Christmas and Africans in America -the other story
In 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States Federal holiday.
The origin of Christmas is known but, the topic is not as widely discussed as one might think it should be in the 21st Century. Christmas is a complex holiday for many who observe it. For some people Christmas is a simple holiday with no religious meaning and just a season of kind thoughts, gift giving, good food and good times with family and friends. Others have taken the holiday as a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Christmas time has not always been the holiday Americans have become accustomed to. Here is just a brief view of how Christmas impacted African Americans.
Early origins of Christmas
In Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. In January, the Romans observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The native polytheistic religious followers of northern Europe (who became part of the Roman Empire) celebrated the their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.
The feast of the Son of Isis, who is Heru or Horus (gods from the ancient native black Egyptian’s religion), was celebrated in ancient Babylon on what would be December 25.
Video: History of Christmas: Rome to Reformation
Video: History of Christmas Part 2: Charles Dickens to Christmas Trees
313 AD/Current Era Western Roman Emperor Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus and Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius issued the Edict of Milan legalizing Christian worship within the Roman Empire .
325 AD/Current Era The First Council of Nicaea, convoked by the European Roman Emperor Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (Constantine the Great). It was the first ecumenical conference of bishops of the Christian Church. The purpose of the council (also called a synod) was to resolve disagreements in the Roman church of Alexandria, Egypt over the nature of the Trinity: in particular whether Jesus was of the same or of similar substance as God the Father.
350 AD/Current Era Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. The Christian Pope wanted to make it as painless as possible for the polytheistic population of the Roman empire, who remained a majority at that time, to convert to Christianity. The new religion was received easier by mixing customs.
380 AD/Current Era Ethiopia (Axum) was converted to Christianity through the efforts of Saint Frumentius. Frumentius was a Syrophoenician (Syria and Phoenicia) Greek born in Tyre. This is the origin of the Christian Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox.
711 North African black Moors invaded and captured the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal), ending Visogoth rule and beginning a 150 year period of relative peace, in which Jews were free to study and practice religion as they wished. The black African Moors were Muslims. “Moor” comes from the Roman Latin word “Mauri” or Greek word “Mavros” or the derivative Maures, which described the peoples of North Africa. A Maure was anything which is black and represents Africa.
1492 King Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the entire Jewish community from Spain. This occurred when the Spanish Army defeated black African Muslim Moorish forces in Granada, thereby restoring the whole of Spain and Portugal to Christian rule.
1497 Portugal expelled its Jews. King Manuel of Portugal agreed to marry the daughter of Spain’s monarchs.
1502 The Spanish imported Africans as laborers to the Americas.
1565 San Agustín (St. Augustine, Florida) was founded by the Spanish.
May 13, 1607 Jamestown was founded in the Colony of Virginia.
1611 The King James Version of the Bible, first published (used by the English who were colonizing what would become the United States).
1619 Africans arrived in Virginia for the first time at Jamestown.
1620-1691 Plymouth Colony established in Massachusetts (English Puritan colony). On the first December 25 the settlers spent in Plymouth Colony, they worked in the fields as they would on any other day. They thought Jesus had been born sometime in September.
1621 A group of non-Puritan workmen, in Plymouth Colony, were caught celebrating Christmas with a game of “stoole-ball” — an early precursor of baseball. The men were punished by Governor William Bradford. “My conscience cannot let you play while everybody else is out working,” he told them.
1644 All Christmas activities were banned in England, this included decorating houses with evergreens and eating mince pies. The Christian Puritan movement began during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England (1558-1603). They believe in strict moral codes, plenty of prayer and close flowing of the New Testament scripture. As the date of Christ’s birth is not in the Gospels the Puritans thought that Christmas was too strongly linked with the Pagan Roman festival and were opposed to all celebration of it.
1655 British Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Venables seized the island of Jamaica.
1655 New Amsterdam, a town on the tip of Manhattan Island (now New York City) within the Dutch colony of New Netherland, saw a sudden influx of enslaved African labor.
1663 Province of Carolina (now North Carolina) was experiencing full-scale English settlement.
1659 Settlers in New England outlawed Christmas celebrations entirely.
1660 Christmas returned to England.
1664 the English seized New Netherland, including the town of New Amsterdam. They renamed the colony New York.
1670 Charles Towne (Charleston) named in honor of King Charles II of England was founded.
1686 The royal governor of the colony, Sir Edmund Andros, sponsored a Christmas Day service at the Boston Town House.
1702 Fort Louis de la Louisiane (Mobile, Alabama) was founded by the French as the first capital of the French colony of Louisiana.
May 7, 1718 La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans, Louisiana) was founded by the French.
1763 Spain ceded Florida and St. Augustine to the British with the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Years War.
July 4, 1776 United States of America declared independence.
March 4, 1789 United States Constitution took effect.
1797 The United State Senate assembled on Christmas Day, as did the United States House of Representatives in 1802.
1816 African Methodist Episcopal Church founded.
1836 Alabama became the first state to declare Christmas a public holiday.
1913 Much of Africa was still non-Christianized.
1922 The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa- Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, the colonial administrator of Hong Kong and Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria for Britain, pushed for indirect rule in colonial Africa. Lugard outlined the reasons and methods that should be employed in the colonization of Africa by Britain. It included spreading Christianity to the native Africans and saw state sponsored colonization as a way to protect Christian missionaries and foreign powers. Although the Protestants Christian faith was brought by the British into Africa other European powers adopted some of these principals to convert Africans into Catholic Christians.
The History of The Negro Church
By Carter G. Woodson, PhD
One of the causes of the discovery of America was the translation into action of the desire of European zealots to extend the Catholic (Christian) religion into other parts. Columbus, we are told, was decidedly missionary in his efforts and felt that he could not make a more significant contribution to the church than to open new fields for Christian endeavor. His final success in securing the equipment adequate to the adventure upon the high seas was to some extent determined by the Christian motives impelling the sovereigns of Spain to finance the expedition for the reason that it might afford an opportunity for promoting the cause of Christ. Some of the French who came to the new world to establish their claims by further discovery and exploration, moreover, were either actuated by similar motives or welcomed the cooperation of earnest workers thus interested.
The first persons proselyted by the Spanish and French missionaries were Indians. There was not any particular thought of the Negro. It may seem a little strange just now to think of persons having to be converted to faith in the possibility of the salvation of the Negro, but there were among the colonists thousands who had never considered the Negro as belonging to the pale of Christianity.
Negroes had been generally designated as infidels; but, in the estimation of their self-styled superiors, they were not considered the most desirable of this class supposedly arrayed against Christianity. There were few Christians who did not look forward to the ultimate conversion of those infidels approaching the Caucasian type, but hardly any desired to make an effort in the direction of proselyting Negroes.
When, however, that portion of this Latin element primarily interested in the exploitation of the Western Hemisphere failed to find in the Indians (Native Americans) the substantial labor supply necessary to their enterprises and at the suggestion of men like las Casas imported Negroes (Africans) for this purpose, the Christian missionaries came face to face with the question as to whether this new sort of heathen should receive the same consideration as that given the Indians.
Because of the unwritten law that a Christian could not be held a slave, the exploiting class opposed any such proselyting; for, should the slaves be liberated upon being converted, their plans for development would fail for lack of a labor supply subject to their orders as bondmen. The sovereigns of Europe, once inclined to adopt a sort of humanitarian policy toward the Negroes, at first objected to their importation into the new world; and when under the pressure of the interests of the various countries they yielded on this point, it was stipulated that such slaves should have first embraced Christianity. Later, when further concessions to the capitalists were necessary, it was provided in the royal decrees of Spain and of France that Africans enslaved in America should merely be early indoctrinated in the principles of the Christian religion.
These decrees, although having the force of law, soon fell into desuetude. There was not among these planters any sentiment in favor of such humanitarian treatment of the slaves. Unlike the missionaries, the planters were not interested in religion and they felt that too much enlightenment of the slaves might inspire them with the hope of attaining the status of freemen.
The laws, therefore, were nominally accepted as just and the functionaries in the colonies in reporting to their home countries on the state of the plantations made it appear that they were generally complied with. As there was no such thing as an inspection of these commercial outposts, moreover, no one in Europe could easily determine exactly what attitude these men had toward carrying out the will of the home countries with respect to the Christianization of the bondmen. From time to time, therefore, the humanitarian world heard few protests like that of Alfonso Sandoval in Cuba and the two Capucin monks who were imprisoned in Havana because of their inveighing against the failure on the part of the planters to provide for the religious instruction of the slaves. Being in the minority, these upright pioneers too often had their voices hushed in persecution, as it happened in the case of the two monks.
Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave
By Frederick Douglass
My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas day, 1833. The days between Christmas and New Year’s day are allowed as holidays; and, accordingly, we were not required to perform any labor, more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our own, by the grace of our masters; and we therefore used or abused it nearly as we pleased.
Those of us who had families at a distance, were generally allowed to spend the whole six days in their society. This time, however, was spent in various ways. The staid, sober, thinking and industrious ones of our number would employ themselves in making corn-brooms, mats, horse-collars, and baskets; and another class of us would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons.
But by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whisky; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters.
A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. He was regarded as one who rejected the favor of his master. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas; and he was regarded as lazy indeed, who had not provided himself with the necessary means, during the year, to get whisky enough to last him through Christmas.
From what I know of the effect of these holidays upon the slave, I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. Were the slaveholders at once to abandon this practice, I have not the slightest doubt it would lead to an immediate insurrection among the slaves.
These holidays serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity. But for these, the slave would be forced up to the wildest desperation; and woe betide the slaveholder, the day he ventures to remove or hinder the operation of those conductors! I warn him that, in such an event, a spirit will go forth in their midst, more to be dreaded than the most appalling earthquake.
The holidays are part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery. They are professedly a custom established by the benevolence of the slaveholders; but I undertake to say, it is the result of selfishness, and one of the grossest frauds committed upon the down-trodden slave. They do not give the slaves this time because they would not like to have their work during its continuance, but because they know it would be unsafe to deprive them of it.
This will be seen by the fact, that the slaveholders like to have their slaves spend those days just in such a manner as to make them as glad of their ending as of their beginning. Their object seems to be, to disgust their slaves with freedom, by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation. For instance, the slaveholders not only like to see the slave drink of his own accord, but will adopt various plans to make him drunk.
One plan is, to make bets on their slaves, as to who can drink the most whisky without getting drunk; and in this way they succeed in getting whole multitudes to drink to excess. Thus, when the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labelled with the name of liberty.
The most of us used to drink it down, and the result was just what might be supposed: many of us were led to think that there was little to choose between liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as well be slaves to man as to rum. So, when the holidays ended, we staggered up from the filth of our wallowing, took a long breath, and marched to the field,– feeling, upon the whole, rather glad to go, from what our master had deceived us into a belief was freedom, back to the arms of slavery.
Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave
Henry Bibb Escapes on Christmas Day
My first adventure for liberty.–Parting scene–Journey up the river.–Safe arrival in Cincinnati.–Journey to Canada.–Suffering from cold and hunger.–Denied food and shelter by some.–One noble exception.–Subsequent success.–Arrival at Perrysburgh.–I obtained employment through the winter. –My return to Kentucky to get my family.
In the fall or winter of 1837 I formed a resolution that I would escape, if possible, to Canada, for my Liberty. I commenced from that hour making preparations for the dangerous experiment of breaking the chains that bound me as a slave. My preparation for this voyage consisted in the accumulation of a little money, perhaps not exceeding two dollars and fifty cents, and a suit which I had never been seen or known to wear before; this last was to avoid detection.
On the twenty-fifth of December, 1837, my long anticipated time had arrived when I was to put into operation my former resolution, which was to bolt for Liberty or consent to die a Slave. I acted upon the former, although I confess it to be one of the most self-denying acts of my whole life, to take leave of an affectionate wife, who stood before me on my departure with dear little Frances in her arms, and with tears of sorrow in her eyes as she bid me a long farewell. It required all the moral courage that I was master of to suppress my feeling while taking leave of my little family.
Had Malinda known my intention at that time, it would not have been possible for me to have got away, and I might have this day been a slave. Notwithstanding every inducement was held out to me to run away if I would be free, and the voice of liberty was thundering in my very soul, “Be free, oh, man! be free,” I was struggling against a thousand obstacles which had clustered around my mind to bind my wounded spirit still in the dark prison of mental degradation.
My strong attachments to friends and relatives, with all the love of home and birth-place which is so natural among the human family, twined about my heart and were hard to break away from. And withal, the fear of being pursued with guns and blood-hounds, and of being killed, or captured and taken to the extreme South, to linger out my days in hopeless bondage on some cotton or sugar plantation, all combined to deter me. But I had counted the cost, and was fully prepared to make the sacrifice. The time for fulfilling my pledge was then at hand. I must forsake friends and neighbors, wife and child, or consent to live and die a slave.
By the permission of my keeper, I started out to work for myself on Christmas. I went to the Ohio River, which was but a short distance from Bedford. My excuse for wanting to go there was to get work. High wages were offered for hands to work in a slaughter-house. But in place of my going to work there, according to promise, when I arrived at the river I managed to find a conveyance to cross over into a free state.
I was landed in the village of Madison, Indiana, where steamboats were landing every day and night, passing up and down the river, which afforded me a good opportunity of getting a boat passage to Cincinnati. My anticipation being worked up to the highest pitch, no sooner was the curtain of night dropped over the village, than I secreted myself where no one could see me, and changed my suit ready for the passage. Soon I heard the welcome sound of a Steamboat coming up the river Ohio, which was soon to waft me beyond the limits of the human slave markets of Kentucky.
When the boat had landed at Madison, notwithstanding my strong desire to get off, my heart trembled within me in view of the great danger to which I was exposed in taking passage on board of a Southern Steamboat; hence before I took passage, I kneeled down before the Great I Am, and prayed for his aid and protection, which He bountifully bestowed even beyond my expectation; for I felt myself to be unworthy. I then stept boldly on the deck of this splendid swift-running Steamer, bound for the city of Cincinnati.
This being the first voyage, that I had ever taken on board of a Steamboat, I was filled with fear and excitement, knowing that I was surrounded by the vilest enemies of God and man, liable to be seized and bound hand and foot by any white man, and taken back into captivity. But I crowded myself back from the light among the deck passengers, where it would be difficult to distinguish me from a white man. Every time during the night that the mate came round with a light after the hands, I was afraid he would see I was a colored man, and take me up; hence I kept from the light as much as possible. Some, men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil; but this was not the case with myself; it was to avoid detection in doing right. This was one of the instances of my adventures that my affinity with the Anglo-Saxon race, and even slaveholders, worked well for my escape.
But no thanks to them for it. While in their midst they have not only robbed me of my labor and liberty, but they have almost entirely robbed me of my dark complexion. Being so near the color of a slaveholder, they could not, or did not find me out that night among the white passengers. There was one of the deck hands on board called out on his watch, whose hammock was swinging up near by me. I asked him if he would let me lie in it. He said if I would pay him twenty-five cents that I might lie in it until day.
I readily paid him the price and got into the hammock. No one could see my face to know whether I was white or colored, while I was in the hammock; but I never closed eyes for sleep that night. I had often heard explosions on board of Steamboats; and every time the boat landed, and blowed off steam, I was afraid the boilers had bursted and we should all be killed; but I lived through the night amid the many dangers to which I was exposed. I still maintained my position in the hammock, until the next morning about 8 o’clock, when I heard the passengers saying the boat was near Cincinnati; and by this time I supposed that the attention of the people would be in abundance; they would charge a dollar for one night’s lodging.
After I had found out this, I slipped out of the bar room into the kitchen where the landlady was getting supper; as she had quite a number of travelers to cook for that night, I told her if she would accept my services, I would assist her in getting supper; that I was a cook. She very readily accepted the offer, and I went to work.
She was very much pleased with my work, and the next morning I helped her to get breakfast. She then wanted to hire me for all winter, but I refused for fear I might be pursued. My excuse to her was that I had a brother living in Detroit, whom I was going to see on some important business, and after I got that business attended to I would come back and work for them all winter.
When I started the second morning they paid me fifty cents beside my board, with the understanding that I was to return; but I have not gone back yet.
I arrived the next morning in the village of Perrysburgh, where I found quite a settlement of colored people, many of whom were fugitive slaves. I made my case known to them and they sympathized with me. I was a stranger, and they took me in and persuaded me to spend the winter in Perrysburgh, where I could get employment and go to Canada the next spring, in a steamboat which run from Perrysburgh, if I thought it proper so to do.
I got a job of chopping wood during that winter which enabled me to purchase myself a suit, and after paying my board the next spring, I had saved fifteen dollars in cash. My intention was to go back to Kentucky after my wife.
When I got ready to start, which was about, the first of May, my friends all persuaded me not to go, but to get some other person to go, for fear I might be caught and sold off from my family into slavery forever. But I could not refrain from going back myself, believing that I could accomplish it better than a stranger.
The money that I had would not pass in the South, and for the purpose of getting it off to a good advantage, I took a steamboat passage to Detroit, Michigan, and there I spent all my money for dry goods, to peddle out on my way back through the State of Ohio. I also purchased myself a pair of false whiskers to put on when I got back to Kentucky, to prevent any one from knowing me after night, should they see me. I then started back after my little family.
Family and Friends Escape on Christmas to Prevent Separation
The plantation adjoining Mr. Burkit’s was owned by a very rich planter, Robert Dennis, Esq. ….at the death of Robert Dennis…. Sorrow now filled their hearts, and spread a gloom over the whole plantation; for now, like other slaves, they must be separated and sold from their friends and families, some, perhaps, to cruel masters. They knew the estate was somewhat in debt, and expected to have to be sold to cancel it, at least part of them.
This would have been done but for Miss Betsey, who could not endure the idea of seeing her grandfather’s devoted slaves sold to pay debts which they had no hand in contracting. She watched for an opportunity, when, unseen by the white people, she could go to the slaves’ quarters; and having found one, she immediately hastened there, and told them that she had some bad news for them, but dared not communicate it until they pledged themselves not to betray her, which they readily did, as they did not wish to bring harm upon her, which they knew they should do by telling of her.
She then told them that there was some dispute about the settlement of the estate, which, it was thought, could not be settled without selling them all; which, she said, she could not bare to see done.
They all exclaimed at once, “What shall we do?” She answered frankly, “You had better make your escape.” They said they knew not where to go, nor how to do. She told them that their Christmas holidays were near at hand, when they would have permission to go to visit their friends and relatives. She recommended them then to obtain of their master John, passes for this purpose, each of which was to be for a different direction from the others. Then leave for the free States.
Most of them did as she directed, obtained their passes, left for the free States, and have not since been seen at their old home.
Miss Betsey in this performed a good deed, yet she was soon after betrayed, and that, too, by a slave. An old woman, whose sons escaped with the rest, made a terrible fuss, crying and lamenting to a great rate, and saying that Miss Betsey had sent all her children off to the “Jarsers”; (meaning New Jersey, which was the only free State of which she seemed to have any idea,) and she should never see them again. She continued in this way until it came to the ears of the white people, who inquired of Miss Betsey about it. She denied all knowledge of the matter, and said, “Cousin John, do you think I would advise the slaves to run away? I have said nothing to them about being sold. Old Priss, you know, is always drunk, and knows not what she says.”
This partially quieted the heirs, but did not remove all suspicion, and they still thought that Miss Betsey was in some way concerned in the affair. So when the estate was divided, they did not give her as much as would wrap around her finger, and she lived a poor girl for several years.
Subsequently she removed to Baltimore, where she married a poor man. But God remembered her. Each of the blacks whom she helped to escape from bondage, upon hearing of her poverty, and her place of residence, sent her fifty dollars, eight hundred dollars in all, as a token of their thankfulness and gratitude.
Those who did not leave, according to her direction, were all sold.
Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
By Booker T. Washington
Anxious Days and Sleepless Nights
The coming of Christmas, that first year of our residence in Alabama, gave us an opportunity to get a farther insight into the real life of the people. The first thing that reminded us that Christmas had arrived was the “foreday” visits of scores of children rapping at our doors, asking for “Chris’mus gifts! Chris’mus gifts!” Between the hours of two o’clock and five o’clock in the morning I presume that we must have had a half-hundred such calls. This custom prevails throughout this portion of the South to-day.
During the days of slavery it was a custom quite generally observed throughout all the Southern states to give the coloured people a week of holiday at Christmas, or to allow the holiday to continue as long as the “yule log” lasted. The male members of the race, and often the female members, were expected to get drunk. We found that for a whole week the coloured people in and around Tuskegee dropped work the day before Christmas, and that it was difficult to get any one to perform any service from the time they stopped work until after the New Year. Persons who at other times did not use strong drink thought it quite the proper thing to indulge in it rather freely during the Christmas week. There was a widespread hilarity, and a free use of guns, pistols, and gunpowder generally. The sacredness of the season seemed to have been almost wholly lost sight of.
During this first Christmas vacation I went some distance from the town to visit the people on one of the large plantations. In their poverty and ignorance it was pathetic to see their attempts to get joy out of the season that in most parts of the country is so sacred and so dear to the heart.
….While I was making this Christmas visit I met an old coloured man who was one of the numerous local preachers, who tried to convince me, from the experience Adam had in the Garden of Eden, that God had cursed all labour, and that, therefore, it was a sin for any man to work. For that reason this man sought to do as little work as possible. He seemed at that time to be supremely happy, because he was living, as he expressed it, through one week that was free from sin.
The Life of Samuel Hall
A Slave For Forty-Seven Years
By Samuel Hall
The Negro Kept In Darkness
This brings me up to about the time when I began to learn to read. I had an old elementary speller and my master and his children taught me how to spell but I did not take on enough learning and my master would say to me: “old fellow you will rue it,” which I have. Later my eyes were opened and I could see the great mistake I had made, for from the day they began to shut off the learning from the Negro they began to bind them fighter. If the Negro ever learned to write and it was made known the law was that he or she must suffer the loss of a finger to keep him from writing.
It leads me here to impress on the people that everything possible has been done to keep the Negro in darkness and yet, with all the oppression that was put upon him, to keep the Negro in darkness, when Christmas came and New Years, although some would be sold and going with their blankets and bundles on their backs and heads, they were far more happy than their oppressors and yet the people of the north would come among my people and speak about them being so happy, but for all that they didn’t realize what the burdens of the race were.
Yes, they were happy during the holidays up to New Years but at that time many of them would be changing homes and their burdens would be very heavy. And, oh, such heavy tasks as they would be put to! So heavy that some of them could not endure them, no more than a horse with more than he can pull and becomes balky.
The men who had wives would go to see them twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday, and they might stay to see them over Sabbath, some of them. Wherever that man had a wife, the children of said wife belonged to the wife’s master and the father of the children had no control over his children and the children were raised to tell their master whatever was talked about during this visit.
And in those days the southern country was patrolled by what they called patrollers. Those men would come into our place of enjoyment and drive and whip the husbands away from their wives and use those same women for their own pleasure. Then how could our women live virtuous lives with such treatment as they had to endure. I have known these slave holders to take and sell husband and wife away from each other just for spite when they would attempt to stand up for their virtue.
Life On The Old Plantation In Ante-Bellum Days or A Story Based on Facts
By Rev. I. E. Lowery
Christmas On The Old Plantation
Not many of the enslaved Africans knew the historical significance of Christmas. They could not read nor write, hence their knowledge of the important events of history, even those of sacred history, was exceedingly limited. Most they knew about Christmas was that it meant a good time for everybody.
It was the custom on the plantations in that region of the country to kill the fattening hogs just before Christmas so that all, white folks and enslaved Africans, might have plenty of fresh meat to eat during this joyous season. This gave rise to the expression, which originated among the slaves, “a hog-killing time.” Backbones, spare-ribs and rice were a favorite dish about Christmas time.
There is another thing to be considered about the way and manner in which Christmas was observed on the old plantation in ante-bellum days, and that is this: Three days were usually given to the slaves for Christmas. The day before, generally called “Christmas Eve,” and the day after; hence the slaves thought all three days were Christmas. They frequently referred to Christmas Eve as “the first day of Christmas,” to Christmas itself as “the second day of Christmas,” and the day after as “the third or last day of Christmas.” And this thought and this manner of expression have been brought over into freedom. Among the country colored people we frequently hear similar expressions used even at this day and time in speaking of Christmas.
On some plantations it was the custom to have all the slaves repair in a body to the white folks’ house on Christmas morning and receive a dram as “a Christmas present.” Old and young, male and female, came forward for the “Christmas dram.” It was certainly a lively time with the slaves on the old plantation. Those who came early to the yard would have to wait until all came. And while they waited they would whistle, jig or dance, or
“They sat and sung Their slender ditties when the trees were bare.”
But this was not the case on Mr. Frierson’s plantation. He was a Christian man, and, therefore, believed in and practiced the principles of temperance. He, nor a single member of his family, were ever known to indulge in strong drink. Such a thing as whiskey was unknown on that plantation. But it was freely used on some of the adjoining plantations. On some of these there were drunkards to be found both among the white folks and among the slaves. But not so on Mr. Frierson’s place. It was a plantation where sobriety was strictly taught and practiced by the white folks, and, consequently, the slaves were greatly benefited.
But Christmas was observed on Mr. Frierson’s place in a way that was highly enjoyable to all. It was the custom on all the plantations around to give at the beginning of the winter each male among the slaves a new outfit, consisting of shoes, pants, coat and a cap. The women and girls got shoes and dresses. Mr. Frierson made it a point to give out these on Christmas morning.
On or about a month before Christmas the right foot of each slave, male and female, was measured and Mr. Frierson would get in his buggy and drive to Sumter, the County seat, and Sam would bring the two-horse wagon. The purpose was to buy shoes for the slaves. The town was only about twenty miles away, and by starting before day they could, and did, make the trip in a day, and do all their trading, too. The topic of conservation during that day among the slaves while they worked was the trip of the old boss and Sam to Sumter. As the sun went down and the time drew near for them to return the slaves would listen for the rumbling of the wagon wheels and the sound of horses’ hoofs. That night their slumbers were filled with dreams and visions of new suits, new shoes, new caps and new dresses. But these things were not given out until Christmas morning. And while this glad day was perhaps only a month off, yet the month seemed longer, the days seemed longer and the nights seemed longer than at any other season of the year. This was naturally and literally true of the nights, but it was not true of the days nor the month, but so it seemed to the slaves. The anxiety, the longing and the solicitude for the dawn of Christmas morning is indescribable. The thought of old Santa Claus among enlightened people never could produce such a feeling as that which animated the breasts of these poor, ignorant slaves.
But Christmas came. The sun arose without a cloud to obscure his brightness. Breakfast is over and all hands repair to the “house.” Presently the yard is full of darkies with smiling faces and joyous hearts. And there are as many piles on that long front piazza of the white folks house as there are hands on that place. In each pile there are shoes, a suit, or dress, and a cap. On each pile there is a tag with the name of the person written on it for whom it is designed. Now, imagine, if you can, the exquisite joy that thrilled each heart as his or her name was called.
And as each person filed out of that gate on their return to the negro quarters they seemed to be as happy as angels. And it is needless to say that the white folks enjoyed the distribution of the winter’s outfit on Christmas morning as much as the slaves, for such undoubtedly was the case. Everybody felt that this was a better way than having a dram on Christmas morning. Such was Christmas on the old plantation in ante-bellum days.
Christmas at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
For African-Americans at Monticello, the holiday season represented a time between – a few days when the winter work halted and mirth became the order of the day. The Christmas season came to represent hours when families reunited through visits and when normal routines were set aside. In 1808, Davy Hern traveled all the way to Washington where his wife Fanny worked at the President’s House to be with her for the holidays. Two days before the Christmas of 1813, Bedford Davy, Bartlet, Nace, and Eve set out for Poplar Forest to visit relatives and friends.
The Religious Instruction of the Negroes In the United States
By Charles Colcock Jones
Because of their moral degradation
This has been in a measure demonstrated. The statements already made need not be repeated. They are a proper field for missionary effort; and have been to a great extent, very strangely overlooked. Such a mass of ignorance and vice can in no way be desirable in any community, whether we view them in a civil or religious light. Their corrupting influence in cities, where they chiefly congregate, has never been inquired into, nor duly appreciated.
Because of their entire dependence upon the whites for their every improvement
They have almost no spirit of moral improvement among themselves; it is not to be expected from them considering their character and circumstances. They have no men of influence, no leaders of their own color, who are able to sway the people; to project and execute plans for their general religious improvement. Nor have they societies of their own for the purpose. The truth is, they do not look to themselves; they do not depend upon themselves. They look up to and depend upon the whites.
The feeling of subjection and dependence which they had in a state of slavery, is hereditary and is kept alive by the frequent accession of Negroes, escaped from servitude or set free. Then the vast superiority of the whites in point of numbers, intelligence, morality, and station, cherish it. Hence the efforts of the whites for their benefit are received with special favor and relied upon. At least it was so in times past. They have of late years been taught to distinguish between friendly and hostile whites; and they have been inflated with high notions of their perfect equality with the whites in wisdom, standing, rights, and importance.
The effect has been, and it should not be deemed extraordinary, that they have become rather heady and high-minded; some of their friends have not been able to do them the good that they wished; and others disgusted, have ceased to feel and to act for them. Whether they will be ultimately benefited by this increase of knowledge and sense of importance, remains to be seen.
The general preaching to the whites will not answer the purpose. The Negroes require preaching specially adapted to them. It is true they are received into, and are under the watch and care of, white churches; but that fact does not prove that they are properly enlightened, and are continued under courses of instruction, so that they go on unto perfection. In hundreds of instances the very reverse is the fact; their ignorance, superstition, and deception are complained of. Their piety is taken upon trust; and the numerous and perplexing cases of discipline for gross immoralities sufficiently prove that the complaints uttered against them are well founded. A man must not stand on the outside of a church and judge of the church character and standing of these people, he must go within.
The Sabbath schools for their exclusive benefit, taking the entire population, need scarcely be named. Their plantation meetings serve to keep alive religion among them, but contribute little to the increase of their intelligence; while there are hundreds of plantations where there are no such meetings at all, there being few or no church members to conduct them.
We have colored ministers and exhorters, but their numbers are wholly inadequate to the supply of the Negroes; and while their ministrations are infrequent and conducted in great weakness, there are some of them whose moral character is justly suspected and who may be considered blind leaders of the blind.
The Negroes are incapable of receiving religious instruction, except to a very limited extent.
From the manner in which their religious instruction is neglected, it would appear that their incapacity is taken for granted. Appealing to our own experience in their instruction, we should judge the objection to be a mistake. They are capable, even under oral instruction, and that not enjoyed in any high degree of perfection, of making very considerable advances in religious knowledge.
But if they are capable of receiving instruction sufficient to make plain to them the way of salvation, then their capacities should be filled to overflowing, to that extent. In all reason and conscience deny it not to them, for it is their everlasting life. The mind of man is created so as to admit of eternal expansion and progression in knowledge and holiness.
The good work which is done for them in time will be carried forward unto perfection in eternity. But to pursue the excuse a step further. It is customary with many to entertain low opinions of the intellectual capacity of the Negroes. Whether this be right or wrong we leave every man to judge for himself after a due investigation of the subject; and to judge, likewise, whether their mental weakness is to be attributed to the circumstances of their condition, or to any difference as made by the Author of their existence between them and other men. If God has made such a difference, it cannot be proved to be any impeachment.
The religious instruction of the Negroes will contribute to safety
“The thing that hath been it is that which may be;” and although, as a slave holding country, we are so situated, that, so far as man can see, the hope of success on the part of our laboring class, in any attempt at revolution is forlorn, yet no enemy (if there be an enemy) should be despised, however weak, and no danger unprovided for, however apparently remote.
Success may not indeed crown any attempt, but much suffering may be the consequence both on the one part and on the other. It is then but a prudent foresight, a dictate of benevolence and of wisdom, to originate and set in operation means that may act as a check upon, if not a perfect preventive of evil.
I am a firm believer in the efficacy of sound religious instruction, as a means to the end desired. And reasons may be given for that belief. They are to be discovered in the very nature and tendency of the Gospel. Its nature is peace, in the broadest and fullest extent of the word.
Besides the general and special influences of the Gospel now adverted to, safety will be connected with the very dispensation of it, in two particulars, which I would not omit to mention. The first is:–The very effort of masters to instruct their people, creates a strong bond of union and draws out their kindly feelings to their masters: kindness produces kindness: love begets its own likeness.
The presence also of white instructors, settled ministers or missionaries, in their private as well as public religious assemblies and free intercourse with the people and with their influential men and leaders, exert a restraining influence upon any spirit of insubordination that may exist, and at the same time give opportunities for its detection. The Negroes are as capable of strong personal attachments to their religious instructors as are any other people; and of their own will are inclined to make confidential communications.
The second particular is, that the Gospel being dispensed in its purity, the Negroes will be disabused of their ignorance and superstition, and thus be placed beyond the reach of designing men. The direct way of exposing them to acts of insubordination is to leave them in ignorance and superstition, to the care of their own religion.
Then may the blind lead the blind, and both shall fall into the ditch: then may they be made the easy and willing instruments of avarice, of lust, of power or of revenge. Ignorance–religious ignorance–so far from being any safety, is the very marrow of our sin against this people, and the very rock of our danger. Religion and religious teachers they must and will have, and if they are not furnished with the true they will embrace the false. And what, I would add, is the language of facts on the point under our notice.
Junkanoo (Jonkonnu) in North Carolina
In antebellum North Carolina, Christmas season was the time for an African American celebration found almost nowhere else in North America, but widespread through the islands of the Caribbean. Variously called Jonkonnu, Johnkannaus, John Coonah, or John Canoe, the custom was described in the enslaved community of Jamaica in the late eighteenth century (1700s) where it was thought to have been of African origin.
Although the details often changed from place to place, Jonkonnu usually involved several African American men who dressed in costumes made of rags and animal skins with grotesque masks and horns. Sometimes one of their number wore his best clothes instead. They danced wildly, often playing musical instruments and singing. In towns, the Jonkonnu men went from house to house while on plantations they performed at the homes of masters, overseers, and other white people.
They expected to be rewarded with gifts of money or liquor. Jonkonnu dancers were often accompanied by crowds of men and women who cheered them on while taking no direct part in the performance.
Jonkonnu obviously represented a time of release and enjoyment for enslaved Africans from the drudgery of their day–to–day work. Some historians believe that it may also have been a time when the constraints of the slave system were loosened in other ways.
On plantations in North Carolina enslaved Africans of all sorts had access to their masters in ways that they seldom had during the year. The Jonkonnu performers and their accompanying crowd usually came right up to their master’s house, a privilege usually denied to all but house servants.
After the performance, the master would often speak to the performers and shake hands with them, another departure from usual practice. Jonkonnu continued in North Carolina after emancipation, at least in the city of Wilmington, where it was observed as late as 1880. A version of it also seems to have been adopted by whites in the late nineteenth century. In the end, however, it may have been too closely tied to the slave system in which it arose to have survived long after freedom.
Today, Junkanoo occurs in The Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26), New Year’s Day (January 1)
Sources: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -University Libraries
Powell, William S., Ed. The Encyclopedia of North Carolina
The Experience of A Slave in South Carolina
By John Andrew Jackson
A slave on a neighbouring plantation had a pony; it being discovered by his mistress, she ordered the overseer, the Rev. P. Huggin, to kill it. Meanwhile, I went in the night and purchased it of the slave with some fowls. As my master had just then gone out of his mind I could keep it with greater impunity, so that at length I went to a camp meeting on it.
My mistress’ grandson saw me on it, and told Ransom Player, the overseer, and my mistress ordered him to give me one hundred lashes, and to kill the pony. When he attempted to tie me I resisted and fled, and swam across a mill pond, which was full of alligators, and so escaped the whipping. I went to work next day, and kept a look out for them. My mistress hearing of it, said to the overseer, Mr. Player, “You can’t whip that nigger yourself, wait till Rev. T. English, and Mr. M’Farden, and Mr. Cooper, are here, and then you can catch him in the barn.” The last two were her sons-in-law. I kept the pony hid in the woods till Christmas.
We all had three days’ holiday at Christmas, and I, therefore, fixed upon that time as most appropriate for m escape. I may as well relate here, how I became acquainted with the fact of there being a Free State. The “Yankees,” or Northerners, when they visited our plantations, used to tell the negroes that there was a country called England, where there were no slaves, and that the city of Boston was free; and we used to wish we knew which way to travel to find those places.
When we were picking cotton, we used to see the wild geese flying over our heads to some distant land, and we often used to say to each other, “O that we had wings like those geese, then we could fly over the heads of our masters to the ‘Land of the free.'” I had often been to Charleston—which was 150 miles distant from our plantation—to drive my master’s cattle to market, and it struck me that if I could hide in one of the vessels I saw lading at the wharfs, I should be able to get to the “Free country,” wherever that was. I fixed, as I said before, on our three days’ holiday at Christmas as my best time for escape. The first day I devoted to bidding a sad, though silent farewell to my people; for I did not even dare to tell my father or mother that I was going, lest for joy they should tell some one else.
Early next morning, I left them playing their “fandango” play. I wept as I looked at them enjoying their innocent play, and thought it was the last time I should ever see them, for I was determined never to return alive. However, I hastened to the woods and started on my pony. I met many white persons, and was hailed, “You nigger, how far are you going?” To which I would answer, “To the next plantation, mas’re;” but I took good care not to stop at the next plantation.
The first night I stopped at G. Nelson’s plantation. I stopped with the negroes, who thought I had got leave during Christmas. Next morning, before day, I started on for the Santé River. The negro who kept that ferry, was allowed to keep for himself all the money he took on Christmas day, and as this was Christmas day, he was only too glad to get my money and ask no questions; so I paid twenty cents, and he put me and my pony across the main gulf of the river, but he would not put me across to the “Bob Landing;” so that I had to wade on my pony through a place called “Sandy Pond” and “Boat Creek.” The current was so strong there, that I and my pony were nearly washed down the stream; but after hard struggling, we succeeded in getting across.
I went eight miles further, to Mr. Shipman’s hotel, where one Jessie Brown, who hired me of my master, had often stopped. I stayed there until midnight, when I got my pony and prepared to start.
This roused Mr. Shipman’s suspicions, so he asked me where I belonged to. I was scared, but at length, I said, “Have you not seen me here with Jesse Brown, driving cattle?” He said, “Yes, I know Jesse Brown well. Where are you going?” I answered, “I am going on my Christmas holiday.” This satisfied him. I was going to take a longer holiday than he thought for. I reached Charleston by the next evening. There I met a negro, who allowed me to put my pony in his master’s yard, his master being out of town at the time.
It is the custom there, for the masters to send their slaves out in the morning to earn as much money as they can, how they like. So I joined a gang of negroes working on the wharfs, and received a dollar-and-a-quarter per day, without arousing any suspicion.
Those negroes have to maintain themselves, and clothe themselves, and pay their masters two-and-a-half dollars per week out of this, which, if they fail to do, they receive a severe castigation with a cat-o’-nine-tails. One morning, as I was going to join a gang of negroes working on board a vessel, one of them asked me if I had my badge?
Every negro is expected to have a badge with his master’s name and address inscribed on it. Every negro unable to produce such badge when asked for, is liable to be put in jail. When I heard that, I was so frightened that I hid myself with my pony, which I sold that night for seven-and-a-half dollar, to a negro. I then bought a cloak from a Jewish lady, who cheated me and gave me a lady cloak instead of a man’s, which, however, answered my purpose equally well. I then got seven biscuit-loaves of bread, and a bottle of water which I put in my pocket, and I also bought a large gimlet and two knives. I then found I had over ten dollars left of what I had earned. I then went to the wharf early in the morning with my cloak on, and underneath all my rattletraps. A few days previously, I had enquired of a mulatto negro, for a vessel bound for Boston.
I then went on board and asked the cook, a free negro, if his vessel was bound for Boston? To which he replied, “Yes.” “Can’t you stow me away?” said I. “Yes,” said he, “but don’t you betray me! Did not some white man send you here to ask me this?” “No.” “Well,” answered he, “don’t you betray me! for we black men have been in jail ever since the vessel has been here; the captain stood bond for us yesterday and took us out.” “What did they put you in jail for?” said I. “They put every free negro in jail that comes here, to keep them from going among the slaves. Well, I will look out a place to stow you away, if you are sure no white man has sent you here.” So I went the next morning to ask him to redeem his promise.
I went on board, and saw him lighting a fire in his galley, so I said to him, “Now I am ready for you to stow me away.” “Walk ashore, I will have nothing to do with you; I am sure some white person sent you here.” I said “No, no one knows it but me and you.” “I don’t believe it,” said he, “so you walk ashore;” which I did. But as I looked back, I saw him go into the galley again and shut the door, so I went on board the vessel again, and crept stealthily on tiptoe to the hatch. I stood there fearing and hoping—fearing lest the cook should come out of the galley, and hoping, that the mate or captain would come from the cabin, and order me to take off the hatch. Presently the mate came out of the cabin, and I asked him if I should take off the hatch. He thinking that I was one of the gang coming to work there, told me I might.
So I immediately took off the hatch, and descended. The gang soon came down; they asked me, “Are you going to work here this morning?” I said, “No.” “Arn’t you a stevedore ?” I said, “No.” “I know better, I know by that cloak you wear. Who do you belong to?” I answered, “I belong to South Carolina.” It was none of their business whom I belonged to; I was trying to belong to myself. Just then they were all ordered on deck, and as soon as I was left, I slipped myself between two bales of cotton, with the deck above me, in a space not large enough for a bale of cotton to go; and just then a bale was placed at the mouth of my crevice, and shut me in a space about 4-ft. by 3-ft., or thereabouts. I then heard them gradually filling up the hold; and at last the hatch was placed on, and I was left in total darkness. I should have been stifled for want of air, but by the providence of God, a board in the partition between the sailors’ sleeping place and the hold where I was, was broken out, so that the air came through there.
Next morning, I heard the sailors singing their farewell songs, and soon after, the vessel began to rock from side to side. I then began to feel that I was indeed, now upon my journey from slavery to freedom, and that I soon should be able to call myself FREE, and I felt so happy, and rejoiced so in my heart; but all these feelings were rudely stopped by a feeling of sickness, and the more the vessel went, the sicker I got, till I felt as miserable as I was happy before. I then began to bore with my gimlet, and after a long time, I was able to bore two holes in the deck with great labour, through which I could see the sailors passing and repassing overhead.
By this time I found that my water was exhausted, and I began to feel all the horrors of thirst. I felt that I could with pleasure have drank the filthiest water in my native swamp. I cast my eyes up through the gimlet holes and saw the stars, and I thought that God would provide for me, and the stars seemed to be put there by Him to tell me so; and then I felt that He would care for me as He did for Jonah in the whale’s belly, and I was refreshed. Next morning, I saw through the holes, a man standing over them with his arms folded, apparently in deep thought, so I called out, “Pour me some water down, I am most dead for water.”
He, however, looked up instead, and persisted in examining the rigging, apparently thinking the voice came from there, so I cut a splinter and pushed it through the hole to attract his attention; as soon as he caught sight of it, he ran away and called to the captain, “Run here, captain, there is a ghost aboard!” The captain came and knelt down and examined the holes, and asked me how I came there? I said, “I got stowed away.” He asked me if some white man did not stow him away to get him in trouble? I assured him he was mistaken, as I stowed myself away.
The cook said, “Cap’n, there was one wanted me to stow him away at Charleston, but I would not.” “Cook, you should have told me that,” said the captain. “Boys, get the chisel and cut him out.” As soon as I was out, I saw the cook preparing to wash his hands, and I seized upon the water and drained it to the last drop. It was nearly half-a-gallon.
The vessel continued her journey to Boston. The captain persisted that some white man had placed me there to get him into trouble; and said he would put me into the first vessel he met, and send me back; however, he met no vessel, and we gradually approached Boston. At last the pilot came on board and I was sent into the forecastle to prevent his seeing me, and we soon arrived at Boston.
At nine o’clock on the evening of the l0th of February, 1847, I landed at Boston, and then indeed I thanked God that I had escaped from hell to heaven, for I felt as I had never felt before—that is, master of myself, and in my joy I was as a bouncing sparrow. Three sailors named Jim Jones, Frank, and Dennis, took me to the sailor’s boarding house, kept by one Henry Forman, Richmond-street, and I became his servant, and worked for him, and received my board as payment.
About June I left him, and went to Salem, and worked for James Brayton, Samuel Pittman, and many others, in the tan yards. I received a dollar-and-a-half per day, out of which I saved one hundred dollars in the course of a year, which I put in the savings bank. I used often to work at sawing wood during the night, and it did not seem such a hardship as when I did the same in South Carolina. Why? Because I felt that I was free, and that I worked because I wished; whilst in South Carolina I worked because my master compelled me.
This fact is, in my mind, more satisfactory than twenty theories, as to the superiority of free labour over slave labour. When I was a slave we were employed the whole of the day in breaking and hauling home the corn, and then when night came on we were not allowed to snatch an instant’s sleep until we had shucked the whole of the corn brought in during the day; so that it was generally between one and two o’clock in the morning before we were allowed to rest our wearied bodies.
As soon as dawn appeared we were roused by the overseer’s whip, for we were so exhausted that the horn failed to rouse us as usual; and then we would discovered that the rats had actually eaten a part of our feet. As the slaves are not allowed boots or shoes (except for a short time in the winter), the combined action of the frost at night, and the heat during the day, harden the feet; so that the outside skin at last cracks, and is very painful to the negroes. This outside skin is called “dead skin,” and the slaves cannot feel the rats eating it until their teeth touch the more tender part of the feet. During the day, that part of the foot which has been skinned by the rats is very tender and causes great pain. The presence of rats in our houses brought venomous snakes, who frequented them for the purpose of swallowing the rats, and who sometimes bit the negroes, and then my father’s power of curing snakebites was called into play.
On one occasion there was a sale of slaves near, and a man came to the auction to purchase a slave girl. He fixed on one who pleased him, and took her into a neighbouring barn and stripped her start naked, for the purpose of examining her, as he would a horse, previous to buying her. The father and mother of the girl were looking through the window and keyhole and various crevices, with many other slaves, who saw all that passed. He ultimately purchased her for his own vile purposes, and when he had several children by her, sold both her and her children. Marriage in the slave States among the slaves is absolutely “Nil.” There was on one plantation, a slave about thirty years of age and six feet high, named Adam. He had a wife on neighbouring plantation belonging to Mr. Hancock.
My master bought a young slave girl about fourteen years old, named Jenny Wilson, and he then ordered Adam to leave his present wife and take Jenny. Adam, after having some hundreds of lashes for obstinately persisting in loving his wife, at last consented, but not so Jenny, who was in love with me and I with her. But she was at last compelled to obey her master by the bloody cowhide. My master served nearly all his male slaves in the similar manner.
One of his slaves, however, named Abraham, was unusually obstinate, and would not give up his wife. At last my master, in despair, sent him to his son-in-law’s plantation, Gamble M’Farden, who was an inveterate drunkard, and who murdered my sister Bella, as related elsewhere. He ordered Abraham not to go up to see his wife any more; but Abraham loved his wife too much to be parted from her in that manner, so he went fifteen long miles once every fortnight, on the Saturday night, for the pleasure of seeing his wife for a short time. He was found out, and whipped to death by that drunkard Mr. M’Farden. My brother Ephraim did not escape; he was compelled to leave his wife and marry the house girl.
But I am wandering. While I was at Salem, I heard from Mr. Forman, that Anderson, my old slave-driver, had called for me. I will give some incidents that will illustrate his character. He was brought up among the negroes, and was so familiar with negro habits, that he possessed unusual facilities for getting them into trouble. He was hired for the purpose of subduing me and another slave named Isaac, but fortunately my escape saved me from experiencing his tender mercies.
In the adjacent swamp there was an abundance of wild turkeys, the sight of which greatly tantalized the negroes, as they had no gun to shoot them with. On one occasion my father, old Doctor Clavern; had made a pen to catch the wild turkeys with. This soon came to the ears of Anderson, and he immediately sought out my father, and accosted him with “Old Doc. Clave., where is your turkey pen ?” “In the swamp, massa.” “Tell me where it is? turkeys are too good for niggers.” “I can’t exactly tell where it is, massa.” “Then I will find out and destroy it; for turkeys are too good for niggers.” He fully carried out his threat; for soon afterwards he discovered the pen, and destroyed it. When he next met with my father, he said, “Old Doc. Clave., does you catch turkeys now?” “No, massa Anderson; somebody spoil my pen.” “‘Twas I spoiled it, you rascal, so that you should not catch turkeys any more.” This may serve to show his badness of disposition.
On another occasion, I had made a fish trap in the stream which ran through the swamp. Anderson heard of it, and organized a party to proceed to the swamp, and search for it. After a long search they succeeded in discovering it, and took all the fish out, and destroyed it, for the simple reason that “fish was too good for niggers.” Owing to his having been brought up among negroes, he was perfectly familiar with their peculiarities of dialect. If he suspected that any negroes had fresh meat, obtained as narrated above, he would sneak to the nigger houses in the dead of night, and say, in their peculiar manner, “Brudder, ope’ t’ door; I want to ‘peak to you for a minnit.”
This would deceive the negroes, and they would open the door, expecting to see another negro, when, to their amazement and confusion, it would be “Neddy Anderson,” as he was called. “O you rascals!” he would say, “you got fresh meat here; you steal it;” and next day they would have so many lashes for daring to eat meat, or whatever it might be. He was accustomed to be hired to whip negroes, and he used to revel in this (to him) delightful occupation. He would sneak about during the night, for the purpose of catching negroes wandering from their plantations, so that he might have the pleasure of whipping them. I heard since my escape, of my mother’s death, and that she died under him.
I therefore cannot but conclude that my mistress who hated her, incited him to whip her in particular, and that, horrible to think of, she must have died under his lash. I believe, also, that my youngest brother, Casey, must have fallen a victim to his cruelty; for I have heard of his death also, and that Anderson had given him some severe whippings. Had I sufficient space I could fill a volume with instances of his wickedness and cruelty. But, to proceed—he was so anxious to catch me that he followed me to Boston—at least, I believe, from the description given by Mr. Forman, that it was he; but fortunately I had gone to Salem, which is 15 miles from Boston. Mr. Forman did not tell Anderson where I was, but merely told him that there was no such person as Jackson there. Anderson said, “I know better, here is the letter he wrote home, wishing to know what he can buy his father and mother for, and I now want to see him.” This incensed the sailors, who said, “Here are the slave-hunters, hunting for niggers,” and drove them from the house. Mr. Forman wrote to me at Salem, to warn me not to come to Boston, as they were hunting for me there.
I remained at Salem, and worked in the tan yard there, turning the splitting machine, until I had saved one hundred dollars. Since my escape I have saved about one thousand dollars of my own earnings, for the purpose of purchasing my relatives. I was in correspondence with some gentlemen in America, through my friend the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, for that purpose, when the present war interrupted and broke up my hopes and plans. If this war obviates the necessity of buying my people, by freeing the negroes, (as I hope and pray to God it will, and as I believe it will) I shall then, if God pleases, devote my money in building a Chapel in Canada, for escaped slaves; or wherever my old fellow-labourers are located.
Though “absent in the body,” my whole heart is with my fellow-sufferers in that horrible bondage; and I will exert myself until the last of my relatives is released. On one occasion I saw my brother Ephraim tied up and blindfolded with his own shirt, and beaten with fifty lashes before his own wife and children, by a wretch named Sam Cooper, because he was falsely accused of having stolen a yard of bagging. Fathers! think of being tied up and stripped before your wife and children, and beaten severely for nothing at all; and then think that it is a daily, nay, hourly, occurrence in the Slave States of America, and you will begin to have some idea of what American slavery is. But to proceed with my life.
Just as I was beginning to be settled at Salem, that most atrocious of all laws, the “Fugitive Slave Law,” was passed, and I was compelled to flee in disguise from a comfortable home, a comfortable situation, and good wages, to take refuge in Canada. I may mention, that during my flight from Salem to Canada, I met with a very sincere friend and helper, who gave me a refuge during the night, and set me on my way. Her name was Mrs. Beecher Stowe. She took me in and fed me, and gave me some clothes and five dollars. She also inspected my back, which is covered with scars which I shall carry with me to the grave.
She listened with great interest to my story, and sympathized with me when I told her how long I had been parted from my wife Louisa and my daughter Jenny, and perhaps, for ever. I was obliged to proceed, however, and finally arrived in safety at St. John’s, where I met my present wife, to whom I was married lawfully, and who was also an escaped slave from North Carolina. I stayed there some time and followed the trade of whitewasher, and at last I embarked for England. When I arrived at Liverpool, I proceed to Scotland, where I met with true friends of abolition. I lectured in most of the Free Churches there, including Dr. Candlish’s, Dr. Guthrie’s, and Mr. Alexander Wallis’s. I lectured twice in Dr. Candlish’s Church.
I then proceeded to Aberdeen, where I lectured to crowded audiences; and I then fell in with more friends, until I met with the Rev. Mr. Barker, of Huddersfield, who directed me to the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, who received me and my wife into his Church as members, and who has been my firm friend and adviser ever since.
I am now only anxious for the war to end with freedom to the oppressed, (for I firmly believe that will be its ultimate issue) and then I will revisit the old scenes of oppression, and read the Bible to those to whom it has long been a sealed Book. May God hasten this happy consummation.