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The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Among those unfortunates guilty of loving freedom
too well was a beautiful young quadroon girl, named Emily Russell, whose mother
is now living in New York. The writer has seen and conversed with her. She
is a pious woman, highly esteemed and respected, a member of a Christian church.
By the avails of her own industry she purchased her freedom, and also redeemed
from bondage some of her children. Emily was a resident of Washington, D.
C., a place which belongs not to any State, but to the United States; and
there, under the laws of the United States, she was held as a slave. She was
of a gentle disposition and amiable manners; she had been early touched with
a sense of religious things, and was on the very point of uniting herself
with a Christian church; but her heart yearned after her widowed mother and
after freedom, and so, on the fatal night when all the other poor victims
sought the Pearl, the child Emily went also among
How they were taken has already been told. The sin of the poor girl was
inexpiable. Because she longed for her mother's arms and for liberty, she
could not be forgiven. Nothing would do for such a sin, but to throw her into
the hands of the trader. She also was thrown into Bruin and Hill's gaol, in
Alexandria. Her poor mother in New York received the following letter from
her. Read it, Christian mother, and think what if your daughter had written
it to you!--
Alexandria, Jan. 22, 1850.
MY DEAR MOTHER--I take this opportunity
of writing you a few lines, to inform you that I am in Bruin's Jail, and Aunt
Sally and all of her children, and Aunt Hagar and all her children, and grandmother
is almost crazy. My dear mother, will you please to come on as soon as you
can? I expect to go away very shortly. O mother! my dear mother! come now
and see your distressed and heart-broken daughter once more. Mother! my dear
mother! do not forsake me, for I feel desolate! Please to come now.
Your daughter, EMILY RUSSELL.
To Mrs. Nancy Cartwright, New York.
P.S.--If you do not come as far as Alexandria, come to Washington,
and do what you can.
That letter, blotted and tear-soiled, was brought by this poor washerwoman
to some Christian friends in New York, and shown to them. "What do you
suppose they will ask for her?" was her question. All that she had--her
little house, her little furniture, her small earnings--all these poor
Nancy was willing to throw in; but all these were but as a drop to the bucket.
The first thing to be done, then, was to ascertain what Emily could be
redeemed for; and, as it may be an interesting item of American trade, we
give the reply of the traders in full:--
Alexandria, Jan. 31, 1850.
DEAR SIR,--When I received your letter
I had not bought the negroes you spoke of, but since that time I have bought
them. All I have to say about the matter is, that we paid very high for the
negroes, and cannot afford to sell the girl Emily for less than EIGHTEEN HUNDRED
DOLLARS. This may seem a high price to you, but, cotton being very high, consequently
slaves are high. We have two or three offers for Emily from gentlemen from
the South. She is said to be the finest-looking woman in this country. As
for Hagar and her seven children, we will take two thousand five hundred dollars
for them. Sally and her four children, we will take for them two thousand
eight hundred dollars. You may seem a little surprised at the difference in
prices, but the difference in the negroes makes the difference in price. We
expect to start South with the negroes on the 8th February, and if you intend
to do anything, you had better do it soon.
Yours respectfully, BRUIN & HILL.
This letter came to New York before the case of the Edmondsons had called
the attention of the community to this subject. The enormous price asked entirely
discouraged effort, and before anything of importance was done they heard
that the coffle had departed, with Emily in it.
Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth! Let it be known, in all the countries
of the earth, that the price of a beautiful Christian girl in America, when
she is set up to be sold to a life of shame, is from EIGHTEEN HUNDRED TO TWO
THOUSAND DOLLARS; and yet, judicatories in the church of Christ have said,
in solemn conclave, that AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT IS IS NO EVIL!
From the table of the Sacrament and from the sanctuary of the church of
Christ this girl was torn away, because her beauty was a saleable article
in the slave-market in New Orleans!
Perhaps some Northern apologist for slavery will say she was
kindly treated here--not handcuffed by the wrist to a chain, and forced
to walk, as articles less choice are; that a waggon was provided, and that
she rode; and that food abundant was given her to eat, and that her clothing
was warm and comfortable, and therefore no harm was done. We have heard it
told us, again and again, that there is no harm in slavery, if one is only
warm enough, and full-fed, and comfortable. It is true that the slave-woman
has no protection from the foulest dishonour and the utmost insult that can
be offered to womanhood--none whatever in law or gospel; but so long
as she has enough to eat and wear, our Christian fathers and mothers tell
us it is not so bad!
Poor Emily could not think so. There was no eye to pity, and none to help.
The food of her accursed lot did not nourish her; the warmest clothing could
not keep the chill of slavery from her heart. In the middle of the overland
passage, sick, weary, heart-broken, the child laid her down and died. By that
lonely pillow there was no mother; but there was one Friend, who loveth at
all times, who is closer than a brother. Could our eyes be touched by the
seal of faith, where others see only the lonely wilderness and the dying girl,
we, perhaps, should see one closed in celestial beauty, waiting for that short
agony to be over, that He might redeem her from all iniquity, and present
her faultless before the presence of his Grace with exceeding joy.
Even the hard-hearted trader was touched with her sad fate, and we are
credibly informed that he said he was sorry he had taken her.
Bruin and Hill wrote to New York that the girl Emily was dead. The Quaker,
William Harned, went with the letter, to break the news to her mother. Since
she had given up all hope of redeeming her daughter from the dreadful doom
to which she had been sold, the helpless mother had drooped like a stricken
woman. She no longer lifted up her head, or seemed to take any interest in
When Mr. Harned called on her, she asked eagerly,
"Have you heard anything from my daughter?"
"Yes, I have," was the reply--"a letter from Bruin
"And what is the news?"
He thought best to give a direct answer--"Emily is dead."
The poor mother clasped her hands, and, looking upwards, said, "The
Lord be thanked! He has heard my prayers at last!"
And, now, will it be said this is an exceptional case--it happens one
time in a thousand? Though we know that this is the foulest
of falsehoods, and that the case is only a specimen of what is acting every
day in the American slave-trade, yet, for argument's sake, let us, for once,
admit it to be true. If only once in this nation, under the protection of
our law, a Christian girl had been torn from the altar and the communion-table,
and sold to foulest shame and dishonour, would that have been a light sin?
Does not Christ say, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least
of these, ye have done it unto me?" Oh, words
of woe for thee, America! words of woe for thee, church of Christ! Hast thou
trod them under foot and trampled them in the dust so long that Christ has
forgotten them? In the day of judgment everyone of these words shall rise
up, living and burning, as accusing angels to witness against thee. Art thou,
O church of Christ! praying daily, "Thy kingdom come?" Darest
thou pray, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly?" Oh, what if He should
come? What if the Lord, whom ye seek, should suddenly
come into his temple? If his soul was stirred within him when he found within
his temple of old those that changed money, and sold sheep, and oxen, and
doves, what will he say now, when he finds them selling body, blood, and bones
of his own people? And is the Christian church, which justifies this enormous
system--which has used the awful name of her Redeemer to sanction the
buying, selling, and trading in the souls of men--is this church the
bride of Christ? Is she one with Christ, even as Christ is one with the Father?
Oh, bitter mockery! Does this church believe that every Christian's body is
a temple of the Holy Ghost? Or does she think those solemn words were idle
breath, when, a thousand times, every day and week, in the midst of her, is
this temple set up and sold at auction, to be bought by any godless, blasphemous
man who has money to pay for it!
As to poor Daniel Bell and his family, whose contested claim to freedom
was the beginning of the whole trouble, a few members of it were redeemed,
and the rest were plunged into the abyss of slavery. It would seem as if this
event, like the sinking of a ship, drew into its Maelstrom the fate of every
unfortunate being who was in its vicinity. A poor, honest, hard-working slave-man,
of the name of Thomas Ducket, had a wife who was on board the Pearl.
Tom was supposed to know the men who countenanced the enterprise,
and his master, therefore, determined to sell him. He brought him to Washington
for the purpose. Some in Washington doubted his legal right to bring a slave
from Maryland for the purpose of selling him, and commenced
legal proceedings to test the matter. While they were pending, the counsel
for the master told the men who brought action against his client, that Tom
was anxious to be sold; that he preferred being sold to the man who had purchased
his wife and children rather than to have his liberty. It was well known that
Tom did not wish to be separated from his family, and the friends here, confiding
in the representation made to them, consented to withdraw the proceedings.
Some time after this they received letters from poor Tom Ducket, dated
ninety miles above New Orleans, complaining sadly of his condition, and making
piteous appeals to hear from them respecting his wife and children. Upon inquiry,
nothing could be learned respecting them. They had been sold and gone --sold
and gone--no one knew whither; and as a punishment to Tom for his contumacy
in refusing to give the name of the man who had projected the expedition of
the Pearl, he was denied the privilege of going off
the place, and was not allowed to talk with the other servants, his master
fearing a conspiracy. In one of his letters he says, "I have seen more
trouble here in one day than I have in all my life." In another, "I
would be glad to hear from her (his wife), but I should be more glad to hear
of her death than for her to come here."
In his distress, Tom wrote a letter to Mr. Bigelow, of Washington. People
who are not in the habit of getting such documents have no idea of them. We
give a fac simile of Tom's letter, with all its poor
spelling, all its ignorance, helplessness, and misery.
TOM DUCKET'S LETTER.
February 18, 1852.
Mr. BIGELOW.--DEAR SIR,--I write to
let you know how I am getting along. Hard times here. I have not had one hour
to go outside the place since I have been on it. I put my trust in the Lord
to help me. I long to hear from you all. I written to hear from you all. Mr.
Bigelow, I hope you will not forget me. You know it was not my fault that
I am here. I hope you will name me to Mr. Geden, Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Bailey,
to help me out of it. I believe that if they would make the least move to
it that it could be done. I long to hear from my family how they are getting
along. You will please to write to me just to let me know how they are getting
along. You can write to me.
I remain your humble servant, THOMAS DUCKET.
You can direct your letters to Thomas Ducket, in care of Mr. Samuel T.
Harrison, Louisiana, near Bayou Goula. For God's sake, let me hear from you
all My wife and children are not out of my mind, day nor night.