Part 2 out of 5
His mercy and gracious goodness, He did so; though when the fever was
turning they gave me up; and I could hear them say, when they came to feel
my pulse, "he is almost gone," "it will soon be over," &c., and then
inquire if I knew them. I did, but was too weak to say so. I recollect
with gratitude, the kindness of Mrs. H.A. Townsend, who sent me many
delicacies and cooling drinks to soften the rigor of my disease; and
though I suppose she has long since "passed away" and gone to her reward,
may the blessing of those who are ready to perish, rest upon the
descendants of that excellent woman.
Capt. Helm was driving on in his milling, distillery and farming business.
He now began to see the necessity of treating his slaves better by far
than he had ever done before, and granted them greater privileges than he
would have dared to do at the South. Many of the slaves he had sold, were
getting their liberty and doing well.
HIRED OUT TO A NEW MASTER.
While I was staying with my master at Bath, he having little necessity for
my services, hired me out to a man by the name of Joseph Robinson, for the
purpose of learning me to drive a team. Robinson lived about three miles
from the village of Bath, on a small farm, and was not only a poor man but
a very mean one. He was cross and heartless in his family, as well as
tyrannical and cruel to those in his employ; and having hired me as a
"slave boy," he appeared to feel at full liberty to wreak his brutal
passion on me at any time, whether I deserved rebuke or not; nor did his
terrible outbreaks of anger vent themselves in oaths, curses and
threatenings only, but he would frequently draw from the cart-tongue a
heavy iron pin, and beat me over the head with it, so unmercifully that he
frequently sent the blood flowing over my scanty apparel, and from that to
the ground, before he could feel satisfied.
These kind of beatings were not only excessively painful, but they always
reminded me of the blows I had so often received from the key, in the hand
of Mrs. Helm, when I was but a little waiter lad; and in truth I must say
that the effect of these heavy blows on the head, have followed me thus
far through life; subjecting me to frequent and violent head-aches, from
which I never expect to be entirely free. Even to this day I shudder at
the thought, when I think how Robinson used to fly at me, swearing,
foaming, and seeming to think there was no weapon too large or too heavy
to strike me with.
He and I were at one time logging with a yoke of oxen, which it was my
business to drive. At that time rattle-snakes were numerous, and a great
terror to the inhabitants. To be bitten by one of these poisonous reptiles
was certain and almost instant death; hence, the greatest caution and
constant vigilance was necessary to avoid them while at work. I had been
sent with the oxen to draw a log to the pile, and when I came up to it, I
observed that it appeared to be hollow; but stepping forward, with the
chain in my hand, ready to attach it to the log, when, oh, horror! the
warning rattle of a snake sounded like a death knell in my ears,
proceeding from the log I was about to lay hold of. I was so much
frightened by the sound, that I dropped the chain as though it were red
hot, left my team, and ran with all the speed in my power, screaming
"murder, murder!" as loud as I could.
This proceeding, which was the fearful impulse of the moment, offended
Robinson, and gave him another opportunity to beat me most cruelly. He was
himself as much afraid of rattle-snakes as I; but he was the master and I
the "slave boy," which made a vast difference. He caught hold of me, and,
with horrid oaths, beat me with his fist again and again; threatening me
with awful punishment if I did not instantly return and bring the log to
the desired spot. I never can forget the mortal agony I was in, while
compelled by his kicks and blows to return and fasten the chain around the
log containing the deadly serpent. I, however, succeeded with trembling
hands, and drove the oxen, but keeping myself at the fartherest possible
distance from them and the log. When I finally arrived at the pile, Mr.
Robinson and some other men, cut a hole with an ax in the log, and killed
the large, venomous rattle-snake that had occasioned me so much alarm and
such a cruel beating. Nor was the uncontrollable and brutal passion of
Robinson his only deficiency; he was mean as he was brutal.
He had, at one time, borrowed a wagon of a neighbor living two miles
distant, through a dense forest. On the day of the total eclipse of the
sun, it entered his head that it would be fine sport, knowing my
my ignorance and superstition, to send me, just as the darkness was coming
on, to return the borrowed wagon. I accordingly hitched the ox-team to it
and started. As I proceeded through the wood, I saw, with astonishment and
some alarm, that it was growing very dark, and thought it singular at that
hour of the day. When I reached the place of my destination it was almost
total darkness, and some persons, ignorant as myself, were running about,
wringing their hands, and declaring that they believed the Day of Judgment
had come, and such like expressions.
The effect of all this was, however, very different from what my master
had expected. I thought, of course, if the judgment day had come, I should
be no longer a slave in the power of a heartless tyrant. I recollect well
of thinking, that if indeed all things earthly were coming to an end, I
should be free from Robinson's brutal force, and as to meeting my Creator,
I felt far less dread of that than of meeting my cross, unmerciful master.
I felt that, sinful as I had been, and unworthy as I was, I should be far
better off than I then was; driven to labor all day, without compensation;
half starved and poorly clad, and above all, subjected to the whims and
caprices of any heartless tyrant to whom my master might give the power to
rule over me. But I had not much time for reflection, I hurried home; my
mind filled with the calm anticipation that the end of all things was at
hand; which greatly disappointed my expectant master, who was looking for
me to return in a great fright, making some very ludicrous demonstration
of fear and alarm. But after a few months more of hardship I was permitted
to return to Capt. Helm's, where I was treated much better than at
Robinson's, and much, better than the Captain used to treat his slaves.
Capt. Helm, not having demand for slave labor as much as formerly, was in
the practice of hiring out his slaves to different persons, both in and
out of the village; and among others, my only sister was hired out to a
_professed_ gentleman living in Bath. She had become the mother of two or
three children, and was considered a good servant.
One pleasant Sabbath morning, as I was passing the house where she lived,
on my way to the Presbyterian church, where I was sent to ring the bell as
usual, I heard the most piteous cries and earnest pleadings issuing from
the dwelling. To my horror and the astonishment of those with me, my poor
sister made her appearance, weeping bitterly, and followed by her inhuman
master, who was polluting the air of that clear Sabbath morning, with the
most horrid imprecations and threatenings, and at the same time
flourishing a large raw-hide. Very soon his bottled wrath burst forth, and
the blows, aimed with all his strength, descended upon the unprotected
head, shoulders and back of the helpless woman, until she was literally
cut to pieces. She writhed in his powerful grasp, while shriek after
shriek died away in heart-rending moanings; and yet the inhuman demon
continued to beat her, though her pleading cries had ceased, until
obliged to desist from the exhaustion of his own strength.
What a spectacle was that, for the sight of a brother? The God of heaven
only knows the conflict of feeling I then endured; He alone witnessed the
tumult of my heart, at this outrage of manhood and kindred affection. God
knows that my will was good enough to have wrung his neck; or to have
drained from his heartless system its last drop of blood! And yet I was
obliged to turn a deaf ear to her cries for assistance, which to this day
ring in my ears. Strong and athletic as I was, no hand of mine could be
raised in her defence, but at the peril of both our lives;--nor could her
husband, had he been a witness of the scene, be allowed any thing more
than unresisting submission to any cruelty, any indignity which the master
saw fit to inflict on _his wife_, but the other's _slave_.
Does any indignant reader feel that I was wanting in courage or brotherly
affection, and say that he would have interfered, and, at all hazards,
rescued his sister from the power of her master; let him remember that he
is a _freeman_; that he has not from his infancy been taught to cower
beneath the white man's frown, and bow at his bidding, or suffer all the
rigor of the slave laws. Had the gentlemanly woman-whipper been seen
beating his horse, or his ox, in the manner he beat my poor sister, and
that too for no fault which the law could recognize as an offence, he
would have been complained of most likely; but as it was, she was but a
"slave girl,"--with whom the slave law allowed her master to do what he
Well, I finally passed on, with a clinched fist and contracted brow, to
the church, and rung the bell, I think rather furiously, to notify the
inhabitants of Bath, that it was time to assemble for the worship of that
God who has declared himself to be "no respecter of persons." With my own
heart beating wildly with indignation and sorrow, the kind reader may
imagine my feelings when I saw the smooth-faced hypocrite, the inhuman
slave-whipper, enter the church, pass quietly on to his accustomed seat,
and then meekly bow his hypocritical face on the damask cushion, in the
reverent acknowledgment of that religion which teaches its adherents "to
do unto others as they would be done by," just as if nothing unusual had
happened on that Sabbath morning. Can any one wonder that I, and other
slaves, often doubted the sincerity of every white man's religion? Can it
be a matter of astonishment, that slaves often feel that there is no just
God for the poor African? Nay, verily; and were it not for the comforting
and sustaining influence that these poor, illiterate and suffering
creatures feel as coming from an unearthly source, they would in their
ignorance all become infidels. To me, that beautiful Sabbath morning was
clouded in midnight darkness, and I retired to ponder on what could be
For some reason or other, Capt. Helm had supplied every lawyer in that
section of country with slaves, either by purchase or hire; so when I
thought of seeking legal redress for my poor, mangled sister, I saw at
once it would be all in vain. The laws were in favor of the slave owner,
and besides, every legal gentleman in the village had one or more of the
Captain's slaves, who were treated with more or less rigor; and of course
they would do nothing toward censuring one of their own number, so nothing
could be done to give the slave even the few privileges which the laws of
the State allowed them.
The Captain sold my aunt Betsy Bristol to a distinguished lawyer in the
village, retaining her husband, Aaron Bristol, in his own employ; and two
of her children he sold to another legal gentleman named Cruger. One day
Captain Helm came out where the slaves were at work, and finding Aaron was
not there, he fell into a great rage and swore terribly. He finally
started off to a beach tree, from which he cut a stout limb, and trimmed
it so as to leave a knot on the but end of the stick, or bludgeon rather,
which was about two and a half feet in length. With this formidable
weapon he started for Aaron's lonely cabin. When the solitary husband saw
him coming he suspected that he was angry, and went forth to meet him
in the street. They had no sooner met than my master seized Aaron by the
collar, and taking the limb he had prepared by the smaller end, commenced
beating him with it, over the head and face, and struck him some thirty or
more terrible blows in quick succession; after which Aaron begged to know
for what he was so unmercifully flogged.
"Because you deserve it," was the angry reply. Aaron said that he had ever
endeavored to discharge his duty, and had done so to the best of his
ability; and that he thought it very hard to be treated in that manner for
no offence at all. Capt. Helm was astonished at his audacity; but the
reader will perceive that the slaves were not blind to the political
condition of the country, and were beginning to feel that they had some
rights, and meant to claim them.
Poor Aaron's face and head, however, was left in a pitiable condition
after such a pummeling with a knotty stick. His face, covered with blood,
was so swollen that he could hardly see for some time; but what of that?
Did he not belong to Capt. Helm, soul and body; and if his brutal owner
chose to destroy his own property, certainly had he not a right to do so,
without let or hindrance? Of course; such is the power that Slavery gives
one human being over another.
And yet it must be confessed that among the poor, degraded and ignorant
slaves there exists a foolish pride, which loves to boast of their
master's wealth and influence. A white person, too poor to own slaves, is
as often looked upon with as much disdain by the miserable slave as by his
wealthy owner. This disposition seems to be instilled into the mind of
every slave at the South, and indeed, I have heard slaves object to being
sent in very small companies to labor in the field, lest that some
passer-by should think that they belonged to a poor man, who was unable to
keep a large gang. Nor is this ridiculous sentiment maintained by the
slaves only; the rich planter feels such a contempt for all white persons
without slaves, that he does not want them for his neighbors. I know of
many instances where such persons have been under the necessity of buying
or hiring slaves, just to preserve their reputation and keep up
appearances; and even among a class of people who profess to be opposed to
Slavery, have I known instances of the same kind, and have heard them
apologize for their conduct by saying that "when in Rome, we must do as
the Romans do."
Uncle Aaron Bristol was one of Capt. Helm's slaves who had a large amount
of this miserable pride; and for him to be associated with a white man in
the same humble occupation, seemed to give him ideas of great superiority,
and full liberty to treat him with all the scorn and sarcasm he was
capable of, in which my uncle was by no means deficient.
At this time the Captain owned a fine and valuable horse, by the name of
_Speculator_. This horse, groomed by uncle Aaron, stood sometimes at Bath
and sometimes at Geneva; and at the latter village another horse was kept,
groomed by a white man. The white groom was not very well pleased with
Aaron's continual disparagement of the clumsy animal which my uncle called
"a great, awkward plow-horse;" and then he would fling out some of his
proud nonsense about "_poor white people_ who were obliged to groom their
own old dumpy horses," &c.
Well, things went on in this unpleasant manner for several weeks, when at
last the white groom and Aaron met at Geneva, and the horse belonging to
the former, designedly or accidentally, escaped from his keeper, and came
with full speed, with his mouth wide open, after Speculator. When the
fiery fellow had overtaken uncle Aaron he attempted to grasp the wethers
of Speculator with his teeth, instead of which he caught Aaron on the
inside of his thigh, near the groin, from whence he bit a large piece of
flesh, laying the bone entirely bare; at the same moment flinging Aaron to
the ground, some rods off; and the next instant he kicked Speculator down
a steep embankment Aaron was taken up for dead, and Dr. Henry sent for,
who dressed his wounds; and after several months' confinement he finally
recovered. It is probable that the biting and overthrow of Aaron saved his
life, as he must have otherwise been killed in the encounter of the two
A while after his recovery, uncle Aaron succeeded in procuring a team and
some kind of vehicle, in which he put his wife and children, and between
two days, took "French leave" of his master as well as of the lawyer to
whom his wife belonged.
The lawyer, however, was far from being pleased when he missed his
property, and immediately set his wits to work to reclaim her. All was
kept secret as possible, but it was whispered about that it was to be
done by a State's warrant, for removing the clothing and furniture they
had taken, and so, being thus arrested, "Madam Bristol" would be glad to
return to her work in the lawyer's kitchen. But Aaron was a smart, shrewd
man, and kept out of their reach, where he soon found friends and
employment, and could go where he pleased, without having an infuriated
master to beat and disfigure him with a knotted stick, until his clothes
were bespattered with blood. They appreciated their liberty, and lived and
died in peace and freedom.
Capt. Helm continued his old manner of treating slaves, dealing out their
weekly allowance of corn or meal; but living as we now did, so much more
intimately with white inhabitants, our condition was materially improved.
The slaves became more refined in manners and in possession of far greater
opportunities to provide for themselves, than they had ever before
enjoyed, and yet it was _Slavery_. Any reverse in the fortunes of our
master would be disadvantageous to us. Oh, how this fearful uncertainty
weighed upon us as we saw that our master was not prospering and
increasing in wealth; but we had not the dismal fears of the loathsome
slave-pen, rice swamps, and many other things we should have to fear in
Virginia. We were still _slaves_, and yet we had so much greater chance
to learn from the kind, intelligent people about us, so many things which
we never knew before, that I think a slave-trader would have found it a
difficult task to take any one of us to a Southern slave market, if our
master had so ordered it.
The village of Bath is rather an out-of-the-way place, hemmed in on all
sides by mountains of considerable height, leaving an opening on the
north, through a pleasant valley, to the head of Crooked Lake. Produce
of every kind, when once there, met a ready sale for the New York market.
In the first settlement of the country this was the only outlet for the
country produce, which was transported in rude boats or vessels called
_arks_, built during the winter season to await the spring freshet; then
they loaded them with wheat or other produce, and sent them to Baltimore
or elsewhere. They used also to obtain great quantities of fine lumber,
and floated it through the same rivers every spring; but it was attended
with great loss of life and property.
Bath assumed a warlike appearance during the last war with Great Britain;
the public square was dotted all over with officers, marquees, and
soldiers' tents. Some of these soldiers were unprincipled and reckless
men, who seemed to care very little what they did.
One evening I was walking around the encampment in company with a Mr.
James Morrison, a clerk in the land office, looking at the soldiers, until
we came near a sentinel on duty. He kept his gun to his shoulder until we
came near enough, and then he attempted to run me through with his
bayonet. Young Morrison sprang forward, and seizing the musket, told me
to run; I did so, which probably saved my life.
THOUGHTS ON FREEDOM.
After living sometime in Bath, and having the privilege of more
enlightened society, I began to think that it was possible for me to
become a free man in some way besides going into the army or running away,
as I had often thought of doing. I had listened to the conversation of
others, and determined to ask legal counsel on the subject the first
opportunity I could find. Very soon after, as I was drawing wood, I met on
the river bridge, Mr. D. Cruger, the eminent lawyer before mentioned, and
I asked him to tell me if I was not free, by the laws of New York. He
started, and looked around him as if afraid to answer my question, but
after a while told me I was _not_ free. I passed on, but the answer to my
question by no means satisfied me, especially when I remembered the
hesitancy with which it was given.
I sought another opportunity to speak with Mr. Cruger, and at last found
him in his office alone; then he conversed freely on the subject of
Slavery, telling me that Capt. Helm could not hold me as a slave in that
State, if I chose to leave him, and then directed me to D. Comstock and J.
Moore; the first being at the head of a manumission society, and the last
named gentleman one of its directors.
Our condition, as I have said before, was greatly improved; and yet the
more we knew of freedom the more we desired it, and the less willing were
we to remain in bondage. The slaves that Capt. Helm had sold or hired out,
were continually leaving him and the country, for a place of freedom; and
I determined to become my own possessor.
There is no one, I care not how favorable his condition, who desires to be
a slave, to labor for nothing all his life for the benefit of others. I
have often heard fugitive slaves say, that it was not so much the cruel
beatings and floggings that they received which induced them to leave the
South, as the idea of dragging out a whole life of unrequited toil to
enrich their masters.
Everywhere that Slavery exists, it is nothing but _slavery_. I found it
just as hard to be beaten over the head with a piece of iron in New York
as it was in Virginia. Whips and chains are everywhere necessary to
degrade and brutalize the slave, in order to reduce him to that abject and
humble state which Slavery requires. Nor is the effect much less
disastrous on the man who holds supreme control over the soul and body of
his fellow beings. Such unlimited power, in almost every instance
transforms the man into a tyrant; the brother into a demon.
When the first of our persecuted race were brought to this country it was
to teach them to reverence the only true and living God; or such was the
answer of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England, when her subjects
desired the liberty to bring from their native land the poor, ignorant
African. "Let them," said the Queen, "be brought away only by their own
consent, otherwise the act will be detestable, and bring down the
vengeance of heaven upon us." A very different position truly, from the
one assumed at the present day by apologists for the traffic in human
flesh. But, to return to myself.
I had determined to make an effort to own myself, and as a preliminary
step, I obtained permission of Capt. Helm to visit some friends living in
Canandaigua and Geneva. This was in the winter of 1814. I went first to
Geneva; from there to Canandaigua. Between the two villages I met a
company of United States' troops, returning from Buffalo, where they had
been to repel an invasion of the British.
The two villages above named, were small but very pretty, having been laid
out with taste and great care. Some wealthy and enterprising gentlemen had
come from the East into this great Western country, who were making every
improvement in their power. The dense forest had long since fallen under
the stroke of the woodman's ax, and in that section, flourishing villages
were springing up as if by magic, where so lately roamed wild beasts and
rude savages, both having fallen back before the march of civilization.
I called on James Moore, as directed by Mr. Cruger, and found he was one
of the directors of the "Manumission Society," as it was then called. This
was an association of humane and intelligent gentlemen whose object it was
to aid any one who was illegally held in bondage. The funds of the society
were ample; and able counsel was employed to assist those who needed it.
The late lamented John C. Spencer, one of the most eminent lawyers in
Western New York, was then counsel for that society.
I soon got an interview with Mr. Moore, to whom I related the history of
my life,--the story of my wrongs and hardships. I told him about my having
been hired out by Capt. Helm, which he said was sufficient to insure my
freedom! Oh! how my heart leaped at the thought! The tears started, my
breast heaved with a mighty throb of gratitude, and I could hardly refrain
from grasping his hand or falling down at his feet; and perhaps should
have made some ludicrous demonstration of my feelings, had not the kind
gentleman continued his conversation in another direction.
He said that indispensable business called him to Albany, where he must go
immediately, but assured me that he would return in March following; then
I must come to him and he would see that I had what justly belonged to
me--my freedom from Slavery. He advised me to return to Bath and go on
with my work as usual until March, but to say nothing of my intentions and
prospects. I returned according to his directions, with a heart so light,
that I could not realize that my bonds were not yet broken, nor the yoke
removed from off my neck. I was already free in spirit, and I silently
exulted in the bright prospect of liberty.
Could my master have felt what it was to be relieved of such a crushing
weight, as the one which was but partially lifted from my mind, he would
have been a happier man than he had been for a long time.
I went cheerfully back to my labor, and worked with alacrity, impatient
only for March to come; and as the time drew near I began to consider what
kind of an excuse I could make to get away. I could think of none, but I
determined to go without one, rather than to remain.
Just before the time appointed for me to meet Mr. Moore, a slave girl
named Milly, came secretly to Bath. She had been one of Capt. Helm's
slaves, and he had a while before sold her to a man who lived some
distance west of the village. Milly had now taken the matter into her own
hands. She had left her master to take care of himself, and was in short,
"running away," determined as myself, that she would be a slave no longer;
resolved on death, or freedom from the power of the slaveholder.
The time I had set for my departure was so near at hand, that I concluded
to accompany her in her flight. When the dark night came on, we started
together, and traveled all night, and just as the day dawned we arrived at
Manchester, where we stopped a short time with one Thomas Watkins.
But I was not to be let go so easily. I had been missed at Capt. Helm's,
and several men started in immediate pursuit. I was weary, and so intent
on getting a little rest that I did not see my pursuers until they had
well nigh reached the house where I was; but I _did_ see them in time to
spring from the house with the agility of a deer, and to run for the woods
as for life. And indeed, I so considered it. I was unarmed to be sure, and
not prepared to defend myself against two or three men, armed to the
teeth; but it would have gone hard with me before I surrendered myself to
them, after having dreamed as I had, and anticipated the blessings of a
free man. I escaped them, thank God, and reached the woods, where I
concealed myself for some time, and where I had ample opportunity to
reflect on the injustice and cruelty of my oppressors, and to ask myself
why it was that I was obliged to fly from my home. Why was I there panting
and weary, hungry and destitute--skulking in the woods like a thief, and
concealing myself like a murderer? What had I done? For what fault, or for
what crime was I pursued by armed men, and hunted like a beast of prey?
God only knows how these inquiries harrowed up my very soul, and made me
well nigh doubt the justice and mercy of the Almighty, until I remembered
my narrow escape, when my doubts dissolved in grateful tears.
But why, oh why, had I been forced to flee thus from my fellow men? I was
guilty of no crime; I had committed no violence; I had broken no law of
the land; I was not charged even with a fault, except of _the love of
liberty_ and a desire to be _free_! I had claimed the right to possess my
own person, and remove it from oppression. Oh my God, thought I, can the
American People, who at this very hour are pouring out their blood in
defence of their country's liberty; offering up as a sacrifice on the
battle field their promising young men, to preserve their land and
hearthstones from English oppression; can they, will they, continue to
hunt the poor African slave from their soil because he desires that same
liberty, so dear to the heart of every American citizen? Will they not
blot out from their fair escutcheon the foul stain which Slavery has cast
upon it? Will they not remember the Southern bondman, in whom the love
of freedom is as inherent as in themselves; and will they not, when
contending for equal rights, use their mighty forces "to break _every
yoke_, and let the oppressed go free?" God grant that it may be so!
As soon as I thought it prudent, I pursued my journey, and finally came
out into the open country, near the dwelling of Mr. Dennis Comstock, who,
as I have said, was president of the Manumission Society. To him I freely
described my situation, and found him a friend indeed. He expressed his
readiness to assist me, and wrote a line for me to take to his brother,
Otis Comstock, who took me into his family at once. I hired to Mr.
Comstock for the season, and from that time onward lived with him nearly
When I arrived there I was about twenty-two years of age, and felt for the
first time in my life, that I was my own master. I cannot describe to a
free man, what a proud manly feeling came over me when I hired to Mr. C.
and made my first bargain, nor when I assumed the dignity of collecting my
own earnings. Notwithstanding I was very happy in my freedom from Slavery,
and had a good home, where for the first time in my life I was allowed to
sit at table with others, yet I found myself very deficient in almost
every thing which I should have learned when a boy.
These and other recollections of the past often saddened my spirit; but
_hope _,--cheering and bright, was now mine, and it lighted up the future
and gave me patience to persevere.
In the autumn when the farm work was done, I called on Mr. Comstock for
some money, and the first thing I did after receiving it I went to
Canandaigua where I found a book-store kept by a man named J.D. Bemis, and
of him I purchased some school books.
No king on his throne could feel prouder or grander than I did that day.
With my books under my arm, and money of my own earning in my pocket, I
stepped loftily along toward Farmington, where I determined to attend the
Academy. The thought, however, that though I was twenty-three years old, I
had yet to learn what most boys of eight years knew, was rather a damper
on my spirits. The school was conducted by Mr. J. Comstock, who was a
pleasant young man and an excellent teacher. He showed me every kindness
and consideration my position and ignorance demanded; and I attended his
school three winters, with pleasure and profit to myself at least.
When I had been with Mr. Comstock about a year, we received a visit from
my old master, Capt. Helm, who had spared no pains to find me, and when he
learned where I was he came to claim me as "his boy," who, he said he
"wanted and must have."
Mr. Comstock told him I was _not_ "his boy," and as such he would not
give me up; and further, that I was free by the laws of the State. He
assured the Captain that his hiring me out in the first instance, to Mr.
Tower, forfeited his claim to me, and gave me a right to freedom,--but if
he chose to join issue, they would have the case tried in the Supreme
Court; but this proposition the Captain declined: he knew well enough that
it would result in my favor; and after some flattery and coaxing, he left
me with my friend, Mr. Comstock, in liberty and peace!
The business affairs of Capt. Helm had for some time been far from
prosperous; and now he was quite poor. His slave property proved a bad
investment, and Madam Thornton a far worse one. She had already applied
for a divorce, and a good share of the estate as alimony; both of which
she succeeded in getting, the Captain allowing her to take pretty much
her own course. These troubles, with costs of lawsuits, bad management,
&c., had now emptied the coffers of my old master almost to the last
farthing; and he began to cast about him for some way to replenish his
purse, and retrieve his fallen fortunes.
Had Capt. Helm been brought up to honorable industry, and accustomed to
look after his own pecuniary interests, he doubtless would have sustained
his position; or if reverses were unavoidable, he would have by
persevering industry, regained what he had lost. But he had been raised in
a slave State, and Southern principles were as deeply instilled into his
mind, as Southern manners were impressed on his life and conduct.
He had no partiality for labor of any kind; horse-racing and card-playing
were far more congenial to his tastes; reduced as he now was, he would
deny himself no luxury that his means or credit would procure. His few
remaining slaves were given into the hands of an idle, brutal overseer
--while they, half fed, half clothed, grew more and more discontented, and
ran away on every opportunity that offered.
The Captain at last hit upon a method of making money, which, if it had
been carried into operation on the high seas, would in all probability
have been called by its right name, and incurred the penalty of the
gallows--as piracy. Ought it then to be deemed less criminal because
transpiring on the free soil of the American Republic? I think not. Nor
was it less censurable on account of its failure.
The Captain's plan was to collect all the slaves he had once owned, many
of whom had escaped to the surrounding villages, and when once in his
grasp, to run them speedily into a slave State, and there sell them for
the Southern market. To carry forward this hellish design, it was
necessary to have recourse to stratagem. Some person must be found to
lure the unsuspecting slaves into the net he was spreading for them. At
last he found a scoundrel named Simon Watkins, who for the consideration
of fifty dollars, was to collect as many of the slaves as he could at one
place; and when he had done so, he was to receive the money, leaving Capt.
Helm to do the rest.
Simon set immediately about the business, which was first to go to
Palmyra, and in great kindness and generosity, give a large party to the
colored people,--desiring that all Capt. Helm's former slaves, _in
particular_, should be present to have a joyous re-union, and celebrate
their freedom in having a fine time generally.
Invitations were sent to all, and extensive preparation made for a large
"social party," at Palmyra, at the house of Mrs. Bristol. My parents were
invited; and Simon took the pains to come to Farmington to give me a
special invitation. When the time arrived for the party, I went to Palmyra
with the intention of attending. I had not the least suspicion of any
thing wrong; yet, by some mysterious providence, or something for which I
can not account, a presentiment took possession of my mind that all was
not right. I knew not what I feared, and could in no way define my
apprehensions; but I grew so uneasy, that I finally gave up the party and
returned home, before the guests were assembled.
Capt. Helm and his assistants came on to Palmyra in disguise, before
evening, and secreted themselves in one of the hotels to await the arrival
of their victims.
At the appointed hour the slaves began to assemble in large numbers and
great glee, without the least suspicion of danger. They soon began their
amusements, and in the midst of their mirth, Capt. Helm and party
stealthily crept from their hiding place and surrounded the house; then
bursting in suddenly upon the revelers, began to make arrests. Such a
tumult, such an affray as ensued would be hard to describe.
The slaves fought for their lives and their liberty, and the Captain's
party for their property and power. Fists, clubs, chairs, and any thing
they could get hold of, was freely used with a strength and will of men
who had tasted the joys of freedom. Cries and curses were mingled, while
blows fell like hail on both sides. Commands from our old master were met
with shouts of bold defiance on the part of the negroes, until the
miserable kidnappers were glad to desist, and were driven of--not
stealthily as they came, but in quick time and in the best way they could,
to escape the threatened vengeance of the slaves, who drove them like
"feathers before the wind." But it was a terrible battle and many were
severely wounded; among them was my father. He was taken to his home,
mangled and bleeding, and from the effects of that night's affray he never
recovered. He lingered on in feeble health until death finally released
him from suffering, and placed him beyond the reach of kidnappers and
The Captain and his party, enraged and disappointed in their plans at
Palmyra, returned to Bath to see what could be done there toward success,
in getting up a gang of slaves for the Southern market. When they came
among the colored people of Bath, it was like a hawk alighting among a
flock of chickens at noon-day. They scattered and ran in every direction,
some to the woods, some hid themselves in cellars, and others in their
terror plunged into the Conhocton River. In this manner the majority of
the negroes escaped, but not all; and those were so unfortunate as to get
caught were instantly thrown into a large covered "Pennsylvania wagon,"
and hurried off, closely guarded, to Olean Point. Among those taken were
Harry Lucas, his wife, Lucinda, and seven children; Mrs. Jane Cooper and
four children, with some others, were also taken.
When Capt. Helm arrived at Olean Point with his stolen freight of human
beings, he was unexpectedly detained until he could build a boat,--which,
to his great dismay took him several days.
The sorrow and fearful apprehension of those wretched recaptured slaves
can not be described nor imagined by any one except those who have
experienced a like affliction. They had basked for a short season in the
sunshine of liberty, and thought themselves secure from the iron grasp of
Slavery, and the heel of the oppressor, when in the height of their
exultation, they had been thrust down to the lowest depths of misery and
despair, with the oppressor's heel again upon their necks. To be snatched
without a moment's warning from their homes and friends,--hurried and
crowded into the close slave wagon, regardless of age or sex, like sheep
for the slaughter, to be carried they knew not whither; but, doubtless
to the dismal rice swamp of the South,--was to them an agony too great for
endurance. The adult portion of the miserable company determined at last
to go no farther with their heartless master, but to resist unto death if
need be, before they surrendered themselves to the galling chains they had
so recently broken, or writhed again under the torturing lash of the
Harry Lucas and wife, and Jane Cooper, silently prepared themselves for
the conflict, determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible. When
they were nearly ready to start, Jane Cooper sent her oldest daughter and
younger sister, (she who is now our worthy friend Mrs. P. of Bath), into
the woods, and then when the men undertook to get Lucas and the two women
on board the boat the struggle commenced. The women fought the Captain and
his confederates like a lioness robbed of her whelps! They ran and dodged
about, making the woods ring with their screams and shouts of "Murder!
Murder! Help! Help! Murder!" until the Captain's party, seeing they could
do nothing to quell them, became so exceedingly alarmed lest they should
be detected in their illegal proceedings, that they ran off at full speed,
as if they thought an officer at their heels. In their hurry and fright
they caught two of Harry's children, and throwing them into the boat,
pushed off as quick as possible, amid the redoubled cries of the agonized
parents and sympathizing friends, all trying in every way possible, to
recover from the merciless grasp of the man-stealer, the two frightened
and screaming children. Guns were fired and horns sounded, but all to no
purpose--they held tightly the innocent victims of their cupidity, and
made good their escape.
Mr. D. C----, a gentleman of wealth and high standing in Steuben County,
became responsible for the fifty dollars which Capt. Helm promised to pay
Simon Watkins for his villainy in betraying, Judas-like, those unsuspecting
persons whom it should have been his pleasure to protect and defend
against their common oppressor,--his own as well as theirs.
In addition to this rascality, it can not appear very creditable to the
citizens of Steuben County, that Capt. Helm and Thomas McBirney should
both hold high and important offices at the time, and _after_ they had
been tried and convicted of the crime of kidnapping. Both of these
gentlemen, guilty of a State's prison offence, were judges of the common
pleas. T. McBirney was first judge in the county, and Capt. Helm was side
judge; and notwithstanding their participation in, and conviction of, a
flagrant outrage on the laws of God and man, they managed not only to
escape the penalty, but to retain their offices and their respectable
standing in community for years after.
LOCATE IN THE VILLAGE OF ROCHESTER.
I continued to labor in the employ of Mr. O. Comstock, whose son, Zeno,
was married during the year 1816, and purchased a farm on the site of the
present flourishing village of Lockport, to which he moved his family and
effects; but from a mistaken supposition that the Erie Canal, which was
then under contemplation, would take a more southern route, he was induced
to sell his farm in Hartland, which has proved a mine of wealth to the
more fortunate purchaser.
In the winter of that year, I was sent by my employer to Hartland with a
sleigh-load of produce, and passed through the village of Rochester, which
I had never before seen. It was a very small, forbidding looking place at
first sight, with few inhabitants, and surrounded by a dense forest.
I recollect that while pursuing my journey, I overtook a white man driving
a span of horses, who contended that I had not a right to travel the
public highway as other men did, but that it was my place to keep behind
him and his team. Being in haste I endeavored to pass him quietly, but he
would not permit it and hindered me several hours, very much to my
annoyance and indignation. This was, however, but a slight incident
indicating the bitter prejudice which every man seemed to feel against the
negro. No matter how industrious he might be, no matter how honorable in
his dealings, or respectful in his manners,--he was a "nigger," and as
such he must be treated, with a few honorable exceptions.
This year also, my father died in the village of Palmyra, where, as I have
before mentioned, he received injuries from which he never entirely
recovered. After about six months severe illness which he bore with
commendable patience and resignation, his spirit returned to God who gave
it; and his sorrowing friends and bereaved family followed his remains to
their final abode, where we laid him down to rest from unrequited labor
and dire oppression, until "all they who are in their graves shall hear
the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live forever," where
the "tears shall be wiped from off all faces"--and where the righteous
bondman shall no longer fear the driver's lash or master's frown, but
freely join in the song of "Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!"
My father had a good reputation for honesty and uprightness of character
among his employers and acquaintances, and was a kind, affectionate
husband and a fond, indulgent parent. His, I believe was the life and
death of a good man. "Peace be to his ashes."
The following season I commenced a new business--that of peddling in the
village of Rochester such articles as my employer, Mr. Comstock, desired
to sell: the products of his farm,--wheat, corn, oats, butter, cheese,
meat, and poultry--all of which met a ready sale, generally for cash at
liberal prices. That market was then but little known to the generality of
farmers, and the enterprising gentlemen of that place, were desirous of
encouraging commerce with the surrounding country, offered every
encouragement in their power. Hence, we found it a profitable business,
which I continued in for several months.
The present flourishing city of Rochester was then, as I have said, but a
village in its infancy, situated near the upper falls of the Genesee
River, and about seven miles from its mouth. Here, some time previously,
three gentlemen from Maryland bought a large tract of land, and as no
business man could fail to observe and appreciate its rare advantages they
commenced laying out a village. Sirs Fitzhugh, Carroll, and Rochester,
composed the company; but the management of the business devolved almost
wholly on Col. Rochester, whose wealth, enterprise, and intelligence well
qualified him for the undertaking; and as it had been assigned him to
cognominate the new village, I have heard it said that he jocularly gave
his reason for selecting its present title, as follows: "Should he call it
_Fitzhugh_ or _Carroll_, the slighted gentleman would certainly feel
offended with the other; but if he called it by his own name, they would
most likely _both_ be angry with him; so it was best to serve them alike."
There was then two grist mills,--one owned by Mr. Ely, and the other by
Mr. Brown; one small building for religious worship, occupied by the
Presbyterians on Carroll street (now State street); and but two stone
buildings within what now comprises that beautiful city. There were then
no brick buildings at all, but business was good; merchants and mechanics
from the East soon began to settle there and give it a thriving aspect.
About this time another company was formed, whose moving spirit was Mr. E.
Stone, a man of worth and talent; the object of which was to locate
another village at the head of navigation and about half way between the
mouth of the river and Rochester, which they called _Carthage_.
The company commenced building and improving the place so rapidly, that
many who came to purchase residences and business stations were at a loss
to decide which of the two places would finally become the center of
business. It, however, was soon perceivable that the advantage of water
privileges, stone, and access to both, was greatly in favor of Rochester.
At Carthage the Genesee is narrow and its banks steep and abrupt, rising
in many places three hundred feet above the bed of the river, which of
course render the privileges and business on it far less easy of access
for building purposes. I may have occasion to speak hereafter of the
expensive and magnificent bridge at Carthage, which was the wonder and
admiration of the times.
The following year I concluded to go into business for myself, and was as
much at loss as others, whether to locate at Rochester or Carthage; but
after considering the matter in all its bearings, and closely watching the
progress of events, my choice preponderated in favor of Rochester, and to
that place I went, designing to enter into business on my own account.
It was indeed painful to my feelings to leave the home and family of Mr.
Comstock, where I had experienced so much real comfort and happiness,
where I had ever been treated with uniform kindness, where resided those
kind friends to whom I felt under the greatest obligation for the freedom
and quietude I then enjoyed, as well as for the little knowledge of
business and of the world that I then possessed. Thinking, however, that
I could better my condition, I subdued, as well as I could, my rising
emotions, and after sincerely thanking them for their goodness and
favors--wishing them long life and prosperity,--I took my departure for
the chosen place of my destination.
Soon after I left Mr. Comstock's, that gentleman, sent his hired man,
named John Cline, to Rochester with a wagon load of produce to sell, as
had been his custom for some time. In vain the family looked for his
return at the usual hour in the evening, and began to wonder what had
detained him; but what was their horror and surprise to find, when they
arose the next morning, the horses standing at the door, and the poor
unfortunate man lying in the wagon, _dead_! How long they had been there
nobody knew; no one had heard them come in; and how the man had been
killed was a matter of mere conjecture. The coroner was sent for and an
inquest held, and yet it was difficult to solve the whole mystery.
The most probable explanation was, that he was sitting in the back part of
the wagon, and fell over on his left side, striking his neck on the edge
of the wagon box, breaking it instantly.
The verdict of the jury was, in accordance with these facts, "accidental
When I left Mr. Comstock's I had acquired quite a knowledge of reading,
writing, arithmetic, and had made a small beginning in English grammar.
It had been for some time a question which I found hard to decide, whether
or not I should pursue my studies as I had done. If I went into business
as I contemplated, I knew it would end my proficiency in the sciences; and
yet I felt a desire to accumulate more of the wealth that perisheth.
Considering too that I was advancing in age, and had no means of support
but by my own labor, I finally concluded to do what I have from that time
to this deeply regretted,--give up the pursuit of an education, and turn
my attention wholly to business. I do not regret having desired a
competency, nor for having labored to obtain it, but I _do_ regret not
having spared myself sufficient leisure to pursue some regular system of
reading and study; to have cultivated my mind and stored it with useful
Truly has it been said, "knowledge is power." But it is not like the
withering curse of a tyrant's power; not like the degrading and
brutalizing power of the slave-driver's lash, chains, and thumb-screws;
not like the beastly, demonical power of rum, nor like the brazen,
shameless power of lust; but a power that elevates and refines the
intellect; directs the affections; controls unholy passions; a power so
God-like in its character, that it enables its possessor to feel for the
oppressed of every clime, and prepares him to defend the weak and
What but ignorance renders the poor slave so weak and inefficient in
claiming his right to liberty, and the possession of his own being! Nor
will that God who is "no respecter of persons," hold him guiltless who
assumes unlimited control over his fellow. The chain of Slavery which
fetters every slave south of Mason and Dixon's Line, is as closely linked
around the master as the slave. The time has passed by when African blood
alone is enslaved. In Virginia as well as in some other slave States,
there is as much European blood in the veins of the enslaved as there is
African; and the increase is constantly in favor of the white population.
This fact alone speaks volumes, and should remind the slave-breeding
Southerner of that fearful retribution which must sooner or later overtake
In September, 1817, I commenced business in Rochester. Having rented a
room of Mr. A. Wakely, I established a meat market, which was supplied
mostly by my former employer, Mr. Comstock, and was liberally patronized
by the citizens; but there were butchers in the village who appeared to be
unwilling that I should have any share in public patronage. Sometimes they
tore down my sign, at others painted it black, and so continued to annoy
me until after I had one of their number arrested, which put a stop to
their unmanly proceedings.
The village was now rapidly increasing, and yet the surrounding country
was mostly a wilderness. Mr. E. Stone, who then owned the land on the east
side of the river, thought his farm a very poor one; he, however,
commenced clearing it in the midst of wild beasts and rattlesnakes, both
of which were abundant, and in a few years was richly rewarded for his
labor, in the sale of village lots, which commanded high prices.
In the summer of 1818, I commenced teaching a Sabbath School for the
neglected children of our oppressed race. For a while it was well
attended, and I hoped to be able to benefit in some measure the poor and
despised colored children, but the parents interested themselves very
little in the undertaking, and it shortly came to naught. So strong was
the prejudice then existing against the colored people, that very few of
the negroes seemed to have any courage or ambition to rise from the abject
degradation in which the estimation of the white man had placed him.
This year, also, I purchased a lot of land, eighteen by fifty feet,
situated on Main street, for which I was to pay five hundred dollars.
Having secured my land, I began making preparations for building, and
soon had a good two story dwelling and store, into which I moved my
effects, and commenced a more extensive business.
Some disadvantage as well as sport was occasioned on business men, who
resided on the confines of Ontario and Genesee Counties. It was indeed
laughable to witness the races and maneuvering of parties in those days
when men were imprisoned for debt. If a man in Ontario County had a
suspicion that an officer was on his track, he had only to step over the
line into Genesee, to be beyond the power of an officer's precept.
A great deal of trouble as well as unpleasant feeling was engendered by
the exercise of that law, which allowed the creditor so great advantage
over the debtor. This, together with the fact that very many of the
citizens of Rochester were men of small means, the more wealthy portion
felt called upon to protect their interests, by forming themselves into
what was called a "Shylock Society," the object of which was to obtain a
list of all the names of persons who had been, or were then, on "the
limits" for debt. This list of names was printed, and each member of the
society furnished with a copy, which enabled him to decide whether or not
to trust a man when he came to trade. The formation of this society gave
rise to another, whose members pledged themselves to have no dealing with
a member of the "Shylock Society," and also to publish all defaulters in
"high life," which served to check these oppressive measures and restore
Among others who came to settle in the thriving village of Rochester, was
a colored man named Daniel Furr, who came from the East. He soon became
acquainted with a very respectable young white lady, of good family, who
after a short acquaintance appeared to be perfectly enamored of her dusky
swain; and notwithstanding the existing prejudice, she did not scruple to
avow her affection for him,--a devotion which appeared to be as sincerely
returned by the young "Othello." They resolved to marry; but to this,
serious objections arose, and all that the lady's family and friends could
do to break off the match was done, but without effect. They could,
however, prevail on no one to perform the marriage ceremony in the
village, and finally concluded to go to a magistrate in the town of
Brighton, four miles distant. At this stage of the proceedings I was
appealed to, to accompany them. I took the matter into consideration and
came to the conclusion that I could take no active part in the affair, nor
bear any responsible station in the unpleasant occurrence. Is it no sin in
the sight of the Almighty, for Southern gentlemen(?) to mix blood and
amalgamate the races? And if allowed to them, is it not equally
justifiable when the commerce is prompted by affection rather than that of
lust and force? But I at length consented to accompany them, after
learning that all the mischief was already done that could be feared, and
that the gallant lover desired to marry the lady as the only atonement he
could make for the loss of her reputation.
We arrived at the house of the magistrate about one o'clock at night, and
all were soundly sleeping. They were, however, aroused, and when our
business was made known, an exciting scene followed. The magistrate
refused at first to marry them; and the lady of the house took aside the
intended bride, spending two hours in endeavoring to dissuade her from the
contemplated union; assuring her that her house should be freely opened to
her, that no attention should be spared during her expected confinement,
&c.; but all to no purpose. They returned to the parlor where the
magistrate again tried his power of persuasion, but with as little success
as his lady had met: and then he reluctantly married them. The newly-made
husband paid a liberal fee, and we took our leave. I returned to my home
to reflect on the scenes of the past night, and Mr. and Mrs. Furr to the
house of a friend of the bride in Penfield.
The report soon reached the village that the marriage had been
consummated, which produced a great excitement. Threats of an alarming
character were openly made against the "nigger" who had dared to marry a
white woman, although at her own request. And there was also a class of
persons who associated together, professing great friendship for the
persecuted husband, and often drew him into their company, pretending to
defend his cause while they were undoubtedly plotting his destruction.
One day, after Furr had been drinking rather freely with his pretended
friends, he was taken so violently ill, that a physician was immediately
called. I was with him when the doctor arrived. He gazed upon the
suffering man with an angry expression, and inquired in a tone of command,
"Daniel, what have you been doing?" In vain the poor creature begged for
relief, the doctor merely repeating his question. After looking at him for
some time, he finally administered a potion and hastily left the room,
saying as he did so, "that Furr was as sure to die as though his head had
been cut off." And so it proved, though not so speedily as the medical man
had predicted; nor did he ever visit him again, notwithstanding he
lingered for several days in the most intense agony. It was a strong man
grappling with disease and death, and the strife was a fearful one. But
death at last ended the scene, with none of all his professed friends,
except his faithful but heart-broken wife, to administer to his
necessities. No sound save that of the moaning widow broke the stillness
of his death-chamber. A few friends collected, who prepared the emaciated
body for the grave; enclosing it in a rude board coffin it was conveyed to
its last resting place, followed by three or four men, just as the shades
of evening had fallen upon this sin-cursed world; there in darkness and
silence we lowered his remains, and left the gloomy spot to return to his
disconsolate wife, who had been too ill to join the meager procession.
It has ever been my conviction that Furr was poisoned, most likely by some
of his false friends who must have mingled some deadly drug with his
drinks or food; nor do I believe that the medicine administered by the
physician was designed to save his life. But to Him who knoweth all
things, we leave the matter.
His despised, forsaken, and bereaved wife soon followed him to the grave,
where she sleeps quietly with her innocent babe by her side; and where
probably this second Desdemonia finds the only refuge which would have
been granted her by a heartless and persecuting world.
Oh, when will this nation "cease to do evil and learn to do well?" When
will they judge character in accordance with its moral excellence, instead
of the complexion a man unavoidably bears to the world?
INCIDENTS IN ROCHESTER AND VICINITY.
After long petitioning, the inhabitants of that section succeeded in
having the new county of Monroe set off from Genesee and Ontario Counties,
in 1821, which gave a new impulse to the business interests of the already
flourishing town, which had heretofore labored under some disadvantages in
consequence of having all public business done at Canandaigua or Batavia.
About this time, too, was the Carthage bridge built by a company of
enterprising gentlemen of that village which at that day was considered
one of the wonders of the age; but as its history is well known to all
interested in the enterprises of those days, it is only necessary to say,
that the magnificent structure, so grand in its appearance, such a pattern
of mechanical ingenuity, exhibiting in all its vast proportions, both
strength and beauty, combined with utility and grandeur; and erected at
such an enormous expense of time, labor, and cash, was destined soon to
It had cost some ten thousand dollars; and had been warranted by the
builders to stand one year. How great then must have been the loss and
disappointment when in a little more than twenty-four hours after the time
specified, the ruins of that beautiful structure were found floating on
the broad bosom of the Genesee! And yet when we take into consideration
the vast amount of human life which hourly passed over its solid surface,
we can but wonder at the intervention of a kind Providence which prevented
any loss of life at the time of its fall. A child had but just passed over
it, when with one general crash it sank to the waters below; mocking in
its rapid flight, the wisdom of the architect and foresight of frail
humanity. The fall of Carthage bridge was indeed a calamity felt by the
public generally, and sounded the death-knell of all future greatness to
Carthage, or at least for some years to come.
About this time the village was thrown into a state of excitement by the
arrest of a colored woman named Ellen, who it was charged had escaped from
service due to a Mr. D., south of Mason and Dixon's Line. She had been
arrested in accordance with a law passed by Congress in 1793, which
forbids persons owing service in one State to flee to another; and which
also obliges those receiving such service, to render to the claimant
any fugitive from labor due, &c. Poor Ellen! She had many friends and able
counsel, but nothing short of an open violation of the law of the land,
could prevent her return to the house of bondage. She was tried and given
up to him who claimed dominion over her. Hopeless and heart-broken, she
was escorted from the boasted land and village of freedom, by a company of
the "Light Horse," under the command of Capt. Curtis. One poor, persecuted
slave woman, upon whose heart had fallen a shadow darker than death's;
driving every earthly hope of liberty from her wounded spirit; helpless
and forlorn! She indeed must have required this military parade--this
show of power! And that too, by men who throw up their caps with a shout
for freedom and equal rights! Oh, "consistency, thou art a jewel!"
As I recollect but one other incident of the kind occurring in Rochester,
I will now name it.
A colored man named Davis, generally known as "Doctor Davis," with a
reputation unsullied for industry, truth and sobriety, was arrested as a
fugitive from slave labor in Kentucky. Two men came on from that State,
acting in the double capacity of agents for the claimant and witnesses
against the slave. They employed Mr. L. as counsel, and hastened on the
trial of the afflicted African. When it became generally known that Davis
was arrested, and about to be tried, the excitement grew intense among all
classes; but more particularly among the colored people. When the trial
came on, the Court room was crowded to overflowing, and every avenue
leading to it densely thronged with deeply anxious persons, assembled to
witness the result. It became evident, however, that the poor man must be
given up to his grasping master, unless some means were devised to rescue
him from the power of an unjust law. His friends were on the alert, and as
the trial proceeded, the colored men found an opportunity to get him into
a corner of the crowded apartment; where, while the officers stood at the
door, they dressed him in disguise, and otherwise so completely changed
his personal appearance, that he passed out of the Court room, undetected
by the officers, and as all supposed was safely pursuing his way to
The hawk-eyed counsel for the Kentuckians, however, too soon observed
exultation written on every dusky countenance, to keep quiet. Starting to
his feet in great alarm, he cried out "Where is Davis?" And oh, how that
question startled every one present. Every eye gazed hither and thither,
and every ear intently listened for the answer. After a moment of
breathless silence, the excited counselor was assured that the "bird had
flown," which announcement was received with a rapturous shout of joy by
the audience, greatly, however, to the discomfiture of the gentlemen from
Kentucky, who had thought themselves so sure of their prize. Nor would
they be thwarted now. It was not yet too late to overtake their victim,
and slavery required at their hands a sacrifice which they were ready to
make. Hand-bills were in immediate circulation, offering a reward of fifty
dollars for the apprehension of the flying fugitive. Fifty dollars, for
the body and soul of a man to plunge into the degradation of Slavery!
Fifty dollars for the ruin of a fellow being, for whom Christ gave his
precious life! Yes, fifty dollars are offered to any human blood-hound who
will hunt and worry the poor slave, who must fly from this boasted land of
liberty, to seek protection in the dominion of England's Queen!
Unfortunately for Davis, some of these hand-bills were thrown on board the
very packet on which he had embarked for Buffalo; nor was this all. The
bills would have left him uninjured, but a scoundrel--an apology for a
man--was there also, who, for the consideration of fifty dollars was
willing to compromise all pretensions to manhood and humanity, and drag
from the boat the panting slave, whom he cast beneath the heel of his
oppressor. When Davis was finally retaken, those Kentucky dealers in human
chattels, held him with a grasp that banished all hope of escape by
flight; and then in his sorrow and despair the wretched, hopeless man
cried out "Oh, my God, must I return to the hell of Slavery? Save me, Oh,
dear Lord, save this, thy helpless, friendless servant, from a fate so
dreadful! Oh, Christian friends and neighbors, I appeal to you to rescue
me from a life far more terrible than death in any form! Oh, God, is there
no protection for me in the laws of New York? I claim it, by all that is
sacred in her past history! Give me liberty or death! or death!" he
repeated, with a shudder; then casting one glance of hopeless agony on his
persecutors, he secretly drew from his pocket a razor, and before he could
be prevented he drew it across his throat, and fell gasping in the midst
of his slave-hunting tormentors, while a collection of bystanders cried
"Shame! shame! on the institution of Slavery!"
Poor Davis was not dead, but supposing he soon would be, these gentlemen
were requested to give security, and indemnify the town for all expenses
it might incur on Davis' account. But instead of giving their bond as
requested, they took a sudden start for Kentucky, where it was very
generally desired they might remain.
With good treatment, Davis, after a long time, recovered sufficiently to
be removed by his friends to a place of safety; and when so far restored
as to be able he returned to Rochester, where he received assistance which
enabled him to reach Canada. I have often heard from him during his
residence in that country, where no slaves exist and he has done well,
having quite an extensive practice in medicine, and lives in the quiet
enjoyment of that liberty which he struggled so hard to obtain and came so
near losing; yet, to this day he prefers death to Slavery. And who does
not? None, who have breathed the air of freedom after an experience of
unrequited toil to enrich a brutal and selfish master. Truly is it said,
"a contented slave is a degraded being."
SAD REVERSES OF CAPT. HELM.
I must again introduce to the kind reader my old master, Capt. Helm, who
we left residing in Bath, several years ago. And as I have before
intimated he had now become a very poor man; indeed so reduced was he now
that he lived with one of his slave women, and was supported by public
charity! Learning, too, that I had saved by my industry a few hundred
dollars, it seemed very congenial with his avaricious habits to endeavor
to obtain what I possessed. In accordance with his plan he employed a
lawyer named Lewland to come to my place of business, which he did, and
demanded of me to pay Capt. Helm two hundred dollars. He also left a
notice, forbidding all persons to take or destroy any property in my
possession; and then impudently inquired how I expected to gain my
freedom; if I thought of applying for a writ of _habaeus corpus_; and many
other questions; to which I replied that I should pay no money on the
order of Capt. Helm; apply for no writ; but should continue to maintain my
personal rights and enjoy the freedom which was already mine, and which I
designed to keep, assuring him that the Captain had forfeited his claim,
if he had any, to me or my services, when he hired me to Mr. Tower.
He hung about me for a day or two, and then left me to pursue my business
--I saw no more of him. Some time afterward Mr. H.E. Rochester informed me
that he had a _subpoena_ for me, which I found was issued by the
direction of Capt. Helm. By Mr. Rochester's counsel, I took it to Mr. A.
Sampson, who assured me that my old master had commenced a suit against me
in the Court of Equity, and the case would be tried before Wm. B.
Rochester, Esq., who was one of the circuit judges. Capt. Helm claimed
every particle of property I possessed; a claim that occasioned me great
anxiety and some cost.
Mr. Sampson encouraged me to hope, however, that the case would be
dismissed as two other cases of that kind had been.
I labored to the best of my ability to prepare myself for the trial, which
was to decide whether I had a right to possess myself and command my own
services and earnings, or whether all belonged to Capt. Helm. As I looked
forward with anxious forebodings to the day appointed for the suit to
commence, I was startled by the announcement of my old master's _death_!
Yes, Capt. Helm was dead; and with him died the law suit. He who had so
wronged me, who had occasioned me so much suffering and sorrow had gone to
his account. He who had once been thought to be one of the wealthiest as
well as one of the greatest men in the county, died a pauper--neglected
and despised, and scarcely awarded a decent burial. Like his wife, who
died such a horrid death, he had been reared in affluence and was an
inheritor of vast possessions, but his home was in a slave State; he was
raised on a plantation, and nurtured in the atmosphere of Slavery.
In his youth he had contracted the habit of drinking to excess, beside
that of gambling, horse-racing and the like, which followed him through
life. Forgotten and scorned in his poverty by many who had partaken of his
abundance, sipped his wine, and rode his fast horses.
During the last war his princely mansion was ever open to the officers of
the army, and many a wounded soldier has been cheered and comforted by his
hospitality. But now he is regarded as no better than his poorest slave,
and lies as lowly as they, in the narrow house appointed for all the
My old master had two brothers: the oldest, Thomas Helm, was a Captain in
the United States Army, and had been in many hard-fought battles. His
younger brother, William, was a Captain also; but Thomas was the man to
awaken curiosity. I have lived with him, but never knew of his going
unarmed for an hour, until he left Virginia and came to Steuben County,
where he died. When at the South, I have seen strangers approach him, but
they were invariably commanded to "stand" and to "approach him at their
peril." He finally came to the State of New York, bringing with him his
"woman" with whom he lived, and two children, with whom he settled on a
piece of land given him by my old master, where the old soldier lived,
died, and was buried on one of his small "clearings" under an old apple
tree. He owned a few slaves, but at his death his "woman" collected every
thing she could, and among the rest, two or three slave children, to whom
she had no right or claim whatever, and made her way to Kentucky. About a
year ago I visited the spot where the brave old defender of his country
had been buried, but found very little to mark the resting place of the
brother of my old master. They had passed away. Their wealth, power and
bravery had come to nought; and no tribute was now paid to the memory of
one of "Old Virginia's best families." The _blood_ of which they were wont
to boast, was now no more revered than that which commingled with the
African and circulated in the veins of his despised and downtrodden
BRITISH EMANCIPATION OF SLAVERY.
As time passed on I found myself progressing in a profitable business. I
had paid for my house and lot, and purchased another adjoining, on which I
had erected a valuable brick building. The Lord prospered all my
undertakings and I felt grateful for my good fortune. I kept all kinds of
groceries and grain, which met a ready sale; and now I began to look about
me for a partner in life, to share my joys and sorrows, and to assist me
on through the tempestuous scenes of a life-long voyage. Such a companion
I found in the intelligent and amiable Miss B----, to whom I was married
on the eleventh of May, 1825. She was the youngest daughter of a
particular friend, who had traveled extensively and was noted for his
honesty and intelligence.
About this time, too, "Sam Patch" made his last and fatal leap from a
scaffold twenty five feet above the falls of Genesee, which are ninety-six
feet in height. From thence he plunged into the foaming river to rise no
more in life. The following spring the body of the foolish man was found
and buried, after having lain several months in the turbulent waters of
This year was also rendered memorable by the efficient labors of Professor
Finney, through whose faithful preaching of the gospel, many were brought
to a saving knowledge of the truth.
The "Emancipation Act" had now been passed, and the happy time for it to
take effect was drawing nigh. Slavery could no longer exist in the Empire
State nor receive the protection of her laws. Would to God it had so
continued to be what it professed--the refuge of the bondman and the home
of the free. But alas! Now the flying fugitive from Slavery finds no
security within her borders; he must flee onward, to the dominion of
Queen Victoria, ere he rests, lest the exaction of the odious "Fugitive
Slave Law" return him to the house of bondage.
But the Emancipation Bill had been passed, and the colored people felt it
to be a time fit for rejoicing. They met in different places and
determined to evince their gratitude by a general celebration. In
Rochester they convened in large numbers, and resolved to celebrate the
glorious day of freedom at Johnson's Square, on the _fifth_ day of July.
This arrangement was made so as not to interfere with the white population
who were everywhere celebrating the day of their independence--"the
Glorious Fourth,"--for amid the general and joyous shout of liberty,
prejudice had sneeringly raised the finger of scorn at the poor African,
whose iron bands were loosed, not only from English oppression, but the
more cruel and oppressive power of Slavery.
They met according to previous appointment, Mr. A. H----, having been
chosen president, Mr. H. E----, marshal, and Mr. H. D----, reader of the
"Act of Emancipation," and "The Declaration of Independence." A large
audience of both white and colored people assembled, and the day which had
been ushered in by the booming cannon, passed by in the joyous realization
that we were indeed free men. To the music of the band the large
procession marched from the square to the hotel, where ample provision was
made for dinner, after listening to the following oration, which I had
been requested to deliver.
I must not omit to mention that on the morning of that happy day, a
committee of colored men waited upon the Hon. Matthew Brown, and in behalf
of the citizens of Monroe County, presented their thanks for his noble
exertions in the Legislature, in favor of the Act by which thousands were
made free men.
They were received by that worthy gentleman with grateful and pleasing
assurances of his continued labor in behalf of freedom.
Now I will lay before the reader my address to the audience on that
ORATION--TERMINATION OF SLAVERY.
The age in which we live is characterised in no ordinary degree, by a
certain boldness and rapidity in the march of intellectual and political
improvements. Inventions the most surprising; revolutions the most
extraordinary, are springing forth, and passing in quick succession before
us,--all tending most clearly to the advancement of mankind towards that
state of earthly perfection and happiness, from which they are yet so far
distant, but of which their nature and that of the world they inhabit,
are most certainly capable. It is at all times pleasing and instructive
to look backward by the light of history, and forward by the light of
analogical reasoning, to behold the gradual advancement of man from
barbarism to civilization, from civilization toward the higher perfections
of his nature; and to hope--nay, confidently believe, that the time is not
far distant when liberty and equal rights being everywhere established,
morality and the religion of the gospel everywhere diffused,--man shall
no longer lift his hand for the oppression of his fellow man; but all,
mutually assisting and assisted, shall move onward throughout the journey
of human life, like the peaceful caravan across the burning sands of
Arabia. And never, on this glorious anniversary, so often and so
deservedly celebrated by millions of free men, but which we are to-day for
the first time called to celebrate--never before, has the eye been able to
survey the past with so much satisfaction, or the future with hopes and
expectations so brilliant and so flattering; it is to us a day of two-fold
joy. We are men, though the strong hand of prejudice and oppression is
upon us; we can, and we will rejoice in the advancement of the rapidly
increasing happiness of mankind, and especially of our own race. We can,
and we will rejoice in the growing power and glory of the country we
inhabit. Although Almighty God has not permitted us to remain in the land
of our forefathers and our own, the glories of national independence, and
the sweets of civil and religious liberty, to their full extent; but the
strong hand of the spoiler has borne us into a strange land, yet has He of
His great goodness given us to behold those best and noblest of his gifts
to man, in their fairest and loveliest forms; and not only have we beheld
them, but we have already felt much of their benignant influence. Most
of us have hitherto enjoyed many, very many of the dearest rights of
freemen. Our lives and personal liberties have been held as sacred and
inviolable; the rights of property have been extended to us, in this land
of freedom; our industry has been, and still is, liberally rewarded; and
so long as we live under a free and happy government which denies us not
the protection of its laws, why should we fret and vex ourselves because
we have had no part in framing them, nor anything to do with their
administration. When the fruits of the earth are fully afforded us, we do
not wantonly refuse them, nor ungratefully repine because we have done
nothing towards the cultivation of the tree which produces them. No, we
accept them with lively gratitude; and their sweetness is not embittered
by reflecting upon the manner in which they were obtained. It is the
dictate of sound wisdom, then, to enjoy without repining, the freedom,
privileges, and immunities which wise and equal laws have awarded us--nay,
proudly to rejoice and glory in their production, and stand ready at all
times to defend them at the hazard of our lives, and of all that is most
dear to us.
But are we alone shut out and excluded from any share in the
administration of government? Are not the clergy, a class of men equally
ineligible to office? A class of men almost idolized by their countrymen,
ineligible to office! And are we alone excluded from what the world
chooses to denominate polite society? And are not a vast majority of the
polar race excluded? I know not why, but mankind of every age, nation, and
complexion have had lower classes; and, as a distinction, they have chosen
to arrange themselves in the grand spectacle of human life, like seats in
a theater--rank above rank, with intervals between them. But if any
suppose that happiness or contentment is confined to any single class,
or that the high or more splendid order possesses any substantial
advantage in those respects over their more lowly brethren, they must be
wholly ignorant of all rational enjoyment. For what though the more humble
orders cannot mingle with the higher on terms of equality. This, if
rightly considered, is not a curse but a blessing. Look around you, my
friends: what rational enjoyment is not within your reach? Your homes are
in the noblest country in the world, and all of that country which your
real happiness requires, may at any time be yours. Your industry can
purchase it; and its righteous laws will secure you in its possession.
But, to what, my friends, do you owe all these blessings? Let not the
truth be concealed. You owe them to that curse, that bitter scourge of
Africa, whose partial abolishment you are this day convened to celebrate.
Slavery has been your curse, but it shall become your rejoicing. Like the
people of God in Egypt, you have been afflicted; but like them too, you
have been redeemed. You are henceforth free as the mountain winds. Why
should we, on this day of congratulation and joy, turn our view upon the
origin of African Slavery? Why should we harrow up our minds by dwelling
on the deceit, the forcible fraud and treachery that have been so long
practised on your hospitable and unsuspecting countrymen? Why speak of
fathers torn from the bosom of their families, wives from the embraces of
their husbands, children from the protection of their parents; in fine, of
all the tender and endearing relations of life dissolved and trampled
under foot, by the accursed traffic in human flesh? Why should we
remember, in joy and exultation, the thousands of our countrymen who are
to-day, in this land of gospel light, this boasted land of civil and
religious liberty, writhing under the lash and groaning beneath the
grinding weight of Slavery's chain? I ask, Almighty God, are they who do
such things thy chosen and favorite people? But, away with such thoughts
as these; we will rejoice, though sobs interrupt the songs of our
rejoicing, and tears mingle in the cup we pledge to Freedom; our harps
though they have long hung neglected upon the willows, shall this day be
strung full high to the notes of gladness. On this day, in one member at
least of this mighty Republic, the Slavery of our race has ceased forever!
No more shall the insolent voice of a master be the main-spring of our
actions, the sole guide of our conduct; no more shall their hands labor in
degrading and profitless servitude. Their toils will henceforth be
voluntary, and be crowned with the never failing reward of industry.
Honors and dignities may perhaps never be ours; but wealth, virtue, and
happiness are all within the compass of our moderate exertions. And how
shall we employ a few moments better than in reflecting upon the means by
which these are to be obtained. For what can be more proper and more
profitable to one who has just gained an invaluable treasure, than to
consider how he may use it to the best possible advantage? And here I
need not tell you that a strict observance to all the precepts of the
gospel ought to be your first and highest aim; for small will be the value
of all that the present world can bestow, if the interests of the world to
come are neglected and despised. None of you can be ignorant of what the
gospel teaches. Bibles may easily be obtained; nor can there be a greater
disgrace, or a more shameful neglect of duty than for a person of mature
age, and much more, for any father of a family to be without that most
precious of all books--the Bible. If, therefore, any of you are destitute
of a Bible, hasten to procure one. Will any of you say that it can be of
no use to you, or that you cannot read it? Look then to that noblest of
all remedies for this evil, the Sunday School--that most useful of all
institutions. There you may learn without loss of time or money, that of
which none should be ignorant--to read.
Let me exhort you with earnestness to give your most sincere attention to
this matter. It is of the utmost importance to every one of you. Let your
next object be to obtain as soon as may be, a competency of the good
things of this world; immense wealth is not necessary for you, and would
but diminish your real happiness. Abject poverty is and ought to be
regarded as the greatest, most terrible of all possible evils. It should
be shunned as a most deadly and damning sin. What then are the means by
which so dreadful a calamity may be avoided? I will tell you, my friends,
in these simple words--hear and ponder on them; write them upon the
tablets of your memory; they are worthy to be inscribed in letters of gold
upon every door-post--"industry, prudence, and economy." Oh! they are
words of power to guide you to respectability and happiness. Attend, then,
to some of the laws which industry impose, while you have health and
strength. Let not the rising sun behold you sleeping or indolently lying
upon your beds. Rise ever with the morning light; and, till sun-set, give
not an hour to idleness. Say not human nature cannot endure it. It can--it
almost requires it. Sober, diligent, and moderate labor does not diminish
it, but on the contrary, greatly adds to the health, vigor, and duration
of the human frame. Thousands of the human race have died prematurely of
disease engendered by indolence and inactivity. Few, very few indeed,
have suffered by the too long continuance of bodily exertion. As you give
the day to labor, so devote the night to rest; for who that has drunk and
reveled all night at a tippling shop, or wandered about in search of
impious and stolen pleasures, has not by so doing not only committed a
most heinous and damning sin in the sight of Heaven, but rendered himself
wholly unfit for the proper discharge of the duties of the coming day. Nor
think that industry or true happiness do not go hand in hand; and to him
who is engaged in some useful avocation, time flies delightfully and
rapidly away. He does not, like the idle and indolent man, number the slow
hours with sighs--cursing both himself and them for the tardiness of their
flight. Ah, my friends, it is utterly impossible for him who wastes time
in idleness, ever to know anything of true happiness. Indolence, poverty,
wretchedness, are inseparable companions,--fly them, shun idleness, as
from eminent and inevitable destruction. In vain will you labor unless
prudence and economy preside over and direct all your exertions. Remember
at all times that money even in your own hands, is power; with it you may
direct as you will the actions of your pale, proud brethren. Seek after
and amass it then, by just and honorable means; and once in your hand
never part with it but for a full and fair equivalent; nor let that
equivalent be something which you do not want, and for which you cannot
obtain more than it cost you. Be watchful and diligent and let your mind
be fruitful in devises for the honest advancement of your worldly
interest. So shall you continually rise in respectability, in rank and
standing in this so late and so long the land of your captivity.
Above all things refrain from the excessive use of ardent spirits. There
is no evil whose progress is so imperceptible; and at the same time so
sure and deadly, as that of intemperance; and by slow degrees it
undermines health, wealth, and happiness, till all at length tumble into
one dreadful mass of ruin. If God has given you children, he has in so
doing imposed upon you a most fearful responsibility; believe me, friends,
you will answer to God for every misfortune suffered, and every crime
committed by them which right education and example could have taught them
to avoid. Teach them reverence and obedience to the laws both of God and
man. Teach them sobriety, temperance, justice, and truth. Let their minds
be rightly instructed--imbued with kindness and brotherly love, charity,
and benevolence. Let them possess at least so much learning as is to be
acquired in the common schools of the country. In short, let their
welfare be dearer to you than any earthly enjoyment; so shall they be the
richest of earthly blessings.
My countrymen, let us henceforth remember that we are men. Let us as one
man, on this day resolve that henceforth, by continual endeavors to do
good to all mankind, we will claim for ourselves the attention and respect
which as men we should possess. So shall every good that can be the
portion of man, be ours--this life shall be happy, and the life to come,
* * * * *
The opinion of the public regarding the celebration and performances of
that day, together with the behavior of the colored people, will be seen
by the following short extract from the _Rochester Daily Advertiser_,
published soon after the occurrence of those events:
"ABOLITION OF SLAVERY.
"The extinction of that curse by the laws of our State, was marked
with appropriate rejoicings on the part of the African race in this
neighborhood. A procession of considerable length and respectable
appearance, preceded by a band of music, moved from Brown's Island through
the principal streets to the public square, yesterday forenoon, where a
stage and seats were erected, for the speakers and audience. The throne of
Grace was addressed by the Rev. Mr. Allen, a colored clergyman. The act
declaring all slaves free in this State, on the fourth day of July, 1827,
was read, which was succeeded by the reading of the Declaration of
Independence and delivery of an oration by Mr. Steward. We have heard but
one opinion from several gentlemen who were present, and that was highly
complimentary to the composition and delivery of the same.
"The exercises were concluded by a short discourse from the Rev. Mr.
Allen, and the procession moved off to partake of an entertainment
prepared for the occasion. The thing was got up in good order, and passed
off remarkably well. The conduct of the emancipated race was exemplary
throughout, and if their future enjoyment of freedom be tinctured with the
prudence that characterised their celebration of its attainment, the
country will have no reason to mourn the philanthropy that set them free."
* * * * *
Thus ended our first public celebration of our own and our country's
freedom. All conducted themselves with the strictest propriety and
decorum, retiring to their homes soberly and in proper season.
CONDITION OF FREE COLORED PEOPLE.
Pursuant to a call given in the summer of 1830, by the colored residents
of Philadelphia, for a National Convention of their race, I started in
company with a friend to attend it; having previously engaged seats inside
Mr. Coe's stage-coach as far as Utica, N.Y., to which place we had paid
our fare the same as other passengers.
We rode on to Auburn very pleasantly, but when at that place, we with
others moved to resume our seats; we were met by a stern rebuke for
presuming to seat ourselves on the inside, and were ordered to ride on the
outside of the coach. In vain we expostulated; in vain we reminded the
driver of the agreement, and of our having paid for an inside seat; we
were told to take the outside of the coach or remain behind.
Desiring to attend the convention, we concluded to go on, submitting to
this rank injustice and dishonesty, until our return, when we determined
to sue the proprietor of that line of stages. An opportunity was offered
soon after, when I commenced a suit for damages against Mr. Sherwood, who
was the great stage proprietor of those days. He, however, cleared himself
by declaring that he was in no way responsible for the failures of Mr.
Coe, to whom I must look for remuneration. I never found it convenient to
sue Mr. Coe, and so the matter ended.
We passed through New York City to the place of our destination, where we
found many of our brethren already assembled.
Philadelphia, which I now saw for the first time, I thought the most
beautiful and regularly laid out city I ever beheld. Here had lived the
peaceable, just, and merciful William Penn; and here many of his adherents
still reside. Here, too, was the place where the Rt. Rev. Bishop Allen,
the first colored American bishop in the United States, had labored so
successfully. When the Methodists sought to crush by cruel prejudice the
poor African, he stepped boldly forward in defence of their cause, which
he sustained, with a zeal and talent ever to be revered.
Thousands were brought to a knowledge of the truth, and induced "to seek
first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness," through his
instrumentality. Through the benign influence of this good man, friends
and means were raised for his poor brethren, to build houses of worship,
where they would no more be dragged from their knees when in prayer, and
told to seat themselves by the door. Oh, how much good can one good and
faithful man do, when devoted to the cause of humanity--following in the
footsteps of the blessed Christ; doing unto others as they would be done
by; and remembering those in bonds as bound with them. What though his
skin be black as ebony, if the heart of a brother beats in his bosom? Oh,
that man could judge of character as does our Heavenly Father; then would
he judge righteous judgment, and cease to look haughtily down upon his
afflicted fellow, because "his skin is colored not like his own."
We convened at the specified time, and organized by appointing Rev. R.
Allen, president, A. Steward, vice-president, and J.C. Morrell, secretary.
The convention which continued in session three days, was largely attended
by all classes of people, and many interesting subjects were ably
discussed; but the most prominent object was the elevation of our race.
Resolutions were passed calculated to encourage our brethren to take some
action on the subjects of education and mechanism. Agricultural pursuits
were also recommended;--and here allow me to give my opinion in favor of
the latter, as a means of sustenance and real happiness.
I knew many colored farmers, all of whom are well respected in the
neighborhood of their residence. I wish I could count them by hundreds;
but our people mostly flock to cities where they allow themselves to be
made "hewers of wood and drawers of water;" barbers and waiters,--when, if
they would but retire to the country and purchase a piece of land,
cultivate and improve it, they would be far richer and happier than they
can be in the crowded city. It is a mistaken idea that there is more
prejudice against color in the country. True, it exists everywhere, but I
regard it less potent in the country, where a farmer can live less
dependant on his oppressors. The sun will shine, the rains descend, and
the earth bring forth her increase, just as readily for the colored
agriculturist as for his pale face neighbor. Yes, and our common mother
Earth will, when life is ended, as readily open her bosom to receive your
remains in a last embrace, as that of the haughty scorner of our rights.
In the city, however, there is no escape from the crushing weight of
prejudice, to ramble over fields of your own cultivation; to forget your
sorrows in the refreshing air that waves the loaded branches of an orchard
of your own planting; nor to solace yourself with a gambol over the green
meadow with your little ones. It is all toil, toil, with a burthened heart
until shadows fall across the hearth-stone, and dismal forebodings darken
the fireside, from whence the weary wife retires to refresh herself in
broken slumber for the renewed toil of another day. Will not my friends
think of these and many other advantages in favor of a country life, and
After the close of the convention, I returned to my business in Rochester.
Until the discussion, which commenced about this time on the subject of
temperance, I had been engaged, as most other grocers were at that time,
in the sale of spirituous liquors somewhat extensively. My attention had
never before been called especially to the subject, though I had witnessed
some of its direst evils; but now, when I saw the matter in its true
light, I resolved to give it up. I was doing well and making handsome
profits on the sale of alcoholic beverages. I had also experienced a good
deal of trouble with it. My license allowed me to sell any quantity less
than five gallons; but it was a fine of twenty-five dollars if drunk on
the premises,--one half of the sum to go to the complainant. If a vicious
man got out of funds it became both easy and common for him to give some
person a sixpence, half of which was to be spent for whisky, which made
him a witness for the other, who would make immediate complaint, and
collect his share of the fine. Nor could I prevent men who came with
bottles, and purchased whisky, from drinking it where they pleased;
consequently I was often called to answer to such complaints.
One morning a man entered my store and called for liquor, which the clerk
gave him. After drinking it, he went directly to the office of A. House,
Esq., and entered a complaint against the clerk who had served him; then
stepped out for consultation with his counsel. At that moment I arrived at
the office of the magistrate to whom I immediately made complaint against
myself, relating to him also just how the event happened. In a few minutes
the original complainant returned, to whom 'Squire House explained that he
should have arraigned the proprietor of the store, and not the clerk as he
had done. Determined on making a speculation, however, he demanded a
precept for myself. The 'Squire, laughing most heartily, informed him that
he was too late,--that Mr. Steward had the start of him, having just
entered a complaint against himself, by which he saves one half of the
fine. The man walked out, looking rather "cheap," nor did he or others
annoy me afterwards by making complaints of that kind.
But now I saw, as never before, the sin of selling that which would make
beasts of men, and only stopped to inquire what was duty in the matter.
All the arguments in favor of its sale were more forcible then than now.
All classes of persons used and drank the article; and it required more
moral courage, to relinquish the business than it does now. Nevertheless,
it appeared plain to my mind, that duty to God and my fellow-men required
it, and I cheerfully gave it up forever.
I could not conscientiously, nor do I see how any man can, continue to
traffic in this most fruitful source of pauperism and crime. No benefit
whatever arises from its use as a beverage or from its sale. It is a curse
to the drinker, to the seller, and to the community. Those who are
licensed venders take from the government fifty dollars for every one put
into the treasury. The money paid for licenses is a very meager
compensation for the beggary, crime, and bloodshed which rum produces. All
who have any knowledge of the statistics of the State, or of our prison
and police records know, that intemperance has done more to fill the
prisons, work-houses, alms-houses, and asylums of the State than all other
influences combined; and yet men uphold the traffic. Their favors are for
those who love its use and sale, and their anathemas for him, who is
striving to save a nation of drunkards from swift destruction; yea, their
own sires, sons, and brothers from the grave of the inebriate.
When in Rochester a short time since, soliciting subscribers for this
work, I stepped into a distillery and asked a man to subscribe for it. He
hesitated in his decision until he took a tumbler and filling it with
brandy, invited me to drink. I thanked him, saying I never drink brandy.
"Never drink!" he growled, "then I tell you, sir, that you stand a much
better chance of being struck by lightning than of getting a subscriber
here." Oh, very well; most likely had he agreed to take a copy, he would
have been sorely displeased with my views of the liquor traffic, and
perhaps with the compliment I have here paid him.
But in the foregoing remarks I have said but a tithe of what my heart
feels, when I think of the sufferings occasioned by drunkenness.
Even the cup of the burthened slave, writhing in his chains and toiling
under the lash, is not full of bitterness until the demon rum throws in
its dregs and fills it to overflowing.
How often does it occur that a passionate master, heated with wine,--mad
with himself and all about him, pours out his vengeful ire on the head and
back of some helpless slave, and leaves him weltering in his blood! How
often may be heard the agonized wail of the slave mother, deploring the
departure of some innocent child that has been lost in gambling, while the
master was intoxicated!
How often do the shrieks of the poor but virtuous slave girl, ring through
the midnight air, as she, pleading for death rather than life, rushes
screaming away from a brutal master, infuriated and drunk! If it is a
fact, and certainly it is, that the master is thus affected by his costly
wine; what, think you, will be the temper and condition of the coarse and
heartless overseer who drinks his miserable whisky or bad brandy? It is
horrible, beyond description. I have often myself seen a drunken overseer,
after pouring down dram after dram, mount his horse and ride furiously
among the slaves, beating, bruising, mangling with his heavy cowhide every
one he chanced to meet, until the ground presented the appearance of a
PERSECUTION OF THE COLORED PEOPLE.
While the colored population of New York were rejoicing in the measure of
freedom allowed them by the more wholesome laws of that State, our
brethren in Ohio were being oppressed and maltreated by the unjust and
odious "black laws" of that professedly free State, enacted with special
reference to the disposition of the colored race.
In Cincinnati, O., within sight of the slave land of Kentucky, a terrible
persecution had commenced, and an effort was made to drive all colored
persons from the place.
Our people had settled there in large numbers, but now a mob had assembled
in that city with the determination to drive them, not only from their
homes and city, but from the State. A bloody conflict ensued, in which the
white and black man's blood mingled freely. So great had been the loss of
property; and go horrid and fearful had been the scene, that our people
chose to leave, rather than remain under such untoward circumstances. They
lived in constant fear of the mob which had so abused and terrified them.
Families seated at the fireside started at every breath of wind, and
trembled at the sound of every approaching footstep. The father left his
family in fear, lest on his return from his daily labor, he should find
his wife and children butchered, and his house left desolate.
Meetings were held to devise plans and means for leaving the place where
they had been so cruelly treated. But where should they go? And why
should they be compelled to leave the State of Ohio? The fact is, that the
African race there, as in all parts of this nominally free Republic, was
looked down upon by the white population as being little above the brute
creation; or, as belonging to some separate class of degraded beings, too
deficient in intellect to provide for their own wants, and must therefore
depend on the superior ability of their oppressors, to take care of them.
Indeed, both the time and talents of eminent men have been wasted in
unsuccessful research for the line of demarcation, between the African and
the highest order of animals,--such for instance as the monkey or the
ourang-outang. Some even, have advanced the absurd idea, that wicked Cain
transmitted to them the "mark" which the Almighty set upon him for the
murder of his brother; and that he, (who then must have survived the
deluge), is the progenitor of that despised and inferior race--the negro
slave of the United States of America!
If it be true, that the natural inferiority of the black man, connects him
so closely with the animal creation, it looks passing strange to me that
he should be made responsible for the violation of laws which he has been
declared too imbecile to aid in framing or of comprehending. Nor is it
less strange to see him enslaved and compelled by his labor to maintain
both his master and himself, after having declared him incapable of doing
either. Why not let him go then? Why hold with an unyielding grasp, so
miserable and useless a piece of property? Is it benevolence that binds
him with his master's chain? Judge ye. Stranger still is the fact of
attaching such vast influence to his presence and so much concern
regarding his movements, when in a state of freedom, if indeed, he is of
so little worth and consequence, and so nearly related to the brutes that
Surely, the Legislature of Ohio, or of any other State, would never feel
called upon to sit in grave counsel, for the purpose of framing laws which
would impose fine and imprisonment on a monkey, should one chance to
locate within its jurisdiction; nor would they think it advisable for the
court to assemble, or a jury to be empanelled, to drive from their midst
an ourang-outang. And yet this and more must be done to get rid of the
hated negro, who has been born in that State, or has fled to it for
protection from the manstealer.
When strangers pass hastily through this country, and after a careless
glance at the colored population, report them to be "an indolent,
improvident, and vicious class of persons," they should consider some of
the many obstacles thrown in the way of the most favored of that race.
Knowing as they do, the rigor of the law, and feeling as they do, the
oppressive power of prejudice, it becomes almost impossible for them
to rise to that station they were designed to fill, and for which their
natural abilities as certainly qualify them, as though they had never
been robbed of their God-given rights. But let us return to our tried
friends in Cincinnati.
They finally resolved to collect what they could of their possessions and
establish a colony in Canada. In accordance with this resolution, they
agreed to first send an agent to obtain liberty to settle there, and if
successful to select and purchase a large tract of land, making such
arrangements as he thought best for their speedy removal to their new
home. Israel Lewis was their appointed agent, who departed immediately for
Upper Canada to perform his mission; and there for the present we will
leave him and return to Rochester.
Our more favored brethren in New York felt a deep sympathy for their
outraged countrymen in Cincinnati; a sympathy equaled only by their
indignation at the cause of such demand.
A meeting expressive of their views and feelings on that subject, was
convened in the city of Rochester during which, the following preamble and
resolutions were read and unanimously adopted:
_Whereas_, The city of Cincinnati has again become the scene of another
dreadful mob and bloodshed, where nothing but terror and confusion reigned
for a number of hours together.
_And Whereas_, Our brethren and fellow citizens were left exposed to the
fury of an ungovernable mob, made up of the base, the ignorant, and vile,
the very dregs of society; and probably led on by slaveholders, who of all
men are the most execrable; while boasting of liberty, he tramples on the
dearest rights of men and in the greatest robber of it on earth.
_Resolved_, That we deprecate an appeal to arms by any class of our fellow
citizens, except in extreme cases, and we think that such a case has been
presented in the late outrage at Cincinnati.
_Resolved_, That when a class of men so far forget the duty they owe to
God, their fellow men, and their country, as to trample under their feet
the very laws they have made, and are in duty bound to obey and execute,
we believe it to be the duty of our brethren and fellow citizens, to
protect their lives against such lawless mobs; and if in the conflict,
any of the mobocrats perish, every good citizen should say Amen.
_Resolved_, That we do truly sympathize with the friends of God's poor;
the friends of the oppressed, throughout this boasted land of liberty, in
the losses they have sustained in consequence of the mob.
_Resolved_, That we believe the time is not far distant, when the _Queen
City of the West_, shall be redeemed from the hateful influence of the
slaveholder; redeemed from that cruel prejudice of caste which, hangs like
a mill-stone around the neck of our people; redeemed from all those
unequal laws, which have a tendency to make the strong stronger and the
weak weaker; redeemed from their falsehearted friends, whose sarcastic
smile is more to be feared than the frowns of an open enemy.
_Resolved_, That the untiring exertions of our friends, and the
indefatigable industry of our brethren, are sure guarantees that the State
of Ohio will not long be what she now is,--a hissing and by-word on
account of her iniquitous laws; but that she will rise above every narrow
minded prejudice, and raise up her sable sons and daughters and place them
on an equality with the rest of her citizens.
_Resolved_, That we deeply deplore the loss our friends have sustained in
the destruction of their printing press in Cincinnati.
_Resolved_, That we as an oppressed people, feel it our duty to give our
undivided support to the press and the laborers in our cause.
* * * * *
Mr. Israel Lewis made his way to Canada, and having obtained permission to
establish a colony, he bargained with the Canada Company for one township
of land, for which he agreed to pay the money demanded, in a few days, and
then returned to Cincinnati, by way of Rochester. The poor, persecuted
colored people, had in the mean time made ready for their flight from
their homes, their native land, and from this boasted free Republic, to
seek a residence in the cold and dreary wilds of Canada; to claim that
protection from the English government which had been denied them in the
land of their birth; and like the overtasked Israelites, "they went out
with their wives and their little ones," but with smaller possessions.
During the stay of Mr. Lewis in Rochester, he reported there and
elsewhere, that eleven hundred persons were then in the dense woods of
Canada in a state of actual starvation, and called upon the humane
everywhere, to assist them in such extreme suffering.
To me he also told the story of their destitution, which affected me
deeply. I had at that time just made a public profession of my faith in
the Christian religion and my determination to be governed by its holy
precepts, I felt for the distressed and suffering everywhere; but
particularly for those who had fled, poor and destitute, from cruel
task-masters, choosing rather the sufferings of cold and hunger, with
liberty, than the meager necessities of life and Slavery. I concluded to
go to Canada and try to do some good; to be of some little service in the
great cause of humanity.
As soon as practicable therefore, I left Rochester for Toronto, the
capital of Upper Canada, which I found quite a thriving town, and
containing some fine brick buildings, and some I saw were built of mud,
dried in the sun, wearing rather a poor than pretty appearance. At Toronto
we hired a team to take us on to Ancaster, fifty miles distant. We
traveled now through a new country; the roads were very bad, and the
inhabitants few. We, however, reached Ancaster, a small village, where we
remained one night and next morning pursued our journey to the settlement
of the poor fugitives from Cincinnati. After some hard traveling, we
finally arrived at the place where we found our brethren, it is true, but
in quite destitute circumstances. Our fare was poor indeed, but as good as
they could get. The township was one unbroken wilderness when purchased
for the colony, and of course their lands must be cleared of the heavy
timber before crops could be got in, hence, there was a great deal of
destitution and suffering before their harvest could ripen after the land
was prepared for the seed.
The day after I arrived at the settlement, which consisted of a few rude
log cabins, a meeting was called to give the township a name. Several were
suggested, but I at length motioned to name it in honor of the great
philanthropist, Wilberforce. This was carried, and the township from that
time has been known by that name. It is situated on what is known as the
Huron Tract, Kent County, London District, and is the next north of the
township of London. Our neighbors on the south, were a company of Irish
people, who owned the township, and on the west side were a township of
Welshmen, a hardy, industrious and enterprising people.
In Wilberforce there were no white inhabitants; the land appeared level
and handsome, with but one stream of any magnitude running through it;
this was the Oxsable, which was dry during a part of the year. All was one
vast forest of heavy timber, that would compare well with that of Western
New York. Beech, maple, ash, elm, oak, whitewood, bass, balm of gilead,
&c. The soil was good for corn, wheat, rye, oats, and most kinds of the
grain and vegetables raised in New York, and was a superior grazing
country, about fifteen miles from London. This was a village containing
perhaps thirty dwellings, and two hundred inhabitants; a court-house and
jail all under one roof, built of stone and plastered; small doors and
windows in the style of some of the old English castles. London was built
in the forks, or between the east and west branches of the river Thames;
hence, you would hear people speak of "going to the forks," instead of the
village; it is about two hundred miles from Buffalo, and the nearest port
between the two is Port Stanley, thirty miles from London.
I returned from Canada, where I had seen an oppressed people struggling
with the hardships and privations of a new settlement; I had seen
wretchedness in some places, but by no means sufficient to justify
the report made by Mr. Lewis, and I determined I would remove there with
my family, and do all in my power to assist the colored people in Canada.
I had witnessed a disposition on the part of some to prevent our brethren
from settling in Wilberforce, while the colonizationists made a grand
argument of it in favor of their wicked policy. All must see that it
became a necessity with those who fled to Canada to save themselves from
constant abuse or from Slavery, and in some instances their lives; and not
because they admitted the justice of one portion of American citizens
driving another from their native land; nor their right to colonize them
anywhere on the habitable globe.
All these things taken into consideration, determined me to join them in
the enterprize of building up an asylum for the oppressed, where our
colored friends could obtain a home, and where, by their industry they
could obtain a competency for themselves, besides providing a safe retreat
for the weary fugitive from Slavery; guiding by its beacon light of
liberty, the destitute and oppressed everywhere, to home and plenty.
I felt willing to make any sacrifice in my power to serve my Lord, by
administering to the necessities of my down-trodden countrymen. How far my
desire has been accomplished God only knows, but I do know that the purest
motives influenced me, and an honest purpose directed my steps in removing
to Wilberforce. Not so with all, however. Some there were, Judas-like, who
"cared not for the poor; but because he was a thief and had the bag, and
bore what was put therein," made great exertions for a time in favor of
the settlement. It too soon became apparent that to make money was the
prominent object with by far too great a number of the colonists; hence,
our future difficulties.
REMOVAL TO CANADA.
In 1830, I closed my business in Rochester, preparatory to leaving for
Canada. Some of my friends thought I had better remain in the States and
direct emigrants to Wilberforce; while others were certain I could benefit
them more by going myself at once,--the latter I had determined to do; but
as the time drew near for me to start, an unaccountable gloominess
and forebodings of evil took possession of my mind. Doubts of the
practicability of the undertaking began to arise, though nothing
unfavorable had occurred. To the throne of grace, I often bore the subject
and besought my Heavenly Father to enlighten my mind, and direct my steps
in duty's path regarding it; but to confess the truth, I never received
any great encouragement from that source, though it occupied my mind
constantly. During the hours of slumber I was continually being startled
by frightful dreams,--sometimes I thought I saw a monstrous serpent as
large as a log stretched across the road between Rochester and the
Genesee River; at another I thought myself in the air so high that I could
have a full view of the shores of Lake Ontario, and they were alive with
snakes; and then I saw a large bird like an eagle, rise up out of the
water and fly toward the south.
Notwithstanding these omens, I turned my steps toward Wilberforce. In May,
1831, we bid adieu to our friends in Rochester, and taking passage to
Buffalo on a canal boat, we arrived in due time, and from whence we sailed
for Port Stanley, or as it is sometimes called, Kettle Creek. It took a
week to make this trip, which, with favorable wind might have been made in
two days. The mouth of the creek makes a safe harbor at that place, where
there is also a dock, one ware-house and several farm houses. The place
was then very wild and picturesque in its appearance; we did not stop
long, however, to admire its beauty, but engaged a farmer to take us on to
Ten miles on our way, and we came to a newly laid out village, called St.
Thomas, from whence we pursued our journey through a new country to
London, where we arrived tired and hungry, and put up for the night with a
Mr. Faden. There I purchased a span of horses for one hundred and fifty
dollars, and putting them before a new lumber wagon brought on from
Rochester, we started for our wild and new home in good spirits, at which
we arrived in good time.