Child, Lydia Maria. "The Stars and Stripes: A Melo-Drama." The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings. Ed. Glynis Carr. Online. Internet. Posted: Fall 1997. http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/gcarr/19cUSWW/LB/S&S.html.
[A planter's house, with negro huts in the rear of it. The Fourth of July. On the open lawn, under the shadow of a group of trees, is a picnic table spread with fruit, flowers, decanters of wine, &c. Near by, is an arch made of evergreens, with the word LIBERTY interwoven with flowers. A group of Carolinians, at the table, are singing a verse of "Adams and Liberty." At the close of the verse, they rise, touch glasses, and swinging them triumphantly, sing, "Ne'er shall the sons of Columbia be slaves!"
[While they are singing, the American Flag is brought in by two negroes, attended by a vulgar-looking overseer, somewhat intoxicated. On the top of the flag-staff is a Liberty Cap, which falls, accidentally, while they are attempting to plant the pole in the ground. William, a genteel-looking light mulatto, the personal attendant of Mr. Masters, picks it up, and, excited by the general exhilaration, he claps it on his head, with a smile. The overseer snatches it off, and gives him a box on the ear.]
Overseer. Take that, you black rascal!
[William turns upon him quickly, half raises his hand in anger, then lowers it, and walks sullenly away. ]
Overseer. Strike me, will you? You'd better try striking a white man, and see what you'll git by it.
There, take another, you damned nig!
[He strikes him again. William's breast swells, and his eyes flash, but he remains motionless. A youth at the picnic table exclaims: ]
Served him right! Damn his impudence! That'll teach him to remember the difference between masters and niggers.
[While this by-scene has been going on, the flag-staff has been firmly fixed in the ground, and the American Flag surmounted by the Liberty Cap, is floating in the breeze. The gentlemen wave their handkerchiefs toward it, hurra, and sing: ]
"'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!"
Mr. Masters. A pleasant scene this, eh?
Mr. North. I never spent a happier Fourth of July; and I consider it a great piece of good luck that I happen to be in this beautiful part of the country, to witness such a celebration. How I pity the poor, oppressed people in Europe, who have no idea what liberty is!
Masters. Their situation is, indeed, pitiable. If they happen to get any ideas of freedom, by visiting our happy country, and seeing the working of our free and equal institutions, they are obliged to conceal their thoughts when they get home; otherwise, they would soon be silenced by some king, emperor, or pope. The British tried that game with us; but they found it was no go. You like the South, do you, sir?
North. I consider it the best and most favored portion of the country, sir. But it's none too good for the true gentlemen and true democrats, that govern it. Here's none of the cursed aristocracy there is in Boston. I've traded round in New England these ten years, and no rich gentleman ever invited me to his house. Here, I find one man's as good as another.
Masters. "And a damned sight better," as the Irishman said. By the way, that Irish patriot, Mitchell, is a fine, sensible fellow, and a first rate democrat.
North. So he is, sir. No sentimental twaddle about him. I am of his opinion. There's nothing I should like better than a well-stocked plantation, myself.
Masters, [slapping him heartily on the shoulder.] Perhaps you will have it some day. So you don't believe what the Abolitionists tell about us? Eh?
North. Don't I see for myself, that their stories are a cursed pack of lies? I am free to say that I never set eyes on a happier set of fellows than your slaves.
Masters. We always call 'em boys, sir. We never say slaves. I feed my boys well, and clothe 'em well, as you see. They're so attached to me and their mistress, that we couldn't whip 'em away from us, if we tried. [He beckons to his mulatto servant, William.] Hallo, Bill! I say, Bill, you don't want your freedom, do you, you dog?
William. Oh, no, massa.
Masters. You wouldn't thank me for it, if I'd give it to you. Would you?
William. No, indeed, massa. I'd rather be a stray dog, than a free nigger.
Masters. That's right, Bill! You may go. Mr. North, you can tell that to the bobolitionists, when you get back to Yankee-land. You are a competent witness; for you have seen with your own eyes, and heard with your own ears.
North. So I have, sir; and I shall be proud to bear my testimony in favor of your patriarchal institution.
Masters, [slapping him on the shoulder.] I see that you are a man of sense. But let us rejoin my guests; they are preparing to give a toast.
[A guest at the picnic table rises and proposes a toast:]
Confusion to the Abolitionists! If we catch one of 'em here we'll give him a suit of tar and feathers, and ride him on a rail.
North. Serve him right, too. I should like to help you do it.
Masters. You're a true patriot, sir. If we catch one of the canting crew here, he'll run a fair chance of being treated as our brave Brooks served that miserable traitor, Sumner.
[The tipsy overseer swings his glass, and sings:]
We'll feather him, And ride him on a rail, Then black his ugly face, And lock him up in jail. If he speaks, we'll pull the trigger, And shoot him dead as any nigger.
[The young men join, noisily, in repeating the chorus:]
If he speaks, we'll pull the trigger, And shoot him dead as any nigger.
One of our friends has composed a song for this occasion. Please give the gentleman an opportunity to sing it.
THE FILLIBUSTERS' SONG. What nation can with us compare, In brav'ry, skill, or worth? Was ever a people like to us, Upon the wide, wide earth? Chorus. John Bull! You'd better not set bounds Unto our bold career! A whipping they will surely get, That dare to interfere. We'll take and keep whate'er we like, And ask no leave of man; "For they should take who have the power, And they should keep who can." Chorus. John Bull! You'd better not set bounds, &c. We've set our foot on Mexico, And got her mines of gold, And land enough for twenty States, Where niggers may be sold. Chorus. John Bull! &c. The isle of Cuba we will wrest From the weak hand of Spain; On Hayti, too, we'll get strong hold, And rule the Central Main. Chorus. John Bull! &c. And if it suits our sov'reign will T'annex the planet Mars, What business need it be to you, How we increase our stars? Chorus. John Bull! &c. 'Tis plain that Fate marks us to be The masters of the world! O'er Sandwich Isles, and far Niphon, Our flag shall be unfurled. Chorus. John Bull! &c.
Masters. That's a capital song.
North. Brim full of patriotism. We are a wonderful nation, that's a fact.
[Guests of the table.] Encore! Encore!
[Cotton fields and negro huts two miles from the planter's house. Evening of the Fourth of July. Pine torches stuck in the trees. Slaves dancing about, half tipsy, singing:]
Hurra fur Dependant Day! Hurra! de nigger may play! Ole hoe on de groun he lay, Ole massa gib rum to day. Drink, boys, drink! fur we no pay, Hurra fur Dependent Day!
Old Negro Woman. Stop dat ar! Jim's gwine to sing; and you all know Jim's extr'ornary.
[Jim, a merry-looking black lad, sings to the accompaniment of his banjo:]
"Come, broders, let us leave Dis Buckra lan for Hayti; And dar we be receive As gran as Lar-fay-i-tee. "Dar we'll make a mighty show, In gran-hus, as you'll see; I shall be all the go, And you like Gub'nor Shootsy. "Dar no more barrow wheel; And dat's a mighty jerkus; Dar no more 'bliged to steal, And den be sent to work-hus. "We'll dance in great big hall, Will hold full half a million; We'll dance togeder all What white man call cotillion. "We'll lead our partners out, Forward two, and backy; Cross hans, an wheel about, And den go home in hacky."
[Jim receives great applause. The slaves exclaim, Dat's fustest rate! They jump about, laughing and singing:]
Hurra fur Dependant Day!
[Jim waves his hand with an air of importance, and says:]
Now, you niggers, b'have spectable! will yer? I'se done got ready a song, spressly fur dis 'casion.
[He takes his banjo and sings:]
I hearn massa tell 'em so! All de folks born free in dis 'ere country, O! But when I 'ave ask if Jim born so, Den my massa tell me no. Mighty queer some tings I know, If all folks born free in dis 'ere country, O! Dis nigger he know dat tings no go, Jus as massa tole 'em, O!
Dis nigger he know dat tings no go, Jus as massa tole 'em, O!
[Jim again waves his hand magisterially, and says:]
Nuff of dat ar! I'se gwine to sing the great big song dat white folks made spressly fur dis splendiferous day, when Freedom was dispensed wid throughout dis ere land. Come, broders and sisters, jine wid me!
"Fur ne'er shall de sons of Columby be slaves."
[White men rush in among them, brandishing whips:]
Damn your impudence, you black rascals! What are you at? Off with you! Every nigger of you! If one of you is seen out again tonight, he'll be tied up and get thirty-nine, well laid on. Off with you!
[The slaves disperse hastily. Jim hides himself with one of his companions. When the white men have gone, they step out on tiptoe, stealthily. Jim nudges his companion, gyrates his finger on his nose, and says with great gravity:]
Sambo, jus touch de banjo, while I sing--
"Hail Columby! happy lan!"
[Interior of one of the servants' huts, in the rear of Mr. Masters's house. The mulatto, William, sits leaning his head thoughtfully on his hand, while Ellen, his wife, clears their frugal supper table. Being favorite personal attendants upon their master and mistress, they have caught the language of genteel white people, and are familiar with the music they have heard in the parlor. Ellen, who might pass for a white woman, has an air of refinement in her dress and motions; and as she glides about the humble little apartment, she now and then sings snatches of favorite operas. From time to time she glances uneasily at her husband, and at last playfully places her hand on his shoulder, while she sings:]
My love is sad! My love is sad! What shall I do to please him? Will he be glad, will he be glad To have his Ellen tease him?
[Meeting with no response, she chants slowly, with a kind of mock solemnity:]
Shall I sing to him of the cold, dim moon, Sailing through weeping clouds over a tomb? Shall I sing so?
[She stoops to look up in his troubled face, then springs back, singing gaily and rapidly:]
No, no, no, no, I won't sing so; But like the summer morning, When streamlets flow, Bright dew-drops glow, And birds salute the dawning. Rich warble and gush! Quick twitter and trill! The twirling notes rush Like drops from a mill. With trem'lous flow, The tones shall go, Like fountains, when they're filling; No thought of woe The heart shall know, While I, like birds, am trilling. Rich warble and gush! Quick twitter and trill! The twirling notes rush Like drops from a mill.
[While she sings, William's countenance gradually relaxes into a smile. He looks up with fond admiration, and says:]
Really, Jim was in the right, when he said it was extror'nary what yer upter. I believe the music master never gave young missis a lesson, without your learning it by heart at the very first hearing. And she! What a bungling piece of work she makes with a new tune, even when she has been practising a month! What a shame that she should have a grand piano, while you haven't even an accordion!
Ellen. Never mind, Willie, dear! God has given me an ear and a voice; and they can't be bought, like a piano.
William, [with mournful earnestness.] But they can be sold, Ellen! They can be sold! I tremble when I hear you sing so sweetly, for fear somebody will buy you for the sake of your ear and voice. If a large price was offered, do you suppose massa would hesitate to sell you? Not he! Wasn't my handsome sister sold to a New Orleans trader, in order to raise money to buy that cursed piano? I want to smash all the wires whenever I see it.
Ellen, [caressingly.] You are sad and cross to-night, Willie. I'm afraid you're like the rest, head-achy with drinking, yesterday, and tired out with hurraing for Independence.
William, [contemptuously.] Independence! What a mockery! I hurraed with the rest, for fear they would take notice if I did not, and make it a pretext to hang me, on the charge of plotting an insurrection. How I wanted to kick that fellow, that struck me for putting on the Liberty Cap for fun! I didn't think of it when I put on the Cap, but perhaps there was an omen in it. Thoughts have been very busy in my head since yesterday morning; and it isn't the first time that the Fourth of July has set me to thinking. I told you what a rage massa was in about a newspaper sent to him from Boston. He said some damned Abolitionist had done it. He tore it into fifty pieces, and ground them under the heel of his boot. I found some of the crumpled pieces among the bottles, under the picnic table. I hid them in my shoes, and I've been reading them, till I've learned them by heart. Here is a verse that I shall always think of whenever I see the flags flying on Independent day. [He reads from a scrap of newspaper:]
"Oppression should not linger Where starry banners wave; The swelling shout of Freedom Should echo for the slave."
Ellen. O pray burn all those scraps of paper, Willie. If they should find out that you picked them up and saved them, it might cost you a dreadful flogging.
William, [laughing.] Why should he be afraid to have his slaves read Abolition papers? You know he says he couldn't whip 'em away from him, if he tried. How came massa and missis to take free negroes with them, when they started for the North, this morning? Why are you and I to be sent to his brother's, to-morrow, to stay till they come back? Of course, it is because they are so sure that they couldn't whip us away from 'em, if they tried. Heaven knows there's been whipping enough on the plantation to drive 'em all off, if whipping would do it. Yet how coolly he tells the lie before our very faces, and calls upon us to confirm it, because he knows we dare not do otherwise. If the Yankees were half as 'cute as they're cracked up to be, I should think they would see through such shams. How tired I am of hearing him repeat to every visitor that he couldn't whip us away from him, if he tried.
Ellen. And so am I, Willie. But there are things worse to bear than that. I have been afraid to tell you all my troubles, for fear you would do something rash, and then they would burn you alive, as they did poor Peggy's husband. But now massa has gone away, and you will have time to get cool before he comes back; and so I will tell you all. When I am at the big house, sewing for missis, as sure as she goes out to ride, he comes into my room and asks me to sing, and tells me how pretty I am. And--and--I know by his ways that he don't mean any good. He gave me this breast-pin, and I was afraid not to take it. You know why poor Peggy's husband was to be sent off to Georgia, and how he tried to poison massa, when he found it out. Now massa says if I make him angry, he will sell you to the traders.
William, [clenching his fist.] The old villain! and he knows all the while that you are his own daughter!
Ellen. I told him that, but he paid no attention to it. My poor, poor mother! I suppose she was afraid, too; for I remember she always seemed so modest. Oh, it is a dreadful situation to be in! [She bursts into tears.]
William. Don't cry, dear Ellen. It shall never be. Never!
Ellen. Oh, how can we help it? We are slaves; and there is no law to protect us. Sometimes, I have thought I would tell missis all about it, and ask her to protect me. But I am afraid to do it, for fear they will sell me to Georgia traders, and keep you. I think missis begins to mistrust something; for she has been terribly cross to me lately. See how she burned my arm with hot sealing-wax, because I broke a tooth from her comb, when I was dressing her hair for their great ball, Independent night.
[William stoops to kiss the arm, and says, in a low tone:] There is but one way, dear Ellen. We know the North Star; we have often talked of following it; and we must start to-night, before massa's brother comes for us.
Ellen. Oh, Willie, if I only had courage enough! There seems to be nothing else left for us to do. But how can we get away? The patrols are always about. There's a man, only a mile off, who keeps blood-hounds to track runaways, and massa's brother will certainly send for him when he finds we are gone.
William. He supposes us to be such contented slaves, that he won't hurry to come for us. Meanwhile, we must escape. Very likely the dogs will be after us; but it is better to die by dogs, than live to be treated as dogs. To-night is our only chance.
Ellen. But they say there are such deadly snakes in the swamps.
William. That is very true. Snakes may sting your body, but they will not sting into the soul, like the brutal overseer's lash; and that will be your portion, if you resist your master.
Ellen. Oh, Willie! [She sobs violently.]
William. Come, dear Ellen, if you love me, try to be courageous. I know where there is a suit of young massa's clothes, and I have no doubt they will fit you. You can pass for a white lad, and I will be your servant.
Ellen, [smiling through her tears.] I will tell them I couldn't whip you away from me, if I tried. Hark! What's that? Has there been anybody about, listening to what we have said?
William, [after a moment's silence.] It's nobody but Jim. I thought it was his whistle. And now don't you hear him singing, "The Blue-Tailed Fly?" I wish I could be as thoughtless as that merry fellow.
Ellen. You can't, Willie, because you know too much.
[Jim enters, singing:]
"Jim crack corn-don't care! Ole massa's gone away."
[He gives a bobbing bow to Ellen, and says, with a knowing grin:]
Who's gwine to dress missis har? [He nudges William, and adds, with a wink:] I'se boun dey tink bobolitionists wud talk to yer, if dey tuk yer way to de North. 'Peers like he's skeery. What's he skeered bout? You tole him, hunder times, you'd ruther be a stray dog nur a free nigger. Couldn't whip dis ere nigger away. Could he, now? [Puts his hands on his knees, and laughs aloud.]
William. Take care, Jim! Don't make so much noise! Those cursed patrols may be prowling about.
Jim. Sound asleep, I'se be boun for 'em. Tuckered out, and done up wid drinkin.
"Jim crack corn-don't care! Ole massa's gone away."
Ellen. I'm afraid some of the rum got into your head, Jim.
Jim. Dis 'ere nigger's sober's deacon. I'se gwine to Metodist meetin. I'se boun to git religion. Now you'se an extror'nary critter! Up to ebery ting, jus de same as white folks. You know how massa write de pass. Mebbe you'd write a pass fur Jim?
[Ellen looks inquiringly at her husband, who nods assent. While she is writing the pass, Jim begins to sing:]
I hearn massa tell 'em so! All de folks born free in dis 'ere country, O!
William. Hush! hush! Jim. You will bring us all into trouble with your noisy fun. If you must be singing all the time, do sing "Old Dan Tucker," or "The Blue-tailed Fly," or something of that sort. But, tell me, seriously, is there a Methodist meeting in the woods, to-night?
Jim. I call dat ar an extror'nary question, when a spectable nigger asks to hab a pass gin to him. Dar's a mighty big meetin tree miles off, in Middleton Woods.
[Ellen hands him his pass.]
Jim. Tankee! Tankee! You've allers bin rale kine to dis 'ere nigger. Hope de Lord's got a blessin fur bofe on yer. Good bye.
Ellen. Thoughtless as Jim seems, I reckon he's going further than Middleton Woods, to-night. Did you notice how he bid us good bye?
William. I had my own thought, as soon as he asked for a pass. If he wasn't so noisy, I should like to have him go with us. But it is safest to keep our own counsel, and go alone. I will go and bring young massa's clothes, and you must be thinking how to pass for a white young gentleman, if anybody speaks to us. Our greatest danger is in this county, where so many people know massa, and have seen me with him. But if you can only keep up your courage, Ellen, I trust the Lord will help us to arrive safe in Canada.
[A swampy island in the midst of a dense forest, the trees profusely hung with Virginia moss. Twilight is settling into evening, when William and Ellen creep stealthily toward the borders of the wood. They both look travel-worn and weary.]
Ellen, [in a low voice.] How awfully lonesome was the spot where we have been hiding all the day! I expected every minute to be stung by a rattlesnake, or a cotton-mouth. How tired we must have been, to drop asleep in such a place!
William. It was out of the way of white men, Ellen; and we have more cause to dread them, than we have to dread the snakes.
Ellen. I know it! I know it! Father of mercies! I seem to hear those blood-hounds yelping now. How close they came upon us! If we had crossed that brook a minute later, they wouldn't have lost the track, and we should have been torn to pieces. I tremble all over, when I think of it.
William. I'm afraid they got upon the track of some other poor fugitive, and so let us escape. I was sure I heard a scream.
Ellen. Oh, Willie, shall we ever get to Canada?
William. He who knoweth all things, alone can tell. We must put our trust in Him.
Ellen. Before we start on our night-journey, let us kneel and ask his blessing.
THE FUGITIVES' PRAYER Father of all! To Thee we bend; On Thee alone can we depend; Guiltless of wrong, yet shunning light, Bewildered trav'lers of the night, When others to their rest have gone, We wander through the world alone. Thou, who created all, Oh, hear our anxious call, And guide us right, Through the dark night. Weary, and worn, and full of fear, We travel through the forests drear; Fierce wolves may seek us for their prey, And cruel men, more fierce than they. Help us to put our trust in Thee! Our efforts bless, and make us free! On earth we have no friend, Oh, guide us to the end, From ev'ry snare, Hear thou our prayer!
[They rise and prepare for their journey. Suddenly a light gleams over the foliage, on one side of the forest. Ellen grasps her husband's arm, and points to the light, saying, in low tones:]
Now Heaven help us! There are men coming with torches.
William. Creep into the bushes, and lie flat on your face.
[Through the deep stillness voices are heard singing:]
Trust in Him who blessed the poor! O, glory, hallelujah! He's a friend forever sure! O, glory, hallelujah! Broders, sisters, why do ye mourn? Sing glory, hallelujah! He's got no massa whar he's gone! O, glory, hallelujah!
Ellen. Oh, Willie, don't it seem as if God sent that hymn as an answer to our prayer?
William. It does, indeed; and I joyfully accept the omen from my poor brothers in misfortune. They are slaves, secretly holding a meeting in the woods. Some of them have died lately, I suppose; and this is the way they give vent to their feelings. How wild and solemn it sounds, here among the trees, in the starlight.
Ellen. We have been so lonely, all day, that the sound of friendly human voices is pleasant. Let us wait awhile, and listen.
William. Poor fellows! Some of them might be tempted to betray us, in hopes of getting a silver bit, or a red handkerchief. Perhaps, too, there may be patrols lurking round to watch the meeting, and some of them might know me. It's not safe to stay here. So keep fast hold of me, and creep along through the darkest of the shadows.
[They disappear, while the unseen chorus are repeating:]
He's got no massa whar he's gone! O, glory, hallelujah!
[Past midnight. The moon shining on a broad river. No houses in sight. William and Ellen creep out from a quantity of boards and barrels, piled up near the river.]
Ellen. It seemed frightful to be alone in the woods with wolves and snakes. But I'm more afraid here in the open country. [She clings to him, and speaks low.] When I pressed your arm a little while ago, didn't you think you heard something breathing near us?
William. Yes, I did, and it brought my heart up into my throat. But I suppose it must have been some sleeping cat or pig. Try to keep up your courage a little longer. There is the Ohio! the river we have so longed to see! If we can only get across it, we shall be in the free States, at last. So far, we have got along very well, thanks to your white face, and passing yourself for a slaveholder. If we hadn't been so unlucky as to meet that acquaintance of massa's down at the tavern yonder, we needn't be skulking now. But he looked hard at me, and you were a little confused when you answered his questions. Perhaps he suspected something wrong, and perhaps he didn't. But it is safest for us to keep out of the way of the travelled roads. That nigger we overheard talking about taking some barrels across the river, said he was going to take them from such a place as this We must try to get a passage with him. Your clothes are so worn and dusty, that you can hardly pass for the son of a rich slaveholder; but you may be taken for a poor white, emigrating with his only nigger. We have a little money left, and that may induce him to take us. The worst of it is, if he suspects us, he may inform against us, when he gets back to Kentucky, in hopes of getting more money. But we must run the risk.
Ellen. When will the day dawn? This night seems as long as ten nights. That same moon is shining on our old home, Willie. On the tree, where we used to sit and sing, on Sundays, after meeting. I loved that Southern land, where we were born, and where all our friends live. If our situation hadn't been so dreadful, I never could have left it to seek a home among strangers.
William. I, too, was thinking what a pleasant home Carolina might be, if there was no Slavery there. But I long to breathe free air, if it be the coldest blasts of a Canada winter.
[Ellen leans on her husband's shoulder, gazing pensively at the moon. After looking furtively round, to see whether any one is stirring, they sing, in a low voice:]
O, moonlight, deep and tender, You shone thus silv'ry bright; Or veiled in misty splendor, Where first we saw the light. Those scenes of youth have vanished, We return to them no more; For we are aliens, banished From our own native shore. O, river, brightly glancing, How beautiful to see! Beneath the moonbeams dancing, So joyfully and free! And yet to us how dreary! Who see it through out tears; So lonely, sad, and weary, And trembling with our fears. O, river, gently flowing, Bear us in safety o'er! The friendly moonlight showing Our way to Freedom's shore.
[While they are singing, a black face peeps out from between the boards, and watches them curiously for a minute, and is then lighted up with a broad smile. The head is withdrawn behind the boards, and presently, when all is still, a voice is heard singing:]
"Jim crack corn--don't care! Ole massa's gone away!"
[William and Ellen start, and look behind them.]
William. I could almost swear that was Jim's voice.
Ellen. You know all the slaves sing that. It can't be that Jim is here. How my heart beats! What if we should be betrayed!
[The voice behind the boards sings:]
I hearn massa tell 'em so! All de folks born free in dis ere country, O!
William. It is Jim! [He sings in response:]
"Ne'er shall the sons of Columbia be slaves."
[The voice behind the boards answers:]
Dis nigger he know dat tings no go, Jus as massa tole 'em, O!
[Jim jumps out, grasps their hands, and capers about.]
Jim. Peers like you've done clared out, too. Dis 'ere nigger sorter spected so. I say, Bill! Massa couldn't whip us away could he? Tried hard nuff, didn't he? Wouldn't take our freedom, if massa guv it to us, would we? [He sings:]
Dis nigger he know dat tings no go, Jus as massa tole 'em, O!
William. It does me good to hear your merry voice again, Jim; but I think you had better keep more quiet till we get into Canada.
Jim. Skeered, ar ye? Who's feard? Not dis ere nigger. Cause, ye see, he knows what he's bout. You member my brudder Dick, dat was sole to Kentuck? Dick all'ers was quick as rat-trap. Extror'nary smart nigger! Dick's massa hires him out, to tote lumber down dis ere riber. Dick's got an arrant cross de riber, and he's gwine to tote dis ere nigger in a bar'l. Dars bar'ls nuff to tote us all. Dick wouldn't take his freedom, if his massa guv it to him; an't green nuff fur dat. But dis ere nigger sorter spects to see Dick in Canada. [He bursts out singing:]
"And dar we be receive As gran as Lar-fay-i-tee!"
Ellen. But even if we succeed in crossing the river, we are not sure of reaching Canada. They say our masters have made a law, obliging people in the free States to catch runaway slaves, and send them back.
William, [bitterly.] And they call themselves free States! But they say that slaves have friends in Ohio, who help 'em on toward Canada, by some kind of underground railroad. I wish I knew how to find them.
Jim. You go way! You knows a heap, Bill. Dar an't no manner o' doubt o' dat ar. But dis ere nigger an't jus woke up, nudder. Dick tole all bout dem ere cars. Dick knows a man in Hi-o, dat'll put us aboard. If massa's car come rattlin arter us, Ki!--dey'll jus put on de steam like house a fire! and way we go!
[He puffs like a steam engine, imitates the car-whistle, and ends by singing:]
"Clar de track, ole Dan Tucker!"
Ellen, [uneasily.] When will your brother come? Every minute seems an hour.
[From a boat on the river, a bell is heard to ring three times, followed by a voice, singing:]
"Heigho! de boatmen row!"
Jim. Dat ar's Dick!
[They all run toward the river, and soon after, receding voices are heard singing:]
"Heigho! de boatmen row!" Floatin down riber Ohi-o!"
[Fields near Detroit. A company of men and women assembled to celebrate the first of August. Picnic tables are spread under an evergreen arch, with the word, EMANCIPATION, formed of dahlias. All the women wear veils, that Ellen, who is among them, need not be easily recognized, in case of an emergency. William has a neat new dress, and wears a brown wig.]
Mr. Freeman, [shaking hands with Ellen.] You are welcome here; and you may rest assured that you are among kind friends. I hear you have a voice like a bob-o'-link. Won't you give us a song, on this pleasant occasion?
Ellen. I would most gladly, sir. But is it quite safe? I'm told the law compels you to give up fugitives.
Freeman. I blush to acknowledge that we are disgraced by such a law; but we contrive many ways to evade it. You are more safe here, than you would be in a city. This is not a public meeting. It is a picnic for Abolitionists only. No Southerner will be likely to intrude upon us. Is your master at the North?
Ellen. When he left home, he intended to travel North, sir.
Freeman. What is his name?
Ellen. Mr. Alfred Masters, of South Carolina.
Freeman. I know of no such name at the hotels; and our friends keep pretty close watch. But, to make your mind perfectly easy, I will tell you a secret. In that ice-house, covered with straw, yonder, there are steps that lead to the underground railroad. You have heard of the underground railroad, perhaps?
Ellen, [smiling.] O, yes, sir. We came by that road.
Freeman. I shall keep spies on the watch. If any strangers approach, I will begin to sing, "Get out of the way old Dan Tucker!" Then the women will run for ice, and you and your husband will run with them. There's one slave under the ice-house, already. He's so black, that it won't do for him to show his face here; but you and your husband are both so light, that you would attract no attention. As for you, no one unacquainted with your history would believe that you were not a white woman.
Ellen. I wish it were possible to cross over to Canada soon, sir.
Freeman. I deem it imprudent to attempt it just now. There are some Southerners at the hotel, in search of runaway slaves; and it is possible you might be recognized by some acquaintance of your master's. We will try to have you conveyed over to-morrow morning, before people are stirring. Meanwhile, I wish you would help us to celebrate the emancipation of your enslaved brethren in the British West Indies.
Ellen. I will try, sir; but I am afraid my voice will tremble; for I am very anxious. I will call William, and we will sing together two verses, that a lady taught us last night. She said they were written by an Abolitionist, in Boston.
Oh, sunny South, the pride of lands, Whose joyous spring as Eden blooms, Whose rivers sweep o'er golden sands, Whose harvests feed a million looms; Why looks an anxious world on thee, In sorry for thy destiny?"
[William sings in response:]
"It is, that when the joyous sea Bore from West Indian Isles the song Of earth's most glorious jubilee, Of right, triumphant over wrong,-- Midst a world's welcome, thou alone Answered the tidings with a groan."
Freeman, [to Ellen.] You are a bob-o'-link! We must hear your voices again, by-and-by. But now let us all join in a chorus, in honor of our mother country.
[All the guests unite in singing:]
"Blow ye the trumpet abroad o'er the sea! Britannia hath triumphed, the negro is free!"
[The women begin to unpack bread, cakes, &c., from the baskets. While they are thus occupied, Mr. Freeman sings:]
"Get out of the way, Old Dan Tucker!"
[The women exclaim:]
O, we forgot the ice. Make haste and bring some ice!
[Many of them run towards the ice-house; William and Ellen with them. While others arrange the tables, two strangers enter.]
North, [bowing to Mr. Freeman.] Allow me to introduce my friend, Mr. Masters, from South Carolina. He never attended an Abolition meeting, and he was curious to see one.
Masters. Not so much to see one, as to listen to the arguments that may be brought forward. I am a sincere seeker after light; and, perhaps you will be able to convince me.
Freeman. This is not one of our public meetings for discussing the subject, sir; but you are welcome to the best we have to offer, either for mind or body. Doubtless, we might produce two or three arguments that would make some impression on you. But the ladies are preparing the refreshment tables. They can offer you some delicious fruit, refreshingly cool, for we have an ice-house near by.
[The Abolitionists glance at each other with a significant smile; and one says aside to another:]
Its contents wouldn't be very likely to cool him!
Masters. I thank you; but I came here for argument, rather than refreshments. I hear you are great reasoners; but I hope to convince you that you are laboring under a mistake on this subject. I assure you our servants at the South are a very happy set of people. This gentleman, from Connecticut, can vouch for what I say.
North. Yes, sir, I can; and I am most happy to do it. I know something about it. I've been at the South; so, I am a competent witness. And I'm free to say, I never saw a happier set of fellows than the niggers there. The poor in England have reason to envy their condition.
Freeman. Why don't you go as a missionary to England? They wouldn't mob you, as we did George Thompson; and if you have half his eloquence, perhaps you might persuade the English people to petition their government for leave to become slaves. Such petitions would doubtless find some advocates; for there is a class there, as well as here, who consider Slavery the most suitable condition for the poor.
Masters. You are pleased to be facetious, sir. But I do assure you, that my slaves have not the least desire to be free. I have an uncommonly intelligent slave, named William. He is so attached to me, that when I offered him his freedom, he wouldn't take it. Would he, Mr. North?
North. No. He told me, himself, that he'd rather be a stray dog than a free nigger.
Masters. William is not peculiar in that respect. They all have the greatest contempt for free niggers. I'm a very kind master; all my slaves are so contented with their situation that I couldn't whip 'em away, if I tried. Could I, Mr. North?
North. No, indeed! They know too well on which side their bread is buttered.
[A voice, not far off, sings:]
Dis nigger he know dat tings no go, Jus as massa tole 'em, O!
Masters, [looking round.] Who was that?
Freeman. Ethiopian melodies are very popular here. Boys are always whistling or singing them. Some lad appears to have put new words to "Dandy Jim."
Masters, [smiling.] It was an excellent imitation. It almost made me feel as if I were on the plantation, hearing my own boys singing merrily, at their work. They're a happy set, sir.
[One of the Abolitionists aside to another:]
Some of them are his own boys, in more senses than one, I reckon.
[Meanwhile a man enters and hands Mr. Masters a letter. He glances over it, and takes up his hat hastily.]
Freeman. You're not going, sir? We have made arrangements to have a debate with you, by-and-by. You said you wished to hear our arguments.
Masters. I must decline that pleasure, for the present, sir. I am summoned away on unexpected business.
[He touches his hat, takes Mr. North by the arm, and turns away. Mr. Freeman turns away in the opposite direction, and joins a knot of the Abolitionists, all of whom are keeping an eye on Mr. Masters and Mr. North, as they stand talking together.]
Masters. Would you believe it? That rascal, Bill, has taken advantage of my absence, to run away! He and his wife Nelly have been seen near Ohio. The ungrateful wench! When I was willing to do so much for her!
North. Is it possible? Now I am surprised! What ingratitude!
Masters. The fact is, sir, the niggers are a singular race. They have several diseases, peculiar to themselves. The one which prevails most generally, is called by our doctors, drapetomania; and the only way I can account for this strange affair, is by supposing that Bill and Nelly had an attack of that disease.
North. Pray what sort of disease may that be, sir?
Masters. Doctors like to show their learning, you know; so they made a word from Greek. It means a mania for running away. When niggers appear unusually sulky and dissatisfied, it's a sign that the disease is coming on; and preventive remedies ought to be applied immediately. The learned Dr. Cartwright, of Louisiana University, has written a celebrated book about nigger diseases. He advises that the whip should be freely applied when the first symptoms of drapetomania appear. He calls it "whipping the devil out of 'em." But the fact is, I never perceived any symptoms of it in Bill. He always seemed healthy. It is a very singular disease, that drapetomania! There's no telling who may be seized by it. Some of the planters think it is becoming epidemic.
North. It is singular, indeed, sir. Perhaps it's part of the curse that the Lord pronounced upon Canaan.
Masters. I've heard that idea suggested by our divines. The niggers are a cursed race, if ever there was one; that's a fact.
North. How lucky it is for them, that they have kind masters to take care of them!
Masters. You know what good care I took of Bill; the ungrateful dog! Who would have thought of his being seized with drapetomania? But what's to be done? Do you know anything about that infernal underground railroad, they tell of?
North. I dare say the police may know something about it, sir.
Masters. If I could only see Bill and Nelly, and reason a little with 'em, I dare say they would be persuaded that they have done very wrong. When the disease of drapetomania begins to subside, they soon get tired enough of being free niggers, and would gladly go back, if they were not afraid of punishment.
North. That drapetomania is a very strange disease. I never heard of anybody's having it in New England. It must be a part of the curse upon Canaan.
Masters. Come! Let us make inquiries of the police.
[They go out. Mr. Freeman says to the picnic guests:] Some of you go and caution that merry black Jim, not to be singing any more scraps of songs till he gets into Canada. We've come to a narrow pass on the precipice, now. There can be no doubt what news that letter contained. I heard the word, police. How on earth shall we contrive to get them safely away from their hiding-place, and smuggle them over to Victoria's dominions?
One of the Guests. I see how it can be done. There's a store of ready-made coffins near by, and the man who sells them is an Abolitionist. The colored minister, Mr. Dickson, died yesterday, and we can get his family to help us. William and Ellen must be stained black, and go among the mourners. Jim, who can't be stained any blacker, must be carried in the coffin. They can all be locked up in a tomb; a place which the police will not think of searching. In the darkness of the night we can bring 'em near the ferry. The police will, doubtless, be on the watch during all the hours that the boat runs; but you know the ferryman is willing enough to oblige us, if he can do it without being found out. We must be scattered here and there, round the ferry, in numbers sufficient to divert the enemy's forces, if they take it into their heads to be stirring too early.
Freeman. I believe it is the best plan that is left for us; but it's risky business for all of us. That rogue, Jim, must be cautioned not to sing out from the coffin.
[Road near Detroit. On one side of the road Mr. Freeman is passing slowly with a few Abolitionists. On the other side of the road are Police Officers, with brass stars on their coats, and brass bands on their hats, with the word, Police. They pass back and forth, as if on sentinel duty. Rowdy-looking Truckmen, with shirt sleeves rolled up, are armed with clubs and whips, as if ready for a mob. The sound of funeral music is heard approaching. A coffin is borne across the stage, followed by colored men and women, and a band of music. After it has passed, Mr. Freeman stops in front of a Police Officer, and says to one of his Abolition companions:]
Whose funeral was that? It is not common to have a band out on such occasions.
Abolitionist. I presume it is done in honor of Mr. Dickson, the colored minister. I heard he was to be buried to-day, and I noticed his family among the mourners.
[A Truckman says, in a loud voice, to the Police Officer:] Damned set of amalgamationists! No doubt they're hob-nob with all the fust niggers.
[Police Officer speaks apart to his companions:] They must be expected on this road, or the Abolitionists would not linger about here so.
[When Mr. Freeman re-appears, talking with a friend, the Police Officer says gruffly to him:] What are you loitering about here for, sir?
Freeman. I will imitate the Yankees, who, they say, answer one question by asking another. Pray what are you loitering about here for?
Police Officer. We're watching for two runaway niggers.
Freeman. Only two, sir? Many pass through this place to Canada.
A Truckman. Yes, and it's all owing to the cussed jugglery of you bobolitionists and your friends, the niggers.
Freeman. I am happy to hear that we are so useful.
Police Officer. But you won't catch a weasel asleep this time. Mr. Masters, of South Carolina, a very polite gentleman, and a very kind master, has lost two valuable servants. We've got on the track of 'em, and we're determined to catch 'em for him. We've got the law on our side.
Freeman. As I have no wish to earn blood-money by turning slave-hunter for any of our Southern masters, the information does not particularly interest me.
[Several of the Abolitionists, who have been looking on the Police and the rowdies with disgust, break out singing:]
"No slave-hunt in our borders! No pirates on our strand! No fetters in the free States! No slave upon our land!
[The Truckmen double their fists, and shake their whips. The Police Officer gets angry, and exclaims:] I tell you what, you'd better go about your business, if you know what is good for yourselves.
Freeman. I trust we are at liberty to choose our business. Our Southern masters are kind masters. They have left us a few privileges. I believe citizens of the free States are not yet forbidden by United States law to walk in their own streets; or even to talk together in the street, when they think proper. But why so angry, gentlemen? You surely are not ashamed of your employment? Is it not a manly employment? Is it not fitting business for you, sir, who bear the illustrious name of John Adams? And for you, sir, who are accustomed to boast, at political meetings, that you are a true democrat, dyed in the wool? I see you are ashamed, notwithstanding all the brass you have about you?
[Some slink away; some shake their fists. One of the Police says:]
Damn your impudence! If you don't hold your tongue, I'll arrest you for disturbing the peace.
[The Abolitionists laugh, and go off singing:]
Bring garlands for the free and brave! Bold hunters of the flying slave!
[Early morning. The Ferry, at Detroit; half a mile across to the Canada shore. Mr. Freeman appears, and after looking all round carefully, knocks three times at a door, near the water. The Ferryman opens the door.]
Mr. Freeman. The passengers you agreed to take are here. Please lose no time.
[Ferryman hastens to the boat; William, Ellen, and Jim jump in. The fastenings are loosened. The boat is an oar's length from the shore, when Mr. Masters and Mr. North come running, out of breath, followed by ten or twelve Abolitionists. Mr. Masters points his pistol at the Ferryman, and calls out:]
Put back that boat! Those are my slaves. Put back that boat, or I'll blow your brains out! Hell! There's Jim, too! Where the devil's the police! Call the police, Mr. North! Put back that boat!
[For an instant, the Ferryman holds his oars suspended in hesitation. William, in an agony of anxiety, springs upon him, and exclaims:]
I'll strangle you, if you do.
Ferryman. If I must die, I'll die doing my duty.
[He pushes off. Some one behind Mr. Masters knocks the pistol from his hand. The Ferryman and William row with all their might. The Abolitionists swing their hats, and hurra. The Police come in time to see the boat half way across. An American vessel is on the stocks near by, with the name of Henry Clay, floating on its banner. The workmen on board catch the contagion of the scene. They wave their caps, and hurra. The noise attracts people on the Canada side. They see a negro in the boat, and guessing the rest, they hurra. In the intervals, Jim's voice comes across the water:]
"Don't care! Ole massa's gone away!"
[From shore to shore:]
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
Mr. Freeman, [to Mr. Masters.] Couldn't whip 'em away from you; could you, sir?
Freeman, [to the Police Officer.] Didn't catch a weasel asleep this time, did we?
[From shore to shore:]
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
Mr. North, [walking away with Mr. Masters, says:] What a very remarkable case of drapetomania!
[From shore to shore:]
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
[On the Canada side, they strike up--]
"God save the Queen!"
[On the other side, the Abolitionists respond:]
"Blow ye the trumpet aloud o'er the sea! Freedom hath triumphed! The slaves are now free!
N.B. The scene here described did really occur at Detroit, some years ago, while a vessel, named the Henry Clay, was on the stocks; and the Ferryman made the exclamation here attributed to him.
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