DISAFFECTION IN KENTUCKY

The freshening breeze, tempered with the keen chill of the coming
winter, made a lively music through the woods, as, floating along, it
toyed with the fallen leaves that lay dried and sere upon the earth.
There stood the giant trees, rearing their bald and lofty heads to the
heavens, whilst at their feet was spread their splendid summer livery.
Like the philosophers of old, in their calm serenity they looked away
from earth and its troubles to the “bright above.”

I wandered on, with a quick step, in the direction of the doctor’s. The
recent painful events were not calculated to color my thoughts very
pleasingly; yet I had taught myself to live so entirely _within_, to be
so little affected by what was _without_, that I could be happy in
imagination, notwithstanding what was going on in the external world.
‘Tis well that the negro is of an imaginative cast. Suppose he were by
nature strongly practical and matter-of-fact; life could not endure with
him. His dreaminess, his fancy, makes him happy in spite of the dreary
reality which surrounds him. The poor slave, with not a sixpence in his
pocket, dreams of the time when he shall be able to buy himself, and
revels in this most delightful Utopia.

I had walked on for some distance, without meeting any object of special
interest, when, passing through a large “_deadening_,” I was surprised
to see a gentleman seated upon a fragment of what had once been a noble
tree. He was engaged at that occupation which is commonly considered to
denote want of thought, viz., _whittling a stick_.

I stopped suddenly, and looked at him very eagerly, for now, with the
broad day-light streaming over him, I recognized the one whom I had
watched in the dubious moonbeams! This was Mr. Robert Worth, the man who
held those dangerous Abolition principles–the fanatic, who was rash
enough to express, south of Mason and Dixon’s line, the opinion that
negroes are human beings and entitled to consideration. Here now he was,
and I could look at him. How I longed to speak to him, to talk with him,
hear him tell all his generous views; to ask questions as to those free
Africans at the North who had achieved name and fame, and learn more of
the distinguished orator, Frederick Douglass! So great was my desire,
that I was almost ready to break through restraint, and, forgetful of my
own position, fling myself at his feet, and beg him to comfort me. Then
came the memory of Miss Bradly’s treachery, and I sheathed my heart.
“No, no, I will not again trust to white people. They have no sympathy
with us, our natures are too simple for their cunning;” and, reflecting
thus, I walked on, yet I felt as if I could not pass him. He had spoken
so nobly in behalf of the slave, had uttered such lofty sentiments, that
my whole soul bowed down to him in worship. I longed to pay homage to
him. There is a principle in the slave’s nature to reverence, to look
upward; hence, he makes the most devout Christian, and were it not for
this same spirit, he would be but a poor servant.

So it was with difficulty I could let pass this opportunity of speaking
with one whom I held in such veneration; but I governed myself and went
on. All the distance I was pondering upon what I had heard in relation
to those of my brethren who had found an asylum in the North. Oh, once
there, I could achieve so much! I felt, within myself, a latent power,
that, under more fortunate circumstances, might be turned to advantage.
When I reached Doctor Mandy’s residence I found that he had gone out to
visit a patient. His wife came out to see me, and asked,

“Who is sick at Mr. Peterkin’s?”

I told her, “Aunt Polly, the cook.”

“Is much the matter?”

“Yes, Madam; young master thinks she has lost her reason.”

“Lost her reason!” exclaimed Mrs. Mandy.

“Yes, Madam; she doesn’t seem to know any of us, and evidently wanders
in her thoughts.” I could not repress the evidence of emotion when I
remembered how kind to me the old creature had been, nay, that for me
she had received the blow which had deprived her of reason.

“Poor girl, don’t cry,” said Mrs. Mandy. This lady was of a warm, good
heart, and was naturally touched at the sight of human suffering; she
was one of that quiet sort of beings who feel a great deal and say but
little. Fearful of giving offence, she usually kept silence, lest the
open expression of her sympathy should defeat the purpose. A weak,
though a good person, she now felt annoyed because she had been beguiled
into even pity for a servant. She did not believe in slavery, yet she
dared not speak against the “peculiar institution” of the South. It
would injure the doctor’s practice, a matter about which she must be
careful.

I knew my place too well to say much; therefore I observed a respectful
silence.

“Now, Ann, you had better hurry home. I expect there is great excitement
at your house, and the ladies will need your services to-day,
particularly; to remain out too long might excite suspicion, and be of
no service to you.”

My looks plainly showed how entire was my acquiescence. She must have
known this, and then, as if self-interest suggested it, she said,

“You have a good home, Ann, I hope you will never do as Lindy has done.
Homes like yours are rare, and should be appreciated. Where will you
ever again find such kind mistresses and such a good master?”

“Homes such as mine are rare!” I would that they were; but, alas! they
are too common, as many farms in Kentucky can show! Oh, what a terrible
institution this one must be, which originates and involves so many
crimes! Now, here was a kind, honest-hearted woman, who felt assured of
the criminality of slavery; yet, as it is recognized and approved by
law, she could not, save at the risk of social position, pecuniary loss
and private inconvenience, even express an opinion against it. I was the
oppressed slave of one of her wealthy neighbors; she dared not offer me
even a word of pity, but needs must outrage all my nature by telling me
that I had a “good home, kind mistresses and a good master!” Oh, bitter
mockery of torn and lacerated feelings! My blood curdled as I listened.
How much I longed to fling aside the servility at which my whole soul
revolted, and tell her, with a proud voice, how poorly I thought she
supported the dignity of a true womanhood, when thus, for the poor
reward of gold, she could smile at, and even encourage, a system which
is at war with the best interest of human nature; which aims a deadly
blow at the very machinery of society; aye, attacks the noble and
venerable institution of marriage, and breaks asunder ties which God has
commanded us to reverence! This is the policy of that institution, which
Southern people swear they will support even with their life-blood! I
have ransacked my brain to find out a clue to the wondrous infatuation.
I have known, during the years of my servitude, men who had invested
more than half of their wealth in slaves; and he is generally accounted
the greatest gentleman, who owns the most negroes. Now, there is a
reason for the Louisiana or Mississippi planter’s investing largely in
this sort of property; but why the Kentucky farmer should wish to own
slaves, is a mystery: surely it cannot be for the petty ambition of
holding human beings in bondage, lording it over immortal souls! Oh,
perverse and strange human nature! Thoughts like these, with a
lightning-like power, drove through my brain and influenced my mind
against Mrs. Mandy, who, I doubt not, was, at heart, a kind,
well-meaning woman. How can the slave be a philanthropist?

Without saying anything whereby my safety could be imperilled, I left
Mrs. Mandy’s residence. When I had walked about a hundred yards from
the house, I turned and looked back, and was surprised to see her
looking after me. “Oh, white woman,” I inwardly exclaimed, “nursed in
luxury, reared in the lap of bounty, with friends, home and kindred,
that mortal power cannot tear you from, how can _you_ pity the poor,
oppressed slave, who has no liberty, no right, no father, no brother, or
friend, only as the white man chooses he shall have!” Who could expect
these children of wealth, fostered by prosperity, and protected by the
law, to feel for the ignorant negro, who through ages and generations
has been crushed and kept in ignorance? We are told to love our masters!
Why should we? Are we dogs to lick the hand that strikes us? Or are we
men and women with never-dying souls–men and women unprotected in the
very land they have toiled to beautify and adorn! Oh, little, little do
ye know, my proud, free brothers and sisters in the North, of all the
misery we endure, or of the throes of soul that we have! The humblest of
us feel that we are deprived of something that we are entitled to by the
law of God and nature.

I rambled on through the woods, wrapped in the shadows of gloom and
misanthropy. “Why,” I asked myself, “can’t I be a hog or dog to come at
the call of my owner? Would it not be better for me if I could repress
all the lofty emotions and generous impulses of my soul, and become a
spiritless thing? I would swap natures with the lowest insect, the
basest serpent that crawls upon the earth. Oh, that I could quench this
thirsty spirit, satisfy this hungry heart, that craveth so madly the
food and drink of knowledge! Is it right to conquer the spirit, which
God has given us? Is it best for a high-souled being to sit supinely
down and bear the vile trammels of an unnatural and immoral bondage? Are
these aspirings sent us from above? Are they wings lent the spirit from
an angel? Or must they be clipped and crushed as belonging to the evil
spirit?” As I walked on, in this state of mind, I neared the spot where
I had beheld the interesting stranger.

To my surprise and joy I found him still there, occupied as before, in
whittling, perhaps the same stick. You, my free friends, who, from the
fortunate accident of birth, are entitled to the heritage of liberty,
can but poorly understand how very humble and degraded American slavery
makes the victim. Now, though I knew this man possessed the very
information for which I so longed, I dared not presume to address him on
a subject even of such vital import. I dare say, and indeed after-times
proved, this young apostle of reform would have applauded as heroism
what then seemed to me as audacity.

With many a lingering look toward him, I pursued the “noiseless tenor of
my way.”

Upon my arrival home I found that the doctor, lured by curiosity, and
not by business, had called. The news of Lindy’s flight had reached him
in many garbled and exaggerated forms; so he had come to assure himself
of the truth. Of course, with all a Southern patriot’s ire, he
pronounced Lindy’s conduct an atrocious crime, for which she should
answer with life, or that far worse penalty (as some thought),
banishment “down the river.” Thought I not strangely, severely, of those
persons, the doctor and the ladies, as they sat there, luxuriating over
a bottle of wine, denouncing vengeance against a poor, forlorn girl, who
was trying to achieve her liberty;–heroically contending for that on
which Americans pride themselves? Had she been a Hungarian or an Irish
maid, seeking an asylum from the tyranny of a King, she would have been
applauded as one whose name was worthy to be enrolled in the litany of
heroes; but she was a poor, ignorant African, with a sooty face, and
because of this all sympathy was denied her, and she was pronounced
nothing but a “runaway negro,” who deserved a terrible punishment; and
the hand outstretched to relieve her, would have been called guilty of
treason. Oh, wise and boastful Americans, see ye no oppression in all
this, or do ye exult in that odious spot, which will blacken the fairest
page of your history “to the last syllable of recorded time”? Does not a
blush stain your cheeks when you make vaunting speeches about the
character of your government? Ye cannot, I know ye cannot, be easy in
your consciences; I know that a secret, unspoken trouble gnaws like a
canker in your breasts! Many of you veil your eyes, and grope through
the darkness of this domestic oppression; you will not listen to the
cries of the helpless, but sit supinely down and argue upon the “right”
of the thing. There were kind and tender-hearted Jews, who felt that the
crucifixion of the Messiah was a fearful crime, yet fear sealed their
lips. And are there not now time-serving men, who are worthy and capable
of better things, but from motives of policy will offer no word against
this barbarous system of slavery? Oh, show me the men, like that little
handful at the North, who are willing to forfeit everything for the
maintenance of human justice and mercy. Blessed apostles, near to the
mount of God! your lips have been touched with the flame of a new
Pentecost, and ye speak as never men spake before! Who that listens to
the words of Parker, Sumner, and Seward, can believe them other than
inspired? Theirs is no ordinary gift of speech; it burns and blazes with
a mighty power! Cold must be the ear that hears them unmoved; and hard
the heart that throbs not in unison with their noble and earnest
expressions! Often have I paused in this little book, to render a feeble
tribute to these great reformers. It may be thought out of place, yet I
cannot repress the desire to speak my voluntary gratitude, and, in the
name of all my scattered race, thank them for the noble efforts they
have made in our behalf!

All the malignity of my nature was aroused against Miss Bradly, when I
heard her voice loudest in denunciation against Lindy.

As I was passing through the room, I could catch fragments of
conversation anything but pleasing to the ear of a slave; but I had to
listen in meekness, letting not even a working muscle betray my dissent.
They were orthodox, and would not tolerate even from an equal a word
contrary to their views.

I did not venture to ask the doctor what he thought of Aunt Polly, for
that would have been called impudent familiarity, punishable with
whipping at the “post;” but when I met young master in the entry, I
learned from him that the case was one of hopeless insanity.
Blood-letting, &c., had been resorted to, but with no effect. The doctor
gave it as his opinion that the case was “without remedy.” Not knowing
that young master differed from his father and sisters, the doctor had,
in his jocose and unfeeling way, suggested that it was not much
difference; the old thing was of but little value; she was old and
worn-out. To all this young master made no other reply than a fixed look
from his meek eyes–a look which the doctor could not understand; for
the idea of sympathy with or pity for a slave would have struck him as
being a thing existing only in the bosom of a fanatical abolitionist,
whose conviction would not permit him to cross the line of Mason and
Dixon. Ah! little knew he (the coarse doctor) what a large heart full of
human charities had grown within; nay, was indigenous to this
south-western latitude. I believe, yes have reason to know, that the
pure sentiment of abolition is one that is near and dear to the heart of
many a Kentuckian; even those who are themselves the hereditary holders
of slaves are, in many instances, the most opposed to the system. This
sentiment is, perhaps, more largely developed in, and more openly
expressed by, the females of the State; and this is accounted for from
the fact that to be suspected of abolition tendencies is at once the
plague-mark whereby a man is ever after considered unfit for public
trust or political honor. It is the great question, the strong
conservative element of society. To some extent it likewise taboos, in
social circles, the woman who openly expresses such sentiments; though
as she has no popular interests to stake, in many cases her voice will
be on the side of right, not might.

In later years I remember to have overheard a colloquy between a lady
and gentleman (both slaveholders) in Kentucky. The gentleman had vast
possessions, about one-third of which consisted of slaves. The lady’s
entire wealth was in six negroes, some of them under the age of ten.
They were hired out at the highest market prices, and by the proceeds
she was supported. She had been raised in a strongly conservative
community; nay, her own family were (to use a Kentuckyism) the “pick
and choose” of the pro-slavery party. Some of them had been considered
the able vindicators of the “system;” yet she, despite the force of
education and the influence of domestic training, had broken away from
old trammels and leash-strings, and was, both in thought and expression,
a bold, ingrain abolitionist. She defied the lions in their chosen dens.
On the occasion of this conversation, I heard her say that she could not
remain happy whilst she detained in bondage those creatures who could
claim, under the Constitution, alike with her, their freedom; and so
soon as she attained her majority, she intended to liberate them. “But,”
said she–and I shall never forget the mournful look of her dark
eye–“the statute of the State will not allow them to remain here ten
days after liberation; and one of these men has a wife (to whom he is
much attached), who is a slave to a master that will neither free her
nor sell her. Now, this poor captive husband would rather remain in
slavery to me, than be parted from his wife; and here is the point upon
which I always stand. I wish to be humane and just to him; and yet rid
myself from the horrid crime to which, from the accident of inheritance,
I have become accessory.” The gentleman, who seemed touched by the
heroism of the girl, was beguiled into a candid acknowledgment of his
own sentiments; and freely declared to her that, if it were not for his
political aspirations, he would openly free every slave he owned, and
relieve his conscience from the weight of the “perilous stuff” that so
oppressed it. “But,” said he, “were I to do it in Kentucky, I should be
politically dead. It would, besides, strike a blow at my legal practice,
and then what could I do? ‘Othello’s occupation would be gone.’ Of what
avail, then, would be my ‘quiddits, quillets; my cases, tenures and my
tricks?’ I, who am high in political favor, should live to read my
shame. I, who now ‘tower in my pride of place, should, by some mousing
owl, be hawked at and killed.’ No, I must burden my conscience yet a
little longer.”

The lady, with all a young girl’s naïve and beautiful enthusiasm,
besought him to disregard popular praise and worldly distinction. “Seek
first,” said she, “the kingdom of heaven, and all things else shall be
given you;” but the gentleman had grown hard in this world’s devious
wiles. He preferred throwing off his allegiance to Providence, and,
single-handed and alone, making his fate. Talk to me of your thrifty
men, your popular characters, and I instantly know that you mean a
cringing, parasitical server of the populace; one who sinks soul, spirit
and manly independence for the mere garments that cover his perishable
body, and to whom the empty plaudits of the unthinking crowd are better
music than the thankful prayer of suffering humanity. Let such an one, I
say, have his full measure of the “clapping of hands,” let him hear it
all the while; for he cannot see the frown that darkens the brow of the
guardian angel, who, with a sigh, records his guilt. Go on, thou worldly
Pharisee, but the day _will come_, when the lowly shall be exalted.
Trust and wait we longer. Oh, ye who “know the right, and yet the wrong
pursue,” a fearful reckoning will be yours.

But young master was not of this sort; I felt that his lips were closed
from other and higher motives. If it had been of any avail, no matter
what the cost to himself, he would have spoken. His soul knew but one
sentiment, and that was “love to God and good will to men on earth.” And
now, as he entered the room where the doctor and the ladies were seated,
and listened to their heartless conversation, he planted himself firmly
in their midst, saying:

“Sisters, the time has come when I _must_ speak. Patiently have I lived
beneath this my father’s roof, and witnessed, without uttering one word,
scenes at which my whole soul revolted; I have heard that which has
driven me from your side. On my bare knees, in the gloom of the forest,
I have besought God to soften your hearts. I have asked that the dew of
mercy might descend upon the hoary head of my father, and that womanly
gentleness might visit your obdurate hearts. I have felt that I could
give my life up a sacrifice to obtain this; but my unworthy prayers have
not yet been answered. In vain, in vain, I have hoped to see a change
in you. Are you women or fiends? How can you persecute, to the death,
poor, ignorant creatures, whose only fault is a black skin? How can you
inhumanly beat those who have no protectors but you? Reverse the case,
and take upon yourselves their condition; how would you act? Could you
bear silently the constant “wear and tear” of body, the perpetual
imprisonment of the soul? Could you surrender yourselves entirely to the
keeping of another, and that other your primal foe–one who for ages has
had his arm uplifted against your race? Suppose you every day witnessed
a board groaning with luxuries (the result of your labor) devoured by
your persecutors, whilst you barely got the crumbs; your owners dressed
in purple and fine linen, whilst you wore the coarsest material, though
all their luxury was the product of your exertion; what think you would
be right for you to do? Or suppose I, whilst lingering at the little
spring, should be stolen off, gagged and taken to Algiers, kept there in
servitude, compelled to the most drudging labor; poorly clad and
scantily fed whilst my master lived like a prince; kept in constant
terror of the lash; punished severely for every venial offence, and my
poor heart more lacerated than my body;–what would you think of me, if
a man were to tell me that, with his assistance, I could make my escape
to a land of liberty, where my rights would be recognized, and my person
safe from violence; I say what would you think, if I were to decline,
and to say I preferred to remain with the Algerines?” He paused, but
none replied. With eyes wonderingly fixed upon him, the group remained
silent.

“You are silent all,” he continued, “for conviction, like a swift arrow,
has struck your souls. Oh, God!” and he raised his eyes upward, “out of
the mouths of babes and sucklings let wisdom, holiness and truth
proceed. Touch their flinty hearts, and let the spark of grace be
emitted! Oh, sisters, know ye not that this Algerine captivity that I
have painted, is but a poor picture of the daily martyrdom which our
slaves endure? Look on that old woman, who, by a brutal blow from our
father, has been deprived of her reason. Look at that little haggard
orphan, Amy, who is the kicked football of you all. Look at the poor men
whom we have brutalized and degraded. Think of Lindy, driven by frenzy
to brave the passage to an unknown country rather than longer endure
what we have put upon her. Gaze, till your eyes are bleared, upon that
whipping-post, which rises upon our plantation; it is wet, even now,
with the blood that has gushed from innocent flesh. Look at the ill-fed,
ill-clothed creatures that live among us; and think they have immortal
souls, which we have tried to put out. Oh, ponder well upon these
things, and let this poor, wretched girl, who has sallied forth, let her
go, I say, to whatever land she wishes, and strive to forget the horrors
that haunted her here.”

Again he paused, but none of them durst reply. Inspired by their
silence, he went on:

“And from you, Miss Bradly, I had expected better things. You were
reared in a State where the brutality of the slave system is not
tolerated. Your early education, your home influences, were all against
it. Why and how can your womanly heart turn away from its true
instincts? Is it for you, a Northerner and a woman, to put up your voice
in defence of slavery? Oh, shame! triple-dyed shame, should stain your
cheeks! Well may my sisters argue for slavery, when you, their teacher,
aid and abet them. Could you not have instilled better things into their
minds? I know full well that your heart and mind are against slavery;
but for the ease of living in our midst, enjoying our bounty, and
receiving our money, you will silence your soul and forfeit your
principles. Yea, for a salary, you will pander to this horrid crime.
Judas, for thirty pieces of silver, sold the Redeemer of the world; but
what remorse followed the dastard act! You will yet live to curse the
hour of your infamy. You might have done good. Upon the waxen minds of
these girls you might have written noble things, but you would not.”

I watched Miss Bradly closely whilst he was speaking. She turned white
as a sheet. Her countenance bespoke the convicted woman. Not an eye
rested upon her but read the truth. Starting up at length from her
chair, Miss Jane shouted out, in a theatrical way,

“Treason! treason in our own household, and from one of our own number!
And so, Mr. John, you are the abolitionist that has sown dissension and
discontent among our domestics. We have thought you simple; but I
discover, sir, you are more knave than fool. Father shall know of this,
and take steps to arrest this treason.”

“As you please, sister Jane; you can make what report you please, only
speak the truth.”

At this she flew toward him, and, catching him by the collar, slapped
his cheeks severely.

“Right well done,” said a clear, manly voice; and, looking up, I saw Mr.
Worth standing in the open door. “I have been knocking,” said he, “for
full five minutes; but I am not surprised that you did not hear me, for
the strong speech to which I have listened had force enough to overpower
the sound of a thunder-storm.”

Miss Jane recoiled a few steps, and the deepest crimson dyed her cheeks.
She made great pretensions to refinement, and could not bear, now, that
a gentleman (even though an abolitionist) should see her striking her
brother. Miss Tildy assumed the look of injured innocence, and smilingly
invited Mr. Worth to take a seat.

“Do not be annoyed by what you have seen. Jane is not passionate; but
the boy was rude to her, and deserved a reproof.”

Without making a reply, but, with his eye fixed on young master, Mr.
Worth took the offered seat. Miss Bradly, with her face buried in her
hands, moved not; and the doctor sat playing with his half-filled glass
of wine; but young master remained standing, his eye flashing strangely,
and a bright crimson spot glowing on either cheek. He seemed to take no
note of the entrance of Mr. Worth, or in fact any of the group. There he
stood, with his golden locks falling over his white brow; and calm
serenity resting like a sunbeam on his face. Very majestic and imposing
was that youthful presence. High determination and everlasting truth
were written upon his face. With one look and a murmured “Father forgive
them, for they know not what they do,” he turned away.

“Stop, stop, my brave boy,” cried Mr. Worth, “stop, and let me look upon
you. Had the South but one voice, and that one yours, this country would
soon be clear of its great dishonor.”

To this young master made no spoken reply; but the clear smile that lit
his countenance expressed his thanks; and seeing that Mr. Worth was
resolved to detain him, he said,

“Let me go, good sir, for now I feel that I need the woods,” and soon
his figure was gliding along his well-beloved path, in the direction of
the spring. Who shall say that solitary communing with Nature unfits the
soul for active life? True, indeed, it does unfit it for baseness,
sordid dealings, and low detraction, by lifting it from its low
condition, and sending it out in a broad excursiveness.

Here, in the case of young master, was a sweet and glowing flower that
had blossomed in the wilds, and been nursed by nature only. The country
air had fanned into bloom the bud of virtue and the beauty of highest
truth.

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