Jesse Torrey - A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery in the United States [excerpt]

  A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States: With Reflections on the Practicability of Restoring the Moral Rights of the Slave, Without Impairing the Legal privileges of the Possessor; And a Project of a Colonial Asylum for Free Persons of Colour: Including Memoirs of Facts on the Interior Traffic in Slaves, and on Kidnapping. Illustrated with Engravings. Philadelphia: Published by the Author. John Bioren, Printer. 1817.
A short time after having completed the memorandums above alluded to, the youth just mentioned, having learned the subject on which I had been occupied, and being prompt to communicate whatever he might meet with relative to it, informed me on returning from school, in the evening of the 19th December, 1815, that a black woman, destined for transportation to Georgia, with a coffle which was about to start, attempted to escape, by jumping out of the window of the garret of a three story brick tavern in F. Street, about day break in the morning; and that in the fall she had her back and both arms broken! I remarked that I did not wonder that she did so, and inquired whether it had not killed her? To which he replied, that he understood that she was dead, and that the Georgia-men, had gone off with the others. The relation of this shocking disaster, excited considerable agitation in my mind, and fully confirmed the sentiments, which I had already adopted and recorded, of the multiplied horrors added to slavery, when its victims are bought and sold, frequently for distant destinations, with as much indifference as fourfooted beasts. Supposing this to have been a recent occurrence, and being desirous of seeing the mangled slave before she should be buried, I proceeded with some haste, early on the following morning, in search of the house already mentioned. Calling at a house near the one at which the catastrophe occurred, I was informed, that it had been three weeks since it took  

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"—but I did not want to go, and I jump'd out of the window.—"

Designed and Published by J. Torrey Junr Philada 1817.

  place, and that the woman was still living. Having found the house, I desired permission of the landlord to see the wounded woman; to which he assented, and directed a lad to conduct me to her room ; which was in the garret over the third story of the house. On entering the room, I observed her lying upon a bed on the floor, and covered with a white woolen blanket, on which were several spots of blood, (from her wounds,) which I perceived was red, notwithstanding the opacity of her skin. Her countenance, though very pale from the shock she had received, and dejected with grief, appeared complacent and sympathetic. Both her arms were broken between the elbows and wrists, and had undoubtedly been well set and dressed; but from her restlessness, she had displaced the bones again, so that they were perceptibly crooked.   have since been informed by the Mayor of the city, who is a physician, and resides not far distant from the place, that he was called to visit her immediately after her fall; and found besides her arms being broken, that the lower part of the spine was badly shattered, so that it was doubtful whether she would ever be capable of walking again, if she should survive. The lady of the Mayor said she was awakened from sleep by the fall of the woman, and heard her heavy struggling groans.

I inquired of her, whether she was asleep when she sprang from the window. She replied, "No, no more than I am now." Asking her what was the cause of her doing such a frantic act as that, she replied, "They brought me away with two of my children, and would'nt let me see my husband—they did'nt sell my husband, and I did'nt want to go;—I was so confus'd and 'istracted, that I did'nt know hardly what I was about—but I did'nt want to go, and I jumped out of the window;—but I am sorry now that I did it;—they have carried my children off with 'em to Carolina." I was informed that the Slave Trader, who had purchased her near Bladensburgh, (she being a legal slave,) gave her to the landlord as a compensation for taking care of her. Thus her family was dispersed from north to south, and herself nearly torn in pieces, without the shadow of a hope of ever seeing or   hearing from her children again! He that can behold this "poor woman," (as a respectable citizen of Washington afterwards expressed himself, on requesting of her landlord the privilege of seeing her,) and listen to her unvarnished story; and then delineate it with the mental pencil, (quill) and then view the picture from his own hand, without a humid eye, I will confess possesses a stouter heart than I do.

The sympathy of the whole American white population, (and it is presumed of the black also, for they know how to estimate such matters by dear experience,) has recently been very justly excited towards young King Prather, and his "confus'd and 'istracted" mother roaming in search of him, along half the extent of the coast of the United States. As he was kidnapped by a son of Africa, (though not for the detestable purpose of cupidity or enslavement, but for a ladder to his own liberty,) it is presumed if Africa's Genius were permitted to offer her sentiments on the subject, she would pronounce it a retort courteous apropos, from Africa to her sister Columbia.

I have since learned many recent instances of the tragical consequences of the usurped trade in the souls and bodies of men,* I have been informed by several dif-

* Extract from the preamble to the first act passed by the legislature of Pennsylvania, for the gradual abolition of slavery in that state:

"Sect. 2. AND WHEREAS, the condition of those persons who have heretofore been denominated Negro and Mulatto Slaves, has been attended with circumstances, which not only deprived them of the common blessings that they were by nature entitled to, but has cast them into the deepest afflictions by an unnatural separation of husband and wife from each other and from their children—an injury the greatness of which can only be conceived by supposing that we were in the same unhappy case."

Darwin, who may well be styled an arch connoisseur, both in physiology and morality, in his classification of human diseases, includes one which he denominates "Nostalgia" and thus defines it:

"Nostalgia. An unconquerable desire of returning to one's native country, frequent in long voyages, in which the patients become

  ferent persons in the District of Columbia, that a woman who had been sold in Georgetown, for the southern slave market, cut her own throat, ineffectually, while on the way, in a hack, to the same depository abovementioned; and that on the road to Alexandria, she completed her design of destroying her life, by cutting it again mortally. A statement was published in the Baltimore Telegraph a few months ago, that a female slave who had been sold in Maryland, with her child, on the way from Bladensburgh to Washington, heroically cut the throats of both her child and herself, with mortal effect. This narrative has been since confirmed by a relative of the person who sold them. An African youth, in the city of Philadelphia, lately cut his throat almost mortally, merely from the apprehension, as he said, of being sold. This information was obtained from several respectable citizens of Philadelphia, who had personal knowledge of the fact.

Believing the facts already recited are sufficient to satisfy every candid reader of the unreasonableness, injustice, and inhumanity of the prevailing interior slave trade, and of the necessity of legislative controul; I will now commence a delineation of the still more outrageous and abominable practice of seizing and selling into exile, men, women, and children, whose freedom and moral rights, are guarenteed by our national and state constitutions.

so insane as to throw themselves into the sea, mistaking it for green fields and meadows. The Swiss are said to be particularly liable to this disease, and when taken into foreign service, frequently desert from this cause, and especially after hearing or singing a particular tune, which was used in their village dances, in their native country, on which account their playing or singing this tune was punished with death. Zwingerus.

Dear is that shed to which his soul conforms,
And dear that hill, which lifts him to the storms."
Goldsmith. Zoonomia, Cl. III. 1. 1. 6.

The late indefatigable Rush, in his Inquiry into the Causes of the Derangement of the Human Mind, states, that the slaves imported into the West Indies from Africa, frequently become distracted, when they are about to commence the toils of perpetual slavery, on the plantations.

In the same recess, with that mangled woman, while interrogating her, I discovered (without having the least previous intimation or even suspicion of any thing of the kind), three persons of colour, who were born free, and had been forcibly seized in the time of night, bound and transported in the night, out of their native state, (Delaware) and sold as slaves for life, to itinerant Man-Dealers* in Maryland, who generally range themselves along near the line of division between the two states. One of these was a mulatto man, about 21 years of age, I found him thoroughly secured in irons. His arms were manacled with strong loops round his wrists, resembling a clevis, connected by a strong iron bolt. On the shelf, over the fire place, lay a pair of heavy rough hopples, (or hobbles,) with which he said his legs had been fettered until a short time previous, but were then secured by a pair of polished gripes, (perhaps manufactured for the purpose, resembling the patent horse fetters with locks.) connected by a strong new tug chain, with a loose end of two or three feet in length, lying upon the floor.† He stated that a journeyman to the man with whom he resided, and to whom he had been bound to service for a term of years, having decoyed him into the fields, some distance from the house, late in the evening, on pretence of hunting oppossums, two strangers rushed upon him with ropes in their hands, and with the assistance of the person‡ just mentioned, bound

* To those speculators in human flesh, who purchase free people as well as slaves, without discrimination, I must now apply the title of Man-Dealers, instead of Slave Traders.

† While interrogating him about the manner of his being seized and bound, he gave his chains a shake, by moving his feet on the floor, and with vexation muttered, "When the devil gets 'em he'll chain them." "No, no," said I, you should'nt make such speeches as that, perhaps they were brought up to such things and don't know any better." "Well, but, said he, they know what's right." I have since been assured that several instances of black man-stealing had occurred, in which fathers, sons, brothers, and even wives and daughters, were promiscuously engaged.

‡ I was informed on my arrival in the neighborhood where this affair was transacted, that this person, on hearing that the mulatto


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The Author noting down the narratives of several free-born people of colour who had been kidnapped.

Designed and Published by J. Torrey Jur Philada 1817.

  his hands, and led him with a pistol held each side of him, (with which he said they threatened to shoot him if he made any alarm,) 15 or 20 miles, where he was secreted 'till the next evening; when another person came with a chaise and conveyed him to a tavern in Maryland, a little over the line;* from whence one of the Man-Dealers, (who has since been advertised as a man-stealer, in a different case,) brought him to Washington in manacles, and sold him to another, as a slave for life. He said his Driver overhearing him tell a coloured woman near Annapolis, that his parents (both of whom are light coloured mulattos) were free-born, threatened to shoot him if he should catch him talking to any body again about his being free. He

man had been intercepted at Washington, said he had a had pain on his mind, and believed he should clear out; which he had done accordingly.

* Thos. Clarkson states, in his History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, that the arrival of slave ships, on the coasts of Africa, was the uniform signal for the immediate commencement of wars for the attainment of prisoners, for sale and exportation to America and the West Indies." In Maryland and Delaware, the same drama is now performed in miniature. The arrival of the Man-Traffickers, laden with cash, at their respective stations, near the coasts of a great American water, called justly, by Mr. Randolph "a Mediterranean sea," or at their several inland posts, near the dividing line of Maryland and Delaware, (at some of which they have grated prisons for the purpose) is the well known signal for the professed kidnappers, like beasts of prey, to commence their nightly invasions upon the fleecy flocks; extending their ravages, (generally attended with bloodshed, and sometimes murder,) and spreading terror and consternation amongst both freemen and slaves throughout the sandy regions, from the western to the eastern shores. These "two-legged featherless animals," or human blood-hounds, when overtaken (rarely) by the messengers of law, are generally found armed with instruments of death, sometimes with pistols with latent spring daggers attached to them! Mr. Cooper, one of the representatives lo congress from Delaware, assured me that he had often been afraid to send one of his servants out of his house in the evening, from the danger of their being seized by kidnappers.

While at Wilmington (Del.) I accidentally heard a black woman telling the gate-keeper of the bridge, that she had set out to go to Georgetown, (Del.) but was returning without having reached it, for fear of being caught on the road by the kidnappers.

  said the trader did strike him on the head with his fist, after his arrival at Washington, for telling a person to whom he was offered for sale, that he was lawfully free, and threatened to flog him if he should fail of selling him in the city on that account. He also stated, that another boy, about sixteen, was brought off with him at the same time, and sold for a slave in Washington, who. was lawfully free, and had been sold to the traders, by a person to whom the boy's lather had let him to service.

This statement has been since confirmed by corroborative information; and I am in possession of memorandums, by which the boy might probably be traced and found.

The others whom I found in the same garret, and at the same time, were a young black widow woman, with an infant at the breast, both of whom were born free. Her husband had died but a few days previous to her seizure, and she was in a state of pregnancy at the time. She stated that the man in whose house she resided, together with his brother, and three other persons, (two of whom she said then stood indicted for having seized and carried her off at a former time,) came into the room, (a kitchen,) where she was in bed, seized and dragged her out;—fastened a noose round her neck to prevent her from screaming, and attempted to blindfold her, which she resisted with such violence, that she prevented them from succeeding. She said, while one of them was endeavoring to fix the bandage over her eyes, that she seized his cheek with her teeth, and tore a piece of it entirely off. She said one of them struck her head several times with a stick of wood, from the wounds of which she was almost covered with blood. She shewed me a large scar upon her forehead, occasioned by one of the blows, which a gentleman who saw her, the day previous to her seizure, has since informed me was not there before. She said, while she was struggling against them, and screaming, the man in whose house she lived, bawled out "choak the d—d b—h—don't let her halloo—she'll scare my wife!" Having conquered her by superior force, she said, they  

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Designed and Published by J. Torrey Jur Philada 1817.

  placed her with the child in a chaise, (her description of which, with the horse and the driver, who was one of the victors, corresponds precisely with that given by the mulatto man, of the carriage, &c. by which he also was conveyed,) and refusing to dress herself, three of them, leaving the two who belonged to the house, carried her off in the condition that she was dragged from bed, to a certain tavern in Maryland, and sold them both to the Man-Dealer, who brought them to the city of Washington. She stated, that one of her captors drove the carriage, and held the rope which was fixed to her neck, and that one rode each side, on horseback.—That, while one of them was negociating a bargain with her purchaser, he asked her who her master was; and, replying that she had none; her seller beckoned to him to go into another room, where the business was adjusted without troubling her with any farther inquiries. She stated, that her purchaser confessed, while on the way to Annapolis, that he believed she might have had some claim to freedom, and intimated that he would have taken her back, if the man,* of whom he bought her had not ran away; but requested her, notwithstanding, to say nothing to any body about her being free, which she refused to comply with. She affirmed, that he offered her for sale to several persons, who refused to purchase, on account of her asserting that she was free. She stated, that her purchaser had left her in Washington, for a few weeks, and gone to the Eastern Shore, in search of more black people, in order to make up a drove for Georgia.
These facts clearly exemplify the safety with which the free born, inhabitants of the United States, may be offered for sale and sold, even in the Metropolis of Liberty,† as

* I was informed in Delaware, that her seller absconded in about ten days after the outrage was committed.

† The mulatto youth had been purchased in the city of Washington, and kept in it in irons several weeks, by a person who confessed his regret, that he had not removed him before the suit, for the recovery of his freedom, had commenced; and that, if he had

  oxen; even to those who are notified of the fact, and are perhaps convinced of it, that they are free!*

The discovery of these captives, on their road to the dismal gulph† of (perhaps) interminable slavery to themselves, and their multiplying progeny; in this very accidental, unless providential manner, filled me with a mixture of astonishment, compassion and joy. With a view to commence immediate legal measures, for restoring them to their liberty, I took my pencil and noted down their narratives circumstantially.

I had not quite finished, before the purchaser of the mulatto man came into the room. He seemed a little surprised to find me writing, but made no inquiries about it, and having obtained ail the information that I wished, I continued noting it down, notwithstanding his being present, until my memorandums were completed; when I left him in the room, without having had any conversation with him, except answering some questions, which he asked me relative to the wounded slave. Without hesitation, I commenced a suit in the circuit court of the United States, for the District of Columbia, for the restitution of

known it sooner, he would have taken him on to—,(the place of his residence,) even if he had been satisfied of his being free. One Slave-Trader, to whom he had been offered, was however so conscientious, that he refused to purchase him, or the lad who was with him (before mentioned) being confident that they were illegally enslaved.

* I have been assured by a gentleman of the highest respectability, that a former representative to congress, from one of the southern states, acknowledged to him, that he held a mulatto man as a slave, having purchased him in company with slaves, who affirmed that he was free born, and had been kidnapped from one of the New-England states, who was well educated, and who, he had no doubt, was born as free a man as himself or my informant. Upon being asked, how he could bear then to retain him, he replied, that the customs of his part of the country were such, that these things are not minded much.

† I was informed that the mulatto man was probably destined for the New-Orlean's market, not very far distant from the Gulph of

  their liberty. The first attempt to secure the persons of the captives, by a writ of habeas corpus, was ineffectual. I accompanied the deputy marshal myself, to the house in which I found them. The landlord declared that, "if he had known I was writing so long in the room where the Negroes were, he should have his en very angry with me; and that, if I had no other evidence of their freedom, but their stories, we should not see them." He said, he believed "Negroes were made to serve the Whites, and that they had no more sense than horses."* He stated, that the person who saw me writing, suspected some difficulty, and had directed him to conceal the Negroes, and that he had done it. He told me, in a sneering manner, that if I wished to take the part of the Negroes, he could find me plenty of such business. He informed me, that he had been in the way of keeping Negroes for the Traders many years, and took better care of them than they received in the jail.†
Notwithstanding the writ of habeas corpus was returned

Mexico, which probably embraces more personal slavery, including its neighboring regions, than any region of equal extent on the globe.

* Does not this confession demonstrate the great propriety with which the word slavery might be substituted in lieu of the word vice, in Pope's admirable stanza? thus:
Slavery is "monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure—then pity—then embrace."

† On the ensuing day, having persevered in endeavors to secure the captives, the son of this landlord, (to whom I presume manacles, hand-cuffs, iron man fetters, hopples, &c. are as familiar as steel-traps and snares to the hunter of the animals which yield fur,) expressed his sympathy for the loss of the purchaser of the mulatto man, (who still remained in his chains,) should he be set at liberty. I asked him whether he considered it worse for the trader to lose a few hundred dollars in money, than for the mulatto man to be transported to a strange country, and be deprived of his liberty for life. To which he replied, after a short pause, that he did not know as there was much difference! I assured him, that if he did not, I was sorry for him. This illustrates the invincible force of morbid education and of habit.

  to the magistrate unexecuted, I still persevered, and obtained a process of injunction, in order to prevent the removal of the captives from the District, until the commencement of the session of the court; by which it was ascertained that they still remained in the same house. A second writ of habeas corpus having been issued from the court while sitting, they were at length produced, which, fortunately, was accomplished on the very day that the purchaser of the woman and child left Washington, with a coffle of 10 or 12 coloured persons, with whom he had just returned from Maryland.* The court having examined them, placed them in safe custody for further examination at the ensuing summer session, so that time could be had for procuring the requisite testimony from Delaware. For defraying the expense of accomplishing this purpose, and of prosecuting the suits, a subscription was drawn up by Francis T. Key, esq. who volunteered his own services as attorney, gratis, as did also J. B. Caldwell, esq. and J. B. Lear, esq. The subscription was commenced by general Van Ness; the heads of the executive departments of the government, with but rare exception; several gentlemen of the senate and house of representatives, and the mayor and citizens of Washington generally, (possessors of slaves as well as others,) to whom application was made, joined in the contribution. I was highly gratified to meet with this practical evidence, that the disposition to extend the hand of relief to abused African strangers, is not at the present period, by any means confined exclusively to the limits of a solitary religious society. Between one and two hundred dollars having been

* By information, derived from distinct and corresponding sources, a few days after this caravan left Washington, there is no doubt of the fact, that it contained, in addition to the slaves, a young black woman, who had been emancipated in Delaware, and was sold by the same person as an agent, that assisted in seizing and sold the black woman and child; and also a legally free mulatto man, in irons, who had been sold in the night by his employer, near Philadelphia, and who was most unmercifully beaten with a club, on the night previous to their arrival in the city, for telling a person he was free.

  collected,* I proceeded myself to the state of Delaware; and having travelled from Wilmington to Lewestown and Georgetown, returned with unequivocal proof of the legal right of the captives to their liberty, which was accordingly restored to them by the court at the ensuing June session.

* Additional aid was also rendered by the Abolition Society at Wilmington.