FROM the most obnoxious substances we often see spring forth, beautiful and fragrant, flowers of every hue, to regale the eye, and perfume the air. Thus, frequently, are results originated which are wholly unlike the cause that gave them birth. An illustration of this truth is afforded by the history of American Slavery.
Naturally and necessarily, the enemy of literature, it has become the prolific theme of much that is profound in argument, sublime in poetry, and thrilling in narrative. From the soil of slavery itself have sprung forth some of the most brilliant productions, whose logical levers will ultimately upheave and overthrow the system. Gushing fountains of poetic thought, have started from beneath the rod of violence, that will long continue to slake the feverish thirst of humanity outraged, until swelling to a flood it shall rush with wasting violence over the ill-gotten heritage of the oppressor. Startling incidents authenticated, far excelling fiction in their touching pathos, from the pen of self-emancipated slaves, do now exhibit slavery in such revolting aspects, as to secure the execrations of all good men, and become a monument more enduring than marble, in testimony strong as sacred writ against it.
Of the class last named, is the narrative of the life of Henry Bibb, which is equally distinguished as a revolting portrait of the hideous slave system, a thrilling narrative of individual suffering, and a triumphant vindication of the slave's manhood and mental dignity. And all this is associated with unmistakable traces of originality and truthfulness.
To many, the elevated style, purity of diction, and easy flow of language,
frequently exhibited, will appear unaccountable and contradictory, in view
of his want of early mental culture.
But to the thousands who have listened with delight to his speeches on anniversary and other occasions, these same traits will be noted as unequivocal evidence of originality. Very few men present in their written composition, so perfect a transcript of their style as is exhibited by Mr. Bibb.
Moreover, the writer of this introduction is well acquainted with his handwriting and style. The entire manuscript I have examined and prepared for the press. Many of the closing pages of it were written by Mr. Bibb in my office. And the whole is preserved for inspection now. An examination of it will show that no alteration of sentiment, language or style, was necessary to make it what it now is, in the hands of the reader. The work of preparation for the press was that of orthography and punctuation merely, an arrangement of the chapters, and a table of contents—little more than falls to the lot of publishers generally.
The fidelity of the narrative is sustained by the most satisfactory and ample testimony. Time has proved its claims to truth. Thorough investigation has sifted and analysed every essential fact alleged, and demonstrated clearly that this thrilling and eloquent narrative, though stranger than fiction, is undoubtedly true.
It is only necessary to present the following documents to the reader, to sustain this declaration. For convenience of reference, and that they may be more easily understood, the letters will be inserted consecutively, with explanations following the last.
The best preface to these letters, is, the report of a committee appointed to investigate the truth of Mr. Bibb's narrative as he has delivered it in public for years past.
OF THE UNDERSIGNED,
COMMITTEE APPOINTED BY THE
Mr. Bibb has addressed several assemblies in Michigan, and his narrative
is generally known. Some of his hearers, among whom were Liberty men, felt
doubt as to the truth of his statements. Respect for their scruples and the
obligation of duty
to the public induced the formation of the present Committee.
The Committee entered on the duty confided to them, resolved on a searching scrutiny, and an unreserved publication of its result Mr. Bibb acquiesced in the inquiry with a praiseworthy spirit. He attended before the Committee and gave willing aid to its object. He was subjected to a rigorous examination. Facts—dates—persons—and localities were demanded and cheerfully furnished. Proper inquiry—either by letter, or personally, or through the medium of friends was then made from every person, and in every quarter likely to elucidate the truth. In fact no test for its ascertainment, known to the sense or experience of the Committee, was omitted. The result was the collection of a large body of testimony from very diversified quarters. Slave owners, slave dealers, fugitives from slavery, political friends and political foes contributed to a mass of testimony, every part of which pointed to a common conclusion—the undoubted truth of Mr. Bibb's statements.
In the Committee's opinion no individual can substantiate the events of his life by testimony more conclusive and harmonious than is now before them in confirmation of Mr. Bibb. The main facts of his narrative, and many of the minor ones are corroborated beyond all question. No inconsistency has been disclosed nor anything revealed to create suspicion. The Committee have no hesitation in declaring their conviction that Mr. Bibb is amply sustained, and is entitled to public confidence and high esteem.
The bulk of testimony precludes its publication, but it is in the Committee's hands for the inspection of any applicant.
A. L. PORTER,
DETROIT, April 22, 1845.
From the bulk of testimony obtained, a part only is here introduced. The remainder fully corroborates and strengthens that.
[No. 1. An Extract.] DAWN MILLS, FEB. 19th, 1845
CHARLES H. STEWART, ESQ.
MY DEAR BROTHER:
Your kind communication of the 13th came to hand yesterday. I have made
inquiries respecting Henry Bibb which may be of service to you. Mr. Wm. Harrison,
to whom you allude in your letter, is here. He is a respectable and worthy
man—a man of piety. I have just had an interview with him this evening.
He testifies, that he was well acquainted with Henry Bibb in Trimble County,
Ky., and that he sent a letter to him by Thomas Henson, and got one in return
from him. He says that Bibb came out to Canada some three years ago, and went
back to get his wife up, but was betrayed at Cincinnati by a colored man—that
he was taken to Louisville but got away—
was taken again and lodged in jail, and sold off to New Orleans, or he, (Harrison), understood that he was taken to New Orleans. He testifies that Bibb is a Methodist man, and says that two persons who came on with him last Summer, knew Bibb. One of these, Simpson Young, is now at Malden. * * *
Very respectfully, thy friend,
[No. 2.] BEDFORD, TRIMBLE CO., KENTUCKY.
March 4, 1845.
SIR:—Your letter under date of the 13th ult., is now before me, making some inquiry about a person supposed to be a fugitive from the South, “who is lecturing to your religious community on Slavery and the South.”
I am pleased to inform you that I have it in my power to give you the information you desire. The person spoken of by you I have no doubt is Walton, a yellow man, who once belonged to my father, William Gatewood. He was purchased by him from John Sibly, and by John Sibly of his brother Albert G. Sibly, and Albert G. Sibly became possessed of him by his marriage with Judge David White's daughter, he being born Judge White's slave.
The boy Walton at the time he belonged to John Sibly, married a slave of my father's, a mulatto girl, and sometime afterwards solicited him to buy him; the old man after much importuning from Walton, consented to do so, and accordingly paid Sibly eight hundred and fifty dollars. He did not buy him because he needed him, but from the fact that he had a wife there, and Walton on his part promising every thing that my father could desire.
It was not long, however, before Walton became indolent and neglectful of his duty; and in addition to this, he was guilty, as the old man thought, of worse offences. He watched his conduct more strictly, and found he was guilty of disposing of articles from the farm for his own use, and pocketing the money.
He actually caught him one day stealing wheat—he had conveyed one sack full to a neighbor and whilst he was delivering the other my father caught him in the very act.
He confessed his guilt and promised to do better for the future—and on his making promises of this kind my father was disposed to keep him still, not wishing to part him from his wife, for whom he professed to entertain the strongest affection. When the Christmas Holidays came on, the old man, as is usual in this country, gave his negroes a week Holiday. Walton, instead of regaling himself by going about visiting his colored friends, took up his line of march for her Britanie Majesty's do minions.
He was gone about two years I think, when I heard of him
in Cincinnati; I repaired thither, with some few friends to aid me, and succeeded in securing him.
He was taken to Louisville, and on the next morning after our arrival there, he escaped, almost from before our face, while we were on the street before the Tavern. He succeeded in eluding our pursuit, and again reached Canada in safety.
Nothing daunted he returned, after a lapse of some twelve or eighteen months, with the intention, as I have since learned, of conducting off his wife and eight or ten more slaves to Canada.
I got news of his whereabouts, and succeeded in recapturing him. I took him to Louisville and together with his wife and child, (she going along with him at her owner's request,) sold hem. He was taken from thence to New Orleans—and from hence to Red River, Arkansas—and the next news I had of him he was again wending his way to Canada, aud I suppose now is at or near Detroit.
In relation to his character, it was the general opinion here that he was a notorious liar, and a rogue. These things I can procure any number of respectable witnesses to prove.
In proof of it, he says his mother belonged to James Bibb, which is a lie, there not having been such a man about here, much less brother of Secretary Bibb. He says that Bibb's danghter married A. G. Sibly, when the fact is Sibly married Judge David White's daughter, aud his mother belonged to White also and is now here, free.
So you will perceive he is guilty of lying for no effect, and what might it not be supposed he would do where he could effect anything by it.
I have been more tedious than I should have been, but being anxious to give you his rascally conduct in full, must be my apology. You are at liberty to publish this letter, or make any use you see proper of it. If you do publish it, let me have a paper containing the publication—at any rate let me hear from you again.
Respectfully yours, &c.,
To C. H. STEWART, ESQ.
[No. 3. An Extract.] CINCINNATI,March 10, 1845.
MY DEAR SIR:—Mrs. Path, Nickens and Woodson
did not see Bibb on his first visit, in 1837, when he staid with Job Dundy,
but were subsequently fold of it by Bibb. They first saw him in May, 1838.
Mrs. Path remembers this date because it was the month in which she removed
from Broadway to Harrison street, and Bibb assisted her to remove. Mrs. Path's
garden adjoined Dundy's back yard. While engaged in digging up flowers, she
was addressed by Bibb, who was staying with Dundy and who offered to dig them
up for her. She hired
him to do it. Mrs. Dundy shortly after called ever and told Mrs. Path that he was a slave. After that Mrs. Path took him into her house and concealed him. While concealed, he astonished his good protectress by his ingenuity in bottoming chairs with cane. When the furniture was removed, Bibb insisted on helping, and was, after some remonstrances, permitted. At the house on Harrison street, he was employed for several days in digging a cellar, and was so employed when seized on Saturday afternoon by the constables. He held frequent conversations with Mrs. Path and others, in which he gave them the same account which he has given you.
On Saturday afternoon, two noted slave catching constables, E. V. Brooks and O'Neil, surprised Bibb as he was digging in the cellar. Bibb sprang for the fence and gained the top of it, where he was seized and dragged back. They took him immediately before William Doty, a Justice of infamous notoriety as an accomplice of kidnappers, proved property, paid charges and took him away.
His distressed friends were surprised by his re-appearance in a few days after, the Wednesday following, as they think. He reached the house of Dr. Woods, (a colored man since deceased,) before day-break, and staid until dusk. Mrs. Path, John Woodson and others made up about twelve dollars for him. Woodson accompanied him out of town a mile and bid him “God speed.” He has never been here since. Woodson and Clark saw him at Detroit two years ago.
[No. 4.] LOUISVILLE,March 14, 1845.
MR. STEWART.—Yours of the 1st came to hand on the 13th inst You wished me to inform you what became of a boy that was in the work-house in the fall of '39. The boy you allude to went by the name of Walton; he had ran away from Kentucky some time before, and returned for his wife—was caught and sold to Garrison; he was taken to Louisiana, I think—he was sold on Red River to a planter. As Garrison is absent in the City of New Orleans at this time, I cannot inform you who he was sold to. Garrison will be in Louisville some time this Spring; if you wish me, I will inquire of Garrison and inform you to whom he was sold, and where his master lives at this time.
Yours, W. PORTER.
[No. 5.] BEDFORD, TRIMBLE COUNTY, KY.
C. H. STEWART, ESQ.,
wish to know something about Walton H. Bibb, and whether he had a wife and child, and whether they were sold to New Orleans. Sir, before I answer these inquiries, I should like to know who Charles H. Stewart is, and why you should make these inquiries of me, and how you knew who I was, as you are a stranger to me and I must be to you. In your next if you will tell me the intention of your inquiries, I will give you a full history of the whole case.
I have a boy in your county by the name of King, a large man and very black; if you are acquainted with him, give him my compliments, and tell him I am well, and all of his friends. W. H. Bibb is acquainted with him.
I wait your answer.
Your most obedient,
March 17, 1845.
[No. 6.] BEDFORD, KENTUCKY,April 6th, 1845.
MR. CHARLES H. STEWART.
These letters need little comment. Their testimony combined is most harmonious and conclusive. Look at the points established.
1. Hiram Wilson gives the testimony of reputable men now in Canada, who knew Henry Bibb as a slave in Kentucky.
2. Silas Gatewood, with a peculiar relish, fills three pages of foolscap, “being anxious to give his rascally conduct in full,” as he says. But he vaults over the saddle and lands on the other side. His testimony is invaluable as an endorsement of Mr. Bibb's truthfulness. He illustrates all the essential facts of this narrative. He also labors to prove him deceitful and a liar.
Deceit in a slave, is only a slight reflex of the stupendous fraud practised by his master. And its indulgence has far more logicin its favor, than the ablest plea ever written for slave holding, under ever such peculiar circumstances. The attempt to prove Mr Bibb in the lie, is a signal failure, as he never affirmed what Gatewood denies. With this offset, the letter under notice is a triumphant vindication of one, whom he thought there by to injure sadly. As Mr. Bibb has most happily acknowledged the wheat, (see page 194,) I pass the charge of stealing by referring to the logic there used, which will be deemed convincing.
3. William Birney, Esq., attests the facts of Mr. Bibb's arrest in Cincinnati, and the subsequent escape, as narrated by him, from the declaration of eye witnesses.
4. W. Porter, Jailor, states that Bibb was in the work-house at Louisville, held and sold afterwards to the persons and at the places named in this volume.
5. W. H. Gatewood, with much Southern dignity, will answer no questions, but shows his relation to these matters by naming “King”—saying, “W. H. Bibb is acquainted with him,” and promising “a full history of the case.”
6. Daniel S. Lane, with remarkable straight-forwardness and stupidity, tells all he knows, and then wants to know what they ask him for. The writer will answer that question. He wanted to prove by two or more witneses, the truth of his own statements; which has most surely been accomplished.
Having thus presented an array of testimony sustaining the facts alleged
in this narrative, the introduction will be concluded by introducing a letter
signed by respectable men of
Detroit, and endorsed by Judge Wilkins, showing the high esteem in which Mr. Bibb is held by those who know him well where he makes his home. Their testimony expresses their present regard as well as an opinion of his past character. It is introduced here with the greatest satisfaction, as the writer is assured, from an intimate acquaintance with Henry Bibb, that all who know him hereafter will entertain the same sentiments toward him:
DETROIT, March 10, 1845.
The undersigned have pleasure in recommending Henry Bibb to the kindness and confidence of Anti-slavery friends in every State. He has resided among us for some years. His deportment, his conduct, and his christian course have won our esteem and affection. The narrative of his sufferings and more early life has been thoroughly investigated by a Committee appointed for the purpose. They sought evidence respecting it in every proper quarter, and their report attested its undoubted truth. In this conclusion we all cordially unite.
H. Bibb has for some years publicly made this narrative to assemblies, whose number cannot be told; it has commanded public attention in this State, and provoked inquiry. Occasionally too we see persons from the South, who knew him in early years, yet not a word or fact worthy of impairing its truth has reached us; but on the contrary, every thing tended to its corroboration.
Mr. Bibb's Anti-slavery efforts in this State have produced incalculable benefit. The Lord has blessed him into an instrument of great power. He has labored much, and for very inadequate compensation. Lucrative offers for other quarters did not tempt him to a more profitable field. His sincerity and disinterestedness are therefore beyond suspicion.
We bid him "God-speed," on his route. We bespeak for him every kind consideration. * * * *
DETROIT, NOV. 11, 1845
The undersigned, cheerfully concurs with Mr. Hallock and others in their
friendly recommendation of Mr. Henry Bibb.
The undersigned has known him for many months in the Sabbath School in this City, partly under his charge, and can certify to his correct deportment, and commend him to the sympathies of Christian benevolence.
The task now performed, in preparing for the press and introducing to the public the narrative of Henry Bibb, has been one of the most pleasant ever required at my hands. And I conclude it with an expression of hope that it may afford interest to the reader, support to the author in his efforts against slavery, and be instrumental in advancing the great work of emancipation in this country.
LUCIUS C. MATLACK
NEW YORK CITY, July 1st, 1849.