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Thirty Years a Slave by Louis Hughes

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over, I forgot to rub out the marks on the barn, and the next morning
when Old Master Jack, who happened to be at our home just at that time,
went out there and saw the copy and my imitation of it, he at once
raised great excitement by calling attention to the rude characters and
wanting to know who had done that. I was afraid to own that I had done
it; but old Master Jack somehow surmised that it was Tom or I, for he
said to Boss: "Edmund, you must watch those fellows, Louis and Thomas,
if you don't they will get spoilt--spoilt. They are pretty close to town
here--here." Tom and I laughed over this a good deal and how easily we
slipped out of it, but concluded not to stop trying to learn all we
could. Tom always said: "Lou, I am going to be a free man yet, then we
will need some education; no, let us never stop trying to learn." Tom
was a Virginian, as I was, and was sold from his parents when a mere
lad. Boss used to write to his parents (owners) occasionally, that his
people might hear from him. The letters were to his mother, but sent in
care of the white folks. Tom had progressed very fast in his secret
studies, and could write enough to frame a letter. It seems it had been
over a year since Boss had written for him, but nothing was said until
one morning I heard Boss telling Tom to come to the barn to be whipped.
He showed Tom three letters which he had written to his mother, and this
so startled him that he said nothing. I listened breathlessly to each
word Boss said: "Where did you learn to write?" asked he, "and when did
you learn? How long have you been writing to your mother?" At that
moment he produced the three letters which Tom had written. Boss, it
seems, had mistrusted something, and spoke to the postmaster, telling
him to stop any letters which Tom might mail for Virginia to his mother.
The postmaster did as directed, for slaves had no rights which
postmasters were bound to respect; hence, the letters fell into the
master's hands instead of going to their destination. Tom, not hearing
from his first letter, wrote a second, then a third, never dreaming that
they had been intercepted. Boss raged and Tom was severely whipped.
After this nothing Tom did pleased any of the family--it was a
continual pick on him. Everything was wrong with both of us, for they
were equally hard on me. They mistrusted, I think, that I could write;
yet I could not find out just what they did think.

* * * * *


Tom stayed only a few weeks after this. He said to me, one morning:
"Lou, I am going away. If I can get a boat to-night that is starting
off, why, I am gone from this place." I was sad to see him go, for he
was like a brother to me--he was my companion and friend. He went, and
was just in time to catch the boat at the Memphis dock. He succeeded in
getting on, and made an application to the captain to work on the boat.
The captain did not hesitate to employ him, as it was common for slaves
to be permitted to hire themselves out for wages which they were
required to return, in whole or in part, to their masters. Of course all
such slaves carried a written pass to this effect. Tom was shrewd; and,
having learned to write fairly well, he wrote himself a pass, which was
of the usual kind, stating his name, to whom he belonged, and that he
was privileged to hire himself out wherever he could, coming and going
as he pleased. Where the slave was an exceptional one, and where the
owner had only two or three slaves, a pass would readily be given to
hire himself out, or hire his own time, as it was generally called, he
being required to turn over to his master a certain amount of his
earnings, each month or week, and to make a report to his master of his
whereabouts and receipts. Sometimes the slave would be required to turn
in to his master a certain sum, as, for instance, fifty or one hundred
dollars a year; and he would have to earn that before he could use any
of his earnings for himself. If he was a mechanic he would have little
trouble in doing this, as the wages of such were often quite liberal.
This kind of a pass was rarely, if ever, given by the planters having
large numbers of slaves. Another kind of pass read something like this:
"Pass my boy or my girl," as the case might be, the name being attached.
These were only given to permit the slave to go from the farm of his own
master to that of another. Some men had wives or children belonging on
neighboring farms, and would be given passes to visit them. Without such
a pass they were liable to be stopped and turned back to their homes.
There was, however, a good deal of visiting without passes, but it was
against the general rule which required them; and any slave leaving home
without a pass was liable to punishment if discovered. On our plantation
passes were never given, but the slaves did visit in the neighborhood,
notwithstanding, and would sometimes slip into town at night. Tom had in
this way seen the pass of a neighboring slave to hire out; and it was
from this he learned the form from which he wrote his, and which opened
his way to freedom. Upon reading Tom's pass, the captain did not
hesitate, but hired him at once; and Tom worked his way to New Orleans,
to which city the boat was bound. In the meantime Boss took me and we
drove to numerous stations, where he telegraphed ahead for his run-away
boy Tom. But Tom reached New Orleans without hindrance, and there fell
in with the steward of a Boston steamer, and, getting aboard of it, was
soon on the ocean, on his way to that city where were so many friends of
the slave. Arriving there he made his way to Canada; which was, for so
many generations, the only land of freedom attainable to American

* * * * *


Now that Tom was gone, excitement prevailed at the house among the
white folks--nothing had been heard of him or the method of his escape.
All the servants expected that he would be caught, and I was alarmed
every time Boss came from the city, fearing that he had news that Tom
was caught. He had been gone about six months, when, one morning, I went
to the postoffice and brought back a letter. It seemed to me that I felt
that it contained something unusual, but I did not know what it was. It
proved to be a letter from Tom to Boss. They did not intend that the
servants should know it was from Tom, but one of the house maids heard
them reading it, and came out and told us. She whispered: "Tom is free;
he has gone to Canada; Boss read it in the letter Lou brought." This
news cheered me, and made me eager to get away; but I never heard from
him any more until after the rebellion. Tom gone made my duties more. I
now had to drive the carriage, but Uncle Madison was kept at the barn to
do the work there, and hitch up the team--I only had to drive when the
family went out.

* * * * *


In the summer the McGees made up their minds to go down east, and come
around by Niagara Falls, for this was the place from which Tom had
written them. Boss had great confidence in himself, and did not doubt
his ability to take Tom home with him if he should meet him, even though
it should be in Canada. So he took a pair of handcuffs with him as a
preparation for the enterprise. His young nephew had been to Niagara
Falls, and seen and talked with Tom; but Boss said if he had seen him
anywhere he would have laid hands on him, at once, and taken him home,
at all hazards.

* * * * *


When the family went on this visit down east I was left in charge of the
house, and was expected to keep everything in order, and also to make
the winter clothes for the farm hands. The madam and I had cut out these
clothes before she left, and it was my principal duty to run the sewing
machine in their manufacture. Many whole days I spent in this work. My
wife made the button holes and sewed on the buttons. I made hundreds of
sacks for use in picking cotton. This work was always done in summer.
When the garments were all finished they were shipped to the farm at
Bolivar, to be ready for the fall and winter wear. In like manner the
clothes for summer use were made in winter.

* * * * *


It was the custom in those days for slaves to carry voo-doo bags. It was
handed down from generation to generation; and, though it was one of the
superstitions of a barbarous ancestry, it was still very generally and
tenaciously held to by all classes. I carried a little bag, which I got
from an old slave who claimed that it had power to prevent any one who
carried it from being whipped. It was made of leather, and contained
roots, nuts, pins and some other things. The claim that it would prevent
the folks from whipping me so much, I found, was not sustained by my
experience--my whippings came just the same. Many of the servants were
thorough believers in it, though, and carried these bags all the time.

* * * * *


The city of Memphis, from its high bluff on the Mississippi, overlooks
the surrounding country for a long distance. The muddy waters of the
river, when at a low stage, lap the ever crumbling banks that yearly
change, yielding to new deflections of the current. For hundreds of
miles below there is a highly interesting and rarely broken series of
forests, cane brakes and sand bars, covered with masses of willows and
poplars which, in the spring, when the floods come down, are overflowed
for many miles back. It was found necessary to run embankments
practically parallel with the current, in order to confine the waters of
the river in its channel. Memphis was and is the most important city of
Tennessee, indeed, the most important between St. Louis and New Orleans,
particularly from the commercial point of view. Cotton was the principal
product of the territory tributary to it. The street running along the
bluff was called Front Row, and was filled with stores and business
houses. This street was the principal cotton market, and here the
article which, in those days, was personified as the commercial "king,"
was bought and sold, and whence it was shipped, or stored, awaiting an
advancing price. The completion of the Memphis and Charleston railroad
was a great event in the history of the city. It was termed the marriage
of the Mississippi and the Atlantic, and was celebrated with a great
popular demonstration, people coming from the surrounding country for
many miles. Water was brought from the Atlantic ocean and poured into
the river; and water taken from the river and poured into the Atlantic
at Charleston. It was anticipated that this railroad connection between
the two cities would make of Charleston the great shipping port, and of
Memphis the principal cotton market of the southwest. The expectation in
neither of these cases has been fully realized. Boss, in common with
planters and business men throughout that whole region, was greatly
excited. I attended him and thus had the opportunity of witnessing this
notable celebration.




* * * * *


I remember well when Abraham Lincoln was elected. Boss and the madam had
been reading the papers, when he broke out with the exclamation: "The
very idea of electing an old rail splitter to the presidency of the
United States! Well he'll never take his seat." When Lincoln was
inaugurated, Boss, old Master Jack and a great company of men met at our
house to discuss the matter, and they were wild with excitement. Was not
this excitement an admission that their confidence in their ability to
whip the Yankees, five or six to one, was not so strong as they

The war had been talked of for some time, but at last it came. When the
rebels fired upon Fort Sumter, then great excitement arose. The next day
when I drove Boss to town, he went into the store of one Williams, a
merchant, and when he came out, he stepped to the carriage, and said:
"What do you think? Old Abraham Lincoln has called for four hundred
thousand men to come to Washington immediately. Well, let them come; we
will make a breakfast of them. I can whip a half dozen Yankees with my
pocket knife." This was the chief topic everywhere. Soon after this Boss
bought himself a six shooter. I had to mould the bullets for him, and
every afternoon he would go out to practice. By his direction, I fixed a
large piece of white paper on the back fence, and in the center of it
put a large black dot. At this mark he would fire away, expecting to hit
it; but he did not succeed well. He would sometimes miss the fence
entirely, the ball going out into the woods beyond. Each time he would
shoot I would have to run down to the fence to see how near he came to
the mark. When he came very near to it--within an inch or so, he would
say laughingly: "Ah! I would have got him that time." (Meaning a Yankee
soldier.) There was something very ludicrous in this pistol practice of
a man who boasted that he could whip half a dozen Yankees with a
jackknife. Every day for a month this business, so tiresome to me, went
on. Boss was very brave until it came time for him to go to war, when
his courage oozed out, and he sent a substitute; he remaining at home as
a "home guard." One day when I came back with the papers from the city,
the house was soon ringing with cries of victory. Boss said: "Why, that
was a great battle at Bull Run. If our men had only known, at first,
what they afterwords found out, they would have wiped all the Yankees
out, and succeeded in taking Washington."

* * * * *


Right after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, they brought to Memphis the
Union flag that floated over the fort. There was a great jubilee in
celebration of this. Portions of the flag, no larger than a half dollar
in paper money, were given out to the wealthy-people, and these
evidences of their treason were long preserved as precious treasures.
Boss had one of these pieces which he kept a long time; but, as the
rebel cause waned these reminders of its beginning were less and less
seen, and if any of them are now in existence, it is not likely that
their possessors will take any pride in exposing them to view.

As the war continued we would, now and then, hear of some slave of our
neighborhood running away to the Yankees. It was common when the
message of a Union victory came to see the slaves whispering to each
other: "We will be free." I tried to catch everything I could about the
war, I was so eager for the success of the Union cause. These things
went on until

* * * * *


Boss came hurrying in one morning, right after breakfast, calling to me:
"Lou, Lou, come; we have a great victory! I want to go up and carry the
boys something to eat. I want you and Matilda to get something ready as
quickly as you can." A barrel of flour was rolled into the kitchen, and
my wife and I "pitched in" to work. Biscuit, bread, hoe-cake, ham,
tongue--all kinds of meat and bread were rapidly cooked; and, though the
task was a heavy one for my wife and me, we worked steadily; and, about
five o'clock in the afternoon the things were ready. One of the large
baskets used to hold cotton was packed full of these provisions. Our
limbs ached from the strain of the work, for we had little help. One
reason for the anxiety of the Boss for the preparation of this provision
for the soldiers was that he knew so many in one of the companies, which
was known as the "Como Avengers," and he had a son, a nephew and a
brother of his wife connected with it; the latter a major on Gen.
Martin's staff. On the following morning I got up early, and hurried
with my work to get through, as I had to go to the postoffice. Madam
hurried me off, as she expected a letter from her husband, who had
promised to write, at the earliest moment, of their friends and
relatives. I rushed into the city, at full speed, got some letters and a
morning paper, and, returning as rapidly as possible, gave them to her.
She grasped them eagerly, and commenced reading the paper. In a short
time I heard her calling me to come to her. I went in, and she said, in
great excitement: "Louis, we want to have you drive us into town, to see
the Yankee prisoners, who are coming through, at noon, from Shiloh." I
went and told Madison to hitch up, as soon as he could. In the meantime
I got myself ready, and it was not long before we were off for the city.
The madam was accompanied by a friend of hers, a Mrs. Oliver. We were at
the station in plenty of time. About twelve o'clock the train from
Shiloh drew into the station; but the prisoners that were reported to be
on board were missing--it proved to be a false report. While they were
looking for the prisoners, Mrs. Oliver saw Jack, a servant of Edward
McGee, brother of madam. "Oh! Look," said Mrs. Oliver, "there is
Edward's Jack. Lou, run and call him." In a minute I was off the
carriage, leaving the reins in madam's hands. Jack came up to the
carriage, and the women began to question him: "Where is your Master,
Ed," asked both of them. "He is in the car, Missis--he is shot in the
ankle," said Jack. In a minute the women were crying. "I was going to
get a hack," said Jack, "to--" "No, No!" said both of them. "Go, Lou,
and help Jack to bring him to our carriage. You can drive him more
steadily than the hackman." Jack and I went to the car, and helped him
out, and after some effort, got him into our carriage. Then I went and
got a livery hack to take the women and his baggage home. When we
reached home, we found there old Mrs. Jack McGee, mother of the madam,
Mrs. Charles Dandridge, Mrs. Farrington, sisters of madam, and Fanny, a
colored woman, Edward's housekeeper and mistress--a wife in all but
name. All of these had come to hear the news of the great battle, for
all had near relatives in it. Mrs. Jack McGee and Mrs. Dr. Charles
Dandridge had each a son in the terrible conflict.

* * * * *


In the afternoon, when all were seated in the library reading, and I was
in the dining room, finishing up my work, I happened to look out of the
window, and saw a messenger coming up the graveled walk. I went out to
meet him. "Telegram for Mrs. McGee," he said. I took it to her; and,
reading it without a word, she passed it to the next member of the
family, and so it was passed around until all had read it except Mrs.
Dandridge. When it was handed to her, I saw, at a glance, that it
contained for her the most sorrowful tidings. As she read she became
livid, and when she had finished she covered her face with her
handkerchief, giving a great, heavy sob. By this time the whole family
was crying and screaming: "Oh! our Mack is killed." "Mars, Mack is
killed," was echoed by the servants, in tones of heart-felt sorrow, for
he was an exceptional young man. Every one loved him--both whites and
blacks. The affection of the slaves for him bordered on reverence, and
this was true not alone of his father's slaves, but of all those who
knew him. This telegram was from Boss, and announced that he would be
home the next day with the remains. Mrs. Farrington at once wrote to old
Master Jack and to Dr. Dandridge, telling them of Mack's death and to
come at once. After I mailed those letters nothing unusual happened
during the afternoon, and the house was wrapped in silence and gloom. On
the following morning I went for the mail as usual, but there was
nothing new. At noon, the remains of the much loved young man arrived at
our station, accompanied by Boss and Dr. Henry Dandridge, brother of the
father of the deceased, who was a surgeon in the rebel army. I went to
the station with another servant, to assist in bringing the body to the
house. We carried it into the back parlor, and, after all had been made
ready, we proceeded to wash and dress it. He had lain on the battlefield
two days before he was found, and his face was black as a piece of coal;
but Dr. Henry Dandridge, with his ready tact, suggested the idea of
painting it. I was there to assist in whatever way they needed me. After
the body was all dressed, and the face painted, cheeks tinted with a
rosy hue, to appear as he always did in life, the look was natural and
handsome. We were all the afternoon employed in this sad work, and it
was not until late in the evening that his father and mother came down
to view the body for the first time. I remember, as they came down the
broad stairs together, the sorrow-stricken yet calm look of those two
people. Mrs. Dandridge was very calm--her grief was too great for her to
scream as the others did when they went in. She stood and looked at her
Mack; then turning to Boss, she said: "Cousin Eddie, how brave he was!
He died for his country." Poor, sorrowing, misguided woman! It was not
for his country he died, but for the perpetuation of the cruel, the
infamous system of human slavery. All the servants were allowed to come
in and view the body. Many sad tears were shed by them. Some of the
older slaves clasped their hands, as if in mute prayer, and exclaimed,
as they passed by the coffin: "He was a lovin boy." It seems that all
his company but five or six were killed. At an early hour next morning
the funeral party started for the home in Panola, where the body of the
lamented young man, sacrificed to an unholy cause, was buried, at the
close of the same day.

Edward stayed at our house some six weeks, his ankle was so slow in
getting well. At the end of that time, he could walk with the aid of
crutches, and he took Fanny and went home.

* * * * *


Not long after this the people were very much worked up over the
military situation. The Yankees had taken Nashville, and had begun to
bombard Fort Pillow. The officials of the Memphis and Ohio railroad
company became alarmed at the condition of things, fearing for the
safety of their stock. The officers, therefore, set about devising some
plan by which they might get the cars down on the Memphis and Jackson
road, where they imagined their property would be safe from the now
terrible Yankees. The railroad officials at once set to work to buy the
right of way through Main street, to give them the connection with the
southern road named. At first it was refused by the city authorities,
but finally the right of way was granted. When, however, the railroad
men began to lay the ties and rails, the people grew furious. Some fled
at once, for they imagined that this act of the railroad officials
indicated that the Yankees must be coming pretty near. Boss became so
excited, at this time, that he almost felt like going away too. The
family grew more and more uneasy; and it was the continual talk: "We
must get away from Memphis. The companies are already moving their
rolling stock, fearing the Yankees may come at any time and destroy
everything; we must get away," said Boss, speaking to the madam.

* * * * *


Things continued in this way until about June, 1862. The Union troops
had taken Fort Pillow. We had heard the firing of cannon, and did not
know what it meant. One morning I was in the city after the mail, and I
learned that a transient boat had just come down the river, which had
lost a part of her wheelhouse. She was fired on from Fort Pillow,
sustaining this serious damage from the shot. This increased the
excitement among the people; and our folks became alarmed right away,
and commenced talking of moving and running the servants away from the
Yankees, to a place of safety. McGee was trying for some time to get
some one to take the house, that is, to live in and care for it until
after the war, while the family were gone. They never thought that
slavery would be abolished, and so hoped to come back again. After some
search, they found a widow, a Mrs. Hancock. She was to have full charge
of the house and continue keeping boarders, as she had been doing in
Memphis. The vaunted courage of this man seems to have early
disappeared, and his thought was chiefly devoted to getting his family
and his slaves into some obscure place, as far away as possible from the
Yankees, that were to be so easily whipped. We were about two weeks
getting ready to leave, stowing away some of the things they did not
want to move. The Boss and his family, my wife and I, and all the house
servants were to go to Panola, to his father's. The family went by rail,
but I had to drive through in a wagon.

* * * * *


Soon after the family all reached Master Jack's, Boss took me to his own
farm in Bolivar county. This separated me for a time from my wife, for
she remained with the family. I had to look after the house, at the
farm, attend the dining room, and, between meals, sew every day, making
clothes for the hands. I could run on the machine eighteen to twenty
pairs of pants a day, but two women made the button holes and did the
basting for me, getting the goods all ready for the machine.

* * * * *


The Yankees had made a raid through Bolivar, before I came, and the
excitement had not abated, as they were spreading themselves all through
the state. There was a Union trading boat, the Lake City, that had been
successful in exchanging her goods for cotton that came from Memphis.
She usually stopped at Helena, Fryer's Point and other small towns; but
on a trip at this time she came about fifty miles farther down the
river, to Carson's Landing, right at Boss' farm. She was loaded with all
kinds of merchandise--sugar, tobacco, liquor, etc. She had a crew of
about forty men, but they were not well prepared for a vigorous defense.
The rebel soldiers stationed in the vicinity saw her as she dropped her
anchor near the landing, and they determined to make an effort for her
capture. They put out pickets just above our farm, and allowed no one to
pass, or stop to communicate with the boat. Every one that sought to
pass was held prisoner, and every precaution taken to prevent those on
the boat from learning of the purposes of the rebels, knowing that the
boat would land in the morning, if not informed of the danger, and then
it was anticipated that they could easily make her a prize. There was a
small ferry boat behind the steamer, and as the latter dropped down
stream, and then steamed up to the landing, the former stood off for a
few moments. As the steamer touched shore, the rebels charged on her,
and captured her without a struggle. In the meantime the ferry boat,
seeing what had happened, sped away up stream, the soldiers firing at
her, but doing little damage, except the breaking of the glass in the
pilot house. The rebels, seeing that the ferry boat had escaped them,
turned their attention to the unloading of the steamer. They sent out
for help in this work, and the summons was answered by the neighbors far
and near. Wagons were brought, two of which were from our farm, and
loaded with goods, which were taken to Deer Creek, forty miles from
Carson Landing. What goods they found themselves unable to carry away
were packed in the warehouse. The steamer was then burned. McGee was
present, and the rebel captain gave him a written statement of the
affair to the effect that the residents were not responsible for it, and
that this should be a protection for them against the Union forces. The
officers and crew of the steamer to the number of forty were made
prisoners, and taken to Deer Creek, the rebel headquarters of that
region, and put in the jail there. The ferry boat that escaped went to
Helena, Arkansas, and carried the news of the affair to the Union forces

* * * * *


I was told by Boss to take my stand on our veranda, and keep watch on
the river, and if I saw any boat coming down to let him know at once. I
kept a close watch the next morning until about eight o'clock, when I
saw a boat, but she had almost gone past our house before I discovered
her. I ran into the house and told Boss. He ordered me to get his horse
at once, which I did; and he mounted and went down to the landing as
fast as he could. Upon reaching there, he was taken prisoner by the
Union soldiers, who had just landed from the boat. All who came near
were captured. The Union soldiers went to work and transferred all the
goods which the rebels had put into the warehouse from the boat which
they had captured, then setting fire to the warehouse and the
postoffice, they pushed off yelling and shouting with glee. Among those
captured by the Union soldiers were three other rich planters besides
Boss, all of whom were taken to Helena. After they had been there about
a week, the planters offered to secure the release of the Unionists
captured on the boat which the rebels had burned at Carson Landing, and
who had been sent to the rebel jail at Deer Creek, if they were
guaranteed their own release in exchange. They offered to bear the
expense of a messenger to the rebel officer, at Deer Creek, with this
proposition. The Union officer at Helena accepted the proposition, and
the messenger was sent off. It was arranged that he should stop over at
our house, both on his way down and back. Upon his return, he stopped
over night, and the next morning proceeded on his way. When he had gone
about five miles, he saw a flat-boat at a landing, on which were people
drinking and having a merry time. He stopped, and went aboard; and, in
joining the carousal, he soon became so intoxicated that he was unable
to go on with his journey. Among those present was one Gilcrease, a
cousin of the McGees, who recognized the man as the messenger in this
important business, went to him and asked him for the letters he
carried. The fellow refusing to give them up, Gilcrease took them from
him, and at once sent to our overseer for a reliable man by whom to
forward them to the commandant at Helena. The overseer called me up
from the cabin to his room, and told me that I was to go to Helena to
carry some important papers, and to come to him for them in the morning,
and make an early start. I left him and went back to my cabin.

* * * * *


I made up my mind that this would be a good chance for me to run away. I
got my clothes, and put them in an old pair of saddle bags--two bags
made of leather, connected with a strip of leather, and used when
traveling horseback for the same purpose as a satchel is used in
traveling in the cars. I took these bags, carried them about a half mile
up the road, and hid them in a fence corner, where I could get them in
the morning when I had started on my trip. Fryer's Point, the place to
which I was to go, was about fifty miles from the farm. I started early
in the morning, and, after I had gone twenty-five miles, I came to the
farm of William McGee, a brother of the madam, and stopped to change
horses. I found that William McGee was going, in the morning, down to
old Master Jack's; so I took one of their horses, leaving mine to use in
its place, went right to Fryer's Point, delivered the letters to a man
there to carry to Helena, and got back to William McGee's farm that
night. I made up my mind to go with William down to Panola, where madam
was, to tell her about Boss being captured. The next morning, he
started, and Gibson, his overseer and myself accompanied him. He
questioned me about the capture of Boss, what the soldiers had done,
etc., and I told him all I knew of the matter. "Well, Lou," he said,
"why did you not bring us some whisky?" "I did bring a little with me,"
I said. He laughed, saying: "Oh, well, when we come to some clear water
we will stop and have a drink." Then I said: "Mr. Smith will look for me
to-night, but he wont see me. I am going to tell the madam that Boss is
captured." "Hey, ho!" he said, "then you are running away." I replied:
"Well I know Miss Sarah don't know Boss is in prison." We traveled on,
all three of us, stopping at intervals to be refreshed. After two days,
we arrived at Panola. Our journey was a tedious one. The streams were so
swollen in places that we could hardly pass. The Tallehatchie we had to
swim, and one of the men came near losing his horse and his life. The
horses became tangled in a prep vine, as we were nearing the shore at
which we aimed, and, the current being very swift, we were carried
below the landing place; but, finally, we got safely ashore, McGee
landing, and we following. Reaching Panola, wet and weary, I conveyed to
madam the story of her husband's capture and imprisonment, a rumor of
which had already reached her.

The next morning was Christmas, and a number of the family had come to
spend it together. They had heard that McGee was captured and in prison;
but, now, as I told them every feature of the affair in detail, they
grew excited and talked wildly about it. Among those who came were Dr.
Dandridge and his wife, Blanton McGee and his wife, Tim Oliver and his
wife. All these women were daughters of old Master Jack McGee, and
sisters to the madam. Mrs. Farrington and old lady McGee were already
there. These re-unions on Christmas were a long established custom with
them, but the pleasure of this one was sadly marred by the vicissitudes
and calamities of the war. A shadow hung over all the family group. They
asked me many questions about Boss, and, of course, I related all I

After I had been there three days, they started me back with letters for
Boss. When I left it was near night, and I was to stop over at Master
Jack's farm fifteen miles away. It was expected that I would reach
Fryer's Point on the third morning, thus allowing me three days to go
sixty miles; but I could not make much headway, as the roads were so
heavy. The understanding was that I was to deliver the letters to the
same gentleman, at Fryer's, to whom I delivered the others, for
forwarding to Boss at Helena. I was then to go straight to the farm at
Boliver, and report to Smith, the overseer. But after I had got about
four miles away, I concluded that I would not go back to the farm, but
try to get to the Yankees. I knew I had disobeyed Smith by going down to
the madam's to tell her about Boss, because he told me not to go when I
spoke to him about it. And now if I went back I feared he would kill me;
for I knew there would be no escape for me from being run into the bull
ring, and that torture I could not think of enduring. I, therefore,
stopped, and, taking the bridle and saddle from the horse, hid them in
the corner of a fence in a cornfield. Then I went into the woods. The
papers which I had were in the saddlebag safe. The place where I stayed
in the daytime was in a large shuck-pen--a pen built in the field to
feed stock from, in the winter time. This pen was on Dr. Dandridge's
farm; and the second night I worked my way up near the house. Knowing
all the servants, I was watching a chance to send word to the coachman,
Alfred Dandridge, that I wanted him to tell my wife that I was not gone.
I went down to his cabin, in the quarters; and, after a short time he
came. I was badly scared, and my heart was heavy and sore; but he spoke
comfortingly to me, and I was cheered, somewhat, especially when he
promised to see Matilda, and tell her of my whereabouts. He gave me some
food, and hid me away for the night in his house. I kept close all the
next day; and, at night, when all was still, Alfred and I crept out, and
went to old Master Jack's. The distance was not great, and we soon
covered it. Alfred went in and told my wife that I was outside and
wanted to see her. She came out, and was so frightened and nervous that
she commenced sobbing and crying, and almost fainted when I told her, in
low tones, that I was going to try to get to Memphis, and that Alfred
was helping to plan a way to this end. The rebels occupied both roads
leading to Memphis, and I was puzzled to know how to reach the city
without coming in contact with them. Two days after I had talked with
my wife, the rebel troops who were camped on the Holly Springs road left
for some other point. My friend Alfred found this out, and came and told
me the encouraging news. The following night I went to old Master Jack's
and told my wife that the way now seemed clear, and that I was going at
once. I was bent on freedom, and would try for it again. I urged my wife
not to grieve, and endeavored to encourage her by saying that I would
return for her, as soon as possible, should I succeed in getting to a
land of freedom. After many tears and blessings, we parted, and I left,
Uncle Alfred going with me some three miles, as I was not acquainted
with the road. When he left me I went on alone with gloomy forebodings,
but resolved to do my best in this hazardous undertaking, whatever might
happen. The road passed over hills and through swamps, and I found the
traveling very wearisome. I had traveled some hours, and thought I was
doing well; when, about one o'clock in the night, I came up out of a
long swamp, and, reaching the top of a hill, I stopped for a moment's
rest, raising myself to an erect position from that of walking, inclined
by reason of weariness and the weight of the saddle-bags thrown across
my shoulders. The weather was bad, a heavy mist had come up, and was so
dark that I could hardly see my way. As I started on, a soldier yelled
at me from the mist: "Halt! advance and give the countersign." I stopped
immediately, almost scared out of my wits. "Come right up here," said
the soldier, "or I'll blow you into eternity." I saw at once he was a
rebel soldier. I knew not what to do. This place where I was halted was
Nelson's farm, and the house was held as headquarters for a company of
rebel soldiers, known as bushwhackers. While they belonged to the rebel
army, they were, in a measure, independent of its regulations and
discipline, kept back in the woods, ready for any depredation upon the
property of unionists--any outrage upon their persons. The soldier who
had halted me took me up to the house, and all began to question me. I
told them that I had been sent on an errand, and that I had lost my way.
The next morning I was taken about a mile away down in the swamp, over
hills and through winding paths, till at last we came to the regular
rebel camp. I was in great fear and thought my end had come. Here they
began to question me again--the captain taking the lead; but I still
stuck to my story that I had been sent on an errand, and had lost my
way. I knew that this was my only chance. They tried to make me say that
I had come from the Yankees, as they were in camp near Holly Springs.
They thought the Yankees had sent me out as a spy; but I said the same
as at first--that I had lost my way. A soldier standing by said: "Oh! we
will make you talk better than that;" and stepping back to his horse, he
took a sea-grass halter, and said: "I'll hang you." There was a law or
regulation of the rebel government directing or authorizing the hanging
of any slave caught running away; and this fellow was going to carry it
out to the letter. I talked and pleaded for my life. My feelings were
indescribable. God only knows what they were. Dr. Carter, one of the
soldiers, who knew me and the entire McGee family, spoke up and said:
"You had better let me go and tell Mr. Jack McGee about him." The
captain agreed to this, and the doctor went. The following day, Old Jack
came, and steadily refused to consent to my being hung. He said: "I know
Edmund would not have him hung-ung. He is too valuable-aluable. No, no!
we will put him in jail and feed him on bread and water--too valuable a
nigger to be hung-ung."

They tried again to make me say that I was with the Yankees. They
whipped me a while, then questioned me again. The dog-wood switches that
they used stung me terribly. They were commonly used in Mississippi for
flogging slaves--one of the refinements of the cruelty of the
institution of slavery. I refused to say anything different from what I
had said; but when they had finished whipping me I was so sore I could
hardly move. They made up their minds to put me in jail at Panola,
twenty-two miles away, to be fed on bread and water. The next day was
Sunday, and all arrangements having been made for taking me to the place
appointed for those whose crime was a too great love for personal
freedom, they started with me, passing on the way Old Master Jack's,
where they halted to let him know that his advice respecting me was to
be carried out. The old man called to my wife: "Come out and see Louis."
Some one had told her that they were going to hang me; and I shall never
forget her looks as she came out in the road to bid me good-by. One of
the soldiers was softened by her agony, and whispered to her: "Don't
cry, aunty, we are not going to hang him--we will only put him in jail."
I saw this changed my wife's looks in a minute. I said a few words to
her, and, with a prayer for God's blessing on us both, we parted, and
they moved on. After we had gone about seven miles, we met two soldiers,
who belonged to the regiment at Nelson. They said: "Hello! where you
going with that nigger?" The two men in charge of me replied: "We are
going to take him to Panola jail." "Why," said one of the soldiers,
"there is no jail there; the Yanks passed through and pulled down the
doors and windows of the jail, and let all the prisoners out." This
caused a stop; and a council of war was held in the fence corner, the
result of which was a decision to take me back to old Jack McGee's.
After we had gotten back there, they took me and gave me another
flogging to satisfy the madam. I was never so lacerated before. I could
hardly walk, so sore and weak was I. The law was given me that if ever I
was caught out in the public road again, by any soldier, I was to be
shot. Monday morning I was sent to the field to plow; and, though I was
very stiff and my flesh seemed sore to the bone, my skin drawn and
shriveled as if dead, I had, at least, to make the attempt to work. To
have said: "Master, I am too sore to work," would only have gotten me
another whipping. So I obeyed without a word.

* * * * *


The capture of Memphis by the Union troops closed the principal cotton
market of the country, and there was, as a consequence, an immense
accumulation of the product in the hands of the farmers of that region.
They were, therefore, compelled to resort to temporary expedients for
its protection from the elements. Old Master Jack had his piled up in a
long rick, and shelters built over it. Other farmers did the same. As
cotton was almost the only source of revenue for the farmers, and as
there was now no opportunity of getting it to market, there was such a
dearth of money as had seldom, if ever, been known, and a corresponding
dearth of those necessaries of life which money was the only means of
procuring. The accumulations of our family in this product were very
great. While the rebel farmers were waiting for a time when they could
turn their stores of this valuable article into money, a proclamation
was issued by the rebel government that all the owners of cotton that
had it stored on their farms must prepare to have it burned. Hundreds of
rebel soldiers marched to every section of Mississippi that they could
reach, and applied the torch to these cotton ricks. The destruction was
enormous. This was to prevent the cotton from falling into the hands of
the Unionists. Jeff Davis said to his deluded followers that it was
better for them to destroy this property than to risk its coming into
the possession of their enemies, since that would equally impoverish
themselves, while it might result to the pecuniary advantage of those
with whom they were at war. I know that it was a terrible sight when our
cotton was burned. Hundreds of bales were consumed, and it seemed like a
wholly unnecessary destruction of property, and, therefore, unwise as a
war measure. Many were sorry that they had acquiesced in the policy, as
it cost them thousands of dollars, and made many poor. They thought that
possibly their farms might have escaped the visits of the Union
soldiers, and the property, so much needed, been saved in whole or in
part. They reasoned, and reasoned correctly, that their condition would
in no sense have been worse if their cotton had not been burned by their
own soldiers, but might have been much better in many cases, without any
real detriment to the rebel cause. The sacrifice of the property of
their own people, by the rebel authorities, was evidence of the
desperation of the condition of the rebellion, and was so regarded by
not a few at that time. Those were terrible days. One could see anxiety
written on every face among the whites. The slaves even looked worried
at times, though the war meant so much to them, as they were always
looking forward to freedom, at its close, if the Union troops were

* * * * *


After I had been working on the farm about two months, and had
thoroughly talked the matter over with Alfred Dandridge, we planned to
make a careful and persistent effort to escape from the land of bondage.
We thought that as others, here and there, all through the neighborhood,
were going, we would make trial of it. My wife and I were at old Master
Jacks; and, after we had consulted with Alfred and Lydia, his wife, we
all concluded to go at once. Alfred had been a teamster for Dandridge
for many years, and was familiar with the road, as he had hauled cotton
into Memphis for his master for so long a time he could hardly tell when
he began. Matt Dandridge was a fellow servant, belonging to the same
man, and both had, as was not unusual, taken their master's name, or,
rather, were known by it. Matt had learned of our purpose to run away,
and concluded to join our party. So one night, when all was still, we
started. Uncle Alfred, as I always called him, was to be our leader. He
was older than any of the rest of us, and had had a good deal of
experience; we, therefore, all looked to him--in fact, we relied
entirely upon him. After we had traveled about twelve miles, we came to
a swamp, called Hicke-Halley. Here we stopped, as day was dawning, and
settled down for the day, as we could travel only in the night, lest we
should be seen and caught. We were wet--our clothes soaked through from
the heavy dew. We had to travel through corn fields, cotton patches, oat
fields and underbrush, not daring to take the main road. This is why we
were so wet. Uncle Alfred traveled wholly by the stars--they were his
guide. He knew by looking at them the four cardinal points of the
compass. Many old slaves were guided in this way when traveling in the
night, and some could tell the time of night by the position of the
stars. We stayed in Hicke-Halley all day, and in the evening, when it
was dark enough, we started on again, Uncle Alfred offering up a prayer
to God to guide us safely through. Cold Water was our next stopping
place, and here a difficulty rose before us that made us fearful. We had
nothing to wear but what we had on, and not much of that, so had small
space for carrying anything, and, therefore, had brought with us only a
little bite to eat. As we had lived on this small provision for a day,
there was now but little left for our increasing wants; and the
difficulty of securing anything from the houses without danger of
detection was almost insurmountable. But we felt encouraged as we
thought of what we were striving for, and sped on our way. But the way
was hard, for sometimes we got completely stuck in brier patches, and
had to turn and go back, in order to find a way out. Old logs and
driftwood, that had been piled up year after year, were other obstacles
in our way; and one can imagine how hard it was to make our way through
such a mass of brush and forest by the dim light of the stars as they
struggled through the dense branches of the trees. We stumbled on,
however, as best we could, each fearful, yet silently praying for
guidance and help. When within four or five miles of Cold Water, Uncle
Alfred stopped, and cautioned us not to speak above a whisper, as the
rebel troops were camped on both sides of us. We were in a swamp between
the two roads, gradually working our way through to the river, as we
could not go on either of the roads for fear of detection. At the
bridges, where these roads crossed the river, there were rebel camps,
and it was useless for us to think of crossing either. We, therefore,
worked our way carefully through the thicket that we were in until we
came within sight of the river. Then Uncle Alfred went ahead, creeping a
few steps, then stopping to see if the river was clear of soldiers. From
this point it was some two and a half miles to the bridges, each way;
and it was our idea that if we could cross here without being seen by
the soldiers, we would be all right. Uncle Alfred came back to us and
told us that he thought the way was clear. "I can not hear a sound,"
said he, "so let us go on." We followed the river down until we came to
a place where we could cross. Here we found some drift-wood--an old tree
had been blown down, nearly across the river, leaving a space of about
twenty feet. Over this natural bridge we crept to the open space which
we waded, the water being up to our knees; but we did not mind this.
There was no talking above a whisper, for fear of being heard by the
soldiers. Daylight had begun to dawn, and we felt good that we had
succeeded thus far. We went on quietly until we got entirely out of the
swamp and reached some hills. The woods were on each side of us and
still thick; so we stopped here, on the side of a hill, where the sun
shone brightly on us, expecting to rest for the day. Our clothes had
already become quite dry from the sunshine; and, so far, we felt all
right. Alfred and I had made a turn around the place, listening to see
if we could hear any noise, or see any trace of soldiers; but we
discovered no trace of them, and went back to our stopping place. I had
been asleep and some of the others were still asleep, when suddenly I
heard the yelp of blood hounds in the distance. It seemed quite far away
at first, but the sound came nearer and nearer, and then we heard men
yelling. We knew now that they were on our trail, and became so
frightened that we all leaped to our feet, and were about to run, when
Uncle Alfred said: "Stop children, let me oil you feet." He had with him
a bottle of ointment made of turpentine and onions, a preparation used
to throw hounds off a trail. All stopped; and the women, having their
feet anointed first, started off, Uncle Alfred telling them to run in
different directions. He and I were the last to start. Alfred said:
"Don't let the bushes touch you;" at the same time he ran through the
bushes with such a rattling noise one could have heard him a great
distance. He wore one of those old fashioned oil cloth coats made in
Virginia; and, as he ran, the bushes, striking against the coat, made a
noise like the beating of a tin board with sticks. The funny part of it
was that, having cautioned us to be careful about noise, he made more
than all of us. By this time the woods were resounding with the yelping
of the hounds and the cries of their masters. The hounds numbered some
fourteen. The men howled and cheered in concert with the brutes, for
they knew that they were on the right trail, and it would be but a short
time before they caught us all. I had gotten further away than any of
them. Having run about a mile, I came to a farm, and started across an
open field, hoping to reach a wood beyond, where I might conceal myself.
Before I was half way across the field, on looking back, I saw the dogs
coming over the fence, and knowing there was no chance of my getting to
the woods, I turned around, and ran back to a persimmon tree, and just
had time to run up one of the branches when the dogs came upon the
ground. I looked and saw the men, Williams the nigger-catcher, and Dr.
Henry and Charles Dandridge. As soon as Williams rode up, he told me to
come down, but I was so frightened I began to cry, yet came down
trembling. The dogs laid hold of me at once, tearing my clothes and
biting my flesh. Dr. Dandridge was just riding up, and seeing what was
happening, yelled out to Williams: "I thought your dogs didn't bite."
"Oh! well," said Williams, "he aint hurt--we've got to let 'em bite a

They took us all back to the fence where I crossed over, all the others
having been caught. Our hearts were filled with dismay. All looked as if
they were condemned to be hung. We knew not what was to be done with us.
The women were pitiful to see, crying and moaning--all courage utterly
gone. They started back with us to Old Master Jack's, at Panola, and we
stopped for the night at a small farm house. The old woman who kept it
said, tauntingly: "You niggers going to the Yankees? You all ought to be
killed." We started on the following morning, and got back home at one
o'clock in the afternoon. All of us were whipped. All the members of the
family were very angry. Old Lady Jack McGee was so enraged that she said
to my wife: "I thought you were a Christian. You'll never see your God."
She seemed to think that because Matilda had sought freedom she had
committed a great sin.

* * * * *


Ever since the beginning of the war, and the slaves had heard that
possibly they might some time be free, they seemed unspeakably happy.
They were afraid to let the masters know that they ever thought of such
a thing, and they never dreamed of speaking about it except among
themselves. They were a happy race, poor souls! notwithstanding their
down-trodden condition. They would laugh and chat about freedom in their
cabins; and many a little rhyme about it originated among them, and was
softly sung over their work. I remember a song that Aunt Kitty, the cook
at Master Jack's, used to sing. It ran something like this:

There'll be no more talk about Monday, by and by,
But every day will be Sunday, by and by.

The old woman was singing, or rather humming, it one day, and old lady
McGee heard her. She was busy getting her dinner, and I suppose never
realized she was singing such an incendiary piece, when old Mrs. McGee
broke in upon her: "Don't think you are going to be free; you darkies
were made by God and ordained to wait upon us." Those passages of
Scripture which refer to master and servants were always cited to us
when we heard the Word preached; and they were interpreted as meaning
that the relation of master and slave was right and proper--that they
were rightly the masters and we the slaves.

I remember, not long after Jeff Davis had been elected president of the
Confederacy, that I happened to hear old Master Jack talking to some of
the members of the family about the war, etc. All at once the old man
broke out: "And what do you think! that rascal, Abraham Lincoln, has
called for 300,000 more men. What is Jeff Davis doin'-doin'?" He talked
on, and seemed so angry that he gave no one a chance to answer: "Jeff
Davis is a grand rascal-rascal," said he, "he ought to go into the field
himself." At first all the Southerners were jubilant over Davis; but as
they were losing so, and the Unionists gaining, they grew angry and
denounced him oftentimes in unsparing terms.

* * * * *


During the time the Union headquarters were at Helena, a Union gun-boat
came down the river as far as Boliva, and stopped at Miles McGee's. The
soldiers made a raid through the farm, taking chickens, turkeys, meat
and everything that they could lay hands on. During this raid Miles
McGee came out of the house with a gun, and shot the commanding officer
of the party. He became alarmed over what he had done, and hid in the
cabin of one of the servants. He never came near the house. The Union
soldiers came three different times to catch him, but never succeeded.
The last time they came, he made for the canebrake, and hid himself
there until they were gone. But though he had escaped their righteous
vengeance, he became so nervous that he left his hiding place in the
canebraker, and went to Atlanta, Ga., and staid there among friends
until things became more quiet. At last wearying of this, he determined
to return to old Master Jack's, but not to his own home. Word had been
received of his coming, and great preparations were made for his
reception. After he had started on his return, he was taken ill on the
train, and was left at a small town called Jackson, where he soon died.
I drove the family to the depot upon the day of his expected arrival,
and as the train came in, the women waved their handkerchiefs; and, when
the conductor stepped off, they asked him if Mr. McGee was aboard. He
said no--"I have his remains." The scene that followed, I can not
describe--such wailing and screaming! I could not but feel sad, even
though they had treated me so meanly, causing the death of my children,
and separating me from my wife. Their grief was indeed great. The sad
news was conveyed to his mother, old Mrs. Jack McGee, at the house by an
advance messenger, and we soon followed with the body. He was the
favorite son of his mother, and her grief was very great. But for his
wanton shooting of the Union officer, he would probably not have met his
death as he did.

* * * * *


One winter night, while I was at old Master Jack's, I was awakened by a
rumbling noise like that of heavy wagons, which continued steadily and
so long a time that I finally concluded it must be an army passing, and
such I found to be the case, upon getting up and venturing out, the
rumbling which had awakened me being caused by the passing artillery. I
was afraid to go out straight to the soldiers, but would take a few
steps at a time, then stop and listen behind a tree or the shrubbery.
All seemed quiet--there was no talking. I had listened about twenty
minutes when there seemed to be a halt at the creek, some distance from
the house. Soon afterwords I heard the command given: "Forward!" I at
once made up my mind that they were Yankee soldiers. I got on my knees
and crawled to the fence, not daring to go openly, fearing that they
might hear or see me and shoot, supposing me to be a spy. I went back
into the house and told my wife that they were Yankees who had just
passed. "Uncle George," said I, "this would be a good time for us to
go." "Oh, no," said he, "we are not quite ready." Uncle George's cabin
was where my wife and I stayed while at old Master Jack's. In the
morning I was to carry a parcel to Como, a place not far from home, to
Mr. James McGee, who was in the rebel army. It was not quite daylight
when I made ready to go on my trip, for I was anxious to find out more
about the soldiers. Going to the stable and saddling my horse, I mounted
and rode out to the big gate leading to the main road, just as day was
dawning. As I dismounted to open the gate, some soldiers were passing
and an officer sung out to me, "Hello! which way are you going." I said
"to Como, to carry this parcel of clothing to my young master in the
war." "You have a fine horse," said the officer, "I guess I will
exchange horses with you." He took my package of clothing and some
letters which I had to mail and my horse, leaving me his, which was a
very poor animal. I was badly scared at this performance, fearing that I
would be severely whipped for the loss of the horse and package. Yet how
could I help it? We knew nothing but to serve a white man, no matter
what he asked or commanded. As a matter of course, I did not go to Como,
as I had nothing to take--the officer had everything, but went back to
the cabin. I supposed that the soldiers had all passed; but in about
half an hour Aunt Kitty, on looking out of her cabin window, exclaimed:
"My God! just look at the soldiers!" The yard was covered with the blue
coats. Another venerable slave said: "My Lord! de year of jubilee am
come." During the excitement I ran to the big house, and told the madam
that the Yankees were there, and had taken my horse and every thing I
had. Old Master Jack had heard the news, but was not able to come out.
He had arisen, but, when he knew of the presence of the Yankees, he went
back to bed, calling for Kitty to get him a mush poultice. "Tell
Kitty-ity-ity to get me a mush poultice-oltice." It was customary, after
the beginning of the war, for him to take sick, and call for a poultice
to be put upon his stomach whenever he heard of the Yankees being near.
He and many like him were especially valorous only when the blue coats
were far away. The soldiers went into the dairy and drank all the milk,
helped themselves to butter, cheese, meat, bread and everything in sight
which they wanted. Nothing was said to them by the white folks, but the
slaves were glad, and whispered to each other: "Ah! we's goin' to be
free." Old Master Jack, lying on his couch would ask every little while:
"Where are they? Are they gone?" After they had all left the premises,
he said; "My God! I can't stand it. Them devils-evils are just goin'
through the country destroyin' everything." I was sent down to get Uncle
Peter for old master, and when Peter came up the old man asked: "Well,
did any of the servants go away? And, sir, them devils took Louis' horse
and the clothes he had for his young master."

* * * * *


Right after this the McGees commenced planning to put away their
valuables, to keep them from the Union soldiers. All the servants had to
fill up their bed-ticks with fine gin cotton--the lint part--for safe
keeping. Great boxes and barrels were packed full of their best things,
and put into the cellar, under the house. It was not exactly a cellar,
but a large shallow excavation, which held a great deal. We put all the
solid silver ware, such as cake baskets, trays, spoons, forks, dishes,
etc., in boxes, and buried them under the hen house. Great packages of
the finest clothing I had to make up, and these were given in charge of
certain servants whose duty it was to run into the big house and get
them, whenever they heard that the Yankees were coming, and take them to
their cabins. This was a shrewd arrangement, for the soldiers never went
into the cabins to get anything. When the soldiers had passed, these
packages were taken back to the house. It speaks well for the honesty
and faithfulness of the slaves that such trusts could be devolved upon
them, notwithstanding all the cruelties inflicted upon them by their

* * * * *


It was about this time, that the law or regulation of the rebel
government was promulgated, authorizing or directing the shooting or
hanging of any slave caught trying to get away to the Union army. This
barbarous law was carried out in many cases, for every little while we
would hear of some slave who was caught running away, and hung or shot.
A slave belonging to Boss, ran away, and got safely within the Union
lines; but he returned to get his sister. They both got away from the
house, but had gone only a few miles, when William McGee overtook them,
and shot the man dead. William boasted of this, but told Uncle Peter,
the foreman, that he never wanted it mentioned.

* * * * *


Two slaves belonging to one Wallace, one of our nearest neighbors, had
tried to escape to the Union soldiers, but were caught, brought back and
hung. All of our servants were called up, told every detail of the
runaway and capture of the poor creatures and their shocking murder, and
then compelled to go and see them where they hung. I never shall forget
the horror of the scene--it was sickening. The bodies hung at the
roadside, where the execution took place, until the blue flies literally
swarmed around them, and the stench was fearful. This barbarous
spectacle was for the purpose of showing the passing slaves what would
be the fate of those caught in the attempt to escape, and to secure the
circulation of the details of the awful affair among them, throughout
all the neighborhood. It is difficult at this day for those not familiar
with the atrocities of the institution of slavery to believe that such
scenes could ever have been witnessed in this or any other civilized
land, as a result simply of a human being's effort to reach a portion of
the country, where the freedom of which it was said to be the home,
could be enjoyed without molestation. Yet such was the horrible truth in
not one case alone, but in many, as I know only too well.

* * * * *


One day while I was waiting at dinner, some of the children from the
slave quarters came running into the house, and said to old Master Jack:
"Uncle John is going away--he is down to the creek." He had been put in
the carpenter shop, fastened in the stocks, but by some means he had
gotten the stocks off his feet, and got loose. All in the house
immediately got up and ran out. Old master told me to run and catch the
runaway. I did not like to do it, but had to obey. Old master and I ran
in pursuit, and soon overtook him. He could not run, as the stocks were
still on his arms and neck. We brought him back, and he was "staked
out"--that is, four stakes were driven into the ground, the arms tied to
two and the legs to the other two. He was then paddled with the whipping
paddle upon the bottom of his feet, by old Master Jack, until blood
blisters arose, when he took his knife and opened them. I was then sent
for salt and water, and the bruises of the suffering chattel were washed
as usual in the stinging brine.

* * * * *


After the capture of Memphis by the Union forces, the soldiers were in
the habit of making raids into the surrounding country. These were a
source of alarm and anxiety among the people, and they were constantly
on the watch to defend their property and themselves, as best they
could. One day Dr. Charles Dandridge went over to one of our neighbors,
Mr. Bobor's, to practice shooting, and to see if he had heard anything
new about the war. It was the custom of the home-guards to meet weekly,
and practice with their fire-arms, in order to be the better prepared,
as they pretended, for any sudden incursion of the now dreaded Yankee.
Mr. Bobor had gotten a Yankee pistol from some friend, who was in the
army, and Dr. Charles wanted to see and try it. It was shown him, and
its workings explained. He took it and began shooting, and in showing
the other men how quickly he could shoot a Yankee, and mount his horse,
he accidentally shot himself under the short rib near his heart, and
fell to the ground. All the men came running to him, picked him up and
carried him into the house, immediately sending word to Mrs. Dandridge
and Master Jack McGee, his father-in-law. The boys came hurrying in, and
told us what had happened. I hitched up and drove Boss over to Mr.
Bobor's. We found the wounded man rapidly sinking; and when, a little
later, his wife came, he could not speak--only clasped her hand. He died
that night, and we carried his body to the home, which so short a time
before, he had left in health and high spirits. No casket was to be
had--everything of that kind had been consumed or shut out by the war.
Accordingly two slaves were ordered to make a coffin, which they did,
using plain boards. It was then covered with black alpaca from a dress
of the madam, and lined with the cloth from Mrs. Dandridge's opera
cloak. The regular material used for these purposes was not to be had.
By the time the coffin was ready, the body was so bloated, that it could
not be got into it. Resort was then had to a plain box, and in this the
body of another of the stricken family group was laid away. At the
suggestion of old Master Jack, the coffin, was put up in the carriage
house, for safe keeping, he saying it would do for him to be buried in.
Sorrow had come to this family with such crushing force, that their
former pride and boastful spirit had given place to utter dejection.

* * * * *


During the war everything was scarce and dear, and substitutes were
devised for many of those things which had formerly been regarded as the
necessaries of life. Sweet potatoes were peeled, then cut in small
pieces and put out in the sun to dry. They were then used as a
substitute for coffee, when that article became so scarce, toward the
close of the war. Great quantities of this preparation were used. Okra
was another substitute for coffee. It was dried in the pod, then the
seeds shelled out, and these were dried again and prepared something as
the coffee is. This made a delicious drink when served with cream, being
very rich and pleasant to the taste. Quinine was a medicine that had
been of almost universal use in the south; yet it became so scarce that
it was sold at seven dollars a bottle, and could not often be had at
that price. Lemon leaves were used as a substitute in cases of chills
and fever. The leaves were made into a tea, and given to the patient
hot, to produce perspiration. During an attack of chills, I was treated
in this manner to some advantage. At any rate I got well, which can not
always be said of all methods of treatment.



* * * * *


While I was absent on my last runaway trip, the Yankees had made a raid
through Panola; and our people had become greatly frightened. As soon as
they had got back with me and my fellow runaways, they assembled a gang
of slaves for the purpose of taking them to Atlanta, Ga., to get them
out of the reach of the Union soldiers. Among the slaves selected for
the transfer were myself, my wife Matilda, and the seamstress. The
others all belonged to Dr. Dandridge and Blanton McGee. Both the Drs.
Dandridge went with us to Atlanta. We traveled across the country until
we came to Demopolis, Alabama, where we found Boss camped on the bank of
the Tombigbee river with all the farm slaves from Bolivar county. This
was the first time I had seen Boss since he was captured and taken to
Helena. As my wife and I were the only ones in the gang who belonged to
Boss, we left those with whom we had come and joined his gang. We all
then went aboard a boat and were taken to the salt works, situated on
the Tombigbee, ninety miles from Mobile. These salt works belonged to
the rebel government. The first president of the works was Mr. Woolsey,
of Salem, Alabama. During Mr. Woolsey's term, the first part of 1864,
when we had been there some time, he wrote to Boss asking if he would
sell myself and wife, and offering $3,000 for both of us. Boss was
indignant at this and curtly refused. My wife acted as cook at the salt
works, in the headquarters for the president, managers and clerks. Mr.
Woolsey was delighted with her cooking; her bread and rolls, he said,
could not be surpassed.

* * * * *


When the election of officers of the works came off in the fall, Mr.
Gallatin McGee was chosen president. Boss then hired us all, about 100
in number, to labor in these works, but he, of course, received all the
revenue. The work assigned me was that of butler at headquarters, and my
wife was cook. Both women and children, as well as men, were employed in
these works. After some months labor here, soon after Gallatin McGee
became president, Matilda and I were removed to the Montgomery
headquarters, where we remained until nearly Christmas. A few days
before that time, Boss came to Montgomery and arranged for us to meet
him in Mobile. We started at the appointed time, reached the city in the
morning, and I went directly to the hotel where he told me he would be.
I found him at once, and he informed me all about his plans for the
future, and what he expected to accomplish. He had purchased an island
in the bay, a little way from Mobile, where he had decided to establish
salt works of his own. All the brick and lumber for the buildings had
been carried there, and work upon them was to be commenced immediately
after Christmas. He intended to make a home for the family on the
island; and, as soon as he could complete the works, to remove all his
hands from the government works to his own. He was very enthusiastic
over this scheme, claiming that he would make far more money by it than
he was then receiving from hiring out his slaves. He told me that he
would remain in Mobile two or three days and would go to Panola to spend
the holidays, after which he intended to bring all the family to Mobile,
and remain there until the island was in readiness to be occupied.
There was to be a general break up of the old home, and the beginning of
a new manner of life. I stayed in his room at the hotel all the
forenoon, listening to his plans; then I went back where my wife was
stopping. As I left his room, he said: "Lou," as he always called me, "I
will see you and Matilda at the boat this evening." We went to the boat
at the appointed time and saw the Boss, but he did not come near us. As
the boat was about to put off, I looked and saw him walking up and down
the levee, apparently much excited, running his hands nervously through
his hair--a habit common to him when he was worried. He seemed greatly
distressed. The military situation troubled him, for the Union army had
conquered nearly everything; and the fact now stared him in the face
that he would soon lose his slaves. He never dreamed in the beginning of
the war that the Unionists would conquer, and that the slaves would be
freed; but now he saw that not only all his wealth in the bodies and
souls of men was slipping away from him, but that much, if not all of
the gain which these chattels had brought him was likely to "take wings
and fly away."

* * * * *


We returned to the salt works the morning after leaving Mobile. Boss
remained two days in Mobile, and then started for Panola, the home of
his father-in-law; but, on his way, he was taken sick, having contracted
a heavy cold which ran into pneumonia, and he lasted only a short time,
dying on New Year's day. He had taken cold in bringing the slaves from
Bolivar over the river on barges. The river was overflowed about fifty
miles out, and the only way he could get the slaves across was by using
large barges made of logs. They were several days floating down in this
way, before he could get out to the railroad at Jackson, Miss., where he
transferred them to the cars. This was too much of an exposure and it
killed him.

After Boss died all the plans were changed. Col. Hunting, son-in-law of
old Master Jack, came down to the salt works and hired us all out there
for another year. This was the beginning of the year 1865. Of master's
plans concerning the island and his proposed salt works the family knew
little, for they questioned me close as to what he told me of the
matter. What he spent on the island in lumber, brick, etc., was lost, as
they knew nothing of the particulars of the expenditure. The madam
remained at her fathers, and the slaves at the works.

* * * * *


As I was here for another year, acting as butler, I thought I would try
and see if I could not make some money for myself. I asked Mr. Brooks,
the manager of the works, if he could get me some tobacco by sending to
Mobile for it. He said he could; and on the fourth day thereafter, in
the evening, it came. I was anxious to get it the same evening, but Mr.
Brooks said: "Oh! I guess you had better wait until morning, then when
you finish your work come down to the office and get it--you will then
have more time to see the boys in the works." In the morning I was up
early, and after doing my morning work I was off to Brooks' office. When
I went in he said: "There it is under the table." The package was so
small I felt disappointed--a hundred dollars worth ought to be more,
said I to myself; but I took it, and went out among the men. I thought I
would try to sell it at five dollars a plug, and if I could not sell it
at that I would take four dollars. I must make something, for I had
borrowed the money to buy it with; and I saw that to clear anything on
it, I must at least get four dollars a plug. The money which I had
borrowed was from three fellow servants, who had been fortunate in
earning some little time and had saved their money. The first man I met
in the works bought two plugs, at five dollars each; and after I had
been there about an hour all was sold. So I went back with a light
heart. Mr. Brooks said to me at dinner: "Well, how did you get along
with your tobacco?" "I did very well," I said, "the only trouble was I
did not have enough. I sold it for $180." "Well," said he, "if you did,
you made more clear money than the works here. How much a plug did you
sell it for?" at the same time drawing out his pencil and commencing to
figure it up. "I had thirty-six plugs," said I, "and I sold them for
five dollars a plug." Nothing more was said just then, but after dinner
Brooks and two of the clerks went out on the veranda to smoke. When they
were in a good way smoking, Brooks slipped into the dining room, and
said: "Well, that was fine; you got five dollars a plug for the
tobacco?" "Oh, yes!" I said, "tobacco is scarce, and they were hungry
for it; it went like hot cakes--the price was not questioned, I sold at
once." "What is the prospect for selling more?" he asked. "Will you sell
it for half the profit if I furnish the tobacco?" I said "yes." So he
sent the same day for a box of tobacco--about five hundred plugs. When
the tobacco came the box was sawed in two and one-half sent up to my
room. I put some fellows out as agents to sell for me--Uncle Hudson, who
took care of the horses and mules at the works; John at the hospital;
William, head chopper, among the 100 men in the woods. Each brought in
from $40.00 to $50.00 every two or three days, and took another supply.
Sometimes, when I had finished my work in the afternoon, I would get an
old pony and go around through the neighborhood and sell four or five
plugs. It was a mystery to the servants how I got the tobacco; but I did
not let on that Brooks was backing me. In two weeks we had taken in
$1,600.00, and I was happy as I could be. Brooks was a fine fellow--a
northerner by birth, and did just what he said he would. I received
one-half of the money. Of course this was all rebel money, but I was
sharp, and bought up all the silver I could find. Just as we got on the
other half of the box, Brooks received word that the Yankees were
coming, and to send all the hands to their masters. I was glad that I
had made some money, knowing that I would need it if I gained my
freedom, which I now knew was quite probable, as the Union forces were
gaining ground everywhere. But the message ended my money-making, and I
prepared to go home to Panola.

* * * * *


Mr. Brooks fixed the return papers so that my wife and I could leave the
party of slaves at Demopolis, and go on thence to Panola by rail, to
convey the news to madam that all hands were coming home; that the
Yankees were expected to capture the salt works within a short time. At
Jackson, some seven miles from the salt works, we were delayed over
night by reason of lack of facilities for crossing the Tombigbee river.
The report that the Yankees were coming through had created a panic
among the white people; and hundreds, fleeing from their homes, had
gathered at the river, waiting and clamoring for an opportunity to
cross. Though slaves were property, and valuable on that account, the
whites seemed to think that their own lives were in danger, and to be
protected first. They therefore took precedence of us. In the morning
about seven o'clock a steamer was seen coming at a distance; but it
could not be discovered at once just what the character of it was. The
whites became alarmed. Some said: "The Yankees are coming." Other said:
"It is a gun boat--they will surely fire on us." But as the boat drew
near the people saw that there was nothing to fear--it was only the
regular passenger boat. Besides the hundreds of people, there were
scores of wagons, filled with household goods to go over, and the
passage was slow and tedious. We finally got across and traveled as far
as Demopolis, where Matilda and I left the other slaves, and took a
train and went on to Panola. I delivered the papers to the madam from
Brooks, which told her all the particulars concerning the break up at
the salt works. She sent wagons right away after the other slaves who
were coming back on foot. They were not brought back to Panola; but were
hired out to different farmers along the road home--some in Jackson,
some in Granda and others in Panola town. These were all small towns in
Mississippi. My wife and I went to work at old Master Jack's, I on the
farm and my wife at her old duties in the house. We longed for freedom,
but were content for the time with hoping and praying for the coming of
the day when it should be realized. It was sad to see the changes that
had come to the white folks. Sorrow had left its impress upon all and we
felt it, notwithstanding all that we had suffered at their hands. Boss
had willed the homestead in Memphis to Mrs. Farrington, and she was
getting ready to take possession. He had borrowed a great amount of
money from her when he bought the island at Mobile; and the rapid coming
on of the end of the rebellion destroyed all prospect of the success of
his salt works scheme, even before his death, and really rendered him
bankrupt. Hence the transfer of the Memphis property to her was the only
way he could make good what he owed her. The madam now had no home, but
was compelled to stay with her father, old Master Jack. She was sadly
changed--did not appear like the same person. Her troubles and sorrows
had crushed her former cruel and haughty spirit. Her mother had died a
few months before, and then her husband had followed, dying suddenly and
away from home. Then much of her property had been lost, and social
pleasures and distinction were gone forever. Who shall say that the
wrongs done her poor, helpless slaves were not avenged in this life? The
last I knew of her she was still at her father's.

* * * * *


A servant who belonged to Dr. Dandridge ran away and got to Memphis just
after it was captured by the Union soldiers. He was put into the army
and was stationed at one of the entrances to the city. He was to halt
all persons passing to or from the city, no difference who they were,
and learn their names and their business. Young William McGee and his
sister, Miss Cherry, one day went up to Memphis and, to their surprise,
were halted by this former servant of their uncle. When they came home
they were speaking of it to their father, and old Master Jack said: "And
you halted, did you?" "Why, yes," replied William, "we had to do it."
"Well," said the old man, "I would have died-died before I would have
done it. To think that a servant should have halted you, and one who has
belonged to the family like Anderson!" This old man, notwithstanding all
his boasting in the absence of immediate danger, was the veriest coward
when danger was present; and if he had been in the place of young
William, he would have halted with the greatest alacrity.

While at the salt works I had a little experience at nursing. A fellow
slave was taken ill, and I was called on to care for him at night. I
always liked this work; it was a pleasure to me to be in the sick room.
Typhoid fever was a new case to me, but I remembered what instructions
Boss had given me about it. I "pitched in" to do what I could; but the
fever was so great he lasted only a few days.

* * * * *


We had remained at old Jack's until June, 1865, and had tried to be
content. The Union soldiers were still raiding all through that section.
Every day some town would be taken, and the slaves would secretly
rejoice. After we came back from Alabama we were held with a tighter
rein than ever. We were not allowed to go outside of the premises.
George Washington, a fellow servant, and Kitty, his wife, and I had
talked considerably about the Yankees, and how we might get away. We
knew it was our right to be free, for the proclamation had long been
issued--yet they still held us. I did not talk much to my wife about
going away, as she was always so afraid I would be killed, and did not
want me to try any more to escape. But George, his wife and I continued
to discuss the matter, whenever we had a chance. We knew that Memphis
was headquarters for the Union troops, but how to reach it was the
great question.

It was Sunday, and I had driven one portion of the family to church, and
George the other. The family was now very large, as the madam and her
family were there, in addition to Old Master Jack's, and all could not
go in one carriage. On the way back, young William McGee came up through
the farm, on horseback, a nearer way home from church, and encountered
several servants belonging to some of the neighbors. He asked them what
they were doing there, and if they had passes. To this last question all
answered no. "Well," said he, "never come here again without having
passes, all of you." At this they all quickly disappeared. When Old Jack
came home, Will told him what had passed; and he immediately called for
George and Uncle Peter, the foreman, and told them that no one not
belonging there was to come into the quarters without a pass; and any
servant with a pass should be brought to the house, that the pass might
be inspected. They thought, or feared, that if the servants were
permitted to come together freely they might plan ways of escape, and
communicate to each other what they knew about the war and the Yankees.
George came out, and finding me, told me what they had said. "No slave
from outside is to be allowed on the place," said he. I replied: "If we
listen to them we shall be here until Christmas comes again." "What do
you mean?" asked George. "I mean that now, today, is the time to make a
start." So, late in the afternoon, during the servants' prayer meeting,
of which I have heretofore spoken, we thought would be a good time to
get away, as no one would be likely to see us. We talked with John
Smith, another servant, and told him all about our plan, asking him not
to say a word about our being gone until he was through feeding the
stock. This would give us another hour to advance on our journey, as the
feeding usually took about that time--from six o'clock until seven. Our
fear was that we might be overtaken by the bloodhounds; and, therefore,
we wished to get as far away as possible before the white people knew we
were gone. It was Sunday afternoon, June 26th, 1865, when George and I,
having made ready for the start for the Union lines, went to bid our
wives good-bye. I told my wife to cheer up, as I was coming again to get
her. I said to Kitty, George's wife: "We are going, but look for us
again. It will not be with us as with so many others, who have gone
away, leaving their families and never returning for them. We will be
here again." She looked up at me, smiling, and with a look of
resolution, said: "I'll be ready." She was of a firm, daring nature--I
did not fear to tell her all my plans. As my wife was so timid, I said
as little as possible to her. George and I hurriedly said our farewells
to our wives. The parting was heartrending, for we knew the dangers were
great, and the chances were almost even that we should not meet again. I
could hardly leave my wife, her agitation and grief were so great. But
we were off in a few moments. We crept through the orchard, passing
through farm after farm until we struck the railroad, about seven miles
from home. We followed this road until we reached Senatobia, about half
past seven in the evening. We felt good, and, stopping all night, we
started the next morning for Hernando, Miss., another small town, and
reached there at two o'clock in the afternoon. The most of the bridges
had been burned, by the troops, and there were no regular railroad
trains. Fortunately, however, flat cars, drawn by horses were run over
the road; and on a train of this kind we took passage. On several
occasions, the passengers had to get out, and push the car over a
bridge, as it was not made so horses could cross on it, the horses
meantime being driven or led through the stream, and then hitched to the
car again. After we had gone through this process repeatedly, we at last
reached Memphis, arriving about seven o'clock Monday evening. The city
was filled with slaves, from all over the south, who cheered and gave us
a welcome. I could scarcely recognize Memphis, things were so changed.
We met numbers of our fellow servants who had run away before us, when
the war began. Tuesday and Wednesday we spent in making inquiries; and I
visited our old home at McGee's station. But how different it was from
what it had been when the McGees were there. All was changed. Thursday
we went to see Col. Walker, a Union officer, who looked after the
colored folks, and saw that they had their rights. When we reached his
office we found it so filled with people, waiting to see him, that we
were delayed about two hours, before we had an opportunity of speaking
with him. When our turn came, we went in, and told him that we were
citizens of Memphis until the fall of Fort Pillow and Donelson, when
our master had run us off, with a hundred other slaves, into
Mississippi, and thence to the salt works in Alabama. He questioned us
as to where we lived in Memphis. I answered: "What is now headquarters
of the Union forces was the home of master, Mr. Edmund McGee, who is now
dead." After a few minutes, I said: "Colonel, we want protection to go
back to Mississippi after our wives, who are still held as slaves." He
replied: "You are both free men to go and come as you please." "Why,"
said I, "Colonel, if we go back to Mississippi they will shoot the
gizzards out of us." "Well," said he, "I can not grant your request. I
would be overrun with similar applications; but I will tell you what you
can do. There are hundreds of just such men as you want, who would be
glad of such a scout." We thanked him and left.

* * * * *


After carefully considering the matter, we concluded to go back to
Senatobia and see the captain of the Union troops there. The next day,
Friday, we hired a two horse wagon, and made preparations to start on
our perilous undertaking Saturday morning. It was our hope to find some
one at Senatobia to go with us to Panola, and protect us in the effort
to bring away our wives. So, early in the morning, we set out. Our
first stop was at Big Springs camping ground, where we made preparations
for refreshing ourselves and spending the night. Just as we had finished
building a fire, for cooking and keeping off the mosquitoes, two
soldiers came riding up to the spring. "Hello," said one, "which way are
you traveling?" "We are just from Memphis," said George. "Have you any
whisky?" asked one of them. We replied "yes." "Will you give a fellow a
horn?" We answered the question by handing them the bottle. While they
were drinking, George and I stepped aside, and, after a few moments
talk, we decided to put the question to them of going with us to get our
wives. I asked: "Where are you from?" "Senatobia," replied one. We at
once laid our cause before them, telling them what Col. Walker had said
regarding our getting some one to go with us on our enterprise. They
listened attentively, and when we had finished, one of them asked: "How
much whisky have you?" George answered: "Two bottles." "What do you
intend to do when you see the captain at Senatobia?" "Lay our complaint
before him," said I. "Now my friend," said one of the soldiers, "I am
afraid if you go to the captain you will be defeated. But I'll tell you
what I'll do. Give my comrade and me one of your bottles of whisky, and
we will put you on a straight track. The reason why I say this is that
our captain has been sweetened by the rebel farmers. He is invited out
to tea by them every evening. I know he will put you off. But I will
write a note to some comrades of mine who, I know, will bring you out
safe." We agreed at once to this proposition, and gave them the whisky.
He wrote the note, and gave it to us, telling us to go to the last tent
on the line in the camp, where we would find two boys to whom we should
give it. "They are brave," said he, "and the only two I know of that can
help you. If they are not there don't give the note to any one else, but
wait till they come back, on Tuesday night. I feel satisfied that they
will go and help you out." With these words, they rode off. George and I
felt good over our prospects.

* * * * *


The next morning was Sunday, and we started on, reaching Senatobia about
eleven o'clock. We went into the camp, following the directions given
us, to go to the last tent in the line; but, when we reached there, the
soldiers were out. We lingered around the grounds a short time, then
went back, and found them there. We gave them the note; and, after
reading it, they simply asked us where we had stopped our wagon. I told
them outside the village. "Go there," said one of them, "and remain
until we come out to see you." Shortly they came out; and, after we had
told them what we wanted, the distance to McGee's, which was about
nineteen miles from Senatobia, and had given them such other information
as they desired, they concluded that they would go. "We want to be
back," said I, "before daylight Monday morning, because we must not be
seen on the road; for we are well known in that section, and, if
discovered, would be captured and killed." "Well," said one of the
soldiers, "we will have to go back to camp, and arrange to be excused
from roll call this evening, before we can make the trip." They went
back to camp; and, in about ten minutes they came out again saying: "All
is right; we will go." We gave them each ten dollars; and promised, if
they brought us out safely, to give each ten dollars more. It was now
about half-past eleven o'clock. They had to go to camp, and slip their
horses out cautiously, so as not to be seen by the captain. In half an
hour we were on our way; and, after we had ridden some two miles, we
were overtaken by the two soldiers. It was Sunday afternoon; and our
having a wagon attracted much attention from the farmers as we passed
along. They looked at us so sharply that George and I felt decidedly
uneasy; yet we kept up courage and pressed steadily on. After a long and
weary ride we reached old Master Jack's a little after sundown. The
soldiers rode into the yard ahead of us, and the first person they met
was a servant (Frank) at the woodpile. They said to him: "Go in and tell
your master, Mr. McGee, to come out, we want to see him," at the same
time asking for Louis' and George's wives. Young William McGee came out
and the soldiers said to him: "We want feed for seventy-five head of
horses." McGee said: "We have not got it." Just then George and I were
coming up. We drove in at the gate, through the grove, and passed the
woodpile where McGee and the soldiers were talking. McGee had just
replied: "We have not got that much feed to spare--we are almost out."
"Well," said the soldiers, "we must have it," and they followed on right
after the wagons. As we drove past them, young McGee went running into
the house, saying to his mother: "It is Louis and George, and I'll kill
one of them to-night." This raised quite an alarm, and the members of
the family told him not to do that, as it would ruin them. As soon as
George and I drove up to the first cabin, which was my wife's and
Kitty's, we ran in. Kitty met us at the door and said: "I am all ready."
She was looking for us. We commenced loading our wagon with our few
things. Meanwhile the soldiers had ridden around a few rods and came
upon old Master Jack and the minister of the parish, who were watching
as guards to keep the slaves from running away to the Yankees. Just
think of the outrage upon those poor creatures in forcibly retaining
them in slavery long after the proclamation making them free had gone
into effect beyond all question! As the soldiers rode up to the two men
they said: "Hello! what are you doing here? Why have you not told these
two men, Louis and George, that they are free men--that they can go and
come as they like?" By this time all the family were aroused, and great
excitement prevailed. The soldier's presence drew all the servants near.
George and I hurried to fill up our wagon, telling our wives to get in,
as there was no time to lose--we must go at once. In twenty minutes we
were all loaded. My wife, Aunt Kitty and nine other servants followed
the wagon. I waited for a few moments for Mary Ellen, sister of my wife;
and as she came running out of the white folks' house, she said to her
mistress, Mrs. Farrington: "Good-bye; I wish you good luck." "I wish you
all the bad luck," said she in a rage. But Mary did not stop to notice
her mistress further; and joining me, we were soon on the road following
the wagon.

* * * * *


Those soldiers were brave indeed. Think of the courage and daring
involved in this scheme--only two soldiers going into a country of which
they knew nothing except that every white man living in it was their
enemy. The demand which they made for food for seventy-five horses was a
clever ruse, invented by them to alarm the McGees, and make them think
that there was a troop of horses near by, and that it would not be safe
for them to offer any resistance to our going away with our wives. Had
they thought that there were but two soldiers, it is certain that they
would have endeavored to prevent us getting away again, and one or more
of us would undoubtedly have been killed.

As already stated, nine other slaves followed our wagon, as it moved
off. They had no hats on; some were bare-footed,--they had not stopped
to get anything; but, as soon as they saw a chance to get away, they
went just as they were at the moment. Aunt Kitty was brave and
forethoughtful, for during the week we were gone she had baked and
cooked a large amount of substantial food that would keep us from
starving while on our journey.

At the first road crossing, the two soldiers thought they saw a large
troop of soldiers in the distance, and they galloped ahead of us at full
speed; but, on arriving at the spot, they found that what they had
thought soldiers were only a herd of cattle. They rode on to the next
crossing, we following as we conveniently could. Each poor slave was
busy with his thoughts and his prayers. Now and then one would hear a
moan or a word from some of the party. All were scared, even though the
soldiers were with us. We came to the next cross road, and passed that
safely. Our fear was that the McGees might get the neighborhood to join
them and pursue us, or send the home guards after us; but Providence
was seemingly smiling upon us at last, for no one followed or molested
us. We moved on all night, until we came to a creek, at four o'clock in
the morning of Monday. The banks of the creek were very steep, and as
the horses and wagon went down into the stream, the mattress on top of
the wagon, upon which my wife and her sister's children were sitting,
was thrown off into the water. Immediately the horses stopped, and
became balky. It was such a warm night that they did not want to move on
out of the water, and would not start, either, until they got ready. As
soon as the soldiers saw the mattress slide off with my wife and the
children, one of them plunged into the water with his horse, and, in a
minute, brought them all out. All had a good ducking--indeed it seemed
like a baptism by immersion. The drenched ones were wrapped in old
blankets; and, after an hour's delay, we were again on our way. The
soldiers said: "Now we must leave you; the time is coming when we must
be in camp for roll call. If you are not at our camp when roll call is
over, we will come back and see about you." We gave them each the second
ten dollars, as agreed upon, and just as they rode to the top of the
hill they left us. We had a clear sweep from this point, and we came
into Senatobia about nine o'clock in the forenoon. Our two soldier
friends, who had brought us out so safely, came out of camp to see us.
They cheered us, and seemed glad that they had rendered us service. We
stopped at the camp until we had dried our clothes and had some
breakfast; and, then, we made our way to Memphis.

* * * * *


My wife and her sister were shoeless, and the latter had no hat on--she
had hurried out of the house in such excitement that she thought of
nothing but getting away. Having to walk some of the way, as all could
not ride in the wagon at the same time, we were all tired, dirty and
rest-broken, and, on the whole, a pitiful crowd to look at, as we came
into the city. One venerable old man, bent with age, whose ebony face
shone with delight, came running out into the road as we appeared,
exclaiming: "Oh! here dey come, God bless 'em! Poor chil'en! they come
fannin." We used large palm leaves to fan ourselves with, as we were so
warm. Those nine souls that followed us walked the whole distance,
arriving shortly after we did. Thousands of others, in search of the
freedom of which they had so long dreamed, flocked into the city of
refuge, some having walked hundreds of miles.

It was appropriately the 4th of July when we arrived; and, aside from
the citizens of Memphis, hundreds of colored refugees thronged the
streets. Everywhere you looked you could see soldiers. Such a day I
don't believe Memphis will ever see again--when so large and so motley a
crowd will come together. Our two soldier rescuers looked us up after we
were in Memphis, and seemed truly glad that we had attained our freedom,
and that they had been instrumental in it. Only one thing we regret, and
that is that we did not learn their names; but we were in so much
trouble, and so absorbed in the business which we had in hand--so
excited by the perils of our undertaking, that we never thought to ask
them their names, or to what regiment they belonged. Then, after we got
to Memphis, though we were most grateful for the service which they had
rendered us, we were still so excited by our new condition and
surroundings that we thought of little else, and forgot that we had no
means of establishing, at a later time, the identity of those to whom
we owed so much. Freedom, that we had so long looked for, had come at
last; and we gave praise to God, blessing the day when we met those two
heroes. It is true that we should have been free, sooner or later;
still, but for their assistance, my wife and I might never have met
again. If I could not have gone back, which I could never have done
alone, until long after, such changes might have occurred as would have
separated us for years, if not forever. Thousands were separated in this
manner--men escaping to the Union lines, hoping to make a way to return
for their families; but, failing in this, and not daring to return
alone, never saw their wives or children more. Thanks to God, we were
guided to these brave soldiers, and so escaped from so cruel a fate.

* * * * *


In closing this account of my years of bondage, it is, perhaps, but
justice to say of my old master that he was in some respects kinder and
more humane than many other slaveholders. He fed well, and all had
enough to wear, such as it was. It is true that the material was coarse,
but it was suited to the season, and, therefore, comfortable, which
could not truthfully be said of the clothing of the slaves of other
planters. Not a few of these did not have sufficient clothes to keep
them warm in winter; nor did they have sufficient nourishing and
wholesome food. But while my master showed these virtues, similar to
those which a provident farmer would show in the care of his dumb
brutes, he lacked in that humane feeling which should have kept him from
buying and selling human beings and parting kindred--which should have
made it impossible for him to have permitted the lashing, beating and
lacerating of his slaves, much more the hiring of an irresponsible
brute, by the year, to perform this barbarous service for him. The
McGees were charitable--as they interpreted the word--were always ready
to contribute to educational and missionary funds, while denying, under
the severest penalties, all education to those most needing it, and all
true missionary effort--the spiritual enlightenment for which they were
famishing. Then our masters lacked that fervent charity, the love of
Christ in the heart, which if they had possessed they could not have
treated us as they did. They would have remembered the golden rule: "Do
unto others as ye would that men should do to you." Possessing absolute
power over the bodies and souls of their slaves, and grown rich from
their unrequited toil, they became possessed by the demon of avarice and
pride, and lost sight of the most vital of the Christly qualities.



* * * * *


As before stated, we arrived in Memphis on the Fourth of July, 1865. My
first effort as a freeman was to get something to do to sustain myself
and wife and a babe of a few months, that was born at the salt works. I
succeeded in getting a room for us, and went to work the second day
driving a public carriage. I made enough to keep us and pay our room
rent. By our economy we managed to get on very well. I worked on, hoping
to go further north, feeling somehow that it would be better for us
there; when, one day I ran across a man who knew my wife's mother. He
said to me: "Why, your wife's mother went back up the river to
Cincinnati. I knew her well and the people to whom she belonged." This
information made us eager to take steps to find her. My wife was
naturally anxious to follow the clue thus obtained, in hopes of finding
her mother, whom she had not seen since the separation at Memphis years
before. We, therefore, concluded to go as far as Cincinnati, at any
rate, and endeavor to get some further information of mother. My wife
seemed to gather new strength in learning this news of her mother,
meager though it was. After a stay in Memphis of six weeks we went on to
Cincinnati, hopeful of meeting some, at least, of the family that,
though free, in defiance of justice, had been consigned to cruel and
hopeless bondage--bondage in violation of civil as well as moral law. We
felt it was almost impossible that we should see any one that we ever
knew; but the man had spoken so earnestly and positively regarding my
mother-in-law that we were not without hope. On arriving at Cincinnati,
our first inquiry was about her, my wife giving her name and
description; and, fortunately, we came upon a colored man who said he
knew of a woman answering to the name and description which my wife gave
of her mother, and he directed us to the house where she was stopping.
When we reached the place to which we had been directed, my wife not
only found her mother but one of her sisters. The meeting was a joyful
one to us all. No mortal who has not experienced it can imagine the
feeling of those who meet again after long years of enforced separation
and hardship and utter ignorance of one another's condition and place of
habitation. I questioned them as to when and where they had met, and how
it happened that they were now together. My mother-in-law then began the
following narrative:

"When I was sold from the Memphis trader's yard I was bought by a man
who lived not far from Memphis. I never heard of any of the children,
and knew nothing as to what had become of them. After the capture of
Memphis by the Union army, the people to whom I belonged fled from their
home, leaving their slaves; and the other slaveholders of the
neighborhood did the same. The slaves, left to themselves, at once
departed for Memphis, and I among the number. When I had been there but
a short time a call was made for nurses to go into the hospital; and,
after thinking of it for a few minutes, I concluded to answer the call,
and was speedily installed in the work. When I had been there a short
time I found, to my great surprise and delight, my eldest daughter was
also employed there. She had come to Memphis as I had, because her
master's family had fled; and, hearing the call for nurses, had entered
the service at once. I can not tell my pleasure in meeting one of my
children, for I had never expected to see any of them again. We
continued our work in the hospital until Generals Sheridan and Grant
said the city was getting too crowded with colored people--there was not
room for them; some must be removed. So, large numbers of them were sent
to Cincinnati, and my daughter and I were among them. This is why you
see us here together."

When she had finished telling this story my wife and I were shedding
tears of joy. My sister-in-law, Mary Ellen, whom Boss bought at the same
time that he bought my wife, was with us; thus the mother and three
daughters had met again most unexpectedly, and in a way almost
miraculous. This meeting again of mother and daughters, after years of
separation and many vicissitudes, was an occasion of the profoundest
joy, although all were almost wholly destitute of the necessaries of
life. This first evening we spent together can never be forgotten. I can
see the old woman now, with bowed form and gray locks, as she gave
thanks in joyful tones yet reverent manner, for such a wonderful

* * * * *


We did not remain long in Cincinnati, as houses were so scarce we could
not get a place to stop in. My wife's mother had but one room, and we
could not stay there. We went on to Hamilton, but stayed there only two
months. I worked at whatever I could get to do--whitewashing and odd
jobs of any kind. The women managed to get washing to do, so that we got
on very well. Our aim was when we left Memphis to get to Canada, as we
regarded that as the safest place for refugees from slavery. We did not
know what might come again for our injury. So, now, as we had found some
of my wife's people, we were more eager to go; and, as I could not get
any steady work in Hamilton, we made ready to move on. We went straight
to Detroit, and crossed over the river to Windsor, Canada, arriving
there on Christmas 1865. I succeeded in getting work as a porter at the
Iron House, a hotel situated near the landing. Here my wife also was
employed, and here we remained until spring; when, as the wages were so
small in Windsor, I went over to Detroit to seek for more profitable
employment. After some effort, I succeeded in securing a situation, as
waiter, in the Biddle House, and remained there two years, when the
manager died, and it changed hands; and, much as I disliked to make a
change in my work, I found it necessary. An opportunity soon offered of
a position as sailor on the steamer Saginaw, which ran from Green Bay to
Escanaba, in connection with the railroad.

* * * * *


While I was on this boat, one of the men who worked with me said to me,
one day: "Have you a brother, Hughes?" I said, "Yes, but I don't know
anything about him. We were sold from each other when boys." "Well,"
said he, "I used to sail with a man whose name was Billy Hughes, and he
looked just like you." I told him there were three boys of us; that we
were sold to different parties, and that I had never seen either of my
brothers since. One brother was named William, but went by the nickname
of Billy. "Has this man had his forefinger cut off," asked I. "Oh!"
replied he, "I don't know, Hughes, about that." "Well," said I, "this is
all I remember about Billy. I accidentally chopped off his forefinger
one day, when we were small boys in Virginia. This is the only thing by
which I could identify my brother William." Nothing more was said upon
the matter, and it dropped out of my mind. I did not realize how
important were the words of this man. It never occurred to me that he
held the clew that might bring us together again.

* * * * *


When the sailing season had ended, the steamer tied up at Chicago for
the winter. Upon going ashore, I at once tried to get something else to
do, for I could not afford to be idle a day. One of the first men I met
in Chicago was my old friend and fellow-servant Thomas Bland. He was
glad to see me, and told me all about his escape to Canada, and how he
had met Will McGee, at Niagara Falls. He was working at the Sherman
House, having charge of the coat room. I told him that I had been
sailing during the summer, but that the boat was now laid up, and that I
was anxious for another job. He said he would try and see what he could
do for me. He went to the proprietor of the hotel, Mr. Rice; and, to my
surprise and delight, he was so fortunate as to secure me a position as
porter and general utility man. My family were still at Windsor, Canada;
and, when I had secured this place, I got leave of absence to make them
a visit, and went there at once. Two babies had been born only a day
before my arrival. I had hoped to be there on the interesting occasion,
but was too late. However, I was pleased to find two bright little girls
to aid in the family greeting, which was delightful after the months of
separation. My wife, her sister Mary and her two children, her mother
and the sister we found at Cincinnati were all still here living

* * * * *


After a visit of two weeks with my family, I returned to Chicago, and
began my work at the Sherman House. I was full of energy and hope, and
resolved to put forth every effort to make a man of myself, and to earn
an honest living. I saw that I needed education, and it was one of the
bitterest remembrances of my servitude that I had been cheated out of
this inalienable right--this immeasurable blessing. I, therefore,
determined to do what was in my power to gain something of that of which
I had been cruelly defrauded. Hence I entered the night-school for
freedmen, which had been established in the city, and faithfully
attended its sessions during the months it was kept open.

* * * * *


I worked at the Sherman House until August 1868, and, during this time,
saw many travelers and business men, and made some lasting friends among
them. Among these was Mr. Plankinton. He seemed to take a fancy to me,
and offered me a situation in the Plankinton House, soon to be opened in
Milwaukee. I readily accepted it for I was not getting a large salary,
and the position which he offered promised more. The Plankinton House
was opened in September, and I was placed in full charge of the coat
room; and, after I had been there some time, I had, in connection with
my coat room duties, charge of the bell stand. My wife had charge of the
waiter's rooms, a lodging house situated on Second street, one door from
Grand Avenue. This was a brick building that stood where the west
portion of the Plankinton now stands. The second floor was used as our
living rooms; the third and fourth floors constituted the sleeping
apartments of the hotel waiters. My wife looked after these apartments,
saw that they were clean, and had a general supervision of them.

* * * * *


After the hotel had been running a little over a year, I saw there was
a chance for me to make something at laundry work. I was allowed to take
washing from any of the guests who desired their work done privately. In
this way I worked up quite a business. I still continued my coat room
duties, as my wife managed the laundry work. Our laundry business
increased so rapidly I deemed it best to change our quarters from Second
street to 216 Grand avenue, which seemed better suited for our purpose.
Here the business continued to grow until it reached proportions of
which we had little idea when we began it.

* * * * *


One day while I was at the Plankinton I happened to be coming through
the hall, when whom should I meet but Col. Hunting, son-in-law of old
Master Jack McGee, of Mississippi. We came face to face, and I knew him
at once, but he only partially recognized me. He said: "I know your
face, but can not recall your name." I said: "Don't you know Louis
McGee?" He then remembered me at once. "Why," said he, "my wife, my
brother and all his family are here. There is a party of us on a
pleasure trip through the north." I soon learned that they had visited
at Waukesha springs, and had been at the hotel only a few hours, waiting
for the boat for Grand Haven. I hastened to bring my wife to see them
and got back with her just in time. They were already in the 'bus, but
waited for us. We very cordially shook hands with them. They asked me
why I had come so far north, and I replied that we kept traveling until
we found a place where we could make a good living. They wished us
success and the 'bus rolled away.

* * * * *


While I was at the Plankinton House many of the traveling men seemingly
liked to talk with me when they came to the coat room to check their
things. I remember one day when conversing with one of these gentlemen,
he asked, all of a sudden: "Say, Hughes, have you a brother?" I
answered: "Yes, I had two, but I think they are dead. I was sold from
them when a mere lad." "Well," said he, "if you have a brother he is in
Cleveland. There is a fellow there who is chief cook at the Forest City
Hotel who looks just like you." I grew eager at these words, and put the
same question to him that I did to the man on the steamer when I was
sailing: "Has he one fore-finger cut off?" He laughed and answered:
"Well, I don't know, Hughes, about that; but I do know this: His name
is Billy and he resembles you very much. I'll tell you what I'll do,
when I go back to Cleveland on my next trip I'll look and see if that
fore-finger is off." Now that the second person had called my attention
to the fact that there was a man in Cleveland who looked very much like
me, I became deeply interested--in fact, I was so excited I could hardly
do my work. I awaited the agents return with what of patience I could
command; and, at last, one day, when I was least expecting him, I was
greeted with these words: "Hello, Hughes! I have good news for you." I
grew so excited I could hardly stand still. "Well," he said, "you told
me that you had a brother whose name was William, but called Billy for
short?" "Yes," I said. "Did your brother Billy have his fore-finger
chopped off by his brother Louis, when, as boys, they were one day
playing together?" "Yes," I replied. "Then I have found your brother,"
he said. "I have seen the man in Cleveland, and he corroborates your
story in every particular. He says that he was born in Virginia, near
Charlottesville, and was owned by one John Martin." I knew now, beyond
question, that this was my brother William. Words failed me to express
my feelings at this news. The prospect of seeing my brother, lost so
many years before, made me almost wild with joy. I thanked the agent for
the interest he had taken in me, and for the invaluable and
comprehensive information he had brought. He could hardly have done me a
greater favor, or bound me to him by a more lasting obligation.

My first step was to arrange for a leave of absence from my work, which
I found no difficulty in accomplishing, and by night I was aboard the
express going to Cleveland. My excitement did not diminish as I sped on
my journey, and the speed of the express was too slow for my eager
anticipations. Upon reaching Cleveland I went directly to the hotel
where I was told my brother was employed, and inquired at the office for
Billy Hughes. A bell boy was summoned to take me around to the
department where he was. When we met neither of us spoke for some

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