The Sable Cloud - A Southern Tale With Northern Comments (1861)
by Nehemiah Adams
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse





"I did not err, there does a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night"



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1861, by


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts















"The small and great are there, and the servant is free from his master."

A Southern gentleman, who was visiting in New York, sent me, with his reply to my inquiries for the welfare of his family at home, the following letter which he had just received from one of his married daughters in the South.

The reader will be so kind as to take the assurance which the writer hereby gives him, that the letter was received under the circumstances now stated, and that it is not a fiction. Certain names and the date only are, for obvious reasons, omitted.



You have so recently heard from and about those of us left here, and that in a so much more satisfactory way than through letters, that it scarcely seems worth while to write just yet. But Mary left Kate's poor little baby in such a pitiable state, that I think it will be a relief to all to hear that its sufferings are ended. It died about ten o'clock the night that she left us, very quietly and without a struggle, and at sunset on Friday we laid it in its last resting-place. My husband and I went out in the morning to select the spot for its burial, and finding the state of affairs in the cemetery, we chose a portion of ground and will have it inclosed with a railing. They have been very careless in the management of the ground, and have allowed persons to inclose and bury in any shape or way they chose, so that the whole is cut up in a way that makes it difficult to find a place where two or three graves could be put near each other. We did find one at last, however, about the size of the Hazel Wood lots; and we will inclose it at once, so that when another, either from our own family or those of the other branches, wants a resting-place, there shall not be the same trouble. Poor old Timmy lies there; but it is in a part of the grounds where, the sexton tells us, the water rises within three feet of the surface; so, of course, we did not go there for this little grave. His own family selected his burial-place, and probably did not think of this.

Kate takes her loss very patiently, though she says that she had no idea how much she would grieve after the child. It had been sick so long that she said she wanted to have it go; but I knew when she said it that she did not know what the parting would be. It is not the parting alone, but it is the horror of the grave,—the tender child alone in the far off gloomy burial-ground, the heavy earth piled on the tender little breast, the helplessness that looked to you for protection which you could not give, and the emptiness of the home to which you return when the child is gone. He who made a mother's heart and they who have borne it, alone can tell the unutterable pain of all this. The little child is so carefully and tenderly watched over and cherished while it is with you,—and then to leave it alone in the dread grave where the winds and the rain beat upon it! I know they do not feel it, but since mine has been there, I have never felt sheltered from the storms when they come. The rain seems to fall on my bare heart. I have said more than I meant to have said on this subject, and have left myself little heart to write of anything else. Tell Mammy that it is a great disappointment to me that her name is not to have a place in my household. I was always so pleased with the idea that my Susan and little Cygnet should grow up together as the others had done; but it seems best that it should not be so, or it would not have been denied. Tell Mary that Chloe staid that night with Kate, and has been kind to her. All are well at her house.

* * * * *

Of the persons named in this letter,

KATE is a slave-mother, belonging to the lady who writes the letter.

CYGNET was Kate's babe.

MAMMY is a common appellation for a slave-nurse. The Mammy to whom the message in the letter is sent was nursery-maid when the writer of the letter and several brothers and sisters were young; and, more than this, she was maid to their mother in early years. She is still in this gentleman's family. Her name is Cygnet; Kate's babe was named for her.

MARY is the lady's married sister.

CHLOE is Mary's servant.

The incidental character of this letter and the way in which it came to me, gave it a special charm. Some recent traveller, describing his sensations at Heidelberg Castle, speaks of a German song which he heard, at the moment, from a female at some distance and out of sight. This letter, like that song, derives much of its effect from the unconsciousness of the author that it would reach a stranger.

Having read this letter many times, always with the same emotions as at first, I resolved to try the effect of it upon my friend, A. Freeman North. He is an upright man, much sought after in the settlement of estates, especially where there are fiduciary trusts. Placing the letter in his hands, I asked him, when he should have read it, to put in writing his impressions and reflections. The result will be found in the next chapter. Mrs. North, also, will engage the reader's kind attention.



"As blind men use to bear their noses higher Than those that have their eyes and sight entire."


"One woman reads another's character Without the tedious trouble of decyphering."


So then, this is a Southern heart which prompts these loving, tender strains. This lady is a slave-holder. It is a slave toward whom this fellow-feeling, this gentleness of pity, these acts of loving-kindness, these yearnings of compassion, these respectful words, and all this care and assiduity, flow forth.

Is she not some singular exception among the people of her country; some abnormal product, an accidental grace, a growth of luxuriant richness in a deadly soil, or, at least, is she not like Jenny Lind among singers? Surely we shall not look upon her like again. It would be difficult to find even here at the North,—the humane North, nay, even among those who have solemnly consecrated themselves as "the friends of the slave," and who "remember them that are in bonds as bound with them,"—a heart more loving and good, affections more natural and pure. I am surprised. This was a slave-babe. Its mother was this lady's slave. I am confused. This contradicts my previous information; it sets at nought my ideas upon a subject which I believed I thoroughly understood.

A little negro slave-babe, it seems, is dead, and its owner and mistress is acting and speaking as Northerners do! Yes, as Northerners do even when their own daughters' babes lie dead!

The letter must be a forgery. No; here it is before me, in the handwriting of the lady, post-marked at the place of her residence. But is it not, after all, a fiction? I can believe almost anything sooner than that I am mistaken in the opinions and feelings which are contradicted by this letter. In the spirit of Hume's argument against the miracles of the Bible, I feel disposed, almost, to urge that it would be a greater miracle that the course of nature at the South in a slave-holder's heart should thus be set aside than that there should not be, in some way, deception about this letter. But still, here is the letter; and it is written to her father, whom she could not deceive, whom she had no motive, no wish, to delude. Had it been written to a Northerner, I could have surmised that she was attempting to make false impressions about slavery, and its influence on the slave-holder. Why should she tell her father this simple tale, unless real affection for the babe and its mother were impelling her? This tries my faith. It is like an undesigned coincidence in holy writ, which used so to stagger my unbelief. Possibly, however,—for I must maintain my previous convictions if I can,—possibly her father is such as our anti-slavery lecturers and writers declare a slave-holder naturally to be, and his daughter, herself a mother, is seeking to touch his heart and turn him from his cruelties as a slave-holder by showing him, in this indirect, beautiful manner, that slave-mothers have the feelings of human beings. Perhaps I may therefore compromise this matter by allowing, on one hand, that the daughter is all that she appears to be, and claiming, on the other, that the father is all that a slave-holder ought to be to verify our Northern theories. But she herself is a slave-holder, and therefore by our theory she ought to be imbruted. I beg her pardon, and that of her father; but they must consider how hard it is for us at the North to conquer all our prejudices even under the influence of such a demonstration as her letter. I ask one simple question: Is not this slave-babe, (and her mother,) of "the down-trodden," and is not this lady one of the down-treading? And yet she weeps,—not because, as I would have supposed, she had lost one hundred and fifty dollars in the child, but as though she loved it like the sick and dying child of a fellow-creature, of a mother like herself. Now, who at the North ever hears of such a thing in slavery? The old New York Tabernacle could have said, It is not in me;—the modern Boston Music Hall says, It is not in me. None of the antislavery papers, political or religious, say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. Our Northern instructors on the subject of slavery, the orators, the Uncle Tom's Cabins, "The Scholar an Agitator," have never taught us to believe this. The South, we are instructed to think, is a Golgotha, a valley of Hinnom; compacts with it are covenants with hell. But here is one holy angel with its music; a ministering spirit; but is she a Lot in Sodom? Abdiel in the revolted principality? a desolate, mourning Rizpah on that rock which overlooks four millions of slaves and their tortures?

In a less instructed state of mind on this subject, I should once have said, on reading this letter,—This is slavery. Here is a view of life at the South. As a traveller accidentally catches a sight of a family around their table, and domestic life gleams upon him for a moment; as the opening door of a church suffers a few notes of the psalm to reach the ear of one at a distance, this letter, written evidently amidst household duties and cares, discloses, in a touching manner, the domestic relations of Southern families and their servants wherever Christianity prevails. It is one strain of the ordinary music of life in ten thousands of those households, falling accidentally upon our ears, and giving us truthful, artless impressions, such as labored statements and solemn depositions would not so well convey, and which theories, counter-statements, arguments, and invectives never can refute. Our senior pastor would say that the letter is like the Epistles of John,—not a doctrinal exposition, but a breathing forth of the spirit which the evangelical history had inspired. I have come to know more, however, than I did when I could have had such amiable but unenlightened feelings. I have read the "Key to Uncle Tom" and the "Barbarism of Slavery."

Still, I am sorely puzzled. "Kate," she says, "wanted to have it go, it had been sick so long; but I knew, when she said it, she did not know what the parting would be."

"The parting!" Has she read our Northern abstracts and versions of the Dred Scott Decision, and are there, in her view, any rights in a negro which she is bound to respect? Has she not heard that the Supreme Court of the United States has absolved her from all her feelings of humanity? "The parting!" Where has she lived not to know how, according to our lecturers, families are parted at the auction-block in the Southern States without the least compunction? We are constantly told,—has she not heard it?—that the slave at the South is a mere "chattel," and that a slave-child is bought and sold as recklessly as a calf, and that a parting between a slave-mother and her children, sold and separated for life, is an occurrence as familiar as the separation of animals and their young, and no more regarded by slave-holders than divorcements in the barn-yard. This being so, it must follow that when a slave-babe dies, the only sorrow in the hearts of the white owners is such as they feel when a colt is kicked to death or a heifer is choked. This must be so, if all is true which is meant to be conveyed when we are told so often at the North that the slave is a mere "chattel." Therefore I am puzzled by this lady's tears for the mother of this little black babe. She says of the mother of that poor little negro infant slave, "I knew she did not dream what the parting would be." I repeat it, my theory of slavery, that which I hold in common with all enlightened friends of freedom, requires that this lady should have a debased, imbruted nature, for she owns human beings, has made property of God's image in man. And now I feel creeping over me a dreadful temptation to think that one may hold fellow-creatures in bondage and yet be really humane, gentle, and as good as a Northerner! What fearful changes in politics would come about should our people believe this! It cannot be that our great party of Freedom can ever go to pieces and disappoint the hopes of the world; yet this would be the case, if the feelings stirred by this letter should gain a general acceptance. I cannot gainsay the facts. Here is the letter. May it never see the light; people are much more influenced by such things than by mere logic, and oh, what would befall the nation should our Northern excitement against slavery cease, and should we leave the whole subject to the South and to God! "What if people should come to believe that the Southerners—fifteen or sixteen States of this Union—are as humane, Christian, and conscientious as the North!

Who will resolve my painful doubts? I do crave to know what possible motive this lady could have had in taking so much thought and care about the last resting-place of this poor little black "chattel." You and your husband, dear lady, seem to be as kind and painstaking as though you knew that a fellow-creature of yours was returning, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

One great Northern "friend of the slave" tells us that the slaves at the South are degraded so to the level of brutes, that baptizing them and admitting them to Christian ordinances is about the same as though he should say to his dogs, "I baptize thee, Bose, in," etc. This, he tells us, he repeated many times here, and in England.[1] Nothing but love of truth and just hatred of "the sum of all villanies" could, of course, have made him venture so near the verge of unpardonable blasphemy as to speak thus. Yet your feelings and behavior toward this babe are in direct conflict with his theory. Pray whom am I to believe?

[Footnote 1: See "Sigma's" communications to the Boston Transcript, August, 1857.]

Perhaps now I have hit upon a solution. Some people, Walter Scott is an instance, bury their favorite dogs with all the honors of a decorated sepulture. Rather than believe that your slaves are commonly regarded by you as your fellow-creatures, having rights which you love to consider, or, that you do not mercilessly dispose of them to promote your selfish interests, we, the Northern people, who have had the very best of teachers on the subject of slavery, learnedly theoretical, reasoning from the eternal principles of right, would incline to believe that your interest in the burial of this little slave-babe was merely that which your own child would feel on seeing her kitten carefully buried at the foot of the apple-tree.

One thing, however, suggests a difficulty in feeling our way to this conclusion. I mention it because of the perfect candor which guides the sentiments and feelings of all Northern people in speaking of slavery and slave-holders.

The difficulty is this: Who was "poor old Timmy"? Some old slave in your father's family, I apprehend. You seem sad at finding that his grave is not in the best place. "The water rises within three feet of the surface;"—we infer, from the regret which you seem to feel at this, that you have some care and pity for your old slaves, which extends even to their graves. But we had well nigh borrowed strength to our prejudices from this place of old Timmy's grave, and were saying with ourselves, Thus the slave-holders bury their slaves where the water may overflow them; but you seem to apologize to your father for Timmy's having such a poor place for his remains by saying, "His own" (Timmy's) "family selected his burying-place, and probably did not think of this." Very kind in you, dear madam, to speak so. "The friends of the slave" are greatly obliged to you for such consideration. You say, "His own family selected his burying-place." Do slaves have such a liberty? Can they go and come in their burying-grounds and choose places for the graves of their kindred? This is being full as good to your servants, in this particular, as we are at the North to our domestics. You thought poor old Timmy's grave was not in a spot sufficiently choice for this little babe's grave, and, it seems, you inclosed a spot, and inaugurated it by the burial of this child, for the last resting-place of other babes, the kindred of this child and of your other servants. This looks as though there were some domestic permanence in some parts of the South among the servants of a household; and as though the birth and death of a child have some other associations with you than those which belong to the breeding and sale of poultry. We are truly glad to think of all this. It is exceedingly pleasant to have a good opinion of people, much more so than to believe evil of them, and to accuse them wrongfully.

In speaking thus to you, I make myself think—and I hope I do not seem self-complacent in saying it, for you must have learned from the tone of my remarks, if from no other source, that self-complacency is not a Northern characteristic, especially in our feelings toward the South—but I make myself think, by this candid admission of what seems good in you, of a venturesome remark by Paul the Apostle to your brother slave-holder Philemon, in that epistle in which he sends back the slave Onesimus,—a very trying epistle to us at the North, though on the whole, many of us keep up our confidence in inspiration notwithstanding this epistle, especially as it is explained to us by some at the North who know most of Southern slavery, our inbred hatred of which, it is insisted by some of our best scholars, should control even our interpretation of the word of God. Paul speaks to this slave-holder, Philemon, of "the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you,"—which we think was exceedingly charitable, considering that it was said to a holder of slaves; and perhaps quite too much so; for the truth is not to be spoken at all times, and especially not of those who hold their fellow-men in bondage. I am often constrained to think that it was an inconsiderate, unwise thing in the Apostle to take this favorable view of that slave-holder; he may, however, have written by permission, not by commandment; that would save his inspiration from reproach; for had he been inspired in writing this epistle, I ask myself, Would he not have foreseen our great Northern conflict with the mightiest injustice upon which the sun ever shone? and would he not have foreseen how much aid and comfort that epistle would give the friends of oppression on this continent? One first truth in the minds of the most eminent "friends of freedom" is this: "Slavery is the sum of all villanies." Other truths follow in their natural order; among them the question of the inspiration of the Bible has a place; but slavery leads some of them to think lightly, and to speak disparagingly, of the Bible, because it comes in conflict with their theories regarding slave-holding, which is certainly not always referred to in Scripture in the tone which we prefer. There was the Apostle James, too, writing about "works" in the same unguarded manner as Paul when speaking of slaves and slave-holders. Pity that he could not have let "works" alone, seeing it was so important for the other Apostles to establish the one idea of justification by faith. He made great trouble for Luther and his companions in their contest with Popery. Luther had to reject his epistle; "straminea epistola" he called it,—an epistle of straw,—weak, worthless; and he denied its inspiration, because it conflicted with his doctrine of "faith alone." So much for trying to be candid and just, and for presenting the other side of a subject, or of a man, when the spirit of the age is averse to it, and candor is in danger of being looked upon as a time-serving thing. Neither Paul nor James, however, had felt the tonic, bracing effect of good anti-slavery principles, or they would not have written, the one such a letter to a slave-holder, and the other such a back-oar argument against "faith alone." However, I am disposed to think well of Paul and James, notwithstanding these the great errors of their lives. Indeed I can almost forgive them, when I am reading other things which they said and did. You will please acknowledge, therefore, my dear madam, that in giving you credit for kind feelings toward a poor slave and its mother, we are disposed to be just; yet I beg of you not to think that I abate one jot or tittle of my belief that, in theory, slavery is "the sum of all villanies," "an enormous wrong," "a stupendous injustice."

I have just been reading your letter once more, and the foolish tears pester me so that I can scarce see out of my eyes. I find, dear madam, that you have known a bitter sorrow which so many parents are carrying with them to the grave. Your words make me think so of little graves elsewhere, that I forget for the time that you are a slave-holder. Nor can I hardly believe that your touching words are suggested by the death of a slave's babe, when you speak of "the heavy earth piled on the tender little breast." O my dear lady! has a slave's babe "a tender little breast"? Then you really think so! And you a slave-holder! "Border Ruffianism," perhaps, has not yet reached your heart; and yet I suppose—forgive me if I do you wrong—that slave-holders' hearts generally need only to be removed to the "borders," to manifest all their native "ruffianism." Can you tell me whether there are any mothers in Missouri (near Kansas) who feel toward their slaves who are mothers, as you do? There are so many people from the North in Kansas (near Missouri) who have gone thither to prevent you and your brethren and sisters from owning a fellow-creature there, that I trust their influence will in time extend through all Missouri, and that white mothers in that State will everywhere have such humane feelings toward the blacks as we and you possess.

All that I ask of you now, is, that you give Kate her liberty at once. Oh, do not say, as I fancy you will, There is not a happier being than Kate in all the land of freedom. "Fiat justitia," dear madam, "ruat coelum." I cannot conceive how being "owned" is anything but a curse. Really, we forget the miseries of the Five Points, and of the dens in New York, Boston, Buffalo, and other places at the North, the hordes in the city and State institutions in New York Harbor, Deer Island, Boston, and all such things, in our extreme pity for poor slave-mothers, like Kate, whose children, when they get to be about nine or ten years old, are liable to be sold. Honest Mrs. Striker came to work in our family, not long since, leaving her young child at home in the care of a young woman who watched it for ten cents a day. I said to her, Dear Mrs. Striker, are you not glad that you live in a free state, and not where, when you return like a bird to its nest at night, you may find your little one carried off, you know not where, by some man-stealer, you know not whom?—We honor your kind feelings, madam, but you are not aware, probably, what overflowing love and tender pity there is among us Northerners, toward your slaves and their children. We are disinterested, too; for we nearly forget our own black people here at the North, and more especially in Canada, to care for you and your people. And though hundreds of innocent young people are decoyed into our Northern cities yearly from the country and are made the victims of unhallowed passions, yet the thought that some of your young people on those remote, solitary plantations, can be compelled by their masters to do wrong on pain of being sold, fills us with such unaffected distress that we think but little of voluntary or compulsory debauchery in our own cities; but we think of dissolving the Union to rid ourselves of seeming complicity with such wickedness as we see to be inherent in the relation of master and slave. We at the North should all be wicked if we had such opportunities; we know, therefore, that you must be. Because you will not let us reprove you for it, we cut off our correspondence with your Southern ecclesiastical bodies. But I began to speak of little graves. You will see by my involuntary wandering from them how full our hearts are of your colored people, and how self-forgetful we are in our desires and efforts to do them good. And yet some of your Southern people can find it in their hearts to set at nought these our most sacred Northern antipathies and commiserations!

But I constantly hear some of your words in your letter striking their gentle, sad chimes in my ears. "It is not the parting alone, but the helplessness that looked to you for protection which you could not give;" "the emptiness of the home to which you return when the child is gone."

Now, for such words, I solemnly declare that, in my opinion, you, dear madam, never had a helpless slave look to you for protection which you could give and which you refused; you, surely, never made a slave's home desolate by taking her child from her. No, such words as those which I have just quoted from your letter, are a perfect assurance that neither you nor your kindred, within your knowledge, are guilty of ruthless violations of domestic ties among your colored people. Otherwise, you could not write as you do about "desolate homes" and "the child gone." While I read your letter and think of you, I am reminded of those words: "Is not this he whom they seek to kill?" Why, if the insurgents' pikes were aimed at you and your child, I would almost be willing to rush in and receive them in my own body. Yet I would not be known at the North to have spoken so strongly as this. O my dear madam, if there were only fifty righteous people (counting you) in the South, people who knew what "desolate homes" and "the child gone" mean, I should almost begin to hope that our Southern Gomorrah might be spared.

But I fear that I am trespassing too far away from my sworn fealty to Northern opinions and feelings. I begin to fear that I may be tempted to be recreant to my inborn, inbred notions of liberty, while holding converse with you, for there is something extremely seductive to a Northerner in slavery; it is like the apple and the serpent to the woman; so that whoever goes to the South, or has anything to do with slave-holders, is apt to lose his integrity; there is a Circean influence there for Northern people; thousands of once good, anti-slavery men now lie dead and buried as to their reputations here at the North, in consequence of having to do with the seductive slave-power; they would fill Bonaventura Cemetery, in Savannah; the Spanish moss, swaying on the limbs of its trees, would be, in number, fit signals of their subjection to what you call right views on the subject of slavery.

Though I fear almost to hold converse with you, yet, conscious of my innate love of liberty, I venture to do so. Bunker Hill is within twenty miles of my home. When I go to that sacred memorial of liberty, I strive to fortify my soul afresh against the slave-power. After hearing favorable things said, in Boston, about the South, I can go to Faneuil Hall, and there, the doors being carefully shut, walk enthusiastically about the room, almost shouting, "Sam. Adams!" "James Otis!" "Seventy-Six!" "Shade of Warren!" "No chains on the Bay State!" "Massachusetts in the van!" "Give me liberty or give me death!" I can enjoy the privilege of looking frequently on certain majestic figures in our American Apocalypse, under the present vial,—but I need not name them. I meet in our book-stores with "Lays of Freedom," never sung by such as you. I see in the shop-windows the inspiring faces, in medallion, of those masterpieces of human nature, "the champions of freedom," our chief abolitionists;—and shall I, can I, ever succumb to the slave-power, even though it approach me through the holy, all-subduing charms of woman's influence? No! dear madam, ten thousand times, No! "Slave-power!" to borrow Milton's figure when speaking of Ithuriel and Satan, the word is as the touch of fire to powder, to our brave anti-slavery souls. You have, perhaps, seen a bull stopping in the street, pawing the ground, throwing the dust over him and covering himself with a cloud of it, his nose close to the earth, and a low, bellowing sound issuing from his nostrils. Your heart has died within you at the sight. You have been made to feel how slight a defence is fan, or sunshade, against such an antagonist, though you should make them to fly suddenly open in his face. No enemy of his was in sight, so far as you could perceive; you wondered what had excited his belligerent spirit; but he saw at a very great distance that which you could not see; he heard a voice you could not hear, giving occasion to this show of prowess. That fearful combatant on the highway, dear madam, is the North, and you are the distant foe. You may affect to smile, perhaps, at the valorous attitudes, the show of mettle in the bull, but you have no idea, as I had the honor to say before, how sturdy is our hatred of the slave-power and how ready we are to do battle with it. We paw in the valley, and are not afraid.

Never think to delude us, my dear lady, with the thought that slavery in our Territories means such ladies as you owning Kates and their little babes, and having such hearts toward them as you seem to have; for that would take away a large part of the evil in slavery. Nor must you expect us, in thinking of slavery as extending into our Territories, to picture to ourselves an accomplished gentleman and lady searching a cemetery for a spot to be the grave of a little slave-babe, and behaving themselves as though they had feelings toward it and its mother irrespective of the market-price of slaves. "Border Ruffians" are the archetypes of our ideas respecting all who wish to extend slavery into our Territories. On the score of humanity, madam, we have no objection to you and your husband taking Kate and living in Kansas; how perfectly harmless that might seem to many! for, no doubt, you and Kate are perfectly happy as mistress and servant; you would need domestics there, and how could they and you be better pleased than if they and you were just as Kate and you now are to each other? but, O dear madam, that would be slavery, and we are under sworn obligations here at the North to oppose the owning of a human being with indiscriminate hatred. Say not it seems hard that if you wish to live in Kansas, for example, you cannot have liberty to go there with Kate, who is as much attached to you, I make no doubt, as any Northern or English servant is to a household. Perhaps it does seem perfectly natural and harmless, and no doubt Kate's relation to you is as gentle and pleasant, almost, as that of an adopted member of a family, who is half attendant, and half companion; this we understand. You see nothing terrible in such a relation. O dear madam, you have the misfortune to have been born under the blinding, blighting influence of slavery, and cannot see things in the true, just light in which they appear to us, whose minds are unprejudiced and clear, and whose moral sentiments on this great subject are more correct and elevated. What is making all this trouble in our nation? I will answer you in the burning words of a Northern clergyman in his speech at a meeting called to sympathize with the family of John Brown, after his death by martyrdom: "The Slave-Power itself, standing up there in all its deformity in the sight of Northern consciences,—that is the cause, [applause] and there the responsibility belongs."[2] Yes, you are sinning against the Northern conscience! It is settled forever that you are evil-doers in holding your present relation to the slave. We are bound to hem you in as by fire, till, like a scorpion so fenced about, you die by your own sting. We must proclaim liberty to your captives. Step but one foot with Kate on free soil, and our watchmen of liberty, set to break every yoke and help fugitives on their way from the house of bondage, will be around you in troops, and shout in her ear those electrifying and beatifying words, "You are a free woman!" There her chains will drop; she will cease to be a slave, and become a human being.

[Footnote 2: Boston Courier, Nov. 26, 1859.]

Must I refer to your letter once more? I hope to destroy its spell over me. But I wish at times that I had never seen that letter. "Tell Mammy that it is a great disappointment to me that her name is not to have a place in my household." Your little slave-babe, Kate's child, you named Cygnet, because Mammy's name is Cygnet, and she and your mother grew up together, and she has been your kind, faithful servant and friend, as much friend as servant, during all your youth till you were married. And you seek to perpetuate her name in your own household, and to have a little Cygnet grow up with your own little Susan. "I was always pleased with the idea that my Susan and little Cygnet should grow up together; but it seems best that it should not be so, or it would not be denied." All this is very sweet and beautiful; but now let me tell you, honestly, what the spontaneous thought of a Northerner is while meditating on such an apparently lovely picture. Here it is: Suppose that Susan and little Cygnet, when both are three years old, are playing in your front-yard some morning, and a cruel slave-trader should look over the fence, and say to your husband, "Fine little thing there, sir; take a hunderd and a ha'f for her?" I ask, Would not your husband (perhaps in need, just then, of money to pay a note) lay down his newspaper, invite the fellow in to drink, and go through the opening scene of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," coaxing up the fellow's price; and finally, would he not sell little Cygnet while her mother was out of sight, push poor little Susan into a room alone to cry her eyes out, and you and your husband pocket the money? Many of us at the North, dear madam, if you will take my unworthy self as a specimen, and I am a very moderate anti-slavery man and no fanatic, are quite as ready to believe such things of you as the contrary. We have read "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Nothing could exceed the disgust and ridicule which your letter would meet with at the hands of some of our best anti-slavery men. I am thinking of it, just now, as in the hands of Rev. Mr. Blank. The other day I saw a cambric muslin handkerchief, richly embroidered, blow past me out of a child's carriage. As I turned to get it, a dog seized it, shook it, put both his paws on it, rent it, made rags of it, threw it down, snatched it up, and seemed vexed that there was no more of it to tear. So will our abolitionists serve your letter, should they ever see it. And, my dear madam, though I disapprove their temper and language, yet I must confess that I sympathize with them in their principles, the only difference between them and me being that of social position and manners. I must tell you that, after all, you are probably unaware of the deception which you are practising on yourself, in supposing that you are really as loving and gentle toward a slave-mother and her child as some might infer. Let but a good sale tempt you! I wait to know whether you would then write such a letter. We have a ready answer to all the kind and good things which are said about you, in this, which you will see and hear in all our speeches and essays, namely, "Slavery is the sum of all villanies." That is to all our thoughts and reasonings about slavery what the longitude of Greenwich is to navigation. All your clergy, all your physicians, all your judges and lawyers, all your fathers and mothers, your gentlemen and ladies, all your children, are heaped together by us in one name, to us an awful name,—"Slave-power." We think about you as we do of Egypt, with Israel in bondage.

And now that allusion furnishes me with an argument against your letter, which I must, in conclusion, and sorely against many of my feelings, let fall, like a stone, upon it, and crush it forever. Pharaoh's daughter was touched with the cry of the little slave-babe, Moses; but what does that prove? that Egyptian bondage was not "an enormous wrong," a "stupendous injustice," "the sum of all villanies"? or that a Red Sea was not already waiting to swallow up the slave-holders, horse and foot?

You may write a thousand such letters, all over the South; but though they delude me for a while, it is only until the moisture which they raise to my eyes from my heart, by the pathos in them, dries up, and leaves my vision clear of all the blinding though beautiful mists of that error which has diffused itself over one half of this goodly land, and, I grieve to add, which has fallen upon many even here in New England, recreant sons of liberty, traitors to the memories of Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill.



I have, as you see, complied with your request, and herewith I send you my thoughts and feelings in view of the good Southern lady's letter. I came near, once or twice, abandoning some of my long-cherished principles, under the influence of the letter and of the reflections to which it gave rise. But I have been enabled to retain my integrity. I am sorry to say that the letter has made me some trouble through its effect on my wife, to whom, incautiously, I read it. Very soon after I began to read, I perceived that some natural drops were finding their way down her tear-passage, leading her to a frequent use of the handkerchief. By this means she interrupted me, I should say, six or eight times, during the reading, and as soon as I had finished she rose and left the room.

I remained, and wrote a large part of the accompanying reflections, and, near midnight, on repairing to my room, I found that Mrs. North was asleep. She waked me in the morning by asking me if I was asleep. I told her that I would gladly listen to what she had to say. She said, "Will you not please, my dear, stop the ——, and the ——," (naming two newspapers,) "and take others?"

"Why," said I, "what is the matter with them?"

She began to weep again. In a few moments she said, "I would give the world if I could have a conversation with that Southern lady."

"I fear," said I, "that it would have a deleterious effect on your attachment to the principles of liberty."

"Liberty!" said she. "Oh, how foolish I have been! I see now that there is another side to that question."

"I hope, my dear," said I, "that you will say and do nothing to occasion any reproach. Certainly, there are two sides to every question. If you manifest any surprise at finding that there is another side to the Liberty question, I fear that some will quote to you the fable of the mouse who was born in a meal-chest."

"I never heard of it," said she.

"Why," said I, "the mouse one day stole up to the edge of the chest, when the cover had been left open, and, looking round on the barn-chamber, she said, 'Dear me, I had no idea that the world was half so large.'"

"The cover has been down and the meal has been in my eyes long enough," said she. "I have been so much accustomed for a long time to read in our papers about 'enormous wrong,' 'stupendous injustice,' 'the slave-breeders,' 'sum of all villanies,' that, unconsciously, I have come to think of the South, indiscriminately, as though they were Robin Hood's men, or"—

"O my dear," said I, "you must have known that there are many good people at the South, notwithstanding slavery."

"How can there be one good man or woman there," said she, "if all that those newspapers say of slave-holding be true? Husband, depend upon it we have been believing a great lie. Just think of that letter. What a tale many of those words reveal. When the infants of our former servants die, do our ladies write such letters about them? I should judge that owning a fellow-creature softens and refines the heart, if this letter is any sign, instead of making them all barbarians. All the newspapers and novels in the world cannot do away the impressions which that letter has made on my mind. I tell you, husband, having slaves is not the unmitigated curse to owners nor to slaves that we have been taught to believe."

"Perhaps," said I, interrupting her, "you would like to live at the South, and own a few."

"I could not be hired by wealth," said she, "to have them for help, even here. I never did like them; and when I think that there are good men and women who do, and who are as kind to the poor creatures as this dear lady, I think that we should give thanks to God."

"Oh, the Southern people are not all like this good lady, by any means," said I.

"'Peradventure,'" said she, "'there be fifty righteous.' There must be tens of thousands. People like this lady are very apt to make good the saying of the blackberry pickers when they see a blackberry, 'Where there's one there's more.' The letter reads as though it were an every-day thing, a matter of course, for this lady to be kind and loving to the blacks; and for my part I bless any one who has anything to do for her or for those like her. Our papers never tell us such stories as this letter contains. No, they, do not love to hear them, I fear; but if a slave is beaten or ill-treated, then the chimes begin, 'enormous wrong,' 'stupendous injustice,' 'sum of all villanies.'"

"Why, my dear," said I, "you are getting to be pro-slavery very fast."

"Never," said she, "if you mean by that, as I suppose you do, approving all that is involved in slavery and all that is committed under the system."

"But," said I, "your present feeling toward this Southern lady may insensibly lead you to believe that it is right to own a fellow-creature. Does not Cowper say,—

"'I would not have a slave to till my ground, To carry me, to fan me while I sleep And startle when I wake, for all the wealth That sinews bought and sold have ever earned?'"

"How Kate must 'startle' and go into convulsions with terror every time this mistress wakes!" she replied. "If Cowper had written in Alabama, instead of describing a state of slavery such as existed in the British possessions, and not, as in the South, mixed up with his every-day life; if the first face with which he had become familiar as a babe had been a black face, the face of his mother's 'slave' loving him, and nursing him, and he, in turn, had tended his old 'Mammy' in her decrepitude, his imagination would have contained some other pictures than those in the lines which you quote. Had there been a Mrs. Cowper, I fancy she would have been like this lady; and perhaps we should have seen Mr. Cowper acting the kind part of this lady's husband toward a slave-mother and her babe, his 'property,' so called. I lay awake here, last night, while you were writing, and thought it all over. What were you writing about so long? I wished that I had a pencil and paper near me. Those English and French people who got rid of slavery as one gets rid of a bunion, know nothing about slavery mingled with our very life-blood. How self-righteous they are! Our people, too, are perpetually quoting what Thomas Jefferson said about slavery in his day. Pray, has there been no progress? Why are we not permitted to hear what Southern men, as good as Jefferson, now say about modern slavery?"

"My dear," said I, "perhaps you are not fully qualified as yet to judge of this great subject in all its relations. The greatest and wisest men are divided in opinion about it."

"Great subject!" said she, "please let me interrupt you; there is but one side to it, I should judge, from reading our papers. What do some of the 'greatest and wisest men,' on the other side, have to say for themselves? Are they all 'friends of oppression,' 'enemies of freedom,' 'minions of the slave-power,' 'dough-faces'? Husband, I am thoroughly disgusted. I have been compelled to have uncharitable feelings toward thousands of people like this Southern lady; I confess I have really hated them, as I hate men-stealers and pirates. This letter has convinced me of my sin. It is like the Gospel in its effect upon me."

"But, my dear," said I, "recollect that good people may be in great error, and we read, 'Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.' Now, to hold a fellow-being in bondage,—how can it be otherwise than 'stupendous injustice'?"

"I wonder," said she, "if Kate feels that she is in 'bondage' to this lady. I wonder if she would not think it cruel, if her mistress should set her free."

"But it is wrong," said I, "to hold property in a human being, whether the bondman be in favor of it or not."

"'Property!'" said she. "I should like to be such 'property,' if I were a black woman. If it were wrong in the abstract," said she, "it might not be in practice."

"Oh," said I, "what a pro-slavery idea that is! where did you learn it?"

"I learned it," said she, "at our corn-husking, when the Squire read extracts from John Quincy Adams's speech about China, in which he said that if China would not open her trade to the world, it would be right to make war upon her. Now war is wrong, but circumstances sometimes make it right. So with holding certain men in slavery, under certain circumstances. I cannot believe that it is right to go and enslave whom we will; but the blacks being here, I can see that it may be the very best thing for all concerned that they should be owned. This may be God's way of having them governed and educated."

I found that I was getting deeper into the subject than I intended, and, besides, it was time to rise. As I left the room, she said, "You will change those papers, won't you? then we will have some more pleasant talks about this subject." She called to me from the door, "Please don't send back the lady's letter; I wish to copy it." This is my reason for not sending the letter with my reply to it. You will certainly give me credit for candor in telling you all that my wife said. However, it is so easily answered that I need not fear to intrust you with it.

Yours, for the slave, A. FREEMAN NORTH.

P.S. After all, I concluded to retain this, and wait till my wife had made what use she desired of the letter, that I might be sure and return it to you safely. In the mean time, I have changed the papers. How irresistible a pleading woman is, especially a wife. Her very want of logic makes her more so, when we are good-natured. She came upon me with just such another supplication a few mornings since. As soon as she awoke, she said, "Husband, do please have our parlor window-sashes let down from the top." "For ventilation?" said I. "Yes," said she, "partly;" but I saw that she smiled. "What has made you think of it so suddenly?" said I. "Do you not want to catch some more canaries?" said she. "I suspect," said I, "that you would like to have ours escape." "Perhaps," said she, "that would be a relief to you from your present embarrassment." Then I saw that all this was banter. She wished to teaze me a little. The truth is, I have two fine singing canaries and a mocking-bird. Some of my pro-slavery friends delight to pester me about them. They say that they mean to issue a habeas corpus, and take them before Justice Bird, (who, you know, queerly enough, happens to be United States Commissioner,) and inquire if they be not restrained of their freedom. I tell them that man has dominion over all the fowls of the air. But they say, "Then might makes right! Is it not a fine thing that such a lover of liberty and friend of freedom and enemy of oppression should keep those little prisoners for his selfish gratification. Come, be a practical emancipationist to the extent of your ability; set the South an example; break every yoke." "They are better off with me," said I; "the hawks or cats would catch them, or they would die from exposure." "Expediency!" said one of them; "do justice, if the heavens fall." "Fye at justitia!" said one, who pretended to take my part. "Ruat coelum, Let them rush to heaven," replied the other. "Parse coelum, please, sir," said my boy in the Academy. "Yes, past the ceiling," said the lawyer, pretending to misunderstand him; "that's right, my son;"—and more wretched punning of the same sort. Hence Mrs. North's pretended supplication about the window-sashes. She has been in excellent spirits ever since I stopped the papers. She says that she wonders at herself so calm and happy. I heard her yesterday calling at the stairs to a little lisping English waiting-maid, who cannot pronounce s: "Judith," said she, "did you not hear the parlor-bell?" Judith walked up, and said, "Mitthith North, lately you've rung tho eathy, that motht of the time I thought it mutht be a acthident, and didn't come up at futht. I thpect the wireth ith got ruthty." Mrs. North said nothing, but afterward, in relating the affair to me, she said she truly believed that it was owing to my stopping the papers. For she could remember how often she went to the bell-rope saying to herself as she pulled it, "sum of all villanies!" then "enormous wrong," with another pull, and then "stupendous injustice," with another. Several times she says Judith has rushed up to the parlor with "Ma'am, whath the matter! the bell rung three timth right off." She thinks that her nervous system will last longer without the papers than with them. As she told me this, she was shutting down the lid of the piano for the night. As it fell into its place, the strings set up a beautiful murmur. "Oh, hear that!" said she; "how solemn it is!" "I suppose," said I, "you would not have heard it, if those papers had been in the house." I shall not tell you, a bachelor, what she said and did. I trust that her views on the great subject of freedom will get adjusted by and by; and I am debating with myself what papers to take, having been obliged, for my own edification, to become a subscriber to the reading-room. There, however, I meet with a good many pro-slavery prints, and I am tempted to look into them; after which I frequently feel as though I should pull a bell-rope three times. A.F.N.



"Heaven pities ignorance: She's still the first that has her pardon sign'd; All sins else see their faults; she's, only, blind."

MIDDLETON: No Help like a Woman's.

[Accompanying note, from A. BETTERDAY CUMMING to A. FREEMAN NORTH.


With many thanks for your kindness and frankness, and with my warmest congratulations to Mrs. North for the pleasant effect which the Southern lady's letter has had upon her, I send you another document, hoping that she will read it to you. It will not be worth while for me to say anything about this production. It purports to be from a young man in one of our New England literary institutions, whose aunt, with her husband, was residing at the South for the health of a niece, a sister to this young man;—they being orphans. The letter is so entirely in the same key with your feelings that you cannot fail to be interested. Knowing that you love rare specimens in everything, I send you this as "the only one of its kind," or as we say, "sui generis."—A.B.C.]

—— College, —— — ——.


I have not heard from you but once since your arrival at the South. It is because sister is more unwell? or because you are very busy with your arrangements for the winter? or is it because, as I more than half suspect, you are so much overcome by your first observation and experience of slavery, that you have but little strength left to write to me from that "—— post of observation, darker every hour"? Perhaps you are mustering courage to tell me of the sights which you have seen, the little while that you have been among the poor, enslaved children of the sun in our Southern house of bondage. "Afraid to ask, yet much concerned to know," I wait impatiently for a letter from you. I expect to make great use of its details among my fellow-students, many of whom, I mourn to say, have their hearts case-hardened against the story of oppression. They will show an interest in everybody and everything sooner than in the slave and his wrongs. They are not only callous on that subject, but they laugh at your zeal and call it hard names.

No one can tell what I suffer in the cause of freedom, through my well-meant endeavors to interest and instruct others on the subject which absorbs my thoughts. I know that I shall have your sympathy; and when I come to hear from you what your own eyes have seen, ere this, in slavery, I shall esteem all my sufferings in the cause of the slave as light as air.

I employ the intervals of study in walking among the beautiful scenery of the village and its environs, if haply I may meet with some to whom I may open my mind on this great theme. The last time that I went out for this purpose, I met with a sad sight. A horse was running away with a buggy, while between the body of the carriage and the wheel I saw depending a foot, which I at once inferred was that of a lady. The horse rushed by, and sure enough, a young lady had fallen on the floor of the buggy, holding the reins, evidently entangled and embarrassed in her posture, uttering the most heart-rending cries and shrieks, with intermingled calls to the horse to stop.

I could not help looking at the horse, as he passed, with feelings of strong displeasure. To think that anything having an ear to hear and a sensibility to feel should be so heedless of the cries of distress, roused up my soul to indignation. As I reflected, however, it occurred to me that no doubt this horse had been subjected to unkind treatment from his youth up. I began to blame his owners. Had the law of kindness been observed in the early management of this horse, doubtless he would have regarded the first appeal of this young lady to him. May we not hope, dear Aunt, that a new era is dawning upon us with regard to the universal triumph of love and kindness over oppression of every kind, and that the brute creation will partake of its benign influences? The tone and manner in which horses are spoken to often sends a chill to my heart.

This reminds me, if you will excuse longer delay in my narrative, of some unfavorable impressions which I received lately on my way to Boston, with regard to the imperious manner in which a traveller is assailed by advertisements on the fences, as you pass through the environs of the city. Every few miles, as the cars passed along, I saw, printed on the rough boards of a fence: "Visit" so and so; "Use" so and so; "Try" so and so. I would not be willing to say how often my attention was caught by those mandatory advertisements. At last I became conscious of some feeling of resistance. Whether it was that I began to breathe the air of Bunker Hill, and the atmosphere which nourishes our most eminent friends of freedom, so many of whom, you know, live in Boston and vicinity, I cannot tell; but I found myself saying, with quite enough resentment and emphasis, "I will not 'use' so and so; I will not 'try' so and so; especially, I will not 'visit' so and so,—First, It will not be convenient. Secondly, I have no occasion to do so. Thirdly, I do not know the way; but, Finally, I do not like to be addressed in this manner, as an overseer of a Southern plantation addresses a slave. I am not a slave. I am a Massachusetts freeman." This way of speaking to people, dear Aunty, must be discountenanced. It will, by and by, beget an aptitude for servile obedience; the eye and ear becoming accustomed to the forms of domination, we shall have yokes and chains upon us before we are aware. Some one says, "Let me write the songs for a nation, and I care not who makes her laws." So say I, Let me write imperative advertisements on fences and buildings, and all resistance to Southern encroachments and usurpation will soon be in vain.

But to resume my narrative. I began to look round, as soon as my excitement about the runaway horse would allow, for some one to whom I could open my overburdened mind on the subject of freedom. I espied a man with an immense load of chairs, from a factory in our neighborhood, as I supposed, on his way to Boston. Four horses drew the load, which I saw was very heavy; not so heavy, I thought with myself, as that which four millions of my fellow-men are this moment laboring with, over the gloomy hills of darkness in our Southern States. I felt impelled to address the driver on this great theme. So, before he had reached the top of the hill, I called out,—


Perhaps there was more suddenness and zeal in my call than was judicious, but the driver immediately said "Whoa!" to his horses, and he ran hither and thither for stones to block the wheels to keep his load from running back, down hill.

I felt encouraged, by this, to think that he was of a kind and pliable disposition; and seeing the wheels fortified, and the horses at rest, I felt more disposed to hold conversation with the man. "Who knows," I said to myself, "but that I may now make one new friend for the slave?"

"A warm day," said I.

"Yes, sir," said he, a little impatiently, I thought, The sun was very hot, an August morning, no air stirring, well suited to make one think of toil and woe under our Southern skies.

"Have you ever been at the South?" said I, wiping my forehead.

"No, sir," said he, picking out a knot in the snapper of his whip, evidently to hide his embarrassment while waiting to know the drift of my question. The sight of his whip kindled in my soul new zeal for the poor slaves, knowing as I did how many of them were at that moment skipping in their tortures and striving to flee from the piercing lash.

"Your toil in the hot sun with your load, my dear sir," said I, "is well fitted to impress you with the thought of the miseries under which four millions of your fellow-men are every day groaning in our Southern country. I make no doubt that you are grateful for the blessings of freedom which we enjoy here at the North. I wish to ask whether you are doing anything against oppression; whether you belong to any Association whose object is"—

"What on airth did you stop me for," said he, quite impatiently, and yet with a lingering gleam of respect, and with some hesitancy at any further rudeness of speech.

"My dear sir," said I, "four millions of Southern slaves are this very hour groaning under sorrows which no tongue"—

"You"—(he hesitated a moment, and surveyed me from head to foot, and then broke out,)—"putty-headed, white-birch-looking, nateral—stoppin' a load right near the crown of a hill, no gully in the road, such a day as this, and—'Ged ehp,'"—said he to his horses, as the stones under the wheels that moment began to give way; and then he drew his lash through one hand, with a most angry look. I really thought that I should have to feel that lash. The thought instantly nerved me:—I'll bear it! it's for the slave; let me remember them, I might have added, that are whipped as whipped with them; but at that moment the horses had reached the hill-top, and the driver was by their side.

He called back, as he passed round the rear of his load to the nigh side of his team. I caught only a few of his last words;—"take your backbone for a for'ard X." I snapped my thumb and finger at him, though not lifting my arm from my side. The human spinal column, with its vertebrae, for an axle-tree of a wagon! And yet, I immediately thought, the poor negro's back is truly "the for'ard X" of the great wagon of our American commerce. But I let him depart.

Salutary impressions, I cannot question, dear Aunty, were made upon his mind. He had heard some things which would occupy his thoughts in his solitary trudge on his way to Boston. That thought comforted me as I was writhing a little on my way home, under his opprobrious epithets; for you know that I was always sensitive when addressed with reproachful words.

I could not help recalling and analyzing his scalding words of contempt. I took a certain pleasure in doing so, because, as I saw and felt the power of each in succession, I remembered what awful abuses flow from the tongues of Southern masters and mistresses continually, as they goad on their slaves to their work, or reproach them for not bringing in the brick for which they had given them no straw. So it was comparatively a light affliction for me to remember that I had been called by such hard names. "Putty-headed!" said he. I infer, dear Aunty, that he must have worked in the painter's department, and had been familiar with putty; hence he drew the epithet, into whose signification I did not care to inquire. "White-birch-looking!" I suppose he referred to the impression of imbecility which we have in seeing a perfectly white tree in the woods among the deep green of the sturdier trees. He may have referred to the effect of sedentary habits on my complexion. However, I soon forgot the particulars of his insulting address, retaining only the impression that I had suffered, and that willingly, in the bleeding cause of freedom.

It was a great relief to me that, just at that moment, a very fine dog approached me and fawned upon me, then ran ahead, and seemed afraid that I should send him back. After a while I tried to drive him away, but he insisted on following me, and I have no doubt that I might have secured him, had I wished to do so. I was not a little inclined, at one time, to take him home with me, and to keep him as a companion in my walks. But he had a collar with his own name, Bruno, upon it, and the name of his owner. The question of right occurred to me. I debated it. Applying some of the self-evident truths established by our own Independence, I almost persuaded myself that I might rightfully take the dog. I reasoned thus: 1. All dogs are born free and equal. 2. They have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 3. All governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. These principles, breathed in, from childhood, with the atmosphere of our glorious "Fourth," I did not hesitate to apply in the case of the dog. I do not know what practical conclusion I might have arrived at, but suddenly I lost sight of Bruno in consequence of a new adventure, in the process of which he disappeared.

A matronly looking lady came suddenly out of a gate, with a cup in one hand containing a teaspoon, and a brown earthen mug in the other hand. She pushed the gate open before her, easily; but I saw that she was embarrassed about shutting it. I stepped forward and assisted her.

"Some kind office for the sick, I dare say," said I.

"A woman in that plastered house is very sick," said she; "I have just fixed some marsh-mallow for her, to see if it will ease her cough. Sorry to trouble you, sir, but my cup was so full that I could not use my hands."

"I suppose," said I, "madam, if you will allow me to detain you a moment,"—

"I am afraid my drink in the cup will get cold, sir, but"—

"Only a moment, madam," said I; (for I did not feel at liberty to walk with her;) "only a moment; I am led to think, by your kindness to this poor woman, of the millions of bond-people in our Southern country who never feel the hand of love ministering to their sick and dying"—

"O you ignorant thing!" said she, pouring the contents of the cup into the mug, and then setting the cup on the mug, all without looking at me; "where were you born and bred? You must be an abolitionist. Southern ladies are the very best of nurses; and as to their slaves when they are sick,—why their hearts are overflowing—why!" said she, "I could tell you tales that would make you cry like a baby—the idea! millions of slaves sick and neglected! Do you belong to —— College?"

"Yes, madam," said I.

"Sophomore?" said she.

"Yes, madam." But it was a cutting question. She had an arch look as she asked it.

"Well sir," said she, with a graceful air, in a half averted direction, "you have some things to learn about your fellow-countrymen which are not put down in your Moral Philosophies. Please do not betray your ignorance on subjects about which you are evidently in midnight darkness." She was some ways from me, but I heard her continue: "Was there ever anything like this Northern ignorance and prejudice about the Southern people!"

I had nothing to do but resume my lonely walk. My sense of desolateness no tongue can tell. I whistled for Bruno, but in vain. She called me "an ignorant thing," said I. Ignorant on the subject of slavery! How easy it is to misjudge! Have I steadied free-soil papers all these years only to be called "an ignorant thing!" I could graduate to-day from this institution, though only in my second year, if the examination were confined to the subject of slavery. I have thoroughly understood the theory; I have learned by heart the codes of the iniquitous system. I know it root and branch, from pith to bark. All the lecturers on the subject have not labored in vain, nor spent their strength for nought, with me. And now to be called "ignorant!" Just as though I could not reason, that is, draw inferences from premises, make deductions from facts. There is the great fact of slavery; it is "the sum of all villanies;" men holding their fellow-men in bondage for the sake of gain; the heart naturally covetous, oppressive, and cruel, where power is unlimited. As though the law of kindness could, in such circumstances, possibly prevail and mitigate the sorrows of the bondman! The direct influence of slavery is to debase, to make barbarous, to petrify; I know as well as though I saw it that the South must be full of neglected, perishing objects, cast out to perish in their sicknesses. You doubtless are acquainted, dear Aunty, with the great change in the mode of reasoning introduced by Lord Bacon. We reason now from facts to conclusion; this is called the inductive method, to collect facts, then draw inferences. The facts which I have collected on the subject of slavery, in my reading and hearing, lead me to a perfect theory on the subject, and my confidence in that theory is all which it could be if, like you, I were now seeing it verified with my own eyes.

I reason on this subject of slavery, just as our philosophers reason about the moon. You have learned, dear Aunt, ere this, that there is no water in the moon. Certain things are observed by our telescopes, in the moon, from which we are sure that there is no water there. Now there are certain given facts in slavery. Slavery is Barbarism. It consists in holding men to compulsory servitude. The human heart is avaricious; it gets all it can, and keeps all it gets. Give it complete power over a human being, and there are no limits to its cupidity and wrong-doing, but the finite nature of the thing itself. Hence, does it not follow that there can be no disinterestedness, no tender mercies in slavery? Yes, dear Aunt, as we are perfectly sure that there can be no water in the moon, so are we sure, by the same unerring rule of reasoning according to the inductive philosophy, that there is not one drop of water in slavery for the parched lips of a dying slave. I stated this to a member of our Junior Class who is a wonderful metaphysician. He was kind enough to say that he could discover no flaw in the logic. Your letter, which, I trust, is now on its way to me, I know will fully confirm my theory and conclusion.

This lady had probably been reading some miserable cant about Southern humanity, for there are people everywhere who take the wrong side of every subject, from sheer obstinacy. What can disprove the laws of human nature? They require that things should be at the South as our theories lay them down.

In our Institution I mourn to say there is much opposition to the principles of freedom. Not only so, but the students, many of them, mock at us who stand up against oppression.

You may not be aware, dear Aunty, that I have a habit, in walking, of keeping my hands firmly clenched, and my thumbs laid flat and pressed down over the knuckles of my forefingers. This, I am aware, gives the thumbs a flattened look. One of our principal pro-slavery students delights to laugh at me to my face. Perhaps I am wrong in connecting everything with this all-absorbing theme, but, truly, my thoughts all run in that direction. Mother and you were accustomed to send me on errands when I was little, and you placed your money in my right hand and mother hers in my left, because, on my return to our house, your room was on the right hand of the entry. So I used to go along, holding your respective moneys in my palms, with my thumbs stopping the apertures. And now I am persecuted for the fidelity which led me to acquire a habit that cleaves to me to this day. But little did I dream, dear Aunty, when I padded along like a straight footed animal in the water, instead of having the free use of my open palms to aid me in walking, that I was acquiring a habit to be to me an inlet of torture in behalf of our manacled four millions, whose hands feel the galling bonds of slavery. I take it joyfully, because it is all for the slave.

The day that I came home from my two interviews and efforts just related, a pro-slavery student, a Senior, invited me into his room. He is exceedingly kind and generous, though, I am sorry to say it, a friend of oppression. He gave me a splendid apple, the first which I had seen for the season. He dusted my coat with his feather-duster, and he even dusted my boots. He asked me how far I had been walking. I told him all which I had said and done, thinking that it would profitably remind him of the great subject. He roared with laughter. "Three cheers for Gustavus;" "isn't that rich;"—waving, all the while, the feather-duster, and breaking out with fresh peals, as I related one thing after another. The noise which he made brought in several of the students from neighboring rooms, and he related my stories to them as they stood with their thumbs and fingers holding open their text-books at the places where they were studying. They were a curious looking set, in their dressing-gowns, slippers, and smoking-caps; and the most of them, unfortunately, happened to be pro-slavery, and advocates of oppression; by which I mean, not in favor of my mode of viewing and treating the subject of slavery. One of them was so amused and excited that he lost all self-control. He threw down his book, caught me with his two hands about the waist, and tickled me so that I fell upon the floor. Then they raised a shout. We have cool nights here, sometimes, in the warmest weather, and we keep, on the foot-boards of our beds, cotton comforters, called delusions, because they are so downy and light. Two of the students took the Senior's comforter and laid it on me; then four of them sat down, one on each corner, to keep me underneath. I have told you that it was a sultry August day. I thought that I should smother. I told them so, as well as my choked voice would allow; but one of them said, in a soft, meek tone, as I writhed in distress, "Hush, Gustavus, lie still; you are certainly laboring under a delusion." This was all the more painful from its being so cruelly true, in a literal sense, while I knew that they had reference to my views with regard to freedom, in the word "delusion." What sustained me in those moments, dear Aunty? It was not that I had myself stood by when this trick was played on Freshmen, and encouraged it by my actions; no, a higher and holier power than conscience of wrong-doing wrought upon me in those moments. Oh, I thought, the very cotton which fills this comforter, was cultivated by the hand of a slave. And shall I complain at being nearly smothered by it, when I remember what an incubus slavery is to the poor creature who gathered this cotton, and what an incubus it is to our unhappy land? I was delivered at last from my load, because my tormentors were tired of their sport. Would that there were some prospect that they who load cruel burdens on the slave were increasingly tired of their work!

They would not, however, let me rise. So, thought I, when we have taken the burden of slavery off from the poor negro, unholy prejudice against color keeps him from rising to a level with the rest of the community. I begged that I might get up. They told me that my morning exertions required longer rest. I told them that I must get my Greek. Whereupon one of them stood over me, with his arms raised in a deploring attitude, and said,—

"Sternitur infelix!— —Et dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos."

This, dear Aunty, is the lamentation of a Latin poet over a Greek soldier lying prostrate on the battle-field, far from home;—"and dying he remembers his sweet Greece." So they made game of me with the help of the Classics, giving poignancy to their jokes by polishing the tips with classical allusions. While I was under the "delusion," they sung snatches of Bruce's Address to his army; and when they came to the words

"Who so base as be a slave?— Let him turn and flee,"

one of them ran a cane under the delusion and punched me with it, keeping stroke to the music. This was little short of profaneness. They asked me if the chair-maker's harnesses were probably made by free or slave labor, alluding, unfeelingly, to a mistake which I made in a recitation one day, when two of those very students had kept me talking about slavery up to the very moment when the recitation-bell rang, so that I had not looked at my lesson. There are men in my class, and these were some of them, who, I am told, are plotting to prevent my having the first appointment, to which they know that my marks at recitation entitle me. But may I never be so prejudiced against those who differ from me on the subject of slavery as to deny them credit for things which they have fairly earned. I leave this to the avowed enemies of human rights. For the cause of the slave, I must gain the first appointment.

I alluded, just now, to my feelings at witnessing tricks played on the Freshmen. Had the Sophomores asked my advice before they played those tricks, I should have dissuaded them; but when they played them, with such courage and enterprise, I stood before them with admiration. But while I was under that quilt, I found that I did not admire the Sophomores at all, any more than I did the Seniors who then had me in their power.

The enemies of freedom, in College, had a great triumph the other evening. One of them, in one of the Literary Societies, read an Original Poem, the title of which was, "The Fly-time of Freedom." He spoke of "our glorious summer of Liberty" being infested and pestered with noisy, provoking things, which he characterized under the names of dor-bugs, millers, and all those creatures which fly into the room when the lamp is lighted; the swarms of black gnats which are about your head in the woods; horse-flies which stick, and leave blood running; and devil's-darning-needles. One brave man here, a great "friend of freedom," who, they falsely say, loves to be persecuted, and longs for martyrdom, and interprets everything that way, he described as a miller, who seems to court death in the flame. I think he aimed at me in speaking of soft, harmless bugs which creep over your newspaper or book. Many faces were turned to me as he repeated these lines. I am sorry to say the piece was much applauded. It has put back the cause of emancipation in College, I fear, a term.

The following introduction to another piece was written, and was read, at the same meeting, by a member of my own class. I fear that there is a sly hit intended by the writer, which I do not discern, at somebody, or something, related to freedom. This I suspected from the applause it excited on the part of those who I know are the most deadly foes we have to free institutions. I obtained a copy of this introduction. It will serve, at least, to show you, dear Aunty, what a variety of topics we have to excite our minds here in College. You can exercise your discretion about letting uncle read it, as it is on a subject of some delicacy. The writer says,—

"I am collecting facts from our daily papers illustrating the Barbarism of Matrimony. My list of wives poisoned, beaten, maimed for life by their husbands, and of divorces, cruel desertions, the effects on wives of intemperance in husbands, is truly fearful. I make no question that there are some happy marriages. But a relation which affords such peculiar opportunities for cruelty to women, must sooner or later disappear. No doubt the time will come when marriage will be deemed a relic of barbarism, and a bridal veil be exhibited as one of the mock decorations of the unhappy victims. Human nature in man is not good enough to be trusted with such a responsibility as the happiness of woman. Let Bachelors of Arts, on our parchments, suggest to us our duty to aid, through our example, as well as by words, in breaking this dreadful yoke, bidding those innocent young women who are now, perhaps, fearfully looking at us as their future oppressors, to be forever free. In the language of young Hamlet: 'I say, we will have no more marriages.'"

* * * * *

Just before dark one evening, I was sitting in my room, meditating on the great theme which absorbs my thoughts. My eye was caught by the bright bolt of my door-lock, the part of the bolt between the lock and the catch showing, beyond question, that the door was fastened. Some one on the outside had turned a key upon me.

I had the self-possession to be quiet, for my mind had been calmed by reflecting, in that twilight hour, that now one more day of toil for the poor slaves was over.

But as I looked at the bolt, my attention was diverted by something near the top of the door, moving with a strange motion. It was black; it opened and shut. I drew toward it. I found that it was the leg of a turkey, the largest that I ever saw. It was held or fastened in the ventilator over the door, while some one on the outside was evidently pulling the tendons of the claw, making it open and shut.

There it performed its tragi-comic gibes for several minutes.

I resumed my seat, unterrified, of course, and proceeded to turn the spectre to good account. I addressed it, in a moderate tone; though I think that I used some gesticulation. Said I: Personation of the Slave-power! predatory, grasping, black! thinkest thou a panting fugitive lies hid under my "delusion?" or wouldst thou seize a freeman? The AEgis of Massachusetts is over me. Gape! Yawn! Thou art powerless; but thy impudence is sublime.—Ten or fifteen voices then solemnly chanted these words:—

"Emblem of Slavery Clutching the Free! We've digested the turkey That gobbled oil thee. Sure as THANKSGIVING hastened, Cock-turkey! thy hour, Thanksgivings shall blazon Thy downfall, Slave-power!

"The Slave-power has talons, Like Nebuchadnezzar; Slaves are the Lord's flagons Our modern Belshazzar From the Temple of Nature Has stolen away. 'Mean!' 'Mean!' be writ o'er him! Wrath! canst thou de"—

Here screams of laughter, and a scampering in the entry, and the turkey's leg tumbling into my room, ended the trick and their cantillation. I was wishing to hear, in the next stanza, the idea that as the tendons of the claw were worked by a foreign power, so slavery at the South owes its activity to Northern influence. Perhaps it is due to myself to say that the word scampering, a few lines above, has no revengeful reference, in its first syllable, to the author of the trick. The cause of humanity, I find, has a tendency to make one cautious and charitable in his use of words.

They have anti-slavery meetings in the village, now and then, which I attend. All the talent of the place, and the truly good, are there. One evening, when the excitement rose high, a tall, awkward young man mounted the stage, and said that he wanted to offer one resolution as a cap-sheaf. You will infer, dear Aunty, that he was an agriculturist. He lifted his paper high up in one hand, while his other hand was extended in the other direction, and so was his foot under that hand. He looked like Booetes, on the map of the heavens, which we used to take with us, you know, in studying the comet. "Read it!" "Read it!" said the meeting. "I will," said he, flinging himself almost round once, in his excitement, reminding me of a war-dance, and then taking his sublime attitude again; when he read,—

"Resolved, Mr. Cheerman, fact is, that Abolition is everything, and nuthin' else is nuthin'."

Some of the younger portion of the audience wished to raise a laugh, but the reddening, angry faces of the prominent friends of the slave were turned upon them instantly, and overawed them.

All were silent for a moment, when the Chairman rose to speak. He was a short man, with reddish hair, and his teeth were almost constantly visible, his lips not seeming to be an adequate covering for them. He had, moreover, a habit of snuffing up with his nose,—in doing which his upper lip, what there was of it, played its part, and made him show his teeth by frequent spasms. Being a little bow-legged, he made an awkward effort in coming to the front of the stage; but we all love him, because he is such a vigorous friend of freedom, looking as though he would willingly be executioner of all the oppressors in the land. He said that he "utterly concurred" with the mover in the spirit of his resolution; it was not, to be sure, in the usual form of resolutions, but that could easily be fixed; and he would suggest that it be referred to the Standing Committee of the Freedom League. "I agree to that," said the pro-slavery Senior who gave me that entertainment in his room, (but who, by the way, being a friend of oppression, had no right to speak in a meeting in behalf of freedom;) "I agree to that," said he, "Mr. Chairman, and I move that the School-master be added to the Committee." What a cruel laugh went through the meeting! while the most distinguished friends of the slave had hard work to control their faces.

I could not help going to the mover of the resolution after the meeting; and, laying two fingers of my right hand on his arm, I said, "Don't be put down; he tried to reproach you for not being college-bred; he had better get the slaves well educated before he laughs at a Massachusetts freeman for not being a scholar."—He tossed his black fur-skin cap half-way to his head, and he wheeled round as he caught it, saying, "Don't care, liberty's better'n larnin', 'nuff sight."—"Both are good," said I, "my friend, and we must give them both to the slave."—"Give 'em the larnin' after y'u've sot 'em free!" said he; "I'll fight for 'em; don't want to hear nuthin' 'bout nuthin' else but liberty to them that's bound." He stooped and pulled a long whip and a tin pail from under the seat of the pew where he had been sitting, making considerable noise, so that the people, as they passed out, turned, and the sight of him and his accoutrements made great sport for some whose opinions and feelings were the least to be regarded. I saw in him, dear Aunty, a fair specimen of native, inbred love of liberty and hatred of oppression, unsophisticated, to be relied on in our great contest with the slave-power. I have been told, since the meeting, that his Christian name is Isaiah.

The meeting that evening appointed me a delegate to an Anti-slavery Convention which is to be held before long. I am expected to represent the College on the great arena of freedom. They have done me too much honor. Since my appointment, the students have sent me, anonymously, through the post-office, resolutions to be presented by me at the Convention. I have copied them into a book as they came in, and I will transcribe them for you and send them herewith. The spirit of liberty is, on the whole, certainly rising among the students. As the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, I cannot but hope that my trials in the cause of freedom have wrought good in the Institution. Some who send in these resolutions privately, are, no doubt, secret friends, needing a little more courage to face the pro-slavery feeling and sentiment which are all about them. Some one who read these resolutions suggested the idea of their being a burlesque. I repudiated the idea at once. They will commend themselves to you, dear Aunty, I am sure, as honest and truthful.

The President called me to his room yesterday, and asked me about the treatment which I received from those Seniors. While I was telling him of it, I noticed that he kept his handkerchief close to his face almost all the time. I thought at first that his nose bled, or that he had a toothache; but I afterward believed that he was weeping at the story of my wrongs. A Southerner, in the Junior Class, said he had no doubt that the President was laughing heartily all the time. None but a minion of the slave-power could have suggested this idea. The President felt so much that he merely told me to return to my room.

But I perceive, by the students with letters and papers in their hands, that the mail is in. I will add a postscript, if I find a letter from you; and I will send on the resolutions at once. Write soon, dear Aunty, to your loving nephew, and to

Yours for the slave, Gustavus.



"Nay, and thou'lt mouth, I'll rant as well as thou."—HAMLET.


Resolved, That the continued practice of wild geese to visit the South for the winter, flying over free soil—Concord, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Faneuil Hall,—on their way to the land of despotism, cannot be too loudly deplored by all the friends of freedom in the North; and that the laws of nature are evidently imperfect in not yielding to the known anti-slavery sentiments of this great Northern people so far as to make the instincts of said geese conform to our most sacred antipathies and detestations.


Resolved, That the abolitionists of Maine, and of the British Provinces, resident near the summer haunts of said geese, be requested to consider whether measures may not be adopted whereby anti-slavery tracts, and card-pictures illustrating the atrocious cruelties of slavery, and appeals to the consciences of the South, or at least instructions to the colored people as to their right and duty to assert their liberty, may not be fastened to these birds of passage, to make them apostles of liberty; so that while they continue to disregard the bleeding cause of humanity, their very cackle may be converted into lays of freedom.


Whereas we read in the Revelation a description of the wall of heaven as having "on the South three gates," a number equal to that assigned to the North,

Resolved, That this description being in total disregard of the great modern anti-slavery movement, the book which contains it cannot have been divinely inspired; and that a true anti-slavery Bible would have represented those pro-slavery gates as shut, with the inscription over them: Enter from the North.


Resolved, That the great abolitionist who represents himself in his speeches as baptizing his dogs, in just ridicule of the baptism of chattel slaves, is worthy, with his dogs, of a place in the heavens among the constellations; and that anti-slavery astronomers be requested to make a Southern constellation for them somewhere near the head of The Serpent, as rivals to "Canes Venatici," which pro-slavery astronomers no doubt designed, in blasphemous profanation of the heavens, to represent their bloodhounds hunting fugitive slaves, placing it in disgusting proximity to our own Northern Ursa Major. And the friends of the slave are hereby invited to make that new constellation their cynosure, vowing by it, and anti-slavery lovers arranging their matrimonial engagements, if possible, so as to plight their troth only when it is in the ascendant.


Resolved, That we shall hail it as a sign of progress and an omen for good, when anti-slavery women, with the sensibility which belongs to their sex, shall become so interpenetrated with the sentiments of freedom, that they can distinguish by the sense of taste the oyster grown in James River, Richmond, Virginia, and handled by the toil-worn slave, from that which grew on free soil.


Resolved, That our noble anti-slavery poets be requested to compose sonnets addressed to the whippoorwill, appealing to that sorrowful-tuned bird by our associations with his name, and by his own historic relationship to the victims of oppression, to desert the South and to frequent our woods and pastures in greater numbers, that the sensibilities of our people may be continually touched by his notes and his name, so suggestive of the monstrous lash which rules over one half of this great nation. And the anti-slavery members of the Legislature are hereby requested to seek legislative enactments whereby the whippoorwill may be further domiciliated at the North, and be provided with protection during the winter season.


Resolved, That bobolinks, blue jays, orioles, martins, and swallows, who visit the rice-fields of the South, and live upon the unrequited toil of four millions of our fellow-men, should not, upon their return, be viewed with favor by the friends of equal rights at the North, but should be destroyed by sportsmen as a sacrifice to outraged humanity. And no true anti-slavery taxidermist will, in our judgment, be found willing to stuff the skin of one of those mean and traitorous birds for any public or private ornithological show-case.


Resolved, That one subject of great interest, well suited to occupy the attention of Massachusetts freemen and friends of liberty the current year, is this: Whether the great whips in Dock Square, Boston, which stand professedly as signs before the doors of whip-makers' shops, but are in the very sight of Faneuil Hall, shall be allowed to remain within that sacred precinct of liberty; and that we tender our thanks to those who are investigating the question whether the whips were not originally placed, and are not now maintained, there by the slave-power, in mockery of our Northern hatred of oppression.


Resolved, That, if it be true that the steel pen which signed the bill for the removal of a Judge of Probate for doing an accursed duty as U.S. Commissioner, was taken from the Council Chamber and is now in the possession of one who has driven it into the edge of his chamber-door casement, and every night hangs his watch upon it, at the head of his bed, with the infatuated notion that thereby, through some "most fine spirit of sense," the tick of a death-watch will disturb the political dreams of our Massachusetts rulers, we hereby declare that this is most chimerical and visionary, and that the great party of freedom in Massachusetts need not feel the slightest apprehension that our rulers have the least misgivings as to the morality of their conduct in the removal of said officer, nor that they fear political retribution for that deed; nor do we believe that the death-watch will ever tick in the ear of freedom in Massachusetts.


Resolved, That in the acquiescence of many at the North in the entire justice of a universal massacre, by the slaves, of their masters, including women and children, we recognize a state of preparedness for the proscription and banishment of all who do not come up to the high abolition standard; but that in carrying out that project, we ought first to seek the reclamation of the victims, and therefore that due inquiry ought to be made concerning the most effective modes of persuasion, as, for example, thumb-screws, racks, wheels, scorpions, water-dropping for the head, bags of snakes, tweezers, and steel-pointed beds, it being apparent that our agony for the slave cannot be satisfied except by his liberation, or by the forcible subjection to us of all who oppose it. And we do hereby request all the friends of freedom now travelling in despotic countries to make inquiry as to the most approved methods of persuading the mind by appeals to it through the sensibilities of the flesh, and to be prepared with this information against the time when the sublime march of abolition philanthropy shall arrive at the limits of forbearance with all the Northern advocates of oppression.


Whereas no one who holds slaves can be a Christian; and whereas Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were slave-holders, Abraham himself having owned more slaves than any Southerner; and whereas a synonyme of heaven, in the New Testament, is "Abraham's bosom;" and whereas no true friend of freedom can consistently have Christian communion with slave-holders,

Resolved, That we look with deep interest to the introduction among us of the principles of the Hindoo philosophy and religion (including the transmigration of souls), through tentative articles in our magazines; by which there is opening to us a way of escape from that heaven one exponent of which is, to lie in the bosom of a slave-holder.


And in conclusion,

Be it Resolved, That Bunker Hill was since Mount Sinai, that Faneuil Hall is far in advance of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness; and that our anti-slavery literature is immeasurably beyond epistles to Philemon and other inspired pro-slavery tracts.



"No haughty gesture marks his gait, No pompous tone his word; No studied attitude is seen, No palling nonsense heard; He'll suit his bearing to the hour, Laugh, listen, learn, or teach. With joyous freedom in his mirth, And candor in his speech."—ELIZA COOK.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse