LIFE OF MOSES GRANDY,
LATE A SLAVE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
"Slavery is a mass, a system of enormities, which incontrovertibly bids defiance to every regulation which ingenuity can devise, or power effect, but a TOTAL EXTINCTION. Why ought slavery to be abolished? Because it is incurable injustice. Why is injustice to remain for a single hour?" WILLIAM PITT.
SECOND AMERICAN FROM THE LAST LONDON EDITION.
SOLD FOR THE BENEFIT OF HIS RELATIONS STILL IN SLAVERY.
OLIVER JOHNSON, 25 CORNHILL.
*** It is not improbable that some of the proper names in the following pages are incorrectly spelled. M.G., through the laws of the slave states, is perfectly illiterate; his pronunciation being the only guide.
About a fortnight ago, the subject of the following brief Memoir came to me, bearing with him a letter from a dear friend and distinguished abolitionist in the United States, from which the following is an extract:—'I seize my pen in haste to gratify a most worthy colored friend of mine, by giving him a letter of introduction to you, as he intends sailing this week (August 8th, 1842) for Liverpool and London, via New Orleans. His name is Moses Grandy. He knows what it is to have been a slave, and what are the tender mercies of the southern slave-drivers. His history is not only authentic, but most extraordinary, and full of thrilling interest. Could it be published, it would make a deep sensation in every quarter. He was compelled to buy his freedom three times over! He paid for it $1,850. He has since bought his wife, and one or two of his children; and before going to England will first go to New Orleans, to purchase some of his other children, if he can find them, who are still held in captivity. His benevolence, affection, kindness of heart, and elasticity of spirit, are truly remarkable. He has a good head, a fine countenance, and a great spirit, notwithstanding his education has been obtained in the horrible school of slavery. Just get him to tell you his narrative, and if you happen to have an anti-slavery meeting, let him tell his tale to a British audience.' In the letter of another highly esteemed friend, he is spoken of as 'unsurpassed for faithfulness and perseverance;' in the letter of a third, as a 'worthy and respectable man.' On examining a book containing a list of the donations made him by American friends, in aid of his noble design to rescue from the miseries of slavery his relations, I found the names and certificates of persons of the highest respectability. It will be amply sufficient with those who are acquainted with the Abolitionists of the United States, for me to name General Fessenden, and Nathan Winslow, Esq., of Portland, Maine; the Rev. A.A. Phelps, Ellis Gray Loring, and Samuel E. Sewall, Esqs., of Boston, Massachusetts. Being satisfied, by these indubitable vouchers, of Moses Grandy's title to credit, I listened to his artless tale with entire confidence, and with a feeling of interest which all will participate who peruse the following pages. Considering his Narrative calculated to promote a more extensive knowledge of the workings of American slavery, and that its sale might contribute to the object which engages so entirely the mind of Moses, namely, the redemption of those who are in bonds, belonging to his family, I resolved to commit it to the press, as nearly as possible in the language of Moses himself. I have carefully abstained from casting a single reflection or animadversion of my own. I leave the touching story of the self-liberated captive to speak for itself, and the wish of my heart will be gratified, and my humble effort on his behalf be richly rewarded, if this little book is the means of obtaining for my colored brother the assistance which he seeks, or of increasing the zeal of those who are associated for the purpose of 'breaking every yoke and setting the oppressed free.'
9, Blandford Place, Regent's Park, October 18th, 1842.
My name is Moses Grandy. I was born in Camden county, North Carolina. I believe I am fifty-six years old. Slaves seldom know exactly how old they are; neither they nor their masters set down the time of a birth; the slaves, because they are not allowed to write or read, and the masters, because they only care to know what slaves belong to them.
The master, Billy Grandy, whose slave I was born, was a hard-drinking man; he sold away many slaves. I remember four sisters and four brothers; my mother had more children, but they were dead or sold away before I can remember. I was the youngest. I remember well my mother often hid us all in the woods, to prevent master selling us. When we wanted water, she sought for it in any hole or puddle formed by falling trees or otherwise. It was often full of tadpoles and insects. She strained it, and gave it round to each of us in the hollow of her hand. For food, she gathered berries in the woods, got potatoes, raw corn, &c. After a time, the master would send word to her to come in, promising he would not sell us. But, at length, persons came who agreed to give the prices he set on us. His wife, with much to be done, prevailed on him not to sell me; but he sold my brother, who was a little boy. My mother, frantic with grief, resisted their taking her child away. She was beaten, and held down; she fainted; and, when she came to herself, her boy was gone. She made much outcry, for which the master tied her up to a peach-tree in the yard, and flogged her.
Another of my brothers was sold to Mr. Tyler, Dewan's Neck, Pasquotank county. This man very much ill treated many colored boys. One very cold day, he sent my brother out, naked and hungry, to find a yoke of steers; the boy returned without finding them, when his master flogged him, and sent him out again. A white lady, who lived near, gave him food, and advised him to try again; he did so, but, it seems, again without success. He piled up a heap of leaves, and laid himself down in them, and died there. He was found through a flock of turkey buzzards hovering over him; these birds had pulled his eyes out.
My young master and I used to play together; there was but two days' difference in our ages. My old master always said he would give me to him. When he died, all the colored people were divided amongst his children, and I fell to young master; his name was James Grandy. I was then about eight years old. When I became old enough to be taken away from my mother and put to field work, I was hired out for the year, by auction, at the court house, every January: this is the common practice with respect to slaves belonging to persons who are under age. This continued till my master and myself were twenty-one years old.
The first who hired me was Mr. Kemp, who used me pretty well; he gave me plenty to eat, and sufficient clothing.
The next was old Jemmy Coates, a severe man. Because I could not learn his way of hilling corn, he flogged me naked with a severe whip, made of a very tough sapling; this lapped round me at each stroke; the point of it at last entered my belly and broke off, leaving an inch and a half outside. I was not aware of it until, on going to work again, it hurt my inside very much, when, on looking down, I saw it sticking out of my body. I pulled it out, and the blood spouted after it. The wound festered, and discharged very much at the time, and hurt me for years after.
In being hired out, sometimes the slave gets a good home, and sometimes a bad one: when he gets a good one, he dreads to see January come; when he has a bad one, the year seems five times as long as it is.
I was next with Mr. Enoch Sawyer, of Camden county. My business was to keep ferry, and do other odd work. It was cruel living. We had not near enough of either victuals or clothes. I was half starved for half my time. I have often ground the husks of Indian corn over again in a hand-mill, for the chance of getting something to eat out of it which the former grinding had left. In severe frosts, I was compelled to go into the fields and woods to work, with my naked feet cracked and bleeding from extreme cold: to warm them, I used to rouse an ox or hog, and stand on the place where it had lain. I was at that place three years, and very long years they seemed to me. The trick by which he kept me so long was this: the court house was but a mile off. At hiring day, he prevented me from going till he went himself and bid for me. On the last occasion, he was detained for a little while by other business; so I ran as quickly as I could, and got hired before he came up.
Mr. George Furley was my next master; he employed me as a car-boy in the Dismal Swamp; I had to drive lumber, &c. I had plenty to eat and plenty of clothes. I was so overjoyed at the change, that I then thought I would not have left the place to go to heaven.
Next year I was hired by Mr. John Micheau, of the same county, who married my young mistress, one of the daughters of Mr. Grandy, and sister of my present owner. This master gave us very few clothes, and but little to eat. I was almost naked. One day he came into the field, and asked why no more work was done. The older people were afraid of him; so I said that the reason was, we were so hungry we could not work. He went home and told the mistress to give us plenty to eat, and at dinner-time we had plenty. We came out shouting for joy, and went to work with delight. From that time we had food enough, and he soon found that he had a great deal more work done. The field was quite alive with people striving who should do most.
He hired me for another year. He was a great gambler. He kept me up five nights together, without sleep night or day, to wait on the gambling table. I was standing in the corner of the room, nodding for want of sleep, when he took up the shovel and beat me with it; he dislocated my shoulder, and sprained my wrist, and broke the shovel over me. I ran away, and got another person to hire me.
This person was Mr. Richard Furley, who, after that, hired me at the court house every year till my master came of age. He gave me a pass to work for myself; so I obtained work by the piece where I could, and paid him out of my earnings what we had agreed on; I maintained myself on the rest, and saved what I could. In this way I was not liable to be flogged and ill used. He paid seventy, eighty, or ninety dollars a year for me, and I paid him twenty or thirty dollars a year more than that.
When my master came of age, he took all his colored people to himself. Seeing that I was industrious and persevering, and had obtained plenty of work, he made me pay him almost twice as much as I had paid Mr. Furley. At that time the English blockaded the Chesapeake, which made it necessary to send merchandise from Norfolk to Elizabeth City by the Grand Canal, so that it might get to sea by Pamlico Sound and Ocracock Inlet. I took some canal boats on shares; Mr. Grice, who married my other young mistress, was the owner of them. I gave him one half of all I received for freight; out of the other half I had to victual and man the boats, and all over that expense was my own profit.
Some time before this, my brother Benjamin returned from the West Indies, where he had been two years with his master's vessel. I was very glad to hear of it, and got leave to go see him. While I was sitting with his wife and him, his wife's master came and asked him to fetch a can of water; he did so, and carried it into the store. While I was waiting for him, and wondering at his being so long away, I heard the heavy blows of a hammer: after a little while I was alarmed, and went to see what was going on. I looked into the store, and saw my brother lying on his back on the floor, and Mr. Williams, who had bought him, driving staples over his wrists and ankles; an iron bar was afterwards put across his breast, which was also held down by staples. I asked what he had been doing, and was told that he had done nothing amiss, but that his master had failed, and he was sold towards paying the debts. He lay in that state all that night; next day he was taken to jail, and I never saw him again. This is the usual treatment under such circumstances. I had to go by my mother's next morning, but I feared to tell her what had happened to my brother. I got a boy to go and tell her. She was blind and very old, and was living in a little hut, in the woods, after the usual manner of old, worn-out slaves; she was unable to go to my brother before he was taken away, and grieved after him greatly.
It was some time after this that I married a slave belonging to Mr. Enoch Sawyer, who had been so hard a master to me. I left her at home, (that is, at his house,) one Thursday morning, when we had been married about eight months. She was well, and seemed likely to be so. We were nicely getting together our little necessaries. On the Friday, as I was at work, as usual, with the boats, I heard a noise behind me, on the road which ran by the side of the canal. I turned to look, and saw a gang of slaves coming. When they came up to me, one of them cried out, 'Moses, my dear!' I wondered who among them should know me, and found it was my wife. She cried out to me, 'I am gone!' I was struck with consternation. Mr. Rogerson was with them, on his horse, armed with pistols. I said to him, 'For God's sake, have you bought my wife?' He said he had; when I asked him what she had done, he said she had done nothing, but that her master wanted money. He drew out a pistol, and said that, if I went near the wagon on which she was, he would shoot me. I asked for leave to shake hands with her, which he refused, but said I might stand at a distance and talk with her. My heart was so full that I could say very little. I asked leave to give her a dram. He told Mr. Burgess, the man who was with him, to get down and carry it to her. I gave her the little money I had in my pocket, and bade her farewell. I have never seen or heard of her from that day to this. I loved her as I loved my life.
Mr. Grice found that I served him faithfully. He and my young mistress, his wife, advised me, as I was getting money fast, to try to buy myself. By their advice, I asked my master what he would take for me. He wanted $800; and, when I said that was too much, he replied, he could get $1000 for me any minute. Mr. Grice afterwards went with me to him; he said to him that I had already been more profitable to him than any five others of his negroes, and reminded him that we had been playfellows. In this way he got him to consent to take $600 for me. I then went heartily to work, and, whenever I paid him for my time, I paid him something, also, towards my freedom, for which he gave me receipts. When I made him the last payment of the $600 for my freedom, he tore up all the receipts. I told him he ought not to have done so; he replied it did not signify, for, as soon as court day came, he should give me my free papers. On Monday, in court week, I went to him; he was playing at billiards, and would not go with me, but told me to come again the next day; the next day he did the same, and so on daily. I went to his sister, Mrs. Grice, and told her I feared that he did not mean to give them to me; she said she feared so too, and sent for him. He was a very wicked young man; he came, and cursed her, and went out of the house. Mr. Grice was from home; on his return, he went to my master, and told him he ought to give me my free papers; that I had paid for myself, and it was court week, so that there was no excuse. He promised he would; instead of which, he rode away and kept away till court was over. Before the next court came, he sold me to Mr. Trewitt for $600.
The way in which Mr. Trewitt came to buy me was this: I had left the boats, and had gone with a schooner collecting lumber in Albemarle Sound for the merchants. Coming to Elizabeth City, I found a new store had been opened by Mr. Grice, which Mr. Sutton was keeping: the latter gentleman was glad to see me, and was desirous that I should return to my old employment with the canal boats, as lumber was in great demand at Norfolk. I did so, and sold some cargoes to Mr. Moses Myers, of Norfolk. As I was waiting at the door of his store for settlement, he came up with Mr. Trewitt, whom I did not then know. Mr. Myers said to Mr. Trewitt, 'Here is a captain doing business for you.' Mr. Trewitt then asked me who had chartered the boats, and to whom I belonged. I told him Mr. Sutton had chartered me, and that I had belonged to Mr. James Grandy, but had bought myself. He said he would buy me; on which Mr. Myers told him he could not, as I had already bought myself, and further said I was one of their old war captains, and had never lost a single thing of the property intrusted to me. Mr. Trewitt said he would buy me, and would see about it as soon as he got to Elizabeth City. I thought no more about it. On my return voyage, I delivered a cargo at Elizabeth City, for Mr. Trewitt. I had been at Mr. Grice's, the owner of the boats; and, on my going away from him to meet Mr. Trewitt for settlement, he said he would go with me, as he wanted money. Opposite the custom house we met Mr. Trewitt, who said, 'Well, captain, I have bought you.' Mr. Grice said, 'Let us have no nonsense; go and settle with him.' Angry words passed between them, one saying he had bought me, and the other denying that he had or could, as I had bought myself already. We all went to Mr. Grice's dwelling house; there Mr. Trewitt settled with me about the freight, and then, jumping up, said, 'Now I will show you, Mr. Grice, whether I am a liar or not.' He fetched the bill of sale; on reading it, Mr. Grice's color changed, and he sent for Mrs. Grice. When she read it, she began to cry; seeing that, I began to cry too. She sent me to her brother, who was at Mr. Wood's boarding house. He was playing at billiards. I said to him, 'Master James, have you sold me?' He said, 'No.' I said he had; when he turned round and went into another room, crying; I followed him. All the gentlemen followed us, saying, 'Captain Grandy, what is the matter?' I told them Master James had sold me again. They asked him why he had done it; he said it was because people had jeered him by saying I had more sense than he had. They would not suffer him to remain in the boarding house, but turned him out, there and then, with all his trunks and boxes. Mrs. Grice, his sister, sued him in my name for my liberty, but he gained the cause. The court maintained that I, and all I could do, belonged to him, and that he had a right to do as he pleased with me and all my earnings, as his own property, until he had taken me to the court house, and given me my free papers, and until, besides that, I had been a year and a day in the Northern States to gain my residence.
So I was forced to go to Mr. Trewitt. He agreed that, if I would pay him the same wages as I paid my late master, and the $600 he gave for me, he would give me my free papers. He bought two canal boats, and, taking me out of Mr. Grice's employment, set me to work them on the same terms as I did for my former master. I was two years and a half in earning $600 to pay for myself the second time. Just when I had completed the payment, he failed. On Christmas eve he gave me a letter to take to Mr. Mews, at Newbegun Creek. I was rather unwilling to take it, wishing to go to my wife; I told him, too, I was going to his office to settle with him. He offered to give me two dollars to take the letter, and said he would settle when I came back: then Mr. Shaw came from another room, and said his vessel was ready loaded, but he had nobody he could trust with his goods; he offered me five dollars to take the vessel down, and deliver the goods to Mr. Knox, who also was at Newbegun Creek. The wind was fair, and the hands on board, so I agreed; it being Christmas eve, I was glad of something to carry to my wife. I ran the vessel down to the mouth of the creek, and anchored; when the moon rose, I went up the river. I reached the wharf, and commenced taking out the goods that night, and delivered them all safely to Mr. Knox next morning. I then took the letter to Mr. Mews, who read it, and, looking up at me, said, 'Well, you belong to me.' I thought he was joking, and said, 'How? What way?' He said, 'Don't you recollect when Trewitt chartered Wilson Sawyer's brig to the West Indies?' I said, I did. He told me Trewitt then came to him to borrow $600, which he would not lend, except he had a mortgage on me: Trewitt was to take it up at a certain time, but never did. I asked him whether he really took the mortgage on me. He replied that he certainly thought Trewitt would have taken up the mortgage, but he had failed, and was not worth a cent, and he, Mews, must have his money. I asked him whether he had not helped me and my young mistress in the court house, when master James fooled me before. He said he did help me all he could, and that he should not have taken a mortgage on me, but that he thought Trewitt would take it up. Trewitt must have received some of the last payments from me, after he had given the mortgage, and knew he should fail; for the mortgage was given two months before this time.
My head seemed to turn round and round; I was quite out of my senses; I went away towards the woods; Mr. Mews sent his waiter after me to persuade me to go back. At first I refused, but afterwards went. He told me he would give me another chance to buy myself, and I certainly should have my freedom that time. He said Mr. Enoch Sawyer wanted to buy me, to be his overseer in the Swamp. I replied I would never try again to buy myself, and that they had already got $1,200 from me. My wife (this was my second wife) belonged to Mr. Sawyer; he told me that her master would not allow me to go to see her, if I would not consent to what he now proposed; for any colored person going on the grounds of a white man, after being warned off, is liable to be flogged, or even shot. I thus found myself forced to go, although no colored man wishes to live at the house where his wife lives, for he has to endure the continual misery of seeing her flogged and abused, without daring to say a word in her defence.
In the service of Mr. Sawyer, I got into a fair way of buying myself again; for I undertook the lightering of shingles or boards out of the Dismal Swamp, and hired hands to assist me. But my master had become security for his two sons-in-law at Norfolk, who failed; in consequence of which he sold eighteen colored people, his share of the Swamp, and two plantations. I was one of the slaves he kept, and after that had to work in the corn-field the same as the rest. The overseer was a bad one; his name was Brooks. The horn was blown at sunrise; the colored people had then to march before the overseer to the field, he on horseback. We had to work, even in long summer days, till twelve o'clock, before we tasted a morsel, men, women, and children all being served alike. At noon the cart appeared with our breakfast. It was in large trays, and was set on the ground. There was bread, of which a piece was cut off for each person; then there was small hominy boiled, that is, Indian-corn, ground in the hand-mill, and besides this two herrings for each of the men and women, and one for each of the children. Our drink was the water in the ditches, whatever might be its state; if the ditches were dry, water was brought to us by the boys. The salt fish made us always thirsty, but no other drink than water was ever allowed. However thirsty a slave may be, he is not allowed to leave his employment for a moment to get water; he can only have it when the hands in working have reached the ditch, at the end of the rows. The overseer stood with his watch in his hand, to give us just an hour; when he said, 'Rise,' we had to rise and go to work again. The women who had children laid them down by the hedge-row, and gave them straws and other trifles to play with; here they were in danger from snakes; I have seen a large snake found coiled round the neck and face of a child, when its mother went to suckle it at dinner-time. The hands work in a line by the side of each other; the overseer puts the swiftest hands in the fore row, and all must keep up with them. One black man is kept on purpose to whip the others in the field; if he does not flog with sufficient severity, he is flogged himself; he whips severely, to keep the whip from his own back. If a man have a wife in the same field with himself, he chooses a row by the side of hers, that, with extreme labor, he may, if possible, help her. But he will not be in the same field if he can help it; for, with his hardest labor, he often cannot save her from being flogged, and he is obliged to stand by and see it; he is always liable to see her taken home at night, stripped naked, and whipped before all the men. On the estate I am speaking of, those women who had sucking children suffered much from their breasts becoming full of milk, the infants being left at home; they therefore could not keep up with the other hands. I have seen the overseer beat them with raw hide, so that blood and milk flew mingled from their breasts. A woman who gives offence in the field, and is large in the family way, is compelled to lie down over a hole made to receive her corpulency, and is flogged with the whip, or beat with a paddle, which has holes in it; at every hole comes a blister. One of my sisters was so severely punished in this way, that labor was brought on, and the child was born in the field. This very overseer, Mr. Brooks, killed in this manner a girl named Mary; her father and mother were in the field at the time. He killed, also, a boy about twelve years old. He had no punishment, or even trial, for either.
There was no dinner till dark, when he gave the order to knock off and go home. The meal then was the same as in the morning, except that we had meat twice a week.
On very few estates are the colored people provided with any bedding: the best masters give only a blanket; this master gave none; a board, which the slave might pick up any where on the estate, was all he had to lie on. If he wished to procure bedding, he could only do so by working at nights. For warmth, therefore, the negroes generally sleep near a large fire, whether in the kitchen, or in their log huts; their legs are often in this way blistered and greatly swelled, and sometimes badly burnt: they suffer severely from this cause.
When the water-mill did not supply meal enough, we had to grind with the hand-mill. The night was employed in this work, without any thing being taken from the labor of the day. We had to take turn at it, women as well as men; enough was to be ground to serve for the following day.
I was eight months in the field. My master, Mr. Sawyer, agreed to allow me eight dollars a month, while so employed, towards buying myself; it will be seen he did not give me even that. When I first went to work in the corn-field, I had paid him $230 towards this third buying of my freedom. I told him, one night, I could not stand his field work any longer; he asked, why; I said I was almost starved to death, and had long been unaccustomed to this severe labor. He wanted to know why I could not stand it as well as the rest. I told him he knew well I had not been used to it for a long time; that his overseer was the worst that had ever been on the plantation, and that I could not stand it. He said he would direct Mr. Brooks to give each of us a pint of meal or corn every evening, which we might bake, and which would serve us next morning, till our breakfast came at noon. The black people were much rejoiced that I got this additional allowance for them. But I was not satisfied; I wanted liberty.
On Sunday morning, as master was sitting in his porch, I went to him, and offered to give him the $230 I had already paid him, if, beside them, he would take for my freedom the $600 he had given for me. He drove me away, saying I had no way to get the money. I sat down for a time, and went to him again. I repeated my offer to procure the $690, and he again said I could not. He called his wife out of the room to the porch, and said to her, 'Don't you think Moses has taken to getting drunk?' She asked me if it was so; I denied it, when she inquired what was the matter. Master replied, 'Don't you think he wants me to sell him?' She said, 'Moses, we would not take any money for you. Captain Cormack put a thousand dollars for you on the supper table last Friday night, and Mr. Sawyer would not touch it; he wants you to be overseer in the Dismal Swamp.' I replied, 'Captain Cormack never said any thing to me about buying me; I would cut my throat from ear to ear rather than go to him. I know what made him say so; he is courting Miss Patsey, and he did it to make himself look big.' Mistress laughed and turned away, and slammed to the door; master shook himself with laughing, and put the paper he was reading before his face, knowing that I spoke the truth. Captain Cormack was an old man who went on crutches. Miss Patsey was the finest of master's daughters. Master drove me away from him again.
On Monday morning, Mr. Brooks, the overseer, blew the horn as usual for all to go to the field. I refused to go. I went to master, and told him that if he would give me a paper, I would go and fetch the $600; he then gave me a paper, stating that he was willing to take that sum for my freedom: so I hired an old horse and started for Norfolk, fifty miles off.
When I reached Deep Creek, I went to the house of Captain Edward Minner. He was very glad to see me, for in former days I had done much business for him; he said how sorry he had been to hear that I was at field work. He inquired where I was going. I said, to Norfolk, to get some of the merchants to let me have money to buy myself. He replied, 'What did I always say to you? Was it not, that I would let you have the money at any time, if you would only tell me when you could be sold?' He called Mrs. Minner into the room, and told her I could be sold for my freedom; she was rejoiced to hear it. He said, 'Put up your horse at Mr. Western's tavern, for you need go no farther; I have plenty of old rusty dollars, and no man shall put his hand on your collar again to say you are a slave. Come and stay with me to-night, and in the morning I will get Mr. Garret's horse, and go with you.'
Next morning we set off, and found master at Major Farrence's, at the cross canal, where I knew he was to be that day, to sell his share of the canal. When I saw him, he told me to go forward home, for he would not sell me. I felt sick and sadly disappointed. Captain Minner stepped up to him, and showed him the paper he had given me, saying, 'Mr. Sawyer, is not this your hand-writing?' He replied, 'Mistress said, the last word when I came away, I was not to sell him, but send him home again.' Captain Minner said, 'Mind, gentlemen, I do not want him for a slave; I want to buy him for freedom. He will repay me the money, and I shall not charge him a cent of interest for it. I would not have a colored person, to drag me down to hell, for all the money in the world.' A gentleman who was by said it was a shame I should be so treated; I had bought myself so often that Mr. Sawyer ought to let me go. The very worst man as an overseer over the persons employed in digging the canal, Mr. Wiley M'Pherson, was there; he was never known to speak in favor of a colored person; even he said that Mr. Sawyer ought to let me go, as I had been sold so often. At length, Mr. Sawyer consented I should go for $650, and would take no less. I wished Captain Minner to give the extra $50, and not stand about it. I believe it was what M'Pherson said that induced my master to let me go; for he was well known for his great severity to colored people; so that after even he had said so, master could not stand out. The Lord must have opened M'Pherson's heart to say it.
I have said this M'Pherson was an overseer where slaves were employed in cutting canals. The labor there is very severe. The ground is often very boggy; the negroes are up to the middle, or much deeper, in mud and water, cutting away roots and baling out mud; if they can keep their heads above water, they work on. They lodge in huts, or, as they are called, camps, made of shingles or boards. They lie down in the mud which has adhered to them, making a great fire to dry themselves, and keep off the cold. No bedding whatever is allowed them; it is only by work done over his task that any of them can get a blanket. They are paid nothing, except for this overwork. Their masters come once a month to receive the money for their labor; then, perhaps, some few very good masters will give them $2 each, some others $1, some a pound of tobacco, and some nothing at all. The food is more abundant than that of field slaves: indeed, it is the best allowance in America—it consists of a peck of meal and six pounds of pork per week; the pork is commonly not good; it is damaged, and is bought, as cheap as possible, at auctions.
M'Pherson gave the same task to each slave; of course, the weak ones often failed to do it. I have often seen him tie up persons and flog them in the morning, only because they were unable to get the previous day's task done; after they were flogged, pork or beef brine was put on their bleeding backs to increase the pain; he sitting by, resting himself, and seeing it done. After being thus flogged and pickled, the sufferers often remained tied up all day, the feet just touching the ground, the legs tied, and pieces of wood put between the legs. All the motion allowed was a slight turn of the neck. Thus exposed and helpless, the yellow flies and musquitoes in great numbers would settle on the bleeding and smarting back, and put the sufferer to extreme torture. This continued all day, for they were not taken down till night. In flogging, he would sometimes tie the slave's shirt over his head, that he might not flinch when the blow was coming; sometimes he would increase his misery, by blustering, and calling out that he was coming to flog again, which he did or did not, as happened. I have seen him flog them with his own hands till their entrails were visible; and I have seen the sufferers dead when they were taken down. He never was called to account in any way for it.
It is not uncommon for flies to blow the sores made by flogging; in that case, we get a strong weed growing in those parts, called the Oak of Jerusalem; we boil it at night, and wash the sores with the liquor, which is extremely bitter. On this the creepers or maggots come out. To relieve them in some degree, after severe flogging, their fellow-slaves rub their backs with part of their little allowance of fat meat.
For fear the slaves should run away, while unable to work from flogging, he kept them chained till they could work again. This man had from 500 to 700 men under his control. When out of other employment, I sometimes worked under him, and saw his doings. I believe it was the word of this man which gained my freedom. He is dead, but there are yet others like him on public works.
When the great kindness of Captain Minner had set me clear of Mr. Sawyer, I went to my old occupation of working the canal boats. These I took on shares, as before. After a time, I was disabled for a year from following this employment by a severe attack of rheumatism, caught by frequent exposure to severe weather. I was anxious, however, to be earning something towards the repayment of Captain Minner, lest any accident, unforeseen by him or me, should even yet deprive me of the liberty for which I so longed, and for which I had suffered so much. I therefore had myself carried in a lighter up a cross canal in the Dismal Swamp, and to the other side of Drummond's Lake. I was left on the shore, and there I built myself a little hut, and had provisions brought to me as opportunity served. Here, among snakes, bears, and panthers, whenever my strength was sufficient, I cut down a juniper-tree, and converted it into cooper's timber. The camp, like those commonly set up for negroes, was entirely open on one side; on that side a fire is lighted at night, and a person sleeping puts his feet towards it. One night I was awoke by some animal smelling my face, and snuffing strongly; I felt its cold muzzle. I suddenly thrust out my arms, and shouted with all my might; it was frightened, and made off. I do not know whether it was a bear or a panther; but it seemed as tall as a large calf. I slept, of course, no more that night. I put my trust in the Lord, and continued on the spot; I was never attacked again.
I recovered, and went to the canal boats again; by the end of three years from the time he laid down the money, I entirely repaid my very kind and excellent friend. During this time he made no claim whatever on my services; I was altogether on the footing of a free man, as far as a colored man can there be free.
When, at length, I had repaid Captain Minner, and had got my free papers, so that my freedom was quite secure, my feelings were greatly excited. I felt to myself so light, that I could almost think I could fly; in my sleep I was always dreaming of flying over woods and rivers. My gait was so altered by my gladness, that people often stopped me, saying, 'Grandy, what is the matter?' I excused myself as well as I could; but many perceived the reason, and said, 'O! he is so pleased with having got his freedom.' Slavery will teach any man to be glad when he gets freedom.
My good master, Captain Minner, sent me to Providence, in Rhode Island, to stay a year and a day, in order to gain my residence. But I staid only two months. Mr. Howard's vessel came there laden with corn. I longed much to see my master and mistress, for the kindness they had done me, and so went home in the schooner. On my arrival, I did not stop at my own house, except to ask my wife at the door how she and the children were in health, but went up the town to see Captain and Mrs. Minner. They were very glad to see me, and consulted with me about my way of getting a living. I wished to go on board the New York and Philadelphia packets, but feared I should be troubled for my freedom. Captain Minner thought I might venture, and I therefore engaged myself. I continued in that employment till his death, which happened about a year alter my return from Providence. Then I returned to Boston; for, while he lived, I knew I could rely on his protection; but when I lost my friend, I thought it best to go wholly to the Northern States.
At Boston I went to work at sawing wood, sawing with the whip-saw, laboring in the coal-yards, loading and unloading vessels, &c. After laboring in this way for a few months, I went a voyage to St. John's, in Porto Rico, with Captain Cobb, in the schooner New Packet. On the return voyage, the vessel got ashore on Cape Cod; we left her, after doing in vain what we could to right her: she was afterwards recovered. I went several other voyages, and particularly two to the Mediterranean: the last was to the East Indies, in the ship James Murray, Captain Woodbury, owner Mr. Gray. My entire savings, up to the period of my return from this voyage, amounted to $300; I sent it to Virginia, and bought my wife. She came to me at Boston. I dared not go myself to fetch her, lest I should be again deprived of my liberty, as often happens to free colored people.
At the time, called the time of the Insurrection, about eight years ago, when the whites said the colored people were going to rise, and shot, hanged, and otherwise destroyed many of them, Mrs. Minner thought she saw me in the street, and fainted there. The soldiers were seizing all the blacks they could find, and she knew, if I were there, I should be sure to suffer with the rest. She was mistaken; I was not there.
My son's master, at Norfolk, sent a letter to me at Boston, to say, that if I could raise $450, I might have his freedom; he was then fifteen years old. I had again saved $300. I knew the master was a drinking man, and was therefore very anxious to get my son out of his hands. I went to Norfolk, running the risk of my liberty, and took my $300 with me, to make the best bargain I could. Many gentlemen in Boston, my friends, advised me not to go myself; but I was anxious to get my boy's freedom, and I knew that nobody in Virginia had any cause of complaint against me. So, notwithstanding their advice, I determined to go.
When the vessel arrived there, they said it was against the law for me to go ashore. The mayor of the city said I had been among the cursed Yankees too long; he asked me whether I did not know that it was unlawful for me to land, to which I replied, that I did not know it, for I could neither read nor write. The merchants for whom I had formerly done business came on board, and said they cared for neither the mare (mayor) nor the horse, and insisted that I should go ashore. I told the mayor the business on which I came, and he gave me leave to stay nine days, telling me that if I were not gone in that time, he would sell me for the good of the state.
I offered my boy's master the $300; he counted the money, but put it back to me, refusing to take less than $450. I went on board to return to Boston. We met with head winds, and put back three times to Norfolk, anchoring each time just opposite the jail. The nine days had expired, and I feared the mayor would find me on board and sell me. I could see the jail, full of colored people, and even the whipping-post, at which they were constantly enduring the lash. While we were lying there by the jail, two vessels came from Eastern Shore, Virginia, laden with cattle and colored people. The cattle were lowing for their calves, and the men and women were crying for their husbands, wives, or children. The cries and groans were terrible, notwithstanding there was a whipper on board each vessel, trying to compel the poor creatures to keep silence. These vessels lay close to ours. I had been a long time away from such scenes; the sight affected me very much, and added greatly to my fears.
One day I saw a boat coming from the shore with white men in it. I thought they were officers coming to take me; and such was my horror of slavery, that I twice ran to the ship's waist to jump overboard into the strong ebb tide then running, to drown myself; but a strong impression on my mind restrained me each time.
Once more we got under way for New York; but, meeting again with head winds, we ran into Maurice's River, in Delaware Bay. New Jersey, in which that place lies, is not a slave state. So I said to the captain, 'Let me have a boat, and set me on the free land once more; then I will travel home over land; for I will not run the risk of going back to Virginia any more. The captain said there was no danger, but I exclaimed, 'No, no! captain, I will not try it; put my feet on free land once again, and I shall be safe.' When I once more touched the free land, the burden of my mind was removed; if two ton weight had been taken off me, the relief would not have seemed so great.
From Maurice's Creek I travelled to Philadelphia, and at that place had a letter written to my wife, at Boston, thanking God that I was on free land again. On arriving at Boston, I borrowed $150 of a friend, and, going to New York, I obtained the help of Mr. John Williams to send the $450 to Norfolk; thus, at length, I bought my son's freedom. I met him at New York, and brought him on to Boston.
Six other of my children, three boys and three girls, were sold to New Orleans. Two of these daughters have bought their own freedom. The eldest of them, Catherine, was sold three times after she was taken away from Virginia; the first time was by auction. Her last master but one was a Frenchman; she worked in his sugar-cane and cotton fields. Another Frenchman inquired for a girl, on whom he could depend, to wait on his wife, who was in a consumption. Her master offered him my daughter; they went into the field to see her, and the bargain was struck. Her new master gave her up to his sick wife, on whom she waited till her death. As she had waited exceedingly well on his wife, her master offered her a chance of buying her freedom. She objected to his terms as too high; for he required her to pay him $4 a week out of her earnings, and $1,200 for her freedom. He said he could get more for her, and told her she might get plenty of washing, at a dollar a dozen: at last she agreed. She lived near the river side, and obtained plenty of work. So anxious was she to obtain her freedom, that she worked nearly all her time, days and nights, and Sundays. She found, however, she gained nothing by working on Sundays, and therefore left it off. She paid her master punctually her weekly hire, and also something towards her freedom, for which he gave her receipts. A good stewardess was wanted for a steamboat on the Mississippi; she was hired for the place at $30 a month, which is the usual salary; she also had liberty to sell apples and oranges on board; and, commonly, the passengers give from twenty-five cents to a dollar to a stewardess who attends them well. Her entire incoming, wages and all, amounted to about sixty dollars a month. She remained at this employment till she had paid the entire sum of $ 1,200 for her freedom.
As soon as she obtained her free papers, she left the steamboat, thinking she could find her sister Charlotte. Her first two trials were unsuccessful; but on the third attempt she found her at work in the cane-field. She showed her sister's master her own free papers, and told him how she had bought herself; he said that, if her sister would pay him as much as she paid her master, she might go too. They agreed, and he gave her a pass. The two sisters went on board a steamboat, and worked together for the wages of one, till they had saved the entire $1,200 for the freedom of the second sister. The husband of Charlotte was dead; her children were left behind in the cotton and cane-fields; their master refuses to take less than $2,400 for them; their names and ages are as follows: Zeno, about fifteen; Antoinette, about thirteen; Joseph, about eleven; and Josephine, about ten years old. Of my other children, I only know that one, a girl, named Betsey, is a little way from Norfolk, in Virginia. Her master, Mr. William Dixon, is willing to sell her for $500.
I do not know where any of my other four children are, nor whether they be dead or alive. It will be very difficult to find them out: for the names of slaves are commonly changed with every change of master: they usually bear the name of the master to whom they belong at the time: they have no family name of their own by which they can be traced. Through this circumstance, and their ignorance of reading and writing, to which they are compelled by law, all trace between parents and children, who are separated from them in childhood, is lost in a few years. When, therefore, a child is sold away from its mother, she feels that she is parting from it forever; there is little likelihood of her ever knowing what of good or evil befalls it. The way of finding out a friend or relative who has been sold away for any length of time, or to any great distance, is to trace them, if possible, to one master after another, or if that cannot be done, to inquire about the neighborhood where they are supposed to be, until some one is found who can tell that such or such a person belonged to such or such a master; and the person supposed to be the one sought for, may, perhaps, remember the names of the persons to whom his father and mother belonged: there is little to be learned from his appearance, for so many years may have passed away that he may have grown out of the memory of his parents, or his nearest relations. There are thus no lasting family ties to bind relations together, not even the nearest, and this aggravates their distress when they are sold from each other. I have little hope of finding my four children again.
I have lived in Boston ever since I bought my freedom, except during the last year, which I have spent at Portland, in the state of Maine.
I have yet said nothing of my father. He was often sold through the failure of his successive owners. When I was a little boy, he was sold away from us to a distance: he was then so far off that he could not come to see us oftener than once a year. After that, he was sold to go still farther away, and then he could not come at all. I do not know what has become of him.
When my mother became old, she was sent to live in a little lonely log-hut in the woods. Aged and worn-out slaves, whether men or women, are commonly so treated. No care is taken of them, except, perhaps, that a little ground is cleared about the hut, on which the old slave, if able, may raise a little corn. As far as the owner is concerned, they live or die, as it happens: it is just the same thing as turning out an old horse. Their children, or other near relations, if living in the neighborhood, take it by turns to go at night with a supply saved out of their own scanty allowance of food, as well as to cut wood and fetch water for them: this is done entirely through the good feelings of the slaves, and not through the masters' taking care that it is done. On these night-visits, the aged inmate of the hut is often found crying on account of sufferings from disease or extreme weakness, or from want of food or water in the course of the day: many a time, when I have drawn near to my mother's hut, I have heard her grieving and crying on these accounts: she was old and blind too, and so unable to help herself. She was not treated worse than others: it is the general practice. Some few good masters do not treat their old slaves so: they employ them in doing light jobs about the house and garden.
My eldest sister is in Elizabeth City. She has five children, who, of course, are slaves. Her master is willing to sell her for $100: she is growing old. One of her children, a young man, cannot be bought under $900.
My sister Tamar, who belonged to the same master with myself, had children very fast. Her husband had hard owners, and lived at a distance. When a woman who has many children belongs to an owner who is under age, as ours was, it is customary to put her and the children out yearly to the person who will maintain them for the least money, the person taking them having the benefit of whatever work the woman can do. But my sister was put to herself in the woods. She had a bit of ground cleared, and was left to hire herself out to labor. On the ground she raised corn and flax; and obtained a peck of corn, some herrings, or a piece of meat, for a day's work among the neighboring owners. In this way she brought up her children. Her husband could help her but little. As soon as each of the children became big enough, it was sold away from her.
After parting thus with five, she was sold along with the sixth, (about a year and a half old,) to the speculators; these are persons who buy slaves in Carolina and Virginia, to sell them in Georgia and New Orleans. After travelling with them more than one hundred miles, she made her escape, but could not obtain her child to take it with her. On her journey homeward she travelled by night, and hid herself in thick woods by day. She was in great danger on the road, but in three weeks reached the woods near us: there she had to keep herself concealed: I, my mother, and her husband, knew where she was: she lived in a den she made for herself. She sometimes ventured down to my mother's hut, where she was hid in a hollow under the floor. Her husband lived ten miles off; he would sometimes set off after his day's work was done, spend part of the night with her, and get back before next sunrise: sometimes he would spend Sunday with her. We all supplied her with such provisions as we could save. It was necessary to be very careful in visiting her; we tied pieces of wood or bundles of rags to our feet, that no track might be made.
In the wood she had three children born; one of them died. She had not recovered from the birth of the youngest when she was discovered and taken to the house of her old master.
She was afterwards sold to Culpepper, who used her very cruelly. He was beating her dreadfully, and the blood was streaming from her head and back one day when I happened to go to his house. I was greatly grieved, and asked his leave to find a person to buy her: instead of answering me, he struck at me with an axe, and I was obliged to get away as fast as I could. Soon after this he failed, and she was offered for sale in Norfolk; there Mr. Johnson bought her and her two children, out of friendship for me: he treated her exceedingly well, and she served him faithfully; but it was not long before she was claimed by a person to whom Culpepper had mortgaged her before he sold her to Johnson. This person sold her to Long, of Elizabeth City, where again she was very badly treated. After a time, this person sold her to go to Georgia: she was very ill at the time, and was taken away in a cart. I hear from her sometimes, and am very anxious to purchase her freedom, if ever I should be able. Two of her children are now in North Carolina, and are longing to obtain their freedom. I know nothing of the others, nor am I likely ever to hear of them again.
The treatment of slaves is mildest near the borders, where the free and slave states join: it becomes more severe, the farther we go from the free states. It is more severe in the west and south than where I lived. The sale of slaves most frequently takes place from the milder to the severer parts: there is great traffic in slaves in that direction, which is carried on by the speculators. On the frontier between the slave and free States there is a guard; no colored person can go over a ferry without a pass. By these regulations, and the great numbers of patrols, escape is made next to impossible.
Formerly slaves were allowed to have religious meetings of their own; but after the insurrection which I spoke of before, they were forbidden to meet even for worship. Often they are flogged if they are found singing or praying at home. They may go to the places of worship used by the whites; but they like their own meetings better. My wife's brother Isaac was a colored preacher. A number of slaves went privately into a wood to hold meetings; when they were found out, they were flogged, and each was forced to tell who else was there. Three were shot, two of whom were killed and the other was badly wounded. For preaching to them, Isaac was flogged, and his back pickled; when it was nearly well, he was flogged and pickled again, and so on for some months; then his back was suffered to get well, and he was sold. A little while before this, his wife was sold away with an infant at her breast; and out of six children, four had been sold away by one at a time. On the way with his buyers he dropped down dead; his heart was broken.
Having thus narrated what has happened to myself, my relatives and near friends, I will add a few matters about slaves and colored people in general.
Slaves are under fear in every word they speak. If, in their master's kitchen, they let slip an expression of discontent, or a wish for freedom, it is often reported to the master or mistress by the children of the family who may be playing about: severe flogging is often the consequence.
I have already said that it is forbidden by law to teach colored persons to read or write. A few well-disposed white young persons, of the families to which the slaves belonged, have ventured to teach them, but they dare not let it be known they have done so.
The proprietors get new land cleared in this way. They first 'dead' a piece of ground in the woods adjoining the plantation: by 'deading' is meant killing the trees, by cutting a nick all round each, quite through the bark. Out of this ground each colored person has a piece as large as he can tend after his other work is done; the women have pieces in like manner. The slave works at night, cutting down the timber and clearing the ground; after it is cleared, he has it for his own use for two or three years, as may be agreed on. As these new clearings lie between the woods and the old cultivated land, the squirrels and raccoons first come at the crops on them, and thus those on the planter's land are saved from much waste. When the negro has had the land for the specified time, and it has become fit for the plough, the master takes it, and he is removed to another new piece. It is no uncommon thing for the land to be taken from him before the time is out, if it has sooner become fit for the plough. When the crop is gathered, the master comes to see how much there is of it; he then gives the negro an order to sell that quantity; without that order, no storekeeper dare buy it. The slave lays out the money in something tidy to go to meeting in, and something to take to his wife.
The evidence of a black man, or of ever so many black men, stands for nothing against that of one white; in consequence of it the free negroes are liable to great cruelties. They have had their dwellings entered, their bedding and furniture destroyed, and themselves, their wives and children, beaten; some have even been taken, with their wives, into the woods, and tied up, flogged, and left there. There is nothing which a white man may not do against a black one, if he only takes care that no other white man can give evidence against him.
A law has lately been passed in New Orleans prohibiting any free colored person from going there.
The coasting packets of the ports on the Atlantic commonly have colored cooks. When a vessel goes from New York or Boston to a port in the slaveholding states, the black cook is usually put in jail till the vessel sails again.
No colored person can travel without a pass. If he cannot show it, he may be flogged by any body; in such a case he often is seized and flogged by the patrols. All through the slave states there are patrols; they are so numerous that they cannot be easily escaped.
The only time when a man can visit his wife, when they are on different estates, is Saturday evening and Sunday. If they be very near to each other, he may sometimes see her on Wednesday evening. He must always return to his work by sunrise; if he fail to do so, he is flogged. When he has got together all the little things he can for his wife and children, and has walked many miles to see them, he may find that they have all been sold away, some in one direction, and some in another. He gives up all hope of seeing them again, but he dare not utter a word of complaint.
It often happens that, when a slave wishes to visit his wife on another plantation, his own master is busy or from home, and therefore he cannot get a pass. He ventures without it. If there be any little spite against his wife or himself, he may be asked for it when he arrives, and, not having it, he may be beaten with thirty-nine stripes, and sent away. On his return, he may be seized by the patrol, and flogged again for the same reason; and he will not wonder if he is again seized and beaten for the third time.
If a negro has given offence to the patrol, even by so innocent a matter as dressing tidily to go to a place of worship, he will be seized by one of them, and another will tear up his pass; while one is flogging him, the others will look another way; so when he or his master makes complaint of his having been beaten without cause, and he points out the person who did it, the others will swear they saw no one beat him. His oath, being that of a black man, would stand for nothing; but he may not even be sworn; and, in such a case, his tormentors are safe, for they were the only whites present.
In all the slave states there are men who make a trade of whipping negroes; they ride about inquiring for jobs of persons who keep no overseer; if there is a negro to be whipped, whether man or woman, this man is employed when he calls, and does it immediately; his fee is half a dollar. Widows and other females, having negroes, get them whipped in this way. Many mistresses will insist on the slave who has been flogged begging pardon for her fault on her knees, and thanking her for the correction.
A white man, who lived near me in Camden county, Thomas Evidge, followed this business. He was also sworn whipper at the court house. A law was passed that any white man detected in stealing should be whipped. Mr. Dozier frequently missed hogs, and flogged many of his negroes on suspicion of stealing them; when he could not, in his suspicions, fix on any one in particular, he flogged them all round, saying that he was sure of having punished the right one. Being one day shooting in his woods, he heard the report of another gun, and shortly after met David Evidge, the nephew of the whipper, with one of his hogs on his back, which had just been shot. David was sent to prison, convicted of the theft, and sentenced to be flogged. His uncle, who vapored about greatly in flogging slaves, and taunted them with unfeeling speeches while he did it, could not bear the thought of flogging his nephew, and hired a man to do it. The person pitched on chanced to be a sailor; he laid it well on the thief; pleased enough were the colored people to see a white back for the first time subjected to the lash.
Another man of the same business, George Wilkins, did no greater credit to the trade. Mr. Carnie, on Western Branch, Virginia, often missed corn from his barn. Wilkins, the whipper, was very officious in pointing out this slave and that, as very likely to be the thief; with nothing against them but his insinuations, some were very severely punished, being flogged by this very Wilkins, and others, at his instigation, were sold away. One night, Mr. Carnie, unknown to his colored people, set a steel trap in the barn; some of the negroes, passing the barn before morning, saw Wilkins standing there, but were not aware he was caught. They called the master, that he might seize the thief before he could escape; he came and teased Wilkins during the night; in the morning, he exposed him to the view of the neighbors, and then set him at liberty without further punishment.
The very severe punishments to which slaves are subjected, for trifling offences, or none at all, their continued liability to all kinds of ill usage, without a chance of redress, and the agonizing feelings they endure at being separated from the dearest connections, drive many of them to desperation, and they abscond. They hide themselves in the woods, where they remain for months, and, in some cases, for years. When caught, they are flogged with extreme severity, their backs are pickled, and the flogging repeated as before described: after months of this torture, the back is allowed to heal, and the slave is sold away. Especially is this done when the slave has attempted to reach a free state.
In violent thunder-storms, when the whites have got between feather-beds to be safe from the lightning, I have often seen negroes, the aged as well as others, go out, and, lifting up their hands, thank God that judgment was coming at last. So cruelly are many of them used, that judgment, they think, would be a happy release from their horrible slavery.
The proprietors, though they live in luxury, generally die in debt: their negroes are so hardly treated that no profit is made by their labor. Many of them are great gamblers. At the death of a proprietor, it commonly happens that his colored people are sold towards paying his debts. So it must and will be with the masters while slavery continues: when freedom is established, I believe they will begin to prosper greatly.
Before I close this Narrative, I ought to express my grateful thanks to the many friends in the Northern States, who have encouraged and assisted me: I shall never forget to speak of their kindness, and to pray for their prosperity. I am delighted in saying, that not only to myself, but to very many other colored persons, they have lent a benevolent and helping hand. Last year, gentlemen whom I know bought no less than ten families from slavery; and this year they are pursuing the same good work. But for these numerous and heavy claims on their means and their kindness, I should have had no need to appeal to the generosity of the British public; they would gladly have helped me to redeem all my children and relations.
When I first went to the Northern States,—which is about ten years ago,—although I was free, as to the law, I was made to feel severely the difference between persons of different colors. No black man was admitted to the same seats in churches with the whites, nor to the inside of public conveyances, nor into street coaches or cabs: we had to be content with the decks of steamboats in all weathers, night and day, not even our wives or children being allowed to go below, however it might rain, or snow, or freeze; in various other ways, we were treated as though we were of a race of men below the whites. But the abolitionists boldly stood up for us, and, through them, things are much changed for the better. Now, we may sit in any part of many places of worship, and are even asked into the pews of respectable white families; many public conveyances now make no distinction between white and black. We begin to feel that we are really on the same footing as our fellow-citizens. They see we can and do conduct ourselves with propriety, and they are now admitting us, in many cases, to the same standing with themselves.
During the struggles which have procured for us this justice from our fellow-citizens, we have been in the habit of looking in public places for some well-known abolitionists, and, if none that we knew were there, we addressed any person dressed as a Quaker; these classes always took our part against ill usage, and we have to thank them for many a contest in our behalf.
We were greatly delighted by the zealous efforts and powerful eloquence in our cause of Mr. George Thompson, who came from our English friends to aid our suffering brethren. He was hated and mobbed by bad men amongst the whites; they put his life in great danger, and threatened destruction to all who sheltered him. We prayed for him, and did all we could to defend him. The Lord preserved him, and thankful were we when he escaped from our country with his life. At that time, and ever since, we have had a host of American friends, who have labored for the cause night and day; they have nobly stood up for the rights and honor of the colored man; but they did so at first in the midst of scorn and danger. Now, thank God, the case is very different. William Lloyd Garrison, who was hunted for his life by a mob in the streets of New York, has lately been chairman of a large meeting in favor of abolition, held in Faneuil Hall, the celebrated public hall of Boston, called the 'Cradle of Liberty.'
I am glad to say also that numbers of my colored brethren now escape from slavery; some by purchasing their freedom, others by quitting, through many dangers and hardships, the land of bondage. The latter suffer many privations in their attempts to reach the free states. They hide themselves, during the day, in the woods and swamps; at night, they travel, crossing rivers by swimming or by boats they may chance to meet with, and passing over hills and meadows which they do not know: in these dangerous journeys they are guided by the north-star, for they only know that the land of freedom is in the north. They subsist only on such wild fruit as they can gather, and as they are often very long on their way, they reach the free states almost like skeletons. On their arrival they have no friends but such as pity those who have been in bondage, the number of whom, I am happy to say, is increasing; but if they can meet with a man in a broad-brimmed hat and Quaker coat, they speak to him without fear—relying on him as a friend. At each place the escaped slave inquires for an abolitionist or a Quaker, and these friends of the colored man help them on their journey northwards, until they are out of the reach of danger.
Our untiring friends, the abolitionists, once obtained a law that no colored person should be seized as a slave within the free states; this law would have been of great service to us, by ridding us of all anxiety about our freedom while we remained there; but I am sorry to say, that it has lately been repealed, and that now, as before, any colored person who is said to be a slave, may be seized in the free states and carried away, no matter how long he may have resided there, as also may his children and their children, although they all may have been born there. I hope this law will soon be altered again. At present many escaped slaves are forwarded by their friends to Canada, where, under British rule, they are quite safe. There is a body of ten thousand of them in Upper Canada; they are known for their good order, and loyalty to the British government; during the late troubles, they could always be relied on for the defence of the British possessions against the lawless Americans who attempted to invade them.
As to the settlement of Liberia, on the coast of Africa, the free colored people of America do not willingly go to it. America is their home: if their forefathers lived in Africa, they themselves know nothing of that country. None but free colored people are taken there: if they would take slaves, they might have plenty of colonists. Slaves will go any where for freedom.
We look very much to England for help to the cause of the slaves. Whenever we hear of the people of England doing good to black men, we are delighted, and run to tell each other the news. Our kind friends, the abolitionists, are very much encouraged when they hear of meetings and speeches in England in our cause. The first of August, the day when the slaves in the West Indies were made free, is always kept as a day of rejoicing by the American colored free people.
I do hope and believe that the cause of freedom to the blacks is becoming stronger and stronger every day. I pray for the time to come when freedom shall be established all over the world. Then will men love as brethren; they will delight to do good to one another; and they will thankfully worship the Father of All.
And now I have only to repeat my hearty thanks to all who have done any thing towards obtaining liberty for my colored brethren, and especially to express my gratitude to those who have helped me to procure for myself, my wife, and so far of my children, the blessing of freedom—a blessing of which none can know the value, but he who has been a slave. Whatever profit may be obtained by the sale of this book, and all donations with which I may be favored, will be faithfully employed in redeeming my remaining children and relatives from the dreadful condition of slavery.
I have paid the following sums to redeem myself and relatives from slavery, viz:
For my own freedom, ... $1,850 For my wife's " ... 300 For my son's " ... 450 Grandchild's " ... 400 To redeem my kidnapped son, 60 ———$3,060
I now wish to raise $100 to buy the freedom of my sister Mary, who is a slave at Elizabeth City, N.C. Her master says he will take that sum for her. M.G.
Boston, Jan. 19, 1844.
[Footnote 1: It will be observed that the narrator married a second wife, without having heard of the decease of the first. To explain this fact, it is necessary to state, that the frequent occurrence of cases where husbands and wives, members of Christian societies, were finally separated by sale, led the ministers, some years ago, to deliberate on the subject: they decided that such separation might be considered as the death of the parties to each other, and they therefore agreed to consider subsequent marriages not immoral. The practice is general. It is scarcely necessary to remark, that a more unequivocal and impressive proof of the heinous nature of the system could hardly exist. It breaks up the fondest connections, it tears up the holiest attachments, and induces the ministers of religion, as much as in them lies, to carve the divine law to a fitting with its own infernal exigencies.]