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man, and gave him for his _daily task_, through the winter, to feed
the beasts, keep fires, and make one hundred rails: and in case of
failure the lash was applied so freely, that, in the spring, his back
was _one continued sore, from his shoulders to his waist_. Yet this
man was a professor of religion, and famous for his tender sympathies
to white men!"


ANSWER: - Their knowledge on this point must have been derived, either
from the slaveholders and overseers themselves, or from the slaves, or
from their own observation. If from the slaveholders, _their_
testimony has already been weighed and found wanting; if they derived
it from the slaves, they can hardly be so simple as to suppose that
the _guest, associate and friend of the master_, would be likely to
draw from his _slaves_ any other testimony respecting his treatment of
them, than such as would please _him_. The great shrewdness and tact
exhibited by slaves in _keeping themselves out of difficulty_, when
close questioned by strangers as to their treatment, cannot fail to
strike every accurate observer. The following remarks of CHIEF JUSTICE
HENDERSON, a North Carolina slaveholder, in his decision (in 1830,) in
the case of the State _versus_ Charity, 2 Devereaux's North Carolina
Reports, 513, illustrate the folly of arguing the good treatment of
slaves from their own declarations, _while in the power of their
masters_. In the case above cited, the Chief Justice, in refusing to
permit a master to give in evidence, declarations made to him by his
slave, says of masters and slaves generally -

"The master has an almost _absolute control_ over the body and _mind_
of his slave. The master's _will_ is the slave's _will_. All his acts,
_all his sayings_, are made with a view to propitiate his master. His
confessions are made, not from a love of truth, not from a sense of
duty, not to speak a falsehood, but to _please his master_ - and it is
in vain that his master tells him to speak the truth and conceals from
him how he wishes the question answered. The slave _will_ ascertain,
or, which is the same thing, think that he has ascertained _the wishes
of his master,_ and MOULD HIS ANSWER ACCORDINGLY. We therefore more
often get the wishes of the master, or the slave's belief of his
wishes, than the truth."

The following extract of a letter from the Hon. SETH M. GATES, member
elect of the next Congress, furnishes a clue by which to interpret the
looks, actions, and protestations of slaves, when in the presence of
their masters' guests, and the pains sometimes taken by slaveholders,
in teaching their slaves the art of _pretending_ that they are treated
well, love their masters, are happy, &c. The letter is dated Leroy,
Jan. 4, 1839.

"I have sent your letter to Rev. Joseph M. Sadd, Castile, Genesee
county, who resided five years in a slave state, and left, disgusted
with slavery. I trust he will give you some facts. I remember one
fact, which his wife witnessed. A relative, where she boarded,
returning to his plantation after a temporary absence, was not met by
his servants with such demonstrations of joy as was their wont. He
ordered his horse put out, took down his whip, ordered his servants to
the barn, and gave them a most cruel beating, because they did not run
out to meet him, and pretend great attachment to him. Mrs. Sadd had
overheard the servants agreeing not to go out, before his return, as
they said _they did not love him_ - and this led her to watch his
conduct to them. This man was a professor of religion!"

If these northern visitors derived their information that the slaves
are _not_ cruelly treated from _their own observation_, it amounts to
this, _they did not see_ cruelties inflicted on the slaves. To which
we reply, that the preceding pages contain testimony from hundreds of
witnesses, who testify that they _did see_ the cruelties whereof they
affirm. Besides this, they contain the solemn declarations of scores
of slaveholders themselves, in all parts of the slave states, that the
slaves are cruelly treated. These declarations are moreover fully
corroborated, by the laws of slave states, by a multitude of
advertisements in their newspapers, describing runaway slaves, by
their scars, brands, gashes, maimings, cropped ears, iron collars,
chains, &c. &c.

Truly, after the foregoing array of facts and testimony, and after the
objectors' forces have one after another filed off before them, now to
march up a phalanx of northern _visitors_, is to beat a retreat.
'Visitors!' What insight do casual visitors get into the tempers and
daily practices of those whom they visit, or of the treatment that
their slaves receive at their hands, especially if these visitors are
strangers, and from a region where there are no slaves, and which
claims to be opposed to slavery? What opportunity has a stranger, and
a temporary guest, to learn the every-day habits and caprices of his
host? Oh, these northern visitors tell us they have visited scores of
families at the south and never saw a master or mistress whip their
slaves. Indeed! They have, doubtless, visited hundreds of families at
the north - did they ever see, on such occasions, the father or mother
whip their children? If so, they must associate with very ill-bred
persons. Because well-bred parents do not whip their children in the
presence, or within the hearing of their guests are we to infer that
they never do it _out_ of their sight and hearing? But perhaps the
fact that these visitors do not _remember_ seeing slaveholders strike
their slaves, merely proves, that they had so little feeling for them,
that though they might be struck every day in their presence, yet as
they were only slaves and 'niggers,' it produced no effect upon them;
consequently they have no impressions to recall. These visitors have
also doubtless _rode_ with scores of slaveholders. Are they quite
certain they ever saw them whip their _horses_? and can they recall
the persons, times, places, and circumstances? But even if these
visitors regarded the slaves with some kind feelings, when they first
went to the south, yet being constantly with their oppressors, seeing
them used as articles of property, accustomed to hear them charged
with all kinds of misdemeanors, their ears filled with complaints of
their laziness, carelessness, insolence, obstinacy, stupidity, thefts,
elopements, &c. and at the same time, receiving themselves the most
gratifying attentions and caresses from the same persons, who, while
they make to them these representations of their slaves, are giving
them airings in their coaches, making parties for them, taking them on
excursions of pleasure, lavishing upon them their choicest
hospitalities, and urging them to protract indefinitely their
stay - what more natural than for the flattered guest to admire such
hospitable people, catch their spirit, and fully sympathize with their
feelings toward their slaves, regarding with increased disgust and
aversion those who can habitually tease and worry such loveliness and
generosity[23]. After the visitor had been in contact with the
slave-holding spirit long enough to have imbibed it, (no very tedious
process,) a cuff, or even a kick administered to a slave, would not be
likely to give him such a shock that his memory would long retain the
traces of it. But lest we do these visitors injustice, we will suppose
that they carried with them to the south humane feelings for the
slave, and that those feelings remained unblunted; still, what
opportunity could they have to witness the actual condition of the
slaves? They come in contact with the house-servants only, and as a
general thing, with none but the select ones of these, the
_parlor_-servants; who generally differ as widely in their appearance
and treatment from the cooks and scullions in the kitchen, as parlor
furniture does from the kitchen utensils. Certain servants are
assigned to the parlor, just as certain articles of furniture are
selected for it, _to be seen_ - and it is no less ridiculous to infer
that the kitchen scullions are clothed and treated like those servants
who wait at the table, and are in the presence of guests, than to
infer that the kitchen is set out with sofas, ottomans, piano-fortes,
and full-length mirrors, because the parlor is. But the house-slaves
are only a fraction of the whole number. The _field-hands_ constitute
the great mass of the slaves, and these the visitors rarely get a
glimpse at. They are away at their work by day-break, and do not
return to their huts till dark. Their huts are commonly at some
distance from the master's mansion, and the fields in which they
labor, generally much farther, and out of sight. If the visitor
traverses the plantation, care is taken that he does not go alone; if
he expresses a wish to see it, the horses are saddled, and the master
or his son gallops the rounds with him; if he expresses a desire to
see the slaves at work, his conductor will know _where_ to take him,
and _when_, and _which_ of them to show; the overseer, too, knows
quite too well the part he has to act on such occasions, to shock the
uninitiated ears of the visitors with the shrieks of his victims. It
is manifest that visitors can see only the least repulsive parts of
slavery, inasmuch as it is wholly at the option of the master, what
parts to show them; as a matter of necessity, he can see only the
_outside_ - and that, like the outside of doorknobs and andirons is
furbished up to be _looked at_. So long as it is human nature to wear
_the best side out_, so long the northern guests of southern
slaveholders will see next to nothing of the reality of slavery. Those
visitors may still keep up their autumnal migrations to the slave
states, and, after a hasty survey of the tinsel hung before the
curtain of slavery, without a single glance behind it, and at the
paint and varnish that _cover up_ dead men's bones, and while those
who have hoaxed them with their smooth stories and white-washed
specimens of slavery, are tittering at their gullibility, they return
in the spring on the same fool's-errand with their predecessors,
retailing their lesson, and mouthing the praises of the masters, and
the comforts of the slaves. They now become village umpires in all
disputes about the condition of the slaves, and each thence forward
ends all controversies with his oracular, "I've _seen_, and sure I
ought to know."

[Footnote 23: Well saith the Scripture, "A gift blindeth the eyes." The
slaves understand this, though the guest may not; they know very well
that they have no sympathy to expect from their master's guests; that
the good cheer of the "big house," and the attentions shown them, will
generally commit them in their master's favor, and against themselves.
Messrs. Thome and Kimball, in their late work, state the following
fact, in illustration of this feeling among the negro apprentices in

"The governor of one of the islands, shortly after his arrival, dined
with one of the wealthiest proprietors. The next day one of the
negroes of the estate said to another, "De new gubner been
_poison'd_." "What dat you say?" inquired the other in astonishment,
"De gubner been _poison'd_! Dah, now! - How him poisoned?" "_Him eat
massa's turtle soup last night_," said the shrewd negro. The other
took his meaning at once; and his sympathy for the governor was
turned into concern for himself, when he perceived that the
poison was one from which he was likely to suffer more than his
excellency." - _Emancipation in the West Indies_, p. 334.]

But all northern visitors at the south are not thus easily gulled.
Many of them, as the preceding pages show, have too much sense to be
caught with chaff.

We may add here, that those classes of visitors whose representations
of the treatment of slaves are most influential in moulding the
opinions of the free states, are ministers of the gospel, agents of
benevolent societies, and teachers who have traveled and temporarily
resided in the slave states - classes of persons less likely than any
others to witness cruelties, because slaveholders generally take more
pains to keep such visitors in ignorance than others, because their
vocations would furnish them fewer opportunities for witnessing them,
and because they come in contact with a class of society in which
fewer atrocities are committed than in any other, and that too, under
circumstances which make it almost impossible for them to witness
those which are actually committed.

Of the numerous classes of persons from the north who temporarily
reside in the slave states, the mechanics who find employment on the
_plantations_, are the only persons who are in circumstances to look
"behind the scenes." Merchants, pedlars, venders of patents, drovers,
speculators, and almost all descriptions of persons who go from the
free states to the south to make money see little of slavery, except
_upon the road_, at public inns, and in villages and cities.

Let not the reader infer from what has been said, that the
_parlor_-slaves, chamber-maids, &c. in the slave states are not
treated with cruelty - far from it. They often experience terrible
inflictions; not generally so terrible or so frequent as the
field-hands, and very rarely in the presence of guests[24]
House-slaves are for the most part treated far better than
plantation-slaves, and those under the immediate direction of the
master and mistress, than those under overseers and drivers. It is
quite worthy of remark, that of the thousands of northern men who have
visited the south, and are always lauding the kindness of slaveholders
and the comfort of the slaves, protesting that they have never seen
cruelties inflicted on them, &c. each perhaps, without exception, has
some story to tell which reveals, better perhaps than the most
barbarous butchery could do, a public sentiment toward slaves, showing
that the most cruel inflictions must of necessity be the constant
portion of the slaves.

[Footnote 24: Rev. JOSEPH M. SADD, a Presbyterian clergyman, in
Castile, Genesee county, N.Y. recently from Missouri, where he has
preached five years, in the midst of slaveholders, says, in a letter
just received, speaking of the pains taken by slaveholders to conceal
from the eyes of strangers and visitors, the cruelties which they
inflict upon their slaves -

"It is difficult to be an eye-witness of these things; the master and
mistress, almost invariably punish their slaves only in the presence
of themselves and other slaves."]

Though facts of this kind lie thick in every corner, the reader will,
we are sure, tolerate even a needless illustration, if told that it is
from the pen of N.P. Rogers, Esq. of Concord, N.H. who, whatever he
writes, though it be, as in this case, a mere hasty letter, always
finds readers to the end.

"At a court session at Guilford, Stafford county, N.H. in August,
1837, the Hon. Daniel M. Durell, of Dover, formerly Chief Justice
of the Common Pleas for that state, and a member of Congress,
was charging the abolitionists, in presence of several gentlemen
of the bar, at their boarding house, with exaggerations and
misrepresentations of slave treatment at the south. 'One instance
in particular,' he witnessed, he said, where he 'knew they
misrepresented. It was in the Congregational meeting house at Dover.
He was passing by, and saw a crowd entering and about the door; and on
inquiry, found that _abolition was going on in there_. He stood in the
entry for a moment, and found the Englishman, Thompson, was holding
forth. The fellow was speaking of the treatment of slaves; and he said
it was no uncommon thing for masters, when exasperated with the slave,
to hang him up by the two thumbs, and flog him. I knew the fellow lied
there,' said the judge, 'for I had traveled through the south, from
Georgia north, and I never saw a single instance of the kind. The
fellow said it was a common thing.' 'Did you see any _exasperated
masters_, Judge,' said I, 'in your journey?' 'No sir,' said he, 'not
an individual instance.' 'You hardly are able to convict Mr. Thompson
of falsehood, then, Judge,' said I, 'if I understood you right. He
spoke, as I understood you, of _exasperated masters_ - and you say you
did not see any. Mr. Thompson did not say it was common for masters in
good humor to hang up their slaves.' The Judge did not perceive the
materiality of the distinction. 'Oh, they misrepresent and lie about
this treatment of the niggers,' he continued. 'In going through all
the states I visited, I do not now remember a single instance of cruel
treatment. Indeed, I remember of seeing but one nigger struck, during
my whole journey. There was one instance. We were riding in the stage,
pretty early one morning, and we met a black fellow, driving a span of
horses, and a load (I think he said) of hay. The fellow turned out
before we got to him, clean down into the ditch, as far as he could
get. He knew, you see, what to depend on, if he did not give the road.
Our driver, as we passed the fellow, fetched him a smart crack with
his whip across the chops. He did not make any noise, though I guess
it hurt him some - he grinned. - Oh, no! these fellows exaggerate. The
niggers, as a general thing, are kindly treated. There may be
exceptions, but I saw nothing of it.' (By the way, the Judge did not
know there were any abolitionists present.) 'What did you _do_ to the
driver, Judge,' said I, 'for striking that man?' 'Do,' said he, 'I did
nothing to him, to be sure.' 'What did you _say_ to him, sir?' said I.
'Nothing,' he replied: 'I said nothing to him.' 'What did the other
passengers do?' said I. 'Nothing, sir,' said the Judge. 'The fellow
turned out the white of his eye, but he did not make any noise.' 'Did
the driver say any thing, Judge, when he struck the man?' 'Nothing,'
said the Judge, 'only he _damned him_, and told him he'd learn him to
keep out of the reach of his whip.' 'Sir,' said I, 'if George Thompson
had told this story, in the warmth of an anti-slavery speech, I should
scarcely have credited it. I have attended many anti-slavery meetings,
and I never heard an instance of such _cold-blooded, wanton,
insolent_, DIABOLICAL cruelty as this; and, sir, if I live to attend
another meeting, I shall relate this, and give Judge Durell's name as
the witness of it.' An infliction of the most insolent character,
entirely unprovoked, on a perfect stranger, who had showed the utmost
civility, in giving all the road, and only could not get beyond the
long reach of the driver's whip - and he a stage driver, a class
_generous_ next to the sailor, in the sober hour of morning - and
_borne in silence_ - and _told to show that the colored man of the
south was kindly treated_ - all evincing, to an unutterable extent,
that the temper of the south toward the slave is merciless, even to
_diabolism_ - and that the north regards him with, if possible, a more
fiendish indifference still!"

It seems but an act of simple justice to say, in conclusion, that many
of the slaveholders from whom our northern visitors derive their
information of the "good treatment" of the slave, may not design to
deceive them. Such visitors are often, perhaps generally brought in
contact with the better class of slaveholders, whose slaves are really
better fed, clothed, lodged, and housed; more moderately worked; more
seldom whipped, and with less severity, than the slaves generally.
Those masters in speaking of the good condition of their slaves, and
asserting that they are treated _well_, use terms that are not
_absolute_ but _comparative_: and it may be, and doubtless often is
true that their stares are treated well _as slaves_, in comparison
with the treatment received by slaves generally. So the overseers of
such slaves, and the slaves themselves, may, without lying or
designing to mislead, honestly give the same testimony. As the great
body of slaves within their knowledge _fare worse_, it is not strange
that, when speaking of the treatment on their own plantation, they
should call it _good_.


So it is for the interest of the drunkard to quit his cups; for the
glutton to curb his appetite; for the debauchee to bridle his lust;
for the sluggard to be up betimes; for the spendthrift to be
economical, and for all sinners to stop sinning. Even if it were for
the interest of masters to treat their slaves well, he must be a
novice who thinks _that_ a proof that the slaves _are_ well treated.
The whole history of man is a record of real interests sacrificed to
present gratification. If all men's actions were consistent with their
best interests, folly and sin would be words without meaning.

If the objector means that it is for the pecuniary interests of
masters to treat their slaves well, and thence infers their good
treatment, we reply, that though the love of money is strong, yet
appetite and lust, pride, anger and revenge, the love of power and
honor, are each an overmatch for it; and when either of them is roused
by a sudden stimulant, the love of money worsted in the grapple with
it. Look at the hourly lavish outlays of money to procure a momentary
gratification for those passions and appetites. As the desire for
money is, in the main, merely a desire for the means of gratifying
_other_ desires, or rather for one of the means, it must be the
_servant_ not the sovereign of those desires, to whose gratification
its only use is to minister. But even if the love of money were the
strongest human passion, who is simple enough to believe that it is
all the time so powerfully excited, that no other passion or appetite
can get the mastery over it? Who does not know that gusts of rage,
revenge, jealousy and lust drive it before them as a tempest tosses a

The objector has forgotten his first lessons; they taught him that it
is human nature to gratify the _uppermost_ passion: and is _prudence_
the uppermost passion with slaveholders, and self-restraint their
great characteristic? The strongest feeling of any moment is the
sovereign of that moment, and rules. Is a propensity to practice
_economy_ the predominant feeling with slaveholders? Ridiculous!
Every northerner knows that slaveholders are proverbial for lavish
expenditures, never higgling about the _price_ of a gratification.
Human passions have not, like the tides, regular ebbs and flows, with
their stationary, high and low water marks. They are a dominion
convulsed with revolutions; coronations and dethronements in ceasless
succession - each ruler a usurper and a despot. Love of money gets a
snatch at the sceptre as well as the rest, not by hereditary right,
but because, in the fluctuations of human feelings, a chance wave
washes him up to the throne, and the next perhaps washes him off
without time to nominate his successor. Since, then, as a matter of
fact, a host of appetites and passions do hourly get the better of
love of money, what protection does the slave find in his master's
_interest_, against the sweep of his passions and appetites? Besides,
a master can inflict upon his slave horrible cruelties without
perceptibly injuring his health, or taking time from his labor, or
lessening his value as property. Blows with a small stick give more
acute pain, than with a large one. A club bruises, and benumbs the
nerves, while a switch, neither breaking nor bruising the flesh,
instead of blunting the sense of feeling, wakes up and stings to
torture all the susceptibilities of pain. By this kind of infliction,
more actual cruelty can be perpetrated in the giving of pain at the
instant, than by the most horrible bruisings and lacerations; and
that, too, with little comparative hazard to the slave's health, or to
his value as property, and without loss of time from labor. Even
giving to the objection all the force claimed for it, what protection
is it to the slave? It _professes_ to shield the slave from such
treatment alone, as would either lay him aside from labor, or injure
his health, and thus lessen his value as a working animal, making him
a _damaged article_ in the market. Now, is nothing _bad treatment_ of
a human being except that which produces these effects? Does the fact
that a man's constitution is not actually shattered, and his life
shortened by his treatment, prove that he is treated well? Is no
treatment cruel except what sprains muscles, or cuts sinews, or bursts
blood vessels, or breaks bones, and thus lessens a man's value as a

Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 3 of 4 → online text (page 30 of 85)