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Thirty Years a Slave by Louis Hughes

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Transcriber's note: The inconsistent spellings of the original have
been retained in this etext.


From Bondage to Freedom.




The institution of human slavery, as it existed in this country, has
long been dead; and, happily for all the sacred interests which it
assailed, there is for it no resurrection. It may, therefore, be asked
to what purpose is the story which follows, of the experiences of one
person under that dead and accursed institution? To such question, if it
be asked, it may be answered that the narrator presents his story in
compliance with the suggestion of friends, and in the hope that it may
add something of accurate information regarding the character and
influence of an institution which for two hundred years dominated the
country--exercising a potent but baneful influence in the formation of
its social, civil and industrial structures, and which finally plunged
it into the most stupendous civil war which the world has ever known. As
the enlightenment of each generation depends upon the thoughtful study
of the history of those that have gone before, everything which tends to
fullness and accuracy in that history is of value, even though it be not
presented with the adjuncts of literary adornment, or thrilling scenic



* * * * *


I was born in Virginia, in 1832, near Charlottesville, in the beautiful
valley of the Rivanna river. My father was a white man and my mother a
negress, the slave of one John Martin. I was a mere child, probably not
more than six years of age, as I remember, when my mother, two brothers
and myself were sold to Dr. Louis, a practicing physician in the village
of Scottsville. We remained with him about five years, when he died,
and, in the settlement of his estate, I was sold to one Washington
Fitzpatrick, a merchant of the village. He kept me a short time when he
took me to Richmond, by way of canal-boat, expecting to sell me; but as
the market was dull, he brought me back and kept me some three months
longer, when he told me he had hired me out to work on a canal-boat
running to Richmond, and to go to my mother and get my clothes ready to
start on the trip. I went to her as directed, and, when she had made
ready my bundle, she bade me good-by with tears in her eyes, saying: "My
son, be a good boy; be polite to every one, and always behave yourself
properly." It was sad to her to part with me, though she did not know
that she was never to see me again, for my master had said nothing to
her regarding his purpose and she only thought, as I did, that I was
hired to work on the canal-boat, and that she should see me
occasionally. But alas! We never met again. I can see her form still as
when she bade me good-bye. That parting I can never forget. I ran off
from her as quickly as I could after her parting words, for I did not
want her to see me crying. I went to my master at the store, and he
again told me that he had hired me to work on the canal-boat, and to go
aboard immediately. Of the boat and the trip and the scenes along the
route I remember little--I only thought of my mother and my leaving her.

When we arrived at Richmond, George Pullan, a "nigger-trader," as he was
called, came to the boat and began to question me, asking me first if I
could remember having had the chickenpox, measles or whooping-cough. I
answered, yes. Then he asked me if I did not want to take a little walk
with him. I said, no. "Well," said he, "you have got to go. Your master
sent you down here to be sold, and told me to come and get you and take
you to the trader's yard, ready to be sold." I saw that to hesitate was
useless; so I at once obeyed him and went.

* * * * *


The trader's establishment consisted of an office, a large show-room and
a yard in the rear enclosed with a wall of brick fifteen feet high. The
principal men of the establishment were the proprietor and the foreman.
When slaves were to be exhibited for sale, the foreman was called to the
office by means of a bell, and an order given him to bring into the
show-room all the slaves in the establishment. This was the work of but
a few minutes, and the women were placed in a row on one side of the
room and the men on the other. Persons desirous of purchasing them
passed up and down between the lines looking the poor creatures over,
and questioning them in about the following manner: "What can you do?"
"Are you a good cook? seamstress? dairymaid?"--this to the women, while
the men would be questioned as to their line of work: "Can you plow? Are
you a blacksmith? Have you ever cared for horses? Can you pick cotton
rapidly?" Sometimes the slave would be required to open his mouth that
the purchaser might examine the teeth and form some opinion as to his
age and physical soundness; and if it was suspected that a slave had
been beaten a good deal he would be required to step into another room
and undress. If the person desiring to buy found the slave badly scarred
by the common usage of whipping, he would say at once to the foreman;
"Why! this slave is not worth much, he is all scarred up. No, I don't
want him; bring me in another to look at." Slaves without scars from
whipping and looking well physically always sold readily. They were
never left long in the yard. It was expected that all the slaves in the
yard for sale would be neatly dressed and clean before being brought
into the show-room. It was the foreman's business to see that each one
was presentable.

* * * * *


Whipping was done at these markets, or trader's yards, all the time.
People who lived in the city of Richmond would send their slaves here
for punishment. When any one wanted a slave whipped he would send a note
to that effect with the servant to the trader. Any petty offense on the
part of a slave was sufficient to subject the offender to this brutal
treatment. Owners who affected culture and refinement preferred to send
a servant to the yard for punishment to inflicting it themselves. It
saved them trouble, they said, and possibly a slight wear and tear of
feeling. For this service the owner was charged a certain sum for each
slave, and the earnings of the traders from this source formed a very
large part of the profits of his business. The yard I was in had a
regular whipping post to which they tied the slave, and gave him
"nine-and-thirty," as it was called, meaning thirty-nine lashes as hard
as they could lay it on. Men were stripped of their shirts in
preparation for the whipping, and women had to take off their dresses
from the shoulders to the waist. These whippings were not so severe as
when the slaves were stripped entirely of their clothes, as was
generally the case on the plantations where slaves were owned by the
dozen. I saw many cases of whipping while I was in the yard. Sometimes I
was so frightened that I trembled violently, for I had never seen
anything like it before.

* * * * *


I was only in the yard a short time before I was bought by one George
Reid who lived in Richmond. He had no wife, but an old lady kept house
for him and his three sons. At this time he had a place in the
postoffice, but soon after I came there he lost it. He then moved into
the country upon a farm of about one thousand acres, enclosed by a cedar
hedge. The house was a plain frame structure upon a stone basement and
contained four rooms. It was surrounded with shrubbery, and was a
pleasant country seat. But I did not like it here. I grieved continually
about my mother. It came to me, more and more plainly, that I would
never see her again. Young and lonely as I was, I could not help crying,
oftentimes for hours together. It was hard to get used to being away
from my mother. I remember well "Aunt Sylvia," who was the cook in the
Reid household. She was very kind to me and always spoke consolingly to
me, especially if I had been blue, and had had one of my fits of crying.
At these times she would always bake me an ash cake for supper, saying
to me; "My child, don't cry; 'Aunt Sylvia' will look after you." This
ash cake was made of corn meal and water, a little salt to make it
palatable, and was baked by putting it between cabbage leaves and
covering it with hot ashes. A sweeter or more delicious cake one could
not desire, and it was common upon the tables of all the Virginia
farmers. I always considered it a great treat to get one of these cakes
from "Aunt Sylvia."

The appellations of "aunt" and "uncle" for the older slaves were not
only common among the blacks, but the whites also addressed them in the
same way.

* * * * *


I was sick a great deal--in fact, I had suffered with chills and fever
ever since Mr. Reid bought me. He, therefore, concluded to sell me, and,
in November, 1844, he took me back to Richmond, placing me in the
Exchange building, or auction rooms, for the sale of slaves. The sales
were carried on in a large hall where those interested in the business
sat around a large block or stand, upon which the slave to be sold was
placed, the auctioneer standing beside him. When I was placed upon the
block, a Mr. McGee came up and felt of me and asked me what I could do.
"You look like a right smart nigger," said he, "Virginia always produces
good darkies." Virginia was the mother of slavery, and it was held by
many that she had the best slaves. So when Mr. McGee found I was born
and bred in that state he seemed satisfied. The bidding commenced, and
I remember well when the auctioneer said; "Three hundred eighty
dollars--once, twice and sold to Mr. Edward McGee." He was a rich cotton
planter of Pontotoc, Miss. As near as I can recollect, I was not more
than twelve years of age, so did not sell for very much.

* * * * *


Servant women sold for $500 to $700, and sometimes as high as $800 when
possessing extra qualifications. A house maid, bright in looks, strong
and well formed, would sell for $1,000 to $1,200. Bright mulatto girls,
well versed in sewing and knitting, would sometimes bring as high as
$1,800, especially if a Virginian or a Kentuckian. Good blacksmiths sold
for $1,600 to $1,800. When the slaves were put upon the block they were
always sold to the highest bidder. Mr. McGee, or "Boss," as I soon
learned to call him, bought sixty other slaves before he bought me, and
they were started in a herd for Atlanta, Ga., on foot.

* * * * *


Boss, myself and ten others met them there. We then started for
Pontotoc, Miss. On our way we stopped at Edenton, Ga., where Boss sold
twenty-one of the sixty slaves. We then proceeded on our way, Boss by
rail and we on foot, or in the wagon. We went about twenty miles a day.
I remember, as we passed along, every white man we met was yelling,
"Hurrah for Polk and Dallas!" They were feeling good, for election had
given them the men that they wanted. The man who had us in charge joined
with those we met in the hurrahing. We were afraid to ask them the
reason for their yelling, as that would have been regarded as an
impertinence, and probably would have caused us all to be whipped.

* * * * *


At length, after a long and wearisome journey, we reached Pontotoc,
McGee's home, on Christmas eve. Boss took me into the house and into the
sitting room, where all the family were assembled, and presented me as a
Christmas gift to the madam, his wife.

My boss, as I remember him, was a tall, raw-boned man, but rather
distinguished in looks, with a fine carriage, brilliant in intellect,
and considered one of the wealthiest and most successful planters of his
time. Mrs. McGee was a handsome, stately lady, about thirty years of
age, brunette in complexion, faultless in figure and imperious in
manner. I think that they were of Scotch descent. There were four
children, Emma, Willie, Johnnie and Jimmie. All looked at me, and
thought I was "a spry little fellow." I was very shy and did not say
much, as everything was strange to me. I was put to sleep that night on
a pallet on the floor in the dining room, using an old quilt as a
covering. The next morning was Christmas, and it seemed to be a custom
to have egg-nog before breakfast. The process of making this was new and
interesting to me. I saw them whip the whites of eggs, on a platter, to
a stiff froth; the yolks were thoroughly beaten in a large bowl, sugar
and plenty of good brandy were added, and the whites of the eggs and
cream were then stirred in, a little nutmeg grated on top of each glass
when filled for serving. This was a delicious drink, and the best of all
was, there was plenty of it. I served this to all the family, and, as
there were also visiting relatives present, many glasses were required,
and I found the tray so heavy I could hardly carry it. I helped myself,
after the service was finished, and I was delighted, for I had never
tasted anything so fine before.

My boss told me I was to wait on the madam, do any errand necessary,
attend to the dining room--in fact I was installed as general utility
boy. It was different from the quiet manner of life I had seen before
coming here--it kept my spirits up for some time. I thought of my mother
often, but I was gradually growing to the idea that it was useless to
cry, and I tried hard to overcome my feelings.

* * * * *


As already stated, it was Christmas morning, and, after breakfast, I saw
the cook hurrying, and when I went out into the yard, everywhere I
looked slaves met my view. I never saw so many slaves at one time
before. In Virginia we did not have such large farms. There were no
extensive cotton plantations, as in Mississippi. I shall never forget
the dinner that day--it was a feast fit for a king, so varied and lavish
was the bill of fare. The next attraction for me was the farm hands
getting their Christmas rations. Each was given a pint of flour of which
they made biscuit, which were called "Billy Seldom," because biscuit
were very rare with them. Their daily food was corn bread, which they
called "Johnny Constant," as they had it constantly. In addition to the
flour each received a piece of bacon or fat meat, from which they got
the shortening for their biscuit. The cracklings from the rendering of
lard were also used by the slaves for shortening. The hands were allowed
four days off at Christmas, and if they worked on these days, as some of
them did, they got fifty cents a day for chopping. It was not common to
have chopping done during the holidays; some planters, however, found it
convenient thus to get it out of the way for the work which came after

* * * * *


I soon became familiar with my work in the house and with the
neighborhood, as I often had to carry notes for Boss to neighboring
farmers, as well as to carry the mail to and from the postoffice. The
"great house," as the dwelling of the master was called, was two stories
high, built of huge logs, chinked and daubed and whitewashed. It was
divided, from front to rear, by a hall twenty-five feet long and twelve
feet wide, and on each side of the hall, in each story, was one large
room with a large fire-place. There were but four rooms in all, yet
these were so large that they were equal to at least six of our modern
rooms. The kitchen was not attached to the main building, but was about
thirty feet to the rear. This was the common mode of building in the
south in those days. The two bedrooms upstairs were very plain in
furnishings, but neat and comfortable, judged by the standard of the
times. A wing was added to the main building for dining room. In rear of
the kitchen was the milk or dairy house, and beyond this the smoke house
for curing the meat. In line with these buildings, and still further to
the rear, was the overseer's house. Near the milk house was a large
tree, and attached to the trunk was a lever; and here was where the
churning was done, in which I had always to assist. This establishment
will serve as a sample of many of those on the large plantations in the
south. The main road from Pontotoc to Holly Springs, one of the great
thoroughfares of the state and a stage route, passed near the house, and
through the center of the farm. On each side of this road was a fence,
and in the corners of both fences, extending for a mile, were planted
peach trees, which bore excellent fruit in great profusion.

* * * * *


My first work in the morning was to dust the parlor and hall and arrange
the dining room. It came awkward to me at first, but, after the madam
told me how, I soon learned to do it satisfactorily. Then I had to wait
on the table, sweep the large yard every morning with a brush broom and
go for the mail once a week. I used to get very tired, for I was young
and consequently not strong. Aside from these things which came
regularly, I had to help the madam in warping the cloth. I dreaded this
work, for I always got my ears boxed if I did not or could not do the
work to suit her. She always made the warp herself and put it in, and I
had to hand her the thread as she put it through the harness. I would
get very tired at this work and, like any child, wanted to be at play,
but I could not remember that the madam ever gave me that privilege.
Saddling the horse at first was troublesome to me, but Boss was constant
in his efforts to teach me, and, after many trials, I learned the task
satisfactorily to the master and to bring the horse to the door when he
wished to go out for business or pleasure. Riding horseback was common
for both ladies and gentlemen, and sometimes I would have to saddle
three or more horses when Boss, the madam, a friend or friends desired a
ride. Bird hunting parties were common and were greatly enjoyed, by the
young people especially. Boss always invited some of the young people of
the neighborhood to these parties and they never failed to put in an
appearance. Williams, Bradford and Freeman were the sons of rich
planters, and were always participants in this sport, and their young
lady friends joined in it as on-lookers. The young men singing and
whistling to the birds, I in the meantime setting the net. As soon as I
had got the net in order they would approach the birds slowly, driving
them into it. There was great laughter and excitement if they were
successful in catching a fine flock.

* * * * *


I was but a lad, yet I can remember well the cruel treatment I received.
Some weeks it seemed I was whipped for nothing, just to please my
mistress' fancy. Once, when I was sent to town for the mail and had
started back, it was so dark and rainy my horse got away from me and I
had to stay all night in town. The next morning when I got back home I
had a severe whipping, because the master was expecting a letter
containing money and was disappointed in not receiving it that night, as
he was going to Panola to spend Christmas. However, the day came and all
the family went except me. During the time they were gone the overseer
whipped a man so terribly with the "bull whip" that I had to go for the
doctor, and when Dr. Heningford, the regular family physician, came, he
said it was awful--such cruel treatment, and he complained about it. It
was common for a slave to get an "over-threshing," that is, to be
whipped too much. The poor man was cut up so badly all over that the
doctor made a bran poultice and wrapped his entire body in it. This was
done to draw out the inflammation. It seems the slave had been sick, and
had killed a little pig when he became well enough to go to work, as his
appetite craved hearty food, and he needed it to give him strength for
his tasks. For this one act, comparatively trivial, he was almost
killed. The idea never seemed to occur to the slave holders that these
slaves were getting no wages for their work and, therefore, had nothing
with which to procure what, at times, was necessary for their health and
strength--palatable and nourishing food. When the slaves took anything
the masters called it stealing, yet they were stealing the slaves' time
year after year. When Boss came home he was called on by the town
officials, for the case had been reported to them. Boss, however, got
out of it by saying that he was not at home when the trouble occurred.
The poor slave was sick from his ill treatment some four or five months,
and when he recovered there was a running sore left on his body, from
the deep cuts of the whip, which never healed. I can not forget how he
looked, the sore was a sickening sight; yet, when he was able to walk he
had to return to work in the field.

I had not been at Pontotoc very long when I saw the hounds run a slave,
by name Ben Lyon. "Old Ben," as he was called, ran away and had been
gone a week when he was seen by a woman who "told on him," and then I
was sent to get the man who had trained dogs, or hounds as they were
called. The dogs ran the slave about ten miles when they lost track at a
creek, but he was caught that night in a farmer's house getting
something to eat.

* * * * *


After some time, Boss began to tell me the names of medicines and their
properties. I liked this and seemed to grasp the idea very well. After
giving me a number of names he would make me repeat them. Then he would
tell me the properties of each medicine named, how it was used and for
what purpose and how much constituted a dose. He would drill me in all
this until I knew it and, in a short time, he would add other names to
the list. He always showed me each medicine named and had me smell and
carefully examine it that I might know it when seen again. I liked this,
and used to wish that I was as wise as my master. He was very precise,
steady and gentle in any case of sickness, and, although he had long
retired from the medical world, all recognized his merit wherever he
went. I used to go to the woods and gather slippery elm, alum root and
the roots of wild cherry and poplar, for we used all these in
compounding medicines for the servants.

* * * * *


The overseer was a man hired to look after the farm and whip the slaves.
Very often they were not only cruel, but barbarous. Every farmer or
planter considered an overseer a necessity. As a rule, there was also on
each plantation, a foreman--one of the brighter slaves, who was held
responsible for the slaves under him, and whipped if they did not come
up to the required task. There was, too, a forewoman, who, in like
manner, had charge of the female slaves, and also the boys and girls
from twelve to sixteen years of age, and all the old people that were
feeble. This was called the trash gang. Ah! it would make one's heart
ache to see those children and how they were worked. Cold, frosty
mornings, the little ones would be crying from cold; but they had to
keep on. Aunt Polly, our forewoman, was afraid to allow them to run to
get warm, for fear the overseer would see them. Then she would be
whipped, and he would make her whip all of the gang. At length, I became
used to severe treatment of the slaves; but, every little while
something would happen to make me wish I were dead. Everything was in a
bustle--always there was slashing and whipping. I remember when Boss
made a change in our overseer. It was the beginning of the year. Riley,
one of the slaves, who was a principal plower, was not on hand for work
one Monday morning, having been delayed in fixing the bridle of his
mule, which the animal, for lack of something better, perhaps, had been
vigorously chewing and rendered nearly useless. He was, therefore,
considerably behind time, when he reached the field. Without waiting to
learn what was the reason for the delay, the overseer sprang upon him
with his bull whip, which was about seven feet long, lashing him with
all his strength, every stroke leaving its mark upon the poor man's
body, and finally the knot at the end of the whip buried itself in the
fleshy part of the arm, and there came around it a festering sore. He
suffered greatly with it, until one night his brother took out the knot,
when the poor fellow was asleep, for he could not bear any one to touch
it when he was awake. It was awful to hear the cracking of that whip as
it was laid about Riley--one would have thought that an ox team had
gotten into the mire, and was being whipped out, so loud and sharp was
the noise!

I usually slept in the dining room on the floor. Early one morning an
old slave, by name of "Uncle Jim," came and knocked at the window, and
upon my jumping up and going to him, he told me to tell Boss that Uncle
Jim was there. He had run away, some time before, and, for some reason,
had returned. Boss, upon hearing the news, got up and sent me to tell
the overseer to come at once. He came, and, taking the bull whip, a
cowhide and a lot of peach-tree switches, he and Boss led Uncle Jim back
into the cow lot, on the side of the hill, where they drove four stakes
in the ground, and, laying him flat on his face, tied his hands and feet
to these stakes. After whipping him, in this position, all they wanted
to, a pail of strong salt and water was brought, and the poor fellow was
"washed down." This washing was customary, after whippings, as the
planters claimed it drew out all the soreness, and healed the lacerated

Upon one occasion, the family being away, I was left extra work to do,
being set to help three fellow slaves lay off the rows for planting
corn. We did not get them quite straight. The deviation we made from the
line was very little, and could scarcely be seen, even by an expert; but
the least thing wrong about the work would cause any slave to be
whipped, and so all four of us were flogged.

* * * * *


There was a section of the plantation known as "the quarters," where
were situated the cabins of the slaves. These cabins were built of rough
logs, and daubed with the red clay or mud of the region. No attempt was
made to give them a neat appearance--they were not even whitewashed.
Each cabin was about fourteen feet square, containing but one room, and
was covered with oak boards, three feet in length, split out of logs by
hand. These boards were not nailed on, but held in their places by what
were termed weight-poles laid across them at right angles. There were
in each room two windows, a door and a large, rude fire-place. The door
and window frames, or facings, were held in their places by wooden pins,
nails being used only in putting the doors together. The interior of the
cabins had nothing more attractive than the outside--there was no
plastering and only a dirt floor. The furniture consisted of one bed, a
plain board table and some benches made by the slaves themselves.
Sometimes a cabin was occupied by two or more families, in which case
the number of beds was increased proportionately. For light a grease
lamp was used, which was made of iron, bowl shaped, by a blacksmith. The
bowl was filled with grease and a rag or wick placed in it, one end
resting on the edge for lighting. These lamps gave a good light, and
were in general use among the slaves. Tallow candles were a luxury,
never seen except in the "great houses" of the planters. The only light
for outdoors used by the slaves was a torch made by binding together a
bundle of small sticks or splinters.

* * * * *


After the selection of the soil most suitable for cotton, the
preparation of it was of vital importance. The land was deeply plowed,
long enough before the time for planting to allow the spring rains to
settle it. Then it was thrown into beds or ridges by turning furrows
both ways toward a given center. The seed was planted at the rate of one
hundred pounds per acre. The plant made its appearance in about ten days
after planting, if the weather was favorable. Early planting, however,
followed by cold, stormy weather frequently caused the seed to rot. As
soon as the third leaf appeared the process of scraping commenced, which
consisted of cleaning the ridge with hoes of all superfluous plants and
all weeds and grass. After this a narrow plow known as a "bull tongue,"
was used to turn the loose earth around the plant and cover up any grass
not totally destroyed by the hoes. If the surface was very rough the
hoes followed, instead of preceding, the plow to unearth those plants
that may have been partially covered. The slaves often acquired great
skill in these operations, running plows within two inches of the
stalks, and striking down weeds within half an inch with their hoes,
rarely touching a leaf of the cotton. Subsequent plowing, alternating
with hoeing, usually occurred once in twenty days. There was danger in
deep plowing of injuring the roots, and this was avoided, except in the
middle of rows in wet seasons when it was necessary to bury and more
effectually kill the grass. The implements used in the culture of cotton
were shovels, hoes, sweeps, cultivators, harrows and two kinds of plows.
It required four months, under the most favorable circumstances, for
cotton to attain its full growth. It was usually planted about the 1st
of April, or from March 20th to April 10th, bloomed about the 1st of
June and the first balls opened about August 15th, when picking
commenced. The blooms come out in the morning and are fully developed by
noon, when they are a pure white. Soon after meridian they begin to
exhibit reddish streaks, and next morning are a clear pink. They fall
off by noon of the second day.

* * * * *


A cut worm was troublesome sometimes; but the plants were watched very
carefully, and as soon as any signs of worms were seen work for their
destruction was commenced. The majority of the eggs were laid upon the
calyx and involucre. The worm, after gnawing through its enclosed shell,
makes its first meal upon the part of the plant upon which the egg was
laid, be it leaf, stem or involucre. If it were laid upon the leaf, as
was usually the case, it might be three days before the worm reached the
boll; but were the eggs laid upon the involucre the worm pierced through
within twenty-four hours after hatching. The newly hatched boll worm
walks like a geometrical larva or looper, a measuring worm as it was
called. This is easily explained by the fact that while in the full
grown worm the abdominal legs, or pro legs, are nearly equal in length,
in the newly hatched worm the second pair are slightly shorter than the
third, and the first pair are shorter and slenderer than the second--a
state of things approaching that in the full grown cotton worm, though
the difference in size in the former case is not nearly so marked as in
the latter. This method of walking is lost with the first or second
molt. There is nothing remarkable about these young larvae. They seem to
be thicker in proportion to their length than the young cotton worms,
and they have not so delicate and transparent an appearance. Their heads
are black and their bodies seem already to have begun to vary in color.
The body above is furnished with sparse, stiff hairs, each arising from
a tubercle. I have often watched the newly hatched boll while in the
cotton fields. When hatched from an egg which had been deposited upon a
leaf, they invariably made their first meal on the substance of the
leaf, and then wandered about for a longer or shorter space of time,
evidently seeking a boll or flower bud. It was always interesting to
watch this seemingly aimless search of the young worm, crawling first
down the leaf stem and then back, then dropping a few inches by a silken
thread and then painfully working its way back again, until, at last, it
found the object of its search, or fell to the ground where it was
destroyed by ants. As the boll worms increase in size a most wonderful
diversity of color and marking becomes apparent. In color different
worms will vary from a brilliant green to a deep pink or dark brown,
exhibiting almost every conceivable intermediate stage from an
immaculate, unstriped specimen to one with regular spots and many
stripes. The green worms were more common than those of any other
color--a common variety was a very light green. When these worms put in
an appearance it raised a great excitement among the planters. We did
not use any poison to destroy them, as I learn is the method now

* * * * *


The cotton harvest, or picking season, began about the latter part of
August or first of September, and lasted till Christmas or after, but in
the latter part of July picking commenced for "the first bale" to go
into the market at Memphis. This picking was done by children from nine
to twelve years of age and by women who were known as "sucklers," that
is, women with infants. The pickers would pass through the rows getting
very little, as the cotton was not yet in full bloom. From the lower
part of the stalk where it opened first is where they got the first
pickings. The season of first picking was always a great time, for the
planter who brought the first bale of cotton into market at Memphis was
presented with a basket of champagne by the commission merchants. This
was a custom established throughout Mississippi. After the first
pickings were secured the cotton developed very fast, continuing to bud
and bloom all over the stalk until the frost falls. The season of
picking was exciting to all planters, every one was zealous in pushing
his slaves in order that he might reap the greatest possible harvest.
The planters talked about their prospects, discussed the cotton markets,
just as the farmers of the north discuss the markets for their
products. I often saw Boss so excited and nervous during the season he
scarcely ate. The daily task of each able-bodied slave during the cotton
picking season war 250 pounds or more, and all those who did not come up
to the required amount would get a whipping. When the planter wanted
more cotton picked than usual, the overseer would arrange a race. The
slaves would be divided into two parties, with, a leader for each party.
The first leader would choose a slave for his side, then the second
leader one for his, and so on alternately until all were chosen. Each
leader tried to get the best on his side. They would all work like good
fellows for the prize, which was a tin cup of sugar for each slave on
the winning side. The contest was kept up for three days whenever the
planter desired an extra amount picked. The slaves were just as
interested in the races as if they were going to get a five dollar bill.

* * * * *


The gin-house was situated about four hundred yards from "the great
house" on the main road. It was a large shed built upon square timbers,
and was similar to a barn, only it stood some six feet from the ground,
and underneath was located the machinery for running the gin. The cotton
was put into the loft after it was dried, ready for ginning. In this
process the cotton was dropped from the loft to the man who fed the
machine. As it was ginned the lint would go into the lint room, and the
seed would drop at the feeder's feet. The baskets used for holding lint
were twice as large as those used in the picking process, and they were
never taken from the gin house. These lint baskets were used in removing
the lint from the lint room to the place where the cotton was baled. A
bale contained 250 pounds, and the man who did the treading of the
cotton into the bales would not vary ten pounds in the bale, so
accustomed was he to the packing. Generally from fourteen to fifteen
bales of cotton were in the lint room at a time.

* * * * *


Cotton was the chief product of the Mississippi farms and nothing else
was raised to sell. Wheat, oats and rye were raised in limited
quantities, but only for the slaves and the stock. All the fine flour
for the master's family was bought in St. Louis. Corn was raised in
abundance, as it was a staple article of food for the slaves. It was
planted about the 1st of March, or about a month earlier than the
cotton. It was, therefore, up and partially worked before the cotton was
planted and fully tilled before the cotton was ready for cultivation.
Peas were planted between the rows of corn, and hundreds of bushels were
raised. These peas after being harvested, dried and beaten out of the
shell, were of a reddish brown tint, not like those raised for the
master's family, but they were considered a wholesome and nutritious
food for the slaves. Cabbage and yams, a large sweet potato, coarser
than the kind generally used by the whites and not so delicate in
flavor, were also raised for the servants in liberal quantities. No hay
was raised, but the leaves of the corn, stripped from the stalks while
yet green, cured and bound in bundles, were used as a substitute for it
in feeding horses.

* * * * *


Almost all the implements used on the plantation were made by the
slaves. Very few things were bought. Boss had a skilled blacksmith,
uncle Ben, for whom he paid $1,800, and there were slaves who were
carpenters and workers in wood who could turn their hands to almost
anything. Wagons, plows, harrows, grubbing hoes, hames, collars,
baskets, bridle bits and hoe handles were all made on the farm and from
the material which it produced, except the iron. The timber used in
these implements was generally white or red oak, and was cut and
thoroughly seasoned long before it was needed. The articles thus
manufactured were not fine in form or finish, but they were durable, and
answered the purposes of a rude method of agriculture. Horse collars
were made from corn husks and from poplar bark which was stripped from
the tree, in the spring, when the sap was up and it was soft and
pliable, and separated into narrow strips which were plaited together.
These collars were easy for the horse, and served the purpose of the
more costly leather collar. Every season at least 200 cotton baskets
were made. One man usually worked at this all the year round, but in the
spring he had three assistants. The baskets were made from oak timber,
grown in the home forests and prepared by the slaves. It was no small
part of the work of the blacksmith and his assistant to keep the farm
implements in good repair, and much of this work was done at night. All
the plank used was sawed by hand from timber grown on the master's land,
as there were no saw mills in that region. Almost the only things not
made on the farm which were in general use there were axes, trace chains
and the hoes used in cultivating the cotton.

* * * * *


When additional land was required for cultivation the first step was to
go into the forest in summer and "deaden" or girdle the trees on a given
tract. This was cutting through the bark all around the trunk about
thirty inches from the ground. The trees so treated soon died and in a
year or two were in condition to be removed. The season selected for
clearing the land was winter, beginning with January. The trees, except
the larger ones, were cut down, cut into lengths convenient for handling
and piled into great heaps, called "log heaps," and burned. The
undergrowth was grubbed out and also piled and burned. The burning was
done at night and the sight was often weird and grand. The chopping was
done by the men slaves and the grubbing by women. All the trees that
blew down during the summer were left as they fell till winter when they
were removed. This went on, year after year, until all the trees were
cleared out. The first year after the new land was cleared corn was put
in, the next season cotton. As a rule corn and cotton were planted
alternately, especially if the land was poor, if not, cotton would be
continued year after year on the same land. Old corn stalks were always
plowed under for the next year's crop and they served as an excellent
fertilizer. Cotton was seldom planted on newly cleared land, as the
roots and stumps rendered it difficult to cultivate the land without
injury to the growing plant.

I never saw women put to the hard work of grubbing until I went to
McGee's and I greatly wondered at it. Such work was not done by women
slaves in Virginia. Children were required to do some work, it mattered
not how many grown people were working. There were always tasks set for
the boys and girls ranging in age from nine to thirteen years, beyond
these ages they worked with the older slaves. After I had been in
Pontotoc two years I had to help plant and hoe, and work in the cotton
during the seasons, and soon learned to do everything pertaining to the

* * * * *


In summer time the cooking for the slaves was done out of doors. A large
fire was built under a tree, two wooden forks were driven into the
ground on opposite sides of the fire, a pole laid on the forks and on
this kettles were hung over the fire for the preparation of the food.
Cabbage and meat, boiled, alternated with meat and peas, were the staple
for summer. Bread was furnished with the meals and corn meal dumplings,
that is, little balls made of meal and grease from the boiled bacon and
dropped into boiling water, were also provided and considered quite
palatable, especially if cooked in the water in which the bacon was
boiled. In winter the cooking was done in a cabin, and sweet potatoes,
dried peas and meat were the principal diet. This bill of fare was for
dinner or the mid-day meal. For supper each slave received two pieces of
meat and two slices of bread, but these slices were very large, as the
loaves were about six inches thick and baked in an old fashioned oven.
This bread was made from corn meal for, as I have said, only on holidays
and special occasions did the slaves have white bread of any kind. Part
of the meat and bread received at supper time was saved for the "morning
bite." The slaves never had any breakfast, but went to the field at
daylight and after working till the sun was well up, all would stop for
their morning bite. Very often some young fellow ate his morning bite
the evening before at supper and would have nothing for the morning,
going without eating until noon. The stop for morning bite was very
short; then all would plunge into work until mid-day, when all hands
were summoned to their principal meal.

* * * * *


Through the winter and on rainy days in summer, the women of the field
had to card the wool and spin it into yarn. They generally worked in
pairs, a spinning wheel and cards being assigned to each pair, and while
one carded the wool into rolls, the other spun it into yarn suitable for
weaving into cloth, or a coarse, heavy thread used in making bridles and
lines for the mules that were used in the fields. This work was done in
the cabins, and the women working together alternated in the carding and
spinning. Four cuts were considered a task or day's work, and if any one
failed to complete her task she received a whipping from the madam. At
night when the spinners brought their work to the big house I would have
it to reel. The reel was a contrivance consisting of a sort of wheel,
turned on an axis, used to transfer the yarn from the spools or
spindles of the spinning wheels into cuts or hunks. It was turned by
hand and when enough yarn had been reeled to make a cut the reel
signaled it with a snap. This process was continued until four cuts were
reeled which made a hunk, and this was taken off and was ready for use.
So the work went on until all was reeled. I often got very weary of this
work and would almost fall asleep at it, as it was generally done at
night after I had had a long day's toil at something else.

* * * * *


One woman did the weaving and it was her task to weave from nine to ten
yards a day. Aunt Liza was our weaver and she was taught the work by the
madam. At first she did not get on so well with it and many times I have
seen the madam jump at her, pinch and choke her because she was dull in
understanding how to do it. The madam made the unreasonable demand that
she should do the full task at first, and because she failed she was
punished, as was the custom in all cases of failure, no matter how
unreasonable the demand. Liza finally became equal to her task and
accomplished it each day. But the trouble and worry to me was when I had
to assist the madam in warping--getting the work ready for the weaver.
She would warp the thread herself and place it in the loom, then I would
have to hand her the threads, as she put them through the hames. For any
failure in quickly comprehending or doing my work, I did not fail to
receive the customary blow, or blows, from her hand.

Each piece of cloth contained forty yards, and this cloth was used in
making clothes for the servants. About half of the whole amount required
was thus made at home; the remainder was bought, and as it was heavier
it was used for winter clothing. Each man was allowed for summer two
pairs of pants and two shirts, but no coat. The women had two dresses
and two chemises each for summer. For winter the men had each two pairs
of pants, one coat, one hat and one pair of coarse shoes. These shoes
before being worn had to be greased with tallow, with a little tar in
it. It was always a happy time when the men got these winter goods--it
brought many a smile to their faces, though the supply was meager and
the articles of the cheapest. The women's dresses for winter were made
of the heavier wool-cloth used for the men. They also had one pair of
shoes each and a turban. The women who could utilize old clothes, made
for themselves what were called pantalets. They had no stockings or
undergarments to protect their limbs--these were never given them. The
pantalets were made like a pant-leg, came just above the knee, and were
caught and tied. Sometimes they looked well and comfortable. The men's
old pant-legs were sometimes used.

I remember once when Boss went to Memphis and brought back a bolt of
gingham for turbans for the female slaves. It was a red and yellow
check, and the turbans made from it were only to be worn on Sunday. The
old women were so glad that they sang and prayed. A little gift from the
master was greatly appreciated by them. I always came in for my share
each year, but my clothes were somewhat different. I wore pants made of
Boss's old ones, and all his old coats were utilized for me. They
rounded them off at the tail just a little and called them jackets. My
shoes were not brogans, but made of lighter leather, and made suitable
for in the house. I only worked on the farm in busy seasons, and did not
have the regular wear of the farm hands. On Monday morning it was a
great sight to see all the hands marching to the field. The cotton
clothes worn by both men and women, and the turbans of the latter, were
snowy white, as were the wool hats of the men--all contrasted with the
dark faces of the wearers in a strange and striking manner.

* * * * *


The women who had young babies were assigned to what was considered
"light work," such as hoeing potatoes, cutting weeds from the fence
corners, and any other work of like character. About nine o'clock in the
forenoon, at noon, and three o'clock in the afternoon, these women,
known on the farms as "the sucklers," could be seen going from work to
nurse their babies. Many were the heart-sighs of these sorrowing mothers
as they went to minister to their infants. Sometimes the little things
would seem starved, for the mothers could only stop their toil three
times a day to care for them. When old enough to receive it, the babies
had milk, the liquor from boiled cabbage, and bread and milk together. A
woman who was too old to do much of anything was assigned to the charge
of these babies in the absence of their mothers. It was rare that she
had any one to help her. The cries of these little ones, who were cut
off almost entirely from motherly care and protection, were

The cabin used for the infants during the day was a double one, that is,
double the usual size, and was located near the great house. The cradles
used were made of boards, and were not more than two by three feet in
size. The women carried their babies in the cradles to the baby cabin in
the morning, taking them to their own cabins at night. The children
ranging in age from one to seven years were numerous, and the old woman
had them to look after as well as the babies. This was indeed a task,
and might well have taxed the strength of a younger woman. They were
always from eight to a dozen infants in the cabin. The summer season was
trying on the babies and young children. Often they would drink too much
liquor from cabbage, or too much buttermilk, and would be taken with a
severe colic. I was always called on these occasions to go with Boss to
administer medicine. I remember on one occasion a little boy had eaten
too much cabbage, and was taken with cramp colic. In a few minutes his
stomach was swollen as tight and hard as a balloon, and his teeth
clenched. He was given an emetic, put in a mustard bath and was soon
relieved. The food was too heavy for these children, and they were
nearly always in need of some medical attendance. Excessive heat, with
improper food, often brought on cholera infantum, from which the infants
sometimes died rapidly and in considerable numbers.

* * * * *


The methods of punishment were barbarous in the extreme, and so numerous
that I will not attempt to describe them all. One method was to tie the
slave to a tree, strip off his clothes, and then whip him with a
rawhide, or long, limber switches, or the terrible bull whip. Another
was to put the slave in stocks, or to buck him, that is, fasten his feet
together, draw up his knees to his chin, tie his hands together, draw
them down over the knees, and put a stick under the latter and over the
arms. In either of these ways the slave was entirely at the mercy of his
tormentors, and the whipping could proceed at their pleasure. After
these whippings the slave was often left helpless and bleeding upon the
ground, until the master, or overseer, saw fit to let him up. The most
common method of punishment was to have the servants form a ring, called
the "bull ring," into which the one to be punished was led naked. The
slaves were then each given a switch, rawhide, strap or whip, and each
one was compelled to cut at the poor victim as he ran around the ring.
The ring was composed of men, women and children; and, as they numbered
from forty to fifty, each circuit of the ring would result in that
number of lashes, and by the time the victim had made two or three
rounds his condition can be readily imagined. The overseer was always
one of the ring, vigorously using the whip, and seeing that all the
slaves did the same. Some of the victims fainted before they had passed
once around the ring. Women slaves were punished in the same manner as
the men. The salt water bath was given after each punishment. Runaway
slaves were usually caught by means of hounds, trained for the purpose
by men who made it a business and a source of revenue, notwithstanding
its brutal features and degrading influence.

* * * * *


Barbecue originally meant to dress and roast a hog whole, but has come
to mean the cooking of a food animal in this manner for the feeding of a
great company. A feast of this kind was always given to us, by Boss, on
the 4th of July. The anticipation of it acted as a stimulant through
the entire year. Each one looked forward to this great day of recreation
with pleasure. Even the older slaves would join in the discussion of the
coming event. It mattered not what trouble or hardship the year had
brought, this feast and its attendant pleasure would dissipate all
gloom. Some, probably, would be punished on the morning of the 4th, but
this did not matter; the men thought of the good things in store for
them, and that made them forget that they had been punished. All the
week previous to the great day, the slaves were in high spirits, the
young girls and boys, each evening, congregating, in front of the
cabins, to talk of the feast, while others would sing and dance. The
older slaves were not less happy, but would only say; "Ah! God has
blessed us in permitting us to see another feast day." The day before
the 4th was a busy one. The slaves worked with all their might. The
children who were large enough were engaged in bringing wood and bark to
the spot where the barbecue was to take place. They worked eagerly, all
day long; and, by the time the sun was setting, a huge pile of fuel was
beside the trench, ready for use in the morning. At an early hour of the
great day, the servants were up, and the men whom Boss had appointed to
look after the killing of the hogs and sheep were quickly at their work,
and, by the time they had the meat dressed and ready, most of the slaves
had arrived at the center of attraction. They gathered in groups,
talking, laughing, telling tales that they had from their grandfather,
or relating practical jokes that they had played or seen played by
others. These tales were received with peals of laughter. But however
much they seemed to enjoy these stories and social interchanges, they
never lost sight of the trench or the spot where the sweetmeats were to
be cooked.

The method of cooking the meat was to dig a trench in the ground about
six feet long and eighteen inches deep. This trench was filled with wood
and bark which was set on fire, and, when it was burned to a great bed
of coals, the hog was split through the back bone, and laid on poles
which had been placed across the trench. The sheep were treated in the
same way, and both were turned from side to side as they cooked. During
the process of roasting the cooks basted the carcasses with a
preparation furnished from the great house, consisting of butter,
pepper, salt and vinegar, and this was continued until the meat was
ready to serve. Not far from this trench were the iron ovens, where the
sweetmeats were cooked. Three or four women were assigned to this work.
Peach cobbler and apple dumpling were the two dishes that made old
slaves smile for joy and the young fairly dance. The crust or pastry of
the cobbler was prepared in large earthen bowls, then rolled out like
any pie crust, only it was almost twice as thick. A layer of this crust
was laid in the oven, then a half peck of peaches poured, in, followed
by a layer of sugar; then a covering of pastry was laid over all and
smoothed around with a knife. The oven was then put over a bed of coals,
the cover put on and coals thrown on it, and the process of baking
began. Four of these ovens were usually in use at these feasts, so that
enough of the pastry might be baked to supply all. The ovens were filled
and refilled until there was no doubt about the quantity. The apple
dumplings were made in the usual way, only larger, and served with sauce
made from brown sugar. It lacked flavoring, such as cinnamon or lemon,
yet it was a dish highly relished by all the slaves. I know that these
feasts made me so excited, I could scarcely do my house duties, and I
would never fail to stop and look out of the window from the dining room
down into the quarters. I was eager to get through with my work and be
with the feasters. About noon everything was ready to serve. The table
was set in a grove near the quarters, a place set aside for these
occasions. The tableware was not fine, being of tin, but it served the
purpose, and did not detract from the slaves' relish for the feast. The
drinks were strictly temperance drinks--buttermilk and water. Some of
the nicest portions of the meat were sliced off and put on a platter to
send to the great house for Boss and his family. It was a pleasure for
the slaves to do this, for Boss always enjoyed it. It was said that the
slaves could barbecue meats best, and when the whites had barbecues
slaves always did the cooking. When dinner was all on the table, the
invitation was given for all to come; and when all were in a good way
eating, Boss and the madam would go out to witness the progress of the
feast, and seemed pleased to see the servants so happy. Everything was
in abundance, so all could have plenty--Boss always insisted on this.
The slaves had the whole day off, and could do as they liked. After
dinner some of the women would wash, sew or iron. It was a day of
harmless riot for all the slaves, and I can not express the happiness it
brought them. Old and young, for months, would rejoice in the memory of
the day and its festivities, and "bless" Boss for this ray of sunlight
in their darkened lives.

* * * * *


There was an observance of religious forms at least by the occupants of
both the great house and the cabins. The McGee family were church-going
people, and, except in very inclement weather, never failed to attend
service on Sunday. They were Methodists, and their church was four miles
from their residence. The Baptist church was but two miles distant, and
the family usually alternated in their attendance between the two places
of worship. I always attended them to church, generally riding behind
while the Boss drove. Upon reaching church, my first duty was to run to
a spring for a pitcher of fresh water, which I passed not only to the
members of our party, but to any others desiring drink. Whatever may be
thought of the religious professions of the slave-holders, there can be
no question that many of the slaves were sincere believers in the
Christian religion, and endeavored to obey the precepts according to
their light.

* * * * *


Saturday evening on the farm was always hailed with delight. The air was
filled with happy shouts from men and boys, so glad were they that
Sunday, their only day of rest, was near. In the cabins the women were
washing and fixing garments for Sunday, that they might honor the Lord
in cleanliness and decency. It was astonishing how they utilized what
they had, and with what skill and industry they performed these
self-imposed tasks. Where the family was large it was often after
midnight before this work was done. While this preparation for the
Sabbath was in progress in most of the cabins, the old men would gather
in one for a prayer-meeting. As they began to sing some familiar hymn,
the air would ring with their voices, and it was not long before the
cabin was filled with both old and young, who came in their simple yet
sincere way to give praise to God. It was common to have one or two
exhorters on the plantation who claimed to be called to do service for
God, by teaching their fellow men the principles of religion. God
certainly must have revealed himself to these poor souls, for they were
very ignorant--they did not know a letter of the Bible. But when they
opened their mouths they were filled, and the plan of Salvation was
explained in a way that all could receive it. It was always a mystery to
the white brethren how the slaves could line out hymns, preach Christ
and redemption, yet have no knowledge even of how the name of Christ was
spelled. They were illiterate to the last degree, so there is but one
theory, they were inspired. God revealed unto them just what they should
teach their flock, the same as he did to Moses. I remember very well
that there was always a solemnity about the services--a certain harmony,
which had a peculiar effect--a certain pathetic tone which quickened the
emotions as they sang those old plantation hymns. It mattered not what
their troubles had been during the week--how much they had been lashed,
the prayer-meeting on Saturday evening never failed to be held. Their
faith was tried and true. On Sunday afternoons, they would all
congregate again to praise God, and the congregation was enthusiastic.
It was pathetic to hear them pray, from the depths of their hearts, for
them who "despitefully used them and persecuted them." This injunction
of our Saviour was strictly adhered to. The words that came from the
minister were always of a consolatory kind. He knew the crosses of his
fellow slaves and their hardships, for he had shared them himself. I was
always touched in hearing him give out the hymns. I can hear old Uncle
Ben now, as he solemnly worded out the following lines:

Must I be carried to the skies,
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

After singing he would always speak to them of the necessity for
patience in bearing the crosses, urging them to endure "as good
soldiers." Many tears were shed, and many glad shouts of praise would
burst forth during the sermon. A hymn usually followed the sermon, then
all retired. Their faces seemed to shine with a happy light--their very
countenance showed that their souls had been refreshed and that it had
been "good for them to be there." These meetings were the joy and
comfort of the slaves, and even those who did not profess Christianity
were calm and thoughtful while in attendance.

* * * * *


Opposite our farm was one owned by a Mr. Juval, and adjoining that was
another belonging to one White. The McGees and the Whites were very fast
friends, visiting each other regularly--indeed they had grown up
together, and Mr. White at one time was the lover of the madam, and
engaged to be married to her. This friendship had existed for years,
when McGee bought the Juval farm, for which White had also been
negotiating, but which he failed to get on account of McGee having
out-bid him. From this circumstance ill feeling was engendered between
the two men, and they soon became bitter enemies. McGee had decided to
build a fence between the farm he had purchased and that of White, and,
during the winter, his teamsters were set to hauling the rails; and, in
unloading them, they accidentally threw some of them over the line on to
White's land. The latter said nothing about the matter until spring,
when he wrote McGee a letter, asking him to remove the rails from his
land. McGee paid no attention to the request, and he soon received a
second note, when he said to his wife: "That fellow is about to turn
himself a fool--I'll give him a cow-hiding." A third and more emphatic
note followed, in which White told the Boss that the rails must be
removed within twenty-four hours. He grew indignant, and, in true
Southern style, he went immediately to town and bought arms, and
prepared himself for the fray. When he returned he had every hand on the
plantation stop regular work, and put them all to building the fence. I
was of the number. Boss and the overseer came out to overlook the work
and hurry it on. About four o'clock in the afternoon White put in an
appearance, and came face to face with McGee, sitting on his horse and
having a double barreled shot gun lying across the pummel of his saddle.
White passed on without saying a word, but Boss yelled at him; "Hello! I
see you are about to turn yourself a d--d fool." White checked up and
began to swear, saying: "You are a coward to attack an unarmed man." He
grew furious, took off his hat, ran his fingers through his hair,
saying: "Here I am, blow me to h--l, and I'll have some one blow you
there before night." During White's rage he said: "I'll fight you
anywhere--bowie-knife fight, shot gun fight or any other." He called, in
his excitement, for his nephew, who was working on his farm, to come,
and immediately sent him to Billy Duncan's to get him a double barreled
shot gun. Meantime, Mrs. McGee appeared on the scene, and began to cry,
begging White to stop and allow her to speak to him. But he replied: "Go
off, go off, I don't want to speak to you." Boss grew weak and sick, and
through his excitement, was taken violently ill, vomiting as if he had
taken an emetic. He said to White; "I'll return as soon as I take my
wife home," but he never came back. As Boss and the madam rode off,
White came galloping back, and said to Brooks, our overseer: "If I am
shot down on foul play would you speak of it?" Brooks replied: "No, I
don't care to interfere--I don't wish to have anything to do with it."
White was bloodthirsty, and came back at intervals during the entire
night, where we were working, to see if he could find Boss. It is quite
probable that White may have long cherished a secret grudge against
Boss, because he had robbed him of his first love; and, brooding over
these offenses, he became so excited as to be almost insane. Had McGee
returned that night, White would certainly have shot him. Boss became so
uneasy over the situation that he sent one of his slaves, a foreman, to
Panola county, some seventy-five miles distant, to Mrs. McGee's father,
to get her brother, a lawyer, to come and endeavor to effect a
settlement. He came, but all his efforts were unavailing. The men met at
a magistrate's office, but they came to no understanding. Our folks
became dissatisfied, and did not care to remain longer in the place, so
they began to look out for other quarters. Boss finally decided to buy a
farm in Bolivar, Miss., and to remove his family to Memphis, where he
secured a fine place, just outside of the city.

[Illustration: Farmer's Merchants Bank--Three Dollar Banknote]



* * * * *


McGee had decided to build a new house upon the property which he had
purchased at Memphis; and, in August 1850, he sent twenty-five of his
slaves to the city, to make brick for the structure, and I went along as
cook. After the bricks were burned, the work of clearing the ground for
the buildings was commenced. There were many large and beautiful trees
that had to be taken up and removed; and, when this work was completed,
the excavations for the foundations and the cellar were undertaken. All
of this work was done by the slaves. The site was a beautiful one,
embracing fourteen acres, situated two miles southeast from the city, on
the Memphis and Charleston railroad. The road ran in front of the place
and the Boss built a flag-station there, for the accommodation of
himself and his neighbors, which was named McGee Station.

* * * * *


The house was one of the most pretentious in that region, and was a year
and a half in building. It was two stories in height, and built of
brick, the exterior surface being coated with cement and marked off in
blocks, about two feet square, to represent stone. It was then
whitewashed. There was a veranda in front with six large columns, and,
above, a balcony. On the back there were also a veranda and a balcony,
extending across that end to the servants' wing. A large hall led from
front to rear, on one side of which were double parlors, and on the
other a sitting room, a bedroom and a dining room. In the second story
were a hall and four rooms, similar in all respects to those below, and
above these was a large attic. The interior woodwork was of black
walnut. The walls were white, and the centerpieces in the ceilings of
all the rooms were very fine, being the work of an English artisan, who
had been only a short time in this country. This work was so superior,
in design and finish, to anything before seen in that region that local
artisans were much excited over it; and some offered to purchase the
right to reproduce it, but Boss refused the offer. However, some one,
while the house was finishing, helped himself to the design, and it was
reproduced, in whole or in part, in other buildings in the city. This
employment of a foreign artist was unusual there and caused much
comment. The parlors were furnished with mahogany sets, the upholstering
being in red brocade satin. The dining room was also furnished in
mahogany. The bedrooms had mahogany bedsteads of the old-fashioned
pattern with canopies. Costly bric-a-brac, which Boss and the madam had
purchased while traveling in foreign countries, was in great profusion.
Money was no object to Edmund McGee, and he added every modern
improvement and luxury to his home; the decorations and furnishings were
throughout of the most costly and elegant; and in the whole of Tennessee
there was not a mansion more sumptuously complete in all its
appointments, or more palatial in its general appearance. When all was
finished--pictures, bric-a-brac, statuary and flowers all in their
places, Mrs. McGee was brought home.

In this new house Boss opened up in grand style; everything was changed,
and the family entered upon a new, more formal and more pretentious
manner of living. I was known no longer as errand boy, but installed as
butler and body-servant to my master. I had the same routine of morning
work, only it was more extensive. There was a great deal to be done in
so spacious a mansion. Looking after the parlors, halls and dining
rooms, arranging flowers in the rooms, waiting on the table, and going
after the mail was my regular morning work, the year round. Then there
were my duties to perform, night and morning, for my master; these were
to brush his clothes, black his shoes, assist him to arrange his toilet,
and do any little thing that he wanted me to. Aside from these regular
duties, there were windows to wash, silver to polish and steps to stone
on certain days in the week. I was called to do any errand necessary,
and sometimes to assist in the garden. A new staff of house servants was
installed, as follows: Aunt Delia, cook; Louisa, chambermaid; Puss,
lady's maid to wait on the madam; Celia, nurse; Lethia, wet nurse;
Sarah, dairymaid; Julia, laundress; Uncle Gooden, gardener; Thomas,

* * * * *


The servants, at first, were dazed with the splendor of the new house,
and laughed and chuckled to themselves a good deal about mars' fine
house, and really seemed pleased; for, strange to say, the slaves of
rich people always rejoiced in that fact. A servant owned by a man in
moderate circumstances was hooted at by rich men's slaves. It was common
for them to say: "Oh! don't mind that darkey, he belongs to po'r white
trash." So, as I said, our slaves rejoiced in master's good luck. Each
of the women servants wore a new, gay colored turban, which was tied
differently from that of the ordinary servant, in some fancy knot. Their
frocks and aprons were new, and really the servants themselves looked
new. My outfit was a new cloth suit, and my aprons for wearing when
waiting on the table were of snowy white linen, the style being copied
from that of the New York waiters. I felt big, for I never knew what a
white bosom shirt was before; and even though the grief at the
separation from my dear mother was almost unbearable at times, and my
sense of loneliness in having no relative near me often made me sad,
there was consolation, if not compensation, in this little change. I had
known no comforts, and had been so cowed and broken in spirits, by cruel
lashings, that I really felt light-hearted at this improvement in my
personal appearance, although it was merely for the gratification of my
master's pride; and I thought I would do all I could to please Boss.

* * * * *


For some time before all the appointments of the new home were
completed, a great number of mechanics and workmen, besides our own
servants, were employed; and there was much bustle and stir about the
premises. Considerable out-door work was yet to be done--fences to be
made, gardens and orchards to be arranged and planted, and the grounds
about the house to be laid out and adorned with shrubbery and flower
beds. When this work was finally accomplished, the grounds were indeed
beautiful. The walks were graveled, and led through a profusion of
shrubbery and flower beds. There was almost every variety of roses;
while, scattered over the grounds, there were spruce, pine and juniper
trees, and some rare varieties, seldom seen in this northern climate.
Around the grounds was set a cedar hedge, and, in time, the place became
noted for the beauty of its shrubbery; the roses especially were
marvelous in the richness and variety of their colors, their fragrance
and the luxuriousness of their growth. People who have never traveled
in the South have little idea of the richness and profusion of its
flowers, especially of its roses. Among the climbing plants, which
adorned the house, the most beautiful and fragrant was the African
honeysuckle--its odor was indeed delightful.

* * * * *


One of the institutions of the place was the vegetable garden. This was
established not only for the convenience and comfort of the family, but
to furnish employment for the slaves. Under the care of Uncle Gooden,
the gardener, it flourished greatly; and there was so much more produced
than the family could use, Boss concluded to sell the surplus. The
gardener, therefore, went to the city, every morning, with a load of
vegetables, which brought from eight to ten dollars daily, and this the
madam took for "pin money." In the spring I had always to help the
gardener in setting out plants and preparing beds; and, as this was in
connection with my other work, I became so tired sometimes that I could
hardly stand. All the vegetables raised were fine, and at that time
brought a good price. The first cabbage that we sold in the markets
brought twenty-five cents a head. The first sweet potatoes marketed
always brought a dollar a peck, or four dollars a bushel. The Memphis
market regulations required that all vegetables be washed before being
exposed for sale. Corn was husked, and everything was clean and
inviting. Any one found guilty of selling, or exhibiting for sale,
vegetables of a previous day was fined, at once, by the market master.
This rule was carried out to the letter. Nothing stale could be sold, or
even come into market. The rules required that all poultry be dressed
before being brought to market. The entrails were cleaned and strung and
sold separately--usually for about ten cents a string.

* * * * *


Flowers grew in profusion everywhere through the south, and it has,
properly, been called the land of flowers. But flowers had no such sale
there as have our flowers here in the north. The pansy and many of our
highly prized plants and flowers grew wild in the south. The people
there did not seem to care for flowers as we do. I have sold many
bouquets for a dime, and very beautiful ones for fifteen and twenty
cents, that would sell in the north for fifty to seventy-five cents.

* * * * *


The new place had an orchard of about four acres, consisting of a
variety of apple, peach, pear and plum trees. Boss hired an expert
gardener to teach me the art of grafting, and, after some practice, I
became quite skilled in this work. Some of the pear trees that had been
grafted had three different kinds of fruit on them, and others had three
kinds of apples on them besides the pears. This grafting I did myself,
and the trees were considered very fine by Boss. Another part of my work
was the trimming of the hedge and the care of all the shrubbery.

* * * * *


McGee had a medicine chest built into the wall of the new house. The
shelves for medicine were of wood, and the arrangement was very
convenient. It was really a small drug store. It contained everything in
the way of drugs that was necessary to use in doctoring the slaves. We
had quinine, castor-oil, alcohol and ipecac in great quantities, as
these were the principal drugs used in the limited practice in the home
establishment. If a servant came from the field to the house with a
chill, which was frequent, the first thing we did was to give him a dose
of ipecac to vomit him. On the evening after, we would give him two or
three of Cook's pills. These pills we made at home, I always had to
prepare the medicines, and give the dose, the Boss standing by
dictating. Working with medicine, giving it and caring for the sick were
the parts of my work that I liked best. Boss used Dr. Gunn's book
altogether for recipes in putting up medicines. He read me the recipe,
while I compounded it.

* * * * *


In celebration of the opening of the new house, McGee gave an elaborate
reception and dinner. The menu embraced nearly everything that one could
think of or desire, and all in the greatest profusion. It was a custom,
not only with the McGees but among the southern people generally, to
make much of eating--it was one of their hobbies. Everything was cooked
well, and highly seasoned. Scarcity was foreign to the homes of the
wealthy southerners.

* * * * *


After the family had been settled about a month in the new home, their
relatives in Panola Co., Miss., Mr. Jack McGee, known among the servants
as "Old Jack," Mrs. Melinda McGee, his wife, Mrs. Farrington, their
daughter who was a widow, and their other children Louisa, Ella and
William, all came up for a visit, and to see the wonderful house. Mr.
Jack McGee was the father of madam and the uncle of Boss. My master and
mistress were therefore first cousins, and Boss sometimes called the old
man father and at other times, uncle. Old Master Jack, as he alighted,
said to those behind him: "Now be careful, step lightly, Louisa, this is
the finest house you ever set foot in." When all had come into the
house, and the old man had begun to look around, he said: "I don't know
what Edmund is thinking about-out to build such a house-house." He was
very old, and had never lost all of his Scotch dialect, and he had a
habit of repeating a part or all of some words, as in the foregoing
quotation. The other members of the visiting family were well pleased
with the house, and said it was grand. They laughed and talked merrily
over the many novel things which they saw. Mrs. Farrington, who was a
gay widow, was naturally interested in everything. I busied myself
waiting upon them, and it was late that night before I was through. So
many made extra work for me.

* * * * *


The next morning, after breakfast, Boss and old Master Jack went out to
view the grounds. They took me along so that if anything was wanted I
could do it. Boss would have me drive a stake in some place to mark
where he desired to put something, perhaps some flowers, or a tree. He
went on through the grounds, showing his father how everything was to be
arranged. The old man shook his head, and said: "Well, it's good, but I
am afraid you'll spoil these niggers-niggers. Keep you eye on that boy
Lou, (meaning me) he is slippery-slippery, too smart-art." "Oh! I'll
manage that, Father," said Boss. "Well, see that you do-oo, for I see
running away in his eyes." One of the things that interested old Master
Jack was the ringing of the dinner bell. "Well, I do think," said the
old man, "that boy can ring a bell better than anybody I ever heard. Why,
its got a regular tune." I used to try to see how near I could come to
making it say, come to dinner.

* * * * *


The four days soon passed, and all the company gone, we were once more
at our regular work. Delia, the cook, seemingly had not pleased the
madam in her cooking while the company were there; so, the morning
after they left, she went toward the kitchen, calling: "Delia, Delia."
Delia said: "Dah! I wonder what she wants now." By this time she was in
the kitchen, confronting Delia. Her face was flushed as she screamed
out: "What kind of biscuits were those you baked this week?" "I think
they were all right, Mis Sarh." "Hush!" screamed out the madam, stamping
her foot to make it more emphatic. "You did not half cook them," said
she; "they were not beat enough. Those waffles were ridiculous," said
the madam. "Well, Mis Sarh, I tried." "Stop!" cried Madam in a rage,
"I'll give you thunder if you dictate to me." Not a very elegant display
in language or manner for a great lady! Old Aunt Delia, who was used to
these occurrences, said: "My Lord! dat woman dunno what she wants. Ah!
Lou, there is nothing but the devil up here, (meaning the new home);
can't do nothin to please her up here in dis fine house. I tell you
Satan neber git his own til he git her." They did not use baking powder,
as we do now, but the biscuits were beaten until light enough. Twenty
minutes was the time allotted for this work; but when company came there
was so much to be done--so many more dishes to prepare, that Delia
would, perhaps, not have so much time for each meal. But there was no
allowance made. It was never thought reasonable that a servant should
make a mistake--things must always be the same. I was listening to this
quarrel between madam and Delia, supposing my time would come next; but
for that once she said nothing to me.

* * * * *


Mrs. McGee was naturally irritable. Servants always got an extra
whipping when she had any personal trouble, as though they could help
it. Every morning little Kate, Aunt Delia's little girl, would have to
go with the madam on her rounds to the different buildings of the
establishment, to carry the key basket. So many were the keys that they
were kept in a basket especially provided for them, and the child was
its regular bearer. The madam, with this little attendant, was
everywhere--in the barn, in the hennery, in the smokehouse--and she
always made trouble with the servants wherever she went. Indeed, she
rarely returned to the house from these rounds without having whipped
two or three servants, whether there was really any cause for the
punishment or not. She seldom let a day pass without beating some poor
woman unmercifully. The number and severity of these whippings depended
more upon the humor of the madam than upon the conduct of the slaves. Of
course, I always came in for a share in this brutal treatment. She
continued her old habit of boxing my jaws, pinching my ears: no day ever
passing without her indulging in this exercise of her physical powers.
So long had I endured this, I came to expect it, no matter how well I
did my duties; and it had its natural effect upon me, making me a
coward, even though I was now growing into manhood. I remember once, in
particular, when I had tried to please her by arranging the parlor, I
overheard her say: "They soon get spirit--it don't do to praise
servants." My heart sank within me. What good was it for me to try to
please? She would find fault anyway. Her usual morning greeting was:
"Well, Lou, have you dusted the parlors?" "Oh, yes," I would answer.
"Have the flowers been arranged?" "Yes, all is in readiness," I would
say. Once I had stoned the steps as usual, but the madam grew angry as
soon as she saw them. I had labored hard, and thought she would be
pleased. The result, however, was very far from that. She took me out,
stripped me of my shirt and began thrashing me, saying I was spoiled. I
was no longer a child, but old enough to be treated differently. I began
to cry, for it seemed to me my heart would break. But, after the first
burst of tears, the feeling came over me that I was a man, and it was an
outrage to treat me so--to keep me under the lash day after day.

* * * * *


Not long after Mrs. Farrington had made her first visit to our house,
she came there to live. Celia had been acting as her maid. When Mrs.
Farrington had been up some months, it was decided that all the family
should go down to old Master Jack's for a visit. Celia, the maid, had
been so hurried in the preparations for this visit that she had done
nothing for herself. The night before the family was to leave,
therefore, she was getting ready a garment for herself to wear on the
trip; and it was supposed that she sewed until midnight, or after, when
she fell asleep, letting the goods fall into the candle. All at once, a
little after twelve o'clock, I heard a scream, then a cry of "fire!
fire!" and Boss yelling: "Louis! Louis!" I jumped up, throwing an old
coat over me, and ran up stairs, in the direction of Mrs. Farrington's
room, I encountered Boss in the hall; and, as it was dark and the smoke
stifling, I could hardly make any headway. At this moment Mrs.
Farrington threw her door open, and screamed for "Cousin Eddie," meaning
McGee. He hurriedly called to me to get a pitcher of water quick. I
grasped the pitcher from the stand, and he attempted to throw the water
on Celia, who was all in a blaze, running around like a mad woman; but
the pitcher slipped from his hand and broke, very little of the water
reaching her. She was at last wrapped in an old blanket, to extinguish
the flames; but she was burned too badly to recover. Boss, being a
physician, said at once: "Poor girl, poor girl! she is burned to death."
He did all he could for her, wrapped her in linen sheets, and endeavored
to relieve her sufferings, but all was of no avail--she had inhaled the
flame, injuring her internally, and lived only a few days.

* * * * *


Shortly after Boss bought his home in Memphis, he bought a large farm in
Bolivar, Miss. It was a regular cotton farm, on the Mississippi river,
embracing 200 acres. The houses built for the slaves were frame,
eighteen in number, each to contain three or four families, and arranged
on each side of a street that ran through the farm. This street was all
grassed over, but there were no sidewalks. All the buildings--the barn,
gin-house, slaves' quarters and overseers' house--were whitewashed, and
on this grass-grown street they made a neat and pretty appearance. The
house where the Boss and the madam staid, when they went down to the
farm, was about two hundred yards from the slaves' quarters. It was
arranged in two apartments, one for the overseer and wife, and the other
for the master and mistress upon the occasion of their visits. This
building was separated from the other buildings by a fence. There was
what was called the cook house, where was cooked all the food for the
hands. Aunt Matilda was cook in charge. Besides the buildings already
named, there were stables, a blacksmith shop and sawmill; and the
general order of arrangement was carried out with respect to all--the
appearance was that of a village. Everything was raised in abundance, to
last from one crop to the next. Vegetables and meat were provided from
the farm, and a dairy of fifty cows furnished all the milk and butter

The cane brakes were so heavy that it was common for bears to hide
there, and, at night, come out and carry off hogs. Wolves were plenty in
the woods behind the farm, and could be heard at any time. The cane was
so thick that when they were clearing up new ground, it would have to be
set on fire, and the cracking that would ensue was like the continuous
explosion of small fire crackers.

About one hundred and sixty slaves, besides children, all owned by
McGee, were worked on the farm. Instead of ginning two or three bales of
cotton a day, as at Pontotoc, they ginned six to seven bales here.

* * * * *


I remember well the time when the great Swedish singer, Jenny Lind, came
to Memphis. It was during her famous tour through America, in 1851. Our
folks were all enthused over her. Boss went in and secured tickets to
her concert, and I was summoned to drive them to the hall. It was a
great event. People swarmed the streets like bees. The carriages and
hacks were stacked back from the hall as far as the eye could reach.

On another occasion, when the great prodigy, Blind Tom, came to
Memphis, there was a similar stir among the people. Tom was very young
then, and he was called the Blind Boy. People came from far and near to
hear him. Those coming from the villages and small towns, who could not
get passage on the regular trains, came in freight or on flat bottom
cars. The tickets were $5.00 each, as I remember, Boss said it was
expensive, but all must hear this boy pianist. Many were the comments on
this boy of such wonderful talents. As I drove our people home they
seemed to talk of nothing else. They declared that he was indeed a

* * * * *


Sometimes when the farm hands were at work, peddlers would come along;
and, as they were treated badly by the rich planters, they hated them,
and talked to the slaves in a way to excite them and set them thinking
of freedom. They would say encouragingly to them: "Ah! You will be free
some day." But the down-trodden slaves, some of whom were bowed with
age, with frosted hair and furrowed cheek, would answer, looking up from
their work: "We don't blieve dat; my grandfather said we was to be free,
but we aint free yet." It had been talked of (this freedom) from
generation to generation. Perhaps they would not have thought of
freedom, if their owners had not been so cruel. Had my mistress been
more kind to me, I should have thought less of liberty. I know the cruel
treatment which I received was the main thing that made me wish to be
free. Besides this, it was inhuman to separate families as they did.
Think of a mother being sold from all her children--separated for life!
This separation was common, and many died heart-broken, by reason of it.
Ah! I cannot forget the cruel separation from my mother. I know not what
became of her, but I have always believed her dead many years ago.
Hundreds were separated, as my mother and I were, and never met again.
Though freedom was yearned for by some because the treatment was so bad,
others, who were bright and had looked into the matter, knew it was a
curse to be held a slave--they longed to stand out in true
manhood--allowed to express their opinions as were white men. Others
still desired freedom, thinking they could then reclaim a wife, or
husband, or children. The mother would again see her child. All these
promptings of the heart made them yearn for freedom. New Year's was
always a heart-rending time, for it was then the slaves were bought and
sold; and they stood in constant fear of losing some one dear to them--a
child, a husband, or wife.

* * * * *


In the new home my duties were harder than ever. The McGees held me with
tighter grip, and it was nothing but cruel abuse, from morning till
night. So I made up my mind to try and run away to a free country. I
used to hear Boss read sometimes, in the papers, about runaway slaves
who had gone to Canada, and it always made me long to go; yet I never
appeared as if I paid the slightest attention to what the family read or
said on such matters; but I felt that I could be like others, and try at
least to get away. One morning, when Boss had gone to town, Madam had
threatened to whip me, and told me to come to the house. When she called
me I did not go, but went off down through the garden and through the
woods, and made my way for the city. When I got into Memphis, I found at
the landing a boat called the Statesman, and I sneaked aboard. It was
not expected that the boat would stay more than a few hours, but, for
some reason, it stayed all night. The boat was loaded with sugar, and I
hid myself behind four hogsheads. I could see both engineers, one each
side of me. When night came on, I crept out from my hiding place, and
went forward to search for food and water, for I was thirsty and very
hungry. I found the table where the deck hands had been eating, and
managed to get a little food, left from their meal, and some water. This
was by no means enough, but I had to be content, and went back to my
place of concealment. I had been on board the boat three days; and, on
the third night, when I came out to hunt food, the second mate saw me.
In a minute he eyed me over and said: "Why, I have a reward for you." In
a second he had me go up stairs to the captain. This raised a great
excitement among the passengers; and, in a minute, I was besieged with
numerous questions. Some spoke as if they were sorry for me, and said if
they had known I was a poor runaway slave they would have slipped me
ashore. The whole boat was in alarm. It seemed to me they were
consulting slips of paper. One said: "Yes, he is the same. Listen how
this reads:"

"Ran away from Edmund McGee, my mulatto boy Louis, 5 feet 6 inches in
height, black hair, is very bright and intelligent. Will give $500 for
him alive, and half of this amount for knowledge that he has been

My heart sprang into my throat when I heard two men read this
advertisement. I knew, at once, what it all meant, remembering how often
I had heard Boss read such articles from the papers and from the
handbills that were distributed through the city. The captain asked me
if I could dance. It seemed he felt sorry for me, for he said: "That's a
bright boy to be a slave." Then turning to me he said: "Come, give us a
dance." I was young and nimble, so I danced a few of the old southern
clog dances, and sang one or two songs, like this:

"Come along, Sam, the fifer's son,
Aint you mighty glad your day's work's done?"

After I finished singing and dancing, the captain took up a collection
for me and got about two dollars. This cheered me a good deal. I knew
that I would need money if I should ever succeed in getting on.

On the following evening, when we reached West Franklin, Indiana, while
the passengers were at tea, another boat pushed into port right after
ours. Immediately a gentleman passenger came to me hurriedly, and
whispered to me to go down stairs, jump out on the bow of the other
boat, and go ashore. I was alarmed, but obeyed, for I felt that he was a
friend to slaves. I went out as quietly as I could, and was not missed
until I had gotten on shore. Then I heard the alarm given that the boy
was gone--that the runaway was gone. But I sped on, and did not stop
until I had run through the village, and had come to a road that led
right into the country. I took this road and went on until I had gone
four or five miles, when I came to a farm house. Before reaching it,
however, I met two men on horseback, on their way to the village. They
passed on without specially noticing me, and I kept on my way until
reaching the farmhouse. I was so hungry, I went in and asked for food.
While I was eating, the men whom I had met rode up. They had been to the
village, and, learning that a runaway slave was wanted, and remembering
meeting me, they returned in hot haste, in hope of finding me and
securing the reward. They hallooed to the people in the house, an old
woman and her daughter, whom they seemed to know, saying: "There is a
runaway nigger out, who stole off a boat this evening." The old lady
said, "Come," becoming frightened at once. When they came in they began
to question me. I trembled all over but answered them. They said: "You
are the fellow we want, who ran off the boat." I was too scared to deny
it; so I owned I was on the boat, and stole off. They did not tarry
long, but, taking me with them, they went, about a mile and a half, to
their house. They planned and talked all the way, and one said: "We are
good for $75.00 for him any way." The next morning they took me into the
village. They soon found out that the engineer, by order of the captain,
had stayed over to search for me. A lawsuit followed, and I was taken
before the magistrate before the engineer could get possession of me.
There was a legal course that had to be gone through with. A lawyer, Fox
by name, furnished the $75.00 for the men who had caught me. That part
of the case being settled, Fox and the engineer started for Evansville,
Ind., that same night. Upon arriving there, Fox received from the
captain of the boat the money he had advanced to the men who caught me;
and we went on, arriving at Louisville, Ky., the next day. I was then
taken again before a magistrate, by the captain, when the following
statement was read by that official:

"Captain Montgomery brought forth a boy, and said he is the property of
Edmund McGee, of Memphis, Tenn. Come forth owner, and prove property,
for after the boy shall remain in jail six months he shall be sold to
pay jail feed."

Mr. McGee was informed of my whereabouts, and it was not long before he
and his cousin came to get me. When they came, I was called up by the
nickname they had given me, "Memphis." "Come out here, 'Memphis,'" said
the turnkey, "your master has come for you." I went down stairs to the
office, and found Boss waiting for me. "Hello, Lou!" said he, "what are
you doing here, you dog?" I was so frightened I said nothing. Of course,
some few words were passed between him and the officers. I heard him say
that I was a smart fellow, and he could not tell why I had run away;
that he had always treated me well. This was to impress the officers
with the idea that he was not unkind to his slaves. The slave-holders
all hated to be classed as bad taskmasters. Yet nearly all of them were.
The clothes I wore were jail property, and he could not take me away in
them; so we started to go up town to get others. As we passed out the
jailer, Buckhanon, said: "Ain't you going to put hand-cuffs on him?"
"Oh, no!" said Boss. After I was taken to the store and fitted with a
new suit of clothes, he brought me back to the jail, where I washed
myself and put on the new garments. When all was complete, and I seemed
to suit master's fastidious eye, he took me to the Gault House, where he
was stopping. In the evening we started for home, and reached Memphis
the following day. Boss did not flog me, as I expected, but sent me to
my regular routine work. We had been in this new home so short a time he
did not want it to be rumored that he whipped his slaves, he was so
stylish and rich. But the madam was filled with rage, although she did
not say much. I think they saw that I was no longer a child--they feared
I would go again. But after I had been home some three or four weeks,
Madam Sarah commenced her old tricks--attempting to whip me, box my jaws
and pinch me. If any little thing was not pleasing to her at meal time,
it was a special delight for her to reach out, when I drew near to her
to pass something, and give me a blow with her hand. Truly it was a
monstrous domestic institution that not only tolerated, but fostered,
such an exhibition of table manners by a would-be fine lady--such vulgar
spite and cruelty!

* * * * *


About three months after my first attempt to get away, I thought I would
try it again. I went to Memphis, and saw a boat at the landing, called
the John Lirozey, a Cincinnati packet. This boat carried the mail. She
had come into port in the morning, and was being unloaded. I went aboard
in the afternoon and jumped down into the hull. Boss had been there in
the fore part of the afternoon inquiring for me, but I did not know it
then. After I had been in the boat some time, the men commenced loading
it. I crept up in the corner and hid myself. At first two or three
hundred dry and green hides were thrown in, and these hid me; but later
on two or three tiers of cotton bales were put in the center of the
hull, and, when the boat started, I got upon the top of these, and lay
there. I could hear the people talking above me, but it was so dark I
could not see anything--it was dark as a dungeon. I had lain there two
nights and began to get so weak and faint I could stand it no longer.
For some reason the boat did not start the day I went aboard,
consequently, I had not gotten as far from home as I expected, and my
privations had largely been in vain. Despairing and hungry, on the
third day, I commenced howling and screaming, hoping that some one
would hear me, and come to my relief, for almost anything else would
have been preferable to the privation and hunger from which I was
suffering. But I could make no one hear, at least no one paid any
attention to my screams, if they did hear. In the evening, however, one
of the deck hands came in with a lantern to look around and see
everything was all right. I saw the light and followed him out, but I
had been out of my hiding only a short time when I was discovered by a
man who took me up stairs to the captain. It was an effort for me to
walk up stairs, as I was weak and faint, having neither eaten nor drank
anything for three days. This boat was crowded with passengers, and it
was soon a scene of confusion. I was placed in the pilot's room for
safety, until we arrived at a small town in Kentucky called Monroe. I
was put off here to be kept until the packet came back from Cincinnati.
Then I was carried back to Memphis, arriving about one o'clock at night,
and, for safe keeping, was put into what was called the calaboose. This
was especially for the keeping of slaves who had run away and been
caught. Word was sent to Boss of my capture; and the next morning
Thomas Bland, a fellow servant of mine, was sent to take me home. I can
not tell how I felt, for the only thought that came to me was that I
should get killed. The madam met us as we drove into the yard. "Ah!" she
said to me, "you put up at the wrong hotel, sir." I was taken to the
barn where stocks had been prepared, beside which were a cowhide and a
pail of salt water, all prepared for me. It was terrible, but there was
no escape. I was fastened in the stocks, my clothing removed, and the
whipping began. Boss whipped me a while, then he sat down and read his
paper, after which the whipping was resumed. This continued for two
hours. Fastened as I was in the stocks, I could only stand and take lash
after lash, as long as he desired, the terrible rawhide cutting into my
flesh at every stroke. Then he used peach tree switches, which cracked
the flesh so the blood oozed out. After this came the paddle, two and a
half feet long and three inches wide. Salt and water was at once applied
to wash the wounds, and the smarting was maddening. This torture was
common among the southern planters. God only knows what I suffered under
it all, and He alone gave me strength to endure it. I could hardly move
after the terrible ordeal was finished, and could scarcely bear my
clothes to touch me at first, so sore was my whole body, and it was
weeks before I was myself again.

* * * * *


As an offset, probably, to such diabolical cruelties as those which were
practiced upon me in common with nearly all the slaves in the cotton
region of the south, it was the custom in the section of country where I
lived to have the white minister preach to the servants Sunday
afternoon, after the morning service for the whites. The white people
hired the minister by the year to preach for them at their church. Then
he had to preach to each master's slaves in turn. The circuit was made
once a month, but there was service of some kind every Sunday. The
slaves on some places gathered in the yard, at others in the white
folks' school houses, and they all seemed pleased and eager to hear the
word of God. It was a strong evidence of their native intelligence and
discrimination that they could discern the difference between the truths
of the "word" and the professed practice of those truths by their
masters. My Boss took pride in having all his slaves look clean and tidy
at the Sabbath service; but how would he have liked to have the slaves,
with backs lacerated with the lash, appear in those assemblies with
their wounds uncovered? The question can never be answered. The master
and most of his victims have gone where professions of righteousness
will not avail to cover the barbarities practised here.

* * * * *


My wife Matilda was born in Fayette county, Kentucky, June 17th, 1830.
It seems that her mother and her seven children were to have been free
according to the old Pennsylvania law. There were two uncles of the
family who were also to have been free, but who had been kept over time;
so they sued for their freedom, and gained it. The lawyers in the case
were abolitionists and friends to the slaves, and saw that these men had
justice. After they had secured their freedom, they entered suit for my
wife's mother, their sister, and her seven children. But as soon as the
brothers entered this suit, Robert Logan, who claimed my wife's mother
and her children as his slaves, put them into a trader's yard in
Lexington; and, when he saw that there was a possibility of their being
successful in securing their freedom, he put them in jail, to be "sold
down the river." This was a deliberate attempt to keep them from their
rights, for he knew that they were to have been set free, many years
before; and this fact was known to all the neighborhood. My wife's
mother was born free, her mother, having passed the allotted time under
a law, had been free for many years. Yet they kept her children as
slaves, in plain violation of law as well as justice. The children of
free persons under southern laws were free--this was always admitted.
The course of Logan in putting the family in jail, for safe keeping
until they could be sent to the southern market, was a tacit admission
that he had no legal hold upon them. Woods and Collins, a couple of
"nigger traders," were collecting a "drove" of slaves for Memphis, about
this time, and, when they were ready to start, all the family were sent
off with the gang; and, when they arrived in Memphis, they were put in
the traders' yard of Nathan Bedford Forrest. This Forrest afterward
became a general in the rebel army, and commanded at the capture of Fort
Pillow; and, in harmony with the debasing influences of his early
business, he was responsible for the fiendish massacre of negroes after
the capture of the fort--an act which will make his name forever
infamous. None of this family were sold to the same person except my
wife and one sister. All the rest were sold to different persons. The
elder daughter was sold seven times in one day. The reason of this was
that the parties that bought her, finding that she was not legally a
slave, and that they could get no written guarantee that she was, got
rid of her as soon as possible. It seems that those who bought the other
members of the family were not so particular, and were willing to run
the risk. They knew that such things--such outrages upon law and
justice--were common. Among these was my Boss, who bought two of the
girls, Matilda and her sister Mary Ellen. Matilda was bought for a cook;
her sister was a present to Mrs. Farrington, his wife's sister, to act
as her maid and seamstress. Aunt Delia, who had been cook, was given
another branch of work to do, and Matilda was installed as cook. I
remember well the day she came. The madam greeted her, and said: "Well,
what can you do, girl? Have you ever done any cooking? Where are you
from?" Matilda was, as I remember her, a sad picture to look at. She had
been a slave, it is true, but had seen good days to what the slaves
down the river saw. Any one could see she was almost heart-broken--she
never seemed happy. Days grew into weeks and weeks into months, but the
same routine of work went on.

* * * * *


Matilda had been there three years when I married her. The Boss had
always promised that he would give me a nice wedding, and he kept his
word. He was very proud, and liked praise. The wedding that he gave us
was indeed a pleasant one. All the slaves from their neighbor
acquaintances were invited. One thing Boss did was a credit to him, but
it was rare among slave-holders--he had me married by their parish
minister. It was a beautiful evening, the 30th of November, 1858, when
Matilda and I stood in the parlor of the McGee house and were solemnly
made man and wife. Old Master Jack came up from Panola at that time, and
was there when the ceremony was performed. As he looked through his
fingers at us, he was overheard saying: "It will ruin them, givin
wedins-wedins." Things went on as usual after this. The madam grew more
irritable and exacting, always finding fault with the servants, whipping
them, or threatening to do so, upon the slightest provocation, or none
at all. There was something in my wife's manner, however, which kept the
madam from whipping her--an open or implied threat perhaps that such
treatment would not be endured without resistance or protest of some
kind. This the madam regarded as a great indignity, and she hated my
wife for it, and, at times, was ready to crush her, so great was her
anger. In a year there were born to us twin babies; and the madam now
thought she had my wife tied, as the babies would be a barrier to
anything like resistance on her part, and there would be no danger of
her running away. She, therefore, thought that she could enjoy, without
hindrance, the privilege of beating the woman of whose womanhood she had
theretofore stood somewhat in fear.

* * * * *


Boss said from the first that I should give my wife assistance, as she
needed time to care for the babies. Really he was not as bad as the
madam at heart, for she tried to see how hard she could be on us. She
gave me all the extra work to do that she could think of, apparently to
keep me from helping my wife in the kitchen. She had all the cooking to
do for three heavy meals each day, all the washing and ironing of the
finest clothes, besides caring for the babies between times. In the
morning she would nurse the babies, then hurry off to the kitchen to get
breakfast while they were left in charge of a little girl. Again at noon
she repeated her visit to the babies, after cooking the dinner, then in
the evening, after supper, she would go to nurse them again. After
supper was over, dishes all washed and kitchen in order, she would then
go to the little ones for the night. One can see that she had very
little time with the children. My heart was sore and heavy, for my wife
was almost run to death with work. The children grew puny and sickly for
want of proper care. The doctor said it was because the milk the mother
nursed to them was so heated by her constant and excessive labors as to
be unwholesome, and she never had time to cool before ministering to
them. So the little things, instead of thriving and developing, as was
their right, dwindled toward the inevitable end. Oh! we were
wretched--our hearts ached for a day which we could call our own. My
wife was a Christian, and had learned to know the worth of prayer, so
would always speak consolingly. "God will help us," she said: "let us
try and be patient." Our trial went on, until one morning I heard a
great fuss in the house, the madam calling for the yard man to come and
tie my wife, as she could not manage her. My wife had always refused to
allow the madam to whip her; but now, as the babies were here, mistress
thought she would try it once more. Matilda resisted, and madam called
for Boss. In a minute he came, and, grabbing my wife, commenced choking
her, saying to her: "What do you mean? Is that the way you talk to
ladies?" My wife had only said to her mistress: "You shall not whip me."
This made her furious, hence her call for Boss. I was in the dining
room, and could hear everything. My blood boiled in my veins to see my
wife so abused; yet I dare not open my mouth. After the fuss, my wife
went straight to the laundry. I followed her there, and found her
bundling up her babies' clothes, which were washed but not ironed. I
knew at a glance that she was going away. Boss had just gone to the
city; and I did not know what to say, but I told her to do the best she
could. Often when company came and I held the horses, or did an errand
for them, they would tip me to a quarter or half a dollar. This money I
always saved, and so had a little change, which I now gave to Matilda,
for her use in her effort to get away from her cruel treatment. She
started at once for Forrest's trader's yards, with the babies in her
arms and, after she got into Memphis, she stopped outside the yard to
rest. While she was sitting on the curb stone, Forrest came out of the
yard by the back gate and saw her. Coming up to her he said: "My God!
Matilda, what are you doing here? You have changed so I would not have
known you. Why have you come here?" Matilda said: "I came back here to
be sold again." He stepped back and called another "nigger trader,"
Collins by name, from Kentucky. "Look here," said Forrest, pointing to
my wife. Collins took in the situation at once and said he would buy her
and the children. "That woman is of a good family," said he, "and was
only sold to prevent her from getting her freedom." She was then taken
into the yard. "Oh!" said Forrest, "I know these McGees, they are hard
colts." Word was then sent McGee that his cook was in the yard and had
come to be sold. He went in haste to the yard. Collins offered to buy
her, but McGee said no man's money could buy that woman and her
children. I raised her husband and I would not separate them. She was
brought back, and as they rode along in the rockaway, Boss said: "When I
am through with you I guess you won't run away again." As they drove up
I saw the madam go running out to meet them. She shouted to Matilda:
"Ah! madam, you put up at the wrong hotel." They at once went to the
barn where my wife was tied to the joist, and Boss and the madam beat
her by turns. After they had finished the whipping, Boss said,
tauntingly: "Now I am buying you and selling you--I want you to know
that I never shall sell you while my head and yours is hot." I was
trembling from head to foot, for I was powerless to do anything for her.
My twin babies lived only six months after that, not having had the care
they needed, and which it was impossible for their mother to give them
while performing the almost endless labor required of her, under threats
of cruel beatings. One day not long after our babies were buried the
madam followed my wife to the smoke house and said: "I am tempted to
take that knife from you, Matilda, and cut you in two. You and old Ruben
(one of the slaves) went all around the neighborhood and told the people
that I killed your babies, and almost whipped you to death." Of course,
when the slaves were accused falsely, as in this case, they were not
allowed to make any reply--they just had to endure in silence whatever
was said.

* * * * *


Thomas, the coachman, and I were fast friends. We used to get together
every time we had a chance and talk about freedom. "Oh!" Tom would say,
"if I could only write." I remember when Tom first began to take lessons
at night from some plasterers, workmen of the neighborhood. They saw
that he was so anxious to learn that they promised to teach him every
evening if he would slip out to their house. I, too, was eager to learn
to read and write, but did not have the opportunity which Tom had of
getting out at night. I had to sleep in the house where the folks were,
and could not go out without being observed, while Tom had quarters in
another part of the establishment, and could slip out unobserved. Tom,
however, consoled me by saying that he would teach me as soon as he knew
how. So Tom one night put a copy of some figures on the side of the barn
for me to practice from. I took the chalk and imitated him as near as I
could, but my work was poor beside his, as he had been learning for
some months, and could make the figures quite well and write a little.
Still I kept trying. Tom encouraging me and telling me that I would
learn in time. "Just keep trying," said he. When this first lesson was

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