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 4th, 1852.
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, Ohio,
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 few
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
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 been shot.
"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."