Aunt Phillis's Cabin
Mary Eastman
Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co, 1852


  As absurd would it be for one of the small unsettled stars, for whose place and wanderings we care not, to usurp the track of the Queen of night or of the God of day, as for an unpretending writer to go over ground that has been trodden by the master minds of the age. It was in the olden time that Cooper described a dinner party in all its formal, but hospitable perfection. Washington was a guest there, too, though an unacknowledged one; we cannot introduce him at Exeter, yet I could bring forward there, more than one who knew him well, valuing him not only as a member of society and a hero, but as the man chosen by God for a great purpose. Besides, I would introduce to my readers, some of the residents of L——. I would let them into the very heart of Virginia life; and, although I cannot arrogate to it any claims for superiority over other conditions of society, among people of the same class in life, yet, at least, I will not allow an inferiority. As variety is the spice of society, I will show them, that here are many men of many minds.

  Mark was a famous waiter, almost equal to Bacchus, who was head man, on such occasions. They were in their elements at a dinner party, and the sideboard, and tables, on such an occasion, were in their holiday attire. A strong arm, a hard brush, and plenty of beeswax, banished all appearance of use, and the old servants thought that every article in the room looked as bright and handsome as on the occasion of their young mistress' first presiding at her table. The blinds of the windows looking south, were partly open; the branches of the lemon-tree, and the tendrils of the white-jessamine, as-


sisted in shading the apartment, making it fragrant too. The bird-cages were hung among the branches of the flowers, and the little prisoners sang as if they had, at last, found a way of escape to their native woods; old-fashioned silver glittered on the sideboard, the large china punch-bowl maintaining its position in the centre.

  William had gone to the drawing-room to announce the important intelligence, "Dinner is ready!" and Bacchus looked around the room for the last time, to see that every thing was as it should be, snuffing up the rich fumes of the soup as it escaped from the sides of the silver-covered tureen. He perceived that one of the salt-cellars was rather near the corner of the table, and had only time to rearrange it, when William threw open the doors. The company entered, and with some delay and formality took their places. We need not wait until the Rev. Mr. Aldie says grace, though that would not detain us long; for the Rev. Mr. Aldie, besides being very hungry, has a great deal of tact, and believes in short prayers; nor will we delay to witness the breaking down of the strongholds of precision and ultra propriety, that almost always solemnizes the commencement of an entertainment; but the old Madeira having been passed around, we will listen to the conversation that is going on from different parts of the table.

  "We have outlived, sir," said Mr. Chapman, addressing a northern gentleman present, "we have outlived the first and greatest era of our country. Its infancy was its greatest era. The spirit of Washington still breathes among us. One or two of us here have conversed with him, sat at his table, taken him by the hand. It is too soon for the great principles that animated his whole career to have passed from our memory. I am not a very old man, gentlemen and ladies, yet it seems to me a great while since the day of Washington's funeral. My father called me and my brothers to him, and while our mother


was fastening a band of black crape around our hats, 'My boys,' said he, 'you have seen the best days of this republic.' It is so, for as much as the United States has increased in size, and power, and wealth, since then, different interests are dividing her."

  "Was Washington a cheerful man?" asked an English gentleman who was present, "I have heard that he never laughed. Is it so?"

  Miss Janet, who was considered a kind of oracle when personal memories of Washington were concerned, answered after a moment's pause, "I have seen him smile often, I never saw him laugh but once. He rode over, one afternoon, to see a relative with whom I was staying; it was a dark, cloudy day, in November; a brisk wood fire was very agreeable. After some little conversation on ordinary topics, the gentlemen discussed the politics of the times, Washington saying little, but listening attentively to others.

  "The door opened suddenly, and a son of my relative entered, in a noisy bustling manner. Passing the gentlemen with a nod, he turned his back to the fire, putting his hands behind him. 'Father,' said he, scarcely waiting until the sentence that General Washington was uttering, was finished, 'what do you think? Uncle Jack and I shot a duck in the head!' He deserved a reproof for his forwardness; but Washington joined the rest in a laugh, no doubt amused at the estimation in which the youth held himself and Uncle Jack. The two together, killed a duck, and the boy was boasting of it in the presence of the greatest man the world ever produced. The poor fellow left the room, and for a time his sporting talents were joked about more than he liked."

  After the ladies retired, Mr. Selden proposed the health of the amiable George Washington.

  "Good heavens! sir," said Mr. Chapman, the veins in his temples swelling, and his whole frame glowing with


vexation, "what is that you say? Did ever any one hear of a soldier being amiable? No, sir, I will give you a toast that was drank just before the death of the greatest and best of men. I picked up an old newspaper, and laid it aside in my secretary. In it I read a toast worth giving. Fill high, gentlemen—'The man who forgets the services of George Washington, may he be forgotten by his country and his God.'"

  Mr. Selden, who possessed in a remarkable degree the amiableness that he had ascribed to another, swallowed the wine and approved the toast. Mr. Chapman was some time recovering his composure.

  "You intend to leave Virginia very soon, Mr. Lee," said Mr. Kent, addressing Walter.

  "Very soon, sir," Walter replied.

  "Where shall you go first?" asked Mr. Kent.

  "I have not decided on any course of travel," said Walter. "I shall, perhaps, wander toward Germany."

  "We will drink your health, then," said Mr. Weston. "A pleasant tour, Walter, and a safe return."

* * * *

  "You are from Connecticut, I believe, Mr. Perkins?" said Mr. Barbour, "but as you are not an Abolitionist, I suppose it will not be uncourteous to discuss the subject before you. I have in my memorandum book a copy of a law of your State, which was in existence at one time, and which refers to what we have been conversing about. It supports the Fugitive Slave Law, in prospect. At that time you New Englanders held not only negro, but Indian slaves. Let me read this, gentleman. 'Be it enacted by the Governor, Council, and Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, that whatsoever negro, mulatto, or Indian servant or servants, shall be wandering out of the bounds of the town or place to which they belong, without a ticket or pass, in writing, under the hand of some Assistant or Justice of the Peace,


or under the hand of the master or owner of such negro, mulatto, or Indian servant or servants, shall be deemed and accounted as runaways, and may be treated as such. And every person inhabiting in this colony, finding or meeting with any such negro, mulatto, or Indian servant or servants not having a ticket as aforesaid, is hereby empowered to seize and secure him or them, and bring him or them before the next authority, to be examined and returned to his or their master or owner, who shall satisfy the charge accruing thereby.

  "'And all ferrymen within the colony are hereby requested not to suffer any Indian, mulatto, or negro servant without certificate as aforesaid, to pass over their respective ferries by assisting them, directly or indirectly, on the penalty of paying a fine of twenty shillings for every such offence, to the owner of such servants.' In the same act," continued Mr. Barbour, "a free person who receives any property, large or small, from a slave, without an order from his master, must either make full restitution or be openly whipped with so many stripes, (not exceeding twenty.)"

  "Now, gentlemen," said Mr. Chapman, who was an impetuous old gentleman, "don't you see those Yankees were close enough in taking care of their own slaves, and if they could have raised sugar and cotton, or had deemed it to their advantage to be slaveholders to this day, they'd have a Fugitive Slave Law long before this. A Daniel would have come to judgment sooner even than the immortal Daniel Webster.

  "Wait a moment, my dear sir," said Mr. Barbour. "Another paragraph of the same act provides, 'that if any negro, mulatto, or Indian servant or slave, shall be found abroad from home, in the night season, after nine o'clock, without a special order from his or their master or mistress, it shall be lawful for any person or persons to apprehend and secure such negro, mulatto, or Indian ser-


vant or slave, so offending, and him, her or them, bring before the next assistant or justice of the peace, which authority shall have full power to pass sentence upon such servant or slave, and order him, her, or them, to be publicly whipped on the naked body, not exceeding ten stripes, &c.'"

  "Pretty tight laws you had, sir," said Mr. Chapman, addressing Mr. Perkins. "A woman could be picked up and whipped, at the report of any body, on the naked body. Why, sir, if we had such laws here, it would be whipping all the time, (provided so infamous a law could be carried into execution.) There is one thing certain, you made the most of slavery while you had it."

  "But we have repented of all our misdeeds," said Mr. Perkins, good-humouredly.

  "Yes," said Mr. Chapman, "like the boy that stole a penny, and when he found it wouldn't buy the jack-knife he wanted, he repented, and carried it to the owner."

  "But you must remember the times, my dear sir," said Mr. Perkins.

  "I do, I do, sir," said Mr. Chapman. "The very time that you had come for freedom yourself, you kidnapped the noble sons of the soil, and made menials of them. I wonder the ground did not cry out against you. Now we have been left with the curse of slavery upon us, (for it is in some respects a curse on the negro and the white man,) and God may see fit to remove it from us. But why don't the Abolitionists buy our slaves, and send them to Liberia?"

  "That would be against their principles," said Mr. Perkins.

  "Excuse me, sir," said Mr. Chapman, "but d—n their principles; it is against their pockets. Why don't those who write Abolition books, give the profits to purchase some of these poor wretches who are whipped to death, and starved to death, and given to the flies to eat up, and burned alive; then I would believe in their principles, or


at least in their sincerity. But now the fear is for their pockets. I am a poor man. I own a few slaves, and I will sell them to any Northern man or woman at half-price for what I could get from a trader, and they may send them to Liberia. Lord! sir, they'd as soon think of buying the d—l himself. You must excuse my strong language, but this subject irritates me. Not long ago, I was in the upper part of the State of New York, looking about me, for I do look about me wherever I am. One morning I got up early, and walked toward the new railroad that they were constructing in the neighborhood. I chanced to get to the spot just in time to see a little fracas between a stout, burly Irishman, and the superintendent of the party.

  "'I thought, be Jasus,' said the Irishman, just as I approached near enough to hear what was going on, 'that a man could see himself righted in a free country.'

  "'Go to your work,' said the superintendent, 'and if you say another word about it, I'll knock you over.'

  "'Is it you'll knock me over, you will,' began the Irishman.

  "He was over in a moment. The superintendent, sir, gave him a blow between the eyes, with a fist that was hard as iron. The man staggered, and fell. I helped him up, sir; and I reckon he thought matters might be worse still, for he slowly walked off.

  "'D—d free country,' he muttered to me, in a kind of confidential tone. 'I thought they only knocked niggers over in Ameriky. By me soul, but I'll go back to Ireland.'

  "I could not help expressing my astonishment to the superintendent, repeating the Irishman's words, 'I thought only niggers could be knocked over in this country.'

  "'Niggers!' said the superintendent, 'I guess if you had to deal with Irishmen, you'd find yourself obliged to knock 'em down.'

  "'But don't the laws protect them?' I asked.


  "'Laws! why railroads have to be made, and have to be made the right way. I aint afraid of the laws. I think no more of knocking an Irishman over, sir, than I do of eating my dinner. One is as necessary as the other.'

  "Now," continued Mr. Chapman, "if an Abolitionist sees a slave knocked over, he runs home to tell his mammy; it's enough to bring fire and brimstone, and hail, and earth-quakes on the whole country. A man must have a black skin or his sorrows can never reach the hearts of these gentlemen. They had better look about at home. There is wrong enough there to make a fuss about."

  "Well," said the Englishman, "you had both better come back to the mother country. The beautiful words, so often quoted, of Curran, may invite you: 'No matter with what solemnities he may have been devoted upon the altar of slavery, the moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain, the altar and the God sink together in the dust, and he stands redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled, by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation.'"

  "Thank you, sir, for your invitation," said Mr. Chapman, "but I'll stay in Virginia. The old State is good enough for me. I have been to England, and I saw some of your redeemed, regenerated, disenthralled people—I saw features on women's faces that haunted me afterward in my dreams. I saw children with shrivelled, attenuated limbs, and countenances that were old in misery and vice—such men, women, and children as Dickens and Charlotte Elizabeth tell about. My little grand-daughter was recovering from a severe illness, not long ago, and I found her weeping in her old nurse's arms. 'O! grandpa,' said she, as I inquired the cause of her distress, 'I have been reading "The Little Pin-headers."' I wept over it too, for it was true. No, sir; if I must see slavery, let me see it in its best form, as it exists in our Southern country."

  "You are right, sir, I fear," said the Englishman.


  "Well," said Mr. Perkins, "I am glad I am not a slave-holder, for one reason; I am sure I should never get to heaven. I should be knocking brains out from morning till night, that is if there are brains under all that mass of wool. Why, they are so slow, and inactive—I should be stumbling over them all the time; though from the specimens I have seen in your house, sir, I should say they made most agreeable servants."

  "My servants are very faithful," said Mr. Weston, "they have had great pains taken with them. I rarely have any complaints from the overseer."

  "Your overseers,—that is the worst feature in slavery," said Mr. Perkins.

  "Why, sir," said Mr. Chapman, ready for another argument, "you have your superintendents at the North—and they can knock their people down whenever they see fit."

  "I beg your pardon, sir," said Mr. Perkins. "I had forgotten that."

  "Stay a little while with us," said Mr. Chapman, as Mr. Weston rose to lead the way to the drawing-room. "You will not find us so bad as you think. We may roast a negro now and then, when we have a barbecue, but that will be our way of showing you hospitality. You must remember we are only 'poor heathenish Southerners,' according to the best received opinions of some who live with you in New England."

* * * * * * *

  "Alice," said Mrs. Weston, at a late hour in the evening, when the last of the guests were taking their departure, "Walter would like to see you in the library; but, my love, I wish you would spare yourself and him the useless pain of parting."

  "I must see him, dear mother, do not refuse me; it is for the last time—pray, let me go."

  "If you choose," and Alice glided away as her mother was interrupted by the leave-taking of some of their visi-


tors. The forms, the courtesies of life had no claims upon her now—she was enduring her first sorrow; the foundation of youth's slight fabric of happiness was yielding beneath her touch. The dread "nevermore," that Edgar Poe could not drive from his heart and sight, was oppressing her. She sought him before whom her young heart had bowed, not the less devotedly and humbly that it was silently and secretly. It was to be a bitter parting, not as when she watched to the last Arthur Weston, who was dear to her as ever was brother to a sister, for they had the promise and hope of meeting again; but now there was no tear in her eye, no trembling in her frame, and no hope in her heart. From the utmost depth of her soul arose the prophetic voice, "Thou shalt see him no more."

  "Alice," said Walter, taking her hand between both of his, and gazing at her face, as pale and sad as his own, "it is your mother's wish that from this time we should be strangers to each other, even loving as we do; that our paths on earth should separate, never to meet again. Is it your wish too?"

  "We must part; you know it, Walter," said Alice, musingly, looking out upon, but not seeing the calm river, and the stars that gazed upon its waves, and all the solemn beauty with which night had invested herself.

  "But you love me, Alice; and will you see me go from you forever, without hope? Will you yourself speak the word that sends me forth a wanderer upon the earth?" said Walter.

  "What can I do?" said Alice.

  "Choose, Alice, your own destiny, and fix mine."

  "Walter, I cannot leave my mother; I would die a thousand times rather than bring such sorrow upon her who has known so much. My uncle, too—my more than father—oh! Walter, I have sinned, and I suffer."

  "You are wise, Alice; you have chosen well; you cling to mother, and home, and friends; I have none of these


ties; there is not upon earth a being so utterly friendless as I am."

  "Dear Walter, you have friends, and you can make them; you have wealth, talent, and many gifts from God. Go forth into the world and use them. Let your noble heart take courage; and in assisting others and making them happy, you will soon be happy yourself."

  Walter looked at her with surprise: such words were unlike her, whom he had been accustomed to consider a loving and lovely child. But a bitter smile passed over his countenance, and in a stern voice he said, "And you, Alice, what are you to do?"

  "God alone knows," said Alice, forced into a consideration of her own sorrow, and resting against a lounge near which she had been standing. She wept bitterly. Walter did not attempt to restrain her, but stood as if contemplating a grief that he could not wish to control. Alice again spoke, "It must come, dear Walter, first or last, and we may as well speak the farewell which must be spoken—but I could endure my part, if I had the hope that you will be happy. Will you promise me you will try to be?"

  "No, Alice, I cannot promise you that; if happiness were in our own power, I would not be looking on you, whom I have loved all my life, for the last time.

  "But I will hope," he continued, "you may be fortunate enough to forget and be happy."

  "Children," said Miss Janet—for she had gently approached them—"do you know when and where happiness is to be found? When we have done all that God has given us to do here; and in the heaven, above those stars that are now looking down upon you. Look upon Alice, Walter, with the hope of meeting again; and until then, let the remembrance of her beauty and her love be ever about you. Let her hear of you as one who deserves the pure affection of her young and trusting heart. You have


lived as brother and sister; part as such, and may the blessing of God be upon both of you forever."

  Walter took Alice in his arms, and kissed her cheek; all sternness and pride had gone from his handsome face, but there was such a look of hopeless sorrow there, as we would not willingly behold on the countenance of one so young.

  Cousin Janet led him away, and with words of solemn, deep affection, bade him farewell—words that came again, for a time, unheeded and unwelcomed—words that at the last brought hope and peace to a fainting heart.

  Cousin Janet returned to Alice, whose face lay hidden within her hands: "Alice, darling," she said, "look up—God is here; forget your own grief, and think of one who suffered, and who feels for all who, like Him, must bear the burden of mortality. Think of your many blessings, and how grateful you should feel for them; think of your mother, who for years wept as you, I trust, may never weep; think of your kind uncle, who would die to save you an hour's pain. Trust the future, with all its fears, to God, and peace will come with the very effort to attain it."

  "Oh, Cousin Janet," said Alice, "if Walter were not so lonely; he knows not where he is going, nor what he is going to do."

  "It is true," said Cousin Janet, weeping too; "but we can hope, and trust, and pray. And now, my love, let us join your mother in her room; it is a sad parting for her, too, for Walter is dear to us all."

  Reader! have so many years passed away, that thou hast forgotten the bitterness of thy first sorrow, or is it yet to come? Thinkest thou there is a way of escape—none, unless thou art young, and Death interpose, saving thee from all sadness, and writing on thy grave, "Do not weep for me, thou knowest not how much of sorrow this early tomb has saved me."


  When were thy first thoughts of death? I do not mean the sight of the coffin, the pall, or any of its sad accompaniments, but the time when the mind first arrested itself with the melancholy convictions of mortality. There was a holiday for me in my young days, to which I looked forward as the Mohammedan to his Paradise; this was a visit to a country-place, where I revelled in the breath of the woodbines and sweetbriers, and where I sat under tall and spreading trees, and wondered why towns and cities were ever built. The great willows swept the windows of the chamber where I slept, and faces with faded eyes looked upon me from their old frames, by the moonlight, as I feel asleep, after the day's enjoyment. I never tired of wandering through the gardens, where were roses and sweet-williams, hyacinths and honeysuckles, and flowers of every shape and hue. This was the fairy spot of my recollection, for even childhood has its cares, and there were memories of little griefs, which time has never chased away. There I used to meet two children, who often roamed through the near woods with me. I do not remember their ages nor their names; they were younger though than I. They might not have been beautiful, but I recollect the bright eyes, and that downy velvet hue that is only found on the soft cheek of infancy.

  Summer came; and when I went again, I found the clematis sweeping the garden walks, and the lilies-of-the-valley bending under the weight of their own beauty. So we walked along, I and an old servant, stopping to enter an arbor, or to raise the head of a drooping plant, or to pluck a sweet-scented shrub, and place it in my bosom. "Where are the little girls?" I asked. "Have they come again, too?"

  "Yes, they are here," she said, as we approached two little mounds, covered over with the dark-green myrtle and its purple flowers.

  "What is here?"


  "Child, here are the little ones you asked for."

  Oh! those little myrtle-covered graves, how wonderingly I gazed upon them. There was no thought of death mingled with my meditation; there was, of quiet and repose, but not of death. I had seen no sickness, no suffering, and I only wondered why those fair children had laid down under the myrtle. I fancied them with the fringed eyelids drooping over the cheeks, and the velvet hue still there. How much did I know of death? As little as of life!

  Time passed with me, and I saw the sorrows of others. Sometimes I thought of the myrtle-covered graves, and the children that slept beneath. Oh! how quiet they must be, they utter no cry, they shed no tears.

  Time passed, and an angel slept in my bosom, close to my heart. Need I say that I was happy when she nestled there? that her voice was music to my soul, and her smile the very presence of beauty? Need I say it was joy when she called me, Mother? Then I lived for the present; all the sorrow that I had seen around me, was forgotten.

  God called that angel to her native heaven, and I wept. Now was the mystery of the myrtle-covered graves open before my sight. I had seen the going forth of a little life that was part of my own, I remembered the hard sighs that convulsed that infant breast. I knew that the grave was meant to hide from us, silence and pallor, desolation and decay. I was in the world, no longer a garden of flowers, where I sought from under the myrtle for the bright eyes and the velvet cheeks. I was in the world, and death was there too; it was by my side. I gave my darling to the earth, and felt for myself the bitterness of tears.

  Thus must it ever be—by actual suffering must the young be persuaded of the struggle that is before them— well is it when there is one to say, "God is here."