Chestertown was quite a thriving place, having five thousand or more inhabitants, and was the county seat for Kent County. It bordered on the Chesapeake Bay, where we had ready transportation to Baltimore, Md., three or four times a week. There were a large number of wealthy families living there at that time who owned large plantations. On being introduced to my master the next morning I was informed what I was expected to do. I was told that I was coming sixteen years old the next spring, and he had bought me for the special purpose to work about the house and to do whatever was wanted of me; and, also, I was expected to do what I was set about, and to do it well and quick. He said he would not overlook one fault. If I did as he said I would be properly treated; if I did not I would get the hickory wottel. I assured him faithfully I would do the best I could. I found that my work was precisely the same as that I had performed at Dr. Hyde’s, my last place, so I got along for the first two weeks very nicely. I gave them satisfaction, as I thought; they, that is my master and his wife, appeared pleased. I concluded I was all right and was going to have a nice time at my new home. At this time there was not the dread of a daily whipping and the loss of one meal a day. It was not long before I was to learn that storms followed calms, and war came after peace.
One Friday morning, after being there about four weeks, I well remember the day, I was busy at work on my hand-irons. My mistress came out and wanted to know what I had been doing all the morning. I turned round and looked at her, and saw that her face was awfully red; there was something wrong but I could not divine it. She hurriedly went out of the room where I was, into the back room, and got her cowhide; without the least ceremony she lit on me—the same as a hungry hawk on an innocent chicken. Her descent upon me was so sudden that I did not know what to do. I begged, I entreated her to stop; but she grew worse and worse. The blows came faster and faster, and every one brought the blood streaming from my head and back till I was covered from head to foot. Being a large, fleshy woman, she at last became fatigued and exhausted, and had to quit her inhuman chastisement. I was so unmercifully beaten that I was unfit for work that day.
Next morning I could not stand up I was so weak and exhausted from loss of blood. My eyes and head were completely swollen, and for a few days I had to remain a poor sufferer—the victim of a woman’s spite and hatred for a poor despised race. What I had done to deserve all this treatment I knew not. Here I was, no one to care for me, no one to console me. After awhile I got so that I could resume work. She never repeated that kind of treatment again, but consigned me to a worse fate for the future—I may say for a limited period. Whenever I did anything that was considered wrong after that I had to go to the cellar, where I was stripped naked, my hands tied to a beam over head, and my feet to a post, and then I was whipped by master till the blood ran down to my heels. This he continued to do every week, for my mistress would always find something to complain of, and he had to be the servant of her will and passion for human blood. At last he became disgusted with himself and ceased the cruel treatment. I heard him tell her one day—after he had got through inflicting the corporal punishment—that he would not do it any more to gratify her.
One day, to my great astonishment, I found that my work was to be changed from a domestic servant to a farm hand. Having been trained to do a little of both it did not seem hard for me to work at either. Mr. Mansfield had purchased a little farm a few years before I went to live with him, containing sixty acres. It cost him three dollars an acre, and was very poor land. I, together with an older hand, was placed on this farm to work. It was about a mile out of Chestertown and had no house or barn on it, so we had to travel the distance four times a day to get meals and to feed the horses. Having to carry manure to the farm we had the privilege of riding there and back every time. I continued to work on this farm a little over five years. When we commenced reaping the first year it yielded only from five to six bushels of corn and wheat to the acre; after five years it yielded thirty bushels to the acre. The last three years I worked on the farm it was under my charge.
Besides attending to the work of the farm I had to drive the hearse which conveyed the dead to the grave, for my master being a cabinet-maker, was also an undertaker. I had to attend the funerals of all the prominent men and women within a radius of twenty miles of that place. My boss had so much confidence in me that he would send me twenty miles alone with a coffin to bury some great person, and I would be gone, sometimes, as long as two days. He was the only man in that town that attended to such business. On one occasion I went to bury the wife of a high sheriff, and to my surprise and confusion found that all the men were drunk. When they arrived at the burying ground they were just fit for business—not to bury, but to quarrel. As they were removing the corpse from the hearse they let it fall to the ground, bursting open the coffin. They were in great confusion over it and I did not know how it would end. I drove off and left them, as my duties were ended. It was always customary on these funeral occasions, that after the burial a dinner was served to all who took part in the exercises—“rejoicing at the death.” By this accident I lost my funeral dinner, as I fled for home not knowing what they might do to me if I remained—though the accident was no fault of mine; I was a slave, subject to anybody’s insult and bad treatment.
During the five years and over that I worked on the farm I was never struck a blow. There was no one to find fault with my work. The boss was but seldom there and I was taken from under the control of my mistress. In the year 1845 I had done so well for my master, or at least he thought so—and I knew I had—that just before Christmas he told me to take the other man that was with me and shell out one hundred bushels of corn, and the same of wheat, and put them on board the sloop General Washington, to be taken to Baltimore. On the following Tuesday, after this was done, he gave me a new suit of clothes, and at ten o’clock we went on board the sloop and sailed for Baltimore to dispose of the corn and wheat. We arrived there the next morning, which was Wednesday. Mr. Mansfield went ashore and proceeded up town to see some friend of his, and left me at the vessel. Not receiving any orders from him I thought I would like to see something of the city; so off I started alone. While passing up Pratt Street I fell in with two men standing on the sidewalk. They were not standing close together. I could not very well pass around them, and to proceed I had to go between them, which I attempted to do. They soon stopped and severely beat me for so doing. When they got through my clothes were all full of blood that flowed from my own body. I was ignorant, yes, completely ignorant of their law, forbidding a negro from passing between two or more white men or women who were walking or standing on the sidewalk, and that he or she must take the street to give place to their superiors. By the time they got through inflicting their punishment I had learned something of the penalty of the crime. With my painful bruises and blood-stained garments I found my way back to the sloop to await the return of Mr. Mansfield. When he saw my unfortunate condition and had heard my pitiful story, he became quite indignant over it. He tried to obtain redress by offering a reward to discover the parties that had done the deed. To his astonishment, he was politely informed that his reward would do no good, as negroes are not allowed to pass between white men when they are standing talking. This is one of the methods they took to teach negroes their manners to white people. This was my first experience of a city walk.
Our freight was unloaded and disposed of, and on the following Friday we returned home. As usual, I resumed my customary work. Everything went along quite smoothly at the farm, at the hearse business, and at the house, until the month of August, 1846, when the golden dreams of my sunshine of peace began to draw near the horizon of that place I was doomed to call home; but I saw it not. Dark clouds were swiftly gathering over my head in uninterrupted succession for many days to come; but I discerned them not. The life of a slave is a wretched one in its best condition; if he always knew what awaited him in the future, it would be most wretched. He who holds the destiny of the world in His hands wisely hides from our eyes what a day may bring forth.
At this time the family became short of meat. We had two steers that had been turned loose in what was called the “common”—a tract of land about twelve miles off, containing two hundred acres of forest land—a pleasure and pasture ground for unused cattle. Another hand, with myself, was told to go to the common and capture one of the steers, and to bring it home to be slaughtered and packed away for the use of the family. According to orders we started on our journey, which was the last day of August. We labored hard all that day trying to find them, among a number of others, in the dense forest. As night began to set in we discovered our search, by the private mark that had been placed on them when they were put there. To our disappointment, the fast overspreading darkness prevented our capturing them that night, so we had to take the horses and return home, with the intention of renewing our labors early next day. At an early hour next morning we started on our journey. On our arrival we soon found our search, the lasso was thrown with steady, true aim, and the prize was captured. We mounted our horses and were soon on our way home—one leading and the other driving. Our captive did some considerable struggling for liberty, detaining us on the road so long that we did not reach home before four o’clock in the afternoon, when we were told to take him to Tom Carroll’s slaughter house. At five o’clock he was slaughtered and hanging on the gallows, and by seven o’clock that night he was in the cellar, salted down and packed away for future use. In less than three days our supply of beef was completely spoiled, having maggots in it nearly as long as a little finger. A new life had come into it.
At this time my mistress had become the mother of another child; it was about two weeks old. She had stopping with her a young girl, a niece of hers, who performed the duty of housekeeper. She was the daughter of Hugh Wallace. When this miss of a housekeeper discovered the great calamity that had befallen the store of beef—making it unfit for the delicate stomachs of her aunt, uncle-in-law, cousins, and her own—she ordered that some of it be taken to the kitchen and boiled for the hands. After it had gone through the culinary department, its flavor and unpalatable taste made it too much for human stomachs of the strongest kind to endure. A slave’s stomach was considered not to be human, but this undainty dish proved that it was. None of us could eat it. It had to be rejected because the stomach refused it. I was so bold as to cast my portion out to the dog, an act, I thought, unseen by any but those who were with me. I was mistaken; other eyes were on me but I knew it not then. This awful crime that I committed had at last sent my peace below the horizon, and the cloud had burst. The keen eye of the girlish housekeeper had seen it fall to the dog’s mouth. Master, mistress and chief servant all agreed that I had been impudent to Miss Wallace, and of course I must pay the penalty. In Baltimore I was chastized for passing between two white men; now I am treated worse than that for casting rotten meat to a dog, because I could not force it down my throat when given me by my mistress’ representative.
This remarkable event happened on a Saturday, at noon. Mr. Mansfield had that day gone away from home and was not to return before night. When he had been home but a short time he came out and met me in the yard, after I had put the horse up that he had been using, and wanted to know what I had done. Before I could think of any serious fault he picked up a stick four feet long and began to fire away at me with all his force, crying out, “What have you been doing?” I told him I had done nothing, and he exclaimed. “You are a liar!” He told me to go to the cellar and he would see. Though a slave, and his property, yet I dared to assert the lion of my manhood that he had aroused in me, and I replied, “I will not do it!” then he renewed the attack with the stick. I caught hold of it to prevent him from using it. He wrung and I twisted; he twisted and I wrung. At last I lost control of my temper and pushed him over a pile of wood that was in the yard. As he fell he cried out for Mary, his wife, to bring him his gun. Before she arrived with the deadly instrument I was over one fence and across the street. As I ascended the second fence to find refuge in the field he aimed his gun, firing three shots at me. The first shot grazed my head, removing a little hair; the second touched my ear, and the third passed through my hat; but they did not stop me from running. On reaching the mulberry thicket, where I thought I was safe, I stopped. I was ignorant of what I had so seriously done to cause all this. I remained here all that night.
At last Sunday morning dawned and found me hiding from the fierce anger of a man who would soon be making his way to church; but I could not go. I had no one to speak to but God. Alone, yet not alone. My thoughts may be somewhat surmised when I inform my readers of the sacred relationship of the man who had just attempted to take my life. He was a local preacher in the Methodist Church, and considered one of its most pious and consistent members. His religious fervor was so great that he could not content himself with his own church, but also identified his name with the colored Methodist Church of which I was a member. He would frequently attend our meetings, jump, shout and sing, like the rest of us. He was the leader of my class, my spiritual adviser and counsellor in the time of trouble. Now, by his merciless treatment, I am driven from the shelter of his home. What could I think of him? How could I judge of his religious profession? How could I receive his religious instructions? The more I thought of him this day the more my confidence in him grew weaker. He was my master, and by the inhuman law of slavery I was his property and must obey his mandates. During the day my hiding-place was discovered by a fellow-slave who brought me food, which removed a portion of sorrow from my wounded breast. In this affliction I found, as in former instances, that by turning my heart towards God, He would take care of me and provide for my wants. The Sabbath day drearily passed away, and night found me still among the mulberry bushes to spend a second night without shelter, bed or covering.
On Monday morning my pious master told one of the slave hands if he saw me to tell me to “come home!” When I received the message I immediately returned. On my arrival I met the would-be murderer, and he wanted to know “why I acted so; why I threw the meat to the dog?” In an instant the cause of Saturday’s conflict and Sunday’s sorrow came to my mind. Refusing to eat rotten beef and casting it to the dog had brought down his vengeance on my much-defenceless head. The secret was revealed. Miss Wallace had witnessed the act, taking it as a great insult to herself. To use his own expression: “It was an insult to Miss Wallace, for she had sent it out to the kitchen.” I replied that I did not know it was an insult, I did not mean to insult her, and she did not know how bad it smelled. He abruptly told me to go to work and he would see about it. So we parted; he to counsel other methods of punishment or revenge, and I to my work on the farm. At this season we were busily engaged hauling lime to the farm. We completed this job in three weeks, then we had to gather in the corn and tread out some wheat. The treading was done by horses in what was called the “treading yard.” It was about the middle of November when this portion of our annual work was completed.
The first important job that was assigned to Will (for my master always called me by that name), after finishing the farm work, was to take the horse and cart, with a note, and go to Mr. H. Wallace’s for a barrel of turkeys and geese that were to be sent to Baltimore, Md. During all this time I had not heard anything about the spoiled meat trouble. I concluded it had all passed by, and to me almost forgotten. My conception of the trickery of mankind were very small at that time. If I had known the contents of the note, and what kind of poultry I was sent after, I would no doubt have been tempted to have resorted to my mulberry home, or some other more distant, but I did not. I had more lessons to learn. At two o’clock I started on my errand. The distance by the public road was ten miles, and it would be some time before I could return. I was acquainted with a road that would take me directly there, by crossing lands belonging to other persons, and the distance would not be more than three miles; so in order to economize time for the boss I took that route. This way I knew would bring me in contact with a creek a little below Mr. W’s house. He always kept a boat on this creek, so that persons coming to or going from his house by that way could be ferried across by one of the slaves. The horse and cart were secured; I gave the signal and was soon safely landed on the other side. I inquired for the master of the mansion, and was directed to the treading yard. I soon found him, and delivered to him in person my trust and the message for the featherless and lifeless birds that were never to be seen. He gave me a pitchfork, telling me to shake up that straw, he would give me what I wanted pretty soon. I always endeavored to obey orders, so I complied by going to work with a good will pitching straw. I worked on, expecting every moment to receive the answer to my errand, but still it did not come. As it began to grow dark I became apprehensive that something was wrong. Finally, I told Mr. Wallace that I must be going home as I had work to do; would he please give me the turkeys and geese? He, to my great astonishment, struck me with his pitchfork with so much force that he broke it over my shoulders.
At this sudden change of affairs I suddenly started on the run, with he and his son after me like hounds in full chase after the fleeing fox. My safety depended upon my agile movements. My active feet did me good service and soon left my pursuers far behind. My impulsive thought was to flee directly home and secure the protection of him whom I was compelled to call master. Alas! alas! I was placing my trust in one who was betraying me, who was deceiving me; and soon I was to discover the blackness of his heart toward me. The vigorous efforts of the maddened foe pressed on me so great that the road for home had to be abandoned, and I had to flee to the dense woods for refuge. They were safely reached, and I could once more breathe easily. Here I remained till after midnight, when I thought I could venture out and try to find my way home. The great wonder was, how could I succeed. I knew Mr. W. always kept his boats in such a manner that I could get one and row across the creek; but then came the dread that they might be watching that means of escape and would capture me. That route had to be abandoned and another found. Blinded with grief and darkness I started up the creek in search of some shallow place where I might walk across. On I walked till at last I halted at a spot that I thought would do. The stream here was narrow; in I ventured. Step after step brought me into deeper water. Suddenly I found that I was beyond my depth. I could not swim, I could not go back. The scenes of death were before me. There was no one near by to call upon to save me. In the midst of my dilemma I remembered the Lord; upon Him with my whole heart I did call. If ever I prayed in my life I did this time. Soon my eyes became dim, my mind bewildered, and consciousness had departed from me. How long I remained in the water after that I know not. When consciousness returned I found myself safely resting on the opposite shore, wet and cold. My escape was miraculous, and I attributed it all to God.
Once more on terra firma I started for home, arriving there about four o’clock in the morning. I found that the horse and cart had arrived home during the night, having been brought there by one of Mr. Wallace’s men. Next morning my boss met me when I was coming from the barn. He informed me that “Mr. W. was going to whip me for being impudent to his daughter in throwing that meat to the dog, and I had better have stayed and got it and had it over.” I told him that I belonged to him, and if he wanted to do it I would submit—I did not want anybody else to do it. He bade me take off the wet clothes and put on the hearse clothes. I did so, and was quickly on my way with the hearse to the shop.
Though I was but a poor, despised slave, having no rights that I could call my own, even to the refusal of such food that I could not eat, yet I possessed that principle of true manhood to despise deceit in my employers. Here I found a man who had told me from time to time how to serve God, how to live right, and now had proved to be a base deceiver and a falsifier. Instead of the note asking for turkeys and geese, it was to whip me for what they deemed impudence. Could I believe him hereafter? Could I trust him any more? No! he had told me a lie. My confidence in him was gone, and my feelings towards him were changed. Was I happy or contented? No! for I did not know how soon another trap would be set for me to fall into the hands of my enemies. This uncertain state of mind was my daily, but yet unpleasant, companion. Its duration was uncertain. I would have felt somewhat at ease if the boss had inflicted this punishment, but he would not do it.
On December 15 Mr. Mansfield sent me down to the wharf to Jim Frisby, to get his scow, and proceed up to Mr. Wallace’s and get ten cords of hickory wood. I was told to take another man with me. As I had to enter within the bounds of Wallace’s estate again, I concluded to prepare myself for emergencies and a hasty retreat. I had come to know the trickery of the man I was dealing with and was determined to disappoint him. Jim Frisby was an old colored man who owned the scow, and he owned, besides, a small boat—just what was needed, and served my purpose admirably. While arranging for the scow I also bargained for the boat, taking care not to divulge my secret to any one. About ten o’clock we started on our journey. The distance was but five miles, the tide was running in our favor, and we were soon at our journey’s end. We found the wood piled up on the shore ready for us. We began to load up the scow, but night came on us so fast that we could not finish. We took our lunch into the small boat and rowed to the other side of the creek, and sought out an old barn that I had frequently seen in that neighborhood, where we rested for the night. Being tired after our day’s work we soon sought sweet sleep for our weary bodies.
Next morning we were both up by daylight and resumed our work, and by nine o’clock we were ready to return with our load of wood. My readers must not suppose that my eyes were idle while working here. My hands were working to serve Mansfield, and my eyes were working or watching to serve Will, alias Isaac. I knew my man, and I felt he was on the watch and only waiting for a chance to pounce down upon me. As we were preparing to start I looked up the road and saw Mr. W. coming towards the scow. I remarked to my fellow-workman that he was coming and there would be trouble for me. On he came with his silver-headed stick in hand. He drew near and jumped on board the scow, and I very deliberately stepped into Jim Frisby’s little boat and struck out for the opposite shore. He was so sorely disappointed at his second defeat, that he took a keen aim at my head with his stick; but oh! he missed me and off I went. He tried another plan by sending two of his men in another boat after me, with instructions to bring me back dead or alive. I out-rowed them and jumped ashore with paddle in hand. I was making for a place of safety, but before I could secure myself they had overtaken me. Then a desperate struggle took place. They rushed for me. I dodged, threatening them to stand back or I would kill them. Still they tried to carry out the demand of the tyrant. In my struggles I looked on them as men in slavish bondage like myself, and executors of a master’s will. They fought to obey him, I fought to save my body from bruises, and for aught I know, my life from sacrifice. Finding words of persuasion and threat of no avail, I brought my weapon down with full strength and true aim on the head of one of the attacking party, when he fell to the ground like a log. The other fellow ran off and left me to make good my flight from the avenger—not of blood, but of pretended impudence to his presumptuous daughter.
To return to the boat was impossible. To render assistance in carrying home the scow was out of the question. The way to Chestertown by land was the most convenient. As I drew near the house who did I see ride into the yard from a different direction but my mortal enemy, Mr. H. Wallace. He failed to see me, so I at once made a hasty retreat. To have gone nearer the house would have been as bad, if not worse, than staying on board the scow and having the unmerciful thrashing that was laid out for me. Moved by the impulse of the moment I turned around, made my way into the meadows and secured a position where I could see when he left the premises. These remarkable escapes from his hands were, to me, great miracles. I had formed a resolution that he should not beat me, and was determined to disappoint him at every attempt. He was aided by my cunning master, but I had no one to help me. Thus far success attended the resolve, and I make bold to assert that God helped me in emergencies. Mr. Wallace lingered around the house for some time, thinking I would come home. A watchful eye was kept on the path he must take on leaving the house. The moment for his departure came at last, and my heavy heart was lightened when I saw his retreating footsteps making their way homeward. I forsook my hiding-place and went home. To my great astonishment I learned that the scow with her load of wood was at the wharf, Mr. W. had sent one of his hands to assist in bringing it home. Shortly after I entered the yard I met Mr. Mansfield. His look and manner of speech indicated that something was wrong. He ordered me to go to the wharf immediately and “pitch the wood off the scow,” he was afraid it would sink, “and get it home pretty quick!” Off I went, as usual, wondering what could be up now. My utmost endeavor was always to try and please him.
In the evening his son came to me, looking sad, and appeared anxious to say something. I was then working in the barn, and it was a convenient place for a kind of private interview, for no one at the house could see us. He informed me that his Uncle Wallace had that day urged his father to sell me to him, promising to give his boy, George, who was twenty-two years old, and $300 into the bargain. His father, after a little persuasion, had agreed to do so, though he did not want to part with me till after the second day of January next. At that time the papers were to be made out and signed. I gained further information from him concerning my future destiny—arranged by those ungenerous slave-holders. His uncle, H. Wallace, had a nephew living in New Orleans, a slave owner; he had a supply about once a year, and the time having arrived for a batch to be sent on I found I was to form one of the number, January being the month allotted for the transportation. By their unjust treatment they had forced me to form plans to make my escape from slavery. To New Orleans I did not intend to go if I could prevent it. These tidings caused me to devise means to put into execution an immediate flight. Whatever I was to do must be done at once. Christmas was drawing near, and New Year’s was soon to follow; if alive, then my fate would be determined, and Wallace and Will had to decide that. Mr. Mansfield had put me out of his reach by making the bargain to sell.
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