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Douglass, NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1845)

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NARRATIVE
OF THE
LIFE
OF

FREDERICK DOUGLASS

AN
AMERICAN SLAVE.
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.

BOSTON

PUBLISHED AT THE ANTI-SLAVERY OFFICE,
NO. 25
CORNHILL
1845

ENTERED, ACCORDING TO ACT OF CONGRESS,
IN THE YEAR 1845
BY
FREDERICK DOUGLASS,
IN THE CLERK’S OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT COURT
OF MASSACHUSETTS.

CONTENTS

 

PREFACE

LETTER FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

APPENDIX

A PARODY



PREFACE

In the month of August, 1841, I attended an anti-slavery convention in
Nantucket, at which it was my happiness to become acquainted with
Frederick Douglass, the writer of the following Narrative. He was a
stranger to nearly every member of that body; but, having recently made
his escape from the southern prison-house of bondage, and feeling his
curiosity excited to ascertain the principles and measures of the
abolitionists,—of whom he had heard a somewhat vague description
while he was a slave,—he was induced to give his attendance, on the
occasion alluded to, though at that time a resident in New Bedford.

Fortunate, most fortunate occurrence!—fortunate for the millions of
his manacled brethren, yet panting for deliverance from their awful
thraldom!—fortunate for the cause of negro emancipation, and of
universal liberty!—fortunate for the land of his birth, which he has
already done so much to save and bless!—fortunate for a large circle
of friends and acquaintances, whose sympathy and affection he has strongly
secured by the many sufferings he has endured, by his virtuous traits of
character, by his ever-abiding remembrance of those who are in bonds, as
being bound with them!—fortunate for the multitudes, in various
parts of our republic, whose minds he has enlightened on the subject of
slavery, and who have been melted to tears by his pathos, or roused to
virtuous indignation by his stirring eloquence against the enslavers of
men!—fortunate for himself, as it at once brought him into the field
of public usefulness, “gave the world assurance of a MAN,” quickened the
slumbering energies of his soul, and consecrated him to the great work of
breaking the rod of the oppressor, and letting the oppressed go free!

I shall never forget his first speech at the convention—the
extraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind—the powerful
impression it created upon a crowded auditory, completely taken by
surprise—the applause which followed from the beginning to the end
of his felicitous remarks. I think I never hated slavery so intensely as
at that moment; certainly, my perception of the enormous outrage which is
inflicted by it, on the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far
more clear than ever. There stood one, in physical proportion and stature
commanding and exact—in intellect richly endowed—in natural
eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly “created but a little lower
than the angels”—yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,—trembling
for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on the American soil, a
single white person could be found who would befriend him at all hazards,
for the love of God and humanity! Capable of high attainments as an
intellectual and moral being—needing nothing but a comparatively
small amount of cultivation to make him an ornament to society and a
blessing to his race—by the law of the land, by the voice of the
people, by the terms of the slave code, he was only a piece of property, a
beast of burden, a chattel personal, nevertheless!

A beloved friend from New Bedford prevailed on Mr. Douglass to address the
convention: He came forward to the platform with a hesitancy and
embarrassment, necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such a
novel position. After apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the
audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart,
he proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as a slave,
and in the course of his speech gave utterance to many noble thoughts and
thrilling reflections. As soon as he had taken his seat, filled with hope
and admiration, I rose, and declared that Patrick Henry, of revolutionary
fame, never made a speech more eloquent in the cause of liberty, than the
one we had just listened to from the lips of that hunted fugitive. So I
believed at that time—such is my belief now. I reminded the audience
of the peril which surrounded this self-emancipated young man at the
North,—even in Massachusetts, on the soil of the Pilgrim Fathers,
among the descendants of revolutionary sires; and I appealed to them,
whether they would ever allow him to be carried back into slavery,—law
or no law, constitution or no constitution. The response was unanimous and
in thunder-tones—”NO!” “Will you succor and protect him as a
brother-man—a resident of the old Bay State?” “YES!” shouted the
whole mass, with an energy so startling, that the ruthless tyrants south
of Mason and Dixon’s line might almost have heard the mighty burst of
feeling, and recognized it as the pledge of an invincible determination,
on the part of those who gave it, never to betray him that wanders, but to
hide the outcast, and firmly to abide the consequences.

It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr. Douglass could
be persuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the promotion of the
anti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and a
stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a
colored complexion. I therefore endeavored to instil hope and courage into
his mind, in order that he might dare to engage in a vocation so anomalous
and responsible for a person in his situation; and I was seconded in this
effort by warm-hearted friends, especially by the late General Agent of
the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Mr. John A. Collins, whose
judgment in this instance entirely coincided with my own. At first, he
could give no encouragement; with unfeigned diffidence, he expressed his
conviction that he was not adequate to the performance of so great a task;
the path marked out was wholly an untrodden one; he was sincerely
apprehensive that he should do more harm than good. After much
deliberation, however, he consented to make a trial; and ever since that
period, he has acted as a lecturing agent, under the auspices either of
the American or the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In labors he has
been most abundant; and his success in combating prejudice, in gaining
proselytes, in agitating the public mind, has far surpassed the most
sanguine expectations that were raised at the commencement of his
brilliant career. He has borne himself with gentleness and meekness, yet
with true manliness of character. As a public speaker, he excels in
pathos, wit, comparison, imitation, strength of reasoning, and fluency of
language. There is in him that union of head and heart, which is
indispensable to an enlightenment of the heads and a winning of the hearts
of others. May his strength continue to be equal to his day! May he
continue to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of God,” that he may be
increasingly serviceable in the cause of bleeding humanity, whether at
home or abroad!

It is certainly a very remarkable fact, that one of the most efficient
advocates of the slave population, now before the public, is a fugitive
slave, in the person of Frederick Douglass; and that the free colored
population of the United States are as ably represented by one of their
own number, in the person of Charles Lenox Remond, whose eloquent appeals
have extorted the highest applause of multitudes on both sides of the
Atlantic. Let the calumniators of the colored race despise themselves for
their baseness and illiberality of spirit, and henceforth cease to talk of
the natural inferiority of those who require nothing but time and
opportunity to attain to the highest point of human excellence.

It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other portion of the
population of the earth could have endured the privations, sufferings and
horrors of slavery, without having become more degraded in the scale of
humanity than the slaves of African descent. Nothing has been left undone
to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral
nature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yet
how wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a most frightful
bondage, under which they have been groaning for centuries! To illustrate
the effect of slavery on the white man,—to show that he has no
powers of endurance, in such a condition, superior to those of his black
brother,—Daniel O’connell, the distinguished advocate of universal
emancipation, and the mightiest champion of prostrate but not conquered
Ireland, relates the following anecdote in a speech delivered by him in
the Conciliation Hall, Dublin, before the Loyal National Repeal
Association, March 31, 1845. “No matter,” said Mr. O’connell, “under what
specious term it may disguise itself, slavery is still hideous. It has
a natural, an inevitable tendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man.

An American sailor, who was cast away on the shore of Africa, where he was
kept in slavery for three years, was, at the expiration of that period,
found to be imbruted and stultified—he had lost all reasoning power;
and having forgotten his native language, could only utter some savage
gibberish between Arabic and English, which nobody could understand, and
which even he himself found difficulty in pronouncing. So much for the
humanizing influence of The Domestic Institution!” Admitting this to have
been an extraordinary case of mental deterioration, it proves at least
that the white slave can sink as low in the scale of humanity as the black
one.

Mr. Douglass has very properly chosen to write his own Narrative, in his
own style, and according to the best of his ability, rather than to employ
some one else. It is, therefore, entirely his own production; and,
considering how long and dark was the career he had to run as a slave,—how
few have been his opportunities to improve his mind since he broke his
iron fetters,—it is, in my judgment, highly creditable to his head
and heart. He who can peruse it without a tearful eye, a heaving breast,
an afflicted spirit,—without being filled with an unutterable
abhorrence of slavery and all its abettors, and animated with a
determination to seek the immediate overthrow of that execrable system,—without
trembling for the fate of this country in the hands of a righteous God,
who is ever on the side of the oppressed, and whose arm is not shortened
that it cannot save,—must have a flinty heart, and be qualified to
act the part of a trafficker “in slaves and the souls of men.” I am
confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing
has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawn from the
imagination; that it comes short of the reality, rather than overstates a
single fact in regard to slavery as it is. The experience of Frederick
Douglass
, as a slave, was not a peculiar one; his lot was not especially a
hard one; his case may be regarded as a very fair specimen of the
treatment of slaves in Maryland, in which State it is conceded that they
are better fed and less cruelly treated than in Georgia, Alabama, or
Louisiana. Many have suffered incomparably more, while very few on the
plantations have suffered less, than himself. Yet how deplorable was his
situation! what terrible chastisements were inflicted upon his person!
what still more shocking outrages were perpetrated upon his mind! with all
his noble powers and sublime aspirations, how like a brute was he treated,
even by those professing to have the same mind in them that was in Christ
Jesus! to what dreadful liabilities was he continually subjected! how
destitute of friendly counsel and aid, even in his greatest extremities!
how heavy was the midnight of woe which shrouded in blackness the last ray
of hope, and filled the future with terror and gloom! what longings after
freedom took possession of his breast, and how his misery augmented, in
proportion as he grew reflective and intelligent,—thus demonstrating
that a happy slave is an extinct man! how he thought, reasoned, felt,
under the lash of the driver, with the chains upon his limbs! what perils
he encountered in his endeavors to escape from his horrible doom! and how
signal have been his deliverance and preservation in the midst of a nation
of pitiless enemies!

This Narrative contains many affecting incidents, many passages of great
eloquence and power; but I think the most thrilling one of them all is the
description Douglass gives of his feelings, as he stood soliloquizing
respecting his fate, and the chances of his one day being a freeman, on
the banks of the Chesapeake Bay—viewing the receding vessels as they
flew with their white wings before the breeze, and apostrophizing them as
animated by the living spirit of freedom. Who can read that passage, and
be insensible to its pathos and sublimity? Compressed into it is a whole
Alexandrian library of thought, feeling, and sentiment—all that can,
all that need be urged, in the form of expostulation, entreaty, rebuke,
against that crime of crimes,—making man the property of his
fellow-man! O, how accursed is that system, which entombs the godlike mind
of man, defaces the divine image, reduces those who by creation were
crowned with glory and honor to a level with four-footed beasts, and
exalts the dealer in human flesh above all that is called God! Why should
its existence be prolonged one hour? Is it not evil, only evil, and that
continually? What does its presence imply but the absence of all fear of
God, all regard for man, on the part of the people of the United States?
Heaven speed its eternal overthrow!

So profoundly ignorant of the nature of slavery are many persons, that
they are stubbornly incredulous whenever they read or listen to any
recital of the cruelties which are daily inflicted on its victims. They do
not deny that the slaves are held as property; but that terrible fact
seems to convey to their minds no idea of injustice, exposure to outrage,
or savage barbarity. Tell them of cruel scourgings, of mutilations and
brandings, of scenes of pollution and blood, of the banishment of all
light and knowledge, and they affect to be greatly indignant at such
enormous exaggerations, such wholesale misstatements, such abominable
libels on the character of the southern planters! As if all these direful
outrages were not the natural results of slavery! As if it were less cruel
to reduce a human being to the condition of a thing, than to give him a
severe flagellation, or to deprive him of necessary food and clothing! As
if whips, chains, thumb-screws, paddles, blood-hounds, overseers, drivers,
patrols, were not all indispensable to keep the slaves down, and to give
protection to their ruthless oppressors! As if, when the marriage
institution is abolished, concubinage, adultery, and incest, must not
necessarily abound; when all the rights of humanity are annihilated, any
barrier remains to protect the victim from the fury of the spoiler; when
absolute power is assumed over life and liberty, it will not be wielded
with destructive sway! Skeptics of this character abound in society. In
some few instances, their incredulity arises from a want of reflection;
but, generally, it indicates a hatred of the light, a desire to shield
slavery from the assaults of its foes, a contempt of the colored race,
whether bond or free. Such will try to discredit the shocking tales of
slaveholding cruelty which are recorded in this truthful Narrative; but
they will labor in vain. Mr. Douglass has frankly disclosed the place of
his birth, the names of those who claimed ownership in his body and soul,
and the names also of those who committed the crimes which he has alleged
against them. His statements, therefore, may easily be disproved, if they
are untrue.

In the course of his Narrative, he relates two instances of murderous
cruelty,—in one of which a planter deliberately shot a slave
belonging to a neighboring plantation, who had unintentionally gotten
within his lordly domain in quest of fish; and in the other, an overseer
blew out the brains of a slave who had fled to a stream of water to escape
a bloody scourging. Mr. Douglass states that in neither of these instances
was any thing done by way of legal arrest or judicial investigation. The
Baltimore American, of March 17, 1845, relates a similar case of atrocity,
perpetrated with similar impunity—as follows:—”Shooting a
slave.
—We learn, upon the authority of a letter from Charles
county, Maryland, received by a gentleman of this city, that a young man,
named Matthews, a nephew of General Matthews, and whose father, it is
believed, holds an office at Washington, killed one of the slaves upon his
father’s farm by shooting him. The letter states that young Matthews had
been left in charge of the farm; that he gave an order to the servant,
which was disobeyed, when he proceeded to the house, obtained a gun,
and, returning, shot the servant.
He immediately, the letter
continues, fled to his father’s residence, where he still remains
unmolested.”—Let it never be forgotten, that no slaveholder or
overseer can be convicted of any outrage perpetrated on the person of a
slave, however diabolical it may be, on the testimony of colored
witnesses, whether bond or free. By the slave code, they are adjudged to
be as incompetent to testify against a white man, as though they were
indeed a part of the brute creation. Hence, there is no legal protection
in fact, whatever there may be in form, for the slave population; and any
amount of cruelty may be inflicted on them with impunity. Is it possible
for the human mind to conceive of a more horrible state of society?

The effect of a religious profession on the conduct of southern masters is
vividly described in the following Narrative, and shown to be any thing
but salutary. In the nature of the case, it must be in the highest degree
pernicious. The testimony of Mr. Douglass, on this point, is sustained by
a cloud of witnesses, whose veracity is unimpeachable. “A slaveholder’s
profession of Christianity is a palpable imposture. He is a felon of the
highest grade. He is a man-stealer. It is of no importance what you put in
the other scale.”

Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the
side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then are you the
foe of God and man. If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and
dare in their behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your
efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free. Come what may—cost
what it may—inscribe on the banner which you unfurl to the breeze,
as your religious and political motto—”NO COMPROMISE WITH SLAVERY!
NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS!”

WM. LLOYD GARRISON BOSTON,
May 1, 1845.


LETTER FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.

BOSTON, APRIL 22, 1845.

My Dear Friend:

You remember the old fable of “The Man and the Lion,” where the lion
complained that he should not be so misrepresented “when the lions wrote
history.”

I am glad the time has come when the “lions write history.” We have been
left long enough to gather the character of slavery from the involuntary
evidence of the masters. One might, indeed, rest sufficiently satisfied
with what, it is evident, must be, in general, the results of such a
relation, without seeking farther to find whether they have followed in
every instance. Indeed, those who stare at the half-peck of corn a week,
and love to count the lashes on the slave’s back, are seldom the “stuff”
out of which reformers and abolitionists are to be made. I remember that,
in 1838, many were waiting for the results of the West India experiment,
before they could come into our ranks. Those “results” have come long ago;
but, alas! few of that number have come with them, as converts. A man must
be disposed to judge of emancipation by other tests than whether it has
increased the produce of sugar,—and to hate slavery for other
reasons than because it starves men and whips women,—before he is
ready to lay the first stone of his anti-slavery life.

I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the most neglected of God’s
children waken to a sense of their rights, and of the injustice done them.
Experience is a keen teacher; and long before you had mastered your A B C,
or knew where the “white sails” of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I
see, to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by his hunger and want,
not by his lashes and toil, but by the cruel and blighting death which
gathers over his soul.

In connection with this, there is one circumstance which makes your
recollections peculiarly valuable, and renders your early insight the more
remarkable. You come from that part of the country where we are told
slavery appears with its fairest features. Let us hear, then, what it is
at its best estate—gaze on its bright side, if it has one; and then
imagination may task her powers to add dark lines to the picture, as she
travels southward to that (for the colored man) Valley of the Shadow of
Death, where the Mississippi sweeps along.

Again, we have known you long, and can put the most entire confidence in
your truth, candor, and sincerity. Every one who has heard you speak has
felt, and, I am confident, every one who reads your book will feel,
persuaded that you give them a fair specimen of the whole truth. No
one-sided portrait,—no wholesale complaints,—but strict
justice done, whenever individual kindliness has neutralized, for a
moment, the deadly system with which it was strangely allied. You have
been with us, too, some years, and can fairly compare the twilight of
rights, which your race enjoy at the North, with that “noon of night”
under which they labor south of Mason and Dixon’s line. Tell us whether,
after all, the half-free colored man of Massachusetts is worse off than
the pampered slave of the rice swamps!

In reading your life, no one can say that we have unfairly picked out some
rare specimens of cruelty. We know that the bitter drops, which even you
have drained from the cup, are no incidental aggravations, no individual
ills, but such as must mingle always and necessarily in the lot of every
slave. They are the essential ingredients, not the occasional results, of
the system.

After all, I shall read your book with trembling for you. Some years ago,
when you were beginning to tell me your real name and birthplace, you may
remember I stopped you, and preferred to remain ignorant of all. With the
exception of a vague description, so I continued, till the other day, when
you read me your memoirs. I hardly knew, at the time, whether to thank you
or not for the sight of them, when I reflected that it was still
dangerous, in Massachusetts, for honest men to tell their names! They say
the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence with the
halter about their necks. You, too, publish your declaration of freedom
with danger compassing you around. In all the broad lands which the
Constitution of the United States overshadows, there is no single spot,—however
narrow or desolate,—where a fugitive slave can plant himself and
say, “I am safe.” The whole armory of Northern Law has no shield for you.
I am free to say that, in your place, I should throw the MS. into the
fire.

You, perhaps, may tell your story in safety, endeared as you are to so
many warm hearts by rare gifts, and a still rarer devotion of them to the
service of others. But it will be owing only to your labors, and the
fearless efforts of those who, trampling the laws and Constitution of the
country under their feet, are determined that they will “hide the
outcast,” and that their hearths shall be, spite of the law, an asylum for
the oppressed, if, some time or other, the humblest may stand in our
streets, and bear witness in safety against the cruelties of which he has
been the victim.

Yet it is sad to think, that these very throbbing hearts which welcome
your story, and form your best safeguard in telling it, are all beating
contrary to the “statute in such case made and provided.” Go on, my dear
friend, till you, and those who, like you, have been saved, so as by fire,
from the dark prison-house, shall stereotype these free, illegal pulses
into statutes; and New England, cutting loose from a blood-stained Union,
shall glory in being the house of refuge for the oppressed,—till we
no longer merely “hide the outcast,” or make a merit of standing
idly by while he is hunted in our midst; but, consecrating anew the soil
of the Pilgrims as an asylum for the oppressed, proclaim our welcome to
the slave so loudly, that the tones shall reach every hut in the
Carolinas, and make the broken-hearted bondman leap up at the thought of
old Massachusetts.

God speed the day!

Till then, and ever,
Yours truly,
WENDELL PHILLIPS


FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

Frederick Douglass was born in slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington
Bailey near Easton in Talbot County, Maryland. He was not sure of the
exact year of his birth, but he knew that it was 1817 or 1818. As a young
boy he was sent to Baltimore, to be a house servant, where he learned to
read and write, with the assistance of his master’s wife. In 1838 he
escaped from slavery and went to New York City, where he married Anna
Murray, a free colored woman whom he had met in Baltimore. Soon thereafter
he changed his name to Frederick Douglass. In 1841 he addressed a
convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Nantucket and so
greatly impressed the group that they immediately employed him as an
agent. He was such an impressive orator that numerous persons doubted if
he had ever been a slave, so he wrote Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick
Douglass
. During the Civil War he assisted in the recruiting of colored
men for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments and consistently argued
for the emancipation of slaves. After the war he was active in securing
and protecting the rights of the freemen. In his later years, at different
times, he was secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, marshall and
recorder of deeds of the District of Columbia, and United States Minister
to Haiti. His other autobiographical works are My Bondage And My Freedom
and Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass, published in 1855 and 1881
respectively. He died in 1895.


CHAPTER I

I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from
Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my
age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the
larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of
theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep
their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who
could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than
planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A
want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me
even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could
not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not
allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all
such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and
evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give makes me
now between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of age. I come to this,
from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen
years old.

My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and
Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker
complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather.

My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard
speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was
my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the
means of knowing was withheld from me. My mother and I were separated when
I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common
custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children
from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has
reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on
some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the
care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is
done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s
affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural
affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times
in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at
night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from
my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the
whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day’s work. She was a
field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at
sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to
the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives
to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not
recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in
the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long
before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place
between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived,
and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven
years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed
to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone
long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any
considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care,
I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should
have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

Called thus suddenly away, she left me without the slightest intimation of
who my father was. The whisper that my master was my father, may or may
not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my
purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that
slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of
slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and
this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a
gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable;
for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few,
sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.

I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remark that such slaves
invariably suffer greater hardships, and have more to contend with, than
others. They are, in the first place, a constant offence to their
mistress. She is ever disposed to find fault with them; they can seldom do
any thing to please her; she is never better pleased than when she sees
them under the lash, especially when she suspects her husband of showing
to his mulatto children favors which he withholds from his black slaves.
The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out
of deference to the feelings of his white wife; and, cruel as the deed may
strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human
flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so; for,
unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by
and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker
complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to his naked back; and if
he lisp one word of disapproval, it is set down to his parental
partiality, and only makes a bad matter worse, both for himself and the
slave whom he would protect and defend.

Every year brings with it multitudes of this class of slaves. It was
doubtless in consequence of a knowledge of this fact, that one great
statesman of the south predicted the downfall of slavery by the inevitable
laws of population. Whether this prophecy is ever fulfilled or not, it is
nevertheless plain that a very different-looking class of people are
springing up at the south, and are now held in slavery, from those
originally brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase do
no other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God cursed
Ham, and therefore American slavery is right. If the lineal descendants of
Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved, it is certain that slavery at
the south must soon become unscriptural; for thousands are ushered into
the world, annually, who, like myself, owe their existence to white
fathers, and those fathers most frequently their own masters.

I have had two masters. My first master’s name was Anthony. I do not
remember his first name. He was generally called Captain Anthony—a
title which, I presume, he acquired by sailing a craft on the Chesapeake
Bay. He was not considered a rich slaveholder. He owned two or three
farms, and about thirty slaves. His farms and slaves were under the care
of an overseer. The overseer’s name was Plummer. Mr. Plummer was a
miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster. He always
went armed with a cowskin and a heavy cudgel. I have known him to cut and
slash the women’s heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at
his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself.
Master, however, was not a humane slaveholder. It required extraordinary
barbarity on the part of an overseer to affect him. He was a cruel man,
hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take
great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn
of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he
used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was
literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his
gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The
louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran
fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream,
and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he
cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever
witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well
remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was
the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a
witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the
blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I
was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit
to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.

This occurrence took place very soon after I went to live with my old
master, and under the following circumstances. Aunt Hester went out one
night,—where or for what I do not know,—and happened to be
absent when my master desired her presence. He had ordered her not to go
out evenings, and warned her that she must never let him catch her in
company with a young man, who was paying attention to her belonging to
Colonel Lloyd. The young man’s name was Ned Roberts, generally called
Lloyd’s Ned. Why master was so careful of her, may be safely left to
conjecture. She was a woman of noble form, and of graceful proportions,
having very few equals, and fewer superiors, in personal appearance, among
the colored or white women of our neighborhood.

Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out, but had been
found in company with Lloyd’s Ned; which circumstance, I found, from what
he said while whipping her, was the chief offence. Had he been a man of
pure morals himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting
the innocence of my aunt; but those who knew him will not suspect him of
any such virtue. Before he commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took her
into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck,
shoulders, and back, entirely naked. He then told her to cross her hands,
calling her at the same time a d——d b—-h. After crossing
her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a
large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the
stool, and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal
purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she
stood upon the ends of her toes. He then said to her, “Now, you d——d
b—-h, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!” and after rolling up
his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm,
red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him)
came dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the
sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till long
after the bloody transaction was over. I expected it would be my turn
next. It was all new to me. I had never seen any thing like it before. I
had always lived with my grandmother on the outskirts of the plantation,
where she was put to raise the children of the younger women. I had
therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloody scenes that often
occurred on the plantation.


CHAPTER II

My master’s family consisted of two sons, Andrew and Richard; one
daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld. They lived in
one house, upon the home plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. My master was
Colonel Lloyd’s clerk and superintendent. He was what might be called the
overseer of the overseers. I spent two years of childhood on this
plantation in my old master’s family. It was here that I witnessed the
bloody transaction recorded in the first chapter; and as I received my
first impressions of slavery on this plantation, I will give some
description of it, and of slavery as it there existed. The plantation is
about twelve miles north of Easton, in Talbot county, and is situated on
the border of Miles River. The principal products raised upon it were
tobacco, corn, and wheat. These were raised in great abundance; so that,
with the products of this and the other farms belonging to him, he was
able to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop, in carrying them
to market at Baltimore. This sloop was named Sally Lloyd, in honor of one
of the colonel’s daughters. My master’s son-in-law, Captain Auld, was
master of the vessel; she was otherwise manned by the colonel’s own
slaves. Their names were Peter, Isaac, Rich, and Jake. These were esteemed
very highly by the other slaves, and looked upon as the privileged ones of
the plantation; for it was no small affair, in the eyes of the slaves, to
be allowed to see Baltimore.

Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundred slaves on his home
plantation, and owned a large number more on the neighboring farms
belonging to him. The names of the farms nearest to the home plantation
were Wye Town and New Design. “Wye Town” was under the overseership of a
man named Noah Willis. New Design was under the overseership of a Mr.
Townsend. The overseers of these, and all the rest of the farms, numbering
over twenty, received advice and direction from the managers of the home
plantation. This was the great business place. It was the seat of
government for the whole twenty farms. All disputes among the overseers
were settled here. If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor,
became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was
brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop,
carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or some other
slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining.

Here, too, the slaves of all the other farms received their monthly
allowance of food, and their yearly clothing. The men and women slaves
received, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork, or its
equivalent in fish, and one bushel of corn meal. Their yearly clothing
consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers, like the
shirts, one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter, made of coarse negro
cloth, one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes; the whole of which
could not have cost more than seven dollars. The allowance of the slave
children was given to their mothers, or the old women having the care of
them. The children unable to work in the field had neither shoes,
stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to them; their clothing consisted
of two coarse linen shirts per year. When these failed them, they went
naked until the next allowance-day. Children from seven to ten years old,
of both sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year.

There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be
considered such, and none but the men and women had these. This, however,
is not considered a very great privation. They find less difficulty from
the want of beds, than from the want of time to sleep; for when their
day’s work in the field is done, the most of them having their washing,
mending, and cooking to do, and having few or none of the ordinary
facilities for doing either of these, very many of their sleeping hours
are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is
done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side
by side, on one common bed,—the cold, damp floor,—each
covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets; and here they
sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver’s horn. At the
sound of this, all must rise, and be off to the field. There must be no
halting; every one must be at his or her post; and woe betides them who
hear not this morning summons to the field; for if they are not awakened
by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense of feeling: no age nor sex
finds any favor. Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of
the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cowskin, ready to
whip any one who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other
cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the field at the sound
of the horn.

Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. I have seen him whip a
woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too,
in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release.
He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity. Added to
his cruelty, he was a profane swearer. It was enough to chill the blood
and stiffen the hair of an ordinary man to hear him talk. Scarce a
sentence escaped him but that was commenced or concluded by some horrid
oath. The field was the place to witness his cruelty and profanity. His
presence made it both the field of blood and of blasphemy. From the rising
till the going down of the sun, he was cursing, raving, cutting, and
slashing among the slaves of the field, in the most frightful manner. His
career was short. He died very soon after I went to Colonel Lloyd’s; and
he died as he lived, uttering, with his dying groans, bitter curses and
horrid oaths. His death was regarded by the slaves as the result of a
merciful providence.

Mr. Severe’s place was filled by a Mr. Hopkins. He was a very different
man. He was less cruel, less profane, and made less noise, than Mr.
Severe. His course was characterized by no extraordinary demonstrations of
cruelty. He whipped, but seemed to take no pleasure in it. He was called
by the slaves a good overseer.

The home plantation of Colonel Lloyd wore the appearance of a country
village. All the mechanical operations for all the farms were performed
here. The shoemaking and mending, the blacksmithing, cartwrighting,
coopering, weaving, and grain-grinding, were all performed by the slaves
on the home plantation. The whole place wore a business-like aspect very
unlike the neighboring farms. The number of houses, too, conspired to give
it advantage over the neighboring farms. It was called by the slaves the
Great House Farm. Few privileges were esteemed higher, by the
slaves of the out-farms, than that of being selected to do errands at the
Great House Farm. It was associated in their minds with greatness. A
representative could not be prouder of his election to a seat in the
American Congress, than a slave on one of the out-farms would be of his
election to do errands at the Great House Farm. They regarded it as
evidence of great confidence reposed in them by their overseers; and it
was on this account, as well as a constant desire to be out of the field
from under the driver’s lash, that they esteemed it a high privilege, one
worth careful living for. He was called the smartest and most trusty
fellow, who had this honor conferred upon him the most frequently. The
competitors for this office sought as diligently to please their
overseers, as the office-seekers in the political parties seek to please
and deceive the people. The same traits of character might be seen in
Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, as are seen in the slaves of the political
parties.

The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly
allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly
enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for
miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the
highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose and sing as they
went along, consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up,
came out—if not in the word, in the sound;—and as frequently
in the one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the most pathetic
sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in
the most pathetic tone. Into all of their songs they would manage to weave
something of the Great House Farm. Especially would they do this, when
leaving home. They would then sing most exultingly the following words:—

     "I am going away to the Great House Farm!
     O, yea! O, yea! O!"

This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem
unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to
themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs
would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of
slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject
could do.

I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and
apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle; so that I
neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told a
tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they
were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of
souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony
against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The
hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with
ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing
them. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while
I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its
way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception
of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that
conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery,
and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to
be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to
Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the
deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that
shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—and if he is not thus
impressed, it will only be because “there is no flesh in his obdurate
heart.”

I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find
persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their
contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater
mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the
slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only
as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my
experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my
happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me
while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a
desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of
contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one
and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.


CHAPTER III

Colonel Lloyd kept a large and finely cultivated garden, which afforded
almost constant employment for four men, besides the chief gardener, (Mr.
M’Durmond.) This garden was probably the greatest attraction of the place.
During the summer months, people came from far and near—from
Baltimore, Easton, and Annapolis—to see it. It abounded in fruits of
almost every description, from the hardy apple of the north to the
delicate orange of the south. This garden was not the least source of
trouble on the plantation. Its excellent fruit was quite a temptation to
the hungry swarms of boys, as well as the older slaves, belonging to the
colonel, few of whom had the virtue or the vice to resist it. Scarcely a
day passed, during the summer, but that some slave had to take the lash
for stealing fruit. The colonel had to resort to all kinds of stratagems
to keep his slaves out of the garden. The last and most successful one was
that of tarring his fence all around; after which, if a slave was caught
with any tar upon his person, it was deemed sufficient proof that he had
either been into the garden, or had tried to get in. In either case, he
was severely whipped by the chief gardener. This plan worked well; the
slaves became as fearful of tar as of the lash. They seemed to realize the
impossibility of touching tar without being defiled.

The colonel also kept a splendid riding equipage. His stable and
carriage-house presented the appearance of some of our large city livery
establishments. His horses were of the finest form and noblest blood. His
carriage-house contained three splendid coaches, three or four gigs,
besides dearborns and barouches of the most fashionable style.

This establishment was under the care of two slaves—old Barney and
young Barney—father and son. To attend to this establishment was
their sole work. But it was by no means an easy employment; for in nothing
was Colonel Lloyd more particular than in the management of his horses.
The slightest inattention to these was unpardonable, and was visited upon
those, under whose care they were placed, with the severest punishment; no
excuse could shield them, if the colonel only suspected any want of
attention to his horses—a supposition which he frequently indulged,
and one which, of course, made the office of old and young Barney a very
trying one. They never knew when they were safe from punishment. They were
frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped whipping when most
deserving it. Every thing depended upon the looks of the horses, and the
state of Colonel Lloyd’s own mind when his horses were brought to him for
use. If a horse did not move fast enough, or hold his head high enough, it
was owing to some fault of his keepers. It was painful to stand near the
stable-door, and hear the various complaints against the keepers when a
horse was taken out for use. “This horse has not had proper attention. He
has not been sufficiently rubbed and curried, or he has not been properly
fed; his food was too wet or too dry; he got it too soon or too late; he
was too hot or too cold; he had too much hay, and not enough of grain; or
he had too much grain, and not enough of hay; instead of old Barney’s
attending to the horse, he had very improperly left it to his son.” To all
these complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must answer never a
word. Colonel Lloyd could not brook any contradiction from a slave. When
he spoke, a slave must stand, listen, and tremble; and such was literally
the case. I have seen Colonel Lloyd make old Barney, a man between fifty
and sixty years of age, uncover his bald head, kneel down upon the cold,
damp ground, and receive upon his naked and toil-worn shoulders more than
thirty lashes at the time. Colonel Lloyd had three sons—Edward,
Murray, and Daniel,—and three sons-in-law, Mr. Winder, Mr.
Nicholson, and Mr. Lowndes. All of these lived at the Great House Farm,
and enjoyed the luxury of whipping the servants when they pleased, from
old Barney down to William Wilkes, the coach-driver. I have seen Winder
make one of the house-servants stand off from him a suitable distance to
be touched with the end of his whip, and at every stroke raise great
ridges upon his back.

To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd would be almost equal to
describing the riches of Job. He kept from ten to fifteen house-servants.
He was said to own a thousand slaves, and I think this estimate quite
within the truth. Colonel Lloyd owned so many that he did not know them
when he saw them; nor did all the slaves of the out-farms know him. It is
reported of him, that, while riding along the road one day, he met a
colored man, and addressed him in the usual manner of speaking to colored
people on the public highways of the south: “Well, boy, whom do you belong
to?” “To Colonel Lloyd,” replied the slave. “Well, does the colonel treat
you well?” “No, sir,” was the ready reply. “What, does he work you too
hard?” “Yes, sir.” “Well, don’t he give you enough to eat?” “Yes, sir, he
gives me enough, such as it is.”

The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged, rode on; the man
also went on about his business, not dreaming that he had been conversing
with his master. He thought, said, and heard nothing more of the matter,
until two or three weeks afterwards. The poor man was then informed by his
overseer that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be
sold to a Georgia trader. He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and
thus, without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away, and forever
sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than
death. This is the penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple
truth, in answer to a series of plain questions.

It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of
as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost
universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The
slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to
ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The
frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the
maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth
rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove
themselves a part of the human family. If they have any thing to say of
their masters, it is generally in their masters’ favor, especially when
speaking to an untried man. I have been frequently asked, when a slave, if
I had a kind master, and do not remember ever to have given a negative
answer; nor did I, in pursuing this course, consider myself as uttering
what was absolutely false; for I always measured the kindness of my master
by the standard of kindness set up among slaveholders around us. Moreover,
slaves are like other people, and imbibe prejudices quite common to
others. They think their own better than that of others. Many, under the
influence of this prejudice, think their own masters are better than the
masters of other slaves; and this, too, in some cases, when the very
reverse is true. Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out
and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters,
each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the
others. At the very same time, they mutually execrate their masters when
viewed separately. It was so on our plantation. When Colonel Lloyd’s
slaves met the slaves of Jacob Jepson, they seldom parted without a
quarrel about their masters; Colonel Lloyd’s slaves contending that he was
the richest, and Mr. Jepson’s slaves that he was the smartest, and most of
a man. Colonel Lloyd’s slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell
Jacob Jepson. Mr. Jepson’s slaves would boast his ability to whip Colonel
Lloyd. These quarrels would almost always end in a fight between the
parties, and those that whipped were supposed to have gained the point at
issue. They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was
transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a
slave; but to be a poor man’s slave was deemed a disgrace indeed!


CHAPTER IV

Mr. Hopkins remained but a short time in the office of overseer. Why his
career was so short, I do not know, but suppose he lacked the necessary
severity to suit Colonel Lloyd. Mr. Hopkins was succeeded by Mr. Austin
Gore, a man possessing, in an eminent degree, all those traits of
character indispensable to what is called a first-rate overseer. Mr. Gore
had served Colonel Lloyd, in the capacity of overseer, upon one of the
out-farms, and had shown himself worthy of the high station of overseer
upon the home or Great House Farm.

Mr. Gore was proud, ambitious, and persevering. He was artful, cruel, and
obdurate. He was just the man for such a place, and it was just the place
for such a man. It afforded scope for the full exercise of all his powers,
and he seemed to be perfectly at home in it. He was one of those who could
torture the slightest look, word, or gesture, on the part of the slave,
into impudence, and would treat it accordingly. There must be no answering
back to him; no explanation was allowed a slave, showing himself to have
been wrongfully accused. Mr. Gore acted fully up to the maxim laid down by
slaveholders,—”It is better that a dozen slaves should suffer under
the lash, than that the overseer should be convicted, in the presence of
the slaves, of having been at fault.” No matter how innocent a slave might
be—it availed him nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of any
misdemeanor. To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to
be punished; the one always following the other with immutable certainty.
To escape punishment was to escape accusation; and few slaves had the
fortune to do either, under the overseership of Mr. Gore. He was just
proud enough to demand the most debasing homage of the slave, and quite
servile enough to crouch, himself, at the feet of the master. He was
ambitious enough to be contented with nothing short of the highest rank of
overseers, and persevering enough to reach the height of his ambition. He
was cruel enough to inflict the severest punishment, artful enough to
descend to the lowest trickery, and obdurate enough to be insensible to
the voice of a reproving conscience. He was, of all the overseers, the
most dreaded by the slaves. His presence was painful; his eye flashed
confusion; and seldom was his sharp, shrill voice heard, without producing
horror and trembling in their ranks.

Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a young man, he indulged in no
jokes, said no funny words, seldom smiled. His words were in perfect
keeping with his looks, and his looks were in perfect keeping with his
words. Overseers will sometimes indulge in a witty word, even with the
slaves; not so with Mr. Gore. He spoke but to command, and commanded but
to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words, and bountifully with his
whip, never using the former where the latter would answer as well. When
he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and feared no
consequences. He did nothing reluctantly, no matter how disagreeable;
always at his post, never inconsistent. He never promised but to fulfil.
He was, in a word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like
coolness.

His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with
which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves
under his charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd’s
slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to
get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and
stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out. Mr. Gore
told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come
out at the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby
made no response, but stood his ground. The second and third calls were
given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or
deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call,
raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim,
and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of
sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.

A thrill of horror flashed through every soul upon the plantation,
excepting Mr. Gore. He alone seemed cool and collected. He was asked by
Colonel Lloyd and my old master, why he resorted to this extraordinary
expedient. His reply was, (as well as I can remember,) that Demby had
become unmanageable. He was setting a dangerous example to the other
slaves,—one which, if suffered to pass without some such
demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the total subversion of
all rule and order upon the plantation. He argued that if one slave
refused to be corrected, and escaped with his life, the other slaves would
soon copy the example; the result of which would be, the freedom of the
slaves, and the enslavement of the whites. Mr. Gore’s defence was
satisfactory. He was continued in his station as overseer upon the home
plantation. His fame as an overseer went abroad. His horrid crime was not
even submitted to judicial investigation. It was committed in the presence
of slaves, and they of course could neither institute a suit, nor testify
against him; and thus the guilty perpetrator of one of the bloodiest and
most foul murders goes unwhipped of justice, and uncensured by the
community in which he lives. Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael’s, Talbot
county, Maryland, when I left there; and if he is still alive, he very
probably lives there now; and if so, he is now, as he was then, as highly
esteemed and as much respected as though his guilty soul had not been
stained with his brother’s blood.

I speak advisedly when I say this,—that killing a slave, or any
colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime,
either by the courts or the community. Mr. Thomas Lanman, of St.
Michael’s, killed two slaves, one of whom he killed with a hatchet, by
knocking his brains out. He used to boast of the commission of the awful
and bloody deed. I have heard him do so laughingly, saying, among other
things, that he was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and
that when others would do as much as he had done, we should be relieved of
“the d——d niggers.”

The wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, living but a short distance from where I used
to live, murdered my wife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and
sixteen years of age, mangling her person in the most horrible manner,
breaking her nose and breastbone with a stick, so that the poor girl
expired in a few hours afterward. She was immediately buried, but had not
been in her untimely grave but a few hours before she was taken up and
examined by the coroner, who decided that she had come to her death by
severe beating. The offence for which this girl was thus murdered was
this:—She had been set that night to mind Mrs. Hicks’s baby, and
during the night she fell asleep, and the baby cried. She, having lost her
rest for several nights previous, did not hear the crying. They were both
in the room with Mrs. Hicks. Mrs. Hicks, finding the girl slow to move,
jumped from her bed, seized an oak stick of wood by the fireplace, and
with it broke the girl’s nose and breastbone, and thus ended her life. I
will not say that this most horrid murder produced no sensation in the
community. It did produce sensation, but not enough to bring the murderess
to punishment. There was a warrant issued for her arrest, but it was never
served. Thus she escaped not only punishment, but even the pain of being
arraigned before a court for her horrid crime.

Whilst I am detailing bloody deeds which took place during my stay on
Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, I will briefly narrate another, which occurred
about the same time as the murder of Demby by Mr. Gore.

Colonel Lloyd’s slaves were in the habit of spending a part of their
nights and Sundays in fishing for oysters, and in this way made up the
deficiency of their scanty allowance. An old man belonging to Colonel
Lloyd, while thus engaged, happened to get beyond the limits of Colonel
Lloyd’s, and on the premises of Mr. Beal Bondly. At this trespass, Mr.
Bondly took offence, and with his musket came down to the shore, and blew
its deadly contents into the poor old man.

Mr. Bondly came over to see Colonel Lloyd the next day, whether to pay him
for his property, or to justify himself in what he had done, I know not.
At any rate, this whole fiendish transaction was soon hushed up. There was
very little said about it at all, and nothing done. It was a common
saying, even among little white boys, that it was worth a half-cent to
kill a “nigger,” and a half-cent to bury one.


CHAPTER V

As to my own treatment while I lived on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, it was
very similar to that of the other slave children. I was not old enough to
work in the field, and there being little else than field work to do, I
had a great deal of leisure time. The most I had to do was to drive up the
cows at evening, keep the fowls out of the garden, keep the front yard
clean, and run of errands for my old master’s daughter, Mrs. Lucretia
Auld. The most of my leisure time I spent in helping Master Daniel Lloyd
in finding his birds, after he had shot them. My connection with Master
Daniel was of some advantage to me. He became quite attached to me, and
was a sort of protector of me. He would not allow the older boys to impose
upon me, and would divide his cakes with me.

I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered little from any thing
else than hunger and cold. I suffered much from hunger, but much more from
cold. In hottest summer and coldest winter, I was kept almost naked—no
shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow
linen shirt, reaching only to my knees. I had no bed. I must have perished
with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was
used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl into this bag, and there
sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and feet out. My feet
have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing
might be laid in the gashes.

We were not regularly allowanced. Our food was coarse corn meal boiled.
This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and
set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many
pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with
oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and
none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest
secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied.

I was probably between seven and eight years old when I left Colonel
Lloyd’s plantation. I left it with joy. I shall never forget the ecstasy
with which I received the intelligence that my old master (Anthony) had
determined to let me go to Baltimore, to live with Mr. Hugh Auld, brother
to my old master’s son-in-law, Captain Thomas Auld. I received this
information about three days before my departure. They were three of the
happiest days I ever enjoyed. I spent the most part of all these three
days in the creek, washing off the plantation scurf, and preparing myself
for my departure.

The pride of appearance which this would indicate was not my own. I spent
the time in washing, not so much because I wished to, but because Mrs.
Lucretia had told me I must get all the dead skin off my feet and knees
before I could go to Baltimore; for the people in Baltimore were very
cleanly, and would laugh at me if I looked dirty. Besides, she was going
to give me a pair of trousers, which I should not put on unless I got all
the dirt off me. The thought of owning a pair of trousers was great
indeed! It was almost a sufficient motive, not only to make me take off
what would be called by pig-drovers the mange, but the skin itself. I went
at it in good earnest, working for the first time with the hope of reward.

The ties that ordinarily bind children to their homes were all suspended
in my case. I found no severe trial in my departure. My home was
charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel
that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying. My
mother was dead, my grandmother lived far off, so that I seldom saw her. I
had two sisters and one brother, that lived in the same house with me; but
the early separation of us from our mother had well nigh blotted the fact
of our relationship from our memories. I looked for home elsewhere, and
was confident of finding none which I should relish less than the one
which I was leaving. If, however, I found in my new home hardship, hunger,
whipping, and nakedness, I had the consolation that I should not have
escaped any one of them by staying. Having already had more than a taste
of them in the house of my old master, and having endured them there, I
very naturally inferred my ability to endure them elsewhere, and
especially at Baltimore; for I had something of the feeling about
Baltimore that is expressed in the proverb, that “being hanged in England
is preferable to dying a natural death in Ireland.” I had the strongest
desire to see Baltimore. Cousin Tom, though not fluent in speech, had
inspired me with that desire by his eloquent description of the place. I
could never point out any thing at the Great House, no matter how
beautiful or powerful, but that he had seen something at Baltimore far
exceeding, both in beauty and strength, the object which I pointed out to
him. Even the Great House itself, with all its pictures, was far inferior
to many buildings in Baltimore. So strong was my desire, that I thought a
gratification of it would fully compensate for whatever loss of comforts I
should sustain by the exchange. I left without a regret, and with the
highest hopes of future happiness.

We sailed out of Miles River for Baltimore on a Saturday morning. I
remember only the day of the week, for at that time I had no knowledge of
the days of the month, nor the months of the year. On setting sail, I
walked aft, and gave to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation what I hoped would be
the last look. I then placed myself in the bows of the sloop, and there
spent the remainder of the day in looking ahead, interesting myself in
what was in the distance rather than in things near by or behind.

In the afternoon of that day, we reached Annapolis, the capital of the
State. We stopped but a few moments, so that I had no time to go on shore.
It was the first large town that I had ever seen, and though it would look
small compared with some of our New England factory villages, I thought it
a wonderful place for its size—more imposing even than the Great
House Farm!

We arrived at Baltimore early on Sunday morning, landing at Smith’s Wharf,
not far from Bowley’s Wharf. We had on board the sloop a large flock of
sheep; and after aiding in driving them to the slaughterhouse of Mr.
Curtis on Louden Slater’s Hill, I was conducted by Rich, one of the hands
belonging on board of the sloop, to my new home in Alliciana Street, near
Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard, on Fells Point.

Mr. and Mrs. Auld were both at home, and met me at the door with their
little son Thomas, to take care of whom I had been given. And here I saw
what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most
kindly emotions; it was the face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld. I wish I
could describe the rapture that flashed through my soul as I beheld it. It
was a new and strange sight to me, brightening up my pathway with the
light of happiness. Little Thomas was told, there was his Freddy,—and
I was told to take care of little Thomas; and thus I entered upon the
duties of my new home with the most cheering prospect ahead.

I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd’s plantation as one of the
most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite
probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that
plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here
seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of
home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of
slavery. Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the
gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity. I have ever regarded it as the
first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since
attended me, and marked my life with so many favors. I regarded the
selection of myself as being somewhat remarkable. There were a number of
slave children that might have been sent from the plantation to Baltimore.
There were those younger, those older, and those of the same age. I was
chosen from among them all, and was the first, last, and only choice.

I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this
event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor. But I
should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the
opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring
the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own
abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a
deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within
its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this
living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained
like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit
was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.


CHAPTER VI

My new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first met her at the
door,—a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings. She had
never had a slave under her control previously to myself, and prior to her
marriage she had been dependent upon her own industry for a living. She
was by trade a weaver; and by constant application to her business, she
had been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing
effects of slavery. I was utterly astonished at her goodness. I scarcely
knew how to behave towards her. She was entirely unlike any other white
woman I had ever seen. I could not approach her as I was accustomed to
approach other white ladies. My early instruction was all out of place.
The crouching servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave, did
not answer when manifested toward her. Her favor was not gained by it; she
seemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem it impudent or unmannerly
for a slave to look her in the face. The meanest slave was put fully at
ease in her presence, and none left without feeling better for having seen
her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil
music.

But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal
poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced
its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon
became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one
of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a
demon.

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly
commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted
me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point
of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade
Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it
was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own
words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an
ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he
is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world.
Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read,
there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.
He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to
himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make
him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart,
stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into
existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special
revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful
understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what
had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s
power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized
it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to
freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the
least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid
of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which,
by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of
the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope,
and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read.
The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his
wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to
convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It
gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on
the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he
most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated.
That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a
great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly
urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a
desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as
much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my
mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

I had resided but a short time in Baltimore before I observed a marked
difference, in the treatment of slaves, from that which I had witnessed in
the country. A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on
the plantation. He is much better fed and clothed, and enjoys privileges
altogether unknown to the slave on the plantation. There is a vestige of
decency, a sense of shame, that does much to curb and check those
outbreaks of atrocious cruelty so commonly enacted upon the plantation. He
is a desperate slaveholder, who will shock the humanity of his
non-slaveholding neighbors with the cries of his lacerated slave. Few are
willing to incur the odium attaching to the reputation of being a cruel
master; and above all things, they would not be known as not giving a
slave enough to eat. Every city slaveholder is anxious to have it known of
him, that he feeds his slaves well; and it is due to them to say, that
most of them do give their slaves enough to eat. There are, however, some
painful exceptions to this rule. Directly opposite to us, on Philpot
Street, lived Mr. Thomas Hamilton. He owned two slaves. Their names were
Henrietta and Mary. Henrietta was about twenty-two years of age, Mary was
about fourteen; and of all the mangled and emaciated creatures I ever
looked upon, these two were the most so. His heart must be harder than
stone, that could look upon these unmoved. The head, neck, and shoulders
of Mary were literally cut to pieces. I have frequently felt her head, and
found it nearly covered with festering sores, caused by the lash of her
cruel mistress. I do not know that her master ever whipped her, but I have
been an eye-witness to the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton. I used to be in Mr.
Hamilton’s house nearly every day. Mrs. Hamilton used to sit in a large
chair in the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her side,
and scarce an hour passed during the day but was marked by the blood of
one of these slaves. The girls seldom passed her without her saying, “Move
faster, you black gip!” at the same time giving them a blow with
the cowskin over the head or shoulders, often drawing the blood. She would
then say, “Take that, you black gip!” continuing, “If you don’t
move faster, I’ll move you!” Added to the cruel lashings to which these
slaves were subjected, they were kept nearly half-starved. They seldom
knew what it was to eat a full meal. I have seen Mary contending with the
pigs for the offal thrown into the street. So much was Mary kicked and cut
to pieces, that she was oftener called “pecked” than by her name.


CHAPTER VII

I lived in Master Hugh’s family about seven years. During this time, I
succeeded in learning to read and write. In accomplishing this, I was
compelled to resort to various stratagems. I had no regular teacher. My
mistress, who had kindly commenced to instruct me, had, in compliance with
the advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct, but
had set her face against my being instructed by any one else. It is due,
however, to my mistress to say of her, that she did not adopt this course
of treatment immediately. She at first lacked the depravity indispensable
to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to
have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her
equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.

My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted woman; and in
the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with
her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.
In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive
that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her
to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so.
Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she
was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or
suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry,
clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her
reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly
qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the
lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first
step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now
commenced to practise her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more
violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied
with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do
better. Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a
newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her
rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a
newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension. She was an
apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction,
that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.

From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room
any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a
book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this,
however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in
teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution
could prevent me from taking the ell.

The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was
that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the
street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their
kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally
succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent of errands, I always took
my book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time
to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me,
enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always
welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor
white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the
hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable
bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or
three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and
affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;—not that it would
injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable
offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to
say of the dear little fellows, that they lived on Philpot Street, very
near Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard. I used to talk this matter of slavery
over with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free
as they would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as soon as you
are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a
right to be free as you have?” These words used to trouble them; they
would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope
that something would occur by which I might be free.

I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for
life
began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got
hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I
used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in
it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as
having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the
conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the
third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was
brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave.
The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in
reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected
effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the
slave on the part of the master.

In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches on and in
behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read
them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to
interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through
my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained
from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a
slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery,
and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents
enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward
to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they
brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved.
The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I
could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who
had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes,
and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the
meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the
subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted
would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my
soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel
that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had
given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my
eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In
moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have
often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest
reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It
was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was
no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight
or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused
my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more
forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever
present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing
without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing
without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm,
breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.

I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead;
and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have
killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.
While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery.
I was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something about
the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. It
was always used in such connections as to make it an interesting word to
me. If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave
killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very wrong in the
mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition.
Hearing the word in this connection very often, I set about learning what
it meant. The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was
“the act of abolishing;” but then I did not know what was to be abolished.
Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask any one about its meaning, for
I was satisfied that it was something they wanted me to know very little
about. After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers, containing
an account of the number of petitions from the north, praying for the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade
between the States. From this time I understood the words abolition
and abolitionist, and always drew near when that word was spoken,
expecting to hear something of importance to myself and fellow-slaves. The
light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr.
Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went,
unasked, and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and
asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave
for life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply
affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine
a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a
shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I
should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to
be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not
understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have
been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward,
catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these
seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their
advice, and from that time I resolved to run away. I looked forward to a
time at which it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think
of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I
might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself with the hope
that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to
write.

The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in
Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters,
after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the
timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended. When a
piece of timber was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked
thus—”L.” When a piece was for the starboard side, it would be
marked thus—”S.” A piece for the larboard side forward, would be
marked thus—”L. F.” When a piece was for starboard side forward, it
would be marked thus—”S. F.” For larboard aft, it would be marked
thus—”L. A.” For starboard aft, it would be marked thus—”S.
A.” I soon learned the names of these letters, and for what they were
intended when placed upon a piece of timber in the ship-yard. I
immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make
the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew
could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word
would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make
the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat
that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite
possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my
copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink
was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. I then
commenced and continued copying the Italics in Webster’s Spelling Book,
until I could make them all without looking on the book. By this time, my
little Master Thomas had gone to school, and learned how to write, and had
written over a number of copy-books. These had been brought home, and
shown to some of our near neighbors, and then laid aside. My mistress used
to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meetinghouse every Monday
afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. When left thus, I used
to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s
copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I
could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a
long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to
write.


CHAPTER VIII

In a very short time after I went to live at Baltimore, my old master’s
youngest son Richard died; and in about three years and six months after
his death, my old master, Captain Anthony, died, leaving only his son,
Andrew, and daughter, Lucretia, to share his estate. He died while on a
visit to see his daughter at Hillsborough. Cut off thus unexpectedly, he
left no will as to the disposal of his property. It was therefore
necessary to have a valuation of the property, that it might be equally
divided between Mrs. Lucretia and Master Andrew. I was immediately sent
for, to be valued with the other property. Here again my feelings rose up
in detestation of slavery. I had now a new conception of my degraded
condition. Prior to this, I had become, if not insensible to my lot, at
least partly so. I left Baltimore with a young heart overborne with
sadness, and a soul full of apprehension. I took passage with Captain
Rowe, in the schooner Wild Cat, and, after a sail of about twenty-four
hours, I found myself near the place of my birth. I had now been absent
from it almost, if not quite, five years. I, however, remembered the place
very well. I was only about five years old when I left it, to go and live
with my old master on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation; so that I was now
between ten and eleven years old.

We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and
young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine.
There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all
holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the
same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and
matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I
saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both
slave and slaveholder.

After the valuation, then came the division. I have no language to express
the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves
during this time. Our fate for life was now to be decided. we had no more
voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked. A single
word from the white men was enough—against all our wishes, prayers,
and entreaties—to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest
kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings. In addition to the pain
of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of
Master Andrew. He was known to us all as being a most cruel wretch,—a
common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate
dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We
all felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as
to pass into his hands; for we knew that that would be our inevitable
condition,—a condition held by us all in the utmost horror and
dread.

I suffered more anxiety than most of my fellow-slaves. I had known what it
was to be kindly treated; they had known nothing of the kind. They had
seen little or nothing of the world. They were in very deed men and women
of sorrow, and acquainted with grief. Their backs had been made familiar
with the bloody lash, so that they had become callous; mine was yet
tender; for while at Baltimore I got few whippings, and few slaves could
boast of a kinder master and mistress than myself; and the thought of
passing out of their hands into those of Master Andrew—a man who,
but a few days before, to give me a sample of his bloody disposition, took
my little brother by the throat, threw him on the ground, and with the
heel of his boot stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose
and ears—was well calculated to make me anxious as to my fate. After
he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he turned to me, and
said that was the way he meant to serve me one of these days,—meaning,
I suppose, when I came into his possession.

Thanks to a kind Providence, I fell to the portion of Mrs. Lucretia, and
was sent immediately back to Baltimore, to live again in the family of
Master Hugh. Their joy at my return equalled their sorrow at my departure.
It was a glad day to me. I had escaped a worse than lion’s jaws. I was
absent from Baltimore, for the purpose of valuation and division, just
about one month, and it seemed to have been six.

Very soon after my return to Baltimore, my mistress, Lucretia, died,
leaving her husband and one child, Amanda; and in a very short time after
her death, Master Andrew died. Now all the property of my old master,
slaves included, was in the hands of strangers,—strangers who had
had nothing to do with accumulating it. Not a slave was left free. All
remained slaves, from the youngest to the oldest. If any one thing in my
experience, more than another, served to deepen my conviction of the
infernal character of slavery, and to fill me with unutterable loathing of
slaveholders, it was their base ingratitude to my poor old grandmother.
She had served my old master faithfully from youth to old age. She had
been the source of all his wealth; she had peopled his plantation with
slaves; she had become a great grandmother in his service. She had rocked
him in infancy, attended him in childhood, served him through life, and at
his death wiped from his icy brow the cold death-sweat, and closed his
eyes forever. She was nevertheless left a slave—a slave for life—a
slave in the hands of strangers; and in their hands she saw her children,
her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, divided, like so many
sheep, without being gratified with the small privilege of a single word,
as to their or her own destiny. And, to cap the climax of their base
ingratitude and fiendish barbarity, my grandmother, who was now very old,
having outlived my old master and all his children, having seen the
beginning and end of all of them, and her present owners finding she was
of but little value, her frame already racked with the pains of old age,
and complete helplessness fast stealing over her once active limbs, they
took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a little
mud-chimney, and then made her welcome to the privilege of supporting
herself there in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to
die! If my poor old grandmother now lives, she lives to suffer in utter
loneliness; she lives to remember and mourn over the loss of children, the
loss of grandchildren, and the loss of great-grandchildren. They are, in
the language of the slave’s poet, Whittier,—

     "Gone, gone, sold and gone
     To the rice swamp dank and lone,
     Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings,
     Where the noisome insect stings,
     Where the fever-demon strews
     Poison with the falling dews,
     Where the sickly sunbeams glare
     Through the hot and misty air:—
     Gone, gone, sold and gone
     To the rice swamp dank and lone,
     From Virginia hills and waters—
     Woe is me, my stolen daughters!"

The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children, who once
sang and danced in her presence, are gone. She gropes her way, in the
darkness of age, for a drink of water. Instead of the voices of her
children, she hears by day the moans of the dove, and by night the screams
of the hideous owl. All is gloom. The grave is at the door. And now, when
weighed down by the pains and aches of old age, when the head inclines to
the feet, when the beginning and ending of human existence meet, and
helpless infancy and painful old age combine together—at this time,
this most needful time, the time for the exercise of that tenderness and
affection which children only can exercise towards a declining parent—my
poor old grandmother, the devoted mother of twelve children, is left all
alone, in yonder little hut, before a few dim embers. She stands—she
sits—she staggers—she falls—she groans—she dies—and
there are none of her children or grandchildren present, to wipe from her
wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death, or to place beneath the sod her
fallen remains. Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

In about two years after the death of Mrs. Lucretia, Master Thomas married
his second wife. Her name was Rowena Hamilton. She was the eldest daughter
of Mr. William Hamilton. Master now lived in St. Michael’s. Not long after
his marriage, a misunderstanding took place between himself and Master
Hugh; and as a means of punishing his brother, he took me from him to live
with himself at St. Michael’s. Here I underwent another most painful
separation. It, however, was not so severe as the one I dreaded at the
division of property; for, during this interval, a great change had taken
place in Master Hugh and his once kind and affectionate wife. The
influence of brandy upon him, and of slavery upon her, had effected a
disastrous change in the characters of both; so that, as far as they were
concerned, I thought I had little to lose by the change. But it was not to
them that I was attached. It was to those little Baltimore boys that I
felt the strongest attachment. I had received many good lessons from them,
and was still receiving them, and the thought of leaving them was painful
indeed. I was leaving, too, without the hope of ever being allowed to
return. Master Thomas had said he would never let me return again. The
barrier betwixt himself and brother he considered impassable.

I then had to regret that I did not at least make the attempt to carry out
my resolution to run away; for the chances of success are tenfold greater
from the city than from the country.

I sailed from Baltimore for St. Michael’s in the sloop Amanda, Captain
Edward Dodson. On my passage, I paid particular attention to the direction
which the steamboats took to go to Philadelphia. I found, instead of going
down, on reaching North Point they went up the bay, in a north-easterly
direction. I deemed this knowledge of the utmost importance. My
determination to run away was again revived. I resolved to wait only so
long as the offering of a favorable opportunity. When that came, I was
determined to be off.


CHAPTER IX

I have now reached a period of my life when I can give dates. I left
Baltimore, and went to live with Master Thomas Auld, at St. Michael’s, in
March, 1832. It was now more than seven years since I lived with him in
the family of my old master, on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. We of course
were now almost entire strangers to each other. He was to me a new master,
and I to him a new slave. I was ignorant of his temper and disposition; he
was equally so of mine. A very short time, however, brought us into full
acquaintance with each other. I was made acquainted with his wife not less
than with himself. They were well matched, being equally mean and cruel. I
was now, for the first time during a space of more than seven years, made
to feel the painful gnawings of hunger—a something which I had not
experienced before since I left Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. It went hard
enough with me then, when I could look back to no period at which I had
enjoyed a sufficiency. It was tenfold harder after living in Master Hugh’s
family, where I had always had enough to eat, and of that which was good.
I have said Master Thomas was a mean man. He was so. Not to give a slave
enough to eat, is regarded as the most aggravated development of meanness
even among slaveholders. The rule is, no matter how coarse the food, only
let there be enough of it. This is the theory; and in the part of Maryland
from which I came, it is the general practice,—though there are many
exceptions. Master Thomas gave us enough of neither coarse nor fine food.
There were four slaves of us in the kitchen—my sister Eliza, my aunt
Priscilla, Henny, and myself; and we were allowed less than a half of a
bushel of corn-meal per week, and very little else, either in the shape of
meat or vegetables. It was not enough for us to subsist upon. We were
therefore reduced to the wretched necessity of living at the expense of
our neighbors. This we did by begging and stealing, whichever came handy
in the time of need, the one being considered as legitimate as the other.
A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perishing with
hunger, when food in abundance lay mouldering in the safe and smoke-house,
and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that mistress and
her husband would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them
in basket and store!

Bad as all slaveholders are, we seldom meet one destitute of every element
of character commanding respect. My master was one of this rare sort. I do
not know of one single noble act ever performed by him. The leading trait
in his character was meanness; and if there were any other element in his
nature, it was made subject to this. He was mean; and, like most other
mean men, he lacked the ability to conceal his meanness. Captain Auld was
not born a slaveholder. He had been a poor man, master only of a Bay
craft. He came into possession of all his slaves by marriage; and of all
men, adopted slaveholders are the worst. He was cruel, but cowardly. He
commanded without firmness. In the enforcement of his rules, he was at
times rigid, and at times lax. At times, he spoke to his slaves with the
firmness of Napoleon and the fury of a demon; at other times, he might
well be mistaken for an inquirer who had lost his way. He did nothing of
himself. He might have passed for a lion, but for his ears. In all things
noble which he attempted, his own meanness shone most conspicuous. His
airs, words, and actions, were the airs, words, and actions of born
slaveholders, and, being assumed, were awkward enough. He was not even a
good imitator. He possessed all the disposition to deceive, but wanted the
power. Having no resources within himself, he was compelled to be the
copyist of many, and being such, he was forever the victim of
inconsistency; and of consequence he was an object of contempt, and was
held as such even by his slaves. The luxury of having slaves of his own to
wait upon him was something new and unprepared for. He was a slaveholder
without the ability to hold slaves. He found himself incapable of managing
his slaves either by force, fear, or fraud. We seldom called him “master;”
we generally called him “Captain Auld,” and were hardly disposed to title
him at all. I doubt not that our conduct had much to do with making him
appear awkward, and of consequence fretful. Our want of reverence for him
must have perplexed him greatly. He wished to have us call him master, but
lacked the firmness necessary to command us to do so. His wife used to
insist upon our calling him so, but to no purpose. In August, 1832, my
master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot
county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his
conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did
not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was
disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to
his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character,
it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to
have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his
conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in
his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious
sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made the greatest
pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed
morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his
brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in
revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of
the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers’ home.
They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he
starved us, he stuffed them. We have had three or four preachers there at
a time. The names of those who used to come most frequently while I lived
there, were Mr. Storks, Mr. Ewery, Mr. Humphry, and Mr. Hickey. I have
also seen Mr. George Cookman at our house. We slaves loved Mr. Cookman. We
believed him to be a good man. We thought him instrumental in getting Mr.
Samuel Harrison, a very rich slaveholder, to emancipate his slaves; and by
some means got the impression that he was laboring to effect the
emancipation of all the slaves. When he was at our house, we were sure to
be called in to prayers. When the others were there, we were sometimes
called in and sometimes not. Mr. Cookman took more notice of us than
either of the other ministers. He could not come among us without
betraying his sympathy for us, and, stupid as we were, we had the sagacity
to see it.

While I lived with my master in St. Michael’s, there was a white young
man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the
instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New
Testament. We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both
class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other
missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again. Thus ended our
little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael’s.

I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an
example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have
seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon
her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in
justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture—”He
that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with
many stripes.”

Master would keep this lacerated young woman tied up in this horrid
situation four or five hours at a time. I have known him to tie her up
early in the morning, and whip her before breakfast; leave her, go to his
store, return at dinner, and whip her again, cutting her in the places
already made raw with his cruel lash. The secret of master’s cruelty
toward “Henny” is found in the fact of her being almost helpless. When
quite a child, she fell into the fire, and burned herself horribly. Her
hands were so burnt that she never got the use of them. She could do very
little but bear heavy burdens. She was to master a bill of expense; and as
he was a mean man, she was a constant offence to him. He seemed desirous
of getting the poor girl out of existence. He gave her away once to his
sister; but, being a poor gift, she was not disposed to keep her. Finally,
my benevolent master, to use his own words, “set her adrift to take care
of herself.” Here was a recently-converted man, holding on upon the
mother, and at the same time turning out her helpless child, to starve and
die! Master Thomas was one of the many pious slaveholders who hold slaves
for the very charitable purpose of taking care of them.

My master and myself had quite a number of differences. He found me
unsuitable to his purpose. My city life, he said, had had a very
pernicious effect upon me. It had almost ruined me for every good purpose,
and fitted me for every thing which was bad. One of my greatest faults was
that of letting his horse run away, and go down to his father-inlaw’s
farm, which was about five miles from St. Michael’s. I would then have to
go after it. My reason for this kind of carelessness, or carefulness, was,
that I could always get something to eat when I went there. Master William
Hamilton, my master’s father-in-law, always gave his slaves enough to eat.
I never left there hungry, no matter how great the need of my speedy
return. Master Thomas at length said he would stand it no longer. I had
lived with him nine months, during which time he had given me a number of
severe whippings, all to no good purpose. He resolved to put me out, as he
said, to be broken; and, for this purpose, he let me for one year to a man
named Edward Covey. Mr. Covey was a poor man, a farm-renter. He rented the
place upon which he lived, as also the hands with which he tilled it. Mr.
Covey had acquired a very high reputation for breaking young slaves, and
this reputation was of immense value to him. It enabled him to get his
farm tilled with much less expense to himself than he could have had it
done without such a reputation. Some slaveholders thought it not much loss
to allow Mr. Covey to have their slaves one year, for the sake of the
training to which they were subjected, without any other compensation. He
could hire young help with great ease, in consequence of this reputation.
Added to the natural good qualities of Mr. Covey, he was a professor of
religion—a pious soul—a member and a class-leader in the
Methodist church. All of this added weight to his reputation as a
“nigger-breaker.” I was aware of all the facts, having been made
acquainted with them by a young man who had lived there. I nevertheless
made the change gladly; for I was sure of getting enough to eat, which is
not the smallest consideration to a hungry man.


CHAPTER X

I had left Master Thomas’s house, and went to live with Mr. Covey, on the
1st of January, 1833. I was now, for the first time in my life, a field
hand. In my new employment, I found myself even more awkward than a
country boy appeared to be in a large city. I had been at my new home but
one week before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back,
causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my
little finger. The details of this affair are as follows: Mr. Covey sent
me, very early in the morning of one of our coldest days in the month of
January, to the woods, to get a load of wood. He gave me a team of
unbroken oxen. He told me which was the in-hand ox, and which the off-hand
one. He then tied the end of a large rope around the horns of the in-hand
ox, and gave me the other end of it, and told me, if the oxen started to
run, that I must hold on upon the rope. I had never driven oxen before,
and of course I was very awkward. I, however, succeeded in getting to the
edge of the woods with little difficulty; but I had got a very few rods
into the woods, when the oxen took fright, and started full tilt, carrying
the cart against trees, and over stumps, in the most frightful manner. I
expected every moment that my brains would be dashed out against the
trees. After running thus for a considerable distance, they finally upset
the cart, dashing it with great force against a tree, and threw themselves
into a dense thicket. How I escaped death, I do not know. There I was,
entirely alone, in a thick wood, in a place new to me. My cart was upset
and shattered, my oxen were entangled among the young trees, and there was
none to help me. After a long spell of effort, I succeeded in getting my
cart righted, my oxen disentangled, and again yoked to the cart. I now
proceeded with my team to the place where I had, the day before, been
chopping wood, and loaded my cart pretty heavily, thinking in this way to
tame my oxen. I then proceeded on my way home. I had now consumed one half
of the day. I got out of the woods safely, and now felt out of danger. I
stopped my oxen to open the woods gate; and just as I did so, before I
could get hold of my ox-rope, the oxen again started, rushed through the
gate, catching it between the wheel and the body of the cart, tearing it
to pieces, and coming within a few inches of crushing me against the
gate-post. Thus twice, in one short day, I escaped death by the merest
chance. On my return, I told Mr. Covey what had happened, and how it
happened. He ordered me to return to the woods again immediately. I did
so, and he followed on after me. Just as I got into the woods, he came up
and told me to stop my cart, and that he would teach me how to trifle away
my time, and break gates. He then went to a large gum-tree, and with his
axe cut three large switches, and, after trimming them up neatly with his
pocketknife, he ordered me to take off my clothes. I made him no answer,
but stood with my clothes on. He repeated his order. I still made him no
answer, nor did I move to strip myself. Upon this he rushed at me with the
fierceness of a tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me till he had worn
out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for
a long time after. This whipping was the first of a number just like it,
and for similar offences.

I lived with Mr. Covey one year. During the first six months, of that
year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from
a sore back. My awkwardness was almost always his excuse for whipping me.
We were worked fully up to the point of endurance. Long before day we were
up, our horses fed, and by the first approach of day we were off to the
field with our hoes and ploughing teams. Mr. Covey gave us enough to eat,
but scarce time to eat it. We were often less than five minutes taking our
meals. We were often in the field from the first approach of day till its
last lingering ray had left us; and at saving-fodder time, midnight often
caught us in the field binding blades.

Covey would be out with us. The way he used to stand it, was this. He
would spend the most of his afternoons in bed. He would then come out
fresh in the evening, ready to urge us on with his words, example, and
frequently with the whip. Mr. Covey was one of the few slaveholders who
could and did work with his hands. He was a hard-working man. He knew by
himself just what a man or a boy could do. There was no deceiving him. His
work went on in his absence almost as well as in his presence; and he had
the faculty of making us feel that he was ever present with us. This he
did by surprising us. He seldom approached the spot where we were at work
openly, if he could do it secretly. He always aimed at taking us by
surprise. Such was his cunning, that we used to call him, among ourselves,
“the snake.” When we were at work in the cornfield, he would sometimes
crawl on his hands and knees to avoid detection, and all at once he would
rise nearly in our midst, and scream out, “Ha, ha! Come, come! Dash on,
dash on!” This being his mode of attack, it was never safe to stop a
single minute. His comings were like a thief in the night. He appeared to
us as being ever at hand. He was under every tree, behind every stump, in
every bush, and at every window, on the plantation. He would sometimes
mount his horse, as if bound to St. Michael’s, a distance of seven miles,
and in half an hour afterwards you would see him coiled up in the corner
of the wood-fence, watching every motion of the slaves. He would, for this
purpose, leave his horse tied up in the woods. Again, he would sometimes
walk up to us, and give us orders as though he was upon the point of
starting on a long journey, turn his back upon us, and make as though he
was going to the house to get ready; and, before he would get half way
thither, he would turn short and crawl into a fence-corner, or behind some
tree, and there watch us till the going down of the sun.

Mr. Covey’s forte consisted in his power to deceive. His life was devoted
to planning and perpetrating the grossest deceptions. Every thing he
possessed in the shape of learning or religion, he made conform to his
disposition to deceive. He seemed to think himself equal to deceiving the
Almighty. He would make a short prayer in the morning, and a long prayer
at night; and, strange as it may seem, few men would at times appear more
devotional than he. The exercises of his family devotions were always
commenced with singing; and, as he was a very poor singer himself, the
duty of raising the hymn generally came upon me. He would read his hymn,
and nod at me to commence. I would at times do so; at others, I would not.
My non-compliance would almost always produce much confusion. To show
himself independent of me, he would start and stagger through with his
hymn in the most discordant manner. In this state of mind, he prayed with
more than ordinary spirit. Poor man! such was his disposition, and success
at deceiving, I do verily believe that he sometimes deceived himself into
the solemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper of the most high God;
and this, too, at a time when he may be said to have been guilty of
compelling his woman slave to commit the sin of adultery. The facts in the
case are these: Mr. Covey was a poor man; he was just commencing in life;
he was only able to buy one slave; and, shocking as is the fact, he bought
her, as he said, for a breeder. This woman was named Caroline. Mr. Covey
bought her from Mr. Thomas Lowe, about six miles from St. Michael’s. She
was a large, able-bodied woman, about twenty years old. She had already
given birth to one child, which proved her to be just what he wanted.
After buying her, he hired a married man of Mr. Samuel Harrison, to live
with him one year; and him he used to fasten up with her every night! The
result was, that, at the end of the year, the miserable woman gave birth
to twins. At this result Mr. Covey seemed to be highly pleased, both with
the man and the wretched woman. Such was his joy, and that of his wife,
that nothing they could do for Caroline during her confinement was too
good, or too hard, to be done. The children were regarded as being quite
an addition to his wealth.

If at any one time of my life more than another, I was made to drink the
bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the first six months of
my stay with Mr. Covey. We were worked in all weathers. It was never too
hot or too cold; it could never rain, blow, hail, or snow, too hard for us
to work in the field. Work, work, work, was scarcely more the order of the
day than of the night. The longest days were too short for him, and the
shortest nights too long for him. I was somewhat unmanageable when I first
went there, but a few months of this discipline tamed me. Mr. Covey
succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My
natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition
to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the
dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into
a brute!

Sunday was my only leisure time. I spent this in a sort of beast-like
stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree. At times I would
rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would dart through my soul,
accompanied with a faint beam of hope, that flickered for a moment, and
then vanished. I sank down again, mourning over my wretched condition. I
was sometimes prompted to take my life, and that of Covey, but was
prevented by a combination of hope and fear. My sufferings on this
plantation seem now like a dream rather than a stern reality.

Our house stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom
was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. Those
beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of
freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me
with thoughts of my wretched condition. I have often, in the deep
stillness of a summer’s Sabbath, stood all alone upon the lofty banks of
that noble bay, and traced, with saddened heart and tearful eye, the
countless number of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. The sight of
these always affected me powerfully. My thoughts would compel utterance;
and there, with no audience but the Almighty, I would pour out my soul’s
complaint, in my rude way, with an apostrophe to the moving multitude of
ships:—

“You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains,
and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly
before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly
round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! O,
that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing!
Alas! betwixt me and you, the turbid waters roll. Go on, go on. O that I
could also go! Could I but swim! If I could fly! O, why was I born a man,
of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim
distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save
me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I
will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it.
I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I
had as well be killed running as die standing. Only think of it; one
hundred miles straight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me,
I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will take to the
water. This very bay shall yet bear me into freedom. The steamboats
steered in a north-east course from North Point. I will do the same; and
when I get to the head of the bay, I will turn my canoe adrift, and walk
straight through Delaware into Pennsylvania. When I get there, I shall not
be required to have a pass; I can travel without being disturbed. Let but
the first opportunity offer, and, come what will, I am off. Meanwhile, I
will try to bear up under the yoke. I am not the only slave in the world.
Why should I fret? I can bear as much as any of them. Besides, I am but a
boy, and all boys are bound to some one. It may be that my misery in
slavery will only increase my happiness when I get free. There is a better
day coming.”

Thus I used to think, and thus I used to speak to myself; goaded almost to
madness at one moment, and at the next reconciling myself to my wretched
lot.

I have already intimated that my condition was much worse, during the
first six months of my stay at Mr. Covey’s, than in the last six. The
circumstances leading to the change in Mr. Covey’s course toward me form
an epoch in my humble history. You have seen how a man was made a slave;
you shall see how a slave was made a man. On one of the hottest days of
the month of August, 1833, Bill Smith, William Hughes, a slave named Eli,
and myself, were engaged in fanning wheat. Hughes was clearing the fanned
wheat from before the fan. Eli was turning, Smith was feeding, and I was
carrying wheat to the fan. The work was simple, requiring strength rather
than intellect; yet, to one entirely unused to such work, it came very
hard. About three o’clock of that day, I broke down; my strength failed
me; I was seized with a violent aching of the head, attended with extreme
dizziness; I trembled in every limb. Finding what was coming, I nerved
myself up, feeling it would never do to stop work. I stood as long as I
could stagger to the hopper with grain. When I could stand no longer, I
fell, and felt as if held down by an immense weight. The fan of course
stopped; every one had his own work to do; and no one could do the work of
the other, and have his own go on at the same time.

Mr. Covey was at the house, about one hundred yards from the treading-yard
where we were fanning. On hearing the fan stop, he left immediately, and
came to the spot where we were. He hastily inquired what the matter was.
Bill answered that I was sick, and there was no one to bring wheat to the
fan. I had by this time crawled away under the side of the post and
rail-fence by which the yard was enclosed, hoping to find relief by
getting out of the sun. He then asked where I was. He was told by one of
the hands. He came to the spot, and, after looking at me awhile, asked me
what was the matter. I told him as well as I could, for I scarce had
strength to speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side, and told me
to get up. I tried to do so, but fell back in the attempt. He gave me
another kick, and again told me to rise. I again tried, and succeeded in
gaining my feet; but, stooping to get the tub with which I was feeding the
fan, I again staggered and fell. While down in this situation, Mr. Covey
took up the hickory slat with which Hughes had been striking off the
half-bushel measure, and with it gave me a heavy blow upon the head,
making a large wound, and the blood ran freely; and with this again told
me to get up. I made no effort to comply, having now made up my mind to
let him do his worst. In a short time after receiving this blow, my head
grew better. Mr. Covey had now left me to my fate. At this moment I
resolved, for the first time, to go to my master, enter a complaint, and
ask his protection. In order to do this, I must that afternoon walk seven
miles; and this, under the circumstances, was truly a severe undertaking.
I was exceedingly feeble; made so as much by the kicks and blows which I
received, as by the severe fit of sickness to which I had been subjected.
I, however, watched my chance, while Covey was looking in an opposite
direction, and started for St. Michael’s. I succeeded in getting a
considerable distance on my way to the woods, when Covey discovered me,
and called after me to come back, threatening what he would do if I did
not come. I disregarded both his calls and his threats, and made my way to
the woods as fast as my feeble state would allow; and thinking I might be
overhauled by him if I kept the road, I walked through the woods, keeping
far enough from the road to avoid detection, and near enough to prevent
losing my way. I had not gone far before my little strength again failed
me. I could go no farther. I fell down, and lay for a considerable time.
The blood was yet oozing from the wound on my head. For a time I thought I
should bleed to death; and think now that I should have done so, but that
the blood so matted my hair as to stop the wound. After lying there about
three quarters of an hour, I nerved myself up again, and started on my
way, through bogs and briers, barefooted and bareheaded, tearing my feet
sometimes at nearly every step; and after a journey of about seven miles,
occupying some five hours to perform it, I arrived at master’s store. I
then presented an appearance enough to affect any but a heart of iron.
From the crown of my head to my feet, I was covered with blood. My hair
was all clotted with dust and blood; my shirt was stiff with blood. I
suppose I looked like a man who had escaped a den of wild beasts, and
barely escaped them. In this state I appeared before my master, humbly
entreating him to interpose his authority for my protection. I told him
all the circumstances as well as I could, and it seemed, as I spoke, at
times to affect him. He would then walk the floor, and seek to justify
Covey by saying he expected I deserved it. He asked me what I wanted. I
told him, to let me get a new home; that as sure as I lived with Mr. Covey
again, I should live with but to die with him; that Covey would surely
kill me; he was in a fair way for it. Master Thomas ridiculed the idea
that there was any danger of Mr. Covey’s killing me, and said that he knew
Mr. Covey; that he was a good man, and that he could not think of taking
me from him; that, should he do so, he would lose the whole year’s wages;
that I belonged to Mr. Covey for one year, and that I must go back to him,
come what might; and that I must not trouble him with any more stories, or
that he would himself get hold of me. After threatening me thus, he gave
me a very large dose of salts, telling me that I might remain in St.
Michael’s that night, (it being quite late,) but that I must be off back
to Mr. Covey’s early in the morning; and that if I did not, he would get
hold of me,
which meant that he would whip me. I remained all night,
and, according to his orders, I started off to Covey’s in the morning,
(Saturday morning,) wearied in body and broken in spirit. I got no supper
that night, or breakfast that morning. I reached Covey’s about nine
o’clock; and just as I was getting over the fence that divided Mrs. Kemp’s
fields from ours, out ran Covey with his cowskin, to give me another
whipping. Before he could reach me, I succeeded in getting to the
cornfield; and as the corn was very high, it afforded me the means of
hiding. He seemed very angry, and searched for me a long time. My behavior
was altogether unaccountable. He finally gave up the chase, thinking, I
suppose, that I must come home for something to eat; he would give himself
no further trouble in looking for me. I spent that day mostly in the
woods, having the alternative before me,—to go home and be whipped
to death, or stay in the woods and be starved to death. That night, I fell
in with Sandy Jenkins, a slave with whom I was somewhat acquainted. Sandy
had a free wife who lived about four miles from Mr. Covey’s; and it being
Saturday, he was on his way to see her. I told him my circumstances, and
he very kindly invited me to go home with him. I went home with him, and
talked this whole matter over, and got his advice as to what course it was
best for me to pursue. I found Sandy an old adviser. He told me, with
great solemnity, I must go back to Covey; but that before I went, I must
go with him into another part of the woods, where there was a certain root,
which, if I would take some of it with me, carrying it always on my
right side,
would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other
white man, to whip me. He said he had carried it for years; and since he
had done so, he had never received a blow, and never expected to while he
carried it. I at first rejected the idea, that the simple carrying of a
root in my pocket would have any such effect as he had said, and was not
disposed to take it; but Sandy impressed the necessity with much
earnestness, telling me it could do no harm, if it did no good. To please
him, I at length took the root, and, according to his direction, carried
it upon my right side. This was Sunday morning. I immediately started for
home; and upon entering the yard gate, out came Mr. Covey on his way to
meeting. He spoke to me very kindly, bade me drive the pigs from a lot
near by, and passed on towards the church. Now, this singular conduct of
Mr. Covey really made me begin to think that there was something in the
root which Sandy had given me; and had it been on any other day than
Sunday, I could have attributed the conduct to no other cause than the
influence of that root; and as it was, I was half inclined to think the root
to be something more than I at first had taken it to be. All went well
till Monday morning. On this morning, the virtue of the root was fully
tested. Long before daylight, I was called to go and rub, curry, and feed,
the horses. I obeyed, and was glad to obey. But whilst thus engaged,
whilst in the act of throwing down some blades from the loft, Mr. Covey
entered the stable with a long rope; and just as I was half out of the
loft, he caught hold of my legs, and was about tying me. As soon as I
found what he was up to, I gave a sudden spring, and as I did so, he
holding to my legs, I was brought sprawling on the stable floor. Mr. Covey
seemed now to think he had me, and could do what he pleased; but at this
moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to
fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by
the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My
resistance was so entirely unexpected that Covey seemed taken all aback.
He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy,
causing the blood to run where I touched him with the ends of my fingers.
Mr. Covey soon called out to Hughes for help. Hughes came, and, while
Covey held me, attempted to tie my right hand. While he was in the act of
doing so, I watched my chance, and gave him a heavy kick close under the
ribs. This kick fairly sickened Hughes, so that he left me in the hands of
Mr. Covey. This kick had the effect of not only weakening Hughes, but
Covey also. When he saw Hughes bending over with pain, his courage
quailed. He asked me if I meant to persist in my resistance. I told him I
did, come what might; that he had used me like a brute for six months, and
that I was determined to be used so no longer. With that, he strove to
drag me to a stick that was lying just out of the stable door. He meant to
knock me down. But just as he was leaning over to get the stick, I seized
him with both hands by his collar, and brought him by a sudden snatch to
the ground. By this time, Bill came. Covey called upon him for assistance.
Bill wanted to know what he could do. Covey said, “Take hold of him, take
hold of him!” Bill said his master hired him out to work, and not to help
to whip me; so he left Covey and myself to fight our own battle out. We
were at it for nearly two hours. Covey at length let me go, puffing and
blowing at a great rate, saying that if I had not resisted, he would not
have whipped me half so much. The truth was, that he had not whipped me at
all. I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain;
for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him. The whole six
months afterwards, that I spent with Mr. Covey, he never laid the weight
of his finger upon me in anger. He would occasionally say, he didn’t want
to get hold of me again. “No,” thought I, “you need not; for you will come
off worse than you did before.”

This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave.
It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a
sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and
inspired me again with a determination to be free. The gratification
afforded by the triumph was a full compensation for whatever else might
follow, even death itself. He only can understand the deep satisfaction
which I experienced, who has himself repelled by force the bloody arm of
slavery. I felt as I never felt before. It was a glorious resurrection,
from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit
rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved
that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed
forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be
known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must
also succeed in killing me.

From this time I was never again what might be called fairly whipped,
though I remained a slave four years afterwards. I had several fights, but
was never whipped.

It was for a long time a matter of surprise to me why Mr. Covey did not
immediately have me taken by the constable to the whipping-post, and there
regularly whipped for the crime of raising my hand against a white man in
defence of myself. And the only explanation I can now think of does not
entirely satisfy me; but such as it is, I will give it. Mr. Covey enjoyed
the most unbounded reputation for being a first-rate overseer and
negro-breaker. It was of considerable importance to him. That reputation
was at stake; and had he sent me—a boy about sixteen years old—to
the public whipping-post, his reputation would have been lost; so, to save
his reputation, he suffered me to go unpunished.

My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas day,
1833. The days between Christmas and New Year’s day are allowed as
holidays; and, accordingly, we were not required to perform any labor,
more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our
own, by the grace of our masters; and we therefore used or abused it
nearly as we pleased. Those of us who had families at a distance, were
generally allowed to spend the whole six days in their society. This time,
however, was spent in various ways. The staid, sober, thinking and
industrious ones of our number would employ themselves in making
corn-brooms, mats, horse-collars, and baskets; and another class of us
would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons. But by far the
larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball,
wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whisky; and
this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the
feelings of our masters. A slave who would work during the holidays was
considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. He was regarded as
one who rejected the favor of his master. It was deemed a disgrace not to
get drunk at Christmas; and he was regarded as lazy indeed, who had not
provided himself with the necessary means, during the year, to get whisky
enough to last him through Christmas.

From what I know of the effect of these holidays upon the slave, I believe
them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder
in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. Were the slaveholders at once
to abandon this practice, I have not the slightest doubt it would lead to
an immediate insurrection among the slaves. These holidays serve as
conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of
enslaved humanity. But for these, the slave would be forced up to the
wildest desperation; and woe betide the slaveholder, the day he ventures
to remove or hinder the operation of those conductors! I warn him that, in
such an event, a spirit will go forth in their midst, more to be dreaded
than the most appalling earthquake.

The holidays are part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity
of slavery. They are professedly a custom established by the benevolence
of the slaveholders; but I undertake to say, it is the result of
selfishness, and one of the grossest frauds committed upon the
down-trodden slave. They do not give the slaves this time because they
would not like to have their work during its continuance, but because they
know it would be unsafe to deprive them of it. This will be seen by the
fact, that the slaveholders like to have their slaves spend those days
just in such a manner as to make them as glad of their ending as of their
beginning. Their object seems to be, to disgust their slaves with freedom,
by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation. For instance, the
slaveholders not only like to see the slave drink of his own accord, but
will adopt various plans to make him drunk. One plan is, to make bets on
their slaves, as to who can drink the most whisky without getting drunk;
and in this way they succeed in getting whole multitudes to drink to
excess. Thus, when the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning
slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious
dissipation, artfully labelled with the name of liberty. The most of us
used to drink it down, and the result was just what might be supposed;
many of us were led to think that there was little to choose between
liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as
well be slaves to man as to rum. So, when the holidays ended, we staggered
up from the filth of our wallowing, took a long breath, and marched to the
field,—feeling, upon the whole, rather glad to go, from what our
master had deceived us into a belief was freedom, back to the arms of
slavery.

I have said that this mode of treatment is a part of the whole system of
fraud and inhumanity of slavery. It is so. The mode here adopted to
disgust the slave with freedom, by allowing him to see only the abuse of
it, is carried out in other things. For instance, a slave loves molasses;
he steals some. His master, in many cases, goes off to town, and buys a
large quantity; he returns, takes his whip, and commands the slave to eat
the molasses, until the poor fellow is made sick at the very mention of
it. The same mode is sometimes adopted to make the slaves refrain from
asking for more food than their regular allowance. A slave runs through
his allowance, and applies for more. His master is enraged at him; but,
not willing to send him off without food, gives him more than is
necessary, and compels him to eat it within a given time. Then, if he
complains that he cannot eat it, he is said to be satisfied neither full
nor fasting, and is whipped for being hard to please! I have an abundance
of such illustrations of the same principle, drawn from my own
observation, but think the cases I have cited sufficient. The practice is
a very common one.

On the first of January, 1834, I left Mr. Covey, and went to live with Mr.
William Freeland, who lived about three miles from St. Michael’s. I soon
found Mr. Freeland a very different man from Mr. Covey. Though not rich,
he was what would be called an educated southern gentleman. Mr. Covey, as
I have shown, was a well-trained negro-breaker and slave-driver. The
former (slaveholder though he was) seemed to possess some regard for
honor, some reverence for justice, and some respect for humanity. The
latter seemed totally insensible to all such sentiments. Mr. Freeland had
many of the faults peculiar to slaveholders, such as being very passionate
and fretful; but I must do him the justice to say, that he was exceedingly
free from those degrading vices to which Mr. Covey was constantly
addicted. The one was open and frank, and we always knew where to find
him. The other was a most artful deceiver, and could be understood only by
such as were skilful enough to detect his cunningly-devised frauds.
Another advantage I gained in my new master was, he made no pretensions
to, or profession of, religion; and this, in my opinion, was truly a great
advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is
a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most
appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and
a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most
infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be
again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should
regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that
could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met,
religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest
and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy
lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a
community of such religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev.
Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins.
These were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr.
Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten.
This woman’s back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash
of this merciless, religious wretch. He used to hire hands. His
maxim was, Behave well or behave ill, it is the duty of a master
occasionally to whip a slave, to remind him of his master’s authority.
Such was his theory, and such his practice.

Mr. Hopkins was even worse than Mr. Weeden. His chief boast was his
ability to manage slaves. The peculiar feature of his government was that
of whipping slaves in advance of deserving it. He always managed to have
one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning. He did this to
alarm their fears, and strike terror into those who escaped. His plan was
to whip for the smallest offences, to prevent the commission of large
ones. Mr. Hopkins could always find some excuse for whipping a slave. It
would astonish one, unaccustomed to a slaveholding life, to see with what
wonderful ease a slaveholder can find things, of which to make occasion to
whip a slave. A mere look, word, or motion,—a mistake, accident, or
want of power,—are all matters for which a slave may be whipped at
any time. Does a slave look dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devil in
him, and it must be whipped out. Does he speak loudly when spoken to by
his master? Then he is getting high-minded, and should be taken down a
button-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off his hat at the approach of a
white person? Then he is wanting in reverence, and should be whipped for
it. Does he ever venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured for it?
Then he is guilty of impudence,—one of the greatest crimes of which
a slave can be guilty. Does he ever venture to suggest a different mode of
doing things from that pointed out by his master? He is indeed
presumptuous, and getting above himself; and nothing less than a flogging
will do for him. Does he, while ploughing, break a plough,—or, while
hoeing, break a hoe? It is owing to his carelessness, and for it a slave
must always be whipped. Mr. Hopkins could always find something of this
sort to justify the use of the lash, and he seldom failed to embrace such
opportunities. There was not a man in the whole county, with whom the
slaves who had the getting their own home, would not prefer to live,
rather than with this Rev. Mr. Hopkins. And yet there was not a man any
where round, who made higher professions of religion, or was more active
in revivals,—more attentive to the class, love-feast, prayer and
preaching meetings, or more devotional in his family,—that prayed
earlier, later, louder, and longer,—than this same reverend
slave-driver, Rigby Hopkins.

But to return to Mr. Freeland, and to my experience while in his
employment. He, like Mr. Covey, gave us enough to eat; but, unlike Mr.
Covey, he also gave us sufficient time to take our meals. He worked us
hard, but always between sunrise and sunset. He required a good deal of
work to be done, but gave us good tools with which to work. His farm was
large, but he employed hands enough to work it, and with ease, compared
with many of his neighbors. My treatment, while in his employment, was
heavenly, compared with what I experienced at the hands of Mr. Edward
Covey.

Mr. Freeland was himself the owner of but two slaves. Their names were
Henry Harris and John Harris. The rest of his hands he hired. These
consisted of myself, Sandy Jenkins,* and Handy Caldwell.

     *This is the same man who gave me the roots to prevent my
     being whipped by Mr. Covey. He was "a clever soul." We used
     frequently to talk about the fight with Covey, and as often
     as we did so, he would claim my success as the result of the
     roots which he gave me. This superstition is very common
     among the more ignorant slaves. A slave seldom dies but that
     his death is attributed to trickery.

Henry and John were quite intelligent, and in a very little while after I
went there, I succeeded in creating in them a strong desire to learn how
to read. This desire soon sprang up in the others also. They very soon
mustered up some old spelling-books, and nothing would do but that I must
keep a Sabbath school. I agreed to do so, and accordingly devoted my
Sundays to teaching these my loved fellow-slaves how to read. Neither of
them knew his letters when I went there. Some of the slaves of the
neighboring farms found what was going on, and also availed themselves of
this little opportunity to learn to read. It was understood, among all who
came, that there must be as little display about it as possible. It was
necessary to keep our religious masters at St. Michael’s unacquainted with
the fact, that, instead of spending the Sabbath in wrestling, boxing, and
drinking whisky, we were trying to learn how to read the will of God; for
they had much rather see us engaged in those degrading sports, than to see
us behaving like intellectual, moral, and accountable beings. My blood
boils as I think of the bloody manner in which Messrs. Wright Fairbanks
and Garrison West, both class-leaders, in connection with many others,
rushed in upon us with sticks and stones, and broke up our virtuous little
Sabbath school, at St. Michael’s—all calling themselves Christians!
humble followers of the Lord Jesus Christ! But I am again digressing.

I held my Sabbath school at the house of a free colored man, whose name I
deem it imprudent to mention; for should it be known, it might embarrass
him greatly, though the crime of holding the school was committed ten
years ago. I had at one time over forty scholars, and those of the right
sort, ardently desiring to learn. They were of all ages, though mostly men
and women. I look back to those Sundays with an amount of pleasure not to
be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The work of instructing my
dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever
blessed. We loved each other, and to leave them at the close of the
Sabbath was a severe cross indeed. When I think that these precious souls
are to-day shut up in the prison-house of slavery, my feelings overcome
me, and I am almost ready to ask, “Does a righteous God govern the
universe? and for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not
to smite the oppressor, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the
spoiler?” These dear souls came not to Sabbath school because it was
popular to do so, nor did I teach them because it was reputable to be thus
engaged. Every moment they spent in that school, they were liable to be
taken up, and given thirty-nine lashes. They came because they wished to
learn. Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters. They had been
shut up in mental darkness. I taught them, because it was the delight of
my soul to be doing something that looked like bettering the condition of
my race. I kept up my school nearly the whole year I lived with Mr.
Freeland; and, beside my Sabbath school, I devoted three evenings in the
week, during the winter, to teaching the slaves at home. And I have the
happiness to know, that several of those who came to Sabbath school
learned how to read; and that one, at least, is now free through my
agency.

The year passed off smoothly. It seemed only about half as long as the
year which preceded it. I went through it without receiving a single blow.
I will give Mr. Freeland the credit of being the best master I ever had,
till I became my own master. For the ease with which I passed the
year, I was, however, somewhat indebted to the society of my
fellow-slaves. They were noble souls; they not only possessed loving
hearts, but brave ones. We were linked and interlinked with each other. I
loved them with a love stronger than any thing I have experienced since.
It is sometimes said that we slaves do not love and confide in each other.
In answer to this assertion, I can say, I never loved any or confided in
any people more than my fellow-slaves, and especially those with whom I
lived at Mr. Freeland’s. I believe we would have died for each other. We
never undertook to do any thing, of any importance, without a mutual
consultation. We never moved separately. We were one; and as much so by
our tempers and dispositions, as by the mutual hardships to which we were
necessarily subjected by our condition as slaves.

At the close of the year 1834, Mr. Freeland again hired me of my master,
for the year 1835. But, by this time, I began to want to live upon free
land
as well as with Freeland; and I was no longer content,
therefore, to live with him or any other slaveholder. I began, with the
commencement of the year, to prepare myself for a final struggle, which
should decide my fate one way or the other. My tendency was upward. I was
fast approaching manhood, and year after year had passed, and I was still
a slave. These thoughts roused me—I must do something. I therefore
resolved that 1835 should not pass without witnessing an attempt, on my
part, to secure my liberty. But I was not willing to cherish this
determination alone. My fellow-slaves were dear to me. I was anxious to
have them participate with me in this, my life-giving determination. I
therefore, though with great prudence, commenced early to ascertain their
views and feelings in regard to their condition, and to imbue their minds
with thoughts of freedom. I bent myself to devising ways and means for our
escape, and meanwhile strove, on all fitting occasions, to impress them
with the gross fraud and inhumanity of slavery. I went first to Henry,
next to John, then to the others. I found, in them all, warm hearts and
noble spirits. They were ready to hear, and ready to act when a feasible
plan should be proposed. This was what I wanted. I talked to them of our
want of manhood, if we submitted to our enslavement without at least one
noble effort to be free. We met often, and consulted frequently, and told
our hopes and fears, recounted the difficulties, real and imagined, which
we should be called on to meet. At times we were almost disposed to give
up, and try to content ourselves with our wretched lot; at others, we were
firm and unbending in our determination to go. Whenever we suggested any
plan, there was shrinking—the odds were fearful. Our path was beset
with the greatest obstacles; and if we succeeded in gaining the end of it,
our right to be free was yet questionable—we were yet liable to be
returned to bondage. We could see no spot, this side of the ocean, where
we could be free. We knew nothing about Canada. Our knowledge of the north
did not extend farther than New York; and to go there, and be forever
harassed with the frightful liability of being returned to slavery—with
the certainty of being treated tenfold worse than before—the thought
was truly a horrible one, and one which it was not easy to overcome. The
case sometimes stood thus: At every gate through which we were to pass, we
saw a watchman—at every ferry a guard—on every bridge a
sentinel—and in every wood a patrol. We were hemmed in upon every
side. Here were the difficulties, real or imagined—the good to be
sought, and the evil to be shunned. On the one hand, there stood slavery,
a stern reality, glaring frightfully upon us,—its robes already
crimsoned with the blood of millions, and even now feasting itself
greedily upon our own flesh. On the other hand, away back in the dim
distance, under the flickering light of the north star, behind some craggy
hill or snow-covered mountain, stood a doubtful freedom—half frozen—beckoning
us to come and share its hospitality. This in itself was sometimes enough
to stagger us; but when we permitted ourselves to survey the road, we were
frequently appalled. Upon either side we saw grim death, assuming the most
horrid shapes. Now it was starvation, causing us to eat our own flesh;—now
we were contending with the waves, and were drowned;—now we were
overtaken, and torn to pieces by the fangs of the terrible bloodhound. We
were stung by scorpions, chased by wild beasts, bitten by snakes, and
finally, after having nearly reached the desired spot,—after
swimming rivers, encountering wild beasts, sleeping in the woods,
suffering hunger and nakedness,—we were overtaken by our pursuers,
and, in our resistance, we were shot dead upon the spot! I say, this
picture sometimes appalled us, and made us

     "rather bear those ills we had,
     Than fly to others, that we knew not of."

In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick
Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death. With us it was a doubtful
liberty at most, and almost certain death if we failed. For my part, I
should prefer death to hopeless bondage.

Sandy, one of our number, gave up the notion, but still encouraged us. Our
company then consisted of Henry Harris, John Harris, Henry Bailey, Charles
Roberts, and myself. Henry Bailey was my uncle, and belonged to my master.
Charles married my aunt: he belonged to my master’s father-in-law, Mr.
William Hamilton.

The plan we finally concluded upon was, to get a large canoe belonging to
Mr. Hamilton, and upon the Saturday night previous to Easter holidays,
paddle directly up the Chesapeake Bay. On our arrival at the head of the
bay, a distance of seventy or eighty miles from where we lived, it was our
purpose to turn our canoe adrift, and follow the guidance of the north
star till we got beyond the limits of Maryland. Our reason for taking the
water route was, that we were less liable to be suspected as runaways; we
hoped to be regarded as fishermen; whereas, if we should take the land
route, we should be subjected to interruptions of almost every kind. Any
one having a white face, and being so disposed, could stop us, and subject
us to examination.

The week before our intended start, I wrote several protections, one for
each of us. As well as I can remember, they were in the following words,
to wit:—

     "This is to certify that I, the undersigned, have given the bearer, my
     servant, full liberty to go to Baltimore, and spend the Easter holidays.
     Written with mine own hand, &c., 1835.

     "WILLIAM HAMILTON,

“Near St. Michael’s, in Talbot county, Maryland.”

We were not going to Baltimore; but, in going up the bay, we went toward
Baltimore, and these protections were only intended to protect us while on
the bay.

As the time drew near for our departure, our anxiety became more and more
intense. It was truly a matter of life and death with us. The strength of
our determination was about to be fully tested. At this time, I was very
active in explaining every difficulty, removing every doubt, dispelling
every fear, and inspiring all with the firmness indispensable to success
in our undertaking; assuring them that half was gained the instant we made
the move; we had talked long enough; we were now ready to move; if not
now, we never should be; and if we did not intend to move now, we had as
well fold our arms, sit down, and acknowledge ourselves fit only to be
slaves. This, none of us were prepared to acknowledge. Every man stood
firm; and at our last meeting, we pledged ourselves afresh, in the most
solemn manner, that, at the time appointed, we would certainly start in
pursuit of freedom. This was in the middle of the week, at the end of
which we were to be off. We went, as usual, to our several fields of
labor, but with bosoms highly agitated with thoughts of our truly
hazardous undertaking. We tried to conceal our feelings as much as
possible; and I think we succeeded very well.

After a painful waiting, the Saturday morning, whose night was to witness
our departure, came. I hailed it with joy, bring what of sadness it might.
Friday night was a sleepless one for me. I probably felt more anxious than
the rest, because I was, by common consent, at the head of the whole
affair. The responsibility of success or failure lay heavily upon me. The
glory of the one, and the confusion of the other, were alike mine. The
first two hours of that morning were such as I never experienced before,
and hope never to again. Early in the morning, we went, as usual, to the
field. We were spreading manure; and all at once, while thus engaged, I
was overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling, in the fulness of which I
turned to Sandy, who was near by, and said, “We are betrayed!” “Well,”
said he, “that thought has this moment struck me.” We said no more. I was
never more certain of any thing.

The horn was blown as usual, and we went up from the field to the house
for breakfast. I went for the form, more than for want of any thing to eat
that morning. Just as I got to the house, in looking out at the lane gate,
I saw four white men, with two colored men. The white men were on
horseback, and the colored ones were walking behind, as if tied. I watched
them a few moments till they got up to our lane gate. Here they halted,
and tied the colored men to the gate-post. I was not yet certain as to
what the matter was. In a few moments, in rode Mr. Hamilton, with a speed
betokening great excitement. He came to the door, and inquired if Master
William was in. He was told he was at the barn. Mr. Hamilton, without
dismounting, rode up to the barn with extraordinary speed. In a few
moments, he and Mr. Freeland returned to the house. By this time, the
three constables rode up, and in great haste dismounted, tied their
horses, and met Master William and Mr. Hamilton returning from the barn;
and after talking awhile, they all walked up to the kitchen door. There
was no one in the kitchen but myself and John. Henry and Sandy were up at
the barn. Mr. Freeland put his head in at the door, and called me by name,
saying, there were some gentlemen at the door who wished to see me. I
stepped to the door, and inquired what they wanted. They at once seized
me, and, without giving me any satisfaction, tied me—lashing my
hands closely together. I insisted upon knowing what the matter was. They
at length said, that they had learned I had been in a “scrape,” and that I
was to be examined before my master; and if their information proved
false, I should not be hurt.

In a few moments, they succeeded in tying John. They then turned to Henry,
who had by this time returned, and commanded him to cross his hands. “I
won’t!” said Henry, in a firm tone, indicating his readiness to meet the
consequences of his refusal. “Won’t you?” said Tom Graham, the constable.
“No, I won’t!” said Henry, in a still stronger tone. With this, two of the
constables pulled out their shining pistols, and swore, by their Creator,
that they would make him cross his hands or kill him. Each cocked his
pistol, and, with fingers on the trigger, walked up to Henry, saying, at
the same time, if he did not cross his hands, they would blow his damned
heart out. “Shoot me, shoot me!” said Henry; “you can’t kill me but once.
Shoot, shoot,—and be damned! I won’t be tied!” This he said
in a tone of loud defiance; and at the same time, with a motion as quick
as lightning, he with one single stroke dashed the pistols from the hand
of each constable. As he did this, all hands fell upon him, and, after
beating him some time, they finally overpowered him, and got him tied.

During the scuffle, I managed, I know not how, to get my pass out, and,
without being discovered, put it into the fire. We were all now tied; and
just as we were to leave for Easton jail, Betsy Freeland, mother of
William Freeland, came to the door with her hands full of biscuits, and
divided them between Henry and John. She then delivered herself of a
speech, to the following effect:—addressing herself to me, she said,
You devil! You yellow devil! it was you that put it into the heads
of Henry and John to run away. But for you, you long-legged mulatto devil!
Henry nor John would never have thought of such a thing.” I made no reply,
and was immediately hurried off towards St. Michael’s. Just a moment
previous to the scuffle with Henry, Mr. Hamilton suggested the propriety
of making a search for the protections which he had understood Frederick
had written for himself and the rest. But, just at the moment he was about
carrying his proposal into effect, his aid was needed in helping to tie
Henry; and the excitement attending the scuffle caused them either to
forget, or to deem it unsafe, under the circumstances, to search. So we
were not yet convicted of the intention to run away.

When we got about half way to St. Michael’s, while the constables having
us in charge were looking ahead, Henry inquired of me what he should do
with his pass. I told him to eat it with his biscuit, and own nothing; and
we passed the word around, “Own nothing;” and “Own nothing!
said we all. Our confidence in each other was unshaken. We were resolved
to succeed or fail together, after the calamity had befallen us as much as
before. We were now prepared for any thing. We were to be dragged that
morning fifteen miles behind horses, and then to be placed in the Easton
jail. When we reached St. Michael’s, we underwent a sort of examination.
We all denied that we ever intended to run away. We did this more to bring
out the evidence against us, than from any hope of getting clear of being
sold; for, as I have said, we were ready for that. The fact was, we cared
but little where we went, so we went together. Our greatest concern was
about separation. We dreaded that more than any thing this side of death.
We found the evidence against us to be the testimony of one person; our
master would not tell who it was; but we came to a unanimous decision
among ourselves as to who their informant was. We were sent off to the
jail at Easton. When we got there, we were delivered up to the sheriff,
Mr. Joseph Graham, and by him placed in jail. Henry, John, and myself,
were placed in one room together—Charles, and Henry Bailey, in
another. Their object in separating us was to hinder concert.

We had been in jail scarcely twenty minutes, when a swarm of slave
traders, and agents for slave traders, flocked into jail to look at us,
and to ascertain if we were for sale. Such a set of beings I never saw
before! I felt myself surrounded by so many fiends from perdition. A band
of pirates never looked more like their father, the devil. They laughed
and grinned over us, saying, “Ah, my boys! we have got you, haven’t we?”
And after taunting us in various ways, they one by one went into an
examination of us, with intent to ascertain our value. They would
impudently ask us if we would not like to have them for our masters. We
would make them no answer, and leave them to find out as best they could.
Then they would curse and swear at us, telling us that they could take the
devil out of us in a very little while, if we were only in their hands.

While in jail, we found ourselves in much more comfortable quarters than
we expected when we went there. We did not get much to eat, nor that which
was very good; but we had a good clean room, from the windows of which we
could see what was going on in the street, which was very much better than
though we had been placed in one of the dark, damp cells. Upon the whole,
we got along very well, so far as the jail and its keeper were concerned.
Immediately after the holidays were over, contrary to all our
expectations, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Freeland came up to Easton, and took
Charles, the two Henrys, and John, out of jail, and carried them home,
leaving me alone. I regarded this separation as a final one. It caused me
more pain than any thing else in the whole transaction. I was ready for
any thing rather than separation. I supposed that they had consulted
together, and had decided that, as I was the whole cause of the intention
of the others to run away, it was hard to make the innocent suffer with
the guilty; and that they had, therefore, concluded to take the others
home, and sell me, as a warning to the others that remained. It is due to
the noble Henry to say, he seemed almost as reluctant at leaving the
prison as at leaving home to come to the prison. But we knew we should, in
all probability, be separated, if we were sold; and since he was in their
hands, he concluded to go peaceably home.

I was now left to my fate. I was all alone, and within the walls of a
stone prison. But a few days before, and I was full of hope. I expected to
have been safe in a land of freedom; but now I was covered with gloom,
sunk down to the utmost despair. I thought the possibility of freedom was
gone. I was kept in this way about one week, at the end of which, Captain
Auld, my master, to my surprise and utter astonishment, came up, and took
me out, with the intention of sending me, with a gentleman of his
acquaintance, into Alabama. But, from some cause or other, he did not send
me to Alabama, but concluded to send me back to Baltimore, to live again
with his brother Hugh, and to learn a trade.

Thus, after an absence of three years and one month, I was once more
permitted to return to my old home at Baltimore. My master sent me away,
because there existed against me a very great prejudice in the community,
and he feared I might be killed.

In a few weeks after I went to Baltimore, Master Hugh hired me to Mr.
William Gardner, an extensive ship-builder, on Fell’s Point. I was put
there to learn how to calk. It, however, proved a very unfavorable place
for the accomplishment of this object. Mr. Gardner was engaged that spring
in building two large man-of-war brigs, professedly for the Mexican
government. The vessels were to be launched in the July of that year, and
in failure thereof, Mr. Gardner was to lose a considerable sum; so that
when I entered, all was hurry. There was no time to learn any thing. Every
man had to do that which he knew how to do. In entering the shipyard, my
orders from Mr. Gardner were, to do whatever the carpenters commanded me
to do. This was placing me at the beck and call of about seventy-five men.
I was to regard all these as masters. Their word was to be my law. My
situation was a most trying one. At times I needed a dozen pair of hands.
I was called a dozen ways in the space of a single minute. Three or four
voices would strike my ear at the same moment. It was—”Fred., come
help me to cant this timber here.”—”Fred., come carry this timber
yonder.”—”Fred., bring that roller here.”—”Fred., go get a
fresh can of water.”—”Fred., come help saw off the end of this
timber.”—”Fred., go quick, and get the crowbar.”—”Fred., hold
on the end of this fall.”—”Fred., go to the blacksmith’s shop, and
get a new punch.”—”Hurra, Fred! run and bring me a cold chisel.”—”I
say, Fred., bear a hand, and get up a fire as quick as lightning under
that steam-box.”—”Halloo, nigger! come, turn this grindstone.”—”Come,
come! move, move! and bowse this timber forward.”—”I say, darky,
blast your eyes, why don’t you heat up some pitch?”—”Halloo! halloo!
halloo!” (Three voices at the same time.) “Come here!—Go there!—Hold
on where you are! Damn you, if you move, I’ll knock your brains out!”

This was my school for eight months; and I might have remained there
longer, but for a most horrid fight I had with four of the white
apprentices, in which my left eye was nearly knocked out, and I was
horribly mangled in other respects. The facts in the case were these:
Until a very little while after I went there, white and black
ship-carpenters worked side by side, and no one seemed to see any
impropriety in it. All hands seemed to be very well satisfied. Many of the
black carpenters were freemen. Things seemed to be going on very well. All
at once, the white carpenters knocked off, and said they would not work
with free colored workmen. Their reason for this, as alleged, was, that if
free colored carpenters were encouraged, they would soon take the trade
into their own hands, and poor white men would be thrown out of
employment. They therefore felt called upon at once to put a stop to it.
And, taking advantage of Mr. Gardner’s necessities, they broke off,
swearing they would work no longer, unless he would discharge his black
carpenters. Now, though this did not extend to me in form, it did reach me
in fact. My fellow-apprentices very soon began to feel it degrading to
them to work with me. They began to put on airs, and talk about the
“niggers” taking the country, saying we all ought to be killed; and, being
encouraged by the journeymen, they commenced making my condition as hard
as they could, by hectoring me around, and sometimes striking me. I, of
course, kept the vow I made after the fight with Mr. Covey, and struck
back again, regardless of consequences; and while I kept them from
combining, I succeeded very well; for I could whip the whole of them,
taking them separately. They, however, at length combined, and came upon
me, armed with sticks, stones, and heavy handspikes. One came in front
with a half brick. There was one at each side of me, and one behind me.
While I was attending to those in front, and on either side, the one
behind ran up with the handspike, and struck me a heavy blow upon the
head. It stunned me. I fell, and with this they all ran upon me, and fell
to beating me with their fists. I let them lay on for a while, gathering
strength. In an instant, I gave a sudden surge, and rose to my hands and
knees. Just as I did that, one of their number gave me, with his heavy
boot, a powerful kick in the left eye. My eyeball seemed to have burst.
When they saw my eye closed, and badly swollen, they left me. With this I
seized the handspike, and for a time pursued them. But here the carpenters
interfered, and I thought I might as well give it up. It was impossible to
stand my hand against so many. All this took place in sight of not less
than fifty white ship-carpenters, and not one interposed a friendly word;
but some cried, “Kill the damned nigger! Kill him! kill him! He struck a
white person.” I found my only chance for life was in flight. I succeeded
in getting away without an additional blow, and barely so; for to strike a
white man is death by Lynch law,—and that was the law in Mr.
Gardner’s ship-yard; nor is there much of any other out of Mr. Gardner’s
ship-yard.

I went directly home, and told the story of my wrongs to Master Hugh; and
I am happy to say of him, irreligious as he was, his conduct was heavenly,
compared with that of his brother Thomas under similar circumstances. He
listened attentively to my narration of the circumstances leading to the
savage outrage, and gave many proofs of his strong indignation at it. The
heart of my once overkind mistress was again melted into pity. My
puffed-out eye and blood-covered face moved her to tears. She took a chair
by me, washed the blood from my face, and, with a mother’s tenderness,
bound up my head, covering the wounded eye with a lean piece of fresh
beef. It was almost compensation for my suffering to witness, once more, a
manifestation of kindness from this, my once affectionate old mistress.
Master Hugh was very much enraged. He gave expression to his feelings by
pouring out curses upon the heads of those who did the deed. As soon as I
got a little the better of my bruises, he took me with him to Esquire
Watson’s, on Bond Street, to see what could be done about the matter. Mr.
Watson inquired who saw the assault committed. Master Hugh told him it was
done in Mr. Gardner’s ship-yard at midday, where there were a large
company of men at work. “As to that,” he said, “the deed was done, and
there was no question as to who did it.” His answer was, he could do
nothing in the case, unless some white man would come forward and testify.
He could issue no warrant on my word. If I had been killed in the presence
of a thousand colored people, their testimony combined would have been
insufficient to have arrested one of the murderers. Master Hugh, for once,
was compelled to say this state of things was too bad. Of course, it was
impossible to get any white man to volunteer his testimony in my behalf,
and against the white young men. Even those who may have sympathized with
me were not prepared to do this. It required a degree of courage unknown
to them to do so; for just at that time, the slightest manifestation of
humanity toward a colored person was denounced as abolitionism, and that
name subjected its bearer to frightful liabilities. The watchwords of the
bloody-minded in that region, and in those days, were, “Damn the
abolitionists!” and “Damn the niggers!” There was nothing done, and
probably nothing would have been done if I had been killed. Such was, and
such remains, the state of things in the Christian city of Baltimore.

Master Hugh, finding he could get no redress, refused to let me go back
again to Mr. Gardner. He kept me himself, and his wife dressed my wound
till I was again restored to health. He then took me into the ship-yard of
which he was foreman, in the employment of Mr. Walter Price. There I was
immediately set to calking, and very soon learned the art of using my
mallet and irons. In the course of one year from the time I left Mr.
Gardner’s, I was able to command the highest wages given to the most
experienced calkers. I was now of some importance to my master. I was
bringing him from six to seven dollars per week. I sometimes brought him
nine dollars per week: my wages were a dollar and a half a day. After
learning how to calk, I sought my own employment, made my own contracts,
and collected the money which I earned. My pathway became much more smooth
than before; my condition was now much more comfortable. When I could get
no calking to do, I did nothing. During these leisure times, those old
notions about freedom would steal over me again. When in Mr. Gardner’s
employment, I was kept in such a perpetual whirl of excitement, I could
think of nothing, scarcely, but my life; and in thinking of my life, I
almost forgot my liberty. I have observed this in my experience of
slavery,—that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its
increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set
me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a
contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is
necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible,
to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no
inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right;
and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man.

I was now getting, as I have said, one dollar and fifty cents per day. I
contracted for it; I earned it; it was paid to me; it was rightfully my
own; yet, upon each returning Saturday night, I was compelled to deliver
every cent of that money to Master Hugh. And why? Not because he earned
it,—not because he had any hand in earning it,—not because I
owed it to him,—nor because he possessed the slightest shadow of a
right to it; but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it
up. The right of the grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas is exactly the
same.


CHAPTER XI

I now come to that part of my life during which I planned, and finally
succeeded in making, my escape from slavery. But before narrating any of
the peculiar circumstances, I deem it proper to make known my intention
not to state all the facts connected with the transaction. My reasons for
pursuing this course may be understood from the following: First, were I
to give a minute statement of all the facts, it is not only possible, but
quite probable, that others would thereby be involved in the most
embarrassing difficulties. Secondly, such a statement would most
undoubtedly induce greater vigilance on the part of slaveholders than has
existed heretofore among them; which would, of course, be the means of
guarding a door whereby some dear brother bondman might escape his galling
chains. I deeply regret the necessity that impels me to suppress any thing
of importance connected with my experience in slavery. It would afford me
great pleasure indeed, as well as materially add to the interest of my
narrative, were I at liberty to gratify a curiosity, which I know exists
in the minds of many, by an accurate statement of all the facts pertaining
to my most fortunate escape. But I must deprive myself of this pleasure,
and the curious of the gratification which such a statement would afford.
I would allow myself to suffer under the greatest imputations which
evil-minded men might suggest, rather than exculpate myself, and thereby
run the hazard of closing the slightest avenue by which a brother slave
might clear himself of the chains and fetters of slavery.

I have never approved of the very public manner in which some of our
western friends have conducted what they call the underground railroad,
but which I think, by their open declarations, has been made most
emphatically the upper-ground railroad. I honor those good men and
women for their noble daring, and applaud them for willingly subjecting
themselves to bloody persecution, by openly avowing their participation in
the escape of slaves. I, however, can see very little good resulting from
such a course, either to themselves or the slaves escaping; while, upon
the other hand, I see and feel assured that those open declarations are a
positive evil to the slaves remaining, who are seeking to escape. They do
nothing towards enlightening the slave, whilst they do much towards
enlightening the master. They stimulate him to greater watchfulness, and
enhance his power to capture his slave. We owe something to the slave
south of the line as well as to those north of it; and in aiding the
latter on their way to freedom, we should be careful to do nothing which
would be likely to hinder the former from escaping from slavery. I would
keep the merciless slaveholder profoundly ignorant of the means of flight
adopted by the slave. I would leave him to imagine himself surrounded by
myriads of invisible tormentors, ever ready to snatch from his infernal
grasp his trembling prey. Let him be left to feel his way in the dark; let
darkness commensurate with his crime hover over him; and let him feel that
at every step he takes, in pursuit of the flying bondman, he is running
the frightful risk of having his hot brains dashed out by an invisible
agency. Let us render the tyrant no aid; let us not hold the light by
which he can trace the footprints of our flying brother. But enough of
this. I will now proceed to the statement of those facts, connected with
my escape, for which I am alone responsible, and for which no one can be
made to suffer but myself.

In the early part of the year 1838, I became quite restless. I could see
no reason why I should, at the end of each week, pour the reward of my
toil into the purse of my master. When I carried to him my weekly wages,
he would, after counting the money, look me in the face with a robber-like
fierceness, and ask, “Is this all?” He was satisfied with nothing less
than the last cent. He would, however, when I made him six dollars,
sometimes give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect.
I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to the whole. The fact
that he gave me any part of my wages was proof, to my mind, that he
believed me entitled to the whole of them. I always felt worse for having
received any thing; for I feared that the giving me a few cents would ease
his conscience, and make him feel himself to be a pretty honorable sort of
robber. My discontent grew upon me. I was ever on the look-out for means
of escape; and, finding no direct means, I determined to try to hire my
time, with a view of getting money with which to make my escape. In the
spring of 1838, when Master Thomas came to Baltimore to purchase his
spring goods, I got an opportunity, and applied to him to allow me to hire
my time. He unhesitatingly refused my request, and told me this was
another stratagem by which to escape. He told me I could go nowhere but
that he could get me; and that, in the event of my running away, he should
spare no pains in his efforts to catch me. He exhorted me to content
myself, and be obedient. He told me, if I would be happy, I must lay out
no plans for the future. He said, if I behaved myself properly, he would
take care of me. Indeed, he advised me to complete thoughtlessness of the
future, and taught me to depend solely upon him for happiness. He seemed
to see fully the pressing necessity of setting aside my intellectual
nature, in order to contentment in slavery. But in spite of him, and even
in spite of myself, I continued to think, and to think about the injustice
of my enslavement, and the means of escape.

About two months after this, I applied to Master Hugh for the privilege of
hiring my time. He was not acquainted with the fact that I had applied to
Master Thomas, and had been refused. He too, at first, seemed disposed to
refuse; but, after some reflection, he granted me the privilege, and
proposed the following terms: I was to be allowed all my time, make all
contracts with those for whom I worked, and find my own employment; and,
in return for this liberty, I was to pay him three dollars at the end of
each week; find myself in calking tools, and in board and clothing. My
board was two dollars and a half per week. This, with the wear and tear of
clothing and calking tools, made my regular expenses about six dollars per
week. This amount I was compelled to make up, or relinquish the privilege
of hiring my time. Rain or shine, work or no work, at the end of each week
the money must be forthcoming, or I must give up my privilege. This
arrangement, it will be perceived, was decidedly in my master’s favor. It
relieved him of all need of looking after me. His money was sure. He
received all the benefits of slaveholding without its evils; while I
endured all the evils of a slave, and suffered all the care and anxiety of
a freeman. I found it a hard bargain. But, hard as it was, I thought it
better than the old mode of getting along. It was a step towards freedom
to be allowed to bear the responsibilities of a freeman, and I was
determined to hold on upon it. I bent myself to the work of making money.
I was ready to work at night as well as day, and by the most untiring
perseverance and industry, I made enough to meet my expenses, and lay up a
little money every week. I went on thus from May till August. Master Hugh
then refused to allow me to hire my time longer. The ground for his
refusal was a failure on my part, one Saturday night, to pay him for my
week’s time. This failure was occasioned by my attending a camp meeting
about ten miles from Baltimore. During the week, I had entered into an
engagement with a number of young friends to start from Baltimore to the
camp ground early Saturday evening; and being detained by my employer, I
was unable to get down to Master Hugh’s without disappointing the company.
I knew that Master Hugh was in no special need of the money that night. I
therefore decided to go to camp meeting, and upon my return pay him the
three dollars. I staid at the camp meeting one day longer than I intended
when I left. But as soon as I returned, I called upon him to pay him what
he considered his due. I found him very angry; he could scarce restrain
his wrath. He said he had a great mind to give me a severe whipping. He
wished to know how I dared go out of the city without asking his
permission. I told him I hired my time and while I paid him the price
which he asked for it, I did not know that I was bound to ask him when and
where I should go. This reply troubled him; and, after reflecting a few
moments, he turned to me, and said I should hire my time no longer; that
the next thing he should know of, I would be running away. Upon the same
plea, he told me to bring my tools and clothing home forthwith. I did so;
but instead of seeking work, as I had been accustomed to do previously to
hiring my time, I spent the whole week without the performance of a single
stroke of work. I did this in retaliation. Saturday night, he called upon
me as usual for my week’s wages. I told him I had no wages; I had done no
work that week. Here we were upon the point of coming to blows. He raved,
and swore his determination to get hold of me. I did not allow myself a
single word; but was resolved, if he laid the weight of his hand upon me,
it should be blow for blow. He did not strike me, but told me that he
would find me in constant employment in future. I thought the matter over
during the next day, Sunday, and finally resolved upon the third day of
September, as the day upon which I would make a second attempt to secure
my freedom. I now had three weeks during which to prepare for my journey.
Early on Monday morning, before Master Hugh had time to make any
engagement for me, I went out and got employment of Mr. Butler, at his
ship-yard near the drawbridge, upon what is called the City Block, thus
making it unnecessary for him to seek employment for me. At the end of the
week, I brought him between eight and nine dollars. He seemed very well
pleased, and asked why I did not do the same the week before. He little
knew what my plans were. My object in working steadily was to remove any
suspicion he might entertain of my intent to run away; and in this I
succeeded admirably. I suppose he thought I was never better satisfied
with my condition than at the very time during which I was planning my
escape. The second week passed, and again I carried him my full wages; and
so well pleased was he, that he gave me twenty-five cents, (quite a large
sum for a slaveholder to give a slave,) and bade me to make a good use of
it. I told him I would.

Things went on without very smoothly indeed, but within there was trouble.
It is impossible for me to describe my feelings as the time of my
contemplated start drew near. I had a number of warmhearted friends in
Baltimore,—friends that I loved almost as I did my life,—and
the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond
expression. It is my opinion that thousands would escape from slavery, who
now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their
friends. The thought of leaving my friends was decidedly the most painful
thought with which I had to contend. The love of them was my tender point,
and shook my decision more than all things else. Besides the pain of
separation, the dread and apprehension of a failure exceeded what I had
experienced at my first attempt. The appalling defeat I then sustained
returned to torment me. I felt assured that, if I failed in this attempt,
my case would be a hopeless one—it would seal my fate as a slave
forever. I could not hope to get off with any thing less than the severest
punishment, and being placed beyond the means of escape. It required no
very vivid imagination to depict the most frightful scenes through which I
should have to pass, in case I failed. The wretchedness of slavery, and
the blessedness of freedom, were perpetually before me. It was life and
death with me. But I remained firm, and, according to my resolution, on
the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in
reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. How I
did so,—what means I adopted,—what direction I travelled, and
by what mode of conveyance,—I must leave unexplained, for the
reasons before mentioned.

I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a free
State. I have never been able to answer the question with any satisfaction
to myself. It was a moment of the highest excitement I ever experienced. I
suppose I felt as one may imagine the unarmed mariner to feel when he is
rescued by a friendly man-of-war from the pursuit of a pirate. In writing
to a dear friend, immediately after my arrival at New York, I said I felt
like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions. This state of mind,
however, very soon subsided; and I was again seized with a feeling of
great insecurity and loneliness. I was yet liable to be taken back, and
subjected to all the tortures of slavery. This in itself was enough to
damp the ardor of my enthusiasm. But the loneliness overcame me. There I
was in the midst of thousands, and yet a perfect stranger; without home
and without friends, in the midst of thousands of my own brethren—children
of a common Father, and yet I dared not to unfold to any one of them my
sad condition. I was afraid to speak to any one for fear of speaking to
the wrong one, and thereby falling into the hands of money-loving
kidnappers, whose business it was to lie in wait for the panting fugitive,
as the ferocious beasts of the forest lie in wait for their prey. The
motto which I adopted when I started from slavery was this—”Trust no
man!” I saw in every white man an enemy, and in almost every colored man
cause for distrust. It was a most painful situation; and, to understand
it, one must needs experience it, or imagine himself in similar
circumstances. Let him be a fugitive slave in a strange land—a land
given up to be the hunting-ground for slaveholders—whose inhabitants
are legalized kidnappers—where he is every moment subjected to the
terrible liability of being seized upon by his fellowmen, as the hideous
crocodile seizes upon his prey!—I say, let him place himself in my
situation—without home or friends—without money or credit—wanting
shelter, and no one to give it—wanting bread, and no money to buy
it,—and at the same time let him feel that he is pursued by
merciless men-hunters, and in total darkness as to what to do, where to
go, or where to stay,—perfectly helpless both as to the means of
defence and means of escape,—in the midst of plenty, yet suffering
the terrible gnawings of hunger,—in the midst of houses, yet having
no home,—among fellow-men, yet feeling as if in the midst of wild
beasts, whose greediness to swallow up the trembling and half-famished
fugitive is only equalled by that with which the monsters of the deep
swallow up the helpless fish upon which they subsist,—I say, let him
be placed in this most trying situation,—the situation in which I
was placed,—then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate the
hardships of, and know how to sympathize with, the toil-worn and
whip-scarred fugitive slave.

Thank Heaven, I remained but a short time in this distressed situation. I
was relieved from it by the humane hand of Mr. David Ruggles, whose
vigilance, kindness, and perseverance, I shall never forget. I am glad of
an opportunity to express, as far as words can, the love and gratitude I
bear him. Mr. Ruggles is now afflicted with blindness, and is himself in
need of the same kind offices which he was once so forward in the
performance of toward others. I had been in New York but a few days, when
Mr. Ruggles sought me out, and very kindly took me to his boarding-house
at the corner of Church and Lespenard Streets. Mr. Ruggles was then very
deeply engaged in the memorable Darg case, as well as attending to
a number of other fugitive slaves, devising ways and means for their
successful escape; and, though watched and hemmed in on almost every side,
he seemed to be more than a match for his enemies.

Very soon after I went to Mr. Ruggles, he wished to know of me where I
wanted to go; as he deemed it unsafe for me to remain in New York. I told
him I was a calker, and should like to go where I could get work. I
thought of going to Canada; but he decided against it, and in favor of my
going to New Bedford, thinking I should be able to get work there at my
trade. At this time, Anna,* my intended wife, came on; for I wrote to her
immediately after my arrival at New York, (notwithstanding my homeless,
houseless, and helpless condition,) informing her of my successful flight,
and wishing her to come on forthwith. In a few days after her arrival, Mr.
Ruggles called in the Rev. J. W. C. Pennington, who, in the presence of
Mr. Ruggles, Mrs. Michaels, and two or three others, performed the
marriage ceremony, and gave us a certificate, of which the following is an
exact copy:—

"This may certify, that I joined together in holy matrimony Frederick
Johnson** and Anna Murray, as man and wife, in the presence of Mr. David
Ruggles and Mrs. Michaels.

"JAMES W. C. PENNINGTON
"New York, Sept. 15, 1838"


          *She was free.

          **I had changed my name from Frederick Bailey to that of
          Johnson.

Upon receiving this certificate, and a five-dollar bill from Mr. Ruggles,
I shouldered one part of our baggage, and Anna took up the other, and we
set out forthwith to take passage on board of the steamboat John W.
Richmond for Newport, on our way to New Bedford. Mr. Ruggles gave me a
letter to a Mr. Shaw in Newport, and told me, in case my money did not
serve me to New Bedford, to stop in Newport and obtain further assistance;
but upon our arrival at Newport, we were so anxious to get to a place of
safety, that, notwithstanding we lacked the necessary money to pay our
fare, we decided to take seats in the stage, and promise to pay when we
got to New Bedford. We were encouraged to do this by two excellent
gentlemen, residents of New Bedford, whose names I afterward ascertained
to be Joseph Ricketson and William C. Taber. They seemed at once to
understand our circumstances, and gave us such assurance of their
friendliness as put us fully at ease in their presence.

It was good indeed to meet with such friends, at such a time. Upon
reaching New Bedford, we were directed to the house of Mr. Nathan Johnson,
by whom we were kindly received, and hospitably provided for. Both Mr. and
Mrs. Johnson took a deep and lively interest in our welfare. They proved
themselves quite worthy of the name of abolitionists. When the
stage-driver found us unable to pay our fare, he held on upon our baggage
as security for the debt. I had but to mention the fact to Mr. Johnson,
and he forthwith advanced the money.

We now began to feel a degree of safety, and to prepare ourselves for the
duties and responsibilities of a life of freedom. On the morning after our
arrival at New Bedford, while at the breakfast-table, the question arose
as to what name I should be called by. The name given me by my mother was,
“Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.” I, however, had dispensed with the
two middle names long before I left Maryland so that I was generally known
by the name of “Frederick Bailey.” I started from Baltimore bearing the
name of “Stanley.” When I got to New York, I again changed my name to
“Frederick Johnson,” and thought that would be the last change. But when I
got to New Bedford, I found it necessary again to change my name. The
reason of this necessity was, that there were so many Johnsons in New
Bedford, it was already quite difficult to distinguish between them. I
gave Mr. Johnson the privilege of choosing me a name, but told him he must
not take from me the name of “Frederick.” I must hold on to that, to
preserve a sense of my identity. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the
“Lady of the Lake,” and at once suggested that my name be “Douglass.” From
that time until now I have been called “Frederick Douglass;” and as I am
more widely known by that name than by either of the others, I shall
continue to use it as my own.

I was quite disappointed at the general appearance of things in New
Bedford. The impression which I had received respecting the character and
condition of the people of the north, I found to be singularly erroneous.
I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts,
and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at the north,
compared with what were enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south. I
probably came to this conclusion from the fact that northern people owned
no slaves. I supposed that they were about upon a level with the
non-slaveholding population of the south. I knew they were
exceedingly poor, and I had been accustomed to regard their poverty as the
necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders. I had somehow
imbibed the opinion that, in the absence of slaves, there could be no
wealth, and very little refinement. And upon coming to the north, I
expected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, and uncultivated population,
living in the most Spartan-like simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease,
luxury, pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders. Such being my
conjectures, any one acquainted with the appearance of New Bedford may
very readily infer how palpably I must have seen my mistake.

In the afternoon of the day when I reached New Bedford, I visited the
wharves, to take a view of the shipping. Here I found myself surrounded
with the strongest proofs of wealth. Lying at the wharves, and riding in
the stream, I saw many ships of the finest model, in the best order, and
of the largest size. Upon the right and left, I was walled in by granite
warehouses of the widest dimensions, stowed to their utmost capacity with
the necessaries and comforts of life. Added to this, almost every body
seemed to be at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been
accustomed to in Baltimore. There were no loud songs heard from those
engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths or horrid
curses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men; but all seemed to go
smoothly on. Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it
with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest
which he felt in what he was doing, as well as a sense of his own dignity
as a man. To me this looked exceedingly strange. From the wharves I
strolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at
the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely-cultivated gardens;
evincing an amount of wealth, comfort, taste, and refinement, such as I
had never seen in any part of slaveholding Maryland.

Every thing looked clean, new, and beautiful. I saw few or no dilapidated
houses, with poverty-stricken inmates; no half-naked children and
barefooted women, such as I had been accustomed to see in Hillsborough,
Easton, St. Michael’s, and Baltimore. The people looked more able,
stronger, healthier, and happier, than those of Maryland. I was for once
made glad by a view of extreme wealth, without being saddened by seeing
extreme poverty. But the most astonishing as well as the most interesting
thing to me was the condition of the colored people, a great many of whom,
like myself, had escaped thither as a refuge from the hunters of men. I
found many, who had not been seven years out of their chains, living in
finer houses, and evidently enjoying more of the comforts of life, than
the average of slaveholders in Maryland. I will venture to assert, that my
friend Mr. Nathan Johnson (of whom I can say with a grateful heart, “I was
hungry, and he gave me meat; I was thirsty, and he gave me drink; I was a
stranger, and he took me in”) lived in a neater house; dined at a better
table; took, paid for, and read, more newspapers; better understood the
moral, religious, and political character of the nation,—than nine
tenths of the slaveholders in Talbot county Maryland. Yet Mr. Johnson was
a working man. His hands were hardened by toil, and not his alone, but
those also of Mrs. Johnson. I found the colored people much more spirited
than I had supposed they would be. I found among them a determination to
protect each other from the blood-thirsty kidnapper, at all hazards. Soon
after my arrival, I was told of a circumstance which illustrated their
spirit. A colored man and a fugitive slave were on unfriendly terms. The
former was heard to threaten the latter with informing his master of his
whereabouts. Straightway a meeting was called among the colored people,
under the stereotyped notice, “Business of importance!” The betrayer was
invited to attend. The people came at the appointed hour, and organized
the meeting by appointing a very religious old gentleman as president,
who, I believe, made a prayer, after which he addressed the meeting as
follows: “Friends, we have got him here, and I would recommend that you
young men just take him outside the door, and kill him!
” With this, a
number of them bolted at him; but they were intercepted by some more timid
than themselves, and the betrayer escaped their vengeance, and has not
been seen in New Bedford since. I believe there have been no more such
threats, and should there be hereafter, I doubt not that death would be
the consequence.

I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop
with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at
it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a
happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who
have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be
entirely my own. There was no Master Hugh standing ready, the moment I
earned the money, to rob me of it. I worked that day with a pleasure I had
never before experienced. I was at work for myself and newly-married wife.
It was to me the starting-point of a new existence. When I got through
with that job, I went in pursuit of a job of calking; but such was the
strength of prejudice against color, among the white calkers, that they
refused to work with me, and of course I could get no employment.*

     * I am told that colored persons can now get employment at
     calking in New Bedford—a result of anti-slavery effort.

Finding my trade of no immediate benefit, I threw off my calking
habiliments, and prepared myself to do any kind of work I could get to do.
Mr. Johnson kindly let me have his wood-horse and saw, and I very soon
found myself a plenty of work. There was no work too hard—none too
dirty. I was ready to saw wood, shovel coal, carry wood, sweep the
chimney, or roll oil casks,—all of which I did for nearly three
years in New Bedford, before I became known to the anti-slavery world.

In about four months after I went to New Bedford, there came a young man
to me, and inquired if I did not wish to take the “Liberator.” I told him
I did; but, just having made my escape from slavery, I remarked that I was
unable to pay for it then. I, however, finally became a subscriber to it.
The paper came, and I read it from week to week with such feelings as it
would be quite idle for me to attempt to describe. The paper became my
meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my
brethren in bonds—its scathing denunciations of slaveholders—its
faithful exposures of slavery—and its powerful attacks upon the
upholders of the institution—sent a thrill of joy through my soul,
such as I had never felt before!

I had not long been a reader of the “Liberator,” before I got a pretty
correct idea of the principles, measures and spirit of the anti-slavery
reform. I took right hold of the cause. I could do but little; but what I
could, I did with a joyful heart, and never felt happier than when in an
anti-slavery meeting. I seldom had much to say at the meetings, because
what I wanted to say was said so much better by others. But, while
attending an anti-slavery convention at Nantucket, on the 11th of August,
1841, I felt strongly moved to speak, and was at the same time much urged
to do so by Mr. William C. Coffin, a gentleman who had heard me speak in
the colored people’s meeting at New Bedford. It was a severe cross, and I
took it up reluctantly. The truth was, I felt myself a slave, and the idea
of speaking to white people weighed me down. I spoke but a few moments,
when I felt a degree of freedom, and said what I desired with considerable
ease. From that time until now, I have been engaged in pleading the cause
of my brethren—with what success, and with what devotion, I leave
those acquainted with my labors to decide.


APPENDIX

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in
several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion,
as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose
me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such
misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief
explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean
strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and
with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the
Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the
widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good,
pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and
wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of
the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of
Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping,
cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the
religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all
misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.
Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of
heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when
I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible
inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for
ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for
church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the
week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek
and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each
week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of
life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of
prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who
proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of
learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious
advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and
leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of
the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole
families,—sundering husbands and wives, parents and children,
sisters and brothers,—leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth
desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer
against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to
support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the Poor
Heathen! All For The Glory Of God And The Good Of Souls!
The slave
auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and
the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious
shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the
slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church
stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains
in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be
heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect
their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each
other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and
the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of
Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils
dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.

     "Just God! and these are they,
     Who minister at thine altar, God of right!
     Men who their hands, with prayer and blessing, lay
     On Israel's ark of light.

     "What! preach, and kidnap men?
     Give thanks, and rob thy own afflicted poor?
     Talk of thy glorious liberty, and then
     Bolt hard the captive's door?

     "What! servants of thy own
     Merciful Son, who came to seek and save
     The homeless and the outcast, fettering down
     The tasked and plundered slave!

     "Pilate and Herod friends!
     Chief priests and rulers, as of old, combine!
     Just God and holy! is that church which lends
     Strength to the spoiler thine?"

The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be
as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, “They bind
heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders,
but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. All
their works they do for to be seen of men.—They love the uppermost
rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, . . . . . . and to
be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.—But woe unto you, scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men;
for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering
to go in. Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers;
therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Ye compass sea and land
to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the
child of hell than yourselves.—Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have
omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith;
these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind
guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of
the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess.—Woe
unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited
sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of
dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear
righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the
overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America. They strain at a
gnat, and swallow a camel. Could any thing be more true of our churches?
They would be shocked at the proposition of fellowshipping a
sheep-stealer; and at the same time they hug to their communion a
man-stealer, and brand me with being an infidel, if I find fault with them
for it. They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of
religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law,
judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom
to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God
whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have
seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray
for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries
to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at
their own doors.

Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid
any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean by
the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and
actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian
churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as
presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify.

I conclude these remarks by copying the following portrait of the religion
of the south, (which is, by communion and fellowship, the religion of the
north,) which I soberly affirm is “true to the life,” and without
caricature or the slightest exaggeration. It is said to have been drawn,
several years before the present anti-slavery agitation began, by a
northern Methodist preacher, who, while residing at the south, had an
opportunity to see slaveholding morals, manners, and piety, with his own
eyes. “Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my
soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”


               A PARODY

     "Come, saints and sinners, hear me tell
     How pious priests whip Jack and Nell,
     And women buy and children sell,
     And preach all sinners down to hell,
     And sing of heavenly union.

     "They'll bleat and baa, dona like goats,
     Gorge down black sheep, and strain at motes,
     Array their backs in fine black coats,
     Then seize their negroes by their throats,
     And choke, for heavenly union.

     "They'll church you if you sip a dram,
     And damn you if you steal a lamb;
     Yet rob old Tony, Doll, and Sam,
     Of human rights, and bread and ham;
     Kidnapper's heavenly union.

     "They'll loudly talk of Christ's reward,
     And bind his image with a cord,
     And scold, and swing the lash abhorred,
     And sell their brother in the Lord
     To handcuffed heavenly union.

     "They'll read and sing a sacred song,
     And make a prayer both loud and long,
     And teach the right and do the wrong,
     Hailing the brother, sister throng,
     With words of heavenly union.

     "We wonder how such saints can sing,
     Or praise the Lord upon the wing,
     Who roar, and scold, and whip, and sting,
     And to their slaves and mammon cling,
     In guilty conscience union.

     "They'll raise tobacco, corn, and rye,
     And drive, and thieve, and cheat, and lie,
     And lay up treasures in the sky,
     By making switch and cowskin fly,
     In hope of heavenly union.

     "They'll crack old Tony on the skull,
     And preach and roar like Bashan bull,
     Or braying ass, of mischief full,
     Then seize old Jacob by the wool,
     And pull for heavenly union.

     "A roaring, ranting, sleek man-thief,
     Who lived on mutton, veal, and beef,
     Yet never would afford relief
     To needy, sable sons of grief,
     Was big with heavenly union.

     "'Love not the world,' the preacher said,
     And winked his eye, and shook his head;
     He seized on Tom, and Dick, and Ned,
     Cut short their meat, and clothes, and bread,
     Yet still loved heavenly union.

     "Another preacher whining spoke
     Of One whose heart for sinners broke:
     He tied old Nanny to an oak,
     And drew the blood at every stroke,
     And prayed for heavenly union.

     "Two others oped their iron jaws,
     And waved their children-stealing paws;
     There sat their children in gewgaws;
     By stinting negroes' backs and maws,
     They kept up heavenly union.

     "All good from Jack another takes,
     And entertains their flirts and rakes,
     Who dress as sleek as glossy snakes,
     And cram their mouths with sweetened cakes;
     And this goes down for union."

Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something
toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad
day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds—faithfully
relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my
humble efforts—and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacred
cause,—I subscribe myself,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.
LYNN, Mass., April 28, 1845.

THE END