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In my sanctum.

I. General results.

  • Another trip to come
  • -- physical science and slavery -- no hope of abolition from scientific development -- nor from prevention of extension -- character of the field negroes -- Degradation -- Licentiousness -- prevalence of amalgamation -- liars -- slave huts filthy -- deception -- Pious slaves -- Free negroes -- slave preachers -- an extract from a colored Doctor's sermon -- a boy's mistress -- the poor whites and slavery -- Crowding poor people out -- an Alabama farmer's story -- Southern pauperism -- slaves, not negroes, who are lazy -- overseers -- their general character -- Southern testimony -- sometimes selected with special reference to their robust physical condition to improve the stock -- the Southern slave code -- how it fosters cruelty and prevents its punishment -- women employed at field labor -- a negro burned to death -- no chance of justice for negroes in courts of law against white men -- a Southern Gubernatorial confession of this fact -- slave breeding -- Col. Benton's statement refuted by statistics -- a Southern confession -- who hate negroes in the Southern States -- can the Southern staples be cultivated without slavery? -- proof that they can be -- general summary in one celebrated sentence,

I did not originally visit the Slave States for the purpose of writing a book. Hence the preceding notes of travel are much less minute than they would otherwise have been made. I shall make yet another journey South--Down the Mississippi; which (if the sale of this volume shall warrant it) I shall narrate at much greater length, and make more comprehensive and various — relating as well the effects of slavery on agriculture, trade and education, as on the morals of the subjugated people, and the humanity of the ruling race.

Let me here subjoin the general results and miscellaneous incidents of my travels and conversations, without any especial regard to rhetorical order or intrinsic importance of topic.

I. I do not believe that the progress of physical science, the extension of railroads, or the exhausting effects of involuntary labor, will ever induce or compel the peaceful abolition of American slavery. [256] Worn out lands will be recuperated by scientific skill, by guano, rotation of crops, the steam plough, and the knowledge — now rapidly diffusing — of agricultural chemistry. Railroads raise both the price and value of slave labor, by rapidly conveying the rural products of it, to the Northern and European markets. Slave labor, although detrimental to the State, is profitable to the individual holders of human “property.” Hence, this powerful class of criminals will ever oppose its speedy extinction. I do not believe, also, that — unless conducted on a gigantic scale — the emigration of free white laborers will ever extinguish slavery in any Southern State. I except Missouri, where the active interference of the abolitionists would undoubtedly prolong the existence of bondage; but where, owing to its peculiar geographical position, slavery will soon be drowned by “the advancing and increasing tide of Northern emigration.” Neither will the mere prevention of the extension of slavery kill it. Within its present limits, it may live a thousand years. There is land enough to support the present races, and their increase, for that length of time there. Unless we strike a blow for the slaves — as Lafayette and his Frenchmen did for the revolutionary sires — or unless they strike a blow for themselves, as the negroes of Jamaica and Hayti, to their immortal honor, did--American slavery has a long and devastating future before it, in which, by the stern necessities of its nature, Freedom or the Union must crouch and die beneath its potent sceptre of death and desolation.

II. The field negroes, as a class, are coarse, filthy, brutal, and lascivious; liars, parasites, hypocrites, and thieves; without self-respect, religious aspirations, [257] or the nobler traits which characterize humanity. They are almost as degraded intellectually as the lower hordes of inland Irish, or the indolent semi-civilized North American Indians; or the less than human white-skinned vermin who fester in the Five Points cellars, the North street saloons, or the dancing houses and levee of New Orleans or Charleston. Not so vile, however, as the rabble of the Platte Region, who distinguished themselves as the champions of the South in Kansas. Morally, they are on a level with the whites' around them. The slaveholder steals their labor, rights and children; they steal his chickens, hogs and vegetables. They often must lie, or submit to be whipped. Truth, at such a price — they seem to think — is far too precious to be wasted on white folks. They are necessarily extremely filthy; for their cabins are dirty, small and uncomfortable; and they have neither the time nor the conveniences to keep them clean. Working from morn till night in the fields, at the hardest of hard labor, under a sultry sun, is quite enough for the poor women to do — especially as they have also to cook their provisions — without spending their leisure hours in “tidying up” their miserable and unhome-like huts. The laws forbidding the acquisition of knowledge, and the fact that slavery and intelligence are incompatible, keep them, as nearly as possible, as ignorant and degraded as the quadrupeds of the fields. Chastity is a virtue which, in the South, is entirely monopolized by the ladies of the ruling race. Every slave negress is a courtesan. Except one per cent. of them, and you make ample deduction. I have talked on this subject with hundreds of young men in different Southern cities, and the result of my observations [258] and information, is a firmly settled conviction that not one per cent. of the native male whites in the South arrive at the age of manhood morally uncontaminated by the influences of slavery. I do not believe that ten per cent. of the native white males reach the age of fourteen without carnal knowledge of the slaves. Married men are not one whit better than their bachelor brethren. A Southern lady bears testimony to this fact:

This subject demands the attention, not only of the religious population, but of statesmen and law-makers. It is one great evil hanging over the Southern Slave States, destroying domestic happiness, and the peace of thousands. It is summed up in a single word--amalgamation. This, and this only, causes the vast extent of ignorance, degradation and crime, that lies like a black cloud over the whole South. And the practice is more general than even the Southerners are willing to allow. Neither is it to be found only in the lower order of the white population. It pervades the entire society. Its followers are to be found among all ranks, occupations and professions. The white mothers and daughters of the South have suffered under it for years — have seen their dearest affections trampled upon — their hopes of domestic happiness destroyed, and their future lives embittered, even to agony, by those who should be all in all to them, as husbands, sons, and brothers. I cannot use too strong language in reference to this subject, for I know that it will meet with a heartfelt response from every Southern woman.

This lady is Mrs. Douglas, a native of Virginia, and a pro-slavery woman, who was imprisoned in a common jail at Norfolk, for the heinous crime of teaching free colored children to read the word of God! At the time of the Revolution, pure blacks were everywhere to be seen; now they are becoming, year by year, more and more uncommon. Where do they go to? The white boys know — the census [259] of mulattoes tells! I suppose it is indecorous to speak so plainly on so delicate a subject; but if the report is revolting, how much more appaling must be the crime itself?

I have given instances enough to show that deception is the natural result of slavery. Of course, as the slaves are entirely at the mercy of the whites, they are forced to be parasites and hypocrites in their intercourse with them. And how can the poor people have self-respect? “I'se only a nigger” is the first note they are taught in the sad funereal dirge of their existence. It is repeated in ten thousand forms, and in every variety of method, from the time they are born till they draw their last breath. How can they respect themselves, when they know that their mothers are ranked with the beasts that perish — sold, exchanged, bought, forced to beget children, as cows and sheep are bartered and reared for breeding purposes?

As for the religious negroes--“the pious slaves” --I have no patience with the blasphemous and infernal ingenuity which breeds and preserves these unfortunate creatures. Dr. Johnson praised the youth, who, having seduced a young girl in a fit of animal excitement, on being asked by her, after the fact, “Have we not done wrong?” promptly replied, “Yes.” “For,” he said, “although I ravished her body, I was not so bad as to wish to ravish her mind.” Our slavemasters are not so generous. The perpetrators of the most tyrannical despotism that the world ever saw, still, not content with degrading the body of their bondmen into real estate, they seek, by the same priestly machinery that other tyrants have found so effective, to enslave their souls also — a [260] task which they try to make the more easy by the ignorance in which they assiduously keep them. I have investigated the character of too many of the “pious negroes,” to feel any respect either for their religion or their teachers. Church membership does not prevent fornication, bigamy, adultery, lying, theft, or hypocrisy. It is a cloak, in nine cases out of ten, which the slaves find convenient to wear; and, in the excepted case, it is a union of meaningless cant and the wildest fanaticism. A single spark of true Christianity among the slave population would set the plantations in a blaze. Christianity and slavery cannot live together; but churchianity and slavery are twins.

That slavery alone is responsible for the peculiar vices of the plantation negroes, the condition and character of the city bondmen attest. Wherever you find a negro in the Southern cities who has had the chance to acquire knowledge, either from reading by stealth, or from imitation, or the society of an educated class, you will find, in a majority of instances, the moral equal — often the superior — of the white man of the same social rank and educational opportunities. In manners, the city slaves are the Count D'Orsays of the South.

III. Slave preachers are usually men of pliant and hypocritical character — men who are easily used by the ruling race as white-chokered chains. The more obsequious that they are — the more treacherous to their own aspirations — the more they are flattered and esteemed by the tyrants whose work they do. I attended a colored church at Savannah. The subject of discourse was the death of John the Baptist:

“Bredren, de ‘vang'list does not tell us ‘bout anoder [261] circumstance ‘bout de text, but de legions ob de church has unformed us. When Herodeyus got hold ob de plate dat da put de head ob John de Baptis' in, she war so mad at him, de legions tell us, dat she tuk a handful ob pins and stuck ‘em in de tongue ob de Apostle! Ah ”----

The preacher, from whose discourse I selected this remarkable biblical information, was a great favorite with the white population, who (if I mistake not) addressed him as a Doctor of Divinity. When he died I read a paragraph from a Savannah paper, in which his virtues and learning were eulogized!

IV. At Augusta, Georgia, I knew a boy of between sixteen and seventeen years of age, who supported a mulatto girl mistress. Her mother was a free woman, and the daughter was about his own age. He took up a peck of meal to their house, and some bacon, every Saturday night, and for this weekly allowance he was permitted, as frequently as he pleased, to cohabit with the girl. The pernicious effect of slavery on children I have frequently heard parents lament. And yet these same parents would favor the extension of slavery into virgin territories!

V. The poor whites suffer greatly from the existence of slavery. They are deprived by it of the most remunerative employment, and excluded from the most fertile lands. I once heard a poor Alabama farmer lament that he would soon have to move, as they were beginning to “close him in again.” I asked what he meant? He said that, years and years ago, he and several of his poor neighbors had moved far away into the wilderness, in order to be out of and beyond the influence of slavery. They had selected a spot where they thought they would [262] be secure; but the accounts of the extraordinary fertility of the soil soon brought the wealthy slaveholders to their paradise. They bought up immense tracts of land bordering on the poor men's farms, which, one by one, they soon managed to possess. Sickness, bad seasons, poor harvests, and improvi dence, and other causes, soon compelled or induced the petty farmers to borrow from their wealthy neighbors, who, knowing the result, were ever willing to lend. All had gone now, excepting him. “But,” he said, “you see they have bought all around me; my only way of getting to the road is by the side of that marsh, and in wet weather I can't take a team out there. The laws give me the right of buying a passage out through----'s plantation; but he wants my land, and would charge so high a rent for the passage that I could not afford to pay it.” (In Alabama and most Southern States, the land is not laid out as in many of the Northern and the Western States--multiplication-table fashion; the roads are crooked, the farms irregular in size as in extent, and the whole arrangement of roads is entirely different.) “Again,” the farmer said, “I am feeding his niggers. They steal my chickens and eggs and vegetables. I complained to the overseer about it: ‘D — n it,’ he said, ‘shoot them — we won't complain.’ ” But then, if he shot them, he would have to pay their market value; and, besides, he had been hungry himself often, and had not the heart to interfere with the poor starving slaves. He was soon obliged to sell out. I met him in Doniphan county, Kansas. He is a Republican now, and thanks God for the opportunity of belonging to an open anti-slavery party. The accounts often published of the condition of the [263] poor whites of the South are not exaggerated, and could not well be. There is more pauperism at the South than at the North : in spite of the philosophy of the Southern socialists, who claim that slavery prevents that unfortunate condition of free society. So, also, although Stringfellow claims that black prostitution prevents white harlotry, there are as many, or more, public courtesans of the dominant race, in the Southern cities I have visited, than in Northern towns of similar population. Slavery prevents no old evils, but breeds a host of new ones. The poor whites, as a class, are extremely illiterate, ruffianly, and superstitious.

VI. No complaints are ever made of the indolence or incapacity of the negroes, when they are stimulated by the hopes of wages or of prerogatives which can only be obtained in the South by hard work. It is the slave, not the negro, that is “lazy and clumsy.”

VII. Overseers are generally men of the lowest character, although I have met with some, the managers of extensive estates, who were men of culture and ability. Yet these few instances are hardly exceptions, as such men employ subordinates to do the grosser work. I have often been told that overseers are frequently hired with special reference to their robust physical condition; and this told not in jest, as to a Northerner, but in conversation between wealthy slaveholders, who, for aught they knew, supposed me to be a Southerner and a friend of their “peculiar” or “sectional” crime. The Southern Agriculturist, published at Charleston, South Carolina, thus faithfully describes this class of persons:

Overseers are changed every year; a few remain four or five years; but the average length of time they remain on the [264] same plantation will not exceed two years. They are taken from the lowest grade of society, and seldom have the privilege of a religious education, and have no fear of offending God, and consequently no check on their natural propensities; they give way to passion, intemperance, and every sin, and become savages in their conduct. --Vol. IV., p. 351.

VIII. Such, by the confession of the Southerners themselves, being a faithful description of the character of overseers, is it necessary to produce negro testimony to prove that cruelty and crime are of frequent occurrence on the large plantations? The negro is entirely in the power and at the mercy of our race. Supposing — to take an extreme case by way of illustration — a planter or overseer, in the presence of five hundred negroes, was to arrest a slave, tie him hand and foot, and cut him to pieces, inch by inch, no legal punishment could reach him, and no legal body investigate the crime, unless a white man was a witness of the barbarity. The laws refuse to accept negro evidence in any case, whether it be against or in favor of a white man. Judge Lynch, alone, of all Southern jurists, relaxes this rule; and that only in the case of abolitionists! This fact effectually destroys the efficacy of all the laws — few in number as they are — which have been passed in some States for the protection of the bondmen. Whipping women, beating boys with clubs — innumerable cruel and unusual punishments — are circumstances of daily occurrence in every Southern State.

IX. I heard a planter one day sneering at the ladies who advocated woman's rights. He was shocked that women should attempt to go out of their sphere. On his plantation, near Savannah, I saw women filling dung carts, hoeing, driving oxen, [265] ploughing, and engaged in many other similar employments. Is it within woman's sphere to perform such labors?

X. One of the proprietors of the Montgomery (Alabama) Mail, at the period of my visit to that town, described to me the execution by a mob of a negro by fire at the stake. He had either killed a white man or ravished a white girl — I have since forgotten which-but one sentence of his account, for its characteristic Southern inhumanity to the negro, I shall never forget to my dying day. “They piled pretty green wood on the fire, to make it burn slow; he gave one terrible yell before he died; and, every time the wind blew from him, there was the d----dest stench of burnt flesh. D----n it, how it did smell.” This was said, laughingly. Several well authenticated cases of the same fiendish torture have occurred within the last five years. Parson Brownlow, as I have already stated, eulogized the barbarity in one instance.

XI. As against whites, in courts of justice, the negro has not the faintest chance of fairness. I could illustrate this statement by citing examples; but, as a South Carolina Governor has confessed the fact, it will suffice to quote his admission. Says Governor Adams in his message for 1855:

The administration of our laws, in relation to our colored population, by our courts of magistrates and freeholders, as these courts are at present constituted, calls loudly for reform. Their decisions are Rarely in conformity with justice or humanity. I have felt constrained, in a majority of the cases brought to my notice, either to modify the sentence, or set it aside altogether.

XII. Colonel Benton, in a lecture that he delivered [266] in Boston, had the audacity to assert that slaves are seldom sold by their masters, excepting for debt or faults, or crimes. Granting, for the sake of argument, the truth of this falsehood, these exceptions are sufficient grounds, I think, for the overthrow of slavery at any cost. Debts are so common, among the unthrifty Southrons, that this cause alone must separate hundreds of families every year. The sale of one slave mother, in my view, is enough to justify the slaughter of a race. Much more, then, the separation of thousands. “Faults!” great heavens! supposing that every white Virginian, who has “faults,” was to be sold by public auction — where would the slaveholders, the first families, and the future Presidents be? Not in free homes, I know. “Crimes!” Does the reader know that, by the laws of Virginia, if a slave commits a capital offence, he may be pardoned by being sold out of the State--the owner of him pocketing the proceeds of the auction? But statistics refute Colonel Benton's statement. It is capable of demonstration that twenty-five thousand negroes are annually sold from the Northern or slave-breeding to the Southern or slave-buying Slave States. See Chase and Sanborn's “North and South,” and the authorities they cite. I have seen families separated and sold to different masters in Virginia; I have spoken with hundreds of slaves in the Carolinas, who were sold, they told me, from their wives and children in the same inhuman State; and I have seen slave-pens and slave-cars filled with the unhappy victims of this internal and infernal trade, who were travelling for the city of New Orleans; where, also, I have witnessed at least a score of public negro auctions. Everybody who has lived in the seaboard Slave [267] States--women, politicians and clergymen excepted — well know that to buy or to sell a negro, or breed one, is regarded as equally legitimate in point of morals with the purchase of a pig, or a horse, or an office seeker.

I can corroborate Mr. Olmsted, therefore--(from whose book, as this volume was passing through the press, I have already made several extracts), and can fully indorse him when he says:

“It is denied, with feeling, that slaves are often reared, as is supposed by the abolitionists, with the intention of selling them to the traders. It appears to me evident, however, from the manner in which I hear the traffic spoken of incidentally, that the cash value of a slave for sale, above the cost of raising it from infancy to the age at which it commands the highest price, is generally considered among the surest elements of a planter's wealth. Such a nigger is worth such a price, and such another is too old to learn to pick cotton, and such another will bring so much, when it has grown a little more, I have frequently heard people say, in the street, or the public houses. That a slave woman is commonly esteemed least for her laboring qualities, most for those qualities which give value to a brood-mare, is, also, constantly made apparent. A slaveholder writing to me with regard to my cautious statements on this subject, made in the Daily Times, says: ‘In the States of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, as much attention is paid to the breeding and growth of negroes as to that of horses and mules. Further South, we raise them both for use and for market. Planters command their girls and women (married or unmarried) [268] to have children; and I have known a great many negro girls to be sold off, because they did not have children. A breeding woman is worth from one-sixth to one-fourth more than one that does not breed.’ ”

XIII. The lower classes of the Southern States hate and affect to despise the negro in exact proportion to their own intellectual and moral debasement.

XIV. The assertion that without slave labor, cotton, rice and sugar could not be grown in the Southern States--that these staples would not and cannot be cultivated by white men — that “the choice,” to use the language of Senator Douglas, is “between the negro and the crocodile,” is utterly without foundation, and is refuted by facts. There is nothing more common in Georgia and Alabama than to see white men, and white women too, at work in the fields at every hour of the day. Of course, these persons belong to the class of “poor white trash.” But, granting that the Southern staples would perish without slavery — what then? Down with the staples, rather than criminally cultivate them. Perish the products whose roots are watered by inhumanity.

XV. Slavery is the sum of all villainies. [269]

Ii. The insurrection hero.

Hon. J. C. Vaughan
  • This chapter is a Contribution by the Hon. J. C. Vaughan, formerly of South Carolina, now of Kansas: once a Southern slaveholder, now one of the truest champions of freedom in the nation. It is a graphic picture of the terror caused by the rumor of an insurrection, and a vivid sketch of the character of a noble negro Patriot who was betrayed in an attempt to liberate his race,

we were talking about slavery, and its probable duration, in the office of the Leavenworth Times. I expressed my doubts of the efficacy of political action against it, and stated that I was in favor of a servile insurrection. I believe I found no one who approved of such a scheme of abolition.

John C. Vaughan was in the room. He told us of the terror which such events inspired in Southern communities, whenever it was believed that the negroes intended to revolt.

He told the story of Isaac. It made an indelible impression on my mind. Subsequently, I desired him to furnish me with a written account of the death of the heroic slave.

This chapter is the result. After a preliminary word on slave insurrections, Mr. Vaughan proceeds:

The story of Isaac.

All other perils are understood. Fire upon land, or storm at sea, wrapping mortals in a wild or watery shroud, may be readily imagined. Pestilence walking abroad in the city, making the sultry air noisome and heavy, hushing the busy throng, aweing into silence heated avarice, and glooming the very haunts of [270] civilization as if they were charnel-houses, can be quickly understood. Bat the appalling terror of a slave revolt, made instinct with life, and stunning as it pervades the community — the undescribed and indescribable horror which fills and sways every bosom as the word is whispered along the streets, or borne quickly from house to house, or speeded by fleetest couriers from plantation to plantation--“an insurrection” --“an insurrection” --must be felt and seen to be realized.

Nor is this strange. The blackest ills are associated with it. Hate, deep and undying, to be gratified — revenge, as bitter and fiendish as the heart can feel, to be gloated over while indulged — lust, unbridled and fierce, to be glutted — death, we know not how or where, but death in its basest and most agonizing form; or life, dishonored and more horrible than most excruciating death — these are the essence of an insurrection. Could. worse forms of evil be conjured up? Can any human actions — the very darkest that walk at midnight--excite equal terror? We pity slaveholders who are startled by the dread of it, and wonder at their want of manhood in exposing the gentler sex to this human whirlwind of fury, and revenge, and lust and death.

But to our story. I remember, when a boy, going out one bright day on a hunting excursion, and, on returning in the evening, meeting at the bridge, a mile or more from the town I lived in, a body of armed men. The road turns suddenly, as you approach the spot from the south, and is skirted, on either side, by deep swamps. I did not see them, consequently, until I came directly upon them.

“ Where have you been?” was the abrupt question [271] put to me by the captain, without offering the usual salutation.

“I have been hunting,” I replied, “along the banks of the river, and up by the old Hermitage.”

“Did you see or meet any one?” continued my questioner, no man else saying a word.

“ No one.”

“ Go home instantly,” he said, imperatively, “and keep up the main road. Do n't cross over by the swamp, or the old ford”--two nearer footpaths to the town, skirting heavily timbered land.

I cannot recollect now whether I had heard before of an insurrection. I had not, certainly thought much about it, if at all. But I knew, instantly, why these armed citizens were at the bridge. The low, compressed, yet clear voice of the captain — the silence of his men — their audible breathing as they waited for my replies to his questions — their military order — with sentries in advance — told me all, and I experienced a dread which chilled me through; and the deepening shade of the forest, under which I had so often whistled merrily, served now to add to the gloom of the hour. I asked no questions. With quickened pace I pushed up the main road, and was not long in reaching my father's house. I wished to know the worst, and to help in meeting it.

I found all alarm at home. Guns were stacked in the passage, and men were there ready to use them. Two friends were in the parlor informing the household of the place of rendezvous for the women and children, and the signal which was to be given if the town should be fired, or an attack be made upon it by the negroes. I inquired and learned here the cause and extent of the danger. [272]

That morning a negro had informed his master of the plot, and had represented to him that it reached plantations over a hundred miles off, and embraced the thickest negro settlements of the State.

The first step taken was to arrest the leaders named (some thirty in number) by the informer. The second, to inform the town and country of the impending danger. Armed patrols were started out in every direction. Every avenue to the town was guarded, and every house in it made a sort of military fort. The apprehension was, that the plantation negroes would rise and sweep all before them with fire and sword; and the “white strength” was prepared, in all its force, to meet the contingency.

The master, if he be kind to his bondmen, is apt to believe that they will never turn against him. We hear planters say, “I would arm my slaves,” whenever this subject is broached. This is a strong expression, and to be received with “grains of allowance,” as the sequel will illustrate. Yet, boy-like, I felt as if no soul in our yard could strike a blow against one of the family. I went to the servants' quarter. Not one of them was out — a strange event — and not a neighbor's domestic was in — a still stranger circumstance! They were silent as the grave. “Even ‘Mamma,’ ” privileged to say and do what she pleased, and who could be heard amid the laughter and tongue clatter of the rest, had nothing to tell me. I asked a few questions; they were simply answered. It was evident that the servants were frightened; they knew not what they feared; but they were spell-bound by an undefined dread of evil to them and harm to us. Indeed, this was the [273] case with the blacks, generally; and while the excitement lasted, the patrol did not arrest one slave away from his quarters! An honest Irishman remarked at the time, “it was hard to tell which was most frightened, the whites or the negroes.”

The proposed revolt, as regards territory, was an extended one. It embraced a region having over forty thousand male slaves. But the plot was poorly arranged, and it was clear that those who planned it knew little or nothing of the power they had to meet and master. For six months the leaders of it had been brooding over their design, and two days before its consummation they were in prison and virtually doomed as felons. Then seizure arrested the insurrection without bloodshed; but not without a sacrifice of life! That was demanded by society and the law. Thirteen of the negroes arrested were declared guilty and hung. They had, according to all notions then, a fair trial; lawyers defended them, and did their best; an impartial and intelligent jury determined their fate; and by the voice of man, not of God, this number of human beings was “legally” sent out of existence!

The leader of the insurrection — Isaac — I knew well. He was head man to a family intimate with mine. Implicit confidence was placed in him, not only by his master, but by the minister of the church and everybody who knew him. The boys called him Uncle Isaac, and the severest patrol would take his word and let him go his way.

He was some forty years old when he first planned the revolt. His physical development was fine. He was muscular and active — the very man a sculptor would select for a model. And yet, with all his great [274] strength, he was kind and affectionate, and simple as a woman. He was never tired of doing for others. In intellect he was richly gifted; no negro in the place could compare with him for clear-headedness and nobleness of will. He was born to make a figure, and, with equal advantages, would have been the first among any throng. He had character: that concentration of religious, moral, and mental strength, which, when possessed by high or low, gives man power over his fellows, and imparts life to his acts and name.

His superiority was shown on the trial. It was necessary to prove that he was the leader, and counsel were about taking this step. “I am the man,” said Isaac. There was no hesitation in his manner — no tremulousness in his voice; the words sounded naturally, but so clear and distinct that the court and audience knew it was so, and it could not have been otherwise. An effort was made to persuade him to have counsel. His young masters pressed the point. The court urged him. Slaveholders were anxious for it, not only because they could not help liking his bearing, but because they wished to still every voice of censure, far or near, by having a fair trial for all. But he was resolute. He made no set speeches — played no part. Clear above all, and with the authoritative tone of truth, he repeated, “I am the man, and I am not afraid or ashamed to confess it.”

Sentence of death was passed upon him and twelve others.

The next step, before the last, was to ascertain all the negroes who had entered into the plot. Isaac managed this part wisely. He kept his own counsel, and, besides his brother, as was supposed, no one [275] knew who had agreed to help him at home or from a distance. The testimony was abundant that he had promise of such help. His declaration to the colored informer, “The bonfire of the town will raise forty thousand armed men for us,” was given in evidence. He admitted the fact. But no ingenuity, no promises, no threats, could induce or force him to reveal a single name. “You have me,” he said; “no one other shall you get if I can prevent it. The only pain I feel is that my life alone is not to be taken. If these,” pointing to his fellow captives, “were safe, I should die triumphantly.”

The anxiety on this point naturally was very deep, and when the usual expedients had failed, the following scheme was hit upon: Isaac loved his minister, as everybody did who worshipped at his altar, and the minister reciprocated heartily that love. “Isaac will not resist him — he will get out of Isaac all that we want to know” This was the general belief, and, acting upon it, a committee visited the pastor. An explanation took place, and the good man readily consented to do all he could.

He went to the cell. The slave-felon and the man of God confronted each other.

“ I come, Isaac,” said the latter, “to find out from you everything about this wicked insurrection, and you ”----

“ Master,” hastily interrupted Isaac, “you come for no such purpose. You may have been over-persuaded to do so, or unthinkingly have given your consent. But will you, who first taught me religion, who made me know that my Jesus suffered and died in truth — will you tell me to betray confidence sacredly intrusted to me, and thus sacrifice others' [276] lives because my life is to be forfeited? Can you persuade me, as a sufferer and a struggler for freedom, to turn traitor to the very men who were to help me? Oh, master, let me love you :” and, rising, as if uncertain of the influence of his appeal, to his full stature, and looking his minister directly in the face, he added, with commanding majesty, “You know me!”

I wish that I could repeat the tale as I heard the old minister tell it. So minute, yet so natural; so particular in detail, yet so life-like! The jail, its inner cell, the look and bearing of Isaac, his calmness and greatness of soul. It was touching in the extreme. I have known sternest slaveholders to weep like children as they would listen to the story. But I can only narrate it as I remember it, in briefest outline. The old divine continued:

“I could not proceed. I looked at Isaac; my eye fell before his. I could not forget his rebuke; I acknowledged my sin. For the first time in my ministerial life, I had done a mean, a base act; and, standing by the side of a chained felon, I felt myself to be the criminal.”

A long silence ensued. The minister was in hopes that Isaac would break it; he did not. He himself made several attempts to do so, but failed. Recovering from his shock at length, and reverting in his own mind to the horrors which the revolt would have occasioned, he resumed the conversation thus:

“ But, Isaac, yours was a wicked plot; and if you had succeeded, you would have made the very streets run blood. How could you think of this? How consent to kill your old master and mistress? How dream of slaying me and mine?” [277]

“Master,” Isaac quickly responded, “I love old master and mistress. I love you and yours. I would die to bless you any time. Master, I would hurt no human being, no living thing. But you taught me that God was the God of black as well as white — that he was no respecter of persons — that in his eye all were alike equal — and that there was no religion unless we loved him and our neighbor, and did unto others as we would they should do unto us. Master, I was a slave. My wife and children were slaves. If equal with others before God, they should be equal before men. I saw my young masters learning, holding what they made, and making what they could. But master, my race could make nothing, holding nothing. What they did they did for others, not for themselves. And they had to do it, whether they wished it or not; for they were slaves. Master, this is not loving our neighbor, or doing to others as we would have them do to us. I knew there was and could be no help for me, for wife or children, for my race, except we were free; and as the whites would not let this be so, and as God told me he could only help those who helped themselves, I preached freedom to the slaves, and bid them strike for it like men. Master, we were betrayed. But I tell you now, if we had succeeded, I should have slain old master and mistress and you first, to show my people that I could sacrifice my love, as I ordered them to sacrifice their hates, to have justice — justice for them — justice for mine — justice for all. I should have been miserable and wretched for life. I could not kill any human creature without being so. But, master, God here” --pointing with his chained hand to [278] his heart--“told me then, as he tells me now, that I was right.”

“ I do n't know how it was,” continued the old minister, “but I was overpowered. Isaac mastered me. It was not that his reasoning was conclusive; that, I could have answered easily; but my conduct had been so base and his honesty was so transparent, his look so earnest and sincere, his voice so commanding, that I forgot everything in my sympathy for him. He was a hero, and bore himself like one without knowing it. I knew by that instinct which ever accompanies goodness, that the slave-felon's conscience was unstained by crime even in thought; and, grasping him by the hand, without scarce knowing what I was going to do, I said, ‘Isaac, let us pray.’ And I prayed long and earnestly. I did not stop to think of my words. My heart poured itself out and I was relieved.”

“And what,” I asked, “was the character of your prayer?”

“ What it ought to have been,” energetically replied the old divine.

I prayed to God as our common Father. I acknowledged that he would do justice; that it was hard for us, poor mortals, to say who was right and who was wrong on earth; that the very best were sinners, and those deemed the worst by us might be regarded the best by Him. I prayed for Isaac. I prayed God to forgive him, if wrong; to forgive the whites, if he was right; to forgive and bless all. I was choked with tears. I caught hold of Isaac's hand and pressed it warmly, and received his warm pressure in return. And with a joy I never experienced before or [279] since, I heard his earnest, solemn “Amen” as I closed.

We stood together for some time in silence. Isaac was deeply moved. I saw it by the working of his frame, and the muscles of his face and his eye. For the first time tear-drops stood on his eyelids. But, stilling every emotion, he began, as calmly as if he were going to rest:

“ Master, I shall die in peace, and I give you a dying man's blessing. I shall see you no more on earth. Give my love to old master and mistress, and” --for a moment he faltered, but with concentrated energy choked down instantly his deepest emotion as he continued, more solemnly than I ever heard mortal speak--“ and, master, if you love me — if you love Jesus — lead my wife and children as you have led me — to heaven. God bless you forever, master.”

We parted. I saw him no more. I could not see him hung, or pray for him, as requested to do by others in the last dying hour. I had been with him long. For four hours we were together in his narrow, noisome cell. How indelibly are the events which occurred in them impressed upon my memory! Oh! slavery — slavery!

The citizens outside awaited anxiously the good minister's egress from the jail, and, when he appeared, crowded round him to know the result. He looked like one jaded with a long journey. He was worn down. “It is useless — it is useless — let him die in peace,” was all he said; and, seeing that he was deeply moved, and taking it for granted that he had been engaged in devotional exercises with the dying, silence pervaded the group, and he was allowed to [280] depart in peace. And never in public or in a mixed audience, would that minister refer to Isaac, or the hours he spent with him!

No other effort to elicit information from the leader was made, and none who promised him help were discovered through him.

The death-day came. A mighty crowd gathered to witness the sad event to which, in that place, it was to be devoted; and the military, with gleaming swords and bright bayonets, stood under the gallows, to guard against escape or difficulty. Six “felons” were upon the gallows — it could hold no more — and Isaac was put on the list. “Be men,” said he, when one of the number showed some timidity, “and die like men. I'll give you an example: then, obey my brother.” That brother stood next him. Isaac gazed intently upon the crowd — some thought he was looking for his wife and children — and then spoke his farewell to his young masters. A few words passed between him and his brother, when, saying audibly, “I'll die a freeman,” he sprung up as high as he could, and fell heavily as the knotted rope checked his fall. Instantly his frame was convulsed, and, in its muscular action, his feet reached the plank on which he had stood, looking as if he sought to regain it. His brother, turning his face to his comrades, deliberately put his hand upon his side, and, leaning forward, held the body clear with his elbow, as he said: “Let us die like him.”

The authorities perceived that the terrors of the law would be lost, and none of “the good” they anticipated be secured among the blacks, especially, who filled up the outer circle of the dense crowd, if this lofty heroism were witnessed. They proceeded [281] rapidly with the execution, and, in a few moments, Isaac and his brother and their felon comrades were asleep together.

The bodies of the blacks, after dangling in the air the usual time, as if in mockery of heaven and earth, were cut down, coffined, and carted away to their burial-place. That was an out-of-the-way old field, with a stagnant lagoon on three sides of it, and a barren sand-waste, covered with a sparse growth of short pines, on the other.

Beneath the shade of one of these pines which skirted the field, and not far off from the felons' graves, a colored woman and a cluster of little ones might have been seen. These were Isaac's wife and children. They stood where they were, until all, save one white man, had departed. He made a signal, and they approached the burial spot. He pointed to a particular spot, and left. None know, save our Father, how long the widowed one and the fatherless remained there, or what were their emotions. But, next morning, a rough stake was found driven into the earth where Isaac lay, and, ere the next Sabbath dawned, a pile of stones with an upright memorial, was placed at the head of his grave. How these stones were obtained — for none like them were to be seen within thirty or forty miles--no one could say, though all knew who put them there. The rude memorial still stands! The grave of Isaac is yet known! And that widowed one, while she lived — for she, too, has departed — kept the lone burial spot free from weeds, and covered it with the wild rose, as if the spirit which had once animated the cold clay beneath, loved a robe of beauty and sweetness! [282]

As not the least remarkable feature in Isaac's conduct, was the course he pursued towards his family, we cannot close without referring to it. He was an exemplary husband, and a wise as well as kind father. His wife was not superior, intellectually, but she was affectionate, and he so moulded her character as to make her worthy of him. His children were well-behaved, and remarkable for their polite manners. His very household gave evidence of all this. Everything was in order; the furniture was neat; in all the arrangements he had an intelligent eye to comfort and taste; he had a watch, and some tolerable Scripture engravings; and his little garden was well stocked with the best vegetables, the best fruit, and the rarest flowers.

Of the plot, Isaac's wife knew nothing. He had evidently thought of his failure, and committed no women, and as few married men as he could. He meant, let what might happen to him, that his partner should suffer no harm. This was evident enough from his conduct. For, the first thing he did after his arrest, was to desire an interview with his master. That was denied him. Not that the old gentleman was cruel or angry — for he loved Isaac — but because, as he said, “He could not stand it.” The next thing was to send for his young master. He came, and to him he said: “Massa Thomas, I have sent for you to say, that my wife does not know anything about the insurrection, or any of my action. I wanted to see old master to beg of him not to sell or separate her and the children. I must get you to do that. And, Massa Thomas, when your father dies, I want you to promise that you will help them.” The young man promised (and we rejoice to say his word was kept), [283] and then Isaac, the slave and the felon, blessed him. Never again, until near his last hour, when conversing with his minister, did he refer to his family, and the only message he sent them was a torn Bible, with this sentence rudely writ down on one of the leaves: “We shall live again, and be together.” So deep was his affection for his family, and so careful was he to ward off every suspicion from them.

I met, last summer, the slaveholder — an intelligent and humane man — who commanded the military the day Isaac was hung.

I referred to the scene. He spoke of it as one of the most moving that he had ever witnessed, and to my surprise, though very much to my gratification, remarked:

“ I never knew what true heroism was until I saw Isaac manifest it upon his seizure, trial and death. I felt my inferiority to him in every way, and I never think of him without ranking him among the best and bravest men that ever lived.”

The record below tells of his crime, and he will be remembered on earth as a felon; but the record above will contain his virtues, and in heaven the good will know and love him — for Isaac was a man. [284]

Iii. The underground telegraph.

  • A Southern Underground Telegraph
  • -- how it began -- its efficacy attested by a Southern gentleman -- its future destiny,

the thriving condition of the Underground Railroad, establishes conclusively the existence of secret and rapid modes of communication among the slave population of the South. Many extraordinary stories are told by the Southrons themselves of the facility with which the negroes learn of all events that transpire in the surrounding country. In spite of strict surveillance on the plantation, and careful watching abroad, by means of numerous and well mounted patrols, the slaves pass freely over large tracts of country. More especially does this state of things exist among the plantations of the cotton growing States. The dense forests, swamps and morasses, which the negroes alone can tread with impunity, enable them to avoid the highways and beaten paths wherein they would be likely to meet the patrol.

This system of secret travel originally grew out of the social desires of the slaves — their love of gossip and wish to meet their friends and relatives; but, as the tyranny of the system grew more insupportable, in the natural course of events, and the yearnings after freedom became stronger in the minds of the negroes themselves, it was used for other and far [285] more dangerous purposes. The preceding chapter will show how an earnest man can use this power.

I remember an incident narrated to me at Charleston, which illustrates this point. In conversation upon various subjects with Col.----, a fine specimen of the Southern planter, with whom I had formed a slight acquaintance, various traits and peculiarities of the negro character were alluded to; and, among others, the extraordinary facilities possessed by the slaves in communicating with each other.

Col----. said it was impossible to prevent it. No matter how rigid the laws might be, or how strictly they were enforced, the evil (as he called it) still continued to grow. He related the following incident as a proof of this rapid inter-communication:

Several summers since, I was in the interior of the State, visiting the plantation of a friend. While there, one morning, the news arrived of a dreadful murder that had been committed, a short distance from the estate, by a poor white man who kept a small grocery at the cross roads near the boundary of several estates. He was supposed to be a receiver of the various articles which plantation slaves are in the habit of stealing. In a fit of insane jealousy, he had brutally murdered a woman who lived with him as his wife. He had immediately decamped, and was supposed to have gone in the direction of Charleston. I was about returning to my home; and my friend, an active magistrate, proposed that we should endeavor to overtake the murderer; or, by reaching the city at an early hour, cause his arrest. The distance was about eighty miles, and we did not start till late in the afternoon. We rode rapidly, changing our horses twice, and about two [286] o'clock in the morning, reached the banks of the river a few miles from the city. My companion had alluded, during the ride, to the knowledge that our servants were generally possessed of all intelligence, and offered to bet any amount of money that “ Old Harry” (the black ferryman), already knew everything about the murder. I was incredulous; for we had ridden fast, and, by no possibility, did it seem to me, could he have learnt anything relating to the tragedy.

“ Well, Harry,” said my companion to the old fellow, “what's the news up country?”

“I dun'no know, mass'r,” was the hesitating reply; “you gentlemen has jest come down, and probable knows more ‘bout it dan I does.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Why sah, de murder ob Abe Thomas' wife las' night.”

The murder was discovered by the patrols about three o'clock in the morning!

We both expressed our ignorance of the event, and old Harry, after some hesitation, gave us the particulars very accurately, stating that he had heard of it that night from a plantation hand.

Here was an extraordinary proof of what my companion had stated. We had travelled rapidly; no one had left the neighborhood before us; yet this old man had learnt of the event some hours previous to our arrival. It had been passed from plantation to plantation, and thus it had reached him.

I listened to the story, and treasured up its facts. It seems to me that here lies a power, by means of which a formidable insurrection, directed by white men, can safely be formed and consummated. And the slaves know this fact. The Canadian fugitives [287] understand it; and are thoroughly systematizing this Underground Telegraph. Many of them are constantly passing to and fro in the Slave States with perfect impunity. Through it, hundreds of the relatives and friends of men, who have already secured their freedom, have been informed of the means by which they can obtain the liberty so eagerly desired. By its operations, when the appropriate hour for sounding the alarum shall have come, speedily, surely and swiftly, will the news spread southward, and reach, in the silent hours of the night, thousands of eager souls now awaiting, in trembling anxiety, for the terrible day of deliverance. [288]

Iv. The dismal swamp.

  • A Contribution by Mrs. Knox, of Boston
  • -- story of a Canadian Fugitive -- why -- -- -- ran away -- slave Shrewdness -- the slave parts with his mother -- runs to the Dismal Swamp -- character of the runaways there -- description of the Swamp -- wild animals -- the Fugitive's wife -- Preaching and praying in the Swamp -- the slave Hunters -- murder of Jacob,

there is a Canada in the Southern States. It is the Dismal Swamp. It is the dreariest and the most repulsive of American possessions. It is the favorite resort of wild animals and reptiles; the paradise of serpents and poisonous vegetation. No human being, one would think, would voluntary live there; and yet, from time immemorial, it has been the chosen asylum of hundreds of our race. It has been the earthly heaven of the negro slave; the place “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”

For the following account of life in the Swamp, I am indebted to the courtesy of Mrs. Knox, of Boston. It was narrated by a fugitive slave in Canada, whose words, as he uttered them, she reported verbatim. She purposes to publish, a volume of autobiographical sketches of the Canadian fugitives; and it is from her manuscript collection that this narrative is taken.

The uniform testimony of the runaways she conversed with, as well as of all the fugitives whom Mr. Drew examined, is that slavery is the sum of all villainies--“Cousin of hell,” as one of them phrased it — and that the bondmen everywhere are discontented with their lot. [289]

This is the Canadian runaway's narrative of

Life in the Dismal Swamp.

. . . .Thirty-five miles I was sep'rated from my wife, buildina house for overseer. ‘Casionally I was permitted to go home. De las' time (I remember it ‘stinctly) when I seed her, I telled her I would come back agin in four weeks. Arter I had worked four weeks, de overseer would n't let me go; so I waited and axed him sever'l times. I knowed my wife would keep ‘spectina me and ‘spectina me till I comed. I begged de overseer one dey to jist let me go home; for I hadn't seen my wife den for seven weeks. He got orful vexed at me, and writed to my mass'r ‘bout me.

Arterward de overseer's wife was mad wit Charity, an my brudder hearn her treaten to send Charity to Richmond, whar my mass'r was agoina to send me to be selled. My brudder telled me now was my time to make clar, or else I'd be hussled off ‘fore I knowed it.

Dat mornina de overseer comed whar I be, an' axed me: “Charlie, I want ye to come to de house an work; cellar steps need ‘pairina, as da ‘bout given way, and old Charity fell down dem to'der day, and like to have broken her ole thick skull; ‘specks she will yet, boy, less ye impair dem. Ye better come right up, Charley, and dood it.”

Now I jist knowed dat ole coon was tryina to lay wait to ketch me, to tie me so he'd sell me down Souf. I didn't live wid old Hunker for not'in‘, I tort; and as I did n't never ‘spect much else but my larnina from him, I bet ye I laid out to make all my larnina tell. Slavery teaches some t'ings you does n't [290] find in books, I tell ye. Well, I knowed dem ar cellar steps would be a long time ‘fore da sketched impairs by my fixin's. . . . . I telled de overseer “Yes, sah,” an' he went struttina ‘bout, ‘spectina every minnit to make a grab at me when I corned out. But lie did n't t'ough, bet ye.

Arter he sot down to dinner, I jist tort, dem are heels ‘longed to me, and so I jest let my legs be ‘sponsible for my heels, till da bringed me and my heels to de woods. . . . . I runned all dat arternoon, and in de nex‘ night I got whar my brudder lived, ‘bout five miles off my wife. . . . . Lizzie was a good wife to me, and I did n't know how I could leave her. Slavery asunders everything we love in dis life, God knows. . . . . Den I walked fifteen mile to my mudder's. I knocked at her winder, and tolled her I was her own Charley in great ‘stress. She corned right to de door, grieved most to def, when I tell'd her mass'r gived overseer commission to sell me. Oh! I did n't know what to do. My poor ole mudder! . . . .

I started off an' lef‘ her frettina mightily. Dat's de las' I knowed ‘bout my wife or ole mudder, or any ob my ‘lations . . . . .

I went to a friend ob mine. He was gone away. His wife knowed I was hungry, and so she ga'en me a right smart supper, and arterwards I intired. In de night her husband corned home. He mediately called me. I ‘peared. He say he knowed folks in de Dismal Swamp, and p'raps he might ‘ceed for me, an' get me ‘casion to work dar. He keeped me six days, whar I was hided away an' would n't be ‘sturbed. Den I hired into de Juniper Swamp for two dollars a month. [291]

I ‘spect you've heern good deal ‘bout dat swamp, ma'am? Da calls it Dismal Swamp; and guess good name for it. 'Tis all dreary like. Dar never was any heaven's sunshine in some parts orn't.

I boarded wit a man what giv me two dollars a month for de first one: arter dat I made shingles for nyse'f. Dar are heaps ob folks in dar to work. Most on ‘em are fugitives, or else hirina dar time. Dreadful ‘commodatina in dare to one anudder. De each like de ‘vantage ob de odder one's'tection. Ye see dey's united togedder in'ividually wit same interest to stake. Never earn one speak disinspectively to ‘nut'er one: all ‘gree as if dey had only one head and one heart, with under legs and hunder hands. Dey's more ‘commodatina dan any folks I's ever seed afore or since. Da lend me dar saws, so I might be ‘pared to split my shingles; and den dey turn right ‘bout and ‘commodate demsels. Ye ax me inscribe de swamp?

Well: de great Dismal Swamp (dey call it Juniper Swamp) ‘stends from whar it begins in Norfolk, old Virginny, to de upper part ob Carolina. Dat's what I's told. It stands itself more ‘n fifty mile north and souf. I worked ‘bout four mile ‘bove Drummond Lake, which be ten mile wide. De boys used to make canoes out ob bark, and hab a nice time fishina in de lake.

Best water in Juniper Swamp ever tasted by man.1 Dreadful healthy place to live, up in de high land in de cane-brake. ‘Speck ye ‘ve heern tell on it? There is reefs ob land — folks call de high lands. In dar de cane-brake grow t'irty feet high. [292] In dem ar can-brakes de ground is kivered wit leaves, kinder makina a natural bed. Dar be whar de wild hogs, cows, wolves, and bars (bears) be found. De swamp is lower land, whar dar's de biggest trees most ever was. De sypress is de handsomest, an' anudder kind called de gum tree.

Dismal Swamp is divided into tree or four parts. Whar I worked da called it Company Swamp. When we wanted fresh pork we goed to Gum Swamp, ‘bout sun-down, run a wild hog down from de cane-brakes into Juniper Swamp, whar dar feet can 't touch hard ground, knock dem over, and dat's de way we kill dem. De same way we ketch wild cows. We troed dar bones, arter we eated all de meat off on ‘em up, to one side de fire. Many's de time we waked up and seed de bars skulking round our feet for de bones. Da neber interrupted us; da knowed better; coz we would gin dem cold shot. Hope I shall live long enough to see de slaveholders feared to interrupt us

. . . . I tort a sight ‘bout my wife, and used allers be planina how I get to see her agin. Den I heern dat old mass'r made her live wid anudder man, coz I left her. Dis ‘formation nearly killed me. I mout ‘spected it; for I knowed de mass'rs neber ingard de marriage ‘stution ‘spectina dar slaves. Dey hab de right to make me be soiled from my wife, and dey had de right of makina her live wid anudder man if she hated him like pisin. I don't blame Lizzie; but I hoped she would b'lieve dat I was dead ; den she would n't fret herself to def, as I knowed she would if she reckoned I was livina. She loved me, I knowed, but dat warn't no ‘count at all. De slaves are ingarded as dey must marry jist for dar mass'r's [293] int'rest. Good many on demo jist marry widout any more respect for each oder den if dey was hogs. . . . . I and my wife warn't so. I married Lizzy, and had a ceremony over it, coz I loved her an‘ she loved me. Well, arter I heern dat she was livin‘ wid ‘nudder man, dat ar made me to come to Canada.

Ole man Fisher was us boys' preacher. He runned away and used to pray, like he's ‘n earnest. I camped wid him. Many's been de ‘zortation I have ‘sperienced, dat desounded t'rough de trees, an‘ we would almos' ‘spect de judgment day was comin‘, dar would be such loud nibrations, as de preacher called dem; ‘specially down by de lake. I b'lieve God is no inspector of persons; an‘ he knows his childer, and kin hear dem jest as quick in de Juniper Swamp as in de great churches what I seed in New York, whar dey don ‘t ‘low a man, as I'm told, to go in thar, if he hasn't been allers customed to sit on spring bottomed cheers, and sofas and planners and all dem sort of tings. Tank de Lord, he don't tink so much ‘bout spring-bottom cheers as his poor critters do — dat's a fac‘. I was fered to peep inside dem ar rich churches, and I ‘spects de blessed Lord hisself dunno much more ‘bout dar insides dan I does. . . . . Oh, dey were nice prayers we used to have sometimes, an' I donno but de old preacher is dar now.

Dar is families growed up in dat ar Dismal Swamp dat never seed a white man, an' would be skeered most to def to see one. Some runaways went dere wid dar wives, an' dar childers are raised dar. We never had any trouble 'mong us boys; but I tell you pretty hard tings sometimes c'ur dat makes [294] ye shiver all over, as if ye was frozed. De master will offer a reward to some one in de swamp to ketch his runaway. So de colored folks got jist as much devil in dem as white folks; I sometimes tink de are jist as voracious arter money. Da ‘tray de fugitives to dar masters. Sometimes de masters comes and shoots dem down dead on de spot. . . . I saw wid my own eyes when dey shot Jacob. Dat is too bad to ‘member. God will not forget it; never, I bet ye. Six white men coined upon him afore lie knowed nothin‘ at all ‘bout it most. Jist de first ting Jacob seed was his old master, Simon Simms, of Suffolk, Virginny, standing right afore him. Dem ar men — all on em — had a gun apiece, an' dey every one of dem pointed right straight to de head of poor Jacob. He felt scared most to def. Old Simms hollered out to him--“Jake! You run a step, you nigger, and I'll blow yer brains out.” Jacob did n't know for de life on him what to do. He feared to gin up: he too scared to run; lie dunno what to do. Six guns wid number two shot, aimed at your head is n't nothina, I tell ye. Takes brave man to stand dat, ‘cordina to my reck'nin‘.

Jacob lifts up his feet to run. Marcy on him! De master and one ob do men levelled dar guns, and dar guns levelled poor Jacob. His whole right side from his hip to his heel was cut up like hashmeat. He bleeded orfull. Dey took some willow bark — made a hoop orn't — run a board trough it — put Jacob on it like as if lie war dead; run a pole through de willow hoop, and put do poles on dar shoulders.

Dreadful scenes, I tell ye, ‘sperienced in de Dismal Swamp, sometimes, when de masters comes dar. Dey shoot down runaways, and think no more [295] sendina a ball t'rough dar hearts and sendina hearts into ‘Ternity dan jist nothing‘ at all. But balls will be seen in ‘Ternity, when de master gets dar ‘spectina to stay; ‘spect dey'll get dispinted heap!

I feared to stay dar arter I seed such tings; I made up my mind to leave. . . . . ‘Spect I better not tell de way I comed: for dar's lots more b<*> comina same way I did.


V. Scenes in a slave prison.

Dr. S. G. Howe

[From a private letter to Charles Sumner, by Dr. S. G. Howe, of Boston.]

I have passed ten days in New Orleans — not unprofitably, I trust — in examining the public institutions, the schools, asylums, hospitals, prisons, etc. With the exception of the first, there is little hope of amelioration. I know not how much merit there may be in their system, but I do know that in the administration of the penal code, there are abominations which should bring down the fate of Sodom upon the city.

A man suspected of a crime and awaiting his trial, is thrust into a pandemonium filled with convicts and outlaws, where, herding and sleeping in common with hardened wretches, he breathes an atmosphere whose least evil is its physical impurity; and which is loaded with blasphemies, obscenities, and the sound of hellish orgies, intermingled with the clanking of the chains of the more furious, who are not caged, but who move about in the crowd with fettered legs and hands.

If Howard or Mrs. Fry ever discovered a worse administered den of thieves than the New Orleans prison, they never described it. [297]

In the negroes' apartment I saw much which made me blush that I was a white man. Entering a large paved courtyard, around which ran galleries filled with slaves of all ages, sexes and colors, I heard the snap of a whip, every stroke of which sounded like the sharp crack of a small pistol. I turned my head and beheld a sight which absolutely chilled me to the marrow of my bones. There lay a black girl, flat upon her face on a board, her two thumbs tied and fastened to one end, her feet tied and drawn tightly to the other end, while a strap passed over the small of her back, and fastened around the board, confined her closely to it. Below the strap she was entirely naked; by her side, and six feet off, stood a huge negro with a long whip, which he applied with dreadful power and wonderful precision. Every stroke brought away a strip of scarf skin and made the blood spring to the surface. The poor creature writhed and shrieked, and, in a voice which showed alike her fear of death and her dreadful agony, screamed to her master, who stood at her head, “Oh! Spare my life.--do n't cut my soul out!” But still fell the horrid lash; still strip after strip was broken from the skin; gash after gash was cut in her flesh, until it became a livid and bloody mass of raw and quivering muscle.

It was with the greatest difficulty that I refrained from springing upon the torturer and arresting his lash. But, alas! what could I do but turn aside, to hide my tears for the sufferer, and my blushes for humanity.

This was in a public and regularly organized prison. The punishment was one recognized and authorized by the law. But, think you, the poor wretch had [298] committed a heinous offence, and been convicted thereof, and sentenced to the lash? Not at all! She was brought by her master to be whipped by the common executioner, without trial, judge, or jury, to gratify his own whim or malice. And he may bring her day after day, without cause assigned, and inflict any number of lashes he pleases, short of twenty-five, provided only he pays the fee. Or, if he choose, he may have a private whipping-board on his own premises and brutalize himself there.

A shocking part of this horrid punishment was its publicity. As I have said, it was in a courtyard, surrounded by galleries, which were filled with colored persons of all sexes: runaway slaves; slaves committed for some crime, or slaves up for sale. You would naturally suppose they crowded forward, and gazed, horror-stricken, at the brutal spectacle below. But they did not; many of them hardly noticed it; and some were entirely indifferent to it. They went on in their childish pursuits, and some were laughing outright in the distant parts of the galleries! So low can man, created in God's image, be sunk in brutality! So much is he the creature of circumstance, that, by a degrading and brutalizing system of slavery, every distinguishing trait of humanity may be effaced, and he be made happy as the stalled ox; while a Christian and civilized people can be found, who, from the mere love of lucre, will fasten their system, and urge, in their defence, that he is as happy as a brute, and is incapable of any higher enjoyment.

S. G. Howe. [299]

Vi. My object.

  • A Review of the present state of the anti-slavery battle
  • -- some Recommendations, and a closing question,

the reader must have noticed that I took particular pains to ascertain the secret sentiments of the Southern slaves. He must have seen, also, that I never stepped aside to collate or investigate any cases of unusual cruelty, or to portray the neglect of masters in the different States, to provide their bondmen with the comforts of a home or the decencies of life. That I had material enough, my summary will show.

I did not go South to collect the materials for a distant war of words against it. Far more earnest was my aim.

I saw or believed that one cycle of anti-slavery warfare was about to close — the cycle whose correspondences in history are the eras of John Ball, the herald of the brave Jack Cade; of the Humble Remonstrants who preceded Oliver Cromwell, and the Iconoclastic Puritans; and of the Encyclopaedists of the age of Louis the Sixteenth, whose writings prepared the way for the French Revolution. I believed that the cycle of action was at hand. I considered it, therefore, of importance to know the feelings and aspirations of the slaves. I cared little, comparatively with this object, to ascertain their [300] physical condition. I never even read a book on the subject — a volume of fiction alone excepted — until the manuscripts of the preceding pages were placed in the hands of the printer. I knew that irrepressible power must, from its very nature, corrupt men, and make them cruel, heartless, and licentious. It would have been useless to travel South to corroborate that truth.

My object was to aid the slaves. If I found that slavery had so far degraded them, that they were comparatively contented with their debased condition, I resolved, before I started, to spend my time in the South, in disseminating discontentment. But if, on the other hand, I found them ripe for a rebellion, my resolution was to prepare the way for it, as far as my ability and opportunities permitted.

I believed that a civil war between the North and South would ultimate in insurrection, and that the Kansas troubles would probably create a military conflict of the sections. Hence I left the South, and went to Kansas; and endeavored, personally and by my pen, to precipitate a revolution. That we failed — for I was not alone in this desire — was owing to the influence of prominent Republican statesmen, whose unfortunately conservative character of counsel — which it was impossible openly to resist-effectually baffled all our hopes: hopes which Democratic action was auspiciously promoting.

Are we, then, without hope?

No! and, while slaves live, and the God of justice is omnipotent, never will we be discouraged. Revolutions never go backward. The second American Revolution has begun. Kansas was its Lexington: [301] Texas will be its Bunker Hill, and South Carolina its Yorktown.

It is fashionable for our animalcule-statesmen to lament or affirm that slavery cannot speedily be abolished. It is so wrought and interwoven with the social system of the South--with its commercial, political, and religious organizations — that to root it out at once, they maintain, would be disastrous to the country and to the slave himself. Perish the country, then, and woe to the slave! Whatever falls, let slavery perish. Whoever suffers, let slavery end. If the Union is to be the price of a crime, let us repent of the iniquity and destroy the bond.

Do you desire to aid in overthrowing slavery There is work for you to do, whatever may be your talents or ideas of policy.

--Shall I venture to predict? It may be that I am not a prophet-but, as far as we believe in humanity, and right, and an overruling God, we have the power of foreseeing results. All fanatics are prophets to the extent of their vision — for fanaticism is the ardent worship of a truth; and by its light we can-nay, must-see the sequences of acts performed in accordance or in violation of it. And I am a fanatic.

Slavery will be speedily abolished. That I see. I think, by violence; nay, I know by bloodshed, if the present spirit long pervades the South. “Unless it repents it shall utterly perish.”

Slavery will soon be driven east of the Mississippi.

Missouri--already surrounded by free communities; with friends of the slave, from the adjoining territory, ever active on her borders; with the money [302] of the merchant, the selfishness of the laborer, and the ambition of the politician arrayed against her domestic institution, and the fear of the slaveholder justly aroused for the safety of his property in man --this State, so recently the champion of the South, will be the first to succumb to the spirit of the North, and realize the truth that they who take the sword shall perish by it.

South of Kansas lies a fertile region already darkened by the curse of slavery. It is the Indian Territory. It will soon be thrown open for the settlement of the white race. Another struggle will ensue — and another victory for freedom; for the men who, at Yellow Stone, fired at Federal troops, and, at Osawattomie--seventeen against four hundred--made the embattled marauders bite the dust, will be there to avenge the martyrs of Lawrence and the Marais des Cygnes. Will they have no other aid? Yes; for there are negroes enslaved in the Indian Territory: the descendants of the bravest warriors America has produced — the hunted maroons, who, for forty years, in the swamps of Florida, defied the skill and armies of the United States. They hate slavery and the race that upholds it, and are longing for an opportunity to display that hatred. Not far from this territory, in a neighboring province of Mexico, live a nation of trained negro soldiers — the far-famed Florida Indians, who, after baffling and defying the United States, and after having been treacherously enslaved by the Creeks, incited thereto by Federal officials, bravely resisted their oppressors and made an Exodus, the grandest since the days of Moses, to a land of freedom. Already have their oppressors felt their prowess; and their historian tells us--“they will be [303] heard from again.” 2 Mark the significant warning!

Arrizonia is a mining country. There is gold, silver and copper there. It requires skilled labor to extract them from the ore. Free laborers will flock to these regions as soon as it is profitable to go, and overwhelm, by mere numerical force, the champions of the Southern system. The wild Indians, too, are the friends of the negro. The diplomacy of the Florida Indians has made them the eternal enemies of the South. The nation will see this fact when the Texan struggle begins.

Slavery can never be extended into Northern Mexico. The people hate it. Through all the multitudinous mutations of their history, this hatred has been the only established principle which pervaded the entire nation. If color is to be the badge of bondage, they know that they must succumb to it, if the SouthernNorman” obtains dominion in their land. For the Mexicans of the frontier provinces are of mixed Indian, Negro and Spanish origin. There are numbers of fugitives from American slavery among them, who superadd to a deadly national animosity, a still stronger hatred of a race of tyrants.

Texas is a tempting bait for the North; the greatest territorial prize of the age. By the terms of its admission, it may be divided into five States. What shall the character of those States be? There are numbers of resolute pioneers in Kansas who have sworn that Texas shall again be free — as it was under Mexican domination — before the “flag of the free” [304] waved over it. They have declared that a line of free States shall extend, southward, to the Mexican Gulf; that slavery shall, westward, find the bound which it cannot pass. Within the borders of Texas there is already a numerous free-labor population, whose numbers, by the organized emigration movement, will speedily be increased and presently preponderate. The wealth of the North, which would shudder at the idea of a servile insurrection, is already pledged to the programme of anti-slavery emigration — which, as surely as to-morrow's sun shall rise, will ultimately and rapidly drive slavery to the eastern shore of the Mississippi.

Thus far, the programme will be essentially pacific-at most, a conflict of sections and rival civilizations. Thus far, but no further, political action may benefit the slave. The Republican party, the champion of white laborers, will plead their cause and insure them success. To this extent, therefore, the friend of the slave can consistently aid the Republican party; but, this end gained, it will be his duty to desert and war against it. For it is publicly pledged never to interfere, by political action, with slavery where it already exists; but, on the contrary, to preserve and defend whatever may be “protected by the aegis of State sovereignty.” 3

West of the Mississippi and in the State of Missouri, therefore, the friend of the slave, from the inevitable operation of potent political and commercial forces, may leave, to a great extent, the fate of slavery to peaceful causes or other than distinctively abolition movements. [305]

Westward, slavery cannot go. Northward, its influence daily diminishes. The sentiment of the Eastern world is hostile to it always. Can it extend Southward? It will look in vain to Central America. The same mixed races who hate the modern “Norman” in Mexico inhabit those regions, and are animated by the same true spirit; and the attempt, if ever made, to subdue this people, in order to extend the area of bondage, will justly precipitate a war with the powers of Europe. The South does not dare to hazard a war with such great powers on such an issue.

The islands of the American Archipelago are to-day almost exclusively in the hands of the liberated African race. The first serious attempt at annexation will put them entirely in the possession of the blacks. Cuba has already, within her borders, seven thousand self-emancipated citizens; and it is a fact, well known in our State Department, that the Spanish rulers of that island would unhesitatingly arm the black population, both slave and free, in the event of any serious attempt at conquest.

But I would not fear the extension of American slavery, even if the neighboring nations were more friendly to it. The South will soon find enough to do at home. Canada has hitherto been the safety valve of Southern slavery. The bold and resolute negroes, who were fitted by their character to incite the slaves to rebellion, and lead them on to victory, have hitherto, by the agency of the underground railroad, been triumphantly carried off to a land of freedom. The more sagacious Southrons have seen this fact, and congratulated themselves on it. They forget that the same Qualities which induced these [306] slaves to fly, would enable them, in their new home, to accumulate riches; and that to men who have endured the tyranny of slavery, there is nothing so much coveted as the hope of revenge. There are thousands of dollars in the Canadian Provinces which are ready for the use of the insurrectionists.

But is insurrection possible?

I believe that it is. The only thing that has hitherto prevented a universal revolt, is the impossibility of forming extended combinations. This the slave code effectually prevents. To attain this end, therefore, the agency of white men is needed.

Are there men ready for this holy work?

I thank God that there are. There are men who are tired of praising the French patriots — who are ready to be Lafayettes and Kosciuskos to the slaves.

Do you ask for a programme of action?

The negroes and the Southrons have taught us. The slaves of the Dismal Swamp, the maroons of Florida, the free-state men of Kansas, have pointed out the method. The South committed suicide when it compelled the free squatters to resort to guerilla warfare, and to study it both as a mode of subsistence and a science. For the mountains, the swamps and morasses of the South, are peculiarly adapted to this mode of combat, and there are numbers of young men, trained to the art in the Kansas ravines, who are eager for an opportunity of avenging their slain comrades, on the real authors of their death, in the forests and plantations of the Carolinas and Georgia.

Will you aid them — will you sustain them? Are you in favor of a servile insurrection?

Tell God in acts.


1 It is stated to have medicinal properties.

2 See “The Exiles of Florida,” by Joshua R. Giddings.

3 See J. C. Fremont's Letter of Acceptance, and the Republican Campaign Documents, passim.

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