“Northerners know nothing at all about Slavery. They think it is
perpetual bondage only. They have no conception of the depth of
degradation involved in that word, SLAVERY; if they had, they would never
cease their efforts until so horrible a system was overthrown.”
— A Woman Of North Carolina.
“Rise up, ye women that are at ease! Hear my voice, ye careless
daughters! Give ear unto my speech.”
— Isaiah xxxii. 9
Edited By L. Maria Child
Boston: Published For The Author
Preface By The Author
Reader be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of
my adventures may seem incredible; but they are, nevertheless, strictly
true. I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery; on the
contrary, my descriptions fall far short of the facts. I have concealed the
names of places, and given persons fictitious names. I had no motive for
secrecy on my own account, but I deemed it kind and considerate towards
others to pursue this course.
I wish I were more competent to the task I have undertaken. But I trust
my readers will excuse deficiencies in consideration of circumstances. I
was born and reared in Slavery; and I remained in a Slave State
twenty-seven years. Since I have been at the North, it has been necessary for
me to work diligently for my own support, and the education of my children.
This has not left me much leisure to make up for the loss of early
opportunities to improve myself; and it has compelled me to write these pages
at irregular intervals, whenever I could snatch an hour from household
When I first arrived in Philadelphia, Bishop Paine advised me to publish
a sketch of my life, but I told him I was altogether incompetent to such
an undertaking. Though I have improved my mind somewhat since that time,
I still remain of the same opinion; but I trust my motives will excuse
what might otherwise seem presumptuous. I have not written my experiences
in order to attract attention to myself; on the contrary, it would have
been more pleasant to me to have been silent about my own history. Neither do
I care to excite sympathy for my own sufferings. But I do earnestly desire
to arouse the women of the North to a realizing sense of the condition of
two millions of women at the South, still in bondage, suffering what
I suffered, and most of them far worse. I want to add my testimony to that
of abler pens to convince the people of the Free States what Slavery
really is. Only by experience can any one realize how deep, and dark, and
foul is that pit of abominations. May the blessing of God rest on this
imperfect effort in behalf of my persecuted people!
Introduction By The Editor
The author of the following autobiography is personally known to me,
and her conversation and manners inspire me with confidence. During the
last seventeen years, she has lived the greater part of the time with
a distinguished family in New York, and has so deported herself as to
be highly esteemed by them. This fact is sufficient, without
further credentials of her character. I believe those who know her will not
be disposed to doubt her veracity, though some incidents in her story are
more romantic than fiction.
At her request, I have revised her manuscript; but such changes as I
have made have been mainly for purposes of condensation and orderly
arrangement. I have not added any thing to the incidents, or changed the
import of her very pertinent remarks. With trifling exceptions, both the
ideas and the language are her own. I pruned excrescences a little, but
otherwise I had no reason for changing her lively and dramatic way of telling
her own story. The names of both persons and places are known to me; but for
good reasons I suppress them.
It will naturally excite surprise that a woman reared in Slavery should
be able to write so well. But circumstances will explain this. In the
first place, nature endowed her with quick perceptions. Secondly, the
mistress, with whom she lived till she was twelve years old, was a kind,
considerate friend, who taught her to read and spell. Thirdly, she was placed
in favorable circumstances after she came to the North; having
frequent intercourse with intelligent persons, who felt a friendly interest
in her welfare, and were disposed to give her opportunities for
I am well aware that many will accuse me of indecorum for presenting
these pages to the public; for the experiences of this intelligent
and much-injured woman belong to a class which some call delicate subjects,
and others indelicate. This peculiar phase of Slavery has generally been
kept veiled; but the public ought to be made acquainted with its
monstrous features, and I willingly take the responsibility of presenting
them with the veil withdrawn. I do this for the sake of my sisters in
bondage, who are suffering wrongs so foul, that our ears are too delicate to
listen to them. I do it with the hope of arousing conscientious and
reflecting women at the North to a sense of their duty in the exertion of
moral influence on the question of Slavery, on all possible occasions. I do
it with the hope that every man who reads this narrative will swear solemnly
before God that, so far as he has power to prevent it, no fugitive from
Slavery shall ever be sent back to suffer in that loathsome den of corruption
I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy
childhood had passed away. My father was a carpenter, and considered so
intelligent and skilful in his trade, that, when buildings out of the common
line were to be erected, he was sent for from long distances, to be head
workman. On condition of paying his mistress two hundred dollars a year, and
supporting himself, he was allowed to work at his trade, and manage his own
affairs. His strongest wish was to purchase his children; but, though he
several times offered his hard earnings for that purpose, he never succeeded.
In complexion my parents were a light shade of brownish yellow, and
were termed mulattoes. They lived together in a comfortable home; and, though
we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was
a piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to
be demanded of them at any moment. I had one brother, William, who was
two years younger than myself—a bright, affectionate child. I had also a
great treasure in my maternal grandmother, who was a remarkable woman in
many respects. She was the daughter of a planter in South Carolina, who, at
his death, left her mother and his three children free, with money to go to
St. Augustine, where they had relatives. It was during the Revolutionary
War; and they were captured on their passage, carried back, and sold
to different purchasers. Such was the story my grandmother used to tell
me; but I do not remember all the particulars. She was a little girl when
she was captured and sold to the keeper of a large hotel. I have often
heard her tell how hard she fared during childhood. But as she grew older
she evinced so much intelligence, and was so faithful, that her master
and mistress could not help seeing it was for their interest to take care
of such a valuable piece of property. She became an indispensable personage
in the household, officiating in all capacities, from cook and wet nurse
to seamstress. She was much praised for her cooking; and her nice
crackers became so famous in the neighborhood that many people were desirous
of obtaining them. In consequence of numerous requests of this kind, she
asked permission of her mistress to bake crackers at night, after all
the household work was done; and she obtained leave to do it, provided
she would clothe herself and her children from the profits. Upon these
terms, after working hard all day for her mistress, she began her
midnight bakings, assisted by her two oldest children. The business
proved profitable; and each year she laid by a little, which was saved for a
fund to purchase her children. Her master died, and the property was
divided among his heirs. The widow had her dower in the hotel which she
continued to keep open. My grandmother remained in her service as a slave;
but her children were divided among her master's children. As she had
five, Benjamin, the youngest one, was sold, in order that each heir might
have an equal portion of dollars and cents. There was so little difference in
our ages that he seemed more like my brother than my uncle. He was a
bright, handsome lad, nearly white; for he inherited the complexion my
grandmother had derived from Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Though only ten years
old, seven hundred and twenty dollars were paid for him. His sale was a
terrible blow to my grandmother, but she was naturally hopeful, and she went
to work with renewed energy, trusting in time to be able to purchase some of
her children. She had laid up three hundred dollars, which her mistress one
day begged as a loan, promising to pay her soon. The reader probably knows
that no promise or writing given to a slave is legally binding; for,
according to Southern laws, a slave, being property, can hold no
property. When my grandmother lent her hard earnings to her mistress, she
trusted solely to her honor. The honor of a slaveholder to a slave!
To this good grandmother I was indebted for many comforts. My
brother Willie and I often received portions of the crackers, cakes, and
preserves, she made to sell; and after we ceased to be children we were
indebted to her for many more important services.
Such were the unusually fortunate circumstances of my early childhood.
When I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time,
I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave. My mother's
mistress was the daughter of my grandmother's mistress. She was the foster
sister of my mother; they were both nourished at my grandmother's breast. In
fact, my mother had been weaned at three months old, that the babe of the
mistress might obtain sufficient food. They played together as children; and,
when they became women, my mother was a most faithful servant to her
whiter foster sister. On her death-bed her mistress promised that her
children should never suffer for any thing; and during her lifetime she kept
her word. They all spoke kindly of my dead mother, who had been a slave
merely in name, but in nature was noble and womanly. I grieved for her, and
my young mind was troubled with the thought who would now take care of me
and my little brother. I was told that my home was now to be with her
mistress; and I found it a happy one. No toilsome or disagreeable duties were
imposed on me. My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do
her bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years would
permit. I would sit by her side for hours, sewing diligently, with a heart as
free from care as that of any free-born white child. When she thought I
was tired, she would send me out to run and jump; and away I bounded, to
gather berries or flowers to decorate her room. Those were happy days—too
happy to last. The slave child had no thought for the morrow; but there came
that blight, which too surely waits on every human being born to be a
When I was nearly twelve years old, my kind mistress sickened and died.
As I saw the cheek grow paler, and the eye more glassy, how earnestly I
prayed in my heart that she might live! I loved her; for she had been almost
like a mother to me. My prayers were not answered. She died, and they buried
her in the little churchyard, where, day after day, my tears fell upon
I was sent to spend a week with my grandmother. I was now old enough
to begin to think of the future; and again and again I asked myself what
they would do with me. I felt sure I should never find another mistress so
kind as the one who was gone. She had promised my dying mother that her
children should never suffer for any thing; and when I remembered that, and
recalled her many proofs of attachment to me, I could not help having some
hopes that she had left me free. My friends were almost certain it would be
so. They thought she would be sure to do it, on account of my mother's love
and faithful service. But, alas! we all know that the memory of a
faithful slave does not avail much to save her children from the auction
After a brief period of suspense, the will of my mistress was read, and
we learned that she had bequeathed me to her sister's daughter, a child
of five years old. So vanished our hopes. My mistress had taught me
the precepts of God's Word: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as
thyself." "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so
unto them." But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as
her neighbor. I would give much to blot out from my memory that one
great wrong. As a child, I loved my mistress; and, looking back on the happy
days I spent with her, I try to think with less bitterness of this act
of injustice. While I was with her, she taught me to read and spell; and
for this privilege, which so rarely falls to the lot of a slave, I bless
She possessed but few slaves; and at her death those were all
distributed among her relatives. Five of them were my grandmother's children,
and had shared the same milk that nourished her mother's children.
Notwithstanding my grandmother's long and faithful service to her owners, not
one of her children escaped the auction block. These God-breathing machines
are no more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or
the horses they tend.
II. The New Master And Mistress.
Dr. Flint, a physician in the neighborhood, had married the sister of
my mistress, and I was now the property of their little daughter. It was
not without murmuring that I prepared for my new home; and what added to
my unhappiness, was the fact that my brother William was purchased by the
same family. My father, by his nature, as well as by the habit of
transacting business as a skillful mechanic, had more of the feelings of a
freeman than is common among slaves. My brother was a spirited boy; and being
brought up under such influences, he daily detested the name of master and
mistress. One day, when his father and his mistress both happened to call him
at the same time, he hesitated between the two; being perplexed to know which
had the strongest claim upon his obedience. He finally concluded to go to
his mistress. When my father reproved him for it, he said, "You both called
me, and I didn't know which I ought to go to first."
"You are my child," replied our father, "and when I call you, you
should come immediately, if you have to pass through fire and water."
Poor Willie! He was now to learn his first lesson of obedience to a
master. Grandmother tried to cheer us with hopeful words, and they found an
echo in the credulous hearts of youth.
When we entered our new home we encountered cold looks, cold words,
and cold treatment. We were glad when the night came. On my narrow bed I
moaned and wept, I felt so desolate and alone.
I had been there nearly a year, when a dear little friend of mine
was buried. I heard her mother sob, as the clods fell on the coffin of her
only child, and I turned away from the grave, feeling thankful that I still
had something left to love. I met my grandmother, who said, "Come with
me, Linda;" and from her tone I knew that something sad had happened. She
led me apart from the people, and then said, "My child, your father is
dead." Dead! How could I believe it? He had died so suddenly I had not even
heard that he was sick. I went home with my grandmother. My heart
rebelled against God, who had taken from me mother, father, mistress, and
friend. The good grandmother tried to comfort me. "Who knows the ways of
God?" said she. "Perhaps they have been kindly taken from the evil days to
come." Years afterwards I often thought of this. She promised to be a mother
to her grandchildren, so far as she might be permitted to do so;
and strengthened by her love, I returned to my master's. I thought I should
be allowed to go to my father's house the next morning; but I was ordered
to go for flowers, that my mistress's house might be decorated for an
evening party. I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into
festoons, while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me.
What cared my owners for that? he was merely a piece of property. Moreover,
they thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that
they were human beings. This was blasphemous doctrine for a slave to
teach; presumptuous in him, and dangerous to the masters.
The next day I followed his remains to a humble grave beside that of
my dear mother. There were those who knew my father's worth, and respected
My home now seemed more dreary than ever. The laugh of the
little slave-children sounded harsh and cruel. It was selfish to feel so
about the joy of others. My brother moved about with a very grave face. I
tried to comfort him, by saying, "Take courage, Willie; brighter days will
come by and by."
"You don't know any thing about it, Linda," he replied. "We shall have
to stay here all our days; we shall never be free."
I argued that we were growing older and stronger, and that perhaps
we might, before long, be allowed to hire our own time, and then we could
earn money to buy our freedom. William declared this was much easier to say
than to do; moreover, he did not intend to buy his freedom. We held
daily controversies upon this subject.
Little attention was paid to the slaves' meals in Dr. Flint's house.
If they could catch a bit of food while it was going, well and good. I
gave myself no trouble on that score, for on my various errands I passed
my grandmother's house, where there was always something to spare for me.
I was frequently threatened with punishment if I stopped there; and
my grandmother, to avoid detaining me, often stood at the gate with
something for my breakfast or dinner. I was indebted to her for all my
comforts, spiritual or temporal. It was her labor that supplied my scanty
wardrobe. I have a vivid recollection of the linsey-woolsey dress given me
every winter by Mrs. Flint. How I hated it! It was one of the badges of
While my grandmother was thus helping to support me from her hard
earnings, the three hundred dollars she had lent her mistress were never
repaid. When her mistress died, her son-in-law, Dr. Flint, was appointed
executor. When grandmother applied to him for payment, he said the estate was
insolvent, and the law prohibited payment. It did not, however, prohibit him
from retaining the silver candelabra, which had been purchased with that
money. I presume they will be handed down in the family, from generation
My grandmother's mistress had always promised her that, at her death,
she should be free; and it was said that in her will she made good the
promise. But when the estate was settled, Dr. Flint told the faithful old
servant that, under existing circumstances, it was necessary she should be
On the appointed day, the customary advertisement was posted
up, proclaiming that there would be a "public sale of negroes, horses,
&c." Dr. Flint called to tell my grandmother that he was unwilling to
wound her feelings by putting her up at auction, and that he would prefer to
dispose of her at private sale. My grandmother saw through his hypocrisy;
she understood very well that he was ashamed of the job. She was a
very spirited woman, and if he was base enough to sell her, when her
mistress intended she should be free, she was determined the public should
know it. She had for a long time supplied many families with crackers and
preserves; consequently, "Aunt Marthy," as she was called, was generally
known, and every body who knew her respected her intelligence and good
character. Her long and faithful service in the family was also well known,
and the intention of her mistress to leave her free. When the day of sale
came, she took her place among the chattels, and at the first call she sprang
upon the auction-block. Many voices called out, "Shame! Shame! Who is going
to sell you, aunt Marthy? Don't stand there! That is no place for
you." Without saying a word, she quietly awaited her fate. No one bid for
her. At last, a feeble voice said, "Fifty dollars." It came from a maiden
lady, seventy years old, the sister of my grandmother's deceased mistress.
She had lived forty years under the same roof with my grandmother; she knew
how faithfully she had served her owners, and how cruelly she had
been defrauded of her rights; and she resolved to protect her. The
auctioneer waited for a higher bid; but her wishes were respected; no one bid
above her. She could neither read nor write; and when the bill of sale was
made out, she signed it with a cross. But what consequence was that, when
she had a big heart overflowing with human kindness? She gave the old
servant her freedom.
At that time, my grandmother was just fifty years old. Laborious years
had passed since then; and now my brother and I were slaves to the man who
had defrauded her of her money, and tried to defraud her of her freedom. One
of my mother's sisters, called Aunt Nancy, was also a slave in his family.
She was a kind, good aunt to me; and supplied the place of both housekeeper
and waiting maid to her mistress. She was, in fact, at the beginning and end
of every thing.
Mrs. Flint, like many southern women, was totally deficient in energy.
She had not strength to superintend her household affairs; but her nerves
were so strong, that she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman
whipped, till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash. She was a
member of the church; but partaking of the Lord's supper did not seem to put
her in a Christian frame of mind. If dinner was not served at the exact time
on that particular Sunday, she would station herself in the kitchen, and wait
till it was dished, and then spit in all the kettles and pans that had been
used for cooking. She did this to prevent the cook and her children from
eking out their meagre fare with the remains of the gravy and other
scrapings. The slaves could get nothing to eat except what she chose to give
them. Provisions were weighed out by the pound and ounce, three times a day.
I can assure you she gave them no chance to eat wheat bread from her
flour barrel. She knew how many biscuits a quart of flour would make, and
exactly what size they ought to be.
Dr. Flint was an epicure. The cook never sent a dinner to his table
without fear and trembling; for if there happened to be a dish not to his
liking, he would either order her to be whipped, or compel her to eat
every mouthful of it in his presence. The poor, hungry creature might not
have objected to eating it; but she did not object to having her master cram
it down her throat till she choked.
They had a pet dog, that was a nuisance in the house. The cook was
ordered to make some Indian mush for him. He refused to eat, and when his
head was held over it, the froth flowed from his mouth into the basin. He
died a few minutes after. When Dr. Flint came in, he said the mush had not
been well cooked, and that was the reason the animal would not eat it. He
sent for the cook, and compelled her to eat it. He thought that the woman's
stomach was stronger than the dog's; but her sufferings afterwards proved
that he was mistaken. This poor woman endured many cruelties from her master
and mistress; sometimes she was locked up, away from her nursing baby, for
a whole day and night.
When I had been in the family a few weeks, one of the plantation slaves
was brought to town, by order of his master. It was near night when he
arrived, and Dr. Flint ordered him to be taken to the work house, and tied up
to the joist, so that his feet would just escape the ground. In that
situation he was to wait till the doctor had taken his tea. I shall never
forget that night. Never before, in my life, had I heard hundreds of blows
fall; in succession, on a human being. His piteous groans, and his "O,
pray don't, massa," rang in my ear for months afterwards. There were
many conjectures as to the cause of this terrible punishment. Some said
master accused him of stealing corn; others said the slave had quarrelled
with his wife, in presence of the overseer, and had accused his master of
being the father of her child. They were both black, and the child was very
I went into the work house next morning, and saw the cowhide still wet
with blood, and the boards all covered with gore. The poor man lived,
and continued to quarrel with his wife. A few months afterwards Dr.
Flint handed them both over to a slave-trader. The guilty man put their
value into his pocket, and had the satisfaction of knowing that they were out
of sight and hearing. When the mother was delivered into the trader's
hands, she said. "You promised to treat me well." To which he replied, "You
have let your tongue run too far; damn you!" She had forgotten that it was
a crime for a slave to tell who was the father of her child.
From others than the master persecution also comes in such cases. I
once saw a young slave girl dying soon after the birth of a child nearly
white. In her agony she cried out, "O Lord, come and take me!" Her mistress
stood by, and mocked at her like an incarnate fiend. "You suffer, do you?"
she exclaimed. "I am glad of it. You deserve it all, and more too."
The girl's mother said, "The baby is dead, thank God; and I hope my
poor child will soon be in heaven, too."
"Heaven!" retorted the mistress. "There is no such place for the like
of her and her bastard."
The poor mother turned away, sobbing. Her dying daughter called
her, feebly, and as she bent over her, I heard her say, "Don't grieve
so, mother; God knows all about it; and HE will have mercy upon me."
Her sufferings, afterwards, became so intense, that her mistress
felt unable to stay; but when she left the room, the scornful smile was still
on her lips. Seven children called her mother. The poor black woman had
but the one child, whose eyes she saw closing in death, while she thanked
God for taking her away from the greater bitterness of life.
III. The Slaves' New Year's Day.
Dr. Flint owned a fine residence in town, several farms, and about
fifty slaves, besides hiring a number by the year.
Hiring-day at the south takes place on the 1st of January. On the 2d,
the slaves are expected to go to their new masters. On a farm, they work
until the corn and cotton are laid. They then have two holidays. Some
masters give them a good dinner under the trees. This over, they work
until Christmas eve. If no heavy charges are meantime brought against them,
they are given four or five holidays, whichever the master or overseer may
think proper. Then comes New Year's eve; and they gather together their
little alls, or more properly speaking, their little nothings, and wait
anxiously for the dawning of day. At the appointed hour the grounds are
thronged with men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals, to hear
their doom pronounced. The slave is sure to know who is the most humane, or
cruel master, within forty miles of him.
It is easy to find out, on that day, who clothes and feeds his slaves
well; for he is surrounded by a crowd, begging, "Please, massa, hire me
this year. I will work very hard, massa."
If a slave is unwilling to go with his new master, he is whipped, or
locked up in jail, until he consents to go, and promises not to run away
during the year. Should he chance to change his mind, thinking it justifiable
to violate an extorted promise, woe unto him if he is caught! The whip is
used till the blood flows at his feet; and his stiffened limbs are put
in chains, to be dragged in the field for days and days!
If he lives until the next year, perhaps the same man will hire him
again, without even giving him an opportunity of going to the hiring-ground.
After those for hire are disposed of, those for sale are called up.
O, you happy free women, contrast your New Year's day with that of
the poor bond-woman! With you it is a pleasant season, and the light of the
day is blessed. Friendly wishes meet you every where, and gifts are
showered upon you. Even hearts that have been estranged from you soften at
this season, and lips that have been silent echo back, "I wish you a happy
New Year." Children bring their little offerings, and raise their rosy lips
for a caress. They are your own, and no hand but that of death can take
them from you.
But to the slave mother New Year's day comes laden with peculiar
sorrows. She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all
be torn from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they
might die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by
the system that has brutalized her from childhood; but she has a
mother's instincts, and is capable of feeling a mother's agonies.
On one of these sale days, I saw a mother lead seven children to
the auction-block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her;
but they took all. The children were sold to a slave-trader, and their
mother was brought by a man in her own town. Before night her children were
all far away. She begged the trader to tell her where he intended to take
them; this he refused to do. How could he, when he knew he would sell them,
one by one, wherever he could command the highest price? I met that mother
in the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She
wrung her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, "Gone! All gone! Why don't God
kill me?" I had no words wherewith to comfort her. Instances of this kind are
of daily, yea, of hourly occurrence.
Slaveholders have a method, peculiar to their institution, of getting
rid of old slaves, whose lives have been worn out in their service. I knew
an old woman, who for seventy years faithfully served her master. She
had become almost helpless, from hard labor and disease. Her owners moved
to Alabama, and the old black woman was left to be sold to any body who
would give twenty dollars for her.
IV. The Slave Who Dared To Feel Like A Man.
Two years had passed since I entered Dr. Flint's family, and those
years had brought much of the knowledge that comes from experience, though
they had afforded little opportunity for any other kinds of knowledge.
My grandmother had, as much as possible, been a mother to her
orphan grandchildren. By perseverance and unwearied industry, she was now
mistress of a snug little home, surrounded with the necessaries of life. She
would have been happy could her children have shared them with her.
There remained but three children and two grandchildren, all slaves.
Most earnestly did she strive to make us feel that it was the will of God:
that He had seen fit to place us under such circumstances; and though it
seemed hard, we ought to pray for contentment.
It was a beautiful faith, coming from a mother who could not call
her children her own. But I, and Benjamin, her youngest boy, condemned it.
We reasoned that it was much more the will of God that we should be
situated as she was. We longed for a home like hers. There we always found
sweet balsam for our troubles. She was so loving, so sympathizing! She always
met us with a smile, and listened with patience to all our sorrows. She
spoke so hopefully, that unconsciously the clouds gave place to sunshine.
There was a grand big oven there, too, that baked bread and nice things for
the town, and we knew there was always a choice bit in store for us.
But, alas! Even the charms of the old oven failed to reconcile us to
our hard lot. Benjamin was now a tall, handsome lad, strongly and
gracefully made, and with a spirit too bold and daring for a slave. My
brother William, now twelve years old, had the same aversion to the word
master that he had when he was an urchin of seven years. I was his confidant.
He came to me with all his troubles. I remember one instance in particular.
It was on a lovely spring morning, and when I marked the sunlight dancing
here and there, its beauty seemed to mock my sadness. For my master,
whose restless, craving, vicious nature roved about day and night, seeking
whom to devour, had just left me, with stinging, scorching words; words
that scathed ear and brain like fire. O, how I despised him! I thought how
glad I should be, if some day when he walked the earth, it would open
and swallow him up, and disencumber the world of a plague.
When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command
in every thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and
should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so
So deeply was I absorbed in painful reflections afterwards, that I
neither saw nor heard the entrance of any one, till the voice of William
sounded close beside me. "Linda," said he, "what makes you look so sad? I
love you. O, Linda, isn't this a bad world? Everybody seems so cross and
unhappy. I wish I had died when poor father did."
I told him that everybody was not cross, or unhappy; that those who
had pleasant homes, and kind friends, and who were not afraid to love
them, were happy. But we, who were slave-children, without father or
mother, could not expect to be happy. We must be good; perhaps that would
bring us contentment.
"Yes," he said, "I try to be good; but what's the use? They are all
the time troubling me." Then he proceeded to relate his afternoon's
difficulty with young master Nicholas. It seemed that the brother of master
Nicholas had pleased himself with making up stories about William. Master
Nicholas said he should be flogged, and he would do it. Whereupon he went to
work; but William fought bravely, and the young master, finding he was
getting the better of him, undertook to tie his hands behind him. He failed
in that likewise. By dint of kicking and fisting, William came out of the
skirmish none the worse for a few scratches.
He continued to discourse, on his young master's meanness; how he
whipped the little boys, but was a perfect coward when a tussle ensued
between him and white boys of his own size. On such occasions he always took
to his legs. William had other charges to make against him. One was his
rubbing up pennies with quicksilver, and passing them off for quarters of a
dollar on an old man who kept a fruit stall. William was often sent to buy
fruit, and he earnestly inquired of me what he ought to do under such
circumstances. I told him it was certainly wrong to deceive the old man, and
that it was his duty to tell him of the impositions practised by his young
master. I assured him the old man would not be slow to comprehend the whole,
and there the matter would end. William thought it might with the old man,
but not with him. He said he did not mind the smart of the whip, but he
did not like the idea of being whipped.
While I advised him to be good and forgiving I was not unconscious of
the beam in my own eye. It was the very knowledge of my own shortcomings
that urged me to retain, if possible, some sparks of my brother's
God-given nature. I had not lived fourteen years in slavery for nothing. I
had felt, seen, and heard enough, to read the characters, and question the
motives, of those around me. The war of my life had begun; and though one of
God's most powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered. Alas, for
If there was one pure, sunny spot for me, I believed it to be in
Benjamin's heart, and in another's, whom I loved with all the ardor of a
girl's first love. My owner knew of it, and sought in every way to render me
miserable. He did not resort to corporal punishment, but to all the petty,
tyrannical ways that human ingenuity could devise.
I remember the first time I was punished. It was in the month of
February. My grandmother had taken my old shoes, and replaced them with a new
pair. I needed them; for several inches of snow had fallen, and it still
continued to fall. When I walked through Mrs. Flint's room, their creaking
grated harshly on her refined nerves. She called me to her, and asked what I
had about me that made such a horrid noise. I told her it was my new
shoes. "Take them off," said she; "and if you put them on again, I'll throw
them into the fire."
I took them off, and my stockings also. She then sent me a long
distance, on an errand. As I went through the snow, my bare feet tingled.
That night I was very hoarse; and I went to bed thinking the next day would
find me sick, perhaps dead. What was my grief on waking to find myself quite
I had imagined if I died, or was laid up for some time, that my
mistress would feel a twinge of remorse that she had so hated "the little
imp," as she styled me. It was my ignorance of that mistress that gave rise
to such extravagant imaginings.
Dr. Flint occasionally had high prices offered for me; but he always
said, "She don't belong to me. She is my daughter's property, and I have no
right to sell her." Good, honest man! My young mistress was still a child,
and I could look for no protection from her. I loved her, and she returned
my affection. I once heard her father allude to her attachment to me, and
his wife promptly replied that it proceeded from fear. This put
unpleasant doubts into my mind. Did the child feign what she did not feel? or
was her mother jealous of the mite of love she bestowed on me? I concluded it
must be the latter. I said to myself, "Surely, little children are
One afternoon I sat at my sewing, feeling unusual depression of spirits.
My mistress had been accusing me of an offence, of which I assured her I
was perfectly innocent; but I saw, by the contemptuous curl of her lip,
that she believed I was telling a lie.
I wondered for what wise purpose God was leading me through such
thorny paths, and whether still darker days were in store for me. As I sat
musing thus, the door opened softly, and William came in. "Well, brother,"
said I, "what is the matter this time?"
"O Linda, Ben and his master have had a dreadful time!" said he.
My first thought was that Benjamin was killed. "Don't be
frightened, Linda," said William; "I will tell you all about it."
It appeared that Benjamin's master had sent for him, and he did
not immediately obey the summons. When he did, his master was angry, and
began to whip him. He resisted. Master and slave fought, and finally the
master was thrown. Benjamin had cause to tremble; for he had thrown to the
ground his master—one of the richest men in town. I anxiously awaited
That night I stole to my grandmother's house; and Benjamin also
stole thither from his master's. My grandmother had gone to spend a day or
two with an old friend living in the country.
"I have come," said Benjamin, "to tell you good by. I am going away."
I inquired where.
"To the north," he replied.
I looked at him to see whether he was in earnest. I saw it all in his
firm, set mouth. I implored him not to go, but he paid no heed to my words.
He said he was no longer a boy, and every day made his yoke more galling.
He had raised his hand against his master, and was to be publicly whipped
for the offence. I reminded him of the poverty and hardships he must
encounter among strangers. I told him he might be caught and brought back;
and that was terrible to think of.
He grew vexed, and asked if poverty and hardships with freedom, were
not preferable to our treatment in slavery. "Linda," he continued, "we are
dogs here; foot-balls, cattle, every thing that's mean. No, I will not stay.
Let them bring me back. We don't die but once."
He was right; but it was hard to give him up. "Go," said I, "and break
your mother's heart."
I repented of my words ere they were out.
"Linda," said he, speaking as I had not heard him speak that evening,
"how could you say that? Poor mother! be kind to her, Linda; and you,
too, cousin Fanny."
Cousin Fanny was a friend who had lived some years with us.
Farewells were exchanged, and the bright, kind boy, endeared to us by
so many acts of love, vanished from our sight.
It is not necessary to state how he made his escape. Suffice it to say,
he was on his way to New York when a violent storm overtook the vessel.
The captain said he must put into the nearest port. This alarmed Benjamin,
who was aware that he would be advertised in every port near his own town.
His embarrassment was noticed by the captain. To port they went. There
the advertisement met the captain's eye. Benjamin so exactly answered
its description, that the captain laid hold on him, and bound him in
chains. The storm passed, and they proceeded to New York. Before reaching
that port Benjamin managed to get off his chains and throw them overboard. He
escaped from the vessel, but was pursued, captured, and carried back to his
When my grandmother returned home and found her youngest child had
fled, great was her sorrow; but, with characteristic piety, she said, "God's
will be done." Each morning, she inquired if any news had been heard from
her boy. Yes, news was heard. The master was rejoicing over a
letter, announcing the capture of his human chattel.
That day seems but as yesterday, so well do I remember it. I saw him
led through the streets in chains, to jail. His face was ghastly pale, yet
full of determination. He had begged one of the sailors to go to his
mother's house and ask her not to meet him. He said the sight of her distress
would take from him all self-control. She yearned to see him, and she went;
but she screened herself in the crowd, that it might be as her child had
We were not allowed to visit him; but we had known the jailer for
years, and he was a kind-hearted man. At midnight he opened the jail door for
my grandmother and myself to enter, in disguise. When we entered the cell
not a sound broke the stillness. "Benjamin, Benjamin!" whispered
my grandmother. No answer. "Benjamin!" she again faltered. There was a
jingle of chains. The moon had just risen, and cast an uncertain light
through the bars of the window. We knelt down and took Benjamin's cold hands
in ours. We did not speak. Sobs were heard, and Benjamin's lips were
unsealed; for his mother was weeping on his neck. How vividly does memory
bring back that sad night! Mother and son talked together. He asked her
pardon for the suffering he had caused her. She said she had nothing to
forgive; she could not blame his desire for freedom. He told her that when he
was captured, he broke away, and was about casting himself into the river,
when thoughts of her came over him, and he desisted. She asked if he did
not also think of God. I fancied I saw his face grow fierce in the moonlight.
He answered, "No, I did not think of him. When a man is hunted like a wild
beast he forgets there is a God, a heaven. He forgets every thing in his
struggle to get beyond the reach of the bloodhounds."
"Don't talk so, Benjamin," said she. "Put your trust in God. Be humble,
my child, and your master will forgive you."
"Forgive me for what, mother? For not letting him treat me like a
dog? No! I will never humble myself to him. I have worked for him for
nothing all my life, and I am repaid with stripes and imprisonment. Here I
will stay till I die, or till he sells me."
The poor mother shuddered at his words. I think he felt it; for when
he next spoke, his voice was calmer. "Don't fret about me, mother. I
ain't worth it," said he. "I wish I had some of your goodness. You bear
every thing patiently, just as though you thought it was all right. I wish
She told him she had not always been so; once, she was like him; but
when sore troubles came upon her, and she had no arm to lean upon, she
learned to call on God, and he lightened her burdens. She besought him to
We overstaid our time, and were obliged to hurry from the jail.
Benjamin had been imprisoned three weeks, when my grandmother went
to intercede for him with his master. He was immovable. He said
Benjamin should serve as an example to the rest of his slaves; he should be
kept in jail till he was subdued, or be sold if he got but one dollar for
him. However, he afterwards relented in some degree. The chains were taken
off, and we were allowed to visit him.
As his food was of the coarsest kind, we carried him as often as possible
a warm supper, accompanied with some little luxury for the jailer.
Three months elapsed, and there was no prospect of release or of
a purchaser. One day he was heard to sing and laugh. This piece of
indecorum was told to his master, and the overseer was ordered to re-chain
him. He was now confined in an apartment with other prisoners, who were
covered with filthy rags. Benjamin was chained near them, and was soon
covered with vermin. He worked at his chains till he succeeded in getting out
of them. He passed them through the bars of the window, with a request that
they should be taken to his master, and he should be informed that he
was covered with vermin.
This audacity was punished with heavier chains, and prohibition of
My grandmother continued to send him fresh changes of clothes. The old
ones were burned up. The last night we saw him in jail his mother still
begged him to send for his master, and beg his pardon. Neither persuasion
nor argument could turn him from his purpose. He calmly answered, "I am
waiting his time."
Those chains were mournful to hear.
Another three months passed, and Benjamin left his prison walls. We
that loved him waited to bid him a long and last farewell. A slave trader
had bought him. You remember, I told you what price he brought when ten
years of age. Now he was more than twenty years old, and sold for three
hundred dollars. The master had been blind to his own interest. Long
confinement had made his face too pale, his form too thin; moreover, the
trader had heard something of his character, and it did not strike him as
suitable for a slave. He said he would give any price if the handsome lad was
a girl. We thanked God that he was not.
Could you have seen that mother clinging to her child, when they
fastened the irons upon his wrists; could you have heard her heart-rending
groans, and seen her bloodshot eyes wander wildly from face to face,
vainly pleading for mercy; could you have witnessed that scene as I saw it,
you would exclaim, Slavery is damnable! Benjamin, her youngest, her pet,
was forever gone! She could not realize it. She had had an interview with
the trader for the purpose of ascertaining if Benjamin could be purchased.
She was told it was impossible, as he had given bonds not to sell him till
he was out of the state. He promised that he would not sell him till
he reached New Orleans.
With a strong arm and unvaried trust, my grandmother began her work
of love. Benjamin must be free. If she succeeded, she knew they would still
be separated; but the sacrifice was not too great. Day and night she
labored. The trader's price would treble that he gave; but she was not
She employed a lawyer to write to a gentleman, whom she knew, in
New Orleans. She begged him to interest himself for Benjamin, and he
willingly favored her request. When he saw Benjamin, and stated his business,
he thanked him; but said he preferred to wait a while before making the
trader an offer. He knew he had tried to obtain a high price for him, and
had invariably failed. This encouraged him to make another effort for
freedom. So one morning, long before day, Benjamin was missing. He was riding
over the blue billows, bound for Baltimore.
For once his white face did him a kindly service. They had no
suspicion that it belonged to a slave; otherwise, the law would have been
followed out to the letter, and the thing rendered back to slavery. The
brightest skies are often overshadowed by the darkest clouds. Benjamin was
taken sick, and compelled to remain in Baltimore three weeks. His strength
was slow in returning; and his desire to continue his journey seemed to
retard his recovery. How could he get strength without air and exercise?
He resolved to venture on a short walk. A by-street was selected, where
he thought himself secure of not being met by any one that knew him; but
a voice called out, "Halloo, Ben, my boy! what are you doing here!"
His first impulse was to run; but his legs trembled so that he could
not stir. He turned to confront his antagonist, and behold, there stood his
old master's next door neighbor! He thought it was all over with him now;
but it proved otherwise. That man was a miracle. He possessed a goodly
number of slaves, and yet was not quite deaf to that mystic clock, whose
ticking is rarely heard in the slaveholder's breast.
"Ben, you are sick," said he. "Why, you look like a ghost. I guess I
gave you something of a start. Never mind, Ben, I am not going to touch you.
You had a pretty tough time of it, and you may go on your way rejoicing for
all me. But I would advise you to get out of this place plaguy quick, for
there are several gentlemen here from our town." He described the nearest
and safest route to New York, and added, "I shall be glad to tell your mother
I have seen you. Good by, Ben."
Benjamin turned away, filled with gratitude, and surprised that the town
he hated contained such a gem—a gem worthy of a purer setting.
This gentleman was a Northerner by birth, and had married a southern
lady. On his return, he told my grandmother that he had seen her son, and of
the service he had rendered him.
Benjamin reached New York safely, and concluded to stop there until he
had gained strength enough to proceed further. It happened that
my grandmother's only remaining son had sailed for the same city on
business for his mistress. Through God's providence, the brothers met. You
may be sure it was a happy meeting. "O Phil," exclaimed Benjamin, "I am here
at last." Then he told him how near he came to dying, almost in sight of
free land, and how he prayed that he might live to get one breath of free
air. He said life was worth something now, and it would be hard to die. In
the old jail he had not valued it; once, he was tempted to destroy it;
but something, he did not know what, had prevented him; perhaps it was fear.
He had heard those who profess to be religious declare there was no heaven
for self-murderers; and as his life had been pretty hot here, he did not
desire a continuation of the same in another world. "If I die now," he
exclaimed, "thank God, I shall die a freeman!"
He begged my uncle Phillip not to return south; but stay and work with
him, till they earned enough to buy those at home. His brother told him it
would kill their mother if he deserted her in her trouble. She had pledged
her house, and with difficulty had raised money to buy him. Would he be
"No, never!" he replied. "Do you suppose, Phil, when I have got so far
out of their clutches, I will give them one red cent? No! And do you suppose
I would turn mother out of her home in her old age? That I would let her
pay all those hard-earned dollars for me, and never to see me? For you know
she will stay south as long as her other children are slaves. What a
good mother! Tell her to buy you, Phil. You have been a comfort to her, and
I have been a trouble. And Linda, poor Linda; what'll become of her?
Phil, you don't know what a life they lead her. She has told me something
about it, and I wish old Flint was dead, or a better man. When I was in jail,
he asked her if she didn't want him to ask my master to forgive me, and
take me home again. She told him, No; that I didn't want to go back. He got
mad, and said we were all alike. I never despised my own master half as much
as I do that man. There is many a worse slaveholder than my master; but
for all that I would not be his slave."
While Benjamin was sick, he had parted with nearly all his clothes to
pay necessary expenses. But he did not part with a little pin I fastened in
his bosom when we parted. It was the most valuable thing I owned, and I
thought none more worthy to wear it. He had it still.
His brother furnished him with clothes, and gave him what money he
They parted with moistened eyes; and as Benjamin turned away, he
said, "Phil, I part with all my kindred." And so it proved. We never heard
from him again.
Uncle Phillip came home; and the first words he uttered when he entered
the house were, "Mother, Ben is free! I have seen him in New York." She
stood looking at him with a bewildered air. "Mother, don't you believe it?"
he said, laying his hand softly upon her shoulder. She raised her hands,
and exclaimed, "God be praised! Let us thank him." She dropped on her
knees, and poured forth her heart in prayer. Then Phillip must sit down and
repeat to her every word Benjamin had said. He told her all; only he forbore
to mention how sick and pale her darling looked. Why should he distress
her when she could do him no good?
The brave old woman still toiled on, hoping to rescue some of her
other children. After a while she succeeded in buying Phillip. She paid
eight hundred dollars, and came home with the precious document that secured
his freedom. The happy mother and son sat together by the old hearthstone
that night, telling how proud they were of each other, and how they would
prove to the world that they could take care of themselves, as they had
long taken care of others. We all concluded by saying, "He that is willing
to be a slave, let him be a slave."
V. The Trials Of Girlhood.
During the first years of my service in Dr. Flint's family, I
was accustomed to share some indulgences with the children of my
mistress. Though this seemed to me no more than right, I was grateful for it,
and tried to merit the kindness by the faithful discharge of my duties. But
I now entered on my fifteenth year—a sad epoch in the life of a slave
girl. My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I
could not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them
with indifference or contempt. The master's age, my extreme youth, and the
fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear
this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many
means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways,
that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he
thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods,
although they left me trembling. He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure
principles my grandmother had instilled. He peopled my young mind with
unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him
with disgust and hatred. But he was my master. I was compelled to live under
the same roof with him—where I saw a man forty years my senior daily
violating the most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I was his
property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted
against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter
whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In
either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from
violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the
shape of men. The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no
other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage. The degradation,
the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can
describe. They are greater than you would willingly believe. Surely, if you
credited one half the truths that are told you concerning the helpless
millions suffering in this cruel bondage, you at the north would not help to
tighten the yoke. You surely would refuse to do for the master, on your own
soil, the mean and cruel work which trained bloodhounds and the lowest class
of whites do for him at the south.
Every where the years bring to all enough of sin and sorrow; but in
slavery the very dawn of life is darkened by these shadows. Even the little
child, who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her children, will
learn, before she is twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such
and such a one among the slaves. Perhaps the child's own mother is among
those hated ones. She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and
cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely
knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her
master's footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a
child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse.
That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the
degradation of the female slave. I know that some are too much brutalized by
slavery to feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it
most acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I cannot tell how much
I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by
the retrospect. My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged
to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit
to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of
unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother's grave, his
dark shadow fell on me even there. The light heart which nature had given
me became heavy with sad forebodings. The other slaves in my master's
house noticed the change. Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask
the cause. They had no need to inquire. They knew too well the guilty
practices under that roof; and they were aware that to speak of them was an
offence that never went unpunished.
I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to
have laid my head on my grandmother's faithful bosom, and told her all
my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was not as silent
as the grave. Then, although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared
her as well as loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with
a respect bordering upon awe. I was very young, and felt shamefaced
about telling her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very
strict on such subjects. Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She
was usually very quiet in her demeanor; but if her indignation was
once roused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told that she
once chased a white gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted
one of her daughters. I dreaded the consequences of a violent
outbreak; and both pride and fear kept me silent. But though I did not
confide in my grandmother, and even evaded her vigilant watchfulness and
inquiry, her presence in the neighborhood was some protection to me. Though
she had been a slave, Dr. Flint was afraid of her. He dreaded her
scorching rebukes. Moreover, she was known and patronized by many people; and
he did not wish to have his villany made public. It was lucky for me
that I did not live on a distant plantation, but in a town not so large
that the inhabitants were ignorant of each other's affairs. Bad as are
the laws and customs in a slaveholding community, the doctor, as
a professional man, deemed it prudent to keep up some outward show
O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me! Reader,
it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully
what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in
your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I
I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair
white child; the other was her slave, and also her sister. When I saw
them embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly
away from the lovely sight. I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall
on the little slave's heart. I knew how soon her laughter would be changed
to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From childhood
to womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a
sunny sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on
her happy bridal morning.
How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of
her childhood? She, also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine
of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and
misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink.
In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of
the north? Why do your tongues falter in maintenance of the right? Would that
I had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There
are noble men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who
cannot help themselves. God bless them! God give them strength and courage to
go on! God bless those, every where, who are laboring to advance the cause
VI. The Jealous Mistress.
I would ten thousand times rather that my children should be
the half-starved paupers of Ireland than to be the most pampered among
the slaves of America. I would rather drudge out my life on a
cotton plantation, till the grave opened to give me rest, than to live with
an unprincipled master and a jealous mistress. The felon's home in
a penitentiary is preferable. He may repent, and turn from the error of
his ways, and so find peace; but it is not so with a favorite slave. She is
not allowed to have any pride of character. It is deemed a crime in her to
wish to be virtuous.
Mrs. Flint possessed the key to her husband's character before I was
born. She might have used this knowledge to counsel and to screen the young
and the innocent among her slaves; but for them she had no sympathy. They
were the objects of her constant suspicion and malevolence. She watched
her husband with unceasing vigilance; but he was well practised in means
to evade it. What he could not find opportunity to say in words he
manifested in signs. He invented more than were ever thought of in a deaf and
dumb asylum. I let them pass, as if I did not understand what he meant; and
many were the curses and threats bestowed on me for my stupidity. One day
he caught me teaching myself to write. He frowned, as if he was not
well pleased; but I suppose he came to the conclusion that such
an accomplishment might help to advance his favorite scheme. Before
long, notes were often slipped into my hand. I would return them, saying,
"I can't read them, sir." "Can't you?" he replied; "then I must read them
to you." He always finished the reading by asking, "Do you
understand?" Sometimes he would complain of the heat of the tea room, and
order his supper to be placed on a small table in the piazza. He would seat
himself there with a well-satisfied smile, and tell me to stand by and brush
away the flies. He would eat very slowly, pausing between the mouthfuls.
These intervals were employed in describing the happiness I was so
foolishly throwing away, and in threatening me with the penalty that finally
awaited my stubborn disobedience. He boasted much of the forbearance he
had exercised towards me, and reminded me that there was a limit to
his patience. When I succeeded in avoiding opportunities for him to talk to
me at home, I was ordered to come to his office, to do some errand.
When there, I was obliged to stand and listen to such language as he saw fit
to address to me. Sometimes I so openly expressed my contempt for him that
he would become violently enraged, and I wondered why he did not strike
me. Circumstanced as he was, he probably thought it was better policy to
be forebearing. But the state of things grew worse and worse daily.
In desperation I told him that I must and would apply to my grandmother
for protection. He threatened me with death, and worse than death, if I
made any complaint to her. Strange to say, I did not despair. I was naturally
of a buoyant disposition, and always I had a hope of somehow getting out
of his clutches. Like many a poor, simple slave before me, I trusted that
some threads of joy would yet be woven into my dark destiny.
I had entered my sixteenth year, and every day it became more apparent
that my presence was intolerable to Mrs. Flint. Angry words frequently
passed between her and her husband. He had never punished me himself, and he
would not allow any body else to punish me. In that respect, she was
never satisfied; but, in her angry moods, no terms were too vile for her
to bestow upon me. Yet I, whom she detested so bitterly, had far more pity
for her than he had, whose duty it was to make her life happy. I never
wronged her, or wished to wrong her, and one word of kindness from her would
have brought me to her feet.
After repeated quarrels between the doctor and his wife, he announced
his intention to take his youngest daughter, then four years old, to sleep
in his apartment. It was necessary that a servant should sleep in the
same room, to be on hand if the child stirred. I was selected for that
office, and informed for what purpose that arrangement had been made. By
managing to keep within sight of people, as much as possible, during the day
time, I had hitherto succeeded in eluding my master, though a razor was often
held to my throat to force me to change this line of policy. At night I slept
by the side of my great aunt, where I felt safe. He was too prudent to
come into her room. She was an old woman, and had been in the family many
years. Moreover, as a married man, and a professional man, he deemed it
necessary to save appearances in some degree. But he resolved to remove the
obstacle in the way of his scheme; and he thought he had planned it so that
he should evade suspicion. He was well aware how much I prized my refuge
by the side of my old aunt, and he determined to dispossess me of it.
The first night the doctor had the little child in his room alone. The
next morning, I was ordered to take my station as nurse the following night.
A kind Providence interposed in my favor. During the day Mrs. Flint heard
of this new arrangement, and a storm followed. I rejoiced to hear it
After a while my mistress sent for me to come to her room. Her
first question was, "Did you know you were to sleep in the doctor's
"Who told you?"
"Will you answer truly all the questions I ask?"
"Tell me, then, as you hope to be forgiven, are you innocent of what I
have accused you?"
She handed me a Bible, and said, "Lay your hand on your heart, kiss
this holy book, and swear before God that you tell me the truth."
I took the oath she required, and I did it with a clear conscience.
"You have taken God's holy word to testify your innocence," said she.
"If you have deceived me, beware! Now take this stool, sit down, look
me directly in the face, and tell me all that has passed between your
master and you."
I did as she ordered. As I went on with my account her color
changed frequently, she wept, and sometimes groaned. She spoke in tones so
sad, that I was touched by her grief. The tears came to my eyes; but I was
soon convinced that her emotions arose from anger and wounded pride. She
felt that her marriage vows were desecrated, her dignity insulted; but she
had no compassion for the poor victim of her husband's perfidy. She
pitied herself as a martyr; but she was incapable of feeling for the
condition of shame and misery in which her unfortunate, helpless slave was
placed. Yet perhaps she had some touch of feeling for me; for when the
conference was ended, she spoke kindly, and promised to protect me. I should
have been much comforted by this assurance if I could have had confidence in
it; but my experiences in slavery had filled me with distrust. She was not a
very refined woman, and had not much control over her passions. I was an
object of her jealousy, and, consequently, of her hatred; and I knew I could
not expect kindness or confidence from her under the circumstances in which
I was placed. I could not blame her. Slaveholders' wives feel as other
women would under similar circumstances. The fire of her temper kindled
from small-sparks, and now the flame became so intense that the doctor
was obliged to give up his intended arrangement.
I knew I had ignited the torch, and I expected to suffer for it
afterwards; but I felt too thankful to my mistress for the timely aid she
rendered me to care much about that. She now took me to sleep in a room
adjoining her own. There I was an object of her especial care, though not to
her especial comfort, for she spent many a sleepless night to watch over me.
Sometimes I woke up, and found her bending over me. At other times she
whispered in my ear, as though it was her husband who was speaking to me, and
listened to hear what I would answer. If she startled me, on such occasions,
she would glide stealthily away; and the next morning she would tell me I had
been talking in my sleep, and ask who I was talking to. At last, I began to
be fearful for my life. It had been often threatened; and you can
imagine, better than I can describe, what an unpleasant sensation it must
produce to wake up in the dead of night and find a jealous woman bending over
you. Terrible as this experience was, I had fears that it would give place
to one more terrible.
My mistress grew weary of her vigils; they did not prove satisfactory.
She changed her tactics. She now tried the trick of accusing my master
of crime, in my presence, and gave my name as the author of the accusation.
To my utter astonishment, he replied, "I don't believe it; but if she
did acknowledge it, you tortured her into exposing me." Tortured into
exposing him! Truly, Satan had no difficulty in distinguishing the color of
his soul! I understood his object in making this false representation. It
was to show me that I gained nothing by seeking the protection of my
mistress; that the power was still all in his own hands. I pitied Mrs. Flint.
She was a second wife, many years the junior of her husband; and the
hoary-headed miscreant was enough to try the patience of a wiser and better
woman. She was completely foiled, and knew not how to proceed. She would
gladly have had me flogged for my supposed false oath; but, as I have already
stated, the doctor never allowed any one to whip me. The old sinner was
politic. The application of the lash might have led to remarks that would
have exposed him in the eyes of his children and grandchildren. How often did
I rejoice that I lived in a town where all the inhabitants knew each
other! If I had been on a remote plantation, or lost among the multitude of
a crowded city, I should not be a living woman at this day.
The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition.
My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did
the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the
other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves?
No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences.
My grandmother could not avoid seeing things which excited her
suspicions. She was uneasy about me, and tried various ways to buy me; but
the never-changing answer was always repeated: "Linda does not belong to
me. She is my daughter's property, and I have no legal right to sell her."
The conscientious man! He was too scrupulous to sell me; but he had
no scruples whatever about committing a much greater wrong against
the helpless young girl placed under his guardianship, as his
daughter's property. Sometimes my persecutor would ask me whether I would
like to be sold. I told him I would rather be sold to any body than to lead
such a life as I did. On such occasions he would assume the air of a very
injured individual, and reproach me for my ingratitude. "Did I not take you
into the house, and make you the companion of my own children?" he would
say. "Have I ever treated you like a negro? I have never allowed you to
be punished, not even to please your mistress. And this is the recompense
I get, you ungrateful girl!" I answered that he had reasons of his own
for screening me from punishment, and that the course he pursued made
my mistress hate me and persecute me. If I wept, he would say, "Poor
child! Don't cry! don't cry! I will make peace for you with your mistress.
Only let me arrange matters in my own way. Poor, foolish girl! you don't
know what is for your own good. I would cherish you. I would make a lady of
you. Now go, and think of all I have promised you."
I did think of it.
Reader, I draw no imaginary pictures of southern homes. I am telling
you the plain truth. Yet when victims make their escape from the wild beast
of Slavery, northerners consent to act the part of bloodhounds, and hunt
the poor fugitive back into his den, "full of dead men's bones, and
all uncleanness." Nay, more, they are not only willing, but proud, to
give their daughters in marriage to slaveholders. The poor girls have
romantic notions of a sunny clime, and of the flowering vines that all the
year round shade a happy home. To what disappointments are they destined!
The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed
her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade
of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that
they are born unto him of his own household. Jealousy and hatred enter
the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness.
Southern women often marry a man knowing that he is the father of
many little slaves. They do not trouble themselves about it. They regard
such children as property, as marketable as the pigs on the plantation; and
it is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them into
the slave-trader's hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out
of their sight. I am glad to say there are some honorable exceptions.
I have myself known two southern wives who exhorted their husbands to
free those slaves towards whom they stood in a "parental relation;" and
their request was granted. These husbands blushed before the superior
nobleness of their wives' natures. Though they had only counselled them to do
that which it was their duty to do, it commanded their respect, and
rendered their conduct more exemplary. Concealment was at an end, and
confidence took the place of distrust.
Though this bad institution deadens the moral sense, even in white
women, to a fearful extent, it is not altogether extinct. I have heard
southern ladies say of Mr. Such a one, "He not only thinks it no disgrace to
be the father of those little niggers, but he is not ashamed to call himself
their master. I declare, such things ought not to be tolerated in any
VII. The Lover.
Why does the slave ever love? Why allow the tendrils of the heart to
twine around objects which may at any moment be wrenched away by the hand
of violence? When separations come by the hand of death, the pious soul
can bow in resignation, and say, "Not my will, but thine be done, O Lord!"
But when the ruthless hand of man strikes the blow, regardless of the misery
he causes, it is hard to be submissive. I did not reason thus when I was
a young girl. Youth will be youth. I loved and I indulged the hope that
the dark clouds around me would turn out a bright lining. I forgot that in
the land of my birth the shadows are too dense for light to penetrate. A
Where laughter is not mirth; nor thought the
mind; Nor words a language; nor e'en men
mankind. Where cries reply to curses, shrieks to
blows, And each is tortured in his separate hell.
There was in the neighborhood a young colored carpenter; a free born
man. We had been well acquainted in childhood, and frequently met
together afterwards. We became mutually attached, and he proposed to marry
me. I loved him with all the ardor of a young girl's first love. But when
I reflected that I was a slave, and that the laws gave no sanction to
the marriage of such, my heart sank within me. My lover wanted to buy me; but
I knew that Dr. Flint was too willful and arbitrary a man to consent to
that arrangement. From him, I was sure of experiencing all sort of
opposition, and I had nothing to hope from my mistress. She would have been
delighted to have got rid of me, but not in that way. It would have relieved
her mind of a burden if she could have seen me sold to some distant state,
but if I was married near home I should be just as much in her husband's
power as I had previously been,—for the husband of a slave has no power to
protect her. Moreover, my mistress, like many others, seemed to think that
slaves had no right to any family ties of their own; that they were created
merely to wait upon the family of the mistress. I once heard her abuse a
young slave girl, who told her that a colored man wanted to make her his
wife. "I will have you peeled and pickled, my lady," said she, "if I ever
hear you mention that subject again. Do you suppose that I will have you
tending my children with the children of that nigger?" The girl to whom she
said this had a mulatto child, of course not acknowledged by its father.
The poor black man who loved her would have been proud to acknowledge
his helpless offspring.
Many and anxious were the thoughts I revolved in my mind. I was at a
loss what to do. Above all things, I was desirous to spare my lover the
insults that had cut so deeply into my own soul. I talked with my grandmother
about it, and partly told her my fears. I did not dare to tell her the worst.
She had long suspected all was not right, and if I confirmed her suspicions
I knew a storm would rise that would prove the overthrow of all my
This love-dream had been my support through many trials; and I could
not bear to run the risk of having it suddenly dissipated. There was a lady
in the neighborhood, a particular friend of Dr. Flint's, who often visited
the house. I had a great respect for her, and she had always manifested
a friendly interest in me. Grandmother thought she would have great
influence with the doctor. I went to this lady, and told her my story. I told
her I was aware that my lover's being a free-born man would prove a
great objection; but he wanted to buy me; and if Dr. Flint would consent to
that arrangement, I felt sure he would be willing to pay any reasonable
price. She knew that Mrs. Flint disliked me; therefore, I ventured to suggest
that perhaps my mistress would approve of my being sold, as that would rid
her of me. The lady listened with kindly sympathy, and promised to do
her utmost to promote my wishes. She had an interview with the doctor, and
I believe she pleaded my cause earnestly; but it was all to no purpose.
How I dreaded my master now! Every minute I expected to be summoned to
his presence; but the day passed, and I heard nothing from him. The
next morning, a message was brought to me: "Master wants you in his study."
I found the door ajar, and I stood a moment gazing at the hateful man
who claimed a right to rule me, body and soul. I entered, and tried to
appear calm. I did not want him to know how my heart was bleeding. He
looked fixedly at me, with an expression which seemed to say, "I have half a
mind to kill you on the spot." At last he broke the silence, and that was
a relief to both of us.
"So you want to be married, do you?" said he, "and to a free nigger."
"Well, I'll soon convince you whether I am your master, or the
nigger fellow you honor so highly. If you must have a husband, you may take
up with one of my slaves."
What a situation I should be in, as the wife of one of his slaves,
even if my heart had been interested!
I replied, "Don't you suppose, sir, that a slave can have some
preference about marrying? Do you suppose that all men are alike to
"Do you love this nigger?" said he, abruptly.
"How dare you tell me so!" he exclaimed, in great wrath. After a
slight pause, he added, "I supposed you thought more of yourself; that you
felt above the insults of such puppies."
I replied, "If he is a puppy, I am a puppy, for we are both of the
negro race. It is right and honorable for us to love each other. The man you
call a puppy never insulted me, sir; and he would not love me if he did
not believe me to be a virtuous woman."
He sprang upon me like a tiger, and gave me a stunning blow. It was
the first time he had ever struck me; and fear did not enable me to control
my anger. When I had recovered a little from the effects, I exclaimed,
"You have struck me for answering you honestly. How I despise you!"
There was silence for some minutes. Perhaps he was deciding what should
be my punishment; or, perhaps, he wanted to give me time to reflect on what
I had said, and to whom I had said it. Finally, he asked, "Do you know
what you have said?"
"Yes, sir; but your treatment drove me to it."
"Do you know that I have a right to do as I like with you,—that I can
kill you, if I please?"
"You have tried to kill me, and I wish you had; but you have no right to
do as you like with me."
"Silence!" he exclaimed, in a thundering voice. "By heavens, girl,
you forget yourself too far! Are you mad? If you are, I will soon bring you
to your senses. Do you think any other master would bear what I have
borne from you this morning? Many masters would have killed you on the spot.
How would you like to be sent to jail for your insolence?"
"I know I have been disrespectful, sir," I replied; "but you drove me
to it; I couldn't help it. As for the jail, there would be more peace for
me there than there is here."
"You deserve to go there," said he, "and to be under such treatment,
that you would forget the meaning of the word peace. It would do you good.
It would take some of your high notions out of you. But I am not ready to
send you there yet, notwithstanding your ingratitude for all my kindness
and forbearance. You have been the plague of my life. I have wanted to make
you happy, and I have been repaid with the basest ingratitude; but though
you have proved yourself incapable of appreciating my kindness, I will
be lenient towards you, Linda. I will give you one more chance to redeem
your character. If you behave yourself and do as I require, I will forgive
you and treat you as I always have done; but if you disobey me, I will
punish you as I would the meanest slave on my plantation. Never let me hear
that fellow's name mentioned again. If I ever know of your speaking to him,
I will cowhide you both; and if I catch him lurking about my premises, I
will shoot him as soon as I would a dog. Do you hear what I say? I'll teach
you a lesson about marriage and free niggers! Now go, and let this be the
last time I have occasion to speak to you on this subject."
Reader, did you ever hate? I hope not. I never did but once; and I trust
I never shall again. Somebody has called it "the atmosphere of hell;" and
I believe it is so.
For a fortnight the doctor did not speak to me. He thought to mortify
me; to make me feel that I had disgraced myself by receiving the
honorable addresses of a respectable colored man, in preference to the base
proposals of a white man. But though his lips disdained to address me, his
eyes were very loquacious. No animal ever watched its prey more narrowly than
he watched me. He knew that I could write, though he had failed to make
me read his letters; and he was now troubled lest I should exchange
letters with another man. After a while he became weary of silence; and I was
sorry for it. One morning, as he passed through the hall, to leave the house,
he contrived to thrust a note into my hand. I thought I had better read
it, and spare myself the vexation of having him read it to me. It
expressed regret for the blow he had given me, and reminded me that I myself
was wholly to blame for it. He hoped I had become convinced of the injury I
was doing myself by incurring his displeasure. He wrote that he had made up
his mind to go to Louisiana; that he should take several slaves with him,
and intended I should be one of the number. My mistress would remain where
she was; therefore I should have nothing to fear from that quarter. If
I merited kindness from him, he assured me that it would be
lavishly bestowed. He begged me to think over the matter, and answer the
The next morning I was called to carry a pair of scissors to his room.
I laid them on the table, with the letter beside them. He thought it was
my answer, and did not call me back. I went as usual to attend my
young mistress to and from school. He met me in the street, and ordered me
to stop at his office on my way back. When I entered, he showed me his
letter, and asked me why I had not answered it. I replied, "I am your
daughter's property, and it is in your power to send me, or take me, wherever
you please." He said he was very glad to find me so willing to go, and that
we should start early in the autumn. He had a large practice in the town,
and I rather thought he had made up the story merely to frighten me.
However that might be, I was determined that I would never go to Louisiana
Summer passed away, and early in the autumn Dr. Flint's eldest son was
sent to Louisiana to examine the country, with a view to emigrating. That
news did not disturb me. I knew very well that I should not be sent with
him. That I had not been taken to the plantation before this time, was
owing to the fact that his son was there. He was jealous of his son; and
jealousy of the overseer had kept him from punishing me by sending me into
the fields to work. Is it strange, that I was not proud of these protectors?
As for the overseer, he was a man for whom I had less respect than I had for
Young Mr. Flint did not bring back a favorable report of Louisiana, and
I heard no more of that scheme. Soon after this, my lover met me at
the corner of the street, and I stopped to speak to him. Looking up, I saw
my master watching us from his window. I hurried home, trembling with fear.
I was sent for, immediately, to go to his room. He met me with a blow.
"When is mistress to be married?" said he, in a sneering tone. A shower of
oaths and imprecations followed. How thankful I was that my lover was a free
man! that my tyrant had no power to flog him for speaking to me in the
Again and again I revolved in my mind how all this would end. There was
no hope that the doctor would consent to sell me on any terms. He had an
iron will, and was determined to keep me, and to conquer me. My lover was
an intelligent and religious man. Even if he could have obtained permission
to marry me while I was a slave, the marriage would give him no power
to protect me from my master. It would have made him miserable to witness
the insults I should have been subjected to. And then, if we had children,
I knew they must "follow the condition of the mother." What a terrible
blight that would be on the heart of a free, intelligent father! For his
sake, I felt that I ought not to link his fate with my own unhappy destiny.
He was going to Savannah to see about a little property left him by an uncle;
and hard as it was to bring my feelings to it, I earnestly entreated him not
to come back. I advised him to go to the Free States, where his tongue
would not be tied, and where his intelligence would be of more avail to him.
He left me, still hoping the day would come when I could be bought. With
me the lamp of hope had gone out. The dream of my girlhood was over. I
felt lonely and desolate.
Still I was not stripped of all. I still had my good grandmother, and
my affectionate brother. When he put his arms round my neck, and looked
into my eyes, as if to read there the troubles I dared not tell, I felt that
I still had something to love. But even that pleasant emotion was chilled
by the reflection that he might be torn from me at any moment, by some
sudden freak of my master. If he had known how we loved each other, I think
he would have exulted in separating us. We often planned together how we
could get to the north. But, as William remarked, such things are easier
said than done. My movements were very closely watched, and we had no means
of getting any money to defray our expenses. As for grandmother, she
was strongly opposed to her children's undertaking any such project. She
had not forgotten poor Benjamin's sufferings, and she was afraid that
if another child tried to escape, he would have a similar or a worse fate.
To me, nothing seemed more dreadful than my present life. I said to
myself, "William must be free. He shall go to the north, and I will follow
him." Many a slave sister has formed the same plans.
VIII. What Slaves Are Taught To Think Of The North.
Slaveholders pride themselves upon being honorable men; but if you were
to hear the enormous lies they tell their slaves, you would have small
respect for their veracity. I have spoken plain English. Pardon me. I cannot
use a milder term. When they visit the north, and return home, they tell
their slaves of the runaways they have seen, and describe them to be in the
most deplorable condition. A slaveholder once told me that he had seen a
runaway friend of mine in New York, and that she besought him to take her
back to her master, for she was literally dying of starvation; that many days
she had only one cold potato to eat, and at other times could get nothing
at all. He said he refused to take her, because he knew her master would
not thank him for bringing such a miserable wretch to his house. He ended
by saying to me, "This is the punishment she brought on herself for
running away from a kind master."
This whole story was false. I afterwards staid with that friend in
New York, and found her in comfortable circumstances. She had never thought
of such a thing as wishing to go back to slavery. Many of the slaves
believe such stories, and think it is not worth while to exchange slavery for
such a hard kind of freedom. It is difficult to persuade such that freedom
could make them useful men, and enable them to protect their wives and
children. If those heathen in our Christian land had as much teaching as
some Hindoos, they would think otherwise. They would know that liberty is
more valuable than life. They would begin to understand their own
capabilities, and exert themselves to become men and women.
But while the Free States sustain a law which hurls fugitives back
into slavery, how can the slaves resolve to become men? There are some
who strive to protect wives and daughters from the insults of their
masters; but those who have such sentiments have had advantages above the
general mass of slaves. They have been partially civilized and Christianized
by favorable circumstances. Some are bold enough to utter such sentiments
to their masters. O, that there were more of them!
Some poor creatures have been so brutalized by the lash that they
will sneak out of the way to give their masters free access to their wives
and daughters. Do you think this proves the black man to belong to an
inferior order of beings? What would you be, if you had been born and
brought up a slave, with generations of slaves for ancestors? I admit that
the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the
ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip
that lashes manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South,
and the scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the north, who enforce
the Fugitive Slave Law. They do the work.
Southern gentlemen indulge in the most contemptuous expressions about
the Yankees, while they, on their part, consent to do the vilest work for
them, such as the ferocious bloodhounds and the despised negro-hunters
are employed to do at home. When southerners go to the north, they are proud
to do them honor; but the northern man is not welcome south of Mason
and Dixon's line, unless he suppresses every thought and feeling at
variance with their "peculiar institution." Nor is it enough to be silent.
The masters are not pleased, unless they obtain a greater degree
of subservience than that; and they are generally accommodated. Do
they respect the northerner for this? I trow not. Even the slaves despise
"a northern man with southern principles;" and that is the class
they generally see. When northerners go to the south to reside, they prove
very apt scholars. They soon imbibe the sentiments and disposition of
their neighbors, and generally go beyond their teachers. Of the two, they
are proverbially the hardest masters.
They seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God
created the Africans to be slaves. What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who
"made of one blood all nations of men!" And then who are Africans? Who
can measure the amount of Anglo-Saxon blood coursing in the veins of
I have spoken of the pains slaveholders take to give their slaves a
bad opinion of the north; but, notwithstanding this, intelligent slaves
are aware that they have many friends in the Free States. Even the
most ignorant have some confused notions about it. They knew that I could
read; and I was often asked if I had seen any thing in the newspapers about
white folks over in the big north, who were trying to get their freedom for
them. Some believe that the abolitionists have already made them free, and
that it is established by law, but that their masters prevent the law from
going into effect. One woman begged me to get a newspaper and read it over.
She said her husband told her that the black people had sent word to the
queen of 'Merica that they were all slaves; that she didn't believe it, and
went to Washington city to see the president about it. They quarrelled; she
drew her sword upon him, and swore that he should help her to make them
That poor, ignorant woman thought that America was governed by a Queen,
to whom the President was subordinate. I wish the President was subordinate
to Queen Justice.
IX. Sketches Of Neighboring Slaveholders.
There was a planter in the country, not far from us, whom I will call
Mr. Litch. He was an ill-bred, uneducated man, but very wealthy. He had
six hundred slaves, many of whom he did not know by sight. His
extensive plantation was managed by well-paid overseers. There was a jail and
a whipping post on his grounds; and whatever cruelties were
perpetrated there, they passed without comment. He was so effectually
screened by his great wealth that he was called to no account for his crimes,
not even for murder.
Various were the punishments resorted to. A favorite one was to tie a
rope round a man's body, and suspend him from the ground. A fire was
kindled over him, from which was suspended a piece of fat pork. As this
cooked, the scalding drops of fat continually fell on the bare flesh. On his
own plantation, he required very strict obedience to the eighth
commandment. But depredations on the neighbors were allowable, provided the
culprit managed to evade detection or suspicion. If a neighbor brought a
charge of theft against any of his slaves, he was browbeaten by the master,
who assured him that his slaves had enough of every thing at home, and had
no inducement to steal. No sooner was the neighbor's back turned, than
the accused was sought out, and whipped for his lack of discretion. If a
slave stole from him even a pound of meat or a peck of corn, if
detection followed, he was put in chains and imprisoned, and so kept till his
form was attentuated by hunger and suffering.
A freshnet once bore his wine cellar and meat house miles away from
the plantation. Some slaves followed, and secured bits of meat and bottles
of wine. Two were detected; a ham and some liquor being found in their
huts. They were summoned by their master. No words were used, but a club
felled them to the ground. A rough box was their coffin, and their interment
was a dog's burial. Nothing was said.
Murder was so common on his plantation that he feared to be alone
after nightfall. He might have believed in ghosts.
His brother, if not equal in wealth, was at least equal in cruelty.
His bloodhounds were well trained. Their pen was spacious, and a terror to
the slaves. They were let loose on a runway, and, if they tracked him,
they literally tore the flesh from his bones. When this slaveholder died,
his shrieks and groans were so frightful that they appalled his own
friends. His last words were, "I am going to hell; bury my money with
After death his eyes remained open. To press the lids down, silver
dollars were laid on them. These were buried with him. From this
circumstance, a rumor went abroad that his coffin was filled with money.
Three times his grave was opened, and his coffin taken out. The last time,
his body was found on the ground, and a flock of buzzards were pecking at it.
He was again interred, and a sentinel set over his grave. The perpetrators
were never discovered.
Cruelty is contagious in uncivilized communities. Mr. Conant, a neighbor
of Mr. Litch, returned from town one evening in a partial state
of intoxication. His body servant gave him some offence. He was divested
of his clothes, except his shirt, whipped, and tied to a large tree in
front of the house. It was a stormy night in winter. The wind blew bitterly
cold, and the boughs of the old tree crackled under falling sleet. A member
of the family, fearing he would freeze to death, begged that he might be
taken down; but the master would not relent. He remained there three hours;
and, when he was cut down, he was more dead than alive. Another slave, who
stole a pig from this master, to appease his hunger, was terribly flogged.
In desperation, he tried to run away. But at the end of two miles, he was
so faint with loss of blood, he thought he was dying. He had a wife, and
he longed to see her once more. Too sick to walk, he crept back that
long distance on his hands and knees. When he reached his master's, it
was night. He had not strength to rise and open the gate. He moaned, and
tried to call for help. I had a friend living in the same family. At last his
cry reached her. She went out and found the prostrate man at the gate. She
ran back to the house for assistance, and two men returned with her.
They carried him in, and laid him on the floor. The back of his shirt was
one clot of blood. By means of lard, my friend loosened it from the raw
flesh. She bandaged him, gave him cool drink, and left him to rest. The
master said he deserved a hundred more lashes. When his own labor was stolen
from him, he had stolen food to appease his hunger. This was his crime.
Another neighbor was a Mrs. Wade. At no hour of the day was there
cessation of the lash on her premises. Her labors began with the dawn, and
did not cease till long after nightfall. The barn was her particular place
of torture. There she lashed the slaves with the might of a man. An old
slave of hers once said to me, "It is hell in missis's house. 'Pears I can
never get out. Day and night I prays to die."
The mistress died before the old woman, and, when dying, entreated
her husband not to permit any one of her slaves to look on her after death.
A slave who had nursed her children, and had still a child in her
care, watched her chance, and stole with it in her arms to the room where lay
her dead mistress. She gazed a while on her, then raised her hand and dealt
two blows on her face, saying, as she did so, "The devil is got you now!"
She forgot that the child was looking on. She had just begun to talk; and
she said to her father, "I did see ma, and mammy did strike ma, so,"
striking her own face with her little hand. The master was startled. He could
not imagine how the nurse could obtain access to the room where the corpse
lay; for he kept the door locked. He questioned her. She confessed that what
the child had said was true, and told how she had procured the key. She
was sold to Georgia.
In my childhood I knew a valuable slave, named Charity, and loved her,
as all children did. Her young mistress married, and took her to
Louisiana. Her little boy, James, was sold to a good sort of master. He
became involved in debt, and James was sold again to a wealthy slaveholder,
noted for his cruelty. With this man he grew up to manhood, receiving
the treatment of a dog. After a severe whipping, to save himself from
further infliction of the lash, with which he was threatened, he took to the
woods. He was in a most miserable condition—cut by the cowskin, half naked,
half starved, and without the means of procuring a crust of bread.
Some weeks after his escape, he was captured, tied, and carried back to
his master's plantation. This man considered punishment in his jail, on
bread and water, after receiving hundreds of lashes, too mild for the
poor slave's offence. Therefore he decided, after the overseer should
have whipped him to his satisfaction, to have him placed between the screws
of the cotton gin, to stay as long as he had been in the woods. This
wretched creature was cut with the whip from his head to his feet, then
washed with strong brine, to prevent the flesh from mortifying, and make it
heal sooner than it otherwise would. He was then put into the cotton gin,
which was screwed down, only allowing him room to turn on his side when he
could not lie on his back. Every morning a slave was sent with a piece of
bread and bowl of water, which was placed within reach of the poor fellow.
The slave was charged, under penalty of severe punishment, not to speak to
Four days passed, and the slave continued to carry the bread and water.
On the second morning, he found the bread gone, but the water untouched.
When he had been in the press four days and five night, the slave informed
his master that the water had not been used for four mornings, and
that horrible stench came from the gin house. The overseer was sent to
examine into it. When the press was unscrewed, the dead body was found partly
eaten by rats and vermin. Perhaps the rats that devoured his bread had gnawed
him before life was extinct. Poor Charity! Grandmother and I often asked
each other how her affectionate heart would bear the news, if she should
ever hear of the murder of her son. We had known her husband, and knew
that James was like him in manliness and intelligence. These were the
qualities that made it so hard for him to be a plantation slave. They put him
into a rough box, and buried him with less feeling than would have been
manifested for an old house dog. Nobody asked any questions. He was a slave;
and the feeling was that the master had a right to do what he pleased with
his own property. And what did he care for the value of a slave? He had
hundreds of them. When they had finished their daily toil, they must hurry to
eat their little morsels, and be ready to extinguish their pine knots
before nine o'clock, when the overseer went his patrol rounds. He entered
every cabin, to see that men and their wives had gone to bed together, lest
the men, from over-fatigue, should fall asleep in the chimney corner,
and remain there till the morning horn called them to their daily task.
Women are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their
owner's stock. They are put on a par with animals. This same master shot a
woman through the head, who had run away and been brought back to him. No
one called him to account for it. If a slave resisted being whipped,
the bloodhounds were unpacked, and set upon him, to tear his flesh from
his bones. The master who did these things was highly educated, and styled
a perfect gentleman. He also boasted the name and standing of a
Christian, though Satan never had a truer follower.
I could tell of more slaveholders as cruel as those I have described.
They are not exceptions to the general rule. I do not say there are no
humane slaveholders. Such characters do exist, notwithstanding the
hardening influences around them. But they are "like angels' visits—few and
I knew a young lady who was one of these rare specimens. She was an
orphan, and inherited as slaves a woman and her six children. Their father
was a free man. They had a comfortable home of their own, parents and
children living together. The mother and eldest daughter served their
mistress during the day, and at night returned to their dwelling, which was
on the premises. The young lady was very pious, and there was some reality in
her religion. She taught her slaves to lead pure lives, and wished them
to enjoy the fruit of their own industry. Her religion was not a garb put
on for Sunday, and laid aside till Sunday returned again. The eldest
daughter of the slave mother was promised in marriage to a free man; and the
day before the wedding this good mistress emancipated her, in order that
her marriage might have the sanction of law.
Report said that this young lady cherished an unrequited affection for
a man who had resolved to marry for wealth. In the course of time a
rich uncle of hers died. He left six thousand dollars to his two sons by
a colored woman, and the remainder of his property to this orphan niece.
The metal soon attracted the magnet. The lady and her weighty purse became
his. She offered to manumit her slaves—telling them that her marriage
might make unexpected changes in their destiny, and she wished to insure
their happiness. They refused to take their freedom, saying that she had
always been their best friend, and they could not be so happy any where as
with her. I was not surprised. I had often seen them in their comfortable
home, and thought that the whole town did not contain a happier family. They
had never felt slavery; and, when it was too late, they were convinced of
When the new master claimed this family as his property, the father
became furious, and went to his mistress for protection. "I can do nothing
for you now, Harry," said she. "I no longer have the power I had a week ago.
I have succeeded in obtaining the freedom of your wife; but I cannot obtain
it for your children." The unhappy father swore that nobody should take
his children from him. He concealed them in the woods for some days; but
they were discovered and taken. The father was put in jail, and the two
oldest boys sold to Georgia. One little girl, too young to be of service to
her master, was left with the wretched mother. The other three were carried
to their master's plantation. The eldest soon became a mother; and when
the slaveholder's wife looked at the babe, she wept bitterly. She knew that
her own husband had violated the purity she had so carefully inculcated.
She had a second child by her master, and then he sold her and his offspring
to his brother. She bore two children to the brother and was sold again.
The next sister went crazy. The life she was compelled to lead drove her
mad. The third one became the mother of five daughters. Before the birth of
the fourth the pious mistress died. To the last, she rendered every kindness
to the slaves that her unfortunate circumstances permitted. She passed
away peacefully, glad to close her eyes on a life which had been made
so wretched by the man she loved.
This man squandered the fortune he had received, and sought to retrieve
his affairs by a second marriage; but, having retired after a night of
drunken debauch, he was found dead in the morning. He was called a good
master; for he fed and clothed his slaves better than most masters, and the
lash was not heard on his plantation so frequently as on many others. Had it
not been for slavery, he would have been a better man, and his wife a
No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading
corruption produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere
of licentiousness and fear. The lash and the foul talk of her master and
his sons are her teachers. When she is fourteen or fifteen, her owner, or
his sons, or the overseer, or perhaps all of them, begin to bribe her
with presents. If these fail to accomplish their purpose, she is whipped
or starved into submission to their will. She may have had
religious principles inculcated by some pious mother or grandmother, or some
good mistress; she may have a lover, whose good opinion and peace of mind
are dear to her heart; or the profligate men who have power over her may
be exceedingly odious to her. But resistance is hopeless.
The poor worm Shall prove her contest vain.
Life's little day Shall pass, and she is gone!
The slaveholder's sons are, of course, vitiated, even while boys, by
the unclean influences every where around them. Nor do the master's
daughters always escape. Severe retributions sometimes come upon him for the
wrongs he does to the daughters of the slaves. The white daughters early
hear their parents quarrelling about some female slave. Their curiosity
is excited, and they soon learn the cause. They are attended by the
young slave girls whom their father has corrupted; and they hear such talk
as should never meet youthful ears, or any other ears. They know that
the woman slaves are subject to their father's authority in all things; and
in some cases they exercise the same authority over the men slaves. I
have myself seen the master of such a household whose head was bowed down
in shame; for it was known in the neighborhood that his daughter had
selected one of the meanest slaves on his plantation to be the father of his
first grandchild. She did not make her advances to her equals, nor even to
her father's more intelligent servants. She selected the most brutalized,
over whom her authority could be exercised with less fear of exposure.
Her father, half frantic with rage, sought to revenge himself on the
offending black man; but his daughter, foreseeing the storm that would arise,
had given him free papers, and sent him out of the state.
In such cases the infant is smothered, or sent where it is never seen
by any who know its history. But if the white parent is the father,
instead of the mother, the offspring are unblushingly reared for the market.
If they are girls, I have indicated plainly enough what will be
their inevitable destiny.
You may believe what I say; for I write only that whereof I know. I
was twenty-one years in that cage of obscene birds. I can testify, from my
own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as
well as to the blacks. It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the
sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the
wives wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine
to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their
Yet few slaveholders seem to be aware of the widespread moral
ruin occasioned by this wicked system. Their talk is of blighted
cotton crops—not of the blight on their children's souls.
If you want to be fully convinced of the abominations of slavery, go on
a southern plantation, and call yourself a negro trader. Then there will
be no concealment; and you will see and hear things that will seem to
you impossible among human beings with immortal souls.
X. A Perilous Passage In The Slave Girl's Life.
After my lover went away, Dr. Flint contrived a new plan. He seemed to
have an idea that my fear of my mistress was his greatest obstacle. In
the blandest tones, he told me that he was going to build a small house for
me, in a secluded place, four miles away from the town. I shuddered; but I
was constrained to listen, while he talked of his intention to give me a
home of my own, and to make a lady of me. Hitherto, I had escaped my
dreaded fate, by being in the midst of people. My grandmother had already had
high words with my master about me. She had told him pretty plainly what
she thought of his character, and there was considerable gossip in
the neighborhood about our affairs, to which the open-mouthed jealousy of
Mrs. Flint contributed not a little. When my master said he was going to
build a house for me, and that he could do it with little trouble and
expense, I was in hopes something would happen to frustrate his scheme; but I
soon heard that the house was actually begun. I vowed before my Maker that
I would never enter it: I had rather toil on the plantation from dawn
till dark; I had rather live and die in jail, than drag on, from day to
day, through such a living death. I was determined that the master, whom I
so hated and loathed, who had blighted the prospects of my youth, and made
my life a desert, should not, after my long struggle with him, succeed at
last in trampling his victim under his feet. I would do any thing, every
thing, for the sake of defeating him. What could I do? I thought and
thought, till I became desperate, and made a plunge into the abyss.
And now, reader, I come to a period in my unhappy life, which I
would gladly forget if I could. The remembrance fills me with sorrow and
shame. It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the
truth, and I will do it honestly, let it cost me what it may. I will not try
to screen myself behind the plea of compulsion from a master; for it was
not so. Neither can I plead ignorance or thoughtlessness. For years, my
master had done his utmost to pollute my mind with foul images, and to
destroy the pure principles inculcated by my grandmother, and the good
mistress of my childhood. The influences of slavery had had the same effect
on me that they had on other young girls; they had made me prematurely
knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world. I knew what I did, and I did
it with deliberate calculation.
But, O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood,
who have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes
are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too
severely! If slavery had been abolished, I, also, could have married the man
of my choice; I could have had a home shielded by the laws; and I should
have been spared the painful task of confessing what I am now about to
relate; but all my prospects had been blighted by slavery. I wanted to keep
myself pure; and, under the most adverse circumstances, I tried hard to
preserve my self-respect; but I was struggling alone in the powerful grasp of
the demon Slavery; and the monster proved too strong for me. I felt as if I
was forsaken by God and man; as if all my efforts must be frustrated; and
I became reckless in my despair.
I have told you that Dr. Flint's persecutions and his wife's jealousy
had given rise to some gossip in the neighborhood. Among others, it
chanced that a white unmarried gentleman had obtained some knowledge of
the circumstances in which I was placed. He knew my grandmother, and
often spoke to me in the street. He became interested for me, and asked
questions about my master, which I answered in part. He expressed a great
deal of sympathy, and a wish to aid me. He constantly sought opportunities to
see me, and wrote to me frequently. I was a poor slave girl, only fifteen
So much attention from a superior person was, of course, flattering;
for human nature is the same in all. I also felt grateful for his sympathy,
and encouraged by his kind words. It seemed to me a great thing to have such
a friend. By degrees, a more tender feeling crept into my heart. He was
an educated and eloquent gentleman; too eloquent, alas, for the poor
slave girl who trusted in him. Of course I saw whither all this was tending.
I knew the impassable gulf between us; but to be an object of interest to
a man who is not married, and who is not her master, is agreeable to
the pride and feelings of a slave, if her miserable situation has left her
any pride or sentiment. It seems less degrading to give one's self, than
to submit to compulsion. There is something akin to freedom in having a
lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness
and attachment. A master may treat you as rudely as he pleases, and you
dare not speak; moreover, the wrong does not seem so great with an
unmarried man, as with one who has a wife to be made unhappy. There may be
sophistry in all this; but the condition of a slave confuses all principles
of morality, and, in fact, renders the practice of them impossible.
When I found that my master had actually begun to build the lonely
cottage, other feelings mixed with those I have described. Revenge, and
calculations of interest, were added to flattered vanity and sincere
gratitude for kindness. I knew nothing would enrage Dr. Flint so much as to
know that I favored another, and it was something to triumph over my tyrant
even in that small way. I thought he would revenge himself by selling me, and
I was sure my friend, Mr. Sands, would buy me. He was a man of more
generosity and feeling than my master, and I thought my freedom could be
easily obtained from him. The crisis of my fate now came so near that I
was desperate. I shuddered to think of being the mother of children that
should be owned by my old tyrant. I knew that as soon as a new fancy took
him, his victims were sold far off to get rid of them; especially if they
had children. I had seen several women sold, with babies at the breast.
He never allowed his offspring by slaves to remain long in sight of
himself and his wife. Of a man who was not my master I could ask to have
my children well supported; and in this case, I felt confident I should
obtain the boon. I also felt quite sure that they would be made free. With
all these thoughts revolving in my mind, and seeing no other way of
escaping the doom I so much dreaded, I made a headlong plunge. Pity me, and
pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to
be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to
the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You
never exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power
of a hated tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps,
and trembled within hearing of his voice. I know I did wrong. No one can
feel it more sensibly than I do. The painful and humiliating memory will
haunt me to my dying day. Still, in looking back, calmly, on the events of
my life, I feel that the slave woman ought not to be judged by the
same standard as others.
The months passed on. I had many unhappy hours. I secretly mourned over
the sorrow I was bringing on my grandmother, who had so tried to shield me
from harm. I knew that I was the greatest comfort of her old age, and that
it was a source of pride to her that I had not degraded myself, like most
of the slaves. I wanted to confess to her that I was no longer worthy of
her love; but I could not utter the dreaded words.
As for Dr. Flint, I had a feeling of satisfaction and triumph in
the thought of telling him. From time to time he told me of his
intended arrangements, and I was silent. At last, he came and told me the
cottage was completed, and ordered me to go to it. I told him I would never
enter it. He said, "I have heard enough of such talk as that. You shall go,
if you are carried by force; and you shall remain there."
I replied, "I will never go there. In a few months I shall be a
He stood and looked at me in dumb amazement, and left the house without
a word. I thought I should be happy in my triumph over him. But now that
the truth was out, and my relatives would hear of it, I felt wretched.
Humble as were their circumstances, they had pride in my good character. Now,
how could I look at them in the face? My self-respect was gone! I had
resolved that I would be virtuous, though I was a slave. I had said, "Let the
storm beat! I will brave it till I die." And now, how humiliated I
I went to my grandmother. My lips moved to make confession, but the
words stuck in my throat. I sat down in the shade of a tree at her door and
began to sew. I think she saw something unusual was the matter with me.
The mother of slaves is very watchful. She knows there is no security for
her children. After they have entered their teens she lives in
daily expectation of trouble. This leads to many questions. If the girl is of
a sensitive nature, timidity keeps her from answering truthfully, and
this well-meant course has a tendency to drive her from maternal
counsels. Presently, in came my mistress, like a mad woman, and accused me
concerning her husband. My grandmother, whose suspicions had been previously
awakened, believed what she said. She exclaimed, "O Linda! Has it come to
this? I had rather see you dead than to see you as you now are. You are a
disgrace to your dead mother." She tore from my fingers my mother's wedding
ring and her silver thimble. "Go away!" she exclaimed, "and never come to my
house, again." Her reproaches fell so hot and heavy, that they left me no
chance to answer. Bitter tears, such as the eyes never shed but once, were my
only answer. I rose from my seat, but fell back again, sobbing. She did
not speak to me; but the tears were running down her furrowed cheeks, and
they scorched me like fire. She had always been so kind to me! So kind! How
I longed to throw myself at her feet, and tell her all the truth! But she
had ordered me to go, and never to come there again. After a few minutes,
I mustered strength, and started to obey her. With what feelings did I
now close that little gate, which I used to open with such an eager hand in
my childhood! It closed upon me with a sound I never heard before.
Where could I go? I was afraid to return to my master's. I walked
on recklessly, not caring where I went, or what would become of me. When I
had gone four or five miles, fatigue compelled me to stop. I sat down on
the stump of an old tree. The stars were shining through the boughs above
me. How they mocked me, with their bright, calm light! The hours passed by,
and as I sat there alone a chilliness and deadly sickness came over me. I
sank on the ground. My mind was full of horrid thoughts. I prayed to die;
but the prayer was not answered. At last, with great effort I roused
myself, and walked some distance further, to the house of a woman who had
been a friend of my mother. When I told her why I was there, she spoke
soothingly to me; but I could not be comforted. I thought I could bear my
shame if I could only be reconciled to my grandmother. I longed to open my
heart to her. I thought if she could know the real state of the case, and all
I had been bearing for years, she would perhaps judge me less harshly. My
friend advised me to send for her. I did so; but days of agonizing suspense
passed before she came. Had she utterly forsaken me? No. She came at last. I
knelt before her, and told her the things that had poisoned my life; how long
I had been persecuted; that I saw no way of escape; and in an hour
of extremity I had become desperate. She listened in silence. I told her
I would bear any thing and do any thing, if in time I had hopes of
obtaining her forgiveness. I begged of her to pity me, for my dead mother's
sake. And she did pity me. She did not say, "I forgive you," but she looked
at me lovingly, with her eyes full of tears. She laid her old hand gently on
my head, and murmured, "Poor child! Poor child!"
XI. The New Tie To Life.
I returned to my good grandmother's house. She had an interview with
Mr. Sands. When she asked him why he could not have left her one
ewe lamb,—whether there were not plenty of slaves who did not care
about character,—he made no answer, but he spoke kind and encouraging words.
He promised to care for my child, and to buy me, be the conditions what
I had not seen Dr. Flint for five days. I had never seen him since I
made the avowal to him. He talked of the disgrace I had brought on myself;
how I had sinned against my master, and mortified my old grandmother.
He intimated that if I had accepted his proposals, he, as a physician,
could have saved me from exposure. He even condescended to pity me. Could he
have offered wormwood more bitter? He, whose persecutions had been the cause
of my sin!
"Linda," said he, "though you have been criminal towards me, I feel
for you, and I can pardon you if you obey my wishes. Tell me whether the
fellow you wanted to marry is the father of your child. If you deceive me,
you shall feel the fires of hell."
I did not feel as proud as I had done. My strongest weapon with him
was gone. I was lowered in my own estimation, and had resolved to bear
his abuse in silence. But when he spoke contemptuously of the lover who
had always treated me honorably; when I remembered that but for him I
might have been a virtuous, free, and happy wife, I lost my patience. "I
have sinned against God and myself," I replied; "but not against you."
He clinched his teeth, and muttered, "Curse you!" He came towards me,
with ill-suppressed rage, and exclaimed, "You obstinate girl! I could grind
your bones to powder! You have thrown yourself away on some worthless
rascal. You are weak-minded, and have been easily persuaded by those who
don't care a straw for you. The future will settle accounts between us. You
are blinded now; but hereafter you will be convinced that your master was
your best friend. My lenity towards you is a proof of it. I might have
punished you in many ways. I might have whipped till you fell dead under the
lash. But I wanted you to live; I would have bettered your condition.
Others cannot do it. You are my slave. Your mistress, disgusted by your
conduct, forbids you to return to the house; therefore I leave you here for
the present; but I shall see you often. I will call to-morrow."
He came with frowning brows, that showed a dissatisfied state of
mind. After asking about my health, he inquired whether my board was paid,
and who visited me. He then went on to say that he had neglected his duty;
that as a physician there were certain things that he ought to have explained
to me. Then followed talk such as would have made the most shameless blush.
He ordered me to stand up before him. I obeyed. "I command you," said he,
"to tell me whether the father of your child is white or black." I
hesitated. "Answer me this instant!" he exclaimed. I did answer. He sprang
upon me like a wolf, and grabbed my arm as if he would have broken it. "Do
you love him?" said he, in a hissing tone.
"I am thankful that I do not despise him," I replied.
He raised his hand to strike me; but it fell again. I don't know
what arrested the blow. He sat down, with lips tightly compressed. At last
he spoke. "I came here," said he, "to make you a friendly proposition;
but your ingratitude chafes me beyond endurance. You turn aside all my
good intentions towards you. I don't know what it is that keeps me from
killing you." Again he rose, as if he had a mind to strike me.
But he resumed. "On one condition I will forgive your insolence and
crime. You must henceforth have no communication of any kind with the father
of your child. You must not ask any thing from him, or receive any thing
from him. I will take care of you and your child. You had better promise this
at once, and not wait till you are deserted by him. This is the last act
of mercy I shall show towards you."
I said something about being unwilling to have my child supported by a
man who had cursed it and me also. He rejoined, that a woman who had sunk to
my level had no right to expect any thing else. He asked, for the last
time, would I accept his kindness? I answered that I would not.
"Very well," said he; "then take the consequences of your wayward
course. Never look to me for help. You are my slave, and shall always be my
slave. I will never sell you, that you may depend upon."
Hope died away in my heart as he closed the door after him. I
had calculated that in his rage he would sell me to a slave-trader; and I
knew the father of my child was on the watch to buy me.
About this time my uncle Phillip was expected to return from a voyage.
The day before his departure I had officiated as bridesmaid to a young
friend. My heart was then ill at ease, but my smiling countenance did not
betray it. Only a year had passed; but what fearful changes it had wrought!
My heart had grown gray in misery. Lives that flash in sunshine, and
lives that are born in tears, receive their hue from circumstances. None of
us know what a year may bring forth.
I felt no joy when they told me my uncle had come. He wanted to see
me, though he knew what had happened. I shrank from him at first; but at
last consented that he should come to my room. He received me as he always
had done. O, how my heart smote me when I felt his tears on my burning
cheeks! The words of my grandmother came to my mind,—"Perhaps your mother
and father are taken from the evil days to come." My disappointed heart
could now praise God that it was so. But why, thought I, did my relatives
ever cherish hopes for me? What was there to save me from the usual fate
of slave girls? Many more beautiful and more intelligent than I
had experienced a similar fate, or a far worse one. How could they hope that
I should escape?
My uncle's stay was short, and I was not sorry for it. I was too ill
in mind and body to enjoy my friends as I had done. For some weeks I
was unable to leave my bed. I could not have any doctor but my master, and
I would not have him sent for. At last, alarmed by my increasing
illness, they sent for him. I was very weak and nervous; and as soon as he
entered the room, I began to scream. They told him my state was very
critical. He had no wish to hasten me out of the world, and he
When my babe was born, they said it was premature. It weighed only
four pounds; but God let it live. I heard the doctor say I could not
survive till morning. I had often prayed for death; but now I did not want to
die, unless my child could die too. Many weeks passed before I was able to
leave my bed. I was a mere wreck of my former self. For a year there was
scarcely a day when I was free from chills and fever. My babe also was
sickly. His little limbs were often racked with pain. Dr. Flint continued his
visits, to look after my health; and he did not fail to remind me that my
child was an addition to his stock of slaves.
I felt too feeble to dispute with him, and listened to his remarks
in silence. His visits were less frequent; but his busy spirit could
not remain quiet. He employed my brother in his office; and he was made
the medium of frequent notes and messages to me. William was a bright lad,
and of much use to the doctor. He had learned to put up medicines, to
leech, cup, and bleed. He had taught himself to read and spell. I was proud
of my brother, and the old doctor suspected as much. One day, when I had not
seen him for several weeks, I heard his steps approaching the door. I
dreaded the encounter, and hid myself. He inquired for me, of course; but I
was nowhere to be found. He went to his office, and despatched William with
a note. The color mounted to my brother's face when he gave it to me; and
he said, "Don't you hate me, Linda, for bringing you these things?" I told
him I could not blame him; he was a slave, and obliged to obey his
master's will. The note ordered me to come to his office. I went. He demanded
to know where I was when he called. I told him I was at home. He flew into
a passion, and said he knew better. Then he launched out upon his
usual themes,—my crimes against him, and my ingratitude for his forbearance.
The laws were laid down to me anew, and I was dismissed. I felt humiliated
that my brother should stand by, and listen to such language as would
be addressed only to a slave. Poor boy! He was powerless to defend me; but
I saw the tears, which he vainly strove to keep back. The manifestation
of feeling irritated the doctor. William could do nothing to please him.
One morning he did not arrive at the office so early as usual; and
that circumstance afforded his master an opportunity to vent his spleen. He
was put in jail. The next day my brother sent a trader to the doctor, with
a request to be sold. His master was greatly incensed at what he called
his insolence. He said he had put him there, to reflect upon his bad
conduct, and he certainly was not giving any evidence of repentance. For two
days he harassed himself to find somebody to do his office work; but every
thing went wrong without William. He was released, and ordered to take his
old stand, with many threats, if he was not careful about his future
As the months passed on, my boy improved in health. When he was a year
old, they called him beautiful. The little vine was taking deep root in
my existence, though its clinging fondness excited a mixture of love and
pain. When I was most sorely oppressed I found a solace in his smiles. I
loved to watch his infant slumbers; but always there was a dark cloud over
my enjoyment. I could never forget that he was a slave. Sometimes I
wished that he might die in infancy. God tried me. My darling became very
ill. The bright eyes grew dull, and the little feet and hands were so icy
cold that I thought death had already touched them. I had prayed for his
death, but never so earnestly as I now prayed for his life; and my prayer was
heard. Alas, what mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her
dying child to life! Death is better than slavery. It was a sad thought that
I had no name to give my child. His father caressed him and treated
him kindly, whenever he had a chance to see him. He was not unwilling that
he should bear his name; but he had no legal claim to it; and if I
had bestowed it upon him, my master would have regarded it as a new crime,
a new piece of insolence, and would, perhaps, revenge it on the boy. O,
the serpent of Slavery has many and poisonous fangs!
XII. Fear Of Insurrection.
Not far from this time Nat Turner's insurrection broke out; and the
news threw our town into great commotion. Strange that they should be
alarmed, when their slaves were so "contented and happy"! But so it
It was always the custom to have a muster every year. On that
occasion every white man shouldered his musket. The citizens and the
so-called country gentlemen wore military uniforms. The poor whites took
their places in the ranks in every-day dress, some without shoes, some
without hats. This grand occasion had already passed; and when the slaves
were told there was to be another muster, they were surprised and rejoiced.
Poor creatures! They thought it was going to be a holiday. I was informed of
the true state of affairs, and imparted it to the few I could trust. Most
gladly would I have proclaimed it to every slave; but I dared not. All could
not be relied on. Mighty is the power of the torturing lash.
By sunrise, people were pouring in from every quarter within twenty
miles of the town. I knew the houses were to be searched; and I expected it
would be done by country bullies and the poor whites. I knew nothing annoyed
them so much as to see colored people living in comfort and respectability;
so I made arrangements for them with especial care. I arranged every thing in
my grandmother's house as neatly as possible. I put white quilts on the
beds, and decorated some of the rooms with flowers. When all was arranged, I
sat down at the window to watch. Far as my eye could reach, it rested on
a motley crowd of soldiers. Drums and fifes were discoursing martial
music. The men were divided into companies of sixteen, each headed by a
captain. Orders were given, and the wild scouts rushed in every direction,
wherever a colored face was to be found.
It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of
their own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little
brief authority, and show their subserviency to the slaveholders; not
reflecting that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept
themselves in poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation. Those who never
witnessed such scenes can hardly believe what I know was inflicted at this
time on innocent men, women, and children, against whom there was not the
slightest ground for suspicion. Colored people and slaves who lived in remote
parts of the town suffered in an especial manner. In some cases the
searchers scattered powder and shot among their clothes, and then sent other
parties to find them, and bring them forward as proof that they were
plotting insurrection. Every where men, women, and children were whipped till
the blood stood in puddles at their feet. Some received five hundred
lashes; others were tied hands and feet, and tortured with a bucking paddle,
which blisters the skin terribly. The dwellings of the colored people,
unless they happened to be protected by some influential white person, who
was nigh at hand, were robbed of clothing and every thing else the
marauders thought worth carrying away. All day long these unfeeling wretches
went round, like a troop of demons, terrifying and tormenting the helpless.
At night, they formed themselves into patrol bands, and went wherever
they chose among the colored people, acting out their brutal will. Many
women hid themselves in woods and swamps, to keep out of their way. If any of
the husbands or fathers told of these outrages, they were tied up to the
public whipping post, and cruelly scourged for telling lies about white men.
The consternation was universal. No two people that had the slightest tinge
of color in their faces dared to be seen talking together.
I entertained no positive fears about our household, because we were in
the midst of white families who would protect us. We were ready to receive
the soldiers whenever they came. It was not long before we heard the tramp
of feet and the sound of voices. The door was rudely pushed open; and in
they tumbled, like a pack of hungry wolves. They snatched at every thing
within their reach. Every box, trunk, closet, and corner underwent a
thorough examination. A box in one of the drawers containing some silver
change was eagerly pounced upon. When I stepped forward to take it from them,
one of the soldiers turned and said angrily, "What d'ye foller us fur? D'ye
s'pose white folks is come to steal?"
I replied, "You have come to search; but you have searched that box, and
I will take it, if you please."
At that moment I saw a white gentleman who was friendly to us; and I
called to him, and asked him to have the goodness to come in and stay till
the search was over. He readily complied. His entrance into the house
brought in the captain of the company, whose business it was to guard the
outside of the house, and see that none of the inmates left it. This officer
was Mr. Litch, the wealthy slaveholder whom I mentioned, in the account
of neighboring planters, as being notorious for his cruelty. He felt
above soiling his hands with the search. He merely gave orders; and, if a bit
of writing was discovered, it was carried to him by his ignorant
followers, who were unable to read.
My grandmother had a large trunk of bedding and table cloths. When that
was opened, there was a great shout of surprise; and one exclaimed,
"Where'd the damned niggers git all dis sheet an' table clarf?"
My grandmother, emboldened by the presence of our white protector
said, "You may be sure we didn't pilfer 'em from your houses."
"Look here, mammy," said a grim-looking fellow without any coat, "you
seem to feel mighty gran' 'cause you got all them 'ere fixens. White
folks oughter have 'em all."
His remarks were interrupted by a chorus of voices shouting, "We's got
'em! We's got 'em! Dis 'ere yaller gal's got letters!"
There was a general rush for the supposed letter, which, upon
examination, proved to be some verses written to me by a friend. In packing
away my things, I had overlooked them. When their captain informed them of
their contents, they seemed much disappointed. He inquired of me who wrote
them. I told him it was one of my friends. "Can you read them?" he asked.
When I told him I could, he swore, and raved, and tore the paper into bits.
"Bring me all your letters!" said he, in commanding tone. I told him I had
none. "Don't be afraid," he continued, in an insinuating way. "Bring them all
to me. Nobody shall do you any harm." Seeing I did not move to obey him,
his pleasant tone changed to oaths and threats. "Who writes to you? half
free niggers?" inquired he. I replied, "O, no; most of my letters are from
white people. Some request me to burn them after they are read, and some
I destroy without reading."
An exclamation of surprise from some of the company put a stop to
our conversation. Some silver spoons which ornamented an old-fashioned
buffet had just been discovered. My grandmother was in the habit of
preserving fruit for many ladies in the town, and of preparing suppers for
parties; consequently she had many jars of preserves. The closet that
contained these was next invaded, and the contents tasted. One of them, who
was helping himself freely, tapped his neighbor on the shoulder, and said,
"Wal done! Don't wonder de niggers want to kill all de white folks, when
dey live on 'sarves" [meaning preserves]. I stretched out my hand to take
the jar, saying, "You were not sent here to search for sweetmeats."
"And what were we sent for?" said the captain, bristling up to me.
I evaded the question.
The search of the house was completed, and nothing found to condemn
us. They next proceeded to the garden, and knocked about every bush and
vine, with no better success. The captain called his men together, and, after
a short consultation, the order to march was given. As they passed out of
the gate, the captain turned back, and pronounced a malediction on the
house. He said it ought to be burned to the ground, and each of its
inmates receive thirty-nine lashes. We came out of this affair very
fortunately; not losing any thing except some wearing apparel.
Towards evening the turbulence increased. The soldiers, stimulated
by drink, committed still greater cruelties. Shrieks and shouts
continually rent the air. Not daring to go to the door, I peeped under the
window curtain. I saw a mob dragging along a number of colored people, each
white man, with his musket upraised, threatening instant death if they did
not stop their shrieks. Among the prisoners was a respectable old
colored minister. They had found a few parcels of shot in his house, which
his wife had for years used to balance her scales. For this they were going
to shoot him on Court House Green. What a spectacle was that for a
civilized country! A rabble, staggering under intoxication, assuming to be
the administrators of justice!
The better class of the community exerted their influence to save
the innocent, persecuted people; and in several instances they succeeded,
by keeping them shut up in jail till the excitement abated. At last the
white citizens found that their own property was not safe from the lawless
rabble they had summoned to protect them. They rallied the drunken swarm,
drove them back into the country, and set a guard over the town.
The next day, the town patrols were commissioned to search colored
people that lived out of the city; and the most shocking outrages were
committed with perfect impunity. Every day for a fortnight, if I looked out,
I saw horsemen with some poor panting negro tied to their saddles, and
compelled by the lash to keep up with their speed, till they arrived at the
jail yard. Those who had been whipped too unmercifully to walk were washed
with brine, tossed into a cart, and carried to jail. One black man, who had
not fortitude to endure scourging, promised to give information about
the conspiracy. But it turned out that he knew nothing at all. He had not
even heard the name of Nat Turner. The poor fellow had, however, made up
a story, which augmented his own sufferings and those of the colored
The day patrol continued for some weeks, and at sundown a night guard
was substituted. Nothing at all was proved against the colored people, bond
or free. The wrath of the slaveholders was somewhat appeased by the capture
of Nat Turner. The imprisoned were released. The slaves were sent to
their masters, and the free were permitted to return to their ravaged
homes. Visiting was strictly forbidden on the plantations. The slaves begged
the privilege of again meeting at their little church in the woods, with
their burying ground around it. It was built by the colored people, and they
had no higher happiness than to meet there and sing hymns together, and
pour out their hearts in spontaneous prayer. Their request was denied, and
the church was demolished. They were permitted to attend the white churches,
a certain portion of the galleries being appropriated to their use.
There, when everybody else had partaken of the communion, and the
benediction had been pronounced, the minister said, "Come down, now, my
colored friends." They obeyed the summons, and partook of the bread and wine,
in commemoration of the meek and lowly Jesus, who said, "God is your
Father, and all ye are brethren."
XIII. The Church And Slavery.
After the alarm caused by Nat Turner's insurrection had subsided,
the slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give
the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering
their masters. The Episcopal clergyman offered to hold a separate service
on Sundays for their benefit. His colored members were very few, and also
very respectable—a fact which I presume had some weight with him.
The difficulty was to decide on a suitable place for them to worship.
The Methodist and Baptist churches admitted them in the afternoon; but
their carpets and cushions were not so costly as those at the Episcopal
church. It was at last decided that they should meet at the house of a free
colored man, who was a member.
I was invited to attend, because I could read. Sunday evening came,
and, trusting to the cover of night, I ventured out. I rarely ventured out
by daylight, for I always went with fear, expecting at every turn to
encounter Dr. Flint, who was sure to turn me back, or order me to his office
to inquire where I got my bonnet, or some other article of dress. When
the Rev. Mr. Pike came, there were some twenty persons present. The
reverend gentleman knelt in prayer, then seated himself, and requested all
present, who could read, to open their books, while he gave out the portions
he wished them to repeat or respond to.
His text was, "Servants, be obedient to them that are your
masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of
your heart, as unto Christ."
Pious Mr. Pike brushed up his hair till it stood upright, and, in
deep, solemn tones, began: "Hearken, ye servants! Give strict heed unto my
words. You are rebellious sinners. Your hearts are filled with all manner of
evil. 'Tis the devil who tempts you. God is angry with you, and will
surely punish you, if you don't forsake your wicked ways. You that live in
town are eyeservants behind your master's back. Instead of serving your
masters faithfully, which is pleasing in the sight of your heavenly Master,
you are idle, and shirk your work. God sees you. You tell lies. God hears
you. Instead of being engaged in worshipping him, you are hidden away
somewhere, feasting on your master's substance; tossing coffee-grounds with
some wicked fortuneteller, or cutting cards with another old hag. Your
masters may not find you out, but God sees you, and will punish you. O,
the depravity of your hearts! When your master's work is done, are you
quietly together, thinking of the goodness of God to such sinful creatures?
No; you are quarrelling, and tying up little bags of roots to bury under
the doorsteps to poison each other with. God sees you. You men steal away
to every grog shop to sell your master's corn, that you may buy rum to
drink. God sees you. You sneak into the back streets, or among the bushes,
to pitch coppers. Although your masters may not find you out, God sees
you; and he will punish you. You must forsake your sinful ways, and be
faithful servants. Obey your old master and your young master—your old
mistress and your young mistress. If you disobey your earthly master, you
offend your heavenly Master. You must obey God's commandments. When you go
from here, don't stop at the corners of the streets to talk, but go directly
home, and let your master and mistress see that you have come."
The benediction was pronounced. We went home, highly amused at
brother Pike's gospel teaching, and we determined to hear him again. I went
the next Sabbath evening, and heard pretty much a repetition of the
last discourse. At the close of the meeting, Mr. Pike informed us that he
found it very inconvenient to meet at the friend's house, and he should be
glad to see us, every Sunday evening, at his own kitchen.
I went home with the feeling that I had heard the Reverend Mr. Pike for
the last time. Some of his members repaired to his house, and found that
the kitchen sported two tallow candles; the first time, I am sure, since
its present occupant owned it, for the servants never had any thing but
pine knots. It was so long before the reverend gentleman descended from
his comfortable parlor that the slaves left, and went to enjoy a
Methodist shout. They never seem so happy as when shouting and singing at
religious meetings. Many of them are sincere, and nearer to the gate of
heaven than sanctimonious Mr. Pike, and other long-faced Christians, who see
wounded Samaritans, and pass by on the other side.
The slaves generally compose their own songs and hymns; and they do
not trouble their heads much about the measure. They often sing the
Old Satan is one busy ole man; He rolls dem
blocks all in my way; But Jesus is my bosom
friend; He rolls dem blocks away.
If I had died when I was young, Den how my
stam'ring tongue would have sung; But I am ole, and now I
stand A narrow chance for to tread dat heavenly land.
I well remember one occasion when I attended a Methodist class meeting.
I went with a burdened spirit, and happened to sit next a poor,
bereaved mother, whose heart was still heavier than mine. The class leader
was the town constable—a man who bought and sold slaves, who whipped his
brethren and sisters of the church at the public whipping post, in jail or
out of jail. He was ready to perform that Christian office any where for
fifty cents. This white-faced, black-hearted brother came near us, and said
to the stricken woman, "Sister, can't you tell us how the Lord deals with
your soul? Do you love him as you did formerly?"
She rose to her feet, and said, in piteous tones, "My Lord and Master,
help me! My load is more than I can bear. God has hid himself from me, and I
am left in darkness and misery." Then, striking her breast, she continued,
"I can't tell you what is in here! They've got all my children. Last week
they took the last one. God only knows where they've sold her. They let me
have her sixteen years, and then—O! O! Pray for her brothers and sisters!
I've got nothing to live for now. God make my time short!"
She sat down, quivering in every limb. I saw that constable class
leader become crimson in the face with suppressed laughter, while he held up
his handkerchief, that those who were weeping for the poor woman's
calamity might not see his merriment. Then, with assumed gravity, he said to
the bereaved mother, "Sister, pray to the Lord that every dispensation of
his divine will may be sanctified to the good of your poor needy soul!"
The congregation struck up a hymn, and sung as though they were as free
as the birds that warbled round us,—
Ole Satan thought he had a mighty aim; He
missed my soul, and caught my sins. Cry Amen, cry Amen, cry Amen
He took my sins upon his back; Went muttering
and grumbling down to hell. Cry Amen, cry Amen, cry Amen to
Ole Satan's church is here below. Up to God's
free church I hope to go. Cry Amen, cry Amen, cry Amen to
Precious are such moments to the poor slaves. If you were to hear them
at such times, you might think they were happy. But can that hour of
singing and shouting sustain them through the dreary week, toiling without
wages, under constant dread of the lash?
The Episcopal clergyman, who, ever since my earliest recollection, had
been a sort of god among the slaveholders, concluded, as his family was
large, that he must go where money was more abundant. A very different
clergyman took his place. The change was very agreeable to the colored
people, who said, "God has sent us a good man this time." They loved him, and
their children followed him for a smile or a kind word. Even the
slaveholders felt his influence. He brought to the rectory five slaves. His
wife taught them to read and write, and to be useful to her and themselves.
As soon as he was settled, he turned his attention to the needy slaves around
him. He urged upon his parishioners the duty of having a meeting expressly
for them every Sunday, with a sermon adapted to their comprehension. After
much argument and importunity, it was finally agreed that they might occupy
the gallery of the church on Sunday evenings. Many colored people,
hitherto unaccustomed to attend church, now gladly went to hear the gospel
preached. The sermons were simple, and they understood them. Moreover, it was
the first time they had ever been addressed as human beings. It was not
long before his white parishioners began to be dissatisfied. He was accused
of preaching better sermons to the negroes than he did to them. He
honestly confessed that he bestowed more pains upon those sermons than upon
any others; for the slaves were reared in such ignorance that it was
a difficult task to adapt himself to their comprehension. Dissensions
arose in the parish. Some wanted he should preach to them in the evening, and
to the slaves in the afternoon. In the midst of these disputings his
wife died, after a very short illness. Her slaves gathered round her dying
bed in great sorrow. She said, "I have tried to do you good and promote
your happiness; and if I have failed, it has not been for want of interest
in your welfare. Do not weep for me; but prepare for the new duties that
lie before you. I leave you all free. May we meet in a better world."
Her liberated slaves were sent away, with funds to establish them
comfortably. The colored people will long bless the memory of that truly
Christian woman. Soon after her death her husband preached his farewell
sermon, and many tears were shed at his departure.
Several years after, he passed through our town and preached to his
former congregation. In his afternoon sermon he addressed the colored people.
"My friends," said he, "it affords me great happiness to have an opportunity
of speaking to you again. For two years I have been striving to do
something for the colored people of my own parish; but nothing is yet
accomplished. I have not even preached a sermon to them. Try to live
according to the word of God, my friends. Your skin is darker than mine; but
God judges men by their hearts, not by the color of their skins." This was
strange doctrine from a southern pulpit. It was very offensive to
slaveholders. They said he and his wife had made fools of their slaves, and
that he preached like a fool to the negroes.
I knew an old black man, whose piety and childlike trust in God
were beautiful to witness. At fifty-three years old he joined the
Baptist church. He had a most earnest desire to learn to read. He thought he
should know how to serve God better if he could only read the Bible. He came
to me, and begged me to teach him. He said he could not pay me, for he had
no money; but he would bring me nice fruit when the season for it came.
I asked him if he didn't know it was contrary to law; and that slaves
were whipped and imprisoned for teaching each other to read. This brought
the tears into his eyes. "Don't be troubled, uncle Fred," said I. "I have
no thoughts of refusing to teach you. I only told you of the law, that
you might know the danger, and be on your guard." He thought he could plan
to come three times a week without its being suspected. I selected a
quiet nook, where no intruder was likely to penetrate, and there I taught him
his A, B, C. Considering his age, his progress was astonishing. As soon as
he could spell in two syllables he wanted to spell out words in the Bible.
The happy smile that illuminated his face put joy into my heart. After
spelling out a few words, he paused, and said, "Honey, it 'pears when I can
read dis good book I shall be nearer to God. White man is got all de sense.
He can larn easy. It ain't easy for ole black man like me. I only wants to
read dis book, dat I may know how to live; den I hab no fear 'bout
I tried to encourage him by speaking of the rapid progress he had
made. "Hab patience, child," he replied. "I larns slow."
I had no need of patience. His gratitude, and the happiness imparted,
were more than a recompense for all my trouble.
At the end of six months he had read through the New Testament, and
could find any text in it. One day, when he had recited unusually well, I
said, "Uncle Fred, how do you manage to get your lessons so well?"
"Lord bress you, chile," he replied. "You nebber gibs me a lesson dat
I don't pray to God to help me to understan' what I spells and what I
reads. And he does help me, chile. Bress his holy name!"
There are thousands, who, like good uncle Fred, are thirsting for the
water of life; but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it. They
send the Bible to heathen abroad, and neglect the heathen at home. I am
glad that missionaries go out to the dark corners of the earth; but I ask
them not to overlook the dark corners at home. Talk to American slaveholders
as you talk to savages in Africa. Tell them it was wrong to traffic in
men. Tell them it is sinful to sell their own children, and atrocious to
violate their own daughters. Tell them that all men are brethren, and that
man has no right to shut out the light of knowledge from his brother. Tell
them they are answerable to God for sealing up the Fountain of Life from
souls that are thirsting for it.
There are men who would gladly undertake such missionary work as this;
but, alas! their number is small. They are hated by the south, and would
be driven from its soil, or dragged to prison to die, as others have
been before them. The field is ripe for the harvest, and awaits the
reapers. Perhaps the great grandchildren of uncle Fred may have freely
imparted to them the divine treasures, which he sought by stealth, at the
risk of the prison and the scourge.
Are doctors of divinity blind, or are they hypocrites? I suppose some
are the one, and some the other; but I think if they felt the interest in
the poor and the lowly, that they ought to feel, they would not be so
easily blinded. A clergyman who goes to the south, for the first time, has
usually some feeling, however vague, that slavery is wrong. The
slaveholder suspects this, and plays his game accordingly. He makes himself
as agreeable as possible; talks on theology, and other kindred topics.
The reverend gentleman is asked to invoke a blessing on a table loaded
with luxuries. After dinner he walks round the premises, and sees the
beautiful groves and flowering vines, and the comfortable huts of favored
household slaves. The southerner invites him to talk with those slaves. He
asks them if they want to be free, and they say, "O, no, massa." This is
sufficient to satisfy him. He comes home to publish a "South Side View of
Slavery," and to complain of the exaggerations of abolitionists. He assures
people that he has been to the south, and seen slavery for himself; that it
is a beautiful "patriarchal institution;" that the slaves don't want
their freedom; that they have hallelujah meetings and other religious
What does he know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn
till dark on the plantations? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn
from their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral
filth? of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear
human flesh? of men screwed into cotton gins to die? The slaveholder showed
him none of these things, and the slaves dared not tell of them if he had
There is a great difference between Christianity and religion at the
south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury
of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called
religious. If a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church
dismiss him, if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not
hinder his continuing to be their good shepherd.
When I was told that Dr. Flint had joined the Episcopal church, I was
much surprised. I supposed that religion had a purifying effect on the
character of men; but the worst persecutions I endured from him were after he
was a communicant. The conversation of the doctor, the day after he had
been confirmed, certainly gave me no indication that he had "renounced
the devil and all his works." In answer to some of his usual talk, I
reminded him that he had just joined the church. "Yes, Linda," said he. "It
was proper for me to do so. I am getting in years, and my position in
society requires it, and it puts an end to all the damned slang. You would do
well to join the church, too, Linda."
"There are sinners enough in it already," rejoined I. "If I could
be allowed to live like a Christian, I should be glad."
"You can do what I require; and if you are faithful to me, you will be
as virtuous as my wife," he replied.
I answered that the Bible didn't say so.
His voice became hoarse with rage. "How dare you preach to me about
your infernal Bible!" he exclaimed. "What right have you, who are my negro,
to talk to me about what you would like and what you wouldn't like? I am
your master, and you shall obey me."
No wonder the slaves sing,—
Ole Satan's church is here below; Up to God's
free church I hope to go.
XIV. Another Link To Life.
I had not returned to my master's house since the birth of my child.
The old man raved to have me thus removed from his immediate power; but
his wife vowed, by all that was good and great, she would kill me if I
came back; and he did not doubt her word. Sometimes he would stay away for
a season. Then he would come and renew the old threadbare discourse about
his forbearance and my ingratitude. He labored, most unnecessarily, to
convince me that I had lowered myself. The venomous old reprobate had no need
of descanting on that theme. I felt humiliated enough. My unconscious babe
was the ever-present witness of my shame. I listened with silent contempt
when he talked about my having forfeited his good opinion; but I shed
bitter tears that I was no longer worthy of being respected by the good and
pure. Alas! slavery still held me in its poisonous grasp. There was no chance
for me to be respectable. There was no prospect of being able to lead a
Sometimes, when my master found that I still refused to accept what
he called his kind offers, he would threaten to sell my child. "Perhaps
that will humble you," said he.
Humble me! Was I not already in the dust? But his threat lacerated
my heart. I knew the law gave him power to fulfil it; for slaveholders
have been cunning enough to enact that "the child shall follow the condition
of the mother," not of the father, thus taking care that
licentiousness shall not interfere with avarice. This reflection made me
clasp my innocent babe all the more firmly to my heart. Horrid visions passed
through my mind when I thought of his liability to fall into the slave
trader's hands. I wept over him, and said, "O my child! perhaps they will
leave you in some cold cabin to die, and then throw you into a hole, as if
you were a dog."
When Dr. Flint learned that I was again to be a mother, he was
exasperated beyond measure. He rushed from the house, and returned with a
pair of shears. I had a fine head of hair; and he often railed about my pride
of arranging it nicely. He cut every hair close to my head, storming
and swearing all the time. I replied to some of his abuse, and he struck
me. Some months before, he had pitched me down stairs in a fit of passion;
and the injury I received was so serious that I was unable to turn myself
in bed for many days. He then said, "Linda, I swear by God I will never
raise my hand against you again;" but I knew that he would forget his
After he discovered my situation, he was like a restless spirit from
the pit. He came every day; and I was subjected to such insults as no pen
can describe. I would not describe them if I could; they were too low,
too revolting. I tried to keep them from my grandmother's knowledge as much
as I could. I knew she had enough to sadden her life, without having
my troubles to bear. When she saw the doctor treat me with violence, and
heard him utter oaths terrible enough to palsy a man's tongue, she could
not always hold her peace. It was natural and motherlike that she should try
to defend me; but it only made matters worse.
When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than
it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far
more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they
have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own.
Dr. Flint had sworn that he would make me suffer, to my last day, for
this new crime against him, as he called it; and as long as he had me in
his power he kept his word. On the fourth day after the birth of my babe,
he entered my room suddenly, and commanded me to rise and bring my baby
to him. The nurse who took care of me had gone out of the room to prepare
some nourishment, and I was alone. There was no alternative. I rose, took up
my babe, and crossed the room to where he sat. "Now stand there," said
he, "till I tell you to go back!" My child bore a strong resemblance to
her father, and to the deceased Mrs. Sands, her grandmother. He noticed
this; and while I stood before him, trembling with weakness, he heaped upon
me and my little one every vile epithet he could think of. Even
the grandmother in her grave did not escape his curses. In the midst of
his vituperations I fainted at his feet. This recalled him to his senses.
He took the baby from my arms, laid it on the bed, dashed cold water in
my face, took me up, and shook me violently, to restore my
consciousness before any one entered the room. Just then my grandmother came
in, and he hurried out of the house. I suffered in consequence of this
treatment; but I begged my friends to let me die, rather than send for the
doctor. There was nothing I dreaded so much as his presence. My life was
spared; and I was glad for the sake of my little ones. Had it not been for
these ties to life, I should have been glad to be released by death, though I
had lived only nineteen years.
Always it gave me a pang that my children had no lawful claim to a
name. Their father offered his; but, if I had wished to accept the offer, I
dared not while my master lived. Moreover, I knew it would not be accepted
at their baptism. A Christian name they were at least entitled to; and
we resolved to call my boy for our dear good Benjamin, who had gone far
away from us.
My grandmother belonged to the church; and she was very desirous of
having the children christened. I knew Dr. Flint would forbid it, and I did
not venture to attempt it. But chance favored me. He was called to visit
a patient out of town, and was obliged to be absent during Sunday. "Now
is the time," said my grandmother; "we will take the children to church,
and have them christened."
When I entered the church, recollections of my mother came over me, and
I felt subdued in spirit. There she had presented me for baptism, without
any reason to feel ashamed. She had been married, and had such legal rights
as slavery allows to a slave. The vows had at least been sacred to her,
and she had never violated them. I was glad she was not alive, to know
under what different circumstances her grandchildren were presented for
baptism. Why had my lot been so different from my mother's? Her master had
died when she was a child; and she remained with her mistress till she
married. She was never in the power of any master; and thus she escaped one
class of the evils that generally fall upon slaves.
When my baby was about to be christened, the former mistress of my
father stepped up to me, and proposed to give it her Christian name. To this
I added the surname of my father, who had himself no legal right to it;
for my grandfather on the paternal side was a white gentleman. What
tangled skeins are the genealogies of slavery! I loved my father; but it
mortified me to be obliged to bestow his name on my children.
When we left the church, my father's old mistress invited me to go
home with her. She clasped a gold chain round my baby's neck. I thanked her
for this kindness; but I did not like the emblem. I wanted no chain to
be fastened on my daughter, not even if its links were of gold. How
earnestly I prayed that she might never feel the weight of slavery's chain,
whose iron entereth into the soul!
XV. Continued Persecutions.
My children grew finely; and Dr. Flint would often say to me, with
an exulting smile. "These brats will bring me a handsome sum of money one
of these days."
I thought to myself that, God being my helper, they should never pass
into his hands. It seemed to me I would rather see them killed than have
them given up to his power. The money for the freedom of myself and my
children could be obtained; but I derived no advantage from that
circumstance. Dr. Flint loved money, but he loved power more. After much
discussion, my friends resolved on making another trial. There was a
slaveholder about to leave for Texas, and he was commissioned to buy me. He
was to begin with nine hundred dollars, and go up to twelve. My master
refused his offers. "Sir," said he, "she don't belong to me. She is my
daughter's property, and I have no right to sell her. I mistrust that you
come from her paramour. If so, you may tell him that he cannot buy her for
any money; neither can he buy her children."
The doctor came to see me the next day, and my heart beat quicker as
he entered. I never had seen the old man tread with so majestic a step.
He seated himself and looked at me with withering scorn. My children
had learned to be afraid of him. The little one would shut her eyes and
hide her face on my shoulder whenever she saw him; and Benny, who was now
nearly five years old, often inquired, "What makes that bad man come here so
many times? Does he want to hurt us?" I would clasp the dear boy in my
arms, trusting that he would be free before he was old enough to solve
the problem. And now, as the doctor sat there so grim and silent, the
child left his play and came and nestled up by me. At last my tormentor
spoke. "So you are left in disgust, are you?" said he. "It is no more than
I expected. You remember I told you years ago that you would be treated
so. So he is tired of you? Ha! ha! ha! The virtuous madam don't like to
hear about it, does she? Ha! ha! ha!" There was a sting in his calling
me virtuous madam. I no longer had the power of answering him as I
had formerly done. He continued: "So it seems you are trying to get up
another intrigue. Your new paramour came to me, and offered to buy you; but
you may be assured you will not succeed. You are mine; and you shall be mine
for life. There lives no human being that can take you out of slavery. I
would have done it; but you rejected my kind offer."
I told him I did not wish to get up any intrigue; that I had never seen
the man who offered to buy me.
"Do you tell me I lie?" exclaimed he, dragging me from my chair. "Will
you say again that you never saw that man?"
I answered, "I do say so."
He clinched my arm with a volley of oaths. Ben began to scream, and I
told him to go to his grandmother.
"Don't you stir a step, you little wretch!" said he. The child drew
nearer to me, and put his arms round me, as if he wanted to protect me. This
was too much for my enraged master. He caught him up and hurled him across
the room. I thought he was dead, and rushed towards him to take him up.
"Not yet!" exclaimed the doctor. "Let him lie there till he comes
"Let me go! Let me go!" I screamed, "or I will raise the whole house."
I struggled and got away; but he clinched me again. Somebody opened the
door, and he released me. I picked up my insensible child, and when I turned
my tormentor was gone. Anxiously, I bent over the little form, so pale
and still; and when the brown eyes at last opened, I don't know whether I
was very happy. All the doctor's former persecutions were renewed. He
came morning, noon, and night. No jealous lover ever watched a rival
more closely than he watched me and the unknown slaveholder, with whom
he accused me of wishing to get up an intrigue. When my grandmother was out
of the way he searched every room to find him.
In one of his visits, he happened to find a young girl, whom he had sold
to a trader a few days previous. His statement was, that he sold her
because she had been too familiar with the overseer. She had had a bitter
life with him, and was glad to be sold. She had no mother, and no near ties.
She had been torn from all her family years before. A few friends had entered
into bonds for her safety, if the trader would allow her to spend with them
the time that intervened between her sale and the gathering up of his
human stock. Such a favor was rarely granted. It saved the trader the expense
of board and jail fees, and though the amount was small, it was a
weighty consideration in a slavetrader's mind.
Dr. Flint always had an aversion to meeting slaves after he had sold
them. He ordered Rose out of the house; but he was no longer her master, and
she took no notice of him. For once the crushed Rose was the conqueror.
His gray eyes flashed angrily upon her; but that was the extent of his
power. "How came this girl here?" he exclaimed. "What right had you to allow
it, when you knew I had sold her?"
I answered, "This is my grandmother's house, and Rose came to see her.
I have no right to turn any body out of doors, that comes here for
He gave me the blow that would have fallen upon Rose if she had still
been his slave. My grandmother's attention had been attracted by loud
voices, and she entered in time to see a second blow dealt. She was not a
woman to let such an outrage, in her own house, go unrebuked. The doctor
undertook to explain that I had been insolent. Her indignant feelings rose
higher and higher, and finally boiled over in words. "Get out of my house!"
she exclaimed. "Go home, and take care of your wife and children, and you
will have enough to do, without watching my family."
He threw the birth of my children in her face, and accused her
of sanctioning the life I was leading. She told him I was living with her
by compulsion of his wife; that he needn't accuse her, for he was the one
to blame; he was the one who had caused all the trouble. She grew more
and more excited as she went on. "I tell you what, Dr. Flint," said she,
"you ain't got many more years to live, and you'd better be saying your
prayers. It will take 'em all, and more too, to wash the dirt off your
"Do you know whom you are talking to?" he exclaimed.
She replied, "Yes, I know very well who I am talking to."
He left the house in a great rage. I looked at my grandmother. Our
eyes met. Their angry expression had passed away, but she looked sorrowful
and weary—weary of incessant strife. I wondered that it did not lessen
her love for me; but if it did she never showed it. She was always kind,
always ready to sympathize with my troubles. There might have been peace
and contentment in that humble home if it had not been for the demon
The winter passed undisturbed by the doctor. The beautiful spring came;
and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive
also. My drooping hopes came to life again with the flowers. I was dreaming
of freedom again; more for my children's sake than my own. I planned and
I planned. Obstacles hit against plans. There seemed no way of
overcoming them; and yet I hoped.
Back came the wily doctor. I was not at home when he called. A friend
had invited me to a small party, and to gratify her I went. To my
great consternation, a messenger came in haste to say that Dr. Flint was at
my grandmother's, and insisted on seeing me. They did not tell him where
I was, or he would have come and raised a disturbance in my friend's
house. They sent me a dark wrapper, I threw it on and hurried home. My speed
did not save me; the doctor had gone away in anger. I dreaded the morning,
but I could not delay it; it came, warm and bright. At an early hour the
doctor came and asked me where I had been last night. I told him. He did
not believe me, and sent to my friend's house to ascertain the facts. He
came in the afternoon to assure me he was satisfied that I had spoken the
truth. He seemed to be in a facetious mood, and I expected some jeers were
coming. "I suppose you need some recreation," said he, "but I am surprised at
your being there, among those negroes. It was not the place for you. Are
you allowed to visit such people?"
I understood this covert fling at the white gentleman who was my
friend; but I merely replied, "I went to visit my friends, and any company
they keep is good enough for me."
He went on to say, "I have seen very little of you of late, but my
interest in you is unchanged. When I said I would have no more mercy on you I
was rash. I recall my words. Linda, you desire freedom for yourself and
your children, and you can obtain it only through me. If you agree to what I
am about to propose, you and they shall be free. There must be
no communication of any kind between you and their father. I will procure
a cottage, where you and the children can live together. Your labor shall
be light, such as sewing for my family. Think what is offered you,
Linda—a home and freedom! Let the past be forgotten. If I have been harsh
with you at times, your willfulness drove me to it. You know I exact
obedience from my own children, and I consider you as yet a child."
He paused for an answer, but I remained silent. "Why don't you
speak?" said he. "What more do you wait for?"
"Then you accept my offer?"
His anger was ready to break loose; but he succeeded in curbing it,
and replied, "You have answered without thought. But I must let you know
there are two sides to my proposition; if you reject the bright side, you
will be obliged to take the dark one. You must either accept my offer, or you
and your children shall be sent to your young master's plantation, there
to remain till your young mistress is married; and your children shall
fare like the rest of the negro children. I give you a week to consider
He was shrewd; but I knew he was not to be trusted. I told him I was
ready to give my answer now.
"I will not receive it now," he replied. "You act too much from
impulse. Remember that you and your children can be free a week from to-day
if you choose."
On what a monstrous chance hung the destiny of my children! I knew that
my master's offer was a snare, and that if I entered it escape would
be impossible. As for his promise, I knew him so well that I was sure if
he gave me free papers, they would be so managed as to have no legal
value. The alternative was inevitable. I resolved to go to the plantation.
But then I thought how completely I should be in his power, and the
prospect was appalling. Even if I should kneel before him, and implore him to
spare me, for the sake of my children, I knew he would spurn me with his
foot, and my weakness would be his triumph.
Before the week expired, I heard that young Mr. Flint was about to
be married to a lady of his own stamp. I foresaw the position I should
occupy in his establishment. I had once been sent to the plantation
for punishment, and fear of the son had induced the father to recall me
very soon. My mind was made up; I was resolved that I would foil my master
and save my children, or I would perish in the attempt. I kept my plans
to myself; I knew that friends would try to dissuade me from them, and I
would not wound their feelings by rejecting their advice.
On the decisive day the doctor came, and said he hoped I had made a
"I am ready to go to the plantation, sir," I replied.
"Have you thought how important your decision is to your children?"
I told him I had.
"Very well. Go to the plantation, and my curse go with you," he
replied. "Your boy shall be put to work, and he shall soon be sold; and your
girl shall be raised for the purpose of selling well. Go your own ways!" He
left the room with curses, not to be repeated.
As I stood rooted to the spot, my grandmother came and said, "Linda,
child, what did you tell him?"
I answered that I was going to the plantation.
"Must you go?" said she. "Can't something be done to stop it?"
I told her it was useless to try; but she begged me not to give up.
She said she would go to the doctor, and remind him how long and how
faithfully she had served in the family, and how she had taken her own baby
from her breast to nourish his wife. She would tell him I had been out of the
family so long they would not miss me; that she would pay them for my time,
and the money would procure a woman who had more strength for the
situation than I had. I begged her not to go; but she persisted in saying,
"He will listen to me, Linda." She went, and was treated as I expected. He
coolly listened to what she said, but denied her request. He told her that
what he did was for my good, that my feelings were entirely above my
situation, and that on the plantation I would receive treatment that was
suitable to my behavior.
My grandmother was much cast down. I had my secret hopes; but I must
fight my battle alone. I had a woman's pride, and a mother's love for
my children; and I resolved that out of the darkness of this hour a
brighter dawn should rise for them. My master had power and law on his side;
I had a determined will. There is might in each.
XVI. Scenes At The Plantation.
Early the next morning I left my grandmother's with my youngest child.
My boy was ill, and I left him behind. I had many sad thoughts as the
old wagon jolted on. Hitherto, I had suffered alone; now, my little one was
to be treated as a slave. As we drew near the great house, I thought of
the time when I was formerly sent there out of revenge. I wondered for
what purpose I was now sent. I could not tell. I resolved to obey orders so
far as duty required; but within myself, I determined to make my stay as
short as possible. Mr. Flint was waiting to receive us, and told me to follow
him up stairs to receive orders for the day. My little Ellen was left below
in the kitchen. It was a change for her, who had always been so
carefully tended. My young master said she might amuse herself in the yard.
This was kind of him, since the child was hateful to his sight. My task was
to fit up the house for the reception of the bride. In the midst of
sheets, tablecloths, towels, drapery, and carpeting, my head was as busy
planning, as were my fingers with the needle. At noon I was allowed to go to
Ellen. She had sobbed herself to sleep. I heard Mr. Flint say to a neighbor,
"I've got her down here, and I'll soon take the town notions out of her head.
My father is partly to blame for her nonsense. He ought to have broke her
in long ago." The remark was made within my hearing, and it would have
been quite as manly to have made it to my face. He had said things to my
face which might, or might not, have surprised his neighbor if he had known
of them. He was "a chip of the old block."
I resolved to give him no cause to accuse me of being too much of a
lady, so far as work was concerned. I worked day and night, with
wretchedness before me. When I lay down beside my child, I felt how much
easier it would be to see her die than to see her master beat her about, as I
daily saw him beat other little ones. The spirit of the mothers was so
crushed by the lash, that they stood by, without courage to remonstrate. How
much more must I suffer, before I should be "broke in" to that degree?
I wished to appear as contented as possible. Sometimes I had an
opportunity to send a few lines home; and this brought up recollections that
made it difficult, for a time, to seem calm and indifferent to my
lot. Notwithstanding my efforts, I saw that Mr. Flint regarded me with
a suspicious eye. Ellen broke down under the trials of her new
life. Separated from me, with no one to look after her, she wandered about,
and in a few days cried herself sick. One day, she sat under the window where
I was at work, crying that weary cry which makes a mother's heart bleed.
I was obliged to steel myself to bear it. After a while it ceased. I
looked out, and she was gone. As it was near noon, I ventured to go down in
search of her. The great house was raised two feet above the ground. I
looked under it, and saw her about midway, fast asleep. I crept under and
drew her out. As I held her in my arms, I thought how well it would be for
her if she never waked up; and I uttered my thought aloud. I was startled to
hear some one say, "Did you speak to me?" I looked up, and saw Mr.
Flint standing beside me. He said nothing further, but turned, frowning,
away. That night he sent Ellen a biscuit and a cup of sweetened milk.
This generosity surprised me. I learned afterwards, that in the afternoon he
had killed a large snake, which crept from under the house; and I supposed
that incident had prompted his unusual kindness.
The next morning the old cart was loaded with shingles for town. I
put Ellen into it, and sent her to her grandmother. Mr. Flint said I ought
to have asked his permission. I told him the child was sick, and
required attention which I had no time to give. He let it pass; for he was
aware that I had accomplished much work in a little time.
I had been three weeks on the plantation, when I planned a visit home.
It must be at night, after every body was in bed. I was six miles from
town, and the road was very dreary. I was to go with a young man, who, I
knew, often stole to town to see his mother. One night, when all was quiet,
we started. Fear gave speed to our steps, and we were not long in
performing the journey. I arrived at my grandmother's. Her bed room was on
the first floor, and the window was open, the weather being warm. I spoke to
her and she awoke. She let me in and closed the window, lest some late
passer-by should see me. A light was brought, and the whole household
gathered round me, some smiling and some crying. I went to look at my
children, and thanked God for their happy sleep. The tears fell as I leaned
over them. As I moved to leave, Benny stirred. I turned back, and whispered,
"Mother is here." After digging at his eyes with his little fist, they
opened, and he sat up in bed, looking at me curiously. Having satisfied
himself that it was I, he exclaimed, "O mother! you ain't dad, are you? They
didn't cut off your head at the plantation, did they?"
My time was up too soon, and my guide was waiting for me. I laid Benny
back in his bed, and dried his tears by a promise to come again soon. Rapidly
we retraced our steps back to the plantation. About half way we were met by
a company of four patrols. Luckily we heard their horse's hoofs before
they came in sight, and we had time to hide behind a large tree. They
passed, hallooing and shouting in a manner that indicated a recent carousal.
How thankful we were that they had not their dogs with them! We hastened
our footsteps, and when we arrived on the plantation we heard the sound of
the hand-mill. The slaves were grinding their corn. We were safely in the
house before the horn summoned them to their labor. I divided my little
parcel of food with my guide, knowing that he had lost the chance of grinding
his corn, and must toil all day in the field.
Mr. Flint often took an inspection of the house, to see that no one
was idle. The entire management of the work was trusted to me, because he
knew nothing about it; and rather than hire a superintendent he
contented himself with my arrangements. He had often urged upon his father
the necessity of having me at the plantation to take charge of his affairs,
and make clothes for the slaves; but the old man knew him too well to
consent to that arrangement.
When I had been working a month at the plantation, the great aunt of
Mr. Flint came to make him a visit. This was the good old lady who paid
fifty dollars for my grandmother, for the purpose of making her free, when
she stood on the auction block. My grandmother loved this old lady, whom we
all called Miss Fanny. She often came to take tea with us. On such
occasions the table was spread with a snow-white cloth, and the china cups
and silver spoons were taken from the old-fashioned buffet. There were hot
muffins, tea rusks, and delicious sweetmeats. My grandmother kept two cows,
and the fresh cream was Miss Fanny's delight. She invariably declared that it
was the best in town. The old ladies had cosey times together. They would
work and chat, and sometimes, while talking over old times, their
spectacles would get dim with tears, and would have to be taken off and
wiped. When Miss Fanny bade us good by, her bag was filled with grandmother's
best cakes, and she was urged to come again soon.
There had been a time when Dr. Flint's wife came to take tea with us,
and when her children were also sent to have a feast of "Aunt Marthy's"
nice cooking. But after I became an object of her jealousy and spite, she
was angry with grandmother for giving a shelter to me and my children.
She would not even speak to her in the street. This wounded my
grandmother's feelings, for she could not retain ill will against the woman
whom she had nourished with her milk when a babe. The doctor's wife would
gladly have prevented our intercourse with Miss Fanny if she could have done
it, but fortunately she was not dependent on the bounty of the Flints. She
had enough to be independent; and that is more than can ever be gained
from charity, however lavish it may be.
Miss Fanny was endeared to me by many recollections, and I was rejoiced
to see her at the plantation. The warmth of her large, loyal heart made
the house seem pleasanter while she was in it. She staid a week, and I had
many talks with her. She said her principal object in coming was to see how
I was treated, and whether any thing could be done for me. She
inquired whether she could help me in any way. I told her I believed not.
She condoled with me in her own peculiar way; saying she wished that I and
all my grandmother's family were at rest in our graves, for not until
then should she feel any peace about us. The good old soul did not dream that
I was planning to bestow peace upon her, with regard to myself and
my children; not by death, but by securing our freedom.
Again and again I had traversed those dreary twelve miles, to and from
the town; and all the way, I was meditating upon some means of escape
for myself and my children. My friends had made every effort that
ingenuity could devise to effect our purchase, but all their plans had
proved abortive. Dr. Flint was suspicious, and determined not to loosen his
grasp upon us. I could have made my escape alone; but it was more for my
helpless children than for myself that I longed for freedom. Though the boon
would have been precious to me, above all price, I would not have taken it at
the expense of leaving them in slavery. Every trial I endured, every
sacrifice I made for their sakes, drew them closer to my heart, and gave me
fresh courage to beat back the dark waves that rolled and rolled over me in
a seemingly endless night of storms.
The six weeks were nearly completed, when Mr. Flint's bride was expected
to take possession of her new home. The arrangements were all completed,
and Mr. Flint said I had done well. He expected to leave home on Saturday,
and return with his bride the following Wednesday. After receiving
various orders from him, I ventured to ask permission to spend Sunday in
town. It was granted; for which favor I was thankful. It was the first I had
ever asked of him, and I intended it should be the last. I needed more than
one night to accomplish the project I had in view; but the whole of
Sunday would give me an opportunity. I spent the Sabbath with my grandmother.
A calmer, more beautiful day never came down out of heaven. To me it was
a day of conflicting emotions. Perhaps it was the last day I should
ever spend under that dear, old sheltering roof! Perhaps these were the
last talks I should ever have with the faithful old friend of my whole
life! Perhaps it was the last time I and my children should be together!
Well, better so, I thought, than that they should be slaves. I knew the doom
that awaited my fair baby in slavery, and I determined to save her from it,
or perish in the attempt. I went to make this vow at the graves of my
poor parents, in the burying-ground of the slaves. "There the wicked cease
from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners
rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor; the servant is
free from his master." I knelt by the graves of my parents, and thanked God,
as I had often done before, that they had not lived to witness my trials,
or to mourn over my sins. I had received my mother's blessing when she
died; and in many an hour of tribulation I had seemed to hear her
voice, sometimes chiding me, sometimes whispering loving words into my
wounded heart. I have shed many and bitter tears, to think that when I am
gone from my children they cannot remember me with such entire satisfaction
as I remembered my mother.
The graveyard was in the woods, and twilight was coming on. Nothing
broke the death-like stillness except the occasional twitter of a bird. My
spirit was overawed by the solemnity of the scene. For more than ten years I
had frequented this spot, but never had it seemed to me so sacred as now.
A black stump, at the head of my mother's grave, was all that remained of
a tree my father had planted. His grave was marked by a small wooden
board, bearing his name, the letters of which were nearly obliterated. I
knelt down and kissed them, and poured forth a prayer to God for guidance
and support in the perilous step I was about to take. As I passed the wreck
of the old meeting house, where, before Nat Turner's time, the slaves had
been allowed to meet for worship, I seemed to hear my father's voice come
from it, bidding me not to tarry till I reached freedom or the grave. I
rushed on with renovated hopes. My trust in God had been strengthened by
that prayer among the graves.
My plan was to conceal myself at the house of a friend, and remain there
a few weeks till the search was over. My hope was that the doctor would
get discouraged, and, for fear of losing my value, and also of
subsequently finding my children among the missing, he would consent to sell
us; and I knew somebody would buy us. I had done all in my power to make my
children comfortable during the time I expected to be separated from them. I
was packing my things, when grandmother came into the room, and asked what
I was doing. "I am putting my things in order," I replied. I tried to
look and speak cheerfully; but her watchful eye detected something beneath
the surface. She drew me towards her, and asked me to sit down. She
looked earnestly at me, and said, "Linda, do you want to kill your
old grandmother? Do you mean to leave your little, helpless children? I am
old now, and cannot do for your babies as I once did for you."
I replied, that if I went away, perhaps their father would be able
to secure their freedom.
"Ah, my child," said she, "don't trust too much to him. Stand by your
own children, and suffer with them till death. Nobody respects a mother
who forsakes her children; and if you leave them, you will never have a
happy moment. If you go, you will make me miserable the short time I have
to live. You would be taken and brought back, and your sufferings would
be dreadful. Remember poor Benjamin. Do give it up, Linda. Try to bear
a little longer. Things may turn out better than we expect."
My courage failed me, in view of the sorrow I should bring on
that faithful, loving old heart. I promised that I would try longer, and that
I would take nothing out of her house without her knowledge.
Whenever the children climbed on my knee, or laid their heads on my
lap, she would say, "Poor little souls! what would you do without a mother?
She don't love you as I do." And she would hug them to her own bosom, as if
to reproach me for my want of affection; but she knew all the while that
I loved them better than my life. I slept with her that night, and it was
the last time. The memory of it haunted me for many a year.
On Monday I returned to the plantation, and busied myself with
preparations for the important day. Wednesday came. It was a beautiful day,
and the faces of the slaves were as bright as the sunshine. The poor
creatures were merry. They were expecting little presents from the bride, and
hoping for better times under her administration. I had no such hopes for
them. I knew that the young wives of slaveholders often thought their
authority and importance would be best established and maintained by cruelty;
and what I had heard of young Mrs. Flint gave me no reason to expect that her
rule over them would be less severe than that of the master and overseer.
Truly, the colored race are the most cheerful and forgiving people on the
face of the earth. That their masters sleep in safety is owing to
their superabundance of heart; and yet they look upon their sufferings with
less pity than they would bestow on those of a horse or a dog.
I stood at the door with others to receive the bridegroom and bride.
She was a handsome, delicate-looking girl, and her face flushed with emotion
at sight of her new home. I thought it likely that visions of a happy
future were rising before her. It made me sad; for I knew how soon clouds
would come over her sunshine. She examined every part of the house, and told
me she was delighted with the arrangements I had made. I was afraid old
Mrs. Flint had tried to prejudice her against me, and I did my best to
All passed off smoothly for me until dinner time arrived. I did not
mind the embarrassment of waiting on a dinner party, for the first time in
my life, half so much as I did the meeting with Dr. Flint and his wife,
who would be among the guests. It was a mystery to me why Mrs. Flint had
not made her appearance at the plantation during all the time I was putting
the house in order. I had not met her, face to face, for five years, and I
had no wish to see her now. She was a praying woman, and, doubtless,
considered my present position a special answer to her prayers. Nothing could
please her better than to see me humbled and trampled upon. I was just where
she would have me—in the power of a hard, unprincipled master. She did
not speak to me when she took her seat at table; but her satisfied,
triumphant smile, when I handed her plate, was more eloquent than words. The
old doctor was not so quiet in his demonstrations. He ordered me here
and there, and spoke with peculiar emphasis when he said "your mistress."
I was drilled like a disgraced soldier. When all was over, and the last
key turned, I sought my pillow, thankful that God had appointed a season
of rest for the weary.
The next day my new mistress began her housekeeping. I was not
exactly appointed maid of all work; but I was to do whatever I was told.
Monday evening came. It was always a busy time. On that night the slaves
received their weekly allowance of food. Three pounds of meat, a peck of
corn, and perhaps a dozen herring were allowed to each man. Women received a
pound and a half of meat, a peck of corn, and the same number of
herring. Children over twelve years old had half the allowance of the women.
The meat was cut and weighed by the foreman of the field hands, and piled
on planks before the meat house. Then the second foreman went behind
the building, and when the first foreman called out, "Who takes this piece
of meat?" he answered by calling somebody's name. This method was resorted
to as a means of preventing partiality in distributing the meat. The
young mistress came out to see how things were done on her plantation, and
she soon gave a specimen of her character. Among those in waiting for
their allowance was a very old slave, who had faithfully served the Flint
family through three generations. When he hobbled up to get his bit of meat,
the mistress said he was too old to have any allowance; that when niggers
were too old to work, they ought to be fed on grass. Poor old man! He
suffered much before he found rest in the grave.
My mistress and I got along very well together. At the end of a week,
old Mrs. Flint made us another visit, and was closeted a long time with
her daughter-in-law. I had my suspicions what was the subject of
the conference. The old doctor's wife had been informed that I could leave
the plantation on one condition, and she was very desirous to keep me there.
If she had trusted me, as I deserved to be trusted by her, she would have
had no fears of my accepting that condition. When she entered her carriage
to return home, she said to young Mrs. Flint, "Don't neglect to send for
them as quick as possible." My heart was on the watch all the time, and I
at once concluded that she spoke of my children. The doctor came the next
day, and as I entered the room to spread the tea table, I heard him say,
"Don't wait any longer. Send for them to-morrow." I saw through the plan.
They thought my children's being there would fetter me to the spot, and that
it was a good place to break us all in to abject submission to our lot
as slaves. After the doctor left, a gentleman called, who had
always manifested friendly feelings towards my grandmother and her family.
Mr. Flint carried him over the plantation to show him the results of
labor performed by men and women who were unpaid, miserably clothed, and
half famished. The cotton crop was all they thought of. It was duly admired,
and the gentleman returned with specimens to show his friends. I was ordered
to carry water to wash his hands. As I did so, he said, "Linda, how do
you like your new home?" I told him I liked it as well as I expected.
He replied, "They don't think you are contented, and tomorrow they are
going to bring your children to be with you. I am sorry for you, Linda. I
hope they will treat you kindly." I hurried from the room, unable to thank
him. My suspicions were correct. My children were to be brought to
the plantation to be "broke in."
To this day I feel grateful to the gentleman who gave me this
timely information. It nerved me to immediate action.
XVII. The Flight.
Mr. Flint was hard pushed for house servants, and rather than lose me
he had restrained his malice. I did my work faithfully, though not, of
course, with a willing mind. They were evidently afraid I should leave them.
Mr. Flint wished that I should sleep in the great house instead of
the servants' quarters. His wife agreed to the proposition, but said I
mustn't bring my bed into the house, because it would scatter feathers on
her carpet. I knew when I went there that they would never think of such
a thing as furnishing a bed of any kind for me and my little ones.
I therefore carried my own bed, and now I was forbidden to use it. I did as
I was ordered. But now that I was certain my children were to be put in
their power, in order to give them a stronger hold on me, I resolved to
leave them that night. I remembered the grief this step would bring upon my
dear old grandmother, and nothing less than the freedom of my children
would have induced me to disregard her advice. I went about my evening work
with trembling steps. Mr. Flint twice called from his chamber door to
inquire why the house was not locked up. I replied that I had not done my
work. "You have had time enough to do it," said he. "Take care how you
I shut all the windows, locked all the doors, and went up to the
third story, to wait till midnight. How long those hours seemed, and
how fervently I prayed that God would not forsake me in this hour of
utmost need! I was about to risk every thing on the throw of a die; and if
I failed, O what would become of me and my poor children? They would be
made to suffer for my fault.
At half past twelve I stole softly down stairs. I stopped on the
second floor, thinking I heard a noise. I felt my way down into the parlor,
and looked out of the window. The night was so intensely dark that I could
see nothing. I raised the window very softly and jumped out. Large drops
of rain were falling, and the darkness bewildered me. I dropped on my
knees, and breathed a short prayer to God for guidance and protection. I
groped my way to the road, and rushed towards the town with almost lightning
speed. I arrived at my grandmother's house, but dared not see her. She would
say, "Linda, you are killing me;" and I knew that would unnerve me. I
tapped softly at the window of a room, occupied by a woman, who had lived in
the house several years. I knew she was a faithful friend, and could be
trusted with my secret. I tapped several times before she heard me. At last
she raised the window, and I whispered, "Sally, I have run away. Let me
in, quick." She opened the door softly, and said in low tones, "For God's
sake, don't. Your grandmother is trying to buy you and de chillern. Mr. Sands
was here last week. He tole her he was going away on business, but he
wanted her to go ahead about buying you and de chillern, and he would help
her all he could. Don't run away, Linda. Your grandmother is all bowed down
wid trouble now."
I replied, "Sally, they are going to carry my children to the
plantation to-morrow; and they will never sell them to any body so long as
they have me in their power. Now, would you advise me to go back?"
"No, chile, no," answered she. "When dey finds you is gone, dey won't
want de plague ob de chillern; but where is you going to hide? Dey knows
ebery inch ob dis house."
I told her I had a hiding-place, and that was all it was best for her
to know. I asked her to go into my room as soon as it was light, and take
all my clothes out of my trunk, and pack them in hers; for I knew Mr. Flint
and the constable would be there early to search my room. I feared the sight
of my children would be too much for my full heart; but I could not go
into the uncertain future without one last look. I bent over the bed where
lay my little Benny and baby Ellen. Poor little ones! fatherless
and motherless! Memories of their father came over me. He wanted to be kind
to them; but they were not all to him, as they were to my womanly heart.
I knelt and prayed for the innocent little sleepers. I kissed them
lightly, and turned away.
As I was about to open the street door, Sally laid her hand on my
shoulder, and said, "Linda, is you gwine all alone? Let me call your
"No, Sally," I replied, "I want no one to be brought into trouble on
I went forth into the darkness and rain. I ran on till I came to the
house of the friend who was to conceal me.
Early the next morning Mr. Flint was at my grandmother's inquiring for
me. She told him she had not seen me, and supposed I was at the plantation.
He watched her face narrowly, and said, "Don't you know any thing about
her running off?" She assured him that she did not. He went on to say,
"Last night she ran off without the least provocation. We had treated her
very kindly. My wife liked her. She will soon be found and brought back. Are
her children with you?" When told that they were, he said, "I am very glad
to hear that. If they are here, she cannot be far off. If I find out that
any of my niggers have had any thing to do with this damned business, I'll
give 'em five hundred lashes." As he started to go to his father's, he
turned round and added, persuasively, "Let her be brought back, and she shall
have her children to live with her."
The tidings made the old doctor rave and storm at a furious rate. It was
a busy day for them. My grandmother's house was searched from top to
bottom. As my trunk was empty, they concluded I had taken my clothes with
me. Before ten o'clock every vessel northward bound was thoroughly
examined, and the law against harboring fugitives was read to all on board.
At night a watch was set over the town. Knowing how distressed my grandmother
would be, I wanted to send her a message; but it could not be done. Every one
who went in or out of her house was closely watched. The doctor said he
would take my children, unless she became responsible for them; which of
course she willingly did. The next day was spent in searching. Before night,
the following advertisement was posted at every corner, and in every
public place for miles round:—
$300 REWARD! Ran away from the subscriber, an intelligent, bright,
mulatto girl, named Linda, 21 years of age. Five feet four inches high. Dark
eyes, and black hair inclined to curl; but it can be made straight. Has a
decayed spot on a front tooth. She can read and write, and in all probability
will try to get to the Free States. All persons are forbidden, under penalty
of law, to harbor or employ said slave. $150 will be given to whoever
takes her in the state, and $300 if taken out of the state and delivered to
me, or lodged in jail.
— Dr. Flint.
XVIII. Months Of Peril.
The search for me was kept up with more perseverence than I
had anticipated. I began to think that escape was impossible. I was in
great anxiety lest I should implicate the friend who harbored me. I knew
the consequences would be frightful; and much as I dreaded being caught,
even that seemed better than causing an innocent person to suffer for
kindness to me. A week had passed in terrible suspense, when my pursuers came
into such close vicinity that I concluded they had tracked me to
my hiding-place. I flew out of the house, and concealed myself in a thicket
of bushes. There I remained in an agony of fear for two hours. Suddenly,
a reptile of some kind seized my leg. In my fright, I struck a blow
which loosened its hold, but I could not tell whether I had killed it; it was
so dark, I could not see what it was; I only knew it was something cold
and slimy. The pain I felt soon indicated that the bite was poisonous. I
was compelled to leave my place of concealment, and I groped my way back
into the house. The pain had become intense, and my friend was startled by
my look of anguish. I asked her to prepare a poultice of warm ashes
and vinegar, and I applied it to my leg, which was already much swollen.
The application gave me some relief, but the swelling did not abate. The
dread of being disabled was greater than the physical pain I endured. My
friend asked an old woman, who doctored among the slaves, what was good for
the bite of a snake or a lizard. She told her to steep a dozen coppers
in vinegar, over night, and apply the cankered vinegar to the
[Footnote 1: The poison of a snake is a powerful acid, and is
counteracted by powerful alkalies, such as potash, ammonia, &c. The
Indians are accustomed to apply wet ashes, or plunge the limb into strong
lie. White men, employed to lay out railroads in snaky places, often carry
ammonia with them as an antidote.—EDITOR.]
I had succeeded in cautiously conveying some messages to my relatives.
They were harshly threatened, and despairing of my having a chance to
escape, they advised me to return to my master, ask his forgiveness, and let
him make an example of me. But such counsel had no influence with me. When
I started upon this hazardous undertaking, I had resolved that, come
what would, there should be no turning back. "Give me liberty, or give
me death," was my motto. When my friend contrived to make known to
my relatives the painful situation I had been in for twenty-four hours,
they said no more about my going back to my master. Something must be done,
and that speedily; but where to return for help, they knew not. God in
his mercy raised up "a friend in need."
Among the ladies who were acquainted with my grandmother, was one who
had known her from childhood, and always been very friendly to her. She
had also known my mother and her children, and felt interested for them.
At this crisis of affairs she called to see my grandmother, as she
not unfrequently did. She observed the sad and troubled expression of her
face, and asked if she knew where Linda was, and whether she was safe.
My grandmother shook her head, without answering. "Come, Aunt
Martha," said the kind lady, "tell me all about it. Perhaps I can do
something to help you." The husband of this lady held many slaves, and bought
and sold slaves. She also held a number in her own name; but she
treated them kindly, and would never allow any of them to be sold. She
was unlike the majority of slaveholders' wives. My grandmother
looked earnestly at her. Something in the expression of her face
said "Trust me!" and she did trust her. She listened attentively to the
details of my story, and sat thinking for a while. At last she said, "Aunt
Martha, I pity you both. If you think there is any chance of Linda's getting
to the Free States, I will conceal her for a time. But first you must
solemnly promise that my name shall never be mentioned. If such a thing
should become known, it would ruin me and my family. No one in my house must
know of it, except the cook. She is so faithful that I would trust my own
life with her; and I know she likes Linda. It is a great risk; but I trust no
harm will come of it. Get word to Linda to be ready as soon as it is dark,
before the patrols are out. I will send the housemaids on errands, and Betty
shall go to meet Linda." The place where we were to meet was designated and
agreed upon. My grandmother was unable to thank the lady for this noble deed;
overcome by her emotions, she sank on her knees and sobbed like a
I received a message to leave my friend's house at such an hour, and go
to a certain place where a friend would be waiting for me. As a matter
of prudence no names were mentioned. I had no means of conjecturing who I
was to meet, or where I was going. I did not like to move thus blindfolded,
but I had no choice. It would not do for me to remain where I was. I
disguised myself, summoned up courage to meet the worst, and went to the
appointed place. My friend Betty was there; she was the last person I
expected to see. We hurried along in silence. The pain in my leg was so
intense that it seemed as if I should drop but fear gave me strength. We
reached the house and entered unobserved. Her first words were: "Honey, now
you is safe. Dem devils ain't coming to search dis house. When I get you
into missis' safe place, I will bring some nice hot supper. I specs you need
it after all dis skeering." Betty's vocation led her to think eating the most
important thing in life. She did not realize that my heart was too full for
me to care much about supper.
The mistress came to meet us, and led me up stairs to a small room over
her own sleeping apartment. "You will be safe here, Linda," said she; "I
keep this room to store away things that are out of use. The girls are
not accustomed to be sent to it, and they will not suspect any thing
unless they hear some noise. I always keep it locked, and Betty shall take
care of the key. But you must be very careful, for my sake as well as your
own; and you must never tell my secret; for it would ruin me and my family. I
will keep the girls busy in the morning, that Betty may have a chance to
bring your breakfast; but it will not do for her to come to you again till
night. I will come to see you sometimes. Keep up your courage. I hope this
state of things will not last long." Betty came with the "nice hot supper,"
and the mistress hastened down stairs to keep things straight till
she returned. How my heart overflowed with gratitude! Words choked in
my throat; but I could have kissed the feet of my benefactress. For that
deed of Christian womanhood, may God forever bless her!
I went to sleep that night with the feeling that I was for the present
the most fortunate slave in town. Morning came and filled my little cell
with light. I thanked the heavenly Father for this safe retreat. Opposite
my window was a pile of feather beds. On the top of these I could
lie perfectly concealed, and command a view of the street through which
Dr. Flint passed to his office. Anxious as I was, I felt a gleam
of satisfaction when I saw him. Thus far I had outwitted him, and I
triumphed over it. Who can blame slaves for being cunning? They are
constantly compelled to resort to it. It is the only weapon of the weak and
oppressed against the strength of their tyrants.
I was daily hoping to hear that my master had sold my children; for I
knew who was on the watch to buy them. But Dr. Flint cared even more for
revenge than he did for money. My brother William and the good aunt who had
served in his family twenty years, and my little Benny, and Ellen, who was
a little over two years old, were thrust into jail, as a means of
compelling my relatives to give some information about me. He swore my
grandmother should never see one of them again till I was brought back. They
kept these facts from me for several days. When I heard that my little ones
were in a loathsome jail, my first impulse was to go to them. I was
encountering dangers for the sake of freeing them, and must I be the cause of
their death? The thought was agonizing. My benefactress tried to soothe me
by telling me that my aunt would take good care of the children while
they remained in jail. But it added to my pain to think that the good old
aunt, who had always been so kind to her sister's orphan children, should be
shut up in prison for no other crime than loving them. I suppose my
friends feared a reckless movement on my part, knowing, as they did, that my
life was bound up in my children. I received a note from my brother William.
It was scarcely legible, and ran thus: "Wherever you are, dear sister, I
beg of you not to come here. We are all much better off than you are. If
you come, you will ruin us all. They would force you to tell where you
had been, or they would kill you. Take the advice of your friends; if not
for the sake of me and your children, at least for the sake of those you
Poor William! He also must suffer for being my brother. I took his
advice and kept quiet. My aunt was taken out of jail at the end of a
month, because Mrs. Flint could not spare her any longer. She was tired of
being her own housekeeper. It was quite too fatiguing to order her dinner and
eat it too. My children remained in jail, where brother William did all
he could for their comfort. Betty went to see them sometimes, and brought
me tidings. She was not permitted to enter the jail; but William would
hold them up to the grated window while she chatted with them. When she
repeated their prattle, and told me how they wanted to see their ma, my tears
would flow. Old Betty would exclaim, "Lors, chile! what's you crying 'bout?
Dem young uns vil kill you dead. Don't be so chick'n hearted! If you does,
you vil nebber git thro' dis world."
Good old soul! She had gone through the world childless. She had never
had little ones to clasp their arms round her neck; she had never seen
their soft eyes looking into hers; no sweet little voices had called her
mother; she had never pressed her own infants to her heart, with the feeling
that even in fetters there was something to live for. How could she realize
my feelings? Betty's husband loved children dearly, and wondered why God
had denied them to him. He expressed great sorrow when he came to Betty
with the tidings that Ellen had been taken out of jail and carried to
Dr. Flint's. She had the measles a short time before they carried her to
jail, and the disease had left her eyes affected. The doctor had taken her
home to attend to them. My children had always been afraid of the doctor and
his wife. They had never been inside of their house. Poor little Ellen
cried all day to be carried back to prison. The instincts of childhood are
true. She knew she was loved in the jail. Her screams and sobs annoyed
Mrs. Flint. Before night she called one of the slaves, and said, "Here,
Bill, carry this brat back to the jail. I can't stand her noise. If she would
be quiet I should like to keep the little minx. She would make a
handy waiting-maid for my daughter by and by. But if she staid here, with
her white face, I suppose I should either kill her or spoil her. I hope
the doctor will sell them as far as wind and water can carry them. As for
their mother, her ladyship will find out yet what she gets by running away.
She hasn't so much feeling for her children as a cow has for its calf. If
she had, she would have come back long ago, to get them out of jail, and
save all this expense and trouble. The good-for-nothing hussy! When she
is caught, she shall stay in jail, in irons, for one six months, and then
be sold to a sugar plantation. I shall see her broke in yet. What do you
stand there for, Bill? Why don't you go off with the brat? Mind, now, that
you don't let any of the niggers speak to her in the street!"
When these remarks were reported to me, I smiled at Mrs. Flint's
saying that she should either kill my child or spoil her. I thought to
myself there was very little danger of the latter. I have always considered
it as one of God's special providences that Ellen screamed till she was
carried back to jail.
That same night Dr. Flint was called to a patient, and did not return
till near morning. Passing my grandmother's, he saw a light in the house,
and thought to himself, "Perhaps this has something to do with Linda."
He knocked, and the door was opened. "What calls you up so early?" said he.
"I saw your light, and I thought I would just stop and tell you that I
have found out where Linda is. I know where to put my hands on her, and I
shall have her before twelve o'clock." When he had turned away, my
grandmother and my uncle looked anxiously at each other. They did not know
whether or not it was merely one of the doctor's tricks to frighten them. In
their uncertainty, they thought it was best to have a message conveyed to
my friend Betty. Unwilling to alarm her mistress, Betty resolved to dispose
of me herself. She came to me, and told me to rise and dress quickly.
We hurried down stairs, and across the yard, into the kitchen. She locked
the door, and lifted up a plank in the floor. A buffalo skin and a bit
of carpet were spread for me to lie on, and a quilt thrown over me.
"Stay dar," said she, "till I sees if dey know 'bout you. Dey say dey vil
put thar hans on you afore twelve o'clock. If dey did know whar you are,
dey won't know now. Dey'll be disapinted dis time. Dat's all I got to say.
If dey comes rummagin 'mong my tings, de'll get one bressed sarssin from
dis 'ere nigger." In my shallow bed I had but just room enough to bring
my hands to my face to keep the dust out of my eyes; for Betty walked over
me twenty times in an hour, passing from the dresser to the fireplace.
When she was alone, I could hear her pronouncing anathemas over Dr. Flint
and all his tribe, every now and then saying, with a chuckling laugh,
"Dis nigger's too cute for 'em dis time." When the housemaids were about,
she had sly ways of drawing them out, that I might hear what they would
say. She would repeat stories she had heard about my being in this, or that,
or the other place. To which they would answer, that I was not fool enough
to be staying round there; that I was in Philadelphia or New York before
this time. When all were abed and asleep, Betty raised the plank, and
said, "Come out, chile; come out. Dey don't know nottin 'bout you. Twas
only white folks' lies, to skeer de niggers."
Some days after this adventure I had a much worse fright. As I sat
very still in my retreat above stairs, cheerful visions floated through my
mind. I thought Dr. Flint would soon get discouraged, and would be willing
to sell my children, when he lost all hopes of making them the means of
my discovery. I knew who was ready to buy them. Suddenly I heard a voice
that chilled my blood. The sound was too familiar to me, it had been
too dreadful, for me not to recognize at once my old master. He was in
the house, and I at once concluded he had come to seize me. I looked round
in terror. There was no way of escape. The voice receded. I supposed
the constable was with him, and they were searching the house. In my alarm
I did not forget the trouble I was bringing on my generous benefactress.
It seemed as if I were born to bring sorrow on all who befriended me, and
that was the bitterest drop in the bitter cup of my life. After a while I
heard approaching footsteps; the key was turned in my door. I braced
myself against the wall to keep from falling. I ventured to look up, and
there stood my kind benefactress alone. I was too much overcome to speak,
and sunk down upon the floor.
"I thought you would hear your master's voice," she said; "and knowing
you would be terrified, I came to tell you there is nothing to fear. You
may even indulge in a laugh at the old gentleman's expense. He is so sure
you are in New York, that he came to borrow five hundred dollars to go
in pursuit of you. My sister had some money to loan on interest. He
has obtained it, and proposes to start for New York to-night. So, for
the present, you see you are safe. The doctor will merely lighten his
pocket hunting after the bird he has left behind."
XIX. The Children Sold.
The Doctor came back from New York, of course without accomplishing
his purpose. He had expended considerable money, and was rather
disheartened. My brother and the children had now been in jail two months,
and that also was some expense. My friends thought it was a favorable time to
work on his discouraged feelings. Mr. Sands sent a speculator to offer him
nine hundred dollars for my brother William, and eight hundred for the two
children. These were high prices, as slaves were then selling; but the offer
was rejected. If it had been merely a question of money, the doctor would
have sold any boy of Benny's age for two hundred dollars; but he could not
bear to give up the power of revenge. But he was hard pressed for money, and
he revolved the matter in his mind. He knew that if he could keep Ellen
till she was fifteen, he could sell her for a high price; but I presume
he reflected that she might die, or might be stolen away. At all events,
he came to the conclusion that he had better accept the slave-trader's
offer. Meeting him in the street, he inquired when he would leave town.
"To-day, at ten o'clock," he replied. "Ah, do you go so soon?" said the
doctor. "I have been reflecting upon your proposition, and I have concluded
to let you have the three negroes if you will say nineteen hundred dollars."
After some parley, the trader agreed to his terms. He wanted the bill of
sale drawn up and signed immediately, as he had a great deal to attend to
during the short time he remained in town. The doctor went to the jail and
told William he would take him back into his service if he would promise
to behave himself but he replied that he would rather be sold. "And
you shall be sold, you ungrateful rascal!" exclaimed the doctor. In less
than an hour the money was paid, the papers were signed, sealed, and
delivered, and my brother and children were in the hands of the trader.
It was a hurried transaction; and after it was over, the
doctor's characteristic caution returned. He went back to the speculator, and
said, "Sir, I have come to lay you under obligations of a thousand dollars
not to sell any of those negroes in this state." "You come too late," replied
the trader; "our bargain is closed." He had, in fact, already sold them to
Mr. Sands, but he did not mention it. The doctor required him to put irons
on "that rascal, Bill," and to pass through the back streets when he took
his gang out of town. The trader was privately instructed to concede to
his wishes. My good old aunt went to the jail to bid the children good
by, supposing them to be the speculator's property, and that she should
never see them again. As she held Benny in her lap, he said, "Aunt Nancy, I
want to show you something." He led her to the door and showed her a long row
of marks, saying, "Uncle Will taught me to count. I have made a mark for
every day I have been here, and it is sixty days. It is a long time; and
the speculator is going to take me and Ellen away. He's a bad man. It's
wrong for him to take grandmother's children. I want to go to my
My grandmother was told that the children would be restored to her, but
she was requested to act as if they were really to be sent away.
Accordingly, she made up a bundle of clothes and went to the jail. When she
arrived, she found William handcuffed among the gang, and the children in the
trader's cart. The scene seemed too much like reality. She was afraid there
might have been some deception or mistake. She fainted, and was carried
When the wagon stopped at the hotel, several gentlemen came out
and proposed to purchase William, but the trader refused their offers,
without stating that he was already sold. And now came the trying hour for
that drove of human beings, driven away like cattle, to be sold they knew
not where. Husbands were torn from wives, parents from children, never to
look upon each other again this side the grave. There was wringing of hands
and cries of despair.
Dr. Flint had the supreme satisfaction of seeing the wagon leave town,
and Mrs. Flint had the gratification of supposing that my children were
going "as far as wind and water would carry them." According to agreement,
my uncle followed the wagon some miles, until they came to an old farm
house. There the trader took the irons from William, and as he did so, he
said, "You are a damned clever fellow. I should like to own you myself.
Them gentlemen that wanted to buy you said you was a bright, honest chap, and
I must git you a good home. I guess your old master will swear to-morrow,
and call himself an old fool for selling the children. I reckon he'll never
git their mammy back again. I expect she's made tracks for the north. Good
by, old boy. Remember, I have done you a good turn. You must thank me
by coaxing all the pretty gals to go with me next fall. That's going to be
my last trip. This trading in niggers is a bad business for a fellow
that's got any heart. Move on, you fellows!" And the gang went on, God alone
Much as I despise and detest the class of slave-traders, whom I regard
as the vilest wretches on earth, I must do this man the justice to say that
he seemed to have some feeling. He took a fancy to William in the jail,
and wanted to buy him. When he heard the story of my children, he was
willing to aid them in getting out of Dr. Flint's power, even without
charging the customary fee.
My uncle procured a wagon and carried William and the children back
to town. Great was the joy in my grandmother's house! The curtains
were closed, and the candles lighted. The happy grandmother cuddled the
little ones to her bosom. They hugged her, and kissed her, and clapped
their hands, and shouted. She knelt down and poured forth one of her
heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving to God. The father was present for a while;
and though such a "parental relation" as existed between him and my
children takes slight hold on the hearts or consciences of slaveholders, it
must be that he experienced some moments of pure joy in witnessing the
happiness he had imparted.
I had no share in the rejoicings of that evening. The events of the day
had not come to my knowledge. And now I will tell you something that
happened to me; though you will, perhaps, think it illustrates the
superstition of slaves. I sat in my usual place on the floor near the window,
where I could hear much that was said in the street without being seen. The
family had retired for the night, and all was still. I sat there thinking of
my children, when I heard a low strain of music. A band of serenaders
were under the window, playing "Home, sweet home." I listened till the
sounds did not seem like music, but like the moaning of children. It seemed
as if my heart would burst. I rose from my sitting posture, and knelt. A
streak of moonlight was on the floor before me, and in the midst of it
appeared the forms of my two children. They vanished; but I had seen
them distinctly. Some will call it a dream, others a vision. I know not how
to account for it, but it made a strong impression on my mind, and I
felt certain something had happened to my little ones.
I had not seen Betty since morning. Now I heard her softly turning the
key. As soon as she entered, I clung to her, and begged her to let me
know whether my children were dead, or whether they were sold; for I had
seen their spirits in my room, and I was sure something had happened to
them. "Lor, chile," said she, putting her arms round me, "you's got
de high-sterics. I'll sleep wid you to-night, 'cause you'll make a noise,
and ruin missis. Something has stirred you up mightily. When you is done
cryin, I'll talk wid you. De chillern is well, and mighty happy. I seed
'em myself. Does dat satisfy you? Dar, chile, be still! Somebody vill
hear you." I tried to obey her. She lay down, and was soon sound asleep; but
no sleep would come to my eyelids.
At dawn, Betty was up and off to the kitchen. The hours passed on, and
the vision of the night kept constantly recurring to my thoughts. After a
while I heard the voices of two women in the entry. In one of them I
recognized the housemaid. The other said to her, "Did you know Linda Brent's
children was sold to the speculator yesterday. They say ole massa Flint was
mighty glad to see 'em drove out of town; but they say they've come back
agin. I 'spect it's all their daddy's doings. They say he's bought William
too. Lor! how it will take hold of ole massa Flint! I'm going roun' to
aunt Marthy's to see 'bout it."
I bit my lips till the blood came to keep from crying out. Were my
children with their grandmother, or had the speculator carried them off?
The suspense was dreadful. Would Betty never come, and tell me the
truth about it? At last she came, and I eagerly repeated what I had
overheard. Her face was one broad, bright smile. "Lor, you foolish ting!"
said she. "I'se gwine to tell you all 'bout it. De gals is eating thar
breakfast, and missus tole me to let her tell you; but, poor creeter! t'aint
right to keep you waitin', and I'se gwine to tell you. Brudder, chillern, all
is bought by de daddy! I'se laugh more dan nuff, tinking 'bout ole massa
Flint. Lor, how he vill swar! He's got ketched dis time, any how; but I
must be getting out o' dis, or dem gals vill come and ketch me."
Betty went off laughing; and I said to myself, "Can it be true that
my children are free? I have not suffered for them in vain. Thank God!"
Great surprise was expressed when it was known that my children
had returned to their grandmother's. The news spread through the town, and
many a kind word was bestowed on the little ones.
Dr. Flint went to my grandmother's to ascertain who was the owner of
my children, and she informed him. "I expected as much," said he. "I am
glad to hear it. I have had news from Linda lately, and I shall soon have
her. You need never expect to see her free. She shall be my slave as long
as I live, and when I am dead she shall be the slave of my children. If I
ever find out that you or Phillip had anything to do with her running off
I'll kill him. And if I meet William in the street, and he presumes to look
at me, I'll flog him within an inch of his life. Keep those brats out of
As he turned to leave, my grandmother said something to remind him of
his own doings. He looked back upon her, as if he would have been glad
to strike her to the ground.
I had my season of joy and thanksgiving. It was the first time since
my childhood that I had experienced any real happiness. I heard of the
old doctor's threats, but they no longer had the same power to trouble me.
The darkest cloud that hung over my life had rolled away. Whatever
slavery might do to me, it could not shackle my children. If I fell a
sacrifice, my little ones were saved. It was well for me that my simple heart
believed all that had been promised for their welfare. It is always better to
trust than to doubt.
XX. New Perils.
The doctor, more exasperated than ever, again tried to revenge himself
on my relatives. He arrested uncle Phillip on the charge of having aided
my flight. He was carried before a court, and swore truly that he knew
nothing of my intention to escape, and that he had not seen me since I left
my master's plantation. The doctor then demanded that he should give bail
for five hundred dollars that he would have nothing to do with me.
Several gentlemen offered to be security for him; but Mr. Sands told him he
had better go back to jail, and he would see that he came out without
The news of his arrest was carried to my grandmother, who conveyed it
to Betty. In the kindness of her heart, she again stowed me away under
the floor; and as she walked back and forth, in the performance of her
culinary duties, she talked apparently to herself, but with the intention
that I should hear what was going on. I hoped that my uncle's imprisonment
would last but few days; still I was anxious. I thought it likely Dr. Flint
would do his utmost to taunt and insult him, and I was afraid my uncle might
lose control of himself, and retort in some way that would be construed into
a punishable offence; and I was well aware that in court his word would
not be taken against any white man's. The search for me was renewed.
Something had excited suspicions that I was in the vicinity. They searched
the house I was in. I heard their steps and their voices. At night, when all
were asleep, Betty came to release me from my place of confinement. The
fright I had undergone, the constrained posture, and the dampness of the
ground, made me ill for several days. My uncle was soon after taken out of
prison; but the movements of all my relatives, and of all our friends, were
very closely watched.
We all saw that I could not remain where I was much longer. I had
already staid longer than was intended, and I knew my presence must be a
source of perpetual anxiety to my kind benefactress. During this time, my
friends had laid many plans for my escape, but the extreme vigilance of my
persecutors made it impossible to carry them into effect.
One morning I was much startled by hearing somebody trying to get into
my room. Several keys were tried, but none fitted. I instantly conjectured
it was one of the housemaids; and I concluded she must either have heard
some noise in the room, or have noticed the entrance of Betty. When my
friend came, at her usual time, I told her what had happened. "I knows who
it was," said she. "Tend upon it, 'twas dat Jenny. Dat nigger allers got
de debble in her." I suggested that she might have seen or heard
something that excited her curiosity.
"Tut! tut! chile!" exclaimed Betty, "she ain't seen notin', nor
hearn notin'. She only 'spects something. Dat's all. She wants to fine out
who hab cut and make my gownd. But she won't nebber know. Dat's sartin.
I'll git missis to fix her."
I reflected a moment, and said, "Betty, I must leave here to-night."
"Do as you tink best, poor chile," she replied. "I'se mighty 'fraid
dat 'ere nigger vill pop on you some time."
She reported the incident to her mistress, and received orders to
keep Jenny busy in the kitchen till she could see my uncle Phillip. He told
her he would send a friend for me that very evening. She told him she hoped
I was going to the north, for it was very dangerous for me to remain
any where in the vicinity. Alas, it was not an easy thing, for one in
my situation, to go to the north. In order to leave the coast quite clear
for me, she went into the country to spend the day with her brother, and
took Jenny with her. She was afraid to come and bid me good by, but she left
a kind message with Betty. I heard her carriage roll from the door, and
I never again saw her who had so generously befriended the poor,
trembling fugitive! Though she was a slaveholder, to this day my heart
I had not the slightest idea where I was going. Betty brought me a suit
of sailor's clothes,—jacket, trowsers, and tarpaulin hat. She gave me a
small bundle, saying I might need it where I was going. In cheery tones,
she exclaimed, "I'se so glad you is gwine to free parts! Don't forget
ole Betty. P'raps I'll come 'long by and by."
I tried to tell her how grateful I felt for all her kindness. But
she interrupted me. "I don't want no tanks, honey. I'se glad I could help
you, and I hope de good Lord vill open de path for you. I'se gwine wid you to
de lower gate. Put your hands in your pockets, and walk ricketty, like
I performed to her satisfaction. At the gate I found Peter, a young
colored man, waiting for me. I had known him for years. He had been an
apprentice to my father, and had always borne a good character. I was not
afraid to trust to him. Betty bade me a hurried good by, and we walked off.
"Take courage, Linda," said my friend Peter. "I've got a dagger, and no man
shall take you from me, unless he passes over my dead body."
It was a long time since I had taken a walk out of doors, and the fresh
air revived me. It was also pleasant to hear a human voice speaking to me
above a whisper. I passed several people whom I knew, but they did not
recognize me in my disguise. I prayed internally that, for Peter's sake, as
well as my own, nothing might occur to bring out his dagger. We walked on
till we came to the wharf. My aunt Nancy's husband was a seafaring man, and
it had been deemed necessary to let him into our secret. He took me into his
boat, rowed out to a vessel not far distant, and hoisted me on board. We
three were the only occupants of the vessel. I now ventured to ask what
they proposed to do with me. They said I was to remain on board till near
dawn, and then they would hide me in Snaky Swamp, till my uncle Phillip
had prepared a place of concealment for me. If the vessel had been bound
north, it would have been of no avail to me, for it would certainly have
been searched. About four o'clock, we were again seated in the boat, and
rowed three miles to the swamp. My fear of snakes had been increased by
the venomous bite I had received, and I dreaded to enter this hiding place.
But I was in no situation to choose, and I gratefully accepted the best that
my poor, persecuted friends could do for me.
Peter landed first, and with a large knife cut a path through bamboos
and briers of all descriptions. He came back, took me in his arms, and
carried me to a seat made among the bamboos. Before we reached it, we were
covered with hundreds of mosquitos. In an hour's time they had so poisoned my
flesh that I was a pitiful sight to behold. As the light increased, I saw
snake after snake crawling round us. I had been accustomed to the sight of
snakes all my life, but these were larger than any I had ever seen. To this
day I shudder when I remember that morning. As evening approached, the number
of snakes increased so much that we were continually obliged to thrash
them with sticks to keep them from crawling over us. The bamboos were so
high and so thick that it was impossible to see beyond a very short
distance. Just before it became dark we procured a seat nearer to the
entrance of the swamp, being fearful of losing our way back to the boat. It
was not long before we heard the paddle of oars, and the low whistle, which
had been agreed upon as a signal. We made haste to enter the boat, and were
rowed back to the vessel. I passed a wretched night; for the heat of the
swamp, the mosquitos, and the constant terror of snakes, had brought on a
burning fever. I had just dropped asleep, when they came and told me it was
time to go back to that horrid swamp. I could scarcely summon courage to
rise. But even those large, venomous snakes were less dreadful to my
imagination than the white men in that community called civilized. This time
Peter took a quantity of tobacco to burn, to keep off the mosquitos. It
produced the desired effect on them, but gave me nausea and severe headache.
At dark we returned to the vessel. I had been so sick during the day, that
Peter declared I should go home that night, if the devil himself was on
patrol. They told me a place of concealment had been provided for me at
my grandmother's. I could not imagine how it was possible to hide me in
her house, every nook and corner of which was known to the Flint family.
They told me to wait and see. We were rowed ashore, and went boldly through
the streets, to my grandmother's. I wore my sailor's clothes, and had
blackened my face with charcoal. I passed several people whom I knew. The
father of my children came so near that I brushed against his arm; but he had
no idea who it was.
"You must make the most of this walk," said my friend Peter, "for you
may not have another very soon."
I thought his voice sounded sad. It was kind of him to conceal from me
what a dismal hole was to be my home for a long, long time.
XXI. The Loophole Of Retreat.
A small shed had been added to my grandmother's house years ago.
Some boards were laid across the joists at the top, and between these boards
and the roof was a very small garret, never occupied by any thing but rats
and mice. It was a pent roof, covered with nothing but shingles, according
to the southern custom for such buildings. The garret was only nine feet
long and seven wide. The highest part was three feet high, and sloped
down abruptly to the loose board floor. There was no admission for either
light or air. My uncle Phillip, who was a carpenter, had very skilfully made
a concealed trap-door, which communicated with the storeroom. He had
been doing this while I was waiting in the swamp. The storeroom opened upon
a piazza. To this hole I was conveyed as soon as I entered the house. The
air was stifling; the darkness total. A bed had been spread on the floor.
I could sleep quite comfortably on one side; but the slope was so sudden
that I could not turn on my other without hitting the roof. The rats and
mice ran over my bed; but I was weary, and I slept such sleep as the
wretched may, when a tempest has passed over them. Morning came. I knew it
only by the noises I heard; for in my small den day and night were all the
same. I suffered for air even more than for light. But I was not comfortless.
I heard the voices of my children. There was joy and there was sadness in
the sound. It made my tears flow. How I longed to speak to them! I was eager
to look on their faces; but there was no hole, no crack, through which I
could peep. This continued darkness was oppressive. It seemed horrible to sit
or lie in a cramped position day after day, without one gleam of light. Yet
I would have chosen this, rather than my lot as a slave, though white
people considered it an easy one; and it was so compared with the fate of
others. I was never cruelly overworked; I was never lacerated with the whip
from head to foot; I was never so beaten and bruised that I could not turn
from one side to the other; I never had my heel-strings cut to prevent
my running away; I was never chained to a log and forced to drag it
about, while I toiled in the fields from morning till night; I was never
branded with hot iron, or torn by bloodhounds. On the contrary, I had always
been kindly treated, and tenderly cared for, until I came into the hands of
Dr. Flint. I had never wished for freedom till then. But though my life
in slavery was comparatively devoid of hardships, God pity the woman who
is compelled to lead such a life!
My food was passed up to me through the trap-door my uncle had
contrived; and my grandmother, my uncle Phillip, and aunt Nancy would seize
such opportunities as they could, to mount up there and chat with me at
the opening. But of course this was not safe in the daytime. It must all
be done in darkness. It was impossible for me to move in an erect
position, but I crawled about my den for exercise. One day I hit my head
against something, and found it was a gimlet. My uncle had left it sticking
there when he made the trap-door. I was as rejoiced as Robinson Crusoe could
have been at finding such a treasure. It put a lucky thought into my head.
I said to myself, "Now I will have some light. Now I will see my children."
I did not dare to begin my work during the daytime, for fear of
attracting attention. But I groped round; and having found the side next the
street, where I could frequently see my children, I stuck the gimlet in and
waited for evening. I bored three rows of holes, one above another; then I
bored out the interstices between. I thus succeeded in making one hole about
an inch long and an inch broad. I sat by it till late into the night, to
enjoy the little whiff of air that floated in. In the morning I watched for
my children. The first person I saw in the street was Dr. Flint. I had
a shuddering, superstitious feeling that it was a bad omen. Several
familiar faces passed by. At last I heard the merry laugh of children, and
presently two sweet little faces were looking up at me, as though they knew I
was there, and were conscious of the joy they imparted. How I longed to
tell them I was there!
My condition was now a little improved. But for weeks I was tormented
by hundreds of little red insects, fine as a needle's point, that
pierced through my skin, and produced an intolerable burning. The good
grandmother gave me herb teas and cooling medicines, and finally I got rid of
them. The heat of my den was intense, for nothing but thin shingles protected
me from the scorching summer's sun. But I had my consolations. Through
my peeping-hole I could watch the children, and when they were near enough,
I could hear their talk. Aunt Nancy brought me all the news she could hear
at Dr. Flint's. From her I learned that the doctor had written to New York
to a colored woman, who had been born and raised in our neighborhood, and
had breathed his contaminating atmosphere. He offered her a reward if she
could find out any thing about me. I know not what was the nature of her
reply; but he soon after started for New York in haste, saying to his family
that he had business of importance to transact. I peeped at him as he passed
on his way to the steamboat. It was a satisfaction to have miles of land
and water between us, even for a little while; and it was a still
greater satisfaction to know that he believed me to be in the Free States.
My little den seemed less dreary than it had done. He returned, as he did
from his former journey to New York, without obtaining any
satisfactory information. When he passed our house next morning, Benny was
standing at the gate. He had heard them say that he had gone to find me, and
he called out, "Dr. Flint, did you bring my mother home? I want to see her."
The doctor stamped his foot at him in a rage, and exclaimed, "Get out of
the way, you little damned rascal! If you don't, I'll cut off your
Benny ran terrified into the house, saying, "You can't put me in
jail again. I don't belong to you now." It was well that the wind carried
the words away from the doctor's ear. I told my grandmother of it, when we
had our next conference at the trap-door, and begged of her not to allow
the children to be impertinent to the irascible old man.
Autumn came, with a pleasant abatement of heat. My eyes had
become accustomed to the dim light, and by holding my book or work in a
certain position near the aperture I contrived to read and sew. That was a
great relief to the tedious monotony of my life. But when winter came, the
cold penetrated through the thin shingle roof, and I was dreadfully chilled.
The winters there are not so long, or so severe, as in northern latitudes;
but the houses are not built to shelter from cold, and my little den
was peculiarly comfortless. The kind grandmother brought me bedclothes and
warm drinks. Often I was obliged to lie in bed all day to keep comfortable;
but with all my precautions, my shoulders and feet were frostbitten. O,
those long, gloomy days, with no object for my eye to rest upon, and no
thoughts to occupy my mind, except the dreary past and the uncertain future!
I was thankful when there came a day sufficiently mild for me to wrap myself
up and sit at the loophole to watch the passers by. Southerners have the
habit of stopping and talking in the streets, and I heard many conversations
not intended to meet my ears. I heard slave-hunters planning how to catch
some poor fugitive. Several times I heard allusions to Dr. Flint, myself,
and the history of my children, who, perhaps, were playing near the gate.
One would say, "I wouldn't move my little finger to catch her, as old
Flint's property." Another would say, "I'll catch any nigger for the
reward. A man ought to have what belongs to him, if he is a damned brute."
The opinion was often expressed that I was in the Free States. Very rarely
did any one suggest that I might be in the vicinity. Had the least
suspicion rested on my grandmother's house, it would have been burned to the
ground. But it was the last place they thought of. Yet there was no place,
where slavery existed, that could have afforded me so good a place
Dr. Flint and his family repeatedly tried to coax and bribe my children
to tell something they had heard said about me. One day the doctor took
them into a shop, and offered them some bright little silver pieces and
gay handkerchiefs if they would tell where their mother was. Ellen shrank
away from him, and would not speak; but Benny spoke up, and said, "Dr. Flint,
I don't know where my mother is. I guess she's in New York; and when you
go there again, I wish you'd ask her to come home, for I want to see her;
but if you put her in jail, or tell her you'll cut her head off, I'll tell
her to go right back."
XXII. Christmas Festivities.
Christmas was approaching. Grandmother brought me materials, and I
busied myself making some new garments and little playthings for my children.
Were it not that hiring day is near at hand, and many families are
fearfully looking forward to the probability of separation in a few days,
Christmas might be a happy season for the poor slaves. Even slave mothers try
to gladden the hearts of their little ones on that occasion. Benny and
Ellen had their Christmas stockings filled. Their imprisoned mother could
not have the privilege of witnessing their surprise and joy. But I had
the pleasure of peeping at them as they went into the street with their
new suits on. I heard Benny ask a little playmate whether Santa Claus
brought him any thing. "Yes," replied the boy; "but Santa Claus ain't a real
man. It's the children's mothers that put things into the stockings." "No,
that can't be," replied Benny, "for Santa Claus brought Ellen and me these
new clothes, and my mother has been gone this long time."
How I longed to tell him that his mother made those garments, and that
many a tear fell on them while she worked!
Every child rises early on Christmas morning to see the
Johnkannaus. Without them, Christmas would be shorn of its greatest
attraction. They consist of companies of slaves from the plantations,
generally of the lower class. Two athletic men, in calico wrappers, have a
net thrown over them, covered with all manner of bright-colored stripes.
Cows' tails are fastened to their backs, and their heads are decorated with
horns. A box, covered with sheepskin, is called the gumbo box. A dozen beat
on this, while other strike triangles and jawbones, to which bands of dancers
keep time. For a month previous they are composing songs, which are sung on
this occasion. These companies, of a hundred each, turn out early in the
morning, and are allowed to go round till twelve o'clock, begging for
contributions. Not a door is left unvisited where there is the least chance
of obtaining a penny or a glass of rum. They do not drink while they are out,
but carry the rum home in jugs, to have a carousal. These Christmas donations
frequently amount to twenty or thirty dollars. It is seldom that any white
man or child refuses to give them a trifle. If he does, they regale his ears
with the following song:—
Poor massa, so dey say; Down in de heel, so
dey say; Got no money, so dey say; Not one
shillin, so dey say; God A'mighty bress you, so dey say.
Christmas is a day of feasting, both with white and colored people.
Slaves, who are lucky enough to have a few shillings, are sure to spend them
for good eating; and many a turkey and pig is captured, without saying,
"By your leave, sir." Those who cannot obtain these, cook a 'possum, or
a raccoon, from which savory dishes can be made. My grandmother
raised poultry and pigs for sale and it was her established custom to have
both a turkey and a pig roasted for Christmas dinner.
On this occasion, I was warned to keep extremely quiet, because two
guests had been invited. One was the town constable, and the other was a
free colored man, who tried to pass himself off for white, and who was
always ready to do any mean work for the sake of currying favor with white
people. My grandmother had a motive for inviting them. She managed to take
them all over the house. All the rooms on the lower floor were thrown open
for them to pass in and out; and after dinner, they were invited up stairs to
look at a fine mocking bird my uncle had just brought home. There, too,
the rooms were all thrown open that they might look in. When I heard
them talking on the piazza, my heart almost stood still. I knew this colored
man had spent many nights hunting for me. Every body knew he had the blood of
a slave father in his veins; but for the sake of passing himself off
for white, he was ready to kiss the slaveholders' feet. How I despised him!
As for the constable, he wore no false colors. The duties of his office
were despicable, but he was superior to his companion, inasmuch as he did
not pretend to be what he was not. Any white man, who could raise money
enough to buy a slave, would have considered himself degraded by being
a constable; but the office enabled its possessor to exercise authority.
If he found any slave out after nine o'clock, he could whip him as much as
he liked; and that was a privilege to be coveted. When the guests were
ready to depart, my grandmother gave each of them some of her nice pudding,
as a present for their wives. Through my peep-hole I saw them go out of
the gate, and I was glad when it closed after them. So passed the
first Christmas in my den.
XXIII. Still In Prison.
When spring returned, and I took in the little patch of green the
aperture commanded, I asked myself how many more summers and winters I must
be condemned to spend thus. I longed to draw in a plentiful draught of
fresh air, to stretch my cramped limbs, to have room to stand erect, to feel
the earth under my feet again. My relatives were constantly on the lookout
for a chance of escape; but none offered that seemed practicable, and
even tolerably safe. The hot summer came again, and made the turpentine
drop from the thin roof over my head.
During the long nights I was restless for want of air, and I had no room
to toss and turn. There was but one compensation; the atmosphere was
so stifled that even mosquitos would not condescend to buzz in it. With all
my detestation of Dr. Flint, I could hardly wish him a worse
punishment, either in this world or that which is to come, than to suffer
what I suffered in one single summer. Yet the laws allowed him to be out in
the free air, while I, guiltless of crime, was pent up here, as the only
means of avoiding the cruelties the laws allowed him to inflict upon me! I
don't know what kept life within me. Again and again, I thought I should
die before long; but I saw the leaves of another autumn whirl through the
air, and felt the touch of another winter. In summer the most terrible
thunder storms were acceptable, for the rain came through the roof, and I
rolled up my bed that it might cool the hot boards under it. Later in the
season, storms sometimes wet my clothes through and through, and that was
not comfortable when the air grew chilly. Moderate storms I could keep out
by filling the chinks with oakum.
But uncomfortable as my situation was, I had glimpses of things out
of doors, which made me thankful for my wretched hiding-place. One day I saw
a slave pass our gate, muttering, "It's his own, and he can kill it if
he will." My grandmother told me that woman's history. Her mistress had
that day seen her baby for the first time, and in the lineaments of its
fair face she saw a likeness to her husband. She turned the bondwoman and
her child out of doors, and forbade her ever to return. The slave went to
her master, and told him what had happened. He promised to talk with
her mistress, and make it all right. The next day she and her baby were sold
to a Georgia trader.
Another time I saw a woman rush wildly by, pursued by two men. She was
a slave, the wet nurse of her mistress's children. For some trifling
offence her mistress ordered her to be stripped and whipped. To escape
the degradation and the torture, she rushed to the river, jumped in, and
ended her wrongs in death.
Senator Brown, of Mississippi, could not be ignorant of many such facts
as these, for they are of frequent occurrence in every Southern State. Yet
he stood up in the Congress of the United States, and declared that
slavery was "a great moral, social, and political blessing; a blessing to
the master, and a blessing to the slave!"
I suffered much more during the second winter than I did during the
first. My limbs were benumbed by inaction, and the cold filled them with
cramp. I had a very painful sensation of coldness in my head; even my face
and tongue stiffened, and I lost the power of speech. Of course it
was impossible, under the circumstances, to summon any physician. My
brother William came and did all he could for me. Uncle Phillip also
watched tenderly over me; and poor grandmother crept up and down to inquire
whether there were any signs of returning life. I was restored to
consciousness by the dashing of cold water in my face, and found myself
leaning against my brother's arm, while he bent over me with streaming eyes.
He afterwards told me he thought I was dying, for I had been in an
unconscious state sixteen hours. I next became delirious, and was in great
danger of betraying myself and my friends. To prevent this, they stupefied me
with drugs. I remained in bed six weeks, weary in body and sick at heart. How
to get medical advice was the question. William finally went to a
Thompsonian doctor, and described himself as having all my pains and aches.
He returned with herbs, roots, and ointment. He was especially charged to rub
on the ointment by a fire; but how could a fire be made in my little den?
Charcoal in a furnace was tried, but there was no outlet for the gas, and it
nearly cost me my life. Afterwards coals, already kindled, were brought up in
an iron pan, and placed on bricks. I was so weak, and it was so long since
I had enjoyed the warmth of a fire, that those few coals actually made
me weep. I think the medicines did me some good; but my recovery was
very slow. Dark thoughts passed through my mind as I lay there day after day.
I tried to be thankful for my little cell, dismal as it was, and even to
love it, as part of the price I had paid for the redemption of my
children. Sometimes I thought God was a compassionate Father, who would
forgive my sins for the sake of my sufferings. At other times, it seemed to
me there was no justice or mercy in the divine government. I asked why the
curse of slavery was permitted to exist, and why I had been so persecuted
and wronged from youth upward. These things took the shape of mystery, which
is to this day not so clear to my soul as I trust it will be hereafter.
In the midst of my illness, grandmother broke down under the weight
and anxiety and toil. The idea of losing her, who had always been my
best friend and a mother to my children, was the sorest trial I had yet had.
O, how earnestly I prayed that she might recover! How hard it seemed, that
I could not tend upon her, who had so long and so tenderly watched over
One day the screams of a child nerved me with strength to crawl to
my peeping-hole, and I saw my son covered with blood. A fierce dog,
usually kept chained, had seized and bitten him. A doctor was sent for, and I
heard the groans and screams of my child while the wounds were being sewed
up. O, what torture to a mother's heart, to listen to this and be unable to
go to him!
But childhood is like a day in spring, alternately shower and
sunshine. Before night Benny was bright and lively, threatening the
destruction of the dog; and great was his delight when the doctor told him
the next day that the dog had bitten another boy and been shot. Benny
recovered from his wounds; but it was long before he could walk.
When my grandmother's illness became known, many ladies, who were
her customers, called to bring her some little comforts, and to inquire
whether she had every thing she wanted. Aunt Nancy one night asked permission
to watch with her sick mother, and Mrs. Flint replied, "I don't see any
need of your going. I can't spare you." But when she found other ladies in
the neighborhood were so attentive, not wishing to be outdone in
Christian charity, she also sallied forth, in magnificent condescension, and
stood by the bedside of her who had loved her in her infancy, and who had
been repaid by such grievous wrongs. She seemed surprised to find her so
ill, and scolded uncle Phillip for not sending for Dr. Flint. She herself
sent for him immediately, and he came. Secure as I was in my retreat, I
should have been terrified if I had known he was so near me. He pronounced
my grandmother in a very critical situation, and said if her
attending physician wished it, he would visit her. Nobody wished to have him
coming to the house at all hours, and we were not disposed to give him a
chance to make out a long bill.
As Mrs. Flint went out, Sally told her the reason Benny was lame was,
that a dog had bitten him. "I'm glad of it," replied she. "I wish he had
killed him. It would be good news to send to his mother. Her day will come.
The dogs will grab her yet." With these Christian words she and her
husband departed, and, to my great satisfaction, returned no more.
I learned from uncle Phillip, with feelings of unspeakable joy
and gratitude, that the crisis was passed and grandmother would live. I
could now say from my heart, "God is merciful. He has spared me the anguish
of feeling that I caused her death."
XXIV. The Candidate For Congress.
The summer had nearly ended, when Dr. Flint made a third visit to New
York, in search of me. Two candidates were running for Congress, and he
returned in season to vote. The father of my children was the Whig candidate.
The doctor had hitherto been a stanch Whig; but now he exerted all his
energies for the defeat of Mr. Sands. He invited large parties of men to dine
in the shade of his trees, and supplied them with plenty of rum and brandy.
If any poor fellow drowned his wits in the bowl, and, in the openness of
his convivial heart, proclaimed that he did not mean to vote the
Democratic ticket, he was shoved into the street without ceremony.
The doctor expended his liquor in vain. Mr. Sands was elected; an
event which occasioned me some anxious thoughts. He had not emancipated
my children, and if he should die they would be at the mercy of his heirs.
Two little voices, that frequently met my ear, seemed to plead with me not
to let their father depart without striving to make their freedom
secure. Years had passed since I had spoken to him. I had not even seen him
since the night I passed him, unrecognized, in my disguise of a sailor.
I supposed he would call before he left, to say something to my
grandmother concerning the children, and I resolved what course to
The day before his departure for Washington I made arrangements,
toward evening, to get from my hiding-place into the storeroom below. I
found myself so stiff and clumsy that it was with great difficulty I could
hitch from one resting place to another. When I reached the storeroom my
ankles gave way under me, and I sank exhausted on the floor. It seemed as if
I could never use my limbs again. But the purpose I had in view roused
all the strength I had. I crawled on my hands and knees to the window,
and, screened behind a barrel, I waited for his coming. The clock struck
nine, and I knew the steamboat would leave between ten and eleven. My hopes
were failing. But presently I heard his voice, saying to some one, "Wait for
me a moment. I wish to see aunt Martha." When he came out, as he passed
the window, I said, "Stop one moment, and let me speak for my children."
He started, hesitated, and then passed on, and went out of the gate. I
closed the shutter I had partially opened, and sank down behind the barrel. I
had suffered much; but seldom had I experienced a keener pang than I then
felt. Had my children, then, become of so little consequence to him? And had
he so little feeling for their wretched mother that he would not listen
a moment while she pleaded for them? Painful memories were so busy within
me, that I forgot I had not hooked the shutter, till I heard some one
opening it. I looked up. He had come back. "Who called me?" said he, in a low
tone. "I did," I replied. "Oh, Linda," said he, "I knew your voice; but I
was afraid to answer, lest my friend should hear me. Why do you come here?
Is it possible you risk yourself in this house? They are mad to allow it.
I shall expect to hear that you are all ruined," I did not wish to
implicate him, by letting him know my place of concealment; so I merely said,
"I thought you would come to bid grandmother good by, and so I came here
to speak a few words to you about emancipating my children. Many changes
may take place during the six months you are gone to Washington, and it
does not seem right for you to expose them to the risk of such changes. I
want nothing for myself; all I ask is, that you will free my children,
or authorize some friend to do it, before you go."
He promised he would do it, and also expressed a readiness; to make
any arrangements whereby I could be purchased.
I heard footsteps approaching, and closed the shutter hastily. I wanted
to crawl back to my den, without letting the family know what I had done;
for I knew they would deem it very imprudent. But he stepped back into
the house, to tell my grandmother that he had spoken with me at the
storeroom window, and to beg of her not to allow me to remain in the house
over night He said it was the height of madness for me to be there; that we
should certainly all be ruined. Luckily, he was in too much of a hurry to
wait for a reply, or the dear old woman would surely have told him all.
I tried to go back to my den, but found it more difficult to go up than
I had to come down. Now that my mission was fulfilled, the little
strength that had supported me through it was gone, and I sank helpless on
the floor. My grandmother, alarmed at the risk I had run, came into
the storeroom in the dark, and locked the door behind her. "Linda,"
she whispered, "where are you?"
"I am here by the window," I replied. "I couldn't have him go
away without emancipating the children. Who knows what may happen?"
"Come, come, child," said she, "it won't do for you to stay here
another minute. You've done wrong; but I can't blame you, poor thing!" I told
her I could not return without assistance, and she must call my uncle.
Uncle Phillip came, and pity prevented him from scolding me. He carried me
back to my dungeon, laid me tenderly on the bed, gave me some medicine,
and asked me if there was any thing more he could do. Then he went away, and
I was left with my own thoughts—starless as the midnight darkness around
My friends feared I should become a cripple for life; and I was so weary
of my long imprisonment that, had it not been for the hope of serving
my children, I should have been thankful to die; but, for their sakes, I
was willing to bear on.
XXV. Competition In Cunning.
Dr. Flint had not given me up. Every now and then he would say to
my grandmother that I would yet come back, and voluntarily surrender
myself; and that when I did, I could be purchased by my relatives, or any one
who wished to buy me. I knew his cunning nature too well not to perceive
that this was a trap laid for me; and so all my friends understood it.
I resolved to match my cunning against his cunning. In order to make
him believe that I was in New York, I resolved to write him a letter dated
from that place. I sent for my friend Peter, and asked him if he knew
any trustworthy seafaring person, who would carry such a letter to New
York, and put it in the post office there. He said he knew one that he
would trust with his own life to the ends of the world. I reminded him that
it was a hazardous thing for him to undertake. He said he knew it, but he
was willing to do any thing to help me. I expressed a wish for a New
York paper, to ascertain the names of some of the streets. He run his hand
into his pocket, and said, "Here is half a one, that was round a cap I bought
of a pedler yesterday." I told him the letter would be ready the next
evening. He bade me good by, adding, "Keep up your spirits, Linda; brighter
days will come by and by."
My uncle Phillip kept watch over the gate until our brief interview
was over. Early the next morning, I seated myself near the little aperture
to examine the newspaper. It was a piece of the New York Herald; and,
for once, the paper that systematically abuses the colored people, was made
to render them a service. Having obtained what information I wanted
concerning streets and numbers, I wrote two letters, one to my grandmother,
the other to Dr. Flint. I reminded him how he, a gray-headed man, had treated
a helpless child, who had been placed in his power, and what years of
misery he had brought upon her. To my grandmother, I expressed a wish to have
my children sent to me at the north, where I could teach them to
respect themselves, and set them a virtuous example; which a slave mother was
not allowed to do at the south. I asked her to direct her answer to a
certain street in Boston, as I did not live in New York, though I went
there sometimes. I dated these letters ahead, to allow for the time it would
take to carry them, and sent a memorandum of the date to the messenger. When
my friend came for the letters, I said, "God bless and reward you, Peter,
for this disinterested kindness. Pray be careful. If you are detected, both
you and I will have to suffer dreadfully. I have not a relative who would
dare to do it for me." He replied, "You may trust to me, Linda. I don't
forget that your father was my best friend, and I will be a friend to his
children so long as God lets me live."
It was necessary to tell my grandmother what I had done, in order that
she might be ready for the letter, and prepared to hear what Dr. Flint
might say about my being at the north. She was sadly troubled. She felt
sure mischief would come of it. I also told my plan to aunt Nancy, in order
that she might report to us what was said at Dr. Flint's house. I whispered
it to her through a crack, and she whispered back, "I hope it will succeed.
I shan't mind being a slave all my life, if I can only see you and
the children free."
I had directed that my letters should be put into the New York post
office on the 20th of the month. On the evening of the 24th my aunt came to
say that Dr. Flint and his wife had been talking in a low voice about a
letter he had received, and that when he went to his office he promised to
bring it when he came to tea. So I concluded I should hear my letter read
the next morning. I told my grandmother Dr. Flint would be sure to come,
and asked her to have him sit near a certain door, and leave it open, that
I might hear what he said. The next morning I took my station within sound
of that door, and remained motionless as a statue. It was not long before
I heard the gate slam, and the well-known footsteps enter the house.
He seated himself in the chair that was placed for him, and said,
"Well, Martha, I've brought you a letter from Linda. She has sent me a
letter, also. I know exactly where to find her; but I don't choose to go to
Boston for her. I had rather she would come back of her own accord, in
a respectable manner. Her uncle Phillip is the best person to go for
her. With him, she would feel perfectly free to act. I am willing to pay
his expenses going and returning. She shall be sold to her friends.
Her children are free; at least I suppose they are; and when you obtain
her freedom, you'll make a happy family. I suppose, Martha, you have
no objection to my reading to you the letter Linda has written to you."
He broke the seal, and I heard him read it. The old villain! He
had suppressed the letter I wrote to grandmother, and prepared a substitute
of his own, the purport of which was as follows:—
I have long wanted to write to you; but
the disgraceful manner in which I left you and my children made
me ashamed to do it. If you knew how much I have suffered since
I ran away, you would pity and forgive me. I have purchased
freedom at a dear rate. If any arrangement could be made for me
to return to the south without being a slave, I would gladly
come. If not, I beg of you to send my children to the north. I
cannot live any longer without them. Let me know in time, and I
will meet them in New York or Philadelphia, whichever place best
suits my uncle's convenience. Write as soon as possible to your
"It is very much as I expected it would be," said the old hypocrite,
rising to go. "You see the foolish girl has repented of her rashness, and
wants to return. We must help her to do it, Martha. Talk with Phillip about
it. If he will go for her, she will trust to him, and come back. I should
like an answer to-morrow. Good morning, Martha."
As he stepped out on the piazza, he stumbled over my little girl.
"Ah, Ellen, is that you?" he said, in his most gracious manner. "I didn't
see you. How do you do?"
"Pretty well, sir," she replied. "I heard you tell grandmother that
my mother is coming home. I want to see her."
"Yes, Ellen, I am going to bring her home very soon," rejoined he; "and
you shall see her as much as you like, you little curly-headed nigger."
This was as good as a comedy to me, who had heard it all; but
grandmother was frightened and distressed, because the doctor wanted my uncle
to go for me.
The next evening Dr. Flint called to talk the matter over. My uncle
told him that from what he had heard of Massachusetts, he judged he should
be mobbed if he went there after a runaway slave. "All stuff and
nonsense, Phillip!" replied the doctor. "Do you suppose I want you to kick up
a row in Boston? The business can all be done quietly. Linda writes that
she wants to come back. You are her relative, and she would trust you.
The case would be different if I went. She might object to coming with
me; and the damned abolitionists, if they knew I was her master, would
not believe me, if I told them she had begged to go back. They would get up
a row; and I should not like to see Linda dragged through the streets like
a common negro. She has been very ungrateful to me for all my kindness; but
I forgive her, and want to act the part of a friend towards her. I have
no wish to hold her as my slave. Her friends can buy her as soon as
she arrives here."
Finding that his arguments failed to convince my uncle, the doctor "let
the cat out of the bag," by saying that he had written to the mayor of
Boston, to ascertain whether there was a person of my description at the
street and number from which my letter was dated. He had omitted this date in
the letter he had made up to read to my grandmother. If I had dated from
New York, the old man would probably have made another journey to that
city. But even in that dark region, where knowledge is so carefully excluded
from the slave, I had heard enough about Massachusetts to come to the
conclusion that slaveholders did not consider it a comfortable place to go in
search of a runaway. That was before the Fugitive Slave Law was passed;
before Massachusetts had consented to become a "nigger hunter" for the
My grandmother, who had become skittish by seeing her family always
in danger, came to me with a very distressed countenance, and said, "What
will you do if the mayor of Boston sends him word that you haven't been
there? Then he will suspect the letter was a trick; and maybe he'll find
out something about it, and we shall all get into trouble. O Linda, I wish
you had never sent the letters."
"Don't worry yourself, Grandmother," said I. "The mayor of Boston
won't trouble himself to hunt niggers for Dr. Flint. The letters will do good
in the end. I shall get out of this dark hole some time or other."
"I hope you will, child," replied the good, patient old friend. "You
have been here a long time; almost five years; but whenever you do go, it
will break your old grandmother's heart. I should be expecting every day to
hear that you were brought back in irons and put in jail. God help you,
poor child! Let us be thankful that some time or other we shall go 'where
the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.'" My
heart responded, Amen.
The fact that Dr. Flint had written to the mayor of Boston convinced
me that he believed my letter to be genuine, and of course that he had
no suspicion of my being any where in the vicinity. It was a great object
to keep up this delusion, for it made me and my friends feel less anxious,
and it would be very convenient whenever there was a chance to escape.
I resolved, therefore, to continue to write letters from the north from
time to time.
Two or three weeks passed, and as no news came from the mayor of
Boston, grandmother began to listen to my entreaty to be allowed to leave my
cell, sometimes, and exercise my limbs to prevent my becoming a cripple. I
was allowed to slip down into the small storeroom, early in the morning,
and remain there a little while. The room was all filled up with
barrels, except a small open space under my trap-door. This faced the door,
the upper part of which was of glass, and purposely left uncurtained, that
the curious might look in. The air of this place was close; but it was so
much better than the atmosphere of my cell, that I dreaded to return. I
came down as soon as it was light, and remained till eight o'clock, when
people began to be about, and there was danger that some one might come on
the piazza. I had tried various applications to bring warmth and feeling
into my limbs, but without avail. They were so numb and stiff that it was
a painful effort to move; and had my enemies come upon me during the
first mornings I tried to exercise them a little in the small unoccupied
space of the storeroom, it would have been impossible for me to have
XXVI. Important Era In My Brother's Life.
I missed the company and kind attentions of my brother William, who
had gone to Washington with his master, Mr. Sands. We received several
letters from him, written without any allusion to me, but expressed in such
a manner that I knew he did not forget me. I disguised my hand, and wrote
to him in the same manner. It was a long session; and when it closed,
William wrote to inform us that Mr. Sands was going to the north, to be gone
some time, and that he was to accompany him. I knew that his master had
promised to give him his freedom, but no time had been specified. Would
William trust to a slave's chances? I remembered how we used to talk
together, in our young days, about obtaining our freedom, and I thought it
very doubtful whether he would come back to us.
Grandmother received a letter from Mr. Sands, saying that William
had proved a most faithful servant, and he would also say a valued friend;
that no mother had ever trained a better boy. He said he had travelled
through the Northern States and Canada; and though the abolitionists had
tried to decoy him away, they had never succeeded. He ended by saying they
should be at home shortly.
We expected letters from William, describing the novelties of his
journey, but none came. In time, it was reported that Mr. Sands would return
late in the autumn, accompanied by a bride. Still no letters from William. I
felt almost sure I should never see him again on southern soil; but had he
no word of comfort to send to his friends at home? to the poor captive in
her dungeon? My thoughts wandered through the dark past, and over the
uncertain future. Alone in my cell, where no eye but God's could see me, I
wept bitter tears. How earnestly I prayed to him to restore me to my
children, and enable me to be a useful woman and a good mother!
At last the day arrived for the return of the travellers. Grandmother
had made loving preparations to welcome her absent boy back to the
old hearthstone. When the dinner table was laid, William's place occupied
its old place. The stage coach went by empty. My grandmother waited dinner.
She thought perhaps he was necessarily detained by his master. In my prison
I listened anxiously, expecting every moment to hear my dear brother's
voice and step. In the course of the afternoon a lad was sent by Mr. Sands
to tell grandmother that William did not return with him; that
the abolitionists had decoyed him away. But he begged her not to feel
troubled about it, for he felt confident she would see William in a few days.
As soon as he had time to reflect he would come back, for he could
never expect to be so well off at the north as he had been with him.
If you had seen the tears, and heard the sobs, you would have thought
the messenger had brought tidings of death instead of freedom. Poor
old grandmother felt that she should never see her darling boy again. And I
was selfish. I thought more of what I had lost, than of what my brother
had gained. A new anxiety began to trouble me. Mr. Sands had expended a
good deal of money, and would naturally feel irritated by the loss he
had incurred. I greatly feared this might injure the prospects of my
children, who were now becoming valuable property. I longed to have
their emancipation made certain. The more so, because their master and father
was now married. I was too familiar with slavery not to know that promises
made to slaves, though with kind intentions, and sincere at the time,
depend upon many contingencies for their fulfillment.
Much as I wished William to be free, the step he had taken made me sad
and anxious. The following Sabbath was calm and clear; so beautiful that
it seemed like a Sabbath in the eternal world. My grandmother brought
the children out on the piazza, that I might hear their voices. She thought
it would comfort me in my despondency; and it did. They chatted merrily,
as only children can. Benny said, "Grandmother, do you think uncle Will
has gone for good? Won't he ever come back again? May be he'll find mother.
If he does, won't she be glad to see him! Why don't you and uncle
Phillip, and all of us, go and live where mother is? I should like it;
wouldn't you, Ellen?"
"Yes, I should like it," replied Ellen; "but how could we find her? Do
you know the place, grandmother? I don't remember how mother looked—do
Benny was just beginning to describe me when they were interrupted by
an old slave woman, a near neighbor, named Aggie. This poor creature
had witnessed the sale of her children, and seen them carried off to
parts unknown, without any hopes of ever hearing from them again. She saw
that my grandmother had been weeping, and she said, in a sympathizing tone,
"What's the matter, aunt Marthy?"
"O Aggie," she replied, "it seems as if I shouldn't have any of my
children or grandchildren left to hand me a drink when I'm dying, and lay my
old body in the ground. My boy didn't come back with Mr. Sands. He staid at
Poor old Aggie clapped her hands for joy. "Is dat what you's crying
fur?" she exclaimed. "Git down on your knees and bress de Lord! I don't know
whar my poor chillern is, and I nebber 'spect to know. You don't know whar
poor Linda's gone to; but you do know whar her brudder is. He's in free
parts; and dat's de right place. Don't murmur at de Lord's doings but git
down on your knees and tank him for his goodness."
My selfishness was rebuked by what poor Aggie said. She rejoiced over
the escape of one who was merely her fellow-bondman, while his own sister
was only thinking what his good fortune might cost her children. I knelt
and prayed God to forgive me; and I thanked him from my heart, that one of
my family was saved from the grasp of slavery.
It was not long before we received a letter from William. He wrote that
Mr. Sands had always treated him kindly, and that he had tried to do his
duty to him faithfully. But ever since he was a boy, he had longed to be
free; and he had already gone through enough to convince him he had better
not lose the chance that offered. He concluded by saying, "Don't worry
about me, dear grandmother. I shall think of you always; and it will spur me
on to work hard and try to do right. When I have earned money enough to
give you a home, perhaps you will come to the north, and we can all live
Mr. Sands told my uncle Phillip the particulars about William's
leaving him. He said, "I trusted him as if he were my own brother, and
treated him as kindly. The abolitionists talked to him in several places; but
I had no idea they could tempt him. However, I don't blame William. He's
young and inconsiderate, and those Northern rascals decoyed him. I must
confess the scamp was very bold about it. I met him coming down the steps of
the Astor House with his trunk on his shoulder, and I asked him where he was
going. He said he was going to change his old trunk. I told him it was
rather shabby, and asked if he didn't need some money. He said, No, thanked
me, and went off. He did not return so soon as I expected; but I
waited patiently. At last I went to see if our trunks were packed, ready for
our journey. I found them locked, and a sealed note on the table informed
me where I could find the keys. The fellow even tried to be religious.
He wrote that he hoped God would always bless me, and reward me for
my kindness; that he was not unwilling to serve me; but he wanted to be a
free man; and that if I thought he did wrong, he hoped I would forgive him.
I intended to give him his freedom in five years. He might have trusted
me. He has shown himself ungrateful; but I shall not go for him, or send
for him. I feel confident that he will soon return to me."
I afterwards heard an account of the affair from William himself. He
had not been urged away by abolitionists. He needed no information they
could give him about slavery to stimulate his desire for freedom. He looked
at his hands, and remembered that they were once in irons. What security
had he that they would not be so again? Mr. Sands was kind to him; but he
might indefinitely postpone the promise he had made to give him his freedom.
He might come under pecuniary embarrassments, and his property be seized
by creditors; or he might die, without making any arrangements in his
favor. He had too often known such accidents to happen to slaves who had
kind masters, and he wisely resolved to make sure of the present opportunity
to own himself. He was scrupulous about taking any money from his master
on false pretences; so he sold his best clothes to pay for his passage
to Boston. The slaveholders pronounced him a base, ungrateful wretch, for
thus requiting his master's indulgence. What would they have done
under similar circumstances?
When Dr. Flint's family heard that William had deserted Mr. Sands,
they chuckled greatly over the news. Mrs. Flint made her usual manifestations
of Christian feeling, by saying, "I'm glad of it. I hope he'll never get
him again. I like to see people paid back in their own coin. I reckon
Linda's children will have to pay for it. I should be glad to see them in
the speculator's hands again, for I'm tired of seeing those little
niggers march about the streets."
XXVII. New Destination For The Children.
Mrs. Flint proclaimed her intention of informing Mrs. Sands who was
the father of my children. She likewise proposed to tell her what an
artful devil I was; that I had made a great deal of trouble in her family;
that when Mr. Sands was at the north, she didn't doubt I had followed him
in disguise, and persuaded William to run away. She had some reason
to entertain such an idea; for I had written from the north, from time
to time, and I dated my letters from various places. Many of them fell
into Dr. Flint's hands, as I expected they would; and he must have come to
the conclusion that I travelled about a good deal. He kept a close watch
over my children, thinking they would eventually lead to my detection.
A new and unexpected trial was in store for me. One day, when Mr. Sands
and his wife were walking in the street, they met Benny. The lady took a
fancy to him, and exclaimed, "What a pretty little negro! Whom does he
Benny did not hear the answer; but he came home very indignant with
the stranger lady, because she had called him a negro. A few days
afterwards, Mr. Sands called on my grandmother, and told her he wanted her to
take the children to his house. He said he had informed his wife of his
relation to them, and told her they were motherless; and she wanted to see
When he had gone, my grandmother came and asked what I would do.
The question seemed a mockery. What could I do? They were Mr. Sands's
slaves, and their mother was a slave, whom he had represented to be dead.
Perhaps he thought I was. I was too much pained and puzzled to come to
any decision; and the children were carried without my knowledge. Mrs.
Sands had a sister from Illinois staying with her. This lady, who had no
children of her own, was so much pleased with Ellen, that she offered to
adopt her, and bring her up as she would a daughter. Mrs. Sands wanted to
take Benjamin. When grandmother reported this to me, I was tried almost
beyond endurance. Was this all I was to gain by what I had suffered for the
sake of having my children free? True, the prospect seemed fair; but I
knew too well how lightly slaveholders held such "parental relations."
If pecuniary troubles should come, or if the new wife required more money
than could conveniently be spared, my children might be thought of as
a convenient means of raising funds. I had no trust in thee, O Slavery!
Never should I know peace till my children were emancipated with all
due formalities of law.
I was too proud to ask Mr. Sands to do any thing for my own benefit; but
I could bring myself to become a supplicant for my children. I resolved
to remind him of the promise he had made me, and to throw myself upon
his honor for the performance of it. I persuaded my grandmother to go to
him, and tell him I was not dead, and that I earnestly entreated him to keep
the promise he had made me; that I had heard of the recent proposals
concerning my children, and did not feel easy to accept them; that he had
promised to emancipate them, and it was time for him to redeem his pledge. I
knew there was some risk in thus betraying that I was in the vicinity; but
what will not a mother do for her children? He received the message with
surprise, and said, "The children are free. I have never intended to claim
them as slaves. Linda may decide their fate. In my opinion, they had better
be sent to the north. I don't think they are quite safe here. Dr. Flint
boasts that they are still in his power. He says they were his daughter's
property, and as she was not of age when they were sold, the contract is not
So, then, after all I had endured for their sakes, my poor children
were between two fires; between my old master and their new master! And I
was powerless. There was no protecting arm of the law for me to invoke.
Mr. Sands proposed that Ellen should go, for the present, to some of
his relatives, who had removed to Brooklyn, Long Island. It was promised
that she should be well taken care of, and sent to school. I consented to it,
as the best arrangement I could make for her. My grandmother, of
course, negotiated it all; and Mrs. Sands knew of no other person in
the transaction. She proposed that they should take Ellen with them
to Washington, and keep her till they had a good chance of sending her,
with friends, to Brooklyn. She had an infant daughter. I had had a glimpse
of it, as the nurse passed with it in her arms. It was not a pleasant
thought to me, that the bondwoman's child should tend her free-born sister;
but there was no alternative. Ellen was made ready for the journey. O, how
it tried my heart to send her away, so young, alone, among strangers!
Without a mother's love to shelter her from the storms of life; almost
without memory of a mother! I doubted whether she and Benny would have for me
the natural affection that children feel for a parent. I thought to myself
that I might perhaps never see my daughter again, and I had a great desire
that she should look upon me, before she went, that she might take my image
with her in her memory. It seemed to me cruel to have her brought to my
dungeon. It was sorrow enough for her young heart to know that her mother was
a victim of slavery, without seeing the wretched hiding-place to which it
had driven her. I begged permission to pass the last night in one of the
open chambers, with my little girl. They thought I was crazy to think
of trusting such a young child with my perilous secret. I told them I
had watched her character, and I felt sure she would not betray me; that I
was determined to have an interview, and if they would not facilitate it,
I would take my own way to obtain it. They remonstrated against the
rashness of such a proceeding; but finding they could not change my purpose,
they yielded. I slipped through the trap-door into the storeroom, and my
uncle kept watch at the gate, while I passed into the piazza and went up
stairs, to the room I used to occupy. It was more than five years since I had
seen it; and how the memories crowded on me! There I had taken shelter when
my mistress drove me from her house; there came my old tyrant, to
mock, insult, and curse me; there my children were first laid in my arms;
there I had watched over them, each day with a deeper and sadder love; there
I had knelt to God, in anguish of heart, to forgive the wrong I had done.
How vividly it all came back! And after this long, gloomy interval, I
stood there such a wreck!
In the midst of these meditations, I heard footsteps on the stairs.
The door opened, and my uncle Phillip came in, leading Ellen by the hand. I
put my arms round her, and said, "Ellen, my dear child, I am your mother."
She drew back a little, and looked at me; then, with sweet confidence, she
laid her cheek against mine, and I folded her to the heart that had been so
long desolated. She was the first to speak. Raising her head, she
said, inquiringly, "You really are my mother?" I told her I really was;
that during all the long time she had not seen me, I had loved her
most tenderly; and that now she was going away, I wanted to see her and
talk with her, that she might remember me. With a sob in her voice, she
said, "I'm glad you've come to see me; but why didn't you ever come before?
Benny and I have wanted so much to see you! He remembers you, and sometimes
he tells me about you. Why didn't you come home when Dr. Flint went to
I answered, "I couldn't come before, dear. But now that I am with you,
tell me whether you like to go away." "I don't know," said she,
crying. "Grandmother says I ought not to cry; that I am going to a good
place, where I can learn to read and write, and that by and by I can write
her a letter. But I shan't have Benny, or grandmother, or uncle Phillip, or
any body to love me. Can't you go with me? O, do go, dear mother!"
I told her I couldn't go now; but sometime I would come to her, and
then she and Benny and I would live together, and have happy times. She
wanted to run and bring Benny to see me now. I told her he was going to the
north, before long, with uncle Phillip, and then I would come to see him
before he went away. I asked if she would like to have me stay all night and
sleep with her. "O, yes," she replied. Then, turning to her uncle, she
said, pleadingly, "May I stay? Please, uncle! She is my own mother." He
laid his hand on her head, and said, solemnly, "Ellen, this is the secret
you have promised grandmother never to tell. If you ever speak of it to
any body, they will never let you see your grandmother again, and your
mother can never come to Brooklyn." "Uncle," she replied, "I will never
tell." He told her she might stay with me; and when he had gone, I took her
in my arms and told her I was a slave, and that was the reason she must never
say she had seen me. I exhorted her to be a good child, to try to please
the people where she was going, and that God would raise her up friends. I
told her to say her prayers, and remember always to pray for her poor
mother, and that God would permit us to meet again. She wept, and I did not
check her tears. Perhaps she would never again have a chance to pour her
tears into a mother's bosom. All night she nestled in my arms, and I had
no inclination to slumber. The moments were too precious to lose any of
them. Once, when I thought she was asleep, I kissed her forehead softly, and
she said, "I am not asleep, dear mother."
Before dawn they came to take me back to my den. I drew aside the
window curtain, to take a last look of my child. The moonlight shone on her
face, and I bent over her, as I had done years before, that wretched night
when I ran away. I hugged her close to my throbbing heart; and tears, too sad
for such young eyes to shed, flowed down her cheeks, as she gave her last
kiss, and whispered in my ear, "Mother, I will never tell." And she never
When I got back to my den, I threw myself on the bed and wept there
alone in the darkness. It seemed as if my heart would burst. When the time
for Ellen's departure drew nigh, I could hear neighbors and friends saying
to her, "Good by, Ellen. I hope your poor mother will find you out.
Won't you be glad to see her!" She replied, "Yes, ma'am;" and they little
dreamed of the weighty secret that weighed down her young heart. She was
an affectionate child, but naturally very reserved, except with those
she loved, and I felt secure that my secret would be safe with her. I heard
the gate close after her, with such feelings as only a slave mother
can experience. During the day my meditations were very sad. Sometimes I
feared I had been very selfish not to give up all claim to her, and let her
go to Illinois, to be adopted by Mrs. Sands's sister. It was my experience
of slavery that decided me against it. I feared that circumstances might
arise that would cause her to be sent back. I felt confident that I should go
to New York myself; and then I should be able to watch over her, and in
some degree protect her.
Dr. Flint's family knew nothing of the proposed arrangement till
after Ellen was gone, and the news displeased them greatly. Mrs. Flint called
on Mrs. Sands's sister to inquire into the matter. She expressed her
opinion very freely as to the respect Mr. Sands showed for his wife, and for
his own character, in acknowledging those "young niggers." And as for
sending Ellen away, she pronounced it to be just as much stealing as it would
be for him to come and take a piece of furniture out of her parlor. She
said her daughter was not of age to sign the bill of sale, and the children
were her property; and when she became of age, or was married, she could
take them, wherever she could lay hands on them.
Miss Emily Flint, the little girl to whom I had been bequeathed, was now
in her sixteenth year. Her mother considered it all right and honorable
for her, or her future husband, to steal my children; but she did
not understand how any body could hold up their heads in respectable
society, after they had purchased their own children, as Mr. Sands had done.
Dr. Flint said very little. Perhaps he thought that Benny would be less
likely to be sent away if he kept quiet. One of my letters, that fell into
his hands, was dated from Canada; and he seldom spoke of me now. This state
of things enabled me to slip down into the storeroom more frequently, where
I could stand upright, and move my limbs more freely.
Days, weeks, and months passed, and there came no news of Ellen. I sent
a letter to Brooklyn, written in my grandmother's name, to inquire
whether she had arrived there. Answer was returned that she had not. I wrote
to her in Washington; but no notice was taken of it. There was one person
there, who ought to have had some sympathy with the anxiety of the child's
friends at home; but the links of such relations as he had formed with me,
are easily broken and cast away as rubbish. Yet how protectingly
and persuasively he once talked to the poor, helpless slave girl! And
how entirely I trusted him! But now suspicions darkened my mind. Was my
child dead, or had they deceived me, and sold her?
If the secret memoirs of many members of Congress should be
published, curious details would be unfolded. I once saw a letter from a
member of Congress to a slave, who was the mother of six of his children. He
wrote to request that she would send her children away from the great house
before his return, as he expected to be accompanied by friends. The woman
could not read, and was obliged to employ another to read the letter.
The existence of the colored children did not trouble this gentleman, it
was only the fear that friends might recognize in their features a
resemblance to him.
At the end of six months, a letter came to my grandmother, from
Brooklyn. It was written by a young lady in the family, and announced that
Ellen had just arrived. It contained the following message from her: "I do
try to do just as you told me to, and I pray for you every night and
morning." I understood that these words were meant for me; and they were a
balsam to my heart. The writer closed her letter by saying, "Ellen is a nice
little girl, and we shall like to have her with us. My cousin, Mr. Sands,
has given her to me, to be my little waiting maid. I shall send her to
school, and I hope some day she will write to you herself." This letter
perplexed and troubled me. Had my child's father merely placed her there till
she was old enough to support herself? Or had he given her to his cousin, as
a piece of property? If the last idea was correct, his cousin might return
to the south at any time, and hold Ellen as a slave. I tried to put away
from me the painful thought that such a foul wrong could have been done to
us. I said to myself, "Surely there must be some justice in man;" then
I remembered, with a sigh, how slavery perverted all the natural feelings
of the human heart. It gave me a pang to look on my light-hearted boy.
He believed himself free; and to have him brought under the yoke of
slavery, would be more than I could bear. How I longed to have him safely out
of the reach of its power!
XXVIII. Aunt Nancy.
I have mentioned my great-aunt, who was a slave in Dr. Flint's family,
and who had been my refuge during the shameful persecutions I suffered
from him. This aunt had been married at twenty years of age; that is, as far
as slaves can marry. She had the consent of her master and mistress, and
a clergyman performed the ceremony. But it was a mere form, without any
legal value. Her master or mistress could annul it any day they pleased. She
had always slept on the floor in the entry, near Mrs. Flint's chamber
door, that she might be within call. When she was married, she was told she
might have the use of a small room in an outhouse. Her mother and her
husband furnished it. He was a seafaring man, and was allowed to sleep there
when he was at home. But on the wedding evening, the bride was ordered to
her old post on the entry floor.
Mrs. Flint, at that time, had no children; but she was expecting to be
a mother, and if she should want a drink of water in the night, what
could she do without her slave to bring it? So my aunt was compelled to lie
at her door, until one midnight she was forced to leave, to give
premature birth to a child. In a fortnight she was required to resume her
place on the entry floor, because Mrs. Flint's babe needed her attentions.
She kept her station there through summer and winter, until she had given
premature birth to six children; and all the while she was employed as
night-nurse to Mrs. Flint's children. Finally, toiling all day, and being
deprived of rest at night, completely broke down her constitution, and Dr.
Flint declared it was impossible she could ever become the mother of a living
child. The fear of losing so valuable a servant by death, now induced them to
allow her to sleep in her little room in the out-house, except when there was
sickness in the family. She afterwards had two feeble babes, one of whom died
in a few days, and the other in four weeks. I well remember her patient
sorrow as she held the last dead baby in her arms. "I wish it could have
lived," she said; "it is not the will of God that any of my children should
live. But I will try to be fit to meet their little spirits in heaven."
Aunt Nancy was housekeeper and waiting-maid in Dr. Flint's family.
Indeed, she was the factotum of the household. Nothing went on well without
her. She was my mother's twin sister, and, as far as was in her power,
she supplied a mother's place to us orphans. I slept with her all the time
I lived in my old master's house, and the bond between us was very
strong. When my friends tried to discourage me from running away; she
always encouraged me. When they thought I had better return and ask my
master's pardon, because there was no possibility of escape, she sent me word
never to yield. She said if I persevered I might, perhaps, gain the freedom
of my children; and even if I perished in doing it, that was better than to
leave them to groan under the same persecutions that had blighted my own
life. After I was shut up in my dark cell, she stole away, whenever she
could, to bring me the news and say something cheering. How often did I kneel
down to listen to her words of consolation, whispered through a crack! "I am
old, and have not long to live," she used to say; "and I could die happy if
I could only see you and the children free. You must pray to God, Linda, as
I do for you, that he will lead you out of this darkness." I would beg
her not to worry herself on my account; that there was an end of all
suffering sooner or later, and that whether I lived in chains or in freedom,
I should always remember her as the good friend who had been the comfort of
my life. A word from her always strengthened me; and not me only. The whole
family relied upon her judgement, and were guided by her advice. I had been
in my cell six years when my grandmother was summoned to the bedside of this,
her last remaining daughter. She was very ill, and they said she would
die. Grandmother had not entered Dr. Flint's house for several years. They
had treated her cruelly, but she thought nothing of that now. She was
grateful for permission to watch by the death-bed of her child. They had
always been devoted to each other; and now they sat looking into each other's
eyes, longing to speak of the secret that had weighed so much on the hearts
of both. My aunt had been stricken with paralysis. She lived but two days,
and the last day she was speechless. Before she lost the power of
utterance, she told her mother not to grieve if she could not speak to her;
that she would try to hold up her hand; to let her know that all was well
with her. Even the hard-hearted doctor was a little softened when he saw the
dying woman try to smile on the aged mother, who was kneeling by her side.
His eyes moistened for a moment, as he said she had always been a
faithful servant, and they should never be able to supply her place. Mrs.
Flint took to her bed, quite overcome by the shock. While my grandmother sat
alone with the dead, the doctor came in, leading his youngest son, who had
always been a great pet with aunt Nancy, and was much attached to her.
"Martha," said he, "aunt Nancy loved this child, and when he comes where you
are, I hope you will be kind to him, for her sake." She replied, "Your wife
was my foster-child, Dr. Flint, the foster-sister of my poor Nancy, and you
little know me if you think I can feel any thing but good will for her
"I wish the past could be forgotten, and that we might never think of
it," said he; "and that Linda would come to supply her aunt's place. She
would be worth more to us than all the money that could be paid for her. I
wish it for your sake also, Martha. Now that Nancy is taken away from you,
she would be a great comfort to your old age." He knew he was touching
a tender chord. Almost choking with grief, my grandmother replied, "It
was not I that drove Linda away. My grandchildren are gone; and of my
nine children only one is left. God help me!"
To me, the death of this kind relative was an inexpressible sorrow. I
knew that she had been slowly murdered; and I felt that my troubles had
helped to finish the work. After I heard of her illness, I listened
constantly to hear what news was brought from the great house; and the
thought that I could not go to her made me utterly miserable. At last, as
uncle Phillip came into the house, I heard some one inquire, "How is she?"
and he answered, "She is dead." My little cell seemed whirling round, and I
knew nothing more till I opened my eyes and found uncle Phillip bending over
me. I had no need to ask any questions. He whispered, "Linda, she died
happy." I could not weep. My fixed gaze troubled him. "Don't look so" he
said. "Don't add to my poor mother's trouble. Remember how much she has to
bear, and that we ought to do all we can to comfort her." Ah, yes, that
blessed old grandmother, who for seventy-three years had borne the pelting
storms of a slave-mother's life. She did indeed need consolation!
Mrs. Flint had rendered her poor foster-sister childless,
apparently without any compunction; and with cruel selfishness had ruined her
health by years of incessant, unrequited toil, and broken rest. But now she
became very sentimental. I suppose she thought it would be a
beautiful illustration of the attachment existing between slaveholder and
slave, if the body of her old worn-out servant was buried at her feet. She
sent for the clergyman and asked if he had any objection to burying aunt
Nancy in the doctor's family burial-place. No colored person had ever been
allowed interment in the white people's burying-ground, and the minister knew
that all the deceased of your family reposed together in the old graveyard
of the slaves. He therefore replied, "I have no objection to complying
with your wish; but perhaps aunt Nancy's mother may have some choice as
to where her remains shall be deposited."
It had never occurred to Mrs. Flint that slaves could have any
feelings. When my grandmother was consulted, she at once said she wanted
Nancy to lie with all the rest of her family, and where her own old body
would be buried. Mrs. Flint graciously complied with her wish, though she
said it was painful to her to have Nancy buried away from her. She might
have added with touching pathos, "I was so long used to sleep with her
lying near me, on the entry floor."
My uncle Phillip asked permission to bury his sister at his own
expense; and slaveholders are always ready to grant such favors to slaves
and their relatives. The arrangements were very plain, but
perfectly respectable. She was buried on the Sabbath, and Mrs. Flint's
minister read the funeral service. There was a large concourse of colored
people, bond and free, and a few white persons who had always been friendly
to our family. Dr. Flint's carriage was in the procession; and when the body
was deposited in its humble resting place, the mistress dropped a tear,
and returned to her carriage, probably thinking she had performed her
It was talked of by the slaves as a mighty grand funeral.
Northern travellers, passing through the place, might have described this
tribute of respect to the humble dead as a beautiful feature in the
"patriarchal institution;" a touching proof of the attachment between
slaveholders and their servants; and tender-hearted Mrs. Flint would have
confirmed this impression, with handkerchief at her eyes. We could have
told them a different story. We could have given them a chapter of wrongs
and sufferings, that would have touched their hearts, if they had any
hearts to feel for the colored people. We could have told them how the poor
old slave-mother had toiled, year after year, to earn eight hundred dollars
to buy her son Phillip's right to his own earnings; and how that same
Phillip paid the expenses of the funeral, which they regarded as doing so
much credit to the master. We could also have told them of a poor,
blighted young creature, shut up in a living grave for years, to avoid the
tortures that would be inflicted on her, if she ventured to come out and look
on the face of her departed friend.
All this, and much more, I thought of, as I sat at my loophole,
waiting for the family to return from the grave; sometimes weeping,
sometimes falling asleep, dreaming strange dreams of the dead and the
It was sad to witness the grief of my bereaved grandmother. She had
always been strong to bear, and now, as ever, religious faith supported her.
But her dark life had become still darker, and age and trouble were
leaving deep traces on her withered face. She had four places to knock for me
to come to the trapdoor, and each place had a different meaning. She now
came oftener than she had done, and talked to me of her dead daughter,
while tears trickled slowly down her furrowed cheeks. I said all I could
to comfort her; but it was a sad reflection, that instead of being able
to help her, I was a constant source of anxiety and trouble. The poor old
back was fitted to its burden. It bent under it, but did not break.
XXIX. Preparations For Escape.
I hardly expect that the reader will credit me, when I affirm that I
lived in that little dismal hole, almost deprived of light and air, and with
no space to move my limbs, for nearly seven years. But it is a fact; and to
me a sad one, even now; for my body still suffers from the effects of
that long imprisonment, to say nothing of my soul. Members of my family,
now living in New York and Boston, can testify to the truth of what I
Countless were the nights that I sat late at the little loophole
scarcely large enough to give me a glimpse of one twinkling star. There,
heard the patrols and slave-hunters conferring together about the capture
of runaways, well knowing how rejoiced they would be to catch me.
Season after season, year after year, I peeped at my children's faces,
and heard their sweet voices, with a heart yearning all the while to say,
"Your mother is here." Sometimes it appeared to me as if ages had rolled
away since I entered upon that gloomy, monotonous existence. At times, I
was stupefied and listless; at other times I became very impatient to know
when these dark years would end, and I should again be allowed to feel
the sunshine, and breathe the pure air.
After Ellen left us, this feeling increased. Mr. Sands had agreed
that Benny might go to the north whenever his uncle Phillip could go with
him; and I was anxious to be there also, to watch over my children, and
protect them so far as I was able. Moreover, I was likely to be drowned out
of my den, if I remained much longer; for the slight roof was getting badly
out of repair, and uncle Phillip was afraid to remove the shingles, lest
some one should get a glimpse of me. When storms occurred in the night,
they spread mats and bits of carpet, which in the morning appeared to have
been laid out to dry; but to cover the roof in the daytime might have
attracted attention. Consequently, my clothes and bedding were often
drenched; a process by which the pains and aches in my cramped and stiffened
limbs were greatly increased. I revolved various plans of escape in my mind,
which I sometimes imparted to my grandmother, when she came to whisper with
me at the trap-door. The kind-hearted old woman had an intense sympathy
for runaways. She had known too much of the cruelties inflicted on those
who were captured. Her memory always flew back at once to the sufferings of
her bright and handsome son, Benjamin, the youngest and dearest of her
flock. So, whenever I alluded to the subject, she would groan out, "O, don't
think of it, child. You'll break my heart." I had no good old aunt Nancy now
to encourage me; but my brother William and my children were
continually beckoning me to the north.
And now I must go back a few months in my story. I have stated that
the first of January was the time for selling slaves, or leasing them out
to new masters. If time were counted by heart-throbs, the poor slaves
might reckon years of suffering during that festival so joyous to the free.
On the New Year's day preceding my aunt's death, one of my friends,
named Fanny, was to be sold at auction, to pay her master's debts. My
thoughts were with her during all the day, and at night I anxiously inquired
what had been her fate. I was told that she had been sold to one master, and
her four little girls to another master, far distant; that she had escaped
from her purchaser, and was not to be found. Her mother was the old Aggie I
have spoken of. She lived in a small tenement belonging to my grandmother,
and built on the same lot with her own house. Her dwelling was searched
and watched, and that brought the patrols so near me that I was obliged to
keep very close in my den. The hunters were somehow eluded; and not
long afterwards Benny accidentally caught sight of Fanny in her mother's hut.
He told his grandmother, who charged him never to speak of it, explaining
to him the frightful consequences; and he never betrayed the trust.
Aggie little dreamed that my grandmother knew where her daughter was
concealed, and that the stooping form of her old neighbor was bending under a
similar burden of anxiety and fear; but these dangerous secrets deepened
the sympathy between the two old persecuted mothers.
My friend Fanny and I remained many weeks hidden within call of each
other; but she was unconscious of the fact. I longed to have her share my
den, which seemed a more secure retreat than her own; but I had brought so
much trouble on my grandmother, that it seemed wrong to ask her to incur
greater risks. My restlessness increased. I had lived too long in bodily pain
and anguish of spirit. Always I was in dread that by some accident, or
some contrivance, slavery would succeed in snatching my children from me.
This thought drove me nearly frantic, and I determined to steer for the
North Star at all hazards. At this crisis, Providence opened an unexpected
way for me to escape. My friend Peter came one evening, and asked to speak
with me. "Your day has come, Linda," said he. "I have found a chance for you
to go to the Free States. You have a fortnight to decide." The news seemed
too good to be true; but Peter explained his arrangements, and told me all
that was necessary was for me to say I would go. I was going to answer him
with a joyful yes, when the thought of Benny came to my mind. I told him
the temptation was exceedingly strong, but I was terribly afraid of Dr.
Flint's alleged power over my child, and that I could not go and leave him
behind. Peter remonstrated earnestly. He said such a good chance might never
occur again; that Benny was free, and could be sent to me; and that for the
sake of my children's welfare I ought not to hesitate a moment. I told him
I would consult with uncle Phillip. My uncle rejoiced in the plan, and
bade me go by all means. He promised, if his life was spared, that he
would either bring or send my son to me as soon as I reached a place of
safety. I resolved to go, but thought nothing had better be said to my
grandmother till very near the time of departure. But my uncle thought she
would feel it more keenly if I left here so suddenly. "I will reason with
her," said he, "and convince her how necessary it is, not only for your sake,
but for hers also. You cannot be blind to the fact that she is sinking under
her burdens." I was not blind to it. I knew that my concealment was
an ever-present source of anxiety, and that the older she grew the
more nervously fearful she was of discovery. My uncle talked with her,
and finally succeeded in persuading her that it was absolutely necessary for
me to seize the chance so unexpectedly offered.
The anticipation of being a free woman proved almost too much for my
weak frame. The excitement stimulated me, and at the same time bewildered me.
I made busy preparations for my journey, and for my son to follow me.
I resolved to have an interview with him before I went, that I might give
him cautions and advice, and tell him how anxiously I should be waiting for
him at the north. Grandmother stole up to me as often as possible to
whisper words of counsel. She insisted upon writing to Dr. Flint, as soon as
I arrived in the Free States, and asking him to sell me to her. She said
she would sacrifice her house, and all she had in the world, for the sake
of having me safe with my children in any part of the world. If she could
only live to know that she could die in peace. I promised the dear
old faithful friend that I would write to her as soon as I arrived, and put
the letter in a safe way to reach her; but in my own mind I resolved that
not another cent of her hard earnings should be spent to pay
rapacious slaveholders for what they called their property. And even if I had
not been unwilling to buy what I had already a right to possess,
common humanity would have prevented me from accepting the generous offer, at
the expense of turning my aged relative out of house and home, when she
was trembling on the brink of the grave.
I was to escape in a vessel; but I forbear to mention any
further particulars. I was in readiness, but the vessel was unexpectedly
detained several days. Meantime, news came to town of a most horrible
murder committed on a fugitive slave, named James. Charity, the mother of
this unfortunate young man, had been an old acquaintance of ours. I have
told the shocking particulars of his death, in my description of some of
the neighboring slaveholders. My grandmother, always nervously sensitive
about runaways, was terribly frightened. She felt sure that a similar
fate awaited me, if I did not desist from my enterprise. She sobbed,
and groaned, and entreated me not to go. Her excessive fear was
somewhat contagious, and my heart was not proof against her extreme agony. I
was grievously disappointed, but I promised to relinquish my project.
When my friend Peter was apprised of this, he was both disappointed
and vexed. He said, that judging from our past experience, it would be a
long time before I had such another chance to throw away. I told him it need
not be thrown away; that I had a friend concealed near by, who would be
glad enough to take the place that had been provided for me. I told him
about poor Fanny, and the kind-hearted, noble fellow, who never turned his
back upon any body in distress, white or black, expressed his readiness to
help her. Aggie was much surprised when she found that we knew her secret.
She was rejoiced to hear of such a chance for Fanny, and arrangements were
made for her to go on board the vessel the next night. They both supposed
that I had long been at the north, therefore my name was not mentioned in
the transaction. Fanny was carried on board at the appointed time, and
stowed away in a very small cabin. This accommodation had been purchased at
a price that would pay for a voyage to England. But when one proposes to
go to fine old England, they stop to calculate whether they can afford
the cost of the pleasure; while in making a bargain to escape from slavery,
the trembling victim is ready to say, "take all I have, only don't betray
The next morning I peeped through my loophole, and saw that it was dark
and cloudy. At night I received news that the wind was ahead, and the
vessel had not sailed. I was exceedingly anxious about Fanny, and Peter too,
who was running a tremendous risk at my instigation. Next day the wind
and weather remained the same. Poor Fanny had been half dead with fright
when they carried her on board, and I could readily imagine how she must
be suffering now. Grandmother came often to my den, to say how thankful
she was I did not go. On the third morning she rapped for me to come down
to the storeroom. The poor old sufferer was breaking down under her weight
of trouble. She was easily flurried now. I found her in a nervous,
excited state, but I was not aware that she had forgotten to lock the door
behind her, as usual. She was exceedingly worried about the detention of
the vessel. She was afraid all would be discovered, and then Fanny, and
Peter, and I, would all be tortured to death, and Phillip would be utterly
ruined, and her house would be torn down. Poor Peter! If he should die such
a horrible death as the poor slave James had lately done, and all for
his kindness in trying to help me, how dreadful it would be for us all!
Alas, the thought was familiar to me, and had sent many a sharp pang through
my heart. I tried to suppress my own anxiety, and speak soothingly to her.
She brought in some allusion to aunt Nancy, the dear daughter she had
recently buried, and then she lost all control of herself. As she stood
there, trembling and sobbing, a voice from the piazza called out, "Whar is
you, aunt Marthy?" Grandmother was startled, and in her agitation opened
the door, without thinking of me. In stepped Jenny, the mischievous
housemaid, who had tried to enter my room, when I was concealed in the house
of my white benefactress. "I's bin huntin ebery whar for you, aunt Marthy,"
said she. "My missis wants you to send her some crackers." I had slunk
down behind a barrel, which entirely screened me, but I imagined that Jenny
was looking directly at the spot, and my heart beat violently. My
grandmother immediately thought what she had done, and went out quickly with
Jenny to count the crackers locking the door after her. She returned to me,
in a few minutes, the perfect picture of despair. "Poor child!" she
exclaimed, "my carelessness has ruined you. The boat ain't gone yet. Get
ready immediately, and go with Fanny. I ain't got another word to say against
it now; for there's no telling what may happen this day."
Uncle Phillip was sent for, and he agreed with his mother in thinking
that Jenny would inform Dr. Flint in less than twenty-four hours. He
advised getting me on board the boat, if possible; if not, I had better keep
very still in my den, where they could not find me without tearing the
house down. He said it would not do for him to move in the matter,
because suspicion would be immediately excited; but he promised to
communicate with Peter. I felt reluctant to apply to him again, having
implicated him too much already; but there seemed to be no alternative. Vexed
as Peter had been by my indecision, he was true to his generous nature, and
said at once that he would do his best to help me, trusting I should show
myself a stronger woman this time.
He immediately proceeded to the wharf, and found that the wind had
shifted, and the vessel was slowly beating down stream. On some pretext of
urgent necessity, he offered two boatmen a dollar apiece to catch up with
her. He was of lighter complexion than the boatmen he hired, and when the
captain saw them coming so rapidly, he thought officers were pursuing his
vessel in search of the runaway slave he had on board. They hoisted sails,
but the boat gained upon them, and the indefatigable Peter sprang on
The captain at once recognized him. Peter asked him to go below, to
speak about a bad bill he had given him. When he told his errand, the
captain replied, "Why, the woman's here already; and I've put her where you
or the devil would have a tough job to find her."
"But it is another woman I want to bring," said Peter. "She is in
great distress, too, and you shall be paid any thing within reason, if
you'll stop and take her."
"What's her name?" inquired the captain. "Linda," he replied.
"That's the name of the woman already here," rejoined the captain.
"By George! I believe you mean to betray me."
"O!" exclaimed Peter, "God knows I wouldn't harm a hair of your head. I
am too grateful to you. But there really is another woman in great
danger. Do have the humanity to stop and take her!"
After a while they came to an understanding. Fanny, not dreaming I was
any where about in that region, had assumed my name, though she called
herself Johnson. "Linda is a common name," said Peter, "and the woman I want
to bring is Linda Brent."
The captain agreed to wait at a certain place till evening,
being handsomely paid for his detention.
Of course, the day was an anxious one for us all. But we concluded that
if Jenny had seen me, she would be too wise to let her mistress know of
it; and that she probably would not get a chance to see Dr. Flint's family
till evening, for I knew very well what were the rules in that household.
I afterwards believed that she did not see me; for nothing ever came of
it, and she was one of those base characters that would have jumped to betray
a suffering fellow being for the sake of thirty pieces of silver.
I made all my arrangements to go on board as soon as it was dusk.
The intervening time I resolved to spend with my son. I had not spoken to
him for seven years, though I had been under the same roof, and seen him
every day, when I was well enough to sit at the loophole. I did not dare
to venture beyond the storeroom; so they brought him there, and locked us
up together, in a place concealed from the piazza door. It was an
agitating interview for both of us. After we had talked and wept together for
a little while, he said, "Mother, I'm glad you're going away. I wish I
could go with you. I knew you was here; and I have been so afraid they
would come and catch you!" I was greatly surprised, and asked him how he
had found it out.
He replied, "I was standing under the eaves, one day, before Ellen
went away, and I heard somebody cough up over the wood shed. I don't know
what made me think it was you, but I did think so. I missed Ellen, the
night before she went away; and grandmother brought her back into the room in
the night; and I thought maybe she'd been to see you, before she went, for
I heard grandmother whisper to her, 'Now go to sleep; and remember never
I asked him if he ever mentioned his suspicions to his sister. He said
he never did; but after he heard the cough, if he saw her playing with
other children on that side of the house, he always tried to coax her round
to the other side, for fear they would hear me cough, too. He said he had
kept a close lookout for Dr. Flint, and if he saw him speak to a constable,
or a patrol, he always told grandmother. I now recollected that I had seen
him manifest uneasiness, when people were on that side of the house, and I
had at the time been puzzled to conjecture a motive for his actions.
Such prudence may seem extraordinary in a boy of twelve years, but slaves,
being surrounded by mysteries, deceptions, and dangers, early learn to
be suspicious and watchful, and prematurely cautious and cunning. He had
never asked a question of grandmother, or uncle Phillip, and I had often
heard him chime in with other children, when they spoke of my being at the
I told him I was now really going to the Free States, and if he was a
good, honest boy, and a loving child to his dear old grandmother, the Lord
would bless him, and bring him to me, and we and Ellen would live together.
He began to tell me that grandmother had not eaten any thing all day. While
he was speaking, the door was unlocked, and she came in with a small bag
of money, which she wanted me to take. I begged her to keep a part of it,
at least, to pay for Benny's being sent to the north; but she insisted,
while her tears were falling fast, that I should take the whole. "You may be
sick among strangers," she said, "and they would send you to the poorhouse
to die." Ah, that good grandmother!
For the last time I went up to my nook. Its desolate appearance no
longer chilled me, for the light of hope had risen in my soul. Yet, even with
the blessed prospect of freedom before me, I felt very sad at leaving
forever that old homestead, where I had been sheltered so long by the dear
old grandmother; where I had dreamed my first young dream of love; and
where, after that had faded away, my children came to twine themselves so
closely round my desolate heart. As the hour approached for me to leave, I
again descended to the storeroom. My grandmother and Benny were there. She
took me by the hand, and said, "Linda, let us pray." We knelt down
together, with my child pressed to my heart, and my other arm round the
faithful, loving old friend I was about to leave forever. On no other
occasion has it ever been my lot to listen to so fervent a supplication for
mercy and protection. It thrilled through my heart, and inspired me with
trust in God.
Peter was waiting for me in the street. I was soon by his side, faint
in body, but strong of purpose. I did not look back upon the old place,
though I felt that I should never see it again.
XXX. Northward Bound.
I never could tell how we reached the wharf. My brain was all of a
whirl, and my limbs tottered under me. At an appointed place we met my
uncle Phillip, who had started before us on a different route, that he
might reach the wharf first, and give us timely warning if there was any
danger. A row-boat was in readiness. As I was about to step in, I felt
something pull me gently, and turning round I saw Benny, looking pale and
anxious. He whispered in my ear, "I've been peeping into the doctor's window,
and he's at home. Good by, mother. Don't cry; I'll come." He hastened away.
I clasped the hand of my good uncle, to whom I owed so much, and of
Peter, the brave, generous friend who had volunteered to run such terrible
risks to secure my safety. To this day I remember how his bright face beamed
with joy, when he told me he had discovered a safe method for me to escape.
Yet that intelligent, enterprising, noble-hearted man was a chattel! Liable,
by the laws of a country that calls itself civilized, to be sold with
horses and pigs! We parted in silence. Our hearts were all too full for
Swiftly the boat glided over the water. After a while, one of the
sailors said, "Don't be down-hearted, madam. We will take you safely to
your husband, in ——." At first I could not imagine what he meant; but I
had presence of mind to think that it probably referred to something
the captain had told him; so I thanked him, and said I hoped we should
have pleasant weather.
When I entered the vessel the captain came forward to meet me. He was
an elderly man, with a pleasant countenance. He showed me to a little box of
a cabin, where sat my friend Fanny. She started as if she had seen a
spectre. She gazed on me in utter astonishment, and exclaimed, "Linda, can
this be you? or is it your ghost?" When we were locked in each other's
arms, my overwrought feelings could no longer be restrained. My sobs reached
the ears of the captain, who came and very kindly reminded us, that for
his safety, as well as our own, it would be prudent for us not to attract
any attention. He said that when there was a sail in sight he wished us to
keep below; but at other times, he had no objection to our being on deck.
He assured us that he would keep a good lookout, and if we acted prudently,
he thought we should be in no danger. He had represented us as women going
to meet our husbands in ——. We thanked him, and promised to
observe carefully all the directions he gave us.
Fanny and I now talked by ourselves, low and quietly, in our little
cabin. She told me of the suffering she had gone through in making her
escape, and of her terrors while she was concealed in her mother's house.
Above all, she dwelt on the agony of separation from all her children on that
dreadful auction day. She could scarcely credit me, when I told her of the
place where I had passed nearly seven years. "We have the same sorrows," said
I. "No," replied she, "you are going to see your children soon, and there
is no hope that I shall ever even hear from mine."
The vessel was soon under way, but we made slow progress. The wind
was against us, I should not have cared for this, if we had been out of
sight of the town; but until there were miles of water between us and
our enemies, we were filled with constant apprehensions that the
constables would come on board. Neither could I feel quite at ease with the
captain and his men. I was an entire stranger to that class of people, and I
had heard that sailors were rough, and sometimes cruel. We were so
completely in their power, that if they were bad men, our situation would be
dreadful. Now that the captain was paid for our passage, might he not be
tempted to make more money by giving us up to those who claimed us as
property? I was naturally of a confiding disposition, but slavery had made me
suspicious of every body. Fanny did not share my distrust of the captain or
his men. She said she was afraid at first, but she had been on board three
days while the vessel lay in the dock, and nobody had betrayed her, or
treated her otherwise than kindly.
The captain soon came to advise us to go on deck for fresh air.
His friendly and respectful manner, combined with Fanny's testimony,
reassured me, and we went with him. He placed us in a comfortable seat,
and occasionally entered into conversation. He told us he was a Southerner
by birth, and had spent the greater part of his life in the Slave States,
and that he had recently lost a brother who traded in slaves. "But," said
he, "it is a pitiable and degrading business, and I always felt ashamed
to acknowledge my brother in connection with it." As we passed Snaky Swamp,
he pointed to it, and said, "There is a slave territory that defies all
the laws." I thought of the terrible days I had spent there, and though it
was not called Dismal Swamp, it made me feel very dismal as I looked at
I shall never forget that night. The balmy air of spring was so
refreshing! And how shall I describe my sensations when we were fairly
sailing on Chesapeake Bay? O, the beautiful sunshine! the exhilarating
breeze! And I could enjoy them without fear or restraint. I had never
realized what grand things air and sunlight are till I had been deprived of
Ten days after we left land we were approaching Philadelphia. The
captain said we should arrive there in the night, but he thought we had
better wait till morning, and go on shore in broad daylight, as the best way
to avoid suspicion.
I replied, "You know best. But will you stay on board and protect
He saw that I was suspicious, and he said he was sorry, now that he
had brought us to the end of our voyage, to find I had so little confidence
in him. Ah, if he had ever been a slave he would have known how difficult
it was to trust a white man. He assured us that we might sleep through
the night without fear; that he would take care we were not left
unprotected. Be it said to the honor of this captain, Southerner as he was,
that if Fanny and I had been white ladies, and our passage lawfully engaged,
he could not have treated us more respectfully. My intelligent friend,
Peter, had rightly estimated the character of the man to whose honor he
had intrusted us. The next morning I was on deck as soon as the day dawned.
I called Fanny to see the sun rise, for the first time in our lives, on
free soil; for such I then believed it to be. We watched the reddening
sky, and saw the great orb come up slowly out of the water, as it seemed.
Soon the waves began to sparkle, and every thing caught the beautiful
glow. Before us lay the city of strangers. We looked at each other, and the
eyes of both were moistened with tears. We had escaped from slavery, and
we supposed ourselves to be safe from the hunters. But we were alone in
the world, and we had left dear ties behind us; ties cruelly sundered by
the demon Slavery.
XXXI. Incidents In Philadelphia.
I had heard that the poor slave had many friends at the north. I
trusted we should find some of them. Meantime, we would take it for granted
that all were friends, till they proved to the contrary. I sought out the
kind captain, thanked him for his attentions, and told him I should never
cease to be grateful for the service he had rendered us. I gave him a message
to the friends I had left at home, and he promised to deliver it. We
were placed in a row-boat, and in about fifteen minutes were landed on a
wood wharf in Philadelphia. As I stood looking round, the friendly
captain touched me on the shoulder, and said, "There is a
respectable-looking colored man behind you. I will speak to him about the New
York trains, and tell him you wish to go directly on." I thanked him, and
asked him to direct me to some shops where I could buy gloves and veils. He
did so, and said he would talk with the colored man till I returned. I made
what haste I could. Constant exercise on board the vessel, and frequent
rubbing with salt water, had nearly restored the use of my limbs. The noise
of the great city confused me, but I found the shops, and bought some double
veils and gloves for Fanny and myself. The shopman told me they were so many
levies. I had never heard the word before, but I did not tell him so. I
thought if he knew I was a stranger he might ask me where I came from. I gave
him a gold piece, and when he returned the change, I counted it, and found
out how much a levy was. I made my way back to the wharf, where the
captain introduced me to the colored man, as the Rev. Jeremiah Durham,
minister of Bethel church. He took me by the hand, as if I had been an old
friend. He told us we were too late for the morning cars to New York, and
must wait until the evening, or the next morning. He invited me to go home
with him, assuring me that his wife would give me a cordial welcome; and for
my friend he would provide a home with one of his neighbors. I thanked him
for so much kindness to strangers, and told him if I must be detained, I
should like to hunt up some people who formerly went from our part of the
country. Mr. Durham insisted that I should dine with him, and then he would
assist me in finding my friends. The sailors came to bid us good by. I shook
their hardy hands, with tears in my eyes. They had all been kind to us, and
they had rendered us a greater service than they could possibly conceive
I had never seen so large a city, or been in contact with so many people
in the streets. It seemed as if those who passed looked at us with
an expression of curiosity. My face was so blistered and peeled, by sitting
on deck, in wind and sunshine, that I thought they could not easily decide
to what nation I belonged.
Mrs. Durham met me with a kindly welcome, without asking any questions.
I was tired, and her friendly manner was a sweet refreshment. God bless
her! I was sure that she had comforted other weary hearts, before I received
her sympathy. She was surrounded by her husband and children, in a home
made sacred by protecting laws. I thought of my own children, and
After dinner Mr. Durham went with me in quest of the friends I had
spoken of. They went from my native town, and I anticipated much pleasure
in looking on familiar faces. They were not at home, and we retracted
our steps through streets delightfully clean. On the way, Mr. Durham
observed that I had spoken to him of a daughter I expected to meet; that he
was surprised, for I looked so young he had taken me for a single woman. He
was approaching a subject on which I was extremely sensitive. He would
ask about my husband next, I thought, and if I answered him truly, what
would he think of me? I told him I had two children, one in New York the
other at the south. He asked some further questions, and I frankly told him
some of the most important events of my life. It was painful for me to do it;
but I would not deceive him. If he was desirous of being my friend, I thought
he ought to know how far I was worthy of it. "Excuse me, if I have tried
your feelings," said he. "I did not question you from idle curiosity. I
wanted to understand your situation, in order to know whether I could be of
any service to you, or your little girl. Your straight-forward answers do
you credit; but don't answer every body so openly. It might give some
heartless people a pretext for treating you with contempt."
That word contempt burned me like coals of fire. I replied, "God
alone knows how I have suffered; and He, I trust, will forgive me. If I
am permitted to have my children, I intend to be a good mother, and to live
in such a manner that people cannot treat me with contempt."
"I respect your sentiments," said he. "Place your trust in God, and
be governed by good principles, and you will not fail to find friends."
When we reached home, I went to my room, glad to shut out the world for
a while. The words he had spoken made an indelible impression upon me.
They brought up great shadows from the mournful past. In the midst of
my meditations I was startled by a knock at the door. Mrs. Durham entered,
her face all beaming with kindness, to say that there was an
anti-slavery friend down stairs, who would like to see me. I overcame my
dread of encountering strangers, and went with her. Many questions were
asked concerning my experiences, and my escape from slavery; but I observed
how careful they all were not to say any thing that might wound my
feelings. How gratifying this was, can be fully understood only by those who
have been accustomed to be treated as if they were not included within the
pale of human beings. The anti-slavery friend had come to inquire into my
plans, and to offer assistance, if needed. Fanny was comfortably established,
for the present, with a friend of Mr. Durham. The Anti-Slavery Society
agreed to pay her expenses to New York. The same was offered to me, but I
declined to accept it, telling them that my grandmother had given me
sufficient to pay my expenses to the end of my journey. We were urged to
remain in Philadelphia a few days, until some suitable escort could be found
for us. I gladly accepted the proposition, for I had a dread of
meeting slaveholders, and some dread also of railroads. I had never entered
a railroad car in my life, and it seemed to me quite an important
That night I sought my pillow with feelings I had never carried to
it before. I verily believed myself to be a free woman. I was wakeful for
a long time, and I had no sooner fallen asleep, than I was roused
by fire-bells. I jumped up, and hurried on my clothes. Where I came
from, every body hastened to dress themselves on such occasions. The white
people thought a great fire might be used as a good opportunity for
insurrection, and that it was best to be in readiness; and the colored people
were ordered out to labor in extinguishing the flames. There was but one
engine in our town, and colored women and children were often required to
drag it to the river's edge and fill it. Mrs. Durham's daughter slept in the
same room with me, and seeing that she slept through all the din, I thought
it was my duty to wake her. "What's the matter?" said she, rubbing her
"They're screaming fire in the streets, and the bells are ringing,"
"What of that?" said she, drowsily. "We are used to it. We never get
up, without the fire is very near. What good would it do?"
I was quite surprised that it was not necessary for us to go and help
fill the engine. I was an ignorant child, just beginning to learn how
things went on in great cities.
At daylight, I heard women crying fresh fish, berries, radishes,
and various other things. All this was new to me. I dressed myself at an
early hour, and sat at the window to watch that unknown tide of
life. Philadelphia seemed to me a wonderfully great place. At the
breakfast table, my idea of going out to drag the engine was laughed over,
and I joined in the mirth.
I went to see Fanny, and found her so well contented among her new
friends that she was in no haste to leave. I was also very happy with my
kind hostess. She had had advantages for education, and was vastly my
superior. Every day, almost every hour, I was adding to my little stock of
knowledge. She took me out to see the city as much as she deemed prudent. One
day she took me to an artist's room, and showed me the portraits of some of
her children. I had never seen any paintings of colored people before, and
they seemed to be beautiful.
At the end of five days, one of Mrs. Durham's friends offered to
accompany us to New York the following morning. As I held the hand of my good
hostess in a parting clasp, I longed to know whether her husband had repeated
to her what I had told him. I supposed he had, but she never made any
allusion to it. I presume it was the delicate silence of womanly
When Mr. Durham handed us our tickets, he said, "I am afraid you will
have a disagreeable ride; but I could not procure tickets for the
Supposing I had not given him money enough, I offered more. "O, no,"
said he, "they could not be had for any money. They don't allow colored
people to go in the first-class cars."
This was the first chill to my enthusiasm about the Free States.
Colored people were allowed to ride in a filthy box, behind white people, at
the south, but there they were not required to pay for the privilege. It
made me sad to find how the north aped the customs of slavery.
We were stowed away in a large, rough car, with windows on each side,
too high for us to look out without standing up. It was crowded with
people, apparently of all nations. There were plenty of beds and
cradles, containing screaming and kicking babies. Every other man had a cigar
or pipe in his mouth, and jugs of whiskey were handed round freely. The
fumes of the whiskey and the dense tobacco smoke were sickening to my senses,
and my mind was equally nauseated by the coarse jokes and ribald songs
around me. It was a very disagreeable ride. Since that time there has been
some improvement in these matters.
XXXII. The Meeting Of Mother And Daughter.
When we arrived in New York, I was half crazed by the crowd of
coachmen calling out, "Carriage, ma'am?" We bargained with one to take us
to Sullivan Street for twelve shillings. A burly Irishman stepped up and
said, "I'll tak' ye for sax shillings." The reduction of half the price was
an object to us, and we asked if he could take us right away. "Troth an
I will, ladies," he replied. I noticed that the hackmen smiled at each
other, and I inquired whether his conveyance was decent. "Yes, it's dacent it
is, marm. Devil a bit would I be after takin' ladies in a cab that was
not dacent." We gave him our checks. He went for the baggage, and
soon reappeared, saying, "This way, if you plase, ladies." We followed,
and found our trunks on a truck, and we were invited to take our seats on
them. We told him that was not what we bargained for, and he must take the
trunks off. He swore they should not be touched till we had paid him
six shillings. In our situation it was not prudent to attract attention, and
I was about to pay him what he required, when a man near by shook his
head for me not to do it. After a great ado we got rid of the Irishman, and
had our trunks fastened on a hack. We had been recommended to a
boarding-house in Sullivan Street, and thither we drove. There Fanny and I
separated. The Anti-Slavery Society provided a home for her, and I afterwards
heard of her in prosperous circumstances. I sent for an old friend from my
part of the country, who had for some time been doing business in New York.
He came immediately. I told him I wanted to go to my daughter, and asked him
to aid me in procuring an interview.
I cautioned him not to let it be known to the family that I had
just arrived from the south, because they supposed I had been at the north
seven years. He told me there was a colored woman in Brooklyn who came from
the same town I did, and I had better go to her house, and have my
daughter meet me there. I accepted the proposition thankfully, and he agreed
to escort me to Brooklyn. We crossed Fulton ferry, went up Myrtle Avenue,
and stopped at the house he designated. I was just about to enter, when
two girls passed. My friend called my attention to them. I turned,
and recognized in the eldest, Sarah, the daughter of a woman who used to
live with my grandmother, but who had left the south years ago. Surprised
and rejoiced at this unexpected meeting, I threw my arms round her,
and inquired concerning her mother.
"You take no notice of the other girl," said my friend. I turned, and
there stood my Ellen! I pressed her to my heart, then held her away from me
to take a look at her. She had changed a good deal in the two years since
I parted from her. Signs of neglect could be discerned by eyes less
observing than a mother's. My friend invited us all to go into the house; but
Ellen said she had been sent of an errand, which she would do as quickly
as possible, and go home and ask Mrs. Hobbs to let her come and see me. It
was agreed that I should send for her the next day. Her companion,
Sarah, hastened to tell her mother of my arrival. When I entered the house,
I found the mistress of it absent, and I waited for her return. Before I
saw her, I heard her saying, "Where is Linda Brent? I used to know her
father and mother." Soon Sarah came with her mother. So there was quite a
company of us, all from my grandmother's neighborhood. These friends gathered
round me and questioned me eagerly. They laughed, they cried, and they
shouted. They thanked God that I had got away from my persecutors and was
safe on Long Island. It was a day of great excitement. How different from
the silent days I had passed in my dreary den!
The next morning was Sunday. My first waking thoughts were occupied
with the note I was to send to Mrs. Hobbs, the lady with whom Ellen lived.
That I had recently come into that vicinity was evident; otherwise I should
have sooner inquired for my daughter. It would not do to let them know I
had just arrived from the south, for that would involve the suspicion of
my having been harbored there, and might bring trouble, if not ruin,
on several people.
I like a straightforward course, and am always reluctant to resort
to subterfuges. So far as my ways have been crooked, I charge them all
upon slavery. It was that system of violence and wrong which now left me
no alternative but to enact a falsehood. I began my note by stating that I
had recently arrived from Canada, and was very desirous to have my
daughter come to see me. She came and brought a message from Mrs. Hobbs,
inviting me to her house, and assuring me that I need not have any fears.
The conversation I had with my child did not leave my mind at ease. When
I asked if she was well treated, she answered yes; but there was
no heartiness in the tone, and it seemed to me that she said it from
an unwillingness to have me troubled on her account. Before she left me,
she asked very earnestly, "Mother, will you take me to live with you?" It
made me sad to think that I could not give her a home till I went to work
and earned the means; and that might take me a long time. When she was
placed with Mrs. Hobbs, the agreement was that she should be sent to school
She had been there two years, and was now nine years old, and she scarcely
knew her letters. There was no excuse for this, for there were good
public schools in Brooklyn, to which she could have been sent without
She staid with me till dark, and I went home with her. I was received in
a friendly manner by the family, and all agreed in saying that Ellen was
a useful, good girl. Mrs. Hobbs looked me coolly in the face, and said,
"I suppose you know that my cousin, Mr. Sands, has given her to my
eldest daughter. She will make a nice waiting-maid for her when she grows
up." I did not answer a word. How could she, who knew by experience the
strength of a mother's love, and who was perfectly aware of the relation Mr.
Sands bore to my children,—how could she look me in the face, while she
thrust such a dagger into my heart?
I was no longer surprised that they had kept her in such a state
of ignorance. Mr. Hobbs had formerly been wealthy, but he had failed,
and afterwards obtained a subordinate situation in the Custom House.
Perhaps they expected to return to the south some day; and Ellen's knowledge
was quite sufficient for a slave's condition. I was impatient to go to work
and earn money, that I might change the uncertain position of my children.
Mr. Sands had not kept his promise to emancipate them. I had also been
deceived about Ellen. What security had I with regard to Benjamin? I felt
that I had none.
I returned to my friend's house in an uneasy state of mind. In order
to protect my children, it was necessary that I should own myself. I
called myself free, and sometimes felt so; but I knew I was insecure. I sat
down that night and wrote a civil letter to Dr. Flint, asking him to state
the lowest terms on which he would sell me; and as I belonged by law to
his daughter, I wrote to her also, making a similar request.
Since my arrival at the north I had not been unmindful of my dear
brother William. I had made diligent inquiries for him, and having heard of
him in Boston, I went thither. When I arrived there, I found he had gone to
New Bedford. I wrote to that place, and was informed he had gone on a
whaling voyage, and would not return for some months. I went back to New York
to get employment near Ellen. I received an answer from Dr. Flint, which
gave me no encouragement. He advised me to return and submit myself to
my rightful owners, and then any request I might make would be granted. I
lent this letter to a friend, who lost it; otherwise I would present a copy
to my readers.
XXXIII. A Home Found.
My greatest anxiety now was to obtain employment. My health was
greatly improved, though my limbs continued to trouble me with swelling
whenever I walked much. The greatest difficulty in my way was, that those who
employed strangers required a recommendation; and in my peculiar position, I
could, of course, obtain no certificates from the families I had so
One day an acquaintance told me of a lady who wanted a nurse for her
babe, and I immediately applied for the situation. The lady told me she
preferred to have one who had been a mother, and accustomed to the care of
infants. I told her I had nursed two babes of my own. She asked me many
questions, but, to my great relief, did not require a recommendation from my
former employers. She told me she was an English woman, and that was a
pleasant circumstance to me, because I had heard they had less prejudice
against color than Americans entertained. It was agreed that we should try
each other for a week. The trial proved satisfactory to both parties, and I
was engaged for a month.
The heavenly Father had been most merciful to me in leading me to
this place. Mrs. Bruce was a kind and gentle lady, and proved a true
and sympathizing friend. Before the stipulated month expired, the necessity
of passing up and down stairs frequently, caused my limbs to swell
so painfully, that I became unable to perform my duties. Many ladies
would have thoughtlessly discharged me; but Mrs. Bruce made arrangements to
save me steps, and employed a physician to attend upon me. I had not yet
told her that I was a fugitive slave. She noticed that I was often sad,
and kindly inquired the cause. I spoke of being separated from my children,
and from relatives who were dear to me; but I did not mention the
constant feeling of insecurity which oppressed my spirits. I longed for some
one to confide it; but I had been so deceived by white people, that I had
lost all confidence in them. If they spoke kind words to me, I thought it was
for some selfish purpose. I had entered this family with the
distrustful feelings I had brought with me out of slavery; but ere six months
had passed, I found that the gentle deportment of Mrs. Bruce and the smiles
of her lovely babe were thawing my chilled heart. My narrow mind also began
to expand under the influences of her intelligent conversation, and
the opportunities for reading, which were gladly allowed me whenever I
had leisure from my duties. I gradually became more energetic and
The old feeling of insecurity, especially with regard to my children,
often threw its dark shadow across my sunshine. Mrs. Bruce offered me a home
for Ellen; but pleasant as it would have been, I did not dare to accept it,
for fear of offending the Hobbs family. Their knowledge of my
precarious situation placed me in their power; and I felt that it was
important for me to keep on the right side of them, till, by dint of labor
and economy, I could make a home for my children. I was far from feeling
satisfied with Ellen's situation. She was not well cared for. She sometimes
came to New York to visit me; but she generally brought a request from Mrs.
Hobbs that I would buy her a pair of shoes, or some article of clothing. This
was accompanied by a promise of payment when Mr. Hobbs's salary at the
Custom House became due; but some how or other the pay-day never came. Thus
many dollars of my earnings were expended to keep my child comfortably
clothed. That, however, was a slight trouble, compared with the fear that
their pecuniary embarrassments might induce them to sell my precious
young daughter. I knew they were in constant communication with Southerners,
and had frequent opportunities to do it. I have stated that when Dr. Flint
put Ellen in jail, at two years old, she had an inflammation of the
eyes, occasioned by measles. This disease still troubled her; and kind Mrs.
Bruce proposed that she should come to New York for a while, to be under the
care of Dr. Elliott, a well known oculist. It did not occur to me that there
was any thing improper in a mother's making such a request; but Mrs. Hobbs
was very angry, and refused to let her go. Situated as I was, it was
not politic to insist upon it. I made no complaint, but I longed to be
entirely free to act a mother's part towards my children. The next time I
went over to Brooklyn, Mrs. Hobbs, as if to apologize for her anger, told me
she had employed her own physician to attend to Ellen's eyes, and that she
had refused my request because she did not consider it safe to trust her in
New York. I accepted the explanation in silence; but she had told me that
my child belonged to her daughter, and I suspected that her real motive
was a fear of my conveying her property away from her. Perhaps I did
her injustice; but my knowledge of Southerners made it difficult for me to
Sweet and bitter were mixed in the cup of my life, and I was thankful
that it had ceased to be entirely bitter. I loved Mrs. Bruce's babe. When
it laughed and crowed in my face, and twined its little tender
arms confidingly about my neck, it made me think of the time when Benny
and Ellen were babies, and my wounded heart was soothed. One bright morning,
as I stood at the window, tossing baby in my arms, my attention was
attracted by a young man in sailor's dress, who was closely observing every
house as he passed. I looked at him earnestly. Could it be my brother
William? It must be he—and yet, how changed! I placed the baby safely,
flew down stairs, opened the front door, beckoned to the sailor, and in less
than a minute I was clasped in my brother's arms. How much we had to tell
each other! How we laughed, and how we cried, over each other's adventures!
I took him to Brooklyn, and again saw him with Ellen, the dear child whom
he had loved and tended so carefully, while I was shut up in my miserable
den. He staid in New York a week. His old feelings of affection for me and
Ellen were as lively as ever. There are no bonds so strong as those which
are formed by suffering together.
XXXIV. The Old Enemy Again.
My young mistress, Miss Emily Flint, did not return any answer to my
letter requesting her to consent to my being sold. But after a while, I
received a reply, which purported to be written by her younger brother. In
order rightly to enjoy the contents of this letter, the reader must bear in
mind that the Flint family supposed I had been at the north many years. They
had no idea that I knew of the doctor's three excursions to New York in
search of me; that I had heard his voice, when he came to borrow five
hundred dollars for that purpose; and that I had seen him pass on his way to
the steamboat. Neither were they aware that all the particulars of aunt
Nancy's death and burial were conveyed to me at the time they occurred. I
have kept the letter, of which I herewith subjoin a copy:—
Your letter to sister was received a few days ago. I gather
from it that you are desirous of returning to your native place,
among your friends and relatives. We were all gratified with
the contents of your letter; and let me assure you that if
any members of the family have had any feeling of resentment
towards you, they feel it no longer. We all sympathize with you
in your unfortunate condition, and are ready to do all in our
power to make you contented and happy. It is difficult for you
to return home as a free person. If you were purchased by your
grandmother, it is doubtful whether you would be permitted to
remain, although it would be lawful for you to do so. If a
servant should be allowed to purchase herself, after absenting
herself so long from her owners, and return free, it would have
an injurious effect. From your letter, I think your situation
must be hard and uncomfortable. Come home. You have it in your
power to be reinstated in our affections. We would receive you
with open arms and tears of joy. You need not apprehend any
unkind treatment, as we have not put ourselves to any trouble or
expense to get you. Had we done so, perhaps we should feel
otherwise. You know my sister was always attached to you, and
that you were never treated as a slave. You were never put to
hard work, nor exposed to field labor. On the contrary, you were
taken into the house, and treated as one of us, and almost as
free; and we, at least, felt that you were above disgracing
yourself by running away. Believing you may be induced to come
home voluntarily has induced me to write for my sister. The
family will be rejoiced to see you; and your poor old
grandmother expressed a great desire to have you come, when she
heard your letter read. In her old age she needs the consolation
of having her children round her. Doubtless you have heard of
the death of your aunt. She was a faithful servant, and a
faithful member of the Episcopal church. In her Christian life
she taught us how to live—and, O, too high the price of
knowledge, she taught us how to die! Could you have seen us
round her death bed, with her mother, all mingling our tears in
one common stream, you would have thought the same heartfelt tie
existed between a master and his servant, as between a mother
and her child. But this subject is too painful to dwell upon. I
must bring my letter to a close. If you are contented to stay
away from your old grandmother, your child, and the friends who
love you, stay where you are. We shall never trouble ourselves
to apprehend you. But should you prefer to come home, we will do
all that we can to make you happy. If you do not wish to remain
in the family, I know that father, by our persuasion, will be
induced to let you be purchased by any person you may choose in
our community. You will please answer this as soon as possible,
and let us know your decision. Sister sends much love to you. In
the mean time believe me your sincere friend and well
This letter was signed by Emily's brother, who was as yet a mere lad.
I knew, by the style, that it was not written by a person of his age,
and though the writing was disguised, I had been made too unhappy by it,
in former years, not to recognize at once the hand of Dr. Flint. O,
the hypocrisy of slaveholders! Did the old fox suppose I was goose enough to
go into such a trap? Verily, he relied too much on "the stupidity of
the African race." I did not return the family of Flints any thanks for
their cordial invitation—a remissness for which I was, no doubt, charged
with base ingratitude.
Not long afterwards I received a letter from one of my friends at
the south, informing me that Dr. Flint was about to visit the north. The
letter had been delayed, and I supposed he might be already on the way. Mrs.
Bruce did not know I was a fugitive. I told her that important business
called me to Boston, where my brother then was, and asked permission to bring
a friend to supply my place as nurse, for a fortnight. I started on
my journey immediately; and as soon as I arrived, I wrote to my
grandmother that if Benny came, he must be sent to Boston. I knew she was
only waiting for a good chance to send him north, and, fortunately, she had
the legal power to do so, without asking leave of any body. She was a free
woman; and when my children were purchased, Mr. Sands preferred to have the
bill of sale drawn up in her name. It was conjectured that he advanced the
money, but it was not known. At the south, a gentleman may have a shoal of
colored children without any disgrace; but if he is known to purchase them,
with the view of setting them free, the example is thought to be dangerous
to their "peculiar institution," and he becomes unpopular.
There was a good opportunity to send Benny in a vessel coming directly
to New York. He was put on board with a letter to a friend, who was
requested to see him off to Boston. Early one morning, there was a loud rap
at my door, and in rushed Benjamin, all out of breath. "O mother!" he
exclaimed, "here I am! I run all the way; and I come all alone. How d'you
O reader, can you imagine my joy? No, you cannot, unless you have been
a slave mother. Benjamin rattled away as fast as his tongue could
go. "Mother, why don't you bring Ellen here? I went over to Brooklyn to
see her, and she felt very bad when I bid her good by. She said, 'O Ben, I
wish I was going too.' I thought she'd know ever so much; but she don't know
so much as I do; for I can read, and she can't. And, mother, I lost all
my clothes coming. What can I do to get some more? I 'spose free boys can
get along here at the north as well as white boys."
I did not like to tell the sanguine, happy little fellow how much he
was mistaken. I took him to a tailor, and procured a change of clothes.
The rest of the day was spent in mutual asking and answering of questions,
with the wish constantly repeated that the good old grandmother was with us,
and frequent injunctions from Benny to write to her immediately, and be sure
to tell her every thing about his voyage, and his journey to Boston.
Dr. Flint made his visit to New York, and made every exertion to call
upon me, and invite me to return with him, but not being able to ascertain
where I was, his hospitable intentions were frustrated, and the
affectionate family, who were waiting for me with "open arms," were doomed
As soon as I knew he was safely at home, I placed Benjamin in the care
of my brother William, and returned to Mrs. Bruce. There I remained
through the winter and spring, endeavoring to perform my duties faithfully,
and finding a good degree of happiness in the attractions of baby Mary,
the considerate kindness of her excellent mother, and occasional
interviews with my darling daughter.
But when summer came, the old feeling of insecurity haunted me. It
was necessary for me to take little Mary out daily, for exercise and fresh
air, and the city was swarming with Southerners, some of whom might
recognize me. Hot weather brings out snakes and slaveholders, and I like one
class of the venomous creatures as little as I do the other. What a comfort
it is, to be free to say so!
XXXV. Prejudice Against Color.
It was a relief to my mind to see preparations for leaving the city.
We went to Albany in the steamboat Knickerbocker. When the gong sounded
for tea, Mrs. Bruce said, "Linda, it is late, and you and baby had better
come to the table with me." I replied, "I know it is time baby had her
supper, but I had rather not go with you, if you please. I am afraid of
being insulted." "O no, not if you are with me," she said. I saw several
white nurses go with their ladies, and I ventured to do the same. We were at
the extreme end of the table. I was no sooner seated, than a gruff voice
said, "Get up! You know you are not allowed to sit here." I looked up, and,
to my astonishment and indignation, saw that the speaker was a colored man.
If his office required him to enforce the by-laws of the boat, he might,
at least, have done it politely. I replied, "I shall not get up, unless
the captain comes and takes me up." No cup of tea was offered me, but
Mrs. Bruce handed me hers and called for another. I looked to see whether
the other nurses were treated in a similar manner. They were all
properly waited on.
Next morning, when we stopped at Troy for breakfast, every body was
making a rush for the table. Mrs. Bruce said, "Take my arm, Linda, and we'll
go in together." The landlord heard her, and said, "Madam, will you allow
your nurse and baby to take breakfast with my family?" I knew this was to
be attributed to my complexion; but he spoke courteously, and therefore I
did not mind it.
At Saratoga we found the United States Hotel crowded, and Mr. Bruce
took one of the cottages belonging to the hotel. I had thought, with
gladness, of going to the quiet of the country, where I should meet few
people, but here I found myself in the midst of a swarm of Southerners. I
looked round me with fear and trembling, dreading to see some one who would
recognize me. I was rejoiced to find that we were to stay but a short
We soon returned to New York, to make arrangements for spending
the remainder of the summer at Rockaway. While the laundress was putting
the clothes in order, I took an opportunity to go over to Brooklyn to
see Ellen. I met her going to a grocery store, and the first words she
said, were, "O, mother, don't go to Mrs. Hobbs's. Her brother, Mr. Thorne,
has come from the south, and may be he'll tell where you are." I accepted
the warning. I told her I was going away with Mrs. Bruce the next day,
and would try to see her when I came back.
Being in servitude to the Anglo-Saxon race, I was not put into a "Jim
Crow car," on our way to Rockaway, neither was I invited to ride through
the streets on the top of trunks in a truck; but every where I found the
same manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the
feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people. We reached
Rockaway before dark, and put up at the Pavilion—a large hotel,
beautifully situated by the sea-side—a great resort of the fashionable
world. Thirty or forty nurses were there, of a great variety of nations. Some
of the ladies had colored waiting-maids and coachmen, but I was the only
nurse tinged with the blood of Africa. When the tea bell rang, I took little
Mary and followed the other nurses. Supper was served in a long hall. A
young man, who had the ordering of things, took the circuit of the table two
or three times, and finally pointed me to a seat at the lower end of it.
As there was but one chair, I sat down and took the child in my lap.
Whereupon the young man came to me and said, in the blandest manner possible,
"Will you please to seat the little girl in the chair, and stand behind it
and feed her? After they have done, you will be shown to the kitchen, where
you will have a good supper."
This was the climax! I found it hard to preserve my self-control, when
I looked round, and saw women who were nurses, as I was, and only one
shade lighter in complexion, eyeing me with a defiant look, as if my
presence were a contamination. However, I said nothing. I quietly took the
child in my arms, went to our room, and refused to go to the table again. Mr.
Bruce ordered meals to be sent to the room for little Mary and I. This
answered for a few days; but the waiters of the establishment were white, and
they soon began to complain, saying they were not hired to wait on negroes.
The landlord requested Mr. Bruce to send me down to my meals, because
his servants rebelled against bringing them up, and the colored servants
of other boarders were dissatisfied because all were not treated alike.
My answer was that the colored servants ought to be dissatisfied
with themselves, for not having too much self-respect to submit to
such treatment; that there was no difference in the price of board for
colored and white servants, and there was no justification for difference
of treatment. I staid a month after this, and finding I was resolved to
stand up for my rights, they concluded to treat me well. Let every colored
man and woman do this, and eventually we shall cease to be trampled under
foot by our oppressors.
XXXVI. The Hairbreadth Escape.
After we returned to New York, I took the earliest opportunity to go
and see Ellen. I asked to have her called down stairs; for I supposed
Mrs. Hobbs's southern brother might still be there, and I was desirous to
avoid seeing him, if possible. But Mrs. Hobbs came to the kitchen, and
insisted on my going up stairs. "My brother wants to see you," said she, "and
he is sorry you seem to shun him. He knows you are living in New York. He
told me to say to you that he owes thanks to good old aunt Martha for too
many little acts of kindness for him to be base enough to betray
This Mr. Thorne had become poor and reckless long before he left the
south, and such persons had much rather go to one of the faithful old slaves
to borrow a dollar, or get a good dinner, than to go to one whom they
consider an equal. It was such acts of kindness as these for which he
professed to feel grateful to my grandmother. I wished he had kept at a
distance, but as he was here, and knew where I was, I concluded there was
nothing to be gained by trying to avoid him; on the contrary, it might be the
means of exciting his ill will. I followed his sister up stairs. He met me in
a very friendly manner, congratulated me on my escape from slavery, and hoped
I had a good place, where I felt happy.
I continued to visit Ellen as often as I could. She, good thoughtful
child, never forgot my hazardous situation, but always kept a vigilant
lookout for my safety. She never made any complaint about her own
inconveniences and troubles; but a mother's observing eye easily perceived
that she was not happy. On the occasion of one of my visits I found her
unusually serious. When I asked her what was the matter, she said nothing was
the matter. But I insisted upon knowing what made her look so very grave.
Finally, I ascertained that she felt troubled about the dissipation that
was continually going on in the house. She was sent to the store very often
for rum and brandy, and she felt ashamed to ask for it so often; and Mr.
Hobbs and Mr. Thorne drank a great deal, and their hands trembled so that
they had to call her to pour out the liquor for them. "But for all that,"
said she, "Mr. Hobbs is good to me, and I can't help liking him. I feel
sorry for him." I tried to comfort her, by telling her that I had laid up
a hundred dollars, and that before long I hoped to be able to give her
and Benjamin a home, and send them to school. She was always desirous not
to add to my troubles more than she could help, and I did not discover
till years afterwards that Mr. Thorne's intemperance was not the only
annoyance she suffered from him. Though he professed too much gratitude to
my grandmother to injure any of her descendants, he had poured vile
language into the ears of her innocent great-grandchild.
I usually went to Brooklyn to spend Sunday afternoon. One Sunday, I
found Ellen anxiously waiting for me near the house. "O, mother," said she,
"I've been waiting for you this long time. I'm afraid Mr. Thorne has written
to tell Dr. Flint where you are. Make haste and come in. Mrs. Hobbs will
tell you all about it!"
The story was soon told. While the children were playing in the
grape-vine arbor, the day before, Mr. Thorne came out with a letter in his
hand, which he tore up and scattered about. Ellen was sweeping the yard at
the time, and having her mind full of suspicions of him, she picked up the
pieces and carried them to the children, saying, "I wonder who Mr. Thorne has
been writing to."
"I'm sure I don't know, and don't care," replied the oldest of
the children; "and I don't see how it concerns you."
"But it does concern me," replied Ellen; "for I'm afraid he's
been writing to the south about my mother."
They laughed at her, and called her a silly thing, but good-naturedly
put the fragments of writing together, in order to read them to her. They
were no sooner arranged, than the little girl exclaimed, "I declare, Ellen,
I believe you are right."
The contents of Mr. Thorne's letter, as nearly as I can remember, were
as follows: "I have seen your slave, Linda, and conversed with her. She can
be taken very easily, if you manage prudently. There are enough of us here
to swear to her identity as your property. I am a patriot, a lover of
my country, and I do this as an act of justice to the laws." He concluded
by informing the doctor of the street and number where I lived. The
children carried the pieces to Mrs. Hobbs, who immediately went to her
brother's room for an explanation. He was not to be found. The servants said
they saw him go out with a letter in his hand, and they supposed he had gone
to the post office. The natural inference was, that he had sent to Dr. Flint
a copy of those fragments. When he returned, his sister accused him of
it, and he did not deny the charge. He went immediately to his room, and
the next morning he was missing. He had gone over to New York, before any
of the family were astir.
It was evident that I had no time to lose; and I hastened back to the
city with a heavy heart. Again I was to be torn from a comfortable home, and
all my plans for the welfare of my children were to be frustrated by that
demon Slavery! I now regretted that I never told Mrs. Bruce my story. I had
not concealed it merely on account of being a fugitive; that would have
made her anxious, but it would have excited sympathy in her kind heart. I
valued her good opinion, and I was afraid of losing it, if I told her all
the particulars of my sad story. But now I felt that it was necessary for
her to know how I was situated. I had once left her abruptly,
without explaining the reason, and it would not be proper to do it again. I
went home resolved to tell her in the morning. But the sadness of my
face attracted her attention, and, in answer to her kind inquiries, I poured
out my full heart to her, before bed time. She listened with true
womanly sympathy, and told me she would do all she could to protect me. How
my heart blessed her!
Early the next morning, Judge Vanderpool and Lawyer Hopper were
consulted. They said I had better leave the city at once, as the risk would
be great if the case came to trial. Mrs. Bruce took me in a carriage to the
house of one of her friends, where she assured me I should be safe until my
brother could arrive, which would be in a few days. In the interval my
thoughts were much occupied with Ellen. She was mine by birth, and she was
also mine by Southern law, since my grandmother held the bill of sale that
made her so. I did not feel that she was safe unless I had her with me. Mrs.
Hobbs, who felt badly about her brother's treachery, yielded to my
entreaties, on condition that she should return in ten days. I avoided making
any promise. She came to me clad in very thin garments, all outgrown, and
with a school satchel on her arm, containing a few articles. It was late in
October, and I knew the child must suffer; and not daring to go out in the
streets to purchase any thing, I took off my own flannel skirt and converted
it into one for her. Kind Mrs. Bruce came to bid me good by, and when she saw
that I had taken off my clothing for my child, the tears came to her eyes.
She said, "Wait for me, Linda," and went out. She soon returned with a
nice warm shawl and hood for Ellen. Truly, of such souls as hers are the
kingdom of heaven.
My brother reached New York on Wednesday. Lawyer Hopper advised us to go
to Boston by the Stonington route, as there was less Southern travel in
that direction. Mrs. Bruce directed her servants to tell all inquirers that
I formerly lived there, but had gone from the city. We reached the
steamboat Rhode Island in safety. That boat employed colored hands, but I
knew that colored passengers were not admitted to the cabin. I was very
desirous for the seclusion of the cabin, not only on account of exposure to
the night air, but also to avoid observation. Lawyer Hopper was waiting on
board for us. He spoke to the stewardess, and asked, as a particular favor,
that she would treat us well. He said to me, "Go and speak to the captain
yourself by and by. Take your little girl with you, and I am sure that he
will not let her sleep on deck." With these kind words and a shake of the
hand he departed.
The boat was soon on her way, bearing me rapidly from the friendly
home where I had hoped to find security and rest. My brother had left me
to purchase the tickets, thinking that I might have better success than
he would. When the stewardess came to me, I paid what she asked, and she
gave me three tickets with clipped corners. In the most unsophisticated
manner I said, "You have made a mistake; I asked you for cabin tickets. I
cannot possibly consent to sleep on deck with my little daughter." She
assured me there was no mistake. She said on some of the routes colored
people were allowed to sleep in the cabin, but not on this route, which was
much travelled by the wealthy. I asked her to show me to the captain's
office, and she said she would after tea. When the time came, I took Ellen by
the hand and went to the captain, politely requesting him to change
our tickets, as we should be very uncomfortable on deck. He said it
was contrary to their custom, but he would see that we had berths below;
he would also try to obtain comfortable seats for us in the cars; of that
he was not certain, but he would speak to the conductor about it, when
the boat arrived. I thanked him, and returned to the ladies' cabin. He
came afterwards and told me that the conductor of the cars was on board, that
he had spoken to him, and he had promised to take care of us. I was very
much surprised at receiving so much kindness. I don't know whether the
pleasing face of my little girl had won his heart, or whether the
stewardess inferred from Lawyer Hopper's manner that I was a fugitive, and
had pleaded with him in my behalf.
When the boat arrived at Stonington, the conductor kept his promise,
and showed us to seats in the first car, nearest the engine. He asked us
to take seats next the door, but as he passed through, we ventured to move
on toward the other end of the car. No incivility was offered us, and
we reached Boston in safety.
The day after my arrival was one of the happiest of my life. I felt as if
I was beyond the reach of the bloodhounds; and, for the first time
during many years, I had both my children together with me. They greatly
enjoyed their reunion, and laughed and chatted merrily. I watched them with
a swelling heart. Their every motion delighted me.
I could not feel safe in New York, and I accepted the offer of a
friend, that we should share expenses and keep house together. I represented
to Mrs. Hobbs that Ellen must have some schooling, and must remain with me
for that purpose. She felt ashamed of being unable to read or spell at her
age, so instead of sending her to school with Benny, I instructed her
myself till she was fitted to enter an intermediate school. The winter
passed pleasantly, while I was busy with my needle, and my children with
XXXVII. A Visit To England.
In the spring, sad news came to me. Mrs. Bruce was dead. Never again,
in this world, should I see her gentle face, or hear her sympathizing voice.
I had lost an excellent friend, and little Mary had lost a tender mother.
Mr. Bruce wished the child to visit some of her mother's relatives in
England, and he was desirous that I should take charge of her. The little
motherless one was accustomed to me, and attached to me, and I thought she
would be happier in my care than in that of a stranger. I could also earn
more in this way than I could by my needle. So I put Benny to a trade, and
left Ellen to remain in the house with my friend and go to school.
We sailed from New York, and arrived in Liverpool after a pleasant
voyage of twelve days. We proceeded directly to London, and took lodgings at
the Adelaide Hotel. The supper seemed to me less luxurious than those I
had seen in American hotels; but my situation was indescribably more
pleasant. For the first time in my life I was in a place where I was
treated according to my deportment, without reference to my complexion. I
felt as if a great millstone had been lifted from my breast. Ensconced in
a pleasant room, with my dear little charge, I laid my head on my pillow,
for the first time, with the delightful consciousness of pure,
As I had constant care of the child, I had little opportunity to see
the wonders of that great city; but I watched the tide of life that
flowed through the streets, and found it a strange contrast to the stagnation
in our Southern towns. Mr. Bruce took his little daughter to spend some
days with friends in Oxford Crescent, and of course it was necessary for me
to accompany her. I had heard much of the systematic method of
English education, and I was very desirous that my dear Mary should steer
straight in the midst of so much propriety. I closely observed her little
playmates and their nurses, being ready to take any lessons in the science of
good management. The children were more rosy than American children, but I
did not see that they differed materially in other respects. They were like
all children—sometimes docile and sometimes wayward.
We next went to Steventon, in Berkshire. It was a small town, said to
be the poorest in the county. I saw men working in the fields for
six shillings, and seven shillings, a week, and women for sixpence,
and sevenpence, a day, out of which they boarded themselves. Of course
they lived in the most primitive manner; it could not be otherwise, where
a woman's wages for an entire day were not sufficient to buy a pound of
meat. They paid very low rents, and their clothes were made of the
cheapest fabrics, though much better than could have been procured in the
United States for the same money. I had heard much about the oppression of
the poor in Europe. The people I saw around me were, many of them, among
the poorest poor. But when I visited them in their little thatched cottages,
I felt that the condition of even the meanest and most ignorant among
them was vastly superior to the condition of the most favored slaves in
America. They labored hard; but they were not ordered out to toil while the
stars were in the sky, and driven and slashed by an overseer, through heat
and cold, till the stars shone out again. Their homes were very humble;
but they were protected by law. No insolent patrols could come, in the dead
of night, and flog them at their pleasure. The father, when he closed
his cottage door, felt safe with his family around him. No master or
overseer could come and take from him his wife, or his daughter. They must
separate to earn their living; but the parents knew where their children were
going, and could communicate with them by letters. The relations of husband
and wife, parent and child, were too sacred for the richest noble in the
land to violate with impunity. Much was being done to enlighten these
poor people. Schools were established among them, and benevolent societies
were active in efforts to ameliorate their condition. There was no
law forbidding them to learn to read and write; and if they helped each
other in spelling out the Bible, they were in no danger of thirty-nine
lashes, as was the case with myself and poor, pious, old uncle Fred. I repeat
that the most ignorant and the most destitute of these peasants was a
thousand fold better off than the most pampered American slave.
I do not deny that the poor are oppressed in Europe. I am not disposed
to paint their condition so rose-colored as the Hon. Miss Murray paints
the condition of the slaves in the United States. A small portion of
my experience would enable her to read her own pages with anointed eyes.
If she were to lay aside her title, and, instead of visiting among
the fashionable, become domesticated, as a poor governess, on some
plantation in Louisiana or Alabama, she would see and hear things that would
make her tell quite a different story.
My visit to England is a memorable event in my life, from the fact of
my having there received strong religious impressions. The contemptuous
manner in which the communion had been administered to colored people, in
my native place; the church membership of Dr. Flint, and others like him;
and the buying and selling of slaves, by professed ministers of the gospel,
had given me a prejudice against the Episcopal church. The whole service
seemed to me a mockery and a sham. But my home in Steventon was in the family
of a clergyman, who was a true disciple of Jesus. The beauty of his daily
life inspired me with faith in the genuineness of Christian professions.
Grace entered my heart, and I knelt at the communion table, I trust, in
true humility of soul.
I remained abroad ten months, which was much longer than I had
anticipated. During all that time, I never saw the slightest symptom of
prejudice against color. Indeed, I entirely forgot it, till the time came for
us to return to America.
XXXVIII. Renewed Invitations To Go South.
We had a tedious winter passage, and from the distance spectres seemed
to rise up on the shores of the United States. It is a sad feeling to
be afraid of one's native country. We arrived in New York safely, and
I hastened to Boston to look after my children. I found Ellen well,
and improving at her school; but Benny was not there to welcome me. He had
been left at a good place to learn a trade, and for several months every
thing worked well. He was liked by the master, and was a favorite with
his fellow-apprentices; but one day they accidentally discovered a fact
they had never before suspected—that he was colored! This at once
transformed him into a different being. Some of the apprentices were
Americans, others American-born Irish; and it was offensive to their dignity
to have a "nigger" among them, after they had been told that he was a
"nigger." They began by treating him with silent scorn, and finding that he
returned the same, they resorted to insults and abuse. He was too spirited a
boy to stand that, and he went off. Being desirous to do something to
support himself, and having no one to advise him, he shipped for a whaling
voyage. When I received these tidings I shed many tears, and bitterly
reproached myself for having left him so long. But I had done it for the
best, and now all I could do was to pray to the heavenly Father to guide and
Not long after my return, I received the following letter from Miss
Emily Flint, now Mrs. Dodge:—
In this you will recognize the hand of your friend and
mistress. Having heard that you had gone with a family to
Europe, I have waited to hear of your return to write to you. I
should have answered the letter you wrote to me long since, but
as I could not then act independently of my father, I knew there
could be nothing done satisfactory to you. There were persons
here who were willing to buy you and run the risk of getting
you. To this I would not consent. I have always been attached to
you, and would not like to see you the slave of another, or have
unkind treatment. I am marri expectsed now, and can protect you. My
husband to move to Virginia this spring, where we think
of settling. I am very anxious that you should come and live
with me. If you are not willing to come, you may purchase
yourself; but I should prefer having you live with me. If you
come, you may, if you like, spend a month with your grandmother
and friends, then come to me in Norfolk, Virginia. Think this
over, and write as soon as possible, and let me know the
conclusion.Hoping that your children are well, I remain your
friend and mistress.
Of course I did not write to return thanks for this cordial invitation.
I felt insulted to be thought stupid enough to be caught by such
“Come up into my parlor,” said the spider to the
fly; “Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did
It was plain that Dr. Flint's family were apprised of my movements,
since they knew of my voyage to Europe. I expected to have further trouble
from them; but having eluded them thus far, I hoped to be as successful
in future. The money I had earned, I was desirous to devote to the
education of my children, and to secure a home for them. It seemed not only
hard, but unjust, to pay for myself. I could not possibly regard myself as a
piece of property. Moreover, I had worked many years without wages, and
during that time had been obliged to depend on my grandmother for many
comforts in food and clothing. My children certainly belonged to me; but
though Dr. Flint had incurred no expense for their support, he had received a
large sum of money for them. I knew the law would decide that I was his
property, and would probably still give his daughter a claim to my children;
but I regarded such laws as the regulations of robbers, who had no rights
that I was bound to respect.
The Fugitive Slave Law had not then passed. The judges of Massachusetts
had not then stooped under chains to enter her courts of justice, so called.
I knew my old master was rather skittish of Massachusetts. I relied on
her love of freedom, and felt safe on her soil. I am now aware that I
honored the old Commonwealth beyond her deserts.
XXXIX. The Confession.
For two years my daughter and I supported ourselves comfortably in
Boston. At the end of that time, my brother William offered to send Ellen to
a boarding school. It required a great effort for me to consent to part
with her, for I had few near ties, and it was her presence that made my
two little rooms seem home-like. But my judgment prevailed over my
selfish feelings. I made preparations for her departure. During the two years
we had lived together I had often resolved to tell her something about
her father; but I had never been able to muster sufficient courage. I had
a shrinking dread of diminishing my child's love. I knew she must
have curiosity on the subject, but she had never asked a question. She
was always very careful not to say any thing to remind me of my troubles.
Now that she was going from me, I thought if I should die before she
returned, she might hear my story from some one who did not understand the
palliating circumstances; and that if she were entirely ignorant on the
subject, her sensitive nature might receive a rude shock.
When we retired for the night, she said, "Mother, it is very hard to
leave you alone. I am almost sorry I am going, though I do want to
improve myself. But you will write to me often; won't you, mother?"
I did not throw my arms round her. I did not answer her. But in a
calm, solemn way, for it cost me great effort, I said, "Listen to me, Ellen;
I have something to tell you!" I recounted my early sufferings in
slavery, and told her how nearly they had crushed me. I began to tell her how
they had driven me into a great sin, when she clasped me in her arms,
and exclaimed, "O, don't, mother! Please don't tell me any more."
I said, "But, my child, I want you to know about your father."
"I know all about it, mother," she replied; "I am nothing to my father,
and he is nothing to me. All my love is for you. I was with him five months
in Washington, and he never cared for me. He never spoke to me as he did
to his little Fanny. I knew all the time he was my father, for Fanny's
nurse told me so, but she said I must never tell any body, and I never did.
I used to wish he would take me in his arms and kiss me, as he did Fanny;
or that he would sometimes smile at me, as he did at her. I thought if he
was my own father, he ought to love me. I was a little girl then, and
didn't know any better. But now I never think any thing about my father. All
my love is for you." She hugged me closer as she spoke, and I thanked God
that the knowledge I had so much dreaded to impart had not diminished
the affection of my child. I had not the slightest idea she knew that
portion of my history. If I had, I should have spoken to her long before; for
my pent-up feelings had often longed to pour themselves out to some one
I could trust. But I loved the dear girl better for the delicacy she
had manifested towards her unfortunate mother.
The next morning, she and her uncle started on their journey to the
village in New York, where she was to be placed at school. It seemed as if
all the sunshine had gone away. My little room was dreadfully lonely. I
was thankful when a message came from a lady, accustomed to employ
me, requesting me to come and sew in her family for several weeks. On
my return, I found a letter from brother William. He thought of opening
an anti-slavery reading room in Rochester, and combining with it the sale
of some books and stationery; and he wanted me to unite with him. We tried
it, but it was not successful. We found warm anti-slavery friends there,
but the feeling was not general enough to support such an establishment.
I passed nearly a year in the family of Isaac and Amy Post,
practical believers in the Christian doctrine of human brotherhood. They
measure a man's worth by his character, not by his complexion. The memory of
those beloved and honored friends will remain with me to my latest
XL. The Fugitive Slave Law.
My brother, being disappointed in his project, concluded to go
to California; and it was agreed that Benjamin should go with him. Ellen
liked her school, and was a great favorite there. They did not know her
history, and she did not tell it, because she had no desire to make capital
out of their sympathy. But when it was accidentally discovered that her
mother was a fugitive slave, every method was used to increase her advantages
and diminish her expenses.
I was alone again. It was necessary for me to be earning money, and
I preferred that it should be among those who knew me. On my return
from Rochester, I called at the house of Mr. Bruce, to see Mary, the
darling little babe that had thawed my heart, when it was freezing into a
cheerless distrust of all my fellow-beings. She was growing a tall girl now,
but I loved her always. Mr. Bruce had married again, and it was proposed that
I should become nurse to a new infant. I had but one hesitation, and that
was feeling of insecurity in New York, now greatly increased by the passage
of the Fugitive Slave Law. However, I resolved to try the experiment. I
was again fortunate in my employer. The new Mrs. Bruce was an American,
brought up under aristocratic influences, and still living in the midst of
them; but if she had any prejudice against color, I was never made aware of
it; and as for the system of slavery, she had a most hearty dislike of it.
No sophistry of Southerners could blind her to its enormity. She was a
person of excellent principles and a noble heart. To me, from that hour to
the present, she has been a true and sympathizing friend. Blessings be with
her and hers!
About the time that I reentered the Bruce family, an event occurred
of disastrous import to the colored people. The slave Hamlin, the
first fugitive that came under the new law, was given up by the bloodhounds
of the north to the bloodhounds of the south. It was the beginning of a
reign of terror to the colored population. The great city rushed on in its
whirl of excitement, taking no note of the "short and simple annals of the
poor." But while fashionables were listening to the thrilling voice of Jenny
Lind in Metropolitan Hall, the thrilling voices of poor hunted colored
people went up, in an agony of supplication, to the Lord, from Zion's church.
Many families, who had lived in the city for twenty years, fled from it
now. Many a poor washerwoman, who, by hard labor, had made herself a
comfortable home, was obliged to sacrifice her furniture, bid a hurried
farewell to friends, and seek her fortune among strangers in Canada. Many a
wife discovered a secret she had never known before—that her husband was
a fugitive, and must leave her to insure his own safety. Worse still, many
a husband discovered that his wife had fled from slavery years ago, and
as "the child follows the condition of its mother," the children of his
love were liable to be seized and carried into slavery. Every where, in
those humble homes, there was consternation and anguish. But what cared
the legislators of the "dominant race" for the blood they were crushing out
of trampled hearts?
When my brother William spent his last evening with me, before he went
to California, we talked nearly all the time of the distress brought on
our oppressed people by the passage of this iniquitous law; and never had
I seen him manifest such bitterness of spirit, such stern hostility to
our oppressors. He was himself free from the operation of the law; for he
did not run from any Slaveholding State, being brought into the Free States
by his master. But I was subject to it; and so were hundreds of
intelligent and industrious people all around us. I seldom ventured into the
streets; and when it was necessary to do an errand for Mrs. Bruce, or any of
the family, I went as much as possible through back streets and by-ways. What
a disgrace to a city calling itself free, that inhabitants, guiltless
of offence, and seeking to perform their duties conscientiously, should
be condemned to live in such incessant fear, and have nowhere to turn
for protection! This state of things, of course, gave rise to many
impromptu vigilance committees. Every colored person, and every friend of
their persecuted race, kept their eyes wide open. Every evening I examined
the newspapers carefully, to see what Southerners had put up at the hotels.
I did this for my own sake, thinking my young mistress and her husband
might be among the list; I wished also to give information to others,
if necessary; for if many were "running to and fro," I resolved
that "knowledge should be increased."
This brings up one of my Southern reminiscences, which I will here
briefly relate. I was somewhat acquainted with a slave named Luke, who
belonged to a wealthy man in our vicinity. His master died, leaving a son and
daughter heirs to his large fortune. In the division of the slaves, Luke
was included in the son's portion. This young man became a prey to the vices
he went to the north, to complete his education, he carried his vices
with him. He was brought home, deprived of the use of his limbs, by
excessive dissipation. Luke was appointed to wait upon his bed-ridden master,
whose despotic habits were greatly increased by exasperation at his
own helplessness. He kept a cowhide beside him, and, for the most
trivial occurrence, he would order his attendant to bare his back, and kneel
beside the couch, while he whipped him till his strength was exhausted. Some
days he was not allowed to wear any thing but his shirt, in order to be
in readiness to be flogged. A day seldom passed without his receiving more
or less blows. If the slightest resistance was offered, the town constable
was sent for to execute the punishment, and Luke learned from experience
how much more the constable's strong arm was to be dreaded than
the comparatively feeble one of his master. The arm of his tyrant grew
weaker, and was finally palsied; and then the constable's services were in
constant requisition. The fact that he was entirely dependent on Luke's care,
and was obliged to be tended like an infant, instead of inspiring any
gratitude or compassion towards his poor slave, seemed only to increase
his irritability and cruelty. As he lay there on his bed, a mere degraded
wreck of manhood, he took into his head the strangest freaks of despotism;
and if Luke hesitated to submit to his orders, the constable was immediately
sent for. Some of these freaks were of a nature too filthy to be repeated.
When I fled from the house of bondage, I left poor Luke still chained to
the bedside of this cruel and disgusting wretch.
One day, when I had been requested to do an errand for Mrs. Bruce, I
was hurrying through back streets, as usual, when I saw a young
man approaching, whose face was familiar to me. As he came nearer, I
recognized Luke. I always rejoiced to see or hear of any one who had escaped
from the black pit; I was peculiarly glad to see him on Northern soil, though
I no longer called it free soil. I well remembered what a desolate feeling
it was to be alone among strangers, and I went up to him and greeted
him cordially. At first, he did not know me; but when I mentioned my name,
he remembered all about me. I told him of the Fugitive Slave Law, and
asked him if he did not know that New York was a city of kidnappers.
He replied, "De risk ain't so bad for me, as 'tis fur you. 'Cause I
runned away from de speculator, and you runned away from de massa. Dem
speculators vont spen dar money to come here fur a runaway, if dey ain't
sartin sure to put dar hans right on him. An I tell you I's tuk good car
'bout dat. I had too hard times down dar, to let 'em ketch dis nigger."
He then told me of the advice he had received, and the plans he had laid.
I asked if he had money enough to take him to Canada. "'Pend upon it, I
hab," he replied. "I tuk car fur dat. I'd bin workin all my days fur dem
cussed whites, an got no pay but kicks and cuffs. So I tought dis nigger had
a right to money nuff to bring him to de Free States. Massa Henry he lib
till ebery body vish him dead; an ven he did die, I knowed de debbil would
hab him, an vouldn't vant him to bring his money 'long too. So I tuk some
of his bills, and put 'em in de pocket of his ole trousers. An ven he
was buried, dis nigger ask fur dem ole trousers, an dey gub 'em to me." With
a low, chuckling laugh, he added, "You see I didn't steal it; dey gub
it to me. I tell you, I had mighty hard time to keep de speculator from
findin it; but he didn't git it."
This is a fair specimen of how the moral sense is educated by slavery.
When a man has his wages stolen from him, year after year, and the laws
sanction and enforce the theft, how can he be expected to have more regard
to honesty than has the man who robs him? I have become somewhat
enlightened, but I confess that I agree with poor, ignorant, much-abused
Luke, in thinking he had a right to that money, as a portion of his unpaid
wages. He went to Canada forthwith, and I have not since heard from
All that winter I lived in a state of anxiety. When I took the children
out to breathe the air, I closely observed the countenances of all I met.
I dreaded the approach of summer, when snakes and slaveholders make
their appearance. I was, in fact, a slave in New York, as subject to slave
laws as I had been in a Slave State. Strange incongruity in a State called
Spring returned, and I received warning from the south that Dr. Flint
knew of my return to my old place, and was making preparations to have
me caught. I learned afterwards that my dress, and that of Mrs.
Bruce's children, had been described to him by some of the Northern tools,
which slaveholders employ for their base purposes, and then indulge in sneers
at their cupidity and mean servility.
I immediately informed Mrs. Bruce of my danger, and she took
prompt measures for my safety. My place as nurse could not be
supplied immediately, and this generous, sympathizing lady proposed that I
should carry her baby away. It was a comfort to me to have the child with me;
for the heart is reluctant to be torn away from every object it loves. But
how few mothers would have consented to have one of their own babes become
a fugitive, for the sake of a poor, hunted nurse, on whom the legislators
of the country had let loose the bloodhounds! When I spoke of the
sacrifice she was making, in depriving herself of her dear baby, she replied,
"It is better for you to have baby with you, Linda; for if they get on your
track, they will be obliged to bring the child to me; and then, if there is
a possibility of saving you, you shall be saved."
This lady had a very wealthy relative, a benevolent gentleman in
many respects, but aristocratic and pro-slavery. He remonstrated with her
for harboring a fugitive slave; told her she was violating the laws of
her country; and asked her if she was aware of the penalty. She replied, "I
am very well aware of it. It is imprisonment and one thousand dollars
fine. Shame on my country that it is so! I am ready to incur the penalty.
I will go to the state's prison, rather than have any poor victim torn
from my house, to be carried back to slavery."
The noble heart! The brave heart! The tears are in my eyes while I write
of her. May the God of the helpless reward her for her sympathy with
my persecuted people!
I was sent into New England, where I was sheltered by the wife of
a senator, whom I shall always hold in grateful remembrance. This
honorable gentleman would not have voted for the Fugitive Slave Law, as did
the senator in "Uncle Tom's Cabin;" on the contrary, he was strongly opposed
to it; but he was enough under its influence to be afraid of having me
remain in his house many hours. So I was sent into the country, where I
remained a month with the baby. When it was supposed that Dr. Flint's
emissaries had lost track of me, and given up the pursuit for the present, I
returned to New York.
XLI. Free At Last.
Mrs. Bruce, and every member of her family, were exceedingly kind to
me. I was thankful for the blessings of my lot, yet I could not always wear
a cheerful countenance. I was doing harm to no one; on the contrary, I
was doing all the good I could in my small way; yet I could never go out
to breathe God's free air without trepidation at my heart. This seemed
hard; and I could not think it was a right state of things in any
From time to time I received news from my good old grandmother. She
could not write; but she employed others to write for her. The following is
an extract from one of her last letters:
Dear Daughter: I cannot hope to see you again on earth; but
I pray to God to unite us above, where pain will no more rack
this feeble body of mine; where sorrow and parting from my
children will be no more. God has promised these things if we
are faithful unto the end. My age and feeble health deprive me
of going to church now; but God is with me here at home. Thank
your brother for his kindness. Give much love to him, and tell
him to remember the Creator in the days of his youth, and strive
to meet me in the Father's kingdom. Love to Ellen and Benjamin.
Don't neglect him. Tell him for me, to be a good boy. Strive, my
child, to train them for God's children. May he protect and
provide for you, is the prayer of your loving old mother.
These letters both cheered and saddened me. I was always glad to
have tidings from the kind, faithful old friend of my unhappy youth; but
her messages of love made my heart yearn to see her before she died, and
I mourned over the fact that it was impossible. Some months after I
returned from my flight to New England, I received a letter from her, in
which she wrote, "Dr. Flint is dead. He has left a distressed family. Poor
old man! I hope he made his peace with God."
I remembered how he had defrauded my grandmother of the hard earnings
she had loaned; how he had tried to cheat her out of the freedom her
mistress had promised her, and how he had persecuted her children; and I
thought to myself that she was a better Christian than I was, if she could
entirely forgive him. I cannot say, with truth, that the news of my old
master's death softened my feelings towards him. There are wrongs which even
the grave does not bury. The man was odious to me while he lived, and
his memory is odious now.
His departure from this world did not diminish my danger. He had
threatened my grandmother that his heirs should hold me in slavery after he
was gone; that I never should be free so long as a child of his survived. As
for Mrs. Flint, I had seen her in deeper afflictions than I supposed the loss
of her husband would be, for she had buried several children; yet I never saw
any signs of softening in her heart. The doctor had died in
embarrassed circumstances, and had little to will to his heirs, except such
property as he was unable to grasp. I was well aware what I had to expect
from the family of Flints; and my fears were confirmed by a letter from the
south, warning me to be on my guard, because Mrs. Flint openly declared that
her daughter could not afford to lose so valuable a slave as I was.
I kept close watch of the newspapers for arrivals; but one Saturday
night, being much occupied, I forgot to examine the Evening Express as usual.
I went down into the parlor for it, early in the morning, and found the
boy about to kindle a fire with it. I took it from him and examined the list
of arrivals. Reader, if you have never been a slave, you cannot imagine
the acute sensation of suffering at my heart, when I read the names of Mr.
and Mrs. Dodge, at a hotel in Courtland Street. It was a third-rate hotel,
and that circumstance convinced me of the truth of what I had heard, that
they were short of funds and had need of my value, as they valued me; and
that was by dollars and cents. I hastened with the paper to Mrs. Bruce.
Her heart and hand were always open to every one in distress, and she
always warmly sympathized with mine. It was impossible to tell how near the
enemy was. He might have passed and repassed the house while we were
sleeping. He might at that moment be waiting to pounce upon me if I ventured
out of doors. I had never seen the husband of my young mistress, and
therefore I could not distinguish him from any other stranger. A carriage was
hastily ordered; and, closely veiled, I followed Mrs. Bruce, taking the baby
again with me into exile. After various turnings and crossings, and
returnings, the carriage stopped at the house of one of Mrs. Bruce's friends,
where I was kindly received. Mrs. Bruce returned immediately, to instruct
the domestics what to say if any one came to inquire for me.
It was lucky for me that the evening paper was not burned up before I had
a chance to examine the list of arrivals. It was not long after Mrs.
Bruce's return to her house, before several people came to inquire for me.
One inquired for me, another asked for my daughter Ellen, and another said
he had a letter from my grandmother, which he was requested to deliver
They were told, "She has lived here, but she has left."
"How long ago?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Do you know where she went?"
"I do not, sir." And the door was closed.
This Mr. Dodge, who claimed me as his property, was originally a
Yankee pedler in the south; then he became a merchant, and finally a
slaveholder. He managed to get introduced into what was called the first
society, and married Miss Emily Flint. A quarrel arose between him and her
brother, and the brother cowhided him. This led to a family feud, and he
proposed to remove to Virginia. Dr. Flint left him no property, and his own
means had become circumscribed, while a wife and children depended upon him
for support. Under these circumstances, it was very natural that he should
make an effort to put me into his pocket.
I had a colored friend, a man from my native place, in whom I had the
most implicit confidence. I sent for him, and told him that Mr. and Mrs.
Dodge had arrived in New York. I proposed that he should call upon them to
make inquiries about his friends at the south, with whom Dr. Flint's family
were well acquainted. He thought there was no impropriety in his doing so,
and he consented. He went to the hotel, and knocked at the door of Mr.
Dodge's room, which was opened by the gentleman himself, who gruffly
inquired, "What brought you here? How came you to know I was in the
"Your arrival was published in the evening papers, sir; and I called to
ask Mrs. Dodge about my friends at home. I didn't suppose it would give
"Where's that negro girl, that belongs to my wife?"
"What girl, sir?"
"You know well enough. I mean Linda, that ran away from Dr.
Flint's plantation, some years ago. I dare say you've seen her, and know
where she is."
"Yes, sir, I've seen her, and know where she is. She is out of your
"Tell me where she is, or bring her to me, and I will give her a chance
to buy her freedom."
"I don't think it would be of any use, sir. I have heard her say she
would go to the ends of the earth, rather than pay any man or woman for
her freedom, because she thinks she has a right to it. Besides, she couldn't
do it, if she would, for she has spent her earnings to educate her
This made Mr. Dodge very angry, and some high words passed between them.
My friend was afraid to come where I was; but in the course of the day
I received a note from him. I supposed they had not come from the south,
in the winter, for a pleasure excursion; and now the nature of their
business was very plain.
Mrs. Bruce came to me and entreated me to leave the city the next
morning. She said her house was watched, and it was possible that some clew
to me might be obtained. I refused to take her advice. She pleaded with
an earnest tenderness, that ought to have moved me; but I was in a
bitter, disheartened mood. I was weary of flying from pillar to post. I had
been chased during half my life, and it seemed as if the chase was never to
end. There I sat, in that great city, guiltless of crime, yet not daring
to worship God in any of the churches. I heard the bells ringing for
afternoon service, and, with contemptuous sarcasm, I said, "Will the
preachers take for their text, 'Proclaim liberty to the captive, and the
opening of prison doors to them that are bound'? or will they preach from the
text, 'Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you'?" Oppressed Poles
and Hungarians could find a safe refuge in that city; John Mitchell was free
to proclaim in the City Hall his desire for "a plantation well stocked
with slaves;" but there I sat, an oppressed American, not daring to show
my face. God forgive the black and bitter thoughts I indulged on that
Sabbath day! The Scripture says, "Oppression makes even a wise man mad;" and
I was not wise.
I had been told that Mr. Dodge said his wife had never signed away
her right to my children, and if he could not get me, he would take them.
This it was, more than any thing else, that roused such a tempest in my
soul. Benjamin was with his uncle William in California, but my innocent
young daughter had come to spend a vacation with me. I thought of what I
had suffered in slavery at her age, and my heart was like a tiger's when
a hunter tries to seize her young.
Dear Mrs. Bruce! I seem to see the expression of her face, as she
turned away discouraged by my obstinate mood. Finding her
expostulations unavailing, she sent Ellen to entreat me. When ten o'clock in
the evening arrived and Ellen had not returned, this watchful and unwearied
friend became anxious. She came to us in a carriage, bringing a well-filled
trunk for my journey—trusting that by this time I would listen to reason.
I yielded to her, as I ought to have done before.
The next day, baby and I set out in a heavy snow storm, bound for
New England again. I received letters from the City of Iniquity, addressed
to me under an assumed name. In a few days one came from Mrs. Bruce,
informing me that my new master was still searching for me, and that she
intended to put an end to this persecution by buying my freedom. I felt
grateful for the kindness that prompted this offer, but the idea was not so
pleasant to me as might have been expected. The more my mind had become
enlightened, the more difficult it was for me to consider myself an article
of property; and to pay money to those who had so grievously oppressed me
seemed like taking from my sufferings the glory of triumph. I wrote to Mrs.
Bruce, thanking her, but saying that being sold from one owner to another
seemed too much like slavery; that such a great obligation could not be
easily cancelled; and that I preferred to go to my brother in
Without my knowledge, Mrs. Bruce employed a gentleman in New York to
enter into negotiations with Mr. Dodge. He proposed to pay three hundred
dollars down, if Mr. Dodge would sell me, and enter into obligations to
relinquish all claim to me or my children forever after. He who called
himself my master said he scorned so small an offer for such a valuable
servant. The gentleman replied, "You can do as you choose, sir. If you reject
this offer you will never get any thing; for the woman has friends who will
convey her and her children out of the country."
Mr. Dodge concluded that "half a loaf was better than no bread," and
he agreed to the proffered terms. By the next mail I received this
brief letter from Mrs. Bruce: "I am rejoiced to tell you that the money for
your freedom has been paid to Mr. Dodge. Come home tomorrow. I long to see
you and my sweet babe."
My brain reeled as I read these lines. A gentleman near me said,
"It's true; I have seen the bill of sale." "The bill of sale!" Those words
struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold in the
free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future
generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New
York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may
hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure
the progress of civilization in the United States. I well know the value of
that bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it.
I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise
the miscreant who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him
I had objected to having my freedom bought, yet I must confess that when
it was done I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my weary
shoulders. When I rode home in the cars I was no longer afraid to unveil my
face and look at people as they passed. I should have been glad to have met
Daniel Dodge himself; to have had him seen me and known me, that he might
have mourned over the untoward circumstances which compelled him to sell me
for three hundred dollars.
When I reached home, the arms of my benefactress were thrown round me,
and our tears mingled. As soon as she could speak, she said, “Oh Linda, I'm
so glad it's all over! You wrote to me as if you thought you were going to
be transferred from one owner to another. But I did not buy you for
your services. I should have done just the same, if you had been going to
sail for California tomorrow. I should, at least, have the satisfaction
of knowing that you left me a free woman.”
My heart was exceedingly full. I remembered how my poor father had tried
to buy me, when I was a small child, and how he had been disappointed. I
hoped his spirit was rejoicing over me now. I remembered how my good
old grandmother had laid up her earnings to purchase me in later years, and
how often her plans had been frustrated. How that faithful, loving old
heart would leap for joy, if she could look on me and my children now that
we were free! My relatives had been foiled in all their efforts, but God
had raised me up a friend among strangers, who had bestowed on me the
precious, long-desired boon. Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used.
Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless
handling; but when I speak of Mrs. Bruce as my friend, the word is
My grandmother lived to rejoice in my freedom; but not long after, a
letter came with a black seal. She had gone "where the wicked cease
from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
Time passed on, and a paper came to me from the south, containing
an obituary notice of my uncle Phillip. It was the only case I ever knew
of such an honor conferred upon a colored person. It was written by one of
his friends, and contained these words: "Now that death has laid him low,
they call him a good man and a useful citizen; but what are eulogies to
the black man, when the world has faded from his vision? It does not
require man's praise to obtain rest in God's kingdom." So they called a
colored man a citizen! Strange words to be uttered in that region!
Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage.
I and my children are now free! We are as free from the power of
slaveholders as are the white people of the north; and though that, according
to my ideas, is not saying a great deal, it is a vast improvement in
my condition. The dream of my life is not yet realized. I do not sit with
my children in a home of my own, I still long for a hearthstone of my
own, however humble. I wish it for my children's sake far more than for my
own. But God so orders circumstances as to keep me with my friend Mrs.
Bruce. Love, duty, gratitude, also bind me to her side. It is a privilege to
serve her who pities my oppressed people, and who has bestowed the
inestimable boon of freedom on me and my children.
It has been painful to me, in many ways, to recall the dreary years
I passed in bondage. I would gladly forget them if I could. Yet
the retrospection is not altogether without solace; for with those
gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like
light, fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea.
The following statement is from Amy Post, a member of the Society
of Friends in the State of New York, well known and highly respected
by friends of the poor and the oppressed. As has been already stated, in
the preceding pages, the author of this volume spent some time under
her hospitable roof.
The author of this book is my highly-esteemed friend. If
its readers knew her as I know her, they could not fail to be
deeply interested in her story. She was a beloved inmate of our
family nearly the whole of the year 1849. She was introduced to
us by her affectionate and conscientious brother, who had
previously related to us some of the almost incredible events in
his sister's life. I immediately became much interested in
Linda; for her appearance was prepossessing, and her deportment
indicated remarkable delicacy of feeling and purity of
As we became acquainted, she related to me, from time to
time some of the incidents in her bitter experiences as a
slave-woman. Though impelled by a natural craving for human
sympathy, she passed through a baptism of suffering, even in
recounting her trials to me, in private confidential
conversations. The burden of these memories lay heavily upon her
spirit—naturally virtuous and refined. I repeatedly urged her
to consent to the publication of her narrative; for I felt that
it would arouse people to a more earnest work for the
disinthralment of millions still remaining in that soul-crushing
condition, which was so unendurable to her. But her sensitive
spirit shrank from publicity. She said, “You know a woman can
whisper her cruel wrongs in the ear of a dear friend much easier
than she can record them for the world to read.” Even in talking
with me, she wept so much, and seemed to suffer such mental
agony, that I felt her story was too sacred to be drawn from her
by inquisitive questions, and I left her free to tell as much,
or as little, as she chose. Still, I urged upon her the duty of
publishing her experience, for the sake of the good it might do;
and, at last, she undertook the task.
Having been a slave so large a portion of her life, she
is unlearned; she is obliged to earn her living by her own
labor, and she has worked untiringly to procure education for
her children; several times she has been obliged to leave
her employments, in order to flee from the man-hunters
and woman-hunters of our land; but she pressed through all
these obstacles and overcame them. After the labors of the day
were over, she traced secretly and wearily, by the midnight
lamp, a truthful record of her eventful life.
This Empire State is a shabby place of refuge for the
oppressed; but here, through anxiety, turmoil, and despair, the
freedom of Linda and her children was finally secured, by the
exertions of a generous friend. She was grateful for the boon;
but the idea of having been bought was always galling to a
spirit that could never acknowledge itself to be a chattel. She
wrote to us thus, soon after the event: “I thank you for your
kind expressions in regard to my freedom; but the freedom I had
before the money was paid was dearer to me. God gave me that
freedom; but man put God's image in the scales with the paltry
sum of three hundred dollars. I served for my liberty as
faithfully as Jacob served for Rachel. At the end, he had large
possessions; but I was robbed of my victory; I was obliged to
resign my crown, to rid myself of a tyrant.”
Her story, as written by herself, cannot fail to interest
the reader. It is a sad illustration of the condition of
this country, which boasts of its civilization, while it
sanctions laws and customs which make the experiences of the
present more strange than any fictions of the past.
— Amy Post. Rochester, N.Y., Oct. 30th, 1859.
The following testimonial is from a man who is now a highly
respectable colored citizen of Boston.
This narrative contains some incidents so extraordinary,
that, doubtless, many persons, under whose eyes it may chance to
fall, will be ready to believe that it is colored highly, to
serve a special purpose. But, however it may be regarded by
the incredulous, I know that it is full of living truths. I have
been well acquainted with the author from my boyhood.
The circumstances recounted in her history are perfectly
familiar to me. I knew of her treatment from her master; of the
imprisonment of her children; of their sale and redemption; of
her seven years' concealment; and of her subsequent escape to
the North. I am now a resident of Boston, and am a living
witness to the truth of this interesting narrative.