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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 16
    Previous Chapter
    _Covey, the Negro Breaker_

    JOURNEY TO MY NEW MASTER'S--MEDITATIONS BY THE WAY--VIEW OF
    COVEY'S RESIDENCE--THE FAMILY--MY AWKWARDNESS AS A FIELD HAND--A
    CRUEL BEATING--WHY IT WAS GIVEN--DESCRIPTION OF COVEY--FIRST
    ADVENTURE AT OX DRIVING--HAIR BREADTH ESCAPES--OX AND MAN ALIKE
    PROPERTY--COVEY'S MANNER OF PROCEEDING TO WHIP--HARD LABOR BETTER
    THAN THE WHIP FOR BREAKING DOWN THE SPIRIT--CUNNING AND TRICKERY
    OF COVEY--FAMILY WORSHIP--SHOCKING CONTEMPT FOR CHASTITY--I AM
    BROKEN DOWN--GREAT MENTAL AGITATION IN CONTRASTING THE FREEDOM OF
    THE SHIPS WITH HIS OWN SLAVERY--ANGUISH BEYOND DESCRIPTION.

    The morning of the first of January, 1834, with its chilling wind
    and pinching frost, quite in harmony with the winter in my own
    mind, found me, with my little bundle of clothing on the end of a
    stick, swung across my shoulder, on the main road, bending my way
    toward Covey's, whither I had been imperiously ordered by Master
    Thomas. The latter had been as good as his word, and had
    committed me, without reserve, to the mastery of Mr. Edward
    Covey. Eight or ten years had now passed since I had been taken
    from my grandmother's cabin, in Tuckahoe; and these years, for
    the most part, I had spent in Baltimore, where--as the reader has
    already seen--I was treated with comparative tenderness. I was
    now about to sound profounder depths in slave life. The rigors
    of a field, less tolerable than the field of battle, awaited me.
    My new master was notorious for his fierce and savage
    disposition, and my only consolation in going to live with
    him was, the certainty of finding him precisely as represented by
    common fame. There was neither joy in my heart, nor elasticity
    in my step, as I started in search of the tyrant's home.
    Starvation made me glad to leave Thomas Auld's, and the cruel
    lash made me dread to go to Covey's. Escape was impossible; so,
    heavy and sad, I paced the seven miles, which separated Covey's
    house from St. Michael's--thinking much by the solitary way--
    averse to my condition; but _thinking_ was all I could do. Like
    a fish in a net, allowed to play for a time, I was now drawn
    rapidly to the shore, secured at all points. "I am," thought I,
    "but the sport of a power which makes no account, either of my
    welfare or of my happiness. By a law which I can clearly
    comprehend, but cannot evade nor resist, I am ruthlessly snatched
    from the hearth of a fond grandmother, and hurried away to the
    home of a mysterious 'old master;' again I am removed from there,
    to a master in Baltimore; thence am I snatched away to the
    Eastern Shore, to be valued with the beasts of the field, and,
    with them, divided and set apart for a possessor; then I am sent
    back to Baltimore; and by the time I have formed new attachments,
    and have begun to hope that no more rude shocks shall touch me, a
    difference arises between brothers, and I am again broken up, and
    sent to St. Michael's; and now, from the latter place, I am
    footing my way to the home of a new master, where, I am given to
    understand, that, like a wild young working animal, I am to be
    broken to the yoke of a bitter and life-long bondage."

    With thoughts and reflections like these, I came in sight of a
    small wood-colored building, about a mile from the main road,
    which, from the description I had received, at starting, I easily
    recognized as my new home. The Chesapeake bay--upon the jutting
    banks of which the little wood-colored house was standing--white
    with foam, raised by the heavy north-west wind; Poplar Island,
    covered with a thick, black pine forest, standing out amid this
    half ocean; and Kent Point, stretching its sandy, desert-like
    shores out into the foam-cested bay--were all in RESIDENCE--THE FAMILY>sight, and deepened the wild and desolate
    aspect of my new home.

    The good clothes I had brought with me from Baltimore were now
    worn thin, and had not been replaced; for Master Thomas was as
    little careful to provide us against cold, as against hunger.
    Met here by a north wind, sweeping through an open space of forty
    miles, I was glad to make any port; and, therefore, I speedily
    pressed on to the little wood-colored house. The family
    consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Covey; Miss Kemp (a broken-backed
    woman) a sister of Mrs. Covey; William Hughes, cousin to Edward
    Covey; Caroline, the cook; Bill Smith, a hired man; and myself.
    Bill Smith, Bill Hughes, and myself, were the working force of
    the farm, which consisted of three or four hundred acres. I was
    now, for the first time in my life, to be a field hand; and in my
    new employment I found myself even more awkward than a green
    country boy may be supposed to be, upon his first entrance into
    the bewildering scenes of city life; and my awkwardness gave me
    much trouble. Strange and unnatural as it may seem, I had been
    at my new home but three days, before Mr. Covey (my brother in
    the Methodist church) gave me a bitter foretaste of what was in
    reserve for me. I presume he thought, that since he had but a
    single year in which to complete his work, the sooner he began,
    the better. Perhaps he thought that by coming to blows at once,
    we should mutually better understand our relations. But to
    whatever motive, direct or indirect, the cause may be referred, I
    had not been in his possession three whole days, before he
    subjected me to a most brutal chastisement. Under his heavy
    blows, blood flowed freely, and wales were left on my back as
    large as my little finger. The sores on my back, from this
    flogging, continued for weeks, for they were kept open by the
    rough and coarse cloth which I wore for shirting. The occasion
    and details of this first chapter of my experience as a field
    hand, must be told, that the reader may see how unreasonable, as
    well as how cruel, my new master, Covey, was. The whole
    thing I found to be characteristic of the man; and I was probably
    treated no worse by him than scores of lads who had previously
    been committed to him, for reasons similar to those which induced
    my master to place me with him. But, here are the facts
    connected with the affair, precisely as they occurred.

    On one of the coldest days of the whole month of January, 1834, I
    was ordered, at day break, to get a load of wood, from a forest
    about two miles from the house. In order to perform this work,
    Mr. Covey gave me a pair of unbroken oxen, for, it seems, his
    breaking abilities had not been turned in this direction; and I
    may remark, in passing, that working animals in the south, are
    seldom so well trained as in the north. In due form, and with
    all proper ceremony, I was introduced to this huge yoke of
    unbroken oxen, and was carefully told which was "Buck," and which
    was "Darby"--which was the "in hand," and which was the "off
    hand" ox. The master of this important ceremony was no less a
    person than Mr. Covey, himself; and the introduction was the
    first of the kind I had ever had. My life, hitherto, had led me
    away from horned cattle, and I had no knowledge of the art of
    managing them. What was meant by the "in ox," as against the
    "off ox," when both were equally fastened to one cart, and under
    one yoke, I could not very easily divine; and the difference,
    implied by the names, and the peculiar duties of each, were alike
    _Greek_ to me. Why was not the "off ox" called the "in ox?"
    Where and what is the reason for this distinction in names, when
    there is none in the things themselves? After initiating me into
    the _"woa," "back" "gee," "hither"_--the entire spoken language
    between oxen and driver--Mr. Covey took a rope, about ten feet
    long and one inch thick, and placed one end of it around the
    horns of the "in hand ox," and gave the other end to me, telling
    me that if the oxen started to run away, as the scamp knew they
    would, I must hold on to the rope and stop them. I need not tell
    any one who is acquainted with either the strength of the
    disposition of an untamed ox, that this order ADVENTURE AT OX DRIVING>was about as unreasonable as a command to
    shoulder a mad bull! I had never driven oxen before, and I was
    as awkward, as a driver, as it is possible to conceive. It did
    not answer for me to plead ignorance, to Mr. Covey; there was
    something in his manner that quite forbade that. He was a man to
    whom a slave seldom felt any disposition to speak. Cold,
    distant, morose, with a face wearing all the marks of captious
    pride and malicious sternness, he repelled all advances. Covey
    was not a large man; he was only about five feet ten inches in
    height, I should think; short necked, round shoulders; of quick
    and wiry motion, of thin and wolfish visage; with a pair of
    small, greenish-gray eyes, set well back under a forehead without
    dignity, and constantly in motion, and floating his passions,
    rather than his thoughts, in sight, but denying them utterance in
    words. The creature presented an appearance altogether ferocious
    and sinister, disagreeable and forbidding, in the extreme. When
    he spoke, it was from the corner of his mouth, and in a sort of
    light growl, like a dog, when an attempt is made to take a bone
    from him. The fellow had already made me believe him even
    _worse_ than he had been presented. With his directions, and
    without stopping to question, I started for the woods, quite
    anxious to perform my first exploit in driving, in a creditable
    manner. The distance from the house to the woods gate a full
    mile, I should think--was passed over with very little
    difficulty; for although the animals ran, I was fleet enough, in
    the open field, to keep pace with them; especially as they pulled
    me along at the end of the rope; but, on reaching the woods, I
    was speedily thrown into a distressing plight. The animals took
    fright, and started off ferociously into the woods, carrying the
    cart, full tilt, against trees, over stumps, and dashing from
    side to side, in a manner altogether frightful. As I held the
    rope, I expected every moment to be crushed between the cart and
    the huge trees, among which they were so furiously dashing.
    After running thus for several minutes, my oxen were, finally,
    brought to a stand, by a tree, against which they dashed
    themselves with great violence, upsetting the cart, and
    entangling themselves among sundry young saplings. By the shock,
    the body of the cart was flung in one direction, and the wheels
    and tongue in another, and all in the greatest confusion. There
    I was, all alone, in a thick wood, to which I was a stranger; my
    cart upset and shattered; my oxen entangled, wild, and enraged;
    and I, poor soul! but a green hand, to set all this disorder
    right. I knew no more of oxen than the ox driver is supposed to
    know of wisdom. After standing a few moments surveying the
    damage and disorder, and not without a presentiment that this
    trouble would draw after it others, even more distressing, I took
    one end of the cart body, and, by an extra outlay of strength, I
    lifted it toward the axle-tree, from which it had been violently
    flung; and after much pulling and straining, I succeeded in
    getting the body of the cart in its place. This was an important
    step out of the difficulty, and its performance increased my
    courage for the work which remained to be done. The cart was
    provided with an ax, a tool with which I had become pretty well
    acquainted in the ship yard at Baltimore. With this, I cut down
    the saplings by which my oxen were entangled, and again pursued
    my journey, with my heart in my mouth, lest the oxen should again
    take it into their senseless heads to cut up a caper. My fears
    were groundless. Their spree was over for the present, and the
    rascals now moved off as soberly as though their behavior had
    been natural and exemplary. On reaching the part of the forest
    where I had been, the day before, chopping wood, I filled the
    cart with a heavy load, as a security against another running
    away. But, the neck of an ox is equal in strength to iron. It
    defies all ordinary burdens, when excited. Tame and docile to a
    proverb, when _well_ trained, the ox is the most sullen and
    intractable of animals when but half broken to the yoke.

    I now saw, in my situation, several points of similarity with
    that of the oxen. They were property, so was I; they were to be
    broken, so was I. Covey was to break
    me, I was to break them; break and be broken--such is life.

    Half the day already gone, and my face not yet homeward! It
    required only two day's experience and observation to teach me,
    that such apparent waste of time would not be lightly overlooked
    by Covey. I therefore hurried toward home; but, on reaching the
    lane gate, I met with the crowning disaster for the day. This
    gate was a fair specimen of southern handicraft. There were two
    huge posts, eighteen inches in diameter, rough hewed and square,
    and the heavy gate was so hung on one of these, that it opened
    only about half the proper distance. On arriving here, it was
    necessary for me to let go the end of the rope on the horns of
    the "in hand ox;" and now as soon as the gate was open, and I let
    go of it to get the rope, again, off went my oxen--making nothing
    of their load--full tilt; and in doing so they caught the huge
    gate between the wheel and the cart body, literally crushing it
    to splinters, and coming only within a few inches of subjecting
    me to a similar crushing, for I was just in advance of the wheel
    when it struck the left gate post. With these two hair-breadth
    escape, I thought I could sucessfully{sic} explain to Mr. Covey
    the delay, and avert apprehended punishment. I was not without a
    faint hope of being commended for the stern resolution which I
    had displayed in accomplishing the difficult task--a task which,
    I afterwards learned, even Covey himself would not have
    undertaken, without first driving the oxen for some time in the
    open field, preparatory to their going into the woods. But, in
    this I was disappointed. On coming to him, his countenance
    assumed an aspect of rigid displeasure, and, as I gave him a
    history of the casualties of my trip, his wolfish face, with his
    greenish eyes, became intensely ferocious. "Go back to the woods
    again," he said, muttering something else about wasting time. I
    hastily obeyed; but I had not gone far on my way, when I saw him
    coming after me. My oxen now behaved themselves with singular
    propriety, opposing their present conduct to my
    representation of their former antics. I almost wished, now that
    Covey was coming, they would do something in keeping with the
    character I had given them; but no, they had already had their
    spree, and they could afford now to be extra good, readily
    obeying my orders, and seeming to understand them quite as well
    as I did myself. On reaching the woods, my tormentor--who seemed
    all the way to be remarking upon the good behavior of his oxen--
    came up to me, and ordered me to stop the cart, accompanying the
    same with the threat that he would now teach me how to break
    gates, and idle away my time, when he sent me to the woods.
    Suiting the action to the word, Covey paced off, in his own wiry
    fashion, to a large, black gum tree, the young shoots of which
    are generally used for ox _goads_, they being exceedingly tough.
    Three of these _goads_, from four to six feet long, he cut off,
    and trimmed up, with his large jack-knife. This done, he ordered
    me to take off my clothes. To this unreasonable order I made no
    reply, but sternly refused to take off my clothing. "If you will
    beat me," thought I, "you shall do so over my clothes." After
    many threats, which made no impression on me, he rushed at me
    with something of the savage fierceness of a wolf, tore off the
    few and thinly worn clothes I had on, and proceeded to wear out,
    on my back, the heavy goads which he had cut from the gum tree.
    This flogging was the first of a series of floggings; and though
    very severe, it was less so than many which came after it, and
    these, for offenses far lighter than the gate breaking

    I remained with Mr. Covey one year (I cannot say I _lived_ with
    him) and during the first six months that I was there, I was
    whipped, either with sticks or cowskins, every week. Aching
    bones and a sore back were my constant companions. Frequent as
    the lash was used, Mr. Covey thought less of it, as a means of
    breaking down my spirit, than that of hard and long continued
    labor. He worked me steadily, up to the point of my powers of
    endurance. From the dawn of day in the morning, till the
    darkness was complete in the
    evening, I was kept at hard work, in the field or the woods. At
    certain seasons of the year, we were all kept in the field till
    eleven and twelve o'clock at night. At these times, Covey would
    attend us in the field, and urge us on with words or blows, as it
    seemed best to him. He had, in his life, been an overseer, and
    he well understood the business of slave driving. There was no
    deceiving him. He knew just what a man or boy could do, and he
    held both to strict account. When he pleased, he would work
    himself, like a very Turk, making everything fly before him. It
    was, however, scarcely necessary for Mr. Covey to be really
    present in the field, to have his work go on industriously. He
    had the faculty of making us feel that he was always present. By
    a series of adroitly managed surprises, which he practiced, I was
    prepared to expect him at any moment. His plan was, never to
    approach the spot where his hands were at work, in an open, manly
    and direct manner. No thief was ever more artful in his devices
    than this man Covey. He would creep and crawl, in ditches and
    gullies; hide behind stumps and bushes, and practice so much of
    the cunning of the serpent, that Bill Smith and I--between
    ourselves--never called him by any other name than _"the snake."_
    We fancied that in his eyes and his gait we could see a snakish
    resemblance. One half of his proficiency in the art of Negro
    breaking, consisted, I should think, in this species of cunning.
    We were never secure. He could see or hear us nearly all the
    time. He was, to us, behind every stump, tree, bush and fence on
    the plantation. He carried this kind of trickery so far, that he
    would sometimes mount his horse, and make believe he was going to
    St. Michael's; and, in thirty minutes afterward, you might find
    his horse tied in the woods, and the snake-like Covey lying flat
    in the ditch, with his head lifted above its edge, or in a fence
    corner, watching every movement of the slaves! I have known him
    walk up to us and give us special orders, as to our work, in
    advance, as if he were leaving home with a view to being absent
    several days; and before he got half way to the house, he
    would avail himself of our inattention to his movements, to turn
    short on his heels, conceal himself behind a fence corner or a
    tree, and watch us until the going down of the sun. Mean and
    contemptible as is all this, it is in keeping with the character
    which the life of a slaveholder is calculated to produce. There
    is no earthly inducement, in the slave's condition, to incite him
    to labor faithfully. The fear of punishment is the sole motive
    for any sort of industry, with him. Knowing this fact, as the
    slaveholder does, and judging the slave by himself, he naturally
    concludes the slave will be idle whenever the cause for this fear
    is absent. Hence, all sorts of petty deceptions are practiced,
    to inspire this fear.

    But, with Mr. Covey, trickery was natural. Everything in the
    shape of learning or religion, which he possessed, was made to
    conform to this semi-lying propensity. He did not seem conscious
    that the practice had anything unmanly, base or contemptible
    about it. It was a part of an important system, with him,
    essential to the relation of master and slave. I thought I saw,
    in his very religious devotions, this controlling element of his
    character. A long prayer at night made up for the short prayer
    in the morning; and few men could seem more devotional than he,
    when he had nothing else to do.

    Mr. Covey was not content with the cold style of family worship,
    adopted in these cold latitudes, which begin and end with a
    simple prayer. No! the voice of praise, as well as of prayer,
    must be heard in his house, night and morning. At first, I was
    called upon to bear some part in these exercises; but the
    repeated flogging given me by Covey, turned the whole thing into
    mockery. He was a poor singer, and mainly relied on me for
    raising the hymn for the family, and when I failed to do so, he
    was thrown into much confusion. I do not think that he ever
    abused me on account of these vexations. His religion was a
    thing altogether apart from his worldly concerns. He knew
    nothing of it as a holy principle, directing and controlling his
    daily life, making the latter
    conform to the requirements of the gospel. One or two facts will
    illustrate his character better than a volume of
    generalties{sic}.

    I have already said, or implied, that Mr. Edward Covey was a poor
    man. He was, in fact, just commencing to lay the foundation of
    his fortune, as fortune is regarded in a slave state. The first
    condition of wealth and respectability there, being the ownership
    of human property, every nerve is strained, by the poor man, to
    obtain it, and very little regard is had to the manner of
    obtaining it. In pursuit of this object, pious as Mr. Covey was,
    he proved himself to be as unscrupulous and base as the worst of
    his neighbors. In the beginning, he was only able--as he said--
    "to buy one slave;" and, scandalous and shocking as is the fact,
    he boasted that he bought her simply "_as a breeder_." But the
    worst is not told in this naked statement. This young woman
    (Caroline was her name) was virtually compelled by Mr. Covey to
    abandon herself to the object for which he had purchased her; and
    the result was, the birth of twins at the end of the year. At
    this addition to his human stock, both Edward Covey and his wife,
    Susan, were ecstatic with joy. No one dreamed of reproaching the
    woman, or of finding fault with the hired man--Bill Smith--the
    father of the children, for Mr. Covey himself had locked the two
    up together every night, thus inviting the result.

    But I will pursue this revolting subject no further. No better
    illustration of the unchaste and demoralizing character of
    slavery can be found, than is furnished in the fact that this
    professedly Christian slaveholder, amidst all his prayers and
    hymns, was shamelessly and boastfully encouraging, and actually
    compelling, in his own house, undisguised and unmitigated
    fornication, as a means of increasing his human stock. I may
    remark here, that, while this fact will be read with disgust and
    shame at the north, it will be _laughed at_, as smart and
    praiseworthy in Mr. Covey, at the south; for a man is no more
    condemned there for buying a woman and devoting her to this life
    of dishonor, than for buying a cow, and raising stock from
    her. The same rules are observed, with a view to increasing the
    number and quality of the former, as of the latter.

    I will here reproduce what I said of my own experience in this
    wretched place, more than ten years ago:

    If at any one time of my life, more than another, I was made to
    drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the
    first six months of my stay with Mr. Covey. We were worked all
    weathers. It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain,
    blow, snow, or hail too hard for us to work in the field. Work,
    work, work, was scarcely more the order of the day than the
    night. The longest days were too short for him, and the shortest
    nights were too long for him. I was somewhat unmanageable when I
    first went there; but a few months of his discipline tamed me.
    Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul
    and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed; my intellect
    languished; the disposition to read departed; the cheerful spark
    that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed
    in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!

    Sunday was my only leisure time. I spent this in a sort of
    beast-like stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree.
    At times, I would rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would
    dart through my soul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope,
    flickered for a moment, and then vanished. I sank down again,
    mourning over my wretched condition. I was sometimes prompted to
    take my life, and that of Covey, but was prevented by a
    combination of hope and fear. My sufferings on this plantation
    seem now like a dream rather than a stern reality.

    Our house stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake bay, whose
    broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the
    habitable globe. Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white,
    so delightful to the eye of freemen, were to me so many shrouded
    ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched
    condition. I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer's
    Sabbath, stood all alone upon the banks of that noble bay, and
    traced, with saddened heart and tearful eye, the countless number
    of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. The sight of these
    always affected me powerfully. My thoughts would compel
    utterance; and there, with no audience but the Almighty, I would
    pour out my soul's complaint in my rude way, with an apostrophe
    to the moving multitude of ships:

    "You are loosed from your moorings, and free; I am fast in my
    chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale,
    and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom's swift-
    winged angels, that fly around the world; I am confined in bands
    of iron! O, that I were free! O, that I were on one of your
    gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! betwixt me
    and you the turbid waters roll.
    Go on, go on. O that I could also go! Could I but swim! If I
    could fly! O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute!
    The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left
    in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God,
    deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a
    slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or
    get clear, I'll try it. I had as well die with ague as with
    fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed
    running as die standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles
    straight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me, I
    will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will
    take to the water. This very bay shall yet bear me into freedom.
    The steamboats steered in a north-east coast from North Point. I
    will do the same; and when I get to the head of the bay, I will
    turn my canoe adrift, and walk straight through Delaware into
    Pennsylvania. When I get there, I shall not be required to have
    a pass; I will travel without being disturbed. Let but the first
    opportunity offer, and come what will, I am off. Meanwhile, I
    will try to bear up under the yoke. I am not the only slave in
    the world. Why should I fret? I can bear as much as any of
    them. Besides, I am but a boy, and all boys are bound to some
    one. It may be that my misery in slavery will only increase my
    happiness when I get free. There is a better day coming."

    I shall never be able to narrate the mental experience through
    which it was my lot to pass during my stay at Covey's. I was
    completely wrecked, changed and bewildered; goaded almost to
    madness at one time, and at another reconciling myself to my
    wretched condition. Everything in the way of kindness, which I
    had experienced at Baltimore; all my former hopes and aspirations
    for usefulness in the world, and the happy moments spent in the
    exercises of religion, contrasted with my then present lot, but
    increased my anguish.

    I suffered bodily as well as mentally. I had neither sufficient
    time in which to eat or to sleep, except on Sundays. The
    overwork, and the brutal chastisements of which I was the victim,
    combined with that ever-gnawing and soul-devouring thought--"_I
    am a slave--a slave for life--a slave with no rational ground to
    hope for freedom_"--rendered me a living embodiment of mental and
    physical wretchedness.
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