CHAPTER V. - Page 65
- Arrival of Norfolk
- Frederick and Maria
- Arthur, the Freeman
- Appointed Steward
- Jim, Cuffee, and Jenny
- The Storm
- Bahama Banks
- The Calm
- The Conspiracy
- The Long Boat
- The Small-Pox
- Death of Robert
- Manning, the Sailor
- The Meeting in the Forecastle
- The Letter
- Arrival at New Orleans
- Arthur's Rescue
- Theophilus Freeman, the Consignee
- First Night in the New Orleans Slave Pen
AFTER we were
all on board, the brig Orleans proceeded down James
River. Passing into Chesapeake Bay, we arrived
next day opposite the city of Norfolk. While lying
at anchor, a lighter approached us from the town,
bringing four more slaves. Frederick, a boy
of eighteen, had been born a slave, as also had Henry,
who was some years older. They had both been house
servants in the city. Maria was a rather
genteel looking colored girl, with a faultless form, but
ignorant and extremely vain. The idea of going to
New-Orleans was pleasing to her. She entertained
at an extravagantly high opinion of her own attractions.
Assuming a haughty mien, she declared to her companions,
that immediately on our arrival in New-Orleans, she had
no doubt, some wealthy single gentleman of good taste
would purchase her at once!
But the most
prominent of the four, was a man named Arthur.
As the lighter approached, he struggled stoutly with his
keepers. It was with main force that he was
dragged aboard the brig. He protested, in a loud
voice, against the treatment he was receiving, and
demanded to be released. His face was swollen, and
covered with wounds and bruises, and, indeed, one side
of it was a complete raw sore. He was forced, with
all haste, down the hatchway into the hold. I
caught an outline of his story as he was borne
struggling along, of which he afterwards gave me a more
full relation, and it was as follows: He had long
resided in the city of Norfolk, and was a free man.
He had family living there, and was a mason by trade.
Having been unusually detained, he was returning late
one night to his house in the suburbs of the city, when
he was attacked by a gang of persons in an unfrequented
street. He fought until his strength failed him.
Overpowered at last, he was gagged and bound with ropes,
and eaten, until he became insensible. For several
days they secreted him in the slave pen at Norfolk - a
very common establishment, it appears, in the cities of
the South. The night before, he had been taken out
and put on board the lighter, which, pushing out from
shore, had awaited our arrival. For some time he
continued his protestations, and was altogether
irreconcilable. At length, however, he became
silent. He sank into a gloomy and thoughtful mood,
and appeared to be counseling with himself. There
the man's determined face, something
that suggested the thought of desperation.
After leaving Norfolk the hand-cuffs were taken off,
and during the day we were allowed to remain on deck.
The captain selected Robert as his waiter, and I
was appointed to superintend the cooking department, and
the distribution of food and water. I had three
assistants, Jim Cuffee and Jenny.
Jenny's business was to prepare the coffee, which
consisted of corn meal scorched in a kettle, boiled and
sweetened with molasses. Jim and Cuffee
baked the hoe-cake and boiled the bacon.
Standing by the table, formed of a wide board resting
on the heads of the barrels, I cut and handed to each a
slice of meat and a "dodger" of the bread, and from
Jenny's kettle also dipped out for each a cup of
coffee. The use of plates was dispensed with, and
their sable fingers took the place of knives and forks.
Jim and Cuffee were very demure and
attentive to business, somewhat inflated with their
situation as second cooks, and without doubt feeling
that there was a great responsibility resting on them.
I was called steward - a name given me by the captain.
The slaves were fed twice a day, at ten and five
o'clock - always receiving the same kind and quantity of
fare, and in the same manner as above described.
At night we were driven into the hold, and securely
Scarcely were we out of sight of land before we
were overtaken by a violent storm.
The brig rolled and plunged until we feared she would go
down. Some were sea-sick, others on their knees
praying, while some were fast holding to each other,
paralyzed with fear. The sea-sickness rendered the
place of our confinement loathsome and disgusting.
It would have been a happy thing for most of us - it
would have saved the agony of many hundred lashes, and
miserable deaths at last - had the compassionate sea
snatched us that day from the clutches of remorseless
men. The thought of Randall with little
Emmy sinking down among the monsters of the deep, is
a more pleasant contemplation than to think of them as
they are now, perhaps, dragging out lives of unreq2uited
When in sight of the Bahama Banks, at a place called
Old Point Compass, or the Hole in the Wall, we were
becalmed three days. There was scarcely a breath
of air. The waters of the gulf presented a
singularly white appearance, like lime water.
In the order of events, I come now to the relation of
an occurrence, which I never call to mind but with
sensations of regret. I thank God, who has since
permitted me to escape from the thralldom of slavery,
that through his merciful interposition I was prevented
from imbruing my hands in the blood of his creatures.
Let not those who have never been place in like
circumstances, judge me harshly. Until they have
been chained and beaten - until they find themselves in
the situation I was, borne away from home
and family towards a land of bondage -
let them refrain form saying what they would not do for
liberty. How far I should have been justified in
the sight of God and man, it is unnecessary now to
speculate upon. It is enough to say that I am able
to congratulate myself upon the harmless termination of
an affair which threatened, for a time, to be atte4nded
with serious results.
Towards evening, on the first day of the calm,
Arthur and myself were in the bow of the vessel,
seated on the windlass. We were conversing
together of the probable destiny that awaited us, and
mourning together over our misfortunes. Arthur
said, and I agreed with him, that death was far less
terrible than the living prospect that was before us.
For a long time we talked of our children, our past
lives, and of the probabilities of escape.
Obtaining possession of the brig was suggested by one of
us. We discussed the possibility of our being
able, in such an event, to make our way to the harbor of
New York. I knew little of the compass; but the
idea of risking the experiment was eagerly entertained.
The chances, for and against us, in an encounter with
the crew, was canvassed. Who could be relied upon,
and who could not, the proper time and manner of the
attack, were all talked over and over again. From
the moment the plot suggested itself I began to hope.
I revolved it constantly in my mind. As difficulty
after difficulty arose, some ready conceit was at hand,
demonstrating how it could be overcome. While
others slept, Arthur and I were
maturing our plans. At length, with much caution,
Robert was gradually made acquainted with our
intentions. He approved of them at once, and
entered into the conspiracy with a zealous spirit.
There was not another slave we dared to trust.
Brought up in fear and ignorance as they are, it can
scarcely be conceived how servilely they will cringe
before a white man's look. It was not safe to
deposit so bold a secret with any of them, and finally
we three resolved to this take upon ourselves alone the
fearful responsibility of the attempt.
At night, as has been said, we were driven into
the hold, and the hatch barred down. How to reach
the deck was the first difficulty that presented itself.
On the bow of the brig, however, I had observed the
small boat lying bottom upwards. It occurred to me
that by secreting ourselves underneath it, we would not
be missed from the crowd, as they were hurried down into
the hold at night. I was selected to make the
appointment, in order4 to satisfy ourselves of its
feasibility. The next evening, accordingly, after
supper, watching my opportunity, I hastily concealed
myself beneath it. Lying close upon the deck, I
could see what was going on around me, while wholly
unperceived myself. In the morning, as they came
up, I slipped from my hiding place without being
observed. The result was entirely satisfactory.
The captain and mate slept in the cabin of the former.
From Robert, who had frequent occasion, in his
capacity of waiter, to make observations in that
quarter, we ascertained the exact
position of their respective births. He further
informed us that there were always two pistols and a
cutlass lying on the table. The crew's cook slept
in the cook galley on deck, a sort of vehicle on wheels,
that could be moved about as convenience required, while
the sailors numbering only six, either slept in the
forecastle, or in hammocks swung among the rigging.
Finally our arrangements were all completed.
Arthur and I were to steal silently to the captain's
cabin, seize the pistols and cutlass, and as quickly as
possible despatch him and the mate.
Robert, with a club, was to stand by the door
leading from the deck down into the cabin, and, in case
of necessity, beat back the sailors, until we could
hurry to his assistance. We were to proceed then
as circumstances might require. Should the attack
be so sudden and successful as to prevent resistance,
the hatch was to remain barred down; otherwise the
slaves were to be called up0, and in the crowd, and
hurry, and confusion of that time, we resolved to regain
our liberty or lose our lives. I was then to
assume the unaccustomed place of pilot, and, steering
northward, we trusted that some lucky wind might bear us
to the soil of freedom.
The mate's name was Biddee, the captain's I cannot now
recall, though I rarely ever forget a name once heard.
The captain was a small, genteel man, erect and prompt,
with a proud bearing, and I looked the personification
of courage. If he is still living, and these pages
should chance to meet his eye, he
will learn a
fact connected with the voyage of the brig, from
Richmond to New-Orleans, in 1841, not entered on his
We were all prepared, and impatiently waiting an
opportunity of putting our designs into execution, when
they were frustrated and by a sad and unforeseen event.
Robert was taken ill. It was soon
announced that he had the small-pox. He continued
to grow worse, and for days previous to our arrival in
New-Orleans he died. One of the sailors sewed him
in his blanket, with a large stone from the ballast at
his feet, and then laying him on the hatchway, and
elevating it with tackles above the railing, the
inanimate body of Robert was consigned to the
white waters of the gulf.
We were all panic-stricken by the appearance of the
small-pox. The captain ordered lime to be
scattered through the hold, and other prudent
precautions to be taken. The death of Robert,
however, and the presence of the malady, oppressed me
sadly, and I gazed out over the great waste of waters
with a spirit that was indeed disconsolate.
An evening or two after Robert's burial, I was
leaning on the hatchway near the forecastle, full of
desponding thoughts, when a sailor in a kind voice asked
me why I was so down-hearted. The tone and manner
of the man assured me, and I answered, because I was a
freeman, and had been kidnapped. He remarked that
it was enough to make any one down-hearted, and
continued to interrogate me until
he learned the
particulars of my whole history. He was evidently
much interested in my behalf, and, in the blunt speech
of a sailor, swore he would aid me all he could, if it
"split his timbers." I requested him to furnish me
pen, ink and paper, in order that I might write to some
of my friends. He promised to obtain them - but
how I could use them undiscovered was a
difficulty. If I could only get into the
forecastle while his watch was off, and the other
sailors asleep, the think could be accomplished.
The small boat instantly occurred to me. He
thought we were not far from the Balize, at the mouth of
the Mississippi, and it was necessary that the letter be
written soon, or the opportunity would be lost.
Accordingly, by arrangement, I managed the next night to
secret myself again under the long-boat. His watch
was off at twelve. I saw him pass into the
forecastle, and in about an hour followed him. He
was nodding over a table, half asleep, on which a sickly
light was flickering, and on which also was a pen and
sheet of paper. As I entered he aroused, beckoned
me to a seat beside him, and pointed to the paper.
I directed the letter to Henry B. Northrup, of
Sandy Hill - stating that I had been kidnapped, was then
on board the brig Orleans, bound for New-Orleans; that
it was then impossible for me to conjecture my ultimate
destination, and requesting he would take measures to
rescue me. The letter was sealed and directed, and
Manning, having read it, promised to deposit it
in the New-Orleans post-office. I hastened back to
the long-boat, and in the morning, as the slaves came up
and were walking round, crept out unnoticed and mingled
My good friend, whose name was John Manning, was
an Englishman by birth, and a noble-hearted, generous
sailor as ever walked the deck. He had lived in
Boston - was a tall, well-built man, about twenty-four
years old, with a face somewhat pock-marked, but full of
Nothing to vary the monotony of our daily life
occurred, until we reached New-Orleans. On coming
to the levee, and before the vessel was made fast, I saw
Manning leap on shore and hurry away into the
city. As he started off he looked back over his
shoulder significantly, giving me to understand the
object of his errand. Presently he returned, and
passing close by me, hunched me with his elbow, with a
peculiar wink, as much as to say, "it is all right."
The letter, as I have since learned, reached Sandy
Hill. Mr. Northrup visited Albany and laid
it before Governor Seward, but inasmuch as it
gave no definite information as to my probable locality,
it was not, at that time, deemed advisable to institute
measures for my liberation. It was concluded to
delay, trusting that a knowledge of where I was might
eventually be obtained.
A happy and touching scene was witnessed immediately
upon our reaching the levee. Just as Manning
left the brig, on his way to the post-office, two
men camp up and called aloud for Arthur.
he recognized them, was almost crazy with delight.
He could hardly be restrained from leaping over the
brig's side; and when they met soon after, he grasped
them by the hand, and clung to them a long, long time.
They were men from Norfolk, who had come on to
New-Orleans to rescue him. His kidnappers, they
informed him, had been arrested, and were then confined
in the Norfolk prison. They conversed a few
moments with the captain, and then departed with the
But in all the crowd that thronged the wharf, there
was no one who knew or cared for me. Not one.
No familiar voice greeted my ears, nor was there a
single face that I had ever seen. Soon Arthur
would rejoin his family, and have the satisfaction of
seeing his wrongs avenged; my family, alas, should I
ever see them more? There was a feeling of utter
desolation in my heart, filling it with a despairing and
regretful sense, that I had not gone down with Robert
to the bottom of the sea.
Very soon traders and consignees came on board.
One, a tall, thin-faced man, with light complexion and a
little bent, made his appearance, with a paper in his
hand. Burch's gang, consisting of myself,
Eliza and her children, Harry, Lethe, and
some others, who had joined us at Richmond, were
consigned to him. This gentleman was Theophilus
Freeman. Reading from his paper, he called,
"Platt." No one answered. The name was
called again and again, but still there was no reply.
Then Lethe was called, then
then Harry, until the list was finished, each one
stepping forward as his or her name was called.
"Captain, where's Platt?" demanded
The captain was unable to
inform him, no one being on board answering to that
"Who shipped that nigger?" he again
inquired of the captain, pointing to me.
"Burch," replied the captain.
"Your name is Platt - you answer my description.
Why don't you come forward?" he demanded of me, in an
I informed that was not my name; that I had never been
called by it, but that I had no objection to it as I
"Well, I will learn you your name," said he; "and so
you won't forget it either, by ____," he added.
Mr. Theophilus Freeman, by the way, was not a
whit behind his partner, Burch, in the matter of
Blasphemy. On the vessel I had gone by the name of
"Steward," and this was the first time I had ever
been designated as Platt. - the name forwarded by
Burch to his consignee. From the vessel I
observed the chain-gang at work on the levee. We
passed near them as we were driven to Freeman's
slave pen. This pen is very similar to Goodin's
in Richmond, except the yard was enclosed by plank,
standing upright, with ends sharpened, instead of brick
Including us, there were now at least fifty in this
pen. Depositing our blankets in one of the small
buildings in the yard, and having been called up and
fed, we were allowed to saunter about the enclosure
until night, when we wrapped our blankets round us and
laid down under the shed, or in the loft, or in the open
yard, just as each one preferred.
It was but a short time I closed my eyes that night.
Thought was busy in my brain. Could it be possible
that I was thousands of miles from home - that I had
been driven through the streets like a dumb beast - that
I had been chained and beaten without mercy - that I was
even then herded with a drove of slaves, a slave myself?
Were the events of that last few weeks realities indeed?
- or was I passing only through the dismal phases of a
long, protracted dream? It was no illusion.
My cup of sorrow was full to overflowing. Then I
lifted up my hands to God, and in the still watches of
the night, surrounded by the sleeping forms of my
companions, begged for mercy on the poor, forsaken
captive. To the Almighty Father of us all - the
freeman and the slave - I poured forth the supplications
of a broken spirit, imploring strength from on high to
bear up against the burden of my troubles, until the
morning light aroused against the burden of my troubles,
until the morning light aroused the slumberers, ushering
in another day of bondage.
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