With his usual adroitness, early in the morning, Henry entered Richmond boldly walking through the streets. This place in its municipal regulations, the customs and usages of society, the tastes and assumptious pride of the inhabitants, much resembles Charleston, South Carolina, the latter being a modified model of the former.
The restrictions here concerning Negroes and mulattos are less rigid, as
they may be permitted to continue in social or religious gatherings after
nine o'clock at night provided a white person be present to
inspect their conduct; and may ride in a carriage, smoke a cigar in daylight, or walk with a staff at night.
According to an old-existing custom said to have originated by law, a mulatto or quadroon who proved a white mother were themselves regarded as white: and many availing themselves of the fact, took advantage of it by leaving their connections with the blacks and turning entirely over to the whites. Their children take further advantage of this by intermarrying with the whites, by which their identity becomes extinct, and they enter every position in society both social and political. Some of the proudest American statesmen in either House of the Capital, receive their poetic vigor of imagination from the current of Negro blood flowing in their veins.
Like those of Charleston, some of the light mixed bloods of Richmond hold against the blacks and pure-blooded Negroes the strongest prejudice and hatred, all engendered by the teachings of their Negro-fearing master-fathers. All of the terms and epithets of disparagement commonly used by the whites toward the blacks are as readily applied to them by this class of the mixed bloods. Shy of the blacks and fearful of the whites, they go sneaking about with the countenance of a criminal, of one conscious of having done wrong to his fellows. Spurned by the one and despised by the other, they are the least happy of all the classes. Of this class was Mrs. Pierce, whose daughter stood in the hall door, quite early enjoying the cool air this morning.
“Miss,” enquired Henry of the young quadroon lady, “can you inform me where I'll find the house of Mr. Norton, a colored family in this city?” politely raising his cap as he approached her.
With a screech she retreated into the house, exclaiming, that a black Negro at the door had given her impudence. Startled at this alarm so unexpected to him—though somewhat prepared for such from his recent experience in Charleston—Henry made good a most hasty retreat before the father, with a long red “hide” in his hand, could reach the door. The man grimaced, declaring, could he have his way, every black in the country would be sold away to labor.
Finding the house of his friend, he was safely secluded until evening, when developing his scheme, the old material extinguished and left to mould and rot after the demonstration at Southampton, was immediately rekindled, never again to be suppressed until the slaves stood up the equal of the masters. Southampton—the name of Southampton to them was like an electric shock.
“Ah, Laud!” replied Uncle Medly, an old man of ninety-four years, when asked whether or not he would help his brethren in a critical time of need. “Dat I would. Ef I do noffin' else, I pick up dirt an' tro' in der eye!” meaning in that of their masters.
“Glory to God!” exclaimed his wife, an old woman of ninety years.
“Hallelujah!” responded her daughter, the wife of Norton, the man of the house.
“Blessed be God's eternal name!” concluded the man himself. “I've long been praying and looking, but God has answered me at last.”
“None could answer it, but a prayer-hearing God!” replied the wife.
“None would answer it, but a prayer-hearing God!” responded the husband.
“None did answer it, but a prayer-hearing God!” exclaimed the woman. “Glory to God! Glory to God! 'Tis none but He can deliver!”
They fell on their knees to pray, when fervent was their devotion; after which Henry left, but on account of a strict existing patrol regulation, was obliged for three days to be in the wood, so closely watched was he. The fourth evening he effected most adroitly an escape from his hiding place, passing through a strong guard of patrol all around him, entering the District of Columbia at early dawn, soon entering the City of Washington.
The slave prison of Williams and Brien conspicuously stood among the edifices; high in the breeze from the flagstaff floated defiantly the National Colors, stars as the pride of the white man, and stripes as the emblem of power over the blacks. At this the fugitive gave a passing glance, but with hurried steps continued his course, not knowing whither he would tarry. He could only breathe in soliloquy, “How long, O Lord of the oppressed, how long shall this thing continue?”
Passing quietly along, gazing in at every door, he came to a stop on the corner of Pennsylvania avenue and Sixth Street. On entering, looking into the establishment, his eye unexpectedly caught that of a person who proved to be a mulatto gentleman, slowly advancing toward the door.
His first impulse was to make a retreat, but fearing the effort would be fatal, bracing his nerves, he stood looking the person full in the face.
“Do you want anything, young man?” enquired the mulatto gentleman, who proved to be the proprietor.
“I am hungry, sir!” Henry quickly replied.
“You're a stranger, then, in the city?”
“I am, sir.”
“Never here before?”
“Never before, sir.”
“Have you no acquaintance in the place?”
“None at all, sir.”
“Then, sir, if you'll come in, I'll see if I can find as much as you can eat.” replied the goodhearted man.
Setting him down to a comfortable breakfast, the wife and niece of the proprietor kindly attended upon him, filling his pouch afterwards with sufficient for the day's travel.
Giving him a parting hand, Henry left with, “God Almighty bless the family!” clearing the city in a short time.
“I understand it all,” replied the gentleman in response, “and may the same God guide and protect you by the way!” justly regarding him as a fugitive.
The kindness received at the hands of this family* brought tears of gratitude to the eyes of the recipient, especially when remembering his treatment from the same class in Charleston and Richmond. About the same time that Henry left the city, the slave of a distinguished Southern statesman also left Washington and the comforts of home and kindness of his master forever.
From Washington taking a retrograde course purposely to avoid Maryland, where he learned they were already well advised and holding gatherings, the margin of Virginia was cut in this hasty passage, so as to reach more important points for communication. Stealing through the neighborhood and swimming the river, a place was reached called Mud Fort, some four miles distant from Harper's Ferry, situated on the Potomac.
Seeing a white man in a field near by, he passed on as if unconscious of his presence, when the person hailing him in broken English questioned his right to pass.
“I am going to Charleston, sir.” replied Henry.
“Vat fahr?” inquired the Dutchman.
“On business,” replied he.
“You nagher, you! dat ish not anzer mine question! I does ax you vat fahr you go to Charleston, and you anzer me dat!”
“I told you, sir, that I am going on business.”
“You ish von zaucy nagher, andt I bleve you one runaway! Py ching, I vill take you pack!” said the man instantly climbing the fence to get into the road where the runaway stood.
“That will do,” exclaimed Henry, “you are near enough—I can bring you down there,” at the same time presenting a well-charged six-barrel weapon of death; when the affrighted Dutchman fell on the opposite side of the fence unharmed, and Henry put down his weapon without a fire.
Having lurked till evening in a thicket near by, Charleston was entered near the depot, just at the time when the last train was leaving for Washington. Though small, this place was one of the most difficult in which to promote his object, as the slaves were but comparatively few, difficult to be seen, and those about the depot and house servants, trained to be suspicious and mistrustful of strange blacks, and true and faithful to their masters. Still, he was not remiss in finding a friend and a place for the seclusion.
This place was most admirably adapted for the gathering, being held up a run or little stream, in a bramble thicket on a marshy meadow of the old Brackenridge estate, but a few minutes walk from the town. This evening was that of a strict patrol watch, their headquarters for the night being in Worthington's old mills, from which ran the race, passing near which was the most convenient way to reach the place of gathering for the evening.
While stealthily moving along in the dark, hearing a cracking in the weeds and a soft tramping of feet, Henry secreted himself in a thick high growth of Jamestown weeds along the fence, when he slightly discerned a small body of men as if reconnoitering the neighborhood. Sensible of the precariousness of his condition, the fugitive lie as still as death, lest by dint he might be discovered, as much fear and apprehension then prevaded the community.
Charleston, at best, was a hard place for a Negro, and under the circumstances, had he been discovered, no plea would have saved him. Breathlessly crouched beneath the foliage and thorns of the fetid weed, he was startled by a voice suddenly exclaiming—
“Hallo there! who's that?” which provided to be that of one of the patrol, the posse having just come down the bank of the race from the mill.
“Sahvant, mausta!” was the humble reply.
“Who are you?” further enquired the voice.
“Zack Parker, sir.”
“Is that you, old Zack?”
“Yes, mausta—honner bright.”
“Come, Zack, you must go with us! Don't you know that Negroes are not allowed to be out at night alone, these times? Come along!” said Davy Hunter.
“Honner bright, maus Davy—honner bright!” continued the old black slave of Colonel Davenport, quietly walking beside them along the mill race, the water of which being both swift and deep. “Maus Davy, I got some mighty good rum here in dis flas'—you gentmen hab some? Mighty good! Mine I tells you, maus Davy—mighty good!”
“Well, Zack, we don't care to take a little,” replied Bob Flagg. “Have you had your black mouth to this flask?”
“Honner bright, maus Bobby—honner bright!” replied the old man.
Hunter raised the flask to his mouth, the others gathering around, each to take a draught in turn, when instantly a plunge in the water was heard, and the next moment old Zack Parker was swinging his hat in triumph on the opposite bank of the channel, exclaiming, “Honner bright, gentmen! Honner bright! Happy Jack an' no trouble!”—the last part of the sentence being a cant phrase commonly in use in that part of the country, to indicate a feeling free from all cares.
In a rage the flask was thrown in the dark, and alighted near his feet upright in the tufts of grass, when the old man in turn seizing the vessel, exclaiming aloud, “Yo' heath, gentmen! Yo' good heath!” Then turning it up to his mouth, the sound heard across the stream gave evidence of his enjoyment of the remainder of the contents. “Thank'e, gentmen—good night!” when away went Zack to the disappointment and even amusement of the party.
Taking advantage of this incident, Henry, under a guide, found a place of seclusion, and a small number of good willing spirits ready for the counsel.
“Mine, my chile!” admonished old Aunt Lucy. “Mine hunny, how yeh go long case da all'as lookin' arter black folks.”
Taking the nearest course through Worthington's woods, he reached in good
time that night the slave quarters of Captain Jack Briscoe and
Major Brack Rutherford. The blacks here were united by the confidential leaders of Moore's people, and altogether they were rather a superior gathering of slaves to any yet met with in Virginia. His mission here soon being accomplished, he moved rapidly on to Slaughter's, Crane's and Washington's old plantations, where he caused a glimmer of light, which until then had never been thought of, much less seen, by them.
The night rounds of the patrol of the immediate neighborhood, caused a hurried retreat from Washington's—the last place at which he stopped—and daybreak the next morning found him in near proximity to Winchester, when he sought and obtained a hiding place in the woods of General Bell.
The people here he found ripe and ready for anything that favored their redemption. Taylor's, Logan's, Whiting's and Tidball's plantations all had crops ready for the harvest.
“An' is dis de young man,” asked Uncle Talton, stooped with the age of eighty-nine years, “dat we hearn so much ob, dat's gwine all tru de country 'mong de black folks? Tang God a'mighty for wat I lib to see!” and the old man straightened himself up to his greatest height, resting on his staff, and swinging himself around as if whirling on the heel as children sometimes do, exclaimed in the gladness of his heart and the bouyancy of his spirits at the prospect of freedom before him: “I dont disagard none on 'em,” referring to the whites.
“We have only 'regarded' them too long, father,” replied Henry with a sigh of sorrow, when he looked upon the poor old time and care-worn slave, whose only hope for freedom rested in his efforts.
“I neber 'spected to see dis! God bless yeh, my son! May God 'long yeh life!” continued the old man, the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Amen!” sanctioned Uncle Ek.
“God grant it!” replied Uncle Duk.
“May God go wid yeh, my son, wheresomeber yeh go!” exclaimed the old slaves present; when Henry, rising from the block of wood upon which he sat, being moved to tears, reaching out his hand, said, “Well, brethren, mothers, and fathers! My time with you is up, and I must leave you—farewell!” when this faithful messenger of his oppressed brethren, was soon in the woods, making rapid strides towards Western Virginia.
Wheeling, in the extreme Western part of Virginia, was reached by the fugitive, where the slaves, already restless and but few in number in consequence of their close proximity to a free state—Ohio being on the opposite side of the river, on the bank of which the town is situated—could never thereafter become contented.
The “Buckeye State” steamer here passed along on a downward trip, when boarding her as a black passenger, Cincinnati in due season was reached, when the passengers were transferred to the “Telegraph No. 2,” destined for Louisville, Kentucky. Here crowding in with the passengers, he went directly to Shippenport, a small place but two miles below—the rapids or falls preventing the large class of steamers from going thence except at the time of high water—the “Crystal Palace,” a beautiful packet, was boarded, which swiftly took him to Smithland, at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio rivers.
From this point access up the Cumberland was a comparatively easy task, and his advent into Nashville, Tennessee, was as unexpected at this time to the slaves, as it was portentous and ominous to the masters.
There was no difficulty here in finding a seclusion, and the introduction of his subject was like the application of fire to a drought-seasoned stubble field. The harvest was ripe and ready for the scythe, long before the reaper and time for gathering came. In both town and country the disappointment was sad, when told by Henry that the time to strike had not yet come; that they for the present must “Stand still and see the salvation!”
“How long, me son, how long we got wait dis way?” asked Daddy Luu, a good old man and member of a Christian church for upwards of forty years.
“I can't tell exactly, father, but I suppose in this, as in all other good works, the Lord's own annointed time!” replied he.
“An' how long dat gwine be, honey? case I's mighty ti'ed waitin' dis way!” earnestly responded the old man.
“I can't tell you how long, father; God knows best.”
“An' how we gwine know w'en 'E is ready?”
“When we are ready, He is ready, and not till then is His time.”
“God sen we was ready, now den!” concluded the old man, blinded with tears, and who, from the reverence they had for his age and former good counsel among them, this night was placed at the head of the Gathering.
Carrying with him the prayers and blessings of his people here, Henry made rapid strides throughout this state, sowing in every direction seeds of the crop of a future harvest.
From Tennessee Henry boldly strode into Kentucky, and though there seemed to be a universal desire for freedom, there were few who were willing to strike. To run away, with them, seemed to be the highest conceived idea of their right to liberty. This they were doing, and would continue to do on every favorable opportunity, but their right to freedom by self-resistance, to them was forbidden by the Word of God. Their hopes were based on the long-talked-of promised emancipation in the state.
“What was your dependence,” inquired he of an old man verging on the icy surface of ninety winters' slippery pathways, “before you had this promise of emancipation?”
“Wy, dar war Guvneh Metcalf, I sho 'e good to black folks,” replied Uncle Winson.
“Well, uncle, tell me, supposing he had not been so, what would you have then done?”
“Wy, chile, I sho 'e raise up dat time 'sides dem maus Henry and maus John.”
“But what good have they ever done you? I don't see that you are any better off than had they never lived.”
“Ah, chile! Da good to we black folks,” continued the old man, with a fixed belief that they were emancipationists and the day of freedom, to the slaves drew near.
Satisfied that self-reliance was the furthest from their thoughts, but impressing them with new ideas concerning their rights, the great-hearted runaway bid them “Good bye, and may God open your eyes to see your own condition!” when in a few minutes Lexington was relieved of an enemy, more potent than the hostile bands of red men who once defied the military powers of Kentucky.
In a few days this astonishing slave was again on the smooth waters of the beautiful Ohio, making speed as fast as the steamer “Queen of the West” could carry him down stream towards Grand Gulf on the great river of the Southwest.