I was born, June 15, 1789, in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm belonging
to Mr. Francis N., about a mile from Port Tobacco. My mother was the property
of Dr. Josiah McP., but was hired by Mr. N., to whom my father belonged.
The only incident I can remember, which occurred while my mother continued
on N.'s farm, was the appearance of my father one day, with his head bloody
and his back lacerated. He was in a state of great excitement, and though
it was all a mystery to me at the age of three or four years, it was explained
at a later period, and I understood that he had been suffering the cruel penalty
of the Maryland law for beating a white man. His right ear had been cut off
close to his head, and he had received a hundred lashes on his back. He had
beaten the overseer for a brutal assault on my mother, and this was his punishment.
Furious at such treatment, my father became a different man, and was so morose,
obedient, and intractable, that Mr. N. determined to sell him. He accordingly parted with him, not long after, to his son, who lived in Alabama; and neither my mother nor I, ever heard of him again. He was naturally, as I understood afterwards from my mother and other persons, a man of amiable temper, and of considerable energy of character; but it is not strange that he should be essentially changed by such cruelty and injustice under the sanction of law.
After the sale of my father by N., and his leaving Maryland for Alabama,
Dr. McP. would no longer hire out my mother to N. She returned, therefore,
to the estate of the doctor, who was very much kinder to his slaves than the
generality of planters, never suffering them to be struck by any one. He
was, indeed, a man of good natural impulses, kind-hearted, liberal, and jovial.
The latter quality was so much developed as to be his great failing; and though
his convivial excesses were not thought of as a fault by the community in
which he lived, and did not even prevent his having a high reputation for
goodness of heart, and an almost saint-like benevolence, yet they were, nevertheless,
his ruin. My mother, and her young family of three girls and three boys,
of which I was the youngest, resided on this estate for two or three years,
during which my only recollections are of being rather a pet of the doctor's,
who thought I was a bright child, and of being much impressed with what I
recognized as the deep piety and devotional feeling and habits of my mother. I do not know how, or where she acquired her knowledge of God, or her acquaintance with the Lord's Prayer, which she so frequently repeated and taught me to repeat. I remember seeing her often on her knees, endeavoring to arrange her thoughts in prayers appropriate to her situation, but which amounted to little more than constant ejaculation, and the repetition of short phrases, which were within my infant comprehension, and have remained in my memory to this hour.
After this brief period of comparative comfort, however, the death of Dr. McP. brought about a revolution in our condition, which, common as such things are in slave countries, can never be imagined by those not subject to them, nor recollected by those who have been, without emotions of grief and indignation deep and ineffaceable. The doctor was riding from one of his scenes of riotous excess, when, falling from his horse, in crossing a little run, not a foot deep, he was unable to save himself from drowning.
In consequence of his decease, it became necessary to sell the estate and
the slaves, in order to divide the property, among the heirs, and we were
all put up at auction and sold to the highest bidder, and scattered over various
parts of the country. My brothers and sisters were bid off one by one, while
my mother, holding my hand, looked on in an agony of grief, the cause of which
I but ill understood at first, but which dawned on my mind, with dreadful clearness, as the sale proceeded. My mother was then separated from me, and put up in her turn. She was bought by a man named Isaac R., residing in Montgomery county, and then I was offered to the assembled purchasers. My mother, half distracted with the parting forever from all her children, pushed through the crowd, while the bidding for me was going on, to the spot where R. was standing. She fell at his feet, and clung to his knees, entreating him in tones that a mother only could command, to buy her baby as well as herself, and spare to her one of her little ones at least. Will it, can it be believed that this man, thus appealed to, was capable not merely of turning a deaf ear to her supplication, but of disengaging himself from her with such violent blows and kicks, as to reduce her to the necessity of creeping out of his reach, and mingling the groan of bodily suffering with the sob of a breaking heart? Yet this was one of my earliest observations of men; an experience which has been common to me with thousands of my race, the bitterness of which its frequency cannot diminish to any individual who suffers it, while it is dark enough to overshadow the whole after-life with something blacker than a funeral pall.—I was bought by a stranger.—Almost immediately, however, whether my childish strength, at age five or six years of age, was overmastered by such scenes and experi-
ences, or from some accidental cause, I fell sick, and seemed to my new master so little likely to recover, that he proposed to R., the purchaser of my mother, to take me too at such a trifling rate that it could not be refused. I was thus providentially restored to my mother; and under her care, destitute as she was of the proper means of nursing me, I recovered my health, and grew up to be an uncommonly vigorous and healthy boy and man.
The character of R., the master whom I faithfully served for many years, is by no means an uncommon one in any part of the world; but it is to be regretted that a domestic institution should anywhere put it in the power of such a one to tyrannize over his fellow beings, and inflict so much needless misery as is sure to be produced by such a man in such a position. Coarse and vulgar in his habits, unprincipled and cruel in his general deportment, and especially addicted to the vice of licentiousness, his slaves had little opportunity for relaxation from wearying labor, were supplied with the scantiest means of sustaining their toil by necessary food, and had no security for personal rights. The natural tendency of slavery is, to convert the master into a tyrant, and the slave into the cringing, treacherous, false, and thieving victim of tyranny. R. and his slaves were no exception to the general rule, but might be cited as apt illustrations of the nature of the case.
My earliest employments were, to carry buckets of water to the men at work, to hold a horse-plough, used for weeding between the rows of corn, and as I grew older and taller, to take care of master's saddle-horse. Then a hoe was put into my hands, and I was soon required to do the day's work of a man; and it was not long before I could do it, at least as well as my associates in misery.
The every-day life of a slave on one of our southern plantations, however
frequently it may have been described, is generally little known at the North;
and must be mentioned as a necessary illustration of the character and habits
of the slave and the slave-holder, created and perpetuated by their relative
position. The principal food of those upon my master's plantation consisted
of corn meal, and salt herrings; to which was added in summer a little buttermilk,
and the few vegetables which each might raise for himself and his family,
on the little piece of ground which was assigned to him for the purpose, called
a truck patch. The meals were two daily. The first, or breakfast, was taken
at 12 o'clock, after laboring from daylight; and the other when the work of
the remainder of the day was over. The only dress was of tow cloth, which
for the young, and often even for those who had passed the period of childhood,
consisted of a single garment, something like a shirt, but longer, reaching
to the ancles; and for
the older, a pair of pantaloons, or a gown, according to the sex; while some kind of round jacket, or overcoat, might be added in winter, a wool hat once in two or three years, for the males, and a pair of coarse shoes once a year. Our lodging was in lot huts, of a single small room, with no other floor than the trodden earth, in which ten or a dozen persons—men, women, and children—might sleep, but which could not protect them from dampness and cold, nor permit the existence of the common decencies of life. There were neither beds, nor furniture of any description—a blanket being the only addition to the dress of the day for protection from the chillness of the air or the earth. In these hovels were we penned at night, and fed by day; here were the children born, and the sick—neglected. Such were the provisions for the daily toil of the slave.
Notwithstanding this system of management, however, I grew to be a robust
and vigorous lad, and at fifteen years of age, there were few who could compete
with me in work, or in sport for not even the condition of the slave can altogether
repress the animal spirits of the young negro. I was competent to all the
work that was done upon the farm, and could run faster and farther, wrestle
longer, and jump higher, than anybody about me. My master and my fellow slaves
used to look upon me, and speak of me, as a wonderfully smart fellow, and
prophecy the great things I should do when I became a man. A
casual word of this sort, sometimes overheard, would fill me with a pride and ambition which some would think impossible in a negro slave, degraded, starved, and abused as I was, and had been, from my earliest recollection. But the love of superiority is not confined to kings and emperors; and it is a positive fact, that pride and ambition were as active in my soul as probably they ever were in that of the greatest soldier or statesman. The objects I pursued, I must admit, were not just the same as theirs. Mine were to be first in the field, whether we were hoeing, mowing, or reaping; to surpass those of my own age, or indeed any age, in athletic exercises; and to obtain, if possible, the favorable regard of the petty despot who ruled over us. This last was an exercise of the understanding, rather than of the affections; and I was guided in it more by what I supposed would be effectual, than by a nice judgment of the propriety of the means I used.
I obtained great influence with my companions, as well by the superiority
I showed in labor and in sport, as by the assistance I yielded them, and the
favors I conferred upon them, from impulses which I cannot consider as wrong,
though it was necessary for me to conceal sometimes the act as well as its
motive. I have toiled, and induced others to toil, many an extra hour, in
order to show my master what an excellent day's work had been accomplished,
win a kind word, or a benevolent deed from his callous heart. In general, indifference, or a cool calculation of my value to him, were my reward, chilling those hopes of an improvement in my condition, which was the ultimate object of my efforts. I was much more easily moved to compassion and sympathy than he was; and one of the means I took to gain the good-will of my fellow sufferers, was by taking from him some things that he did not give, in part payment of my extra labor. The condition of the male slave is bad enough, Heaven knows; but that of the female, compelled to perform unfit labor, sick, suffering, and bearing the burdens of her own sex unpitied and unaided, as well as the toils which belong to the other, has often oppressed me with a load of sympathy. And sometimes, when I have seen them starved, and miserable, and unable to help themselves, I have helped them to some of the comforts which they were denied by him who owned them, and which my companions had not the wit or the daring to procure. Meat was not part of our regular food; but my master had plenty of sheep and pigs, and sometimes I have picked out the best one I could find in the flock, or the drove, carried it a mile or two into the woods, slaughtered it, cut it up, and distributed it among the poor creatures, to whom it was at once food, luxury, and medicine. Was this wrong? I can only say that, at this distance of time, my conscience does not reproach me for
it, and that then I esteemed it among the best of my deeds.
By means of the influence thus acquired, the increased amount of work done upon the farm, and by the detection of the knavery of the overseer, who plundered his employer for more selfish ends, and through my watchfulness was caught in the act and dismissed, I was promoted to be superintendent of the farm work, and managed to raise more than double the crops, with more cheerful and willing labor, than was ever seen on the estate before.
Previous to my attaining this important station, however, an incident occurred
of so powerful an influence on my intellectual development, my prospect of
improvement in character, as well as condition, my chance of religious culture,
and in short, on my whole nature, body and soul, that it deserves especial
notice and commemoration. There was a person living at Georgetown, a few
miles from R's plantation, whose business was that of a baker, and whose character
was that of an upright, benevolent, Christian man. He was noted especially
for his detestation of slavery, and his resolute avoidance of the employment
of slave labor in his business. He would not even hire a slave, the price
of whose toil must be paid to his master, but contented himself with the work
of his own hands, and with such free labor as he could procure. His reputation
was high, not only for this almost singu-
lar abstinence from what no one about him thought wrong, but for his general probity and excellence. This man occasionally served as a minister of the Gospel, and preached in a neighborhood where preachers were somewhat rare at that period. One Sunday when he was to officiate in this way, at a place three or four miles distant, my mother persuaded me to ask master's leave to go and hear him; and although such permission was not given freely or often, yet this favor to me was shown for this once by allowing me to go, without much scolding, but not without a pretty distinct intimation of what would befall me, if I did not return immediately after the close of the service. I hurried off, pleased with the opportunity, but without any definite expectations of benefit or amusement; for up to this period of my life, and I was then eighteen years old, I had never heard a sermon, nor any discourse or conversation whatever, upon religious topics, except what had been impressed upon me by my mother, of the responsibility of all to a Supreme Being. When I arrived at the place of meeting, the services were so far advanced that the speaker was just beginning his discourse, from the text, Hebrews ii. 9; "That he, by the grace of God, should taste of death for every man." This was the first text of the Bible to which I had ever listened, knowing it to be such. I have never forgotten it, and scarce a day has passed since, in which I have not recalled it, and the
sermon that was preached from it. The divine character of Jesus Christ, his life and teachings, his sacrifice of himself for others, his death and resurrection were all alluded to, and some of the points were dwelt upon with great power, great, at least, to me, who heard these things for the first time in my life. I was wonderfully impressed, too, with the use which the preacher made of the last words of the text, "for every man." He said the death of Christ was not designed for the benefit of a select few only, but for the salvation of the world, for the bond as well as the free; and he dwelt on the glad tidings of the Gospel to the poor, the persecuted, and the distressed, its deliverance to the captive, and the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, till my heart burned within me, and I was in a state of greatest excitement at the thought that such a being as Jesus Christ had been described should have died for me for me among the rest, a poor, despised, abused slave, who was thought by his fellow creatures fit for nothing but unrequited toil and ignorance, for mental and bodily degradation. I immediately determined to find out something more about "Christ and him crucified"; and revolving the things which I had heard in my mind as I went home, I became so excited that I turned aside from the road into the woods, and prayed to God for light and for aid with an earnestness, which, however unenlightened, was at least sincere and heartfelt; and
which the subsequent course of my life has led me to imagine might not have been unacceptable to Him who heareth prayer. At all events, I date my conversion, and my awakening to a new life a consciousness of superior powers and destiny to any thing I had before conceived of from this day, so memorable to me. I used every means and opportunity of inquiry into religious matters; and so deep was my conviction of their superior importance to every thing else, so clear my perception of my own faults, and so undoubting my observation of the darkens and sin that surrounded me, that I could not help talking much on these subjects with those about me; and it was not long before I began to pray with them, and exhort them, and to impart to the poor slaves those little glimmerings of light from another world, which had reached my own eyes. In a few years I became quite an esteemed preacher among them, and I will not believe it is vanity which leads me to think I was useful to some.
I must return, however, for the present, to the course of my life in secular
affairs, the facts of which it is my principal object to relate. The difference
between the manner in which it was designed that all men should regard one
another, as children of the same Father, and the manner in which men actually
do treat each other, as if they were placed here for mutual annoyance and
destruction, is well exemplified by an incident that happened to me within
a year of two from
this period, that is, when I was nineteen or twenty years old. My master's habits were such as were common enough among the dissipated planters of the neighborhood; and one of their frequent practices was, to assemble on Saturday or Sunday, which were their holidays, and gamble, run horses, or fight game-cocks, discuss politics, and drink whiskey, and brandy and water, all day long. Perfectly aware that they would not be able to find their own way home at night, each one ordered a slave, his particular attendant, to come after him and help him home. I was chosen for this confidential duty by my master; and many is the time I have held him on his horse, when he could not hold himself in the saddle, and walked by his side in darkness and mud from the tavern to his house. Of course, quarrels and brawls of the most violent description were frequent consequences of these meetings, and whenever they became especially dangerous, and glasses were thrown, dirks drawn, and pistols fired, it was the duty of the slaves to rush in, and each one was to drag his master from the fight, and carry him home. To tell the truth, this was a part of my business for which I felt no reluctance. I was young, remarkably athletic, and self-relying, and in such affrays I carried it with a high hand, and would elbow my way among the whites, whom it would have been almost death for me to strike, seize my master, and drag him out, mount him on his horse, or
crowd him into his buggy, with the ease with which I would handle a bag of corn, and at the same time with the pride of conscious superiority, and the kindness inspired by performing an act of benevolence. I knew I was doing for him what he could not do for himself, and showing my superiority to others, and acquiring their respect in some degree, at the same time.
On one of these occasions, my master got into a quarrel with his brother's
overseer, who was one of the party, and in rescuing the former, I suppose
I was a little more rough with the latter than usual. I remember him falling
upon the floor, and very likely it was from the effects of a push from me,
or a movement of my elbow. He attributed his fall to me, rather than to the
whiskey he had drunk, and treasured up his vengeance for the first favorable
opportunity. About a week afterwards, I was sent by my master to a place
a few miles distant, on horseback, with some letters. I took a short cut
through a lane, separated by gates from the high road, and bounded by a fence
on each side. This lane passed through some of the farm owned by my master's
brother, and his overseer was in the adjoining field, with three negroes,
when I went by. On my return, a half an hour afterwards, the overseer was
sitting on the fence; but I could see nothing of the black fellows. I rode
on, utterly unsuspicious of any trouble, but as I approached, he jumped off
the fence, and at the
same moment two of the negroes sprung up from under the bushes, where they had been concealed, and stood with him, immediately in front of me; while the third sprang over the fence just behind me. I was thus enclosed between what I could no longer doubt were hostile forces. The overseer seized my horse's bridle, and ordered me to alight, in the usual elegant phraseology used by such men to slaves. I asked what I was to alight for. "To take the cursedest flogging you ever had in your life, you d—d black scoundrel." "But what am I to be flogged for, Mr. L.," I asked. "Not a word," said he, "but light at once, and take off your jacket." I saw there was nothing else to be done, and slipped off the horse on the opposite side from him. "Now take off your shirt," cried he; and as I demurred at this, he lifted a stick he had in his hand to strike me, but so suddenly and violently, that he frightened the horse, which broke away from him, and ran home. I was thus left without means of escape, to sustain the attacks of four men, as well as I might. In avoiding Mr. L.'s blow, I had accidentally got into a corner of the fence, where I could not be approached except in front. The overseer called upon the negroes to seize me; but they, knowing something of my physical power, were rather slow to obey. At length they did their best, and as they brought themselves within my reach, I knocked them down successively; and one of them trying to
trip up my feet when he was down, I gave him a kick with my heavy shoe, which knocked out several of his front teeth, and sent him groaning away. Meanwhile, the cowardly overseer was availing himself of every opportunity to hit me over the head with his stick, which was not heavy enough to knock me down, though it drew blood freely. At length, tired of the length of the affray, he seized a stake, six or seven feet long, from the fence, and struck at me with his whole strength. In attempting to ward off the blow, my right arm was broken, and I was brought to the ground; where repeated blows broke both my shoulder-blades, and made the blood gush from my mouth copiously. The two blacks begged him not to murder me, and he just left me as I was, telling me to learn what it was to strike a white man. The alarm had been raised at the house, by seeing the horse come back without his rider, and it was not long before assistance arrived to convey me home. It may be supposed it was not done without some suffering on my part; as, besides my broken arm and the wounds on my head, I could feel and hear the pieces of my shoulder-blades grate against each other with every breath. No physician or surgeon was called to dress my wounds, and I never knew one to be called to a slave upon R.'s estate, on any occasions whatever, and have no knowledge of such a thing being done on any estate in the neighborhood. I was attended, if it may be
called attendance, by my master's sister, who had some reputation in such affairs; and she splintered my arm, and bound up my back as well as she knew how, and nature did the rest. It was five months before I could work at all, and the first time I tried to plough, a hard knock of the colter against a stone, shattered my shoulder-blades again, and gave me even greater agony than at first. I have been unable to raise my hands to my head from that day to this. My master prosecuted Mr. L. for abusing and maiming his slave; and when the case was tried before the magistrate, he made a statement of the facts as I have here related them. When Mr. L. was called upon to say why he should not be fined for the offense, he simply stated, without being put on oath, that he had acted in self-defence; that I had assaulted him; and that nothing had saved him from being killed on the spot by so stout a fellow, but the fortunate circumstance that his three negroes were within call. The result was, that my master paid all the costs of the court. He had the satisfaction of calling Mr. L. a liar and scoundrel, and, afterwards, of beating him in a very thorough manner, for which he had also to pay a fine and costs.
My situation, as overseer, I retained, together with the especial favor
of my master, who was not displeased either with saving the expense of a large
salary for a white superintendent, or with the superior crops I was able to
raise for him. I
will not deny that I used his property more freely than he would have done himself, in supplying his people with better food; but if I cheated him in this way, in small matters, it was unequivocally for his own benefit in more important ones; and I accounted, with the strictest honesty, for every dollar I received in the sale of property entrusted to me. Gradually the disposal of every thing raised on the farm, the wheat, oats, hay, fruit, butter, and whatever else there might be, was confided to me, as it was quite evident that I could, and did sell for better prices than any one else he could employ, and he was quite incompetent to attend to the business himself. For many years I was his factotum, and supplied him with all his means for all his purposes, whether they were good or bad. I had no reason to think highly of his moral character, but it was my duty to be faithful to him, in the position in which he placed me; and I can boldly declare, before God and man, that I was so. I forgave him the ceaseless blows and injuries he had inflicted on me in childhood and youth, and was proud of the favor he now showed me, and of the character and reputation I had earned by strenuous and persevering efforts.
When I was about twenty-two years of age, I married a very efficient, and,
for a slave, a very well-taught girl, belonging to a neighboring family, reputed
to be pious and kind, whom I first met at the chapel I attended; and during
forty years that have since elapsed, I have had no reason to regret the connection, but many, to rejoice in it, and be grateful for it. She has borne me twelve children, eight of whom survive, and promise to be the comfort of my declining years.
Things remained in this condition for a considerable period; my occupation being to superintend the farming operations, and to sell the produce in the neighboring markets of Washington and Georgetown. Many respectable people, yet living there, may possibly have some recollection of "'Siah," or "Si," (as they used to call me,) as their market-man; but if they have forgotten me, I remember them with an honest satisfaction.
After passing his youth in the manner I have mentioned in a general way, and which I do not wish more particularly to describe, my master, at the age of forty-five, or upwards, married a young woman of eighteen, who had some little property, and more thrift. Her economy was remarkable, and was certainly no addition to the comfort of the establishment. She had a younger brother, Francis, to whom R. was appointed guardian, and who used to complain—not without reason, I am confident—of the meanness of the provision made for the household; and he would often come to me, with tears in his eyes, to tell me he could not get enough to eat. I made him my friend for life, by sympathizing in his emotions, and satisfying his appetite, sharing with him the food I took care to provide for my own family.
After a time, however, continual dissipation was more than a match for
domestic saving. My master fell into difficulty, and from difficulty into
a lawsuit with a brother-in-law, who charged him with dishonest mismanagement
of property confided to him in trust. The lawsuit was protracted enough to
cause his ruin, of itself. He used every resource to stave off the inevitable
result, but at length saw no means of relief but removal to another State.
He often came to my cabin to pass the evening in lamentations over his misfortune,
in cursing his brother-in-law, and in asking my advice and assistance. The
first time he ever intimated to me his ultimate project, he said he was ruined,
that every thing was gone, that there was but one resource, and that depended
upon me. "How can that be, master?" said I, in astonishment. Before he would
explain himself, however, he begged me to promise to do what he should propose,
well knowing, from his past experience of my character, that I should hold
myself bound by such promise to do all that it implied, if it were within
the limits of possibility. Solicited in this way, with urgency and tears,
by a man whom I had so zealously served for twenty years, and who now seemed
absolutely dependent upon his slave,—impelled, too, by the fear which he
skilfully awakened, that the sheriff would seize every one who belonged to
him, and that all would be separated, or perhaps sold to go to Georgia, or
Louisiana—an object of
perpetual dread to the slave of the more northern states—I consented, and promised faithfully to do all I could to save him from the fate impending over him. He then told me that I must take his slaves to his brother, in Kentucky. In vain I represented to him that I had never travelled a day's journey from his plantation, and knew nothing of the way, or the means of getting to Kentucky. He insisted that such a smart fellow as I could travel anywhere, he promised to give me all necessary instructions, and urged that this was the only course by which he could be saved. The result was, that I agreed to undertake the enterprise—certainly no light one for me, as it could scarcely be considered for even an experienced manager. There were eighteen negroes, besides my wife, two children, and myself, to transport nearly a thousand miles, through a country I knew nothing about, and in winter time, for we started in the month of February, 1825. My master proposed to follow me in a few months, and establish himself in Kentucky. He furnished me with a small sum of money, and some provisions; and I bought a one-horse wagon, to carry them, and to give the women and children a lift now and then, and the rest of us were to trudge on foot. Fortunately for the success of the undertaking, these people had been long under my direction, and were devotedly attached to me for the many alleviations I had afforded to their miserable condition, the comforts I had procured
them, and the consideration which I had always manifested for them.
Under these circumstances no difficulty arose from want of submission to my authority, and none of any sort, except that which I necessarily encountered from my ignorance of the country, and my inexperience in such business. On arriving at Wheeling, I sold the horse and wagon, and purchased a boat of sufficient size, and floated down the river without further trouble or fatigue, stopping every night to encamp.
I said I had no further trouble, but there was one source of anxiety which
I was compelled to encounter, and a temptation I had to resist, the strength
of which others can appreciate as well as myself. In passing along the State
of Ohio, we were frequently told that we were free, if we chose to be so.
At Cincinnati, especially, the colored people gathered round us, and urged
us with much importunity to remain with them; told us it was folly to go on;
and, in short, used all the arguments now so familiar to induce slaves to
quit their masters. My companions probably had little perception of the nature
of the boon that was offered to them, and were willing to do just as I told
them, without a wish to judge for themselves. Not so with me. From my earliest
recollection, freedom had been the object of my ambition, a constant motive
to exertion, an ever-present stimulus to gain and to save. No other means
of obtaining it, however, had occurred to
me, but purchasing myself of my master. The idea of running away was not one that I had ever indulged. I had a sentiment of honor on the subject, or what I thought such, which I would not have violated even for freedom; and every cent which I had ever felt entitled to call my own, had been treasured up for this great purpose, till I had accumulated between thirty and forty dollars. Now was offered to me an opportunity I had not anticipated. I might liberate my family, my companions, and myself, without the smallest risk, and without injustice to any individual, except one whom we had none of us any reason to love, who had been guilty of cruelty and oppression to us all for many years, and who had never shown the smallest symptom of sympathy with us, or with any one in our condition. But I need not make the exception. There would have been no injustice to R. himself—it would have been a retribution which might be called righteous—if I had availed myself of the opportunity thus thrust suddenly upon me.
But it was a punishment which it was not for me to inflict. I had promised
that man to take his property to Kentucky, and deposit it with his brother;
and this, and this only, I resolved to do. I left Cincinnati before night,
though I had intended to remain there, and encamped with my entire party a
few miles below the city. That advantages I may have lost, by thus throwing
away an opportunity of obtaining freedom, I
know not; but the perception of my own strength of character, the feeling of integrity, the sentiment of high honor, I have experienced,—these advantages I do know, and prize; and would not lose them, nor the recollection of having attained them, for all that I can imagine to have resulted from an earlier release from bondage. I have often had painful doubts as to the propriety of my carrying so many other individuals into slavery again, and my consoling reflection has been, that I acted as I thought at the time was best.
I arrived at Daviess county, Kentucky, about the middle of April, 1825,
and delivered myself and my companions to Mr. Amos R., the brother of my owner,
who had a large plantation, with from eighty to one hundred negroes. His
house was situated about five miles south of the Ohio River, and fifteen miles
above the Yellow Banks, on Big Blackford's Creek. There I remained three
years, expecting my master to follow; and employed meantime on the farm, of
which I had the general management, in consequence of the recommendation for
ability and honesty which I had brought with me from Maryland. The situation
was in many respects more comfortable than that I had left. The farm was
larger, and more fertile, and there was a greater abundance of food, which
is, of course, one of the principal sources of the comfort of a slave, debarred,
as he is, from so many enjoyments which other men can obtain.
Sufficiency of food is a pretty important item in any man's account of life; but is tenfold more so in that of the slave, who appetite is always stimulated by as much labor as he can perform, and whose mind is little occupied by thought on subjects of deeper interest. My post of superintendent gave me some advantages, too, of which I did not fail to avail myself, particularly with regard to those religious privileges, which, since I had first heard of Christ and Christianity, had greatly occupied my mind. In Kentucky, the opportunity of attending on the preaching of whites, as well as of blacks, were more numerous; and partly by attending them, and the camp-meetings which occurred from time to time, and partly from studying carefully my own heart, and observing the developments of character around me, in all the stations of life which I could watch, I became better acquainted with those religious feelings which are deeply implanted in the breast of every human being, and learnt by practice how best to arouse them, and keep them excited, how to stir up the callous and indifferent, and in general produce some good religious impressions on the ignorant and thoughtless community by which I was surrounded.
No great amount of theological knowledge is requisite for the purpose.
If it had been, it is manifest enough that preaching never could have been
my vocation; but I am persuaded that, speaking from the fulness of a heart
impressed with its own sinfulness and imperfection, and with the mercy of God, in Christ Jesus, my humble ministrations have not been entirely useless to those who have had less opportunity than myself to reflect upon these all-important subjects. It is certain that I could not refrain from the endeavor to do what I saw others doing in this field; and I labored at once to improve myself and those about me in the cultivation of the harvests which ripen only in eternity. I cannot but derive some satisfaction, too, from the proofs I have had that my services have been acceptable to those to whom they have been rendered. In the course of the three years from 1825 to 1828, I availed myself of all the opportunities of improvement which occurred, and was admitted as a preacher by a Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.