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Born a Slave
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Allen, Richard Rev. (1760-
Born a slave in Philadelphia, Allen went on to become one of the country´s leading religious figures of the 18th and 19th century. He was known as a dynamic Methodist minister who converted many people, including his owner. The owner allowed Allen to purchase his freedom, which he did.
He returned to Philadelphia and drew so many African Americans into St. George´s Methodist Episcopal Church that difficulties arose between White and Black members of the congregation. In 1787 Blacks were relegated to the gallery at St. George. In response, Allen founded one of the earliest self-help organizations for Blacks, the Free African Society. Along with Absalom Jones, he led a movement of Blacks away from St. George´s to form two separate churches - St. Thomas´s Free African Church within the Protestant Episcopal denomination led by Jones, and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Bethel) led by Allen. Allen was later ordained a Bishop.
Allen was one of the first people in the nation to denounce slavery. He also voiced strong disapproval of schemes to send Blacks back to Africa ("colonization.")
When slavehunters recaptured this fugitive slave in Boston in 1854, the case set off a storm of protest about the Fugitive Slave Law. Abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson led an unsuccessful attempt to free Burns, during which a deputy was killed. The trial proceeded under heavy military presence. After the court ruled that Burns must be returned to slavery in Virginia, it took a battalion of artillery to escort him out of town amidst protesters.
The case heightened feelings about slavery in Boston and throughout the country. One Bostonian described the effect this way: "We went to bed one night old fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs and waked up stark mad Abolitionists."
Shortly, Burns returned to Boston. Some of the abolitionists had worked together to purchase his freedom. He studied for two years at Oberlin College, then transferred to Fairmount Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. Ordained a Baptist minister, Burns went to Ontario to work among the fugitives.
(o-lah-oo-day ek-wee-ah-no) - first political leader of Britain's black community
Olaudah Equiano, an 11-year old Ibo from Nigeria remembers his kidnapping into slavery (1789)
Olaudah Equiano, an Ibo from Nigeria, was just 11 years old when he was kidnapped into slavery. He was held captive in West Africa for seven months and then sold to British slavers, who shipped him to Barbados and then took him to Virginia. After serving a British naval officer, he was sold to a Quaker merchant from Philadelphia who allowed him to purchase his freedom in 1766. In later life, he played an active role in the movement to abolish the slave trade.
My father, besides many slaves, had a numerous family, of which seven lived to grow up, including myself and a sister, who was the only daughter. As I was the youngest of the sons, I became, of course, the greatest favourite of my mother, and was always with her; and she used to take particular pains to form my mind. I was trained up from my earliest years in the arts of agriculture and war; and my mother adorned me with emblems, after the manner of our greatest warriors. In this way I grew up till I was turned the age of eleven, when an end was put to my happiness in the following manner:- - Generally, when the grown people in the neighbourhood were gone far in the fields to labour, the children assembled together in some of the neighborhood's premises to play; and commonly some of us used to get up a tree to look out for any assailant, or kidnapper, that might come upon us; for they sometimes took those opportunities of our parents' absence, to attack and carry off as many as they could seize. One day, as I was watching at the top of a tree in our yard, I saw one of those people come into the yard of our next neighbour but one, to kidnap, there being many stout young people in it. Immediately, on this, I gave the alarm of the rogue, and he was surrounded by the stoutest of them, who entangled him with cords, so that he could not escape till some of the grown people came and secured him. But alas! ere long, it was my fate to be thus attacked, and to be carried off, when none of the grown people were nigh. One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands, and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night. We were then unbound; but were unable to take any food; and, being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time.
Source: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789).
Dr. John W. Fields
Interview with Dr. John W. Fields, ex-slave of Civil War period.
Fields, John W. age 89
Date of Interview: September 17, 1937
Narrative Begins: John W. Fields, 2120 North Twentieth Street, Lafayette, Indiana, now employed as a domestic by Judge Burnett is a typical example of a fine colored gentlemen, despite his lowly birth and adverse circumstances, has labored and economized until he has acquired a respected place in his home community...
"In most of us colored folks was the great desire to [be] able to read and write. We took advantage of every opportunity to educate ourselves. The greater part of the plantation owners were very harsh if we were caught trying to learn or write. It was the law that if a white man was caught trying to educate a negro slave, he was liable to prosecution entailing a fine of fifty dollars and a jail sentence. We were never allowed to go to town and it was not until after I ran away that I knew that they sold anything but slaves, tobacco, and wiskey. Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us. We knew we could run away, but what then? An offender guilty of this crime was subjected to very harsh punishment."
Sarah Frances Shaw Graves
Sarah Frances Shaw Graves, Age 87
"I was born March 23, 1850 in Kentucky, somewhere near Louisville. I am goin' on 88 years right now. (1937). I was brought to Missouri when I was six months old, along with my mama, who was a slave owned by a man named Shaw, who had allotted her to a man named Jimmie Graves, who came to Missouri to live with his daughter Emily Graves Crowdes. I always lived with Emily Crowdes."
The matter of allotment was confusing to the interviewer and Aunt Sally endeavored to explain.
"Yes'm. Allotted? Yes'm. I'm goin' to explain that, " she replied. "You see there was slave traders in those days, jes' like you got horse and mule an' auto traders now. They bought and sold slaves and hired 'em out. Yes'm, rented 'em out. Allotted means somethin' like hired out. But the slave never got no wages. That all went to the master. The man they was allotted to paid the master."
"I was never sold. My mama was sold only once, but she was hired out many times. Yes'm when a slave was allotted, somebody made a down payment and gave a mortgage for the rest. A chattel mortgage. . . ."
"Allotments made a lot of grief for the slaves," Aunt Sally asserted. "We left my papa in Kentucky, 'cause he was allotted to another man. My papa never knew where my mama went, an' my mama never knew where papa went." Aunt Sally paused a moment, then went on bitterly. "They never wanted mama to know, 'cause they knowed she would never marry so long she knew where he was. Our master wanted her to marry again and raise more children to be slaves. They never wanted mama to know where papa was, an' she never did," sighed Aunt Sally.
Sarah Gudger, Age 121
Charley Williams, Age 94
When de day begin to crack de whole plantation break out wid all kinds of noises, and you could tell what going on by de kind of noise you hear.
Come de daybreak you hear de guinea fowls start potracking down at the edge of de woods lot, and den de roosters all start up 'round de barn and de ducks finally wake up and jine in. You can smell de sow belly frying down at the cabins in de "row," to go wid de hoecake and de buttermilk.
Den purty soon de wind rise a little, and you can hear a old bell donging way on some plantation a mile or two off, and den more bells at other places and maybe a horn, and purty soon younder go old Master's old ram horn wid a long toot and den some short toots, and here come de overseer down de row of cabins, hollering right and left, and picking de ham out'n his teeth wid a long shiny goose quill pick.
Bells and horns! Bells for dis and horns for dat! All we knowed was go and come by de bells and horns!
James Cape, Age over 100
"I's bo'n in yonder southeast Texas and I don' know what month or de year for sho', but 'twas more dan 100 years ago. My mammy and pappy was bo'n in Africa, dats what dey's tol' me. Dey was owned by Marster Bob Houston and him had de ranch down dere, whar dey have cattle and hosses.
"When I's old 'nough to set on de hoss, dey learned me to ride, tendin' hosses. 'Cause I's good hoss rider, dey uses me all de time gwine after hosses. I goes with dem to Mexico. We crosses de river lots of times. I 'members once when we was a drivin' 'bout 200 hosses north'ards. Dey was a bad hail storm comes into de face of de herd and dat herd turns and starts de other way. Dere was five of us riders and we had to keep dem hosses from scatterment. I was de leader and do you know what happens to dis nigger if my hoss stumbles? Right dere's whar I'd still be! Marster give me a new saddle for savin' de hosses.
"The white chillun tries teach me to read and write but I didn' larn much, 'cause I allus workin'. Mother was workin' in the house, and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen to what the white folks say. When freedom was 'clared, marster wouldn' tell 'em, but mother she hear him tellin' mistus that the slaves was free but they didn' know it and he's not gwineter tell 'em till he makes another crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, 'I's free, I's free.' Then she runs to the field, 'gainst marster's will and tol' all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her. Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the ravine and gits away with me.
William Moore, Age 82
"Some Sundays we went to church some place. We allus liked to go any place. A white preacher allus told us to 'bey our masters and work hard and sing and when we die we go to Heaven. Marse Tom didn't mind us singin' in our cabins at night, but we better not let him cotch us prayin'.
"Seems like niggers jus' got to pray. Half they life am in prayin'. Some nigger take turn 'bout to watch and see if Marse Tom anyways 'bout, then they circle theyselves on the floor in the cabin and pray. They git to moanin' low and gentle, 'Some day, some day, some day, this yoke gwine be lifted offen our shoulders.'
"Marse Tom been dead long time now. I 'lieve he's in hell. Seem like that where he 'long. He was a terrible mean man and had a indiff'ent, mean wife. But he had the fines', sweetes' chillun the Lawd ever let live and breathe on this earth. They's so kind and sorrowin' over us slaves.
"Some them chillun used to read us li'l things out of papers and books. We'd look at them papers and books like they somethin' mighty curious, but we better not let Marse Tom or his wife know it!
Walter Rimm, Age 80
"My pappy wasn't 'fraid of nothin'. He am light cullud from de white blood, and he runs away sev'ral times. Dere am big woods all round and we sees lots of run-awayers. One old fellow name John been a run-awayer for four years and de patterrollers* tries all dey tricks, but dey can't cotch him. Dey wants him bad, 'cause it 'spire other slaves to run away if he stays a-loose. Dey sots de trap for him. Dey knows he like good eats, so dey 'ranges for a quiltin' and gives chitlin's and lye hominey. John comes and am inside when de patterrollers rides up to de door. Everybody gits quiet and John stands near de door, and when dey starts to come in he grabs de shovel full of hot ashes and throws dem into de patterrollers faces. He gits through and runs off, hollerin', 'Bird in de air!'
"One woman name Rhodie runs off for long spell. De hounds won't hunt her. She steals hot light bread** when dey puts it in de window to cool, and lives on dat. She told my mammy how to keep de hounds from followin' you is to take black pepper and put it in you socks and run without you shoes. It make de hounds sneeze.
"One day I's in de woods and meets de nigger runawayer. He comes to de cabin and mammy makes him a bacon and egg sandwich and we never seed him again. Maybe he done got clear to Mexico, where a lot of de slaves runs to.
*"Patterrollers" (patrollers) were white men who served on local patrols organized throughout the South to control the movement of slaves outside their home plantations. Patrollers policed their neighborhoods by challenging any slave whom they suspected of being away from home to produce a written "pass," or authorization, from his or her master. Slaves found without a pass were subject to arrests, beatings, or other forms of violence, some of which led to death.
**"Light bread" is leavened bread made with wheat flour. Where the rest of the country simply says bread, Southerners often say light bread or, less commonly, loaf bread, to refer to bread made of wheat flour and leavened with yeast. Contrary to what Northerners might think, light bread is not a synonym for white bread. "Light" refers not to the color of the bread but to the yeast that "lightens" it, so light bread can be whole wheat or white. Light bread or loaf bread contrasts instead with pone or cornpone, bread made with corn meal and usually unleavened. Source: American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000)