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The tender Mercies of a slave-holder.

In the year of 1808 a Southerner arrested a fugitive slave in Philadelphia and committed him to prison. When he called for him, with authority to take him back to the South, the poor fellow seemed dreadfully distressed. He told the keeper that his master was very severe, and he knew that terrible sufferings awaited him if he was again placed in his power. He hesitated long before he followed the keeper to the iron gate, through which he was to pass out of prison. When he saw his oppressor standing there with fetters in his hand, ready to take him away, he stopped and pleaded in the most piteous tones for permission to find a purchaser in Philadelphia. His owner took not the slightest notice of these humble entreaties, but in a peremptory manner ordered him to come out. The slave trembled all over, and said in the fainting accents of despair, ‘Master, I can't go with you!’

‘Come out, you black rascal!’ exclaimed the inexorable tyrant. ‘Come out immediately!’ [158]

The poor wretch advanced timidly a few steps, then turned back suddenly, as if overcome with mortal fear. The master became very impatient, and in angry vociferous tones commanded the keeper to bring him out by force.

All this time, the keeper had stood with his hand on the key of the iron door, very reluctant to open it. But at last he unlocked it, and told the poor terrified creature that he must go. He rushed to the door in the frenzy of desperation, gazed in his master's face for an instant, then flew back, took a sharp knife, which he had concealed about him, and drew it across his throat with such force, that he fell senseless near his master's feet, spattering his garments with blood. All those who witnessed this awful scene, supposed the man was dead. Dr. Church, physician of the prison, examined the wound, and said there was scarcely a possibility that he could survive, though the wind-pipe was not entirely separated. But even the terrible admonition of that ghastly spectacle produced no relenting feelings in the hard heart of the slaveholder. He still demanded to have his victim delivered up to him. When the keeper declined doing it, and urged the reason that the physician said he could not be moved without imminent danger to his life, the brutal tyrant exclaimed, ‘Damn him! He's my property; and I [159] will have him, dead or alive. If he dies, it's nobody's loss but mine.’

As he had the mayor's warrant for taking him, the keeper dared not incur the responsibility of disobeying his requisitions. He convened the inspectors for consultation; and they all agreed that any attempt to remove the wounded man would render them accessory to his death. They laid the case before the mayor, who ordered that the prisoner should remain undisturbed till the physician pronounced him out of danger. When the master was informed of this, he swore that nobody had any right to interfere between him and his property. He cursed the mayor, threatened to prosecute the keeper, and was in a furious rage with every body.

Meanwhile, the sympathy of Isaac T. Hopper was strongly excited in the case, and he obtained a promise from the physician that he would let him know if there was any chance that the slave would recover. Contrary to all expectation, he lingered along day after day; and in about a week, the humane physician signified to Friend Hopper, and Joseph Price, one of the inspectors, that a favorable result might now be anticipated. Of course, none of them considered it a duty to inform the master of their hopes. They undertook to negotiate for the purchase of the prisoner, and obtained him for a moderate price. The owner was fully impressed with the [160] belief that he would die before long, and therefore regarded the purchase of him as a mere freak of humanity, by which he was willing enough to profit. When he heard soon afterward that the doctor pronounced him out of danger, he was greatly enraged. But his suffering victim was beyond the reach of his fury, which vented itself in harmless execrations.

The colored man lived many years, to enjoy the liberty for which he had been willing to sacrifice his life. He was a sober, honest, simple-hearted person, and always conducted in a manner entirely satisfactory to those who had befriended him in his hour of utmost need.

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