- Avery, on Bayou Rouge
- Peculiarity of Dwellings
- Epps builds a New House
- Bass, the Carpenter
- His Noble Qualities
- His Personal Appearance and Eccentricities
- Bass and Epps discuss the Question of
- Epps' Opinion of Bass
- I make myself known to him
- Our Conversation
- His Surprise
- The Midnight Meeting on the Bayou Bank
- Bass' Assurances
- Declares War against Slavery
- Why I did not Disclose my History
- Bass writes Letters
- Copy of his Letter to Messrs. Parker and
- The Fever of Suspense
- Bass endeavors to cheer me
- My Faith in him
month of June, 1852, in pursuance of a previous
contract, Mr. Avery, a carpenter of
Bayou Rouge, commenced the erection of a house for
Master Epps. It has previously
been stated that there are no cellars on Bayou Boeuf;
on the other hand, such is the low and swampy nature
of the ground, the great houses are usually built
upon spiles. An other peculiarity is, the rooms are
not plastered, but the ceiling and sides are covered
with matched cypress boards, painted such color as
most pleases the owner's taste. Generally the
plank and boards are sawed by slaves with whip-saws,
there being no waterpower upon which mills might be
built within many miles. When the planter
erects for himself a dwelling, therefore, there is
.plenty of extra work for his
slaves. Having had some experience under Tibeats as
a carpenter, I was taken from the field altogether,
on the arrival of Avery and his hands.
Among them was one to whom I owe an immeasurable debt
of gratitude. Only for him, in all
probability, I should have ended my days in slavery.
He was my deliverer —a man whose true heart over
flowed with noble, and generous emotions. To
the last moment of my existence I shall remember him
with feelings of thankfulness. His name was
Bass, and at that time he resided in Marksville.
It will be difficult to convey a correct impression
of his appearance or character. He was a large
man, between forty and fifty years old, of light
complexion and light hair. He was very cool
and self-possessed, fond of argument, but always
speaking with extreme deliberation. He was
that kind of person whose peculiarity of manner was
such that nothing he uttered ever gave offence.
What would be intolerable, coming from the lips of
another, could be said by him with impunity.
There was not a man on Red River, perhaps, that
agreed with him on the subject of politics or
religion, and not a man, I venture to say, who
discussed either of those subjects half as much.
It seemed to be taken for granted that he would
espouse the unpopular side of every local question,
and it al ways created amusement rather than
displeasure among his auditors, to listen to the
ingenious and original manner in which he maintained
the controversy. He was a bachelor —an "old
cording to the true acceptation of the term —having
no kindred living, as he knew of, in the world.
Neither had he any permanent abiding place
—wandering from one State to another, as his fancy
dictated. He had lived in Marksville three or
four years, and in the prosecution of his business
as a carpenter; and in consequence, likewise, of his
peculiarities, was quite extensively known
throughout the parish of Avoyelles. He was
liberal to a fault; and his many acts of kindness
and transparent goodness of heart rendered him
popular in the community, the sentiment of which he
He was a native of Canada, from whence he had wandered
in early life, and after visiting all the principal
localities in the northern and western States, in
the course of his peregrinations, arrived in the
unhealthy region of the Bed River. His last
removal was from Illinois. Whither he has now
gone, I regret to be obliged to say, is unknown to
me. He gathered up his effects and departed
quietly from Marksville the day before I did, the
suspicions of his instrumentality in procuring my
liberation rendering such a step necessary.
For the commission of a just and righteous act he
would undoubtedly have suffered death, had he
remained within reach of the slave-whipping tribe on
One day, while working on the new house, Bass
and Epps became engaged in a controversy, to
which, as will be readily supposed, I listened with
absorbing interest. They were discussing the
subject of Slavery
"I toll you what it is Epps," said Bass,
"it's all wrong ' all wrong, sir —there's no justice
nor righteousness in it. I wouldn't own a
slave if I was rich as Croesus, which I am
not, as is perfectly well under stood, more
particularly among my creditors. There's
another humbug —the credit system —humbug, sir; no
credit —no debt. Credit leads a man into
temptation. Cash down is the only thing that
will deliver him from evil. But this question
of Slavery; what right have you to your niggers when
you come down to the point?"
"What right! " said Epps, laughing; " why, I
bought 'em, and paid for 'em."
Of course you did; the law says you have the
right to hold a nigger, but begging the law's
pardon, it lies. Yes, Epps, when the
law says that it's a liar, and the truth is not in
it. Is every thing right be cause the law
allows it? Suppose they'd pass a law taking
away your liberty and making you a slave?"
"Oh, that ain't a supposable case," said Epps,
still laughing; " hope you don't compare me to a
"Well," Bass answered gravely, " no, not
exactly. But I have seen niggers before now as
good as I am, and I have no acquaintance with any
white man in these parts that I consider a whit
better than myself. Now, in the sight of
God, what is the difference, Epps,
between a white man and a black one?"
"All the difference in the world," replied Epps.
" You might as well ask what the difference is be-
tween a white man and a baboon. Now, I've seen
one of them critters in Orleans that knowed just as
much as any nigger I've got. You'd call them
feller citizens, I s'pose?" —and Epps
indulged in a loud laugh at his own wit.
"Look here, Epps," continued his companion; "you
can't laugh me down in that way. Some men are
witty, and some, ain't so witty as they think they
are. Now let me ask you a question. Are
all men created free and equal as the Declaration of
Independence holds they are?"
"Yes," responded Epps, " but all men, niggers,
and. monkeys ain't; "and hereupon he broke forth
into a more boisterous laugh than before.
"There are monkeys among white people as well as black,
when you come to that," coolly, remarked Bass.
"I know some white men that use arguments no
sensible monkey would. But let that pass.
These niggers are human beings. If they don't
know as much as their masters, whose fault is it?
They are not allowed to know anything. You
have books and papers, and can go where you please,
and gather intelligence in a thousand ways.
But your slaves have no privileges. You'd whip
one of them if caught reading a book. They are
held in bondage, generation after generation,
deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect
them to possess much knowledge? If they are
not brought down to a level with the brute creation,
you slaveholders will never be blamed for it.
If they are baboons, or stand no
higher in the scale of intelligence than such
animals, you and men like you will have to answer
for it. There's a sin, a fearful sin, resting
on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever.
There will be a reckoning yet —yes, Epps,
there's a day coming that will burn as an oven.
It may be sooner or it may be later, but it's a
coming as sure as the Lord is just."
"If you lived up among the Yankees in New England,"
said Epps," I expect you'd be one of
them cursed fanatics that know more than the
constitution, and go about peddling clocks and
coaxing niggers to run away."
"If I was in New-England," returned Bass, "I
would be just what I am hero. I would say that
Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished.
I would say there was no reason nor justice in the
law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold
another man in bondage. It would be hard for
you to lose your property, to be sure, but it
wouldn't be half as hard as it would be to lose your
liberty. You have no more right to your
freedom, in exact justice, than Uncle
Abram yonder. Talk about black skin,
and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on
this bayou as white as either of us? And what
difference is there in the color of the soul?
Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel.
You may own niggers and behanged, but I wouldn't own
one for the best plantation in Louisiana."
"You like to hear yourself talk, Bass, better
than any man I know of. You would argue that
white, or white black, if any body would contradict
you. Nothing suits you in this world, and I
don't believe you will be satisfied with the next,
if you should have your choice in them."
Conversations substantially like the foregoing were not
unusual between the two after this; Epps
drawing him out more for the purpose of creating a
laugh at his expense, than with a view of fairly
discussing the merits of the question. He
looked upon Bass, as a man ready to say
anything merely for the pleasure of hearing his own
voice; as somewhat self-conceited, perhaps,
contending against his faith and judgment, in order,
simply, to exhibit his dexterity in argumentation.
He remained at Epps' through the summer,
visiting Marksville generally once a fortnight.
The more I saw of him, the more I became convinced
he was a man in whom I could confide.
Nevertheless, my previous ill-fortune had taught me
to be extremely cautious. It was not my place
to speak to a white man except when spoken to, but I
omitted no opportunity of throwing myself in his
way, and endeavored constantly in every possible
manner to attract his attention. In the early
part of August he and my self were at work alone in
the house, the other carpenters having left, and
Epps being absent in the field. Now was
the time, if ever, to broach the subject, and I
resolved to do it, and submit to whatever
consequences might ensue. We were busily at
work in the afternoon, when I stopped suddenly and
"Master Bass, I want to ask you what part of the
country you came from?
"Why, Platt, what put that into your head? " he
answered. "You wouldn't know if I should tell you."
After a moment or two he added—"I was born in
Canada; now guess where that is."
"Oh, I know where Canada is," said I, " I have been
"Yes, I expect you are well acquainted all through that
country," he remarked, laughing incredulously.
"As sure as I live, Master Bass," I
replied, "I have been there. I have been in
Montreal and Kingston, and Queenston, and a great
many places in Canada, and I have been in York
State, too —in Buffalo, and Rochester, and Albany,
and can tell you the names of the villages on the
Erie canal and the Champlain canal."
"Bass turned round and gazed at me a long time without
uttering a syllable.
"How came you here?" he inquired, at length, "Master
Bass," I answered, "if justice had been done, I
never would have been here."
"Well, how's this? " said he. "Who are you?
You have been in Canada sure enough; I know all the
places you mention. How did you happen to get
here? Come, tell me all about it."
"I have no friends here," was my reply, "that I can put
confidence in. I am afraid to tell you, though
I don't believe you would tell Master Epps
if I should."
He assured me earnestly he would keep every word I
might speak to him a profound secret, and his
curiosity was evidently strongly excited. It
was a long story, I informed him, and would take
some time to relate it. Master Epps
would be back soon, but if he would see me that
night after all were asleep, I would repeat it to
him. He consented readily to the arrangement,
and directed me to come into the building where we
were then at work, and I would find him there.
About midnight, when all was still and quiet, I
crept cautiously from my cabin, and silently
entering the unfinished building, found him awaiting
After further assurances on his part that I should not
be betrayed, I began a relation of the history of my
life and misfortunes. He was deeply
interested, asking numerous questions in reference
to localities and events. Having ended my
story I besought him to write to some of my friends
at the North, acquainting them with my situation,
and begging them to forward free papers, or take
such steps as they might consider proper to secure
my release. He promised to do so, but dwelt
upon the danger of such an act in case of detection,
and now impressed upon me the great necessity of
strict silence and secresy. Before
we parted our plan of' operation was arranged.
We agreed to meet the next night at a specified place
among the high weeds on the bank of the bayou, some
distance from master's dwelling. There he was
to write down on paper the names and address of
several persons, old friends in the North, to whom
would direct letters during his next visit to
Marksville. It was not deemed prudent to meet
in the new house, inasmuch as the light it would be
necessary to use might possibly be discovered.
In the course of the day I managed to obtain a few
matches and a piece of candle, unperceived, from the
kitchen, during a temporary absence of Aunt
Phebe. Bass had pencil and paper
in his tool chest.
At the appointed hour we met on the bayou bank, and
creeping among the high weeds, I lighted the candle,
while he drew forth pencil and paper and pre pared
for business. I gave him the names of
William Perry, Cephas Parker
and Judge Marvin, all of Saratoga
Springs, Saratoga county, New York. I had been
employed by the latter in the United States Hotel,
and had transacted business with the former to a
considerable extent, and trusted that at least one
of them would be still living at that place.
He carefully wrote the names, and then remarked,
"It is so many years since you left Saratoga, all these
men may be dead, or may have removed. You say
you obtained papers at the custom house in New York.
Probably there is a record of them there, and I
think it would be well to write and ascertain."
I agreed with him, and again repeated the circum
stances related heretofore, connected with my visit
to the custom house with Brown and
Hamilton. We lingered on the bank of the
bayou an hour or more, conversing upon the subject
which now engrossed our
thoughts. I could no longer doubt his fidelity, and
freely spoke to him of the many sorrows I had borne
in silence, and so long. I spoke of my wife
and children, mentioning their names and ages, and
dwelling upon the unspeakable happiness it would be
to clasp them to my heart once more before I died.
I caught him by the hand, and with tears and
passionate entreaties implored him to befriend me
—to restore me to my kindred and to
liberty—promising I would weary Heaven the remainder
of my life with prayers that it would bless and
prosper him. In the enjoyment of freedom
—surrounded by the associations of youth, and
restored to the bosom of my family —that promise is
not yet forgotten, nor shall it ever be so long as I
have strength to raise my imploring eyes on high.
"Oh, blessings on his kindly voice and on his silver
And blessings on his whole life long, until he meet me
overwhelmed me with assurances of friendship and
faithfulness, saying he had never before taken so
deep an interest in the fate of any one. He
spoke of himself in a somewhat mournful tone, as a
lonely man, a wanderer about the world —that he was
growing old, and must soon reach the end of his
earthly journey, and lie down to his final rest with
out kith or kin to mourn for him, or to remember him
—that his life was of little value to himself, and
henceforth should be devoted to the accomplishment
of my liberty, and to an unceasing warfare against
the accursed shame of Slavery.
After this time we seldom spoke to, or recognized each
other. He was, moreover, less free in his
conversation with Epps on the subject of
Slavery. The remotest suspicion that there was
any unusual intimacy —any secret understanding
between us —never once entered the mind of Epps,
or any other person, white or black, on the
I am often asked, with an air of incredulity, how I
succeeded so many years in keeping from my daily and
constant companions the knowledge of my true name
and history. The terrible lesson Burch
taught me, impressed indelibly upon my mind the
danger and uselessness of asserting I was a freeman.
There was no possibility of any slave being able to
assist me, while, on the other hand, there was a
possibility of his exposing me. When it is
recollected the whole current of my thoughts, for
twelve years, turned to the contemplation of escape,
it will not be wondered at, that I was always
cautious and on my guard. It would have been
an act of folly to have proclaimed my right to
freedom; it would only have subjected me to severer
scrutiny —probably have consigned me to some more
distant and inaccessible region than even Bayou
Boeuf. Edwin Epps was a person
utterly regardless of a black man's rights or wrongs
—utterly destitute of any natural sense of justice,
as I well knew. It was important, therefore,
not only as regarded my hope of deliverance, but
also as regarded the few personal priviliges I was
permitted to enjoy, to keep from him the history of
The Saturday night subsequent to our interview at the
water's edge, Bass went home to Marksville.
The next day, being Sunday, he employed himself in
his own room writing letters. One he directed
to the Collector of Customs at New York, another to
Judge Marvin, and another to Messrs.
Parker and Perry jointly. The
latter was the one which led to my recovery.
He subscribed my true name, but in the postscript
intimated I was not the writer. The
letter itself shows that he considered himself
engaged in a dangerous undertaking —no less than
running "the risk of his life, if detected." I did
not see the letter before it was mailed, but have
since obtained a copy, which is here inserted:
"Bayou Boeuf, August 15, 1852.
"Mr. William Perry or Mr. Cephas Parker:
'Gentlemen - It having
been a long time since I have seen or heard from
you, and not knowing that you are living, it is with
uncertainty that I write to you, but the necessity
of the case much be my excuse.
"Having been born free, just across the river from you,
I am certain you must know me, and I am here now a
slave. I wish you to obtain free papers for
me, and forward them to me at Marksville, Louisiana,
Parish of Avoyelles, and oblige.
"Yours, SOLOMON NORTHUP
"The way I
came to be a slave, I was taken sick in Washington
City, and was insensible for some time. When I
recovered my reason, I was robbed of my free-papers,
and in irons on my way to this State, and have never
been able to get any one to write for me until now;
and he that is writing for me runs the risk of his
life if detected."
The allusion to myself in the work recently issued,
entitled " A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," contains the
first part of this letter, omitting the postscript.
Neither are the full names of the gentlemen to whom
it is directed correctly stated, there being a
slight discrepancy, probably a typographical error.
To the postscript more than to the body of the
communication am I indebted for my liberation, as
will presently be seen.
When Bass returned from Marksville he informed
me of what he had done. We continued, our
midnight consultations, never speaking to each other
through the day, excepting as it was necessary about
the work. As nearly as he was able to
ascertain, it would require two weeks for the letter
to reach Saratoga in due course of mail, and the
same length of time for an answer to return.
Within six weeks, at the farthest, we concluded, an
answer would arrive, if it arrived at all. A
great many suggestions were now made, and a great
deal of conversation took place between us, as to
the most safe and proper course to pursue on receipt
of the free papers. They would stand between
him and harm, in case we were over taken and
arrested leaving the country altogether. It
would be no infringement of law, however much it
might provoke individual hostility, to assist a
freeman to regain his freedom.
At the end of four weeks he was again at Marksville,
but no answer had arrived. I was sorely
disappointed, but still reconciled myself with the
that sufficient length of time had not yet elapsed —
that there might have been delays —and that I could
not reasonably expect one so soon. Six, seven,
eight, and ten weeks passed by, however, and nothing
came. I was in a fever of suspense whenever Bass
visited Marksville, and could scarcely close my eyes
until his return. Finally my master's house was
finished, and the time came when Bass must leave me. The night before his departure I was wholly given up
to despair. I had clung to him as a drowning
man clings to the floating spar, knowing if it slips
from his grasp he must forever sink beneath the
waves. The all-glorious hope, upon which I had
laid such eager hold, was crumbling to ashes in my
hands. I felt as if sinking down, down, amidst
the bitter waters of Slavery, from the unfathomable
depths of which I should never rise again.
The generous heart of my friend and benefactor was
touched with pity at the sight of my distress.
He endeavored to cheer me up, promising to return
the day before Christmas, and if no intelligence was
received in the meantime, some further step would be
under taken to effect our design. He exhorted
me to keep up my spirits —to rely upon his continued
efforts in my behalf, assuring me, in most earnest
and impressive language, that my liberation should,
from thence forth, be the chief object of his
In his absence the time passed slowly indeed. I
looked forward to Christmas with intense anxiety and
impatience. I had about given up the
receiving any answer to the letters. They
might have miscarried, or might have been
misdirected. Perhaps those at Saratoga, to
whom they had been addressed, were all dead;
perhaps, engaged in their pursuits, they did not
consider the fate of an obscure, unhappy black man
of sufficient importance to be noticed. My
whole reliance was in Bass. The faith I had in
him was continually re-assuring me, and enabled me
to stand up against the tide of disappointment that
had overwhelmed me.
So wholly was I absorbed in reflecting upon my
situation and prospects, that the hands with whom I
labored in the field often observed it. Patsey
would ask me if I was sick, and Uncle
Abram, and Bob, and Wiley
frequently expressed a curiosity to know what I
could be thinking about so steadily. But I
evaded their inquiries with some light remark, and
kept my thoughts locked closely in my breast.
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