NARRATIVE OF LEWIS CLARKE
I was born in March, as near as I can ascertain, in the year 1815, in Madison county, Kentucky, about seven miles from Richmond, upon the plantation of my grandfather, Samuel Campbell. He was considered a very respectable man, among his fellow-robbers, the slaveholders. It did not render him less honorable in their eyes, that he took to his bed Mary, his slave, perhaps half white, by whom he had one daughter, LETITIA CAMPBELL. This was before his marriage.
My father was from "beyond the flood"—from Scotland, and by trade
a weaver. He had been married in his own country, and lost his wife, who
left to him, as I have been told, two sons. He came to this country in
time to be in the earliest scenes of the American revolution. He was
at the battle of Bunker Hill, and continued in the army to the close of
the war. About the year 1800, or before, he came to Kentucky, and married
Miss Letitia Campbell, then held as a slave by her dear and affectionate father. My father died,
as near as I can recollect, when I was about ten or twelve years of
had received a wound in the war, which made him lame as long as he lived. I have often heard him tell of Scotland, sing the merry songs of his native land, and long to see its hills once more.
Mr. Campbell promised my father that his daughter Letitia should be made free in his will. It was with this promise that he married her. And I have no doubt that Mr. Campbell was as good as his word, and that, by his will, my mother and her nine children were made free. But ten persons in one family, each worth three hundred dollars, are not easily set free among those accustomed to live by continued robbery. We did not, therefore, by an instrument from the hand of the dead, escape the avaricious grab of the slaveholder. It is the common belief that the will was destroyed by the heirs of Mr. Campbell.
The night in which I was born, I have been told, was dark and terrible—black as the night for which Job prayed, when be besought the clouds to pitch their tent round about the place of his birth; and my life of slavery was but too exactly prefigured by the stormy elements that hovered over the first hour of my being. It was with great difficulty that any one could be urged out for a necessary attendant for my mother. At length, one of the sons of Mr. Campbell, William, by the promise from his mother of the child that should be born, was induced to make an effort to obtain the necessary assistance. By going five or six miles, he obtained a female professor of the couch.
William Campbell, by virtue of this title, always claimed me as
his property. And well would it have
been for me if this claim had been regarded. At the age of six or seven years, I fell into the hands of his sister, Mrs. Betsey Banton, whose character will be best known when I have told the horrid wrongs which she heaped upon me for ten years. If there are any she spirits that come up from hell, and take possession of one part of mankind, I am sure she is one of that sort. I was consigned to her under the following circumstances: When she was married, there was given her, as part of her dower, as is common among the Algerines of Kentucky, a girl, by the name of Ruth, about fourteen or fifteen years old. In a short time, Ruth was dejected and injured, by beating and abuse of different kinds, so that she was sold, for a half-fool, to the more tender mercies of the sugar-planter in Louisiana. The amiable Mrs. Betsey obtained then, on loan from her parents, another slave, named Phillis. In six months she had suffered so severely, under the hand of this monster woman, that she made an attempt to kill herself, and was taken home by the parents of Mrs. Banton. This produced a regular slaveholding family brawl; a regular war, of four years, between the mild and peaceable Mrs. B. and her own parents. These wars are very common among the Algerines in Kentucky; indeed, slaveholders have not arrived at that degree of civilization that enables them to live in tolerable peace, though united by the nearest family ties. In them is fulfilled what I have beard read in the Bible—"The father is against the son, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law, and their foes are of their own household." Some of the slaveholders
may have a wide house; but one of the cat-handed, snake-eyed, brawling women, which slavery produces, can fill it from cellar to garret. I have heard every place I could get into any way ring with their screech-owl voices. Of all the animals on the face of this earth, I am most afraid of a real mad, passionate, raving, slaveholding woman. Somebody told me, once, that Edmund Burke declared that the natives of India fled to the jungles, among tigers and lions, to escape the more barbarous cruelty of Warren Hastings. I am sure I would sooner lie down to sleep by the side of tigers than near a raging-mad slave woman. But I must go back to sweet Mrs. Banton. I have been describing her in the abstract. I will give a full-grown portrait of her right away. For four years after the trouble about Phillis she never came near her father's house. At the end of this period, another of the amiable sisters was to be married, and sister Betsey could not repress the tide of curiosity urging her to be present at the nuptial ceremonies. Beside, she had another motive. Either shrewdly suspecting that she might deserve less than any member of the family, or that some ungrounded partiality would be manifested toward her sister, she determined, at all hazards, to be present, and see that the scales which weighed out the children of the plantation should be held with even hand. The wedding-day was appointed; the sons and daughters of this joyful occasion were gathered together, and then came also the fair-faced, but black-hearted, Mrs. B. Satan, among the sons of God, was never less welcome than this fury among her kindred. They all
knew what she came for,—to make mischief, if possible. "Well, now, if there aint Bets!" exclaimed the old lady. The father was moody and silent, knowing that she inherited largely of the disposition of her mother; but he had experienced too many of her retorts of courtesy to say as much, for dear experience had taught him the discretion of silence. The brothers smiled at the prospect of fun and frolic; the sisters trembled for fear, and word flew round among the slaves, "The old she-bear has come home! look out! look out!"
The wedding went forward. Polly, a very good sort of a girl to be raised in that region, was married, and received, as the first installment of her dower, a girl and a boy. Now was the time for Mrs. Banton, sweet, good Mrs. Banton. "Poll has a girl and a boy, and I only had that fool of a girl. I reckon, if I go home without a boy too, this house wont be left standing."
This was said, too, while the sugar of the wedding-cake was yet
melting upon her tongue. How the bitter words would flow when the guests
had retired, all began to imagine. To arrest this whirlwind of rising
passion, her mother promised any boy upon the plantation, to
be taken home on her return. Now, my evil star was right in the top
of the sky. Every boy was ordered in, to pass before this female sorceress,
that she might select a victim for her unprovoked malice, and on
whom to pour the vials of her wrath for years, I was that unlucky
fellow. Mr. Campbell, my grandfather, objected, because it would divide
a family, and offered her Moses, whose father and
mother had been sold south. Mrs. Campbell put in for William's claim, dated ante natum—before I was born; but objections and claims of every kind were swept away by the wild passion and shrill-toned voice of Mrs. B. Me she would have, and none else. Mr. Campbell went out to hunt, and drive away bad thoughts; the old lady became quiet, for she was sure none of her blood run in my veins, and, if there was any of her husband's there, it was no fault of hers. Slave women are always revengeful toward the children of slaves that have any of the blood of their husbands in them. I was too young, only seven years of age, to understand what was going on. But my poor and affectionate mother understood and appreciated it all. When she left the kitchen of the mansion-house, where she was employed as cook, and came home to her own little cottage, the tear of anguish was in her eye, and the image of sorrow upon every feature of her face. She knew the female Nero, whose rod was now to be over me. That night sleep departed from her eyes. With the youngest child clasped firmly to her bosom, she spent the night in walking the floor, coming ever and anon to lift up the clothes and look at me and my poor brother, who lay sleeping together. Sleeping, I said. Brother slept, but not I. I saw my mother when she first came to me, and I could not sleep. The vision of that night—its deep, ineffaceable impression—is now before my mind with all the distinctness of yesterday. In the morning, I was put into the carriage with Mrs. B. and her children, and my weary pilgrimage of suffering was fairly begun. It was her business on
the road, for about twenty-five or thirty miles, to initiate her children into the art of tormenting their new victim. I was seated upon the bottom of the carriage, and these little imps were employed in pinching me, pulling my ears and hair; and they were stirred up by their mother, like a litter of young wolves, to torment me in every way possible. In the mean time, I was compelled by the old she-wolf to call them "Master," "Mistress," and bow to them, and obey them at the first call.
During that day, I had, indeed, no very agreeable foreboding of
the torments to come; but, sad as were my anticipations, the reality
was infinitely beyond them. Infinitely more bitter than death were
the cruelties I experienced at the hand of this merciless woman. Save
from one or two slaves on the plantation, during my ten years
of captivity here, I scarcely heard a kind word, or saw a smile toward
me from any living being. And now that I am where people look kind,
and act kindly toward me, it seems like a dream. I hardly seem to be
in the same world that I was then. When I first got into the free states,
and saw every body look like they loved one another, sure enough,
I thought, this must be the "Heaven" of LOVE I had heard something about. But I must go
back to what I suffered from that wicked woman. It is hard work to
keep the mind upon it; I hate to think it over—but I must tell it—the
world must know what is done in Kentucky. I cannot, however, tell all
the ways by which she tormented me. I can only give a few instances
of my suffering, as specimens of the whole. A book of a thousand pages
would not be large enough to tell of all the tears I shed, and the sufferings endured, in THAT TEN YEARS OF PURGATORY.
A very trivial offence was sufficient to call forth a great burst
of indignation from this woman of ungoverned passions. In my simplicity,
I put my lips to the same vessel, and drank out of it, from which her
children were accustomed to drink. She expressed her utter abhorrence
of such an act, by throwing my head violently back, and dashing into
my face two dippers of water. The shower of water was followed by a
heavier shower of kicks; yes, delicate reader,
this lady did not hesitate to kick, as well as cuff in a very plentiful manner; but the words,
bitter and cutting, that followed, were like a storm of hail upon my
young heart. "She would teach me better manners than that; she would
let me know I was to be brought up to her hand; she would have one slave that knew his place; if I wanted water,
go to the spring, and not drink there in the house." This was new times
for me; for some days I was completely benumbed with my sorrow. I could
neither eat nor sleep. If there is any human being on earth, who has
been so blessed as never to have tasted the
cup of sorrow, and therefore is unable to conceive of suffering; if there be one so lost to all feeling as even to say,
that the slaves do not suffer when families
are separated, let such a one go to the ragged quilt which was my couch
and pillow, and stand there night after night, for long, weary hours,
and see the bitter tears streaming down the face of that more than
orphan boy, while, with half-suppressed
sighs and sobs, he calls again and again upon his absent mother.
"Say, mother, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
There were several children in the family, and my first main business was to wait upon them. Another young slave and myself have often been compelled to sit up by turns all night, to rock the cradle of a little, peevish scion of slavery. If the cradle was stopped, the moment they awoke a dolorous cry was sent forth to mother or father, that Lewis had gone to sleep. The reply to this call would be a direction from the mother for these petty tyrants to get up and take the whip, and give the good-for-nothing scoundrel a smart whipping. This was the midnight pastime of a child ten or twelve years old. What might you expect of the future man?
There were four house-slaves in this family, including myself; and
though we had not, in all respects, so hard work as the field hands,
yet in many things our condition was much worse. We were constantly
exposed to the whims and passions of every member of the family;
from the least to the greatest their
anger was wreaked upon us. Nor was our life an easy one, in the hours of our toil or in the amount of labor performed. We were always required to sit up until all the family had retired; then we must be up at early dawn in summer, and before day in winter. If we failed, through weariness or for any other reason, to appear at the first morning summons, we were sure to have our hearing quickened by a severe chastisement. Such horror has seized me, lest I might not hear the first shrill call, that I have often in dreams fancied I heard that unwelcome voice, and have leaped from my couch, and walked through the house and out of it before I awoke. I have gone and called the other slaves, in my sleep, and asked them if they did riot hear master call. Never, while I live, will the remembrance of those long, bitter nights of fear pass from my mind.
But I want to give you a few specimens of the abuse which I received.
During the ten years that I lived with Mrs. Banton, I do not think
there were as many days, when she was at home, that I, or some other
slave, did not receive some kind of beating or abuse at her hands.
It seemed as though she could not live nor sleep unless some
poor back was smarting, some head beating with pain, or some eye filled
with tears, around her. Her tender mercies were indeed cruel. She brought
up her children to imitate her example. Two of them manifested some
dislike to the cruelties taught them by their mother, but they
never stood high in favor with her; indeed, any thing like humanity
or kindness to a slave, was looked upon by her as a great offence.
Her instruments of torture were ordinarily the raw hide, or a bunch of hickory-sprouts seasoned in the fire and tied together. But if these were not at hand, nothing came amiss. She could relish a beating with a chair, the broom, tongs, shovel, shears, knife-handle, the heavy heel of her slipper, or a bunch of keys; her zeal was so active in these barbarous inflictions, that her invention was wonderfully quick, and some way of inflicting the requisite torture was soon found out.
One instrument of torture is worthy of particular description This was an oak club, a foot and a half in length and an inch and a half square. With this delicate weapon she would beat us upon the hands and upon the feet until they were blistered. This instrument was carefully preserved for a period of four years. Every day, for that time, I was compelled to see that hated tool of cruelty lying in the chair by my side. The least degree of delinquency either in not doing all the appointed work, or in look or behavior, was visited with a beating from this oak club. That club will always be a prominent object in the picture of horrors of my life of more than twenty years of bitter bondage.
When about nine years old, I was sent in the evening to catch and
kill a turkey. They were securely sleeping in a tree—their accustomed
resting-place for the night. I approached as cautiously as
possible, and selected the victim I was directed to catch; but, just
as I grasped him in my hand, my foot slipped, and he made his escape
from the tree, and fled beyond my reach. I returned with a heavy heart
to my mistress with the story of my misfortune. She was enraged beyond measure. She determined, at once, that I should have a whipping of the worst kind, and she was bent upon adding all the aggravations possible. Master had gone to bed drunk, and was now as fast asleep as drunkards ever are. At any rate, he was filling the house with the noise of his snoring and with the perfume of his breath. I was ordered to go and call him—wake him up and ask him to be kind enough to give me fifty good smart lashes. To be whipped is bad enough—to ask for it is worse—to ask a drunken man to whip you is too bad. I would sooner have gone to a nest of rattlesnakes, than to the bed of this drunkard. But go I must. Softly I crept along, and gently shaking his arm, said, with a trembling voice, "Master, master, mistress wants you to wake up." This did not go to the extent of her command, and in a great fury she called out, "What, you wont ask him to whip you, will you?" I then added, "Mistress wants you to give me fifty lashes." A bear at the smell of a lamb was never roused quicker. "Yes, yes, that I will; I'll give you such a whipping as you will never want again." And, sure enough, so he did. He sprang from the bed, seized me by the hair, lashed me with a handful of switches, threw me my whole length upon the floor; beat, kicked, and cuffed me worse than he would a dog, and then threw me, with all his strength, out of the door, more dead than alive. There I lay for a long time, scarcely able and not daring to move, till I could hear no sound of the furies within, and then crept to my couch, longing for death
to put an end to my misery. I had no friend in the world to whom I could utter one word of complaint, or to whom I could look for protection.
Mr. Banton owned a blacksmith's shop, in which he spent some of his time, though he was not a very efficient hand at the forge. One day, mistress told me to go over to the shop and let master give me a flogging. I knew the mode of punishing there too well. I would rather die than go. The poor fellow who worked in the shop, a very skillful workman, one day came to the determination that he would work no more, unless he could be paid for his labor. The enraged master put a handful of nail-rods into the fire, and when they were red-hot, took them out, and cooled one after another of them in the blood and flesh of the poor slave's back. I knew this was the shop mode of punishment. I would not go; and Mr. Banton came home, and his amiable lady told him the story of my refusal. He broke forth in a great rage, and gave me a most unmerciful beating; adding that, if I had come, he would have burned the hot nail-rods into my back.
Mrs. Banton, as is common among slaveholding women, seemed to hate
and abuse me all the more, because I had some of the blood of her father
in my veins. There are no slaves that are so badly abused, as
those that are related to some of the women, or the children of their
own husband; it seems as though they never could hate these quite bad
enough. My sisters were as white and good-looking as any of the young
ladies in Kentucky. It happened once of a time, that a young man
called at the house of Mr. Campbell
to see a sister of Mrs. Banton. Seeing one of my sisters in the house, and pretty well dressed, with a strong family look, he thought it was Miss Campbell; and, with that supposition, addressed some conversation to her which he had intended for the private ear of Miss C. The mistake was noised abroad, and occasioned some amusement to young people. Mrs. Banton heard of it, and it made her caldron of wrath sizzling hot; every thing that diverted and amused other people seemed to enrage her. There are hot springs in Kentucky; she was just like one of them, only brimful of boiling poison.
She must wreak her vengeance, for this innocent mistake of the young man, upon me. "She would fix me, so that nobody should ever think I was white." Accordingly, in a burning hot day, she made me take off every rag of clothes, go out into the garden, and pick herbs for hours, in order to burn me black. When I went out, she threw cold water on me, so that the sun might take effect upon me; when I came in, she gave me a severe beating on my blistered back.
After I had lived with Mrs. B. three or four years, I was put to
spinning hemp, flax, and tow, on an old-fashioned foot-wheel. There
were four or five slaves at this business, a good part of the time.
We were kept at our work from daylight to dark in summer, from long
before day to nine or ten o'clock in the evening in winter. Mrs.
Banton, for the most part, was near, or kept continually passing
in and out, to see that each of us performed as much work as she thought
we ought to do. Being young, and sick at heart all the time, it was
very hard work to go
through the day and evening and not suffer exceedingly for want of more sleep. Very often, too, I was compelled to work beyond the ordinary hour, to finish the appointed task of the day. Sometimes I found it impossible not to drop asleep at the wheel.
On these occasions, Mrs. B. had her peculiar contrivances for keeping us awake. She would sometimes sit, by the hour, with a dipper of vinegar and salt, and throw it in my eyes to keep them open. My hair was pulled till there was no longer any pain from that source. And I can now suffer myself to be lifted by the hair of the head, without experiencing the least pain.
She very often kept me from getting water to satisfy my thirst, and in one instance kept me for two entire days without a particle of food. This she did, in order that I might make up for lost time. But, of course, I lost rather than gained upon my task. Every meal taken from me made me less able to work. It finally ended in a terrible beating.
But all my severe labor, and bitter and cruel punishments, for these ten years of captivity with this worse than Arab family, all these were as nothing to the sufferings I experienced by being separated from my mother, brothers, and sisters; the same things, with them near to sympathize with me, to hear my story of sorrow, would have been comparatively tolerable.
They were distant only about thirty miles; and yet, in ten long, lonely years of childhood, I was only permitted to see them three times.
My mother occasionally found an opportunity to
send me some token of remembrance and affection, a sugar-plum or an apple; but I scarcely ever ate them; they were laid up, and handled and wept over till they wasted away in my hand.
My thoughts continually by day, and my dreams by night, were of mother and home; and the horror experienced in the morning, when I awoke and behold it was a dream, is beyond the power of language to describe.
But I am about to leave this den of robbers, where I had been so long imprisoned. I cannot, however, call the reader from his new and pleasant acquaintance with this amiable pair, without giving a few more incidents of their history. When this is done, and I have taken great pains, as I shall do, to put a copy of this portrait in the hands of this Mrs. B., I shall bid her farewell. If she sees something awfully hideous in her picture, as here presented, she will be constrained to acknowledge it is true to nature. I have given it from no malice, no feeling of resentment towards her, but that the world may know what is done by slavery, and that slaveholders may know that their crimes will come to light. I hope and pray that Mrs. B. will repent of her many and aggravated sins before it is too late.
The scenes between her and her husband, while I was with them, strongly
illustrate the remark of Jefferson, that slavery fosters the worst
passions of the master. Scarcely a day passed, in which bitter words
were not bandied from one to the other. I have seen Mrs. B.,
with a large knife drawn in her right hand, the other upon the collar
of her husband, swearing
and threatening to cut him square in two. They both drank freely, and swore like highwaymen. He was a gambler and a counterfeiter. I have seen and handled his moulds and his false coin. They finally quarreled openly, and separated; and the last I knew of them, he was living a sort of poor vagabond life in his native state, and she was engaged in a protracted lawsuit with some of her former friends, about her father's property.
Of course, such habits did not produce great thrift in their worldly condition, and myself and other slaves were mortgaged, from time to time, to make up the deficiency between their income and expenses. I was transferred, at the age of sixteen or seventeen, to a Mr. K., whose name I forbear to mention, lest, if he or any other man should ever claim property where they never had any, this, my own testimony, might be brought in to aid their wicked purposes.
In the exchange of masters, my condition was, in many respects,
greatly improved. I was free, at any rate, from that kind of suffering
experienced at the hand of Mrs. B., as though she delighted in cruelty
for its own sake. My situation, however, with Mr. K. was far from
enviable. Taken from the work in and around the house, and put
at once, at that early age, to the constant work of a full-grown man,
I found it not an easy task always to escape the lash of the overseer.
In the four or five years that I was with this man, the overseers were
often changed. Sometimes we had a man that seemed to have some
consideration, some mercy; but generally their eye seemed to be fixed
upon one object, and that was, to
get the greatest possible amount of work out of every slave upon the plantation. When stooping to clear the tobacco-plants from the worms which infest them,—a work which draws most cruelly upon the back,—some of these men would not allow us a moment to rest at the end of the row; but, at the crack of the whip, we were compelled to jump to our places, from row to row, for hours, while the poor back was crying out with torture. Any complaint or remonstrance under such circumstances is sure to be answered in no other way than by the lash. As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so a slave is not permitted to open his mouth.
There were about one hundred and fifteen slaves upon this plantation.
Generally, we had enough, in quantity, of food. We had, however, but
two meals a day, of corn-meal bread and soup, or meat of the poorest
kind. Very often, so little care had been taken to cure and
preserve the bacon, that, when it came to us, though it had been fairly
killed once, it was more alive than dead. Occasionally, we had some
refreshment over and above the two meals, but this was extra, beyond
the rules of the plantation. And, to balance this gratuity, we were
also frequently deprived of our food, as a punishment. We suffered
greatly, too, for want of water. The slave-drivers have the notion
that slaves are more healthy, if allowed to drink but little, than
they are if freely allowed nature's beverage. The slaves quite
as confidently cherish the opinion that, if the master would drink
less peach brandy and whisky, and give the slave more water, it would
be better all round. As
it is, the more the master and overseer drink, the less they seem to think the slave needs.
In the winter, we took our meals before day in the morning, and after work at night; in the summer, at about nine o'clock in the morning, and at two in the afternoon. When we were cheated out of our two meals a day, either by the cruelty or caprice of the overseer, we always felt it a kind of special duty and privilege to make up, in some way, the deficiency. To accomplish this, we had many devices; and we sometimes resorted to our peculiar methods, when incited only by a desire to taste greater variety than our ordinary bill of fare afforded.
This sometimes led to very disastrous results. The poor slave who was caught with a chicken or a pig, killed from the plantation, had his back scored most unmercifully. Nevertheless, the pigs would die without being sick or squealing once; and the hens, chickens, and turkeys sometimes disappeared, and never stuck up a feather to tell where they were buried. The old goose would sometimes exchange her whole nest of eggs for round pebbles; and, patient as that animal is, this quality was exhausted, and she was obliged to leave her nest with no train of offspring behind her.
One old slave woman upon this plantation was al together too keen
and shrewd for the best of them. She would go out to the corn-crib
with her basket, watch her opportunity, with one effective blow pop
over a little pig, slip him into her basket, and put the cobs on top,
trudge off to her cabin, and look just as innocent as though
she had a right to eat of
the work of her own hands. It was a kind of first principle, too, in her code of morals, that they that worked had a right to eat. The moral of all questions in relation to taking food was easily settled by aunt Peggy. The only question with her was, how and when to do it.
It could not be done openly, that was plain. It must be done secretly; if not in the daytime, by all means in the night. With a dead pig in the cabin, and the water all hot for scalding, she was at one time warned by her son that the Philistines were upon her. Her resources were fully equal to the sudden emergency. Quick as thought, the pig was thrown into the boiling kettle, a door was put over it, her daughter seated upon it, and, with a good, thick quilt around her, the overseer found little Clara taking a steam-bath for a terrible cold. The daughter, acting well her part, groaned sadly; the mother was very busy in tucking in the quilt, and the overseer was blinded, and went away without seeing a bristle of the pig.
Aunt P. cooked for herself, for another slave named George, and
for me. George was very successful in bringing home his share of the
plunder. He could capture a pig or a turkey without exciting the least
suspicion. The old lady often rallied me for want of courage for such
enterprises. At length, I summoned resolution, one rainy night,
and determined there should be one from the herd of swine brought home
by my hands. I went to the crib of corn, got my ear to shell, and my
cart-stake to despatch a little roaster. I raised my arm to strike,
summoned courage again and again, but to no purpose. The scattered kernels were all picked up, and no blow struck. Again I visited the crib, selected my victim, and struck! The blow glanced upon the side of the head, and, instead of falling, he ran off, squealing louder than ever I heard a pig squeal before. I ran as fast, in an opposite direction, made a large circuit, and reached the cabin, emptied the hot water, and made for my couch as soon as possible. I escaped detection, and only suffered from the ridicule of old Peggy and young George.
Poor Jess, upon the same plantation, did not so easily escape. More successful in his effort, he killed his pig; but he was found out. He was hung up by the hands, with a rail between his feet, and full three hundred lashes scored in upon his naked back. For a long time his life hung in doubt; and his poor wife, for becoming a partaker after the fact, was most severely beaten.
Another slave, employed as a driver upon the plantation, was compelled to whip his own wife, for a similar offence, so severely that she never recovered from the cruelty. She was literally whipped to death by her own husband.
A slave, called Hall, the hostler on the plantation, made a successful
sally, one night, upon the animals forbidden to the Jews. The next
day, he went into the barn-loft, and fell asleep. While sleeping over
his abundant supper, and dreaming, perhaps, of his feast, he
heard the shrill voice of his master, crying out, "The hogs are at
the horse-trough; where is Hall?" The "hogs" and "Hall," coupled together,
were enough for the poor fellow. He sprung from the hay, and made the best of his way off the plantation. He was gone six months; and, at the end of this period, he procured the intercession of the son-in-law of his master, and returned, escaping the ordinary punishment. But the transgression was laid up. Slaveholders seldom forgive; they only postpone the time of revenge. When about to be severely flogged, for some pretended offence, he took two of his grandsons, and escaped as far towards Canada as Indiana. He was followed, captured, brought back, and whipped most horribly. All the old score had been treasured up against him, and his poor back atoned for the whole at once.
On this plantation was a slave, named Sam, whose wife lived a few miles distant; and Sam was very seldom permitted to go and see his family. He worked in the blacksmith's shop. For a small offence, he was hung up by the hands, a rail between his feet, and whipped in turn by the master, overseer, and one of the waiters, till his back was torn all to pieces; and, in less than two months, Sam was in his grave. His last words were, "Mother, tell master he has killed me at last, for nothing; but tell him if God will forgive him I will."
A very poor white woman lived within about a mile of the plantation
house. A female slave, named Flora, knowing she was in a very suffering
condition, shelled out a peck of corn, and carried it to her in the
night. Next day, the old man found it out, and this deed of
charity was atoned for by one hundred and fifty lashes upon the bare
back of poor Flora.
The master with whom I now lived was a very passionate man. At one time he thought the work on the plantation did not go on as it ought. One morning, when he and the overseer waked up from a drunken frolic, they swore the hands should not eat a morsel of any thing, till a field of wheat of some sixty acres was all cradled. There were from thirty to forty hands to do the work. We were driven on to the extent of our strength, and, although a brook ran through the field, not one of us was permitted to stop and taste a drop of water. Some of the men were so exhausted that they reeled for very weakness; two of the women fainted, and one of them was severely whipped, to revive her. They were at last carried helpless from the field and thrown down under the shade of a tree. At about five o'clock in the afternoon the wheat was all cut, and we were permitted to eat. Our suffering for want of water was excruciating. I trembled all over from the inward gnawing of hunger and from burning thirst.
In view of the sufferings of this day, we felt fully justified in
making a foraging expedition upon the milk-room that night. And when
master, and overseer, and all hands were looked up in sleep, ten or
twelve of us went down to the spring house; a house built over a spring,
to keep the milk and other things cool. We pressed altogether
against the door, and open it came. We found half of a good baked
pig, plenty of cream, milk, and other delicacies; and, as we felt
in some measure delegated to represent all that had been cheated of
their meals the day before, we ate plentifully. But after a successful
expedition within the gates of the enemy's camp, it is not easy always to cover the retreat. We had a reserve in the pasture for this purpose. We went up to the herd of swine, and, with a milk-pail in hand, it was easy to persuade them there was more where that came from, and the whole tribe followed readily into the spring house, and we left them there to wash the dishes and wipe up the floor, while we retired to rest. This was not malice in us; we did not love the waste which the hogs made; but we must have something to eat, to pay for the cruel and reluctant fast; and when we had obtained this, we must of course cover up our track. They watch us narrowly; and to take an egg, a pound of meat, or any thing else, however hungry we may be, is considered a great crime; we are compelled, therefore, to waste a good deal sometimes, to get a little.
I lived with this Mr. K. about four or five years; I then fell into
the hands of his son. He was a drinking, ignorant man, but not so cruel
as his father. Of him I hired my time at $12 a month; boarded and clothed
myself. To meet my payments, I split rails, burned coal, peddled
grass seed, and took hold of whatever I could find to do. This last
master, or owner, as he would call himself, died about one year before
I left Kentucky. By the administrators I was hired out for a time,
and at last put up upon the auction block, for sale. No bid could be obtained for me. There were two reasons in the way.
One was, there were two or three old mortgages which were not
settled, and the second reason given by the bidders was, I had had
too many privileges; had been
permitted to trade for myself and go over the state; in short, to use their phrase, I was a "spoilt nigger." And sure enough I was, for all their purposes. I had long thought and dreamed of LIBERTY; I was now determined to make an effort, to gain it. No tongue can tell the doubt, the perplexities, the anxiety which a slave feels, when making up his mind upon this subject. If he makes an effort, and is not successful, he must be laughed at by his fellows; he will be beaten unmercifully by the master, and then watched and used the harder for it all his life.
And then, if he gets away, who, what will he find? He is ignorant of the world. All the white part of mankind, that he has ever seen, are enemies to him and all his kindred. How can he venture where none but white faces shall greet him? The master tells him, that abolitionists decoy slaves off into the free states, to catch them and sell them to Louisiana or Mississippi; and if he goes to Canada, the British will put him in a mine under ground, with both eyes put out, for life. How does he know what, or whom, to believe? A horror of great darkness comes upon him, as he thinks over what may befall him. Long, very long time did I think of escaping before I made the effort.
At length, the report was started that I was to be sold for Louisiana.
Then I thought it was time to act. My mind was made up. This was about
two weeks before I started. The first plan was formed between a slave
named Isaac and myself. Isaac proposed to take one of the horses
of his mistress, and I was to take my pony, and we were to ride
I as master, and he as slave. We started together, and went on five miles. My want of confidence in the plan induced me to turn back. Poor Isaac plead like a good fellow to go forward. I am satisfied from experience and observation that both of us must have been captured and carried back. I did not know enough at that time to travel and manage a waiter. Everything would have been done in such an awkward manner that a keen eye would have seen through our plot at once. I did not know the roads, and could not have read the guide-boards; and ignorant as many people are in Kentucky, they would have thought it strange to see a man with a waiter, who could not read a guide-board. I was sorry to leave Isaac, but I am satisfied I could have done him no good in the way proposed.
After this failure, I staid about two weeks; and after having arranged
every thing to the best of my knowledge, I saddled my pony, went into
the cellar where I kept my grass-seed apparatus, put my clothes
into a pair of saddle-bags, and them into my seed-bag, and, thus
equipped, set sail for the north star. O what a day was that to me!
This was on Saturday, in August, 1841. I wore my common clothes,
and was very careful to avoid special suspicion, as I already
imagined the administrator was very watchful of me. The place from
which I started was about fifty miles from Lexington. The reason why
I do not give the name of the place, and a
more accurate location, must be obvious to any one who remembers that,
in the eye of the law, I am yet accounted a slave, and no spot in the
affords an asylum for the wanderer. True, I feel protected in the hearts of the many warm friends of the slave by whom I am surrounded; but this protection does not come from the LAWS of any one of the United States.
But to return. After riding about fifteen miles, a Baptist minister overtook me on the road, saying, "How do you do, boy? are you free? I always thought you were free, till I saw them try to sell you the other day." I then wished him a thousand miles off, preaching, if he would, to the whole plantation, "Servants, obey your masters;" but I wanted neither sermons, questions, nor advice from him. At length I mustered resolution to make some kind of a reply. "What made you think I was free?" He replied, that he had noticed I had great privileges, that I did much as I liked, and that I was almost white. "O yes," I said, "but there are a great many slaves as white as I am." "Yes," he said, and then went on to name several among others, one who had lately, as he said, run away. This was touching altogether too near upon what I was thinking of. Now, said I, he must know, or at least reckons, what I am at— running away.
However, I blushed as little as possible, and made strange of the
fellow who had lately run away, as though I knew nothing of it. The
old fellow looked at me, as it seemed to me, as though he would read
my thoughts. I wondered what in the world slaves
could run away for, especially if they had such a chance as I
had had for the last few years. He said, "I suppose you would not
run away on any account,
you are so well treated." "O," said I, "I do very well, very well, sir. If you should ever hear that I had run away, be certain it must be because there is some great change in my treatment."
He then began to talk with me about the seed in my bag, and said that he should want to buy some. Then, I thought, he means to get at the truth by looking in my seed bag, where, sure enough, he would not find grass seed, but the seeds of Liberty. However, he dodged off soon, and left me alone. And although I have heard say, poor company is better than none, I felt much better without him than with him.
When I had gone on about twenty-five miles, I went down into a deep valley by the side of the road, and changed my clothes. I reached Lexington about seven o'clock that evening, and put up with brother Cyrus. As I had often been to Lexington before, and stopped with him, it excited no attention from the slaveholding gentry. Moreover, I had a pass from the administrator, of whom I had hired my time. I remained over the Sabbath with Cyrus, and we talked over a great many plans for future operations, if my efforts to escape should be successful. Indeed, we talked over all sorts of ways for me to proceed. But both of us were very ignorant of the roads, and of the best way to escape suspicion. And I sometimes wonder that a slave, so ignorant, so timid, as he is, ever makes the attempt to get his freedom."Without are foes, within are fears."
Monday morning, bright and early, I set my face in good earnest
toward the Ohio River, determined
to see and tread the north bank of it, or die in the attempt. I said to myself, One of two things,— FREEDOM OR DEATH! The first night I reached Mayslick, fifty odd miles from Lexington. Just before reaching this village, I stopped to think over my situation, and determine how I would pass that night. On that night hung all my hopes. I was within twenty miles of Ohio. My horse was unable to reach the river that night. And besides, to travel and attempt to cross the river in the night, would excite suspicion. I must spend the night there. But how? At one time, I thought, I will take my pony out into the field and give him some corn, and sleep myself on the grass. But then the dogs will be out in the evening, and, if caught under such circumstances, they will take me for a thief if not for a runaway. That will not do. So, after weighing the matter all over, I made a plunge right into the heart of the village, and put up at the tavern.
After seeing my pony disposed of, I looked into the bar-room, and
saw some persons that I thought were from my part of the country, and
would know me. I shrunk back with horror. What to do I did not know.
I looked across the street, and saw the shop of a silversmith.
A thought of a pair of spectacles, to hide my face, struck me. I
went across the way, and began to barter for a pair of double-eyed
green spectacles. When I got them on, they blind-folded me, if they did not others. Every thing seemed right up in my
eyes. Some people buy spectacles to see out of; I bought mine to keep
from being seen. I hobbled back to the tavern, and called
for supper. This I did to avoid notice, for I felt like any thing but eating. At tea, I had not learned to measure distances with my new eyes, and the first pass I made with my knife and fork at my plate went right into my lap. This confused me still more, and, after drinking one cup of tea, I left the table, and got off to bed as soon as possible. But not a wink of sleep that night. All was confusion, dreams, anxiety, and trembling.
As soon as day dawned, I called for my horse, paid my reckoning, and was on my way, rejoicing that that night was gone, any how. I made all diligence on my way, and was across the Ohio, and in Aberdeen by noon, that day!
What my feelings were, when I reached the free shore, can be better
imagined than described. I trembled all over with deep emotion, and
I could feel my hair rise up on my head. I was on what was called a
free soil among a people who had no slaves.
I saw white men at work, and no slave smarting beneath the lash.
Every thing was indeed new and wonderful. Not
knowing where to find a friend, and being ignorant of the country—unwilling
to inquire, lest I should betray my ignorance, it was a whole week
before I reached Cincinnati. At one place, where I put up, I had a
great many more questions put to me than I wished to answer. At another
place, I was very much annoyed by the officiousness of the landlord,
who made it a point to supply every guest with newspapers. I took the
copy handed me, and turned it over, in a somewhat awkward manner, I
suppose. He came to me to point out a veto, or
some other very important news. I thought it best to decline his assistance, and gave up the paper, saying my eyes were not in a fit condition to read much.
At another place, the neighbors, on learning that a Kentuckian was at the tavern, came, in great earnestness, to find out what my business was. Kentuckians sometimes came there to kidnap their citizens. They were in the habit of watching them close. I at length satisfied them, by assuring them that I was not, nor my father before me, any slaveholder at all; but, lest their suspicions should be excited in another direction, I added, my grandfather was a slaveholder.
At Cincinnati, I found some old acquaintances, and spent several
days. In passing through some of the streets, I several times saw a
great slave-dealer from Kentucky, who knew me, and, when I approached
him, I was very careful to give him a wide berth. The only
advice that I here received was from a man who had once been a slave.
He urged me to sell my pony, go up the river, to Portsmouth,
then take the canal for Cleveland, and cross over to Canada. I acted
upon this suggestion, sold my horse for a small sum, as he was pretty
well used up, took passage for Portsmouth, and soon found myself
on the canal-boat, headed for Cleveland. On the boat, I became acquainted
with a Mr. Conoly, from New York. He was very sick with fever and
ague, and, as he was a stranger, and alone, I took the best possible
care of him, for a time. One day, in conversation with him, he spoke
of the slaves, in
the most harsh and bitter language, and was especially severe on those who attempted to run away. Thinks I, you are not the man for me to have much to do with. I found the spirit of slaveholding was not all south of the Ohio River.
No sooner had I reached Cleveland, than a trouble came upon me from
a very unexpected quarter. A rough, swearing, reckless creature, in
the shape of a man, came up to me, and declared I had passed a bad
five dollar bill upon his wife, in the boat, and be demanded the silver
for it. I had never seen him, nor his wife, before. He pursued
me into the tavern, swearing and threatening all the way. The travelers,
that had just arrived at the tavern, were asked to give their names
to the clerk, that be might enter them upon the book. He called on
me for my name, just as this ruffian was in the midst of his assault
upon me. On leaving Kentucky, I thought it best, for my own
security, to take a new name, and I had been entered on the boat as
Archibald Campbell. I knew, with such a charge as this man was making
against me, it would not do to change my name from the boat to the
hotel. At the moment, I could not recollect what I had called myself,
and, for a few minutes, I was in a complete puzzle. The clerk kept
calling, and I made believe deaf, till, at length, the name
popped back again, and I was duly enrolled a guest at the tavern, in
Cleveland. I had heard, before, of persons being frightened out of
their Christian names, but I was fairly seared
out of both mine for a while. The landlord soon protected me from
the violence of the bad-meaning man, and drove him away from the house.
I was detained at Cleveland several days, not knowing how to get across the lake, into Canada. I went out to the shore of the lake again and again, to try and see the other side, but I could see no hill, mountain, nor city of the asylum I sought. I was afraid to inquire where it was, lest it would betray such a degree of ignorance as to excite suspicion at once. One day, I heard a man ask another, employed on board a vessel, "and where does this vessel trade?" Well, I thought, if that is a proper question for you, it is for me. So I passed along, and asked of every vessel, "Where does this vessel trade?" At last, the answer came, "over here in Kettle Creek, near Port Stanley." And where is that? said I. "O, right over here, in Canada." That was the sound for me; "over here in Canada." The captain asked me if I wanted a passage to Canada. I thought it would not do to be too earnest about it, lest it would betray me. I told him I some thought of going, if I could get a passage cheap. We soon came to terms on this point, and that evening we set sail. After proceeding only nine miles, the wind changed, and the captain returned to port again. This, I thought, was a very bad omen. However, I stuck by, and the next evening, at nine o'clock, we set sail once more, and at daylight we were in Canada.
When I stepped ashore here, I said sure enough, I AM FREE. Good heaven! what a sensation, when it first visits the
bosom of a full-grown man; one born, to bondage—one
who had been taught, from early infancy, that this was his inevitable
lot for life.
Not till then did I dare to cherish, for a moment, the feeling that one of the limbs of my body was my own. The slaves often say, when cut in the hand or foot, "Plague on the old foot" or "the old hand; it is master's—let him take care of it. Nigger don't care, if he never get well." My hands, my feet, were now my own. But what to do with them, was the next question. A strange sky was over me, a new earth under me, strange voices all around; even the animals were such as I had never seen. A flock of prairie-hens and some black geese were altogether new to me. I was entirely alone; no human being, that I had ever seen before, where I could speak to him or he to me.
And could I make that country ever seem like home? Some people are very much afraid all the slaves will run up north, if they are ever free. But I can assure them that they will run back again, if they do. If I could have been assured of my freedom in Kentucky, then, I would have given any thing in the world for the prospect of spending my life among my old acquaintances, where I first saw the sky, and the sun rise and go down. It was a long time before I could make the sun work right at all. It would rise in the wrong place, and go down wrong; and, finally, it behaved so bad, I thought it could not be the same sun.
There was a little something added to this feeling of strangeness.
I could not forget all the horrid stories slaveholders tell about
Canada. They assure the slave that, when they get hold of slaves in
Canada, they make various uses of them. Sometimes they
skin the head, and wear the wool on their coat collars—put them into the lead-mines, with both eyes out—the young slaves they eat; and as for the red coats, they are sure death to the slave. However ridiculous to a well-informed person such stories may appear, they work powerfully upon the excited imagination of an ignorant slave. With these stories all fresh in mind, when I arrived at St. Thomas, I kept a bright look-out for the red coats. As I was turning the corner of one of the streets, sure enough, there stood before me a red coat, in full uniform, with his tall bear-skin cap, a foot and a half high, his gun shouldered, and he standing as erect as a guide-post. Sure enough, that is the fellow that they tell about catching the slave. I turned on my heel, and sought another street. On turning another corner, the same soldier, as I thought, faced me, with his black cap and stern look. Sure enough, my time has come now. I was as near seared to death, then, as a man can be and breathe. I could not have felt any worse if he had shot me right through the heart. I made off again, as soon as I dared to move. I inquired for a tavern. When I came up to it, there was a great brazen lion sleeping over the door, and, although I knew it was not alive, I had been so well frightened that I was almost afraid to go in. Hunger drove me to it at last, and I asked for something to eat.
On my way to St. Thomas I was also badly frightened. A man asked
me who I was. I was afraid to tell him a runaway slave, lest he should
have me to the mines. I was afraid to say, "I am an American," lest
he should shoot me, for I knew there had
been trouble between the British and Americans. I inquired, at length, for the place where the greatest number of colored soldiers were. I was told there were a great many at New London; so for New London I started. I got a ride, with some country people, to the latter place. They asked me who I was, and I told them from Kentucky; and they, in a familiar way, called me "Old Kentuck." I saw some soldiers, on the way, and asked the men what they had soldiers for. They said they were kept "to get drunk and be whipped;" that was the chief use they made of them. At last, I reached New London, and here I found soldiers in great numbers. I attended at their parade, and saw the guard driving the people back; but it required no guard to keep me off. I thought, "If you will let me alone, I will not trouble you." I was as much afraid of a red coat as I would have been of a bear. Here I asked again for the colored soldiers. The answer was "Out at Chatham, about seventy miles distant." I started for Chatham. The first night, I stopped at a place called the Indian Settlement. The door was barred, at the house where I was, which I did not like so well, as I was yet somewhat afraid of their Canadian tricks. Just before I got to Chatham, I met two colored soldiers, with a white man, bound, and driving him along before them. This was something quite new. I thought, then, sure enough, this is the land for me. I had seen a great many colored people bound, and in the hands of the whites, but this was changing things right about. This removed all my suspicions, and, ever after, I felt quite
easy in Canada. I made diligent inquiry for several slaves, that I had known in Kentucky, and at length found one, named Henry. He told me of several others, with whom I had been acquainted, and from him, also, I received the first correct information about brother Milton. I knew that be had left Kentucky about a year before I did, and I supposed, until now, that he was in Canada. Henry told me he was at Oberlin, Ohio.
At Chatham, I hired myself for a while, to recruit my purse a little, as it had become pretty well drained by this time. I had only about sixty-four dollars, when I left Kentucky, and I had been living upon it now for about six weeks. Mr. Everett, with whom I worked, treated me kindly, and urged me to stay in Canada, offering me business on his farm. He declared "there was no 'free state' in America; all were slave states, bound to slavery, and the slave could have no asylum in any of them." There is certainly a great deal of truth in this remark. I have felt, wherever I may be in the United States, the kidnappers may be upon me at any moment. If I should creep up to the top of the monument on Bunker's Hill, beneath which my father fought, I should not be safe, even there. The slave-mongers have a right, by the laws of the United States, to seek me, even upon the top of the monument, whose base rests upon the bones of those who fought for freedom.
I soon after made my way to Sandwich, and crossed over to Detroit,
on my way to Ohio, to see Milton. While in Canada, I swapped away my
pistol, as I thought I should not need it, for an old
watch. When I arrived at Detroit, I found my watch was gone. I put my baggage, with nearly every cent of money I had, on board the boat for Cleveland, and went back to Sandwich to search for the old watch. The ferry here was about three-fourths of a mile, and, in my zeal for the old watch, I wandered so far that I did not get back in season for the boat, and had the satisfaction of hearing her last bell just as I was about to leave the Canada shore. When I got back to Detroit I was in a fine fix; my money and my clothes gone, and I left to wander about in the streets of Detroit. A man may be a man for all clothes or money, but he don't feel quite so well, any how. What to do now I could hardly tell. It was about the first of November. I wandered about and picked up something very cheap for supper, and paid ninepence for lodging. All the next day no boat for Cleveland. Long days and nights to me. At length another boat was up for Cleveland. I went to the Captain, to tell him my story; he was very cross and savage; said a man had no business from home without money; that so many told stories about losing money that he did not know what to believe. He finally asked me how much money I had. I told him sixty-two and a half cents. Well, he said, give me that, and pay the balance when you get there. I gave him every cent I had. We were a day and a night on the passage, and I had nothing to eat except some cold potatoes, which I picked from a barrel of fragments, and cold victuals. I went to the steward, or cook, and asked for something to eat, but he told me his orders were strict to give away nothing,
and, if he should do it, he would lose his place at once.
When the boat came to Cleveland it was in the night, and I thought I would spend the balance of the night in the boat. The steward soon came along, and asked if I did not know that the boat had landed, and the passengers had gone ashore. I told him I knew it, but I had paid the captain all the money I had, and could get no shelter for the night unless I remained in the boat. He was very harsh and unfeeling, and drove me ashore, although it was very cold, and snow on the ground. I walked around a while, till I saw a light in a small house of entertainment. I called for lodging. In the morning, the Frenchman, who kept it, wanted to know if I would have breakfast. I told him, no. He said then I might pay for my lodging. I told him I would do so before I left, and that my outside coat might hang there till I paid him.
I was obliged at once to start on an expedition for
raising some cash. My resources were not very numerous.
I took a hair brush, that I had paid three
York shillings for a short time before, and sallied out to make a sale.
But the wants of every person I met seemed to be in the same direction
with my own; they wanted money more than hair
brushes. At last, I found a customer who paid me ninepence cash,
and a small balance in the shape of something to eat for breakfast. I was started square for that day, and delivered
of my present distress. But hunger will return, and all the quicker
when a man don't know how to satisfy it when it does come. I
went to a plain boarding-house, and told the man just my situation; that I was waiting for the boat to return from Buffalo, hoping to get my baggage and money. He said he would board me two or three days and risk it. I tried to get work, but no one seemed inclined to employ me. At last, I gave up in despair, about my luggage, and concluded to start as soon as possible for Oberlin. I sold my great-coat for two dollars, paid one for my board, and with the other I was going to pay my fare to Oberlin. That night, after I had made all my arrangements to leave in the morning, the boat came. On hearing the bell of a steam-boat, in the night, I jumped up and went to the wharf, and found my baggage; paid a quarter of a dollar for the long journey it had been carried, and glad enough to get it again at that.
The next morning, I took the stage for Oberlin; found several abolitionists
from that place in the coach. They mentioned a slave named Milton Clarke,
who was living there, that he had a brother in Canada, and that he
expected him there soon. They spoke in a very friendly manner
of Milton, and of the slaves; so, after we had had a long conversation,
and I perceived they were all friendly, I made myself known to them.
To be thus surrounded at once with friends, in a land of strangers,
was something quite new to me. The impression made by the kindness
of these strangers upon my heart, will never be effaced. I thought,
there must be some new principle at work here, such as I had not seen
much of in Kentucky. That evening I arrived at Oberlin, and found Milton
boarding at a Mrs. Cole's. Finding,
here so many friends, my first impression was that all the abolitionists in the country must live right there together. When Milton spoke of going to Massachusetts, "No," said I, "we better stay here where the abolitionists live." And when they assured me that the friends of the slave were more numerous in Massachusetts than in Ohio, I was greatly surprised.
Milton and I had not seen each other for a year; during that time
we had passed through the greatest change in outward condition, that
can befall a man in this world. How glad we were to greet each other
in what we then thought a free State
may be easily imagined. We little dreamed of the dangers
sleeping around us. Brother Milton had not encountered so much danger
in getting away as I had. But his time for suffering was soon
to come. For several years before his escape, Milton had hired his
time of his master, and had been employed as a steward in different
steamboats upon the river. He had paid as high as two hundred dollars
a year for his time. From his master he had a written pass, permitting
him to go up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers when he
pleased. He found it easy, therefore, to land on the north side of
the Ohio river, and concluded to take his own time for returning. He
had caused a letter to be written to Mr. L., his pretended owner, telling
him to give himself no anxiety on his account; that he had found by
experience he had wit enough to take care of himself, and he thought
the care of his master was not worth the two hundred dollars
a year which he had been paying for it, for
four years; that, on the whole, if his master would be quiet and contented, he thought he should do very well. This letter, the escape of two persons belonging to the same family, and from the same region, in one year waked up the fears and the spite of the slaveholders. However, they let us have a little respite, and, through the following winter and spring, we were employed in various kinds of work at Oberlin and in the neighborhood.
All this time I was deliberating upon a plan by which to go down and rescue Cyrus, our youngest brother, from bondage. In July, 1842, I gathered what little money I had saved, which was not a large sum, and started for Kentucky again. As near as I remember, I had about twenty dollars. I did not tell my plan to but one or two at Oberlin, because there were many slaves there, and I did not know but that it might get to Kentucky in some way through them sooner than I should. On my way down through Ohio, I advised with several well known friends of the slave. Most of them pointed out the dangers I should encounter, and urged me not to go. One young man told me to go, and the God of heaven would prosper me. I knew it was dangerous, but I did not then dream of all that I must suffer in body and mind before I was through with it. It is not a very comfortable feeling, to be creeping round day and night, for nearly two weeks together, in a den of lions, where, if one of them happens to put his paw on you, it is certain death, or something much worse.
At Ripley, I met a man who had lived in Kentucky;
he encouraged me to go forward, and directed me about the roads. He told me to keep on a back route not much traveled, and I should not be likely to be molested. I crossed the river at Ripley, and when I reached the other side, and was again upon the soil on which I had suffered so much, I trembled, shuddered, at the thoughts of what might happen to me. My fears, my feelings, overcame for the moment all my resolution, and I was for a time completely overcome with emotion. Tears flowed like a brook of water. I had just left kind friends; I was now where every man I met would be my enemy. It was a long time before I could summon courage sufficient to proceed. I had with me a rude map, made by the Kentuckian whom I saw at Ripley. After examining this as well as I could, I proceeded. In the afternoon of the first day, as I was sitting in a stream to bathe and cool my feet, a man rode up on horseback, and entered into a long conversation with me. He asked me some questions about my travelling, but none but what I could easily answer. He pointed out to me a house where a white woman lived, who, he said, had recently suffered terribly from a fright. Eight slaves, that were running away, called for something to eat, and the poor woman was sorely scared by them. For his part, the man said, he hoped they never would find the slaves again. Slavery was the curse of Kentucky. He had been brought up to work, and he liked to work, but slavery made it disgraceful for any white man to work. From this conversation I was almost a good mind to trust this man, and tell him my story; but, on second thought, I concluded
it might be just as safe not to do it. A hundred or two dollars for returning a slave, for a poor man, is a heavy temptation. At night, I stopped at the house of a widow woman, not a tavern, exactly; but they often entertained people there. The next day, when I got as far as Cynthiana, within about twenty miles of Lexington, I was sore all over, and lame, from having walked so far. I tried to hire a horse and carriage, to help me a few miles. At last, I agreed with a man to send me forward to a certain place, which he said was twelve miles, and for which I paid him, in advance, three dollars. It proved to be only seven miles. This was now Sabbath day, as I had selected that as the most suitable day for making my entrance into Lexington. There is much more passing in and out on that day, and I thought I should be much less observed than on any other day.
When I approached the city, and met troops of idlers, on foot and
on horseback, sauntering out of the city, I was very careful to keep
my umbrella before my face, as people passed, and kept my eyes right
before me. There were many persons in the place who had known me, and
I did not care to be recognized by any of them. Just before
entering the city, I turned off to the field, and lay down under a
tree and waited for night. When its curtains were fairly over me, I
started up, took two pocket handkerchiefs, tied one over my forehead,
the, other under my chin, and marched forward for the city. It was
not then so dark as I wished it was. I met a young slave, driving cows.
He was quite disposed to condole with me, and said, in a very
sympathetic manner, "Massa sick?" "Yes, boy," I said, "Massa sick; drive along your cows." The next colored man I met, I knew him in a moment, but he did not recognize me. I made for the washhouse of the man with whom Cyrus lived. I reached it without attracting any notice, and found there an old slave, as true as steel. I inquired for Cyrus; he said he was at home. He very soon recollected me; and, while the boy was gone to call Cyrus, he uttered a great many exclamations of wonder, to think I should return.
"Good Heaven, boy! what you back here for? What on arth you here
for, my son? O, I scared for you! They kill you, just as sure as I
alive, if they catch you! Why, in the name of liberty, didn't you stay
away, when you gone so slick? Sartin, I never did 'spect to see you
again!" I said, "Don't be scared." But he kept repeating, "I
scared for you! I scared for you!" When I told him my errand, his
wonder was somewhat abated; but still his exclamations were repeated
all the evening, "What brought you back here?" in a few minutes, Cyrus
made his appearance, filled with little less of wonder than the old
man had manifested. I had intended, when I left him, about a
year before, that I would return for him, if I was successful in my
effort for freedom. He was very glad to see me, and entered, with great
animation, upon the plan for his own escape. He had a wife, who was
a free woman, and consequently he had a home. He soon went out, and
left me in the wash-room with the old mail. He went home to
apprize his wife, and to prepare a room for my concealment. His wife
is a very active,
industrious woman, and they were enabled to rent a very comfortable house, and, at this time, had a spare room in the attic, where I could be thoroughly concealed.
He soon returned, and said every thing was ready. I went home with
him, and, before ten o'clock at night, I was stowed away in a little
room, that was to be my prison-house for about a week. It was a comfortable
room; still the confinement was close, and I was unable to
take exercise, lest the people in the other part of the house should
hear. I got out, and walked around a little, in the evening, but suffered
a good deal, for want of more room to live and move in. During the
day, Cyrus was busy making arrangements for his departure. He had several
little sums of money, in the hands of the foreman of the tan-yard,
and in other hands. Now, it would not do to go right boldly up
and demand his pay of every one that owed him; this would lead to
suspicion at once. So he contrived various ways to get in his little
debts. He had seen the foreman, one day, counting out some singular
coin of some foreign nation. He pretended to take a great liking to
that foreign money, and told the man, if he would pay him what was
due him in that money, he would give him two
or three dollars. From another person he took an order on a
store; and so, in various ways, he got in his little debts as well
as he could. At night, we contrived to plan the ways and means of escaping.
Cyrus had never been much accustomed to walking, and he dreaded, very
much, to undertake such a journey. He proposed to take a couple of
horses, as he
thought he had richly earned them, over and above all he had received. I objected to this, because, if we were caught, either in Kentucky or out of it, they would bring against us the charge of stealing, and this would be far worse than the charge of running away.
I firmly insisted, therefore, that we must go on foot. In the course of a week, Cyrus had gathered something like twenty dollars, and we were ready for our journey. A family lived in the same house with Cyrus, in a room below. How to get out, in the early part of the evening, and not be discovered, was not an easy question. Finally, we agreed that Cyrus should go down and get into conversation with them, while I slipped out with his bundle of clothes, and repaired to a certain street, where he was to meet me.
As I passed silently out at the door, Cyrus was cracking his best
jokes, and raising a general laugh, which completely covered my retreat.
Cyrus soon took quiet and unexpected leave of his friends in
that family, and leave, also, of his wife above, for a short time
only. At a little past eight of the clock we were beyond the bounds
of the city. His wife did all she could to assist him in his effort
to gain his inalienable rights. She did not dare, however, to let
the slaveholders know that she knew any thing of his attempt
to run away. He had told the slaves that he was going to see his sister,
about twelve miles off. It was Saturday night, when we left Lexington.
On entering the town, when I went in, I was so intent upon covering
up my face, that I took but little
notice of the roads. We were very soon exceedingly perplexed to know what road to take. The moon favored us, for it was a clear, beautiful night. On we came, but, at the cross of the roads, what to do we did not know. At length, I climbed one of the guide-posts, and spelled out the names as well as I could. We were on the road to freedom's boundary, and, with a strong step, we measured off the path: but again the cross roads perplexed us. This time, we took hold of the sign-post and lifted it out of the ground, and turned it upon one of its horns, and spelled out the way again. As we started from this goal, I told Cyrus we had not put up the sign-post. He pulled forward, and said he guessed we would do that when we came back. Whether the sign-board is up or down, we have never been there to see.
Soon after leaving the city, we met a great many of the patrols; but they did not arrest us, and we had no disposition to trouble them.
While we were pressing on, by moonlight, and sometimes in great
doubt about the road, Cyrus was a good deal discouraged. He thought,
if we got upon the wrong road, it would be almost certain death for
us, or something worse. In the morning, we found that, on account
of our embarrassment in regard to the roads, we had only made a progress
of some twenty or twenty-five miles. But we were greatly cheered to
find they were so many miles in the right direction. Then we put the
best foot forward, and urged our way as fast as possible. In the
afternoon it rained very hard; the roads were muddy and slippery.
We had slept none the night before,
and had been, of course, very much excited. In this state of mind and of body, just before dark, we stopped in a little patch of bushes, to discuss the expediency of going to a house, which we saw at a distance, to spend the night.
As we sat there, Cyrus became very much excited, and, pointing across the road, exclaimed, "Don't you see that animal there?" I looked, but saw nothing; still he affirmed that he saw a dreadful ugly animal looking at us, and ready to make a spring. He began to feel for his pistols, but I told him not to fire there; but he persisted in pointing to the animal, although I am persuaded he saw nothing, only by the force of his imagination. I had some doubts about telling this story, lest people would not believe me; but a friend has suggested to me that such things are not uncommon, when the imagination is strongly excited.
In travelling through the rain and mud, this afternoon, we suffered
beyond all power of description. Sometimes we found ourselves just
ready to stand, fast asleep, in the middle of the road. Our feet were
blistered all over. When Cyrus would get almost discouraged, I
urged him on, saying we were walking for freedom
now. "Yes," he would say, "freedom is good, Lewis, but this
is a hard, h-a-r-d way to get it." This he
would say, half asleep. We were so weak, before night, that we several
times fell upon our knees in the road. We had crackers with us, but
we had no appetite to eat. Fears were behind
us; hope before; and we were driven and drawn as hard as ever men were.
Our limbs and joints were so
stiff that, if we took a step to the right hand or left, it seemed as though it would shake us to pieces. It was a dark, weary day to us both.
At length, I succeeded in getting the consent of Cyrus to go to a house for the night. We found a plain farmer's family. The good man was all taken up in talking about the camp-meeting held that day, about three miles from his house. He only asked us where we were from, and we told him our home was in Ohio. He said the young men had behaved unaccountably bad at the camp-meeting, and they had but little comfort of it. They mocked the preachers, and disturbed the meeting badly.
We escaped suspicion more readily, as I have no doubt, from the supposition, on the part of many, that we were going to the camp-meeting. Next morning, we called at the meeting, as it was on our way, bought up a little extra gingerbread against the time of need, and marched forward for the Ohio. When any one inquired why we left the meeting so soon, we had an answer ready: "The young men behave so bad, we can get no good of the meeting."
By this time we limped badly, and we were sore all over. A young
lady whom we met, noticing that we walked lame, cried out, mocking
us, "O my feet, my feet, how sore!" At about eleven o'clock, we reached
the river, two miles below Ripley. The boatman was on the other
side. We called for him. He asked us a few questions. This was
a last point with us. We tried our best to appear unconcerned. I asked
questions about the boats, as though I had been there before; went
and said, "Sir, I have no change; will you lend me enough to pay my toll? I will pay you before we part." When we were fairly landed upon the northern bank, and had gone a few steps, Cyrus stopped suddenly, on seeing the water gush out at the side of the hill. Said he, "Lewis, give me that tin cup." "What in the world do you want of a tin cup now? We have not time to stop." The cup he would have. Then he went up to the spring, dipped and drank, and dipped and drank; then he would look round, and drink again. "What in the world," said I, "are you fooling there for?" "O," said he, "this is the first time I ever had a chance to drink water that ran out of the free dirt." Then we went a little further, and he sat down on a log. I urged him forward. "O," said he, "I must sit on this free timber a little while."
A short distance further on, we saw a man, who seemed to watch us very closely. I asked him which was the best way to go, over the hill before us, or around it. I did this, to appear to know something about the location. He went off, without offering any obstacles to our journey. In going up the hill, Cyrus would stop, and lay down and roll over. "What in the world are you about, Cyrus? Don't you see Kentucky is over there?" He still continued to roll and kiss the ground; said it was a game horse that could roll clear over. Then he would put face to the ground, and roll over and over. "First time," he said, "he ever rolled on free grass."
After he had recovered a little from his sportive mood, we went
up to the house of a good friend of
the slave at Ripley. We were weary and worn enough; though ever since we left the river, it seemed as though Cyrus was young and spry as a colt; but when we got where we could rest, we found ourselves tired. The good lady showed us into a good bedroom. Cyrus was skittish. He would not go in and lie down. "I am afraid," said he, "of old mistress. She is too good—too good can't be so—they want to catch us both." So, to pacify him, I had to go out into the orchard and rest there. When the young men came home, he soon got acquainted, and felt sure they were his friends. From this place we were sent on by the friends, from place to place, till we reached Oberlin, Ohio, in about five weeks after I left there to go for Cyrus. I had encountered a good deal of peril; had suffered much from anxiety of feeling; but felt richly repaid in seeing another brother free.
We stopped at Oberlin a few days, and then Cyrus started for Canada.
He did not feel exactly safe. When he reached the lake, he met a man
from Lexington who knew him perfectly; indeed, the very man of whom
his wife hired her house. This man asked him if he was free.
He told him yes, he was free, and he was hunting for brother Milton,
to get him to go back and settle with the old man for his freedom.
Putnam told him that was all right. He asked Cyrus if he should still
want that house his wife lived in. "O, yes," said Cyrus, "we will notify
you when we don't want it any more. You tell them, I shall be
down there in a few days. I have heard of Milton, and expect to have
him soon to carry back
with me." Putnam went home, and, when he found what a fool Cyrus had made of him, he was vexed enough. "A rascal," he said, "I could have caught him as well as not."
Cyrus hastened over to Canada. He did not like that country so well as the states, and in a few weeks returned. He had already sent a letter to his wife, giving her an account of his successful escape, and urging her to join him as soon as possible. He had the pleasure of meeting his wife, and her three children by a former husband, and they have found a quiet resting-place, where, if the rumor of oppression reaches them, they do not feel its scourge, nor its chains. And there is no doubt entertained by any of his friends but he can take care of himself.
He begins already to appreciate his rights, and to maintain them as a freeman. The following paragraph concerning him was published in the Liberty Press about one year since:—
"PROGRESS OF FREEDOM
Scene at Hamilton Village, N. Y.
"Mr. Cyrus Clarke, a brother of the well-known Milton and Lewis Clarke, (all of whom, till within a short time since, for some twenty-five years, were slaves in Kentucky,) mildly, but firmly, presented his ballot at the town meeting board. Be it known that said Cyrus, as well as his brothers, are white, with only a sprinkling of the African; just enough to make them bright, quick, and intelligent, and scarcely observable in the color except by the keen and scenting slaveholder. Mr. Clarke had all the necessary qualifications of white men to vote.
"Slave. Gentlemen, here is my ballot; I wish to vote. (Board and by-standers well knowing him, all were aghast—the waters were troubled—the slave legions were 'up in their might.')
"Judge E. You can't vote! Are you not, and have you not been a slave?
"Slave. I shall not lie to vote. I am and have been a slave, so called; but I wish to vote, and I believe it my right and duty.
"Judge E. Slaves can't vote.
"Slave. Will you just show me in your books, constitution, or whatever you call them, where it says a slave can't vote?
"Judge E. (Pretending to look over the law, &c., well knowing he was 'used up.') Well, well, you are a colored man, and can't vote without you are worth $250.
"Slave. I am as white as you; and don't you vote?
"(Mr. E. is well known to be very dark; indeed, as dark or darker than Clarke. The current began to set against Mr. E. by murmurs, sneers, laughs, and many other demonstrations of dislike.)
"Judge E. Are you not a colored man? and is not your hair curly?
"Slave. We are both colored men; and all we differ is, that you have not the handsome wavy curl; you raise goat's wool and I come, as you see, a little nearer Saxony.
"At this time the fire and fun was at its height, and was fast consuming the judge with public opprobrium.
"Judge E. I challenge this man's vote, he being a colored man, and not worth $250.
"Friends and foes warmly contested what constituted a colored man by the New York statute. The board finally came to the honorable conclusion that, to be a colored man, he must be at least one half blood African. Mr. Clarke, the SLAVE, then voted, he being nearly full white. I have the history of this transaction from Mr. Clarke, in person. In substance it is as told me, but varying more or less from his language used.
PARIS, March, 12, 1844."
Martha, the wife of Cyrus, had a long story of the wrath of the slaveholders, because he ran away. Monday morning she went down, in great distress, to the overseer to inquire for her husband. She, of course, was in great anxiety about him. Mr. Logan threatened her severely, but she, having a little mixture of the Indian, Saxon, and African blood, was quite too keen for them. She succeeded in so far lulling their suspicions as to make her escape, and was very fortunate in her journey to her husband.
We remained but a short time after this in Ohio. I spent a few days in New York; found there a great many warm friends; and, in the autumn of 1843, 1 came to old Massachusetts. Since that time, I have been engaged a large part of the time in telling the story of what I have felt and seen of slavery.
I have generally found large audiences, and a great desire to hear
about slavery. I have been in all the New England States except Connecticut;
have held, I suppose, more than five hundred meetings in different
places, sometimes two or three in a place. These meetings have been
kindly noticed by many of the papers, of all parties and sects.
Others have been very bitter and unjust in their remarks, and tried
to throw every possible obstacle in my way. A large majority of ministers
have been willing to give notice of my meetings, and many of them have
attended them. I find that most ministers say they are abolitionists,
but truth compels me to add, that, in talking with them, I find
many are more zealous to apologize for the slaveholders, than they
are to take any active measures to do away slavery.
Since coming to the free states, I have been struck with great surprise at the quiet and peaceable manner in which families live. I had no conception that women could live without quarrelling, till I came into the free states.
After I had been in Ohio a short time, and had not seen nor heard any scolding or quarrelling in the families where I was, I did not know how to account for it. I told Milton, one day, "What a faculty these women have of keeping all their bad feelings to themselves! I have not seen them quarrel with their husbands, nor with the girls, or children, since I have been here." "O," said Milton, "these women are not like our women in Kentucky; they don't fight at all." I told him I doubted that; "I guess they do it somewhere; in the kitchen, or down cellar. It can't be," said I, "that a woman can live, and not scold or quarrel." Milton laughed, and told me to watch them, and see if I could catch them at it. I have kept my eyes and ears open from that day to this, and I have not found the place where the women get mad and rave like they do in Kentucky yet. If they do it here, they are uncommon sly; but I have about concluded that they are altogether different here from what they are in the slave states. I reckon slavery must work upon their minds and dispositions, and make them ugly.
It has been a matter of great wonder to me, also, to see all the
children, rich and poor, going to school. Every few miles I see a school-house,
here; I did not know what it meant when I saw these houses, when I
first came to Ohio. In Kentucky, if you should
feed your horse only when you come to a schoolhouse, he would starve to death.
I never had heard a church bell only at Lexington, in my life. When I saw steeples and meeting-houses so thick, it seemed like I had got into another world. Nothing seems more wonderful to me now, than the different way they keep the Sabbath there, and here. In the country, in summer, there the people gather in groups around the meeting-house, built of logs, or around in the groves where they often meet; one company, and perhaps the minister with them, are talking about the price of niggers, pork, and corn; another group are playing cards; others are swapping horses, or horse-racing; all in sight of the meeting-house or place of worship. After a while the minister tells them it is time to begin. They stop playing and talking for a while. If they call him right smart, they hear him out; if he is "no account," they turn to their cards and horses, and finish their devotion in this manner.
The slaveholders are continually telling how poor the white people are in the free states, and how much they suffer from poverty; no masters to look out for them. When, therefore, I came into Ohio, and found nearly every family living in more real comfort than almost any slaveholder, you may easily see I did not know what to make of it. I see how it is now; every man in the free states works; and as they work for themselves, they do twice as much as they would do for another.
In fact, my wonder at the contrast between the slave and the free
states has not ceased yet. The
more I see here, the more I know slavery curses the master as well as the slave. It curses the soil, the houses, the churches, the schools, the burying-grounds, the flocks, and the herds; it curses man and beast, male and female, old and young. It curses the child in the cradle, and heaps curses upon the old man as he lies in his grave. Let all the people, then, of the civilized world get up upon Mount Ebal, and curse it with a long and bitter curse, and with a loud voice, till it withers and dies; till the year of jubilee dawns upon the south, till the sun of a FREE DAY sends a beam of light and joy into every cabin.
I wish here sincerely to recognize the hand of a kind Providence
in leading me from that terrible house of bondage, for raising me up
friends in a land of strangers, and for leading me, as I hope, to a
saving knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ. A slave cannot be
sure that he will always enjoy his religion in peace. Some of them
are beaten for acts of devotion. I can never express to God all
the gratitude which I owe him for the many favors I now enjoy.
I try to live in love with all men. Nothing would delight me more than
to take the worst slaveholder by the hand, even Mrs. Banton, and freely
forgive her, if I thought she had repented of her sins. While she,
or any other man or woman, is trampling down the image of God,
and abusing the life out of the poor slave, I cannot
believe they are Christians, or that they ought to be allowed
the Christian name for one moment. I testify against them now, as having
of the spirit of Christ. There will be a cloud of swift witnesses against them at the day of judgment. The testimony of the slave will be heard then. He has no voice at the tribunals of earthly justice, but he will one day be heard; and then such revelations will be made, as will fully justify the opinion which I have been compelled to form of slaveholders. They are a SEED of evil-doers—corrupt are they—they have done abominable works.