Archive for the ‘Slaves/slavery’ Category

“I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old”

At the end of Black History month it seems appropriate to draw attention to the plight of fugitive slaves who had escaped to Canada or were taken there as slaves. In 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada was published. Compiled by Benjamin Drew, whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it included material Drew had gathered from former slaves. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. Here is the account of one Sophia Pooley who was a slave in Canada but eventually gained her freedom.

I was born in Fishkill, New York State, twelve miles from North River. My father’s name was Oliver Burthen, my mother’s Dinah.  I am now more than ninety years old. I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old, and brought to Canada; that was long before the American Revolution. There were hardly any white people in Canada then—nothing here but Indians and wild beasts. . . . I was a woman grown when the first governor of Canada came from England: that was Governor Simcoe.

My parents were slaves in New York State. My master’s sons-in-law, Daniel Outwaters and Simon Knox, came into the garden where my sister and I were playing among the currant bushes, tied their handkerchiefs over our mouths, carried us to a vessel, put us in the hold, and sailed up the river. I know not how far nor how long—it was dark there all the time. Then we came by land. I remember when we came to Genesee—there were Indian settlements there—Onondagas, Senecas, and Oneidas. . . . The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king [Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant, a leader within the Iroquois Confederacy and an ally of the British during the Revolutionary War]. I lived with old Brant about twelve or thirteen years as nigh as I can tell. . . . While I lived with old Brant we caught the deer. . . . We would let the hounds loose, and when we heard them bark we would run for the canoe—Peggy, and Mary, and Katy, Brant’s daughters and I. Brant’s sons, Joseph and Jacob, would wait on the shore to kill the deer when we fetched him in. I had a tomahawk, and would hit the deer on the head—then the squaws would take it by the horns and paddle ashore. The boys would bleed and skin the deer and take the meat to the house. . . .

Brant’s third wife, my mistress, was a barbarous creature. She could talk English, but she would not. She would tell me in Indian to do things, and then hit me with anything that came to hand, because I did not understand her. I have a scar on my head from a wound she gave me with a hatchet; and this long scar over my eye, is where she cut me with a knife. . . . .

At twelve years old, I was sold by Brant to an Englishman in Ancaster, for one hundred dollars—his name was Samuel Hatt, and I lived with him seven years: then the white people said I was free, and put me up to running away. He did not stop me—he said he could not take the law into his own hands. Then I lived in what is now Waterloo. I married Robert Pooley, a black man. He ran away with a white woman: he is dead. . . .

I am now unable to work, and am entirely dependent on others for subsistance: but I find plenty of people in the bush to help me a good deal.

Other narratives from Drew’s book can be read HERE. The image of Brant is by Ezra Ames.

posted February 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Pooley, Sophia,Slaves/slavery

Ona Judge “Never Caught . . . . “

I am looking forward to reading the first full-length nonfiction account of the escape of Ona Judge known as Oney, a dower slave belonging to Martha Washington, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (New York: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, 2017). Ona was the daughter of Betty, a seamstress, and Andrew Judge, a white indentured tailor at Mount Vernon. See previous posts here, here, and here. Oney became a skilled seamstress and was taken by Martha to Philadelphia, the capital of the United States during Washington’s presidency, to be her personal maid. Oney escaped, fled to New Hampshire, and married a seaman Jack Staines. Washington went to great lengths to try to recover her. Without success.

Eric Foner, a historian whom I admire, has called the book “a fascinating and moving account of a courageous and resourceful woman. Beautifully written and utilizing previously untapped sources it sheds new light both on the father of our country and on the intersections of slavery and freedom in the flawed republic he helped to found.”

Historic sites in recent years have introduced exhibitions and tours on the theme of slavery; Mount Vernon’s “Lives Bound Together” runs through September 2018.

posted February 20th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Judge Staines, Ona "Oney",Philadelphia,Slaves/slavery,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“I grew up like a neglected weed . . .”

It seems fitting on Martin Luther King day to draw attention to a book published in 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada compiled by Benjamin Drew whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. This by Drew from the introduction to the book:

When in any State, the oppression of the laboring portion of the community amounts to an entire deprivation of their civil and personal rights; when it assumes to control their wills, to assign them tasks, to reap the rewards of their labor, and to punish with bodily tortures the least infraction of its mandates, it is obvious that the class so overwhelmed with injustice. are necessarily, unless prevented by ignorance from knowing their rights and their wrongs, the enemies of the government. To them, insurrection and rebellion are primary, original duties. If successfully thwarted in the performance of these, emigration suggests itself as the next means of escaping the evils under which they groan. From the exercise of this right, they can only be restrained by fear and force. These, however, will sometimes be found inadequate to hold in check the natural desire of liberty. Many, in spite of all opposition, in the face of torture and death, will seek an asylum in foreign lands, and reveal to the ears of pitying indignation, the secrets of the prisonhouse.

Benjamin Drew sought out many black Americans who had fled to Upper Canada to escape slavery in order to interview them and record their experiences under slavery and what they were experiencing under conditions of liberty. His intent was to place “their testimony on record.” One of the people he interviewed was HARRIET TUBMAN. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. She is well known for leading hundreds of other slaves to freedom utilizing the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War she served as nurse, cook, and spy for the Union forces. Here is her brief narrative.

I grew up like a neglected weed,—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented: every time I saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain-gang,—one of them left two children. We were always uneasy. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. I have no opportunity to see my friends in my native land. We would rather stay in our native land, if we could be as free there as we are here. I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could.

You can read other narratives from Drew’s book HERE. The Tubman sculpture is by Jane DeDecker.

posted January 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Slaves/slavery,Tubman, Harriet

“They have sold and have stripped me of everything “

Although the legal status of slavery in the South was untouched by the Revolutionary War the chaos engendered by that conflict made it possible for many slaves to escape, some to join the British with their offer of freedom, others to try to survive on their own. A few masters had manumitted their slaves and there was a small population of free blacks. These were always in danger of being seized by marauding bands or opportunistic individuals and forced back into slavery. The following petition of one Margareta Powell to the governor of Maryland in 1779 illustrates the plight of one such woman and her family.

The Humble Petition of Margareta Powell to his Excellency the Governor of the State of Maryland

Show that your Honor humble petitioner being formerly the property of a certain late John Campbell lastly living near the Fork of Potocktion near Mr.Henry Ridgley’s in the year 1764. My master John Campbell set me free and for to certify the same, I have enclosed a certificate from the gentleman whom my master employed to enter me upon the Records. At the decease of my master he left me part of 200 acres of land and part of the moveable which was left by him for support of myself and my children whom my master had set free altogether for the space of three years before my master decease. My children were free dealers throughout the neighborhood, those that were of age have taken the oath of fidelity and have entered into the service of their country and one of them having a furlong to come to see me. They who have disinherited me have taken and sold him for life time and if the other should come from the camp they threaten to do the same to him—and all the rest of my children and grandchildren throughout the neighborhood. They have sold and have stripped me of everything I had and burned me out of my house and I being old and infirm and unable to help myself I most humbly implore your honor would look into the affair and help the wronged and afflicted and I shall be in duty bound to pray and thank your excellency.
Margareta Powell

The man who claims this right from me and my children is one John Ashton, a Priest—he sold my child to a certain Thomas Snowden residing in the same neighborhood and he has sold them to others about the neighborhood Fork of Potocktion.
Ann Arundal County

It is not known whether Margareta’s petition was successful. The fact that she sought redress is evidence of her courage and determination to preserve her children’s freedom and to keep the family unit together.

Source: Sylvia R. Frey and Marian J. Morton, New World, New Roles: A Documentary History of Women in Pre-Industrial America (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1986) p137-38, from: Maryland State Papers, Blue Book IV, 10, Maryland Hall of Records, Annapolis, MD.

posted May 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Free blacks,Powell, Margareta,Slaves/slavery,The South

” to my … man William … I give immediate freedom”

The subject of the Washington slaves still piques me so I decided to look further into the matter. At the time of George Washington’s death in 1799 there were 318 slaves living at Mount Vernon. Of that number 123 belonged to Washington himself. The others were dower slaves from the estate of Martha’s first husband Daniel Parke Custis. Since he died intestate Martha received a life interest in one-third of his estate, including the slaves. Upon her death, the dower slaves and other property were to revert to the Custis estate to be shared by the heirs.

Although recent posts have been concerned with the escape of Oney Judge Staines and Hercules, other slaves had “absconded” from Mount Vernon. In April of 1781 eighteen slaves fled to the British whose warship the HMS Savage was anchored in the Potomac. Washington employed a slave catcher to retrieve seven of them. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote a post in 2012 on another of Washington’s slaves, Harry, who tried to escape but was caught. He succeeded in his second attempt and was one of the many slaves the British evacuated from New York in 1783.

In his will drawn up several months before his death Washington made provision for the eventual emancipation of the 123 slaves he owned. This was to take place after the death of Martha. Here is the section of the will that deals with this subject:

Upon the decease [of] my wife, it is my Will & desire th[at] all the Slaves which I hold in [my] own right, shall receive their free[dom]. To emancipate them during [her] life, would, tho’ earnestly wish[ed by] me, be attended with such insu[pera]ble difficulties on account of thei[r interm]ixture by Marriages with the [dow]er Negroes, as to excite the most pa[in]ful sensations, if not disagreeabl[e c]onsequences from the latter, while [both] descriptions are in the occupancy [of] the same Proprietor; it not being [in] my power, under the tenure by which [th]e Dower Negroes are held, to man[umi]t them. And whereas among [thos]e who will recieve freedom ac[cor]ding to this devise, there may b[e so]me, who from old age or bodily infi[rm]ities, and others who on account of [the]ir infancy, that will be unable to [su]pport themselves; it is m[y Will and de]sire that all who [come under the first] & second descrip[tion shall be comfor]tably cloathed & [fed by my heirs while] they live; and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable, or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the age of twenty five years; and in cases where no record can be produced, whereby their ages can be ascertained, the judgment of the Court, upon its own view of the subject, shall be adequate and final. The Negros thus bound, are (by their Masters or Mistresses) to be taught to read & write; and to be brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the Laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing for the support of Orphan and other poor Children. and I do hereby expressly forbid the Sale, or transportation out of the said Commonwealth, of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretence whatsoever. And I do moreover most pointedly, and most solemnly enjoin it upon my Executors hereafter named, or the Survivors of them, to see that th[is cla]use respecting Slaves, and every part thereof be religiously fulfilled at the Epoch at which it is directed to take place; without evasion, neglect or delay, after the Crops which may then be on the ground are harvested, particularly as it respects the aged and infirm; seeing that a regular and permanent fund be established for their support so long as there are subjects requiring it; not trusting to the [u]ncertain provision to be made by individuals. And to my Mulatto man William (calling himself William Lee) I give immediate freedom; or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which ha[v]e befallen him, and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so: In either case however, I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life, whic[h] shall be independent of the victuals and cloaths he has been accustomed to receive, if he chuses the last alternative; but in full, with his freedom, if he prefers the first; & this I give him as a test[im]ony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.

Several points are worthy of note. Washington thought it would be too difficult to free his slaves upon his death as many had intermarried with the dower slaves so he specified that they should be freed when Martha died. Secondly, as was frequently the case with slaves who were freed by their owners, provision was made for the care of emancipated slaves who were too old or disabled to manage on their own as well as care for those who were too young to do so. Washington specified that the latter should be taught to read and write and be equipped with skills which would allow them to make a living. Finally there is the case of William Lee whom Washington had purchased and who had attended him in various capacities in the course of his life, both during war and peace; Washington freed him outright and bequeathed him an annuity.

Martha Washington decided to free her husband’s slaves before she died and had the legal papers necessary to do so drawn up in December of 1800. On January 1, 1801, the slaves that belonged to George Washington were freed, some two years before Martha’s own death. Writing on the subject to her sister, Abigail Adams suggested that Martha Washington’s action may have been motivated by self-interest. “In the state in which they were left by the General, to be free at her death,” Adams wrote, “she did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, many of whom would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her.” Did Martha fear for her life? I think not. More likely, as has been suggested, she may not have liked to be reminded of her death in this manner.
George Washington’s will, in its entirety, can be found HERE. See this WEBSITE for information about Washington’s slaves. Read Henry Louis Gates’ article HERE. In John Trumbull’s portrait of Washington painted in 1780 (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) William Lee can be seen on the right.

posted February 4th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Lee, William,Mount Vernon,Slaves/slavery,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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