So vanished our hopes. My mistress had taught me the precepts of God's Word: "Thou shalt Page 16 love thy neighbor as thyself. I would give much to blot out from my memory that one great wrong. As a child, I loved my mistress; and, looking back on the happy days I spent with her, I try to think with less bitterness of this act of injustice. While I was with her, she taught me to read and spell; and for this privilege, which so rarely falls to the lot of a slave, I bless her memory.
She possessed but few slaves; and at her death those were all distributed among her relatives. Five of them were my grandmother's children, and had shared the same milk that nourished her mother's children. Notwithstanding my grandmother's long and faithful service to her owners, not one of her children escaped the auction block.
These God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or the horses they tend. Page 17 II. FLINT, a physician in the neighborhood, had married the sister of my mistress, and I was now the property of their little daughter. It was not without murmuring that I prepared for my new home; and what added to my unhappiness, was the fact that my brother William was purchased by the same family.
My father, by his nature, as well as by the habit of transacting business as a skilful mechanic, had more of the feelings of a freeman than is common among slaves. My brother was a spirited boy; and being brought up under such influences, he early detested the name of master and mistress. One day, when his father and his mistress both happened to call him at the same time, he hesitated between the two; being perplexed to know which had the strongest claim upon his obedience.
He finally concluded to go to his mistress.
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When my father reproved him for it, he said, "You both called me, and I didn't know which I ought to go to first. He was now to learn his first lesson of obedience to a master. Grandmother tried to cheer us with hopeful words, and they found an echo in the credulous hearts of youth. When we entered our new home we encountered Page 18 cold looks, cold words, and cold treatment.
We were glad when the night came. On my narrow bed I moaned and wept, I felt so desolate and alone. I had been there nearly a year, when a dear little friend of mine was buried.
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I heard her mother sob, as the clods fell on the coffin of her only child, and I turned away from the grave, feeling thankful that I still had something left to love. I met my grandmother, who said, "Come with me, Linda;" and from her tone I knew that something sad had happened.
She led me apart from the people, and then said, "My child, your father is dead. How could I believe it? He had died so suddenly I had not even heard that he was sick. I went home with my grandmother. My heart rebelled against God, who had taken from me mother, father, mistress, and friend. The good grandmother tried to comfort me.
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She promised to be a mother to her grandchildren, so far as she might be permitted to do so; and strengthened by her love, I returned to my master's. I thought I should be allowed to go to my father's house the next morning; but I was ordered to go for flowers, that my mistress's house might be decorated for an evening party. I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into festoons, while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me.
What cared my owners for that? Moreover, they thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that they were human beings. Page 19 This was blasphemous doctrine for a slave to teach; presumptuous in him, and dangerous to the masters. The next day I followed his remains to a humble grave beside that of my dear mother. There were those who knew my father's worth, and respected his memory.
My home now seemed more dreary than ever. The laugh of the little slave-children sounded harsh and cruel.
It was selfish to feel so about the joy of others. My brother moved about with a very grave face. I tried to comfort him, by saying, "Take courage, Willie; brighter days will come by and by. William declared this was much easier to say than to do; moreover, he did not intend to buy his freedom. We held daily controversies upon this subject. Little attention was paid to the slaves' meals in Dr. Flint's house. If they could catch a bit of food while it was going, well and good. I gave myself no trouble on that score, for on my various errands I passed my grandmother's house, where there was always something to spare for me.
I was frequently threatened with punishment if I stopped there; and my grandmother, to avoid detaining me, often stood at the gate with something for my breakfast or dinner. I was indebted to her for all my comforts, spiritual or temporal. Page 20 It was her labor that supplied my scanty wardrobe.
I have a vivid recollection of the linsey-woolsey dress given me every winter by Mrs. How I hated it! It was one of the badges of slavery. While my grandmother was thus helping to support me from her hard earnings, the three hundred dollars she had lent her mistress were never repaid.
When her mistress died, her son-in-law, Dr. Flint, was appointed executor. When grandmother applied to him for payment, he said the estate was insolvent, and the law prohibited payment. It did not, however, prohibit him from retaining the silver candelabra, which had been purchased with that money. I presume they will be handed down in the family, from generation to generation. My grandmother's mistress had always promised her that, at her death, she should be free; and it was said that in her will she made good the promise.
But when the estate was settled, Dr. Flint told the faithful old servant that, under existing circumstances, it was necessary she should be sold. Flint called to tell my grandmother that he was unwilling to wound her feelings by putting her up at auction, and that he would prefer to dispose of her at private sale.
My grandmother saw through his hypocrisy; she understood very well that he was ashamed of the job.
She was a very spirited woman, and if he was base enough to sell her, when her mistress intended she should be free, she was determined the public should Page 21 know it. She had for a long time supplied many families with crackers and preserves; consequently, "Aunt Marthy," as she was called, was generally known, and every body who knew her respected her intelligence and good character. Her long and faithful service in the family was also well known, and the intention of her mistress to leave her free.
When the day of sale came, she took her place among the chattels, and at the first call she sprang upon the auction-block. Many voices called out, "Shame! Who is going to sell you , aunt Marthy? Don't stand there! That is no place for you. No one bid for her. At last, a feeble voice said, "Fifty dollars. She had lived forty years under the same roof with my grandmother; she knew how faithfully she had served her owners, and how cruelly she had been defrauded of her rights; and she resolved to protect her.
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The auctioneer waited for a higher bid; but her wishes were respected; no one bid above her. She could neither read nor write; and when the bill of sale was made out, she signed it with a cross. But what consequence was that, when she had a big heart overflowing with human kindness? She gave the old servant her freedom. At that time, my grandmother was just fifty years old. Laborious years had passed since then; and now my brother and I were slaves to the man who had defrauded her of her money, and tried to defraud her of her freedom.
One of my mother's sisters, called Aunt Nancy, was also a slave in his family. She was a kind, good aunt to me; and supplied the Page 22 place of both housekeeper and waiting maid to her mistress.