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Manuel was an active, intelligent slave in North Carolina. His master, Mr. Joseph Spear, a tar manufacturer, employed him to transport tar, and [140] other produce of the place, down Tar river to Tarborough. After laboring several years for another's benefit, Manuel began to feel anxious to derive some advantage from his own earnings. He had children, and it troubled him to think that they must live and die in slavery. He was acquainted with a colored man in the neighborhood, named Samuel Curtis, who had a certificate of freedom drawn up by the clerk of the county, and duly authenticated, with the county seal attached to it. Manuel thought he could easily pass for Samuel Curtis, and make his way to Philadelphia, if he could only obtain possession of this valuable paper. He accordingly made him a confidant of his plans, and he bought the certificate for two dollars.

The next time Manuel was sent to Tarborough, he delivered the cargo as usual, then left the boat and started for the North. He arrived safely in Philadelphia, where he assumed the name of Samuel Curtis, and earned a living by sweeping chimneys. In a short time, he had several boys in his employ, and laid by money. When he had been going on thus for about two years, he was suddenly met in the street by one of the neighbors of his old master, who immediately arrested him as a fugitive from slavery. He was taken before Robert Wharton, then mayor. The stranger declared that the colored man he had seized was a slave, belonging to one of his near [141] neighbors in North Carolina. Samuel denied that he was a slave, and showed his certificate of freedom. The stranger admitted that the document was authentic, but he insisted that the real name of the person who had possession of the paper was Manuel. He said he knew him perfectly well, and also knew Samuel Curtis, who was a free colored man in his neighborhood. The mayor decided that he could not receive parole evidence in contradiction to a public record; and Samuel Curtis was set at liberty.

To the honor of this worthy magistrate be it recorded that during forty years whilst he was alderman in Philadelphia, and twenty years that he was mayor, he never once surrendered a fugitive slave to his claimant, though frequently called upon to do so. He used to tell Friend Hopper that he could not conscientiously do it; that he would rather resign his office. He often remarked that the Declaration, ‘All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;’ appeared to him based on a sacred principle, paramount to all law.

When Samuel Curtis was discharged, he deemed it expedient to go to Boston; thinking he might be safer there than in Philadelphia. But he had not been there many days, before he met the same man who had previously arrested him; and he by no [142] means felt sure that the mayor of that city would prove as friendly to the colored people as was Robert Wharton. To add to his troubles, some villain broke open his trunk while he was absent from his lodgings, and stole a hundred and fifty dollars of his hard earnings. The poor fugitive began to think there was no safe resting-place for him on the face of the earth. He returned to Philadelphia disconsolate and anxious. He was extremely diligent and frugal, and every year he contrived to save some money, which he put out at interest in safe hands. At last, he was able to purchase a small lot in Powell-street, on which he built a good three-story brick house, where he lived with his apprentices, and let some of the rooms at a good profit.

In 1807, he called upon Friend Hopper and told him that his eagerness to make money had chiefly arisen from a strong desire to redeem his children from bondage. But being a slave himself, he said it was impossible for him to go in search of them, unless his own manumission could be obtained. It happened that a friend of Isaac T. Hopper was going to North Carolina. He agreed to see the master and ascertain what could be done. Mr. Spear never expected to hear from his slave again, and the proposition to buy him after so many years had elapsed, seemed like finding a sum of money. He readily [143] agreed to make out a bill of sale for one hundred dollars, which was immediately paid.

The first use Samuel Curtis made of the freedom he had purchased was to set off for the South in search of his children. To protect himself as much as possible from the perils of such an undertaking, he obtained a certificate of good character, signed by the mayor of Philadelphia, and several of the most respectable citizens. They also gave him ‘a pass’ stating the object of his journey, and commending him to the protecting kindness of those among whom he might find it necessary to travel. With these he carefully packed his deed of manumission, and set forth on his errand of paternal love. When he went to take leave of Friend Hopper, he was much agitated. He clasped his hand fervently, and the tears flowed fast down his weather-beaten cheeks. ‘I know I am going into the midst of danger,’ said he. ‘Perhaps I maybe seized and sold into slavery. But I am willing to hazard everything, even my own liberty, if I can only secure the freedom of my children. I have been a slave myself, and I know what slaves suffer. Farewell! Farewell, my good friend. May God bless you, and may he restore to me my children. Then I shall be a happy man.’

He started on his journey, and went directly to his former master to obtain information. He did not at first recognize his old servant. But when he became [144] convinced that the person before him was the identical Manuel, who had formerly been his slave, he seemed pleased to see him, entertained him kindly, and inquired how he had managed to get money enough to buy his children.

The real Samuel Curtis, who sold him the certificate of freedom, was dead; and since he could no longer be endangered by a statement of particulars, the spurious Samuel related the whole story of his escape, and of his subsequent struggles; concluding the whole by expressing an earnest wish to find his children.

Mr. Spear had sold them, some years before, to a man in South Carolina; and thither the father went in search of them. On arriving at the designated place, he found they had been sold into Georgia. He went to Georgia, and was told they had been sold to a man in Tennessee. He followed them into Tennessee, but there he lost all track of them. After the most patient and diligent search, he was compelled to return home without further tidings of them.

As soon as he arrived in Philadelphia, he went to Isaac T. Hopper to tell how the cherished plan of his life had been frustrated. He seemed greatly dejected, and wept bitterly. ‘I have deprived myself of almost every comfort,’ said he; ‘that I might save money to buy my poor children. But now they are [145] not to be found, and my money gives me no satisfaction. The only consolation I have is the hope that they are all dead.’

The bereaved old man never afterward seemed to take comfort in anything. He sunk into a settled melancholy, and did not long survive his disappointment.

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Samuel Curtis (7)
Manuel (6)
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