QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.
The following questions are often asked me, when I meet the people in public, and I have thought it would be well to put down the answers here.
How many holidays in a year do the slaves in Kentucky have?—They usually have six days at Christmas, and two or three others in the course of the year. Public opinion generally seems to require this much of slaveholders; a few give more, some less; some none, not a day nor an hour.
How did slaves spend the Sabbath?—Every way the
master pleases. There are certain kinds of work which are respectable for
Sabbath day. Slaves are often sent out to salt the cattle, collect and count
the pigs and sheep, mend fences, drive the stock from one pasture to another.
Breaking young horses and mules, to send them to market, yoking young oxen,
and training them, is proper Sabbath work; piling and burning brush, on the
back part of the lot, grubbing brier patches that are out of the way, and
where they will not be seen. Sometimes corn must be shelled in the corn-crib;
hemp is baled in the
hemp-house. The still-house must be attended on the Sabbath. In these, and various other such like employments, the more avaricious slaveholders keep their slaves busy a good part of every Sabbath. It is a great day for visiting and eating, and the house servants often have more to do on that than on any other day.
What if strangers come along, and see you at work ?—We must quit shelling corn, and go to play with the cobs; or else we must be clearing land, on our own account. We must cover up master's sins as much as possible, and take it all to ourselves. It is hardly fair; for he ought rather to account for our sins, than we for his.
Why did you not learn to read?—I did not dare to learn. I attempted to spell some words when a child. One of the children of Mrs. Banton went in, and told her that she heard Lewis spelling. Mrs. B. jumped up as though she had been shot. "Let me ever know you to spell another word, I'll take your heart right out of you.” I had a strong desire to learn. But it would not do to have slaves learn to read and write. They could read the guideboards. They could write passes for each other. They cannot leave the plantation on the Sabbath without a written pass.
What proportion of slaves attend church on the Sabbath?—In the country, not more, than one in ten on an average.
How many slaves have you ever known that could read?—I never saw more than three or four that
could properly read at all. I never saw but one that could write.
What do slaves know about the Bible?—They generally believe there is somewhere a real Bible, that came from God; but they frequently say the Bible now used is master's Bible; most that they hear from it being, "Servants, obey your masters."
Are families often separated? How many such cases have you personally known?—I never knew a whole family to live together till all were grown up, in my life. There is almost always, in every family, some one or more keen and bright, or else sullen and stubborn slave, whose influence they are afraid of on the rest of the family, and such a one must take a walking ticket to the south.
There are other causes of separation. The death of a large owner is the
occasion usually of many families being broken up. Bankruptcy is another cause
of separation, and the hard-heartedness of a majority of slaveholders another
and a more fruitful cause than either or all the rest. Generally there is
but little more scruple about separating families than there is with a man
who keeps sheep in selling off the lambs in the fall. On one plantation where
I lived, there was an old slave named Paris. He was from fifty to sixty years
old, and a very honest and apparently pious slave. A slave-trader came along
one day, gathering hands for the south. The old master ordered the waiter
or coachman to take Paris into the back room, pluck out all his gray hairs,
rub his face with a greasy towel, and then had him
brought forward and sold for a young man. His wife consented to go with him, upon a promise from the trader that they should be sold together, with their youngest child, which she carried in her arms. They left two behind them, who were only from four to six or eight years of age. The speculator collected his drove, started for the market, and, before he left the state, he sold that infant child to pay one of his tavern bills, and took the balance in cash. This was the news which came back to us, and was never disputed.
I saw one slave mother, named Lucy, with seven children, put up by an administrator
for sale. At first the mother and three small children were put up together.
The purchasers objected: one says, "I want the woman and the babe, but not
the other children;" another says, "I want that little girl;" and another,
"I want the boy." "Well," says the administrator, "I must let you have them
to the best advantage." So the children were taken away; the mother and infant
were first sold, then child after child—the mother looking on in perfect
agony; and as one child after another came down from the auction block, they
would run and cling, weeping, to her clothes. The poor mother stood, till
nature gave way; she fainted and fell, with her child in her arms. The only
sympathy she received from most of the hard-hearted monsters, who had riven
her heart-strings asunder, was, "She is a d—d deceitful bitch; I wish she
was mine; I would teach her better than to cut up such shines as that here."
When she came to, she moaned
wofully, and prayed that she might die, to be relieved from her sufferings.
I knew another slave, named Nathan, who had a slave woman for a wife. She was killed by hard usage. Nathan then declared he would never have another slave wife. He selected a free woman for a companion. His master opposed it violently. But Nathan persevered in his choice, and in consequence was sold to go down south. He returned once to see his wife, and she soon after died of grief and disappointment. On his return south, he leaped from the boat, and attempted to swim ashore; his master, on board the boat, took a gun and deliberately shot him, and he drifted down the current of the river.
On this subject of separation of families, I must plant one more rose in
the garland that I have already tied upon the brow of the sweet Mrs. Banton.
The reader cannot have forgotten her; and in the delectable business of tearing
families asunder, she, of course, would have a band. A slave by the name of
Susan was taken by Mrs. Banton on mortgage. She had been well treated where
she was brought up, had a husband, and they were very happy together. Susan
mourned in bitterness over her separation, and pined away under the cruel
hand of Mrs. Banton. At length she ran away, and hid herself in the neighborhood
of her husband. When this came to the knowledge of Mrs. B., she charged her
husband to go for "Suke," and never let her see his face unless she was with
him. "No," said she, "if you are offered a double price, don't you take it.
I want my satisfaction out of her, and then you may sell her as soon as you please." Susan was brought back in fetters, and Mr. and Mrs. B. both took their satisfaction; they beat and tortured poor Susan till her premature offspring perished, and she almost sank beneath their merciless hands, and then they sold her to be carried a hundred miles farther away from her husband. Ah! slavery is like running the dissecting knife around the heart, among all the tender fibres of our being.
A man by the name of Bill Myers, in Kentucky, went to a large number of auctions, and purchased women about forty years old, with their youngest children in their arms. As they are about to cease bearing at that age, they are sold cheap. The children he took and shut up in a log pen, and set some old worn-out slave women to make broth and feed them. The mothers be gathered in a large drove, and carried them south and sold them. He was detained there for months longer than he expected; and, winter coming on, and no proper provision having been made for the children, many of them perished with cold and hunger, some were frostbitten, and all were emaciated to skeletons. This was the only attempt that I ever knew for gathering young children together, like a litter of pigs, to be raised for the market. The success was not such as to warrant a repetition on the part of Myers.
Jockey Billy Barnett had a slave-prison, where he gathered his droves of
husbands, fathers, and wives, separated from their friends: and he tried to
up their spirits by employing one or two fiddlers to play for them, while they danced over and upon the torn-off fibres of their hearts. Several women were known to have died in that worse than Calcutta Black Hole of grief. They mourned for their children, and would not be comforted, because they were not.
How are the slave cabins usually built?—They are made of small logs, about from ten to twenty feet square. The roof is covered with splits, and dirt is thrown in to raise the bottom, and then it is beat down hard for a floor. The chimneys are made of cut sticks and clay. In the corners, or at the sides, there are pens made, filled with straw, for sleeping. Very commonly, two or three families are huddled together in one cabin, and in cold weather they sleep together promiscuously, old and young. Some few families are indulged in the privilege of having a few hens or ducks around them; but this is not very common.
What amount of food do slaves have in Kentucky?—They are not put on allowance; they generally have enough of corn bread; and meat and soup are dealt to them occasionally.
What is the clothing of a slave for a year?—For summer, he has usually a pair of tow and linen pants, and two shirts of the same material. He has a pair of shoes, a pair of woolsey pants, and a round jacket for winter.
The account current of a slave with his master stands about thus:—
ICHABOD LIVE-WITHOUT-WORK, in account with
To one man's work, one year, . . . . . . . . . . $100 00
————$11 51 1/2
"Balance due the slave every year, . . . . . . . . . $88 48 1/2
The account stands unbalanced thus till the great day of reckoning comes.
Now, allow that one half of the slaves are capable of labor; that they
can earn, on an average, one half the sum above named; that would give us
$50 a year for 1,500,000 slaves, which would be seventy-five
millions as the sum robbed from the slaves every
year!! "Woe unto him that useth his neighbor's service without wages!" Woe
unto him that buildeth his house by iniquity, "for the stone shall cry out
of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall an-
swer it!" "Behold, the hire of the laborers, who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter."
Have you ever known a slave mother to kill her own children?—There was a slave mother near where I lived, who took her child into the cellar and killed it. She did it to prevent being separated from her child. Another slave mother took her three children and threw them into a well, and then jumped in with them, and they were all drowned. Other instances I have frequently heard of. At the death of many and many a slave child, I have seen the two feelings struggling in the bosom of a mother—joy, that it was beyond the reach of the slave monsters, and the natural grief of a mother over her child. In the presence of the master, grief seems to predominate; when away from them, they rejoice that there is one whom the slave-driver will never torment.
How is it that masters KILL their
slaves, when they are worth so much money?—They do it to gratify passion;
this must be done, cost what it may. Some say a man will not kill a horse
worth a hundred dollars, much less a slave worth several hundred dollars.
A horse has no such will of his own, as the slave has; he does not provoke
the man, as a slave does. The master knows there is contrivance with the slave to outwit him; the horse has no such con-
trivance. This conflict of the two WILLS is what makes the master so much more passionate with his slave than with a horse. A slaveholder must be master on the plantation, or he knows the example would destroy all authority.
What do they do with old slaves, who are past labor?— Contrive all ways to keep them at work till the last hour of life. Make them shell corn and pack tobacco. They hunt and drive them as long as there is any life in them. Sometimes they turn them out to do the best they can, or die. One man, on moving to Missouri, sold an old slave for one dollar, to a man not worth a cent. The old slave was turned out to do the best he could; he fought with age and starvation a while, but was soon found, one morning, starved to death, out of doors, and half eaten up by animals. I have known several cases where slaves were left to starve to death in old age. Generally, they sell them south, and let them die there; send them, I mean, before they get very old.
What makes them wash slaves in salt and water after
they whip them?— For two reasons; one is to make them smart, and another
to prevent mortification in the lacerated flesh. I have seen men and women
both washed after they had been cruelly beaten. I have
done it with my own hands. It was the hardest work I ever did. The flesh
would crawl, and creep, and quiver, under my hands. This slave's name was
Tom. He had not started his team Sunday morning early enough. The neighbors saw that Mr. Banton had work done on the Sabbath. Dalton,
the overseer, attempted to whip him. Tom knocked
him down and trod on him, and then ran away. The patrols caught him, and he was whipped—three hundred lashes. Such a back I never saw; such work I pray that I may never do again.
Do not slaves often say that they love their masters very much?— Say so? yes, certainly. And this loving master and mistress is the hardest work that slaves have to do. When any stranger is present, we have to love them very much. When master is sick, we are in great trouble. Every night the slaves gather around the house, and send up one or two to see how master does. They creep up to the bed, and with a very soft voice, inquire, "How is dear massa? O massa, how we want to hear your voice out in the field again!" Well, this is what they say up in the sick room. They come down to their anxious companions. "How is the old man?" "Will he die?" "Yes, yes; he sure to go, this time; he never whip the slave no more." "Are you sure? Will he die?" "O yes! surely gone for it, now." Then they all look glad, and go to the cabin with a merry heart.
Two slaves were sent out to dig a grave for old master. They dug it very deep. As I passed by, I asked Jess and Bob what in the world they dug it so deep for. It was down six or seven feet. I told them there would be a fuss about it, and they had better fill it up some. Jess said it suited him exactly. Bob said he would not fill it up; he wanted to get the old man as near home as possible. When we got a stone to put on his grave, we hauled the largest we could find, so as to fasten him down as strong as possible.
Another story illustrates the feeling of the slaves
on taking leave of their masters. I will not vouch for the truth of it; but it is a story slaves delight to tell each other. The master called the slave to his sick bed." Good-by, Jack; I have a long journey to go; farewell." "Farewell, massa! pleasant journey: you soon be dere, massa—all de way down hill!"
Who are the patrols?—They are men appointed by the county courts to look after all slaves without a pass. They have almost unlimited power over the slaves. They are the sons of run-down families. The greatest scoundrel is always captain of the band of patrols. They are the offscouring of all things; the refuse, the fag end, the ears and tails of slavery; the scales and fins of fish; the tooth and tongues of serpents. They are the very fool's cap of baboons, the echo of parrots, the wallet and satchel of polecats, the scum of stagnant pools, the exuvial, the worn-out skins of slaveholders; they dress in their old clothes. They are, emphatically, the servants of servants, and slaves of the devil; they are the meanest, and lowest, and worst of all creation. Like starved wharf rats, they are out nights, creeping into slave cabins, to see if they have an old bone there; drive out husbands from their own beds, and then take their places. They get up all sorts of pretences, false as their lying tongues can make them, and then whip the slaves and carry a gory lash to the master, for a piece of bread.
The rascals run me with their dogs six miles, one night, and I was never
nearer dead than when I reached home that night. I only escaped being half
torn to pieces by the dogs, by turning their attention
to some calves that were in the road. The dogs are so trained that they will seize a man as quick as any thing else. The dogs come very near being as mean as their masters.
Cyrus often suffered very much from these wretches. He was hired with a
man named Baird. This man was reputed to be very good to his slaves. The patrols,
therefore, had a special spite toward his slaves. They would seek for an opportunity
to abuse ' them. Mr. Baird would generally give his slaves a pass to go to
the neighbors, once or twice a week, if requested. He had been very good to
Cyrus in this respect, and therefore Cyrus was unwilling to ask too often.
Once he went out without his pass. The patrols found him and some other slaves
on another plantation without any passes. The other slaves belonged to a plantation
where they were often whipped; so they gave them a moderate punishment and
sent them home. Cyrus, they said, they would take to the woods, and have a
regular whipping spree. It was a cold winter night, the moon shining brightly.
When they had got into the woods, they ordered him to take off his outside
coat, then his jacket; then he said he had a new vest on; he did not want
that whipped all to pieces. There were seven men standing in a ring around
him. He looked for an opening, and started at full speed. They took after
him, but be was too spry for them. He came to the cabin where I slept, and
I lent him a hat and a pair of shoes. He was very much excited; said they
were all around him, but couldn't whip him. He went over to Mr. Baird, and
had got there before him, and had brought his clothes and told their story. It was now eight or nine o'clock in the evening. Mr. Baird, when a young man, had lived on the plantation of Mr. Logan, and had been treated very kindly by mother. He remembered this kindness to her children. When Cyrus came in, Mr. Baird took his clothes and handed them to him, and told him, "Well, boy, they came pretty near catching you." Cyrus put on his clothes, went into the room where the patrols were, and said, "Good evening, gentlemen. Why, I did not think the patrols would be out to-night. I was thinking of going over to Mr. Reed's; if I had, I should have gone without a pass. They would have caught me, sure enough. Mr. Baird, I wish you would be good enough to give me a pass, and then I won't be afraid of these fellows." Mr. Baird enjoyed the fun right well, and sat down and wrote him a pass; and the patrols started, and had to find the money for their peach brandy somewhere else.
There were several other times when he had but a hair-breadth escape for his skin. He was generally a little too shrewd for them. After he had outwitted them several times, they offered a premium to any one who would whip him.
How do slaves get information of what is doing in the
free states?—In different ways. They get something from the waiters,
that come out into the free states and then return with their masters. Persons
from the free states tell them many things; the free blacks get something;
and slaves learn most of all from hearing their masters talk.
Don't slaves that run away return sometimes?—Yes; there was one returned from Canada, very sorry he had run away. His master was delighted with him; thought he had him sure for life, and made much of him. He was sent round to tell how bad Canada was. He had a sermon for the public,—the ear of the masters,—and another for the slaves. How many he enlightened about the best way to get there, I don't know. His master, at last, was so sure of him, that he let him take his wife and children and go over to Ohio, to a camp-meeting, all fitted out in good style, with horse and wagon. They never stopped to hear any preaching, till they heard the waves of the lakes lift up their cheerful voices between them and the oppressor. George then wrote an affectionate note to his master, inviting him to take tea with him in Canada, beyond the waters, the barrier of freedom. Whether the old people ever went up to Canada, to see their affectionate children, I have not learned. I have heard of several instances very much like the above.
If the slaves were set free, would they cut the throats
of their masters?—They are far more likely to kill them, if they don't
set them free. Nothing but the hope of emancipation, and the fear they might
not succeed, keeps them from rising to assert their rights. They are restrained,
also, from affection for the children of those who so cruelly oppress them.
If none would suffer but the masters themselves, the slaves would make many
more efforts for freedom. And, sooner or later, unless the slaves are given free, they will take freedom, at all hazards. There
multitudes that chafe under the yoke, sorely enough. They could run away themselves, but they would hate to leave their families.
Did the slaves in Kentucky hear of the emancipation in the West Indies?— They did, in a very short time after it took place. It was the occasion of great joy. They expected they would be free next. This event has done much to keep up the hopes of the slave to the present hour.
What do slaves think of the PIETY of their masters?—They have very little confidence in them about any thing. As a specimen of their feelings on this subject, I will tell an anecdote of a slave.
A slave, named George, was the property of a man of high standing in the church. The old gentleman was taken sick, and the doctor told him he would die. He called George, and told him if he would wait upon him attentively, and do every thing for him possible, he would remember him in his will: he would do something handsome for him.
George was very much excited to know what it might be; hoped it might be
in the heart of his master to give him his freedom. At last, the will was
made. George was still more excited. The master noticed it, and asked what
the matter was. "Massa, you promise do something for me in your will. Poor
nigger! what massa done for George?" "O George, don't be concerned; I have
done a very handsome thing for you—such as any slave would be proud to have
done for him." This did not satisfy George. He was still very eager to know
what it was. At length the master saw it necessary to tell
George, to keep him quiet, and make him attend to his duty. "Well, George, I have made provision that, when you die, you shall have a good coffin, and be put into the same vault with me. Will not that satisfy you, George?" "Well, massa, one way I am satisfied, and one way I am not." "What, what," said the old master, "what is the matter with that?" "Why," says George, "I like to have good coffin when I die." "Well, don't you like to be in the same vault with me and other rich masters?" "Why, yes, massa, one way I like it, and one way I don't." "Well, what don't you like?" "Why, I fraid, massa, when de debbil come take you body, he make mistake, and get mine."
The slaves uniformly prefer to be buried at the greatest possible distance away from master. They are superstitious, and fear that the slave-driver, having whipped so much when alive, will, somehow, be beating them when dead. I was actually as much afraid of my old master when dead, as I was when he was alive. I often dreamed of him, too, after he was dead, and thought he had actually come back again, to torment me more.
Do slaves have conscientious scruples about taking things
from their masters?—They think it wrong to take from a neighbor, but
not from their masters. The only question with them is, "Can we keep it from
master?" If they can keep their backs safe, conscience is quiet enough on
this point. But a slave that will steal from a slave, is called mean as master. This is the lowest comparison slaves know how to use:
"just as mean as white folks." No
right for to complain of white folks, who steal us all de days of our life; nigger dat what steal from nigger, he meaner nor all."
There is no standard of morality in the slave states. The master stands before the slave a robber and oppressor. His words count nothing with the slaves. The slaves are disrobed of the attributes of men, so that they cannot hold up the right standard, and there is none. The slaves frequently have discussions upon moral questions. Sol and Tom went, one night, to steal the chickens of a neighbor. Tom went up, to hand them down to Sol. While engaged in this operation, he paused a minute. "Sol, you tink dis right, to steal dese chicken from here?" "What dat you say, Tom?" "I say, you tink him right to steal dese chicken, Sol?" "What you come talk dat way, now, for? Dat quession you ought settle 'fore you come here." "Me did tink about it, but want to hear what you say, Sol. Don't you tink it kind of wrong to take dese here chicken?" "I tell you, Sol, no time for 'scuss dat now. Dat is de great moral question. Make haste; hand me down anudder one; let us git away from here 'fore de daylight come."
Do you think it was right for you to run away, and not
pay any thing for yourself?— I would be willing to pay, if I knew who
to pay it to. But when 1 think it over, I can't find any body that has any
better right to me than myself. 1 can't pay father and mother, for they are
dead. I don't owe Mrs. Banton any thing for bringing me up the way she did.
I worked five or six years, and earned more
than one hundred dollars a year, for Mr. K. and family, and received about a dozen dollars a year in clothing. Who do I owe, then, in Kentucky? If I catch one of the administrators on here, I intend to sue him for wages, and interest, for six years' hard work. There will be a small bill of damages for abuse; old Kentucky is not rich enough to pay me for that.
Soon after you came into Ohio, did you let yourself to work?— I did.— Was there any difference in your feelings while laboring there, and as a slave in Kentucky?- -I made a bargain to work for a man in Ohio. I took a job of digging a cellar. Before I began, the people told me he was bad pay ; they would not do it for him. I told them I had agreed to do it. So at it I went, worked hard, and got it off as soon as possible, although I did not expect to get a cent for it; and yet I worked more readily, and with a better mind, than I ever did in Kentucky. If I worked for nothing then, I knew I had made my own bargain; and working with that thought made it easier than any day's work I ever did for a master in Kentucky. That thought was worth more than any pay I ever got in slavery. However, I was more fortunate than many thought I should be; through the exertions of a good friend, I got my pay soon after the work was done.
Why do slaves dread so bad to go to the south to Mississippi or Louisiana?—Because they know that slaves are driven very hard there, and worked to death in a few years.
Are those who have GOOD masters
afraid of being sold south?—They all suffer very much for fear
master's circumstances will change, and that he may be compelled to sell them to the "SOUL-DRIVERS," a name given to the dealers by the slaves.
What is the highest price you ever knew a slave to sell for?—I have known a man sold for $1465. He was a waiter-man, very intelligent, very humble, and a good house servant. A good blacksmith, as I was told, was once sold in Kentucky for $3000. I have heard of handsome girls being sold in New Orleans for from $2000 to $3000. The common price of females is about from $500 to $700, when sold for plantation hands, for house hands, or for breeders.
Why is a black slave-driver worse than a white one?— He must be very strict and severe, or else he will be turned out. The master selects the hardest-hearted and most unprincipled slave upon the plantation. The overseers are usually a part of the patrols. Which is the worst of the two characters, or officers, is hard to tell.
Are the masters afraid of insurrection?—They live in constant and great fear upon this subject. The least unusual noise at night alarms them greatly. They cry out, "What is that?" "Are the boys all in?"
What is the worst thing you ever saw in Kentucky?—The worst thing I ever saw was a woman, stripped all naked, hung up by her hands, and then whipped till the blood ran down her back. Sometimes this is done by a young master, or mistress, to an aged mother, or even a grandmother. Nothing the slaves abhor as they do this.
Which is the worst, a master or a mistress?—A mistress is far worse. She is forever and ever tormenting. When the master whips it is done with; but a mistress will blackguard, scold, and tease, and whip the life out of a slave.
How soon do the children begin to exercise their authority?— From the very breast of the mother. I have seen a child, before he could talk a word, have a stick put into his hand, and he was permitted to whip a slave, in order to quiet him. And from the time they are born till they die, they live by whipping and abusing the slave.
Do you suffer from cold in Kentucky?—Many people think it so warm there that we are safe on this score. They are much mistaken. The weather is far too cold for our thin clothing; and in winter, from rain, sleet, and snow, to which we are exposed, we suffer very severely. Such a thing as a greatcoat the slave very seldom has.
What do they raise in Kentucky?—Corn and hemp, tobacco, oats, some wheat and rye; SLAVES, mules, hogs, and horses, for the southern market.
Do the masters drink a great deal?—They are nearly all hard drinkers — many of them drunkards; and you must not exclude mistress from the honor of drinking, as she is often drunk, too.
Are you not afraid they will send up and catch you,
and carry you back to Kentucky?—They may make the attempt; but I made
up my mind, when I left slavery, never to go back there and continue alive.
I fancy I should be a load for one or two of them to carry back, any how.
Besides, they well
know that they could not take me out of any state this side of Pennsylvania. There are very few in New England that would sell themselves to help a slaveholder; and if they should, they would have to run their country. They would be hooted at as they walked the streets.
Now, in conclusion, I just want to say, that all the abuses which I have here related are necessary, if slavery must continue to exist. It is impossible to cut off these abuses and keep slavery alive. Now, if you do not approve of these horrid sufferings, I entreat you to lift up your voice and your hand against the whole system, and, with one united effort, overturn the abominations of centuries, and restore scattered families to each other; pour light upon millions of dark minds, and make a thousand, yea, ten times ten thousand, abodes of wretchedness and woe to hail and bless you as angels of mercy sent for their deliverance.