AMONG THE PINES.
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A NEW WORK, Descriptive of Southern Social Life, BY THE AUTHOR OF AMONG THE PINES, Is now in course of publication in THE "CONTINENTAL MONTHLY," PUBLISHED BY J. R. GILMORE, 532 Broadway, NEW YORK.
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AMONG THE PINES:
or, South in Secession Time.
Tenth Thousand. New York: J. R. Gilmore, 532 Broadway. Charles T. Evans. 1862.
Entered according to Act of Congress, In the year 1862, by J. R. Gilmore, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the Southern District of New York.
M'crea & Miller, Stereotypers. C. A. Alvord, Printer
TO RICHARD B. KIMBALL,
THE ACCOMPLISHED AUTHOR, THE POLISHED GENTLEMAN, AND MY OLD AND EVER-VALUED FRIEND,
THESE SKETCHES ARE DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR.
CHAPTER I.—ON THE ROAD.—Arrival at Georgetown.—The Village Inn.—Nocturnal Adventures.—My African Driver.—His Strange History.—Genuine Negro Songs.—Arrival at Bucksville. 10
CHAPTER II.—WAYSIDE HOSPITALITY.—A Strange Meeting.—A Well Ordered Plantation.—A Thunder-storm.—A New Guest.—The Hidden Springs or Secession Exposed.—On the Way Again.—Intelligence of the Negro.—Renconter with a Secessionist. 30
CHAPTER III.—CROSSING THE RUNS.—The Black Declines His Freedom.—His Reasons for so Doing.—A "native" Abolitionist.—Swimming the Run.—Black Spirits and White.—Shelter. 55
CHAPTER IV.—POOR WHITES.—The Mills House.—South Carolina Clay-Eaters.—Political Discussion.—President Lincoln a Negro.—"Three in a Bed and one in the Middle."—$250 reward.—A Secret League. 69
CHAPTER V.—ON THE PLANTATION.—The Planter's Dwelling.—His House-Keeper.—The Process of Turpentine Making.—Loss to Carolina by Secession.—The Dying Boy.—The Story of Jim.—A Northern Man with Southern Principles.—Sam Murdered.—Pursuit of the Overseer. 94
CHAPTER VI.—THE PLANTER'S FAMILY.—The old Nurse.—Her Story.—A White Slave-Woman's Opinion of Slavery.—The Stables.—The Negro-Quarters.—Sunday Exercises.—The Taking of Moye. 127
CHAPTER VII.—PLANTATION DISCIPLINE.—The "Ole Cabin."—The Mode of Negro Punishment.—The "Thumb-Screw."—A Ministering Angel.—A Negro Trial.—A Rebellion.—A Turpentine Dealer.—A Boston Dray on its Travels. 150
CHAPTER VIII.—THE NEGRO HUNTER.—Young Democrats.—Political Discussion.—Startling Statistics.—A Freed Negro. 169
CHAPTER IX.—THE COUNTRY CHURCH.—Its Description.—The "Corn-Cracker."—The News.—Strange Disclosure. 180
CHAPTER X.—THE NEGRO FUNERAL.—The Burial Ground.—A Negro Sermon.—The Appearance of Juley.—The Colonel's Heartlessness.—The Octoroon's Explanation of it.—The Escape of Moye. 196
CHAPTER XI.—THE PURSUIT.—The Start.—"Carolina Race-Horses."—A Race.—We Lose the Trail.—A Tornado.—A Narrow Escape.— 207
CHAPTER XII.—THE YANKEE SCHOOLMISTRESS.—Our New Apparel.—"Kissing Goes by Favor."—Schools at the South. 222
CHAPTER XIII.—THE RAILWAY STATION.—The Village.—A Drunken Yankee.—A Narrow Escape.—Andy Jones.—A Light-Wood Fire.—The Colonel's Departure. 227
CHAPTER XIV.—THE BARBACUE.—The Camp-Ground.—The Stump-Speaker.—A Stump Speech.—Almost a Fight.—The Manner of Roasting the Ox. 239
CHAPTER XV.—THE RETURN.—Arrival at the Plantation.—Disappearance of Juley and her child.—The Old Preacher's Story.—Scene Between the Master and the Slave. 253
CHAPTER XVI.—"ONE MORE UNFORTUNATE."—Attempted Whipping of Jim.—Appearance of the "Corn-Cracker."—"Drowned.—Drowned." 260
CHAPTER XVII.—THE SMALL PLANTER.—His House.—His Wife.—His Negroes.—A Juvenile Darky.—Lazarus in "Ab'ram's Buzzum."—White and Black Labor Compared.—The Mysteries of "Rosum" manufacture. 277
CHAPTER XVIII.—THE BURIAL OF JULE.—"He Tempers the Wind to the Shorn Lamb."—The Funeral. 295
CHAPTER XIX.—HOMEWARD BOUND.—Colonel A—— Again.—Parting with Scipio.—Why this Book was Written. 298
CHAPTER XX.—CONCLUSION.—The Author's Explanations.—Last News from Moye and Scipio.—Affecting Letter from Andy Jones.—The End. 303
ON THE ROAD.
Some winters ago I passed several weeks at Tallahassee, Florida, and while there made the acquaintance of Colonel J——, a South Carolina planter. Accident, some little time later, threw us together again at Charleston, when I was gratified to learn that he would be my compagnon du voyage as far north as New York.
He was accompanied by his body-servant, "Jim," a fine specimen of the genus darky, about thirty years of age, and born and reared in his master's family. As far as possible we made the journey by day, stopping at some convenient resting-place by night; on which occasions the Colonel, Jim, and myself would occupy the same or adjoining apartments, "we white folks" sleeping on four posts, while the more democratic negro spread his blanket on the floor. Thrown together thus intimately, it was but natural that we should learn much of each other.
The "Colonel" was a highly cultivated and intelligent gentleman, and during this journey a friendship sprung up between us—afterward kept alive by a regular correspondence—which led him, with his wife and daughter, and the man Jim, to my house on his next visit at the North, one year later. I then promised—if I should ever again travel in South Carolina—to visit him on his plantation in the extreme north-eastern part of the state.
In December last, about the time of the passage of the ordinance of secession, I had occasion to visit Charleston, and, previous to setting out, dispatched a letter to the Colonel with the information that I was ready to be led of him "into the wilderness." On arriving at the head-quarters of secession, I found a missive awaiting me, in which my friend cordially renewed his previous tender of hospitality, gave me particular directions how to proceed, and stated that his "man Jim" would meet me with a carriage at Georgetown, and convey me thence, seventy miles, to "the plantation."
Having performed the business which led me to Charleston, I set out for the rendezvous five days before the date fixed for the meeting, intending to occupy the intervening time in an exploration of the ancient town and its surroundings.
The little steamer Nina (a cross between a full-grown nautilus and a half-grown tub), which a few weeks later was enrolled as the first man-of-war of the Confederate navy, then performed the carrying trade between the two principal cities of South Carolina. On her, together with sundry boxes and bales, and certain human merchandise, I embarked at Charleston, and on a delicious morning, late in December, landed at Georgetown.
As the embryo war-steamer rounded up to the long, low, rickety dock, lumbered breast-high with cotton, turpentine, and rosin, not a white face was to be seen. A few half-clad, shiftless-looking negroes, lounging idly about, were the only portion of the population in waiting to witness our landing.
"Are all the people dead?" I inquired of one of them, thinking it strange that an event so important as the arrival of the Charleston packet should excite no greater interest in so quiet a town. "Not dead, massa," replied the black, with a knowing chuckle, "but dey'm gettin' ready for a fun'ral." "What funeral?" I asked. "Why, dey'm gwine to shoot all de boblition darkies at de Norf, and hab a brack burying; he! he!" and the sable gentleman expanded the opening in his countenance to an enormous extent, doubtless at the brilliancy of his wit.
I asked him to take my portmanteau, and conduct me to the best hotel. He readily assented, "Yas, yas, massa, I show you whar de big-bugs stop;" but at once turning to another darky standing near, he accosted him with, "Here, Jim, you lazy nigga, tote de gemman's tings."
"Why don't you take them yourself?" I asked; "you will then get all the pay." "No, no, massa; dat nigga and me in partenship; he do de work, and I keeps de change," was the grinning reply, and it admirably illustrates a peculiarity I have observed to be universal with the negro. When left to his own direction, he invariably "goes into partenship" with some one poorer than himself, and no matter how trivial the task, shirks all the labor he can.
The silent darky and my portmanteau in the van, and the garrulous old negro guarding my flank, I wended my way through the principal street to the hotel. On the route I resumed the conversation:
"So, uncle, you say the people here are getting ready for a black burying?"
"Yas, massa, gwine to bury all dem mis'able free niggas at de Norf."
"Why? What will you do that for?"
"Why for, massa! you ax why for!" he exclaimed in surprise.
"I don't know," I rejoined; "I'm a stranger here."
"Well, you see, massa, dem boblition niggas up dar hab gone and 'lected a ole darky, dey call Uncle Abe; and Old Abe he'se gwine to come down Souf, and cut de decent niggas' troats. He'll hab a good time—he will! My young massa's captin ob de sogers, and he'll cotch de ole coon, and string him up so high de crows won't scent him; yas, he will;" and again the old darky's face opened till it looked like the entrance to the Mammoth Cave. He, evidently, had read the Southern papers.
Depositing my luggage at the hotel, which I found on a side street—a dilapidated, unpainted wooden building, with a female landlord—I started out to explore the town, till the hour for dinner. Retracing my steps in the direction of the steamboat landing, I found the streets nearly deserted, although it was the hour when the business of the day is usually transacted. Soon I discovered the cause. The militia of the place were out on parade. Preceded by a colored band, playing national airs—in doleful keeping with the occasion—and followed by a motley collection of negroes of all sexes and ages, the company was entering the principal thoroughfare. As it passed me, I could judge of the prowess of the redoubtable captain, who, according to Pompey, will hang the President "so high de crows won't scent him." He was a harmless-looking young man, with long, spindle legs, admirably adapted to running. Though not formidable in other respects, there was a certain martial air about an enormous sabre which hung at his side, and occasionally got entangled in his nether integuments, and a fiery, warlike look to the heavy tuft of reddish hair which sprouted in bristling defiance from his upper lip.
The company numbered about seventy, some with uniforms and some without, and bearing all sorts of arms, from the old flint-lock musket to the modern revolving rifle. They were, however, sturdy fellows, and looked as if they might do service at "the imminent deadly breach." Their full ranks taken from a population of less than five hundred whites, told unmistakably the intense war feeling of the community.
Georgetown is one of the oldest towns in South Carolina, and it has a decidedly finished appearance. Not a single building, I was informed, had been erected there in five years. Turpentine is one of the chief productions of the district; yet the cost of white lead and chrome yellow has made paint a scarce commodity, and the houses, consequently, all wear a dingy, decayed look. Though situated on a magnificent bay, a little below the confluence of three noble rivers, which drain a country of surpassing richness, and though the centre of the finest rice-growing district in the world, the town is dead. Every thing about it wears an air of dilapidation. The few white men you meet in its streets, or see lounging lazily around its stores and warehouses, appear to lack all purpose and energy. Long contact with the negro seems to have given them his shiftless, aimless character.
The ordinance of secession passed the legislature shortly prior to my arrival, and, as might be expected, the political situation was the all-engrossing topic of thought and conversation. In the estimation of the whites a glorious future was about to open on the little state. Whether she stood alone, or supported by the other slave states, she would assume a high rank among the nations of the earth; her cotton and rice would draw trade and wealth from every land, and when she spoke, creation would tremble. Such overweening state pride in such a people—shiftless, indolent, and enervated as they are—strikes a stranger as in the last degree ludicrous; but when they tell you, in the presence of the black, whose strong brawny arm and sinewy frame show that in him lies the real strength of the state, that this great empire is to be built on the shoulders of the slave, your smile of incredulity gives way to an expression of pity, and you are tempted to ask if those sinewy machines may not THINK, and some day rise, and topple down the mighty fabric which is to be reared on their backs!
Among the "peculiar institutions" of the South are its inns. I do not refer to the pinchbeck, imitation St. Nicholas establishments, which flourish in the larger cities, but to those home-made affairs, noted for hog and hominy, corn-cake and waffles, which crop out here and there in the smaller towns, the natural growth of Southern life and institutions. A model of this class is the one at Georgetown. Hog, hominy, and corn-cake for breakfast; waffles, hog, and hominy for dinner; and hog, hominy, and corn-cake for supper—and such corn-cake, baked in the ashes of the hearth, a plentiful supply of the grayish condiment still clinging to it!—is its never-varying bill of fare. I endured this fare for a day, how, has ever since been a mystery to me, but when night came my experiences were indescribable. Retiring early, to get the rest needed to fit me for a long ride on the morrow, I soon realized that "there is no rest for the wicked," none, at least, for sinners at the South. Scarcely had my head touched the pillow when I was besieged by an army of red-coated secessionists, who set upon me without mercy. I withstood the assault manfully, till "bleeding at every pore," and then slowly and sorrowfully beat a retreat. Ten thousand to one is greater odds than the gallant Anderson encountered at Sumter. Yet I determined not to fully abandon the field. Placing three chairs in a row, I mounted upon them, and in that seemingly impregnable position hurled defiance at the enemy, in the words of Scott (slightly altered to suit the occasion):
"Come one, come all, these chairs shall fly From their firm base as soon as I."
My exultation, however, was of short duration. The persistent foe, scaling my intrenchments, soon returned to the assault with redoubled vigor, and in utter despair I finally fled. Groping my way through the hall, and out of the street-door, I departed. The Sable Brother—alias the Son of Ham—alias the Image of GOD carved in Ebony—alias the Oppressed Type—alias the Contraband—alias the Irrepressible Nigger—alias the Chattel—alias the Darky—alias the Cullud Pusson—had informed me that I should find the Big Bugs at that hotel. I had found them.
Staying longer in such a place was out of the question, and I determined to make my way to the up-country without longer waiting for Jim. With the first streak of day I sallied out to find the means of locomotion.
The ancient town boasts no public conveyance, except a one-horse gig that carries the mail in tri-weekly trips to Charleston. That vehicle, originally used by some New England doctor, in the early part of the past century, had but one seat, and besides, was not going the way I intended to take, so I was forced to seek a conveyance at a livery-stable. At the only livery establishment in the place, kept by a "cullud pusson," who, though a slave, owns a stud of horses that might, among a people more movingly inclined, yield a respectable income, I found what I wanted—a light Newark buggy, and a spanking gray. Provided with these, and a darky driver, who was to accompany me to my destination, and return alone, I started. A trip of seventy miles is something of an undertaking in that region, and quite a crowd gathered around to witness our departure, not a soul of whom, I will wager, will ever hear the rumble of a stage-coach, or the whistle of a steam-car, in those sandy, deserted streets.
We soon left the village, and struck a broad avenue, lined on either side by fine old trees, and extending in an air-line for several miles. The road is skirted by broad rice-fields, and these are dotted here and there by large antiquated houses, and little collections of negro huts. It was Christmas week; no hands were busy in the fields, and every thing wore the aspect of Sunday. We had ridden a few miles when suddenly the road sunk into a deep, broad stream, called, as the driver told me, the Black River. No appliance for crossing being at hand, or in sight, I was about concluding that some modern Moses accommodated travellers by passing them over its bed dry-shod, when a flat-boat shot out from the jungle on the opposite bank, and pulled toward us. It was built of two-inch plank, and manned by two infirm darkies, with frosted wool, who seemed to need all their strength to sit upright. In that leaky craft, kept afloat by incessant baling, we succeeded, at the end of an hour, in crossing the river. And this, be it understood, is travelling in one of the richest districts of South Carolina!
We soon left the region of the rice-fields, and plunged into dense forests of the long-leafed pine, where for miles not a house, or any other evidence of human occupation, is to be seen. Nothing could well be more dreary than a ride through such a region, and to while away the tedium of the journey I opened a conversation with the driver, who up to that time had maintained a respectful silence.
He was a genuine native African, and a most original and interesting specimen of his race. His thin, close-cut lips, straight nose and European features contrasted strangely with a skin of ebon blackness, and the quiet, simple dignity of his manner betokened superior intelligence. His story was a strange one. When a boy, he was with his mother, kidnapped by a hostile tribe, and sold to the traders at Cape Lopez, on the western coast of Africa. There, in the slave-pen, the mother died, and he, a child of seven years, was sent in the slave-ship to Cuba. At Havana, when sixteen, he attracted the notice of a gentleman residing in Charleston, who bought him and took him to "the States." He lived as house-servant in the family of this gentleman till 1855, when his master died, leaving him a legacy to a daughter. This lady, a kind, indulgent mistress, had since allowed him to "hire his time," and he then carried on an "independent business," as porter, and doer of all work around the wharves and streets of Georgetown. He thus gained a comfortable living, besides paying to his mistress one hundred and fifty dollars yearly for the privilege of earning his own support. In every way he was a remarkable negro, and my three days' acquaintance with him banished from my mind all doubt as to the capacity of the black for freedom, and all question as to the disposition of the slave to strike off his chains when the favorable moment arrives. From him I learned that the blacks, though pretending ignorance, are fully acquainted with the questions at issue in the pending contest. He expressed the opinion, that war would come in consequence of the stand South Carolina had taken; and when I said to him: "But if it comes you will be no better off. It will end in a compromise, and leave you where you are." He answered: "No, massa, 't wont do dat. De Souf will fight hard, and de Norf will get de blood up, and come down har, and do 'way wid de cause ob all de trubble—and dat am de nigga."
"But," I said, "perhaps the South will drive the North back; as you say, they will fight hard."
"Dat dey will, massa, dey'm de fightin' sort, but dey can't whip de Norf, 'cause you see dey'll fight wid only one hand. When dey fight de Norf wid de right hand, dey'll hev to hold de nigga wid de leff."
"But," I replied, "the blacks wont rise; most of you have kind masters and fare well."
"Dat's true, massa, but dat an't freedom, and de black lub freedom as much as de white. De same blessed LORD made dem both, and HE made dem all 'like, 'cep de skin. De blacks hab strong hands, and when de day come you'll see dey hab heads, too!"
Much other conversation, showing him possessed of a high degree of intelligence, passed between us. In answer to my question if he had a family, he said: "No, sar. My blood shall neber be slaves! Ole massa flog me and threaten to kill me 'cause I wouldn't take to de wimmin; but I tole him to kill, dat 't would be more his loss dan mine."
I asked if the negroes generally felt as he did, and he told me that many did; that nearly all would fight for their freedom if they had the opportunity, though some preferred slavery because they were sure of being cared for when old and infirm, not considering that if their labor, while they were strong, made their masters rich, the same labor would afford them provision against old age. He told me that there are in the district of Georgetown twenty thousand blacks, and not more than two thousand whites, and "Suppose," he added, "dat one-quarter ob dese niggas rise—de rest keep still—whar den would de white folks be?"
"Of course," I replied, "they would be taken at a disadvantage; but it would not be long before aid came from Charleston, and you would be overpowered."
"No, massa, de chivarly, as you call dem, would be 'way in Virginny, and 'fore dey hard of it Massa Seward would hab troops 'nough in Georgetown to chaw up de hull state in less dan no time."
"But you have no leaders," I said, "no one to direct the movement. Your race is not a match for the white in generalship, and without generals, whatever your numbers, you would fare hardly."
To this he replied, an elevated enthusiasm lighting up his face, "De LORD, massa, made generals ob Gideon and David, and de brack man know as much 'bout war as dey did; p'raps," he added, with a quiet humor, "de brack aint equal to de white. I knows most ob de great men, like Washington and John and James and Paul, and dem ole fellers war white, but dar war Two Sand (Tousaint L'Overture), de Brack Douglass, and de Nigga Demus (Nicodemus), dey war brack."
The argument was unanswerable, and I said nothing. If the day which sees the rising of the Southern blacks comes to this generation, that negro will be among the leaders. He sang to me several of the songs current among the negroes of the district, and though of little poetic value, they interested me, as indicating the feelings of the slaves. The blacks are a musical race, and the readiness with which many of them improvise words and melody is wonderful; but I had met none who possessed the readiness of my new acquaintance. Several of the tunes he repeated several times, and each time with a new accompaniment of words. I will try to render the sentiment of a few of these songs into as good negro dialect as I am master of, but I cannot hope to repeat the precise words, or to convey the indescribable humor and pathos which my darky friend threw into them, and which made our long, solitary ride through those dreary pine-barrens pass rapidly and pleasantly away. The first referred to an old darky who was transplanted from the cotton-fields of "ole Virginny" to the rice-swamps of Carolina, and who did not like the change, but found consolation in the fact that rice is not grown on "the other side of Jordan."
"Come listen, all you darkies, come listen to my song, It am about ole Massa, who use me bery wrong. In de cole, frosty mornin', it an't so bery nice, Wid de water to de middle to hoe among de rice; When I neber hab forgotten How I used to hoe de cotton, How I used to hoe de cotton, On de ole Virginny shore; But I'll neber hoe de cotton, Oh! neber hoe de cotton Any more.
"If I feel de drefful hunger, he tink it am a vice, And he gib me for my dinner a little broken rice, A little broken rice and a bery little fat— And he grumble like de debil if I eat too much of dat; When I neber hab forgotten, etc.
"He tore me from my DINAH; I tought my heart would burst— He made me lub anoder when my lub was wid de first, He sole my picaninnies becase he got dar price, And shut me in de marsh-field to hoe among de rice; When I neber had forgotten, etc.
"And all de day I hoe dar, in all de heat and rain, And as I hoe away dar, my heart go back again, Back to de little cabin dat stood among de corn, And to de ole plantation where she and I war born! Oh! I wish I had forgotten, etc.
"Den DINAH am beside me, de chil'ren on my knee, And dough I am a slave dar, it 'pears to me I'm free, Till I wake up from my dreaming, and wife and chil'ren gone, I hoe away and weep dar, and weep dar all alone! Oh! I wish I had forgotten, etc.
"But soon a day am comin, a day I long to see, When dis darky in de cole ground, foreber will be free, When wife and chil'ren wid me, I'll sing in Paradise, How HE, de blessed JESUS, hab bought me wid a price. How de LORD hab not forgotten How well I hoed de cotton, How well I hoed de cotton On de ole Virginny shore; Dar I'll neber hoe de cotton, Oh! neber hoe de cotton Any more."
The politics of the following are not exactly those of the rulers at Washington, but we all may come to this complexion at last:
"Hark! darkies, hark! it am de drum Dat calls ole Massa 'way from hum, Wid powder-pouch and loaded gun, To drive ole ABE from Washington; Oh! Massa's gwine to Washington, So clar de way to Washington— Oh! wont dis darky hab sum fun When Massa's gwine to Washington!
"Dis darky know what Massa do; He take him long to brack him shoe, To brack him shoe and tote him gun, When he am 'way to Washington. Oh! Massa's gwine to Washington, So clar de way to Washington, Oh! long afore de mornin' sun Ole Massa's gwine to Washington!
"Ole Massa say ole ABE will eat De niggas all excep' de feet— De feet, may be, will cut and run, When Massa gets to Washington, When Massa gets to Washington; So clar de way to Washington— Oh! wont dis darky cut and run When Massa gets to Washington!
"Dis nigga know ole ABE will save His brudder man, de darky slave, And dat he'll let him cut and run When Massa gets to Washington, When Massa gets to Washington; So clar de way to Washington, Ole ABE will let the darkies run When Massa gets to Washington."
The next is in a similar vein:
"A storm am brewin' in de Souf, A storm am brewin' now, Oh! hearken den and shut your mouf, And I will tell you how: And I will tell you how, ole boy, De storm of fire will pour, And make de darkies dance for joy, As dey neber danced afore: So shut your mouf as close as deafh, And all you niggas hole your breafh, And I will tell you how.
"De darkies at de Norf am ris, And dey am comin' down— Am comin' down, I know dey is, To do de white folks brown! Dey'll turn ole Massa out to grass, And set de niggas free, And when dat day am come to pass We'll all be dar to see! So shut your mouf as close as deafh, And all you niggas hole your breafh, And do de white folks brown!
"Den all de week will be as gay As am de Chris'mas time; We'll dance all night and all de day, And make de banjo chime— And make de banjo chime, I tink, And pass de time away, Wid 'nuf to eat and 'nuf to drink, And not a bit to pay! So shut your mouf as dose as deafh. And all you niggas hole your breaf, And make de banjo chime.
"Oh! make de banjo chime, you nigs, And sound de tamborin, And shuffle now de merry jigs, For Massa's 'gwine in'— For Massa's 'gwine in,' I know, And won't he hab de shakes, When Yankee darkies show him how Dey cotch de rattle-snakes![A] So shut your mouf as close as deafh, And all you niggas hole your breaf, For Massa's 'gwine in'— For Massa's 'gwine in,' I know, And won't he hab de shakes When Yankee darkies show him how Dey cotch de rattle-snakes!"
The reader must not conclude that my darky acquaintance is an average specimen of his class. Far from it. Such instances of intelligence are very rare, and are never found except in the cities. There, constant intercourse with the white renders the black shrewd and intelligent, but on the plantations, the case is different. And besides, my musical friend, as I have said, is a native African. Fifteen years of observation have convinced me that the imported negro, after being brought in contact with the white, is far more intelligent than the ordinary Southern-born black. Slavery cramps the intellect and dwarfs the nature of a man, and where the dwarfing process has gone on, in father and son, for two centuries, it must surely be the case—as surely as that the qualities of the parent are transmitted to the child—that the later generations are below the first. This deterioration in the better nature of the slave is the saddest result of slavery. His moral and intellectual degradation, which is essential to its very existence, constitutes the true argument against it. It feeds the body but starves the soul. It blinds the reason, and shuts the mind to truth. It degrades and brutalizes the whole being, and does it purposely. In that lies its strength, and in that, too, lurks the weakness which will one day topple it down with a crash that will shake the Continent. Let us hope the direful upheaving, which is now felt throughout the Union, is the earthquake that will bury it forever.
The sun was wheeling below the trees which skirted the western horizon, when we halted in the main road, abreast of one of those by-paths, which every traveller at the South recognizes as leading to a planter's house. Turning our horse's head, we pursued this path for a short distance, when emerging from the pine-forest, over whose sandy barrens we had ridden all the day, a broad plantation lay spread out before us. On one side was a row of perhaps forty small but neat cabins; and on the other, at the distance of about a third of a mile, a huge building, which, from the piles of timber near it, I saw was a lumber-mill. Before us was a smooth causeway, extending on for a quarter of a mile, and shaded by large live-oaks and pines, whose moss fell in graceful drapery from the gnarled branches. This led to the mansion of the proprietor, a large, antique structure, exhibiting the dingy appearance which all houses near the lowlands of the South derive from the climate, but with a generous, hospitable air about its wide doors and bulky windows, that seemed to invite the traveller to the rest and shelter within. I had stopped my horse, and was absorbed in contemplation of a scene as beautiful as it was new to me, when an old negro approached, and touching his hat, said: "Massa send his complimens to de gemman, and happy to hab him pass de night at Bucksville."
"Bucksville!" I exclaimed, "and where is the village?"
"Dis am it, massa; and it am eight mile and a hard road to de 'Boro" (meaning Conwayboro, a one-horse village at which I had designed to spend the night). "Will de gemman please ride up to de piazza?" continued the old negro.
"Yes, uncle, and thank you," and in a moment I had received the cordial welcome of the host, an elderly gentleman, whose easy and polished manners reminded me of the times of our grandfathers in glorious New England. A few minutes put me on a footing of friendly familiarity with him and his family, and I soon found myself in a circle of daughters and grandchildren, and as much at home as if I had been a long-expected guest.
[Footnote A: The emblem of South Carolina.]
Years ago—how many it would not interest the reader to know, and might embarrass me to mention—accompanied by a young woman—a blue-eyed, golden-haired daughter of New-England—I set out on a long journey; a journey so long that it will not end till one or the other of us has laid off forever the habiliments of travel.
One of the first stations on our route was—Paris. While there, strolling out one morning alone, accident directed my steps to the Arc d'Etoile, that magnificent memorial of the greatness of a great man. Ascending its gloomy staircase to the roof, I seated myself, to enjoy the fine view it affords of the city and its environs.
I was shortly joined by a lady and gentleman, whose appearance indicated that they were Americans. Some casual remark led us into a conversation, and soon, to our mutual surprise and gratification, we learned that the lady was a dear and long-time friend of my travelling-companion. The acquaintance thus begun, has since grown into a close and abiding friendship.
The reader, with this preamble, can readily imagine my pleasure on learning, as we were seated after our evening meal, around that pleasant fireside in far-off Carolina, that my Paris acquaintance was a favorite niece, or, as he warmly expressed it, "almost a daughter" of my host. This discovery dispelled any lingering feeling of "strangeness" that had not vanished with the first cordial greeting of my new-found friends, and made me perfectly "at home."
The evening wore rapidly away in a free interchange of "news," opinions, and "small-talk," and I soon gathered somewhat of the history of my host. He was born at the North, and his career affords a striking illustration of the marvellous enterprise of our Northern character. A native of the State of Maine, he emigrated thence when a young man, and settled down, amid the pine-forest in that sequestered part of Cottondom. Erecting a small saw-mill, and a log shanty to shelter himself and a few "hired" negroes, he attacked, with his own hands, the mighty pines, whose brothers still tower in gloomy magnificence around his dwelling.
From such beginnings he had risen to be one of the wealthiest land and slave owners of his district, with vessels trading to nearly every quarter of the globe, to the Northern and Eastern ports, Cadiz, the West Indies, South America, and if I remember aright, California. It seemed to me a marvel that this man, alone, and unaided by the usual appliances of commerce, had created a business, rivalling in extent the transactions of many a princely merchant of New York and Boston.
His "family" of slaves numbered about three hundred, and a more healthy, and to all appearance, happy set of laboring people, I had never seen. Well fed, comfortably and almost neatly clad, with tidy and well-ordered homes, exempt from labor in childhood and advanced age, and cared for in sickness by a kind and considerate mistress, who is the physician and good Samaritan of the village, they seemed to share as much physical enjoyment as ordinarily falls to the lot of the "hewer of wood and drawer of water." Looking at them, I began to question if Slavery is, in reality, the damnable thing that some untravelled philanthropists have pictured it. If—and in that "if" my good Abolition friend, is the only unanswerable argument against the institution—if they were taught, if they knew their nature and their destiny, the slaves of such an owner might unprofitably exchange situations with many a white man, who, with nothing in the present or the future, is desperately struggling for a miserable hand-to-mouth existence in our Northern cities. I say "of such an owner," for in the Southern Arcadia such masters are "few and far between"—rather fewer and farther between than "spots upon the sun."
But they are not taught. Public sentiment, as well as State law, prevents the enlightened master, who would fit the slave by knowledge for greater usefulness, from letting a ray of light in upon his darkened mind. The black knows his task, his name, and his dinner-hour. He knows there is a something within him—he does not understand precisely what—that the white man calls his soul, which he is told will not rest in the ground when his body is laid away in the grave, but will—if he is a "good nigger," obeys his master, and does the task allotted him—travel off to some unknown region, and sing hallelujahs to the LORD, forever. He rather sensibly imagines that such everlasting singing may in time produce hoarseness, so he prepares his vocal organs for the long concert by a vigorous discipline while here, and at the same time cultivates instrumental music, having a dim idea that the LORD has an ear for melody, and will let him, when he is tired of singing, vary the exercise "wid de banjo and de bones." This is all he knows; and his owner, however well-disposed he may be, cannot teach him more. Noble, Christian masters whom I have met—have told me that they did not dare instruct their slaves. Some of their negroes were born in their houses, nursed in their families, and have grown up the playmates of their children, and yet they are forced to see them live and die like the brutes. One need not be accused of fanatical abolitionism if he deems such a system a little in conflict with the spirit of the nineteenth century!
The sun had scarcely turned his back upon the world, when a few drops of rain, sounding on the piazza-roof over our heads, announced a coming storm. Soon it burst upon us in magnificent fury—a real, old-fashioned thunderstorm, such as I used to lie awake and listen to when a boy, wondering all the while if the angels were keeping a Fourth of July in heaven. In the midst of it, when the earth and the sky appeared to have met in true Waterloo fashion, and the dark branches of the pines seemed writhing and tossing in a sea of flame, a loud knock came at the hall-door (bells are not the fashion in Dixie), and a servant soon ushered into the room a middle-aged, unassuming gentleman, whom my host received with a respect and cordiality which indicated that he was no ordinary guest. There was in his appearance and manner that indefinable something which denotes the man of mark; but my curiosity was soon gratified by an introduction. It was "Colonel" A——. This title, I afterward learned, was merely honorary: and I may as well remark here, that nearly every one at the South who has risen to the ownership of a negro, is either a captain, a major, or a colonel, or, as my ebony driver expressed it: "Dey'm all captins and mates, wid none to row de boat but de darkies." On hearing the name, I recognized it as that of one of the oldest and most aristocratic South Carolina families, and the new guest as a near relative to the gentleman who married the beautiful and ill-fated Theodosia Burr.
In answer to an inquiry of my host, the new-comer explained that he had left Colonel J——'s (the plantation toward which I was journeying), shortly before noon, and being overtaken by the storm after leaving Conwayboro, had, at the solicitation of his "boys" (a familiar term for slaves), who were afraid to proceed, called to ask shelter for the night.
Shortly after his entrance, the lady members of the family retired; and then the "Colonel," the "Captain," and myself, drawing our chairs near the fire, and each lighting a fragrant Havana, placed on the table by our host, fell into a long conversation, of which the following was a part:
"It must have been urgent business, Colonel, that took you so far into the woods at this season," remarked our host.
"These are urgent times, Captain B——," replied the guest. "All who have any thing at stake, should be doing."
"These are unhappy times, truly," said my friend; "has any thing new occurred?"
"Nothing of moment, sir; but we are satisfied Buchanan is playing us false, and are preparing for the worst."
"I should be sorry to know that a President of the United States had resorted to underhand measures! Has he really given you pledges?"
"He promised to preserve the statu quo in Charleston harbor, and we have direct information that he intends to send out reinforcements," rejoined Colonel A——.
"Can that be true? You know, Colonel, I never admired your friend, Mr. Buchanan, but I cannot see how, if he does his duty, he can avoid enforcing the laws in Charleston, as well as in the other cities of the Union."
"The 'Union,' sir, does not exist. Buchanan has now no more right to quarter a soldier in South Carolina than I have to march an armed force on to Boston Common. If he persists in keeping troops near Charleston, we shall dislodge them."
"But that would make war! and war, Colonel," replied our host, "would be a terrible thing. Do you realize what it would bring upon us? And what could our little State do in a conflict with nearly thirty millions?"
"We should not fight with thirty millions. The other Cotton States are with us, and the leaders in the Border States are pledged to Secession. They will wheel into line when we give the word. But the North will not fight. The Democratic party sympathizes with us, and some of its influential leaders are pledged to our side. They will sow division there, and paralyze the Free States; besides, the trading and manufacturing classes will never consent to a war that will work their ruin. With the Yankees, sir, the dollar is almighty."
"That may be true," replied our host; "but I think if we go too far, they will fight. What think you, Mr. K——?" he continued, appealing to me, and adding: "This gentleman, Colonel, is very recently from the North."
Up to that moment, I had avoided taking part in the conversation. Enough had been said to satisfy me that while my host was a staunch Unionist,[B] his visitor was not only a rank Secessionist, but one of the leaders of the movement, and even then preparing for desperate measures. Discretion, therefore, counselled silence. To this direct appeal, however, I was forced to reply, and answered: "I think, sir, the North does not yet realize that the South is in earnest. When it wakes up to that fact, its course will be decisive."
"Will the Yankees fight, sir?" rather impatiently and imperiously asked the Colonel, who evidently thought I intended to avoid a direct answer to the question.
Rather nettled by his manner, I quickly responded: "Undoubtedly they will, sir. They have fought before, and it would not be wise to count them cowards."
A true gentleman, he at once saw that his manner had given offence, and instantly moderating his tone, rather apologetically replied: "Not cowards, sir, but too much absorbed in the 'occupations of peace,' to go to war for an idea."
"But what you call an 'idea,'" said our host, "they may think a great fact on which their existence depends. I can see that we will lose vastly by even a peaceful separation. Tell me, Colonel, what we will gain?"
"Gain!" warmly responded the guest. "Everything! Security, freedom, room for the development of our institutions, and each progress in wealth as the world has never seen."
"All that is very fine," rejoined the "Captain," "but where there is wealth, there must be work; and who will do the work in your new Empire—I do not mean the agricultural labor; you will depend for that, of coarse, on the blacks—but who will run your manufactories and do your mechanical labor? The Southern gentleman would feel degraded by such occupation; and if you put the black to any work requiring intelligence, you must let him think, and when he THINKS, he is free!"
"All that is easily provided for," replied the Secessionist. "We shall form intimate relations with England. She must have our cotton, and we in return will take her manufactures."
"That would be all very well at present, and so long as you should keep on good terms with her; but suppose, some fine morning, Exeter Hall got control of the English Government, and hinted to you, in John Bull fashion, that cotton produced by free labor would be more acceptable, what could three, or even eight millions, cut off from the sympathy and support of the North, do in opposition to the power of the British empire?"
"Nothing, perhaps, if we were three or even eight millions, but we shall be neither one nor the other. Mexico and Cuba are ready, now, to fall into our hands, and before two years have passed, with or without the Border States, we shall count twenty millions. Long before England is abolitionized, our population will outnumber hers, and our territory extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and as far south as the Isthmus. We are founding, sir, an empire that will be able to defy all Europe—one grander than the world has seen since the age of Pericles!"
"You say, with or without the Border States," remarked our host. "I thought you counted on their support."
"We do if the North makes war upon us, but if allowed to go in peace, we can do better without them. They will be a wall between us and the abolitionized North."
"You mistake," I said, "in thinking the North is abolitionized. The Abolitionists are but a handful there. The great mass of our people are willing the South should have undisturbed control of its domestic concerns."
"Why, then, do you send such men as Seward, Sumner, Wilson, and Grow to Congress? Why have you elected a President who approves of nigger-stealing? and why do you tolerate such incendiaries as Greeley, Garrison, and Phillips?"
"Seward, and the others you name," I replied, "are not Abolitionists; neither does Lincoln approve of nigger-stealing. He is an honest man, and I doubt not, when inaugurated, will do exact justice by the South. As to incendiaries, you find them in both sections. Phillips and Garrison are only the opposite poles of Yancey and Wise."
"Not so, sir; they are more. Phillips, Greeley, and Garrison create and control your public opinion. They are mighty powers, while Yancey and Wise have no influence whatever. Yancey is a mere bag-pipe; we play upon him, and like the music, but smile when he attempts to lead us. Wise is a harlequin; we let him dance because he is good at it, and it amuses us. Lincoln may be honest, but if made President he will be controlled by Seward, who hates the South. Seward will whine, and wheedle, and attempt to cajole us back, but mark what I say, sir, I know him; he is physically, morally, and constitutionally a COWARD, and will never strike a blow for the UNION. If hard pressed by public sentiment, he may, to save appearances, bluster a little, and make a show of getting ready for a fight; but he will find some excuse at the last moment, and avoid coming to blows. For our purposes, we had rather have the North under his control than under that of the old renegade, Buchanan!"
"All this may he very true," I replied, "but perhaps you attach too much weight to what Mr. Seward or Mr. Lincoln may or may not do. You seem to forget that there are twenty intelligent millions at the North, who will have something to say on this subject, and who may not consent to be driven into disunion by the South, or wheedled into it by Mr. Seward."
"I do not forget," replied the Secessionist, "that you have four millions of brave, able-bodied men, while we have not, perhaps, more than two millions; but bear in mind that you are divided, and therefore weak; we united, and therefore strong!"
"But," I inquired, "have you two millions without counting your blacks; and are they not as likely to fight on the wrong as on the right side?"
"They will fight on the right side, sir. We can trust them. You have travelled somewhat here. Have you not been struck with the contentment and cheerful subjection of the slaves?"
"No, sir, I have not been! On the contrary, their discontent is evident. You are smoking a cigar on a powder-barrel."
An explosion of derisive laughter from the Colonel followed this remark, and turning to the Captain, he good-humoredly exclaimed: "Hasn't the gentleman used his eyes and ears industriously!"
"I am afraid he is more than half right," was the reply. "If this thing should go on, I would not trust my own slaves, and I think they are truly attached to me. If the fire once breaks out, the negroes will rush into it, like horses into a burning barn."
"Think you so!" exclaimed the Colonel in an excited manner. "By Heaven, if I believed it, I would cut the throat of every slave in Christendom! What," addressing me, "have you seen or heard, sir, that gives you that opinion?"
"Nothing but a sullen discontent and an eagerness for news, which show they feel intense interest in what is going on, and know it concerns them."
"I haven't remarked that," he said rather musingly, "but it may be so. Does the North believe it? If we came to blows, would they try to excite servile insurrection among us?"
"The North, beyond a doubt, believes it," I replied, "yet I think even the Abolitionists would aid you in putting down an insurrection; but war, in my opinion, would not leave you a slave between the Rio Grande and the Potomac."
The Colonel at this rose, remarking: "You are mistaken. You are mistaken, sir!" then turning to our host, said: "Captain, it is late: had we not better retire?" Bidding me "good-night," he was gone.
Our host soon returned from showing the guest to his apartment, and with a quiet but deliberate manner, said to me: "You touched him, Mr. K——, on a point where he knows we are weakest; but allow me to caution you about expressing your opinions so freely. The Colonel is a gentleman, and what you have said will do no harm, but, long as I have lived here, I dare not say to many what you have said to him to-night."
Thanking the worthy gentleman for the caution, I followed him up stairs, and soon lost, in a sweet oblivion, all thoughts of Abolitionists, niggers, and the "grand empire."
I was awakened in the morning by music under my window, and looking out discovered about a dozen darkies gathered around my ebony driver, who was clawing away with all his might at a dilapidated banjo, while his auditory kept time to his singing, by striking the hand on the knee, and by other gesticulations too numerous to mention. The songs were not much to boast of, but the music was the genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, darky article. The following was the refrain of one of the songs, which the reader will perceive was an exhortation to early rising:
"So up, good massa, let's be gwoin', Let's be scratchin' ob de grabble; For soon de wind may be a blowin', An' we'se a sorry road to trabble."
The storm of the previous night had ceased, but the sky was overcast, and looked as if "soon de wind might be a-blowin'." Prudence counselled an early start, for, doubtless, the runs, or small creeks, had become swollen by the heavy rain, and would be unsafe to cross after dark. Besides, beyond Conwayboro, our route lay for thirty miles through a country without a solitary house where we could get decent shelter, were we overtaken by a storm.
Hurriedly performing my toilet, I descended to the drawing-room, where I found the family assembled. After the usual morning salutations were exchanged, a signal from the mistress caused the sounding of a bell in the hall, and some ten or twelve men and women house-servants, of remarkably neat and tidy appearance, among whom was my darky driver, entered the apartment. They took a stand at the remote end of the room, and our host, opening a large, well-worn family BIBLE, read the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah. Then, all kneeling, he made a short extemporaneous petition, closing with the LORD'S Prayer; all present, black as well as white, joining in it. Then Heber's beautiful hymn, "From Greenland's icy mountains," was sung; the negroes, to my ear, making much better music than the whites.
The services over, we adjourned to the dining-room, and after we were seated, the "Colonel" remarked to me: "Did you notice how finely that negro 'boy' (he was fully forty years old) sung?"
"Yes," I replied, "I did. Do you know him, sir?"
"Oh! yes, very well. His mistress wishes to sell him, but finds difficulty in doing so. Though a likely negro, people will not buy him. He's too smart."
"That strikes me as a singular objection," I remarked.
"Oh! no, not at all! These knowing niggers frequently make a world of trouble on a plantation."
It was after ten o'clock before we were ready to start. The mills, the negro-quarters, and various other parts of the plantation, and then several vessels moored at the wharf, had to be seen before I could get away. Finally, I bade my excellent host and his family farewell, and with nearly as much regret as I ever felt at leaving my own home. I had experienced the much-heard-of Southern hospitality, and had found the report far below the reality.
The other guest had taken his leave some time before, but not till he had given me a cordial invitation to return by the way I came, and spend a day or two with him, at his plantation on the river, some twenty miles below.
The sky was lowery, and the sandy road heavy with the recent rain, when we started. The gloomy weather seemed to have infected the driver as well as myself. He had lost the mirthfulness and loquacity of the previous day, and we rode on for a full hour in silence. Tiring at last of my own thoughts, I said to him: "Scip, what is the matter with you? what makes you so gloomy?"
"Nuffin, massa; I war only tinkin'," he abstractedly replied.
"And what are you thinking about?"
"I's wond'rin', massa, if de LORD mean de darkies in dose words of HIS dat Massa B—— read dis mornin'."
"What words do you mean?
"Dese, massa: 'O dou 'fflicted! tossed wid de tempest, and habin no comfort, behold, I will make you hous'n ob de fair colors, and lay dar foundations wid safomires. All dy chil'ren shill be taught ob de LORD, and great shill be dar peace. In de right shill dey be 'stablished; dey shill hab no fear, no terror; it shan't come nigh 'em, and who come against dem shill fall. Behold! I hab make de blacksmif dat blow de coals, and make de weapons; and I hab make de waster dat shill destroy de oppressors.'"
If he had repeated one of Webster's orations I could not have been more astonished. I did not remember the exact words of the passage, but I knew he had caught its spirit. Was this his recollection of the reading heard in the morning? or had he previously committed it to memory? These questions I asked myself; but, restraining my curiosity, I answered: "Undoubtedly they are meant for both the black and the white."
"Do dey mean, massa, dat we shall be like de wite folks—wid our own hous'n, our chil'ren taught in de schools, and wid weapons to strike back when dey strike us?"
"No, Scipio, they don't mean that. They refer principally to spiritual matters. They were a promise to all the world that when the SAVIOUR came, all, even the greatly oppressed and afflicted, should hear the great truths of the BIBLE about GOD, REDEMPTION, and the FUTURE."
"But de SAVIOUR hab come, massa; and dose tings an't taught to de black chil'ren. We hab no peace, no rights; nuffin but fear, 'pression, and terror."
"That is true, Scipio. The LORD takes HIS own time, but HIS time will surely come."
"De LORD bless you, massa, for saying dat; and de LORD bless you for telling dat big Cunnel, dat if dey gwo to war de brack man will be FREE!"
"Did you hear what we said?" I inquired, greatly surprised, for I remembered remarking, during the interview of the previous evening, that our host carefully kept the doors closed.
"Ebery word, massa."
"But how could you hear? The doors and windows were shut. Where were you?"
"On de piazzer; and when I seed fru de winder dat de ladies war gwine, I know'd you'd talk 'bout politics and de darkies—gemmen allers do. So I opened de winder bery softly—you didn't har 'cause it rained and blowed bery hard, and made a mighty noise. Den I stuffed my coat in de crack, so de wind could'nt blow in and lef you know I was dar, but I lef a hole big 'nough to har. My ear froze to dat hole, massa, bery tight, I 'shore you."
"But you must have got very wet and very cold."
"Wet, massa! wetter dan a 'gator dat's been in de riber all de week, but I didn't keer for de rain or de cold. What I hard made me warm all de way fru."
To my mind there was a rough picture of true heroism in that poor darky standing for hours in his shirt-sleeves, in the cold, stormy night, the lightning playing about him, and the rain drenching him to the skin—that he might hear something he thought would benefit his down-trodden race.
I noticed his clothing though bearing evident marks of a drenching, was then dry, and I inquired: "How did you dry your clothes?"
"I staid wid some ob de cullud folks, and arter you gwoes up stars, I went to dar cabin, and dey gabe me some dry cloes. We made up a big fire, and hung mine up to dry, and de ole man and woman and me sot up all night and talked ober what you and de oder gemmen said."
"Will not those folks tell what you did, and thus get you into trouble?"
"Tell! LORD bless you, massa, de bracks am all freemasons; dat ar ole man and woman wud die 'fore dey'd tell."
"But are not Captain B—-'s negroes contented?" I asked; "they seem to be well treated."
"Oh! yas, dey am. All de brack folks 'bout har want de Captin to buy 'em. He bery nice man—one ob de LORD'S own people. He better man dan David, 'cause David did wrong, and I don't b'lieve de Captin eber did."
"I should think he was a very good man," I replied.
"Bery good man, massa, but de white folks don't like him, 'cause dey say he treats him darkies so well, all dairn am uncontented."
"Tell me, Scipio," I resumed after a while, "how it is you can repeat that passage from Isaiah so well?"
"Why, bless you, massa, I know Aziar and Job and de Psalms 'most all by heart. Good many years ago, when I lib'd in Charles'on, the gub'ness learned me to read, and I hab read dat BOOK fru good many times."
"Have you read any others?" I asked.
"None but dat and Doctor Watts. I hab dem, but wite folks wont sell books to de bracks, and I wont steal 'em. I read de papers sometimes."
I opened my portmanteau, that lay on the floor of the wagon, and handed him a copy of Whittier's poems. It happened to be the only book, excepting the BIBLE, that I had with me.
"Read that, Scipio," I said. "It is a book of poetry, but written by a good man at the North, who greatly pities the slave."
He took the book, and the big tears rolled down his cheeks, as he said: "Tank you, massa, tank you. Nobody war neber so good to me afore."
During our conversation, the sky, which had looked threatening all the morning, began to let fall the big drops of rain; and before we reached Conwayboro, it poured down much after the fashion of the previous night. It being cruelty to both man and beast to remain out in such a deluge, we pulled up at the village hotel (kept, like the one at Georgetown, by a lady), and determined to remain overnight, unless the rain should abate in time to allow us to reach our destination before dark.
Dinner being ready soon after our arrival (the people of Conwayboro, like the "common folks" that Davy Crockett told about, dine at twelve), I sat down to it, first hanging my outer garments, which were somewhat wet, before the fire in the sitting-room. The house seemed to be a sort of public boarding-house, as well as hotel, for quite a number of persons, evidently town's-people were at the dinner-table. My appearance attracted some attention, though not more, I thought, than would be naturally excited in so quiet a place by the arrival of a stranger; but "as nobody said nothing to me, I said nothing to nobody."
Dinner over, I adjourned to the "sitting-room," and seating myself by the fire, watched the drying of my "outer habiliments." While thus engaged, the door opened, and three men—whom I should have taken for South Carolina gentlemen, had not a further acquaintance convinced me to the contrary—entered the room. Walking directly up to where I was sitting, the foremost one accosted me something after this manner:
"I see you are from the North, sir."
Taken a little aback by the abruptness of the "salute," but guessing his object, I answered: "No, sir; I am from the South."
"From what part of the South?"
"I left Georgetown yesterday, and Charleston two days before that," I replied, endeavoring to seem entirely oblivious to his meaning.
"We don't want to know whar you war yesterday; we want to know whar you belong," he said, with a little impatience.
"Oh! that's it. Well, sir, I belong here just at present, or rather I shall, when I have paid the landlady for my dinner."
Annoyed by my coolness, and getting somewhat excited, he replied quickly: "You mustn't trifle with us, sir. We know you. You're from the North. We've seen it on your valise, and we can't allow a man who carries the New York Independent to travel in South Carolina."
The scoundrels had either broken into my portmanteau, or else a copy of that paper had dropped from it on to the floor of the wagon when I gave the book to Scipio. At any rate, they had seen it, and it was evident "Brother Beecher" was getting me into a scrape. I felt indignant at the impudence of the fellow, but determined to keep cool, and, a little sarcastically, replied to the latter part of his remark:
"That's a pity, sir. South Carolina will lose by it."
"This game wont work, sir. We don't want such people as you har, and the sooner you make tracks the better."
"I intend to leave, sir, as soon as the rain is over, and shall travel thirty miles on your sandy roads to-day, if you don't coax me to stay here by your hospitality," I quietly replied.
The last remark was just the one drop needed to make his wrath "bile over," and he savagely exclaimed: "I tell you, sir, we will not be trifled with. You must be off to Georgetown at once. You can have just half an hour to leave the Boro', not a second more."
His tone and manner aroused what little combativeness there is in me. Rising from my chair, and taking up my outside-coat, in which was one of Colt's six-shooters, I said to him: "Sir, I am here, a peaceable man, on peaceable, private business. I have started to go up the country, and go there I shall; and I shall leave this place at my convenience—not before. I have endured your impertinence long enough, and shall have no more of it. If you attempt to interfere with my movements, you will do so at your peril."
My blood was up, and I was fast losing that better part of valor called discretion; and he evidently understood my movement, and did not dislike the turn affairs were taking. There is no telling what might have followed had not Scip just at that instant inserted his woolly head between us, excitedly exclaiming: "Lord bless you, Massa B——ll; what am you 'bout? Why, dis gemman am a 'ticlar friend of Cunnel A——. He'm a reg'lar sesherner. He hates de ablisherners worser dan de debble. I hard him swar a clar, blue streak 'bout dem only yesterday."
"Massa B——ll" was evidently taken aback by the announcement of the negro, but did not seem inclined to "give it up so" at once, for he asked: "How do you know he's the Colonel's friend, Scip? Who told you so?"
"Who told me so?" exclaimed the excited negro, "why, didn't he stay at Captin B——'s, wid de Cunnel, all night last night; and didn't dey set up dar doin' politic business togedder till arter midnight? Didn't de Cunnel come dar in all de storm 'pressly to see dis gemman?"
The ready wit and rude eloquence of the darky amused me, and the idea of the "Cunnel" travelling twenty miles through the terrible storm of the previous night to meet a man who had the New York Independent about him, was so perfectly ludicrous, that I could not restrain my laughter. That laugh did the business for "Massa B——ll." What the negro had said staggered, but did not convince him; but my returning good-humor brought him completely round. Extending his hand to me, he said: "I see, sir, I've woke up the wrong passenger. Hope you'll take no offence. In these times we need to know who come among us."
"No offence whatever, sir," I replied. "It is easy to be mistaken; but," I added smilingly, "I hope, for the sake of the next traveller, you'll be less precipitate another time."
"I am rather hasty; that's a fact," he said. "But no harm is done. So let's take a drink, and say no more about it. The old lady har keeps nary a thing, but we can get the raal stuff close by."
Though not a member of a "Total Abstinence Society," I have always avoided indulging in the quality of fluid that is the staple beverage at the South. I therefore hesitated a moment before accepting the gentleman's invitation; but the alternative seemed to be squarely presented, pistols or drinks; cold lead or poor whiskey, and—I am ashamed to confess it—I took the whiskey.
Returning to the hotel, I found Scip awaiting me. "Massa," he said, "we better be gwine. Dat dar sesherner am ugly as de bery ole debble; and soon as he knows I cum de possum ober him 'bout de Cunnel, he'll be down on you shore."
The rain had dwindled to a drizzle, which the sun was vigorously struggling to get through with a tolerable prospect of success, and I concluded to take the African's advice. Wrapping myself in an India-rubber overcoat, and giving the darky a blanket of the same material, I started.
[Footnote B: I very much regret to learn, that since my meeting with this most excellent gentleman, being obnoxious to the Secession leaders for his well-known Union sentiments, he has been very onerously assessed by them for contributions for carrying on the war. The sum he has been forced to pay, is stated as high as forty thousand dollars, but that may be, and I trust is, an exaggeration. In addition—and this fact is within my own knowledge—five of his vessels have been seized in the Northern ports by our Government. This exposure of true Union men to a double fire, is one of the most unhappy circumstances attendant upon this most unhappy war.]
CROSSING THE "RUNS."
The long, tumble-down bridge which spans the Waccamaw at Conwayboro, trembled beneath our horse's tread, as with lengthened stride he shook the secession mud from his feet, and whirled us along into the dark, deep forest. It may have been the exhilaration of a hearty dinner of oats, or it may have been sympathy with the impatience of his fellow-travellers that spurred him on; whichever it was, away he went as if Lucifer—that first Secessionist—were following close at his heels.
The sun, which for a time had been industriously wedging his way into the dark masses of cloud, finally slunk out of sight and left us enveloped in a thick fog, which shut from view all of Cottondom, except a narrow belting of rough pines, and a few rods of sandy road that stretched out in dim perspective before us. There being nothing in the outside creation to attract my attention, I drew the apron of the carriage about me, and settling myself well back on the seat to avoid the thick-falling mist, fell into a train of dreamy reflection.
Niggers, slave-auctions, cotton-fields, rice-swamps, and King Cotton himself, that blustering old despot, with his swarthy arms and "under-pinning," his face of brass, and body of "raw material," passed through my mind, like Georgia trains through the Oconee Swamp, till finally my darky friend came into view. He seemed at first a little child, amid the blazing ruins of his wilderness home, gazing in stupid horror on the burning bodies of his father and his kindred. Then he was kneeling at the side of his dying mother in the slave-pen at Cape Lopez, and—still a child—cooped in the "Black-hole" of the accursed slave-ship, his little frame burning with the fever-fire, and his child-heart longing for death. Then he seemed mounting the Cuban slave-block, and as the "going! going! gone!" rung in my ear, he was hurried away, and driven to the cruel task—still a child—on the hot, unhealthy sugar-field. Again he appeared, stealing away at night to a lonely hut, and by the light of a pine-knot, wearily poring over the BOOK of BOOKS, slowly putting letters into words, and words into sentences, that he might know "What God says to the black man." Then he seemed a man—splendid of frame, noble of soul—suspended in the whipping-rack, his arms bound above his head, his body resting on the tips of his toes, and the merciless lash falling on his bare back, till the red stream ran from it like a river—scourged because he would not aid in creating beings as wretched as himself, and make merchandise of his own blood to gorge the pocket of an incarnate white devil.
As these things passed before me, and I thought of his rare intelligence, of his fine traits of character, and of the true heroism he had shown in risking, perhaps, his own life to get me—a stranger—out of an ugly hobble, I felt a certain spot in my left side warming toward him, very much as it might have done had his blood been as pure as my own. It seemed to me a pity—anti-Abolitionist and Southern-sympathizer though I was—that a man of such rare natural talent, such character and energy, should have his large nature dwarfed, be tethered for life to a cotton-stalk, and made to wear his soul out in a tread-mill, merely because his skin had a darker tinge and his shoe a longer heel than mine.
As I mused over his "strange, eventful history," and thought of the handy way nature has of putting the right man in the wrong place, it occurred to me how "Brother Beecher" one evening, not a long time before, had charmed the last dollar from my waistcoat pocket by exhibiting, a la Barnum, a remarkably ugly "cullud pusson" on his pulpit stairs, and by picturing the awful doom which awaited her—that of being reduced from baby-tending to some less useful employment—if his audience did not at once "do the needful." Then it occurred to me how much finer a spectacle my ebony friend would make; how well his six feet of manly sinew would grace those pulpit stairs; how eloquently the reverend gentleman might expatiate on the burning sin of shrouding the light of such an intellect in the mists of niggerdom, only to see it snuffed out in darkness; how he might enlarge on what the black could do in elevating his race, either as "cullud" assistant to "Brother Pease" at the Five-Points, or as co-laborer with Fred Douglass at abolition conventions, or, if that didn't pay, how, put into the minstrel business, he might run the white "troupes" off the track, and yield a liberal revenue to the "Cause of Freedom." As I thought of the probable effect of this last appeal, it seemed to me that the thing was already done, and that SCIP was FREE.
I got back from dreamland by the simple act of opening my eyes, and found myself still riding along in that Jersey wagon, over that heavy, sandy road, and drenched with the mists of that dreary December day. The reverie made, however, a deep impression on me, and I gave vent to it somewhat as follows:
"Colonel A—— tells me, Scip, that your mistress wants to sell you. Do you know what she asks?"
"She ax fifteen hundred dollar, massa, but I an't worth dat now. Nigger property's mighty low."
"What is your value now?"
"P'raps eight hundred, p'raps a thousand dollar, massa."
"Would your mistress take a thousand for you?"
"Don't know, sar, but reckon she would. She'd be glad to get shut of me. She don't like me on de plantation, 'cause she say de oder darkies tink too much ob me; and she don't like me in de city, 'cause she 'fraid I run away."
"Why afraid you'll runaway? Did you ever try to?"
"Try to! LOR, massa, I neber taught ob such a ting—wouldn't gwo ef I could."
"But wouldn't you?" I asked, thinking he had conscientious scruples about running away; "wouldn't you if you could buy yourself, and go honestly, as a free man?"
"Buy myself, sar!" he exclaimed in surprise; "buy my own flesh and blood dat de LORD hissef gabe me! No, no! massa; I'd likes to be free, but I'd neber do dat!"
"Why not do that?" I asked.
"'Cause 't would be owning dat de white folks hab a right to de brack; and 'cause, sar, if I war free I couldn't stay har."
"Why should you stay here? You have no wife nor child; why not go where the black man is respected and useful?"
"I'se 'spected and useful har, massa. I hab no wife nor child, and dat make me feel, I s'pose, like as ef all de brack people war my chil'ren."
"But they are not your children; and you can be of no service to them. At the North you might learn, and put your talents to some use."
"Sar," he replied, a singular enthusiasm lighting up his face, "de LORD, dat make me what I ar, put me har, and I must stay. Sometimes when tings look bery brack, and I feel a'most 'scouraged, I goes to HIM, and I say, 'LORD, I's ob no use, take me 'way; let me get fru wid dis; let me no more see de suffrin' and 'pression ob de pore cullud race;' den HE say to me, just so plain as I say it to you, 'Keep up good courage, Scipio, de time will come;'[C] and now, bless de LORD, de time am coming!"
"What time is coming, Scipio?"
He gave me a quick, suspicious glance, but his face in a moment resumed its usual expression, as he replied: "I'se sure, massa, dat I could trust you. I feel you am my friend, but I can't say no more."
"You need not, Scip—I can guess. What you have said is safe with me. But let me counsel you—wait for the white man. Do not let your freedom come in blood!"
"It will come, massa, as de LORD will. When HE war freed de earth shook, and de vail ob de temple war rent in twain!"
We said no more, but rode on in silence; the darky absorbed in his own reflections, I musing over the black volcano, whose muffled echoes I then heard "away down South in Dixie."
We had ridden on for about an hour, when an opening in the trees disclosed a by-path, leading to a plantation. Following it for a short distance, we came upon a small clearing, in the midst of which, flanked by a ragged corn and potato patch, squatted a dilapidated, unpainted wooden building, a sort of "half-way house" between a hut and a shanty. In its door-way, seated on a chair which wanted one leg and a back, was a suit of linsey-woolsey, adorned by enormous metal buttons, and surmounted by a queer-looking headpiece that might have passed for either a hat or an umbrella. I was at a loss to determine whether the object were a human being or a scarecrow, when, at the sound of our approach, the umbrella-like article lifted, and a pair of sunken eyes, a nose, and an enormous beard, disclosed themselves. Addressing myself to the singular figure, I inquired how far we were from our destination, and the most direct route to it.
"Wal, stranger," was the reply, "it's a right smart twenty mile to the Cunnel's, but I reckon ye'll get thar, if ye follow yer critter's nose, and ar good at swimming."
"Why good at swimming?" I inquired.
"'Cause the 'runs' have ris, and ar considerable deep by this time."
"That's comforting news."
"Yas, to a man as seems in a hurry," he replied, looking at my horse, which was covered with foam.
"How far is it to the nearest run?" I asked.
"Wal, it mought be six mile; it mought be seven, but you've one or two all-fired ones to cross arter that."
Here was a pleasant predicament. It was nearly five o'clock, and our horse, though a noble animal, could not make the distance on an unobstructed route, in the then heavy state of the roads, in less than three hours. Long before that time it would be dark, and no doubt stormy, for the sky, which had lowered all the afternoon, every now and then uttered an ominous growl, and seemed ready to fall down upon us. But turning back was out of the question, so, thanking the "native," I was about to proceed, when he hailed me as follows:
"I say, stranger, what's the talk in the city?"
"Nothing, sir," I replied, "but fight and Secession."
"D—n Secession!" was the decidedly energetic answer.
"Why so, my friend? That doctrine seems to be popular hereabouts."
"Yas, pop'lar with them South Car'lina chaps. They'd be oneasy in heaven if Gabriel was cook, and the LORD head-waiter."
"They must be hard to suit," I said; "I 'kalkerlate' you're not a South Carolinian."
"No, sir-ee! not by several mile. My mother moved over the line to born me a decent individual."
"But why are you for the Union, when your neighbors go the other way?"
"'Cause it's allers carried us 'long as slick as a cart with new-greased wheels; and 'cause, stranger, my grand'ther was one of Marion's boys, and spilt a lettle claret at Yewtaw for the old consarn, and I reckon he'd be oneasy in his grave if I turned my back on it now."
"But, my friend," I said, "they say Lincoln is an Abolitionist, and if inaugurated, he will free every darky you've got."
"He can't do that, stranger, 'cordin' to the Constetution, and grand'ther used to say that ar dokermunt would hold the d—l himself; but, for my part, I'd like to see the niggers free."
"See the niggers free!" I replied in undisguised astonishment; "why, my good sir, that is rank treason and abolition."
"Call it what yer a mind to, them's my sentiments; but I say, stranger, if thar's ony thing on airth that I uttarly dispise it ar a Northern dough-face, and it's clar yer one on 'em."
"There, my friend, you're mistaken. I'm neither an Abolitionist nor a dough-face. But why do you go for freeing the niggers?"
"'Cause the white folks would be better off. You see, I have to feed and clothe my niggers, and pay a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty a year for 'em, and if the niggers war free, they'd work for 'bout half that."
Continuing the conversation, I learned that the umbrella-hatted gentleman worked twenty hired negroes in the gathering of turpentine; and that the district we were entering was occupied by persons in the same pursuit, who nearly all employed "hired hands," and entertained similar sentiments; Colonel J——, whom I was about to visit, and who was a large slave-owner, being about the only exception. This, the reader will please remember, was the state of things at the date of which I am writing, in the very heart of Secessiondom.
Bidding the turpentine-getter a rather reluctant "good-by," I rode on into the rain.
It was nearly dark when we reached the first "run," but, fortunately, it was less swollen than our way-side acquaintance had represented, and we succeeded in crossing without difficulty. Hoping that the others might be equally as fordable, we pushed rapidly on, the darkness meanwhile gathering thickly about us, and the rain continuing to fall. Our way lay through an unbroken forest, and as the wind swept fiercely through it, the tall dark pines which towered on either side, moaned and sighed like a legion of unhappy spirits let loose from the dark abodes below. Occasionally we came upon a patch of woods where the turpentine-gatherer had been at work, and the white faces of the "tapped" trees, gleaming through the darkness, seemed an army of "sheeted ghosts" closing steadily around us. The darkness, the rain, and the hideous noises in the forest, called up unpleasant associations, and I inwardly determined to ask hospitality from the first human being, black or white, whom we should meet.
We had ridden on for about an hour after dark, when suddenly our horse's feet plashed in the water, and he sank to his middle in a stream. My first thought was that we were in the second "run," but as he pushed slowly on, the water momentarily growing deeper, and spreading on either side as far as we could see, it flashed upon me that we had missed the road in the darkness, and were fairly launched into the Waccamaw river! Turning to the darky, who was then driving, I said quickly:
"Scip, stop the horse. Where are we?"
"Don't know, massa; reckon we'se in de riber."
"A comfortable situation this. We can't turn round. The horse can't swim such a stream in harness. What shall we do?"
"Can you swim, massa?" he quietly asked.
"Yes, like an eel."
"Wal, den, we'd better gwo on. De hoss'll swim. But, massa, you might take off your boots and overcoat, and be ready for a spring ef he gwo down."
I did as he directed, while he let down the apron and top of the wagon, and fastened the reins loosely to the dash-board, saying as he did so, "You must allers gib a hoss his head when he swim, massa; if you rein him, he gwo down, shore." Then, undoing a portion of the harness, to give the horse the free use of his legs, he shouted, "Gee up, ole Gray," and we started.
The noble animal stepped off slowly and cautiously, as if fully aware of the danger of the passage, but had proceeded only about fifty yards when he lost his footing, and plunged us into an entirely new and decidedly cold hip-bath. "Now's de time, ole Gray," "show your broughten up, ole boy," "let de gemman see you swim, ole feller," and similar remarks proceeded rapidly from the darky, who all the time avoided touching the reins.
It may have been one minute, it may have been five minutes—I took "no note of time"—before the horse again struck bottom, and halted from sheer exhaustion, the water still almost level with his back, and the opposite bank too far-off to be seen through the darkness. After a short rest, he again "breasted the waters," and in a few moments landed us on the shore; not, unfortunately, in the road, but in the midst of the pine-trees, there so entangled with under-growth, that not even a man, much less a horse, could make his way through them. Wet to the skin, and shivering with the cold, we had no time to lose "in gittin' out of dat," if we would avoid greater dangers than those we had escaped. So, springing from the wagon, the darky waded up the stream, near its bank, to reconnoitre. Returning in a few minutes, he reported that we were about a hundred yards below the road. We had been carried that far down stream by the strength of the current. Our only course was to follow the "run" up along its bank; this we did, and in a short time had the satisfaction of striking the high road. Arranging the harness, we were soon under way again, the horse bounding along as if he felt the necessity of vigorous exercise to restore his chilled circulation. We afterward learned that it was not the Waccamaw we had crossed, but the second "run" our native friend had told us of, and that the water in the middle of its stream was fifteen feet deep!
Half-dead with cold and wet, we hurried on, but still no welcome light beckoned us to a human habitation. The darkness grew denser till we could not even distinguish the road, much less our horse's nose, which we had been directed to follow. Inwardly cursing the folly which brought me into such a wilderness, I said to the darky:
"Scip, I'm sorry I took you on such a trip as this."
"Oh! neber mind me, massa; I ruther like de dark night and de storm."
"Like the night and the storm! why so?"
"'Cause den de wild spirits come out, and talk in de trees. Dey make me feel bery strong har," he replied, striking his hand on his breast.
"The night and the storm, Scip, make me feel like cultivating another sort of spirits. There are some in the wagon-box; suppose we stop and see what they are."
We stopped, and I took out a small willow-flask, which held the "spirits of Otard," and offered it to the darky.
"No, massa," he said, laughing, "I neber touch dem sort ob spirits; dey raise de bery ole deble."
Not heeding the darky's example, I took "a long and a strong pull," and—felt the better for it.
Again we rode on, and again and again I "communed with the spirits," till a sudden exclamation from Scip aroused me from the half-stupor into which I was falling. "What's the matter?" I asked.
"A light, massa, a light!"
"Dar, way off in de trees—"
"Sure enough, glory, hallelujah, there it is! We're all right now, Scip."
We rode on till we came to the inevitable opening in the trees, and were soon at the door of what I saw, by the light which came through the crevices in the logs, was a one-story shanty, about twenty feet square. "Will you let us come in out of de rain?" asked Scip of a wretched-looking, half-clad, dirt-bedraggled woman, who thrust her head from the doorway.
"Who ar ye?" was the reply.
"Only massa and me, and de hoss, and we'm half dead wid de cold," replied Scip; "can we cum in out ob de rain?"
"Wal, strangers," replied the woman, eyeing us as closely as the darkness would permit, "you'll find mighty poor fixins har, but I reckon ye can come in."
[Footnote C: The Southern blacks, like all ignorant people, are intensely fanatical on religious subjects. The most trifling occurrences have to their minds a hidden significance, and they believe the LORD speaks to them in signs and dreams, and in almost every event of nature. This superstition, which has been handed down from their savage ancestry, has absolute sway over them, and one readily sees what immense power it would give to some leading, adroit mind, that knew how to use it. By means of it they might be led to the most desperate deeds, fully believing all the while that they were "led ob de LORD."]
Entering the house, we saw, by the light of a blazing pile of pine-knots, which roared and crackled on the hearth, that it contained only a single apartment. In front of the fire-place, which occupied the better half of one side of this room, the floor was of the bare earth, littered over with pine chips, dead cinders, live coals, broken pots, and a lazy spaniel dog. Opposite to this, at the other end of the room, were two low beds, which looked as if they had been "slept in forever, and never made up." Against the wall, between the beds and the fire-place, stood a small pine table, and on it was a large wooden bowl, from whose mouth protruded the handles of several unwashed pewter spoons. On the right of the fire was a razeed rocking-chair, evidently the peculiar property of the mistress of the mansion, and three blocks of pine log, sawn off smoothly, and made to serve for seats. Over against these towered a high-backed settle, something like that on which