ISAAC T. HOPPER
A True Life
L. MARIA CHILD
Thine was a soul with sympathy imbued, Broad as the earth, and as the heavens sublime; Thy godlike object, steadfastly pursued, To save thy race from misery and crime.
HANNAH ATTMORE HOPPER,
WIDOW OF THE LATE
ISAAC T. HOPPER,
THIS VOLUME IS RESPECTFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED, BY HER GRATEFUL AND ATTACHED FRIEND,
L. MARIA CHILD.
This biography differs from most works of the kind, in embracing fragments of so many lives. Friend Hopper lived almost entirely for others; and it is a striking illustration of the fact, that I have found it impossible to write his biography without having it consist largely of the adventures of other people.
I have not recounted his many good deeds for the mere purpose of eulogizing an honored friend. I have taken pleasure in preserving them in this form, because I cherish a hope that they may fall like good seed into many hearts, and bring forth future harvests in the great field of humanity.
Most of the strictly personal anecdotes fell from his lips in familiar and playful conversation with his sister, or his grand-children, or his intimate friends, and I noted them down at the time, without his knowledge. In this way I caught them in a much more fresh and natural form, than I could have done if he had been conscious of the process.
The narratives and anecdotes of fugitive slaves, which form such a prominent portion of the book, were originally written by Friend Hopper himself, and published in newspapers, under the title of "Tales of Oppression." I have re-modelled them all; partly because I wished to present them in a more concise form, and partly because the principal actor could be spoken of more freely by a third person, than he could speak of himself. Moreover, he had a more dramatic way of telling a story than he had of writing it; and I have tried to embody his unwritten style as nearly as I could remember it. Where-ever incidents or expressions have been added to the published narratives, I have done it from recollection.
The facts, which were continually occurring within Friend Hopper's personal knowledge, corroborate the pictures of slavery drawn by Mrs. Stowe. Her descriptions are no more fictitious, than the narratives written by Friend Hopper. She has taken living characters and facts of every-day occurrence, and combined them in a connected story, radiant with the light of genius, and warm with the glow of feeling. But is a landscape any the less real, because there is sunshine on it, to bring out every tint, and make every dew-drop sparkle?
Who that reads the account here given of Daniel Benson, and William Anderson, can doubt that slaves are capable of as high moral excellence, as has ever been ascribed to them in any work of fiction? Who that reads Zeke, and the Quick Witted Slave, can pronounce them a stupid race, unfit for freedom? Who that reads the adventures of the Slave Mother, and of poor Manuel, a perpetual mourner for his enslaved children, can say that the bonds of nature are less strong with them, than with their more fortunate white brethren? Who can question the horrible tyranny under which they suffer, after reading The Tender Mercies of a Slaveholder, and the suicide of Romaine?
Friend Hopper labored zealously for many, many years; and thousands have applied their best energies of head and heart to the same great work; yet the slave-power in this country is as strong as ever—nay, stronger. Its car rolls on in triumph, and priests and politicians outdo each other in zeal to draw it along, over its prostrate victims. But, lo! from under its crushing wheels, up rises the bleeding spectre of Uncle Tom, and all the world turns to look at him! Verily, the slave-power is strong; but God and truth are stronger.
Allusions to his Parents. Anecdotes of Childhood. Allusions to Sarah his Wife. Allusions to Joseph Whitall. Anecdotes of Apprenticeship. His Religious Experience. Tales of Oppression and Anecdotes of Colored People. Anecdotes of Prisoners and of Vicious Characters in Philadelphia. His Love of Fun. Allusions to his Private Life and Domestic Character. Anecdotes connected with Quakers. Schism in the Society of Friends. Anecdotes connected with his Visit to England and Ireland. Anti-Slavery Experiences in New-York. His Attachment to the Principles and Usages of Friends. Disowned by the Society of Friends in New-York. His Connection with the Prison Association of New-York. His Illness, Death, and Funeral.
His birth. Anecdote of his Grandmother's Courage. His Childish Roguery. His Contest with British Soldiers. His Violent Temper. Conscientiousness in Boyhood. Tricks at School. Going to Mill. Going to Market. Anecdote of General Washington. Pelting the Swallows. Anecdote of the Squirrel and her young ones. The Pet Squirrel. The Pet Crow. Encounter with a Black Snake. Old Mingo the African. Boyish Love for Sarah Tatum. His Mother's parting advice when he leaves Home. Mischievous Trick at the Cider Barrel. He nearly harpoons his Uncle. He nearly kills a Fellow Apprentice. Adventure with a young Woman. His first Slave Case. His Youthful Love for Sarah Tatum. Nicholas Waln. Mary Ridgeway. William Savery. His early Religious Experience. Letter from Joseph Whitall. He marries Sarah Tatum. His interest in Colored People. Charles Webster. Ben Jackson. Thomas Cooper. A Child Kidnapped. Wagelma. James Poovey. Romaine. David Lea. The Slave Hunter. William Bachelor. Levin Smith. Etienne Lamaire. Samuel Johnson. Pierce Butler's Ben. Daniel Benson. The Quick-Witted Slave. James Davis. Mary Holliday. Thomas Harrison. James Lawler. William Anderson. Sarah Roach. Zeke. Poor Amy. Manuel. Slaveholders mollified. The United States Bond. The tender mercies of a Slaveholder. The Foreign Slave. The New-Jersey Slave. A Slave Hunter Defeated. Mary Morris. The Slave Mother. Colonel Ridgeley's Slave. Stop Thief! The Disguised Slaveholder. The Slave of Dr. Rich. His Knowledge of Law. Mutual Confidence between him and the Colored People. Mercy to Kidnappers. Richard Allen, the Colored Bishop. The Colored Guests at his Table. Kane the Colored Man fined for Blasphemy. John McGrier. Levi Butler. The Musical Boy. Mary Norris. The Magdalen. The Uncomplimentary Invitation. Theft from Necessity. Patrick M'Keever. The Umbrella Girl. The two young Offenders. His courageous intercourse with violent Prisoners. Not thoroughly Baptized. The puzzled Dutchman. Hint to an Untidy Neighbor. Resemblance to Napoleon. The Dress, Manners, and Character of Sarah, his wife. The Devil's Lane. Jacob Lindley's Anecdotes. Singular Clairvoyance of Arthur Howell, a Quaker Preacher. Prophetic Presentiment of his Mother. The aged Bondman emancipated. A Presentiment of Treachery. The Quaker who purchased a Stolen Horse. Elias Hicks and the Schism in the Society of Friends. Pecuniary difficulties. Death of his Wife. Death of his son Isaac. Journey to Maryland, and Testimony against Slavery. His marriage with Hannah Attmore. Removes to New-York. Matthew Carey's facetious Letter of Introduction. Anecdotes of his visit to England and Ireland. Anecdote of the Diseased Horse. Visit to William Penn's Grave. The Storm at Sea. Profane Language rebuked. The Clergyman and his Books. His Book-store in New-York. The Mob in Pearl-Street. Judge Chinn's Slave. One of his sons mobbed at the South. His Letter to the Mayor of Savannah. His Phrenological Character. His Unconsciousness of Distinctions in Society. The Darg Case. Letter from Dr. Moore. Mrs. Burke's Slave. Becomes Agent in the Anti-Slavery Office. His youthful appearance. Anecdotes showing his love of Fun. His sense of Justice. His Remarkable Memory. His Costume and Personal Habits. His Library. His Theology. His Adherence to Quaker Usages. Capital Punishment. Rights of Women. Expressions of gratitude from Colored People. His fund of Anecdotes and his Public Speaking. Remarks of Judge Edmonds thereon. His separation from the Society of Friends in New-York. Visit to his Birth-place. Norristown Convention. Visit from his Sister Sarah. Visit to Boston. Visit to Bucks County. Prison Association in New-York. Correspondence with Governor Young. Preaching in Sing Sing Chapel. Anecdotes of Dr. William Rogers. Interesting Cases of Reformed Convicts. Letter from Dr. Walter Channing. Anecdotes of William Savery and James Lindley at the South. Sonnet by William L. Garrison. His sympathy with Colored People turned out of the Cars. A Methodist Preacher from the South. His Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Law. His Domestic Character. He attracts Children. His Garden described in a Letter to L.M. Child. Likenesses of him. Letter concerning Joseph Whitall. Letters concerning Sarah his wife. Letter to his Daughter on his 80th Birth-day. Allusions to Hannah, his wife. Letter resigning the agency of the Prison Association. His last Illness. His Death. Letter from a Reformed Convict. Resolutions passed by the Prison Association. Resolutions passed by the Anti-Slavery Society. His Funeral. Lucretia Mott. Public Notices and Private Letters of Condolence. His Epitaph.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.
When the ear heard me, then it blessed me: and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me:
Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. Job xxix. 10, 11, 12, 13.
LIFE OF ISAAC T. HOPPER
Isaac Tatem Hopper was born in Deptford Township, near Woodbury, West New-Jersey, in the year 1771, on the third day of December, which Quakers call the Twelfth Month. His grandfather belonged to that denomination of Christians, but forfeited membership in the Society by choosing a wife from another sect. His son Levi, the father of Isaac, always attended their meetings, but never became a member.
A family of rigid Presbyterians, by the name of Tatem, resided in the neighborhood. While their house was being built, they took shelter for a few days, in a meeting-house that was little used, and dug a pit for a temporary cellar, according to the custom of new settlers in the forest. The country at that time was much infested with marauders; but Mrs. Tatem was an Amazon in physical strength and courage. One night, when her husband was absent, and she was alone in the depths of the woods with three small children, she heard a noise, and looking out saw a band of thieves stealing provisions from the cellar. They entered the meeting-house soon after, and she had the presence of mind to call out, "Hallo, Jack! Call Joe, and Harry, and Jim! Here's somebody coming." The robbers, supposing she had a number of stout defenders at hand, thought it prudent to escape as quickly as possible. The next day, her husband being still absent, she resolved to move into the unfinished house, for greater security. The door had neither lock nor latch, but she contrived to fasten it in some fashion. At midnight, three men came and tried to force it open; but every time they partially succeeded, she struck at them with a broad axe. This mode of defence was kept up so vigorously, that at last they were compelled to retreat.
She had a daughter, who was often at play with neighbor Hopper's children; and when Levi was quite a small boy, it used to be said playfully that little Rachel Tatem would be his wife, and they would live together up by the great white oak; a remarkable tree at some distance from the homestead. The children grew up much attached to each other, and when Levi was twenty-two years old, the prophecy was fulfilled.
The young man had only his own strong hands and five or six hundred acres of wild woodland. He grubbed up the trees and underbrush near the big white oak, removed his father's hen-house to the cleared spot, fitted it up comfortably for a temporary dwelling, and dug a cellar in the declivity of a hill near by. To this humble abode he conducted his young bride, and there his two first children were born. The second was named Isaac Tatem Hopper, and is the subject of this memoir.
Rachel inherited her mother's energy and courage, and having married a diligent and prudent man, their worldly circumstances gradually improved, though their family rapidly increased, and they had nothing but land and labor to rely upon. When Isaac was one year and a half old, the family removed to a new log-house with three rooms on a floor, neatly whitewashed. To these the bridal hen-house was appended for a kitchen.
Isaac was early remarked as a very precocious child. He was always peeping into everything, and inquiring about everything. He was only eighteen months old, when the new log-house was built; but when he saw them laying the foundation, his busy little mind began to query whether the grass would grow under it; and straightway he ran to see whether grass grew under the floor of the hen-house where he was born.
He was put to work on the farm as soon as he could handle a hoe; but though he labored hard, he had plenty of time and strength left for all manner of roguery. While he was a small fellow in petticoats, he ran into a duck-pond to explore its depth. His mother pulled him out, and said, "Isaac, if you ever go there again, I will make you come out faster than you went in." He thought to himself, "Now I will prove mother to be in the wrong; for I will go in as fast as I can, and surely I can't come out any faster." So into the pond he went, as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
A girl by the name of Polly assisted about the housework. She was considered one of the family, and always ate at the same table, according to the kindly custom of those primitive times. She always called her mistress "Mammy," and served her until the day of her death; a period of forty years. The children were much attached to this faithful domestic; but nevertheless, Isaac could not forbear playing tricks upon her whenever he had opportunity.—When he was five or six years old, he went out one night to see her milk the cow. He had observed that the animal kicked upon slight provocation; and when the pail was nearly full, he broke a switch from a tree near by, slipped round to the other side of the cow, and tickled her bag. She instantly raised her heels, and over went Polly, milk-pail, stool, and all. Isaac ran into the house, laughing with all his might, to tell how the cow had kicked over Polly and the pail of milk. His mother went out immediately to ascertain whether the girl was seriously injured.—"Oh, mammy, that little rogue tickled the cow, and made her do it," exclaimed Polly. Whereupon, Isaac had a spanking, and was sent to bed without his supper. But so great was his love of fun, that as he lay there, wakeful and hungry, he shouted with laughter all alone by himself, to think how droll Polly looked when she rolled over with the pail of milk after her.
When he was seven or eight years old, his uncle's wife came one day to the house on horseback. She was a fat, clumsy woman, and got on and off her horse with difficulty. Isaac knew that all the family were absent; but when he saw her come ambling along the road, he took a freak not to tell her of it. He let down the bars for her; she rode up to the horse-block with which every farm-house was then furnished, rolled off her horse, and went into the house. She then discovered, for the first time, that there was no one at home. After resting awhile, she mounted to depart. But Isaac, as full of mischief as Puck, put the bars up, so that she could not ride out. In vain she coaxed, scolded, and threatened. Finding it was all to no purpose, she rode up to the block and rolled off from her horse again.—Isaac, having the fear of her whip before his eyes, ran and hid himself. She let down the bars for herself, but before she could remount, the mischievous urchin had put the bars up again and run away.—This was repeated several times; and the exasperated visitor could never succeed in catching her tormentor. His parents came home in the midst of the frolic, and he had a sound whipping. He had calculated upon this result all the time, and the uneasy feeling had done much to mar his sport; but on the whole, he concluded such rare fun was well worth a flogging.
The boys at school were apt to neglect their lessons while they were munching apples. In order to break up this disorderly habit, the master made it a rule to take away every apple found upon them.—He placed such forfeited articles upon his desk, with the agreement that any boy might have them, who could succeed in abstracting them without being observed by him. One day, when a large rosy-cheeked apple stood temptingly on the desk, Isaac stepped up to have his pen mended. He stood very demurely at first, but soon began to gaze earnestly out of the window, behind the desk. The master inquired what he was looking at. He replied, "I am watching a flock of ducks trying to swim on the ice. How queerly they waddle and slide about!" "Ducks swim on ice!" exclaimed the schoolmaster; and he turned to observe such an unusual spectacle. It was only for an instant; but the apple meanwhile was transferred to the pocket of his cunning pupil. He smiled as he gave him his pen, and said, "Ah, you rogue, you are always full of mischief!"
The teacher was accustomed to cheer the monotony of his labors by a race with the boys during play hours. There was a fine sloping lawn in front of the school-house, terminating in a brook fringed with willows. The declivity gave an impetus to the runners, and as they came among the trees, their heads swiftly parted the long branches. Isaac tied a brick-bat to one of the pendant boughs, and then invited the master to run with him. He accepted the invitation, and got the start in the race. As he darted through the trees, the brick merely grazed his hair. If it had hit him, it might have cost him his life; though his mischievous pupil had not reflected upon the possibility of such a result.
There was a bridge across the brook consisting of a single rail. One day, Isaac sawed this nearly in two; and while the master was at play with the boys, he took the opportunity to say something very impertinent, for which he knew he should be chased. He ran toward the brook, crossed the rail in safety, and instantly turned it over, so that his pursuer would step upon it when the cut side was downward. It immediately snapped under his pressure, and precipitated him into the stream, while the young rogue stood by almost killing himself with laughter. But this joke also came very near having a melancholy termination; for the master was floated down several rods into deep water, and with difficulty saved himself from drowning.
There was a creek not far from his father's house, where it was customary to load sloops with wood. Upon one of these occasions, he persuaded a party of boys to pry up a pile of wood and tip it into a sloop, in a confused heap. Of course, it must all be taken out and reloaded. When he saw how much labor this foolish trick had caused, he felt some compunction; but the next temptation found the spirit of mischief too strong to be resisted.
Coming home from his uncle's one evening, he stopped to amuse himself with taking a gate off its hinges. When an old Quaker came out to see who was meddling with his gate, Isaac fired a gun over his head, and made him run into the house, as if an evil spirit were after him.
It was his delight to tie the boughs of trees together in narrow paths, that people travelling in the dark, might hit their heads against them; and to lay stones in the ruts of the road, when he knew that farmers were going to market with eggs, in the darkness of morning twilight. If any mischief was done for miles round, it was sure to be attributed to Isaac Hopper. There was no malice in his fun; but he had such superabounding life within him, that it would overflow, even when he knew that he must suffer for it. His boyish activity, strength, and agility were proverbial. Long after he left his native village, the neighbors used to tell with what astonishing rapidity he would descend high trees, head foremost, clinging to the trunk with his feet.
The fearlessness and firmness of character, which he inherited from both father and mother, manifested itself in many ways. He had a lamb, whose horns were crooked, and had a tendency to turn in. His father had given it to him for his own, on condition that he should keep the horns carefully filed, so that they should not hurt the animal. He had a small file on purpose, and took such excellent care of his pet, that it soon became very much attached to him, and trotted about after him like a dog. When he was about five or six years old, British soldiers came into the neighborhood to seize provisions for the army, according to their custom during our revolutionary war. They tied the feet of the tame lamb, and threw it into the cart with other sheep and lambs. Isaac came up to them in season to witness this operation, and his heart swelled with indignation. He sprang into the cart, exclaiming, "That's my lamb, and you shan't have it!" The men tried to push him aside; but he pulled out a rusty jack-knife, which he had bought of a pedlar for two-pence, and cut the rope that bound the poor lamb. A British officer rode up, and seeing a little boy struggling so resolutely with the soldiers, he inquired what was the matter. "They've stolen my lamb!" exclaimed Isaac; "and they shan't have it. It's my lamb!"
"Is it your lamb, my brave little fellow?" said the officer. "Well, they shan't have it. You'll make a fine soldier one of these days."
So Isaac lifted his lamb from the cart, and trudged off victorious. He had always been a whig; and after this adventure, he became more decided than ever in his politics. He often used to boast that he would rather have a paper continental dollar, than a golden English guinea. The family amused themselves by exciting his zeal, and Polly made him believe he was such a famous whig, that the British would certainly carry him off to prison. He generally thought he was fully capable of defending himself; but when he saw four soldiers approaching the house one day, he concluded the force was rather too strong for him, and hastened to hide himself in the woods.
His temper partook of the general strength and vehemence of his character. Having put a small quantity of gunpowder on the stove of the school-house, it exploded, and did some injury to the master. One of the boys, who was afraid of being suspected of the mischief, in order to screen himself, cried out, "Isaac Hopper did it!"—and Isaac was punished accordingly. Going home from school, he seized the informer as they were passing through a wood, tied him up to a tree, and gave him a tremendous thrashing. The boy threatened to tell of it; but he assured him that he would certainly kill him if he did; so he never ventured to disclose it.
In general, his conscience reproved him as soon as he had done anything wrong, and he hastened to make atonement. A poor boy, who attended the same school, usually brought a very scanty dinner. One day, the spirit of mischief led Isaac to spoil the poor child's provisions by filling his little pail with sand. When the boy opened it, all eagerness to eat his dinner, the tears came into his eyes; for he was very hungry. This touched Isaac's heart instantly. "Oh, never mind, Billy," said he. "I did it for fun; but I'm sorry I did it.. Come, you shall have half of my dinner." It proved a lucky joke for Billy; for from that day henceforth, Isaac always helped him plentifully from his own stock of provisions.
Isaac and his elder brother were accustomed to set traps in the woods to catch partridges. One day, when he was about six years old, he went to look at the traps early in the morning, and finding his empty, he took a plump partridge from his brother's trap, put it in his own, and carried it home as his. When his brother examined the traps, he said he was sure he caught the bird, because there were feathers sticking to his trap; but Isaac maintained that there were feathers sticking to his also. After he went to bed, his conscience scorched him for what he had done. As soon as he rose in the morning, he went to his mother and said, "What shall I do? I have told a lie, and I feel dreadfully about it. That was Sam's partridge. I said I took it from my trap; and so I did; but I put it in there first."
"My son, it is a wicked thing to tell a lie," replied his mother. "You must go to Sam and confess, and give him the bird."
Accordingly, he went to his brother, and said, "Sam, here's your partridge. I did take it out of my trap; but I put it in there first." His brother gave him a talking, and then forgave him.
Being a very bright, manly boy, he was intrusted to carry grain several miles to mill, when he was only eight years old. On one of these occasions, he arrived just as another boy, who preceded him, had alighted to open the gate. "Just let me drive in before you shut it," said Isaac, "and then I shall have no need to get down from my wagon." The boy patiently held the gate for him to pass through; but, Isaac, without stopping to thank him, whipped up his horse, arrived at the mill post haste, and claimed the right to be first served, because he was the first comer. When the other boy found he was compelled to wait, he looked very much dissatisfied, but said nothing. Isaac chuckled over his victory at first, but his natural sense of justice soon suggested better thoughts. He asked himself whether he had done right thus to take advantage of that obliging boy? The longer he reflected upon it, the more uncomfortable he felt. At last, he went up to the stranger and said frankly, "I did wrong to drive up to the mill so fast, and get my corn ground, when you were the one who arrived first; especially as you were so obliging as to hold the gate open for me to pass through. I was thinking of nothing but fun when I did it. Here's sixpence to make up for it." The boy was well pleased with the amend thus honorably offered, and they parted right good friends.
At nine years old, he began to drive a wagon to Philadelphia, to sell vegetables and other articles from his father's farm; which he did very satisfactorily, with the assistance of a neighbor, who occupied the next stall in the market. According to the fashion of the times, he wore a broad-brimmed hat, and small-clothes with long stockings. Being something of a dandy, he prided himself upon having his shoes very clean, and his white dimity small clothes without spot or blemish. He caught rabbits, and sold them, till he obtained money enough to purchase brass buckles for his knees, and for the straps of his shoes. The first time he made his appearance in the city with this new finery, he felt his ambition concerning personal decoration completely satisfied. The neatness of his dress, and his manly way of proceeding, attracted attention, and induced his customers to call him "THE LITTLE GOVERNOR." For several years, he was universally known in the market by that title. Fortunately, his father had no wish to obtain undue advantage in the sale of his produce; for had it been otherwise, his straight-forward little son would have proved a poor agent in transacting his affairs. One day, when a citizen inquired the price of a pair of chickens, he answered, with the utmost simplicity, "My father told me to sell them for fifty cents if I could; and if not, to take forty."
"Well done, my honest little fellow!" said the gentleman, smiling, "I will give you whatever is the current price. I shall look out for you in the market; and whenever I see you, I shall always try to trade with you." And he kept his word.
When quite a small boy, he was sent some distance of an errand, and arrived just as the family were about to sit down to supper. There were several pies on the table, and they invited him to partake. The long walk had whetted his appetite, and the pies looked exceedingly tempting; but the shyness of childhood led him to say, "No, I thank you." When he had delivered his message, he lingered, and lingered, hoping they would ask him again. But the family were Quakers, and they understood yea to mean yea, and nay to mean nay. They would have considered it a mere worldly compliment to repeat the invitation; so they were silent. Isaac started for home, much repenting of his bashfulness, and went nearly half of the way revolving the subject in his mind. He then walked back to the house, marched boldly into the supper-room, and said, "I told a lie when I was here. I did want a piece of pie; but I thought to be sure you would ask me again." This explicit avowal made them all smile, and he was served with as much pie as he wished to eat.
The steadfastness of his whig principles led him to take a lively interest in anecdotes concerning revolutionary heroes. His mother had a brother in Philadelphia, who lived in a house formerly occupied by William Penn, at the corner of Second Street and Norris Alley. This uncle frequently cut and made garments for General Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other distinguished men. Nothing pleased Isaac better than a visit to this city relative; and when there, his boyish mind was much occupied with watching for the famous men, of whom he had heard so much talk. Once, when General Washington came there to order some garments, he followed him a long distance from the shop. The General had observed his wonder and veneration, and was amused by it. Coming to a corner of the street, he turned round suddenly, touched his hat, and made a very low bow. This playful condescension so completely confused his juvenile admirer, that he stood blushing and bewildered for an instant, then walked hastily away, without remembering to return the salutation. The tenderness of spirit often manifested by him, was very remarkable in such a resolute and mischievous boy. There was an old unoccupied barn in the neighborhood, a favorite resort of swallows in the Spring-time. When he was about ten years old, he invited a number of boys to meet him the next Sunday morning, to go and pelt the swallows. They set off on this expedition with anticipations of a fine frolic; but before they had gone far, Isaac began to feel a strong conviction that he was doing wrong. He told his companions he thought it was very cruel sport to torment and kill poor little innocent birds; especially as they might destroy mothers, and then the little ones would be left to starve. There was a Quaker meeting-house about a mile and a half distant, and he proposed that they should all go there, and leave the swallows in peace. But the boys only laughed at him, and ran off shouting, "Come on! Come on!" He looked after them sorrowfully for some minutes, reproaching himself for the suffering he had caused the poor birds. He then walked off to meeting alone; and his faithfulness to the light within him was followed by a sweet peacefulness and serenity of soul. The impression made by this incident, and the state of mind he enjoyed while in meeting, was one of the earliest influences that drew him into the Society of Friends.—When he returned home, he heard that one of the boys had broken his arm while stoning the swallows, and had been writhing with pain, while he had been enjoying the consolations of an approving conscience.
At an early age, he was noted for being a sure shot, with bow and arrow, or with gun. A pair of king-birds built in his father's orchard, and it was desirable to get rid of them, because they destroy honey-bees. Isaac watched for an opportunity, and one day when the birds flew away in quest of food for their young, he transfixed them both at once with his arrow. At first, he was much delighted with this exploit; but his compassionate heart soon became troubled about the orphan little ones, whom he pictured to himself as anxiously expecting the parents that would never return to feed them again. This feeling gained such strength within him, that he early relinquished the practice of shooting, though he found keen excitement in the pursuit, and was not a little proud of his skill.
Once, when he had entrapped a pair of partridges, he put them in a box, intending to keep them there. But he soon began to query with himself whether creatures accustomed to fly must not necessarily be very miserable shut up in such a limited space. He accordingly opened the door. One of the partridges immediately walked out, but soon returned to prison to invite his less ventursome mate. The box was removed a few days after, but the birds remained about the garden for months, often coming to the door-step to pick up crumbs that were thrown to them. When the mating-season returned the next year, they retired to the woods.
From earliest childhood he evinced great fondness for animals, and watched with lively interest all the little creatures of the woods and fields. He was familiar with all their haunts, and they gave names to the localities of his neighborhood. There was Turkey Causeway, where wild turkies abounded; and Rabbit Swamp, where troops of timid little rabbits had their hiding places; and Squirrel Grove, where many squirrels laid in their harvest of acorns for the winter; and Panther Bridge, where his grandfather had killed a panther.
Once, when his father and the workmen had been cutting down a quantity of timber, Isaac discovered a squirrel's nest in a hole of one of the trees that had fallen. It contained four new-born little ones, their eyes not yet opened. He was greatly tempted to carry them home, but they were so young that they needed their mother's milk. So after examining them, he put them back in the nest, and with his usual busy helpfulness went to assist in stripping bark from the trees. When he went home from his work, toward evening, he felt curious to see how the mother squirrel would behave when she returned and found her home was gone. He accordingly hid himself in a bush to watch her proceedings. About dusk, she came running along the stone wall with a nut in her mouth, and went with all speed to the old familiar tree. Finding nothing but a stump remaining there, she dropped the nut and looked around in evident dismay. She went smelling all about the ground, then mounted the stump to take a survey of the country. She raised herself on her hind legs and snuffed the air, with an appearance of great perplexity and distress. She ran round the stump several times, occasionally raising herself on her hind legs, and peering about in every direction, to discover what had become of her young family. At last, she jumped on the prostrate trunk of the tree, and ran along till she came to the hole where her babies were concealed. What the manner of their meeting was nobody can tell; but doubtless the mother's heart beat violently when she discovered her lost treasures all safe on the warm little bed of moss she had so carefully prepared for them. After staying a few minutes to give them their supper, she came out, and scampered off through the bushes. In about fifteen minutes, she returned and took one of the young ones in her mouth, and carried it quickly to a hole in another tree, three or four hundred yards off, and then came back and took the others, one by one, till she had conveyed them all to their new home. The intelligent instinct manifested by this little quadruped excited great interest in Isaac's observing mind. When he drove the cows to pasture, he always went by that tree, to see how the young family were getting along. In a short time, they were running all over the tree with their careful mother, eating acorns under the shady boughs, entirely unconscious of the perils through which they had passed in infancy.
Some time after, Isaac traded with another boy for a squirrel taken from the nest before its eyes were open. He made a bed of moss for it, and fed it very tenderly. At first, he was afraid it would not live; but it seemed healthy, though it never grew so large as other squirrels. He did not put it in a cage; for he said to himself that a creature made to frisk about in the green woods could not be happy shut up in a box. This pretty little animal became so much attached to her kind-hearted protector, that she would run about after him, and come like a kitten whenever he called her. While he was gone to school, she frequently ran off to the woods and played with wild squirrels on a tree that grew near his path homeward. Sometimes she took a nap in a large knot-hole, or, if the weather was very warm, made a cool bed of leaves across a crotch of the boughs, and slept there. When Isaac passed under the tree, on his way from school, he used to call "Bun! Bun! Bun!" If she was there, she would come to him immediately, run up on his shoulder, and so ride home to get her supper.
It seemed as if animals were in some way aware of his kindly feelings, and disposed to return his confidence; for on several occasions they formed singular intimacies with him. When he was six or seven years old, he spied a crow's nest in a high tree, and, according to his usual custom, he climbed up to make discoveries. He found that it contained two eggs, and he watched the crow's movements until her young ones were hatched and ready to fly. Then he took them home. One was accidentally killed a few days after, but he reared the other, and named it Cupid. The bird became so very tame, that it would feed from his hand, perch on his shoulder, or his hat, and go everywhere with him. It frequently followed him for miles, when he went to mill or market. He was never put into a cage, but flew in and out of the house, just as he pleased. If Isaac called "Cu! Cu!" he would hear him, even if he were up in the highest tree, would croak a friendly answer, and come down directly. If Isaac winked one eye, the crow would do the same. If he winked his other eye, the crow also winked with his other eye. Once when Cupid was on his shoulder, he pointed to a snake lying in the road, and said "Cu! Cu!"—The sagacious bird pounced on the head of the snake and killed him instantly; then flew back to his friend's shoulder, cawing with all his might, as if delighted with his exploit. If a stranger tried to take him, he would fly away, screaming with terror. Sometimes Isaac covered him with a handkerchief and placed him on a stranger's shoulder; but as soon as he discovered where he was, he seemed frightened almost to death. He usually chose to sleep on the roof of a shed, directly under Isaac's bed-room window. One night he heard him cawing very loud, and the next morning he said to his father, "I heard Cupid talking in his sleep last night." His father inquired whether he had seen him since; and when Isaac answered, "No," he said, "Then I am afraid the owls have taken him." The poor bird did not make his appearance again; and a few days after, his bones and feathers were found on a stump, not far from the house. This was a great sorrow for Isaac. It tried his young heart almost like the loss of a brother.
His intimacy with animals was of a very pleasant nature, except on one occasion, when he thrust his arm into a hollow tree, in search of squirrels, and pulled out a large black snake. He was so terrified, that he tumbled headlong from the tree, and it was difficult to tell which ran away fastest, he or the snake. This incident inspired the bold boy with fear, which he vainly tried to overcome during the remainder of his life. There was a thicket of underbrush between his father's farm and the village of Woodbury. Once, when he was sent of an errand to the village, he was seized with such a dread of snakes, that before entering among the bushes, he placed his basket on an old rail, knelt down and prayed earnestly that he might pass through without encountering a snake. When he rose up and attempted to take his basket, he perceived a large black snake lying close beside the rail. It may well be believed that he went through the thicket too fast to allow any grass to grow under his feet.
When he drove the cows to and from pasture, he often met an old colored man named Mingo. His sympathizing heart was attracted toward him, because he had heard the neighbors say he was stolen from Africa when he was a little boy. One day, he asked Mingo what part of the world he came from; and the poor old man told how he was playing with other children among the bushes, on the coast of Africa, when white men pounced upon them suddenly and dragged them off to a ship. He held fast hold of the thorny bushes, which tore his hands dreadfully in the struggle. The old man wept like a child, when he told how he was frightened and distressed at being thus hurried away from father, mother, brothers and sisters, and sold into slavery, in a distant land, where he could never see or hear from them again. This painful story made a very deep impression upon Isaac's mind; and, though he was then only nine years old, he made a solemn vow to himself that he would be the friend of oppressed Africans during his whole life.
He was as precocious in love, as in other matters. Not far from his home, lived a prosperous and highly respectable Quaker family, named Tatum. There were several sons, but only one daughter; a handsome child, with clear, fair complexion, blue eyes, and a profusion of brown curly hair. She was Isaac's cousin, twice removed; for their great-grandfathers were half-brothers. When he was only eight years old, and she was not yet five, he made up his mind that little Sarah Tatum was his wife. He used to walk a mile and a half every day, on purpose to escort her to school. When they rambled through the woods, in search of berries, it was his delight to sit beside her on some old stump, and twist her glossy brown ringlets over his fingers. A lovely picture they must have made in the green, leafy frame-work of the woods—that fair, blue-eyed girl, and the handsome, vigorous boy! When he was fourteen years old, he wrote to her his first love-letter. The village schoolmaster taught for very low wages, and was not remarkably well-qualified for his task; as was generally the case at that early period. Isaac's labor was needed on the farm all the summer; consequently, he was able to attend school only three months during the winter. He was, therefore, so little acquainted with the forms of letter-writing, that he put Sarah's name inside the letter, and his own on the outside. She, being an only daughter, and a great pet in her family, had better opportunities for education. She told her young lover that was not the correct way to write a letter, and instructed him how to proceed in future. From that time, they corresponded constantly.
Isaac likewise formed a very strong friendship with his cousin Joseph Whitall, who was his schoolmate, and about his own age. They shared together all their joys and troubles, and were companions in all boyish enterprises. Thus was a happy though laborious childhood passed in the seclusion of the woods, in the midst of home influences and rustic occupations. His parents had no leisure to bestow on intellectual culture; for they had a numerous family of children, and it required about all their time to feed and clothe them respectably. But they were worthy, kind-hearted people, whose moral precepts were sustained by their upright example. His father was a quiet man, but exceedingly firm and energetic. When he had made up his mind to do a thing, no earthly power could turn him from his purpose; especially if any question of conscience were involved therein. During the revolutionary war, he faithfully maintained his testimony against the shedding of blood, and suffered considerably for refusing to pay military taxes. Isaac's mother was noted for her fearless character, and blunt directness of speech. She was educated in the Presbyterian faith, and this was a source of some discordant feeling between her and her husband. The preaching of her favorite ministers seemed to him harsh and rigid, while she regarded Quaker exhortations as insipid and formal. But as time passed on, her religious views assimilated more and more with his; and about twenty-four years after their marriage, she joined the Society of Friends, and frequently spoke at their meetings. She was a spiritual minded woman, always ready to sympathise with the afflicted, and peculiarly kind to animals. They were both extremely hospitable and benevolent to the poor. On Sunday evenings, they convened all the family to listen to the Scriptures and other religious books.—In his journal Isaac alludes to this custom, and says: "My mind was often solemnized by these opportunities, and I resolved to live more consistently with the principles of christian sobriety."
When he was sixteen years old, it became a question to what business he should devote himself.—There was a prospect of obtaining a situation for him in a store at Philadelphia; and for that purpose it was deemed expedient that he should take up his abode for a while with his maternal uncle, whose house he had been so fond of visiting in early boyhood. He did not succeed in obtaining the situation he expected, but remained in the city on the look-out for some suitable employment. Meanwhile, he was very helpful to his uncle, who, finding him diligent and skillful, tried to induce him to learn his trade.—It was an occupation ill-adapted to his vigorous body and active mind; but he was not of a temperament to fold his hands and wait till something "turned up;" and as his uncle was doing a prosperous business, he concluded to accept his proposition. About the same time, his beloved cousin, Joseph Whitall, was sent to Trenton to study law. This was rather a severe trial to Isaac's feelings. Not that he envied his superior advantages; but he had sad forebodings that separation would interrupt their friendship, and that such a different career would be very likely to prevent its renewal. They parted with mutual regret, and did not meet again for several years.
When Isaac bade adieu to the paternal roof, his mother looked after him thoughtfully, and remarked to one of his sisters, "Isaac is no common boy.—He will do something great, either for good or evil." She called him back and said, "My son, you are now going forth to make your own way in the world. Always remember that you are as good as any other person; but remember also that you are no better." With this farewell injunction, he departed for Philadelphia, where he soon acquired the character of a faithful and industrious apprentice.
But his boyish love of fun was still strong within him, and he was the torment of all his fellow apprentices. One of them, named William Roberts, proposed that they should go together into the cellar to steal a pitcher of cider. Isaac pulled the spile, and while William was drawing the liquor, he took an unobserved opportunity to hide it. When the pitcher was full, he pretended to look all around for it, without being able to find it. At last, he told his unsuspecting comrade that he must thrust his finger into the hole and keep it there, while he went to get another spile. William waited and waited for him to return, but when an hour or more had elapsed, his patience was exhausted, and he began to Halloo!—The noise, instead of bringing Isaac to his assistance, brought the mistress of the house, who caught the culprit at the cider-barrel, and gave him a severe scolding, to the infinite gratification of his mischievous companion.
Once, when the family were all going away, his uncle left the house in charge of him and another apprentice, telling them to defend themselves if any robbers came. Having a mind to try the courage of the lads, he returned soon after, and attempted to force a window in the back part of the house, which opened upon a narrow alley inclosed by a high fence. As soon as Isaac heard the noise, he seized an old harpoon that was about the premises, and told his companion to open the window the instant he gave the signal. His orders were obeyed, and he flung the harpoon with such force, that it passed through his uncle's vest and coat, and nailed him tight to the fence. When he told the story, he used to say he never afterward deemed it necessary to advise Isaac to defend himself.
Among the apprentices was one much older and stouter than the others. He was very proud of his physical strength, and delighted to play the tyrant over those who were younger and weaker than himself. When Isaac saw him knocking them about, he felt an almost irresistible temptation to fight; but his uncle was a severe man, likely to be much incensed by quarrels among his apprentices. He knew, moreover, that a battle between him and Samson would be very unequal; so he restrained his indignation as well as he could. But one day, when the big bully knocked him down, without the slightest provocation, he exclaimed, in great wrath, "If you ever do that again, I'll kill you. Mind what I say. I tell you I'll kill you."
Samson snapped his fingers and laughed, and the next day he knocked him down again. Isaac armed himself with a heavy window-bar, and when the apprentices were summoned to breakfast, he laid wait behind a door, and levelled a blow at the tyrant, as he passed through. He fell, without uttering a single cry. When the family sat down to breakfast, Mr. Tatem said, "Where is Samson?"
His nephew coolly replied, "I've killed him."
"Killed him!" exclaimed the uncle. "What do you mean?"
"I told him I would kill him if he ever knocked me down again," rejoined Isaac; "and I have killed him."
They rushed out in the utmost consternation, and found the young man entirely senseless. A physician was summoned, and for some time they feared he was really dead. The means employed to restore him were at last successful; but it was long before he recovered from the effects of the blow. When Isaac saw him so pale and helpless, a terrible remorse filled his soul. He shuddered to think how nearly he had committed murder, in one rash moment of unbridled rage. This awful incident made such a solemn and deep impression on him, that from that time he began to make strong and earnest efforts to control the natural impetuosity of his temper; and he finally attained to a remarkable degree of self-control. Weary hours of debility brought wiser thoughts to Samson also; and when he recovered his strength, he never again misused it by abusing his companions.
In those days, Isaac did not profess to be a Quaker. He used the customary language of the world, and liked to display his well-proportioned figure in neat and fashionable clothing. The young women of his acquaintance, it is said, looked upon him with rather favorable eyes; but his thoughts never wandered from Sarah Tatum for a single day. Once, when he had a new suit of clothes, and stylish boots, the tops turned down with red, a young man of his acquaintance invited him to go home with him on Saturday evening and spend Sunday. He accepted the invitation, and set out well pleased with the expedition. The young man had a sister, who took it into her head that the visit was intended as an especial compliment to herself. The brother was called out somewhere in the neighborhood, and as soon as she found herself alone with their guest, she began to specify, in rather significant terms, what she should require of a man who wished to marry her.—Her remarks made Isaac rather fidgetty; but he replied, in general terms, that he thought her ideas on the subject were very correct. "I suppose you think my father will give me considerable money," said she; "but that is a mistake. Whoever takes me must take me for myself alone."
The young man tried to stammer out that he did not come on any such errand; but his wits were bewildered by this unexpected siege, and he could not frame a suitable reply. She mistook his confusion for the natural timidity of love, and went on to express the high opinion she entertained of him. Isaac looked wistfully at the door, in hopes her brother would come to his rescue. But no relief came from that quarter, and fearing he should find himself engaged to be married without his own consent, he caught up his hat and rushed out. It was raining fast, but he splashed through mud and water, without stopping to choose his steps. Crossing the yard in this desperate haste, he encountered the brother, who called out, "Where are you going?"
"I'm going home," he replied.
"Going home!" exclaimed his astonished friend, "Why it is raining hard; and you came to stay all night. What does possess you, Isaac? Come back! Come back, I say!"
"I won't come back!" shouted Isaac, from the distance. "I'm going home." And home he went.—His new clothes were well spattered, and his red-top boots loaded with mud; but though he prided himself on keeping his apparel in neat condition, he thought he had got off cheaply on this occasion.
Soon after he went to reside in Philadelphia, a sea captain by the name of Cox came to his uncle's on a visit. As the captain was one day passing through Norris Alley, he met a young colored man, named Joe, whose master he had known in Bermuda. He at once accused him of being a runaway slave, and ordered him to go to the house with him. Joe called him his old friend, and seemed much pleased at the meeting. He said he had been sent from Bermuda to New-York in a vessel, which he named; he had obtained permission to go a few miles into the country, to see his sister, and while he was gone, the vessel unfortunately sailed; he called upon the consignee and asked what he had better do under the circumstances, and he told him that his captain had left directions for him to go to Philadelphia and take passage home by the first vessel. Captain Cox was entirely satisfied with this account. He said there was a vessel then in port, which would sail for Bermuda in a few days, and told Joe he had better go and stay with him at Mr. Tatem's house, while he made inquiries about it.
When Isaac entered the kitchen that evening, he found Joe sitting there, in a very disconsolate attitude; and watching him closely he observed tears now and then trickling down his dark cheeks. He thought of poor old Mingo, whose pitiful story had so much interested him in boyhood, and caused him to form a resolution to be the friend of Africans.—The more he pondered on the subject, the more he doubted whether Joe was so much pleased to meet his "old friend," as he had pretended to be. He took him aside and said, "Tell me truly how the case stands with you. I will be your friend; and come what will, you may feel certain that I will never betray you." Joe gave him an earnest look of distress and scrutiny, which his young benefactor never forgot. Again he assured him, most solemnly, that he might trust him. Then Joe ventured to acknowledge that he was a fugitive slave, and had great dread of being returned into bondage. He said his master let him out to work on board a ship going to New-York. He had a great desire for freedom, and when the vessel arrived at its destined port, he made his escape, and travelled to Philadelphia, in hopes of finding some one willing to protect him. Unluckily, the very day he entered the City of Brotherly Love he met his old acquaintance Captain Cox; and on the spur of the moment he had invented the best story he could.
Isaac was then a mere lad, and he had been in Philadelphia too short a time to form many acquaintances; but he imagined what his own feelings would be if he were in poor Joe's situation, and he determined to contrive some way or other to assist him. He consulted with a prudent and benevolent neighbor, who told him that a Quaker by the name of John Stapler, in Buck's County, was a good friend to colored people, and the fugitive had better be sent to him. Accordingly, a letter was written to Friend Stapler, and given to Joe, with instructions how to proceed. Meanwhile, Captain Cox brought tidings that he had secured a passage to Bermuda. Joe thanked him, and went on board the vessel, as he was ordered. But a day or two after, he obtained permission to go to Mr. Tatem's house to procure some clothes he had left there. It was nearly sunset when he left the ship and started on the route, which Isaac had very distinctly explained to him. When the sun disappeared, the bright moon came forth.—By her friendly light, he travelled on with a hopeful heart until the dawn of day, when he arrived at Friend Stapler's house and delivered the letter. He was received with great kindness, and a situation was procured for him in the neighborhood, where he spent the remainder of his life comfortably, with "none to molest or make him afraid."
This was the first opportunity Isaac had of carrying into effect his early resolution to befriend the oppressed Africans.
While the experiences of life were thus deepening and strengthening his character, the fair child, Sarah Tatum, was emerging into womanhood. She was a great belle in her neighborhood, admired by the young men for her comely person, and by the old for her good sense and discreet manners. He had many competitors for her favor. Once, when he went to invite her to ride to Quarterly Meeting, he found three Quaker beaux already there, with horses and sleighs for the same purpose. But though some of her admirers abounded in worldly goods, her mind never swerved from the love of her childhood. The bright affectionate school-boy, who delighted to sit with her under the shady trees, and twist her shining curls over his fingers, retained his hold upon her heart as long as its pulses throbbed.
Her father at first felt some uneasiness, lest his daughter should marry out of the Society of Friends. But Isaac had been for some time seriously impressed with the principles they professed, and when he assured the good old gentleman that he would never take Sarah out of the Society, of which she was born a member, he was perfectly satisfied to receive him as a son-in-law.
At that period, there were several remarkable individuals among Quaker preachers in that part of the country, and their meetings were unusually lively and spirit-stirring. One of them, named Nicholas Waln, was educated in the Society of Friends, but in early life seems to have cared little about their principles. He was then an ambitious, money-loving man, remarkably successful in worldly affairs. But the principles inculcated in childhood probably remained latent within him; for when he was rapidly acquiring wealth and distinction by the practice of law, he suddenly relinquished it, from conscientious motives. This change of feeling is said to have been owing to the following incident. He had charge of an important case, where a large amount of property was at stake. In the progress of the cause, he became more and more aware that right was not on the side of his client; but to desert him in the midst was incompatible with his ideas of honor as a lawyer. This produced a conflict within him, which he could not immediately settle to his own satisfaction. A friend, who met him after the case was decided, inquired what was the result. He replied, "I did the best I could for my client. I have gained the cause for him, and have thereby defrauded an honest man of his just dues." He seemed sad and thoughtful, and would never after plead a cause at the bar. He dismissed his students, and returned to his clients all the money he had received for unfinished cases. For some time afterward, he appeared to take no interest in anything but his own religious state of feeling. He eventually became a preacher, very popular among Friends, and much admired by others.—His sermons were usually short, and very impressive. A contemporary thus describes the effect of his preaching: "The whole assembly seemed to be baptized together, and so covered with solemnity, that when the meeting broke up, no one wished to enter into conversation with another." He was particularly zealous against a paid ministry, and not unfrequently quoted the text, "Put me in the priest's office, I pray thee, that I may eat a piece of bread." One of his most memorable discourses began with these words: "The lawyers, the priests, and the doctors, these are the deceivers of men." He was so highly esteemed, that when he entered the court-house, as he occasionally did, to aid the poor or the oppressed in some way, it was not uncommon for judges and lawyers to rise spontaneously in token of respect.—Isaac had great veneration for his character, and was much edified by his ministry.
Mary Ridgeway, a small, plain, uneducated woman, was likewise remarkably persuasive and penetrating in her style of preaching, which appeared to Isaac like pure inspiration. Her exhortations took deep hold of his youthful feelings, and strongly influenced him to a religious life.
But more powerful than all other agencies was the preaching of William Savery. He was a tanner by trade; remarked by all who knew him as a man who "walked humbly with his God." One night, a quantity of hides were stolen from his tannery, and he had reason to believe that the thief was a quarrelsome, drunken neighbor, whom I will call John Smith. The next week, the following advertisement appeared in the County newspaper: "Whoever stole a lot of hides on the fifth of the present month, is hereby informed that the owner has a sincere wish to be his friend. If poverty tempted him to this false step, the owner will keep the whole transaction secret, and will gladly put him in the way of obtaining money by means more likely to bring him peace of mind." This singular advertisement attracted considerable attention; but the culprit alone knew whence the benevolent offer came. When he read it, his heart melted within him, and he was filled with contrition for what he had done. A few nights afterward, as the tanner's family were about retiring to rest, they heard a timid knock, and when the door was opened, there stood John Smith with a load of hides on his shoulder. Without looking up, he said, "I have brought these back, Mr. Savery. Where shall I put them?" "Wait till I can light a lantern, and I will go to the barn with thee," he replied.—"Then perhaps thou wilt come in and tell me how this happened. We will see what can be done for thee." As soon as they were gone out, his wife prepared some hot coffee, and placed pies and meat on the table. When they returned from the barn, she said "Neighbor Smith, I thought some hot supper would be good for thee." He turned his back toward her and did not speak. After leaning against the fire-place in silence for a moment, he said, in a choked voice, "It is the first time I ever stole anything, and I have felt very bad about it. I don't know how it is. I am sure I didn't think once that I should ever come to be what I am. But I took to drinking, and then to quarrelling. Since I began to go down hill, everybody gives me a kick. You are the first man who has ever offered me a helping hand. My wife is sickly, and my children are starving. You have sent them many a meal, God bless you! and yet I stole the hides from you, meaning to sell them the first chance I could get. But I tell you the truth when I say it is the first time I was ever a thief."
"Let it be the last, my friend," replied William Savery. "The secret shall remain between ourselves. Thou art still young, and it is in thy power to make up for lost time. Promise me that thou wilt not drink any intoxicating liquor for a year, and I will employ thee to-morrow at good wages. Perhaps we may find some employment for thy family also. The little boy can at least pick up stones.—But eat a bit now, and drink some hot coffee. Perhaps it will keep thee from craving anything stronger to-night. Doubtless, thou wilt find it hard to abstain at first; but keep up a brave heart, for the sake of thy wife and children, and it will soon become easy. When thou hast need of coffee, tell Mary, and she will always give it to thee."
The poor fellow tried to eat and drink, but the food seemed to choke him. After an ineffectual effort to compose his excited feelings, he bowed his head on the table, and wept like a child. After a while, he ate and drank with good appetite; and his host parted with him for the night with this kindly exhortation; "Try to do well, John; and thou wilt always find a friend in me."
He entered into his employ the next day, and remained with him many years, a sober, honest, and faithful man. The secret of the theft was kept between them; but after John's death, William Savery sometimes told the story, to prove that evil might be overcome with good.
This practical preacher of righteousness was likewise a great preacher orally; if greatness is to be measured by the effect produced on the souls of others. Through his ministry, the celebrated Mrs. Fry was first excited to a lively interest in religion. When he visited England in 1798, she was Elizabeth Gurney, a lively girl of eighteen, rather fond of dress and company. Her sister, alluding to the first sermon they heard from William Savery, writes thus: "His voice and manner were arresting, and we all liked the sound. Elizabeth became a good deal agitated, and I saw her begin to weep. The next morning, when she took breakfast with him at her uncle's, he preached to her after breakfast, and prophesied of the high and important calling she would be led into." Elizabeth herself made the following record of it in her journal; "In hearing William Savery preach, he seemed to me to overflow with true religion; to be humble, and yet a man of great abilities. Having been gay and disbelieving, only a few years ago, makes him better acquainted with the heart of one in the same condition. We had much serious conversation. What he said, and what I felt was like a refreshing shower falling upon earth that had been dried up for ages."
This good and gifted man often preached in Philadelphia; not only at stated seasons, on the first and fifth day of the week, but at evening meetings also, where the Spirit is said to have descended upon him and his hearers in such copious measure that they were reminded of the gathering of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Isaac was at an impressible age, and on those occasions his thirsty soul drank eagerly from the fountain of living water. He never forgot those refreshing meetings. To the end of his days, whenever anything reminded him of William Savery, he would utter a warm eulogium on his deep spirituality, his tender benevolence, his cheerful, genial temper, and the simple dignity of his deportment.
Isaac was about twenty-two years old, when he was received as a member of the Society of Friends. It was probably the pleasantest period of his existence. Love and religion, the two deepest and brightest experiences of human life, met together, and flowed into his earnest soul in one full stream. He felt perfectly satisfied that he had found the one true religion. The plain mode of worship suited the simplicity of his character, while the principles inculcated were peculiarly well calculated to curb the violence of his temper, and to place his strong will under the restraint of conscience. Duties toward God and his fellow men stood forth plainly revealed to him in the light that shone so clearly in his awakened soul. Late in life, he often used to refer to this early religious experience as a sweet season of peace and joy. He said it seemed as if the very air were fragrant, and the sunlight more glorious than it had ever been before. The plain Quaker meeting-house in the quiet fields of Woodbury was to him indeed a house of prayer, though its silent worship was often undisturbed by a single uttered word. Blended with those spiritual experiences was the fair vision of his beloved Sarah, who always attended meeting, serene in her maiden beauty. The joy of renovated friendship also awaited him there, in that quaint old gathering place of simple worshippers. When he parted from his dear cousin, Joseph Whitall, they were both young men of good moral characters, but not seriously thoughtful concerning religion. Years elapsed, and each knew not whither the other was travelling in spiritual experiences. But one day, when Isaac went to meeting as usual, and was tying his horse in the shed, a young man in the plain costume of the Friends came to tie his horse also. A glance showed that it was Joseph Whitall, the companion of his boyhood and youth. For an instant, they stood surprised and silent, looking at each other's dress; for until then neither of them was aware that the other had become a Quaker. Tears started to their eyes, and they embraced each other. They had long and precious interviews afterward, in which they talked over the circumstances that had inclined them to reflect on serious subjects, and the reasons which induced them to consider the Society of Friends as the best existing representative of Christianity.
The gravity of their characters at this period, may be inferred from the following letter, written in 1794:
"While I sat in retirement this evening, thou wert brought fresh into my remembrance, with a warm desire for thy welfare and preservation. Wherefore, be encouraged to press forward and persevere in the high and holy way wherein thou hast measurably, through mercy, begun to tread. From our childhood I have had an affectionate regard for thee, which hath been abundantly increased; and, in the covenant of life I have felt thee near. May we, my beloved friend, now in the spring time of life, in the morning of our days, with full purpose of heart cleave unto the Lord. May we seek Him for our portion and our inheritance; that He may be pleased, in his wonderful loving kindness, to be our counsellor and director; that, in times of trouble and commotion, we may have a safe hiding-place, an unfailing refuge. I often feel the want of a greater dependance, a more steadfast leaning, upon that Divine Arm of power, which ever hath been, and still is, the true support of the righteous. Yet, I am sometimes favored to hope that in the Lord's time an advancement will be known, and a more full establishment in the most holy faith. 'For then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord, that His going forth is prepared as the morning, and He will come unto us as the rain, as the latter and the former rain upon the earth.' May we, from time to time, be favored to feel his animating presence, to comfort and strengthen our enfeebled minds, that so we may patiently abide in our allotments, and look forward with a cheering hope, that, whatever trials and besetments may await us, they may tend to our further refinement, and more close union in the heavenly covenant. And when the end comes, may we be found among those who through many tribulations have washed their garments white in the blood of the Lamb, and be found worthy to stand with him upon Mount Zion.
"So wisheth and prayeth thy affectionate friend,
The letters which passed between him and his betrothed partake of the same sedate character; but through the unimpassioned Quaker style gleams the steady warmth of sincere affection. There is something pleasant in the simplicity with which he usually closed his epistles to her: "I am, dear Sally, thy real friend, Isaac."
They were married on the eighteenth of the Ninth Month, [September,] 1795; he being nearly twenty-four years of age, and she about three years younger. The worldly comforts which a kind Providence bestowed on Isaac and his bride, were freely imparted to others. The resolution formed after listening to the history of old Mingo's wrongs was pretty severely tested by a residence in Philadelphia. There were numerous kidnappers prowling about the city, and many outrages were committed, which would not have been tolerated for a moment toward any but a despised race. Pennsylvania being on the frontier of the slave states, runaways were often passing through; and the laws on that subject were little understood, and less attended to. If a colored man was arrested as a fugitive slave, and discharged for want of proof, the magistrate received no fee; but if he was adjudged a slave, and surrendered to his claimant, the magistrate received from five to twenty dollars for his trouble; of course, there was a natural tendency to make the most of evidence in favor of slavery.
Under these circumstances, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was frequently called upon to protect the rights of colored people. Isaac T. Hopper became an active and leading member of this association. He was likewise one of the overseers of a school for colored children, established by Anthony Benezet; and it was his constant practice, for several years, to teach two or three nights every week, in a school for colored adults, established by a society of young men. In process of time, he became known to everybody in Philadelphia as the friend and legal adviser of colored people upon all emergencies. The shrewdness, courage, and zeal, with which he fulfilled this mission will be seen in the course of the following narratives, which I have selected from a vast number of similar character, in which he was the principal agent.
In 1797, a wealthy gentleman from Virginia went to spend the winter in Philadelphia, accompanied by his wife and daughter. He had a slave named Charles Webster, whom he took with him as coachman and waiter. When they had been in the city a few weeks, Charles called upon Isaac T. Hopper, and inquired whether he had become free in consequence of his master's bringing him into Pennsylvania. It was explained to him, that if he remained there six months, with his master's knowledge and consent, he would then be a free man, according to the laws of Pennsylvania. The slave was quite disheartened by this information; for he supposed his owner was well acquainted with the law, and would therefore be careful to take him home before that term expired.
"I am resolved never to return to Virginia," said he. "Where can I go to be safe?"
Friend Hopper told him his master might be ignorant of the law, or forgetful of it. He advised him to remain with the family until he saw them making preparations to return. If the prescribed six months expired meanwhile, he would be a free man. If not, there would be time enough to consult what had better be done. "It is desirable to obtain thy liberty in a legal way, if possible," said he; "for otherwise thou wilt be constantly liable to be arrested, and may never again have such a good opportunity to escape from bondage."
Charles hesitated, but finally concluded to accept this prudent advice. The time seemed very long to the poor fellow; for he was in a continual panic lest his master should take him back to Virginia; but he did his appointed tasks faithfully, and none of the family suspected what was passing in his mind.
The long-counted six months expired at last; and that very day, his master said, "Charles, grease the carriage-wheels, and have all things in readiness; for I intend to start for home to-morrow."
The servant appeared to be well pleased with this prospect, and put the carriage and harness in good order. As soon as that job was completed, he went to Friend Hopper and told him the news. When assured that he was now a free man, according to law, he could hardly be made to believe it. He was all of a tremor with anxiety, and it seemed almost impossible to convince him that he was out of danger. He was instructed to return to his master till next morning, and to send word by one of the hotel servants in case he should be arrested meanwhile.
The next morning, he again called upon Friend Hopper, who accompanied him to the office of William Lewis, a highly respectable lawyer, who would never take any fee for his services on such occasions. When Mr. Lewis heard the particulars of the case, he wrote a polite note to the Virginian, informing him that his former slave was now free, according to the laws of Pennsylvania; and cautioning him against any attempt to take him away, contrary to his own inclination.
The lawyer advised Friend Hopper to call upon the master and have some preparatory conversation with him, before Charles was sent to deliver the note. He was then, only twenty-six years of age, and he felt somewhat embarrassed at the idea of calling upon a wealthy and distinguished stranger, who was said to be rather imperious and irritable. However, after a little reflection, he concluded it was his duty, and accordingly he did it.
When the Southerner was informed that his servant was free, and that a lawyer had been consulted on the subject, he was extremely angry, and used very contemptuous language concerning people who tampered with gentlemen's servants. The young Quaker replied, "If thy son were a slave in Algiers, thou wouldst thank me for tampering with him to procure his liberty. But in the present case, I am not obnoxious to the charge thou hast brought; for thy servant came of his own accord to consult me, I merely made him acquainted with his legal rights; and I intend to see that he is protected in them."
When Charles delivered the lawyers note, and his master saw that he no longer had any legal power over him, he proposed to hire him to drive the carriage home. But Charles was very well aware that Virginia would be a very dangerous place for him, and he positively refused. The incensed Southerner then claimed his servant's clothes as his property, and ordered him to strip instantly. Charles did as he was ordered, and proceeded to walk out of the room naked. Astonished to find him willing to leave the house in that condition, he seized him violently, thrust him back into the room, and ordered him to dress himself. When he had assumed his garments, he walked off; and the master and servant never met again.
Charles was shrewd and intelligent, and conducted himself in such a manner as to gain respect. He married an industrious, economical woman, who served in the family of Chief Justice Tilghman. In process of time, he built a neat two-story house, where they brought up reputably a family of fourteen children, who obtained quite a good education at the school established by Anthony Benezet.
Ben was born a slave in Virginia. When he was about sixteen years old, his mind became excited on the subject of slavery. He could not reconcile it with the justice and goodness of the Creator, that one man should be born to toil for another without wages, to be driven about, and treated like a beast of the field. The older he grew, the more heavily did these considerations press upon him. At last, when he was about twenty-five years old, he resolved to gain his liberty, if possible. He left his master, and after encountering many difficulties, arrived in Philadelphia, where he let himself on board a vessel and went several voyages. When he was thirty years of age, he married, and was employed as a coachman by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He lived with him two years; and when he left, Dr. Rush gave him a paper certifying that he was a free man, honest, sober, and capable.
In 1799, his master came to Philadelphia, and arrested him as his fugitive slave. Ben had an extraordinary degree of intelligence and tact. When his master brought him before a magistrate, and demanded the usual certificate to authorize him to take his human chattel back to Virginia, Ben neither admitted nor denied that he was a slave. He merely showed the certificate of Dr. Rush, and requested that Isaac T. Hopper might be informed of his situation. Joseph Bird, the justice before whom the case was brought, detested slavery, and was a sincere friend to the colored people. He committed Ben to prison until morning, and despatched a note to Isaac T. Hopper informing him of the circumstance, and requesting him to call upon Dr. Rush. When the doctor was questioned, he said he knew nothing about Ben's early history; he lived with him two years, and was then a free man.
When Friend Hopper went to the prison, he found Ben in a state of great anxiety and distress. He admitted that he was the slave of the man who claimed him, and that he saw no way of escape open for him. His friend told him not to be discouraged, and promised to exert himself to the utmost in his behalf. The constable who had arrested him, sympathized with the poor victim of oppression, and promised to do what he could for him. Finding him in such a humane mood, Friend Hopper urged him to bring Ben to the magistrate's office a short time before the hour appointed for the trial. He did so, and found Friend Hopper already there, watching the clock. The moment the hand pointed to nine, he remarked that the hour, of which the claimant had been apprized, had already arrived; no evidence had been brought that the man was a slave; on the contrary, Dr. Rush's certificate was strong presumptive evidence of his being a freeman; he therefore demanded that the prisoner should be discharged. Justice Bird, having no desire to throw obstacles in the way, promptly told Ben he was at liberty, and he lost no time in profiting by the information. Just as he passed out of the door, he saw his master coming, and ran full speed. He had sufficient presence of mind to take a zigzag course, and running through a house occupied by colored people, he succeeded in eluding pursuit.
When Friend Hopper went home, he found him at his house. He tried to impress upon his mind the peril he would incur by remaining in Philadelphia, and advised him by all means to go to sea. But his wife was strongly attached to him, and so unwilling to consent to this plan, that he concluded to run the risk of staying with her. He remained concealed about a week, and then returned to the house he had previously occupied. They lived in the second story, and there was a shed under their bed-room window. Ben placed a ladder under the window, to be ready for escape; but it was so short, that it did not reach the roof of the shed by five or six feet. His wife was an industrious, orderly woman, and kept their rooms as neat as a bee-hive. The only thing which marred their happiness was the continual dread that man-hunters might pounce upon them, in some unguarded hour, and separate them forever. About a fortnight after his arrest, they were sitting together in the dusk of the evening, when the door was suddenly burst open, and his master rushed in with a constable. Ben sprang out of the window, down the ladder, and made his escape. His master and the constable followed; but as soon as they were on the ladder, Ben's wife cut the cord that held it, and they tumbled heels over head upon the shed. This bruised them some, and frightened them still more. They scrambled upon their feet, cursing at a round rate.
Ben arrived safely at the house of Isaac T. Hopper, who induced him to quit the city immediately, and go to sea. His first voyage was to the East Indies. While he was gone, Friend Hopper negotiated with the master, who, finding there was little chance of regaining his slave, agreed to manumit him for one hundred and fifty dollars. As soon as Ben returned, he repaid from his wages the sum which had been advanced for his ransom. His wife's health was greatly impaired by the fear and anxiety she had endured on his account. She became a prey to melancholy, and never recovered her former cheerfulness.
The person who assumed this name was called Notly, when he was a slave in Maryland. He was compelled to labor very hard, was scantily supplied with food and clothing, and lodged in a little ricketty hut, through which the cold winds of winter whistled freely. He was of a very religious turn of mind, and often, when alone in his little cabin at midnight, he prayed earnestly to God to release him from his sufferings.
In the year 1800, he found a favorable opportunity to escape from his unfeeling master, and made his way to Philadelphia, where he procured employment in a lumber-yard, under the name of John Smith. He was so diligent and faithful, that he soon gained the good-will and confidence of his employers. He married a worthy, industrious woman, with whom he lived happily. By their united earnings they were enabled to purchase a small house, where they enjoyed more comfort than many wealthy people, and were much respected by neighbors and acquaintances.
Unfortunately, he confided his story to a colored man, who, for the sake of reward, informed his master where he was to be found. Accordingly, he came to Philadelphia, arrested him, and carried him before a magistrate. Having brought forward satisfactory evidence that he was a slave, an order was granted to carry him back to Maryland. Isaac T. Hopper was present at this decision, and was afflicted by it beyond measure. John's employers pitied his condition, and sympathized with his afflicted wife and children. They offered to pay a large sum for his ransom; but his savage master refused to release him on any terms. This sober, industrious man, guiltless of any crime, was hand-cuffed and had his arms tied behind him with a rope, to which another rope was appended, for his master to hold. While they were fastening his fetters, he spoke a few affectionate words to his weeping wife. "Take good care of the children," said he; "and don't let them forget their poor father. If you are industrious and frugal, I hope you will be enabled to keep them at school, till they are old enough to be placed at service in respectable families. Never allow them to be idle; for that will lead them into bad ways. And now don't forget my advice; for it is most likely you will never see me again."
Then addressing his children, he said, "You will have no father to take care of you now. Mind what your mother tells you, and be very careful not to do anything to grieve her. Be industrious and faithful in whatever you are set about; and never play in the streets with naughty children."
They all wept bitterly while he thus talked to them; but he restrained his sobs, though it was evident his heart was well nigh breaking. Isaac T. Hopper was present at this distressing scene, and suffered almost as acutely as the poor slave himself. In the midst of his parting words, his master seized the rope, mounted his horse, snapped his whip, and set off, driving poor John before him. This was done in a Christian country, and there was no law to protect the victim.