AT an early period in the settlement of this country, while the slave-trade was vigorously pursued, many of the natives of Africa were brought to America and sold into perpetual servitude. While this class of people has long excited the interest and sympathy of the benevolent, but little has been done to change, essentially, their relative position in society. While a portion remain in servitude, others, though free, must meet almost insurmountable obstacles to that improvement and elevation which, under other circumstances, and in their own native land, they might probably secure.
Though this numerous class of men, as a body, have improved but little for many generations, there have been occasional exceptions
to their general ignorance and degradation,
which show what they might become, under influences more favourable to their physical and moral discipline than they are likely to meet at present, if ever, in this country.
The question of their social and civil relation may involve difficulties perplexing and embarrassing to the Christian, but we know that the truth, consolations and hopes of the gospel are abundantly adequate to relieve the wants and mitigate the miseries of every human apostate.
From the most ignorant and wretched of mankind we are furnished with some of the finest illustrations of the power of truth and grace. Those monuments of saving mercy, while they in no degree detract from the value of religious instruction or the means of grace of all times and in all classes of society, may show the virtue of Christianity and the amazing love of God in overcoming the most formidable difficulties in the way of salvation.
The subject of the following brief memoir
is taken from the most ignorant and profligate class of men, and the history of his degradation and crimes is given for the simple purpose of showing, not only what are the distinct features of human nature in its deplorable apostasy and to what lengths ignorance and sin will lead, but more specially to show what transformation of character may be secured by the proper application of the means of grace and the blessing of God upon the agencies of his appointment to save mankind.
Divine truth, when addressed to the most guilty, with kindness and sympathy for their miserable and lost condition, is seldom refused or despised. When accompanied with fervent prayer, and attended with the blessing of God, nothing is too great to anticipate. We may look for miracles of mercy and salvation.
In the relief ultimately found from ignorance and sin, by the renewing influence of truth and grace, no excuse can be borrowed
for moral delinquency, no palliation pleaded
for crime, and no encouragement given to such as may be repeating the hazardous experiment of indulged depravity. While one abandoned sinner lives to repent, thousands die incorrigible. While the grace of God reaches and secures one from the sentence of death, thousands are abandoned to the wages of unrighteousness, to reap forever the fruit of their crimes.
JACOB HODGES, the subject of the following memoir, was born of African parents, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about the year 1763. The family, though extremely depressed, living in ignorance and poverty, were not, as it is known, ever subjects of slavery.*
Either from the poverty, ignorance, or wickedness of his parents, Jacob was suffered to spend his early years wholly without
education or moral restraint. Under the influences of such a condition, and the common associations of poor coloured children,
nothing of good could be expected. It is not known that Jacob had,
at this time, a friend on earth to counsel or to care for him. There were then no Sabbath-schools, nor such public provision for the instruction of the poor, as is now found in almost every community. The child of ignorance and poverty, wearing his sable complexion, in a crowded population, was ordinarily passed by with utter neglect, as the beast that perisheth. It is not known that a solitary lesson of useful instruction was ever given to this African child.
After spending ten years in his native place, exposed to all the evils of his wretched parentage, Jacob was shipped on board
the schooner Lydia, of Philadelphia, in the West India trade, in the capacity of waiting boy. In this situation, well calculated
to perpetuate his ignorance, and to confirm him in every vicious propensity, and farther removed than ever from the means
of education and moral improvement, he soon became distinguished for every species of wickedness that his circumstances allowed.
sprightly, insolent and daring, he was, alternately, the source of amusement and the subject of abuse to the officers and crew of the ship; yet it would seem that he was capable of rendering himself useful even in this humble station.
In the capacity of waiting and cabin boy on board different ships, and afterwards as a common sailor, he continued for a great number of years. He visited almost every port in Europe, as well as other countries, mingling in scenes of degradation and vice abroad, till he acquired the hardness, enterprise and viciousness of the most dissolute seaman. And who is more reckless and abandoned than a homeless, friendless African sailor! Addicted in early life to every species of profaneness, the sin of intemperance soon followed. To use his own language, he was always profane and always bad.
After pursuing a sea-faring life till sometime during the last war between this country and England, the vessel in which he
served was driven into New
York by a British armed ship, and he was cast upon shore, a destitute and abandoned sailor. During his whole life at sea he had not received the slightest education, but grew more and more immoral, till he was utterly unfitted for any useful service on land where confidence in his sobriety and integrity was demanded.
Being dismissed from service, and destitute of all means of support, his condition was as deplorable and hopeless as can well be imagined. How long he continued in these unhappy circumstances is not known. Being unable to procure any steady employment, or secure any permanent residence, he wandered through the country till he became settled in the county of Orange, in the state of New York.
He was now too old to receive the advantages of education provided for the poor at public expense, and too ignorant and vicious
to know its value. Having cast aside all the restraints of
moral influence, he had become confirmed on land in all the habits of vice contracted upon the sea.
Notwithstanding all this ignorance, vice and degradation, there was in Jacob Hodges a native dignity and a noble carriage, which clearly illustrated traits of mind which cultivation and better circumstances of life would have developed to a the honour of our common humanity. Though strikingly African, every feature and movement of Jacob showed that he was originally fitted for a higher and better character, and but for the disadvantage of his birth, and the utter neglect of his early education, he might have been a man indeed.
How long Jacob lived in the county of Orange is not known, but an uncommon and painful occurrence is connected with his history here, which changed the whole aspect of his subsequent life.
In the town of Warwick, about seven miles from the village of Goshen, there resided a man by the name of Jennings,
who had already attained to the age of seventy years. By a process of tedious and vexatious law-suits, he had come into possession of property, by which another family was greatly disappointed and completely impoverished. Hostility, which had long existed between the parties, became every day more and more violent. Revenge was constantly meditated and threatened. At length, the malignity of the aggrieved party was so exasperated that actual violence and bloodshed were not only meditated, but planned for speedy execution. The old man of seventy years was selected as the victim.
The individual whose pecuniary interests he had injured secured two accomplices, who, from sharing in his feelings of revenge,
or from promises of pecuniary reward, entered into his purposes of murder. One of these was the poor, ignorant Jacob Hodges.
He was selected as the immediate instrument of the fatal deed; as if murder, though perpetrated by other hands, would secure
them from the vengeance
of God, or the righteous demands of human law.
It would seem that Jacob had been, for some time, in the employment of these men as a common labourer, and that for more than a year they had been preparing for the murder of Jennings. During this whole period, they were endeavouring to secure Jacob's consent to execute their bloody purpose. They told him directly, that "he was the very person fitted for the old man's destruction." They promised him, at the same time, their cooperation, and a large pecuniary reward. Jacob for a long time hesitated.
Another, and a desperate effort was made. The wife of one of the parties became an accessory. She was a woman who, till then,
sustained a respectable character for intelligence and morality. In her opinion Jacob placed the fullest confidence. She was
now brought forward to persuade him of the justice and necessity of the act to which he was urged. Yet it would seem his heart
shrunk back from the bloody deed. He asked her, "if it would be right?" She replied, "Yes, for if the old man is not put out of the way, he will ruin my husband and brother. They are entitled to the property which he has taken from them, and only by his death can they get it back." But neither her persuasions, nor the repeated promises of reward, fully satisfied the mind of Jacob. He still hesitated as to his final decision.
To overcome his remaining difficulties, recourse was had to the use of ardent spirits, that fearful agent, which most effectually perverts the conscience and destroys the soul. From Jacob's long-established habits of intemperance, this course soon drowned all remaining sense of moral rectitude, and left him the complete victim of his seducers.
The wretched woman, alternately reasoning with Jacob and ministering to his vicious appetite, prepared him to engage in the
work of death. He was furnished by one of the men with a musket, powder
and shot, and instructed as to the mode of executing their purpose. He was first advised to proceed by night to the house of the old man, and fire through the window. To this Jacob objected, as he might in that case injure other members of his family: yet he was fully prepared to meet their wishes whenever a favourable moment should arrive.
Early on the morning of the 21st of December, 1819, Mr. Jennings, the aged and unsuspecting victim of this conspiracy, left
his family to visit some grounds which had been the subject of litigation, and on which the opposite party, who still held
possession, were committing depredations. In his way, he passed the dwelling where the conspirators were met. Jacob was at
breakfast, in the room of his miserable advisor, Mrs. T. On being informed that the old man was passing, he rose from his
table, and took his gun from behind the door, while Mrs. T. brought him the powder and shot, giving him, at the same time,
more ardent spirits, that
he might not shrink from his desperate purpose. Jacob hesitated; turning to her he anxiously inquired, "If it was necessary to proceed to business?" She replied, "It is time that the old savage was out the world." Thus stimulated and urged forward, he crossed the fields into an adjoining grove, while one of the white men went forward in the road. Having overtaken Mr. Jennings, he detained him in conversation till Jacob came from the woods and joined them. The old man asked him if he had been cutting wood from his lot? Jacob replied that he had. He then inquired if his gun was loaded? Jacob said, No. His accomplice stepped aside, when Jacob raised his gun, and, taking aim at Mr. Jennings, fired at the distance of ten feet. The shot struck upon one side of the face, near the eye, and glancing, cut off part of the ear. Either from the effect of the wound, or from agitation, the old man fell back to the ground. In the opinion of the surgeon, however, who examined the body, the
shot was not mortal. Jacob, on seeing the prostrate condition of his aged victim, and reflecting upon what he had done, was filled with horror, and being about to go away, his accomplice ran to him, and exclaimed, profanely, "He is not dead yet; will you undertake a piece of business, and not finish it?" Springing forward, the white man seized the gun, and struck Jennings several times upon the head, till the stock was broken in pieces, and the old man was quite dead.
The body was left in its blood, unburied and unconcealed. Jacob returned to the house of Mrs. T., and told her what he had
done. She appeared pleased, and gave him more ardent spirits. Given over to delusion and madness, she manifested no symptoms
of remorse or contrition. It was not so with Jacob. Neither the attempts of the murderous party to convince him that he had
done right; nor the promise of large pecuniary reward, with the power of stimulants, could quiet the agitated mind of the
poor negro. He
was a murderer! The groans of his aged victim would not die from his ear! That gory head he could not forget! The broken and pallid countenance continually followed him! He not only carried in his bosom the conviction of guilt, but his whole conduct betrayed his emotions of remorse and anguish. Twenty-two years after this tragical event, he rehearsed to me its horrid details, and it seemed to pass almost in living reality and freshness before him.
He went to the chief instigator, who had employed him to commit the murder, and told him how he felt. It was not considered prudent for him to remain longer in the place. Immediate measures were adopted to induce him to leave the country; but he continued to linger about for some days, hesitating what to do; in part, from the agitation of his own mind, and also, perhaps, to secure his share of the promised reward.
On Saturday, five days after the murder, he was persuaded to start for Newburg,
with the view of going to New York, whence he was to proceed to sea. Though Newburg was but twenty miles from Warwick, he did not reach that place till the next day at sun-set. Fearing that he would not make his escape with sufficient expedition, one of the conspirators followed him on Sunday, and overtook him before he reached Newburg. Here they both lodged for the night. The next morning, Jacob crossed the river, with the design of hastening to New York, that he might ship for sea as soon as possible. The other man returned to Warwick.
By this time, the unusual absence of Mr. Jennings from his family began to create alarm for his safety, and search being made,
his body was soon found where it was left by his murderers. The sudden disappearance of Jacob, and the fact that he was seen
on his way to Newburg, in company with one of the conspirators, caused suspicion to rest at once upon him, and those who had
instigated him to the murder. Jacob, in the mean-
time, had passed down the river to New York, while all the others, including Mrs. T., were arrested and imprisoned. Vigorous measures were adopted to secure Jacob. Two parties were sent in pursuit of him; one of which traced him to New York, where he was arrested and returned up the river to Haverstraw.
Jacob at first denied having any knowledge of the murder, but appeared greatly distressed. He continued firm in his denial, resisting the solicitation and advice of his attendants, till the latter part of the night following his arrest, when he made a full confession, and gave a minute relation of the whole transaction. This he repeated in all his subsequent conversations and critical examinations in court. He also gave to me the same account substantially, as late as the summer of 1841.
From Haverstraw he was taken to Goshen, and after being examined before five magistrates, was fully committed to
await his trial, at the next session of the court of oyer and terminer.
At this court, indictments were found by the grand jury against the three white men, Jacob, and Mrs. T., for the wilful murder
of Jennings. Upon the trial of the white men and Mrs. T., Jacob was the chief witness on the part of the prosecution. His
testimony commences as follows: "About one year ago, one of the prisoners told me that I was a fit person to destroy Jennings.
Another said to me, I wish I had killed him, and in the evening he requested me to do it. During the sitting of the court,
last fall, two of them several times spoke to me, and wished I would do it; and told me not to let my mind fail me, for I
should have spirits enough; that T. and D. would assist me, and would divide one thousand dollars between them and me. On
Thursday, before the murder, after an hour's conversation, I agreed to kill Jennings. On Saturday, C. loaded the gun, and
showed me how to do it. When the sun about an
hour high, I went towards T.'s with the gun. (T. was the one who was to assist me in the murder.) He was gone to New York. I conversed with Mrs. T. and D. about the murder. They both approved of it, and D. said that he would assist me. Mrs. T. gave me some whiskey, and told me to help myself when I wanted. The next day Mrs. T. went to meeting, and told me to make free use of the whiskey. On Monday, morning, when I was at breakfast, D. came in and told me that Jennings was passing. I arose from the table and took the gun." Then follows, as seen from the records of the court, a full and minute statement of the manner in which the murder was committed, and the subsequent steps of Jacob's departure to New York, his arrest and return to Goshen jail.
The testimony of Jacob was direct and positive, going to criminate the four other prisoners. He was closely examined several
times, and uniformly told a rational and consistent story. At one
time he was more than seven hours uninterruptedly under examination, and no essential deviation or inconsistency was detected in any part of his long and tedious statement. There was such a frankness and appearance of truth and candour in his whole demeanour, that the court and spectators were fully satisfied with the correctness of his story.
Though the parties all pleaded not guilty, the three white men, with Jacob, were found guilty, and sentenced to be executed on the 16th of April, following; and after execution, the body of Jacob Hodges was to be delivered to the President of the Orange County Medical Society, for dissection.
Mrs. T., when brought to trial, as she had seen her husband and his two accomplices found guilty on the same testimony that
was to be adduced against her withdrew her plea of "Not guilty," and as the purposes of justice did not seem to demand her
execution, she was sentenced upon her own confession to merely a nominal
punishment, viz. imprisonment in the county jail for the term of one month. In justification of this mitigated punishment, the court remarked, that the mandates of a stern and inflexible husband might have influenced her conduct in relation to the murder; but that however this might have been, the destitute situation of her children, already deprived of a father, so that she was now to be their only protector—the only parent to whom they must in future look for support; this and a variety of other considerations, pressed themselves upon the minds of the court, who had thought proper to extend to her all the mercy the law would allow.
The simplicity and honesty of Jacob's whole deportment while upon his trial and as chief witness of the State, made a most
favourable impression upon the court, and excited strong sympathy in his behalf. They saw that he had been led into crime
by the deep-laid plan of wicked men, who had been goaded to desperation by repeated disappointments, and whom nothing
could satisfy but the violent death of their victim. The court saw that appeals had been made to Jacob's sense of obligation to his employers; and also that in addition to the promise of co-operation in the crime and a large pecuniary reward, his moral sense had been stupefied by freely administered stimulants. From these considerations, exertions were early made to save him from the fatal sentence that had been passed upon him. And some of the court, even while they felt that justice might demand the sentence of death, voluntarily promised to recommend him to the clemency of the legislature.
Providentially, the legislature of the State were in session at the time appointed for Jacob's execution. While the executive
had the power of granting an unqualified pardon, the legislative branch of the government alone could change the sentence
which the court had passed upon him. Upon representations being made in favour of Jacob, his sentence of death was commuted
to that of hard labour in
the State's prison, for the term of twenty-one years. Another of the convicts had his sentence changed to imprisonment for life. The remaining two were executed according to the sentence of the court, on the 16th day of April, 1819.
Leaving the scaffold of these miserable felons, and this ruined and imprisoned woman, who had been instrumental in bringing misery and guilt upon a poor, ignorant African, we must follow him to his dreary cell in the penitentiary on Manhattan Island. These gloomy walls he now enters, a wretched outcast, a condemned murderer.
At this time but little attention was paid to the habits, education, or moral improvement of the inmates of our prisons generally.
They were regarded more as places of punishment and means of restraint upon the lawless and desperately wicked, than as designed
for instruction and moral influence. The idea of making them nurseries of education, means of moral reform, and sanctuaries
for moral and religious
culture, was not entertained even by the Christian community. There was little of kindness, sympathy, or mercy felt for the prisoner. All was conducted upon the ordinary principles of strict, impartial, legal justice.
Towards Jacob Hodges, a miserable African, a murderer, there may have been some severity, owing either to his own refractory
temper, or the character of his keepers. While, as he told me, he was not over-worked and had enough to eat and drink, there
was nothing to win his confidence or to excite his better feelings. He was treated as an ignorant, abandoned, wretched murderer,
who, though he had escaped the gallows, was undeserving of the ordinary kindness and sympathy usually extended to the less
flagrantly guilty. We can easily imagine, too, that Jacob's prison-dress; the necessary associations with his past history;
his strongly marked, dark African features, together with his stately, resolute carriage, may all have served to turn away
sympathy, and to excite far other than charitable feelings towards him.
Upon the completion of the new prison at Auburn, Jacob was among the number of State convicts that were removed to that place.
A new system of prison discipline was adopted at the opening of this spacious penitentiary, and the keepers appeared admirably
fitted to carry out its details according to the peculiar character and disposition of its inmates. The superintendent of
the prison, the late Mr. Powers, was a man of uncommon excellence of character, of remarkably kind feelings, and condescending
to the prisoners. He regarded them, though felons, still as men and moral beings, susceptible of better feelings, and capable
of being educated and reformed. Every thing was here arranged for the purpose of cultivating among the prisoners a desire
for education, the means of an honourable support in life and the maintenance of correct morals. For the first time in his
life, Jacob was
treated like a man. For the first time in his life he felt that he had a friend. His heart was immediately won, his rough spirit was subdued, his generous and confiding nature was called forth, prepared to receive instruction and good from those who showed an interest in his sad condition.
No sooner had Jacob entered this prison and seated himself in his narrow cell, than he found a Bible by his side and himself alone. This was something new. He had never been in solitude before, where all was silence and solemnity. Here he had nothing to do by night but to review his life, to think alone upon his melancholy state and what might be before him. There lay his Bible, but it was to him a sealed book, yet it awakened a train of the most solemn reflections as he received from day to day some new lessons of instruction from his friends and keepers.
Among the first and most faithful of these was the chaplain of the prison, the
Rev. Mr. Curtis, who at once made himself acquainted with the previous history of Jacob and his peculiar disposition.
The chaplain was forcibly struck with the fixedness of attention and his grateful emotions at the kindness he received, together with that certain manifestation of human nobleness which Jacob always exhibited even in his worst days.
At this time Jacob was extremely ignorant, he did not know his own age accurately, and could not read at all. All moral and religious truth had been kept from him, and he was yet to learn his character and destiny as an accountable and immortal being.
The chaplain came to him with the Bible, and notwithstanding his extreme ignorance and advanced age proposed to teach him
to read. The first lesson he gave was the first word in the Bible, I-n. The chaplain said to him, That word is in. Can you see how many letters there are in it? Jacob replied, Two. He was then directed to look for the same
letters on other pages of the Bible and soon learned to understand the difference between letters which resembled each other, till he comprehended their force when combined in words.
Being informed of the great truths which were contained in the Bible, which he might yet read for himself and more fully understand, Jacob was stimulated to constant exertion, till he was able to study out short sentences alone, which the chaplain in his frequent visits to his cell would explain and apply to his individual case.
It was not long before more than common interest was manifested by Jacob for his spiritual condition. He awoke to the melancholy fact that he was a lost and ruined sinner. It was from the faithful instructions of the chaplain that he received his first religious impressions, and they were from the beginning of a peculiarly marked and decided character.
He repeatedly gave to his friends a minute account of the operations of his mind and his religious experience while
in prison. One who was particularly interested in Jacob recorded his narration at the time he gave it, almost in his own words, and it has already been read by thousands in the "Young Christian," as an illustration of the power of Christian truth and the grace of God.
Being inquired of in relation to the crime for which he was imprisoned, how this sin appeared to him; "Very great," he replied:
but understanding the question as relating solely to the injury he had done to a fellow-man, he added, "but not so great as
my other sins towards God; my profaneness and intemperance." In giving this history of his feelings, he said, "When I first
began to reflect in my cell, I saw my sins so great that I felt I could not be forgiven. When I told the chaplain what was
the crime for which I was imprisoned, 'That,' said he, 'is one of the greatest crimes; but pray to God and put your trust
in him, and you shall find rest in your soul.' He told me also
if I could not read, he would visit me in my cell and put me in the way. I shall ever love him while God gives me breath. I shall love the chaplain for he put me in the way to gain the salvation of my soul. He made me promise him faithfully that I would go to God and try to find mercy; and yet I had doubt in my heart, my sin was so heavy, whether I should be forgiven.
"The chaplain soon left me, and I went into my cell and poured out my heart to God to have mercy on me. The more I prayed, the more miserable I grew; the heavier and heavier were my sins.
"The next day I requested an individual to read to me a chapter, and as God would have it, he turned to the 55th chapter of Isaiah. It said, 'Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye and buy wine and milk without price.'
"He read along where it says, 'Let the wicked man forsake his ways and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him
return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and unto our God, for he will abundantly pardon: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.'
"I found this gave me great encouragement to go on to pray, to see if I could find relief from all my troubles—the load of sin that was on my heart. I thought and prayed, and the more I prayed the more wretched I grew; the heavier my sins appeared to be.
"A night or two after this, the chaplain came to my cell, and asked me how I felt. I told him my sins were greater than I
could bear—so guilty—so heavy. He asked me if I thought praying would make my sins any less. I gave him no answer. He soon
left me, and I went again to prayer. I was almost fit to expire." At this time, Jacob had but just
began to learn the nature of sin, and his relations to God and his holy law. As he looked back upon his feelings, he adds, "In all my sorrows, I had not a right sorrow. My sorrow was, because I had sinned against man."
"The Sunday following," he proceeds to say, "just after I had carried my dinner to my cell, I put my dinner down, and went to prayer. I rose, and just as I rose from prayer, the chaplain was at the door. 'We are all guilty creatures,' he said to me, 'and we cannot be saved, except God, for Christ's sake, will save us. If we pray and go to God, we must go in the name of Jesus Christ. If we expect to be saved, we must be saved through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.' Then I picked up encouragement.
"'The sins which you have committed,' he went on to say, 'are against your fellow-creatures, but they are much more against
God.' Now, I never knew before that they were against God. When the chaplain left me I went to prayer again. I
could eat nothing that day. I did not eat a mouthful.
"I recollected at the time, that a minister had told me that whenever I had a chapter read, to have the fifty-first psalm.
I could not see any body to get to read it, and how to find it I did not know. The Sunday following, before the keeper unlocked
the door, I rose up, and I went to prayer, and I prayed: 'O Lord, thou knowest I am ignorant; brought up in ignorance. Thou
knowest my bringing up. Nothing is too hard for thee to do. May it please thee, O Lord, to show me that chapter, that I may
read it with understanding. I rose up from prayer, and went to my Bible and took it up. I began at the first psalm, and turned
over and counted every psalm, and it appeared to me that God was with me, and I counted right to the fifty-first psalm. I
could read a little, and I began to spell—H-a-v-e m-e-r-c-y, &c. I looked over the psalm, and spelled it and read it, and
then put the Bible down and fell upon my knees:
'Have mercy upon me, O God, according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquities and cleanse me from my sins; for my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest and clear when thou judgest.'
"When I came to the words, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, I was struck dumb. I could not say any more at that time. I fell upon my knees, and prayed to God to have mercy on me for Christ's sake. But I only grew more and more miserable. The load of my sins was heavier and heavier. All that I had ever done came plain and open in my sight, and I was led to see that I must perish. There was no help for me. All my sins was upon my own head."
Jacob was fully sensible of the ignorance in which he had grown up, and the manner in which he had been led astray and tempted
to the commission of sin, yet
none of the circumstances attending his crimes ever induced him to plead the least justification. His clear perceptions of sin and deep agony of heart arose from the conviction that he had offended not against man alone, but against God. It was this that caused his "load of sin to grow heavier and heavier."
For some time there was, apparently, no change in the character of his feelings. All was constant reflection, intense study, deep feeling, bordering on despair. The fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, and what the chaplain had told him of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, served to keep his mind still inquiring for relief. At length, as he himself described it, "One day, when I was praying in my cell, my burden of guilt was removed. I felt that I might be pardoned through Jesus Christ."
The relief which this gave him seems to have been almost indescribable. Every thing wore a new aspect. Even the gloomy prison
seemed a cheerful and happy place. His expressions of joy
would appear almost extravagant to any person not sufficiently acquainted with the human mind to understand how the whole aspect of external objects will be controlled by the emotions which reign in the heart.*
The narrative which Jacob, at that time, gave of his feelings and change of mind, concludes as follows: "Ever since, this place, where I have been confined, has been to me more like a palace than a prison. Every thing goes agreeable. I find I have a deceitful heart, but Jesus tells me if I lack knowledge, he will always lend. I cast my care on him and not forget to pray. It is my prayer, morning and evening, that I may hold out. If I die here, Lord, let me die in thine arms. I have great reason to bless this institution, and every stone in it."
The faithful instructions which Jacob received from the chaplain, were followed by the exercise of the Sabbath-School, and
the public preaching on the Lord's day. To all these, he gave the most strict attention. Considering his age and past habits of life, his improvement was really astonishing. In nothing was his advancement so great as in the knowledge of divine things. He was evidently taught of the Spirit, and daily grew in grace and every Christian virtue. His temper, which had been uniformly rough, and at times almost indomitable, became subdued and tender. At the remembrance of his sins, he would melt almost in a moment to penitence and tears; and, as he saw more and more of the Saviour, he was filled with gratitude and love. He was most obviously a new creature in Christ Jesus. The profane, drunken murderer, immured in his cell, was a broken-hearted penitent, a man of prayer. His prison now became a Bethel indeed.
It was here that I first met him: I shall never forget the day; it was the 4th of July, 1827. Having been engaged in religious
services during the morning, in the
afternoon we visited the penitentiary. The prisoners were all confined to their cells, while their keepers were abroad, enjoying the freedom and recreation of the anniversary. Passing through the extended corridors, though in the midst of five hundred souls, all was silent as the grave, and no human being was visible, except here and there one leaning against the iron grate of his cell.
The chaplain conducted me to the door of Jacob's narrow apartments. He arose before its small aperture, and I had a full view of his broad African face, every line of which spoke the language of a mind and heart of no ordinary character. There was a subdued, tender, yet cheerful aspect to his countenance, as if fully conscious of what he had been, yet blessed with the conviction of a new heart, and in hope of a better state yet to come.
On learning my profession and the object of my visit, Jacob became free and cheerful in his conversation with me. While it
has mostly passed from my me-
mory, the impression it left upon my mind is still vivid and affecting. He had just become able to read, with much effort, short sentences in the Bible, and was constantly engaged during his leisure hours in studying its pages. He had fully committed to memory the fifty-first psalm, and those who have heard him read or repeat that psalm will never forget the emphasis, the deep and solemn intonations of his voice, when uttering the petition, "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation."
After conversing for some time, and learning from his own lips the great change which he had experienced under the instructions given him, I said, "Jacob, it has proved a mercy to you that you were brought to this prison." "O yes, master," he replied, "I bless God that I was brought here. I love every stone in this building."
It was his uniform custom on retiring at night from labour to the solitude of his cell, to seize his Bible, and employ the
few moments that remained of the light of day in studying its pages, in his poor way. Never did the word of God appear more precious to any one than it did to Jacob. In reply to my questions respecting his interest in the Scriptures, he said, "Master, if you will believe me, I have come into my cell at night, and setting my supper by my cot, I have taken my Bible and become so much engaged in reading and meditating upon its truths, that I wholly forgot my meal, till I saw it untouched in the morning."
To almost every Christian visitor at the prison, Jacob soon became an object of peculiar interest, as well as a favourite of the keepers. He was selected to head one of the "gangs," as they were arranged and marched from their workshops to their tables and their cells at night. Here those who were utter strangers to Jacob have been forcibly struck with the peculiar expression of his countenance and the marked dignity of his movements.
He daily secured more and more the
confidence and esteem of the chaplain and his teachers in the Sabbath-School, till they could have no doubt of his entire reformation and genuine repentance. Though his circumstances were unfavourable, and his opportunities very limited for the developement of Christian character; he was by no means deficient in the manifestation of some of the most striking traits of religious experience.
In the solitude of his cell, he learned the true nature and the value of prayer, as the great means of access to God by a Redeemer; and it was evidently the abundance of his supplication here, that laid so firmly the foundation of his whole Christian character through the remainder of his life. It was by prayer that he found a Saviour, and it was by prayer that he drew from the Bible its most precious truths and abiding consolations.
Such was Jacob's uniform deportment, his fidelity and apparent piety, that the great ends of justice were felt to be satisfied
in his case, and interest was at length
made with the governor of the State to obtain his pardon for the remaining part of the time for which he was sentenced.
He was asked if he thought he would conduct himself properly if he should be released? He replied that he did not know, but he feared that he should not; adding, "unless the grace of God keep me, I know I shall not."
He had naturally a very ungovernable temper, and he feared the result of its exposure when he should be brought again into
the temptations of the world. He remembered his former habits of intemperance, and he might soon be overtaken and fall. Above
all, he did not forget his sinful heart, and he trembled at the thought of being again exposed to the evils of life, when
freed from the restraints with which he was now surrounded. In his cell, he felt a security. In his daily labour, he met but
few temptations. In his solitude, he communed alone with his own heart and his Saviour, and here he was satisfied. The place
his confinement was truly to him, "more like a palace than a prison."
At length his pardon was granted, and his prison door was opened. Few scenes in his whole life were so affecting as this. That cell which had been his place of anguish and of tears, his dark abode of penitence and searchings after God, where light had broken in upon his mind, he had met Jesus and found peace to his soul:—that cell, his closet, his Bethel, he was now to leave forever.
Taking his Bible, the only article that belonged to him, he walked out to have his last, parting interview with his keeper
and the chaplain. And it was one truly affecting to them all. He was one whom they regarded as the first fruits of their experiment
upon the new plan of prison discipline. Jacob stood before them, the murderer, the ignorant, wretched African; but how changed!
Intelligent in the knowledge of God, a man of prayer, blessed in the hope of eternal life. His prison garments were taken
off and he
was clothed in apparel suited to the new circumstances in which he was now to appear. He received the entire approbation of the superintendent, with his advice and good wishes for his safety and success in subsequent life. The chaplain then gave him such counsel as his condition and prospects demanded, and kneeling with him, prayed that God would be his friend, his keeper and guide. The large iron door then opened before him. The keeper and the chaplain took him affectionately by the hand for the last time as an inmate of the prison, and Jacob went out, overwhelmed with emotion, as he bid adieu to these friends, and turned his eyes from the impressive memorials of his crimes and of the mercy of God to his soul.
Jacob was now to try the strength of his new principles. As he looked, the first time for years, upon the heavens and earth,
a free man, he actually felt more lonely than when buried at night in his narrow cell. His keeper had long been his friend.
He had now left him,
and where would he find another as kind? The chaplain has been his constant and faithful advisor, his spiritual guide through his darkest hours: and where would he meet another so tender-hearted and so true? Who was to take this poor, desolate, long-imprisoned, but now liberated African by the hand, to befriend and watch over him? He had not a relative that he knew on earth; nor a spot that he could call his home, where to claim shelter even for a night. Putting his trust in God his Saviour, he went forth to begin the world anew: and indeed it was all new to him.
When recurring once to this event, he assured me that it was with great reluctance that he left the prison. Expressing some
surprise and waiting for his reasons, he said, "I loved that place. I loved the prison, for there I first met Jesus." And can we wonder that he loved it? All the useful instruction he had ever received, all the real friends he ever had,
and all the good he had ever known were associated
with this prison. Can we wonder that he loved it? It was the birth-place of his soul. "Here he first met Jesus."