HALF A CENTURY.
JANE GREY SWISSHELM.
* * * * *
"God so willed: Mankind is ignorant! a man am I: Call ignorance my sorrow, not my sin!"
"O, still as ever friends are they Who, in the interest of outraged truth Deprecate such rough handling of a lie!"
It has been assumed, and is generally believed, that the Anti-slavery struggle, which, culminated in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, originated in Infidelity, and was a triumph of Skepticism over Christianity. In no way can this error be so well corrected as by the personal history of those who took part in that struggle; and as most of them have passed from earth without leaving any record of the education and motives which underlay their action, the duty they neglected becomes doubly incumbent on the few who remain.
To supply one quota of the inside history of the great Abolition war, is the primary object of this work; but scarcely secondary to this object is that of recording incidents characteristic of the Peculiar Institution overthrown in that struggle.
Another object, and one which struggles for precedence, is to give an inside history of the hospitals during the war of the Rebellion, that the American people may not forget the cost of that Government so often imperiled through their indifference.
A third object, is to give an analysis of the ground which produced the Woman's Rights agitation, and the causes which limited its influence.
A fourth is, to illustrate the force of education and the mutability of human character, by a personal narrative of one who, in 1836, would have broken an engagement rather than permit her name to appear in print, even in the announcement of marriage; and who, in 1850, had as much newspaper notoriety as any man of that time, and was singularly indifferent to the praise or blame of the Press;—of one who, in 1837, could not break the seal of silence set upon her lips by "Inspiration," even so far as to pray with a man dying of intemperance, and who yet, in 1862, addressed the Minnesota Senate in session, and as many others as could be packed in the hall, with no more embarrassment than though talking with a friend in a chimney corner.
I. I FIND LIFE
II. PROGRESS IN CALVINISM, HUNT GHOSTS, SEE LA FAYETTE
III. FATHER'S DEATH
IV. GO TO BOARDING SCHOOL
V. LOSE MY BROTHER
VI. JOIN CHURCH, AND MAKE NEW ENDEAVORS TO KEEP SABBATH
VII. DELIVERER OF THE DARK NIGHT
VIII. FITTING MYSELF INTO MY SPHERE
IX. HABITATIONS OF HORRID CRUELTY
X. KENTUCKY CONTEMPT FOR LABOR
XII. THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
XIII. "LABOR—SERVICE OR ACT"
XV. WILLOWS BY THE WATER-COURSES
XVI. THE WATERS GROW DEEP
XVII. MY NAME APPEARS IN PRINT
XVIII. MEXICAN WAR LETTERS
XIX. TRAINING SCHOOL
XX. RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN
XXI. PITTSBURG SATURDAY VISITER
XXII. RECEPTION OF THE VISITER
XXIII. MY CROOKED TELESCOPE
XXIV. MINT, CUMMIN AND ANNIS
XXV. FREE SOIL PARTY
XXVI. VISIT WASHINGTON
XXVII. DANIEL WEBSTER
XXVIII. FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW—THE TWO RIDDLES
XXIX. BLOOMERS AND WOMAN'S RIGHTS CONVENTIONS
XXX. MANY MATTERS
XXXI. THE MOTHER CHURCH
XXXII. POLITICS AND PRINTERS
XXXIII. SUMNER, BURLINGAME AND CASSIUS M. CLAY
XXXIV. FINANCE AND DESERTION
XXXV. MY HERMITAGE
XXXVI. THE MINNESOTA DICTATOR
XXXVII. ANOTHER VISITER
XXXVIII. BORDER RUFFIANISM
XXXIX. SPEAK IN PUBLIC
XL. A FAMOUS VICTORY
XLI. STATE AND NATIONAL POLITICS
XLII. RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSIES
XLIII. FRONTIER LIFE
XLV. THE REBELLION
XLVII. OUT INTO THE WORLD AND HOME AGAIN
XLVIII. THE ARISTOCRACY OF THE WEST
XLIX. THE INDIAN MASSACRE OF '62
L. A MISSIVE AND A MISSION
LI. NO USE FOR ME AMONG THE WOUNDED
LII. FIND WORK
LIII. HOSPITAL GANGRENE
LIV. GET PERMISSION TO WORK
LV. FIND A NAME
LVI. DROP MY ALIAS
LVII. HOSPITAL DRESS
LVIII. SPECIAL WORK
LIX. HEROIC AND ANTI-HEROIC TREATMENT
LX. COST OF ORDER
LXI. LEARN TO CONTROL PYAEMIA
LXII. FIRST CASE OF GROWING A NEW BONE
LXIII. A HEROIC MOTHER
LXIV. TWO KINDS OF APPRECIATION
LXV. LIFE AND DEATH
LXVI. MEET MISS DIX AND GO TO FREDERICKSBURG
LXVII. THE OLD THEATER
LXVIII. AM PLACED IN AUTHORITY
LXX. WOUNDED OFFICERS
LXXI. "NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP"
LXXII. MORE VICTIMS AND A CHANGE OF BASE
LXXIII. PRAYERS ENOUGH AND TO SPARE
LXXIV. GET OUT OF THE OLD THEATER
LXXV. TAKE BOAT AND SEE A SOCIAL PARTY
LXXVI. TAKE FINAL LEAVE OF FREDERICKSBURG
LXXVII. TRY TO GET UP A SOCIETY AND GET SICK
LXXVIII. AN EFFICIENT NURSE
LXXIX. TWO FREDERICKSBURG PATIENTS
LXXX. AM ENLIGHTENED
HALF A CENTURY.
I FIND LIFE.
Those soft pink circles which fell upon my face and hands, caught in my hair, danced around my feet, and frolicked over the billowy waves of bright, green grass—did I know they were apple blossoms? Did I know it was an apple tree through which I looked up to the blue sky, over which white clouds scudded away toward the great hills? Had I slept and been awakened by the wind to find myself in the world?
It is probable that I had for some time been familiar with that tree, and all my surroundings, for I had been breathing two and a half years, and had made some progress in the art of reading and sewing, saying catechism and prayers. I knew the gray kitten which walked away; knew that the girl who brought it back and reproved me for not holding it was Adaline, my nurse; knew that the young lady who stood near was cousin Sarah Alexander, and that the girl to whom she gave directions about putting bread into a brick oven was Big Jane; that I was Little Jane, and that the white house across the common was Squire Horner's.
There was no surprise in anything save the loveliness of blossom and tree; of the grass beneath and the sky above; and this first indelible imprint on my memory seems to have found this inner something I call me, as capable of reasoning as it has ever been.
While I sat and wondered, father came, took me in his loving arms and carried me to mother's room, where she lay in a tent-bed, with blue foliage and blue birds outlined on the white ground of the curtains, like the apple-boughs on the blue and white sky. The cover was turned down, and I was permitted to kiss a baby-sister, and warned to be good, lest Mrs. Dampster, who had brought the baby, should come and take it away. This autocrat was pointed out, as she sat in a gray dress, white 'kerchief and cap, and no other potentate has ever inspired me with such reverential awe.
My second memory is of a "great awakening" to a sense of sin, and of my lost and undone condition. On a warm summer day, while walking alone on the common which lay between home and Squire Horner's house, I was struck motionless by the thought that I had forgotten God. It seemed probable, considering the total depravity of my nature, that I had been thinking bad thoughts, and these I labored to recall, that I might repent and plead with Divine mercy for forgiveness. But alas! I could remember nothing save the crowning crime—forgetfulness of God.
I seemed to stand outside, and see myself a mere mite, in a pink sun-bonnet and white bib, the very chief of sinners, for the probability was I had been thinking of that bonnet and bib. It was quite certain that God knew my sin; and ah, the crushing horror that I could, by no possibility conceal aught from the All-seeing Eye, while it was equally impossible to win its approval. The Divine Law was so perfect that I could not hope to meet its requirements—the Divine Law-giver so alert that no sin could escape detection.
Under that cloud of doom the sunshine grew dark, and I did not dare to move until a cheery voice called out something about my pretty bonnet, and gave me a sense of companionship in this dreadful, dreadful world. Rose, a large native African, had spoken to me from her place in Squire Horner's kitchen, and I went home full of solemn resolves and sad forebodings.
This is probably what evangelists would call my conversion, and it came in my third summer. There was a fire in the grate when mother showed Dr. Robt. Wilson, our family physician, a pair of wristbands and collar I had stitched for father, and when they spoke of me as not being three years old—but then I had in my mind the marks of that "great awakening."
To me, no childhood was possible under the training this indicates, yet in giving that training, my parents were loving and gentle as they were faithful. Believing in the danger of eternal death, they could but guard me from it, by the only means of which they had any knowledge.
Before the completion of that momentous third year of life, I had learned to read the New Testament readily, and was deeply grieved that our pastor played "patty cake" with my hands, instead of hearing me recite my catechism, and talking of original sin. During that winter I went regularly to school, where I was kept at the head of a spelling-class, in which were young men and women. One of these, Wilkins McNair, used to carry me home, much amused, no doubt, by my supremacy. His father, Col. Dunning McNair, was proprietor of the village, and had been ridiculed for predicting that, in the course of human events, there would be a graded, McAdamized road, all the way from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and that if he did not live to see it his children would. He was a neighbor and friend of Wm. Wilkins, afterwards Judge, Secretary of War, and Minister to Russia, and had named his son for him. When his prediction was fulfilled and the road made, it ran through his land, and on it he laid out the village and called it Wilkinsburg. Mr. McNair lived south of it in a rough stone house—the manor of the neighborhood—with half a dozen slave huts ranged before the kitchen door, and the gateway between his grounds and the village, as seen from the upper windows of our house, was, to me, the boundary between the known and the unknown, the dread portal through which came Adam, the poor old ragged slave, with whom my nurse threatened me when I did not do as she wished. He was a wretched creature, who made and sold hickory brooms, as he dragged his rheumatic limbs on the down grade of life, until he found rest by freezing to death in the woods, where he had gone for saplings.
I was born on the 6th of December, 1815, in Pittsburg, on the bank of the Monongahela, near its confluence with the Allegheny. My father was Thomas Cannon, and my mother Mary Scott. They were both Scotch-Irish and descended from the Scotch Reformers. On my mother's side were several men and women who signed the "Solemn League and Covenant," and defended it to the loss of livings, lauds and life. Her mother, Jane Grey, was of that family which was allied to royalty, and gave to England her nine day's queen.
This grandmother I remember as a stately old lady, quaintly and plainly dressed, reading a large Bible or answering questions by quotations from its pages. She was unsuspicious as an infant, always doubtful about "actual transgressions" of any, while believing in the total depravity of all. Educated in Ireland as an heiress, she had not been taught to write, lest she should marry without the consent of her elder brother guardian. She felt that we owed her undying gratitude for bestowing her hand and fortune on our grandfather, who was but a yoeman, even if "he did have a good leasehold, ride a high horse, wear spurs, and have Hamilton blood in his veins." She made us familiar with the battle of the Boyne and the sufferings in Londonderry, in both of which her great-grandfather had shared, but was incapable of that sectarian rancor, which marks so many descendents of the men who met on those fields of blood and fought for their convictions.
In April, 1816, father moved from Pittsburg out to the new village of Wilkinsburg; took with him a large stock of goods, bought property, built the house in which I first remember him, and planted the apple tree which imprinted the first picture on my memory. But the crash which followed the last war with England brought general bankruptcy; the mortgages on Col. McNair's estate made the titles valueless, and this, with the fall of his real estate in Pittsburg, reduced father to poverty, from which he never recovered.
PROGRESS IN CALVINISM—HUNT GHOSTS—SEE LA FAYETTE.—AGE, 6-9.
My parents were members of the Covenanter Congregation, of which Dr. John Black was pastor for forty-five years. He was a man of power, a profound logician, with great facility in conveying ideas. To his pulpit ministrations I am largely indebted for whatever ability I have to discriminate between truth and falsehood; but the church was in Pittsburg, and our home seven miles away, so we seldom went to meeting. The rules of the denomination forbade "occasional hearing." Father and mother had once been "sessioned" for stopping on their way home to hear the conclusion of a communion service in Dr. Brace's church, which was Seceder. So our Sabbaths were usually spent in religious services at home. These I enjoyed, as it aided my life-work of loving and thinking about God, who seemed, to my mind, to have some special need of my attention. Nothing was done on that day which could have been done the day before, or could be postponed till the day after. Coffee grinding was not thought of, and once, when we had no flour for Saturday's baking, and the buckwheat cakes were baked the evening before and warmed on Sabbath morning, we were all troubled about the violation of the day.
There was a Presbyterian "meeting-house" two miles east of Wilkinsburg, where a large, wealthy congregation worshipped. Rev. James Graham was pastor, and unlike other Presbyterians, they never "profaned the sanctuary" by singing "human compositions," but confined themselves to Rouse's version of David's Psalms, as did our own denomination. This aided that laxness of discipline which permitted Big Jane, Adaline and brother William to attend sometimes, under care of neighbors. Once I was allowed to accompany them.
I was the proud possessor of a pair of red shoes, which I carried rolled up in my 'kerchief while we walked the two miles. We stopped in the woods; my feet were denuded of their commonplace attire and arrayed in white hose, beautifully clocked, and those precious slices, and my poor conscience tortured about my vanity. The girls also exchanged theirs for morocco slippers. We concealed our walking shoes under a mossy log and proceeded to the meeting-house.
It was built in the form of a T, of hewn logs, and the whole structure, both inside and out, was a combination of those soft grays and browns with which nature colors wood, and in its close setting of primeval forest, made a harmonious picture. Atone side lay a graveyard; birds sang in the surrounding trees, some of which reached out their giant arms and touched the log walls. Swallows had built nests under the eaves outside, and some on the rough projections inside, and joined their twitter to the songs of other birds and the rich organ accompaniment of wind and trees.
There were two sermons, and in the intermission, a church sociable, in fact if not in name. Friends who lived twenty miles apart, met here, exchanged greetings and news, gave notices and invitations, and obeyed the higher law of kindness under protest of their Calvinistic consciences. In this breathing-time we ate our lunch, went to the nearest house and had a drink from the spring which ran through the stone milk-house. It was a day full of sight-seeing and of solemn, grand impressions.
Of the two sermons I remember but one, and this from the text "Many are called but few are chosen," and the comments were Calvinism of the most rigid school. On our way home, my brother William—three years older than I—was very silent and thoughtful for some time, then spoke of the sermon, of which I entirely approved, but he stoutly declared that he did not believe it; did not believe God called people to come to him while he did not choose to have them come. It would not be fair, indeed, he thought it would be mean.
That evening, when we were saying the shorter catechism, the question, "What are the decrees of God?" came to me, and after repeating the answer, I asked father to explain it—not that I needed any explanation, but that William might be enlightened; for I was anxious about his soul, on account of his skepticism. Enlightened he could not be, and even to father expressed his doubts and disapprobation. We renewed the discussion when alone, and during all his life I labored with him; but soon found the common refuge of orthodox minds, in feeling that those especially loved by them will be made exceptions in the general distribution of wrath due to unbelief.
One day I went with him to hunt the cow. We came to a wood just north of the village, where the wind roared and shook the trees so that I was quite awe-stricken; but he held my hand and assured me there was no danger, until he suddenly drew me back, exclaiming:
"Oh see!" as a great tree came crashing down across the path before us, and so near that it must have fallen on us if he had not seen it and stepped back. Even then he refused to go home without the cow, and taking up a daddy-long-legs, he inquired of it where she was, and started in the direction indicated, when we were arrested by the voice of Big Jane, who had come to search for us.
On reaching home, we found a new baby-sister, Elizabeth. Soon after her birth, in April, 1821, father moved back to Pittsburg, and lived on Sixth street, opposite Trinity Church, on property belonging to my maternal grandfather. There was no church there at that time, but a thickly peopled graveyard, which adjoined that of the First Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Sixth and Wood. These were above the level of the street, and were protected by a worm-fence that ran along the top of a green bank on which we played and gathered flowers.
Grandmother took me sometimes to walk in these graveyards at night, and there talked to me about God and heaven and the angels. I was sufficiently interested in these, but especially longed to see the ghosts, and often went to look for them. We had a bachelor uncle who delighted in telling us tales of the supernatural, and he peopled these graveyards with ghosts, in which I believed as implicitly as in the Revelations made to John on the Isle of Patmos, which were my favorite literature.
When the congregation concluded to abandon the "Round Church," which stood on the triangle between Liberty, Wood and Sixth streets, and began to dig for a foundation for Trinity, where it now stands, there was great desecration of graves. One day a thrill of excitement and stream of talk ran through the neighborhood, about a Mrs. Cooper, whose body had been buried three years, and was found in a wonderful state of preservation, when the coffin was laid open by the diggers. It was left that the friends might remove it, and that night I felt would be the time for ghosts. So I went over alone, and while I crouched by the open grave, peering in, a cloud passed, and the moon poured down a flood of light, by which I could see the quiet sleeper, with folded hands, taking her last, long rest.
It was inexpressibly grand, solemn and sad. There were no gaslights, no paved street near, no one stirring. Earth was far away and heaven near at hand, but no ghost came, and I went home disappointed. Afterwards I had a still more disheartening adventure.
I had gone an errand to cousin Alexander's, on Fifth street, stayed late, and coming home, found Wood street deserted. The moon shone brightly, but on the graveyard side were heavy shadows, except in the open space opposite the church. I was on the other side, and there was the office of the Democratic paper, and over the door the motto "Our country, right or wrong." This had long appeared to be an uncanny spot, owing to the wickedness of this sentiment, and I was thinking of the possibility of seeing Auld Nick guarding his property, when my attention was attracted to a tall, white figure in the bright moonlight, outside the graveyard fence.
I stopped an instant, in great surprise, and listened for footsteps, but no sound accompanied the motion. It did not walk, but glided, and must have risen out of the ground, for only a moment before there was nothing visible. I clasped my hands in mute wonder, but my ghost was getting away, and to make its acquaintance I must hurry. Crossing the street I ran after and gained on it. It passed into the shadow of the engine house, on across Sixth street, into the moonlight, then into the shadow, before I overtook it, when lo! it was a mortal woman, barefoot, in a dress which was probably a faded print. Most prints faded then, and this was white, long and scant, making a very ghostly robe, while on her head she carried a bundle tied up in a sheet. She had, of course, come out of Virgin alley, where many laundresses lived, and had just passed out of the shadow when I saw her. We exchanged salutations, and I went home to lie and brood over the unreliable nature of ghosts.
I was trying to get into a proper frame of mind for saying my prayers, but I doubt if they were said that night, as we were soon aroused by the cries of fire. Henry Clay was being burned, in effigy, on the corner of Sixth and Wood streets, to show somebody's disapproval of his course in the election of John Quincy Adams. The Democratic editor, McFarland, was tried and found guilty of the offense, and took revenge in ridiculing his opponents. Charles Glenn, a fussy old gentleman, member of our church, was an important witness for the prosecution, and in the long, rhyming account published by the defendant, he was thus remembered:
"Then in came Glenn, that man of peace, And swore to facts as sleek as grease; By all his Uncle Aleck's geese, McFarland burnt the tar-barrel."
It was before this time that Lafayette revisited Pittsburg, and people went wild to do him honor. The schools paraded for his inspection, and ours was ranged along the pavement in front of the First Presbyterian church, the boys next the curb, the girls next the fence, all in holiday attire, and wearing blue badges. The distinguished visitor passed up between them, leaning on the arm of another gentleman, bowing and smiling as he went. When he came to where I stood, he stepped aside, laid his hand on my head, turned up my face and spoke to me.
I was too happy to know what he said, and in all the years since that day, that hand has lain on my brow as a consecration.
FATHER'S DEATH.—AGE, 6-12.
In the city we went regularly to meeting, and Dr. Black seemed always to talk to me, and I had no more difficulty in understanding his sermons, than in mastering the details of the most simple duty. The first of which I preserve the memory was about Peter, who was made to illustrate the growth of crime. He began with boasting; then came its natural fruit, cowardice, in following his master afar off; next falsehood, and from this he proceeded to perjury. It did seem that a disciple of Christ could go no further; but for falsehood and perjury there might be excuse in the hope of reward, and Peter found a lower deep, for "he began to curse and to swear." A profane swearer is without temptation, and serves the devil for the pure love of the service. What more could Peter do to prove that he knew not Jesus?
In the communion service is a ceremony called "fencing the tables," which consists of an appeal to the consciences of intended communicants. Dr. Black began with the first commandment and forbade those living in its violation to come to the table, and so proceeded through the decalogue. When he came to the eighth, he straightened himself, placed his hands behind him, and with thrilling emphasis said, "I debar from this holy table of the Lord, all slave-holders and horse-thieves, and other dishonest persons," and without another word passed to the ninth commandment.
Soon after we returned to the city, sister Mary died of consumption, and father's health began to fail. I have preserved the spinning wheel on which mother converted flax yarn into thread, which she sold to aid in the support of the family, but soon the entire burden fell on her, for father's illness developed into consumption, from which he died in March, 1823.
In spite of all the testamentary precautions he could take, whatever of his estate might have been available for present support, was in the hands of lawyers, and mother was left with her children and the debts. There were the contents of his shop and warehouse, some valuable real estate in Pittsburg, which had passed out of his possession on a claim of ground-rent, and a village home minus a title.
William was a mechanical genius, so mother set him to making little chairs, which he readily sold, but he liked better to construct fire engines, which were quite wonderful but brought no money. He had a splendid physique, was honorable and faithful, and if mother had been guided by natural instinct in governing him, all would have been well; but he never met the requirements of the elders of the church, who felt it their duty to manage our family affairs. So he was often in trouble, and I, who gloried in him, contrived to shield him from many a storm.
At this time there was a fashionable furor for lace work. Mother sent me to learn it, and then procured me pupils, whom I taught, usually sitting on their knee. But lace work soon gave way to painting on velvet. This, too, I learned, and found profit in selling pictures. Ah, what pictures I did make. I reached the culminating glory of artist life, when Judge Braden, of Butler, gave me a new crisp five dollar bill for a Goddess of Liberty. Indeed, he wanted me to be educated for an artist, and was far-seeing and generous enough to have been my permanent patron, had an artistic education, or any other education, been possible for a Western Pennsylvania girl in that dark age—the first half of the nineteenth century.
Mother made a discovery in the art of coloring leghorn and straw bonnets, which brought her plenty of work, so we never lacked comforts of life, although grandfather's executors made us pay rent for the house we occupied.
GO TO BOARDING-SCHOOL.—AGE, 12.
During my childhood there were no public schools in Pennsylvania. The State was pretty well supplied with colleges for boys, while girls were permitted to go to subscription schools. To these we were sent part of the time, and in one of them Joseph Caldwell, afterwards a prominent missionary to India, was a schoolmate. But we had Dr. Black's sermons, full of grand morals, science and history.
In lieu of colleges for girls, there were boarding-schools, and Edgeworth was esteemed one of the best in the State. It was at Braddock's Field, and Mrs. Olever, an English woman of high culture, was its founder and principal. To it my cousin, Mary Alexander, was sent, but returned homesick, and refused to go back unless I went with her. It was arranged that I should go for a few weeks, as I was greatly in need of country air; and, highly delighted, I was at the rendezvous at the hour, one o'clock, with my box, ready for this excursion into the world of polite literature. Mary was also there, and a new scholar, but Father Olever did not come for us until four o'clock. He was a small, nervous gentleman, and lamps were already lighted in the smoky city when we started to drive twelve miles through spring mud, on a cloudy, cheerless afternoon. We knew he had no confidence in his power to manage those horses, though we also knew he would do his best to save us from harm; but as darkness closed around us, I think we felt like babes in the woods, and shuddered with vague fear as much as with cold and damp. When we reached the "Bullock Pens," half a mile west of Wilkinsburg, there were many lights and much bustle in and around the old yellow tavern, where teamsters were attending to their weary horses. Here we turned off to the old mud road, and came to a place of which I had no previous knowledge—a place of outer darkness and chattering teeth.
We met no more teams, saw no more lights, but seemed to be in an utterly uninhabited country. Then, after an hour of wearisome jolting and plunging, we discovered that the darkness had not been total, for the line of the horizon had been visible, but now it was swallowed up. We knew we were in a wood, by the rush of the wind amid the dried white oak leaves—knew that the road grew rougher at every step—that our driver became more nervous as he applied the brake, and we went down, down.
Still the descent grew steeper. We stopped, and Father Olever felt for the bank with his whip to be sure we were on the road. Then we heard the sound of rushing, angry waters, mingled with the roar of the wind, and he seemed to hesitate about going on, but we could not very well stay there, and he once more put his horses in motion, while we held fast and prayed silently to the great Deliverer. After stopping again and feeling for the bank, lest we should go over the precipitous hillside, which he knew was there, he proceeded until, with a great plunge, we were in the angry waters, which arose to the wagon-bed, and roared and surged all around us. The horses tried to go on, when something gave way, and our guardian concluded further progress was impossible, and began to hallo at the top of his voice.
For a long time there was no response; then came an answering call from a long distance. Next a light appeared, and that, too, was far away, but came toward us. When it reached the brink of the water, and two men with it, we felt safe. The light-bearer held it up so that we saw him quite well, and his peculiar appearance suited his surroundings. He was more an overgrown boy than a man, beardless, with a long swarthy face, black hair and keen black eyes. He wore heavy boots outside his pantaloons, a blouse and slouch hat, spoke to his companion as one having authority, and with a laugh said to our small gentleman:
"Is this where you are?" but gave no heed to the answer as he waded in and threw off the check lines, saying: "I wonder you did not drown your horses."
He next examined the wagon, paying no more attention to Father Olever's explanations than to the water in which he seemed quite at home, and when he had finished his inspection he said:
"They must go to the house," and handing the light to the driver he took us up one by one and carried us to the wet bank as easily as a child carries her doll. He gave some directions to his companion, took the light and said to us:
"Come on," and we walked after him out into the limitless blackness, nothing doubting. We went what seemed a long way, following this brigand-looking stranger, without seeing any sign of life or hearing any sound save the roar of wind and water, but on turning a fence corner, we came in sight of a large two-story house, with a bright light streaming out through many windows, and a wide open door. There was a large stone barn on the other side of the road, and to this our conductor turned, saying to us: "Go on to the house." This we did, and were met at the open door by a middle-aged woman, shading with one hand the candle held in the other. This threw a strong light on her face, which instantly reminded me of an eagle. She wore a double-bordered white cap over her black hair, and looked suspiciously at us through her small keen, black eyes, but kindly bade us come in to a low wainscoted hall, with broad stairway and many open doors. Through one of these and a second door we saw a great fire of logs, and I should have liked to sit by it, but she led us into a square wainscoted room on the opposite side, in which blazed a coal fire almost as large as the log heap in the kitchen.
She gave us seats, and a white-haired man who sat in the corner, spoke to us, and made me feel comfortable. Up to this time all the surroundings had had an air of enchanted castles, brigands, ghosts, witches. The alert woman with the eagle face, in spite of her kindness, made me feel myself an object of doubtful character, but this old man set me quite at ease. We were no more than well warmed when the wagon drove to the door, and the boy-man with the lantern appeared, saying,
We followed him again, and he lifted us into the wagon, while the mistress of the house stood on the large flag-stone door-step, shading her candle-flame, and giving directions about our wraps.
"Coming events cast their shadows before," when they are between us and the light; but that night the light must have been between them and me; for I bade good-bye to our hostess without any premonition we should ever again meet, or that I should sit alone, as I do to-night, over half a century later, in that same old wainscoted room, listening to the roar of those same angry waters and the rush of the wind wrestling with the groaning trees, in the dense darkness of this low valley.
When we had been carefully bestowed in the wagon, our deliverer took up his lantern, saying to Father Olever:
He was obeyed, and led the way over a bridge across another noisy stream, and along a road where there was the sound of a waterfall very near, then up a steep, rocky way until he stopped, saying,
"I guess you can get along now."
To Father Olever's thanks he only replied by a low, contemptuous but good-humored laugh, as he turned to retrace his steps. All comfort and strength and hope seemed to go with him. We were abandoned to our fate, babes in the woods again, with only God for our reliance. But after a while we could see the horizon, and arrived at our destination several minutes before midnight, to find the great mansion full of glancing lights and busy, expectant life.
The large family had waited up for Father Olever's return, for he and his wagon were the connecting link between that establishment and the outside world. He appeared to great advantage surrounded by a bevy of girls clamoring for letters and messages. To me the scene was fairy-land. I had never before seen anything so grand as the great hall with its polished stairway. We had supper in the housekeeper's room, and I was taken up this stairway, and then up and up a corkscrew cousin until we reached the attic, which stretched over the whole house, one great dormitory called the "bee-hive." Here I was to sleep with Helen Semple, a Pittsburg girl, of about my own age, a frail blonde, who quite won my heart at our first meeting.
Next day was Sabbath, and I was greatly surprised to see pupils walk on the lawn. This was such a desecration of the day, but I made no remark. I was too solemnly impressed by the grandeur of being at Braddock's Field to have hinted that anything could be wrong. But for my own share in the violation I was painfully penitent.
This was not new, for there were a long series of years in which the principal business of six days of every week, was repentance for the very poor use made of the seventh, and from this dreary treadmill of sin and sorrow, no faith ever could or did free me. I never could see salvation in Christ apart from salvation from sin, and while the sin remained the salvation was doubtful and the sorrow certain.
On the afternoon of that first Sabbath, a number of young lady pupils came to the Bee-hive for a visit, and as I afterwards learned to inspect and name the two new girls, when I was promptly and unanimously dubbed "Wax Doll." After a time, one remarked that they must go and study their "ancient history lesson." I caught greedily at the words, ancient history. Ah, if I could only be permitted to study such a lesson! No such progress or promotion seemed open to me; but the thought interfered with my prayers, and followed me into the realm of sleep. So when that class was called next forenoon, I was alert, and what was my surprise, to hear those privileged girls stumbling over the story of Sampson? Could it be possible that was ancient history? How did it come to pass that every one did not know all about Sampson, the man who had laid his Lead on Delilah's wicked lap, to be shorn of his strength. If there is any thing in that account, or any lesson to be drawn from it, with which I was not then familiar, it is something I have never learned. Indeed, I seemed to have completed my theological education before I did my twelfth year.
One morning, Mrs. Olever sent for me, and told me she had learned my mother was not able to send me to school, but if I would take charge of the lessons of the little girls, she would furnish me board and tuition. This most generous offer quite took my breath away, and was most gladly accepted; but it was easy work, and I wondered my own studies were so light. I was allowed to amuse myself drawing flowers, which were quite a surprise, and pronounced better than anything the drawing master could do—to recite poetry, for the benefit of the larger girls, and to play in the orchard with my pupils.
With the other girls, I became interested in hair-dressing. I had read "The Children of the Abbey," and Amanda's romantic adventures enchanted me; but she was quite outside my life. Now I made a nearer acquaintance with her. She changed her residence; so had I. She had brown ringlets; I too should have them. So one Friday night, my hair was put up in papers, and next morning, I let loose an amazing shower of curls.
The next thing to do was to go off alone, and sit reading in a romantic spot. Of course I did not expect to meet Lord Mortimer! Miss Fitzallen never had any such expectations. I was simply going out to read and admire the beauties of nature. When I had seated myself, in proper attitude, on the gnarled root of an old tree, overhanging a lovely ravine, I proceeded to the reading part of the play, and must of course be too much absorbed to hear the approaching footsteps, to which I listened with bated breath. So I did not look up when they stopped at my side, or until a pleasant voice said:
"Why you look quite romantic, my dear."
Then I saw Miss Olever, the head teacher, familiarly called "Sissy Jane." In that real and beautiful presence Miss Fitzallen retired to her old place, and oh, the mortification she left behind her! I looked up, a detected criminal, into the face of her who had brought to me this humiliation, and took her for a model. My folly did not prevent our being sincere friends during all her earnest and beautiful life.
She passed on, and I got back to the Bee-hive, when I disposed of my curls, and never again played heroine.
LOSE MY BROTHER.—AGE, 12-15.
Measured by the calendar, my boarding-school life was six weeks; but measured by its pleasant memories, it was as many years. Mother wrote for me to come home; and in going I saw, by sunlight, the scene of our adventure that dark night going out. It was a lovely valley, walled in by steep, wooded hills. Two ravines joined, bringing each its contribution of running water, and pouring it into the larger stream of the larger valley—a veritable "meeting of the waters"—in all of nature's work, beautiful exceedingly.
The house, which stood in the center of a large, green meadow, through which the road ran, was built in two parts, of hewn logs, with one great stone chimney on the outside, protected by an overshot in the roof, but that one in which the log-heap burned that night was inside. One end had been an Indian fort when Gen. Braddock tried to reach Fort Pitt by that road. The other end and stone barn had been built by its present proprietor. A log mill, the oldest in Allegheny county, stood below the barn, and to it the French soldiers had come for meal from Fort Duquesne. The stream crossed by the bridge was the mill-race, and the waterfall made by the waste-gate. It was the homestead of a soldier of the Revolution, one of Washington's lieutenants—the old man we had seen. The woman was his second wife. They had a numerous family, and an unpronounceable name.
At home I learned that, on account of a cough, I had been the object of a generous conspiracy between mother and Mrs. Olever, and had been brought home because I was worse. Our doctors said I was in the first stage of consumption, that Elizabeth was to reach that point early in life, and that our only hope lay in plenty of calomel. Mother had lost her husband and four vigorous children; there had been no lack of calomel, and now, when death again threatened, she resolved to conduct the defense on some new plan.
She had gained legal possession of our village home, and moved to it. Our lot was large and well supplied with choice fruit, and the place seemed a paradise after our starved lives in the smoky city. My apple tree still grew at the east end of the house. There was a willow tree mother had planted, which now swept the ground with its long, graceful branches. There were quantities of rose and lilac bushes, a walled spring of delicious water in the cellar, and a whole world of wealth; but the potato lot looked up in despair—a patch of yellow clay. Mother put a twelve years' accumulation of coal ashes on it, and thus proved them valuable both as a fertilizer and a preventive of potato-rot, though at first her project met general opposition.
William did the heavy work and was proud of it. He was in splendid health, for his insubordination had, from a very early age, saved him from drugging either mental or physical. The lighter gardening became part of my treatment for consumption. By having me each day lie on the floor on my back without a pillow, and gentle use of dumb-bells, mother straightened my spine and developed my chest—my clothes being carefully adapted to its expansion. Dancing was strictly forbidden by our church, but mother was educated in Ireland and danced beautifully. She had a class of girls and taught us, and with plenty of fresh air, milk and eggs, effectually disposed of hereditary consumption in her family. But while attending to us, she must also make a living, so she bought a stock of goods on credit, opened a store, and soon had a paying business. In this I was her special assistant. But the work supplied to William did not satisfy the holy men of the church, who furnished us advice. He still made fire engines, and a brook in a meadow presented irresistible temptation to water-wheels and machinery. One of his tilt-hammers made a very good ghost, haunting the meadow and keeping off trespassers. He had a foundry, where he cast miniature cannon, kettles and curious things, and his rifle-practice was a neighborhood wonder. He brought water from the cellar, and did other chores which Pennsylvania rules assigned to women, and when boys ridiculed him, he flogged them, and did it quite as effectually as he rendered them the same service when they were rude to a girl. He was a universal favorite, even if he did hate catechism and love cake.
So mother's conscience was worked upon until she bound him to a cabinet maker in the city. To him, the restraint was unendurable, and he ran away. He came after dark to bid me good-bye, left love for mother and Elizabeth, and next morning left Pittsburg on a steamboat, going to that Eldorado of Pittsburg boys—"down the river."
For some time letters came regularly from him, and he was happy and prosperous. Then they ceased, and after two years of agonizing suspense, we heard that he had died of yellow fever in New Orleans. To us, this was dreadful, irreparable, and was wholly due to that iron-bedstead piety which permits no natural growth, but sets down all human loves and longings as of Satanic origin.
Soon after our removal to the village, grandfather's estate was advertised for sheriff's sale. Mother had the proceedings stayed, the executors dismissed, and took out letters of administration, which made it necessary for her to spend some portion of every month in the city. This threw the entire charge of house and store on me. As soon, therefore, as possible, she sent me to the city to school, where I realized my aspiration of studying ancient history and the piano, and devoured the contents of the text-book of natural philosophy with an avidity I had never known for a novel.
In April, 1830, I began to teach school, the only one in Wilkinsburg, and had plenty of pupils, young men and women, boys and girls, at two dollars and one dollar and a half a term. Taught seven hours a day, and Saturday forenoon, which was devoted to Bible reading and catechism. I was the first, I believe, in Allegheny Co., to teach children without beating them. I abolished corporeal punishment entirely, and was so successful that boys, ungovernable at home, were altogether tractable. This life was perfectly congenial, and I followed it for nearly six years. Mother started a Sabbath School, the only one in the village, and this, too, we continued for years.
One of the pupils was a girl of thirteen, daughter of a well-to-do farmer, who lived within a mile of the village. Her father had been converted at a camp-meeting and was a devout Methodist. The first day she attended, I asked her the question:
"How many Gods are there?"
She thought a moment, and then said, with an air of satisfaction:
I was shocked, and answered in the language of the Catechism:
"O Margaret! 'There is but one only living and true God.'"
She hung her head, then nodded it, and with the emphasis of a judge who had weighed all the evidence, said:
"I am sure I ha' hearn tell o' more nur one of em."
A young theological student came sometimes to stay over Sabbath and assist in the school. He led in family worship, and had quite a nice time, until one evening he read a chapter from the song of songs which was Solomon's, when I bethought me that he was very much afraid of toads. I began to cultivate those bright-eyed creatures, so that it always seemed probable I had one in my pocket or sleeve. The path of that good young man became thorny until it diverged from mine.
I was almost fifteen, when I overheard a young lady say I was growing pretty. I went to my mirror and spent some moments in unalloyed happiness and triumph. Then I thought, "Pretty face, the worms will eat you. All the prettiest girls I know are silly, but you shall never make a fool of me. Helen's beauty ruined Troy. Cleopatra was a wretch. So if you are pretty, I will be master, remember that."
JOIN CHURCH AND MAKE NEW ENDEAVORS TO KEEP SABBATH.—AGE, 15.
In the year 1800, the Covenanter church of this country said in her synod: "Slavery and Christianity are incompatible," and never relaxed her discipline which forbade fellowship with slave-holders—so I was brought up an abolitionist. I was still a child when I went through Wilkins' township collecting names to a petition for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Here, in a strictly orthodox Presbyterian community, I was everywhere met by the objections: "Niggers have no souls," "The Jews held slaves," "Noah cursed Canaan," and these points I argued from house to house, occasionally for three years, and made that acquaintance which led to my being sent for in cases of sickness and death, before I had completed my sixteenth year. In this, I in some measure took the place long filled by mother, who was often a substitute for doctor and preacher.
Looking back at her life, I think how little those know of Calvinists who regard them merely as a class of autocrats, conscious of their own election to glory, and rejoicing in the reprobation of all others; for I have never known such humble, self-distrustful people as I have found in that faith. Mother, whose life was full of wisdom and good works, doubted, even to the last, her own acceptance with God. She and I believed that "a jealous God," who can brook no rivals, had taken away our loving husband and father; our strong and brave son and brother, because we loved them too much, and I was brought up to think it a great presumption to assume that such a worm of the dust as I, could be aught to the Creator but a subject of punishment.
During the spring of 1831, mother said to me:
"Sabbath week is our communion, and I thought you might wish to join the church."
I was startled and without looking up, said:
"Am I old enough?"
"If you feel that the dying command of the Savior, 'do this in remembrance of me' was addressed to you, you are old enough to obey it."
Not another word was said and the subject was never again broached between us, but here a great conflict began. That command was given to me, but how could I obey it without eating and drinking damnation to myself? Was mine a saving faith, or did I, like the devils, believe and tremble? I had been believing as long as I could remember, but did not seem to grow in the image of God.
The conflict lasted several days. Sleep left me. The heavens were iron and the earth brass. I turned to Erskine to learn the signs of saving faith, but found only reason to suspect self-deception. I could not submit to God's will—could not be willing that William should be lost—nay, I was not willing that any one should be lost. I could not stay in heaven, and know that any one was enduring endless torments in some other place! I must leave and go to their relief. It was dreadful that Abraham did not even try to go to poor Dives, or to send some one. My whole soul flew into open revolt; then oh! the total depravity which could question "the ways of God to man." I hated Milton. I despised his devils; had a supreme contempt for the "Prince of the Power of the Air;" did not remember a time when I was afraid of him. God was "my refuge and my shield, in straits a present aid." If he took care of me, no one else could hurt me; if he did not, no one else could; and to be accepted by him was all there was or could be worth caring for; but how should I find this acceptance with my heart full of rebellion?
One afternoon I became unable to think, but a white mist settled down over hell. Even those contemptible devils were having their tongues cooled with blessed drops of water. The fires grew dim, and it seemed as if there was to be a rain of grace and mercy in that region of despair. Then I preferred my petition, that God would write his name upon my forehead, and give me that "new name" which should mark me as his; that he would bring William into the fold, and do with me as he would. I would be content to spend my whole life in any labor he should appoint, without a sign of the approval of God or man, if, in the end, I and mine should be found among those "who had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
I fell asleep—slept hours—and when the sun was setting, woke in perfect peace. My proposition had been accepted, and wonderful grace, which had given what I had not dared to ask, assurance of present acceptance. I should have all the work and privation for which I had bargained—should be a thistle-digger in the vineyard; should be set to tasks from which other laborers shrank, but in no trial could I ever be alone, and should at last hear the welcome "well done."
I arose as one from a grave to a joyous resurrection; but kept all these things in my heart. Personal experiences being altogether between God and the soul, were not considered fit subjects for conversation, and when I came before the session applying for church, membership, no mention was made of them, except as a general confession of faith.
Rev. Andrew Black addressed the table at which I sat in my first communion, and said:
"The Lord's Supper has been named the Eucharist, after the oath taken by a Roman soldier, never to turn his back upon his leader. You, in partaking of these emblems, do solemnly vow that you will never turn your back upon Christ, but that you will follow him whithersoever he goeth. Let others do as they will, you are to follow the Lamb, through good and through evil report, to a palace or to a prison; follow him, even if he should lead you out of the church."
This was in perfect harmony with my private agreement, and no other act of my life has been so solemn or far-reaching in its consequences, as that ratification of my vow, and it is one I have least cause to repent.
However, it brought a new phase to an old trouble. How should I follow Christ? I could not do as he had done. I could not go to meeting every Sabbath, and society every Friday; and if I did, was that following Christ who never built a meeting-house, or conducted any service resembling those now held? I read the life of Jonathan Edwards, and settled back into the old Sabbath-keeping rut. Resolving to do my best, I prayed all week, for grace to keep the next Sabbath. I rose early that trial-morning, prayed as soon as my eyes were open, read a chapter, looked out into the beautiful morning, thought about God and prayed—spent so much time praying, that Elizabeth had breakfast ready when I went down stairs. While I ate it, I held my thoughts to the work of the day, worshiping God; but many facts and fancies forced themselves in and disturbed my pious meditations. After breakfast, I went back to my room to continue my labor; but mother soon came and said:
"Do you intend to let Elizabeth do all the work?"
I dropped my roll of saintship, and went and washed the dishes. Had I been taught that he who does any honest work serves God and follows Christ, what a world of woe would have been spared me.
THE DELIVERER OF THE DARK NIGHT.—AGE, 19-21.
Quiltings furnished the principal amusement, and at these I was in requisition, both for my expertness with the needle, and my skill in laying out work; but as I had no brother to come for me, I usually went home before the evening frolic, which consisted of plays. Male and female partners went through the common quadrille figures, keeping time to the music of their own voices, and making a denouement every few moments by some man kissing some woman, perhaps in a dark hall, or some woman kissing some man, or some man kissing all the women, or vice versa. Elders and preachers often looked on in pious approbation, and the church covered these sports with the mantle of her approval, but was ready to excommunicate any one who should dance. Promiscuous dancing was the fiery dragon which the church went out to slay. Only its death could save her from a fit of choler which might be fatal, unless, indeed, the dancing were sanctified by promiscuous kissing. If men and women danced together without kissing, they were in immediate danger of eternal damnation; but with plenty of kissing, and rude wrestling to overcome the delicacy of women who objected to such desecration, the church gave her blessing to the quadrille.
My protest against these plays had given offense, and I chose to avoid them; but one evening the host begged me to remain, saying he would see that I was not annoyed, and would himself take me home. The frolic was only begun, when he came and asked permission to introduce a gentleman, saying: "If you do not treat him well, I will never forgive you."
There was no need of this caution, for he presented a man whose presence made me feel that I was a very little girl and should have been at home. He was over six feet tall, well formed and strongly built, with black hair and eyes, a long face, and heavy black whiskers. He was handsomely dressed, and his manner that of a grave and reverend seignior. A Russian count in a New York drawing room, then, when counts were few, could not have seemed more foreign than this man in that village parlor, less than two miles from the place of his birth.
He was the son of the old revolutionary soldier, with the unpronouncable name, who lived in the beautiful valley. This I knew at once, but did not, for some time, realize that it was he who rescued us from the black waters on that dark night, carried us to safety and light, and left us again in darkness. This incident, so much to me, he never could distinguish among the many times he had "helped Olever and his seminary girls out of scrapes," and he never spoke of these adventures without that same laugh which I noticed when Father Olever thanked him.
He had elected me as his wife some years before this evening, and had not kept it secret; had been assured his choice was presumptuous, but came and took possession of his prospective property with the air of a man who understood his business. I next saw him on horseback, and this man of giant strength in full suit of black, riding a large spirited black horse, became my "black knight."
My sister hated him, and my mother doubted him, or rather doubted the propriety of my receiving visits from him. His family were the leading Methodists of the township; his father had donated land and built a meeting-house, which took his name, and his house was the headquarters of traveling preachers. There was a camp-meeting ground on the farm; his mother "lived without sin," prayed aloud and shouted in meeting, while the income and energy of the family were expended in propagating a faith which we believed false. A marriage with him would be incongruous and bring misery to both. These objections he overruled, by saying he was not a member of any church, would never interfere with my rights of conscience, would take or send me to my meeting when possible, and expect me to go sometimes with him. He proposed going up the Allegheny to establish saw-mills, and if I would go into the woods with him, there should be no trouble about religion. So there seemed no valid objection, and two years after our introduction we were married, on the 18th of November, 1836.
Then all was changed. I offended him the day after by shedding tears when I left home to go for a visit to his father's house, and his sister had told him that I cried while dressing to be married. These offenses he never forgave, and concluded that since I cared so little for him, he would not leave his friends and go up the Allegheny with me. His services were indispensable at home, since his brother Samuel had gone into business for himself, and the next brother William was not seventeen, and could not take charge of the farm and mills. His mother was ready to take me into the family,—although the house was not large enough to accommodate us comfortably—the old shop in the yard could be fitted up for a school-room. I could teach and he could manage the estate.
In this change, he but followed that impulse which led the men of England, centuries ago, to enact, that "marriage annuls all previous contracts between the parties," and which now leads men in all civilized countries to preserve such statutes. It is an old adage, "All is fair in love as in war," but I thought not of general laws, and only felt a private grievance.
By a further change of plan, I was to get religion and preach. Wesley made the great innovation of calling women to the pulpit, and although it had afterwards been closed to them generally, there were still women who did preach, while all were urged to take part in public worship. My husband had been converted after our engagement and shortly before our marriage, and was quite zealous. He thought me wonderfully wise, and that I might bring souls to Christ if I only would. I quoted Paul: "Let women keep silence in churches, and learn of their husbands at home." He replied, "Wives, obey your husbands." He laughed at the thought of my learning from him and said: "What shall I teach you? Will you come to the mill and let me show you how to put a log on the carriage?"
It was a very earnest discussion, and the Bible was on both sides; but I followed the lead of my church, which taught me to be silent. He quoted his preachers, who were in league with him, to get me to give myself to the Lord, help them save souls, by calling on men everywhere to repent; but I was obstinate. I would not get religion, would not preach, would not live in the house with his mother, and stayed with my own. His younger brothers came regularly to me for lessons with my sister, and I added two idiotic children bound to his sister's husband, to whose darkened minds I found the key hidden from other teachers. His brothers I adopted from the first, in place of the one I had lost, and they repaid my love in kind; but books soon appeared as an entering wedge between their souls and religion, which formed the entire mental pabulum of the family.
I believe there was not at that time a member of the Pittsburg Conference who was a college graduate, few who had even a good, common school education, while two of those who preached in our meetinghouse and were frequent guests in the family, were unable to read.
My husband's father was old and feeble, and had devised his property to his wife, to be divided at her death between her sons. My husband, as her agent, would come into possession of the whole, and they thought I might object to the "prophet's chamber;" but it required no worldly motive to stimulate these fiery zealots to save a sinner from the toils of Calvinism. It is probable many of them would have laid down his life for his religion, and when they got on the track of a sinner, they pursued him as eagerly as ever an English parson did a fox, but it was to save, not to kill. In these hot pursuits, they did not stand on ceremony, and in my case, found a subject that would not run. My kith and kin had died at the stake, bearing testimony against popery and prelacy; had fought on those fields where Scotchmen charged in solid columns, singing psalms; and though I was wax at all other points, I was granite on "The Solemn League and Covenant." With the convictions of others I did not interfere, but when attacked would "render a reason." My assailants denounced theological seminaries as "preacher-factories"—informed me that "neither Dr. Black nor any of his congregation ever had religion," and that only by getting it could any one be saved. My husband became proud of my defense, and the boys grew disrespectful to their religious guides. Their mother became anxious about their souls, so the efforts for my conversion were redoubled.
From the first the preachers disapproved of my being permitted to go to my meeting, and especially to my husband accompanying me. He refused to go, on the ground that he had not been invited to commune, and as I sank in the deep waters of affliction, I did so need the pulpit teachings of my old pastor, which seemed to lift me and set my feet upon a rock. One day I walked the seven miles and back, when the family carriage went to take two preachers to an appointment; three horses stood in the old stone barn, and my husband at home with his mother. This gave great offense as the advertisement of a grievance, and was never repeated.
During all my childhood and youth, I had been spoiled by much love, if love can spoil. I was non-resistant by nature, and on principle, believed in the power of good. Forbearance, generosity, helpful service, would, should, must, win my new friends to love me.
Getting me into the house with my mother-in-law, was so important a part of the plan of salvation, that to effect it, I was left without support or compensation for my services as teacher, tailor, dress-maker, for my husband's family. He visited me once or twice a week, and ignored my mother's presence, while she felt that in this, as in any church-joining conflict, only God could help me, and stood aloof.
To me the sun was darkened, and the moon refused her light. I knew "that jealous God" who claimed the supreme love of his creatures, was scourging me for making an idol and bowing down before it—for loving my husband. I knew it was all just and clung to the Almighty arm, with the old cry, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." To my husband I clung with like tenacity, and could not admit that my suffering was through any fault of his.
The summer after my marriage, mother went for a long visit to Butler, and left us in possession of her house. My husband bought a village property, including a wagon-maker's shop, employed a workman and sent him to board with me. He also made some additions to a dwelling on it, that we might go there to live, and the workmen boarded with me, while my mother-in-law furnished provisions and came or sent a daughter to see that I did not waste them. Her reproofs were in the form of suggestions, and she sought to please me by saying she had "allowed James" to get certain things for me; but he did not visit me any oftener than when mother was at home, and when she returned in the autumn, the potatoes were frozen in the ground, the apples on the trees, and the cow stood starving at the stable door.
Then I learned that I had been expected to secure the fall crops on mother's lot, and this was not unreasonable, for I had married a Pennsylvania farmer, and their wives and sisters and daughters did such work often, while the "men folks" pitched horseshoes to work off their surplus vitality. Lack of strength was no reason why a woman should fail in her duty, for when one fell at her post, there was always another to take her place.
Up to this time mother had left me to settle my troubles, but now, she told me I must turn and demand justice; that generosity was more than thrown away; that I never could live with my husband and bear his neglect and unkindness and that of his family. I must leave him, defend myself, or die. That I should have been expected to gather apples and dig potatoes, filled her with indignation. She advised me to stay with her and refuse to see him, but I shuddered to think it had come to this in one short year, and felt that all would yet be well. So I went to live in the house he provided for me, his mother furnished my supplies, and he came once a week to see me.
Here let me say, that in my twenty years of married life, my conflicts were all spiritual; that there never was a time when my husband's strong right arm would not be tempered to infantile gentleness to tend me in illness, or when he hesitated to throw himself between me and danger. Over streams and other places impassible to me, he carried me, but could not understand how so frail a thing could be so obstinate.
FITTING MYSELF INTO MY SPHERE.—AGE, 22, 23.
During all my girlhood I saw no pictures, no art gallery, no studio, but had learned to feel great contempt for my own efforts at picture-making. A traveling artist stopped in Wilkinsburg and painted some portraits; we visited his studio, and a new world opened to me. Up to that time portrait painting had seemed as inaccessible as the moon—a sublimity I no more thought of reaching than a star; but when I saw a portrait on the easel, a palette of paints and some brushes, I was at home in a new world, at the head of a long vista of faces which I must paint; but the new aspiration was another secret to keep.
Bard, the wagon-maker, made me a stretcher, and with a yard of unbleached muslin, some tacks and white lead, I made a canvas. In the shop were white lead, lampblack, king's yellow and red lead, with oil and turpentine. I watched Bard mix paints, and concluded I wanted brown. Years before, I heard of brown umber, so I got umber and some brushes and begun my husband's portrait. I hid it when he was there or I heard any one coming, and once blistered it badly trying to dry it before the fire, so that it was a very rough work; but it was a portrait, a daub, a likeness, and the hand was his hand and no other. The figure was correct, and the position in the chair, and, from the moment I began it, I felt I had found my vocation.
What did I care for preachers and theological arguments? What matter who sent me my bread, or whether I had any? What matter for anything, so long as I had a canvas and some paints, with that long perspective of faces and figures crowding up and begging to be painted. The face of every one I knew was there, with every line and varying expression, and in each I seemed to read the inner life in the outer form. Oh, how they plead with me! What graceful lines and gorgeous colors floated around me! I forgot God, and did not know it; forgot philosophy, and did not care to remember it; but alas! I forgot to get Bard's dinner, and, although I forgot to be hungry, I had no reason to suppose he did. He would willingly have gone hungry, rather than give any one trouble; but I had neglected a duty. Not only once did I do this, but again and again, the fire went out or the bread ran over in the pans, while I painted and dreamed.
My conscience began to trouble me. Housekeeping was "woman's sphere," although I had never then heard the words, for no woman had gotten out of it, to be hounded back; but I knew my place, and scorned to leave it. I tried to think I could paint without neglect of duty. It did not occur to me that painting was a duty for a married woman! Had the passion seized me before marriage, no other love could have come between me and art; but I felt that it was too late, as my life was already devoted to another object—housekeeping.
It was a hard struggle. I tried to compromise, but experience soon deprived me of that hope, for to paint was to be oblivious of all other things. In my doubt, I met one of those newspaper paragraphs with which men are wont to pelt women into subjection: "A man does not marry an artist, but a housekeeper." This fitted my case, and my doom was sealed.
I put away my brushes; resolutely crucified my divine gift, and while it hung writhing on the cross, spent my best years and powers cooking cabbage. "A servant of servants shall she be," must have been spoken of women, not negroes.
Friends have tried to comfort me by the assurance that my life-work has been better done by the pen, than it could have been with the pencil, but this cannot be. I have never cared for literary fame; have avoided, rather than sought it; have enjoyed the abuse of the press more than its praise; have held my pen with a feeling of contempt for its feebleness, and never could be so occupied with it as to forget a domestic duty, while I have never visited a picture gallery, but I have bowed in deep repentance for the betrayal of a trust.
Where are the pictures I should have given to the world? Where my record of the wrongs and outrages of my age; of the sorrows and joys; the trials and triumphs, that should have been written amid autumn and sunset glories in the eloquent faces and speaking forms which have everywhere presented themselves, begging to be interpreted? Why have I never put on canvas one pair of those pleading eyes, in which are garnered the woes of centuries?
Is that Christianity which has so long said to one-half of the race, "Thou shalt not use any gift of the Creator, if it be not approved by thy brother; and unto man, not God, thou shalt ever turn and ask, 'What wilt thou have me to do?'"
It was not only my art-love which must be sacrificed to my duty as a wife, but my literary tastes must go with it. "The husband is the head of the wife." To be head, he must be superior. An uncultivated husband could not be the superior of a cultivated wife. I knew from the first that his education had been limited, but thought the defect would be easily remedied as he had good abilities, but I discovered he had no love for books. His spiritual guides derided human learning and depended on inspiration. My knowledge stood in the way of my salvation, and I must be that odious thing—a superior wife—or stop my progress, for to be and appear were the same thing. I must be the mate of the man I had chosen; and if he would not come to my level, I must go to his. So I gave up study, and for years did not read one page in any book save the Bible. My religions convictions I could not change, but all other differences should disappear.
Mother moved to the city in the spring of 1838, and my health was rapidly failing. I had rebelled against my mother-in-law, returned her supplies, and refused to receive anything from her. This brought on a fearful crisis, in which my husband threatened suicide; but I was firm, and he concluded to rent the mills and take me away. This he did. His father lived but a few months, and died on the second anniversary of our marriage. He lies buried in the ground he donated as "God's acre," with only this inscription at his head: "John Swisshelm, aged 86." No sign that he was one of the world's heroes—yet, when our revolution broke out, his parents had but two children. The oldest enlisted and was killed, when John caught up his rifle, took his place, and kept it until the close of the war. He spent the winter in Valley Forge, and once, in the darkest time, discovered Washington on his knees in a lonely thicket, praying aloud for his country. This gave him hope, when hope was well-nigh dead, and he followed his commander across the Jerseys, one of the two thousand who wrote in blood, from their shoeless feet, their protest against British rule on the soil they thus consecrated to Freedom.
HABITATIONS OF HORRID CRUELTY.—AGE, 23, 24.
On the 6th of June, 1838, the white frost lay on the west side of Pittsburg roofs as we steamed away from her wharf, bound for Louisville, where my husband proposed going into a business already established by his brother Samuel.
On the boat, all the way down the river, the general topic of conversation was the contrast between the desolate slave-cursed shores of Kentucky, and the smiling plenty of the opposite bank; but Louisville was largely settled by Northern people, and was to prove an oasis in the desert of slavery.
It lay at the head of the Falls of the Ohio, and the general government had lately expended large sums in building a canal around them. Henry Clay was in the zenith of his power, slavery held possession of the national resources, Louisville might count on favors, and she was to be Queen City of the West. There was an aspiring little place which fancied itself a rival, a little boat-landing, without natural advantages, called Cincinnati, where they killed hogs; but it was quite absurd to think of her competing with the great metropolis at the head of the canal.
I was quite surprised to find there were a good many houses and folks in Cincinnati; but our boat did not stop long, and we soon reached our Eldorado. Before we effected a landing at the crowded wharf, I fell to wondering if a Pittsburg drayman could take a Louisville dray, its load, its three horses and ragged driver, pile them on his dray, and with his one horse take them to their destination—and I thought he could.
Samuel met us, and as we went in a hack to the boarding place he had engaged. I wondered what had happened that so many men were off work in the middle of the forenoon. Who or what could they be, those fellows in shining black broadcloth, each with a stove-pipe hat on the side of his head, his thumbs in the armholes of a satin vest, displaying a wonderful glimmer of gold chain and diamond stud, balancing himself first on his heels and then on his toes, as he rolled a cigar from one side of his mouth to the other? How did they come to be standing around on corners and doorsteps by the hundred, like crows on a cornfield fence?
It was some time before I learned that this was the advance guard of a great army of woman-whippers, which stretched away back to the Atlantic, and around the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and that they were out on duty as a staring brigade, whose business it was to insult every woman who ventured on the street without a male protector, by a stare so lascivious as could not be imagined on American free soil. I learned that they all lived, in whole or in part, by the sale of their own children, and the labor of the mothers extorted by the lash. I came to know one hoary-haired veteran, whose entire support came from the natural increase and wages of nineteen women, one of whom, a girl of eighteen, lived with him in a fashionable boarding-house, waited on him at table, slept in his room, and of whose yearly wages one hundred and seventy-five dollars were credited on his board bill.
I learned that none of the shapely hands displayed on the black vests, had ever used other implement of toil than a pistol, bowie-knife or slave-whip; that any other tool would ruin the reputation of the owner of the taper digits; but they did not lose caste by horsewhipping the old mammys from whose bosoms they had drawn life in infancy.
Our boarding-house was on Walnut street, one block west of the theatre, and looked toward the river. On the opposite side of the street stood a two-story brick house, always closed except when a negress opened and dusted the rooms. I never saw sadness or sorrow until I saw that face; and it did not appear except about her work, or when she emerged from a side gate to call in two mulatto children, who sometimes came out on the pavement.
This house belonged to a Northern "mudsill," who kept a grocery, and owned the woman, who was the mother of five children, of whom he was the father. The older two he had sold, one at a time, as they became saleable or got in his way. On the sale of the first, the mother "took on so that he was obliged to flog her almost to death before she gave up." But he had made her understand that their children were to be sold, at his convenience, and that he "would not have more than three little niggers about the house at one time."
After that first lesson she had been "reasonable."
Our hostess, a Kentucky lady, used to lament the loss of two boys—"two of the beautifulest boys!"
They were the sons of her bachelor uncle, who had had a passion for Liza, one of his father's slaves, a tall, handsome quadroon, who rejected his suit and was in love with Jo, a fellow slave. To punish both, the young master had Jo tied up and lashed until he fainted, while Liza was held so that she must witness the torture, until insensibility came to her relief. This was done three times, when Jo was sold, and Liza herself bound to the whipping-post, and lashed until she yielded, and became the mother of those two beautiful boys.
"But," added her biographer, "she never smiled after Jo was sold, took consumption and died when her youngest boy was two months old. They were the beautifulest boys I ever laid eyes on, and uncle sot great store by them. He couldn't bear to have them out of his sight, and always said he would give them to me. He would have done it, I know, if he had made a will; but he took sick sudden, raving crazy, and never got his senses for one minute. It often took three men to hold him on the bed. He thought he saw Jo and Liza, and died cursing and raving."
She paused to wipe away a tear, and added: "The boys were sold down South. Maybe your way, up North, is best, after all. I never knew a cruel master die happy. They are sure to be killed, or die dreadful!"
She had an old, rheumatic cook, Martha, who seldom left her basement kitchen, except when she went to her Baptist meeting, but for hours and hours she crooned heart-breaking melodies of that hope within her, of a better and a happier world.
She had a severe attack of acute inflammation of the eyelids, which forcibly closed her eyes, and kept them closed; then she refused to work.
Her wages, one hundred and seventy-five dollars a year, were paid to her owner, a woman, and these went on; so her employer sent for her owner, and I, as an abolitionist, was summoned to the conference, that I might learn to pity the sorrows of mistresses, and understand the deceitfulness of slaves.
The injured owner sat in the shaded parlor, in a blue-black satin dress, that might almost have stood upright without assistance from the flesh or bones inside; with the dress was combined a mass of lace and jewelry that represented a large amount of money, and the mass as it sat there, and as I recall it, has made costly attire odious.
This bedizzoned martyr, this costumer's advertisement, sat and fanned as she recounted her grievances. Her entire allowance for personal expenses, was the wages of nine women, and her husband would not give her another dollar. They, knowing her necessities, were so ungrateful!—nobody could think how ungrateful; but in all her sorrows, Martha was her crowning grief. She had had two husbands, and had behaved so badly when the first was sold. Then, every time one of her thirteen children were disposed of, she "did take on so;" nobody could imagine "how she took on!"
Once, the gentle mistress had been compelled to send her to the workhouse and have her whipped by the constable; and that cost fifty cents; but really, this martyr and her husband had grown weary of flogging Martha. One hated so to send a servant to the public whipping-post; it looked like cruelty—did cruelty lacerate the feelings of refined people, and it was so ungrateful in Martha, and all the rest of them, to torture this fine lady in this rough way.
As to Martha's ingratitude, there could be no doubt; for, to this, our hostess testified, and called me to witness, that she had sent her a cup of tea every day since she had complained of being sick; yes, "a cup of tea with sugar in it," and yet the old wretch had not gone to work.
When they had finished the recital of their grievances they came down to business. The owner would remit two week's wages; after that it was the business of the employer to pay them, and see that they were earned. If it were necessary now to send Martha to the whipping-post, the lady in satin would pay the fifty cents; but for any future flogging, the lady in lawn must be responsible to the City of Louisville.
We adjourned to the kitchen where old Martha stood before her judge, clutching the table with her hard hands, trembling in every limb, her eyelids swollen out like puff-balls, and offensive from neglect, her white curls making a border to her red turban, receiving her sentence without a word. As a sheep before her shearers she was dumb, opening not her mouth. Those wrinkled, old lips, from which I had heard few sounds, save those of prayer and praise, were closed by a cruelty perfectly incomprehensible in its unconscious debasement. Our hostess was a leading member of the Fourth St. M.E. Church, the other feminine fiend a Presbyterian.
I promised the Lord then and there, that for life, it should be my work to bring "deliverance to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound," but all I could do for Martha, was to give her such medical treatment as would restore her sight and save her from the whipping-post, and this I did.
While I lived on that dark and bloody ground, a man was beaten to death in an open shed, on the corner of two public streets, where the sound of the blows, the curses of his two tormentors, and his shrieks and unavailing prayers for mercy were continued a whole forenoon, and sent the complaining air shuddering to the ears of thousands, not one of whom offered any help.
A brown-haired girl, Maria, the educated, refined daughter of a Kentucky farmer, was lashed by her brutal purchaser, once, and again and again for chastity, where hundreds who heard the blows and shrieks knew the cause. From that house she was taken to the work-house and scourged by the public executioner, backed by the whole force of the United States government. Oh! God! Can this nation ever, ever be forgiven for the blood of her innocent children?
Passing a crowded church on a Sabbath afternoon, I stepped in, when the preacher was descanting on the power of religion, and, in illustration, he told of two wicked young men in that state, who were drinking and gambling on Sunday morning, when one said:
"I can lick the religion out of any nigger."
The other would bet one hundred dollars that he had a nigger out of whom the religion could not be licked. The bet was taken and they adjourned to a yard. This unique nigger was summoned, and proved to be a poor old man. His master informed him he had a bet on him, and the other party commanded him to "curse Jesus?" on pain of being flogged until he did. The old saint dropped on his knees before his master, and plead for mercy, saying:
"Massa! Massa! I cannot curse Jesus! Jesus die for me! He die for you, Massa. I no curse him; I no curse Jesus!"
The master began to repent. In babyhood he had ridden on those old bowed shoulders, then stalwart and firm, and he proposed to draw the bet, but the other wanted sport and would win the money. Oh! the horrible details that that preacher gave of that day's sport, of the lashings, and faintings, and revivals, with washes of strong brine, the prayers for mercy, and the recurring moan!
"I no curse Jesus, Massa! I no curse Jesus; Jesus die for me, Massa; I die for Jesus?"
As the sun went down Jesus took him, and his merciful master had sold a worthless nigger for one hundred dollars. But, the only point which the preacher made, was that one in favor of religion. When it could so support a nigger, what might it not do for one of the superior race?
For months I saw every day a boy who could not have been more than ten years old, but who seemed to be eight, and who wore an iron collar with four projections, and a hoop or bail up over his head. This had been put on him for the crime of running away; and was kept on to prevent a repetition of that crime. The master, who thus secured his property, was an Elder in the Second Presbyterian church, and led the choir.
The principal Baptist preacher owned and hired out one hundred slaves; took them himself to the public mart, and acted as auctioneer in disposing of their services. The time at which this was done, was in the Christmas holidays, or rather the last day of the year, when the slaves' annual week of respite ended.
A female member of the Fourth St. Methodist church was threatened with discipline, for nailing her cook to the fence by the ear with a ten-penny nail. The preacher in charge witnessed the punishment from a back window of his residence. Hundreds of others witnessed it, called by the shrieks of the victim; and his reverence protested, on the ground that such scenes were calculated to injure the church.
KENTUCKY CONTEMPT FOR LABOR.—AGE, 23, 24.
To a white woman in Louisville, work was a dire disgrace, and one Sabbath four of us sat suffering from thirst, with the pump across the street, when I learned that for me to go for a pitcher of water, would be so great a disgrace to the house as to demand my instant expulsion.
I grew tired doing nothing. My husband's business did not prosper, and I went to a dressmaker and asked for work. She was a New England woman, and after some shrewd questions, exclaimed:
"My dear child, go home to your mother! What does your husband mean? Does he not know you would be insulted at every step if you work for a living? Go home—go home to your mother!"
I was homesick, and the kindness of the voice and eyes made me cry. I told her I could not leave my husband.
"Then let him support you, or send you home until he can! I have seen too many like you go to destruction here. Go home."
I said that I could never go to destruction, but she interrupted me:
"You know nothing about it. You are a mere baby. They all thought as you do. Go home to your mother!"
"But I never can go to destruction! No evil can befall me, for He that keepeth Israel slumbers not nor sleeps."
She concluded to give me work, but said:
"I will send it by a servant. Don't you come here."
I never thrust my anti-slavery opinions on any one, but every Southerner inquired concerning them, and I gave true answers. There were many boarders in the house, and one evening when there were eighteen men in the parlor, these questions brought on a warm discussion, when one said:
"You had better take care how you talk, or we will give you a coat of tar and feathers."
I agreed to accept such gratuitous suit, and a Mississippi planter, who seemed to realize the situation, said gently:
"Indeed, madam, it is not safe for you to talk as you do."
"When reminded of constitutional guarantees for freedom of speech, and his enjoyment of it in my native State, he replied:
"There is no danger in Pennsylvania from freedom of speech, but if people were allowed to talk as you do here, it would overthrow our institutions."
There were mobs in the air. The mayor closed a Sunday-school, on the ground that in it slaves were taught to read. The teacher, a New England woman, denied the charge, and claimed that only free children had been taught, while slaves were orally instructed to obey their masters, as good Presbyterians, who hoped to escape the worm that never dies. Her defense failed, but seemed to establish the right of free colored people to a knowledge of the alphabet, but there was no school for them, and I thought to establish one.
Jerry Wade, the Gault House barber, was a mulatto, who had bought himself and family, and acquired considerable real estate. In the back of one of his houses, lived his son with a wife and little daughter. We rented the front, and mother sent me furniture. This was highly genteel, for it gave us the appearance of owning slaves, and Olivia, young Wade's wife, represented herself as my slave, to bring her and her child security. As a free negro, she labored under many disadvantages, so begged me to claim her.
In this house I started my school, and there were no lack of pupils whose parents were able and willing to pay for their tuition, but ruffians stood before the house and hooted at the "nigger school." Threatening letters were sent me, and Wade was notified that his house would be burned or sacked, if he permitted its use for such purpose. In one day my pupils were all withdrawn.
After this, I began to make corsets. It was a joy to fit the superb forms of Kentucky women, and my art-love found employment in it, but my husband did not succeed, and went down the river.
A man came to see if I could give work to his half-sister, for whose support he could not fully provide. She was a Fitzhugh,—a first Virginia family. Her father had died, leaving a bankrupt estate. She had learned dressmaking, and had come with him to Louisville to find work, but she was young and beautiful, and he dare not put her into a shop, but thought I might protect her, so she came to live with me.
One evening an old and wealthy citizen called about work I was doing for his wife, became interested in me, as a stranger who had seen little of Louisville, and tendered the use of his theatre-box and carriage to the young lady and myself. I declined, with thanks. When he had taken leave, Miss Fitzhugh sprang to her feet, and with burning cheeks and flashing eyes, demanded to know if I knew that that man had insulted us both. I did not know, but she did, and would tell Edward, who should cowhide him publicly. I told her that if Edward attempted that, he would probably lose his life, and we would certainly be dragged into a police court. Even if we had been insulted, it only proved that the old man thought we were like himself—that we were told in the Psalms that wicked men thought God was like themselves, and did approve their sin, and he did not have them cowhided. After a moment's reflection she sat down, exclaiming:
"Well, you are the strangest woman I ever did see!"
We never again saw the man, and I hope the incident helped the honest Edward in his loving task of protecting the fiery Fitzhugh.
My husband's trip down the river was a failure, and he went back home. Remembering he had heard me say I could do so much better at corset-making if I could buy goods at wholesale, he sold his Wilkinsburg property and turned the proceeds into dry goods. To me this seemed very unwise, but I tried to make the best of it, and we took a business house on Fourth street. I cut and fitted dresses, and with a tape-line could take a measure from which I could make a perfect fit without trying on. I soon had more work than I could do, and took two new girls, but the goods were dead stock. My Husband was out of employment, and tried to assist in my business. He was out most of the day, and in the evening wanted to retire early. I was busy all day, and could not go out alone after dark, so came to be a prisoner.
One warm evening I was walking back and forth in front of our house, though I knew it a great risk, when a man overtook me, cleared his throat as if to speak, and passed on to the lamp-post, which had made one limit of my walk. I did not shorten my path, and when I came up to the post he again cleared his throat as if to speak, and next time stepped out, lifted his hat, and remarked: