The Planter's Northern Bride
Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz
Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1854


  WE return to the plantation, where the missionary, Brainard, is now established in the full plenitude of his ministerial power.

  Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm which he inspired in the simple-hearted community in which he was introduced. He told them that he had come all the way from the North, actuated by love for their poor, despised race; that he had given up home and friends, fame, wealth, and honourable position, to claim brotherhood with them, and preach to them of the riches of redeeming love. He told them that he loved his white brethren; but far better he loved the dark and lowly African,—loved him, because, like his Saviour, he was despised and rejected of men, and there was no comeliness in him that men should desire him; that he had come to distil the dews of divine love on the root of a dry ground, and make it a green and blossoming plant, whose leaflets should reach into heaven. The negroes listened, and thought an angel was before them, sent by


the Almighty, for the ransom of their souls. Every night the log chapel was crowded, and the meeting kept up beyond the midnight hour. The minister seemed incapable of fatigue. He rose with the dawn of day and, long after the negroes had retired to their cabins his lamp glimmered through the windows, or his figure was seen gliding beneath the shadows of the trees.

  The overseer, fatigued with the labours of the day, usually retired to rest at an early hour, while Brainard assumed the responsibility of seeing order and quietude established in the negro quarters. As he was invested with the sanctity of a minister of the Gospel, and the authority of a man employed and recommended by the master, he did not hesitate to confide in him with implicit trust.

  Brainard stood on an elevated platform, reminding one of a picture where a figure is seen rising above a mass of dark-rolling clouds, he, the only point of light in that black assembly. An unusual solemnity pervaded the audience. He had promised them a sermon adapted to their own condition. He had promised to tell them of an ancient people, whose lot resembled their own. Opening the Bible, he read, in a voice of plaintive melody, the one hundredth and thirty-seventh psalm:—

  "'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.


  "'We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

  "'For there, they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth; saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

  "'How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

  "'Oh! daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us!'"

  Closing the book and looking earnestly on the serious, upturned faces before him, he began to describe, in simple, but expressive language, the sorrows of captivity, the sad doom of the exile. He described the Babylonish slave, weeping beneath the willow's weeping boughs, while his neglected harp-strings responded only to the mournful gale. He painted him as writhing under the scourge of him who carried him into captivity, and who, in mockery of his despair, called for songs of joy and mirth, in the midst of desolation and woe. Having wrought up their susceptible feelings, by an eloquence which they only partly understood, he changed the scene to their native Africa, and carried them in imagination to the green banks of the Niger, where the shadow of the lofty palm tree is reflected in its clear dark waters. He painted the negro, not degraded, benighted, and imbruted as he really is, in his native land, plunged in the lowest depths of sensuality and heathenism, but wandering


in all the glory of freedom, in his beautiful tropic regions, the lord and king of all the boundless wealth of nature spread out around him. Then he drew a thrilling sketch of his being torn from his country and home, deprived of his glorious privileges and lofty inheritance by the hand of rapine, and doomed to a life of slavery and wretchedness. He paused not till he had created the wildest excitement and confusion. Groans mingled with shouts, and sobs with loud hosannas. Uncle Paul, who sat near the pulpit, though he made no boisterous exhibition of his feelings, took in every word with breathless attention. He arose and drew as near as possible to the platform. He seemed to be magnetised by the preacher. Every time Brainard waved his arm in the energy of speaking, Uncle Paul waved his in response. If he bowed his head to give emphasis to his words, Uncle Paul would bow his likewise. The negro preacher was tall and brawny, and his large, swelling muscles heaved visibly under his checked cotton shirt. His collar was left unbuttoned, displaying the working sinews of his neck, and the grizzly beard that bristled round his chin. His head was covered with a thick fleece of coal-black wool, white as snow on the surface, but, whenever it parted, showing the hue of ink. His forehead retreated under this woolly thatch, like the slanting roof of a building, while the flattened nose, large, spreading nostrils, ash-coloured and protruding lips,


opening on rows of strong, unbroken ivory, proclaimed the legitimate son of Africa.

  When the congregation was dismissed, they gathered in knots round the door, to talk about the wonderful sermon, and ask each other what it meant, and what was going to follow.

  "Massa preacher," said Paul, as soon as he thought they were out of the hearing of the rest "I want to talk with you. I can't go to sleep till I hear you 'xplain some of the difficulties of my comprehension."

  "Wait, my brother, till we reach a more convenient place than this," answered Brainard; "follow me, and I will make every difficult place easy, and every rough one smooth."

  He threaded the wild-wood path, dark with the shadows of a moonless night, till they came to a small opening, where the blacksmith's shop stood, isolated from the other buildings of the plantation. Just behind it, a gnarled and blasted oak, twisted off near its base by the whirlwind's breath, lay upon the earth. Brainard


seated himself on the rough, knotted trunk, and motioned Paul to take a seat by his side.

  "No, massa," said the negro. "If you please, I'll stand just where I be. I want you to tell me more 'bout that sermon, that's tingling in my ears as if someting had stung 'em. I never hearn afore Africa such a great country. I thought this a heap better."

  "My poor fellow!" exclaimed Brainard, "you have been brought up in ignorance and deception. You know nothing beyond your master's fields, which you enrich by the sweat of your brow. Born in bondage, fettered, manacled, and enslaved, you are made to drag out a hopeless, joyless existence, ten thousand times more degraded than the beasts of the field, for the birthright of immortality is not theirs. Are you a man, and willing to submit to this disgrace and shame; this outrage to humanity; this robbery of your dearest, most sacred rights?"

  "Now, massa," said Paul, after a short pause, in which he could see the blue eyes of Brainard glittering like burnished steel in the clear starlight, "I thought I mighty well off till I hearn you say I ain't. I got a kind, good massa, that neber said a thing he oughtn't to, nor did a thing he oughtn't to. He neber made me work harder than my conscience telled me was right. He gives me good clothes, good vittles, and never spited me in no manner of ways. When he was a leetle boy he larned me how to read the Bible; and though he


ben't a preacher, he can talk beautifully from Scripter. He neber made me a slave; he neber bought me; he neber will sell me. I was born on his grandfather's plantation, I belonged to his father, and so slipped through God's hands into hisn."

  "That you have believed all this I cannot wonder," said the minister, in a commiserating tone; "but the time is come when you must learn greater, better things; when you must realize what you are, what you may be, and what you ought to be. I am come, commissioned by the Almighty, to teach you how to rend asunder the iron chains of servitude, and secure the glorious privileges of freemen. I appeal to you, because I see well that you are the most intelligent of the number I see around me, and better capable of understanding me. If you choose you can be free—you can make all your brethren free. Instead of being slaves, you can be men. You have but to will it; the means are certain. You have friends at the North ready to assist you, and place you upon perfect equality with themselves. I have been labouring in your behalf, wherever I have been. I have been sowing broadcast the seeds of freedom, that you may reap a golden harvest. Will you not put in your sickle and reap, or will you lie, like a coward, on your back, and let the ploughshare cut through your vitals?"

  "Oh, massa, you talk mighty grand, and I know you means right, and we ought to be much obleeged for your thoughts and obligation of us; but 'spose, massa, we get


way off North, who's gwine to take care of us and our wives and children?"

  "Take care of you!" repeated Brainard, scornfully "are you not a man, and cannot you take care of yourself? Who takes care of us? Who takes care of me, I want to know, in the name of the God who made me?"

  "Ah! but you got the head-piece, massa," touching a forehead that indeed showed the absence of intellectual power. "God don't make everybody alike. He make some for one thing, some for anoder. If he make massa to take care of me, and me to work for him, why ain't that good? If I be satisfied, why not go to heaven the way I started?—got halfway there 'ready, massa!"

  Brainard made a gesture of impatience, and crushed the dry twigs beneath his feet. Then, with admirable patience and consummate eloquence, he continued to enforce his arguments, and to stir up the quiet pool of contentment in the negro's mind, into the troubled billows of disaffection. He talked till the midnight stars flashed through the deepening blue of heaven, till the wakeful mocking-bird was hushed to silence; and Paul listened, like one awaking from a dream, wondering how he could have lived so long, without knowing what a wretched being he was before. It was not the policy of Brainard to startle him at first, by unveiling all his designs; but he had taken the first step, and all succeeding ones would be comparatively easy. He had


been strewing a gunpowder train the length and breadth of his journey, and waited the favourable moment to apply the kindling spark and let the blazing track be seen,—a fiery serpent winding through the land!

  "And now, Paul," said he, rising from the gnarled trunk, and taking a Bible from his bosom, "you believe in this holy book of God?"

  "Sartain, sartain!—blessed be the Lord!—I do."

  "Swear, then, over this sacred volume, never to speak of what I have this night revealed to you, without my permission. By and by we will take others in our counsel; but you and I must have many talks together, before we understand each other; but, as sure as you are a man, you were created to be the instrument of deliverance to your brethren, and a light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. Ages hence shall hear of Uncle Paul, and the sons and daughters of regenerated Africa shall arise up and call him blessed! Here, take this volume in your hand, and swear that death itself shall not wrest from you the secret of this hour."

  The bewildered and awe-struck negro took the book, and reverently kissing it, mechanically obeyed the bidding of the master-will, acting upon him with such iron force.

  They then separated, and returned by different paths to their respective dwelling-places. Uncle Paul was so absorbed by new and momentous thoughts, he did not


think that he was approaching the graveyard, till he saw the white paling glimmering in the darkness, and he felt the cold, fearful proximity of the dead.

  "Wouldn't go by there this time for all the universe," said he; "didn't I tell massa, right over Dilsy's grave, I didn't want to be free? and ain't it the old serpent that's beguiling me? Wish I'd neber known I so bad off; wish 'twant a sin to be satisfied with myself; wonder if the Lord did send Massa Brainard, sure enuff?"

  Turning round abruptly, he retraced his steps, and circumambulated the woods, to avoid the grave of Dilsy. He felt restless, unhappy,—he could not sleep. The next day he could not work. Every few moments he would stick his spade in the ground, and resting his brawny hands on the top of the handle, look fixedly on the earth, as if trying to solve some great problem. Then he would rouse himself, shake his head, as much as to say, "It won't do,"—and, renewing his labour, make the earth fly under his plunging utensil. But at night, he was again under the magnetic influence of Brainard, who at last found a spot in the negro's yielding heart where he could place the lever of his strong will, and move him to his purpose. The blacksmith,—a man black as his coals, and endowed with the strength and nerve of Hercules, was next admitted to their midnight deliberations—another and then another,—till, fed by numbers and inflamed by the mystery of their nocturnal


meetings, the elements of insurrection began to roar, in sullen murmurs, like subterranean fires.

  That a man, gifted with the eloquence of Whitfield, the will of Napoleon, and the perseverance of Peter the Great, should exercise a resistless influence over the simple and credulous beings thrown so completely in his power, it is not strange. The overseer suspected nothing, because religion was the watchword of all their meetings, religion the cloak that mantled all their designs. But he perceived a spirit of insubordination gradually stealing over the plantation. There was sullenness and gloom, where, formerly, cheerfulness and good-humour enlivened the labours of the field; and the merry laugh, the spontaneous song no longer were heard in the evening twilight.

  In less than a fortnight after Brainard's first unwitnessed meeting with Uncle Paul, a dusky form could be seen travailing by the burning forge, in the hush of the midnight hour, with closed shutters, to exclude the ruddy beams from flashing on the darkness of night. Rude swords and murderous weapons were shaped by the swarthy artisan, from whose reeking brow the sweatdrops rolled upon the hot metal, hissing as they evaporated. Then, by and by, the black Vulcan would steal forth, and, removing a pile of dried underbrush and moss, crawl on his hands and feet under the building, and deposit the hastily-wrought instruments in a dark cavity, dug out, deep and narrow, beneath the forge.


Some old planks covered the aperture, and the moss and the underbrush concealed the place of entrance, Sometimes a white face gleamed stealthily through the cautiously-opened door, and a low, sweet-toned voice invoked the blessing of heaven on the sable workman.

  "Toil on, my brother—toil on, and faint not, for the day of redemption is at hand! Think of Him who said 'I come not to bring peace on earth, but a sword.' Think of Him who came in dyed garments from Bozrah, travelling in the greatness of his strength, whose raiments were sprinkled with blood, who said, 'The day of vengeance is in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.' "

  It was thus, with burning words, more powerful because partially unintelligible to the hearer, he set the negro's excitable imagination into a blaze of enthusiasm, who went on toiling with ten-fold zeal, while his large eyes glowed by the flaming forge, like balls of living fire.

  It was not to be supposed that Moreland's plantation was the only scene of the labours of the indefatigable Brainard. There was one about eight miles distant, where he preached on alternate Sundays, and where the same dark scenes were enacting. He had runners employed in travelling secretly from place to place, giving constant information of all that was passing—shuttles of the loom of abolition, weaving a web which should be the winding-sheet of the South. It was now autumn,


and the Christmas holidays were to witness the fruition of his labours. He had ample time to work in, ample materials to work with, and opportunity smiled most benignantly on his plans.

  Shall we look into the secret chambers of his heart, and try to discover the moving spring of the complicated machinery at work there? Is he really one of God's anointed ministers, or has he assumed the sacred name, as a passport with a hospitable and unsuspecting people? Has he borrowed the snowy fleece of the sheep, to clothe the gaunt limbs and hide the gnashing fangs of the wolf? Has Moreland ever injured him, that he should come stealing and coiling himself secretly and insidiously into the heart of his household, and endeavour to sting the bosom that has warmed him? that he should throw the brand of discord in his peaceful plantation, and abuse the sacred trust committed to his keeping? Has the South ever injured him, that he should seek to make its blossoming fields and fragrant bowers, Aceldemaus and Golgothas, furrowed with the ploughshare of ruin? Does he really think, with Saul of Tarsus, when breathing fire and persecution against the Christians, that he is really doing God and man service? We should like to ask him if he has no home, wife or child of his own, no household gods to defend, no domestic penetralia to keep sacred from intrusion. We think he talked to Eula of his fondness for his children—of his own smiling offspring. We should like to ask him if he would teach


the hand of the assassin, where the life-veins were wandering in the bosom of his wife, or his bloody fingers to twist in the shining ringlets of his child?

  Is he the leader of a confederated band, or a mere tool, a machine moved by the will of others?

  Look at him! He is alone now in the room appropriated to his accommodation. It is nearly three o'clock in the morning, and yet he is still awake,—seated at a little table, and poring over the pages of that Bible, on which, with Judas kiss, Paul had sworn to betray his kind and once beloved master. Ah! he must be a good man, or he would not read his Bible so earnestly.

  But, perhaps he is studying passages to give sanctity and effect to his incendiary addresses. Like Belshazzar, he may be purloining the golden vessels from God's temple, to gratify his own unhallowed passions.

  There is one passage of Scripture on which his eye glances; then he hastily turns over the leaf. We wonder he does not commit it to memory, for it is a most eloquent denunciation. The arrows of divine indignation are quivering in every word.

  "Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint, and rue, and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone.

  "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them."


  Years ago, in one of the Eastern States, there was a boy, a very young boy, the son of obscure and indigent parents, who, being convicted of theft, was immured in the walls of a penitentiary. In consequence of his extreme youth, and the remarkable talents he had exhibited at school, a petition, signed by some of the most influential gentlemen in town, was sent to the governor, to mitigate his sentence; and after one year's imprisonment he was released, with the felon's brand on his youthful reputation. But the benevolent gentlemen who had manifested so deep an interest in his fate, resolved to rescue him from the disgraceful consequences of his first transgression, by giving him those advantages of education necessary for the development of his uncommon genius. They sent him to college, defrayed all his expenses, and exulted in the bright promise of his future eminence. But the dark spot, for a time concealed, but never effaced, began to spread. His sole ambition seemed to consist in deceiving and mocking the judgment of those who had known him as a transgressing boy. Possessed of a graceful carriage, a voice of rare and winning power, he never failed to ingratiate himself with strangers, on whose credulity he wished to impose. Under different names, he went from place to place, exciting admiration and commanding attention even from the magnates of the land. Now he was a lawyer, keen in debate, clenching in argument, eloquent in speech; now a young Esculapius, armed with power


to crush the Python, disease, in all its hideous convolutions; again a minister of God, with the dew of Hermon on his lips, and the music of David's harp flowing from his tongue. He seemed to glory in deception, exulting over the dupes he had made. As adroit to escape the consequences of his deception as he was skilful to deceive, he flashed, a brilliant ignis-fatuus, here and there, the wonder and shame of his native regions. Destitute of principle, ready to lend himself to any party, provided his momentary interests were advanced, always anxious to enter on a new field of action, since it afforded a larger development of his Machiavellian powers, would it be incredible if this felon boy, this artful, unprincipled young man, and Thomas Brainard, now in the full meridian of manhood, should prove identical? Who could be better fitted as an agent of the powers of darkness, than one who had served so long an apprenticeship to its Satanic Prince?