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Chapter 16

_Another Pressure of the Tyrant's Vice_


The foregoing chapter, with all its horrid incidents and shocking
features, may be taken as a fair representation of the first six
months of my life at Covey's. The reader has but to repeat, in
his own mind, once a week, the scene in the woods, where Covey
subjected me to his merciless lash, to have a true idea of my
bitter experience there, during the first period of the breaking
process through which Mr. Covey carried me. I have no heart to
repeat each separate transaction, in which I was victim of his
violence and brutality. Such a narration would fill a volume
much larger than the present one. I aim only to give the reader
a truthful impression of my slave life, without unnecessarily
affecting him with harrowing details.

As I have elsewhere intimated that my hardships were much greater
during the first six months of my stay at Covey's, than during
the remainder of the year, and as the change in my condition was
owing to causes which may help the reader to a better
understanding of human nature, when subjected to the terrible
extremities of slavery, I will narrate the circumstances of this
<173 SCENE IN THE TREADING YARD>change, although I may seem
thereby to applaud my own courage. You have, dear reader, seen
me humbled, degraded, broken down, enslaved, and brutalized, and
you understand how it was done; now let us see the converse of
all this, and how it was brought about; and this will take us
through the year 1834.

On one of the hottest days of the month of August, of the year
just mentioned, had the reader been passing through Covey's farm,
he might have seen me at work, in what is there called the
"treading yard"--a yard upon which wheat is trodden out from the
straw, by the horses' feet. I was there, at work, feeding the
"fan," or rather bringing wheat to the fan, while Bill Smith was
feeding. Our force consisted of Bill Hughes, Bill Smith, and a
slave by the name of Eli; the latter having been hired for this
occasion. The work was simple, and required strength and
activity, rather than any skill or intelligence, and yet, to one
entirely unused to such work, it came very hard. The heat was
intense and overpowering, and there was much hurry to get the
wheat, trodden out that day, through the fan; since, if that work
was done an hour before sundown, the hands would have, according
to a promise of Covey, that hour added to their night's rest. I
was not behind any of them in the wish to complete the day's work
before sundown, and, hence, I struggled with all my might to get
the work forward. The promise of one hour's repose on a week
day, was sufficient to quicken my pace, and to spur me on to
extra endeavor. Besides, we had all planned to go fishing, and I
certainly wished to have a hand in that. But I was disappointed,
and the day turned out to be one of the bitterest I ever
experienced. About three o'clock, while the sun was pouring down
his burning rays, and not a breeze was stirring, I broke down; my
strength failed me; I was seized with a violent aching of the
head, attended with extreme dizziness, and trembling in every
limb. Finding what was coming, and feeling it would never do to
stop work, I nerved myself up, and staggered on until I fell by
the side of the wheat fan, feeling that the earth had fallen
<174>upon me. This brought the entire work to a dead stand.
There was work for four; each one had his part to perform, and
each part depended on the other, so that when one stopped, all
were compelled to stop. Covey, who had now become my dread, as
well as my tormentor, was at the house, about a hundred yards
from where I was fanning, and instantly, upon hearing the fan
stop, he came down to the treading yard, to inquire into the
cause of our stopping. Bill Smith told him I was sick, and that
I was unable longer to bring wheat to the fan.

I had, by this time, crawled away, under the side of a post-and-
rail fence, in the shade, and was exceeding ill. The intense
heat of the sun, the heavy dust rising from the fan, the
stooping, to take up the wheat from the yard, together with the
hurrying, to get through, had caused a rush of blood to my head.
In this condition, Covey finding out where I was, came to me;
and, after standing over me a while, he asked me what the matter
was. I told him as well as I could, for it was with difficulty
that I could speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side,
which jarred my whole frame, and commanded me to get up. The man
had obtained complete control over me; and if he had commanded me
to do any possible thing, I should, in my then state of mind,
have endeavored to comply. I made an effort to rise, but fell
back in the attempt, before gaining my feet. The brute now gave
me another heavy kick, and again told me to rise. I again tried
to rise, and succeeded in gaining my feet; but upon stooping to
get the tub with which I was feeding the fan, I again staggered
and fell to the ground; and I must have so fallen, had I been
sure that a hundred bullets would have pierced me, as the
consequence. While down, in this sad condition, and perfectly
helpless, the merciless Negro breaker took up the hickory slab,
with which Hughes had been striking off the wheat to a level with
the sides of the half bushel measure (a very hard weapon) and
with the sharp edge of it, he dealt me a heavy blow on my head
which made a large gash, and caused the blood to run freely,
saying, <175 ESCAPE TO ST. MICHAEL'S>at the same time, "If _you
have got the headache, I'll cure you_." This done, he ordered me
again to rise, but I made no effort to do so; for I had made up
my mind that it was useless, and that the heartless monster might
now do his worst; he could but kill me, and that might put me out
of my misery. Finding me unable to rise, or rather despairing of
my doing so, Covey left me, with a view to getting on with the
work without me. I was bleeding very freely, and my face was
soon covered with my warm blood. Cruel and merciless as was the
motive that dealt that blow, dear reader, the wound was fortunate
for me. Bleeding was never more efficacious. The pain in my
head speedily abated, and I was soon able to rise. Covey had, as
I have said, now left me to my fate; and the question was, shall
I return to my work, or shall I find my way to St. Michael's, and
make Capt. Auld acquainted with the atrocious cruelty of his
brother Covey, and beseech him to get me another master?
Remembering the object he had in view, in placing me under the
management of Covey, and further, his cruel treatment of my poor
crippled cousin, Henny, and his meanness in the matter of feeding
and clothing his slaves, there was little ground to hope for a
favorable reception at the hands of Capt. Thomas Auld.
Nevertheless, I resolved to go straight to Capt. Auld, thinking
that, if not animated by motives of humanity, he might be induced
to interfere on my behalf from selfish considerations. "He
cannot," thought I, "allow his property to be thus bruised and
battered, marred and defaced; and I will go to him, and tell him
the simple truth about the matter." In order to get to St.
Michael's, by the most favorable and direct road, I must walk
seven miles; and this, in my sad condition, was no easy
performance. I had already lost much blood; I was exhausted by
over exertion; my sides were sore from the heavy blows planted
there by the stout boots of Mr. Covey; and I was, in every way,
in an unfavorable plight for the journey. I however watched my
chance, while the cruel and cunning Covey was looking in an
opposite direction, and started <176>off, across the field, for
St. Michael's. This was a daring step; if it failed, it would
only exasperate Covey, and increase the rigors of my bondage,
during the remainder of my term of service under him; but the
step was taken, and I must go forward. I succeeded in getting
nearly half way across the broad field, toward the woods, before
Mr. Covey observed me. I was still bleeding, and the exertion of
running had started the blood afresh. _"Come back! Come back!"_
vociferated Covey, with threats of what he would do if I did not
return instantly. But, disregarding his calls and his threats, I
pressed on toward the woods as fast as my feeble state would
allow. Seeing no signs of my stopping, Covey caused his horse to
be brought out and saddled, as if he intended to pursue me. The
race was now to be an unequal one; and, thinking I might be
overhauled by him, if I kept the main road, I walked nearly the
whole distance in the woods, keeping far enough from the road to
avoid detection and pursuit. But, I had not gone far, before my
little strength again failed me, and I laid down. The blood was
still oozing from the wound in my head; and, for a time, I
suffered more than I can describe. There I was, in the deep
woods, sick and emaciated, pursued by a wretch whose character
for revolting cruelty beggars all opprobrious speech--bleeding,
and almost bloodless. I was not without the fear of bleeding to
death. The thought of dying in the woods, all alone, and of
being torn to pieces by the buzzards, had not yet been rendered
tolerable by my many troubles and hardships, and I was glad when
the shade of the trees, and the cool evening breeze, combined
with my matted hair to stop the flow of blood. After lying there
about three quarters of an hour, brooding over the singular and
mournful lot to which I was doomed, my mind passing over the
whole scale or circle of belief and unbelief, from faith in the
overruling providence of God, to the blackest atheism, I again
took up my journey toward St. Michael's, more weary and sad than
in the morning when I left Thomas Auld's for the home of Mr.
Covey. I was bare-footed and bare-headed, and in <177 BEARING OF
MASTER THOMAS>my shirt sleeves. The way was through bogs and
briers, and I tore my feet often during the journey. I was full
five hours in going the seven or eight miles; partly, because of
the difficulties of the way, and partly, because of the
feebleness induced by my illness, bruises and loss of blood. On
gaining my master's store, I presented an appearance of
wretchedness and woe, fitted to move any but a heart of stone.
From the crown of my head to the sole of my feet, there were
marks of blood. My hair was all clotted with dust and blood, and
the back of my shirt was literally stiff with the same. Briers
and thorns had scarred and torn my feet and legs, leaving blood
marks there. Had I escaped from a den of tigers, I could not
have looked worse than I did on reaching St. Michael's. In this
unhappy plight, I appeared before my professedly _Christian_
master, humbly to invoke the interposition of his power and
authority, to protect me from further abuse and violence. I had
begun to hope, during the latter part of my tedious journey
toward St. Michael's, that Capt. Auld would now show himself in a
nobler light than I had ever before seen him. I was
disappointed. I had jumped from a sinking ship into the sea; I
had fled from the tiger to something worse. I told him all the
circumstances, as well as I could; how I was endeavoring to
please Covey; how hard I was at work in the present instance; how
unwilling I sunk down under the heat, toil and pain; the brutal
manner in which Covey had kicked me in the side; the gash cut in
my head; my hesitation about troubling him (Capt. Auld) with
complaints; but, that now I felt it would not be best longer to
conceal from him the outrages committed on me from time to time
by Covey. At first, master Thomas seemed somewhat affected by
the story of my wrongs, but he soon repressed his feelings and
became cold as iron. It was impossible--as I stood before him at
the first--for him to seem indifferent. I distinctly saw his
human nature asserting its conviction against the slave system,
which made cases like mine _possible;_ but, as I have said,
humanity fell before the systematic tyranny of slavery. He first
walked <178>the floor, apparently much agitated by my story, and
the sad spectacle I presented; but, presently, it was _his_ turn
to talk. He began moderately, by finding excuses for Covey, and
ending with a full justification of him, and a passionate
condemnation of me. "He had no doubt I deserved the flogging.
He did not believe I was sick; I was only endeavoring to get rid
of work. My dizziness was laziness, and Covey did right to flog
me, as he had done." After thus fairly annihilating me, and
rousing himself by his own eloquence, he fiercely demanded what I
wished _him_ to do in the case!

With such a complete knock-down to all my hopes, as he had given
me, and feeling, as I did, my entire subjection to his power, I
had very little heart to reply. I must not affirm my innocence
of the allegations which he had piled up against me; for that
would be impudence, and would probably call down fresh violence
as well as wrath upon me. The guilt of a slave is always, and
everywhere, presumed; and the innocence of the slaveholder or the
slave employer, is always asserted. The word of the slave,
against this presumption, is generally treated as impudence,
worthy of punishment. "Do you contradict me, you rascal?" is a
final silencer of counter statements from the lips of a slave.

Calming down a little in view of my silence and hesitation, and,
perhaps, from a rapid glance at the picture of misery I
presented, he inquired again, "what I would have him do?" Thus
invited a second time, I told Master Thomas I wished him to allow
me to get a new home and to find a new master; that, as sure as I
went back to live with Mr. Covey again, I should be killed by
him; that he would never forgive my coming to him (Capt. Auld)
with a complaint against him (Covey); that, since I had lived
with him, he almost crushed my spirit, and I believed that he
would ruin me for future service; that my life was not safe in
his hands. This, Master Thomas _(my brother in the church)_
regarded as "nonsence{sic}." "There was no danger of Mr. Covey's
killing me; he was a good man, industrious and religious, and he
would not think of <179 THE SLAVE IS NEVER SICK>removing me from
that home; "besides," said he and this I found was the most
distressing thought of all to him--"if you should leave Covey
now, that your year has but half expired, I should lose your
wages for the entire year. You belong to Mr. Covey for one year,
and you _must go back_ to him, come what will. You must not
trouble me with any more stories about Mr. Covey; and if you do
not go immediately home, I will get hold of you myself." This
was just what I expected, when I found he had _prejudged_ the
case against me. "But, Sir," I said, "I am sick and tired, and I
cannot get home to-night." At this, he again relented, and
finally he allowed me to remain all night at St. Michael's; but
said I must be off early in the morning, and concluded his
directions by making me swallow a huge dose of _epsom salts_--
about the only medicine ever administered to slaves.

It was quite natural for Master Thomas to presume I was feigning
sickness to escape work, for he probably thought that were _he_
in the place of a slave with no wages for his work, no praise for
well doing, no motive for toil but the lash--he would try every
possible scheme by which to escape labor. I say I have no doubt
of this; the reason is, that there are not, under the whole
heavens, a set of men who cultivate such an intense dread of
labor as do the slaveholders. The charge of laziness against the
slave is ever on their lips, and is the standing apology for
every species of cruelty and brutality. These men literally
"bind heavy burdens, grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's
shoulders; but they, themselves, will not move them with one of
their fingers."

My kind readers shall have, in the next chapter--what they were
led, perhaps, to expect to find in this--namely: an account of my
partial disenthrallment from the tyranny of Covey, and the marked
change which it brought about.

Frederick Douglass

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