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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 4
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    _Parentage_

    MY FATHER SHROUDED IN MYSTERY--MY MOTHER--HER PERSONAL
    APPEARANCE--INTERFERENCE OF SLAVERY WITH THE NATURAL AFFECTIONS
    OF MOTHER AND CHILDREN--SITUATION OF MY MOTHER--HER NIGHTLY
    VISITS TO HER BOY--STRIKING INCIDENT--HER DEATH--HER PLACE OF
    BURIAL.

    If the reader will now be kind enough to allow me time to grow
    bigger, and afford me an opportunity for my experience to become
    greater, I will tell him something, by-and-by, of slave life, as
    I saw, felt, and heard it, on Col. Edward Lloyd's plantation, and
    at the house of old master, where I had now, despite of myself,
    most suddenly, but not unexpectedly, been dropped. Meanwhile, I
    will redeem my promise to say something more of my dear mother.

    I say nothing of _father_, for he is shrouded in a mystery I have
    never been able to penetrate. Slavery does away with fathers, as
    it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either
    fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their
    existence in the social arrangements of the plantation. When
    they _do_ exist, they are not the outgrowths of slavery, but are
    antagonistic to that system. The order of civilization is
    reversed here. The name of the child is not expected to be that
    of its father, and his condition does not necessarily affect that
    of the child. He may be the slave of Mr. Tilgman; and his child,
    when born, may be the slave of Mr. Gross. He may be a _freeman;_
    and yet his child may be a _chattel_. He may be white, glorying
    in the purity of his Anglo-Saxon blood; and his child may be
    ranked with the blackest slaves. Indeed, he _may_ be, and often
    _is_, master and father to the same child. He can be father
    without being a husband, and may sell his child without incurring
    reproach, if the child be by a woman in whose veins courses one
    thirty-second part of African blood. My father was a white man,
    or nearly white. It was sometimes whispered that my master was
    my father.

    But to return, or rather, to begin. My knowledge of my mother is
    very scanty, but very distinct. Her personal appearance and
    bearing are ineffaceably stamped upon my memory. She was tall,
    and finely proportioned; of deep black, glossy complexion; had
    regular features, and, among the other slaves, was remarkably
    sedate in her manners. There is in _Prichard's Natural History
    of Man_, the head of a figure--on page 157--the features of which
    so resemble those of my mother, that I often recur to it with
    something of the feeling which I suppose others experience when
    looking upon the pictures of dear departed ones.

    Yet I cannot say that I was very deeply attached to my mother;
    certainly not so deeply as I should have been had our relations
    in childhood been different. We were separated, according to the
    common custom, when I was but an infant, and, of course, before I
    knew my mother from any one else.

    The germs of affection with which the Almighty, in his wisdom and
    mercy, arms the hopeless infant against the ills and vicissitudes
    of his lot, had been directed in their growth toward that loving
    old grandmother, whose gentle hand and kind deportment it was in
    the first effort of my infantile understanding to comprehend and
    appreciate. Accordingly, the tenderest affection which a
    beneficent Father allows, as a partial compensation to the mother
    for the pains and lacerations of her heart, incident to the
    maternal relation, was, in my case, diverted from its true and
    natural object, by the envious, greedy, and treacherous hand of
    slavery. The slave-mother can be spared long enough from MOTHER>the field to endure all the bitterness of a mother's
    anguish, when it adds another name to a master's ledger, but
    _not_ long enough to receive the joyous reward afforded by the
    intelligent smiles of her child. I never think of this terrible
    interference of slavery with my infantile affections, and its
    diverting them from their natural course, without feelings to
    which I can give no adequate expression.

    I do not remember to have seen my mother at my grandmother's at
    any time. I remember her only in her visits to me at Col.
    Lloyd's plantation, and in the kitchen of my old master. Her
    visits to me there were few in number, brief in duration, and
    mostly made in the night. The pains she took, and the toil she
    endured, to see me, tells me that a true mother's heart was hers,
    and that slavery had difficulty in paralyzing it with unmotherly
    indifference.

    My mother was hired out to a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve
    miles from old master's, and, being a field hand, she seldom had
    leisure, by day, for the performance of the journey. The nights
    and the distance were both obstacles to her visits. She was
    obliged to walk, unless chance flung into her way an opportunity
    to ride; and the latter was sometimes her good luck. But she
    always had to walk one way or the other. It was a greater luxury
    than slavery could afford, to allow a black slave-mother a horse
    or a mule, upon which to travel twenty-four miles, when she could
    walk the distance. Besides, it is deemed a foolish whim for a
    slave-mother to manifest concern to see her children, and, in one
    point of view, the case is made out--she can do nothing for them.
    She has no control over them; the master is even more than the
    mother, in all matters touching the fate of her child. Why,
    then, should she give herself any concern? She has no
    responsibility. Such is the reasoning, and such the practice.
    The iron rule of the plantation, always passionately and
    violently enforced in that neighborhood, makes flogging the
    penalty of failing to be in the field before sunrise in the
    morning, unless special permission be given to the absenting
    slave. "I went to see my child," is no excuse to the ear or
    heart of the overseer.

    One of the visits of my mother to me, while at Col. Lloyd's, I
    remember very vividly, as affording a bright gleam of a mother's
    love, and the earnestness of a mother's care.

    "I had on that day offended "Aunt Katy," (called "Aunt" by way of
    respect,) the cook of old master's establishment. I do not now
    remember the nature of my offense in this instance, for my
    offenses were numerous in that quarter, greatly depending,
    however, upon the mood of Aunt Katy, as to their heinousness; but
    she had adopted, that day, her favorite mode of punishing me,
    namely, making me go without food all day--that is, from after
    breakfast. The first hour or two after dinner, I succeeded
    pretty well in keeping up my spirits; but though I made an
    excellent stand against the foe, and fought bravely during the
    afternoon, I knew I must be conquered at last, unless I got the
    accustomed reenforcement of a slice of corn bread, at sundown.
    Sundown came, but _no bread_, and, in its stead, their came the
    threat, with a scowl well suited to its terrible import, that she
    "meant to _starve the life out of me!"_ Brandishing her knife,
    she chopped off the heavy slices for the other children, and put
    the loaf away, muttering, all the while, her savage designs upon
    myself. Against this disappointment, for I was expecting that
    her heart would relent at last, I made an extra effort to
    maintain my dignity; but when I saw all the other children around
    me with merry and satisfied faces, I could stand it no longer. I
    went out behind the house, and cried like a fine fellow! When
    tired of this, I returned to the kitchen, sat by the fire, and
    brooded over my hard lot. I was too hungry to sleep. While I
    sat in the corner, I caught sight of an ear of Indian corn on an
    upper shelf of the kitchen. I watched my chance, and got it,
    and, shelling off a few grains, I put it back again. The grains
    in my hand, I quickly put in some ashes, and covered them with
    embers, to roast them. All this I did at the
    risk of getting a brutual thumping, for Aunt Katy could beat, as
    well as starve me. My corn was not long in roasting, and, with
    my keen appetite, it did not matter even if the grains were not
    exactly done. I eagerly pulled them out, and placed them on my
    stool, in a clever little pile. Just as I began to help myself
    to my very dry meal, in came my dear mother. And now, dear
    reader, a scene occurred which was altogether worth beholding,
    and to me it was instructive as well as interesting. The
    friendless and hungry boy, in his extremest need--and when he did
    not dare to look for succor--found himself in the strong,
    protecting arms of a mother; a mother who was, at the moment
    (being endowed with high powers of manner as well as matter) more
    than a match for all his enemies. I shall never forget the
    indescribable expression of her countenance, when I told her that
    I had had no food since morning; and that Aunt Katy said she
    "meant to starve the life out of me." There was pity in her
    glance at me, and a fiery indignation at Aunt Katy at the same
    time; and, while she took the corn from me, and gave me a large
    ginger cake, in its stead, she read Aunt Katy a lecture which she
    never forgot. My mother threatened her with complaining to old
    master in my behalf; for the latter, though harsh and cruel
    himself, at times, did not sanction the meanness, injustice,
    partiality and oppressions enacted by Aunt Katy in the kitchen.
    That night I learned the fact, that I was, not only a child, but
    _somebody's_ child. The "sweet cake" my mother gave me was in
    the shape of a heart, with a rich, dark ring glazed upon the edge
    of it. I was victorious, and well off for the moment; prouder,
    on my mother's knee, than a king upon his throne. But my triumph
    was short. I dropped off to sleep, and waked in the morning only
    to find my mother gone, and myself left at the mercy of the sable
    virago, dominant in my old master's kitchen, whose fiery wrath
    was my constant dread.

    I do not remember to have seen my mother after this occurrence.
    Death soon ended the little communication that had existed
    between us; and with it, I believe, a life judging from her
    weary, sad, down-cast countenance and mute demeanor--full of
    heartfelt sorrow. I was not allowed to visit her during any part
    of her long illness; nor did I see her for a long time before she
    was taken ill and died. The heartless and ghastly form of
    _slavery_ rises between mother and child, even at the bed of
    death. The mother, at the verge of the grave, may not gather her
    children, to impart to them her holy admonitions, and invoke for
    them her dying benediction. The bond-woman lives as a slave, and
    is left to die as a beast; often with fewer attentions than are
    paid to a favorite horse. Scenes of sacred tenderness, around
    the death-bed, never forgotten, and which often arrest the
    vicious and confirm the virtuous during life, must be looked for
    among the free, though they sometimes occur among the slaves. It
    has been a life-long, standing grief to me, that I knew so little
    of my mother; and that I was so early separated from her. The
    counsels of her love must have been beneficial to me. The side
    view of her face is imaged on my memory, and I take few steps in
    life, without feeling her presence; but the image is mute, and I
    have no striking words of her's treasured up.

    I learned, after my mother's death, that she could read, and that
    she was the _only_ one of all the slaves and colored people in
    Tuckahoe who enjoyed that advantage. How she acquired this
    knowledge, I know not, for Tuckahoe is the last place in the
    world where she would be apt to find facilities for learning. I
    can, therefore, fondly and proudly ascribe to her an earnest love
    of knowledge. That a "field hand" should learn to read, in any
    slave state, is remarkable; but the achievement of my mother,
    considering the place, was very extraordinary; and, in view of
    that fact, I am quite willing, and even happy, to attribute any
    love of letters I possess, and for which I have got--despite of
    prejudices only too much credit, _not_ to my admitted Anglo-Saxon
    paternity, but to the native genius of my sable, unprotected, and
    uncultivated _mother_--a woman, who belonged to a race PENALTY FOR HAVING A WHITE FATHER>whose mental endowments it is,
    at present, fashionable to hold in disparagement and contempt.

    Summoned away to her account, with the impassable gulf of slavery
    between us during her entire illness, my mother died without
    leaving me a single intimation of _who_ my father was. There was
    a whisper, that my master was my father; yet it was only a
    whisper, and I cannot say that I ever gave it credence. Indeed,
    I now have reason to think he was not; nevertheless, the fact
    remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that, by the laws of
    slavery, children, in all cases, are reduced to the condition of
    their mothers. This arrangement admits of the greatest license
    to brutal slaveholders, and their profligate sons, brothers,
    relations and friends, and gives to the pleasure of sin, the
    additional attraction of profit. A whole volume might be written
    on this single feature of slavery, as I have observed it.

    One might imagine, that the children of such connections, would
    fare better, in the hands of their masters, than other slaves.
    The rule is quite the other way; and a very little reflection
    will satisfy the reader that such is the case. A man who will
    enslave his own blood, may not be safely relied on for
    magnanimity. Men do not love those who remind them of their sins
    unless they have a mind to repent--and the mulatto child's face
    is a standing accusation against him who is master and father to
    the child. What is still worse, perhaps, such a child is a
    constant offense to the wife. She hates its very presence, and
    when a slaveholding woman hates, she wants not means to give that
    hate telling effect. Women--white women, I mean--are IDOLS at
    the south, not WIVES, for the slave women are preferred in many
    instances; and if these _idols_ but nod, or lift a finger, woe to
    the poor victim: kicks, cuffs and stripes are sure to follow.
    Masters are frequently compelled to sell this class of their
    slaves, out of deference to the feelings of their white wives;
    and shocking and scandalous as it may seem for a man to sell his
    own blood to the traffickers in human flesh, it is often an act
    of humanity toward the slave-child to be thus removed from
    his merciless tormentors.

    It is not within the scope of the design of my simple story, to
    comment upon every phase of slavery not within my experience as a
    slave.

    But, I may remark, that, if the lineal descendants of Ham are
    only to be enslaved, according to the scriptures, slavery in this
    country will soon become an unscriptural institution; for
    thousands are ushered into the world, annually, who--like
    myself--owe their existence to white fathers, and, most
    frequently, to their masters, and master's sons. The slave-woman
    is at the mercy of the fathers, sons or brothers of her master.
    The thoughtful know the rest.

    After what I have now said of the circumstances of my mother, and
    my relations to her, the reader will not be surprised, nor be
    disposed to censure me, when I tell but the simple truth, viz:
    that I received the tidings of her death with no strong emotions
    of sorrow for her, and with very little regret for myself on
    account of her loss. I had to learn the value of my mother long
    after her death, and by witnessing the devotion of other mothers
    to their children.

    There is not, beneath the sky, an enemy to filial affection so
    destructive as slavery. It had made my brothers and sisters
    strangers to me; it converted the mother that bore me, into a
    myth; it shrouded my father in mystery, and left me without an
    intelligible beginning in the world.

    My mother died when I could not have been more than eight or nine
    years old, on one of old master's farms in Tuckahoe, in the
    neighborhood of Hillsborough. Her grave is, as the grave of the
    dead at sea, unmarked, and without stone or stake.
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    Chapter 4
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