Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist acting in cooperation with officers of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society, visited various towns of Upper Canada around the middle 1850's, interviewing scores of refugees from the slave states and copying their words soon after they were spoken. For reasons of safety, he protected the identity of his informants and used fictitious names. There were about 30,000 Negroes at that time in Upper, Canada, mostly adults who had once been slaves. John P. Jewett, the prominent abolitionist-minded publisher of Boston who had unexpectedly reaped a fortune from printing Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852, vouched for the integrity and intelligence of Drew.
The testimony tends to stress well-known gross abuses, but some of the ex-slaves offer fresh insights into the working of the plantation system. These selections come from Benjamin Drew (ed.), The Refugee: Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada Related by Themselves (Boston, 1856), pages 260-270, 276-280, 301-305, 314-320.
I was born and raised in old Virginia, Lunenburg county, and was
sold when a well-grown boy-was put on the block at the court house
and sold. I was frightened at being up there on the block, and
was afraid of being carried out of the country. A trader on his way
to New Orleans bought me. He took me to his pen at Brunswick court
house. I being very obedient, he thought I wouldn't run; but I
determined to run if I could, for I thought if I got to New Orleans, I
was at the shutting-up place. He waited a day or two to attend
another sale fifty miles off, taking us with him-perhaps forty or fifty.
We went by stages. I being so obedient, he turned me out to bring
water and do errands in general, while he waited for the sale at
Brunswick court house. In this time I thought about my mother and
brother in the place where I was raised, and thought 't was about
time to run. I ran; but did not know what way to go, and took into
the pines. Now, after I had done this, I began to study what I
should do for something to eat: then I was in a strange country. I
continued there for four days without any food except sassafras
leaves, and I found water. After that, I found an old colored man. I
told him how the case was with me, and asked for a bit of bread.
He told me to come to his house at night, at a certain hour, and he
would give me a mouthful to eat. I went to the house, got some
food; and, behold, the patrollers were out that night, and they
came within one of catching me. Just as I had stepped out of the
house, they came right in. The old man came out a littie before day
and whistled. I went to him, and he put me on the way to Lunenburg.
I travelled on about twelve miles, when it was so dark I dared not walk any further. I made for the bush, and laid a stick with the big end the way I was to go. That night about dark, I got up and started again. I went on, and struck a creek near midnight, called Earn's Creek,-from Earn's Creek, I came to Stony Creek. Day overtaking me, I had to make into the willows on the creek. The bloodhounds that day, of their own accord, having such knowledge, gave me a little race: I went down into the creek, nothing out but my head, among big water moccasin snakes, which I kept off with a stick. The dogs I saw,-they heard me, but there was no one to hearken them on. At night I left the creek, and went up into the neighborhood of the house where I was born and raised: I saw some of my friends and brothers there, and I got something to eat. I was then advised (as the advertisement was just out from the nigger-trader) to go on to an old house where cotton was kept, and there stay until the advertisement was over. For they drive for runaways there with bloodhounds, and a great many men moving abreast, so that they will have a man unless he is a long distance under the ground. I went to the cotton house, and got under the cotton, and stayed till the drive was over-some two or three days.
I came out then, and made for the bush. I stayed till that trader
went down with that company of colored people, and sold them and
came back. I was out all the winter in caves and barns. In the spring
the trader came back. There was a white man in Lunenburg, that
wanted to buy me. The trader heard of it, and said, "I'll sell him, if
you think you can get him: a nigger that will stay in the woods all
winter, I won't have him. What will you give me for him?" It was
settled at eight hundred dollars: then he sent out some of his boys
to tell me, and in a few days I went to him.
He had four farms. T commenced to work right at the great house.
I stayed there three years, I guess: then he died. Then every man
had to come up to be appraised: about sixty of us were appraised.
The same old trader (S---- N----) came up to buy me again,
chains and handcuffs all in his hand. He swore that the "nigger" that
ran away from him, was the one he'd have, and the chains should not
leave him, till he'd got him to Orleans. At twelve o'clock, I went to
the kitchen to get my breakfast, and stepped right on, out into the
bush. The sale was coming on in about a week, and the trader had
come on to brag what he would do,-I stepped out right in the bush.
I was appraised and given to a young lady who thought it necessary to hire me out, right in the bush, where I was. A man hired me at about half price. He was a good man,-no bad man will hire one in the bush, because he won't come to him to save his life, and only the big traders can afford to have driving done. After I got to him, he put me to work at the great house, and he liked me so well, he bought me.
He got a man to oversee at the great house, who was determined
to make more than any farmer in that country. He began to fight,
kick, and knock over. We were going along, suckering tobacco one
day; a couple of worms were found -these big, horned worms-
lying on the ground in the rows: we had not seen them as we were
breaking the suckers. He called the two men who went by them, and
made each take one of the worms and bite its head off. I passed a
small worm,- "G- d- you," says he, "you bite the worm's head,
and suck the stuff out of him: you may run away,-you've got to a
place now, where if you run nine miles into h-, we'll go in for you
up to our armpits. You've made three runs, now you've made a
bad stand." I told him I shouldn't bite the worm's head off: it was a
thing I never had done, and I wasn't used to it, and wouldn't do it.
He made to me with his bull whip, very long, and struck me three
or four times; the third or fourth time, I got hold of it. He then
turned to strike me with the butt,-but being too ar:xious, he let
too much of it go over my shoulder, and I caught the other part,
that he was going to knock me down with. S--- H---,if he gets
hold of that paper, he'll know all about it. He hollowed for help,-
he wanted the other colored people to help him. They all passed on
with their rows, but would not. I then having hold of both ends of
the whip, jerked it out of his hands and ran. I did not intend to
carry the whip far, but there was no stop for me then. I went on
to the bush; he mounted his horse, and started off for men and
bloodhounds. He then came back with the company and the
hounds, stripped the head man and whipped him, because he did
not help take me. I was then preparing to keep the bloodhounds from
following me. I had gathered up some wild onions, and knew what
The master now came home. He tells the overseers, that he shall pay a dollar a day for every day that I was gone, for he had no business to make that disturbance among the people. They chased me that day, but could not follow me beyond the place where I had put on the onions. It takes a mighty old hound to follow that track. I stayed three weeks, and then went in home. When I got home, the old man got hold of it then, and I was not flogged. At the end of the year, my lost time was brought against the overseer. The overseer left, and went to oversee for another man, named S---- S----, at the edge of Brunswick Co. My master being sickly, in some way, his boys being sportsmen, and gambled, got involved, and had to sell part of his hands, at sheriff's sale I suppose. I was again put on the block and sold, and that overseer, S- H----,persuaded his employer, S----, to buy me, so he could get his spite of me. S--- bought me and sent me on to the quarter: put on leg goggles, a band of thin iron round each ancle, with a piece of wood, banded with iron, sticking from each with a rivet. A man cannot run with them on: the iron plays round and the long piece whips his legs as he runs. Each goggle weighs about three pounds. The overseer put them right on, as soon as I got there.
The master had plenty of dogs, four of which were regular
"nigger bloodhounds," worth one hundred dollars or more apiece. That
was the first time I began studying head-work. I had been
running about in the bush without much object, but now I began studying
head-work: while in this condition, it put my mind off to study what
to do now. Every day I was sure of my whipping though-that was
sure-with the loaded bull whip-loaded at both ends: every blow
would cut through the skin. I could n't run-would n't get away. I lay
down studying, and got up studying, how to get out of the condition
I was placed in.
One night it came to my mind that I would go to the blacksmith's shop. After every person was asleep, and every thing appeared still, I got into the window and got a rasp. I put it away where I could get hold of it, knowing that if I cut it part through, they would see it, and band me stronger. That night I studied that I would go down deep, right there in the yard, where they machine cotton and pack cotton right down among the seeds-way down-five feet I guess I went down,-and that the bloodhounds would not find me, as they would look round for me outside. I studied that as hard as a Philadelphia lawyer ever studied a case: if he studies as hard as I studied that, he'll give a right judgment.
I went down the night after I got the rasp, taking the rasp with
me. The cotton seed and motes tumbled in after me as I went down,
and buried me up entirely. They walked over me: I could feel the
rattling over me. I could not rifle in there. The next night I came
out, and commenced rifiing to get off the goggles. They had been out
all day with some drivers and the bloodhounds, expecting, as I had
the goggles on, to catch me directly. I sat up on the upper floor,
where I could see by the light of the moon or stars, and there I
rifled away; I rifled faithfully, and got one off that night,-but I had
to break it away some, and got the skin off my leg. Before day I went
down into the hole again.
The next night I came out and rifled off the other: it came off
easier than the other. Now I've got to go down again. Into the same
hole I went-'t would n't do to come out yet. They had driven the
second day, and I was afraid they would the third. I had eaten nothing
all this time, nor drank a drop. The next night about dark, I jumped
out and went into the bush. I knew all about that neighborhood, and
which way to go. I got me an old scythe-blade, and broke off a piece
and made me a knife. This I found at the machine as I was on the
way to the bush. Then I killed me a pig, took him on my back and
walked five miles. I dressed him, singed off the hair, and before he
was fairly dressed, I had his ears on the coals broiling.
Another consideration struck me now. It would be death to go
back to that place: I must get to a free land now. I had got the irons
off-that I knew. I came out of that county, went into a neighboring
county, into the bush, and staid out six months. I heard of some free
people coming on to the Ohio, and I thought I would get in the
crowd. We came on with a white man who had formed an
attachment to a colored girl, and as she was coming, he determined to
leave too, although he was a regular patroller. I came on with him
as a waiter and servant, and very faithfully I worked too. We
travelled with horses and wagons, but some had to walk. I had to pull
at the baggage,-I would have pulled a wagon all through myself
but what I'd have come. I was concealed the first part of the way;
all the food and clothes piled on me in the wagon, which was very
uncomfortable. You do n't know how much I endured. At night I
would get out and walk. We succeeded until we got to Point
Pleasant; within three or four miles of the ferry, we met men at different
times, telllng this tale- "If you take your slaves this way they'll all
get free,-for you'll get 'em on the Ohio side: I would n't take that
man; if you want to sell him, you can get your money right in this
He began to fear that they'd think he was running away slaves.
"Look here," says he, "to-night you'd better take a skiff and cross
the river-these folks have got passes to show, and you have not."
This made me uneasy-I knew nothing about padding a skiff: I
might get off into the middle of the river, and then paddle back to
the same shore. I then said to him, "It is a matter of course that
we go on, and I go on as you said, and you've a right to take your
slave wherever you please." Now he told me, "Do you go off, and
come up to us when we get to the ferry-place." I said, "That won't
do." We reasoned considerably about it: he was a man that would
hear to a little reason, and so we reasoned. Now he told me,
"Suppose I sell you, and I come back and steal you, and we divide the
money?" He was turning now; he'd been into the town that day:
enough wanted to buy me, but they did n't want the women. I
told him, that would n't do-that was n't our bargain-I had
worked for him all the way, and his agreement was to take me over
the ferry, and go on to the farm he was to take, and work for him
one year at clearing, etc. We came on, all hands, down to the ferry
at Point Pleasant,-some were for putting me in the wagon, and
covering me; but they would search the wagon. So I walked with
At the ferry, the guard who watches all who cross the ferry -a great, big white man, who looked rather severe, quizzed my master, whether I was his slave, and questioned so close, that the white man began to grow weak in the knees, and I saw it: he trembled. I was scared for him, and I was scared about being taken myself - it was a scaring time. The guard told him the consequence-of going to the penitentiary, if he were going off with another man's slave. He trembled, and got weak, so that he did not get over it, till he got way out into the Ohio. We were commanded to get aboard the ferry-boat, and over we went. I walked on behind him, as he went up the hill: he yet trembled, and so did I, not knowing what might take place yet. I felt joyful that I had got over, but it was no time to rejoice there. We put the man in the wagon, and dragged him: he was more scared than he ought to have been.
I went to work with him in Ohio, according to promise. After we had begun, it got clear back to where I started from, that I was in Ohio. I made out that I was a man from Cincinnati, and was hired for money: but it got back home, that I was in Ohio. He then told me to leave. I understood that there was a reward of five hundred dollars offered to any one who would take me over the river to the Kentucky side. I had been there as near as I can tell about six months when I got this news. I left him and was concealed at Gallipolis, at old man Isaac Browner's house-he is dead now, and 't wont do any hurt to mention his name. He put me in a bedtick on which he placed his children, who were sick of measles. I was in the straw-tick, the feather-bed was above me, and then the children. This was so, that if they came to search for the sake of the reward, they might not move the sick. I stayed there one day: I cared nothing for the heat, discomfort, nor sickness. All I thought of was to get off clear. At night-fall, I all alone came to the wharf to hail a boat-he told me how-to hollow "passenger." The boat was for the salt-works at Kanawha. If I had gone on board they would have taken me sure, because the boat was going to the place I did not want to go. The boat did not, however, put in for me, and I had to go back and get concealed again. The next day, they disguised me,-I went down to the wharf-a boat was coming which was bound for Pittsburg: it touched the wharf-boat, -there was no freight and only three passengers; a gentleman and a lady, and myself; they stepped aboard, and so did I, -a little bell rung, and away went the boat: when, looking back, I saw two men whom I knew, standing on a place, where they could see every man who came down to the boat. But they did not know me and the boat came on.
The river was high, and we came on slowly. I did not sleep for four nights at all-dozed a little in daytime. There was another boat coming behind,-"Clipper, No. 2,"-and I was afraid she was in pursuit of me. I fired up harder on that account: although I expected to get nothing for my work, I worked sharp. After we had started out, the clerk came round with his book and pen. I tried to dodge, but when he touched me, I thought I was gone. But he only wanted the money: I gave him all I had, and he returned me ten cents. I had my victuals for my work. At Pittsburg, I left a handkerchief of victuals, which I had put up, I was in such a hurry. I went up into the town, and inquired for the country, where I could get work. I worked not many miles from Pittsburg, and got a little money, and then concluded to come to Canada, where I would be safe.
I have been here about six years. I like Canada well,-I am satisfied
with it. I have got a little property together, worth some two thousand
Liquor is right along the road here, and some make fools of themselves: but I mind my business, and am doing well.
My opinion of slavery is, that it ought to be broken down. If the white people were to set the slaves free, and offer to hire them, they would jump at the chance: they would n't cut throats.
We have got some good white friends in the United States. If it had not been for them, I would not have got here.
I learned the trade of a blacksmith in Kentucky. I should have been
perfectly miserable to have had to work all my life for another man
for nothing. As soon as I had arrived to years of discretion, I felt
determined that I would not be a slave all my days. My master was a
kind and honorable man; purchased no slaves himself: what he had,
came by marriage. He used to say it was wrong to hold slaves, and
a good many who hold them say the same. It's a habit-they mean,
they say, to set them free at such a time, or such a time,-by and
by they die, and the children hold on to the slaves.
I purchased my freedom, and remained in Kentucky awhile; then
removed to Cincinnati; thence to Chatham. Every thing goes well
with me in Canada; I have no reason to complain.
I think that if a slaveholder offers his servant freedom, on
condition that he will earn and pay a certain sum, and the slave accepts
freedom on that condition, he is bound in honor to pay the sum
Some poor, ignorant fellows may be satisfied with their condition
as slaves, but, as a general thing, they are not satisfied with being
I was born free, in Halifax Co. North Carolina, where I lived thirty-five
years. About ten years ago, I removed to Indiana. My father was
a farmer, half white, who ran through his farm. If a white man
there brings a great account, the white man would carry it against
the colored,-the law there does not favor colored people. I cannot
read or write. A free-born man in North Carolina is as much
oppressed, in one sense, as the slave: I was not allowed to go to school.
I recollect when I was a boy, a colored man came from Ohio, and
opened a school, but it was broken up. i was in the field ploughing
with my father,-he said he wished we could go and learn. I think
it an outrageous sin and shame, that a free colored man could not
be taught. My ignorance has a very injurious effect on my prospects
and success. I blame the State of North Carolina-the white people
of that State-for it. I am now engaged in a troublesome lawsuit,
about the title to my estate, which I would not have got into, had I
known how to read and write.
There were lots of slaves in the neighborhood where I was raised.
After I grew up to take notice of things, I found I was oppressed
as well as they. I thought it a sin then, for one man to hold another.
I never was allowed to visit among the slaves,-had I been caught
visiting them, I should have been fined: if a slave had visited me, he
would have been whipped. This prevented my having much
intercourse with them, except when I was hired to work by the masters.
The conversation among the slaves was, that they worked hard,
and got no benefit,-that the masters got it all. They knew but
little about the good of themselves,-they often grumbled about food
and clothlng,-that they had not enough. I never heard a colored
man grumbling about that here. They were generally religious,-
they believed in a just God, and thought the owners wrong in
punishing them in the way they were punished. A good many were so
ignorant that they did not know any better, than to suppose that they
were made for slavery, and the white men for freedom. Some,
however, would talk about freedom, and think they ought to be free.
I have often been insulted, abused, and imposed upon, and had
advantage taken of me by the whites in North Carolina, and could
not help myself.
When I was twenty-one, I went to vote, supposing it would be
allowed. The 'Squire, who held the box objected, and said no colored
man was allowed to vote. I felt very badly about it,-I felt cheap,
and I felt vexed: but I knew better than make an answer,-I would
have been knocked down certain. Unless I took off my hat, and made
a bow to a white man, when I met him, he would rip out an oath,-
"d-n you, you mulatto, ain't you got no politeness? do n't you
know enough to take off your hat to a white man?" On going into a
store, I was required to take off my hat.
I have seen slaves with whom I worked, nearly starved out, and
yet stripped and whipped; blood cut out of them. It makes my flesh
creep now to think of it-such gashes as I've seen cut in them.
After a whipping, they would often leave and take to the woods for a
month or two, and live by taking what they could find. I've often
heard it said that's the cause of colored people in the South being
dishonest, because they are brought up so as to be obliged to steal. But
I do not consider it dishonest-I always thought it right for a
slave to take and eat as much as he wanted where he labored.
At some places where I have worked, I have known that the
slaves had not a bite of meat given them. They had a pint of corn
meal unsifted, for a meal,-three pints a day. I have seen the white
ixien measure it and the cook bake it, and seen them eat: that was
all they had but water-they might have as much of that as they
wanted. This is no hearsay-I've seen it through the spring, and
on until crop time: three pints of meal a day and the bran and
nothing else. I heard them talk among themselves about having got
a chicken or something, and being whipped for it. They were a bad
looking set-some twenty of them-starved and without clothing
enough for decency. It ought to have been a disgrace to their master,
to see them about his house. If a man were to go through Canada so,
they'd stop him to know what he meant by it-whether it was
poverty or if he was crazy,-and they'd put a suit of clothes on him. I
have seen them working out in the hot sun in July or August without
hats-bareheaded. It was not from choice,-they could n't get hats.
I have seen families put on the block and sold, some one way,
some another way. I remember a family about two miles from me,
-a father and mother and three children. Their master died, and
they were sold. The father went one way, the mother another, with
one child, and the other two children another way. I saw the sale-
I was there-I went to buy hogs. The purchaser examined the
persons of the slaves to see if they were sound,-if they were "good
niggers." I was used to such things, but it made me feel bad to see it.
The oldest was about ten or eleven years. It was hard upon them
to be separated-they made lamentations about it. I never heard a
white man at a sale express a wish that a family might be sold
On removing to Indiana, the white people did not seem so hostile
altogether, nor want the colored people to knuckle quite so low. There
were more white people who were friendly than in North Carolina. I
was not allowed my vote nor my oath. There were more who wished
colored people to have their rights than in North Carolina,-I mean
there were abolitionists in Indiana.
I came here a year last spring, to escape the oppression of the
laws upon the colored men. After the fugitive slave bill was passed, a
man came into Indianapolis, and claimed John Freeman, a free colored
man, an industrious, respectable man, as his slave. He brought proofs
enough. Freedman was kept in jail several weeks,-but at last it turned
out that the slave sought, was not Freeman, but a colored man in
Canada, and F. was released. The danger of being taken as Freeman
was, and suffering from a different decision, worked on my mind. I
came away into Canada in consequence, as did many others. There
were colored people who could have testified to Freeman's being free
from his birth, but their oath would not be taken in Indiana.
In regard to Canada, I like the country, the soil, as well as any
country I ever saw. I like the laws, which leave a man as much
freedom as a man can have,-still there is prejudice here. The
colored people are trying to remove this by improving and educating
themselves, and by industry, to show that they are a people who
have minds, and that all they want is cultivating.
I do not know how many colored people are here-but last
summer five hundred and twenty-five were counted leaving the four
I was born in Brunswick, partly raised in Southampton, ten miles
below Bethlehem, Virginia. Was then bought by a "nigger-trader,"
J---- B----, and was sold to J---- S----, in South Carolina. The
treatment there was barbarous. At sixteen years old, they gave me a
task, splitting rails, which I did in the time, then went to take my
rest. His wife was harder than he was,-she told me to make lights in
the road, setting fire to rubbish, it being a new place. I got through
at ten o'clock: boss came home, I went in again. She ordered me to
put on water to scour the floors, etc. I would n't,-I went over to her
father's "nigger-house" all night. Next morning, the master came for
me, took me home, stripped me stark naked, made a paddle of
thick oak board, lashed me across a pine log, secured my hands and
feet, and whipped me with the paddle. His little boy saw it and
cried,-he cursed him away,-his wife came,-he cursed her
away. He whipped till he broke the paddle. After that, he took me
to the house, and hit me with a hickory stick over the head and
shoulders, a dozen times or more: then he got salt and water, and
a corn cob, and scrubbed me. Then he sent me to water the hogs,
naked as I was, in January. I ran into the woods, and went back to
the same house, and the colored people gave me some old rags to
keep me from freezing.
I recovered from that beating, and at length ran away again,
because he refused to let me go to see my friends. I was caught by a
colored man, who took me to my master's step-father's,-he whipped
me till he was satisfied, then master came, and whipped me with a
leather strap. I ran right off again; was caught and put in a potato
house. After that I was put in the field to knock along the best way
I could, but I was not able to work.
My master removed to Mississippi, taking me with him, the year
before Gen. Jackson commenced fighting the Creek Indians.
This big scar on my left cheek, I got in a runaway scrape. A man
who got up with me, jabbed me with the muzzle of a gun, which
knocked me back into the mud: then he tied me. That time, I
received three hundred lashes; one of the slaves who helped tie me,
fainted at seeing me so abused. I have a cut with a knife made by
J---- S---- after I had worked for him all day, because he could
not flog me, as he liked.
I staid awhile, then ran away again,-then a man caught me,
and another came with him home, who wished to buy me. I was a
smart-looking boy-he offered one thousand dollars for me: master
would n't sell. For running away, I received a hundred lashes on the
bare back. I was then sold to his cousin, J-----Y----, in Mississippi.
I lived with him ten years; I suppose I must have been about
thirty-two. At first, Y.'s treatment was fair. I was foreman. He got
rich, and grew mean, and I left him. I was caught and taken back
again. He took me to the blacksmith's shop and had a ring made
of axe-bar iron, which I wore on my right leg from the middle of
May to the middle of September. I worked with it on, and slept
with it on all that time.
After he got it off, I worked awhile,-again I went off, went into
Alabama, was out from October to March,-then was put in jail,
where I lay three months, as they could not hear from my owner, who had moved off to the Choctaw purchase. My boss came and
took me out of jail, chained me to his horse with plough traces,
and was taking me on his way, when Gen. S----,of Georgia bought
me. He put me in his kitchen to cook for him. But I was not
satisfied with him, although he used me well. The fact is, I wanted to
be free. I ran away and left him,-he had me caught, and sold me
to S---- N---- who took me to New Orleans. Nobody there liked
my countenance at all-no one would give a cent for me. N-----
took me to Natchez and sold me, after a week, to a young man
named G---- S----, who had a cotton plantation a few miles
above Natchez. He treated me well at first. He would not allow any
to leave the place to see their friends without a pass from him or
the overseer. I went out to see my friends, and was flogged with a
bull whip on the bare back-a whip heavier and larger than a
horsewhip, with a buck-skin cracker on the lash. I ran away again-they
caught me and put plough traces around my body, and put me to
work hoeing cotton and corn. Not long after, they put on an iron
collar. 1 made an errand-went to the woods-and the overseer sent
all hands to hunt for me. They found me, and brought me back to
the driver. The old driver gave me two blows with the bull whip;
the young driver stopped him. The overseer came up and knocked
me down with his fist by a blow on the head. I fainted, was taken
to a tree, and when I came to, the overseer was bleeding me. Word
came to the overseer, from my master's grandmother, the same day,
that my master was gone away, and unless he took off my chains, I
would die before his return. The overseer took them all off.
At night, I dressed up and started off, steering by the north star.
I walked seven hundred and fifty miles nights,-then, in Kentucky,
I was betrayed by a colored man, and lay in jail fifteen months. I
would n't tell them where I belonged. Then, under terror of the
whip, I told them all about it. A Dr. J---- N---- had bought the
chance of me,-he took me to Nashville, where I waited on him, his
partner, and took care of his horses about four years. I started to
run away from him on his partner's horse-I had one hundred and
fifty dollars with me. He overtook me and took away my money.
Then he put me in jail and sold me to an old broken down trader. I
left him, proceeded north, was caught in Indiana, and taken to
Evansville jail. They would not receive me there, and I was taken to
Henderson, on the Kentucky side, and put in jail there. My owner
put on handcuffs and locked me into the wagon besides with plough
chains. I travelled three days thus in succession-he chaining me
at night to his bedstead. On the third night, I was eating in the
tavern kitchen where we stopped; I concluded to try for the North
once more, I went out and hammered off my chains-found some
assistance to get off my cuffs, and came on my way, travelling
altogether nights by the north star, and lying by in the day. In Ohio, I
found the best kind of friends, and soon reached Canada. When I
first came, I joined the soldiers just after the rebellion: then
practised up and down the province as a physician, from the knowledge
I had obtained from a colored man in Mississippi, who knew roots
and herbs,-but there were many kinds I wanted which I could
not find here.
I am now hiring a piece of land in Buxton. My calculation is, if I
live, to own a farm if I can. My health is good, and the climate
agrees with me-and it does with colored men generally.
Slavery is barbarous. In my view, slaveholders, judged by the way they treat colored people, are the worst persons on earth.
I was born seven miles from Nashville, Tenn., Davidson county. I
lived one year in Mississippi. I saw there a great deal of
cotton-growing and persecution of slaves by men who had used them well in
Tennessee. No man would have thought there could have been such a
difference in treatment, when the masters got where they could
make money. They drove the hands severely. My mother and
brothers and sisters, when they changed their country, changed their
position from good to bad. They were in Mississippi the last I heard
of them, and I suppose they are there yet. It makes me miserable
to consider that they are there: for their condition has been kept
fresh in my memory, by seeing so much suffering and enduring so
much. I went from Mississippi to Bedford county, Tenn. My master
died here, and I was in hopes to go to see my mother. The doctor
who attended my master had me sold at auction, and bought me
himself, and promised he would never sell me to anybody; but in
six months he tried to sell me. Not making out, he sent me to his
father's farm in Tennessee, where I was treated tolerably well.
I saw some of the dreadfulest treatment on the sugar farms in the
sugar-making season. The mill did not stop only to gear horses.
People would come to my master and beg money to buy a loaf of
bread. I saw them chained. I saw twelve men chained together,
working on the levees. I saw three hundred that speculators had,
dressing them up for sale. The overseers were about the mills,
carrying their long whips all the time and using them occasionally. When
they wanted to whip severely, they put the head and hands in stocks
in a stooping posture.
The last two years I was in Tennessee, I saw nine persons at
different times, made fast to four stakes, and whipped with a leather
strap from their neck to their heels and on the bottoms of their feet,
raising blisters: then the blisters broken with a plaited whip, the
overseer standing off and fetching hard blows. I have seen a man
faint under this treatment. I saw one about eighteen years old, as
smart as you would see on the foot, used in this way: seven weeks
after he fainted in consequence; his nerves were so shattered that
he seemed like a man of fifty.
The overseer tied me to a tree, and flogged me with the whip.
Afterwards he said he would stake me down, and give me a farewell
whipping, that I would always remember. While he was eating supper,
I got off my shoe, and slipped off a chain and ran: I ran, I suppose,
some six hundred yards: then hearing a dog, which alarmed me, I
climbed a hill, where I sat down to rest. Then I heard a shouting,
hallooing, for dogs to hunt me up. I tried to understand, and made
out they were after me. I went through the woods to a road on a
ridge. I came to a guide-board-in order to read it, I pulled it up,
and read it in the moonlight, and found I was going wrong-turned
about and went back, travelling all night: lay by all day, travelled
at night till I came where Duck River and Tennessee come together.
Here I found I was wrong,-went back to a road that led down
Tennessee River, the way I wanted to go. This was Monday night,-
the day before they had been there for me. A colored man had
told them, " God's sake to tell me not to get caught, for they
would kill me:" but that I knew before. I got something to eat, and
went on down the river, and travelled until Saturday night at ten,
living on green corn and watermelons. Then I came to a house where
an old colored man gave me a supper: another kept me with him
three days. My clothes were now very dirty: I got some soap of a
woman, and went to a wash-place, and washed my clothes and dried
them. A heavy rain came on at daybreak, and I went down to the
river for a canoe-found none-and went back for the day,-got
some bread, and at night went on down the river; but there were so
many roads, I could not make out how to go. I laid all day in a
corn field. At night I found a canoe, 12 feet long, and travelled
down the river several days, to its mouth. There I got on an island,
the river being low. I took my canoe across a tongue of land,-a
sand-bar-into the Ohio, which I crossed into Illinois. I travelled
three nights, not daring to travel days, until I came to Golconda,
which I recognized by a description I had been given on a previous
attempt,-for this last time when I got away was my fourth effort. I
went on to three forks in the road, took the left, travelled through
the night, and lay by. At two, I ventured to go on, the road not
being travelled much. But it seemed to go too far west: I struck
through the woods, and went on till so tired I could walk no further.
I got into a tobacco-pen, and stayed till morning. Then I went
through the woods, and came to where a fire had been burning-I
kindled it up, roasted a lot of corn, then travelled on about three
miles completely lost. I now came to a house, and revolved in my
mind some hours whether to go or not, to ask. At last I ventured,
and asked the road-got the information-reached Marion: got
bewildered, and went wrong again, and travelled back for Golconda,
-but I was set right by some children. At dark I went on, and at
daybreak got to Frankfort-13 miles all night long, being weak from
want of food. A few miles further on I found an old friend, who
was backward about letting me in, having been troubled at night by
white children. At last he let me in, and gave me some food, which
I much needed. The next night he gave me as much as I could carry
I went on to within five miles of Mount Vernon. At 4 A.M., I lay
down, and slept till about noon. I got up and tried to walk, but every
time I tried to stoop under the bushes, I would fall down. I was close
to a house, but did not dare to go to it; so I laid there and was sick
-vomited, and wanted water very bad. At night I was so badly off
that I was obliged to go to the house for water. The man gave me
some, and said," Are you a runaway? " I said, &qout No-I am walking
away." " Where do you live? " " I live here now." "Are you a free
man?" "Why should I be here, if I am not a free man?-this is a
free country." "Where do you live, anythow?" "I live here, do n't you
understand me?" "You are a free man, are you?" "Do n't you see
he is a free man, who walks in a free country?" "Show me your pass
-I s'pose you've got one." "Do you suppose men need a pass in a
free country? this is a free country." "I suppose you run away-a
good many fugitives go through here, and do mischief." Said I, "I
am doing no mischief-I am a man peaceable, going about my own
business; when I am doing mischief, persecute me,-while I am
peaceable, let no man trouble me." Said he, "I'll go with you to
Mount Vernon." "You may go, if you have a mind to: I am going,
if it is the Lord's will that I shall get there. Good evening;" and I
started out of the gate. He said, "Stop!" Said I, "Man, do n't bother
me,-I'm sick, and do n't feel like being bothered." I kept on: he
followed me,-"Stop, or I'll make you stop!" "Man, did n't I tell
you I was sick, and do n't want to be bothered." I kept on,-he
picked up a little maul at a wood-pile, and came with me, his little
son following, to see what was going on.
He walked a mile and a quarter with me, to a neighbor of his
called-there came out three men. He stated to them, "Here's a
runaway going to Mount Vernon: I think it would be right to go
with him." I made no reply. He said, "We'll go in with him, and if
he be correct, we'll not injure him,-we'll not do him no harm, no-
how." I stood consulting with myself, whether to fight or run; I
concluded to run first, and fight afterward. I ran a hundred yards:
one ran after me to the edge of the woods, and turned back. I sat
down to rest,-say an hour. They had gone on ahead of me on
horses. I took a back track, and found another road which led to
Mount Vernon, which I did not reach until daybreak, although he
said `t was only five miles. I hastened on very quick through town,
and so got off the track again: but I found a colored friend who
harbored me three days, and fulfilled the Scriptures in one sense to
perfection. I was hungry, and he fed me; thirsty, and he gave me
drink; weary, and he ministered to my necessities; sick, and he
cared for me till I got relieved: he took me on his own beast, and
carried me ten miles, and his wife gave me food for four days' travel.
His name was Y----.I travelled on three nights, and every morning
found myself close to a town. One was a large one. I got into it
early,-I was scared, for people was stirring,-but I got through it
by turning to my right, which led me thirty miles out of my way.
I was trying to get to Springfield. Then I went on to Taylorville. I
lay out all day, two miles out, and while there, a man came riding
on horseback within two feet of me. I thought he would see me, but
he wheeled his horse, and away he went. At dark I got up and
started on. It rained heavily. I went on to the town. I could
discover nothing-the ground was black, the sky was cloudy. I travelled
a while by the lights in the windows; at last ventured to ask the
way, and got a direction for Springfield. After the rain the wind blew
cold; I was chilled: I went into a calf-lot, and scared up the calves,
and lay where they had been lying, to warm myself. It was dark yet.
I stayed there half an hour, trying to get warm, then got up, and
travelled on till daybreak. It being in a prairie, I had to travel very
fast to get a place to hide myself. I came to a drain between two
plantations, and got into it to hide. At sundown I went on, and
reached Springfield, as near as I could guess, at 3 o'clock. I got into
a stable, and lay on some boards in the loft.
When I awoke, the sun was up, and people were feeding horses in
the stable. I found there was no chance to get out, without being
discovered, and I went down and told them that I was a stranger,
knowing no one there; that I was out until late, and so went into the
stable. I asked them if there was any harm. They said "No." I
thanked them and pursued my way. I walked out a little and found a
friend who gave me breakfast. Then I was taken sick, and could not
get a step from there for ten days: then I could walk a little, and
had to start.
I took directions for Bloomington,-but the directions were wrong,
and I got thirty miles out of my way again: so that when I reached
Bloomington, I was too tired to go another step. I begged for a
carriage, and if they had not got one, the Lord only knows what would
have happened. I was conveyed to Ottawa, where I found an
abolitionist who helped me to Chicago. From about the middle of August
to the middle of November, I dwelt in no house except in
Springfield, sick,-had no bed till I got to Bloomington. In February, I cut
wood in Indiana,-I went to Wisconsin, and staid till harvest was
over; then came to a particular friend, who offered me books. I had
no money for books: he gave me a Testament, and gave me good
instruction. I had worn out two Testaments in slavery, carrying them
with me trying to get some instruction to carry me through life.
"Now," said he, "square up your business, and go to the lake, for
there are men here now, even here where you are living, who would
betray you for half a dollar if they knew where your master is. Cross
the lake: get into Canada." I thanked him for the book, which I
have now; settled up and came to Canada.
I like Canada. If the United States were as free as Canada, I would still prefer to live here. I can do as much toward a living here in three days, as there in six.