I arrived in St. Catharines [in present-day Ontario] about two hours ago. [1855, 4,17.]
I was raised near Harper's Ferry. I was used as well as the people about there are used. My master used to pray in his family with the house servants, morning and evening. I attended these services until I was eighteen, when I was. put out on the farm, and lived in a cabin. We were well supplied with food. We went to work at sunrise, and quit work between sundown and dark. Some were sold from my master's farm, and many from the neighborhood. If a man did any thing out of the way, he was in more danger of being sold than of being whipped. The slaves were always afraid of being sold South. The Southern masters were believed to be much worse than those about us. I had a great wish for liberty when I was a boy. I always had it in my head to clear. But I had a wife and children. However, my wife died last year of
— page 53 —cholera, and then I determined not to remain in that country.
When my old master died, I fell to his son. I had no difficulty with him, but was influenced merely by a love of liberty. I felt disagreeably about leaving my friends,—but I knew I might have to leave them by going South. There was a fellow-servant of mine named Thomas. My master gave him a letter one day, to carry to a soul-driver. Thomas got a man to read it, who told him he was sold. Thomas then got a free man to carry the letter. They handcuffed , the free man, and put him in jail. Thomas, when he saw them take the free man, dodged into the bush. He came to us. We made up a purse, and sent him on his way. Next day, the man who had carried the letter, sent for his friends and got out The master denied to us that he intended to sell Thomas. He did not get the money for him. Thomas afterward wrote a letter from Toronto to his friend.
I prepared myself by getting cakes, etc., and on a Saturday night in March, I and two comrades started off together. They were younger than I. … We travelled by night and slept by day until we reached Pittsburg. When we had got through the town, I left the two boys, and told them not to leave while I went back to a grocery for food. When I returned, they were gone,—I do not know their fate. I stopped in that neighborhood two nights, trying to find them—I did not dare to inquire for them. The second night, I made up my mind to ask after them, but my heart failed me. I am of opinion that they got to Canada, as they knew the route. At length I was obliged to come off without them.
I think that slavery is not the best condition for the
— page 54 —blacks. Whipping and slashing are bad enough, but selling children from their mothers and husbands from their wives is worse. At one time I wanted to marry a young woman, not on the same farm. I was then Bent to Alabama, to one of my master's sons for two years. When the girl died, I was sent for to come back. I liked the work, the tending of cotton, better than the work on the farm in Virginia,—but there was so much whipping in Alabama, that I was glad to get back. One man there, on another farm, was tied up and received five hundred and fifty lashes for striking the overseer. His back was awfully cut up. His wife took care of him. Two months after, I saw him lying on his face, unable to turn over or help himself. The master seemed ashamed of this, and told the man that if he got well, he might go where he liked. My master told me he said so, and the man told me so himself. Whether he ever got well, I do not know: the time when I saw him, was just before I went back to Virginia.*
* Mr. Johnson had already engaged work when I saw him.
My master's farm is in Virginia. When my first master died, his widow married a man who got into debt and was put into prison. The woman gave up her rights to get him out. Then we were sold. Every man came to be sold for her lifetime,—then to revert to the heirs. The heirs bought in all they could—among them my two sisters. They were sent straight
— page 55 —to a slave-pen at Richmond. Where they went I know not: that was the last I heard of them; we could not help it,—they went off crying. My purchaser bought also the interest of the heirs in me, and I remained with him ten years—until my escape, near the close of 1854.
Before I was sold I was hired out to work: at one time to a man on the Rappahannock. Three of his men got away—went as far as Bluff Point. Then they were overtaken, tied to his buggy by the overseer, who whipped up, and they had to run home. One, our employer and his overseer whipped, taking turns about it, until they cut him through to his caul, and he died under the lash. The employer, it was said, caused the man's heart to be taken out and carried over the river, so as not to be haunted by his spirit, He was arrested, and heavily fined. The other two runaways were sold south. Then I worked for another person, being hired out to him. Directly after I went to him, I went to a haystack to feed cattle: accidentally I set fire to the haystack which was consumed,—for which I received three hundred lashes with hickory sticks. The overseer gave me the blows and Jo counted them. His feeding was herrings and a peck of meal a week—never enough—if one wanted more he had to steal it
My last master's allowance was a peck and a half of corn meal a week, and a small slice of meat for each dinner. If any thing more was got it had to be obtained at night. He had but one overseer, and that for but one year. He was a sharp man—whipped me with a cowhide. I've seen him whip women and children like oxen. My master owned a yellow girl, who, he feared, would run away. I was his head man and had to help do it. He tied her across the fence, naked,
— page 56 —and whipped her severely with a paddle bored with holes, and with a switch. Then he shaved the hair off of one side of her head, and daubed cow-filth on the shaved part, to disgrace her—keep her down. I tried hard to avoid the lash, but every year he would get up with me for a whipping in some way. I could not avoid it,—he would catch me on something, do how I would. The last time he whipped me, was for stealing corn for bread for Christmas. George was with me. He tied our wrists together about a tree, and then whipped us with a carriage whip—that was six years ago. He whipped till he wore the lash off; then he tied a knot in the end, and gave me a blow which laid me up limping three weeks,—the blood ran down into my shoes. After that he used to whip the others. George and others would have their shirts sticking to their backs in the blood. I have seen him strip my wife and whip her with a cobbing board or cowhide … .
One Sunday he sent me into the woods to look for hogs. I could not find them, and I told him so on my return. Said he, "They are killed and eaten, and you know the going of them." I told him the truth that I did not know of it. He then seized me by the collar, and told me to cross my wrists. I did so,—but when he laid a rope across to bind them, I jerked them apart. He then undertook to trip me forward with his foot, and as I straightened back, to avoid it, it threw him. He kept his hold on my collar and called for help. The servants came pouring out,—they seized me, and he tied my wrists together with leading lines, eleven yards long, wrapping them about my wrists as long as there was a piece to wrap. Then he led me to the meathouse, and said, "Go in there—I'll lay examples on
— page 57 —you for all the rest to go by—fighting your master!" Whilst one was making a cobbing board, and another was gone to cut hickory switches, and he was looking up more leading lines, I got a knife from my pocket, opened it with my teeth, and holding it in my mouth, cut through the lines which bound me. Then I took a gambrel, and broke open the door. I had made up my mind, knowing that he would come wellnigh killing me, to hit with the gambrel any one who came to seize me. When I burst the door open, no one was there,—but master was coming. I sprung for the flats: he hailed me to come back. I stopped and told him that I had worked night and day to try to please him, and I would never come back any more. I stayed away nine days then he sent me word, that he would not whip me, if I would come back. I went back, and he did not whip me afterward. But he used to whip my wife to spite me, and tell her, "you must make Isaac a good boy." This is true, God knows.
At one time, one of the hands named Matthew was cutting wheat. His blade being dull, our master gave him so many minutes to grind it. But Matthew did not get the blade done in the time allowed. Trouble grew out of this. Matthew was whipped, and kept chained by the leg in one of the buildings. One day when master was at church, I showed Matthew how to get away. He went away with the chain and lock on his leg. The neighbor's people got it off. He then took to the bush. After two or three weeks, my master sent me to look for him, promising not to whip him if I could get him in. I did not see him, but I saw Matthew's sisters, and told them master's promise not to whip. On a Saturday night, soon after, he came in. He was chained and locked in the house until Sunday.
— page 58 —Then he was given in charge to Wallace (a colored man employed in the kitchen) to take care of him. On Monday, he was whipped. Then master got me to persuade Matthew not to run away. He wouldn't tell Matthew he was afraid of his running, but would tell him he couldn't get away,—that times were so straight with the telegraph and railway, that he couldn't get away. And that's what keeps the poor fellows there: that, and knowing that some do get out, and get brought back, and knowing what is done with them. So Matthew stayed on the farm. This occurred last summer, .
In the fall, I was making money to come away, by selling fish which I caught in the creek, and by other means, when a woman on Mr. —'s farm came to see me about some one that she feared would leave. As we talked, she said, "You wouldn't go away from your wife and children?" I said, "What's the reason I wouldn't? to stay here with half enough to eat, and to see my wife persecuted for nothing when I can do her no good. I'll go either north or south, where I can get enough to eat; and if ever I get away from that wife, I'll never have another in slavery, to be served in that way." Then she told her master, and he let on to my master, that I was making money to go away.
By and by I saw Mr. E—, who had a little farm in the neighborhood,—then I said to one of the men, "There's going to be something done with me to-day, either whip me or sell me, one or the other." Awhile after, as I was fanning out some corn in the granary, three white men came to the door—my master, Mr. E—, and a neighboring overseer. My master came walking to me, taking handcuffs out of his pocket,
— page 59 ——"Come, Isaac," says he, "it's time for you to be corrected now; you've been doing wrong this year or two." Said I, "What's the matter now, master—?" He answered, "I'm not going to whip you; I've made up my mind to sell you. I would not take two thousand dollars for you on my farm if I could keep you. I understand that you are getting ready to go off." He had then put his handcuffs on me: "Well, Sir, it is agreed to go as freely as water runs from the spring,"—meaning that I would go with him without resistance or trouble. "I have done all I could for you, night and day, even carting wood on Sunday morning,—and this is what I get for it." "Ah, Sir," said he, "you arc willing to go, but 't will be none the better for you." "Well, master—, there's good and bad men all over the world, and I'm as likely to meet with a good man as to meet with a bad one." "Well, Sir, if there's not less of that racket, I'll give you a good brushing over." I was going over to the house then, from the granary. I answered, "Well, master—, you may do as you please, I am your nigger now, but not long." Then I met my wife, coming crying, asking,—"What's the matter?" I told her, "Eliza, no more than what I told you,—just what I expected was going to be done." His word was, "Take her away, and if she don't hush, take her to the granary, and give her a good whipping." She was crying, you see. He took me to his bedroom, and chained me by one leg to his bedpost, and kept me there, handcuffs on, all night. He slept in the bed. Next morning, he took me in a wagon and carried me to Fredericksburg, and sold me into a slave-pen to George Ayler, for ten hundred and fifty dollars. [George Aler was a prominent brick-maker and slave-trader in Fredericksburg.] Here I met with Henry Banks. He entered the slave-pen after I had been there
— page 60 —three days. He had run away since May, but was taken in Washington, D. C.
On a Thursday evening, came a trader from the south, named Dr. —. He looked at Henry, and at a man named George Strawden, and at me, but did not purchase, the price being too high. I dreamed that night that he took us three. Next morning I told Henry, "That man is coming to take you, and George, and me, just as sure as the world; so Henry, let's you and me make a bargain to try and get away; for I'm never deceived in a dream,—if I dreamed master was going to whip me, he would surely whip somebody next day." That's as good a sign in the south as ever was.
About breakfast time, Dr. — came and stripped us stark naked to examine us. They frequently do, whether buying women or men. He says, "Well, boys, I'm satisfied with you all, if you are willing to go with me, without putting me to any trouble." He had his handcuffs and spancels (ancle-beads, they call them for a nickname) with him. I said to him, "Yes, we are willing to go with you, and will go without any trouble,—I came without any trouble, and will go without any trouble,"—but he did not know my meaning. "I have no farm to keep you on myself," said he, "I live in Tennessee,—l am going on to Georgia, and will take fifteen hundred dollars apiece for you—I'll get as good places for you as I can—'t is not so bad there as you have heard it is." I said, "Oh, yes, Master —, I know you'1l do the best you can; I'm willing to go." "Well, get up all your clothes against the cars come from the Creek, and then we'll go to Richmond." "I suppose, Master —, we 'll have time to get 'em,—how long will it be be-
— page 61 —fore the cars come along?" "About three quarters of an hour, boy." Then he went to George Ayler to give him a check on the Richmond Bank for $3,400 for the three men. Henry and I then got up our clothes,—I put on two shirts, three pairs of pantaloons, two vests, a thick coat, and a summer coat in the pocket,—Henry did the same with his; so we had no bundles to carry. We were afraid to let George know, for fear he would betray us.
Dr. — left the gate open, being deceived by our apparent readiness to go with him. We told George, "Stop a minute, we are going to get some water. Then we walked through Fredericksburg—having left the city we crossed the bridge to Falmouth, turned to the left, and made for the bush. Then we heard the cars from the creek, as they were running to Fredericksburg. On looking round, we saw a number of men coming after us on horseback. The way we cleared them was, we went into the bush, turned short to the right, leaving them the straightforward road,—we then moved on toward the very county from which I was sold. We were out three weeks, during the last of which we made a cave by digging into a cliff, at the head of the creek. The southern men who saw the cave (as we heard afterward when we were in jail) said they never saw so complete a place to hide in.
All this time I had visited my wife every day, either when the white folks were occupied, or before day. One Saturday night we hunted about for something to eat, without finding any thing until midnight It then came into my head about the man who had persuaded my master to sell me,—so we went to him, and got a dozen chickens, which we took to our cave. This made us late,—it was sunrise when we reached our cave,
— page 62 —and then H—, who was standing in the woods, looking for my brother Horace, saw me, and saw us going into our den. Then he went off and got N—, with a double-barrelled gun, and T— with a hickory club; and himself returned with a six-barrelled revolver.
Then I heard N— asking, "Who is in here?" I looked up, and there was the gun within two feet of my head, up to his face and cocked. "Surrender, or I'll blow your brains out!" I looked out, but saw no way of escape, but by going across the creek,—N— was on one side with his gun, H— on the other with his revolver, and T— over the entrance with his hickory stick. I said to Henry, "What are we to do? I started for death, and death we must try to go through. I want to see the man that bought us, no more." N— hailed me by name, for he had now seen my face, "Surrender, for if you come out, I'll blow your brains out." "Then," said I, "You will have to do it." Then I came out, bringing my broadaxe weighing seven and a half pounds in my hand,—he just stood aside and gave me a chance to come out by the muzzle of his gun. We sprung for the creek, I and my partner. In the middle it was over my depth, but I reached the other side, still holding on to the axe. While I was struggling to get up the bank, N— fired, and shot the broad axe out of my hand, putting twenty-nine shot into my right arm and hand, and seven into my right thigh. I ran until I got through a piece of marsh, and upon a beach near some woods.
I was standing looking at my arm; and on looking around for Henry saw him in the sedge. By this time H— had crossed the creek too. I called to Henry to come on, and as he rose from the hedge, N— shot him. He fell; then he got up, ran a little distance, and
— page 63 —fell again. Then he rose up, presently fell a third time, but again recovered himself and came to me.
Finding ourselves wounded and bleeding, so that we could do nothing further towards escape, we gave up. They tied our hands behind us with a leather strap, which was very painful, as my wounded wrist swelled very much. I begged them to loosen it but they would not They took us to jail in county. Dr. H. there counted ninety shot in Henry's back, legs, and arms. We stayed in the jail, a month lacking three days,—two weeks in a sort of dungeon in the cellar: then, Henry being sick with fever, from the effects of the shooting, they put us up stairs, one story higher. We were kept on water and collots (outside leaves of cabbage half cooked). I begged the Lord, would I ever get out, and if 't was so that I was to be caught after I got out, not to let me get out In my dream, I saw myself prying out, and heard a man speaking to me and saying, "As long as there's breath there's hope." His voice awoke me. I told Henry, and we got up, and went to the place where I had dreamed of trying, but we could not open it. This was after three weeks. Then the agent of Dr.— came to examine us. He found we were shot so badly, that he would not take us to Richmond, unless he first heard from Dr.—, as there was said to be some dispute between Dr.— and Ayler about the money. On a Thursday, three days before the month of November was out, we expected Dr.—. But he did not happen to come.
I had been trying several days at one of the windows, but despaired of getting out there,—so I took a stove leg and a piece of a fender, and tried at another window facing the jailer's house. Then conscience said to me, "Go and try that window that you left, and see if
— page 64 —you can't get out." I looked at Henry to see if he was talking, but he said he had not spoken. I then returned to tire first window, and pried off a short plank by the window to see how it was built. The jail was of brick, and the window frame was secured in its place by an iron clamp, spiked. On removing the plank I found behind it a short piece of iron spliced on. This I pried off with the stove leg; then I replaced the plank.
At night, just after dark, I went to work at the window. Henry was too sick to work, but when I needed his help, he would come and aid me. With the piece of iron I had taken from the wall, I got a purchase against the clamp. We took the bedstead to pieces, and using the short or long pieces as was convenient, we started the frame off on one side, splitting the sill at the bottom, where the grates were let in, and bonding all the cross bars. Where the sill split off, it left a place so wide, that by removing the bricks underneath the window, we enlarged it sufficiently to get through. I stretched out of the opening full length, and let go, falling to the ground. Henry followed me, I assisting him down.
We walked eight miles that night, to my master's farm, and hid ourselves in the neighborhood, until Saturday night. Then I went out for something to eat. On my return, I saw as many as fifteen men hunting for me, some on horse, some on foot, with four hounds. I squatted close behind a thick cedar bush: the hounds came around me, and I gave them portions of the food I had collected, to keep them quiet, until the white men were out of sight,—then I scared away the hounds. I then rejoined Henry at our tent. If the runaways knew enough they could keep clear of the hounds by rubbing the soles of their shoes with red onion or spruce pine.
— page 65 —It now came on to rain, so that we were obliged to dig a den in the ground, expecting to stay there until spring, as we thought it would be too cold to travel in the winter, and that in the warm season we might live on fruits by the way. About this time, a neighboring farmer had two mules killed by a boar. His overseer, H—, the same who found me before, told him that Henry and I had done it,—then S— D— and others sent to Fredericksburg for men and hounds to drive night and day, and take us, dead or alive, with orders to shoot us down at the very first sight. This we learned from some of our good friends,—and we then determined to leave. Here I come to speak of Kit Nichols, a slave on another farm. Kit had been beaten, and had run away,—he laid down in a wet ditch to avoid his pursuers. I met Kit in the woods. He was anxious to go with us, and we all three started on Monday night, the 1st day of December, 1854.
We walked eighteen miles the first night, to …, kept on through the towns of — and —, up to M—. At M—, I met a colored man, and asked him for food, as I had been fasting a long time. He directed us to a place where he said we could get food. Then he went away, and soon we saw him returning with three white men. Kit and Henry dodged, and I went on and met the white men face to face. Kit and Henry heard them say there were "three boys going to Warrenton." They passed on to the place where the colored man had sent us. We travelled on towards Warrenton, until we struck the railroad, and then footed it to Alexandria. On the way we went up to a house, where was a white man and his wife,—we asked him to sell us some bread. Said he, "Have you got a pass?" Said I, "I have no pass, but we want some bread,
— page 66 —and we will pay you for it." He went on, "You can't travel without a pass." We told him we were hungry,—he kept on talking about a "pass." Finding we could get no bread we left him, and he then set his dog on us.
On the Virginia side of the bridge, we bought cigars and a few cakes. We lighted our cigars, and I walked on, swinging a little cane. We passed through Washington city. It now rained. We wandered about all night in the rain in Maryland. Just at daybreak we heard cars, and walked for the railroad. Before reaching it, we went into the bush, and with some matches which I had kept dry in my hat, made a fire and dried our clothes. We remained in the bush all day, watching and sleeping, and at night went on to the railroad. On our way, we met two white men, who asked us, "Where are you going?" I told them, "home." "Where?" "In Baltimore." "Where have you been?" "Chopping wood for John Brown." They asked, "Are you free?" "Yes." "Where are your papers?" "At home, in Baltimore." They went into a shanty to arm themselves. While they were doing this, we ran as fast as we could.
We reached Baltimore just at light, and laid down in a small piece of bush in the corporation. We watched as the trains came in through the day to see where the depot was, as we wished to get on the track for Philadelphia. At night we walked boldly past the depot, but we were bothered by the forking of the roads, and came out at the river. Then we tried back,—by and by we saw a long train moving out from the city. We followed it, and went on to Havre de Grace,—but we did not cross the bridge—we could not cross over as we had wished. We moved in another direction. We
— page 67 —concealed ourselves the next day, and again travelled all night. In the morning, we met with a friend, a colored man, who guided us about ten miles, and then directed us to a place where we had abundance of food given us, the first we had tasted since Thursday, although it was now Saturday night We met with no more trouble. We reached Canada the morning after Christmas, at 3 o'clock.
It is the wickedest thing a man can do to hold a slave—the most unconscionable sin a man can do. If there were any chance to fight for the slaves' freedom, I'd go and stand up at the south and fight as readily as I would now go out of doors. I believe it would be just, and a righteous cause. I feel great pity for the poor creatures there, who long for a way, yet can see no way out. They think if Great Britain were to get into a war with America, it would be the means of freeing them. They would slip round and get on the English side.
If slavery were abolished, I would rather live in a southern State,—I would work for some one, but I should want to have a piece of land of my own.
I made my escape from slavery in Virginia; don't know my age,—suppose some forty odd. I belonged to but one man until after I was married. I tried to do my work. The lash was used in season and out of season. The whip was cracking from Monday morning to Saturday night. We were up before day—, when the rooster crowed, the horn blowed. By the
— page 68 —time one could see his hand before him, he was at work, and we were kept at work until late. If a man ran away after he had been whipped, the rest of us were put on half allowance till he came back, and the runaway must make up his lost time by working Sundays.
If I were to sit here until to-morrow morning, I couldn't tell you half as bad as I have been used since I can remember.
One Sunday, when I was about nineteen years old, the white children were playing in the stack-yard. The boys (slaves) had hooked a sheep, and these children found the hide in the straw. Master had all the slaves brought up Sunday evening. The overseer came home half drunk—worse than if sober. They whipped one hard; I and another thought of running,—but I was innocent, and thought they wouldn't whip me. I went up and pulled off my jacket,—they stripped me and whipped me until I fainted. Then they carried me to the kitchen and sent for the doctor. I was out of my head two or three days: the master told the boys I was playing 'possum. They never found out who took the sheep. They whipped four—the rest dodged.
At about twenty-one or twenty-two, I went to live with a man who had married my master's daughter. The first word he ever said to me was, "Where's the key to the corn-house?" "I don't know, Sir." Said he, "Has the horse been fed?" "Yes, Sir." "Has he had enough?" "I don't know, Sir." "Do you think you are talking to a poor man, or to a nigger, like yourself?" He then seized a stake from the fence, and said if I talked so to him any more, he would "lay me sprawling."
After he found that by my old master's will, I belonged to him, he began to beat me. He came down
— page 69 —to the mill one day,—I tended a mill—I was picking,—I had stopped to fix the spindle; he thought me asleep, and hit me one or two blows. Then he went out and cut some hickory sticks. He came to the door and called me. I came to him with the pick in my hand. "Lay that down." I did so. While he was looking for a place to tie me up, I went by him and ran into the woods. At night I went back for my clothes; then, with two more boys, I started for the free States. We did not know where they were, but went to try to find them. We crossed the Potomac and hunted round and round and round. Some one showed us the way to Washington; but we missed of it, and wandered all night; then we found ourselves where we set out. In a week's time, we got to Washington—then to Scatterway, and were caught. They took us to Marlborough jail, and we were kept there two days and nights. Then the masters took us out handcuffed together. On the next morning, we went to Alexandria and were put in jail. Then the traders came from Washington to examine us. One of the boys was sold to go south. Jarvis and I were chained together, and our hands were together. On our way back, we encountered Mr. S—, M—'s father, who seized a large club and hit Jarvis over the head with it, drawing blood terribly. Young M— stopped him. Then they took us to Mr. S—'s house, and chained us to different trees, where we stayed all day. Young M— came to me and slung my leg up into the tree so that I fell on my back. Said I, "Master M—, you hurt me." Said he, "I want to hurt you, because you give meal to my boys."
By and by Mr. M— W— came and took me home, chained to a horse. My master I saw coming
— page 70 —with a cobbing-board full of anger holes, and somebody was cutting switches. Said he, "How are you? how are you? this country is too hot for you, isn't it? You were making for the north where it's cool." Then he told Mr. W— to take me to the barn, in the late afternoon, and said he would get it out of me. He used the cobbing-board until he burst it to pieces, then a boy came with an arm full of switches. The boy was going, but he stopped the boy to see it done, so that he might tell the others. Then he began to whip me, and he whipped, and he whipped, and he whipped, and he whipped; I was in hopes the switches would break up, but it seemed as if one would last all the evening. When he had done whipping it was dark, and I was hardly able to get to the house. His wife sent me down a piece of mutton suet to grease my back. My shirt was as if it had been dipped in a barrel of blood. The next day, I had to go and stand before the drum of the wheat machine, and tend the machine all day. At night I was compelled to stack straw. I could not get along with my master at all. He was all the time hitting or whipping me—I was "a bad example for the boys," he said, "but he'd get it out of me yet." One day he found some wheat in the mill, which I was going to grind for the boys. Then he took me to the carriage-house and tied me to the carriage wheel, and whipped me as badly as when I had run away. After the whipping, he made a boy take spirits of turpentine and rub on my back. Next day, every one who saw me—the white people who came to the mill—said it was a shame to use anybody in that way. This was in the summer of 1854.
I always had it in my mind, that if I could get to a free State, I should be better off than where I was.
— page 71 —But I had been told by N— W— that I could not get away: there were guards at every corner of the street in Washington, etc.
My master used to allow us one piece of meat a day, and a peck and a half of corn meal a week.
He whipped a woman before I came away, Wm. Dunkan's wife, who had a young child. He laid her on a bench, and threw her clothes up over her head, and made a boy and a woman hold her. He whipped her with a cobbing-board until she fainted,—she was so bad that they sent for Dr. W—; but he was so angry at what my master had done, that he would not go. A week or two after, I saw the woman about again.
Another case on the same farm was that of Mary Montgomery, who had a small child at her breast. She had been sick for two or three days, but went out to get some ice for her master. The foreman told her to go back to the house, as she was too sick to work. She went back, and then master drove her out to go again for ice. Then she took to the woods, and he has not seen her since. It was said, that she got to the North, but nobody knew. Her child was taken care of by another woman, who tried to bring it up by hand, but it died.
My master used me so, that I was determined to start off, live or die. I made up my mind that I would rather die than be taken. I took no pistol—no knife—nothing but a stick to walk with. I came away with Isaac Williams and Henry Banks. When I found that Isaac was going, I determined to start, as I thought it would be a poor chance for me, if he got off before I did.
I left a wife and three children, and three grand-
— page 72 —children,—I never expect to see them again in this world—never.
I have seen parents and children, husbands and wife, separated by sale.
It seems not right for slavery to be. I do not think it does any good to the colored men. I feel no inclination to go back—I don't want to cross the line. All the time I was in slavery, I lived in dead dread and fear. If I slept it was in dread—and in the morning it was dread—dread, night and day. It seems to me I must have been dead by this time, if I had not got away. My master was killing me as fast as he could when I got away.
I was born in Stafford Co., in 1835. One of the earliest things I remember is my being sold to Mr. N—, a farmer in the neighborhood. My mother and brothers and sisters were sold at the same time to N—. I lived with N— until about fifteen years old. When I was eight years old, I was put to work regularly on the farm, ploughing, hoeing corn, and doing farm work generally. I have belonged to several owners, but I have no recollection of any one of them ever coming to my cabin to inquire into my wants, nor to ask whether any thing was necessary for my comfort or convenience,—nor whether I was well used by the overseer or foreman. If I were sick, the
— page 73 —overseer attended to me,—if he thought it needful, he would give me medicine,—if he thought it a hard case, he would send for a doctor. I had the doctor once, but the owner did not come to see me. This was nothing strange,—it was so with all, so far as I have heard. N—'s overseer whipped me often—stripped me, and tied me up when he did it, and generally drew blood,—sometimes he would not be so severe as at others, but I have frequently had to pull my shirt from my back with a good deal of misery, on account of its sticking in the blood where I had been lashed. Let daybreak catch me in the house, instead of currying the horses, that was as good for a flogging as any thing else,—if caught standing at the plough, instead of moving, that was good for fifty lashes more or less,—the least of any thing would provoke it I was whipped once because the overseer said I looked mad: "Come here, you d—d selfish son of a b—h, I'll please you by the time I've done with you." Then he whipped me, so that I couldn't hollow. I always tried to do the work faithfully that was assigned me,—not because I felt it a duty, but because I was afraid not to do it: I did not feel it right, however, to be compelled to work for other folks.
N— broke up,—sold the farm and all his people. We were scattered, but not very far apart—some six or seven miles. I was sold to R— S—, in Spotsylvania county, across the Rappahannock. I was the only one of the family that S— bought. I lived with him about a year and a half. He had a colored slave foreman, who had to do as he was commanded, and I hardly had so much consideration as from a white overseer. S— did not clothe nor feed his hands well. We were worked very late at night and were at it
— page 74 —again before day. Sundays differed little from other days. Sometimes he would give us Sunday or part of a Sunday; but if he were in the least angry, we had to work all day. I did not hear a sermon preached during the time I lived with S—, there was no meeting for us to go to. I would sometimes hear of there being meetings about there, but I had no chance to go. At this place there was no colored minister—there were no Christian people on that place. I never heard any religious songs while I was there. It was work, work, and nothing else; that's all they asked of me,—and if we did not do it, we were whipped. Nobody was excused—we were all used one way—all kept at it. I left him on account of work. It was in harvest—harvesting wheat I was cradling—I couldn't make the cradle cut well. S— said, "You can make that cradle cut better if you choose to,—but you don't choose to." I told him "I had tried to make it do the best I knew how." Then he said to the men, "Come here and take hold of this d—d nigger, I 'll make it all right with him." Then they took me to the barn, stripped me stark naked, and then he tied my hands together and my feet together, and swung me up so I could move neither way. While he was tying me up, I told him, "I will do all I know how to do." He said "'t was a d—d lie,—I didn't do it,—but he knew I could do it,—and when he was done with me, he'd show that I would do it." Then he commenced whipping me with a cowhide, made keen at the end; he put on the blows forward and backward—every blow bringing the blood. He must have whipped me a solid half hour. Before he took me down, he said, "Now will you go and do the business?" I told him then, that "I had told him before that I would willingly do all that I knew how."
— page 75 —He said, "I'll try you with this—if I tie you up again, I'll give you five hundred." Then he took me down. I was then unable to do any work. He told me to go to work, but I could not even stand. He then had me carried by the hands into the shade of a tree, where I laid just as I could,—I could not lie anyway long. The men brought buckets of water and threw on me,—I knew what it was for—they thought I was dying. I did no more work for S—. I ran away that same night into the woods.
I ran away in order that master might sell me running,—I didn't care much whose hands I fell into, if I got out of his. He put out advertisements for me, as I was told, of twenty-five dollars reward, for bringing me home not injured. I had heard tell of a free country—but I did not know where it was, nor how to get there. I stayed in the woods three months; I then thought I would start for a free country somewhere. I got as far as the city of Washington; there I went aboard a vessel which the captain told me was going to Boston. But it was not. He asked me for free papers—I told him I had none. Then he suspected me, and said I could not ship without them. He said, if I were a slave, he would make a free man of me,—that he had a habit of doing so,—but he lied. I believed him, however—I trusted him, and told him my case, how my owner treated me, and all,—he said he thought it was very wrong. Then, after he had got it all out of me, he went into the city, and told me to stay aboard till he came back; to get what I wanted to eat, and cook it, but not let myself be seen, because I might be taken up. He was gone a short time, and then he came back, and asked me to go with him to his house, to bring some provisions down for his vessel. I went
— page 76 —with him up the street—there were several persons standing on a corner. The captain said, "Come this way; there's a constable—don't let him see you!" Then the constable came along behind us. The captain led me into an office and said, "Here's a runaway I've took up." There was some questioning, and I was put in jail.
In one week's time, R— S— came and shook hands with me through the grates. He asked, "What made me run away?" I told him, "I wouldn't have run away if he hadn't whipped me." "Do you want to go home?" "I'll go back if you won't whip me any more." He made no promise, but took me home. Directly he sold me to George Ayler. I escaped from Ayler's slave-pen in company with Isaac Williams. …
In the den we were; three white men came upon us. We took across the creek. I was in the den when they fired at Isaac. I then jumped for the creek. I was shot by one of the white men. I caught the shot from my legs to my shoulders—all over my back. About a hundred shot holes were counted in my back,—they were ducking shot, and are mostly in me now. I suffer from them now in my right arm, if I do any work.
I do not think it was intended for any man to be a slave, I never thought so, from a little boy. The slaves are not contented and happy. They can't be: I never knew one to be so where I was.
— page 97 —
JAMES W. SUMLER.
Arrived in Canada, March 3, 1855. I came from Norfolk, Va.; was in bondage twenty-six years. I was not sent to school—never. My first master and mistress gave me no religious instruction at all, nor any other. I learned to read: the way was, I hid in a hayloft on Sunday, and got the younger white children to teach me. I bought the book with a ninepence that a man gave me for holding his horse.
My master was a Methodist. I used to get his horse ready, and hold him when master was going to meeting, but he never asked me to go. At twelve years, my first master died and I was hired out. I was put to work in a lumber-yard. I generally had enough to eat, but was sometimes short for clothes.
My second master and mistress never gave me any instruction about God, and Christ, and the Bible: they used to object to my going to meetings. It was nothing but come and go. They were Methodists. I was never punished very severely, but I have seen servants of the same family punished in various ways. I have seen them tied down, stripped bare, and struck with the paddle, bored with auger holes, until they couldn't walk straight This was because they did not perform the tasks assigned them. I consider the tasks given them were such they could not perform them. I have seen them tied up and whipped until the blood ran
— page 98 —down to the ground. I have seen a man—Elick Smith—so badly whipped with the cobble and cowhide, that he could not lie down any way. The use of brine after whipping in very common.
After I got to years of maturity, and saw the white people sitting in the shade, while I worked in the sun, I thought I would like to be my own man. The first that started me was, they sold my brother down south, and I have not seen him since. I thought my chance would come next, and so I put out.
A white man—a Baptist, used to preach to us. The white people took the communion in the morning, and we took it in the evening. The minister used to tell us not to be disorderly on taking the sacrament—I thought he was disorderly himself, for he kept slaves.
I left home at 2 p.m., and walked a very considerable distance. Then I saw fit to remain concealed nine months. Meanwhile I was advertised, and a reward of $200 was offered for me. On seeing this I felt somewhat troubled in mind,—at last I started, but I had to run back to my hiding-place. A second time I got very near a place where I would have been safe, but I was pursued, and had again to put back. A third time I was successful.
I enjoy myself here more than I did in slavery. I believe that liberty is the true and proper state for the colored man, and for every man. I came here with nothing. I think I can make a living here, and am disposed to try. I left slavery with the expectation that I would have to work, and I am glad to get work.
I look upon slavery as wrong, and as a curse upon the masters. I do not believe that there is any religion in the masters. The slaves are not religious in consequence of slavery; they have often impediments in the
— page 99 —way of their going to meetings. I believe that the slaveholders know that that they are guilty in holding slaves. If the slaves were all set at liberty, I think it would be better for the slaves and for the slaveholders too. The abolitionists have helped me a great deal.