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Chapter 12:

  • Christian Fellowship
  • -- candid conversation with a slaveholder -- Clay-eaters -- a true Unionist -- secret Organizations in the South -- Washington and Randolph on slavery -- Aunt Katy -- religion and republicanism -- proslavery Inexcusable in the North -- a distinguished Abolitionist.

As the words of inspiration came to my ears, I, too, sank on my knees, and poured forth my soul at the mercy-seat. I must have spoken rather loudly, for the next morning, this identical slave woman, while dressing my wounded foot, asked me to what church I belonged. On my telling her, she sprang away quickly, and ran and informed her mistress that I was a minister of their church. The lady immediately came to me, her face wreathed in sweet smiles, and inquired if such was really the case. I told her it was, and had been so since my seventeenth year.

“Oh! Sir,” she answered, “my husband is a member of that church.”

At this moment breakfast was announced, and after the conclusion of the meal, I was requested by both the sheriff and his wife, to lead in [159] prayer. The Lord put words into my mouth, and we had, indeed, a happy time. My host then invited me to take a walk with him, which I did, though my foot gave me considerable pain. We fell immediately to conversation, in the course of which I got a full insight into the real condition of affairs in the Southern Confederacy.

To one of my questions, he answered:

Yes, sir, the war is the cause of all our misery. You see, for instance, this region of country is adapted only to raising cotton, for the land is too light for sugar-cane or rice. The masses of the people in this particular county are employed in cutting timber, which, being floated down the Ocmulgee to Darien, is sold there, and with the proceeds are obtained the necessaries of life, flour, corn-meal, salt, &c.

“Well,” suggested I, “you rich men, at least, will not suffer.”

“There, sir, you are much mistaken. We shall suffer heavily; for, though we have farms and plantations, yet we have not hands to work them. And another thing, perhaps, you are not aware of, is, that we have thousands of poor men who live here and there, in their pole-huts, rearing large families on the little crops of cotton and so forth, which they raise on some other [160] man's farm, upon which they have squatted. In the fall they hunt, and thus supply their families with meat and salt; the skins of the animals they take to procure the latter article. So they live, half human, half animal, letting their progeny loose upon us. Of course, many of them must starve now. If they could obtain salt, however, they might live on gophers, which abound in the pine-forests.”

Presently, we came in sight of a wretched hut, about which I saw some white children playing. My companion led me thither, with the remark:

I will show you, sir, a family belonging to the class of which I speak.

Upon reaching the hut, my blood almost chilled at the sight of squalid poverty which I beheld. There stood a family of ten persons; a father — who on account of his age had escaped the conscription — a mother, and eight ragged, filthy children. The ages of the latter, I should judge, ranged from one year up to sixteen. The peculiar color of their complexions struck me very forcibly; it was the same as that of the men composing the first court by which I had been tried. My host gave us a reason for it, that “they laid around so much in the dirt, and [161] ate so much clay.” I asked the man himself why he and his family ate clay.

“Cause it's good, I golly!” was the prompt reply.

“Well, how are you getting along?”

“Bad enough,” said he, “fur we hain't had a grain oa salt in the house fur more'n four months, only as the sheriff here gins it to us.”

“What do you live on, then?” I asked.

“Oh, on gophers and corn-meal, now-a-days. But, I golly! our meal's out, and I don't know what we'll do next.”

I got this miserable creature to make me a pair of slippers from old boots, for which I paid him one dollar and fifty cents, in order that he might get some corn-meal, which sold at two dollars and fifty cents per bushel. This money was part of a sum that the sheriff had kindly lent me. Before we took our departure, the lady (?) of the hut gave us her opinion, in no measured terms, of the rascally Yankees.

“Ah, sir,” said the sheriff, when we were out of hearing, “if I were to speak the real sentiments of my mind, I should be hung before twenty-four hours. I am a Union man, and when you get back to Ohio, I want you to tell all the friends in our Church that I am so. I have twenty-seven negroes, and a thousand [162] acres of land, and I would let the whole of it go, could I only see the Union restored to what it once was. But this I never expect to behold, for while slavery exists, the Union cannot be preserved. I am in reality an anti-slavery man, and these are my reasons therefor: First, it is a sin in the sight of God; secondly, it is an injury to the slave himself; and thirdly, it is an injury to the white race.”

“How so?” asked I.

“Because land worked by slave labor is not worth half so much as when worked by free labor. And, besides, if it were not for slavery, society would be much improved, for the rich and poor, as things are now, are very ignorant.”

“How do the rich obtain their wealth?” said I.

“In this way. A man comes here, perhaps, with one female slave, and, in a comparatively short time, he has quite a number of young servants about him. Some of these he sells, and with the proceeds purchases a piece of timber-land. This he has cleared, sells the timber, gets more slaves and another piece of land, and so goes on adding to his wealth continually. He has no education himself, and, three times out of four, gives his children none.”

My host further informed me that he himself [163] had three hundred acres of land in Illinois, and that he had intended to send his son to that State to be educated, but he supposed he would be unable to do so now. He said he had no doubt that this Illinois property would be confiscated. “But,” added he, warmly, “I do not care if it is, provided the Union is restored!”

The sentiments expressed by this man astonished me, and I could not forbear asking him the reason why he opposed slavery so earnestly, and yet held in bondage twenty-seven human beings.

“I never bought nor sold a slave in my life!” said he. “You saw that old negress, Kate, this morning; well, she belonged to my wife, as did also her two sisters. These other slaves are all their children. I would have freed them long ago, but they refused to leave me; and I, on the other hand, could not leave them to go North, for I would have been obliged to give security that they would not become a pest and burden to the community, and that I was unable to do. So, you see how the case stands. But I am not alone in my sentiments, sir. There are thirty-five of us within an area of ten miles, who have organized ourselves into a society, and hold regular meetings every two weeks, to oppose the conscription. This is confidential, [164] for I know I can trust you.” He spoke of the notice which had been taken by Northern journals of the existence of such societies in the South, and referred to the disunion associations in the North. I informed him that the latter, thank God, were few and far between, and could do no harm to the cause.

This gentleman's statement concerning the depreciation of Southern land, brought to my mind the authority of the fathers of our Republic on the subject. John Sinclair had written to Washington concerning the difference of the land in Pennsylvania from that of Virginia and Maryland. Washington's answer was this:

Because there are in Pennsylvania laws for the gradual abolition of slavery, which neither Maryland nor Virginia has at present; but there is nothing more certain than that they must have, and at a period not remote.

The sheriffs statement regarding the liberation of his slaves, was the same as that of John Randolph, Governor of Virginia. The latter said:

The deplorable error, of our ancestors in copying a civil institution from savage Africa, has affixed to their posterity, a depressing burden, which nothing but the extraordinary [165] benefits confered by our happy climate could have enabled us to support. We have been far outstripped by States to whom nature has been far less bountiful. It is painful to consider what might have been, under other circumstances, the amount of general wealth in Virginia, or the whole sum of comfortable subsistence and happiness possessed by all her inhabitants.

--Addressed to the Legislature of Virginia, 1820.

In the course of a conversation I had with the old slave woman, Kate, I said:

Aunt Katy, if the slaves were to be freed, it would not do you much good, for you are old, and will soon pass into eternity.

Thank de Lord, sah,” she replied, “I am ready to go! But, oh! I wish I could only see my children and grandchildren in hope of freedom! And dar's my husband. You see his massa might sell him, and den I don't think I could live. Dar's no danger of my massa selling me, for he's a good man, and he's let me and my children learn to read, and I learned my husband.”

“What is the law in Georgia on that point?”

I asked.

“God bless you, sah! they'd penitentiary a man for learning a slave to read.” [166]

This I had heard before, but never until now did I give it credence. Aunt Katy told me she was sorry we had not struck that town before in our flight, as her son was an operator on the Underground Railroad, and would have insured our escape.

Evening came, and once more did I lead in prayer at family worship. I did so with more assurance and faith than the evening before, for I now thoroughly knew the sheriffs sentiments. Had I not known them, I must confess that my faith in his religion would have been greatly weakened. Do not tell me of republican or mutual rights, or Christianity, when the soul is full of tyranny.

Are you republicans? away!
'Tis blasphemy the word to say.
You talk of freedom? Out, for shame I
Your lips contaminate the name.
How dare you prate of public good,
Your hands besmeared with human blood?
How dare you lift those hands to Heaven,
And ask a hope to be forgiven?
How dare you breathe the wounded air
That wafts to Heaven the negro's prayer?
How dare you tread the conscious earth
That gave mankind an equal birth?
And, while you thus inflict the rod,
How dare you say there is a God,
Who will in justice from the skies, [167]
Hear and avenge his creatures' cries?
‘Slaves to be sold!’ hark, what a sound!
You give America a wound,
A scar, a stigma of disgrace,
Which you, nor time, can e'er efface;
And prove of nations yet unborn
The curse, the hatred, and the scorn.

The Horrors of slavery.

There are a few weak-kneed politicians in the North, who think to curry favor with the South at this time, by exclaiming, that “we love slavery, and that the negroes were made for slaves.” Did they but know the opinion of Union men in the South, their hopes for popularity would be for ever blighted.

After our devotions were ended, conversation on the current topics of the day was resumed. The sheriff expressed the hope that he would soon hear of the arrests of all in the North who were opposed to a vigorous prosecution of the war. This converse we continued until bedtime, when, again joining in a supplication to the Throne of Grace, we retired for the night. But sleep was a stranger to my eyes, for my foot and hand, although Aunt Katy had dressed them skillfully, gave me excessive pain. As I lay writhing on my couch, I was unable to banish the thoughts that came flashing into my mind concerning the bondmen of the South; [168] and I pondered deeply whether I could not do something toward benefitting them. Yet when such men as Washington and Jefferson failed, how should I succeed?

“But,” exclaims the tender-footed Union man, “you would not intimate that Washington was an abolitionist?”

To such an one I would say, “Hear the words of that great and good man.”

The benevolence of your heart, my dear Marquis, is so conspicuous on all occasions, that I never wonder at fresh proofs of it. But your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slave, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit might diffuse itself generally among the minds of the people of this country! But I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last session, for the abolition of slavery, but they scarcely obtained a hearing. -Letter to Lafayette.

Rising early the next morning, I walked abroad to view the works of God; and as I limped along, I thanked him exceedingly for his goodness and kindness to me, his unworthy servant. As I passed the cabins of the sheriff's [169] slaves, they were preparing to go up to his house for prayers.

After breakfast, our host, taking us aside, informed us that as we had been committed to his charge, he would be obliged to return us to Macon, where he would get the commandant to parole us, limiting us at the same time to the boundaries of the State. Had he himself come across us accidentally, he assured us that, instead of holding us, he would have had us conveyed secretly to our lines. But this, under the circumstances, he was now unable to do, as he would thereby incur the death-penalty himself. We, of course, assented to this, as it would have been extremely ungrateful to our host, who, had protected us from violence, to refuse.

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