Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Andre Lapierre and PG Distributed
[Transcriber's note: The spelling irregularities of the original have been
retained in this etext.]
Life of a Slave Girl.
Written by Herself.
"Northerners know nothing at all about Slavery. They think it is perpetual
bondage only. They have no conception of the depth of _degradation_
involved in that word, SLAVERY; if they had, they would never cease their
efforts until so horrible a system was overthrown."
A Woman Of North Carolina.
"Rise up, ye women that are at ease! Hear my voice, ye careless daughters!
Give ear unto my speech."
Isaiah xxxii. 9.
Edited By L. Maria Child.
Boston: Published For The Author.
Preface By The Author
Reader be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of my
adventures may seem incredible; but they are, nevertheless, strictly true.
I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery; on the contrary, my
descriptions fall far short of the facts. I have concealed the names of
places, and given persons fictitious names. I had no motive for secrecy on
my own account, but I deemed it kind and considerate towards others to
pursue this course.
I wish I were more competent to the task I have undertaken. But I trust my
readers will excuse deficiencies in consideration of circumstances. I was
born and reared in Slavery; and I remained in a Slave State twenty-seven
years. Since I have been at the North, it has been necessary for me to work
diligently for my own support, and the education of my children. This has
not left me much leisure to make up for the loss of early opportunities to
improve myself; and it has compelled me to write these pages at irregular
intervals, whenever I could snatch an hour from household duties.
When I first arrived in Philadelphia, Bishop Paine advised me to publish a
sketch of my life, but I told him I was altogether incompetent to such an
undertaking. Though I have improved my mind somewhat since that time, I
still remain of the same opinion; but I trust my motives will excuse what
might otherwise seem presumptuous. I have not written my experiences in
order to attract attention to myself; on the contrary, it would have been
more pleasant to me to have been silent about my own history. Neither do I
care to excite sympathy for my own sufferings. But I do earnestly desire to
arouse the women of the North to a realizing sense of the condition of two
millions of women at the South, still in bondage, suffering what I
suffered, and most of them far worse. I want to add my testimony to that of
abler pens to convince the people of the Free States what Slavery really
is. Only by experience can any one realize how deep, and dark, and foul is
that pit of abominations. May the blessing of God rest on this imperfect
effort in behalf of my persecuted people!
Introduction By The Editor
The author of the following autobiography is personally known to me, and
her conversation and manners inspire me with confidence. During the last
seventeen years, she has lived the greater part of the time with a
distinguished family in New York, and has so deported herself as to be
highly esteemed by them. This fact is sufficient, without further
credentials of her character. I believe those who know her will not be
disposed to doubt her veracity, though some incidents in her story are more
romantic than fiction.
At her request, I have revised her manuscript; but such changes as I have
made have been mainly for purposes of condensation and orderly arrangement.
I have not added any thing to the incidents, or changed the import of her
very pertinent remarks. With trifling exceptions, both the ideas and the
language are her own. I pruned excrescences a little, but otherwise I had
no reason for changing her lively and dramatic way of telling her own
story. The names of both persons and places are known to me; but for good
reasons I suppress them.
It will naturally excite surprise that a woman reared in Slavery should be
able to write so well. But circumstances will explain this. In the first
place, nature endowed her with quick perceptions. Secondly, the mistress,
with whom she lived till she was twelve years old, was a kind, considerate
friend, who taught her to read and spell. Thirdly, she was placed in
favorable circumstances after she came to the North; having frequent
intercourse with intelligent persons, who felt a friendly interest in her
welfare, and were disposed to give her opportunities for self-improvement.
I am well aware that many will accuse me of indecorum for presenting these
pages to the public; for the experiences of this intelligent and
much-injured woman belong to a class which some call delicate subjects, and
others indelicate. This peculiar phase of Slavery has generally been kept
veiled; but the public ought to be made acquainted with its monstrous
features, and I willingly take the responsibility of presenting them with
the veil withdrawn. I do this for the sake of my sisters in bondage, who
are suffering wrongs so foul, that our ears are too delicate to listen to
them. I do it with the hope of arousing conscientious and reflecting women
at the North to a sense of their duty in the exertion of moral influence on
the question of Slavery, on all possible occasions. I do it with the hope
that every man who reads this narrative will swear solemnly before God
that, so far as he has power to prevent it, no fugitive from Slavery shall
ever be sent back to suffer in that loathsome den of corruption and
--_L. Maria Child_
The New Master And Mistress
The Slaves' New Year's Day
The Slave Who Dared To Feel Like A Man
The Trials Of Girlhood
The Jealous Mistress
What Slaves Are Taught To Think Of The North
Sketches Of Neighboring Slaveholders
A Perilous Passage In The Slave Girl's Life
The New Tie To Life
Fear Of Insurrection
The Church And Slavery
Another Link To Life
Scenes At The Plantation
Months Of Peril
The Children Sold
The Loophole Of Retreat
Still In Prison
The Candidate For Congress
Competition In Cunning
Important Era In My Brother's Life
New Destination For The Children
Preparations For Escape
Incidents In Philadelphia
The Meeting Of Mother And Daughter
A Home Found
The Old Enemy Again
Prejudice Against Color
The Hairbreadth Escape
A Visit To England
Renewed Invitations To Go South
The Fugitive Slave Law
Free At Last
Life of A Slave Girl,
Seven Years Concealed.
* * * * *
I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood
had passed away. My father was a carpenter, and considered so intelligent
and skilful in his trade, that, when buildings out of the common line were
to be erected, he was sent for from long distances, to be head workman. On
condition of paying his mistress two hundred dollars a year, and supporting
himself, he was allowed to work at his trade, and manage his own affairs.
His strongest wish was to purchase his children; but, though he several
times offered his hard earnings for that purpose, he never succeeded. In
complexion my parents were a light shade of brownish yellow, and were
termed mulattoes. They lived together in a comfortable home; and, though we
were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a
piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be
demanded of them at any moment. I had one brother, William, who was two
years younger than myself--a bright, affectionate child. I had also a great
treasure in my maternal grandmother, who was a remarkable woman in many
respects. She was the daughter of a planter in South Carolina, who, at his
death, left her mother and his three children free, with money to go to St.
Augustine, where they had relatives. It was during the Revolutionary War;
and they were captured on their passage, carried back, and sold to
different purchasers. Such was the story my grandmother used to tell me;
but I do not remember all the particulars. She was a little girl when she
was captured and sold to the keeper of a large hotel. I have often heard
her tell how hard she fared during childhood. But as she grew older she
evinced so much intelligence, and was so faithful, that her master and
mistress could not help seeing it was for their interest to take care of
such a valuable piece of property. She became an indispensable personage in
the household, officiating in all capacities, from cook and wet nurse to
seamstress. She was much praised for her cooking; and her nice crackers
became so famous in the neighborhood that many people were desirous of
obtaining them. In consequence of numerous requests of this kind, she asked
permission of her mistress to bake crackers at night, after all the
household work was done; and she obtained leave to do it, provided she
would clothe herself and her children from the profits. Upon these terms,
after working hard all day for her mistress, she began her midnight
bakings, assisted by her two oldest children. The business proved
profitable; and each year she laid by a little, which was saved for a fund
to purchase her children. Her master died, and the property was divided
among his heirs. The widow had her dower in the hotel which she continued
to keep open. My grandmother remained in her service as a slave; but her
children were divided among her master's children. As she had five,
Benjamin, the youngest one, was sold, in order that each heir might have an
equal portion of dollars and cents. There was so little difference in our
ages that he seemed more like my brother than my uncle. He was a bright,
handsome lad, nearly white; for he inherited the complexion my grandmother
had derived from Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Though only ten years old, seven
hundred and twenty dollars were paid for him. His sale was a terrible blow
to my grandmother, but she was naturally hopeful, and she went to work with
renewed energy, trusting in time to be able to purchase some of her
children. She had laid up three hundred dollars, which her mistress one day
begged as a loan, promising to pay her soon. The reader probably knows that
no promise or writing given to a slave is legally binding; for, according
to Southern laws, a slave, _being_ property, can _hold_ no property. When
my grandmother lent her hard earnings to her mistress, she trusted solely
to her honor. The honor of a slaveholder to a slave!
To this good grandmother I was indebted for many comforts. My brother
Willie and I often received portions of the crackers, cakes, and preserves,
she made to sell; and after we ceased to be children we were indebted to
her for many more important services.
Such were the unusually fortunate circumstances of my early childhood. When
I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time, I
learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave. My mother's mistress
was the daughter of my grandmother's mistress. She was the foster sister of
my mother; they were both nourished at my grandmother's breast. In fact, my
mother had been weaned at three months old, that the babe of the mistress
might obtain sufficient food. They played together as children; and, when
they became women, my mother was a most faithful servant to her whiter
foster sister. On her death-bed her mistress promised that her children
should never suffer for any thing; and during her lifetime she kept her
word. They all spoke kindly of my dead mother, who had been a slave merely
in name, but in nature was noble and womanly. I grieved for her, and my
young mind was troubled with the thought who would now take care of me and
my little brother. I was told that my home was now to be with her mistress;
and I found it a happy one. No toilsome or disagreeable duties were imposed
on me. My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do her
bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years would permit.
I would sit by her side for hours, sewing diligently, with a heart as free
from care as that of any free-born white child. When she thought I was
tired, she would send me out to run and jump; and away I bounded, to gather
berries or flowers to decorate her room. Those were happy days--too happy
to last. The slave child had no thought for the morrow; but there came that
blight, which too surely waits on every human being born to be a chattel.
When I was nearly twelve years old, my kind mistress sickened and died. As
I saw the cheek grow paler, and the eye more glassy, how earnestly I prayed
in my heart that she might live! I loved her; for she had been almost like
a mother to me. My prayers were not answered. She died, and they buried her
in the little churchyard, where, day after day, my tears fell upon her
I was sent to spend a week with my grandmother. I was now old enough to
begin to think of the future; and again and again I asked myself what they
would do with me. I felt sure I should never find another mistress so kind
as the one who was gone. She had promised my dying mother that her children
should never suffer for any thing; and when I remembered that, and recalled
her many proofs of attachment to me, I could not help having some hopes
that she had left me free. My friends were almost certain it would be so.
They thought she would be sure to do it, on account of my mother's love and
faithful service. But, alas! we all know that the memory of a faithful
slave does not avail much to save her children from the auction block.
After a brief period of suspense, the will of my mistress was read, and we
learned that she had bequeathed me to her sister's daughter, a child of
five years old. So vanished our hopes. My mistress had taught me the
precepts of God's Word: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
"Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."
But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her
neighbor. I would give much to blot out from my memory that one great
wrong. As a child, I loved my mistress; and, looking back on the happy days
I spent with her, I try to think with less bitterness of this act of
injustice. While I was with her, she taught me to read and spell; and for
this privilege, which so rarely falls to the lot of a slave, I bless her
She possessed but few slaves; and at her death those were all distributed
among her relatives. Five of them were my grandmother's children, and had
shared the same milk that nourished her mother's children. Notwithstanding
my grandmother's long and faithful service to her owners, not one of her
children escaped the auction block. These God-breathing machines are no
more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or the
horses they tend.
II. The New Master And Mistress.
Dr. Flint, a physician in the neighborhood, had married the sister of my
mistress, and I was now the property of their little daughter. It was not
without murmuring that I prepared for my new home; and what added to my
unhappiness, was the fact that my brother William was purchased by the same
family. My father, by his nature, as well as by the habit of transacting
business as a skillful mechanic, had more of the feelings of a freeman than
is common among slaves. My brother was a spirited boy; and being brought up
under such influences, he daily detested the name of master and mistress.
One day, when his father and his mistress both happened to call him at the
same time, he hesitated between the two; being perplexed to know which had
the strongest claim upon his obedience. He finally concluded to go to his
mistress. When my father reproved him for it, he said, "You both called me,
and I didn't know which I ought to go to first."
"You are _my_ child," replied our father, "and when I call you, you should
come immediately, if you have to pass through fire and water."
Poor Willie! He was now to learn his first lesson of obedience to a master.
Grandmother tried to cheer us with hopeful words, and they found an echo in
the credulous hearts of youth.
When we entered our new home we encountered cold looks, cold words, and
cold treatment. We were glad when the night came. On my narrow bed I moaned
and wept, I felt so desolate and alone.
I had been there nearly a year, when a dear little friend of mine was
buried. I heard her mother sob, as the clods fell on the coffin of her only
child, and I turned away from the grave, feeling thankful that I still had
something left to love. I met my grandmother, who said, "Come with me,
Linda;" and from her tone I knew that something sad had happened. She led
me apart from the people, and then said, "My child, your father is dead."
Dead! How could I believe it? He had died so suddenly I had not even heard
that he was sick. I went home with my grandmother. My heart rebelled
against God, who had taken from me mother, father, mistress, and friend.
The good grandmother tried to comfort me. "Who knows the ways of God?" said
she. "Perhaps they have been kindly taken from the evil days to come."
Years afterwards I often thought of this. She promised to be a mother to
her grandchildren, so far as she might be permitted to do so; and
strengthened by her love, I returned to my master's. I thought I should be
allowed to go to my father's house the next morning; but I was ordered to
go for flowers, that my mistress's house might be decorated for an evening
party. I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into festoons,
while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me. What cared
my owners for that? he was merely a piece of property. Moreover, they
thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that they
were human beings. This was blasphemous doctrine for a slave to teach;
presumptuous in him, and dangerous to the masters.
The next day I followed his remains to a humble grave beside that of my
dear mother. There were those who knew my father's worth, and respected his
My home now seemed more dreary than ever. The laugh of the little
slave-children sounded harsh and cruel. It was selfish to feel so about the
joy of others. My brother moved about with a very grave face. I tried to
comfort him, by saying, "Take courage, Willie; brighter days will come by
"You don't know any thing about it, Linda," he replied. "We shall have to
stay here all our days; we shall never be free."
I argued that we were growing older and stronger, and that perhaps we
might, before long, be allowed to hire our own time, and then we could earn
money to buy our freedom. William declared this was much easier to say than
to do; moreover, he did not intend to _buy_ his freedom. We held daily
controversies upon this subject.
Little attention was paid to the slaves' meals in Dr. Flint's house. If
they could catch a bit of food while it was going, well and good. I gave
myself no trouble on that score, for on my various errands I passed my
grandmother's house, where there was always something to spare for me. I
was frequently threatened with punishment if I stopped there; and my
grandmother, to avoid detaining me, often stood at the gate with something
for my breakfast or dinner. I was indebted to _her_ for all my comforts,
spiritual or temporal. It was _her_ labor that supplied my scanty wardrobe.
I have a vivid recollection of the linsey-woolsey dress given me every
winter by Mrs. Flint. How I hated it! It was one of the badges of slavery.
While my grandmother was thus helping to support me from her hard earnings,
the three hundred dollars she had lent her mistress were never repaid. When
her mistress died, her son-in-law, Dr. Flint, was appointed executor. When
grandmother applied to him for payment, he said the estate was insolvent,
and the law prohibited payment. It did not, however, prohibit him from
retaining the silver candelabra, which had been purchased with that money.
I presume they will be handed down in the family, from generation to
My grandmother's mistress had always promised her that, at her death, she
should be free; and it was said that in her will she made good the promise.
But when the estate was settled, Dr. Flint told the faithful old servant
that, under existing circumstances, it was necessary she should be sold.
On the appointed day, the customary advertisement was posted up,
proclaiming that there would be a "public sale of negroes, horses, &c." Dr.
Flint called to tell my grandmother that he was unwilling to wound her
feelings by putting her up at auction, and that he would prefer to dispose
of her at private sale. My grandmother saw through his hypocrisy; she
understood very well that he was ashamed of the job. She was a very
spirited woman, and if he was base enough to sell her, when her mistress
intended she should be free, she was determined the public should know it.
She had for a long time supplied many families with crackers and preserves;
consequently, "Aunt Marthy," as she was called, was generally known, and
every body who knew her respected her intelligence and good character. Her
long and faithful service in the family was also well known, and the
intention of her mistress to leave her free. When the day of sale came, she
took her place among the chattels, and at the first call she sprang upon
the auction-block. Many voices called out, "Shame! Shame! Who is going to
sell _you_, aunt Marthy? Don't stand there! That is no place for _you_."
Without saying a word, she quietly awaited her fate. No one bid for her. At
last, a feeble voice said, "Fifty dollars." It came from a maiden lady,
seventy years old, the sister of my grandmother's deceased mistress. She
had lived forty years under the same roof with my grandmother; she knew how
faithfully she had served her owners, and how cruelly she had been
defrauded of her rights; and she resolved to protect her. The auctioneer
waited for a higher bid; but her wishes were respected; no one bid above
her. She could neither read nor write; and when the bill of sale was made
out, she signed it with a cross. But what consequence was that, when she
had a big heart overflowing with human kindness? She gave the old servant
At that time, my grandmother was just fifty years old. Laborious years had
passed since then; and now my brother and I were slaves to the man who had
defrauded her of her money, and tried to defraud her of her freedom. One of
my mother's sisters, called Aunt Nancy, was also a slave in his family. She
was a kind, good aunt to me; and supplied the place of both housekeeper and
waiting maid to her mistress. She was, in fact, at the beginning and end of
Mrs. Flint, like many southern women, was totally deficient in energy. She
had not strength to superintend her household affairs; but her nerves were
so strong, that she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman whipped,
till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash. She was a member of
the church; but partaking of the Lord's supper did not seem to put her in a
Christian frame of mind. If dinner was not served at the exact time on that
particular Sunday, she would station herself in the kitchen, and wait till
it was dished, and then spit in all the kettles and pans that had been used
for cooking. She did this to prevent the cook and her children from eking
out their meagre fare with the remains of the gravy and other scrapings.
The slaves could get nothing to eat except what she chose to give them.
Provisions were weighed out by the pound and ounce, three times a day. I
can assure you she gave them no chance to eat wheat bread from her flour
barrel. She knew how many biscuits a quart of flour would make, and exactly
what size they ought to be.
Dr. Flint was an epicure. The cook never sent a dinner to his table without
fear and trembling; for if there happened to be a dish not to his liking,
he would either order her to be whipped, or compel her to eat every
mouthful of it in his presence. The poor, hungry creature might not have
objected to eating it; but she did not object to having her master cram it
down her throat till she choked.
They had a pet dog, that was a nuisance in the house. The cook was ordered
to make some Indian mush for him. He refused to eat, and when his head was
held over it, the froth flowed from his mouth into the basin. He died a few
minutes after. When Dr. Flint came in, he said the mush had not been well
cooked, and that was the reason the animal would not eat it. He sent for
the cook, and compelled her to eat it. He thought that the woman's stomach
was stronger than the dog's; but her sufferings afterwards proved that he
was mistaken. This poor woman endured many cruelties from her master and
mistress; sometimes she was locked up, away from her nursing baby, for a
whole day and night.
When I had been in the family a few weeks, one of the plantation slaves was
brought to town, by order of his master. It was near night when he arrived,
and Dr. Flint ordered him to be taken to the work house, and tied up to the
joist, so that his feet would just escape the ground. In that situation he
was to wait till the doctor had taken his tea. I shall never forget
that night. Never before, in my life, had I heard hundreds of blows fall;
in succession, on a human being. His piteous groans, and his "O, pray
don't, massa," rang in my ear for months afterwards. There were many
conjectures as to the cause of this terrible punishment. Some said master
accused him of stealing corn; others said the slave had quarrelled with his
wife, in presence of the overseer, and had accused his master of being the
father of her child. They were both black, and the child was very fair.
I went into the work house next morning, and saw the cowhide still wet with
blood, and the boards all covered with gore. The poor man lived, and
continued to quarrel with his wife. A few months afterwards Dr. Flint
handed them both over to a slave-trader. The guilty man put their value
into his pocket, and had the satisfaction of knowing that they were out of
sight and hearing. When the mother was delivered into the trader's hands,
she said. "You _promised_ to treat me well." To which he replied, "You have
let your tongue run too far; damn you!" She had forgotten that it was a
crime for a slave to tell who was the father of her child.
From others than the master persecution also comes in such cases. I once
saw a young slave girl dying soon after the birth of a child nearly white.
In her agony she cried out, "O Lord, come and take me!" Her mistress stood
by, and mocked at her like an incarnate fiend. "You suffer, do you?" she
exclaimed. "I am glad of it. You deserve it all, and more too."
The girl's mother said, "The baby is dead, thank God; and I hope my poor
child will soon be in heaven, too."
"Heaven!" retorted the mistress. "There is no such place for the like of
her and her bastard."
The poor mother turned away, sobbing. Her dying daughter called her,
feebly, and as she bent over her, I heard her say, "Don't grieve so,
mother; God knows all about it; and HE will have mercy upon me."
Her sufferings, afterwards, became so intense, that her mistress felt
unable to stay; but when she left the room, the scornful smile was still on
her lips. Seven children called her mother. The poor black woman had but
the one child, whose eyes she saw closing in death, while she thanked God
for taking her away from the greater bitterness of life.
III. The Slaves' New Year's Day.
Dr. Flint owned a fine residence in town, several farms, and about fifty
slaves, besides hiring a number by the year.
Hiring-day at the south takes place on the 1st of January. On the 2d, the
slaves are expected to go to their new masters. On a farm, they work until
the corn and cotton are laid. They then have two holidays. Some masters
give them a good dinner under the trees. This over, they work until
Christmas eve. If no heavy charges are meantime brought against them, they
are given four or five holidays, whichever the master or overseer may think
proper. Then comes New Year's eve; and they gather together their little
alls, or more properly speaking, their little nothings, and wait anxiously
for the dawning of day. At the appointed hour the grounds are thronged with
men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals, to hear their doom
pronounced. The slave is sure to know who is the most humane, or cruel
master, within forty miles of him.
It is easy to find out, on that day, who clothes and feeds his slaves well;
for he is surrounded by a crowd, begging, "Please, massa, hire me this
year. I will work _very_ hard, massa."
If a slave is unwilling to go with his new master, he is whipped, or locked
up in jail, until he consents to go, and promises not to run away during
the year. Should he chance to change his mind, thinking it justifiable to
violate an extorted promise, woe unto him if he is caught! The whip is used
till the blood flows at his feet; and his stiffened limbs are put in
chains, to be dragged in the field for days and days!
If he lives until the next year, perhaps the same man will hire him again,
without even giving him an opportunity of going to the hiring-ground. After
those for hire are disposed of, those for sale are called up.
O, you happy free women, contrast _your_ New Year's day with that of the
poor bond-woman! With you it is a pleasant season, and the light of the day
is blessed. Friendly wishes meet you every where, and gifts are showered
upon you. Even hearts that have been estranged from you soften at this
season, and lips that have been silent echo back, "I wish you a happy New
Year." Children bring their little offerings, and raise their rosy lips for
a caress. They are your own, and no hand but that of death can take them
But to the slave mother New Year's day comes laden with peculiar sorrows.
She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn
from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might
die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the
system that has brutalized her from childhood; but she has a mother's
instincts, and is capable of feeling a mother's agonies.
On one of these sale days, I saw a mother lead seven children to the
auction-block. She knew that _some_ of them would be taken from her; but
they took _all_. The children were sold to a slave-trader, and their mother
was brought by a man in her own town. Before night her children were all
far away. She begged the trader to tell her where he intended to take them;
this he refused to do. How _could_ he, when he knew he would sell them, one
by one, wherever he could command the highest price? I met that mother in
the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She wrung
her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, "Gone! All gone! Why _don't_ God kill
me?" I had no words wherewith to comfort her. Instances of this kind are of
daily, yea, of hourly occurrence.
Slaveholders have a method, peculiar to their institution, of getting rid
of _old_ slaves, whose lives have been worn out in their service. I knew an
old woman, who for seventy years faithfully served her master. She had
become almost helpless, from hard labor and disease. Her owners moved to
Alabama, and the old black woman was left to be sold to any body who would
give twenty dollars for her.
IV. The Slave Who Dared To Feel Like A Man.
Two years had passed since I entered Dr. Flint's family, and those years
had brought much of the knowledge that comes from experience, though they
had afforded little opportunity for any other kinds of knowledge.
My grandmother had, as much as possible, been a mother to her orphan
grandchildren. By perseverance and unwearied industry, she was now mistress
of a snug little home, surrounded with the necessaries of life. She would
have been happy could her children have shared them with her. There
remained but three children and two grandchildren, all slaves. Most
earnestly did she strive to make us feel that it was the will of God: that
He had seen fit to place us under such circumstances; and though it seemed
hard, we ought to pray for contentment.
It was a beautiful faith, coming from a mother who could not call her
children her own. But I, and Benjamin, her youngest boy, condemned it. We
reasoned that it was much more the will of God that we should be situated
as she was. We longed for a home like hers. There we always found sweet
balsam for our troubles. She was so loving, so sympathizing! She always met
us with a smile, and listened with patience to all our sorrows. She spoke
so hopefully, that unconsciously the clouds gave place to sunshine. There
was a grand big oven there, too, that baked bread and nice things for the
town, and we knew there was always a choice bit in store for us.
But, alas! Even the charms of the old oven failed to reconcile us to our
hard lot. Benjamin was now a tall, handsome lad, strongly and gracefully
made, and with a spirit too bold and daring for a slave. My brother
William, now twelve years old, had the same aversion to the word master
that he had when he was an urchin of seven years. I was his confidant. He
came to me with all his troubles. I remember one instance in particular. It
was on a lovely spring morning, and when I marked the sunlight dancing here
and there, its beauty seemed to mock my sadness. For my master, whose
restless, craving, vicious nature roved about day and night, seeking whom
to devour, had just left me, with stinging, scorching words; words that
scathed ear and brain like fire. O, how I despised him! I thought how glad
I should be, if some day when he walked the earth, it would open and
swallow him up, and disencumber the world of a plague.
When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in
_every_ thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should
surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong.
So deeply was I absorbed in painful reflections afterwards, that I neither
saw nor heard the entrance of any one, till the voice of William sounded
close beside me. "Linda," said he, "what makes you look so sad? I love you.
O, Linda, isn't this a bad world? Every body seems so cross and unhappy. I
wish I had died when poor father did."
I told him that every body was _not_ cross, or unhappy; that those who had
pleasant homes, and kind friends, and who were not afraid to love them,
were happy. But we, who were slave-children, without father or mother,
could not expect to be happy. We must be good; perhaps that would bring us
"Yes," he said, "I try to be good; but what's the use? They are all the
time troubling me." Then he proceeded to relate his afternoon's difficulty
with young master Nicholas. It seemed that the brother of master Nicholas
had pleased himself with making up stories about William. Master Nicholas
said he should be flogged, and he would do it. Whereupon he went to work;
but William fought bravely, and the young master, finding he was getting
the better of him, undertook to tie his hands behind him. He failed in that
likewise. By dint of kicking and fisting, William came out of the skirmish
none the worse for a few scratches.
He continued to discourse, on his young master's _meanness_; how he whipped
the _little_ boys, but was a perfect coward when a tussle ensued between
him and white boys of his own size. On such occasions he always took to his
legs. William had other charges to make against him. One was his rubbing up
pennies with quicksilver, and passing them off for quarters of a dollar on
an old man who kept a fruit stall. William was often sent to buy fruit, and
he earnestly inquired of me what he ought to do under such circumstances. I
told him it was certainly wrong to deceive the old man, and that it was his
duty to tell him of the impositions practised by his young master. I
assured him the old man would not be slow to comprehend the whole, and
there the matter would end. William thought it might with the old man, but
not with _him_. He said he did not mind the smart of the whip, but he did
not like the _idea_ of being whipped.
While I advised him to be good and forgiving I was not unconscious of the
beam in my own eye. It was the very knowledge of my own shortcomings that
urged me to retain, if possible, some sparks of my brother's God-given
nature. I had not lived fourteen years in slavery for nothing. I had felt,
seen, and heard enough, to read the characters, and question the motives,
of those around me. The war of my life had begun; and though one of God's
most powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered. Alas, for me!
If there was one pure, sunny spot for me, I believed it to be in Benjamin's
heart, and in another's, whom I loved with all the ardor of a girl's first
love. My owner knew of it, and sought in every way to render me miserable.
He did not resort to corporal punishment, but to all the petty, tyrannical
ways that human ingenuity could devise.
I remember the first time I was punished. It was in the month of February.
My grandmother had taken my old shoes, and replaced them with a new pair. I
needed them; for several inches of snow had fallen, and it still continued
to fall. When I walked through Mrs. Flint's room, their creaking grated
harshly on her refined nerves. She called me to her, and asked what I had
about me that made such a horrid noise. I told her it was my new shoes.
"Take them off," said she; "and if you put them on again, I'll throw them
into the fire."
I took them off, and my stockings also. She then sent me a long distance,
on an errand. As I went through the snow, my bare feet tingled. That night
I was very hoarse; and I went to bed thinking the next day would find me
sick, perhaps dead. What was my grief on waking to find myself quite well!
I had imagined if I died, or was laid up for some time, that my mistress
would feel a twinge of remorse that she had so hated "the little imp," as
she styled me. It was my ignorance of that mistress that gave rise to such
Dr. Flint occasionally had high prices offered for me; but he always said,
"She don't belong to me. She is my daughter's property, and I have no right
to sell her." Good, honest man! My young mistress was still a child, and I
could look for no protection from her. I loved her, and she returned my
affection. I once heard her father allude to her attachment to me, and his
wife promptly replied that it proceeded from fear. This put unpleasant
doubts into my mind. Did the child feign what she did not feel? or was her
mother jealous of the mite of love she bestowed on me? I concluded it must
be the latter. I said to myself, "Surely, little children are true."
One afternoon I sat at my sewing, feeling unusual depression of spirits. My
mistress had been accusing me of an offence, of which I assured her I was
perfectly innocent; but I saw, by the contemptuous curl of her lip, that
she believed I was telling a lie.
I wondered for what wise purpose God was leading me through such thorny
paths, and whether still darker days were in store for me. As I sat musing
thus, the door opened softly, and William came in. "Well, brother," said I,
"what is the matter this time?"
"O Linda, Ben and his master have had a dreadful time!" said he.
My first thought was that Benjamin was killed. "Don't be frightened,
Linda," said William; "I will tell you all about it."
It appeared that Benjamin's master had sent for him, and he did not
immediately obey the summons. When he did, his master was angry, and began
to whip him. He resisted. Master and slave fought, and finally the master
was thrown. Benjamin had cause to tremble; for he had thrown to the ground
his master--one of the richest men in town. I anxiously awaited the
That night I stole to my grandmother's house; and Benjamin also stole
thither from his master's. My grandmother had gone to spend a day or two
with an old friend living in the country.
"I have come," said Benjamin, "to tell you good by. I am going away."
I inquired where.
"To the north," he replied.
I looked at him to see whether he was in earnest. I saw it all in his firm,
set mouth. I implored him not to go, but he paid no heed to my words. He
said he was no longer a boy, and every day made his yoke more galling. He
had raised his hand against his master, and was to be publicly whipped for
the offence. I reminded him of the poverty and hardships he must encounter
among strangers. I told him he might be caught and brought back; and that
was terrible to think of.
He grew vexed, and asked if poverty and hardships with freedom, were not
preferable to our treatment in slavery. "Linda," he continued, "we are dogs
here; foot-balls, cattle, every thing that's mean. No, I will not stay. Let
them bring me back. We don't die but once."
He was right; but it was hard to give him up. "Go," said I, "and break your
I repented of my words ere they were out.
"Linda," said he, speaking as I had not heard him speak that evening, "how
_could_ you say that? Poor mother! be kind to her, Linda; and you, too,
Cousin Fanny was a friend who had lived some years with us.
Farewells were exchanged, and the bright, kind boy, endeared to us by so
many acts of love, vanished from our sight.
It is not necessary to state how he made his escape. Suffice it to say, he
was on his way to New York when a violent storm overtook the vessel. The
captain said he must put into the nearest port. This alarmed Benjamin, who
was aware that he would be advertised in every port near his own town. His
embarrassment was noticed by the captain. To port they went. There the
advertisement met the captain's eye. Benjamin so exactly answered its
description, that the captain laid hold on him, and bound him in chains.
The storm passed, and they proceeded to New York. Before reaching that port
Benjamin managed to get off his chains and throw them overboard. He escaped
from the vessel, but was pursued, captured, and carried back to his master.
When my grandmother returned home and found her youngest child had fled,
great was her sorrow; but, with characteristic piety, she said, "God's will
be done." Each morning, she inquired if any news had been heard from her
boy. Yes, news _was_ heard. The master was rejoicing over a letter,
announcing the capture of his human chattel.
That day seems but as yesterday, so well do I remember it. I saw him led
through the streets in chains, to jail. His face was ghastly pale, yet full
of determination. He had begged one of the sailors to go to his mother's
house and ask her not to meet him. He said the sight of her distress would
take from him all self-control. She yearned to see him, and she went; but
she screened herself in the crowd, that it might be as her child had said.
We were not allowed to visit him; but we had known the jailer for years,
and he was a kind-hearted man. At midnight he opened the jail door for my
grandmother and myself to enter, in disguise. When we entered the cell not
a sound broke the stillness. "Benjamin, Benjamin!" whispered my
grandmother. No answer. "Benjamin!" she again faltered. There was a jingle
of chains. The moon had just risen, and cast an uncertain light through the
bars of the window. We knelt down and took Benjamin's cold hands in ours.
We did not speak. Sobs were heard, and Benjamin's lips were unsealed; for
his mother was weeping on his neck. How vividly does memory bring back that
sad night! Mother and son talked together. He asked her pardon for the
suffering he had caused her. She said she had nothing to forgive; she could
not blame his desire for freedom. He told her that when he was captured, he
broke away, and was about casting himself into the river, when thoughts of
_her_ came over him, and he desisted. She asked if he did not also think of
God. I fancied I saw his face grow fierce in the moonlight. He answered,
"No, I did not think of him. When a man is hunted like a wild beast he
forgets there is a God, a heaven. He forgets every thing in his struggle to
get beyond the reach of the bloodhounds."
"Don't talk so, Benjamin," said she. "Put your trust in God. Be humble, my
child, and your master will forgive you."
"Forgive me for _what_, mother? For not letting him treat me like a dog?
No! I will never humble myself to him. I have worked for him for nothing
all my life, and I am repaid with stripes and imprisonment. Here I will
stay till I die, or till he sells me."
The poor mother shuddered at his words. I think he felt it; for when he
next spoke, his voice was calmer. "Don't fret about me, mother. I ain't
worth it," said he. "I wish I had some of your goodness. You bear every
thing patiently, just as though you thought it was all right. I wish I
She told him she had not always been so; once, she was like him; but when
sore troubles came upon her, and she had no arm to lean upon, she learned
to call on God, and he lightened her burdens. She besought him to do
We overstaid our time, and were obliged to hurry from the jail.
Benjamin had been imprisoned three weeks, when my grandmother went to
intercede for him with his master. He was immovable. He said Benjamin
should serve as an example to the rest of his slaves; he should be kept in
jail till he was subdued, or be sold if he got but one dollar for him.
However, he afterwards relented in some degree. The chains were taken off,
and we were allowed to visit him.
As his food was of the coarsest kind, we carried him as often as possible a
warm supper, accompanied with some little luxury for the jailer.
Three months elapsed, and there was no prospect of release or of a
purchaser. One day he was heard to sing and laugh. This piece of indecorum
was told to his master, and the overseer was ordered to re-chain him. He
was now confined in an apartment with other prisoners, who were covered
with filthy rags. Benjamin was chained near them, and was soon covered with
vermin. He worked at his chains till he succeeded in getting out of them.
He passed them through the bars of the window, with a request that they
should be taken to his master, and he should be informed that he was
covered with vermin.
This audacity was punished with heavier chains, and prohibition of our
My grandmother continued to send him fresh changes of clothes. The old ones
were burned up. The last night we saw him in jail his mother still begged
him to send for his master, and beg his pardon. Neither persuasion nor
argument could turn him from his purpose. He calmly answered, "I am waiting
Those chains were mournful to hear.
Another three months passed, and Benjamin left his prison walls. We that
loved him waited to bid him a long and last farewell. A slave trader had
bought him. You remember, I told you what price he brought when ten years
of age. Now he was more than twenty years old, and sold for three hundred
dollars. The master had been blind to his own interest. Long confinement
had made his face too pale, his form too thin; moreover, the trader had
heard something of his character, and it did not strike him as suitable for
a slave. He said he would give any price if the handsome lad was a girl. We
thanked God that he was not.
Could you have seen that mother clinging to her child, when they fastened
the irons upon his wrists; could you have heard her heart-rending groans,
and seen her bloodshot eyes wander wildly from face to face, vainly
pleading for mercy; could you have witnessed that scene as I saw it, you
would exclaim, _Slavery is damnable_! Benjamin, her youngest, her pet, was
forever gone! She could not realize it. She had had an interview with the
trader for the purpose of ascertaining if Benjamin could be purchased. She
was told it was impossible, as he had given bonds not to sell him till he
was out of the state. He promised that he would not sell him till he
reached New Orleans.
With a strong arm and unvaried trust, my grandmother began her work of
love. Benjamin must be free. If she succeeded, she knew they would still be
separated; but the sacrifice was not too great. Day and night she labored.
The trader's price would treble that he gave; but she was not discouraged.
She employed a lawyer to write to a gentleman, whom she knew, in New
Orleans. She begged him to interest himself for Benjamin, and he willingly
favored her request. When he saw Benjamin, and stated his business, he
thanked him; but said he preferred to wait a while before making the trader
an offer. He knew he had tried to obtain a high price for him, and had
invariably failed. This encouraged him to make another effort for freedom.
So one morning, long before day, Benjamin was missing. He was riding over
the blue billows, bound for Baltimore.
For once his white face did him a kindly service. They had no suspicion
that it belonged to a slave; otherwise, the law would have been followed
out to the letter, and the _thing_ rendered back to slavery. The brightest
skies are often overshadowed by the darkest clouds. Benjamin was taken
sick, and compelled to remain in Baltimore three weeks. His strength was
slow in returning; and his desire to continue his journey seemed to retard
his recovery. How could he get strength without air and exercise? He
resolved to venture on a short walk. A by-street was selected, where he
thought himself secure of not being met by any one that knew him; but a
voice called out, "Halloo, Ben, my boy! what are you doing _here_!"
His first impulse was to run; but his legs trembled so that he could not
stir. He turned to confront his antagonist, and behold, there stood his old
master's next door neighbor! He thought it was all over with him now; but
it proved otherwise. That man was a miracle. He possessed a goodly number
of slaves, and yet was not quite deaf to that mystic clock, whose ticking
is rarely heard in the slaveholder's breast.
"Ben, you are sick," said he. "Why, you look like a ghost. I guess I gave
you something of a start. Never mind, Ben, I am not going to touch you. You
had a pretty tough time of it, and you may go on your way rejoicing for all
me. But I would advise you to get out of this place plaguy quick, for there
are several gentlemen here from our town." He described the nearest and
safest route to New York, and added, "I shall be glad to tell your mother I
have seen you. Good by, Ben."
Benjamin turned away, filled with gratitude, and surprised that the town he
hated contained such a gem--a gem worthy of a purer setting.
This gentleman was a Northerner by birth, and had married a southern lady.
On his return, he told my grandmother that he had seen her son, and of the
service he had rendered him.
Benjamin reached New York safely, and concluded to stop there until he had
gained strength enough to proceed further. It happened that my
grandmother's only remaining son had sailed for the same city on business
for his mistress. Through God's providence, the brothers met. You may be
sure it was a happy meeting. "O Phil," exclaimed Benjamin, "I am here at
last." Then he told him how near he came to dying, almost in sight of free
land, and how he prayed that he might live to get one breath of free air.
He said life was worth something now, and it would be hard to die. In the
old jail he had not valued it; once, he was tempted to destroy it; but
something, he did not know what, had prevented him; perhaps it was fear. He
had heard those who profess to be religious declare there was no heaven for
self-murderers; and as his life had been pretty hot here, he did not desire
a continuation of the same in another world. "If I die now," he exclaimed,
"thank God, I shall die a freeman!"
He begged my uncle Phillip not to return south; but stay and work with him,
till they earned enough to buy those at home. His brother told him it would
kill their mother if he deserted her in her trouble. She had pledged her
house, and with difficulty had raised money to buy him. Would he be bought?
"No, never!" he replied. "Do you suppose, Phil, when I have got so far out
of their clutches, I will give them one red cent? No! And do you suppose I
would turn mother out of her home in her old age? That I would let her pay
all those hard-earned dollars for me, and never to see me? For you know she
will stay south as long as her other children are slaves. What a good
mother! Tell her to buy _you_, Phil. You have been a comfort to her, and I
have been a trouble. And Linda, poor Linda; what'll become of her? Phil,
you don't know what a life they lead her. She has told me something about
it, and I wish old Flint was dead, or a better man. When I was in jail, he
asked her if she didn't want _him_ to ask my master to forgive me, and take
me home again. She told him, No; that I didn't want to go back. He got mad,
and said we were all alike. I never despised my own master half as much as
I do that man. There is many a worse slaveholder than my master; but for
all that I would not be his slave."
While Benjamin was sick, he had parted with nearly all his clothes to pay
necessary expenses. But he did not part with a little pin I fastened in his
bosom when we parted. It was the most valuable thing I owned, and I thought
none more worthy to wear it. He had it still.
His brother furnished him with clothes, and gave him what money he had.
They parted with moistened eyes; and as Benjamin turned away, he said,
"Phil, I part with all my kindred." And so it proved. We never heard from
Uncle Phillip came home; and the first words he uttered when he entered the
house were, "Mother, Ben is free! I have seen him in New York." She stood
looking at him with a bewildered air. "Mother, don't you believe it?" he
said, laying his hand softly upon her shoulder. She raised her hands, and
exclaimed, "God be praised! Let us thank him." She dropped on her knees,
and poured forth her heart in prayer. Then Phillip must sit down and repeat
to her every word Benjamin had said. He told her all; only he forbore to
mention how sick and pale her darling looked. Why should he distress her
when she could do him no good?
The brave old woman still toiled on, hoping to rescue some of her other
children. After a while she succeeded in buying Phillip. She paid eight
hundred dollars, and came home with the precious document that secured his
freedom. The happy mother and son sat together by the old hearthstone that
night, telling how proud they were of each other, and how they would prove
to the world that they could take care of themselves, as they had long
taken care of others. We all concluded by saying, "He that is _willing_ to
be a slave, let him be a slave."
V. The Trials Of Girlhood.
During the first years of my service in Dr. Flint's family, I was
accustomed to share some indulgences with the children of my mistress.
Though this seemed to me no more than right, I was grateful for it, and
tried to merit the kindness by the faithful discharge of my duties. But I
now entered on my fifteenth year--a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl.
My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could
not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with
indifference or contempt. The master's age, my extreme youth, and the fear
that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear this
treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means
to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that
made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought
must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they
left me trembling. He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my
grandmother had instilled. He peopled my young mind with unclean images,
such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust
and hatred. But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same
roof with him--where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the
most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I was his property; that I
must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the
mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the
slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case,
there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from violence, or
even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of
men. The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other
feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage. The degradation, the
wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe.
They are greater than you would willingly believe. Surely, if you credited
one half the truths that are told you concerning the helpless millions
suffering in this cruel bondage, you at the north would not help to tighten
the yoke. You surely would refuse to do for the master, on your own soil,
the mean and cruel work which trained bloodhounds and the lowest class of
whites do for him at the south.
Every where the years bring to all enough of sin and sorrow; but in slavery
the very dawn of life is darkened by these shadows. Even the little child,
who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her children, will learn,
before she is twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such and
such a one among the slaves. Perhaps the child's own mother is among those
hated ones. She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot
help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing
in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master's
footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child.
If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That
which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation
of the female slave. I know that some are too much brutalized by slavery to
feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it most
acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I cannot tell how much I
suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the
retrospect. My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to
him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to
him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied
toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother's grave, his dark
shadow fell on me even there. The light heart which nature had given me
became heavy with sad forebodings. The other slaves in my master's house
noticed the change. Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the
cause. They had no need to inquire. They knew too well the guilty practices
under that roof; and they were aware that to speak of them was an offence
that never went unpunished.
I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to have
laid my head on my grandmother's faithful bosom, and told her all my
troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was not as silent as
the grave. Then, although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her
as well as loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with a
respect bordering upon awe. I was very young, and felt shamefaced about
telling her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very strict
on such subjects. Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She was
usually very quiet in her demeanor; but if her indignation was once
roused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told that she once
chased a white gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted one
of her daughters. I dreaded the consequences of a violent outbreak;
and both pride and fear kept me silent. But though I did not confide
in my grandmother, and even evaded her vigilant watchfulness and inquiry,
her presence in the neighborhood was some protection to me. Though she
had been a slave, Dr. Flint was afraid of her. He dreaded her scorching
rebukes. Moreover, she was known and patronized by many people; and he
did not wish to have his villany made public. It was lucky for me that
I did not live on a distant plantation, but in a town not so large that
the inhabitants were ignorant of each other's affairs. Bad as are the
laws and customs in a slaveholding community, the doctor, as a
professional man, deemed it prudent to keep up some outward show of
O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me! Reader, it
is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what
I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your
hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once
I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair white
child; the other was her slave, and also her sister. When I saw them
embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly away
from the lovely sight. I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall on
the little slave's heart. I knew how soon her laughter would be changed to
sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From childhood to
womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a sunny
sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on her
happy bridal morning.
How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her
childhood? She, also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of
love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery,
whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink.
In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the
north? Why do your tongues falter in maintenance of the right? Would that I
had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There are
noble men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who cannot
help themselves. God bless them! God give them strength and courage to go
on! God bless those, every where, who are laboring to advance the cause of
VI. The Jealous Mistress.
I would ten thousand times rather that my children should be the
half-starved paupers of Ireland than to be the most pampered among the
slaves of America. I would rather drudge out my life on a cotton
plantation, till the grave opened to give me rest, than to live with an
unprincipled master and a jealous mistress. The felon's home in a
penitentiary is preferable. He may repent, and turn from the error of his
ways, and so find peace; but it is not so with a favorite slave. She is not
allowed to have any pride of character. It is deemed a crime in her to wish
to be virtuous.
Mrs. Flint possessed the key to her husband's character before I was born.
She might have used this knowledge to counsel and to screen the young and
the innocent among her slaves; but for them she had no sympathy. They were
the objects of her constant suspicion and malevolence. She watched her
husband with unceasing vigilance; but he was well practised in means to
evade it. What he could not find opportunity to say in words he manifested
in signs. He invented more than were ever thought of in a deaf and dumb
asylum. I let them pass, as if I did not understand what he meant; and many
were the curses and threats bestowed on me for my stupidity. One day he
caught me teaching myself to write. He frowned, as if he was not well
pleased; but I suppose he came to the conclusion that such an
accomplishment might help to advance his favorite scheme. Before long,
notes were often slipped into my hand. I would return them, saying, "I
can't read them, sir." "Can't you?" he replied; "then I must read them to
you." He always finished the reading by asking, "Do you understand?"
Sometimes he would complain of the heat of the tea room, and order his
supper to be placed on a small table in the piazza. He would seat himself
there with a well-satisfied smile, and tell me to stand by and brush away
the flies. He would eat very slowly, pausing between the mouthfuls. These
intervals were employed in describing the happiness I was so foolishly
throwing away, and in threatening me with the penalty that finally awaited
my stubborn disobedience. He boasted much of the forbearance he had
exercised towards me, and reminded me that there was a limit to his
patience. When I succeeded in avoiding opportunities for him to talk to me
at home, I was ordered to come to his office, to do some errand. When
there, I was obliged to stand and listen to such language as he saw fit to
address to me. Sometimes I so openly expressed my contempt for him that he
would become violently enraged, and I wondered why he did not strike me.
Circumstanced as he was, he probably thought it was better policy to be
forebearing. But the state of things grew worse and worse daily. In
desperation I told him that I must and would apply to my grandmother for
protection. He threatened me with death, and worse than death, if I made
any complaint to her. Strange to say, I did not despair. I was naturally of
a buoyant disposition, and always I had a hope of somehow getting out of
his clutches. Like many a poor, simple slave before me, I trusted that some
threads of joy would yet be woven into my dark destiny.
I had entered my sixteenth year, and every day it became more apparent that
my presence was intolerable to Mrs. Flint. Angry words frequently passed
between her and her husband. He had never punished me himself, and he would
not allow any body else to punish me. In that respect, she was never
satisfied; but, in her angry moods, no terms were too vile for her to
bestow upon me. Yet I, whom she detested so bitterly, had far more pity for
her than he had, whose duty it was to make her life happy. I never wronged
her, or wished to wrong her, and one word of kindness from her would have
brought me to her feet.
After repeated quarrels between the doctor and his wife, he announced his
intention to take his youngest daughter, then four years old, to sleep in
his apartment. It was necessary that a servant should sleep in the same
room, to be on hand if the child stirred. I was selected for that office,
and informed for what purpose that arrangement had been made. By managing
to keep within sight of people, as much as possible, during the day time, I
had hitherto succeeded in eluding my master, though a razor was often held
to my throat to force me to change this line of policy. At night I slept by
the side of my great aunt, where I felt safe. He was too prudent to come
into her room. She was an old woman, and had been in the family many years.
Moreover, as a married man, and a professional man, he deemed it necessary
to save appearances in some degree. But he resolved to remove the obstacle
in the way of his scheme; and he thought he had planned it so that he
should evade suspicion. He was well aware how much I prized my refuge by
the side of my old aunt, and he determined to dispossess me of it. The
first night the doctor had the little child in his room alone. The next
morning, I was ordered to take my station as nurse the following night. A
kind Providence interposed in my favor. During the day Mrs. Flint heard of
this new arrangement, and a storm followed. I rejoiced to hear it rage.
After a while my mistress sent for me to come to her room. Her first
question was, "Did you know you were to sleep in the doctor's room?"
"Who told you?"
"Will you answer truly all the questions I ask?"
"Tell me, then, as you hope to be forgiven, are you innocent of what I have
She handed me a Bible, and said, "Lay your hand on your heart, kiss this
holy book, and swear before God that you tell me the truth."
I took the oath she required, and I did it with a clear conscience.
"You have taken God's holy word to testify your innocence," said she. "If
you have deceived me, beware! Now take this stool, sit down, look me
directly in the face, and tell me all that has passed between your master
I did as she ordered. As I went on with my account her color changed
frequently, she wept, and sometimes groaned. She spoke in tones so sad,
that I was touched by her grief. The tears came to my eyes; but I was soon
convinced that her emotions arose from anger and wounded pride. She felt
that her marriage vows were desecrated, her dignity insulted; but she had
no compassion for the poor victim of her husband's perfidy. She pitied
herself as a martyr; but she was incapable of feeling for the condition of
shame and misery in which her unfortunate, helpless slave was placed. Yet
perhaps she had some touch of feeling for me; for when the conference was
ended, she spoke kindly, and promised to protect me. I should have been
much comforted by this assurance if I could have had confidence in it; but
my experiences in slavery had filled me with distrust. She was not a very
refined woman, and had not much control over her passions. I was an object
of her jealousy, and, consequently, of her hatred; and I knew I could not
expect kindness or confidence from her under the circumstances in which I
was placed. I could not blame her. Slaveholders' wives feel as other women
would under similar circumstances. The fire of her temper kindled from
small-sparks, and now the flame became so intense that the doctor was
obliged to give up his intended arrangement.
I knew I had ignited the torch, and I expected to suffer for it afterwards;
but I felt too thankful to my mistress for the timely aid she rendered me
to care much about that. She now took me to sleep in a room adjoining her
own. There I was an object of her especial care, though not to her especial
comfort, for she spent many a sleepless night to watch over me. Sometimes I
woke up, and found her bending over me. At other times she whispered in my
ear, as though it was her husband who was speaking to me, and listened to
hear what I would answer. If she startled me, on such occasions, she would
glide stealthily away; and the next morning she would tell me I had been
talking in my sleep, and ask who I was talking to. At last, I began to be
fearful for my life. It had been often threatened; and you can imagine,
better than I can describe, what an unpleasant sensation it must produce to
wake up in the dead of night and find a jealous woman bending over you.
Terrible as this experience was, I had fears that it would give place to
one more terrible.
My mistress grew weary of her vigils; they did not prove satisfactory. She
changed her tactics. She now tried the trick of accusing my master of
crime, in my presence, and gave my name as the author of the accusation. To
my utter astonishment, he replied, "I don't believe it; but if she did
acknowledge it, you tortured her into exposing me." Tortured into exposing
him! Truly, Satan had no difficulty in distinguishing the color of his
soul! I understood his object in making this false representation. It was
to show me that I gained nothing by seeking the protection of my mistress;
that the power was still all in his own hands. I pitied Mrs. Flint. She was
a second wife, many years the junior of her husband; and the hoary-headed
miscreant was enough to try the patience of a wiser and better woman. She
was completely foiled, and knew not how to proceed. She would gladly have
had me flogged for my supposed false oath; but, as I have already stated,
the doctor never allowed any one to whip me. The old sinner was politic.
The application of the lash might have led to remarks that would have
exposed him in the eyes of his children and grandchildren. How often did I
rejoice that I lived in a town where all the inhabitants knew each other!
If I had been on a remote plantation, or lost among the multitude of a
crowded city, I should not be a living woman at this day.
The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My
master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the
mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other
slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No,
indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences.
My grandmother could not avoid seeing things which excited her suspicions.
She was uneasy about me, and tried various ways to buy me; but the
never-changing answer was always repeated: "Linda does not belong to _me_.
She is my daughter's property, and I have no legal right to sell her." The
conscientious man! He was too scrupulous to _sell_ me; but he had no
scruples whatever about committing a much greater wrong against the
helpless young girl placed under his guardianship, as his daughter's
property. Sometimes my persecutor would ask me whether I would like to be
sold. I told him I would rather be sold to any body than to lead such a
life as I did. On such occasions he would assume the air of a very injured
individual, and reproach me for my ingratitude. "Did I not take you into
the house, and make you the companion of my own children?" he would say.
"Have _I_ ever treated you like a negro? I have never allowed you to be
punished, not even to please your mistress. And this is the recompense I
get, you ungrateful girl!" I answered that he had reasons of his own for
screening me from punishment, and that the course he pursued made my
mistress hate me and persecute me. If I wept, he would say, "Poor child!
Don't cry! don't cry! I will make peace for you with your mistress. Only
let me arrange matters in my own way. Poor, foolish girl! you don't know
what is for your own good. I would cherish you. I would make a lady of you.
Now go, and think of all I have promised you."
I did think of it.
Reader, I draw no imaginary pictures of southern homes. I am telling you
the plain truth. Yet when victims make their escape from the wild beast of
Slavery, northerners consent to act the part of bloodhounds, and hunt the
poor fugitive back into his den, "full of dead men's bones, and all
uncleanness." Nay, more, they are not only willing, but proud, to give
their daughters in marriage to slaveholders. The poor girls have romantic
notions of a sunny clime, and of the flowering vines that all the year
round shade a happy home. To what disappointments are they destined! The
young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her
happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of
complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they
are born unto him of his own household. Jealousy and hatred enter the
flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness.
Southern women often marry a man knowing that he is the father of many
little slaves. They do not trouble themselves about it. They regard such
children as property, as marketable as the pigs on the plantation; and it
is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them into the
slave-trader's hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out of
their sight. I am glad to say there are some honorable exceptions.
I have myself known two southern wives who exhorted their husbands to free
those slaves towards whom they stood in a "parental relation;" and their
request was granted. These husbands blushed before the superior nobleness
of their wives' natures. Though they had only counselled them to do that
which it was their duty to do, it commanded their respect, and rendered
their conduct more exemplary. Concealment was at an end, and confidence
took the place of distrust.
Though this bad institution deadens the moral sense, even in white women,
to a fearful extent, it is not altogether extinct. I have heard southern
ladies say of Mr. Such a one, "He not only thinks it no disgrace to be the
father of those little niggers, but he is not ashamed to call himself their
master. I declare, such things ought not to be tolerated in any decent
VII. The Lover.
Why does the slave ever love? Why allow the tendrils of the heart to twine
around objects which may at any moment be wrenched away by the hand of
violence? When separations come by the hand of death, the pious soul can
bow in resignation, and say, "Not my will, but thine be done, O Lord!" But
when the ruthless hand of man strikes the blow, regardless of the misery he
causes, it is hard to be submissive. I did not reason thus when I was a
young girl. Youth will be youth. I loved and I indulged the hope that the
dark clouds around me would turn out a bright lining. I forgot that in the
land of my birth the shadows are too dense for light to penetrate. A land
Where laughter is not mirth; nor thought the mind;
Nor words a language; nor e'en men mankind.
Where cries reply to curses, shrieks to blows,
And each is tortured in his separate hell.
There was in the neighborhood a young colored carpenter; a free born man.
We had been well acquainted in childhood, and frequently met together
afterwards. We became mutually attached, and he proposed to marry me. I
loved him with all the ardor of a young girl's first love. But when I
reflected that I was a slave, and that the laws gave no sanction to the
marriage of such, my heart sank within me. My lover wanted to buy me; but I
knew that Dr. Flint was too willful and arbitrary a man to consent to that
arrangement. From him, I was sure of experiencing all sort of opposition,
and I had nothing to hope from my mistress. She would have been delighted
to have got rid of me, but not in that way. It would have relieved her mind
of a burden if she could have seen me sold to some distant state, but if I
was married near home I should be just as much in her husband's power as I
had previously been,--for the husband of a slave has no power to protect
her. Moreover, my mistress, like many others, seemed to think that slaves
had no right to any family ties of their own; that they were created merely
to wait upon the family of the mistress. I once heard her abuse a young
slave girl, who told her that a colored man wanted to make her his wife. "I
will have you peeled and pickled, my lady," said she, "if I ever hear you
mention that subject again. Do you suppose that I will have you tending
_my_ children with the children of that nigger?" The girl to whom she said
this had a mulatto child, of course not acknowledged by its father. The
poor black man who loved her would have been proud to acknowledge his
Many and anxious were the thoughts I revolved in my mind. I was at a loss
what to do. Above all things, I was desirous to spare my lover the insults
that had cut so deeply into my own soul. I talked with my grandmother about
it, and partly told her my fears. I did not dare to tell her the worst. She
had long suspected all was not right, and if I confirmed her suspicions I
knew a storm would rise that would prove the overthrow of all my hopes.
This love-dream had been my support through many trials; and I could not
bear to run the risk of having it suddenly dissipated. There was a lady in
the neighborhood, a particular friend of Dr. Flint's, who often visited the
house. I had a great respect for her, and she had always manifested a
friendly interest in me. Grandmother thought she would have great influence
with the doctor. I went to this lady, and told her my story. I told her I
was aware that my lover's being a free-born man would prove a great
objection; but he wanted to buy me; and if Dr. Flint would consent to that
arrangement, I felt sure he would be willing to pay any reasonable price.
She knew that Mrs. Flint disliked me; therefore, I ventured to suggest that
perhaps my mistress would approve of my being sold, as that would rid her
of me. The lady listened with kindly sympathy, and promised to do her
utmost to promote my wishes. She had an interview with the doctor, and I
believe she pleaded my cause earnestly; but it was all to no purpose.
How I dreaded my master now! Every minute I expected to be summoned to his
presence; but the day passed, and I heard nothing from him. The next
morning, a message was brought to me: "Master wants you in his study." I
found the door ajar, and I stood a moment gazing at the hateful man who
claimed a right to rule me, body and soul. I entered, and tried to appear
calm. I did not want him to know how my heart was bleeding. He looked
fixedly at me, with an expression which seemed to say, "I have half a mind
to kill you on the spot." At last he broke the silence, and that was a
relief to both of us.
"So you want to be married, do you?" said he, "and to a free nigger."
"Well, I'll soon convince you whether I am your master, or the nigger
fellow you honor so highly. If you _must_ have a husband, you may take up
with one of my slaves."
What a situation I should be in, as the wife of one of _his_ slaves, even
if my heart had been interested!
I replied, "Don't you suppose, sir, that a slave can have some preference
about marrying? Do you suppose that all men are alike to her?"
"Do you love this nigger?" said he, abruptly.
"How dare you tell me so!" he exclaimed, in great wrath. After a slight
pause, he added, "I supposed you thought more of yourself; that you felt
above the insults of such puppies."
I replied, "If he is a puppy, I am a puppy, for we are both of the negro
race. It is right and honorable for us to love each other. The man you call
a puppy never insulted me, sir; and he would not love me if he did not
believe me to be a virtuous woman."
He sprang upon me like a tiger, and gave me a stunning blow. It was the
first time he had ever struck me; and fear did not enable me to control my
anger. When I had recovered a little from the effects, I exclaimed, "You
have struck me for answering you honestly. How I despise you!"
There was silence for some minutes. Perhaps he was deciding what should be
my punishment; or, perhaps, he wanted to give me time to reflect on what I
had said, and to whom I had said it. Finally, he asked, "Do you know what
you have said?"
"Yes, sir; but your treatment drove me to it."
"Do you know that I have a right to do as I like with you,--that I can kill
you, if I please?"
"You have tried to kill me, and I wish you had; but you have no right to do
as you like with me."
"Silence!" he exclaimed, in a thundering voice. "By heavens, girl, you
forget yourself too far! Are you mad? If you are, I will soon bring you to
your senses. Do you think any other master would bear what I have borne
from you this morning? Many masters would have killed you on the spot. How
would you like to be sent to jail for your insolence?"
"I know I have been disrespectful, sir," I replied; "but you drove me to
it; I couldn't help it. As for the jail, there would be more peace for me
there than there is here."
"You deserve to go there," said he, "and to be under such treatment, that
you would forget the meaning of the word _peace_. It would do you good. It
would take some of your high notions out of you. But I am not ready to send
you there yet, notwithstanding your ingratitude for all my kindness and
forbearance. You have been the plague of my life. I have wanted to make you
happy, and I have been repaid with the basest ingratitude; but though you
have proved yourself incapable of appreciating my kindness, I will be
lenient towards you, Linda. I will give you one more chance to redeem your
character. If you behave yourself and do as I require, I will forgive you
and treat you as I always have done; but if you disobey me, I will punish
you as I would the meanest slave on my plantation. Never let me hear that
fellow's name mentioned again. If I ever know of your speaking to him, I
will cowhide you both; and if I catch him lurking about my premises, I will
shoot him as soon as I would a dog. Do you hear what I say? I'll teach you
a lesson about marriage and free niggers! Now go, and let this be the last
time I have occasion to speak to you on this subject."
Reader, did you ever hate? I hope not. I never did but once; and I trust I
never shall again. Somebody has called it "the atmosphere of hell;" and I
believe it is so.
For a fortnight the doctor did not speak to me. He thought to mortify me;
to make me feel that I had disgraced myself by receiving the honorable
addresses of a respectable colored man, in preference to the base proposals
of a white man. But though his lips disdained to address me, his eyes were
very loquacious. No animal ever watched its prey more narrowly than he
watched me. He knew that I could write, though he had failed to make me
read his letters; and he was now troubled lest I should exchange letters
with another man. After a while he became weary of silence; and I was sorry
for it. One morning, as he passed through the hall, to leave the house, he
contrived to thrust a note into my hand. I thought I had better read it,
and spare myself the vexation of having him read it to me. It expressed
regret for the blow he had given me, and reminded me that I myself was
wholly to blame for it. He hoped I had become convinced of the injury I was
doing myself by incurring his displeasure. He wrote that he had made up his
mind to go to Louisiana; that he should take several slaves with him, and
intended I should be one of the number. My mistress would remain where she
was; therefore I should have nothing to fear from that quarter. If I
merited kindness from him, he assured me that it would be lavishly
bestowed. He begged me to think over the matter, and answer the following
The next morning I was called to carry a pair of scissors to his room. I
laid them on the table, with the letter beside them. He thought it was my
answer, and did not call me back. I went as usual to attend my young
mistress to and from school. He met me in the street, and ordered me to
stop at his office on my way back. When I entered, he showed me his letter,
and asked me why I had not answered it. I replied, "I am your daughter's
property, and it is in your power to send me, or take me, wherever you
please." He said he was very glad to find me so willing to go, and that we
should start early in the autumn. He had a large practice in the town, and
I rather thought he had made up the story merely to frighten me. However
that might be, I was determined that I would never go to Louisiana with
Summer passed away, and early in the autumn Dr. Flint's eldest son was sent
to Louisiana to examine the country, with a view to emigrating. That news
did not disturb me. I knew very well that I should not be sent with _him_.
That I had not been taken to the plantation before this time, was owing to
the fact that his son was there. He was jealous of his son; and jealousy of
the overseer had kept him from punishing me by sending me into the fields
to work. Is it strange, that I was not proud of these protectors? As for
the overseer, he was a man for whom I had less respect than I had for a
Young Mr. Flint did not bring back a favorable report of Louisiana, and I
heard no more of that scheme. Soon after this, my lover met me at the
corner of the street, and I stopped to speak to him. Looking up, I saw my
master watching us from his window. I hurried home, trembling with fear. I
was sent for, immediately, to go to his room. He met me with a blow. "When
is mistress to be married?" said he, in a sneering tone. A shower of oaths
and imprecations followed. How thankful I was that my lover was a free man!
that my tyrant had no power to flog him for speaking to me in the street!
Again and again I revolved in my mind how all this would end. There was no
hope that the doctor would consent to sell me on any terms. He had an iron
will, and was determined to keep me, and to conquer me. My lover was an
intelligent and religious man. Even if he could have obtained permission to
marry me while I was a slave, the marriage would give him no power to
protect me from my master. It would have made him miserable to witness the
insults I should have been subjected to. And then, if we had children, I
knew they must "follow the condition of the mother." What a terrible blight
that would be on the heart of a free, intelligent father! For _his_ sake, I
felt that I ought not to link his fate with my own unhappy destiny. He was
going to Savannah to see about a little property left him by an uncle; and
hard as it was to bring my feelings to it, I earnestly entreated him not to
come back. I advised him to go to the Free States, where his tongue would
not be tied, and where his intelligence would be of more avail to him. He
left me, still hoping the day would come when I could be bought. With me
the lamp of hope had gone out. The dream of my girlhood was over. I felt
lonely and desolate.
Still I was not stripped of all. I still had my good grandmother, and my
affectionate brother. When he put his arms round my neck, and looked into
my eyes, as if to read there the troubles I dared not tell, I felt that I
still had something to love. But even that pleasant emotion was chilled by
the reflection that he might be torn from me at any moment, by some sudden
freak of my master. If he had known how we loved each other, I think he
would have exulted in separating us. We often planned together how we could
get to the north. But, as William remarked, such things are easier said
than done. My movements were very closely watched, and we had no means of
getting any money to defray our expenses. As for grandmother, she was
strongly opposed to her children's undertaking any such project. She had
not forgotten poor Benjamin's sufferings, and she was afraid that if
another child tried to escape, he would have a similar or a worse fate. To
me, nothing seemed more dreadful than my present life. I said to myself,
"William _must_ be free. He shall go to the north, and I will follow him."
Many a slave sister has formed the same plans.
VIII. What Slaves Are Taught To Think Of The North.
Slaveholders pride themselves upon being honorable men; but if you were to
hear the enormous lies they tell their slaves, you would have small respect
for their veracity. I have spoken plain English. Pardon me. I cannot use a
milder term. When they visit the north, and return home, they tell their
slaves of the runaways they have seen, and describe them to be in the most
deplorable condition. A slaveholder once told me that he had seen a runaway
friend of mine in New York, and that she besought him to take her back to
her master, for she was literally dying of starvation; that many days she
had only one cold potato to eat, and at other times could get nothing at
all. He said he refused to take her, because he knew her master would not
thank him for bringing such a miserable wretch to his house. He ended by
saying to me, "This is the punishment she brought on herself for running
away from a kind master."
This whole story was false. I afterwards staid with that friend in New
York, and found her in comfortable circumstances. She had never thought of
such a thing as wishing to go back to slavery. Many of the slaves believe
such stories, and think it is not worth while to exchange slavery for such
a hard kind of freedom. It is difficult to persuade such that freedom could
make them useful men, and enable them to protect their wives and children.
If those heathen in our Christian land had as much teaching as some
Hindoos, they would think otherwise. They would know that liberty is more
valuable than life. They would begin to understand their own capabilities,
and exert themselves to become men and women.
But while the Free States sustain a law which hurls fugitives back into
slavery, how can the slaves resolve to become men? There are some who
strive to protect wives and daughters from the insults of their masters;
but those who have such sentiments have had advantages above the general
mass of slaves. They have been partially civilized and Christianized by
favorable circumstances. Some are bold enough to _utter_ such sentiments to
their masters. O, that there were more of them!
Some poor creatures have been so brutalized by the lash that they will
sneak out of the way to give their masters free access to their wives and
daughters. Do you think this proves the black man to belong to an inferior
order of beings? What would _you_ be, if you had been born and brought up a
slave, with generations of slaves for ancestors? I admit that the black man
_is_ inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in
which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes
manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South, and the
scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the north, who enforce the
Fugitive Slave Law. _They_ do the work.
Southern gentlemen indulge in the most contemptuous expressions about the
Yankees, while they, on their part, consent to do the vilest work for them,
such as the ferocious bloodhounds and the despised negro-hunters are
employed to do at home. When southerners go to the north, they are proud to
do them honor; but the northern man is not welcome south of Mason and
Dixon's line, unless he suppresses every thought and feeling at variance
with their "peculiar institution." Nor is it enough to be silent. The
masters are not pleased, unless they obtain a greater degree of
subservience than that; and they are generally accommodated. Do they
respect the northerner for this? I trow not. Even the slaves despise "a
northern man with southern principles;" and that is the class they
generally see. When northerners go to the south to reside, they prove very
apt scholars. They soon imbibe the sentiments and disposition of their
neighbors, and generally go beyond their teachers. Of the two, they are
proverbially the hardest masters.
They seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God created
the Africans to be slaves. What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who "made
of one blood all nations of men!" And then who _are_ Africans? Who can
measure the amount of Anglo-Saxon blood coursing in the veins of American
I have spoken of the pains slaveholders take to give their slaves a bad
opinion of the north; but, notwithstanding this, intelligent slaves are
aware that they have many friends in the Free States. Even the most
ignorant have some confused notions about it. They knew that I could read;
and I was often asked if I had seen any thing in the newspapers about white
folks over in the big north, who were trying to get their freedom for them.
Some believe that the abolitionists have already made them free, and that
it is established by law, but that their masters prevent the law from going
into effect. One woman begged me to get a newspaper and read it over. She
said her husband told her that the black people had sent word to the queen
of 'Merica that they were all slaves; that she didn't believe it, and went
to Washington city to see the president about it. They quarrelled; she drew
her sword upon him, and swore that he should help her to make them all
That poor, ignorant woman thought that America was governed by a Queen, to
whom the President was subordinate. I wish the President was subordinate to
IX. Sketches Of Neighboring Slaveholders.
There was a planter in the country, not far from us, whom I will call Mr.
Litch. He was an ill-bred, uneducated man, but very wealthy. He had six
hundred slaves, many of whom he did not know by sight. His extensive
plantation was managed by well-paid overseers. There was a jail and a
whipping post on his grounds; and whatever cruelties were perpetrated
there, they passed without comment. He was so effectually screened by his
great wealth that he was called to no account for his crimes, not even for
Various were the punishments resorted to. A favorite one was to tie a rope
round a man's body, and suspend him from the ground. A fire was kindled
over him, from which was suspended a piece of fat pork. As this cooked, the
scalding drops of fat continually fell on the bare flesh. On his own
plantation, he required very strict obedience to the eighth commandment.
But depredations on the neighbors were allowable, provided the culprit
managed to evade detection or suspicion. If a neighbor brought a charge of
theft against any of his slaves, he was browbeaten by the master, who
assured him that his slaves had enough of every thing at home, and had no
inducement to steal. No sooner was the neighbor's back turned, than the
accused was sought out, and whipped for his lack of discretion. If a slave
stole from him even a pound of meat or a peck of corn, if detection
followed, he was put in chains and imprisoned, and so kept till his form
was attentuated by hunger and suffering.
A freshnet once bore his wine cellar and meat house miles away from the
plantation. Some slaves followed, and secured bits of meat and bottles of
wine. Two were detected; a ham and some liquor being found in their huts.
They were summoned by their master. No words were used, but a club felled
them to the ground. A rough box was their coffin, and their interment was a
dog's burial. Nothing was said.
Murder was so common on his plantation that he feared to be alone after
nightfall. He might have believed in ghosts.
His brother, if not equal in wealth, was at least equal in cruelty. His
bloodhounds were well trained. Their pen was spacious, and a terror to the
slaves. They were let loose on a runway, and, if they tracked him, they
literally tore the flesh from his bones. When this slaveholder died, his
shrieks and groans were so frightful that they appalled his own friends.
His last words were, "I am going to hell; bury my money with me."
After death his eyes remained open. To press the lids down, silver dollars
were laid on them. These were buried with him. From this circumstance, a
rumor went abroad that his coffin was filled with money. Three times his
grave was opened, and his coffin taken out. The last time, his body was
found on the ground, and a flock of buzzards were pecking at it. He was
again interred, and a sentinel set over his grave. The perpetrators were
Cruelty is contagious in uncivilized communities. Mr. Conant, a neighbor of
Mr. Litch, returned from town one evening in a partial state of
intoxication. His body servant gave him some offence. He was divested of
his clothes, except his shirt, whipped, and tied to a large tree in front
of the house. It was a stormy night in winter. The wind blew bitterly cold,
and the boughs of the old tree crackled under falling sleet. A member of
the family, fearing he would freeze to death, begged that he might be taken
down; but the master would not relent. He remained there three hours; and,
when he was cut down, he was more dead than alive. Another slave, who stole
a pig from this master, to appease his hunger, was terribly flogged. In
desperation, he tried to run away. But at the end of two miles, he was so
faint with loss of blood, he thought he was dying. He had a wife, and he
longed to see her once more. Too sick to walk, he crept back that long
distance on his hands and knees. When he reached his master's, it was
night. He had not strength to rise and open the gate. He moaned, and tried
to call for help. I had a friend living in the same family. At last his cry
reached her. She went out and found the prostrate man at the gate. She ran
back to the house for assistance, and two men returned with her. They
carried him in, and laid him on the floor. The back of his shirt was one
clot of blood. By means of lard, my friend loosened it from the raw flesh.
She bandaged him, gave him cool drink, and left him to rest. The master
said he deserved a hundred more lashes. When his own labor was stolen from
him, he had stolen food to appease his hunger. This was his crime.
Another neighbor was a Mrs. Wade. At no hour of the day was there cessation
of the lash on her premises. Her labors began with the dawn, and did not
cease till long after nightfall. The barn was her particular place of
torture. There she lashed the slaves with the might of a man. An old slave
of hers once said to me, "It is hell in missis's house. 'Pears I can never
get out. Day and night I prays to die."
The mistress died before the old woman, and, when dying, entreated her
husband not to permit any one of her slaves to look on her after death. A
slave who had nursed her children, and had still a child in her care,
watched her chance, and stole with it in her arms to the room where lay her
dead mistress. She gazed a while on her, then raised her hand and dealt two
blows on her face, saying, as she did so, "The devil is got you _now_!" She
forgot that the child was looking on. She had just begun to talk; and she
said to her father, "I did see ma, and mammy did strike ma, so," striking
her own face with her little hand. The master was startled. He could not
imagine how the nurse could obtain access to the room where the corpse lay;
for he kept the door locked. He questioned her. She confessed that what the
child had said was true, and told how she had procured the key. She was
sold to Georgia.
In my childhood I knew a valuable slave, named Charity, and loved her, as
all children did. Her young mistress married, and took her to Louisiana.
Her little boy, James, was sold to a good sort of master. He became
involved in debt, and James was sold again to a wealthy slaveholder, noted
for his cruelty. With this man he grew up to manhood, receiving the
treatment of a dog. After a severe whipping, to save himself from further
infliction of the lash, with which he was threatened, he took to the woods.
He was in a most miserable condition--cut by the cowskin, half naked, half
starved, and without the means of procuring a crust of bread.
Some weeks after his escape, he was captured, tied, and carried back to his
master's plantation. This man considered punishment in his jail, on bread
and water, after receiving hundreds of lashes, too mild for the poor
slave's offence. Therefore he decided, after the overseer should have
whipped him to his satisfaction, to have him placed between the screws of
the cotton gin, to stay as long as he had been in the woods. This wretched
creature was cut with the whip from his head to his feet, then washed with
strong brine, to prevent the flesh from mortifying, and make it heal sooner
than it otherwise would. He was then put into the cotton gin, which was
screwed down, only allowing him room to turn on his side when he could not
lie on his back. Every morning a slave was sent with a piece of bread and
bowl of water, which was placed within reach of the poor fellow. The slave
was charged, under penalty of severe punishment, not to speak to him.
Four days passed, and the slave continued to carry the bread and water. On
the second morning, he found the bread gone, but the water untouched. When
he had been in the press four days and five night, the slave informed his
master that the water had not been used for four mornings, and that
horrible stench came from the gin house. The overseer was sent to examine
into it. When the press was unscrewed, the dead body was found partly eaten
by rats and vermin. Perhaps the rats that devoured his bread had gnawed him
before life was extinct. Poor Charity! Grandmother and I often asked each
other how her affectionate heart would bear the news, if she should ever
hear of the murder of her son. We had known her husband, and knew that
James was like him in manliness and intelligence. These were the qualities
that made it so hard for him to be a plantation slave. They put him into a
rough box, and buried him with less feeling than would have been manifested
for an old house dog. Nobody asked any questions. He was a slave; and the
feeling was that the master had a right to do what he pleased with his own
property. And what did _he_ care for the value of a slave? He had hundreds
of them. When they had finished their daily toil, they must hurry to eat
their little morsels, and be ready to extinguish their pine knots before
nine o'clock, when the overseer went his patrol rounds. He entered every
cabin, to see that men and their wives had gone to bed together, lest the
men, from over-fatigue, should fall asleep in the chimney corner, and
remain there till the morning horn called them to their daily task. Women
are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owner's
stock. They are put on a par with animals. This same master shot a woman
through the head, who had run away and been brought back to him. No one
called him to account for it. If a slave resisted being whipped, the
bloodhounds were unpacked, and set upon him, to tear his flesh from his
bones. The master who did these things was highly educated, and styled a
perfect gentleman. He also boasted the name and standing of a Christian,
though Satan never had a truer follower.
I could tell of more slaveholders as cruel as those I have described. They
are not exceptions to the general rule. I do not say there are no humane
slaveholders. Such characters do exist, notwithstanding the hardening
influences around them. But they are "like angels' visits--few and far
I knew a young lady who was one of these rare specimens. She was an orphan,
and inherited as slaves a woman and her six children. Their father was a
free man. They had a comfortable home of their own, parents and children
living together. The mother and eldest daughter served their mistress
during the day, and at night returned to their dwelling, which was on the
premises. The young lady was very pious, and there was some reality in her
religion. She taught her slaves to lead pure lives, and wished them to
enjoy the fruit of their own industry. _Her_ religion was not a garb put on
for Sunday, and laid aside till Sunday returned again. The eldest daughter
of the slave mother was promised in marriage to a free man; and the day
before the wedding this good mistress emancipated her, in order that her
marriage might have the sanction of _law_.
Report said that this young lady cherished an unrequited affection for a
man who had resolved to marry for wealth. In the course of time a rich
uncle of hers died. He left six thousand dollars to his two sons by a
colored woman, and the remainder of his property to this orphan niece. The
metal soon attracted the magnet. The lady and her weighty purse became his.
She offered to manumit her slaves--telling them that her marriage might
make unexpected changes in their destiny, and she wished to insure their
happiness. They refused to take their freedom, saying that she had always
been their best friend, and they could not be so happy any where as with
her. I was not surprised. I had often seen them in their comfortable home,
and thought that the whole town did not contain a happier family. They had
never felt slavery; and, when it was too late, they were convinced of its
When the new master claimed this family as his property, the father became
furious, and went to his mistress for protection. "I can do nothing for you
now, Harry," said she. "I no longer have the power I had a week ago. I have
succeeded in obtaining the freedom of your wife; but I cannot obtain it for
your children." The unhappy father swore that nobody should take his
children from him. He concealed them in the woods for some days; but they
were discovered and taken. The father was put in jail, and the two oldest
boys sold to Georgia. One little girl, too young to be of service to her
master, was left with the wretched mother. The other three were carried to
their master's plantation. The eldest soon became a mother; and when the
slaveholder's wife looked at the babe, she wept bitterly. She knew that her
own husband had violated the purity she had so carefully inculcated. She
had a second child by her master, and then he sold her and his offspring to
his brother. She bore two children to the brother and was sold again. The
next sister went crazy. The life she was compelled to lead drove her mad.
The third one became the mother of five daughters. Before the birth of the
fourth the pious mistress died. To the last, she rendered every kindness to
the slaves that her unfortunate circumstances permitted. She passed away
peacefully, glad to close her eyes on a life which had been made so
wretched by the man she loved.
This man squandered the fortune he had received, and sought to retrieve his
affairs by a second marriage; but, having retired after a night of drunken
debauch, he was found dead in the morning. He was called a good master; for
he fed and clothed his slaves better than most masters, and the lash was
not heard on his plantation so frequently as on many others. Had it not
been for slavery, he would have been a better man, and his wife a happier
No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption
produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere of
licentiousness and fear. The lash and the foul talk of her master and his
sons are her teachers. When she is fourteen or fifteen, her owner, or his
sons, or the overseer, or perhaps all of them, begin to bribe her with
presents. If these fail to accomplish their purpose, she is whipped or
starved into submission to their will. She may have had religious
principles inculcated by some pious mother or grandmother, or some good
mistress; she may have a lover, whose good opinion and peace of mind are
dear to her heart; or the profligate men who have power over her may be
exceedingly odious to her. But resistance is hopeless.
The poor worm
Shall prove her contest vain. Life's little day
Shall pass, and she is gone!
The slaveholder's sons are, of course, vitiated, even while boys, by the
unclean influences every where around them. Nor do the master's daughters
always escape. Severe retributions sometimes come upon him for the wrongs
he does to the daughters of the slaves. The white daughters early hear
their parents quarrelling about some female slave. Their curiosity is
excited, and they soon learn the cause. They are attended by the young
slave girls whom their father has corrupted; and they hear such talk as
should never meet youthful ears, or any other ears. They know that the
woman slaves are subject to their father's authority in all things; and in
some cases they exercise the same authority over the men slaves. I have
myself seen the master of such a household whose head was bowed down in
shame; for it was known in the neighborhood that his daughter had selected
one of the meanest slaves on his plantation to be the father of his first
grandchild. She did not make her advances to her equals, nor even to her
father's more intelligent servants. She selected the most brutalized, over
whom her authority could be exercised with less fear of exposure. Her
father, half frantic with rage, sought to revenge himself on the offending
black man; but his daughter, foreseeing the storm that would arise, had
given him free papers, and sent him out of the state.
In such cases the infant is smothered, or sent where it is never seen by
any who know its history. But if the white parent is the _father_, instead
of the mother, the offspring are unblushingly reared for the market. If