All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
13 January, 2012
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Chapter V: Select Incidents of Lawful Trade, or Facts Stranger than Fiction.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The atrocious and sacrilegious system of breeding
human beings for sale, and trading them like cattle in the market, fails to
produce the impression on the mind that it ought to produce, because it is
lost in generalities.
It is like the account of a great battle, in which we learn, in round numbers,
that ten thousand were killed and wounded, and throw the paper by without
So, when we read of sixty or eighty thousand human beings being raised
yearly and sold in the market, it passes through the mind, but leaves no definite
Sterne says that when he would realise the miseries of captivity, he had
to turn his mind from the idea of hundreds of thousands languishing in dungeons,
and bring before himself the picture of one poor, solitary captive pining
in his cell. In like manner, we cannot give any idea of the horribly cruel
and demoralising effect of this trade, except by presenting facts in detail,
each fact being a specimen of a class of facts.
For a specimen of the public sentiment, and the kind of morals and manners
which this breeding and trading system produces, both in slaves and in their
owners, the writer gives the following extracts from a recent letter of a
friend in one of the Southern States.
DEAR MRS. S--, The sable goddess who presides
over our bed and wash-stand is such a queer specimen of her race, that I would
give a good deal to have you see her. Her whole appearance, as she goes giggling
and curtseying about, is perfectly comical, and would lead a stranger to think
her really deficient in intellect. This is, however, by no means the case.
During our two months' acquaintance with her, we have seen many indications
of sterling good sense, that would do credit to many a white person with ten
times her advantages.
She is disposed to be very communicative; seems to feel that she has a
claim upon our sympathy, in the very fact that we come from the North; and
we could undoubtedly gain no little knowledge of the practical workings of
the "peculiar institution," if we thought proper
to hold any protracted conversation with her. This, however, would insure
a visit from the authorities, requesting us to leave town in the next train
of cars; so we are forced to content ourselves with gleaning a few items now
and then, taking care to appear quite indifferent to her story, and to cut
it short by despatching her on some trifling errand; being equally careful,
however, to note down her peculiar expressions as soon as she has disappeared.
A copy of these I have thought you would like to see, especially as illustrating
the views of the marriage institution, which is a necessary result of the
great human property relation system.
A Southern lady, who thinks "negro sentiment" very much exaggerated
in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," assures us that domestic attachments cannot
be very strong where one man will have two or three wives and families on
as many different plantations (!) And the lady of our hotel tells us of her
cook having received a message from her husband, that he has another wife,
and she may get another husband, with perfect indifference; simply expressing
a hope that "she won't find another here during the next month, as she
must then be sent to her owner, in Georgia, and would be unwilling to go."
And yet, both of these ladies are quite religious, and highly resent any insinuation
that the moral character of the slaves is not far above that of the free negroes
at the North.
With Violet's story, I will also enclose that one of our waiters, in which
I think you will be interested.
Violet's father and mother both died, as she says, "'fore I had any
sense," leaving eleven children; all scattered. "To sabe my life,
Missis, couldn't tell dis yer night where one of dem is. Massa lib in Charleston.
My first husband--when we was young--nice man; he had seven children;
den he sold off to Florida--neber hear from him 'gain. Ole folks die.
Oh, dat's be my boderation, Missis--when ole people be dead, den we be
scattered all 'bout. Den I sold up here--now hab 'noder husband--hab
four children up here. I lib bery easy when my young husband 'libe--and
we had children bery fast. But now dese yer ones tight fellers. Massa don't
'low us to raise noting; no pig, no goat, no dog, no noting; won't allow us
raise a bit of corn. We has to do jist de best we can. Dey don't gib us a
single grain but jist two homespun frocks--no coat 't all.
"Can't go to meetin', 'cause, Missis, get dis work done--den
get dinner. In summer, I goes ebery Sunday ebening; but dese yer short days,
time done get dinner dishes washed, den time get supper. Gen'lly goes Baptist
"Do your people usually go there?"
"Dere bees tree shares ob dem; Methodist gang, Baptist gang, 'Piscopal
gang. Last summer, used to hab right smart
meetins in our yard, Sunday night. Massa Johnson preach to us. Den
he said couldn't hab two meetins; we might go to church."
"Gracious knows. I lubs to go to meetin allers--'specially when
dere's good preaching. Lubs to hab people talk good to me. Likes to hab people
read to me, too. 'Cause don't b'long to church, no reason why I shan't."
"Does your master like to have others read to you?"
"He won't hinder; I an't bound tell him when folks reads to me. I
hab my soul to sabe--he hab his soul to sabe. Our owners won't stand
few minutes and read to us; dey tink it too great honour;
dey's bery hard on us. Brack preachers sometimes talk good to us and pray
wid us; and pray a heap for DEM too.
"I jest done hab great quarrel wid Dinah, down in de kitchen. I tells
Dinah, 'De way you goes on spile all de women's character.' She say she didn't
care, she do what she please wid herself. Dinah, she slip away somehow from
her first husband, and hab 'noder child by Sambo (he b'long to Massa D.);
so she and her first husband dey fall out somehow. Dese yer men, yer know,
is so queer, Missis, dey don't neber like sich tings.
"Ye know, Missis, tings we lub, we don't like anybody else hab 'em.
Such a ting as dat, Missis, tetch your heart so, ef you don't mind, 'twill
fret you almost to death. Ef my husband was to slip away from me, Missis,
dat ar way, it ud wake me right up. I'm brack, but I wouldn't do so to my
husband, neider. What I hide behind de curtain now, I can't hide it behind
de curtain when I stand before God--de whole world know it den.
"Dinah's (second) husband say what she do for her first husband noting
to him, --now, my husband don't feel so. He say he wouldn't do as Daniel
do--he would 'nt buy tings for de oder children--dem as has de children
might buy de tings for dem. Well, so dere dey is.--Dinah's first husband
come up wheneber he can, to see his children; and Sambo, he come up to see
his child, and gib Dinah tings for it.
"You know, Missis, Massa hab no nigger but me and one yellow girl,
when he bought me and my four children. Well, den Massa, he want me to breed;
so he say, 'Violet, you must take some nigger here in C.'
"Den I say, No, Massa, I can't take any here.' 'Den he say, 'You
must, Violet;' 'cause you see he want me breed for him; so he say plenty young
fellers here, but I say I can't hab any ob dem. Well, den, Missis, he go down
Virginia, and he bring up two niggers--and dey was pretty ole men--and
Missis say, 'One of dem's for you, Violet;' but I say, 'No, Missis, I can't
take one of dem, 'cause I don't lub 'em, and I can't hab one I don't lub.'
Den Massa, he say, 'You must take one of dese--and den, ef you can't
lub him you must find somebody else you can lub.' Den I say, 'O, no, Massa!
I can't do dat--I can't hab one ebery day.' Well, den, by-and-by, Massa
he buy tree more, and den Missis say, 'Now, Violet, ones dem is for you.'
I say, 'I do' no--maybe I can't lub one dem neider;' but she say, You
must hab one ob dese.' Well, so Sam and I we lib along two year--he watchin'
my ways, and I watchin' his ways.
"At last, one night, we was standin' by de wood-pile togeder, and
de moon bery shine, and I do' no how 'twas, Missis, he answer me, he want
a wife, but he didn't know where he get one. I say, plenty girls in G. He
say, 'Yes--but maybe I shan't find any I like so well as you.' Den I
say maybe he wouldn't like my ways, cause I'se an ole woman, and I hab four
children by my first husband; and anybody marry me, must be jest kind to dem
children as dey was to me, else I couldn't lub him. Den he say, 'Ef he had
a woman 't had children'--mind you, he didn't say me--'he would
be jest as kind to de children as he was to de moder, and dat's 'cordin to
how she do by him.' Well, so we went on from one ting to anoder, till at last
we say we'd take one anoder, and so we've libed togeder eber since--and
I's had four children by him--and he neber slip away from me, nor I from
"How are you married in your yard?"
"We jest takes one anoder--we asks de white folks' leave--and
den takes one anoder. Some folks, dey's married by de book; but den, what's
de use? Dere's my fus husband, we'se married by de book, and he sold way off
to Florida, and I's here. Dey wants to do what dey please
wid us, so dey don't want us to be married. Dey don't care what we does, so
we jest makes money for dem.
"My fus husband--he young, and he bery kind to me--O Missis,
he bery kind indeed. He set up all night and work, so as to make me comfortable.
O, we got 'long bery well when I had him; but he sold way off Florida, and,
sence then, Missis, I jest gone to noting. Dese yer white people dey hab here,
dey won't 'low us noting--noting at all--jest gibs us food, and
two suits a year--a broad stripe and a narrow stripe; you'll see 'em,
And we did "see 'em;" for Violet brought us the "narrow
stripe," with a request that we would fit it for her. There was just
enough to cover her, but no hooks and eyes, cotton, or even lining; these
extras she must get as she can; and yet her master receives from our host
eight dollars per month for her services. We asked how she got the "broad
stripe" made up.
"O Missis, my husband--he working now out on de farm--so
he hab 'lowance four pounds bacon and one peck of meal ebery week; so he stinge
heself, so as to gib me four pounds bacon to pay for making my frock."
[Query.--Are there any husbands in refined circles who would do more
Once, finding us all three busily writing, Violet stood for some moments
silently watching the mysterious motion of our pens, and then, in a tone of
deepest sadness, said--
"O! dat be great comfort, Missis. You can write to your friends all
'bout ebery ting, and so hab dem write to you. Our people can't do so. Wheder
dey be 'live or dead, we can't neber know--only sometimes we hears dey
What more expressive comment on the cruel laws that forbid the slave to
be taught to write!
The history of the serving-man is thus given:
George's father and mother belonged to somebody in Florida. During the
war, two older sisters got on board an English vessel, and went to Halifax.
His mother was very anxious to go with them, and take the whole family; but
her husband persuaded her to wait till the next ship sailed, when he thought
he should be able to go too. By this delay an opportunity of escape was lost,
and the whole family were soon after sold for debt. George, one sister, and
their mother were bought by the same man. He says, "My old boss cry
powerful when she (the mother) die; say he'd rather lost two thousand dollars.
She was part Indian--hair straight as yourn--and she was white as
dat ar pillow." George married a woman in another yard. He gave this
reason for it:-- "'Cause, when a man sees his wife 'bused, he can't
help feelin' it. When he hears his wife's 'bused, 'tan't like as how it is
when he sees it. Then I can fadge for her better than when she's in my own
yard." This wife was sold up country, but after some years became "lame
and sick--couldn't do much--so her Massa gabe her her time, and
paid her fare to G."--[The sick and infirm are always provided
for, you know.]--"Hadn't seen her for tree years," said George;
"but soon as I heard of it, went right down--hired a house, and
got some one to take care ob her--and used to go to see her ebery tree
months." He is a mechanic, and worked sometimes all night to earn money
to do this. His master asks twenty dollars per month for his
services, and allows him fifty cents per week for clothes, &c. J. says,
if he could only save, by working nights, money enough to buy himself, he
would get some one he could trust to buy him; "den work hard as eber,
till I could buy my children, den I'd get away from dis yer."
"Oh! Philadelphia--New York--somewhere North."
"Why, you'd freeze to death!"
"Oh, no, Missis, I can bear cold. I want to go where I can belong
to myself, and do as I want to."
The following communication has been given to the writer by Captain Austin
Bearse, ship-master in Boston. Mr. Bearse is a native of Barnstable, Cape
Cod. He is well known to our Boston citizens and merchants:
I am a native of the State of Massachusetts. Between the years 1818 and
1830, I was, from time to time, mate on board of different vessels engaged
in the coasting-trade on the coast of South Carolina.
It is well known that many New England vessels are in the habit of spending
their winters on the southern coast in pursuit of this business. Our vessels
used to run up the rivers for the rough rice and cotton of the plantations,
which we took to Charleston.
We often carried gangs of slaves to the plantations, as they had been ordered.
These slaves were generally collected by slave-traders in the slave-pens in
Charleston--brought there by various causes, such as the death of owners
and the division of estates, which threw them into the market. Some were sent
as punishment for insubordination, or because the domestic establishment was
too large, or because persons moving to the North or West preferred selling
their slaves to the trouble of carrying them. We had on board our vessels,
from time to time, numbers of these slaves--sometimes two or three, and
sometimes as high as seventy or eighty. They were separated from their families
and connexions with as little concern as calves and pigs are selected out
of a lot of domestic animals.
Our vessels used to lie in a place called Poor Man's Hole, not far from
the city. We used to allow the relations and friends of the slaves to come
on board and stay all night with their friends, before the vessel sailed.
In the morning it used to be my business to pull off the hatches and warn
them that it was time to separate; and the shrieks and heart-rending cries
at these times were enough to make anybody's heart ache.
In the year 1828, while mate of the brig "Milton," from Boston,
bound to New Orleans, the following incident occurred, which I shall never
The traders brought on board four quadroon men in handcuffs, to be stowed
away for the New Orleans market. An old negro woman, more than eighty years
of age, came screaming after them, "My son, O my son, my son!"
She seemed almost frantic, and when we had got more than a mile out in the
harbour we heard her screaming yet.
When we got into the Gulf Stream, I came to the men, and took off their
handcuffs. They were resolute fellows, and they told me that I would see that
they would never live to be slaves in New Orleans. One of the men was a carpenter,
and one a blacksmith. We brought them into New Orleans, and consigned them
over to the agent. The agent told the captain afterwards that
in forty-eight hours after they came to New Orleans they were all dead men,
having every one killed themselves, as they said they should. One of them,
I know, was bought for a fireman on the steamer "Post Boy," that
went down to the Balize. He jumped over, and was drowned.
The others--one was sold to a blacksmith, and one to a carpenter.
The particulars of their death I didn't know, only that the agent told the
captain that they were all dead.
There was a plantation at Coosahatchie, back of Charleston, S. C., kept
by a widow lady, who owned eighty negroes. She sent to Charleston, and bought
a quadroon girl, very nearly white, for her son. We carried her up. She was
more delicate than our other slaves, so that she was not put with them, but
was carried up in the cabin.
I have been on the rice-plantations on the river, and seen the cultivation
of the rice. In the fall of the year, the plantation hands, both men and women,
work all the time above their knees in water in the rice-ditches, pulling
out the grass, to fit the ground for sowing the rice. Hands sold here from
the city, having been bred mostly to house-labour, find this very severe.
The plantations are so deadly that white people cannot remain on them during
the summer time, except at a risk of life. The proprietors and their families
are there only through the winter, and the slaves are left in the summer entirely
under the care of the overseers. Such overseers as I saw were generally a
brutal, gambling, drinking set.
I have seen slavery, in the course of my wanderings, in almost all the
countries in the world. I have been to Algiers, and seen slavery there. I
have seen slavery in Smyrna, among the Turks. I was in Smyrna when our American
consul ransomed a beautiful Greek girl in the slave-market. I saw her come
aboard the brig "Suffolk," when she came on board to be sent to
America for her education. I have seen slavery in the Spanish and French ports,
though I have not been on their plantations.
My opinion is, that American slavery, as I have seen it in the internal
slave-trade, as I have seen it on the rice and sugar plantations, and in the
city of New Orleans, is full as bad as slavery in any country of the world,
heathen or Christian. People who go for visits or pleasure through the Southern
States cannot possibly know those things which can be seen of slavery by shipmasters
who run up into the back plantation of countries, and who transport the slaves
and produce of plantations.
In my past days the system of slavery was not much discussed. I saw these
things as others did, without interference. Because I no longer think it right
to see these things in silence, I trade no more south of Mason & Dixon's
line. AUSTIN BEARSE.
The following account was given to the writer by Lewis Hayden. Hayden was
a fugitive slave, who escaped from Kentucky by the assistance of a young lady
named Delia Webster, and a man named Calvin Fairbanks. Both were imprisoned.
Lewis Hayden has earned his own character as a free citizen of Boston, where
he can find an abundance of vouchers for his character.
I belonged to the Rev. Adam Runkin, a Presbyterian minister in Lexington,
My mother was of mixed blood--white and Indian. She married my father
when he was working in a bagging factory near by. After a while my father's
owner moved off and took my father with him, which broke up the marriage.
She was a very handsome woman. My master kept a large dairy, and she was the
milk-woman. Lexington was a small town in those days, and the dairy was in
the town. Back of the college was the masonic lodge. A man who belonged to
the lodge saw my mother when she was about her work. He made proposals of
a base nature to her. When she would have nothing to say to him, he told her
that she need not be so independent, for if money could buy her, he would
have her. My mother told old mistress, and begged that master might not sell
her. But he did sell her. My mother had a high spirit, being part Indian.
She would not consent to live with this man, as he wished; and he sent her
to prison, and had her flogged, and punished her in various ways, so that
at last she began to have crazy turns. When I read in "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
about Cassy, it put me in mind of my mother, and I wanted to tell Mrs. S--about
her. She tried to kill herself several times, once with a knife and once by
hanging. She had long, straight black hair, but after this it all turned white,
like an old person's. When she had her raving turns, she always talked about
her children. The jailer told the owner that if he would let her go to her
children, perhaps she would get quiet. They let her out one time, and she
came to the place where we were. I might have been seven or eight years old--don't
know my age exactly. I was not at home when she came. I came in and found
her in one of the cabins near the kitchen. She sprung and caught my arms,
and seemed going to break them, and then said, "I'll fix you so they'll
never get you!" I screamed, for I thought she was
going to kill me; they came in and took me away. They tied her, and carried
her off. Sometimes, when she was in her right mind, she used to tell me what
things they had done to her. At last her owner sold her, for a small sum,
to a man named Lackey. While with him she had another husband and several
children. After a while this husband either died or was sold, I do not remember
which. The man then sold her to another person, named Bryant. My own father's
owner now came and lived in the neighbourhood of this man, and brought my
mother with him. He had had another wife and family of children where he had
been living. He and my mother came together again, and finished their days
together. My mother almost recovered her mind in her last days.
I never saw anything in Kentucky which made me suppose that ministers or
professors of religion considered it any more wrong to separate the families
of slaves by sale than to separate any domestic animals.
There may be ministers and professors of religion who think it is wrong,
but I never met with them. My master was a minister, and yet he sold my mother,
as I have related.
When he was going to leave Kentucky for Pennsylvania, he sold all my brothers
and sisters at auction. I stood by and saw them sold. When I was just going
up on to the block, he swapped me off for a pair of carriage-horses. I looked
at those horses with strange feelings. I had indulged hopes that master would
take me into Pennsylvania with him, and I should get free. How I looked at
those horses, and walked round them, and thought for them I was sold!
It was commonly reported that my master had said in the pulpit that there
was no more harm in separating a family of slaves than a
litter of pigs. I did not hear him say it, and so cannot say whether this
is true or not.
It may seem strange, but it is a fact. I had more sympathy and kind advice,
in my efforts to get my freedom, from gamblers and such sort of men, than
Some of the gamblers were very kind to me.
I never knew a slave-trader that did not seem to think, in his heart, that
the trade was a bad one. I knew a great many of them, such as Neal, McAnn,
Cobb, Stone, Pulliam, and Davis, &c. They were like Haley--they meant
to repent when they got through.
Intelligent coloured people in my circle of acquaintance, as a general
thing, felt no security whatever for their family ties. Some, it is true,
who belonged to rich families, felt some security; but those of us who looked
deeper, and knew how many were not rich that seemed so, and saw how fast money
slipped away, were always miserable. The trader was all around, the slave-pen
at hand, and we did not know what time any of us might be in it. Then there
were the rice-swamps, and the sugar and cotton plantations; we had had them
held before us as terrors, by our masters and mistresses, all our lives. We
knew about them all; and when a friend was carried off, why, it was the same
as death, for we could not write or hear, and never expected to see them again.
I have one child who is buried in Kentucky, and that grave is pleasant
to think of. I've got another that is sold nobody knows where, and that I
never can bear to think of. LEWIS HAYDEN.
The next history is a long one, and part of it transpired in a most public
manner, in the face of our whole community.
The history includes in it the whole account of that memorable capture
of the Pearl, which produced such a sensation in Washington
in the year 1848. The author, however, will preface it with a short history
of a slave-woman who had six children embarked in that ill-fated enterprise.