the Story of a
Slave Boy by
"A, B, C," said little Lewis to himself, as he bent eagerly over a
ragged primer. "Here's anoder A, an' there's anoder, an' there's anoder
C, but I can't find anoder B. Missy Katy said I must find just so many
as I can. Dear little Missy Katy! an' wont I be just so good as ever I
can, an' learn to read, an' when I get to be a man I'll call myself
white folks; for I'm a most as white as Massa Harry is now, when he runs
out widout his hat; A, B, C." And so the little fellow ran on, thinking
what a fine man he would be when he had learned to read.
Just then he heard a shrill laugh in the distance, and the cry, "Lew!
Lew! where's Lew?"
It was Katy's voice, and tucking his book in his bosom, he ran around
the house toward her with light feet; for though she was often cross and
willful, as only daughters sometimes are, she was the only one of the
family that showed him even an occasional kindness. She was, withal,
a frolicsome, romping witch, and as he turned the corner, she came
scampering along right toward him with three or four white children at
her heels, and all the little woolly heads of the establishment,
numbering something less than a score.
"Here, Lew!" she said, as she came in sight, "you take the tag and run."
With a quick movement he touched her outstretched hand, and he would
have made the others some trouble to catch him, for he was the smartest
runner among the children; but as he turned he tripped on a stone, and
lay sprawling. "Tag," cried Hal, Katy's cousin, as he placed his feet on
the little fellow's back and jumped over him. It was cruel, but what did
Hal care for the "little nigger." If he had been at home he would have
had some little fear of breaking the child's back, for his father was
more careful of his property than Uncle Stamford was.
Before Lewis could rise, two or three of the negro boys, who were always
too ready to imitate the vices of their masters, had made the boy a
stepping stone, and then Dick, his master's eldest son, came down upon
him with both knees, and began to cuff him roundly.
"So, you black scamp, you thought you'd run away with the tag, did you!"
Just then he perceived the primer that was peeping out of Lewis's shirt
bosom. "Ha! what's here?" said he; "a primer, as I live! And what are
you doing with this, I'd like to know?"
"Missy Katy give it to me, and she is teaching me my letters out of it.
Please, massa, let me have it again," said he, beseechingly, as Dick
made a motion as if to throw it away. "I would like to learn how
"You would, would you!" said Dick. "You'd like to read to Tom and Sam,
down on a Louisiana plantation, in sugar time, when you'd nothing else
to do, I suppose. Ha, ha, ha!" and the young tyrant, giving the boy a
vigorous kick or two as he rose, stuffed the book into his own pocket,
and walked off.
Poor Lewis! He very well knew the meaning of that taunt, and he did not
open his mouth. No threat of a dark closet ever frightened a free child
so much as the threat of being sold to a Southern plantation terrifies
the slave-child of Kentucky.
Lewis walked slowly toward the kitchen, to see Aunt Sally. It was to her
he used to go with all his troubles, and sometimes she scolded, and
sometimes she listened. She was very busy dressing the vegetables for
dinner, and she looked cross; so the little fellow crept into the
chimney corner and said nothing; but he thought all the more, and as he
thought, the sad tears rolled down his tawny cheeks.
"What is the matter now, little baby?" was Aunt Sally's tender inquiry.
Lewis commenced his pitiful tale; but as soon as Aunt Sally heard that
it was about learning to read, she shut him up with "Good enough for
you! What do you want of a book? Readin' isn't for the likes of you; and
the less you know of it the better."
This was poor sympathy, and the little fellow, with a half-spiteful
feeling, scrambled upon a bench near by, and tumbled out of the window.
He alighted on an ash-heap, not a very nice place to be sure, but it was
a retired corner, and he often hid away there when he felt sad and
wanted to be alone. Here he sat down, and leaning his head against the
side of the house, he groaned out, "My mother, O my mother! If you ain't
dead, why don't you come to me?"
By degrees he calmed down, and half asleep there in the sunshine, he
dreamed of the home that he once had. His mother was a noble woman, so
he thought. Nobody else ever looked so kindly into his face; he was sure
nobody else ever loved him as she did, and he remembered when she was
gay and cheerful, and would go all day singing about her work. And his
father, he could just remember him as a very pleasant man that he used
to run to meet, sometimes, when he saw him coming home away down the
road; but that was long ago. He had not seen him now for years, and he
had heard his mother say that his father's master had moved away out of
the state and taken him with him, and maybe he would never return. Then
Lewis's mother grew sad, and stopped her singing, though she worked as
hard as ever, and kept her children all neat and clean.
And those dear brothers and sisters, what had become of them? There was
Tom, the eldest, the very best fellow in the world, so Lewis thought. He
would sit by the half hour making tops, and whistles, and all sorts of
pretty playthings. And Sam, too! he was always so full of fun and
singing songs. What a singer he was! and it was right cheerful when Sam
would borrow some neighbor's banjo and play to them. But they were all
gone; and his sad, sweet-faced, lady-like sister Nelly, too, they were
all taken off in one day by one of the ugliest negro-drivers that ever
scared a little slave-boy's dreams. And it was while his mother was away
from home too. How she did cry and take on when she came back and found
them all gone, and she hadn't even the chance to bid them good-by! She
said she knew her master sent her off that morning because he was going
to sell her children.
Lewis shuddered as he thought of that dreadful night. It was hardly two
years ago, and the fearful things he heard then burned into his soul
with terrible distinctness. It seemed as if their little cabin was
deserted after that, for Tom, and Sam, and Nelly were almost grown up,
and the rest were all little ones. The next winter his other sister,
Fanny, died; but that wasn't half so sad. She was about twelve years
old, and a blithesome, cheerful creature, just as her mother had been.
He remembered how his master came to their cabin to comfort them, as he
said; but his mother told him plainly that she did not want any such
comfort. She wished Nelly was dead too. She wished she had never had any
children to grow up and suffer what she had. It was in vain her master
tried to soothe her. He talked like a minister, as he was; but she had
grown almost raving, and she talked to him as she never dared to do
before. She wanted to know why he didn't come to console her when she
lost her other children; "three all at once" she said, "and they're ten
times worse than dead. You never consoled me then at all. Religion?
Pooh! I don't want none of your religion."
And now she, too, was gone. She had been gone more than a year. It was
said that she was hired out to work in another family; but it wasn't so.
They only told her that story to get her away from the children
peaceably. She was sold quite a distance away to a very bad man, who
used her cruelly.
Ned, who was some two years younger than Lewis, and the only brother he
had left, was a wild, careless boy, who raced about among the other
children, and did not seem to think much about anything. Lewis often
wished he could have somebody to talk with, and he wondered if his
mother would ever come back again.
Had he been a poet he might have put his wishes into verses like the
following, in which Mrs. Follen has given beautiful expression to the
wishes of such a slave boy as Lewis:
THE SLAVE BOY'S WISH.
I wish I was that little bird,
Up in the bright blue sky,
That sings and flies just where he will,
And no one asks him why.
I wish I was that little brook,
That runs so swift along,
Through pretty flowers and shining stones,
Singing a merry song.
I wish I was that butterfly,
Without a thought or care,
Sporting my pretty, brilliant wings,
Like a flower in the air.
I wish I was that wild, wild deer,
I saw the other day,
Who swifter than an arrow flew,
Through the forest far away.
I wish I was that little cloud,
By the gentle south wind driven,
Floating along so free and bright,
Far, far up into heaven.
I'd rather be a cunning fox,
And hide me in a cave;
I'd rather be a savage wolf,
Than what I am—a slave.
My mother calls me her good boy,
My father calls me brave;
What wicked action have I done,
That I should be a slave?
I saw my little sister sold,
So will they do to me;
My heavenly Father, let me die,
For then I shall be free.
So talking to himself he fell into a doze, and dreamed about his mother.
He thought her large serious eyes were looking into his, and her long
black hair falling over his face. His mother was part Indian and part
white, with only just enough of the black to make her hair a little
curly. It don't make much difference what color people are in the slave
states. If the mothers are slaves the children are slaves too, even if
they are nine-tenths white.
From this pleasant dream Lewis was roused by a splash of cold water, and
Aunt Sally, with her head out of the window, was calling, "Here you lazy
nigger! come here and grind this coffee for me." And the little boy
awoke to find himself a friendless orphan, in a cold world with a
The next morning Lewis was playing about the yard with as good a will as
any of the young negroes. Children's troubles don't last long, and to
see him turning somersets, singing Jim Crow, and kicking up a row
generally, you would suppose he had forgotten all about the lost primer
and his mother too.
He was in the greatest possible glee in the afternoon, at being sent
with another boy, Jim, to carry a package to Mr. Pond's. Then he was
trusted, so he put himself on his dignity, and did not turn more than
twenty somersets on the way. In coming back, as they had no package to
carry, they took it into their heads to cut across lots, though it was
no nearer than the road. Still it made them plenty of exercise in
climbing fences and walking log bridges across the brooks. While doing
this they came in sight of some white pond-lilies, and all at once it
occurred to Lewis that it would be right nice to get some of them for
Miss Katy, to buy up her good-will, for he was afraid she would be very
angry when she found that he had lost the primer. So he waded and
paddled about till he had collected quite a handful of them, in spite of
Jim's hurrying up, and telling him that he would get his head broke, for
missus had told them to be quick.
When he had gathered a large handful he started on the run for home,
stopping only once or twice to admire the fragrant, lovely flowers; and
he felt their beauty quite as much, I dare say, as Miss Katy would.
When they were passing the quarters, as the place is called where the
huts of the slaves are built, Aunt Sally put her head out of the cabin
door, and seeing him, she called out, "Here, Lew, here's your mother."
The boy forgot his lilies, dropped them, and running to the door, he saw
within a strange woman sitting on a bench. Was that his mother? She
turned her large dark eyes for a moment upon him, and then she sprang to
meet him. His little heart was ready to overflow with tears of joy, and
he expected to be overwhelmed with caresses, just as you would if you
should meet your mother after being separated from her more than a year.
Imagine his terror, then, as she seized him rudely by the wrists and
exclaimed, "It's you, is it? a little slave boy! I'll fix you so they'll
never get you!"
Then she picked him up in her arms and started to run with him, as if
she would throw him into the well. The little fellow screamed with
fright. Aunt Sally ran after her, crying at the top of her voice,
"Nancy, O Nancy! don't now!" And then a big negro darted out of the
stables, crying "Stop her there! catch her!"
All this hubbub roused the people at the house, and Master Stamford
forthwith appeared on the verandah, with a crowd of servants of all
sizes. Amid the orders, and cries, and general confusion that followed,
Nancy was caught, Lewis was taken away, and she was carried back to the
cabin, while the big negro was preparing to tie her. As she entered the
cabin, her eye caught sight of a knife that lay there, and snatching it
up, she gave herself a bad wound with it. Poor woman, she was tired of
her miserable life. I don't wonder that she wanted to die.
Was it right, you ask, for her to take her own life? Certainly not. But
let us see what led to this attempt.
For a long time she had been separated from Lewis and Ned, the last of
her children that remained to her. To be sure, the other three were
probably living somewhere, and so was her husband. But she only knew
that they had gone into hopeless servitude, where she knew not. Indeed,
she did not know but that they were already dead, and she did not expect
ever to hear, for slaves are seldom able to write, and often not
permitted to when they can. If there had only been hope of hearing from
them at some time or other she could have endured it. But between her
and those loved ones there rested a thick cloud of utter darkness;
beyond that they might be toiling, groaning, bleeding, starving, dying
beneath the oppressor's lash in the deadly swamp, or in the teeth of the
cruel hounds, and she could not have the privilege of ministering to the
least of their wants, of soothing one of their sorrows, or even dropping
a silent tear beside them. If she could have heard only one fact about
them it would have been some relief. But she could not enjoy even this
poor privilege. And then came the dead, heavy stillness of despair
creeping over her spirits.
Do you wonder that she became perfectly wild, and beside herself at
times? How would you feel if all you loved best were carried off by a
cruel slave-driver, and you had no hope of hearing from them again in
During these dreadful fits of insanity she would bewail the living as
worse than dead, and pray God to take them away. Then she would curse
herself for being the mother of slave children, declaring that it would
be far better to see them die in their childhood, than to see them grow
up to suffer as she had suffered.
She lived only a few miles from her old home; but her new master was an
uncommonly hard man, and would not permit her to go and see her
children. He said it would only make her worse, and his slaves should
learn that they were not to put on airs and have whims. It was their
business to live for him. Didn't he pay enough for them, and see that
they were well fed and clothed, and what more did they want? This he
called kind treatment. Very kind, indeed, not to allow a mother to go
and see her own children! But when she was taken with those insane
spells, and would go on so about her children that she was not fit to
work, indeed could not be made to work, it was finally suggested to him
that a visit to her children would do her good.
This was the occasion of her present visit, and it was because she was
insane that she attempted to take her own life. The wound, however, was
not very deep, and Nancy did not die at this time. After the doctor had
been there and dressed her wound, and affairs had become quiet, Lewis
stole to the door of the cabin. He was afraid to go in. He hardly knew,
any of the time, whether that strange wild woman could be his mother,
only they told him she was. There was blood spattered here and there on
the bare earth that served as a floor to the cabin, and on a straw
mattress at one side lay the strange woman. Her eyes were shut, and now
that she was more composed, he saw in the lineaments of that pale face
the features of his mother; But her once glossy black hair had turned
almost white since she had been away, and altogether there was such a
wild expression that he was afraid, and crept quietly away again.
He then went to find his brother, who, of course, did not remember so
much about her. But it was touching to see the two little lone brothers
stand peeping in wonderingly at their own mother, who was so changed
that they hardly knew her. Then they went off behind the kitchen to talk
about it, and cry over it.
The strange big negro was Jerry, who belonged to the same master with
Nancy, and he had come to bring her down. He was afraid that his master
would be very angry if he should go back without her; but the doctor
said the woman must not be moved for a week, and he wrote a letter for
Jerry to carry borne to his master, while Nancy remained.
The next day, as they gained a little more courage, the brothers crept
inside of the cabin. Their mother saw them, and beckoned them to her
bed-side. She could scarcely speak a word distinctly, but taking first
one and then the other by the hand, she said inquiringly: "Lewis?"
They sat there at the bed-side by the hour that day. Sometimes she would
hold their hands lovingly in hers; then again she would lay her hand
gently on the heads of one and the other, and her eyes would wander
lovingly over their faces, and then fill with tears.
After a day or two little restless, fun-loving Ned grew tired of this,
and ran out to play; but Lewis stayed by his mother, and she was soon
able to talk with him.
She showed him her wrists where they had been worn by the irons, and her
back scarred by the whip, and she told him of cruelties that we may not
repeat here. She talked with him as if he were a man, and not a child;
and as he listened his heart and mind seemed to reach forward, and he
became almost a man in thought. He seemed to live whole years in those
few days that he talked with his mother. It was here that the fearful
fact dawned upon him as it never had before. He was a slave! He had no
control over his own person or actions, but he belonged soul and body to
another man, who had power to control him in everything. And this would
not have been so irksome had it been a person that he loved, but Master
Stamford he hated. He never met him but to be called by some foul
epithet, or booted out of the way. He had no choice whom he would serve,
and there would be no end to the thankless servitude but death.
"Mother," said the boy, "what have we done that we should be treated so
much worse than other people?"
"Nothing, my child, nothing. They say there is a God who has ordered all
this, but I don't know about that." She stopped; her mother's heart
forbade her to teach her child infidel principles, and she went on in a
better strain of reasoning. "Perhaps he allows all this, to try if we
will be good whether or no; but I am sure he cannot be pleased with the
white folk's cruelty toward us, and they'll all have to suffer for it
Then there was a long pause, when both mother and son seemed to be
thinking sad, sad thoughts. Finally the mother broke the silence by
saying: "Well, here we are, and the great question is how to make the
best of it, if there is any best about it."
"I know what I'll do, mother," said Lewis earnestly, "I'll run away when
I'm old enough."
"I hope you may get out of this terrible bondage, my child," said the
mother; "but you had better keep that matter to yourself at present. It
will be a long time before you are old enough. There is one thing about
it, if you're going to be a free man, you'll want to know how to read."
Lewis's heart was full again, and he told his mother the whole story of
"And did Missy Katy never ask about it afterward?" inquired the mother.
"No, she never has said a word about it."
"O well, she don't care. There are some young missies with tender hearts
that do take a good deal of pains to teach poor slaves to read; but she
isn't so, nor any of massa's family, if he is a minister. He don't care
any more about us than he does about his horses. You musn't wait for any
of them; but there's Sam Tyler down to Massa Pond's, he can read, and if
you can get him to show you some, without letting massa know it, that'll
help you, and then you must try by yourself as hard as you can."
Thus did the poor slave mother talk with her child, trying to implant in
his heart an early love for knowledge.
But the time soon came when Nancy was well enough to go back to her
cruel servitude. This visit had proved a great good to little Lewis. The
entire spirit of his thoughts was changed. He was still very often
silent and thoughtful, but he was seldom sad. He had a fixed purpose
within, which was helping him to work out his destiny.
His first effort was to see Sam Tyler. This old man was a very
intelligent mulatto belonging to Mr. Pond. For some great service
formerly rendered to his master, he was allowed to have his cabin, and
quite a large patch of ground, separated from the other negroes, and all
his time to himself, except ten hours a day for his master. His master
had also given him a pass, with which he could go and come on business,
and the very feeling that he was trusted kept him from using it to run
Mr. Pond was very kind to all his servants, as he called them, and a
more cheerful group could not be found in the state. It would have been
well if the Rev. Robert Stamford and many of his congregation had
imitated Mr. Pond in this respect, for his servants worked more
faithfully, and were more trustworthy than any others in the vicinity.
There was one thing more that he should have done; he should have made
out free papers for them, and let them go when they pleased.
When Lewis mentioned his wish to Sam Tyler, the old man was quite
delighted with the honor done to his own literary talent. "But you see,"
said he, "I can tell ye what is a sight better; come over to Massa
Pond's Sunday school. I'd 'vise ye to ask Massa Stamford, and then ye
can come every Sunday."
Lewis had a notion that it would not be very easy to get his master's
permission, so the next Sunday he went without permission.
It was a right nice place for little folks and big ones too. Nearly all
Mr. Pond's servants were there punctually. It was held an hour, and Mr.
Pond himself, or one of his sons, was always there. He read the Bible,
taught them verses from it, sung hymns with them, and of late, at their
urgent solicitation, he had purchased some large cards with the letters
and easy readings, and was teaching them all to read.
The first day that Lewis went he crept off very early, before his master
was up, telling Aunt Sally where he was going, so that if he should be
inquired for she could send Ned after him. Aunt Sally remonstrated, but
it was of no avail; he was off, and she really loved him too well to
That day young master Pond was in the Sunday school, and he spoke very
kindly to Lewis, commending his zeal, and asking him to come again. But
when he told his father that one of Mr. Stamford's boys was there, Mr.
Pond's reply was that "this matter must be looked into."
Mr. Pond was there himself on the next Sunday, and though he spoke very
kindly to the boy, yet he told him very decidedly that he must not come
there without a written permission from his master. "Well, then, I can't
come at all, sir," said Lewis sorrowfully.
"Ask him, at any rate," was the reply. "I'd like to have you come very
well; but I'm afraid he will think I want to steal one of his boys, if I
allow you to come here without his consent."
It was with much fear that Lewis made known his wish to his master, and
he was received, as he expected to be, with abuse.
"You would like to be a smart nigger, I suppose; one of the kind that
talks saucy to his master and runs away. I'll make you smart. I'm smart
enough myself for all my niggers; and if they want any more of the
stuff, I'll give them some of the right sort," said he with vulgar wit,
as he laid his riding-whip about the shoulders of poor Lewis.
But when Mr. Stamford found that Lewis had already been to Mr. Pond's
Sunday school, he made a more serious matter of it, and the poor boy
received his first severe flogging, twenty-five lashes on his bare back.
"I hope now," said Aunt Sally, while dressing his welted and wounded
back with wet linen, "that you'll give up that silly notion of your'n,
that of learnin' to read. It's of no use, and these 'ere learned niggers
are always gettin' into trouble. I know massa'd half kill one, if he had
'im. Now, if you belonged to Massa Pond 'twould be different." And so
she went on; but the more she talked the more firmly Lewis made up his
mind that he would learn to read if he could, and the words of his
mother came to his mind with authority: "If you're going to be a free
man you'll want to know how to read."
About two months after this he paid another visit to Sam Tyler. Sam's
plot of ground and cabin was near the division line between the two
farms, and Lewis took his time to go down there after dark. He asked Sam
to teach him to read.
"I should think you'd got enough of that," said Sam. "I shouldn't think
it would pay."
"What would you take for what you know about readin'?" asked Lewis.
"Well, I can't say as I'd like to sell it, but it would only be a plague
to you so long as you belong to Massa Stamford."
By dint of coaxing, however, Lewis succeeded in getting him to teach him
the letters, taking the opportunity to go to him rainy nights, or when
Mr. Stamford was away from home. That was the end of Sam's help. He had
an "idea in his head" that it was not good policy for him to do this
without Massa Stamford's consent, after what Mr. Pond had said about
Lewis's coming to Sunday school. Sam was a cautious negro, not so
warm-hearted and impulsive as the most of his race. He prided himself on
being more like white folks.
Lewis was soon in trouble of another sort. He had found an old
spelling-book, and Sam had shown him that the letters he had learned
were to be put together to make words. Then, too, he managed to get a
little time to himself every morning, by rising very early. So far so
good, and his diligence was deserving of success, but the progress he
made was very discouraging. C-a-n spelled sane, n-o-t spelled note, and
g-o spelled jo. "I sane note jo;" what nonsense! and there was no one
that could explain the matter intelligently. He perseveres bravely for a
while, finding now and then a word that he could understand; but at last
his book was gone from its hiding place; he knew not where to get
another; and in short he was pretty much discouraged. These difficulties
had cooled his ardor much more than the whip had done, and by degrees he
settled down into a state of despondency and indifference that Mr.
Stamford would have considered a matter of the deepest regret, had it
befallen one of his own children.
Years passed on—long, dreary, cheerless years. Lewis was now a boy of
seventeen, rather intelligent in appearance, but melancholy, and not
very hearty. In spite of repeated thinnings out by sales at different
times to the traders, the number of Mr. Stamford's slaves had greatly
increased, and now the time came when they must all be disposed of. He
had accepted a call from a distant village, and must necessarily break
up his farming establishment.
It was a sad sight to see these poor people, who had lived together so
long, put up at auction and bid off to persons that had come from many
different places. Here goes the father of a family in one direction, the
mother in another, and the children all scattered hither and thither.
And then it was heartrending to witness their brief partings. Bad as had
been their lot with Mr. Stamford, they would far sooner stay with him
than be separated from those of their fellow-slaves whom they loved.
A lot at a time were put up in a row, and one after another was called
upon the block, and after a few bids was handed over to a new master, to
be taken wherever he might choose.
Ned and Jim and Lewis stood side by side in one of those rows. Ned had
grown up to be a fine sprightly lad, and the bidding for him was lively.
He was struck down to a Southern trader. Lewis listened despondently
while the bidding for Jim was going on, expecting every moment to hear
his own name called, when suddenly a strong hand was laid upon his
shoulder from behind, and he was drawn from the row. After a thorough
examination by a strange gentleman, in company with his master, he was
bid to step aside. From some words that he heard pass between them, he
understood that he had been sold at private sale, bartered off for a
pair of carriage-horses.
The animals, a pair of handsome bays, were standing near by, and he
turned to look at them. "Suppose they were black," said he to himself,
"would they be any meaner, less powerful, less valuable, less spirited?
I do not see that color makes much difference with animals, why should
it make so much difference among men? Who made the white men masters
over us?" He thought long and deeply, but there came no answer.
"Then, too, they are larger than I am, and there are two of them! What
makes the difference that I should be higher priced? Ah, I have a
mind, and it's my mind that they have sold," he added, with a sudden
gleam of thought. "And what have I of my own? Nothing! They buy, and
sell, and control soul and mind and body."
Lewis had yet to learn that even the poor slave may with all his soul
believe on Jesus, and no master on earth could hinder him. Mr. Stamford
had never given his slaves any religious teachings, and perhaps it was
just as well that he did not attempt anything of that kind, for he is
said to have taught his white congregation that it was no more harm to
separate a family of slaves than a litter of pigs. His new master, whose
name was Johns, lived about thirty miles distant, and nearly as much as
that nearer the boundary line between Ohio and Kentucky, an item which
the boy noticed with much satisfaction. On their way home Mr. Johns took
special pains to impress on the mind of his new property the fact, that
the condition of his being well treated in his new home would be his
good behavior. "It's of no use," he says, "for my boys to go to showing
off airs, and setting themselves up. I can't stand that. But if they are
quiet and industrious, I give them as good allowances and as good
quarters as anybody."
What Mr. Johns called good behavior in servants, was their doing
promptly and precisely just as he told them to, without venturing to
think for themselves anything about it. If any of them did venture an
opinion before him he shut them up with a cut of the whip or a sharp
word, so that the utmost extent of their conversation in his presence
was a strict answer to his questions, and "Yes, massa," in reply to
Lewis was destined to assist in the garden. Mr. Johns was very fond of
horticulture, but to have had his head gardener a slave, would have
involved the necessity of talking with him, and consulting him too much
to consist with his views of propriety. The slaves of families in the
far South are not usually treated in this manner, but Mr. Johns was by
birth an Englishman. The gardener, then, was a free white man named
Spencer, and Lewis found him a very pleasant master. It was not
difficult for him to find his way into his good graces, so that Lewis
did not suffer so much by the change as he expected. His heart was
already hardened by the loss of so many friends, that he took this with
unexpected indifference. But he did miss his brother Ned. More than
once, in his dreams, did he hear him crying for help; but after a while
he heard, through a fellow-slave, that Ned was serving as waiter in a
hotel at Louisville. This was the last he ever heard of him.
Besides this, Lewis loved his new work. It was so delightful to see the
shrubs, and trees, and plants flourish, and the flowers putting forth
their gorgeous displays; and Spencer's kindness made the heaviest work
seem light. It is very easy to serve a man that governs by kindness, but
Lewis thought it would be much harder to serve Spencer if he had felt
that he was his owner.
One morning, going earlier than usual to the garden, he found Miss Ford
there, the governess of the children. She was promenading one of the
wide alleys, and pensively reading a favorite author. This occurred
morning after morning, and Lewis thought he would be so glad if she
would only spend a few minutes teaching him to read! He knew that she
was from the free states, where they did not keep slaves, and he
thought, perhaps, if she knew his desire to read she would help him. But
morning after morning passed, and she seemed to take very little notice
of him. Finally, he one day observed her looking at a beautiful magnolia
blossom, the first that had come out. It was quite on the top of the
tree. She evidently wanted it, and Lewis drew near, hoping that she
would ask him to get it for her, and so she did. Lewis was delighted,
she thanked him so kindly. After this he found occasion to say: "I think
missus must be very happy, she can read."
The lady looked surprised, and then pitiful. "And would you like to
"Indeed, there is nothing in this world would make me more happy," said
"It is a pity so simple a wish cannot be gratified," said she to
herself. "Perhaps I could find time; if I thought so I might rise a
little earlier. Could you come here by sunrise every morning?"
"O yes, missus, indeed I could."
"Come, then, to-morrow morning."
That was a happy day for Lewis. His first lesson was quite a success. He
had not forgotten all his letters. After this he went on prosperously,
having a half hour lesson every fair morning.
Lewis studied very hard, and made excellent progress. The difficulties
that formerly troubled him now disappeared, for he had a teacher whom he
could consult upon every word. Miss Ford gave him a few pence to buy
candles with, and all his evenings were spent in assiduous devotion to
his new task.
The thoughts of his new acquisitions made him so happy that he worked
more diligently, and appeared far more cheerful than formerly. Mr. Johns
observed it, and remarked that the boy had turned out "a better bargain
than he expected."
When it was known in the house that Miss Ford was teaching Lewis, there
was some consultation about it, and Mr. Johns approached the lady with a
long face, to talk the matter over. However, she had altogether the
advantage of him, for she laughed most uncontrollably at his concern,
assured him that this was her intellectual play, and that she enjoyed
the matter very much as she would teaching tricks to a parrot or monkey.
"Surely, now, you would not deprive me of such an innocent amusement,"
said she, with mock lamentation.
"No; but my dear Miss Ford," said the gentleman, trying to appear
serious, "it is not best for these people to know too much."
"O, that is too good!" she replied, with a laugh. "Do you expect him to
rival a Henry Clay or an Andrew Jackson?" and then she went on telling
some such funny mistakes and ludicrous blunders of the boy, that Mr.
Johns could resist no longer, and he joined in the laugh. There was
evidently no such thing as pinning her fast to serious reasoning on the
subject, and as she stood very high in Mr. John's good graces, he
concluded he might about as well let her do as she liked.
She had been a long time in the family, and as they had seen no
ultra-abolition traits, they thought her "sound at heart" on that
subject. And so she was; for had she known the true situation of the
slaves, all the better feelings of her noble soul would have risen up in
rebellion against the groundwork of the abominable "institution." But as
the slaves were kept very much apart from the family, and by their
master's peculiar training had very little to say when they did make
their appearance, she had very little opportunity to study the workings
of the system, if she had been disposed to do so, and very little to
excite her curiosity about it.
As Lewis by degrees gained the good opinion of his teacher, and
flattered her by his rapid progress, so she gradually became interested
in his early history, and especially in his early failures in learning
to read. She was quite indignant at the opposition he had experienced,
and her expressions of surprise at the treatment he received, led him to
tell of greater cruelties that he had seen practised on others, and so
on to the story of his mother. She took a deep interest in all his
details, and he was never at a loss for something to tell.
Could it be that slavery was so bad, that she was surrounded by these
suffering creatures, and was doing nothing for them? She made inquiries
of others prudently, and found that it was even so, and more too; that
even she herself was not at liberty to speak out her sentiments about
it. But she could think, and she did think. The great law of human,
God-given right came up before her, and she acknowledged it. These
poor creatures had a right to their own personal freedom, and she
thought it would be doing God and humanity a service if she could help
them to obtain that freedom. She did not know that in doing thus she
would be sinning against the laws of her country, (!) and perhaps she
would not have cared much if she had, for she was one of those
independent souls that dare to acknowledge the law of right.
For months were these convictions gaining strength, but no opportunity
occurred to assist any of them. Meanwhile she grew pensive and silent,
oppressed by the helpless misery which she saw around her on every side.
One evening when Lewis came for his lesson he brought her an anonymous
note. The writer professed to take a deep interest in the intelligent
young slave Lewis, and asked the question if she would be willing to do
anything to advance his freedom.
She unhesitatingly replied that she would be very glad to do so. Lewis
knew where to carry the note, and she soon had an interview with the
writer, Mr. Dean, of whom she had heard as the worst abolitionist in the
neighborhood. Arrangements were soon made for running off the boy.
Miss Ford was to get leave of Mr. Johns to send Lewis to a neighbor of
Mr. Dean's on an errand for herself in the evening. As this would keep
him quite late, and he was to report to her on his return, no one else
would be likely to miss him until morning. He was to proceed at once to
Mr. Dean's house, whence, with face and hands dyed, and his clothes
changed, he was to go with Mr. Dean in the capacity of a servant to
Cincinnati, and he should then run his own chance of escape. In its main
features the plan worked well, and Lewis escaped.
The next morning, when Lewis was missed at the house of his master,
suspicion immediately fell upon Miss Ford. The plot was so simple that
the truth could not well be concealed; but nothing was said about it
until they might find some tangible evidence, and this was soon afforded
by the imprudence of Dean. Two mornings after this he came to the garden
fence by the arbor where she usually spent the morning, and threw over a
note containing the words, "All right, and no suspicion."
But he was mistaken about the "no suspicion." He himself would have been
arrested at the moment of his return, for one of his neighbors had seen
and recognized them in Cincinnati; but they waited and watched to see if
by some chance Miss Ford might not also be implicated. And it was done.
There were more observers than he dreamed of, and Miss Ford, who from
her window saw the note fall, saw it picked up a moment after by Mr.
Johns himself. Mr. Dean was arrested before he reached home again, and
both he and Miss Ford were sent to jail. Complaints were preferred
against them, but many months passed before they were brought to trial.
When at last the trial came off, Mr. Dean was sentenced to imprisonment
for ten years, and five thousand dollars fine. Miss Ford's sentence was
five years' imprisonment, but the governor finally granted a reprieve of
the last two years.
After many adventures Lewis reached Boston, where he still lives, for
aught I know, with a nice little woman of his own color for a wife, and
three smart little boys. He labored so diligently in the cultivation of
his mind that he became qualified for a teacher, and has been for a long
time engaged in that pleasant and profitable occupation. But best of
all, he has become a sincere Christian, rejoicing in the privilege of
worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience, with
none to molest nor make him afraid. He has heard once more from his
parents. His father's master had returned to the neighborhood where his
mother was, and they were again living together. His mother's mind was
restored to sanity. She was more "like herself" than she had been before
since the early days of their married life. In her later years she was
brought to taste of the "liberty wherewith Christ has made us free," and
went to her home above to be comforted after all her sufferings, while
her cruel masters who enjoyed their ease here shall be tormented.
* * * * *
[Illustration: WHIPPING A SLAVE.]
[Illustration: HUNTING RUNAWAY SLAVES.]