The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
AT different times, doubt has been expressed
whether the scenes and characters pourtrayed in “Uncle Tom's Cabin”
convey a fair representation of slavery as it at present exists. This work,
more, perhaps, than any other work of fiction that ever was written, has been
a collection and arrangement of real incidents, of actions really performed,
of words and expressions really uttered, grouped together with reference to
a general result, in the same manner that the mosaic artist groups his fragments
of various stones into one general picture. His is a mosaic of gems—this
is a mosaic of facts.
Artistically considered, it might not be best to point out in which quarry
and from which region each fragment of the mosaic picture had its origin;
and it is equally unartistic to disentangle the glittering web of fiction,
and show out of what real warp and woof it is woven, and with what real colouring
dyed. But the book had a purpose entirely transcending the artistic one, and
accordingly encounters at the hands of the public demands not usually made
on fictitious works. It is treated as a reality—sifted,
tried, and tested, as a reality; and therefore as a reality it may be proper
that it should be defended.
The writer acknowledges that the book is a very inadequate representation
of slavery; and it is so, necessarily, for this reason—that slavery,
in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art. A work which
should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read;
and all works which ever mean to give pleasure must draw a veil somewhere,
or they cannot succeed.
The author will now proceed along the course of the story, from the first
page, and develop, as far as possible, the incidents by which different parts
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
IN the very first chapter of the book we encounter
the character of the negro-trader, Mr. Haley. His name stands at the head
of this chapter as the representative of all the different characters introduced
in the work which exhibit the trader, the kidnapper, the negro-catcher, the
negro-whipper, and all the other inevitable auxiliaries and indispensable
appendages of what is often called the “divinely-instituted relation”
of slavery. The author's first personal observation of this class of beings
was somewhat as follows:
Several years ago, while one morning employed in the duties of the nursery,
a coloured woman was announced. She was ushered into the nursery, and the
author thought, on first survey, that a more surly, unpromising face she had
never seen. The woman was thoroughly black, thickset, firmly built, and with
strongly-marked African features. Those who have been accustomed to read the
expressions of the African face know what a peculiar effect is produced by
a lowering, desponding expression upon its dark features. It is like the shadow
of a thunder-cloud. Unlike her race generally, the woman did not smile when
smiled upon, nor utter any pleasant remark in reply to such as were addressed
to her. The youngest pet of the nursery, a boy about three years old, walked
up, and laid his little hand on her knee, and seemed astonished not to meet
the quick smile which the negro almost always has in reserve for the little
child. The writer thought her very cross and disagreeable, and, after a few
moments' silence, asked, with perhaps a little impatience, “Do you want
anything of me to-day?”
“Here are some papers,” said the woman, pushing them towards
her; “perhaps you would read them.”
The first paper opened was a letter from a negro-trader in Kentucky, stating
concisely that he had waited about as long as he could for her child; that
he wanted to start for the South, and must get it off his hands; that, if
she would send him two hundred dollars before the end of the week, she should
if not, that he would set it up at auction, at the court-house
door on Saturday. He added, also, that he might have got more than that for
the child, but that he was willing to let her have it cheap.
“What sort of man is this?” said the author to the woman, when
she had done reading the letter.
“Dunno, ma'am; great Christian I know—member of the Methodist
The expression of sullen irony with which this was said was a thing to
“And how old is this child?” said the author to her.
The woman looked at the little boy who had been standing at her knee with
an expressive glance, and said, “She will be three years old this summer.”
On further inquiry into the history of the woman, it appeared that she
had been set free by the will of her owners; that the child was legally entitled
to freedom, but had been seized on by the heirs of the estate. She was poor
and friendless, without money to maintain a suit, and the heirs, of course,
threw the child into the hands of the trader. The necessary sum, it may be
added, was all raised in the small neighbourhood which then surrounded the
Lane Theological Seminary, and the child was redeemed.
If the public would like a specimen of the correspondence which passes
between these worthies, who are the principal reliance of the community for
supporting and extending the institution of slavery, the following may be
interesting as a matter of literary curiosity. It was forwarded by Mr. M.
J. Thomas, of Philadelphia, to the National Era, and
stated by him to be “a copy taken verbatim from the original, found
among the papers of the person to whom it was addressed, at the time of his
arrest and conviction, for passing a variety of counterfeit banknotes:”—
Co., Md., March 24, 1831.
DEAR SIR,—I arrived home in safety with Louisa,
John having been rescued from me, out of a two-storey window, at twelve o'clock
at night. I offered a reward of fifty dollars, and have him here safe in jail.
The persons who took him, brought him to Fredericktown jail. I wish you to
write to no person in this State but myself. Kephart and myself are determined
to go the whole hog for any negro you can find, and you must give me the earliest
information, as soon as you do find any. Enclosed you will receive a handbill,
and I can make a good bargain if you can find them. I will, in all cases,
as soon as a negro runs off, send you a handbill immediately, so that you
may be on the look-out. Please tell the constable to go on with the sale of
John's property; and, when the money is
made, I will send on
an order to you for it. Please attend to this for me; likewise write to me,
and inform me of any negro you think has run away—no matter where you
think he has come from, nor how far—and I will try to find out his master.
Let me know where you think he is from, with all particular marks, and if
I don't find his master, Joe's dead!
Write to me about the crooked-fingered
negro, and let me know which hand and which finger, colour, &c.; likewise
any mark the fellow has who says he got away from the negro-buyer, with his
height and colour, or any other you think has run off.
Give my respects
to your partner, and be sure you write to no person but myself. If any person
writes to you, you can inform me of it, and I will try to buy from them. I
think we can make money, if we do business together; for I have plenty of
money, if you can find plenty of negroes. Let we know if Daniel is still where
he was, and if you have heard anything of Francis since I left you. Accept
for myself my regard and esteem. REUBEN B. CARLLEY. John
This letter strikingly illustrates the character of these fellow-patriots
with whom the great men of our land have been acting in conjunction, in carrying
out the beneficent provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law.
With regard to the Kephart named in this letter,
the community of Boston may have a special interest to know further particulars,
as he was one of the dignitaries sent from the South to assist the good citizens
of that place in the religious and patriotic enterprise of 1851, at the time
that Shadrach was unfortunately rescued. It, therefore, may be well to introduce
somewhat particularly JOHN KEPHART, as sketched
by RICHARD H. DANA, Jun., one of the lawyers employed
in the defence of the perpetrators of the rescue:—
I shall never forget John Caphart. I have been eleven years at the bar,
and in that time have seen many developments of vice and hardness, but I never
met with anything so cold-blooded as the testimony of that man. John Caphart
is a tall, sallow man, of about fifty, with jet-black hair, a restless, dark
eye, and an anxious, care-worn look, which, had there been enough of moral
element in the expression, might be called melancholy. His frame was strong,
and in youth he had evidently been powerful, but he was not robust. Yet there
was a calm, cruel look, a power of will and a quickness of muscular action,
which still render him a terror in his vocation.
In the manner of giving
in his testimony, there was no bluster or outward show of insolence. His contempt
for the humane feelings of the audience and community about him was too true
to require any assumption of that kind. He neither paraded nor attempted to
conceal the worst features of his calling. He treated it as a matter of business,
which he knew the community shuddered at, but the moral nature of which he
was utterly indifferent to, beyond a certain secret pleasure in thus indirectly
inflicting a little torture on his hearers.
not, however, altogether clear, to do John Caphart justice, that he is entirely
conscience-proof. There was something in his anxious look which leaves one
not without hope.
At the first trial we did not know of his pursuits,
and he passed merely as a policeman of Norfolk, Virginia. But, at the second
trial, some one in the room gave me a hint of the occupations many of these
policemen take to, which led to my cross-examination.
From the Examination of John Caphart, in the
“Rescue Trials,” at Boston, in June and November, 1851, and October, 1852.
Question. Is it a part of your duty, as a policeman, to take up coloured
persons who are out after hours in the streets?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Q. What is done with them?
A. We put them in the lock-up, and in the morning they are brought into
court and ordered to be punished—those that are to be punished.
Q. What punishment do they get?
A. Not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.
Q. Who gives them these lashes?
A. Any of the officers. I do sometimes.
Q. Are you paid extra for this? How much?
A. Fifty cents a head. It used to be sixty-two cents. Now it is fifty.
Fifty cents for each one we arrest, and fifty more for each one we flog.
Q. Are these persons you flog men and boys only, or are they women and
A. Men, women, boys, and girls, just as it happens.
[The government interfered, and tried to prevent any further examination;
and said, among other things, that he only performed his duty as police-officer
under the law. After a discussion, Judge Curtis allowed it to proceed.]
Q. Is your flogging confined to these cases? Do you not flog slaves at
the request of their masters?
A. Sometimes I do. Certainly, when I am called upon.
Q. In these cases of private flogging, are the negroes sent to you? Have
you a place for flogging?
A. No. I go round, as I am sent for.
Q. Is this part of your duty as an officer?
A. No, sir.
Q. In these cases of private flogging, do you inquire into the circumstances,
to see what the fault has been, or if there is any?
A. That's none of my business. I do as I am requested. The master is responsible.
Q. In these cases, too, I suppose you flog women and girls, as well as
A. Women and men.
Q. Mr. Caphart, how long have you been engaged in this business?
A. Ever since 1836.
Q. How many negroes do you suppose you have flogged, in all, women and
A. [Looking calmly round the room.] I don't know how many niggers you
have got here in Massachusetts, but I should think I had flogged
as many as you've got in the State.
[The same man testified that he was often employed to pursue fugitive slaves.
His reply to the question was, “I never refuse a good job in that line.”]
Q. Don't they sometimes turn out bad jobs?
A. Never, if I can help it.
Q. Are they not sometimes discharged after you get them?
A. Not often. I don't know that they ever are, except those Portuguese
the counsel read about.
[I had found, in a Virginia report, a case of some two hundred Portuguese
negroes, whom this John Caphart had seized from a vessel, and endeavoured
to get condemned as slaves, but whom the Court discharged.]
Hon. John P. Hale, associated with Mr. Dana as counsel for the defence
in the Rescue Trials, said of him in his closing argument:—
Why, gentlemen, he sells agony! Torture is his stock-in-trade! He is
a walking scourge! He hawks, peddles, retails, groans and tears about the
streets of Norfolk!
See also the following correspondence between the two traders, one in North
Carolina, the other in New Orleans: with a word of comment by Bishop Wilberforce,
Halifax, N. C., Nov. 16, 1839.
DEAR SIR,—I have shipped in the brig Addison—prices
The two girls that cost 650 dollars, and 625 dollars, were bought before
I shipped my first. I have a great many negroes offered to me, but I will
not pay the prices they ask, for I know they will come down. I have no opposition
in market. I will wait until I hear from you before I buy, and then I can
judge what I must pay. Goodwin will send you the bill of lading for my negroes,
as he shipped them with his own. Write often, as the times are critical, and
it depends on the prices you get to govern me in buying. Yours, &c.Mr. Theophilus Freeman, New Orleans. G. W. BARNES.
The above was a small but choice invoice of wives and mothers. Nine days
before, namely, 7th November, Mr. Barnes advised Mr. Freeman of having shipped
a lot, of forty-three men and women. Mr. Freeman, informing one of his correspondents
of the state of the market, writes (Sunday, 21st Sept.,
1839), “I bought a boy yesterday, sixteen years old, and likely, weighing one
hundred and ten pounds, at
700 dollars. I sold a likely girl, twelve years old, at 500 dollars. I bought
a man yesterday, twenty years old, six feet high at 820 dollars; one to-day, twenty-four years old, at 850 dollars, black and sleek as a mole.”
The writer has drawn in this work only one class of the negro-traders.
There are all varieties of them, up to the great wholesale purchasers, who
keep their large trading-houses; who are gentlemanly in manners and courteous
in address; who, in many respects, often perform actions of real generosity;
who consider slavery a very great evil, and hope the country will at some
time be delivered from it, but who think that so long as clergyman and layman,
saint and sinner, are all agreed in the propriety and necessity of slave-holding,
it is better that the necessary trade in the article be conducted by men of
humanity and decency, than by swearing, brutal men, of the Tom Loker school.
These men are exceedingly sensitive with regard to what they consider the
injustice of the world, in excluding them from good society, simply because
they undertake to supply a demand in the community, which the bar, the press,
and the pulpit, all pronounce to be a proper one. In this respect, society
certainly imitates the unreasonableness of the ancient Egyptians, who employed
a certain class of men to prepare dead bodies for embalming, but flew at them
with sticks and stones the moment the operation was over, on account of the
sacrilegious liberty which they had taken. If there is an ill-used class of
men in the world, it is certainly the slave-traders; for, if there is no harm
in the institution of slavery—if it is a divinely-appointed and honourable
one, like civil government and the family state, and like other species of
property relation—then there is no earthly reason why a man may not
as innocently be a slave trader as any other kind of trader.
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
MR. AND MRS. SHELBY.
IT was the design of the writer, in delineating
the domestic arrangements of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, to show a picture of the
fairest side of slave-life, where easy indulgence and good-natured forbearance
are tempered by just discipline and religious instruction, skilfully and judiciously
The writer did not come to her task without reading much upon both sides
of the question, and making a particular effort to collect all the most favourable
representations of slavery which she could obtain. And, as the reader may
have a curiosity to examine some of the documents, the writer will present
them quite at large. There is no kind of danger to the world in letting the
very fairest side of slavery be seen; in fact, the horrors and barbarities
which are necessarily inherent in it are so terrible that one stands absolutely
in need of all the comfort which can be gained from incidents like the subjoined,
to save them from utter despair of human nature. The first account is from
Mr. J. K. Paulding's Letters on Slavery; and is a letter from a Virginia planter,
whom we should judge, from his style, to be a very amiable, agreeable man,
and who probably describes very fairly the state of things on his own domain.
DEAR SIR,—As regards the first query,
which relates to the “rights and duties of the slave,” I do not
know how extensive a view of this branch of the subject is contemplated. In
its simplest aspect, as understood and acted on in Virginia, I should say
that the slave is entitled to an abundance of good plain food; to coarse but
comfortable apparel; to a warm but humble dwelling; to protection when well,
and to succour when sick; and, in return, that it is his duty to render to
his master all the service he can consistently with perfect health, and to
behave submissively and honestly. Other remarks suggest themselves, but they
will be more appropriately introduced under different heads.
2nd. The domestic relations of master and slave.—These
relations are much misunderstood by many persons at the North, who regard
the terms as synonymous with oppressor and oppressed. Nothing can be further
from the fact. The condition of the negroes in this State has been greatly
ameliorated. The proprietors
were formerly fewer and richer than
at present. Distant quarters were often kept up to support the aristocratic
mansion. They were rarely visited by their owners; and heartless overseers,
frequently changed, were employed to manage them for a share of the crop.
These men scourged the land, and sometimes the slaves. Their tenure was but
for a year, and of course they made the most of their brief authority. Owing
to the influence of our institutions, property has become subdivided, and
most persons live on or near their estates. There are exceptions to be sure,
and particularly among wealthy gentlemen in the towns; but these last are
almost all enlightened and humane, and alike liberal to the soil and to the
slave who cultivates it. I could point out some noble instances of patriotic
and spirited improvement among them. But, to return to the resident proprietors:
most of them have been raised on the estates; from the older negroes they
have received in infancy numberless acts of kindness; the younger ones have
not unfrequently been their playmates (not the most suitable, I admit), and
much good-will is thus generated on both sides. In addition to this, most
men feel attached to their property; and this attachment is stronger in the
case of persons than of things. I know it, and feel it. It is true there are
harsh masters; but there are also bad husbands and bad fathers. They are all
exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. Shall we therefore condemn in
the gross those relations, and the rights and authority they imply, from their
occasional abuse? I could mention many instances of strong attachment on the
part of the slave, but will only adduce one or two, of which I have been the
object. It became a question whether a faithful servant, bred up with me from
boyhood, should give up his master, or his wife and children, to whom he was
affectionately attached, and most attentive and kind. The trial was a severe
one, but he determined to break those tender ties, and remain with me. I left
it entirely to his discretion, though I would not, from considerations of
interest, have taken for him quadruple the price I should probably have obtained.
Fortunately, in the sequel, I was enabled to purchase his family, with the
exception of a daughter, happily situated; and nothing but death shall henceforth
part them. Were it put to the test, I am convinced that many masters would
receive this striking proof of devotion. A gentleman but a day or two since
informed me of a similar, and even stronger case, afforded by one of his slaves.
As the reward of assiduous and delicate attention to a venerated parent, in
her last illness, I proposed to purchase and liberate a healthy and intelligent
woman, about thirty years of age, the best nurse, and, in all respects, one
of the best servants in the State, of which I was only part owner; but she
declined to leave the family, and has been since rather better than free.
I shall be excused for stating a ludicrous case I heard of some time ago.
A favourite and indulged servant requested his master to sell him to another
gentleman. His master refused to do so, but told him he was at perfect liberty
to go to the North, if he were not already free enough. After a while he repeated
the request; and, on being urged to give an explanation of his singular conduct,
told his master that he considered himself consumptive, and would soon die;
and he thought Mr. B— was better able to bear the loss than his master.
He was sent to a medicinal spring, and recovered his health, if, indeed, he
had ever lost it, of which his master had been unapprised. It may not be amiss
to describe my deportment towards my servants, whom I endeavour to render
happy while I make them profitable. I never turn a deaf ear, but listen patiently
to their communications. I chat fami-
liarly with those who
have passed service, or have not begun to render it. With the others I observe
a more prudent reserve, but I encourage all to approach me without awe. I
hardly ever go to town without having commissions to execute for some of them;
and think they prefer to employ me, from a belief that, if their money should
not quite hold out, I would add a little to it; and I not unfrequently do,
in order to get a better article. The relation between myself and my slaves
is decidedly friendly. I keep up pretty exact discipline, mingled with kindness,
and hardly ever lose property by thievish, or labour by runaway slaves. I
never lock the outer doors of my house. It is done, but done by the servants;
and I rarely bestow a thought on the matter. I leave home periodically for
two months, and commit the dwelling-house, plate, and other valuables, to
the servants, without even an enumeration of the articles.
3rd. The duration of the labour of the slave.—The
day is usually considered long enough. Employment at night is not exacted
by me, except to shell corn once a week for their own consumption, and on
a few other extraordinary occasions. The people, as
we generally call them, are required to leave their houses at daybreak, and
to work until dark, with the intermission of half an hour to an hour at breakfast,
and one to two hours at dinner, according to the season and sort of work.
In this respect I suppose our negroes will bear a favourable comparison with
any labourers whatever.
4th. The liberty usually allowed the slave—his
holidays and amusements, and the way in which they usually spend their evenings
and holidays.—They are prohibited from going off the estate without
first obtaining leave; though they often transgress, and with impunity, except
in flagrant cases. Those who have wives on other plantations visit them on
certain specified nights, and have an allowance of time for going and returning,
proportioned to the distance. My negroes are permitted, and indeed, encouraged,
to raise as many ducks and chickens as they can; to cultivate vegetables for
their own use, and a patch of corn for sale; to exercise their trades, when
they possess one, which many do; to catch muskrats and other animals for the
fur or the flesh; to raise bees; and, in fine, to earn an honest penny in
any way which chance or their own ingenuity may offer. The modes specified
are, however, those most commonly resorted to, and enable provident servants
to make from five to thirty dollars a-piece. The corn is a different sort
from that which I cultivate, and is all bought by me. A great many fowls are
raised; I have this year known ten dollars' worth sold by one man at one time.
One of the chief sources of profit is the fur of the muskrat; for the purpose
of catching which the marshes on the estate have been parcelled out and appropriated
from time immemorial, and held by a tenure little short of fee-simple. The
negroes are indebted to Nat Turner*
and Tappan for a curtailment of some of their privileges. As a sincere friend
to the blacks, I have much regretted the reckless interference of these persons,
on account of the restrictions it has become, or been thought, necessary to
impose. Since the exploit of the former hero, they have been forbidden to
preach, except to their fellow slaves, the property of the same owner; to
have public funerals, unless a white person officiates; or to be taught to
read and write. Their funerals formerly gave them great satisfaction, and
it was customary here to
furnish the relations of the deceased
with bacon, spirit, flour, sugar, and butter, with which a grand entertainment,
in their way, was got up. We were once much amused by a hearty fellow requesting
his mistress to let him have his funeral during his lifetime, when it would
do him some good. The waggish request was granted; and I venture to say there
never was a funeral the subject of which enjoyed it so much. When permitted,
some of our negroes preached with great fluency. I was present a few years
since, when an Episcopal minister addressed the people, by appointment. On
the conclusion of an excellent sermon, a negro preacher rose and thanked the
gentleman kindly for his discourse, but frankly told him the congregation
“did not understand his lingo.” He then
proceeded himself, with great vehemence and volubility, coining words where
they had not been made to his hand, or rather his tongue, and impressing his
hearers, doubtless, with a decided opinion of his superiority over his white
co-labourer in the field of grace. My brother and I, who own contiguous estates,
have lately erected a chapel on the line between them, and have employed an
acceptable minister of the Baptist persuasion, to which the negroes almost
exclusively belong, to afford them religious instruction. Except as a preparatory
step to emancipation, I consider it exceedingly impolitic, even as regards
the slaves themselves, to permit them to read and write: “Where ignorance
is bliss, `tis folly to be wise.” And it is certainly impolitic as regards
their masters, on the principle that “knowledge is power.” My
servants have not as long holidays as those of most other persons. I allow
three days at Christmas, and at each of three other periods, besides a little
time to work their patches; or, if very busy, I sometimes prefer to work them
myself. Most of the ancient pastimes have been lost in this neighbourhood,
and religion, mock or real, has succeeded them. The banjo, their national
instrument, is known but in name or in a few of the tunes which have survived.
Some of the younger negroes sing and dance, but the evenings and holidays
are usually occupied in working, in visiting, and in praying and singing hymns.
The primitive customs and sports are, I believe, better preserved further
south, where slaves were brought from Africa long after they ceased to come
6th. The provision usually made for their food and clothing,
for those who are too young or too old to labour.—My men receive
twelve quarts of Indian meal (the abundant and universal allowance in this
State), seven salted herrings, and two pounds of smoked bacon or three pounds
of pork, a-week; the other hands proportionally less. But, generally speaking,
their food is issued daily, with the exception of meal, and consists of fish
or bacon for breakfast, and meat, fresh or salted, with vegetables whenever
we can provide them, for dinner; or for a month or two in the spring, fresh
fish cooked with a little bacon. This mode is rather more expensive to me
than that of weekly rations, but more comfortable to the servants. Superannuated
or invalid slaves draw their provisions regularly once a-week; and the moment
a child ceases to be nourished by its mother, it receives eight quarts of
meal (more than it can consume) and one half-pound of lard. Besides the food
furnished by me, nearly all the servants are able to make some addition from
their private stores; and there is among the adults hardly an instance of
one so improvident as not to do it. He must be an unthrifty fellow, indeed,
who cannot realise the wish of the famous Henry IV. in regard to the French
peasantry, and enjoy his fowl on Sunday. I always keep on hand, for the use
the negroes, sugar, molasses, &c., which, though not
regularly issued, are applied for on the slightest pretexts, and frequently
no pretext at all, and are never refused except in cases of misconduct. In
regard to clothing: the men and boys receive a winter coat and trousers of
strong cloth, three shirts, a stout pair of shoes and socks, and a pair of
summer pantaloons, every year; a hat about every second year, and a great-coat
and blanket every third year. Instead of great-coats and hats, the women have
large capes to protect the bust in bad weather, and handkerchiefs for the
head. The articles furnished are good and serviceable; and, with their own
acquisitions, make their appearance decent and respectable. On Sunday these
are even fine. The aged and invalid are clad as regularly as the rest, but
less substantially. Mothers receive a little raw cotton, in proportion to
the number of children, with the privilege of having the yarn, when spun,
woven at my expense. I provide them with blankets. Orphans are put with careful
women, and treated with tenderness. I am attached to the little slaves, and
encourage familiarity among them. Sometimes, when I ride near the quarters,
they come running after me with the most whimsical requests, and are rendered
happy by the distribution of some little donation. The clothing described
is that which is given to the crop hands. Home-servants, a numerous class
in Virginia, are of course clad in a different and very superior manner. I
neglected to mention, in the proper place, that there are on each of my plantations
a kitchen, an oven, and one or more cooks; and that each hand is furnished
with a tin bucket for his food, which is carried into the field by little
negroes, who also supply the labourers with water.
6th. Their treatment when sick.—My negroes
go, or are carried, as soon as they are attacked, to a spacious and well-ventilated
hospital, near the mansion-house. They are there received by an attentive
nurse, who has an assortment of medicine, additional bed-clothing, and the
command of as much light food as she may require, either from the table or
the store-room of the proprietor. Wine, sago, rice, and other little comforts
appertaining to such an establishment, are always kept on hand. The condition
of the sick is much better than that of the poor whites or free coloured people
in the neighbourhood.
7th. Their rewards and punishments.—I occasionally
bestow little gratuities for good conduct, and particularly after harvest;
and hardly ever refuse a favour asked by those who faithfully perform their
duty. Vicious and idle servants are punished with stripes, moderately inflicted;
to which, in the case of theft, is added privation of meat, a severe punishment
to those who are never suffered to be without it on any other account. From
my limited observation, I think that servants to the North work much harder
than our slaves. I was educated at a college in one of the free States, and,
on my return to Virginia, was struck with the contrast. I was astonished at
the number of idle domestics, and actually worried my mother, much to my contrition
since, to reduce the establishment: I say to my contrition, because, after
eighteen years' residence in the good Old Dominion, I find myself surrounded
by a troop of servants about as numerous as that against which I formerly
so loudly exclaimed. While on this subject it may not be amiss to state a
case of manumission which occurred about three years since. My nearest neighbour,
a man of immense wealth, owned a favourite servant, a fine fellow, with polished
manners and excellent disposition, who reads and writes, and is thoroughly
versed in the duties of a
butler and housekeeper, in the performance
of which he was trusted without limit. This man was, on the death of his master,
emancipated with a legacy of 6,000 dollars, besides about 2,000 dollars more
which he had been permitted to accumulate, and had deposited with his master,
who had given him credit for it. The use that this man, apparently so well
qualified for freedom, and who has had an opportunity of travelling and of
judging for himself, makes of his money and his time, is somewhat remarkable.
In consequence of his exemplary conduct, he has been permitted to reside in
the State, and for very moderate wages occupies the same situation he did
in the old establishment, and will probably continue to occupy it as long
as he lives. He has no children of his own, but has put a little girl, a relation
of his, to school. Except in this instance, and in the purchase of a few plain
articles of furniture, his freedom and his money seem not much to have benefited
him. A servant of mine who is intimate with him, thinks he is not as happy
as he was before his liberation. Several other servants were freed at the
same time, with smaller legacies, but I do not know what has become of them.
I do not regard negro slavery, however mitigated, as a Utopian system,
and have not intended so to delineate it. But it exists, and the difficulty
of removing it is felt and acknowledged by all, save the fanatics, who, like
“fools, rush in where angels dare not tread.” It is pleasing to
know that its burdens are not too heavy to be borne. That the treatment of
slaves in this State is humane, and even indulgent, may be inferred from the
fact of their rapid increase and great longevity. I believe that, constituted
as they are, morally and physically, they are as happy as any peasantry in
the world; and I venture to affirm, as the result of my reading and inquiry,
that in no country are the labourers so liberally and invariably supplied
with bread and meat as are the negro slaves of the United States. However
great the dearth of provisions, famine never reaches them.
P.S. It might have been stated above that on this estate there are about
one hundred and sixty blacks. With the exception of infants, there has been,
in eighteen months, but one death, that I remember—that of a man fully
sixty-five years of age. The bill for medical attendance, from the second
day of last November, comprising upwards of a year, is less than forty dollars.
The following accounts are taken from “Ingraham's Travels in the
South-west,” a work which seems to have been written as much to show
the beauties of slavery as anything else. Speaking of the state of things
on some Southern plantations, he gives the following pictures, which are presented
without note or comment:
The little candidates for “field honours” are useless articles
on a plantation during the first five or six years of their existence. They
are then to take their first lesson in the elementary part of their education.
When they have learned their manual alphabet tolerably well, they are placed
in the field to take a spell at cotton-picking. The first day in the field
is their proudest day. The young negroes look forward to it with as much restlessness
and impatience as school-boys to a vacation. Black children are not put to
work so young as many children of poor parents in the North. It is often the
case that the children of the domestic servants become pets in the house and
the playmates of the white children of the family. No scene can be
livelier or more interesting to a Northerner, than that which the negro quarters
of a well-regulated plantation present on a Sabbath morning, just before church
hours. In every cabin the men are shaving and dressing; the women, arrayed
in their gay muslins, are arranging their frizzly hair—in which they
take no little pride—or investigating the condition of their children;
the old people, neatly clothed, are quietly conversing or smoking about the
doors; and those of the younger portion who are not undergoing the infliction
of the wash-tub are enjoying themselves in the shade of the trees, or around
some little pond, with as much zest as though slavery and freedom were synonymous
terms. When all are dressed, and the hour arrives for worship, they lock up
their cabins, and the whole population of the little village proceeds to chapel,
where divine service is performed, sometimes by an officiating clergyman,
and often by the planter himself, if a church member. The whole plantation
is also frequently formed into a Sabbath class, which is instructed by the
planter, or some member of his family; and often, such is the anxiety of the
master that they should perfectly understand what they are taught—a
hard matter in the present state of their intellect—that no means calculated
to advance their progress are left untried. I was not long since shown a manuscript
catechism, drawn up with great care and judgment by a distinguished planter,
on a plan admirably adapted to the comprehension of the negroes.
It is now popular to treat slaves with kindness; and those planters who
are known to be inhumanly rigorous to their slaves are scarcely countenanced
by the more intelligent and humane portion of the community. Such instances,
however, are very rare; but there are unprincipled men everywhere, who will
give vent to their ill-feelings and bad passions, not with less good-will
upon the back of an indented apprentice than upon that of a purchased slave.
Private chapels are now introduced upon most of the plantations of the more
wealthy, which are far from any church; Sabbath-schools are instituted for
the black children, and Bible-classes for the parents, which are superintended
by the planter, a chaplain, or some of the female members of the family.
Nor are planters indifferent to the comfort of their grey-headed slaves.
I have been much affected at beholding many exhibitions of their kindly feeling
towards them. They always address them in a mild and pleasant manner, as “Uncle,”
or “Aunty,” titles as peculiar to the old negro and negress as
“boy” and “girl” to all under forty years of age.
Some old Africans are allowed to spend their last years in their houses, without
doing any kind of labour; these, if not too infirm, cultivate little patches
of ground, on which they raise a few vegetables—for vegetables grow
nearly all the year round in this climate—and make a little money to
purchase a few extra comforts. They are also always receiving presents from
their masters and mistresses, and the negroes on the estate, the latter of
whom are extremely desirous of seeing the old people comfortable. A relation
of the extra comforts which some planters allow their slaves would hardly
obtain credit at the North. But you must recollect that Southern planters
are men, and men of feeling, generous and high-minded, and possessing as much
of the “milk of human kindness” as the sons of colder climes—although
they may have been educated to regard that as right which a different education
has led Northerners to consider wrong.
With regard to the character of Mrs. Shelby, the writer must say a few
words. While travelling in Kentucky, a few years
pious ladies expressed to her the same sentiments with regard to slavery which
the reader has heard expressed by Mrs. Shelby.
There are many whose natural sense of justice cannot be made to tolerate
the enormities of the system, even though they hear it defended by clergymen
from the pulpit, and see it countenanced by all that is most honourable in
rank and wealth.
A pious lady said to the author, with regard to instructing her slaves,
“I am ashamed to teach them what is right; I know that they know as
well as I do that it is wrong to hold them as slaves, and I am ashamed to
look them in the face.” Pointing to an intelligent mulatto woman who
passed through the room, she continued, “Now, there's B—: she
is as intelligent and capable as any white woman I ever knew, and as well
able to have her liberty and take care of herself; and she knows it isn't
right to keep her as we do, and I know it too; and yet I cannot get my husband
to think as I do, or I should be glad to set them free.”
A venerable friend of the writer, a lady born and educated a slaveholder,
used to the writer the very words attributed to Mrs. Shelby: “I never
thought it was right to hold slaves. I always thought it was wrong when I
was a girl, and I thought so still more when I came to join the church.”
An incident related by this friend of her examination for the church, shows
in a striking manner what a difference may often exist between theoretical
and practical benevolence.
A certain class of theologians in New England have advocated the doctrine
of disinterested benevolence with such zeal, as to make it an imperative article
of belief, that every individual ought to be willing to endure everlasting
misery, if by doing so they could, on the whole, produce a greater amount
of general good in the universe; and the inquiry was sometimes made of candidates
for church-membership, whether they could bring themselves to this point as
a test of their sincerity. The clergyman who was to examine this lady, was
particularly interested in these speculations. When he came to inquire of
her with regard to her views as to the obligations of Christianity, she informed
him decidedly that she had brought her mind to the point of emancipating all
her slaves, of whom she had a large number. The clergyman seemed rather to
consider this as an excess of zeal, and recommended that she should take time
to reflect upon it. He was, however, very urgent to know whether, if it should
appear for the greatest good of the universe, she would be willing to be damned.
Entirely unaccustomed to theological specula-
tions, the good
woman answered, with some vehemence, that “she was sure she was not;”
adding, naturally enough, that if that had been her purpose, she need not
have come to join the church. The good lady, however, was admitted, and proved
her devotion to the general good by the more tangible method of setting all
her slaves at liberty, and carefully watching over their education and interests
after they were liberated.
Mrs. Shelby is a fair type of the very best class of Southern women; and
while the evils of the institution are felt and deplored, and while the world
looks with just indignation on the national support and patronage which is
given to it, and on the men who, knowing its nature, deliberately make efforts
to perpetuate and extend it, it is but justice that it should bear in mind
the virtues of such persons.
Many of them, surrounded by circumstances over which they can have no control,
perplexed by domestic cares, of which women in free States can have very little
conception, loaded down by duties and responsibilities which wear upon the
very springs of life, still go on bravely and patiently from day to day, doing
all they can to alleviate what they cannot prevent, and, as far as the sphere
of their own immediate power extends, rescuing those who are dependent upon
them from the evils of the system.
We read of Him who shall at last come to judgment, that “His fan
is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat
into the garner.” Out of the great abyss of national sin he will rescue
every grain of good and honest purpose and intention. His eyes, which are
as a flame of fire, penetrate at once those intricate mazes where human judgment
is lost, and will save and honour at last the truly good and sincere, however
they may have been involved with the evil; and such souls as have resisted
the greatest temptations, and persisted in good under the most perplexing
circumstances, are those of whom he has written, “And they shall be
mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I
will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
THE character of George Harris has been represented
as overdrawn, both as respects personal qualities and general intelligence.
It has been said, too, that so many afflictive incidents happening to a slave
are improbable, and present a distorted view of the institution.
In regard to person, it must be remembered that the half-breeds often
inherit, to a great degree, the traits of their white ancestors. For this
there is abundant evidence in the advertisements of the papers. Witness the
following from the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Gazette, October 5th, 1852.
500 DOLLARS REWARD.
Run away from the subscriber, on the 25th May, a VERY BRIGHT MULATTO BOY,
about 20 or 22 years old, named WASH. Said boy, without close observation,
might pass himself for a white man, as he is very bright—has sandy hair,
blue eyes, and a fine set of teeth. He is an excellent bricklayer; but I have
no idea that he will pursue his trade, for fear of detection. Although he
is like a white man in appearance, he has the disposition of a negro, and
delights in comic songs and witty expressions. He is an excellent house servant,
very handy about a hotel—tall, slender, and has rather a down look,
especially when spoken to, and is sometimes inclined to be sulky. I have no
doubt that he has been decoyed off by some scoundrel, and I will give the
above reward for the apprehension of the boy and thief, if delivered at Chattanooga.
Or, I will give 200 dollars for the boy alone; or 100 dollars if confined
in any jail in the United States, so that I can get him.
GEORGE O. RAGLAND.
Chattanooga, June 15, 1852.
From the Capitolian Vis-à-vis, West Baton
Rouge, Louisiana, November 1, 1852:
150 DOLLARS REWARD.
Run away about the 15th of August last, Joe, a
yellow man; small, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, and about twenty years
of age. Has a Roman nose, was raised in New Orleans,
and speaks French and English. He was bought last
winter of Mr. Digges, Banks Arcade, New Orleans.
In regard to general intelligence, the reader will recollect that the writer
stated it as a fact which she learned while on a journey through Kentucky,
that a young coloured man invented a machine for cleaning hemp, like that
alluded to in her story.
Advertisements, also, occasionally propose for sale artisans of different
descriptions. Slaves are often employed as pilots for vessels, and highly
valued for their skill and knowledge. The following are advertisements from
From the South Carolinian (Columbia), December
VALUABLE NEGROES AT AUCTION.
BY J. AND L. T. LEVIN.
WILL be Sold, on MONDAY, the 6th Day of December, the following valuable
Andrew, 24 years of age, a bricklayer and plasterer,
and thorough workman.
George, 22 years of age, one of the best barbers in the State.
James, 19 years of age, an excellent painter.
These boys were raised in Columbia, and are exceptions to most of boys,
and are sold for no fault whatever.
The terms of sale are one-half cash, the balance on a credit of six months,
with interest, for notes payable at bank, with two or more approved endorsers.
Purchasers to pay for necessary papers.
November 27, 36.
From the same paper of November 18th, 1852.
Will be sold at private sale, a LIKELY MAN, boat hand, and good pilot;
is well acquainted with all the inlets between here and Savannah and Georgetown.
With regard to the incidents of George Harris's life, that he may not be
supposed a purely exceptional case, we propose to offer some parallel facts
from the lives of slaves of our personal acquaintance.
Lewis Clark is an acquaintance of the writer. Soon after his escape from
slavery, he was received into the family of a sister-in-law of the author,
and there educated. His conduct during this time was such as to win for him
uncommon affection and respect, and the author has frequently heard him spoken
of in the highest terms by all who knew him.
The gentleman in whose family he so long resided, says of him, in a recent
letter to the writer, “I would trust him, as the saying is, with untold
Lewis is a quadroon, a fine-looking man, with European features, hair slightly
wavy, and with an intelligent, agreeable expression of countenance.
The reader is now desired to compare the following incidents of his life,
part of which he related personally to the author, with the incidents of the
life of George Harris.
His mother was a handsome quadroon woman, the daughter of her master, and
given by him in marriage to a free white man, a Scotchman, with the express
understanding that she and her children were to be free. This engagement,
if made sincerely at all, was never complied with. His mother had nine children,
and on the death of her husband, came back, with all these children, as slaves
in her father's house.
A married daughter of the family, who was the dread of the whole household,
on account of the violence of her temper, had taken from the family, upon
her marriage, a young girl. By the violence of her abuse she soon reduced
the child to a state of idiocy, and then came imperiously back to her father's
establishment, declaring that the child was good for nothing, and that she
would have another, and, as poor Lewis' evil star would have it, fixed her
eye upon him.
To avoid one of her terrible outbreaks of temper, the family offered up
this boy as a pacificatory sacrifice. The incident is thus described by Lewis,
in a published narrative:—
Every boy was ordered in, to pass before this female sorceress, that she
might select a victim for her unprovoked malice, on whom to pour the vials
of her wrath for years. I was that unlucky fellow. Mr. Campbell, my grandfather,
objected, because it would divide a family, and offered her Moses; * * * but
objections and claims of every kind were swept away by the wild passion and
shrill-toned voice of Mrs. B. Me she would have, and none else. Mr. Campbell
went out to hunt, and drive away bad thoughts; the old lady became quiet,
for she was sure none of her blood ran in my veins, and if there was any of
her husband's there, it was no fault of hers. Slave-holding women are always
revengeful toward the children of slaves that have any of the blood of their
husbands in them. I was too young—only seven years of age—to understand
what was going on. But my poor and affectionate mother understood and appreciated
it all. When she left the kitchen of the mansion-house, where she was employed
as cook, and came home to her own little cottage, the tear of anguish was
in her eye, and the image of sorrow upon every feature of her face. She knew
the female Nero whose rod was now to be over me. That night sleep departed
from her eyes. With the youngest child clasped firmly to her bosom, she spent
the night in walking the floor, coming ever and anon to lift up the clothes
and look at me and my poor brother, who lay sleeping together. Sleeping, I said. Brother slept, but not I. I saw my mother when she
first came to me, and I could not sleep. The vision of that night—its
deep, ineffaceable impression—is now before my mind with all the distinctness
of yesterday. In the morning I was put into the carriage with Mrs. B. and
her children, and my weary pilgrimage of suffering was fairly begun.
Mrs. Banton is a character that can only exist where the laws of the land
clothe with absolute power the coarsest, most brutal and violent-tempered,
equally with the most generous and humane.
If irresponsible power is a trial to the virtue of the most watchful and
careful, how fast must it develop cruelty in those who are naturally violent
This woman was united to a drunken husband, of a temper equally ferocious.
A recital of all the physical torture which this pair contrived to inflict
on a hapless child, some of which have left ineffaceable marks on his person,
would be too trying to humanity, and we gladly draw a veil over it.
Some incidents, however, are presented in the following extracts:—
A very trivial offence was sufficient to call forth a great burst of indignation
from this woman of ungoverned passions. In my simplicity, I put my lips to
the same vessel, and drank out of it, from which her children were accustomed
to drink. She expressed her utter abhorrence of such an act by throwing my
head violently back, and dashing into my face two dippers of water. The shower
of water was followed by a heavier shower of kicks;
but the words, bitter and cutting, that followed, were like a storm of hail
upon my young heart. “She would teach me better manners than that; she
would let me know I was to be brought up to her hand; she would have one slave that knew his place; if I wanted water, go to the spring, and
not drink there in the house.” This was new times for me; for some days
I was completely benumbed with my sorrow.
* * * * *
If there be one so lost to all feeling as even to say that the slaves do
not suffer when families are separated, let such a
one go to the ragged quilt which was my couch and pillow, and stand there
night after night, for long, weary hours, and see the bitter tears streaming
down the face of that more than orphan boy, while with half-suppressed sighs
and sobs he calls again and again upon his absent mother.
“Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son?
Wretch even then! life's journey just begun.”
He was employed till late at night in spinning flax or rocking the baby,
and called at a very early hour in the morning; and if he did not start at
the first summons, a cruel chastisement was sure to follow. He says:—
Such horror has seized me, lest I might not hear the first shrill call,
that I have often in dreams fancied I heard that unwelcome voice, and have
leaped from my couch and walked through the house and out of it before I awoke.
I have gone and called the other slaves, in my sleep, and asked them if they
did not hear master call. Never, while I live, will the remembrance of those
long bitter nights of fear pass from my mind.
He adds to these words which should be deeply pondered by those who lay
the flattering unction to their souls that the oppressed do not feel the sundering
of family ties.
But all my severe labour, and bitter and cruel punishments, for these ten
years of captivity with this worse than Arab family, all these were as nothing
to the sufferings I experienced by being separated from my mother, brothers,
and sisters; the same things, with them near to sympathise with me, to hear
my story of sorrow, would have been comparatively tolerable.
They were distant only about thirty miles, and yet, in ten long lonely
years of childhood, I was only permitted to see them three times.
My mother occasionally found an opportunity to send me some token of remembrance
and affection—a sugar-plum or an apple; but I scarcely ever ate them;
they were laid up, and handled, and wept over, till they wasted away in my
My thoughts continually by day, and my dreams by night, were of mother
and home; and the horror experienced in the morning, when I awoke and behold
it was a dream, is beyond the power of language to describe.
Lewis had a beautiful sister by the name of Delia, who, on the death of
her grandfather, was sold, with all the other children of his mother, for
the purpose of dividing the estate. She was a pious girl, a member of the
Baptist church. She fell into the hands of a brutal, drunken man, who wished
to make her his mistress. Milton Clark, a brother of Lewis, in the narrative
of his life, describes the scene where he, with his mother, stood at the door
while this girl was brutally whipped before it for wishing to conform to the
principles of her Christian profession. As her resolution was unconquerable,
she was placed in a coffle and sent down to the New Orleans market. Here she
was sold to a Frenchman named Coval; he took her to Mexico, emancipated and
married her. After residing some time in France and the West Indies with him,
he died, leaving her a fortune of twenty or thirty thousand dollars. At her
death she endeavoured to leave this by will to purchase the freedom of her
brothers; but, as a slave cannot take property, or even have it left in trust
for him, they never received any of it.
The incidents of the recovery of Lewis' freedom are thus told:—
I had long thought and dreamed of LIBERTY; I
was now determined to make an effort to gain it. No tongue can tell the doubt,
the perplexities, the anxiety, which a slave feels when making up his mind
upon this subject. If he makes an effort and is not successful, he must be
laughed at by his fellows, he will be beaten unmercifully by the master, and
then watched and used the harder for it all his life.
And then, if he gets away, who, what will he find?
He is ignorant of the
world. All the white part of mankind
that he has ever seen are enemies to him and all his kindred. How can he venture
where none but white faces shall greet him? The master tells him that abolitionists decoy slaves off into the free States to catch them and
sell them to Louisiana or Mississippi; and, if he goes to Canada, the British
will put him in a mine under ground, with both eyes put
out, for life. How does he know what or whom to believe? A horror of
great darkness comes upon him, as he thinks over what may befall him. Long,
very long time did I think of escaping before I made the effort.
At length the report was started that I was to be sold for Louisiana. Then
I thought it was time to act. My mind was made up.
* * * * * * * * *
What my feelings were when I reached the free shore can be better imagined
than described. I trembled all over with deep emotion, and I could feel my
hair rise up on my head. I was on what was called a free soil, among a people who had no slaves. I saw white men at work, and
no slave smarting beneath the lash. Everything was indeed new and wonderful. Not knowing where to find a friend, and being ignorant
of the country, unwilling to inquire lest I should betray my ignorance, it
was a whole week before I reached Cincinnati. At one place where I put up,
I had a great many more questions put to me than I wished to answer. At another
place I was very much annoyed by the officiousness of the landlord, who made
it a point to supply every guest with newspapers. I took the copy handed me,
and turned it over in a somewhat awkward manner, I suppose. He came to me
to point out a veto, or some other very important news. I thought it best
to decline his assistance, and gave up the paper, saying my eyes were not
in a fit condition to read much.
At another place, the neighbours, on learning that a Kentuckian was at
the tavern, came in great earnestness to find out what my business was. Kentuckians
sometimes came there to kidnap their citizens. They were in the habit of watching
them close. I at length satisfied them by assuring them that I was not, nor
my father before me, any slaveholder at all; but, lest their suspicions should
be excited in another direction, I added my grandfather was a slaveholder.
* * * * * * * * *
At daylight we were in Canada. When I stepped ashore here, I said, Sure
enough I AM FREE. Good Heavens! what a sensation, when
it first visits the bosoms of a full-grown man; one born to bondage; one who had been taught from early infancy that this was
his inevitable lot for life! Not till then did I dare
to cherish for a moment the feeling that one of the
limbs of my body was my own. The slaves often say, when cut in the hand or
foot, “Plague on the old foot,” or “the old hand! It is
master's, let him take care of it; nigger don't care if he never get well.”
My hands, my feet were now my own.
It will be recollected that George, in conversing with Eliza, gives an
account of a scene in which he was violently beaten by his master's young
son. This incident was suggested by the following letter from John M. Nelson
to Mr. Theodore Weld, given in Slavery As It Is, p.
Mr. Nelson removed from Virginia to Highland County,
many years since, where he is extensively known and respected. The letter
is dated January 3rd, 1839.
I was born and raised in Augusta County, Virginia; my father was an elder
in the Presbyterian church, and was “owner” of about twenty slaves;
he was what was generally termed a “good master.” His slaves were
generally tolerably well fed and clothed, and not over-worked; they were sometimes
permitted to attend church, and called in to family worship; few of them,
however, availed themselves of these privileges. On some occasions I have
seen him whip them severely, particularly for the crime of trying to obtain
their liberty, or for what was called “running away.” For this they were scourged more severely than for anything
else. After they have been retaken, I have seen them stripped naked and suspended
by the hands, sometimes to a tree, sometimes to a post, until their toes barely
touched the ground, and whipped with a cowhide until the blood dripped from
their backs. A boy named Jack, particularly, I have seen served in this way
more than once. When I was quite a child, I recollect it grieved me very much
to see one tied up to be whipped, and I used to intercede
with tears in their behalf, and mingle my cries with theirs, and feel almost
willing to take part of the punishment; I have been severely rebuked by my
father for this kind of sympathy. Yet, such is the hardening nature of such
scenes, that from this kind of commiseration for the suffering slave I became
so blunted that I could not only witness their stripes with composure, but myself inflict them, and that without remorse. One case
I have often looked back to with sorrow and contrition, particularly since
I have been convinced that “negroes are men.” When I was perhaps
fourteen or fifteen years of age, I undertook to correct a young fellow named
Ned, for some supposed offence, I think it was leaving a bridle out of its
proper place; he, being larger and stronger than myself, took hold of my arms
and held me, in order to prevent my striking him. This I considered the height
of insolence, and cried for help, when my father and mother both came running
to my rescue. My father stripped and tied him, and took him into the orchard,
where switches were plenty, and directed me to whip him; when one switch wore
out, he supplied me with others. After I had whipped him a while, he fell
on his knees to implore forgiveness, and I kicked him in the face; my father
said, “Don't kick him, but whip him;” this I did until his back
was literally covered with welts. I know I have repented,
and trust I have obtained pardon for these things.
My father owned a woman we used to call Aunt Grace; she was purchased in
Old Virginia. She has told me that her old master, in his will, gave her her freedom, but at his death his sons had sold her to
my father. When he bought her she manifested some unwillingness to go with
him; when she was put in irons and taken by force. This was before I was born;
but I remember to have seen the irons, and was told that was what they had
been used for. Aunt Grace is still living, and must be between seventy and
eighty years of age; she has, for the last forty years, been an exemplary
Christian. When I was a youth, I took some pains to learn her to read; this
is now a great consolation to her. Since age and infirmity have rendered her
of little value to her “owners,” she is permitted to read as much
as she pleases; this she can do, with the aid of glasses, in the old family
Bible, which is almost the only book she has ever looked into. This, with
some little mending for the black children, is all she does; she is still
held as a slave. I well remember what a heart-rending
scene there was in the family when my father sold
her husband; this was, I suppose, thirty-five years ago. And yet my father
was considered one of the best of masters. I know of few who were better,
but of many who were worse.
With regard to the intelligence of George, and his teaching himself to
read and write, there is a most interesting and affecting parallel to it in
the “Life of Frederick Douglass”—a book which can be recommended
to anyone who has a curiosity to trace the workings of an intelligent and
active mind through all the squalid misery, degradation and oppression, of
slavery. A few incidents will be given.
Like Clark, Douglass was the son of a white man. He was a plantation slave
in a proud old family; his situation, probably, may be considered as an average
one; that is to say, he led a life of dirt, degradation, discomfort of various
kinds, made tolerable as a matter of daily habit, and considered as enviable
in comparison with the lot of those who suffer worse abuse. An incident which
Douglass relates of his mother is touching; he states that it is customary
at an early age to separate mothers from their children, for the purpose of
blunting and deadening natural affection. When he was three years old his
mother was sent to work on a plantation eight or ten miles distant, and after
that he never saw her except in the night. After her day's toil she would
occasionally walk over to her child, lie down with him in her arms, hush him
to sleep in her bosom, then rise up and walk back again to be ready for her
field-work by daylight. Now, we ask the highest-born lady in England or America,
who is a mother, whether this does not show that this poor field-labourer
had in her bosom, beneath her dirt and rags, a true mother's heart?
The last and bitterest indignity which had been heaped on the head of the
unhappy slaves has been the denial to them of those holy affections which
God gives alike to all. We are told, in fine phrase, by languid ladies of
fashion, that “it is not to be supposed that those creatures have the
same feelings that we have,” when, perhaps, the very speaker could not
endure one tithe of the fatigue and suffering which the slave-mother often
bears for her child. Every mother who has a mother's heart within her ought
to know that this is blasphemy against nature, and, standing between the cradle
of her living and the grave of her dead child, should indignantly reject such
a slander on all motherhood.
Douglass thus relates the account of his learning to read, after he had
been removed to the situation of house-servant in Baltimore.
It seems that his mistress, newly-married and unaccustomed to the management
of slaves, was very kind to him, and, amongst other acts of kindness, commenced
teaching him to read. His master, discovering what was going on, he says,
At once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other
things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read.
To use his own words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch
he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to
do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best
nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger
(speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would
for ever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and
of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great
deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words
sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering,
and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and
special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful
understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what
had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's
power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it
highly. From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.
After this, his mistress was as watchful to prevent his learning to read
as she had before been to instruct him. His course after this he thus describes:—
From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room
any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book,
and was at once called to give an account of myself; all this, however, was
too late—the first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the
alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution
could prevent me from taking the ell.
The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was
that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street.
As many of these as I could I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid,
obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in
learning to read. When I was sent of errands I always took my book with me,
and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before
my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always
in the house, and to which I was always welcome, for I was much better off
in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighbourhood.
This bread I used to bestow upon the poor hungry little urchins, who, in return,
would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted
to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of
the gratitude and affection I bear them, but prudence forbids; not that it
would injure me, but it might embarrass them, for it is almost an unpardonable
offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to
say of the dear little fellows, that they lived in Philpot-street, very near
Durgin and Bailey's ship-yard. I used to talk this matter of slavery over
with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be free as they
would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as soon as you are
twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I
as good a right
to be free as you have?” These words used
to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console
me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.
I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for
life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time I got hold
of a book entitled the “Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I
got I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found
in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented
as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the
conversation which took place between them when the slave was retaken the
third time. In this dialogue the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought
forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave
was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his
master— things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the
conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part
of the master.
In the same book I met with one of Sheridan's mighty speeches on and in
behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read
them over and over again, with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting
thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and
died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue
was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got
from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication
of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts,
and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they
relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another still more painful
than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led
to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than
a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes and gone to Africa
and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery.
I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As
I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which
Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come,
to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it,
I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a
blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition without the remedy.
It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get
out. In moments of agony I envied my fellow slaves for their stupidity. I
have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest
reptile to my own: anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was
this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me: there was no
getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or
hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul
to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more for ever.
It was heard in every sound and seen in every thing. It was ever present to
torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing
it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it.
It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind,
and moved in every storm.
I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead;
and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that
I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been
killed. While in this state of mind I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery.
I was a ready listener. Every little while I could hear something about the
abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. It was
always used in such connexions as to make it an interesting word to me. If
a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his
master, set fire to a barn, or did anything very wrong in the mind of a slave-holder,
it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition. Hearing
the word in this connexion very often, I set about learning what it meant.
The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was “the act
of abolishing;” but then I did not know what was to be abolished. Here
I was perplexed. I did not care to ask anyone about its meaning, for I was
satisfied that it was something they wanted me to know very little about.
After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers, containing an account
of the number of petitions from the North praying for the abolition of slavery
in the District of Columbia, and of the slave-trade between the States. From
this time I understood the words abolition and abolitionist, and always drew near when that word was
spoken, expecting to hear something of importance to myself and fellow- slaves.
The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of
Mr. Waters, and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked,
and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and asked me
if I was a slave. I told him that I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave for
life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply
affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine
a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame
to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the North; that I should find
friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested
in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I
feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves
to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their
masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I
nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run
away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape.
I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn
how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself
with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile I would
learn to write.
The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being
in Durgin and Bailey's ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship-carpenters,
after hewing and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber
the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended. When a piece
of timber was intended for the larboard-side it would be marked thus—“L.”
When a piece for the starboard-side it would be marked thus—“S.”
A piece for the larboard-side forward would be marked thus—“L.
F.” When a piece was for starboard-side forward it would be marked thus—“S.
F.” For larboard-aft it would be marked thus—“L. A.”
For starboard-aft it would be marked thus—“S. A.” I soon
learned the names of these letters, and for what they were intended when placed
upon a piece of timber in the ship-yard. I immediately commenced copying them,
and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that,
when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him
I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don't believe
you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had
been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got
a good many lessons in writing, which it was quite possible I should never
have gotten in any other way. During this time my copy-book was the board
fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With
this I learned mainly how to write. I then commenced and continued copying
the Italics in Webster's Spelling-Book, until I could make them all without
looking on the book. By this time my little master Thomas had gone to school
and learned how to write, and had written over a number of copy-books. These
had been brought home, and shown to some of our neighbours, and then laid
aside. My mistress used to go to class-meeting at the Wilk-street meeting-house
every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. When left
thus I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas's
copying-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I
could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long,
tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.
These few quoted incidents will show that the case of George Harris is
by no means so uncommon as might be supposed.
Let the reader peruse the account which George Harris gives of the sale
of his mother and her children, and then read the following account given
by the venerable Josiah Henson, now pastor of the missionary settlement at
Dawn, in Canada.
After the death of his master, he says, the slaves of the plantation were
all put up at auction, and sold to the highest bidder.
My brothers and sisters were bid off one by one, while my mother, holding
my hand, looked on in an agony of grief, the cause of which I but ill understood
at first, but which dawned on my mind with dreadful clearness as the sale
proceeded. My mother was then separated from me and put up in her turn. She
was bought by a man named Isaac R., residing in Montgomery County [Maryland],
and then I was offered to the assembled purchasers. My mother, half distracted
with the parting for ever from all her children, pushed through the crowd,
while the bidding for me was going on, to the spot where R. was standing.
She fell at his feet, and clung to his knees, entreating him, in tones that
a mother only could command, to buy her baby as well
as herself, and spare to her one of her little ones at least. Will it, can
it be believed, that this man, thus appealed to, was capable, not merely of
turning a deaf ear to her supplication, but of disengaging himself from her
with such violent blows and kicks as to reduce her to the necessity of creeping
out of his reach, and mingling the groan of bodily suffering with the sob
of a breaking heart?
Now all these incidents that have been given are real incidents of slavery, related by those who know slavery by the best
of all tests—experience; and they are given by men who
have earned a good character in freedom, which makes their word as good as
the word of any man living.
The case of Lewis Clark might be called a harder one than common. The case
of Douglass is probably a very fair average specimen.
The writer had conversed, in her time, with a very considerable number
of liberated slaves, many of whom stated that their own individual lot had
been comparatively a mild one; but she never talked with one who did not let
fall, first or last, some incident which he had observed, some scene which
he had witnessed, which went to show some most horrible abuse of the system;
and what was most affecting about it, the narrator often evidently considered
it so much a matter of course as to mention it incidentally, without any particular
It is supposed by many that the great outcry among those who are opposed
to slavery comes from a morbid reading of unauthenticated accounts got up
in abolition papers, &c. This idea is a very mistaken one. The accounts
which tell against the slave-system are derived from the continual living
testimony of the poor slave himself; often from that of the fugitives from
slavery who are continually passing through our Northern cities.
As a specimen of some of the incidents, thus developed, is given the following
fact of recent occurrence, related to the author by a lady in Boston. This
lady, who was much in the habit of visiting the poor, was sent for, a month
or two since, to see a mulatto woman, who had just arrived at a coloured boarding-house
near by, and who appeared to be in much dejection of mind. A little conversation
showed her to be a fugitive. Her history was as follows: She, with her brother,
were, as is often the case, both the children and slaves of their master.
At his death, they were left to his legitimate daughter as her servants, and
treated with as much consideration as very common kind of people might be
expected to show those who were entirely and in every respect at their disposal.
The wife of her brother ran away to Canada; and as there was some talk
of selling her and her child, in consequence of some embarrassment in the
family affairs, her brother, a fine-spirited young man, determined to effect
her escape, also, to a land of liberty. He concealed her for some time in
the back part of an obscure dwelling in the city, till he could find an opportunity
to send her off. While she was in this retreat, he was indefatigable in his
attentions to her, frequently bringing
her fruit and flowers,
and doing everything he could to beguile the weariness of her imprisonment.
At length, the steward of a vessel, whom he had obliged, offered to conceal
him on board the ship, and give him a chance to escape. The noble-hearted
fellow, though tempted by an offer which would enable him immediately to join
his wife, to whom he was tenderly attached, preferred to give this offer to
his sister, and during the absence of the captain of the vessel she and her
child were brought on board and secreted.
The captain, when he returned and discovered what had been done, was very
angry, as the thing, if detected, would have involved him in very serious
difficulties. He declared at first, that he would send the woman up into town
to jail; but, by her entreaties and those of the steward, was induced to wait
till evening, and send word to her brother to come and take her back. After
dark the brother came on board, and, instead of taking his sister away, began
to appeal to the humanity of the captain in the most moving terms. He told
his sister's history and his own, and pleaded eloquently his desire for her
liberty. The captain had determined to be obdurate, but, alas! he was only
a man. Perhaps he had himself a wife and child—perhaps he felt that,
were he in the young man's case, he would do just so for his sister. Be it
as it may, he was at last overcome. He said to the young man, “I must
send you away from my ship; I'll put off a boat and see you get into it, and
you must row off, and never let me see your faces again; and if, after all,
you should come back and get on board, it will be your fault and not mine.”
So, in the rain and darkness, the young man and his sister and child were
lowered over the side of the vessel, and rowed away. After a while the ship
weighed anchor, but before she reached Boston it was discovered that the woman
and child were on board.
The lady to whom this story was related, was requested to write a letter,
in certain terms, to a person in the city whence the fugitive had come, to
let the brother know of her safe arrival.
The fugitive was furnished with work, by which she could support herself
and child, and the lady carefully attended to her wants for a few weeks.
One morning she came in, with a good deal of agitation, exclaiming, “O
ma'am, he's come! George is come!” And in a few minutes the young man
The lady who gave this relation belongs to the first circles of Boston
society; she says that she never was more impressed by the personal manners
of any gentleman than by those of this fugitive brother. So much did he have
the air of a perfect, finished gentleman, that she felt she could not question
him with regard to his escape with the familiarity with which persons of his
condition are commonly approached; and it was not till he requested her to
write a letter for him, because he could not write himself, that she could
realize that this fine specimen of manhood had been all his life a slave.
The remainder of the history is no less romantic. The lady had a friend
in Montreal, whither George's wife had gone; and, after furnishing money to
pay their expenses, she presented them with a letter to this gentleman, requesting
the latter to assist the young man in finding his wife. When they landed at
Montreal, George stepped on shore and presented this letter to the first man
he met, asking him if he knew to whom it was directed. The gentleman proved
to be the very person to whom the letter was addressed. He knew George's wife,
brought him to her without delay, so that, by return mail, the lady had the
satisfaction of learning the happy termination of the adventure.
This is but a specimen of histories which are continually transpiring;
so that those who speak of slavery can say, “We speak that which we
do know, and testify that we have seen.”
But we shall be told the slaves are all a lying race, and that these are
lies which they tell us. There are some things, however, about these slaves,
which cannot lie. Those deep lines of patient sorrow upon the face; that attitude
of crouching and humble subjection; that sad, habitual expression of hope
deferred in the eye, would tell their story if the slave never spoke.
It is not long since the writer has seen faces such as might haunt one's
dreams for weeks.
Suppose a poor, worn-out mother, sickly, feeble, and old— her hands
worn to the bone with hard, unpaid toil, whose nine children have been sold
to the slave trader, and whose tenth soon is to be sold, unless by her labour
as a washerwoman she can raise nine hundred dollars! Such are the kind of
cases constantly coming to one's knowledge, such are the witnesses which will
not let us sleep.
Doubt has been expressed whether such a thing as an advertisement for a
man “dead or alive,” like the advertisement
for George Harris, was ever published in the Southern States. The scene of
the story in which that occurs is supposed to be laid a
years back, at the time when the black laws of Ohio were passed. That at this
time such advertisements were common in the newspapers, there is abundant
evidence. That they are less common now, is a matter of hope and gratulation.
In the year 1839, Mr. Theodore D. Weld made a systematic attempt to collect
and arrange the statistics of slavery. A mass of facts and statistics was
gathered, which was authenticated with the most unquestionable accuracy. Some
of the “one thousand” witnesses, whom he brings upon the stand,
were ministers, lawyers, merchants, and men of various other callings, who
were either natives of the slave States, or had been residents there for many
years of their life. Many of these were slaveholders. Others of the witnesses
were, or had been, slave-drivers, or officers of coasting-vessels engaged
in the slave-trade.
Another part of his evidence was gathered from public speeches in Congress,
in the State legislatures, and elsewhere. But the majority of it was taken
from recent newspapers.
The papers from which these facts were copied were preserved and put on
file in a public place, where they remained for some years for the information
of the curious. After Mr. Weld's book was completed, a copy of it was sent,
through the mail, to every editor from whose paper such advertisements had
been taken, and to every individual of whom any facts had been narrated, with
the passage concerning them marked.
It is quite possible that this may have had some influence in rendering
such advertisements less common. Men of sense often go on doing a thing which
is very absurd, or even inhuman, simply because it has always been done before
them, and they follow general custom, without much reflection. When their
attention, however, is called to it by a stranger who sees the thing from
another point of view, they become immediately sensible of the impropriety
of the practice, and discontinue it. The reader will, however, be pained to
notice, when he comes to the legal part of the book, that, even in some of
the largest cities of our slave States, this barbarity had not been entirely
discontinued in the year 1850.
The list of advertisements in Mr. Weld's book is here inserted, not to
weary the reader with its painful details, but that, by running his eye over
the dates of the papers quoted, and the places of their publication, he may
form a fair estimate of the extent to which this atrocity was publicly practised.
The Wilmington (North Carolina) Advertiser, of July 13, 1838, contains the following advertisement:
“100 dollars will be paid to any person who may apprehend, and safely
confine in any jail in this State, a certain negro man, named ALFRED. And the same reward will be paid if satisfactory evidence is
given of his having been KILLED. He has one or more scars on one of his hands, caused by his having
“THE CITIZENS OF ONSLOW.
“Richlands, Onslow Co. May 16, 1838.”
In the same column with the above, and directly under it, is the following.
“RAN AWAY, my negro man RICHARD. A reward of 25 dollars will be paid for his apprehension, DEAD
or ALIVE. Satisfactory proof will only be required of his being KILLED. He
has with him, in all probability, his wife ELIZA,
who ran away from Col. Thompson, now a resident of Alabama, about the time
he commenced his journey to that State.
“DURANT H. RHODES.”
In the Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, May 28, is the following.
“About the first of March last the negro man RANSON left me without the least provocation whatever; I will give a
reward of twenty dollars for said negro if taken, DEAD OR
ALIVE; and if killed in any attempt, an advance of five dollars will
“Crawford Co., Georgia.”
See the Newbern (North Carolina) Spectator, Jan. 5, 1838, for the following.
“RAN AWAY from the subscriber, a negro man, named SAMPSON. Fifty
dollars reward will be given for the delivery of him to me, or his confinement
in any jail, so that I get him; and should he resist in being taken, so that
violence is necessary to arrest him, I will not hold any person liable to
damages should the slave be killed.
“Jones Co., N. C.”
From the Charleston (South Carolina) Courier, Feb. 20, 1836.
“300 DOLLARS REWARD. Ran away from the subscriber, in November last,
his two negro men, named BILLY and POMPEY.
“Billy is 25 years old, and is known as the patroon of my boat for
many years. In all probability he may resist; in that event, 50 dollars will
be paid for his HEAD.”
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
THE writer stated in her book that Eliza was
a portrait drawn from life. The incident which brought the original to her
notice may be simply narrated.
While the writer was travelling in Kentucky, many years ago, she attended
church in a small country town. While there, her attention was called to a
beautiful quadroon girl, who sat in one of the slips of the church, and appeared
to have charge of some young children. The description of Eliza may suffice
for a description of her. When the author returned from the church, she inquired
about the girl, and was told that she was as good and amiable as she was beautiful;
that she was a pious girl, and a member of the Church; and, finally, that
she was owned by Mr. So-and-so. The idea that this
girl was a slave struck a chill to her heart, and she said earnestly, “Oh,
I hope they treat her kindly.”
“Oh, certainly,” was the reply; “they think as much of
her as of their own children.”
“I hope they will never sell her,” said a person in the company.
“Certainly they will not; a Southern gentleman, not long ago, offered
her master a thousand dollars for her; but he told him that she was too good
to be his wife, and he certainly should not have her for a mistress.”
That is all the writer knows of that girl.
With regard to the incident of Eliza's crossing the river on the ice—as
the possibility of the thing has been disputed—the writer gives the
following circumstance in confirmation.
Last spring, while the author was in New York, a Presbyterian clergyman
of Ohio came to her, and said, “I understand they dispute that fact
about the woman's crossing the river. Now, I know all about that, for I got
the story from the very man that helped her up the bank. I know it is true,
for she is now living in Canada.”
It has been objected that the representation of the scene in which the
plan for kidnapping Eliza is concocted by Haley, Marks,
Loker, at the tavern, is a gross caricature on the state of things in Ohio.
What knowledge the author has had of the facilities which some justices
of the peace, under the old fugitive law of Ohio, were in the habit of giving
to kidnapping, may be inferred by comparing the statement in her book with
some in her personal knowledge.
“Ye see,” said Marks to Haley, stirring his punch as he did
so, “ye see, we has justices convenient at all p'ints along shore, that
does up any little jobs in our line quite reasonable. Tom, he does the knockin'
down, and that ar; and I come in all dressed up—shining boots—everything
first chop—when the swearin's to be done. You oughter see me, now!”
said Marks, in a glow of professional pride, “how I can tone it off.
One day I'm Mr. Twickem, from New Orleans; 'nother day, I'm just come from
my plantation on Pearl river, where I works seven hundred niggers; then, again,
I come out a distant relation to Henry Clay, or some old cock in Kentuck.
Talents is different, you know. Now, Tom's a roarer when there's any thumping
or fighting to be done; but at lying he an't good, Tom an't; ye see it don't
come natural to him; but, Lord! if thar's a feller in the country that can
swear to anything and everything, and put in all the circumstances and flourishes
with a longer face, and carry't through better'n I can, why, I'd like to see
him, that's all! I b'lieve, my heart, I could get along, and snake through,
even if justices were more particular than they is. Sometimes I rather wish
they was more particular; 'twould be a heap more relishin' if they was—more
fun, yer know.”
In the year 1839, the writer received into her family, as a servant, a
girl from Kentucky. She had been the slave of one of the lowest and most brutal
families, with whom she had been brought up, in a log-cabin, in a state of
half-barbarism. In proceeding to give her religious instruction, the author
heard, for the first time in her life, an inquiry which she had not supposed
possible to be made in America—“Who is Jesus Christ, now, anyhow?”
When the author told her the history of the love and life and death of
Christ, the girl seemed wholly overcome; tears streamed down her cheeks, and
she exclaimed piteously, “Why didn't nobody never tell me this before?”
“But,” said the writer to her, “haven't you ever seen
“Yes, I have seen Missus a-readin' on't sometimes; but, law sakes!
she's just a readin' on't 'cause she could; don't s'pose it did her no good,
She said she had been to one or two camp-meetings in her life, but “didn't
notice very particular.”
At all events, the story certainly made great impression on her, and had
such an effect in improving her conduct, that the writer had great hopes of
On inquiring into her history, it was discovered that, by the laws of Ohio,
she was legally entitled to her freedom, from the fact of her having been
brought into the State, and left there, temporarily, by the consent of her
mistress. These facts being properly authenticated before the proper authorities,
papers attesting her freedom were drawn up, and it was now supposed that all
danger of pursuit was over. After she had remained in the family for some
months, word was sent, from various sources, to Professor Stowe, that the
girl's young master was over, looking for her, and that, if care were not
taken, she would be conveyed back into slavery.
Professor Stowe called on the magistrate who had authenticated her papers,
and inquired whether they were not sufficient to protect her. The reply was,
Certainly they are, in law, if she could have a fair hearing; but they will
come to your house in the night, with an officer and a warrant; they will
take her before Justice D—, and swear to her. He's the man that does
all this kind of business, and he'll deliver her up, and there'll be an end
Mr. Stowe then inquired what could be done; and was recommended to carry
her to some place of security till the inquiry for her was over. Accordingly,
that night, a brother of the author, with Professor Stowe, performed for the
fugitive that office which the senator is represented as performing for Eliza.
They drove about ten miles on a solitary road, crossed the creek at a very
dangerous fording, and presented themselves, at mid-night, at the house of
John Van Zandt, a noble-minded Kentuckian, who had performed the good deed
which the author, in her story, ascribes to Van Tromp.
After some rapping at the door, the worthy owner of the mansion appeared,
candle in hand, as has been narrated.
“Are you the man that would save a poor coloured girl from kidnappers?”
was the first question.
“Guess I am,” was the prompt response; “where is she?”
“Why, she's here.”
“But how did you come?”
“I crossed the creek.”
“Why, the Lord helped you!” said he; “I shouldn't dare
cross it myself in the night. A man and his wife, and five children were drowned
there, a little while ago.”
The reader may be interested to know that the poor girl was never re-taken:
that she married well in Cincinnati, is a very respectable woman, and the
mother of a large family of children.
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
THE character of Uncle Tom has been objected
to as improbable; and yet the writer has received more confirmations of that
character, and from a great variety of sources, than of any other in the book.
Many people have said to her, “I knew an Uncle Tom in such-and-such
a Southern State.” All the histories of this kind which have thus been
related to her would of themselves, if collected, make a small volume. The
author will relate a few of them.
While visiting in an obscure town in Maine, in the family of a friend,
the conversation happened to turn upon this subject, and the gentleman with
whose family she was staying related the following. He said, that when on
a visit to his brother in New Orleans, some years before, he found in his
possession a most valuable negro man, of such remarkable probity and honesty
that his brother literally trusted him with all he had. He had frequently
seen him take out a handful of bills, without looking at them, and hand them
to this servant, bidding him go and provide what was necessary for the family,
and bring him the change. He remonstrated with his brother on this imprudence;
but the latter replied that he had had such proofs of this servant's impregnable
conscientiousness that he felt it safe to trust him to any extent.
The history of the servant was this. He had belonged to a man in Baltimore,
who, having a general prejudice against all the religious exercises of slaves,
did all that he could to prevent his having any time for devotional duties,
and strictly forbade him to read the Bible and pray, either by himself or
with the other servants; and because, like a certain man of old, named Daniel,
he constantly disobeyed this unchristian edict, his master inflicted upon
him that punishment which a master always has in his power to inflict—he
sold him into perpetual exile from his wife and children, down to New Orleans.
The gentleman who gave the writer this information says that, although
not a religious man at the time, he was so struck with the man's piety, that
he said to his brother, “I hope you will never do anything to deprive
this man of his religious privileges, for I think a judgment will come upon
you if you do.” To this his brother replied that he should be very foolish
to do it, since he had made up his mind that the man's religion was the root
of his extraordinary excellences.
Some time since there was sent to the writer from the South, through the
mail, a little book, entitled “Sketches of Old Virginia Family Servants,”
with a preface by Bishop Meade. The book contains an account of the following
servants: African Bella, Old Milly, Blind Lucy, Aunt Betty, Springsfield Bob,
Mammy Chris, Diana Washington, Aunt Margaret, Rachel Parker, Nelly Jackson,
My Own Mammy, Aunt Beck.
The following extract from Bishop Meade's preface may not be uninteresting:—
The following sketches were placed in my hands with a request that I would
examine them with a view to publication.
After reading them, I could not but think that they would be both pleasing
Very many such examples of fidelity and piety might be added from the old
Virginia families. These will suffice as specimens, and will serve to show
how interesting the relation between master and servant often is.
Many will doubtless be surprised to find that there was so much intelligence
as well as piety in some of the old servants of Virginia, and that they had
learned to read the Sacred Scriptures, so as to be useful in this way among
their fellow-servants. It is, and always has been true, in regard to the servants
of the Southern States, that although public schools may have been prohibited,
yet no interference has been attempted, where the owners have chosen to teach
their servants, or permit them to learn in a private way how to read God's
word. Accordingly, there always have been some who were thus taught. In the
more Southern States the number of these has most abounded. Of this fact I
became well assured about thirty years since, when visiting the Atlantic States,
with a view to the formation of auxiliary colonization societies, and the
selection of the first colonists for Africa. In the city of Charleston, South
Carolina, I found more intelligence and character among the free coloured
population than anywhere else. The same was true of some of those in bondage.
A respectable number might be seen in certain parts of the Episcopal churches
which I attended, using their prayer-books, and joining in the responses of
Many purposes of convenience and hospitality were subserved by this encouragement
of cultivation in some of the servants, on the part of the owners.
When travelling many years since with a sick wife, and two female relatives,
from Charleston to Virginia, at a period of the year when many of the families
from the country resort to the town for health, we were kindly urged to call
the seat of one of the first families in South Carolina;
and a letter from the mistress, then in the city, was given us, to her servant,
who had charge of the house in the absence of the family. On reaching there,
and delivering the letter to a most respectable-looking female servant, who
immediately read it, we were kindly welcomed and entertained, during a part
of two days, as sumptuously as though the owner had been present. We understood
that it was no uncommon thing in South Carolina for travellers to be thus
entertained by the servants in the absence of the owners, on receiving letters
from the same.
Instances of confidential and affectionate relationship between servants
and their masters and mistresses, such as are set forth in the following sketches,
are still to be found in all the slave-holding States. I mention one, which
has come under my own observation. The late Judge Upshur, of Virginia, had
a faithful house-servant (by his will now set free), with whom he used to
correspond on matters of business when he was absent on his circuit. I was
dining at his house, some years since, with a number of persons, himself being
absent, when the conversation turned on the subject of the presidential election,
then going on through the United States, and about which there was an intense
interest; when his servant informed us that he had that day received a letter
from his master, then on the western shore, in which he stated that the friends
of General Harrison might be relieved from all uneasiness, as the returns
already received made his election quite certain.
Of course it is not to be supposed that we design to convey the impression
that such instances are numerous, the nature of the relationship forbidding
it; but we do mean emphatically to affirm that there is far more of kindly
and Christian intercourse than many at a distance are apt to believe. That
there is a great and sad want of Christian instruction, notwithstanding the
more recent efforts put forth to impart it, we most sorrowfully acknowledge.
Bishop Meade adds that these sketches are published with the hope that
they might have the effect of turning the attention of ministers and heads
of families more seriously to the duty of caring for the souls of their servants.
With regard to the servant of Judge Upshur, spoken of in this communication
of Bishop Meade, his master has left, in his last will, the following remarkable
tribute to his worth and excellence of character:—
I emancipate and set free my servant, David Rice, and direct my executors
to give him one hundred dollars. I recommend him in
the strongest manner to the respect, esteem, and confidence of any community
in which he may happen to live. He has been my slave for twenty-four years,
during all which time he has been trusted to every extent, and in every respect;
my confidence in him has been unbounded; his relation to myself and family
has always been such as to afford him daily opportunities to deceive and injure
us; yet he has never been detected in any serious fault, nor even in an unintentional
breach of decorum of his station. His intelligence is of a high order, his
above all suspicion, and his sense of right and propriety
correct, and even refined. I feel that he is justly entitled to carry this
certificate from me in the new relations which he must now form; it is due
to his long and most faithful services, and to the sincere and steady friendship
which I bear to him. In the uninterrupted confidential intercourse of twenty-four
years, I have never given him, nor had occasion to give him, one unpleasant
word. I know no man who has fewer faults or more excellences than he.
In the free States there have been a few instances of such extraordinary
piety among negroes, that their biography and sayings have been collected
in religious tracts, and published for the instruction of the community.
One of these was, before his conversion, a convict in a State-prison in
New York, and there received what was, perhaps, the first religious instruction
that had ever been imparted to him. He became so eminent an example of humility,
faith, and, above all, fervent love, that his presence in the neighbourhood
was esteemed a blessing to the church. A lady has described to the writer
the manner in which he would stand up and exhort in the church-meetings for
prayer, when, with streaming eyes and the deepest abasement, humbly addressing
them as his masters and misses, he would nevertheless pour forth religious
exhortations which were edifying to the most cultivated and refined.
In the town of Brunswick, Maine, where the writer lived when writing “Uncle
Tom's Cabin,” may now be seen the grave of an aged coloured woman, named
Phebe, who was so eminent for her piety and loveliness of character, that
the writer has never heard her name mentioned except with that degree of awe
and respect which one would imagine due to a saint. The small cottage where
she resided is still visited and looked upon as a sort of shrine, as the spot
where old Phebe lived and prayed. Her prayers and pious exhortations were
supposed to have been the cause of the conversion of many young people in
the place. Notwithstanding that the unchristian feeling of caste prevails
as strongly in Maine as anywhere else in New England, and the negro, commonly
speaking, is an object of aversion and contempt, yet, so great was the influence
of her piety and loveliness of character, that she was uniformly treated with
the utmost respect and attention by all classes of people. The most cultivated
and intelligent ladies of the place esteemed it a privilege to visit her cottage;
and when she was old and helpless, her wants were most tenderly provided for.
When the news of her death was spread abroad in the place, it excited a general
and very tender sensation of regret. “We have lost Phebe's prayers,”
remark frequently made afterwards by members of the
church, as they met one another. At her funeral, the ex-governor of the State
and the professors of the college officiated as pall-bearers, and a sermon
was preached, in which the many excellences of her Christian character were
held up as an example to the community. A small religious tract, containing
an account of her life, was published by the American Tract Society, prepared
by a lady of Brunswick. The writer recollects that on reading the tract, when
she first went to Brunswick, a doubt arose in her mind whether it was not
somewhat exaggerated. Some time afterwards she overheard some young persons
conversing together about the tract, and saying that they did not think it
gave exactly the right idea of Phebe. “Why, is it too highly coloured?”
was the inquiry of the author. “Oh, no, no, indeed!” was the earnest
response; “it doesn't begin to give an idea of how good she was.”
Such instances as these serve to illustrate the words of the Apostle, “God
hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God
hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are
John Bunyan says, that although the valley of humiliation be unattractive
in the eyes of the men of this world, yet the very sweetest flowers grow there.
So it is with the condition of the lowly and poor in this world. God has often,
indeed always, shown a particular regard for it, in selecting from that class
the recipients of his grace. It is to be remembered that Jesus Christ, when
he came to found the Christian dispensation, did not choose his apostles from
the chief priests and the scribes, learned in the law and high in the church;
nor did he choose them from philosophers and poets, whose educated and comprehensive
minds might be supposed best able to appreciate his great designs; but he
chose twelve plain, poor fishermen, who were ignorant, and felt that they
were ignorant, and who, therefore, were willing to give themselves up with
all simplicity to his guidance. What God asks of the soul more than anything
else is faith and simplicity, the affection and reliance of the little child.
Even these twelve fancied too much that they were wise, and Jesus was obliged
to set a little child in the midst of them, as a more perfect teacher.
The negro race is confessedly more simple, docile, childlike, and affectionate,
than other races; and hence the divine graces of love and faith, when in-breathed
by the Holy Spirit, find in their natural temperament a more congenial atmosphere.
A last instance parallel with that of Uncle Tom is to be found in the published
memoirs of the venerable Josiah Henson, now, as we have said, a clergyman
in Canada. He was “raised” in the State of Maryland. His first
recollections were of seeing his father mutilated and covered with blood,
suffering the penalty of the law for the crime of raising his hand against
a white man—that white man being the overseer, who had attempted a
brutal assault upon his mother. This punishment made his father surly and
dangerous, and he was subsequently sold South, and thus parted for ever from
his wife and children. Henson grew up in a state of heathenism, without any
religious instruction, till, in a camp-meeting, he first heard of Jesus Christ,
and was electrified by the great and thrilling news that He had tasted death
for every man, the bond as well as the free. This story produced an immediate
conversion, such as we read of in the Acts of the Apostles, where the Ethiopian
eunuch, from one interview, hearing the story of the cross, at once believes
and is baptized. Henson forthwith not only became a Christian, but began to
declare the news to those about him; and, being a man of great natural force
of mind and strength of character, his earnest endeavours to enlighten his
fellow-heathen were so successful, that he was gradually led to assume the
station of a negro preacher; and though he could not read a word of the Bible
or hymn-book, his labours in this line were much prospered. He became immediately
a very valuable slave to his master, and was intrusted by the latter with
the oversight of his whole estate, which he managed with great judgment and
prudence. His master appears to have been a very ordinary man in every respect,—to
have been entirely incapable of estimating him in any other light than as
exceedingly valuable property, and to have had no other feeling excited by
his extraordinary faithfulness than the desire to make the most of him. When
his affairs became embarrassed, he formed the design of removing all his negroes
into Kentucky, and intrusted the operation entirely to his overseer. Henson
was to take them alone, without any other attendant, from Maryland to Kentucky,
a distance of some thousands of miles, giving only his promise as a Christian
that he would faithfully perform this undertaking. On the way thither they
passed through a portion of Ohio, and there Henson was informed that he could
now secure his own freedom and that of all his fellows, and he was strongly
urged to do it. He was exceedingly tempted and tried, but his Christian principle
was invulnerable. No inducements could lead him to feel that it was right
for a Christian to violate a pledge solemnly
given, and his
influence over the whole band was so great that he took them all with him
into Kentucky. Those causists among us who lately seem to think and teach
that it is right for us to violate the plain commands of God, whenever some
great national good can be secured by it, would do well to contemplate the
inflexible principle of this poor slave, who, without being able to read a
letter of the Bible, was yet enabled to perform this most sublime act of self-renunciation
in obedience to its commands. Subsequently to this, his master, in a relenting
moment, was induced by a friend to sell him his freedom for four hundred dollars;
but, when the excitement of the importunity had passed off, he regretted that
he had suffered so valuable a piece of property to leave his hands for so
slight a remuneration. By an unworthy artifice, therefore, he got possession
of his servant's free papers, and condemned him still to hopeless slavery.
Subsequently, his affairs becoming still more involved, he sent his son down
the river with a flat boat loaded with cattle and produce for the New Orleans
market, directing him to take Henson along, and sell him after they had sold
the cattle and the boat. All the depths of the negro's soul were torn up and
thrown into convulsion by this horrible piece of ingratitude, cruelty and
injustice; and, while outwardly calm, he was struggling with most bitter temptations
from within, which, as he could not read the Bible, he could repel only by
a recollection of its sacred truths, and by earnest prayer. As he neared the
New Orleans market, he says that these convulsions of soul increased, especially
when he met some of his old companions from Kentucky, whose despairing countenances
and emaciated forms told of hard work and insufficient food, and confirmed
all his worst fears of the lower country. In the transports of his despair,
the temptation was more urgently presented to him to murder his young master
and the other hand on the flat boat in their sleep, to seize upon the boat,
and make his escape. He thus relates the scene where he was almost brought
to the perpetration of this deed:—
One dark, rainy night, within a few days of New Orleans, my hour seemed
to have come. I was alone on the deck; Mr. Amos and the hands were all asleep
below, and I crept down noiselessly, got hold of an axe, entered the cabin,
and looking by the aid of the dim light there for my victims, my eye fell
upon Master Amos, who was nearest to me; my hand slid along the axe-handle,
I raised it to strike the fatal blow, when suddenly the thought came to me,
“What! commit murder! and you a Christian?”
I had not called it murder before. It was self-defence—it was preventing
others from murdering me—it was justifiable, it was even praiseworthy.
But now, all at once, the truth burst upon me that it was a crime. I was going
to kill a young man, who had done nothing to injure me, but obey commands
which he could not resist; I was about
to lose the fruit of
all my efforts at self-improvement, the character I had acquired, and the
peace of mind which had never deserted me. All this came upon me instantly,
and with a distinctness which made me almost think I heard it whispered in
my ear; and I believe I even turned my head to listen. I shrunk back, laid
down the axe, crept up on deck again, and thanked God, as I have done every
day since, that I had not committed murder.
My feelings were still agitated, but they were changed. I was filled with
shame and remorse for the design I had entertained, and with the fear that
my companions would detect it in my face, or that a careless word would betray
my guilty thoughts. I remained on deck all night, instead of rousing one of
the men to relieve me; and nothing brought composure to my mind, but the solemn
resolution I then made to resign myself to the will of God, and take with
thankfulness, if I could, but with submission, at all events, whatever he
might decide should be my lot. I reflected that if my life were reduced to
a brief term, I should have less to suffer, and that it was better to die
with a Christian's hope, and a quiet conscience, than to live with the incessant
recollection of a crime that would destroy the value of life, and under the
weight of a secret that would crush out the satisfaction that might be expected
from freedom, and every other blessing.
Subsequently to this, his young master was taken violently down with the
river fever, and became as helpless as a child. He passionately entreated
Henson not to desert him, but to attend to the selling of the boat and produce,
and put him on board the steamboat, and not to leave him, dead or alive, till
he had carried him back to his father.
The young master was borne in the arms of his faithful servant to the steamboat,
and there nursed by him with unremitting attention during the journey up the
river; nor did he leave him till he had placed him in his father's arms.
Our love for human nature would lead us to add, with sorrow, that all this
disinterestedness and kindness was rewarded only by empty praises, such as
would be bestowed upon a very fine dog; and Henson indignantly resolved no
longer to submit to the injustice. With a degree of prudence, courage, and
address, which can scarcely find a parallel in any history, he managed, with
his wife and two children, to escape into Canada. Here he learned to read,
and by his superior talent and capacity for management, laid the foundation
of the fugitive settlement of Dawn, which is understood to be one of the most
flourishing in Canada.
It would be well for the most cultivated of us to ask, whether our ten
talents in the way of religious knowledge have enabled us to bring forth as
much fruit to the glory of God, to withstand temptation as patiently, to return
good for evil as disinterestedly, as this poor ignorant slave. A writer in
England has sneeringly
remarked that such a man as Uncle Tom
might be imported as a missionary to teach the most cultivated in England
or America the true nature of religion. These instances show that what has
been said with a sneer is in truth a sober verity; and it should never be
forgotten that out of this race whom man despiseth have often been chosen
of God true messengers of his grace, and temples for the indwelling of his
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth
eternity, whose name is holy, I dwell in the high and holy place, with him
also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the
humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
The vision attributed to Uncle Tom introduces quite a curious chapter of
psychology with regard to the negro race, and indicates a peculiarity which
goes far to show how very different they are from the white race. They are
possessed of a nervous organisation peculiarly susceptible and impressible.
Their sensations and impressions are very vivid, and their fancy and imagination
lively. In this respect the race has an Oriental character, and betrays its
tropical origin. Like the Hebrews of old and the Oriental nations of the present,
they give vent to their emotions with the utmost vivacity of expression, and
their whole bodily system sympathises with the movements of their minds. When
in distress, they actually lift up their voices to weep, and “cry with
an exceeding bitter cry.” When alarmed, they are often paralysed, and
rendered entirely helpless. Their religious exercises are all coloured by
this sensitive and exceedingly vivacious temperament. Like Oriental nations,
they incline much to outward expressions, violent gesticulations, and agitating
movements of the body. Sometimes in their religious meetings they will spring
from the floor many times in succession, with a violence and rapidity which
is perfectly astonishing. They will laugh, weep, and embrace each other convulsively,
and sometimes become entirely paralysed and cataleptic. A clergyman from the
North once remonstrated with a Southern clergyman for permitting such extravagances
among his flock. The reply of the Southern minister was, in effect, this:
“Sir, I am satisfied that the races are so essentially different that
they cannot be regulated by the same rules. I at first felt as you do; and
though I saw that genuine conversions did take place, with all this outward
manifestation, I was still so much annoyed by it as to forbid it among my
negroes, till I was satisfied that the repression of it was a serious hindrance
to real religious feeling; and then I became certain that all men cannot be
regulated in their religious exercises by one model. I am assured that con-
versions produced with these accessories are quite as apt to
be genuine, and to be as influential over the heart and life, as those produced
in any other way.” The fact is, that the Anglo-Saxon race—cool,
logical, and practical—have yet to learn the doctrine of toleration
for the peculiarities of other races; and perhaps it was with a foresight
of their peculiar character and dominant position in the earth, that God gave
the Bible to them in the fervent language and with the glowing imagery of
the more susceptible and passionate Oriental races.
Mesmerists have found that the negroes are singularly susceptible to all
that class of influences which produce catalepsy, mesmeric sleep, and partial
The African race, in their own climate, are believers in spells, in “fetish
and obi,” in “the evil eye,” and other singular influences,
for which probably there is an origin in this peculiarity of constitution.
The magicians in scriptural history were Africans; and the so-called magical
arts are still practised in Egypt, and other parts of Africa, with a degree
of skill and success which can only be accounted for by supposing peculiarities
of nervous constitution quite different from those of the whites. Considering
those distinctive traits of the race, it is no matter of surprise to find
in their religious histories, when acted upon by the powerful stimulant of
the Christian religion, very peculiar features. We are not surprised to find
almost constantly, in the narrations of their religious histories, accounts
of visions, of heavenly voices, of mysterious sympathies and transmissions
of knowledge from heart to heart without the intervention of the senses, or
what the Quakers call being “baptized into the spirit” of those
who are distant.
Cases of this kind are constantly recurring in their histories. The young
man whose story was related to the Boston lady, and introduced above in the
chapter on George Harris, stated this incident concerning the recovery of
his liberty: That after the departure of his wife and sister, he for a long
time, and very earnestly, sought some opportunity of escape, but that every
avenue appeared to be closed to him. At length, in despair, he retreated to
his room, and threw himself upon his bed, resolving to give up the undertaking,
when just as he was sinking to sleep, he was roused by a voice saying in his
ear, “Why do you sleep now? Rise up, if you ever mean to be free!”
He sprang up, went immediately out, and in the course of two hours discovered
the means of escape which he used.
A lady whose history is known to the writer resided for some time on a
Southern plantation, and was in the habit of imparting
instruction to the slaves. One day a woman from a distant plantation called
at her residence, and inquired for her. The lady asked in surprise, “How
did you know about me?” The old woman's reply was, that she had long
been distressed about her soul; but that, several nights before, some one
had appeared to her in a dream, told her to go to this plantation and inquire
for the strange lady there, and that she would teach her the way to heaven.
Another specimen of the same kind was related to the writer, by a slave-woman
who had been through the whole painful experience of a slave's life. She was
originally a young girl of pleasing exterior and gentle nature, carefully
reared as a seamstress and nurse to the children of a family in Virginia,
and attached with all the warmth of her susceptible nature to these children.
Although one of the tenderest of mothers when the writer knew her, yet she
assured the writer that she had never loved a child of her own as she loved
the dear little young mistress who was her particular charge. Owing, probably,
to some pecuniary difficulty in the family, this girl, whom we call Louisa,
was sold to go on to a Southern plantation. She has often described the scene
when she was forced into a carriage, and saw her dear young mistress leaning
from the window, stretching her arms towards her, screaming and calling her
name with all the vehemence of childish grief. She was carried in a coffle,
and sold as cook on a Southern plantation. With the utmost earnestness of
language she has described to the writer her utter loneliness, and the distress
and despair of her heart, in this situation, parted for ever from all she
held dear on earth, without even the possibility of writing letters or sending
messages, surrounded by those who felt no kind of interest in her, and forced
to a toil for which her more delicate education had entirely unfitted her.
Under these circumstances, she began to believe that it was for some dreadful
sin she had thus been afflicted. The course of her mind after this may be
best told in her own simple words:—
“After that, I began to feel awful wicked—oh, so wicked, you've
no idea! I felt so wicked that my sins seemed like a load on me, and I went
so heavy all the day! I felt so wicked that I didn't feel worthy to pray in
the house, and I used to go way off in the lot and pray. At last one day,
when I was praying, the Lord he came and spoke to me.”
“The Lord spoke to you? What do you mean, Louisa?”
With a face of the utmost earnestness she answered, “Why, ma'am,
the Lord Jesus he came and spoke to me, you know; and I never, till the last
day of my life, shall forget what he said to me.”
“What was it?” said the writer.
“He said, `Fear not, my little one; thy sins are forgiven thee;'”
and she added to this some verses, which the writer recognized as
those of a Methodist hymn.
Being curious to examine more closely this phenomenon, the author said,
“You mean that you dreamed this, Louisa?”
With an air of wounded feeling, and much earnestness, she answered,
“O no, Mrs. Stowe; that never was a dream; you'll never make me believe
The thought at once arose in the writer's mind, If the Lord Jesus is indeed
everywhere present, and if he is as tender-hearted and compassionate as he
was on earth—and we know he is— must he not sometimes long to
speak to the poor desolate slave, when he knows that no voice but His can
carry comfort and healing to his soul?
This instance of Louisa is so exactly parallel to another case, which the
author received from an authentic source, that she is tempted to place the
two side by side.
Among the slaves who were brought into the New England States, at the time
when slavery was prevalent, was one woman, who immediately on being told the
history of the love of Jesus Christ, exclaimed, “He is the one; this
is what I wanted!”
This language causing surprise, her history was inquired into. It was briefly
this:—While living in her simple hut in Africa, the kidnappers one day
rushed upon her family, and carried her husband and children off to the slave-ship,
she escaping into the woods. On returning to her desolate home, she mourned
with the bitterness of “Rachel weeping for her children.” For
many days her heart was oppressed with a heavy weight of sorrow; and, refusing
all sustenance, she wandered up and down the desolate forest.
At last, she says, a strong impulse came over her to kneel down and pour
out her sorrows into the ear of some unknown Being whom she fancied to be
above her, in the sky.
She did so; and to her surprise, found an inexpressible sensation of relief.
After this, it was her custom daily to go out to this same spot, and supplicate
this unknown Friend. Subsequently, she was herself taken and brought over
to America; and when the story of Jesus and his love was related to her, she
immediately felt in her soul that this Jesus was the very friend who had spoken
comfort to her yearning spirit in the distant forest of Africa.
Compare now these experiences with the earnest and beautiful language of
Paul: “He hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on
all the face of the earth; and hath determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation, that THEY SHOULD seek the Lord,
if haply they might FEEL AFTER HIM AND FIND HIM, though he be not far from every one of us.”
Is not this truly “feeling after God and finding
Him?” And may we not hope that the yearning, troubled, helpless
heart of man, pressed by the insufferable anguish of this short life, or wearied
by its utter vanity, never extends its ignorant pleading hand to God in vain?
Is not the veil which divides us from an almighty and most merciful Father
much thinner than we, in the pride of our philosophy, are apt to imagine?
and is it not the most worthy conception of Him to suppose that the more utterly
helpless and ignorant the human being is that seeks His aid, the more tender
and the more condescending will be His communication with that soul?
If a mother has among her children one whom sickness has made blind, or
deaf, or dumb, incapable of acquiring knowledge through the usual channels
of communication, does she not seek to reach its darkened mind by modes of
communication tenderer and more intimate than those which she uses with the
stronger and more favoured ones? But can the love of any mother be compared
with the infinite love of Jesus? Has He not described himself as that good
Shepherd who leaves the whole flock of secure and well-instructed ones, to
follow over the mountains of sin and ignorance the one lost sheep; and when
He hath found it, rejoicing more over that one than over the ninety and nine
that went not astray? Has He not told us that each of these little ones has
a guardian angel that doth always behold the face of his Father which is in
heaven? And is it not comforting to us to think that His love and care will
be in proportion to the ignorance and the wants of His chosen ones?
* * * * *
Since the above was prepared for the press the author has received the
following extract from a letter written by a gentleman in Missouri to the
editor of the Oberlin (Ohio) Evangelist:—
I really thought, while reading “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” that the
authoress, when describing the character of Tom, had in her mind's eye a slave
whose acquaintance I made some years since, in the State of Mississippi, called
“Uncle Jacob.” I was staying a day or two with a planter, and
in the evening, when out in the yard, I heard a well-known hymn and tune sung
in one of the “quarters,” and
then the voice of
prayer; and oh, such a prayer! what fervour! what
unction! nay, the man “prayed right up;” and when I read of Uncle
Tom, how “nothing could exceed the touching simplicity, the child-like
earnestness, of his prayer, enriched with the language of Scripture, which
seemed so entirely to have wrought itself into his being as to have become
a part of himself,” the recollections of that evening prayer were strangely
vivid. On entering the house, and referring to what I had heard, his master
replied, “Ah, sir, if I covet anything in this world, it is Uncle Jacob's
religion. If there is a good man on earth, he certainly is one.” He
said Uncle Jacob was a regulator on the plantation; that a word or a look from him, addressed to younger
slaves, had more efficiency than a blow from the overseer.
The next morning Uncle Jacob informed me he was from Kentucky, opposite
Cincinnati; that his opportunities for attending religious worship had been
frequent; that at about the age of forty he was sold South, was set to picking
cotton; could not, when doing his best, pick the task assigned him; was whipped
and whipped, he could not possibly tell how often; was of opinion that the
overseer came to the conclusion that whipping could not bring one more pound
out of him, for he set him to driving a team. At this and other work he could
“make a hand;” had changed owners three
or four times. He expressed himself as well pleased with his present situation
as he expected to be in the South, but was yearning to return to his former
associations in Kentucky.
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
MISS OPHELIA stands as the representative of
a numerous class of the very best of Northern people; to whom perhaps, if
our Lord should again address his churches a letter, as he did those of old
time, he would use the same words as then: “I know thy works, and thy
labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil;
and thou hast tried them which are apostles and are not, and hast found them
liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured
and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because
thou hast left thy first love.”
There are in this class of people, activity, zeal, unflinching conscientiousness,
clear intellectual discriminations between truth and error, and great logical
and doctrinal correctness; but there is a want of that spirit of love, without
which, in the eye of Christ, the most perfect character is as deficient as
a wax flower —wanting in life and perfume.
Yet this blessed principle is not dead in their hearts, but only sleepeth;
and so great is the real and genuine goodness, that when the true magnet of
divine love is applied, they always answer to its touch.
So when the gentle Eva, who is an impersonation in childish form of the
love of Christ, solves at once, by a blessed instinct, the problem which Ophelia
has long been unable to solve by dint of utmost hammering and vehement effort,
she at once, with a good and honest heart, perceives and acknowledges her
mistake, and is willing to learn even of a little child.
Miss Ophelia, again, represents one great sin, of which, unconsciously,
American Christians have allowed themselves to be guilty. Unconsciously it
must be, for nowhere is conscience so predominant as among this class, and
nowhere is there a more honest strife to bring every thought into captivity
to the obedience of Christ.
One of the first and most declared objects of the gospel has
been to break down all those irrational barriers and prejudices which separate
the human brotherhood into diverse and contending clans. Paul says, “In
Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor
free.” The Jews at that time were separated from the Gentiles by an
insuperable wall of prejudice. They could not eat and drink together, nor
pray together. But the apostles most earnestly laboured to show them the sin
of this prejudice. St. Paul says to the Ephesians, speaking of this former
division, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken
down the middle wall of partition between us.
It is very easy to see that, although slavery has been abolished in the
New England States, it has left behind it the most baneful feature of the
system—that which makes American worse than Roman slavery—the
prejudice of caste and colour. In the New England States the negro has been
treated as belonging to an inferior race of beings; forced to sit apart by
himself in the place of worship; his children excluded from the schools; himself
excluded from the railroad-car and the omnibus, and the peculiarities of his
race made the subject of bitter contempt and ridicule.
This course of conduct has been justified by saying that they are a degraded
race. But how came they degraded? Take any class of men, and shut them from
the means of education, deprive them of hope and self-respect, close to them
all avenues of honourable ambition, and you will make just such a race of
them as the negroes have been among us.
So singular and so melancholy is the dominion of prejudice over the human
mind, that professors of Christianity in our New England States have often,
with very serious self-denial to themselves, sent the gospel to heathen as
dark-complexioned as the Africans, when in their very neighbourhood were persons
of dark complexion, who, on that account, were forbidden to send their children
to the schools and discouraged from entering the churches. The effect of this
has been directly to degrade and depress the race; and then this very degradation
and depression has been pleaded as the reason for continuing this course.
Not long since the writer called upon a benevolent lady, and during the
course of the call the conversation turned upon the incidents of a fire which
had occurred the night before in the neighbourhood. A deserted house had been
burned to the ground. The lady said it was supposed it had been set on fire.
“What could be any one's motive for setting it on fire?” said
“Well,” replied the lady, “it was supposed that a coloured
family was about to move into it, and it was thought that the neighbourhood
wouldn't consent to that. So it was supposed that was the reason.”
This was said with an air of innocence and much unconcern.
The writer inquired, “Was it a family of bad character?”
“No, not particularly, that I know of,” said the lady; “but
then they are negroes, you know.”
Now, this lady is a very pious lady. She probably would deny herself to
send the gospel to the heathen; and if she had ever thought of considering
this family a heathen family, would have felt the deepest interest in their
welfare, because on the subject of duty to the heathen she had been frequently
instructed from the pulpit, and had all her religious and conscientious sensibilities
awake. Probably she had never listened from the pulpit to a sermon which should
exhibit the great truth, that “in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew
nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free.”
Supposing our Lord was now on earth, as he was once, what course is it
probable that he would pursue with regard to this unchristian prejudice of
There was a class of men in those days as much despised by the Jews as
the negroes are by us; and it was a complaint made of Christ that he was a
friend of publicans and sinners. And if Christ should enter, on some communion
season, into a place of worship, and see the coloured man sitting afar off
by himself, would it not be just in his spirit to go there and sit with him,
rather than to take the seats of his richer and more prosperous brethren?
It is, however, but just to our Northern Christians to say that this sin
has been committed ignorantly and in unbelief, and that within a few years
signs of a much better spirit have begun to manifest themselves. In some places,
recently, the doors of school-houses have been thrown open to the children,
and many a good Miss Ophelia has opened her eyes in astonishment to find that,
while she has been devouring the Missionary Herald,
and going without butter on her bread and sugar in her tea to send the gospel
to the Sandwich Islands, there is a very thriving colony of heathen in her
own neighbourhood at home; and, true to her own good and honest heart, she
has resolved not to give up her prayers and efforts
for the heathen abroad, but to add thereunto labours for the heathen at home.
Our safety and hope in this matter is this: that there are multitudes in
all our churches who do most truly and sincerely love Christ above all things,
and who, just so soon as a little re-
flection shall have made
them sensible of their duty in this respect, will most earnestly perform it.
It is true that, if they do so, they may be called Abolitionists; but the
true Miss Ophelia is not afraid of a hard name in a good cause, and has rather
learned to consider “the reproach of Christ a greater treasure than
the riches of Egypt.”
That there is much already for Christians to do in enlightening the moral
sense of the community on this subject, will appear if we consider that even
so well-educated and gentlemanly a man as Frederick Douglass was recently
obliged to pass the night on the deck of a steamer, when in delicate health,
because this senseless prejudice deprived him of a place in the cabin; and
that that very laborious and useful minister, Dr. Pennington, of New York,
has, during the last season, been often obliged seriously to endanger his
health, by walking to his pastoral labours, over his very extended parish,
under a burning sun, because he could not be allowed the common privilege
of the omnibus, which conveys every class of white men, from the most refined
to the lowest and most disgusting.
Let us consider now the number of professors of the religion of Christ
in New York; and consider also that, by the very fact of their profession,
they consider Dr. Pennington the brother of their Lord, and a member with
them of the body of Christ.
Now, these Christians are influential, rich and powerful; they can control
public sentiment on any subject that they think of any particular importance;
and they profess, by their religion, that “if one member suffers, all
the members suffer with it.”
It is a serious question, whether such a marked indignity offered to Christ
and his ministry, in the person of a coloured brother, without any remonstrance
on their parts, will not lead to a general feeling that all that the Bible
says about the union of Christians is a mere hollow sound, and means nothing.
Those who are anxious to do something directly to improve the condition
of the slave can do it in no way so directly as by elevating the condition
of the free coloured people around them, and taking every pains to give them
equal rights and privileges.
This unchristian prejudice has doubtless stood in the way of the emancipation
of hundreds of slaves. The slaveholder, feeling and acknowledging the evils
of slavery, has come to the North, and seen evidences of this unkindly and
unchristian state of feeling towards the slave, and has thus reflected within
“If I keep my slave at the South, he is, it is true, under the dominion
of a very severe law; but then he enjoys the advan-
my friendship and assistance, and derives, through his connexion with me and
my family, some kind of a position in the community. As my servant, he is
allowed a seat in the car, and a place at the table. But if I emancipate and
send him North, he will encounter substantially all the disadvantages of slavery,
with no master to protect him.”
This mode of reasoning has proved an apology to many a man for keeping
his slaves in a position which he confesses to be a bad one; and it will be
at once perceived that, should the position of the negro be conspicuously
reversed in our Northern States, the effect upon the emancipation of the slave
would be very great. They, then, who keep up this prejudice may be said to
be, in a certain sense, slaveholders.
It is not meant by this that all distinctions of society should be broken
over, and that people should be obliged to choose their intimate associates
from a class unfitted by education and habits to sympathise with them.
The negro should not be lifted out of his sphere of life because he is
a negro; but he should be treated with Christian courtesy in his sphere. In the railroad-car, in the omnibus and steam-boat, all
ranks and degrees of white persons move with unquestioned freedom side by
side; and Christianity requires that the negro have the same privilege.
That the dirtiest and most uneducated foreigner or American, with breath
redolent of whisky, and clothes foul and disordered, should have an unquestioned
right to take a seat next to any person in a railroad-car or steam-boat, and
that the respectable, decent, and gentlemanly negro, should be excluded simply
because he is a negro, cannot be considered otherwise than as an irrational
and unchristian thing; and any Christian who allows such things done in his
presence without remonstrance and the use of his Christian influence, will
certainly be made deeply sensible of his error when he comes at last to direct
and personal interview with his Lord.
There is no hope for this matter if the love of Christ is not strong enough,
and if it cannot be said, with regard to the two races, “He is our peace
who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition
The time is coming rapidly when the upper classes in society must learn
that their education, wealth, and refinement, are not their own; that they
have no right to use them for their own selfish benefit; but that they should
hold them rather, as Fenelon expresses it, as “a ministry,” a
stewardship, which they hold in trust for the benefit of their poorer brethren.
In some of the very highest circles in England and America, we begin to
see illustrious examples of the commencement of such a condition of things.
One of the merchant princes of Boston, whose funeral has lately been celebrated
in our city, afforded in his life a beautiful example of this truth. His wealth
was the wealth of thousands. He was the steward of the widow and the orphan.
His funds were a savings' bank, wherein were laid up the resources of the
poor; and the mourners at his funeral were the scholars of the schools which
he had founded, the officers of literary institutions which his munificence
had endowed, the widows and orphans whom he had counselled and supported,
and the men, in all ranks and conditions of life, who had been made by his
benevolence to feel that his wealth was their wealth. May God raise up many
men in Boston to enter into the spirit and labours of Amos Lawrence!
This is the true socialism, which comes from the
spirit of Christ, and, without breaking down existing orders of society, by love makes the property and possessions of the higher
class the property of the lower.
Men are always seeking to begin their reforms with the outward and physical. Christ begins his reforms
in the heart. Men would break up all ranks of society, and throw all property
into a common stock; but Christ would inspire the higher class with that Divine
Spirit by which all the wealth, and means, and advantages of their position
are used for the good of the lower.
We see, also, in the highest aristocracy of England instances of the same
Among her oldest nobility there begin to arise lecturers to mechanics and
patrons of ragged-schools; and it is said that even on the throne of England
is a woman who weekly instructs her class of Sunday-school scholars from the
children in the vicinity of her country residence.
In this way, and not by an outward and physical division of property, shall
all things be had in common. And when the white race shall regard their superiority
over the coloured one only as a talent intrusted for the advantage of their
weaker brother, then will the prejudice of caste melt
away in the light of Christianity.
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
MARIE ST. CLARE.
MARIE ST. CLARE is the type of a class of women
not peculiar to any latitude, nor any condition of society. She may be found
in England or in America. In the northern free States we have many Marie St.
Clares, more or less fully developed.
When found in a northern latitude, she is for ever in trouble about her
domestic relations. Her servants never do anything right. Strange to tell,
they are not perfect, and she thinks it a very great shame. She is fully convinced
that she ought to have every moral and Christian virtue in her kitchen for
a little less than the ordinary wages; and when her cook leaves her, because
she finds she can get better wages and less work in a neighbouring family,
she thinks it shockingly selfish, unprincipled conduct. She is of opinion
that servants ought to be perfectly disinterested; that they ought to be willing
to take up with the worst rooms in the house, with very moderate wages, and
very indifferent food, when they can get much better elsewhere, purely for
the sake of pleasing her. She likes to get hold of foreign servants, who have
not yet learned our ways, who are used to working for low wages, and who will
be satisfied with almost anything; but she is often heard to lament that they
soon get spoiled, and want as many privileges as anybody else—which
is perfectly shocking. Marie often wishes that she could be a slaveholder,
or could live somewhere where the lower class are kept down, and made to know
their place. She is always hunting for cheap seamstresses, and will tell you,
in an under-tone, that she has discovered a woman who will make linen shirts
beautifully, stitch the collars and wristbands twice, all for thirty-seven
cents, when many seamstresses get a dollar for it; says she does it because
she's poor, and has no friends; thinks you had better be careful in your conversation,
and not let her know what prices are, or else she will get spoiled, and go
to raising her price—these sewing-women are so selfish. When Marie St.
Clare has the misfortune to live in a free State, there is no end to her troubles.
Her cook is always going off for
better wages and more comfortable
quarters; her chambermaid, strangely enough, won't agree to be chambermaid
and seamstress both for half wages, and so she deserts. Marie's kitchen-cabinet,
therefore, is always in a state of revolution; and she often declares, with
affected earnestness, that servants are the torment of her life. If her husband
endeavour to remonstrate, or suggest another mode of treatment, he is a hard-hearted,
unfeeling man; “he doesn't love her, and she always knew he didn't;”
and so he is disposed of.
But when Marie comes under a system of laws which gives her absolute control
over her dependants, which enables her to separate them, at her pleasure,
from their dearest family connexions, or to inflict upon them the most disgraceful
and violent punishments, without even the restraint which seeing the execution
might possibly produce—then it is that the character arrives at full
maturity. Human nature is no worse at the South than at the North; but law
at the South distinctly provides for and protects the worst abuses to which
that nature is liable.
It is often supposed that domestic servitude in slave-states is a kind
of paradise; that house-servants are invariably pets; that young mistresses
are always fond of their “mammies,” and young masters always handsome,
good-natured, and indulgent.
Let anyone in Old England or New England look about among their immediate
acquaintances, and ask how many there are who would use absolute despotic
power amiably in a family, especially over a class degraded by servitude,
ignorant, indolent, deceitful, provoking, as slaves almost necessarily are,
and always must be.
Let them look into their own hearts, and ask themselves if they would dare
to be trusted with such a power. Do they not find in themselves temptations
to be unjust to those who are inferiors and dependants? Do they not find themselves
tempted to be irritable and provoked, when the service of their families is
negligently performed? And if they had the power to inflict cruel punishments,
or to have them inflicted by sending the servant out to some place of correction,
would they not be tempted to use that liberty?
With regard to those degrading punishments to which females are subjected,
by being sent to professional whippers, or by having such functionaries sent
for to the house—as John Caphart testifies that he has often been in
Baltimore—what can be said of their influence both on the superior and
on the inferior class? It is very painful indeed to contemplate this
subject. The mind instinctively shrinks from it; but still it is
a very serious question whether it be not our duty to encounter this pain,
that our sympathies may be quickened into more active exercise. For this reason
we give here the testimony of a gentleman whose accuracy will not be doubted,
and who subjected himself to the pain of being an eye-witness to a scene of
this kind in the calaboose in New Orleans. As the reader will perceive from
the account, it was a scene of such every-day occurrence as not to excite
any particular remark, or any expression of sympathy from those of the same
condition and colour with the sufferer.
When our missionaries first went to India, it was esteemed a duty among
Christian nations to make themselves acquainted with the cruelties and atrocities
of idolatrous worship, as a means of quickening our zeal to send them the
If it be said that we in the free States have no such interest in slavery,
as we do not support it, and have no power to prevent it, it is replied that
slavery does exist in the district of Columbia, which belongs to the whole
United States; and that the free States are, before God, guilty of the crime
of continuing it there, unless they will honestly do what in them lies for
The subjoined account was written by the benevolent Dr. Howe, whose labours
in behalf of the blind have rendered his name dear to humanity, and was sent
in a letter to the Hon. Charles Summer. If anyone think it too painful to
be perused, let him ask himself if God will hold those guiltless who suffer
a system to continue, the details of which they cannot even read. That this
describes a common scene in the calaboose we shall by and by produce other
witnesses to show.
I have passed ten days in New Orleans, not unprofitably, I trust, in examining
the public institutions—the schools, asylums, hospitals, prisons, &c.
With the exception of the first, there is little hope of amelioration. I know
not how much merit there may be in their system; but I do know that, in the
administration of the penal code, there are abominations which should bring
down the fate of Sodom upon the city. If Howard or Mrs. Fry ever discovered
so ill-administered a den of thieves as the New Orleans prison, they never
described it. In the negroes' apartment I saw much which made me blush that
I was a white man, and which, for a moment, stirred up an evil spirit in my
animal nature. Entering a large paved court-yard, around which ran galleries
filled with slaves of all ages, sexes, and colours, I heard the snap of a
whip, every stroke of which sounded like the sharp crack of a pistol. I turned
my head, and beheld a sight which absolutely chilled me to the marrow of my
bones, and gave me, for the first time in my life, the sensation of my hair
stiffening at the roots. There lay a black girl flat upon her face, on a board,
her two thumbs tied, and fastened to one end, her
and drawn tightly to the other end, while a strap passed over the small of
her back, and, fastened around the board, compressed her closely to it. Below
the strap she was entirely naked. By her side, and six feet off, stood a huge
negro, with a long whip, which he applied with dreadful power and wonderful
precision. Every stroke brought away a strip of skin, which clung to the lash,
or fell quivering on the pavement, while the blood followed after it. The
poor creature writhed and shrieked, and, in a voice which showed alike her
fear of death and her dreadful agony, screamed to her master who stood at
her head, “Oh, spare my life! don't cut my soul out!” But still
fell the horrid lash; till strip after strip peeled off from the skin; gash
after gash was cut in her living flesh, until it became a livid and bloody
mass of raw and quivering muscle. It was with the greatest difficulty I refrained
from springing upon the torturer, and arresting his lash; but, alas! what
could I do, but turn aside to hide my tears for the sufferer, and my blushes
for humanity? This was in a public and regularly-organised prison; the punishment
was one recognised and authorised by the law. But think you the poor wretch
had committed a heinous offence, and had been convicted thereof, and sentenced
to the lash? Not at all. She was brought by her master to be whipped by the
common executioner, without trial, judge or jury, just at his beck or nod,
for some real or supposed offence, or to gratify his own whim or malice. And
he may bring her day after day, without cause assigned, and inflict any number
of lashes he pleases, short of twenty-five, provided only he pays the fee.
Or, if he choose, he may have a private whipping-board on his own premises,
and brutalise himself there. A shocking part of this horrid punishment was
its publicity, as I have said; it was in a court-yard surrounded by galleries,
which were filled with coloured persons of all sexes—runaways, slaves
committed for some crime, or slaves up for sale. You would naturally suppose
they crowded forward, and gazed, horror-stricken, at the brutal spectacle
below; but they did not; many of them hardly noticed it, and many were entirely
indifferent to it. They went on in their childish pursuits, and some were
laughing outright in the distant parts of the galleries; so low can man, created
in God's image, be sunk in brutality.
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
IT is with pleasure that we turn from the dark
picture just presented, to the character of the generous and noble-hearted
St. Clare, wherein the fairest picture of our Southern brother is presented.
It has been the writer's object to separate carefully, as far as possible,
the system from the men. It is her sincere belief that, while the irresponsible
power of slavery is such that no human being ought ever to possess it, probably
that power was never exercised more leniently than in many cases in the Southern
States. She has been astonished to see how, under all the disadvantages which
attend the early possession of arbitrary power, all the temptations which
every reflecting mind must see will arise from the possession of this power
in various forms, there are often developed such fine and interesting traits
of character. To say that these cases are common, alas! is not in our power.
Men know human nature too well to believe us if we should. But the more dreadful
the evil to be assailed, the more careful should we be to be just in our apprehensions,
and to balance the horror which certain abuses must necessarily excite, by
a consideration of those excellent and redeeming traits which are often found
in individuals connected with the system.
The twin brothers, Alfred and Augustine St. Clare, represent two classes
of men which are to be found in all countries. They are the radically aristocratic
and democratic men. The aristocrat by position is not always the aristocrat
by nature, and vice versâ; but the aristocrat
by nature, whether he be in a higher or lower position in society, is he who,
though he may be just, generous, and humane, to those whom he considers his
equals, is entirely insensible to the wants and sufferings, and common humanity
of those whom he considers the lower orders. The sufferings of a countess
would make him weep, the sufferings of a seamstress are quite another matter.
On the other hand, the democrat is often found in the highest position
of life. To this man, superiority to his brother is a thing which he can never
boldly and nakedly assert without a
secret pain. In the lowest
and humblest walk of life, he acknowledges the sacredness of a common humanity;
and however degraded by the opinions and institutions of society any particular
class may be, there is an instinctive feeling in his soul which teaches him
that they are men of like passions with himself. Such
men have a penetration which at once sees through all the false shows of outward
custom which make one man so dissimilar to another, to those great generic
capabilities, sorrows, wants, and weaknesses, wherein all men and women are
alike; and there is no such thing as making them realize that one order of
human beings have any prescriptive right over another order, or that the tears
and sufferings of one are not just as good as those of another order.
That such men are to be found at the South in the relation of slave-masters,
that when so found they cannot and will not be deluded by any of the shams
and sophistry wherewith slavery has been defended, that they look upon it
as a relic of a barbarous age, and utterly scorn and contemn all its apologists,
we can abundantly show. Many of the most illustrious Southern men of the Revolution
were of this class, and many men of distinguished position of later day have
entertained the same sentiments.
Witness the following letter of Patrick Henry, the sentiments of which
are so much an echo of those of St. Clare that the reader might suppose one
to be a copy of the other:—
LETTER OF PATRICK HENRY.
Hanover, January 18th, 1773.
DEAR SIR,—I take this opportunity to acknowledge
the receipt of Anthony Benezet's book against the slave-trade; I thank you
for it. Is it not a little surprising that the professors of Christianity,
whose chief excellence consists in softening the human heart, in cherishing
and improving its finer feelings, should encourage a practice so totally repugnant
to the first impressions of right and wrong? What adds to the wonder is, that
this abominable practice has been introduced in the most enlightened ages.
Times that seem to have pretensions to boast of high improvements in the arts
and sciences, and refined morality, have brought into general use, and guarded
by many laws, a species of violence and tyranny which our more rude and barbarous
but more honest ancestors detested. Is it not amazing that at a time when
the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country
above all others fond of liberty—that in such an age and in such a country
we find men professing a religion the most mild, humane, gentle, and generous,
adopting such a principle, as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent
with the Bible, and destructive to liberty? Every thinking, honest man rejects
it in speculation. How free in practice from conscientious motives!
Would anyone believe that I am master of slaves of my own purchase? I am
drawn along by the general inconvenience of living here without them. I
will not, I cannot justify it. However culpable my conduct, I will
so far pay my devoir to Virtue as to own the excellence and rectitude of her
precepts, and lament my want of conformity to them.
I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish
this lamentable evil. Everything we can do is to improve it, if it happens
in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our
slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence for slavery. If we
cannot reduce this wished-for reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy
victims with lenity. It is the furthest advance we can make towards justice.
It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion, to show that it is at variance
with that law which warrants slavery.
I know not when to stop. I could say many things on the subject, a serious
view of which gives a gloomy prospect to future times!
What a sorrowful thing it is that such men live an inglorious life, drawn
along by the general current of society, when they ought to be its regenerators!
Has God endowed them with such nobleness of soul, such clearness of perception,
for nothing? Should they, to whom he has given superior powers of insight
and feeling, live as all the world live?
Southern men of this class have often risen up to reprove the men of the
North, when they are drawn in to apologize for the system of slavery. Thus,
on one occasion, a representative from one of the Northern States, a gentleman
now occupying the very highest rank of distinction and official station, used
in Congress the following language:—
The great relation of servitude, in some form or other, with greater or
less departure from the theoretic equality of men, is inseparable from our
nature. Domestic slavery is not, in my judgment, to be set down as an immoral
or irreligious relation. The slaves of this country are better clothed and
fed than the peasantry of some of the most prosperous states of Europe.
He was answered by Mr. Mitchell, of Tennessee, in these words:—
Sir, I do not go the length of the gentleman from Massachusetts, and hold
that the existence of slavery in this country is almost a blessing. On the
contrary, I am firmly settled in the opinion that it is a great curse—one
of the greatest that could have been interwoven in our system. I, Mr. Chairman,
am one of those whom these poor wretches call masters. I do not task them;
I feed and clothe them well; but yet, alas! they are slaves, and slavery is
a curse in any shape. It is no doubt true that there are persons in Europe
far more degraded than our slaves—worse fed, worse clothed, &c.;
but, sir, this is far from proving that negroes ought to be slaves.
The celebrated John Randolph, of Roanoke, said in Congress, on one occasion:—
Sir, I envy neither the heart nor the head of that man from the North who
rises here to defend slavery on principle.
The following lines from the will of this eccentric man show that this
clear sense of justice, which is a gift of superior natures, at last produced
some appropriate fruits in practice:—
I give to my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience
tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of
the deepest regret to me, that the circumstances under which I inherited them,
and the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws of the land, have prevented
my emancipating them in my lifetime, which it is my full intention to do in
case I can accomplish it.
The influence on such minds as these of that kind of theological teaching
which prevails in the majority of the pulpits at the South, and which justifies
slavery directly from the Bible, cannot be sufficiently regretted. Such men
are shocked to find their spiritual teachers less conscientious than themselves;
and if the Biblical argument succeeds in bewildering them, it produces scepticism
with regard to the Bible itself. Professor Stowe states that, during his residence
in Ohio, he visited at the house of a gentleman who had once been a Virginian
planter, and during the first years of his life was an avowed sceptic. He
stated that his scepticism was entirely referable to this one cause —that
his minister had constructed a scriptural argument in defence of slavery which
he was unable to answer, and that his moral sense was so shocked by the idea
that the Bible defended such an atrocious system, that he became an entire
unbeliever, and so continued until he came under the ministration of a clergyman
in Ohio, who succeeded in presenting to him the true scriptural view of the
subject. He immediately threw aside his scepticism and became a member of
a Christian church.
So we hear the Baltimore Sun, a paper in a slave
State, and no way suspected of leaning towards abolitionism, thus scornfully
disposing of the scriptural argument:—
Messrs. Burgess, Taylor, and Co., Sun Iron Building, send us a copy of
a work of imposing exterior, a handsome work of nearly six hundred pages,
from the pen of the Rev. Josiah Priest, A.M., and published by Rev. W. S.
Brown, M.D., at Glasgow, Kentucky, the copy before us conveying the assurance
that it is the “fifth edition, stereotyped.” And we have no doubt
it is; and the fiftieth edition may be published,
but it will amount to nothing, for there is nothing in it. The book comprises
the usually quoted facts associated with the history of slavery, as recorded
in the Scriptures, accompanied by the opinions and arguments of another man in relation thereto. And this sort of thing may go on to
the end of time. It can accomplish nothing towards the perpetuation of slavery.
The book is called “Bible Defence of Slavery; and Origin, Fortunes,
and History of the Negro Race.” Bible defence of slavery! There is no
such thing as a Bible defence of slavery at the present day. Slavery in the
United States is a social institution, originating in the convenience and
cupidity of our ancestors, existing by State
laws, and recognised
to a certain extent—for the recovery of slave property—by the
constitution. And nobody would pretend that, if it were inexpedient and unprofitable
for any man or any State to continue to hold slaves, they would be bound to
do so on the ground of a “Bible defence” of it. Slavery is recorded
in the Bible, and approved, with many degrading characteristics. War is recorded
in the Bible, and approved, under what seems to us the extreme of cruelty.
But are slavery and war to endure for ever because
we find them in the Bible? or are they to cease at
once and for ever because the Bible inculcates peace and brotherhood?
The book before us exhibits great research, but is obnoxious to severe
criticism, on account of its gratuitous assumptions. The writer is constantly
assuming this, that, and the other. In a work of this sort a “doubtless”
this, and “no doubt” the other, and “such is our belief,”
with respect to important premises, will not be acceptable to the intelligent
reader. Many of the positions assumed are ludicrous; and the fancy of the
writer runs to exuberance in putting words and speeches into the mouths of
the ancients, predicated upon the brief record of Scripture history. The argument
from the curse of Ham is not worth the paper it is
written upon. It is just equivalent to that of Blackwood's
Magazine, we remember examining some years since, in reference to the
admission of Rothschild to Parliament. The writer maintained the religious
obligation of the Christian public to perpetuate the
political disabilities of the Jews because it would be resisting the Divine
will to remove them, in view of the “curse” which the aforesaid
Christian Pharisee understood to be levelled against the sons of Abraham.
Admitting that God has cursed both the Jewish race and the descendants of
Ham, He is able to fulfil His purpose, though the “rest of mankind”
should in all things act up to the benevolent precepts of the “Divine
law.” Man may very safely cultivate the highest
principles of the Christian dispensation, and leave God to work out the fulfilment
of His curse.
According to the same book and the same logic, all mankind being under
a “curse,” none of us ought to work out any alleviation for ourselves,
and we are sinning heinously in harnessing steam to the performance of manual
labour, cutting wheat by McCormick's diablerie, and
laying hold of the lightning to carry our messages for us, instead of footing
it ourselves, as our father Adam did. With a little more common sense, and
much less of the uncommon sort, we should better understand Scripture, the
institutions under which we live, the several rights of our fellow-citizens
in all sections of the country, and the good, sound, practical, social relations
which ought to contribute infinitely more than they do to the happiness of
If the reader wishes to know what kind of preaching it is that St. Clare
alludes to, when he says he can learn what is quite as much to the purpose
from the Picayune, and that such scriptural expositions
of their peculiar relations don't edify him much, he is referred to the following
extract from a sermon preached in New Orleans, by the Rev. Theophilus Clapp.
Let our reader now imagine that he sees St. Clare seated in the front slip,
waggishly taking notes of the following specimen of ethics and humanity:—
Let all Christian teachers show our servants the importance of being submissive,
obedient, industrious, honest, and faithful to the interests of their masters.
Let their minds be filled with sweet anticipations of rest eternal beyond
the grave. Let them be trained to direct their views to that fascinating and
glorious futurity where the sins, sorrows, and troubles of earth will be contemplated
under the aspect of means indispensable to our everlasting progress in knowledge,
virtue, and happiness. I would say to every slave in the United States, “You
should realise that a wise, kind, and merciful Providence has appointed for
you your condition in life; and, all things considered, you could not be more
eligibly situated. The burden of your care, toils, and responsibilities is
much lighter than that which God has imposed on your master. The most enlightened
philanthropists, with unlimited resources, could not place you in a situation
more favourable to your present and everlasting welfare than that which you
now occupy. You have your troubles; so have all. Remember how evanescent are
the pleasures and joys of human life.
But, as Mr. Clapp will not, perhaps, be accepted as a representation of
orthodoxy, let him be supposed to listen to the following declarations of
the Rev. James Smylie, a clergyman of great influence in the Presbyterian
Church, in a tract upon slavery, which he states in the introduction to have
been written with particular reference to removing the conscientious scruples
of religious people in Mississippi and Louisiana with regard to its propriety.
If I believed, or was of opinion, that it was the legitimate tendency of
the gospel to abolish slavery, how would I approach a man, possessing as many
slaves as Abraham had, and tell him I wished to obtain his permission to preach
to his slaves?
Suppose the man to be ignorant of the gospel, and that he would inquire
of me what was my object; I would tell him candidly (and every minister ought
to be candid) that I wished to preach the gospel, because its legitimate tendency
is to make his slaves honest, trusty, and faithful; not serving “with
eye-service, as men-pleasers,” “not purloining, but showing all
good fidelity.” “And is this,” he would ask, “really
the tendency of the gospel?” I would answer, “Yes.” Then
I might expect that a man who had a thousand slaves, if he believed me, would
not only permit me to preach to his slaves, but would do more. He would be
willing to build me a house, furnish me a garden, and ample provision for
a support; because he would conclude, verily that this
preacher would be worth more to him than a dozen overseers. But suppose,
them, he would tell me that he understood the tendency of the gospel was to
abolish slavery, and inquire of me if that was the fact. Ah! this is the rub.
He has now cornered me. What shall I say? Shall I, like a dishonest man, twist
and dodge, and shift and turn, to evade an answer? No; I must, Kentuckian
like, come out broad, flat-footed, and tell him that abolition is the tendency of the gospel. What am I now
to calculate upon? I have told the man that it is the tendency of the gospel
to make him so poor as to oblige him to take hold of the maul and wedge himself;
he must catch, curry, and saddle his own horse; he must black his own brogans (for he will not be able to buy boots). His wife
must go herself to the wash-tub, take
hold of the scrubbing-broom,
wash the pots, and cook all that she and her rail- mauler will eat.
Query.—Is it to be expected that a master,
ignorant heretofore of the tendency of the gospel, would fall so desperately
in love with it, from knowledge of its tendency, that he would encourage the
preaching of it among his slaves? Verily, NO.
But suppose, when he put the last question to me as to its tendency, I could and would, without a twist
or quibble, tell him plainly and candidly that it was a slander on the gospel to say that emancipation
or abolition was its legitimate tendency. I would tell him that the commandments
of some men, and not the commandments of God, made
slavery a sin.—Smylie on Slavery, p. 71.
One can imagine the expression of countenance and tone of voice with which
St. Clare would receive such expositions of the gospel. It is to be remarked
that this tract does not contain the opinions of one man only, but that it
has in its appendix a letter from two ecclesiastical bodies of the Presbyterian
Church, substantially endorsing its sentiments.
Can any one wonder that a man like St. Clare should put such questions
“Is what you hear at church religion? Is that which can bend and
turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly
society, religion? Is that religion which is less
scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, than even
my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I
must look for something above me, and not something beneath.”
The character of St. Clare was drawn by the writer with enthusiasm and
with hope. Will this hope never be realised? Will those men at the South,
to whom God has given the power to perceive and the heart to feel the unutterable
wrong and injustice of slavery, always remain silent and inactive? What nobler
ambition to a Southern man than to deliver his country from this disgrace?
From the South must the deliverer arise. How long shall he delay? There is
a crown brighter than any earthly ambition has ever worn—there is a
laurel which will not fade: it is prepared and waiting for that hero who shall
rise up for liberty at the South, and free that noble and beautiful country
from the burden and disgrace of slavery.
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
AS St. Clare and the Shelbys are the representatives
of one class of masters, so Legree is the representative of another; and,
as all good masters are not as enlightened, as generous, and as considerate,
as St. Clare and Mr. Shelby, or as careful and successful in religious training
as Mrs. Shelby, so all bad masters do not unite the personal ugliness, the
coarseness and profaneness, of Legree.
Legree is introduced not for the sake of vilifying masters as a class,
but for the sake of bringing to the minds of honourable Southern men, who
are masters, a very important feature in the system of slavery, upon which,
perhaps, they have never reflected. It is this: that no
Southern law requires any test of CHARACTER from the
man to whom the absolute power of master is granted.
In the second part of this book it will be shown that the legal power of
the master amounts to an absolute despotism over body and soul, and that there
is no protection for the slave's life or limb, his family relations, his conscience,
nay, more, his eternal interests, but the CHARACTER of the master.
Rev. Charles C. Jones, of Georgia, in addressing masters, tells them that
they have the power to open the kingdom of heaven, or to shut it, to their
slaves (Religious Instruction of the Negroes, p. 158);
and a South Carolinian, in a recent article in Frazer's
Magazine, apparently in a very serious spirit, thus acknowledges the
fact of this awful power: “Yes, we would have the whole South to feel
that the soul of the slave is in some sense in the
master's keeping, and to be charged against him hereafter.”
Now, it is respectfully submitted to men of this high class, who are the
law-makers, whether this awful power to bind and to loose, to open and to
shut the kingdom of heaven, ought to be intrusted to every man in the community,
without any other qualification than that of property to buy. Let this gentleman
of South Carolina cast his eyes around the world. Let him travel for one week
through any district of country
either in the South or the North,
and ask himself how many of the men whom he meets are fit to be trusted with
this power,— how many are fit to be trusted with their own souls, much
less with those of others?
Now, in all the theory of government as it is managed in our country, just
in proportion to the extent of power is the strictness with which qualification
for the proper exercise of it is demanded. The physician may not meddle with
the body, to prescribe for its ailments, without a certificate that he is
properly qualified. The judge may not decide on the laws which relate to property,
without a long course of training, and most abundant preparation. It is only
this office of MASTER, which contains the power to bind and to loose, and
to open and shut the kingdom of heaven, and involves responsibility for the
soul as well as the body, that is thrown out to every hand, and committed
without inquiry to any man of any character. A man may have made all his property
by piracy upon the high seas, as we have represented in the case of Legree,
and there is no law whatever to prevent his investing that property in acquiring
this absolute control over the souls and bodies of his fellow- beings. To
the half-maniac drunkard, to the man notorious for hardness and cruelty, to
the man sunk entirely below public opinion, to the bitter infidel and blasphemer,
the law confides this power, just as freely as to the most honourable and
religious man on earth. And yet, men who make and uphold these laws think
they are guiltless before God, because, individually, they do not perpetrate
the wrongs which they allow others to perpetrate!
To the Pirate Legree the law gives a power which no man of woman born,
save One, ever was good enough to exercise.
Are there such men as Legree? Let any one go into the low districts and
dens of New York, let them go into some of the lanes and alleys of London,
and will they not there see many Legrees? Nay, take the purest district of
New England, and let people cast about in their memory and see if there have
not been men there, hard, coarse, unfeeling, brutal, who, if they had possessed
the absolute power of Legree, would have used it in the same way; and that
there should be Legrees in the Southern States, is only saying that human
nature is the same there that it is everywhere. The only difference is this—that in free States Legree is chained and restrained
by law; in the slave
States, the law makes him an absolute, irresponsible despot.
It is a shocking task to confirm by fact this part of the writer's story.
One may well approach it in fear and trembling. It is so mournful to think
that man, made in the image of God, and by his human birth a brother of Jesus
Christ, can sink so low, can do such things as the very soul shudders to contemplate—and
to think that the very man who thus sinks is our brother—is capable,
like us, of the renewal by the Spirit of grace, by which he might be created
in the image of Christ and be made equal unto the angels. They who uphold
the laws which grant this awful power, have another heavy responsibility,
of which they little dream. How many souls of masters have been ruined through
it! How has this absolute authority provoked and developed wickedness which
otherwise might have been suppressed! How many have stumbled into everlasting
perdition over this stumbling-stone of IRRESPONSIBLE POWER!
What facts do the judicial trials of slave-holding States occasionally
develope! What horrible records defile the pages of the law-book, describing
unheard-of scenes of torture and agony, perpetrated in this nineteenth century
of the Christian era, by the irresponsible despot who owns the body and soul!
Let any one read, if they can, the ninety-third page of Weld's Slavery As It Is, where the Rev. Mr. Dickey gives an account of a trial
in Kentucky for a deed of butchery and blood too repulsive to humanity to
be here described. The culprit was convicted, and sentenced to death. Mr. Dickey's account of the finale is thus:—
The Court sat—Isham was judged to be guilty of a capital crime in
the affair of George. He was to be hanged at Salem. The day was set. My good
old father visited him in the prison—two or three times talked and prayed
with him; I visited him once myself. We fondly hoped that he was a sincere
penitent. Before the day of execution came, by some means, I never knew what,
Isham was missing. About two years after, we learned
that he had gone down to Natchez, and had married a lady of some refinement
and piety. I saw her letters to his sisters, who were worthy members of the
church of which I was pastor. The last letter told of his death. He was in
Jackson's army, and fell in the famous battle of New Orleans.
I am, sir, your friend, WM. DICKEY.
But the reader will have too much reason to know of the possibility of
the existence of such men as Legree, when he comes to read the records of
the trials and judicial decisions in Part II.
Let not the Southern country be taunted as the only country in the world
which produces such men; let us in sorrow and
in humility concede
that such men are found everywhere; but let not the Southern country deny
the awful charge that she invests such men with absolute, irresponsible power
over both the body and the soul.
With regard to that atrocious system of working up the human being in a
given time on which Legree is represented as conducting his plantation, there
is unfortunately too much reason to know that it has been practised and is
In Mr. Weld's book, Slavery As It Is, under the
head of Labour, p. 39, are given several extracts from various documents,
to show that this system has been pursued on some plantations to such an extent
as to shorten life, and to prevent the increase of the slave population, so
that, unless annually renewed, it would of itself die out. Of these documents
we quote the following:—
The Agricultural Society of Baton Rouge, La., in its report published in
1829, furnishes a laboured estimate of the amount of expenditure necessarily
incurred in conducting “a well-regulated sugar estate.” In this
estimate, the annual net loss of slaves, over and above the supply by propagation,
is set down at TWO AND A HALF PER CENT.! The late Hon. Josiah S. Johnson,
a member of Congress from Louisiana, addressed a letter to the Secretary of
the United States Treasury in 1830, containing a similar estimate, apparently
made with great care, and going into minute details. Many items in this estimate
differ from the preceding; but the estimate of the annual decrease of the slaves on a plantation was the same—TWO AND A HALF
In September, 1834, the writer of this had an interview with James G. Birney,
Esq., who then resided at Kentucky, having removed with his family from Alabama
the year before. A few hours before that interview, and on the morning of
the same day, Mr. B. had spent a couple of hours with Hon. Henry Clay, at
his residence, near Lexington. Mr. Birney remarked that Mr. Clay had just
told him he had lately been led to mistrust certain estimates as to the increase
of the slave population in the far South-west—estimates which he had
presented, I think, in a speech before the Colonization Society. He now believed
that the births among the slaves in that quarter were not equal to the deaths; and that, of course, the slave population, independent
of immigration from the slave-selling States, was not sustaining
Among other facts stated by Mr. Clay was the following, which we copy verbatim from the original memorandum made at the time
by Mr. Birney, with which he has kindly furnished us.
“Sept. 16, 1834.—Hon. H. Clay, in a
conversation at his own house on the subject of slavery, informed me that
Hon. Outerbridge Horsey—formerly a senator in Congress from the State
of Delaware, and the owner of a sugar plantation in Louisiana—declared
to him that his overseer worked his hands so closely that one of the women
brought forth a child whilst engaged in the labours of the field.
“Also that, a few years since, he was at a brick-yard in the environs
of New Orleans, in which a hundred hands were employed; among them were from twenty to 72
thirty young women, in the prime
of life. He was told by the proprietor that there had not been a child born among them for the last two or three years, although
they all had husbands.”
The late Mr. Samuel Blackwell, a highly respectable citizen of Jersey City,
opposite the city of New York, and a member of the Presbyterian church, visited
many of the sugar plantations in Louisiana a few years since; and having,
for many years, been the owner of an extensive sugar refinery in England,
and subsequently in this country, he had not only every facility afforded
him by the planters for personal inspection of all parts of the process of
sugar-making, but received from them the most unreserved communications as
to their management of their slaves. Mr. B—, after his return, frequently
made the following statement to gentlemen of his acquaintance:—“That
the planters generally declared to him that they were obliged so to overwork their slaves, during the sugar-making season (from
eight to ten weeks), as to use them up in seven or
eight years. For, said they, after the process is commenced, it must be pushed,
without cessation, night and day; and we cannot afford to keep a sufficient
number of slaves to do the extra work at the time
of sugar-making, as we could not profitably employ them the rest of the year.”
Dr. Demming, a gentleman of high respectability, residing in Ashland, Richland
County, Ohio, stated to Professor Wright, of New York city—“That,
during a recent tour at the South, while ascending the Ohio river on the steam-boat
`Fame,' he had an opportunity of conversing with a Mr. Dickinson, a resident
of Pittsburg, in company with a number of cotton-planters and slave-dealers
from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Mr. Dickinson stated as a fact,
that the sugar-planters upon the sugar-coast in Louisiana had ascertained
that, as it was usually necessary to employ about twice the amount of labour during the boiling season that was required during
the season of raising, they could, by excessive driving, day and night, during
the boiling season, accomplish the whole labour with one
set of hands. By pursuing this plan, they could afford to sacrifice a set of hands once in seven years! He further stated that
this horrible system was now practised to a considerable extent! The correctness
of this statement was substantially admitted by the slave-holders then on
The following testimony of the Rev. Dr. Channing, of Boston, who resided
some time in Virginia, shows that the over-working of slaves, to such an extent
as to abridge life, and cause a decrease of population, is not confined to
the far South and South-west:—
“I heard of an estate managed by an individual who was considered
as singularly successful, and who was able to govern the slaves without the
use of the whip. I was anxious to see him, and trusted that some discovery
had been made favourable to humanity. I asked him how he was able to dispense
with corporal punishment. He replied to me, with a very determined look, `The
slaves know that the work must be done, and that it
is better to do it without punishment than with it.' In other words, the certainty
and dread of chastisement were so impressed on them that they never incurred
“I then found that the slaves on this well-managed estate decreased in number. I asked the cause. He replied, with perfect frankness
and ease, `The gang is not large enough for the estate.' In other words, they
were not equal to the work of the plantation, and yet were made to do it, though with the certainty of abridging life.
“On this plantation the huts were uncommonly convenient. There was
an unusual air of neatness. A superficial observer would have called the slaves,
happy. Yet they were living under a severe, subduing discipline, and were over-worked to a degree that shortened
— Channing on Slavery, p. 162, first
A friend of the writer—the Rev. Mr. Barrows, now officiating as teacher
of Hebrew in Andover Theological Seminary—stated as following, in conversation
with her:—That, while at New Orleans, some time since, he was invited
by a planter to visit his estate, as he considered it to be a model one. He
found good dwellings for the slaves, abundant provision distributed to them,
all cruel punishments superseded by rational and reasonable ones, and half
a day, every week, allowed to the negroes to cultivate their own grounds.
Provision was also made for their moral and religious instruction. Mr. Barrows
then asked the planter,
“Do you consider your estate a fair specimen?” The gentleman
replied, “There are two systems pursued among us. One is, to make all
we can out of a negro in a few years, and then supply his place with another;
and the other is, to treat him as I do. My neighbour on the next plantation
pursues the opposite system. His boys are hard worked and scantily fed; and
I have had them come to me, and get down on their knees to beg me to buy them.”
Mr. Barrows says he subsequently passed by this plantation, and that the
woe-struck, dejected aspect of its labourers fully confirmed the account.
He also says that the gentleman who managed so benevolently told him, “I
do not make much money out of my slaves.”
It will be easy to show that such is the nature of slavery, and the temptations
of masters, that such well-regulated plantations are, and must be, infinitely
in the minority, and exceptional cases.
The Rev. Charles C. Jones, a man of the finest feelings of humanity, and
for many years an assiduous labourer for the benefit of the slave, himself
the owner of a plantation, and qualified, therefore, to judge, both by experience
and observation, says, after speaking of the great improvidence of the negroes,
engendered by slavery:—
And, indeed, once for all, I will here say that the wastes of the system
are so great, as well as the fluctuation in prices of the staple articles
for market, that it is difficult, nay, impossible,
to indulge in large expenditures on plantations, and make them savingly profitable.
— Religious Instruction, p. 116.
If even the religious and benevolent master feels the difficulty
of uniting any great consideration for the comfort of the slave with prudence
and economy, how readily must the moral question be solved by minds of the
coarse style of thought which we have supposed in Legree!
“I used to, when I fust begun, have considerable trouble fussin'
with 'em, and trying to make 'em hold out—doctorin' on 'em up when they's
sick, and givin' on 'em clothes, and blankets, and what not, trying to keep
'em all sort o' decent and comfortable. Law, 't want no sort o' use; I lost
money on 'em, and 't was heaps o' trouble. Now, you see, I just put'm straight
through, sick or well. When one nigger's dead, I buy another; and I find it
comes cheaper and easier every way.”
Added to this, the peculiar mode of labour on the sugar plantation is such
that the master, at a certain season of the year, must over-work his slaves,
unless he is willing to incur great pecuniary loss. In that very gracefully
written apology for slavery, Professor Ingraham's “Travels in the South-west,”
the following description of sugar-making is given. We quote from him in preference
to anyone else, because he speaks as an apologist, and describes the thing
with the grace of a Mr. Skimpole.
When the grinding has once commenced, there is no cessation of labour till
it is completed. From beginning to end a busy and cheerful scene continues.
“—Whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week,”
work from eighteen to twenty hours,
“And make the night joint labourer with the day;”
though, to lighten the burden as much as possible, the gang is divided
into two watches, one taking the first and the other the last part of the
night; and, notwithstanding this continued labour, the negroes improve in
appearance, and appear fat and flourishing. They drink freely of cane-juice,
and the sickly among them revive, and become robust and healthy.
After the grinding is finished, the negroes have several holidays, when
they are quite at liberty to dance and frolic as much as they please; and
the cane-song— which is improvised by one of the gang, the rest all
joining in a prolonged and unintelligible chorus—now breaks, night and
day, upon the ear, in notes “most musical, most melancholy.”
The above is inserted as a specimen of the facility with which the most
horrible facts may be told in the genteelest phrase. In a work entitled “Travels
in Louisiana in 1802” is the following extract (see Weld's Slavery As It Is, p. 134), from which it appears that this cheerful process of labouring night and day lasts three months!
“At the rolling of sugars, an interval of from
two to three 75
months, they (the slaves in Louisiana) work both night and day. Abridged of their sleep, they scarcely
retire to rest during the whole period.”—P. 81.
Now, let any one learn the private history of seven hundred blacks—men
and women—compelled to work day and night under the lash of a driver,
for a period of three months!
Possibly, if the gentleman who wrote the account were employed, with his
wife and family, in this “cheerful scene” of labour—if he
saw the woman that he loved, the daughter who was dear to him as his own soul,
forced on in the general gang, in this toil which
“Does not divide the Sabbath from the week,
And makes the night joint labourer with the day,'
—possibly, if he saw all this, he might have another opinion of its
cheerfulness; and it might be an eminently salutary thing if every apologist
for slavery were to enjoy some such privilege for a season, particularly as
Mr. Ingraham is careful to tell us that its effect upon the general health
is so excellent that the negroes improve in appearance, and appear fat and
flourishing, and that the sickly among them revive, and become robust and
healthy. One would think it a surprising fact, if working slaves night and
day, and giving them cane-juice to drink, really produces such salutary results,
that the practice should not be continued the whole year round; though, perhaps,
in this case, the negroes would become so fat as to be unable to labour. Possibly,
it is because this healthful process is not longer continued that the agricultural
societies of Louisiana are obliged to set down an annual loss of slaves on
sugar plantations to the amount of two and a half per cent. This ought to
be looked into by philanthropists. Perhaps working them all night for six
months, instead of three, might remedy the evil.
But this periodical pressure is not confined to the making of sugar. There
is also a press in the cotton season, as any one can observe by reading the
Southern newspapers. At a certain season of the year, the whole interest of
the community is engaged in gathering in the cotton crop. Concerning this
Mr. Weld says (Slavery as It is, p. 34):—
In the cotton and sugar region there is a fearful amount of desperate gambling,
in which, though money is the ostensible stake and forfeit, human life is the real one. The length to which this rivalry is carried
at the South and South-west, the multitude of planters who engage in it, and
the recklessness of human life exhibited in driving the murderous game to
its issue, cannot well be imagined by one who has not lived in the midst of
it. Desire of gain is only one of the motives that stimulates them; the éclat of having made the largest crop with a given
number of hands is also a powerful stimulant; the Southern newspapers,
at the crop season, chronicle carefully the “cotton brag,” and
the “crack cotton- picking,” and unparalleled driving,&c.
Even the editors of professedly religious papers cheer on the mélée, and sing the triumphs of the victor. Among these
we recollect the celebrated Rev. J. N. Maffit, recently editor of a religious
paper at Natchez, Mississippi, in which he took care to assign a prominent
place and capitals to “THE COTTON BRAG.”
As a specimen, of recent date, of this kind of affair, we subjoin the following
from the Fairfield Herald, Winsboro, S. C., November
We find in many of our southern and western exchanges notices of the amount
of cotton picked by hands, and the quantity by each hand; and, as we have
received a similar account, which we have not seen excelled, so far as regards
the quantity picked by one hand, we with pleasure furnish the statement, with
the remark that it is from a citizen of this district, overseeing for Major
H. W. Parr.
Broad River, October 12, 1852.
“MESSRS. EDITORS,—By way of contributing
something to your variety (provided it meets your approbation), I send you
the return of a day's picking of cotton, not by picked hands, but the fag-end
of a set of hands on one plantation, the able-bodied hands having been drawn
out for other purposes. Now for the result of a day's picking, from sun-up
until sun-down, by twenty-two hands—women, boys, and two men:—4,880
lbs. of clean-picked cotton from the stalk.
“The highest, 350 lbs., by several; the lowest, 115 lbs. One of the
number has picked in the last seven and a-half days (Sunday excepted), eleven
hours each day, 1,900 lbs. clean cotton. When any of my agricultural friends
beat this, in the same time, and during sunshine, I will try again.
It seems that this agriculturist professes to have accomplished all these
extraordinary results with what he very elegantly terms the “fag-end”
of a set of hands; and, the more to exalt his glory in the matter, he distinctly
informs the public that there were no “able-bodied” hands employed;
that this whole triumphant result was worked out of women and children, and
two disabled men; in other words, he boasts that out of women and children,
and the feeble and sickly, he has extracted 4,880
pounds of clean-picked cotton in a day; and that one of these same hands has
been made to pick 1,900 pounds of clean cotton in a week! and adds, complacently,
that, when any of his agricultural friends beat this, in the same time, and
during sunshine, he “will try again.”
Will any of our readers now consider the forcing up of the hands on Legree's
plantation an exaggeration? Yet see how complacently this account is quoted
by the editor, as a most praiseworthy and laudable thing!
“BEHOLD THE HIRE OF
THE LABOURERS WHO HAVE REAPED YOUR FIELDS, WHICH IS OF YOU KEPT BACK BY FRAUD,
CRIETH! AND THE CRIES OF THEM WHICH HAVE REAPED ARE ENTERED INTO THE EARS
OF THE LORD OF SABOATH.”
That the representations of the style of dwelling-house, modes of housekeeping,
and, in short, the features of life generally, as described on Legree's plantation,
are not wild and fabulous drafts on the imagination, or exaggerated pictures
of exceptional cases, there is the most abundant testimony before the world,
and has been for a long number of years. Let the reader weigh the following
testimony with regard to the dwellings of the negroes, which has been for
some years before the world, in the work of Mr. Weld. It shows the state of
things in this respect, at least up to the year 1838.
Mr. Stephen E. Maltby, Inspector of Provisions, Skaneateles, New York,
who has lived in Alabama.—“The huts where the slaves slept generally
contained but one apartment, and that without floor.”
Mr. George A. Avery, elder of the 4th Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New
York, who lived four years in Virginia.—“Amongst all the negro
cabins which I saw in Virginia, I cannot call to mind one in which there was any other floor than the earth; anything that a Northern labourer, or mechanic, white or coloured, would
call a bed, nor a solitary partition to separate the sexes.”
William Ladd, Esq., Minot, Maine, President of the American Peace Society,
formerly a slaveholder in Florida.—“The dwellings of the slaves
were palmetto huts, built by themselves of stakes and poles, thatched with
the palmetto-leaf. The door, when they had any, was generally of the same
materials, sometimes boards found on the beach. They had no floors, no separate apartments; except the Guinea negroes had sometimes
a small enclosure for their `god houses.' These huts the slaves built themselves
after task and on Sundays.”
Rev. Joseph M. Sadd, Pastor of Presbyterian Church, Castile, Greene County,
New York, who lived in Missouri five years previous to 1837.—“The
slaves live generally in miserable
huts, which are without floors; and have a single
apartment only, where both sexes are herded promiscuously together.”
Mr. George W. Westgate, member of the Congregational Church in Quincy,
Illinois, who has spent a number of years in slave States.—“On
old plantations the negro quarters are of frame and clapboards, seldom affording
a comfortable shelter from wind or rain; their size varies from eight by ten,
to ten by twelve feet, and six or eight feet high; sometimes there is a hole
cut for a window, but I never saw a sash, or glass, in any. In the new country,
and in the woods, the quarters are generally built of logs, of similar dimensions.”
Mr. Cornelius Johnson, a member of a Christian Church in Farmington, Ohio.
Mr. J. lived in Mississippi in 1837-38.—“Their houses were commonly
built of logs; sometimes they were framed, often they had no floor; some of
them have two apartments, commonly but one; each of those apartments contained
a family. Sometimes these families consisted of a man and his wife and children,
other instances persons of both sexes were thrown together,
without any regard to family relationship.”
The Western Medical Reformer, in an article on
the Cachexia Africana, by a Kentucky physician, thus speaks of the huts of
the slaves: “They are crowded together in a small hut, and sometimes having an imperfect, and sometimes
no floor, and seldom raised from the ground, ill-ventilated, and surrounded
Mr. William Leftwich, a native of Virginia, but has resided most of his
life in Madison County, Alabama.—“The dwellings of the slaves
are log huts, from ten to twelve feet square, often without windows, doors,
or floors; they have neither chairs, table, nor bedstead.”
Reuben L. Macy, of Hudson, New York, a member of the Religious Society
of Friends. He lived in South Carolina in 1818-19.—“The houses
for the field-slaves were about fourteen feet square, built in the coarsest
manner, with one room, without any chimney or flooring,
with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.”
Mr. Lemuel Sapington, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a native of Maryland,
formerly a slave-holder.—“The descriptions generally given of
negro quarters are correct; the quarters are without floors,
and not sufficient to keep off the inclemency of the weather; they are
uncomfortable both in summer and winter.”
Rev. John Rankin, a native of Tennessee.—“When they return
to their miserable huts at night, they find not there the means of comfortable
rest; but on the cold ground they must lie without covering,
and shiver while they slumber.”
Philemon Bliss, Esq., Elyria, Ohio, who lived in Florida in 1835.—“The
dwellings of the slaves are usually small open log
huts, with but one apartment, and very generally without
— Slavery as It is, p. 43.
The Rev. C. C. Jones, to whom we have already alluded, when taking a survey
of the condition of the negroes considered as a field for missionary effort,
takes into account all the conditions of their external life. He speaks of
a part of Georgia where as much attention had been paid to the comfort of
the negro as in any part of the United States. He gives the following picture:—
Their general mode of living is coarse and vulgar.
Many negro-houses are small, low to the ground, blackened with smoke, often
with dirt floors, and the furniture of the plainest kind. On some estates
the houses are framed, weather-boarded, neatly whitewashed, and made sufficiently
large and comfortable in every respect. The improvement in the size, material,
and finish of negro-houses is extending. Occasionally they may be found constructed
of tabby or brick.
— Religious Instruction of the Negroes, p. 116.
Now, admitting what Mr. Jones says, to wit, that improvements with regard
to the accommodation of the negroes are continually making among enlightened
and Christian people, still, if we take into account how many people there
are who are neither enlightened nor Christian, how unproductive of any benefit
to the master all these improvements are, and how entirely, therefore, they
must be the result either of native
generosity or of Christian
sentiment, the reader may fairly conclude that such improvements are the exception,
rather than the rule.
A friend of the writer, travelling in Georgia during the last month, thus
Upon the long line of rice and cotton plantations extending along the railroad
from Savannah to this city, the negro quarters contain scarcely a single hut
which a Northern farmer would deem fit shelter for his cattle. They are all
built of poles, with the ends so slightly notched that they are almost as
open as children's cob-houses (which they very much resemble), without a
single glazed window, and with only one mud chimney to each cluster of from
four to eight cabins. And yet our fellow-travellers were quietly expatiating
upon the negro's strange inability to endure cold weather.
Let this modern picture be compared with the account given by the Rev.
Horace Moulton, who spent five years in Georgia between 1817 and 1824, and
it will be seen, in that State at least, there is some resemblance between
the more remote and more recent practice:—
The huts of the slaves are mostly of the poorest kind. They are not as
good as those temporary shanties which are thrown up beside railroads. They
are erected with posts and crotchets, with but little or no frame-work about
them. They have no stoves or chimneys; some of them have something like a
fire-place at one end, and a board or two off at that side, or on the roof,
to let off the smoke. Others have nothing like a fire-place in them; in these
the fire is sometimes made in the middle of the hut. These buildings have
but one apartment in them; the places where they pass in and out serve both
for doors and windows; the sides and roofs are covered with coarse, and in
many instances with refuse, boards. In warm weather, especially in the spring,
the slaves keep up a smoke, or fire and smoke, all night, to drive away the
gnats and mosquitoes, which are very troublesome in all the low country of
the South; so much so, that the whites sleep under frames with nets over them,
knit so fine that the mosquitoes cannot fly through them.
— Slavery As It Is, p. 19.
The same Mr. Moulton gives the following account of the food of the slaves,
and the mode of procedure on the plantation on which he was engaged. It may
be here mentioned that at the time he was at the South he was engaged in certain
business relations which caused him frequently to visit different plantations,
and to have under his control many of the slaves. His opportunities for observation,
therefore, were quite intimate. There is a homely matter-of-fact distinctness
in the style that forbids the idea of its being a fancy sketch:—
It was a general custom, wherever I have been, for the master to give each
of his slaves, male and female, one peck of corn per week for their food. This, at
fifty cents per bushel, which
was all that it was worth when I was there, would amount to twelve and a half
cents per week for board per head.
It cost me, upon an average, when at the South, one dollar per day for
board—the price of fourteen bushels of corn per week. This would make
my board equal in amount to the board of forty-six slaves! This is all that good or bad masters allow their slaves, round about
Savannah, on the plantations. One peck of gourd-seed corn is to be measured
out to each slave once every week. One man with whom I laboured, however,
being desirous to get all the work out of his hands he could, before I left
(about fifty in number), bought for them every week, or twice a week, a beef's
head from market. With this they made a soup in a large iron kettle, around
which the hands came at meal-time, and dipping out the soup, would mix it
with their hominy, and eat it as though it were a feast. This man permitted
his slaves to eat twice a day while I was doing a job for him. He promised
me a beaver hat, and as good a suit of clothes as could be bought in the city,
if I would accomplish so much for him before I returned to the North; giving
me the entire control over his slaves. Thus you may see the temptations overseers
sometimes have, to get all the work they can out of the poor slaves. The above
is an exception to the general rule of feeding. For, in all other places where
I worked and visited, the slaves had nothing from the masters
but the corn, or its equivalent in potatoes or rice; and to this they
were not permitted to come but once a day. The custom
was to blow the horn early in the morning, as a signal for the hands to rise
and go to work. When commenced, they continue work until about eleven o'clock
A.M., when, at the signal, all hands left off, and went into their huts, made
their fires, made their corn-meal into hominy or cake, ate it, and went to
work again at the signal of the horn, and worked until night, or until their
tasks were done. Some cooked their breakfast in the field while at work. Each
slave must grind his own corn in a hand-mill after he has done his work at
night. There is generally one hand-mill on every plantation for the use of
Some of the planters have no corn; others often get out. The substitute
for it is the equivalent of one peck of corn, either in rice or sweet potatoes,
neither of which is as good for the slaves as corn. They complain more of
being faint when fed on rice or potatoes than when fed on corn. I was with
one man a few weeks who gave me his hands to do a job of work, and, to save
time, one cooked for all the rest. The following course was taken:—Two
crotched sticks were driven down at one end of the yard, and a small pole
being laid on the crotches, they swung a large iron kettle on the middle of
the pole; then made up a fire under the kettle, and boiled the hominy; when
ready, the hands were called around this kettle with their wooden plates and
spoons. They dipped out and ate, standing around the kettle, or sitting upon
the ground, as best suited their convenience. When they had potatoes, they
took them out with their hands, and ate them.
— Slavery As It Is, p. 18.
Thomas Clay, Esq., a slaveholder of Georgia, and a most benevolent man,
and who interested himself very successfully in endeavouring to promote the
improvement of the negroes, in his address before the Georgia Presbytery,
1833, says of their food, “The quantity allowed by custom is a peck of corn a week.”
The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser,
May 30, 1788, says, “A single peck of corn, or the same measure of rice,
is the ordinary provision for a hard-working slave, to which a small quantity
of meat is occasionally though rarely added.”
Captain William Ladd, of Minot, Maine, formerly a slave- holder in Florida,
says, “The usual allowance of food was a quart of corn a day to a full-task
hand, with a modicum of salt. Kind masters allowed
a peck of corn a week.”
The law of North Carolina provides that the master shall give his slave
a quart of corn a day, which is less than a peck a week by one quart.—Haywood's Manual, 525; Slavery as It
is, p. 29. The master, therefore, who gave a peck a week would feel that
he was going beyond the law, and giving a quart for generosity.
This condition of things will appear far more probable in the section of
country where the scene of the story is laid. It is in the South-western States,
where no provision is raised on the plantations, but
the supply for the slaves is all purchased from the more Northern States.
Let the reader now imagine the various temptations which might occur to
retrench the allowance of the slaves, under these circumstances; scarcity
of money, financial embarrassment, high price of provisions, and various causes
of the kind, bring a great influence upon the master or overseer.
At the time when it was discussed whether the State of Missouri should
be admitted as a slave State, the measure, like all measures for the advancement
of this horrible system, was advocated on the good old plea of humanity to
the negroes. Thus Mr. Alexander Smyth, in his speech on the slavery question,
January 21, 1820, says—
By confining the slaves to the Southern States, where crops are raised
for exportation, and bread and meat are purchased, you doom them to scarcity and hunger. It is proposed to hem in the blacks
where they are ILL FED.
— Slavery as It is, p. 28.
This is a simple recognition of the state of things we have adverted to.
To the same purport, Mr. Asa A. Stone, a theological student, who resided
near Natchez, Mississippi, in 1834-5, says—
On almost every plantation, the hands suffer more or less from hunger at
some seasons of almost every year. There is always a good
deal of suffering from hunger. On many plantations, and particularly
in Louisiana, the slaves are in a condition of almost utter
famishment during a great portion of the year.
Mr. Tobias Baudinot, St. Albans, Ohio, a member of the Methodist Church,
who for some years was a navigator on the Mississippi, says:—
The slaves down the Mississippi are half-starved.
The boats, when they stop at night, are constantly boarded by slaves, begging
for something to eat.
On the whole, while it is freely and cheerfully admitted that many individuals
have made most commendable advances in regard to the provision for the physical
comfort of the slave, still it is to be feared that the picture of the accommodations
on Legree's plantation has yet too many counterparts. Lest, however, the author
should be suspected of keeping back anything which might serve to throw light
on the subject, she will insert in full the following incidents on the other
side, from the pen of the accomplished Professor Ingraham. How far these may
be regarded as exceptional cases, or as pictures of the general mode of providing
for slaves, may safely be left to the good sense of the reader. The professor's
anecdotes are as follows:—
“What can you do with so much tobacco?” said a gentleman—who
related the circumstance to me—on hearing a planter, whom he was visiting,
give an order to his teamster to bring two hogsheads of tobacco out to the
estate from the “Landing.”
“I purchase it for my negroes; it is a harmless indulgence, which
it gives me pleasure to afford them.”
“Why are you at the trouble and expense of having high-post bedsteads
for your negroes?” said a gentleman from the North, while walking through
the handsome “quarters,” or village, for the slaves, then in progress
on a plantation near Natchez—addressing the proprietor.
“To suspend their 'bars' from, that they may not be troubled with
“Master, me would like, if you please, a little bit gallery front
“For what, Peter?”
“'Cause, master, the sun too hot (an odd reason for a negro to give)
that side, and when he rain, we no able to keep de door open.”
“Well, well, when a carpenter gets a little leisure, you shall have
A few weeks after, I was at the plantation, and riding past the quarters
one Sabbath morning, beheld Peter, his wife and children, with his old father,
all sunning themselves in the new gallery.
“Missus, you promise me a Chrismus gif'.”
“Well, Jane, there is a new calico frock for you.”
“It werry pretty, missus,” said Jane, eyeing it at a distance
without touching it, “but me prefer muslin, if you please: muslin de
fashion dis Chrismus.”
“Very well, Jane, call to-morrow, and you shall have a muslin.”
The writer would not think of controverting the truth of these anecdotes.
Any probable amount of high-post bedsteads and
of tobacco distributed as gratuity, and verandahs constructed by leisurely
carpenters for the sunning of fastidious negroes, may be conceded, and they
do in no whit impair the truth of the other facts. When the reader remembers
that the “gang” of some opulent owners amounts to from 500 to
700 working hands, besides children, he can judge how extensively these accommodations
are likely to be provided. Let them be safely thrown into the account for
what they are worth.
At all events, it is pleasing to end off so disagreeable a chapter with
some more agreeable images. (See Appendix.)
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
SELECT INCIDENTS OF LAWFUL TRADE.
IN this chapter of Uncle
Tom's Cabin were recorded some of the most highly-wrought and touching
incidents of the slave- trade. It will be well to authenticate a few of them.
One of the first sketches presented to view is an account of the separation
of a very old decrepit negro woman from her young son, by a sheriff's sale.
The writer is sorry to say that not the slightest credit for invention is
due to her in this incident. She found it, almost exactly as it stands, in
the published journal of a young Southerner, related as a scene to which he
was eye-witness. The only circumstance which she has omitted in the narrative
was one of additional inhumanity and painfulness which he had delineated.
He represents the boy as being bought by a planter, who fettered his hands,
and tied a rope round his neck which he attached to the neck of his horse,
thus compelling the child to trot by his side. This incident alone was suppressed
by the author.
Another scene of fraud and cruelty, in the same chapter, is described as
perpetrated by a Kentucky slave-master, who sells a woman to a trader, and
induces her to go with him by the deceitful assertion that she is to be taken
down the river a short distance, to work at the same hotel with her husband.
This was an instance which occurred under the writer's own observation, some
years since, when she was going down the Ohio river. The woman was very respectable,
both in appearance and dress. The writer recalls her image now with distinctness,
attired with great neatness in a white wrapper, her clothing and hair all
arranged with evident care, and having with her a prettily-dressed boy about
seven years of age. She had also a hair-trunk of clothing, which showed that
she had been carefully and respectably brought up. It will be seen, in perusing
the account, that the incident is somewhat altered to suit the purpose of
the story, the woman being there represented as carrying with her a young
The custom of unceremoniously separating the infant from its
mother, when the latter is about to be taken from a Northern to a Southern
market, is a matter of every-day notoriety in the trade. It is not done occasionally
and sometimes, but always, whenever there is occasion for it; and the mother's
agonies are no more regarded than those of a cow when her calf is separated
The reason of this is, that the care and raising of children is no part
of the intention or provision of a Southern plantation. They are a trouble;
they detract from the value of the mother as a field-hand, and it is more
expensive to raise them than to buy them ready raised; they are therefore
left behind in making up of a coffle. Not longer ago than last summer, the
writer was conversing with Thomas Strother, a slave minister of the gospel
in St. Louis, for whose emancipation she was making some effort. He incidentally
mentioned to her a scene which he had witnessed but a short time before, in
which a young woman of his acquaintance came to him almost in a state of distraction,
telling him that she had been sold to go South with a trader, and leave behind
her a nursing infant.
In Lewis Clark's narrative he mentions that a master in his neighbourhood
sold a woman and child to a trader, with the charge that he should not sell
the child from its mother. The man, however, traded off the child in the very
next town, in payment of his tavern-bill.
The following testimony is from a gentleman who writes from New Orleans
to the National Era.
This writer says:—
While at Robinson, or Eyree Springs, twenty miles from Nashville, on the
borders of Kentucky and Tennessee, my hostess said to me, one day, “Yonder
comes a gang of slaves chained.” I went to the road-side and viewed
them. For the better answering my purpose of observation, I stopped the white
man in front, who was at his ease in a one-horse waggon, and asked him if
those slaves were for sale. I counted them and observed their position. They
were divided by three one-horse waggons, each containing a man-merchant, so
arranged as to command the whole gang. Some were unchained; sixty were chained
in two companies, thirty in each, the right hand of the one to the left hand
of the other opposite one, making fifteen each side of a large ox-chain, to
which every hand was fastened, and necessarily compelled to hold up—men
and women promiscuously, and about in equal proportions—all young people.
No children here, except a few in a waggon behind, which were the only children
in the four gangs. I said to a respectable mulatto woman in the house, “Is
it true that the negro-traders take mothers from their babies?” “Massa,
it is true; for here, last week, such a girl (naming her), who lives about
a mile off, was taken after dinner— knew nothing of it in the morning—sold,
put into the gang, and her baby given away to a neighbour. She was a stout
young woman, and brought a good price.”
Nor is the pitiful lie to be regarded which says that these unhappy mothers
and fathers, husbands and wives, do not feel when the most sacred ties are
thus severed. Every day and hour bears living witness of the falsehood of
this slander, the more false because spoken of a race peculiarly affectionate,
and strong, vivacious and vehement, in the expression of their feelings.
The case which the writer supposed of the woman's throwing herself overboard
is not by any means a singular one. Witness the following recent fact, which
appeared under the head of
[title]ANOTHER INCIDENT FOR “UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.”
The editorial correspondent of the Oneida (N. Y.) Telegraph, writing from a steamer on the Mississippi river,
gives the following sad story:—
“At Louisville, a gentleman took passage, having with him a family
of blacks —husband, wife, and children. The master was bound for Memphis,
Tennessee, at which place he intended to take all except the man ashore. The
latter was handcuffed, and although his master said nothing of his intention,
the negro made up his mind, from appearances, as well as from the remarks
of those around him, that he was destined for the Southern
market. We reached Memphis during the night, and whilst within sight
of the town, just before landing, the negro caused his wife to divide their
things, as though resigned to the intended separation, and then, taking a
moment when his master's back was turned, ran forward and jumped into the
river. Of course he sank, and his master was several hundred dollars poorer
than a moment before. That was all; at least, scarcely any one mentioned it
the next morning. I was obliged to get my information from the deck hands,
and did not hear a remark concerning it in the cabin. In justice to the master,
I should say that, after the occurrence, he disclaimed any intention to separate
them. Appearances, however, are quite against him, if I have been rightly
informed. This sad affair needs no comment. It is an argument, however, that
I might have used to-day, with some effect, whilst talking with a highly-intelligent
Southerner of the evils of slavery. He had been reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, and spoke of it as a novel,
which, like other romances, was well calculated to excite the sympathies,
by the recital of heart-touching incidents which never
had an existence, except in the imagination of the writer.”
Instances have occurred where mothers, whose children were about to be
sold from them, have, in their desperation, murdered their own offspring,
to save them from this worst kind of orphanage. A case of this kind has been
recently tried in the United States, and was alluded to, a week or two ago,
by Mr. Giddings, in his speech on the floor of Congress.
An American gentleman from Italy, complaining of the effect of Uncle Tom's Cabin on the Italian mind, states that images of fathers
dragged from their families to be sold into slavery, and of babes torn from
the breasts of weeping mothers, are constantly presented before the minds
of the people as scenes of
every-day life in America. The author
can only say, sorrowfully, that it is only the truth
which is thus presented.
These things are, every day, part and parcel of
one of the most thriving trades that is carried on in America. The only difference between us and foreign nations is, that we have
got used to it, and they have not. The thing has been done, and done again,
day after day, and year after year, reported and lamented over in every variety
of way; but it is going on this day with more briskness
than ever before, and no doubt; the other, and such scenes as we have described are enacted oftener,
as the author will prove when she comes to the chapter on the internal slave-trade.
The incident in this same chapter which describes the scene where the wife
of the unfortunate article, catalogued as “John, aged 30,” rushed
on board the boat and threw her arms around him, with moans and lamentations,
was a real incident. The gentleman who related it was so stirred in his spirit
at the sight, that he addressed the trader in the exact words which the writer
represents the young minister as having used in her narrative.
My friend, how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look
at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going
home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is the signal to carry
me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife for ever. Depend
upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this.
If that gentleman has read the work, as perhaps he has before now, he has
probably recognised his own words. One affecting incident in the narrative,
as it really occurred, ought to be mentioned. The wife was passionately bemoaning
her husband's fate, as about to be for ever separated from all that he held
dear, to be sold to the hard usage of a Southern plantation. The husband,
in reply, used that very simple but sublime expression which the writer has
placed in the mouth of Uncle Tom, in similar circumstances:—“There'll be the same God there that there is here.”
One other incident mentioned in Uncle Tom's Cabin
may, perhaps, be as well verified in this place as in any other.
The case of old Prue was related by a brother and sister of the writer
as follows:—She was the woman who supplied rusks and other articles of the kind at the house where they boarded. Her
manners, appearance, and character were just as described. One day another
servant came in her place, bringing the rusks. The sister of the writer inquired
what had become of Prue. She seemed reluctant to answer
for some time, but at last said that they had taken her into the
cellar and beaten her, and that the flies had got at her and she was dead!
It is well known that there are no cellars, properly
so called, in New Orleans, the nature of the ground being such as to forbid
digging. The slave who used the word had probably been imported from some
State where cellars were in use, and applied the term to the place which was
used for the ordinary purposes of a cellar. A cook who lived in the writer's
family, having lived most of her life on a plantation, always applied the
descriptive terms of the plantation to the very limited enclosures and retinue
of a very plain house and yard.
This same lady, while living in the same place, used frequently to have
her compassion excited by hearing the wailings of a sickly baby in a house
adjoining their own, as also the objurgations and tyrannical abuse of a ferocious
virago upon its mother. She once got an opportunity to speak to its mother,
who appeared heart-broken and dejected, and inquired what was the matter with
her child. Her answer was, that she had had a fever, and that her milk was
all dried away; and that her mistress was set against her child, and would
not buy milk for it. She had tried to feed it on her own coarse food, but
it pined and cried continually; and in witness of this she brought the baby
to her. It was emaciated to a skeleton. The lady took the little thing to
a friend of hers in the house who had been recently confined, and who was
suffering from a redundancy of milk, and begged her to nurse it. The miserable
sight of the little, famished, wasted thing affected the mother so as to overcome
all other considerations, and she placed it to her breast, when it revived,
and took food with an eagerness which showed how much it had suffered. But
the child was so reduced that this proved only a transient alleviation. It
was after this almost impossible to get sight of the woman, and the violent
temper of her mistress was such as to make it difficult to interfere in the
case. The lady secretly afforded what aid she could, though, as she confessed,
with a sort of misgiving that it was a cruelty to try to hold back the poor
little sufferer from the refuge of the grave; and it was a relief to her when
at last its wailings ceased, and it went where the weary are at rest. This
is one of those cases which go to show that the interest of the owner will not always insure kind treatment of the slave.
There is one other incident, which the writer interwove into the history
of the mulatto woman who was bought by Legree for his plantation. The reader
will remember that, in telling her story to Emmeline, she says:—
“My mas'r was Mr. Ellis—lived in Levee-street. P'raps you've
seen the house.”
“Was he good to you?” said Emmeline.
“Mostly, till he tuk sick. He's lain sick, off and on, more than
six months, and been orful oneasy. 'Pears like he warn't willin' to have nobody
rest, day nor night; and got so cur'ous, there couldn't nobody suit him. 'Pears
like he just grew crosser every day; kep me up nights till I got fairly beat
out, and couldn't keep awake no longer; and 'cause I got to sleep one night,
Lors! he talk so orful to me, and he tell me he'd sell me to just the hardest
master he could find; and he'd promised me my freedom, too, when he died!”
An incident of this sort came under the author's observation in the following
manner. A quadroon slave family, liberated by the will of the master, settled
on Walnut Hills, near her residence, and their children were received into
her family school, taught in her house. In this family was a little quadroon
boy, four or five years of age, with a sad, dejected appearance, who excited
The history of this child, as narrated by his friends, was simply this:
his mother had been the indefatigable nurse of her master, during a lingering
and painful sickness which at last terminated his life. She had borne all
the fatigue of the nursing both by night and by day, sustained in it by his
promise that she should be rewarded for it by her liberty, at his death. Overcome
by exhaustion and fatigue, she one night fell asleep, and he was unable to
rouse her. The next day, after violently upbraiding her, he altered the directions
of his will, and sold her to a man who was noted in all the region round as
a cruel master, which sale, immediately on his death, which was shortly after,
took effect. The only mitigation of her sentence was that her child was not
to be taken with her into this dreaded lot, but was given to this quadroon
family to be brought into a free State.
The writer very well remembers hearing this story narrated among a group
of liberated negroes, and their comments on it. A peculiar form of grave and
solemn irony often characterises the communications of this class of people.
It is a habit engendered in slavery to comment upon proceedings of this kind
in language apparently respectful to the perpetrators, and which is felt to
be irony only by a certain peculiarity of manner, difficult to describe. After
the relation of this story, when the writer expressed her indignation in no
measured terms, one of the oldest of the sable circle remarked, gravely—
“The man was a mighty great Christian, anyhow.”
The writer warmly expressed her dissent from this view, when another of
the same circle added—
“Went to glory, anyhow.”
And another continued—
“Had the greatest kind of a time when he was a-dyin'; said he was
goin' straight into heaven.”
And when the writer remarked that many people thought so who never got
there, a singular smile of grim approval passed round the circle, but no further
comments were made. This incident has often recurred to the writer's mind,
as showing the danger to the welfare of the master's soul from the possession
of absolute power. A man of justice and humanity when in health, is often
tempted to become unjust, exacting, and exorbitant in sickness. If, in these
circumstances, he is surrounded by inferiors, from whom law and public opinion
have taken away the rights of common humanity, how is he tempted to the exercise
of the most despotic passions, and, like this unfortunate man, to leave the
world with the weight of these awful words upon his head: “If ye forgive
not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
TOPSY stands as the representative of a large
class of the children who are growing up under the institution of slavery—quick,
active, subtle and ingenious, apparently utterly devoid of principle and conscience,
keenly penetrating, by an instinct which exists in the childish mind, the
degradation of their condition, and the utter hopelessness of rising above
it; feeling the black skin on them, like the mark of Cain, to be a sign of
reprobation and infamy, and urged on by a kind of secret desperation to make
their “calling and election” in sin “sure.”
Christian people have often been perfectly astonished and discouraged,
as Miss Ophelia was, in the attempt to bring up such children decently and
Christianly, under a state of things which takes away every stimulant which
God meant should operate healthfully on the human mind.
We are not now speaking of the Southern States merely, but of the New England
States; for, startling as it may appear, slavery is not
yet wholly abolished in the free States of the North. The most unchristian
part of it, that which gives to it all the bitterness and all the sting, is
yet, in a great measure, unrepealed; it is the practical denial to the negro
of the rights of human brotherhood. In consequence of this, Topsy is a character
which may be found at the North as well as at the South.
In conducting the education of negro, mulatto, and quadroon children, the
writer has often observed this fact—that, for a certain time, and up
to a certain age, they kept equal pace with, and were often superior to, the
white children with whom they were associated; but that there came a time
when they became indifferent to learning, and made no further progress. This
was invariably at the age when they were old enough to reflect upon life,
and to perceive that society had no place to offer them for which anything
more would be requisite than the rudest and most elementary knowledge.
Let us consider how it is with our own children; how few
of them would ever acquire an education from the mere love of learning.
In the process necessary to acquire a handsome style of handwriting, to
master the intricacies of any language, or to conquer the difficulties of
mathematical study, how often does the perseverance of the child flag, and
need to be stimulated by his parents and teachers by such considerations as
these: “It will be necessary for you, in such or such a position in
life, to possess this or that acquirement or accomplishment. How could you
ever become a merchant without understanding accounts? How could you enter
the learned professions without understanding languages? If you are ignorant
and uninformed, you cannot take rank as a gentleman in society.”
Does not everyone know that, without the stimulus which teachers and parents
thus continually present, multitudes of children would never gain a tolerable
education? And is it not the absence of all such stimulus which has prevented
the negro child from an equal advance?
It is often objected to the negro race that they are frivolous and vain,
passionately fond of show, and are interested only in trifles. And who is
to blame for all this? Take away all high aims, all noble ambition, from any
class, and what is left for them to be interested in but trifles?
The present Attorney-General of Liberia, Mr. Lewis, is a man who commands
the highest respect for talent and ability in his position; yet, while he
was in America, it is said that, like many other young coloured men, he was
distinguished only for foppery and frivolity. What made the change in Lewis
after he went to Liberia? Who does not see the answer? Does anyone wish to
know what is inscribed on the seal which keeps the great stone over the sepulchre
of African mind? It is this—which was so truly said by poor Topsy—“NOTHING BUT A NIGGER!”
It is this, burnt into the soul by the branding-iron of cruel and unchristian
scorn, that is a sorer and deeper wound than all the physical evils of slavery
There never was a slave who did not feel it. Deep, deep down in the dark
still waters of his soul is the conviction, heavier, bitterer than all others,
that he is not regarded as a man. On this point may
be introduced the testimony of one who has known the wormwood and the gall
of slavery by bitter experience. The following letter has been received from
Dr. Pennington, in relation to some inquiries of the author:—
New York, 50, Laurens-street, November 30, 1852.
ESTEEMED MADAM,—I have duly received your
kind letter in answer to mine of the 15th instant, in which you state that
you “have an intense curiosity to know how far you have rightly divined
the heart of the slave.” You give me your idea in these words: “There
lies buried down in the heart of the most seemingly careless and stupid slave
a bleeding spot that bleeds and aches, though he could
scarcely tell why; and that this sore spot is the degradation of his position.”
After escaping from the plantation of Dr. Tilghman, in Washington County,
Md., where I was held as a slave, and worked as a blacksmith, I came to the
State of Pennsylvania, and, after experiencing there some of the vicissitudes
referred to in my little published narrative, I came into New York State,
bringing in my mind a certain indescribable feeling of wretchedness. They
used to say of me at Dr. Tilghman's, “That blacksmith Jemmy is a 'cute
fellow; still water runs deep.” But I confess that “blacksmith
Jemmy” was not 'cute enough to understand the cause of his own wretchedness.
The current of the still water may have run deep, but it did not reach down
to that awful bed of lava.
At times I thought it occasioned by the lurking fear of betrayal. There
was no Vigilance Committee at the time—there were but anti-slavery men.
I came North with my counsels in my own cautious breast. I married a wife,
and did not tell her I was a fugitive. None of my friends knew it. I knew
not the means of safety, and hence I was constantly in fear of meeting with
some one who would betray me.
It was fully two years before I could hold up my head; but still that feeling
was in my mind. In 1846, after opening my bosom as a fugitive to John Hooker,
Esq., I felt this much relief—“Thank God, there is one brother
man in hard old Connecticut that knows my troubles.”
Soon after this, when I sailed to the island of Jamaica, and on landing
there saw coloured men in all the stations of civil, social, commercial life,
where I had seen white men in this country, that feeling of wretchedness experienced
a sensible relief, as if some feverish sore had been just reached by just
the right kind of balm. There was before my eye evidence that a coloured man
is more than “a nigger.” I went into the House of Assembly at
Spanishtown, where fifteen out of forty-five members were coloured men. I
went into the courts, where I saw in the jury-box coloured and white men together,
coloured and white lawyers at the bar. I went into the Common Council of Kingston;
there I found men of different colours. So in all the counting-rooms,&c.&c.
But still there was this drawback. Somebody says, “This is nothing
but a nigger island.” Now, then, my old trouble came back again, “a
nigger among niggers is but a nigger still.”
In 1849, when I undertook my second visit to Great Britain, I resolved
to prolong and extend my travel and intercourse with the best class of men,
with a view to see if I could banish that troublesome old ghost entirely out
of my mind. In England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Belgium, and Prussia,
my whole power has been concentrated on this object: “I'll be a man,
and I'll kill off this enemy which has haunted me these twenty years and more.”
I believe I have succeeded in some good degree; at least, I have now no more
trouble on the score of equal manhood with the whites. My European tour was
because there the trial was fair and honourable.
I had nothing to complain of. I got what was due to man, and I was expected
to do what was due from man to man. I sought not to be treated as a pet. I
put myself into the harness, and wrought manfully in the first pulpits, and
the platforms in peace congresses, conventions, anniversaries, commencements,
&c.; and in these exercises that rusty old iron came out of my soul, and
went “clean away.”
You say again you have never seen a slave, however careless and merryhearted,
who had not this sore place, and that did not shrink or get angry if a finger
was laid on it. I see that you have been a close observer of negro nature.
So far as I understand your idea, I think you are perfectly correct in
the impression you have received, as explained in your note.
O Mrs. Stowe, slavery is an awful system! It takes man as God made him;
it demolishes him, and then mis-creates him, or perhaps I should say mal-creates
Wishing you good health and good success in your arduous work,
I am yours, respectfully, J. W. C. PENNINGTON.
Mrs. H. B. Stowe.
People of intelligence, who have had the care of slaves, have often made
this remark to the writer: “They are a singular, whimsical people; you
can do a great deal more with them by humouring some of their prejudices than
by bestowing on them the most substantial favours.” On inquiring what
these prejudices were, the reply would be, “They like to have their
weddings elegantly celebrated, and to have a good deal of notice taken of
their funerals, and to give and go to parties dressed and appearing like white
people; and they will often put up with material inconveniences, and suffer
themselves to be worked very hard, if they are humoured in these respects.”
Can anyone think of this without compassion? Poor souls! willing to bear
with so much for simply this slight acknowledgment of their common humanity.
To honour their weddings and funerals is, in some sort, acknowledging that
they are human, and therefore they prize it. Hence we see the reason of the
passionate attachment which often exists in a faithful slave to a good master;
it is, in fact, a transfer of his identity to his master. A stern law, and
an unchristian public sentiment, has taken away his birthright of humanity,
erased his name from the catalogue of men, and made him an anomalous creature—neither
man nor brute. When a kind master recognises his humanity, and treats him
as a humble companion and a friend, there is no end to the devotion and gratitude
which he thus excites. He is to the slave a deliverer and a saviour from the
curse which lies on his hapless race. Deprived of all legal rights and privileges,
all opportunity or hope of personal advancement or honour, he transfers, as
it were, his whole
existence into his master's, and appropriates
his rights, his position, his honour, as his own; and thus enjoys a kind of
reflected sense of what it might be to be a man himself. Hence it is that
the appeal to the more generous part of the negro character is seldom made
An acquaintance of the writer was married to a gentleman in Louisiana,
who was the proprietor of some eight hundred slaves. He, of course, had a
large train of servants in his domestic establishment. When about to enter
upon her duties, she was warned that the servants were all so thievish that
she would be under the necessity, in common with all other housekeepers, of
keeping everything under lock and key. She, however, announced her intention
of training her servants in such a manner as to make this unnecessary. Her
ideas were ridiculed as chimerical, but she resolved to carry them into practice.
The course she pursued was as follows:—She called all the family servants
together; told them that it would be a great burden and restraint upon her
to be obliged to keep everything locked from them; that she had heard that
they were not at all to be trusted, but that she could not help hoping that
they were much better than they had been represented. She told them that she
should provide abundantly for all their wants, and then that she should leave
her stores unlocked, and trust to their honour.
The idea that they were supposed capable of having any honour struck a
new chord at once in every heart. The servants appeared most grateful for
the trust, and there was much public spirit excited, the older and graver
ones exerting themselves to watch over the children, that nothing might be
done to destroy this new-found treasure of honour.
At last, however, the lady discovered that some depredations had been made
on her cake by some of the juvenile part of the establishment; she, therefore,
convened all the servants, and stated the fact to them. She remarked that
it was not on account of the value of the cake that she felt annoyed, but
that they must be sensible that it would not be pleasant for her to have it
indiscriminately fingered and handled, and that, therefore, she should set
some cake out upon a table, or some convenient place, and beg that all those
who were disposed to take it would go there and help themselves, and allow
the rest to remain undisturbed in the closet. She states that the cake stood
upon the table and dried, without a morsel of it being touched, and that she
never afterwards had any trouble in this respect.
A little time after, a new carriage was bought, and one night the leather
boot of it was found to be missing. Before her
husband had time
to take any steps on the subject, the servants of the family had called a
convention among themselves, and instituted an inquiry into the offence. The
boot was found and promptly restored, though they would not reveal to their
master and mistress the name of the offender.
One other anecdote which this lady related illustrates that peculiar devotion
of a slave to a good master, to which allusion has been made. Her husband
met with his death by a sudden and melancholy accident. He had a personal
attendant and confidential servant who had grown up with him from childhood.
This servant was so overwhelmed with grief as to be almost stupified. On the
day of the funeral a brother of his deceased master inquired of him if he
had performed a certain commission for his mistress. The servant said that
he had forgotten it. Not perceiving his feelings at the moment, the gentleman
replied, “I am surprised that you should neglect any command of your
mistress, when she is in such affliction.”
This remark was the last drop in the full cup. The poor fellow fell to
the ground entirely insensible, and the family were obliged to spend nearly
two hours employing various means to restore his vitality. The physician accounted
for his situation by saying that there had been such a rush of all the blood
in the body towards the heart, that there was actual danger of a rupture of
that organ—a literal death by a broken heart.
Some thoughts may be suggested by Miss Ophelia's conscientious but unsuccessful
efforts in the education of Topsy.
Society has yet need of a great deal of enlightening as to the means of
restoring the vicious and degraded to virtue.
It has been erroneously supposed that with brutal and degraded natures
only coarse and brutal measures could avail; and yet it has been found, by
those who have most experience, that their success with this class of society
has been just in proportion to the delicacy and kindliness with which they
have treated them.
Lord Shaftesbury, who has won so honourable a fame by his benevolent interest
in the efforts made for the degraded lower classes of his own land, says,
in a recent letter to the author:—
You are right about Topsy; our ragged schools will afford you many instances
of poor children, hardened by kicks, insults and neglect, moved to tears and
docility by the first word of kindness. It opens new feelings, developes,
as it were a new nature, and brings the wretched outcast into the family of
Recent efforts which have been made among unfortunate females in some of
the worst districts of New York show the
same thing. What is
it that rankles deepest in the breast of fallen woman, that makes her so hopeless
and irreclaimable? It is that burning consciousness of degradation which stings
worse than cold or hunger, and makes her shrink from the face of the missionary
and the philanthropist. They who have visited these haunts of despair and
wretchedness have learned that they must touch gently the shattered harp of
the human soul, if they would string it again to divine music; that they must
encourage self-respect, and hope, and sense of character, or the bonds of
death can never be broken.
Let us examine the gospel of Christ, and see on what principles its appeals
are constructed. Of what nature are those motives which have melted our hearts and renewed our wills? Are they not
appeals to the most generous and noble instincts of our nature? Are we not
told of One fairer than the sons of men—One reigning in immortal glory,
who loved us so that he could bear pain, and want, and shame, and death itself,
for our sake?
When Christ speaks to the soul, does he crush one of its nobler faculties?
Does he taunt us with our degradation, our selfishness, our narrowness of
view, and feebleness of intellect, compared with his own? Is it not true that
he not only saves us from our sins, but saves us in a way most considerate,
most tender, most regardful of our feelings and sufferings? Does not the Bible
tell us that, in order to fulfil his office of Redeemer the more perfectly,
he took upon him the condition of humanity, and endured the pains, and wants,
and temptations of a mortal existence, that he might be to us a sympathising,
appreciating friend, “touched with the feelings of our infirmities,”
and cheering us gently on in the hard path of returning virtue?
Oh, when shall we, who have received so much of Jesus Christ, learn to
repay it in acts of kindness to our poor brethren? When shall we be Christ-like,
and not man-like, in our efforts to reclaim the fallen and wandering?
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
THE writer's sketch of the character of this
people has been drawn from personal observation. There are several settlements
of these people in Ohio; and the manner of living, the tone of sentiment,
and the habits of life, as represented in her book, are not at all exaggerated.
These settlements have always been refuges for the oppressed and outlawed
slave. The character of Rachel Halliday was a real one, but she has passed
away to her reward. Simeon Halliday, calmly risking fine and imprisonment
for his love to God and man, has had in this country many counterparts among
The writer had in mind, at the time of writing, the scenes in the trial
of John Garret, of Wilmington, Delaware, for the crime of hiring a hack to
convey a mother and four children from Newcastle jail to Wilmington, a distance
of five miles.
The writer has received the facts in this case, in a letter from John Garret
himself, from which some extracts will be made.
1st month 18th, 1853.
MY DEAR FRIEND, HARRIET BEECHER STOWE,—I
have this day received a request from Charles K. Whipple, of Boston, to furnish
thee with a statement, authentic and circumstantial, of the trouble and losses
which have been brought upon myself and others of my friends from the aid
we had rendered to fugitive slaves, in order, if thought of sufficient importance,
to be published in a work thee is now preparing for the press.
I will now endeavour to give thee a statement of what John Hunn and myself
suffered by aiding a family of slaves, a few years since. I will give the
facts as they occurred, and thee may condense and publish so much as thee
may think useful in thy work, and no more.
In the 12th month, year 1846, a family, consisting of Samuel Hawkins, a
freeman, his wife Emeline, and six children, who were afterwards proved slaves, stopped at the house of a friend named John Hunn, near
Middletown, in this State, in the evening about sunset, to procure food and
lodging for the night. They were seen by some of Hunn's pro-slavery neighbours,
who soon came with a constable, and had them taken before a magistrate. Hunn
had left the slaves in his kitchen when he went to the village of Middletown,
half a mile distant. When the officer came with a warrant for them, he met
Hunn at the kitchen-door, and asked for the
blacks. Hunn, with
truth, said he did not know where they were. Hunn's wife, thinking they would
be safer, had sent them up stairs during his absence, where they were found.
Hunn made no resistance, and they were taken before the magistrate, and from
his office direct to Newcastle jail, where they arrived about one o'clock
on 7th day morning.
The sheriff and his daughter, being kind, humane people, inquired of Hawkins
and wife the facts of their case; and his daughter wrote to a lady here, to
request me to go to Newcastle and inquire into the case, as her father and
self really believed they were most of them, if not all, entitled to their freedom. Next morning I went to Newcastle; had the family
of coloured people brought into the parlour, and the sheriff and myself came
to the conclusion that the parents and four youngest children were by law
entitled to their freedom. I prevailed on the sheriff to show me the commitment
of the magistrate, which I found was defective, and not in due form according
to law. I procured a copy, and handed it to a lawyer. He pronounced the commitment
irregular, and agreed to go next morning to Newcastle, and have the whole
family taken before Judge Booth, Chief Justice of the State, by habeas corpus, when the following admission was made by Samuel Hawkins
and wife: they admitted that the two eldest boys were held by one Charles
Glaudin, of Queen Anne County, Maryland, as slaves; that after the birth of
these two children, Elizabeth Turner, also of Queen Anne, the mistress of
their mother, had set her free, and permitted her to go and live with her
husband, near twenty miles from her residence, after which the four youngest
children were born; that her mistress during all that time, eleven or twelve
years, had never contributed one dollar to their support, or come to see them.
After examining the commitment in their case, and consulting with my attorney,
the judge set the whole family at liberty. The day was wet and cold; one of
the children, three years old, was a cripple from white swelling, and could
not walk a step; another, eleven months old, at the breast; and the parents
being desirous of getting to Wilmington, five miles distant, I asked the judge
if there would be any risk or impropriety in my hiring a conveyance for the
mother and four young children to Wilmington. His reply, in the presence of
the sheriff and my attorney, was, there would not be any. I then requested
the sheriff to procure a hack to take them over to Wilmington.
The whole family escaped. John Hunn and John Garret were brought up to
trial for having practically fulfilled those words of Christ, which read,
“I was a stranger and ye took me in, I was sick and in prison and ye
came unto me.” For John Hunn's part of this crime he was fined two thousand
five hundred dollars, and John Garret was fined five thousand four hundred.
Three thousand five hundred of this was the fine for hiring a hack for them,
and one thousand nine hundred was assessed on him as the value of the slaves!
Our European friends will infer from this that it costs something to obey
Christ in America, as well as in Europe.
After John Garret's trial was over, and this heavy judgment had been given
against him, he calmly rose in the court-room,
leave to address a few words to the court and audience.
Leave being granted, he spoke as follows:—
I have a few words which I wish to address to the court, jury, and prosecutors,
in the several suits that have been brought against me during the sittings
of this court, in order to determine the amount of penalty I must pay for
doing what my feelings prompted me to do as a lawful and meritorious act;
a simple act of humanity and justice, as I believed, to eight of that oppressed
race, the people of colour, whom I found in the Newcastle jail, in the 12th
month, 1845. I will now endeavour to state the facts of those cases, for your
consideration and reflection after you return home to your families and friends.
You will then have time to ponder on what has transpired here since the sitting
of this court, and I believe that your verdict will then be unanimous, that
the law of the United States, as explained by our venerable judge, when compared
with the act committed by me, was cruel and oppressive, and needs remodelling.
Here follows a very brief and clear statement of the facts in the case,
of which the reader is already apprised.
After showing conclusively that he had no reason to suppose the family
to be slaves, and that they had all been discharged by the judge, he nobly
adds the following words:—
Had I believed every one of them to be slaves, I should
have done the same thing. I should have done violence to my convictions
of duty, had I not made use of all the lawful means in my power to liberate
those people, and assist them to become men and women, rather than leave them
in the condition of chattels personal.
I am called an Abolitionist; once a name of reproach, but one I have ever
been proud to be considered worthy of being called. For the last twenty-five
years I have been engaged in the cause of this despised and much-injured race,
and consider their cause worth suffering for; but, owing to a multiplicity
of other engagements, I could not devote so much of my time and mind to their
cause as I otherwise should have done.
The impositions and persecutions practised on those unoffending and innocent
brethren are extreme beyond endurance. I am now placed in a situation in which
I have not so much to claim my attention as formerly; and I now pledge myself,
in the presence of this assembly, to use all lawful and honourable means to
lessen the burdens of this oppressed people, and endeavour, according to ability
furnished, to burst their chains asunder, and set them free; not relaxing
my efforts on their behalf while blessed with health and a slave remains to
tread the soil of the State of my adoption—Delaware.
After mature reflection, I can assure this assembly it is my opinion at
this time that the verdicts you have given the prosecutors against John Hunn
and myself, within the past few days, will have a tendency to raise a spirit
of inquiry throughout the length and breadth of the land, respecting this
monster evil (slavery), in many minds that have not heretofore investigated
the subject. The reports of those trials will be published by editors from
Maine to Texas, and the far West; and what must be the effect produced? It
will, no doubt, add hundreds, perhaps
thousands, to the present
large and rapidly increasing army of Abolitionists. The injury is great to
us who are the immediate sufferers by your verdict; but I believe the verdicts
you have given against us within the last few days will have a powerful effect
in bringing about the abolition of slavery in this country—this land
of boasted freedom, where not only the slave is fettered at the South by his
lordly master, but the white man at the North is bound as in chains to do
the bidding of his Southern masters.
In his letter to the writer John Garret adds that, after this speech, a
young man who had served as juryman came across the room, and taking him by
the hand, said—
“Old gentleman, I believe every statement that you have made. I came
from home prejudiced against you, and I now acknowledge that I have helped
to do you injustice.”
Thus calmly and simply did this Quaker confess Christ before men, according
as it is written of them of old—“He esteemed the reproach of Christ
greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.”
Christ has said, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words,
of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed.” In our days it is not customary
to be ashamed of Christ personally, but of his words
many are ashamed. But when they meet Him in judgment they will have cause
to remember them; for heaven and earth shall pass away, but his words shall
not pass away.
Another case of the same kind is of a more affecting character.
Richard Dillingham was the son of a respectable
Quaker family in Morrow County, Ohio. His pious mother brought him up in the
full belief of the doctrine of St. John, that the love of God and the love
of man are inseparable. He was diligently taught in such theological notions
as are implied in such passages as these: “Hereby perceive we the love
of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought also to lay down
our lives for the brethren.—But whoso hath this world's goods and seeth
his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him,
how dwelleth the love of God in him?—My little children, let us not
love in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
In accordance with these precepts, Richard Dillingham, in early manhood,
was found in Cincinnati teaching the coloured people, and visiting in the
prisons, and doing what in him lay to “love in deed and in truth.”
Some unfortunate families among the coloured people had dear friends who
were slaves in Nashville, Tennessee. Richard was so interested in their story,
that when he went into Tennessee
he was actually taken up
and caught in the very fact of helping certain poor people to escape to their
He was seized and thrown into prison. In the language of this world he
was imprisoned as a “negro-stealer.” His own account is given
in the following letter to his parents:—
12th mo: 15th, 1849.
DEAR PARENTS,—I presume you have heard
of my arrest and imprisonment in the Nashville jail, under a charge of aiding
in an attempted escape of slaves from the city of Nashville, on the 5th inst.
I was arrested by M. D. Maddox (district constable), aided by Frederick Marshal,
watchman at the Nashville Inn, and the bridge-keeper, at the bridge across
the Cumberland river. When they arrested me, I had rode up to the bridge on
horseback and paid the toll for myself and for the hack to pass over, in which
three coloured persons, who were said to be slaves, were found by the men
who arrested me. The driver of the hack (who is a free coloured man of this
city), and the persons in the hack, were also arrested; and after being taken
to the Nashville Inn and searched, we were all taken to jail. My arrest took
place about eleven o'clock at night.
In another letter he says:—
At the bridge, Maddox said to me, “You are just the man we wanted.
We will make an example of you.” As soon as we were safe in the bar-room
of the Inn, Maddox took a candle and looked me in the face, to see if he could
recognise my countenance; and looking intently at me a few moments, he said,
“Well, you are too good-looking a young man to be engaged in such an
affair as this.” The by-standers asked me several questions, to which
I replied that, under the present circumstances, I would rather be excused
from answering any questions relating to my case; upon which they desisted
from further inquiry. Some threats and malicious wishes were uttered against
me by the ruffian part of the assembly, being about twenty-five persons. I
was put in a cell which had six persons in it, and I can assure thee that
they were very far from being agreeable companions to me, although they were
kind. But thou knows that I do not relish cursing and swearing, and, worst
of all, loathsome and obscene blasphemy and of such was most of the conversation
of my prison mates when I was first put in here. The jailors are kind enough
to me, but the jail is so constructed that it cannot be warmed, and we have
either to warm ourselves by walking in our cell, which is twelve by fifteen
feet, or by lying in bed. I went out on my trial on the 16th of last month,
and put it off till the next term of the court, which will be commenced on
the second of next 4th month. I put it off on the ground of excitement.
Dear brother, I have no hopes of getting clear of being convicted and sentenced
to the Penitentiary; but do not think that I am without comfort in my afflictions,
for I assure thee that I have many reflections that give me sweet consolation
in the midst of my grief. I have a clear conscience before my God, which is
my greatest comfort and support through all my troubles and afflictions. An
approving conscience none can know but those who enjoy it. It nerves us in
the hour of trial to bear our sufferings with fortitude and even with cheerfulness.
The greatest affliction I have is the reflection of the sorrow and anxiety
my friends will
have to endure on my account. But I can assure
thee, brother, that, with the exception of this reflection, I am far, very
far, from being one of the most miserable of men. Nay, to the contrary, I
am not terrified at the prospect before me, though I am grieved about it;
but all have enough to grieve about in this unfriendly wilderness of sin and
woe. My hopes are not fixed in this world, and therefore I have a source of
consolation that will never fail me, so long as I slight not the offers of
mercy, comfort, and peace, which my blessed Saviour constantly privileges
One source of almost constant annoyance to my feelings is the profanity
and vulgarity, and the bad, disagreeable temper, of two or three fellow-prisoners
of my cell. They show me considerable kindness and respect; but they cannot
do otherwise, when treated with the civility and kindness with which I treat
them. If it be my fate to go to the Penitentiary for eight or ten years, I
can, I believe, meet my doom without shedding a tear. I have not yet shed
a tear, though there may be many in store. My bail-bonds were set at seven
thousand dollars, If I should be bailed out, I should return to my trial,
unless my security were rich, and did not wish me to return; for I am Richard yet, although I am in the prison of my enemy, and will not
flinch from what I believe to be right and honourable. These are the principles
which, in carrying out, have lodged me here; for there was a time, at my arrest,
that I might have, in all probability, escaped the police, but it would have
subjected those who were arrested with me to punishment, perhaps even to death,
in order to find out who I was; and if they had not told more than they could
have done in truth, they would probably have been punished without mercy;
and I am determined no one shall suffer for me. I am now a prisoner, but those
who were arrested with me are all at liberty, and I believe without whipping.
I now stand alone before the Commonwealth of Tennessee to answer for the affair.
Tell my friends I am in the midst of consolation here.
Richard was engaged to a young lady of amiable disposition and fine mental
To her he thus writes:—
Oh, dearest! Canst thou upbraid me? canst thou call it crime? wouldst thou
call it crime, or couldst thou upbraid me, for rescuing, or attempting to
rescue, thy father, mother, or brother and sister,
or even friends, from a captivity among a cruel race of oppressors? Oh, couldst
thou only see what I have seen, and hear what I have heard, of the sad, vexatious,
degrading, and soul-trying situation of as noble minds as ever the Anglo-Saxon
race were possessed of, mourning in vain for that universal heaven-born boon
of freedom which an all-wise and beneficent Creator has designed for all,
thou couldst not censure, but wouldst deeply sympathise with me! Take all
these things into consideration, and the thousands of poor mortals who are
dragging out far more miserable lives than mine will be, even at ten years
in the Penitentiary, and thou wilt not look upon my fate with so much horror
as thou would at first thought.
In another letter he adds:—
Have happy hours here, and I should not be miserable if I could only know
you were not sorrowing for me at home. It would give me more satisfaction
to hear that you were not grieving about me than anything else.
The nearer I live to the principle of the commandment, “Love thy
neighbour as thyself,” the more enjoyment I have of this life. None
can know the enjoyments that flow from feelings of good-will towards our fellow-beings,
both friends and enemies, but those who cultivate them. Even in my prison-cell
I may be happy, if I will. For the Christian's consolation cannot be shut
out from him by enemies or iron gates.
In another letter to the lady before alluded to he says:—
By what I am able to learn, I believe thy “Richard” has not
fallen altogether unlamented; and the satisfaction it gives me is sufficient
to make my prison life more pleasant and desirable than even a life of liberty
without the esteem and respect of my friends. But it gives bitterness to the
cup of my afflictions to think that my dear friends and relatives have to
suffer such grief and sorrow for me.
* * * * *
Though persecution ever so severe be my lot, yet I will not allow my indignation
ever to ripen into revenge even against my bitterest enemies; for there will
be a time when all things must be revealed before Him who has said, “Vengeance
is mine, I will repay.” Yes, my heart shall ever glow with love for
my poor fellow- mortals, who are hastening rapidly on to their final destination—the
awful tomb and the solemn judgment.
Perhaps it will give thee some consolation for me to tell thee that I believe
there is a considerable sympathy existing in the minds of some of the better
portion of the citizens here, which may be of some benefit to me. But all
that can be done in my behalf will still leave my case a sad one. Think not,
however, that it is all loss to me, for by my calamity I have learned many
good and useful lessons, which I hope may yet prove both temporal and spiritual
blessings to me.
“Behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face.”
Therefore, I hope thou and my dear distressed parents will be somewhat
comforted about me, for I know you regard my spiritual welfare far more than
In his next letter to the same friend, he says:—
Since I wrote my last, I have had a severe moral conflict, in which, I
believe, the right conquered, and has completely gained the ascendancy. The
matter was this:—A man with whom I have become acquainted since my imprisonment
offered to bail me out and let me stay away from my trial, and pay the bail-bonds
for me, and was very anxious to do it. [Here he mentions that the funds held
by this individual had been placed in his hands by a person who obtained them
by dishonest means.] But having learned the above facts, which he in confidence
made known to me, I declined accepting his offer, giving him my reasons in
full. The matter rests with him, my attorneys, and myself. My attorneys do
not know who he is; but, with his permission, I in confidence informed them
of the nature of the case, after I came to a conclusion upon the subject,
and had determined not to accept the offer; which was approved by them. I
also had an offer of iron saws, and files, and other tools, by which I could
break jail; but I refused them
also, as I do not wish to pursue
any such underhanded course to extricate myself from my present difficulties;
for when I leave Tennessee—if ever I do—I am determined to leave
it a free man. Thou need not fear that I shall ever stoop to dishonourable
means to avoid my severe impending fate. When I meet thee again, I want to
meet thee with a clear conscience, and a character unspotted by disgrace.
In another place he says, in view of his nearly approaching trial:—
O dear parents! The principles of love for my fellow-beings which you have
instilled into my mind are some of the greatest consolations I have in my
imprisonment, and they give me resignation to bear whatever may be inflicted
upon me without feeling any malice or bitterness toward my vigilant prosecutors.
If they show me mercy, it will be accepted by me with gratitude; but if they
do not, I will endeavour to bear whatever they may inflict with Christian
fortitude and resignation, and try not to murmur at my lot; but it is hard
to obey the commandment, “Love your enemies.”
The day of his trial at length came.
His youth, his engaging manners, frank address, and invariable gentleness
to all who approached him, had won many friends, and the trial excited much
His mother and her brother, Asa Williams, went a distance of 750 miles
to attend his trial. They carried with them a certificate of his character,
drawn up by Dr. Brisbane, and numerously signed by his friends and acquaintances,
and officially countersigned by civil officers. This was done at the suggestion
of his counsel, and exhibited by them in court. When brought to the bar it
is said “that his demeanour was calm, dignified, and manly.” His
mother sat by his side. The prosecuting attorney waived his plea, and left
the ground clear for Richard's counsel. Their defence was eloquent and pathetic.
After they closed, Richard rose, and in a calm and dignified manner spoke
extemporaneously as follows:—
“By the kind permission of the court, for which I am sincerely thankful,
I avail myself of the privilege of adding a few words to the remarks already
made by my counsel. And although I stand, by my own confession, as a criminal
in the eyes of your violated laws, yet I feel confident that I am addressing
those who have hearts to feel; and in meting out the punishment that I am
about to suffer, I hope you will be lenient; for it is a new situation in
which I am placed. Never before, in the whole course of my life, have I been
charged with a dishonest act. And from my childhood, kind parents, whose names
I deeply reverence, have instilled into my mind a desire to be virtuous and
honourable; and it has ever been my aim so to conduct myself as to merit the
confidence and esteem of my fellow-men. But, gentlemen, I have violated your
laws. This offence I did commit; and I now stand before you, to my sorrow
and regret, as a criminal. But I was prompted to it by feelings of humanity.
It has been suspected, as I was informed, that I am leagued with a fraternity
who are combined for the purpose of committing such offences as the one with
which I am charged. But
gentlemen, the impression is false.
I alone am guilty—I alone committed the offence—and I alone must
suffer the penalty. My parents, my friends, my relatives, are as innocent
of any participation in or knowledge of my offence as the babe unborn. My
parents are still living,* though
advanced in years, and, in the course of nature, a few more years will terminate
their earthly existence. In their old age and infirmity they will need a stay
and protection; and, if you can, consistently with your ideas of justice,
make my term of imprisonment a short one, you will receive the lasting gratitude
of a son who reverences his parents, and the prayers and blessings of an aged
father and mother who love their child.”
A great deal of sensation now appeared in the court-room, and most of the
jury are said to have wept. They retired for a few moments, and refurned a
verdict for three years' imprisonment in the Penitentiary.
The Nashville Daily Gazette of April 13, 1849,
contains the following notice:—
“THE KIDNAPPING CASE.
“Richard Dillingham, who was arrested on the 5th day of September
last, having in his possession three slaves, whom he intended to convey with
him to a free State, was arraigned yesterday and tried in the Criminal
Court. The prisoner confessed his guilt, and made a short speech in palliation
of his offence. He avowed that the act was undertaken by himself without instigation
from any source, and he alone was responsible for the error into which his
education had led him. He had, he said, no other motive than the good of the
slaves, and did not expect to claim any advantage by freeing them. He was
sentenced to three years' imprisonment in the Penitentiary, the least time
the law allows for the offence committed. Mr. Dillingham is a Quaker from
Ohio, and has been a teacher in that State. He belongs to a respectable family,
and he is not without the sympathy of those who attended the trial. It was
a fool-hardy enterprise in which he embarked, and dearly has he paid for his
His mother, before leaving Nashville, visited the governor, and had an
interview with him in regard to pardoning her son. He gave her some encouragement,
but thought she had better postpone her petition for the present. After the
lapse of several months, she wrote to him about it; but he seemed to have
changed his mind, as the following letter will show:—
Nashville, August 29, 1849
“DEAR MADAM,—Your letter of the
6th of the 7th mo. was received, and would have been noticed earlier but for
my absence from home. Your solicitude for your son is natural, and it would
be gratifying to be able to reward it by releasing him, if it were in my power.
But the offence for which he is suffering was clearly made out, and its tendency
here is very hurtful to our rights, and our peace as a people. He is doomed
to the shortest period known to our statute. And, at all events, I could not
interfere with his case for some time to come; and, to be frank with you,
I do not see how his time can be lessened at all. But my term of office will
expire soon, and the Governor elect, Gen. William Trousdale, will take my
place. To him you will make any future appeal.
“Yours,&c., “N. L. BROWN.”
The warden of the Penitentiary, John McIntosh, was much prejudiced against
him. He thought the sentence was too light, and, being of a stern bearing,
Richard had not much to expect from his kindness. But the same sterling inegrity
and ingenuousness which had ever, under all circumstances, marked his conduct,
soon wrought a change in the minds of his keepers, and of his enemies generally.
He became a favourite with McIntosh and some of the guard. According to the
rules of the prison, he was not allowed to write oftener than once in three
months, and what he wrote had, of course, to be inspected by the warden.
He was at first put to sawing and scrubbing rock; but, as the delicacy
of his frame unfitted him for such labours, and the spotless sanctity of his
life won the reverence of his jailors, he was soon promoted to be steward
of the prison hospital. In a letter to a friend he thus announces this change
in his situation:
I suppose thou art, ere this time, informed of the change in my situation,
having been placed in the hospital of the Penitentiary as steward..... I feel
but poorly qualified to fill the situation they have assigned me, but will
try to do the best I can..... I enjoy the comforts of a good fire and a warm
room, and am allowed to sit up evenings and read, which I prize as a great
privilege..... I have now been here nearly nine months, and have twenty-seven
more to stay. It seems to me a long time in prospect. I try to be as patient
as I can, but sometimes I get low-spirited. I throw off the thoughts of home
and friends as much as possible; for, when indulged in, they only increase
my melancholy feelings. And what wounds my feelings most is the reflection
of what you all suffer of grief and anxiety for me. Cease to grieve for me,
for I am unworthy of it; and it only causes pain for you, without availing
aught for me..... As ever, thine in the bonds of affection,
He had been in prison little more than a year when the cholera invaded
Nashville, and broke out among the inmates; Richard was up day and night in
attendance on the sick, his disinterested and sympathetic nature leading him
to labours to which his delicate constitution, impaired by confinement, was
Beside the bed where parting life was laid,
And sorrow, grief, and pain, by turns dismayed,
The youthful champion stood: at his control
Despair and anguish fled the trembling soul,
Comfort came down the dying wretch to raise,
And his last faltering accents whispered praise.
Worn with these labours, the gentle, patient lover of God and of his brother
sank at last overwearied, and passed peacefully away to a world where all
are lovely and loving.
Though his correspondence with her he most loved was in-
terrupted, from his unwillingness to subject his letters to the surveillance
of the warden, yet a note reached her, conveyed through the hands of a prisoner
whose time was out. In this letter, the last which any earthly friend ever
received, he says:—
I oft-times, yea, all times, think of thee; if
I did not, I should cease to exist.
What must that system be which makes it necessary to imprison with convicted
felons a man like this, because he loves his brother man, “not wisely
but too well?”
On his death Whittier wrote the following:—
“Si crucem libenter portes, te portabit.”— Imit. Christ.
“The Cross, if freely borne, shall be
No burthen, but support, to thee.”
So, moved of old time for our sake,
The holy man of Kempen spake.
Thou brave and true one, upon whom
Was laid the Cross of Martyrdom,
How didst thou, in thy faithful youth,
Bear witness to this blessed truth!
Thy cross of suffering and of shame
A staff within thy hands became,
In paths where Faith alone could see
The Master's steps upholding thee.
Thine was the seed-time: God alone
Beholds the end of what is sown;
Beyond our vision, weak and dim,
The harvest-time is hid with Him.
Yet, unforgotten where it lies,
That seed of generous sacrifice,
Though seeming on the desert cast,
Shall rise with bloom and fruit at last.
J. G. WHITTIER.
Amesbury, Second mo. 18th,
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854
CHAPTER XIV. THE SPIRIT OF ST. CLARE.
THE general tone of the press and of the community
in the slave States, so far as it has been made known at the North, has been
loudly condemnatory of the representations of “Uncle Tom's Cabin.”
Still, it would be unjust to the character of the South to refuse to acknowledge
that she has many sons with candour enough to perceive, and courage enough
to avow, the evils of her “peculiar institutions.” The manly independence
exhibited by these men, in communities where popular sentiment rules despotically,
either by law or in spite of law, should be duly honoured. The sympathy of
such minds as these is a high encouragement to philanthropic effort.
The author inserts a few testimonials from Southern men, not without some
pride in being thus kindly judged by those who might have been naturally expected
to read her book with prejudice against it.
The Jefferson Inquirer, published at Jefferson
City, Missouri, October 23, 1852, contains the following communication:—
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
I have lately read this celebrated book, which, perhaps, has gone through
more editions, and been sold in greater numbers, than any work from the American
press, in the same length of time. It is a work of high literary finish, and
its several characters are drawn with great power and truthfulness, although,
like the characters in most novels and works of fiction, in some instances
too highly coloured. There is no attack on slave-holders as such, but, on
the contrary, many of them are represented as highly noble, generous, humane,
and benevolent. Nor is there any attack upon them as a class. It sets forth
many of the evils of slavery, as an institution established
by law, but without charging these evils on those who hold the slaves,
and seems fully to appreciate the difficulties in finding a remedy. Its effect
upon the slave-holder is to make him a kinder and better master; to which
none can object. This is said without any intention to indorse everything
contained in the book, or, indeed, in any novel or work of fiction. But, if
I mistake not, there are few, excepting those who are greatly prejudiced,
that will rise from a perusal of the book without being a truer and better
Christian, and a more humane and benevolent man. As a slave-holder, I
do not feel the least aggrieved. How Mrs. Stowe, the authoress,
has obtained her extremely accurate knowledge of the negroes, their character,
dialect, habits,&c., is beyond my comprehension, as she never resided—as
appears from the preface—in a slave State, or among slaves or negroes.
But they are certainly admirably delineated. The book is highly interesting
and amusing, and will afford a rich treat to its reader.
The opinion of the editor himself is given in these words:—
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
Well, like a good portion of “the world and the rest of mankind,”
we have read the book of Mrs. Stowe bearing the above title.
From numerous statements, newspaper paragraphs and rumours, we supposed
the book was all that fanaticism and heresy could invent, and were, therefore,
greatly prejudiced against it. But, on reading it, we cannot refrain from
saying that it is a work of more than ordinary moral worth, and is entitled
to consideration. We do not regard it as a “corruption of moral sentiment,”
and a gross “libel on a portion of our people.” The authoress
seems disposed to treat the subject fairly, though, in some particulars, the
scenes are too highly coloured, and too strongly drawn from the imagination.
The book, however, may lead its readers at a distance to misapprehend some
of the general and better features of “Southern life as it is”
(which, by the way, we, as an individual, prefer to Northern life); yet it
is a perfect mirror of several classes of people we have in our mind's eye,
who are not free from “all the ills that flesh is heir to.” It
has been feared that the book would result in injury to the slaveholding interests
of the country; but we apprehend no such thing, and hesitate not to recommend
it to the perusal of our friends and the public generally.
Mrs. Stowe has exhibited a knowledge of many peculiarities of Southern
society which is really wonderful when we consider that she is a Northern
lady by birth and residence.
We hope, then, before our friends form any harsh opinions of the merits
of “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” and make up any judgment against us for
pronouncing in its favour (barring some objections to it), that they will
give it a careful perusal; and, in so speaking, we may say that we yield to
no man in his devotion to Southern rights and interests.
The editor of the St. Louis (Missouri) Battery pronounces the following judgment:—
We took up this work, a few evenings since, with just such prejudices against
it as we presume many others have, and commenced reading it. We have been
so much in contact with ultra abolitionists—have had so much evidence
that their benevolence was much more hatred for the master than love for the
slave, accompanied with a profound ignorance of the circumstances surrounding
both, and a most consummate, supreme disgust for the whole negro race—that
we had about concluded that anything but rant and nonsense was out of the
question from a Northern writer on the subject of slavery.
Mrs. Stowe, in these delineations of life among the lowly, has convinced
us to the contrary.
She brings to the discussion of her subject a perfectly cool, calculating
judgment, a wide, all-comprehending intellectual vision, and a deep, warm,
sea-like woman's soul, over all of which is flung a perfect iris-like imagination,
which makes the light of her pictures stronger and more beautiful, as their
shades are darker and terror-striking.
We do not wonder that the copy before us is of the seventieth thousand.
And seventy thousand more will not supply the demand, or we mistake the appreciation
of the American people of the real merits of literary productions. Mrs. Stowe
has, in “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” set up for herself a monument more
enduring than marble. It will stand amid the wastes of slavery as the Memnon
stands amid the sands of the African desert, telling both the white man and
the negro of the approach of morning. The book is not an abolitionist work,
in the offensive sense of the word. It is, as we have intimated, free from
everything like fanaticism, no matter what amount of enthusiasm vivifies every
page, and runs like electricity along every thread of the story. It presents
at one view the excellences and the evils of the system of slavery, and breathes
the true spirit of Christian benevolence for the slave, and charity for the
The next witness gives his testimony in a letter to the New York Evening Post:—
LIGHT IN THE SOUTH.
The subjoined communication comes to us post-marked New Orleans, June 19,
“I have just been reading 'Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Scenes in Lowly
Life,' by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. It found its way to me through the channel
of a young student, who purchased it at the North, to read on his homeward
passage to New Orleans. He was entirely unacquainted with its character; he
was attracted by its title, supposing it might amuse him while travelling.
Through his family it was shown to me, as something that I would probably
like. I looked at the author's name, and said, 'Oh, yes; anything from that
lady I will read;' otherwise I should have disregarded a work of fiction without
such a title.
“The remarks from persons present were, that it was a most amusing
work, and the scenes most admirably drawn to life. I accepted the offer of
a perusal of it, and brought it home with me. Although I have not read every
sentence, I have looked over the whole of it, and I now wish to bear my testimony
to its just delineation of the position that the slave occupies. Colourings
in the work there are, but no colourings of the actual and real position of
the slave worse than really exist. Whippings to death do occur; I know it
to be so. Painful separations of master and slave, under circumstances creditable
to the master's feelings of humanity, do also occur. I know that, too; many
families, after having brought up their children in entire dependence on slaves
to do everything for them, and after having been indulged in elegances and
luxuries, have exhausted all their means; and the black people only being
left, whom they must sell for further support. Running away, everybody knows,
is the worst crime a slave can commit, in the eyes of his master, except it
be a humane master; and from such few slaves care to run away.
“I am a slaveholder myself. I have long been dissatisfied with the
system particularly since I have made the Bible my criterion for judging of
it. I am con-
vinced, from what I read there, slavery is not
in accordance with what God delights to honour in his creatures. I am altogether
opposed to the system; and I intend always to use whatever influence I may
have against it. I feel very bold in speaking against it, though living in
the midst of it, because I am backed by a powerful man, that can overturn
and overrule the strongest efforts that the determined friends of slavery
are now making for its continuance.
“I sincerely hope that more of Mrs. Stowes may be found, to show
up the reality of slavery. It needs master minds to show it as it is, that
it may rest upon its own merits.
“Like Mrs. Stowe, I feel that, since so many and good people, too,
at the North have quietly consented to leave the slave to his fate, by acquiescing
in and approving the late measures of government, those who do feel differently
should bestir themselves. Christian effort must do the work; and soon it would
be done if Christians would unite, not to destroy the Union States, but honestly
to speak out, and speak freely, against that they know is wrong. They are
not aware what countenance they give to slaveholders to hold on to their prey.
Troubled consciences can be easily quieted by the sympathies of pious people,
particularly when interest and inclination come in as aids.
“I am told there is to be a reply made to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' entitled
'Uncle Tom's Cabin as It is.' I am glad of it. Investigation is what is wanted.
“You will wonder why this communication is made to you by an unknown.
It is simply made to encourage your heart, and strengthen your determination
to persevere, and do all you can to put the emancipation of the slave in progress.
Who I am you will never know; nor do I wish you to know, nor anyone else.
I am a
The following facts make the fiction of “Uncle Tom's Cabin”
appear tame in the comparison. They are from the New York
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
MR. EDITOR,—I see in your paper that some
persons deny the statements of Mrs. Stowe. I have read her book, every word of it. I was born in East Tennessee, near Knoxville, and, we thought, in an enlightened part of the Union, much
favoured in our social, political, and religious privileges,&c.&c.
Well, I think about the year 1829, or, perhaps '28, a good old German Methodist
owned a black man named Robin, a Methodist preacher, and the manager of farm,
distillery,&c., salesman and financier. This good old German Methodist
had a son named Willey, a schoolmate of mine, and, as times were, a first-rate
fellow. The old man also owned a keen, bright-eyed mulatto girl; and Willey—the
naughty boy— became enamoured of the poor girl. The result was soon
discovered; and our good German Methodist told his brother Robin to flog the
girl for her wickedness. Brother Robin said he could not and would not perform
such an act of cruelty as to flog the girl for what she could not help; and
for that act of disobedience old Robin was flogged by the good old German
brother until he could not stand. He was carried to bed; and some three weeks
thereafter, when my father left the State, he was still confined to his bed
from the effects of that flogging.
Again: in the fall of 1836, I went South for my health, stopped at a village
in Mississippi, and obtained employment in the largest house in the
county, as a book-keeper, with a firm from Louisville, Kentucky. A man residing
near the village—a bachelor, thirty years of age—became embarrassed,
and executed a mortgage to my employer on a fine, likely boy, weighing about
two hundred pounds—quick-witted, active, obedient, and remarkably faithful,
trusty, and honest; so much so, that he was held up as an example. He had
a wife that he loved; his owner cast his eyes upon her, and she became his
paramour. His boy remonstrated with his master; told him that he tried faithfully
to perform his every duty, that he was a good and faithful “nigger”
to him; and it was hard, after he had toiled hard all day, and till ten o'clock
at night, for him to have his domestic relations broken up and interfered
with. The white man denied the charge, and the wife also denied it. One night,
about the first of September, the boy came home earlier than usual, say about
nine o'clock. It was a wet, dismal night; he made a fire in his cabin, went
to get his supper, and found ocular demonstration of the guilt of his master.
He became enraged, as I suppose any man would, seized a butcher-knife, and
cut his master's throat, stabbed his wife in twenty-seven places, came to
the village, and knocked at the office door. I told him to come in. He did
so, and asked for my employer. I called him. The boy then told him that he
had killed his master and his wife, and what for. My employer locked him up,
and he, a doctor and myself, went out to the house of the old bachelor, and
found him dead, and the boy's wife nearly so; she, however, lived. We (my
employer and myself) returned to the village, watched the boy until about
sunrise, left him locked up, and went to get our breakfasts, intending to
take the boy to jail (as it was my employer' interest, if possible, to save
the boy, having one thousand dollars at stake in him) but whilst we were eating,
some persons who had heard of the murder broke open the door, took the poor
fellow, put a log-chain round his neck, and started him for the woods at the
point of the bayonet, marching by where we were eating, with a great deal
of noise. My employer hearing it, ran out, and rescued the boy. The mob again
broke in and took the boy, and marched him, as before stated, out of town.
My employer then begged them not to disgrace their town in such a manner,
but to appoint a jury of twelve sober men to decide
what should be done. And twelve as sober men as could be found (I was not
sober) said he must be hanged. They then tied a rope round his neck, and set
him on an old horse. He made a speech to the mob, which I at the time thought,
if it had come from some senator, would have been received with rounds of
applause; and, withal, he was more calm than I am now in writing this. And
after he had told all about the deed and its causes, he then kicked the horse
out from under him, and was launched into eternity. My employer has often
remarked that he never saw anything more noble in his whole life than the
conduct of that boy.
Now, Mr. Editor, I have given you facts, and can give you names and dates.
You can do what you think is best for the cause of humanity. I hope I have
seen the evil of my former practices, and will endeavour to reform.
Very respectfully, JAMES L. HILL.
Illinois, Sept. 17th, 1852.
“The opinion of a Southerner,” given below, appeared in the National Era, published at Washington. This is an anti-slavery
journal, but by its generous tone and eminent ability it commands
the respect and patronage of many readers in the slave States:
The following communication comes enclosed in an envelope from Louisiana.— Ed. Era.
THE OPINION OF A SOUTHERNER.
To the Editor of the National Era.
I have just been reading, in the New York Observer
of the 12th of August, an article from the Southern Free
Press, headed by an editorial one from the Observer, that has for its caption, “Progress in the
The editor of the New York Observer says
that the Southern Free Press has been an able and
earnest defender of Southern institutions, but that he now advocates the passage
of a law to prohibit the separation of families, and recommends instruction
to a portion of slaves that are most honest and faithful. The Observer further adds: “It was such language as this that was becoming
common before Northern fanaticism ruined the prospects of emancipation.”
It is not so! Northern fanaticism, as he calls it, has done everything that
has been done for bettering the condition of the slave. Every one who knows
anything of slavery for the last thirty years will recollect that about that
time since, the condition of the slave in Louisiana—for about Louisiana
only do I speak, because about Louisiana only do I know—was as depressed
and miserable as any of the accounts of the abolitionists that ever I have
seen have made it. I say abolitionists; I mean friends and advocates of freedom
in a fair and honourable way. If any doubt my assertion, let them seek for
information; let them get the black laws of Louisiana, and read them; let
them get facts from individuals of veracity, on whose statements they would
This wretched condition of slaves roused the friends of humanity, who,
like men and Christian men, came fearlessly forward and told truths, indignantly
expressing their abhorrence of their oppressors. Such measures of course brought
forth strife, which caused the cries of humanity to sound louder and louder
throughout the land. The friends of freedom gained the ascendancy in the hearts
of the people, and the slaveholders were brought to a stand. Some, through
fear of consequences, lessened their cruelties, while others were made to
think that, perhaps, were not unwilling to do so when it was urged upon them.
Cruelties were not only refrained from, but the slave's comforts were increased.
A retrograde treatment now was not practicable; fears of rebellion kept them
to it. The slaves had found friends, and they were watchful. It was, however,
soon discovered, that too many privileges, too much leniency, and giving knowledge,
would destroy the power to keep down the slave, and tend to weaken, if not
destroy the system. Accordingly, stringent laws had to be passed, and a penalty
attached to them. No one must teach, or cause to be taught, a slave, without
incurring the penalty. The law is now in force. These necessary laws, as they
are called, are all put down to the account of the friends of freedom; to
their interference. I do suppose that they do justly belong to their interference;
for who that studies the history of the world's transactions does not know
that in all contests with power the weak, until successful, will be dealt
with more rigorously? Lose not sight, however, of their former condition.
Law after law has since been passed to draw the cord
around the poor slave, and all attributed to the abolitionists. Well, anyhow,
progress is being made. Here comes out the Southern Press, and make some honourable concessions. He says: “The assaults upon
slavery, made for the last twenty years by the North, have increased the evils
of it. The treatment of slaves has undoubtedly become a delicate and difficult
question. The South has a great and moral conflict to wage; and it is for
her to put on the most invulnerable moral panoply.”
He then thinks the availability of slave property would not be injured by
passing a law to prohibit the separation of slave families; for he says, “Although
cases sometimes occur which we observe are seized by these Northern fanatics
as characteristic of the system,”&c. Nonsense! there are no “cases
sometimes” occurring; no such thing! They are every day's occurrences,
though there are families that form the exception, and many, I would hope,
that would not do it. While I am writing, I can call before me three men that
were brought here by negro traders from Virginia, each having left six or
seven children, with their wives, from whom they have never heard. One other
died here a short time since, who left the same number in Carolina, from whom
he had never heard.
I spent the summer of 1845 in Nashville. During the month of September
six hundred slaves passed through that place, in four different gangs, for
New Orleans; final destination, probably, Texas. A goodly proportion were
women; young women, of course; many mothers must have left not only their
children, but their babies. One gang only had a few children. I made some
excursions to the different watering-places around Nashville; and while at
Robinson or Tyree Springs, twenty miles from Nashville, on the borders of
Kentucky and Tennessee, my hostess said to me one day, “Yonder comes
a gang of slaves chained.” I went to the road-side, and viewed them.
For the better answering my purpose of observation, I stopped the white man
in front, who was at his ease in a one-horse waggon, and asked him if those
slaves were for sale. I counted them and observed their position. They were
divided by three one-horse waggons, each containing a man-merchant, so arranged
as to command the whole gang. Some were unchained; sixty were chained in two
companies, thirty in each, the right hand of one to the left hand of the other
opposite one, making fifteen each side of a large ox-chain, to which every
hand was fastened, and necessarily compelled to hold up—men and women
promiscuously, and about in equal proportions—all young people. No children
here, except a few in a waggon behind, which were the only children in the
four gangs. I said to a respectable mulatto woman in the house, “Is
it true that the negro traders take mothers from their babies?” “Missis,
it is true; for here, last week, such a girl (naming her), who lives about
a mile off, was taken after dinner—knew nothing of it in the morning—sold,
put into the gang, and her baby was given away to a neighbour. She was a stout
young woman and brought a good price.”
The annexation of Texas induced the spirited traffic that summer. Coming
down home in a small boat, water low, a negro trader on board had forty-five
men and women crammed into a little spot, some handcuffed. One respectable-looking
man had left a wife and seven children in Nashville. Near Memphis the boat
stopped at a plantation by previous arrangement, to take in thirty more. An
hour's delay was the stipulated time with the captain of the boat. Thirty
young men and women came down the bank of the Mississippi, looking Wretcheduess
personified, just from the field; in appearance dirty, disconsolate and oppressed
some with an old shawl under their arm; a few had blankets;
some had nothing at all—looked as though they cared for nothing. I calculated,
while looking at them coming down the bank, that I could hold in a bundle
all that the whole of them had. The short notice that was given them, when
about to leave, was in consequence of the fears entertained that they would
slip one side. They all looked distressed, leaving all that was dear to them
behind, to be put under the hammer, for the property of the highest bidder.
No children here! The whole seventy-five were crammed into a little space
on the boat, men and women all together.
I am happy to see that morality is rearing its head with advocates for
slavery, and that a “most invulnerable moral panoply” is thought
to be necessary. I hope it may not prove to be like Mr. Clay's compromises.
The Southern Press says: As, for caricatures of slavery
in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and the 'White Slave,' all founded in imaginary circumstances,
&c., we consider them highly incendiary. He who undertakes to stir up
strife between two individual neighbours, by detraction, is justly regarded,
by all men and all moral codes, as a criminal.” Then he quotes the Ninth
Commandment, and adds: “But to bear false witness against whole States,
and millions of people,&c., would seem to be a crime as much deeper in
turpitude as the mischief is greater and the provocation less.” In the
first place, I will put the Southern Press upon proof
that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe has told one falsehood. If she has told truth,
she has, indeed, a powerful engine of “assault on slavery,” such
as these Northern fanatics have made for the “last twenty years.”
The number against whom she offends, in the editor's opinion, seems to increase
the turpitude of her crime. This is good reasoning! I hope the editor will
be brought to feel that wholesale wickedness is worse than single-handed,
and is infinitely harder to reach, particularly if of long standing. It gathers
boldness and strength when it is sanctioned by the authority of time, and
aided by numbers that are interested in supporting it. Such is slavery; and
Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe deserves the gratitude of “States and millions
of people” for her talented work, in showing it up in its true light.
She has advocated truth, justice, and humanity, and they will back her efforts.
Her work will be read by “States and millions of people;” and
when the Southern Press attempts to malign her, by
bringing forward her own avowal, “that the subject of slavery had been
so painful to her, that she had abstained from conversing on it for several
years,” and that, in his opinion, “it accounts for the intensity
of the venom of her book,” his really envenomed
shafts will fall harmless at her feet; for readers will judge for themselves,
and be very apt to conclude that more venom comes from the Southern Press than from her. She advocates what is right, and has a
straight road, which “few get lost on;” he advocates what is wrong,
and has, consequently, to tack, concede, deny, slander, and all sorts of things.
With all due deference to whatever of just principles the Southern Press may have advanced in favour of the slave, I am a poor
judge of human nature, if I mistake in saying that Mrs. Stowe has done much
to draw from him those concessions; and the putting forth of this “most invulnerable moral panoply,” that has just
come into his head as a bulwark of safety for slavery, owes its impetus to
her and other like efforts. I hope the Southern Press
will not imitate the spoiled child, who refused to eat his pie for spite.
The “White Slave” I have not seen. I guess its character; for
I made a pas-
sage to New York, some fourteen or fifteen years
since, in a packet-ship, with a young woman whose face was enveloped in a
profusion of light-brown curls, and who sat at the table with the passengers
all the way as a white woman. When at the quarantine, Staten Island, the captain
received a letter, sent by express mail, from a person in New Orleans, claiming
her as his slave, and threatening the captain with the penalty of the existing
law if she was not immediately returned. The streaming eyes of the poor unfortunate
girl told the truth, when the captain reluctantly broke it to her. She unhesitatingly
confessed that she had run away, and that a friend had paid her passage. Proper
measures were taken, and she was conveyed to a packet-ship that was at Sandy
Hook, bound for New Orleans.
“Uncle Tom's Cabin,” I think, is a just delineation of slavery.
The incidents are coloured, but the position that the slave is made to hold
is just. I did not read every page of it, my object being to ascertain what
position the slave occupied. I could state a case of whipping to death that
would equal Uncle Tom's; still, such cases are not very frequent.
The stirring up of strife between neighbours, that the Southern Press complains of, deserves notice. Who are neighbours? The
most explicit answer to this question will be found in the reply Christ made
to the lawyer, when he asked it of him. Another question will arise, Whether,
in Christ's judgment, Mrs. Stowe would be considered a neighbour or an incendiary?
As the Almighty Ruler of the universe and the Maker of man has said that He
has made all the nations of the earth of one blood, and man in His own image,
the black man, irrespective of his colour, would seem to be a neighbour who
has fallen among his enemies, that have deprived him of the fruits of his
labour, his liberty, his right to his wife and children, his right to obtain
the knowledge to read, or to anything that earth holds dear, except such portions
of food and raiment as will fit him for his despoiler's purposes. Let not
the apologists for slavery bring up the isolated cases of leniency, giving
instruction, and affectionate attachment, that are found among some masters,
as specimens of slavery! It is unfair! They form exceptions, and much do I
respect them; but they are not the rules of slavery. The strife that is being
stirred up is not to take away anything that belongs to another—neither
their silver nor gold, their fine linen or purple, their houses or land, their
horses or cattle, or anything that is their property; but to rescue a neighbour
from their unmanly cupidity.
No introduction is necessary to explain the following correspondence, and
no commendation will be required to secure for it a respectful attention from
Washington City, D. C., Dec. 6, 1852.
DEAR SIR,—I understand that you are a
North Carolinian, and have always resided in the South; you must, consequently,
be acquainted with the workings of the institution of slavery. You have doubtless
also read that world-renowned book, “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” by Mrs.
Stowe. The apologists for slavery deny that this book is a truthful picture
of slavery. They say that its representations are exaggerated, its scenes
and incidents unfounded, and, in a word, that the whole book is a caricature. They also deny that families are separated—that children
are sold from parents, wives from their husbands,&c. Under
these circumstances, I am induced to ask your opinion of Mrs. Stowe's book,
and whether or not, in your opinion, her statements are entitled to credit.
I have the honour to be, yours truly, A. M. GANGEWER.
D. R. Goodloe, Esq.
Washington, Dec. 8, 1852.
DEAR SIR,—Your letter of the 6th inst.,
asking my opinion of “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” has been received; and
there being no reason why I should withhold unless it be the fear of public
opinion (your object being, as I understand, the publication of my reply),
I proceed to give it in some detail.
A book of fiction, to be worth reading, must necessarily be filled with
rare and striking incidents, and the leading characters must be remarkable,
some for great virtues—others, perhaps, for great vices or follies.
A narrative of the ordinary events in the lives of common-place people would
be insufferably dull and insipid, and a book made up of such materials would
be, to the elegant and graphic pictures of life and manners which we have
in the writings of Sir Walter Scott and Dickens, what a surveyor's plot of
a ten-acre field is to a painted landscape, in which the eye is charmed by
a thousand varieties of hill and dale, of green shrubbery and transparent
water, of light and shade, at a glance. In order to determine whether a novel
is a fair picture of society, it is not necessary to ask if its chief personages
are to be met with every day; but whether they are characteristic of the times
and country—whether they embody the prevalent sentiments, virtues, vices,
follies, and peculiarities—and whether the events, tragic or otherwise,
are such as may and do occasionally occur.
Judging “Uncle Tom's Cabin” by these principles, I have no
hesitation in saying that it is a faithful portraiture of Southern life and
institutions. There is nothing in the book inconsistent with the laws and
usages of the slave-holding States; the virtues, vices, and peculiar hues
of character and manners are all Southern, and must be recognised at once
by everyone who reads the book. I may never have seen such depravity in one
man as that exhibited in the character of Legree, though I have ten thousand
times witnessed the various shades of in different individuals. On the other
hand, I have never seen so many perfections concentrated in one human being
as Mrs. Stowe has conferred upon the daughter of a slave-holder. Evangeline
is an image of beauty and goodness which can never be effaced from the mind,
whatever may be its prejudices; yet her whole character is fragrant of the
South: her generous sympathy, her beauty and delicacy, her sensibility, are
all Southern. They are “to the manner born,” and embodying as
they do the Southern ideal of beauty and loveliness, cannot be ostracised
from Southern hearts, even by the power of the Vigilance Committees.
The character of St. Clare cannot fail to inspire love and admiration.
He is the beau idéal of a Southern gentleman—honourable,
generous, and humane—of accomplished manners, liberal education, and
easy fortune. In his treatment of his slaves, he errs on the side of lenity,
rather than rigour; and is always their kind protector, from a natural impulse
of goodness, without much reflection upon what may befall them when death
or misfortune shall deprive them of his friendship.
Mr. Shelby, the original owner of Uncle Tom, and who sells him to a trader
from the pressure of a sort of pecuniary necessity, is by no means a bad character
his wife and son are whatever honour and humanity could wish; and, in a word,
the only white persons who make any considerable figure in the book to a disadvantage
are the villain Legree, who is a Vermonter by birth, and the oily-tongued
slave-trader Haley, who has the accent of a Northerner. It is, therefore,
evident that Mrs. Stowe's object in writing “Uncle Tom's Cabin”
has not been to disparage Southern character. A careful analysis of the book
would authorise the opposite inference—that she had studied to shield
the Southern people from opprobrium, and even to convey an elevated idea of
Southern society, at the moment of exposing the evils of the system of slavery.
She directs her batteries against the institution, not against individuals;
and generously makes a renegade Vermonter stand for her most hideous picture
of a brutal tyrant.
Invidious as the duty may be, I cannot withhold my testimony to the fact
that families of slaves are often separated. I know not how any man can have
the hardihood to deny it. The thing is notorious, and is often the subject
of painful remark in the Southern States. I have often heard the practice
of separating husband and wife, parent and child, defended, apologised for,
palliated in a thousand ways, but have never heard it denied. How could it
be denied, in fact, when probably the very circumstance which elicited the
conversation was a case of cruel separation then transpiring? No, sir! the
denial of this fact by mercenary scribblers may deceive persons at a distance,
but it can impose upon no one at the South.
In all the slaveholding States the relation of matrimony between slaves,
or between a slave and free person, is merely voluntary. There is no law sanctioning
it, or recognising it in any shape, directly or indirectly. In a word, it
is illicit, and binds no one—neither the slaves themselves nor their
masters. In separating husband and wife, or parent and child, the trader or
owner violates no law of the State—neither statute nor common law. He
buys or sells at auction or privately, that which the majesty of the law has
declared to be property. The victims may writhe in agony, and the tender-hearted
spectator may look on with gloomy sorrow and indignation, but it is to no
purpose. The promptings of mercy and justice in the heart are only in rebellion
against the law of the land.
The law itself not unfrequently performs the most cruel separations of
families, almost without the intervention of individual agency. This happens
in the case of persons who die insolvent, or who become so during life-time.
The estate, real and personal, must be disposed of at auction to the highest
bidder; and the executor, administrator, sheriff, trustee, or other person
whose duty it is to dispose of the property, although he may possess the most
humane intentions in the world, cannot prevent the final severance of the
most endearing ties of kindred. The illustration given by Mrs. Stowe, in the
sale of Uncle Tom by Mr. Shelby, is a very common case. Pecuniary embarrassment
is a most fruitful source of misfortune to the slave as well as the master;
and instances of family ties broken from this cause are of daily occurrence.
It often happens that great abuses exist in violation of law, and in spite
of the efforts of the authorities to suppress them; such is the case with
drunkenness gambling, and other vices. But here is a law common to all the
slaveholding States, which upholds and gives countenance to the wrongdoer,
while its blackest terrors are reserved for those who would interpose to protect
Statesmen of elevated and honourable characters,
from a vague notion of state necessity, have defended this law in the abstract,
while they would, without hesitation, condemn every instance of its application
In one respect I am glad to see it publicly denied that the families of
slaves are separated; for while it argues a disreputable want of candour,
it at the same time evinces a commendable sense of shame, and induces the
hope that the public opinion at the South will not much longer tolerate this
most odious, though not essential part, of the system of slavery.
In this connection I will call to your recollection a remark of the editor
of the Southern Press, in one of the last numbers
of that paper, which acknowledges the existence of the abuse in question,
and recommends its correction. He says:—
“The South has a great moral conflict to wage; and it is for her
to put on the most invulnerable moral panoply. Hence it is her duty, as well
as interest, to mitigate or remove whatever of evil that results incidentally
from the institution. The separation of husband and wife, parent and child,
is one of these evils, which we know is generally avoided and repudiated there—although
cases sometimes occur which we observe are seized by these Northern fanatics
as characteristic illustrations of the system. Now, we can see no great evil
or inconvenience, but much good, in the prohibition by law of such occurrences.
Let the husband and wife be sold together, and the parents and minor children.
Such a law would affect but slightly the general value or availability of
slave property, and would prevent in some cases the violence done to the feelings
of such connections by sales either compulsory or voluntary. We are satisfied
that it would be beneficial to the master and slave to promote marriage, and
the observance of all its duties and relations.”
Much as I have differed from the editor of the Southern
Press in his general views of public policy, I am disposed to forgive
him past errors in consideration of his public acknowledgment of this “incidental
evil,” and his frank recommendation of its removal. A Southern newspaper
less devoted than the Southern Press to the maintenance
of slavery would be seriously compromised by such a suggestion, and its advice
would be far less likely to be heeded; I think, therefore, that Mr. Fisher
deserves the thanks of every good man, North and South, for thus boldly pointing
out the necessity of reform.
The picture which Mrs. Stowe has drawn of slavery as an institution is
anything but favourable. She has illustrated the frightful cruelty and oppression
that must result from a law which gives to one class of society almost absolute
and irresponsible power over another. Yet the very machinery she has employed
for this purpose shows that all who are parties to the system are not necessarily
culpable. It is a high virtue in St. Clare to purchase Uncle Tom. He is actuated
by no selfish or improper motive. Moved by a desire to gratify his daughter,
and prompted by his own humane feelings, he purchases a slave, in order to
rescue him from a hard fate on the plantations. If he had not been a slave-
holder before, it was now his duty to become one; this, I think, is the moral
to be drawn from the story of St. Clare, and the South have a right to claim
the authority of Mrs. Stowe in defence of slave-holding to this extent.
It may be said that it was the duty of St. Clare to emancipate Uncle Tom,
but the wealth of the Rothschilds would not enable a man to act out his benevolent
instincts at such a price; and if such was his duty, it is not equally the
duty of every monied man in the free States to attend the New Orleans slave-mart
with the same benevolent purpose in view? It seems to me that
to purchase a slave with the purpose of saving him for a hard and cruel fate,
and without any view to emancipation, is itself a good action. If the slave
should subsequently become able to redeem himself, it would doubtless be the
duty of the owner to emancipate him, and it would be but even-handed justice
to set down every dollar of the slave's earnings, above the expense of his
maintenance, to his credit, until the price paid for him should be fully restored.
This is all that justice could exact of the slave-holder.
Those who have railed against “Uncle Tom's Cabin” as an incendiary
publication, have singularly (supposing that they have read the book) overlooked
the moral of the hero's life. Uncle Tom is the most faithful of servants.
He literally “obeyed in all things” his “masters according
to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of
heart, fearing God.” If his conduct exhibits the slightest departure
from a literal fulfillment of this injunction of Scripture, it is in a case
which must command the approbation of the most rigid casuist, for the injunction
of obedience extends, of course, only to lawful commands. It is only when
the monster Legree commands him to inflict undeserved chastisement upon his
fellow-servants that Uncle Tom refuses obedience. He would not listen to a
proposition of escaping into Ohio with the young woman Eliza, on the night
after they were sold by Mr. Shelby to the trader Haley. He thought it would
be bad faith to his late master, whom he had nursed in his arms, and might
be the means of bringing him into difficulty. He offered no resistance to
Haley, and obeyed even Legree in every legitimate command; but when he was
required to be the instrument of his master's cruelty, he chose rather to
die, with the courage and resolution of a Christian martyr, than to save his
life by a guilty compliance. Such was Uncle Tom—not a bad example for
the imitation of man or master.
I am, sir, very respectfully, Your ob't serv't, DANIEL R. GOODLOE.
A. M. Gangewer, Esq., Washington, D. C.
The writer has received permission to publish the following extract from
a letter received by a lady at the North from the editor of a Southern paper.
The mind and character of the author will speak for themselves, in the reading
Charleston, Sunday, 25th July, 1852.
* * * The books, I infer, are Mrs. Beecher Stowe's “Uncle Tom's Cabin.”
The book was furnished me by— —, about a fortnight ago, and you
may be assured I read it with an attentive interest. “Now, what is your
opinion of it?” you will ask; and, knowing my preconceived opinions
upon the question of slavery, and the embodiment of my principles, which I
have so long supported, in regard to that peculiar
institution, you may be prepared to meet an indirect answer. This my own consciousness
of truth would not allow in the present instance. The book is a truthful picture
of life, with the dark outlines beautifully portrayed. The life (the characteristics,
incidents, and the dialogues) is life itself reduced to paper. In her Appendix
she rather evades the question whether it was taken from actual scenes, but
says there are many counterparts.
In this she is correct beyond
doubt. Had she changed the picture of Legree, on Red River, for — —,
on—Island, South Carolina, she could not have drawn a more admirable
portrait. I am led to question whether she had not some knowledge of this
beast, as he is known to be, and made the transposition for effect.
My position in connexion with the extreme party, both in Georgia and South
Carolina, would constitute a restraint to the full expression of my feelings
upon several of the governing principles of the institution. I have studied
slavery in all its different phases—have been thrown in contact with
the negro in different parts of the world, and made it my aim to study his
nature, so far as my limited abilities would give me light—and, whatever
my opinions have been, they were based upon what I supposed to be honest convictions.
During the last three years you well know what my opportunities have been
to examine all the sectional bearings of an institution which now holds the
great and most momentous question of our federal well-being. These opportunities
I have not let pass, but have given myself, body and soul, to a knowledge
of its vast intricacies—to its constitutional compact and its individual
hardships. Its wrongs are in the constituted rights of the master, and the blank letter of those laws which pretend to govern the
bondman's rights. What legislative act, based upon the construction of self-protection
for the very men who contemplate the laws—even though their intention
was amelioration—could be enforced, when the legislated object is held
as the bond property of the legislator? The very fact
of constituting a law for the amelioration of property becomes an absurdity
so far as carrying it out is concerned. A law which is intended to govern,
and gives the governed no means of seeking its protection, is like the clustering
together of so many useless words for vain show. But why talk of law? That
which is considered the popular rights of a people, and every tenacious prejudice
set forth to protect its property interest, creates its own power against
every weaker vessel. Laws which interfere with this become unpopular, repugnant
to a forcible will, and a dead letter in effect. So long as the voice of the
governed cannot be heard, and his wrongs are felt beyond the jurisdiction
or domain of the law, as nine-tenths are, where is the hope of redress? The
master is the powerful vessel; the negro feels his dependence, and, fearing
the consequences of an appeal for his rights, submits to the cruelty of his
master in preference to the dread of something more cruel. It is in those
dissected cases of cruelty we find the wrongs of slavery, and in those governing
laws which give power to bad Northern men to become the most cruel task-masters.
Do not judge from my observations that I am seeking consolation for the Abolitionists.
Such is not my intention; but truth to a cause which calls loudly for reformation
constrains me to say that humanity calls for some law to govern the force
and absolute will of the master, and to reform no part is more requisite than
that which regards the slave's food and raiment. A person must live years
at the South before he can become fully acquainted with the many workings
of slavery. A Northern man, not prominently interested in the political and
social weal of the South, may live for years, in it, and pass from town to
town in his every-day pursuits, and yet see but the polished side of slavery.
With me it has been different. Its effect upon the negro himself, and its
effect upon the social and commercial well-being of Southern society has been
laid broadly open to me, and I have seen more of its workings within the past
year than was disclosed to me all the time before. It is with these feel-
ings that I am constrained to do credit to Mrs. Stowe's book,
which I consider must have been written by one who derived the materials,
from a thorough acquaintance with the subject. The character of the slave-dealer,
the bankrupt owner in Kentucky, and the New Orleans merchant, are simple every-day
occurrences in these parts. Editors may speak of the dramatic effect as they
please; the tale is not told them, and the occurrences of common reality would
form a picture more glaring. I could write a work, with date and incontrovertible
facts, of abuses which stand recorded in the knowledge of the community in
which they were transacted, that would need no dramatic effect, and would
stand out ten-fold more horrible than anything Mrs. Stowe has described.
I have read two columns in the Southern Press of
Mrs. Eastman's “Aunt Phillis's Cabin, or Southern Life as It is,”
with the remarks of the editor. I have no comments to make upon it, that being
done by itself. The editor might have saved himself being writ down an ass
by the public if he had withheld his nonsense. If the two columns are a specimen
of Mrs. Eastman's book, I pity her attempt and her name as an author.