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My second trip.

I. Virginia.

  • Preliminary words on insurrection
  • -- I start again -- Chesterfield county facts -- social reunions North and South -- the poor whites and slavery -- education and slavery -- a know-nothing yet wise negro boy -- farming Utensils -- guano and negroes -- the Slaveocracy and the poor,

Preliminary words on insurrection.

my opinion of the slaveholders, and my feelings toward them, were greatly modified during my residence in Savannah. I saw so much that was noble, generous and admirable in their characters; I saw so many demoralizing pro-slavery influences — various, attractive, resistless — brought to bear on their intellects from their cradle to their tomb, that from hating I began to pity them. It is not at all surprising that the people of the South are so indifferent to the rights of the African race. For, as far as the negro is concerned, the press, the pulpit, the bench, the bar, and the stump, conspire with a unity of purpose and pertinacity of zeal, which is no less lamentable than extraordinary, to eradicate every sentiment of justice and brotherhood from their hearts. They sincerely believe Wrong to be Right, and act on that unhappy conviction. They know not what they do. Preachers tell them that slavery is a God-planted institution; lawyers, that it [83] is the apple of the eye of the Federal Constitution; jurists, that it is the key and corner-stone of a rational and conservative Freedom; politicians, that it is the prolific source of our national greatness and the surest guaranty for the continuance of a stable prosperity — while the press, by its false and perverted record of passing events, represents every enemy of proslavery domination as a foe to the South--as seeking to rob and to subdue the people of the slaveholding States--and thus teaches that fidelity to their “peculiar,” “patriarchal,” “domestic” iniquity is the sum and substance — the alpha and omega of a man's duty to his country.

Thus taught — interest prompting also — they have gone on, year after year, supporting the extravagant demands of their politicians; until now, no longer content with their first demand — toleration, or their second claim — equality with freedom, they boldly insist on absolute and undisputed supremacy in every State.

They are sincere. Far less criminal are they therefore, in my opinion, than such moral outcasts as G---S---, who once publicly uttered the revolting declaration, that, if every slave in America could be instantly liberated by a single prayer, he — for one--would not offer it up! The Southern church has been a very ponderous millstone around the neck of the slave — the clergy having vied, apparently, with each other to see which of the conflicting denominations, South, could keep the negro the longest and the deepest under water.

But sincerity is not enough, in the eye of the moral law. It is necessary, also, to be right; to abstain from violating the law. How then, shall we [84] compel the slaveholder to understand that his treatment of the negro is wrong — to show him that it is demanded, by every principle of justice and humanity, that he shall liberate his slaves? Not by propagating the popular theology — for the South has churches enough, far too many preachers, and might even spare a Tract Society! The more the worse — for the slave. Preaching even undefiled Christianity would have no universal immediate effect, and even if it would have, and could have, there is this objection to it — it cannot be carried into operation! The slaveholders will not listen to it — it is illegal — dangerous to attempt — in one word “impracticable” in the Southern States. Besides, if possible, it would be absurd. You might as well preach to buffaloes! Our duty to the slave, I think, demands that we shall speedily appeal to the taskmaster's fear. Let us teach, urge, and encourage insurrections, and the South will soon abandon her haughty attitude of aggression. Then it will be time enough to advocate schemes of compensation; then it will be time enough to ascertain whether or not the Constitution gives us the power to abolish slavery everywhere. Until then, I confess, I regard all such labors as unnecessary, or, at best, but an awkward mode of fighting a powerful and defiant foe. If we want to make good terms with the Slave Power, let us bring it on its knees first! And there is but one way of doing that: by attacking it where it is weakest--at home. The slave quarter is the Achilles' heel of the South. Wound it there and it dies! One insurrection in Virginia, in 1832, did more for the emancipation cause, than all the teachings of the Revolutionary Fathers. What if, in such rising, a few lives are lost? What [85] are a few hundred lives even, as compared with the liberties of four millions of men? I have no ill-feeling to slaveholders as a class. Yet I could hear of the untimely death of ten thousand of them without a sigh, or an expression, or a feeling of regret, if it resulted in the freedom of a single State.

I dismiss the argument that we have no right to encourage insurrections, the dreadful punishment of which, if unsuccessful, we are unwilling or do not propose to share, by replying that I am not unprepared to hazard the danger of such a catastrophe, and the chances of speedy death or enduring victory with the revolutionary slaves. To still another objection urged against my plan, I answer that, in an insurrection, if all the slaves in the United States--men, women and helpless babes — were to fall on the field or become the victims of Saxon vengeance, after the event, if one man only survived to relate how his race heroically fell, and to enjoy the freedom they had won, the liberty of that solitary negro, in my opinion, would be cheaply purchased by the universal slaughter of his people and their oppressors.

I start again.

Let us travel again!

After a detention of some months in New York city, prostrated on a sick bed, I once more departed for the Southern States.

About the middle of September, 1854, I travelled by railroad from Richmond to Petersburg. I made no notes of the intervening country at the time, but will insert here what I wrote on a subsequent pedestrian journey over the same route.


Chesterfield county facts.

Nearly the entire road runs through woods. Land, from $6 to $8 an acre.

This county, a few years ago, had a population of 17,483, an increase of thirty-four only during the ten preceding years. It had 8,400 whites, 8,616 slaves, and 467 free persons of color. It had neither colleges, academies, nor private schools. Five hundred and sixty-seven pupils only attended the public schools. Three thousand and ninety-five white persons, over five and under twenty years of age, and one thousand and eight white adults, could neither read, write nor cipher! Add the stupidity of the black population to this amazing mass of ignorance, and then you may judge of the beneficent influence of slave institutions on the mind and morals of a rising generation, and on the social life of the Southern States. Notwithstanding, and carefully concealing this stupendous influence of evil, Mr. De Bow, the compiler of the United States' Census, in his official report, has the audacity to say that “the social reunions of the Southern States, in a great measure, compensate for their want of the common schools of the North!” I wonder if he never heard of social reunions at the North? Was he never at a husking, a soiree, a lecture, a sewing, or a spiritual circle, a bee, a surprise party, a “social” --or at any other of the innumerable “reunions” which are everywhere so uncommonly common in the Free States?

Chesterfield county, by the latest census, had five hundred and sixty-four farms; 87,180 acres improved, and 108,933 unimproved acres: the total [87] value of which, with improvements and implements, was estimated at $1,562,286. The farms supported 2,441 horses, 5,655 neat cattle, 6,020 sheep, and 24,814 swine. They produced 95,875 bushels of wheat, 116,965 of oats and rye, 33,938 of Indian corn, 22,113 of Irish and sweet potatoes, 3,646 of peas and beans, 73,044 pounds of butter and cheese, 2,892 tons of hay, 96 pounds of hops, and 608 bushels of clover and other grass seeds. These figures, subdivided by the number of farms, will give the agricultural reader a better conception than I could give, or any description of their style of farming could give, of the manner in which slaves and slaveholders mutually assist each other in rejecting and wasting the wealth which Nature lies passively willing to bestow.

The poor whites and slavery.

I met and conversed with many of the poorer class of whites in my journey. All of them were conscious of the injurious influence that slavery was exerting on their social condition. If damning the negroes would have abolished slavery, it would have disappeared a long time ago, before the indignant breath of the poor white trash. But — it won't.

A know nothing.

I slept at night at the house of Mr. S----n, a planter and Baptist preacher. He has a farm of six hundred acres overlooking the Appomattox River. He has some thirty slaves, old and young.

I rode down with one of his slaves to Wattron Mill — a mile or two.

He had lived seven years with his master; did n't [88] know how old he himself was; didn't know how many acres there were in his master's farm; did n't know what land was worth, or how mules, horses and other farm stock sold; could not read nor write; had never been at City Point, which was only three miles distant, according to his own account, although, in point of fact, it was nearer six; did not know how many slaves his owner had, or the name of the county we were in!

One item of information, however, not generally known by slaves, nor always by whites, he did possess: he did know who his father was! So he was a wise boy after all — or the proverb is rather too liberal in its scope.

Farming Utensils.

Mr. S. walked down his farm with me in the morning. I noticed a hoe, which was heavier, at least, than half a dozen Northern ones, and asked why he made them so clumsy.

He said they were obliged to make everything heavy that negroes handled. If you gave a slave a Northern hoe or cradle in the morning, he would be sure to break it before night, and probably in less than two hours. You couldn't make them careful. Besides, he said, they preferred heavy implements; you could not get them to use an axe that was less than six pounds weight. They said that it tired them more to use a light axe or hoe.

I remembered, somewhere, to have heard of a slave who objected to the use of a light hoe, “‘kase” he grumbled, “you has to put out your strength every time you puts it down, and in a ‘Ginny hoe it goes into the ground, jest so, by its own weight.” [89]

Mr. S. said, he believed that this was the real objection which the negro had to the Northern hoe.

I noticed the great size of his fields--one was over fifty acres. He said they called that a small field here.

Guano and niggers.

He had used guano, but did not like it. It was too great a stimulant, unless you put enough on to raise both a wheat and a clover crop; but the farmers here could not afford to do it at the present rate of guano, and the uncertainty of the wheat crop.

He thought niggers should be the happiest beings in the world. He believed his slaves made more money than he did. All he made was a living. They made that, or he made it for them; and then he allowed them that wanted, to keep a pig, to fish after their work was over, and hunt. They sold their fish and game, and poultry and eggs. They had no care of the morrow; all their thinking he did for them.

He admitted that Virginia would have been better off if never a negro had come there.

Nearly all the slaveholders admit that fact. How to get rid of it — that is the mountain they all see, without industry or genius — alas! also, without even the desire to remove it.

But it must be removed, or it will fall--“and great will be the fall of it!”

The Slaveocracy and the poor.

Sept. 23.--I slept at the house of a petty farmer, a few miles from Petersburg. We talked about slavery. He has no slaves. He is a Virginian by birth. He owns about two hundred acres of land, which he cultivates [90] with his family's assistance. In this State, or in this section of it, two hundred acres are hardly accounted a farm. Five thousand and six thousand acre farms are very common. The farmer, his wife, his daughter and son-in-law agreed in saying, that the poor people of Virginia are “looked down upon” by the slaveholding class as if they belonged to an inferior race. The old man said, also, that the majority of the non-slaveholders here are secret abolitionists.

I walked as far as Weldon, North Carolina, from Petersburg, and there I took the cars for Wilmington.

On the road I had a talk with a Virginia slave, which I reserve for another chapter. [91]

Ii. Virginia.

  • Talk with a Virginia slave
  • -- Contentment with slavery -- treatment of slaves on plantations -- an unbelieving negro -- Canada negroes -- treatment of Free negroes North and South -- concerning linen,

Talk with a Virginia slave.

September 25.--Thirty-three miles south of Petersburg. In walking near the railroad, I met a man of color.

“ What time do you think it is?” I asked.

“The sun is up ‘bout half an hour,” he said, politely touching his hat.

“At what hour does the sun rise just now?”

“Dunno, mass'r.”

“How old are you?”

“ Forty-five year old, mass'r.”

“Are you married?”

“ Yes, mass'r, I is.”

“ Have you got any children?”

“ Yes, mass'r I's got five.”

“ Did you ever try to run away?”

“No, mass'r, I neber did.”

“ Would n't you like to go to the North?” I asked, closely watching the expression of his eye. He hesitated. I knew, from experience, why. I therefore added:

“ I come from the North.”

“ Does you, mass'r?” said the slave, as he eyed me semi-suspiciously.

“ Yes,” I replied, “would n't you like to go there?”


Contentment with slavery.

“Yes, mass'r,” he answered promptly, “I would like bery much to go dar, but I neber ‘spects to be dar.”

“ Have you been a slave all your life?”

“ Yes, mass'r.”

“ Do you know of any slaves round about here, who are contented with being in bondage?”

“No, mass'r,” he answered with emphasis, “not one of dem. How could dey, mass'r? Dere's no man wouldn't sooner work for hisself dan for a boss, dat kicks and knocks us ‘bout all day, and neber ‘lows us anyding for oursel's.”

“Do you work for your boss, or are you hired out?” I asked.

“ I works for de boss.”

“What kind of time do you have with him?”

“Bery hard mass'r, bery hard. He works us all day, and neber ‘lows us anyding for oursel's at all from Christmas to Christmas.”

“What! Don't he give you a present at Christmas?”

“No, mass'r, not a cent. Some bosses do ‘low someding at Christmas; but not my boss. He doesn't even gib us ‘bacca to chaw.”

He was carrying a bag in which his day's provisions and his tools were. He took out four apples, and offered them to me.

“Will you gib me a piece of ‘bacca for dem, mass'r?”

Dozens of times, in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, have the slaves, working in the fields, come up to the fence, and obsequiously begged from me a [93] piece of tobacco. There is no speedier way of getting into their confidence than by asking them when you meet them--“If they want a chaw?” and offering them a plug to take a bite off.

As I did n't use tobacco, I could not give him a chew.

“ You think, then,” I resumed, “that there is no slave who would not rather be a freeman?”

“I'm sartain on it, mass'r.”

“ Well,” said I, “I never met but one. He said he would rather be a slave than a freeman; but he, I guess, was a liar.”

“Yes, mass'r,” returned the slave, emphatically, “he war a big liar, and you ought to hab slapped him on the mouth for sayina so. What slave-man wouldn't rather work for hisself dan for a boss, mass'r?”

Treatment of female slaves.

“ Does your wife work all day as hard as you do?”

“Yes, mass'r,” he replied, “and all my childer, too. De boss takes dem when dey is not so high” --he levelled his hand within four feet of the earth's surface--“and keeps dem at work till dey die.”

“Are the wives of slaves respected as married women?”

“No, mass'r, dey don't make no diff'rence wedder de colored women is married or not. White folks jest do what dey have a mind to wid dem.”

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