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weighed moreover, in my own mind, the pain of living in the
constant contemplation of slavery, against the more than
doubtful chances of my ever seeing it, in the time I had to
spare, stripped of the disguises in which it would certainly be
dressed, and so adding any item to the host of facts already
heaped together on the subject ; I began to listen to old
whisperings which had often been present to me at home in
England, when I little thought of ever being here ; and to
dream again of cities growing up, like palaces in fairy tales,
among the wilds and forests of the west.

The advice I received in most quarters when I began to
yield to my desire of travelling towards that point of the
compass was, according to custom, sufficiently cheerless : mv
companion being threatened with more perils, dangers, and
discomforts, than I can remember or would catalogue if I
could; but of which it will be sufficient to remark that
blowings-up in steamboats and breakings-down in coaches
were among the least. But, having a western route sketched
out for me by the best and kindest authority to which I
could have resorted, and putting no great faith in these dis-
couragements, I soon determined on my plan of action.

This was to travel south, only to Richmond in Virginia;
and then to turn, and shape our course for the Far West ;
whither I beseech the reader's company, in a new chapter.



WE were to proceed in the first instance by steamboat ; and
as it is usual to sleep on board, in consequence of the
starting-hour being four o'clock in the morning, we went
down to where she lay, at that very uncomfortable time for
such expeditions when slippers are most valuable, and a
familiar bed, in the perspective of an hour or two, looks
uncommonly pleasant.

It is ten o'clock at night : say half-past ten : moonlight,
warm, and dull enough. The steamer (not unlike a child's
Noah's ark in form, with the machinery on the top of the
roof) is riding lazily up and down, and bumping clumsily
against the wooden pier, as the ripple of the river trifles with
its unwieldy carcase. The wharf is some distance from the
city. There is nobody down here ; and one or two dull lamps
upon the steamer's decks are the only signs of life remaining,
when our coach has driven away. As soon as our footsteps
are heard upon the planks, a fat negress, particularly favoured
by nature in respect of bustle, emerges from some dark stairs,
and marshals my wife towards the ladies' cabin, to which
retreat she goes, followed by a mighty bale of cloaks and
great-coats. I valiantly resolve not to go to bed at all, but
to walk up and down the pier till morning.

I begin my promenade thinking of all kinds of distant


things and persons, and of nothing near and pace up and
down for half-an-hour. Then I go on board again; and
getting into the light of one of the lamps, look at my watch
and think it must have stopped; and wonder what has
become of the faithful secretary whom I brought along with
me from Boston. He is supping with our late landlord (a
Field Marshal, at least, no doubt) in honour of our departure,
and may be two hours longer. I walk again, but it gets
duller and duller : the moon goes down : next June seems
farther off in the dark, and the echoes of my footsteps make
me nervous. It has turned cold too; and walking up and
down without my companion in such lonely circumstances, is
but poor amusement. So I break my staunch resolution, and
think it may be, perhaps, as well to go to bed.

I go on board again ; open the door of the gentlemen's
cabin ; and walk in. Somehow or other from its being so
quiet, I suppose I have taken it into my head that there
is nobody there. To my horror and amazement it is full of
sleepers in every stage, shape, attitude, and variety of slumber :
in the berths, on the chairs, on the floors, on the tables, and
particularly round the stove, my detested enemy. I take
another step forward, and slip on the shining face of a black
steward, who lies rolled in a blanket on the floor. He jumps
up, grins, half in pain and half in hospitality ; whispers my
own name in my ear ; and groping among the sleepers, leads'
me to my berth. Standing beside it, I count these slumber-
ing passengers, and get past forty. There is no use in going
further, so I begin to undress. As the chairs are all occupied,
and there is nothing else to put my clothes on, I deposit
them upon the ground : not without soiling my hands, for it
is in the same condition as the carpets in the Capitol, and
from the same cause. Having but partially undressed, I
clamber on my shelf, and hold the curtain open for a few
minutes while I look round on all my fellow-travellers again.
That done, I let it fall on them, and on the world : turn
round : and go to sleep.


I wake, of course, when we get under weigh, for there is a
good deal of noise. The day is then just breaking. Every-
body wakes at the same time. Some are self-possessed directly,
and some are much perplexed to make out where they are
until they have rubbed their eyes, and leaning on one elbow,
looked about them. Some yawn, some groan, nearly all spit,
and a few get up. I am among the risers : for it is easy to
feel, without going into the fresh air, that the atmosphere of
the cabin is vile in the last degree. I huddle on my clothes,
go down into the fore-cabin, get shaved by the barber, and
wash myself. The washing and dressing apparatus for the
passengers generally, consists of two jack-towels, three small
wooden basins, a keg of water and a ladle to serve it out
with, six square inches of looking-glass, two ditto ditto of
yellow soap, a comb and brush for the head, and nothing
for the teeth. Everybody uses the comb and brush, except
myself. Everybody stares to see me using my own ; and two
or three gentlemen are strongly disposed to banter me on my
prejudices, but don't. When I have made my toilet, I go
upon the hurricane-deck, and set in for two hours of hard
walking up and down. The sun is rising brilliantly ; we are
passing Mount Vernon, where Washington lies buried; the
river is wide and rapid ; and its banks are beautiful. All
the glory and splendour of the day are coming on, and grow-
ing brighter every minute.

At eight o'clock, we breakfast in the cabin where I passed
the night, but the windows and doors are all thrown open,
and now it is fresh enough. There is no hurry or greediness
apparent in the despatch of the meal. It is longer than a
travelling breakfast with us ; more orderly, and more polite.

Soon after nine o'clock we come to Potomac Creek, where
we are to land ; and then comes the oddest part of the
journey. Seven stage-coaches are preparing to carry us on.
Some of them are ready, some of them are not ready. Some
of the drivers are blacks, some whites. There are four horses
to each coach, and all the horses, harnessed or unharnessed.


are there. The passengers are getting out of the steamboat,
and into the coaches; the luggage is being transferred in
noisy wheelbarrows ; the horses are frightened, and impatient
to start; the black drivers are chattering to them like so
many monkeys; and the white ones whooping like so many
drovers : for the main thing to be done in all kinds of
hostlcring here, is to make as much noise as possible. The
coaches are something like the French coaches, but not nearly
so good. In lieu of springs, they are hung on bands of the
strongest leather. There is very little choice or difference
between them ; and they may be likened to the car portion
of the swings at an English fair, roofed, put upon axle-trees
and wheels, and curtained with painted canvas. They are
covered with mud from the roof to the wheel-tire, and have
never been cleaned since they were first built.

The tickets we have received on board the steamboat are
marked No. 1, so we belong to coach No. 1. I throw my
coat on the box, and hoist my wife and her maid into the
inside. It has only one step, and that being about a yard
from the ground, is usually approached by a chair: when
there is no chair, ladies trust in Providence. The coach
holds nine inside, having a seat across from door to door,
where we in England put our legs : so that there is only one
feat more difficult in the performance than getting in, and
that is, getting out again. There is only one outside
passenger, and he sits upon the box. As I am that one, I
climb up ; and while they are strapping the luggage on the
roof, and heaping it into a kind of tray behind, have a good
opportunity of looking at the driver.

He is a negro very black indeed. He is dressed in a
coarse pepper-and-salt suit excessively patched and darned
(particularly at the knees), grey stockings, enormous un-
blacked high-low shoes, and very short trousers. He has two
odd gloves : one of parti-coloured worsted, and one of leather.
He has a very short whip, broken in the middle and ban-
daged up with string. And yet he wears a low-crowned,


broad-brimmed, black hat : faintly shadowing forth a kind of
insane imitation of an English coachman ! But somebody in
authority cries " Go ahead ! " as I am making these observa-
tions. The mail takes the lead in a four-horse waggon, and
all the coaches follow in procession : headed by No. 1.

By the way, whenever an Englishman would cry " All
right ! " an American cries " Go ahead ! " which is somewhat
expressive of the national character of the two countries.

The first half-mile of the road is over bridges made of
loose planks laid across two parallel poles, which tilt up as
the wheels roll over them ; and IN the river. The river has
a clayey bottom and is full of holes, so that half a horse is
constantly disappearing unexpectedly, and can't be found
again for some time.

But we get past even this, and come to the road itself,
which is a series of alternate swamps and gravel-pits. A
tremendous place is close before us, the black driver rolls
his eyes, screws his mouth up very round, and looks straight
between the two leaders, as if he were saying to himself,
" We have done this often before, but now 1 think we shall
have a crash."" He takes a rein in each hand ; jerks and
pulls at both ; and dances on the splashboard with both feet
(keeping his seat, of course) like the late lamented Ducrow
on two of his fiery coursers. We come to the spot, sink
down in the mire nearly to the coach windows, tilt on one
side at an angle of forty-five degrees, and stick there. The
insides scream dismally ; the coach stops ; the horses flounder ;
all the other six coaches stop ; and their four-and-twenty
horses flounder likewise : but merely for company, and in
sympathy with ours. Then the following circumstances

BLACK DRIVER (to the horses). " Hi ! "

Nothing happens. Insides scream again.

BLACK DRIVER (to the horses). " Ho ! "

Horses plunge, and splash the black driver.

GENTLEMAN INSIDE (looking out). "Why, what on airth "


Gentleman receives a variety of splashes and draws his
head in again, without finishing his question or waiting for
an answer.

BLACK DRIVKR (still to the horses). " Jiddy ! Jiddy ! "

Horses pull violently, drag the coach out of the hole, and
draw it up a bank ; so steep, that the black driver's legs fly
up into the air, and he goes back among the luggage on the
roof. But he immediately recovers himself, and cries (still
to the horses),


No effect. On the contrary, the coach begins to roll back
upon No. 2, which rolls back upon No. 3, which rolls back
upon No. 4, and so on, until No. 7 is heard to curse and
swear, nearly a quarter of a mile behind.

BLACK DRIVER (louder than before). " Pill ! "

Horses make another struggle to get up the bank, and
again the coach rolls backward.

BLACK DRIVER (louder than before). " Pe-e-e-ill !"

Horses make a desperate struggle.

BLACK DRIVER (recovering spirits). "Hi, Jiddy, Jiddv,
Pill! 11

Horses make another effort.

BLACK DRIVER (with great vigour). " Ally Loo ! Hi.
Jiddy, Jiddy. Pill. Ally Loo I 11

Horses almost do it.

BLACK DRIVER (with his eyes starting out of his head).
"Lee, den. Lee, dere. Hi. Jiddy, Jiddy. Pill. Ally Loo.
Lee-e-e-e-e ! "

They run up the bank, and go down again on the other
side at a fearful pace. It is impossible to stop them, and at
the bottom there is a deep hollow, full of water. The coach
rolls frightfully. The insidcs scream. The mud and water
fly about us. The black driver dances like a madman.
Suddenly we are all right by some extraordinary means, and
stop to breathe.

A black friend of the black driver is sitting on a fence.


The black driver recognises him by twirling his head round
and round like a harlequin, rolling his eyes, shrugging his
shoulders, and grinning from ear to ear. He stops short,
turns to me, and says :

" AVe shall get you through sa, like a fiddle, and hope a
please you when we get you through sa. Old \>oman at
home sa : " chuckling very much. " Outside gentleman sa,
he often remember old 'ooman at home sa," grinning again.

" Ay ay, well take care of the old woman. Don't be

The black driver grins again, but there is another hole,
and beyond that, another bank, close before us. So he stops
short : cries (to the horses again) " Easy. Easy den. Ease.
Steady. Hi. Jiddy. Pill. Ally. Loo," but never " Lee ! "
until we are reduced to the very last extremity, and are in
the midst of difficulties, extrication from which appears to be
all but impossible.

And so we do the ten miles or thereabouts in two 'hours
and a half; breaking no bones, though bruising a great
many; and in short getting through the distance, "like a

This singular kind of coaching terminates at Fredericks-
burgh, whence there is a railway to Richmond. The tract
of country through which it takes its course was once pro-
ductive; but the soil has been exhausted by the system of
employing a great amount of slave labour in forcing crops,
without strengthening the land : and it is now little better
than a sandy desert overgrown with trees. Dreary and
uninteresting as its aspect is, I was glad to the heart, to find
anything on which one of the curses of this horrible institution
has fallen; and had greater pleasure in contemplating the
withered ground, than the richest and most thriving cultiva-
tion in the same place could possibly have afforded me.

In this district, as in all others where slavery sits brooding,
(I have frequently heard this admitted, even by those who
are its warmest advocates :) there is an air of ruin and decay


abroad, which is inseparable from the system. The barns
and outhouses are mouldering away ; the sheds are patched
and half roofless ; the log cabins (built in Virginia with
external chimneys made of clay or wood) are squalid in the
last degree. There is no look of decent comfort anywhere.
The miserable stations by the railway side ; the great wild
wood-yards, whence the engine is supplied with fuel ; the
negro children rolling on the ground before the cabin doors,
with dogs and pigs ; the biped beasts of burden slinking past :
gloom and dejection are upon them all.

In the negro car belonging to the train in which we made
this journey, were a mother and her children who had just
been purchased ; the husband and father being left behind
with their old owner. The children cried the whole way, and
the mother was misery's picture. The champion of Life,
Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, who had bought them,
rode in the same train ; and, every time we stopped, got
down to see that they were safe. The black in Sinbad's
Travels with one eye in the middle of his forehead which
shone like a burning coal, was nature's aristocrat compared
with this white gentleman.

It was between six and seven o'clock in the evening, when
we drove to the hotel : in front of which, and on the top of
the broad flight of steps leading to the door, two or three
citizens were balancing themselves on rocking-chairs, and
smoking cigars. We found it a very large and elegant
establishment, and were as well entertained as travellers need
desire to be. The climate being a thirsty one, there was
never, at any hour of the day, a scarcity of loungers in the
spacious bar, or a cessation of the mixing of cool liquors :
but they were a merrier people here, and had musical
instruments playing to them o' nights, which it was a treat
to hear again.

The next day, and the next, we rode and walked about
the town, which is delightfully situated on eight hills, over-
hanging James River ; a sparkling stream, studded here and


there with bright islands, or brawling over broken rocks.
Although it was yet but the middle of March, the weather
in this southern temperature was extremely warm ; the peach-
trees and magnolias were in full bloom ; and the trees were
green. In a low ground among the hills, is a valley known
as "Bloody Run," from a terrible conflict with the Indians
which once occurred there. It is a good place for such a
struggle, and, like every other spot I saw associated with any
legend of that wild people now so rapidly fading from the
earth, interested me very much.

The city is the seat of the local parliament of Virginia;
and in its shady legislative halls, some orators were drowsily
holding forth to the hot noon day. By dint of constant
repetition, however, these constitutional sights had very little
more interest for me than so many parochial vestries ; and I
was glad to exchange this one for a lounge in a well-arranged
public library of some ten thousand volumes, and a visit to
a tobacco manufactory, where the workmen are all slaves.

I saw in this place the whole process of picking, rolling,
pressing, drying, packing in casks, and branding. All the
tobacco thus dealt with, was in course of manufacture for
chewing; and one would have supposed there was enough in
that one storehouse to have filled even the comprehensive
jaws of America. In this form, the weed looks like the oil-
cake on which we fatten cattle ; and even without reference
to its consequences, is sufficiently uninviting. 4,

Many of the workmen appeared to be strong men, and it
is hardly necessary to add that they were all labouring
quietly, then. After two o'clock in the day, they are allowed
to sing, a certain number at a time. The hour striking
while I Avas there, some twenty sang a hymn in parts, and
sang it by no means ill ; pursuing their work meanwhile. A
bell rang as I was about to leave, and they all poured forth
into a building on the opposite side of the street to dinner.
I said several times that I should like to see them at their
meal ; but as the gentleman to whom I mentioned this desire


appeared to be suddenly taken rather deaf, I did not pursue
the request. Of their appearance I shall have something to
say, presently.

On the following day, I visited a plantation or farm, of
about twelve hundred acres, on the opposite bank of the
river. Here again, although I went down with the owner of
the estate, to "the quarter," as that part of it in which the
slaves live is called, I was not invited to enter into any of
their huts. All I saw of them, was, that they were very
crazy, wretched cabins, near to which groups of half-naked
children basked in the sun, or wallowed on the dusty ground.
But I believe that this gentleman is a considerate and
excellent master, who inherited his fifty slaves, and is neither
a buyer nor a seller of human stock ; and I am sure, from
my own observation and conviction, that he is a kind-hearted,
worthy man.

The planter's house was an airy rustic dwelling, that
brought Defoe's description of such places strongly to my
recollection. The day was very warm, but the blinds being
all closed, and the windows and doors set wide open, a shady
coolness rustled through the rooms, which was exquisitely
refreshing after the glare and heat without. Before the
windows was an open piazza, where, in what they call the
hot weather whatever that may be they sling hammocks,
and drink and doze luxuriously. I do not know how their
cool refections may taste within the hammocks, but, having
experience, I can report that, out of them, the mounds of
ices and the bowls of mint-julep and sherry-cobbler they
make in these latitudes, are refreshments never to be thought
of afterwards, in summer, by those who would preserve
contented minds.

There are two bridges across the river : one belongs to
the railroad, and the other, which is a very crazy affair,
is the private property of some old lady in the neighbour-
hood, who levies tolls upon the townspeople. Crossing this
bridge, on my way back, I saw a notice painted on the gate,



cautioning all persons to drive slowly : under a penalty, if
the offender were a white man, of five dollars ; if a negro,
fifteen stripes.

The same decay and gloom that overhang the way by
which it is approached, hover above the town of Richmond.
There are pretty villas and cheerful houses in its streets, and
Nature smiles upon the country round ; but jostling its hand-
some residences, like slavery itself going hand in hand with
many lofty virtues, are deplorable tenements, fences unre-
paired, walls crumbling into ruinous heaps. Hinting gloomily
at things below the surface, these, and many other tokens of
the same description, force themselves upon the notice, and
are remembered with depressing influence, when livelier features
are forgotten.

To those who are happily unaccustomed to them, the
countenances in the streets and labouring-places, too, are
shocking. All men who know that there are laws against
instructing slaves, of which the pains and penalties greatly
exceed in their amount the fines imposed on those who maim
and torture them, must be prepared to find their faces very
low in the scale of intellectual expression. But the darkness
not of skin, but mind which meets the stranger's eye at
every turn ; the brutalizing and blotting out of all fairer
characters traced by Nature's hand; immeasurably outdo his
worst belief. That travelled creation of the great satirist's
brain, who fresh from living among horses, peered from a
high casement down upon his own kind with trembling horror,
was scarcely more repelled and daunted by the sight, than
those who look upon some of these faces for the first time
must surely be.

I left the last of them behind me in the person of a
wretched drudge, who, after running to and fro all day till
midnight, and moping in his stealthy winks of sleep upon
the stairs between whiles, was washing the dark passages at
four o'clock in the morning; and went upon my way with a
grateful heart that I was not doomed to live Avhere slavery


was, and had never had my senses blunted to its wrongs and
horrors in a slave-rocked cradle.

It had been my intention to proceed by James River and
Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore ; but one of the steamboats
being absent from her station through some accident, and the
means of conveyance being consequently rendered uncertain,
we returned to Washington by the way we had come (there
were two constables on board the steamboat, in pursuit of
runaway slaves), and halting there again for one nighty went
on to Baltimore next afternoon.

The most comfortable of all the hotels of which I had
any experience in the United States, and they were not a
few, is BarnumX in that city : where the English traveller
will find curtains to his bed, for the first and probably
the last time in America (this is a disinterested remark,
for I never use them) ; and where he will be likely to have
enough water for washing himself, which is not at all a
common case.

This capital of the state of Maryland is a bustling busy
town, with a great deal of traffic of various kinds, and in
particular of water commerce. That portion of the town
which it most favours is none of the cleanest, it is true ; but
the upper part is of a very different character, and has many
agreeable streets and public buildings. The Washington
Monument, which is a handsome pillar with a statue on its
summit; the Medical College; and the Battle Monument in
memory of an engagement with the British at North Point;
are the most conspicuous among them.

There is a very good prison in this city, and the State

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 14 of 43)