Friday, September 25, 2009

Reminiscences of Slavery

The Marietta Register, December 14, 1893

Hon. Joshua R. Giddings, who was a member of congress for many years, was an abolitionist, and whenever an opportunity offered itself to help a poor down-trodden fugitive slave he did it.  A young slave woman, apparently as white as his own daughter, was brought to his house, en route to Canada.  Mr. Giddings prevailed on her to be content at his house a few days and he would see her safely landed in Canada.  During her sojourn Mr. Giddings gave orders to have his own daughter and the slave woman dressed alike.  It was during a political campaign, when Mr. Giddings was a candidate for re-election to Congress.  He had an appointment some distance from home to make a speech.  He took his daughter and the fugitive slave with him in his carriage to the political meeting.  In those days the question at issue between the two leading parties was slavery.  At this meeting Mr. Giddings' remarks were principally on that question.  He portrayed eloquently the infamy of slavery and, said he, "there is in this audience the daughter of your representative in Congress, and there is also in this audience a fugitive slave, a young lady who has just escaped from the jaws of death and gates of hell of slavery, and there is not a person in this vast audience can tell which is the slave or which is the daughter of your member of Congress."  They were unable to tell.  He then made an application of the picture he had drawn, which was grand and to the point.  About as handsome a young woman as the writer ever saw was a fugitive slave at Middle Creek, in the year 1844, she, with others, was en route to Canada.  She in appearance was white, still, no doubt, there coursed in her veins a little African blood.

Mr. "German" Hall lived near Lowell, Ohio, when the incident I am about to relate took place.  He was very avaricious and intensely pro-slavery, and he was invariably on the alert for an opportunity to make money.  About the year 1845, five men, slaves, ran away from their owners and crossed the river to Ohio near Marietta.  Their owners offered a liberal reward, I think it was $500, for the capture and return of their slaves.  Mr. Hall was eager to get the reward; which was known by his neighbor's sons, five in number, same number as the fugitives.  They resolved they would play a trick on Mr. Hall; therefore, they blacked themselves and called at his house and inquired how far it was to Massa Gould's, a noted abolitionist, who lived about ten miles from there.  Mr. Hall, thinking they were the fugitive slaves for which the reward was offered, invited them to tarry until night and he would then take them in his wagon to Massa Gould's, to which they agreed.  He then concealed them in his barn and gave orders to his wife to make a corn "pone," as they would need something to eat before starting for Massa Gould's.  He supplied them also with fire-water, and the boys under its influence carried high sail while in the barn, waiting for night to come.  Mr. Hall engaged one of his neighbors, like himself, to assist him, with whom he agreed to divide the reward.  Night came and all got into the wagon and started, as he pretended, for Massa Gould's, but he was headed for Marietta.  They had not gone far, when they began to inquire whether or not they were going in the direction of Massa Gould's.  Mr. Hall's answer was invariably that they were on the right road to Massa Gould's.  When the boys had gone as far as they cared to go they commenced jumping out of the wagon.  All had gotten out but one little fellow, who was seized by Mr. Hall's partner, when Mr. Hall yelled (he stuttered):  "Ho-h-o-ld on to h-i-m; he-'ll pay 'spenses."  But at last he got away.  The boys made up a song to fit the case and would sing it to him, and he would cry like a child.

About the year 1830, an abolitionist, named Hall, attempted to make an abolition speech in the old brick building in West Marietta, used as a church and a school-house.  Hall arose to speak, when A. V. D. Joline, post-master of the town under President Jackson, grabbed Hall and told him that he would make a speech, when Eb. Carry put in an appearance and struck at Hall, who was trying to get out of the house, but missed his mark and struck "Billy Patterson," or rather Tom Hutchinson.  Hall got out and struck for the old ferry-boat, but he was in too much of a hurry to wait for the boat and he plunged into the river and swam or waded across to Marietta.  Whitney and Fearing, residents of West Marietta, were not abolitionists, still they believed in free speech and expressed themselves accordingly.  That fine old gentleman, Rev. John McCoy, long since numbered with the silent majority, was with Hall in the house and did all he could to protect Hall and himself against the attacks of the mob, but finally he was compelled to get out and save himself as best he could.

The severity of the winter of 1855-6 is vivid in my recollection, and well do I remember nature's infraction of the Fugitive Slave Law.  It was Sunday, Jan. 27, 1856, that Margaret Garner, a slave, with her three children, escaped from her master in Boone county, Ky., and crossed the river on the ice between Covington and Cinncinnati.  Their pursuers soon followed on horse-back, and Margaret Garner and her three children were traced to the house of a negro, named Kite.  Monday morning, a U. S. marshal and assistants went to Kite's house and asked the fugitives to surrender, but they refused, when the house was broken into and a horrible sight met their eyes.  The slave mother, Margaret Garner, rather than to go back to slavery and have her children taken back, decided she would kill them and then kill herself.  She had killed her oldest child, a girl - almost white - before the officers entered the house, and she was making an effort to kill the two others, when she was captured.  Efforts were made by the State authorities to hold her for trial on the charge of murder.  Her owner pledged himself to hold her, subject to a requisition from the Governor of Ohio to answer the charge of crime.  When she was captured she said she would go dancing to the gallows, rather than go back to slavery.  Her owner violated his promise to hold her, subject to a requisition, and sent her down the river, where all trace of her was lost.  This single rendition cost the Federal government $20,000.

"Ran away, a negro girl called Mary - has a small scar over her eyes, a good many teeth missing, the letter 'A' is branded on her cheek and forehead.  J. P. Ashford, Adams Co., Miss."

I have been credibly informed that there is an elderly woman, an ex-slave, living in Belpre, who while a slave, was branded on her neck with perhaps the initials of her infamous master's name.  She still carries the brand and will carry it until her body is decomposed in her grave.  It does not seem possible that that great statesman, that intellectual giant and brilliant orator, Daniel Webster, a man still revered on account of his great oratory and statesmanship, spoke the following language when he had decided to vote for the infamous Fugitive Slave bill of 1850:  "I desire to call the attention of all sober-minded men at the North, of all conscientious men, of all men who are not carried away by some fanatical idea of false impression, to their constitutional obligations.  I put it to all the sober and sound minds at the North as a question of morals and a question of conscience, etc."  It is a clear case that he was on the side of the blood hounds, instead of the poor, panting fugitive slave.  Every "conservative" clergyman and politician in this broad land took precisely the same position on this question as Webster - that is, we should do "with alacrity" whatever we could toward securing the return of fugitive slaves to their masters.


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