or you shall have the rod. How different the gospel of Jesus to the threats and menaces of our inhuman masters!

        Through the kindness of Mr[.] Smith, I felt quite happy, and previous to hearing the blessed gospel I thought I was born to obey. I thought myself a happy slave in the service of such a man. But in the character of my master I was mistaken; for although a humane man, he was a gambler, and once went to a shooting match, for so many slaves aside. He was unsuccessful, and I was handed over with many more, to the winner (Dr. Browne, of Virginia,) a tobacco planter, who was as cruel to his slaves as Mr. Smith was kind. He used to work us like beasts of burden, obliging us to plough the ground like horses. Here we were badly provided with food and raiment; and were whipped if we failed in strength. After hard work, we were frequently ready to drop from want, and were also unmercifully beaten by the negro driver. We were kept without clothing except as much as would cover our nakedness; and in this manner we were obliged to work all day. At the close of the day we were placed in the calaboosh, or prison, and loaded with chains till the morning, when the bell rung for us to go again to work, and if not immediately ready, the negro driver would come and flog us. This cruel treatment made me try to escape.

Page 7

        One night I made into the woods to effect my escape, but the bloodhounds were sent in pursuit of me, and when I heard them behind me barking, I climbed up a tree to save my life, or my limbs from being destroyed. The instant the dogs reached the bottom of the tree they stopped and there continued barking till my master came, he looked up and asked, "who was there," I answered "me massa, came here to save my life or limbs from being destroyed by the dogs." He ordered me to come down directly or he would blow out my brains with his pistol. I was at a loss to know what to do, whether to come down and be flogged almost to death, or stay in the tree and be shot, but at last thinking it best to surrender; I called to him and said "massa I will come down, do not beat me." I came down, he immediately seized me, tied me, and dragged me home. I was then tied to the whipping post, received thirty-nine lashes, and as usual, whilst the blood was running down to my heels the salt and water was applied to my lacerated back. I then had an iron collar with my master's name engraved on it, and long prongs fastened to it, put round my neck to prevent me from going into the bushes. After a little time I made another attempt to escape which proved equally ineffectual, for being again taken, I was flogged more severely if possible, than before, and placed in a dungeon, and fed for three days on bread and water, when I was sent to work in a house about a mile from the rest. While in this solitary confinement I again attempted to escape, and blessed be God, I this time effected it; I went into the woods, travelling by night and remaining concealed by day. After travelling in this manner for a few nights I saw a light at a distance; I stood for some time, fearing that I was near an enemy; I did not know what to do, for I was hungry and suffered much from fatigue, but at length I resolved to go towards the light, and there I found a friend, the only friend in the world that I knew of; he was a wild Indian, who obtained his living by hunting. He was very kind to me, and I remained with him a day, and on my departure he came with me a little way and then left me. I then travelled on till I came to the Mississippi river, and when I saw the river I was afraid; I walked along the bank towards its mouth, despairing of making my escape, and thinking of the sufferings I should have to undergo if I were again taken. In despair I was almost ready to cast myself into the river, and thus put an end to my existence, when I caught sight of a boat tied to a tree, which I gladly loosened and in it let myself float down the river, trusting in him who is able to preserve them that put their trust in him, as well on the mighty deep as on the land, even he who rules the sea, and whose will the winds obey, who also has declared that they that put their trust in him shall never be forsaken. In this manner I drifted about two

Page 8

days and nights, subsisting on what little I had gathered in the woods. At the end of that time, I saw a large ship, which happened to be an English vessel; the captain first discovered me with his glass, and sent the boat, with some of the crew, to render me that assistance of which I so much stood in need. They said, be of good cheer; do not fear, for as soon as you are in England you will be a free man." I then jumped into their boat and let the other go adrift. The captain the doctor, and indeed all in the vessel, behaved towards me in the kindest manner; and blessed be God, that he has at length, in his own good pleasure, rescued me from the tortures I underwent, and above all, that he has enlightened my mind, to come to a saving knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.

        My sister who was stolen from her parents at the same time with myself, remained with me under the same master until I was about fourteen years of age, when we were separated, and I have never seen her since. Believing that she is still in bondage, it is my earnest desire and my sincere intention, as soon as I am able, to purchase her freedom, so that she as well as myself, may know and enjoy the blessings of liberty.


        This is to certify, that the bearer of this, John Joseph, was picked up at sea, forty miles from the Mississippi River, by me, John Davies, by the command of the captain. He remained on board two months, and during that time his behaviour was so good, that he gained the respect and good will of the captain and the ship's crew. When we arrived in England, we raised a subscription, to which the captain and a few passengers contributed, as well as the doctor and the ships crew; and I hope he will meet with some good christian friends, who will befriend and assist him.

        I can recommend him as an honest, sober, and good temper'd young man; he appears very happy that he is free from his cruel persecutors and slavery. He seems anxious to return to his native country, to communicate to his poor African brethren the true word of God, and to shew them how much the Lord has done for him, and I wish him success in his christian and honest endeavors.

JOHN DAVIES, Mate of the British Empire.

August 8th, 1843.

        This finishes the narrative of one of whose sufferings we can but little conceive. The best way to bring ourselves to such an idea, is to imagine ourselves kept close prisoners, and flogged for not doing what in itself it is impossible for us to do.

        Be it understood that the author's name, previous to his coming to England, was Jack Sambo; here he got baptized with the name of John Joseph. He is very fond of reading and prayer, and wishes always to be hearing of Jesus, and that under heaven there is no other name whereby he can be saved.