- Wiley disregards the
counsels of Aunt Phebe and Uncle Abram, and
is caught by the Patrollers
- The Organization and Duties of the latter
- Wiley Runs Away
- Speculations in regard to him
- His Unexpected Return
- His Capture on the Red River, and
Confinement in Alexandria Jail
- Discovered by Joseph B. Roberts
- Subduing Dogs in anticipation of Escape
- The Fugitives in the Great Pine Woods
- Captured by Adam Taydem and the Indians
- Augustus killed by Dogs
- Nelly, Eldret's Slave Woman
- The Story of Celeste
- The Concerted Movement
- Lew Chaney, the Traitor
The Idea of Insurrection
1850, down to which time I have now arrived,
omitting many occurrences uninteresting to the
reader, was an unlucky year for my companion
Wiley, the husband of Phebe, whose
taciturn and retiring nature has thus far kept him
in the background. Not withstanding Wiley
seldom opened his mouth, and revolved in his obscure
and unpretending orbit with out a grumble,
nevertheless the warm elements of sociality were
strong in the bosom of that silent "nigger."
In the exuberance of his self-reliance, disregarding
the philosophy of Uncle Abram, and
setting the counsels of Aunt Phebe
utterly at naught, he had the fool-hardiness to
essay a nocturnal visit to a neigh boring cabin
without a pass.
[pg. 237] -
So attractive was the society in which he found
himself, that Wiley took little note of the
passing hours, and the light began to break in the
east before he was aware. Speeding homeward as
fast as ho could run, he hoped to reach the quarters
before the horn would sound; but, unhappily, he was
spied on the way by a company of patrollers.
How it is in other dark places of slavery, I do not
know, but on Bayou Boeuf there is an organization of
patrollers, as they are styled, whose business it is
to seize and whip any slave they may find wandering
from the plantation. They ride on horseback,
headed by a captain, armed, and accompanied by dogs.
They have the right, either by law, or by general
consent, to inflict discretionary chastisement upon
a black man caught beyond the boundaries of his
master's estate without a pass, and even to shoot
him, if he attempts to escape. Each company
has a certain distance to ride up and down the
bayou. They are compensated by the planters,
who contribute in proportion to the number of slaves
they own. The clatter of their horses' hoofs
dashing by can be heard at all hours of the night,
and frequently they may be seen driving a slave
before them, or leading him by a rope fastened
around his neck, to his owner's plantation.
Wiley fled before one of these companies,
thinking he could reach his cabin before they could
overtake him; but one of their dogs, a great
ravenous hound, griped him by the leg, and held him
fast. The patrollers whipped him severely, and
brought him, a
[pg. 238] -
prisoner, to Epps. From him he received
another flagellation still more severe, so that the
cuts of the lash and the bites of the dog rendered
him sore, stiff and miserable, insomuch he was
scarcely able to move. It was impossible in
such a state to keep up his row, and consequently
there was not an hour in the day but Wiley
felt the sting of his master's rawhide on his raw
and bleeding back. His sufferings became
intolerable, and finally he resolved to run away.
Without disclosing his intentions to run away even
to his wife Phebe, he proceeded to make
arrangements for carrying his plan into execution.
Having cooked his whole week's allowance, he
cautiously left the cabin on a Sunday night, after
the inmates of the quarters were asleep. When
the horn sounded in the morning, Wiley did
not make his appearance. Search was made for
him in the cabins, in the com-crib, in the
cotton-house, and in every nook and corner of the
promises. Each of us was examined, touching
any knowledge we might have that could throw light
upon his sudden disappearance or present
whereabouts. Epps raved and stormed,
and mounting his horse, galloped to neighboring
plantations, making inquiries in all directions.
The search was fruitless. Nothing whatever was
elicited, going to show what had be come of the
missing man. The dogs were led to the swamp,
but were unable to strike his trail. They
would circle away through the forest, their noses to
the ground, but invariably returned in a short time
to the spot from whence they started.
[pg. 239] -
Wiley had escaped, and so secretly and
cautiously as to elude and baffle all pursuit.
Days and even weeks passed away, and nothing could
be heard of him. Epps did nothing but
curse and swear. It was the only topic of
conversation among us when alone. We indulged
in a great deal of speculation in regard to him, one
suggesting he might have been drowned in some bayou,
inasmuch as he was a poor swimmer; another, that
perhaps he might have been devoured by alligators,
or stung by the venomous moccasin, whose bite is
certain and sudden death. The warm and hearty
sympathies of us all, however, were with poor
Wiley, wherever he might be. Many an
earnest prayer ascended from the lips of Uncle
Abram, beseeching safety for the wanderer.
In about three weeks, when all hope of ever seeing him
again was dismissed, to our surprise, he one day
appeared among us. On leaving the plantation,
he informed us, it was his intention to make his way
back to South Carolina —to the old quarters of
Master Buford. During the day he
remained secreted, sometimes in the branches of a
tree, and at night pressed forward through the
swamps. Finally, one morning, just at dawn, he
reached the shore of Red River. While standing
on the bank, considering how he could cross it, a
white man accosted him, and demanded a pass.
Without one, and evidently a runaway, ho was taken
to Alexandria, the shire, town of the parish of
Rapides, and confined in prison. It happened
several days after that Joseph B. Roberts,
[pg. 240] -
uncle of Mistress Epps, was in
Alexandria, and going into the jail, recognized him.
Wiley had worked on his plantation, when
Epps resided at Huff Power. Paying the
jail fee, and writing him a pass, underneath which
was a note to Epps, requesting him not to whip him
on his return, Wiley was sent hack to Bayou
Boeuf. It was the hope that hung upon this
request, and which Roberts assured him would
be respected by his master, that sustained him as he
approached the house. The request, however, as may
be readily supposed, was entirely disregarded. After
being kept in suspense three days, Wiley was
stripped, and compelled to endure one of those
inhuman floggings to which the poor slave is so
often subjected. It was the first and last
attempt of Wiley to run away. The long
scars upon his back, which he will carry with him to
the grave, perpetually remind him of the dangers of
such a step.
There was not a day throughout the ten years I belonged
to Epps that I did not consult with myself
upon, the prospect of escape. I laid many
plans, which at the time I considered excellent
ones, but one after the other they were all
abandoned. No man who has never been placed in
such a situation, can comprehend the thousand
obstacles thrown in the way of the flying slave.
Every white man's hand is raised against him —the
patrollers are watching for him —the hounds are
ready to follow on his track, and the nature of the
country is such as renders it impossible to pass
through it with any safety. I thought,
[pg. 241] -
the time might come, perhaps, when I should be
running through the swamps again. I concluded,
in that case, to be prepared for Epps' dogs,
should they pursue me. He possessed several,
one of which was a notorious slave-hunter, and the
most fierce and savage of his breed. While out
hunting the coon or the opossum, I never allowed an
opportunity to escape, when alone, of whipping them
severely. In this manner I succeeded at length
in subduing them completely. They feared me,
obeying my voice at once when others had no control
over them whatever. Had they followed, and
overtaken me, I doubt not they would have shrank
from attacking me. .
Notwithstanding the certainty of being captured, the
woods and swamps are, nevertheless, continually
filled with runaways. Many of them, when sick,
or so worn out as to be unable to perform their
tasks, escape into the swamps, willing to suffer the
punishment inflicted for such offences, in order to
obtain a day or two of rest.
While I belonged to Ford, I was unwittingly the
means of disclosing the hiding-place of six or
eight, who had taken up their residence in the
"Great Pine Woods." Adam Taydem
frequently sent me from the mills over to the
opening after provisions. The whole distance
was then a thick pine forest. About ten
o'clock of a beautiful moonlight night, while
walking along the Texas road, returning to the
mills, carrying a dressed pig in a bag swung over my
shoulder, I heard footsteps behind me, and turning
[pg. 242] -
round, beheld two black men in the dress of slaves
approaching at a rapid pace. When within a
short distance, one of them raised a club, as if
intending to strike me; the other snatched at the
bag. I managed to dodge them both, and seizing
a pine knot, hurled _t with such force against the
head of one of them that he was prostrated
apparently senseless to the ground. Just then
two more made their appearance from one side of the
road. Before they could grapple me, however,
I succeeded in passing them, and taking to my heels,
fled, much affrighted, towards the mills. When
Adam was informed of the adventure, he hastened
straightway to the Indian village, and arousing
Cascalla and several of his tribe, started in
pursuit of the highwaymen. I accompanied them to the
scene of attack, when we discovered a puddle of
blood in the road, where the man whom I had smitten
with the pine knot had fallen. After searching
carefully through the woods a long time, one of
Cascalla's men discovered a smoke curling up
through the branches of several prostrate pines,
whose tops had fallen together. The rendezvous
was cautiously surrounded, and all of them taken
prisoners. They had escaped from a plantation
in the vicinity of Lamourie, and had been secreted
there three weeks. They had no evil design
upon me, except to frighten me out of my pig.
Having observed mo passing towards Ford's
just at night-fall, and suspecting the nature of my
errand, they had followed me, seen me butcher and
dress the porker, and start on my return.
[pg. 243] -
They had been pinched for food, and were driven to
this extremity by necessity. Adam
conveyed them to the parish jail, and was liberally
Not unfrequently the runaway loses his life in the
attempt to escape. Epps' premises were
bounded on one side by Carey's, a very
extensive sugar plantation. He cultivates
annually at least fifteen hundred acres of cane,
manufacturing twenty-two or twenty-three hundred
hogsheads of sugar; an hogshead and a half being the
usual yield of an acre. Besides this he also
cultivates five or six hundred acres of corn and
cotton. He owned last year one hundred and
fifty three field hands, besides nearly as many
children, and yearly hires a drove during the busy
season from this side the Mississippi.
One of his negro drivers, a pleasant, intelligent boy,
was named Augustus. During the holidays, and
occasionally while at work in adjoining fields, I
had an opportunity of making his acquaintance, which
eventually ripened into a warm and mutual
attachment. Summer before last he was so
unfortunate as to incur the displeasure of the
overseer, a coarse, heartless brute, who whipped him
most cruelly. Augustus ran away.
Reaching a cane rick on Hawkins' Carey's
dogs were put upon his track - some fifteen of them
- and soon scented his footsteps to the hiding
place. They surrounded the rick, baying and
scratching, but could not reach him.
Presently, guided by the clamor of the hounds, the
pursuers rode up, when
[pg. 244] -
the overseer, mounting on to the rick, drew him
forth. As he rolled down to the ground the
whole pack plunged upon him, and before they could
be beaten off, had gnawed and mutilated his body in
the most shocking manner, their teeth having
penetrated to the bone in an hundred places.
He was taken up, tied upon a mule, and carried home.
But this was Augustus' last trouble. He
lingered until the next day, when death sought the
unhappy boy, and kindly relieved him from his agony.
It was not unusual for slave women as well as slave men
to endeavor to escape. Nelly,
Eldret's girl, with whom I lumbered for a time
in the "Big Cane Brake," lay concealed in Epps'
corn crib three days. At night, when his
family were asleep, she would steal into the
quarters for food, and return to the crib again.
We concluded it would no longer be safe for us to
allow her to remain, and accordingly she re traced
her steps to her own cabin.
But the most remarkable instance of a successful
evasion of dogs and hunters was the following:
Among Carey's girls was one by the name of
Celeste. She was nineteen or twenty, and
far whiter than her owner, or any of his offspring.
It required a close inspection to distinguish in her
features the slightest trace of African blood.
A stranger would never have dreamed that she was the
descendant of slaves. I was sitting in my
cabin late at night, playing a low air on my violin,
when the door opened carefully, and Celeste
stood before me. She was pale and haggard.
[pg. 245] -
Had an apparition arisen from the earth, I could not
have been more startled.
"Who are you?" I demanded, after gazing at her a
"I'm hungry; give me some bacon," was her reply.
My first impression was that she was some de ranged
young mistress, who, escaping from home, was
wandering, she knew not whither, and had been
attracted to my cabin by the sound of the violin.
The coarse cotton slave dress she wore, however,
soon dispelled such a supposition.
"What is your name?" I again interrogated.
"My name is Celeste," she answered. "I
belong to Carey, and have been two days among
the palmettoes. I am sick and can't work, and
would rather die in a swamp than be whipped to death
by the overseer. Carey's dogs won't
follow me. They have tried to set them on.
There's a secret between them and Celeste,
and they wont mind the devilish orders of the
overseer. Give me some meat - I'm starving."
I divided my scanty allowance with her, and while
partaking of it, she related how she had managed to
escape, and described the place of her concealment.
In the edge of the swamp, not half a mile from
Epp's house, was a large space, thousands of
acres in extent, thickly covered with palmetto..
Tall trees, whose long arms interlocked each other,
formed a canopy above them, so dense as to exclude
the beams of the sun. It was like twilight
always, even in the middle of the brightest day.
In the centre of this
[pg. 246] -
great space, which nothing but serpents very often
explore - a sombre and solitary spot - Celeste
had erected a rude hut of dead branches that had
fallen to the ground, and covered it with the leaves
of the palmetto. This was the abode she had
selected. She had no fear of Carey's
dogs, any more than I had of Epps'. It
is a fact, which I have never been able to explain,
that there are those whose tracks the hounds will
absolutely refuse to follow. Celeste
was one of them.
For several nights she came to my cabin for food.
On one occasion our dogs barked as she approached,
which aroused Epps, and induced him to
reconoitre the premises. He did not discover
her, but after that it was not deemed prudent for
her to come to the yard. When all was
silent I carried provisions to a certain spot agreed
upon, where she would find them.
In this manner Celeste passed the greater part
of the summer. She regained her health, and
became strong and hearty. At all seasons of
the year the howlings of wild animals can be heard
at night along the borders of the swamps.
Several times they had made her a midnight call,
awakening her from slumber with a growl.
Terrified by such unpleasant salutations, she
finally concluded to abandon her lonely dwelling;
and, accordingly, returning to her master, was
scourged, her neck meanwhile being fastened in the
stocks and sent into the field again.
The year before my arrival in the country there was a
concerted movement among a number of slaves
[pg. 247] -
on Bayou Boeuf, that terminated tragically indeed.
It was, I presume, a matter of newspaper notoriety
at the time, but all the knowledge I have of it, has
been , derived from the relation of those living at
that period in the immediate vicinity of the
excitement. It has become a subject of general
and unfailing interest in every slave-hut on the
bayou, and will doubtless go down to succeeding
generations as their chief tradition. Lew
Cheney, with whom I became acquainted —a
shrewd, cunning negro, more intelligent than the
generality of his race, but unscrupulous and full of
treachery—conceived the project of organizing a
company sufficiently strong to fight their way
against all opposition, to the neighboring territory
A remote spot, far within the depths of the swamp buck
of Hawkins' plantation, was selected as the
rallying point. Lew flitted from one
plantation to an other, in the dead of night,
preaching a crusade to Mexico, and, like Peter
the Hermit, creating a furor of excitement wherever
he appeared. At length a large number of
runaways were assembled; stolen mules, and corn
gathered from the fields, and bacon filched from
smoke-houses, had been conveyed into the woods.
The expedition was about ready to proceed, when
their hiding place was discovered. Lew
Cheney, becoming convinced of the ultimate
failure of his project, in order to curry favor with
his master, and avoid the consequences which ho
foresaw would follow, deliberately determined to
sacrifice all his companions. Departing
secretly from the encamp-
[pg. 248] -
ment, he proclaimed among the planters the number
collected in the swamp, and, instead of stating
truly the object they had in view, asserted their
intention was to emerge from their seclusion the
first favorable - opportunity, and murder every
white person along the bayou.
Such an announcement, exaggerated as it passed from
mouth to mouth, filled the whole country with
terror. The fugitives were surrounded and
taken prisoners, carried in chains to Alexandria,
and hung by the populace. Not only those, but
many who were suspected, though entirely innocent,
were taken from the field and from the cabin, and
without the shadow of process or form of trial,
hurried to the scaffold. The planters on Bayou
Boeuf finally rebelled against such reckless
destruction of property, but it was not until a
regiment of soldiers had arrived from some fort on
the Texan frontier, demolished the gallows, and
opened the doors of the Alexandria prison, that the
indiscriminate slaughter was stayed. Lew
Choney escaped, and was oven rewarded for his
treachery. He is still living, but his name is
despised and execrated by all his race throughout
the parishes of Rapides and Avoyelles.
Such an idea as insurrection, however, is not new among
the enslaved population of Bayou Boouf. More
than once I have joined in serious consultation,
when the subject has been discussed, and there have
been times when a word from me would have placed
hundreds of my fellow-bondsmen in an attitude of
[pg. 249] -
ance. Without arms or ammunition, or even with
them, I saw such a step would result in certain
defeat, disaster and death, and always raised my
voice against it.
During the Mexican war I well remember the extravagant
hopes that were excited. The news of victory
filled the great house with rejoicing, but produced
only sorrow and disappointment in the cabin.
In my opinion - and I have had the opportunity to
know something of the feeling of which I speak -
there are not fifty slaves on the shores of Bayou
Boeuf, but would hail with unmeasured delight the
approach of an invading army.
They are deceived who flatter themselves that the
ignorant and debased slave has no conception of the
magnitude of his wrongs. They are deceived who
imagine that he arises from his knees, with back
lacerated and bleeding, cherishing only a spirit of
meek ness and forgiveness. A day may come —it
will come, if his prayer is heard —a terrible day of
vengeance, when the master in his turn will cry in
vain for mercy.
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