Slavery in the United States/Chapter 13
In a community of near three hundred persons, governed by laws as severe and unbending as those which regulated our actions, it is not to be expected that universal content can prevail, or that crimes will not be imagined, and even sometimes perpetrated. Ignorant men estimate those things which fortune has placed beyond their reach, not by their real value, but by the strength of their own desires and passions. Objects in themselves indifferent, which they are forbidden to touch, or even approach, excite in the minds of the unreflecting, ungovernable impulses. The slave, who is taught from infancy, to regard his condition as unchangeable, and his fate as fixed, by the laws of nature, fancies that he sees his master in possession of that happiness which he knows has been denied to himself. The lower men are sunk in the scale of civilization, the more violent become their animal passions. The native Africans are revengeful, and unforgiving in their tempers, easily provoked, and cruel in their designs. They generally place little, or even no value, upon the fine houses, and superb furniture of their masters; and discover no beauty in the fair complexions, and delicate forms of their mistresses. They feel indignant at the servitude that is imposed upon them, and only want power to inflict the most cruel retribution upon their oppressors; but they desire only the means of subsistence, and temporary gratification in this country, during their abode here.
They are universally of opinion, and this opinion is founded in their religion, that after death they shall return to their own country, and rejoin their former companions and friends, in some happy region, in which they will be provided with plenty of food, and beautiful women, from the lovely daughters of their own native land.
The case is different with the American negro, who knows nothing of Africa, her religion, or customs, and who has borrowed all his ideas of present and future happiness, from the opinions and intercourse of white people, and of Christians. He is, perhaps, not so impatient of slavery, and excessive labour, as the native of Congo; but his mind is bent upon other pursuits, and his discontent works out for itself other schemes, than those which agitate the brain of the imported negro. His heart pants for no heaven beyond the waves of the ocean; and he dreams of no delights in the arms of sable beauties, in groves of immortality, on the banks of the Niger, or the Gambia; nor does he often solace himself with the reflection, that the day will arrive when all men will receive the awards of immutable justice, and live together in eternal bliss, without any other distinctions than those of superior virtue, and exalted mercy. Circumstances oppose great obstacles in the way of these opinions.
The slaves who are natives of the country, (I now speak of the mass of those on the cotton plantations, as I knew them,) like all other people, who suffer wrong in this world, are exceedingly prone to console themselves with the delights of a future state, when the evil that has been endured in this life, will not only be abolished, and all injuries be compensated by proper rewards, bestowed upon the sufferers, but, as they have learned that wickedness is to be punished, as well as goodness compensated, they do not stop at the point of their own enjoyments and pleasures, but believe that those who have tormented them here, will most surely be tormented in their turn hereafter. The gross and carnal minds of these slaves, are not capable of arriving at the sublime doctrines taught by the white preachers; in which they are encouraged to look forward to the day when all distinctions of colour, and of condition, will be abolished, and they shall sit down in the same paradise, with their masters, mistresses, and even with the overseer. They are ready enough to receive the faith, which conducts them to heaven, and eternal rest, on account of their present sufferings; but they by no means so willingly admit the master and mistress to an equal participation in their enjoyments—this would only be partial justice, and half way retribution. According to their notions, the master and mistress are to be, in future, the companions of wicked slaves, whilst an agreeable recreation of the celestial inhabitants of the negro's heaven, will be a return to the overseer of the countless lashes that he has lent out so liberally here.
It is impossible to reconcile the mind of the native slave to the idea of living in a state of perfect equality, and boundless affection, with the white people. Heaven will be no heaven to him, if he is not to be avenged of his enemies. I know, from experience, that these are the fundamental rules of his religious creed; because I learned them in the religious meetings of the slaves themselves. A favourite and kind master or mistress, may now and then be admitted into heaven, but this rather as a matter of favour, to the intercession of some slave, than as matter of strict justice to the whites, who will, by no means, be of an equal rank with those who shall be raised from the depths of misery, in this world.
The idea of a revolution in the conditions of the whites and the blacks, is the corner-stone of the religion of the latter; and indeed, it seems to me, at least, to be quite natural, if not in strict accordance with the precepts of the Bible; for in that book, I find it every where laid down, that those who have possessed an inordinate portion of the good things of this world, and have lived in ease and luxury, at the expense of their fellow men will surely have to render an account of their stewardship, and be punished, for having withheld from others the participation of those blessings, which they themselves enjoyed.
There is no subject which presents to the mind of the male slave a greater contrast between his own condition and that of his master, than the relative station and appearance of his wife and his mistress. The one, poorly clad, poorly fed, and exposed to all the hardships of the cotton field; the other dressed in clothes of gay and various colours, ornamented with jewelry, and carefully protected from the rays of the sun, and the blasts of the wind.
As I have before observed, the Africans have feelings peculiar to themselves; but with an American slave, the possession of the spacious house, splendid furniture, and fine horses of his master, are but the secondary objects of his desires. To fill the measure of his happiness, and crown his highest ambition, his young and beautiful mistress must adorn his triumph, and enliven his hopes.
I have been drawn into the above reflections, by the recollection of an event of a most melancholy character, which took place when I had been on this plantation about three months. Amongst the house-servants of my master, was a young man, named Hardy, of a dark yellow complexion—a quadroon, or mulatto—one fourth of whose blood was transmitted from white parentage.
Hardy was employed in various kinds of work about the house, and was frequently sent of errands; sometimes on horseback. I had become acquainted with the boy, who had often come to see me at the quarter, and had sometimes staid all night with me, and often told me of the ladies and gentlemen, who visited at the great house.
Amongst others, he frequently spoke of a young lady, who resided six or seven miles from the plantation, and often came to visit the daughters of the family, in company with her brother, a lad about twelve or fourteen years of age. He described the great beauty of this girl, whose mother was a widow, living on a small estate of her own. This lady did not keep a carriage; but her son and daughter, when they went abroad, travelled on horseback.One Sunday, these two young people came to visit at the house of my master, and remained until after tea in the evening. As I did not go out to work that day, I went over to the great house, and from the house to a place in the woods, about a mile distant, where I had set snares for rabbits. This place was near the road, and I saw the young lady and her brother, on their way home. It was after sundown, when they passed me; but, as the evening was clear and pleasant, I supposed they would get home soon after dark, and that no accident would befall them.
No more was thought of the matter this evening, and I heard nothing further of the young people, until the next day, about noon, when a black boy came into the field, where we were picking cotton, and went to the overseer with a piece of paper. In a short time the overseer called me to come with him; and, leaving the field with the hands under the orders of Simon, the first captain, we proceeded to the great house.
As soon as we arrived at the mansion, my master, who had not spoken to me since the day we came from Columbia, appeared at the front door, and ordered me to come in and follow him. He led me through a part of the house, and passed into the back yard, where I saw the young gentleman, his son, another gentleman, whom I did not know, the family doctor, and the overseer, all standing together, and in earnest conversation. At my appearance, the overseer opened a cellar door, and ordered me to go in. I had no suspicion of evil, and obeyed the order immediately: as, indeed, I must have obeyed it, whatever might have been my suspicions.The overseer, and the gentlemen, all followed; and as soon as the cellar door was closed after us, by some one whom I could not see, I was ordered to pull off my clothes, and lie down on my back. I was then bound by the hands and feet, with strong cords, and extended at full length between two of the beams that supported the timbers of the building.
The stranger, who, I now observed, was much agitated, spoke to the doctor, who then opened a small case of surgeons' instruments, which he took from his pocket, and told me he was going to skin me, for what I had done last night; "But," said the doctor, "before you are skinned, you had better confess your crime." "What crime, master, shall I confess? I have committed no crime—what has been done, that you are going to murder me?" was my reply. My master then asked me, why I had followed the young lady and her brother, who went from the house the evening before, and murdered her? Astonished and terrified at the charge of being a murderer, I knew not what to say; and only continued the protestations of my innocence, and my entreaties not to be put to death. My young master was greatly enraged against me, and loaded me with maledictions, and imprecations; and his father appeared to be as well satisfied as he was, of my guilt, but was more calm, and less vociferous in his language.
The doctor, during this time, was assorting his instruments, and looking at me—then stooping down, and feeling my pulse, he said, it would not do to skin a man so full of blood as I was. I should bleed so much that he could not see to do his work; and he should probably cut some large vein, or artery, by which I should bleed to death in a few minutes: it was necessary to bleed me in the arms, for some time, so as to reduce the quantity of blood that was in me, before taking my skin off. He then bound a string round my right arm, and opened a vein near the middle of the arm, from which the blood ran in a large and smooth stream. I already began to feel faint, with the loss of blood, when the cellar door was thrown open, and several persons came down, with two lighted candles.
I looked at these people attentively, as they came near, and stood around me, and expressed their satisfaction at the just and dreadful punishment that I was about to undergo. Their faces were all new, and unknown to me, except that of a lad, whom I recognized as the same, who had ridden by me, the preceding evening, in company with his sister.
My old master spoke to this boy, by name, and told him to come and see the murderer of his sister receive his due. The boy was a pretty youth, and wore his hair long, on the top of his head, in the fashion of that day. As he came round near my head, the light of a candle, which the doctor held in his hand, shone full in my face, and seeing that the eyes of the boy met mine, I determined to make one more effort to save my life, and said to him, in as calm a tone as I could, "Young master, did I murder young mistress, your sister?" The youth immediately looked at my master, and said, "This is not the man,—this man has short wool, and he had long wool, like your Hardy."
My life was saved. I was snatched from the most horrible of tortures; and from a slow and painful death. I was unbound, the bleeding of my arm stopped, and I was suffered to put on my clothes, and go up into the back yard of the house, where I was required to tell what I knew of the young lady and her brother, on the previous day. I stated that T had seen them in the court yard of the house, at the time I was in the kitchen; that I had then gone to the woods, to set my snares, and had seen them pass along the road, near me, and that this was all the knowledge I had of them. The boy was then required to examine me particularly, and ascertain whether I was, or was not, the man who had murdered his sister. He said, he had not seen me at the place, where I stated I was, and that he was confident I was not the person who had attacked him and his sister. That my hair, or wool, as he called it, was short; but that of the man who committed the crime was long, like Hardy's, and that he was about the size of Hardy—not so large as I was, but black like me, and not yellow like Hardy. Some one now asked where Hardy was, and he was called for, but could not be found in the kitchen. Persons were sent to the quarter, and other places, in quest of him, but returned without him. Hardy was nowhere to be found. Whilst this inquiry, or rather search, was going on,—perceiving that my old master had ceased to look upon me as a murderer, I asked him to please to tell me what had happened, that had been so near proving fatal to me.
I was now informed, that the young lady, who had left the house on the previous evening, in company with her brother, had been assailed on the road, about four miles off, by a black man, who had sprung from a thicket, and snatched her from her horse, as she was riding at a short distance behind her brother. That the assassin, as soon as she was on the ground, struck her horse a blow with a long stick, which, together with the fright caused by the screams of its rider, when torn from it, had caused it to fly off at full speed; and the horse of the brother also taking fright, followed in pursuit, notwithstanding all the exertions of the lad to stop it. All the account the brother could give of the matter was, that as his horse ran with him, he saw the negro drag his sister into the woods, and heard her screams for a short time. He was not able to stop his horse, until he reached home, when he gave information to his mother, and her family. That people had been scouring the woods all night, and all the morning, without being able to find the young lady.
When intelligence of this horrid crime was brought to the house of my master, Hardy was the first to receive it; he having gone to take the horse of the person,—a young gentleman of the neighbourhood,—who bore it, and who immediately returned to join his friends, in their search for the dead body.
As soon as the messenger was gone, Hardy had come to my master, and told him, that if he would prevent me from murdering him, he would disclose the perpetrator of the crime. He was then ordered to communicate all he knew, on the subject; and declared, that, having gone into the woods the day before, to hunt squirrels, he staid until it was late, and on his return home, hearing the shrieks of a woman, he had proceeded cautiously to the place; but before he could arrive at the spot, the cries had ceased; nevertheless, he had found me, after some search, with the body of the young lady, whom I had just killed, and that I was about to kill him too, with a hickory club, but he had saved his life by promising that he would never betray me. He was glad to leave me; and what I had done with the body, he did not know.
Hardy was known in the neighbourhood, and his character had been good. I was a stranger, and on inquiry, the black people in the kitchen supported Hardy, by saying, that I had been seen going to the woods, before night, by the way of the road, which the deceased had travelled. These circumstances were deemed conclusive against me by my master; and as the offence, of which I was believed to be guilty, was the highest that can be committed by a slave, according to the opinion of owners, it was determined to punish me in a way unknown to the law, and to inflict tortures upon me which the law would not tolerate. I was now released, and though very weak from the effects of bleeding, I was yet able to return to my own lodgings.
I had no doubt, that Hardy was the perpetrator of the crime, for which I was so near losing my life; and now recollected, that when I was at the kitchen of the great house, on Sunday, he had disappeared, a short time before sundown, as I had looked for him when I was going to set my snares, but could not find him. I went back to the house, and communicated this fact to my master.
By this time, nearly twenty white men had collected about the dwelling, with the intention of going to search for the body of the lost lady; but it was now resolved to make the look-out double, and to give it the twofold character of a pursuit of the living, as well as a seeking for the dead.
I now returned to my lodgings, in the quarter, and soon fell into a profound sleep, from which If did not awake until long after night, when all was quiet, and the stillness of undisturbed tranquillity prevailed over our little community. I felt restless, and sunk into a labyrinth of painful reflections, upon the horrid and perilous condition, from which I had this day escaped, as it seemed, merely by chance; and as I slept until all sensations of drowsiness had left me, I rose from my bed, and walked out by the light of the moon, which was now shining. After being in the open air some time, I thought of the snares that I had set on Sunday evening, and determined to go, and see if they had taken any game. I sometimes caught oppossums in my snares; and as these animals were very fat, at this season of the year, I felt a hope that I might be fortunate enough to get one tonight. I had been at my snares, and had returned, as far as the road, near where I had seen the young lady and her brother, on horseback, on Sunday evening, and had seated myself under the boughs of a holly bush, that grew there. It so happened, that the place where I sat, was in the shade of the bush, within a few feet of the road, but screened from it by some small boughs. In this position, which I had taken by accident, I could see a great distance along the road, towards the end of my master's lane. Though covered as I was, by the shade, and enveloped in boughs, it was difficult for a person in the road to see me.
The occurrence that had befallen me, in the course of the previous day, had rendered me nervous, and easily susceptible of all the emotions of fear. I had not been long in this place, when I thought I heard sounds, as of a person walking on the ground at a quick pace; and looking along the road, towards the lane, I saw the form of some one, passing through a space in the road, where the beams of the moon, piercing between two trees, reached the ground. When the moving body passed into the shade, I could not see it; but in a short time, it came so near, that I could distinctly see that it was a man, approaching me by the road. When he came opposite me, and the moon shone full in his face, I me knew him to be a young mulatto, named David, the coachman of a widow lady, who resided somewhere near Charleston; but who had been at the house of my master, for two or three weeks, as a visiter, with her two daughters.
This man passed on at a quick step, without observing me; and the suspicion instantly riveted itself in my mind, that he was the murderer, for whose crime I had already suffered so much, and that he was now on his way to the place where he had left the body, for the purpose of removing, or burying it in the earth. I was confident, that no honest purpose could bring him to this place, at this time of night, alone. I was about two miles from home, and an equal distance from the spot, where the girl had been seized.
Of her subsequent murder, no one entertained a doubt; for it was not to be expected, that the fellow who had been guilty of one great crime, would flinch from the commission of another, of equal magnitude, and suffer his victim to exist, as a witness to identify his person.
I felt animated, by a spirit of revenge, against the wretch, whoever he might be, who had brought me so near to torture and death; and feeble and weak as I was, resolved to pursue the foot-steps of this coachman, at a wary and cautious distance, and ascertain, if possible, the object of his visit to these woods, at this time of night.
I waited until he had passed me, more than a hundred yards; and until I could barely discover his form, in the faint light of the deep shade of the trees, when stealing quietly into the road, I followed, with the caution of a spy, traversing the camp of an enemy. We were now in a dark pine forest, and on both sides of us, were tracts of low swampy ground, covered with thickets so dense, as to be difficult of penetration, even by a person on foot. The road led along a neck of elevated, and dry ground, that divided these swamps for more than a mile, when they terminated, and were succeeded by ground that produced scarcely any other timber, than a scrubby kind of oak, called black jack. It was amongst these black jacks, about half a mile beyond the swamps, that the lady had been carried off. I had often been here, for the purpose of snaring, and trapping, the small game of these woods, and was well acquainted with the topography of this forest, for some distance, on both sides of the road.
It was necessary for me to use the utmost caution, in the enterprise I was now engaged in. The road we were now travelling, was in no place very broad, and at some points, barely wide enough to permit a carriage to pass between the trees, that lined its sides. In some places, it was so dark that I could not see the man, whose steps I followed: but was obliged to depend on the sound, produced by the tread of his feet, upon the ground. I deemed it necessary to keep as close as possible, to the object of my pursuit, lest he should suddenly turn into the swamp, on one side or the other of the road, and elude my vigilance; for I had no doubt that he would quit the road, somewhere. As we approached the termination of the low grounds, my anxiety became intense, lest he should escape me; and at one time, I could not have been more than one hundred feet behind him; but he continued his course, until he reached the oak woods, and came to a place where an old cart-road led off to the left, along the side of the Dark Swamp, as it was termed in the neighbourhood.
This road, the mulatto took, without turning to look behind him. Here my difficulties, and perils increased, for I now felt myself in danger, as I had no longer any doubt, that I was on the trail of the murderer, and that, if discovered by him, my life would be the price of my curiosity. I was too weak to be able to struggle with him, for a minute; though if the blood which I had lost, through his wickedness, could have been restored to my veins, I could have seized him by the neck, and strangled him.
The road I now had to travel, was so little frequented, that bushes of the ground oak, and bilberry, stood thick, in almost every part of it. Many of these bushes were full of dry leaves, which had been touched by the frost, but had not yet fallen. It was easy for me to follow him, for I pursued by the noise he made, amongst these bushes; but it was not so easy for me to avoid, on my part, the making of a rustling, and agitation of the bushes, which might expose me to detection. I was now obliged to depend wholly on my ears, to guide my pursuit, my eyes being occupied in watching my own way, to enable me to avoid every object, the touching of which was likely to produce sound.
I followed this road more than a mile, led by the cracking of the sticks, or the shaking of the leaves. At length, I heard a loud, shrill whistle, and then a total silence succeeded. I now stood still, and in a few seconds, heard a noise in the swamp like the drumming of a pheasant. Soon afterwards, I heard the breaking of sticks, and the sounds caused by the bending of branches of trees. In a little time, I was satisfied, that something having life was moving in the swamp, and coming towards the place where the mulatto stood.
This was at the end of the cart-road, and opposite some large pine trees, which grew in the swamp, at the distance of two or three hundred yards from its margin. The noise in the swamp, still approached us; and at length a person came out of the thicket, and stood for a minute, or more, with the mulatto whom I had followed; and then they both entered the swamp, and took the course of the pine trees, as I could easily distinguish by my ears.When they were gone, I advanced to the end of the road, and sat down upon a log, to listen to their progress, through the swamp. At length, it seemed that they had stopped, for I no longer heard any thing of them. Anxious, however, to ascertain more of this mysterious business, I remained in silence on the log, determined to stay there until day, if I could not sooner learn something to satisfy me, why these men had gone into the swamp. All uncertainty upon this subject was, however, quickly removed from my mind; for within less than ten minutes, after I had ceased to hear them moving in the thicket, I was shocked by the faint, but shrill wailings of a female voice, accompanied with exclamations, and supplications, in a tone so feeble, that I could only distinguish a few solitary words.
My mind comprehended the whole ground of this matter, at a glance. The lady supposed to have been murdered, on Sunday evening, was still living; and concealed by the two fiends who had passed out of my sight, but a few minutes before. The one I knew, for I had examined his features, within a few feet of me, in the full light of the moon; and, that the other was Hardy, I was as perfectly convinced, as if I had seen him also.
I now rose to return home; the cries of the female in the swamp, still continuing; but growing weaker, and dying away, as L receded from the place where I had sat.
I was now in possession of the clearest evidence, of the guilt of the two murderers; but I was afraid to communicate my knowledge to my master, lest he should suspect me of being an accomplice in this crime; and, if the lady could not be recovered alive, I had no doubt, that Hardy and his companion, were sufficiently depraved, to charge me as a participator with themselves, to be avenged upon me. I was confident that the mulatto, David, would return to the house before day, and be found in his bed in the morning; which he could easily do, for he slept in a part of the stable loft; under pretence of being near the horses of his mistress.
I thought it possible, that Hardy might also return home, that night, and endeavour to account for his absence from home on Monday afternoon, by some ingenious lie; in the invention of which I knew him to be very expert. In this case, I saw that I should have to run the risk of being overpowered by the number of my false accusers; and, as I stood alone, they might yet be able to sacrifice my life, and escape the punishment due to their crimes. After much consideration, I came to the resolution of returning, as quick as possible, to the quarter—calling up the overseer-and acquainting him with all that I had seen, heard, and done, in the course of this night.
As I did not know what time of night it was, when I left my bed, I was apprehensive that day might break before I could so far mature my plans, as to have persons to way-lay, and arrest the mulatto, on his return home; but when I roused the overseer, he told me it was only one o'clock, and seemed but little inclined to credit my story; but, after talking to me several minutes, he told me he now, more than ever, suspected me to be the murderer; but he would go with me, and see if I had told the truth. When we arrived at the great house, some members of the family had not yet gone to bed, having been kept up by the arrival of several gentlemen, who had been searching the woods all day for the lost lady, and who had come here to seek lodgings, when it was near midnight. My master was in bed, but was called up and listened attentively to my story-at the close of which, he shook his head, and said with an oath, "You ——, I believe you to be the murderer; but we will go and see if all you say is a lie; if it is, the torments of —— will be pleasure to what awaits you. You have escaped once, but you will not get off a second time.” I now found that somebody must die; and if the guilty could not be found, the innocent would have to atone for them. The manner in which my master had delivered his words, assured me, that the life of somebody must be taken.
This new danger aroused my energies,—and I told them I was ready to go, and take the consequences. Accordingly, the overseer, my young master, and three other gentlemen, immediately set out with me. It was agreed that we should all travel on foot; the overseer and I going a few paces in advance of the others. We proceeded silently, but rapidly, on our way; and as we passed it, I shewed them the place where I sat under the holly bush, when the mulatto passed me. We neither saw nor heard any person on the road, and reached the log at the end of the cart-road, where I sat, when I heard the cries in the swamp. All was now quiet, and our party lay down in the bushes, on each side of a large gum tree; at the root of which the two murderers stood, when they talked together, before they entered the thicket. We had not been here more than an hour, when I heard, as I lay with my head near the ground, a noise in the swamp, which I believed could only be made by those whom we sought.I, however, said nothing, and the gentlemen did not hear it. It was caused, as I afterwards ascertained, by dragging the fallen branch of a tree, along the ground, for the purpose of lighting the fire.
The night was very clear and serene—its silence only being broken at intervals, by the loud hooting of the great long-eared owls, which are numerous in these swamps. I felt oppressed by the cold, and was glad to hear the crowing of a cock, at a great distance, announcing the approach of day. This was followed, after a short interval, by the cracking of sticks, and by other tokens, which I knew could proceed only from the motions of living bodies. I now whispered to the overseer, who lay near me, that it would soon appear whether I had spoken the truth or not.
All were now satisfied that people were coming out of the swamp, for we heard them speak to each other. I desired the overseer to advise the other gentlemen to let the culprits come out of the swamp, and gain the high ground, before we attempted to seize them; but this counsel was, unfortunately, not taken; and when they came near to the gum-tree, and it could be clearly seen that there were two men, and no more, one of the gentlemen called out to them to stop, or they were dead. Instead, however, of stopping, they both sprang forward, and took to flight. They did not turn into the swamp, for the gentleman who ordered them to stop, was in their rear—they having already passed him. At the moment they had started to run, each of the gentlemen fired two pistols at them. The pistols made the forest ring, on all sides; and I supposed it was impossible for either of the fugitives to escape from so many balls. This was, however, not the case; for only one of them was injured. The mulatto, David, had one arm and one leg broken, and fell about ten yards from us; but Hardy escaped, and when the smoke cleared away, he was nowhere to be seen. On being interrogated, David acknowledged that the lady was in the swamp, on a small island, and was yet alive—that he and Hardy had gone from the house on Sunday, for the purpose of waylaying and carrying her off; and intended to kill her little brother—this part of the duty being assigned to him, whilst Hardy was to drag the sister from her horse. As they were both mulattos, they blacked their faces with charcoal, taken from a pine stump, partially burned. The boy was riding before his sister, and when Hardy seized her and dragged her from her horse, she screamed and frightened both the horses, which took off at full speed, by which means the boy escaped. Finding that the boy was out of his reach, David remained in the bushes, until Hardy brought the sister to him. They immediately tied a handkerchief round her face, so as to cover her mouth and stifle her shrieks; and taking her in their arms, carried her back toward my master's house, for some distance, through the woods, until they came to the cart-road leading along the swamp. They then followed this road as far as it led, and, turning into the swamp, took their victim to a place they had prepared for her the Sunday before, on a small knoll in the swamp, where the ground was dry.
Her hands were closely confined, and she was tied by the feet to a tree. He said he had stolen some bread, and taken it to her this night; but when they unbound her mouth to permit her to eat, she only wept and made a noise, begging them to release her, until they were obliged again to bandage her mouth.
It was now determined by the gentlemen, that as the lady was still alive, we ought not to lose a moment in endeavouring to rescue her from her dreadful situation. I pointed out the large pine trees, in the direction of which I heard the cries of the young lady, and near which I believed she was—undertaking, at the same time, to act as pilot, in penetrating the thicket. Three of the gentlemen and myself, accordingly set out, leaving the other two with the wounded mulatto, with directions to inform us when we deviated from a right line to the pine trees. This they were able to do by attending to the noise we made, with nearly as much accuracy as if they had seen us.The atmosphere has now become a little cloudy, and the morning was very dark, even in the oak woods; but when we had entered the thickets of the swamp, all objects became utterly invisible; and the obscurity was as total as if our eyes had been closed. Our companions on the dry ground, lost sight of the pine trees, and could not give us any directions in our journey. We became entangled in briers, and vines, and mats of bushes, from which the greatest exertions were necessary to disengage ourselves.
It was so dark, that we could not see the fallen trees; and, missing these, fell into quagmires, and sloughs of mud and water, into which we sunk up to the arm-pits, and from which we were able to extricate ourselves, only by seizing upon the hanging branches of the surrounding trees. After struggling in this half-drowned condition, for at least a quarter of an hour, we reached a small dry spot, where the gentlemen again held a council, as to ulterior measures. They called to those left on the shore, to know if we were proceeding toward the pine trees; but received for answer that the pines were invisible, and they knew not whether we were right or wrong. In this state of uncertainty, it was thought most prudent to wait the coming of day, in our present resting place.
The air was frosty, and in our wet clothes, loaded as we were with mud, it may be imagined that our feelings were not pleasant; and when the day broke, it brought us but little relief, for we found, as soon as it was light enough to enable us to see around, that we were on one of those insulated dry spots, called “tussocks,” by the people of the south. These tussocks are formed by clusters of small trees, which, taking root in the mud, are, in process of time, surrounded by long grass, which, entwining its roots with those of the trees, overspread and cover the surface of the muddy foundation, by which the superstructure is supported. These tussocks are often several yards in diameter. That upon which we now were, stood in the midst of a great miry pool, into which we were again obliged to launch ourselves, and struggle onward for a distance of ten yards, before we reached the line of some fallen and decaying trees.
It was now broad daylight, and we saw the pine trees, at the distance of about a hundred yards from us; but even with the assistance of the light, we had great difficulty in reaching them,—to do which, we were compelled to travel at least a quarter of a mile by the angles and curves of the fallen timber, upon which alone we could walk; this part of the swamp being a vast half-fluid bog.
It was sunrise when we reached the pines, which we found standing upon a small islet of firm ground, containing, as well as I could judge, about half an acre, covered with a heavy growth of white maples, swamp oaks, a few large pines, and a vast mat of swamp laurel, called in the south ivy. I had no doubt, that the object of our search was somewhere on this little island; but small as it was, it was no trifling affair to give every part of it a minute examination, for the stems and branches of the ivy were so minutely interwoven with each other, and spread along the ground in so many curves and crossings, that it was impossible to proceed a single rod, without lying down and creeping along the earth.
The gentlemen agreed, that if any one discovered the young lady, he should immediately call to the others; and we all entered the thicket. I, however, turned along the edge of the island, with the intention of making its circuit, for the purpose of tracing, if possible, the footsteps of those who had passed between it and the main shore. I made my way more than half round the island, without much difficulty, and without discovering any signs of persons having been here before me; but in crossing the trunk of a large tree which had fallen, and the top of which extended far into the ivy, I perceived some stains of mud, on the bark of the log. Looking into the swamp, I saw that the root of this tree was connected with other fallen timber, extending beyond the reach of my vision which was obstructed by the bramble of the swamp, and the numerous ever-greens, growing here. I now advanced along the trunk of the tree, until I reached its topmost branches, and here discovered evident signs of a small trail, leading into the thicket of ivy. Creeping along, and following this trail, by the small bearberry bushes that had been trampled down, and had not again risen to an erect position, I was led almost across the island, and found that the small bushes were discomposed, quite up to the edge of a vast heap of the branches of ever-green trees, produced by the falling of several large juniper cypress trees, which grew in the swamp in a cluster, and, having been blown down, had fallen with their tops athwart each other, and upon the almost impervious mat of ivies, with which the surface of the island was coated over.
I stood and looked at this mass of entangled green brush, but could not perceive the slightest marks of any entrance into its labyrinths; nor did it seem possible for any creature, larger than a squirrel, to penetrate it. It now for the first time struck me as a great oversight in the gentlemen, that they had not compelled the mulatto, David, to describe the place where they had concealed the lady; and, as the forest was so dense, that no communication could be had with the shore, either by words or signs, we could not now procure any information on this subject. I therefore called to the gentlemen, who were on the island with me, and desired them to come to me without delay.
Small as this island was, it was after the lapse of many minutes, that the overseer, and the other gentlemen, arrived where I stood; and when they came, they would have been the subjects of mirthful emotions, had not the tragic circumstances, in which I was placed, banished from my heart, every feeling but that of the most profound melancholy.
When the gentlemen had assembled, I informed them of signs of footsteps, that I had traced from the other side of the island; and told them, that I believed the young lady lay somewhere under the heap of brushwood, before us. This opinion obtained but little credit, because there was no opening in the brush, by which any one could enter it; but on going a few paces round the heap, I perceived a small, snaggy pole, resting on the brush, and nearly concealed by it, with the lower end stuck in the ground. The branches had been cut from this pole, at the distance of three or four inches from the main stem, which made it a tolerable substitute for a ladder. I immediately ascended the pole, which led me to the top of the pile; and here I discovered an opening in the brush, between the forked top of one of the cypress trees, through which a man might easily pass. Applying my head to this aperture, I distinctly heard a quick, and laborious breathing, like that of a person in extreme illness; and again called the gentlemen to follow me.
When they came up the ladder, the breathing was audible to all; and one of the gentlemen, whom I now perceived to be the stranger, who was with us in my master's cellar, when I was bled, slid down into the dark and narrow passage, without uttering a word. I confess, that some feelings of trepidation passed through my nerves, when I stood alone; but now that a leader had preceded me, I followed, and glided through the smooth and elastic cypress tops, to the bottom of this vast labyrinth of green boughs.
When I reached the ground, I found myself in contact with the gentleman, who was in advance of and near one end of a large concave, oblong, open space, formed by the branches of the trees, having been supported and kept above the ground, partly by a cluster of very large and strong ivies, that grew here, and partly by a young gum tree, which had been bent into the form of an arch, by the falling timber.
Though we could not see into this leafy cavern from above, yet when we had been in it, a few moments, we had light enough to see the objects around us, with tolerable clearness; but that which surprised us both greatly, was, that the place was totally silent, and we could not perceive the appearance of any living thing, except ourselves.
After we had been here some minutes, our vision became still more distinct; and I saw, at the other end of the open space, ashes of wood, and some extinguished brands, but there was no smoke. Going to these ashes, and stirring them with a stick, I found coals of fire carefully covered over, in a hole six or eight inches deep.
When he saw the fire, the gentleman spoke to me, and expressed his astonishment, that we heard the breathing no longer; but he had scarcely uttered these words, when a faint groan, as of a woman in great pain, was heard to issue, apparently from the ground; but a motion of branches on our right, assured me that the sufferer was concealed there. The gentleman sprung to the spot, pushed aside the pendant boughs, stooped low beneath the bent ivies, and came out, bearing in his hands, a delicate female figure. As he turned round, and exposed her half-closed eye and white forehead, to the light, he exclaimed, “Eternal God, Maria, is it you?" He then pressed her to his bosom, and sunk upon the ground, still holding her closely in his embrace.
The lady lay motionless in his arms, and I thought she was dead. Her hair hung matted and dishevelled from her head; a handkerchief, once white, but now soiled with dust, and stained with blood, was bound firmly round her head, covering her mouth and chin, and was fastened at the back of the neck, by a double knot, and secured by a ligature of cypress bark.
I knew not whom most to pity,—the lady, who now lay insensible, in the arms that still clasped her tenderly; or the unhappy gentleman, who having cut the cords from her limbs, and the handkerchief from her face, now sat, and silently gazed upon her death-like countenance. He uttered not a sigh, and moved not a joint; but his breast heaved with agony; the sinews, and muscles of his neck rose and fell, like those of a man in convulsions; all the lineaments of his face were, alternately, contracted and expanded, as if his last moments were at hand; whilst great drops of sweat rolled down his forehead, as though he struggled against an enemy, whose strength was more than human.
Oppressed by the sight of so much wretchedness, I turned from its contemplation; and called aloud to the gentlemen without, (who had all this time been waiting to hear from us,) to come up the ladder, to the top of the pile of boughs. The overseer was quickly at the top of the opening, by which I had descended; and I now informed him that we had found the lady. He ordered me to hand her up—and I desired the gentleman, who was with me, to permit me to do so; but this he refused—and mounting the boughs of the fallen trees, and supporting himself by the strong branches of the ivies, he quickly reached the place, where the overseer stood.
He even here refused to part from his charge, but bore her down the ladder alone. He was, however, obliged to accept aid, in conveying her through the swamp, to the place where we had left the two gen tlemen, with the wounded mulatto, whose sufferings, demon as he was, were sufficient to move the hardest heart. His right arm, and left leg were broken; and he had lost much blood, before we returned from the island; and as he could not walk, it was necessary to carry him home. We had not brought any horses; and until the lady was recovered, no one seemed to think any more about the mulatto, after he was shot down.
It was proposed to send for a horse, to take David home; but it was finally agreed, that we should leave him in the woods, where he was, until a man could be sent for him, with a cart. At the time we left him, his groans and lamentations seemed to excite no sympathy, in the breast of any. More cruel sufferings yet awaited him.
The lady was carried home, in the arms of the gentlemen; and she did not speak, until after she was bathed, and put to bed in my master's house, as I afterwards heard. I know she did not speak on the way. She died on the fourth day after her rescue; and before her death, related the circumstances of her misfortune, as I was told by a coloured woman, who attended her in her illness, in the following manner:
As she was riding in the dusk of the evening, at a rapid trot, a few yards behind her brother, a black man sprang from behind a tree standing close by the side of the road; seized her by her riding dress, and dragged her to the ground, but failed to catch the bridle of the horse, which sprang off at full speed, Another negro immediately came to the aid of the first, and said, “I could not catch him—we must make haste.” They carried her as fast as they could go, to the place where we found her; when they bound her hands, feet, and mouth, and left her until the next night; and had left her the second morning, only a few minutes, when she heard the report of guns. Soon after this, by great efforts, she extricated one of her feet from the bark, with which she was bound; but finding herself too weak to stand, she crawled, as far as she could, under the boughs of the trees, hoping that when her assassins returned again, they would not be able to find her; and that she might there die alone.
Exhausted by the efforts she had made, to remove herself, she fell into the stupor of sleep, from which she was aroused by the noise we made, when we descended into the cavern. She then, supposing us to be her destroyers returned again, lay still, and breathed as softly as possible, to prevent us from hearing her; but when she heard the voice of the gentleman who was with me, the tones of which were familiar to her, she groaned, and moved her feet, to let us know where she was. This exertion, and the idea of her horrid condition, overcame the strength of her nerves; and when her deliverer raised her from the ground, she had swooned, and was unconscious of all things.
We had no sooner arrived at the house, than inquiry was made for Hardy; but it was ascertained in the kitchen, that he had not been seen, since the previous evening, at night fall, when he had left the kitchen for the purpose of going to sleep at the stable, with David, as he had told one of the black women; and preparation was immediately made, to go in pursuit of him.
For this purpose all the gentlemen present equipped themselves with pistols, fowling pieces, and horns—such as are used by fox hunters. Messengers were despatched round the country, to give notice to all the planters, within the distance of many miles, of the crime that had been committed, and of the escape of one of its perpetrators, with a request to them to come without delay, and join in the pursuit, intended to be given. Those who had dogs, trained to chase thieves, were desired to bring them; and a gentleman who lived twelve miles off, and who owned a blood hound, was sent for, and requested to come with his dog, in all haste.
In consequence, I suppose, of the information I had given, I was permitted to be present at these deliberations; and though my advice was not asked, I was often interrogated, concerning my knowledge of the affair. Some proposed to go at once, with dogs and horses, into the woods, and traverse the swamp and thickets, for the purpose of rousing Hardy from the place of concealment, he might have chosen; but the opinion of the overseer prevailed, who thought, that from the intimate knowledge possessed by him, of all the swamps and coverts in the neighbourhood, there would be little hope of discovering him in this manner. The overseer advised them, to wait the coming of the gentleman with his blood hound, before they entered the woods; for the reason, that if the blood hound could be made to take the trail, he would certainly find his game, before he quit it, if not thrown off the scent by the men, horses, and dogs crossing his course; but if the blood hound could not take the scent, they might then adopt the proposed plan of pursuit, with as much success as at present. This counsel being adopted, the horses were ordered into the stable; and the gentlemen entered the house to take their breakfast, and wait the arrival of the blood hound.
Nothing was said of the mulatto, David, who seemed to be forgotten—not a word being spoken by any one of bringing him from the woods. I knew that he was suffering the most agonizing pains, and great as were his crimes, his groans and cries of anguish still seemed to echo in my ears; but I was afraid to make any application in his behalf, lest, even yet, I might be suspected of some participation in his offences; for I knew that the most horrid punishments were often inflicted upon slaves, merely on suspicion.
As the morning advanced, the number of men and horses in front of my master's mansion increased; and before ten o'clock, I think there were, at least, fifty of each—the horses standing hitched and the men conversing in groups without, or assembled together within the house.
At length the owner of the blood hound came, bringing with him his dog, in a chaise, drawn by one horse. The harness was removed from the horse, its place supplied by a saddle and bridle, and the whole party set off for the woods. As they rode away, my master, who was one of the company, told me to follow them; but we had proceeded only a little distance, when the gentlemen stopped, and my master, after speaking with the owner of the dog, told the overseer to go back to the house, and get some piece of the clothes of Hardy, that had been worn by him lately. The overseer returned, and we all proceeded forward to the place where David lay.
We found him where we had left him, greatly weakened by the loss of blood, and complaining that the cold air caused his wounds to smart intolerably. When I came near him, he looked at me and told me I had betrayed him. None of the gentlemen seemed at all moved by his sufferings, and when any of them spoke to him, it was with derision, and every epithet of scorn and contumely. As it was apparent that he could not escape, no one proposed to remove him to a place of greater safety; but several of the horsemen, as they passed, lashed him with the thongs of their whips; but I do not believe he felt these blows—the pain he endured from his wounds being so great, as to drown the sensation of such minor afflictions.
The day had already become warm, although the night had been cold; the sun shone with great clearness, and many carrion crows, attracted by the scent of blood, were perched upon the trees near where we now were.
When the overseer came up with us, he brought an old blanket, in which Hardy had slept for some time, and handed it to the owner of the dog; who, having first caused the hound to smell of the blanket, untied the cord in which he had been led, and turned him into the woods. The dog went from us fifty or sixty yards, in a right line, then made a circle around us, again commenced his circular movement, and pursued it nearly half round. Then he dropped his nose to the ground, snuffed the tainted surface, and moved off through the woods, slowly, almost touching the earth with his nose.
The owner of the dog, and twelve or fifteen others followed him, whilst the residue of the party dispersed themselves along the edge of the swamp; and the overseer ordered me to stay, and watch the horses of those who dismounted, going himself on foot in the pursuit.
When the gentlemen were all gone out of sight, I went to David, who lay all this time within my view, for the purpose of asking him if I could render him any assistance. He begged me to bring him some water, as he was dying of thirst, no less than with the pain of his wounds. One of the horsemen had left a large tin horn, hanging on his saddle; this I took, and stopping the small end closely with leaves, filled it with water from the swamp, and gave it to the wounded man, who drank it, and then turning his head towards me, said—"Hardy and I had laid a plan to have this thing brought upon you, and to have you hung for it—but you have escaped.” He then asked me if they intended to leave him to die in the woods, or to take him home and hang him. I told him I had heard them talk of taking him home in a cart, but what was to be done with him I did not know. I felt a horror of the crimes committed by this man; was pained by the sight of his sufferings, and being unable to relieve the one, or to forgive the other, went to a place where I could neither see nor hear him, and sat down to await the return of those who had gone in pursuit of Hardy.
In the circumstances which surrounded me, it cannot be supposed that my feelings were pleasant, or that time moved very fleetly; but painful as my situation was, I was obliged to bear it for many hours. From the time the gentlemen left me, I neither saw nor heard them, until late in the afternoon, when five or six of them returned, having lost their companions in the woods.
Toward sundown, I heard a great noise of horns blown, and of men shouting at a distance in the forest; and soon after, my master, the owner of the blood hound, and many others returned, bringing with them, Hardy, whom the hound had followed ten or twelve miles, through the swamps and thickets; had at last caught him, and would soon have killed him, had he not been compelled to relinquish his prey. When the party had all returned, a kind of court was held in the woods, where we then were, for the purpose of determining what punishment should be inflicted upon Hardy and David. All agreed at once, that an example of the most terrific character ought to be made of such atrocious villains, and that it would defeat the ends of justice to deliver these fellows up to the civil authority, to be hanged like common murderers. The next measure was, to settle upon the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them, and the manner of executing the sentence.
Hardy was, all this time, sitting on the ground, covered with blood, and yet bleeding profusely, in hearing of his inexorable judges. The dog had mangled both his arms, and hands, in a shocking manner; torn a large piece of flesh entirely away from one side of his breast, and sunk his fangs deep in the side of his neck. No other human creature that I have ever seen, presented a more deplorable spectacle of mingled crime and cruelty.
It was now growing late, and the fate of these miserable men was to be decided before the company separated to go to their several homes. One proposed to burn them, another to flay them alive, and a third to starve them to death, and many other modes of slowly and tormentingly extinguishing life, were named; but that which was finally adopted, was, of all others, the most horrible. The wretches were unanimously sentenced to be stripped naked, and bound down securely upon their backs, on the naked earth, in sight of each other; to have their mouths closely covered with bandages, to prevent them from making a noise to frighten away the birds, and in this manner to be left, to be devoured alive by the carrion crows and buzzards, which swarm in every part of South Carolina.
The sentence was instantly carried into effect, so far as its execution depended on us. Hardy, and his companion, were divested of their clothes, stretched upon their backs on the ground; their mouths bandaged with handkerchiefs—their limbs extended—and these, together with their necks, being crossed by numerous poles, were kept close to the earth by forked sticks driven into the ground, so as to prevent the possibility of moving any part of their persons; and in this manner these wicked men were left to be torn in pieces, by birds of prey. The buzzards, and carrion crows, always attack dead bodies by pulling out and consuming the eyes first. They then tear open the bowels, and feed upon the intestines.
We returned to my master's plantation, and I did not see this place again until the next Sunday, when several of my fellow-slaves went with me to see the remains of the dead, but we found only their bones. Great flocks of buzzards, and carrion crows, were assembled in the trees, giving a dismal aspect to the woods; and I hastened to abandon a place, fraught with so many afflicting recollections.
The lady, who had been the innocent sacrifice of the brutality of the men, whose bones I had seen bleaching in the sun, had died on Saturday evening, and her corpse was buried on Monday, in a graveyard on my master's plantation. I have never seen a large cotton plantation, in Carolina, without its burying ground. This burying ground is not only the place of sepulture of the family, who are the proprietors of the estate, but also of many other persons, who have lived in the neighbourhood. Half an acre, or an acre of ground, is appropriated as a grave-yard, on one side of which the proprietors of the estate, from age to age, are buried; whilst the other parts of the ground are open to strangers, poor people of their vicinity, and, in general, to all who choose to inter their dead within its boundaries. This custom prevails as far north as Maryland; and it seems to me to be much more consonant to the feelings of solitude and tender recollections, which we always associate with the memory of departed friends, than the practice of promiscuous interment in a church-yard, where all idea of seclusion is banished, by the last home of the dead being thrown open to the rude intrusions of strangers; where thesanctity of the sepulchre is treated as a common, and where the grave itself is, in a few years, torn up, or covered over, to form a temporary resting place for some new tenant.
The family of the deceased lady, though not very wealthy, was amongst the most ancient and respectable in this part of the country; and, on Sunday, whilst the dead body lay in my master's house, there was a continual influx and efflux of visiters, in carriages, on horse-back, and on foot. The house was open to all who chose to come; and the best wines, cakes, sweet-meats and fruits, were handed about to the company, by the servants; though I observed that none remained for dinner, except the relations of the deceased, those of my master's family, and the young gentleman who was with me on the island. The visiters remained but a short time when they came, and were nearly all in mourning. This was the first time that I had seen a large number of the fashionable people of Carolina assembled together, and their appearance impressed me with an opinion favourable to their character. I had never seen an equal number of people anywhere, whose deportment was more orderly and decorous, nor whose feelings seemed to be more in accordance with the solemnity of the event, which had brought them together.
I had been ordered by the overseer, to remain at the great house until the afternoon, for the purpose, as I afterwards learned, of being seen by those who came to see the corpse; and many of the ladies and gentlemen inquired for me, and when I was pointed out to them, commended my conduct and fidelity, in discovering the authors of the murder—condoled with me for having suffered innocently, and several gave me money. One old lady, who came in a pretty carriage, drawn by two black horses, gave me a dollar.
On Monday, the funeral took place, and several hundred persons followed the corpse to the grave, over which a minister delivered a short sermon. The young gentleman who was with me when we found the deceased on the island, walked with her mother to the grave-yard, and the little brother followed, with a younger sister.
After the interment, wines and refreshments were handed round to the whole assembly, and, at least a hundred persons remained for dinner, with my master's family. At four o'clock in the afternoon, the carriages and horses were ordered to the door of the court-yard of the house, and the company retired. At sundown, the plantation was as quiet as if its peace had never been disturbed.