MEMOIR OF MY LIFE
- in the woods of virginia.
- There be some sports are painful; but their labour
- Delight in them sets off; some kinds of baseness
- Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
- Point to rich ends. This my mean task
- Would be as heavy to me, as odious; but
- The mistress, which I serve, quickens what's dead,
- And makes my labours pleasure.—Hear my soul speak!
- I am in my condition, a Prince, Miranda;
- I do think a King; and but for thee,
- I would no more endure this wooden slavery,
- Than I would suffer the flesh-fly blow my mouth.
- The very instant that I saw you, did
- My heart fly to your service; there resides,
- To make me slave to it; and, for your sake,
- Am I this patient log-man.
Reception at Poboke—An old Field-School—A fair Disciple—Evening Scene on a Plantation—Story of Dick the Negro, &c. &c. &c.
The rugged and dreary road from Newgate to New Market, in Prince William County, is bordered by gloomy woods, where the natives of the State, and emigrants from New Jersey, cultivate on their plantations Indian corn, wheat, tobacco, and rye. After passing Bull Run, a stream that takes its appellation
— page 391 —from the mountains of the same name, the Traveller comes to the intersection of two roads, and is in suspense which to take. If he travels the left it will bring him to the unaccommodating town of New-Market, where publicans* and sinners waste the day in drinking and riot; but the right will conduct him to the hospitable plantation of Mr. Ball, who never yet shut his door against the houseless stranger.
Having come to Bull Run, I stopped at a kind of waggoner's tavern on its border, to inquire the way to the plantation. Old Flowers the landlord, reeled out of his loghut towards my horse, but was too much intoxicated to make a coherent reply; so giving my steed his head, I was all passive to his motions, till overtaking an old negro man, I demanded the road to Mr. Ball's. The old negro was clad in rags, if rags can be called cloathing; he was a squalid figure of sixty, and halted as he walked; he was grunting somewhat in the manner of an old hog at an approaching shower of rain; and he carried a hickory stick in his right hand, with which he was driving the cattle home from pasture.
Is this the way, old man, to Mr. Ball's? Aye, Master, I'm going there myself; and should have got to the plantation a couple of hours before sun-down, but the red bull was
* Tax Gatherers.
— page 392 —
strayed after old mother Dye's heifers, and it cost me a plaguy search to find him in the woods.
Good company on the road, says Goldsmith, is the shortest cut, and I entered into conversation with the negro.
Then you live with Mr. Ball?
Aye, Master, I live with the 'Squire, and do a hundred odd jobs for him. You're going to see him, I reckon; some friend it's like enough. The 'Squire is a worthy gentleman, and I don't tell a word of a lie when I say he would not part with me for the best young negro that was ever knocked down at vendue.* There was 'Squire Williams of Northumberland wanted to tempt him, by offering for me a young woman that was a house-servant, a seamster, and could work at the hoe. But old birds is not to be catched with chaff. No! No! says Master, I shant easily meet with the fellow of Dick again; he is a gardener, a flax-beater, and a good judge of horse-flesh. No! No! if I part with Dick, I part with my right-hand man.
Has your Master a large family?
Aye, a house full of children. Four and three makes seven. There's seven young ones altogether; four girls and three boys. Master Waring is a sharp one; he found a nest of bees in the woods, which I reckoned nobody
— page 393 —
know'd anything about but myself; and will make nothing of climbing a hickory after an owl's nest, and pulling out young and old by the neck. Concern it, an owl always scares me. He'll turn his eyes round and round, and look all manner of ways at once!
Have you good hunting in the woods?
Aye, rat it, Sir, I reckoned you was coming to hunt with Master. But, God help us, hunting is all over; the New Jersey men have cleared the woods. When I was a lad, I used to track the wolves on the snow, and never tracked one that I did not catch.* Master, I don't tell you a word of a lie, if you'll believe me, when I say that in one winter I got fifteen dollars reward from the Justice at New Market, for the heads of wolves. And then there was such mighty herds of deer; the woods was fested with them. We would not take the trouble to hunt them: all we had to do, was to tie a bell to the neck of a tame doe, and turn her into the woods. A little after sun-down, we got ready our guns, and stood behind the out-house. Presently we could see the doe trot towards home, followed by half a dozen bucks prancing after her. Then we
[*Cf. Dr. Coke's Journals, p. 42,—"So romantic a scene, I think I never beheld. The Wolves, I find, frequently come to our friend's fences at night, howling in an awful manner; and sometimes they seize upon a straying sheep. At a distance was the Blue-Ridge, an amazing chain of mountains."]
— page 394 —
crack away at them all together, and hie! they come tumbling down by hundreds!
The conversation of the negro held me engaged till we got to the plantation; I then gave him my horse, and walked through the garden to the house.
In my way through the garden I passed two young ladies gathering roses, who, however immured in the woods, were clad with not less elegance than the most fashionable females of Europe. They were beautiful in face and form; I asked them with a bowing mien, whether Mr. Ball was at home. They replied, that their papa was in the parlour, and with much sweetness of manner directed me by the shortest path to the house.
Mr. Ball received me with undissembled accents of joy; he said he had long expected my coming and was gratified at last. A nod to a mulatto boy placed refreshments on the side-board, and in a few minutes the family assembled to take a peep at the Schoolmaster.*
The first impression made by Mr. Ball decided that he was a Gentleman; and I was not a little delighted with the suavity of his manners, and the elegance of his conversation.
[* The author seems to have had no trouble in finding employment. The matter of education was at this time still a difficult one. Cf. Richard Parkinson, A Tour in America in 1798, 1799, and 1800. London, 1805, Vol. II, p. 474,—"I one day called on a gentleman of the name of Benj. Delany, Esq., at Shooter's-Hill, near Alexandria; and when I was introduced
— page 395 —
When the children withdrew, I entered on the terms of my proposed engagement, and presented to him a letter which I had been honoured with from Mr. Jefferson . I knew my host to be a Virginian who favoured the Administration, and thought a letter from the President would operate on him like witchcraft. But I was unacquainted with my man. Mr. Ball was not to be biassed by the whistling of a name; he read my letter more from complaisance than any motive of curiosity; observed, that a man's conduct could alone decide his character; congratulated himself upon the acquisition of a man of letters in his family; and offered to engage me for a twelvemonth, at a salary of a hundred guineas. I acknowledged the honour he did me, and engaged with him for a quarter of a year.
The following day every farmer came from the neighbourhood to the house, who had any children to send to my Academy, for such they did me the honour to term the log-hut in which I was to teach. Each man brought his son, or his daughter, and rejoiced that the day
to him, it was in a place at a distance from the house, in the garden, which he called his office. He was instructing his children. He told me he had been so troubled to get his children educated, that at last he had found more satisfaction in doing it himself than pursuing any other method. He told me his eldest son was at Annapolis College; and when he came home in the holidays, his manners were such, that he was disagreeable to him; and as for the boys he had at home, he had an intention of sending them to England."]
— page 396 —
was arrived when their little ones could light their tapers at the torch of knowledge! I was confounded at the encomiums they heaped upon a man whom they had never seen before, and was at a loss what construction to put upon their speech. No price was too great for the services I was to render their children; and they all expressed an eagerness to exchange perishable coin for lasting knowledge. If I would continue with them seven years! only seven years! they would erect for me a brick seminary on a hill not far off; but for the present I was to occupy a log-house, which, however homely, would soon vie with the sublime College of William and Mary, and consign to oblivion the renowned Academy in the vicinity of Fauquier Court-House. I thought Englishmen sanguine; but these Virginians were infatuated.
I now opened what some called an Academy,* and others an Old Field School; and, however it may be thought that content was never felt within the walls of a seminary, I, for my part, experienced an exemption from
* It is worth while to describe the Academy I occupied on Mr. Ball's plantation. It had one room and a half. It stood on blocks about two feet and a half above the ground, where there was free access to the hogs, the dogs, and the poultry. It had no ceiling, nor was the roof lathed or plastered; but covered with shingles. Hence, when it rained, like the nephew of old Elwes, I moved my bed (for I slept in my Academy) to the most comfortable corner. It had one window, but no glass, nor shutter. In the night to remedy this,
— page 397 —
care, and was not such a fool as to measure the happiness of my condition by what others thought of it.
It was pleasureable to behold my pupils enter the school over which I presided; for they were not composed only of truant boys, but some of the fairest damsels in the country. Two sisters generally rode on one horse to the school-door, and I was not so great a pedagogue as to refuse them my assistance to dismount from their steeds. A running footman of the negro tribe, who followed with their food in a basket, took care of the beast; and after being saluted by the young ladies with the curtesies of the morning, I proceeded to instruct them, with gentle exhortations to diligence of study.
Common books were only designed for common minds. The unconnected lessons of Scot, the tasteless Selections of Bingham, the florid Harangues of Noah Webster, and the somniferous Compilation of Alexander were
the mulatto wench who waited on me, contrived very ingeniously to place a square board against the window with one hand, and fix the rail of a broken down fence against it with the other. In the morning when I returned from breakfasting in the "great big-house," (my scholars being collected,) I gave the rail a forcible kick with my foot, and down tumbled the board with an awful roar. "Is not my window," said I to Virginia, "of a very curious construction?" "Indeed, indeed, "Sir," replied my fair disciple, "I think it is a mighty "noisy one."
[* Caleb Alexander's Young Ladies' and Gentleman's In-
— page 398 —
either thrown aside, or suffered to gather dust on the shelf; while the charming Essays of Goldsmith, and his not less delectable Novel, together with the impressive work of De Foe, and the mild productions of Addison, conspired to enchant the fancy, and kindle a love of reading. The thoughts of these writers became engrafted on the minds, and the combinations of their diction, on the language of the pupils.
Of the boys I cannot speak in very encomiastic terms; but they were perhaps like all other school boys, that is, more disposed to play truant than enlighten their minds. The most important knowledge to an American, after that of himself, is the Geography of his country. I, therefore, put into the hands of my boys a proper book, and initiated them by an attentive reading of the Discoveries of the Genoese; I was even so minute as to impress on their minds the man who first descried land on board the ship of Columbus. That man was Roderic Triana, and on my exercising the memory of a boy by asking him the name, he very gravely made answer Roderic Random.
Among my male students was a New Jersey
structor; William Scott's Lessons in Elocution and English Grammar was widely used at that time, both in this country and in England; Caleb Bingham's American Preceptor went through 64 editions, 640,000 copies.]
— page 399 —
gentleman of thirty, whose object was to be initiated in the language of Cicero and Virgil. He had before studied the Latin grammar at an Academy School (I use his own words) in his native State, but the Academy School being burnt down, his grammar, alas! was lost in the conflagration, and he had neglected the pursuit of literature since the destruction of his book. When I asked him if he did not think it was some Goth who had set fire to his Academy School, he made answer, "So, it is like enough."
Mr. Dye did not study Latin to refine his taste, direct his judgment, or enlarge his imagination: but merely that he might be enabled to teach it when he opened school, which was his serious design. He had been bred a carpenter, but he panted for the honours of literature.
- Optat ephippia bos; piger optat arare caballus.
Such was the affectation or simplicity of this man, that he expressed his fears the English students would interrupt the acquirement of Latin. Not knowing whether to storm or laugh, I advised him to retire with his books into Maddison's Cave.
The Blue Ridge Mountains were in sight
[* Epist., I, 14, 43,—Optat ephippia bos piger, optat arare caballus.]
— page 400 —
from the plantation of Mr. Ball, and the rays of the descending sun gilded their summits. But no situation could be more dreary. It had neither the wildness of nature, nor the uniformity of art; and in any month of the year would inspire an Englishman with thoughts of suicide.
I never saw slavery wear so contented an aspect as on Pohoke plantation. The work of the slaves was light, and punishment never inflicted. A negro, who had run away, being brought back by a person who recognized him, he was asked by Mr. Ball the reason of his elopement. Because, said the fellow, I was born to travel. This man I presume was a predestinarian.
On the Sabbath the negroes were at liberty to visit their neighbours. Woman, of whatever colour, delights in finery; and the girls never failed to put on their garments of gladness, their bracelets, and chains, rings and earrings, and deck themselves bravely to allure the eyes of the white men. Nor are they often unsuccessful; for as the arrow of a strong archer cannot be turned aside, so the glance of a lively negro girl cannot be resisted.
The verse of Virgil will apply to the people of Virginia:
- Alba lingustra cadunt, vaccinia nigra caduntur.*
[*Ecloga II, v. 18. Cf. La Rochefoucauld, Travels &c. II, 42, 82.]
— page 401 —
Several families from New Jersey were settled in the neighbourhood. The characters of men are best illustrated by comparison, and it may not be useless to compare the Jersey man with the native Virginian.
The New Jersey Man puts his hand to the plough; the Virginian only inspects the work of his farm. The New Jersey Man lives with the strictest economy, and very seldom visits or receives visits. The Virginian exceeds his income, loves to go abroad, and welcomes his guest with the smiles of hospitality. The New Jersey Man turns every horse out to labour, and walks whither he has to go on business; the Virginian thinking it degrading to be seen on foot, has always his riding nag saddled and fastened to the fence. The New Jersey Man is distinguished by his provincial dialect, and seldom enlarges his mind, or transfers his attention to others; the Virginian is remarkable for his colloquial happiness, loses no opportunity of knowledge, and delights to shew his wit at the expence of his neighbour. Neither a dancing-master, a pedlar, or a maker of air balloons, was ever encouraged by a New Jersey Man; but on a Virginian they never fail to levy contributions. The treasury of the pedlar is in vain laid open to the eyes of the New Jersey Man: neither the brilliant water of the diamond, the crimson flame of the ruby, nor the lustre of the topaz
— page 402 —has charms to allure him; but the Virginian enamoured of ornament cannot gaze on them with impunity; he empties his coffers of every dollar to adorn the apparel of his wife and daughters.
Of my female students there was none equal in capacity to Virginia. The mind of this fair creature was susceptible of every culture; but it had been neglected, and I opened to her worlds of sentiment and knowledge.
Geography was one of our favourite studies. The greatest trifler can scarce inspect a map without learning something; but my lovely pupil always rose from it with a considerable accession of knowledge. Imparting such new ideas was no undelightful employment, and I often addressed my rose of May in an appropriate Ode.
TO VIRGINIA, LOOKING OVER A MAP
- POWERFUL as the magic wand,
- Displaying far each distant land,
- Is that angel hand to me,
- When it points each realm and sea.
- Plac'd in geographic mood,
- Smiling, shew the pictur'd flood,
- Where along the Red Sea coast,*
- Waves o'erwhelm'd the Egyptian host.
[* "Sea-coast" in text.]
— page 403 —
- Again the imag'd scene survey,
- The rolling Hellespontic sea;
- Whence the Persian from the shore,
- Proudly pass'd his millions o'er.
- See! that little Isle afar
- Of Salamis renown'd in war;
- Swelling high the trump of fame
- With glory and eternal shame.
- And behold to nearer view,
- Here thy own lov'd country too;
- Virginia! Which produc'd to me,
- A pupil fair and bright like thee!
It was my desire to open to my pupil the Treasures of Shakespeare; of that poet whose works will be studied with increasing rapture on the banks of the Mississippi, the Ohio and Potomac, when the language in which Voltaire reviled him shall have perished with the wreck of nations. But the Library of the plantation did not supply the poet of nature; and I was almost in despair, when on a shelf in a miserable log-house I found the first volume of Theobald's edition. The book I obtained for a trifle, and I removed it to my school.
I shall not easily forget the feeling with which my pupil read aloud that beautiful and natural scene in the Tempest, where Miranda sympathizes with Ferdinand, who is bearing logs to Prospero's cell. No scene can be more exquisitely tender, and no lips could give
— page 404 —juster utterance to the speeches of its characters than those of my fair disciple. Her voice possessed more magic than Prospero's wand. I was transported into fairy land. I was rapt in a delicious dream from which it was misery to be waked. All around was enchantment. And what Ferdinand had before exclaimed on hearing the music of Ariel, I applied in secret to the voice of Virginia—
- This is no mortal business, nor no sound
- That the earth owns!
The female mind seems peculiarly adapted to relish tender poetry; and in the Elegy of Gray and the Ballad of Goldsmith, I spread before my pupil a rich banquet to exercise reflection. Such poets are ever read with advantage for they embellish nature and virtue with an elevated but chaste imagination.
My pupil was perhaps not a regular beauty; but her form was exquisitely delicate; and there were a spirit and expression in her countenance that charmed more than mere regular features. Her hair was rather light for eyes perfectly black.
- Viola mon Eleve: il faut encore y joindre
- Un petit nez, mais un nez fait au tour,
- Nez retroussé comme le veut l'Amour.
As the studies of my pupil never tired, so the relation of them will never fatigue me.
— page 405 —She learnt French with avidity, and it was no unpleasant task to hear her give utterance to the musical language of a Sevigné. The Epic Narrative of Fenelon, and the pathetic Tale of Saint Pierre, were the French books that most delighted her. But she thought the translation of Paul and Virginia from the pen of Miss Helen Maria Williams, more beautiful in her attire than that of the author. "The Sonnets," exclaimed Virginia, "are so pretty. Indeed! Indeed! Sir, they are."
The Rose, the queen of flowers, and theme of the Persian poets, grew abundantly in the garden; and my girls never came to school without having gathered clusters of them to decorate their dress. Hence I breathed only fragrance in a circle of loveliness.
How unspeakably delightful was the employment of cultivating the taste of Virginia! By the magic of the Belles Lettres I was opening the avenues of her innocent heart to friendship and to pity; I was exciting its natural susceptibility for every mild and tender passion that can soften humanity.
Let the gloomy and austere moralist condemn woman to vegetate on the earth. Let him shut from her those sources of pure and exalted pleasure, arising from the contemplation of the sublime and the beautiful. Such inhibitions become the cynic in his cell; but let a man of the world and of elegant educa-
— page 406 —tion ask his heart what conveyed to it such transports in the company of a particular female. Was it the lustre of the eye? the redness of the lip? or the peculiar conformation of the features? No. The beauty of countenance which captivates a soul exalted by education, depends not upon any known rule of proportion, but is connected with sentiment; it is the emanation of intellectual excellence, the beaming forth of that moral sense which imparts a magic to every look, and constitutes expression. Women, like men, without education, are not of a social but gregarious nature. They herd together, but they exchange no ideas. And there is certainly the same difference between an educated and an educated woman, as between one living and one dead.
Succession is only perceived by variation, and in the delightful employment of teaching my lovely pupil all I knew, the hours of the morning were contracted to a moment by the earnest application of my mind to its object; time took a new pair of wings, and the school-door, which faced the south, had the sun staring full upon it, before I recollected that my attention ought to be divided, and not consecrated to one scholar.
Hence I frequently protracted the studies of the children till one, or half past one o'clock; a practice that did not fail to call
— page 407 —forth the exclamations both of the white and the black people. Upon my word, Mr. Ball would say, this gentleman is diligent; and Aunt Patty the negro cook would remark, "He good cool-mossa that; he not like old Hodgkinson and old Harris, who let the boys out before twelve. He deserve good wages!"
Having sent the young ladies to the family mansion, I told the boys to break up; and in a few minutes they who had even breathed with circumspection, now gave loose to the most riotous merriment, and betook themselves to the woods, followed by all the dogs on the plantation.
Let the reader throw aside my volume, whose mind feels disgust from the images afforded by a school in the woods of America. I deprecate not his severity; I write not for such feelings. But, reader, if thou art a father, or if thy mind uncorrupted by the business and vanities of life, can delight in the images of domestic privacy, thou wilt derive more real satisfaction from the picture of a groupe of school-boys at play, than from the conflict of the Austrians with the French on the plains of Maringo.
There was a carpenter on the plantation, whom Mr. Ball had hired by the year. He had tools of all kinds, and the recreation of Mr. Dye, after the labour of study, was to
— page 408 —get under the shade of an oak, and make tables, or benches, or stools for the Academy. So true is the assertion of Horace, that the cask will always retain the flavour of the liquor with which it is first impregnated.
Well, Mr. Dye, what are you doing?"
I am making a table for the Academy-School.
What wood is that?
It is white oak, Sir.
What, then you are skilled in trees, you can tell oak from hickory, and ash from fir?
Like enough, Sir. (A broad grin) I ought to know those things; I served my time to it.
Carpenter.—I find, Sir, Mr. Dye has done with his old trade; he is above employing his hands; he wants work for the brain. Well! laming is a fine thing; there's nothing like laming. I have a son only five years old, that, with proper laming, I should not despair of seeing a Member of Congress. He is a boy of genus; he could play on the Jew's-harp from only seeing Sambo tune it once.
Mr. Dye.—I guess that's Billy; he is a right clever child.
Carpenter.—How long, Sir, will it take you to learn Mr. Dye Latin?
Schoolmaster.—How long, Sir, would it take me to ride from Mr. Ball's plantation to the plantation of Mr. Wormley Carter?
— page 409 —
Carpenter.—Why that, Sir, I suppose, would depend upon your horse.
Schoolmaster.—Well, then, Sir, you solve your own interrogation.—But here comes Dick. What has he got in his hand?
Mr. Dye.—A mole like enough. Who are you bringing that to Dick?
Dick.—Not to you.—You never gave me the taste of a dram since I first know'd you. Worse luck to me; you New Jersey Men are close shavers; I believe you would skin a louse. This is a mole. I have brought it for the gentleman who came from beyond sea. He never refuses Dick a dram; I would walk through the wilderness of Kentucky to serve him. Lord! how quiet he keeps his school. It is not now as it was; the boys don't go clack, clack, clack, like 'Squire Pendleton's mill upon Catharpin Run!
Schoolmaster.—You have brought that mole, Dick, for me?
Dick.—Yes, Master, but first let me tell you the history of it. This mole was once a man; See, Master, (exhibits the mole,) it has got hands and feet just like you and me. It was once a man, but so proud, so lofty, so puffed-up, that God, to punish his insolence, condemned him to crawl under the earth.
Schoolmaster.—A good fable, and not un-
— page 410 —happily moralized. Did you ever hear or read of this before, Mr. Dye?
Mr. Dye.—Nay (a broad grin), I am right certain it does not belong to Æsop. I am certain sure Dick did not find it there.
Dick.—Find it where? I would not wrong a man of the value of a grain of corn. I came across the mole as I was hoeing the potato-patch. Master, shall I take it to the schoolhouse?—If you are fond of birds, I know now for a mocking-bird's nest; I am only afeard those young rogues, the school-boys, will find out the tree. They play the mischief with every thing, they be full of devilment. I saw Jack Lockhart throw a stone at the old bird, as she was returning to feed her young; and if I had not coaxed him away to look at my young puppies, he would have found out the nest.
In conversation of this nature I sometimes employed an hour or two not unprofitably; for it brought me acquainted with characters which could, perhaps, be only found in the woods of America. Indeed human nature, when considered separately from contingent circumstances, is, I believe everywhere the same; but modified by custom and climate, its external qualities are varied.
On Saturday I was at leisure to ride or walk. On that day the bow was unbent, that it might become stronger in its future tension.
— page 411 —Yet, I confess, it was a day I rather dreaded than wished; for, without the company of Virginia, I gave myself up to despondency.
- Urit me Glyceræ nitor
- Splendentis Pario marmore purius:
- Urit grata protervitas,
- Et vultus nimium lubricus aspici.*)
Had I lived near the Alps I should certainly have adopted the plan of Saint Preux, and striven to dissipate my melancholy by climbing to their summit. The Blue Ridge Mountains were in sight, and why did I not ascend them? Alas! the manners of the Blue Ridgers possess none of that simplicity which characterizes the inhabitants of the mountains of Switzerland.
Finding the hours hang heavy, I bethought myself of some invitation that had been given me to a neighbouring plantation, and one visit leading to another, in my round of calling on one or another, I came to the house whither Virginia had gone before me. Virginians are ever hospitable; ever open-hearted to the stranger who enters their doors. The house of a Virginian is not less sacred to hospitality than the tent of an Arab. I was received always with transport. "Here, Will, take this gentleman's horse. Edward, run up stairs,
[* Horace, Odes, I, 19, 5–9.]
— page 412 —
my dear, and tell your mother and the girls to come down."
My recreation after school in the evening was to sit and meditate before my door, in the open air, while the vapours of a friendly pipe administered to my philosophy. In silent gravity I listened to the negro calling to his steers returning from labour, or contemplated the family groupe on the grass-plat before the dwelling-house, of whom the father was tuning his violin, the mother and daughters at their needles, and the boys running and tumbling in harmless mirth upon the green. Before me was an immense forest of stately trees; the cat was sitting on the barn door; the firefly was on the wing, and the whip-poor-will in lengthened cries was hailing the return of night.)
I was now, perhaps, called to supper, and enjoyed the society of Mr. Ball and his family till the hour of their repose, when I returned to my log-hut, and resumed my pipe before the door. The moon in solemn majesty was rising from the woods; the plantation-dog was barking at the voices of the negroes pursuing their nightly revels on the road; while the mocking songster mimicked the note of every bird that had sung during the day.
A skilful chymist will endeavour to extract good from every substance, and I declined not the conversation of a man because his face
— page 413 —differed incolour from my own. Old Dick, the negro whom I had met on the road, never failed to visit my cell in the evening, and the purpose of his visit was to obtain a dram of whiskey. Dick said that it comforted him, and I never withheld my comfort from him. As I considered old Dick a much greater philosopher than many of his white brethren who have written volumes on resignation under misfortunes, but could never bear the tooth-ache patiently; I always put him upon talking about himself, and one evening when he came to see me, I desired he would relate to me the story of his life.
STORY OF DICK THE NEGRO
"I was born at a plantation on the Rappahannoc River. It was the pulling of corn time, when 'Squire Musgrove was Governor of Virginia I have no mixed blood in my veins; I am no half and half breed; no chestnut-sorrel of a mulatto; but my father and mother both came over from Guinea
"When I was old enough to work, I was put to look after the horses, and, when a boy, I would not have turned my back against the best negur at catching or backing the most vicious beast that ever grazed in a pasture.
"'Squire Sutherland had a son who rode every fall to look at a plantation on James River, which was under the care of an over-
— page 414 —seer. Young master could not go without somebody on another horse to carry his saddle-bags, and I was made his groom. This young chap, Sir, (here Dick winked his left eye,) was a trimmer. The first thing he did on getting out of bed was to call for a Julep;* and I honestly date my own love of whiskey, from mixing and tasting my young master's juleps. But this was not all. He was always upon the scent after game, and mighty ficious when he got among the negur wenches. He used to say that a likely negur wench was fit to be a Queen; and I forget how many Queens he had among the girls on the plantations.
"My young master was a mighty one for music, and he made me learn to play the Banger.† I could soon tune it sweetly, and of a moonlight night he would set me to play, and the wenches to dance. My young master himself could shake a desperate foot at the fiddle; there was nobody that could face him at a Congo Minuet; but Pat Hickory could tire him at a Virginia Jig.
"The young 'Squire did not live long. He was for a short life and a merry one. He was killed by a drunken negur man, who found him over-ficious with his wife. The
* A dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.
† A kind of rude Guitar.
— page 415 —
negur man was hanged alive upon a gibbet. It was the middle of summer; the sun was full upon him; the negur lolled out his tongue, his eyes seemed starting from their sockets, and for three long days his only cry was Water! Water! Water!
"The old gentleman took on to grieve mightily at the death of his son; he wished that he had sent him to Britain for his education; but after-wit is of no use; and he followed his son to that place where master and man, planter and slave must all at last lie down together.
"The plantation and negurs now fell to the lot of a second son, who had gone to Edinburgh to learn the trade of a Doctor. He was not like 'Squire Tommy; he seemed to be carved out of different wood. The first thing he did on his return from Britain, was to free all the old negur people on the plantation, and settle each on a patch of land. He tended the sick himself, gave them medicine, healed their wounds, and encouraged every man, woman and child to go to a Meeting-house, that every Sunday was opened between our plantation and Fredericsksburgh . Every thing took a change. The young wenches, who, in Master Tommy's time, used to put on their drops, and their bracelets, and ogle their eyes, now looked down like modest young women, and carried their
— page 416 —gewgaws in their pockets till they got clear of the woods. He encouraged matrimony on the plantation by settling each couple in a log-house, on a wholesome patch of land; hired a schoolmaster to teach the children, and to every one that could say his letters gave a Testament with cuts. This made me bold to marry, and I looked out sharp for a wife. I had before quenched my thirst at any dirty puddle; but a stream that I was to drink at constant, I thought should be pure,—and I made my court to a wholesome girl, who had never bored her ears, and went constantly to Meeting.
"She was daughter to old Solomon the Carter, and by moon-light I used to play my banger under her window, and sing a Guinea Love-song that my mother had taught me. But I found there was another besides myself whose mouth watered after the fruit. Cuffey, one of the Crop Hands, came one night upon the same errand. I am but a little man, and Cuffey was above my pitch; for he was six foot two inches high, with a chew of tobacco clapped above that. But I was not to be scared because he was a big man, and I was a little one; I carried a good heart, and a good heart is everything in love.
"Cuffey, says I, what part of the play is you acting? Does you come after Sall?
— page 417 —May be, says he, I does. Then, says I, here's have at you boy; and I reckoned to fix him by getting the finger of one hand into his ear, and the knuckles of the other into his eye.* But the whore-son was too strong for me, and after knocking me down upon the grass, he began to stomp upon me, and ax me if I had yet got enough. But Dick was not to be scared; and getting his great toe into my mouth, I bit it off and swallowed it. Cuffey now let go his hold, and it was my turn to ax Cuffey if he had got enough. Cuffey told me he had, and I walked away to the Quarter.†
"My master the next day heard of my battle with Cuffey. He said that I ought to live among painters and wolves, and sold me to a Georgia man for two hundred dollars. My new master was the devil. He made me travel with him handcuffed to Savannah; where he disposed of me to a tavern-keeper for three hundred dollars.
"I was the only man-servant in the tavern, and I did the work of half a dozen. I went to bed at midnight, and was up an hour befor sun. I looked after the horses, waited at the table, and worked like a new negur. But I got a plenty of spirits, and that I believe helped me.
* This is what is called Gouging.
† The place of abode for the negroes.
— page 418 —
"The war now broke out, and in one single year I changed masters a dozen times. But I knowed I had to work, and one master to me was as good as another. When the war ended, I was slave to 'Squire Fielding, at Annapolis, in Maryland. I was grown quite steady, and I married a house-servant who brought me a child every year. I have altogether had three wives, and am the father of twelve children; begot in lawful wedlock: but this you shall hear.
"My wife dying of a flux, I was left to the management of my children; but my master soon saved me the trouble, for directly they were strong enough to handle a hoe, he sold the boys to Mr. Randolph of Fairfax, and the girls to 'Squire Barclay of Port Tobacco. It was a hard trial to part with my little ones, for I loved them like a father; but there was no help for it, and it was the case of thousands besides myself.
"When a man has been used to a wife, he finds it mighty lonesome to be without one; so I married a young girl who lived house-servant to a tavern-keeper at Elk Ridge Landing. It is a good twenty-five miles from Annapolis to the Landing-place; but a negur never tire when he go to see his sweetheart, and after work on Saturday night I would start for Elk Ridge, and get to my wife before the supper was put away.
— page 419 —Dinah was a dead hand at making of mush;* but she could not love it better than I. Dinah, says I, to her one night, if you was a Queen what would you have for supper? Why milk and mush, Dick, says she. Concern it, Dinah, says I, why if you was to eat all the good things what would there be left for me?
"I was not perfectly satisfied with my new wife; I had some suspection that she gave her company, when I was away, to a young mulatto fellow; but as her children were right black, I was not much troubled. I never could bear the sight of a mulatto; they are made up of craft. They are full of impudence, and will tell a black man that the Devil is a negur; but I believe one colour is as much akin to him as another.
"I did not keep my second wife long; she was a giddy young goose, fond of dress. She wore a ruffled smock; and on a Sunday put on such sharp-toed shoes, that the points of them would have knocked out a mosquito's eye. If her children had not been right black and right ugly like myself, I should have suspected her vartue long before I had a real cause.
"I had made Dinah a present of a little lap-foist; a right handsome dog as you would
* Food resembling hasty-pudding.
— page 420 —
see; and one Saturday, at negur day-time,* a mile before I got to Elk Ridge, the little foist came running up to me. Hie! thought I, Dinah must be out gadding, and looking forward I saw a man and woman run across the main-road into the woods. I made after them, but I was getting in years, and a walk of twenty miles had made my legs a little stiff. So after cursing till my blood boiled like a pitch-pot, I walked on to the tavern.
"I found Dinah in the kitchen; but the mulatto fellow was not there. She ran to me, and fell on my neck. I hove her off. Begone girl, says I; no tricks upon Travellers. Dick in his old age is not to be made a fool of. Did not I see you, with Paris, Mr. Jackson's mulatto? Lack a daisey, Dick, says she, I have not stirred out of the house. I swear point blank I have not. I would kiss the bible, and take my blessed oath of it!— Nor the foist either! says I. Get you gone, you hussey, I will seek a new wife. And so saying I went up stairs, and made her gowns, and her coats and her smocks into a bundle, took the drops out of her ears, and the shoes off her feet, and walked out of the kitchen.
"I trudged home the same night. It troubled me to be tricked by a young girl, but it
* A cant term among the negroes for night; they being then at leisure.
— page 421 —
was some satisfaction to know that I had stripped her of all her cloathing. Fine feathers makes fine birds; and I laughed to think how she would look next Sunday; for I had left her nothing but a home spun suit that she had put on when she got back.
"I now said to myself that it was right foolish for an old man to expect constancy from a young girl, and I wished that my first wife had not got her mouth full of yellow clay. Half a mile from Annapolis, by the roadside, is a grave-yard. It was here my poor wife was buried. I had often heard tell of ghosts, and wanted to see if there was any truth in it. I stole softly to the hedge that skirted the road. Hoga, says I, does you rest quiet? Hoga does you rest quiet? Say, Hoga! and quiet old Dick! I had hardly said the words when the leaves began to stir. I trembled as though I had an ague. Hoga, says I, don't scare me. But in less than a minute I saw a black head look over the hedge, with a pair of goggle eyes that flamed worse than the branches of a pine tree on fire. Faith, says I, that can't be Hoga's head, for Hoga had little pee pee eyes. I took to my heels and run for it. The ghost followed quick. As luck would have it there was a gate across the road. I jumped the gate and crawled into a hedge. The ghost did not follow. The gate had stopped
— page 422 —him. But I heard him bellow mightily, and when I peeped over the hedge, I saw it was 'Squire Hamilton's black bull.
"My master at Annapolis being made a bankrupt, there was an execution lodged against his negurs. I was sent to Alexander * and knocked down at vendue to old 'Squire Kegworth. I was put to work at the hoe. I was up an hour before the sun, and worked naked till after dark. I had no food but Homony, and for fifteen months did not put a morsel of any meat in my mouth, but the flesh of a possum or a racoon that I killed in the woods. This was rather hard for an old man, but I knowed there was no help for it.
"Squire Kegworth was a wicked one; he beat Master Tommy. He would talk of setting us free; you are not, he would say, Slaves for life, but only for ninety-nine years. The 'Squire was never married; but an old negur-woman kept house; who governed both him and the plantation. Hard work would not have hurt me, but I could never get any liquor. This was desperate, and my only comfort was the stump of an old pipe that belonged to my first wife. This was a poor comfort without a little drap of whiskey now and then; and I was laying a plan to run away, and travel through the
— page 423 —
wilderness of Kentucky, when the old 'Squire died.
"I was now once more put up at vendue, and as good luck would have it, I was bid for by 'Squire Ball. Nobody would bid against him because my head was grey, my back covered with stripes, and I was lame of the left leg by the malice of an overseer who stuck a pitchfork into my ham. But 'Squire Ball knowed I was trusty; and though self praise is no praise, he has not a negur on the plantation that wishes him better than I; or a young man that would work for him with a more willing heart. There is few masters like the 'Squire. He has allowed me to build a log-house, and take in a patch of land where I raise corn and water Melions.* I keep chickens and ducks, turkeys and geese, and his lady always gives me the price of the Alexander market for my stock. But what's better than all, Master never refuses me a dram, and with the help of whiskey, I don't doubt but I shall serve him these fifteen years to come. Some of his negurs
* Dick's log-hut was not unpleasantly situated. He had built it near a spring of clear water, and defended it from the sun by an awning of boughs. It was in Mr. Ball's peach-orchard. A cock that never strayed from his cabin served him instead of a time-keeper; and a dog that lay always before his door was an equivalent for a lock. With his cock and his dog, Dick lived in the greatest harmony; notwithstanding the pretentions of a white man to superiority over a black one neither the cock nor the dog would acknowledge any other master but Dick.
— page 424 —
impose on him; there's Hinton, a mulatto rascal, that will run him into debt; and there's Let, one of the house-girls, who will suck the eggs and swear it was a black snake. But I never wronged Master of a cent,* and I do the work of Hinton, of Henry, and Jack, without ever grumbling. I look after the cows, dig in the garden, beat out the flax, curry-comb the riding nag, cart all the wood, tote† the wheat to the mill, and bring all the logs to the school-house."
Such is the history of the life and slavery of Dick, the negro, as he delivered it to me word for word. It will, perhaps, exhibit a better picture of the condition of negroes in America, than any elaborate dissertation on the subject. But it aspires to more credit than the mere gratification of curiosity. It will enable the reader to form a comparison of his own state with that of another, and teach him the unmanly grief of repining at the common casualties of life, when so many thousands of his fellow-creatures toil out with cheerfulness a wretched life under the imprecations and scourgings of an imperious task-master.
Mr. Ball was son-in-law to Counsellor Carter, of Baltimore,‡ who had formerly re-
* The hundredth part of a dollar.
† Tote is the American for to carry.
— page 425 —
sided in the woods of Virginia, and emancipated the whole of his negroes, except those whom he had given with the marriage-portion of his daughter. Of this he afterwards repented, and in a fit of religious enthusiasm wrote a serious letter to Mr. Ball, exhorting him to free his negroes, or he would assuredly go to hell. Mr. Ball, whose property consisted in his slaves, and whose family was annually augmenting, entertained different notions; and with much brevity returned answer to the old gentleman's letter, "Sir, I will run the chance."
But the period is hasting when I must leave Mr. Ball and the worthy families in his neighbourhood, and another page or two will conduct me out of the woods of Pohoke. I had been three months invested in the first executive office of Pedagogue, when a cunning old fox of a New Jersey planter (a Mr. Lee) discovered that his eldest boy wrote a better hand than I. Fame is swift-footed; vires acquirit eundo; the discovery spread far and wide; and whithersoever I went, I was an object for the hand of scorn to point his slow unmoving finger at, as a schoolmaster that could not write. Virginia gave me for the persecutions I underwent a world of sighs, her
Philip Vickers Fithian was Tutor for a year, whose Journal & Letters (1767–1774) is one of the most interesting books of that period. See p. 71 of that book.]
— page 426 —
Swelling heavens rose and with indignation at old Lee and his abettors. The boys caught spirit from the discovery. I could perceive a mutiny breaking out among them; and had I not in time broke down a few branches from an apple tree before my door, it is probable they would have displayed their gratitude for my instructions by throwing me out of my school-window. But by arguing with one over the shoulders, and another over the back, I maintained with dignity the first executive office of Pedagogue.
I revenged myself amply on old Lee. It was the custom of his son a lengthy fellow of about twenty) to come to the Academy with a couple of huge mastiffs at his heels. Attached to their master (par nobile fratrum) they entered without ceremony Pohoke Academy, bringing with them myriads of fleas, wood-lice and ticks. Nay, they would often annoy Virginia, by throwing themselves at her feet, and inflaming the choler of a little lap-dog, which I had bought because of his diminutive size, and which Virginia delighted to nurse for me. I could perceive the eye of Virginia rebuke me for suffering the dogs to annoy her; and there lay more peril in her eye than in the jaws of all the mastiffs in Prince William County.
"Mr. Lee," said I, "this is the third time I have told you not to convert the Academy
— page 427 —into a kennel, and bring your dogs to school." Lee was mending his pen "judgmatically." He made no reply but smiled.
I knew old Dick the negro had a bitch, and that his bitch was proud. I walked down to Dick's log-house. Dick was beating flax.
"Dick," said I, "old Farmer Lee has done me much evil—(I don't like the old man myself, Master, said Dick)—and his son, repugnant to my express commands, has brought his father's two plantation dogs to the Academy. Revenge is sweet—
'Right, Master, said Dick. "I never felt so happy as when I bit off Cuffey's great toe and swallowed it—
"Do you, Dick," said I, "walk past the school-house with your bitch. Lee's dogs will come out after her. Go round with them to your log-house; and when you have once secured them, hang both of them up by the neck."
"Leave it to me, Master," said Dick. "I'll fix the business for you in a few minutes. I have a few fadoms of rope in my house—that will do it."
I returned to the Academy. The dogs were stretched at their ease on the floor. "Oh! I am glad you are come," exclaimed Virginia; "those great big dogs have quite scared me."
In a few minutes Dick passed the door with his slut. Quick from the floor rose Mr. Lee's
— page 428 —two dogs, and followed the female. The rest may be supplied by the imagination of the reader. Dick hung up both the dogs to the branch of a pine-tree; old Lee lost the guards to his plantation; the negroes broke open his barn, pilfered his sacks of Indian corn,* rode his horses in the night—and thus was I revenged on Alexander the Copper Smith.
Three months had now elapsed, and I was commanded officially to resign my sovereign authority to Mr. Dye, who was in every respect better qualified to discharge its sacred functions. He understood Tare and Tret, wrote a copper-plate hand, and, balancing himself upon one leg, could flourish angels and corkscrews. I, therefore, gave up the "Academy School" to Mr. Dye, to the joy of the boys, but the sorrow of Virginia.
Virginia bewailed my impending departure with tears in her eyes. "Alas!" said she, "I must now quit my French, my poetry and English grammar! I shall be taught no more geography! I shall no more read in Paul and Virginia, but be put back into Noah Webster's horn-book! I shall (sobbing) do nothing but write and cypher. I
[* Parkinson, Tour in America, Vol. II, p. 432—"As I have travelled on the road, I have made it my business to converse with them, (the negroes), and they say "Massa, as we work and raise all, we ought to consume all," and to a person who does not contradict them, they will declare their mind very freely."]
— page 429 —
wish Mr. Dye would mind his own business. I wish, instead of coming to teach school, he would go and work at the crop."
I now once more seized my staff, and walked towards Baltimore. It was a killing circumstance to separate from Virginia; but who shall presume to contend against fate?
I still, and shall ever, behold Virginia in my fancy's eye. I behold her fair form among the trees. I contemplate her holding her handkerchief to her eyes. I still hear a tender adieu! faultering on her lips; and the sob that choked her utterance still knocks against my hear.
- Phyllida amo ante alias; nam me discedere flevit!*
[* Virgil: Ecloga III, 78.]
Note.—The Editor wishes to make acknowledgments to the Secretary of the South Carolina Historical Society, to the officials of the Library of Congress and of the Lenox Library.