Cyrus Thomas.

The frontier schoolmaster: the autobiography of a teacher ... together with an essay on the management of our public schools online

. (page 14 of 31)
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propensities of mischievous students. His highest ambition
was to be regarded an orator, and an invitation, accompanied
by a little flattery, never failed to call him up for an im-
promptu lecture on any subject his audience might suggest.
Another weakness of his was to imitate the eccentricities of
noted men. Being present on a certain occasion when I
chanced to be speaking to some of the students respecting
the peculiarities of Beecher and Spurgeon, he listened atten-
tively, and decided, it seems, to increase his notoriety by
adopting a method of illustration which he then heard
described ; and the following Sabbath he astonished his
congregation by sliding down the old-fashioned high desk
in the school-house where he was preaching : thus imitating
the great English divine who, to illustrate some point, slid
down the railing of his pulpit.

Naturally loquacious and lively, he sometimes surprised
his acquaintances by fits of taciturnity lasting two or three
days, during which time he would assume a most melan-
choly air, taking notice of no one, and often in the night
startling the other servants by loud and frequent groans.
As an explanation of this mysterious conduct, he informed
his interlocutors that he was " pressed in spirit."

One of the arguments advanced by pro-slavery men
against emancipation was that a colored man could not
be treated with respect and kindness without assuming a

202 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

degree of familiarity and impudence that no respectable
white man could tolerate. With due respect for Tim's
good qualities, I must say that my short acquaintance with
him rather tended to make me a proselyte to this pro-slavery
opinion. He was engaged as a general servant at the Semi-
nary, consequently, came daily in contact with the students.
The majority of them treated him kindly, though, as before
stated, many of them were too much inclined to seek fun
at his expense. A few, among whom were Sixby and
Hardwick, regarded him with the greatest contempt, and
their ungentlemanly treatment of him was only counter-
balanced by the kindness shown him by a few others
Mack and myself being among the latter.

In consequence of this kindness, Tim regarded us as inti-
mate friends, and his manifold wants and secrets were so
often made known to us, that we found ourselves obliged
to request him to visit our rooms only in cases of necessity.
He often came to us to write letters for him, and as he was
anxious to give his family a full account of all that he did
and saw, it became no slight task to pen an epistle accord-
ing to his dictation. I once wrote to his master for him,
giving a glowing account of Tim's present happy condition,
indulging in a tirade against slavery, and closing with a
moral admonition to himself. Mack and I also spent con-
siderable time in teaching him to read and write, but the
most irksome of the labors he imposed upon us was reading
to him the chapters from which he chose his texts for the
following Sunday, the task always being greatly prolonged,
until we forbade it, by his frequent interruptions to deliver
a homily, which the passages he heard had suggested.

But Tim soon grew vain and arrogant. In gaining his

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 203

liberty he forgot that he owed a duty to his present em-
ployer, and the latter often said that it seemed as if Tim, in
order to convince himself that he was a free man, would desert
the work at which he had been placed, just at the time when
his services were the most required. In his enthusiasm,
he had already planned for purchasing the freedom of his
wife and children, and so sure was he that this was soon to be
accomplished, that he one day visited the President, and,
to the amusement of the latter, demanded to know in what
capacity his spouse was to be admitted into the " institoo-
tion," as he always called it. He claimed that as the
wives of the other clergymen in the Seminary were per-
mitted to board, and receive attention as ladies, his own
should be accorded the same right ; and unless this social
status was granted her, he should be obliged to change his

About this time an incident occurred which, while it
afforded no little amusement to the students, greatly in-
creased the conceit of Tim. A clergyman of some note,
but of peculiar religious tenets, had been holding a series
of meetings in Corvette, and in the flush of success at
making proselytes, he sent an invitation to any one of the
ministers at the Seminary to hold a public discussion with
him respecting the doctrine that he was promulgating. No
one being inclined to accept it, I casually suggested to Tim
that he should do so.

He showed no hesitation ; and as he was urged by other
students who earnestly desired the fun, he at once com-
menced preparations for the discussion. The suggestion,
however, which I had thoughtlessly made, caused me more
trouble than I had anticipated; for, in order to prepare

204 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

himself properly for the occasion, he requested me to write
down the scriptural passages that were to be used in floor-
ing his learned opponent.

At first I declined, and tried to dissuade him from his
purpose, but, at the solicitation of my fellow students, I
finally assented, and so laid aside my own work for the
entire day. The Professors knew the plan that had been
projected, but said nothing; and I was certain that they
secretly enjoyed the scheme, and wished the darkey much
success in subverting what they considered heterodox

Evening came, and Tim, with a bundle of notes that
looked like the manuscript of a quarto volume, repaired to
the hall in which the clergyman's meetings were held.

In order to avoid the suspicion of being at all connected
with the affair, I prevailed on Tim to go early, and I went
sometime afterward with several other students. On enter-
ing the hall, which was well filled, to my dismay, Tim, who
was sitting near the door, rose and followed.

Down one passage I went, across the hall, up another
alley and sat down in a vacant seat near the platform. Tim
seated himself beside me, and Mack became his nearest
neighbor on the other side. I had made this long journey
hoping that my colored friend would take a seat eleswhere,
as I knew that he would become conspicuous through the
display made with his papers, and that he might thus
awaken suspicion among the clergyman's friends, many of
whom were acquainted with me, that T was the instigator of
the attack that he was about to make. My fears were not
groundless, for he had already attracted much attention,
and no sooner was he seated than he pulled forth a page of

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 205

foolscap, produced a pencil, and as soon as the minister
commenced his address, began to write down hieroglyphics
which none but himself could decipher. The attention of
the audience was equally divided between him and the
minister, as it was evident what was coming. In taking notes
he often appealed to me for the definition of a term which
he did not understand, and thus I, unwillingly, became as
prominent as himself. While thus situated, finding it
almost impossible to repress my risibility, my fellow stu-
dents were enjoying the scene immensely, knowing, as they
did, the pains I had taken to avoid the awkward position in
which Tim had placed me.

At length the sermon closed, and, according to his cus-
tom, the minister invited discussion. All eyes were turned
towards Tim, and as he sprang to his feet, his huge face and
rolling eyes exhibiting signs of great excitement, a sup-
pressed titter ran through the audience.

" I wants to know," he began, " ef you sez that when the
wicked dies he aint punished ? "

" Certainly not ! " was the emphatic reply. " ' The wages
of sin is death.' It is eternal punishment."

As this was the point Tim had prepared himself to prove,
he was nonplussed by the minister's declaration ; but as he
was determined that such an opportunity for displaying his
learning and eloquence should not be lost, he pulled down
his wuNtroat, ran his fingers through his woolly hair, glanced
an mid the audience, ahemmed two or three times, and then
with grave deliberation began again as follows :

" My very intimate frens heah on my riizht han* and on
my lef , Mr. Styles and Mr. Mackenzie, tells me dat you
don't believe dar is a literal lake of fire and brimstun where

206 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

God frows de wicked and punishes dem fur ever ; now I
wants to know ef dis is so ? "

" Certainly, sir, I believe in no such punishment as that,"
was the reply.

" 'Zactly, sah," exclaimed Tim, with a triumphant smile ;
" I've brot you to de pint now, and I'm gwine to show dese
poor unfortinate, ignorent peoples, heah, dat you am tryin'
to mislead, dat you am a 'poster, a big humbug, an when
dey comes to de day ob ressurrekshun dey'll bless de Lord
dat He's raised up a culled man, and bro't him all de way
from Norf Carliny, and giv' him de 'bility to save dem from
de error of dar ways, and to axpose you."

As the audience was composed largely of intelligent peo-
ple, and the minister himself was highly educated, Tim's
estimate of their mental condition was hardly just, but many
among them enjoyed the scene, and though some person
cried, " Put him out," no one seemed disposed to obey the
order, or even to second it.

Encouraged, Tim now stepped up on the seat and with
stentorian voice commenced his harangue. He referred to
his notes but twice, and then, finding that they interfered
with his rapid gesticulations, and regarding his victory cer-
tain without them, he threw the bundle of papers disdain-
fully on the floor, and launched out into a declamatory speech
of ten minutes length, which might be aptly compared to a
thunder storm. Sometimes he struck upon an idea that
might be termed appropriate, but taken as a whole it was
about as senseless a jargon as could possibly be conceived.
At length, after he had become nearly exhausted with his
effort, and had quite deafened those who were sitting near
him, he fastened his eyes on the minister, who had been

The Frontier ScJioolmaster. 207

standing all the while with a confused look and wondering
when the storm was to subside, and dropping his voice to a
moderate tone, said,

" Now, sah, if I be not right, I wants you to 'splain to
dese poor bredren heah, dat you have deceibed, what our
Savyah meant by the pahable of de rich man and Lazarus."

" My friend," replied the clergyman, " if you will come
and see me at my rooms, I will be pleased to talk with you ;
but as it is now late, I think we had better bring the meet-
ing to a close."

" Ah ! ah ! " exclaimed Tim. " You see, my belubbed
bredren, dat he feels scared. Dat's de way de Lord delib-
bers de Flistines into de hands of Samson. He's beat, my
frens, and yet he don't dare to 'knowledge it. He wants
to git me 'lone, an', probly, he'll give me five or ten dollars
to hoi' my tongue, so he kin go on and deceivb de whole ob
ye ; but I shant do it, my bredren. De Lord hab raised me
up to save ye, and ef you don't listen to me, dis 'poster
will take ye to hell, dat awful place of fiah an' brimstun,
ebbry one ob ye."

The minister took no further notice of him, but imme-
diately dismissed the audience with a benediction.

I was the first to leave the room, and, as I pushed through
the crowd, I noticed much laughing, and heard remarks
like the following :

" The darkey did well."

" I was in hopes he would go on."

But others looked displeased, and gave vent to their feel-
ings in expressions like this :

" It was mean."

" I say that those fellows at the Seminary should be
ashamed to get that nigger up here to insult Mr. "

208 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

I was not anxious to listen to the various opinions enter-
tained of the lark, and, consequently, reached my room in
the shortest time possible. As for Tim, he believed that he
had achieved a brilliant victory ; and as no one attempted
to undeceive him, he was permitted to remain in the enjoy-
ment of his happy assurance. The students never forgot
the incident, and as long as Mack and I remained at the
Seminary we were frequently greeted with the quotation

" My very intimate frens, Mr. Styles and Mr. Mac-

In less than a month from the occurrence of the above
incident, Tim had good reason to regard us as friends ; and,
had it not been for our friendship, his future lot would, in
all probability, have been the saddest he had ever expe-

I have already stated that one object of his friends in
removing him to the Seminary was to lessen the chances
of his being kidnapped. Although the Fugitive Slave Law
was in force at the time, such was the odium against it at
the North, and such was the sympathy felt for the poor slave
who had escaped, that the slaveholder cared not to incur
the hatred of the New Englanders, and meet the storm of
indignation they were sure to raise should he come openly
before the courts and ask the restitution of his property ;
hence, he preferred, with a semblance of justice, to have
the arrest made as secretly as possible, and then hurried the
prisoner back to bondage ere his friends had missed him.
It was, virtually, kidnapping ; yet it was attempted in
more than one instance with success. Fears were enter-
tained for a while that Tim might thus be taken back to his
former master, but as time wore on, both he and his friends

r lhe Frontier Schoolmaster. 209

became less wary, and, indeed, I think he had dismissed the
thought of any attempt being made to recapture him.

One evening in midsummer, during the twilight, Mack
and I had strolled away on a road leading southward, and
had sat down near a bridge which crossed the stream nearly
a mile from the Seminary. Farther on was a rocky slope,
and this was covered with a belt of woods through which
the road passed. While sitting here, chatting together, a
covered carriage, drawn by two horses, rolled rapidly down
from the village and passed us. There was nothing unusual
in the occurrence, and doubtless it would soon have been
forgotten, had not subsequent events rendered it an incident
of no little importance. Twenty minutes, perhaps, after the
carriage had passed, the voice of some one beyond the
woods, singing an old familiar hymn, was borne to our ears
by the still evening air. We listened a moment, and then
Mack said,

" It is Tim, coming from his prayer meeting."

There was a schoolhouse about two miles beyond us, at
which a weekly prayer meeting was held, and of this, Tim
had charge, usually delivering a short sermon to those who
were in attendance. As stated by Mack, Tim was returning
from this meeting, and was giving utterance to his happy
feelings in one of his favorite spiritual songs. On he came,
the words becoming more and more distinct as sent forth by
his powerful vocal organs, when, suddenly, the singing
ceased, and, for a moment, a dead silence ensued. It was
only for a moment ; for, scarcely had the last note of his
singing died away, ere the air was rent with startling cries.

" Help ! help ! murder ! " were the words that thrilled us
like an electric shock, and brought us simultaneously to
our feet.

210 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

" They are taking Tim," exclaimed Mack, in startling
tones. " Come on, Styles ! " and away he dashed with the
speed of a race horse towards the woods.

I required no second invitation. From my earliest recol-
lection I had regarded slavery with the greatest abhorrence.
Ere I was twelve years old, I had read many anti-slavery
works, and my indignation had been aroused to the highest
pitch by the numberless instances recounted therein of the
cruelties exercised by the slave-holders against their human
chattels. I remember distinctly that even in my childish
years, when my blood had been heated by these accounts,
I permitted my imagination to portray the marvelous deeds
that I would perform in the interests of the Southern bond-
men when I had arrived at the age of manhood. It was
then with me an impression, almost amounting to convic-
tion, that I would travel through the South at some future
time, become acquainted with slavery in all its aspects,
display my sympathy for the slave by deeds of philanthropy
and individual valor, and eventually subvert the institu-
tion by inciting the slaves to an insurrection. Such was the
scheme that I confidentially disclosed to an unambitious
and unromantic boy, two or three years my senior, but his
practical turn of mind induced him to damp my ardor by
the following exclamation :

" You'd do great things, you dunce ! Why, the slave-
holders would shoot you 'fore you'd been there a week."

It might have been this damping of my enthusiasm,
coupled with the barriers interposed by Providence, that
prevented my meeting ere this the tragic fate of John
Brown. But my boyish plans with regard to slavery were
never forgotten, and when that ill-starred hero suffered on

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 211

the gallows for the too great sympathy and love that he had
manifested for his fellow-man, I bemoaned my lowly lot
that I could do nothing to avert his end. It seemed to me,
as it will always seem, that he was deserted by his Northern
friends in the hour of peril, in extremest need. One united
effort on the part of the anti-slavery men might, no doubt,
have procured his ransom, if they had not the force to wrest
him from the toils of Southern hate. Unwise as he doubt-
less was in the means that he devised to accomplish his
ends, he nevertheless deserves the respect and sympathy of
good men ; and the future historian who does justice to his
memory will place his name beside those who have died
martyrs to a noble cause.

I have indulged in this digression, kind reader, to show
wi h what feelings I responded to my noble friend's request
" Come on ; " to show the deep sympathy for our wronged
and imperiled colored friend that incited me us, I should
say, for I know that Mack's feelings were similar to my
own to violate the laws of the country in which we were
then sojourners. Already I fancied that I could hear the
cruel lash and the deep groan of the recaptured fugitive,
suffering again in the land of bondage for the love of liberty
which had led him to escape. I could see his wife and
daughters torn from his embrace and borne away to distant
States not only to increase the wealth of brutal masters,
but to punish the husband and father for the courage and
wisdom that he had dared to show. I could hear and see
all this, and the blood was boiling in my veins, and my
fists were clenched with desperate resolve, as with swift
winged feet I followed my friend.

I was not more than six paces behind him when he

212 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

reached the spot where the struggle was going on. In the
twilight, rendered more dim by the presence of the woods,
we descried the carriage that had passed us, and a man was
standing by the horses holding them by the bits. A few
steps aside, two men, one at his head and another at his
feet, were dragging our friend along, despite his frantic
efforts to resist them. They had already gagged, handcuffed
and fettered him, and would soon have him in the carriage.

The man who was holding the horses, seeing us, gave the
alarm in time for his companions to prepare for our attack.
They had dropped their burden and faced us, just as Mack
directed a blow at one which felled him to the ground.
Bang ! went the barrel of a revolver at the instant Mack
came down with both feet into the stomach of his fallen foe.

They had the advantage of us in being well armed, as
neither of us had any weapon whatever. I am confident
that, in our terrible excitement, we never considered the
chances of getting shot ; our only thought being that Tim
must never go back to slavery.

When the revolver was fired I recollect thinking that it
must be our aim to come into close quarters with our
antagonists, which would prevent their using their weapons,
and making our chances as good as their own. With this
intention then, I rushed on and grappled the other man a
second after he had discharged his second barrel at Mack.
He was much larger and more powerful than myself, and
though I strained every muscle he threw his arms around
me, lifted me up, and then, throwing me to the ground, fell
heavily on me. My spirits ebbed when I discovered his
superior strength, but to prevent his using his revolver
again I hugged him to me with a grip more terrible than

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 213

that received by Sinbad from the old man of the sea.
Scarcely were we down when a blow on the head caused
him to relax his hold of me, and unloosing my own grasp
he rolled over insensible on the ground,

" Are you hurt ? " asked Mack, as I sprang to my feet

" No, are you ? "

" Not a bit But you search this fellow's pockets for the
key to Tim's fetters while I search the other. Quick ! for
they'll be all right again in a minute, yet, we have the
advantage of them now, for I have both revolvers ; but we
don't want to be recognized, as this may be a serious job
for us."

This affray might have turned out differently with us
had the man who had charge of the horses been able or in-
clined to come to the assistance of his companions. But,
at the report of the revolver, the horses had taken fright
and dragged him along with them until he was at least
ten rods from us, before he succeeded in checking them. I
have little doubt that he was glad of this excuse for not
taking part in the fight ; for as he was, probably, some man
connected with a livery stable, who had been engaged to
bring the other two to this place, he could care but little
how the affair terminated, and, of course, would gladly
seize on any pretext for keeping aloof from danger.

Fortunately, in one of the pockets of my disabled foe
I found the key which released Tim from his shackles ;
and no sooner was this done, than springing to his feet he
darted off for the Seminary as if a pack of blood-hounds
was at his heels ; Mack and I following at a more moderate

At first I was astonished to find that Mack had received


214 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

no injury from the shots that were fired, for it seemed im-
possible that one man could fire at another, not more than
six or eight feet distant, without hitting him, but on our
return, I received a satisfactory explanation.

" He never aimed at me," said Mack, " for I heard both
bullets whistle by me. You may be sure they dared not
shoot us. If we ever learn the particulars of this matter,
depend upon it we shall find that these fellows live in the
North; and they had undertaken to return Tim to his
master for the reward he offered. They wished to accom-
plish this as quietly as possible, to save themselves from
the contempt and disgrace which they knew would follow
the discovery of their conduct, and they would not be very
likely to shoot us when they knew that, in all probability,
they would be lynched for it within twenty-four hours."

His reasoning seemed very plausible, and as we never
learned anything more respecting the matter, it was doubt-
less quite correct. When the kidnappers returned to con-
sciousness they certainly must have felt themselves hors de
combat, for besides the injuries they had received from Mack,
they were without revolvers, as we had taken them with us.
I presented mine to Tim, and he afterwards carried it for
his defence ; Mack kept his as a memento of the service he
had rendered the anti-slavery cause.

Tim was so frightened and bewildered that, on reaching
the Seminary, he went straight to his room without speak-
ing to any one, but after recovering somewhat, he went to
the President, in his office, and reported that lie had been
set on by several slave-holders with blood-hounds, knocked
down, gagged and nearly killed that somebody students
he thought had interceded for him, and had been shot

2 he Frontier Schoolmaster. 215

and that in the melee he had managed to knock down two
or three and escape.

Jack Fallstaff never gave a more glowing account of his
valor tlian did Tim of his on this occasion ; but, poor fellow,
I do not believe he intentionally exaggerated ; he evidently
knew but little of what had occurred. Subsequent exam-
ination showed that he had received a severe blow on the
head, and it might have been owing to this, as well as his
fright, that his memory failed him. He had just finished
his narration to the President, and the latter was in a state

Online LibraryCyrus ThomasThe frontier schoolmaster: the autobiography of a teacher ... together with an essay on the management of our public schools → online text (page 14 of 31)