- Page 105
- Ford's Embarrassments
- Mistress Ford's Plantation on Bayou Boeuf
- Description of the Latter
- Ford's Brother-in-law, Peter Tanner
- Meeting with Eliza
- She still Mourns for her Children
- Ford's Overseer, Chapin
- Tibeats' Abuse
- The Keg of Nails
- The First Fight with Tibeats
- His Discomfiture and Castigation
- The attempt to Hang me
- Chapin's Interference and Speech
- Unhappy Reflections
- Abrupt Departure of Tibeats, Cook, and
- Lawson and the Brown Mule
- Message to the Pine Woods
WILLIAM FORD unfortunately became embarrassed in
his pecuniary affairs. A heavy judgment was
rendered against him in consequence of his having
become security for his brother, Franklin Ford,
residing on Red River, above Alexandria, and who had
failed to meet his liabilities. He was also
indebted to John M. Tibeats to a considerable
amount in consideration of his services in building
the mills on Indian Creek, and also a weaving-house,
corn-mill and other erections on the plantation at
Bayou Boeuf, not yet completed. It was
therefore necessary, in order to meet these demands,
to dispose of eighteen slaves, myself among the
number. Seventeen of them, including Sam
and Harry, were purchased by Peter
Compton, a planter also residing on Red River.
I was sold to Tibeats, in consequence,
undoubtedly, of my slight skill as a carpenter.
This was in the winter of 1842. The deed of
myself from Freeman to Ford, as I
ascertained from the public records in New-Orleans
on my return, was dated June 23d, 1841. At the
time of my sale to Tibeats, the price agreed
to be given for me being more than the debt, Ford
took a chattel mortgage of four hundred dollars.
I am indebted for my life, as will hereafter be
seen, to that mortgage.
I bade farewell to my good friends at the opening, and
departed with my new master Tibeats. We
went down to the plantation on Bayou Boeuf, distant
twenty-seven miles from the Pine Woods, to complete
the unfinished contract. Bayou Boeuf is a
sluggish, winding stream - one of those stagnant
bodies of water common in that region, setting back
from Red River. It stretches from a point not
far from Alexandria, in a south-easterly directions,
and following its tortuous course, is more than
fifty miles in length. Large cotton and sugar
plantations line each shore, extending back to the
borders of interminable swamps. It is alive
with aligators, rendering it unsafe for
swine, or unthinking slave children to stroll along
its banks. Upon a bend in this bayou, a short
distance from Cheneyville, was situated the
plantation of Madam Ford - her
brother, Peter Tanner, a great landholder,
living on the opposite side.
On my arrival at Bayou Boeuf, I had the pleasure of
meeting Eliza, whom I had not seen for
months. She had not pleased Mrs. Ford,
being more occupied in brooding over her sorrows
than in attending to her business, and had, in
consequence, been sent down to work in the field on
the plantation. She had grown feeble and
emaciated, and was still mourning for her children.
She asked me if I had forgotten them, and a great
many times inquired if I still remembered how
handsome little Emily was - how much
Randall loved her - and wondered if they were
living still, and where the darlings could then be.
She had sunk beneath the weight of an excessive
grief. Her drooping form and hollow cheeks too
plainly indicated that she had well nigh reached the
end of her weary road.
Ford's overseer on this plantation, and who had
the exclusive charge of it, was a Mr. Chapin,
a kindly-disposed man, and a native of Pennsylvania.
In common with others, he held Tibeats in
light estimation, which fact, in connection with the
four hundred dollar mortgage, was fortunate for me.
I was now compelled to labor very hard. From
earliest dawn until late at night, I was not allowed
to be a moment idle. Notwithstanding which,
Tibeats was never satisfied. He was
continually cursing and complaining. He never
spoke to me a kind word. I was his faithful
slave, and earned him large wages every day, and yet
I went to my cabin nightly, loaded with abuse and
We had completed the corn mill, the kitchen, and so
forth, and were at work upon the weaving-house,
when I was guilt of an act, in that State punishable
with death. It was my first fight with
Tibeats. The weaving-house we were
erecting stood in the orchard a few rods from the
residence of Chapin, or the "great house," as
it was called. One night having worked
until it was too dark to see, I was ordered by
Tibeat to rise very early in the morning,
procure a keg o nails form Chapin, and
commence putting on the clapboards. I retired
to the cabin extremely tired, and having cooked a
supper of bacon and corn cake, and conversed a while
with Eliza, who occupied the same cabin, as
also did Lawson and his wife Mary, and
a slave named Bristol, laid down upon the
ground floor, little dreaming of hte sufferings that
awaited me on the morrow. Before daylight I
was on the piazza of the "great house," awaiting the
appearance of overseer Chapin. To have
aroused him from his slumbers and stated my errand,
would have been an unpardonable boldness. At
length he came out. Taking off my hat, I
informed him Master Tibeats had directed me
to call upon him for a keg of nails. Going
into the store-room, he rolled it out, at the same
time saying, if Tibeats preferred a different
size, he would endeavor to furnish them, but that I
might use those until further directed. Then
mounting his horse, which stood saddled and bridled
at the door, he rode away into the field, whither
the slaves had preceded him, while I took the keg on
my shoulder, and proceeding to the weaving-house,
broke in the head, and commenced nailing on the
As the day began to open, Tibeats came out of
the house to where I was, hard at work. He
seemed to be that morning even more morose and
disagreeable than usual. He was my master,
entitled by law to my flesh and blood, and to
exercise over me such tyrannical control as his mean
nature prompted; but there was no law that could
prevent my looking upon him with intense contempt.
I had just come round to the keg for a further
supply of nails, as he reached the weaving-house.
"I thought I told you to commence putting on
weather-boards this morning," he remarked.
"Yes, master, and I am about it," I replied.
"Where?" he demanded.
"On the other side," was my answer.
He walked round to the other side, examined my work for
a while, muttering to himself in a fault-finding
"Didn't I tell you last night to get a keg of nails of
Chapin?" he broke forth again.
"Yes, master, and so I did; and overseer said he would
get another size for you, if you wanted them, when
he came back from the field."
Tibeats walked to the keg, looked a moment at
the contents, then kicked it violently. Coming
towards me in a great passion, he exclaimed,
"G-d d__n you! I thought you knowed
I made answer: "I tried to do as you told me,
master. I didn't mean anything wrong.
Overseer said -- " But he interrupted me with
such a flood of curses that I was unable to finish
the sentence. At length he ran towards the
house, and going to the piazza, took down one of the
overseer's whips. The whip had a short wooden
stock, braided over with leather, and was loaded at
the butt. The lash was three feet long, or
thereabouts, and made of raw-hide stands.
At first I was somewhat frightened, and my impulse was
to run. There was no one about except Rachel,
the cook, and Chapin's wife, and neither of
them were to be seen. The rest were in the
field. I knew he intended to whip me, and it
was the first time any one had attempted it since my
arrival at Avoyelles. I felt, moreover, that I
had been faithful - that I was guilty of no wrong
whatever, and deserved commendation rather than
punishment. My fear changed to anger, and
before he reached me I had made up my mind fully not
to be whipped, let the result be life or death.
Winding the lash around his hand, and taking hold of
the small end of the stock, he walked up to me, and
with a malignant look, ordered me to strip.
"Master Tibeats, said I, looking him boldly in
the face, "I will not." I was about to
say something further in justification, but with
concentrated vengeance, he sprang upon me, seizing
me by the throat with one hand, raising the whip
with the other, in the act of striking. Before
the blow descended, however,
I had caught him by the collar of the coat, and
drawn him closely to me. Reaching down, I
seized him by the ankle, and pushing him back with
the other hand, he fell over on the ground.
Putting one arm around his leg, and holding it to my
breast, so that his head and shoulders only touched
the ground, I placed my foot upon his neck. He
was completelly in my power. My blood was up.
It seemed to course through my veins like fire.
In the frenzy of my madness I snatched the whip from
his hand. He struggled with all his power;
swore that I should not live to see another day; and
that he would tear out my heart. But his
struggles and his treats were alike in vain. I
cannot tell how many times I struck him. Blow
after blow fell fast and heavy upon his wriggling
form. At length he screamed - cried murder -
and at last the blasphemous tyrant called on God for
mercy. But he who had never shown mercy did
not receive it. The stiff stock of the whip
warped round his cringing body until my right arm
Until this time I had been too busy to look about me.
Desisting for a moment, I saw Mrs. Chapin
looking from the window, and Rachel standing
in the kitchen door. Their attitudes expressed
the utmost excitement and alarm. His creams
had been heard in the field. Chapin was
coming as fast as he could ride. I stuck him a
blow or two more, then pushed him from me with such
a well-directed kick that he went rolling over on
Rising to his feet, and brushing the dirt from his
hair, he stood looking at me, pale with rage.
We gazed at each other in silence. Not a word
was uttered until Chapin galloped up to us.
"What is the matter?" he cried out.
"Master Tibeats wants to whip me for using the
nails you gave me," I replied.
"What is the matter with the nails?" he inquired,
turning to Tibeats.
Tibeats answered to the effect that they were
too large, paying little heed, however, to Chapin's
question, but still keeping his snakish eyes
fastened maliciously on me.
"I am overseer here," Chapin began. "I
told Platt to take them and use them, and if
they were not of the proper size I would get others
on returning from the field. It is not his
fault. Besides, I shall furnish such nails as
I please. I hope you will understand that,
Tibeats made no reply, but, grinding his teeth
and shaking his fist, swore he would have
satisfaction, and that it was not half over yet.
Thereupon he walked away, followed by the overseer,
and entered the house, the latter talking to him all
the while in a suppressed tone, and with earnest
I remained where I was, doubting whether it was better
to fly or abide the result, whatever it might be.
Presently Tibeats came out of the house, and,
saddling his horse, the only property he possessed
besides myself, departed on the road to Chenyville."
when he was gone, Chapin came out, visibly exci-
ted, telling me not to stir, not to attempt to leae
the plantation on any account whatever. He
then went to the kitchen, and calling Rachel
out, conversed with her some time. Coming back
, he again charged me with great earnestness not to
run, saying my master was a rascal; that he had left
on no good errand, and that there might be trouble
before night. But at all events, he insisted
upon it, I must not stir.
At I stood there, feelings of unutterable agony
overwhelmed me. I was conscious that I had
subjected myself to unimaginable punishment.
The reaction that followed my extreme ebullition of
anger produced the most painful sensations of
regret. An unfriended, helpless slave - what
could I do, what could I say, to
justify, in the remotest manner, the heinous act I
had committed, of resenting a white man's
contumely and abuse. I tried to pray - I tried
to beseech my Heavenly Father to sustain me in my
sore extremity, but emotion choked my utterance, and
I could only bow my head upon my hands and weep.
For at least an hour I remained in this situation,
finding relief only in tears, when, looking up, I
beheld Tibeats, accompanied by two horsemen,
coming down the bayou. They rode into the
yard, jumped from their horses, and approached me
with large whips, one of them also carrying a coil
"Cross your hands," commanded Tibeats, with the
addition of such a shuddering expression of
blasphemy as is not decorous to repeat.
"You need not bind me, Master Tibeats, I am
ready to go with you anywhere," said I.
One of his companions then stepped forward, swearing if
I made the least resistance he would break my head -
he would tear me limb from limb - he would cut my
black throat - and giving wide scope to other
similar expressions. Perceiving any
importunity altogether vain, I crossed my hands,
submitting humbly to whatever disposition they might
please to make of me. Thereupon Tibeats
tied my wrists, drawing the rope around them with
his utmost strength. Then he bound my ankles
in the same manner. In the meantime the other
two had slipped a cord within my elbows, running it
across my back, and tying it firmly. It was
utterly impossible to move hand or foot. With
a remaining piece of rope Tibeats made an
awkward noose, and placed it about my neck.
"Now, then," inquired one of Tibeats'
companions, "where shall we hang the nigger?"
One proposed such a limb, extending from the body of a
peach tree, near the spot where we were standing.
He comrade objected to it, alleging it would break,
and proposed another. Finally they fixed upon
During this conversation, and all the time they were
binding me, I uttered not a word. Overseer
Chapin, during the progress of the scene, was
walking hastily back and forth on the piazza.
Rachel was crying by the kitchen door, and
Mrs. Chapin was still
looking from the window. Hope died within my
heart. Surely my time had come. I should
never behold the light of another day - never behold
the faces of my children - the sweet anticipation I
had cherished with such fondness. I should
that hour struggle through the fearful agonies of
death! None would mourn for me - none revenge
me. Soon my form would be mouldering in that
distant soil, or, perhaps, be cast to the slimy
reptiles that filled the stagnant waters of the
bayou! Tears flowed down my cheeks, but they
only afforded a subject of insulting comment for my
At length, as they were dragging me towards the tree,
Chapin, who had momentarily disappeared from
the piazza, came out of the house and walked towards
us. He had a pistol in each hand, and as near
as I can now recall to mind, spoke in a firm,
determined manner, as follows:
"Gentlemen, I have a few words to say. You had
better listen to them. Whoever moves that
slave another foot from where he stands is a dead
man. In the first place, he does not deserve
this treatment. It is a shame to murder him in
this manner. I never knew a more faithful boy
than Platt. You, Tibeats, are in
the fault yourself. You are pretty much of a
scoundrel, and I know it, and you richly deserve the
flogging you have received. In the next place,
I have been overseer on this plantation seven years,
and, in the absence of William Ford, am
master here. My duty is to protect his
interests, and that duty I shall
perform. You are not responsible - you are a
worthless fellow. Ford holds a mortgage
on Platt of four hundred dollars.
If you hang him he loses his debt. Until that
is canceled you have no right to take his life.
You have no right to take it any way. There is
a law for the slave as well as for the white man.
You are no better than a murderer.
"As for you," addressing Cook and Ramsay,
a couple of overseers from neighboring plantations,
"as for you - begone! If you have any regard
for your own safety, I say, begone."
Cook and Ramsay, without a further word,
mounted their horses and rode away. Tibeats,
in a few minutes, evidently in fear, and overawed by
the decided tone of Chapin, sneaked off like
a coward, as he was, and mounting his horse,
followed his companions.
I remained standing where I was, still bound, with the
rope around my neck. As soon as they were
gone, Chapin called Rachel, ordering
her to run to the field, and tell Lawson to
hurry to the house without delay, and bring the
brown mule with him, an animal much prized for its
unusual fleetness. Presently the boy appeared.
"Lawson," said Chapin, "you must go to
the Pine Woods. Tell your master Ford
to come here at once - that he must not delay a
single moment. Tell him they are trying to
murder Platt. Now hurry, boy. Be
at the Pine Woods by noon if you kill the mule."
Chapin stepped into the house and wrote a pass.
When he returned, Lawson was at the door,
on his mule. Receiving the pass, he plied the
whip right smartly to the beast, dashed out of the
yard, and turning up the bayou on a hard gallop, in
less time than it ahs taken me to describe the
scene, was out of sight.
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