ONCE A FAMOUS SLAVE
The Original of Mrs. Stowe's "George Harris" Is in the City.
STORY OF HIS EVENTFUL LIFE
How He Came to Tell the Authoress About His Escape from Slavery—He Did Not Share in the Profits of the Sale of the Book—His Visit to the South.
Any person who has read the story of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and doubtless there are few who have failed to do so, will remember "George Harris," the persecuted and hard-worked slave, who finally made a bold dash for freedom and was successful in securing and afterwards enjoying his liberty.
His true name is Lewis G. Clark, and he still exists in the flesh, and was found yesterday by a POST reporter, stopping with friends at 1828 Eleventh street northwest, having come here for the purpose of delivering a lecture next Friday evening at the Nineteenth-street Baptist Church in behalf of the Home for Destitute Colored Girls, located on Sixteenth street extended. He is now seventy-five years old, with white hair and whiskers, but remarkable active and vigorous for his age; and possesses a most retentive memory, recalling with exactness, scenes and incidents of the occurrences of his early history, which has been filled with much that was perilous and exciting.
"I came here about the 24th of last month," he said, "but have been in and out of the city a number of times, recently going to Tennessee on account of the death of my son, who was nineteen years old."
"Have you much of a family?"
"There is Cyrus N., the oldest, who is the night mail clerk in the Nashville post-office. The next is Lewis Edward, who runs the mail from Chattanooga 300 miles out, and the twin to the one that has just died is working in Detroit. My oldest daughter is clerking in Chicago. The next is the wife of a Methodist minister in Indianapolis, and the third died last Christmas, in Indiana. The mother of them all, my second wife, died in Oberlin, after she had been there about two years. She was a directed descendent of the Randolph family, of Virginia."
"How have you passed the time since you became a free man?"
"I was in Canada about nineteen years, under the fugitive slave law. I owned a farm there, and worked it, but later sold it and used the money toward educating my children. I bought it about 1854, but did not go upon it until 1860. From there I went with my family to Oberlin, Ohio, to educate them."
"Have you been South since you ran away from the plantation?"
"Oh, yes, indeed, several times. Forty years after I ran away, I was invited back and spoke at the Ferry Court House in Lancaster, Garnett county, Kentucky, that I had started from years before when I quit the country. The better class of white people invited me back and gave ma cordial welcome, and I was never better treated in any free State, and I have traveled all over. In fact, I had something done to me there that I never had in the free States. They serenaded me in the night, and I had to get up, come out and make another speech."
"What time were your meetings held?"
"At 2 o'clock in the afternoon. This was decided to be the best time by those friendly to me, as it would keep the Klu-Klux element back, and they would make no attempts to come after me."
"For what purpose were the meetings held?"
"To give advice and my experience to the colored people. To show them the difference between ignorant and whipped and intelligent and paid labor and give them my experience and a chattel slave in the market and that of being recognized as a free man among men."
"Did the meetings amount to much?"
"I spoke many times in fourteen counties, both to white and colored men, and met the same kind treatment everywhere. There were some of the 'old-degree' kind who would look mad at me on the street, but nothing was said."
"When were you last in Kentucky?"
"I was there, in Lexington, with my son last year. He was traveling for his health, but there was no difference in the reception given me."
"You have been on exhibition in some places, I believe."
"I was solicited, after it was ascertained who I was, to go into a museum in Detroit, and from that I went into others in Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Ohio, and I received an offer a short time since from Cincinnati. I have also traveled with an 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' show. My part was to speak a few lines and spin on the linen wheel to show that what Mrs. Stowe had said about my being able to spin was true. Here, I will show you some of my work."
Mr. Clark produced some flax raised by himself, and thread woven, which in old times we called brown sewing thread, noted for its strength and durability. He also exhibited a record from Ontario, Canada, showing that, in 1871, he had carried off the first prize of the fair for spinning flax.
"Have you gathered enough to keep you comfortable for the future?"
"I have not much of this world's goods. I have tried to educate my children, and that has taken pretty much all that I made. In the museums, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" show, and in selling my pictures I have managed to collect something, and that will be used in giving my last boy a good education, but he has been sick, and you know that is expensive. I have some little property in Lexington that I bought when it had run down. I fixed it up, sold it, and made sufficient on that to keep me going for awhile. But I am getting out a book of my life, and am in hopes that it may pay me well."
"When was it that you gave Mrs. Stowe the groundwork for her book?"
"I met Mrs. Stowe in 1844 at Cambridgeport, Mass. She had found out in some way that I was an escaped slave, and she would question me, then go off to her room and write out what she recollected of what had been said. In that way she got my history piece-meal, as it is found in her work of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' If she had not gotten acquainted with me she never could have written that book in her life, for she would not have been able to get the information. When I found that she had written the book I said that she ought to have told me what she intended doing when talking to me and asking questions, and I could have made some matters plainer, as she had gotten some things in her story wrong side first."
"Did you get any share in the receipts from the sale of the book?"
"I never got a cent from it. The only benefit that I received was the advertisement it gave me. Probably when I went into the museums some people had a curiosity to see me, and to those who spoke to me, I told them that I had turned out to be a big monkey."
"Have you discussed the question of slavery much since you secured your freedom?"
"I supposed that I have done more talking on that subject than any five men in the country. I was the first slave to make the first advertised special argument against slavery in the United States, and that was at Oberlin, in 1841. I was the first and only slave that ever replied to a slave owner upon a common platform between us, and that was to W. W. Ryan, a well-known Lexington lawyer, in the Tremont Temple, at Boston, in 1843, about two years after I ran away from Kentucky."
"Do you remember much about the old slave days in Kentucky?"
"I recollect the old times very well, but when I go down there everything looks different, although I learned something by going back. I have traveled so much and seen so many other places that the hills at the old home do not seem so high, streets as wide, or streams as broad. All appear to have changed."
"Did you find many of your slave companions there?"
"Most all of them have gone. I met very few that recollected me, and many of them were children when I left. The other either have died, or were sold off. I met one old man, Norman Dodds, who belonged to Tom Canady, the brutal, heartless slave-master and driver, (Legerden in the book), and, who, when he died, gave him to Robert Argo (George Shelby).
"By the way, let me tell you that every name in the story of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' is fictitious, and the locality too, for I know every one who is mentioned in the book and the place it is supposed to describe."
"Will you be here for long?"
"I expect to spend two or three weeks in the city and then will go to Philadelphia and New York, where I am getting out my book. This lecture I am to give here is for the benefit of the Girls' Home, and I am not interested financially."