MRS. JOHN LITTLE.
I was born in Petersburg, Va. When very young, I was taken to Montgomery county. My old master died there, and I remember that all the people were sold. My father and mother were sold together about one mile from me. After a year, they were sold a great distance, and I saw them no more. My mother came to me before she went away, and said, “Good by, be a good girl; I never expect to see you any more.”
Then I belonged to Mr. T–N–, the son of my old master. He was pretty good, but his wife, my mistress, beat me like sixty. Here are three scars on my right hand and arm, and one on my forehead, all from wounds inflicted with a broken china plate. My cousin, a man, broke the plate in two pieces, and she said, “Let me see that plate.” I handed up the pieces to her, and she threw them down on me: they cut four
gashes, and I bled like a butcher. One piece cut into the sinew of the thumb, and made a great knot permanently. The wound had to be sewed up. This long scar over my right eye, was from a blow with a stick of wood. One day she knocked me lifeless with a pair of tongs,–when I came to, she was holding me up, through fright. Some of the neighbors said to her, “Why don’t you learn Eliza to sew?” She answered, “I only want to learn her to do my housework, that’s all.” I can tell figures when I see them, but cannot read or write.
I belonged to them until I got married at the age of sixteen, to Mr. John Little, of Jackson. My master sold me for debt,–he was a man that would drink, and he had to sell me. I was sold to F–T–, a planter and slave-trader, who soon after, at my persuasion, bought Mr. Little.
I was employed in hoeing cotton, a new employment: my hands were badly blistered. “Oh, you must be a great lady,” said the overseer, “can’t handle the hoe without blistering your hands!” I told him I could not help it. My hands got hard, but I could not stand the sun. The hot sun made me so sick I could not work, and, John says if I had not come away, they would surely have sold me again. There was one weakly woman named Susan, who could not stand the work, and she was sold to Mississippi, away from her husband and son. That’s one way of taking care of the sick and weak. That’s the way the planters do with a weakly, sickly “nigger,”–they say “he’s a dead expense to ’em,” and put him off as soon as they can. After Susan was carried off, her husband went to see her: when he came back he received two hundred blows with the paddle.
I staid with T–more than a year. A little before I came away, I heard that master was going to give my husband three hundred blows with the paddle. He came home one night with an axe on his shoulder, tired with chopping timber. I had his clothes all packed up, for I knew he would have to go. He came hungry, calculating on his supper,–I told him what was going. I never heard him curse before–he cursed then. Said he, “If any man, white or black, lays his hand on me to-night, I’ll put this axe clear through him–clear through him:” and he would have done it, and I would not have tried to hinder him. But there was a visitor at the house, and no one came: he ran away. Next morning, the overseer came for him. The master asked where he was; I could have told him, but would not. My husband came back no more.
When we had made arrangements for leaving, a slave told of us. Not long after, master called to me, “Come here, my girl, come here.” I went to him: he tied me by the wrist with a rope. He said, “Oh, my girl, I don’t blame you,–you are young, and don’t know; it’s that d–d infernal son of a–; if I had him here, I’d blow a ball through him this minute.” But he was deceived about it: I had put John up to hurrying off.
Then master stood at the great house door, at a loss what to do. There he had Willis, who was to have run away with us, and the man who betrayed us. At last he took us all off about half a mile to a swamp, where old A–need not hear us as he was going to meeting, it being Sunday. He whipped Willis to make him tell where we were going. Willis said, “Ohio State.” “What do you want to be free for?
G–d–you, what do you know about freedom? Who was going with you?” “Only Jack.” G–d–Jack to h–, and you too.” While they were whipping Willis, he said, “Oh, master, I’ll never run away.” “I did n’t ask you about that, you d–d son of a–, you.” Then they tried to make him tell about a slave girl who had put her child aside: but he knew nothing about that. As soon as they had done whipping him, they put a plough clavis about his ankle to which they attached a chain which was secured about his neck with a horse-lock.
Then they took a rheumatic boy, who had stopped with us, whom I had charged not to tell. They whipped him with the paddle, but he said he was ignorant of it: he bore the whipping, and never betrayed us. Then they questioned him about the girl and the child, as if that boy could know any thing about it! Then came my turn; they whipped me in the same way they did the men. Oh, those slaveholders are a brutish set of people,–the master made a remark to the overseer about my shape. Before striking me, master questioned me about the girl. I denied all knowledge of the affair. I only knew that she had been with child, and that now she was not, but I did not tell them even that. I was ashamed of my situation, they remarking upon me. I had been brought up in the house, and was not used to such coarseness. Then he (master) asked, “Where is Jack?” “I don’t know.” Said he, “Give her h–, R–.” That was his common word. Then they struck me several blows with the paddle. I kept on telling them it was of no use to whip me, as I knew nothing to tell them. No irons were ready for me, and I was put under a guard,–but I was too cunning for him, and joined my husband.
My shoes gave out before many days,–then I wore my husband’s old shoes till they were used up. Then we came on barefooted all the way to Chicago. My feet were blistered and sore and my ankles swollen; but I had to keep on. There was something behind me driving me on. At the first water we came to I was frightened, as I was not used to the water. It was a swift but shallow stream: my husband crossed over, and I was obliged to follow. At the Ohio Bottoms was a great difficulty,–the water was in some places very deep,–it was black, dirty water. I was scared all but to death: but I had become somewhat used to hardship. If I had seen a white face, I would have run into the river.
By and by, we succeeded in crossing the last one. Then we struck a light at a shingle-getter’s shanty, made a fire with the clapboards and dried ourselves. We were merry over our success in getting so far along, and had a good laugh as we burned the boards and part of the shanty itself. I felt afraid at getting into a boat to cross the Ohio River: I had never been in any boat whatever. Now to get on this in the night, frightened me. “John,” said I, “don’t you think we ‘ll drown?” “I don’t care if we do,” said he. We reached Cairo well enough.
We never slept at the same time; while one slept, the other kept watch, day or night. Both of us never slept at one time,–if we had, we would not have reached Canada. One morning, as I was watching by a fire we had made, John sleeping, I saw a dog, and told John. Said he, “‘t is some old white man hunting a hog,–however, we had better go from this fire.” We went down into a valley and there remained. In the afternoon, an hour before sunset, a white man came
suddenly upon us, while we were getting ready for a night’s march. I started to run: John stood. The man said, “Stop, there!” But I kept on; his face was so white, that I wanted nothing to do with him. John said, “What did you say?” “Stop, there.” John said, “I ‘ll do no such thing.” Then hard language passed between them. The man said, “I ‘ll have a pack of hounds after you before night.” John answered him with an oath to frighten him, “You had better do it, and be off yourself, or I ‘ll blow a ball through you.” The man never had heard a negro swear at him before. They are generally so cowed down, that John’s swearing at him, alarmed him more than a bullet from a white man. It showed that he was desperate,–and that was the only reason why he used such language. The man struck spurs to his horse, and went off in a hurry. We followed him, as he went the same way we were going, and kept as close to him as we could: for, if the man got hounds he would start them at the place where he had seen us; and coming back over the same route with hounds, horses, and men, would kill our track, and they could not take us. But we saw no more of the man.
Soon after dark, we came to a lake. We found an old white man there in a shanty, who was caring for a slave that had been shot by his master a few days before. We went in and saw him,–he was an old, gray-headed man. His master had threatened him with a flogging, and he took to the river: just as he reached the water, his master shot him behind. But he got across. He was wounded, and without hat or shoes. In this place we were informed about our route. It was in Kentucky.
While we were stopping at the shanty, a day or two,
John went out one evening with the old man, to hunt for provisions. I went to bed. By and by the dogs barked; the door opened, and by the fire I saw five white men. One said, “Who you got here?” “Only my own family.” I was afraid, and crept out slyly on my hands and knees, and hid behind an ash-barrel until they were gone.
In a few days we crossed the ferry. Then we went on, and were without provisions, except some corn, which we parched. We met here a runaway slave, who knew the route of the country above us. He was returning to his master, where he had a wife and children.
At Cairo, the gallinippers were so bad, we made a smoke to keep them off. Soon after I heard a bell ring. Said I, “John, somebody’s dead.” It was a steamboat bell tolling. Presently there she was, a great boat full of white men. We were right on the river’s bank, and our fire sent the smoke straight up into the calm. We lay flat on the ground. John read the name–Maria. No one noticed us: after the boat was gone, we had a hearty laugh at our good luck. Thinking there was no more trouble, we did not put out our fire. Presently came a yawl boat: they saw our fire, and hailed, “Boat ashore! boat ashore! runaway niggers! runaway niggers!” We lay close, and the boat kept on. We put out our fire, and went further back from the river, but the musquitoes were so bad, we made another fire. But a man with a gun then came along, looking up into the trees. I scattered the fire to put it out, but it smoked so much the worse. We at last hid in a thicket of briers, where we were almost devoured by musquitoes, for want of a little smoke.
Next day I lay down to sleep, while John kept watch.
When I awoke, I told him I had dreamed about a white cow, which still seemed a white woman, and that I feared we would be caught. We were in the woods, in a low, damp place, where there was no bit of a road, and we knew not where the road was. We started to find a road, and then met with a white woman. I reminded John of my dream. “Good evening, good evening,” said she. My husband asked if she would sell him some bread: this was to make conversation, so he could inquire the road. “Oh yes, just come to my house, I’ll give you some bread.” We went to the house, and presently her husband came in. He asked, “Have you got free papers?” John answered, “No.” “Where are you travelling to?” “To the upper lakes.” “We are not allowed to let a colored man go through here without free papers: if we do, we are liable to a fine of forty dollars.” He allowed us to remain all night,–but in the morning we were to go before a squire at Dorrety, and, if we were free, we would go on. This was the woman’s arrangement: the man did not seem inclined to stop us. She said, “If we stop you, we shall get fifty dollars apiece for you: that’s a–good–deal–of–money,–you know.” The man asked John if he had a pistol. John produced one. The man said ‘t was no harm, he would take care of it for him,–and locked it up. They lived in a little, dirty log hut: they took the bed off the bedstead, and lay down on it close to the door, so that it could not be opened without disturbing him. The man took a nice silver-mounted pistol from a cupboard, loaded it, and placed it where he could reach it in the night. We lay on the bedstead–they on the floor. She was the evil one: she had made the plans. Their name was Smith.
At about three o’clock in the morning, husband
aroused me,–“I’m going away from here; I don’t value them, now other folks are asleep.” We both got up. John spoke roughly, “Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” He aroused: “we are unwell, and must pass out,–we ‘ll be back very soon.” Mr. Smith got up very readily, and pulled the bed away a little, so we could slip out. As John passed by the pistol, he put his hand on it, and took it in exchange for his old one. It is a beautiful rifle pistol, percussion lock,–John has been offered fifteen dollars for it. If the man will come here with John’s old flint lock, my husband will exchange back, and give him boot. I am very sorry for my friend, Mrs. Smith, that she did not get the hundred dollars to go a shopping with in Dorrety–am much obliged to her for our night’s lodging. We went across a small stream, and waited for daylight. Then we went on to Dorrety, and passed through the edge of it, without calling on the squire, as we had not time.
One Sunday morning, being on a prairie where we could see no house–about fifty miles west of Springfield–we ventured to travel by day. We encountered an animal, which we at first supposed to be a dog; but when he came near, we concluded it to be a wolf. He yelped something like a dog: he did not attack us. We went on and crossed a stream, and then we saw three large wood-wolves, sneaking around as if waiting for darkness. As we kept on, the three wolves kept in sight, now on one hand, and now on the other. I felt afraid, expecting they would attack us: but they left us. Afterward we made a fire with elder-stalks, and I undertook to make some corn bread. I got it mixed, and put it on the fire,–when I saw a party of men and boys on horseback, apparently approaching us. I put out the fire; they turned a little away, and did not appear
to perceive us: I rekindled the fire, and baked our bread. John managed to keep us well supplied with pies and bread. We used to laugh to think how people would puzzle over who drank the milk and left the pitchers, and who hooked the dough.
I got to be quite hardy–quite used to water and bush-whacking; so that by the time I got to Canada, I could handle an axe, or hoe, or any thing. I felt proud to be able to do it–to help get cleared up, so that we could have a home, and plenty to live on. I now enjoy my life very well–I have nothing to complain of. We have horses and a pleasure-wagon, and I can ride out when and where I please, without a pass. The best of the merchants and clerks pay me as much attention as though I were a white woman: I am as politely accosted as any woman would wish to be.
I have lost two children by death; one little girl is all that is spared to me. She is but four years old. I intend to have her well educated, if the Lord lets us.
“A north-side view of slavery. The refugee: or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada. Related by themselves, with an account of the history and condition of the colored population of Upper Canada”