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Thirty Years a Slave by Louis Hughes

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moments--speech is not for such occasions, but silence rather, and the
rush of thoughts. When the first flash of feeling had passed I spoke,
calling him by name, and he addressed me as brother. There seemed to be
no doubt on either side as to our true relationship, though the
features of each had long since faded forever from the memory of the
other. He took me to his house; and each of us related his story with
such feelings as few can fully appreciate. He told me that he had never
heard anything of our mother or brother. He went back to the old home in
Virginia, after the close of the rebellion, but could get no trace of

As we related our varied experiences--the hardships, the wrongs and
sorrows which we endured and at last the coming of brighter days, we
were sad, then happy. It seemed, and indeed was, wonderful that we
should have met again after so long a separation. The time allotted to
my visit with him passed most pleasantly, and all too quickly; and, as I
looked into the faces of his wife and children, I seemed to have entered
a new and broader life, and one in which the joys of social intercourse
had marvelously expanded. When I came to saying good-bye to him, so
close did I feel to him, the tie between us seemed never to have been
broken. That week, so full of new experiences and emotions can never be
erased from my memory. After many promises of the maintenance of the
social relations thus renewed, we parted, to take up again the burdens
of life, but with new inspiration and deeper feeling.

I came back to my work with renewed vigor, and I could not but rejoice
and give praise to God for the blessings that I had experienced in the
years since my bondage, and especially for this partial restoration of
the broken tie of kindred. I had long since learned to love Christ, and
my faith in him was so firmly established that I gave him praise for
each and every ray of happiness that came into my life.

* * * * *


I continued the laundry work, in connection with that at the hotel,
until 1874. I had been in the Plankinton House then six years and a
half. The laundry business had increased to such an extent that my wife
could not manage it all alone. I, therefore, gave up my position at the
hotel, and went into the laundry work on a somewhat larger scale than
that upon which we had been conducting it. We were still doing business
at 216 Grand avenue, and there we remained until 1876; when we removed
to more commodious quarters at 713 on the avenue. But we remained there
only a few mouths, when we removed to 134 Fourth street in the rear. The
establishment here was fitted up with all modern appliances; but I was
not so successful as I anticipated. My losses were heavy; and though
the facilities for doing the work were much better than those which we
had before possessed, the location was not so accessible or inviting.
We, therefore, went back to our former location at 713 on the avenue.

* * * * *


Not long after this, Dr. Douglas, a prominent physician of the city at
that time, was in failing health, and, wishing a nurse, I was
recommended to him for this service by a friend. I served the doctor in
this capacity every night for three months. I then went with him to
McComb, a village in southern Mississippi, which had been, in the days
of slavery, a somewhat famous resort, but which had lost its prestige,
and entered upon a general decline; the hotel and all its surroundings
presenting the appearance of general dilapidation. I remained here with
the doctor for two weeks--until they succeeded in getting another person
to care for him. I then took a run down to New Orleans.

* * * * *


On this southern trip I had the opportunity of observing the condition
of the country through which we passed. Many of the farms seemed
neglected, the houses dilapidated, or abandoned, the fields either
uncultivated and overgrown with bushes, or the crops struggling with
grass and weeds for the mastery, and presenting but little promise of a
paying harvest. In some places the bushes and other undergrowth were
fifteen feet high, and the landscape was peculiar and by no means
inviting. I could remember the appearance of the cotton farms in slavery
days; but how changed were things I now saw! They did not look at all
like those which I had been accustomed to see. Everything was dismal and
uninviting. The entire country passed through in Mississippi looked like
a wilderness. This deterioration was the natural result of the
devastating war which had swept the country, and to the industrial
revolution which followed and to which affairs had not been adjusted.

When I arrived at New Orleans I found the levee filled with fruit.
Oranges and bananas were piled in masses like coal, and the scenes in
this portion of the city were very different from anything one sees in
the north. Among the many places of interest in the city were the
cemeteries. Owing to the low level of the ground and its saturation with
water, burials are seldom made in graves, but instead in tombs built of
brick or marble or other stone, in which are constructed cells running
back from the front and of a size and shape sufficient to admit a
coffin. Then, as soon as filled, they are sealed up. These tombs contain
from two to six or eight, or even more of these cells, and their general
appearance from the front is not unlike that of a section of mail boxes
in a postoffice. Other places of interest were the old French market,
the public squares and gardens, the old Catholic churches, and some of
the relics of slavery days in the shape of pens where slaves were
exposed for sale. One of these was in the basement of the Hotel Royal,
which would contain several hundred at once, and from which hundreds
went to a bondage bitterer than death, and from which death was the only

* * * * *


I came back to Milwaukee with a new idea. I liked nursing--it was my
choice from childhood. Even though I had been deprived of a course of
training, I felt that I was not too old to try, at least, to learn the
art, or to add to what I already knew. Dr. Douglas gave me a splendid
recommendation, and had some cards printed, bearing my name and address.
These I distributed, and thus began the business which I have followed
steadily since that time. Dr. Marks very kindly recommended me to well
known men needing the service of a nurse, and to his professional
associates; and through this means, and through his continued kindness
and interest, I have been almost constantly engaged in this work. I am
also indebted to Drs. Fox and Spearman and other prominent physicians
for recommendations which have resulted in securing me employment which
has proved remunerative to me, and which seemed to give entire
satisfaction to the sick and their friends. This is no small part of the
compensation in the difficult, often wearing, and always delicate duties
of the nurse in the sick room. To every true man or woman it is one of
the greatest satisfactions to have the consciousness of having been
useful to his fellow beings. My duties as nurse have taken me to
different parts of the state, to Chicago, to California and to Florida;
and I have thus gained no little experience, not only in my business,
but in many other directions.

I have endeavored, in the foregoing sketch, to give a clear and correct
idea of the institution of human slavery, as I witnessed and experienced
it--its brutality, its degrading influence upon both master and slave,
and its utter incompatibility with industrial improvement and general
educational progress. Nothing has been exaggerated or set down in
malice, although in the scars which I still bear upon my person, and in
the wounds of spirit which will never wholly heal, there might be found
a seeming excuse for such a course. Whatever of kindness was shown me
during the years of my bondage, I still gratefully remember, whether it
came from white master or fellow slave; and for the recognition which
has been so generously accorded me since the badge of servitude was
removed, I am profoundly and devoutly thankful.

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