The Quick-Witted slave.
About the year 1805, a colored man, who belonged to Colonel Hopper
, of Maryland
, escaped with his wife and children, who were also slaves.
He went to Philadelphia
and hired a small house in Green's Court, where he lived several months before his master discovered his retreat.
As soon as he obtained
tidings of him, he went to Philadelphia
, and applied to Richard Hunt
, a constable who was much employed as a slave hunter.
Having procured a warrant, they went together, in search of the fugitives.
It was about dusk, and the poor man just returned from daily toil, was sitting peacefully with his wife and children, when in rushed his old master, accompanied by the constable.
With extraordinary presence of mind, the colored man sprang up, and throwing his arms round his master's neck, exclaimed, ‘O, my dear master, how glad I am to see you!
I should like to be free; but I had a great deal rather be a slave.
I can't get work, and we have almost starved.
I would have returned home, but I was afraid you would sell me to the Georgia
men. I beg your pardon a thousand times.
If you will only forgive me, I will go back with you, and never leave you again.’
The master was very agreeably surprised by this reception, and readily promised forgiveness.
He was about to dismiss the constable, but the slave urged him to stay a few minutes.
‘I have earned a little money to-day, for a rarity,’ said he; ‘and I want to go out and buy something to drink; for I suppose old master must be tired.’
He stepped out, and soon returned with a quantity of gin, with which he liberally supplied his guests.
He knew full well that they were both men of intemperate habits; so
he talked gaily about affairs in Maryland
, making various inquiries concerning what had happened since he left; and ever and anon he replenished their glasses with gin. It was not long before they were completely insensible to all that was going on around them.
The colored man and his family then made speedy preparations for departure.
While Colonel Hopper
and the constable lay in the profound stupor of intoxication, they were on the way to New Jersey
, with all their household goods, where they found a safe place of refuge before the rising of the sun.
When consciousness returned to the sleepers, they were astonished to find themselves alone in the house; and as soon as they could rally their wits, they set off in search of the fugitives.
After spending several days without finding any track of them, the master called upon Isaac T. Hopper
He complained bitterly of his servant's ingratitude in absconding from him, and of the trick he had played to deceive him. He said he and his family had always been extremely comfortable in Maryland
, and it was a great piece of folly in them to have quitted such a happy condition.
He concluded by asking for assistance in tracing them; promising to treat them as kindly as if they were his own children, if they would return to him.
replied, ‘If the man were as happy with thee as thou hast represented, he will doubtless
return voluntarily, and my assistance will be quite unnecessary.
I do not justify falsehood and deception; but I am by no means surprised at them in one who has always been a slave, and had before him the example of slaveholders.
Why thou shouldst accuse him of ingratitude, is more than I can comprehend.
It seems to me that he owes thee nothing.
On the contrary, I should suppose that thou wert indebted to him; for I understand that he has served thee more than thirty years without wages.
So far from helping thee to hunt the poor fugitives, I will, with all my heart, do my utmost to keep them out of thy grasp.’
‘Have you seen my man?’
inquired the slaveholder.
‘He came to me when he left his own house in Green's Court,’ replied Friend Hopper
; ‘and I gave him such advice on that occasion, as I thought proper.
Thou art the first slaveholder I ever met with bearing my name.
Perhaps thou hast assumed it, as a means of gaining the confidence of colored people, to aid thee in recapturing the objects of thy avarice.’
replied that it was really his name, and departed without having gained much satisfaction from the interview.
He remained in Philadelphia
a week or ten days, where he was seized with mania a potu
. He was carried home in a straight jacket, where he soon after died.
A few months after these transactions, the slave called to see Friend Hopper
He laughed till he could hardly stand, while he described the method he had taken to elude his old master, and the comical scene that followed with him and the constable.
‘I knew his weak side,’ said he. ‘I knew where to touch him.’
inquired whether he was not aware that it was wrong to tell falsehoods, and to get men drunk.
‘I suppose it was
wrong,’ he replied.
‘But liberty is sweet; and none of us know what we would do to secure it, till we are tried.’
He afterward returned to Philadelphia
, where he supported his family comfortably, and remained unmolested.