Charles Grandison Parsons.

An inside view of slavery; or, A tour among the planters online

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bring him the whip. When the girl came with it, he
told her to go back and bring a quart of salt. The salt
was brought, and he dissolved it in water. Then he
took oflf his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and seized the
whip — the staflF of which was four or five feet longj
made of white oak, covered with raw hide, the butt


about two inches thick, loaded with lead, and the lash
at least six feet long, Tnth several inches of the end
wrought into hard knots with catgut. With this instru-
ment I was whipped until the master became tired, when
he commanded the slave to continue to flog me until
I had received one hundred lashes. Several times dur-
ing this flogging I fainted away. The whipping was sus-
pended, and cold water thrown upon me until I recovered,
when it was resumed. I should judge they were whip-
ping me nearly an hour. The salt and water was then
thrown upon me, and coals of fire would not have given
me more unutterable torment."

I became acquainted with another slave boy called
"Jack," in the State of S. Carolina, who was highly
spoken of by every one that knew him Jack's master,
J. R., was always kind when sober — but never when in-
toxicated. One day he whipped Jack severely for run-,
ning away,

" In a few days after this whipping," said Jack, as he
was giving me a short history of his life, " I told a slave,
in confidence, that I meant to run away again. He be-
trayed me, and informed Master of my purpose. This
greatly enraged him, and he sent for a neighboring
planter and his overseer to come and whip me. The
first intimation I had of it, the overseer rushed into the
hut, and struck me over the face with the but of his
whip, cutting my cheek through to the bone, — and the
scar is still a witness to the deed. Then they tied me,
and carried me into the yard, and my master and the
overseer both whipped me at the same time.


" When slaves are -whipped, they usually make a great
ado, for the purpose of mitigating the punishment. K they
cry out piteously, saying ' do, pray Massa, forgive me, 1 'II
do work better,' &c., — they usually get a less nimaber
of lashes. So at this time I said every thing I could
think of. When I cried loud for forgiveness, they would
tauntingly reply — ' you 've learned to halloo at the night
meetings, have you ? ' — meaning religious meetings. And
they crammed old rags into my mouth, so that I could
not be heard across the street.

" After the whipping was finished, the flaying paddle
was applied, and I was then taken to the barn-yard and
chained to the sill of the bam, having the chain locked
around my neck. They raked up some corn husks for
me to lie on, but my back and sides were so sore I could
not lie down, but was obliged to lean against the barn,
in which miserable position 1 passed the long, dreary,
suffering, sleepless night ! In the morning I was tied
upon a horse, and driven four miles, to be ironed. The
blacksmith took some old ox shoes and beat them to-
gether, in the shape of two half moons, and riveted them
at the comers, so as to fit the ankle, stood me upon the
anvil, and fastened them on. I was then set to hoeing
cotton again, and ten rows were added to my daily task."



" It well becomes the judge to nod at crimes,
That does commit greater himsel£"


"Do not your jmies give their verdict,
As if they felt the cause, — not heard it?
And as they please, make every feet
Run all one side, — as they are packed ? "


That there are able lawyers in the South, no one will
deny. There are also some eminentjudges, whose legal
learning and sense of justice go hand in hand. In this
respect, however, there is a difference in the Southern
States. The northern slave States have a better system
of jurisprudence than the southern, — if -we except Lou-
isiana, which stands far better than Mississippi, Alabama,
and Georgia. But aside from any individual exceptions,
the administration of justice throughout the South is
far more imperfect and partial than it is in the NortL
The slaveholders are an aristocracy, holding the offices,
enacting the laws, and, as judges or sheriffs, controlling
their execution. And so much does the spirit of caste
enter into all the institutions of the slave States, that


favoritism is often a predominant principle, even ■within
the temples of justice. The trial and acquittal of Ward
in Kentucky is a prominent illustration ; and no one can
spend much time in the South without observing numer-
bus iacidents of a like character.

A Southern writer has recently boasted that there is
less crime in the South than in the North, — appealing
to the number of convictions and imprisonments reported,
as evidence of it. But no such inference can be drawn
from this fact — as I shall abundantly show. Prisons
in the South are indeed few and poor, compared with
those of the North, and the iomates less in number ;
but this is not because crime ia not more frequent, but
because it goes impunished.

The crimes of slaves are nTTt often made a matter of
trial and punishment in the Southern courts. The mas-
ter is the judge, the jury, and the executioner. That the
slaves are often guilty of crimes is just what we might
expect. Aside from the vicious examples of unbridled
passion and indulgence which are constantly before them,
and of which they are often the victims, — their igno-
rance and degradation, the smothering of all the better
feelings in their natures, the extinguishing of all those
hopes and aspirations which tend to elevate and purify
the heart, while the baser elements are left free and un-
checked, and often strengthened by the wrongs they
suffer, all contribute to brutalize and degrade them.
And when I have learned of their committing revolting
crimes, instead of being surprised, I have wondered that
the instances are not far more frequent.


The ceaseless, unremitting toil of the slaves undoubt-
edly tends to save them from the commission of
crime. While, on the other hand, the idleness and con-
sequent dissipation of the slaveholdiag class are the
source of that fearful catalogue of offences of which we
sometimes catch a glimpse. And lest I might seem to
exaggerate in the incidents which I relate, I will call the
reader's attention to an extract from a recent lecture of
Rev. James A. Lyon, pastor of the Presbyterian church
ia Columbus, Mississippi, published in the Eagle, a
newspaper of that city, June 1st, 1855.

" The reckless manner in which the sixth commandf
ment, which forbids murder, is disregarded in this com-
munity, is truly alarming, and should excite the well
grounded fears of every friend of morality and good
order. As proof that I am not exaggerating the evil,
I will refer you to the statistical tables on this subject
for the last year, [1854] In the Daily Globe for Jan-
uary 2d, 1855, quoted by the New York Herald, the
following startling facts are brought to light, viz : That
there have been in the United States, during the last
year, no less than six hundred and eighty-two murders !
and only eighty-four executions ; that is, about one in
seven only ! Here is a little army slain every year, by
the hands of violence, in our country, boasting justly of
more general intelligence, freedom, and civilization than
any other upon the globe 1 But let us examine a little
this table of blood. We find that, of the murdered host,
only thirty-two fell in the six New England States, only
one hundred and six others in the Middle States, includ-


ing the largest States and cities in the Union. The blood
of all the rest,_^«e hundred and forty -four, Tras spilt in
the Sonth and West. But let us inspect still more
closely this record of crime. Of this remaining army,
five hundred and forty-fmir strong, that have fallen in
the South and West, three hundred and forty-six have
been slaughtered in the South alone ; that is, in the
Southern States proper, not including Missouri, there
have fallen more than one half of the whole of the orig-
inal army 1 The South has the unenviable distinction
of having slain a greater number of their fellow men
with murderous hands than all the other States, includ-
ing even California, put together I Of this number, I
am sorry to say that as many as thirty-two have been
Slat^htered in our own proud State of Mississippi ; *
that is, in the State of Mississippi alone, as many human
beings have fallen by the hand of violence, as in all the
six New England States put together -^ States with an
aggregate population five times as great as that of Mis-
sissippi ! K the New England States had slain as many
of their fellow men in proportion to their population as
the State of Mississippi has done, instead of murdering'
only thirty-two, they would have murdered five times
that number !

" We have no great seaport towns as the places of
resort for felons of other lands ; we have no foreign
population amongst us, except such as belong to the

* The editor of the Eagle here says, in a note, that he a few years
ago heard Gov. H. S. Foote say that some person had been killed with-
in the State every day during his term of office of two years !


better classes of society ; we are not a new and pioneer
State ; and yet the annual list of our murdered is fright-
ful! — frightful not only on account of the compara-
tive number of the slain, but also on account of the
character and standing of the slayers. K these mur-
ders were committed by vagabonds and the scum of
society, then its prestige, its moral effect, would not be
so injurious to society. But what, think you, is the effect
upon the minds of our children and youth, when men of
fair standing in society, received and regarded as gen-
tlemen, are the perpetrators of the butcheries ! !

"In- view of this state of things, who is safe? My
enemy meets me, insults me, and then shoots me down,
professing to believe that I was ' armed,^ as a matter of
course, and that his Ufe was in danger ; tells his own
story in a community where it is no strai^e thing for
men to carry about their persons deadly weapons. Each
one feels that he would have done the same thing under
similar circumstances, so that in condemning him they
would but condemn themselves. Consequently, the slayer
is justified — goes free ; and a hundred others, our sons
and half grown lads amongst them, resolve in their
hearts, that since every man may go armed, and every
one is therefore justifiable in slaying his enemy, they will
do likewise.

" I should like to deprecate the influence of money in
setting aside the law. It is a shameful fact that no rich
man can he hanged for murder in the Southwest!
The man, therefore, who is able to pay a few thousand'
dollars, may indulge Ms dire revenge with impunity.


The frequency with which slaves are killed, and the
little attention paid to it by the officers of the law, is a
crying evil, which I had intended to dwell upon as its
importance deserves."

In conunenting upon this lecture, the editor of the
Eagle says that

" The frequency of the open and violent murders com-
mitted in the South and Southwest, and especially with-
in our own State, is the most remarkable, and at the
same time the most disgraceful, characteristic of our
section of the country. And it is equally strange and
astonishing to us, that, instead of diminishing, as the
tone of our society improves and the standard of civili-
zation advances, this horrid and unnatural offence against
humanity, good order, law, and morals, seems to be on
the increase.

"The pulpit having led the way in the reform so
loudly called for in regard to this matter, and called
upon the press to follow in the noble and praiseworthy
enterprise, we, for one, hesitate not a moment, but at
once raise our voice and nerve our arm for the conflict
against the hideous crime of murder, the almost daily
commission of which, in some part of our State, is
brought to our knowledge by, and as regularly as, our
exchanges are received."

The fact stated by Mr. Lyon, — "that no rich man
can be hanged for murder in the Southwest" — may
appear strange ; but the manner of organizing a court
in the Southern States is almost sure to give impunity
to offenders. Juries, in such cases, are empanneled


from the crowd of bystanders, instead of being selected
beforehand by the municipal authorities, as they are in
the North. How easy for a wealthy slaveholder to have
a score of dependents, from among his poor neighbors,
standing around the court-room, where the Judge or
the clerk will be likely to caU them ! This, more than
any thing else, makes the administration of justice in
the criminal courts of the South a mere farce.

I was in Baker county when Dr. Byrd, of Albany,
killed a man by the name of Jones. Sometimes, when
a free white man has become obnoxious to a neighbor-
hood by constantly provoking quarrels and going about
to do evil, priding himself on being a fighter, the slave-
holders will be glad of an opportunity to arraign him,
and either punish him or drive him off. Such a man
was Dr. Byrd. He and Jones had a falling out, and
Byrd demanded of Jones a card in the Albany Patriot,
acknowledging that he had slandered him. Jones took
the paper in which the card was published, and went to
the tavern where Byrd boardfed, and showed him the
card. Byrd called for brandy, — a custom after such
affairs are amicably adjusted. While sipping the liq-
uor — as the landlord assured me — Jones patted Byrd
on the shoulder and remarked, facetiously,

" The biggest lie I ever told in my life, Byrd, was
when I said here in this card that I lied about you ; for
you know every word that I had said was true."

" You are a liar and a villain 1 " said Byrd, seizing Ms

Jones drew his knife, and cut Byrd severely in several


{places. But Byrd shot liim through the heart. He
made one bound from the bar-room into the street, and

Byrd was arrested and taken to Newton jail. It was
reported in the papers that he had poisoned himself in
the jail. But instead of that, he returned to Albany
the next day, and in a short time he was established in
the practice of his profession in Alabama.

Having business with R. K. Hines, Esq., a popular
lawyer in the city of Albany, I inquired of him, after
Byrd was carried to the jail, if he would be hung.

" Hung I my dear sir ? " said Mr. H. " We have more
cases on the docket in this county now, for murder, than
can be tried during the next ten years. So that all
Byrd'a lawyer would have to do, in order to postpone
a trial, would be to caU up former cases before this."

" Is that possible, Mr. Hines ? " said I.

"Why, let me tell you," replied Mr. H.," while we
were trying a man for murder at the last court at Stark-
ville, the next county seat above, two murders were
committed within gun-shot of that court house."

Soon after this, I was in the stage, passing through
Starkville. A young man stepped out of the coach
when it stopped.

" That was John Ross," remarked a passenger, as the
coach wheeled around to start again.

"Yes," said another, "John Ross that killed his father
here I "

"And was never complained of!" responded a third.

"John Ross," said Col. L., "wanted to marry one of


his father's negro girls." And he proceeded to relate
the facts as they had occurred.

John was an only child of a rich slaveholder. His
father was bitterly opposed to this freak of his son,
and he told him that he would not consent to have the
blood corrupted in this manner. But John replied that
he loved the black girl, and intended to marry her.

Now John was not peculiar in this fancy. Slavehold.
ers very frequently marry the quadroon girls, — and
some of them select the fullblooded Africans for their
wives. Mr. A., the city surveyor in D., lost a white wife,
and he then emancipated his black female cook, and
married her. So that John Ross was not the first white
man who had desired such a connubial relation. But
his father was invincibly opposed to hia wishes ; and he
informed his son that if he persisted in his foolish pur-
pose to marry that " nigger," he would disown and dis.
inherit him. And when all arguments had failed, and
John finally assured the old gentleman that his purpose
was fixed to marry that girl, the father banished him
from his house.

John took lodgings in a public house, near by. His
mother had been dead several years, and now the father
sat solitary and alone, without an heir. He had great
possessions, and he knew he must shortly leave them.
And to whom ? " Poor John ! Foolish son ! " he said
to himself. " I will call him home, and make one more
attempt to bring him back to regard the honor of the
family, for his blessed mother's sake." And the father
eent his son a note, stating that he desired to have an


interview with him, that he might, if possible, dissuade
him from his rash pm-pose ; but at all events to have a

"John Ross," said Col. L., "loaded his rifle, put in
that kind letter, received from his father, for wadding,
aj\d the first time the father stepped over the threshold
of his own door, he was shot dead by that mmatural

John was a chivalrous, " dead shot " Southron. No-
body dared enter a complaint against him for the mur-
der of his father. Besides, young John, — now made sole
proprietor of a large estate by this heroic deed, — gave
valuable presents to the slaveholding neighbors, and
public opinion made no other or higher demand.

Throughout the slave States, a light value is set upon
human life. The murderer has no fear of punishment,
if he has wealth and rank to protect him. Slaveholders
risk their lives on the most fantastic whim of honor.
We know it to be a false notion of honor, but the South-
ron regards it as the highest ambition of his life to
maintain it. Hence the cold blooded, fatal rencounters
80 frequent in the South. This is illustrated by the
following facts, which were stated in my presence by
Col. L. of Alabama.

" I was sitting at a dinner table in Texas," said Col.
L. " when two young gentlemen came in from a hunt-
ing excursion. They walked up to the sideboard, took
a glass of whisky, and then seated themselves at the
table. A. sat next to me, and B. directly opposite to
him. A. called for some meat, but B. sat mute. I no-


ticed there was a malicious, designing, murderous look
in Ms countenance, and I suspected that there was
trouble near. In a few moments A. said to B.,

« I now ask you, sir, in the presence of these gentle-
men, if you will publicly retract the malicious slanders
you have put in circulation, seriously affecting my repu-
tation as an honorable man and a gentleman ? "

" No 1 " said B. " You are a dishonest villain, and I
wiU never perjure myself to save your reputation 1 "

A. drew out a brace of pistols, threw them down on
the table, and exclaimed,

" Take your choice of them, sir ! "

B. arose, took a white handkerchief from his pocket,
wound one comer of it around the little finger of his
left hand, tossed the other end to his antagonist, who
rose up, wound that end around the little finger of his
hand, like the other, bringing their left hands within
six inches of each other. Then each took a pistol in
the right hand, pointed it directly at the other's heart,
and at the word ' ready ^ they commenced to count the
usual number in such cases. Both counted, slowly, dis-
tinctly, simultaneously. ' one — ^two— three,' and so on up
to 'ten. ' Both pronounced the last number just as plump-
ly and firmly as the first. When the ' ten ' was uttered,
the pistols were fired, and both fell ! There were about
sixty gentlemen at dinner, but two of them only — the
landlord, and another man who was brother-in-law to
one of the murdered men — left the table. The serv-
ants dragged the hunters out into the bar room ; and
when we went out, after dinner, they were both dead 1'*


"Xow that was pretty cool, all arouud" said the
Colonel to a Mississippian with whom he was talking.

No Northern man, who has never seen men who have
been brought up in places where they cannot read and
write can imagine how vacant-minded and stupid such
men appear. Occasionally we see a man at the North
who cannot read, though very seldom among the farmers.
But when we do find one so ignorant, he has been as-
sociated with men who can read, and he has consequent-
ly obtained a good deal of information from thfem, and
he seems much more intelligent than slaveholders do
who cannot read themselves, and who have not enjoyed
the society of those who can read. I can give no better
idea of the impression made on the mind of a Yankee
when looking upon a jury made up of such men, tlian by
describing an amusing scene that transpired in court, in
the city of D.

A learned physician from Massachusetts, Dr. W., and
a shipmaster from Maine, Capt. F., with whom 1 had a
favorable acquaintance during a few weeks stay at D.,
will excuse this reference to them.

The court house at D., is divided in the center by a
railing, three feet high. In one end of the room the
court is convened, and the other end is reserved for
spectators. There is no seat in the half assigned to the
latter, except a narrow seat around the outside of the
area. The court was in session at the time of our visit.
One of the lawyers was addressing the jury. I was
standing near the passage-way in the railing, in the cen-


ter of the house, and Dr. W. stood near the door, look-
ing upon the court, and listening to the argument of the
attorney, when Capt. F. — a stout, rough, sensible, down
east sea captain — entered the room, and took a stand
by the door near to him. Perceiving there were va-
cant seats on the court side of the railing, and none
very near on our side, the Capt. said to Dr. W.,

" Why can't we go inside, and take a seat ? "

" Those seats belong to the jury," replied the Dr.
. They were rough, long seats, without backs or desks.

"But that is not the jury," said Capt. P., pointing to
the pale, puny looking fellows that occupied those seats.

"Yes it is, Capt.," said Dr. W. "Don't you see?
The lawyer is talking to them now."

" I know better than that," said Capt. F., casting a
" look for breakers " over them a second time.

He saw that the jury paid little attention to what the
lawyer was saying to them. They were talking with
each other in little squads of two or three together, in
whispers so loud that we could sometimes distinguish
the half smothered oath, followed by a copious expec-
toration of tobacco juice. Capt. F. stepped along to
the place where I was standing, and said to me,

"Why can't we go in there and sit down?" pointing
to a chance for two on the jury seat.

"Those seats belong to the jury," I replied, "and I
suppose the court would object to our taking seats with
the jury while the trial is going on."

The Capt. was now compelled to believe that this


was really the jury, though he could not comprehend
Tfhy men who seemed so ignorant and dissipated, had
been selected for such an important trust.

" I would be hung or I would be shot," he exclaimed,
" before I would be tried for any thing great by such a
looking set of fellows as that ! "

This was uttered in a whisper so loud that the sheriff,
who was at the further end of the room, near the judge,
came along and said to us, "You disturb the court, gen-
tlemen! Please retire out there and take a seat,"
pointing to the seat by the wall.

" Look here, Capt. 1 " said Capt. F. to the ofl&cer, with
a peering look, and a thrust of his finger towards the
face of the sheriff, " I'll tell you what I will do : I will
give you fifty dollars for a true daguerreotype of your
jury there !" The of&cer laughed, and returned to his
seat, while Dr. W. and myself started suddenly for the
outside, where a hearty laugh would not distui-b the

I Tisited a court in L., in March, 1853. Two men
were on the jury by the name of Smith — George and
Joseph. They were brothers. George Smith was a
temperance man — a rare specimen in that locality — but

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Online LibraryCharles Grandison ParsonsAn inside view of slavery; or, A tour among the planters → online text (page 11 of 18)