Infomotions, Inc.Thirty Years a Slave / Hughes, Louis

Author: Hughes, Louis
Title: Thirty Years a Slave
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): mcgee; boss; memphis; slaves; cotton; madam; slave; jack mcgee
Contributor(s): Jowett, Benjamin, 1817-1893 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 48,244 words (really short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 66 (easy)
Identifier: etext10431
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Thirty Years a Slave, by Louis Hughes

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Title: Thirty Years a Slave

Author: Louis Hughes

Release Date: December 10, 2003  [eBook #10431]

Language: English

Character set encoding: US-ASCII


E-text prepared by Brett Koonce and Project Gutenberg Distributed

Transcriber's note: The inconsistent spellings of the original have
                    been retained in this etext.


From Bondage to Freedom.




The institution of human slavery, as it existed in this country, has
long been dead; and, happily for all the sacred interests which it
assailed, there is for it no resurrection. It may, therefore, be asked
to what purpose is the story which follows, of the experiences of one
person under that dead and accursed institution? To such question, if it
be asked, it may be answered that the narrator presents his story in
compliance with the suggestion of friends, and in the hope that it may
add something of accurate information regarding the character and
influence of an institution which for two hundred years dominated the
country--exercising a potent but baneful influence in the formation of
its social, civil and industrial structures, and which finally plunged
it into the most stupendous civil war which the world has ever known. As
the enlightenment of each generation depends upon the thoughtful study
of the history of those that have gone before, everything which tends to
fullness and accuracy in that history is of value, even though it be not
presented with the adjuncts of literary adornment, or thrilling scenic



       *       *       *       *       *


I was born in Virginia, in 1832, near Charlottesville, in the beautiful
valley of the Rivanna river. My father was a white man and my mother a
negress, the slave of one John Martin. I was a mere child, probably not
more than six years of age, as I remember, when my mother, two brothers
and myself were sold to Dr. Louis, a practicing physician in the village
of Scottsville. We remained with him about five years, when he died,
and, in the settlement of his estate, I was sold to one Washington
Fitzpatrick, a merchant of the village. He kept me a short time when he
took me to Richmond, by way of canal-boat, expecting to sell me; but as
the market was dull, he brought me back and kept me some three months
longer, when he told me he had hired me out to work on a canal-boat
running to Richmond, and to go to my mother and get my clothes ready to
start on the trip. I went to her as directed, and, when she had made
ready my bundle, she bade me good-by with tears in her eyes, saying: "My
son, be a good boy; be polite to every one, and always behave yourself
properly." It was sad to her to part with me, though she did not know
that she was never to see me again, for my master had said nothing to
her regarding his purpose and she only thought, as I did, that I was
hired to work on the canal-boat, and that she should see me
occasionally. But alas! We never met again. I can see her form still as
when she bade me good-bye. That parting I can never forget. I ran off
from her as quickly as I could after her parting words, for I did not
want her to see me crying. I went to my master at the store, and he
again told me that he had hired me to work on the canal-boat, and to go
aboard immediately. Of the boat and the trip and the scenes along the
route I remember little--I only thought of my mother and my leaving her.

When we arrived at Richmond, George Pullan, a "nigger-trader," as he was
called, came to the boat and began to question me, asking me first if I
could remember having had the chickenpox, measles or whooping-cough. I
answered, yes. Then he asked me if I did not want to take a little walk
with him. I said, no. "Well," said he, "you have got to go. Your master
sent you down here to be sold, and told me to come and get you and take
you to the trader's yard, ready to be sold." I saw that to hesitate was
useless; so I at once obeyed him and went.

       *       *       *       *       *


The trader's establishment consisted of an office, a large show-room and
a yard in the rear enclosed with a wall of brick fifteen feet high. The
principal men of the establishment were the proprietor and the foreman.
When slaves were to be exhibited for sale, the foreman was called to the
office by means of a bell, and an order given him to bring into the
show-room all the slaves in the establishment. This was the work of but
a few minutes, and the women were placed in a row on one side of the
room and the men on the other. Persons desirous of purchasing them
passed up and down between the lines looking the poor creatures over,
and questioning them in about the following manner: "What can you do?"
"Are you a good cook? seamstress? dairymaid?"--this to the women, while
the men would be questioned as to their line of work: "Can you plow? Are
you a blacksmith? Have you ever cared for horses? Can you pick cotton
rapidly?" Sometimes the slave would be required to open his mouth that
the purchaser might examine the teeth and form some opinion as to his
age and physical soundness; and if it was suspected that a slave had
been beaten a good deal he would be required to step into another room
and undress. If the person desiring to buy found the slave badly scarred
by the common usage of whipping, he would say at once to the foreman;
"Why! this slave is not worth much, he is all scarred up. No, I don't
want him; bring me in another to look at." Slaves without scars from
whipping and looking well physically always sold readily. They were
never left long in the yard. It was expected that all the slaves in the
yard for sale would be neatly dressed and clean before being brought
into the show-room. It was the foreman's business to see that each one
was presentable.

       *       *       *       *       *


Whipping was done at these markets, or trader's yards, all the time.
People who lived in the city of Richmond would send their slaves here
for punishment. When any one wanted a slave whipped he would send a note
to that effect with the servant to the trader. Any petty offense on the
part of a slave was sufficient to subject the offender to this brutal
treatment. Owners who affected culture and refinement preferred to send
a servant to the yard for punishment to inflicting it themselves. It
saved them trouble, they said, and possibly a slight wear and tear of
feeling. For this service the owner was charged a certain sum for each
slave, and the earnings of the traders from this source formed a very
large part of the profits of his business. The yard I was in had a
regular whipping post to which they tied the slave, and gave him
"nine-and-thirty," as it was called, meaning thirty-nine lashes as hard
as they could lay it on. Men were stripped of their shirts in
preparation for the whipping, and women had to take off their dresses
from the shoulders to the waist. These whippings were not so severe as
when the slaves were stripped entirely of their clothes, as was
generally the case on the plantations where slaves were owned by the
dozen. I saw many cases of whipping while I was in the yard. Sometimes I
was so frightened that I trembled violently, for I had never seen
anything like it before.

       *       *       *       *       *


I was only in the yard a short time before I was bought by one George
Reid who lived in Richmond. He had no wife, but an old lady kept house
for him and his three sons. At this time he had a place in the
postoffice, but soon after I came there he lost it. He then moved into
the country upon a farm of about one thousand acres, enclosed by a cedar
hedge. The house was a plain frame structure upon a stone basement and
contained four rooms. It was surrounded with shrubbery, and was a
pleasant country seat. But I did not like it here. I grieved continually
about my mother. It came to me, more and more plainly, that I would
never see her again. Young and lonely as I was, I could not help crying,
oftentimes for hours together. It was hard to get used to being away
from my mother. I remember well "Aunt Sylvia," who was the cook in the
Reid household. She was very kind to me and always spoke consolingly to
me, especially if I had been blue, and had had one of my fits of crying.
At these times she would always bake me an ash cake for supper, saying
to me; "My child, don't cry; 'Aunt Sylvia' will look after you." This
ash cake was made of corn meal and water, a little salt to make it
palatable, and was baked by putting it between cabbage leaves and
covering it with hot ashes. A sweeter or more delicious cake one could
not desire, and it was common upon the tables of all the Virginia
farmers. I always considered it a great treat to get one of these cakes
from "Aunt Sylvia."

The appellations of "aunt" and "uncle" for the older slaves were not
only common among the blacks, but the whites also addressed them in the
same way.

       *       *       *       *       *


I was sick a great deal--in fact, I had suffered with chills and fever
ever since Mr. Reid bought me. He, therefore, concluded to sell me, and,
in November, 1844, he took me back to Richmond, placing me in the
Exchange building, or auction rooms, for the sale of slaves. The sales
were carried on in a large hall where those interested in the business
sat around a large block or stand, upon which the slave to be sold was
placed, the auctioneer standing beside him. When I was placed upon the
block, a Mr. McGee came up and felt of me and asked me what I could do.
"You look like a right smart nigger," said he, "Virginia always produces
good darkies." Virginia was the mother of slavery, and it was held by
many that she had the best slaves. So when Mr. McGee found I was born
and bred in that state he seemed satisfied. The bidding commenced, and
I remember well when the auctioneer said; "Three hundred eighty
dollars--once, twice and sold to Mr. Edward McGee." He was a rich cotton
planter of Pontotoc, Miss. As near as I can recollect, I was not more
than twelve years of age, so did not sell for very much.

       *       *       *       *       *


Servant women sold for $500 to $700, and sometimes as high as $800 when
possessing extra qualifications. A house maid, bright in looks, strong
and well formed, would sell for $1,000 to $1,200. Bright mulatto girls,
well versed in sewing and knitting, would sometimes bring as high as
$1,800, especially if a Virginian or a Kentuckian. Good blacksmiths sold
for $1,600 to $1,800. When the slaves were put upon the block they were
always sold to the highest bidder. Mr. McGee, or "Boss," as I soon
learned to call him, bought sixty other slaves before he bought me, and
they were started in a herd for Atlanta, Ga., on foot.

       *       *       *       *       *


Boss, myself and ten others met them there. We then started for
Pontotoc, Miss. On our way we stopped at Edenton, Ga., where Boss sold
twenty-one of the sixty slaves. We then proceeded on our way, Boss by
rail and we on foot, or in the wagon. We went about twenty miles a day.
I remember, as we passed along, every white man we met was yelling,
"Hurrah for Polk and Dallas!" They were feeling good, for election had
given them the men that they wanted. The man who had us in charge joined
with those we met in the hurrahing. We were afraid to ask them the
reason for their yelling, as that would have been regarded as an
impertinence, and probably would have caused us all to be whipped.

       *       *       *       *       *


At length, after a long and wearisome journey, we reached Pontotoc,
McGee's home, on Christmas eve. Boss took me into the house and into the
sitting room, where all the family were assembled, and presented me as a
Christmas gift to the madam, his wife.

My boss, as I remember him, was a tall, raw-boned man, but rather
distinguished in looks, with a fine carriage, brilliant in intellect,
and considered one of the wealthiest and most successful planters of his
time. Mrs. McGee was a handsome, stately lady, about thirty years of
age, brunette in complexion, faultless in figure and imperious in
manner. I think that they were of Scotch descent. There were four
children, Emma, Willie, Johnnie and Jimmie. All looked at me, and
thought I was "a spry little fellow." I was very shy and did not say
much, as everything was strange to me. I was put to sleep that night on
a pallet on the floor in the dining room, using an old quilt as a
covering. The next morning was Christmas, and it seemed to be a custom
to have egg-nog before breakfast. The process of making this was new and
interesting to me. I saw them whip the whites of eggs, on a platter, to
a stiff froth; the yolks were thoroughly beaten in a large bowl, sugar
and plenty of good brandy were added, and the whites of the eggs and
cream were then stirred in, a little nutmeg grated on top of each glass
when filled for serving. This was a delicious drink, and the best of all
was, there was plenty of it. I served this to all the family, and, as
there were also visiting relatives present, many glasses were required,
and I found the tray so heavy I could hardly carry it. I helped myself,
after the service was finished, and I was delighted, for I had never
tasted anything so fine before.

My boss told me I was to wait on the madam, do any errand necessary,
attend to the dining room--in fact I was installed as general utility
boy. It was different from the quiet manner of life I had seen before
coming here--it kept my spirits up for some time. I thought of my mother
often, but I was gradually growing to the idea that it was useless to
cry, and I tried hard to overcome my feelings.

       *       *       *       *       *


As already stated, it was Christmas morning, and, after breakfast, I saw
the cook hurrying, and when I went out into the yard, everywhere I
looked slaves met my view. I never saw so many slaves at one time
before. In Virginia we did not have such large farms. There were no
extensive cotton plantations, as in Mississippi. I shall never forget
the dinner that day--it was a feast fit for a king, so varied and lavish
was the bill of fare. The next attraction for me was the farm hands
getting their Christmas rations. Each was given a pint of flour of which
they made biscuit, which were called "Billy Seldom," because biscuit
were very rare with them. Their daily food was corn bread, which they
called "Johnny Constant," as they had it constantly. In addition to the
flour each received a piece of bacon or fat meat, from which they got
the shortening for their biscuit. The cracklings from the rendering of
lard were also used by the slaves for shortening. The hands were allowed
four days off at Christmas, and if they worked on these days, as some of
them did, they got fifty cents a day for chopping. It was not common to
have chopping done during the holidays; some planters, however, found it
convenient thus to get it out of the way for the work which came after

       *       *       *       *       *


I soon became familiar with my work in the house and with the
neighborhood, as I often had to carry notes for Boss to neighboring
farmers, as well as to carry the mail to and from the postoffice. The
"great house," as the dwelling of the master was called, was two stories
high, built of huge logs, chinked and daubed and whitewashed. It was
divided, from front to rear, by a hall twenty-five feet long and twelve
feet wide, and on each side of the hall, in each story, was one large
room with a large fire-place. There were but four rooms in all, yet
these were so large that they were equal to at least six of our modern
rooms. The kitchen was not attached to the main building, but was about
thirty feet to the rear. This was the common mode of building in the
south in those days. The two bedrooms upstairs were very plain in
furnishings, but neat and comfortable, judged by the standard of the
times. A wing was added to the main building for dining room. In rear of
the kitchen was the milk or dairy house, and beyond this the smoke house
for curing the meat. In line with these buildings, and still further to
the rear, was the overseer's house. Near the milk house was a large
tree, and attached to the trunk was a lever; and here was where the
churning was done, in which I had always to assist. This establishment
will serve as a sample of many of those on the large plantations in the
south. The main road from Pontotoc to Holly Springs, one of the great
thoroughfares of the state and a stage route, passed near the house, and
through the center of the farm. On each side of this road was a fence,
and in the corners of both fences, extending for a mile, were planted
peach trees, which bore excellent fruit in great profusion.

       *       *       *       *       *


My first work in the morning was to dust the parlor and hall and arrange
the dining room. It came awkward to me at first, but, after the madam
told me how, I soon learned to do it satisfactorily. Then I had to wait
on the table, sweep the large yard every morning with a brush broom and
go for the mail once a week. I used to get very tired, for I was young
and consequently not strong. Aside from these things which came
regularly, I had to help the madam in warping the cloth. I dreaded this
work, for I always got my ears boxed if I did not or could not do the
work to suit her. She always made the warp herself and put it in, and I
had to hand her the thread as she put it through the harness. I would
get very tired at this work and, like any child, wanted to be at play,
but I could not remember that the madam ever gave me that privilege.
Saddling the horse at first was troublesome to me, but Boss was constant
in his efforts to teach me, and, after many trials, I learned the task
satisfactorily to the master and to bring the horse to the door when he
wished to go out for business or pleasure. Riding horseback was common
for both ladies and gentlemen, and sometimes I would have to saddle
three or more horses when Boss, the madam, a friend or friends desired a
ride. Bird hunting parties were common and were greatly enjoyed, by the
young people especially. Boss always invited some of the young people of
the neighborhood to these parties and they never failed to put in an
appearance. Williams, Bradford and Freeman were the sons of rich
planters, and were always participants in this sport, and their young
lady friends joined in it as on-lookers. The young men singing and
whistling to the birds, I in the meantime setting the net. As soon as I
had got the net in order they would approach the birds slowly, driving
them into it. There was great laughter and excitement if they were
successful in catching a fine flock.

       *       *       *       *       *


I was but a lad, yet I can remember well the cruel treatment I received.
Some weeks it seemed I was whipped for nothing, just to please my
mistress' fancy. Once, when I was sent to town for the mail and had
started back, it was so dark and rainy my horse got away from me and I
had to stay all night in town. The next morning when I got back home I
had a severe whipping, because the master was expecting a letter
containing money and was disappointed in not receiving it that night, as
he was going to Panola to spend Christmas. However, the day came and all
the family went except me. During the time they were gone the overseer
whipped a man so terribly with the "bull whip" that I had to go for the
doctor, and when Dr. Heningford, the regular family physician, came, he
said it was awful--such cruel treatment, and he complained about it. It
was common for a slave to get an "over-threshing," that is, to be
whipped too much. The poor man was cut up so badly all over that the
doctor made a bran poultice and wrapped his entire body in it. This was
done to draw out the inflammation. It seems the slave had been sick, and
had killed a little pig when he became well enough to go to work, as his
appetite craved hearty food, and he needed it to give him strength for
his tasks. For this one act, comparatively trivial, he was almost
killed. The idea never seemed to occur to the slave holders that these
slaves were getting no wages for their work and, therefore, had nothing
with which to procure what, at times, was necessary for their health and
strength--palatable and nourishing food. When the slaves took anything
the masters called it stealing, yet they were stealing the slaves' time
year after year. When Boss came home he was called on by the town
officials, for the case had been reported to them. Boss, however, got
out of it by saying that he was not at home when the trouble occurred.
The poor slave was sick from his ill treatment some four or five months,
and when he recovered there was a running sore left on his body, from
the deep cuts of the whip, which never healed. I can not forget how he
looked, the sore was a sickening sight; yet, when he was able to walk he
had to return to work in the field.

I had not been at Pontotoc very long when I saw the hounds run a slave,
by name Ben Lyon. "Old Ben," as he was called, ran away and had been
gone a week when he was seen by a woman who "told on him," and then I
was sent to get the man who had trained dogs, or hounds as they were
called. The dogs ran the slave about ten miles when they lost track at a
creek, but he was caught that night in a farmer's house getting
something to eat.

       *       *       *       *       *


After some time, Boss began to tell me the names of medicines and their
properties. I liked this and seemed to grasp the idea very well. After
giving me a number of names he would make me repeat them. Then he would
tell me the properties of each medicine named, how it was used and for
what purpose and how much constituted a dose. He would drill me in all
this until I knew it and, in a short time, he would add other names to
the list. He always showed me each medicine named and had me smell and
carefully examine it that I might know it when seen again. I liked this,
and used to wish that I was as wise as my master. He was very precise,
steady and gentle in any case of sickness, and, although he had long
retired from the medical world, all recognized his merit wherever he
went. I used to go to the woods and gather slippery elm, alum root and
the roots of wild cherry and poplar, for we used all these in
compounding medicines for the servants.

       *       *       *       *       *


The overseer was a man hired to look after the farm and whip the slaves.
Very often they were not only cruel, but barbarous. Every farmer or
planter considered an overseer a necessity. As a rule, there was also on
each plantation, a foreman--one of the brighter slaves, who was held
responsible for the slaves under him, and whipped if they did not come
up to the required task. There was, too, a forewoman, who, in like
manner, had charge of the female slaves, and also the boys and girls
from twelve to sixteen years of age, and all the old people that were
feeble. This was called the trash gang. Ah! it would make one's heart
ache to see those children and how they were worked. Cold, frosty
mornings, the little ones would be crying from cold; but they had to
keep on. Aunt Polly, our forewoman, was afraid to allow them to run to
get warm, for fear the overseer would see them. Then she would be
whipped, and he would make her whip all of the gang. At length, I became
used to severe treatment of the slaves; but, every little while
something would happen to make me wish I were dead. Everything was in a
bustle--always there was slashing and whipping. I remember when Boss
made a change in our overseer. It was the beginning of the year. Riley,
one of the slaves, who was a principal plower, was not on hand for work
one Monday morning, having been delayed in fixing the bridle of his
mule, which the animal, for lack of something better, perhaps, had been
vigorously chewing and rendered nearly useless. He was, therefore,
considerably behind time, when he reached the field. Without waiting to
learn what was the reason for the delay, the overseer sprang upon him
with his bull whip, which was about seven feet long, lashing him with
all his strength, every stroke leaving its mark upon the poor man's
body, and finally the knot at the end of the whip buried itself in the
fleshy part of the arm, and there came around it a festering sore. He
suffered greatly with it, until one night his brother took out the knot,
when the poor fellow was asleep, for he could not bear any one to touch
it when he was awake. It was awful to hear the cracking of that whip as
it was laid about Riley--one would have thought that an ox team had
gotten into the mire, and was being whipped out, so loud and sharp was
the noise!

I usually slept in the dining room on the floor. Early one morning an
old slave, by name of "Uncle Jim," came and knocked at the window, and
upon my jumping up and going to him, he told me to tell Boss that Uncle
Jim was there. He had run away, some time before, and, for some reason,
had returned. Boss, upon hearing the news, got up and sent me to tell
the overseer to come at once. He came, and, taking the bull whip, a
cowhide and a lot of peach-tree switches, he and Boss led Uncle Jim back
into the cow lot, on the side of the hill, where they drove four stakes
in the ground, and, laying him flat on his face, tied his hands and feet
to these stakes. After whipping him, in this position, all they wanted
to, a pail of strong salt and water was brought, and the poor fellow was
"washed down." This washing was customary, after whippings, as the
planters claimed it drew out all the soreness, and healed the lacerated

Upon one occasion, the family being away, I was left extra work to do,
being set to help three fellow slaves lay off the rows for planting
corn. We did not get them quite straight. The deviation we made from the
line was very little, and could scarcely be seen, even by an expert; but
the least thing wrong about the work would cause any slave to be
whipped, and so all four of us were flogged.

       *       *       *       *       *


There was a section of the plantation known as "the quarters," where
were situated the cabins of the slaves. These cabins were built of rough
logs, and daubed with the red clay or mud of the region. No attempt was
made to give them a neat appearance--they were not even whitewashed.
Each cabin was about fourteen feet square, containing but one room, and
was covered with oak boards, three feet in length, split out of logs by
hand. These boards were not nailed on, but held in their places by what
were termed weight-poles laid across them at right angles. There were
in each room two windows, a door and a large, rude fire-place. The door
and window frames, or facings, were held in their places by wooden pins,
nails being used only in putting the doors together. The interior of the
cabins had nothing more attractive than the outside--there was no
plastering and only a dirt floor. The furniture consisted of one bed, a
plain board table and some benches made by the slaves themselves.
Sometimes a cabin was occupied by two or more families, in which case
the number of beds was increased proportionately. For light a grease
lamp was used, which was made of iron, bowl shaped, by a blacksmith. The
bowl was filled with grease and a rag or wick placed in it, one end
resting on the edge for lighting. These lamps gave a good light, and
were in general use among the slaves. Tallow candles were a luxury,
never seen except in the "great houses" of the planters. The only light
for outdoors used by the slaves was a torch made by binding together a
bundle of small sticks or splinters.

       *       *       *       *       *


After the selection of the soil most suitable for cotton, the
preparation of it was of vital importance. The land was deeply plowed,
long enough before the time for planting to allow the spring rains to
settle it. Then it was thrown into beds or ridges by turning furrows
both ways toward a given center. The seed was planted at the rate of one
hundred pounds per acre. The plant made its appearance in about ten days
after planting, if the weather was favorable. Early planting, however,
followed by cold, stormy weather frequently caused the seed to rot. As
soon as the third leaf appeared the process of scraping commenced, which
consisted of cleaning the ridge with hoes of all superfluous plants and
all weeds and grass. After this a narrow plow known as a "bull tongue,"
was used to turn the loose earth around the plant and cover up any grass
not totally destroyed by the hoes. If the surface was very rough the
hoes followed, instead of preceding, the plow to unearth those plants
that may have been partially covered. The slaves often acquired great
skill in these operations, running plows within two inches of the
stalks, and striking down weeds within half an inch with their hoes,
rarely touching a leaf of the cotton. Subsequent plowing, alternating
with hoeing, usually occurred once in twenty days. There was danger in
deep plowing of injuring the roots, and this was avoided, except in the
middle of rows in wet seasons when it was necessary to bury and more
effectually kill the grass. The implements used in the culture of cotton
were shovels, hoes, sweeps, cultivators, harrows and two kinds of plows.
It required four months, under the most favorable circumstances, for
cotton to attain its full growth. It was usually planted about the 1st
of April, or from March 20th to April 10th, bloomed about the 1st of
June and the first balls opened about August 15th, when picking
commenced. The blooms come out in the morning and are fully developed by
noon, when they are a pure white. Soon after meridian they begin to
exhibit reddish streaks, and next morning are a clear pink. They fall
off by noon of the second day.

       *       *       *       *       *


A cut worm was troublesome sometimes; but the plants were watched very
carefully, and as soon as any signs of worms were seen work for their
destruction was commenced. The majority of the eggs were laid upon the
calyx and involucre. The worm, after gnawing through its enclosed shell,
makes its first meal upon the part of the plant upon which the egg was
laid, be it leaf, stem or involucre. If it were laid upon the leaf, as
was usually the case, it might be three days before the worm reached the
boll; but were the eggs laid upon the involucre the worm pierced through
within twenty-four hours after hatching. The newly hatched boll worm
walks like a geometrical larva or looper, a measuring worm as it was
called. This is easily explained by the fact that while in the full
grown worm the abdominal legs, or pro legs, are nearly equal in length,
in the newly hatched worm the second pair are slightly shorter than the
third, and the first pair are shorter and slenderer than the second--a
state of things approaching that in the full grown cotton worm, though
the difference in size in the former case is not nearly so marked as in
the latter. This method of walking is lost with the first or second
molt. There is nothing remarkable about these young larvae. They seem to
be thicker in proportion to their length than the young cotton worms,
and they have not so delicate and transparent an appearance. Their heads
are black and their bodies seem already to have begun to vary in color.
The body above is furnished with sparse, stiff hairs, each arising from
a tubercle. I have often watched the newly hatched boll while in the
cotton fields. When hatched from an egg which had been deposited upon a
leaf, they invariably made their first meal on the substance of the
leaf, and then wandered about for a longer or shorter space of time,
evidently seeking a boll or flower bud. It was always interesting to
watch this seemingly aimless search of the young worm, crawling first
down the leaf stem and then back, then dropping a few inches by a silken
thread and then painfully working its way back again, until, at last, it
found the object of its search, or fell to the ground where it was
destroyed by ants. As the boll worms increase in size a most wonderful
diversity of color and marking becomes apparent. In color different
worms will vary from a brilliant green to a deep pink or dark brown,
exhibiting almost every conceivable intermediate stage from an
immaculate, unstriped specimen to one with regular spots and many
stripes. The green worms were more common than those of any other
color--a common variety was a very light green. When these worms put in
an appearance it raised a great excitement among the planters. We did
not use any poison to destroy them, as I learn is the method now

       *       *       *       *       *


The cotton harvest, or picking season, began about the latter part of
August or first of September, and lasted till Christmas or after, but in
the latter part of July picking commenced for "the first bale" to go
into the market at Memphis. This picking was done by children from nine
to twelve years of age and by women who were known as "sucklers," that
is, women with infants. The pickers would pass through the rows getting
very little, as the cotton was not yet in full bloom. From the lower
part of the stalk where it opened first is where they got the first
pickings. The season of first picking was always a great time, for the
planter who brought the first bale of cotton into market at Memphis was
presented with a basket of champagne by the commission merchants. This
was a custom established throughout Mississippi. After the first
pickings were secured the cotton developed very fast, continuing to bud
and bloom all over the stalk until the frost falls. The season of
picking was exciting to all planters, every one was zealous in pushing
his slaves in order that he might reap the greatest possible harvest.
The planters talked about their prospects, discussed the cotton markets,
just as the farmers of the north discuss the markets for their
products. I often saw Boss so excited and nervous during the season he
scarcely ate. The daily task of each able-bodied slave during the cotton
picking season war 250 pounds or more, and all those who did not come up
to the required amount would get a whipping. When the planter wanted
more cotton picked than usual, the overseer would arrange a race. The
slaves would be divided into two parties, with, a leader for each party.
The first leader would choose a slave for his side, then the second
leader one for his, and so on alternately until all were chosen. Each
leader tried to get the best on his side. They would all work like good
fellows for the prize, which was a tin cup of sugar for each slave on
the winning side. The contest was kept up for three days whenever the
planter desired an extra amount picked. The slaves were just as
interested in the races as if they were going to get a five dollar bill.

       *       *       *       *       *


The gin-house was situated about four hundred yards from "the great
house" on the main road. It was a large shed built upon square timbers,
and was similar to a barn, only it stood some six feet from the ground,
and underneath was located the machinery for running the gin. The cotton
was put into the loft after it was dried, ready for ginning. In this
process the cotton was dropped from the loft to the man who fed the
machine. As it was ginned the lint would go into the lint room, and the
seed would drop at the feeder's feet. The baskets used for holding lint
were twice as large as those used in the picking process, and they were
never taken from the gin house. These lint baskets were used in removing
the lint from the lint room to the place where the cotton was baled. A
bale contained 250 pounds, and the man who did the treading of the
cotton into the bales would not vary ten pounds in the bale, so
accustomed was he to the packing. Generally from fourteen to fifteen
bales of cotton were in the lint room at a time.

       *       *       *       *       *


Cotton was the chief product of the Mississippi farms and nothing else
was raised to sell. Wheat, oats and rye were raised in limited
quantities, but only for the slaves and the stock. All the fine flour
for the master's family was bought in St. Louis. Corn was raised in
abundance, as it was a staple article of food for the slaves. It was
planted about the 1st of March, or about a month earlier than the
cotton. It was, therefore, up and partially worked before the cotton was
planted and fully tilled before the cotton was ready for cultivation.
Peas were planted between the rows of corn, and hundreds of bushels were
raised. These peas after being harvested, dried and beaten out of the
shell, were of a reddish brown tint, not like those raised for the
master's family, but they were considered a wholesome and nutritious
food for the slaves. Cabbage and yams, a large sweet potato, coarser
than the kind generally used by the whites and not so delicate in
flavor, were also raised for the servants in liberal quantities. No hay
was raised, but the leaves of the corn, stripped from the stalks while
yet green, cured and bound in bundles, were used as a substitute for it
in feeding horses.

       *       *       *       *       *


Almost all the implements used on the plantation were made by the
slaves. Very few things were bought. Boss had a skilled blacksmith,
uncle Ben, for whom he paid $1,800, and there were slaves who were
carpenters and workers in wood who could turn their hands to almost
anything. Wagons, plows, harrows, grubbing hoes, hames, collars,
baskets, bridle bits and hoe handles were all made on the farm and from
the material which it produced, except the iron. The timber used in
these implements was generally white or red oak, and was cut and
thoroughly seasoned long before it was needed. The articles thus
manufactured were not fine in form or finish, but they were durable, and
answered the purposes of a rude method of agriculture. Horse collars
were made from corn husks and from poplar bark which was stripped from
the tree, in the spring, when the sap was up and it was soft and
pliable, and separated into narrow strips which were plaited together.
These collars were easy for the horse, and served the purpose of the
more costly leather collar. Every season at least 200 cotton baskets
were made. One man usually worked at this all the year round, but in the
spring he had three assistants. The baskets were made from oak timber,
grown in the home forests and prepared by the slaves. It was no small
part of the work of the blacksmith and his assistant to keep the farm
implements in good repair, and much of this work was done at night. All
the plank used was sawed by hand from timber grown on the master's land,
as there were no saw mills in that region. Almost the only things not
made on the farm which were in general use there were axes, trace chains
and the hoes used in cultivating the cotton.

       *       *       *       *       *


When additional land was required for cultivation the first step was to
go into the forest in summer and "deaden" or girdle the trees on a given
tract. This was cutting through the bark all around the trunk about
thirty inches from the ground. The trees so treated soon died and in a
year or two were in condition to be removed. The season selected for
clearing the land was winter, beginning with January. The trees, except
the larger ones, were cut down, cut into lengths convenient for handling
and piled into great heaps, called "log heaps," and burned. The
undergrowth was grubbed out and also piled and burned. The burning was
done at night and the sight was often weird and grand. The chopping was
done by the men slaves and the grubbing by women. All the trees that
blew down during the summer were left as they fell till winter when they
were removed. This went on, year after year, until all the trees were
cleared out. The first year after the new land was cleared corn was put
in, the next season cotton. As a rule corn and cotton were planted
alternately, especially if the land was poor, if not, cotton would be
continued year after year on the same land. Old corn stalks were always
plowed under for the next year's crop and they served as an excellent
fertilizer. Cotton was seldom planted on newly cleared land, as the
roots and stumps rendered it difficult to cultivate the land without
injury to the growing plant.

I never saw women put to the hard work of grubbing until I went to
McGee's and I greatly wondered at it. Such work was not done by women
slaves in Virginia. Children were required to do some work, it mattered
not how many grown people were working. There were always tasks set for
the boys and girls ranging in age from nine to thirteen years, beyond
these ages they worked with the older slaves. After I had been in
Pontotoc two years I had to help plant and hoe, and work in the cotton
during the seasons, and soon learned to do everything pertaining to the

       *       *       *       *       *


In summer time the cooking for the slaves was done out of doors. A large
fire was built under a tree, two wooden forks were driven into the
ground on opposite sides of the fire, a pole laid on the forks and on
this kettles were hung over the fire for the preparation of the food.
Cabbage and meat, boiled, alternated with meat and peas, were the staple
for summer. Bread was furnished with the meals and corn meal dumplings,
that is, little balls made of meal and grease from the boiled bacon and
dropped into boiling water, were also provided and considered quite
palatable, especially if cooked in the water in which the bacon was
boiled. In winter the cooking was done in a cabin, and sweet potatoes,
dried peas and meat were the principal diet. This bill of fare was for
dinner or the mid-day meal. For supper each slave received two pieces of
meat and two slices of bread, but these slices were very large, as the
loaves were about six inches thick and baked in an old fashioned oven.
This bread was made from corn meal for, as I have said, only on holidays
and special occasions did the slaves have white bread of any kind. Part
of the meat and bread received at supper time was saved for the "morning
bite." The slaves never had any breakfast, but went to the field at
daylight and after working till the sun was well up, all would stop for
their morning bite. Very often some young fellow ate his morning bite
the evening before at supper and would have nothing for the morning,
going without eating until noon. The stop for morning bite was very
short; then all would plunge into work until mid-day, when all hands
were summoned to their principal meal.

       *       *       *       *       *


Through the winter and on rainy days in summer, the women of the field
had to card the wool and spin it into yarn. They generally worked in
pairs, a spinning wheel and cards being assigned to each pair, and while
one carded the wool into rolls, the other spun it into yarn suitable for
weaving into cloth, or a coarse, heavy thread used in making bridles and
lines for the mules that were used in the fields. This work was done in
the cabins, and the women working together alternated in the carding and
spinning. Four cuts were considered a task or day's work, and if any one
failed to complete her task she received a whipping from the madam. At
night when the spinners brought their work to the big house I would have
it to reel. The reel was a contrivance consisting of a sort of wheel,
turned on an axis, used to transfer the yarn from the spools or
spindles of the spinning wheels into cuts or hunks. It was turned by
hand and when enough yarn had been reeled to make a cut the reel
signaled it with a snap. This process was continued until four cuts were
reeled which made a hunk, and this was taken off and was ready for use.
So the work went on until all was reeled. I often got very weary of this
work and would almost fall asleep at it, as it was generally done at
night after I had had a long day's toil at something else.

       *       *       *       *       *


One woman did the weaving and it was her task to weave from nine to ten
yards a day. Aunt Liza was our weaver and she was taught the work by the
madam. At first she did not get on so well with it and many times I have
seen the madam jump at her, pinch and choke her because she was dull in
understanding how to do it. The madam made the unreasonable demand that
she should do the full task at first, and because she failed she was
punished, as was the custom in all cases of failure, no matter how
unreasonable the demand. Liza finally became equal to her task and
accomplished it each day. But the trouble and worry to me was when I had
to assist the madam in warping--getting the work ready for the weaver.
She would warp the thread herself and place it in the loom, then I would
have to hand her the threads, as she put them through the hames. For any
failure in quickly comprehending or doing my work, I did not fail to
receive the customary blow, or blows, from her hand.

Each piece of cloth contained forty yards, and this cloth was used in
making clothes for the servants. About half of the whole amount required
was thus made at home; the remainder was bought, and as it was heavier
it was used for winter clothing. Each man was allowed for summer two
pairs of pants and two shirts, but no coat. The women had two dresses
and two chemises each for summer. For winter the men had each two pairs
of pants, one coat, one hat and one pair of coarse shoes. These shoes
before being worn had to be greased with tallow, with a little tar in
it. It was always a happy time when the men got these winter goods--it
brought many a smile to their faces, though the supply was meager and
the articles of the cheapest. The women's dresses for winter were made
of the heavier wool-cloth used for the men. They also had one pair of
shoes each and a turban. The women who could utilize old clothes, made
for themselves what were called pantalets. They had no stockings or
undergarments to protect their limbs--these were never given them. The
pantalets were made like a pant-leg, came just above the knee, and were
caught and tied. Sometimes they looked well and comfortable. The men's
old pant-legs were sometimes used.

I remember once when Boss went to Memphis and brought back a bolt of
gingham for turbans for the female slaves. It was a red and yellow
check, and the turbans made from it were only to be worn on Sunday. The
old women were so glad that they sang and prayed. A little gift from the
master was greatly appreciated by them. I always came in for my share
each year, but my clothes were somewhat different. I wore pants made of
Boss's old ones, and all his old coats were utilized for me. They
rounded them off at the tail just a little and called them jackets. My
shoes were not brogans, but made of lighter leather, and made suitable
for in the house. I only worked on the farm in busy seasons, and did not
have the regular wear of the farm hands. On Monday morning it was a
great sight to see all the hands marching to the field. The cotton
clothes worn by both men and women, and the turbans of the latter, were
snowy white, as were the wool hats of the men--all contrasted with the
dark faces of the wearers in a strange and striking manner.

       *       *       *       *       *


The women who had young babies were assigned to what was considered
"light work," such as hoeing potatoes, cutting weeds from the fence
corners, and any other work of like character. About nine o'clock in the
forenoon, at noon, and three o'clock in the afternoon, these women,
known on the farms as "the sucklers," could be seen going from work to
nurse their babies. Many were the heart-sighs of these sorrowing mothers
as they went to minister to their infants. Sometimes the little things
would seem starved, for the mothers could only stop their toil three
times a day to care for them. When old enough to receive it, the babies
had milk, the liquor from boiled cabbage, and bread and milk together. A
woman who was too old to do much of anything was assigned to the charge
of these babies in the absence of their mothers. It was rare that she
had any one to help her. The cries of these little ones, who were cut
off almost entirely from motherly care and protection, were

The cabin used for the infants during the day was a double one, that is,
double the usual size, and was located near the great house. The cradles
used were made of boards, and were not more than two by three feet in
size. The women carried their babies in the cradles to the baby cabin in
the morning, taking them to their own cabins at night. The children
ranging in age from one to seven years were numerous, and the old woman
had them to look after as well as the babies. This was indeed a task,
and might well have taxed the strength of a younger woman. They were
always from eight to a dozen infants in the cabin. The summer season was
trying on the babies and young children. Often they would drink too much
liquor from cabbage, or too much buttermilk, and would be taken with a
severe colic. I was always called on these occasions to go with Boss to
administer medicine. I remember on one occasion a little boy had eaten
too much cabbage, and was taken with cramp colic. In a few minutes his
stomach was swollen as tight and hard as a balloon, and his teeth
clenched. He was given an emetic, put in a mustard bath and was soon
relieved. The food was too heavy for these children, and they were
nearly always in need of some medical attendance. Excessive heat, with
improper food, often brought on cholera infantum, from which the infants
sometimes died rapidly and in considerable numbers.

       *       *       *       *       *


The methods of punishment were barbarous in the extreme, and so numerous
that I will not attempt to describe them all. One method was to tie the
slave to a tree, strip off his clothes, and then whip him with a
rawhide, or long, limber switches, or the terrible bull whip. Another
was to put the slave in stocks, or to buck him, that is, fasten his feet
together, draw up his knees to his chin, tie his hands together, draw
them down over the knees, and put a stick under the latter and over the
arms. In either of these ways the slave was entirely at the mercy of his
tormentors, and the whipping could proceed at their pleasure. After
these whippings the slave was often left helpless and bleeding upon the
ground, until the master, or overseer, saw fit to let him up. The most
common method of punishment was to have the servants form a ring, called
the "bull ring," into which the one to be punished was led naked. The
slaves were then each given a switch, rawhide, strap or whip, and each
one was compelled to cut at the poor victim as he ran around the ring.
The ring was composed of men, women and children; and, as they numbered
from forty to fifty, each circuit of the ring would result in that
number of lashes, and by the time the victim had made two or three
rounds his condition can be readily imagined. The overseer was always
one of the ring, vigorously using the whip, and seeing that all the
slaves did the same. Some of the victims fainted before they had passed
once around the ring. Women slaves were punished in the same manner as
the men. The salt water bath was given after each punishment. Runaway
slaves were usually caught by means of hounds, trained for the purpose
by men who made it a business and a source of revenue, notwithstanding
its brutal features and degrading influence.

       *       *       *       *       *


Barbecue originally meant to dress and roast a hog whole, but has come
to mean the cooking of a food animal in this manner for the feeding of a
great company. A feast of this kind was always given to us, by Boss, on
the 4th of July. The anticipation of it acted as a stimulant through
the entire year. Each one looked forward to this great day of recreation
with pleasure. Even the older slaves would join in the discussion of the
coming event. It mattered not what trouble or hardship the year had
brought, this feast and its attendant pleasure would dissipate all
gloom. Some, probably, would be punished on the morning of the 4th, but
this did not matter; the men thought of the good things in store for
them, and that made them forget that they had been punished. All the
week previous to the great day, the slaves were in high spirits, the
young girls and boys, each evening, congregating, in front of the
cabins, to talk of the feast, while others would sing and dance. The
older slaves were not less happy, but would only say; "Ah! God has
blessed us in permitting us to see another feast day." The day before
the 4th was a busy one. The slaves worked with all their might. The
children who were large enough were engaged in bringing wood and bark to
the spot where the barbecue was to take place. They worked eagerly, all
day long; and, by the time the sun was setting, a huge pile of fuel was
beside the trench, ready for use in the morning. At an early hour of the
great day, the servants were up, and the men whom Boss had appointed to
look after the killing of the hogs and sheep were quickly at their work,
and, by the time they had the meat dressed and ready, most of the slaves
had arrived at the center of attraction. They gathered in groups,
talking, laughing, telling tales that they had from their grandfather,
or relating practical jokes that they had played or seen played by
others. These tales were received with peals of laughter. But however
much they seemed to enjoy these stories and social interchanges, they
never lost sight of the trench or the spot where the sweetmeats were to
be cooked.

The method of cooking the meat was to dig a trench in the ground about
six feet long and eighteen inches deep. This trench was filled with wood
and bark which was set on fire, and, when it was burned to a great bed
of coals, the hog was split through the back bone, and laid on poles
which had been placed across the trench. The sheep were treated in the
same way, and both were turned from side to side as they cooked. During
the process of roasting the cooks basted the carcasses with a
preparation furnished from the great house, consisting of butter,
pepper, salt and vinegar, and this was continued until the meat was
ready to serve. Not far from this trench were the iron ovens, where the
sweetmeats were cooked. Three or four women were assigned to this work.
Peach cobbler and apple dumpling were the two dishes that made old
slaves smile for joy and the young fairly dance. The crust or pastry of
the cobbler was prepared in large earthen bowls, then rolled out like
any pie crust, only it was almost twice as thick. A layer of this crust
was laid in the oven, then a half peck of peaches poured, in, followed
by a layer of sugar; then a covering of pastry was laid over all and
smoothed around with a knife. The oven was then put over a bed of coals,
the cover put on and coals thrown on it, and the process of baking
began. Four of these ovens were usually in use at these feasts, so that
enough of the pastry might be baked to supply all. The ovens were filled
and refilled until there was no doubt about the quantity. The apple
dumplings were made in the usual way, only larger, and served with sauce
made from brown sugar. It lacked flavoring, such as cinnamon or lemon,
yet it was a dish highly relished by all the slaves. I know that these
feasts made me so excited, I could scarcely do my house duties, and I
would never fail to stop and look out of the window from the dining room
down into the quarters. I was eager to get through with my work and be
with the feasters. About noon everything was ready to serve. The table
was set in a grove near the quarters, a place set aside for these
occasions. The tableware was not fine, being of tin, but it served the
purpose, and did not detract from the slaves' relish for the feast. The
drinks were strictly temperance drinks--buttermilk and water. Some of
the nicest portions of the meat were sliced off and put on a platter to
send to the great house for Boss and his family. It was a pleasure for
the slaves to do this, for Boss always enjoyed it. It was said that the
slaves could barbecue meats best, and when the whites had barbecues
slaves always did the cooking. When dinner was all on the table, the
invitation was given for all to come; and when all were in a good way
eating, Boss and the madam would go out to witness the progress of the
feast, and seemed pleased to see the servants so happy. Everything was
in abundance, so all could have plenty--Boss always insisted on this.
The slaves had the whole day off, and could do as they liked. After
dinner some of the women would wash, sew or iron. It was a day of
harmless riot for all the slaves, and I can not express the happiness it
brought them. Old and young, for months, would rejoice in the memory of
the day and its festivities, and "bless" Boss for this ray of sunlight
in their darkened lives.

       *       *       *       *       *


There was an observance of religious forms at least by the occupants of
both the great house and the cabins. The McGee family were church-going
people, and, except in very inclement weather, never failed to attend
service on Sunday. They were Methodists, and their church was four miles
from their residence. The Baptist church was but two miles distant, and
the family usually alternated in their attendance between the two places
of worship. I always attended them to church, generally riding behind
while the Boss drove. Upon reaching church, my first duty was to run to
a spring for a pitcher of fresh water, which I passed not only to the
members of our party, but to any others desiring drink. Whatever may be
thought of the religious professions of the slave-holders, there can be
no question that many of the slaves were sincere believers in the
Christian religion, and endeavored to obey the precepts according to
their light.

       *       *       *       *       *


Saturday evening on the farm was always hailed with delight. The air was
filled with happy shouts from men and boys, so glad were they that
Sunday, their only day of rest, was near. In the cabins the women were
washing and fixing garments for Sunday, that they might honor the Lord
in cleanliness and decency. It was astonishing how they utilized what
they had, and with what skill and industry they performed these
self-imposed tasks. Where the family was large it was often after
midnight before this work was done. While this preparation for the
Sabbath was in progress in most of the cabins, the old men would gather
in one for a prayer-meeting. As they began to sing some familiar hymn,
the air would ring with their voices, and it was not long before the
cabin was filled with both old and young, who came in their simple yet
sincere way to give praise to God. It was common to have one or two
exhorters on the plantation who claimed to be called to do service for
God, by teaching their fellow men the principles of religion. God
certainly must have revealed himself to these poor souls, for they were
very ignorant--they did not know a letter of the Bible. But when they
opened their mouths they were filled, and the plan of Salvation was
explained in a way that all could receive it. It was always a mystery to
the white brethren how the slaves could line out hymns, preach Christ
and redemption, yet have no knowledge even of how the name of Christ was
spelled. They were illiterate to the last degree, so there is but one
theory, they were inspired. God revealed unto them just what they should
teach their flock, the same as he did to Moses. I remember very well
that there was always a solemnity about the services--a certain harmony,
which had a peculiar effect--a certain pathetic tone which quickened the
emotions as they sang those old plantation hymns. It mattered not what
their troubles had been during the week--how much they had been lashed,
the prayer-meeting on Saturday evening never failed to be held. Their
faith was tried and true. On Sunday afternoons, they would all
congregate again to praise God, and the congregation was enthusiastic.
It was pathetic to hear them pray, from the depths of their hearts, for
them who "despitefully used them and persecuted them." This injunction
of our Saviour was strictly adhered to. The words that came from the
minister were always of a consolatory kind. He knew the crosses of his
fellow slaves and their hardships, for he had shared them himself. I was
always touched in hearing him give out the hymns. I can hear old Uncle
Ben now, as he solemnly worded out the following lines:

     Must I be carried to the skies,
       On flowery beds of ease,
     While others fought to win the prize,
       And sailed through bloody seas?

After singing he would always speak to them of the necessity for
patience in bearing the crosses, urging them to endure "as good
soldiers." Many tears were shed, and many glad shouts of praise would
burst forth during the sermon. A hymn usually followed the sermon, then
all retired. Their faces seemed to shine with a happy light--their very
countenance showed that their souls had been refreshed and that it had
been "good for them to be there." These meetings were the joy and
comfort of the slaves, and even those who did not profess Christianity
were calm and thoughtful while in attendance.

       *       *       *       *       *


Opposite our farm was one owned by a Mr. Juval, and adjoining that was
another belonging to one White. The McGees and the Whites were very fast
friends, visiting each other regularly--indeed they had grown up
together, and Mr. White at one time was the lover of the madam, and
engaged to be married to her. This friendship had existed for years,
when McGee bought the Juval farm, for which White had also been
negotiating, but which he failed to get on account of McGee having
out-bid him. From this circumstance ill feeling was engendered between
the two men, and they soon became bitter enemies. McGee had decided to
build a fence between the farm he had purchased and that of White, and,
during the winter, his teamsters were set to hauling the rails; and, in
unloading them, they accidentally threw some of them over the line on to
White's land. The latter said nothing about the matter until spring,
when he wrote McGee a letter, asking him to remove the rails from his
land. McGee paid no attention to the request, and he soon received a
second note, when he said to his wife: "That fellow is about to turn
himself a fool--I'll give him a cow-hiding." A third and more emphatic
note followed, in which White told the Boss that the rails must be
removed within twenty-four hours. He grew indignant, and, in true
Southern style, he went immediately to town and bought arms, and
prepared himself for the fray. When he returned he had every hand on the
plantation stop regular work, and put them all to building the fence. I
was of the number. Boss and the overseer came out to overlook the work
and hurry it on. About four o'clock in the afternoon White put in an
appearance, and came face to face with McGee, sitting on his horse and
having a double barreled shot gun lying across the pummel of his saddle.
White passed on without saying a word, but Boss yelled at him; "Hello! I
see you are about to turn yourself a d--d fool." White checked up and
began to swear, saying: "You are a coward to attack an unarmed man." He
grew furious, took off his hat, ran his fingers through his hair,
saying: "Here I am, blow me to h--l, and I'll have some one blow you
there before night." During White's rage he said: "I'll fight you
anywhere--bowie-knife fight, shot gun fight or any other." He called, in
his excitement, for his nephew, who was working on his farm, to come,
and immediately sent him to Billy Duncan's to get him a double barreled
shot gun. Meantime, Mrs. McGee appeared on the scene, and began to cry,
begging White to stop and allow her to speak to him. But he replied: "Go
off, go off, I don't want to speak to you." Boss grew weak and sick, and
through his excitement, was taken violently ill, vomiting as if he had
taken an emetic. He said to White; "I'll return as soon as I take my
wife home," but he never came back. As Boss and the madam rode off,
White came galloping back, and said to Brooks, our overseer: "If I am
shot down on foul play would you speak of it?" Brooks replied: "No, I
don't care to interfere--I don't wish to have anything to do with it."
White was bloodthirsty, and came back at intervals during the entire
night, where we were working, to see if he could find Boss. It is quite
probable that White may have long cherished a secret grudge against
Boss, because he had robbed him of his first love; and, brooding over
these offenses, he became so excited as to be almost insane. Had McGee
returned that night, White would certainly have shot him. Boss became so
uneasy over the situation that he sent one of his slaves, a foreman, to
Panola county, some seventy-five miles distant, to Mrs. McGee's father,
to get her brother, a lawyer, to come and endeavor to effect a
settlement. He came, but all his efforts were unavailing. The men met at
a magistrate's office, but they came to no understanding. Our folks
became dissatisfied, and did not care to remain longer in the place, so
they began to look out for other quarters. Boss finally decided to buy a
farm in Bolivar, Miss., and to remove his family to Memphis, where he
secured a fine place, just outside of the city.

[Illustration: Farmer's Merchants Bank--Three Dollar Banknote]



       *       *       *       *       *


McGee had decided to build a new house upon the property which he had
purchased at Memphis; and, in August 1850, he sent twenty-five of his
slaves to the city, to make brick for the structure, and I went along as
cook. After the bricks were burned, the work of clearing the ground for
the buildings was commenced. There were many large and beautiful trees
that had to be taken up and removed; and, when this work was completed,
the excavations for the foundations and the cellar were undertaken. All
of this work was done by the slaves. The site was a beautiful one,
embracing fourteen acres, situated two miles southeast from the city, on
the Memphis and Charleston railroad. The road ran in front of the place
and the Boss built a flag-station there, for the accommodation of
himself and his neighbors, which was named McGee Station.

       *       *       *       *       *


The house was one of the most pretentious in that region, and was a year
and a half in building. It was two stories in height, and built of
brick, the exterior surface being coated with cement and marked off in
blocks, about two feet square, to represent stone. It was then
whitewashed. There was a veranda in front with six large columns, and,
above, a balcony. On the back there were also a veranda and a balcony,
extending across that end to the servants' wing. A large hall led from
front to rear, on one side of which were double parlors, and on the
other a sitting room, a bedroom and a dining room. In the second story
were a hall and four rooms, similar in all respects to those below, and
above these was a large attic. The interior woodwork was of black
walnut. The walls were white, and the centerpieces in the ceilings of
all the rooms were very fine, being the work of an English artisan, who
had been only a short time in this country. This work was so superior,
in design and finish, to anything before seen in that region that local
artisans were much excited over it; and some offered to purchase the
right to reproduce it, but Boss refused the offer. However, some one,
while the house was finishing, helped himself to the design, and it was
reproduced, in whole or in part, in other buildings in the city. This
employment of a foreign artist was unusual there and caused much
comment. The parlors were furnished with mahogany sets, the upholstering
being in red brocade satin. The dining room was also furnished in
mahogany. The bedrooms had mahogany bedsteads of the old-fashioned
pattern with canopies. Costly bric-a-brac, which Boss and the madam had
purchased while traveling in foreign countries, was in great profusion.
Money was no object to Edmund McGee, and he added every modern
improvement and luxury to his home; the decorations and furnishings were
throughout of the most costly and elegant; and in the whole of Tennessee
there was not a mansion more sumptuously complete in all its
appointments, or more palatial in its general appearance. When all was
finished--pictures, bric-a-brac, statuary and flowers all in their
places, Mrs. McGee was brought home.

In this new house Boss opened up in grand style; everything was changed,
and the family entered upon a new, more formal and more pretentious
manner of living. I was known no longer as errand boy, but installed as
butler and body-servant to my master. I had the same routine of morning
work, only it was more extensive. There was a great deal to be done in
so spacious a mansion. Looking after the parlors, halls and dining
rooms, arranging flowers in the rooms, waiting on the table, and going
after the mail was my regular morning work, the year round. Then there
were my duties to perform, night and morning, for my master; these were
to brush his clothes, black his shoes, assist him to arrange his toilet,
and do any little thing that he wanted me to. Aside from these regular
duties, there were windows to wash, silver to polish and steps to stone
on certain days in the week. I was called to do any errand necessary,
and sometimes to assist in the garden. A new staff of house servants was
installed, as follows: Aunt Delia, cook; Louisa, chambermaid; Puss,
lady's maid to wait on the madam; Celia, nurse; Lethia, wet nurse;
Sarah, dairymaid; Julia, laundress; Uncle Gooden, gardener; Thomas,

       *       *       *       *       *


The servants, at first, were dazed with the splendor of the new house,
and laughed and chuckled to themselves a good deal about mars' fine
house, and really seemed pleased; for, strange to say, the slaves of
rich people always rejoiced in that fact. A servant owned by a man in
moderate circumstances was hooted at by rich men's slaves. It was common
for them to say: "Oh! don't mind that darkey, he belongs to po'r white
trash." So, as I said, our slaves rejoiced in master's good luck. Each
of the women servants wore a new, gay colored turban, which was tied
differently from that of the ordinary servant, in some fancy knot. Their
frocks and aprons were new, and really the servants themselves looked
new. My outfit was a new cloth suit, and my aprons for wearing when
waiting on the table were of snowy white linen, the style being copied
from that of the New York waiters. I felt big, for I never knew what a
white bosom shirt was before; and even though the grief at the
separation from my dear mother was almost unbearable at times, and my
sense of loneliness in having no relative near me often made me sad,
there was consolation, if not compensation, in this little change. I had
known no comforts, and had been so cowed and broken in spirits, by cruel
lashings, that I really felt light-hearted at this improvement in my
personal appearance, although it was merely for the gratification of my
master's pride; and I thought I would do all I could to please Boss.

       *       *       *       *       *


For some time before all the appointments of the new home were
completed, a great number of mechanics and workmen, besides our own
servants, were employed; and there was much bustle and stir about the
premises. Considerable out-door work was yet to be done--fences to be
made, gardens and orchards to be arranged and planted, and the grounds
about the house to be laid out and adorned with shrubbery and flower
beds. When this work was finally accomplished, the grounds were indeed
beautiful. The walks were graveled, and led through a profusion of
shrubbery and flower beds. There was almost every variety of roses;
while, scattered over the grounds, there were spruce, pine and juniper
trees, and some rare varieties, seldom seen in this northern climate.
Around the grounds was set a cedar hedge, and, in time, the place became
noted for the beauty of its shrubbery; the roses especially were
marvelous in the richness and variety of their colors, their fragrance
and the luxuriousness of their growth. People who have never traveled
in the South have little idea of the richness and profusion of its
flowers, especially of its roses. Among the climbing plants, which
adorned the house, the most beautiful and fragrant was the African
honeysuckle--its odor was indeed delightful.

       *       *       *       *       *


One of the institutions of the place was the vegetable garden. This was
established not only for the convenience and comfort of the family, but
to furnish employment for the slaves. Under the care of Uncle Gooden,
the gardener, it flourished greatly; and there was so much more produced
than the family could use, Boss concluded to sell the surplus. The
gardener, therefore, went to the city, every morning, with a load of
vegetables, which brought from eight to ten dollars daily, and this the
madam took for "pin money." In the spring I had always to help the
gardener in setting out plants and preparing beds; and, as this was in
connection with my other work, I became so tired sometimes that I could
hardly stand. All the vegetables raised were fine, and at that time
brought a good price. The first cabbage that we sold in the markets
brought twenty-five cents a head. The first sweet potatoes marketed
always brought a dollar a peck, or four dollars a bushel. The Memphis
market regulations required that all vegetables be washed before being
exposed for sale. Corn was husked, and everything was clean and
inviting. Any one found guilty of selling, or exhibiting for sale,
vegetables of a previous day was fined, at once, by the market master.
This rule was carried out to the letter. Nothing stale could be sold, or
even come into market. The rules required that all poultry be dressed
before being brought to market. The entrails were cleaned and strung and
sold separately--usually for about ten cents a string.

       *       *       *       *       *


Flowers grew in profusion everywhere through the south, and it has,
properly, been called the land of flowers. But flowers had no such sale
there as have our flowers here in the north. The pansy and many of our
highly prized plants and flowers grew wild in the south. The people
there did not seem to care for flowers as we do. I have sold many
bouquets for a dime, and very beautiful ones for fifteen and twenty
cents, that would sell in the north for fifty to seventy-five cents.

       *       *       *       *       *


The new place had an orchard of about four acres, consisting of a
variety of apple, peach, pear and plum trees. Boss hired an expert
gardener to teach me the art of grafting, and, after some practice, I
became quite skilled in this work. Some of the pear trees that had been
grafted had three different kinds of fruit on them, and others had three
kinds of apples on them besides the pears. This grafting I did myself,
and the trees were considered very fine by Boss. Another part of my work
was the trimming of the hedge and the care of all the shrubbery.

       *       *       *       *       *


McGee had a medicine chest built into the wall of the new house. The
shelves for medicine were of wood, and the arrangement was very
convenient. It was really a small drug store. It contained everything in
the way of drugs that was necessary to use in doctoring the slaves. We
had quinine, castor-oil, alcohol and ipecac in great quantities, as
these were the principal drugs used in the limited practice in the home
establishment. If a servant came from the field to the house with a
chill, which was frequent, the first thing we did was to give him a dose
of ipecac to vomit him. On the evening after, we would give him two or
three of Cook's pills. These pills we made at home, I always had to
prepare the medicines, and give the dose, the Boss standing by
dictating. Working with medicine, giving it and caring for the sick were
the parts of my work that I liked best. Boss used Dr. Gunn's book
altogether for recipes in putting up medicines. He read me the recipe,
while I compounded it.

       *       *       *       *       *


In celebration of the opening of the new house, McGee gave an elaborate
reception and dinner. The menu embraced nearly everything that one could
think of or desire, and all in the greatest profusion. It was a custom,
not only with the McGees but among the southern people generally, to
make much of eating--it was one of their hobbies. Everything was cooked
well, and highly seasoned. Scarcity was foreign to the homes of the
wealthy southerners.

       *       *       *       *       *


After the family had been settled about a month in the new home, their
relatives in Panola Co., Miss., Mr. Jack McGee, known among the servants
as "Old Jack," Mrs. Melinda McGee, his wife, Mrs. Farrington, their
daughter who was a widow, and their other children Louisa, Ella and
William, all came up for a visit, and to see the wonderful house. Mr.
Jack McGee was the father of madam and the uncle of Boss. My master and
mistress were therefore first cousins, and Boss sometimes called the old
man father and at other times, uncle. Old Master Jack, as he alighted,
said to those behind him: "Now be careful, step lightly, Louisa, this is
the finest house you ever set foot in." When all had come into the
house, and the old man had begun to look around, he said: "I don't know
what Edmund is thinking about-out to build such a house-house." He was
very old, and had never lost all of his Scotch dialect, and he had a
habit of repeating a part or all of some words, as in the foregoing
quotation. The other members of the visiting family were well pleased
with the house, and said it was grand. They laughed and talked merrily
over the many novel things which they saw. Mrs. Farrington, who was a
gay widow, was naturally interested in everything. I busied myself
waiting upon them, and it was late that night before I was through. So
many made extra work for me.

       *       *       *       *       *


The next morning, after breakfast, Boss and old Master Jack went out to
view the grounds. They took me along so that if anything was wanted I
could do it. Boss would have me drive a stake in some place to mark
where he desired to put something, perhaps some flowers, or a tree. He
went on through the grounds, showing his father how everything was to be
arranged. The old man shook his head, and said: "Well, it's good, but I
am afraid you'll spoil these niggers-niggers. Keep you eye on that boy
Lou, (meaning me) he is slippery-slippery, too smart-art." "Oh! I'll
manage that, Father," said Boss. "Well, see that you do-oo, for I see
running away in his eyes." One of the things that interested old Master
Jack was the ringing of the dinner bell. "Well, I do think," said the
old man, "that boy can ring a bell better than anybody I ever heard. Why,
its got a regular tune." I used to try to see how near I could come to
making it say, come to dinner.

       *       *       *       *       *


The four days soon passed, and all the company gone, we were once more
at our regular work. Delia, the cook, seemingly had not pleased the
madam in her cooking while the company were there; so, the morning
after they left, she went toward the kitchen, calling: "Delia, Delia."
Delia said: "Dah! I wonder what she wants now." By this time she was in
the kitchen, confronting Delia. Her face was flushed as she screamed
out: "What kind of biscuits were those you baked this week?" "I think
they were all right, Mis Sarh." "Hush!" screamed out the madam, stamping
her foot to make it more emphatic. "You did not half cook them," said
she; "they were not beat enough. Those waffles were ridiculous," said
the madam. "Well, Mis Sarh, I tried." "Stop!" cried Madam in a rage,
"I'll give you thunder if you dictate to me." Not a very elegant display
in language or manner for a great lady! Old Aunt Delia, who was used to
these occurrences, said: "My Lord! dat woman dunno what she wants. Ah!
Lou, there is nothing but the devil up here, (meaning the new home);
can't do nothin to please her up here in dis fine house. I tell you
Satan neber git his own til he git her." They did not use baking powder,
as we do now, but the biscuits were beaten until light enough. Twenty
minutes was the time allotted for this work; but when company came there
was so much to be done--so many more dishes to prepare, that Delia
would, perhaps, not have so much time for each meal. But there was no
allowance made. It was never thought reasonable that a servant should
make a mistake--things must always be the same. I was listening to this
quarrel between madam and Delia, supposing my time would come next; but
for that once she said nothing to me.

       *       *       *       *       *


Mrs. McGee was naturally irritable. Servants always got an extra
whipping when she had any personal trouble, as though they could help
it. Every morning little Kate, Aunt Delia's little girl, would have to
go with the madam on her rounds to the different buildings of the
establishment, to carry the key basket. So many were the keys that they
were kept in a basket especially provided for them, and the child was
its regular bearer. The madam, with this little attendant, was
everywhere--in the barn, in the hennery, in the smokehouse--and she
always made trouble with the servants wherever she went. Indeed, she
rarely returned to the house from these rounds without having whipped
two or three servants, whether there was really any cause for the
punishment or not. She seldom let a day pass without beating some poor
woman unmercifully. The number and severity of these whippings depended
more upon the humor of the madam than upon the conduct of the slaves. Of
course, I always came in for a share in this brutal treatment. She
continued her old habit of boxing my jaws, pinching my ears: no day ever
passing without her indulging in this exercise of her physical powers.
So long had I endured this, I came to expect it, no matter how well I
did my duties; and it had its natural effect upon me, making me a
coward, even though I was now growing into manhood. I remember once, in
particular, when I had tried to please her by arranging the parlor, I
overheard her say: "They soon get spirit--it don't do to praise
servants." My heart sank within me. What good was it for me to try to
please? She would find fault anyway. Her usual morning greeting was:
"Well, Lou, have you dusted the parlors?" "Oh, yes," I would answer.
"Have the flowers been arranged?" "Yes, all is in readiness," I would
say. Once I had stoned the steps as usual, but the madam grew angry as
soon as she saw them. I had labored hard, and thought she would be
pleased. The result, however, was very far from that. She took me out,
stripped me of my shirt and began thrashing me, saying I was spoiled. I
was no longer a child, but old enough to be treated differently. I began
to cry, for it seemed to me my heart would break. But, after the first
burst of tears, the feeling came over me that I was a man, and it was an
outrage to treat me so--to keep me under the lash day after day.

       *       *       *       *       *


Not long after Mrs. Farrington had made her first visit to our house,
she came there to live. Celia had been acting as her maid. When Mrs.
Farrington had been up some months, it was decided that all the family
should go down to old Master Jack's for a visit. Celia, the maid, had
been so hurried in the preparations for this visit that she had done
nothing for herself. The night before the family was to leave,
therefore, she was getting ready a garment for herself to wear on the
trip; and it was supposed that she sewed until midnight, or after, when
she fell asleep, letting the goods fall into the candle. All at once, a
little after twelve o'clock, I heard a scream, then a cry of "fire!
fire!" and Boss yelling: "Louis! Louis!" I jumped up, throwing an old
coat over me, and ran up stairs, in the direction of Mrs. Farrington's
room, I encountered Boss in the hall; and, as it was dark and the smoke
stifling, I could hardly make any headway. At this moment Mrs.
Farrington threw her door open, and screamed for "Cousin Eddie," meaning
McGee. He hurriedly called to me to get a pitcher of water quick. I
grasped the pitcher from the stand, and he attempted to throw the water
on Celia, who was all in a blaze, running around like a mad woman; but
the pitcher slipped from his hand and broke, very little of the water
reaching her. She was at last wrapped in an old blanket, to extinguish
the flames; but she was burned too badly to recover. Boss, being a
physician, said at once: "Poor girl, poor girl! she is burned to death."
He did all he could for her, wrapped her in linen sheets, and endeavored
to relieve her sufferings, but all was of no avail--she had inhaled the
flame, injuring her internally, and lived only a few days.

       *       *       *       *       *


Shortly after Boss bought his home in Memphis, he bought a large farm in
Bolivar, Miss. It was a regular cotton farm, on the Mississippi river,
embracing 200 acres. The houses built for the slaves were frame,
eighteen in number, each to contain three or four families, and arranged
on each side of a street that ran through the farm. This street was all
grassed over, but there were no sidewalks. All the buildings--the barn,
gin-house, slaves' quarters and overseers' house--were whitewashed, and
on this grass-grown street they made a neat and pretty appearance. The
house where the Boss and the madam staid, when they went down to the
farm, was about two hundred yards from the slaves' quarters. It was
arranged in two apartments, one for the overseer and wife, and the other
for the master and mistress upon the occasion of their visits. This
building was separated from the other buildings by a fence. There was
what was called the cook house, where was cooked all the food for the
hands. Aunt Matilda was cook in charge. Besides the buildings already
named, there were stables, a blacksmith shop and sawmill; and the
general order of arrangement was carried out with respect to all--the
appearance was that of a village. Everything was raised in abundance, to
last from one crop to the next. Vegetables and meat were provided from
the farm, and a dairy of fifty cows furnished all the milk and butter

The cane brakes were so heavy that it was common for bears to hide
there, and, at night, come out and carry off hogs. Wolves were plenty in
the woods behind the farm, and could be heard at any time. The cane was
so thick that when they were clearing up new ground, it would have to be
set on fire, and the cracking that would ensue was like the continuous
explosion of small fire crackers.

About one hundred and sixty slaves, besides children, all owned by
McGee, were worked on the farm. Instead of ginning two or three bales of
cotton a day, as at Pontotoc, they ginned six to seven bales here.

       *       *       *       *       *


I remember well the time when the great Swedish singer, Jenny Lind, came
to Memphis. It was during her famous tour through America, in 1851. Our
folks were all enthused over her. Boss went in and secured tickets to
her concert, and I was summoned to drive them to the hall. It was a
great event. People swarmed the streets like bees. The carriages and
hacks were stacked back from the hall as far as the eye could reach.

On another occasion, when the great prodigy, Blind Tom, came to
Memphis, there was a similar stir among the people. Tom was very young
then, and he was called the Blind Boy. People came from far and near to
hear him. Those coming from the villages and small towns, who could not
get passage on the regular trains, came in freight or on flat bottom
cars. The tickets were $5.00 each, as I remember, Boss said it was
expensive, but all must hear this boy pianist. Many were the comments on
this boy of such wonderful talents. As I drove our people home they
seemed to talk of nothing else. They declared that he was indeed a

       *       *       *       *       *


Sometimes when the farm hands were at work, peddlers would come along;
and, as they were treated badly by the rich planters, they hated them,
and talked to the slaves in a way to excite them and set them thinking
of freedom. They would say encouragingly to them: "Ah! You will be free
some day." But the down-trodden slaves, some of whom were bowed with
age, with frosted hair and furrowed cheek, would answer, looking up from
their work: "We don't blieve dat; my grandfather said we was to be free,
but we aint free yet." It had been talked of (this freedom) from
generation to generation. Perhaps they would not have thought of
freedom, if their owners had not been so cruel. Had my mistress been
more kind to me, I should have thought less of liberty. I know the cruel
treatment which I received was the main thing that made me wish to be
free. Besides this, it was inhuman to separate families as they did.
Think of a mother being sold from all her children--separated for life!
This separation was common, and many died heart-broken, by reason of it.
Ah! I cannot forget the cruel separation from my mother. I know not what
became of her, but I have always believed her dead many years ago.
Hundreds were separated, as my mother and I were, and never met again.
Though freedom was yearned for by some because the treatment was so bad,
others, who were bright and had looked into the matter, knew it was a
curse to be held a slave--they longed to stand out in true
manhood--allowed to express their opinions as were white men. Others
still desired freedom, thinking they could then reclaim a wife, or
husband, or children. The mother would again see her child. All these
promptings of the heart made them yearn for freedom. New Year's was
always a heart-rending time, for it was then the slaves were bought and
sold; and they stood in constant fear of losing some one dear to them--a
child, a husband, or wife.

       *       *       *       *       *


In the new home my duties were harder than ever. The McGees held me with
tighter grip, and it was nothing but cruel abuse, from morning till
night. So I made up my mind to try and run away to a free country. I
used to hear Boss read sometimes, in the papers, about runaway slaves
who had gone to Canada, and it always made me long to go; yet I never
appeared as if I paid the slightest attention to what the family read or
said on such matters; but I felt that I could be like others, and try at
least to get away. One morning, when Boss had gone to town, Madam had
threatened to whip me, and told me to come to the house. When she called
me I did not go, but went off down through the garden and through the
woods, and made my way for the city. When I got into Memphis, I found at
the landing a boat called the Statesman, and I sneaked aboard. It was
not expected that the boat would stay more than a few hours, but, for
some reason, it stayed all night. The boat was loaded with sugar, and I
hid myself behind four hogsheads. I could see both engineers, one each
side of me. When night came on, I crept out from my hiding place, and
went forward to search for food and water, for I was thirsty and very
hungry. I found the table where the deck hands had been eating, and
managed to get a little food, left from their meal, and some water. This
was by no means enough, but I had to be content, and went back to my
place of concealment. I had been on board the boat three days; and, on
the third night, when I came out to hunt food, the second mate saw me.
In a minute he eyed me over and said: "Why, I have a reward for you." In
a second he had me go up stairs to the captain. This raised a great
excitement among the passengers; and, in a minute, I was besieged with
numerous questions. Some spoke as if they were sorry for me, and said if
they had known I was a poor runaway slave they would have slipped me
ashore. The whole boat was in alarm. It seemed to me they were
consulting slips of paper. One said: "Yes, he is the same. Listen how
this reads:"

"Ran away from Edmund McGee, my mulatto boy Louis, 5 feet 6 inches in
height, black hair, is very bright and intelligent. Will give $500 for
him alive, and half of this amount for knowledge that he has been

My heart sprang into my throat when I heard two men read this
advertisement. I knew, at once, what it all meant, remembering how often
I had heard Boss read such articles from the papers and from the
handbills that were distributed through the city. The captain asked me
if I could dance. It seemed he felt sorry for me, for he said: "That's a
bright boy to be a slave." Then turning to me he said: "Come, give us a
dance." I was young and nimble, so I danced a few of the old southern
clog dances, and sang one or two songs, like this:

    "Come along, Sam, the fifer's son,
    Aint you mighty glad your day's work's done?"

After I finished singing and dancing, the captain took up a collection
for me and got about two dollars. This cheered me a good deal. I knew
that I would need money if I should ever succeed in getting on.

On the following evening, when we reached West Franklin, Indiana, while
the passengers were at tea, another boat pushed into port right after
ours. Immediately a gentleman passenger came to me hurriedly, and
whispered to me to go down stairs, jump out on the bow of the other
boat, and go ashore. I was alarmed, but obeyed, for I felt that he was a
friend to slaves. I went out as quietly as I could, and was not missed
until I had gotten on shore. Then I heard the alarm given that the boy
was gone--that the runaway was gone. But I sped on, and did not stop
until I had run through the village, and had come to a road that led
right into the country. I took this road and went on until I had gone
four or five miles, when I came to a farm house. Before reaching it,
however, I met two men on horseback, on their way to the village. They
passed on without specially noticing me, and I kept on my way until
reaching the farmhouse. I was so hungry, I went in and asked for food.
While I was eating, the men whom I had met rode up. They had been to the
village, and, learning that a runaway slave was wanted, and remembering
meeting me, they returned in hot haste, in hope of finding me and
securing the reward. They hallooed to the people in the house, an old
woman and her daughter, whom they seemed to know, saying: "There is a
runaway nigger out, who stole off a boat this evening." The old lady
said, "Come," becoming frightened at once. When they came in they began
to question me. I trembled all over but answered them. They said: "You
are the fellow we want, who ran off the boat." I was too scared to deny
it; so I owned I was on the boat, and stole off. They did not tarry
long, but, taking me with them, they went, about a mile and a half, to
their house. They planned and talked all the way, and one said: "We are
good for $75.00 for him any way." The next morning they took me into the
village. They soon found out that the engineer, by order of the captain,
had stayed over to search for me. A lawsuit followed, and I was taken
before the magistrate before the engineer could get possession of me.
There was a legal course that had to be gone through with. A lawyer, Fox
by name, furnished the $75.00 for the men who had caught me. That part
of the case being settled, Fox and the engineer started for Evansville,
Ind., that same night. Upon arriving there, Fox received from the
captain of the boat the money he had advanced to the men who caught me;
and we went on, arriving at Louisville, Ky., the next day. I was then
taken again before a magistrate, by the captain, when the following
statement was read by that official:

"Captain Montgomery brought forth a boy, and said he is the property of
Edmund McGee, of Memphis, Tenn. Come forth owner, and prove property,
for after the boy shall remain in jail six months he shall be sold to
pay jail feed."

Mr. McGee was informed of my whereabouts, and it was not long before he
and his cousin came to get me. When they came, I was called up by the
nickname they had given me, "Memphis." "Come out here, 'Memphis,'" said
the turnkey, "your master has come for you." I went down stairs to the
office, and found Boss waiting for me. "Hello, Lou!" said he, "what are
you doing here, you dog?" I was so frightened I said nothing. Of course,
some few words were passed between him and the officers. I heard him say
that I was a smart fellow, and he could not tell why I had run away;
that he had always treated me well. This was to impress the officers
with the idea that he was not unkind to his slaves. The slave-holders
all hated to be classed as bad taskmasters. Yet nearly all of them were.
The clothes I wore were jail property, and he could not take me away in
them; so we started to go up town to get others. As we passed out the
jailer, Buckhanon, said: "Ain't you going to put hand-cuffs on him?"
"Oh, no!" said Boss. After I was taken to the store and fitted with a
new suit of clothes, he brought me back to the jail, where I washed
myself and put on the new garments. When all was complete, and I seemed
to suit master's fastidious eye, he took me to the Gault House, where he
was stopping. In the evening we started for home, and reached Memphis
the following day. Boss did not flog me, as I expected, but sent me to
my regular routine work. We had been in this new home so short a time he
did not want it to be rumored that he whipped his slaves, he was so
stylish and rich. But the madam was filled with rage, although she did
not say much. I think they saw that I was no longer a child--they feared
I would go again. But after I had been home some three or four weeks,
Madam Sarah commenced her old tricks--attempting to whip me, box my jaws
and pinch me. If any little thing was not pleasing to her at meal time,
it was a special delight for her to reach out, when I drew near to her
to pass something, and give me a blow with her hand. Truly it was a
monstrous domestic institution that not only tolerated, but fostered,
such an exhibition of table manners by a would-be fine lady--such vulgar
spite and cruelty!

       *       *       *       *       *


About three months after my first attempt to get away, I thought I would
try it again. I went to Memphis, and saw a boat at the landing, called
the John Lirozey, a Cincinnati packet. This boat carried the mail. She
had come into port in the morning, and was being unloaded. I went aboard
in the afternoon and jumped down into the hull. Boss had been there in
the fore part of the afternoon inquiring for me, but I did not know it
then. After I had been in the boat some time, the men commenced loading
it. I crept up in the corner and hid myself. At first two or three
hundred dry and green hides were thrown in, and these hid me; but later
on two or three tiers of cotton bales were put in the center of the
hull, and, when the boat started, I got upon the top of these, and lay
there. I could hear the people talking above me, but it was so dark I
could not see anything--it was dark as a dungeon. I had lain there two
nights and began to get so weak and faint I could stand it no longer.
For some reason the boat did not start the day I went aboard,
consequently, I had not gotten as far from home as I expected, and my
privations had largely been in vain. Despairing and hungry, on the
third day, I commenced howling and screaming, hoping that some one
would hear me, and come to my relief, for almost anything else would
have been preferable to the privation and hunger from which I was
suffering. But I could make no one hear, at least no one paid any
attention to my screams, if they did hear. In the evening, however, one
of the deck hands came in with a lantern to look around and see
everything was all right. I saw the light and followed him out, but I
had been out of my hiding only a short time when I was discovered by a
man who took me up stairs to the captain. It was an effort for me to
walk up stairs, as I was weak and faint, having neither eaten nor drank
anything for three days. This boat was crowded with passengers, and it
was soon a scene of confusion. I was placed in the pilot's room for
safety, until we arrived at a small town in Kentucky called Monroe. I
was put off here to be kept until the packet came back from Cincinnati.
Then I was carried back to Memphis, arriving about one o'clock at night,
and, for safe keeping, was put into what was called the calaboose. This
was especially for the keeping of slaves who had run away and been
caught. Word was sent to Boss of my capture; and the next morning
Thomas Bland, a fellow servant of mine, was sent to take me home. I can
not tell how I felt, for the only thought that came to me was that I
should get killed. The madam met us as we drove into the yard. "Ah!" she
said to me, "you put up at the wrong hotel, sir." I was taken to the
barn where stocks had been prepared, beside which were a cowhide and a
pail of salt water, all prepared for me. It was terrible, but there was
no escape. I was fastened in the stocks, my clothing removed, and the
whipping began. Boss whipped me a while, then he sat down and read his
paper, after which the whipping was resumed. This continued for two
hours. Fastened as I was in the stocks, I could only stand and take lash
after lash, as long as he desired, the terrible rawhide cutting into my
flesh at every stroke. Then he used peach tree switches, which cracked
the flesh so the blood oozed out. After this came the paddle, two and a
half feet long and three inches wide. Salt and water was at once applied
to wash the wounds, and the smarting was maddening. This torture was
common among the southern planters. God only knows what I suffered under
it all, and He alone gave me strength to endure it. I could hardly move
after the terrible ordeal was finished, and could scarcely bear my
clothes to touch me at first, so sore was my whole body, and it was
weeks before I was myself again.

       *       *       *       *       *


As an offset, probably, to such diabolical cruelties as those which were
practiced upon me in common with nearly all the slaves in the cotton
region of the south, it was the custom in the section of country where I
lived to have the white minister preach to the servants Sunday
afternoon, after the morning service for the whites. The white people
hired the minister by the year to preach for them at their church. Then
he had to preach to each master's slaves in turn. The circuit was made
once a month, but there was service of some kind every Sunday. The
slaves on some places gathered in the yard, at others in the white
folks' school houses, and they all seemed pleased and eager to hear the
word of God. It was a strong evidence of their native intelligence and
discrimination that they could discern the difference between the truths
of the "word" and the professed practice of those truths by their
masters. My Boss took pride in having all his slaves look clean and tidy
at the Sabbath service; but how would he have liked to have the slaves,
with backs lacerated with the lash, appear in those assemblies with
their wounds uncovered? The question can never be answered. The master
and most of his victims have gone where professions of righteousness
will not avail to cover the barbarities practised here.

       *       *       *       *       *


My wife Matilda was born in Fayette county, Kentucky, June 17th, 1830.
It seems that her mother and her seven children were to have been free
according to the old Pennsylvania law. There were two uncles of the
family who were also to have been free, but who had been kept over time;
so they sued for their freedom, and gained it. The lawyers in the case
were abolitionists and friends to the slaves, and saw that these men had
justice. After they had secured their freedom, they entered suit for my
wife's mother, their sister, and her seven children. But as soon as the
brothers entered this suit, Robert Logan, who claimed my wife's mother
and her children as his slaves, put them into a trader's yard in
Lexington; and, when he saw that there was a possibility of their being
successful in securing their freedom, he put them in jail, to be "sold
down the river." This was a deliberate attempt to keep them from their
rights, for he knew that they were to have been set free, many years
before; and this fact was known to all the neighborhood. My wife's
mother was born free, her mother, having passed the allotted time under
a law, had been free for many years. Yet they kept her children as
slaves, in plain violation of law as well as justice. The children of
free persons under southern laws were free--this was always admitted.
The course of Logan in putting the family in jail, for safe keeping
until they could be sent to the southern market, was a tacit admission
that he had no legal hold upon them. Woods and Collins, a couple of
"nigger traders," were collecting a "drove" of slaves for Memphis, about
this time, and, when they were ready to start, all the family were sent
off with the gang; and, when they arrived in Memphis, they were put in
the traders' yard of Nathan Bedford Forrest. This Forrest afterward
became a general in the rebel army, and commanded at the capture of Fort
Pillow; and, in harmony with the debasing influences of his early
business, he was responsible for the fiendish massacre of negroes after
the capture of the fort--an act which will make his name forever
infamous. None of this family were sold to the same person except my
wife and one sister. All the rest were sold to different persons. The
elder daughter was sold seven times in one day. The reason of this was
that the parties that bought her, finding that she was not legally a
slave, and that they could get no written guarantee that she was, got
rid of her as soon as possible. It seems that those who bought the other
members of the family were not so particular, and were willing to run
the risk. They knew that such things--such outrages upon law and
justice--were common. Among these was my Boss, who bought two of the
girls, Matilda and her sister Mary Ellen. Matilda was bought for a cook;
her sister was a present to Mrs. Farrington, his wife's sister, to act
as her maid and seamstress. Aunt Delia, who had been cook, was given
another branch of work to do, and Matilda was installed as cook. I
remember well the day she came. The madam greeted her, and said: "Well,
what can you do, girl? Have you ever done any cooking? Where are you
from?" Matilda was, as I remember her, a sad picture to look at. She had
been a slave, it is true, but had seen good days to what the slaves
down the river saw. Any one could see she was almost heart-broken--she
never seemed happy. Days grew into weeks and weeks into months, but the
same routine of work went on.

       *       *       *       *       *


Matilda had been there three years when I married her. The Boss had
always promised that he would give me a nice wedding, and he kept his
word. He was very proud, and liked praise. The wedding that he gave us
was indeed a pleasant one. All the slaves from their neighbor
acquaintances were invited. One thing Boss did was a credit to him, but
it was rare among slave-holders--he had me married by their parish
minister. It was a beautiful evening, the 30th of November, 1858, when
Matilda and I stood in the parlor of the McGee house and were solemnly
made man and wife. Old Master Jack came up from Panola at that time, and
was there when the ceremony was performed. As he looked through his
fingers at us, he was overheard saying: "It will ruin them, givin
wedins-wedins." Things went on as usual after this. The madam grew more
irritable and exacting, always finding fault with the servants, whipping
them, or threatening to do so, upon the slightest provocation, or none
at all. There was something in my wife's manner, however, which kept the
madam from whipping her--an open or implied threat perhaps that such
treatment would not be endured without resistance or protest of some
kind. This the madam regarded as a great indignity, and she hated my
wife for it, and, at times, was ready to crush her, so great was her
anger. In a year there were born to us twin babies; and the madam now
thought she had my wife tied, as the babies would be a barrier to
anything like resistance on her part, and there would be no danger of
her running away. She, therefore, thought that she could enjoy, without
hindrance, the privilege of beating the woman of whose womanhood she had
theretofore stood somewhat in fear.

       *       *       *       *       *


Boss said from the first that I should give my wife assistance, as she
needed time to care for the babies. Really he was not as bad as the
madam at heart, for she tried to see how hard she could be on us. She
gave me all the extra work to do that she could think of, apparently to
keep me from helping my wife in the kitchen. She had all the cooking to
do for three heavy meals each day, all the washing and ironing of the
finest clothes, besides caring for the babies between times. In the
morning she would nurse the babies, then hurry off to the kitchen to get
breakfast while they were left in charge of a little girl. Again at noon
she repeated her visit to the babies, after cooking the dinner, then in
the evening, after supper, she would go to nurse them again. After
supper was over, dishes all washed and kitchen in order, she would then
go to the little ones for the night. One can see that she had very
little time with the children. My heart was sore and heavy, for my wife
was almost run to death with work. The children grew puny and sickly for
want of proper care. The doctor said it was because the milk the mother
nursed to them was so heated by her constant and excessive labors as to
be unwholesome, and she never had time to cool before ministering to
them. So the little things, instead of thriving and developing, as was
their right, dwindled toward the inevitable end. Oh! we were
wretched--our hearts ached for a day which we could call our own. My
wife was a Christian, and had learned to know the worth of prayer, so
would always speak consolingly. "God will help us," she said: "let us
try and be patient." Our trial went on, until one morning I heard a
great fuss in the house, the madam calling for the yard man to come and
tie my wife, as she could not manage her. My wife had always refused to
allow the madam to whip her; but now, as the babies were here, mistress
thought she would try it once more. Matilda resisted, and madam called
for Boss. In a minute he came, and, grabbing my wife, commenced choking
her, saying to her: "What do you mean? Is that the way you talk to
ladies?" My wife had only said to her mistress: "You shall not whip me."
This made her furious, hence her call for Boss. I was in the dining
room, and could hear everything. My blood boiled in my veins to see my
wife so abused; yet I dare not open my mouth. After the fuss, my wife
went straight to the laundry. I followed her there, and found her
bundling up her babies' clothes, which were washed but not ironed. I
knew at a glance that she was going away. Boss had just gone to the
city; and I did not know what to say, but I told her to do the best she
could. Often when company came and I held the horses, or did an errand
for them, they would tip me to a quarter or half a dollar. This money I
always saved, and so had a little change, which I now gave to Matilda,
for her use in her effort to get away from her cruel treatment. She
started at once for Forrest's trader's yards, with the babies in her
arms and, after she got into Memphis, she stopped outside the yard to
rest. While she was sitting on the curb stone, Forrest came out of the
yard by the back gate and saw her. Coming up to her he said: "My God!
Matilda, what are you doing here? You have changed so I would not have
known you. Why have you come here?" Matilda said: "I came back here to
be sold again." He stepped back and called another "nigger trader,"
Collins by name, from Kentucky. "Look here," said Forrest, pointing to
my wife. Collins took in the situation at once and said he would buy her
and the children. "That woman is of a good family," said he, "and was
only sold to prevent her from getting her freedom." She was then taken
into the yard. "Oh!" said Forrest, "I know these McGees, they are hard
colts." Word was then sent McGee that his cook was in the yard and had
come to be sold. He went in haste to the yard. Collins offered to buy
her, but McGee said no man's money could buy that woman and her
children. I raised her husband and I would not separate them. She was
brought back, and as they rode along in the rockaway, Boss said: "When I
am through with you I guess you won't run away again." As they drove up
I saw the madam go running out to meet them. She shouted to Matilda:
"Ah! madam, you put up at the wrong hotel." They at once went to the
barn where my wife was tied to the joist, and Boss and the madam beat
her by turns. After they had finished the whipping, Boss said,
tauntingly: "Now I am buying you and selling you--I want you to know
that I never shall sell you while my head and yours is hot." I was
trembling from head to foot, for I was powerless to do anything for her.
My twin babies lived only six months after that, not having had the care
they needed, and which it was impossible for their mother to give them
while performing the almost endless labor required of her, under threats
of cruel beatings. One day not long after our babies were buried the
madam followed my wife to the smoke house and said: "I am tempted to
take that knife from you, Matilda, and cut you in two. You and old Ruben
(one of the slaves) went all around the neighborhood and told the people
that I killed your babies, and almost whipped you to death." Of course,
when the slaves were accused falsely, as in this case, they were not
allowed to make any reply--they just had to endure in silence whatever
was said.

       *       *       *       *       *


Thomas, the coachman, and I were fast friends. We used to get together
every time we had a chance and talk about freedom. "Oh!" Tom would say,
"if I could only write." I remember when Tom first began to take lessons
at night from some plasterers, workmen of the neighborhood. They saw
that he was so anxious to learn that they promised to teach him every
evening if he would slip out to their house. I, too, was eager to learn
to read and write, but did not have the opportunity which Tom had of
getting out at night. I had to sleep in the house where the folks were,
and could not go out without being observed, while Tom had quarters in
another part of the establishment, and could slip out unobserved. Tom,
however, consoled me by saying that he would teach me as soon as he knew
how. So Tom one night put a copy of some figures on the side of the barn
for me to practice from. I took the chalk and imitated him as near as I
could, but my work was poor beside his, as he had been learning for
some months, and could make the figures quite well and write a little.
Still I kept trying. Tom encouraging me and telling me that I would
learn in time. "Just keep trying," said he. When this first lesson was
over, I forgot to rub out the marks on the barn, and the next morning
when Old Master Jack, who happened to be at our home just at that time,
went out there and saw the copy and my imitation of it, he at once
raised great excitement by calling attention to the rude characters and
wanting to know who had done that. I was afraid to own that I had done
it; but old Master Jack somehow surmised that it was Tom or I, for he
said to Boss: "Edmund, you must watch those fellows, Louis and Thomas,
if you don't they will get spoilt--spoilt. They are pretty close to town
here--here." Tom and I laughed over this a good deal and how easily we
slipped out of it, but concluded not to stop trying to learn all we
could. Tom always said: "Lou, I am going to be a free man yet, then we
will need some education; no, let us never stop trying to learn." Tom
was a Virginian, as I was, and was sold from his parents when a mere
lad. Boss used to write to his parents (owners) occasionally, that his
people might hear from him. The letters were to his mother, but sent in
care of the white folks. Tom had progressed very fast in his secret
studies, and could write enough to frame a letter. It seems it had been
over a year since Boss had written for him, but nothing was said until
one morning I heard Boss telling Tom to come to the barn to be whipped.
He showed Tom three letters which he had written to his mother, and this
so startled him that he said nothing. I listened breathlessly to each
word Boss said: "Where did you learn to write?" asked he, "and when did
you learn? How long have you been writing to your mother?" At that
moment he produced the three letters which Tom had written. Boss, it
seems, had mistrusted something, and spoke to the postmaster, telling
him to stop any letters which Tom might mail for Virginia to his mother.
The postmaster did as directed, for slaves had no rights which
postmasters were bound to respect; hence, the letters fell into the
master's hands instead of going to their destination. Tom, not hearing
from his first letter, wrote a second, then a third, never dreaming that
they had been intercepted. Boss raged and Tom was severely whipped.
After this nothing Tom did pleased any of the family--it was a
continual pick on him. Everything was wrong with both of us, for they
were equally hard on me. They mistrusted, I think, that I could write;
yet I could not find out just what they did think.

       *       *       *       *       *


Tom stayed only a few weeks after this. He said to me, one morning:
"Lou, I am going away. If I can get a boat to-night that is starting
off, why, I am gone from this place." I was sad to see him go, for he
was like a brother to me--he was my companion and friend. He went, and
was just in time to catch the boat at the Memphis dock. He succeeded in
getting on, and made an application to the captain to work on the boat.
The captain did not hesitate to employ him, as it was common for slaves
to be permitted to hire themselves out for wages which they were
required to return, in whole or in part, to their masters. Of course all
such slaves carried a written pass to this effect. Tom was shrewd; and,
having learned to write fairly well, he wrote himself a pass, which was
of the usual kind, stating his name, to whom he belonged, and that he
was privileged to hire himself out wherever he could, coming and going
as he pleased. Where the slave was an exceptional one, and where the
owner had only two or three slaves, a pass would readily be given to
hire himself out, or hire his own time, as it was generally called, he
being required to turn over to his master a certain amount of his
earnings, each month or week, and to make a report to his master of his
whereabouts and receipts. Sometimes the slave would be required to turn
in to his master a certain sum, as, for instance, fifty or one hundred
dollars a year; and he would have to earn that before he could use any
of his earnings for himself. If he was a mechanic he would have little
trouble in doing this, as the wages of such were often quite liberal.
This kind of a pass was rarely, if ever, given by the planters having
large numbers of slaves. Another kind of pass read something like this:
"Pass my boy or my girl," as the case might be, the name being attached.
These were only given to permit the slave to go from the farm of his own
master to that of another. Some men had wives or children belonging on
neighboring farms, and would be given passes to visit them. Without such
a pass they were liable to be stopped and turned back to their homes.
There was, however, a good deal of visiting without passes, but it was
against the general rule which required them; and any slave leaving home
without a pass was liable to punishment if discovered. On our plantation
passes were never given, but the slaves did visit in the neighborhood,
notwithstanding, and would sometimes slip into town at night. Tom had in
this way seen the pass of a neighboring slave to hire out; and it was
from this he learned the form from which he wrote his, and which opened
his way to freedom. Upon reading Tom's pass, the captain did not
hesitate, but hired him at once; and Tom worked his way to New Orleans,
to which city the boat was bound. In the meantime Boss took me and we
drove to numerous stations, where he telegraphed ahead for his run-away
boy Tom. But Tom reached New Orleans without hindrance, and there fell
in with the steward of a Boston steamer, and, getting aboard of it, was
soon on the ocean, on his way to that city where were so many friends of
the slave. Arriving there he made his way to Canada; which was, for so
many generations, the only land of freedom attainable to American

       *       *       *       *       *


Now that Tom was gone, excitement prevailed at the house among the
white folks--nothing had been heard of him or the method of his escape.
All the servants expected that he would be caught, and I was alarmed
every time Boss came from the city, fearing that he had news that Tom
was caught. He had been gone about six months, when, one morning, I went
to the postoffice and brought back a letter. It seemed to me that I felt
that it contained something unusual, but I did not know what it was. It
proved to be a letter from Tom to Boss. They did not intend that the
servants should know it was from Tom, but one of the house maids heard
them reading it, and came out and told us. She whispered: "Tom is free;
he has gone to Canada; Boss read it in the letter Lou brought." This
news cheered me, and made me eager to get away; but I never heard from
him any more until after the rebellion. Tom gone made my duties more. I
now had to drive the carriage, but Uncle Madison was kept at the barn to
do the work there, and hitch up the team--I only had to drive when the
family went out.

       *       *       *       *       *


In the summer the McGees made up their minds to go down east, and come
around by Niagara Falls, for this was the place from which Tom had
written them. Boss had great confidence in himself, and did not doubt
his ability to take Tom home with him if he should meet him, even though
it should be in Canada. So he took a pair of handcuffs with him as a
preparation for the enterprise. His young nephew had been to Niagara
Falls, and seen and talked with Tom; but Boss said if he had seen him
anywhere he would have laid hands on him, at once, and taken him home,
at all hazards.

       *       *       *       *       *


When the family went on this visit down east I was left in charge of the
house, and was expected to keep everything in order, and also to make
the winter clothes for the farm hands. The madam and I had cut out these
clothes before she left, and it was my principal duty to run the sewing
machine in their manufacture. Many whole days I spent in this work. My
wife made the button holes and sewed on the buttons. I made hundreds of
sacks for use in picking cotton. This work was always done in summer.
When the garments were all finished they were shipped to the farm at
Bolivar, to be ready for the fall and winter wear. In like manner the
clothes for summer use were made in winter.

       *       *       *       *       *


It was the custom in those days for slaves to carry voo-doo bags. It was
handed down from generation to generation; and, though it was one of the
superstitions of a barbarous ancestry, it was still very generally and
tenaciously held to by all classes. I carried a little bag, which I got
from an old slave who claimed that it had power to prevent any one who
carried it from being whipped. It was made of leather, and contained
roots, nuts, pins and some other things. The claim that it would prevent
the folks from whipping me so much, I found, was not sustained by my
experience--my whippings came just the same. Many of the servants were
thorough believers in it, though, and carried these bags all the time.

       *       *       *       *       *


The city of Memphis, from its high bluff on the Mississippi, overlooks
the surrounding country for a long distance. The muddy waters of the
river, when at a low stage, lap the ever crumbling banks that yearly
change, yielding to new deflections of the current. For hundreds of
miles below there is a highly interesting and rarely broken series of
forests, cane brakes and sand bars, covered with masses of willows and
poplars which, in the spring, when the floods come down, are overflowed
for many miles back. It was found necessary to run embankments
practically parallel with the current, in order to confine the waters of
the river in its channel. Memphis was and is the most important city of
Tennessee, indeed, the most important between St. Louis and New Orleans,
particularly from the commercial point of view. Cotton was the principal
product of the territory tributary to it. The street running along the
bluff was called Front Row, and was filled with stores and business
houses. This street was the principal cotton market, and here the
article which, in those days, was personified as the commercial "king,"
was bought and sold, and whence it was shipped, or stored, awaiting an
advancing price. The completion of the Memphis and Charleston railroad
was a great event in the history of the city. It was termed the marriage
of the Mississippi and the Atlantic, and was celebrated with a great
popular demonstration, people coming from the surrounding country for
many miles. Water was brought from the Atlantic ocean and poured into
the river; and water taken from the river and poured into the Atlantic
at Charleston. It was anticipated that this railroad connection between
the two cities would make of Charleston the great shipping port, and of
Memphis the principal cotton market of the southwest. The expectation in
neither of these cases has been fully realized. Boss, in common with
planters and business men throughout that whole region, was greatly
excited. I attended him and thus had the opportunity of witnessing this
notable celebration.




       *       *       *       *       *


I remember well when Abraham Lincoln was elected. Boss and the madam had
been reading the papers, when he broke out with the exclamation: "The
very idea of electing an old rail splitter to the presidency of the
United States! Well he'll never take his seat." When Lincoln was
inaugurated, Boss, old Master Jack and a great company of men met at our
house to discuss the matter, and they were wild with excitement. Was not
this excitement an admission that their confidence in their ability to
whip the Yankees, five or six to one, was not so strong as they

The war had been talked of for some time, but at last it came. When the
rebels fired upon Fort Sumter, then great excitement arose. The next day
when I drove Boss to town, he went into the store of one Williams, a
merchant, and when he came out, he stepped to the carriage, and said:
"What do you think? Old Abraham Lincoln has called for four hundred
thousand men to come to Washington immediately. Well, let them come; we
will make a breakfast of them. I can whip a half dozen Yankees with my
pocket knife." This was the chief topic everywhere. Soon after this Boss
bought himself a six shooter. I had to mould the bullets for him, and
every afternoon he would go out to practice. By his direction, I fixed a
large piece of white paper on the back fence, and in the center of it
put a large black dot. At this mark he would fire away, expecting to hit
it; but he did not succeed well. He would sometimes miss the fence
entirely, the ball going out into the woods beyond. Each time he would
shoot I would have to run down to the fence to see how near he came to
the mark. When he came very near to it--within an inch or so, he would
say laughingly: "Ah! I would have got him that time." (Meaning a Yankee
soldier.) There was something very ludicrous in this pistol practice of
a man who boasted that he could whip half a dozen Yankees with a
jackknife. Every day for a month this business, so tiresome to me, went
on. Boss was very brave until it came time for him to go to war, when
his courage oozed out, and he sent a substitute; he remaining at home as
a "home guard." One day when I came back with the papers from the city,
the house was soon ringing with cries of victory. Boss said: "Why, that
was a great battle at Bull Run. If our men had only known, at first,
what they afterwords found out, they would have wiped all the Yankees
out, and succeeded in taking Washington."

       *       *       *       *       *


Right after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, they brought to Memphis the
Union flag that floated over the fort. There was a great jubilee in
celebration of this. Portions of the flag, no larger than a half dollar
in paper money, were given out to the wealthy-people, and these
evidences of their treason were long preserved as precious treasures.
Boss had one of these pieces which he kept a long time; but, as the
rebel cause waned these reminders of its beginning were less and less
seen, and if any of them are now in existence, it is not likely that
their possessors will take any pride in exposing them to view.

As the war continued we would, now and then, hear of some slave of our
neighborhood running away to the Yankees. It was common when the
message of a Union victory came to see the slaves whispering to each
other: "We will be free." I tried to catch everything I could about the
war, I was so eager for the success of the Union cause. These things
went on until

       *       *       *       *       *


Boss came hurrying in one morning, right after breakfast, calling to me:
"Lou, Lou, come; we have a great victory! I want to go up and carry the
boys something to eat. I want you and Matilda to get something ready as
quickly as you can." A barrel of flour was rolled into the kitchen, and
my wife and I "pitched in" to work. Biscuit, bread, hoe-cake, ham,
tongue--all kinds of meat and bread were rapidly cooked; and, though the
task was a heavy one for my wife and me, we worked steadily; and, about
five o'clock in the afternoon the things were ready. One of the large
baskets used to hold cotton was packed full of these provisions. Our
limbs ached from the strain of the work, for we had little help. One
reason for the anxiety of the Boss for the preparation of this provision
for the soldiers was that he knew so many in one of the companies, which
was known as the "Como Avengers," and he had a son, a nephew and a
brother of his wife connected with it; the latter a major on Gen.
Martin's staff. On the following morning I got up early, and hurried
with my work to get through, as I had to go to the postoffice. Madam
hurried me off, as she expected a letter from her husband, who had
promised to write, at the earliest moment, of their friends and
relatives. I rushed into the city, at full speed, got some letters and a
morning paper, and, returning as rapidly as possible, gave them to her.
She grasped them eagerly, and commenced reading the paper. In a short
time I heard her calling me to come to her. I went in, and she said, in
great excitement: "Louis, we want to have you drive us into town, to see
the Yankee prisoners, who are coming through, at noon, from Shiloh." I
went and told Madison to hitch up, as soon as he could. In the meantime
I got myself ready, and it was not long before we were off for the city.
The madam was accompanied by a friend of hers, a Mrs. Oliver. We were at
the station in plenty of time. About twelve o'clock the train from
Shiloh drew into the station; but the prisoners that were reported to be
on board were missing--it proved to be a false report. While they were
looking for the prisoners, Mrs. Oliver saw Jack, a servant of Edward
McGee, brother of madam. "Oh! Look," said Mrs. Oliver, "there is
Edward's Jack. Lou, run and call him." In a minute I was off the
carriage, leaving the reins in madam's hands. Jack came up to the
carriage, and the women began to question him: "Where is your Master,
Ed," asked both of them. "He is in the car, Missis--he is shot in the
ankle," said Jack. In a minute the women were crying. "I was going to
get a hack," said Jack, "to--" "No, No!" said both of them. "Go, Lou,
and help Jack to bring him to our carriage. You can drive him more
steadily than the hackman." Jack and I went to the car, and helped him
out, and after some effort, got him into our carriage. Then I went and
got a livery hack to take the women and his baggage home. When we
reached home, we found there old Mrs. Jack McGee, mother of the madam,
Mrs. Charles Dandridge, Mrs. Farrington, sisters of madam, and Fanny, a
colored woman, Edward's housekeeper and mistress--a wife in all but
name. All of these had come to hear the news of the great battle, for
all had near relatives in it. Mrs. Jack McGee and Mrs. Dr. Charles
Dandridge had each a son in the terrible conflict.

       *       *       *       *       *


In the afternoon, when all were seated in the library reading, and I was
in the dining room, finishing up my work, I happened to look out of the
window, and saw a messenger coming up the graveled walk. I went out to
meet him. "Telegram for Mrs. McGee," he said. I took it to her; and,
reading it without a word, she passed it to the next member of the
family, and so it was passed around until all had read it except Mrs.
Dandridge. When it was handed to her, I saw, at a glance, that it
contained for her the most sorrowful tidings. As she read she became
livid, and when she had finished she covered her face with her
handkerchief, giving a great, heavy sob. By this time the whole family
was crying and screaming: "Oh! our Mack is killed." "Mars, Mack is
killed," was echoed by the servants, in tones of heart-felt sorrow, for
he was an exceptional young man. Every one loved him--both whites and
blacks. The affection of the slaves for him bordered on reverence, and
this was true not alone of his father's slaves, but of all those who
knew him. This telegram was from Boss, and announced that he would be
home the next day with the remains. Mrs. Farrington at once wrote to old
Master Jack and to Dr. Dandridge, telling them of Mack's death and to
come at once. After I mailed those letters nothing unusual happened
during the afternoon, and the house was wrapped in silence and gloom. On
the following morning I went for the mail as usual, but there was
nothing new. At noon, the remains of the much loved young man arrived at
our station, accompanied by Boss and Dr. Henry Dandridge, brother of the
father of the deceased, who was a surgeon in the rebel army. I went to
the station with another servant, to assist in bringing the body to the
house. We carried it into the back parlor, and, after all had been made
ready, we proceeded to wash and dress it. He had lain on the battlefield
two days before he was found, and his face was black as a piece of coal;
but Dr. Henry Dandridge, with his ready tact, suggested the idea of
painting it. I was there to assist in whatever way they needed me. After
the body was all dressed, and the face painted, cheeks tinted with a
rosy hue, to appear as he always did in life, the look was natural and
handsome. We were all the afternoon employed in this sad work, and it
was not until late in the evening that his father and mother came down
to view the body for the first time. I remember, as they came down the
broad stairs together, the sorrow-stricken yet calm look of those two
people. Mrs. Dandridge was very calm--her grief was too great for her to
scream as the others did when they went in. She stood and looked at her
Mack; then turning to Boss, she said: "Cousin Eddie, how brave he was!
He died for his country." Poor, sorrowing, misguided woman! It was not
for his country he died, but for the perpetuation of the cruel, the
infamous system of human slavery. All the servants were allowed to come
in and view the body. Many sad tears were shed by them. Some of the
older slaves clasped their hands, as if in mute prayer, and exclaimed,
as they passed by the coffin: "He was a lovin boy." It seems that all
his company but five or six were killed. At an early hour next morning
the funeral party started for the home in Panola, where the body of the
lamented young man, sacrificed to an unholy cause, was buried, at the
close of the same day.

Edward stayed at our house some six weeks, his ankle was so slow in
getting well. At the end of that time, he could walk with the aid of
crutches, and he took Fanny and went home.

       *       *       *       *       *


Not long after this the people were very much worked up over the
military situation. The Yankees had taken Nashville, and had begun to
bombard Fort Pillow. The officials of the Memphis and Ohio railroad
company became alarmed at the condition of things, fearing for the
safety of their stock. The officers, therefore, set about devising some
plan by which they might get the cars down on the Memphis and Jackson
road, where they imagined their property would be safe from the now
terrible Yankees. The railroad officials at once set to work to buy the
right of way through Main street, to give them the connection with the
southern road named. At first it was refused by the city authorities,
but finally the right of way was granted. When, however, the railroad
men began to lay the ties and rails, the people grew furious. Some fled
at once, for they imagined that this act of the railroad officials
indicated that the Yankees must be coming pretty near. Boss became so
excited, at this time, that he almost felt like going away too. The
family grew more and more uneasy; and it was the continual talk: "We
must get away from Memphis. The companies are already moving their
rolling stock, fearing the Yankees may come at any time and destroy
everything; we must get away," said Boss, speaking to the madam.

       *       *       *       *       *


Things continued in this way until about June, 1862. The Union troops
had taken Fort Pillow. We had heard the firing of cannon, and did not
know what it meant. One morning I was in the city after the mail, and I
learned that a transient boat had just come down the river, which had
lost a part of her wheelhouse. She was fired on from Fort Pillow,
sustaining this serious damage from the shot. This increased the
excitement among the people; and our folks became alarmed right away,
and commenced talking of moving and running the servants away from the
Yankees, to a place of safety. McGee was trying for some time to get
some one to take the house, that is, to live in and care for it until
after the war, while the family were gone. They never thought that
slavery would be abolished, and so hoped to come back again. After some
search, they found a widow, a Mrs. Hancock. She was to have full charge
of the house and continue keeping boarders, as she had been doing in
Memphis. The vaunted courage of this man seems to have early
disappeared, and his thought was chiefly devoted to getting his family
and his slaves into some obscure place, as far away as possible from the
Yankees, that were to be so easily whipped. We were about two weeks
getting ready to leave, stowing away some of the things they did not
want to move. The Boss and his family, my wife and I, and all the house
servants were to go to Panola, to his father's. The family went by rail,
but I had to drive through in a wagon.

       *       *       *       *       *


Soon after the family all reached Master Jack's, Boss took me to his own
farm in Bolivar county. This separated me for a time from my wife, for
she remained with the family. I had to look after the house, at the
farm, attend the dining room, and, between meals, sew every day, making
clothes for the hands. I could run on the machine eighteen to twenty
pairs of pants a day, but two women made the button holes and did the
basting for me, getting the goods all ready for the machine.

       *       *       *       *       *


The Yankees had made a raid through Bolivar, before I came, and the
excitement had not abated, as they were spreading themselves all through
the state. There was a Union trading boat, the Lake City, that had been
successful in exchanging her goods for cotton that came from Memphis.
She usually stopped at Helena, Fryer's Point and other small towns; but
on a trip at this time she came about fifty miles farther down the
river, to Carson's Landing, right at Boss' farm. She was loaded with all
kinds of merchandise--sugar, tobacco, liquor, etc. She had a crew of
about forty men, but they were not well prepared for a vigorous defense.
The rebel soldiers stationed in the vicinity saw her as she dropped her
anchor near the landing, and they determined to make an effort for her
capture. They put out pickets just above our farm, and allowed no one to
pass, or stop to communicate with the boat. Every one that sought to
pass was held prisoner, and every precaution taken to prevent those on
the boat from learning of the purposes of the rebels, knowing that the
boat would land in the morning, if not informed of the danger, and then
it was anticipated that they could easily make her a prize. There was a
small ferry boat behind the steamer, and as the latter dropped down
stream, and then steamed up to the landing, the former stood off for a
few moments. As the steamer touched shore, the rebels charged on her,
and captured her without a struggle. In the meantime the ferry boat,
seeing what had happened, sped away up stream, the soldiers firing at
her, but doing little damage, except the breaking of the glass in the
pilot house. The rebels, seeing that the ferry boat had escaped them,
turned their attention to the unloading of the steamer. They sent out
for help in this work, and the summons was answered by the neighbors far
and near. Wagons were brought, two of which were from our farm, and
loaded with goods, which were taken to Deer Creek, forty miles from
Carson Landing. What goods they found themselves unable to carry away
were packed in the warehouse. The steamer was then burned. McGee was
present, and the rebel captain gave him a written statement of the
affair to the effect that the residents were not responsible for it, and
that this should be a protection for them against the Union forces. The
officers and crew of the steamer to the number of forty were made
prisoners, and taken to Deer Creek, the rebel headquarters of that
region, and put in the jail there. The ferry boat that escaped went to
Helena, Arkansas, and carried the news of the affair to the Union forces

       *       *       *       *       *


I was told by Boss to take my stand on our veranda, and keep watch on
the river, and if I saw any boat coming down to let him know at once. I
kept a close watch the next morning until about eight o'clock, when I
saw a boat, but she had almost gone past our house before I discovered
her. I ran into the house and told Boss. He ordered me to get his horse
at once, which I did; and he mounted and went down to the landing as
fast as he could. Upon reaching there, he was taken prisoner by the
Union soldiers, who had just landed from the boat. All who came near
were captured. The Union soldiers went to work and transferred all the
goods which the rebels had put into the warehouse from the boat which
they had captured, then setting fire to the warehouse and the
postoffice, they pushed off yelling and shouting with glee. Among those
captured by the Union soldiers were three other rich planters besides
Boss, all of whom were taken to Helena. After they had been there about
a week, the planters offered to secure the release of the Unionists
captured on the boat which the rebels had burned at Carson Landing, and
who had been sent to the rebel jail at Deer Creek, if they were
guaranteed their own release in exchange. They offered to bear the
expense of a messenger to the rebel officer, at Deer Creek, with this
proposition. The Union officer at Helena accepted the proposition, and
the messenger was sent off. It was arranged that he should stop over at
our house, both on his way down and back. Upon his return, he stopped
over night, and the next morning proceeded on his way. When he had gone
about five miles, he saw a flat-boat at a landing, on which were people
drinking and having a merry time. He stopped, and went aboard; and, in
joining the carousal, he soon became so intoxicated that he was unable
to go on with his journey. Among those present was one Gilcrease, a
cousin of the McGees, who recognized the man as the messenger in this
important business, went to him and asked him for the letters he
carried. The fellow refusing to give them up, Gilcrease took them from
him, and at once sent to our overseer for a reliable man by whom to
forward them to the commandant at Helena. The overseer called me up
from the cabin to his room, and told me that I was to go to Helena to
carry some important papers, and to come to him for them in the morning,
and make an early start. I left him and went back to my cabin.

       *       *       *       *       *


I made up my mind that this would be a good chance for me to run away. I
got my clothes, and put them in an old pair of saddle bags--two bags
made of leather, connected with a strip of leather, and used when
traveling horseback for the same purpose as a satchel is used in
traveling in the cars. I took these bags, carried them about a half mile
up the road, and hid them in a fence corner, where I could get them in
the morning when I had started on my trip. Fryer's Point, the place to
which I was to go, was about fifty miles from the farm. I started early
in the morning, and, after I had gone twenty-five miles, I came to the
farm of William McGee, a brother of the madam, and stopped to change
horses. I found that William McGee was going, in the morning, down to
old Master Jack's; so I took one of their horses, leaving mine to use in
its place, went right to Fryer's Point, delivered the letters to a man
there to carry to Helena, and got back to William McGee's farm that
night. I made up my mind to go with William down to Panola, where madam
was, to tell her about Boss being captured. The next morning, he
started, and Gibson, his overseer and myself accompanied him. He
questioned me about the capture of Boss, what the soldiers had done,
etc., and I told him all I knew of the matter. "Well, Lou," he said,
"why did you not bring us some whisky?" "I did bring a little with me,"
I said. He laughed, saying: "Oh, well, when we come to some clear water
we will stop and have a drink." Then I said: "Mr. Smith will look for me
to-night, but he wont see me. I am going to tell the madam that Boss is
captured." "Hey, ho!" he said, "then you are running away." I replied:
"Well I know Miss Sarah don't know Boss is in prison." We traveled on,
all three of us, stopping at intervals to be refreshed. After two days,
we arrived at Panola. Our journey was a tedious one. The streams were so
swollen in places that we could hardly pass. The Tallehatchie we had to
swim, and one of the men came near losing his horse and his life. The
horses became tangled in a prep vine, as we were nearing the shore at
which we aimed, and, the current being very swift, we were carried
below the landing place; but, finally, we got safely ashore, McGee
landing, and we following. Reaching Panola, wet and weary, I conveyed to
madam the story of her husband's capture and imprisonment, a rumor of
which had already reached her.

The next morning was Christmas, and a number of the family had come to
spend it together. They had heard that McGee was captured and in prison;
but, now, as I told them every feature of the affair in detail, they
grew excited and talked wildly about it. Among those who came were Dr.
Dandridge and his wife, Blanton McGee and his wife, Tim Oliver and his
wife. All these women were daughters of old Master Jack McGee, and
sisters to the madam. Mrs. Farrington and old lady McGee were already
there. These re-unions on Christmas were a long established custom with
them, but the pleasure of this one was sadly marred by the vicissitudes
and calamities of the war. A shadow hung over all the family group. They
asked me many questions about Boss, and, of course, I related all I

After I had been there three days, they started me back with letters for
Boss. When I left it was near night, and I was to stop over at Master
Jack's farm fifteen miles away. It was expected that I would reach
Fryer's Point on the third morning, thus allowing me three days to go
sixty miles; but I could not make much headway, as the roads were so
heavy. The understanding was that I was to deliver the letters to the
same gentleman, at Fryer's, to whom I delivered the others, for
forwarding to Boss at Helena. I was then to go straight to the farm at
Boliver, and report to Smith, the overseer. But after I had got about
four miles away, I concluded that I would not go back to the farm, but
try to get to the Yankees. I knew I had disobeyed Smith by going down to
the madam's to tell her about Boss, because he told me not to go when I
spoke to him about it. And now if I went back I feared he would kill me;
for I knew there would be no escape for me from being run into the bull
ring, and that torture I could not think of enduring. I, therefore,
stopped, and, taking the bridle and saddle from the horse, hid them in
the corner of a fence in a cornfield. Then I went into the woods. The
papers which I had were in the saddlebag safe. The place where I stayed
in the daytime was in a large shuck-pen--a pen built in the field to
feed stock from, in the winter time. This pen was on Dr. Dandridge's
farm; and the second night I worked my way up near the house. Knowing
all the servants, I was watching a chance to send word to the coachman,
Alfred Dandridge, that I wanted him to tell my wife that I was not gone.
I went down to his cabin, in the quarters; and, after a short time he
came. I was badly scared, and my heart was heavy and sore; but he spoke
comfortingly to me, and I was cheered, somewhat, especially when he
promised to see Matilda, and tell her of my whereabouts. He gave me some
food, and hid me away for the night in his house. I kept close all the
next day; and, at night, when all was still, Alfred and I crept out, and
went to old Master Jack's. The distance was not great, and we soon
covered it. Alfred went in and told my wife that I was outside and
wanted to see her. She came out, and was so frightened and nervous that
she commenced sobbing and crying, and almost fainted when I told her, in
low tones, that I was going to try to get to Memphis, and that Alfred
was helping to plan a way to this end. The rebels occupied both roads
leading to Memphis, and I was puzzled to know how to reach the city
without coming in contact with them. Two days after I had talked with
my wife, the rebel troops who were camped on the Holly Springs road left
for some other point. My friend Alfred found this out, and came and told
me the encouraging news. The following night I went to old Master Jack's
and told my wife that the way now seemed clear, and that I was going at
once. I was bent on freedom, and would try for it again. I urged my wife
not to grieve, and endeavored to encourage her by saying that I would
return for her, as soon as possible, should I succeed in getting to a
land of freedom. After many tears and blessings, we parted, and I left,
Uncle Alfred going with me some three miles, as I was not acquainted
with the road. When he left me I went on alone with gloomy forebodings,
but resolved to do my best in this hazardous undertaking, whatever might
happen. The road passed over hills and through swamps, and I found the
traveling very wearisome. I had traveled some hours, and thought I was
doing well; when, about one o'clock in the night, I came up out of a
long swamp, and, reaching the top of a hill, I stopped for a moment's
rest, raising myself to an erect position from that of walking, inclined
by reason of weariness and the weight of the saddle-bags thrown across
my shoulders. The weather was bad, a heavy mist had come up, and was so
dark that I could hardly see my way. As I started on, a soldier yelled
at me from the mist: "Halt! advance and give the countersign." I stopped
immediately, almost scared out of my wits. "Come right up here," said
the soldier, "or I'll blow you into eternity." I saw at once he was a
rebel soldier. I knew not what to do. This place where I was halted was
Nelson's farm, and the house was held as headquarters for a company of
rebel soldiers, known as bushwhackers. While they belonged to the rebel
army, they were, in a measure, independent of its regulations and
discipline, kept back in the woods, ready for any depredation upon the
property of unionists--any outrage upon their persons. The soldier who
had halted me took me up to the house, and all began to question me. I
told them that I had been sent on an errand, and that I had lost my way.
The next morning I was taken about a mile away down in the swamp, over
hills and through winding paths, till at last we came to the regular
rebel camp. I was in great fear and thought my end had come. Here they
began to question me again--the captain taking the lead; but I still
stuck to my story that I had been sent on an errand, and had lost my
way. I knew that this was my only chance. They tried to make me say that
I had come from the Yankees, as they were in camp near Holly Springs.
They thought the Yankees had sent me out as a spy; but I said the same
as at first--that I had lost my way. A soldier standing by said: "Oh! we
will make you talk better than that;" and stepping back to his horse, he
took a sea-grass halter, and said: "I'll hang you." There was a law or
regulation of the rebel government directing or authorizing the hanging
of any slave caught running away; and this fellow was going to carry it
out to the letter. I talked and pleaded for my life. My feelings were
indescribable. God only knows what they were. Dr. Carter, one of the
soldiers, who knew me and the entire McGee family, spoke up and said:
"You had better let me go and tell Mr. Jack McGee about him." The
captain agreed to this, and the doctor went. The following day, Old Jack
came, and steadily refused to consent to my being hung. He said: "I know
Edmund would not have him hung-ung. He is too valuable-aluable. No, no!
we will put him in jail and feed him on bread and water--too valuable a
nigger to be hung-ung."

They tried again to make me say that I was with the Yankees. They
whipped me a while, then questioned me again. The dog-wood switches that
they used stung me terribly. They were commonly used in Mississippi for
flogging slaves--one of the refinements of the cruelty of the
institution of slavery. I refused to say anything different from what I
had said; but when they had finished whipping me I was so sore I could
hardly move. They made up their minds to put me in jail at Panola,
twenty-two miles away, to be fed on bread and water. The next day was
Sunday, and all arrangements having been made for taking me to the place
appointed for those whose crime was a too great love for personal
freedom, they started with me, passing on the way Old Master Jack's,
where they halted to let him know that his advice respecting me was to
be carried out. The old man called to my wife: "Come out and see Louis."
Some one had told her that they were going to hang me; and I shall never
forget her looks as she came out in the road to bid me good-by. One of
the soldiers was softened by her agony, and whispered to her: "Don't
cry, aunty, we are not going to hang him--we will only put him in jail."
I saw this changed my wife's looks in a minute. I said a few words to
her, and, with a prayer for God's blessing on us both, we parted, and
they moved on. After we had gone about seven miles, we met two soldiers,
who belonged to the regiment at Nelson. They said: "Hello! where you
going with that nigger?" The two men in charge of me replied: "We are
going to take him to Panola jail." "Why," said one of the soldiers,
"there is no jail there; the Yanks passed through and pulled down the
doors and windows of the jail, and let all the prisoners out." This
caused a stop; and a council of war was held in the fence corner, the
result of which was a decision to take me back to old Jack McGee's.
After we had gotten back there, they took me and gave me another
flogging to satisfy the madam. I was never so lacerated before. I could
hardly walk, so sore and weak was I. The law was given me that if ever I
was caught out in the public road again, by any soldier, I was to be
shot. Monday morning I was sent to the field to plow; and, though I was
very stiff and my flesh seemed sore to the bone, my skin drawn and
shriveled as if dead, I had, at least, to make the attempt to work. To
have said: "Master, I am too sore to work," would only have gotten me
another whipping. So I obeyed without a word.

       *       *       *       *       *


The capture of Memphis by the Union troops closed the principal cotton
market of the country, and there was, as a consequence, an immense
accumulation of the product in the hands of the farmers of that region.
They were, therefore, compelled to resort to temporary expedients for
its protection from the elements. Old Master Jack had his piled up in a
long rick, and shelters built over it. Other farmers did the same. As
cotton was almost the only source of revenue for the farmers, and as
there was now no opportunity of getting it to market, there was such a
dearth of money as had seldom, if ever, been known, and a corresponding
dearth of those necessaries of life which money was the only means of
procuring. The accumulations of our family in this product were very
great. While the rebel farmers were waiting for a time when they could
turn their stores of this valuable article into money, a proclamation
was issued by the rebel government that all the owners of cotton that
had it stored on their farms must prepare to have it burned. Hundreds of
rebel soldiers marched to every section of Mississippi that they could
reach, and applied the torch to these cotton ricks. The destruction was
enormous. This was to prevent the cotton from falling into the hands of
the Unionists. Jeff Davis said to his deluded followers that it was
better for them to destroy this property than to risk its coming into
the possession of their enemies, since that would equally impoverish
themselves, while it might result to the pecuniary advantage of those
with whom they were at war. I know that it was a terrible sight when our
cotton was burned. Hundreds of bales were consumed, and it seemed like a
wholly unnecessary destruction of property, and, therefore, unwise as a
war measure. Many were sorry that they had acquiesced in the policy, as
it cost them thousands of dollars, and made many poor. They thought that
possibly their farms might have escaped the visits of the Union
soldiers, and the property, so much needed, been saved in whole or in
part. They reasoned, and reasoned correctly, that their condition would
in no sense have been worse if their cotton had not been burned by their
own soldiers, but might have been much better in many cases, without any
real detriment to the rebel cause. The sacrifice of the property of
their own people, by the rebel authorities, was evidence of the
desperation of the condition of the rebellion, and was so regarded by
not a few at that time. Those were terrible days. One could see anxiety
written on every face among the whites. The slaves even looked worried
at times, though the war meant so much to them, as they were always
looking forward to freedom, at its close, if the Union troops were

       *       *       *       *       *


After I had been working on the farm about two months, and had
thoroughly talked the matter over with Alfred Dandridge, we planned to
make a careful and persistent effort to escape from the land of bondage.
We thought that as others, here and there, all through the neighborhood,
were going, we would make trial of it. My wife and I were at old Master
Jacks; and, after we had consulted with Alfred and Lydia, his wife, we
all concluded to go at once. Alfred had been a teamster for Dandridge
for many years, and was familiar with the road, as he had hauled cotton
into Memphis for his master for so long a time he could hardly tell when
he began. Matt Dandridge was a fellow servant, belonging to the same
man, and both had, as was not unusual, taken their master's name, or,
rather, were known by it. Matt had learned of our purpose to run away,
and concluded to join our party. So one night, when all was still, we
started. Uncle Alfred, as I always called him, was to be our leader. He
was older than any of the rest of us, and had had a good deal of
experience; we, therefore, all looked to him--in fact, we relied
entirely upon him. After we had traveled about twelve miles, we came to
a swamp, called Hicke-Halley. Here we stopped, as day was dawning, and
settled down for the day, as we could travel only in the night, lest we
should be seen and caught. We were wet--our clothes soaked through from
the heavy dew. We had to travel through corn fields, cotton patches, oat
fields and underbrush, not daring to take the main road. This is why we
were so wet. Uncle Alfred traveled wholly by the stars--they were his
guide. He knew by looking at them the four cardinal points of the
compass. Many old slaves were guided in this way when traveling in the
night, and some could tell the time of night by the position of the
stars. We stayed in Hicke-Halley all day, and in the evening, when it
was dark enough, we started on again, Uncle Alfred offering up a prayer
to God to guide us safely through. Cold Water was our next stopping
place, and here a difficulty rose before us that made us fearful. We had
nothing to wear but what we had on, and not much of that, so had small
space for carrying anything, and, therefore, had brought with us only a
little bite to eat. As we had lived on this small provision for a day,
there was now but little left for our increasing wants; and the
difficulty of securing anything from the houses without danger of
detection was almost insurmountable. But we felt encouraged as we
thought of what we were striving for, and sped on our way. But the way
was hard, for sometimes we got completely stuck in brier patches, and
had to turn and go back, in order to find a way out. Old logs and
driftwood, that had been piled up year after year, were other obstacles
in our way; and one can imagine how hard it was to make our way through
such a mass of brush and forest by the dim light of the stars as they
struggled through the dense branches of the trees. We stumbled on,
however, as best we could, each fearful, yet silently praying for
guidance and help. When within four or five miles of Cold Water, Uncle
Alfred stopped, and cautioned us not to speak above a whisper, as the
rebel troops were camped on both sides of us. We were in a swamp between
the two roads, gradually working our way through to the river, as we
could not go on either of the roads for fear of detection. At the
bridges, where these roads crossed the river, there were rebel camps,
and it was useless for us to think of crossing either. We, therefore,
worked our way carefully through the thicket that we were in until we
came within sight of the river. Then Uncle Alfred went ahead, creeping a
few steps, then stopping to see if the river was clear of soldiers. From
this point it was some two and a half miles to the bridges, each way;
and it was our idea that if we could cross here without being seen by
the soldiers, we would be all right. Uncle Alfred came back to us and
told us that he thought the way was clear. "I can not hear a sound,"
said he, "so let us go on." We followed the river down until we came to
a place where we could cross. Here we found some drift-wood--an old tree
had been blown down, nearly across the river, leaving a space of about
twenty feet. Over this natural bridge we crept to the open space which
we waded, the water being up to our knees; but we did not mind this.
There was no talking above a whisper, for fear of being heard by the
soldiers. Daylight had begun to dawn, and we felt good that we had
succeeded thus far. We went on quietly until we got entirely out of the
swamp and reached some hills. The woods were on each side of us and
still thick; so we stopped here, on the side of a hill, where the sun
shone brightly on us, expecting to rest for the day. Our clothes had
already become quite dry from the sunshine; and, so far, we felt all
right. Alfred and I had made a turn around the place, listening to see
if we could hear any noise, or see any trace of soldiers; but we
discovered no trace of them, and went back to our stopping place. I had
been asleep and some of the others were still asleep, when suddenly I
heard the yelp of blood hounds in the distance. It seemed quite far away
at first, but the sound came nearer and nearer, and then we heard men
yelling. We knew now that they were on our trail, and became so
frightened that we all leaped to our feet, and were about to run, when
Uncle Alfred said: "Stop children, let me oil you feet." He had with him
a bottle of ointment made of turpentine and onions, a preparation used
to throw hounds off a trail. All stopped; and the women, having their
feet anointed first, started off, Uncle Alfred telling them to run in
different directions. He and I were the last to start. Alfred said:
"Don't let the bushes touch you;" at the same time he ran through the
bushes with such a rattling noise one could have heard him a great
distance. He wore one of those old fashioned oil cloth coats made in
Virginia; and, as he ran, the bushes, striking against the coat, made a
noise like the beating of a tin board with sticks. The funny part of it
was that, having cautioned us to be careful about noise, he made more
than all of us. By this time the woods were resounding with the yelping
of the hounds and the cries of their masters. The hounds numbered some
fourteen. The men howled and cheered in concert with the brutes, for
they knew that they were on the right trail, and it would be but a short
time before they caught us all. I had gotten further away than any of
them. Having run about a mile, I came to a farm, and started across an
open field, hoping to reach a wood beyond, where I might conceal myself.
Before I was half way across the field, on looking back, I saw the dogs
coming over the fence, and knowing there was no chance of my getting to
the woods, I turned around, and ran back to a persimmon tree, and just
had time to run up one of the branches when the dogs came upon the
ground. I looked and saw the men, Williams the nigger-catcher, and Dr.
Henry and Charles Dandridge. As soon as Williams rode up, he told me to
come down, but I was so frightened I began to cry, yet came down
trembling. The dogs laid hold of me at once, tearing my clothes and
biting my flesh. Dr. Dandridge was just riding up, and seeing what was
happening, yelled out to Williams: "I thought your dogs didn't bite."
"Oh! well," said Williams, "he aint hurt--we've got to let 'em bite a

They took us all back to the fence where I crossed over, all the others
having been caught. Our hearts were filled with dismay. All looked as if
they were condemned to be hung. We knew not what was to be done with us.
The women were pitiful to see, crying and moaning--all courage utterly
gone. They started back with us to Old Master Jack's, at Panola, and we
stopped for the night at a small farm house. The old woman who kept it
said, tauntingly: "You niggers going to the Yankees? You all ought to be
killed." We started on the following morning, and got back home at one
o'clock in the afternoon. All of us were whipped. All the members of the
family were very angry. Old Lady Jack McGee was so enraged that she said
to my wife: "I thought you were a Christian. You'll never see your God."
She seemed to think that because Matilda had sought freedom she had
committed a great sin.

       *       *       *       *       *


Ever since the beginning of the war, and the slaves had heard that
possibly they might some time be free, they seemed unspeakably happy.
They were afraid to let the masters know that they ever thought of such
a thing, and they never dreamed of speaking about it except among
themselves. They were a happy race, poor souls! notwithstanding their
down-trodden condition. They would laugh and chat about freedom in their
cabins; and many a little rhyme about it originated among them, and was
softly sung over their work. I remember a song that Aunt Kitty, the cook
at Master Jack's, used to sing. It ran something like this:

     There'll be no more talk about Monday, by and by,
     But every day will be Sunday, by and by.

The old woman was singing, or rather humming, it one day, and old lady
McGee heard her. She was busy getting her dinner, and I suppose never
realized she was singing such an incendiary piece, when old Mrs. McGee
broke in upon her: "Don't think you are going to be free; you darkies
were made by God and ordained to wait upon us." Those passages of
Scripture which refer to master and servants were always cited to us
when we heard the Word preached; and they were interpreted as meaning
that the relation of master and slave was right and proper--that they
were rightly the masters and we the slaves.

I remember, not long after Jeff Davis had been elected president of the
Confederacy, that I happened to hear old Master Jack talking to some of
the members of the family about the war, etc. All at once the old man
broke out: "And what do you think! that rascal, Abraham Lincoln, has
called for 300,000 more men. What is Jeff Davis doin'-doin'?" He talked
on, and seemed so angry that he gave no one a chance to answer: "Jeff
Davis is a grand rascal-rascal," said he, "he ought to go into the field
himself." At first all the Southerners were jubilant over Davis; but as
they were losing so, and the Unionists gaining, they grew angry and
denounced him oftentimes in unsparing terms.

       *       *       *       *       *


During the time the Union headquarters were at Helena, a Union gun-boat
came down the river as far as Boliva, and stopped at Miles McGee's. The
soldiers made a raid through the farm, taking chickens, turkeys, meat
and everything that they could lay hands on. During this raid Miles
McGee came out of the house with a gun, and shot the commanding officer
of the party. He became alarmed over what he had done, and hid in the
cabin of one of the servants. He never came near the house. The Union
soldiers came three different times to catch him, but never succeeded.
The last time they came, he made for the canebrake, and hid himself
there until they were gone. But though he had escaped their righteous
vengeance, he became so nervous that he left his hiding place in the
canebraker, and went to Atlanta, Ga., and staid there among friends
until things became more quiet. At last wearying of this, he determined
to return to old Master Jack's, but not to his own home. Word had been
received of his coming, and great preparations were made for his
reception. After he had started on his return, he was taken ill on the
train, and was left at a small town called Jackson, where he soon died.
I drove the family to the depot upon the day of his expected arrival,
and as the train came in, the women waved their handkerchiefs; and, when
the conductor stepped off, they asked him if Mr. McGee was aboard. He
said no--"I have his remains." The scene that followed, I can not
describe--such wailing and screaming! I could not but feel sad, even
though they had treated me so meanly, causing the death of my children,
and separating me from my wife. Their grief was indeed great. The sad
news was conveyed to his mother, old Mrs. Jack McGee, at the house by an
advance messenger, and we soon followed with the body. He was the
favorite son of his mother, and her grief was very great. But for his
wanton shooting of the Union officer, he would probably not have met his
death as he did.

       *       *       *       *       *


One winter night, while I was at old Master Jack's, I was awakened by a
rumbling noise like that of heavy wagons, which continued steadily and
so long a time that I finally concluded it must be an army passing, and
such I found to be the case, upon getting up and venturing out, the
rumbling which had awakened me being caused by the passing artillery. I
was afraid to go out straight to the soldiers, but would take a few
steps at a time, then stop and listen behind a tree or the shrubbery.
All seemed quiet--there was no talking. I had listened about twenty
minutes when there seemed to be a halt at the creek, some distance from
the house. Soon afterwords I heard the command given: "Forward!" I at
once made up my mind that they were Yankee soldiers. I got on my knees
and crawled to the fence, not daring to go openly, fearing that they
might hear or see me and shoot, supposing me to be a spy. I went back
into the house and told my wife that they were Yankees who had just
passed. "Uncle George," said I, "this would be a good time for us to
go." "Oh, no," said he, "we are not quite ready." Uncle George's cabin
was where my wife and I stayed while at old Master Jack's. In the
morning I was to carry a parcel to Como, a place not far from home, to
Mr. James McGee, who was in the rebel army. It was not quite daylight
when I made ready to go on my trip, for I was anxious to find out more
about the soldiers. Going to the stable and saddling my horse, I mounted
and rode out to the big gate leading to the main road, just as day was
dawning. As I dismounted to open the gate, some soldiers were passing
and an officer sung out to me, "Hello! which way are you going." I said
"to Como, to carry this parcel of clothing to my young master in the
war." "You have a fine horse," said the officer, "I guess I will
exchange horses with you." He took my package of clothing and some
letters which I had to mail and my horse, leaving me his, which was a
very poor animal. I was badly scared at this performance, fearing that I
would be severely whipped for the loss of the horse and package. Yet how
could I help it? We knew nothing but to serve a white man, no matter
what he asked or commanded. As a matter of course, I did not go to Como,
as I had nothing to take--the officer had everything, but went back to
the cabin. I supposed that the soldiers had all passed; but in about
half an hour Aunt Kitty, on looking out of her cabin window, exclaimed:
"My God! just look at the soldiers!" The yard was covered with the blue
coats. Another venerable slave said: "My Lord! de year of jubilee am
come." During the excitement I ran to the big house, and told the madam
that the Yankees were there, and had taken my horse and every thing I
had. Old Master Jack had heard the news, but was not able to come out.
He had arisen, but, when he knew of the presence of the Yankees, he went
back to bed, calling for Kitty to get him a mush poultice. "Tell
Kitty-ity-ity to get me a mush poultice-oltice." It was customary, after
the beginning of the war, for him to take sick, and call for a poultice
to be put upon his stomach whenever he heard of the Yankees being near.
He and many like him were especially valorous only when the blue coats
were far away. The soldiers went into the dairy and drank all the milk,
helped themselves to butter, cheese, meat, bread and everything in sight
which they wanted. Nothing was said to them by the white folks, but the
slaves were glad, and whispered to each other: "Ah! we's goin' to be
free." Old Master Jack, lying on his couch would ask every little while:
"Where are they? Are they gone?" After they had all left the premises,
he said; "My God! I can't stand it. Them devils-evils are just goin'
through the country destroyin' everything." I was sent down to get Uncle
Peter for old master, and when Peter came up the old man asked: "Well,
did any of the servants go away? And, sir, them devils took Louis' horse
and the clothes he had for his young master."

       *       *       *       *       *


Right after this the McGees commenced planning to put away their
valuables, to keep them from the Union soldiers. All the servants had to
fill up their bed-ticks with fine gin cotton--the lint part--for safe
keeping. Great boxes and barrels were packed full of their best things,
and put into the cellar, under the house. It was not exactly a cellar,
but a large shallow excavation, which held a great deal. We put all the
solid silver ware, such as cake baskets, trays, spoons, forks, dishes,
etc., in boxes, and buried them under the hen house. Great packages of
the finest clothing I had to make up, and these were given in charge of
certain servants whose duty it was to run into the big house and get
them, whenever they heard that the Yankees were coming, and take them to
their cabins. This was a shrewd arrangement, for the soldiers never went
into the cabins to get anything. When the soldiers had passed, these
packages were taken back to the house. It speaks well for the honesty
and faithfulness of the slaves that such trusts could be devolved upon
them, notwithstanding all the cruelties inflicted upon them by their

       *       *       *       *       *


It was about this time, that the law or regulation of the rebel
government was promulgated, authorizing or directing the shooting or
hanging of any slave caught trying to get away to the Union army. This
barbarous law was carried out in many cases, for every little while we
would hear of some slave who was caught running away, and hung or shot.
A slave belonging to Boss, ran away, and got safely within the Union
lines; but he returned to get his sister. They both got away from the
house, but had gone only a few miles, when William McGee overtook them,
and shot the man dead. William boasted of this, but told Uncle Peter,
the foreman, that he never wanted it mentioned.

       *       *       *       *       *


Two slaves belonging to one Wallace, one of our nearest neighbors, had
tried to escape to the Union soldiers, but were caught, brought back and
hung. All of our servants were called up, told every detail of the
runaway and capture of the poor creatures and their shocking murder, and
then compelled to go and see them where they hung. I never shall forget
the horror of the scene--it was sickening. The bodies hung at the
roadside, where the execution took place, until the blue flies literally
swarmed around them, and the stench was fearful. This barbarous
spectacle was for the purpose of showing the passing slaves what would
be the fate of those caught in the attempt to escape, and to secure the
circulation of the details of the awful affair among them, throughout
all the neighborhood. It is difficult at this day for those not familiar
with the atrocities of the institution of slavery to believe that such
scenes could ever have been witnessed in this or any other civilized
land, as a result simply of a human being's effort to reach a portion of
the country, where the freedom of which it was said to be the home,
could be enjoyed without molestation. Yet such was the horrible truth in
not one case alone, but in many, as I know only too well.

       *       *       *       *       *


One day while I was waiting at dinner, some of the children from the
slave quarters came running into the house, and said to old Master Jack:
"Uncle John is going away--he is down to the creek." He had been put in
the carpenter shop, fastened in the stocks, but by some means he had
gotten the stocks off his feet, and got loose. All in the house
immediately got up and ran out. Old master told me to run and catch the
runaway. I did not like to do it, but had to obey. Old master and I ran
in pursuit, and soon overtook him. He could not run, as the stocks were
still on his arms and neck. We brought him back, and he was "staked
out"--that is, four stakes were driven into the ground, the arms tied to
two and the legs to the other two. He was then paddled with the whipping
paddle upon the bottom of his feet, by old Master Jack, until blood
blisters arose, when he took his knife and opened them. I was then sent
for salt and water, and the bruises of the suffering chattel were washed
as usual in the stinging brine.

       *       *       *       *       *


After the capture of Memphis by the Union forces, the soldiers were in
the habit of making raids into the surrounding country. These were a
source of alarm and anxiety among the people, and they were constantly
on the watch to defend their property and themselves, as best they
could. One day Dr. Charles Dandridge went over to one of our neighbors,
Mr. Bobor's, to practice shooting, and to see if he had heard anything
new about the war. It was the custom of the home-guards to meet weekly,
and practice with their fire-arms, in order to be the better prepared,
as they pretended, for any sudden incursion of the now dreaded Yankee.
Mr. Bobor had gotten a Yankee pistol from some friend, who was in the
army, and Dr. Charles wanted to see and try it. It was shown him, and
its workings explained. He took it and began shooting, and in showing
the other men how quickly he could shoot a Yankee, and mount his horse,
he accidentally shot himself under the short rib near his heart, and
fell to the ground. All the men came running to him, picked him up and
carried him into the house, immediately sending word to Mrs. Dandridge
and Master Jack McGee, his father-in-law. The boys came hurrying in, and
told us what had happened. I hitched up and drove Boss over to Mr.
Bobor's. We found the wounded man rapidly sinking; and when, a little
later, his wife came, he could not speak--only clasped her hand. He died
that night, and we carried his body to the home, which so short a time
before, he had left in health and high spirits. No casket was to be
had--everything of that kind had been consumed or shut out by the war.
Accordingly two slaves were ordered to make a coffin, which they did,
using plain boards. It was then covered with black alpaca from a dress
of the madam, and lined with the cloth from Mrs. Dandridge's opera
cloak. The regular material used for these purposes was not to be had.
By the time the coffin was ready, the body was so bloated, that it could
not be got into it. Resort was then had to a plain box, and in this the
body of another of the stricken family group was laid away. At the
suggestion of old Master Jack, the coffin, was put up in the carriage
house, for safe keeping, he saying it would do for him to be buried in.
Sorrow had come to this family with such crushing force, that their
former pride and boastful spirit had given place to utter dejection.

       *       *       *       *       *


During the war everything was scarce and dear, and substitutes were
devised for many of those things which had formerly been regarded as the
necessaries of life. Sweet potatoes were peeled, then cut in small
pieces and put out in the sun to dry. They were then used as a
substitute for coffee, when that article became so scarce, toward the
close of the war. Great quantities of this preparation were used. Okra
was another substitute for coffee. It was dried in the pod, then the
seeds shelled out, and these were dried again and prepared something as
the coffee is. This made a delicious drink when served with cream, being
very rich and pleasant to the taste. Quinine was a medicine that had
been of almost universal use in the south; yet it became so scarce that
it was sold at seven dollars a bottle, and could not often be had at
that price. Lemon leaves were used as a substitute in cases of chills
and fever. The leaves were made into a tea, and given to the patient
hot, to produce perspiration. During an attack of chills, I was treated
in this manner to some advantage. At any rate I got well, which can not
always be said of all methods of treatment.



       *       *       *       *       *


While I was absent on my last runaway trip, the Yankees had made a raid
through Panola; and our people had become greatly frightened. As soon as
they had got back with me and my fellow runaways, they assembled a gang
of slaves for the purpose of taking them to Atlanta, Ga., to get them
out of the reach of the Union soldiers. Among the slaves selected for
the transfer were myself, my wife Matilda, and the seamstress. The
others all belonged to Dr. Dandridge and Blanton McGee. Both the Drs.
Dandridge went with us to Atlanta. We traveled across the country until
we came to Demopolis, Alabama, where we found Boss camped on the bank of
the Tombigbee river with all the farm slaves from Bolivar county. This
was the first time I had seen Boss since he was captured and taken to
Helena. As my wife and I were the only ones in the gang who belonged to
Boss, we left those with whom we had come and joined his gang. We all
then went aboard a boat and were taken to the salt works, situated on
the Tombigbee, ninety miles from Mobile. These salt works belonged to
the rebel government. The first president of the works was Mr. Woolsey,
of Salem, Alabama. During Mr. Woolsey's term, the first part of 1864,
when we had been there some time, he wrote to Boss asking if he would
sell myself and wife, and offering $3,000 for both of us. Boss was
indignant at this and curtly refused. My wife acted as cook at the salt
works, in the headquarters for the president, managers and clerks. Mr.
Woolsey was delighted with her cooking; her bread and rolls, he said,
could not be surpassed.

       *       *       *       *       *


When the election of officers of the works came off in the fall, Mr.
Gallatin McGee was chosen president. Boss then hired us all, about 100
in number, to labor in these works, but he, of course, received all the
revenue. The work assigned me was that of butler at headquarters, and my
wife was cook. Both women and children, as well as men, were employed in
these works. After some months labor here, soon after Gallatin McGee
became president, Matilda and I were removed to the Montgomery
headquarters, where we remained until nearly Christmas. A few days
before that time, Boss came to Montgomery and arranged for us to meet
him in Mobile. We started at the appointed time, reached the city in the
morning, and I went directly to the hotel where he told me he would be.
I found him at once, and he informed me all about his plans for the
future, and what he expected to accomplish. He had purchased an island
in the bay, a little way from Mobile, where he had decided to establish
salt works of his own. All the brick and lumber for the buildings had
been carried there, and work upon them was to be commenced immediately
after Christmas. He intended to make a home for the family on the
island; and, as soon as he could complete the works, to remove all his
hands from the government works to his own. He was very enthusiastic
over this scheme, claiming that he would make far more money by it than
he was then receiving from hiring out his slaves. He told me that he
would remain in Mobile two or three days and would go to Panola to spend
the holidays, after which he intended to bring all the family to Mobile,
and remain there until the island was in readiness to be occupied.
There was to be a general break up of the old home, and the beginning of
a new manner of life. I stayed in his room at the hotel all the
forenoon, listening to his plans; then I went back where my wife was
stopping. As I left his room, he said: "Lou," as he always called me, "I
will see you and Matilda at the boat this evening." We went to the boat
at the appointed time and saw the Boss, but he did not come near us. As
the boat was about to put off, I looked and saw him walking up and down
the levee, apparently much excited, running his hands nervously through
his hair--a habit common to him when he was worried. He seemed greatly
distressed. The military situation troubled him, for the Union army had
conquered nearly everything; and the fact now stared him in the face
that he would soon lose his slaves. He never dreamed in the beginning of
the war that the Unionists would conquer, and that the slaves would be
freed; but now he saw that not only all his wealth in the bodies and
souls of men was slipping away from him, but that much, if not all of
the gain which these chattels had brought him was likely to "take wings
and fly away."

       *       *       *       *       *


We returned to the salt works the morning after leaving Mobile. Boss
remained two days in Mobile, and then started for Panola, the home of
his father-in-law; but, on his way, he was taken sick, having contracted
a heavy cold which ran into pneumonia, and he lasted only a short time,
dying on New Year's day. He had taken cold in bringing the slaves from
Bolivar over the river on barges. The river was overflowed about fifty
miles out, and the only way he could get the slaves across was by using
large barges made of logs. They were several days floating down in this
way, before he could get out to the railroad at Jackson, Miss., where he
transferred them to the cars. This was too much of an exposure and it
killed him.

After Boss died all the plans were changed. Col. Hunting, son-in-law of
old Master Jack, came down to the salt works and hired us all out there
for another year. This was the beginning of the year 1865. Of master's
plans concerning the island and his proposed salt works the family knew
little, for they questioned me close as to what he told me of the
matter. What he spent on the island in lumber, brick, etc., was lost, as
they knew nothing of the particulars of the expenditure. The madam
remained at her fathers, and the slaves at the works.

       *       *       *       *       *


As I was here for another year, acting as butler, I thought I would try
and see if I could not make some money for myself. I asked Mr. Brooks,
the manager of the works, if he could get me some tobacco by sending to
Mobile for it. He said he could; and on the fourth day thereafter, in
the evening, it came. I was anxious to get it the same evening, but Mr.
Brooks said: "Oh! I guess you had better wait until morning, then when
you finish your work come down to the office and get it--you will then
have more time to see the boys in the works." In the morning I was up
early, and after doing my morning work I was off to Brooks' office. When
I went in he said: "There it is under the table." The package was so
small I felt disappointed--a hundred dollars worth ought to be more,
said I to myself; but I took it, and went out among the men. I thought I
would try to sell it at five dollars a plug, and if I could not sell it
at that I would take four dollars. I must make something, for I had
borrowed the money to buy it with; and I saw that to clear anything on
it, I must at least get four dollars a plug. The money which I had
borrowed was from three fellow servants, who had been fortunate in
earning some little time and had saved their money. The first man I met
in the works bought two plugs, at five dollars each; and after I had
been there about an hour all was sold. So I went back with a light
heart. Mr. Brooks said to me at dinner: "Well, how did you get along
with your tobacco?" "I did very well," I said, "the only trouble was I
did not have enough. I sold it for $180." "Well," said he, "if you did,
you made more clear money than the works here. How much a plug did you
sell it for?" at the same time drawing out his pencil and commencing to
figure it up. "I had thirty-six plugs," said I, "and I sold them for
five dollars a plug." Nothing more was said just then, but after dinner
Brooks and two of the clerks went out on the veranda to smoke. When they
were in a good way smoking, Brooks slipped into the dining room, and
said: "Well, that was fine; you got five dollars a plug for the
tobacco?" "Oh, yes!" I said, "tobacco is scarce, and they were hungry
for it; it went like hot cakes--the price was not questioned, I sold at
once." "What is the prospect for selling more?" he asked. "Will you sell
it for half the profit if I furnish the tobacco?" I said "yes." So he
sent the same day for a box of tobacco--about five hundred plugs. When
the tobacco came the box was sawed in two and one-half sent up to my
room. I put some fellows out as agents to sell for me--Uncle Hudson, who
took care of the horses and mules at the works; John at the hospital;
William, head chopper, among the 100 men in the woods. Each brought in
from $40.00 to $50.00 every two or three days, and took another supply.
Sometimes, when I had finished my work in the afternoon, I would get an
old pony and go around through the neighborhood and sell four or five
plugs. It was a mystery to the servants how I got the tobacco; but I did
not let on that Brooks was backing me. In two weeks we had taken in
$1,600.00, and I was happy as I could be. Brooks was a fine fellow--a
northerner by birth, and did just what he said he would. I received
one-half of the money. Of course this was all rebel money, but I was
sharp, and bought up all the silver I could find. Just as we got on the
other half of the box, Brooks received word that the Yankees were
coming, and to send all the hands to their masters. I was glad that I
had made some money, knowing that I would need it if I gained my
freedom, which I now knew was quite probable, as the Union forces were
gaining ground everywhere. But the message ended my money-making, and I
prepared to go home to Panola.

       *       *       *       *       *


Mr. Brooks fixed the return papers so that my wife and I could leave the
party of slaves at Demopolis, and go on thence to Panola by rail, to
convey the news to madam that all hands were coming home; that the
Yankees were expected to capture the salt works within a short time. At
Jackson, some seven miles from the salt works, we were delayed over
night by reason of lack of facilities for crossing the Tombigbee river.
The report that the Yankees were coming through had created a panic
among the white people; and hundreds, fleeing from their homes, had
gathered at the river, waiting and clamoring for an opportunity to
cross. Though slaves were property, and valuable on that account, the
whites seemed to think that their own lives were in danger, and to be
protected first. They therefore took precedence of us. In the morning
about seven o'clock a steamer was seen coming at a distance; but it
could not be discovered at once just what the character of it was. The
whites became alarmed. Some said: "The Yankees are coming." Other said:
"It is a gun boat--they will surely fire on us." But as the boat drew
near the people saw that there was nothing to fear--it was only the
regular passenger boat. Besides the hundreds of people, there were
scores of wagons, filled with household goods to go over, and the
passage was slow and tedious. We finally got across and traveled as far
as Demopolis, where Matilda and I left the other slaves, and took a
train and went on to Panola. I delivered the papers to the madam from
Brooks, which told her all the particulars concerning the break up at
the salt works. She sent wagons right away after the other slaves who
were coming back on foot. They were not brought back to Panola; but were
hired out to different farmers along the road home--some in Jackson,
some in Granda and others in Panola town. These were all small towns in
Mississippi. My wife and I went to work at old Master Jack's, I on the
farm and my wife at her old duties in the house. We longed for freedom,
but were content for the time with hoping and praying for the coming of
the day when it should be realized. It was sad to see the changes that
had come to the white folks. Sorrow had left its impress upon all and we
felt it, notwithstanding all that we had suffered at their hands. Boss
had willed the homestead in Memphis to Mrs. Farrington, and she was
getting ready to take possession. He had borrowed a great amount of
money from her when he bought the island at Mobile; and the rapid coming
on of the end of the rebellion destroyed all prospect of the success of
his salt works scheme, even before his death, and really rendered him
bankrupt. Hence the transfer of the Memphis property to her was the only
way he could make good what he owed her. The madam now had no home, but
was compelled to stay with her father, old Master Jack. She was sadly
changed--did not appear like the same person. Her troubles and sorrows
had crushed her former cruel and haughty spirit. Her mother had died a
few months before, and then her husband had followed, dying suddenly and
away from home. Then much of her property had been lost, and social
pleasures and distinction were gone forever. Who shall say that the
wrongs done her poor, helpless slaves were not avenged in this life? The
last I knew of her she was still at her father's.

       *       *       *       *       *


A servant who belonged to Dr. Dandridge ran away and got to Memphis just
after it was captured by the Union soldiers. He was put into the army
and was stationed at one of the entrances to the city. He was to halt
all persons passing to or from the city, no difference who they were,
and learn their names and their business. Young William McGee and his
sister, Miss Cherry, one day went up to Memphis and, to their surprise,
were halted by this former servant of their uncle. When they came home
they were speaking of it to their father, and old Master Jack said: "And
you halted, did you?" "Why, yes," replied William, "we had to do it."
"Well," said the old man, "I would have died-died before I would have
done it. To think that a servant should have halted you, and one who has
belonged to the family like Anderson!" This old man, notwithstanding all
his boasting in the absence of immediate danger, was the veriest coward
when danger was present; and if he had been in the place of young
William, he would have halted with the greatest alacrity.

While at the salt works I had a little experience at nursing. A fellow
slave was taken ill, and I was called on to care for him at night. I
always liked this work; it was a pleasure to me to be in the sick room.
Typhoid fever was a new case to me, but I remembered what instructions
Boss had given me about it. I "pitched in" to do what I could; but the
fever was so great he lasted only a few days.

       *       *       *       *       *


We had remained at old Jack's until June, 1865, and had tried to be
content. The Union soldiers were still raiding all through that section.
Every day some town would be taken, and the slaves would secretly
rejoice. After we came back from Alabama we were held with a tighter
rein than ever. We were not allowed to go outside of the premises.
George Washington, a fellow servant, and Kitty, his wife, and I had
talked considerably about the Yankees, and how we might get away. We
knew it was our right to be free, for the proclamation had long been
issued--yet they still held us. I did not talk much to my wife about
going away, as she was always so afraid I would be killed, and did not
want me to try any more to escape. But George, his wife and I continued
to discuss the matter, whenever we had a chance. We knew that Memphis
was headquarters for the Union troops, but how to reach it was the
great question.

It was Sunday, and I had driven one portion of the family to church, and
George the other. The family was now very large, as the madam and her
family were there, in addition to Old Master Jack's, and all could not
go in one carriage. On the way back, young William McGee came up through
the farm, on horseback, a nearer way home from church, and encountered
several servants belonging to some of the neighbors. He asked them what
they were doing there, and if they had passes. To this last question all
answered no. "Well," said he, "never come here again without having
passes, all of you." At this they all quickly disappeared. When Old Jack
came home, Will told him what had passed; and he immediately called for
George and Uncle Peter, the foreman, and told them that no one not
belonging there was to come into the quarters without a pass; and any
servant with a pass should be brought to the house, that the pass might
be inspected. They thought, or feared, that if the servants were
permitted to come together freely they might plan ways of escape, and
communicate to each other what they knew about the war and the Yankees.
George came out, and finding me, told me what they had said. "No slave
from outside is to be allowed on the place," said he. I replied: "If we
listen to them we shall be here until Christmas comes again." "What do
you mean?" asked George. "I mean that now, today, is the time to make a
start." So, late in the afternoon, during the servants' prayer meeting,
of which I have heretofore spoken, we thought would be a good time to
get away, as no one would be likely to see us. We talked with John
Smith, another servant, and told him all about our plan, asking him not
to say a word about our being gone until he was through feeding the
stock. This would give us another hour to advance on our journey, as the
feeding usually took about that time--from six o'clock until seven. Our
fear was that we might be overtaken by the bloodhounds; and, therefore,
we wished to get as far away as possible before the white people knew we
were gone. It was Sunday afternoon, June 26th, 1865, when George and I,
having made ready for the start for the Union lines, went to bid our
wives good-bye. I told my wife to cheer up, as I was coming again to get
her. I said to Kitty, George's wife: "We are going, but look for us
again. It will not be with us as with so many others, who have gone
away, leaving their families and never returning for them. We will be
here again." She looked up at me, smiling, and with a look of
resolution, said: "I'll be ready." She was of a firm, daring nature--I
did not fear to tell her all my plans. As my wife was so timid, I said
as little as possible to her. George and I hurriedly said our farewells
to our wives. The parting was heartrending, for we knew the dangers were
great, and the chances were almost even that we should not meet again. I
could hardly leave my wife, her agitation and grief were so great. But
we were off in a few moments. We crept through the orchard, passing
through farm after farm until we struck the railroad, about seven miles
from home. We followed this road until we reached Senatobia, about half
past seven in the evening. We felt good, and, stopping all night, we
started the next morning for Hernando, Miss., another small town, and
reached there at two o'clock in the afternoon. The most of the bridges
had been burned, by the troops, and there were no regular railroad
trains. Fortunately, however, flat cars, drawn by horses were run over
the road; and on a train of this kind we took passage. On several
occasions, the passengers had to get out, and push the car over a
bridge, as it was not made so horses could cross on it, the horses
meantime being driven or led through the stream, and then hitched to the
car again. After we had gone through this process repeatedly, we at last
reached Memphis, arriving about seven o'clock Monday evening. The city
was filled with slaves, from all over the south, who cheered and gave us
a welcome. I could scarcely recognize Memphis, things were so changed.
We met numbers of our fellow servants who had run away before us, when
the war began. Tuesday and Wednesday we spent in making inquiries; and I
visited our old home at McGee's station. But how different it was from
what it had been when the McGees were there. All was changed. Thursday
we went to see Col. Walker, a Union officer, who looked after the
colored folks, and saw that they had their rights. When we reached his
office we found it so filled with people, waiting to see him, that we
were delayed about two hours, before we had an opportunity of speaking
with him. When our turn came, we went in, and told him that we were
citizens of Memphis until the fall of Fort Pillow and Donelson, when
our master had run us off, with a hundred other slaves, into
Mississippi, and thence to the salt works in Alabama. He questioned us
as to where we lived in Memphis. I answered: "What is now headquarters
of the Union forces was the home of master, Mr. Edmund McGee, who is now
dead." After a few minutes, I said: "Colonel, we want protection to go
back to Mississippi after our wives, who are still held as slaves." He
replied: "You are both free men to go and come as you please." "Why,"
said I, "Colonel, if we go back to Mississippi they will shoot the
gizzards out of us." "Well," said he, "I can not grant your request. I
would be overrun with similar applications; but I will tell you what you
can do. There are hundreds of just such men as you want, who would be
glad of such a scout." We thanked him and left.

       *       *       *       *       *


After carefully considering the matter, we concluded to go back to
Senatobia and see the captain of the Union troops there. The next day,
Friday, we hired a two horse wagon, and made preparations to start on
our perilous undertaking Saturday morning. It was our hope to find some
one at Senatobia to go with us to Panola, and protect us in the effort
to bring away our wives. So, early in the morning, we set out. Our
first stop was at Big Springs camping ground, where we made preparations
for refreshing ourselves and spending the night. Just as we had finished
building a fire, for cooking and keeping off the mosquitoes, two
soldiers came riding up to the spring. "Hello," said one, "which way are
you traveling?" "We are just from Memphis," said George. "Have you any
whisky?" asked one of them. We replied "yes." "Will you give a fellow a
horn?" We answered the question by handing them the bottle. While they
were drinking, George and I stepped aside, and, after a few moments
talk, we decided to put the question to them of going with us to get our
wives. I asked: "Where are you from?" "Senatobia," replied one. We at
once laid our cause before them, telling them what Col. Walker had said
regarding our getting some one to go with us on our enterprise. They
listened attentively, and when we had finished, one of them asked: "How
much whisky have you?" George answered: "Two bottles." "What do you
intend to do when you see the captain at Senatobia?" "Lay our complaint
before him," said I. "Now my friend," said one of the soldiers, "I am
afraid if you go to the captain you will be defeated. But I'll tell you
what I'll do. Give my comrade and me one of your bottles of whisky, and
we will put you on a straight track. The reason why I say this is that
our captain has been sweetened by the rebel farmers. He is invited out
to tea by them every evening. I know he will put you off. But I will
write a note to some comrades of mine who, I know, will bring you out
safe." We agreed at once to this proposition, and gave them the whisky.
He wrote the note, and gave it to us, telling us to go to the last tent
on the line in the camp, where we would find two boys to whom we should
give it. "They are brave," said he, "and the only two I know of that can
help you. If they are not there don't give the note to any one else, but
wait till they come back, on Tuesday night. I feel satisfied that they
will go and help you out." With these words, they rode off. George and I
felt good over our prospects.

       *       *       *       *       *


The next morning was Sunday, and we started on, reaching Senatobia about
eleven o'clock. We went into the camp, following the directions given
us, to go to the last tent in the line; but, when we reached there, the
soldiers were out. We lingered around the grounds a short time, then
went back, and found them there. We gave them the note; and, after
reading it, they simply asked us where we had stopped our wagon. I told
them outside the village. "Go there," said one of them, "and remain
until we come out to see you." Shortly they came out; and, after we had
told them what we wanted, the distance to McGee's, which was about
nineteen miles from Senatobia, and had given them such other information
as they desired, they concluded that they would go. "We want to be
back," said I, "before daylight Monday morning, because we must not be
seen on the road; for we are well known in that section, and, if
discovered, would be captured and killed." "Well," said one of the
soldiers, "we will have to go back to camp, and arrange to be excused
from roll call this evening, before we can make the trip." They went
back to camp; and, in about ten minutes they came out again saying: "All
is right; we will go." We gave them each ten dollars; and promised, if
they brought us out safely, to give each ten dollars more. It was now
about half-past eleven o'clock. They had to go to camp, and slip their
horses out cautiously, so as not to be seen by the captain. In half an
hour we were on our way; and, after we had ridden some two miles, we
were overtaken by the two soldiers. It was Sunday afternoon; and our
having a wagon attracted much attention from the farmers as we passed
along. They looked at us so sharply that George and I felt decidedly
uneasy; yet we kept up courage and pressed steadily on. After a long and
weary ride we reached old Master Jack's a little after sundown. The
soldiers rode into the yard ahead of us, and the first person they met
was a servant (Frank) at the woodpile. They said to him: "Go in and tell
your master, Mr. McGee, to come out, we want to see him," at the same
time asking for Louis' and George's wives. Young William McGee came out
and the soldiers said to him: "We want feed for seventy-five head of
horses." McGee said: "We have not got it." Just then George and I were
coming up. We drove in at the gate, through the grove, and passed the
woodpile where McGee and the soldiers were talking. McGee had just
replied: "We have not got that much feed to spare--we are almost out."
"Well," said the soldiers, "we must have it," and they followed on right
after the wagons. As we drove past them, young McGee went running into
the house, saying to his mother: "It is Louis and George, and I'll kill
one of them to-night." This raised quite an alarm, and the members of
the family told him not to do that, as it would ruin them. As soon as
George and I drove up to the first cabin, which was my wife's and
Kitty's, we ran in. Kitty met us at the door and said: "I am all ready."
She was looking for us. We commenced loading our wagon with our few
things. Meanwhile the soldiers had ridden around a few rods and came
upon old Master Jack and the minister of the parish, who were watching
as guards to keep the slaves from running away to the Yankees. Just
think of the outrage upon those poor creatures in forcibly retaining
them in slavery long after the proclamation making them free had gone
into effect beyond all question! As the soldiers rode up to the two men
they said: "Hello! what are you doing here? Why have you not told these
two men, Louis and George, that they are free men--that they can go and
come as they like?" By this time all the family were aroused, and great
excitement prevailed. The soldier's presence drew all the servants near.
George and I hurried to fill up our wagon, telling our wives to get in,
as there was no time to lose--we must go at once. In twenty minutes we
were all loaded. My wife, Aunt Kitty and nine other servants followed
the wagon. I waited for a few moments for Mary Ellen, sister of my wife;
and as she came running out of the white folks' house, she said to her
mistress, Mrs. Farrington: "Good-bye; I wish you good luck." "I wish you
all the bad luck," said she in a rage. But Mary did not stop to notice
her mistress further; and joining me, we were soon on the road following
the wagon.

       *       *       *       *       *


Those soldiers were brave indeed. Think of the courage and daring
involved in this scheme--only two soldiers going into a country of which
they knew nothing except that every white man living in it was their
enemy. The demand which they made for food for seventy-five horses was a
clever ruse, invented by them to alarm the McGees, and make them think
that there was a troop of horses near by, and that it would not be safe
for them to offer any resistance to our going away with our wives. Had
they thought that there were but two soldiers, it is certain that they
would have endeavored to prevent us getting away again, and one or more
of us would undoubtedly have been killed.

As already stated, nine other slaves followed our wagon, as it moved
off. They had no hats on; some were bare-footed,--they had not stopped
to get anything; but, as soon as they saw a chance to get away, they
went just as they were at the moment. Aunt Kitty was brave and
forethoughtful, for during the week we were gone she had baked and
cooked a large amount of substantial food that would keep us from
starving while on our journey.

At the first road crossing, the two soldiers thought they saw a large
troop of soldiers in the distance, and they galloped ahead of us at full
speed; but, on arriving at the spot, they found that what they had
thought soldiers were only a herd of cattle. They rode on to the next
crossing, we following as we conveniently could. Each poor slave was
busy with his thoughts and his prayers. Now and then one would hear a
moan or a word from some of the party. All were scared, even though the
soldiers were with us. We came to the next cross road, and passed that
safely. Our fear was that the McGees might get the neighborhood to join
them and pursue us, or send the home guards after us; but Providence
was seemingly smiling upon us at last, for no one followed or molested
us. We moved on all night, until we came to a creek, at four o'clock in
the morning of Monday. The banks of the creek were very steep, and as
the horses and wagon went down into the stream, the mattress on top of
the wagon, upon which my wife and her sister's children were sitting,
was thrown off into the water. Immediately the horses stopped, and
became balky. It was such a warm night that they did not want to move on
out of the water, and would not start, either, until they got ready. As
soon as the soldiers saw the mattress slide off with my wife and the
children, one of them plunged into the water with his horse, and, in a
minute, brought them all out. All had a good ducking--indeed it seemed
like a baptism by immersion. The drenched ones were wrapped in old
blankets; and, after an hour's delay, we were again on our way. The
soldiers said: "Now we must leave you; the time is coming when we must
be in camp for roll call. If you are not at our camp when roll call is
over, we will come back and see about you." We gave them each the second
ten dollars, as agreed upon, and just as they rode to the top of the
hill they left us. We had a clear sweep from this point, and we came
into Senatobia about nine o'clock in the forenoon. Our two soldier
friends, who had brought us out so safely, came out of camp to see us.
They cheered us, and seemed glad that they had rendered us service. We
stopped at the camp until we had dried our clothes and had some
breakfast; and, then, we made our way to Memphis.

       *       *       *       *       *


My wife and her sister were shoeless, and the latter had no hat on--she
had hurried out of the house in such excitement that she thought of
nothing but getting away. Having to walk some of the way, as all could
not ride in the wagon at the same time, we were all tired, dirty and
rest-broken, and, on the whole, a pitiful crowd to look at, as we came
into the city. One venerable old man, bent with age, whose ebony face
shone with delight, came running out into the road as we appeared,
exclaiming: "Oh! here dey come, God bless 'em! Poor chil'en! they come
fannin." We used large palm leaves to fan ourselves with, as we were so
warm. Those nine souls that followed us walked the whole distance,
arriving shortly after we did. Thousands of others, in search of the
freedom of which they had so long dreamed, flocked into the city of
refuge, some having walked hundreds of miles.

It was appropriately the 4th of July when we arrived; and, aside from
the citizens of Memphis, hundreds of colored refugees thronged the
streets. Everywhere you looked you could see soldiers. Such a day I
don't believe Memphis will ever see again--when so large and so motley a
crowd will come together. Our two soldier rescuers looked us up after we
were in Memphis, and seemed truly glad that we had attained our freedom,
and that they had been instrumental in it. Only one thing we regret, and
that is that we did not learn their names; but we were in so much
trouble, and so absorbed in the business which we had in hand--so
excited by the perils of our undertaking, that we never thought to ask
them their names, or to what regiment they belonged. Then, after we got
to Memphis, though we were most grateful for the service which they had
rendered us, we were still so excited by our new condition and
surroundings that we thought of little else, and forgot that we had no
means of establishing, at a later time, the identity of those to whom
we owed so much. Freedom, that we had so long looked for, had come at
last; and we gave praise to God, blessing the day when we met those two
heroes. It is true that we should have been free, sooner or later;
still, but for their assistance, my wife and I might never have met
again. If I could not have gone back, which I could never have done
alone, until long after, such changes might have occurred as would have
separated us for years, if not forever. Thousands were separated in this
manner--men escaping to the Union lines, hoping to make a way to return
for their families; but, failing in this, and not daring to return
alone, never saw their wives or children more. Thanks to God, we were
guided to these brave soldiers, and so escaped from so cruel a fate.

       *       *       *       *       *


In closing this account of my years of bondage, it is, perhaps, but
justice to say of my old master that he was in some respects kinder and
more humane than many other slaveholders. He fed well, and all had
enough to wear, such as it was. It is true that the material was coarse,
but it was suited to the season, and, therefore, comfortable, which
could not truthfully be said of the clothing of the slaves of other
planters. Not a few of these did not have sufficient clothes to keep
them warm in winter; nor did they have sufficient nourishing and
wholesome food. But while my master showed these virtues, similar to
those which a provident farmer would show in the care of his dumb
brutes, he lacked in that humane feeling which should have kept him from
buying and selling human beings and parting kindred--which should have
made it impossible for him to have permitted the lashing, beating and
lacerating of his slaves, much more the hiring of an irresponsible
brute, by the year, to perform this barbarous service for him. The
McGees were charitable--as they interpreted the word--were always ready
to contribute to educational and missionary funds, while denying, under
the severest penalties, all education to those most needing it, and all
true missionary effort--the spiritual enlightenment for which they were
famishing. Then our masters lacked that fervent charity, the love of
Christ in the heart, which if they had possessed they could not have
treated us as they did. They would have remembered the golden rule: "Do
unto others as ye would that men should do to you." Possessing absolute
power over the bodies and souls of their slaves, and grown rich from
their unrequited toil, they became possessed by the demon of avarice and
pride, and lost sight of the most vital of the Christly qualities.



       *       *       *       *       *


As before stated, we arrived in Memphis on the Fourth of July, 1865. My
first effort as a freeman was to get something to do to sustain myself
and wife and a babe of a few months, that was born at the salt works. I
succeeded in getting a room for us, and went to work the second day
driving a public carriage. I made enough to keep us and pay our room
rent. By our economy we managed to get on very well. I worked on, hoping
to go further north, feeling somehow that it would be better for us
there; when, one day I ran across a man who knew my wife's mother. He
said to me: "Why, your wife's mother went back up the river to
Cincinnati. I knew her well and the people to whom she belonged." This
information made us eager to take steps to find her. My wife was
naturally anxious to follow the clue thus obtained, in hopes of finding
her mother, whom she had not seen since the separation at Memphis years
before. We, therefore, concluded to go as far as Cincinnati, at any
rate, and endeavor to get some further information of mother. My wife
seemed to gather new strength in learning this news of her mother,
meager though it was. After a stay in Memphis of six weeks we went on to
Cincinnati, hopeful of meeting some, at least, of the family that,
though free, in defiance of justice, had been consigned to cruel and
hopeless bondage--bondage in violation of civil as well as moral law. We
felt it was almost impossible that we should see any one that we ever
knew; but the man had spoken so earnestly and positively regarding my
mother-in-law that we were not without hope. On arriving at Cincinnati,
our first inquiry was about her, my wife giving her name and
description; and, fortunately, we came upon a colored man who said he
knew of a woman answering to the name and description which my wife gave
of her mother, and he directed us to the house where she was stopping.
When we reached the place to which we had been directed, my wife not
only found her mother but one of her sisters. The meeting was a joyful
one to us all. No mortal who has not experienced it can imagine the
feeling of those who meet again after long years of enforced separation
and hardship and utter ignorance of one another's condition and place of
habitation. I questioned them as to when and where they had met, and how
it happened that they were now together. My mother-in-law then began the
following narrative:

"When I was sold from the Memphis trader's yard I was bought by a man
who lived not far from Memphis. I never heard of any of the children,
and knew nothing as to what had become of them. After the capture of
Memphis by the Union army, the people to whom I belonged fled from their
home, leaving their slaves; and the other slaveholders of the
neighborhood did the same. The slaves, left to themselves, at once
departed for Memphis, and I among the number. When I had been there but
a short time a call was made for nurses to go into the hospital; and,
after thinking of it for a few minutes, I concluded to answer the call,
and was speedily installed in the work. When I had been there a short
time I found, to my great surprise and delight, my eldest daughter was
also employed there. She had come to Memphis as I had, because her
master's family had fled; and, hearing the call for nurses, had entered
the service at once. I can not tell my pleasure in meeting one of my
children, for I had never expected to see any of them again. We
continued our work in the hospital until Generals Sheridan and Grant
said the city was getting too crowded with colored people--there was not
room for them; some must be removed. So, large numbers of them were sent
to Cincinnati, and my daughter and I were among them. This is why you
see us here together."

When she had finished telling this story my wife and I were shedding
tears of joy. My sister-in-law, Mary Ellen, whom Boss bought at the same
time that he bought my wife, was with us; thus the mother and three
daughters had met again most unexpectedly, and in a way almost
miraculous. This meeting again of mother and daughters, after years of
separation and many vicissitudes, was an occasion of the profoundest
joy, although all were almost wholly destitute of the necessaries of
life. This first evening we spent together can never be forgotten. I can
see the old woman now, with bowed form and gray locks, as she gave
thanks in joyful tones yet reverent manner, for such a wonderful

       *       *       *       *       *


We did not remain long in Cincinnati, as houses were so scarce we could
not get a place to stop in. My wife's mother had but one room, and we
could not stay there. We went on to Hamilton, but stayed there only two
months. I worked at whatever I could get to do--whitewashing and odd
jobs of any kind. The women managed to get washing to do, so that we got
on very well. Our aim was when we left Memphis to get to Canada, as we
regarded that as the safest place for refugees from slavery. We did not
know what might come again for our injury. So, now, as we had found some
of my wife's people, we were more eager to go; and, as I could not get
any steady work in Hamilton, we made ready to move on. We went straight
to Detroit, and crossed over the river to Windsor, Canada, arriving
there on Christmas 1865. I succeeded in getting work as a porter at the
Iron House, a hotel situated near the landing. Here my wife also was
employed, and here we remained until spring; when, as the wages were so
small in Windsor, I went over to Detroit to seek for more profitable
employment. After some effort, I succeeded in securing a situation, as
waiter, in the Biddle House, and remained there two years, when the
manager died, and it changed hands; and, much as I disliked to make a
change in my work, I found it necessary. An opportunity soon offered of
a position as sailor on the steamer Saginaw, which ran from Green Bay to
Escanaba, in connection with the railroad.

       *       *       *       *       *


While I was on this boat, one of the men who worked with me said to me,
one day: "Have you a brother, Hughes?" I said, "Yes, but I don't know
anything about him. We were sold from each other when boys." "Well,"
said he, "I used to sail with a man whose name was Billy Hughes, and he
looked just like you." I told him there were three boys of us; that we
were sold to different parties, and that I had never seen either of my
brothers since. One brother was named William, but went by the nickname
of Billy. "Has this man had his forefinger cut off," asked I. "Oh!"
replied he, "I don't know, Hughes, about that." "Well," said I, "this is
all I remember about Billy. I accidentally chopped off his forefinger
one day, when we were small boys in Virginia. This is the only thing by
which I could identify my brother William." Nothing more was said upon
the matter, and it dropped out of my mind. I did not realize how
important were the words of this man. It never occurred to me that he
held the clew that might bring us together again.

       *       *       *       *       *


When the sailing season had ended, the steamer tied up at Chicago for
the winter. Upon going ashore, I at once tried to get something else to
do, for I could not afford to be idle a day. One of the first men I met
in Chicago was my old friend and fellow-servant Thomas Bland. He was
glad to see me, and told me all about his escape to Canada, and how he
had met Will McGee, at Niagara Falls. He was working at the Sherman
House, having charge of the coat room. I told him that I had been
sailing during the summer, but that the boat was now laid up, and that I
was anxious for another job. He said he would try and see what he could
do for me. He went to the proprietor of the hotel, Mr. Rice; and, to my
surprise and delight, he was so fortunate as to secure me a position as
porter and general utility man. My family were still at Windsor, Canada;
and, when I had secured this place, I got leave of absence to make them
a visit, and went there at once. Two babies had been born only a day
before my arrival. I had hoped to be there on the interesting occasion,
but was too late. However, I was pleased to find two bright little girls
to aid in the family greeting, which was delightful after the months of
separation. My wife, her sister Mary and her two children, her mother
and the sister we found at Cincinnati were all still here living

       *       *       *       *       *


After a visit of two weeks with my family, I returned to Chicago, and
began my work at the Sherman House. I was full of energy and hope, and
resolved to put forth every effort to make a man of myself, and to earn
an honest living. I saw that I needed education, and it was one of the
bitterest remembrances of my servitude that I had been cheated out of
this inalienable right--this immeasurable blessing. I, therefore,
determined to do what was in my power to gain something of that of which
I had been cruelly defrauded. Hence I entered the night-school for
freedmen, which had been established in the city, and faithfully
attended its sessions during the months it was kept open.

       *       *       *       *       *


I worked at the Sherman House until August 1868, and, during this time,
saw many travelers and business men, and made some lasting friends among
them. Among these was Mr. Plankinton. He seemed to take a fancy to me,
and offered me a situation in the Plankinton House, soon to be opened in
Milwaukee. I readily accepted it for I was not getting a large salary,
and the position which he offered promised more. The Plankinton House
was opened in September, and I was placed in full charge of the coat
room; and, after I had been there some time, I had, in connection with
my coat room duties, charge of the bell stand. My wife had charge of the
waiter's rooms, a lodging house situated on Second street, one door from
Grand Avenue. This was a brick building that stood where the west
portion of the Plankinton now stands. The second floor was used as our
living rooms; the third and fourth floors constituted the sleeping
apartments of the hotel waiters. My wife looked after these apartments,
saw that they were clean, and had a general supervision of them.

       *       *       *       *       *


After the hotel had been running a little over a year, I saw there was
a chance for me to make something at laundry work. I was allowed to take
washing from any of the guests who desired their work done privately. In
this way I worked up quite a business. I still continued my coat room
duties, as my wife managed the laundry work. Our laundry business
increased so rapidly I deemed it best to change our quarters from Second
street to 216 Grand avenue, which seemed better suited for our purpose.
Here the business continued to grow until it reached proportions of
which we had little idea when we began it.

       *       *       *       *       *


One day while I was at the Plankinton I happened to be coming through
the hall, when whom should I meet but Col. Hunting, son-in-law of old
Master Jack McGee, of Mississippi. We came face to face, and I knew him
at once, but he only partially recognized me. He said: "I know your
face, but can not recall your name." I said: "Don't you know Louis
McGee?" He then remembered me at once. "Why," said he, "my wife, my
brother and all his family are here. There is a party of us on a
pleasure trip through the north." I soon learned that they had visited
at Waukesha springs, and had been at the hotel only a few hours, waiting
for the boat for Grand Haven. I hastened to bring my wife to see them
and got back with her just in time. They were already in the 'bus, but
waited for us. We very cordially shook hands with them. They asked me
why I had come so far north, and I replied that we kept traveling until
we found a place where we could make a good living. They wished us
success and the 'bus rolled away.

       *       *       *       *       *


While I was at the Plankinton House many of the traveling men seemingly
liked to talk with me when they came to the coat room to check their
things. I remember one day when conversing with one of these gentlemen,
he asked, all of a sudden: "Say, Hughes, have you a brother?" I
answered: "Yes, I had two, but I think they are dead. I was sold from
them when a mere lad." "Well," said he, "if you have a brother he is in
Cleveland. There is a fellow there who is chief cook at the Forest City
Hotel who looks just like you." I grew eager at these words, and put the
same question to him that I did to the man on the steamer when I was
sailing: "Has he one fore-finger cut off?" He laughed and answered:
"Well, I don't know, Hughes, about that; but I do know this: His name
is Billy and he resembles you very much. I'll tell you what I'll do,
when I go back to Cleveland on my next trip I'll look and see if that
fore-finger is off." Now that the second person had called my attention
to the fact that there was a man in Cleveland who looked very much like
me, I became deeply interested--in fact, I was so excited I could hardly
do my work. I awaited the agents return with what of patience I could
command; and, at last, one day, when I was least expecting him, I was
greeted with these words: "Hello, Hughes! I have good news for you." I
grew so excited I could hardly stand still. "Well," he said, "you told
me that you had a brother whose name was William, but called Billy for
short?" "Yes," I said. "Did your brother Billy have his fore-finger
chopped off by his brother Louis, when, as boys, they were one day
playing together?" "Yes," I replied. "Then I have found your brother,"
he said. "I have seen the man in Cleveland, and he corroborates your
story in every particular. He says that he was born in Virginia, near
Charlottesville, and was owned by one John Martin." I knew now, beyond
question, that this was my brother William. Words failed me to express
my feelings at this news. The prospect of seeing my brother, lost so
many years before, made me almost wild with joy. I thanked the agent for
the interest he had taken in me, and for the invaluable and
comprehensive information he had brought. He could hardly have done me a
greater favor, or bound me to him by a more lasting obligation.

My first step was to arrange for a leave of absence from my work, which
I found no difficulty in accomplishing, and by night I was aboard the
express going to Cleveland. My excitement did not diminish as I sped on
my journey, and the speed of the express was too slow for my eager
anticipations. Upon reaching Cleveland I went directly to the hotel
where I was told my brother was employed, and inquired at the office for
Billy Hughes. A bell boy was summoned to take me around to the
department where he was. When we met neither of us spoke for some
moments--speech is not for such occasions, but silence rather, and the
rush of thoughts. When the first flash of feeling had passed I spoke,
calling him by name, and he addressed me as brother. There seemed to be
no doubt on either side as to our true relationship, though the
features of each had long since faded forever from the memory of the
other. He took me to his house; and each of us related his story with
such feelings as few can fully appreciate. He told me that he had never
heard anything of our mother or brother. He went back to the old home in
Virginia, after the close of the rebellion, but could get no trace of

As we related our varied experiences--the hardships, the wrongs and
sorrows which we endured and at last the coming of brighter days, we
were sad, then happy. It seemed, and indeed was, wonderful that we
should have met again after so long a separation. The time allotted to
my visit with him passed most pleasantly, and all too quickly; and, as I
looked into the faces of his wife and children, I seemed to have entered
a new and broader life, and one in which the joys of social intercourse
had marvelously expanded. When I came to saying good-bye to him, so
close did I feel to him, the tie between us seemed never to have been
broken. That week, so full of new experiences and emotions can never be
erased from my memory. After many promises of the maintenance of the
social relations thus renewed, we parted, to take up again the burdens
of life, but with new inspiration and deeper feeling.

I came back to my work with renewed vigor, and I could not but rejoice
and give praise to God for the blessings that I had experienced in the
years since my bondage, and especially for this partial restoration of
the broken tie of kindred. I had long since learned to love Christ, and
my faith in him was so firmly established that I gave him praise for
each and every ray of happiness that came into my life.

       *       *       *       *       *


I continued the laundry work, in connection with that at the hotel,
until 1874. I had been in the Plankinton House then six years and a
half. The laundry business had increased to such an extent that my wife
could not manage it all alone. I, therefore, gave up my position at the
hotel, and went into the laundry work on a somewhat larger scale than
that upon which we had been conducting it. We were still doing business
at 216 Grand avenue, and there we remained until 1876; when we removed
to more commodious quarters at 713 on the avenue. But we remained there
only a few mouths, when we removed to 134 Fourth street in the rear. The
establishment here was fitted up with all modern appliances; but I was
not so successful as I anticipated. My losses were heavy; and though
the facilities for doing the work were much better than those which we
had before possessed, the location was not so accessible or inviting.
We, therefore, went back to our former location at 713 on the avenue.

       *       *       *       *       *


Not long after this, Dr. Douglas, a prominent physician of the city at
that time, was in failing health, and, wishing a nurse, I was
recommended to him for this service by a friend. I served the doctor in
this capacity every night for three months. I then went with him to
McComb, a village in southern Mississippi, which had been, in the days
of slavery, a somewhat famous resort, but which had lost its prestige,
and entered upon a general decline; the hotel and all its surroundings
presenting the appearance of general dilapidation. I remained here with
the doctor for two weeks--until they succeeded in getting another person
to care for him. I then took a run down to New Orleans.

       *       *       *       *       *


On this southern trip I had the opportunity of observing the condition
of the country through which we passed. Many of the farms seemed
neglected, the houses dilapidated, or abandoned, the fields either
uncultivated and overgrown with bushes, or the crops struggling with
grass and weeds for the mastery, and presenting but little promise of a
paying harvest. In some places the bushes and other undergrowth were
fifteen feet high, and the landscape was peculiar and by no means
inviting. I could remember the appearance of the cotton farms in slavery
days; but how changed were things I now saw! They did not look at all
like those which I had been accustomed to see. Everything was dismal and
uninviting. The entire country passed through in Mississippi looked like
a wilderness. This deterioration was the natural result of the
devastating war which had swept the country, and to the industrial
revolution which followed and to which affairs had not been adjusted.

When I arrived at New Orleans I found the levee filled with fruit.
Oranges and bananas were piled in masses like coal, and the scenes in
this portion of the city were very different from anything one sees in
the north. Among the many places of interest in the city were the
cemeteries. Owing to the low level of the ground and its saturation with
water, burials are seldom made in graves, but instead in tombs built of
brick or marble or other stone, in which are constructed cells running
back from the front and of a size and shape sufficient to admit a
coffin. Then, as soon as filled, they are sealed up. These tombs contain
from two to six or eight, or even more of these cells, and their general
appearance from the front is not unlike that of a section of mail boxes
in a postoffice. Other places of interest were the old French market,
the public squares and gardens, the old Catholic churches, and some of
the relics of slavery days in the shape of pens where slaves were
exposed for sale. One of these was in the basement of the Hotel Royal,
which would contain several hundred at once, and from which hundreds
went to a bondage bitterer than death, and from which death was the only

       *       *       *       *       *


I came back to Milwaukee with a new idea. I liked nursing--it was my
choice from childhood. Even though I had been deprived of a course of
training, I felt that I was not too old to try, at least, to learn the
art, or to add to what I already knew. Dr. Douglas gave me a splendid
recommendation, and had some cards printed, bearing my name and address.
These I distributed, and thus began the business which I have followed
steadily since that time. Dr. Marks very kindly recommended me to well
known men needing the service of a nurse, and to his professional
associates; and through this means, and through his continued kindness
and interest, I have been almost constantly engaged in this work. I am
also indebted to Drs. Fox and Spearman and other prominent physicians
for recommendations which have resulted in securing me employment which
has proved remunerative to me, and which seemed to give entire
satisfaction to the sick and their friends. This is no small part of the
compensation in the difficult, often wearing, and always delicate duties
of the nurse in the sick room. To every true man or woman it is one of
the greatest satisfactions to have the consciousness of having been
useful to his fellow beings. My duties as nurse have taken me to
different parts of the state, to Chicago, to California and to Florida;
and I have thus gained no little experience, not only in my business,
but in many other directions.

I have endeavored, in the foregoing sketch, to give a clear and correct
idea of the institution of human slavery, as I witnessed and experienced
it--its brutality, its degrading influence upon both master and slave,
and its utter incompatibility with industrial improvement and general
educational progress. Nothing has been exaggerated or set down in
malice, although in the scars which I still bear upon my person, and in
the wounds of spirit which will never wholly heal, there might be found
a seeming excuse for such a course. Whatever of kindness was shown me
during the years of my bondage, I still gratefully remember, whether it
came from white master or fellow slave; and for the recognition which
has been so generously accorded me since the badge of servitude was
removed, I am profoundly and devoutly thankful.


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