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Chapter 19

_The Run-Away Plot_


I am now at the beginning of the year 1836, a time favorable for
serious thoughts. The mind naturally occupies itself with the
mysteries of life in all its phases--the ideal, the real and the
actual. Sober people look both ways at the beginning of the
year, surveying the errors of the past, and providing against
possible errors of the future. I, too, was thus exercised. I
had little pleasure <210>in retrospect, and the prospect was not
very brilliant. "Notwithstanding," thought I, "the many
resolutions and prayers I have made, in behalf of freedom, I am,
this first day of the year 1836, still a slave, still wandering
in the depths of spirit-devouring thralldom. My faculties and
powers of body and soul are not my own, but are the property of a
fellow mortal, in no sense superior to me, except that he has the
physical power to compel me to be owned and controlled by him.
By the combined physical force of the community, I am his slave--
a slave for life." With thoughts like these, I was perplexed and
chafed; they rendered me gloomy and disconsolate. The anguish of
my mind may not be written.

At the close of the year 1835, Mr. Freeland, my temporary master,
had bought me of Capt. Thomas Auld, for the year 1836. His
promptness in securing my services, would have been flattering to
my vanity, had I been ambitious to win the reputation of being a
valuable slave. Even as it was, I felt a slight degree of
complacency at the circumstance. It showed he was as well
pleased with me as a slave, as I was with him as a master. I
have already intimated my regard for Mr. Freeland, and I may say
here, in addressing northern readers--where is no selfish motive
for speaking in praise of a slaveholder--that Mr. Freeland was a
man of many excellent qualities, and to me quite preferable to
any master I ever had.

But the kindness of the slavemaster only gilds the chain of
slavery, and detracts nothing from its weight or power. The
thought that men are made for other and better uses than slavery,
thrives best under the gentle treatment of a kind master. But
the grim visage of slavery can assume no smiles which can
fascinate the partially enlightened slave, into a forgetfulness
of his bondage, nor of the desirableness of liberty.

I was not through the first month of this, my second year with
the kind and gentlemanly Mr. Freeland, before I was earnestly
considering and advising plans for gaining that freedom, which,
<211 INCIPIENT STEPS TOWARDS ESCAPE>when I was but a mere child,
I had ascertained to be the natural and inborn right of every
member of the human family. The desire for this freedom had been
benumbed, while I was under the brutalizing dominion of Covey;
and it had been postponed, and rendered inoperative, by my truly
pleasant Sunday school engagements with my friends, during the
year 1835, at Mr. Freeland's. It had, however, never entirely
subsided. I hated slavery, always, and the desire for freedom
only needed a favorable breeze, to fan it into a blaze, at any
moment. The thought of only being a creature of the _present_
and the _past_, troubled me, and I longed to have a _future_--a
future with hope in it. To be shut up entirely to the past and
present, is abhorrent to the human mind; it is to the soul--whose
life and happiness is unceasing progress--what the prison is to
the body; a blight and mildew, a hell of horrors. The dawning of
this, another year, awakened me from my temporary slumber, and
roused into life my latent, but long cherished aspirations for
freedom. I was now not only ashamed to be contented in slavery,
but ashamed to _seem_ to be contented, and in my present
favorable condition, under the mild rule of Mr. F., I am not sure
that some kind reader will not condemn me for being over
ambitious, and greatly wanting in proper humility, when I say the
truth, that I now drove from me all thoughts of making the best
of my lot, and welcomed only such thoughts as led me away from
the house of bondage. The intense desires, now felt, _to be
free_, quickened by my present favorable circumstances, brought
me to the determination to act, as well as to think and speak.
Accordingly, at the beginning of this year 1836, I took upon me a
solemn vow, that the year which had now dawned upon me should not
close, without witnessing an earnest attempt, on my part, to gain
my liberty. This vow only bound me to make my escape
individually; but the year spent with Mr. Freeland had attached
me, as with "hooks of steel," to my brother slaves. The most
affectionate and confiding friendship existed between us; and I
felt it my duty to give them an opportunity to share in my
<212>virtuous determination by frankly disclosing to them my
plans and purposes. Toward Henry and John Harris, I felt a
friendship as strong as one man can feel for another; for I could
have died with and for them. To them, therefore, with a suitable
degree of caution, I began to disclose my sentiments and plans;
sounding them, the while on the subject of running away, provided
a good chance should offer. I scarcely need tell the reader,
that I did my _very best_ to imbue the minds of my dear friends
with my own views and feelings. Thoroughly awakened, now, and
with a definite vow upon me, all my little reading, which had any
bearing on the subject of human rights, was rendered available in
my communications with my friends. That (to me) gem of a book,
the _Columbian Orator_, with its eloquent orations and spicy
dialogues, denouncing oppression and slavery--telling of what had
been dared, done and suffered by men, to obtain the inestimable
boon of liberty--was still fresh in my memory, and whirled into
the ranks of my speech with the aptitude of well trained
soldiers, going through the drill. The fact is, I here began my
public speaking. I canvassed, with Henry and John, the subject
of slavery, and dashed against it the condemning brand of God's
eternal justice, which it every hour violates. My fellow
servants were neither indifferent, dull, nor inapt. Our feelings
were more alike than our opinions. All, however, were ready to
act, when a feasible plan should be proposed. "Show us _how_ the
thing is to be done," said they, "and all is clear."

We were all, except Sandy, quite free from slaveholding
priestcraft. It was in vain that we had been taught from the
pulpit at St. Michael's, the duty of obedience to our masters; to
recognize God as the author of our enslavement; to regard running
away an offense, alike against God and man; to deem our
enslavement a merciful and beneficial arrangement; to esteem our
condition, in this country, a paradise to that from which we had
been snatched in Africa; to consider our hard hands and dark
color as God's mark of displeasure, and as pointing us out as the
proper <213 FREE FROM PROSLAVERY PRIESTCRAFT>subjects of slavery;
that the relation of master and slave was one of reciprocal
benefits; that our work was not more serviceable to our masters,
than our master's thinking was serviceable to us. I say, it was
in vain that the pulpit of St. Michael's had constantly
inculcated these plausib]e doctrine. Nature laughed them to
scorn. For my own part, I had now become altogether too big for
my chains. Father Lawson's solemn words, of what I ought to be,
and might be, in the providence of God, had not fallen dead on my
soul. I was fast verging toward manhood, and the prophecies of
my childhood were still unfulfilled. The thought, that year
after year had passed away, and my resolutions to run away had
failed and faded--that I was _still a slave_, and a slave, too,
with chances for gaining my freedom diminished and still
diminishing--was not a matter to be slept over easily; nor did I
easily sleep over it.

But here came a new trouble. Thoughts and purposes so incendiary
as those I now cherished, could not agitate the mind long,
without danger of making themselves manifest to scrutinizing and
unfriendly beholders. I had reason to fear that my sable face
might prove altogether too transparent for the safe concealment
of my hazardous enterprise. Plans of greater moment have leaked
through stone walls, and revealed their projectors. But, here
was no stone wall to hide my purpose. I would have given my
poor, tell tale face for the immoveable countenance of an Indian,
for it was far from being proof against the daily, searching
glances of those with whom I met.

It is the interest and business of slaveholders to study human
nature, with a view to practical results, and many of them attain
astonishing proficiency in discerning the thoughts and emotions
of slaves. They have to deal not with earth, wood, or stone, but
with _men;_ and, by every regard they have for their safety and
prosperity, they must study to know the material on which they
are at work. So much intellect as the slaveholder has around
him, requires watching. Their safety depends upon their
vigilance. Conscious of the injustice and wrong they are every
hour perpe<214>trating, and knowing what they themselves would do
if made the victims of such wrongs, they are looking out for the
first signs of the dread retribution of justice. They watch,
therefore, with skilled and practiced eyes, and have learned to
read, with great accuracy, the state of mind and heart of the
slaves, through his sable face. These uneasy sinners are quick
to inquire into the matter, where the slave is concerned.
Unusual sobriety, apparent abstraction, sullenness and
indifference--indeed, any mood out of the common way--afford
ground for suspicion and inquiry. Often relying on their
superior position and wisdom, they hector and torture the slave
into a confession, by affecting to know the truth of their
accusations. "You have got the devil in you," say they, "and we
will whip him out of you." I have often been put thus to the
torture, on bare suspicion. This system has its disadvantages as
well as their opposite. The slave is sometimes whipped into the
confession of offenses which he never committed. The reader will
see that the good old rule--"a man is to be held innocent until
proved to be guilty"--does not hold good on the slave plantation.
Suspicion and torture are the approved methods of getting at the
truth, here. It was necessary for me, therefore, to keep a watch
over my deportment, lest the enemy should get the better of me.

But with all our caution and studied reserve, I am not sure that
Mr. Freeland did not suspect that all was not right with us. It
_did_ seem that he watched us more narrowly, after the plan of
escape had been conceived and discussed amongst us. Men seldom
see themselves as others see them; and while, to ourselves,
everything connected with our contemplated escape appeared
concealed, Mr. Freeland may have, with the peculiar prescience of
a slaveholder, mastered the huge thought which was disturbing our
peace in slavery.

I am the more inclined to think that he suspected us, because,
prudent as we were, as I now look back, I can see that we did
many silly things, very well calculated to awaken suspicion. We
were, <215 HYMNS WITH A DOUBLE MEANING>at times, remarkably
buoyant, singing hymns and making joyous exclamations, almost as
triumphant in their tone as if we reached a land of freedom and
safety. A keen observer might have detected in our repeated
singing of

_O Canaan, sweet Canaan,
I am bound for the land of Canaan,_

something more than a hope of reaching heaven. We meant to reach
the _north_--and the north was our Canaan.

_I thought I heard them say,
There were lions in the way,
I don't expect to Star
Much longer here.

Run to Jesus--shun the danger--
I don't expect to stay
Much longer here_.

was a favorite air, and had a double meaning. In the lips of
some, it meant the expectation of a speedy summons to a world of
spirits; but, in the lips of _our_ company, it simply meant, a
speedy pilgrimage toward a free state, and deliverance from all
the evils and dangers of slavery.

I had succeeded in winning to my (what slaveholders would call
wicked) scheme, a company of five young men, the very flower of
the neighborhood, each one of whom would have commanded one
thousand dollars in the home market. At New Orleans, they would
have brought fifteen hundred dollars a piece, and, perhaps, more.
The names of our party were as follows: Henry Harris; John
Harris, brother to Henry; Sandy Jenkins, of root memory; Charles
Roberts, and Henry Bailey. I was the youngest, but one, of the
party. I had, however, the advantage of them all, in experience,
and in a knowledge of letters. This gave me great influence over
them. Perhaps not one of them, left to himself, would have
dreamed of escape as a possible thing. Not one of them was self-
moved in the matter. They all wanted to be free; but the serious
thought of running away, had not entered into <216>their minds,
until I won them to the undertaking. They all were tolerably
well off--for slaves--and had dim hopes of being set free, some
day, by their masters. If any one is to blame for disturbing the
quiet of the slaves and slave-masters of the neighborhood of St.
Michael's, _I am the man_. I claim to be the instigator of the
high crime (as the slaveholders regard it) and I kept life in it,
until life could be kept in it no longer.

Pending the time of our contemplated departure out of our Egypt,
we met often by night, and on every Sunday. At these meetings we
talked the matter over; told our hopes and fears, and the
difficulties discovered or imagined; and, like men of sense, we
counted the cost of the enterprise to which we were committing

These meetings must have resembled, on a small scale, the
meetings of revolutionary conspirators, in their primary
condition. We were plotting against our (so called) lawful
rulers; with this difference that we sought our own good, and not
the harm of our enemies. We did not seek to overthrow them, but
to escape from them. As for Mr. Freeland, we all liked him, and
would have gladly remained with him, _as freeman_. LIBERTY was
our aim; and we had now come to think that we had a right to
liberty, against every obstacle even against the lives of our

We had several words, expressive of things, important to us,
which we understood, but which, even if distinctly heard by an
outsider, would convey no certain meaning. I have reasons for
suppressing these _pass-words_, which the reader will easily
divine. I hated the secrecy; but where slavery is powerful, and
liberty is weak, the latter is driven to concealment or to

The prospect was not always a bright one. At times, we were
almost tempted to abandon the enterprise, and to get back to that
comparative peace of mind, which even a man under the gallows
might feel, when all hope of escape had vanished. Quiet bondage
was felt to be better than the doubts, fears and uncertainties,
which now so sadly perplexed and disturbed us.

The infirmities of humanity, generally, were represented in our
little band. We were confident, bold and determined, at times;
and, again, doubting, timid and wavering; whistling, like the boy
in the graveyard, to keep away the spirits.

To look at the map, and observe the proximity of Eastern Shore,
Maryland, to Delaware and Pennsylvania, it may seem to the reader
quite absurd, to regard the proposed escape as a formidable
undertaking. But to _understand_, some one has said a man must
_stand under_. The real distance was great enough, but the
imagined distance was, to our ignorance, even greater. Every
slaveholder seeks to impress his slave with a belief in the
boundlessness of slave territory, and of his own almost
illimitable power. We all had vague and indistinct notions of
the geography of the country.

The distance, however, is not the chief trouble. The nearer are
the lines of a slave state and the borders of a free one, the
greater the peril. Hired kidnappers infest these borders. Then,
too, we knew that merely reaching a free state did not free us;
that, wherever caught, we could be returned to slavery. We could
see no spot on this side the ocean, where we could be free. We
had heard of Canada, the real Canaan of the American bondmen,
simply as a country to which the wild goose and the swan repaired
at the end of winter, to escape the heat of summer, but not as
the home of man. I knew something of theology, but nothing of
geography. I really did not, at that time, know that there was a
state of New York, or a state of Massachusetts. I had heard of
Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, and all the southern
states, but was ignorant of the free states, generally. New York
city was our northern limit, and to go there, and be forever
harassed with the liability of being hunted down and returned to
slavery--with the certainty of being treated ten times worse than
we had ever been treated before was a prospect far from
delightful, and it might well cause some hesitation about
engaging in the enterprise. The case, sometimes, to our excited
visions, <218>stood thus: At every gate through which we had to
pass, we saw a watchman; at every ferry, a guard; on every
bridge, a sentinel; and in every wood, a patrol or slave-hunter.
We were hemmed in on every side. The good to be sought, and the
evil to be shunned, were flung in the balance, and weighed
against each other. On the one hand, there stood slavery; a
stern reality, glaring frightfully upon us, with the blood of
millions in his polluted skirts--terrible to behold--greedily
devouring our hard earnings and feeding himself upon our flesh.
Here was the evil from which to escape. On the other hand, far
away, back in the hazy distance, where all forms seemed but
shadows, under the flickering light of the north star--behind
some craggy hill or snow-covered mountain--stood a doubtful
freedom, half frozen, beckoning us to her icy domain. This was
the good to be sought. The inequality was as great as that
between certainty and uncertainty. This, in itself, was enough
to stagger us; but when we came to survey the untrodden road, and
conjecture the many possible difficulties, we were appalled, and
at times, as I have said, were upon the point of giving over the
struggle altogether.

The reader can have little idea of the phantoms of trouble which
flit, in such circumstances, before the uneducated mind of the
slave. Upon either side, we saw grim death assuming a variety of
horrid shapes. Now, it was starvation, causing us, in a strange
and friendless land, to eat our own flesh. Now, we were
contending with the waves (for our journey was in part by water)
and were drowned. Now, we were hunted by dogs, and overtaken and
torn to pieces by their merciless fangs. We were stung by
scorpions--chased by wild beasts--bitten by snakes; and, worst of
all, after having succeeded in swimming rivers--encountering wild
beasts--sleeping in the woods--suffering hunger, cold, heat and
nakedness--we supposed ourselves to be overtaken by hired
kidnappers, who, in the name of the law, and for their thrice
accursed reward, would, perchance, fire upon us--kill some, wound
others, and capture all. This dark pic<219 IMAGINARY
DIFFICULTIES>ture, drawn by ignorance and fear, at times greatly
shook our determination, and not unfrequently caused us to

_Rather bear those ills we had
Than fly to others which we knew not of_.

I am not disposed to magnify this circumstance in my experience,
and yet I think I shall seem to be so disposed, to the reader.
No man can tell the intense agony which is felt by the slave,
when wavering on the point of making his escape. All that he has
is at stake; and even that which he has not, is at stake, also.
The life which he has, may be lost, and the liberty which he
seeks, may not be gained.

Patrick Henry, to a listening senate, thrilled by his magic
eloquence, and ready to stand by him in his boldest flights,
could say, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH, and this saying was
a sublime one, even for a freeman; but, incomparably more
sublime, is the same sentiment, when _practically_ asserted by
men accustomed to the lash and chain--men whose sensibilities
must have become more or less deadened by their bondage. With us
it was a _doubtful_ liberty, at best, that we sought; and a
certain, lingering death in the rice swamps and sugar fields, if
we failed. Life is not lightly regarded by men of sane minds.
It is precious, alike to the pauper and to the prince--to the
slave, and to his master; and yet, I believe there was not one
among us, who would not rather have been shot down, than pass
away life in hopeless bondage.

In the progress of our preparations, Sandy, the root man, became
troubled. He began to have dreams, and some of them were very
distressing. One of these, which happened on a Friday night,
was, to him, of great significance; and I am quite ready to
confess, that I felt somewhat damped by it myself. He said, "I
dreamed, last night, that I was roused from sleep, by strange
noises, like the voices of a swarm of angry birds, that caused a
roar as they passed, which fell upon my ear like a coming gale
<220>over the tops of the trees. Looking up to see what it could
mean," said Sandy, "I saw you, Frederick, in the claws of a huge
bird, surrounded by a large number of birds, of all colors and
sizes. These were all picking at you, while you, with your arms,
seemed to be trying to protect your eyes. Passing over me, the
birds flew in a south-westerly direction, and I watched them
until they were clean out of sight. Now, I saw this as plainly
as I now see you; and furder, honey, watch de Friday night dream;
dare is sumpon in it, shose you born; dare is, indeed, honey."

I confess I did not like this dream; but I threw off concern
about it, by attributing it to the general excitement and
perturbation consequent upon our contemplated plan of escape. I
could not, however, shake off its effect at once. I felt that it
boded me no good. Sandy was unusually emphatic and oracular, and
his manner had much to do with the impression made upon me.

The plan of escape which I recommended, and to which my comrades
assented, was to take a large canoe, owned by Mr. Hamilton, and,
on the Saturday night previous to the Easter holidays, launch out
into the Chesapeake bay, and paddle for its head--a distance of
seventy miles with all our might. Our course, on reaching this
point, was, to turn the canoe adrift, and bend our steps toward
the north star, till we reached a free state.

There were several objections to this plan. One was, the danger
from gales on the bay. In rough weather, the waters of the
Chesapeake are much agitated, and there is danger, in a canoe, of
being swamped by the waves. Another objection was, that the
canoe would soon be missed; the absent persons would, at once, be
suspected of having taken it; and we should be pursued by some of
the fast sailing bay craft out of St. Michael's. Then, again, if
we reached the head of the bay, and turned the canoe adrift, she
might prove a guide to our track, and bring the land hunters
after us.

These and other objections were set aside, by the stronger ones
which could be urged against every other plan that could then be
<221 PASSES WRITTEN>suggested. On the water, we had a chance of
being regarded as fishermen, in the service of a master. On the
other hand, by taking the land route, through the counties
adjoining Delaware, we should be subjected to all manner of
interruptions, and many very disagreeable questions, which might
give us serious trouble. Any white man is authorized to stop a
man of color, on any road, and examine him, and arrest him, if he
so desires.

By this arrangement, many abuses (considered such even by
slaveholders) occur. Cases have been known, where freemen have
been called upon to show their free papers, by a pack of
ruffians--and, on the presentation of the papers, the ruffians
have torn them up, and seized their victim, and sold him to a
life of endless bondage.

The week before our intended start, I wrote a pass for each of
our party, giving them permission to visit Baltimore, during the
Easter holidays. The pass ran after this manner:

This is to certify, that I, the undersigned, have given the
bearer, my servant, John, full liberty to go to Baltimore, to
spend the Easter holidays.
Near St. Michael's, Talbot county, Maryland

Although we were not going to Baltimore, and were intending to
land east of North Point, in the direction where I had seen the
Philadelphia steamers go, these passes might be made useful to us
in the lower part of the bay, while steering toward Baltimore.
These were not, however, to be shown by us, until all other
answers failed to satisfy the inquirer. We were all fully alive
to the importance of being calm and self-possessed, when
accosted, if accosted we should be; and we more times than one
rehearsed to each other how we should behave in the hour of

These were long, tedious days and nights. The suspense was
painful, in the extreme. To balance probabilities, where life
and liberty hang on the result, requires steady nerves. I panted
for action, and was glad when the day, at the close of which we
were to start, dawned upon us. Sleeping, the night before, was
<222>out of the question. I probably felt more deeply than any
of my companions, because I was the instigator of the movement.
The responsibility of the whole enterprise rested on my
shoulders. The glory of success, and the shame and confusion of
failure, could not be matters of indifference to me. Our food
was prepared; our clothes were packed up; we were all ready to
go, and impatient for Saturday morning--considering that the last
morning of our bondage.

I cannot describe the tempest and tumult of my brain, that
morning. The reader will please to bear in mind, that, in a
slave state, an unsuccessful runaway is not only subjected to
cruel torture, and sold away to the far south, but he is
frequently execrated by the other slaves. He is charged with
making the condition of the other slaves intolerable, by laying
them all under the suspicion of their masters--subjecting them to
greater vigilance, and imposing greater limitations on their
privileges. I dreaded murmurs from this quarter. It is
difficult, too, for a slavemaster to believe that slaves escaping
have not been aided in their flight by some one of their fellow
slaves. When, therefore, a slave is missing, every slave on the
place is closely examined as to his knowledge of the undertaking;
and they are sometimes even tortured, to make them disclose what
they are suspected of knowing of such escape.

Our anxiety grew more and more intense, as the time of our
intended departure for the north drew nigh. It was truly felt to
be a matter of life and death with us; and we fully intended to
_fight_ as well as _run_, if necessity should occur for that
extremity. But the trial hour was not yet to come. It was easy
to resolve, but not so easy to act. I expected there might be
some drawing back, at the last. It was natural that there should
be; therefore, during the intervening time, I lost no opportunity
to explain away difficulties, to remove doubts, to dispel fears,
and to inspire all with firmness. It was too late to look back;
and _now_ was the time to go forward. Like most other men, we
had done the talking part of our <223 APPEALS TO COMRADES>work,
long and well; and the time had come to _act_ as if we were in
earnest, and meant to be as true in action as in words. I did
not forget to appeal to the pride of my comrades, by telling them
that, if after having solemnly promised to go, as they had done,
they now failed to make the attempt, they would, in effect, brand
themselves with cowardice, and might as well sit down, fold their
arms, and acknowledge themselves as fit only to be _slaves_.
This detestable character, all were unwilling to assume. Every
man except Sandy (he, much to our regret, withdrew) stood firm;
and at our last meeting we pledged ourselves afresh, and in the
most solemn manner, that, at the time appointed, we _would_
certainly start on our long journey for a free country. This
meeting was in the middle of the week, at the end of which we
were to start.

Early that morning we went, as usual, to the field, but with
hearts that beat quickly and anxiously. Any one intimately
acquainted with us, might have seen that all was not well with
us, and that some monster lingered in our thoughts. Our work
that morning was the same as it had been for several days past--
drawing out and spreading manure. While thus engaged, I had a
sudden presentiment, which flashed upon me like lightning in a
dark night, revealing to the lonely traveler the gulf before, and
the enemy behind. I instantly turned to Sandy Jenkins, who was
near me, and said to him, _"Sandy, we are betrayed;_ something
has just told me so." I felt as sure of it, as if the officers
were there in sight. Sandy said, "Man, dat is strange; but I
feel just as you do." If my mother--then long in her grave--had
appeared before me, and told me that we were betrayed, I could
not, at that moment, have felt more certain of the fact.

In a few minutes after this, the long, low and distant notes of
the horn summoned us from the field to breakfast. I felt as one
may be supposed to feel before being led forth to be executed for
some great offense. I wanted no breakfast; but I went with the
other slaves toward the house, for form's sake. My feelings were
<224>not disturbed as to the right of running away; on that point
I had no trouble, whatever. My anxiety arose from a sense of the
consequences of failure.

In thirty minutes after that vivid presentiment came the
apprehended crash. On reaching the house, for breakfast, and
glancing my eye toward the lane gate, the worst was at once made
known. The lane gate off Mr. Freeland's house, is nearly a half
mile from the door, and shaded by the heavy wood which bordered
the main road. I was, however, able to descry four white men,
and two colored men, approaching. The white men were on
horseback, and the colored men were walking behind, and seemed to
be tied. _"It is all over with us,"_ thought I, _"we are surely
betrayed_." I now became composed, or at least comparatively so,
and calmly awaited the result. I watched the ill-omened company,
till I saw them enter the gate. Successful flight was
impossible, and I made up my mind to stand, and meet the evil,
whatever it might be; for I was not without a slight hope that
things might turn differently from what I at first expected. In
a few moments, in came Mr. William Hamilton, riding very rapidly,
and evidently much excited. He was in the habit of riding very
slowly, and was seldom known to gallop his horse. This time, his
horse was nearly at full speed, causing the dust to roll thick
behind him. Mr. Hamilton, though one of the most resolute men in
the whole neighborhood, was, nevertheless, a remarkably mild
spoken man; and, even when greatly excited, his language was cool
and circumspect. He came to the door, and inquired if Mr.
Freeland was in. I told him that Mr. Freeland was at the barn.
Off the old gentleman rode, toward the barn, with unwonted speed.
Mary, the cook, was at a loss to know what was the matter, and I
did not profess any skill in making her understand. I knew she
would have united, as readily as any one, in cursing me for
bringing trouble into the family; so I held my peace, leaving
matters to develop themselves, without my assistance. In a few
moments, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Freeland came down from the barn to
the house; and, just as they <225 THE MANNER OF ARRESTING US>made
their appearance in the front yard, three men (who proved to be
constables) came dashing into the lane, on horseback, as if
summoned by a sign requiring quick work. A few seconds brought
them into the front yard, where they hastily dismounted, and tied
their horses. This done, they joined Mr. Freeland and Mr.
Hamilton, who were standing a short distance from the kitchen. A
few moments were spent, as if in consulting how to proceed, and
then the whole party walked up to the kitchen door. There was
now no one in the kitchen but myself and John Harris. Henry and
Sandy were yet at the barn. Mr. Freeland came inside the kitchen
door, and with an agitated voice, called me by name, and told me
to come forward; that there was some gentlemen who wished to see
me. I stepped toward them, at the door, and asked what they
wanted, when the constables grabbed me, and told me that I had
better not resist; that I had been in a scrape, or was said to
have been in one; that they were merely going to take me where I
could be examined; that they were going to carry me to St.
Michael's, to have me brought before my master. They further
said, that, in case the evidence against me was not true, I
should be acquitted. I was now firmly tied, and completely at
the mercy of my captors. Resistance was idle. They were five in
number, armed to the very teeth. When they had secured me, they
next turned to John Harris, and, in a few moments, succeeded in
tying him as firmly as they had already tied me. They next
turned toward Henry Harris, who had now returned from the barn.
"Cross your hands," said the constables, to Henry. "I won't"
said Henry, in a voice so firm and clear, and in a manner so
determined, as for a moment to arrest all proceedings. "Won't
you cross your hands?" said Tom Graham, the constable. "_No I
won't_," said Henry, with increasing emphasis. Mr. Hamilton, Mr.
Freeland, and the officers, now came near to Henry. Two of the
constables drew out their shining pistols, and swore by the name
of God, that he should cross his hands, or they would shoot him
down. Each of these hired ruffians now cocked their pistols,
<226>and, with fingers apparently on the triggers, presented
their deadly weapons to the breast of the unarmed slave, saying,
at the same time, if he did not cross his hands, they would "blow
his d--d heart out of him."

_"Shoot! shoot me!"_ said Henry. "_You can't kill me but once_.
Shoot!--shoot! and be d--d. _I won't be tied_." This, the brave
fellow said in a voice as defiant and heroic in its tone, as was
the language itself; and, at the moment of saying this, with the
pistols at his very breast, he quickly raised his arms, and
dashed them from the puny hands of his assassins, the weapons
flying in opposite directions. Now came the struggle. All hands
was now rushed upon the brave fellow, and, after beating him for
some time, they succeeded in overpowering and tying him. Henry
put me to shame; he fought, and fought bravely. John and I had
made no resistance. The fact is, I never see much use in
fighting, unless there is a reasonable probability of whipping
somebody. Yet there was something almost providential in the
resistance made by the gallant Henry. But for that resistance,
every soul of us would have been hurried off to the far south.
Just a moment previous to the trouble with Henry, Mr. Hamilton
_mildly_ said--and this gave me the unmistakable clue to the
cause of our arrest--"Perhaps we had now better make a search for
those protections, which we understand Frederick has written for
himself and the rest." Had these passes been found, they would
have been point blank proof against us, and would have confirmed
all the statements of our betrayer. Thanks to the resistance of
Henry, the excitement produced by the scuffle drew all attention
in that direction, and I succeeded in flinging my pass,
unobserved, into the fire. The confusion attendant upon the
scuffle, and the apprehension of further trouble, perhaps, led
our captors to forego, for the present, any search for _"those
protections" which Frederick was said to have written for his
companions_; so we were not yet convicted of the purpose to run
away; and it was evident that there was some doubt, on the part
of all, whether we had been guilty of such a purpose.

Just as we were all completely tied, and about ready to start
toward St. Michael's, and thence to jail, Mrs. Betsey Freeland
(mother to William, who was very much attached--after the
southern fashion--to Henry and John, they having been reared from
childhood in her house) came to the kitchen door, with her hands
full of biscuits--for we had not had time to take our breakfast
that morning--and divided them between Henry and John. This
done, the lady made the following parting address to me, looking
and pointing her bony finger at me. "You devil! you yellow
devil! It was you that put it into the heads of Henry and John
to run away. But for _you_, you _long legged yellow devil_,
Henry and John would never have thought of running away." I gave
the lady a look, which called forth a scream of mingled wrath and
terror, as she slammed the kitchen door, and went in, leaving me,
with the rest, in hands as harsh as her own broken voice.

Could the kind reader have been quietly riding along the main
road to or from Easton, that morning, his eye would have met a
painful sight. He would have seen five young men, guilty of no
crime, save that of preferring _liberty_ to a life of _bondage_,
drawn along the public highway--firmly bound together--tramping
through dust and heat, bare-footed and bare-headed--fastened to
three strong horses, whose riders were armed to the teeth, with
pistols and daggers--on their way to prison, like felons, and
suffering every possible insult from the crowds of idle, vulgar
people, who clustered around, and heartlessly made their failure
the occasion for all manner of ribaldry and sport. As I looked
upon this crowd of vile persons, and saw myself and friends thus
assailed and persecuted, I could not help seeing the fulfillment
of Sandy's dream. I was in the hands of moral vultures, and
firmly held in their sharp talons, and was hurried away toward
Easton, in a south-easterly direction, amid the jeers of new
birds of the same feather, through every neighborhood we passed.
It seemed to me (and this shows the good understanding between
the slaveholders and their allies) that every body we met knew
<228>the cause of our arrest, and were out, awaiting our passing
by, to feast their vindictive eyes on our misery and to gloat
over our ruin. Some said, _I ought to be hanged_, and others, _I
ought to be burnt_, others, I ought to have the _"hide"_ taken
from my back; while no one gave us a kind word or sympathizing
look, except the poor slaves, who were lifting their heavy hoes,
and who cautiously glanced at us through the post-and-rail
fences, behind which they were at work. Our sufferings, that
morning, can be more easily imagined than described. Our hopes
were all blasted, at a blow. The cruel injustice, the victorious
crime, and the helplessness of innocence, led me to ask, in my
ignorance and weakness "Where now is the God of justice and
mercy? And why have these wicked men the power thus to trample
upon our rights, and to insult our feelings?" And yet, in the
next moment, came the consoling thought, _"The day of oppressor
will come at last."_ Of one thing I could be glad--not one of my
dear friends, upon whom I had brought this great calamity, either
by word or look, reproached me for having led them into it. We
were a band of brothers, and never dearer to each other than now.
The thought which gave us the most pain, was the probable
separation which would now take place, in case we were sold off
to the far south, as we were likely to be. While the constables
were looking forward, Henry and I, being fastened together, could
occasionally exchange a word, without being observed by the
kidnappers who had us in charge. "What shall I do with my pass?"
said Henry. "Eat it with your biscuit," said I; "it won't do to
tear it up." We were now near St. Michael's. The direction
concerning the passes was passed around, and executed. _"Own
nothing!"_ said I. _"Own nothing!"_ was passed around and
enjoined, and assented to. Our confidence in each other was
unshaken; and we were quite resolved to succeed or fail
together--as much after the calamity which had befallen us, as

On reaching St. Michael's, we underwent a sort of examination at
my master's store, and it was evident to my mind, that Master
<229 THE DENIAL>Thomas suspected the truthfulness of the evidence
upon which they had acted in arresting us; and that he only
affected, to some extent, the positiveness with which he asserted
our guilt. There was nothing said by any of our company, which
could, in any manner, prejudice our cause; and there was hope,
yet, that we should be able to return to our homes--if for
nothing else, at least to find out the guilty man or woman who
had betrayed us.

To this end, we all denied that we had been guilty of intended
flight. Master Thomas said that the evidence he had of our
intention to run away, was strong enough to hang us, in a case of
murder. "But," said I, "the cases are not equal. If murder were
committed, some one must have committed it--the thing is done!
In our case, nothing has been done! We have not run away. Where
is the evidence against us? We were quietly at our work." I
talked thus, with unusual freedom, to bring out the evidence
against us, for we all wanted, above all things, to know the
guilty wretch who had betrayed us, that we might have something
tangible upon which to pour the execrations. From something
which dropped, in the course of the talk, it appeared that there
was but one witness against us--and that that witness could not
be produced. Master Thomas would not tell us _who_ his informant
was; but we suspected, and suspected _one_ person _only_.
Several circumstances seemed to point SANDY out, as our betrayer.
His entire knowledge of our plans his participation in them--his
withdrawal from us--his dream, and his simultaneous presentiment
that we were betrayed--the taking us, and the leaving him--were
calculated to turn suspicion toward him; and yet, we could not
suspect him. We all loved him too well to think it _possible_
that he could have betrayed us. So we rolled the guilt on other

We were literally dragged, that morning, behind horses, a
distance of fifteen miles, and placed in the Easton jail. We
were glad to reach the end of our journey, for our pathway had
been the scene of insult and mortification. Such is the power of
public <230>opinion, that it is hard, even for the innocent, to
feel the happy consolations of innocence, when they fall under
the maledictions of this power. How could we regard ourselves as
in the right, when all about us denounced us as criminals, and
had the power and the disposition to treat us as such.

In jail, we were placed under the care of Mr. Joseph Graham, the
sheriff of the county. Henry, and John, and myself, were placed
in one room, and Henry Baily and Charles Roberts, in another, by
themselves. This separation was intended to deprive us of the
advantage of concert, and to prevent trouble in jail.

Once shut up, a new set of tormentors came upon us. A swarm of
imps, in human shape the slave-traders, deputy slave-traders, and
agents of slave-traders--that gather in every country town of the
state, watching for chances to buy human flesh (as buzzards to
eat carrion) flocked in upon us, to ascertain if our masters had
placed us in jail to be sold. Such a set of debased and
villainous creatures, I never saw before, and hope never to see
again. I felt myself surrounded as by a pack of _fiends_, fresh
from _perdition_. They laughed, leered, and grinned at us;
saying, "Ah! boys, we've got you, havn't we? So you were about
to make your escape? Where were you going to?" After taunting
us, and peering at us, as long as they liked, they one by one
subjected us to an examination, with a view to ascertain our
value; feeling our arms and legs, and shaking us by the shoulders
to see if we were sound and healthy; impudently asking us, "how
we would like to have them for masters?" To such questions, we
were, very much to their annoyance, quite dumb, disdaining to
answer them. For one, I detested the whisky-bloated gamblers in
human flesh; and I believe I was as much detested by them in
turn. One fellow told me, "if he had me, he would cut the devil
out of me pretty quick."

These Negro buyers are very offensive to the genteel southern
Christian public. They are looked upon, in respectable Maryland
society, as necessary, but detestable characters. As a class,
they <231 SLAVE-TRADERS>are hardened ruffians, made such by
nature and by occupation. Their ears are made quite familiar
with the agonizing cry of outraged and woe-smitted humanity.
Their eyes are forever open to human misery. They walk amid
desecrated affections, insulted virtue, and blasted hopes. They
have grown intimate with vice and blood; they gloat over the
wildest illustrations of their soul-damning and earth-polluting
business, and are moral pests. Yes; they are a legitimate fruit
of slavery; and it is a puzzle to make out a case of greater
villainy for them, than for the slaveholders, who make such a
class _possible_. They are mere hucksters of the surplus slave
produce of Maryland and Virginia coarse, cruel, and swaggering
bullies, whose very breathing is of blasphemy and blood.

Aside from these slave-buyers, who infested the prison, from time
to time, our quarters were much more comfortable than we had any
right to expect they would be. Our allowance of food was small
and coarse, but our room was the best in the jail--neat and
spacious, and with nothing about it necessarily reminding us of
being in prison, but its heavy locks and bolts and the black,
iron lattice-work at the windows. We were prisoners of state,
compared with most slaves who are put into that Easton jail. But
the place was not one of contentment. Bolts, bars and grated
windows are not acceptable to freedom-loving people of any color.
The suspense, too, was painful. Every step on the stairway was
listened to, in the hope that the comer would cast a ray of light
on our fate. We would have given the hair off our heads for half
a dozen words with one of the waiters in Sol. Lowe's hotel. Such
waiters were in the way of hearing, at the table, the probable
course of things. We could see them flitting about in their
white jackets in front of this hotel, but could speak to none of

Soon after the holidays were over, contrary to all our
expectations, Messrs. Hamilton and Freeland came up to Easton;
not to make a bargain with the "Georgia traders," nor to send us
up to Austin Woldfolk, as is usual in the case of run-away
salves, <232>but to release Charles, Henry Harris, Henry Baily
and John Harris, from prison, and this, too, without the
infliction of a single blow. I was now left entirely alone in
prison. The innocent had been taken, and the guilty left. My
friends were separated from me, and apparently forever. This
circumstance caused me more pain than any other incident
connected with our capture and imprisonment. Thirty-nine lashes
on my naked and bleeding back, would have been joyfully borne, in
preference to this separation from these, the friends of my
youth. And yet, I could not but feel that I was the victim of
something like justice. Why should these young men, who were led
into this scheme by me, suffer as much as the instigator? I felt
glad that they were leased from prison, and from the dread
prospect of a life (or death I should rather say) in the rice
swamps. It is due to the noble Henry, to say, that he seemed
almost as reluctant to leave the prison with me in it, as he was
to be tied and dragged to prison. But he and the rest knew that
we should, in all the likelihoods of the case, be separated, in
the event of being sold; and since we were now completely in the
hands of our owners, we all concluded it would be best to go
peaceably home.

Not until this last separation, dear reader, had I touched those
profounder depths of desolation, which it is the lot of slaves
often to reach. I was solitary in the world, and alone within
the walls of a stone prison, left to a fate of life-long misery.
I had hoped and expected much, for months before, but my hopes
and expectations were now withered and blasted. The ever dreaded
slave life in Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama--from which escape
is next to impossible now, in my loneliness, stared me in the
face. The possibility of ever becoming anything but an abject
slave, a mere machine in the hands of an owner, had now fled, and
it seemed to me it had fled forever. A life of living death,
beset with the innumerable horrors of the cotton field, and the
sugar plantation, seemed to be my doom. The fiends, who rushed
into the prison when we were first put there, continued to visit
me, <233 LEFT ALONE IN PRISON>and to ply me with questions and
with their tantalizing remarks. I was insulted, but helpless;
keenly alive to the demands of justice and liberty, but with no
means of asserting them. To talk to those imps about justice and
mercy, would have been as absurd as to reason with bears and
tigers. Lead and steel are the only arguments that they

After remaining in this life of misery and despair about a week,
which, by the way, seemed a month, Master Thomas, very much to my
surprise, and greatly to my relief, came to the prison, and took
me out, for the purpose, as he said, of sending me to Alabama,
with a friend of his, who would emancipate me at the end of eight
years. I was glad enough to get out of prison; but I had no
faith in the story that this friend of Capt. Auld would
emancipate me, at the end of the time indicated. Besides, I
never had heard of his having a friend in Alabama, and I took the
announcement, simply as an easy and comfortable method of
shipping me off to the far south. There was a little scandal,
too, connected with the idea of one Christian selling another to
the Georgia traders, while it was deemed every way proper for
them to sell to others. I thought this friend in Alabama was an
invention, to meet this difficulty, for Master Thomas was quite
jealous of his Christian reputation, however unconcerned he might
be about his real Christian character. In these remarks,
however, it is possible that I do Master Thomas Auld injustice.
He certainly did not exhaust his power upon me, in the case, but
acted, upon the whole, very generously, considering the nature of
my offense. He had the power and the provocation to send me,
without reserve, into the very everglades of Florida, beyond the
remotest hope of emancipation; and his refusal to exercise that
power, must be set down to his credit.

After lingering about St. Michael's a few days, and no friend
from Alabama making his appearance, to take me there, Master
Thomas decided to send me back again to Baltimore, to live with
his brother Hugh, with whom he was now at peace; possibly he
<234>became so by his profession of religion, at the camp-meeting
in the Bay Side. Master Thomas told me that he wished me to go
to Baltimore, and learn a trade; and that, if I behaved myself
properly, he would _emancipate me at twenty-five!_ Thanks for
this one beam of hope in the future. The promise had but one
fault; it seemed too good to be true.

Frederick Douglass

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