END OF A NOTED NEGRO
Original of George Harris in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
HE WANTS TO WRITE A BOOK.
George Lears Clarke, Whose Experience Inspired Mrs. Stowe to Write Her Romance of Slavery Days, Not Altogether Satisfied with Some of Her Statements, Which He Wishes to Correct Before He Dies—A Fund Raised for Him.
Lexington, Ky., Jan. 8.
The cable brought the news the other day that residents of Dunedin, a city in far-off New Zealand, had raised a fund of $250 to be given to George Lears Clark, the "George Harris" of Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The collector of this fund wrote to the Mayor of this city, where Clark now lives, that it was understood in New Zealand that the old negro man was on the verge of starvation.
Clark will soon be eighty-five years old, and as he is very feeble he cannot live much longer. He is not starving, but if the $250 is handed over to him it will be more than welcome. The old man has been in his dotage for some years, but his slumbering intellect is stirred to the quick by any mention of Mrs. Stowe, or the book that made him such a conspicuous member of his race.
Original of George Harris.
Clark is nearly white in color, and he is more than vain of the fact. His hair is cold white, and so is his beard. The last time he was photographed he wore muttonchop whiskers and a mustache, but most of the time he wears a full beard—shaving is beyond the power of his trembling fingers, and he has no money for barbers.
Part of the time he lives in the Protestant Infirmary, but when is well enough he makes his home with a colored woman named Bowyer, on Race street, in the thick of the negro quarter of Lexington. The house is nothing more than a two-room shanty, with a shallow loft, reached by something that is a cross between a staircase and a stepladder, and very rickety. Clark sleeps in the loft, because the numerous members of the Bowyer family more than fill the downstairs rooms, and besides the old man likes to go to sleep hours before the others think of seeking slumber.
He owns a house nearby, which he rents out to a negro family, and the few dollars a month that it brings in pays his board. Part of the time this house is not rented, or the tenants default, but the old man has several children, living in various parts of the country, who make good the deficiency. Like the rest of the world, he has the commercial instinct, and for years he has been trying to sell his house, and with the money thus raised bring out an autobiography.
Wants to Set Things Right.
He is not completely satisfied with Mrs. Stowe's book, for, like the Southern people, he says "she put many things hind end foremost." His literary ambitions have almost subsided, for no one will buy the little house, as it is located in the most unfavorable part of Lexington, where defaulting tenants are the rule.
It is generally said that Clark is the original or Mrs. Stowe's "George Harris," and from the old man's story this seems to be true. Other features of the book he disclaims all responsibility for. About the use of bloodhounds for tracking slaves, he says: "The old Kentucky gentlemen kept packs of hounds, but they were used only for hunting foxes. Bloodhounds may have been used along the border line, but I never heard of them anywhere else."
The old man has a kindly thought for the old-time slave owners, as he says: "A great many of them were kind to their negroes, and made them have a better time than they have ever had since the war, but there were some masters who were cruel, and it was these who caused all the trouble."
Clark was born in 1811 in Madison County, Ky., on the old Campbell plantation. When he was six years old Mrs. Campbell gave him to her married daughter, and the next ten years of his life were happy ones. Then the husband of his mistress failed in business, and all the negroes on the estate were sold at public auction, at Stamford Court House, Lincoln County.
Mrs. Stowe's Chief Character.
His new master was Thomas Canada, who, according to Clark, was very mean. One of his slaves, Sam Peat, was the original of Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom." Peat committed some offense and was beaten so severely that he died. Clark was one of the pall-bearers at Sam's funeral, and greatly regretted the death of his friend.
Soon after the old man Canada died, and all the shelves passed into the possession of his son, Tom Canada. Of the latter Clark says: "No man was ever kinder to his slaves than was young Tom Canada." It was at this point in his career that Clark developed some mechanical genius by inventing a machine for weaving flax. When his master heard of it he told Clark that he could work out for other people and when he had saved $500 he could buy his freedom, although he was worth $1,500.
Mrs. Stowe, to whom Clark had told this, had his prototype, "Harris," ordered back to the hardest farm drudgery by the master when the latter discovered his hemp-cleaning machine. This is one of the little things in Mrs. Stowe's book which has fired the real Harris with a desire to publish his own story. While Clark was working to save up the money his young master died, and that ended his hope of purchasing his liberty.
His Escape to Ohio.
When the slaves were auctioned off no one wanted to buy Clark because he had been given so much liberty, but while the executors of the estate were looking around for buyers he ran away to Chillecothe, Ohio, where he easily passed as a white boy. Later he made his way to Canada, and later joined his brother Milton and Oberlin, Ohio, where the two made abolition speeches.
In 1842 Clark went to Maine, where he lived for two years, and then went to the home of Mrs. A. H. Spofford, at Cambridgeport, Mass. It was there he met Mrs. Stowe, who was a guest in the house. Mrs. Stowe talked to him every day about his past life, and a little later began her series of letters, which were later published in book form. Clark did not know that Mrs. Stowe intended writing a book, and he says that if she had so informed him many things might have been stated differently.
Clark in later years traveled all over the country as a dime museum attraction. In 1893 he returned to Lexington.
It is a curious thing that not one out of a dozen of his colored neighbors know anything of the history of the old man, or, if they do, attach no importance to it whatever.