Preface by Wendell Phillips
FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.
BOSTON, APRIL 22, 1845.
My Dear Friend:
You remember the old fable of “The Man and the Lion,” where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented “when the lions wrote history.”
I am glad the time has come when the “lions write history.” We have been left long enough to gather the character of slavery from the involuntary evidence of the masters. One might, indeed, rest sufficiently satisfied with what, it is evident, must be, in general, the results of such a relation, without seeking farther to find whether they have followed in every instance. Indeed, those who stare at the half-peck of corn a week, and love to count the lashes on the slave’s back, are seldom the “stuff” out of which reformers and abolitionists are to be made. I remember that, in 1838, many were waiting for the results of theWest Indiaexperiment, before they could come into our ranks. Those “results” have come long ago; but, alas! Few of that number have come with them, as converts. A man must be disposed to judge of emancipation by other tests than whether it has increased the produce of sugar,–and to hate slavery for other reasons than because it starves men and whips women,–before he is ready to lay the first stone of his anti-slavery life.
I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the most neglected of God’s children waken to a sense of their rights, and of the injustice done them. Experience is a keen teacher; and long before you had mastered your A B C, or knew where the “white sails” of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I see, to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by his hunger and want, not by his lashes and toil, but by the cruel and blighting death which gathers over his soul.
In connection with this, there is one circumstance which makes your recollections peculiarly valuable, and renders your early insight the more remarkable. You come from that part of the country where we are told slavery appears with its fairest features. Let us hear, then, what it is at its best estate–gaze on its bright side, if it has one; and then imagination may task her powers to add dark lines to the picture, as she travels southward to that (for the colored man) Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the Mississippi sweeps along.
Again, we have known you long, and can put the most entire confidence in your truth, candor, and sincerity. Every one who has heard you speak has felt, and, I am confident, every one who reads your book will feel, persuaded that you give them a fair specimen of the whole truth. No one-sided portrait, –no wholesale complaints,–but strict justice done, whenever individual kindliness has neutralized, for a moment, the deadly system with which it was strangely allied. You have been with us, too, some years, and can fairly compare the twilight of rights, which your race enjoy at the North, with that “noon of night” under which they labor south of Mason and Dixon’s line. Tell us whether, after all, the half- free colored man ofMassachusettsis worse off than the pampered slave of the rice swamps!
In reading your life, no one can say that we have unfairly picked out some rare specimens of cruelty. We know that the bitter drops, which even you have drained from the cup, are no incidental aggravations, no individual ills, but such as must mingle always and necessarily in the lot of every slave. They are the essential ingredients, not the occasional results, of the system.
After all, I shall read your book with trembling for you. Some years ago, when you were beginning to tell me your real name and birthplace, you may remember I stopped you, and preferred to remain ignorant of all. With the exception of a vague description, so I continued, till the other day, when you read me your memoirs. I hardly knew, at the time, whether to thank you or not for the sight of them, when I reflected that it was still dangerous, inMassachusetts, for honest men to tell their names! They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence with the halter about their necks. You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with danger compassing you around. In all the broad lands which the Constitution of theUnited Statesovershadows, there is no single spot,–however narrow or desolate,–where a fugitive slave can plant himself and say, “I am safe.” The whole armory of Northern Law has no shield for you. I am free to say that, in your place, I should throw the MS. into the fire.
You, perhaps, may tell your story in safety, endeared as you are to so many warm hearts by rare gifts, and a still rarer devotion of them to the service of others. But it will be owing only to your labors, and the fearless efforts of those who, trampling the laws and Constitution of the country under their feet, are determined that they will “hide the outcast,” and that their hearths shall be, spite of the law, an asylum for the oppressed, if, some time or other, the humblest may stand in our streets, and bear witness in safety against the cruelties of which he has been the victim.
Yet it is sad to think, that these very throbbing hearts which welcome your story, and form your best safeguard in telling it, are all beating contrary to the “statute in such case made and provided.” Go on, my dear friend, till you, and those who, like you, have been saved, so as by fire, from the dark prison-house, shall stereotype these free, illegal pulses into statutes; and New England, cutting loose from a blood-stained Union, shall glory in being the house of refuge for the oppressed,–till we no longer merely “~hide~ the outcast,” or make a merit of standing idly by while he is hunted in our midst; but, consecrating anew the soil of the Pilgrims as an asylum for the oppressed, proclaim our WELCOME to the slave so loudly, that the tones shall reach every hut in the Carolinas, and make the broken-hearted bondman leap up at the thought of old Massachusetts.
God speed the day!
~Till then, and ever,~
Preface by William Lloyd Garrison
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.
PUBLISHED AT THE ANTI-SLAVERY OFFICE,
NO. 25 CORNHILL
OF THE LIFE OF
AN AMERICAN SLAVE
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF
ENTERED, ACCORDING TO ACT OF CONGRESS,
IN THE YEAR 1845
BY FREDERICK DOUGLASS,
IN THE CLERK'S OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT COURT
In the month of August, 1841, I attended an anti- slavery convention inNantucket, at which it was my happiness to become acquainted with FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the writer of the following Narrative. He was a stranger to nearly every member of that body; but, having recently made his escape from the southern prison-house of bondage, and feeling his curiosity excited to ascertain the principles and measures of the abolitionists,–of whom he had heard a somewhat vague description while he was a slave,–he was induced to give his attendance, on the occasion alluded to, though at that time a resident in New Bedford.
Fortunate, most fortunate occurrence!–fortunate for the millions of his manacled brethren, yet panting for deliverance from their awful thraldom!–fortunate for the cause of negro emancipation, and of universal liberty!–fortunate for the land of his birth, which he has already done so much to save and bless! –fortunate for a large circle of friends and acquaintances, whose sympathy and affection he has strongly secured by the many sufferings he has endured, by his virtuous traits of character, by his ever-abiding remembrance of those who are in bonds, as being bound with them!–fortunate for the multitudes, in various parts of our republic, whose minds he has enlightened on the subject of slavery, and who have been melted to tears by his pathos, or roused to virtuous indignation by his stirring eloquence against the enslavers of men!–fortunate for himself, as it at once brought him into the field of public usefulness, “gave the world assurance of a MAN,” quick- ened the slumbering energies of his soul, and consecrated him to the great work of breaking the rod of the oppressor, and letting the oppressed go free!
I shall never forget his first speech at the convention–the extraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind–the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory, completely taken by surprise–the applause which followed from the beginning to the end of his felicitous remarks. I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clear than ever. There stood one, in physical proportion and stature commanding and exact–in intellect richly endowed–in natural eloquence a prodigy–in soul manifestly “created but a little lower than the angels”–yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,–trembling for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on the American soil, a single white person could be found who would befriend him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity! Capable of high attainments as an intellectual and moral being–needing nothing but a comparatively small amount of cultivation to make him an ornament to society and a blessing to his race–by the law of the land, by the voice of the people, by the terms of the slave code, he was only a piece of property, a beast of burden, a chattel personal, nevertheless!
A beloved friend fromNew Bedfordprevailed on Mr. DOUGLASS to address the convention: He came forward to the platform with a hesitancy and embarrassment, necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such a novel position. After apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, he proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as a slave, and in the course of his speech gave utterance to many noble thoughts and thrilling reflections. As soon as he had taken his seat, filled with hope and admiration, I rose, and declared that PATRICK HENRY, of revolutionary fame, never made a speech more eloquent in the cause of liberty, than the one we had just listened to from the lips of that hunted fugitive. So I believed at that time–such is my belief now. I reminded the audience of the peril which surrounded this self- emancipated young man at the North,–even in Massachusetts, on the soil of the Pilgrim Fathers, among the descendants of revolutionary sires; and I appealed to them, whether they would ever allow him to be carried back into slavery,–law or no law, constitution or no constitution. The response was unanimous and in thunder-tones–”NO!” “Will you succor and protect him as a brother-man–a resident of the oldBayState?” “YES!” shouted the whole mass, with an energy so startling, that the ruthless tyrants south of Mason and Dixon’s line might almost have heard the mighty burst of feeling, and recognized it as the pledge of an invincible determination, on the part of those who gave it, never to betray him that wanders, but to hide the outcast, and firmly to abide the consequences.
It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr. DOUGLASS could be persuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the promotion of the anti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a colored complexion. I therefore endeavored to instil hope and courage into his mind, in order that he might dare to engage in a vocation so anomalous and responsible for a person in his situation; and I was seconded in this effort by warm-hearted friends, especially by the late General Agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Mr. JOHN A. COLLINS, whose judgment in this instance entirely coincided with my own. At first, he could give no encouragement; with unfeigned diffidence, he expressed his conviction that he was not adequate to the performance of so great a task; the path marked out was wholly an untrodden one; he was sincerely apprehensive that he should do more harm than good. After much deliberation, however, he consented to make a trial; and ever since that period, he has acted as a lecturing agent, under the auspices either of the American or the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In labors he has been most abundant; and his success in combating prejudice, in gaining proselytes, in agitating the public mind, has far surpassed the most sanguine expectations that were raised at the commencement of his brilliant career. He has borne himself with gentleness and meekness, yet with true manliness of character. As a public speaker, he excels in pathos, wit, comparison, imitation, strength of reasoning, and fluency of language. There is in him that union of head and heart, which is indispensable to an enlightenment of the heads and a winning of the hearts of others. May his strength continue to be equal to his day! May he continue to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of God,” that he may be increasingly serviceable in the cause of bleeding humanity, whether at home or abroad!
It is certainly a very remarkable fact, that one of the most efficient advocates of the slave population, now before the public, is a fugitive slave, in the person of FREDERICK DOUGLASS; and that the free colored population of the United States are as ably represented by one of their own number, in the person of CHARLES LENOX REMOND, whose eloquent appeals have extorted the highest applause of multitudes on both sides of the Atlantic. Let the calumniators of the colored race despise themselves for their baseness and illiberality of spirit, and henceforth cease to talk of the natural inferiority of those who require nothing but time and opportunity to attain to the highest point of human excellence.
It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other portion of the population of the earth could have endured the privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery, without having become more degraded in the scale of humanity than the slaves of African descent. Nothing has been left undone to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yet how wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a most frightful bondage, under which they have been groaning for centuries! To illustrate the effect of slavery on the white man,–to show that he has no powers of endurance, in such a condition, superior to those of his black brother,–DANIEL O’CONNELL, the distinguished advocate of universal emancipation, and the mightiest champion of prostrate but not conquered Ireland, relates the following anecdote in a speech delivered by him in the Conciliation Hall, Dublin, before the Loyal National Repeal Association, March 31, 1845. “No matter,” said Mr. O’CONNELL, “under what specious term it may disguise itself, slavery is still hideous. ~It has a natural, an inevitable tendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man.~ An American sailor, who was cast away on the shore of Africa, where he was kept in slavery for three years, was, at the expiration of that period, found to be imbruted and stultified–he had lost all reasoning power; and having forgotten his native language, could only utter some savage gibberish between Arabic and English, which nobody could understand, and which even he himself found difficulty in pronouncing. So much for the humanizing influence of THE DOMESTIC INSTITUTION!” Admitting this to have been an extraordinary case of mental deterioration, it proves at least that the white slave can sink as low in the scale of humanity as the black one.
Mr. DOUGLASS has very properly chosen to write his own Narrative, in his own style, and according to the best of his ability, rather than to employ some one else. It is, therefore, entirely his own production; and, considering how long and dark was the career he had to run as a slave,–how few have been his opportunities to improve his mind since he broke his iron fetters,–it is, in my judgment, highly creditable to his head and heart. He who can peruse it without a tearful eye, a heaving breast, an afflicted spirit,– without being filled with an unutterable abhorrence of slavery and all its abettors, and animated with a determination to seek the immediate overthrow of that execrable system,–without trembling for the fate of this country in the hands of a righteous God, who is ever on the side of the oppressed, and whose arm is not shortened that it cannot save,–must have a flinty heart, and be qualified to act the part of a trafficker “in slaves and the souls of men.” I am confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawn from the imagination; that it comes short of the reality, rather than overstates a single fact in regard to SLAVERY AS IT IS. The experience of FREDERICK DOUGLASS, as a slave, was not a peculiar one; his lot was not especially a hard one; his case may be regarded as a very fair specimen of the treatment of slaves inMaryland, in which State it is conceded that they are better fed and less cruelly treated than inGeorgia,Alabama, orLouisiana. Many have suffered incomparably more, while very few on the plantations have suffered less, than himself. Yet how deplorable was his situation! what terrible chastisements were inflicted upon his person! what still more shocking outrages were perpetrated upon his mind! with all his noble powers and sublime aspirations, how like a brute was he treated, even by those professing to have the same mind in them that was in Christ Jesus! to what dreadful liabilities was he continually subjected! how destitute of friendly counsel and aid, even in his greatest extremities! how heavy was the midnight of woe which shrouded in blackness the last ray of hope, and filled the future with terror and gloom! what longings after freedom took possession of his breast, and how his misery augmented, in proportion as he grew reflective and intelligent,–thus demonstrating that a happy slave is an extinct man! how he thought, reasoned, felt, under the lash of the driver, with the chains upon his limbs! what perils he encountered in his endeavors to escape from his horrible doom! and how signal have been his deliverance and preservation in the midst of a nation of pitiless enemies!
This Narrative contains many affecting incidents, many passages of great eloquence and power; but I think the most thrilling one of them all is the description DOUGLASS gives of his feelings, as he stood soliloquizing respecting his fate, and the chances of his one day being a freeman, on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay–viewing the receding vessels as they flew with their white wings before the breeze, and apostrophizing them as animated by the living spirit of freedom. Who can read that passage, and be insensible to its pathos and sublimity? Compressed into it is a whole Alexandrian library of thought, feeling, and sentiment–all that can, all that need be urged, in the form of expostulation, entreaty, rebuke, against that crime of crimes,–making man the property of his fellow-man! O, how accursed is that system, which entombs the godlike mind of man, defaces the divine image, reduces those who by creation were crowned with glory and honor to a level with four-footed beasts, and exalts the dealer in human flesh above all that is called God! Why should its existence be prolonged one hour? Is it not evil, only evil, and that continually? What does its presence imply but the absence of all fear of God, all regard for man, on the part of the people of theUnited States? Heaven speed its eternal overthrow!
So profoundly ignorant of the nature of slavery are many persons, that they are stubbornly incredulous whenever they read or listen to any recital of the cruelties which are daily inflicted on its victims. They do not deny that the slaves are held as property; but that terrible fact seems to convey to their minds no idea of injustice, exposure to outrage, or savage barbarity. Tell them of cruel scourgings, of mutilations and brandings, of scenes of pollution and blood, of the banishment of all light and knowledge, and they affect to be greatly indignant at such enormous exaggerations, such wholesale misstatements, such abominable libels on the character of the southern planters! As if all these direful outrages were not the natural results of slavery! As if it were less cruel to reduce a human being to the condition of a thing, than to give him a severe flagellation, or to deprive him of necessary food and clothing! As if whips, chains, thumb-screws, paddles, blood- hounds, overseers, drivers, patrols, were not all indispensable to keep the slaves down, and to give protection to their ruthless oppressors! As if, when the marriage institution is abolished, concubinage, adultery, and incest, must not necessarily abound; when all the rights of humanity are annihilated, any barrier remains to protect the victim from the fury of the spoiler; when absolute power is assumed over life and liberty, it will not be wielded with destructive sway! Skeptics of this character abound in society. In some few instances, their incredulity arises from a want of reflection; but, generally, it indicates a hatred of the light, a desire to shield slavery from the assaults of its foes, a contempt of the colored race, whether bond or free. Such will try to discredit the shocking tales of slaveholding cruelty which are recorded in this truthful Narrative; but they will labor in vain. Mr. DOUGLASS has frankly disclosed the place of his birth, the names of those who claimed ownership in his body and soul, and the names also of those who committed the crimes which he has alleged against them. His statements, therefore, may easily be disproved, if they are untrue.
In the course of his Narrative, he relates two instances of murderous cruelty,–in one of which a planter deliberately shot a slave belonging to a neighboring plantation, who had unintentionally gotten within his lordly domain in quest of fish; and in the other, an overseer blew out the brains of a slave who had fled to a stream of water to escape a bloody scourging. Mr. DOUGLASS states that in neither of these instances was any thing done by way of legal arrest or judicial investigation. The Baltimore American, of March 17, 1845, relates a similar case of atrocity, perpetrated with similar impunity–as follows:–”~Shooting a slave.~–We learn, upon the authority of a letter from Charles county, Maryland, received by a gentleman of this city, that a young man, named Matthews, a nephew of General Matthews, and whose father, it is believed, holds an office at Washington, killed one of the slaves upon his father’s farm by shooting him. The letter states that young Matthews had been left in charge of the farm; that he gave an order to the servant, which was disobeyed, when he proceeded to the house, ~obtained a gun, and, returning, shot the servant.~ He immediately, the letter continues, fled to his father’s residence, where he still remains unmolested.”–Let it never be forgotten, that no slaveholder or overseer can be convicted of any outrage perpetrated on the person of a slave, however diabolical it may be, on the testimony of colored witnesses, whether bond or free. By the slave code, they are adjudged to be as incompetent to testify against a white man, as though they were indeed a part of the brute creation. Hence, there is no legal protection in fact, whatever there may be in form, for the slave population; and any amount of cruelty may be inflicted on them with impunity. Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of a more horrible state of society?
The effect of a religious profession on the conduct of southern masters is vividly described in the following Narrative, and shown to be any thing but salutary. In the nature of the case, it must be in the highest degree pernicious. The testimony of Mr. DOUGLASS, on this point, is sustained by a cloud of witnesses, whose veracity is unimpeachable. “A slave- holder’s profession of Christianity is a palpable imposture. He is a felon of the highest grade. He is a man-stealer. It is of no importance what you put in the other scale.”
Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then are you the foe of God and man. If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and dare in their behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free. Come what may –cost what it may–inscribe on the banner which you unfurl to the breeze, as your religious and political motto–”NO COMPROMISE WITH SLAVERY! NOUNIONWITH SLAVEHOLDERS!”
WM. LLOYD GARRISON
BOSTON, May 1, 1845.
I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, andabout twelve miles fromEaston, in Talbot county,Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age,never having seen any authentic record containing it.By far the larger part of the slaves know as little oftheir ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wishof most masters within my knowledge to keep theirslaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have evermet a slave who could tell of his birthday. Theyseldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvesttime, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A wantof information concerning my own was a source ofunhappiness to me even during childhood. The whitechildren could tell their ages. I could not tell why Iought to be deprived of the same privilege. I wasnot allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the partof a slave improper and impertinent, and evidenceof a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can givemakes me now between twenty-seven and twentyeight years of age. I come to this, from hearing mymaster say, some time during 1835, I was aboutseventeen years old.
My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She wasthe daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darkercomplexion than either my grandmother or grandfather.
My father was a white man. He was admitted tobe such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage.The opinion was also whispered that my master wasmy father; but of the correctness of this opinion, Iknow nothing; the means of knowing was withheldfrom me. My mother and I were separated when Iwas but an infant–before I knew her as my mother.It is a common custom, in the part of Marylandfrom which I ran away, to part children from theirmothers at a very early age. Frequently, before thechild has reached its twelfth month, its mother istaken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed underthe care of an old woman, too old for field labor.For what this separation is done, I do not know,unless it be to hinder the development of the child’saffection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroythe natural affection of the mother for the child.This is the inevitable result.
I never saw my mother, to know her as such, morethan four or five times in my life; and each of thesetimes was very short in duration, and at night. Shewas hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelvemiles from my home. She made her journeys to seeme in the night, travelling the whole distance onfoot, after the performance of her day’s work. Shewas a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty ofnot being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave hasspecial permission from his or her master to the contrary–a permission which they seldom get, and onethat gives to him that gives it the proud name ofbeing a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeingmy mother by the light of day. She was with me inthe night. She would lie down with me, and get meto sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Verylittle communication ever took place between us.Death soon ended what little we could have whileshe lived, and with it her hardships and suffering.She died when I was about seven years old, on oneof my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death,or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thingabout it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerableextent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death withmuch the same emotions I should have probablyfelt at the death of a stranger.
Called thus suddenly away, she left me withoutthe slightest intimation of who my father was. Thewhisper that my master was my father, may or maynot be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains,in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders haveordained, and by law established, that the childrenof slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviouslyto administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well aspleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, theslaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slavesthe double relation of master and father.
I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remarkthat such slaves invariably suffer greater hardships,and have more to contend with, than others. Theyare, in the first place, a constant offence to theirmistress. She is ever disposed to find fault with them;they can seldom do any thing to please her; she isnever better pleased than when she sees them underthe lash, especially when she suspects her husbandof showing to his mulatto children favors which hewithholds from his black slaves. The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, outof deference to the feelings of his white wife; and,cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for aman to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers,it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so;for, unless he does this, he must not only whip themhimself, but must stand by and see one white sontie up his brother, of but few shades darker complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to hisnaked back; and if he lisp one word of disapproval,it is set down to his parental partiality, and onlymakes a bad matter worse, both for himself and theslave whom he would protect and defend.
Every year brings with it multitudes of this classof slaves. It was doubtless in consequence of a knowledge of this fact, that one great statesman of thesouth predicted the downfall of slavery by the inevitable laws of population. Whether this prophecyis ever fulfilled or not, it is nevertheless plain that avery different-looking class of people are springing upat the south, and are now held in slavery, from thoseoriginally brought to this country from Africa; andif their increase do no other good, it will doaway the force of the argument, that God cursedHam, and therefore American slavery is right. If thelineal descendants of Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved, it is certain that slavery at the southmust soon become unscriptural; for thousands areushered into the world, annually, who, like myself,owe their existence to white fathers, and those fathers most frequently their own masters.
I have had two masters. My first master’s namewas Anthony. I do not remember his first name.He was generally called Captain Anthony–a titlewhich, I presume, he acquired by sailing a craft ontheChesapeake Bay. He was not considered a richslaveholder. He owned two or three farms, and aboutthirty slaves. His farms and slaves were under thecare of an overseer. The overseer’s name wasPlummer. Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard,a profane swearer, and a savage monster. He alwayswent armed with a cowskin and a heavy cudgel. Ihave known him to cut and slash the women’s headsso horribly, that even master would be enraged athis cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if hedid not mind himself. Master, however, was not ahumane slaveholder. It required extraordinary barbarity on the part of an overseer to affect him. Hewas a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakenedat the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieksof an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie upto a joist, and whip upon her naked back till shewas literally covered with blood. No words, no tears,no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to movehis iron heart from its bloody purpose. The loudershe screamed, the harder he whipped; and wherethe blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. Hewould whip her to make her scream, and whip herto make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue,would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I rememberany thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and aparticipant. It struck me with awful force. It wasthe blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell ofslavery, through which I was about to pass. It wasa most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit topaper the feelings with which I beheld it.
This occurrence took place very soon after I wentto live with my old master, and under the followingcircumstances. Aunt Hester went out one night,-where or for what I do not know,–and happened tobe absent when my master desired her presence. Hehad ordered her not to go out evenings, and warnedher that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man, who was paying attentionto her belonging to Colonel Lloyd. The young man’sname was Ned Roberts, generally called Lloyd’sNed. Why master was so careful of her, may besafely left to conjecture. She was a woman of nobleform, and of graceful proportions, having very fewequals, and fewer superiors, in personal appearance,among the colored or white women of our neighborhood.
Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders ingoing out, but had been found in company withLloyd’s Ned; which circumstance, I found, fromwhat he said while whipping her, was the chief offence. Had he been a man of pure morals himself,he might have been thought interested in protectingthe innocence of my aunt; but those who knew himwill not suspect him of any such virtue. Beforehe commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took herinto the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist,leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirelynaked. He then told her to cross her hands, callingher at the same time a d—-d b—h. After crossingher hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and ledher to a stool under a large hook in the joist, putin for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool,and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fairfor his infernal purpose. Her arms were stretchedup at their full length, so that she stood upon theends of her toes. He then said to her, “Now, youd—-d b—h, I’ll learn you how to disobey myorders!” and after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon thewarm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks fromher, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping tothe floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at thesight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared notventure out till long after the bloody transaction wasover. I expected it would be my turn next. It wasall new to me. I had never seen any thing like itbefore. I had always lived with my grandmother onthe outskirts of the plantation, where she was put toraise the children of the younger women. I had therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloodyscenes that often occurred on the plantation.
My master’s family consisted of two sons, Andrewand Richard; one daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld. They lived in onehouse, upon the home plantation of Colonel EdwardLloyd. My master was Colonel Lloyd’s clerk andsuperintendent. He was what might be called theoverseer of the overseers. I spent two years of childhood on this plantation in my old master’s family.It was here that I witnessed the bloody transactionrecorded in the first chapter; and as I received myfirst impressions of slavery on this plantation,I will give some description of it, and of slavery asit there existed. The plantation is about twelve milesnorth ofEaston, in Talbot county, and is situatedon the border ofMilesRiver. The principal productsraised upon it were tobacco, corn, and wheat. Thesewere raised in great abundance; so that, with theproducts of this and the other farms belonging tohim, he was able to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop, in carrying them to marketat Baltimore. This sloop was named Sally Lloyd,in honor of one of the colonel’s daughters. My master’s son-in-law, Captain Auld, was master of thevessel; she was otherwise manned by the colonel’sown slaves. Their names were Peter, Isaac, Rich, andJake. These were esteemed very highly by the otherslaves, and looked upon as the privileged ones of theplantation; for it was no small affair, in the eyes ofthe slaves, to be allowed to seeBaltimore.
Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundredslaves on his home plantation, and owned a largenumber more on the neighboring farms belonging tohim. The names of the farms nearest to the homeplantation wereWyeTownand New Design. “WyeTown” was under the overseership of a man namedNoah Willis. New Design was under the overseership of a Mr. Townsend. The overseers of these,and all the rest of the farms, numbering over twenty,received advice and direction from the managers ofthe home plantation. This was the great businessplace. It was the seat of government for the wholetwenty farms. All disputes among the overseers weresettled here. If a slave was convicted of any highmisdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced adetermination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop,carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk,or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the slavesremaining.
Here, too, the slaves of all the other farms receivedtheir monthly allowance of food, and their yearlyclothing. The men and women slaves received, astheir monthly allowance of food, eight pounds ofpork, or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel ofcorn meal. Their yearly clothing consisted of twocoarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers, likethe shirts, one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter,made of coarse negro cloth, one pair of stockings,and one pair of shoes; the whole of which could nothave cost more than seven dollars. The allowanceof the slave children was given to their mothers, orthe old women having the care of them. The children unable to work in the field had neither shoes,stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to them; theirclothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per year.When these failed them, they went naked until thenext allowance-day. Children from seven to ten yearsold, of both sexes, almost naked, might be seenat all seasons of the year.
There were no beds given the slaves, unless onecoarse blanket be considered such, and none butthe men and women had these. This, however, isnot considered a very great privation. They find lessdifficulty from the want of beds, than from the wantof time to sleep; for when their day’s work in thefield is done, the most of them having their washing, mending, and cooking to do, and having few ornone of the ordinary facilities for doing either ofthese, very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day;and when this is done, old and young, male andfemale, married and single, drop down side by side,on one common bed,–the cold, damp floor,–eachcovering himself or herself with their miserableblankets; and here they sleep till they are summonedto the field by the driver’s horn. At the sound ofthis, all must rise, and be off to the field. Theremust be no halting; every one must be at his orher post; and woe betides them who hear not thismorning summons to the field; for if they are notawakened by the sense of hearing, they are by thesense of feeling: no age nor sex finds any favor.Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the doorof the quarter, armed with a large hickory stickand heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who wasso unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any othercause, was prevented from being ready to start forthe field at the sound of the horn.
Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruelman. I have seen him whip a woman, causing theblood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too,in the midst of her crying children, pleading for theirmother’s release. He seemed to take pleasure inmanifesting his fiendish barbarity. Added to hiscruelty, he was a profane swearer. It was enough tochill the blood and stiffen the hair of an ordinaryman to hear him talk. Scarce a sentence escaped himbut that was commenced or concluded by some horrid oath. The field was the place to witness hiscruelty and profanity. His presence made it boththe field of blood and of blasphemy. From the risingtill the going down of the sun, he was cursing, raving,cutting, and slashing among the slaves of the field,in the most frightful manner. His career was short.He died very soon after I went to Colonel Lloyd’s;and he died as he lived, uttering, with his dyinggroans, bitter curses and horrid oaths. His death wasregarded by the slaves as the result of a mercifulprovidence.
Mr. Severe’s place was filled by a Mr. Hopkins.He was a very different man. He was less cruel, lessprofane, and made less noise, than Mr. Severe. Hiscourse was characterized by no extraordinary demonstrations of cruelty. He whipped, but seemed to takeno pleasure in it. He was called by the slaves a goodoverseer.
The home plantation of Colonel Lloyd wore theappearance of a country village. All the mechanicaloperations for all the farms were performed here.The shoemaking and mending, the blacksmithing,cartwrighting, coopering, weaving, and grain-grinding, were all performed by the slaves on the homeplantation. The whole place wore a business-like aspect very unlike the neighboring farms. The number of houses, too, conspired to give it advantageover the neighboring farms. It was called by theslaves the ~Great House Farm.~ Few privileges wereesteemed higher, by the slaves of the out-farms, thanthat of being selected to do errands at the GreatHouse Farm. It was associated in their minds withgreatness. A representative could not be prouder ofhis election to a seat in the American Congress,than a slave on one of the out-farms would be of hiselection to do errands at the Great House Farm.They regarded it as evidence of great confidence reposed in them by their overseers; and it was onthis account, as well as a constant desire to be out ofthe field from under the driver’s lash, that they esteemed it a high privilege, one worth careful livingfor. He was called the smartest and most trusty fellow, who had this honor conferred upon him themost frequently. The competitors for this officesought as diligently to please their overseers, as theoffice-seekers in the political parties seek to pleaseand deceive the people. The same traits of charactermight be seen in Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, as are seenin the slaves of the political parties.
The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm,for the monthly allowance for themselves and theirfellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While ontheir way, they would make the dense old woods,for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs,revealing at once the highest joy and the deepestsadness. They would compose and sing as they wentalong, consulting neither time nor tune. The thoughtthat came up, came out–if not in the word, in thesound;–and as frequently in the one as in the other.They would sometimes sing the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone. Into allof their songs they would manage to weave something of the Great House Farm. Especially wouldthey do this, when leaving home. They would thensing most exultingly the following words:–
“I am going away to the Great House Farm!
O, yea! O, yea! O!”This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which tomany would seem unmeaning jargon, but which,nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. Ihave sometimes thought that the mere hearing ofthose songs would do more to impress some mindswith the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subjectcould do.
I did not, when a slave, understand the deepmeaning of those rude and apparently incoherentsongs. I was myself within the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see andhear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; theywere tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed theprayer and complaint of souls boiling over with thebitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony againstslavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance fromchains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears whilehearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs,even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing theselines, an expression of feeling has already found itsway down my cheek. To those songs I trace my firstglimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen myhatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies formy brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, lethim go to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, andthere let him, in silence, analyze the sounds thatshall pass through the chambers of his soul,–and ifhe is not thus impressed, it will only be because”there is no flesh in his obdurate heart.”
I have often been utterly astonished, since I cameto the north, to find persons who could speak ofthe singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceiveof a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they aremost unhappy. The songs of the slave represent thesorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, onlyas an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least,such is my experience. I have often sung to drownmy sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness.Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. Thesinging of a man cast away upon a desolate islandmight be as appropriately considered as evidence ofcontentment and happiness, as the singing of aslave; the songs of the one and of the other areprompted by the same emotion.
Colonel Lloyd kept a large and finely cultivatedgarden, which afforded almost constant employmentfor four men, besides the chief gardener, (Mr.M’Durmond.) This garden was probably the greatest attraction of the place. During the summermonths, people came from far and near–fromBaltimore,Easton, andAnnapolis–to see it. Itabounded in fruits of almost every description, fromthe hardy apple of the north to the delicate orangeof the south. This garden was not the least sourceof trouble on the plantation. Its excellent fruit wasquite a temptation to the hungry swarms of boys,as well as the older slaves, belonging to the colonel,few of whom had the virtue or the vice to resistit. Scarcely a day passed, during the summer, butthat some slave had to take the lash for stealing fruit.The colonel had to resort to all kinds of stratagemsto keep his slaves out of the garden. The last andmost successful one was that of tarring his fenceall around; after which, if a slave was caught withany tar upon his person, it was deemed sufficientproof that he had either been into the garden, or hadtried to get in. In either case, he was severely whipped by the chief gardener. This plan worked well;the slaves became as fearful of tar as of the lash.They seemed to realize the impossibility of touchingTAR without being defiled.
The colonel also kept a splendid riding equipage.His stable and carriage-house presented the appearance of some of our large city livery establishments.His horses were of the finest form and noblest blood.His carriage-house contained three splendid coaches,three or four gigs, besidesdearbornsand barouchesof the most fashionable style.
This establishment was under the care of twoslaves–old Barney and young Barney–father and son.To attend to this establishment was their sole work.But it was by no means an easy employment; for innothing was Colonel Lloyd more particular than inthe management of his horses. The slightest inattention to these was unpardonable, and was visitedupon those, under whose care they were placed, withthe severest punishment; no excuse could shieldthem, if the colonel only suspected any want ofattention to his horses–a supposition which he frequently indulged, and one which, of course, madethe office of old and young Barney a very trying one.They never knew when they were safe from punishment. They were frequently whipped when leastdeserving, and escaped whipping when most deserving it. Every thing depended upon the looks of thehorses, and the state of Colonel Lloyd’s own mindwhen his horses were brought to him for use. If ahorse did not move fast enough, or hold his headhigh enough, it was owing to some fault of his keepers. It was painful to stand near the stable-door,and hear the various complaints against the keeperswhen a horse was taken out for use. “This horse hasnot had proper attention. He has not been sufficiently rubbed and curried, or he has not been properly fed; his food was too wet or too dry; he got ittoo soon or too late; he was too hot or too cold; hehad too much hay, and not enough of grain; or hehad too much grain, and not enough of hay; insteadof old Barney’s attending to the horse, he had veryimproperly left it to his son.” To all these complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must answer never a word. Colonel Lloyd could not brookany contradiction from a slave. When he spoke, aslave must stand, listen, and tremble; and such wasliterally the case. I have seen Colonel Lloyd makeold Barney, a man between fifty and sixty years ofage, uncover his bald head, kneel down upon thecold, damp ground, and receive upon his naked andtoil-worn shoulders more than thirty lashes at thetime. Colonel Lloyd had three sons–Edward, Murray, and Daniel,–and three sons-in-law, Mr. Winder,Mr. Nicholson, and Mr. Lowndes. All of these livedat the Great House Farm, and enjoyed the luxury ofwhipping the servants when they pleased, from oldBarney down to William Wilkes, the coach-driver.I have seen Winder make one of the house-servantsstand off from him a suitable distance to be touchedwith the end of his whip, and at every stroke raisegreat ridges upon his back.
To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd wouldbe almost equal to describing the riches of Job. Hekept from ten to fifteen house-servants. He was saidto own a thousand slaves, and I think this estimatequite within the truth. Colonel Lloyd owned somany that he did not know them when he saw them;nor did all the slaves of the out-farms know him. Itis reported of him, that, while riding along the roadone day, he met a colored man, and addressed himin the usual manner of speaking to colored peopleon the public highways of the south: “Well, boy,whom do you belong to?” “To Colonel Lloyd,” replied the slave. “Well, does the colonel treat youwell?” “No, sir,” was the ready reply. “What, doeshe work you too hard?” “Yes, sir.” “Well, don’t hegive you enough to eat?” “Yes, sir, he gives meenough, such as it is.”
The colonel, after ascertaining where the slavebelonged, rode on; the man also went on about hisbusiness, not dreaming that he had been conversingwith his master. He thought, said, and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeksafterwards. The poor man was then informed by hisoverseer that, for having found fault with his master,he was now to be sold to aGeorgiatrader. He wasimmediately chained and handcuffed; and thus,without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away,and forever sundered, from his family and friends,by a hand more unrelenting than death. This is thepenalty of telling the truth, of telling the simpletruth, in answer to a series of plain questions.
It is partly in consequence of such facts, thatslaves, when inquired of as to their condition andthe character of their masters, almost universally saythey are contented, and that their masters are kind.The slaveholders have been known to send in spiesamong their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency ofthis has had the effect to establish among the slavesthe maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head.They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family. If they have anything to say of their masters, it is generally in theirmasters’ favor, especially when speaking to an untried man. I have been frequently asked, when aslave, if I had a kind master, and do not rememberever to have given a negative answer; nor did I, inpursuing this course, consider myself as uttering whatwas absolutely false; for I always measured the kindness of my master by the standard of kindness setup among slaveholders around us. Moreover, slavesare like other people, and imbibe prejudices quitecommon to others. They think their own better thanthat of others. Many, under the influence of thisprejudice, think their own masters are better thanthe masters of other slaves; and this, too, in somecases, when the very reverse is true. Indeed, it isnot uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness oftheir masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others. At the verysame time, they mutually execrate their masterswhen viewed separately. It was so on our plantation.When Colonel Lloyd’s slaves met the slaves of JacobJepson, they seldom parted without a quarrel abouttheir masters; Colonel Lloyd’s slaves contending thathe was the richest, and Mr. Jepson’s slaves that hewas the smartest, and most of a man. Colonel Lloyd’sslaves would boast his ability to buy and sell JacobJepson. Mr. Jepson’s slaves would boast his abilityto whip Colonel Lloyd. These quarrels would almostalways end in a fight between the parties, and thosethat whipped were supposed to have gained thepoint at issue. They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves.It was considered as being bad enough to be aslave; but to be a poor man’s slave was deemed adisgrace indeed!
Mr. Hopkins remained but a short time in theoffice of overseer. Why his career was so short, Ido not know, but suppose he lacked the necessaryseverity to suit Colonel Lloyd. Mr. Hopkins was succeeded by Mr. Austin Gore, a man possessing, inan eminent degree, all those traits of character indispensable to what is called a first-rate overseer. Mr.Gore had served Colonel Lloyd, in the capacity ofoverseer, upon one of the out-farms, and had shownhimself worthy of the high station of overseer uponthe home or Great House Farm.
Mr. Gore was proud, ambitious, and persevering.He was artful, cruel, and obdurate. He was just theman for such a place, and it was just the place forsuch a man. It afforded scope for the full exerciseof all his powers, and he seemed to be perfectlyat home in it. He was one of those who could torturethe slightest look, word, or gesture, on the part ofthe slave, into impudence, and would treat it accordingly. There must be no answering back to him;no explanation was allowed a slave, showing himselfto have been wrongfully accused. Mr. Gore actedfully up to the maxim laid down by slaveholders,-”It is better that a dozen slaves should suffer under thelash, than that the overseer should be convicted, inthe presence of the slaves, of having been at fault.”No matter how innocent a slave might be–it availedhim nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of anymisdemeanor. To be accused was to be convicted,and to be convicted was to be punished; the onealways following the other with immutable certainty.To escape punishment was to escape accusation; andfew slaves had the fortune to do either, under theoverseership of Mr. Gore. He was just proud enoughto demand the most debasing homage of the slave,and quite servile enough to crouch, himself, at thefeet of the master. He was ambitious enough to becontented with nothing short of the highest rankof overseers, and persevering enough to reach theheight of his ambition. He was cruel enough to inflict the severest punishment, artful enough to descend to the lowest trickery, and obdurate enough tobe insensible to the voice of a reproving conscience.He was, of all the overseers, the most dreaded bythe slaves. His presence was painful; his eye flashedconfusion; and seldom was his sharp, shrill voiceheard, without producing horror and trembling intheir ranks.
Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a youngman, he indulged in no jokes, said no funny words,seldom smiled. His words were in perfect keepingwith his looks, and his looks were in perfect keepingwith his words. Overseers will sometimes indulge ina witty word, even with the slaves; not so with Mr.Gore. He spoke but to command, and commandedbut to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words,and bountifully with his whip, never using theformer where the latter would answer as well. Whenhe whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense ofduty, and feared no consequences. He did nothingreluctantly, no matter how disagreeable; always at hispost, never inconsistent. He never promised but tofulfil. He was, in a word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like coolness.
His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed thegrossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves underhis charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one ofColonel Lloyd’s slaves, by the name of Demby. Hehad given Demby but few stripes, when, to get ridof the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into acreek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders,refusing to come out. Mr. Gore told him that hewould give him three calls, and that, if he did notcome out at the third call, he would shoot him.The first call was given. Demby made no response,but stood his ground. The second and third callswere given with the same result. Mr. Gore then,without consultation or deliberation with any one,not even giving Demby an additional call, raisedhis musket to his face, taking deadly aim at hisstanding victim, and in an instant poor Demby wasno more. His mangled body sank out of sight, andblood and brains marked the water where he hadstood.
A thrill of horror flashed through every soul uponthe plantation, excepting Mr. Gore. He aloneseemed cool and collected. He was asked by ColonelLloyd and my old master, why he resorted to thisextraordinary expedient. His reply was, (as well asI can remember,) that Demby had become unmanageable. He was setting a dangerous example to theother slaves,–one which, if suffered to pass withoutsome such demonstration on his part, would finallylead to the total subversion of all rule and orderupon the plantation. He argued that if one slave refused to be corrected, and escaped with his life, theother slaves would soon copy the example; the result of which would be, the freedom of the slaves,and the enslavement of the whites. Mr. Gore’s defence was satisfactory. He was continued in his station as overseer upon the home plantation. Hisfame as an overseer went abroad. His horrid crimewas not even submitted to judicial investigation. Itwas committed in the presence of slaves, and they ofcourse could neither institute a suit, nor testifyagainst him; and thus the guilty perpetrator of one ofthe bloodiest and most foul murders goes unwhippedof justice, and uncensured by the community inwhich he lives. Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael’s, Talbot county,Maryland, when I left there; and if heis still alive, he very probably lives there now; and ifso, he is now, as he was then, as highly esteemedand as much respected as though his guilty soulhad not been stained with his brother’s blood.
I speak advisedly when I say this,–that killinga slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county,Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by thecourts or the community. Mr. Thomas Lanman, ofSt. Michael’s, killed two slaves, one of whom hekilled with a hatchet, by knocking his brains out. Heused to boast of the commission of the awful andbloody deed. I have heard him do so laughingly,saying, among other things, that he was the onlybenefactor of his country in the company, and thatwhen others would do as much as he had done, weshould be relieved of “the d—-d niggers.”
The wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, living but a shortdistance from where I used to live, murdered mywife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age, mangling her person in the mosthorrible manner, breaking her nose and breastbonewith a stick, so that the poor girl expired in a fewhours afterward. She was immediately buried, buthad not been in her untimely grave but a few hoursbefore she was taken up and examined by the coroner, who decided that she had come to her deathby severe beating. The offence for which this girlwas thus murdered was this:–She had been setthat night to mind Mrs. Hicks’s baby, and during thenight she fell asleep, and the baby cried. She, havinglost her rest for several nights previous, did not hearthe crying. They were both in the room with Mrs.Hicks. Mrs. Hicks, finding the girl slow to move,jumped from her bed, seized an oak stick of woodby the fireplace, and with it broke the girl’s noseand breastbone, and thus ended her life. I will notsay that this most horrid murder produced no sensation in the community. It did produce sensation,but not enough to bring the murderess to punishment. There was a warrant issued for her arrest,but it was never served. Thus she escaped not onlypunishment, but even the pain of being arraignedbefore a court for her horrid crime.
Whilst I am detailing bloody deeds which tookplace during my stay on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation,I will briefly narrate another, which occurred aboutthe same time as the murder of Demby by Mr.Gore.
Colonel Lloyd’s slaves were in the habit of spending a part of their nights and Sundays in fishing foroysters, and in this way made up the deficiency oftheir scanty allowance. An old man belonging toColonel Lloyd, while thus engaged, happened to getbeyond the limits of Colonel Lloyd’s, and on thepremises of Mr. Beal Bondly. At this trespass, Mr.Bondly took offence, and with his musket camedown to the shore, and blew its deadly contentsinto the poor old man.
Mr. Bondly came over to see Colonel Lloyd thenext day, whether to pay him for his property, orto justify himself in what he had done, I know not.At any rate, this whole fiendish transaction was soonhushed up. There was very little said about it at all,and nothing done. It was a common saying, evenamong little white boys, that it was worth a halfcent to kill a “nigger,” and a half-cent to bury one.
As to my own treatment while I lived on ColonelLloyd’s plantation, it was very similar to that of theother slave children. I was not old enough to work inthe field, and there being little else than field workto do, I had a great deal of leisure time. The mostI had to do was to drive up the cows at evening,keep the fowls out of the garden, keep the frontyard clean, and run of errands for my old master’sdaughter, Mrs. Lucretia Auld. The most of my leisure time I spent in helping Master Daniel Lloydin finding his birds, after he had shot them. Myconnection with Master Daniel was of some advantage to me. He became quite attached to me, andwas a sort of protector of me. He would not allowthe older boys to impose upon me, and would dividehis cakes with me.
I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered little from any thing else than hunger andcold. I suffered much from hunger, but much morefrom cold. In hottest summer and coldest winter, Iwas kept almost naked–no shoes, no stockings, nojacket, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linenshirt, reaching only to my knees. I had no bed. Imust have perished with cold, but that, the coldestnights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl into this bag,and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, withmy head in and feet out. My feet have been socracked with the frost, that the pen with which Iam writing might be laid in the gashes.
We were not regularly allowanced. Our food wascoarse corn meal boiled. This was called MUSH. Itwas put into a large wooden tray or trough, and setdown upon the ground. The children were thencalled, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs theywould come and devour the mush; some with oystershells, others with pieces of shingle, some with nakedhands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastestgot most; he that was strongest secured the bestplace; and few left the trough satisfied.
I was probably between seven and eight years oldwhen I left Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. I left it withjoy. I shall never forget the ecstasy with which Ireceived the intelligence that my old master (Anthony) had determined to let me go toBaltimore,to live with Mr. Hugh Auld, brother to my oldmaster’s son-in-law, Captain Thomas Auld. I received this information about three days before mydeparture. They were three of the happiest daysI ever enjoyed. I spent the most part of all thesethree days in the creek, washing off the plantationscurf, and preparing myself for my departure.
The pride of appearance which this would indicatewas not my own. I spent the time in washing, not somuch because I wished to, but because Mrs.Lucretia had told me I must get all the dead skinoff my feet and knees before I could go to Baltimore; for the people in Baltimore were very cleanly,and would laugh at me if I looked dirty. Besides,she was going to give me a pair of trousers, which Ishould not put on unless I got all the dirt off me.The thought of owning a pair of trousers was greatindeed! It was almost a sufficient motive, not onlyto make me take off what would be called by pigdrovers the mange, but the skin itself. I went at itin good earnest, working for the first time with thehope of reward.
The ties that ordinarily bind children to theirhomes were all suspended in my case. I found nosevere trial in my departure. My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, Icould not feel that I was leaving any thing which Icould have enjoyed by staying. My mother was dead,my grandmother lived far off, so that I seldom sawher. I had two sisters and one brother, that lived inthe same house with me; but the early separation ofus from our mother had well nigh blotted the factof our relationship from our memories. I looked forhome elsewhere, and was confident of finding nonewhich I should relish less than the one which I wasleaving. If, however, I found in my new home hardship, hunger, whipping, and nakedness, I had theconsolation that I should not have escaped any oneof them by staying. Having already had more thana taste of them in the house of my old master, andhaving endured them there, I very naturally inferredmy ability to endure them elsewhere, and especiallyat Baltimore; for I had something of the feelingabout Baltimore that is expressed in the proverb,that “being hanged in England is preferable todying a natural death in Ireland.” I had the strongestdesire to seeBaltimore. Cousin Tom, though notfluent in speech, had inspired me with that desireby his eloquent description of the place. I couldnever point out any thing at the Great House, nomatter how beautiful or powerful, but that he hadseen something atBaltimorefar exceeding, both inbeauty and strength, the object which I pointed outto him. Even the Great House itself, with all itspictures, was far inferior to many buildings inBaltimore. So strong was my desire, that I thought agratification of it would fully compensate for whatever loss of comforts I should sustain by the exchange. I left without a regret, and with the highesthopes of future happiness.
We sailed out ofMilesRiverforBaltimoreon aSaturday morning. I remember only the day of theweek, for at that time I had no knowledge of thedays of the month, nor the months of the year. Onsetting sail, I walked aft, and gave to Colonel Lloyd’splantation what I hoped would be the last look. Ithen placed myself in the bows of the sloop, andthere spent the remainder of the day in lookingahead, interesting myself in what was in the distancerather than in things near by or behind.
In the afternoon of that day, we reachedAnnapolis, the capital of the State. We stopped but afew moments, so that I had no time to go on shore.It was the first large town that I had ever seen, andthough it would look small compared with some ofourNew Englandfactory villages, I thought it awonderful place for its size–more imposing eventhan the Great House Farm!
We arrived atBaltimoreearly on Sunday morning, landing at Smith’s Wharf, not far from Bowley’s Wharf. We had on board the sloop a largeflock of sheep; and after aiding in driving them tothe slaughterhouse of Mr. Curtis on Louden Slater’sHill, I was conducted by Rich, one of the handsbelonging on board of the sloop, to my new homeinAlliciana Street, near Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard, onFells Point.
Mr. and Mrs. Auld were both at home, and metme at the door with their little son Thomas, to takecare of whom I had been given. And here I saw whatI had never seen before; it was a white face beamingwith the most kindly emotions; it was the face ofmy new mistress, Sophia Auld. I wish I could describe the rapture that flashed through my soul as Ibeheld it. It was a new and strange sight to me,brightening up my pathway with the light of happiness. Little Thomas was told, there was his Freddy,–and I was told to take care of little Thomas; andthus I entered upon the duties of my new home withthe most cheering prospect ahead.
I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd’splantation as one of the most interesting events ofmy life. It is possible, and even quite probable, thatbut for the mere circumstance of being removedfrom that plantation to Baltimore, I should haveto-day, instead of being here seated by my own table,in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness ofhome, writing this Narrative, been confined in thegalling chains of slavery. Going to live at Baltimorelaid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to allmy subsequent prosperity. I have ever regarded itas the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since attended me, and markedmy life with so many favors. I regarded the selectionof myself as being somewhat remarkable. There werea number of slave children that might have beensent from the plantation toBaltimore. There werethose younger, those older, and those of the sameage. I was chosen from among them all, and wasthe first, last, and only choice.
I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interpositionof divineProvidencein my favor. But I should befalse to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself,even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others,rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery wouldnot always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministeringangels to cheer me through the gloom. This goodspirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgivingand praise.
My new mistress proved to be all she appearedwhen I first met her at the door,–a woman of thekindest heart and finest feelings. She had never hada slave under her control previously to myself, andprior to her marriage she had been dependent uponher own industry for a living. She was by trade aweaver; and by constant application to her business,she had been in a good degree preserved from theblighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery. I wasutterly astonished at her goodness. I scarcely knewhow to behave towards her. She was entirely unlikeany other white woman I had ever seen. I could notapproach her as I was accustomed to approach otherwhite ladies. My early instruction was all out ofplace. The crouching servility, usually so acceptablea quality in a slave, did not answer when manifestedtoward her. Her favor was not gained by it; sheseemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem itimpudent or unmannerly for a slave to look her inthe face. The meanest slave was put fully at easein her presence, and none left without feeling better for having seen her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.
But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time toremain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible powerwas already in her hands, and soon commenced itsinfernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; thatvoice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one ofharsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gaveplace to that of a demon.
Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs.Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me theA, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me inlearning to spell words of three or four letters. Justat this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found outwhat was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auldto instruct me further, telling her, among otherthings, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, toteach a slave to read. To use his own words, further,he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will takean ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obeyhis master–to do as he is told to do. Learning would~spoil~ the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “ifyou teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how toread, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.As to himself, it could do him no good, but a greatdeal of harm. It would make him discontented andunhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart,stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering,and called into existence an entirely new train ofthought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which myyouthful understanding had struggled, but struggledin vain. I now understood what had been to me amost perplexing difficulty–to wit, the white man’spower to enslave the black man. It was a grandachievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at atime when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kindmistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gainedfrom my master. Though conscious of the difficultyof learning without a teacher, I set out with highhope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided mannerwith which he spoke, and strove to impress his wifewith the evil consequences of giving me instruction,served to convince me that he was deeply sensibleof the truths he was uttering. It gave me the bestassurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow fromteaching me to read. What he most dreaded, thatI most desired. What he most loved, that I mosthated. That which to him was a great evil, to becarefully shunned, was to me a great good, to bediligently sought; and the argument which he sowarmly urged, against my learning to read, onlyserved to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost asmuch to the bitter opposition of my master, as tothe kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge thebenefit of both.
I had resided but a short time inBaltimorebeforeI observed a marked difference, in the treatment ofslaves, from that which I had witnessed in the country. A city slave is almost a freeman, compared witha slave on the plantation. He is much better fed andclothed, and enjoys privileges altogether unknownto the slave on the plantation. There is a vestige ofdecency, a sense of shame, that does much to curband check those outbreaks of atrocious cruelty socommonly enacted upon the plantation. He is a desperate slaveholder, who will shock the humanity ofhis non-slaveholding neighbors with the cries of hislacerated slave. Few are willing to incur the odiumattaching to the reputation of being a cruel master;and above all things, they would not be known asnot giving a slave enough to eat. Every city slaveholder is anxious to have it known of him, that hefeeds his slaves well; and it is due to them to say,that most of them do give their slaves enough to eat.There are, however, some painful exceptions to thisrule. Directly opposite to us, onPhilpot Street, livedMr. Thomas Hamilton. He owned two slaves. Theirnames were Henrietta and Mary. Henrietta wasabout twenty-two years of age, Mary was about fourteen; and of all the mangled and emaciated creaturesI ever looked upon, these two were the most so. Hisheart must be harder than stone, that could lookupon these unmoved. The head, neck, and shouldersof Mary were literally cut to pieces. I have frequently felt her head, and found it nearly coveredwith festering sores, caused by the lash of her cruelmistress. I do not know that her master ever whippedher, but I have been an eye-witness to the cruelty ofMrs.Hamilton. I used to be in Mr. Hamilton’s housenearly every day. Mrs. Hamilton used to sit in a largechair in the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her side, and scarce an hour passedduring the day but was marked by the blood of oneof these slaves. The girls seldom passed her withouther saying, “Move faster, you ~black gip!~” at the sametime giving them a blow with the cowskin over thehead or shoulders, often drawing the blood. Shewould then say, “Take that, you ~black gip!~” continuing, “If you don’t move faster, I’ll move you!”Added to the cruel lashings to which these slaveswere subjected, they were kept nearly half-starved.They seldom knew what it was to eat a full meal.I have seen Mary contending with the pigs for theoffal thrown into the street. So much was Marykicked and cut to pieces, that she was oftener called”~pecked~” than by her name.
I lived in Master Hugh’s family about seven years.During this time, I succeeded in learning to read andwrite. In accomplishing this, I was compelled to resort to various stratagems. I had no regular teacher.My mistress, who had kindly commenced to instructme, had, in compliance with the advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct, buthad set her face against my being instructed by anyone else. It is due, however, to my mistress to sayof her, that she did not adopt this course of treatment immediately. She at first lacked the depravityindispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness.It was at least necessary for her to have some trainingin the exercise of irresponsible power, to make herequal to the task of treating me as though I werea brute.
My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tenderhearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul shecommenced, when I first went to live with her, totreat me as she supposed one human being oughtto treat another. In entering upon the duties of aslaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, andthat for her to treat me as a human being was notonly wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved asinjurious to her as it did to me. When I went there,she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman.There was no sorrow or suffering for which she hadnot a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes forthe naked, and comfort for every mourner that camewithin her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability todivest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and thelamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-likefierceness. The first step in her downward course wasin her ceasing to instruct me. She now commencedto practise her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than herhusband himself. She was not satisfied with simplydoing as well as he had commanded; she seemedanxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make hermore angry than to see me with a newspaper. Sheseemed to think that here lay the danger. I have hadher rush at me with a face made all up of fury, andsnatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fullyrevealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman;and a little experience soon demonstrated, to hersatisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.
From this time I was most narrowly watched. If Iwas in a separate room any considerable length oftime, I was sure to be suspected of having a book,and was at once called to give an account of myself.All this, however, was too late. The first step hadbeen taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet,had given me the ~inch,~ and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ~ell.~
The plan which I adopted, and the one by whichI was most successful, was that of making friends ofall the little white boys whom I met in the street.As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different timesand in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent of errands, I alwaystook my book with me, and by going one part ofmy errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me,enough of which was always in the house, and towhich I was always welcome; for I was much betteroff in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return,would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names oftwo or three of those little boys, as a testimonial ofthe gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;–not that it would injure me, but itmight embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to say of the dear littlefellows, that they lived onPhilpot Street, very nearDurgin and Bailey’s ship-yard. I used to talk thismatter of slavery over with them. I would sometimessay to them, I wished I could be as free as theywould be when they got to be men. “You will befree as soon as you are twenty-one, ~but I am a slavefor life!~ Have not I as good a right to be free asyou have?” These words used to trouble them; theywould express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occurby which I might be free.
I was now about twelve years old, and the thoughtof being ~a slave for life~ began to bear heavily uponmy heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a bookentitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much ofother interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master threetimes. The dialogue represented the conversationwhich took place between them, when the slave wasretaken the third time. In this dialogue, the wholeargument in behalf of slavery was brought forwardby the master, all of which was disposed of by theslave. The slave was made to say some very smart aswell as impressive things in reply to his master-things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntaryemancipation of the slave on the part of the master.
In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’smighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I readthem over and over again with unabated interest.They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my ownsoul, which had frequently flashed through my mind,and died away for want of utterance. The moralwhich I gained from the dialogue was the power oftruth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. WhatI got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights.The reading of these documents enabled me toutter my thoughts, and to meet the argumentsbrought forward to sustain slavery; but while theyrelieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I wasrelieved. The more I read, the more I was led toabhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard themin no other light than a band of successful robbers,who had left their homes, and gone toAfrica, andstolen us from our homes, and in a strange landreduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being themeanest as well as the most wicked of men. As Iread and contemplated the subject, behold! that verydiscontentment which Master Hugh had predictedwould follow my learning to read had already come,to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish.As I writhed under it, I would at times feel thatlearning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to thehorrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out.In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves fortheir stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast.I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile tomy own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid ofthinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting ridof it. It was pressed upon me by every object withinsight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silvertrump of freedom had roused my soul to eternalwakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappearno more forever. It was heard in every sound, andseen in every thing. It was ever present to tormentme with a sense of my wretched condition. I sawnothing without seeing it, I heard nothing withouthearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. Itlooked from every star, it smiled in every calm,breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.
I often found myself regretting my own existence,and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope ofbeing free, I have no doubt but that I should havekilled myself, or done something for which I shouldhave been killed. While in this state of mind, I waseager to hear any one speak of slavery. I was a readylistener. Every little while, I could hear somethingabout the abolitionists. It was some time before Ifound what the word meant. It was always used insuch connections as to make it an interesting wordto me. If a slave ran away and succeeded in gettingclear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to abarn, or did any thing very wrong in the mind of aslaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of ~abolition.~Hearing the word in this connection very often, I setabout learning what it meant. The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was “the actof abolishing;” but then I did not know what wasto be abolished. Here I was perplexed. I did notdare to ask any one about its meaning, for I wassatisfied that it was something they wanted me toknow very little about. After a patient waiting, I gotone of our city papers, containing an account of thenumber of petitions from the north, praying for theabolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, andof the slave trade between the States. From thistime I understood the words ~abolition~ and ~abolitionist,~ and always drew near when that word was spoken,expecting to hear something of importance to myself and fellow-slaves. The light broke in upon meby degrees. I went one day down on the wharf ofMr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading ascow of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them.When we had finished, one of them came to meand asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. Heasked, “Are ye a slave for life?” I told him that Iwas. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the other thatit was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself shouldbe a slave for life. He said it was a shame to holdme. They both advised me to run away to the north;that I should find friends there, and that I shouldbe free. I pretended not to be interested in whatthey said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous.White men have been known to encourage slaves toescape, and then, to get the reward, catch them andreturn them to their masters. I was afraid that theseseemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that timeI resolved to run away. I looked forward to a timeat which it would be safe for me to escape. I wastoo young to think of doing so immediately; besides,I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself withthe hope that I should one day find a good chance.Meanwhile, I would learn to write.
The idea as to how I might learn to write wassuggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’sship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters,after hewing, and getting a piece of timber readyfor use, write on the timber the name of that partof the ship for which it was intended. When a pieceof timber was intended for the larboard side, itwould be marked thus–”L.” When a piece was forthe starboard side, it would be marked thus–”S.” Apiece for the larboard side forward, would be markedthus–”L. F.” When a piece was for starboard sideforward, it would be marked thus–”S. F.” For larboard aft, it would be marked thus–”L. A.” For starboard aft, it would be marked thus–”S. A.” I soonlearned the names of these letters, and for whatthey were intended when placed upon a piece oftimber in the ship-yard. I immediately commencedcopying them, and in a short time was able to makethe four letters named. After that, when I met withany boy who I knew could write, I would tell himI could write as well as he. The next word would be,”I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I wouldthen make the letters which I had been so fortunateas to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way Igot a good many lessons in writing, which it is quitepossible I should never have gotten in any other way.During this time, my copy-book was the board fence,brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was alump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how towrite. I then commenced and continued copying theItalics in Webster’s Spelling Book, until I could makethem all without looking on the book. By this time,my little Master Thomas had gone to school, andlearned how to write, and had written over a numberof copy-books. These had been brought home, andshown to some of our near neighbors, and then laidaside. My mistress used to go to class meeting attheWilk Streetmeetinghouse every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. Whenleft thus, I used to spend the time in writing in thespaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copyingwhat he had written. I continued to do this until Icould write a hand very similar to that of MasterThomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years,I finally succeeded in learning how to write.
In a very short time after I went to live at Baltimore, my old master’s youngest son Richard died;and in about three years and six months after hisdeath, my old master, Captain Anthony, died, leavonly his son, Andrew, and daughter, Lucretia, toshare his estate. He died while on a visit to see hisdaughter at Hillsborough. Cut off thus unexpectedly,he left no will as to the disposal of his property. Itwas therefore necessary to have a valuation of theproperty, that it might be equally divided betweenMrs. Lucretia and Master Andrew. I was immediately sent for, to be valued with the other property.Here again my feelings rose up in detestation ofslavery. I had now a new conception of my degradedcondition. Prior to this, I had become, if not insensible to my lot, at least partly so. I left Baltimorewith a young heart overborne with sadness, and asoul full of apprehension. I took passage with Captain Rowe, in the schooner Wild Cat, and, after asail of about twenty-four hours, I found myself nearthe place of my birth. I had now been absent fromit almost, if not quite, five years. I, however, remembered the place very well. I was only aboutfive years old when I left it, to go and live with myold master on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation; so thatI was now between ten and eleven years old.
We were all ranked together at the valuation. Menand women, old and young, married and single, wereranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There werehorses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being,and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maidsand matrons, had to undergo the same indelicateinspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly thanever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon bothslave and slaveholder.
After the valuation, then came the division. I haveno language to express the high excitement and deepanxiety which were felt among us poor slaves duringthis time. Our fate for life was now to be decided.we had no more voice in that decision than thebrutes among whom we were ranked. A single wordfrom the white men was enough–against all ourwishes, prayers, and entreaties–to sunder forever thedearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest tiesknown to human beings. In addition to the pain ofseparation, there was the horrid dread of falling intothe hands of Master Andrew. He was known to usall as being a most cruel wretch,–a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement andprofligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We all felt that wemight as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders,as to pass into his hands; for we knew that thatwould be our inevitable condition,–a condition heldby us all in the utmost horror and dread.
I suffered more anxiety than most of my fellowslaves. I had known what it was to be kindly treated;they had known nothing of the kind. They had seenlittle or nothing of the world. They were in verydeed men and women of sorrow, and acquainted withgrief. Their backs had been made familiar with thebloody lash, so that they had become callous; minewas yet tender; for while at Baltimore I got few whippings, and few slaves could boast of a kinder masterand mistress than myself; and the thought of passing out of their hands into those of Master Andrew-a man who, but a few days before, to give me asample of his bloody disposition, took my littlebrother by the throat, threw him on the ground, andwith the heel of his boot stamped upon his headtill the blood gushed from his nose and ears–waswell calculated to make me anxious as to my fate.After he had committed this savage outrage uponmy brother, he turned to me, and said that was theway he meant to serve me one of these days,–meaning, I suppose, when I came into his possession.
Thanks to a kindProvidence, I fell to the portionof Mrs. Lucretia, and was sent immediately backtoBaltimore, to live again in the family of MasterHugh. Their joy at my return equalled their sorrowat my departure. It was a glad day to me. I hadescaped a worse than lion’s jaws. I was absent fromBaltimore, for the purpose of valuation and division,just about one month, and it seemed to have beensix.
Very soon after my return to Baltimore, my mistress, Lucretia, died, leaving her husband and onechild, Amanda; and in a very short time after herdeath, Master Andrew died. Now all the propertyof my old master, slaves included, was in the handsof strangers,–strangers who had had nothing to dowith accumulating it. Not a slave was left free. Allremained slaves, from the youngest to the oldest. Ifany one thing in my experience, more than another,served to deepen my conviction of the infernal character of slavery, and to fill me with unutterableloathing of slaveholders, it was their base ingratitude to my poor old grandmother. She had servedmy old master faithfully from youth to old age. Shehad been the source of all his wealth; she had peopled his plantation with slaves; she had become agreat grandmother in his service. She had rockedhim in infancy, attended him in childhood, servedhim through life, and at his death wiped from hisicy brow the cold death-sweat, and closed his eyesforever. She was nevertheless left a slave–a slave forlife–a slave in the hands of strangers; and in theirhands she saw her children, her grandchildren, andher great-grandchildren, divided, like so many sheep,without being gratified with the small privilege of asingle word, as to their or her own destiny. And, tocap the climax of their base ingratitude and fiendishbarbarity, my grandmother, who was now very old,having outlived my old master and all his children,having seen the beginning and end of all of them,and her present owners finding she was of but littlevalue, her frame already racked with the pains of oldage, and complete helplessness fast stealing over heronce active limbs, they took her to the woods, builther a little hut, put up a little mud-chimney, andthen made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself there in perfect loneliness; thus virtuallyturning her out to die! If my poor old grandmothernow lives, she lives to suffer in utter loneliness; shelives to remember and mourn over the loss of children, the loss of grandchildren, and the loss of greatgrandchildren. They are, in the language of theslave’s poet,Whittier,–
“Gone, gone, sold and gone
To the rice swamp dank and lone,
Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings,
Where the noisome insect stings,
Where the fever-demon strews
Poison with the falling dews,
Where the sickly sunbeams glare
Through the hot and misty air:–
Gone, gone, sold and gone
To the rice swamp dank and lone,
FromVirginiahills and waters–
Woe is me, my stolen daughters!”
The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children, who once sang and danced in herpresence, are gone. She gropes her way, in the darkness of age, for a drink of water. Instead of the voicesof her children, she hears by day the moans of thedove, and by night the screams of the hideous owl.All is gloom. The grave is at the door. And now,when weighed down by the pains and aches of oldage, when the head inclines to the feet, when thebeginning and ending of human existence meet, andhelpless infancy and painful old age combine together–at this time, this most needful time, the timefor the exercise of that tenderness and affectionwhich children only can exercise towards a decliningparent–my poor old grandmother, the devotedmother of twelve children, is left all alone, in yonderlittle hut, before a few dim embers. She stands-she sits–she staggers–she falls–she groans–she dies–and there are none of her children or grandchildrenpresent, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the coldsweat of death, or to place beneath the sod herfallen remains. Will not a righteous God visit forthese things?
In about two years after the death of Mrs. Lucretia, Master Thomas married his second wife. Hername was Rowena Hamilton. She was the eldestdaughter of Mr. William Hamilton. Master nowlived in St. Michael’s. Not long after his marriage,a misunderstanding took place between himself andMaster Hugh; and as a means of punishing hisbrother, he took me from him to live with himselfat St. Michael’s. Here I underwent another mostpainful separation. It, however, was not so severeas the one I dreaded at the division of property; for,during this interval, a great change had taken placein Master Hugh and his once kind and affectionatewife. The influence of brandy upon him, and ofslavery upon her, had effected a disastrous changein the characters of both; so that, as far as theywere concerned, I thought I had little to lose by thechange. But it was not to them that I was attached.It was to those littleBaltimoreboys that I felt thestrongest attachment. I had received many goodlessons from them, and was still receiving them, andthe thought of leaving them was painful indeed. Iwas leaving, too, without the hope of ever beingallowed to return. Master Thomas had said he wouldnever let me return again. The barrier betwixt himself and brother he considered impassable.
I then had to regret that I did not at least makethe attempt to carry out my resolution to run away;for the chances of success are tenfold greater fromthe city than from the country.
I sailed fromBaltimorefor St. Michael’s in thesloop Amanda, Captain Edward Dodson. On mypassage, I paid particular attention to the directionwhich the steamboats took to go toPhiladelphia. Ifound, instead of going down, on reaching NorthPoint they went up the bay, in a north-easterly direction. I deemed this knowledge of the utmost importance. My determination to run away was againrevived. I resolved to wait only so long as the offeringof a favorable opportunity. When that came, I wasdetermined to be off.
I have now reached a period of my life when Ican give dates. I leftBaltimore, and went to livewith Master Thomas Auld, at St. Michael’s, inMarch, 1832. It was now more than seven yearssince I lived with him in the family of my old master, on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. We of coursewere now almost entire strangers to each other. Hewas to me a new master, and I to him a new slave.I was ignorant of his temper and disposition; hewas equally so of mine. A very short time, however,brought us into full acquaintance with each other.I was made acquainted with his wife not less thanwith himself. They were well matched, being equallymean and cruel. I was now, for the first time duringa space of more than seven years, made to feel thepainful gnawings of hunger–a something which Ihad not experienced before since I left ColonelLloyd’s plantation. It went hard enough with methen, when I could look back to no period at whichI had enjoyed a sufficiency. It was tenfold harderafter living in Master Hugh’s family, where I hadalways had enough to eat, and of that which wasgood. I have said Master Thomas was a mean man.He was so. Not to give a slave enough to eat, isregarded as the most aggravated development ofmeanness even among slaveholders. The rule is, nomatter how coarse the food, only let there be enoughof it. This is the theory; and in the part of Marylandfrom which I came, it is the general practice,–thoughthere are many exceptions. Master Thomas gave usenough of neither coarse nor fine food. There werefour slaves of us in the kitchen–my sister Eliza, myaunt Priscilla, Henny, and myself; and we were allowed less than a half of a bushel of corn-meal perweek, and very little else, either in the shape ofmeat or vegetables. It was not enough for us tosubsist upon. We were therefore reduced to thewretched necessity of living at the expense of ourneighbors. This we did by begging and stealing,whichever came handy in the time of need, the onebeing considered as legitimate as the other. A greatmany times have we poor creatures been nearlyperishing with hunger, when food in abundance laymouldering in the safe and smoke-house, and ourpious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet thatmistress and her husband would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basketand store!
Bad as all slaveholders are, we seldom meet onedestitute of every element of character commandingrespect. My master was one of this rare sort. I donot know of one single noble act ever performed byhim. The leading trait in his character was meanness; and if there were any other element in hisnature, it was made subject to this. He was mean;and, like most other mean men, he lacked the abilityto conceal his meanness. Captain Auld was not borna slaveholder. He had been a poor man, master onlyof a Bay craft. He came into possession of all hisslaves by marriage; and of all men, adopted slaveholders are the worst. He was cruel, but cowardly.He commanded without firmness. In the enforcement of his rules, he was at times rigid, and at timeslax. At times, he spoke to his slaves with the firmnessof Napoleon and the fury of a demon; at other times,he might well be mistaken for an inquirer who hadlost his way. He did nothing of himself. He mighthave passed for a lion, but for his ears. In all thingsnoble which he attempted, his own meanness shonemost conspicuous. His airs, words, and actions,were the airs, words, and actions of born slaveholders, and, being assumed, were awkward enough.He was not even a good imitator. He possessed allthe disposition to deceive, but wanted the power.Having no resources within himself, he was compelled to be the copyist of many, and being such, hewas forever the victim of inconsistency; and of consequence he was an object of contempt, and was heldas such even by his slaves. The luxury of havingslaves of his own to wait upon him was somethingnew and unprepared for. He was a slaveholder without the ability to hold slaves. He found himself incapable of managing his slaves either by force, fear,or fraud. We seldom called him “master;” we generally called him “Captain Auld,” and were hardlydisposed to title him at all. I doubt not that ourconduct had much to do with making him appearawkward, and of consequence fretful. Our want ofreverence for him must have perplexed him greatly.He wished to have us call him master, but lackedthe firmness necessary to command us to do so. Hiswife used to insist upon our calling him so, but tono purpose. In August, 1832, my master attended aMethodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would leadhim to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did notdo this, it would, at any rate, make him more kindand humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to hisslaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effecton his character, it made him more cruel and hatefulin all his ways; for I believe him to have been a muchworse man after his conversion than before. Priorto his conversion, he relied upon his own depravityto shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity;but after his conversion, he found religious sanctionand support for his slaveholding cruelty. He madethe greatest pretensions to piety. His house was thehouse of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, andnight. He very soon distinguished himself amonghis brethren, and was soon made a class-leader andexhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and heproved himself an instrument in the hands of thechurch in converting many souls. His house was thepreachers’ home. They used to take great pleasurein coming there to put up; for while he starved us, hestuffed them. We have had three or four preachersthere at a time. The names of those who used tocome most frequently while I lived there, were Mr.Storks, Mr. Ewery, Mr. Humphry, and Mr. Hickey.I have also seen Mr. George Cookman at our house.We slaves loved Mr. Cookman. We believed him tobe a good man. We thought him instrumental in getting Mr. Samuel Harrison, a very rich slaveholder, toemancipate his slaves; and by some means got theimpression that he was laboring to effect the emancipation of all the slaves. When he was at our house,we were sure to be called in to prayers. When theothers were there, we were sometimes called in andsometimes not. Mr. Cookman took more notice ofus than either of the other ministers. He could notcome among us without betraying his sympathy forus, and, stupid as we were, we had the sagacity tosee it.
While I lived with my master in St. Michael’s,there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, whoproposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instructionof such slaves as might be disposed to learn to readthe New Testament. We met but three times, whenMr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders,with many others, came upon us with sticks andother missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meetagain. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in thepious town ofSt. Michael’s.
I have said my master found religious sanctionfor his cruelty. As an example, I will state one ofmany facts going to prove the charge. I have seenhim tie up a lame young woman, and whip her witha heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causingthe warm red blood to drip; and, in justificationof the bloody deed, he would quote this passage ofScripture–”He that knoweth his master’s will, anddoeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
Master would keep this lacerated young womantied up in this horrid situation four or five hours ata time. I have known him to tie her up early in themorning, and whip her before breakfast; leave her,go to his store, return at dinner, and whip her again,cutting her in the places already made raw with hiscruel lash. The secret of master’s cruelty toward”Henny” is found in the fact of her being almosthelpless. When quite a child, she fell into the fire,and burned herself horribly. Her hands were soburnt that she never got the use of them. She coulddo very little but bear heavy burdens. She was tomaster a bill of expense; and as he was a mean man,she was a constant offence to him. He seemeddesirous of getting the poor girl out of existence.He gave her away once to his sister; but, being apoor gift, she was not disposed to keep her. Finally,my benevolent master, to use his own words, “sether adrift to take care of herself.” Here was a recently-converted man, holding on upon the mother,and at the same time turning out her helpless child,to starve and die! Master Thomas was one of themany pious slaveholders who hold slaves for thevery charitable purpose of taking care of them.
My master and myself had quite a number ofdifferences. He found me unsuitable to his purpose.My city life, he said, had had a very pernicious effectupon me. It had almost ruined me for every goodpurpose, and fitted me for every thing which wasbad. One of my greatest faults was that of lettinghis horse run away, and go down to his father-inlaw’s farm, which was about five miles from St.Michael’s. I would then have to go after it. Myreason for this kind of carelessness, or carefulness,was, that I could always get something to eat whenI went there. Master William Hamilton, my master’sfather-in-law, always gave his slaves enough to eat.I never left there hungry, no matter how great theneed of my speedy return. Master Thomas at lengthsaid he would stand it no longer. I had lived withhim nine months, during which time he had givenme a number of severe whippings, all to no goodpurpose. He resolved to put me out, as he said, tobe broken; and, for this purpose, he let me for oneyear to a man named Edward Covey. Mr. Coveywas a poor man, a farm-renter. He rented the placeupon which he lived, as also the hands with whichhe tilled it. Mr. Covey had acquired a very highreputation for breaking young slaves, and this reputation was of immense value to him. It enabled himto get his farm tilled with much less expense tohimself than he could have had it done withoutsuch a reputation. Some slaveholders thought it notmuch loss to allow Mr. Covey to have their slavesone year, for the sake of the training to which theywere subjected, without any other compensation.He could hire young help with great ease, in consequence of this reputation. Added to the naturalgood qualities of Mr. Covey, he was a professor ofreligion–a pious soul–a member and a class-leader inthe Methodist church. All of this added weight tohis reputation as a “nigger-breaker.” I was aware ofall the facts, having been made acquainted withthem by a young man who had lived there. I nevertheless made the change gladly; for I was sure ofgetting enough to eat, which is not the smallestconsideration to a hungry man.
I had left Master Thomas’s house, and went to livewith Mr. Covey, on the 1st of January, 1833. I wasnow, for the first time in my life, a field hand. Inmy new employment, I found myself even moreawkward than a country boy appeared to be in alarge city. I had been at my new home but oneweek before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run,and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my little finger.The details of this affair are as follows: Mr. Coveysent me, very early in the morning of one of ourcoldest days in the month of January, to the woods,to get a load of wood. He gave me a team of unbroken oxen. He told me which was the in-hand ox,and which the off-hand one. He then tied the endof a large rope around the horns of the in-hand ox,and gave me the other end of it, and told me, ifthe oxen started to run, that I must hold on uponthe rope. I had never driven oxen before, and ofcourse I was very awkward. I, however, succeeded ingetting to the edge of the woods with little difficulty; but I had got a very few rods into the woods,when the oxen took fright, and started full tilt, carrying the cart against trees, and over stumps, in themost frightful manner. I expected every momentthat my brains would be dashed out against thetrees. After running thus for a considerable distance, they finally upset the cart, dashing it withgreat force against a tree, and threw themselves intoa dense thicket. How I escaped death, I do notknow. There I was, entirely alone, in a thick wood,in a place new to me. My cart was upset and shattered, my oxen were entangled among the youngtrees, and there was none to help me. After a longspell of effort, I succeeded in getting my cart righted,my oxen disentangled, and again yoked to the cart.I now proceeded with my team to the place whereI had, the day before, been chopping wood, andloaded my cart pretty heavily, thinking in this wayto tame my oxen. I then proceeded on my wayhome. I had now consumed one half of the day. Igot out of the woods safely, and now felt out ofdanger. I stopped my oxen to open the woods gate;and just as I did so, before I could get hold of myox-rope, the oxen again started, rushed through thegate, catching it between the wheel and the body ofthe cart, tearing it to pieces, and coming within afew inches of crushing me against the gate-post. Thustwice, in one short day, I escaped death by themerest chance. On my return, I told Mr. Coveywhat had happened, and how it happened. He ordered me to return to the woods again immediately.I did so, and he followed on after me. Just as I gotinto the woods, he came up and told me to stop mycart, and that he would teach me how to trifle awaymy time, and break gates. He then went to a largegum-tree, and with his axe cut three large switches,and, after trimming them up neatly with his pocketknife, he ordered me to take off my clothes. I madehim no answer, but stood with my clothes on. Herepeated his order. I still made him no answer, nordid I move to strip myself. Upon this he rushedat me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off myclothes, and lashed me till he had worn out hisswitches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marksvisible for a long time after. This whipping was thefirst of a number just like it, and for similar offences.
I lived with Mr. Covey one year. During the firstsix months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a soreback. My awkwardness was almost always his excuse for whipping me. We were worked fully upto the point of endurance. Long before day we wereup, our horses fed, and by the first approach of daywe were off to the field with our hoes and ploughing teams. Mr. Covey gave us enough to eat, butscarce time to eat it. We were often less than fiveminutes taking our meals. We were often in the fieldfrom the first approach of day till its last lingeringray had left us; and at saving-fodder time, midnightoften caught us in the field binding blades.
Covey would be out with us. The way he used tostand it, was this. He would spend the most of hisafternoons in bed. He would then come out freshin the evening, ready to urge us on with his words,example, and frequently with the whip. Mr. Coveywas one of the few slaveholders who could and didwork with his hands. He was a hard-working man.He knew by himself just what a man or a boy coulddo. There was no deceiving him. His work went onin his absence almost as well as in his presence; andhe had the faculty of making us feel that he wasever present with us. This he did by surprising us.He seldom approached the spot where we were atwork openly, if he could do it secretly. He alwaysaimed at taking us by surprise. Such was his cunning,that we used to call him, among ourselves, “thesnake.” When we were at work in the cornfield, hewould sometimes crawl on his hands and knees toavoid detection, and all at once he would risenearly in our midst, and scream out, “Ha, ha!Come, come! Dash on, dash on!” This being hismode of attack, it was never safe to stop a singleminute. His comings were like a thief in the night.He appeared to us as being ever at hand. He wasunder every tree, behind every stump, in every bush,and at every window, on the plantation. He wouldsometimes mount his horse, as if bound to St. Michael’s, a distance of seven miles, and in half anhour afterwards you would see him coiled up inthe corner of the wood-fence, watching every motionof the slaves. He would, for this purpose, leave hishorse tied up in the woods. Again, he would sometimes walk up to us, and give us orders as thoughhe was upon the point of starting on a long journey,turn his back upon us, and make as though he wasgoing to the house to get ready; and, before he wouldget half way thither, he would turn short and crawlinto a fence-corner, or behind some tree, and therewatch us till the going down of the sun.
Mr. Covey’s FORTE consisted in his power to deceive. His life was devoted to planning and perpetrating the grossest deceptions. Every thing he possessed in the shape of learning or religion, he madeconform to his disposition to deceive. He seemedto think himself equal to deceiving the Almighty.He would make a short prayer in the morning, anda long prayer at night; and, strange as it may seem,few men would at times appear more devotionalthan he. The exercises of his family devotions werealways commenced with singing; and, as he was avery poor singer himself, the duty of raising thehymn generally came upon me. He would read hishymn, and nod at me to commence. I would attimes do so; at others, I would not. My non-compliance would almost always produce much confusion. To show himself independent of me, he wouldstart and stagger through with his hymn in the mostdiscordant manner. In this state of mind, he prayedwith more than ordinary spirit. Poor man! such washis disposition, and success at deceiving, I do verilybelieve that he sometimes deceived himself into thesolemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper ofthe most high God; and this, too, at a time whenhe may be said to have been guilty of compellinghis woman slave to commit the sin of adultery. Thefacts in the case are these: Mr. Covey was a poorman; he was just commencing in life; he was onlyable to buy one slave; and, shocking as is the fact,he bought her, as he said, for A BREEDER. This womanwas named Caroline. Mr. Covey bought her fromMr. Thomas Lowe, about six miles from St. Michael’s. She was a large, able-bodied woman, abouttwenty years old. She had already given birth to onechild, which proved her to be just what he wanted.After buying her, he hired a married man of Mr.Samuel Harrison, to live with him one year; and himhe used to fasten up with her every night! The result was, that, at the end of the year, the miserablewoman gave birth to twins. At this result Mr. Coveyseemed to be highly pleased, both with the man andthe wretched woman. Such was his joy, and that ofhis wife, that nothing they could do for Carolineduring her confinement was too good, or too hard,to be done. The children were regarded as beingquite an addition to his wealth.
If at any one time of my life more than another,I was made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery,that time was during the first six months of my staywith Mr. Covey. We were worked in all weathers.It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain,blow, hail, or snow, too hard for us to work in thefield. Work, work, work, was scarcely more the orderof the day than of the night. The longest days weretoo short for him, and the shortest nights too longfor him. I was somewhat unmanageable when I firstwent there, but a few months of this disciplinetamed me. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. Iwas broken in body, soul, and spirit. My naturalelasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, thedisposition to read departed, the cheerful spark thatlingered about my eye died; the dark night of slaveryclosed in upon me; and behold a man transformedinto a brute!
Sunday was my only leisure time. I spent this ina sort of beast-like stupor, between sleep and wake,under some large tree. At times I would rise up, aflash of energetic freedom would dart through mysoul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope, thatflickered for a moment, and then vanished. I sankdown again, mourning over my wretched condition.I was sometimes prompted to take my life, and thatof Covey, but was prevented by a combination ofhope and fear. My sufferings on this plantation seemnow like a dream rather than a stern reality.
Our house stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom was ever white withsails from every quarter of the habitable globe.Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, sodelightful to the eye of freemen, were to me somany shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment mewith thoughts of my wretched condition. I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer’s Sabbath,stood all alone upon the lofty banks of that noblebay, and traced, with saddened heart and tearfuleye, the countless number of sails moving off tothe mighty ocean. The sight of these always affectedme powerfully. My thoughts would compel utterance; and there, with no audience but the Almighty,I would pour out my soul’s complaint, in my rudeway, with an apostrophe to the moving multitude ofships:–
“You are loosed from your moorings, and are free;I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You movemerrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly beforethe bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-wingedangels, that fly round the world; I am confined inbands of iron! O that I were free! O, that I wereon one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! betwixt me and you, the turbidwaters roll. Go on, go on. O that I could also go!Could I but swim! If I could fly! O, why was I borna man, of whom to make a brute! The glad shipis gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left inthe hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, saveme! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there anyGod? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will notstand it. Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it. I hadas well die with ague as the fever. I have only onelife to lose. I had as well be killed running as diestanding. Only think of it; one hundred milesstraight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! Godhelping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall liveand die a slave. I will take to the water. This verybay shall yet bear me into freedom. The steamboats steered in a north-east course from NorthPoint. I will do the same; and when I get to thehead of the bay, I will turn my canoe adrift, andwalk straight throughDelawareinto Pennsylvania.When I get there, I shall not be required to have apass; I can travel without being disturbed. Let butthe first opportunity offer, and, come what will, Iam off. Meanwhile, I will try to bear up under theyoke. I am not the only slave in the world. Whyshould I fret? I can bear as much as any of them.Besides, I am but a boy, and all boys are bound tosome one. It may be that my misery in slavery willonly increase my happiness when I get free. Thereis a better day coming.”
Thus I used to think, and thus I used to speakto myself; goaded almost to madness at one moment, and at the next reconciling myself to mywretched lot.
I have already intimated that my condition wasmuch worse, during the first six months of my stayat Mr. Covey’s, than in the last six. The circumstances leading to the change in Mr. Covey’s coursetoward me form an epoch in my humble history.You have seen how a man was made a slave; youshall see how a slave was made a man. On one ofthe hottest days of the month of August, 1833, BillSmith, William Hughes, a slave named Eli, andmyself, were engaged in fanning wheat. Hughes wasclearing the fanned wheat from before the fan. Eliwas turning, Smith was feeding, and I was carryingwheat to the fan. The work was simple, requiringstrength rather than intellect; yet, to one entirelyunused to such work, it came very hard. About threeo’clock of that day, I broke down; my strength failedme; I was seized with a violent aching of the head,attended with extreme dizziness; I trembled in everylimb. Finding what was coming, I nerved myselfup, feeling it would never do to stop work. I stoodas long as I could stagger to the hopper with grain.When I could stand no longer, I fell, and felt asif held down by an immense weight. The fan ofcourse stopped; every one had his own work to do;and no one could do the work of the other, andhave his own go on at the same time.
Mr. Covey was at the house, about one hundredyards from the treading-yard where we were fanning.On hearing the fan stop, he left immediately, andcame to the spot where we were. He hastily inquired what the matter was. Bill answered that Iwas sick, and there was no one to bring wheat to thefan. I had by this time crawled away under theside of the post and rail-fence by which the yardwas enclosed, hoping to find relief by getting outof the sun. He then asked where I was. He wastold by one of the hands. He came to the spot, and,after looking at me awhile, asked me what wasthe matter. I told him as well as I could, for I scarcehad strength to speak. He then gave me a savagekick in the side, and told me to get up. I tried todo so, but fell back in the attempt. He gave meanother kick, and again told me to rise. I againtried, and succeeded in gaining my feet; but, stooping to get the tub with which I was feeding thefan, I again staggered and fell. While down in thissituation, Mr. Covey took up the hickory slat withwhich Hughes had been striking off the half-bushelmeasure, and with it gave me a heavy blow uponthe head, making a large wound, and the blood ranfreely; and with this again told me to get up. I madeno effort to comply, having now made up my mindto let him do his worst. In a short time after receiving this blow, my head grew better. Mr. Coveyhad now left me to my fate. At this moment I resolved, for the first time, to go to my master, entera complaint, and ask his protection. In order to dothis, I must that afternoon walk seven miles; andthis, under the circumstances, was truly a severeundertaking. I was exceedingly feeble; made so asmuch by the kicks and blows which I received, asby the severe fit of sickness to which I had beensubjected. I, however, watched my chance, whileCovey was looking in an opposite direction, andstarted for St. Michael’s. I succeeded in getting aconsiderable distance on my way to the woods, whenCovey discovered me, and called after me to comeback, threatening what he would do if I did notcome. I disregarded both his calls and his threats,and made my way to the woods as fast as my feeblestate would allow; and thinking I might be overhauled by him if I kept the road, I walked throughthe woods, keeping far enough from the road toavoid detection, and near enough to prevent losingmy way. I had not gone far before my little strengthagain failed me. I could go no farther. I fell down,and lay for a considerable time. The blood was yetoozing from the wound on my head. For a time Ithought I should bleed to death; and think now thatI should have done so, but that the blood so mattedmy hair as to stop the wound. After lying thereabout three quarters of an hour, I nerved myselfup again, and started on my way, through bogs andbriers, barefooted and bareheaded, tearing my feetsometimes at nearly every step; and after a journeyof about seven miles, occupying some five hours toperform it, I arrived at master’s store. I then presented an appearance enough to affect any but aheart of iron. From the crown of my head to myfeet, I was covered with blood. My hair was allclotted with dust and blood; my shirt was stiff withblood. I suppose I looked like a man who had escaped a den of wild beasts, and barely escaped them.In this state I appeared before my master, humblyentreating him to interpose his authority for myprotection. I told him all the circumstances as wellas I could, and it seemed, as I spoke, at times toaffect him. He would then walk the floor, and seekto justify Covey by saying he expected I deservedit. He asked me what I wanted. I told him, to letme get a new home; that as sure as I lived with Mr.Covey again, I should live with but to die withhim; that Covey would surely kill me; he was in afair way for it. Master Thomas ridiculed the ideathat there was any danger of Mr. Covey’s killingme, and said that he knew Mr. Covey; that he wasa good man, and that he could not think of takingme from him; that, should he do so, he would losethe whole year’s wages; that I belonged to Mr. Coveyfor one year, and that I must go back to him, comewhat might; and that I must not trouble him withany more stories, or that he would himself GET HOLDOF ME. After threatening me thus, he gave me a verylarge dose of salts, telling me that I might remainin St. Michael’s that night, (it being quite late,)but that I must be off back to Mr. Covey’s earlyin the morning; and that if I did not, he would~get hold of me,~ which meant that he would whipme. I remained all night, and, according to his orders, I started off to Covey’s in the morning, (Saturday morning,) wearied in body and broken inspirit. I got no supper that night, or breakfast thatmorning. I reached Covey’s about nine o’clock; andjust as I was getting over the fence that dividedMrs. Kemp’s fields from ours, out ran Covey withhis cowskin, to give me another whipping. Beforehe could reach me, I succeeded in getting to thecornfield; and as the corn was very high, it affordedme the means of hiding. He seemed very angry, andsearched for me a long time. My behavior was altogether unaccountable. He finally gave up thechase, thinking, I suppose, that I must come homefor something to eat; he would give himself no further trouble in looking for me. I spent that daymostly in the woods, having the alternative beforeme,–to go home and be whipped to death, or stayin the woods and be starved to death. That night,I fell in with Sandy Jenkins, a slave with whomI was somewhat acquainted. Sandy had a free wifewho lived about four miles from Mr. Covey’s; andit being Saturday, he was on his way to see her. Itold him my circumstances, and he very kindly invited me to go home with him. I went home withhim, and talked this whole matter over, and got hisadvice as to what course it was best for me to pursue.I foundSandyan old adviser. He told me, withgreat solemnity, I must go back to Covey; but thatbefore I went, I must go with him into anotherpart of the woods, where there was a certain ~root,~which, if I would take some of it with me, carryingit ~always on my right side,~ would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man, towhip me. He said he had carried it for years; andsince he had done so, he had never received a blow,and never expected to while he carried it. I at firstrejected the idea, that the simple carrying of a rootin my pocket would have any such effect as he hadsaid, and was not disposed to take it; but Sandyimpressed the necessity with much earnestness, telling me it could do no harm, if it did no good. Toplease him, I at length took the root, and, according to his direction, carried it upon my rightside. This was Sunday morning. I immediatelystarted for home; and upon entering the yard gate,out came Mr. Covey on his way to meeting. Hespoke to me very kindly, bade me drive the pigsfrom a lot near by, and passed on towards thechurch. Now, this singular conduct of Mr. Coveyreally made me begin to think that there was something in the ROOT which Sandy had given me; andhad it been on any other day than Sunday, I couldhave attributed the conduct to no other cause thanthe influence of that root; and as it was, I was halfinclined to think the ~root~ to be something morethan I at first had taken it to be. All went well tillMonday morning. On this morning, the virtue ofthe ROOT was fully tested. Long before daylight, Iwas called to go and rub, curry, and feed, the horses.I obeyed, and was glad to obey. But whilst thusengaged, whilst in the act of throwing down someblades from the loft, Mr. Covey entered the stablewith a long rope; and just as I was half out of theloft, he caught hold of my legs, and was about tyingme. As soon as I found what he was up to, I gavea sudden spring, and as I did so, he holding to mylegs, I was brought sprawling on the stable floor.Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, andcould do what he pleased; but at this moment-from whence came the spirit I don’t know–I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as Idid so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. Myresistance was so entirely unexpected that Coveyseemed taken all aback. He trembled like a leaf.This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy,causing the blood to run where I touched him withthe ends of my fingers. Mr. Covey soon called outto Hughes for help. Hughes came, and, while Coveyheld me, attempted to tie my right hand. While hewas in the act of doing so, I watched my chance,and gave him a heavy kick close under the ribs.This kick fairly sickened Hughes, so that he leftme in the hands of Mr. Covey. This kick had theeffect of not only weakening Hughes, but Covey also.When he saw Hughes bending over with pain, hiscourage quailed. He asked me if I meant to persistin my resistance. I told him I did, come whatmight; that he had used me like a brute for sixmonths, and that I was determined to be used sono longer. With that, he strove to drag me to astick that was lying just out of the stable door. Hemeant to knock me down. But just as he was leaningover to get the stick, I seized him with both handsby his collar, and brought him by a sudden snatchto the ground. By this time, Bill came. Covey calledupon him for assistance. Bill wanted to know whathe could do. Covey said, “Take hold of him, takehold of him!” Bill said his master hired him out towork, and not to help to whip me; so he left Coveyand myself to fight our own battle out. We wereat it for nearly two hours. Covey at length let mego, puffing and blowing at a great rate, saying thatif I had not resisted, he would not have whippedme half so much. The truth was, that he had notwhipped me at all. I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawnno blood from me, but I had from him. The wholesix months afterwards, that I spent with Mr. Covey,he never laid the weight of his finger upon me inanger. He would occasionally say, he didn’t wantto get hold of me again. “No,” thought I, “youneed not; for you will come off worse than you didbefore.”
This battle with Mr. Covey was the turningpoint in my career as a slave. It rekindled the fewexpiring embers of freedom, and revived within mea sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again witha determination to be free. The gratification afforded by the triumph was a full compensation forwhatever else might follow, even death itself. Heonly can understand the deep satisfaction which Iexperienced, who has himself repelled by force thebloody arm of slavery. I felt as I never felt before.It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb ofslavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushedspirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance tookits place; and I now resolved that, however long Imight remain a slave in form, the day had passedforever when I could be a slave in fact. I did nothesitate to let it be known of me, that the whiteman who expected to succeed in whipping, mustalso succeed in killing me.
From this time I was never again what might becalled fairly whipped, though I remained a slavefour years afterwards. I had several fights, but wasnever whipped.
It was for a long time a matter of surprise to mewhy Mr. Covey did not immediately have me takenby the constable to the whipping-post, and thereregularly whipped for the crime of raising my handagainst a white man in defence of myself. And theonly explanation I can now think of does not entirelysatisfy me; but such as it is, I will give it. Mr. Coveyenjoyed the most unbounded reputation for beinga first-rate overseer and negro-breaker. It was of considerable importance to him. That reputation was atstake; and had he sent me–a boy about sixteen yearsold–to the public whipping-post, his reputationwould have been lost; so, to save his reputation, hesuffered me to go unpunished.
My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Coveyended on Christmas day, 1833. The days betweenChristmas and New Year’s day are allowed as holidays; and, accordingly, we were not required to perform any labor, more than to feed and take care ofthe stock. This time we regarded as our own, by thegrace of our masters; and we therefore used orabused it nearly as we pleased. Those of us who hadfamilies at a distance, were generally allowed tospend the whole six days in their society. This time,however, was spent in various ways. The staid, sober,thinking and industrious ones of our number wouldemploy themselves in making corn-brooms, mats,horse-collars, and baskets; and another class of uswould spend the time in hunting opossums, hares,and coons. But by far the larger part engaged insuch sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, anddrinking whisky; and this latter mode of spendingthe time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. A slave who would work duringthe holidays was considered by our masters asscarcely deserving them. He was regarded as onewho rejected the favor of his master. It was deemeda disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas; and hewas regarded as lazy indeed, who had not providedhimself with the necessary means, during the year,to get whisky enough to last him through Christmas.
From what I know of the effect of these holidaysupon the slave, I believe them to be among themost effective means in the hands of the slaveholderin keeping down the spirit of insurrection. Werethe slaveholders at once to abandon this practice,I have not the slightest doubt it would lead to animmediate insurrection among the slaves. Theseholidays serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carryoff the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity. Butfor these, the slave would be forced up to the wildest desperation; and woe betide the slaveholder, theday he ventures to remove or hinder the operationof those conductors! I warn him that, in such anevent, a spirit will go forth in their midst, more tobe dreaded than the most appalling earthquake.
The holidays are part and parcel of the grossfraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery. They areprofessedly a custom established by the benevolenceof the slaveholders; but I undertake to say, it is theresult of selfishness, and one of the grossest fraudscommitted upon the down-trodden slave. They donot give the slaves this time because they wouldnot like to have their work during its continuance,but because they know it would be unsafe to deprivethem of it. This will be seen by the fact, that theslaveholders like to have their slaves spend thosedays just in such a manner as to make them as gladof their ending as of their beginning. Their objectseems to be, to disgust their slaves with freedom,by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation. For instance, the slaveholders not only like tosee the slave drink of his own accord, but will adoptvarious plans to make him drunk. One plan is, tomake bets on their slaves, as to who can drink themost whisky without getting drunk; and in this waythey succeed in getting whole multitudes to drinkto excess. Thus, when the slave asks for virtuousfreedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labelled with the name of liberty.The most of us used to drink it down, and the resultwas just what might be supposed; many of uswere led to think that there was little to choosebetween liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as well be slaves toman as to rum. So, when the holidays ended, westaggered up from the filth of our wallowing, tooka long breath, and marched to the field,–feeling,upon the whole, rather glad to go, from what ourmaster had deceived us into a belief was freedom,back to the arms of slavery.
I have said that this mode of treatment is a partof the whole system of fraud and inhumanity ofslavery. It is so. The mode here adopted to disgustthe slave with freedom, by allowing him to see onlythe abuse of it, is carried out in other things. Forinstance, a slave loves molasses; he steals some.His master, in many cases, goes off to town, andbuys a large quantity; he returns, takes his whip,and commands the slave to eat the molasses, untilthe poor fellow is made sick at the very mentionof it. The same mode is sometimes adopted to makethe slaves refrain from asking for more food thantheir regular allowance. A slave runs through hisallowance, and applies for more. His master is enraged at him; but, not willing to send him off without food, gives him more than is necessary, and compels him to eat it within a given time. Then, if hecomplains that he cannot eat it, he is said to besatisfied neither full nor fasting, and is whippedfor being hard to please! I have an abundance ofsuch illustrations of the same principle, drawn frommy own observation, but think the cases I have citedsufficient. The practice is a very common one.
On the first of January, 1834, I left Mr. Covey,and went to live with Mr. William Freeland, wholived about three miles from St. Michael’s. I soonfound Mr. Freeland a very different man from Mr.Covey. Though not rich, he was what would becalled an educated southern gentleman. Mr. Covey,as I have shown, was a well-trained negro-breakerand slave-driver. The former (slaveholder though hewas) seemed to possess some regard for honor,some reverence for justice, and some respect forhumanity. The latter seemed totally insensible toall such sentiments. Mr. Freeland had many of thefaults peculiar to slaveholders, such as being verypassionate and fretful; but I must do him thejustice to say, that he was exceedingly free fromthose degrading vices to which Mr. Covey was constantly addicted. The one was open and frank, andwe always knew where to find him. The other was amost artful deceiver, and could be understood onlyby such as were skilful enough to detect his cunningly-devised frauds. Another advantage I gainedin my new master was, he made no pretensions to,or profession of, religion; and this, in my opinion,was truly a great advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a merecovering for the most horrid crimes,–a justifier ofthe most appalling barbarity,–a sanctifier of themost hateful frauds,–and a dark shelter under,which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains ofslavery, next to that enslavement, I should regardbeing the slave of a religious master the greatestcalamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholderswith whom I have ever met, religious slaveholdersare the worst. I have ever found them the meanestand basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to areligious slaveholder, but to live in a community ofsuch religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived theRev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhoodlived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. These were membersand ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church.Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave,whose name I have forgotten. This woman’s back,for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by thelash of this merciless, ~religious~ wretch. He used tohire hands. His maxim was, Behave well or behaveill, it is the duty of a master occasionally to whipa slave, to remind him of his master’s authority.Such was his theory, and such his practice.
Mr. Hopkins was even worse than Mr. Weeden.His chief boast was his ability to manage slaves.The peculiar feature of his government was thatof whipping slaves in advance of deserving it. Healways managed to have one or more of his slavesto whip every Monday morning. He did this to alarmtheir fears, and strike terror into those who escaped.His plan was to whip for the smallest offences, toprevent the commission of large ones. Mr. Hopkinscould always find some excuse for whipping a slave.It would astonish one, unaccustomed to a slaveholding life, to see with what wonderful ease a slaveholder can find things, of which to make occasionto whip a slave. A mere look, word, or motion,–amistake, accident, or want of power,–are all mattersfor which a slave may be whipped at any time. Doesa slave look dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devilin him, and it must be whipped out. Does he speakloudly when spoken to by his master? Then he isgetting high-minded, and should be taken down abutton-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off hishat at the approach of a white person? Then he iswanting in reverence, and should be whipped forit. Does he ever venture to vindicate his conduct,when censured for it? Then he is guilty of impudence,–one of the greatest crimes of which a slavecan be guilty. Does he ever venture to suggest adifferent mode of doing things from that pointedout by his master? He is indeed presumptuous, andgetting above himself; and nothing less than a flogging will do for him. Does he, while ploughing,break a plough,–or, while hoeing, break a hoe? Itis owing to his carelessness, and for it a slave mustalways be whipped. Mr. Hopkins could always findsomething of this sort to justify the use of the lash,and he seldom failed to embrace such opportunities.There was not a man in the whole county, withwhom the slaves who had the getting their ownhome, would not prefer to live, rather than withthis Rev. Mr. Hopkins. And yet there was not aman any where round, who made higher professionsof religion, or was more active in revivals,–moreattentive to the class, love-feast, prayer and preaching meetings, or more devotional in his family,-that prayed earlier, later, louder, and longer,–thanthis same reverend slave-driver, Rigby Hopkins.
But to return to Mr. Freeland, and to my experience while in his employment. He, like Mr. Covey,gave us enough to eat; but, unlike Mr. Covey, healso gave us sufficient time to take our meals. Heworked us hard, but always between sunrise andsunset. He required a good deal of work to be done,but gave us good tools with which to work. Hisfarm was large, but he employed hands enough towork it, and with ease, compared with many ofhis neighbors. My treatment, while in his employment, was heavenly, compared with what I experienced at the hands of Mr. Edward Covey.
Mr. Freeland was himself the owner of but twoslaves. Their names were Henry Harris and JohnHarris. The rest of his hands he hired. These consisted of myself, Sandy Jenkins,* and Handy Caldwell. Henry and John were quite intelligent, and ina very little while after I went there, I succeeded increating in them a strong desire to learn how toread. This desire soon sprang up in the others also.They very soon mustered up some old spelling-books,and nothing would do but that I must keep a Sabbath school. I agreed to do so, and accordinglydevoted my Sundays to teaching these my loved fellow-slaves how to read. Neither of them knew hisletters when I went there. Some of the slaves of theneighboring farms found what was going on, andalso availed themselves of this little opportunity tolearn to read. It was understood, among all whocame, that there must be as little display about itas possible. It was necessary to keep our religiousmasters at St. Michael’s unacquainted with the fact,that, instead of spending the Sabbath in wrestling,boxing, and drinking whisky, we were trying to learnhow to read the will of God; for they had much
*This is the same man who gave me the roots to preventmy being whipped by Mr. Covey. He was “a clever soul.”We used frequently to talk about the fight with Covey, andas often as we did so, he would claim my success as theresult of the roots which he gave me. This superstitionis very common among the more ignorant slaves. A slaveseldom dies but that his death is attributed to trickery.rather see us engaged in those degrading sports, thanto see us behaving like intellectual, moral, and accountable beings. My blood boils as I think of thebloody manner in which Messrs. Wright Fairbanksand Garrison West, both class-leaders, in connectionwith many others, rushed in upon us with sticksand stones, and broke up our virtuous little Sabbath school, at St. Michael’s–all calling themselvesChristians! humble followers of the Lord JesusChrist! But I am again digressing.
I held my Sabbath school at the house of a freecolored man, whose name I deem it imprudent tomention; for should it be known, it might embarrass him greatly, though the crime of holding theschool was committed ten years ago. I had at onetime over forty scholars, and those of the right sort,ardently desiring to learn. They were of all ages,though mostly men and women. I look back to thoseSundays with an amount of pleasure not to be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The workof instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetestengagement with which I was ever blessed. We lovedeach other, and to leave them at the close of theSabbath was a severe cross indeed. When I thinkthat these precious souls are to-day shut up in theprison-house of slavery, my feelings overcome me,and I am almost ready to ask, “Does a righteousGod govern the universe? and for what does he holdthe thunders in his right hand, if not to smite theoppressor, and deliver the spoiled out of the handof the spoiler?” These dear souls came not to Sabbath school because it was popular to do so, nor didI teach them because it was reputable to be thusengaged. Every moment they spent in that school,they were liable to be taken up, and given thirtynine lashes. They came because they wished tolearn. Their minds had been starved by their cruelmasters. They had been shut up in mental darkness.I taught them, because it was the delight of mysoul to be doing something that looked like bettering the condition of my race. I kept up my schoolnearly the whole year I lived with Mr. Freeland;and, beside my Sabbath school, I devoted three evenings in the week, during the winter, to teaching theslaves at home. And I have the happiness to know,that several of those who came to Sabbath schoollearned how to read; and that one, at least, is nowfree through my agency.
The year passed off smoothly. It seemed onlyabout half as long as the year which preceded it.I went through it without receiving a single blow.I will give Mr. Freeland the credit of being thebest master I ever had, ~till I became my own master.~ For the ease with which I passed the year, Iwas, however, somewhat indebted to the society ofmy fellow-slaves. They were noble souls; they notonly possessed loving hearts, but brave ones. Wewere linked and interlinked with each other. I lovedthem with a love stronger than any thing I haveexperienced since. It is sometimes said that weslaves do not love and confide in each other. Inanswer to this assertion, I can say, I never lovedany or confided in any people more than my fellowslaves, and especially those with whom I lived atMr. Freeland’s. I believe we would have died foreach other. We never undertook to do any thing,of any importance, without a mutual consultation.We never moved separately. We were one; and asmuch so by our tempers and dispositions, as by themutual hardships to which we were necessarily subjected by our condition as slaves.
At the close of the year 1834, Mr. Freeland againhired me of my master, for the year 1835. But, bythis time, I began to want to live ~upon free land~as well as ~with freeland;~ and I was no longer content, therefore, to live with him or any other slaveholder. I began, with the commencement of theyear, to prepare myself for a final struggle, whichshould decide my fate one way or the other. Mytendency was upward. I was fast approaching manhood, and year after year had passed, and I wasstill a slave. These thoughts roused me–I must dosomething. I therefore resolved that 1835 shouldnot pass without witnessing an attempt, on my part,to secure my liberty. But I was not willing to cherishthis determination alone. My fellow-slaves were dearto me. I was anxious to have them participate withme in this, my life-giving determination. I therefore,though with great prudence, commenced early toascertain their views and feelings in regard to theircondition, and to imbue their minds with thoughtsof freedom. I bent myself to devising ways andmeans for our escape, and meanwhile strove, on allfitting occasions, to impress them with the grossfraud and inhumanity of slavery. I went first toHenry, next to John, then to the others. I found,in them all, warm hearts and noble spirits. Theywere ready to hear, and ready to act when a feasibleplan should be proposed. This was what I wanted.I talked to them of our want of manhood, if wesubmitted to our enslavement without at least onenoble effort to be free. We met often, and consultedfrequently, and told our hopes and fears, recountedthe difficulties, real and imagined, which we shouldbe called on to meet. At times we were almost disposed to give up, and try to content ourselves withour wretched lot; at others, we were firm and unbending in our determination to go. Whenever wesuggested any plan, there was shrinking–the oddswere fearful. Our path was beset with the greatestobstacles; and if we succeeded in gaining the endof it, our right to be free was yet questionable–wewere yet liable to be returned to bondage. We couldsee no spot, this side of the ocean, where we couldbe free. We knew nothing aboutCanada. Ourknowledge of the north did not extend farther thanNew York; and to go there, and be forever harassedwith the frightful liability of being returned toslavery–with the certainty of being treated tenfoldworse than before–the thought was truly a horribleone, and one which it was not easy to overcome.The case sometimes stood thus: At every gatethrough which we were to pass, we saw a watchman–at every ferry a guard–on every bridge a sentinel-and in every wood a patrol. We were hemmed inupon every side. Here were the difficulties, real orimagined–the good to be sought, and the evil to beshunned. On the one hand, there stood slavery, astern reality, glaring frightfully upon us,–its robesalready crimsoned with the blood of millions, andeven now feasting itself greedily upon our own flesh.On the other hand, away back in the dim distance,under the flickering light of the north star, behindsome craggy hill or snow-covered mountain, stooda doubtful freedom–half frozen–beckoning us tocome and share its hospitality. This in itself wassometimes enough to stagger us; but when we permitted ourselves to survey the road, we were frequently appalled. Upon either side we saw grimdeath, assuming the most horrid shapes. Now it wasstarvation, causing us to eat our own flesh;–now wewere contending with the waves, and were drowned;–now we were overtaken, and torn to pieces by thefangs of the terrible bloodhound. We were stungby scorpions, chased by wild beasts, bitten by snakes,and finally, after having nearly reached the desiredspot,–after swimming rivers, encountering wildbeasts, sleeping in the woods, suffering hunger andnakedness,–we were overtaken by our pursuers, and,in our resistance, we were shot dead upon the spot!I say, this picture sometimes appalled us, and madeus
“rather bear those ills we had,
Than fly to others, that we knew not of.”
In coming to a fixed determination to run away,we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolvedupon liberty or death. With us it was a doubtfulliberty at most, and almost certain death if we failed.For my part, I should prefer death to hopeless bondage.
Sandy, one of our number, gave up the notion,but still encouraged us. Our company then consistedof Henry Harris, John Harris, Henry Bailey, CharlesRoberts, and myself. Henry Bailey was my uncle,and belonged to my master. Charles married myaunt: he belonged to my master’s father-in-law, Mr.William Hamilton.
The plan we finally concluded upon was, to geta large canoe belonging to Mr. Hamilton, and uponthe Saturday night previous to Easter holidays,paddle directly up theChesapeake Bay. On our arrival at the head of the bay, a distance of seventyor eighty miles from where we lived, it was ourpurpose to turn our canoe adrift, and follow theguidance of the north star till we got beyond thelimits ofMaryland. Our reason for taking the waterroute was, that we were less liable to be suspected asrunaways; we hoped to be regarded as fishermen;whereas, if we should take the land route, we shouldbe subjected to interruptions of almost every kind.Any one having a white face, and being so disposed,could stop us, and subject us to examination.
The week before our intended start, I wrote several protections, one for each of us. As well as Ican remember, they were in the following words, towit:–
“This is to certify that I, the undersigned, havegiven the bearer, my servant, full liberty to go toBaltimore, and spend the Easter holidays. Writtenwith mine own hand, &c., 1835.
“Near St. Michael’s, in Talbot county,Maryland.”
We were not going to Baltimore; but, in going upthe bay, we went toward Baltimore, and these protections were only intended to protect us while onthe bay.
As the time drew near for our departure, ouranxiety became more and more intense. It was trulya matter of life and death with us. The strength ofour determination was about to be fully tested. Atthis time, I was very active in explaining every difficulty, removing every doubt, dispelling every fear,and inspiring all with the firmness indispensable tosuccess in our undertaking; assuring them that halfwas gained the instant we made the move; we hadtalked long enough; we were now ready to move;if not now, we never should be; and if we did notintend to move now, we had as well fold our arms,sit down, and acknowledge ourselves fit only to beslaves. This, none of us were prepared to acknowledge. Every man stood firm; and at our last meeting,we pledged ourselves afresh, in the most solemnmanner, that, at the time appointed, we would certainly start in pursuit of freedom. This was in themiddle of the week, at the end of which we wereto be off. We went, as usual, to our several fieldsof labor, but with bosoms highly agitated withthoughts of our truly hazardous undertaking. Wetried to conceal our feelings as much as possible;and I think we succeeded very well.
After a painful waiting, the Saturday morning,whose night was to witness our departure, came. Ihailed it with joy, bring what of sadness it might.Friday night was a sleepless one for me. I probablyfelt more anxious than the rest, because I was, bycommon consent, at the head of the whole affair.The responsibility of success or failure lay heavilyupon me. The glory of the one, and the confusionof the other, were alike mine. The first two hoursof that morning were such as I never experiencedbefore, and hope never to again. Early in themorning, we went, as usual, to the field. We werespreading manure; and all at once, while thus engaged, I was overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling, in the fulness of which I turned to Sandy, whowas near by, and said, “We are betrayed!” “Well,”said he, “that thought has this moment struck me.”We said no more. I was never more certain of anything.
The horn was blown as usual, and we went upfrom the field to the house for breakfast. I went forthe form, more than for want of any thing to eatthat morning. Just as I got to the house, in lookingout at the lane gate, I saw four white men, withtwo colored men. The white men were on horseback,and the colored ones were walking behind, as if tied.I watched them a few moments till they got up toour lane gate. Here they halted, and tied the coloredmen to the gate-post. I was not yet certain as towhat the matter was. In a few moments, in rodeMr.Hamilton, with a speed betokening great excitement. He came to the door, and inquired if MasterWilliam was in. He was told he was at the barn. Mr.Hamilton, without dismounting, rode up to the barnwith extraordinary speed. In a few moments, he andMr. Freeland returned to the house. By this time,the three constables rode up, and in great haste dismounted, tied their horses, and met Master Williamand Mr. Hamilton returning from the barn; andafter talking awhile, they all walked up to thekitchen door. There was no one in the kitchen butmyself and John. Henry and Sandy were up at thebarn. Mr. Freeland put his head in at the door, andcalled me by name, saying, there were some gentlemen at the door who wished to see me. I steppedto the door, and inquired what they wanted. Theyat once seized me, and, without giving me any satisfaction, tied me–lashing my hands closely together.I insisted upon knowing what the matter was. Theyat length said, that they had learned I had been in a”scrape,” and that I was to be examined before mymaster; and if their information proved false, Ishould not be hurt.
In a few moments, they succeeded in tying John.They then turned to Henry, who had by this timereturned, and commanded him to cross his hands.”I won’t!” said Henry, in a firm tone, indicating hisreadiness to meet the consequences of his refusal.”Won’t you?” said Tom Graham, the constable. “No,I won’t!” said Henry, in a still stronger tone. Withthis, two of the constables pulled out their shiningpistols, and swore, by their Creator, that they wouldmake him cross his hands or kill him. Each cockedhis pistol, and, with fingers on the trigger, walkedup to Henry, saying, at the same time, if he did notcross his hands, they would blow his damned heartout. “Shoot me, shoot me!” said Henry; “you can’tkill me but once. Shoot, shoot,–and be damned! ~Iwon’t be tied!~” This he said in a tone of loud defiance; and at the same time, with a motion as quickas lightning, he with one single stroke dashed thepistols from the hand of each constable. As he didthis, all hands fell upon him, and, after beatinghim some time, they finally overpowered him, andgot him tied.
During the scuffle, I managed, I know not how,to get my pass out, and, without being discovered,put it into the fire. We were all now tied; and justas we were to leave for Easton jail, Betsy Freeland,mother of William Freeland, came to the door withher hands full of biscuits, and divided them betweenHenry and John. She then delivered herself of aspeech, to the following effect:–addressing herselfto me, she said, “~You devil! You yellow devil!~ it wasyou that put it into the heads of Henry and Johnto run away. But for you, you long-legged mulattodevil! Henry nor John would never have thoughtof such a thing.” I made no reply, and was immediately hurried off towards St. Michael’s. Just a moment previous to the scuffle with Henry, Mr. Hamilton suggested the propriety of making a search forthe protections which he had understood Frederickhad written for himself and the rest. But, just atthe moment he was about carrying his proposal intoeffect, his aid was needed in helping to tie Henry;and the excitement attending the scuffle causedthem either to forget, or to deem it unsafe, underthe circumstances, to search. So we were not yetconvicted of the intention to run away.
When we got about half way to St. Michael’s,while the constables having us in charge were looking ahead, Henry inquired of me what he shoulddo with his pass. I told him to eat it with his biscuit,and own nothing; and we passed the word around,”~Own nothing;~” and “~Own nothing!~” said we all.Our confidence in each other was unshaken. Wewere resolved to succeed or fail together, after thecalamity had befallen us as much as before. Wewere now prepared for any thing. We were to bedragged that morning fifteen miles behind horses,and then to be placed in theEastonjail. When wereached St. Michael’s, we underwent a sort of examination. We all denied that we ever intended to runaway. We did this more to bring out the evidenceagainst us, than from any hope of getting clear ofbeing sold; for, as I have said, we were ready forthat. The fact was, we cared but little where wewent, so we went together. Our greatest concern wasabout separation. We dreaded that more than anything this side of death. We found the evidenceagainst us to be the testimony of one person; ourmaster would not tell who it was; but we came toa unanimous decision among ourselves as to whotheir informant was. We were sent off to the jail atEaston. When we got there, we were delivered upto the sheriff, Mr. Joseph Graham, and by himplaced in jail. Henry, John, and myself, were placedin one room together–Charles, and Henry Bailey,in another. Their object in separating us was tohinder concert.
We had been in jail scarcely twenty minutes,when a swarm of slave traders, and agents for slavetraders, flocked into jail to look at us, and to ascertain if we were for sale. Such a set of beings Inever saw before! I felt myself surrounded by somany fiends from perdition. A band of pirates neverlooked more like their father, the devil. Theylaughed and grinned over us, saying, “Ah, my boys!we have got you, haven’t we?” And after tauntingus in various ways, they one by one went into anexamination of us, with intent to ascertain our value.They would impudently ask us if we would not liketo have them for our masters. We would make themno answer, and leave them to find out as best theycould. Then they would curse and swear at us, tellingus that they could take the devil out of us in a verylittle while, if we were only in their hands.
While in jail, we found ourselves in much morecomfortable quarters than we expected when wewent there. We did not get much to eat, nor thatwhich was very good; but we had a good clean room,from the windows of which we could see what was going on in the street, which was very much betterthan though we had been placed in one of the dark,damp cells. Upon the whole, we got along very well,so far as the jail and its keeper were concerned.Immediately after the holidays were over, contraryto all our expectations, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Freeland came up to Easton, and took Charles, the twoHenrys, and John, out of jail, and carried themhome, leaving me alone. I regarded this separationas a final one. It caused me more pain than anything else in the whole transaction. I was ready forany thing rather than separation. I supposed thatthey had consulted together, and had decided that,as I was the whole cause of the intention of theothers to run away, it was hard to make the innocentsuffer with the guilty; and that they had, therefore,concluded to take the others home, and sell me, asa warning to the others that remained. It is dueto the noble Henry to say, he seemed almost asreluctant at leaving the prison as at leaving hometo come to the prison. But we knew we should, inall probability, be separated, if we were sold; andsince he was in their hands, he concluded to gopeaceably home.
I was now left to my fate. I was all alone, andwithin the walls of a stone prison. But a few daysbefore, and I was full of hope. I expected to havebeen safe in a land of freedom; but now I was covered with gloom, sunk down to the utmost despair.I thought the possibility of freedom was gone. Iwas kept in this way about one week, at the endof which, Captain Auld, my master, to my surpriseand utter astonishment, came up, and took me out,with the intention of sending me, with a gentlemanof his acquaintance, intoAlabama. But, from somecause or other, he did not send me toAlabama,but concluded to send me back toBaltimore, tolive again with his brother Hugh, and to learn atrade.
Thus, after an absence of three years and onemonth, I was once more permitted to return to myold home atBaltimore. My master sent me away,because there existed against me a very great prejudice in the community, and he feared I might bekilled.
In a few weeks after I went toBaltimore, MasterHugh hired me to Mr. William Gardner, an extensive ship-builder, on Fell’s Point. I was put thereto learn how to calk. It, however, proved a veryunfavorable place for the accomplishment of thisobject. Mr. Gardner was engaged that spring inbuilding two large man-of-war brigs, professedly forthe Mexican government. The vessels were to belaunched in the July of that year, and in failurethereof, Mr. Gardner was to lose a considerable sum;so that when I entered, all was hurry. There wasno time to learn any thing. Every man had to dothat which he knew how to do. In entering the shipyard, my orders from Mr. Gardner were, to do whatever the carpenters commanded me to do. This wasplacing me at the beck and call of about seventy-fivemen. I was to regard all these as masters. Theirword was to be my law. My situation was a mosttrying one. At times I needed a dozen pair of hands.I was called a dozen ways in the space of a singleminute. Three or four voices would strike my earat the same moment. It was–”Fred., come help meto cant this timber here.”–”Fred., come carry thistimber yonder.”–”Fred., bring that roller here.”-”Fred., go get a fresh can of water.”–”Fred., comehelp saw off the end of this timber.”–”Fred., goquick, and get the crowbar.”–”Fred., hold on theend of this fall.”–”Fred., go to the blacksmith’sshop, and get a new punch.”–”Hurra, Fred.! runand bring me a cold chisel.”–”I say, Fred., bear ahand, and get up a fire as quick as lightning underthat steam-box.”–”Halloo, nigger! come, turn thisgrindstone.”–”Come, come! move, move! and BOWSEthis timber forward.”–”I say, darky, blast your eyes,why don’t you heat up some pitch?”–”Halloo!halloo! halloo!” (Three voices at the same time.)”Come here!–Go there!–Hold on where you are!Damn you, if you move, I’ll knock your brains out!”
This was my school for eight months; and I mighthave remained there longer, but for a most horridfight I had with four of the white apprentices, inwhich my left eye was nearly knocked out, and Iwas horribly mangled in other respects. The factsin the case were these: Until a very little whileafter I went there, white and black ship-carpentersworked side by side, and no one seemed to see anyimpropriety in it. All hands seemed to be very wellsatisfied. Many of the black carpenters were freemen.Things seemed to be going on very well. All at once,the white carpenters knocked off, and said theywould not work with free colored workmen. Theirreason for this, as alleged, was, that if free coloredcarpenters were encouraged, they would soon takethe trade into their own hands, and poor white menwould be thrown out of employment. They thereforefelt called upon at once to put a stop to it. And,taking advantage of Mr. Gardner’s necessities, theybroke off, swearing they would work no longer, unlesshe would discharge his black carpenters. Now,though this did not extend to me in form, it didreach me in fact. My fellow-apprentices very soonbegan to feel it degrading to them to work withme. They began to put on airs, and talk about the”niggers” taking the country, saying we all ought tobe killed; and, being encouraged by the journeymen, they commenced making my condition ashard as they could, by hectoring me around, andsometimes striking me. I, of course, kept the vowI made after the fight with Mr. Covey, and struckback again, regardless of consequences; and whileI kept them from combining, I succeeded very well;for I could whip the whole of them, taking themseparately. They, however, at length combined, andcame upon me, armed with sticks, stones, and heavyhandspikes. One came in front with a half brick.There was one at each side of me, and one behindme. While I was attending to those in front, and oneither side, the one behind ran up with the handspike, and struck me a heavy blow upon the head.It stunned me. I fell, and with this they all ranupon me, and fell to beating me with their fists. Ilet them lay on for a while, gathering strength. Inan instant, I gave a sudden surge, and rose to myhands and knees. Just as I did that, one of theirnumber gave me, with his heavy boot, a powerfulkick in the left eye. My eyeball seemed to haveburst. When they saw my eye closed, and badlyswollen, they left me. With this I seized the handspike, and for a time pursued them. But here thecarpenters interfered, and I thought I might as wellgive it up. It was impossible to stand my handagainst so many. All this took place in sight of notless than fifty white ship-carpenters, and not oneinterposed a friendly word; but some cried, “Killthe damned nigger! Kill him! kill him! He strucka white person.” I found my only chance for lifewas in flight. I succeeded in getting away withoutan additional blow, and barely so; for to strike awhite man is death by Lynch law,–and that was thelaw in Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard; nor is there muchof any other out of Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard.
I went directly home, and told the story of mywrongs to Master Hugh; and I am happy to say ofhim, irreligious as he was, his conduct was heavenly,compared with that of his brother Thomas undersimilar circumstances. He listened attentively to mynarration of the circumstances leading to the savageoutrage, and gave many proofs of his strong indignation at it. The heart of my once overkind mistresswas again melted into pity. My puffed-out eye andblood-covered face moved her to tears. She took achair by me, washed the blood from my face, and,with a mother’s tenderness, bound up my head,covering the wounded eye with a lean piece of freshbeef. It was almost compensation for my sufferingto witness, once more, a manifestation of kindnessfrom this, my once affectionate old mistress. MasterHugh was very much enraged. He gave expressionto his feelings by pouring out curses upon the headsof those who did the deed. As soon as I got a littlethe better of my bruises, he took me with him toEsquire Watson’s, onBond Street, to see what couldbe done about the matter. Mr. Watson inquired whosaw the assault committed. Master Hugh told himit was done in Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard at midday,where there were a large company of men at work.”As to that,” he said, “the deed was done, and therewas no question as to who did it.” His answer was,he could do nothing in the case, unless some whiteman would come forward and testify. He couldissue no warrant on my word. If I had been killedin the presence of a thousand colored people, theirtestimony combined would have been insufficientto have arrested one of the murderers. Master Hugh,for once, was compelled to say this state of thingswas too bad. Of course, it was impossible to get anywhite man to volunteer his testimony in my behalf,and against the white young men. Even those whomay have sympathized with me were not preparedto do this. It required a degree of courage unknownto them to do so; for just at that time, the slightestmanifestation of humanity toward a colored personwas denounced as abolitionism, and that name subjected its bearer to frightful liabilities. The watchwords of the bloody-minded in that region, and inthose days, were, “Damn the abolitionists!” and”Damn the niggers!” There was nothing done, andprobably nothing would have been done if I hadbeen killed. Such was, and such remains, the stateof things in the Christian city ofBaltimore.
Master Hugh, finding he could get no redress, refused to let me go back again to Mr. Gardner. Hekept me himself, and his wife dressed my woundtill I was again restored to health. He then took meinto the ship-yard of which he was foreman, in theemployment of Mr. Walter Price. There I was immediately set to calking, and very soon learned theart of using my mallet and irons. In the course ofone year from the time I left Mr. Gardner’s, I wasable to command the highest wages given to themost experienced calkers. I was now of some importance to my master. I was bringing him from sixto seven dollars per week. I sometimes brought himnine dollars per week: my wages were a dollar anda half a day. After learning how to calk, I soughtmy own employment, made my own contracts, andcollected the money which I earned. My pathwaybecame much more smooth than before; my condition was now much more comfortable. When I couldget no calking to do, I did nothing. During theseleisure times, those old notions about freedom wouldsteal over me again. When in Mr. Gardner’s employment, I was kept in such a perpetual whirl of excitement, I could think of nothing, scarcely, butmy life; and in thinking of my life, I almost forgotmy liberty. I have observed this in my experienceof slavery,–that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment,it only increased my desire to be free, and set me tothinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have foundthat, to make a contented slave, it is necessary tomake a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken hismoral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, toannihilate the power of reason. He must be able todetect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be madeto feel that slavery is right; and he can be broughtto that only when he ceases to be a man.
I was now getting, as I have said, one dollar andfifty cents per day. I contracted for it; I earned it;it was paid to me; it was rightfully my own; yet,upon each returning Saturday night, I was compelledto deliver every cent of that money to Master Hugh.And why? Not because he earned it,–not becausehe had any hand in earning it,–not because I owedit to him,–nor because he possessed the slightestshadow of a right to it; but solely because he hadthe power to compel me to give it up. The right ofthe grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas is exactlythe same.
I now come to that part of my life during which Iplanned, and finally succeeded in making, my escapefrom slavery. But before narrating any of the peculiar circumstances, I deem it proper to makeknown my intention not to state all the facts connected with the transaction. My reasons for pursuingthis course may be understood from the following:First, were I to give a minute statement of all thefacts, it is not only possible, but quite probable, thatothers would thereby be involved in the most embarrassing difficulties. Secondly, such a statement wouldmost undoubtedly induce greater vigilance on thepart of slaveholders than has existed heretoforeamong them; which would, of course, be the meansof guarding a door whereby some dear brother bondman might escape his galling chains. I deeply regretthe necessity that impels me to suppress any thingof importance connected with my experience inslavery. It would afford me great pleasure indeed,as well as materially add to the interest of my narrative, were I at liberty to gratify a curiosity, whichI know exists in the minds of many, by an accuratestatement of all the facts pertaining to my mostfortunate escape. But I must deprive myself of thispleasure, and the curious of the gratification whichsuch a statement would afford. I would allow myself to suffer under the greatest imputations whichevil-minded men might suggest, rather than exculpate myself, and thereby run the hazard of closingthe slightest avenue by which a brother slave mightclear himself of the chains and fetters of slavery.
I have never approved of the very public mannerin which some of our western friends have conductedwhat they call the ~underground railroad,~ but whichI think, by their open declarations, has been mademost emphatically the ~upperground railroad.~ I honorthose good men and women for their noble daring,and applaud them for willingly subjecting themselves to bloody persecution, by openly avowing theirparticipation in the escape of slaves. I, however, cansee very little good resulting from such a course,either to themselves or the slaves escaping; while,upon the other hand, I see and feel assured thatthose open declarations are a positive evil to theslaves remaining, who are seeking to escape. Theydo nothing towards enlightening the slave, whilstthey do much towards enlightening the master.They stimulate him to greater watchfulness, andenhance his power to capture his slave. We owesomething to the slave south of the line as well asto those north of it; and in aiding the latter on theirway to freedom, we should be careful to do nothingwhich would be likely to hinder the former fromescaping from slavery. I would keep the mercilessslaveholder profoundly ignorant of the means offlight adopted by the slave. I would leave him toimagine himself surrounded by myriads of invisibletormentors, ever ready to snatch from his infernalgrasp his trembling prey. Let him be left to feelhis way in the dark; let darkness commensurate withhis crime hover over him; and let him feel that atevery step he takes, in pursuit of the flying bondman,he is running the frightful risk of having his hotbrains dashed out by an invisible agency. Let usrender the tyrant no aid; let us not hold the lightby which he can trace the footprints of our flyingbrother. But enough of this. I will now proceed tothe statement of those facts, connected with myescape, for which I am alone responsible, and forwhich no one can be made to suffer but myself.
In the early part of the year 1838, I became quiterestless. I could see no reason why I should, at theend of each week, pour the reward of my toil intothe purse of my master. When I carried to him myweekly wages, he would, after counting the money,look me in the face with a robber-like fierceness,and ask, “Is this all?” He was satisfied with nothingless than the last cent. He would, however, when Imade him six dollars, sometimes give me six cents,to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to thewhole. The fact that he gave me any part of mywages was proof, to my mind, that he believed meentitled to the whole of them. I always felt worsefor having received any thing; for I feared that thegiving me a few cents would ease his conscience,and make him feel himself to be a pretty honorablesort of robber. My discontent grew upon me. I wasever on the look-out for means of escape; and, finding no direct means, I determined to try to hire mytime, with a view of getting money with which tomake my escape. In the spring of 1838, when MasterThomas came toBaltimoreto purchase his springgoods, I got an opportunity, and applied to him toallow me to hire my time. He unhesitatingly refusedmy request, and told me this was another stratagemby which to escape. He told me I could go nowherebut that he could get me; and that, in the eventof my running away, he should spare no pains in hisefforts to catch me. He exhorted me to contentmyself, and be obedient. He told me, if I wouldbe happy, I must lay out no plans for the future.He said, if I behaved myself properly, he would takecare of me. Indeed, he advised me to completethoughtlessness of the future, and taught me to depend solely upon him for happiness. He seemed tosee fully the pressing necessity of setting aside myintellectual nature, in order to contentment inslavery. But in spite of him, and even in spite ofmyself, I continued to think, and to think aboutthe injustice of my enslavement, and the means ofescape.
About two months after this, I applied to MasterHugh for the privilege of hiring my time. He wasnot acquainted with the fact that I had applied toMaster Thomas, and had been refused. He too, atfirst, seemed disposed to refuse; but, after some reflection, he granted me the privilege, and proposedthe following terms: I was to be allowed all mytime, make all contracts with those for whom Iworked, and find my own employment; and, in return for this liberty, I was to pay him three dollarsat the end of each week; find myself in calking tools,and in board and clothing. My board was two dollars and a half per week. This, with the wear andtear of clothing and calking tools, made my regularexpenses about six dollars per week. This amountI was compelled to make up, or relinquish theprivilege of hiring my time. Rain or shine, work orno work, at the end of each week the money mustbe forthcoming, or I must give up my privilege. Thisarrangement, it will be perceived, was decidedly inmy master’s favor. It relieved him of all need oflooking after me. His money was sure. He receivedall the benefits of slaveholding without its evils;while I endured all the evils of a slave, and sufferedall the care and anxiety of a freeman. I found it ahard bargain. But, hard as it was, I thought it betterthan the old mode of getting along. It was a steptowards freedom to be allowed to bear the responsibilities of a freeman, and I was determined to holdon upon it. I bent myself to the work of makingmoney. I was ready to work at night as well as day,and by the most untiring perseverance and industry,I made enough to meet my expenses, and lay upa little money every week. I went on thus from Maytill August. Master Hugh then refused to allow meto hire my time longer. The ground for his refusalwas a failure on my part, one Saturday night, to payhim for my week’s time. This failure was occasionedby my attending a camp meeting about ten milesfromBaltimore. During the week, I had enteredinto an engagement with a number of young friendsto start from Baltimore to the camp ground earlySaturday evening; and being detained by my employer, I was unable to get down to Master Hugh’swithout disappointing the company. I knew thatMaster Hugh was in no special need of the moneythat night. I therefore decided to go to camp meeting, and upon my return pay him the three dollars.I staid at the camp meeting one day longer than Iintended when I left. But as soon as I returned, Icalled upon him to pay him what he considered hisdue. I found him very angry; he could scarce restrainhis wrath. He said he had a great mind to give me asevere whipping. He wished to know how I daredgo out of the city without asking his permission. Itold him I hired my time and while I paid him theprice which he asked for it, I did not know that Iwas bound to ask him when and where I should go.This reply troubled him; and, after reflecting a fewmoments, he turned to me, and said I should hiremy time no longer; that the next thing he shouldknow of, I would be running away. Upon the sameplea, he told me to bring my tools and clothinghome forthwith. I did so; but instead of seekingwork, as I had been accustomed to do previously tohiring my time, I spent the whole week withoutthe performance of a single stroke of work. I did thisin retaliation. Saturday night, he called upon meas usual for my week’s wages. I told him I had nowages; I had done no work that week. Here wewere upon the point of coming to blows. He raved,and swore his determination to get hold of me. I didnot allow myself a single word; but was resolved, ifhe laid the weight of his hand upon me, it shouldbe blow for blow. He did not strike me, but told methat he would find me in constant employment infuture. I thought the matter over during the next day,Sunday, and finally resolved upon the third day ofSeptember, as the day upon which I would make asecond attempt to secure my freedom. I now hadthree weeks during which to prepare for my journey.Early on Monday morning, before Master Hugh hadtime to make any engagement for me, I went outand got employment of Mr. Butler, at his ship-yardnear the drawbridge, upon what is called the CityBlock, thus making it unnecessary for him to seekemployment for me. At the end of the week, Ibrought him between eight and nine dollars. Heseemed very well pleased, and asked why I did notdo the same the week before. He little knew whatmy plans were. My object in working steadily wasto remove any suspicion he might entertain of myintent to run away; and in this I succeeded admirably. I suppose he thought I was never bettersatisfied with my condition than at the very timeduring which I was planning my escape. The secondweek passed, and again I carried him my full wages;and so well pleased was he, that he gave me twentyfive cents, (quite a large sum for a slaveholder togive a slave,) and bade me to make a good use of it.I told him I would.
Things went on without very smoothly indeed,but within there was trouble. It is impossible forme to describe my feelings as the time of my contemplated start drew near. I had a number of warmhearted friends inBaltimore,–friends that I lovedalmost as I did my life,–and the thought of beingseparated from them forever was painful beyondexpression. It is my opinion that thousands wouldescape from slavery, who now remain, but for thestrong cords of affection that bind them to theirfriends. The thought of leaving my friends was decidedly the most painful thought with which I hadto contend. The love of them was my tender point,and shook my decision more than all things else.Besides the pain of separation, the dread and apprehension of a failure exceeded what I had experiencedat my first attempt. The appalling defeat I thensustained returned to torment me. I felt assuredthat, if I failed in this attempt, my case would bea hopeless one–it would seal my fate as a slave forever. I could not hope to get off with any thing lessthan the severest punishment, and being placedbeyond the means of escape. It required no veryvivid imagination to depict the most frightfulscenes through which I should have to pass, in caseI failed. The wretchedness of slavery, and theblessedness of freedom, were perpetually before me.It was life and death with me. But I remainedfirm, and, according to my resolution, on the thirdday of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reachingNew Yorkwithout the slightestinterruption of any kind. How I did so,–what meansI adopted,–what direction I travelled, and by whatmode of conveyance,–I must leave unexplained,for the reasons before mentioned.
I have been frequently asked how I felt when Ifound myself in afree State. I have never been ableto answer the question with any satisfaction to myself. It was a moment of the highest excitement Iever experienced. I suppose I felt as one may imaginethe unarmed mariner to feel when he is rescuedby a friendly man-of-war from the pursuit of a pirate.In writing to a dear friend, immediately after myarrival at New York, I said I felt like one who hadescaped a den of hungry lions. This state of mind,however, very soon subsided; and I was again seizedwith a feeling of great insecurity and loneliness. Iwas yet liable to be taken back, and subjected toall the tortures of slavery. This in itself was enoughto damp the ardor of my enthusiasm. But the loneliness overcame me. There I was in the midst ofthousands, and yet a perfect stranger; without homeand without friends, in the midst of thousands of myown brethren–children of a common Father, andyet I dared not to unfold to any one of them mysad condition. I was afraid to speak to any one forfear of speaking to the wrong one, and thereby falling into the hands of money-loving kidnappers,whose business it was to lie in wait for the pantingfugitive, as the ferocious beasts of the forest lie inwait for their prey. The motto which I adoptedwhen I started from slavery was this–”Trust noman!” I saw in every white man an enemy, and inalmost every colored man cause for distrust. It wasa most painful situation; and, to understand it, onemust needs experience it, or imagine himself insimilar circumstances. Let him be a fugitive slave ina strange land–a land given up to be the huntingground for slaveholders–whose inhabitants are legalized kidnappers–where he is every moment subjected to the terrible liability of being seized uponby his fellowmen, as the hideous crocodile seizesupon his prey!–I say, let him place himself in mysituation–without home or friends–without moneyor credit–wanting shelter, and no one to give it-wanting bread, and no money to buy it,–and at thesame time let him feel that he is pursued by merciless men-hunters, and in total darkness as to whatto do, where to go, or where to stay,–perfectly helpless both as to the means of defence and means ofescape,–in the midst of plenty, yet suffering the terrible gnawings of hunger,–in the midst of houses,yet having no home,–among fellow-men, yet feelingas if in the midst of wild beasts, whose greedinessto swallow up the trembling and half-famished fugitive is only equalled by that with which the monstersof the deep swallow up the helpless fish upon whichthey subsist,–I say, let him be placed in this mosttrying situation,–the situation in which I was placed,–then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate thehardships of, and know how to sympathize with, thetoil-worn and whip-scarred fugitive slave.
Thank Heaven, I remained but a short time inthis distressed situation. I was relieved from it by thehumane hand of Mr. DAVID RUGGLES, whose vigilance, kindness, and perseverance, I shall never forget. I am glad of an opportunity to express, as far aswords can, the love and gratitude I bear him. Mr.Ruggles is now afflicted with blindness, and is himself in need of the same kind offices which he wasonce so forward in the performance of toward others.I had been in New York but a few days, when Mr.Ruggles sought me out, and very kindly took meto his boarding-house at the corner of Church andLespenard Streets. Mr. Ruggles was then very deeplyengaged in the memorable ~Darg~ case, as well as attending to a number of other fugitive slaves, devising ways and means for their successful escape; and,though watched and hemmed in on almost everyside, he seemed to be more than a match for hisenemies.
Very soon after I went to Mr. Ruggles, he wishedto know of me where I wanted to go; as he deemedit unsafe for me to remain inNew York. I told himI was a calker, and should like to go where I couldget work. I thought of going toCanada; but he decided against it, and in favor of my going to NewBedford, thinking I should be able to get work thereat my trade. At this time, Anna,* my intended wife,came on; for I wrote to her immediately after myarrival at New York, (notwithstanding my homeless,houseless, and helpless condition,) informing her ofmy successful flight, and wishing her to come onforthwith. In a few days after her arrival, Mr. Ruggles called in the Rev. J. W. C. Pennington, who, inthe presence of Mr. Ruggles, Mrs. Michaels, andtwo or three others, performed the marriage ceremony, and gave us a certificate, of which the following is an exact copy:–
“This may certify, that I joined together in holymatrimony Frederick Johnson+ and Anna Murray, asman and wife, in the presence of Mr. David Rugglesand Mrs. Michaels.
“JAMES W. C. PENNINGTON
“NEW YORK, SEPT. 15, 1838″
Upon receiving this certificate, and a five-dollarbill from Mr. Ruggles, I shouldered one part of ourbaggage, and Anna took up the other, and we setout forthwith to take passage on board of the steamboat John W. Richmond for Newport, on our wayto New Bedford. Mr. Ruggles gave me a letter to aMr. Shaw inNewport, and told me, in case mymoney did not serve me toNew Bedford, to stop inNewport and obtain further assistance; but upon our
*She was free.
+I had changed my name from Frederick BAILEYto that of JOHNSON.
arrival atNewport, we were so anxious to get to aplace of safety, that, notwithstanding we lacked thenecessary money to pay our fare, we decided to takeseats in the stage, and promise to pay when we gottoNew Bedford. We were encouraged to do this bytwo excellent gentlemen, residents ofNew Bedford,whose names I afterward ascertained to be JosephRicketson and William C. Taber. They seemed atonce to understand our circumstances, and gave ussuch assurance of their friendliness as put us fullyat ease in their presence. It was good indeed to meetwith such friends, at such a time. Upon reachingNewBedford, we were directed to the house of Mr.Nathan Johnson, by whom we were kindly received,and hospitably provided for. Both Mr. and Mrs.Johnson took a deep and lively interest in our welfare. They proved themselves quite worthy of thename of abolitionists. When the stage-driver foundus unable to pay our fare, he held on upon our baggage as security for the debt. I had but to mentionthe fact to Mr. Johnson, and he forthwith advancedthe money.
We now began to feel a degree of safety, and toprepare ourselves for the duties and responsibilitiesof a life of freedom. On the morning after our arrival atNew Bedford, while at the breakfast-table,the question arose as to what name I should becalled by. The name given me by my mother was,”FrederickAugustus Washington Bailey.” I, however, had dispensed with the two middle names longbefore I leftMarylandso that I was generally knownby the name of “Frederick Bailey.” I started fromBaltimore bearing the name of “Stanley.” When Igot toNew York, I again changed my name to “Frederick Johnson,” and thought that would be the lastchange. But when I got toNew Bedford, I found itnecessary again to change my name. The reason ofthis necessity was, that there were so many Johnsonsin New Bedford, it was already quite difficult todistinguish between them. I gave Mr. Johnson theprivilege of choosing me a name, but told him hemust not take from me the name of “Frederick.”I must hold on to that, to preserve a sense of myidentity. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the”Lady of theLake,” and at once suggested that myname be “Douglass.” From that time until now Ihave been called “Frederick Douglass;” and as I ammore widely known by that name than by either ofthe others, I shall continue to use it as my own.
I was quite disappointed at the general appearance of things inNew Bedford. The impressionwhich I had received respecting the character andcondition of the people of the north, I found to besingularly erroneous. I had very strangely supposed,while in slavery, that few of the comforts, andscarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed atthe north, compared with what were enjoyed by theslaveholders of the south. I probably came to thisconclusion from the fact that northern people ownedno slaves. I supposed that they were about upon alevel with the non-slaveholding population of thesouth. I knew ~they~ were exceedingly poor, and I hadbeen accustomed to regard their poverty as the necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders.I had somehow imbibed the opinion that, in theabsence of slaves, there could be no wealth, and verylittle refinement. And upon coming to the north, Iexpected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, anduncultivated population, living in the most Spartanlike simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease, luxury,pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders. Suchbeing my conjectures, any one acquainted with theappearance ofNew Bedfordmay very readily inferhow palpably I must have seen my mistake.
In the afternoon of the day when I reached NewBedford, I visited the wharves, to take a view of theshipping. Here I found myself surrounded with thestrongest proofs of wealth. Lying at the wharves, andriding in the stream, I saw many ships of the finestmodel, in the best order, and of the largest size.Upon the right and left, I was walled in by granitewarehouses of the widest dimensions, stowed to theirutmost capacity with the necessaries and comfortsof life. Added to this, almost every body seemed tobe at work, but noiselessly so, compared with whatI had been accustomed to inBaltimore. There wereno loud songs heard from those engaged in loadingand unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths or horridcurses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men;but all seemed to go smoothly on. Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it witha sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokenedthe deep interest which he felt in what he was doing,as well as a sense of his own dignity as a man. To methis looked exceedingly strange. From the wharves Istrolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely-cultivated gardens; evincingan amount of wealth, comfort, taste, and refinement,such as I had never seen in any part of slaveholdingMaryland.
Every thing looked clean, new, and beautiful. Isaw few or no dilapidated houses, with povertystricken inmates; no half-naked children and barefooted women, such as I had been accustomed to seein Hillsborough, Easton, St. Michael’s, and Baltimore. The people looked more able, stronger, healthier, and happier, than those ofMaryland. I was foronce made glad by a view of extreme wealth, withoutbeing saddened by seeing extreme poverty. But themost astonishing as well as the most interesting thingto me was the condition of the colored people, agreat many of whom, like myself, had escapedthither as a refuge from the hunters of men. I foundmany, who had not been seven years out of theirchains, living in finer houses, and evidently enjoyingmore of the comforts of life, than the average ofslaveholders in Maryland. I will venture to assert,that my friend Mr. Nathan Johnson (of whom Ican say with a grateful heart, “I was hungry, and hegave me meat; I was thirsty, and he gave me drink;I was a stranger, and he took me in”) lived in aneater house; dined at a better table; took, paidfor, and read, more newspapers; better understoodthe moral, religious, and political character of thenation,–than nine tenths of the slaveholders in Talbot county Maryland. Yet Mr. Johnson was a working man. His hands were hardened by toil, and nothis alone, but those also of Mrs. Johnson. I found thecolored people much more spirited than I had supposed they would be. I found among them a determination to protect each other from the blood-thirstykidnapper, at all hazards. Soon after my arrival, Iwas told of a circumstance which illustrated theirspirit. A colored man and a fugitive slave were onunfriendly terms. The former was heard to threatenthe latter with informing his master of his whereabouts. Straightway a meeting was called among thecolored people, under the stereotyped notice, “Business of importance!” The betrayer was invited to attend. The people came at the appointed hour, andorganized the meeting by appointing a very religiousold gentleman as president, who, I believe, made aprayer, after which he addressed the meeting as follows: “~Friends, we have got him here, and I wouldrecommend that you young men just take him outside the door, and kill him!~” With this, a numberof them bolted at him; but they were interceptedby some more timid than themselves, and the betrayer escaped their vengeance, and has not beenseen in New Bedford since. I believe there havebeen no more such threats, and should there be hereafter, I doubt not that death would be the consequence.
I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop with a load of oil. It wasnew, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at itwith a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now myown master. It was a happy moment, the rapture ofwhich can be understood only by those who havebeen slaves. It was the first work, the reward ofwhich was to be entirely my own. There was no Master Hugh standing ready, the moment I earned themoney, to rob me of it. I worked that day with apleasure I had never before experienced. I was atwork for myself and newly-married wife. It was to methe starting-point of a new existence. When I gotthrough with that job, I went in pursuit of a job ofcalking; but such was the strength of prejudiceagainst color, among the white calkers, that they refused to work with me, and of course I could get noemployment.* Finding my trade of no immediatebenefit, I threw off my calking habiliments, and prepared myself to do any kind of work I could get todo. Mr. Johnson kindly let me have his wood-horseand saw, and I very soon found myself a plenty ofwork. There was no work too hard–none too dirty.I was ready to saw wood, shovel coal, carry wood,sweep the chimney, or roll oil casks,–all of which I
* I am told that colored persons can now get employmentat calking inNew Bedford–a result of anti-slavery effort.did for nearly three years inNew Bedford, before Ibecame known to the anti-slavery world.
In about four months after I went toNew Bedford, there came a young man to me, and inquiredif I did not wish to take the “Liberator.” I told himI did; but, just having made my escape from slavery,I remarked that I was unable to pay for it then. I,however, finally became a subscriber to it. The papercame, and I read it from week to week with suchfeelings as it would be quite idle for me to attemptto describe. The paper became my meat and mydrink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy formy brethren in bonds–its scathing denunciations ofslaveholders–its faithful exposures of slavery–and itspowerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution–sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such asI had never felt before!
I had not long been a reader of the “Liberator,”before I got a pretty correct idea of the principles,measures and spirit of the anti-slavery reform. I tookright hold of the cause. I could do but little; butwhat I could, I did with a joyful heart, and never felthappier than when in an anti-slavery meeting. I seldom had much to say at the meetings, because whatI wanted to say was said so much better by others.But, while attending an anti-slavery convention atNantucket, on the 11th of August, 1841, I feltstrongly moved to speak, and was at the same timemuch urged to do so by Mr. William C. Coffin, agentleman who had heard me speak in the coloredpeople’s meeting at New Bedford. It was a severecross, and I took it up reluctantly. The truth was,I felt myself a slave, and the idea of speaking towhite people weighed me down. I spoke but a fewmoments, when I felt a degree of freedom, and saidwhat I desired with considerable ease. From thattime until now, I have been engaged in pleading thecause of my brethren–with what success, and withwhat devotion, I leave those acquainted with my labors to decide.
I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative,that I have, in several instances, spoken in such atone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious viewsto suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deemit proper to append the following brief explanation.What I have said respecting and against religion, Imean strictly to apply to the ~slaveholding religion~ ofthis land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of thisland, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize thewidest possible difference–so wide, that to receivethe one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be thefriend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemyof the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitfulone, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, theboldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the liveryof the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I amfilled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with thehorrible inconsistencies, which every where surroundme. We have men-stealers for ministers, womenwhippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers forchurch members. The man who wields the bloodclotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit onSunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek andlowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earningsat the end of each week meets me as a class-leaderon Sunday morning, to show me the way of life,and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister,for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the rightof learning to read the name of the God who mademe. He who is the religious advocate of marriagerobs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leavesthem to the ravages of wholesale pollution. Thewarm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,–sundering husbands and wives, parents and children,sisters and brothers,–leaving the hut vacant, and thehearth desolate. We see the thief preaching againsttheft, and the adulterer against adultery. We havemen sold to build churches, women sold to supportthe gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles forthe POOR HEATHEN! ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND THEGOOD OF SOULS! The slave auctioneer’s bell and thechurch-going bell chime in with each other, and thebitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drownedin the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivalsof religion and revivals in the slave-trade go handin hand together. The slave prison and the churchstand near each other. The clanking of fetters andthe rattling of chains in the prison, and the piouspsalm and solemn prayer in the church, may beheard at the same time. The dealers in the bodiesand souls of men erect their stand in the presenceof the pulpit, and they mutually help each other.The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to supportthe pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Herewe have religion and robbery the allies of each other–devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presentingthe semblance of paradise.
“Just God! and these are they, Who minister at thine altar, God of right!Men who their hands, with prayer and blessing, lay OnIsrael’s ark of light.
“What! preach, and kidnap men? Give thanks, and rob thy own afflicted poor?Talk of thy glorious liberty, and then Bolt hard the captive’s door?
“What! servants of thy own Merciful Son, who came to seek and saveThe homeless and the outcast, fettering down The tasked and plundered slave!
“Pilate and Herod friends! Chief priests and rulers, as of old, combine!Just God and holy! is that church which lends Strength to the spoiler thine?”
The Christianity of America is a Christianity, ofwhose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was ofthe ancient scribes and Pharisees, “They bind heavyburdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them onmen’s shoulders, but they themselves will not movethem with one of their fingers. All their works theydo for to be seen of men.–They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, . . . . . . and to be called of men, Rabbi,Rabbi.–But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heavenagainst men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neithersuffer ye them that are entering to go in. Ye devourwidows’ houses, and for a pretence make longprayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofoldmore the child of hell than yourselves.–Woe untoyou, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye paytithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment,mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, andnot to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides!which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woeunto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for yemake clean the outside of the cup and of the platter;but within, they are full of extortion and excess.-Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! forye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of deadmen’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye alsooutwardly appear righteous unto men, but withinye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to bestrictly true of the overwhelming mass of professedChristians inAmerica. They strain at a gnat, andswallow a camel. Could any thing be more true ofour churches? They would be shocked at the proposition of fellowshipping a SHEEP-stealer; and at thesame time they hug to their communion a MANstealer, and brand me with being an infidel, if Ifind fault with them for it. They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, andat the same time neglect the weightier matters ofthe law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy.They are they who are represented as professing tolove God whom they have not seen, whilst they hatetheir brother whom they have seen. They love theheathen on the other side of the globe. They canpray for him, pay money to have the Bible put intohis hand, and missionaries to instruct him; whilethey despise and totally neglect the heathen at theirown doors.
Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion ofthis land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean by thereligion of this land, that which is revealed in thewords, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north andsouth, calling themselves Christian churches, and yetin union with slaveholders. It is against religion, aspresented by these bodies, that I have felt it myduty to testify.
I conclude these remarks by copying the followingportrait of the religion of the south, (which is, bycommunion and fellowship, the religion of thenorth,) which I soberly affirm is “true to the life,”and without caricature or the slightest exaggeration.It is said to have been drawn, several years beforethe present anti-slavery agitation began, by a northern Methodist preacher, who, while residing at thesouth, had an opportunity to see slaveholding morals, manners, and piety, with his own eyes. “ShallI not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall notmy soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”
“Come, saints and sinners, hear me tellHow pious priests whip Jack and Nell,And women buy and children sell,And preach all sinners down to hell, And sing of heavenly union.”They’ll bleat and baa, dona like goats,Gorge down black sheep, and strain at motes,Array their backs in fine black coats,Then seize their negroes by their throats, And choke, for heavenly union.
“They’ll church you if you sip a dram,And damn you if you steal a lamb;Yet rob old Tony, Doll, and Sam,Of human rights, and bread and ham; Kidnapper’s heavenly union.
“They’ll loudly talk of Christ’s reward,And bind his image with a cord,And scold, and swing the lash abhorred,And sell their brother in the Lord To handcuffed heavenly union.
“They’ll read and sing a sacred song,And make a prayer both loud and long,And teach the right and do the wrong,Hailing the brother, sister throng, With words of heavenly union.
“We wonder how such saints can sing,Or praise the Lord upon the wing,Who roar, and scold, and whip, and sting,And to their slaves and mammon cling, In guilty conscience union.
“They’ll raise tobacco, corn, and rye,And drive, and thieve, and cheat, and lie,And lay up treasures in the sky,By making switch and cowskin fly, In hope of heavenly union.”They’ll crack old Tony on the skull,And preach and roar like Bashan bull,Or braying ass, of mischief full,Then seize old Jacob by the wool, And pull for heavenly union.
“A roaring, ranting, sleek man-thief,Who lived on mutton, veal, and beef,Yet never would afford reliefTo needy, sable sons of grief, Was big with heavenly union.
“‘Love not the world,’ the preacher said,And winked his eye, and shook his head;He seized on Tom, and Dick, and Ned,Cut short their meat, and clothes, and bread, Yet still loved heavenly union.
“Another preacher whining spokeOf One whose heart for sinners broke:He tied old Nanny to an oak,And drew the blood at every stroke, And prayed for heavenly union.
“Two others oped their iron jaws,And waved their children-stealing paws;There sat their children in gewgaws;By stinting negroes’ backs and maws, They kept up heavenly union.
“All good from Jack another takes,And entertains their flirts and rakes,Who dress as sleek as glossy snakes,And cram their mouths with sweetened cakes; And this goes down for union.”
Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little bookmay do something toward throwing light on theAmerican slave system, and hastening the glad dayof deliverance to the millions of my brethren inbonds–faithfully relying upon the power of truth,love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts–and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacredcause,–I subscribe myself,
FREDERICK DOUGLASSLYNN, ~Mass., April~ 28, 1845.