Part 3 out of 4
the vilest wretches on earth, I must do this man the justice to say that he
seemed to have some feeling. He took a fancy to William in the jail, and
wanted to buy him. When he heard the story of my children, he was willing
to aid them in getting out of Dr. Flint's power, even without charging the
My uncle procured a wagon and carried William and the children back to
town. Great was the joy in my grandmother's house! The curtains were
closed, and the candles lighted. The happy grandmother cuddled the little
ones to her bosom. They hugged her, and kissed her, and clapped their
hands, and shouted. She knelt down and poured forth one of her heartfelt
prayers of thanksgiving to God. The father was present for a while; and
though such a "parental relation" as existed between him and my children
takes slight hold on the hearts or consciences of slaveholders, it must be
that he experienced some moments of pure joy in witnessing the happiness he
I had no share in the rejoicings of that evening. The events of the day had
not come to my knowledge. And now I will tell you something that happened
to me; though you will, perhaps, think it illustrates the superstition of
slaves. I sat in my usual place on the floor near the window, where I could
hear much that was said in the street without being seen. The family had
retired for the night, and all was still. I sat there thinking of my
children, when I heard a low strain of music. A band of serenaders were
under the window, playing "Home, sweet home." I listened till the sounds
did not seem like music, but like the moaning of children. It seemed as if
my heart would burst. I rose from my sitting posture, and knelt. A streak
of moonlight was on the floor before me, and in the midst of it appeared
the forms of my two children. They vanished; but I had seen them
distinctly. Some will call it a dream, others a vision. I know not how to
account for it, but it made a strong impression on my mind, and I felt
certain something had happened to my little ones.
I had not seen Betty since morning. Now I heard her softly turning the key.
As soon as she entered, I clung to her, and begged her to let me know
whether my children were dead, or whether they were sold; for I had seen
their spirits in my room, and I was sure something had happened to them.
"Lor, chile," said she, putting her arms round me, "you's got de
high-sterics. I'll sleep wid you to-night, 'cause you'll make a noise, and
ruin missis. Something has stirred you up mightily. When you is done cryin,
I'll talk wid you. De chillern is well, and mighty happy. I seed 'em
myself. Does dat satisfy you? Dar, chile, be still! Somebody vill hear
you." I tried to obey her. She lay down, and was soon sound asleep; but no
sleep would come to my eyelids.
At dawn, Betty was up and off to the kitchen. The hours passed on, and the
vision of the night kept constantly recurring to my thoughts. After a while
I heard the voices of two women in the entry. In one of them I recognized
the housemaid. The other said to her, "Did you know Linda Brent's children
was sold to the speculator yesterday. They say ole massa Flint was mighty
glad to see 'em drove out of town; but they say they've come back agin. I
'spect it's all their daddy's doings. They say he's bought William too.
Lor! how it will take hold of ole massa Flint! I'm going roun' to aunt
Marthy's to see 'bout it."
I bit my lips till the blood came to keep from crying out. Were my children
with their grandmother, or had the speculator carried them off? The
suspense was dreadful. Would Betty _never_ come, and tell me the truth
about it? At last she came, and I eagerly repeated what I had overheard.
Her face was one broad, bright smile. "Lor, you foolish ting!" said she.
"I'se gwine to tell you all 'bout it. De gals is eating thar breakfast, and
missus tole me to let her tell you; but, poor creeter! t'aint right to keep
you waitin', and I'se gwine to tell you. Brudder, chillern, all is bought
by de daddy! I'se laugh more dan nuff, tinking 'bout ole massa Flint. Lor,
how he _vill_ swar! He's got ketched dis time, any how; but I must be
getting out o' dis, or dem gals vill come and ketch _me_."
Betty went off laughing; and I said to myself, "Can it be true that my
children are free? I have not suffered for them in vain. Thank God!"
Great surprise was expressed when it was known that my children had
returned to their grandmother's. The news spread through the town, and many
a kind word was bestowed on the little ones.
Dr. Flint went to my grandmother's to ascertain who was the owner of my
children, and she informed him. "I expected as much," said he. "I am glad
to hear it. I have had news from Linda lately, and I shall soon have her.
You need never expect to see _her_ free. She shall be my slave as long as I
live, and when I am dead she shall be the slave of my children. If I ever
find out that you or Phillip had anything to do with her running off I'll
kill him. And if I meet William in the street, and he presumes to look at
me, I'll flog him within an inch of his life. Keep those brats out of my
As he turned to leave, my grandmother said something to remind him of his
own doings. He looked back upon her, as if he would have been glad to
strike her to the ground.
I had my season of joy and thanksgiving. It was the first time since my
childhood that I had experienced any real happiness. I heard of the old
doctor's threats, but they no longer had the same power to trouble me. The
darkest cloud that hung over my life had rolled away. Whatever slavery
might do to me, it could not shackle my children. If I fell a sacrifice, my
little ones were saved. It was well for me that my simple heart believed
all that had been promised for their welfare. It is always better to trust
than to doubt.
XX. New Perils.
The doctor, more exasperated than ever, again tried to revenge himself on
my relatives. He arrested uncle Phillip on the charge of having aided my
flight. He was carried before a court, and swore truly that he knew nothing
of my intention to escape, and that he had not seen me since I left my
master's plantation. The doctor then demanded that he should give bail for
five hundred dollars that he would have nothing to do with me. Several
gentlemen offered to be security for him; but Mr. Sands told him he had
better go back to jail, and he would see that he came out without giving
The news of his arrest was carried to my grandmother, who conveyed it to
Betty. In the kindness of her heart, she again stowed me away under the
floor; and as she walked back and forth, in the performance of her culinary
duties, she talked apparently to herself, but with the intention that I
should hear what was going on. I hoped that my uncle's imprisonment would
last but few days; still I was anxious. I thought it likely Dr. Flint would
do his utmost to taunt and insult him, and I was afraid my uncle might lose
control of himself, and retort in some way that would be construed into a
punishable offence; and I was well aware that in court his word would not
be taken against any white man's. The search for me was renewed. Something
had excited suspicions that I was in the vicinity. They searched the house
I was in. I heard their steps and their voices. At night, when all were
asleep, Betty came to release me from my place of confinement. The fright I
had undergone, the constrained posture, and the dampness of the ground,
made me ill for several days. My uncle was soon after taken out of prison;
but the movements of all my relatives, and of all our friends, were very
We all saw that I could not remain where I was much longer. I had already
staid longer than was intended, and I knew my presence must be a source of
perpetual anxiety to my kind benefactress. During this time, my friends had
laid many plans for my escape, but the extreme vigilance of my persecutors
made it impossible to carry them into effect.
One morning I was much startled by hearing somebody trying to get into my
room. Several keys were tried, but none fitted. I instantly conjectured it
was one of the housemaids; and I concluded she must either have heard some
noise in the room, or have noticed the entrance of Betty. When my friend
came, at her usual time, I told her what had happened. "I knows who it
was," said she. "Tend upon it, 'twas dat Jenny. Dat nigger allers got de
debble in her." I suggested that she might have seen or heard something
that excited her curiosity.
"Tut! tut! chile!" exclaimed Betty, "she ain't seen notin', nor hearn
notin'. She only 'spects something. Dat's all. She wants to fine out who
hab cut and make my gownd. But she won't nebber know. Dat's sartin. I'll
git missis to fix her."
I reflected a moment, and said, "Betty, I must leave here to-night."
"Do as you tink best, poor chile," she replied. "I'se mighty 'fraid dat
'ere nigger vill pop on you some time."
She reported the incident to her mistress, and received orders to keep
Jenny busy in the kitchen till she could see my uncle Phillip. He told her
he would send a friend for me that very evening. She told him she hoped I
was going to the north, for it was very dangerous for me to remain any
where in the vicinity. Alas, it was not an easy thing, for one in my
situation, to go to the north. In order to leave the coast quite clear for
me, she went into the country to spend the day with her brother, and took
Jenny with her. She was afraid to come and bid me good by, but she left a
kind message with Betty. I heard her carriage roll from the door, and I
never again saw her who had so generously befriended the poor, trembling
fugitive! Though she was a slaveholder, to this day my heart blesses her!
I had not the slightest idea where I was going. Betty brought me a suit of
sailor's clothes,--jacket, trowsers, and tarpaulin hat. She gave me a small
bundle, saying I might need it where I was going. In cheery tones, she
exclaimed, "I'se _so_ glad you is gwine to free parts! Don't forget ole
Betty. P'raps I'll come 'long by and by."
I tried to tell her how grateful I felt for all her kindness. But she
interrupted me. "I don't want no tanks, honey. I'se glad I could help you,
and I hope de good Lord vill open de path for you. I'se gwine wid you to de
lower gate. Put your hands in your pockets, and walk ricketty, like de
I performed to her satisfaction. At the gate I found Peter, a young colored
man, waiting for me. I had known him for years. He had been an apprentice
to my father, and had always borne a good character. I was not afraid to
trust to him. Betty bade me a hurried good by, and we walked off. "Take
courage, Linda," said my friend Peter. "I've got a dagger, and no man shall
take you from me, unless he passes over my dead body."
It was a long time since I had taken a walk out of doors, and the fresh air
revived me. It was also pleasant to hear a human voice speaking to me above
a whisper. I passed several people whom I knew, but they did not recognize
me in my disguise. I prayed internally that, for Peter's sake, as well as
my own, nothing might occur to bring out his dagger. We walked on till we
came to the wharf. My aunt Nancy's husband was a seafaring man, and it had
been deemed necessary to let him into our secret. He took me into his boat,
rowed out to a vessel not far distant, and hoisted me on board. We three
were the only occupants of the vessel. I now ventured to ask what they
proposed to do with me. They said I was to remain on board till near dawn,
and then they would hide me in Snaky Swamp, till my uncle Phillip had
prepared a place of concealment for me. If the vessel had been bound north,
it would have been of no avail to me, for it would certainly have been
searched. About four o'clock, we were again seated in the boat, and rowed
three miles to the swamp. My fear of snakes had been increased by the
venomous bite I had received, and I dreaded to enter this hiding place. But
I was in no situation to choose, and I gratefully accepted the best that my
poor, persecuted friends could do for me.
Peter landed first, and with a large knife cut a path through bamboos and
briers of all descriptions. He came back, took me in his arms, and carried
me to a seat made among the bamboos. Before we reached it, we were covered
with hundreds of mosquitos. In an hour's time they had so poisoned my flesh
that I was a pitiful sight to behold. As the light increased, I saw snake
after snake crawling round us. I had been accustomed to the sight of snakes
all my life, but these were larger than any I had ever seen. To this day I
shudder when I remember that morning. As evening approached, the number of
snakes increased so much that we were continually obliged to thrash them
with sticks to keep them from crawling over us. The bamboos were so high
and so thick that it was impossible to see beyond a very short distance.
Just before it became dark we procured a seat nearer to the entrance of the
swamp, being fearful of losing our way back to the boat. It was not long
before we heard the paddle of oars, and the low whistle, which had been
agreed upon as a signal. We made haste to enter the boat, and were rowed
back to the vessel. I passed a wretched night; for the heat of the swamp,
the mosquitos, and the constant terror of snakes, had brought on a burning
fever. I had just dropped asleep, when they came and told me it was time to
go back to that horrid swamp. I could scarcely summon courage to rise. But
even those large, venomous snakes were less dreadful to my imagination than
the white men in that community called civilized. This time Peter took a
quantity of tobacco to burn, to keep off the mosquitos. It produced the
desired effect on them, but gave me nausea and severe headache. At dark we
returned to the vessel. I had been so sick during the day, that Peter
declared I should go home that night, if the devil himself was on patrol.
They told me a place of concealment had been provided for me at my
grandmother's. I could not imagine how it was possible to hide me in her
house, every nook and corner of which was known to the Flint family. They
told me to wait and see. We were rowed ashore, and went boldly through the
streets, to my grandmother's. I wore my sailor's clothes, and had blackened
my face with charcoal. I passed several people whom I knew. The father of
my children came so near that I brushed against his arm; but he had no idea
who it was.
"You must make the most of this walk," said my friend Peter, "for you may
not have another very soon."
I thought his voice sounded sad. It was kind of him to conceal from me what
a dismal hole was to be my home for a long, long time.
XXI. The Loophole Of Retreat.
A small shed had been added to my grandmother's house years ago. Some
boards were laid across the joists at the top, and between these boards and
the roof was a very small garret, never occupied by any thing but rats and
mice. It was a pent roof, covered with nothing but shingles, according to
the southern custom for such buildings. The garret was only nine feet long
and seven wide. The highest part was three feet high, and sloped down
abruptly to the loose board floor. There was no admission for either light
or air. My uncle Phillip, who was a carpenter, had very skilfully made a
concealed trap-door, which communicated with the storeroom. He had been
doing this while I was waiting in the swamp. The storeroom opened upon a
piazza. To this hole I was conveyed as soon as I entered the house. The air
was stifling; the darkness total. A bed had been spread on the floor. I
could sleep quite comfortably on one side; but the slope was so sudden that
I could not turn on my other without hitting the roof. The rats and mice
ran over my bed; but I was weary, and I slept such sleep as the wretched
may, when a tempest has passed over them. Morning came. I knew it only by
the noises I heard; for in my small den day and night were all the same. I
suffered for air even more than for light. But I was not comfortless. I
heard the voices of my children. There was joy and there was sadness in the
sound. It made my tears flow. How I longed to speak to them! I was eager to
look on their faces; but there was no hole, no crack, through which I could
peep. This continued darkness was oppressive. It seemed horrible to sit or
lie in a cramped position day after day, without one gleam of light. Yet I
would have chosen this, rather than my lot as a slave, though white people
considered it an easy one; and it was so compared with the fate of others.
I was never cruelly overworked; I was never lacerated with the whip from
head to foot; I was never so beaten and bruised that I could not turn from
one side to the other; I never had my heel-strings cut to prevent my
running away; I was never chained to a log and forced to drag it about,
while I toiled in the fields from morning till night; I was never branded
with hot iron, or torn by bloodhounds. On the contrary, I had always been
kindly treated, and tenderly cared for, until I came into the hands of Dr.
Flint. I had never wished for freedom till then. But though my life in
slavery was comparatively devoid of hardships, God pity the woman who is
compelled to lead such a life!
My food was passed up to me through the trap-door my uncle had contrived;
and my grandmother, my uncle Phillip, and aunt Nancy would seize such
opportunities as they could, to mount up there and chat with me at the
opening. But of course this was not safe in the daytime. It must all be
done in darkness. It was impossible for me to move in an erect position,
but I crawled about my den for exercise. One day I hit my head against
something, and found it was a gimlet. My uncle had left it sticking there
when he made the trap-door. I was as rejoiced as Robinson Crusoe could have
been at finding such a treasure. It put a lucky thought into my head. I
said to myself, "Now I will have some light. Now I will see my children." I
did not dare to begin my work during the daytime, for fear of attracting
attention. But I groped round; and having found the side next the street,
where I could frequently see my children, I stuck the gimlet in and waited
for evening. I bored three rows of holes, one above another; then I bored
out the interstices between. I thus succeeded in making one hole about an
inch long and an inch broad. I sat by it till late into the night, to enjoy
the little whiff of air that floated in. In the morning I watched for my
children. The first person I saw in the street was Dr. Flint. I had a
shuddering, superstitious feeling that it was a bad omen. Several familiar
faces passed by. At last I heard the merry laugh of children, and presently
two sweet little faces were looking up at me, as though they knew I was
there, and were conscious of the joy they imparted. How I longed to _tell_
them I was there!
My condition was now a little improved. But for weeks I was tormented by
hundreds of little red insects, fine as a needle's point, that pierced
through my skin, and produced an intolerable burning. The good grandmother
gave me herb teas and cooling medicines, and finally I got rid of them. The
heat of my den was intense, for nothing but thin shingles protected me from
the scorching summer's sun. But I had my consolations. Through my
peeping-hole I could watch the children, and when they were near enough, I
could hear their talk. Aunt Nancy brought me all the news she could hear at
Dr. Flint's. From her I learned that the doctor had written to New York to
a colored woman, who had been born and raised in our neighborhood, and had
breathed his contaminating atmosphere. He offered her a reward if she could
find out any thing about me. I know not what was the nature of her reply;
but he soon after started for New York in haste, saying to his family that
he had business of importance to transact. I peeped at him as he passed on
his way to the steamboat. It was a satisfaction to have miles of land and
water between us, even for a little while; and it was a still greater
satisfaction to know that he believed me to be in the Free States. My
little den seemed less dreary than it had done. He returned, as he did from
his former journey to New York, without obtaining any satisfactory
information. When he passed our house next morning, Benny was standing at
the gate. He had heard them say that he had gone to find me, and he called
out, "Dr. Flint, did you bring my mother home? I want to see her." The
doctor stamped his foot at him in a rage, and exclaimed, "Get out of the
way, you little damned rascal! If you don't, I'll cut off your head."
Benny ran terrified into the house, saying, "You can't put me in jail
again. I don't belong to you now." It was well that the wind carried the
words away from the doctor's ear. I told my grandmother of it, when we had
our next conference at the trap-door, and begged of her not to allow the
children to be impertinent to the irascible old man.
Autumn came, with a pleasant abatement of heat. My eyes had become
accustomed to the dim light, and by holding my book or work in a certain
position near the aperture I contrived to read and sew. That was a great
relief to the tedious monotony of my life. But when winter came, the cold
penetrated through the thin shingle roof, and I was dreadfully chilled. The
winters there are not so long, or so severe, as in northern latitudes; but
the houses are not built to shelter from cold, and my little den was
peculiarly comfortless. The kind grandmother brought me bedclothes and warm
drinks. Often I was obliged to lie in bed all day to keep comfortable; but
with all my precautions, my shoulders and feet were frostbitten. O, those
long, gloomy days, with no object for my eye to rest upon, and no thoughts
to occupy my mind, except the dreary past and the uncertain future! I was
thankful when there came a day sufficiently mild for me to wrap myself up
and sit at the loophole to watch the passers by. Southerners have the habit
of stopping and talking in the streets, and I heard many conversations not
intended to meet my ears. I heard slave-hunters planning how to catch some
poor fugitive. Several times I heard allusions to Dr. Flint, myself, and
the history of my children, who, perhaps, were playing near the gate. One
would say, "I wouldn't move my little finger to catch her, as old Flint's
property." Another would say, "I'll catch _any_ nigger for the reward. A
man ought to have what belongs to him, if he _is_ a damned brute." The
opinion was often expressed that I was in the Free States. Very rarely did
any one suggest that I might be in the vicinity. Had the least suspicion
rested on my grandmother's house, it would have been burned to the ground.
But it was the last place they thought of. Yet there was no place, where
slavery existed, that could have afforded me so good a place of
Dr. Flint and his family repeatedly tried to coax and bribe my children to
tell something they had heard said about me. One day the doctor took them
into a shop, and offered them some bright little silver pieces and gay
handkerchiefs if they would tell where their mother was. Ellen shrank away
from him, and would not speak; but Benny spoke up, and said, "Dr. Flint, I
don't know where my mother is. I guess she's in New York; and when you go
there again, I wish you'd ask her to come home, for I want to see her; but
if you put her in jail, or tell her you'll cut her head off, I'll tell her
to go right back."
XXII. Christmas Festivities.
Christmas was approaching. Grandmother brought me materials, and I busied
myself making some new garments and little playthings for my children. Were
it not that hiring day is near at hand, and many families are fearfully
looking forward to the probability of separation in a few days, Christmas
might be a happy season for the poor slaves. Even slave mothers try to
gladden the hearts of their little ones on that occasion. Benny and Ellen
had their Christmas stockings filled. Their imprisoned mother could not
have the privilege of witnessing their surprise and joy. But I had the
pleasure of peeping at them as they went into the street with their new
suits on. I heard Benny ask a little playmate whether Santa Claus brought
him any thing. "Yes," replied the boy; "but Santa Claus ain't a real man.
It's the children's mothers that put things into the stockings." "No, that
can't be," replied Benny, "for Santa Claus brought Ellen and me these new
clothes, and my mother has been gone this long time."
How I longed to tell him that his mother made those garments, and that many
a tear fell on them while she worked!
Every child rises early on Christmas morning to see the Johnkannaus.
Without them, Christmas would be shorn of its greatest attraction. They
consist of companies of slaves from the plantations, generally of the lower
class. Two athletic men, in calico wrappers, have a net thrown over them,
covered with all manner of bright-colored stripes. Cows' tails are fastened
to their backs, and their heads are decorated with horns. A box, covered
with sheepskin, is called the gumbo box. A dozen beat on this, while other
strike triangles and jawbones, to which bands of dancers keep time. For a
month previous they are composing songs, which are sung on this occasion.
These companies, of a hundred each, turn out early in the morning, and are
allowed to go round till twelve o'clock, begging for contributions. Not a
door is left unvisited where there is the least chance of obtaining a penny
or a glass of rum. They do not drink while they are out, but carry the rum
home in jugs, to have a carousal. These Christmas donations frequently
amount to twenty or thirty dollars. It is seldom that any white man or
child refuses to give them a trifle. If he does, they regale his ears with
the following song:--
Poor massa, so dey say;
Down in de heel, so dey say;
Got no money, so dey say;
Not one shillin, so dey say;
God A'mighty bress you, so dey say.
Christmas is a day of feasting, both with white and colored people. Slaves,
who are lucky enough to have a few shillings, are sure to spend them for
good eating; and many a turkey and pig is captured, without saying, "By
your leave, sir." Those who cannot obtain these, cook a 'possum, or a
raccoon, from which savory dishes can be made. My grandmother raised
poultry and pigs for sale and it was her established custom to have both a
turkey and a pig roasted for Christmas dinner.
On this occasion, I was warned to keep extremely quiet, because two guests
had been invited. One was the town constable, and the other was a free
colored man, who tried to pass himself off for white, and who was always
ready to do any mean work for the sake of currying favor with white people.
My grandmother had a motive for inviting them. She managed to take them all
over the house. All the rooms on the lower floor were thrown open for them
to pass in and out; and after dinner, they were invited up stairs to look
at a fine mocking bird my uncle had just brought home. There, too, the
rooms were all thrown open that they might look in. When I heard them
talking on the piazza, my heart almost stood still. I knew this colored man
had spent many nights hunting for me. Every body knew he had the blood of a
slave father in his veins; but for the sake of passing himself off for
white, he was ready to kiss the slaveholders' feet. How I despised him! As
for the constable, he wore no false colors. The duties of his office were
despicable, but he was superior to his companion, inasmuch as he did not
pretend to be what he was not. Any white man, who could raise money enough
to buy a slave, would have considered himself degraded by being a
constable; but the office enabled its possessor to exercise authority. If
he found any slave out after nine o'clock, he could whip him as much as he
liked; and that was a privilege to be coveted. When the guests were ready
to depart, my grandmother gave each of them some of her nice pudding, as a
present for their wives. Through my peep-hole I saw them go out of the
gate, and I was glad when it closed after them. So passed the first
Christmas in my den.
XXIII. Still In Prison.
When spring returned, and I took in the little patch of green the aperture
commanded, I asked myself how many more summers and winters I must be
condemned to spend thus. I longed to draw in a plentiful draught of fresh
air, to stretch my cramped limbs, to have room to stand erect, to feel the
earth under my feet again. My relatives were constantly on the lookout for
a chance of escape; but none offered that seemed practicable, and even
tolerably safe. The hot summer came again, and made the turpentine drop
from the thin roof over my head.
During the long nights I was restless for want of air, and I had no room to
toss and turn. There was but one compensation; the atmosphere was so
stifled that even mosquitos would not condescend to buzz in it. With all my
detestation of Dr. Flint, I could hardly wish him a worse punishment,
either in this world or that which is to come, than to suffer what I
suffered in one single summer. Yet the laws allowed _him_ to be out in the
free air, while I, guiltless of crime, was pent up here, as the only means
of avoiding the cruelties the laws allowed him to inflict upon me! I don't
know what kept life within me. Again and again, I thought I should die
before long; but I saw the leaves of another autumn whirl through the air,
and felt the touch of another winter. In summer the most terrible thunder
storms were acceptable, for the rain came through the roof, and I rolled up
my bed that it might cool the hot boards under it. Later in the season,
storms sometimes wet my clothes through and through, and that was not
comfortable when the air grew chilly. Moderate storms I could keep out by
filling the chinks with oakum.
But uncomfortable as my situation was, I had glimpses of things out of
doors, which made me thankful for my wretched hiding-place. One day I saw a
slave pass our gate, muttering, "It's his own, and he can kill it if he
will." My grandmother told me that woman's history. Her mistress had that
day seen her baby for the first time, and in the lineaments of its fair
face she saw a likeness to her husband. She turned the bondwoman and her
child out of doors, and forbade her ever to return. The slave went to her
master, and told him what had happened. He promised to talk with her
mistress, and make it all right. The next day she and her baby were sold to
a Georgia trader.
Another time I saw a woman rush wildly by, pursued by two men. She was a
slave, the wet nurse of her mistress's children. For some trifling offence
her mistress ordered her to be stripped and whipped. To escape the
degradation and the torture, she rushed to the river, jumped in, and ended
her wrongs in death.
Senator Brown, of Mississippi, could not be ignorant of many such facts as
these, for they are of frequent occurrence in every Southern State. Yet he
stood up in the Congress of the United States, and declared that slavery
was "a great moral, social, and political blessing; a blessing to the
master, and a blessing to the slave!"
I suffered much more during the second winter than I did during the first.
My limbs were benumbed by inaction, and the cold filled them with cramp. I
had a very painful sensation of coldness in my head; even my face and
tongue stiffened, and I lost the power of speech. Of course it was
impossible, under the circumstances, to summon any physician. My brother
William came and did all he could for me. Uncle Phillip also watched
tenderly over me; and poor grandmother crept up and down to inquire whether
there were any signs of returning life. I was restored to consciousness by
the dashing of cold water in my face, and found myself leaning against my
brother's arm, while he bent over me with streaming eyes. He afterwards
told me he thought I was dying, for I had been in an unconscious state
sixteen hours. I next became delirious, and was in great danger of
betraying myself and my friends. To prevent this, they stupefied me with
drugs. I remained in bed six weeks, weary in body and sick at heart. How to
get medical advice was the question. William finally went to a Thompsonian
doctor, and described himself as having all my pains and aches. He returned
with herbs, roots, and ointment. He was especially charged to rub on the
ointment by a fire; but how could a fire be made in my little den? Charcoal
in a furnace was tried, but there was no outlet for the gas, and it nearly
cost me my life. Afterwards coals, already kindled, were brought up in an
iron pan, and placed on bricks. I was so weak, and it was so long since I
had enjoyed the warmth of a fire, that those few coals actually made me
weep. I think the medicines did me some good; but my recovery was very
slow. Dark thoughts passed through my mind as I lay there day after day. I
tried to be thankful for my little cell, dismal as it was, and even to love
it, as part of the price I had paid for the redemption of my children.
Sometimes I thought God was a compassionate Father, who would forgive my
sins for the sake of my sufferings. At other times, it seemed to me there
was no justice or mercy in the divine government. I asked why the curse of
slavery was permitted to exist, and why I had been so persecuted and
wronged from youth upward. These things took the shape of mystery, which is
to this day not so clear to my soul as I trust it will be hereafter.
In the midst of my illness, grandmother broke down under the weight and
anxiety and toil. The idea of losing her, who had always been my best
friend and a mother to my children, was the sorest trial I had yet had. O,
how earnestly I prayed that she might recover! How hard it seemed, that I
could not tend upon her, who had so long and so tenderly watched over me!
One day the screams of a child nerved me with strength to crawl to my
peeping-hole, and I saw my son covered with blood. A fierce dog, usually
kept chained, had seized and bitten him. A doctor was sent for, and I heard
the groans and screams of my child while the wounds were being sewed up. O,
what torture to a mother's heart, to listen to this and be unable to go to
But childhood is like a day in spring, alternately shower and sunshine.
Before night Benny was bright and lively, threatening the destruction of
the dog; and great was his delight when the doctor told him the next day
that the dog had bitten another boy and been shot. Benny recovered from his
wounds; but it was long before he could walk.
When my grandmother's illness became known, many ladies, who were her
customers, called to bring her some little comforts, and to inquire whether
she had every thing she wanted. Aunt Nancy one night asked permission to
watch with her sick mother, and Mrs. Flint replied, "I don't see any need
of your going. I can't spare you." But when she found other ladies in the
neighborhood were so attentive, not wishing to be outdone in Christian
charity, she also sallied forth, in magnificent condescension, and stood by
the bedside of her who had loved her in her infancy, and who had been
repaid by such grievous wrongs. She seemed surprised to find her so ill,
and scolded uncle Phillip for not sending for Dr. Flint. She herself sent
for him immediately, and he came. Secure as I was in my retreat, I should
have been terrified if I had known he was so near me. He pronounced my
grandmother in a very critical situation, and said if her attending
physician wished it, he would visit her. Nobody wished to have him coming
to the house at all hours, and we were not disposed to give him a chance to
make out a long bill.
As Mrs. Flint went out, Sally told her the reason Benny was lame was, that
a dog had bitten him. "I'm glad of it," replied she. "I wish he had killed
him. It would be good news to send to his mother. _Her_ day will come. The
dogs will grab _her_ yet." With these Christian words she and her husband
departed, and, to my great satisfaction, returned no more.
I learned from uncle Phillip, with feelings of unspeakable joy and
gratitude, that the crisis was passed and grandmother would live. I could
now say from my heart, "God is merciful. He has spared me the anguish of
feeling that I caused her death."
XXIV. The Candidate For Congress.
The summer had nearly ended, when Dr. Flint made a third visit to New York,
in search of me. Two candidates were running for Congress, and he returned
in season to vote. The father of my children was the Whig candidate. The
doctor had hitherto been a stanch Whig; but now he exerted all his energies
for the defeat of Mr. Sands. He invited large parties of men to dine in the
shade of his trees, and supplied them with plenty of rum and brandy. If any
poor fellow drowned his wits in the bowl, and, in the openness of his
convivial heart, proclaimed that he did not mean to vote the Democratic
ticket, he was shoved into the street without ceremony.
The doctor expended his liquor in vain. Mr. Sands was elected; an event
which occasioned me some anxious thoughts. He had not emancipated my
children, and if he should die they would be at the mercy of his heirs. Two
little voices, that frequently met my ear, seemed to plead with me not to
let their father depart without striving to make their freedom secure.
Years had passed since I had spoken to him. I had not even seen him since
the night I passed him, unrecognized, in my disguise of a sailor. I
supposed he would call before he left, to say something to my grandmother
concerning the children, and I resolved what course to take.
The day before his departure for Washington I made arrangements, toward
evening, to get from my hiding-place into the storeroom below. I found
myself so stiff and clumsy that it was with great difficulty I could hitch
from one resting place to another. When I reached the storeroom my ankles
gave way under me, and I sank exhausted on the floor. It seemed as if I
could never use my limbs again. But the purpose I had in view roused all
the strength I had. I crawled on my hands and knees to the window, and,
screened behind a barrel, I waited for his coming. The clock struck nine,
and I knew the steamboat would leave between ten and eleven. My hopes were
failing. But presently I heard his voice, saying to some one, "Wait for me
a moment. I wish to see aunt Martha." When he came out, as he passed the
window, I said, "Stop one moment, and let me speak for my children." He
started, hesitated, and then passed on, and went out of the gate. I closed
the shutter I had partially opened, and sank down behind the barrel. I had
suffered much; but seldom had I experienced a keener pang than I then felt.
Had my children, then, become of so little consequence to him? And had he
so little feeling for their wretched mother that he would not listen a
moment while she pleaded for them? Painful memories were so busy within me,
that I forgot I had not hooked the shutter, till I heard some one opening
it. I looked up. He had come back. "Who called me?" said he, in a low tone.
"I did," I replied. "Oh, Linda," said he, "I knew your voice; but I was
afraid to answer, lest my friend should hear me. Why do you come here? Is
it possible you risk yourself in this house? They are mad to allow it. I
shall expect to hear that you are all ruined," I did not wish to implicate
him, by letting him know my place of concealment; so I merely said, "I
thought you would come to bid grandmother good by, and so I came here to
speak a few words to you about emancipating my children. Many changes may
take place during the six months you are gone to Washington, and it does
not seem right for you to expose them to the risk of such changes. I want
nothing for myself; all I ask is, that you will free my children, or
authorize some friend to do it, before you go."
He promised he would do it, and also expressed a readiness; to make any
arrangements whereby I could be purchased.
I heard footsteps approaching, and closed the shutter hastily. I wanted to
crawl back to my den, without letting the family know what I had done; for
I knew they would deem it very imprudent. But he stepped back into the
house, to tell my grandmother that he had spoken with me at the storeroom
window, and to beg of her not to allow me to remain in the house over night
He said it was the height of madness for me to be there; that we should
certainly all be ruined. Luckily, he was in too much of a hurry to wait for
a reply, or the dear old woman would surely have told him all.
I tried to go back to my den, but found it more difficult to go up than I
had to come down. Now that my mission was fulfilled, the little strength
that had supported me through it was gone, and I sank helpless on the
floor. My grandmother, alarmed at the risk I had run, came into the
storeroom in the dark, and locked the door behind her. "Linda," she
whispered, "where are you?"
"I am here by the window," I replied. "I _couldn't_ have him go away
without emancipating the children. Who knows what may happen?"
"Come, come, child," said she, "it won't do for you to stay here another
minute. You've done wrong; but I can't blame you, poor thing!" I told her
I could not return without assistance, and she must call my uncle. Uncle
Phillip came, and pity prevented him from scolding me. He carried me back
to my dungeon, laid me tenderly on the bed, gave me some medicine, and
asked me if there was any thing more he could do. Then he went away, and I
was left with my own thoughts--starless as the midnight darkness around me.
My friends feared I should become a cripple for life; and I was so weary of
my long imprisonment that, had it not been for the hope of serving my
children, I should have been thankful to die; but, for their sakes, I was
willing to bear on.
XXV. Competition In Cunning.
Dr. Flint had not given me up. Every now and then he would say to my
grandmother that I would yet come back, and voluntarily surrender myself;
and that when I did, I could be purchased by my relatives, or any one who
wished to buy me. I knew his cunning nature too well not to perceive that
this was a trap laid for me; and so all my friends understood it. I
resolved to match my cunning against his cunning. In order to make him
believe that I was in New York, I resolved to write him a letter dated from
that place. I sent for my friend Peter, and asked him if he knew any
trustworthy seafaring person, who would carry such a letter to New York,
and put it in the post office there. He said he knew one that he would
trust with his own life to the ends of the world. I reminded him that it
was a hazardous thing for him to undertake. He said he knew it, but he was
willing to do any thing to help me. I expressed a wish for a New York
paper, to ascertain the names of some of the streets. He run his hand into
his pocket, and said, "Here is half a one, that was round a cap I bought of
a pedler yesterday." I told him the letter would be ready the next evening.
He bade me good by, adding, "Keep up your spirits, Linda; brighter days
will come by and by."
My uncle Phillip kept watch over the gate until our brief interview was
over. Early the next morning, I seated myself near the little aperture to
examine the newspaper. It was a piece of the New York Herald; and, for
once, the paper that systematically abuses the colored people, was made to
render them a service. Having obtained what information I wanted concerning
streets and numbers, I wrote two letters, one to my grandmother, the other
to Dr. Flint. I reminded him how he, a gray-headed man, had treated a
helpless child, who had been placed in his power, and what years of misery
he had brought upon her. To my grandmother, I expressed a wish to have my
children sent to me at the north, where I could teach them to respect
themselves, and set them a virtuous example; which a slave mother was not
allowed to do at the south. I asked her to direct her answer to a certain
street in Boston, as I did not live in New York, though I went there
sometimes. I dated these letters ahead, to allow for the time it would take
to carry them, and sent a memorandum of the date to the messenger. When my
friend came for the letters, I said, "God bless and reward you, Peter, for
this disinterested kindness. Pray be careful. If you are detected, both you
and I will have to suffer dreadfully. I have not a relative who would dare
to do it for me." He replied, "You may trust to me, Linda. I don't forget
that your father was my best friend, and I will be a friend to his children
so long as God lets me live."
It was necessary to tell my grandmother what I had done, in order that she
might be ready for the letter, and prepared to hear what Dr. Flint might
say about my being at the north. She was sadly troubled. She felt sure
mischief would come of it. I also told my plan to aunt Nancy, in order that
she might report to us what was said at Dr. Flint's house. I whispered it
to her through a crack, and she whispered back, "I hope it will succeed. I
shan't mind being a slave all _my_ life, if I can only see you and the
I had directed that my letters should be put into the New York post office
on the 20th of the month. On the evening of the 24th my aunt came to say
that Dr. Flint and his wife had been talking in a low voice about a letter
he had received, and that when he went to his office he promised to bring
it when he came to tea. So I concluded I should hear my letter read the
next morning. I told my grandmother Dr. Flint would be sure to come, and
asked her to have him sit near a certain door, and leave it open, that I
might hear what he said. The next morning I took my station within sound of
that door, and remained motionless as a statue. It was not long before I
heard the gate slam, and the well-known footsteps enter the house. He
seated himself in the chair that was placed for him, and said, "Well,
Martha, I've brought you a letter from Linda. She has sent me a letter,
also. I know exactly where to find her; but I don't choose to go to Boston
for her. I had rather she would come back of her own accord, in a
respectable manner. Her uncle Phillip is the best person to go for her.
With _him_, she would feel perfectly free to act. I am willing to pay his
expenses going and returning. She shall be sold to her friends. Her
children are free; at least I suppose they are; and when you obtain her
freedom, you'll make a happy family. I suppose, Martha, you have no
objection to my reading to you the letter Linda has written to you."
He broke the seal, and I heard him read it. The old villain! He had
suppressed the letter I wrote to grandmother, and prepared a substitute of
his own, the purport of which was as follows:--
Dear Grandmother: I have long wanted to write to you; but the
disgraceful manner in which I left you and my children made me
ashamed to do it. If you knew how much I have suffered since I
ran away, you would pity and forgive me. I have purchased freedom
at a dear rate. If any arrangement could be made for me to return
to the south without being a slave, I would gladly come. If not,
I beg of you to send my children to the north. I cannot live any
longer without them. Let me know in time, and I will meet them in
New York or Philadelphia, whichever place best suits my uncle's
convenience. Write as soon as possible to your unhappy daughter,
"It is very much as I expected it would be," said the old hypocrite, rising
to go. "You see the foolish girl has repented of her rashness, and wants to
return. We must help her to do it, Martha. Talk with Phillip about it. If
he will go for her, she will trust to him, and come back. I should like an
answer to-morrow. Good morning, Martha."
As he stepped out on the piazza, he stumbled over my little girl. "Ah,
Ellen, is that you?" he said, in his most gracious manner. "I didn't see
you. How do you do?"
"Pretty well, sir," she replied. "I heard you tell grandmother that my
mother is coming home. I want to see her."
"Yes, Ellen, I am going to bring her home very soon," rejoined he; "and you
shall see her as much as you like, you little curly-headed nigger."
This was as good as a comedy to me, who had heard it all; but grandmother
was frightened and distressed, because the doctor wanted my uncle to go for
The next evening Dr. Flint called to talk the matter over. My uncle told
him that from what he had heard of Massachusetts, he judged he should be
mobbed if he went there after a runaway slave. "All stuff and nonsense,
Phillip!" replied the doctor. "Do you suppose I want you to kick up a row
in Boston? The business can all be done quietly. Linda writes that she
wants to come back. You are her relative, and she would trust _you_. The
case would be different if I went. She might object to coming with _me_;
and the damned abolitionists, if they knew I was her master, would not
believe me, if I told them she had begged to go back. They would get up a
row; and I should not like to see Linda dragged through the streets like a
common negro. She has been very ungrateful to me for all my kindness; but I
forgive her, and want to act the part of a friend towards her. I have no
wish to hold her as my slave. Her friends can buy her as soon as she
Finding that his arguments failed to convince my uncle, the doctor "let the
cat out of the bag," by saying that he had written to the mayor of Boston,
to ascertain whether there was a person of my description at the street and
number from which my letter was dated. He had omitted this date in the
letter he had made up to read to my grandmother. If I had dated from New
York, the old man would probably have made another journey to that city.
But even in that dark region, where knowledge is so carefully excluded from
the slave, I had heard enough about Massachusetts to come to the conclusion
that slaveholders did not consider it a comfortable place to go in search
of a runaway. That was before the Fugitive Slave Law was passed; before
Massachusetts had consented to become a "nigger hunter" for the south.
My grandmother, who had become skittish by seeing her family always in
danger, came to me with a very distressed countenance, and said, "What will
you do if the mayor of Boston sends him word that you haven't been there?
Then he will suspect the letter was a trick; and maybe he'll find out
something about it, and we shall all get into trouble. O Linda, I wish you
had never sent the letters."
"Don't worry yourself, Grandmother," said I. "The mayor of Boston won't
trouble himself to hunt niggers for Dr. Flint. The letters will do good in
the end. I shall get out of this dark hole some time or other."
"I hope you will, child," replied the good, patient old friend. "You have
been here a long time; almost five years; but whenever you do go, it will
break your old grandmother's heart. I should be expecting every day to hear
that you were brought back in irons and put in jail. God help you, poor
child! Let us be thankful that some time or other we shall go 'where the
wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.'" My heart
The fact that Dr. Flint had written to the mayor of Boston convinced me
that he believed my letter to be genuine, and of course that he had no
suspicion of my being any where in the vicinity. It was a great object to
keep up this delusion, for it made me and my friends feel less anxious, and
it would be very convenient whenever there was a chance to escape. I
resolved, therefore, to continue to write letters from the north from time
Two or three weeks passed, and as no news came from the mayor of Boston,
grandmother began to listen to my entreaty to be allowed to leave my cell,
sometimes, and exercise my limbs to prevent my becoming a cripple. I was
allowed to slip down into the small storeroom, early in the morning, and
remain there a little while. The room was all filled up with barrels,
except a small open space under my trap-door. This faced the door, the
upper part of which was of glass, and purposely left uncurtained, that the
curious might look in. The air of this place was close; but it was so much
better than the atmosphere of my cell, that I dreaded to return. I came
down as soon as it was light, and remained till eight o'clock, when people
began to be about, and there was danger that some one might come on the
piazza. I had tried various applications to bring warmth and feeling into
my limbs, but without avail. They were so numb and stiff that it was a
painful effort to move; and had my enemies come upon me during the first
mornings I tried to exercise them a little in the small unoccupied space of
the storeroom, it would have been impossible for me to have escaped.
XXVI. Important Era In My Brother's Life.
I missed the company and kind attentions of my brother William, who had
gone to Washington with his master, Mr. Sands. We received several letters
from him, written without any allusion to me, but expressed in such a
manner that I knew he did not forget me. I disguised my hand, and wrote to
him in the same manner. It was a long session; and when it closed, William
wrote to inform us that Mr. Sands was going to the north, to be gone some
time, and that he was to accompany him. I knew that his master had promised
to give him his freedom, but no time had been specified. Would William
trust to a slave's chances? I remembered how we used to talk together, in
our young days, about obtaining our freedom, and I thought it very doubtful
whether he would come back to us.
Grandmother received a letter from Mr. Sands, saying that William had
proved a most faithful servant, and he would also say a valued friend; that
no mother had ever trained a better boy. He said he had travelled through
the Northern States and Canada; and though the abolitionists had tried to
decoy him away, they had never succeeded. He ended by saying they should be
at home shortly.
We expected letters from William, describing the novelties of his journey,
but none came. In time, it was reported that Mr. Sands would return late in
the autumn, accompanied by a bride. Still no letters from William. I felt
almost sure I should never see him again on southern soil; but had he no
word of comfort to send to his friends at home? to the poor captive in her
dungeon? My thoughts wandered through the dark past, and over the uncertain
future. Alone in my cell, where no eye but God's could see me, I wept
bitter tears. How earnestly I prayed to him to restore me to my children,
and enable me to be a useful woman and a good mother!
At last the day arrived for the return of the travellers. Grandmother had
made loving preparations to welcome her absent boy back to the old
hearthstone. When the dinner table was laid, William's place occupied its
old place. The stage coach went by empty. My grandmother waited dinner. She
thought perhaps he was necessarily detained by his master. In my prison I
listened anxiously, expecting every moment to hear my dear brother's voice
and step. In the course of the afternoon a lad was sent by Mr. Sands to
tell grandmother that William did not return with him; that the
abolitionists had decoyed him away. But he begged her not to feel troubled
about it, for he felt confident she would see William in a few days. As
soon as he had time to reflect he would come back, for he could never
expect to be so well off at the north as he had been with him.
If you had seen the tears, and heard the sobs, you would have thought the
messenger had brought tidings of death instead of freedom. Poor old
grandmother felt that she should never see her darling boy again. And I was
selfish. I thought more of what I had lost, than of what my brother had
gained. A new anxiety began to trouble me. Mr. Sands had expended a good
deal of money, and would naturally feel irritated by the loss he had
incurred. I greatly feared this might injure the prospects of my children,
who were now becoming valuable property. I longed to have their
emancipation made certain. The more so, because their master and father was
now married. I was too familiar with slavery not to know that promises made
to slaves, though with kind intentions, and sincere at the time, depend
upon many contingencies for their fulfillment.
Much as I wished William to be free, the step he had taken made me sad and
anxious. The following Sabbath was calm and clear; so beautiful that it
seemed like a Sabbath in the eternal world. My grandmother brought the
children out on the piazza, that I might hear their voices. She thought it
would comfort me in my despondency; and it did. They chatted merrily, as
only children can. Benny said, "Grandmother, do you think uncle Will has
gone for good? Won't he ever come back again? May be he'll find mother. If
he does, _won't_ she be glad to see him! Why don't you and uncle Phillip,
and all of us, go and live where mother is? I should like it; wouldn't you,
"Yes, I should like it," replied Ellen; "but how could we find her? Do you
know the place, grandmother? I don't remember how mother looked--do you,
Benny was just beginning to describe me when they were interrupted by an
old slave woman, a near neighbor, named Aggie. This poor creature had
witnessed the sale of her children, and seen them carried off to parts
unknown, without any hopes of ever hearing from them again. She saw that my
grandmother had been weeping, and she said, in a sympathizing tone, "What's
the matter, aunt Marthy?"
"O Aggie," she replied, "it seems as if I shouldn't have any of my children
or grandchildren left to hand me a drink when I'm dying, and lay my old
body in the ground. My boy didn't come back with Mr. Sands. He staid at the
Poor old Aggie clapped her hands for joy. "Is _dat_ what you's crying fur?"
she exclaimed. "Git down on your knees and bress de Lord! I don't know whar
my poor chillern is, and I nebber 'spect to know. You don't know whar poor
Linda's gone to; but you _do_ know whar her brudder is. He's in free parts;
and dat's de right place. Don't murmur at de Lord's doings but git down on
your knees and tank him for his goodness."
My selfishness was rebuked by what poor Aggie said. She rejoiced over the
escape of one who was merely her fellow-bondman, while his own sister was
only thinking what his good fortune might cost her children. I knelt and
prayed God to forgive me; and I thanked him from my heart, that one of my
family was saved from the grasp of slavery.
It was not long before we received a letter from William. He wrote that Mr.
Sands had always treated him kindly, and that he had tried to do his duty
to him faithfully. But ever since he was a boy, he had longed to be free;
and he had already gone through enough to convince him he had better not
lose the chance that offered. He concluded by saying, "Don't worry about
me, dear grandmother. I shall think of you always; and it will spur me on
to work hard and try to do right. When I have earned money enough to give
you a home, perhaps you will come to the north, and we can all live happy
Mr. Sands told my uncle Phillip the particulars about William's leaving
him. He said, "I trusted him as if he were my own brother, and treated him
as kindly. The abolitionists talked to him in several places; but I had no
idea they could tempt him. However, I don't blame William. He's young and
inconsiderate, and those Northern rascals decoyed him. I must confess the
scamp was very bold about it. I met him coming down the steps of the Astor
House with his trunk on his shoulder, and I asked him where he was going.
He said he was going to change his old trunk. I told him it was rather
shabby, and asked if he didn't need some money. He said, No, thanked me,
and went off. He did not return so soon as I expected; but I waited
patiently. At last I went to see if our trunks were packed, ready for our
journey. I found them locked, and a sealed note on the table informed me
where I could find the keys. The fellow even tried to be religious. He
wrote that he hoped God would always bless me, and reward me for my
kindness; that he was not unwilling to serve me; but he wanted to be a free
man; and that if I thought he did wrong, he hoped I would forgive him. I
intended to give him his freedom in five years. He might have trusted me.
He has shown himself ungrateful; but I shall not go for him, or send for
him. I feel confident that he will soon return to me."
I afterwards heard an account of the affair from William himself. He had
not been urged away by abolitionists. He needed no information they could
give him about slavery to stimulate his desire for freedom. He looked at
his hands, and remembered that they were once in irons. What security had
he that they would not be so again? Mr. Sands was kind to him; but he might
indefinitely postpone the promise he had made to give him his freedom. He
might come under pecuniary embarrassments, and his property be seized by
creditors; or he might die, without making any arrangements in his favor.
He had too often known such accidents to happen to slaves who had kind
masters, and he wisely resolved to make sure of the present opportunity to
own himself. He was scrupulous about taking any money from his master on
false pretences; so he sold his best clothes to pay for his passage to
Boston. The slaveholders pronounced him a base, ungrateful wretch, for thus
requiting his master's indulgence. What would _they_ have done under
When Dr. Flint's family heard that William had deserted Mr. Sands, they
chuckled greatly over the news. Mrs. Flint made her usual manifestations of
Christian feeling, by saying, "I'm glad of it. I hope he'll never get him
again. I like to see people paid back in their own coin. I reckon Linda's
children will have to pay for it. I should be glad to see them in the
speculator's hands again, for I'm tired of seeing those little niggers
march about the streets."
XXVII. New Destination For The Children.
Mrs. Flint proclaimed her intention of informing Mrs. Sands who was the
father of my children. She likewise proposed to tell her what an artful
devil I was; that I had made a great deal of trouble in her family; that
when Mr. Sands was at the north, she didn't doubt I had followed him in
disguise, and persuaded William to run away. She had some reason to
entertain such an idea; for I had written from the north, from time to
time, and I dated my letters from various places. Many of them fell into
Dr. Flint's hands, as I expected they would; and he must have come to the
conclusion that I travelled about a good deal. He kept a close watch over
my children, thinking they would eventually lead to my detection.
A new and unexpected trial was in store for me. One day, when Mr. Sands and
his wife were walking in the street, they met Benny. The lady took a fancy
to him, and exclaimed, "What a pretty little negro! Whom does he belong
Benny did not hear the answer; but he came home very indignant with the
stranger lady, because she had called him a negro. A few days afterwards,
Mr. Sands called on my grandmother, and told her he wanted her to take the
children to his house. He said he had informed his wife of his relation to
them, and told her they were motherless; and she wanted to see them.
When he had gone, my grandmother came and asked what I would do. The
question seemed a mockery. What _could_ I do? They were Mr. Sands's slaves,
and their mother was a slave, whom he had represented to be dead. Perhaps
he thought I was. I was too much pained and puzzled to come to any
decision; and the children were carried without my knowledge. Mrs. Sands
had a sister from Illinois staying with her. This lady, who had no children
of her own, was so much pleased with Ellen, that she offered to adopt her,
and bring her up as she would a daughter. Mrs. Sands wanted to take
Benjamin. When grandmother reported this to me, I was tried almost beyond
endurance. Was this all I was to gain by what I had suffered for the sake
of having my children free? True, the prospect _seemed_ fair; but I knew
too well how lightly slaveholders held such "parental relations." If
pecuniary troubles should come, or if the new wife required more money than
could conveniently be spared, my children might be thought of as a
convenient means of raising funds. I had no trust in thee, O Slavery! Never
should I know peace till my children were emancipated with all due
formalities of law.
I was too proud to ask Mr. Sands to do any thing for my own benefit; but I
could bring myself to become a supplicant for my children. I resolved to
remind him of the promise he had made me, and to throw myself upon his
honor for the performance of it. I persuaded my grandmother to go to him,
and tell him I was not dead, and that I earnestly entreated him to keep the
promise he had made me; that I had heard of the recent proposals concerning
my children, and did not feel easy to accept them; that he had promised to
emancipate them, and it was time for him to redeem his pledge. I knew there
was some risk in thus betraying that I was in the vicinity; but what will
not a mother do for her children? He received the message with surprise,
and said, "The children are free. I have never intended to claim them as
slaves. Linda may decide their fate. In my opinion, they had better be sent
to the north. I don't think they are quite safe here. Dr. Flint boasts that
they are still in his power. He says they were his daughter's property, and
as she was not of age when they were sold, the contract is not legally
So, then, after all I had endured for their sakes, my poor children were
between two fires; between my old master and their new master! And I was
powerless. There was no protecting arm of the law for me to invoke. Mr.
Sands proposed that Ellen should go, for the present, to some of his
relatives, who had removed to Brooklyn, Long Island. It was promised that
she should be well taken care of, and sent to school. I consented to it, as
the best arrangement I could make for her. My grandmother, of course,
negotiated it all; and Mrs. Sands knew of no other person in the
transaction. She proposed that they should take Ellen with them to
Washington, and keep her till they had a good chance of sending her, with
friends, to Brooklyn. She had an infant daughter. I had had a glimpse of
it, as the nurse passed with it in her arms. It was not a pleasant thought
to me, that the bondwoman's child should tend her free-born sister; but
there was no alternative. Ellen was made ready for the journey. O, how it
tried my heart to send her away, so young, alone, among strangers! Without
a mother's love to shelter her from the storms of life; almost without
memory of a mother! I doubted whether she and Benny would have for me the
natural affection that children feel for a parent. I thought to myself that
I might perhaps never see my daughter again, and I had a great desire that
she should look upon me, before she went, that she might take my image with
her in her memory. It seemed to me cruel to have her brought to my dungeon.
It was sorrow enough for her young heart to know that her mother was a
victim of slavery, without seeing the wretched hiding-place to which it had
driven her. I begged permission to pass the last night in one of the open
chambers, with my little girl. They thought I was crazy to think of
trusting such a young child with my perilous secret. I told them I had
watched her character, and I felt sure she would not betray me; that I was
determined to have an interview, and if they would not facilitate it, I
would take my own way to obtain it. They remonstrated against the rashness
of such a proceeding; but finding they could not change my purpose, they
yielded. I slipped through the trap-door into the storeroom, and my uncle
kept watch at the gate, while I passed into the piazza and went up stairs,
to the room I used to occupy. It was more than five years since I had seen
it; and how the memories crowded on me! There I had taken shelter when my
mistress drove me from her house; there came my old tyrant, to mock,
insult, and curse me; there my children were first laid in my arms; there I
had watched over them, each day with a deeper and sadder love; there I had
knelt to God, in anguish of heart, to forgive the wrong I had done. How
vividly it all came back! And after this long, gloomy interval, I stood
there such a wreck!
In the midst of these meditations, I heard footsteps on the stairs. The
door opened, and my uncle Phillip came in, leading Ellen by the hand. I put
my arms round her, and said, "Ellen, my dear child, I am your mother." She
drew back a little, and looked at me; then, with sweet confidence, she laid
her cheek against mine, and I folded her to the heart that had been so long
desolated. She was the first to speak. Raising her head, she said,
inquiringly, "You really _are_ my mother?" I told her I really was; that
during all the long time she had not seen me, I had loved her most
tenderly; and that now she was going away, I wanted to see her and talk
with her, that she might remember me. With a sob in her voice, she said,
"I'm glad you've come to see me; but why didn't you ever come before? Benny
and I have wanted so much to see you! He remembers you, and sometimes he
tells me about you. Why didn't you come home when Dr. Flint went to bring
I answered, "I couldn't come before, dear. But now that I am with you, tell
me whether you like to go away." "I don't know," said she, crying.
"Grandmother says I ought not to cry; that I am going to a good place,
where I can learn to read and write, and that by and by I can write her a
letter. But I shan't have Benny, or grandmother, or uncle Phillip, or any
body to love me. Can't you go with me? O, _do_ go, dear mother!"
I told her I couldn't go now; but sometime I would come to her, and then
she and Benny and I would live together, and have happy times. She wanted
to run and bring Benny to see me now. I told her he was going to the north,
before long, with uncle Phillip, and then I would come to see him before he
went away. I asked if she would like to have me stay all night and sleep
with her. "O, yes," she replied. Then, turning to her uncle, she said,
pleadingly, "_May_ I stay? Please, uncle! She is my own mother." He laid
his hand on her head, and said, solemnly, "Ellen, this is the secret you
have promised grandmother never to tell. If you ever speak of it to any
body, they will never let you see your grandmother again, and your mother
can never come to Brooklyn." "Uncle," she replied, "I will never tell." He
told her she might stay with me; and when he had gone, I took her in my
arms and told her I was a slave, and that was the reason she must never say
she had seen me. I exhorted her to be a good child, to try to please the
people where she was going, and that God would raise her up friends. I told
her to say her prayers, and remember always to pray for her poor mother,
and that God would permit us to meet again. She wept, and I did not check
her tears. Perhaps she would never again have a chance to pour her tears
into a mother's bosom. All night she nestled in my arms, and I had no
inclination to slumber. The moments were too precious to lose any of them.
Once, when I thought she was asleep, I kissed her forehead softly, and she
said, "I am not asleep, dear mother."
Before dawn they came to take me back to my den. I drew aside the window
curtain, to take a last look of my child. The moonlight shone on her face,
and I bent over her, as I had done years before, that wretched night when I
ran away. I hugged her close to my throbbing heart; and tears, too sad for
such young eyes to shed, flowed down her cheeks, as she gave her last kiss,
and whispered in my ear, "Mother, I will never tell." And she never did.
When I got back to my den, I threw myself on the bed and wept there alone
in the darkness. It seemed as if my heart would burst. When the time for
Ellen's departure drew nigh, I could hear neighbors and friends saying to
her, "Good by, Ellen. I hope your poor mother will find you out. _Won't_
you be glad to see her!" She replied, "Yes, ma'am;" and they little dreamed
of the weighty secret that weighed down her young heart. She was an
affectionate child, but naturally very reserved, except with those she
loved, and I felt secure that my secret would be safe with her. I heard the
gate close after her, with such feelings as only a slave mother can
experience. During the day my meditations were very sad. Sometimes I feared
I had been very selfish not to give up all claim to her, and let her go to
Illinois, to be adopted by Mrs. Sands's sister. It was my experience of
slavery that decided me against it. I feared that circumstances might arise
that would cause her to be sent back. I felt confident that I should go to
New York myself; and then I should be able to watch over her, and in some
degree protect her.
Dr. Flint's family knew nothing of the proposed arrangement till after
Ellen was gone, and the news displeased them greatly. Mrs. Flint called on
Mrs. Sands's sister to inquire into the matter. She expressed her opinion
very freely as to the respect Mr. Sands showed for his wife, and for his
own character, in acknowledging those "young niggers." And as for sending
Ellen away, she pronounced it to be just as much stealing as it would be
for him to come and take a piece of furniture out of her parlor. She said
her daughter was not of age to sign the bill of sale, and the children were
her property; and when she became of age, or was married, she could take
them, wherever she could lay hands on them.
Miss Emily Flint, the little girl to whom I had been bequeathed, was now in
her sixteenth year. Her mother considered it all right and honorable for
her, or her future husband, to steal my children; but she did not
understand how any body could hold up their heads in respectable society,
after they had purchased their own children, as Mr. Sands had done. Dr.
Flint said very little. Perhaps he thought that Benny would be less likely
to be sent away if he kept quiet. One of my letters, that fell into his
hands, was dated from Canada; and he seldom spoke of me now. This state of
things enabled me to slip down into the storeroom more frequently, where I
could stand upright, and move my limbs more freely.
Days, weeks, and months passed, and there came no news of Ellen. I sent a
letter to Brooklyn, written in my grandmother's name, to inquire whether
she had arrived there. Answer was returned that she had not. I wrote to her
in Washington; but no notice was taken of it. There was one person there,
who ought to have had some sympathy with the anxiety of the child's friends
at home; but the links of such relations as he had formed with me, are
easily broken and cast away as rubbish. Yet how protectingly and
persuasively he once talked to the poor, helpless slave girl! And how
entirely I trusted him! But now suspicions darkened my mind. Was my child
dead, or had they deceived me, and sold her?
If the secret memoirs of many members of Congress should be published,
curious details would be unfolded. I once saw a letter from a member of
Congress to a slave, who was the mother of six of his children. He wrote to
request that she would send her children away from the great house before
his return, as he expected to be accompanied by friends. The woman could
not read, and was obliged to employ another to read the letter. The
existence of the colored children did not trouble this gentleman, it was
only the fear that friends might recognize in their features a resemblance
At the end of six months, a letter came to my grandmother, from Brooklyn.
It was written by a young lady in the family, and announced that Ellen had
just arrived. It contained the following message from her: "I do try to do
just as you told me to, and I pray for you every night and morning." I
understood that these words were meant for me; and they were a balsam to my
heart. The writer closed her letter by saying, "Ellen is a nice little
girl, and we shall like to have her with us. My cousin, Mr. Sands, has
given her to me, to be my little waiting maid. I shall send her to school,
and I hope some day she will write to you herself." This letter perplexed
and troubled me. Had my child's father merely placed her there till she was
old enough to support herself? Or had he given her to his cousin, as a
piece of property? If the last idea was correct, his cousin might return to
the south at any time, and hold Ellen as a slave. I tried to put away from
me the painful thought that such a foul wrong could have been done to us. I
said to myself, "Surely there must be _some_ justice in man;" then I
remembered, with a sigh, how slavery perverted all the natural feelings of
the human heart. It gave me a pang to look on my light-hearted boy. He
believed himself free; and to have him brought under the yoke of slavery,
would be more than I could bear. How I longed to have him safely out of the
reach of its power!
XXVIII. Aunt Nancy.
I have mentioned my great-aunt, who was a slave in Dr. Flint's family, and
who had been my refuge during the shameful persecutions I suffered from
him. This aunt had been married at twenty years of age; that is, as far as
slaves _can_ marry. She had the consent of her master and mistress, and a
clergyman performed the ceremony. But it was a mere form, without any legal
value. Her master or mistress could annul it any day they pleased. She had
always slept on the floor in the entry, near Mrs. Flint's chamber door,
that she might be within call. When she was married, she was told she might
have the use of a small room in an outhouse. Her mother and her husband
furnished it. He was a seafaring man, and was allowed to sleep there when
he was at home. But on the wedding evening, the bride was ordered to her
old post on the entry floor.
Mrs. Flint, at that time, had no children; but she was expecting to be a
mother, and if she should want a drink of water in the night, what could
she do without her slave to bring it? So my aunt was compelled to lie at
her door, until one midnight she was forced to leave, to give premature
birth to a child. In a fortnight she was required to resume her place on
the entry floor, because Mrs. Flint's babe needed her attentions. She kept
her station there through summer and winter, until she had given premature
birth to six children; and all the while she was employed as night-nurse to
Mrs. Flint's children. Finally, toiling all day, and being deprived of rest
at night, completely broke down her constitution, and Dr. Flint declared it
was impossible she could ever become the mother of a living child. The fear
of losing so valuable a servant by death, now induced them to allow her to
sleep in her little room in the out-house, except when there was sickness
in the family. She afterwards had two feeble babes, one of whom died in a
few days, and the other in four weeks. I well remember her patient sorrow
as she held the last dead baby in her arms. "I wish it could have lived,"
she said; "it is not the will of God that any of my children should live.
But I will try to be fit to meet their little spirits in heaven."
Aunt Nancy was housekeeper and waiting-maid in Dr. Flint's family. Indeed,
she was the _factotum_ of the household. Nothing went on well without her.
She was my mother's twin sister, and, as far as was in her power, she
supplied a mother's place to us orphans. I slept with her all the time I
lived in my old master's house, and the bond between us was very strong.
When my friends tried to discourage me from running away; she always
encouraged me. When they thought I had better return and ask my master's
pardon, because there was no possibility of escape, she sent me word never
to yield. She said if I persevered I might, perhaps, gain the freedom of my
children; and even if I perished in doing it, that was better than to leave
them to groan under the same persecutions that had blighted my own life.
After I was shut up in my dark cell, she stole away, whenever she could, to
bring me the news and say something cheering. How often did I kneel down to
listen to her words of consolation, whispered through a crack! "I am old,
and have not long to live," she used to say; "and I could die happy if I
could only see you and the children free. You must pray to God, Linda, as I
do for you, that he will lead you out of this darkness." I would beg her
not to worry herself on my account; that there was an end of all suffering
sooner or later, and that whether I lived in chains or in freedom, I should
always remember her as the good friend who had been the comfort of my life.
A word from her always strengthened me; and not me only. The whole family
relied upon her judgement, and were guided by her advice. I had been in my
cell six years when my grandmother was summoned to the bedside of this, her
last remaining daughter. She was very ill, and they said she would die.
Grandmother had not entered Dr. Flint's house for several years. They had
treated her cruelly, but she thought nothing of that now. She was grateful
for permission to watch by the death-bed of her child. They had always been
devoted to each other; and now they sat looking into each other's eyes,
longing to speak of the secret that had weighed so much on the hearts of
both. My aunt had been stricken with paralysis. She lived but two days, and
the last day she was speechless. Before she lost the power of utterance,
she told her mother not to grieve if she could not speak to her; that she
would try to hold up her hand; to let her know that all was well with her.
Even the hard-hearted doctor was a little softened when he saw the dying
woman try to smile on the aged mother, who was kneeling by her side. His
eyes moistened for a moment, as he said she had always been a faithful
servant, and they should never be able to supply her place. Mrs. Flint took
to her bed, quite overcome by the shock. While my grandmother sat alone
with the dead, the doctor came in, leading his youngest son, who had always
been a great pet with aunt Nancy, and was much attached to her. "Martha,"
said he, "aunt Nancy loved this child, and when he comes where you are, I
hope you will be kind to him, for her sake." She replied, "Your wife was my
foster-child, Dr. Flint, the foster-sister of my poor Nancy, and you little
know me if you think I can feel any thing but good will for her children."
"I wish the past could be forgotten, and that we might never think of it,"
said he; "and that Linda would come to supply her aunt's place. She would
be worth more to us than all the money that could be paid for her. I wish
it for your sake also, Martha. Now that Nancy is taken away from you, she
would be a great comfort to your old age." He knew he was touching a
tender chord. Almost choking with grief, my grandmother replied, "It was
not I that drove Linda away. My grandchildren are gone; and of my nine
children only one is left. God help me!"
To me, the death of this kind relative was an inexpressible sorrow. I knew
that she had been slowly murdered; and I felt that my troubles had helped
to finish the work. After I heard of her illness, I listened constantly to
hear what news was brought from the great house; and the thought that I
could not go to her made me utterly miserable. At last, as uncle Phillip
came into the house, I heard some one inquire, "How is she?" and he
answered, "She is dead." My little cell seemed whirling round, and I knew
nothing more till I opened my eyes and found uncle Phillip bending over me.
I had no need to ask any questions. He whispered, "Linda, she died happy."
I could not weep. My fixed gaze troubled him. "Don't look _so_" he said.
"Don't add to my poor mother's trouble. Remember how much she has to bear,
and that we ought to do all we can to comfort her." Ah, yes, that blessed
old grandmother, who for seventy-three years had borne the pelting storms
of a slave-mother's life. She did indeed need consolation!
Mrs. Flint had rendered her poor foster-sister childless, apparently
without any compunction; and with cruel selfishness had ruined her health
by years of incessant, unrequited toil, and broken rest. But now she became
very sentimental. I suppose she thought it would be a beautiful
illustration of the attachment existing between slaveholder and slave, if
the body of her old worn-out servant was buried at her feet. She sent for
the clergyman and asked if he had any objection to burying aunt Nancy in
the doctor's family burial-place. No colored person had ever been allowed
interment in the white people's burying-ground, and the minister knew that
all the deceased of your family reposed together in the old graveyard of
the slaves. He therefore replied, "I have no objection to complying with
your wish; but perhaps aunt Nancy's _mother_ may have some choice as to
where her remains shall be deposited."
It had never occurred to Mrs. Flint that slaves could have any feelings.
When my grandmother was consulted, she at once said she wanted Nancy to lie
with all the rest of her family, and where her own old body would be
buried. Mrs. Flint graciously complied with her wish, though she said it
was painful to her to have Nancy buried away from _her_. She might have
added with touching pathos, "I was so long _used_ to sleep with her lying
near me, on the entry floor."
My uncle Phillip asked permission to bury his sister at his own expense;
and slaveholders are always ready to grant _such_ favors to slaves and
their relatives. The arrangements were very plain, but perfectly
respectable. She was buried on the Sabbath, and Mrs. Flint's minister read
the funeral service. There was a large concourse of colored people, bond
and free, and a few white persons who had always been friendly to our
family. Dr. Flint's carriage was in the procession; and when the body was
deposited in its humble resting place, the mistress dropped a tear, and
returned to her carriage, probably thinking she had performed her duty
It was talked of by the slaves as a mighty grand funeral. Northern
travellers, passing through the place, might have described this tribute of
respect to the humble dead as a beautiful feature in the "patriarchal
institution;" a touching proof of the attachment between slaveholders and
their servants; and tender-hearted Mrs. Flint would have confirmed this
impression, with handkerchief at her eyes. _We_ could have told them a
different story. We could have given them a chapter of wrongs and
sufferings, that would have touched their hearts, if they _had_ any hearts
to feel for the colored people. We could have told them how the poor old
slave-mother had toiled, year after year, to earn eight hundred dollars to
buy her son Phillip's right to his own earnings; and how that same Phillip
paid the expenses of the funeral, which they regarded as doing so much
credit to the master. We could also have told them of a poor, blighted
young creature, shut up in a living grave for years, to avoid the tortures
that would be inflicted on her, if she ventured to come out and look on the
face of her departed friend.
All this, and much more, I thought of, as I sat at my loophole, waiting
for the family to return from the grave; sometimes weeping, sometimes
falling asleep, dreaming strange dreams of the dead and the living.
It was sad to witness the grief of my bereaved grandmother. She had always
been strong to bear, and now, as ever, religious faith supported her. But
her dark life had become still darker, and age and trouble were leaving
deep traces on her withered face. She had four places to knock for me to
come to the trapdoor, and each place had a different meaning. She now came
oftener than she had done, and talked to me of her dead daughter, while
tears trickled slowly down her furrowed cheeks. I said all I could to
comfort her; but it was a sad reflection, that instead of being able to
help her, I was a constant source of anxiety and trouble. The poor old back
was fitted to its burden. It bent under it, but did not break.
XXIX. Preparations For Escape.
I hardly expect that the reader will credit me, when I affirm that I lived
in that little dismal hole, almost deprived of light and air, and with no
space to move my limbs, for nearly seven years. But it is a fact; and to me
a sad one, even now; for my body still suffers from the effects of that
long imprisonment, to say nothing of my soul. Members of my family, now
living in New York and Boston, can testify to the truth of what I say.
Countless were the nights that I sat late at the little loophole scarcely
large enough to give me a glimpse of one twinkling star. There, heard the
patrols and slave-hunters conferring together about the capture of
runaways, well knowing how rejoiced they would be to catch me.
Season after season, year after year, I peeped at my children's faces, and
heard their sweet voices, with a heart yearning all the while to say, "Your
mother is here." Sometimes it appeared to me as if ages had rolled away
since I entered upon that gloomy, monotonous existence. At times, I was
stupefied and listless; at other times I became very impatient to know when
these dark years would end, and I should again be allowed to feel the
sunshine, and breathe the pure air.
After Ellen left us, this feeling increased. Mr. Sands had agreed that
Benny might go to the north whenever his uncle Phillip could go with him;
and I was anxious to be there also, to watch over my children, and protect
them so far as I was able. Moreover, I was likely to be drowned out of my
den, if I remained much longer; for the slight roof was getting badly out
of repair, and uncle Phillip was afraid to remove the shingles, lest some
one should get a glimpse of me. When storms occurred in the night, they
spread mats and bits of carpet, which in the morning appeared to have been
laid out to dry; but to cover the roof in the daytime might have attracted
attention. Consequently, my clothes and bedding were often drenched; a
process by which the pains and aches in my cramped and stiffened limbs were
greatly increased. I revolved various plans of escape in my mind, which I
sometimes imparted to my grandmother, when she came to whisper with me at
the trap-door. The kind-hearted old woman had an intense sympathy for
runaways. She had known too much of the cruelties inflicted on those who
were captured. Her memory always flew back at once to the sufferings of her
bright and handsome son, Benjamin, the youngest and dearest of her flock.
So, whenever I alluded to the subject, she would groan out, "O, don't think
of it, child. You'll break my heart." I had no good old aunt Nancy now to
encourage me; but my brother William and my children were continually
beckoning me to the north.
And now I must go back a few months in my story. I have stated that the
first of January was the time for selling slaves, or leasing them out to
new masters. If time were counted by heart-throbs, the poor slaves might
reckon years of suffering during that festival so joyous to the free. On
the New Year's day preceding my aunt's death, one of my friends, named
Fanny, was to be sold at auction, to pay her master's debts. My thoughts
were with her during all the day, and at night I anxiously inquired what
had been her fate. I was told that she had been sold to one master, and her
four little girls to another master, far distant; that she had escaped from
her purchaser, and was not to be found. Her mother was the old Aggie I have
spoken of. She lived in a small tenement belonging to my grandmother, and
built on the same lot with her own house. Her dwelling was searched and
watched, and that brought the patrols so near me that I was obliged to keep
very close in my den. The hunters were somehow eluded; and not long
afterwards Benny accidentally caught sight of Fanny in her mother's hut. He
told his grandmother, who charged him never to speak of it, explaining to
him the frightful consequences; and he never betrayed the trust. Aggie
little dreamed that my grandmother knew where her daughter was concealed,
and that the stooping form of her old neighbor was bending under a similar
burden of anxiety and fear; but these dangerous secrets deepened the
sympathy between the two old persecuted mothers.
My friend Fanny and I remained many weeks hidden within call of each other;
but she was unconscious of the fact. I longed to have her share my den,
which seemed a more secure retreat than her own; but I had brought so much
trouble on my grandmother, that it seemed wrong to ask her to incur greater
risks. My restlessness increased. I had lived too long in bodily pain and
anguish of spirit. Always I was in dread that by some accident, or some
contrivance, slavery would succeed in snatching my children from me. This
thought drove me nearly frantic, and I determined to steer for the North
Star at all hazards. At this crisis, Providence opened an unexpected way
for me to escape. My friend Peter came one evening, and asked to speak with
me. "Your day has come, Linda," said he. "I have found a chance for you to
go to the Free States. You have a fortnight to decide." The news seemed too
good to be true; but Peter explained his arrangements, and told me all that
was necessary was for me to say I would go. I was going to answer him with
a joyful yes, when the thought of Benny came to my mind. I told him the
temptation was exceedingly strong, but I was terribly afraid of Dr. Flint's
alleged power over my child, and that I could not go and leave him behind.
Peter remonstrated earnestly. He said such a good chance might never occur
again; that Benny was free, and could be sent to me; and that for the sake
of my children's welfare I ought not to hesitate a moment. I told him I
would consult with uncle Phillip. My uncle rejoiced in the plan, and bade
me go by all means. He promised, if his life was spared, that he would
either bring or send my son to me as soon as I reached a place of safety. I
resolved to go, but thought nothing had better be said to my grandmother
till very near the time of departure. But my uncle thought she would feel
it more keenly if I left here so suddenly. "I will reason with her," said
he, "and convince her how necessary it is, not only for your sake, but for
hers also. You cannot be blind to the fact that she is sinking under her
burdens." I was not blind to it. I knew that my concealment was an
ever-present source of anxiety, and that the older she grew the more
nervously fearful she was of discovery. My uncle talked with her, and
finally succeeded in persuading her that it was absolutely necessary for me
to seize the chance so unexpectedly offered.
The anticipation of being a free woman proved almost too much for my weak
frame. The excitement stimulated me, and at the same time bewildered me. I
made busy preparations for my journey, and for my son to follow me. I
resolved to have an interview with him before I went, that I might give him
cautions and advice, and tell him how anxiously I should be waiting for him
at the north. Grandmother stole up to me as often as possible to whisper
words of counsel. She insisted upon writing to Dr. Flint, as soon as I
arrived in the Free States, and asking him to sell me to her. She said she
would sacrifice her house, and all she had in the world, for the sake of
having me safe with my children in any part of the world. If she could only
live to know _that_ she could die in peace. I promised the dear old
faithful friend that I would write to her as soon as I arrived, and put the
letter in a safe way to reach her; but in my own mind I resolved that not
another cent of her hard earnings should be spent to pay rapacious
slaveholders for what they called their property. And even if I had not
been unwilling to buy what I had already a right to possess, common
humanity would have prevented me from accepting the generous offer, at the
expense of turning my aged relative out of house and home, when she was
trembling on the brink of the grave.
I was to escape in a vessel; but I forbear to mention any further
particulars. I was in readiness, but the vessel was unexpectedly detained
several days. Meantime, news came to town of a most horrible murder
committed on a fugitive slave, named James. Charity, the mother of this
unfortunate young man, had been an old acquaintance of ours. I have told
the shocking particulars of his death, in my description of some of the
neighboring slaveholders. My grandmother, always nervously sensitive about
runaways, was terribly frightened. She felt sure that a similar fate
awaited me, if I did not desist from my enterprise. She sobbed, and
groaned, and entreated me not to go. Her excessive fear was somewhat
contagious, and my heart was not proof against her extreme agony. I was
grievously disappointed, but I promised to relinquish my project.
When my friend Peter was apprised of this, he was both disappointed and
vexed. He said, that judging from our past experience, it would be a long
time before I had such another chance to throw away. I told him it need not
be thrown away; that I had a friend concealed near by, who would be glad
enough to take the place that had been provided for me. I told him about
poor Fanny, and the kind-hearted, noble fellow, who never turned his back
upon any body in distress, white or black, expressed his readiness to help
her. Aggie was much surprised when she found that we knew her secret. She
was rejoiced to hear of such a chance for Fanny, and arrangements were made
for her to go on board the vessel the next night. They both supposed that I
had long been at the north, therefore my name was not mentioned in the
transaction. Fanny was carried on board at the appointed time, and stowed
away in a very small cabin. This accommodation had been purchased at a
price that would pay for a voyage to England. But when one proposes to go
to fine old England, they stop to calculate whether they can afford the
cost of the pleasure; while in making a bargain to escape from slavery, the
trembling victim is ready to say, "take all I have, only don't betray me!"
The next morning I peeped through my loophole, and saw that it was dark and
cloudy. At night I received news that the wind was ahead, and the vessel
had not sailed. I was exceedingly anxious about Fanny, and Peter too, who
was running a tremendous risk at my instigation. Next day the wind and
weather remained the same. Poor Fanny had been half dead with fright when
they carried her on board, and I could readily imagine how she must be
suffering now. Grandmother came often to my den, to say how thankful she
was I did not go. On the third morning she rapped for me to come down to
the storeroom. The poor old sufferer was breaking down under her weight of
trouble. She was easily flurried now. I found her in a nervous, excited
state, but I was not aware that she had forgotten to lock the door behind
her, as usual. She was exceedingly worried about the detention of the
vessel. She was afraid all would be discovered, and then Fanny, and Peter,
and I, would all be tortured to death, and Phillip would be utterly ruined,
and her house would be torn down. Poor Peter! If he should die such a
horrible death as the poor slave James had lately done, and all for his
kindness in trying to help me, how dreadful it would be for us all! Alas,
the thought was familiar to me, and had sent many a sharp pang through my
heart. I tried to suppress my own anxiety, and speak soothingly to her. She
brought in some allusion to aunt Nancy, the dear daughter she had recently
buried, and then she lost all control of herself. As she stood there,
trembling and sobbing, a voice from the piazza called out, "Whar is you,
aunt Marthy?" Grandmother was startled, and in her agitation opened the
door, without thinking of me. In stepped Jenny, the mischievous housemaid,
who had tried to enter my room, when I was concealed in the house of my
white benefactress. "I's bin huntin ebery whar for you, aunt Marthy," said
she. "My missis wants you to send her some crackers." I had slunk down
behind a barrel, which entirely screened me, but I imagined that Jenny was
looking directly at the spot, and my heart beat violently. My grandmother
immediately thought what she had done, and went out quickly with Jenny to
count the crackers locking the door after her. She returned to me, in a few
minutes, the perfect picture of despair. "Poor child!" she exclaimed, "my
carelessness has ruined you. The boat ain't gone yet. Get ready
immediately, and go with Fanny. I ain't got another word to say against it
now; for there's no telling what may happen this day."
Uncle Phillip was sent for, and he agreed with his mother in thinking that
Jenny would inform Dr. Flint in less than twenty-four hours. He advised
getting me on board the boat, if possible; if not, I had better keep very
still in my den, where they could not find me without tearing the house
down. He said it would not do for him to move in the matter, because
suspicion would be immediately excited; but he promised to communicate with
Peter. I felt reluctant to apply to him again, having implicated him too
much already; but there seemed to be no alternative. Vexed as Peter had
been by my indecision, he was true to his generous nature, and said at once
that he would do his best to help me, trusting I should show myself a
stronger woman this time.
He immediately proceeded to the wharf, and found that the wind had shifted,
and the vessel was slowly beating down stream. On some pretext of urgent
necessity, he offered two boatmen a dollar apiece to catch up with her. He
was of lighter complexion than the boatmen he hired, and when the captain
saw them coming so rapidly, he thought officers were pursuing his vessel in
search of the runaway slave he had on board. They hoisted sails, but the
boat gained upon them, and the indefatigable Peter sprang on board.
The captain at once recognized him. Peter asked him to go below, to speak
about a bad bill he had given him. When he told his errand, the captain
replied, "Why, the woman's here already; and I've put her where you or the
devil would have a tough job to find her."
"But it is another woman I want to bring," said Peter. "_She_ is in great
distress, too, and you shall be paid any thing within reason, if you'll
stop and take her."
"What's her name?" inquired the captain. "Linda," he replied.
"That's the name of the woman already here," rejoined the captain. "By
George! I believe you mean to betray me."
"O!" exclaimed Peter, "God knows I wouldn't harm a hair of your head. I am
too grateful to you. But there really _is_ another woman in great danger.
Do have the humanity to stop and take her!"
After a while they came to an understanding. Fanny, not dreaming I was any
where about in that region, had assumed my name, though she called herself
Johnson. "Linda is a common name," said Peter, "and the woman I want to
bring is Linda Brent."
The captain agreed to wait at a certain place till evening, being
handsomely paid for his detention.
Of course, the day was an anxious one for us all. But we concluded that if
Jenny had seen me, she would be too wise to let her mistress know of it;
and that she probably would not get a chance to see Dr. Flint's family till
evening, for I knew very well what were the rules in that household. I
afterwards believed that she did not see me; for nothing ever came of it,
and she was one of those base characters that would have jumped to betray a
suffering fellow being for the sake of thirty pieces of silver.
I made all my arrangements to go on board as soon as it was dusk. The
intervening time I resolved to spend with my son. I had not spoken to him
for seven years, though I had been under the same roof, and seen him every
day, when I was well enough to sit at the loophole. I did not dare to
venture beyond the storeroom; so they brought him there, and locked us up
together, in a place concealed from the piazza door. It was an agitating
interview for both of us. After we had talked and wept together for a
little while, he said, "Mother, I'm glad you're going away. I wish I could
go with you. I knew you was here; and I have been _so_ afraid they would
come and catch you!" I was greatly surprised, and asked him how he had
found it out.
He replied, "I was standing under the eaves, one day, before Ellen went
away, and I heard somebody cough up over the wood shed. I don't know what
made me think it was you, but I did think so. I missed Ellen, the night
before she went away; and grandmother brought her back into the room in the
night; and I thought maybe she'd been to see _you_, before she went, for I
heard grandmother whisper to her, 'Now go to sleep; and remember never to
I asked him if he ever mentioned his suspicions to his sister. He said he
never did; but after he heard the cough, if he saw her playing with other
children on that side of the house, he always tried to coax her round to
the other side, for fear they would hear me cough, too. He said he had kept
a close lookout for Dr. Flint, and if he saw him speak to a constable, or a
patrol, he always told grandmother. I now recollected that I had seen him
manifest uneasiness, when people were on that side of the house, and I had
at the time been puzzled to conjecture a motive for his actions. Such
prudence may seem extraordinary in a boy of twelve years, but slaves, being
surrounded by mysteries, deceptions, and dangers, early learn to be
suspicious and watchful, and prematurely cautious and cunning. He had never
asked a question of grandmother, or uncle Phillip, and I had often heard
him chime in with other children, when they spoke of my being at the north.
I told him I was now really going to the Free States, and if he was a good,
honest boy, and a loving child to his dear old grandmother, the Lord would
bless him, and bring him to me, and we and Ellen would live together. He
began to tell me that grandmother had not eaten any thing all day. While he
was speaking, the door was unlocked, and she came in with a small bag of
money, which she wanted me to take. I begged her to keep a part of it, at
least, to pay for Benny's being sent to the north; but she insisted, while
her tears were falling fast, that I should take the whole. "You may be sick
among strangers," she said, "and they would send you to the poorhouse to
die." Ah, that good grandmother!
For the last time I went up to my nook. Its desolate appearance no longer
chilled me, for the light of hope had risen in my soul. Yet, even with the
blessed prospect of freedom before me, I felt very sad at leaving forever
that old homestead, where I had been sheltered so long by the dear old
grandmother; where I had dreamed my first young dream of love; and where,
after that had faded away, my children came to twine themselves so closely
round my desolate heart. As the hour approached for me to leave, I again
descended to the storeroom. My grandmother and Benny were there. She took
me by the hand, and said, "Linda, let us pray." We knelt down together,
with my child pressed to my heart, and my other arm round the faithful,
loving old friend I was about to leave forever. On no other occasion has it
ever been my lot to listen to so fervent a supplication for mercy and
protection. It thrilled through my heart, and inspired me with trust in
Peter was waiting for me in the street. I was soon by his side, faint in
body, but strong of purpose. I did not look back upon the old place, though
I felt that I should never see it again.
XXX. Northward Bound.
I never could tell how we reached the wharf. My brain was all of a whirl,
and my limbs tottered under me. At an appointed place we met my uncle
Phillip, who had started before us on a different route, that he might
reach the wharf first, and give us timely warning if there was any danger.
A row-boat was in readiness. As I was about to step in, I felt something
pull me gently, and turning round I saw Benny, looking pale and anxious. He
whispered in my ear, "I've been peeping into the doctor's window, and he's
at home. Good by, mother. Don't cry; I'll come." He hastened away. I
clasped the hand of my good uncle, to whom I owed so much, and of Peter,
the brave, generous friend who had volunteered to run such terrible risks
to secure my safety. To this day I remember how his bright face beamed with
joy, when he told me he had discovered a safe method for me to escape. Yet
that intelligent, enterprising, noble-hearted man was a chattel! Liable, by
the laws of a country that calls itself civilized, to be sold with horses
and pigs! We parted in silence. Our hearts were all too full for words!
Swiftly the boat glided over the water. After a while, one of the sailors
said, "Don't be down-hearted, madam. We will take you safely to your
husband, in ----." At first I could not imagine what he meant; but I had
presence of mind to think that it probably referred to something the
captain had told him; so I thanked him, and said I hoped we should have
When I entered the vessel the captain came forward to meet me. He was an
elderly man, with a pleasant countenance. He showed me to a little box of a
cabin, where sat my friend Fanny. She started as if she had seen a spectre.
She gazed on me in utter astonishment, and exclaimed, "Linda, can this be
_you_? or is it your ghost?" When we were locked in each other's arms, my
overwrought feelings could no longer be restrained. My sobs reached the
ears of the captain, who came and very kindly reminded us, that for his
safety, as well as our own, it would be prudent for us not to attract any
attention. He said that when there was a sail in sight he wished us to keep
below; but at other times, he had no objection to our being on deck. He
assured us that he would keep a good lookout, and if we acted prudently, he
thought we should be in no danger. He had represented us as women going to
meet our husbands in ----. We thanked him, and promised to observe
carefully all the directions he gave us.
Fanny and I now talked by ourselves, low and quietly, in our little cabin.
She told me of the suffering she had gone through in making her escape, and
of her terrors while she was concealed in her mother's house. Above all,
she dwelt on the agony of separation from all her children on that dreadful
auction day. She could scarcely credit me, when I told her of the place
where I had passed nearly seven years. "We have the same sorrows," said I.
"No," replied she, "you are going to see your children soon, and there is
no hope that I shall ever even hear from mine."
The vessel was soon under way, but we made slow progress. The wind was
against us, I should not have cared for this, if we had been out of sight
of the town; but until there were miles of water between us and our
enemies, we were filled with constant apprehensions that the constables
would come on board. Neither could I feel quite at ease with the captain
and his men. I was an entire stranger to that class of people, and I had
heard that sailors were rough, and sometimes cruel. We were so completely
in their power, that if they were bad men, our situation would be dreadful.
Now that the captain was paid for our passage, might he not be tempted to
make more money by giving us up to those who claimed us as property? I was
naturally of a confiding disposition, but slavery had made me suspicious of
every body. Fanny did not share my distrust of the captain or his men. She
said she was afraid at first, but she had been on board three days while
the vessel lay in the dock, and nobody had betrayed her, or treated her
otherwise than kindly.
The captain soon came to advise us to go on deck for fresh air. His
friendly and respectful manner, combined with Fanny's testimony, reassured
me, and we went with him. He placed us in a comfortable seat, and
occasionally entered into conversation. He told us he was a Southerner by
birth, and had spent the greater part of his life in the Slave States, and
that he had recently lost a brother who traded in slaves. "But," said he,
"it is a pitiable and degrading business, and I always felt ashamed to
acknowledge my brother in connection with it." As we passed Snaky Swamp, he
pointed to it, and said, "There is a slave territory that defies all the
laws." I thought of the terrible days I had spent there, and though it was
not called Dismal Swamp, it made me feel very dismal as I looked at it.
I shall never forget that night. The balmy air of spring was so refreshing!
And how shall I describe my sensations when we were fairly sailing on
Chesapeake Bay? O, the beautiful sunshine! the exhilarating breeze! And I
could enjoy them without fear or restraint. I had never realized what grand
things air and sunlight are till I had been deprived of them.
Ten days after we left land we were approaching Philadelphia. The captain
said we should arrive there in the night, but he thought we had better wait
till morning, and go on shore in broad daylight, as the best way to avoid
I replied, "You know best. But will you stay on board and protect us?"
He saw that I was suspicious, and he said he was sorry, now that he had
brought us to the end of our voyage, to find I had so little confidence in
him. Ah, if he had ever been a slave he would have known how difficult it
was to trust a white man. He assured us that we might sleep through the
night without fear; that he would take care we were not left unprotected.
Be it said to the honor of this captain, Southerner as he was, that if
Fanny and I had been white ladies, and our passage lawfully engaged, he
could not have treated us more respectfully. My intelligent friend, Peter,
had rightly estimated the character of the man to whose honor he had
intrusted us. The next morning I was on deck as soon as the day dawned. I
called Fanny to see the sun rise, for the first time in our lives, on free
soil; for such I _then_ believed it to be. We watched the reddening sky,
and saw the great orb come up slowly out of the water, as it seemed. Soon
the waves began to sparkle, and every thing caught the beautiful glow.
Before us lay the city of strangers. We looked at each other, and the eyes
of both were moistened with tears. We had escaped from slavery, and we
supposed ourselves to be safe from the hunters. But we were alone in the
world, and we had left dear ties behind us; ties cruelly sundered by the
XXXI. Incidents In Philadelphia.
I had heard that the poor slave had many friends at the north. I trusted we
should find some of them. Meantime, we would take it for granted that all
were friends, till they proved to the contrary. I sought out the kind
captain, thanked him for his attentions, and told him I should never cease
to be grateful for the service he had rendered us. I gave him a message to
the friends I had left at home, and he promised to deliver it. We were
placed in a row-boat, and in about fifteen minutes were landed on a wood
wharf in Philadelphia. As I stood looking round, the friendly captain
touched me on the shoulder, and said, "There is a respectable-looking
colored man behind you. I will speak to him about the New York trains, and
tell him you wish to go directly on." I thanked him, and asked him to
direct me to some shops where I could buy gloves and veils. He did so, and
said he would talk with the colored man till I returned. I made what haste
I could. Constant exercise on board the vessel, and frequent rubbing with
salt water, had nearly restored the use of my limbs. The noise of the great
city confused me, but I found the shops, and bought some double veils and
gloves for Fanny and myself. The shopman told me they were so many levies.
I had never heard the word before, but I did not tell him so. I thought if
he knew I was a stranger he might ask me where I came from. I gave him a
gold piece, and when he returned the change, I counted it, and found out
how much a levy was. I made my way back to the wharf, where the captain
introduced me to the colored man, as the Rev. Jeremiah Durham, minister of
Bethel church. He took me by the hand, as if I had been an old friend. He
told us we were too late for the morning cars to New York, and must wait
until the evening, or the next morning. He invited me to go home with him,
assuring me that his wife would give me a cordial welcome; and for my
friend he would provide a home with one of his neighbors. I thanked him for
so much kindness to strangers, and told him if I must be detained, I should
like to hunt up some people who formerly went from our part of the country.
Mr. Durham insisted that I should dine with him, and then he would assist
me in finding my friends. The sailors came to bid us good by. I shook their
hardy hands, with tears in my eyes. They had all been kind to us, and they
had rendered us a greater service than they could possibly conceive of.
I had never seen so large a city, or been in contact with so many people in
the streets. It seemed as if those who passed looked at us with an
expression of curiosity. My face was so blistered and peeled, by sitting on
deck, in wind and sunshine, that I thought they could not easily decide to
what nation I belonged.
Mrs. Durham met me with a kindly welcome, without asking any questions. I
was tired, and her friendly manner was a sweet refreshment. God bless her!
I was sure that she had comforted other weary hearts, before I received her
sympathy. She was surrounded by her husband and children, in a home made
sacred by protecting laws. I thought of my own children, and sighed.
After dinner Mr. Durham went with me in quest of the friends I had spoken
of. They went from my native town, and I anticipated much pleasure in
looking on familiar faces. They were not at home, and we retracted our
steps through streets delightfully clean. On the way, Mr. Durham observed
that I had spoken to him of a daughter I expected to meet; that he was
surprised, for I looked so young he had taken me for a single woman. He was
approaching a subject on which I was extremely sensitive. He would ask
about my husband next, I thought, and if I answered him truly, what would
he think of me? I told him I had two children, one in New York the other at
the south. He asked some further questions, and I frankly told him some of
the most important events of my life. It was painful for me to do it; but I
would not deceive him. If he was desirous of being my friend, I thought he
ought to know how far I was worthy of it. "Excuse me, if I have tried your
feelings," said he. "I did not question you from idle curiosity. I wanted
to understand your situation, in order to know whether I could be of any
service to you, or your little girl. Your straight-forward answers do you
credit; but don't answer every body so openly. It might give some heartless
people a pretext for treating you with contempt."
That word _contempt_ burned me like coals of fire. I replied, "God alone
knows how I have suffered; and He, I trust, will forgive me. If I am
permitted to have my children, I intend to be a good mother, and to live in
such a manner that people cannot treat me with contempt."
"I respect your sentiments," said he. "Place your trust in God, and be
governed by good principles, and you will not fail to find friends."
When we reached home, I went to my room, glad to shut out the world for a
while. The words he had spoken made an indelible impression upon me. They
brought up great shadows from the mournful past. In the midst of my
meditations I was startled by a knock at the door. Mrs. Durham entered, her
face all beaming with kindness, to say that there was an anti-slavery
friend down stairs, who would like to see me. I overcame my dread of
encountering strangers, and went with her. Many questions were asked
concerning my experiences, and my escape from slavery; but I observed how
careful they all were not to say any thing that might wound my feelings.
How gratifying this was, can be fully understood only by those who have
been accustomed to be treated as if they were not included within the pale
of human beings. The anti-slavery friend had come to inquire into my plans,
and to offer assistance, if needed. Fanny was comfortably established, for
the present, with a friend of Mr. Durham. The Anti-Slavery Society agreed
to pay her expenses to New York. The same was offered to me, but I declined
to accept it, telling them that my grandmother had given me sufficient to
pay my expenses to the end of my journey. We were urged to remain in
Philadelphia a few days, until some suitable escort could be found for us.
I gladly accepted the proposition, for I had a dread of meeting
slaveholders, and some dread also of railroads. I had never entered a
railroad car in my life, and it seemed to me quite an important event.
That night I sought my pillow with feelings I had never carried to it
before. I verily believed myself to be a free woman. I was wakeful for a
long time, and I had no sooner fallen asleep, than I was roused by
fire-bells. I jumped up, and hurried on my clothes. Where I came from,
every body hastened to dress themselves on such occasions. The white people
thought a great fire might be used as a good opportunity for insurrection,
and that it was best to be in readiness; and the colored people were
ordered out to labor in extinguishing the flames. There was but one engine
in our town, and colored women and children were often required to drag it
to the river's edge and fill it. Mrs. Durham's daughter slept in the same
room with me, and seeing that she slept through all the din, I thought it
was my duty to wake her. "What's the matter?" said she, rubbing her eyes.
"They're screaming fire in the streets, and the bells are ringing," I
"What of that?" said she, drowsily. "We are used to it. We never get up,
without the fire is very near. What good would it do?"
I was quite surprised that it was not necessary for us to go and help fill
the engine. I was an ignorant child, just beginning to learn how things
went on in great cities.
At daylight, I heard women crying fresh fish, berries, radishes, and
various other things. All this was new to me. I dressed myself at an early
hour, and sat at the window to watch that unknown tide of life.
Philadelphia seemed to me a wonderfully great place. At the breakfast
table, my idea of going out to drag the engine was laughed over, and I
joined in the mirth.
I went to see Fanny, and found her so well contented among her new friends
that she was in no haste to leave. I was also very happy with my kind
hostess. She had had advantages for education, and was vastly my superior.
Every day, almost every hour, I was adding to my little stock of knowledge.
She took me out to see the city as much as she deemed prudent. One day she
took me to an artist's room, and showed me the portraits of some of her
children. I had never seen any paintings of colored people before, and they
seemed to be beautiful.
At the end of five days, one of Mrs. Durham's friends offered to accompany
us to New York the following morning. As I held the hand of my good hostess
in a parting clasp, I longed to know whether her husband had repeated to
her what I had told him. I supposed he had, but she never made any allusion
to it. I presume it was the delicate silence of womanly sympathy.
When Mr. Durham handed us our tickets, he said, "I am afraid you will have
a disagreeable ride; but I could not procure tickets for the first-class
Supposing I had not given him money enough, I offered more. "O, no," said