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he had recently bought in New Orleans, a fellow named Peek, who should be her husband. Goaded to desperation by his infamous threats, Estelle had replied, “ Better even a negro than a Ratcliff!” This reply had stung him to a degree that was quite intolerable.
To be not only thwarted by a female slave, but insulted, he, a South Carolinian, a man born to command,
a man with such a figure and such a face rejected for a strolling actor,a vagabond, a fellow, too, who had knocked him down, - what slave-owner would tamely submit to such mortification! He brooded on the insult till his cruel purpose took shape and consistency in his mind; and it was finally carried out in the way I have described.
It may seem almost incredible to you who are from the North, that any man not insane should be guilty of such atrocities. But Mr. Onslow need not be told that slavery educates
- men, too, of a certain refinement - to deeds even more cowardly and fiendish. Do not imagine that the tyrant who would not scruple to put a black skin under the lash, would hesitate in regard to a white; and the note-book of many an overseer will show that of the whippings inflicted under slavery, more than one third are of women.*
For three weeks I was under Peek's care. Thanks to his tenderness and zeal, my wounds were healed, my strength was restored. Early in December I parted from him and returned to New Orleans. I went to my old friends, the Leroux. They did not recognize me at first, so wasted was I by suffering. Madame forgot her own troubles in mine, and welcomed me with a mother's affection. The grandchildren subdued their riotous mirth, and trod softly lest they should disturb me. The old Captain wept and raved over my story, and uttered more sacr-r-r-rés in a given time than I supposed even a Frenchman's volubility could accomplish. I bade these kind friends good by, and went northward.
In Cincinnati and other cities I resumed my old vocation as a play-actor. In two years, having laid up twenty-five hundred dollars, I returned to the Red River country to secure the freedom of the slave to whom I owed my life. He had changed masters. It had got to Ratcliff's ears that Peek had cheated him in sparing Estelle and rescuing me. He questioned Peek on the subject. Peek, throwing aside all his habitual caution, had declared, in regard to Estelle, that if she had been the Virgin Mary he could not have treated her with more reverence; that he had saved my life, and restored me to her arms. Then, shaking his fist at Ratcliff, he denounced him as a murderer and a coward. The result was, that Peek, after having been put through such a scourging as few men could endure and survive, had been sold to a Mr. Barnwell in Texas.
* Some of these note-books have been brought to light by the civil war, and a quotation from one of them will be found on another page of this work.
I followed Peek to his new abode, and proposed either to buy and free him, or to aid him to escape. He bade me save my money for those who could not help themselves. He meant to be free, but did not mean to pay for that which was his by right. At that time he was investigating certain strange occurrences produced by some invisible agency that claimed to be spiritual. He must remain where he was a while longer. I was under no serious obligations to him, he said. He had simply done his duty.
We parted. I tried to find the woman Esha, who had been kind to my wife, but she had been sold no one knew to whom. I went to New Orleans, and assuming, by legislative permission, the name of William Vance, I entered into cotton speculations.
My features had been so changed by suffering, that few recognized me. My operations were bold and successful. In four years I had accumulated a little fortune. Occasionally I would meet Ratcliff. Once I had him completely in my power. He was in the passage-way leading to my office. I could have dragged him in and
No! The revenge seemed too poor and narrow. I craved something huge and general. The mere punishing of an individual was too puny an expenditure of my hoarded vengeance. But to strike at the “ institution” which had spawned this and similar monsters, that would be some small satisfaction.
Closing up my affairs in New Orleans, I entered upon that career which has gained me such notoriety in the Southwest. I have run off many thousand slaves, worth in the aggregate many millions of dollars. My theatrical experience has made me a daring expert in disguising myself. At one time I am a mulatto with a gash across my face; at another time, an old man; at another, a mean whiskey-swilling hanger-on of the chivalry. My task is only just begun. It is not till we have given slavery its immedicable wound, or rather till it has itself committed suicide in the house of its friends, that I shall be ready to say, Nunc dimittas, domi-ne ! *
* Should any person question the probability of the incidents in Vance's narrative, we would refer him to the “ Letter to Thomas Carlyle" in the Atlantic Monthly for October, 1863. On page 501, we find the following: “ Within the past year, a document has come into my hands. It is the private diary of a most eminent and respectable slaveholder, recently deceased. The chances of war threw it into the hands of our troops. . One item I must have the courage to suggest more definitely. Having bidden a young slave-girl (whose name, age, color, &c., with the shameless precision that marks the entire document, are given) to attend upon his brutal pleasure, and she silently remaining away, he writes, “Next morning ordered her a dozen lashes for disobedience.'” In a foot-note to the above we are assured by Messrs. Ticknor and Fields that the author of the letter is “one whose word is not and cannot be called in question; and he pledges his word that the above is exact and proven fact.”
“What is the end and essence of life? It is to expand all our faculties and affections. It is to grow, to gain by exercise new energy, new intellect, new love. It is to hope, to strive, to bring out what is within us, to press towards what is above us. In other words, it is to be Free. Slavery is thus at war with the true life of human nature." Channing.
T the conclusion of Vance's narrative, Mr. Onslow rose,
shook him by the hand, and walked away without making a remark.
Mrs. Berwick showed her appreciation by her tears.
“ What a pity,” said her husband,“ that so fine a fellow as Peek did not accept your proposal to free him !”
“ Peek freed himself,” replied Vance. “ He escaped to Canada, married, settled in New York, and was living happily, when a few days ago, rather than go before a United States Commissioner, he surrendered himself to that representative of the master race, Colonel Delancy Hyde, to whom you have had the honor to be introduced. Peek is now on board this boat, and handcuffed, lest he should jump overboard and swim ashore. If you will walk forward, I will show him to you.”
Greatly surprised and interested, the Berwicks followed Vance to the railing, and looked down on Peek as he reclined in the sunshine reading a newspaper.
“ But he must be freed. I will buy him,” said Berwick.
“ Don't trouble yourself,” returned Vance. “ Peek will be free without money and without price, and he knows it. Those iron wristbands you see are already filed apart.”
“ Are there many such as he among the negroes ?”
“ Not many, I fear, either among blacks or whites,” replied Vance. “But, considering their social deprivations, there are more good men and true among the negroes
ay, among the slaves — than you of the North imagine. Your ideal of the negro is what you derive from the Ethiopian minstrels and from the books and plays written to ridicule him. His type
is a low, ignorant trifler and buffoon, unfit to be other than a slave or an outcast. Thus, by your injurious estimate, you lend yourselves to the support and justification of slavery.” 6 Would
admit the black to a social equality ?” “I would admit him,” replied Vance,“ to all the civil rights of the white. There are many men whom I am willing to acknowledge my equals, whose society I may not covet. That does not at all affect the question of their rights. Let us give the black man a fair field. Let us not begin by declaring his inferiority in capacity, and then anxiously strive to prevent his finding a chance to prove our declaration untrue.”
“ But would you favor the amalgamation of the races ?”
“ That is a question for physiologists ; or, perhaps, for individual instincts. Probably if all the slaves were emancipated in all the Cotton States, amalgamation would be much less than it is now.
The French Quadroons are handsome and healthy, and are believed to be more vigorous than either of the parent races from which they are descended.”
Many of the most strenuous opponents of emancipation base their objections on their fears of amalgamation.”
“ To which,” replied Vance, “ I will reply in these words of one of your Northern divines, “What a strange reason for oppressing a race of fellow-beings, that if we restore them to their rights we shall marry them.” Many of these men who cry
out the loudest against amalgamation keep colored mistresses, and practically confute their own protests. To marriage, but not to concubinage, they object.”
“I see no way for emancipation,” said Berwick, “except through the consent of the Slave States."
“ God will find a way,” returned Vance, “ He infatuates before he destroys ; and the infatuation which foreruns destruction has seized upon the leading men of the South. Plagiarizing from Satan, they have said to slavery, ‘Evil, be thou our good!' They are bent on having a Southern Confederacy with power to extend slavery through Mexico into Central America. That can never be attempted without civil war, and civil war will be the end of slavery."
“ Would you not,” asked Berwick, “ compensate those masters who are willing to emancipate their slaves ?”