The Hot Sun - Yet bond - The Cords
sink into my Flesh - Chapin's Uneasiness -
Speculation - Rachel, and her Cup of Water - Suffering
increases - The Happiness of Slavery -
Arrival of Ford - He cuts the Cords which bind me, and
takes the Rope from my Neck -
Miscry - The gathering of the Slaves in Eliza's Cabin -
Their Kindness -
Rachel Repeats the Occurrences of the Day -
- Lawson entertains his Companions with an
Account of his Ride
- Chapin's apprehensions of Tibeats
- Hired to Peter Tanner
- Peter expounds the Scriptures
- Descriptions of the Stocks
sun approached the meridian that day it became
insufferably warm. Its hot rays scorched the
ground. The earth almost blistered the foot that
stood upon it. I was without coat or hat, standing
bareheaded, exposed to its burning blaze. Great
drops of perspiration rolled down my face, drenching the
scanty apparel wherewith I was clothed. Over the
fence, a very little way off, the peach trees cast their
cool, delicious shadows on the grass. I would
gladly have given a long year of service to have been
enabled to exchange the heated oven, as it were, wherein
I stood, for a seat beneath their branches. But I
was yet bound, the rope still dangling from my neck, and
standing in the same tracks where Tibeats and his
comrades left me. I could not move an inch, so
firmly had I been bound. To have been enabled to
lean against the weaving house would have been a luxury
indeed. But it was far beyond my reach, though
distant less than twenty feet. I wanted to lie
down, but knew I could not rise again. The ground
was so parched and boiling hot I was aware it would but
add to the discomfort of my situation. If I could
have only moved my position, however slightly, it would
have been relief unspeakable. But the hot rays of
a southern sun, beating all the long summer day on my
bare head, produced not half the suffering I experienced
from my aching limbs. My wrists and ankles, and
the cords of my legs and arms began to swell, burying
the rope that bound them into the swollen flesh.
All day Chapin walked back and forth upon the
stoop, but not once approached me. He appeared to
be in a state of great uneasiness, looking first towards
me, and then up the road, as if expecting some arrival
every moment. He did not go to the field, as was
his custom. It was evident from his manner that he
supposed Tibeats would return with more and
better armed assistance, perhaps, to renew the quarrel,
and it was equally evident he had prepared his
mind to defend my life at whatever hazard. Why he
did not relieve me - why he suffered me to remain in
agony the whole weary day, I never knew. It was
not for want of sympathy, I am certain. Perhaps he
wished Ford to see the rope about my neck, and the
brutal manner in which I had been bound; perhaps his
interference with another's property in
which he had no legal interest might have been a
trespass, which would have subjected him to the penalty
of the law. Why Tibeats was all day absent
was another mystery I never could divine. He knew
well enough that Chapin would not harm him unless
he persisted in his design against me. Lawson
told me afterwards, that as he passed the plantation of
John David Cheney, he saw the three, and that
they turned and looked after him as he flew by. I
think his supposition was, that Lawson had been
sent out by Overseer Chapin to arouse the
neighboring planters, and to call on them to come to his
assistance. He, therefore, undoubtedly, acted on
the principle, that "discretion is the better part of
valor," and kept away.
But whatever motive may have governed the cowardly and
malignant tyrant, it is of no importance. There I
still stood in the noon-tide sun, groaning with pain.
From long before daylight I had not eaten a morsel.
I was growing faint from pain, and thirst, and hunger.
Once only, in the very hottest portion of the day,
Rachel, half fearful she was acting contrary to the
overseer's wishes, ventured to me, and held a cup of
water to my lips. The humble creature never knew,
nor could she comprehend if she had heard them, the
blessings I invoked upon her, for that balmy draught.
She could only say, "Oh, Platt, how I do pity
you," and then hastened back to her labors in the
Never did the sun move so slowly through the heavens -
never did it shower down such fervent and
fiery rays, as it did that day. At least, so it
appeared to me. What my meditations were - the
innumerable thoughts that thronged through my distracted
brain - I will not attempt to give expression to.
suffice it to say, during the whole long day I came not
to the conclusion, even once, that the southern slave,
fed, clothed, whipped and protected by his master, is
happier than the free colored citizen of the North.
To that conclusion I have never since arrived.
There are many, however, even in the Northern States,
benevolent and well-disposed men, who will pronounce my
opinion erroneous, and gravely proceed to substantiate
the assertion with an argument. Alas! they
have never drunk as I have, from the bitter cup of
slavery. Just at sunset my heart leaped with
unbounded joy, as Ford came riding into the yard,
his horse covered with foam. Chapin met him
at the door, and after conversing a short time, he
walked directly to me.
"Poor Plat, you are in a bad state," was the
only expression that escaped his lips.
"Thank God!" said I, "thank God, Master Ford,
that you have come at last."
Drawing a knife from his pocket, he indignantly cut the
cord from my wrists, arms, and ankles, and slipped the
noose from my neck. I attempted to walk, but
staggered like a drunken man, and fell partially to the
Ford returned immediately to the house, leaving me
alone again. As he reached the piazza, Tibeats
and his two friends rode up. A long dialogue
followed. I could hear the sound of their voices,
the mild tones of Ford mingling with the angry
accents of Tibeats, but was unable to distinguish
what was said. Finally the three departed again,
apparently not well pleased.
I endeavored to raise the hammer, thinking to show
Ford how willing I was to work, by proceeding with
my labors on the weaving house, but it fell from my
nerveless hand. At dark I crawled into the cabin,
and laid down. I was in great misery - all sore
and swollen - the slightest movement producing
excruciating suffering. Soon the hands came in
from the field. Rachel, when she went after
Lawson, had told them what had happened.
Eliza and Mary broiled me a piece of bacon,
but my appetite was gone. Then they scorched some
corn meal and made coffee. It was all that I could
take. Eliza consoled me and was very kind.
It was not long before the cabin was full of slaves.
They gathered round me, asking many questions about the
difficulty with Tibeats in the morning - and the
particulars of all the occurrences of the day.
Then Rachel came in, and in her simple language,
repeated it over again - dwelling emphatically on the
kick that sent Tibeats rolling over on the ground
- whereupon there was a general titter throughout the
crowd. Then she described how Chapin walked
out with his pistols and rescued me, and how Master
Ford cut the ropes with his knife, just as if he was
By this time Lawson had returned. He had
to regale them with an account of his trip to the Pine
Woods - how the brown mule bore him faster than a
"streak o'lightnin" - how he astonished everybody as he
flew along - how Master Ford started right away -
how he said Platt was a good nigger, and they
shouldn't kill him, concluding with pretty strong
intimations that there was not another human being in
the wide world, who could have created such a universal
sensation on the road, or performed such a marvelous
John Gilpin feat, as he had done that day on the
The kind creatures loaded me with the expression of
their sympathy - saying, Tibeats was a hard,
cruel man, and hoping "Masa Ford" would get me
back again. In this manner they passed the time,
discussing, chatting, talking over and over again the
exciting affair, until suddenly Chapin presented
himself at the cabin door and called me.
"Platt," said he, "you will sleep on the floor
in the great house to-night; bring your blanket with
I arose as quickly as I was able, took my blanket in my
hand, and followed him. On the way he informed me
that he should not wonder if Tibeats was back
again before morning - that he intended to kill me - and
that he did not mean he should do it without witnesses.
Had he stabbed me to the heart in the presence of a
hundred slaves, not one of them, by the laws of
Louisiana, could have given evidence against him.
I laid down on the floor in the "great
house" - the first and the last time such a sumptuous resting place
was granted me during my twelve years of bondage - and
tried to sleep. Near midnight the dog began to
bark. Chapin arose, looked from the window,
but could discover nothing. At length the dog was
quiet. As he returned to his room, he said,
"I believe, Platt, that scoundrel is skulking
about the premises somewhere. If the dog barks
again, and I am sleeping, wake me."
I promised to do so. After the lapse of an hour
or more, the dog re-commenced him clamor, running
towards the gate, then back again, all the while barking
Chapin was out of bed without waiting to be
called. On this occasion, he stepped forth upon
the piazza, and remained standing there a considerable
length of time. Nothing, however, was to be seen,
and the dog returned to his kennel. We were not
disturbed again during the night. The excessive
pain that I suffered, and the dread of some impending
danger, prevented any rest whatever. Whether or
not Tibeats did actually return to the plantation
that night, seeking an opportunity to wreak his
vengeance upon me, is a secret known only to wreak his
vengeance upon me, is a secret known only to himself
perhaps. I thought then, however, and have the
strong impression still, that he was there. At all
events, he had the disposition of an assassin - cowering
before a brave man's words, but ready to strike his
helpless or unsuspecting victim in the back, as I had
reason afterwards to know.
At daylight in the morning, I arose, sore and weary,
having rested little. Nevertheless, after
partaking breakfast, which Mary and Eliza
had prepared for me in the cabin, I proceeded to the
weaving-house and commenced the labors of another day.
It was Chapin's practice, as it is the practice
of overseers generally, immediately on arising, to
bestride his horse, always saddled and bridled and ready
for him - the particular business of some slave - and
ride into the field. This morning, on the
contrary, he came to the weaving-house, asking if I had
seen anything of Tibeats yet. Replying in
the negative, he remarked there was something not right
about the fellow- there was bad blood in him - that I
must keep a sharp watch of him, or he would do me wrong
some day when I least expect it.
While he was yet speaking, Tibeats rode in,
hitched his horse, and entered the house. I had
little fear of him while Ford and Chapin
were at hand, but they could not be near me always.
Oh! how heavily the weight of slavery pressed
upon me then. I must toil day after day, endure
abuse and taunts and scoffs, sleep on the hard ground,
live on the coarsest fare, and not only this, but live
the slave of a blood-seeking wretch, of whom I must
stand henceforth in continued fear and dread. Why
had I not died in my young years - before God had given
me children to love and live for! What unhappiness
and suffering and sorrow it would have prevented.
I sighed for liberty; but the bondman's
chain was round me, and could not be shaken off. I
could only gaze wistfully towards the North, and think
of the thousands of miles that stretched between me and
the soil of freedom, over which a black freeman
may not pass.
Tibeats, in the course of half an hour, walked
over to the weaving-house, looked at me sharply, then
returned without saying anything. Most of the
forenoon he sat on the piazza, reading a newspaper and
conversing with Ford. After dinner, the
latter left for the Pine Woods, and it was indeed with
regret that I beheld him depart from the plantation.
Once more during the day Tibeats came to me,
gave me some order, and returned.
During the week the weaving-house was completed -
Tibeats in the meantime making no allusion whatever
to the difficulty - when I was informed he had hired me
to Peter Tanner, to work under another carpenter
by the name of Myers. This announcement was
received with gratification, as any place was
desirable that would relieve me of his hateful presence.
Peter Tanner, as the reader has already been
informed, lived on the opposite shore, and was the
brother of Mistress Ford. He is one of the
most extensive planters on Bayou Boeuf, and owns a large
number of slaves.
Over I went to Tanner's, joyfully enough.
He had heard of my late difficulties - in fact, I
ascertained the flogging of Tibeats was soon
blazoned far and wide. This affair, together with
my rafting experiment, had
rendered me somewhat notorious. More than once I
heard it said that Platt Ford, now Platt
Tibeats - a slave's name changes with his change of
master - was "a devil of a nigger." But I was
destined to make a still further noise, as will
presently be seen, throughout the little world of
Peter Tanner endeavered to impress upon me the
idea that he was quite severe, though I could perceive
there was a vein of good humor in the old fellow, after
"You're the nigger," he said to me on my arrival -
"You're the nigger that flogged your master, eh?
You're the nigger that kicks, and holds carpenter
Tibeats by the leg, and wallops him, are? I'd
like to see you hold me by the leg - I should.
You're a 'portant character - you're a great nigger -
very remarkable nigger, ain't ye? I'd lash
you - I'd take the tantrums out of ye. Jest
take hold of my leg, if you please. None of your
pranks here, my boy, remember that. Now go
to work, you kickin' rascal," concluded Peter
Tanner, unable to suppress a half-comical grin at
his own wit and sarcasm.
After listening to this salutation, I was taken charge
of by Myers, and labored under his direction for
a month, to his and my own satisfaction.
Like William Ford, his brother-in-law, Tanner
was in the habit of reading the Bible to his slaves on
the Sabbath, but in a somewhat different spirit.
He was an impressive commentator on the New-Testament.
The first Sunday after my coming to the plantation,
he called them together, and began to read the twelfth
chapter of Luke. When he came to the 47th verse,
he looked deliberately around him, and continued - "And
that servant which knew his lord's will," - here
he paused, looking around more deliberately than before,
and again proceeded - "Which knew his lord's will,
and prepared not himself, neither did
according to his will, shall be beaten with many
"D'ye hear that?" demanded Peter,
emphatically. "Stripes, he repeated, slowly
and distinctly, taking off his spectacles, preparatory
to making a few remarks.
"That nigger that don't take care - that don't obey his
lord - that's his master - d'ye see? - that 'ere
nigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now,
'many' signifies a great many - forty, a hundred,
a hundred and fifty lashes. That's
Scripter~" and so Peter continued to elucidate
the subject for a great length of time, much to the
edification of his sable audience.
At the conclusion of the exercises, calling up three of
his slaves, Warner, Will and Major, he
cried out to me -
"Here, Platt, you held Tibeats by the
legs' now I'll see if you can hold these rascals in the
same way, till I get back from meetin'."
Thereupon he ordered them to the stocks - a common
thing on plantations in the Red River country. The
stocks are formed of two planks, the lower one
made fast at the ends of two short posts, driven firmly
into the ground. At regular distances half circles
are cut in the upper edge. The other plank is
fastened to one of the posts by a hinge, so that it can
be opened or shut down, in the same manner as the blade
of a pocket knife is shut or opened. In the lower
edge of the upper plank corresponding half circles are
also cut, so that when they close, a row of holes is
formed large enough to admit a negro's leg about the
ankle, but not large enough to enable him to draw out
his foot. The other end of the upper plank,
opposite the hinge, is fastened to its post by lock and
key. The slave is made to sit upon the ground,
when the uppermost plank is elevated, his legs, just
above the ankles, placed in the sub-half circles, and
shutting it down again, and locking it, he is held
secure and fast. Very often the neck instead of
the ankle is enclosed. In this manner they are
held during the operation of whipping.
Warner, Will and
Major, according to Tanner's account of them,
were melon-stealing, Sabbath-breaking niggers, and not
approving of such wickedness, he felt it his duty to put
them in the stocks. Handing me the key, himself,
Myers, Mistress Tanner and the children entered the
carriage and drove away to church at Cheneyville.
When they were gone, the boys begged me to let them out.
I felt sorry to see them sitting on the hot ground, and
remembered my own sufferings in the sun. Upon
their promise to return to the stocks at any moment they
to do so, I consented to release them. Grateful
for the lenity shown them, and in order in some measure
to repay it, they could do no less, of course, than
pilot me to the melon-patch. Shortly before
Tanner's return, they were in the stocks again.
Finally he drove up, and looking at the boys, said, with
a chuckle, -
"Aha! ye havn't been strolling about much to-day, any
way. I'll teach you what's what.
I'll tire ye of eating water-melons on the Lord's
day, ye Sabbath-breaking niggers."
Peter Tanner prided himself upon his strict
religious observances: he was a deacon in the church.
But I have now reached a point in the progress of my
narrative, when it becomes necessary to turn away from
these light descriptions, to the more grave and weighty
matter of the second battle with Master Tibeats,
and the flight through the great Pacoudrie Swamp.
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