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The time of slavery were troublous times, to those who felt its crushing power. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, have been defined as the inalienable rights of every human being. To have an existence as a human being, and yet to be held under such bondage as deprives one of all human rights, -- such an existence must ever be a misery. With no right to have property, family, or even a name of his own apart from that of his master, to the slave, the pursuit of happiness was a terribly disappointing one. Yet in just such a condition of thralldom were held four millions of Africa's sons and daughters on American soil, until at one stroke by the Emancipation Proclamation, the shackles were riven, and these millions of lowly creatures were human beings in reality as well as in name.
The following incidents of slave life, with many others like them, have been related by my mother as having come under her own observation. There was a man in Mississippi by the name of Gregory, who was very cruel to his slaves; so much so, that they would run away from him whenever they got a chance. Rarely, however, did one succeed in escaping, for the blood-hounds were at once on their track. Mngled and bleeding, they were caught and brought back, and as a punishment for running away, they were required to work on the Sabbath day to make up their lost time. Mr. Gregory went out one Sabbath to oversee the delinquents in some wood-chopping. A tree, in falling, accidentally lodged in another tree This angered the master, and in no very amiable mood, he set to work to help pull it down, when by some mismanagement, it fell on him and killed him instantly. This would seem a just judgment for his unrighteousness.
The marriage ceremony for slaves had in it a clause requiring them to cleave to each other 'until distance should them part'; meaning until their master sold them apart. One day we heard a terrible screaming in the road which passed our house, and on going out to see what the trouble was about, there was poor Amy Griffin, crying and wringing her hands in awful agony, as she was hurried along the road between two strange men. "Oh my poor husband! I shall never see you any more -- never any more!" She had been sold away from her husband, and they were taking her hundreds of miles away.
One master who lived near us had large cotton fields and about one hundred slaves. Each one was required to pick a certain amount of cotton daily. The amount varied somewhat with different individuals, and was from fifty to one hundred pounds, according to the age and strength of the picker. No allowance was made for temporary illness or indisposition on the part of any slave. Each was expected, invariably, to measure up to his apportionment. At the end of the day, every basket was weighed by a white man. Any shortage in weight was punished by a terrible beating with a large ox-hide whip. Very often would be heard the screams of poor slaves who had failed to pick their full quota>,/p>
After the day's work was over, the slaves had dealt out to them some corn meal and fat bacon, which each had to prepare for himself in his own cabin. They must prepare at night enough for the next day. This was carried to the field and eaten cold, so there should be no loss of time from their work.
All the masters were not like this, however. I had a good, kind master. I was one of the fortunate ones. I was never abused like this; but my poor mother did not have a square inch of smooth skin on her back. The lash had cut deep gashes which left ugly scars and ridges.
I have seen my poor people bought up by hundreds, and word sent out that "a drove of niggers" was to be in town on a certain day. The poor things would be lined up in rows, men, women, and children; and one after another they were sold, from an auction block to the highest bidder. Miserable, contemptible white men would examine that human property, much as you would examine a horse, even thrusting open jaws to examine the teeth, and feeling the muscles of arm or body. I have seen them pass their rough hands over the arms, neck, and bust of women and girls, and ask such questions as were degrading in the extreme; and yet the poor creatures could not help themselves -- no, not though every instinct of decency or modesty was outraged.
I have seen the little baby taken from its mother's breast and sold hundreds of miles away, never to be seen or heard of again. A mother who lived near us had a little son sold away from her at about two years of age, and was never able to get any trace of him afterward, until very unexpectedly, and by the merest accident; she discovered her lost son. After the war was over and slaves were free, she met and loved a man and was finally married to him, One day she observed a peculiar scar on his head, and told him of her little son who had a similar scar caused by a kick from a horse when he was a baby. They began to investigate, and founf that he was her long lost boy. She had married her own child!
My people were, many of them, God-fearing, and took advantage of every chance they had to meet together and serve the Lord. They would sometimes be permitted to occupy the back seats of the white man's church. But when the white people came in sufficient numbers to fill the church, the slaves were ordered out of doors. They had no choice as to what church they should attend, but were obliged to attend the same church as their master. The sacrament was administered to them separately.
Among themselves they sometimes had powerful meetings, and would get saved and blest and feel the joys of another world. This would cause them to forget, for the time being, their miseries in this. Faith would catch a gleam of the day when they should burst their shackles and go free. For this they sighed and cried and prayed. And there came a day, thank God, when the groans and cries of the oppressed reached the ears of the Heavenly Father; and though He delayed a while, yet He did come and show His power, and His colored children are free today. And for this I desire to give Him all the glory.
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