- Preparation to Embark
- Driven Through the Streets of Washington
- Hail, Columbia
- The Tomb of Washington
- Clem Ray
- The Breakfast on the Steamer
- The happy Birds
- Aquia Creek
- Arrival in Richmond
- Goodin and his Slave Pen
- Robert, of Cincinnati
- David and his Wife
- Mary and Lethe
- Clem's Return
- His subsequent Escape to Canada
- The Brig Orleans
- James H. Burch
during the first night of Eliza's incarceration
in the pen, she complained bitterly of Jacob Brooks,
her young mistress' husband. She declared that had
she been aware of the deception he intended to practice
upon her, he never would have brought her there alive.
They had chosen the opportunity of getting her away when
Master Berry was absent from the
plantation. He had always been kind to her.
She wished that she could see him; but she knew that
even he was unable now to rescue her. Then would
she commence weeping again - kissing the sleeping
children - talking first to one, then to the other, as
they lay in their unconscious slumbers, with their heads
upon her lap. She wore the long night away; and
when the morning dawned, and night had come again, still
she kept mourning on, and would not be consoled.
PREPARATION TO EMBARK
following, the cell door opened, and Burch and
Radburn entered, with lanterns in their hands.
Burch, with an oath, ordered us to roll up our
blankets without delay, and get ready to go on board the
boat. He swore we would be left unless we hurried
fast. He aroused the children from their slumbers
with a rough shake, and said they were d--d sleepy, it
appeared. Going out into the yard, he called
Clem Ray, ordering him to leave the loft and come
into the cell, and bring his blanket with him.
When Clem appeared, he placed us side by side,
and fastened us together with hand-cuffs - my left hand
to his right. John Williams had been taken
out a day or two before, his master having redeemed him,
greatly to his delight. Clem and I were
ordered to march, Eliza and the children
following. We were conducted into the yard, from
thence into the covered passage, and up a flight of
steps through a side door into the upper room, where I
had heard the walking to and fro. Its furniture
was a stove, a few old chairs, and a long table, covered
with papers. It was a white-washed room, without
any carpet on the floor, and seemed a sort of office.
By one of the windows, I remember, hung a rusty sword,
which attracted my attention. Burch's trunk
was there. In obedience to his orders, I took hold
of one of its handles with my unfettered hand, while he
taking hold of the other, we proceeded out of the front
door into the street in the same order as we had left
It was a dark night. All was quiet. I could
see lights, or the reflection of them, over towards
Pennsylvania Avenue, but there was no one, not even a
straggler, to be seen. I was almost resolved to
attempt to break away. Had I not been hand-cuffed
the attempt would certainly have been made, what ever
consequence might have followed. Radburn
was in the rear, carrying a large stick, and hurrying up
the children as fast as the little ones could walk.
So we passed, hand-cuffed and in silence, through the
streets of Washington - through the Capital of a nation,
whose theory of government, we are told, rests on the
foundation of man's inalienable right to life, LIBERTY,
and the pursuit of happiness! Hail!
Columbia, happy land, indeed!
Reaching the steamboat, we were quickly hustled into
the hold, among barrels and boxes of freight. A
colored servant brought a light, the bell rung, and soon
the vessel started down the Potomac, carrying us we knew
not where. The bell tolled as we passed the tomb
of Washington! Burch, no doubt, with
uncovered head, bowed reverently before the sacred ashes
of the man who devoted his illustrious life to the
liberty of his country.
None of us slept that night by Randall and
little Emmy. For the first time Clem Ray
was wholly overcome. To him the idea of going
south was terrible in the extreme. He was leaving
the friends and associations of his youth - every thing
that was dear and precious to his heart - in all
BREAKFAST ON THE STEAMER
to return. He and Eliza
mingled their tears together, bemoaning their cruel
fate. For my own part, difficult as it was, I
endeavored to keep up my spirits. I resolved in my
mind a hundred plans of escape, and fully determined to
make the attempt the first desperate chance that
offered. I had by this time become satisfied,
however, that my true policy was to say nothing further
on the subject of my having been born a freeman.
It would but expose me to mal-treatment, and diminish
the chances of liberation.
After sunrise in the morning we were called up on deck
to breakfast. Burch took our hand-cuffs
off, and we sat down to table. He asked Eliza
if she would take a dram. She declined, thanking
him politely. During the meal we were all silent -
not a word passed between us. A mulatto woman who
served at table seemed to take an interest in our behalf
- told us to cheer up, and not to be so cast down.
Breakfast over, the hand-cuffs were restored, and
Burch ordered us out on the stern deck. We sat
down together on some boxes, still saying nothing in
Burch's presence. Occasionally a passenger
would walk out to where we were, look at us for a while,
then silently return.
It was a very pleasant morning. The fields along
the river were covered with verdure, far in advance of
what I had been accustomed to see at that season of the
year. The sun shone out warmly; the birds were singing
in the trees. The happy birds - I envied them.
I wished for wings like them, that I might cleave the
air to where my birdlings waited.
vainly for their father's coming, in the cooler region
of the North.
In the forenoon the steamer reached Aquia Creek.
There the passengers took stages - Burch and his
five slaves occupying one exclusively. He laughed
with the children, and at one stopping place went so far
as to purchase them a piece of gingerbread. He
told me to hold up my head and look smart. That I
might, perhaps, get a good master if I behaved myself.
I made him no reply. His face was hateful to me,
and I could not bear to look upon it. I sat in the
corner, cherishing in my heart the hope, not yet
extinct, of some day meeting the tyrant on the soil of
my native State.
At Fredericksburgh we were transferred from the stage
coach to a car, and before dark arrived in Richmond, the
chief city of Virginia. At this city we were taken
from the cars, and driven through the street to a slave
pen, between the railroad depot and the river, kept by a
Mr. Goodin. This pen is similar to
Williams' in Washington, except it is somewhat
larger; and besides, there were tow small houses
standing opposite corners within the yard. These
houses are usually found within slave yards, being used
as rooms for the examination of human chattels by
purchasers before concluding a bargain.
Unsoundness in a slave, as well as in a horse, detracts
materially from his value. If no warranty is
given, a close examination is a matter of particular
importance to the negro jockey.
GOODIN AND HIS SLAVE PIN
We were met at
the door of Goodin's yard by that gentleman
himself - a short, fat man, with a round, plump face,
black hair and whiskers, and a complexion almost as dark
as some of his own negroes. He had a hard, stern
look, and was perhaps about fifty years of age.
Burch and he met with great cordiality. They
were evidently old friends. Shaking each other
warmly by the hand, Burch remarked he had brought
some company, inquired at what time the brig would
leave, and was answered that it would probably leave the
next day at such an hour. Goodin then
turned to me, took hold of my arm, turned me partly
round, looked at me sharply with the air of one who
considered himself a good judge of property, and as if
estimating in his own mind about how much I was worth.
"Well, boy, where did you come from ?"
Forgetting myself, for a moment I answered, "From
"New-York! H--l! what have you been doing up
there?" was his astonished interrogatory.
Observing Burch at this moment looking at me
with an angry expression that conveyed a meaning it was
not difficult to understand, I immediately said, "O, I
have only been up that way a piece," in manner intended
to imply that although I might have been as far as
New-York, yet I wished it distinctly understood that I
did not belong to that free State, nor to any other.
Goodin then turned to
Clem, and then to Eliza and
the children, examining them severally, and asking
various questions. He was pleased with Emily,
as was everyone who saw the child's sweet countenance.
She was not as tidy as when I first beheld her; her hair
was now somewhat disheveled; but though its unkempt and
soft profusion there still beamed a little face of most
surpassing loveliness. "Altogether we were a fair
lot - a devilish good lot," he said, enforcing
that opinion with more than one emphatic adjective not
found in the Christian vocabulary. Thereupon we
passed into the yard. Quite a number of slaves, as
many as thirty I should say, were moving about or
sitting on benches under the shed. They were all
cleanly dressed - then men with hats, the women with
handkerchiefs tied about their heads.
Burch and Goodin, after separating from
us, walked up the steps at the back part of the main
building, and sat down upon the door sill. They
entered into conversation, but the subject of it I could
not hear. Presently Burch came down into
the yard, unfettered me, and let me into one of the
"You told me that you came from New-York," said he,
I replied, "I told him I had been up as far as
New-York, to be sure, but did not tell him I belonged
there, nor that I was a freeman. I meant no harm
at all, Master Burch. I would not have said
it had I thought.
He looked at me a moment as if he was ready to devour
me, then turning round went out. In a few
ROBERT, OF CINCINNATI
minutes he returned. "If ever I
hear you say a word about New-York, or about your
freedom, I will be the death of you - I will kill you;
you may rely on that," he ejaculated fiercely.
I doubt not he understood then better than I did the
danger and the penalty of selling a free man into
slavery. He felt the necessity of closing my mouth
against the crime he knew he was committing. Of
course, my life would not have weighed a feather, in any
emergency requiring such a sacrifice. Undoubtedly,
he meant precisely what he said.
Under the shed on one side of the yard, there was
constructed a rough table, while overhead were sleeping
lofts - the same as in the pen at Washington.
After partaking at this table of our supper of pork and
bread, I was hand-cuffed to a large yellow man, quite
stout and fleshy, with a countenance expressive of the
utmost melancholy. He was a man of intelligence
and information. Chained together, it was not long
before we became acquainted with each other's history.
His name was Robert. Like myself, he had
been born free, and had a wife and two children in
Cincinnati. He said he had come south with two
men, who had hired him in the city of his residence.
Without free papers, he had been seized at
Fredericksburgh, placed in confinement, and beaten until
he had learned, as I had, the necessity and the policy
of silence. He had been in Goodin's pen
about three weeks. To this man I became much
attached. We could sympathize with, and understand
each other. It was with tears and a heavy heart,
not many days subsequently, that I saw him die, and
looked for the last time upon his lifeless form!
Robert and myself, with Clem, Eliza and
her children, slept that night upon our blankets, in one
of the small houses in the yard. There were four
others, all from the same plantation, who had been sold,
and were now on their way south, who also occupied it
with us. David and his wife, Caroline,
both mulattoes, were exceedingly affected. They
dreaded the thought of being put into the cane and
cotton fields; but their greatest source of anxiety was
the apprehension of being separated. Mary,
a tall, lithe girl, of a most jetty black, was listless
and apparently indifferent. Like many of the
class, she scarcely knew there was such a word as
freedom. Brought up in the ignorance of a brute,
she possessed but little more than a brute's
intelligence. She was one of those, and there are
very many, who fear nothing but their master's lash, and
know no further duty than to obey his voice. The
other was Lethe. She was of an entirely
different character. She had long, straight hair,
and bore more the appearance of an Indian than a negro
woman. She had sharp and spiteful eyes, and
continually gave utterance to the language of hatred and
revenge. Her husband had been sold. She knew
not where she was. An exchange of masters, she was
sure, could not be for the worse. She cared not
whither they might carry her. Pointing to the
scars upon her face, the desperate creature wished
that she might see the day when she
could wife them off in some man's blood!
While we were thus learning the history of each other's
wretchedness, Eliza was seated in a corner by
herself, singing hymns and praying for her children.
Wearied from the loss of so much sleep, I could no
longer bear up against the advances of that "sweet
restorer," and laying down by the side of Robert,
on the floor, soon forgot my troubles, and slept until
the dawn of day.
In the morning, having swept the yard, and washed
ourselves, under Goodin's superintendence, we
were ordered to roll up our blankets, and make ready for
the continuance of our journey. Clem Ray
was informed that he would go no further, Burch,
for some cause, having concluded to carry him back to
Washington. He was much rejoiced. Shaking
hands, we parted in the slave pen at Richmond, and I
have not seen him since. But, much to my surprise,
since my return, I learned that he had escaped from
bondage, and on his way to the free soil of Canada,
lodged one night at the house of my brother-in-law in
Saratoga, informing my family of the place and the
condition in which he left me.
In the afternoon we were drawn up, two abreast,
Robert and myself in advance, and in this order,
driven by Burch and Goodin from the yard,
through the streets of Richmond to the brig Orleans.
She was a vessel of respectable size, full rigged, and
freighted principally with tobacco. We were all on
five o'clock. Burch brought us each a tin
cup and a spoon. There were forty of us in the
brig, being all, except Clem, that were in the
With a small pocket knife that had not been taken from
me, I began cutting the initials of my name upon the tin
cup. The others immediately flocked round me,
requesting me to mark theirs in a similar manner.
In time, I gratified them all, of which they did not
appear to be forgetful.
We were all stowed away in the hold at night, and the
hatch barred down. We laid on boxes, or where-ever
there was room enough to stretch our blankets on the
Burch accompanied us no farther than Richmond,
returning from that point to the capital with "Clem.
Not until the lapse of almost twelve years, to wit, in
January last, in the Washington police office, did I set
my eyes upon his face again.
James H. Burch was a slave-trader- buying men,
women and children at low prices, and selling them at
the advance. He was a speculator in human flesh -
a disreputable calling - and so considered at the South.
For the present he disappears from the scenes recorded
in this narrative, but he will appear again before its
close, not in the character of a man-whipping tyrant,
but as an arrested, cringing criminal in a court of law,
that failed to do him justice.
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