Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities
supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by
Apex Data Services, Inc.
Images scanned by Elizabeth Wright and Natalia Smith
Text encoded by Apex Data Services, Inc., Lee Ann Morawski and Natalia Smith
First edition, 2001
Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
(title page) The Slave: or Memoirs of Archy Moore. Vol. I , 170 p.
JOHN H. EASTBURN, PRINTER.
Call number T. R. 813.3H644s, v.1v (McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University)
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-CH
digitization project, Documenting the American South.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original. The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved. Encountered typographical errors have been preserved, and appear in red type.
All footnotes are inserted at the point of reference within paragraphs.
Any hyphens occurring in line breaks have been removed, and the trailing part of a word has been joined to the preceding line.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as " and " respectively.
All single right and left quotation marks are encoded as ' and ' respectively.
All em dashes are encoded as --
Indentation in lines has not been preserved.
Running titles have not been preserved.
Spell-check and verification made against printed text using Author/Editor (SoftQuad) and Microsoft Word spell check programs.
Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition, 1998
LC Subject Headings:
[Title Page Image]
[Title Page Verso Image]
ALL men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain. INHERENT RIGHTS, of which, when they enter into society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity, viz: the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing happiness and safety. Virginia Bill of Rights, Art. I.
IT is unnecessary to detain the reader, with a narrative of the somewhat singular manner in which the MS. of the following Memoirs came into my possession. It is sufficient for me to say, that I received it, with an injunction to make it public--an injunction which I have not felt myself at liberty to disobey.
I would not be understood, however, as implicitly adopting all the author's feelings and sentiments; for it must be confessed that he sometimes expresses himself with a force and a freedom, which by many will be thought extravagant. Yet, if I am not greatly mistaken, he preserves throughout, a moderation, a calmness, and a magnanimity, which have never yet been displayed upon the other side of the question; and laying entirely out of account the author's personal grievances, I do not know how it is possible to be over zealous in a cause so just as that in which he pleads.
As to the conduct of the author, as he has himself described it, there are several occasions on which it is impossible to approve it. But he has written Memoirs, not an apology nor a vindication. No man who writes his own life, will gain much credit, by painting himself as faultless; and few have better claims to indulgence than Archy Moore.--THE EDITOR.
YE who would know what evils man can inflict upon his fellow without reluctance, hesitation, or regret; ye who would learn the limit of human endurance, and with what bitter anguish and indignant hate, the heart may swell, and yet not burst, peruse these Memoirs!
Mine are no silken sorrows, nor sentimental sufferings; but that stern reality of actual woe, the story of which, may perhaps touch even some of those, who are every day themselves the authors of misery the same that I endured. For however the practice of tyranny may have deadened every better emotion, and the prejudices of interest and education may have hardened the heart, humanity will still extort an involuntary tribute; and men will grow uneasy at hearing of those deeds, of which the doing does not cost them a moment's inquietude.
Should I accomplish no more than this; should I be able, through the triple steel with which the love of money and the lust of domination has encircled it, to
reach one bosom--let the story of my wrongs summon up, in the mind of a single oppressor, the dark and dreaded images of his own misdeeds, and teach his conscience how to torture him with the picture of himself, and I shall be content. Next to the tears and the exultations of the emancipated, the remorse of tyrants is the choicest offering upon the altar of liberty!
But perhaps something more may be possible;--not likely--but to be imagined--and it may be, even faintly to be hoped. Perhaps within some youthful breast, in which the evil spirits of avarice and tyranny have not yet gained unlimited control, I may be able to rekindle the smothered and expiring embers of humanity. Spite of habits and prejudices inculcated and fostered from his earliest childhood--spite of the allurements of wealth and political distinction, and the still stronger allurements of indolence and ease--spite of the pratings of hollow hearted priests--spite of the arguments of time-serving sophists--spite of the hesitation and terrors of the weak-spirited and wavering--in spite of evil precept and evil example, he dares--that generous and heroic youth!--to cherish and avow the feelings of a man.
Another Saul among the prophets, he prophecies terrible things in the ear of insolent and luxurious tyranny; in the midst of tyrants he dares to preach the good tidings of liberty; in the very school of oppression, he stands boldly forth the advocate of human rights!
He breaks down the ramparts of prejudice; he dissipates the illusions of avarice and pride; he repeals
the enactments, which though destitute of every feature of justice, have sacriligiously usurped the sacred form of law! He snatches the whip from the hand of the master; he breaks forever the fetter of the slave!
In the place of reluctant toil, delving for another, he brings in smiling industry to labor for herself! All nature seems to exult in the change! The earth, no longer made barren by the tears and the blood of her children, pours forth her treasures with redoubled liberality. Existence ceases to be torture; and to live is no longer, to millions, the certainty of being miserable.
Chosen Instrument of Mercy! Illustrious Deliverer! Come! come quickly!
Come!--lest if thy coming be delayed, there come in thy place, he who will be at once, DELIVERER and AVENGER!
THE county in which I was born, was then, and for aught I know, may still be one of the richest and most populous in eastern Virginia. My father, colonel Charles Moore, was the head of one of the most considerable and influential families in that part of the
country;--and family, however little weight it may have in other parts of America, at the time I was born, was a thing of no slight consequence in lower Virginia. Nature and education had conspired to qualify colonel Moore to fill with credit, the station in which his birth had placed him. He was a finished aristocrat; and such he showed himself in every word, look and action. There was in his bearing, a conscious superiority, which few could resist, softened and rendered even agreeable by a gentleness and suavity, which flattered, pleased and captivated. In fact, he was familiarly spoken of among his friends and neighbors, as the faultless pattern of a true Virginian gentleman--an encomium, by which they supposed themselves to convey, in the most emphatic manner, the highest possible praise.
When the war of the American Revolution broke out, colonel Moore was a very young man. By birth and education, he belonged, as I have said, to the aristocratic party, which being aristocratic, was of course, conservative. But the impulses of youth and patriotism were too strong to be resisted. He espoused with zeal, the cause of liberty, and by his political activity and influence, contributed not a little to promote it.
Of liberty indeed, he was always a warm and energetic admirer. Among my earliest recollections of him, is the earnestness with which, among his friends and guests, he used to vindicate the cause of the French revolution, which was then going on. Of this revolution, throughout its whole progress, he was a most eloquent advocate and apologist; and though I understood
little or nothing of what he said, the spirit and eloquence with which he spoke could not fail to affect me. The rights of man, and the rights of human nature were phrases, which, although at that time, I was quite unconscious of their meaning I heard so often repeated, that they made an indelible impression upon my memory, and in after years, frequently recurred to my recollection.
But colonel Moore was not a mere talker; he had the credit of acting up to his principles, and was universally regarded as a man of the greatest good nature, honor and uprightness. Several promising young men, who afterwards rose to eminence, were indebted for their first start in life, to his patronage and assistance. He settled half the differences of the county, and never seemed so well pleased as when, by preventing a lawsuit or a duel, he hindered an accidental and perhaps trifling dispute from degenerating into a bitter, if not a fatal quarrel. The tenderness of his heart, his ready active benevolence, and his sympathy with misfortune, were traits of his character which were spoken of by every body.
Had I been allowed to choose my own paternity, could I possibly have selected a more desirable father? But by the laws and customs of Virginia, it is not the father but the mother, whose rank and condition determine that of the child;--and alas! my mother was a concubine and a slave!
Yet those who beheld her for the first time, would hardly have imagined, or would willingly have forgotten, that she was connected with an ignoble and degraded
race. Humble as her origin might be, she could at least boast the possession of the most brilliant beauty. The trace of African blood, by which her veins were contaminated, was distinctly visible;--but the tint which it imparted to her complexion only served to give a peculiar richness to the blush that mantled over her check. Her long black hair, which she understood how to arrange with an artful simplicity, and the flashing of her dark eyes, which changed their expression with every change of feeling, corresponded exactly to her complexion, and completed a picture which might perhaps be matched in Spain or Italy, but for which, it would be in vain to seek a rival among the pale-faced, languid beauties of eastern Virginia.
I describe her more like a lover than a son. But in truth, her beauty was so uncommon, as to draw my attention while I was yet a child;--and many an hour have I watched her, almost with a lover's earnestness, while she fondled me on her lap, and tears and smiles chased each other alternately over a face, the expression of which was ever changing, yet always beautiful. She was the most affectionate of mothers; the mixture of tenderness, grief and pleasure, with which she always seemed to regard me, gave a new vivacity to her beauty, and it was probably this, which so early and so strongly fixed my attention.
But I was very far from being her only admirer. Her beauty was notorious through all that part of the country; and colonel Moore had been frequently tempted to sell her by the offer of very high prices. All such offers however, he had steadily rejected;
for he especially prided himself upon owning the swiftest horse, the handsomest wench, and the finest pack of hounds in all Virginia.
Now it may seem odd, to some people, in some parts of the world, that colonel Moore being such a man as I have described him, should keep a mistress and be the father of illegitimate children. Such persons however, must be totally ignorant of the state of things in the slave-holding states of America.
Colonel Moore was married to an amiable woman, whom, I dare say, he loved and respected; and in the course of time, she made him the happy father of two sons and as many daughters. This circumstance however, did not hinder him, any more than it does any other American planter--from giving, in the mean time, a very free indulgence to his amorous temperament among his numerous slaves at Spring-Meadow,--for so his estate was called. Many of the young women occasionally boasted of his attentions--though generally, at any one time, he did not have more than one or two acknowledged favorites.
My mother was for several years, distinguished by colonel Moore's very particular regard; and she brought him no less than six children,--all of whom, except myself, who was the eldest, were lucky enough to die in infancy.
From my mother I inherited some imperceptible portion of African blood, and with it, the base and cursed condition of a slave. But though born a slave, I inherited all my father's proud spirit, sensitive feelings and ardent temperament; and as regards natural
endowments, whether of mind or body, I am bold to assert, that he had more reason to be proud of me than of either of his legitimate and acknowledged sons.
THAT education is the most effectual, which commences earliest--a maxim well understood in that part of the world in which it was my misfortune to be born. As it sometimes happens there, that one half of a man's children are born masters and the other half slaves, it has become sufficiently obvious how necessary it is, to begin, by times, the course of discipline proper to train them up for these very different situations. It is, accordingly, the general custom, that young master, almost from the hour of his birth, has allotted to him, some little slave near his own age, upon whom he begins, from the time that he can go alone, to practice his apprenticeship of tyranny It so happened that within less than a year after my birth, colonel Moore's wife presented him with her second son, James; and while we both slept unconscious in our cradles, I was duly assigned over and appointed to be the body-servant of my younger brother. It is in
this capacity, of master James's boy, that following back the traces of memory, I first discover myself.
The natural and usual consequences of giving one child absolute authority over another, may be easily imagined. The love of domination is perhaps the strongest of our passions; and it is surprising how soon the veriest child will become perfect in the practice of tyranny. Of this, colonel Moore's eldest son, William, or master William, as he was called at Spring-Meadow, was a striking instance. He was the terror and bug-bear, not only of Joe, his own boy, but of all the children on the place. That unthinking and irrational delight in the exercise of cruelty, which is sometimes displayed by a wayward child, seemed in him, almost a passion; and this passion by perpetual indulgence, was soon fostered into a habit. When any delinquent slave was to be punished, he contrived if possible to find it out, and to be present at the infliction;--so that he soon became an adept in all the disgusting slang of an overseer. He always went armed with a whip, twice as long as himself; and upon the least opposition to his whims and caprices, was ready to show his skill in the use of it. All this he took some little pains to conceal from his father; who however, was pretty careful not to see what he could, by no means, approve, but what, at the same time--indulgent father as he was--he would have found it very difficult to prevent or to cure.
Master James, to whose service, I was particularly appointed, was a very different boy. Sickly and weak from his birth, his temper was gentle and his mind effeminate.
He had an affectionate disposition, and soon conceived a fondness for me, which I very thankfully returned. He protected me from the tyranny of master William by his entreaties, his tears, and what had much more weight with that amiable youth by threats of complaining to his father, and making a complete exposure of his brutal and cruel behaviour.
I soon learned to pardon and put up with an occasional pettishness and ill humor, for which master James' bad health furnished a ready excuse; and by flattery and apparent obsequiousness--for a child learns and practices such arts as readily as a man--I presently came to have a great influence over him. He was the master, and I the slave; but while we were both children, this artificial distinction had less potency, and I found little difficulty in maintaining that actual superiority, to which my superior vigor both of body and mind, so justly entitled me.
When master James had reached the age of five years, it was judged expedient by his father, that he should be initiated into the rudiments of learning. To learn the letters was a laborious undertaking enough,--but for putting them into words, my young master seemed to have no genius whatever. He was not destitute of ambition; he was indeed very desirous to learn; it was the ability, not the inclination that was wanting. In this difficulty, he had recourse to me, who was on all occasions, his chief counsellor. By putting our heads together, we soon hit upon a plan. My memory was remarkably good, while that of my poor little master was very miserable. We arranged
therefore, that the family tutor should first learn me the letters and the abs, which my strong memory, we thought, would enable me easily to retain, and which I was gradually, and between plays, as opportunity served, to instil into the mind of master James. This plan we found to answer admirably. Neither the tutor nor colonel Moore made any objection to it;--for all that colonel Moore desired was, that his son should learn to read, and the tutor was very willing to shift off the most laborious part of his task upon my shoulders.
As yet, no one had dreamed of those barbarous and abominable laws--unparalleled in any other codes and destined to be the everlasting disgrace of America--by which it has been made a crime, punishable with fine and imprisonment, to teach a slave to read.
It is not enough that custom and the proud scorn of unfeeling tyranny unite to keep the slave in hopeless and helpless ignorance, but the laws too have openly become a party to this accursed conspiracy! Yes--I believe they would tear out our very eyes,--and that too by virtue of a regularly enacted statute--had they ingenuity enough to invent a way of enabling us to delve and drudge without them!
I soon learned to read, and before long, I made master James almost as good a reader as myself. As he was subject to frequent fits of illness, which confined him to the house, and disabled him from indulging in those active sports to which boys are chiefly devoted, his father obtained for him a large collection of books adapted to his age, which he and I used to read over together, and in which we took great delight.
In the further progress of my young master's studies I was still his associate; for though the plan of teaching me first, in order that I might afterwards teach him, was pursued no longer, yet as I had a desire to learn, as well as a quick apprehension, I found no difficulty in extracting every day from master James, the substance of his lessons. Indeed, if there was any difficulty in them, he was in the constant habit of appealing to me for assistance. In this way, I acquired some elementary knowledge of arithmetic and geography, and even a smattering of latin.
These acquisitions however, I took great pains to conceal, since even the fact that I had learned to read, though it increased my consequence among the servants, exposed me to a good deal of ridicule to which I was very sensitive. I was not looked upon, as I suppose they now look upon a slave, who knows how to read and who exhibits some marks of sense and ability, as a dreadful monster breathing war and rebellion, and plotting to cut the throats of all the white people in America. I was regarded rather as a sort of prodigy,--like a three legged hen, or a sheep with four eyes; a thing to be produced and exhibited for the entertainment of strangers. Frequently at a dinner party, after the Madeira had circulated pretty freely, I was set to read paragraphs in the newspapers, to amuse my master's tipsy guests, and was puzzled, perplexed and tormented, by all sorts of absurd, ridiculous, and impertinent questions, which I was obliged to answer under penalty of having a wine glass, a bottle, or a plate flung at my head. Master William especially, as he
was prevented from using his whip upon me, as freely as he wished, strove to indemnify himself by making me the butt of his wit. He took great pride in the nick-name of the "learned nigger," which he had invented and always applied to me;--though God knows, that my cheek was little less fair than his, and I cannot help hoping that at least, my soul was whiter.
These, it may be thought, were trifling vexations. In truth they were so--but it cost me many a struggle before I could learn to endure them with any tolerable patience. I was compensated in some measure, by the pleasure I took in listening--as I stood behind my master's chair--to the conversation of the company,--I mean their conversation before they set regularly in to drinking; for every dinner party was sure to wind up with a general frolic.
Colonel Moore kept an open house, and almost every day, he had some of his friends, relatives, or neighbors, at his table. He was himself an eloquent and most agreeable talker;--his voice was soft and musical, and he always expressed himself with a great deal of point and vivacity. Many of his guests were well informed men; and though politics was always the leading topic of conversation, a great variety of other subjects were occasionally discussed. Colonel Moore, as I have already observed, was himself a warm democrat--republican was then the phrase--for democrat, however fond the Americans have since become of the name, was at that time regarded as an epithet of reproach. The greater part of those who frequented colonel Moore's house, entertained the same liberal opinions
on political subjects. I listened to their conversation with eagerness and pleasure;--and when I heard them talk of equal rights, and declaim against tyranny and oppression, my heart would swell with emotions of which I scarcely understood the meaning. All this time, I made no personal application of what I heard and felt. It was only the abstract beauty of liberty and equality, of which I had learned to be enamoured. It was the French republicans with whom I sympathized; it was the Austrian and English tyrants against whom my indignation was roused; it was John Adams and his atrocious gag law. I had not yet learned to think about myself. What I saw around me I had always been accustomed to see, and it appeared as it were, the fixed order of nature. Though born a slave, I had, as yet, experienced scarcely any thing of the miseries of that wretched condition. I was singularly fortunate in my young master, to whom I was, in many respects, as much a companion as a servant. By his favor, and through means of my mother, who still continued a favorite with colonel Moore, I enjoyed more indulgences than any other servant on the place. Comparing my situation with that of the field hands, I might pronounce myself fortunate indeed; and though exposed to occasional mortifications, enough to give me already a foretaste of the bitter cup, which every one who lives a slave must swallow, my youth and the buoyant vivacity of my temper as yet sustained me.
At this time, I did not know that colonel Moore was my father. That gentleman was indebted for no inconsiderable portion of his high reputation, to a very
strict attention to those conventional observances which so often usurp the place of morals. Some observances of this sort, which prevail in America, are sufficiently curious. It is considered for instance, no crime whatever, for a master to be, if he chooses, the father of every infant slave born upon his plantation. Yet it is esteemed a very grave breach of propriety, indeed almost an unpardonable crime, for such a father ever, in any way, to acknowledge or take any notice, of any of his unfortunate children. Imperious custom demands that he should treat them, in every respect, like his other slaves. If he drives them into the field to labor,--if he sells them at auction to the highest bidder, it is all very well. But if he audaciously undertakes to exhibit towards them, in any way, the slightest indications of paternal tenderness, he may be sure that his character will be assailed by the tongue of universal slander; that his every weak point and unjustifiable action will be carefully sought out, malignantly magnified, and ostentatiously exposed; that he will be compelled to run a sort of moral gauntlet, and will be represented among all the better sort of people, as every thing that is infamous, base and contemptible.
Colonel Moore was by far too wise a man, to entertain the slightest idea of exposing himself to any thing of this sort. He had always kept the best society,--and though he might be a democrat in politics, he was certainly very much of an aristocrat and an exclusive in his feelings. Of course, he had the same sort of indescribable horror, at the thought of violating any of the settled proprieties of the society in which he
moved, that a modern belle has, of cotton lace, or a modern dandy of an iron fork. This being the case, nobody will wonder,--so far at least as colonel Moore had any control over the matter--that I was still ignorant who my father was.
But though a secret to me, it certainly was not so to colonel Moore's friends and visitors. If nothing else had betrayed it, the striking resemblance between us, would certainly have done so;--and although that same regard to propriety, which prevented colonel Moore from ever noticing the relationship, tied up the tongues of his guests,--yet, after I had learned the secret, there immediately occurred to my mind the true explanation of certain sly jests and distant allusions, which had sometimes been dropped towards the end of a dinner, by some of those guests whom deep potations had inspired at once with wit and veracity. These brilliancies, of which I had never been able to understand the meaning, were always ill received by colonel Moore, and by all the soberer part of the company, and were frequently followed by a command to me and the other servants to quit the room; but why or wherefore--till I became possessed of the key above mentioned--I was always at a great loss to determine.
The secret which my father did not choose, and which my mother did not dare to communicate to me, I might easily have obtained from my fellow servants. But at this time, like most of the lighter complexioned slaves, I felt a sort of contempt for my duskier brothers in misfortune. I kept myself as much as possible, at a distance from them, and scorned to associate with
men a little darker than myself. So ready are slaves to imbibe all the ridiculous prejudices of their oppressors, and themselves to add new links to the chains, which deprive them of their liberty!
But let me do my father justice,--for I do not believe that he was totally destitute of a father's feelings. Though he never made the slightest acknowledgment of the claims which I had upon him, yet I am sure, in his own heart, he did not totally deny their validity. There was a tone of good natured indulgence whenever he spoke to me,--an air of kindness, which--though he always had it--seemed toward me, to have in it something peculiar. At any rate, he succeeded in captivating my affections, for though I regarded him only as my master, I loved him very sincerely.
I was about seventeen years old, when my mother was attacked by a fever, which proved fatal to her. She early had a presentiment of her fate; and before the disorder had made any great progress, she sent me word that she desired to see me. I found her in bed. She begged the woman who nursed her, to leave us together, and bade me sit down by her bed-side.
Having told me that she feared she was going to die, she could not think it kind to me, she said, to leave the world, without first telling me a secret, which possibly, I might find hereafter of some consequence. I begged her to go on, and waited with impatience for the promised information. She began with a short account of her own life. Her mother was a slave; her father was a certain colonel Randolph--a scion of one of the great Virginian families. She had been raised as a lady's maid, and on the marriage of colonel Moore, had been purchased by him and presented to his wife. She was then quite a girl. As she grew older and her beauty became more noticeable, she found much favor in the eyes of her master. She had a neat little house, with a double set of rooms--an arrangement, as much for colonel Moore's convenience as her own;--and though some light tasks of needle-work were sometimes required of her, yet as nobody chose to quarrel with master's favorite, she lived, henceforward, a very careless, indolent, but as she told me, a very unhappy life.
For much of this unhappiness she was indebted to herself. The airs of superiority she assumed in her intercourse with the other servants, made them all hate her, and induced them to improve every opportunity of vexing and mortifying her;--and to all sorts of feminine mortifications she was as sensitive as any belle that ever existed. But though vain of her beauty and her master's favor, she was not ill-tempered; and the foolish pride from which she suffered, sprung in her, as a similar feeling did in me, from a silly, though
common prejudice. Indeed our situation was so superior to that of most of the other slaves, that we naturally imagined ourselves, in some sort, a superior race. It was doubtless under the influence of this feeling, that my mother, having told me who my father was, observed with a smile and a self-complacent air, which even the tremors of her fever did not prevent from being visible,--that both on the father's and the mother's side, I had running in my veins, the best blood of Virginia--the blood, she added, of the Moores and the Randolphs!
Alas! she did not seem to recollect that though I might count all the nobility of Virginia among my ancestors, one drop of blood imported from Africa--though that too, might be the blood of kings and chieftains,--would be enough to taint the whole pedigree, and to condemn me to perpetual slavery, even in the house of my own father!
The information which my mother communicated, made little impression on me at the moment. My principal anxiety was for her;--for she had always been the tenderest and most affectionate of parents. The progress of her disorder was rapid, and on the third day she ceased to live. I lamented her with the sincerest grief. The sharpness of my sorrow was soon over; but my spirits did not seem to regain their former tone. The thoughtless gaiety, which till now had shed a sort of sunshine over my life, seemed to have deserted me. My thoughts began to recur, very frequently, to the information which my mother had communicated. I hardly know how to describe the
effect which it seemed to have upon me. Nor is it easy to tell what were its actual effects, or what ought to be ascribed to other and more general causes. Perhaps that revolution of feeling, which I now experienced, should be attributed, in a great measure, to the change from boyhood to manhood, through which I was passing. Hitherto things had seemed to happen like the events of a dream, without touching me deeply or affecting me permanently. I was sometimes vexed and dissatisfied,--I had my occasional sorrows and complaints. But these sorrows were soon over, and as after summer showers the sun shines out the brighter, so my transient sadness was soon succeeded by a more lively gaiety, which, as soon as immediate grievances were forgotten, burst forth, unsubdued either by reflections on the past, or anxieties for the future. In this gaiety there was indeed scarcely anything of substantial pleasure:--it originated rather in a careless insensibility. It was like the glare of the moon-beams, bright but cold. Such as it was however, it was far more comfortable, than the state of feeling by which it now began to be succeeded. My mind seemed to be filled with indefinite anxieties, of which I could devine neither the causes nor the cure. There was, as it were, a heavy weight upon my bosom, an unsatisfied craving for something, I knew not what, a longing which I could do nothing to satisfy, because I could not tell its object. I would be often lost in thought,--but my mind did not seem to fix itself to any certain aim, and after hours of apparently the deepest meditation,
I should have been very much at a loss, to tell about what I had been thinking.
But sometimes my reflections would take a more definite shape. I would begin to consider what I was and what I had to anticipate. The son of a freeman, yet born a slave! Endowed by nature with abilities, which I should never be permitted to exercise; possessed of knowledge, which already, I found it expedient to conceal! The slave of my own father, the servant of my own brother, a bounded, limited, confined, and captive creature, who did not dare to go out of sight of his master's house without a written permission to do so! Destined to be the sport, of I knew not whose caprices, forbidden in anything to act for myself, or to consult my own happiness,--compelled to labor all my life at another's bidding, and liable every hour and instant, to oppressions the most outrageous, and degradations the most humiliating!
These reflections soon grew so bitter that I struggled hard to suppress them. But this was not always in my power. Again and again, in spite of all my efforts, these hateful ideas would start up and sting me into anguish.
My young master still continued kind as ever. I was changing to a man, but he still remained a boy. His protracted ill health, which had checked his growth, appeared also to retard his mental maturity. He seemed every day to fall more and more under my influence; and every day my attachment to him grew stronger. He was in fact, my sole hope. While I remained with him, I might reasonably expect to escape
the utter bitterness of slavery. In his eyes, I was not a mere servant. He regarded me rather as a loved and trusted companion. Indeed, though he had the name and prerogatives of master, I was much less under his control than he was under mine. There was between us, something of a brotherly affection--at least of that kind, which may exist between foster brothers,--though neither of us ever alluded to our actual relationship, and he probably, was ignorant of it.
I loved master James as well as ever; but towards colonel Moore, my feelings underwent a rapid and a radical change. While I considered myself merely as his slave, his apparent kindness had gained my affection; and there was nothing I would not have done or suffered, for so good natured and condescending a master. But after I had learned to look upon myself as his son, I soon began to feel that I might justly claim as a right, what I had till now, regarded as a pure gratuity. I began to feel that I might claim much more,--even an equal birth-right with my brethren. Occasionally, I had read the bible;--and I now turned with new interest to the story of Hagar, the bond-woman, and Ishmael her son;--and as I read how an angel came to their relief, when the hard-hearted Abraham had driven them into the wilderness, there seemed to spring up within me, a wild, strange, uncertain hope, that in some accident, I knew not what, I too might find succor and relief. At the same time, with this irrational hope, a new spirit of bitterness was poured into my soul. Unconsciously I clenched my hands, and set my teeth, and fancied myself, as it were,
another Ishmael, wandering in the wilderness, every man's hand against me, and my hand against every man. The injustice of my unnatural parent, stung me deeper and deeper,--and all my love for him was turned into hate. The atrocity of those laws which made me a slave--a slave in the house of my own father,--seemed to glare before my prophetic eyes in letters of blood. Young as I was, and as yet untouched, I trembled for the future, and cursed the country and the hour that gave me birth!
I endeavored, as much as possible, to conceal these new feelings with which I was tormented; and as deceit is one of those defences against tyranny, of which a slave early learns to avail himself, I was not unsuccessful. My young master would sometimes find me in tears; and sometimes when I would be lost in thought, he would complain of my inattention. But I put him off with plausible excuses; and though he suspected there was something which I did not tell him, and would frequently say to me, "Come Archy, boy, let me know what it is that troubles you,"--I would make light of the matter and laugh off his suspicions.
I was now about to lose this kind master, in whose tenderness and affection I found the sole palliative that could make slavery tolerable. His health which had always been bad, grew rapidly worse, and confined him first to his chamber and then to his bed. I attended him during his whole illness with a mother's tenderness and assiduity. Never was master more faithfully served;--but it was the friend, not the slave, who rendered these attentions. He was not insensible to my
services; he did not seem to like that any one but I should be about him, and it was only from my hand that he would take his physic or his food. But it was not in the power of physician or of nurse to save him. He wasted daily, and grew weaker every hour. The fatal crisis soon came. His weeping friends were collected about his bed,--but the tears they shed were not as bitter as mine. Almost with his last breath he recommended me to the good graces of his father,--but the man who had closed his heart to the promptings of paternal tenderness, was not likely to give much weight to the requests of a dying son. He bade his friends farewell,--he pressed my hand in his;--and, with a gentle sigh, he expired in my arms.
Would to God, I had died with him!
THE family of colonel Moore knew well how truly I had loved, and how faithfully I had served my young master. They respected the profound depth of my grief, and for a week or two, I was suffered to grieve on unmolested. My feelings were no longer of that acute and piercing kind which I have described in the
preceding chapter. The temperament of the mind is forever changing. That state of preternatural sensibility, of which I have attempted to give an idea, had disappeared when my attention became wholly occupied in the care of my dying master, and was now succeeded by a dull and stupid sorrow. Apparently I now had increased cause for agitation and alarm. That which I then dreaded, had now happened. My young master, on whom all my hopes were suspended, lived no longer, and I knew not what was to become of me. But the fit of fear and anxious anticipation was over; and I now waited my fate with a sort of stupid and careless indifference.
Though not called upon to do it, I continued as usual to wait upon my master's table. For several days, I took my place instinctively near where master James' chair ought to have stood; till the sight of the vacant place drove me in tears to the opposite corner. In the mean time, nobody called upon me to do anything, or seemed to notice that I was present. Even master William made an effort to repress his habitual insolence.
But this could not last long. Indeed it was a stretch of indulgence, which no one but a favorite servant could have expected;--since slaves, in general, are thought to have no business to be sorry--if it makes them unable to work.
One morning after breakfast, master William having discussed his toast and coffee, began by telling his father, that in his opinion, the slaves at Spring-Meadow, were a great deal too indulgently treated. He
was by this time, a smart, dashing, elegant young man, having returned, upwards of a year before, from college, and quite lately, from Charleston, in South Carolina, whither he had been to spend a winter, and as his father expressed it, to wear off the rusticity of the school-room. It was there perhaps, that he had learned the new precepts of humanity, which he was now preaching. He declared that any tenderness towards a slave only tended to make him insolent and discontented, and was quite thrown away on the ungrateful rascals. Then, looking about, as if in search of some victim on whom to practice a doctrine so consonant to his own disposition, his eye lighted upon me. "There's that boy Archy--I'll bet a hundred to one I could make him one of the best servants in the world. He's a bright fellow enough naturally, and nothing has spoil'd him, but poor James' over indulgence. Come father, just be good enough to give him to me, I want another servant most devlishly."
Without stopping for an answer, he hastened out of the room, having, as he said, two jockey races to attend that morning; and what was more, a cock-fight into the bargain. There was nobody else at the table. Colonel Moore turned towards me. He began with commending very highly, my faithful attachment to his poor son James. As he mentioned his son's name the tears stood in his eyes, and for a moment or two he was unable to speak. He recovered himself presently, and added--"I hope now you will transfer all this same zeal and affection to master William."
These words roused me in a moment. I knew master
William to be a tyrant, from whose soul custom had long since obliterated what little humanity nature had ever bestowed upon him;--and to judge from what he had let drop that morning--he had of late improved upon his natural inclination for cruelty, and had proceeded to the final length of reducing tyranny into a system and a science. I knew too that from childhood, he had entertained a particular spite against me; and I dreaded, lest he was already devising the means of inflicting upon me, with interest, all those insults and injuries from which the protection of his younger brother had hitherto shielded me.
It was with horror and alarm, that I found myself in danger of falling into such hands. I threw myself at my master's feet, and besought him, with all the eloquence of grief and fear, not to give me to master William. The terms in which I spoke of his son--though I chose the mildest I could think of--and the horror I expressed at the thought of becoming his servant--though I endeavored as much as possible, to save the father's feelings--seemed to make him angry. The smile left his lip, and his brow grew dark and contracted. I began to despair of escaping the wretched fate that awaited me; and my despair drove me to a very rash and foolish action. For emboldened by the danger of becoming the slave of master William, I dared to hint--though distantly and obscurely--at the information which my mother had communicated to me on her death-bed; and I even ventured something like a half appeal to colonel Moore's paternal tenderness. At first, he did not seem to understand me; but the
moment he began to comprehend my meaning, his face grew black as a thunder cloud, then became pale, and immediately was suffused with a burning blush, in which shame and rage were equally commingled. I now gave myself up for lost, and expected an instant out-break of fury;--but after a momentary struggle, colonel Moore seemed to regain his composure,--even the habitual smile returned to his lips,--and without taking any notice of my last appeal, or giving any further signs of having understood it, he merely remarked,--that he did not know how to refuse master William's request, nor could he comprehend the meaning of my reluctance. It was mighty foolish; still he was willing to indulge me so far, as to allow me the choice of entering into master William's service, or going into the field. This alternative was proposed with an air and a manner, which was intended to stop my mouth, and allow me nothing but the bare liberty of choosing. It was indeed, no very agreeable alternative. But any thing,--even the hard labor, scanty fare, and harsh treatment, to which I knew the field hands were subjected,--seemed preferable to becoming the sport of master William's tyranny. I was piqued too, at the cavalier manner in which my request had been treated, and I did not hesitate. I thanked colonel Moore for his great goodness, and at once, made choice of the field. He seemed rather surprised at my selection,--and with a smile, which bordered close upon a sneer, bade me report myself to Mr Stubbs.
An overseer, is regarded in all those parts of slaveholding America, with which I ever became acquainted,
very much in the same light in which people, in countries uncursed with slavery, look upon a jailor or a hangman; and as these latter employments, however useful and necessary, have never succeeded in becoming respectable, so the business of an overseer is likely from its nature, always to continue contemptible and degraded. The young lady who dines heartily on lamb, has a sentimental horror of the butcher who killed it; and the slave owner who lives luxuriously on the forced labor of his slaves, has a like sentimental abhorrence of the man who holds the whip and compels the labor. He is like a receiver of stolen goods, who cannot bear the thoughts of stealing himself, but who has no objection to live upon the proceeds of stolen property. A thief is but a thief; and an overseer but an overseer. The slave owner prides himself in the honorable appellation of a planter; and the receiver of stolen goods assumes the character of a respectable shop-keeper. By such contemptible juggle do men deceive not themselves only, but oft-times the world also.
Mr Thomas Stubbs was overseer at Spring-Meadow,--a personage with whose name, appearance and character I was perfectly familiar, though hitherto I had been so fortunate as to have had very little communication with him.
He was a thick set, clumsy man, about fifty, with a little bullet head, covered with short tangled hair, and stuck close upon his shoulders. His face was curiously mottled and spotted,--for what with sunshine, what with whiskey, and what with ague and fever, brown, red and sallow seemed to have put in a joint claim to
the possession of it, without having yet been able to arrive at an amicable partition. He was generally to be seen on horseback, leaning forward over his saddle, and brandishing a long thick whip of twisted cow-hide, which from time to time, he applied over the head and shoulders of some unfortunate slave. If you were within hearing, his conversation, or rather his commands and observations, would have appeared a string of oaths, from the midst of which it was not very easy to disentangle his meaning. "You damned black rascal" was pretty sure to begin every sentence, and "by God," to end it. It was however, only when Mr. Stubbs had sole possession of the field, that he sprinkled his orders with this strong spice of brutality;--for when colonel Moore or any other gentleman happened to be riding by, he could assume quite an air of gentleness and moderation, and what appears very surprising, was actually able to express himself, with not more than one oath to every other sentence.
Mr Stubbs, in his management of the plantation did not confine himself to hard words. He used his whip as freely as his tongue. Colonel Moore had received an European education; and like every man educated any where--except on a slave holding estate--he had a great dislike to all unnecessary cruelty. He was usually made very angry, about once a week, by some brutal act on the part of his overseer. But having satisfied his outraged feelings by declaring himself very much offended, and Mr Stubbs' proceedings to be quite intolerable, he ended, with suffering things to go on just as before. The truth was, Mr Stubbs understood
making crops; and such a man was too valuable to be given up, for the mere sentimental satisfaction of protecting the slaves from his tyranny.
It was a great change to me, after having been accustomed to the elegance and propriety of colonel Moore's house, and the gentle rule and light service of master James, to pass under the despotic control of a vulgar, ignorant and brutal blackguard. Besides, I had never been accustomed to regular and severe labor; and it was trying indeed to submit at once to the hard work of the field. However, I resolved to make the best of it. I was strong,--and use would soon make my tasks more tolerable. I knew well enough, that Mr Stubbs was totally destitute of all humane feelings, but I had no reason to suppose that he entertained towards me any of that malignity which I had so much dreaded in master William. From what I had known of him, I did not judge him to be a very bad tempered man; and I took it for granted that he cursed and whipped, not so much out of spite and ill feeling, but as a mere matter of business. He seemed to imagine,--like every other overseer,--that it was impossible to manage a plantation in any other way. The lash, I hoped, my diligence might enable me to escape; and Mr Stubbs' vulgar abuse, however provoking the other servants might esteem it, I thought I might easily despise.
Mr Stubbs listened to my account of myself very graciously,--all the time, rolling his tobacco from one cheek to the other, and squinting at me with one of his little twinkling grey eyes. Having cursed me to his satisfaction for "a damned fool," he bade me follow
him to the field. A large clumsy hoe, with a handle six feet long, was put into my hands, and I was kept hard at work all day.
At dark, I was suffered to quit the field, and the overseer pointed out to me a miserable little hovel, about ten feet square, and half as many high, with a leaky roof, and without either floor or window. This was to be my house,--or rather I was to share it with Billy, a young slave, about my own age.
To this wretched hut, I removed a chest, containing my clothes and a few other things, such as a slave is permitted to possess. By way of bed and bedding, I received a single blanket, about as big as a large pocket handkerchief; and a basket of corn and a pound or two of damaged bacon, were given me as my week's allowance of provisions. But as I was totally destitute of pot, kettle, knife, plate, or dish of any kind,--for these are conveniences which slaves must procure as they can,--I was in some danger of being obliged to make my supper on raw bacon. Billy saw my distress and took pity on me. He taught me how to beat my corn into hominy; and lent me his own little kettle to cook it in; so that about midnight I was able to break a fast of some sixteen or twenty hours. My chest being both broad and long, served tolerably well for bed, chair and table. I sold a part of my clothes, which were indeed much too fine for a field hand; and having bought myself a knife, a spoon and a kettle, I was able to put my house-keeping into tolerable order.
My accommodations were as good as a field hand had a right to expect; but they were not such as to
make me particularly happy; especially as I had been used to something better. My hands were blistered with the hoe, and coming in at night, completely exhausted by a sort of labor to which I was not accustomed, it was no very agreeable recreation, to be obliged to beat hominy, and to be up till after midnight preparing food for the next day, with the recollection too, that I was obliged to turn into the field with the first dawn of the morning. But this labor, severe as it was, had been in a manner, my own choice. In choosing it, I had escaped a worse tyranny and a more bitter servitude. I had avoided falling into the hands of master William.
As I shall not have occasion to mention this amiable youth again, I may as well finish his history here. Some six or eight months after the death of his younger brother, he became involved in a drunken quarrel, at a cock-fight. This quarrel ended in a duel, and master William fell dead at the first fire. His death was a great stroke to colonel Moore, who seemed for a long time, almost inconsolable. I did not lament him either for his own sake or his father's. I knew well, that in his death, I had escaped a cruel and vindictive master; and I felt a stern and bitter pleasure in seeing the bereavements of a man who had dared to trample upon the sacred ties of nature.
I had the same task with those who had been field hands all their lives; but I was too proud to flinch or complain. I exerted myself to the utmost, so that even Mr Stubbs had no fault to find, but on the contrary, pronounced me, more than once, a "right likely hand."
The cabin which I shared with Billy, had a very leaky roof; and as the weather was rainy, we found it, by no means comfortable. At length, we determined one day, to repair it; and to get time to do so, we exerted ourselves to finish our tasks at an early hour.
We had finished about four o'clock in the afternoon, and were returning together to the town,--for so we called the collection of cabins, in which the servants lived. Mr Stubbs met us, and having inquired if we had finished our tasks, he muttered something about our not having half enough to do, and ordered us to go and weed his garden. Billy submitted in silence,--for he had been too long under Mr Stubbs' jurisdiction, to think of questioning any of his commands. But I ventured to say, in as respectful a manner as I could, that as we had finished our regular tasks, it seemed very hard to give us this additional work. This put Mr Stubbs into a furious passion, and he swore twenty oaths, that I should both weed the garden and be whipped into the bargain. He sprang from his horse, and catching me by the collar of my
shirt--the only dress I had on,--he began to lay upon me with his whip. It was the first time, since I had ceased to be a child, that I had been exposed to this degrading torture. The pain was great enough, the idea of being whipped was sufficiently bitter,--but these were nothing in comparison with the sharp and burning sense of the insolent injustice that was done me. It was with the utmost difficulty, that I restrained myself from springing upon my brutal tormentor, and dashing him to the ground. But alas!--I was a slave. What in a freeman, is a most justifiable act of self-defence, becomes in a slave, unpardonable insolence and rebellion. I griped my hands, set my teeth firmly together, and bore the injury the best I could. I was then turned into the garden, and the moon happening to be full, I was kept weeding till near midnight.
The next day was Sunday. The Sunday's rest is the sole and single boon for which the American slave is indebted to the religion of his master. That master, tramples under foot every other precept of the Gospel without the slightest hesitation, but so long as he does not compel his slaves to work on Sundays, he thinks himself well entitled to the name of a christian. Perhaps he is so,--but if he is, a title so easily purchased, can be worth but little.
I resolved to avail myself of the Sunday's leisure to complain to my master of the barbarous treatment I had experienced the day before, at the hands of Mr Stubbs. Colonel Moore received me with a coolness and distance, quite unusual in him,--for generally he had
a smile for everybody,--especially for his slaves. However, he heard my story, and even condescended to declare that nothing gave him so much pain as to have his servants unnecessarily or unreasonably punished, and that he never would suffer such things to take place upon his plantation. He then bade me go about my business, having first assured me, that in the course of the day, he would see Mr Stubbs and inquire into the matter. This was the last I heard from colonel Moore. That same evening, Mr Stubbs sent for me to his house, and having tied me to a tree before his door, gave me forty lashes, and bade me complain at the house again, if I dared. "It's a damned hard case," he added, "if I can't lick a damned nigger's insolence out of him, without being obliged to give an account of it!"
Insolence!--the tyrant's ready plea!
If a poor slave has been whipped and miserably abused, and no other apology for it can be thought of, the rascal's "insolence" can be always pleaded,--and when pleaded, is enough in every slave-holder's estimation, to excuse and justify any brutality. The slightest word, or look, or action, that seems to indicate the slave's sense of any injustice that is done him, is denounced as insolence, and is punished with the most unrelenting severity.
This was the second time I had experienced the discipline of the lash;--but I did not find the second dose any more agreeable than the first. A blow is esteemed among freemen, the very highest of indignities; and low as their oppressors have sunk them, it is esteemed
an indignity even among slaves. Besides--as strange as some people may think it--a twisted cowhide, laid on by the hand of a strong man, does actually inflict a good deal of pain; especially if every blow brings blood.
I will leave it to the reader's own feelings to imagine, what no words can sufficiently describe,--the bitterness of that man's misery, who is every hour in danger of experiencing this indignity and this torture. When he has wrought up his fancy,--and let him thank God, from the very bottom of his heart, that in his case, it is only fancy,--to a lively idea of that misery, he will have taken the first step, towards gaining some notion, however faint and inadequate, of what it is, to be a slave!
I had now learned a lesson, which every slave early learns,--I found that I did not enjoy even the privilege of complaining; and that the only way to escape a reiteration of injustice was, to submit in silence to the first infliction. I did my best to digest this bitter lesson, and to acquire a portion of that hypocritical humility, so necessary to a person in my unhappy condition. Humility,--and whether it be real or pretended, they care but little,--is esteemed by masters, the great and crowning virtue of a slave; for they understand by it, a disposition to submit, without resistance or complaint, to every possible wrong and indignity,--to reply to the most opprobrious and unjust accusations with a soft voice and a smiling face; to take kicks, cuffs and blows as though they were a favor,--to kiss the foot that treads you in the dust!
This sort of humility was a virtue, with which, I must confess, nature had but scantily endowed me; nor did I find it so easy, as I might have desired, to strip myself of all the feelings of a man. It was like quitting the erect carriage which I had received at God's hand, and learning to crawl on the earth like a base reptile. This was indeed a hard lesson;--but an American overseer is a stern teacher, and if I learned but slowly, it was not the fault of Mr Stubbs.
IT would be irksome to myself, and tedious to the reader, to enter into a minute detail of all the miserable and monotonous incidents that made up my life at this time. The last chapter is a specimen, from which it may be judged, what sort of pleasures I enjoyed. They may be summed up in a few words;--and the single sentence which embraces this part of my history, might suffice to describe the whole lives of many thousand Americans. I was hard worked, ill fed, and well whipped. Mr Stubbs having once began with me, did not suffer me to get over the effects of one whipping before he inflicted another; and I have some
marks of his about me, which I expect to carry with me to the grave. All this time he assured me, that what he did was only for my own good, and he swore that he would never give over, till he had lashed my damned insolence out of me.
The present began to grow intolerable;--and what hope for the future has the slave? I wished for death; nor do I know to what desperate counsels I might have been driven, when one of those changes, to which a slave is ever exposed, but over which he can exercise no control, afforded me some temporary relief from my distresses.
Colonel Moore, by the sudden death of a relation, had recently become heir to a large property in South Carolina. But the person deceased had left a will, about which there was some dispute, which had every appearance of ending in a lawsuit. The matter required colonel Moore's personal attention; and he had lately set out for Charleston, and had taken with him several of the servants. One or two also had recently died; and Mrs Moore, soon after her husband's departure, sent for me to assist in filling up the gap which had been made in her domestic establishment.
I was truly happy at the change. I knew Mrs Moore to be a lady, who would never insult or trample on a servant, even though he were a slave--unless she happened to be very much out of humor,--an unfortunate occurrence, which in her case, did not happen oftener than once or twice a week--except indeed in the very warm weather, when the fit sometimes lasted for days together.
Besides, I hoped that the recollection of my fond and faithful attachment to her younger son, who had always been her favorite, would secure me some kindness at her hands. Nor was I mistaken. The contrast of my new situation, with the tyranny of Mr Stubbs, gave it almost the color of happiness. I regained my cheerfulness, and my buoyant spirits. I was too wise, or rather this new influx of cheerfulness made me too thoughtless, to trouble myself about the future; and satisfied with the temporary relief I experienced, I ceased to brood over the miseries of my condition.
About this time, Miss Caroline, colonel Moore's eldest daughter returned from Baltimore, where she had been living for several years with an aunt, who superintended her education. She was but an ordinary girl, without much grace or beauty. But her maid Cassy,* * Cassandra.
who had formerly been my play-fellow, and who returned a woman, though she had left us a child, was truly captivating.
I learned from one of my fellow servants, that she was the daughter of colonel Moore, by a female slave, who for a year or two had shared her master's favor jointly with my mother, but who had died many years since, leaving Cassy an infant. Her mother was said to have been a great beauty, and a very dangerous rival of mine.
So far as personal charms extended, Cassy was not unworthy of her parentage, either on the father's or
the mother's side. She was not tall, but the grace and elegance of her figure could not be surpassed; and the elastic vivacity of all her movements afforded a model, which her languid and lazy mistress,--who did nothing but loll all day, upon a sofa,--might have imitated with advantage. The clear soft olive of her complexion, brightening in either cheek to a rich red, was certainly more pleasing than the sickly, sallow hue, so common, or rather so universal, among the patrician beauties of lower Virginia;--and she could boast a pair of eyes, which for brilliancy and expression, I have never seen surpassed.
At this time, I prided myself upon my color, as much as any white Virginian of them all; and although I had found, by a bitter experience, that a slave, whether white or black, is still a slave; and that the master, heedless of his victim's complexion, handles the whip, with perfect impartiality;--still, like my poor mother, I thought myself of a superior caste, and would have felt it as a degradation, to put myself on a level with men a few shades darker than myself. This silly pride had kept me from forming intimacies with the other servants, either male or female; for I was decidedly whiter than any of them. It had too, justly enough, exposed me to an ill will, of which I had more than once felt the consequences, but which had not yet wholly cured me of my folly.
Cassy had perhaps more African blood than I; but this was a point--however weighty and important, I had at first esteemed it--which, as I became more acquainted with her, seemed continually of less consequence,
and soon disappeared entirely from my thoughts. We were much together; and her beauty, vivacity, and good humor, made, every day, a stronger impression upon me. I found myself in love before I had thought of it; and it was not long before I discovered that my affection was not unrequited.
Cassy was one of nature's children, and she had never learned those arts of coquetry,--often as skilfully practised by the maid as the mistress,--by which courtships are protracted. We loved; and before long, we talked of marriage. Cassy consulted her mistress; and the answer was favorable. Mrs Moore listened with equal readiness to me. Women are never happier, than when they have an opportunity to dabble a little, in match-making; nor does even the humble condition of the parties quite deprive the business of all its fascination.
It was determined that our marriage, should be a little festival among the servants. The coming Sunday was fixed on as the day; and a Methodist clergyman, who happened to have wandered into the neighborhood, readily undertook to perform the ceremony. This part of his office, I suppose, he would have performed for any body;--but he undertook it the more readily for us, because Cassy, while at Baltimore, had become a member of the Methodist Society.
I was well pleased with all this;--for it seemed to give to our union something of that solemnity, which properly belonged to it. In general, marriage among the American slaves, is treated as a matter of very little moment. It is a mere temporary union, contracted
without ceremony, unrecognized by the laws, little or not at all regarded by the masters, and of course, often but lightly esteemed by the parties. The recollection that the husband may be, any day, sold into Louisiana, and the wife into Georgia, holds out but a slight inducement to draw tight the bonds of connubial intercourse;--and the certainty that the fruits of their marriage--the children of their love--are to be born slaves, and reared to all the privations and calamities of hopeless servitude, is enough to strike a damp into the hearts of the fondest couple. Slaves yield to the impulses of nature, and propagate a race of slaves;--but save in a few rare instances, slavery is as fatal to domestic love as to all the other virtues. Some few choice spirits indeed, will still rise superior to their condition, and when cut off from every other support, will find within their own hearts, the means of resisting the deadly and demoralizing influences of servitude. In the same manner, the baleful poison of the plague or yellow fever--innocent indeed and powerless in comparison!--while it rages through an infected city, and sweeps its thousands and tens of thousands to the grave, finds, here and there, an iron constitution, which defies its total malignity, and sustains itself by the sole aid of nature's health-preserving power.
On the Friday before the Sunday which had been fixed upon for our marriage, colonel Moore returned to Spring-Meadow. His return was unexpected; and by me, at least, very much unwished for. To the other servants, who hastened to welcome him home, he spoke with his usual kindness and good nature;--but
though I had come forward with the rest of them, all the notice he took of me, was a single stare of dissatisfaction. He appeared to be surprised--and that too not agreeably--to see me again in the house.
The next day, I was discharged from my duties of house servant, and put again under the control of Mr Stubbs. This touched me to the quick;--but it was nothing to what I felt, the day following, when I went to the house to claim my bride. I was told that she was gone in the carriage with colonel Moore and his daughter, who had ridden out to call upon some of the neighbors;--and that I need not take the trouble of coming again to see her, for Miss Caroline did not choose that her maid should marry a field hand.
It is impossible for me to describe the paroxysm of grief and passion, which I now experienced. Those of the same ardent temperament with myself will easily conceive my feelings; and to persons of a cooler temper, no description can convey an adequate idea. My promised wife snatched from me,--and myself again exposed to the hateful tyranny of a brutal overseer!--and all so sudden too--and with such studied marks of insult and oppression!
I now felt afresh the ill effects of my foolish pride in keeping myself seperate and aloof from my fellow servants. Instead of sympathizing with my misfortune, many of them openly rejoiced at it; and as I had never made a confidant or associate among them, I had no friend whose advice to ask, or whose sympathy to seek. At length, I bethought myself of the Methodist minister, who was to come that evening to marry us,
and who had appeared to take a good deal of interest in the welfare of Cassy and myself. I was desirous not only of seeking such advice and consolation as he could afford me, but I wished to save the good man from a useless journey,--and possibly from insult at Spring-Meadow; for colonel Moore looked on all sorts of preachers, and the Methodists especially, with an eye of very little favor.
I knew that the clergyman in question, held a meeting, about five miles off; and I resolved, if I could get leave, to go and hear him. I applied to Mr. Stubbs for a pass,--that is, a written permission, without which no slave can go off the plantation to which he belongs, except at the risk of being stopped by the first man he meets, horsewhipped, and sent home again. But Mr Stubbs swore that he was tired of such gadding, and he told me that he had made up his mind to grant no more passes for the next fortnight.
To some sentimental persons, it may seem hard after the poor slave has labored six days for his master, and the blessed seventh at length gladdens him with its beams, that he cannot be allowed a little change of scene, but must still be confined to the hated fields, the daily witnesses of his toils and his sufferings. Yet many thrifty managers and good disciplinarians are, like Mr Stubbs, very much opposed to all gadding, and they pen up their slaves, when not at work, as they pen up their cattle, to keep them, as they say, out of mischief.
At another time, this new piece of petty tyranny, might have provoked me;--but now, I scarcely regarded
it;--for my whole heart was absorbed by a greater passion. I was slowly returning towards the servants' quarter, when a little girl, one of the house servants, came running up to me, almost out of breath. I knew her to be one of Cassy's favorites, and I caught her in my arms. As soon as she had recovered her breath, she told me she had been looking for me, all the morning, for she had a message for me from Cassy;--that Cassy had been obliged, much against her inclination, to go out that morning with her mistress, but that I must not be alarmed or down-hearted, for she loved me as well as ever.
I kissed the little messenger, and thanked her a thousand times for her news. I then hastened to my house. This was quite a comfortable little cottage, which Mrs Moore had ordered to be built for Cassy and myself, but of which, I expected every moment to be deprived. The news I had heard, excited new commotions in my bosom. I had no sooner sat down, than I found it impossible to keep quiet. My heart beat violently,--the fever in my blood grew high. I left the house and I walked about, within the limits of my jail yard,--for so I might justly esteem the plantation; I used the most violent exercise, and tried every means I could think of to subdue the powerful emotions of mixed hope and fear, with which I was agitated, and which I found more oppressive than even the certainty of misery.
As evening drew on, I watched for the return of the carriage; and at length, its distant rumbling caught my ear. I hastened towards the house, in the hope of
seeing Cassy, and perhaps, of speaking with her. The carriage stopped at the door, and I was fast approaching it; but at the instant, it occurred to me, that it would be better not to risk being seen by colonel Moore, who, I was now well satisfied, entertained a decided hostility towards me, and whom I believed to be the author of the cruel repulse I had that morning met with. This thought stopped me, and I drew back and returned home, without catching a glimpse, or exchanging a word.
I threw myself upon my bed;--but I turned contintinually from side to side, and found it impossible to compose myself to rest. Hour after hour dragged on; but I could not sleep. It was past midnight; when I heard a slight tap at the door, and a soft whisper, which thrilled through every nerve. I sprung up--I opened the door--I clasped her to my bosom. It was Cassy--it was my betrothed wife.
She told me, that since colonel Moore's return, every thing seemed changed at the House. Miss Caroline had told her, that colonel Moore had a very bad opinion of me, and was very much displeased to find, that during his absence I had been again employed as one of the house servants. She added, that when he was told of our intended marriage, he had declared that Cassy was too pretty a girl to be thrown away upon such a scoundrel, and that he would undertake to provide her with a much better husband. So her mistress had bidden her to think no more of me;--but at the same time, had told her not to cry, for she would never leave off teazing her father, till he had fulfilled
his promise; and if you get a husband, the young lady added, that you know is all that any of us want. So thought the mistress;--the maid, I have reason to suppose, was rather more refined in her notions of matrimony.
I was not quite certain how to interpret this conduct of colonel Moore's. I was strongly inclined to consider it, only as a new out-break of that spite and hostility, which I had been experiencing, ever since my useless and foolish appeal to his fatherly feelings. It occurred to me however, as possible, that his opposition to our marriage might spring from other motives. Whatever I might imagine, I kept my own counsel. One motive which occurred to me, I could not think of myself, with the slightest patience; and still less could I bear to shock and distress poor Cassy, by the mention of it. Another motive, which I thought might possibly have influenced colonel Moore, was less discreditable to him, and would have been flattering to the pride of both Cassy and myself. But this, I could not mention, without leading to disclosures, which I did not see fit to make.
Cassy knew herself to be colonel Moore's daughter; but early in our acquaintance, I had discovered that she had no idea, that I was his son. I have every reason to believe, that Mrs Moore was perfectly well informed as to both these particulars,--for they were of that sort, which seldom or never escape the eagerness of female curiosity, and more especially, the curiosity of a wife.
Whatever she might know, she discovered in it no
impediment to my marriage with Cassy. Nor did I;--for how could that same regard for the decencies of life--such is the soft phrase which justifies the most unnatural cruelty--that refused to acknowledge our paternity, or to recognize any relationship between us, pretend at the same time, and on the sole ground of relationship, to forbid our union?
But I knew that Cassy felt, rather than reasoned;--and though born and bred a slave, she possessed great delicacy of feeling. Besides, she was a Methodist, and though as cheerful and gay hearted a girl as I ever knew, she was very devout in all the observances of her religion. I feared to put our mutual happiness in jeopardy;--I was unwilling to harrass Cassy, with what I esteemed unnecessary scruples. I had never told her the story of my parentage, and every day I grew less inclined to tell it. Accordingly I made no other answer to what she had told me, except to say, that however little colonel Moore might like me, his dislike was not my fault.
A momentary pause followed;--I pressed Cassy's hand between mine, and in a faultering voice, I asked, what she intended to do:
"I am your wife;--I will never be any body's but yours," was the answer. I clasped the dear girl to my heart; we knelt together, and with upraised hands invoked the Deity to witness and confirm our union. It was the only sanction in our power; and if twenty priests had said a benediction over us, would that have made our vows more binding, or our marriage more
complete? I hope at least, it would have rendered it more fortunate.
IT was impossible for my wife to visit me except by stealth. She slept every night upon the carpet in her mistress' room,--for a floor is esteemed in America, a good enough bed for a slave, even for a favorite and a woman. She was liable to be called upon in the night, at the caprice of a mistress, who was in fact, a mere spoiled child;--and she could only visit me at the risk of a discovery, which might have been attended with very unpleasant consequences;--for if these clandestine visits had been detected, I fear that not all Cassy's charms--whatever poets have fabled of the power of beauty--could have saved her from the lash.
Yet short and uncertain as these visits were, they sufficed to create and to sustain a new and singular state of feeling. My wife was seldom with me, but her image was ever before my eyes, and appeared to make me regardless of all beside. Things seemed to pass as in a happy dream. The labor of the field was nothing;--the lash of the overseer was scarcely felt.
My mind became so occupied, and as it were, filled up, with the pleasure which I found in our mutual affection, and the anticipated delights of each successive interview, that it seemed to have no room for disagreeable emotions. Strong as was my passion, there was nothing in it, uneasy or unsatisfied. When I clasped the dear girl to my bosom, I seemed to have reached the very height of human fruition. I was happy;--and greater happiness I could not imagine, and did not desire.
The intoxication of passion is the same in the slave and in the master;--it is exquisite; and while it lasts, all-sufficient in itself. I found it so. With almost everything to make me miserable, still I was happy,--for the excess of my passion rendered me insensible to any thing save its own indulgence.
But such extacies are unsuited to the human constitution. They are soon over, and perhaps are ever purchased at too dear a price;--for they are but too apt to be succeeded by all the anguish of disappointed hope, and all the bitterness of deep despair. Still I look back with pleasure to that time. It is one of the bright spots of my existence which eager memory discovers in her retrospections, scattered and scarcely visible,--tiny islets of delight, surrounded on all sides, by a gloomy and tempestuous ocean.
We had been married about a fortnight. It was near midnight, and I was sitting before my door, waiting for my wife to come. The moon was full and bright; the sky was cloudless. I was still at the height and flood of my intoxication; and as I
watched the planet, and admired her brightness, I gave thanks to heaven that the base tendencies of a servile condition, had not yet totally extinguished within me, all the higher and nobler emotions of man's nature.
Presently I observed a figure approaching. I should have known her at any distance, and I sprang forward and caught my wife in my arms. But as I pressed her to my heart, I felt her bosom to be strangely agitated; and when I brought her face to mine, my cheek was moistened with her tears.
Alarmed at these unusual indications, I hurried her into the house, and hastily inquired the cause of her agitation. My inquiries appeared to increase it. She sunk her head upon my breast; burst into sobs; and seemed wholly incapable of speaking. I knew not what to think, or what to do. I exerted myself to compose her; I kissed off the tears that trickled fast down her cheeks; I pressed my hand against her beating heart, as if, in that way, I could have checked its palpitations. At length she grew more calm;--but it was by slow degrees, and in broken sentences, that I learned the origin of her terror.
It seemed that colonel Moore, ever since his return, had distinguished her by particular kindness. He had made her several little presents; had sought frequent occasions to talk with her,--and was ever, half jocosely, complimenting her beauty. He had even dropped certain hints, which Cassy could not help understand-standing, but of which, she thought it best to take no notice. He was not to be repelled in that way; but proceeded to words and actions, of which, it was not
possible for her to affect to misunderstand the meaning. Her native modesty--her love for me--her religious feelings, were all alarmed; and the poor girl began to tremble at the fate that seemed to await her. But as yet, she kept her terrors to herself. She was reluctant to torture me with the story of insults, which however they might pierce my heart, I had no power to repel.
That day, Mrs Moore and her daughter had gone to visit one of the neighbors, and Cassy was left at home. She was employed on some needle-work in her mistress' room, when colonel Moore entered. She rose up hastily and would have gone away; but he bade her stop and listen to what he had to say to her. He did not seem to notice her agitation, and appeared perfectly self-possessed himself. He told her that he had promised her mistress to provide her with a husband, in place of that scoundrel Archy; that he had looked about, but did not see any body that was worthy of her; and, on the whole--he had concluded to take her himself.
This he said with a tone of tenderness, which no doubt, he meant to be irresistible. To many women, in Cassy's situation, it would have been so. They would have esteemed themselves highly honored by their master's notice, and would have felt not a little flattered, by the delicate terms under which he concealed the real character of his proposals. But she--poor child--heard him with shame and horror; and was ready,--she told me,--to sink into the earth, with terror and dismay. In relating it, she blushed--she
hesitated--she shuddered--her breathing became short and quick--she clung to me, as if some visible image of horror were present before her;--and, bringing her lips close to my ear, she exclaimed in a trembling and scarcely audible whisper--"Oh Archy!--and he my father!"
Colonel Moore, she believed, could not have misunderstood the sort of feelings with which she listened to his proposals. But if so, he disregarded them;--for he proceeded to enumerate all the advantages she would derive from this connexion, and strove to tempt her by promises of idleness and finery. She stood with her eyes upon the floor,--and only answered him by sobs and tears, which she strove in vain to suppress. Upon this colonel Moore, in a tone of pique and displeasure, told her not to be a fool;--and catching one of her hands in his, he threw his arm about her waist, and bade her not provoke him by a useless resistance. She uttered a scream of surprise and terror, and sunk at his feet. At that moment, the sound of the carriage wheels fell--she said--like heavenly music on her ear. Her master heard it too;--for he let go his grasp, and muttering something about another time, hastily left the room. She remained almost senseless, on the floor, till the sound of her mistress' footsteps in the passage, recalled her to herself. The rest of the afternoon and evening, she had passed, she hardly knew how. Her head, she told me, was dizzy,--a cloud swam before her eyes, and she had hardly been sensible of anything but a painful feeling of langour and oppression. She had not dared to leave her mistress'
room; and had waited with impatience for the hour that would permit her to throw herself into the arms of her husband, her natural protector.
Her natural protector!--alas, of what avail is the natural right of a husband to protect his wife against the assaults of a villain, who is at once her owner and his!
Such was Cassy's story; and strange as it may seem, I heard it almost unmoved. Although I held the panting, trembling, weeping narrator in my arms, I listened to her story with far less emotion, than I have since experienced in recounting it. In truth, I was prepared for it; I had anticipated it; I expected it.
I knew well that Cassy's charms were too great not to excite a voluptuary in whom a long indulgence had extinguished all the better feelings, and rendered incapable of controlling himself;--and to whom, neither the fear of punishment, nor the dread of public scorn and indignation, supplied the place of conscience. What else could be reasonably expected of a man, who knew well--let him proceed to what extremities he might--not only that the law would justify him, but that any body who might think of calling him to account, before the bar of public opinion, would be denounced by the public voice, as an impertinent intermeddler in the affairs of other people?
Little of paternal tenderness as colonel Moore ever showed me--at least, from the moment that he found I knew him to be my father,--I have too much of filial respect to entertain the wish of misrepresenting him. Though he was of a warm and voluptuous temperament,
he was naturally a good natured man; and his honor was, as I have said, unquestioned. But honor is of a very diverse character. There is honor among gentlemen, and honor among thieves;--and though both these codes contain several excellent enactments, neither can fairly claim to be considered a perfect system of morality. Of that code in which he had been educated, colonel Moore was a most strict observer. To have made an attempt on the chastity of a neighbor's wife or daughter, he would have esteemed--and so the honorary code of Virginia esteems it,--an offence of the blackest die; an offence, he well knew, to be expiated only by the offender's life. But, beyond this, he did not dream of prohibition or restraint. Hardened and emboldened, by certain impunity, provided the sufferer were a slave,--he regarded the most atrocious outrage that could be perpetrated upon the person and feelings of a woman, rather as a matter of jest--a thing to be laughed at over the fourth bottle--than a subject of serious and sober reprehension.
Of all this, I was well aware. I had from the first foreseen, that Cassy would be devoted by her master to the same purposes which had been fulfilled by my mother and her own. It was from these intentions, as I had all along believed, that his opposition to our marriage had originated. In imagining that it might spring from another cause, I had done him an honor, to which--as was now too evident--he had not the slightest title. What I had just now heard, I had daily expected to hear. I had expected it;--yet such had been my intoxication, that even anticipations terrible as this,
had not been able to alarm or to distress me;--and now that anticipation was changed into reality, still I remained unmoved. The ecstacy of passion still supported me; and as I pressed my wretched, trembling wife to my bosom, I still rose superior to the calamity that assailed me;--even yet, I was happy.
This seems incredible?--
Love then as I did;--or if that suits your temperament better, hate with the same intensity with which I loved. Be absorbed in any passion, and while the fit continues, you will find yourself endowed with a surprising and almost superhuman energy.
My mind was already made up. The unhappy slave has but one way of escaping any threatening infliction;--a poor and wretched resource, to which he recurs always at the imminent risk of redoubling his miseries. That remedy is flight.
Our preparations were soon made. My wife returned to the house, and gathered up a little bundle of clothing. In the mean time, I employed myself in collecting such provisions as I could readiest lay my hands on. A couple of blankets, a hatchet, a little kettle, and a few other small articles, completed my equipments; and by the time my wife returned, I was ready for a start. We set out, with no other companion, but a faithful dog. I did not wish to take him, for fear that some how or other, he might lead to our detection; but I could not drive him back, and I was afraid to tie him, lest his howlings might give an alarm, and lead to an immediate pursuit.
Lower Virginia had already began to feel the effects
of that curse, which has since lighted so heavily upon her, and which, in truth, she has so well deserved. Already her fields were beginning to be deserted; already impenetrable thickets had commenced to cover plantations, which, had the soil been cultivated by freemen, might still have produced a rich and abundant harvest. There was a deserted plantation about ten miles from Spring-Meadow. I had formerly visited it several times, in company with my young master, James, who, when he was well enough to ride about, had a strange taste for wandering into out-of-the-way places. It was thither that, in the hurry of the moment, I resolved to go.
The by-road which had formerly led to it, as well as the fields on both sides, were grown over with small scrubby pines; so close and tangled as to render the thicket almost impenetrable. I contrived however, to keep on in the right direction. But the difficulties of the way were so great, that the morning had dawned before we reached the plantation buildings. They were still standing; but in a most dilapidated condition. The great House had been a structure of large size, and considerable pretentions. But the windows were gone, the doors had dropped from their hinges, and the roof was partly fallen in. The court yard was completely grown up with young trees. Wild vines were creeping over the house;--and all was silent, desolate and deserted. The stables, and what had been the servants' quarter, were mere heaps of ruins, overgrown with weeds and grass.
At some distance behind the house, there was a
rapid descent, which formed one side of a deep ravine; and near the bottom of this hollow, a fine bubbling spring, burst from under the hill. It was now half choked with leaves and sand, but its waters were pure and cool as ever. Near the spring, was a little low building of brick, which perhaps had been intended for a dairy, or some such purpose. The door was gone, and half the roof had tumbled in. The other half still kept its position, and the vacancy occasioned by the part that had fallen, served well enough to admit the light and air, and to supply the place of windows, which had formed no part of the original construction. This ruinous little building was shaded by several large and ancient trees; and was so completely hidden by a more recent growth, as to be invisible at the distance of a few paces. It was by mere accident that we stumbled upon it, as we were searching for the spring, of which I had drank upon my former visits, but the situation of which, I did not exactly recollect. It struck us at once, that this was the place for our temporary habitation; and we resolved forthwith to clear it of the rubbish it contained, and to turn it into a dwelling.
I knew that the place where we now were, was very seldom visited by any body. The deserted house had the reputation of being haunted; and this, as well as its seclusion from the road, and the almost impenetrable thickets by which it was surrounded, would serve to protect us against intruders. There were several plantations about it;--for it occupied the highest ground between two rivers, which flowed at no great distance apart, and of which the low grounds were still in cultivation. But there were no cultivated fields nearer than four or five miles; and no houses nearer than Spring-Meadow, which, I have said, was some ten or twelve miles distance. I judged that for the present, we might remain secure in this retreat; and it seemed our best policy to suffer the search for us to be pretty well over, before we attempted to continue our flight.
In the mean time, we exerted ourselves to make things as comfortable as possible. It was the height of summer; and we anticipated but little inconvenience from the openness of our habitation. A heap of pine straw, in one corner of our ruinous hovel, formed our bed; and sweeter slumbers, not down itself could have ensured. Out of such materials as the wainscoting of the deserted house supplied, I made two rude stools, and something that served for a table. The spring furnished us with water;--our principal concern was to provide ourselves with food. The woods and thickets
produced some wild fruits; and the peach-orchard near the house, though choked and shaded by a more recent growth, still continued to bear. I was an adept in the art of snaring rabbits, and such other small game as the woods supplied. The spring which furnished us with water, was one of the heads of a little brook which discharged, at a short distance, into a larger stream. In that stream there were fish. But our chief resource was in the neighboring corn-fields, which already furnished roasting ears, and from which I did not scruple to draw a plentiful supply.
On the whole,--though we were both quite unaccustomed to so wild a livelihood,--we passed our time very agreeably. Those who are always idle can never know the true luxury of idleness--the real pleasure, with which he who has been pushed to work against his will, relaxes his strained muscles, and delivers himself up to the delight of doing nothing. I used to lie for hours, in a dreamy sort of indolence, outstretched upon the shady slope, enjoying the sweet consciousness of being my own master, and luxuriating in the idea that I need come or go at no one's bidding, but might work or be idle as suited my own good will. No wonder that emancipated slaves are inclined to indolence. It is to them a new pleasure. Labor, in their minds, is indissolubly associated with servitude and the whip; and not to work, they have ever been taught to look upon as the badge and peculiar distinction of freedom.
The present was passing pleasantly enough; but it was necessary to be thinking about the future. We
had always regarded our present place of refuge as temporary only; and it was now time to think of leaving it. I should have thought it delightful indeed, to pass a whole life of solitude and seclusion with Cassy; where, if we had lacked the pleasures of society, we might have escaped its ten-fold greater ills. But this was not possible. The American climate was never meant for hermits. Our present station would answer well enough for a summer retreat; but the winter would render it untenable;--and before long, winter would be approaching. Our hope was to escape into the free states,--for I knew that north of Virginia there was a country where there were no slaves. If we could once get away from the neighborhood of Spring-Meadow, where I was well known, we should enjoy one great advantage during the rest of our flight. Our complexions would not betray our servile condition; and we should find no great difficulty, we thought, in passing ourselves as white citizens of Virginia. Colonel Moore had, no doubt, filled the country round, with advertisements, in which our persons were accurately described, and every peculiarity of each of us carefully noted. It was therefore necessary to use great caution; and I considered it essential to our escape that Cassy should adopt some disguise. What this should be, or where we should get it was now the question.
We finally determined to assume the character of white people travelling to the north to seek our fortunes; and we arranged that Cassy should adopt a man's dress, and accompany me in the character of a younger
brother. The night, on which we had left Spring-Meadow, I had brought away my best suit,--one of the last gifts of my poor master James, and such as would well enough enable me to play the part of a travelling Virginian. But I had neither hat nor shoes; nor any clothes whatever, in which to dress up Cassy.
Luckily I had a small sum, the accumulated savings of master James' liberality, which I had always kept in reserve, in the hope and expectation that I should sometime have a use for it. This money, I had been careful to take with me; and it was now our sole reliance not only for the expenses of the road, but for procuring the means, without which we could not start at all.
But thought we had the money, how could we make any use of it, without running a very serious risk of detection?
There lived, about five or six miles from Spring-Meadow, and near the same distance from us, one Mr James Gordon. He kept a little store; and his principal customers were the slaves of the neighboring plantations. Mr James Gordon, or Jemmy Gordon, as he was familiarly called, was one of those poor white men, of whom the number in lower Virginia, is or was, very considerable; and who are spoken of, even by the very slaves, with a sort of contempt. He had neither lands nor servants; for his father before him, had been a poor white man. He had been educated to no trade; for where every planter has his own mechanics on his own plantation, a white tradesman can expect no encouragement. The only resource of a man in Jemmy
Gordon's situation, is to find employment as an overseer for some of his richer neighbors. But in Virginia, there are more persons who desire to be overseers than there are plantations to oversee. Besides, Mr Gordon was one of those careless, easy, good natured, indolent sort of men, who are generally pronounced good-for-nothing. He never could bring himself to that ever watchful scrutiny, and assiduous oversight, which is necessary among slaves, whose maxim it is to work as little as possible, and to steal all they can. He was apt enough to get into a passion, and cut and slash, right and left, without discrimination; but he was incapable of that regular severity, and systematic cruelty, by which other overseers gained the reputation of excellent disciplinarians. Moreover, on a certain plantation, of which he had been the manager, some large vacancies had appeared in the corn-crib, which were never very clearly accounted for. How far this was occasioned by negligence, or how far by dishonesty, was never, so far as I know, satisfactorily determined. All I can say is, that Mr Gordon was dismissed from his employment, and found it so difficult to get a new situation, that he gave up the search in despair, and resolved to turn trader. He had nothing to begin upon; and of course, traded in a very small way. He dealt principally in whiskey,--but in addition, kept shoes, and such articles of clothing as slaves are in the habit of purchasing to eke out the miserable and insufficient supply, which they receive from their masters. He took money in payment;--but
likewise corn and other produce, without any strict inquiry how his customers came into possession of it.
It is this class of men against whom the legislators of Virginia have exercised all their ingenuity in the construction of penal statutes; and against whom, they have exerted all the severity which they have dared to use towards men, who might still claim the title and demand the rights of "free white citizens." But these penal enactments, have failed, in a great measure, of their object. Though the trade with slaves is dangerous and disgraceful, and the traders, in consequence, are desperate and reckless, their number is still so great as to furnish the planters with an inexhaustible topic of declamation and complaint,--and to supply the slaves with numerous little comforts and luxuries which they might in vain have expected from the indulgence or humanity of their masters.
These traders are, no doubt, the receivers of plunder; and no small proportion of what they sell is paid for in that way. It is in vain, that tyranny fences itself about with the terrors of the law. It is in vain, that the slave-holder flatters himself with the hope of appropriating to his own sole use, the entire fruits of the forced labors of his fellow men. The slave cannot resist the compulsion, with which the law has armed the hand of his master. The lash is an ensign of authority and of torture, to which the stoutest heart, and the most stubborn will, is soon compelled to yield. But fraud is the natural counterpart to tyranny; and cunning is ever the defence of the weak against the oppressions of the strong. Can the unhappy slave, who has been compelled
to plant in the day time, for his master's benefit be blamed, if he strives in the night, to gather some gleaning of the crop, for his own use?
Blame him you who can! Join, if you will, in the clamor of the master against the cursed knavery of his slaves! This same master, who thinks it no wrong to rob these slaves of their labor,--their sole possession, their only earthly property! He to talk about theft!--he--the slave-holder--who has carried the art of pillage to a perfection of which robbers and pirates never dreamed! They are content to snatch such casual spoils as chance may offer; but the slave-holder--whip in hand--extorts from his victims, a large, a regular, an annual plunder! Nay more; he sells for money, he has inherited from his father, and he hopes to transmit to his children, the privilege of continuing this systematic pillage!
I had once saved Mr Gordon's life, and for this piece of service he had always expressed the greatest gratitude. This had happened several years since. He was fishing on the river, not far from Spring-Meadow, when a sudden squall upset his boat. It was no great distance from the shore,--but Mr Gordon was no swimmer, and was in the greatest danger. Master James and myself happened to be walking along the beach. We saw a man struggling in the water, and I plunged in after him, and caught him as he was sinking the third time. This service, Mr Gordon was in the habit of acknowledging by occasional little presents;--and I flattered myself with the hope that he would not refuse his aid in my present circumstances.
My plan was, to get from Mr Gordon, a hat and shoes for myself, a man's dress for Cassy, and such information as he could give us about the route we ought to follow. A great many difficulties presented themselves to my mind in the prosecution of the journey;--I resolved however not to afflict myself with borrowed trouble, but to leave the future to take care of itself.
The first thing was, to see Mr Gordon, and find out how far he was disposed to assist me. His house and store--both under the same roof--were in a lonely part of the country, near the crossing of two roads, and out of sight of any other buildings. I did not think it safe to trust myself upon the high-way before midnight; and it was considerably past that hour before I approached Mr Gordon's house. When I came within sight of it, I hesitated, and more than once, came to a halt. I did not like to trust my liberty, and all my hopes of happiness, to the unsure guardianship of any man's gratitude, and least of all, such a man as Mr Gordon. The risk seemed too great;--and my heart sunk within me, when I called to mind how frail was the prop on which depended, if not my life, every thing that made life desirable.
I was on the point of turning back;--but I recollected that this was my only resource. Mr Gordon must help me to escape, or my chance was worth nothing. This thought pushed me on. I plucked up my courage and approached the door. Three or four dogs which kept watch about the house, immediately opened in full chorus; but though they barked loud enough, they gave no signs of any intention to attack
me. I knocked again;--and pretty soon, Mr Gordon thrust his head from the window, bade his dogs be quiet, and inquired who I was, and what I wanted. I begged him to open the door and let me in, for I had business with him. Expecting perhaps, to drive a profitable trade with some midnight customer, he hastened to do as I had requested. He opened the door;--the moon-light, as I entered, fell upon my face, and he recognized me at once.
"My God! Archy, is it you"--and he spoke it with an air of the greatest surprise--"where, in the devil's name, did you spring from?--I hoped you were clear out of the neighborhood a month ago,"--and with these words he drew me into the house and shut the door.
I told him, that I had a place of concealment near by, and that I had come to get a little of his assistance in making my escape.
"Any thing in reason, Archy; but if I were caught helping off a run-away, it would ruin me forever. There's colonel Moore, your master, and major Pringle, and captain Knight, and a half dozen more, were over here, it's only yesterday, and they swore if I did not leave off trading with the hands, they'd pull my house down about my ears, and ride me on a rail out of the county;--and now if I were caught helping you, by God, Archy, 't would do my business for me with a witness. I'm not quite such a fool as all that."
I used tears, and flatteries, and entreaties. I reminded Mr Gordon how often he had wished for an opportunity to serve me; I told him that all I wanted
was a few articles of dress, and some directions about the road I ought to follow.
"True, Archy, by God;--You saved my life, boy;--I can't deny it;--and one good turn deserves another. But this business of yours is a damned bad business, at the best. What, the devil, must you and that wench be running away for? I never knew any mischief in my life, that a woman was'nt at the bottom of it. It's that damned tattling widow Hinkley, that brought colonel Moore and the rest of 'em over here yesterday;--damn the envious old jade, she wants to drive me out of the neighborhood, and get all the custom for herself."
I knew that Mr Gordon had no turn for sentiment, and that it would be casting pearls before swines' feet to waste any upon him. So I told him it was too late to talk about our reasons for running away,--run away we had--and the only thing now was, to avoid being taken.
"Aye, aye, boy, I understand you. It's a damned silly business, and you beg into be ashamed of it already. You had better make up your minds now to go in, take your whippings, and make the best of it. It's the loss of the wench that colonel Moore is most angry about; and I dare say, if you were to go in, Archy, and make a merit of telling where he could find her, you might get off mighty easy, and shift all the blame upon her shoulders."
I concealed the indignation which this base proposal excited. Such treachery to one another is too common among slaves, and is promoted and rewarded by
the masters. I could not expect Mr Gordon to rise very far above the level of current morals. So I passed by this proposal in silence; I only said, that I had made up my mind to undergo every thing rather than return to Spring-Meadow. If he was resolved not to assist me, I would be off, as soon as possible,--trusting to his honor, to say nothing about this visit. As a last resource, I hinted that I had the money to pay for all I wanted, and that I should not dispute about the price.
Whether it was this last hint, or some more generous motive, or the combined effect of both, I shall not undertake to determine; but certain it is, that Mr Gordon began to exhibit a more favorable disposition.
"As to money Archy, between friends like us, there is no need of speaking about that. And if you will have your own way, considering what has happened between us, 'twould be mighty unkind in me not to let you have the things you 're wanting. But you 'll never get off--mind now what I tell you--you 'll never get off. Why, boy, the colonel swares he 'll spend five thousand dollars but what he 'll catch you. He 's got printed handbills stuck up all through the country, with Five Hundred Dollars Reward, at the head of 'em. Come into the store here, and I 'll show you one. Five hundred dollars!--somebody is to pocket that money, I reckon."
I did not like the tone in which this was spoken. The emphasis with which Mr Gordon dwelt on the five hundred dollars, was rather alarming. The idea of
this reward was evidently taking strong hold of his imagination.
Mr Gordon's establishment consisted of but two rooms, of which, one was his parlor, bed-room and kitchen, and the other his store. All this time we had been in the bed-room, with no light but that of the moon. I now followed him into the store. He struck a light, kindled a piece of light-wood, and holding it up to a large handbill posted opposite the door, I read, to the best of my recollection, pretty much as follows;
Ran away from the subscriber, at Spring-Meadow, on Saturday evening last, two servants, Archy and Cassy, for whose apprehension the above reward will be paid.
They are both very light colored. Of the two, Cassy is a shade the darker. Archy is about twenty-one years of age, five feet eleven inches high, and a stout muscular frame. He has a firm erect walk, and is a very likely fellow. Smiles when spoken to. His hair is a light brown, and curls over his head; he has blue eyes and a high forehead. Said boy was raised in my family, and has always been kindly treated. It is not known what clothes he wore away.
Cassy is about eighteen, five feet three inches, or thereabouts, and a handsome face and figure. She has a head of long dark hair, and a very bright black eye. When she smiles there is a dimple in her left cheek. She has a good voice, and can sing several songs. No other marks particularly recollected, except a mole on her right breast. She has been raised
a lady's maid, and she took a variety of good clothing with her. Said slaves have gone off in company as is supposed.
Whoever will return them to me, or lodge them in any jail, so that I can get them, shall be paid the above reward; or one half for either separately.
N. B. I suspect they have taken the road to Baltimore, as Cassy formerly lived in that city. No doubt they will attempt to pass off for white people."
While I was reading this advertisement, Mr Gordon looked over my shoulder, and added his comments upon each sentence of it. Neither his remarks, nor the advertisement itself, were calculated to make me feel very comfortably. Perhaps Mr Gordon observed it; for he handed me a glass of whiskey, and bade me keep up my spirits. He swallowed one himself; and drank to my escape. This re-assured me a little,--for to tell the truth--I was a good deal startled at Mr Gordon's very evident hankering after the five hundred dollars. The whiskey he drank,--and he was not content with a single glass,--seemed to rekindle his gratitude. He swore he would run any risk to serve me, and told me to pick out such articles as I wanted.
I fitted myself with hat and shoes, and selected the same for Cassy. But it was necessary to have a man's dress for her. Mr Gordon did not deal in ready made clothing,--but he had some cloth, which I thought, would answer our purpose; and he undertook to get the suit made up for me. I gave him the measure by guess, and was to return in three days, by
which time he promised to have the clothes done. I had much rather have finished the business at once, and have started directly on our journey; but this was impossible. A disguise for Cassy was absolutely necessary; it would have been foolish to have attempted to escape without it. I pressed him to be sure and have the clothes finished, at the time appointed; for a reward of five hundred dollars, and the chance of making friends with colonel Moore, and rising in the world by his assistance, was a temptation to which I wished to keep Mr Gordon exposed, as short a time as possible. I now inquired what I had to pay for my various purchases. Mr Gordon took his slate and began to figure it up. He proceeded very diligently for a few minutes, and then suddenly came to a full stop. He looked at the goods I had selected, and then at the slate. For a moment, he hesitated,--then looking at me. "Archy," he said, "you saved my life,--you're welcome to them 'ere things, by God."
I knew well how to value this instance of generosity. Whatever money Mr Gordon got, was pretty sure to go in gambling and dissipation. Of course he was not only poor, but often distressed and tormented to get the means of indulging his propensities;--money was to him, what whiskey is to the lips of the drunkard. For such a person to be generous, is hard indeed; and I ceased at once, to distrust a man, who gave so substantial a proof of his inclination to assist me. I bade him good night, and set out on my return home, with a heart much lightened.
Mr Gordon put me some questions about the place
of my retreat, to which I thought it best to return rather an equivocal answer. Though greatly reassured, I still could see no good purpose to be answered by too great confidence; and at setting out from Mr Gordon's, I was careful to take a direction quite wide of the true one. Once or twice, I thought I was followed. The moon was now setting, and her light was scanty and uncertain. My path led through a scattered growth of stunted trees and bushes. A pursuer might easily have concealed himself,--but when I stopped to listen, all was silent; and I soon dismissed my fanciful fears.
Taking a considerable circuit, I struck into the direction of the deserted plantation, and arrived there about day-break. Cassy came out to meet me. It was the first time we had been so long separated since our escape from Spring-Meadow. I felt as overjoyed to see her, as if I had returned after a year's absence; and the eagerness with which she flew into my arms, and pressed me again and again to her bosom, satisfied me that I was not alone in the feeling. We spent the three days in making preparations, starting and answering difficulties, and sometimes in pleasing ourselves with anticipations of future happiness.
At the appointed time I set off for Mr Gordon's. I approached the house, not trembling and hesitating, as before, but with the confident step with which one hastens to the dwelling of a tried friend. I knocked. In a moment Mr Gordon opened the door; he caught me by the arm, and would have drawn me into the
house; but the door half opened enabled me to discover that there were others there, beside himself.
I snatched myself from his grasp, and starting back, I said in a whisper, "Good God! Mr Gordon, who have you in the house?"
He returned me no answer; but almost while I spoke, I heard Stubbs' grum voice growling "sieze him, sieze him;"--and that moment I knew I was betrayed. I ran;--but very soon I felt somebody grasping at my shoulder. Luckily I had a thick stout stick in my hand, and turning short round, with one blow, I struck my pursuer to the ground. It was the traitor Gordon. I was tempted to stop and renew the blow,--but that moment, a pistol ball whizzed by my head, and looking round, I saw Stubbs and another man, with pistols in their hands, close upon me. There was no time to loose. I sprang forward, and ran for my life. Two or three shots were fired, in quick succession, but without effect; and presently I reached a thicket, where I felt myself more safe. It was soon evident that I was much the best runner of the party; for before long, I was out of sight and hearing of my pursuers. I kept on for near half an hour; when, almost exhausted, I sunk upon the ground, and strove to recover my breath and to collect my thoughts. There was no moon; the starlight was obscured by a thin mist; and I did not well know where I was. Having determined, as well as I was able, the probable direction of the deserted plantation, I again set forward. In the race, I had sprained one of my ancles. This I had scarcely observed, at the moment; but it
now became painful, and I moved with difficulty. However, I kept forward the best I could, and flattered myself with the hope of getting back before daylight. I passed, for a considerable distance, through fields and thickets, with which I was not acquainted; but presently, I reached a brook which I knew. I quenched my thirst, and pushed forward with greater alacrity. I was still five or six miles from the deserted plantation, and was obliged to take a very circuitous route. I kept on as fast as I was able; but the sun was up, some hours, before I arrived at the spring. Cassy was anxiously watching for me. She had become exceedingly alarmed at my delay;--nor did the disorder of my dress, and my appearance of haste and fatigue tend to reassure her. I hastened towards the spring, and was stooping to drink, when Cassy suddenly gave a loud shriek. I looked up, and saw two or three men rushing down the side of the hollow. I sprang upon my feet; but immediately, I felt myself seized from behind. Two other men had rushed down the hollow, upon the other side, and while I was preparing to give battle to those I had first seen, before I was aware of my danger, I found myself in the grasp of their confederates.
I learned afterwards, that when Mr Stubbs and his companion, who were waiting for me at Gordon's, had failed to bring me down with their pistols, discovering that I ran too fast for them, they soon gave over the chase and returned to the store. They sent off immediately for assistance; and were presently joined by two men, and what was of more importance, by a dog, named Jowler, and celebrated through the county for his skill in tracking out runaway slaves.
Jowler had no sooner arrived, than they tied a string about his neck, the other end of which, one of the party held in his hand. The dog was then put upon my track, and he trotted slowly forward with his nose to the ground, followed by Mr Stubbs and the rest of the party. All the latter part of the way, I had walked quite slowly, and Jowler, and his company had gained so fast upon me, that they reached the spring almost as soon as I did. Having discovered my retreat, they resolved to make every thing certain; and dividing into two parties, they rushed down both sides of the hollow, at the same time, and secured me in the manner I have related.
Poor Cassy was seized at the same instant; and almost before we knew what had happened, we found our hands tied, and ourselves connected by a heavy chain, the ends of which were made fast by padlocks
about our necks. This was sad business for Cassy; and the poor girl, when she felt the iron about her neck, wept bitterly. I do not believe the chain was drawn much tighter than was necessary;--yet when I saw the tears of my poor wife, I could not help feeling a choking sensation about my throat. What aggravated my distress, and my indignation, was the brutal jests of our captors. It was well my hands were fast, for had they been free, I verily believe I should have found the means to finish one or another of the scoundrels. Mr Gordon was one of the party. His head was bound up in a bloody handkerchief; but instead of joining in the jests of his companions, he tried to keep them from vexing and insulting us.
"I'll tell you what Stubbs--you damned infernal blackguard--let that gal Cassy be. Ain't it I who 've taken them? Ain't it I who am to have the reward? Let them be I say; I tell you they are under my protection."
"A damned fine sort of protector they 've found in you," answered Stubbs, with a loud laugh, in which he was joined by his companions,--"No question, they 're mightily obliged to you. The devil take your nonsense and yourself into the bargain; I'll say what I please to the gal, and do what I please too. Ain't I the overseer?"--and here he broke out with a fresh string of ribaldry, addressed to poor Cassy.
It was only by a promise to treat his companions to a quart of whiskey, that Mr Gordon could prevail on them to let us alone. The word "whiskey" worked like a charm, and by the influence of it, he persuaded
the others to drop a little behind, and to give him a chance, as he expressed it, to have some private conversation with me. He had no objection, he said, to their hearing what he said to me, but he did not want to be interrupted by their damned clatter.
I was a good deal surprised at all this. Mr Gordon had betrayed me;--and after doing me so base and irreparable an injury, what could he mean by these little marks of good will? Mr Gordon was, as I have described him, a good natured fellow. He had not been able to resist the temptation of five hundred dollars, and all the other advantages, which he expected to gain by betraying me;--but for all that, he had not forgotten that I had saved his life. He walked up beside me, and stammering and hesitating, he attempted to enter into conversation.
"That was a damned hard blow you struck me, Archy," he began.
"I am sorry it was not harder," was my answer.
"Come, come now, don't be in such a devilish savage humor. Why, boy, I thought I might as well get the five hundred dollars, as to let it slip through my fingers, and all for nothing too. I knew right well, you were sure to be taken,--and for all you pout so about it, I've made better terms for you, than any body else would have done. Come, boy, cheer up, and I tell you how it all was. You see, when you left me other night, I could not sleep a wink for thinking. Says I to myself, that 's a damned foolish project of Archy's. He is sure to be caught; and then it will be coming out as how I helped him, and
then there will be the devil and all to pay. He'll be whipped, and I'll be fined and sent to jail, and for any thing I know, ridden on a rail out of the county, as colonel Moore and them others threatened me;--and then,--to make a bad matter worse,--somebody else will get the reward. Now that boy Archy, said I to myself, saved my life--there's no denying that, any how,--and if I can save him a whipping, and at the same time, put five hundred dollars into my pocket, it will be a mighty pretty business for both of us.
"So the next morning, I got up early and started off for colonel Moore's;--and a mighty fluster I found the colonel in, to be sure, for he could hear no news of you nowhere. So says I, colonel, says I, I hear as how you have offered five hundred dollars reward to any body that 'll catch them 'ere runaways of yours. Yes, says the colonel, cash down;--and he looked me in the face, as though he thought I knew where to find you.
"Just so, colonel, says I;--and perhaps I might,--if you'll promise me something in the first place.
"Promise you something, said the colonel;--have 'nt I promised five hundred dollars already,--what is it you mean?
"Says I, colonel, it is 'nt the reward I was thinking of,--the reward is handsome--a very pretty reward surely. Pay me four hundred and fifty dollars colonel, and promise me not to whip Archy, when you get him, and I'll not ask for the other fifty.
"Pshaw, nonsense, says the colonel. Pray Mr
Gordon, what is it to you how much I whip the scoundrel, provided you get your money?
"Says I, colonel, Jemmy Gordon is not the chap to forget a favor. That boy Archy, saved my life, it's three years ago, this very month; and if you'll promise me upon your honor, not to punish him for running away, I will undertake to hunt him up for you;--and not otherwise.
"The colonel higgled and haggled a good deal;--but when he found he could not get round me no how,--he promised all I had asked him. So I told him how you had been at my house, and how you were coming again; and he sent Stubbs and them other fellows to help me take you,--and that's the long and the short of the whole matter. So don't be sulky Archy, but cheer up and take it kindly. You see, I meant to do what was best for us both."
"I wish you much joy, Mr Gordon of your part of the bargain; and may you loose your five hundred dollars, the next time you play cards, and that will be before you are twelve hours older."
"You're in a passion, Archy, or you would not talk in that way. Well, boy, to tell the truth, I don't much wonder at it. But by and by, you'll think better of it. I should think you might be content with having broken my head;--by God, Archy, but it aches as though it would split open." So saying, Mr Gordon broke off the conversation and joined his companions.
Little reason as I have to speak well of him, I am bold to say there are a great many men in the world,
not much better than Jemmy Gordon. Five hundred dollars was a great temptation to him. Besides, he hoped to secure the good graces of colonel Moore, and expected by his assistance, to get into the way of getting a living respectably;--at least, as respectably as any poor man can, in that country. He not only quieted his conscience with the idea that, if he did not betray me, somebody else would,--but he had made terms with colonel Moore, for my benefit; and actually seemed to have flattered himself into the notion, that he was doing me a favor by betraying me.
There is many a gentleman in slave-holding America,--for anti-republican as it may seem, in no part of the world is the distinction between gentlemen and the common people, more distinctly marked,--who would consider it an insult to be compared with Jemmy Gordon, but whose whole life is a continued practice of the very principles on which that man acted, when he made up his mind to play the traitor. Many is the gentleman in slave-holding America, who knows full well,--and in the secret recesses of his own soul, most unequivocally acknowledges,--that to keep his fellow men in bondage, is a gross, flagrant, and high-handed violation of the very first and clearest principles of justice and equity,--a practice, abstractly considered, fully more criminal than piracy or highway robbery. Slavery, in the abstract, he acknowledges to himself and to others, to be totally indefensible. But then his slaves are his estate,--and he cannot live, like a gentleman, without them. Besides, he treats his servants particularly well,--so very well,
that he does not hesitate to argue that they are much happier as slaves, than freedom, under any form, could possibly make them!
When men of sense and education, can satisfy themselves with such wretched sophistry as this, let us learn to have some charity for poor Jemmy Gordon.
IT was past noon before we arrived at Spring-Meadow, where colonel Moore, had been, for some time, impatiently expecting us. But as he happened to have a large party to dine with him, he was too busy in entertaining his company, to pay any immediate attention to us. Yet, no sooner had he received notice of our arrival, than he sent out Mr Gordon's five hundred dollars. It was a large roll of bank notes;--the fellow's eye kindled up at the sight of it, and he snatched it eagerly. I was looking steadily at him,--and his eyes met mine. The change was sudden. He blushed and grew pale by turns,--and shame, remorse and self-contempt were painted in his face. He thrust the money hastily into his pocket, and walked away without speaking a word.
Cassy and myself were driven to the stables, and locked up in a close, narrow, dark room, which served sometimes as a corn-crib, and sometimes as a sort of dungeon for refractory slaves. We sat down upon the floor,--for there was nothing else to sit upon,--and poor Cassy sunk into my arms. Her grief and terror seemed to burst out afresh, and she wept bitterly. I kissed away her tears, and tried to console her. But she would not be comforted;--and little indeed, was the comfort I had to offer. The more I said to her, the more she wept; and she clung to me closer and closer, till her embrace became almost convulsive. "He will kill us--He will separate us forever;" she murmured, in a low, inarticulate voice,--and it was the only reply she made to all I could say to her.
Our situation was indeed pitiable. Had we fallen into the hands of an ordinary pirate or robber, there might have been some room for hope. The consciousness of his own violence, might perhaps alarm him; the fear of avenging justice might stay his hand. At the worst, death, and that too a speedy and an easy one, would be the farthest limit of his malice. But we,--unhappy creatures,--could flatter ourselves with no such prospect. We were runaway slaves, who had fallen again into the hands of their master;--a master, whom the very recollection that he owned us, inspired with rage at our insolence, in daring to run away from him; and who knew well, that both the law and public opinion would amply justify him in the infliction of any tortures not likely to result in immediate death.
It is true that we had fled from the greatest outrage
that can be inflicted upon a wife and a husband. But this was no excuse,--not even the slightest palliation. Slaves are not permitted to fly at all. It is their duty--alas! that such a word should be so prostituted!--to submit without a murmur, to all the insults, outrages and oppressions of their masters.
I clasped my wife to my bosom, with almost the same trembling earnestness, with which she clung to me. I felt, as she did, that it was the last time;--and this idea sunk into my heart with a bitterness, which all my late ecstacies served only to aggravate. I almost stiffled her with eager kisses;--but the fever that glowed in her cheek was not the flush of pleasure; and those deep sighs she heaved,--they could not be mistaken for the pantings of delight. The speedy separation that threatened us, was not only terrible in anticipation, but it seemed to destroy all our capacity for present enjoyment. But for this, with Cassy in my arms, what should I have cared for chains and a dungeon!--Dreading this, her lips lost all their sweetness, her bosom was an uneasy pillow, and though I could not leave her, every embrace seemed to increase both my distress and hers.
We passed several hours in this way, without any interruption. We had not tasted food that day,--and nobody brought us even a cup of cold water. The heat and closeness of the room, into which the air had no admission, aggravated the fever in our blood, and made our thirst almost intolerable. How I longed for the cool spring, the balmy air, the freedom, we had lost!
Toward evening, we heard somebody approaching; and I soon recognized the voices of colonel Moore and his overseer. They opened the door, and bade us come out. At first, the light dazzled my eyes so that I could scarcely distinguish one object from another; but in a little while I was enabled to see that our visitors were accompanied by Peter, a tall fellow, with a very suspicious smile, the spy and tell-tale of the place, the detestation of all the servants, but the especial favorite of Mr Stubbs, and his regular assistant on all occasions.
Colonel Moore's face was a good deal flushed, and I judged that he had been drinking. This was a practice very unusual with him. For though every dinner at his house, was pretty sure to end by putting the greater part of the guests upon the floor, colonel Moore generally passed the bottle, under the plea that his physician had forbidden it, and commonly rose up, the only sober man from his own table. It was too plain, that on the present occasion, he had forgotten his accustomed sobriety. He spoke not a word to me, and I found it impossible to catch his eye;--but turning to his overseer, he said, in an under tone, and with the air of being a good deal irritated--"It was a damned blunder, Mr Stubbs, to shut them up together. I thought you understood my orders better."
The overseer mumbled out some unintelligible apology, of which colonel Moore took no notice; and without further preface or explanation, he ordered Mr Stubbs to tie me up.
The padlock by which the chain was fastened about
my neck was undone. They stripped me almost naked. Mr Stubbs produced a piece of rope with one end of which he bound my hands, and the other end, he made fast, with Peter's assistance, to a beam over my head;--not however, till he had drawn it so tight as almost to lift me from the floor.
Colonel Moore then ordered them to free Cassy from the chain. He put a heavy whip into her hand, and pointing to me, "Take care my girl," he said, "that you lay it on to some purpose."
Poor Cassy looked about in utter amazement. She did not understand him,--she had no idea of such refined cruelty, such ferocious revenge.
He repeated his commands, with a tone and a look that were frightful. "If you wish to save your own carcass, see that you bring blood at every blow. I'll teach you,--both of you,--to trifle with me."
She now comprehended his brutal purpose;--and giving one look of mingled horror and despair, sunk senseless to the ground. Peter was sent for water. He dashed it in her face, and she soon revived. They placed her on her feet, and colonel Moore again put the whip into her hand and repeated his orders.
She threw it down, as if the touch had stung her; and looking him full in the face, the tears, all the while, streaming from her eyes, she said in a tone firm, but full of entreaty, "Master, he is my husband!"
That word husband, seemed to kindle colonel Moore into a new fury, which totally destroyed his self-command. He struck Cassy to the ground with his fists, trampled on her with his feet, and snatching up the
whip which she had thrown down, he laid it upon me with such violence, that the lash penetrated my flesh at every blow, and the blood ran trickling down my legs and stood in little puddles at my feet. The torture was too great for human endurance; I screamed with agony. "Pshaw," said my executioner, "his noise will disturb the House;"--and drawing a handkerchief from his pocket, he thrust it into my mouth, and rammed it down my throat with the butt-end of his whip-handle. Having thus effectually gagged me, he renewed his lashes. How long they were continued I know not; a cloud began to swim before my eyes; my head grew dizzy and confused; and a fortunate fainting-fit soon put me beyond the reach of torture.
WHEN I recovered my senses, I found myself stretched upon a wretched pallet, which lay on the floor, in one corner of a little, old, and ruinous hovel. I was very weak and hardly able to move; and I after-terwards learned that I had just passed through the paroxysm of a fever. A deaf old woman, too much superanuated to be fit for any thing but a nurse, was
my only companion. I recognized the old lady, and forgetting that she could not hear me, I put her a thousand questions in a breath. I dreaded,--yet I wished to learn the fate of poor Cassy; and it was to her that most of my questions related. But to all my inquiries the old woman returned no answer. I might scream myself deaf, she said, and she could not hear a word. Besides, she told me, I was too sick and weak to talk.
I was not to be silenced in this way, and only bawled the louder, and added signs and gestures, to enable the old woman to understand me. But it was plain that aunt Judy had no intention to gratify my curiosity; for when she found she could not quiet me, she went out and locking the door after her, left me to my own meditations. These were not very aggreeable. As yet however, my thoughts were so confused, and my head so dizzy, that I could scarcely be said to reflect at all.
I learned afterwards, that it was more than a week, that I had remained delirious, the effect of the violent fever into which I had been thrown, and which threatened a speedy termination to my miserable existence. But the crisis was now past. My youth and the vigor of my constitution had carried me through it, and had preserved me for new sufferings.
I recovered rapidly, and was soon able to walk about. Lest I should make an undue use of my returning strength, and attempt another escape, I was presently accommodated with fetters and handcuffs. My fetters were taken off once a day, for about an hour, and under Peter's supervision, I was allowed to
breathe the fresh air, and to take a short walk about the plantation. It was in vain that I attempted to get from Peter any information concerning my wife. He could not, or he would not tell me anything about her.
I thought that perhaps he might sell the information which he refused to give; and I promised to make him a present of some clothes, if he would allow me to visit my former house. We went together. This house, I had been enabled, in anticipation of my marriage, and through the bounty of Mrs Moore and her daughter, to fit up quite comfortably. It was furnished with a variety of things, seldom seen in a slave's cabin. But I found it stripped and plundered; every article of furniture was gone, and my chest was broken open and all my clothes taken away. For this I was no doubt indebted to my fellow servants. The strongest, or almost the strongest passion of the human mind, is the desire of acquisition. This passion, the slave can only gratify by plunder. Besides, such is the baneful effect of slavery, that it almost destroys the very germ of virtue. If oppression makes the wise man mad, it too often makes the honest man a villain. It embitters the feelings, and hardens and brutifies the heart. He, who finds himself plundered from his birth, of his liberty and his labors--his only inheritance, becomes selfish, reckless, and regardless of everything save the immediate gratification of the present moment. Plundered of every thing himself, he is ready to plunder in his turn, even his brothers in misfortune.
Finding my house stripped, and my clothes stolen, it put me in mind to feel in my pockets, for my
money. That was gone too. Indeed I soon recollected, that when surprised and seized by Mr Gordon and his assistants, Mr Stubbs had searched my pockets, and transferred their contents to his own. This, of course, was the last that I expected to see of my money. According to the Virginia code of morals, Mr Stubbs was a very respectable man, who did what was perfectly proper. Certainly, it was highly dangerous to trust a rogue and a runaway with the possession of a considerable sum of money. But according to the same code, the servants who had stolen my clothes, were a set of outrageous thieves, who richly deserved a whipping. So Mr Stubbs declared, whom we happened to meet, as we were returning, and to whom I complained that my house had been plundered. That honest gentleman worked himself quite into a passion, and swore roundly that if he could catch the thieves he would make them smart for it. Notwithstanding this outburst of virtuous indignation, Mr Stubbs said nothing about returning my money, and I judged it safest not to introduce the subject myself.
In two or three weeks I had nearly recovered my strength, and the gashes with which my back had been scored were quite healed over. I was beginning to wonder what colonel Moore intended to do with me; when, one evening, I received a message from Mr Stubbs, to be up by sunrise, the next morning, and ready for a journey. Where we were going, or what was to be the object of our travels, he did not condescend to inform me;--nor did I feel much curiosity to know. I had now one great consolation. Do what
they pleased, it was impossible to render me any more miserable. It was this idea which sustained me, and enabled me to regard the future with a sort of careless and stupid indifference, at which, when I reflect upon it, I am myself surprised.
In the morning, Mr Stubbs came for me. He was on horseback, whip in hand, as usual. He undid my fetters, but allowed me to retain my handcuffs. He tied a piece of rope about my neck, and fastened the other end of it to his own waist. Thus guarded against escapes, he mounted his horse, and bade me walk beside him. I was still rather weak, and sometimes my pace flagged a little;--but a stroke from Mr Stubbs' whip soon quickened me into vigor. I inquired where we were going. "You 'll know when you get there," was the answer.
That night we lodged at a sort of tavern. We both occupied one room,--he the bed, and I the floor. He took the cord from my neck and bound my legs with it. It was so tight, and caused me so much pain, that I could not sleep. Several times I complained to Mr Stubbs; but he bade me hold my damned tongue, and not be troubling him with foolish complaints. The next morning when he came to untie me, he found my ancles a good deal swollen. He seemed sorry that he had paid no more attention to my appeals, but excused himself by saying, that we were all such a devilish pack of liars there was no telling when to believe us; and he did not want to be at the trouble of getting up for nothing.
The next day we continued our journey;--but I
was so broken down by the fatigues of the day previous, and by the want of sleep, that nothing but the frequent application of Mr Stubbs' whip could stimulate me into the necessary exertion. My spirits and that stubbornness of soul, which hitherto had sustained me, seemed to fail at the same time with my strength, and I wept like a child. At last, we reached our journey's end. Late that evening, we entered the city of Richmond. I am not able to describe the town; for I was hurried off to the jail, and there locked up for safe keeping.
I was now told why we had come. Colonel Moore, according to Mr Stubbs' account, was sick of such an unruly fellow, and had determined to sell me. I had not seen him since the day I had fainted under the energy of his paternal discipline. Nor did I ever see him afterwards. A strange parting that, between a son and a father!
THE next day I was to be sold. There was to be a public sale of slaves; and several besides myself, were to be disposed of. I was fettered and handcuffed, and taken to market. The rest of the merchandize was already collected; but it was sometime before the sale began, and I occupied the interval in looking about me. Several of the groups particularly attracted my attention.
The first that caught my eye, was an old man, whose head was completely white, and a pretty little girl,--his grand-daughter, as he told me,--about ten or twelve years old. Both the old man and the little girl had iron collars about their necks, which were connected by a heavy chain. One would have imagined, that the old age of the man, and the youth of the girl, would have made such savage precautions unnecessary. But their master, so far as I could learn, had resolved to sell them in a fit of passion, and the chains perhaps were intended more for punishment than security.
A man and his wife with an infant in her arms, stood next to the old man and his daughter. The man and wife were quit young, and apparently fond of each other;--at least, they seemed very much distressed at the idea of falling into the hands of different purchasers. The woman now and then would address some one or other of the company, who seemed to indicate
an intention of buying. She would beg them to purchase both herself and her husband; and she ran over, with great volubility, the good qualities of both. The man looked on the ground, and preserved a moody and sullen silence.
There was another group of eight or ten men and women, who seemed to regard the sale with as much unconcern, as if they were merely spectators. They laughed, and talked, and jested with one another with as much gaiety as any of the company. An apologist for tyranny, would no doubt, rejoice in such a spectacle, and would be emboldened to argue, that after all being sold at public auction is not so terrible a thing, as some weak people are apt to imagine. The argument would be quite as sound as any that the slaveholder ever uses; and for ingenuity and conclusiveness, deserves to be compared with that of the philosopher who, having seen through the grates of a prison, a parcel of condemned criminals laughing and jesting together, concluded that the expectation of being hung, must have something in it very exhilirating.
The truth is, that the human mind, in its eager, though too often unavailing struggle after happiness, will still make the most of its means;--and even in the valley of despair, or under the ribs of death itself, still strives to create some matter of enjoyment. Even the poor slave will sing at his task; he can laugh too, though he finds himself sold like an ox in the market. The tyrant discovers that all his wrongs and oppressions have not been able to extinguish in the soul of his victim, the capability of enjoyment; and he points
you to these outbursts of a nature not yet totally subdued, and dares to boast of the happiness he causes!
But to be sold, is not always a laughing matter. The first bargain which the auctioneer offered to the company, was a man apparently about thirty, with a fine, open, prepossessing countenance. He had no expectation of being sold, till the moment he was placed upon the table; for it appeared that his master who lived near the city, had lured him to town under the delusive pretext of an intention to hire him out to some of the citizens. When the poor fellow found that he was actually to be sold, he was seized with such a trembling that he could scarcely support himself. He shook from head to foot; and his face indicated the greatest terror and distress. The two principal bidders,--and they seemed to enter into a pretty warm competition,--were a gentleman of the neighborhood, who appeared to know the poor fellow on sale, and a dashing, buckish young man, who, it was said, was a slave-trader from South Carolina, who had come to purchase slaves for that market.
As the sale proceeded, it was curious, but at the same time most distressing, to observe the anxiety of the poor slave. When the slave-trader took the lead, his jaw fell, his eyes rolled wildly, and he seemed the very picture of despair; but when the Virginian bid higher, a sudden gleam of pleasure shot across his face, the tears ran down his cheeks, and his earnest "God bless you, master!" was enough to touch the hardest heart. He interrupted the sale by his cries and vociferations, and not even the whip could keep
him still. He called upon his favorite bidder by name, and entreated him to persevere, by every motive he could think of. He promised to serve him faithfully to the last minute of his life, and work himself to death in his service, if he would only buy him, only save him from being wholly separated from his wife and children, and sent away--he knew not whither--from the place where he was born and raised, and where, as he said, he had always behaved well, and borne a good character. Not that he had any particular objections to the other gentleman either,--for the poor fellow began to see the danger of offending a man who was likely to become his master;--no doubt he was a very fine gentleman too; but he was a stranger, and would take him out of the country, and carry him far away from his wife and children;--and as he mentioned them, his voice sunk, choaked and interrupted, by an inarticulate sobbing.
The bidders kept up the contest with much spirit. The man was evidently a first-rate hand. Aside from this, the Virginian seemed touched by the poor fellow's entreaties, and dropped some hints about slave-traders, which put his opponent into a violent passion, and came near ending in a quarrel. The interposition of the by-standers, kept the competitors apart;--but the slave-trader, whose passions were roused, swore that he would have the "boy," cost what he might,--if it was only to teach him a little good manners. One or two of the company cried shame, and called upon the slave-trader to leave off bidding, and suffer the poor fellow to remain in the country. He replied
with an oath, and a sneer, that he was not fool enough to be bamboozled by any such nonsense; and immediately rose fifty dollars on the last bid. This was more than the Virginian could afford to sacrifice to a fit of good nature, and piqued and chagrined, he yielded up the contest. The auctioneer knocked off the purchase, and the man, more dead than alive, was delivered into the hands of the slave-traders' attendants, who received orders to give him twenty lashes on the spot, for his "damned ill-manneredly Virginia insolence."
The sneering emphasis, with which this was spoken, created no little sensation among the by-standers; but as the slave-trader strutted about with his hand on his dirk handle, and as two pistols might plainly be seen sticking out of his pockets, nobody saw fit to question this provoking exercise of "his sacred right of property," and the sale proceeded as before.
At length my turn came. I was stripped half naked, the better to show my joints and muscles, and placed upon the table or platform, on which the subject of the sale was exposed to the examination of the purchasers. I was whirled about, my limbs were felt, and my capabilities discussed, in a slang much like that of a company of horse-jockeys. Various were the remarks that were made upon me. One fellow declared that I had a damned sullen look; another swore that my eye was devilish malicious; a third remarked that these light colored fellows were all rascals;--to which the auctioneer replied, that he never knew a slave of any smartness, who was not a rogue.
Abundance of questions were put me, as to where I
was raised, why I was sold, and what I was fit for. To all these inquiries I made the shortest and most indefinite answers. I was not in a humor to gratify this curiosity; and I had none of that ambition to bring a high price, so common among slaves, the last and lowest form in which is displayed that love of superiority, which is the main-spring of human action, the source of all social improvement, and the origin of so much crime and misery.
Mr Stubbs kept in the back ground, and said nothing. He had his own reasons, I suppose, for this reserve. The auctioneer did his best. According to his account, there was not a stronger, more laborious, docile and obedient servant to be bought in all the States. Notwithstanding all these praises, a suspicion seemed to spread itself that my master had some reasons for selling me, which he did not think fit to avow. One suggested that I must be consumptive; another thought it likely I was subject to fits; while a third seemed to think that I was an unruly fellow and mighty hard to manage. The scars on my back tended to increase their suspicions;--and I was knocked off, at last, at a very low price, to a portly, smiling old gentleman, by name, major Thornton.
No sooner had the auctioneer's hammer struck upon the table, than my new master spoke kindly to me, and ordered my irons to be knocked off. Against this, Mr Stubbs and the auctioneer remonstrated very earnestly; and assured the purchaser that if he unchained me, he did it at his own risk. "I know it," replied my new
master, "the risk is mine,--but I will never own a servant who wants to run away from me."
WHEN my new master had learned that I had but just recovered from a fever, and that my strength was not yet entirely restored, he procured a horse for me, and we set out together. He lived a considerable distance west of Richmond, in that part of the State, known as Middle Virginia. During the ride, he entered into conversation with me, and I found him a very different person from any I had met with before.
He told me that I might consider myself lucky in falling into his hands; for he made it a point to treat his servants better than anybody in the neighborhood. "If they are discontented, or unruly, or apt to run away," he added, "I sell them at once, and so get rid of them. I don't want any such fellows about me. But as my servants know very well, that they stand no chance to better themselves, by changing their master, they are very cautious how they offend me. Be obedient, my boy, and do your task, and I will ensure you plenty to eat, enough clothes, and more indulgence
than you will be likely to get from any other master." Such was the amount of major Thornton's lecture, which, it took him however, some five or six hours to get through with.
It was late in the evening before we arrived at Oakland,--for that was the name of major Thornton's property. The house was of brick, with wooden porticos. It was not large, but neat and very handsome, and presented many more appearances of substantial comfort than are to be found about most of the houses of Virginia. The grounds around it, were prettily laid out, and ornamented with flowers and shrubbery,--a thing quite uncommon, and which I had seldom seen before. At a distance, on a fine swell, were the servants' cabins, built of brick, neat and substantial; not placed in a straight line, but clustered together in a manner that had something picturesque about it. They were shaded by fine large oaks; no underbrush nor weeds were suffered to grow about them, and altogether, they presented an appearance of neatness and comfort, as new and singular as it was pleasing. The servants' cabins, on all the plantations I had ever seen before, were a set of miserable ruinous hovels, with leaky roofs and clay floors, almost buried in a rank growth of weeds, and as dirty and ill-kept as they were uncomfortable.
The children, who were playing about the cabins, furnished a new occasion of surprise. I had been accustomed to see the children of a plantation, running about stark naked, or dressed--if dressed at all--in a shirt of dirty osnaburgs, hanging in tatters about their
legs, and never washed after it was once put on. But the children at Oakland were neatly and comfortably clothed, and presented nothing of that squalid, pinched, neglected and half-starved appearance, to which my eye was so well accustomed. Their merry faces, and boisterous sports, called up no idea of juvenile wretchedness. I observed too, that the hands, who were just coming in from their work, were all well clothed. I saw none of those patched, tattered, ragged and filthy garments so common on other plantations.
Major Thornton was not a planter;--that is to say, he did not make tobacco, and he chose to call himself a farmer. His principal crop was wheat; and he was a great advocate for the clover system of cultivation, which he had adopted and pursued with much success. He owned some thirty or forty working hands; the children and superanuated, made his entire stock of slaves upwards of eighty. He kept no overseer, but managed for himself. Indeed it was a maxim with him, that an overseer was enough to ruin any man. He was naturally stirring and industrious, and agriculture was his hobby,--a hobby which he rode to some purpose.
In all these things, and many others, he was the perfect contrast of all his neighbors; and for that reason, very little liked by any of them. He carefully avoided horse-racing, cock-fights, political meetings, drinking, gambling, and frolicing of every sort. His money, he used to say, cost him too much to make it, to be thrown away upon a bet; and as to frolics, he
had neither time nor taste for any such nonsense. His neighbors revenged themselves for this contempt of their favorite sports, by pronouncing him a mean-spirited money-making fellow. They went further, and accused him of being a bad citizen and a dangerous neighbor. They complained most bitterly, that his excessive indulgence to his servants made all the slaves in the neighborhood, uneasy and discontented; and at one time, some of them went so far as to talk about giving him warning to move out of the county.
But major Thornton was a man of spirit. He understood his own rights;--he knew well the people among whom he lived, and what sort of reasoning would influence them most. He contrived to get hold of an offensive remark of one of the busiest of his ill-disposed neighbors, and sent him a challenge. It was accepted; and his antagonist was shot through the heart at the first fire. Henceforward,--though his neighbors liked him no better than before,--they took very good care how they talked about him, and allowed him to go on in his own way, without any interference.
Major Thornton had not been bred a planter, and this perhaps was the reason, why he departed so much from the ordinary routine, and managed things so very differently from all his neighbors. He was born of a good family, as they say in Virginia, but his father died when he was a mere boy, and left but a very scanty property. He began life, in a small way, in a country store. His shrewdness, economy, and attention to his business, enabled him, in the course of a few years, to lay up a considerable sum of money. In
Virginia, trade is hardly looked upon as respectable,--at least, such was the case at the time of which I am speaking,--and any body who desires to be any thing, aims at becoming a landed proprietor. About the time that major Thornton had made enough to think of changing his store for a plantation, the proprietor of Oakland, having already wasted two good estates on dogs, horses, and wild debauchery, became so pressed for money, as to be obliged to bring his remaining property under the hammer. Major Thornton became the purchaser;--but the place he bought, was very different from Oakland as I saw it. The buildings which were old and ugly, were all out of repair and just tumbling to the ground; and the land was nearly ruined by that miserable, thriftless system of cultivation, so universal throughout the slave-holding states of America.
In a few years after the property had passed into the hands of major Thornton, every thing was changed. The old houses were torn down and new ones built. The grounds about the house were enclosed and ornamented; and the land, under skilful management, was fast regaining its original fertility. Those who had been born and bred planters, and whose estates were very much in the same way in which Oakland had been before it fell into the hands of major Thornton, looked at what was going on there, with astonishment and envy, and wondered how it could possibly happen. Major Thornton was always ready to tell them; for he was extremely fond of talking,--particularly about himself and his system of farming. But though he had explained the whole matter at least ten times,
to every one of his neighbors, he never could make a single convert. He had three favorite topics; but he was equally unsuccessful upon all of them. He never could pursuade any one of his neighbors that clover was the true cure for sterile fields; that the only way to have a plantation well managed, was to manage it one's self; or that to give servants enough to eat was a sure method to prevent them from plundering the corn-fields and stealing sheep.
But though major Thornton could gain no imitators, he still persevered in farming according to his own notions. In no respect was he more an innovator than in the management of his slaves. A merciful man, he used to say, was merciful to his beast; and not having been raised on a plantation, he could not bear the idea of treating his servants worse than his horses. "It may do very well for you, colonel," he said one day, to one of his neighbors, "to tie a fellow up and give him forty lashes with your own hand; you were born and bred to it, and I dare say you find it very easy. But as odd as you may think it, I had much rather be whipped myself than to whip one of my servants; and though sometimes I am obliged to do it, it is a great point with me to get along with as little whipping at possible. That's a principal reason why I keep no overseer,--for a cow-hide and a pair of irons, are the only two things those fellows have any notion of. They have no wish, and if they had, they have not the sense, to get along in any other way;--the devil take the whole generation of them. Every body, you know, has their oddities. For my part, I hate to
hear the crack of a whip on my plantation, even though it be nothing more than a cart whip."
The above speech of major Thornton's, is a brief summary of his system. He was, what every other slave-holder is, and from the very necessity of his condition must be,--a tyrant. He felt no scruple in compelling his fellow man to labor, in order that he might appropriate the fruits of that labor to his own benefit,--and in this certainly, if in any thing, the very essence of tyranny consists. But though a tyrant, as every slave-holder is and must be, he was a reasonable and, as far as possible, a humane one,--which very few slave-holders either are or can be. He had no more thought of relinquishing what he and the laws, called his property in his slaves, than he had of leaving his land to be occupied by the first comer. He would have been as ready as any of his neighbors, to have denounced the idea of emancipation, or the notion of limiting his power over his servants, as a ridiculous absurdity, and an impertinent interference with his "most sacred rights." But though in theory, he claimed all the authority and prerogatives of the most unlimited despotism, he displayed in his practice, a certain share of common sense and common humanity,--two things, which so far as relates to the management of his slaves, it is extremely uncommon for a slave-holder to have,--or if he has them, very difficult for him to exercise.
These unusual gifts led him to a discovery, which at the time was entirely new in his neighborhood;--though I hope before now, it has become general. He
discovered that men cannot work without eating; and that so far as the capability of labor is concerned, there is the same policy in attending to the food, shelter and comfort of one's slaves, as in spending a little money on corn and stabling for one's horses. Feed well and work hard, was major Thornton's motto and practice,--a motto, and a practice, which in any other country than America, would never have subjected him to the charge of unreasonable and superfluous humanity.
As to whipping, major Thornton, to use his own phrase, could not bear it. Whether he felt some qualms of conscience at the barefaced, open tyranny of the lash,--which I do not think very probable, for I once heard him tell a Methodist parson, who ventured to say something to him on that delicate subject, that he had as much right to flog his slaves as to eat his dinner;--or whether it was the influence of that instinctive humanity which is wanting only in brutal tempers, and which, till evil custom has worn it out, will not permit us to inflict pain, without feeling ourselves a sympathetic suffering; or whatever might be the reason; unless major Thornton was put into a passion,--to which he was but seldom liable,--he certainly had a great horror of using the whip.
But this was not all. Another man might have detested it as much as he did; but the practice of a year or two in planting, and the apparent impossibility of dispensing with its use, would have taught him to get rid of so inconvenient a squeamishness. There are very few men indeed,--and of all men in the world, very few planters,--whose good sense and knowledge
of human nature, would enable them to manage their slaves by any other means. Major Thornton, however, contrived to get on wonderfully well; and in all the time I lived with him,--which was nearly two years,--there were not more than a half a dozen whippings on the place. If one of his servants was guilty of any thing, which in a slave, is esteemed especially enormous; such as running away, repeated theft, idleness or insubordination, major Thornton sent him off to be sold. By a strange, but common inconsistency, this man of feeling, who could not bear to whip a slave, or to see him whipped, or even to have him whipped on his own plantation, felt no scruples at all, at tearing him from the arms of his wife and children, and setting him up at public sale, to fall into the hands of any ferocious master, who might chance to purchase him!
This dread of being sold, was ever before our eyes; and was as efficacious as the lash is on other plantations, in forcing us to labor and submission. We knew very well, that there were few masters like major Thornton;--and the thought of exchanging our nice, neat cottages, our plentiful allowance, our regular supply of clothing, and the general comfort and indulgence of Oakland, for the fare and the treatment to be expected from the common run of masters, was more terrible than a dozen whippings. Major Thornton understood this well; and he took care to keep up the terrors of it, by making an example of some delinquent, once in a year or two.
Then he had the art of exciting our emulation by
little prizes and presents; he was very scrupulous never to exact any thing beyond the appointed task; and he kept us in good humor, by allowing us, when not at work, to be very much our own masters, and to go where, and do what we pleased. We were rather cautious though, how we visited the neighboring plantations,--for with a magnanimity worthy of slave-holders, some of major Thornton's neighbors were in the habit of gratifying their spite against him, by improving every opportunity that offered, to abuse his servants. And here I may as well relate an incident that happened to myself, which will serve, at once, as a curious illustration of Virginia manners, and a proof of what I believe, will be found to be true all the world over,--that where the laws are designed for the oppression of one half the people of a country, they are seldom treated with much respect by the other half.
Captain Robinson was one of major Thornton's nearest neighbors, and a person with whom he had frequent altercations. I was passing along on the public road one Sunday, at a little distance from Oakland, when I met captain Robinson on horseback, followed by a servant. He bade me stop, and inquired if I was the fellow whom that damned scoundrel Thornton sent to his house yesterday with an insolent message about his lower-field fences. I answered, that I had been sent yesterday with a message about the fence, which I had delivered to his overseer.
"A mighty pretty message it was, by God. I 'll tell you what my boy, if my overseer had known his
business, he would have tucked you up on the spot and given you forty lashes."
I told him that I had only delivered the message which my master had sent me with, and it seemed hard to blame me for that.
"Don't talk to me, don't talk to me, you infernal scoundrel--I 'll teach both you and your master what it is to insult a gentleman. Lay hold of him Tom, while I dust that new jacket of his a little."
Having received these orders from his master, captain Robinson's man Tom, jumped off his horse and laid hold of me; but as I struggled hard and was the stronger of the two, I should soon have got away, if the master had not dismounted and come to the aid of his servant. Both together, they were too strong for me; and having succeeded in getting me down, they stripped off my coat and bound my hands. Captain Robinson then mounted his horse, and beat me with his whip, till it was quite worn out. Having thus satisfied his rage, he rode off followed by Tom, without taking the trouble to loose my hands. They had no sooner left me, than I began to look about for my hat and coat. Both were missing;--and whether it was the captain or his servant that carried them off, I never could discover. I suppose though, it was the servant,--for I recollect very well seeing Tom, a few Sundays after, strutting about at a Methodist meeting, with a blue coat on, which I could almost have sworn to be mine.
When I got home, and told my master what had happened, he was in a towering passion. At first, he
was for riding at once to captain Robinson's and calling for an explanation. But he happened to recollect that the county court was to meet the next day, at which he had business. This would give him an opportunity to consult his lawyer; and after a little reflection, he thought it best not to move in the affair till he had a legal opinion upon it.
The next day he took me with him. We called upon the lawyer; I told what had happened to me, and major Thornton inquired what satisfaction the law would afford him.
The lawyer answered, that the law in this case was very clear, and the remedy it provided, all-sufficient. "Some people," he said, "who know nothing about the matter, have asserted that the law in the slave-holding States, does not protect the person of the slave against the violence of the whites, and that any white man may flog any slave, at his own good pleasure. This is a very great mistake, if not a wilful falsehood. The law permits no such thing. It extends the mantle of its protection impartially over bond and free. In this respect, the law knows no distinction. If a freeman is assaulted, he has his action for damages against the assailant; and if a slave is assaulted, the master of that slave, who is his legal guardian and protector, can bring his action for damages. Now in this case, major Thornton, it is quite plain that you have good ground of action against captain Robinson; and the jury, I dare say, will give you a swinging verdict. I suppose you are able to prove all these facts?"
"Prove them--to be sure" answered my master, "here is Archy himself who has told you the whole story."
"Yes, my good sir, but you do not seem to remember that a slave cannot be admitted to testify against a white man."
"And pray tell me then," said major Thornton, "what good the law you speak of is going to do me? Did not Robinson catch Archy alone, and abuse him as he has told you? You don't suppose he was fool enough to call in a white man on purpose to be a witness against him. Why, sir, notwithstanding the protection of the law, which you commend so highly, every servant I have, may be beaten by this Robinson every day in the week, and I not be able to get the slightest satisfaction. The devil take such law I say."
"But my dear sir," answered the lawyer, "you must consider the great danger and inconvenience of allowing slaves to be witnesses."
"Why yes," said my master with a half smile, "I fancy it would be rather dangerous for some of my acquaintances;--quite inconvenient no doubt. Well sir, since you say the law can't help me in this matter, I must take care of myself. I cannot allow my servants to be abused in this way. I'll horsewhip that scoundrel Robinson at sight."
With these words, my master left the office, and I followed behind him. We had gone but a little way down the street, when he had an unexpected opportunity of carrying his threat into execution,--for as it chanced, we met captain Robinson, who had business,
it seemed, at the county court, as well as major Thornton. My master did not waste many words upon him, but began striking him over the shoulders with his riding whip. Captain Robinson drew a pistol;--my master dropped his whip and drew a pistol also. The captain fired, but without effect; major Thornton then levelled his weapon,--but Robinson called out that he was unarmed and begged him not to fire. Major Thornton hesitated a moment, and then dropped his hand. By this time, quite a crowd had collected about us, and some friend of captain Robinson's handed him a loaded pistol. The combatants renewed their aim, and fired together; and captain Robinson fell desperately wounded. His ball missed my master, but passed through the body of a free colored man, who was the only person, of all the company, who made any attempt to separate the parties. The poor fellow fell dead; and the people about declared that it was good enough for him,--for what right had a damned free fellow like him to be interfering between gentlemen?
Captain Robinson's friends took him up and carried him home. Major Thornton and myself walked off the field in triumph,--and so the affair ended. Such affrays are much talked about; but the grand jury very seldom hears any thing of them; and the conqueror is pretty sure to rise in the public estimation.
SOME persons perhaps may think that having fallen into the hands of such a master as major Thornton, I had now nothing to do, but to eat, to work and to be happy.
Had I been a horse or an ox, there would be good ground for this idea; but unfortunately, I was a man; and the animal appetites are by no means, the only motive of human action, nor the sole source of human happiness or misery.
It is certainly true that several of major Thornton's servants, born perhaps with but little sensibility, and brutalized by a life of servitude, seemed very well content. This was the sort of servant, which major Thornton especially admired. In this particular, he did not differ much from his neighbors. The more stupid a field hand is, the more he is esteemed; and a slave who shows any signs of capacity, is generally set down as certain to be a rogue and a rascal.
I soon discovered my master's fondness for stupid fellows; and I took care to play the fool to his entire satisfaction. In a short time, I made myself quite a favorite; and my master having taken a fancy to me, I was more indulged perhaps, than any servant on the place. But this could not make me happy.
Human happiness--with some very limited exceptions--is never in fruition, but always in prospect and
pursuit. It is not this, that, or the other situation that can give happiness. Riches, power or glory, are nothing when possessed. It is the pleasure of the pursuit and the struggle, it is the very labor of their attainment, in which consists the happiness they bring.
Those moralists who have declaimed so copiously on the duty of contentment, betray an extreme ignorance of human nature. No situation, however splendid, in which one is compelled to remain fixed and stationary, can long afford pleasure, and on the other hand, no condition, however destitute or degraded, out of which one has a fair prospect, or any thing like a rational hope of rising, can justly be considered as utterly miserable. This is the constitution of the human mind; and in this, we find the explanation of a thousand things, which without this key to their meaning, seem full of mystery and contradiction.
Though all men have not the same objects of pursuit, all are impelled by the same love of pursuing. Nothing can satisfy the vast desires of one man, but immense wealth, great political power, the myrtle wreath or the laurel crown;--another aims no higher than to rise from abject poverty to a little competency, or,--if his ambition is of another sort,--to be the chief personage in his native village, or the oracle of a country neighborhood. How different are these aims!--and yet, the impulse that prompts them, is the same. He whom circumstances permit to yield to this impulse of his nature, and to pursue--successfully or not, it matters little--but to pursue with some tolerable prospect of success, the objects which have captivated his fancy,
may be regarded as having all the chance for happiness, which the lot of humanity allows; while he, whom fate or fortune or whatever malignant cause, compels to suppress and forego the instinctive impulses and wishes of his heart,--whatever in other respects may be his situation,--is a wretch entitled to the greatest pity. To the one, toil is itself a pleasure. He is a hunter whom the sight of his game fills with delight, and makes insensible to fatigue. Desire sustains him, and hope cheers him on. These are pleasures the other never knows; for him, life has lost its relish; rest is irksome to him, and labor is intolerable.
This is no digression. He who has taken the pains to read the preceding paragraph, will be able to understand, how it happened, that even with such a master as major Thornton, I was neither happy nor content.
It is true I was well fed, well clothed, and not severely worked; and in these particulars,--as my master was fond of boasting, and as I have since found to be the case,--my situation was far superior to that of very many freemen. But I lacked one thing which every freeman has; and that one want was enough to make me miserable. I wanted liberty; the liberty of laboring for myself, not for a master; of pursuing my own happiness, instead of toiling at his pleasure and for his gain. This liberty can lighten the hardest lot. He knows but little of human nature, who has not discovered that, to all who rise one step above the brutes, it is far pleasanter to starve and freeze after their own fashion, than to be fed and clothed and worked upon compulsion.
I was wretched,--for I had no object of hope or rational desire. I was a slave; and the laws held out no prospect of emancipation. All the efforts in the world, could not better my condition;--all the efforts in the world could not prevent me from falling--perhaps tomorrow--into the hands of another master, as cruel and unreasonable as evil passions and hard-heartedness could make him. The future offered only the chance of evils. I might starve with cold and hunger as well as another; I might perish by gun-shot wounds, or the torture of the lash; or be hung up, perhaps, without judge or jury. But of bettering my condition, I had neither chance, nor hopes. I was a prisoner for life; at the present moment, not suffering for food or clothing, but without the slightest prospect of liberation; and likely enough at any moment, to change my keeper, and under the discipline of a new jailor, to feel the pains of cold and hunger, and to tremble daily beneath the whip. I was cut off and excluded from all those hopes and wishes, which are the chief impulses of human action. I could not aim to become the master of a little cottage, which, however humble, I might call my own,--to be the lord of one poor acre, which however small or barren, might still be mine. I could not marry--alas, poor Cassy!--and become the father of a family, with the fond hope, that when age should overtake me, I might still find pleasure and support, in the kindness of children and the sympathy of a wife. My children might be snatched from the arms of their mother, and sold to the slave-trader; the mother might be sent to keep them company,--and
I be left old, desolate, uncomforted. Motives such as these,--motives which strengthen the freeman's arm and cheer his heart, were unfelt by me. I labored;--but it was only because I feared the lash. The want of willingness unnerved me, and every stroke cost a new effort.
It is even true, that major Thornton's humanity,--or to speak more correctly--his sense of his own interest, while it preserved his servants from the miseries of hunger and nakedness, at the same time, exposed those among them, whom slavery and ignorance had not completely brutalized, to other and more excruciating miseries. Had we been but half fed and half clothed, like the servants on several of the neighboring plantations, we should, like them, have enjoyed the excitement of plunder. We should have found some exercise for our ingenuity, and some object about which to interest ourselves, in plans and stratagems for eking out our short allowance by the aid of theft.
As it was, stealing was but little practiced at Oakland. The inducement was too small, and the risk too great,--for detection was certain to result in being sold. Money was no object to us; we could only spend it on food and clothes, and of these we had enough already. Whiskey was the only luxury we wanted; and we could make enough to purchase that, without the necessity of theft. Mr Thornton allowed each of us a little piece of ground. This was customary;--but what was quite contrary to custom, he allowed us time to cultivate it. He endeavored to stimulate our industry by the promise of buying all we could produce,
not at a mere nominal price, as was the fashion on other plantations, but at its full value.
I am sorry to say it, but it is not the less true, that major Thornton's people, like all slaves who have the means and the opportunity--were generally, drunkards. Our master took good care that whiskey did not interfere with our work. To be drunk before the task was finished was a high misdemeanor. But after the day's labor was over, we were at liberty to drink as much as we pleased;--provided always, that it did not prevent us from turning out at daylight the next morning. Sunday was generally a grand Saturnalia.
Hitherto, I had scarcely been in the habit of drinking. But now I began to be eager for any thing which promised to sustain my sinking spirits, and to excite my stagnant soul. I soon found in whiskey, a something that seemed to answer the purpose. In that elevation of heart which drunkenness inspires, that forgetfulness of the past and the present, that momentary halo with which it crowns the future, I found a delight which I hastened to repeat, and knew not how to forego. Reality was to me a blank, dark and dreary. Action was forbidden; desire was chained; and hope shut out. I was obliged to find relief in dreams and illusions. Drunkenness, which degrades the freeman to a level with the brutes, raises, or seems to raise the slave, to the dignity of a man. It soon became my only pleasure, and I indulged it to excess. Every day, as soon as my task was finished, I hastened to shut myself up with my bottle. I drank in solitude,--for much as I loved the excitement of drunkenness,
I could not forget its beastliness and insanity, and I hated to expose my folly to the sight of my fellow servants. But my precautions were not always successful. In the phrensy of excitement I sometimes forget all my sober precautions, undid the bolts I had carefully fastened, and sought the company I most desired to shun.
One Sunday, I had been drinking, till I was no longer the master of my own actions. I had left my house, and gone to seek some boon-companions with whom to protract the revel and increase its zest. But I was unable to distinguish one object from another, and after straggling off for some distance, I sunk down, almost insensible, upon the carriage way, which led towards major Thornton's house.
I had grown a little more sober, and was endeavoring to rally my thoughts and to recollect where I was, and what had brought me there, when I saw my master riding up the road, with two other gentlemen. They were all on horseback; and as drunk as I was, I saw at a glance, that my master's two companions, were very much in the same predicament. The manner in which they reeled backward and forward in their saddles was truly laughable; and I expected every moment to see them come tumbling to the ground. I made these observations as I lay upon the road, without once thinking where I was, or recollecting the danger I was in of being ridden over. They had come quite near before they noticed me. By that time I was sitting up, and my master's drunken companions took it into their heads, to jump their horses
over me. Major Thornton did his best to prevent them; one he succeeded in stopping,--but the other evaded his attempt to sieze the bridle, swore that the sport was too pretty to be lost, put spurs to his horse, and brought him up to the leap.
But the horse had no fancy for this sort of sport. When he saw me before him, he started back, and his drunken rider came tumbling to the ground. The others dismounted and went to his assistance. Before he was well upon his feet, he begged major Thornton's attention, and forthwith commenced a very grave lecture on the indecency of allowing servants to get drunk, and to lie about the plantation--particularly across the roads, frightening gentlemen's horses, and putting the necks of their riders into jeopardy. "Especially you, major Thornton, who pretend to be a pattern for all of us. By God, sir, if you did as you ought to do, every time one of the damned fellows had the insolence to get drunk, you would tie him up and give him forty lashes. That's the way I do, on my plantation."
My master was so very fond of setting forth his method of farming, and his plan of plantation-discipline, that he did not always stop to consider whether his auditors were drunk or sober. The present opportunity was too good to be lost, and rubbing his hands together, he answered, with a half-smile, and a very sagacious look,--"but, my dear sir, you must know it is a part of my plan to let my servants drink as much as they please, so that it does not interfere with their tasks. Poor fellows! it serves to keep
them out of mischief, and soon makes them so stupid they are the easiest creatures in the world to manage." Here he paused a minute, and assuming the look, which a man puts on, who thinks he is going to urge an unanswerable argument--"Besides," he added, "if one of these drinking fellows happens to take a huff and runs away, the very first thing he does, is to get drunk, so that you seldom have any difficulty in catching him."
Though I was still too much under the influence of whiskey, to be capable of much muscular motion, I had so far recovered my senses as to comprehend perfectly, all that my master was saying; and no sooner had he finished, than, drunk as I was, I made a resolution to drink no more. I was not yet so far lost, as to be able to endure the idea, of being myself the instrument of my own degradation. My resolution was well kept; for I have seldom tasted spirits since that day.
IT is the lot of the slave, to be exposed, in common with other men, to all the calamities of chance and all the caprices of fortune. But unlike other men, he is denied the consolation of struggling against them. He is bound hand and foot; and his sufferings are aggravated ten fold, by the bitter idea that he is not allowed to help himself, or to make any attempt to escape the blow, which he sees impending over him. This idea of utter helplessness, is one of the most distressing in nature,--but it is one of those miseries with which the slave must early learn to be familiar.
Major Thornton, by over exertion and imprudent exposure, brought on a fever, which in a short time, assumed a very unfavorable aspect. It was the first time he had been sick for many years. The alarm and terror, which the news of his danger excited at Oakland, was very great. Every morning and evening, we collected about the house to learn how our master did; and mournful were the faces, and sad the hearts, with which we heard the bitter words, "no better." The women, at Oakland, had always been treated with peculiar indulgence, such as their sex and weakness demands,--but demands so often without obtaining it. Major Thornton's illness gave an instance how full of gratitude is the female heart, and at what a trifling expense, one may purchase its most zealous affection.
All the women, on the place, were anxious to be employed, in some way, in ministering to the comfort of their suffering master. The most disagreeable duties were eagerly performed; and if ever man was tenderly and assiduously nursed, it was major Thornton. But all this care, all our sympathy, our sorrow and our terrors, were of no effect. The fever raged with unabated fury, and seemed to find new fewel in the strength of the patient's constitution. But that fewel was soon exhausted, and in ten days, our master was no more.
When his decease became known, we looked upon each other in silent consternation. A family of helpless orphans, from whom death had just snatched their last surviving parent, could not have felt a greater destitution. Tears rolled down the cheeks of the men; and the cries and lamentations of the women were truly distressing. His old nurse, in particular, wept and would not listen to any consolation. She had good reason. At his father's death she had been sold, with the other property, to satisfy the creditors. But major Thornton had re-purchased her, out of his very first earnings; he had made her the head-servant of his household, and had always treated her with great tenderness. The old woman loved him like her own child, and lamented her "dear son Charly," as she called him, with all the pathetic energy of a widowed and childless mother.
We all attended the funeral, and followed our dead master to the grave. The hollow sound of the earth as it fell upon the coffin, was echoed back from every bosom; and when this last sad office was finished, we
stood over the grave, and wept together. Doubt not the sincerity of our sorrow! It was for ourselves we were lamenting.
Major Thornton was never married; and he left no children whose rights the laws acknowledged. If he had intended to make a will, his sudden death prevented him; and his property passed to a troop of cousins for whom, I suspect, he did not entertain any great affection. At all events, I had never seen any of them at Oakland, nor could I learn from the other servants, that either of them had ever made a visit there. It was thus that we became the property of strangers, who had never seen us, and whom we had never seen.
These heirs-at-law were poor as well as numerous, and seemed very eager to turn all the property into money, so as to get their several shares with the least possible delay. An order of court, or whatever the legal process may be called, was soon obtained; and the sale of the slaves was advertised to take place at the county court-house. The agent to whom the care of the estate was intrusted made the necessary preparations. Of course it was not thought expedient that we should know what was going on, or what our new owners intended to do with us. The secret was carefully kept lest some of us should run away.
The day before that which had been appointed for the sale, we were collected together. The able bodied men and women were handcuffed and chained in a string. A few old grey headed people and the younger children were carried in a cart. The rest of us were driven along like cattle--men, women and children
together. Three fellows on horse-back, with the usual equipment of long whips, served at once, as guards and drivers.
I shall not attempt to describe our affliction. It would be but the repetition of an oft-told tale. Who has not read of slave-traders on the coast of Africa? Whose heart has not ached at picturing the terrors and despair of the kidnapped victims? Our case was much the same. Many of us had been born and reared at Oakland, and all looked upon it as a home--nay more, as a city of refuge, where we had always been safe from gratuitous insults and aggressions. From this home, we were how snatched away, without a moment's warning; and were driven chained to the slave-market to be sold to the highest bidder.
Is it strange that we were reluctant to go? Had we been setting out, of our own accord, to seek our our fortunes, we could not have broken, all at once, all the ties that bound us to Oakland, without some throbs of natural grief. What then, must have been our anguish to leave it as we did?
But the tears of the men, the sobs of the women, and the cries and terrors of the poor children, availed us nothing. Our conductors cracked their whips and made a jest of our lamentations. Our sorrowful procession moved slowly on; and many a sad lingering look, we cast behind us. We said nothing; and our melancholy reflections were only interrupted by the curses, shouts, and loud laughter of our drivers.
We lodged, that night, by the road side; our drivers sleeping and keeping watch by turns. The next
day, we reached the county court-house, and at the appointed hour, the sale began. The company was not very numerous, and the bidders seemed extremely shy. Many of our late master's neighbors were present. One of them remarked that several of us were fine stout fellows, but, for his part, he should be afraid to buy any of the Thornton hands, for we had been so spoilt by our late master's foolish indulgence, that one of us would be enough to spread discontent through a whole neighborhood. This speech was received with evident applause, and it had its intended effect. The auctioneer did his best, and harangued most eloquently upon our healthy, sound and plump condition. "As to the over-indulgence, that gentleman speaks about," he observed, "a good cow-hide and strict discipline will soon bring them into proper subordination;--and from what I have heard of that gentleman's own management, he is the very person who ought to buy them." A slight titter ran through the company, at this sally of the auctioneer's, but it did not seem to make the bidding much brisker. We went off at very moderate prices. Most of the younger men and women, and a large proportion of the children were bought by a slave-trader, who had come on purpose to attend the sale. It was very difficult to get a bid for several of the old people. Mr Thornton's nurse, who, as I have mentioned, had been his house-keeper, and a person of no little consequence at Oakland, was knocked off for twenty dollars. She was bought by an old fellow, well known in the neighborhood for his cruelty to his servants. He shook his head as the auctioneer's hammer
struck the table, grinned an ugly smile, and said he believed the gal was yet able to handle a hoe;--any how, he would get one summer's work out of her. The old lady had scarcely held up her head since the death of her master; but she forgot all her sorrows, she forgot even to deplore the lot that seemed to await her, in her anger at being sold at so small a price. She turned to her purchaser, and with an indignant air, told him that she was both younger and stronger than folks thought for, and assured him that he had made the best bargain of any of the company. The old fellow chuckled, but said nothing. It was very easy to read his thoughts. He was evidently resolving to hold the old woman to her word.
Some of the old and decrepid slaves could not be sold at all. They were not worth purchasing, and nobody would bid. I do not know what became of them.
The slave-dealer who had purchased most of the children, declined buying such of the mothers as were past the age of child-bearing. The parting of these mothers from their children, was a new scene of misery and lamentation. The poor things snatched a little while before, from the home of their birth and their infancy, and now, torn from the mothers that bore and nursed them, clasped their little hands, and shrieked with all the unrestrained vehemence of infant agony. The mothers wept too, but their grief was more subdued. There was one old women, the mother, she said, of fifteen children. One little girl, about ten or twelve years old, was all that remained to her. The
others had been sold and scattered, she knew not whither. She was now to part from her youngest and only remaining child. The little girl clung to her mother's dress with all the terror of one who was about to be kidnapped, and her screams and cries might have touched a heart of stone. Her new master snatched the child away, hit her a cut with his whip, and bade her hold her damned clatter. A slave-trader, however he may have the exterior of a gentleman, is in fact, the same ferocious barbarian, whether on the coast of Guinea, or in the heart of the "Ancient Dominion."
When our new master had completed his purchases, he prepared to set out with his drove. He was one of a slave-dealing firm, whose head quarters were at the city of Washington, the seat of the federal government, and the capital of the United States of America. It was to this place that he intended to carry us. The whole purchase was about forty head, consisting in nearly equal proportions of men, women and children. We were joined in couples by iron collars about our necks, which were connected by a link of iron. To these connecting links, a heavy chain was fastened, extending from one end of the drove to the other. Besides all this, the right and left hands of every couple were fastened together by hand-cuffs, and another chain passed along these fastenings. The collars about our necks, with their connecting chain, might have been thought perhaps, under ordinary circumstances, a sufficient security; but as our new master had heard from major Thornton's neighbors,
who were present at the sale, that we were "a set of very dangerous fellows," he thought it best, as he said, to omit no reasonable means of security.
The drove was presently put in motion. Our purchasers, with two or three assistants, rode beside us on horseback, armed with whips, as usual. The journey was slow, sad and wearisome. We traveled without any good will; the poor children harrassed with the weight of their chains, and unaccustomed to fatigue; and all of us, faint for want of food;--for our new master was an economist, who spent as little on the road, as possible.
I will not dwell upon the tedious monotony of our sufferings and our journey. Suffice it to say, that after traveling for several days, we crossed the noble and wide-spreading Potomac, and late at night, began to enter the federal city. Perhaps I ought to say, the place where the federal city was to be,--for Washington, at that time, seemed only a straggling village, scattered over a wide extent of ground, and interspersed with deserted fields, overgrown with bushes. There were some indications however, of the future metropolis. The Capitol, though unfinished, was rearing its spacious walls in the moon-light, and gave promise of a magnificent edifice. Lights gleamed from the windows. The Congress perhaps was in session. I gazed at the building with no little emotion. "This," said I to myself, "is the head-quarters of a great nation,--the spot in which its concentrated wisdom is collected, to devise laws for the benefit of the whole community,--the just and equal laws of a free people and a great
democracy!"--I was going on with this mental soliloquy, when the iron collar about my neck touched a place from which it had rubbed the skin, and as I started with the pain, the rattling of chains reminded me, that 'these just and equal laws of a free people and a great democracy' did not avail to rescue a million* * The slaves in the United States are now nearly two millions and a half. It ought perhaps to be added, that by the federal constitution the general government has no right to interfere with the question of slavery in the States. The legislature of each State is the sole judge of that question, within its own limits. Slavery however, is still tolerated within the District of Columbia, which includes the city of Washington, over which Congress has an exclusive right of legislation. It is to be hoped that the people of the free States will not be deterred by the insolent and ferocious spirit of the slave-holders, from doing themselves the justice to abolish slavery wherever it is within their power. EDITOR.
of bondmen from hopeless servitude; and the cracking of our drivers' whips told too plainly that within a stone's throw of the Temple of Liberty--nay, under its very portico--the most brutal, odious and detestable tyranny found none to rebuke or to forbid it. What sort of liberty is it whose chosen city is its slave-market?--and what that freedom which permits the bravado insolence of a slave-trading aristocracy to lord it in the very halls of her legislation?
* The slaves in the United States are now nearly two millions and a half. It ought perhaps to be added, that by the federal constitution the general government has no right to interfere with the question of slavery in the States. The legislature of each State is the sole judge of that question, within its own limits. Slavery however, is still tolerated within the District of Columbia, which includes the city of Washington, over which Congress has an exclusive right of legislation. It is to be hoped that the people of the free States will not be deterred by the insolent and ferocious spirit of the slave-holders, from doing themselves the justice to abolish slavery wherever it is within their power. EDITOR.
We passed up the street, which led by the Capitol, and presently arrived at the establishment of Savage, Brothers & Co , our new masters. Half an acre of ground, more or less, was enclosed with a wall some twelve feet high, well armed at the top, with iron spikes and pieces of broken bottles. In the centre of the enclosure,
was a low brick building of no great size, with a few narrow, grated windows, and a stout door, well secured with bars and padlocks. This was the establishment, which was used by Messrs. Savage, Brothers & Co as a ware-house, in which they stowed away such slaves, as they purchased from time to time, in the neighboring country, to be kept till they were ready to send them off in droves, or to ship them to the South. In common with all the slave-trading gentry, Messrs. Savage, Brothers & Co had the free use of the city prison; but this was not large enough for the scale on which they carried on operations; so they had built a prison of their own. It was under the management of a regular jailer, and was very much like any other jail. The slaves were allowed the liberty of the yard during the day time; but at sun set, they were all locked up promiscuously in the prison. This was small and ill ventilated; and the number that was forced into it, was sometimes very great. While I was confined there, the heat and stench were often intolerable; and many a morning, I came out of it with a burning thirst and a high fever.
The states of Maryland and Virginia claim the honor of having exerted themselves for the abolition of the African slave trade. It is true they were favorable to that measure,--and they had good reasons of their own for being so. They gained the credit of humanity, by the same vote that secured them the monopoly of a domestic trade in slaves, which bids fair to rival any traffic ever prosecuted on the coast of Africa. The African traffic, they have declared to be piracy, which
the domestic slave-trade flourishes in the heart of their own territories, a just, legal and honorable commerce!
The district of Columbia, which includes the city of Washington, and which is situated between the two states above mentioned, has become, from the convenience of its situation, and other circumstances, the centre of these slave-trading operations,--an honor which it shares however, with Richmond and Baltimore, the chief towns of Virginia and Maryland. The lands of these two states have been exhausted by a miserable and inefficient system of cultivation, such as ever prevails where farms are large and the laborers enslaved. Their produce is the same with the productions of several of the free states north and west of them; and they are every day, sinking faster and faster, under the competition of free labor to which they are exposed.
Many a Virginian planter can only bring his revenue even with his expenditures, by selling every year, a slave or two. This practice, jocularly, but most significantly known, as 'eating a negro'--a phrase worthy of slave-holding humanity--is becoming every day, more and more common. A very large number of planters have ceased to raise crops with the expectation of profit. They endeavor to make the produce of their lands pay their current expenses; but all their hopes of gain are confined to the business of raising slaves for the southern market; and that market is as regularly supplied with slaves from Virginia, as with mules and cattle from Kentucky.
But the slave-trade in America, as well as in Africa,
carries with it the curse of depopulation; and, together with the emigration which is constantly going on, has already unpeopled great tracts of country in the lower part of Virginia, and is fast restoring the first seats of Anglo-American population to all their original wildness and solitude. Whole counties almost, are grown up in useless and impenetrable thickets, already retenanted with deer and other wild game, their original inhabitants.
WE were driven into the prison-yard, through a stout gate well studded with iron nails. The heavy padlocks of the prison-door were unfastened, and we were thrust in, without further ceremony. A faint glimmer of moon-light stole in at the narrow and grated windows of the prison; but it was some time before I was able to distinguish one object from another. When at length, my eyes had accommodated themselves to the faintness of the light, I found myself crowded into the midst of perhaps a hundred human beings,--most of them young men and women between
the ages of eighteen and twenty-four,--who were closely packed on the bare floor, half naked, and many of them extremely filthy.
A considerable number had started up at our entrance, and they now began to crowd about us, and to inquire who we were, and whence we came. They seemed glad of anything to break the monotony of their confinement. But wearied and fatigued, we were in no humor for talking; and sinking down upon the floor of our prison, notwithstanding the poisonous stench, and the confined and impure atmosphere, we were soon buried in profound slumbers. Sleep is the dearest solace of the wretched; and there is this sweet touch of mercy in it, that it ever closes the eyes of the oppressed, more willingly than those of the oppressor. I hardly think that any member of the firm of Savage, Brothers & Co slept so soundly that night, as did the most unquiet of their newly purchased victims.
Day came--the prison-door was unlocked, and we were let out into the enclosure about it. The scanty allowance of corn-bread which the penuriousness of our wealthy but economical masters allowed us, was doled out to each. My meal finished, I sat down upon the ground, and observed the scene about me. With a few exceptions, the prisoners were collected in groups, some containing two or three, and others a much larger number. The men were more numerous than the women, though the females had received a considerable addition from our party. The acquaintance of these new comers was eagerly sought for, and
they were constantly receiving solicitations to enter into temporary unions, to last while the parties remained together. Most of the women whom we found in the prison, had already formed connections of this sort.
These courtships,--if so they should be called,--were still going on, when a tall young fellow, with a very quizzical face, produced a three stringed fiddle, and after preluding for a few moments, struck up a lively tune. The sound of the music soon drew a large group about him, who provided themselves with partners and began a dance. As the fiddler warmed to his business, he played faster and faster, and the dancers, amidst laughs and shouts and boisterous merriment, did their best to keep up with the tune.
It is thus that men, whenever their natural sources of enjoyment fail them, betake themselves to artificial excitements. Too often, we sing and dance, not because we are merry, but in the hope to become so; and merriment itself is seldomer the expression and the evidence of pleasure, than the disguise of weariness and pain,--the hollow echo of an aching heart.
But the entire company did not join the dancers. As it happened, it was Sunday; and a part of them seemed to entertain conscientious scruples about dancing on that, and for ought I know, upon any other day. The more sober part of the company gradually collected together in the opposite corner of the prison-yard; and a sedate young man, with a handsome and intelligent face, mounted upon the head of an empty barrel which happened to be standing there, and taking a hymn
book from his pocket struck up a Methodist psalm. His voice was sweet and clear, and his singing far from disagreeable. He was soon joined by several others; and as the chorus swelled, the sound of the psalmody almost drowned the scraping of the fiddle and the laughter of the dancers. I observed too, that several of the dancing party, cast their eyes, from time to time wistfully towards the singers; and before the psalm was half finished, several of the females had stolen softly away, and mingled in the group collected about the preacher. The singing being ended, he began to pray. His hands were clasped, and raised towards heaven, and he spoke with a ready fluency, and a natural earnestness and unction, not always heard from a regular clergyman in a cushioned pulpit. Tears ran down many a face; and sighs and groans almost drowned the voice of the speaker. These perhaps, were mere practiced responses, as artificial, and as little sincere, as the drawl of the parish clerk in the English church service. And yet in some cases, they had every appearance of being genuine bursts of natural feeling,--an involuntary tribute to the eloquence and fervor of the speaker.
Next followed the exhortation. The text was from Job; and the preacher began upon the trite subject of patience. But like all ignorant and illiterate speakers, he soon deserted his original topic, and ran on from one thing to another, with very little of method or connection. Now and then, some sparks of sense were struck out; but they were speedily quenched in a flood of absurdity. It was a strange farrago;--but it
was delivered with a volubility, an earnestness and a force, which produced a strong effect upon the hearers. It was not long before he had worked them up to a pitch of excitement, which far surpassed that of the dancers in the opposite corner. Indeed, the dancing group grew thinner and thinner, and the squeak of the fiddle sounded weaker and weaker, till at last the fiddler threw down his instrument, and with his remaining adherents hastened to swell the audience of a performer whose powers so much out-matched his own.
As the sermon proceeded, the groans and cries of mercy and amen, grew louder and more frequent; and several, overcome by their feelings, or wishing or affecting to be so, fell flat upon the ground, and screamed and shouted as if they had been possessed by evil spirits. So strong was the contagion, and so powerful the sympathetic infectiousness of this spiritual intoxication, that I,--a mere looker on,--felt a strong impulse to rush among the crowd, and to shriek and shout with the rest. The paroxysm was now at its height, and the speaker was almost exhausted by his vehement gesticulation, when stamping his foot, with more than common energy--he burst in the head of the barrel and tumbled headlong among his auditors.
This unlucky accident instantly converted the cries and groans of his hearers, into shouts of irrepressible laughter; and they seemed to pass all at once, from a state of the utmost terror and solemnity, into outrageous and uncontrolable merriment. The fiddler crept out from amidst the hurly burly, caught up his fiddle, and struck up a lively air,--I forget the name of it, but
I recollect very well that it contained some allusion to the disaster of his rival. The dance was renewed; while the preacher, with a few of his more attached hearers, slunk away mortified and disheartened. The dancers grew more boisterous, and the fiddler played his best; till at last the party had fairly tired themselves out, and were too much exhausted to keep it up any longer.
Men born and bred in slavery, are not men but children. Their faculties are never permitted to unfold themselves; and it is the aim of their masters, and the necessary effect of their condition, to keep them in a state of perpetual imbecility. Tyranny is ever hostile to every species of mental development, for its great object is to keep its victims in a state of ignorance and degradation, and therefore of helplessness.
I soon made myself acquainted with a number of my fellow prisoners, and entered into conversation with them. Some of them had been in the jail a fortnight, and others longer. I presently discovered that they considered their confinement as a sort of holyday. They had nothing to do;--and not to be compelled to work seemed, for them, the supreme idea of happiness. As to being confined within the walls of a prison,--they had the liberty of the yard, and it was just as agreeable being shut up within four brick walls as to be prisoner on a plantation, forbidden to go beyond the line of its zig-zag fences. Then they had no overseer to harrass them, and nothing to do but to dance and sleep. Nothing was wanted but a little whiskey, and even that was not always wanting. They seemed anxious to drown all
memory of the past, and all dread of the future, and to bask without concern, in the sunshine of their present felicity.
I had been in jail ten days or a fortnight, when Messrs Savage, Brothers & Co selected from their warehouse a cargo of slaves for the Charleston market. I was one of the number; and with some fifty others, was loaded on board a small vessel bound for that port. The captain's name was Jonathan Osborne. He was a citizen of Boston, and the vessel, the brig Two Sallys, belonged to that port, and was the property of a rich and respectable merchant.
The people of the northern States of the American Union, talk finely upon the subject of slavery, and express a very proper indignation at its horrors. Yet while the African slave trade was permitted, their merchants carried it on;--and these same merchants do not always refuse to employ their vessels in the domestic slave trade,--a traffic not one iota less base and detestable.
Northern statesmen have permitted slavery where no
constitutional objections prevented them from abolishing it; the courts and lawyers of the North scrupulously fulfil to the utmost letter, the constitutional obligation to restore to the Southern master, the victim who has escaped his grasp, and fled to the 'free States,' in the vain hope of protection; whilst the whole North looks calmly on and tamely suffers the Southern slave-holders to violate all the provisions of that same constitution, and to imprison, torture, and put to death, the citizens of the North without judge or jury, whenever they imagine that such severities can contribute, in the slightest degree, to the security of their slave-holding tyranny. Nay more,--many of the Northern aristocrats, in the energy of their hatred for democratical equality, seem almost ready to envy, while they affect to deplore, the condition of their Souther brethren. And yet the northern States of the union dare to assert that they are undefiled by the stain of slavery. It is a vain, false boast. They are partners in the wrong. The blood of the slave is on their hands, and is dripping, in red and gory drops, from the skirts of their garments.
Before leaving the prison, we were supplied with handcuffs, those usual badges and emblems of servitude, and having reached the wharf, we were crammed together, into the hold of the vessel, so close that we had hardly room to move, and not room enough either to lie or sit with comfort. The vessel got under way soon after we came on board, and proceeded down the river. Once or twice a day, we were suffered to come on deck, and to breathe the fresh air for a
few minutes; but we were soon remanded to our dungeon in the hold. The mate of the vessel seemed to be a good natured young man, and disposed to render our condition as comfortable as possible; but the captain was a savage tyrant, worthy of the business in which he was engaged.
We had been on our voyage a day or two, and had already cleared the river, and were standing down the bay, when I became excessively sick. A burning fever seemed raging in my veins. It was after sunset; the hatches was closed down; and the heat of the narrow hold, in which we were confined, and which was more than half filled up with boxes and barrels, became intolerable. I knocked against the deck, and called aloud for air and water. It was the mate's watch. He came forward to ascertain what was the matter, and bade the men unfasten the hatches and lift me on deck. I snatched the bason of water which he gave me, and though brackish and dirty, it seemed to my feverish taste the most delicious of drinks. I drained it to the bottom and called for more;--but the mate, who feared perhaps that excessive drinking might aggravate my disorder, refused this request. I wanted air as much as water. This he did not refuse me; and I was lying on the deck, imbibing at every pore the cool breeze of the evening, when the captain came up the companion-way.
He no sooner saw the hatches off, and me lying on the deck, than he stepped up to his mate with a clenched fist and a face distorted with passion, and addressed
him with "How dare you take off the hatches after sundown, without my orders?"
The mate attempted an apology, and began with saying that I was taken suddenly sick, and had called for assistance;--but without waiting to hear him out, the brutal captain rushed by, and hitting me a kick, precipitated me headlong, into the hold, upon the heads of my companions. Without stopping to inquire, whether or not my neck was broken, he bade his men replace and secure the hatches. Luckily I sustained but little injury; though I came within an inch of having my scull broken against one of the beams. The water I had drank, and the cool air I had breathed, abated my fever, and I soon began to grow better.
In the course of the next day, we passed the capes of the Chesapeake, and entered the great Atlantic. We stood to the southward and eastward, and were making rapid way, when it came on to blow a furious gale. The tossing and pitching of the ship was terrible indeed to us poor prisoners, confined in the dark hold, and expecting, at every burst of thunder, that the vessel was breaking in pieces. The storm continued to increase. The noise and tumult on deck, the creaking of the rigging, the cries of the seamen, and the sound of cracking spars, and splitting canvass added to our terror. Pretty soon, we found that the hold was filling with water, and an alarm was given that the vessel had sprung a-leak. The hatches were opened, and we were called on deck. Our handcuffs were knocked off, and we were set to work at the pumps.
I could not tell whether it was night or morning; for the gale had now lasted a good while, and since it began, we had not been suffered to come on deck. However it was not totally dark. A dim and horrid glimmer, just sufficient to betray our situation, and more terrible perhaps than total darkness, was hovering over the ocean. At a distance, the huge black waves, crested with pale blue foam, seemed to move on like monsters of the deep; nor when nearer, did they lose any of their terrors. Now we sunk into a horrid gulf, between two watery precipices, which swelled on either side, black, and frowning, and ready to devour us; and now, lifted on the top of a lofty wave, we viewed all around, a wild and fearful waste of dark and stormy waters. It was a terrible sight for one who had never seen the sea before; and as I gazed upon it, half stupified with terror, little did I think that this same fierce and raging element, was to prove hereafter, my best and surest friend!
The brig was almost a total wreck. Her foremast was gone by the board; and she was lying too on the starboard tack, under a close reefed main-top-sail. These are terms which, at that time, I had never heard. It was long afterwards that I learned to use them. But the whole scene remains as distinct upon my memory as if it had been painted there. Notwithstanding all our efforts, the leak gained upon us; and the captain soon made up his mind that it would be impossible to keep the vessel afloat. Accordingly he made his preparations for quitting her. He and his mates were armed with swords and pistols; and cutlasses
were put into the hands of two or three of the crew. The long boat had been washed overboard; but they had succeeded in securing the jolly boat, which they now lowered away and dropped into the water under the vessel's lee. The crew were already embarking, before we well understood what they were about;--but as soon as we comprehended that they were going to desert the ship, we rushed frantickly forward, and demanded to be taken on board. This they had expected, and they were prepared for it. Three or four pistol shots were fired among us, and several of us were severely wounded by the sailors' cutlasses. At the same time, they cried to us to stand back, and they would take us on board as soon as all things were ready. Terrified and confused, we stood a moment doubting what to do. The sailors improved this interval to jump on board,--"cast off" shouted the captain,--the seamen bent to their oars, and the boat was fast quitting the vessel, before we had recovered from our momentary hesitation.
We raised a shout, or rather a scream of terror, at finding ourselves thus deserted; and three or four poor wretches, on the impulse of the moment, sprang into the water, in the hope of reaching the boat. All but one sunk instantly in the boiling surge; he, a man of herculean frame, springing with all the effort of a death-struggle, was carried far beyond the rest, and rising through the billows, found himself just behind the boat. He stretched out his hand and caught the rudder. The captain was steering. He drew a pistol and fired it at the head of the swimmer. We heard a
scream above all the noise of the tempest. It was only for a moment; he sunk, and we saw him no more.
It is impossible to convey any adequate idea of the terror and confusion which now prevailed on board. The women, now screaming, now praying, were frantic with fear. Four or five poor fellows lay about the deck bleeding and desperately wounded. Death seemed to ride upon the storm, and to summon his victims. The vessel still lay with her head to windward; but the spray dashed over her continually, and every now and then, she shipped a sea which set the decks a-float and drenched us in salt water. It occurred to me, that unless the pumps were kept going, the vessel would soon fill and carry us to the bottom. I called about me, such of the men as seemed to be most in their senses, and endeavored to explain to them our situation; but they were stupified with terror, and would not or could not understand me. As a last resource, I rushed forward, crying--"pump my hearties, pump for your lives." This was the phrase which the captain and his mates had continually repeated, as they stood over us and directed our labor. The poor creatures seemed to obey as if instinctively, this voice of command. They collected about me and began to work the pumps. If it had no other good effect, at least it served to call off our attention from the horrors with which we were surrounded. We plyed our work till one of the pumps was broken and the other choked and rendered useless. By this time the storm had abated, and the vessel, notwithstanding all our fears to the contrary, still rode the waves.
It grew lighter by degrees. Presently the clouds began to break away, and to drive in large and misty masses along the sky. Occasionally the sun broke out, and after a considerable dispute, whether it were rising or setting, we concluded it must be some four or five hours past sunrise.
As soon as the women had recovered from the first paroxysm of their terror, they gave such care as they could, to the poor sufferers, who had been wounded. They had bound up their wounds and had collected them together on the quarter deck. One poor fellow who had been shot through the body with a pistol ball, was much worse hurt than the others. His wife was supporting his head on her lap, and trying to cool his parched lips with a cup of water. She was standing by him, or rather clinging to him, at the moment he was wounded. She had caught him in her arms as he fell, had dragged him from the press, and from that moment seemed to forget all the horrors of our situation, in her incessant efforts to soothe his pains. Her affectionate care had proved of little avail. The struggle was now almost over. In a little while, he expired in her arms.
When she found that he was dead, her grief which she had controled and suppressed so long, burst forth in all its energy. Her female companions gathered about her,--but the poor woman was beyond the reach of consolation.
Some of us now ventured below, and took the liberty of overhauling the steward's stores. Every thing was more or less damaged with salt water; but we
lighted upon a cask or two of bread, which was tolerably dry, and which sufficed to furnish us a sumptuous repast.
We had not finished it, before we discovered a vessel standing towards us. As she approached, we waved fragments of the tattered sails, and shouted for assistance. Having run down pretty near us, she hove too, and sent a boat on board. When the boat's crew had mounted over the brig's side, they seemed utterly amazed at the scene which her decks presented. I stepped forward, and explained to the officer the nature of our situation;--that we were a cargo of slaves bound from Washington to Charleston, and that the vessel and her lading had been deserted by the crew; that contrary to every expectation, we had succeeded in keeping her afloat, but that the pumps were out of order and she was again filling.
The mate hastened back to his own ship and soon returned with the captain and the carpenter. After examining and consulting together, they determined to put a part of their own crew on board the brig and to navigate her into Norfolk, to which port they were bound, and which was the nearest harbor. The carpenter was set at work stopping her leaks and repairing her pumps. Her new crew set up a jury foremast, out of such materials as they found on board. She was soon in sailing order, and they shook the reefs out of her main-top-sail and put her before the wind.
The vessel which had rescued us, was the Arethusa, of New York, Charles Parker, master; and lest we
might need assistance, she slackened sail and kept us company. Before night, we made the land and a pilot came on board. The next morning we anchored in the harbor of Norfolk. I must be excused from describing the town, as I had no opportunity to see it; for we were hurried off, and locked up in the jail for safe keeping.
WE remained in jail some three weeks, before any body condescended to inform us why we were kept there, or what was to become of us. We now learned that captain Parker and his crew had libelled the Two Sallys and her cargo for salvage; and that the Court had ordered the libelled property to be sold at auction, for the joint benefit of the owners and salvors. This was all Greek to us. I had not the most distant idea what was meant by 'libelling for salvage,' and I hardly think that any of the others understood it better than I. Nobody took the trouble to explain it to us;--it was enough for us to understand, that we were to be sold, the why and the wherefore, it was thought of no consequence for slaves to know.
As I had already been twice sold at public auction, the thing had lost its interest and its novelty. I was tired of the confinement of the prison; and as I knew that I must be sold at last, I was as ready to take my chance now as ever.
The sale was much like other sales of slaves. There was only one circumstance about it, that seemed worthy of particular notice. The wounded men, though they were not yet cured,--indeed two of the four were hardly thought out of danger,--were to be sold among the rest. "Damaged articles," the auctioneer observed, "which he was willing to dispose of at a great discount." The four were offered in one lot,--"like so many broken frying pans," said one of the spectators;--"but for my part, I have no fancy for speculating either in broken frying pans, wounded slaves, or sick horses." A physician who was present, was advised to purchase. "If they should happen to die," said his adviser, "they would be quite useless to any body else, but you might find some use for their dead bodies." Various other jests equally pointed and brilliant, were thrown out by others of the company, and were received with shouts of laughter, that contrasted a little harshly, with the sad, woe-begone faces, and low moans of the wounded men, who were brought to the place of sale on little pallets, and who lay upon the ground, the very pictures of sickness and distress.
This jocular humor had reached a high pitch, when it was rather suddenly checked, by a tall fine looking man, who had more the air and manners of a gentleman
than the greater part of the company. He observed, with a tone and a look of some severity, that in his opinion, selling men upon their death-beds was no laughing matter. He immediately made a bid quite beyond any thing that had been offered, and the auctioneer pronounced him to be the purchaser. I hoped this same gentleman might have purchased me also;--but as soon as he had given some directions about the removal of the wounded men, he left the place of sale. Perhaps I had no reason to regret it. This gentleman, for ought I could tell, had acted, as an hundred other slave-buyers might have done, from a momentary impulse of humanity, which disgusted him, it is true, with the brutality of the rest of the company, but which in all likelihood, was neither strong nor steady enough to render his treatment of his servants much different from that of his neighbors. Such temporary fits of humanity and good nature, are occasionally felt by every body; but they are no guarantee whatever, against an habitual disregard of the rights and feelings of those, who are not allowed to protect themselves, and who are protected neither by the laws nor by public opinion.
I was purchased by an agent of Mr James Carleton, of Carleton-Hall, in one of the northern counties of North Carolina; and was presently sent off with two or three of my companions, for the plantation of our new master.
After a journey of four or five days, we arrived at Carleton-Hall. It was like the residences of so many other American planters,--a mean house, with no great signs about it, either of ornament or comfort.
At a short distance from the house, was the servants' quarter,--a miserable collection of ruinous cabins, crowded together without any order, and almost concealed in the vigorous growth of weeds, that sprung up around and among them.
Soon after our arrival, we were carried into the presence of our new master, who examined us one by one, and inquired into our several capabilities. Having learned that I had been raised a house-servant, and being pleased, as he said, with my manners and appearance, he told me he would take me into the house to supply the place of his man John, who had become so confirmed a drunkard, that he had been obliged to turn him into the field.
I was well enough pleased with this arrangement; for in general, those slaves who are house servants, are infinitely better off than those who are employed in field labor. They are better fed, and better clothed, and their work is much lighter. They are sure of the crumbs that fall from their master's table; and as the master's eyes and those of his guests would be offended by a display of dirt and rags in the dinning room, house servants are comfortably clothed, not so much, it is true, on their own account, as for the gratification of their owner's vanity. As it is a matter of ostentation to have a house full of servants, the labor becomes light when divided among so many. Sufficient food, comfortable clothing, and light work are not to be despised; but the circumstances which principally contributes to make the condition of the house servant more tolerable than that of the field hand, is of a different
description. Men, and especially women and children, cannot have any thing much about them, be it a dog, a cat, or even a slave, without insensibly contracting some interest in it and regard for it; and it thus happens that a family servant often becomes quite a favorite, and is at length regarded with a feeling that bears some faint and distant resemblance to family affection.
This is the most tolerable--in fact, the only tolerable point of view--in which slavery can be made to present itself; and it has been, by steadily fixing their eyes on a few cases of this sort, and as steadily, closing them to all its intrinsic horrors and enormities, that some bold sophists have mustered courage to make the eulogium of slavery.
Yet this best condition of a slave,--that I mean of a household servant,--is not seldom, almost too miserable for endurance. If there are kind masters and good natured mistresses, it happens too often, that the master is a capricious tyrant, and the mistress a fretful scold. The poor servant is exposed, every hour of his life, to a course of harsh rebukes, and peevish chidings, which are always threatening to end in the torture of the lash, and which to a person of any spirit or sensibility, are more annoying than even the lash itself. And all this is without hope or chance of remedy. The master and the mistress indulge their bad humor without restraint. No fear of 'warning' puts any curb upon them. The slave is theirs; and they can treat him as they please. He cannot help himself; and there is no one to help him.
Mr Carleton, while he entertained most of the notions of his brother planters, differed from the greater part of them in one striking particular. He was a zealous presbyterian, and very warm and earnest, in the cause of religion. Had any one told him, that to hold men in slavery was a high-handed offence against religion and morality, what would have been his answer? Would his heart have responded to the truth of a sentiment so congenial to every more generous emotion and better feeling? I am much afraid it would have been otherwise with him. I fear he would have answered much like those of his brother slave-holders, who made no pretensions whatever to peculiar piety. With a secret consciousness of his criminality, but with a fixed determination never to admit it, he would have worked himself into a violent passion; talked of the sacred rights of property,--more sacred in a slaveholder's estimation than either liberty or justice; and declaimed against impertinent interference in the affairs of other people,--a topic, by the way, which is very seldom much insisted upon, expect by those whose affairs will hardly bear examination.
Mr Carleton, though a zealous presbyterian, had, as I have said, most of the feelings and notions of his brother planters. It thus happened, that his character, his conversation and his conduct were full of strange contrasts, and were forever presenting an odd, incongruous mixture of the bully and the puritan. I use the word bully for want of a better,--not exactly in its most vulgar sense, but intending to signify by it, a certain spirit of bravado and violence,--a disposition
to settle every disputed point by the pistol, so common, I might almost say universal, in the southern States of America. Mr Carleton with all his piety, talked as familiarly of shooting people, as if he had been a professed assassin.
As I had the honor of waiting upon Mr Carleton's table, and the pleasure and advantage of listening every day to his conversation, I soon came to understand his character perfectly,--as perfectly at least as it was possible for any body to understand so very inconsistent a character. He had family prayers, night and morning, with the most punctilious regularity. He prayed long and fervently, and on his bended knees. He was particularly earnest in his petitions for the universal spread of the gospel; he asked most devoutly, that as all men were creatures of the same God, they might speedily become children of the same faith. Yet not only the plantation slaves were never invited to join in this family worship, but even the house-servants were excluded. The door was shut;--and at the very moment when the devout Mr Carleton professed to prostrate himself in the dust before his Creator, he felt too strongly the sense of his own superiority, to permit even his house-hold servants to participate in his devotions!
But for all this, Mr Carleton evidently had the cause of religion very much at heart, and seemed ready to spend and be spent in the service. There were very few clergymen in the part of the country in which he resided, and his zeal frequently led him to supply the gap, by acting as an exhorter. Indeed there was
scarcely a Sunday that he did not hold forth some-where in the neighborhood. Within ten miles of Carleton-Hall, in different directions, there were as many as three churches, wretched, ruinous little buildings, that looked more like deserted barns than places of public worship. All of these Mr Carleton had caused to be repaired,--principally at his own expense, and in each of them he preached occasionally. But he did not consider a church as indispensable to an exhortation. During the summer, he frequently held meetings in some shady grove, or by the side of some cool spring; and in the winter, sometimes in his own house, and sometimes in the houses of his neighbors. He was generally pretty sure of a considerable audience. That part of the country was thinly inhabited, and the people had but few amusements. They were glad of any occasion of assembling together, and seemed to care very little whether it were a preaching or a frolic. Besides, Mr Carleton was really an agreeable speaker; and the earnestness and vehemence of his manner were well calculated to attract an audience.
A very considerable proportion of his hearers were slaves;--for though he did not judge it expedient to allow them to become partakers in his private devotions, he had no objection to their swelling his audience, and giving a sort of eclat to his public performances. Indeed, towards the end of his discourses, he would often condescend to introduce a few sentences for their particular benefit. The change which took place in his manner when he came to this part of his sermon was
sufficiently obvious. The phrase, 'dear brethren,' which in the earlier part of it, he was forever repeating, was now suddenly dropped. The preacher assumed a condescending, patronizing air, and briefly and dryly informed those of his hearers, 'whom God had appointed to be servants,' that their only hope of salvation was in patience, obedience, submission, diligence and subordination. He warned them earnestly, against thieving and lying, their 'easily besetting sins;' and enforced at some length the great wickedness and folly of being discontented with their condition. All this was applauded by the masters as very orthodox doctrine, and very proper to be preached to servants. The servants themselves received it, with an outward submission, to which their hearts gave the lie. Nor is it very strange, considering the doctrines which he preached to them, that the greater part of Mr Carleton's converts among the slaves, were hypocritical fellows, who made their religion a cloak for their roguery. There was in fact, much truth in the observation of one of Mr Carleton's neighbors, that most of the slaves, in that part of the country, had no religion at all, and that those who pretended to have any were worse than the others. And how could it be otherwise, when in the venerable name of religion, they had preached to them a doctrine of double-distilled tyranny,--a doctrine which not content with now and then a human victim, demanded the perpetual sacrifice of one half the entire community?
Alas christianity! What does it avail,--thy concern for the poor,--thy tenderness for the oppressed,
--thy system of fraternal love and affection! The serpent knows how to suck poison from the harmless nature of the dove. The tyrants of every age and country, have succeeded in prostituting christianity into an instrument of their crimes, a terror to their victims, and an apology for their oppressions! Nor have they ever wanted time-serving priests and lying prophets to applaud, encourage, and sustain them!
However little the slaves might relish Mr Carleton's doctrines,--of which indeed their own hearts instinctively made the refutation,--they were very fond of attending upon his performances. It was some relief to the eternal monotony of their lives; and it gave them an opportunity of getting together after the meeting was over, and having a frolic among themselves. This recreation, which it afforded to the servants, was in my opinion, the best effect of Mr Carleton's labors; though certain gentlemen, who dreaded every assembly of slaves, as a source of discontent and conspiracy, were very earnest in the condemnation of his meetings, under the hypocritical pretence of being shocked at the violations of the Sabbath, of which they furnished the occasion!
Mr Carleton was president of a Bible society, and was very anxious and earnest about the universal diffusion of the Bible. I soon found out however, that besides myself, there was not a single slave on his plantation, nor indeed in all the neighborhood, who knew how to read:--and what was more, I learned that Mr Carleton was extremely unwilling to have any of them taught.
There is connected with this subject, a point of view, in which the system of domestic slavery that prevails in America, exhibits itself as out-braving all other tyrannies, and betraying a demoniac spirit almost too horrid to be thought of. Mr Carleton believed, and the immense majority of his fellow countrymen believe also, that the Bible contains a revelation from God of things essential to man's eternal welfare. In this belief, and animated by a lofty spirit of philanthropy, they have formed societies--and of one of these Mr Carleton was president; and contribute their money--as Mr Carleton did very liberally, to disseminate the Bible through the world, and to put this divine and unerring guide into the possession of every family. But while they are so zealous to confer this inestimable treasure on all the world beside, they sternly withhold it from those, of whom the law has made them the sole guardians. They withhold it from their slaves,--of whom, to use their own hypocritical cant, God has appointed them the natural protectors,--and in so doing, by their own confession, they voluntarily and knowingly expose those slaves, to the danger of eternal punishment! To this awful danger, they voluntarily and knowingly expose them, lest, should they learn to read, they might learn at the same time, their own rights, and the means of enforcing them.
What outrage upon humanity was ever equal to this? Other tyrannies have proceeded all lengths against man's temporal happiness; and in support of their evil dominion, have hazarded every extreme of temporary cruelty;--but what other tyrants are recorded in all the
world's history, who have openly and publicly confessed, that they prefer to expose their victims to the imminent danger of eternal misery, rather than impart a degree of instruction, which might, by possibility, endanger their own unjust and usurped authority? Can any one calmly consider the cool diabolism of this avowal, and believe it is men who make it? Men too, who seem in other matters, not destitute of the common feelings of good will;--men who talk about liberty, virtue, and religion, and who speak even of justice and humanity!
Were I inclined to superstition, I should believe they were not men, but rather demons incarnate;--evil spirits who had assumed the human shape, and who falsely put on a semblance of human feelings, in order the more secretly and securely to prosecute their grand conspiracy against mankind. I should believe so, did I not know that the love of social superiority, that very impulse of the human heart, which is the main-spring of civilization and the chief source of all human improvement, is able, when suffered to work on, uncontrolled by other more generous emotions, to corrupt man's whole nature, and to drive him to acts the most horrid and detestable. When to the corruptest form of this fierce passion, is joined a base fear, at once cowardly and cruel, what wonder that man becomes a creature to be scorned and hated?--To be pitied rather; the maniac can hardly be held accountable for the enormities to which his madness prompts him, even though that madness be self-created.
However diabolical the tyranny may be esteemed,
which to secure its usurped authority, is ready to sacrifice both the temporal and eternal happiness of its victims, it is no doubt well adapted to accomplish the end at which it aims; namely, its own perpetuation. But it is necessary to go one step further. The slaveholders ought to recollect, that all knowledge is dangerous; and that it is impossible to give the slaves any instruction in christianity, without imparting to them some dangerous ideas. It matters not that the law prohibits the teaching them to read. Oral instruction is as dangerous as written; and the catechism is nothing but a Bible in disguise. Let them go on, then, and bring their work to a glorious completion. Let them prohibit at once, all religious instruction. They must come to this at last. Let me tell them, that the time is past, in which Mr Carleton's doctrine of passive obedience is all that a religious teacher has to utter. There is another spirit abroad; and that spirit will penetrate, wherever religious instruction opens the way for it. Now-a-day it is impossible to hail the slave as a christian brother, without first acknowledging his rights as a fellow-man.
I had not been long in Mr Carleton's service, before I discovered, that a pretty sure way of getting into his good graces, was to be a great admirer of his religious performances, and a devout attendant upon such of them as his servants might attend. There never was a person less inclined by nature to hypocrisy than myself. But craft and cunning are the sole resource of a slave; and I had long ago learned to practice a thousand arts, which, at the same time that I despised them, I often found extremely useful.
For these arts, I now had occasion; and I plied my flattery to such good purpose, that I soon gained the good will of my master, and before long, was duly established in the situation of confidential servant. This was a station of very considerable respectability; and next to the overseer, I was decidedly the most consequential person on the place. It was my duty to attend specially upon my master, to ride about with him to meetings, carry his cloak and Bible, and take care of his horse;--for among other matters Mr Carleton was a connoisseur of horses, and he did not like to trust his, to the usual blundering negligence of his neighbors' grooms.
Pretty soon, my master found out my accomplishments of reading and writing--for I inadvertently betrayed a secret, which I had determined to keep to myself. At first he did not seem to like it; but as he
could not unlearn me, he soon determined to turn these acquirements of mine to some account. He had a good deal of writing, of one sort and another; and he set me to work as copier. In my character of secretary, I was often called upon, when my master was busy, to write passes for the people. This raised my consequence extremely; and my fellow servants soon begun to look upon me, as second only to 'master' himself.
Mr Carleton was naturally humane and kind-hearted; and though his sudden out-breaks of impatience and fretfulness were often vexatious enough, still if one humored him, they were generally soon over; and as if he reproached himself for not keeping a better guard over his temper, they were often followed by an affability and indulgence greater than usual. I soon learned the art of managing him to the best advantage, and every day I rose in his favor.
I had a good deal of leisure; and I found means to employ it both innocently and agreeably. Mr Carleton had a collection of books very unusual for a North Carolina planter. This library must have contained between two and three hundred volumes. It was the admiration of all the country round; and contributed not a little, to give its owner the character of a great scholar, and a very learned man. My situation of confidential servant, gave me free access to it. The greater part of the volumes treated of divinity, but there were some of a more attractive description; and I was able to gratify occasionally and by stealth, for I did not like to be seen reading any thing but the Bible,
that taste for knowledge which I had imbibed when a child, and which all the degradations of servitude, had not utterly extinguished. All things considered, I found myself much more agreeably situated, than I had been since the death of my first master.
I wish, both for their sakes and his own, that all the rest of Mr Carleton's slaves had been as well off and as kindly treated as myself. The house servants, it is true, had nothing to complain of, except indeed, those grievous evils, which are inseparable from a state of servitude, and which no tenderness or indulgence on the part of the master, can ever do away. But the plantation hands--some fifty in number--were very differently situated. Mr Carleton, like a large proportion of American planters, had no knowledge of agriculture, and not the slightest taste for it. He had never given any attention to the business of his plantation;--his youth had been spent in a course of boisterous dissipation; and since his conversion, he had been entirely devoted to the cause of religion. Of course his planting affairs and all that related to them were wholly in the hands of his overseer, who was shrewd, plausible, intelligent and well acquainted with his business;--but a severe task-master,--bad tempered,--and if all reports were true, not very much over-burdened with honesty. Mr Warner, for this was the overseer's name, was engaged on terms which however ruinous to the planter and his plantation, were very common in Virginia and the Carolinas. Instead of receiving a regular salary in money, he took a certain proportion of the crop. Of course, it was his interest to make the largest crop possible,
without any regard whatever to the means used to make it. What was it to him though the lands were exhausted, and the slaves worn out with heavy tasks and unreasonable labors? He owned neither the lands nor the slaves, and if in ten or twelve years,--and for something like that time he had been established at Carleton-Hall,--he could scourge all their value out of them, the gain was his, and the loss would be his employer's. This desirable consummation, he seemed pretty nearly arrived at. The lands at Carleton-Hall, were never cultivated, it is likely, with any tolerable skill; but Mr Warner had carried the process of exhaustion to its last extremity. Field after field had been 'turned out' as they call it--that is, left uncultivated and unfenced, to grow up with broom-sedge and persimmon bushes, and be grazed by all the cattle of the neighborhood. Year after year, new land had been opened, and exposed to the same exhausting process, which had worn out the fields that had been already abandoned;--till at last, there was no new land left upon the plantation.
Mr Warner now began to talk about throwing up his employment; and it was only by urgent solicitations, and a greater proportion of the diminished produce, that Mr Carleton had prevailed upon him to remain another year.
But it was not the land only, that suffered. The slaves were subjected to a like process of exhaustion; and what with hard work, insufficient food, and an irregular and capricious severity, they had become discontented, sickly and inefficient. There never was a
time that two or three of them, and sometimes many more, were not runaways, wandering in the woods; and hence originated further troubles, and fresh severity.
Mr Carleton had expressly directed, that his servants should receive an allowance of corn, and especially of meat, which in that part of the world was thought extremely liberal; and I believe, if the allowance had been faithfully distributed, the heartiest man upon the place would have received about half as much meat as was consumed by Mr Carleton's youngest daughter,--a little girl some ten or twelve years old. But if the slaves were worthy of belief, neither Mr Warner's scales nor his measure were very authentic; and according to their story, so much as he could plunder out of their weekly allowance, went to increase his share in the yearly produce of the plantation.
Once or twice, complaints of this sort had been carried to Mr Carleton; but without deigning to examine into them, he had dismissed them as unworthy of notice. Mr Warner, he said, was an honest man and a christian,--indeed it was his christian character that had first recommended him to his employer;--and these scandalous stories were only invented out of that spite which slaves always feel against an overseer, who compels them to do their duty. It might be so;--I cannot undertake positively to contradict it. Yet I know that these imputations upon Mr Warner's honesty were not confined to the plantation, but circulated pretty freely through the neighborhood; and if he was not a rogue, Mr Carleton, by an unlimited, unsuspicious and unwise confidence, did his best to make him so.
Whether the slaves were cheated or not, of their allowance, there is no dispute, that they were worked hard and harshly treated. Mr Carleton always took sides with his overseer, and was in the habit of maintaining that it was impossible to get along on a plantation without frequent whipping and a good deal of severity;--and yet, as he was naturally good natured, it gave him pain to hear of any very flagrant instance of it. But he was much from home; and that kept him ignorant, to a great degree, of what was going on there;--and for the rest, the overseer was anxious to save his feelings, and had issued very strict orders, which he enforced with merciless severity,--that nobody should run to the House with tales of what was done upon the plantation. By this ingenious device, though a very common one, Mr Warner had every thing in his own way. In fact, Mr Carleton had as little control over his plantation as over any other in the county; and he knew just as little about it.
When my master was a young man, he had betted at horse-races and gambling-tables, and spent money very freely in a thousand foolish ways. Since he had grown religious he had dropped these expenses, but he had fallen into others. It was no small sum that he spent every year, upon Bibles, church repairs, and other pious objects. For several years his income had been diminishing; but without any corresponding diminution of his expenses. As a natural consequence, he had become deeply involved in debt. His overseer had grown rich, while he had been growing poor. His
lands and slaves were mortgaged, and he began to be plagued by the sheriff's officer. But these perplexities did not cause him to forego his spiritual labors, which he prosecuted, if possible, more diligently than before.
I had now been living with him some six or seven months, and was completely established in his favor, when one Sunday morning, we set off together for a place about eight miles distant, where he had not preached before since I had been in his service. The place appointed for the meeting, was in the open air. It was a pretty place though, and well adapted to the purpose, being a gentle swell of ground over which were thinly scattered a number of ancient, and widespreading oaks. Their outstretched limbs formed a thick shade, under which there were neither weeds nor undergrowth, but something more like a grassy lawn, than is often to be seen in that country. Near the top of the swell, somebody had fixed up some rude benches; and partly supported against one of the largest trees, was a misshapen little platform, with a chair or two upon it, which seemed intended for the pulpit.
Quite a troop of horses and as many as ten or twelve carriages were collected at the foot of the swell; and the benches were already occupied by a considerable number of people. The white hearers however, were far outnumbered by the slaves, who were scattered about in groups, most of them in their Sunday dresses, and many of them very decent looking people. A few however, were miserably ragged and dirty; and there
was quite a number of half-grown children, with hardly a rag to hide their nakedness.
My master seemed well pleased with the prospect of so large an audience. He dismounted at the foot of the hill, if a rise so gentle deserved the name, and delivered his horse into my charge. I sought out a convenient place in which to tie the horses; and as I knew the services would not begin immediately, I sauntered about, looking at the equipages and the company. While I was occupied in this way, a smart carriage drove up. It stopped. A servant jumped from behind, opened the door and let down the steps. An elderly lady, and another about eighteen or twenty, occupied the back seat. On the front seat, was a woman whom I took to be their maid, though I could not see her distinctly. Something called off my attention and I turned another way. When I looked again, the two ladies were walking up the hill and the maid was on the ground, with her back towards me, taking something from the carriage. A moment after, she turned round, and I knew her. It was my Cassy,--it was my wife.
I sprang forward and caught her in my arms. She recognized me at the same moment; and uttering a cry of surprise and pleasure, she would have fallen had I not supported her. She recovered herself directly, and bade me let her go, for she had been sent back for her mistress' fan, and she must make haste and carry it to her. She told me to wait though,--for if she could get leave she would come back again immediately. She tripped up the hill, and overtook her mistress. I could see by her gestures, the eagerness with which
she urged her request. It was granted,--and in a moment she was again at my side. Again I pressed her to my bosom, and again she returned my embrace. Once more I felt what it was to be happy. I took her by the hand and led her to a little wood, on the opposite side of the road. Here was a thick young growth where we could sit, screened from observation. We sat down upon a fallen tree; and while I held her hands fast locked in mine, we asked and answered a thousand questions. My history, since our separation, has been told already. Here follows a summary of hers.
END OF VOL. I.