Annotation: The testimony and personal accounts of fugitive slaves' journeys to freedom written by Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist.
Document: 1. Introduction:
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 1850s, 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. 2. Testimony of EDWARD HICKS 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 to do. 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 place," etc. 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 the rest. 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 dollars. 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. 3. Testimony of Henry Blue 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 promised. Some poor, ignorant fellows may be satisfied with their condition as slaves, but, as a general thing, they are not satisfied with being slaves. 4. Testimony of THOMAS HEDGEBETH 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 together. 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 churches. 5. Testimony of HARRY THOMAS 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 t