Part 2 out of 4
they are girls, I have indicated plainly enough what will be their
You may believe what I say; for I write only that whereof I know. I was
twenty-one years in that cage of obscene birds. I can testify, from my own
experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well
as to the blacks. It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons
violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives
wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to
describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation.
Yet few slaveholders seem to be aware of the widespread moral ruin
occasioned by this wicked system. Their talk is of blighted cotton
crops--not of the blight on their children's souls.
If you want to be fully convinced of the abominations of slavery, go on a
southern plantation, and call yourself a negro trader. Then there will be
no concealment; and you will see and hear things that will seem to you
impossible among human beings with immortal souls.
X. A Perilous Passage In The Slave Girl's Life.
After my lover went away, Dr. Flint contrived a new plan. He seemed to have
an idea that my fear of my mistress was his greatest obstacle. In the
blandest tones, he told me that he was going to build a small house for me,
in a secluded place, four miles away from the town. I shuddered; but I was
constrained to listen, while he talked of his intention to give me a home
of my own, and to make a lady of me. Hitherto, I had escaped my dreaded
fate, by being in the midst of people. My grandmother had already had high
words with my master about me. She had told him pretty plainly what she
thought of his character, and there was considerable gossip in the
neighborhood about our affairs, to which the open-mouthed jealousy of Mrs.
Flint contributed not a little. When my master said he was going to build a
house for me, and that he could do it with little trouble and expense, I
was in hopes something would happen to frustrate his scheme; but I soon
heard that the house was actually begun. I vowed before my Maker that I
would never enter it: I had rather toil on the plantation from dawn till
dark; I had rather live and die in jail, than drag on, from day to day,
through such a living death. I was determined that the master, whom I so
hated and loathed, who had blighted the prospects of my youth, and made my
life a desert, should not, after my long struggle with him, succeed at last
in trampling his victim under his feet. I would do any thing, every thing,
for the sake of defeating him. What _could_ I do? I thought and thought,
till I became desperate, and made a plunge into the abyss.
And now, reader, I come to a period in my unhappy life, which I would
gladly forget if I could. The remembrance fills me with sorrow and shame.
It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the truth,
and I will do it honestly, let it cost me what it may. I will not try to
screen myself behind the plea of compulsion from a master; for it was not
so. Neither can I plead ignorance or thoughtlessness. For years, my master
had done his utmost to pollute my mind with foul images, and to destroy the
pure principles inculcated by my grandmother, and the good mistress of my
childhood. The influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that
they had on other young girls; they had made me prematurely knowing,
concerning the evil ways of the world. I knew what I did, and I did it with
But, O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who
have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes are
protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely!
If slavery had been abolished, I, also, could have married the man of my
choice; I could have had a home shielded by the laws; and I should have
been spared the painful task of confessing what I am now about to relate;
but all my prospects had been blighted by slavery. I wanted to keep myself
pure; and, under the most adverse circumstances, I tried hard to preserve
my self-respect; but I was struggling alone in the powerful grasp of the
demon Slavery; and the monster proved too strong for me. I felt as if I was
forsaken by God and man; as if all my efforts must be frustrated; and I
became reckless in my despair.
I have told you that Dr. Flint's persecutions and his wife's jealousy had
given rise to some gossip in the neighborhood. Among others, it chanced
that a white unmarried gentleman had obtained some knowledge of the
circumstances in which I was placed. He knew my grandmother, and often
spoke to me in the street. He became interested for me, and asked questions
about my master, which I answered in part. He expressed a great deal of
sympathy, and a wish to aid me. He constantly sought opportunities to see
me, and wrote to me frequently. I was a poor slave girl, only fifteen years
So much attention from a superior person was, of course, flattering; for
human nature is the same in all. I also felt grateful for his sympathy, and
encouraged by his kind words. It seemed to me a great thing to have such a
friend. By degrees, a more tender feeling crept into my heart. He was an
educated and eloquent gentleman; too eloquent, alas, for the poor slave
girl who trusted in him. Of course I saw whither all this was tending. I
knew the impassable gulf between us; but to be an object of interest to a
man who is not married, and who is not her master, is agreeable to the
pride and feelings of a slave, if her miserable situation has left her any
pride or sentiment. It seems less degrading to give one's self, than to
submit to compulsion. There is something akin to freedom in having a lover
who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and
attachment. A master may treat you as rudely as he pleases, and you dare
not speak; moreover, the wrong does not seem so great with an unmarried
man, as with one who has a wife to be made unhappy. There may be sophistry
in all this; but the condition of a slave confuses all principles of
morality, and, in fact, renders the practice of them impossible.
When I found that my master had actually begun to build the lonely cottage,
other feelings mixed with those I have described. Revenge, and calculations
of interest, were added to flattered vanity and sincere gratitude for
kindness. I knew nothing would enrage Dr. Flint so much as to know that I
favored another, and it was something to triumph over my tyrant even in
that small way. I thought he would revenge himself by selling me, and I was
sure my friend, Mr. Sands, would buy me. He was a man of more generosity
and feeling than my master, and I thought my freedom could be easily
obtained from him. The crisis of my fate now came so near that I was
desperate. I shuddered to think of being the mother of children that should
be owned by my old tyrant. I knew that as soon as a new fancy took him, his
victims were sold far off to get rid of them; especially if they had
children. I had seen several women sold, with babies at the breast. He
never allowed his offspring by slaves to remain long in sight of himself
and his wife. Of a man who was not my master I could ask to have my
children well supported; and in this case, I felt confident I should obtain
the boon. I also felt quite sure that they would be made free. With all
these thoughts revolving in my mind, and seeing no other way of escaping
the doom I so much dreaded, I made a headlong plunge. Pity me, and pardon
me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be
entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the
condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You never
exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a
hated tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and
trembled within hearing of his voice. I know I did wrong. No one can feel
it more sensibly than I do. The painful and humiliating memory will haunt
me to my dying day. Still, in looking back, calmly, on the events of my
life, I feel that the slave woman ought not to be judged by the same
standard as others.
The months passed on. I had many unhappy hours. I secretly mourned over the
sorrow I was bringing on my grandmother, who had so tried to shield me from
harm. I knew that I was the greatest comfort of her old age, and that it
was a source of pride to her that I had not degraded myself, like most of
the slaves. I wanted to confess to her that I was no longer worthy of her
love; but I could not utter the dreaded words.
As for Dr. Flint, I had a feeling of satisfaction and triumph in the
thought of telling _him_. From time to time he told me of his intended
arrangements, and I was silent. At last, he came and told me the cottage
was completed, and ordered me to go to it. I told him I would never enter
it. He said, "I have heard enough of such talk as that. You shall go, if
you are carried by force; and you shall remain there."
I replied, "I will never go there. In a few months I shall be a mother."
He stood and looked at me in dumb amazement, and left the house without a
word. I thought I should be happy in my triumph over him. But now that the
truth was out, and my relatives would hear of it, I felt wretched. Humble
as were their circumstances, they had pride in my good character. Now, how
could I look at them in the face? My self-respect was gone! I had resolved
that I would be virtuous, though I was a slave. I had said, "Let the storm
beat! I will brave it till I die." And now, how humiliated I felt!
I went to my grandmother. My lips moved to make confession, but the words
stuck in my throat. I sat down in the shade of a tree at her door and began
to sew. I think she saw something unusual was the matter with me. The
mother of slaves is very watchful. She knows there is no security for her
children. After they have entered their teens she lives in daily
expectation of trouble. This leads to many questions. If the girl is of a
sensitive nature, timidity keeps her from answering truthfully, and this
well-meant course has a tendency to drive her from maternal counsels.
Presently, in came my mistress, like a mad woman, and accused me concerning
her husband. My grandmother, whose suspicions had been previously awakened,
believed what she said. She exclaimed, "O Linda! Has it come to this? I had
rather see you dead than to see you as you now are. You are a disgrace to
your dead mother." She tore from my fingers my mother's wedding ring and
her silver thimble. "Go away!" she exclaimed, "and never come to my house,
again." Her reproaches fell so hot and heavy, that they left me no chance
to answer. Bitter tears, such as the eyes never shed but once, were my only
answer. I rose from my seat, but fell back again, sobbing. She did not
speak to me; but the tears were running down her furrowed cheeks, and they
scorched me like fire. She had always been so kind to me! _So_ kind! How I
longed to throw myself at her feet, and tell her all the truth! But she had
ordered me to go, and never to come there again. After a few minutes, I
mustered strength, and started to obey her. With what feelings did I now
close that little gate, which I used to open with such an eager hand in my
childhood! It closed upon me with a sound I never heard before.
Where could I go? I was afraid to return to my master's. I walked on
recklessly, not caring where I went, or what would become of me. When I had
gone four or five miles, fatigue compelled me to stop. I sat down on the
stump of an old tree. The stars were shining through the boughs above me.
How they mocked me, with their bright, calm light! The hours passed by, and
as I sat there alone a chilliness and deadly sickness came over me. I sank
on the ground. My mind was full of horrid thoughts. I prayed to die; but
the prayer was not answered. At last, with great effort I roused myself,
and walked some distance further, to the house of a woman who had been a
friend of my mother. When I told her why I was there, she spoke soothingly
to me; but I could not be comforted. I thought I could bear my shame if I
could only be reconciled to my grandmother. I longed to open my heart to
her. I thought if she could know the real state of the case, and all I had
been bearing for years, she would perhaps judge me less harshly. My friend
advised me to send for her. I did so; but days of agonizing suspense passed
before she came. Had she utterly forsaken me? No. She came at last. I knelt
before her, and told her the things that had poisoned my life; how long I
had been persecuted; that I saw no way of escape; and in an hour of
extremity I had become desperate. She listened in silence. I told her I
would bear any thing and do any thing, if in time I had hopes of obtaining
her forgiveness. I begged of her to pity me, for my dead mother's sake. And
she did pity me. She did not say, "I forgive you;" but she looked at me
lovingly, with her eyes full of tears. She laid her old hand gently on my
head, and murmured, "Poor child! Poor child!"
XI. The New Tie To Life.
I returned to my good grandmother's house. She had an interview with Mr.
Sands. When she asked him why he could not have left her one ewe
lamb,--whether there were not plenty of slaves who did not care about
character,--he made no answer, but he spoke kind and encouraging words. He
promised to care for my child, and to buy me, be the conditions what they
I had not seen Dr. Flint for five days. I had never seen him since I made
the avowal to him. He talked of the disgrace I had brought on myself; how I
had sinned against my master, and mortified my old grandmother. He
intimated that if I had accepted his proposals, he, as a physician, could
have saved me from exposure. He even condescended to pity me. Could he have
offered wormwood more bitter? He, whose persecutions had been the cause of
"Linda," said he, "though you have been criminal towards me, I feel for
you, and I can pardon you if you obey my wishes. Tell me whether the fellow
you wanted to marry is the father of your child. If you deceive me, you
shall feel the fires of hell."
I did not feel as proud as I had done. My strongest weapon with him was
gone. I was lowered in my own estimation, and had resolved to bear his
abuse in silence. But when he spoke contemptuously of the lover who had
always treated me honorably; when I remembered that but for _him_ I might
have been a virtuous, free, and happy wife, I lost my patience. "I have
sinned against God and myself," I replied; "but not against you."
He clinched his teeth, and muttered, "Curse you!" He came towards me, with
ill-suppressed rage, and exclaimed, "You obstinate girl! I could grind your
bones to powder! You have thrown yourself away on some worthless rascal.
You are weak-minded, and have been easily persuaded by those who don't care
a straw for you. The future will settle accounts between us. You are
blinded now; but hereafter you will be convinced that your master was your
best friend. My lenity towards you is a proof of it. I might have punished
you in many ways. I might have whipped till you fell dead under the lash.
But I wanted you to live; I would have bettered your condition. Others
cannot do it. You are my slave. Your mistress, disgusted by your conduct,
forbids you to return to the house; therefore I leave you here for the
present; but I shall see you often. I will call to-morrow."
He came with frowning brows, that showed a dissatisfied state of mind.
After asking about my health, he inquired whether my board was paid, and
who visited me. He then went on to say that he had neglected his duty; that
as a physician there were certain things that he ought to have explained to
me. Then followed talk such as would have made the most shameless blush. He
ordered me to stand up before him. I obeyed. "I command you," said he, "to
tell me whether the father of your child is white or black." I hesitated.
"Answer me this instant!" he exclaimed. I did answer. He sprang upon me
like a wolf, and grabbed my arm as if he would have broken it. "Do you love
him?" said he, in a hissing tone.
"I am thankful that I do not despise him," I replied.
He raised his hand to strike me; but it fell again. I don't know what
arrested the blow. He sat down, with lips tightly compressed. At last he
spoke. "I came here," said he, "to make you a friendly proposition; but
your ingratitude chafes me beyond endurance. You turn aside all my good
intentions towards you. I don't know what it is that keeps me from killing
you." Again he rose, as if he had a mind to strike me.
But he resumed. "On one condition I will forgive your insolence and crime.
You must henceforth have no communication of any kind with the father of
your child. You must not ask any thing from him, or receive any thing from
him. I will take care of you and your child. You had better promise this at
once, and not wait till you are deserted by him. This is the last act of
mercy I shall show towards you."
I said something about being unwilling to have my child supported by a man
who had cursed it and me also. He rejoined, that a woman who had sunk to my
level had no right to expect any thing else. He asked, for the last time,
would I accept his kindness? I answered that I would not.
"Very well," said he; "then take the consequences of your wayward course.
Never look to me for help. You are my slave, and shall always be my slave.
I will never sell you, that you may depend upon."
Hope died away in my heart as he closed the door after him. I had
calculated that in his rage he would sell me to a slave-trader; and I knew
the father of my child was on the watch to buy me.
About this time my uncle Phillip was expected to return from a voyage. The
day before his departure I had officiated as bridesmaid to a young friend.
My heart was then ill at ease, but my smiling countenance did not betray
it. Only a year had passed; but what fearful changes it had wrought! My
heart had grown gray in misery. Lives that flash in sunshine, and lives
that are born in tears, receive their hue from circumstances. None of us
know what a year may bring forth.
I felt no joy when they told me my uncle had come. He wanted to see me,
though he knew what had happened. I shrank from him at first; but at last
consented that he should come to my room. He received me as he always had
done. O, how my heart smote me when I felt his tears on my burning cheeks!
The words of my grandmother came to my mind,--"Perhaps your mother and
father are taken from the evil days to come." My disappointed heart could
now praise God that it was so. But why, thought I, did my relatives ever
cherish hopes for me? What was there to save me from the usual fate of
slave girls? Many more beautiful and more intelligent than I had
experienced a similar fate, or a far worse one. How could they hope that I
My uncle's stay was short, and I was not sorry for it. I was too ill in
mind and body to enjoy my friends as I had done. For some weeks I was
unable to leave my bed. I could not have any doctor but my master, and I
would not have him sent for. At last, alarmed by my increasing illness,
they sent for him. I was very weak and nervous; and as soon as he entered
the room, I began to scream. They told him my state was very critical. He
had no wish to hasten me out of the world, and he withdrew.
When my babe was born, they said it was premature. It weighed only four
pounds; but God let it live. I heard the doctor say I could not survive
till morning. I had often prayed for death; but now I did not want to die,
unless my child could die too. Many weeks passed before I was able to leave
my bed. I was a mere wreck of my former self. For a year there was scarcely
a day when I was free from chills and fever. My babe also was sickly. His
little limbs were often racked with pain. Dr. Flint continued his visits,
to look after my health; and he did not fail to remind me that my child was
an addition to his stock of slaves.
I felt too feeble to dispute with him, and listened to his remarks in
silence. His visits were less frequent; but his busy spirit could not
remain quiet. He employed my brother in his office; and he was made the
medium of frequent notes and messages to me. William was a bright lad, and
of much use to the doctor. He had learned to put up medicines, to leech,
cup, and bleed. He had taught himself to read and spell. I was proud of my
brother, and the old doctor suspected as much. One day, when I had not seen
him for several weeks, I heard his steps approaching the door. I dreaded
the encounter, and hid myself. He inquired for me, of course; but I was
nowhere to be found. He went to his office, and despatched William with a
note. The color mounted to my brother's face when he gave it to me; and he
said, "Don't you hate me, Linda, for bringing you these things?" I told him
I could not blame him; he was a slave, and obliged to obey his master's
will. The note ordered me to come to his office. I went. He demanded to
know where I was when he called. I told him I was at home. He flew into a
passion, and said he knew better. Then he launched out upon his usual
themes,--my crimes against him, and my ingratitude for his forbearance. The
laws were laid down to me anew, and I was dismissed. I felt humiliated that
my brother should stand by, and listen to such language as would be
addressed only to a slave. Poor boy! He was powerless to defend me; but I
saw the tears, which he vainly strove to keep back. The manifestation of
feeling irritated the doctor. William could do nothing to please him. One
morning he did not arrive at the office so early as usual; and that
circumstance afforded his master an opportunity to vent his spleen. He was
put in jail. The next day my brother sent a trader to the doctor, with a
request to be sold. His master was greatly incensed at what he called his
insolence. He said he had put him there, to reflect upon his bad conduct,
and he certainly was not giving any evidence of repentance. For two days he
harassed himself to find somebody to do his office work; but every thing
went wrong without William. He was released, and ordered to take his old
stand, with many threats, if he was not careful about his future behavior.
As the months passed on, my boy improved in health. When he was a year old,
they called him beautiful. The little vine was taking deep root in my
existence, though its clinging fondness excited a mixture of love and pain.
When I was most sorely oppressed I found a solace in his smiles. I loved to
watch his infant slumbers; but always there was a dark cloud over my
enjoyment. I could never forget that he was a slave. Sometimes I wished
that he might die in infancy. God tried me. My darling became very ill. The
bright eyes grew dull, and the little feet and hands were so icy cold that
I thought death had already touched them. I had prayed for his death, but
never so earnestly as I now prayed for his life; and my prayer was heard.
Alas, what mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying
child to life! Death is better than slavery. It was a sad thought that I
had no name to give my child. His father caressed him and treated him
kindly, whenever he had a chance to see him. He was not unwilling that he
should bear his name; but he had no legal claim to it; and if I had
bestowed it upon him, my master would have regarded it as a new crime, a
new piece of insolence, and would, perhaps, revenge it on the boy. O, the
serpent of Slavery has many and poisonous fangs!
XII. Fear Of Insurrection.
Not far from this time Nat Turner's insurrection broke out; and the news
threw our town into great commotion. Strange that they should be alarmed,
when their slaves were so "contented and happy"! But so it was.
It was always the custom to have a muster every year. On that occasion
every white man shouldered his musket. The citizens and the so-called
country gentlemen wore military uniforms. The poor whites took their places
in the ranks in every-day dress, some without shoes, some without hats.
This grand occasion had already passed; and when the slaves were told there
was to be another muster, they were surprised and rejoiced. Poor creatures!
They thought it was going to be a holiday. I was informed of the true state
of affairs, and imparted it to the few I could trust. Most gladly would I
have proclaimed it to every slave; but I dared not. All could not be relied
on. Mighty is the power of the torturing lash.
By sunrise, people were pouring in from every quarter within twenty miles
of the town. I knew the houses were to be searched; and I expected it would
be done by country bullies and the poor whites. I knew nothing annoyed them
so much as to see colored people living in comfort and respectability; so I
made arrangements for them with especial care. I arranged every thing in my
grandmother's house as neatly as possible. I put white quilts on the beds,
and decorated some of the rooms with flowers. When all was arranged, I sat
down at the window to watch. Far as my eye could reach, it rested on a
motley crowd of soldiers. Drums and fifes were discoursing martial music.
The men were divided into companies of sixteen, each headed by a captain.
Orders were given, and the wild scouts rushed in every direction, wherever
a colored face was to be found.
It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of their
own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little brief
authority, and show their subserviency to the slaveholders; not reflecting
that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept themselves in
poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation. Those who never witnessed such
scenes can hardly believe what I know was inflicted at this time on
innocent men, women, and children, against whom there was not the slightest
ground for suspicion. Colored people and slaves who lived in remote parts
of the town suffered in an especial manner. In some cases the searchers
scattered powder and shot among their clothes, and then sent other parties
to find them, and bring them forward as proof that they were plotting
insurrection. Every where men, women, and children were whipped till the
blood stood in puddles at their feet. Some received five hundred lashes;
others were tied hands and feet, and tortured with a bucking paddle, which
blisters the skin terribly. The dwellings of the colored people, unless
they happened to be protected by some influential white person, who was
nigh at hand, were robbed of clothing and every thing else the marauders
thought worth carrying away. All day long these unfeeling wretches went
round, like a troop of demons, terrifying and tormenting the helpless. At
night, they formed themselves into patrol bands, and went wherever they
chose among the colored people, acting out their brutal will. Many women
hid themselves in woods and swamps, to keep out of their way. If any of the
husbands or fathers told of these outrages, they were tied up to the public
whipping post, and cruelly scourged for telling lies about white men. The
consternation was universal. No two people that had the slightest tinge of
color in their faces dared to be seen talking together.
I entertained no positive fears about our household, because we were in the
midst of white families who would protect us. We were ready to receive the
soldiers whenever they came. It was not long before we heard the tramp of
feet and the sound of voices. The door was rudely pushed open; and in they
tumbled, like a pack of hungry wolves. They snatched at every thing within
their reach. Every box, trunk, closet, and corner underwent a thorough
examination. A box in one of the drawers containing some silver change was
eagerly pounced upon. When I stepped forward to take it from them, one of
the soldiers turned and said angrily, "What d'ye foller us fur? D'ye s'pose
white folks is come to steal?"
I replied, "You have come to search; but you have searched that box, and I
will take it, if you please."
At that moment I saw a white gentleman who was friendly to us; and I called
to him, and asked him to have the goodness to come in and stay till the
search was over. He readily complied. His entrance into the house brought
in the captain of the company, whose business it was to guard the outside
of the house, and see that none of the inmates left it. This officer was
Mr. Litch, the wealthy slaveholder whom I mentioned, in the account of
neighboring planters, as being notorious for his cruelty. He felt above
soiling his hands with the search. He merely gave orders; and, if a bit of
writing was discovered, it was carried to him by his ignorant followers,
who were unable to read.
My grandmother had a large trunk of bedding and table cloths. When that was
opened, there was a great shout of surprise; and one exclaimed, "Where'd
the damned niggers git all dis sheet an' table clarf?"
My grandmother, emboldened by the presence of our white protector said,
"You may be sure we didn't pilfer 'em from _your_ houses."
"Look here, mammy," said a grim-looking fellow without any coat, "you seem
to feel mighty gran' 'cause you got all them 'ere fixens. White folks
oughter have 'em all."
His remarks were interrupted by a chorus of voices shouting, "We's got 'em!
We's got 'em! Dis 'ere yaller gal's got letters!"
There was a general rush for the supposed letter, which, upon examination,
proved to be some verses written to me by a friend. In packing away my
things, I had overlooked them. When their captain informed them of their
contents, they seemed much disappointed. He inquired of me who wrote them.
I told him it was one of my friends. "Can you read them?" he asked. When I
told him I could, he swore, and raved, and tore the paper into bits. "Bring
me all your letters!" said he, in commanding tone. I told him I had none.
"Don't be afraid," he continued, in an insinuating way. "Bring them all to
me. Nobody shall do you any harm." Seeing I did not move to obey him, his
pleasant tone changed to oaths and threats. "Who writes to you? half free
niggers?" inquired he. I replied, "O, no; most of my letters are from white
people. Some request me to burn them after they are read, and some I
destroy without reading."
An exclamation of surprise from some of the company put a stop to our
conversation. Some silver spoons which ornamented an old-fashioned buffet
had just been discovered. My grandmother was in the habit of preserving
fruit for many ladies in the town, and of preparing suppers for parties;
consequently she had many jars of preserves. The closet that contained
these was next invaded, and the contents tasted. One of them, who was
helping himself freely, tapped his neighbor on the shoulder, and said, "Wal
done! Don't wonder de niggers want to kill all de white folks, when dey
live on 'sarves" [meaning preserves]. I stretched out my hand to take the
jar, saying, "You were not sent here to search for sweetmeats."
"And what _were_ we sent for?" said the captain, bristling up to me. I
evaded the question.
The search of the house was completed, and nothing found to condemn us.
They next proceeded to the garden, and knocked about every bush and vine,
with no better success. The captain called his men together, and, after a
short consultation, the order to march was given. As they passed out of the
gate, the captain turned back, and pronounced a malediction on the house.
He said it ought to be burned to the ground, and each of its inmates
receive thirty-nine lashes. We came out of this affair very fortunately;
not losing any thing except some wearing apparel.
Towards evening the turbulence increased. The soldiers, stimulated by
drink, committed still greater cruelties. Shrieks and shouts continually
rent the air. Not daring to go to the door, I peeped under the window
curtain. I saw a mob dragging along a number of colored people, each white
man, with his musket upraised, threatening instant death if they did not
stop their shrieks. Among the prisoners was a respectable old colored
minister. They had found a few parcels of shot in his house, which his wife
had for years used to balance her scales. For this they were going to shoot
him on Court House Green. What a spectacle was that for a civilized
country! A rabble, staggering under intoxication, assuming to be the
administrators of justice!
The better class of the community exerted their influence to save the
innocent, persecuted people; and in several instances they succeeded, by
keeping them shut up in jail till the excitement abated. At last the white
citizens found that their own property was not safe from the lawless rabble
they had summoned to protect them. They rallied the drunken swarm, drove
them back into the country, and set a guard over the town.
The next day, the town patrols were commissioned to search colored people
that lived out of the city; and the most shocking outrages were committed
with perfect impunity. Every day for a fortnight, if I looked out, I saw
horsemen with some poor panting negro tied to their saddles, and compelled
by the lash to keep up with their speed, till they arrived at the jail
yard. Those who had been whipped too unmercifully to walk were washed with
brine, tossed into a cart, and carried to jail. One black man, who had not
fortitude to endure scourging, promised to give information about the
conspiracy. But it turned out that he knew nothing at all. He had not even
heard the name of Nat Turner. The poor fellow had, however, made up a
story, which augmented his own sufferings and those of the colored people.
The day patrol continued for some weeks, and at sundown a night guard was
substituted. Nothing at all was proved against the colored people, bond or
free. The wrath of the slaveholders was somewhat appeased by the capture of
Nat Turner. The imprisoned were released. The slaves were sent to their
masters, and the free were permitted to return to their ravaged homes.
Visiting was strictly forbidden on the plantations. The slaves begged the
privilege of again meeting at their little church in the woods, with their
burying ground around it. It was built by the colored people, and they had
no higher happiness than to meet there and sing hymns together, and pour
out their hearts in spontaneous prayer. Their request was denied, and the
church was demolished. They were permitted to attend the white churches, a
certain portion of the galleries being appropriated to their use. There,
when every body else had partaken of the communion, and the benediction had
been pronounced, the minister said, "Come down, now, my colored friends."
They obeyed the summons, and partook of the bread and wine, in
commemoration of the meek and lowly Jesus, who said, "God is your Father,
and all ye are brethren."
XIII. The Church And Slavery.
After the alarm caused by Nat Turner's insurrection had subsided, the
slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give the
slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their
masters. The Episcopal clergyman offered to hold a separate service on
Sundays for their benefit. His colored members were very few, and also very
respectable--a fact which I presume had some weight with him. The
difficulty was to decide on a suitable place for them to worship. The
Methodist and Baptist churches admitted them in the afternoon; but their
carpets and cushions were not so costly as those at the Episcopal church.
It was at last decided that they should meet at the house of a free colored
man, who was a member.
I was invited to attend, because I could read. Sunday evening came, and,
trusting to the cover of night, I ventured out. I rarely ventured out by
daylight, for I always went with fear, expecting at every turn to encounter
Dr. Flint, who was sure to turn me back, or order me to his office to
inquire where I got my bonnet, or some other article of dress. When the
Rev. Mr. Pike came, there were some twenty persons present. The reverend
gentleman knelt in prayer, then seated himself, and requested all present,
who could read, to open their books, while he gave out the portions he
wished them to repeat or respond to.
His text was, "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters
according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your
heart, as unto Christ."
Pious Mr. Pike brushed up his hair till it stood upright, and, in deep,
solemn tones, began: "Hearken, ye servants! Give strict heed unto my words.
You are rebellious sinners. Your hearts are filled with all manner of evil.
'Tis the devil who tempts you. God is angry with you, and will surely
punish you, if you don't forsake your wicked ways. You that live in town
are eyeservants behind your master's back. Instead of serving your masters
faithfully, which is pleasing in the sight of your heavenly Master, you are
idle, and shirk your work. God sees you. You tell lies. God hears you.
Instead of being engaged in worshipping him, you are hidden away somewhere,
feasting on your master's substance; tossing coffee-grounds with some
wicked fortuneteller, or cutting cards with another old hag. Your masters
may not find you out, but God sees you, and will punish you. O, the
depravity of your hearts! When your master's work is done, are you quietly
together, thinking of the goodness of God to such sinful creatures? No; you
are quarrelling, and tying up little bags of roots to bury under the
doorsteps to poison each other with. God sees you. You men steal away to
every grog shop to sell your master's corn, that you may buy rum to drink.
God sees you. You sneak into the back streets, or among the bushes, to
pitch coppers. Although your masters may not find you out, God sees you;
and he will punish you. You must forsake your sinful ways, and be faithful
servants. Obey your old master and your young master--your old mistress and
your young mistress. If you disobey your earthly master, you offend your
heavenly Master. You must obey God's commandments. When you go from here,
don't stop at the corners of the streets to talk, but go directly home, and
let your master and mistress see that you have come."
The benediction was pronounced. We went home, highly amused at brother
Pike's gospel teaching, and we determined to hear him again. I went the
next Sabbath evening, and heard pretty much a repetition of the last
discourse. At the close of the meeting, Mr. Pike informed us that he found
it very inconvenient to meet at the friend's house, and he should be glad
to see us, every Sunday evening, at his own kitchen.
I went home with the feeling that I had heard the Reverend Mr. Pike for the
last time. Some of his members repaired to his house, and found that the
kitchen sported two tallow candles; the first time, I am sure, since its
present occupant owned it, for the servants never had any thing but pine
knots. It was so long before the reverend gentleman descended from his
comfortable parlor that the slaves left, and went to enjoy a Methodist
shout. They never seem so happy as when shouting and singing at religious
meetings. Many of them are sincere, and nearer to the gate of heaven than
sanctimonious Mr. Pike, and other long-faced Christians, who see wounded
Samaritans, and pass by on the other side.
The slaves generally compose their own songs and hymns; and they do not
trouble their heads much about the measure. They often sing the following
Old Satan is one busy ole man;
He rolls dem blocks all in my way;
But Jesus is my bosom friend;
He rolls dem blocks away.
If I had died when I was young,
Den how my stam'ring tongue would have sung;
But I am ole, and now I stand
A narrow chance for to tread dat heavenly land.
I well remember one occasion when I attended a Methodist class meeting. I
went with a burdened spirit, and happened to sit next a poor, bereaved
mother, whose heart was still heavier than mine. The class leader was the
town constable--a man who bought and sold slaves, who whipped his brethren
and sisters of the church at the public whipping post, in jail or out of
jail. He was ready to perform that Christian office any where for fifty
cents. This white-faced, black-hearted brother came near us, and said to
the stricken woman, "Sister, can't you tell us how the Lord deals with your
soul? Do you love him as you did formerly?"
She rose to her feet, and said, in piteous tones, "My Lord and Master, help
me! My load is more than I can bear. God has hid himself from me, and I am
left in darkness and misery." Then, striking her breast, she continued, "I
can't tell you what is in here! They've got all my children. Last week they
took the last one. God only knows where they've sold her. They let me have
her sixteen years, and then--O! O! Pray for her brothers and sisters! I've
got nothing to live for now. God make my time short!"
She sat down, quivering in every limb. I saw that constable class leader
become crimson in the face with suppressed laughter, while he held up his
handkerchief, that those who were weeping for the poor woman's calamity
might not see his merriment. Then, with assumed gravity, he said to the
bereaved mother, "Sister, pray to the Lord that every dispensation of his
divine will may be sanctified to the good of your poor needy soul!"
The congregation struck up a hymn, and sung as though they were as free as
the birds that warbled round us,--
Ole Satan thought he had a mighty aim;
He missed my soul, and caught my sins.
Cry Amen, cry Amen, cry Amen to God!
He took my sins upon his back;
Went muttering and grumbling down to hell.
Cry Amen, cry Amen, cry Amen to God!
Ole Satan's church is here below.
Up to God's free church I hope to go.
Cry Amen, cry Amen, cry Amen to God!
Precious are such moments to the poor slaves. If you were to hear them at
such times, you might think they were happy. But can that hour of singing
and shouting sustain them through the dreary week, toiling without wages,
under constant dread of the lash?
The Episcopal clergyman, who, ever since my earliest recollection, had been
a sort of god among the slaveholders, concluded, as his family was large,
that he must go where money was more abundant. A very different clergyman
took his place. The change was very agreeable to the colored people, who
said, "God has sent us a good man this time." They loved him, and their
children followed him for a smile or a kind word. Even the slaveholders
felt his influence. He brought to the rectory five slaves. His wife taught
them to read and write, and to be useful to her and themselves. As soon as
he was settled, he turned his attention to the needy slaves around him. He
urged upon his parishioners the duty of having a meeting expressly for them
every Sunday, with a sermon adapted to their comprehension. After much
argument and importunity, it was finally agreed that they might occupy the
gallery of the church on Sunday evenings. Many colored people, hitherto
unaccustomed to attend church, now gladly went to hear the gospel preached.
The sermons were simple, and they understood them. Moreover, it was the
first time they had ever been addressed as human beings. It was not long
before his white parishioners began to be dissatisfied. He was accused of
preaching better sermons to the negroes than he did to them. He honestly
confessed that he bestowed more pains upon those sermons than upon any
others; for the slaves were reared in such ignorance that it was a
difficult task to adapt himself to their comprehension. Dissensions arose
in the parish. Some wanted he should preach to them in the evening, and to
the slaves in the afternoon. In the midst of these disputings his wife
died, after a very short illness. Her slaves gathered round her dying bed
in great sorrow. She said, "I have tried to do you good and promote your
happiness; and if I have failed, it has not been for want of interest in
your welfare. Do not weep for me; but prepare for the new duties that lie
before you. I leave you all free. May we meet in a better world." Her
liberated slaves were sent away, with funds to establish them comfortably.
The colored people will long bless the memory of that truly Christian
woman. Soon after her death her husband preached his farewell sermon, and
many tears were shed at his departure.
Several years after, he passed through our town and preached to his former
congregation. In his afternoon sermon he addressed the colored people. "My
friends," said he, "it affords me great happiness to have an opportunity of
speaking to you again. For two years I have been striving to do something
for the colored people of my own parish; but nothing is yet accomplished. I
have not even preached a sermon to them. Try to live according to the word
of God, my friends. Your skin is darker than mine; but God judges men by
their hearts, not by the color of their skins." This was strange doctrine
from a southern pulpit. It was very offensive to slaveholders. They said he
and his wife had made fools of their slaves, and that he preached like a
fool to the negroes.
I knew an old black man, whose piety and childlike trust in God were
beautiful to witness. At fifty-three years old he joined the Baptist
church. He had a most earnest desire to learn to read. He thought he should
know how to serve God better if he could only read the Bible. He came to
me, and begged me to teach him. He said he could not pay me, for he had no
money; but he would bring me nice fruit when the season for it came. I
asked him if he didn't know it was contrary to law; and that slaves were
whipped and imprisoned for teaching each other to read. This brought the
tears into his eyes. "Don't be troubled, uncle Fred," said I. "I have no
thoughts of refusing to teach you. I only told you of the law, that you
might know the danger, and be on your guard." He thought he could plan to
come three times a week without its being suspected. I selected a quiet
nook, where no intruder was likely to penetrate, and there I taught him his
A, B, C. Considering his age, his progress was astonishing. As soon as he
could spell in two syllables he wanted to spell out words in the Bible. The
happy smile that illuminated his face put joy into my heart. After spelling
out a few words, he paused, and said, "Honey, it 'pears when I can read dis
good book I shall be nearer to God. White man is got all de sense. He can
larn easy. It ain't easy for ole black man like me. I only wants to read
dis book, dat I may know how to live; den I hab no fear 'bout dying."
I tried to encourage him by speaking of the rapid progress he had made.
"Hab patience, child," he replied. "I larns slow."
I had no need of patience. His gratitude, and the happiness imparted, were
more than a recompense for all my trouble.
At the end of six months he had read through the New Testament, and could
find any text in it. One day, when he had recited unusually well, I said,
"Uncle Fred, how do you manage to get your lessons so well?"
"Lord bress you, chile," he replied. "You nebber gibs me a lesson dat I
don't pray to God to help me to understan' what I spells and what I reads.
And he _does_ help me, chile. Bress his holy name!"
There are thousands, who, like good uncle Fred, are thirsting for the water
of life; but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it. They send
the Bible to heathen abroad, and neglect the heathen at home. I am glad
that missionaries go out to the dark corners of the earth; but I ask them
not to overlook the dark corners at home. Talk to American slaveholders as
you talk to savages in Africa. Tell _them_ it was wrong to traffic in men.
Tell them it is sinful to sell their own children, and atrocious to violate
their own daughters. Tell them that all men are brethren, and that man has
no right to shut out the light of knowledge from his brother. Tell them
they are answerable to God for sealing up the Fountain of Life from souls
that are thirsting for it.
There are men who would gladly undertake such missionary work as this; but,
alas! their number is small. They are hated by the south, and would be
driven from its soil, or dragged to prison to die, as others have been
before them. The field is ripe for the harvest, and awaits the reapers.
Perhaps the great grandchildren of uncle Fred may have freely imparted to
them the divine treasures, which he sought by stealth, at the risk of the
prison and the scourge.
Are doctors of divinity blind, or are they hypocrites? I suppose some are
the one, and some the other; but I think if they felt the interest in the
poor and the lowly, that they ought to feel, they would not be so _easily_
blinded. A clergyman who goes to the south, for the first time, has usually
some feeling, however vague, that slavery is wrong. The slaveholder
suspects this, and plays his game accordingly. He makes himself as
agreeable as possible; talks on theology, and other kindred topics. The
reverend gentleman is asked to invoke a blessing on a table loaded with
luxuries. After dinner he walks round the premises, and sees the beautiful
groves and flowering vines, and the comfortable huts of favored household
slaves. The southerner invites him to talk with those slaves. He asks them
if they want to be free, and they say, "O, no, massa." This is sufficient
to satisfy him. He comes home to publish a "South Side View of Slavery,"
and to complain of the exaggerations of abolitionists. He assures people
that he has been to the south, and seen slavery for himself; that it is a
beautiful "patriarchal institution;" that the slaves don't want their
freedom; that they have hallelujah meetings and other religious privileges.
What does _he_ know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn till
dark on the plantations? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from
their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral filth?
of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear human
flesh? of men screwed into cotton gins to die? The slaveholder showed him
none of these things, and the slaves dared not tell of them if he had asked
There is a great difference between Christianity and religion at the south.
If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of
the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious.
If a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church dismiss him,
if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not hinder his
continuing to be their good shepherd.
When I was told that Dr. Flint had joined the Episcopal church, I was much
surprised. I supposed that religion had a purifying effect on the character
of men; but the worst persecutions I endured from him were after he was a
communicant. The conversation of the doctor, the day after he had been
confirmed, certainly gave _me_ no indication that he had "renounced the
devil and all his works." In answer to some of his usual talk, I reminded
him that he had just joined the church. "Yes, Linda," said he. "It was
proper for me to do so. I am getting in years, and my position in society
requires it, and it puts an end to all the damned slang. You would do well
to join the church, too, Linda."
"There are sinners enough in it already," rejoined I. "If I could be
allowed to live like a Christian, I should be glad."
"You can do what I require; and if you are faithful to me, you will be as
virtuous as my wife," he replied.
I answered that the Bible didn't say so.
His voice became hoarse with rage. "How dare you preach to me about your
infernal Bible!" he exclaimed. "What right have you, who are my negro, to
talk to me about what you would like and what you wouldn't like? I am your
master, and you shall obey me."
No wonder the slaves sing,--
Ole Satan's church is here below;
Up to God's free church I hope to go.
XIV. Another Link To Life.
I had not returned to my master's house since the birth of my child. The
old man raved to have me thus removed from his immediate power; but his
wife vowed, by all that was good and great, she would kill me if I came
back; and he did not doubt her word. Sometimes he would stay away for a
season. Then he would come and renew the old threadbare discourse about his
forbearance and my ingratitude. He labored, most unnecessarily, to convince
me that I had lowered myself. The venomous old reprobate had no need of
descanting on that theme. I felt humiliated enough. My unconscious babe was
the ever-present witness of my shame. I listened with silent contempt when
he talked about my having forfeited _his_ good opinion; but I shed bitter
tears that I was no longer worthy of being respected by the good and pure.
Alas! slavery still held me in its poisonous grasp. There was no chance for
me to be respectable. There was no prospect of being able to lead a better
Sometimes, when my master found that I still refused to accept what he
called his kind offers, he would threaten to sell my child. "Perhaps that
will humble you," said he.
Humble _me_! Was I not already in the dust? But his threat lacerated my
heart. I knew the law gave him power to fulfil it; for slaveholders have
been cunning enough to enact that "the child shall follow the condition of
the _mother_," not of the _father_, thus taking care that licentiousness
shall not interfere with avarice. This reflection made me clasp my innocent
babe all the more firmly to my heart. Horrid visions passed through my mind
when I thought of his liability to fall into the slave trader's hands. I
wept over him, and said, "O my child! perhaps they will leave you in some
cold cabin to die, and then throw you into a hole, as if you were a dog."
When Dr. Flint learned that I was again to be a mother, he was exasperated
beyond measure. He rushed from the house, and returned with a pair of
shears. I had a fine head of hair; and he often railed about my pride of
arranging it nicely. He cut every hair close to my head, storming and
swearing all the time. I replied to some of his abuse, and he struck me.
Some months before, he had pitched me down stairs in a fit of passion; and
the injury I received was so serious that I was unable to turn myself in
bed for many days. He then said, "Linda, I swear by God I will never raise
my hand against you again;" but I knew that he would forget his promise.
After he discovered my situation, he was like a restless spirit from the
pit. He came every day; and I was subjected to such insults as no pen can
describe. I would not describe them if I could; they were too low, too
revolting. I tried to keep them from my grandmother's knowledge as much as
I could. I knew she had enough to sadden her life, without having my
troubles to bear. When she saw the doctor treat me with violence, and heard
him utter oaths terrible enough to palsy a man's tongue, she could not
always hold her peace. It was natural and motherlike that she should try to
defend me; but it only made matters worse.
When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it
had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more
terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, _they_ have
wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own.
Dr. Flint had sworn that he would make me suffer, to my last day, for this
new crime against _him_, as he called it; and as long as he had me in his
power he kept his word. On the fourth day after the birth of my babe, he
entered my room suddenly, and commanded me to rise and bring my baby to
him. The nurse who took care of me had gone out of the room to prepare some
nourishment, and I was alone. There was no alternative. I rose, took up my
babe, and crossed the room to where he sat. "Now stand there," said he,
"till I tell you to go back!" My child bore a strong resemblance to her
father, and to the deceased Mrs. Sands, her grandmother. He noticed this;
and while I stood before him, trembling with weakness, he heaped upon me
and my little one every vile epithet he could think of. Even the
grandmother in her grave did not escape his curses. In the midst of his
vituperations I fainted at his feet. This recalled him to his senses. He
took the baby from my arms, laid it on the bed, dashed cold water in my
face, took me up, and shook me violently, to restore my consciousness
before any one entered the room. Just then my grandmother came in, and he
hurried out of the house. I suffered in consequence of this treatment; but
I begged my friends to let me die, rather than send for the doctor. There
was nothing I dreaded so much as his presence. My life was spared; and I
was glad for the sake of my little ones. Had it not been for these ties to
life, I should have been glad to be released by death, though I had lived
only nineteen years.
Always it gave me a pang that my children had no lawful claim to a name.
Their father offered his; but, if I had wished to accept the offer, I dared
not while my master lived. Moreover, I knew it would not be accepted at
their baptism. A Christian name they were at least entitled to; and we
resolved to call my boy for our dear good Benjamin, who had gone far away
My grandmother belonged to the church; and she was very desirous of having
the children christened. I knew Dr. Flint would forbid it, and I did not
venture to attempt it. But chance favored me. He was called to visit a
patient out of town, and was obliged to be absent during Sunday. "Now is
the time," said my grandmother; "we will take the children to church, and
have them christened."
When I entered the church, recollections of my mother came over me, and I
felt subdued in spirit. There she had presented me for baptism, without any
reason to feel ashamed. She had been married, and had such legal rights as
slavery allows to a slave. The vows had at least been sacred to _her_, and
she had never violated them. I was glad she was not alive, to know under
what different circumstances her grandchildren were presented for baptism.
Why had my lot been so different from my mother's? _Her_ master had died
when she was a child; and she remained with her mistress till she married.
She was never in the power of any master; and thus she escaped one class of
the evils that generally fall upon slaves.
When my baby was about to be christened, the former mistress of my father
stepped up to me, and proposed to give it her Christian name. To this I
added the surname of my father, who had himself no legal right to it; for
my grandfather on the paternal side was a white gentleman. What tangled
skeins are the genealogies of slavery! I loved my father; but it mortified
me to be obliged to bestow his name on my children.
When we left the church, my father's old mistress invited me to go home
with her. She clasped a gold chain round my baby's neck. I thanked her for
this kindness; but I did not like the emblem. I wanted no chain to be
fastened on my daughter, not even if its links were of gold. How earnestly
I prayed that she might never feel the weight of slavery's chain, whose
iron entereth into the soul!
XV. Continued Persecutions.
My children grew finely; and Dr. Flint would often say to me, with an
exulting smile. "These brats will bring me a handsome sum of money one of
I thought to myself that, God being my helper, they should never pass into
his hands. It seemed to me I would rather see them killed than have them
given up to his power. The money for the freedom of myself and my children
could be obtained; but I derived no advantage from that circumstance. Dr.
Flint loved money, but he loved power more. After much discussion, my
friends resolved on making another trial. There was a slaveholder about to
leave for Texas, and he was commissioned to buy me. He was to begin with
nine hundred dollars, and go up to twelve. My master refused his offers.
"Sir," said he, "she don't belong to me. She is my daughter's property, and
I have no right to sell her. I mistrust that you come from her paramour. If
so, you may tell him that he cannot buy her for any money; neither can he
buy her children."
The doctor came to see me the next day, and my heart beat quicker as he
entered. I never had seen the old man tread with so majestic a step. He
seated himself and looked at me with withering scorn. My children had
learned to be afraid of him. The little one would shut her eyes and hide
her face on my shoulder whenever she saw him; and Benny, who was now nearly
five years old, often inquired, "What makes that bad man come here so many
times? Does he want to hurt us?" I would clasp the dear boy in my arms,
trusting that he would be free before he was old enough to solve the
problem. And now, as the doctor sat there so grim and silent, the child
left his play and came and nestled up by me. At last my tormentor spoke.
"So you are left in disgust, are you?" said he. "It is no more than I
expected. You remember I told you years ago that you would be treated so.
So he is tired of you? Ha! ha! ha! The virtuous madam don't like to hear
about it, does she? Ha! ha! ha!" There was a sting in his calling me
virtuous madam. I no longer had the power of answering him as I had
formerly done. He continued: "So it seems you are trying to get up another
intrigue. Your new paramour came to me, and offered to buy you; but you may
be assured you will not succeed. You are mine; and you shall be mine for
life. There lives no human being that can take you out of slavery. I would
have done it; but you rejected my kind offer."
I told him I did not wish to get up any intrigue; that I had never seen the
man who offered to buy me.
"Do you tell me I lie?" exclaimed he, dragging me from my chair. "Will you
say again that you never saw that man?"
I answered, "I do say so."
He clinched my arm with a volley of oaths. Ben began to scream, and I told
him to go to his grandmother.
"Don't you stir a step, you little wretch!" said he. The child drew nearer
to me, and put his arms round me, as if he wanted to protect me. This was
too much for my enraged master. He caught him up and hurled him across the
room. I thought he was dead, and rushed towards him to take him up.
"Not yet!" exclaimed the doctor. "Let him lie there till he comes to."
"Let me go! Let me go!" I screamed, "or I will raise the whole house." I
struggled and got away; but he clinched me again. Somebody opened the door,
and he released me. I picked up my insensible child, and when I turned my
tormentor was gone. Anxiously, I bent over the little form, so pale and
still; and when the brown eyes at last opened, I don't know whether I was
very happy. All the doctor's former persecutions were renewed. He came
morning, noon, and night. No jealous lover ever watched a rival more
closely than he watched me and the unknown slaveholder, with whom he
accused me of wishing to get up an intrigue. When my grandmother was out of
the way he searched every room to find him.
In one of his visits, he happened to find a young girl, whom he had sold to
a trader a few days previous. His statement was, that he sold her because
she had been too familiar with the overseer. She had had a bitter life with
him, and was glad to be sold. She had no mother, and no near ties. She had
been torn from all her family years before. A few friends had entered into
bonds for her safety, if the trader would allow her to spend with them the
time that intervened between her sale and the gathering up of his human
stock. Such a favor was rarely granted. It saved the trader the expense of
board and jail fees, and though the amount was small, it was a weighty
consideration in a slavetrader's mind.
Dr. Flint always had an aversion to meeting slaves after he had sold them.
He ordered Rose out of the house; but he was no longer her master, and she
took no notice of him. For once the crushed Rose was the conqueror. His
gray eyes flashed angrily upon her; but that was the extent of his power.
"How came this girl here?" he exclaimed. "What right had you to allow it,
when you knew I had sold her?"
I answered, "This is my grandmother's house, and Rose came to see her. I
have no right to turn any body out of doors, that comes here for honest
He gave me the blow that would have fallen upon Rose if she had still been
his slave. My grandmother's attention had been attracted by loud voices,
and she entered in time to see a second blow dealt. She was not a woman to
let such an outrage, in her own house, go unrebuked. The doctor undertook
to explain that I had been insolent. Her indignant feelings rose higher and
higher, and finally boiled over in words. "Get out of my house!" she
exclaimed. "Go home, and take care of your wife and children, and you will
have enough to do, without watching my family."
He threw the birth of my children in her face, and accused her of
sanctioning the life I was leading. She told him I was living with her by
compulsion of his wife; that he needn't accuse her, for he was the one to
blame; he was the one who had caused all the trouble. She grew more and
more excited as she went on. "I tell you what, Dr. Flint," said she, "you
ain't got many more years to live, and you'd better be saying your prayers.
It will take 'em all, and more too, to wash the dirt off your soul."
"Do you know whom you are talking to?" he exclaimed.
She replied, "Yes, I know very well who I am talking to."
He left the house in a great rage. I looked at my grandmother. Our eyes
met. Their angry expression had passed away, but she looked sorrowful and
weary--weary of incessant strife. I wondered that it did not lessen her
love for me; but if it did she never showed it. She was always kind, always
ready to sympathize with my troubles. There might have been peace and
contentment in that humble home if it had not been for the demon Slavery.
The winter passed undisturbed by the doctor. The beautiful spring came; and
when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.
My drooping hopes came to life again with the flowers. I was dreaming of
freedom again; more for my children's sake than my own. I planned and I
planned. Obstacles hit against plans. There seemed no way of overcoming
them; and yet I hoped.
Back came the wily doctor. I was not at home when he called. A friend had
invited me to a small party, and to gratify her I went. To my great
consternation, a messenger came in haste to say that Dr. Flint was at my
grandmother's, and insisted on seeing me. They did not tell him where I
was, or he would have come and raised a disturbance in my friend's house.
They sent me a dark wrapper, I threw it on and hurried home. My speed did
not save me; the doctor had gone away in anger. I dreaded the morning, but
I could not delay it; it came, warm and bright. At an early hour the doctor
came and asked me where I had been last night. I told him. He did not
believe me, and sent to my friend's house to ascertain the facts. He came
in the afternoon to assure me he was satisfied that I had spoken the truth.
He seemed to be in a facetious mood, and I expected some jeers were coming.
"I suppose you need some recreation," said he, "but I am surprised at your
being there, among those negroes. It was not the place for _you_. Are you
_allowed_ to visit such people?"
I understood this covert fling at the white gentleman who was my friend;
but I merely replied, "I went to visit my friends, and any company they
keep is good enough for me."
He went on to say, "I have seen very little of you of late, but my interest
in you is unchanged. When I said I would have no more mercy on you I was
rash. I recall my words. Linda, you desire freedom for yourself and your
children, and you can obtain it only through me. If you agree to what I am
about to propose, you and they shall be free. There must be no
communication of any kind between you and their father. I will procure a
cottage, where you and the children can live together. Your labor shall be
light, such as sewing for my family. Think what is offered you, Linda--a
home and freedom! Let the past be forgotten. If I have been harsh with you
at times, your willfulness drove me to it. You know I exact obedience from
my own children, and I consider you as yet a child."
He paused for an answer, but I remained silent. "Why don't you speak?"
said he. "What more do you wait for?"
"Then you accept my offer?"
His anger was ready to break loose; but he succeeded in curbing it, and
replied, "You have answered without thought. But I must let you know there
are two sides to my proposition; if you reject the bright side, you will be
obliged to take the dark one. You must either accept my offer, or you and
your children shall be sent to your young master's plantation, there to
remain till your young mistress is married; and your children shall fare
like the rest of the negro children. I give you a week to consider it."
He was shrewd; but I knew he was not to be trusted. I told him I was ready
to give my answer now.
"I will not receive it now," he replied. "You act too much from impulse.
Remember that you and your children can be free a week from to-day if you
On what a monstrous chance hung the destiny of my children! I knew that my
master's offer was a snare, and that if I entered it escape would be
impossible. As for his promise, I knew him so well that I was sure if he
gave me free papers, they would be so managed as to have no legal value.
The alternative was inevitable. I resolved to go to the plantation. But
then I thought how completely I should be in his power, and the prospect
was appalling. Even if I should kneel before him, and implore him to spare
me, for the sake of my children, I knew he would spurn me with his foot,
and my weakness would be his triumph.
Before the week expired, I heard that young Mr. Flint was about to be
married to a lady of his own stamp. I foresaw the position I should occupy
in his establishment. I had once been sent to the plantation for
punishment, and fear of the son had induced the father to recall me very
soon. My mind was made up; I was resolved that I would foil my master and
save my children, or I would perish in the attempt. I kept my plans to
myself; I knew that friends would try to dissuade me from them, and I would
not wound their feelings by rejecting their advice.
On the decisive day the doctor came, and said he hoped I had made a wise
"I am ready to go to the plantation, sir," I replied.
"Have you thought how important your decision is to your children?" said
I told him I had.
"Very well. Go to the plantation, and my curse go with you," he replied.
"Your boy shall be put to work, and he shall soon be sold; and your girl
shall be raised for the purpose of selling well. Go your own ways!" He left
the room with curses, not to be repeated.
As I stood rooted to the spot, my grandmother came and said, "Linda, child,
what did you tell him?"
I answered that I was going to the plantation.
"_Must_ you go?" said she. "Can't something be done to stop it?"
I told her it was useless to try; but she begged me not to give up. She
said she would go to the doctor, and remind him how long and how faithfully
she had served in the family, and how she had taken her own baby from her
breast to nourish his wife. She would tell him I had been out of the family
so long they would not miss me; that she would pay them for my time, and
the money would procure a woman who had more strength for the situation
than I had. I begged her not to go; but she persisted in saying, "He will
listen to _me_, Linda." She went, and was treated as I expected. He coolly
listened to what she said, but denied her request. He told her that what he
did was for my good, that my feelings were entirely above my situation, and
that on the plantation I would receive treatment that was suitable to my
My grandmother was much cast down. I had my secret hopes; but I must fight
my battle alone. I had a woman's pride, and a mother's love for my
children; and I resolved that out of the darkness of this hour a brighter
dawn should rise for them. My master had power and law on his side; I had a
determined will. There is might in each.
XVI. Scenes At The Plantation.
Early the next morning I left my grandmother's with my youngest child. My
boy was ill, and I left him behind. I had many sad thoughts as the old
wagon jolted on. Hitherto, I had suffered alone; now, my little one was to
be treated as a slave. As we drew near the great house, I thought of the
time when I was formerly sent there out of revenge. I wondered for what
purpose I was now sent. I could not tell. I resolved to obey orders so far
as duty required; but within myself, I determined to make my stay as short
as possible. Mr. Flint was waiting to receive us, and told me to follow him
up stairs to receive orders for the day. My little Ellen was left below in
the kitchen. It was a change for her, who had always been so carefully
tended. My young master said she might amuse herself in the yard. This was
kind of him, since the child was hateful to his sight. My task was to fit
up the house for the reception of the bride. In the midst of sheets,
tablecloths, towels, drapery, and carpeting, my head was as busy planning,
as were my fingers with the needle. At noon I was allowed to go to Ellen.
She had sobbed herself to sleep. I heard Mr. Flint say to a neighbor, "I've
got her down here, and I'll soon take the town notions out of her head. My
father is partly to blame for her nonsense. He ought to have broke her in
long ago." The remark was made within my hearing, and it would have been
quite as manly to have made it to my face. He _had_ said things to my face
which might, or might not, have surprised his neighbor if he had known of
them. He was "a chip of the old block."
I resolved to give him no cause to accuse me of being too much of a lady,
so far as work was concerned. I worked day and night, with wretchedness
before me. When I lay down beside my child, I felt how much easier it would
be to see her die than to see her master beat her about, as I daily saw him
beat other little ones. The spirit of the mothers was so crushed by the
lash, that they stood by, without courage to remonstrate. How much more
must I suffer, before I should be "broke in" to that degree?
I wished to appear as contented as possible. Sometimes I had an opportunity
to send a few lines home; and this brought up recollections that made it
difficult, for a time, to seem calm and indifferent to my lot.
Notwithstanding my efforts, I saw that Mr. Flint regarded me with a
suspicious eye. Ellen broke down under the trials of her new life.
Separated from me, with no one to look after her, she wandered about, and
in a few days cried herself sick. One day, she sat under the window where I
was at work, crying that weary cry which makes a mother's heart bleed. I
was obliged to steel myself to bear it. After a while it ceased. I looked
out, and she was gone. As it was near noon, I ventured to go down in search
of her. The great house was raised two feet above the ground. I looked
under it, and saw her about midway, fast asleep. I crept under and drew her
out. As I held her in my arms, I thought how well it would be for her if
she never waked up; and I uttered my thought aloud. I was startled to hear
some one say, "Did you speak to me?" I looked up, and saw Mr. Flint
standing beside me. He said nothing further, but turned, frowning, away.
That night he sent Ellen a biscuit and a cup of sweetened milk. This
generosity surprised me. I learned afterwards, that in the afternoon he had
killed a large snake, which crept from under the house; and I supposed that
incident had prompted his unusual kindness.
The next morning the old cart was loaded with shingles for town. I put
Ellen into it, and sent her to her grandmother. Mr. Flint said I ought to
have asked his permission. I told him the child was sick, and required
attention which I had no time to give. He let it pass; for he was aware
that I had accomplished much work in a little time.
I had been three weeks on the plantation, when I planned a visit home. It
must be at night, after every body was in bed. I was six miles from town,
and the road was very dreary. I was to go with a young man, who, I knew,
often stole to town to see his mother. One night, when all was quiet, we
started. Fear gave speed to our steps, and we were not long in performing
the journey. I arrived at my grandmother's. Her bed room was on the first
floor, and the window was open, the weather being warm. I spoke to her and
she awoke. She let me in and closed the window, lest some late passer-by
should see me. A light was brought, and the whole household gathered round
me, some smiling and some crying. I went to look at my children, and
thanked God for their happy sleep. The tears fell as I leaned over them. As
I moved to leave, Benny stirred. I turned back, and whispered, "Mother is
here." After digging at his eyes with his little fist, they opened, and he
sat up in bed, looking at me curiously. Having satisfied himself that it
was I, he exclaimed, "O mother! you ain't dad, are you? They didn't cut off
your head at the plantation, did they?"
My time was up too soon, and my guide was waiting for me. I laid Benny back
in his bed, and dried his tears by a promise to come again soon. Rapidly we
retraced our steps back to the plantation. About half way we were met by a
company of four patrols. Luckily we heard their horse's hoofs before they
came in sight, and we had time to hide behind a large tree. They passed,
hallooing and shouting in a manner that indicated a recent carousal. How
thankful we were that they had not their dogs with them! We hastened our
footsteps, and when we arrived on the plantation we heard the sound of the
hand-mill. The slaves were grinding their corn. We were safely in the house
before the horn summoned them to their labor. I divided my little parcel of
food with my guide, knowing that he had lost the chance of grinding his
corn, and must toil all day in the field.
Mr. Flint often took an inspection of the house, to see that no one was
idle. The entire management of the work was trusted to me, because he knew
nothing about it; and rather than hire a superintendent he contented
himself with my arrangements. He had often urged upon his father the
necessity of having me at the plantation to take charge of his affairs, and
make clothes for the slaves; but the old man knew him too well to consent
to that arrangement.
When I had been working a month at the plantation, the great aunt of Mr.
Flint came to make him a visit. This was the good old lady who paid fifty
dollars for my grandmother, for the purpose of making her free, when she
stood on the auction block. My grandmother loved this old lady, whom we all
called Miss Fanny. She often came to take tea with us. On such occasions
the table was spread with a snow-white cloth, and the china cups and silver
spoons were taken from the old-fashioned buffet. There were hot muffins,
tea rusks, and delicious sweetmeats. My grandmother kept two cows, and the
fresh cream was Miss Fanny's delight. She invariably declared that it was
the best in town. The old ladies had cosey times together. They would work
and chat, and sometimes, while talking over old times, their spectacles
would get dim with tears, and would have to be taken off and wiped. When
Miss Fanny bade us good by, her bag was filled with grandmother's best
cakes, and she was urged to come again soon.
There had been a time when Dr. Flint's wife came to take tea with us, and
when her children were also sent to have a feast of "Aunt Marthy's" nice
cooking. But after I became an object of her jealousy and spite, she was
angry with grandmother for giving a shelter to me and my children. She
would not even speak to her in the street. This wounded my grandmother's
feelings, for she could not retain ill will against the woman whom she had
nourished with her milk when a babe. The doctor's wife would gladly have
prevented our intercourse with Miss Fanny if she could have done it, but
fortunately she was not dependent on the bounty of the Flints. She had
enough to be independent; and that is more than can ever be gained from
charity, however lavish it may be.
Miss Fanny was endeared to me by many recollections, and I was rejoiced to
see her at the plantation. The warmth of her large, loyal heart made the
house seem pleasanter while she was in it. She staid a week, and I had many
talks with her. She said her principal object in coming was to see how I
was treated, and whether any thing could be done for me. She inquired
whether she could help me in any way. I told her I believed not. She
condoled with me in her own peculiar way; saying she wished that I and all
my grandmother's family were at rest in our graves, for not until then
should she feel any peace about us. The good old soul did not dream that I
was planning to bestow peace upon her, with regard to myself and my
children; not by death, but by securing our freedom.
Again and again I had traversed those dreary twelve miles, to and from the
town; and all the way, I was meditating upon some means of escape for
myself and my children. My friends had made every effort that ingenuity
could devise to effect our purchase, but all their plans had proved
abortive. Dr. Flint was suspicious, and determined not to loosen his grasp
upon us. I could have made my escape alone; but it was more for my helpless
children than for myself that I longed for freedom. Though the boon would
have been precious to me, above all price, I would not have taken it at the
expense of leaving them in slavery. Every trial I endured, every sacrifice
I made for their sakes, drew them closer to my heart, and gave me fresh
courage to beat back the dark waves that rolled and rolled over me in a
seemingly endless night of storms.
The six weeks were nearly completed, when Mr. Flint's bride was expected to
take possession of her new home. The arrangements were all completed, and
Mr. Flint said I had done well. He expected to leave home on Saturday, and
return with his bride the following Wednesday. After receiving various
orders from him, I ventured to ask permission to spend Sunday in town. It
was granted; for which favor I was thankful. It was the first I had ever
asked of him, and I intended it should be the last. I needed more than one
night to accomplish the project I had in view; but the whole of Sunday
would give me an opportunity. I spent the Sabbath with my grandmother. A
calmer, more beautiful day never came down out of heaven. To me it was a
day of conflicting emotions. Perhaps it was the last day I should ever
spend under that dear, old sheltering roof! Perhaps these were the last
talks I should ever have with the faithful old friend of my whole life!
Perhaps it was the last time I and my children should be together! Well,
better so, I thought, than that they should be slaves. I knew the doom that
awaited my fair baby in slavery, and I determined to save her from it, or
perish in the attempt. I went to make this vow at the graves of my poor
parents, in the burying-ground of the slaves. "There the wicked cease from
troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest
together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor; the servant is free
from his master." I knelt by the graves of my parents, and thanked God, as
I had often done before, that they had not lived to witness my trials, or
to mourn over my sins. I had received my mother's blessing when she died;
and in many an hour of tribulation I had seemed to hear her voice,
sometimes chiding me, sometimes whispering loving words into my wounded
heart. I have shed many and bitter tears, to think that when I am gone from
my children they cannot remember me with such entire satisfaction as I
remembered my mother.
The graveyard was in the woods, and twilight was coming on. Nothing broke
the death-like stillness except the occasional twitter of a bird. My spirit
was overawed by the solemnity of the scene. For more than ten years I had
frequented this spot, but never had it seemed to me so sacred as now. A
black stump, at the head of my mother's grave, was all that remained of a
tree my father had planted. His grave was marked by a small wooden board,
bearing his name, the letters of which were nearly obliterated. I knelt
down and kissed them, and poured forth a prayer to God for guidance and
support in the perilous step I was about to take. As I passed the wreck of
the old meeting house, where, before Nat Turner's time, the slaves had been
allowed to meet for worship, I seemed to hear my father's voice come from
it, bidding me not to tarry till I reached freedom or the grave. I rushed
on with renovated hopes. My trust in God had been strengthened by that
prayer among the graves.
My plan was to conceal myself at the house of a friend, and remain there a
few weeks till the search was over. My hope was that the doctor would get
discouraged, and, for fear of losing my value, and also of subsequently
finding my children among the missing, he would consent to sell us; and I
knew somebody would buy us. I had done all in my power to make my children
comfortable during the time I expected to be separated from them. I was
packing my things, when grandmother came into the room, and asked what I
was doing. "I am putting my things in order," I replied. I tried to look
and speak cheerfully; but her watchful eye detected something beneath the
surface. She drew me towards her, and asked me to sit down. She looked
earnestly at me, and said, "Linda, do you want to kill your old
grandmother? Do you mean to leave your little, helpless children? I am old
now, and cannot do for your babies as I once did for you."
I replied, that if I went away, perhaps their father would be able to
secure their freedom.
"Ah, my child," said she, "don't trust too much to him. Stand by your own
children, and suffer with them till death. Nobody respects a mother who
forsakes her children; and if you leave them, you will never have a happy
moment. If you go, you will make me miserable the short time I have to
live. You would be taken and brought back, and your sufferings would be
dreadful. Remember poor Benjamin. Do give it up, Linda. Try to bear a
little longer. Things may turn out better than we expect."
My courage failed me, in view of the sorrow I should bring on that
faithful, loving old heart. I promised that I would try longer, and that I
would take nothing out of her house without her knowledge.
Whenever the children climbed on my knee, or laid their heads on my lap,
she would say, "Poor little souls! what would you do without a mother? She
don't love you as I do." And she would hug them to her own bosom, as if to
reproach me for my want of affection; but she knew all the while that I
loved them better than my life. I slept with her that night, and it was the
last time. The memory of it haunted me for many a year.
On Monday I returned to the plantation, and busied myself with preparations
for the important day. Wednesday came. It was a beautiful day, and the
faces of the slaves were as bright as the sunshine. The poor creatures were
merry. They were expecting little presents from the bride, and hoping for
better times under her administration. I had no such hopes for them. I knew
that the young wives of slaveholders often thought their authority and
importance would be best established and maintained by cruelty; and what I
had heard of young Mrs. Flint gave me no reason to expect that her rule
over them would be less severe than that of the master and overseer. Truly,
the colored race are the most cheerful and forgiving people on the face of
the earth. That their masters sleep in safety is owing to their
superabundance of heart; and yet they look upon their sufferings with less
pity than they would bestow on those of a horse or a dog.
I stood at the door with others to receive the bridegroom and bride. She
was a handsome, delicate-looking girl, and her face flushed with emotion at
sight of her new home. I thought it likely that visions of a happy future
were rising before her. It made me sad; for I knew how soon clouds would
come over her sunshine. She examined every part of the house, and told me
she was delighted with the arrangements I had made. I was afraid old Mrs.
Flint had tried to prejudice her against me, and I did my best to please
All passed off smoothly for me until dinner time arrived. I did not mind
the embarrassment of waiting on a dinner party, for the first time in my
life, half so much as I did the meeting with Dr. Flint and his wife, who
would be among the guests. It was a mystery to me why Mrs. Flint had not
made her appearance at the plantation during all the time I was putting the
house in order. I had not met her, face to face, for five years, and I had
no wish to see her now. She was a praying woman, and, doubtless, considered
my present position a special answer to her prayers. Nothing could please
her better than to see me humbled and trampled upon. I was just where she
would have me--in the power of a hard, unprincipled master. She did not
speak to me when she took her seat at table; but her satisfied, triumphant
smile, when I handed her plate, was more eloquent than words. The old
doctor was not so quiet in his demonstrations. He ordered me here and
there, and spoke with peculiar emphasis when he said "your _mistress_." I
was drilled like a disgraced soldier. When all was over, and the last key
turned, I sought my pillow, thankful that God had appointed a season of
rest for the weary.
The next day my new mistress began her housekeeping. I was not exactly
appointed maid of all work; but I was to do whatever I was told. Monday
evening came. It was always a busy time. On that night the slaves received
their weekly allowance of food. Three pounds of meat, a peck of corn, and
perhaps a dozen herring were allowed to each man. Women received a pound
and a half of meat, a peck of corn, and the same number of herring.
Children over twelve years old had half the allowance of the women. The
meat was cut and weighed by the foreman of the field hands, and piled on
planks before the meat house. Then the second foreman went behind the
building, and when the first foreman called out, "Who takes this piece of
meat?" he answered by calling somebody's name. This method was resorted to
as a means of preventing partiality in distributing the meat. The young
mistress came out to see how things were done on her plantation, and she
soon gave a specimen of her character. Among those in waiting for their
allowance was a very old slave, who had faithfully served the Flint family
through three generations. When he hobbled up to get his bit of meat, the
mistress said he was too old to have any allowance; that when niggers were
too old to work, they ought to be fed on grass. Poor old man! He suffered
much before he found rest in the grave.
My mistress and I got along very well together. At the end of a week, old
Mrs. Flint made us another visit, and was closeted a long time with her
daughter-in-law. I had my suspicions what was the subject of the
conference. The old doctor's wife had been informed that I could leave the
plantation on one condition, and she was very desirous to keep me there. If
she had trusted me, as I deserved to be trusted by her, she would have had
no fears of my accepting that condition. When she entered her carriage to
return home, she said to young Mrs. Flint, "Don't neglect to send for them
as quick as possible." My heart was on the watch all the time, and I at
once concluded that she spoke of my children. The doctor came the next day,
and as I entered the room to spread the tea table, I heard him say, "Don't
wait any longer. Send for them to-morrow." I saw through the plan. They
thought my children's being there would fetter me to the spot, and that it
was a good place to break us all in to abject submission to our lot as
slaves. After the doctor left, a gentleman called, who had always
manifested friendly feelings towards my grandmother and her family. Mr.
Flint carried him over the plantation to show him the results of labor
performed by men and women who were unpaid, miserably clothed, and half
famished. The cotton crop was all they thought of. It was duly admired, and
the gentleman returned with specimens to show his friends. I was ordered to
carry water to wash his hands. As I did so, he said, "Linda, how do you
like your new home?" I told him I liked it as well as I expected. He
replied, "They don't think you are contented, and to-morrow they are going
to bring your children to be with you. I am sorry for you, Linda. I hope
they will treat you kindly." I hurried from the room, unable to thank him.
My suspicions were correct. My children were to be brought to the
plantation to be "broke in."
To this day I feel grateful to the gentleman who gave me this timely
information. It nerved me to immediate action.
XVII. The Flight.
Mr. Flint was hard pushed for house servants, and rather than lose me he
had restrained his malice. I did my work faithfully, though not, of course,
with a willing mind. They were evidently afraid I should leave them. Mr.
Flint wished that I should sleep in the great house instead of the
servants' quarters. His wife agreed to the proposition, but said I mustn't
bring my bed into the house, because it would scatter feathers on her
carpet. I knew when I went there that they would never think of such a
thing as furnishing a bed of any kind for me and my little ones. I
therefore carried my own bed, and now I was forbidden to use it. I did as I
was ordered. But now that I was certain my children were to be put in their
power, in order to give them a stronger hold on me, I resolved to leave
them that night. I remembered the grief this step would bring upon my dear
old grandmother, and nothing less than the freedom of my children would
have induced me to disregard her advice. I went about my evening work with
trembling steps. Mr. Flint twice called from his chamber door to inquire
why the house was not locked up. I replied that I had not done my work.
"You have had time enough to do it," said he. "Take care how you answer
I shut all the windows, locked all the doors, and went up to the third
story, to wait till midnight. How long those hours seemed, and how
fervently I prayed that God would not forsake me in this hour of utmost
need! I was about to risk every thing on the throw of a die; and if I
failed, O what would become of me and my poor children? They would be made
to suffer for my fault.
At half past twelve I stole softly down stairs. I stopped on the second
floor, thinking I heard a noise. I felt my way down into the parlor, and
looked out of the window. The night was so intensely dark that I could see
nothing. I raised the window very softly and jumped out. Large drops of
rain were falling, and the darkness bewildered me. I dropped on my knees,
and breathed a short prayer to God for guidance and protection. I groped my
way to the road, and rushed towards the town with almost lightning speed. I
arrived at my grandmother's house, but dared not see her. She would say,
"Linda, you are killing me;" and I knew that would unnerve me. I tapped
softly at the window of a room, occupied by a woman, who had lived in the
house several years. I knew she was a faithful friend, and could be trusted
with my secret. I tapped several times before she heard me. At last she
raised the window, and I whispered, "Sally, I have run away. Let me in,
quick." She opened the door softly, and said in low tones, "For God's sake,
don't. Your grandmother is trying to buy you and de chillern. Mr. Sands was
here last week. He tole her he was going away on business, but he wanted
her to go ahead about buying you and de chillern, and he would help her all
he could. Don't run away, Linda. Your grandmother is all bowed down wid
I replied, "Sally, they are going to carry my children to the plantation
to-morrow; and they will never sell them to any body so long as they have
me in their power. Now, would you advise me to go back?"
"No, chile, no," answered she. "When dey finds you is gone, dey won't want
de plague ob de chillern; but where is you going to hide? Dey knows ebery
inch ob dis house."
I told her I had a hiding-place, and that was all it was best for her to
know. I asked her to go into my room as soon as it was light, and take all
my clothes out of my trunk, and pack them in hers; for I knew Mr. Flint and
the constable would be there early to search my room. I feared the sight of
my children would be too much for my full heart; but I could not go into
the uncertain future without one last look. I bent over the bed where lay
my little Benny and baby Ellen. Poor little ones! fatherless and
motherless! Memories of their father came over me. He wanted to be kind to
them; but they were not all to him, as they were to my womanly heart. I
knelt and prayed for the innocent little sleepers. I kissed them lightly,
and turned away.
As I was about to open the street door, Sally laid her hand on my shoulder,
and said, "Linda, is you gwine all alone? Let me call your uncle."
"No, Sally," I replied, "I want no one to be brought into trouble on my
I went forth into the darkness and rain. I ran on till I came to the house
of the friend who was to conceal me.
Early the next morning Mr. Flint was at my grandmother's inquiring for me.
She told him she had not seen me, and supposed I was at the plantation. He
watched her face narrowly, and said, "Don't you know any thing about her
running off?" She assured him that she did not. He went on to say, "Last
night she ran off without the least provocation. We had treated her very
kindly. My wife liked her. She will soon be found and brought back. Are her
children with you?" When told that they were, he said, "I am very glad to
hear that. If they are here, she cannot be far off. If I find out that any
of my niggers have had any thing to do with this damned business, I'll give
'em five hundred lashes." As he started to go to his father's, he turned
round and added, persuasively, "Let her be brought back, and she shall have
her children to live with her."
The tidings made the old doctor rave and storm at a furious rate. It was a
busy day for them. My grandmother's house was searched from top to bottom.
As my trunk was empty, they concluded I had taken my clothes with me.
Before ten o'clock every vessel northward bound was thoroughly examined,
and the law against harboring fugitives was read to all on board. At night
a watch was set over the town. Knowing how distressed my grandmother would
be, I wanted to send her a message; but it could not be done. Every one who
went in or out of her house was closely watched. The doctor said he would
take my children, unless she became responsible for them; which of course
she willingly did. The next day was spent in searching. Before night, the
following advertisement was posted at every corner, and in every public
place for miles round:--
$300 REWARD! Ran away from the subscriber, an intelligent, bright, mulatto
girl, named Linda, 21 years of age. Five feet four inches high. Dark eyes,
and black hair inclined to curl; but it can be made straight. Has a decayed
spot on a front tooth. She can read and write, and in all probability will
try to get to the Free States. All persons are forbidden, under penalty of
law, to harbor or employ said slave. $150 will be given to whoever takes
her in the state, and $300 if taken out of the state and delivered to me,
or lodged in jail.
XVIII. Months Of Peril.
The search for me was kept up with more perseverence than I had
anticipated. I began to think that escape was impossible. I was in great
anxiety lest I should implicate the friend who harbored me. I knew the
consequences would be frightful; and much as I dreaded being caught, even
that seemed better than causing an innocent person to suffer for kindness
to me. A week had passed in terrible suspense, when my pursuers came into
such close vicinity that I concluded they had tracked me to my
hiding-place. I flew out of the house, and concealed myself in a thicket of
bushes. There I remained in an agony of fear for two hours. Suddenly, a
reptile of some kind seized my leg. In my fright, I struck a blow which
loosened its hold, but I could not tell whether I had killed it; it was so
dark, I could not see what it was; I only knew it was something cold and
slimy. The pain I felt soon indicated that the bite was poisonous. I was
compelled to leave my place of concealment, and I groped my way back into
the house. The pain had become intense, and my friend was startled by my
look of anguish. I asked her to prepare a poultice of warm ashes and
vinegar, and I applied it to my leg, which was already much swollen. The
application gave me some relief, but the swelling did not abate. The dread
of being disabled was greater than the physical pain I endured. My friend
asked an old woman, who doctored among the slaves, what was good for the
bite of a snake or a lizard. She told her to steep a dozen coppers in
vinegar, over night, and apply the cankered vinegar to the inflamed
[Footnote 1: The poison of a snake is a powerful acid, and is counteracted
by powerful alkalies, such as potash, ammonia, &c. The Indians are
accustomed to apply wet ashes, or plunge the limb into strong lie. White
men, employed to lay out railroads in snaky places, often carry ammonia
with them as an antidote.--EDITOR.]
I had succeeded in cautiously conveying some messages to my relatives. They
were harshly threatened, and despairing of my having a chance to escape,
they advised me to return to my master, ask his forgiveness, and let him
make an example of me. But such counsel had no influence with me. When I
started upon this hazardous undertaking, I had resolved that, come what
would, there should be no turning back. "Give me liberty, or give me
death," was my motto. When my friend contrived to make known to my
relatives the painful situation I had been in for twenty-four hours, they
said no more about my going back to my master. Something must be done, and
that speedily; but where to return for help, they knew not. God in his
mercy raised up "a friend in need."
Among the ladies who were acquainted with my grandmother, was one who had
known her from childhood, and always been very friendly to her. She had
also known my mother and her children, and felt interested for them. At
this crisis of affairs she called to see my grandmother, as she not
unfrequently did. She observed the sad and troubled expression of her face,
and asked if she knew where Linda was, and whether she was safe. My
grandmother shook her head, without answering. "Come, Aunt Martha,"
said the kind lady, "tell me all about it. Perhaps I can do something
to help you." The husband of this lady held many slaves, and bought and
sold slaves. She also held a number in her own name; but she treated
them kindly, and would never allow any of them to be sold. She was
unlike the majority of slaveholders' wives. My grandmother looked
earnestly at her. Something in the expression of her face said
"Trust me!" and she did trust her. She listened attentively to
the details of my story, and sat thinking for a while. At last she said,
"Aunt Martha, I pity you both. If you think there is any chance of Linda's
getting to the Free States, I will conceal her for a time. But first you
must solemnly promise that my name shall never be mentioned. If such a
thing should become known, it would ruin me and my family. No one in my
house must know of it, except the cook. She is so faithful that I would
trust my own life with her; and I know she likes Linda. It is a great risk;
but I trust no harm will come of it. Get word to Linda to be ready as soon
as it is dark, before the patrols are out. I will send the housemaids on
errands, and Betty shall go to meet Linda." The place where we were to meet
was designated and agreed upon. My grandmother was unable to thank the lady
for this noble deed; overcome by her emotions, she sank on her knees and
sobbed like a child.
I received a message to leave my friend's house at such an hour, and go to
a certain place where a friend would be waiting for me. As a matter of
prudence no names were mentioned. I had no means of conjecturing who I was
to meet, or where I was going. I did not like to move thus blindfolded, but
I had no choice. It would not do for me to remain where I was. I disguised
myself, summoned up courage to meet the worst, and went to the appointed
place. My friend Betty was there; she was the last person I expected to
see. We hurried along in silence. The pain in my leg was so intense that it
seemed as if I should drop but fear gave me strength. We reached the house
and entered unobserved. Her first words were: "Honey, now you is safe. Dem
devils ain't coming to search _dis_ house. When I get you into missis' safe
place, I will bring some nice hot supper. I specs you need it after all dis
skeering." Betty's vocation led her to think eating the most important
thing in life. She did not realize that my heart was too full for me to
care much about supper.
The mistress came to meet us, and led me up stairs to a small room over her
own sleeping apartment. "You will be safe here, Linda," said she; "I keep
this room to store away things that are out of use. The girls are not
accustomed to be sent to it, and they will not suspect any thing unless
they hear some noise. I always keep it locked, and Betty shall take care of
the key. But you must be very careful, for my sake as well as your own; and
you must never tell my secret; for it would ruin me and my family. I will
keep the girls busy in the morning, that Betty may have a chance to bring
your breakfast; but it will not do for her to come to you again till night.
I will come to see you sometimes. Keep up your courage. I hope this state
of things will not last long." Betty came with the "nice hot supper," and
the mistress hastened down stairs to keep things straight till she
returned. How my heart overflowed with gratitude! Words choked in my
throat; but I could have kissed the feet of my benefactress. For that deed
of Christian womanhood, may God forever bless her!
I went to sleep that night with the feeling that I was for the present the
most fortunate slave in town. Morning came and filled my little cell with
light. I thanked the heavenly Father for this safe retreat. Opposite my
window was a pile of feather beds. On the top of these I could lie
perfectly concealed, and command a view of the street through which Dr.
Flint passed to his office. Anxious as I was, I felt a gleam of
satisfaction when I saw him. Thus far I had outwitted him, and I triumphed
over it. Who can blame slaves for being cunning? They are constantly
compelled to resort to it. It is the only weapon of the weak and oppressed
against the strength of their tyrants.
I was daily hoping to hear that my master had sold my children; for I knew
who was on the watch to buy them. But Dr. Flint cared even more for revenge
than he did for money. My brother William and the good aunt who had served
in his family twenty years, and my little Benny, and Ellen, who was a
little over two years old, were thrust into jail, as a means of compelling
my relatives to give some information about me. He swore my grandmother
should never see one of them again till I was brought back. They kept these
facts from me for several days. When I heard that my little ones were in a
loathsome jail, my first impulse was to go to them. I was encountering
dangers for the sake of freeing them, and must I be the cause of their
death? The thought was agonizing. My benefactress tried to soothe me by
telling me that my aunt would take good care of the children while they
remained in jail. But it added to my pain to think that the good old aunt,
who had always been so kind to her sister's orphan children, should be shut
up in prison for no other crime than loving them. I suppose my friends
feared a reckless movement on my part, knowing, as they did, that my life
was bound up in my children. I received a note from my brother William. It
was scarcely legible, and ran thus: "Wherever you are, dear sister, I beg
of you not to come here. We are all much better off than you are. If you
come, you will ruin us all. They would force you to tell where you had
been, or they would kill you. Take the advice of your friends; if not for
the sake of me and your children, at least for the sake of those you would
Poor William! He also must suffer for being my brother. I took his advice
and kept quiet. My aunt was taken out of jail at the end of a month,
because Mrs. Flint could not spare her any longer. She was tired of being
her own housekeeper. It was quite too fatiguing to order her dinner and eat
it too. My children remained in jail, where brother William did all he
could for their comfort. Betty went to see them sometimes, and brought me
tidings. She was not permitted to enter the jail; but William would hold
them up to the grated window while she chatted with them. When she repeated
their prattle, and told me how they wanted to see their ma, my tears would
flow. Old Betty would exclaim, "Lors, chile! what's you crying 'bout? Dem
young uns vil kill you dead. Don't be so chick'n hearted! If you does, you
vil nebber git thro' dis world."
Good old soul! She had gone through the world childless. She had never had
little ones to clasp their arms round her neck; she had never seen their
soft eyes looking into hers; no sweet little voices had called her mother;
she had never pressed her own infants to her heart, with the feeling that
even in fetters there was something to live for. How could she realize my
feelings? Betty's husband loved children dearly, and wondered why God had
denied them to him. He expressed great sorrow when he came to Betty with
the tidings that Ellen had been taken out of jail and carried to Dr.
Flint's. She had the measles a short time before they carried her to jail,
and the disease had left her eyes affected. The doctor had taken her home
to attend to them. My children had always been afraid of the doctor and his
wife. They had never been inside of their house. Poor little Ellen cried
all day to be carried back to prison. The instincts of childhood are true.
She knew she was loved in the jail. Her screams and sobs annoyed Mrs.
Flint. Before night she called one of the slaves, and said, "Here, Bill,
carry this brat back to the jail. I can't stand her noise. If she would be
quiet I should like to keep the little minx. She would make a handy
waiting-maid for my daughter by and by. But if she staid here, with her
white face, I suppose I should either kill her or spoil her. I hope the
doctor will sell them as far as wind and water can carry them. As for their
mother, her ladyship will find out yet what she gets by running away. She
hasn't so much feeling for her children as a cow has for its calf. If she
had, she would have come back long ago, to get them out of jail, and save
all this expense and trouble. The good-for-nothing hussy! When she is
caught, she shall stay in jail, in irons, for one six months, and then be
sold to a sugar plantation. I shall see her broke in yet. What do you stand
there for, Bill? Why don't you go off with the brat? Mind, now, that you
don't let any of the niggers speak to her in the street!"
When these remarks were reported to me, I smiled at Mrs. Flint's saying
that she should either kill my child or spoil her. I thought to myself
there was very little danger of the latter. I have always considered it as
one of God's special providences that Ellen screamed till she was carried
back to jail.
That same night Dr. Flint was called to a patient, and did not return till
near morning. Passing my grandmother's, he saw a light in the house, and
thought to himself, "Perhaps this has something to do with Linda." He
knocked, and the door was opened. "What calls you up so early?" said he. "I
saw your light, and I thought I would just stop and tell you that I have
found out where Linda is. I know where to put my hands on her, and I shall
have her before twelve o'clock." When he had turned away, my grandmother
and my uncle looked anxiously at each other. They did not know whether or
not it was merely one of the doctor's tricks to frighten them. In their
uncertainty, they thought it was best to have a message conveyed to my
friend Betty. Unwilling to alarm her mistress, Betty resolved to dispose of
me herself. She came to me, and told me to rise and dress quickly. We
hurried down stairs, and across the yard, into the kitchen. She locked the
door, and lifted up a plank in the floor. A buffalo skin and a bit of
carpet were spread for me to lie on, and a quilt thrown over me. "Stay
dar," said she, "till I sees if dey know 'bout you. Dey say dey vil put
thar hans on you afore twelve o'clock. If dey _did_ know whar you are, dey
won't know _now_. Dey'll be disapinted dis time. Dat's all I got to say. If
dey comes rummagin 'mong _my_ tings, de'll get one bressed sarssin from dis
'ere nigger." In my shallow bed I had but just room enough to bring my
hands to my face to keep the dust out of my eyes; for Betty walked over me
twenty times in an hour, passing from the dresser to the fireplace. When
she was alone, I could hear her pronouncing anathemas over Dr. Flint and
all his tribe, every now and then saying, with a chuckling laugh, "Dis
nigger's too cute for 'em dis time." When the housemaids were about, she
had sly ways of drawing them out, that I might hear what they would say.
She would repeat stories she had heard about my being in this, or that, or
the other place. To which they would answer, that I was not fool enough to
be staying round there; that I was in Philadelphia or New York before this
time. When all were abed and asleep, Betty raised the plank, and said,
"Come out, chile; come out. Dey don't know nottin 'bout you. Twas only
white folks' lies, to skeer de niggers."
Some days after this adventure I had a much worse fright. As I sat very
still in my retreat above stairs, cheerful visions floated through my mind.
I thought Dr. Flint would soon get discouraged, and would be willing to
sell my children, when he lost all hopes of making them the means of my
discovery. I knew who was ready to buy them. Suddenly I heard a voice that
chilled my blood. The sound was too familiar to me, it had been too
dreadful, for me not to recognize at once my old master. He was in the
house, and I at once concluded he had come to seize me. I looked round in
terror. There was no way of escape. The voice receded. I supposed the
constable was with him, and they were searching the house. In my alarm I
did not forget the trouble I was bringing on my generous benefactress. It
seemed as if I were born to bring sorrow on all who befriended me, and that
was the bitterest drop in the bitter cup of my life. After a while I heard
approaching footsteps; the key was turned in my door. I braced myself
against the wall to keep from falling. I ventured to look up, and there
stood my kind benefactress alone. I was too much overcome to speak, and
sunk down upon the floor.
"I thought you would hear your master's voice," she said; "and knowing you
would be terrified, I came to tell you there is nothing to fear. You may
even indulge in a laugh at the old gentleman's expense. He is so sure you
are in New York, that he came to borrow five hundred dollars to go in
pursuit of you. My sister had some money to loan on interest. He has
obtained it, and proposes to start for New York to-night. So, for the
present, you see you are safe. The doctor will merely lighten his pocket
hunting after the bird he has left behind."
XIX. The Children Sold.
The Doctor came back from New York, of course without accomplishing his
purpose. He had expended considerable money, and was rather disheartened.
My brother and the children had now been in jail two months, and that also
was some expense. My friends thought it was a favorable time to work on his
discouraged feelings. Mr. Sands sent a speculator to offer him nine hundred
dollars for my brother William, and eight hundred for the two children.
These were high prices, as slaves were then selling; but the offer was
rejected. If it had been merely a question of money, the doctor would have
sold any boy of Benny's age for two hundred dollars; but he could not bear
to give up the power of revenge. But he was hard pressed for money, and he
revolved the matter in his mind. He knew that if he could keep Ellen till
she was fifteen, he could sell her for a high price; but I presume he
reflected that she might die, or might be stolen away. At all events, he
came to the conclusion that he had better accept the slave-trader's offer.
Meeting him in the street, he inquired when he would leave town. "To-day,
at ten o'clock," he replied. "Ah, do you go so soon?" said the doctor. "I
have been reflecting upon your proposition, and I have concluded to let you
have the three negroes if you will say nineteen hundred dollars." After
some parley, the trader agreed to his terms. He wanted the bill of sale
drawn up and signed immediately, as he had a great deal to attend to during
the short time he remained in town. The doctor went to the jail and told
William he would take him back into his service if he would promise to
behave himself but he replied that he would rather be sold. "And you
_shall_ be sold, you ungrateful rascal!" exclaimed the doctor. In less than
an hour the money was paid, the papers were signed, sealed, and delivered,
and my brother and children were in the hands of the trader.
It was a hurried transaction; and after it was over, the doctor's
characteristic caution returned. He went back to the speculator, and said,
"Sir, I have come to lay you under obligations of a thousand dollars not to
sell any of those negroes in this state." "You come too late," replied the
trader; "our bargain is closed." He had, in fact, already sold them to Mr.
Sands, but he did not mention it. The doctor required him to put irons on
"that rascal, Bill," and to pass through the back streets when he took his
gang out of town. The trader was privately instructed to concede to his
wishes. My good old aunt went to the jail to bid the children good by,
supposing them to be the speculator's property, and that she should never
see them again. As she held Benny in her lap, he said, "Aunt Nancy, I want
to show you something." He led her to the door and showed her a long row of
marks, saying, "Uncle Will taught me to count. I have made a mark for every
day I have been here, and it is sixty days. It is a long time; and the
speculator is going to take me and Ellen away. He's a bad man. It's wrong
for him to take grandmother's children. I want to go to my mother."
My grandmother was told that the children would be restored to her, but she
was requested to act as if they were really to be sent away. Accordingly,
she made up a bundle of clothes and went to the jail. When she arrived, she
found William handcuffed among the gang, and the children in the trader's
cart. The scene seemed too much like reality. She was afraid there might
have been some deception or mistake. She fainted, and was carried home.
When the wagon stopped at the hotel, several gentlemen came out and
proposed to purchase William, but the trader refused their offers, without
stating that he was already sold. And now came the trying hour for that
drove of human beings, driven away like cattle, to be sold they knew not
where. Husbands were torn from wives, parents from children, never to look
upon each other again this side the grave. There was wringing of hands and
cries of despair.
Dr. Flint had the supreme satisfaction of seeing the wagon leave town, and
Mrs. Flint had the gratification of supposing that my children were going
"as far as wind and water would carry them." According to agreement, my
uncle followed the wagon some miles, until they came to an old farm house.
There the trader took the irons from William, and as he did so, he said,
"You are a damned clever fellow. I should like to own you myself. Them
gentlemen that wanted to buy you said you was a bright, honest chap, and I
must git you a good home. I guess your old master will swear to-morrow, and
call himself an old fool for selling the children. I reckon he'll never git
their mammy back again. I expect she's made tracks for the north. Good by,
old boy. Remember, I have done you a good turn. You must thank me by
coaxing all the pretty gals to go with me next fall. That's going to be my
last trip. This trading in niggers is a bad business for a fellow that's
got any heart. Move on, you fellows!" And the gang went on, God alone knows
Much as I despise and detest the class of slave-traders, whom I regard as