Austin Steward.

Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce Colony, London, Canada West online

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Online LibraryAustin StewardTwenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce Colony, London, Canada West → online text (page 7 of 19)
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tumult, such an affray as ensued would be hard to describe.

The slaves fought for their lives and their liberty, and the Captain's
party for their property and power. Fists, clubs, chairs, and any thing
they could get hold of, was freely used with a strength and will of men
who had tasted the joys of freedom. Cries and curses were mingled, while
blows fell like hail on both sides. Commands from our old master were met
with shouts of bold defiance on the part of the negroes, until the
miserable kidnappers were glad to desist, and were driven of - not
stealthily as they came, but in quick time and in the best way they could,
to escape the threatened vengeance of the slaves, who drove them like
"feathers before the wind." But it was a terrible battle and many were
severely wounded; among them was my father. He was taken to his home,
mangled and bleeding, and from the effects of that night's affray he never
recovered. He lingered on in feeble health until death finally released
him from suffering, and placed him beyond the reach of kidnappers and
tyrants.

The Captain and his party, enraged and disappointed in their plans at
Palmyra, returned to Bath to see what could be done there toward success,
in getting up a gang of slaves for the Southern market. When they came
among the colored people of Bath, it was like a hawk alighting among a
flock of chickens at noon-day. They scattered and ran in every direction,
some to the woods, some hid themselves in cellars, and others in their
terror plunged into the Conhocton River. In this manner the majority of
the negroes escaped, but not all; and those were so unfortunate as to get
caught were instantly thrown into a large covered "Pennsylvania wagon,"
and hurried off, closely guarded, to Olean Point. Among those taken were
Harry Lucas, his wife, Lucinda, and seven children; Mrs. Jane Cooper and
four children, with some others, were also taken.

When Capt. Helm arrived at Olean Point with his stolen freight of human
beings, he was unexpectedly detained until he could build a boat, - which,
to his great dismay took him several days.

The sorrow and fearful apprehension of those wretched recaptured slaves
can not be described nor imagined by any one except those who have
experienced a like affliction. They had basked for a short season in the
sunshine of liberty, and thought themselves secure from the iron grasp of
Slavery, and the heel of the oppressor, when in the height of their
exultation, they had been thrust down to the lowest depths of misery and
despair, with the oppressor's heel again upon their necks. To be snatched
without a moment's warning from their homes and friends, - hurried and
crowded into the close slave wagon, regardless of age or sex, like sheep
for the slaughter, to be carried they knew not whither; but, doubtless
to the dismal rice swamp of the South, - was to them an agony too great for
endurance. The adult portion of the miserable company determined at last
to go no farther with their heartless master, but to resist unto death if
need be, before they surrendered themselves to the galling chains they had
so recently broken, or writhed again under the torturing lash of the
slave-driver.

Harry Lucas and wife, and Jane Cooper, silently prepared themselves for
the conflict, determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible. When
they were nearly ready to start, Jane Cooper sent her oldest daughter and
younger sister, (she who is now our worthy friend Mrs. P. of Bath), into
the woods, and then when the men undertook to get Lucas and the two women
on board the boat the struggle commenced. The women fought the Captain and
his confederates like a lioness robbed of her whelps! They ran and dodged
about, making the woods ring with their screams and shouts of "Murder!
Murder! Help! Help! Murder!" until the Captain's party, seeing they could
do nothing to quell them, became so exceedingly alarmed lest they should
be detected in their illegal proceedings, that they ran off at full speed,
as if they thought an officer at their heels. In their hurry and fright
they caught two of Harry's children, and throwing them into the boat,
pushed off as quick as possible, amid the redoubled cries of the agonized
parents and sympathizing friends, all trying in every way possible, to
recover from the merciless grasp of the man-stealer, the two frightened
and screaming children. Guns were fired and horns sounded, but all to no
purpose - they held tightly the innocent victims of their cupidity, and
made good their escape.

Mr. D. C - - , a gentleman of wealth and high standing in Steuben County,
became responsible for the fifty dollars which Capt. Helm promised to pay
Simon Watkins for his villainy in betraying, Judas-like, those unsuspecting
persons whom it should have been his pleasure to protect and defend
against their common oppressor, - his own as well as theirs.

In addition to this rascality, it can not appear very creditable to the
citizens of Steuben County, that Capt. Helm and Thomas McBirney should
both hold high and important offices at the time, and _after_ they had
been tried and convicted of the crime of kidnapping. Both of these
gentlemen, guilty of a State's prison offence, were judges of the common
pleas. T. McBirney was first judge in the county, and Capt. Helm was side
judge; and notwithstanding their participation in, and conviction of, a
flagrant outrage on the laws of God and man, they managed not only to
escape the penalty, but to retain their offices and their respectable
standing in community for years after.




CHAPTER XIII.

LOCATE IN THE VILLAGE OF ROCHESTER.

I continued to labor in the employ of Mr. O. Comstock, whose son, Zeno,
was married during the year 1816, and purchased a farm on the site of the
present flourishing village of Lockport, to which he moved his family and
effects; but from a mistaken supposition that the Erie Canal, which was
then under contemplation, would take a more southern route, he was induced
to sell his farm in Hartland, which has proved a mine of wealth to the
more fortunate purchaser.

In the winter of that year, I was sent by my employer to Hartland with a
sleigh-load of produce, and passed through the village of Rochester, which
I had never before seen. It was a very small, forbidding looking place at
first sight, with few inhabitants, and surrounded by a dense forest.

I recollect that while pursuing my journey, I overtook a white man driving
a span of horses, who contended that I had not a right to travel the
public highway as other men did, but that it was my place to keep behind
him and his team. Being in haste I endeavored to pass him quietly, but he
would not permit it and hindered me several hours, very much to my
annoyance and indignation. This was, however, but a slight incident
indicating the bitter prejudice which every man seemed to feel against the
negro. No matter how industrious he might be, no matter how honorable in
his dealings, or respectful in his manners, - he was a "nigger," and as
such he must be treated, with a few honorable exceptions.

This year also, my father died in the village of Palmyra, where, as I have
before mentioned, he received injuries from which he never entirely
recovered. After about six months severe illness which he bore with
commendable patience and resignation, his spirit returned to God who gave
it; and his sorrowing friends and bereaved family followed his remains to
their final abode, where we laid him down to rest from unrequited labor
and dire oppression, until "all they who are in their graves shall hear
the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live forever," where
the "tears shall be wiped from off all faces" - and where the righteous
bondman shall no longer fear the driver's lash or master's frown, but
freely join in the song of "Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!"

My father had a good reputation for honesty and uprightness of character
among his employers and acquaintances, and was a kind, affectionate
husband and a fond, indulgent parent. His, I believe was the life and
death of a good man. "Peace be to his ashes."

The following season I commenced a new business - that of peddling in the
village of Rochester such articles as my employer, Mr. Comstock, desired
to sell: the products of his farm, - wheat, corn, oats, butter, cheese,
meat, and poultry - all of which met a ready sale, generally for cash at
liberal prices. That market was then but little known to the generality of
farmers, and the enterprising gentlemen of that place, were desirous of
encouraging commerce with the surrounding country, offered every
encouragement in their power. Hence, we found it a profitable business,
which I continued in for several months.

The present flourishing city of Rochester was then, as I have said, but a
village in its infancy, situated near the upper falls of the Genesee
River, and about seven miles from its mouth. Here, some time previously,
three gentlemen from Maryland bought a large tract of land, and as no
business man could fail to observe and appreciate its rare advantages they
commenced laying out a village. Sirs Fitzhugh, Carroll, and Rochester,
composed the company; but the management of the business devolved almost
wholly on Col. Rochester, whose wealth, enterprise, and intelligence well
qualified him for the undertaking; and as it had been assigned him to
cognominate the new village, I have heard it said that he jocularly gave
his reason for selecting its present title, as follows: "Should he call it
_Fitzhugh_ or _Carroll_, the slighted gentleman would certainly feel
offended with the other; but if he called it by his own name, they would
most likely _both_ be angry with him; so it was best to serve them alike."

There was then two grist mills, - one owned by Mr. Ely, and the other by
Mr. Brown; one small building for religious worship, occupied by the
Presbyterians on Carroll street (now State street); and but two stone
buildings within what now comprises that beautiful city. There were then
no brick buildings at all, but business was good; merchants and mechanics
from the East soon began to settle there and give it a thriving aspect.

About this time another company was formed, whose moving spirit was Mr. E.
Stone, a man of worth and talent; the object of which was to locate
another village at the head of navigation and about half way between the
mouth of the river and Rochester, which they called _Carthage_.

The company commenced building and improving the place so rapidly, that
many who came to purchase residences and business stations were at a loss
to decide which of the two places would finally become the center of
business. It, however, was soon perceivable that the advantage of water
privileges, stone, and access to both, was greatly in favor of Rochester.
At Carthage the Genesee is narrow and its banks steep and abrupt, rising
in many places three hundred feet above the bed of the river, which of
course render the privileges and business on it far less easy of access
for building purposes. I may have occasion to speak hereafter of the
expensive and magnificent bridge at Carthage, which was the wonder and
admiration of the times.

The following year I concluded to go into business for myself, and was as
much at loss as others, whether to locate at Rochester or Carthage; but
after considering the matter in all its bearings, and closely watching the
progress of events, my choice preponderated in favor of Rochester, and to
that place I went, designing to enter into business on my own account.

It was indeed painful to my feelings to leave the home and family of Mr.
Comstock, where I had experienced so much real comfort and happiness,
where I had ever been treated with uniform kindness, where resided those
kind friends to whom I felt under the greatest obligation for the freedom
and quietude I then enjoyed, as well as for the little knowledge of
business and of the world that I then possessed. Thinking, however, that
I could better my condition, I subdued, as well as I could, my rising
emotions, and after sincerely thanking them for their goodness and
favors - wishing them long life and prosperity, - I took my departure for
the chosen place of my destination.

Soon after I left Mr. Comstock's, that gentleman, sent his hired man,
named John Cline, to Rochester with a wagon load of produce to sell, as
had been his custom for some time. In vain the family looked for his
return at the usual hour in the evening, and began to wonder what had
detained him; but what was their horror and surprise to find, when they
arose the next morning, the horses standing at the door, and the poor
unfortunate man lying in the wagon, _dead_! How long they had been there
nobody knew; no one had heard them come in; and how the man had been
killed was a matter of mere conjecture. The coroner was sent for and an
inquest held, and yet it was difficult to solve the whole mystery.

The most probable explanation was, that he was sitting in the back part of
the wagon, and fell over on his left side, striking his neck on the edge
of the wagon box, breaking it instantly.

The verdict of the jury was, in accordance with these facts, "accidental
death," &c.

When I left Mr. Comstock's I had acquired quite a knowledge of reading,
writing, arithmetic, and had made a small beginning in English grammar.

It had been for some time a question which I found hard to decide, whether
or not I should pursue my studies as I had done. If I went into business
as I contemplated, I knew it would end my proficiency in the sciences; and
yet I felt a desire to accumulate more of the wealth that perisheth.
Considering too that I was advancing in age, and had no means of support
but by my own labor, I finally concluded to do what I have from that time
to this deeply regretted, - give up the pursuit of an education, and turn
my attention wholly to business. I do not regret having desired a
competency, nor for having labored to obtain it, but I _do_ regret not
having spared myself sufficient leisure to pursue some regular system of
reading and study; to have cultivated my mind and stored it with useful
knowledge.

Truly has it been said, "knowledge is power." But it is not like the
withering curse of a tyrant's power; not like the degrading and
brutalizing power of the slave-driver's lash, chains, and thumb-screws;
not like the beastly, demonical power of rum, nor like the brazen,
shameless power of lust; but a power that elevates and refines the
intellect; directs the affections; controls unholy passions; a power so
God-like in its character, that it enables its possessor to feel for the
oppressed of every clime, and prepares him to defend the weak and
down-trodden.

What but ignorance renders the poor slave so weak and inefficient in
claiming his right to liberty, and the possession of his own being! Nor
will that God who is "no respecter of persons," hold him guiltless who
assumes unlimited control over his fellow. The chain of Slavery which
fetters every slave south of Mason and Dixon's Line, is as closely linked
around the master as the slave. The time has passed by when African blood
alone is enslaved. In Virginia as well as in some other slave States,
there is as much European blood in the veins of the enslaved as there is
African; and the increase is constantly in favor of the white population.
This fact alone speaks volumes, and should remind the slave-breeding
Southerner of that fearful retribution which must sooner or later overtake
him.

In September, 1817, I commenced business in Rochester. Having rented a
room of Mr. A. Wakely, I established a meat market, which was supplied
mostly by my former employer, Mr. Comstock, and was liberally patronized
by the citizens; but there were butchers in the village who appeared to be
unwilling that I should have any share in public patronage. Sometimes they
tore down my sign, at others painted it black, and so continued to annoy
me until after I had one of their number arrested, which put a stop to
their unmanly proceedings.

The village was now rapidly increasing, and yet the surrounding country
was mostly a wilderness. Mr. E. Stone, who then owned the land on the east
side of the river, thought his farm a very poor one; he, however,
commenced clearing it in the midst of wild beasts and rattlesnakes, both
of which were abundant, and in a few years was richly rewarded for his
labor, in the sale of village lots, which commanded high prices.

In the summer of 1818, I commenced teaching a Sabbath School for the
neglected children of our oppressed race. For a while it was well
attended, and I hoped to be able to benefit in some measure the poor and
despised colored children, but the parents interested themselves very
little in the undertaking, and it shortly came to naught. So strong was
the prejudice then existing against the colored people, that very few of
the negroes seemed to have any courage or ambition to rise from the abject
degradation in which the estimation of the white man had placed him.

This year, also, I purchased a lot of land, eighteen by fifty feet,
situated on Main street, for which I was to pay five hundred dollars.
Having secured my land, I began making preparations for building, and
soon had a good two story dwelling and store, into which I moved my
effects, and commenced a more extensive business.

Some disadvantage as well as sport was occasioned on business men, who
resided on the confines of Ontario and Genesee Counties. It was indeed
laughable to witness the races and maneuvering of parties in those days
when men were imprisoned for debt. If a man in Ontario County had a
suspicion that an officer was on his track, he had only to step over the
line into Genesee, to be beyond the power of an officer's precept.

A great deal of trouble as well as unpleasant feeling was engendered by
the exercise of that law, which allowed the creditor so great advantage
over the debtor. This, together with the fact that very many of the
citizens of Rochester were men of small means, the more wealthy portion
felt called upon to protect their interests, by forming themselves into
what was called a "Shylock Society," the object of which was to obtain a
list of all the names of persons who had been, or were then, on "the
limits" for debt. This list of names was printed, and each member of the
society furnished with a copy, which enabled him to decide whether or not
to trust a man when he came to trade. The formation of this society gave
rise to another, whose members pledged themselves to have no dealing with
a member of the "Shylock Society," and also to publish all defaulters in
"high life," which served to check these oppressive measures and restore
harmony.

Among others who came to settle in the thriving village of Rochester, was
a colored man named Daniel Furr, who came from the East. He soon became
acquainted with a very respectable young white lady, of good family, who
after a short acquaintance appeared to be perfectly enamored of her dusky
swain; and notwithstanding the existing prejudice, she did not scruple to
avow her affection for him, - a devotion which appeared to be as sincerely
returned by the young "Othello." They resolved to marry; but to this,
serious objections arose, and all that the lady's family and friends could
do to break off the match was done, but without effect. They could,
however, prevail on no one to perform the marriage ceremony in the
village, and finally concluded to go to a magistrate in the town of
Brighton, four miles distant. At this stage of the proceedings I was
appealed to, to accompany them. I took the matter into consideration and
came to the conclusion that I could take no active part in the affair, nor
bear any responsible station in the unpleasant occurrence. Is it no sin in
the sight of the Almighty, for Southern gentlemen(?) to mix blood and
amalgamate the races? And if allowed to them, is it not equally
justifiable when the commerce is prompted by affection rather than that of
lust and force? But I at length consented to accompany them, after
learning that all the mischief was already done that could be feared, and
that the gallant lover desired to marry the lady as the only atonement he
could make for the loss of her reputation.

We arrived at the house of the magistrate about one o'clock at night, and
all were soundly sleeping. They were, however, aroused, and when our
business was made known, an exciting scene followed. The magistrate
refused at first to marry them; and the lady of the house took aside the
intended bride, spending two hours in endeavoring to dissuade her from the
contemplated union; assuring her that her house should be freely opened to
her, that no attention should be spared during her expected confinement,
&c.; but all to no purpose. They returned to the parlor where the
magistrate again tried his power of persuasion, but with as little success
as his lady had met: and then he reluctantly married them. The newly-made
husband paid a liberal fee, and we took our leave. I returned to my home
to reflect on the scenes of the past night, and Mr. and Mrs. Furr to the
house of a friend of the bride in Penfield.

The report soon reached the village that the marriage had been
consummated, which produced a great excitement. Threats of an alarming
character were openly made against the "nigger" who had dared to marry a
white woman, although at her own request. And there was also a class of
persons who associated together, professing great friendship for the
persecuted husband, and often drew him into their company, pretending to
defend his cause while they were undoubtedly plotting his destruction.

One day, after Furr had been drinking rather freely with his pretended
friends, he was taken so violently ill, that a physician was immediately
called. I was with him when the doctor arrived. He gazed upon the
suffering man with an angry expression, and inquired in a tone of command,
"Daniel, what have you been doing?" In vain the poor creature begged for
relief, the doctor merely repeating his question. After looking at him for
some time, he finally administered a potion and hastily left the room,
saying as he did so, "that Furr was as sure to die as though his head had
been cut off." And so it proved, though not so speedily as the medical man
had predicted; nor did he ever visit him again, notwithstanding he
lingered for several days in the most intense agony. It was a strong man
grappling with disease and death, and the strife was a fearful one. But
death at last ended the scene, with none of all his professed friends,
except his faithful but heart-broken wife, to administer to his
necessities. No sound save that of the moaning widow broke the stillness
of his death-chamber. A few friends collected, who prepared the emaciated
body for the grave; enclosing it in a rude board coffin it was conveyed to
its last resting place, followed by three or four men, just as the shades
of evening had fallen upon this sin-cursed world; there in darkness and
silence we lowered his remains, and left the gloomy spot to return to his
disconsolate wife, who had been too ill to join the meager procession.

It has ever been my conviction that Furr was poisoned, most likely by some
of his false friends who must have mingled some deadly drug with his
drinks or food; nor do I believe that the medicine administered by the
physician was designed to save his life. But to Him who knoweth all
things, we leave the matter.

His despised, forsaken, and bereaved wife soon followed him to the grave,
where she sleeps quietly with her innocent babe by her side; and where
probably this second Desdemonia finds the only refuge which would have
been granted her by a heartless and persecuting world.

Oh, when will this nation "cease to do evil and learn to do well?" When
will they judge character in accordance with its moral excellence, instead
of the complexion a man unavoidably bears to the world?




CHAPTER XIV.

INCIDENTS IN ROCHESTER AND VICINITY.

After long petitioning, the inhabitants of that section succeeded in
having the new county of Monroe set off from Genesee and Ontario Counties,
in 1821, which gave a new impulse to the business interests of the already
flourishing town, which had heretofore labored under some disadvantages in
consequence of having all public business done at Canandaigua or Batavia.

About this time, too, was the Carthage bridge built by a company of
enterprising gentlemen of that village which at that day was considered


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Online LibraryAustin StewardTwenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce Colony, London, Canada West → online text (page 7 of 19)