O'Niel, the Tanner
- Conversation with Aunt Phebe overheard
- Epps in the Tanning Business
- Stabbing of Uncle Abram
- The Ugly Wound
- Epps is Jealous
- Patsey is Missing
- Her Return from Shaw's
- Harriet, Shaw's Black Wife
- Epps Enraged
- Patsey denies his Charges
- She is Tied
- Down Naked to Four Stakes
- The Inhuman Flogging
- Flaying of Patsey
- The Beauty of the Day
- The Bucket of Salt Water
- The Dress stiff with Blood
- Patsey grows Melancholy
- Her Idea of God and Eternity
- Of Heaven and Freedom
- The Effect of Slave-Whipping
- Epps' Oldest Son
- "The Child is Father to the Man,"
suffered severely at the hands of Master
Epps, as has been related in the preceding
chapter, but in this respect he fared no worse than
his unfortunate companions. "Spare the rod,"
was an idea scouted by our master. He was
constitutionally subject to periods of ill-humor,
and at such times, how ever little provocation there
might be, a certain amount of punishment was
inflicted. The circum stances attending the
last flogging but one that I received, will show how
trivial a cause was sufficient with him for
resorting to the whip.
A Mr. O'Niel, residing in the vicinity of
the Big Pine 'Woods, called upon Epps for the
purpose of pur-
[pg. 251] -
O'NEIL, THE TANNER
chasing me. He was a tanner
and currier by occupation, transacting an extensive
business, and intended to place me at service in
some department of his establishment, provided he
bought me. Aunt Phebe, while
preparing the dinner-table in the great house,
overheard their conversation. On returning to
the yard at night, the old woman ran to meet me,
designing, of course, to overwhelm me with the news.
She entered into a minute repetition of all she had
heard, and Aunt Phebe was one whose
ears never failed to. drink in every word of
conversation uttered in her hearing. She
enlarged upon the fact that "Massa Epps
was g'wine to sell me to a tanner ober in de Pine
Woods," so long and loudly as to attract the
attention of the mistress, who, standing unobserved
on the piazza at the time, was listening to our
"Well, Aunt Phebe," said I, " I'm glad of
it. I'm tired of scraping cotton, and would
rather be a tanner. I hope he'll buy me."
O'Niel did not effect a purchase, however, the
par ties differing as to price, and the morning
following his arrival, departed homewards. He
had been gone but a short time, when Epps
made his appearance in the field. Now nothing
will more violently enrage a master, especially
Epps, than the intimation of one of his servants
that he would like to leave him. Mistress
Epps had repeated to him my expressions to
Aunt Phebe the evening previous, as I
learned from the latter afterwards, the mistress
to her that she had overheard us. On entering
the field, Epps walked directly to me.
" So, Platt, you're tired of scraping cotton,
are you? You would like to change your master,
eh! You're fond of moving round —traveler —ain't
ye? Ah, yes - like to travel for your health,
may be? Feel above cotton-scraping, I 'spose.
So you're going into the tanning business?
Good business —devilish fine business.
Enterprising nigger! B'lieve I'll go into that
business myself. Down on your knees, and strip
that rag off your back! I'll try my hand at
I begged earnestly, and endeavored to soften him with
excuses, but in vain. There was no other alter
native; so kneeling down, I presented my bare back
for the application of the lash.
" How do you like tanning?" he exclaimed, as the
rawhide descended upon my flesh. "How do you
like tanning? " he repeated at every blow.
In this manner ho gave me twenty or thirty lashes,
incessantly giving utterance to the word "tanning,"
in one form of expression or another. When
sufficiently "tanned," he allowed me to arise, and
with a half-malicious laugh assured me, if I still
fancied the business, he would give me further
instruction in it when ever I desired. This
time, he remarked, he had only given me a short
lesson in "tanning"—the next time he would "curry me
Uncle Abram, also, was frequently treated with
great brutality, although he was one of the kindest
and most faithful creatures in the world. He
[pg. 253] -
STABBING OF UNCLE
cabin-mate for years. There
was a benevolent expression in the old man's face,
pleasant to behold. He regarded us with a kind
of parental feeling, always counseling us with
remarkable gravity and deliberation.
Returning from Marshall's plantation one
afternoon, whither I had been sent on some errand of
the mistress, I found him lying on the cabin floor,
his clothes saturated with blood. He informed
me that he had been stabbed! While spreading
cotton on the scaffold, Epps came home
intoxicated from Holmesville. He found
fault with every thing, giving many orders so
directly contrary that it was impossible to execute
any of them. Uncle Abram, whose
faculties were growing dull, became confused, and
committed some blunder of no particular consequence.
Epps was so enraged thereat, that, with
drunken recklessness, he flew upon the old man, and
stabbed him in the back. It was a long, ugly
wound, but did not happen to penetrate far enough to
result fatally. It was sewed up by the
mistress, who censured her husband with extreme
severity, not only denouncing his inhumanity, but
declaring that she expected nothing else than that
he would bring the family to poverty —that he would
kill all the slaves on the plantation in some of his
It was no uncommon thing with him to prostrate Aunt
Phebe with a chair or stick of wood; but the
most cruel whipping that ever I was doomed to wit
ness —one I can never recall with any other emotion
[pg. 255] -
PATHEY'S RETURN FROM
wife, knowing Patsey's
troubles, was kind to her, in consequence of which
the latter was in the habit of going over to see her
every opportunity. Her visits were prompted by
friendship merely, but the suspicion gradually
entered the brain of Epps, that another and a
baser passion led her thither —that it was not
Harriet she desired to meet, but rather the
unblushing libertine, his neighbor. Patsey
found her master in a fearful rage on her return.
His violence so alarmed her that at first she
attempted to evade direct answers to his questions,
which only served to increase his suspicions.
She finally, however, drew herself up proudly, and
in a spirit of indignation boldly denied his
"Missus don't give me soap to wash with, as she does
the rest," said Patsey, " and you know why. I
went over to Harriet's to get a piece," and saying
this, she drew it forth from a pocket in her dress
and exhibited it to him. "That's what I went
to Shaw's for, Massa Epps,"
continued she; " the Lord knows that was all."
"You lie, you black wench! "shouted Epps.
"I don't lie, massa. If you kill me, I'll
stick to that."
"Oh! I'll fetch you down. I'll learn you to go to
Shaw's. I'll take the starch out of ye,"
he muttered fiercely through his shut teeth.
Then turning to me, he ordered four stakes to be driven
into the ground, pointing with the toe of his boot
to the places where he wanted them. When the
stakes were driven down, he ordered her to be strip-
ped of every article of dress. Ropes were then
brought, and the naked girl was laid upon her face,
her wrists and feet each tied firmly to a stake.
Stepping to the piazza, he took down a heavy whip,
and placing it in my hands, commanded me to lash
her. Unpleasant as it was, I was compelled to
obey him. Nowhere that day, on the face of the
whole earth, I venture to say, was there such a
demoniac exhibition witnessed as then ensued.
Mistress Epps stood on the piazza among
her children, gazing on the scene with an air of
heartless sat isfaction. The slaves were
huddled together at a little distance, their
countenances indicating the sorrow of their hearts.
Poor Patsey prayed piteously for mercy, but
her prayers were vain. Epps ground his teeth,
and stamped upon the ground, screaming at me, like a
mad fiend, to strike harder.
"Strike harder, or your turn will come next, you
scoundrel," he yelled.
"Oh, mercy, massa! - oh! have mercy, do.
Oh, God! pity me," Patsey exclaimed
continually, struggling fruitlessly, and the flesh
quivering at every stroke.
When I had struck her as many as thirty times, I
stopped, and turned round toward Epps, hoping
he was satisfied; but with bitter oaths and threats,
he ordered me to continue. I inflicted ten or
fifteen blows more. By this time her back was
covered with long welts, intersecting each other
like net work. Epps was yet furious and
savage as ever, demanding
[pg. 257] -
FLAYING OF PATSEY
thought within myself — Thou devil,
sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal
justice, thou shalt answer for this sin! "
Finally, he ceased whipping from mere exhaustion, and
ordered Phebe to bring a bucket of salt and wa ter.
After washing her thoroughly with this, I was told
to take her to her cabin. Untying the ropes, I
raised her in my arms. She was unable to stand, and
as her head rested on my shoulder, she repeated ma
ny times, in a faint voice scarcely perceptible, "
Oh, Platt —oh, Platt !" but nothing further. Her
dress was replaced, but it clung to her back, and
was soon stiff with blood. We laid her on some
boards in the hut, where she remained a longtime,
with eyes closed and groaning in agony. At night
Phebe applied melted tallow to her wounds, and so
far as we were able, all endeavored to assist and
console her. Day after day she lay in her cabin upon
her face, the sores preventing her resting in any
A blessed thing it would have been for her —days and
weeks and months of misery it would have saved her
—had she never lifted up her head in life again.
Indeed, from that time forward she was not what she
had been. The burden of a deep melancholy weigh ed
heavily on her spirits. She no longer moved with
that buoyant and elastic step — there was not that
mirthful sparkle in her eyes that formerly distin
guished her. The bounding vigor —the sprightly,
laughter-loving spirit of her youth, were gone. She
fell into a mournful and desponding mood, and often
times would start up in her sleep, and with raised
hands, plead for mercy. She became more silent than
she was, toiling all day in our midst, not uttering
a word. A care-worn, pitiful expression settled on
her face, and it was her humor now to weep, rather
than rejoice. If ever there was a broken heart — one
crushed and blighted by the rude grasp of suffer ing
and misfortune —it was Patsey's..
She had been reared no better than her master's beast
—looked upon merely as a valuable and hand-, some
animal —and consequently possessed but a lim ited
amount of knowledge. And yet a faint light cast its
rays over her intellect, so that it was not wholly
dark. She had a dim perception of God and of
eternity, and a still more dim perception of a Sav
iour who had died even for such as her. She enter
tained but confused notions of a future life —not
com prehending the distinction between the corporeal
and spiritual existence. Happiness, in her mind, was
ex emption from stripes —from labor —from the
cruelty of masters and overseers. Her idea of the
joy of heaven was simply rest, and is fully
expressed in these lines of a melancholy bard:
"I ask no paradise on high,
With cares on earth oppresed,
The only heaven for which I sigh,
Is rest, eternal rest."
It is a
mistaken opinion thatss
PATSEY'S IDEA OF GOD,
times would start up in her sleep,
and with raised hands, plead for mercy. She
became more silent than she was, toiling all day in
our midst, not uttering a word. A care-worn,
pitiful expression settled on her face, and it was
her humor now to weep, rather than rejoice. If
ever there was a broken heart - one crushed and
blighted by the rude grasp of suffering and
misfortune - it was Patsey's.
She had been reared no better than her master's beast -
looked upon merely as a valuable and handsome animal
- and consequently possessed but a limited amount of
knowledge. And yet a faint light cast its rays
over her intellect, so that it was not wholly dark.
She had a dim perception of God and of eternity, and
a still more dim perception of a Saviour who had
died even for such as her. She entertained but
confused notions of a future life - not
comprehending the distinction between the corporeal
and spiritual existence. Happiness, in her
mind, was exemption from stripes - from labor - from
the cruelty of masters and overseers. Her idea
of the joy of heaven was simply rest, and is
fully expressed in these lines of a melancholy bard:
"I ask no paradise on high,
With cares on earth oppressed,
The only heaven for which I sigh,
Is rest, eternal rest."
It is a
mistaken opinion that prevails in some quarters,
that the slave does not understand the term - does
not comprehend the idea of freedom. Even on
Bayou Boeuf, where I conceive
slavery exists in its most abject and cruel form -
where it exhibits features altogether unknown in
more northern States - the most ignorant of them
generally know full well its meaning. They
understand the privileges and exemptions that belong
to it - that it would bestow upon them the fruits of
their own labors, and that it would secure to them
the enjoyment of domestic happiness. They do
not fail to observe the difference between their own
condition and the meanest white man's, and to
realize the injustice of the laws which place it in
his power not only to appropriate the profits of
their industry, but to subject them to unmerited and
unprovoked punishment, without remedy, or the right
to resist, or to remonstrate.
Patsey's life, especially after her whipping,
was one long dream of liberty. Far away, to
her fancy an immeasurable distance, she knew there
was a land of freedom. A thousand times she
had heard that somewhere in the distant North there
were no slaves - no masters. In her
imagination it was an enchanted region, the Paradise
of the earth. To dwell where the black man may
work for himself - live in his own cabin - till his
own soil, was a blissful dream of Patsey's -
a dream, alas! the fulfillment of which she
can never realize.
The effect of these exhibitions of brutality on the
household of the slave-holder, is apparent. Epps' oldest son is an intelligent lad of ten or
twelve years of age. It is pitiable,
sometimes, to see him chas-
EPPS' OLDEST SON.
tising, for instance, the venerable
Uncle Abram. He will call the old man
to account, and if in his childish judgment it is
necessary, sentence him to a certain number of
lashes, which he proceeds to inflict with much
gravity and deliberation. Mounted on his pony,
he often rides into the field with his whip, playing
the overseer, greatly to his father's delight.
Without discrimination, at such times, he applies
the rawhide, urging the slaves forward with shouts,
and occasional expressions of profanity, while the
old man laughs, and commands him as a thorough-going
"The child is father to the man," and with such
training, whatever may be his natural disposition,
it cannot well be otherwise than that, on arriving
at maturity, the sufferings and miseries of the
slave will be looked upon with entire indifference.
The influence of the iniquitous system necessarily
fosters an unfeeling and cruel spirit, even in the
bosoms of those who, among their equals, are
regarded as humane, and generous.
Young Master Epps possessed some noble
qualities, yet no process of reasoning could lead
him to comprehend, that in the eye of the Almighty
there is no distinction of color. He looked
upon the black man simply as an animal, differing in
no respect from any other animal, save in the gift
of speech and the possession of somewhat higher
instincts, and, therefore, the more valuable.
To work like his father's mules - to be whipped and
kicked and scourged through life - to address the
white man with hat in hand, and eyes
bent servilely on the earth, in his
mind, was the natural and proper destiny of the
slave. Brought up with such ideas - in the
notion that we stand without the pale of humanity -
no wonder the oppressors of my people are a pitiless
and unrelenting race.
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