1809 - Yes, date unknown
||John Little |
||, USA 
||race, life story, black, abuse |
||Peel Twp., Wellington Co., Ontario, Canada 
|Eby ID Number
||Yes, date unknown
||23 Feb 2021 |
- JOHN LITTLE.
[The hero of the following narrative is much respected, wherever he is known--in Canada West. And in that country of good farms, Mr. Little's is one of the best, and among the best managed.]
I have been bought and sold by several masters. I was born in N. C., Hertford Co., nigh Murfreesboro': I lived there more than twenty years. My first master, was just a reasonable man for a slaveholder. As slaveholders go, he used his people very well. He had but seven,--my mother and her six children; of the children, I was the oldest. I was never sent to school a day in my life, and never knew a letter until quite late in life. I was not allowed to go to meeting. My business on Sundays was looking after the mules and hogs, and amusing myself with running hares and fishing.
My master broke down, and I was taken by the sheriff, and sold at public auction in Murfreesboro'. I felt miserably bad to be separated from my mother and brothers and sisters. They too felt miserably about it, especially my poor old mother, who ran all about among the neighbors trying to persuade one and another to buy me; which none of them would promise to do, expecting the traders to give more. This she did on Sundays: week-days, she had to work on the farm.
Finally I was sold to a man in the same county, about ten miles from the first place. He abused me like a dog--worse than a dog,--not because I did any thing wrong, but because I was a "nigger." My blood boils to think about him, let me be where I will. It don't seem to me that even upon the Lord's day, and now I know that there is a hereafter, it would be a sin before God to shoot him, if he were here, he was so bad: he so abused me,--he, a wise man,--abused me because I was a fool,--not naturally, but made so by him and others under the slave laws. That is God's truth, that I was inhumanly abused.
At the time of this sale I was about twenty-three, but being a slave, I did not know my age; I did not know any thing. He came and said to me, "Well, boy, do you know who's bought you?" I answered, "I do not, sir." "Well," he said, "I've bought you: do you know me?" I told him "I did." "I have bought you, and I'll give you a pass (for there a colored man cannot go without a pass even from an auction,) to go to my farm; go down there, to the overseer, and he 'll tell you what to do." I went on Sunday morning, the day after the sale, and delivered myself up. Said he, "Go down there to the quarters, with the rest of the niggers, and to-morrow I'll tell you what to do. When I got down there I found about seventy men, women, and children. They told me Mr. E--was a hard man, and what I had better do to avoid the lash. They do that among themselves any time. It was in the winter time, and when the horn sounded for us to rise, we were allowed fifteen minutes to get to the overseer's house about a quarter of a mile off. I wish he were here now to hear me tell it, to see whether it 's the truth,--I could look right in his face the whole time. Breakfast was not even talked about. We were dismissed from work at different hours, but never till after dark. Then we would go to our cabins, and get up our little fires, and cook, or half cook, our victuals. What we did not eat that night, we put into little old baskets that we made ourselves, and put it handy, so that when the horn sounded, we could take it and clear to the overseer's. This provision served us all the next day.
We usually ate it at the time the horses ate. We were not allowed to eat during work, under penalty of fifty lashes. That was the law laid down by the master to the overseer. We had to plan and lay schemes of our own to get a bite. "A nigger could always find time to eat and smoke and shuffle about, and so he wouldn't allow it to us. He wouldn't have his work hindered by eating." I don't put the blame of cruelty on the overseer: I put it on the master who could prohibit it, if he would. No man ought to take the place of overseer,--I blame the scoundrel who takes the office; but if he does take it, he must obey orders.
After being there three weeks, I wanted to go back to see my mother who was broken-hearted at the loss of her children. It seemed as if the evil one had fixed it so,--for then two daughters were taken and carried off to Georgia. She had been sold before for the fellow's debts,--sold close by at private sale. I asked leave of my master Saturday night. I went to him, pulled off my hat, and asked him, if he would please give me a pass to go and see my mother, and I would come back Sunday evening. "No! I don't allow my niggers to run about Sundays, gawking about; I want you to-morrow to look after the mules and the horses along with the rest of the niggers." He was the greatest gentleman in that neighborhood. The white men all looked up to him. He was what is called a "nigger-breaker." If any one had a stubborn slave, that they couldn't bend just as they wanted to, they would hire him to S--E--for a year. I have known them to be sent from as much as fifty miles, to be broke, because he had so much cruelty: he was a hard-hearted, overbearing scoundrel: the cries and groans of a suffering person, even if ready to die, no more affected him, than they would one of my oxen in the field yonder. This I have seen and known, and partly endured in my own person.
His refusing the pass, naturally made me a little stubborn: I was a man as well as himself. I started and went without the pass, and returned on Sunday evening, after dark. Nothing was said until Monday morning,--then we went to the overseer, and were all told to go to the gin-house. As soon as I got there, the overseer and two colored men laid right hold of me, and tied me fast to an apple-tree with some of the baling-rope, and then sent for the master. He came,--"Well, Sir, I suppose you think you are a great gentleman." I thought, as they had me tied, I would try to beg off as well as I could, knowing that sauciness would not make it any better for me. "I suppose," he went on, "you think you can come and go whenever you please." I told him "No: I wanted to see my mother very bad, and so I ran over there and came back as I told you." Said he, "I am your master, and you shall obey me, let my orders be what they may." I knew that as well as he, but I knew that it was devilishness, that he would n't give me a pass. He bade the overseer hit me five hundred lashes,--five hundred lashes he bade the overseer hit me! Men have received them down south, this morning since the sun rose. The overseer ordered two slaves to undress me, which they did: they turned my shirt over my head which blind-folded me. I could not see who put on the blows, but I knew. It was not the master,--he was too much of a gentleman: but he had a plenty of dogs to set on. What I tell you now, I would tell at the judgment, if I were required. 'T is n't he who has stood and looked on, that can tell you what slavery is,--'t is he who has endured. I was a slave long enough, and have tasted it all. I was black, but I had the feelings of a man as well as any man.
The master then marked on me with his cane where the overseer was to begin, and said, "Whip him from there down." Then the overseer went at it, the master counting aloud. He struck me a hundred lashes right off before he stopped. It hurt me horribly, but after the first hundred, sensation seemed to be beaten out of my flesh. After the first hundred, the master said, "Now, you cursed, infernal son of a b--, your running about will spoil all the rest of my niggers: I don't want them to be running about, and you shan't be running about." I answered, "Master, I didn't mean any harm; I wanted to go and see my mother, and to get a shirt I left over there." He then struck me over my head twice with his cane, and told me to "hold my jaw." I said no more; but he told the overseer, "put it on to him again like the very devil." I felt worse on account of the blows with the cane than for the overseer's whipping: that's what makes me feel so towards him now. It poisons my mind to think about him. I do n't want to think about him. I was as much a man as my master. The overseer then went on with the bull whip. How many they put on, I do n't know, but I know that from the small of my back to the calves of my legs, they took the skin clear off, as you would skin beef. That's what they gave me that day--the next day, I had to have some more. One of the slaves then washed me with salt and water to take out the soreness. This almost put me into a fit. It brought the pain all back--the abominable scoundrel knew it would. Then I was taken up to the blacksmith's shop to be fettered: that was the way S--
E--broke "niggers." His name sounded around there as if he had been Satan himself: the colored people were as afraid of him as they would be of a lion out in these bushes.
Iron rings were put about my ankles, and a short chain to the rings. I was given in charge to two slaves. Some may deny that the slaveholders are so bad, but I know it's true, and God knows it's true. A stranger may go there, and they are not such fools as to put such punishment on a man before him. If he is going to do that, he will send him over the fields out of the way, and while they are enjoying themselves in the house, the slave is suffering under the whip. A regular slaveholder has got no conscience. A slaveholder knows the difference between a northerner and a southerner. If a man came from any other part, he never saw me in irons. G--L--might have seen me, or L--K--, or any other slaveholder might come and see it, and hold a council over it, and blackguard me for it: "Boy, what have you got that on you for? That shows a d--d bad nigger: if you war n't a bad nigger you would n't have them on."
The two slaves took me in charge, with orders to kill me if I tried to escape. At night, my feet were made fast in the stocks, without removing the irons. The stocks were of wood with grooves for the ancles, over which laid an iron bar. I could lie on my back, but could not turn. The next morning, I was taken to the gin-house to receive fifty blows with the bucking-paddle. This was my master's order. I received three blows, and then fainted. When I came to, only one slave was with me, who took me to the field to work,--but I was in so bad state that I could not work that day, nor much for a week. After doing
a hard day's work in the fetters which had now worn to the bone, for they would get wet with dew in the morning, and then sand would work in, I was placed in the stocks--my ankles sore, bleeding, and corrupted. I wished I could die, but could not.
At the end of three months, he found I was too stubborn for him to subdue. He took off the fetters from my ankles, put me in handcuffs, and sent me to Norfolk jail, to be shipped for New Orleans. But when I arrived, the time that niggers were allowed to be shipped to New Orleans was out, and the last boat for that spring had sailed. After two weeks, I had the measles. My master was written to, but neither came nor sent any answer. As the traders were coming there with slaves, the turnkey put me into the kitchen to avoid contagion. I soon got better,--the turnkey said, "You are well now, and must be lonesome,--I'll put you in with the rest in a day or two." I determined to escape if I could.
At night I took a shelf down and put it against the inclosure of the yard, and climbed to the top, which was armed with sharp spikes, fourteen inches long, and, risking my life, I got over the spikes. Just as I had done this, the nine o'clock bell rung the signal for the patrols. I fell on the outside and made for the river, where I found a skiff loaded with wood. I threw over half a cord in a hurry, and pushed off for the opposite shore, to go back into the neighborhood of my old place, hoping, by dodging in the bush, to tire out my master's patience, and induce him to sell me running. I knew nothing about the North then--I did not know but the northerners were as bad as the southerners. I supposed a white man would be my enemy, let me see him where I would. Some of the neighbors there
would have bought me, but he refused to sell me in the neighborhood, being ashamed to sell there a slave whom he could not break. He gave up first, but I was the worse beaten. I was as big-hearted as he was: he did not like to give up, and I would not give in--I made up my mind that if he would find whips, I would find back.
Having lightened the skiff, I paddled across, and went back to North Carolina to my mother's door. I ran about there in the bush, and was dodging here and there in the woods two years. I ate their pigs and chickens--I did not spare them. I knew how to dress them, and did not suffer for want of food. This would not have taken place had my master complied with my reasonable request for a pass, after I had done my work well, without any fault being found with it. But when I found out by that, and by his cruel punishment, that he was a devil, I did not care what I did do. I meant he should kill me or sell me.
My master did not advertise me when he got the news of my escape, saying it was their loss, as I was placed in their charge. He sued, but was beaten. after this he advertised for me, offering fifty dollars for my capture, dead or alive. A free-born colored man, whom I had known, betrayed me. Some poor white fellows offered him ten dollars if he would find out where I was. He put them on my track. At ten one morning, they found me lying down asleep. I partially aroused, and heard one say, "Do n't shoot: it may be somebody else lying down drunk." I arose with my face towards them: there were six young white men armed with guns. I wheeled, and ran; they cried out, "Stop, or I'll shoot you." One of them, a real youngster, hit me, firing first; the others fired, and said they shot their
best, but did not hit. A bullet and a buckshot entered my right thigh; the shot came out, but the bullet went to the bone, and is there yet. It injured a sinew, so that my foot hurts me to this day, when I walk. I ran about a quarter of a mile, then my foot all at once gave out, and I fell. They came up with dirks, threatening me with instant death, if I even winked my eye towards molesting them. They took me in a cart, and put me into the county jail. All that night I lay wishing they had shot me dead. I did not want to face that hyena again. But he was as afraid of me as I was of him. He would not have me, he said, come on his farm again. He kept me in jail until a slave-driver came from Western Tennessee--he took me out to Tennessee, to hire out or sell--any thing to get rid of me. I was hired out to T--R--, in Jackson, Madison Co., two years. I did very well; the man who hired me was a pretty fair sort of a man for a slaveholder. During the two years I became satisfied with my condition, and, in about a year after, married a young woman, belonging to T--N--: she is living with me yet.
About nine months after our marriage, I was, on a sudden, without suspecting any thing, jerked right up and put in jail again to be sold. I was taken by a driver to Memphis, and put into the hands of a planter, who was to sell me when he got an opportunity. In about two weeks, when I had got rested, I started to go back to see my wife; but I got taken up on the course, and was put in jail. The people asked me where I was going. I told them the truth, "To Jackson." I've been into pretty much all the jails round there. It seems to me wonderful, when I have known men to be killed without doing so much, or going through so
much as I have, that I should be spared. It is only by the mercy of God that I have escaped so many dangers. I have known men to be killed by less accidents,--but I was spared, although I have the marks of many wounds and bruises.
In jail they fettered my ankles again. There was a black man in the room with me, who was caught under the same circumstances as myself--going to see his wife, as a man has a right to do. I was very muscular and smart, but he was stouter than I. We broke through the top of the jail at night--the shingles cracking gave the alarm. My friend was scared, and did not dare fall: but I did not care what befell me, and I rolled off to the ground, without having time to use strips of bedclothes which we had prepared. I was chained, and could not spring to save myself: it was a hard fall, but I was not quite stunned. I should not have got off, but that my pursuers bothered each other. They first started for the roof, and finding we were outside, the jailer cried, "Go outside! do n't let 'em come down! do n't let 'em come down!" His wife, hearing this, thought we were coming down stairs, and secured the door. While they were breaking out, I crept on my hands and knees about two hundred yards, to a creek, which I crept over in the same way. Then I looked around, and saw the jailer on the top of the jail with a light, looking for me, not thinking I could get down chained. He called, "John! John! where are you? If you do n't answer me, you son of a b--h, I'll kill you when I get you." A neighbor crossed over, and asked, "What is the matter?" He answered, "The d--d niggers are breaking out of jail." I heard this distinctly on the other side of the creek, where I sat listening, to hear what course they would take. As I
crept, I had to spread my feet to keep my chain from rattling--a child could have taken me chained as I was. In a few minutes the whole village was in an uproar. I heard the jailer tell some one to go to a man that kept dogs, and "tell him to come in a minute--I want him to run a nigger." I then crept: I could creep faster than I could run. From what I had told my captors, they thought I had gone to Jackson, and so failed of finding my track.
I did not know where I was, nor which way to go. I found a road, and wandered along in that. When my hands and knees got cold with creeping, I would get up and shuffle along with my chain. At daybreak, as the Lord would have it, I came to a blacksmith's shop. No one was there. I went in and felt among the tools in the dark, and found a great new rasp. I took the rasp along with me, and crept on to find a bush, and wait for daylight. As soon as I could see to do it, I cut my feet loose. I would give fifty dollars if I had the irons here that I've been abused in, to show people who say they do n't believe such things--who say that men are not so abused. I would like to show them the irons and the paddles and the whips and the stocks that I have worn on me and been punished with. I would n't take fifty dollars of the best British gold that ever was laid out to me, if I could have them here to show people how I have suffered in the United States: and I should like to have them here who ordered the blows and fastened the irons, to see how they would look while I was telling of it.
At about 8 o'clock in the morning, my feet were free. I had had nothing to eat since noon the day before. I wandered through the woods all day, eating acorns, and trying to find the route for Jackson. I meant to
get there: nothing would have stopped me but death. I was not going to have another man send me round the country just where he liked. That night I got the course for Jackson; and after walking an hour, I entered a barn-yard and found among the harness a bridle. I was barefooted, and bareheaded--had nothing on but my shirt and pantaloons,--all else I had taken off to get through the roof the jail. I then walked into the stable, and found what appeared to be a gentleman's riding-horse--and a better nag I never laid leg across. He took me in three hours further than he ever took anybody else in six, I think. When I got to Jackson, I turned the horse loose in the street: he wandered about a while, but the owner got him at last. When he sees that, he will know who borrowed his horse, and if he will send in his bill, I will settle it. I have plenty of land and plenty of money to pay off all debts, and if some of my old friends would come this way, I would pay off some other old scores--that are on my back.
At Jackson, I saw my wife: she had been bought by F--T--, a regular negro-trader--one of the biggest dogs in the bone-yard. He said he would buy me running if he could, but no one was to be told where I was, as he wished to buy me cheap. He wrote to my master that he had bought my wife, and that I was dodging about the place: that he did n't want me about among his "niggers,"--but that if he would sell me, he would catch me if he could,--if not, he would shoot me. The answer was, that my master would sell me for eight hundred dollars. T--paid the money and took possession of me. He put me on his farm. He was overbearing--his overseer was more so. He was one of those who, when they get a "nigger," must whip him, right or wrong, just to let him know "that he is a
'nigger.'" No fault was found with my work. He looked sharp to try to find some way to get at me. At last he found a way to do it--an excuse to whip me,--it was in this way: one day he heard me speak something to one of the hands; it was some of our nonsense, of no consequence whatever. But he was itching for an excuse to flog me, and now he had got one--for it was a rule that there should be no talk on work hours, except about the work. My master having heard that I was an old runaway, and had given trouble to my master, had cautioned the overseer not to bear down very hard upon me until I had got habituated to the place and the ways. The overseer went to the master and said it would never do to excuse that "nigger;" for if he talked the rest would stand and hear it; he should either whip me or take me off the place. Master told him, and was overheard to say it, that if I would not obey him, he might take me down and give me three hundred with the paddle. The overseer made up his mind to give me the punishment on the next evening. When I had got through work, I went home, tired and hungry--my wife met me at the door, laid her hand on my arm, "John, three hundred for you this evening with the paddle!" That news filled my stomach very quick,--it stopped my hunger, but made me feel thirsty for blood. I swore that I would not leave the quarters until I was killed, or had killed any man; master, overseer, or slave, who might come to take me. But as it happened, a gentleman from New Orleans came to see my master that night, and so the punishment was postponed. If this was done for a southerner, how could a northerner expect to see any punishment? That visit was what prevented my killing a man, and being killed for it that night: for I
had a good sharp axe, and I know I should have used it. I waited some time for them to come,--but as they did not, my temper cooled down, and I concluded to take to the bush.
I had heard that if I could get into Ohio, and manage to stay there one year, I would, after that, be a free man. I intended to wait for my wife to get smart, she being sick at the time. I went into the woods, and once more took to living on chickens and geese, which I understood very well. In about two weeks I went for my wife. Another man had agreed to come with us: but he was weak enough to advise with a friend about it, and the friend turned traitor and told his master. They are just the same as white men. I have found out since I have been in Canada, that 't is not the skin that makes a man mean. Some of them will betray another to curry favor with the master, or to get a new coat, or two or three dollars, and I have noticed the same mean spirit among white men. But there are others who would die sooner than betray a friend.
I bade my wife get ready for a start on the next night, and then I took to the bush again. Meanwhile, the traitor slipped to our master, and asked him if he knew that three of the negroes were going to run away. He told him "No--which three?" He named us. "Where are they going to?" "Ohio State." This aroused my master: he went to the quarters, tied the man, and tied my wife, and took them to a swamp. There they uncovered my wife, and compelled a girl to whip her with the paddle to make her tell where I was. It so stirred me with indignation to think they should so foully abuse my wife, that I could have run a dagger through their hearts and not thought it wrong: nor have I yet got so far enlightened as to feel very differently
about it now. She could not tell him, for she did not know. The man also was punished, and put in irons. They had no irons to fit her, and sent to the blacksmith's shop to get some made: and had it not been for some craft on her part that night, I should never have got her away. Old Billy, with whom we were usually left, was the blacksmith; and while he was going to make the irons, she was left with a younger man who was a stupid sort of a fellow. It was then nearly noon, and she had had no food for the day. She was then at the quarters. She said to one of the girls, "Maria, you go to the turnip-patch, and get some salad, and I'll go to the spring, get some water, and put on the meat." She expected the fellow would stop her, but he did not. She carried the pail to the spring, about a quarter of a mile, then dropped it, and made for the bush. It was a down-hill way at first, but by and by, there was a rise and then they saw her. Out came master, overseer, and many slaves, in full run to catch her: but she was now nearly half a mile ahead, and ran very fast. She got into the woods which were very thick. Master then ordered a halt,--he had found from the other slaves that I had a pistol, powder, and ball. I had, indeed, and would have used it, rather than they should take me or her. But I was in another place at the time.
I had appointed a place where she was to come to meet me: when I went she was not there. I then drew near the house to ascertain what had happened, and heard a loud laughing and talking in my cabin. I tried to hear what it was about. I heard one of them say, "Lord, how she did run across that field! ha! ha! ha!" She had baked cakes for our journey, and they were making merry over the flour cakes. Presently, I saw a
colored man, and whistled to him. He came up, and I learned what had happened, and that all were then out on a hunt for me, being stimulated by a promised reward of ten dollars. All this set me into a tremble; I turned back, and went to the place I had appointed. She was near by, saw me and ran to me, and so we were together once more. We then walked nine miles northwardly to a little village where I had put up my clothes. The man who betrayed us had told our route. I got the things and went to the barn close by: then my wife was exhausted, and fell on the barn-floor. I had a strong constitution, and could travel all the time; but she was so fatigued from the flogging, and the race, and the long walk, that she fell on the barn-floor. I returned to the house, and then walked to a tavern stable, to hook three or four blankets to keep us warm on our way north. If this was wrong, it was taught me by the rascality of my master.
While at the tavern stable, I heard the dog bark at the house I had left; I gathered three blankets and bolted for the barn, expecting the scoundrels would be pursuing my wife. I saw a candle burning bright in the house, and moving from room to room. That frightened me: I seized and shook her,--"wife! wife! master is coming!"--but I could not awaken her. I gathered her up, put her across my shoulder manfully, jumped the fence, and ran with my burden about a quarter of a mile. My heart beat like a drum, from the thought that they were pursuing us. But my strength at last gave out, and I laid her down under a fence, but she did not awaken. I then crept back to the house to see who was there and to get my things. The light I had seen now came down stairs, and moved towards
the barn. I was so near that I saw the overseer and six slaves, armed, searching for me.
Oh my soul! it makes my hair stand up to think how near we were to getting caught, and carried back, to be abused and maltreated unreasonably, and without cause.
I was within five rods of them when they went into the barn. They searched it thoroughly, as I saw between the rails of a fence. "Oh you rascals!" I thought, "you 're defeated now!"--but 't was a close run and a narrow chance. When they left the barn, I kept watch of them. They returned the candle to the house, then walked the way they had come, to the place where they had left their mules. They stayed there about a half an hour. I still kept watch of them. I wanted to get my things, but I was wise enough to know that every time a slaveholder is out of sight, he is n't gone; every time his eye is shut, he is not asleep. They then returned toward the house; as they moved, I moved, keeping the same distance from them. When they were within about ten rods of the house, they crouched down in readiness to shoot me when I might approach the house. They had rendered me desperate by their devilment, and knew I would fight: they would not dare take me without shooting me first. I watched them, and they watched for me, until the cocks crowed for morning. It would not do for me to remain any longer to get my clothes and provisions. I went back to the place where I had left my wife; she was then easily awakened, and we hied to the woods to conceal ourselves for the day. We had no provisions but a raw ham. We dared not make a fire to broil it, so we ate of it raw; like a dog. At night, between sunset and
dark, I went back to the house in the village--at the door I saw a person with our things. They gave them to me, and bade me God-speed, and that, if ever I was taken, not to betray them. I then put forth, and, with my wife, reached Canada. God save the Queen!
From Jackson to the Ohio River was called one hundred and forty miles,--crossed the river to Cairo; then we footed through Illinois to Chicago; all the way we lay by days, and travelled nights. I forgot the name of that city, and wandered out of the way, and got to a river. It was the Mississippi, but I did not know it. We crossed into Black Hawk territory. There I was so lost and bewildered, that I had at last to go up to a house to inquire the way. I found there a man with true abolition principles, who told us the route. He said a man and his wife had been carried back to slavery from that neighborhood. He did not take us across the river, but we found a way over. Then we walked on,--my wife was completely worn out: it was three months from the time we left home before we slept in a house. We were in the woods, ignorant of the roads, and losing our way. At one time we came to a guideboard, which said "5 miles to Parks's Landing." I had learned to spell out print a little. This was Sunday night. I took the direction I wanted to travel as near as I could, and we went on. On Wednesday afternoon we came back to the same guide-board--"5 miles to Parks's Landing." Many such roundabout cruises we made, wearing ourselves out without advancing: this was what kept us so long in the wilderness and in suffering. I had suffered so much from white men, that I had no confidence in them, and determined to push myself through without their help. Yet I had to ask at last, and met with a friend instead of an enemy. At
Chicago money was made up to help me on, and I took passage for Detroit, and then crossed to Windsor, in Canada. That was the first time I set my foot on free soil.
Work was dull among the French at Windsor. We stayed there about six months. We heard of the Queen's Bush, where any people might go and settle, colored or poor, and might have a reasonable chance to pay for the land. We set out to find the Queen's Bush--went to Buffalo--thence to Black Rock--thence to St. Catharines, and there I got straight instructions. We had not a second suit of clothes apiece; we had one bedquilt and one blanket, and eighteen dollars in money. I bought two axes in Hamilton, one for myself, and one for my wife; half a dozen plates, knives and forks, an iron pot, and a Dutch oven: that's all for tools and furniture. For provisions I bought fifty weight of flour, and twenty pounds of pork. Then we marched right into the wilderness, where there were thousands of acres of woods which the chain had never run round since Adam. At night we made a fire, and cut down a tree, and put up some slats like a wigwam. This was in February, when the snow was two feet deep. It was about fourteen years ago. We made our bed of cedar boughs from a swamp. Thus we travelled three or four days, seeing plenty of deer: wolves, as plenty as sheep are now, were howling about us, and bears were numerous.
At last I came to a place where I judged, from the timber, the land was good--and so it proved. My nearest neighbor was two miles off. I felt thankful that I had got into a place where I could not see the face of a white man. For something like five or six years, I felt suspicious when I saw a white man, thinking he
was prying round to take some advantage. This was because I had been so bedevilled and harassed by them. At length that feeling wore off through kindness that I received from some here, and from abolitionists, who came over from the States to instruct us, and I felt that it was not the white man I should dislike, but the mean spirit which is in some men, whether white or black. I am sensible of that now.
The settlers were to take as much land as they pleased, when it should be surveyed, at various prices, according to quality. Mine was the highest price, as I had taken of the best land. It was three dollars seventy-cents an acre. I took a hundred acres at first, and then bought in fifty.
Myself and wife built us here a little log hut amid the snow. We made it ourselves, shouldering the logs to bring up to the place. We went to the cedar swamp, and split out boards for the roof. We had plenty of firewood, which served instead of blankets. Wolves, any quantity, were howling about us constantly, night and day--big, savage wolves, which alarmed the people. Some men carrying meat, were chased by them. Isaac Johnson was obliged to take up a tree. We got used to them on our way here, and did not fear them at all. In the spring, plenty of bears came about us after sheep and hogs. One day my wife and I were walking out, and we saw four bears in the cherry-trees eating the fruit. My wife went for my gun, called some neighbors, and we killed all four. Now the wolves are all gone, and the deer and the bears are scarce. There are idle men enough about here, colored and white, to drive them away, when they had better be chopping and clearing land.
We went to chopping, day and night; there was no
delay; we logged the trunks with our own hands, without cattle, or horses, or help,--all with our own hands, and burned them. I raised that year one hundred and ten bushels of spring wheat, and three hundred bushels of potatoes on land which we had cleared ourselves, and cultivated without plough or drag. All was done with the hoe and hand-rake. This I can prove by my nearest neighbors. I got the seed on credit of some Dutchmen in the towns, by promising to work for them in harvest. They put their own price on the seed, and on my labor.
In the next winter we went to clearing again. My wife worked right along with me: I did not realize it then, for we were raised slaves, the women accustomed to work, and undoubtedly the same spirit comes with us here: I did not realize it then; but now I see that she was a brave woman. I thank God that freedom has never overweighted us: some it has, but I have worked to support it, and not to discourage it. I thought I ought to take hold and work and go ahead, to show to others that there is a chance for the colored man in Canada; to show the spirit of a man, and a desire to improve his condition. As it is so often said by slaveholders, that if the "niggers" were free, and put in a place where they would be together they would starve to death, I wanted to show to the contrary. I have one hundred and fifty acres of land: one hundred and ten of it cleared, and under good cultivation: two span of horses, a yoke of oxen, ten milch cows and young cattle, twenty head of hogs, forty head of sheep; I have two wagons, two ploughs, and two drags. I would like to show this to that everlasting scoundrel, E--, my former master, and tell him, "All this I would have done for you cheerfully, and thought myself at home,
and felt happy in doing it, if you would have let me: but I am glad that you scarred and abused me, as it has given to myself and my family the fruits of my own labor." I would like to show it to those stout, able men, who, while they might be independent here, remain in the towns as waiters, blacking boots, cleaning houses, and driving coaches for men, who scarcely allow them enough for a living. To them I say, go into the backwoods of Queen Victoria's dominions, and you can secure an independent support. I am the man who has proved it; never man came into an unsettled country with lesser means to begin with. Some say, you cannot live in the woods without a year's provisions,--but this is not so: I have come here and proved to the contrary. I have hired myself out two days to get things to work on at home one. If there is a man in the free States who says the colored people cannot take care of themselves, I want him to come here and see John Little. There is no white blood in me; not a drop. My mother's father was imported from Africa, and both my grandparents on the father's side were also imported. I can prove to him that every thing which was due on the land is paid; that I raised seven hundred bushels of wheat last year, two hundred bushels of potatoes, one hundred bushels of peas, two hundred and fifty bushels of oats, ten tons of hay; fattened fifteen hundred weight of pork, one ox, besides other produce of less consequence. I have now growing fifty acres of wheat, eighteen acres of oats, ten of peas, one acre of potatoes, and twenty acres of meadow grass: I have horses, oxen, cows, hogs, sheep, and poultry in abundance. The man who was "a bad nigger" in the South, is here a respected, independent farmer. I thank God that I am respected in this neighborhood by the best men the country
can afford--can lend or borrow two thousand dollars any time I am asked, or choose to ask for it. I do n't say this for the sake of boasting--I say it to show that colored men can take care of themselves,--and to answer any who deny that Canada is a good country.
The "nigger" who was so "BAD" among Southerners, as to be scarred with whips, put in the stocks, chained at his work, with ankles sore from the irons, months together, legally shot and maimed for life by a boy who was too young to be trusted with a gun, sold into Tennessee, his character "bad," sent after him to debase him there, put in jail after jail, hunted by hounds--stands up here at the North, a man respectable and respected. I do n't ask any one to take my word for it, merely. Ask the people of Peel, Wellesley, Woolwich, and Waterloo--those are the places where I am known, and where they can get acquainted with my character; and I am willing it should be compared with that of any slaveholder whatever.
The abuse a man receives at the South is enough to drive every thing good from the mind. I sometimes felt such a spirit of vengeance, that I seriously meditated setting the house on fire at night, and killing all as they came out. I overcame the evil, and never got at it--but a little more punishment would have done it. I had been so bruised and wounded and beset, that I was out of patience. I had been separated from all my relatives, from every friend I had in the world, whipped and ironed till I was tired of it. On that night when I was threatened with the paddle again, I was fully determined to kill, even if I were to be hanged and, if it pleased God, sent to hell: I could bear no more. If any man thinks slavery a proper thing, let him go and be abused as I was for years in North Carolina,
much of the time in agony from irons and whips and paddles--then let him be sold off a thousand miles into Tennessee, and begin to live it over again, and I think he would be tired of it too.
I want every man that has the heart of a man, to put down upon slavery with all his heart and soul,--because it is a curse--because it makes the feeling of dislike to color, leading the white to abuse a "nigger" because he is a "nigger," and the black to hate the white because he abuses him.
In making my escape, my main difficulty was in crossing the Ohio Bottoms, before reaching the river. The water was black and deep. I bound our packages on my wife's back, placed her on a log as a man rides on horseback, and I swam, pushing the log, holding it steady, to keep her up. Had the log turned right or left, she would have slipped off, and the packs would have sunk her. It would have been death, sure--but worse than death was behind us, and to avoid that we risked our lives. When we had crossed one, we would presently come on another, and had to go through the same again. By and by, I would think, this must be the last,--but when we had crossed this, and gone over some little island, there would be another. Oh dear! it seems as if I could see it now,--I almost repented I had started, but on I went. There was another and another--good swimming creeks: but when I had crossed the last one, my spirits rose again--my heart cheered up, and I thought I could go through all.
After we had got to a place where we intended to pass the night, I would leave my wife, and go and look all around, to see if there was any white man. I was like an old hunting dog, who, when he has treed a coon, will not believe his eyes, but goes scenting about to see
if the track has left the tree: if not, he will come back, look at the coon, bark, and then scent again.
I was hunted like a wolf in the mountains, all the way to Canada. In three months I had to go to many places to steal our food. I would have asked for it, but if I did, it was, "Where is your pass?" To avoid this meanness, and the risk of capture, I was obliged to look out for myself, and I made good use of my time. One night, on entering a dairy near a farm-house, the door creaked, and an old man called out, "Sa-a-l!" But I took some cakes, and Sal made no answer.
When I was travelling in the North, I found that men worked days, and slept nights without fear, because they were honest. At the South they do not have this comfort. The overseer watches through the day, and the master is on the look-out in the night. I know this, for many times, after my hard day's work, being but half fed, I went out to steal a chicken, or a goose, or a pig, as all slaves have to do,--at night, if the dog barked sharp, I would see master at the window with a gun. Sometimes the window would fly up--"who 's that?"--then the man must give an account of himself. They are doing wrong in robbing the slaves, and so they are uneasy nights. When I first got into the North, and heard a dog at night, I would dodge away from the house, expecting to see the man of the house start out with a musket, as I had down south: but I was much astonished to find that they let a dog's bark go for what it was worth. I saw then the difference between free labor and slave labor: the northern man labors in the day, and sleeps soundly all night. He does not spend his day in laying deep schemes to whip a "nigger's" back, and then start up at night, in unexpected places, like a ghost.
One night, in Tennessee, my master heard a dog bark; he started up and ran out in his shirt, like a madman, to the quarters. When he got there, he called to us by name, saying some one had gone up to the house to see his girls--two slave girls he kept at the house. Every man was in his own cabin, but one old man of sixty, who was out getting a little wood. He accused him of going up to the great house to trouble his people: the old man begged off, and finally was excused.
How can men, who know they are abusing others all the day, lie down and sleep quietly at night, with big barns of corn, and gin-houses full of cotton, when they know that men feel revengeful, and might burn their property, or even kill them? Even now the thought of my cruel abuses begins sometimes to creep up and kindle my feelings, until I feel unhappy in my own house, and it seems as if the devil was getting the better of me; I feel, then, that I could destroy that tyrant, who, knowing that I was a man, cut me with a whip in a manner worse than I will name. Then I think, "What is the use? here I am, a free man in Canada, and out of his power." Yet I feel the stirrings of revenge. I know that thousands at the South feel the same, for we have counselled upon it; the slaveholders know this--how will they sleep nights? The slaveholder IS afraid of his slaves: it cannot be otherwise. Some have been round the borders of slavery, and seen a little of the edges of it, and they think they know a great deal about it, but they are mistaken. I have been in slavery, and know its worst is hid from them. They have all the laws and customs of the country in their favor, and yet they find something to grumble about: how then can they expect the slaves, whose feelings are
wretched, even when they are best used, can be happy and contented? They say the slaves are happy, because they laugh, and are merry. I myself, and three or four others, have received two hundred lashes in the day, and had our feet in fetters: yet, at night, we would sing and dance, and make others laugh at the rattling of our chains. Happy men we must have been! We did it to keep down trouble, and to keep our hearts from being completely broken: that is as true as gospel! Just look at it,--consider upon it,--must not we have been very happy? Yet I have done it myself--I have cut capers in chains!
"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" pg 193-195
- [S2032] Census - ON, Wellington, Peel - 1861, Div 1 21.