Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 8

_A Chapter of Horrors_


As I have already intimated elsewhere, the slaves on Col. Lloyd's
plantation, whose hard lot, under Mr. Sevier, the reader has
already noticed and deplored, were not permitted to enjoy the
comparatively moderate rule of Mr. Hopkins. The latter was
succeeded by a very different man. The name of the new overseer
was Austin Gore. Upon this individual I would fix particular
attention; for under his rule there was more suffering from
violence and bloodshed than had--according to the older slaves
ever been experienced before on this plantation. I confess, I
hardly know how to bring this man fitly before the reader. He
was, it is true, an overseer, and possessed, to a large extent,
the peculiar characteristics of his class; yet, to call him
merely an overseer, would not give the reader a fair notion of
the man. I speak of overseers as a class. They are such. They
are as distinct from the slaveholding gentry of the south, as are
the fishwomen of Paris, and the coal-heavers of London, distinct
from other members of society. They constitute a separate
fraternity at the south, not less marked than is the fraternity
of Park Lane bullies in New York. They have been arranged and
classified <94>by that great law of attraction, which determines
the spheres and affinities of men; which ordains, that men, whose
malign and brutal propensities predominate over their moral and
intellectual endowments, shall, naturally, fall into those
employments which promise the largest gratification to those
predominating instincts or propensities. The office of overseer
takes this raw material of vulgarity and brutality, and stamps it
as a distinct class of southern society. But, in this class, as
in all other classes, there are characters of marked
individuality, even while they bear a general resemblance to the
mass. Mr. Gore was one of those, to whom a general
characterization would do no manner of justice. He was an
overseer; but he was something more. With the malign and
tyrannical qualities of an overseer, he combined something of the
lawful master. He had the artfulness and the mean ambition of
his class; but he was wholly free from the disgusting swagger and
noisy bravado of his fraternity. There was an easy air of
independence about him; a calm self-possession, and a sternness
of glance, which might well daunt hearts less timid than those of
poor slaves, accustomed from childhood and through life to cower
before a driver's lash. The home plantation of Col. Lloyd
afforded an ample field for the exercise of the qualifications
for overseership, which he possessed in such an eminent degree.

Mr. Gore was one of those overseers, who could torture the
slightest word or look into impudence; he had the nerve, not only
to resent, but to punish, promptly and severely. He never
allowed himself to be answered back, by a slave. In this, he was
as lordly and as imperious as Col. Edward Lloyd, himself; acting
always up to the maxim, practically maintained by slaveholders,
that it is better that a dozen slaves suffer under the lash,
without fault, than that the master or the overseer should _seem_
to have been wrong in the presence of the slave. _Everything
must be absolute here_. Guilty or not guilty, it is enough to be
accused, to be sure of a flogging. The very presence of this man
Gore was <95 AUSTIN GORE>painful, and I shunned him as I would
have shunned a rattlesnake. His piercing, black eyes, and sharp,
shrill voice, ever awakened sensations of terror among the
slaves. For so young a man (I describe him as he was, twenty-
five or thirty years ago) Mr. Gore was singularly reserved and
grave in the presence of slaves. He indulged in no jokes, said
no funny things, and kept his own counsels. Other overseers, how
brutal soever they might be, were, at times, inclined to gain
favor with the slaves, by indulging a little pleasantry; but Gore
was never known to be guilty of any such weakness. He was always
the cold, distant, unapproachable _overseer_ of Col. Edward
Lloyd's plantation, and needed no higher pleasure than was
involved in a faithful discharge of the duties of his office.
When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and
feared no consequences. What Hopkins did reluctantly, Gore did
with alacrity. There was a stern will, an iron-like reality,
about this Gore, which would have easily made him the chief of a
band of pirates, had his environments been favorable to such a
course of life. All the coolness, savage barbarity and freedom
from moral restraint, which are necessary in the character of a
pirate-chief, centered, I think, in this man Gore. Among many
other deeds of shocking cruelty which he perpetrated, while I was
at Mr. Lloyd's, was the murder of a young colored man, named
Denby. He was sometimes called Bill Denby, or Demby; (I write
from sound, and the sounds on Lloyd's plantation are not very
certain.) I knew him well. He was a powerful young man, full of
animal spirits, and, so far as I know, he was among the most
valuable of Col. Lloyd's slaves. In something--I know not what--
he offended this Mr. Austin Gore, and, in accordance with the
custom of the latter, he under took to flog him. He gave Denby
but few stripes; the latter broke away from him and plunged into
the creek, and, standing there to the depth of his neck in water,
he refused to come out at the order of the overseer; whereupon,
for this refusal, _Gore shot him dead!_ It is said that Gore
gave Denby three calls, telling him that <96>if he did not obey
the last call, he would shoot him. When the third call was
given, Denby stood his ground firmly; and this raised the
question, in the minds of the by-standing slaves--"Will he dare
to shoot?" Mr. Gore, without further parley, and without making
any further effort to induce Denby to come out of the water,
raised his gun deliberately to his face, took deadly aim at his
standing victim, and, in an instant, poor Denby was numbered with
the dead. His mangled body sank out of sight, and only his warm,
red blood marked the place where he had stood.

This devilish outrage, this fiendish murder, produced, as it was
well calculated to do, a tremendous sensation. A thrill of
horror flashed through every soul on the plantation, if I may
except the guilty wretch who had committed the hell-black deed.
While the slaves generally were panic-struck, and howling with
alarm, the murderer himself was calm and collected, and appeared
as though nothing unusual had happened. The atrocity roused my
old master, and he spoke out, in reprobation of it; but the whole
thing proved to be less than a nine days' wonder. Both Col.
Lloyd and my old master arraigned Gore for his cruelty in the
matter, but this amounted to nothing. His reply, or
explanation--as I remember to have heard it at the time was, that
the extraordinary expedient was demanded by necessity; that Denby
had become unmanageable; that he had set a dangerous example to
the other slaves; and that, without some such prompt measure as
that to which he had resorted, were adopted, there would be an
end to all rule and order on the plantation. That very
convenient covert for all manner of cruelty and outrage that
cowardly alarm-cry, that the slaves would _"take the place,"_ was
pleaded, in extenuation of this revolting crime, just as it had
been cited in defense of a thousand similar ones. He argued,
that if one slave refused to be corrected, and was allowed to
escape with his life, when he had been told that he should lose
it if he persisted in his course, the other slaves would soon
copy his example; the result of which would be, the freedom of
the slaves, and the enslavement of the <97 HOW GORE MADE PEACE
WITH COL. LLOYD>whites. I have every reason to believe that Mr.
Gore's defense, or explanation, was deemed satisfactory--at least
to Col. Lloyd. He was continued in his office on the plantation.
His fame as an overseer went abroad, and his horrid crime was not
even submitted to judicial investigation. The murder was
committed in the presence of slaves, and they, of course, could
neither institute a suit, nor testify against the murderer. His
bare word would go further in a court of law, than the united
testimony of ten thousand black witnesses.

All that Mr. Gore had to do, was to make his peace with Col.
Lloyd. This done, and the guilty perpetrator of one of the most
foul murders goes unwhipped of justice, and uncensured by the
community in which he lives. Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael's,
Talbot county, when I left Maryland; if he is still alive he
probably yet resides there; and I have no reason to doubt that he
is now as highly esteemed, and as greatly respected, as though
his guilty soul had never been stained with innocent blood. I am
well aware that what I have now written will by some be branded
as false and malicious. It will be denied, not only that such a
thing ever did transpire, as I have now narrated, but that such a
thing could happen in _Maryland_. I can only say--believe it or
not--that I have said nothing but the literal truth, gainsay it
who may.

I speak advisedly when I say this,--that killing a slave, or any
colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a
crime, either by the courts or the community. Mr. Thomas Lanman,
ship carpenter, of St. Michael's, killed two slaves, one of whom
he butchered with a hatchet, by knocking his brains out. He used
to boast of the commission of the awful and bloody deed. I have
heard him do so, laughingly, saying, among other things, that he
was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and that
when "others would do as much as he had done, we should be
relieved of the d--d niggers."

As an evidence of the reckless disregard of human life where the
life is that of a slave I may state the notorious fact, that the
<98>wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, who lived but a short distance from
Col. Lloyd's, with her own hands murdered my wife's cousin, a
young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age--mutilating
her person in a most shocking manner. The atrocious woman, in
the paroxysm of her wrath, not content with murdering her victim,
literally mangled her face, and broke her breast bone. Wild,
however, and infuriated as she was, she took the precaution to
cause the slave-girl to be buried; but the facts of the case
coming abroad, very speedily led to the disinterment of the
remains of the murdered slave-girl. A coroner's jury was
assembled, who decided that the girl had come to her death by
severe beating. It was ascertained that the offense for which
this girl was thus hurried out of the world, was this: she had
been set that night, and several preceding nights, to mind Mrs.
Hicks's baby, and having fallen into a sound sleep, the baby
cried, waking Mrs. Hicks, but not the slave-girl. Mrs. Hicks,
becoming infuriated at the girl's tardiness, after calling
several times, jumped from her bed and seized a piece of fire-
wood from the fireplace; and then, as she lay fast asleep, she
deliberately pounded in her skull and breast-bone, and thus ended
her life. I will not say that this most horrid murder produced
no sensation in the community. It _did_ produce a sensation;
but, incredible to tell, the moral sense of the community was
blunted too entirely by the ordinary nature of slavery horrors,
to bring the murderess to punishment. A warrant was issued for
her arrest, but, for some reason or other, that warrant was never
served. Thus did Mrs. Hicks not only escape condign punishment,
but even the pain and mortification of being arraigned before a
court of justice.

Whilst I am detailing the bloody deeds that took place during my
stay on Col. Lloyd's plantation, I will briefly narrate another
dark transaction, which occurred about the same time as the
murder of Denby by Mr. Gore.

On the side of the river Wye, opposite from Col. Lloyd's, there
lived a Mr. Beal Bondley, a wealthy slaveholder. In the
direction <99 NO LAW PROTECTS THE SLAVE>of his land, and near the
shore, there was an excellent oyster fishing ground, and to this,
some of the slaves of Col. Lloyd occasionally resorted in their
little canoes, at night, with a view to make up the deficiency of
their scanty allowance of food, by the oysters that they could
easily get there. This, Mr. Bondley took it into his head to
regard as a trespass, and while an old man belonging to Col.
Lloyd was engaged in catching a few of the many millions of
oysters that lined the bottom of that creek, to satisfy his
hunger, the villainous Mr. Bondley, lying in ambush, without the
slightest ceremony, discharged the contents of his musket into
the back and shoulders of the poor old man. As good fortune
would have it, the shot did not prove mortal, and Mr. Bondley
came over, the next day, to see Col. Lloyd--whether to pay him
for his property, or to justify himself for what he had done, I
know not; but this I _can_ say, the cruel and dastardly
transaction was speedily hushed up; there was very little said
about it at all, and nothing was publicly done which looked like
the application of the principle of justice to the man whom
_chance_, only, saved from being an actual murderer. One of the
commonest sayings to which my ears early became accustomed, on
Col. Lloyd's plantation and elsewhere in Maryland, was, that it
was _"worth but half a cent to kill a nigger, and a half a cent
to bury him;"_ and the facts of my experience go far to justify
the practical truth of this strange proverb. Laws for the
protection of the lives of the slaves, are, as they must needs
be, utterly incapable of being enforced, where the very parties
who are nominally protected, are not permitted to give evidence,
in courts of law, against the only class of persons from whom
abuse, outrage and murder might be reasonably apprehended. While
I heard of numerous murders committed by slaveholders on the
Eastern Shores of Maryland, I never knew a solitary instance in
which a slaveholder was either hung or imprisoned for having
murdered a slave. The usual pretext for killing a slave is, that
the slave has offered resistance. Should a slave, when
assaulted, but raise his hand in self defense, the white
assaulting <100>party is fully justified by southern, or
Maryland, public opinion, in shooting the slave down. Sometimes
this is done, simply because it is alleged that the slave has
been saucy. But here I leave this phase of the society of my
early childhood, and will relieve the kind reader of these heart-
sickening details.

Frederick Douglass

Sorry, no summary available yet.