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Messrs. Spencer Grayson and Joseph B. Davis, (son-in-law of Levi Pernell, who resided in Natchez, on Second North Street, as long ago as I can recollect,) entrusted me with the performance of several duties, which having faithfully executed, and thereby securing their friendship, I gladly learned that Mr. Davis had made successful application for me to accompany him on a visit to his plantation in the back part of the state of Mississippi. This was my first journeying, and Mr. Davis had to tie me upon the horse. Some laughed at the idea of his taking so small a child with him, but nothing could change his mind; he declared that I should have at least a few weeks pleasure. The woman who had the care of me was very angry with me at this time, and told Mr. Davis that she wished she had never seen me and desired him never to bring me back; but he said, ‘Never mind, aunty, fortune will take care of him, I expect he will outlive us both.’ After traveling four or five days Mr. Davis tried me without fastening me to the saddle. I could now manage my horse very well, and keep up also.
About the third day Mr. Davis had grown careless about me, as I took good care of myself and horse, and he found he had lost his way while passing through a cane brake. We wandered around for some time, and at length came to a strip of fence, decayed or thrown down, so that it was scarcely breast high to the horses. Mr. Davis in his hurry had forgotten me and was thinking only of the road. He did not stop for the fence, so I followed suit, but soon stopped on the ground, the breath beat out of my body, so that I could not call for some time. Mr. Davis was out of sight. I got upon my horse again and rushed on in the course which I thought he had taken. I thought I discovered a small path, into which I reined my horse, out the cane was so large and so tall that I could not proceed. I thought that I could go better on foot; so I contrived to get down, and groped my way along the little path. I had not gone far, when I found my path was much wider, but I did not get upon my horse again. I at length heard a noise which I could not understand, but I had heard people talking of wild hogs, and concluded that there were some near, as I could hear them snuffing, and as I thought, the young ones playing.
I looked earnestly around, and to my astonishment saw two animals which I knew must be bears, from the fact of having seen a tame one at Mr. Philip Brill’s at Natchez. The old ones walked up smelling of me as they came; the young ones playing a little way off. I did not try to run, for I thought it was of no use. I expected they would kill me, but after examining me they turned and walked away, their young ones following them. My path had led me into the big road, and the bears took one way and I the other. I knew by the neighing of my faithful horse, and the answer he received, that I was near Mr. Davis. I hurried on and soon came up with him, and found him on the banks of a river, standing by his horse. I told him what had passed, and he said that he had gone back to look for me, and happened to get his eye on me just as he saw the bears walk up to me. He embraced me, the tears gushing from his eyes; he said that he feared to try to rescue me, lest he should aggravate the animals, and thereby cause them to tear me in pieces before his eyes; that he in horror turned away, lest he should see me die, and when he heard the horse neigh he did not expect again to see me alive; but said he thought that wicked woman’s wish was granted. Restated that it reminded him of his saying that Providence would protect me.
We reached his plantation the next evening in safety; when after finishing his business on his farm, we started towards home together. At Greenville, he was unexpectedly called another way on business. We were within a few days ride of home, when he met an acquaintance, Lawyer Smith, who was going to Natchez, and who offered to see me there. Mr. Davis thought it well that I should go home. I was sorry to part with my friend, but soon had the satisfaction of seeing him in Natchez, and hearing related from his own lips my narrow escape.
A very aged man obtained of this unnatural mother leave for me to go with him to Shelling’s Lake to fish. He set me holding his line, and showed me how to manage it, and oh, what a proud moment was this to my little heart, and with what ecstasy did I gaze upon the fish as I drew it out of its native element, struggling for life. I was so fortunate as to catch one more fish than the old man; this encouraged me much; a new world sprang up before me. I then began to contrive how I could possess myself of a hook and line. I could imitate many sounds, such as the mewing of a cat, the barking, howling, and growling of a dog, &c. Some gentlemen overhearing me gave me a few pence. I was so delighted with the money which I received, that I could hardly contain myself; not because I loved money, but because it secured my wishes. I went twice with the old man, after which I went alone and caught twelve or fourteen dozen fishes. I took the money home to this unnatural mother, and asked her to buy me some clothes, for my fish brought me half a dollar a dozen; but she retained the money, and the only satisfaction I had, was to be compelled to follow her and her children to the store, and see her expend it for finery for her daughter, and then to carry it home. I had, however, the satisfaction of retaining a trout and perch line, with a hook for each, which I hid under the pavement, with a few pence; although they were steel, they were more valuable to me than silver or gold. After this little experiment, when I. wished to enjoy a fishing excursion, I was obliged to run away. I laid up money enough to purchase a suit of clothes; my bank was the brick pavement, my banker was my fish hook and lines, my cashier was my own hands, and my associates my own brains. At length I got a lawyer to obtain me a suit of clothes with my own money, but I not only had the mortification of having them taken away from me, but given to her boy, and by way of interest received a sound flogging, and here I remember, hearing her for the first time in her anger, call me an outlandish savage; although I could not understand it, yet it made a peculiar impression on my young mind. At night, when I ought to have been sleeping, I was rolling on my bed, watering my pillow with my tears, thinking of the advice of my old friend, the colored man, who was a preacher, and truly a good man, who taught me to pray and to hope for better days. When he died, I lost a true friend, and I was almost overwhelmed at the loss.
The Munce Family
About this time I became acquainted with a family by the name of Munce, who were always very kind to me. The house of Mr. Thomas Munce was kindly offered me as a home, when I was unable to obtain one in any other way. Mrs. Munce often took me upon her lap and consoled me in my grief, and taught me to think of my Heavenly Father, and to pray to him. They were true friends to me to the very last, and I can never express my obligations or thankfulness to them.
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Fruits of Early Whistling
By this time I had become quite a whistler, and by this method, and other means, had obtained quite a sum of money, again and I employed the same lawyer who had assisted me on a former occasion to purchase me another, suit of clothes, and the lawyer went and told the woman that he had presented them to me, and that she must let me wear them. She did so, and I was so thankful for it that I was willing to give her anything which I could make by my ingenuity. She could not bear to hear me praised, especially above her own children, and she forbade my receiving any more presents. I then hired out to doctors and lawyers to sweep their offices, &c. Some were kind enough to feed me and pay me something; others fed me only, and took me home to their families.
Cruel Treatment of the Colored woman in whose hands I had been placed by her Master
I gave the woman my money, also the presents I received, but the more I gave her, the more she exacted from me. Child as I was, I could not allow myself to weep by day. If she found my pillow wet with my tears, she whipped me for that, and I formed a habit of going alone at night, and lifting my heart to God in prayer, for his preservation, and that my father might return. When I stood thus alone, in the open air, a feeling of hope was within my heart, as I felt thus alone before God, with the stars, which in my childish language I called the eyes of heaven, gazing down upon me; here I gained fortitude to bear all my wrongs, here I determined to ask the white man, whom I sometimes saw, about my own father. I had now and then mentioned it to the woman, she always told with tongue and heart, begone! Outlandish savage, you never had any father. As she was always angry at my inclination to be alone about this time, she gave me a severe whipping for climbing a bluff, which no other boy dated to, and thus spending a Sabbath with my thoughts, tears, prayers and childish aspirations. This point was called Buzzard Roost. I have since thought she in her anger, forgot herself at this time, for she asked me if I did not know that this was the way Indians and all wild savages lived, and could not be tamed, that the white people could not make as much service of them, as they could of the blacks, for they would not work for them, but spent their lives in wandering about in the woods, both day and night, living with the wild beasts. Now I loved wild beasts, and my heart was swelling within me; I forgot her evil blows as with clasped hands and tearful eyes, my heart kindled with the most intense emotion at her recital. I cried out, Oh! tell me more, tell me more. She looked at me, said something about the strange wild light in my eyes, seated herself, and seemed in deep thought.
She then said something which I did not understand, though I listened, for I thought she was going to tell me more. I think she said in a soliloquy, ‘what is bred in the bone will be in the marrow,’ consequently, when I hear the remark, my mind resorts to this scene of my childhood, with peculiar emotion, and intense interest. I accordingly asked the white man where he found me and when my father would come for me. He seemed astonished to find I had any recollection of a father before I saw him. He told me I had been dreaming that he was not my father; bade me remember I was this woman’s child and she could do as she pleased with me; bade me never to mention this thing to any one, nor speak of it again to him; but told me I would know more about it when old enough to work. Here I gave myself up to despair, and run away and went into the back part of the city. I had often been nearly starved, and thought I could stand hunger pretty well, and managed to climb up and sleep in an old hay loft; but I became very hungry, and knew not what to do, as I was unacquainted here, and wished to remain in secret lest I should be taken back. My spirits were so much broken, that I could not enter into my old pranks to gain me friends. I sat myself down early in the morning, near a fine looking house, thinking what I should do. I could not bear to beg. There chanced to come to feed their dogs, some of the inmates of the house. As soon as their backs were turned, I hastened to the spot, and with all the strength I had, begged the poor dogs for a morsel of food to prevent me from starving. My hunger made it sweet to me. For some time I slept upon my bed of hay at night, and watched the shaking of tablecloths and with the dogs picked up the crumbs that were thrown from the tables of the owners. I could not endure this kind of life, and began to search for work. I at length hired to assist in a brick kiln. I passed a few weeks here as happy as my feelings would allow, but a black woman who knew my pretended mother, recognized me, and gave information. I was taken back. They had searched much for me, also advertised for me. The brick maker had heard of the search, but never supposed that it referred to me. He had often spoken to me of my red skin, saying I resembled Indian boys he had often seen about Natches. I then had the privilege of asking what Indian Savages meant, and received satisfactory answers. They told much of them which excited my curiosity; that brought to my mind scenes of my earliest recollection. Then they had faded from my mind, yet I determined if my life was spared, I would visit that people. He also set before me the different grades of society, which enabled me to understand why I had often seen this bated appellation, while I had been absent.
This unnatural mother had seen and advertised in a N. O. paper, which she mistook for me, and she had not been home long before I was brought there also. After her old custom, as usual, she stripped me to give me a lashing, but at the sight of my bruised and lacerated body, she seemed to have some relenting, and I thought was moved for a moment even to pity. The reason of my being thus managed was in consequence of refusing to return. They beat me and lashed me so unmercifully with a cowhide, that my body was black and blue. She then said she wished she had never seen me or the man who had brought me there. She seemed to have given up all hopes of conquering me, and said she ought to tell all she knew and get rid of me, least I should do something ia my fits of anger ot an awful nature. She then bade me put on my clothes and begone out of her sight, and told me to remember that at some future time she should punish me. I then went to Major Young of the U. S. Army, who was then stationed there, and through his influence I obtained a situation with a Physician, Dr. A. P. Merill, who was also a Surgeon in the U. S. Army.
How long I remained with this kind gentleman, my memory does not serve me; it may have been a year. I was one day sent to the office of the Surgeon, upon an errand, by some of the ladies of the officers of the Post. While passing from the office, a young man who was studying medicine with the Surgeon raised his window and called me. A lad about 16 years of age happened to be near. This lad was asking the young Surgeon if I lived there; when I came up, he seeing me, said with a sneer of contempt, there comes the nigger. Mrs. Munce’s family, of whom I have before spoken, was very kind to me, and when memory brings up the reminiscences of the past, the scenes of my childhood cluster around me, causing my bosom to heave with peculiar emotion, and my bosom heaves to and fro like the troubled waves of old ocean, and the big burning tears often course down my cheeks, and so long as memory holds her empire, I cannot forget the kindness of this family. This family was blessed with a young daughter as beautiful as she was kind and innocent, who manifested much sympathy for me.
This lad, of whom I have spoken, was very fond of Mary, and become very jealous of me; consequently he was always tantalizing me, and upbraiding me with the epithet of nigger. When this lad thus said, yonder comes the nigger, all my Indian nature was aroused, and my very blood boiled in every vein, and my feelings were so intense that I called upon the Great Spirit, and conjured heaven and earth to know where I originated from. I picked up a part of a brick, though I scarcely hoped to reach him, yet I aimed at his head with all my might; it reached him just as he happened to turn around, to see what I was doing. It cut his lips, and knocked out five of his teeth. The doctor had to sew up his lips. His friends made a search to see who was around me, and threatened to prosecute them. The Surgeon quieted my feelings, saying no harm should befall me. They went to my unnatural mother to see what they could do with her. My runaway excursion was not yet settled for, and she said she could not do anything about it, and they must take my body. She made many complaints about my violent and unconquerable temper, and said she had intended to have me imprisoned, and there whipped and starved, until my spirit should be tame.
Imprisonment and Cruel Whipping
The white people were strangers to me, and the fathers of many other boys that I had boxed for the same insult, took advantage of this, and bore testimony against me that I was a dangerous boy when angry. They however spoke of my industrious habits and talents favorably, and upon the whole they concluded to confine me. I became alarmed at this, began to beg for pardon, with now and then a flogging, with little to eat. I heard my sentence with sullen composure-they asked me if I was not sorry; I told them if their laws and prison had power to keep my body, I was sure I had power over my own tongue, that I could not, and would not, talk with them, and when I was sorry it would be before God alone. While I was in prison, a white man came to me, and said he had many things to say to me to which I must listen attentively. He told me that the woman called my mother was a slave, as well as the mother of the two children, but she was set free before the birth of these two children, consequently her two children were free, but I was their slave. This unloosed my tongue, and raised every angry passion of my nature. I loudly asserted that he had brought me from my own home, and had made me a slave; he bade me be quiet until he could tell me all; he then changed his tone, and told me I had n father, probably a white man, but as he did not come to buy me, I was to come; I was consequently given over as a slave to the children; he said I must never reveal this, he only told it to comfort me, but told me if I would promise to bear the taunts that would occur; I told him 1 could not and should not (break) make any such promises, for I would be sure to break them, and to spare himself the trouble of trying to console me, with such base falsehoods. I told him this woman when angry called me different names wishing she had never seen the wild savage devils, sometimes even calling me a white woman’s child, which besides her evil treatment, gave me every reason to believe she was not my mother.
I told him that some strange mysteries hung over my birth, and I accused him of knowing what it was, and on my knees implored him to unravel it to me if to none other, telling him by so doing he could console me. He turned coldly from me, while I stretched myself on the floor in despair, assuring him my blood was free, and pure. I crawled around where I could look him in the face, telling him he need not fear to rescue me from this place of abuse and disgrace, that every step in my after life, should be to prove it, and honor him, but said nothing to reassure me, nor even to speak, I then thought he would do nothing for me; I said, well, I will bear it; it will lay me in my grave, and there I shall be free.
He was touched with my earnest importunity; gazed upon me a moment, then stooped, and raised me from the floor, with his own hand and he begged me to be calm, to compose the tumult of my feelings, saying it is a pity that you should be wronged for the love of money, for let your skin be what it may, you have a noble heart; and when I contrast your last appeal to my humanity, with your language regarding your enemies, it reminds me of the sun breaking out clear and warm through a dark, thick cloud. He promised me he would never wrong me, but strove again to obtain the promise he first wished; but 1 could not promise; he said he would use his influence to obtain my release; he bid me a kind farewell, wishing me kind friends, and better success for the future. I was then left alone for the night, and a part of the next day, after which I underwent a severe course of punishment, the severest of it being their advice as regarded names or epithets that I might receive, telling me I must even expect it, and bear it too, from the very fact of the woman known as my mother, having been a slave, but as usual I denied her being my mother, told them all I knew of myself before I knew her, which was new to them, and some of my enemies were thus turned to friends; they said it was not reasonable to suppose that I was an Indian child, taken when small, for the purpose of making me a slave. Some asserted they had heard of such circumstances, and it was easily done, where there was such a diversity of color as there is in the South.
Liberated from Prison
I was allowed to remain with kind friends, who said if they had known of my troubles they would have interposed, and proved me a good child, with the exception of a violent temper, which could not be denied, but when treated half right, I was industrious, obedient, gentle and kind, and was free from many faults that beset boys, who had not only the advantage of being white, but whose parents moved in the highest circles of society that my manners were manly in the extreme; and then I had many exalted and noble ideas, relative not only to men and things in this world, but also entertained the most elevated and exalted views of God and his attributes, and as I had received no education, either moral, mental or physical, these thoughts must have been original. This leads me to believe that these ideas must have emanated from the Good Spirit, and that man is immortal, and shall live eternally after he leaves this world.
I soon accepted an offer from a Mr. Russell, to learn the blacksmith’s trade. He urged me much to come, and promised to treat me well, but he failed in the very commencement. I had entertained such entire confidence in him that my spirits sank within me. I was totally unprepared for his unkind treatment. I wept again and again over his cruel conduct to me, and found suspicion and jealousy so contrary to my nature, and which had hitherto been a stranger to me, had taken possession of my heart. I was entirely unconscious of other persons suffering the same painful emotions, that was gnawing like a canker worm upon my heart, crushing down in my young heart; I was becoming poorer in flesh every day, but I still continued steadily at my work, to drive away my bad feelings. I do not know how old I was, but they raised three steps to raise me high enough to blow the bellows, and strike upon the anvil. Some months had passed in this fearful manner, when at length one day Mr. Russell came to me, and ordered me to strip for the whip; in vain I begged to know what I had done to merit such usage; he only answered me with angry oaths, so loud that I was dead in silence, and obeyed, determining in my mind that this should be the last time I would do it. He used a whip known in the South as the overseer’s whip. I fell to the floor, after a few of the first blows, they were so severe, they seemed to take away my breath, and I thought my life; but I retained my consciousness of it until he ceased; I tried but could not arise, but my cries for help at first were so heart rending, that although the shop was closed, people healing my cries rushed through the back way and forced him to stop; they raised me up, but I knew it not; I had fainted; they took me away, and washed my body, bathed my wounds, which brought back a sense of pain, but it was only to faint again, while the blood flowed fast. On coming to myself again, I vomited freely, but soon fainted again from pain and loss of blood. A Physician was called, he seemed alarmed at my situation, and said it might cause my death, the vomiting and fainting for twenty-four hours in spite of all their efforts, continuing. Russell seemed now very much alarmed, but I could not bear the sight of him, and would not permit him to come near me; he then gave orders to have everything done possible for my recovery. What alarmed him most was that the people told him that if I died, in consequence of his cruel treatment, that they would put the law in force against him, which would be first without any formal trial to tar and feather him, ride him on a rail, and then hang him without judge or jury, or the benefit of clergy.
My friends watched over me with all the tenderness that they would if 1 had been their own child. For the first three weeks I was compelled to lie upon my stomach, and when I was compelled to change my position, I was compelled to rest on my knees, so that t have at least been in a humble position once in my life, if no more, from the force of circumstances, but I feel grateful to the Good Spirit that he has given me a heart to bow before him, and adore his goodness, and I shall even be thankful that he raised me up such kind friends, for had he not 1 must have died, and now been sleeping beneath the green sod of the valley; the wounds in my back were so deep that you could in some places see through into my stomach. My back was a complete mass of suppuration. It was well known that I was perfectly well on the morning that this circumstance took place, and then to see me in this situation, it was talked over again and again, that the people became so exasperated that they told Russell that if he did not leave, they would ride him out of the town on a rail; this so alarmed him that he picked up his duds and moved away; soon after he died a miserable life, being drowned in a ditch, in a fit of intoxication, making my prophecies true that God would punish him for his savage treatment to me, though hand in hand the wicked shall not go unpunished.