- Page 131
- Return to Tibeats
- Impossibility of pleasing him
- He attacks me with a Hatchet
- The Strubble over the Broad Axe
- The Temptation to Murder him
- Escape across the Plantation
- Observations from the Fence
- Tibeats approaches, followed by the Hounds
- They take my Track
- Their loud Yells
- They almost overtake me
- I reach the Water
- The Hounds confused
- Moccasin Snakes
- Night in the "Great Pacoudrie Swamp"
- The Sounds of Life
- Northwest Course
- Emerge into the Pine Woods
- Slave and his Young Master
- Arrival at Ford's
- Food and Rest
AT the end of a month, my services being no longer required
at Tanner's I was sent over the bayou again to my
master, whom I found engaged in building the cotton
press. This was situated at some distance from
the great house, in a rather retired place. I
commenced working once more in company with
Tibeats, being entirely alone with him most part
of the time. I remembered the words of
Chapin, his precautions, his advice to beware,
lest in some unsuspecting moment he might injure me.
They were always in my mind, so that I lived in a
most uneasy state of apprehension and fear.
One eye was on my work, the other on my master.
I determined to give him no cause of offence, to
work still more diligently,
if possible, than I had done, to bear whatever abuse
he might heap upon me, save bodily injury, humbly
and patiently, hoping thereby to soften in some
degree his manner towards me, until the blessed time
might come when I should be delivered from his
The third morning after my return, Chapin left
the plantation for Cheneyville, to be absent until
night. Tibeats, on that morning, was
attacked with one of those periodical fits of spleen
and ill-humor to which he was frequently subject,
rendering him still more disagreeable and venomous
It was about nine o'clock in the forenoon, when I was
busily employed with the jack-plane on one of the
sweeps. Tibeats was standing by the
work-bench, fitting a handle into the chisel, with
which he had been engaged previously in cutting the
thread of the screw.
"You are not planing that down enough," said he.
"It is just even with the line," I replied.
"Oh, well, master," I said, mildly, "I will plane it
down more if you say so," at the same time
Proceeding to do as I supposed he desired.
Before one shaving had been removed, however, he
cried out, saying I had now planed it too deep - it
was too small - I had spoiled the sweep entirely.
Then followed curses and imprecations. I had
endeavored to do exactly as he directed, but nothing
would satisfy the unreasonable man. In silence
and in dread I stood by the
sweep, holding the jack-plane in my hand, not
knowing what to do, and not daring to be idle.
His anger grew more and more violent, until,
finally, with an oath, such a bitter, frightful oath
as only Tibeats could utter, he seized a
hatchet from the work-bench and darted towards me,
swearing he would cut my head open.
It was a moment of life or death. The sharp,
bright blade of the hatchet glittered in the sun.
In another instant it would be buried in my brain,
and yet in that instant- so quick will a man's
thoughts come to him in such a fearful strait - I
reasoned with myself. If I stood still, my
doom was certain; if I fled, ten chances to one the
hatchet, flying from his hand with a too-deadly and
unerring aim, would strike me in the back.
There was but one course to take. Springing
towards him with all my power, and meeting him full
half-way, before he could bring down the blow, with
one hand I caught his uplifted arm, with the other
seized him by the throat. We stood looking
each other in the eyes. In his I could see
murder. I felt as if I had a serpent by the
neck, watching the slightest relaxation of my gripe,
to coil itself round my body, crushing and stinging
it to death. I thought to scream aloud,
trusting that some ear might catch the sound - but
Chapin was away; the hands were in the field;
there was no living soul in sight or hearing.
The good genius, which thus far through life had saved
me from the hands of violence, at that moment
suggested a lucky thought. With a vigorous and
sudden kick, that brought him on one knee, with a
groan, I released my hold upon his throat, snatched
the hatchet, and cast it beyond reach.
Frantic with rage, maddened beyond control, he seized a
white oak stick, five feet long, perhaps, and as
large in circumference as his hand could grasp,
which was lying on the ground. Again he rushed
towards me, and again I met him, seized him about
the waist, and being the stronger of the two, bore
him to the earth. While in that position I
obtained permission of the stick, and rising, cast
it from me, also.
He likewise arose and ran for the broad-axe, on the
work-bench. Fortunately, there was a heavy
plank lying upon its broad blade, in such a manner
that he could not extricate it, before I had sprung
upon his back. Pressing him down closely and
heavily on the plank, so that the axe was held more
firmly to its place, I endeavored, but in vain, to
break his grasp upon the handle. In that
position we remained some minutes.
There have been hours in my unhappy life, many of
them, when the contemplation of death as the end of
earthly sorrow - of the grave as a resting place for
the tired and worn out body - has been pleasant to
dwell upon. But such contemplations vanish in
the hour of peril. No man, in his full
strength, can stand undismayed, in the presence of
the "king of terrors." Life is dear to every
living thing; the
worm that crawls upon the ground will struggle for
it. At that moment it was dear to me, enslaved
and treated as I was.
Not able to unloose his hand, once more I seized him by
the throat, and this time, with a vice-like gripe
that soon relaxed his hold. He became pliant
and unstrung. His face, that had been white
with passion, was not black from suffocation.
Those small serpent eyes that spat such venom, were
now full of horror - two great white orbs starting
from their sockets!
There was "a lurking devil" in my heart that prompted
me to kill the human blood-hound on the spot - to
retain the gripe on his accursed throat till the
breath of life was gone! I dared not murder
him, and I dared not let him live. If I killed
him, my life must pay the forfeit - if he lived, my
life only would satisfy his vengeance. A voice
within whispered me to fly. To be a wanderer
among the swamps, a fugitive and a vagabond on the
face of the earth, was preferable to the life that I
My resolution was soon formed, and swinging him from
the work-bench to the ground, I leaped a fence near
by, and hurried across the plantation, passing the
slaves at work in the cotton field. At the end
of a quarter of a mile I reached the wood-pasture,
and it was a short time indeed that I had been
running it. Climbing on to a high fence, I
could see the cotton press, the great house, and the
It was a conspicuous position, from whence the whole
plantation was in view. I saw Tibeats
cross the field towards the house, and enter it -
then he came out, carrying his saddle, and presently
mounted his horse and galloped away.
I was desolate, but thankful. Thankful that my
life was spared, - desolate and discouraged with the
prospect before me. What would become of me?
Who would befriend me? Whither should I fly?
Oh, God! Thou who gavest me life, and
implanted in my bosom the love of life - who filled
it with emotions such as other men, thy creatures,
have, do not forsake me. Have pity on the poor
slave - let me not perish. If thou dost not
protect me, I am lost - lost! Such
supplications, silently and unuttered, ascended from
my inmost heart to Heaven. But there was no
answering voice - no sweet, low tone, coming down
from on high, whispering to my soul, "It is I, be
not afraid." I was the forsaken of God, it
seemed - the despised and hated of men!
In about three-fourths of an hour several of the slaves
shouted and made signs for me to run.
Presently, looking up the bayou, I saw Tibeats
and two others on horse-back, coming at a fast gait,
followed by a troop of dogs. There were as
many as eight or ten. Distant as I was, I knew
them. They belonged on the adjoining
plantation. The dogs used on Bayou Boeuf for
hunting slaves are a kind of blood-hound, but a far
more savage breed than is found in the Northern
States. They will attack a negro, at their
master's bidding, and cling to him as the common
bull-dog will cling to a four footed animal.
Frequently their loud bay is heard in the swamps,
and then there is speculation as to what point the
runaway will be overhauled - the same as a New-York
hunter stops to listen to the hounds coursing along
the hillsides, and suggests to his companion that
the fox will be taken at such a place. I never
knew a slave escaping with his life from Bayou Boeuf.
One reason is, they are not allowed to learn the art
of swimming, and are incapable of crossing the most
inconsiderable stream. In their flight they
can go in no direction but a little way without
coming to a bayou, when the inevitable alternative
is presented, of being drowned or overtaken by the
dogs. In youth I had practised in the clear
streams that flow through my native district, until
I had become an expert swimmer, and felt at home in
the watery element.
I stood upon the fence until the dogs had reached the
cotton press. In an instant more, their long,
savage yells announced they were on my track.
Leaping down from my position, I ran towards the
swamp. Fear gave me strength, and I exerted it
to the utmost. Every few moments I could hear
the yelpings of the dogs. They were gaining
upon me. Every howl was nearer and
nearer. Each moment I expected they would
spring upon my back - expected to feel their long
teeth sinking into my flesh. There were so
many of them, I knew they would tear me to pieces,
that they would worry me, at once, to death. I
gasped for breath - gasped forth and half-uttered,
choking prayer to the Almighty to save me - to give
me strength to reach some wide, deep bayou where I
could throw them off the track, or sink into its
waters. Presently I reached a thick palmetto
bottom. As I fled through them they made a
loud rustling noise, not loud enough; however, to
drown the voices of the dogs.
Continuing my course due south, as nearly as I can
judge, I came at length to water just over shoe.
The hounds at that moment could not have been five
rods behind me. I could hear them crashing and
plunging through the palmettoes, their loud, eager
yells making the whole swamp clamorous with the
sound. Hope revived a little as I reached the
water. If it were only deeper, they might
loose the scent, and thus disconcerted, afford me
the opportunity evading them. Luckily, it grew
deeper the farther I proceeded - now over my ankles
- now half-way to my knees - now sinking a moment to
my waist, and then emerging presently into more
shallow places. The dogs had not gained upon
me since I struck the water. Evidently they
were confused. Now their savage intonations
grew more and more distant, assuring me that I was
leaving them. Finally I stopped to listen, but
the long howl came booming on the air again, telling
me I was not yet safe. From bog to bog, where
I had stepped, they could still keep upon the track,
though impeded by the water. At length, to my
great joy, I came to a wide bayou, and plung-
ing in, had soon stemmed its sluggish current to the
other side. There, certainly, the dogs would
be confounded - the current carrying down the stream
all traces of that slight, mysterious scent, which
enables the quick-smelling hound to follow in the
track of the fugitive.
After crossing this bayou the water became so deep I
could not run. It was now in what I afterwards
learned was the "Great Pacoudrie Swamp." It
was filled with immense trees - the sycamore, the
gum, the cotton wood and cypress, and extends, I am
informed, to the shore of the Calcasieu river.
For thirty or forty miles it is without inhabitants,
save wild beasts - the bear, the wild-cat, the
tiger, and great slimy reptiles, that are crawling
through it everywhere. Long before I reached
the bayou, in fact, from the time I struck the water
until Lemerged from the swamp on my return, these
reptiles surrounded me. I saw hundreds of
moccasin snakes. Every log and bog - every
trunk of a fallen tree, over which I was compelled
to step or climb, was alive with them. They
crawled away at my approach, but sometimes in my
haste, I almost placed my hand or foot upon them.
They are poisonous serpents - their bite more fatal
than the rattlesnake's. Besides, I had lost
one shoe, the sole having come entirely off, leaving
the upper only dangling to my ankle.
I saw also many alligators, great and small, lying in
the water, or on pieces of floodwood. The
made usually startled them, when they moved off and
plunged into the deepest places. Sometimes,
however, I would come directly upon a monster before
observing it. In such cases, I would start
back, run a short way round, and in that manner shun
them. Straight forward, they will run a short
distance rapidly, but do not possess the power of
turning. In a crooked race, there is no
difficulty in evading them.
About two o'clock in the afternoon, I heard the last of
the hounds. Probably they did not cross the
bayou. Wet and weary, but relieved from the
sense of instant peril, I continued on, more
cautious and afraid, however, of the snakes and
alligators than I had been in the earlier portion of
my flight. Now, before stepping into a muddy
pool, I would strike the water with a stick.
If the waters moved, I would go around it, if not,
would venture through.
At length the sun went down, and gradually night's
trailing mantle shrouded the great swamp in
darkness. Still I staggered on, fearing every
instant I should feel the dreadful sting of the
moccasin, or be crushed within the jaws of some
disturbed alligator. The dread of them now
almost equaled the fear of the pursuing hounds.
The moon arose after a time, its mild light creeping
through the overspreading branches, loaded with
long, pendent moss. I kept traveling forwards
until after midnight, hoping all the while that I
would soon emerge into some less desolate and
dangerous region. But the water grew deeper
and the walking more difficult than ever. I
perceived it would be impossible to proceed much
farther, and knew not, moreover, what hands I might
fall into, should I succeed in reaching a human
habitation. Not provided with a pass, any
white man would be at liberty to arrest me, and
place me in prison until such time as my master
should "prove property, pay charges, and take me
away." I was an estray, and if so unfortunate
as to meet a law-abiding citizen of Louisiana, he
would deep it his duty to his neighbor, perhaps, to
put me forthwith in the pound. Really, it was
difficult to determine which I had most reason to
fear - dogs, alligators or men!
After midnight, however, I came to a halt.
Imagination cannot picture the dreariness of the
scene. The swamp was resonant with the
quacking of innumerable ducks! Since the
foundation of the earth, in all probability, a human
footstep had never before so far penetrated the
recesses of the swamp. It was not silent now -
silent to a degree that rendered it oppressive, - as
it was when the sun was shining in the heavens.
My midnight intrusion had awakened the feathered
tribes, which seemed to throng the morass in
hundreds of thousands, and their garrulous throats
poured forth such multitudinous sounds - there was
such a fluttering of wings - such sullen plunges in
the water all around me - that I was affrighted and
appalled. All the fowls of the air, and all
the creeping things of the earth appeared to have
assembled together in that particular place, for the
purpose of filling it with clamor and confusion.
by human dwellings - not in crowded cities alone,
are the sights and sounds of life. The wildest
places of the earth are full of them. even in
the heart of that dismal swamp, God had provided a
refuge and a dwelling place for millions of living
The moon had now risen above the trees, when I resolved
upon a new project. Thus far I had endeavored
to travel as nearly south as possible. Turning
about I proceeded in a north-west direction, my
object being to strike the Pine Woods in the
vicinity of Master Ford's. Once within
the shadow of his protection, I felt I would be
My clothes were in tatters, my hands, face, and body
covered with scratches, received from the sharp
knots of fallen trees, and in climbing over piles of
brush and floodwood. My bare foot was full of
thorns. I was besmeared with muck and mud, and
the green slime that had collected on the surface of
the dead water, in which I had been immersed to the
neck many times during the day and night. Hour
after hour, and tiresome indeed had they become, I
continued to plod along on my north-west course.
The water began to grow less deep, and the ground
more firm under my feet. At last I reached the
Pacoudrie, the same wide bayou I had swam while
"outward bound." I swam it again, and shortly
after thought I heard a cock crow, but the sound was
faint, and it might have been a mockery of the ear.
The water receded from my advancing footsteps - now
I had left the bogs behind me - now I was on dry
that gradually ascended to the plain, and I knew I
was somewhere in the "Great Pine Woods."
Just at day-break I came to an opening - a sort of
small plantation - but one I had never seen before.
In the edge of the woods I came upon two men, a
slave and his young master, engaged in catching wild
hogs. The white man I knew would demand my
pass, and not able to give him one, would take me
into possession. I was too wearied to run
again, and too desperate to be taken, and therefore
adopted a ruse that proved entirely successful.
Assuming a fierce expression, I walked directly
towards him, looking him steadily in the face.
As I approached, he moved backwards with an air of
alarm. It was plain he was much affrighted -
that he looked upon me as some infernal goblin, just
arisen from the bowels of the swamp!
"Where does William Ford live?" I
demanded, in no gentle tone.
"He lives seven miles from here," was the reply.
"Which is the way to his place?" I again
demanded, trying to look more fiercely than ever.
"Do you see those pine trees yonder?" he asked,
pointing to two, a mile distant, that rose far above
their fellows, like a couple of tall sentinels,
overlooking the broad expanse of forest.
"I see them," was the answer.
"At the feet of those pine trees," he continued, "runs
the Texas road. Turn to the left, and it will
lead you to William Ford's."
Without further parley, I hastened forward, happy as he
was, no doubt, to place the widest possible distance
between us. Striking the Texas road, I turned
to the left hand, as directed, and soon passed a
great fire, where a pile of logs were burning.
I went to it, thinking I would dry my clothes; but
the gray light of the morning was fast breaking
away, - some passing white man might observe me;
besides, the heat overpowered me with the desire of
sleep; so, lingering no longer, I continued my
travels, and finally, about eight o'clock, reached
the house of Master Ford.
The slaves were all absent from the quarters, at their
work. Stepping on to the piazza, I knocked at
the door, which was soon opened by Mistress Ford.
My appearance was so changed - I was in such a
wobegone and forlorn condition, she did not know me.
Inquiring if Master Ford was at home, that
good man made his appearance, before the
question could be answered. I told him of my
flight, and all the particulars connected with it.
He listened attentively, and when I had concluded,
spoke to me kindly and sympathetically, and taking
me to the kitchen, called John, and ordered
him to prepare me food. I had tasted nothing
since daylight the previous morning.
When John had set the meal before me, the madam
came out with a bowl of milk, and many little
delicious dainties, such as rarely please the palate
of a slave. I was hungry, and I was weary, but
neither food nor rest afforded half the pleasure as
did the blessed voices speaking kindness and
was the oil and the wine which the Good Samaritan in
the "Great Pine Woods" was ready to pour into the
wounded spirit of the slave, who came to him,
stripped of his raiment and half-dead.
They left me in the cabin, that I might rest.
Blessed be sleep! It visiteth all alike,
descending as the dews of heaven on the bond and
free. Soon it nestled to my bosom, driving
away the troubles that oppressed it, and bearing me
to that shadowy region, where I saw again the faces,
and listened to the voices of my children, who,
alas, for aught I knew in my waking hours, had
fallen into the arms of that other sleep,
from which they never would arouse.
BACK TO TABLE OF CONTENTS >