- Page 146
- The Mistress' Garden
- The Crimson and Golden Fruit
- Orange and Pomegranate Trees
- Return to Bayou Boeuf
- Master Ford's Remarks on the way
- The Meeting with Tibeats
- His Account of the Chase
- Ford censures his Brutality
- Arrival at the Plantation
- Astonishment of the Slaves on seeing me
- The anticipated Flogging
- Kentucky John
- Mr. Eldret, the Planter
- Eldret's Sam
- Trip to the "Big Cane Brake"
- The Tradition of "Sutton's Field"
- Forest Trees
- Gnats and Mosquitoes
- The Arrival of Black Women in the Big Cane
- Lumber Women
- Sudden Appearance of Tibeats
- His Provoking Treatment
- Visit to Bayou Boeuf
- The Slave Pass
- Southern Hospitality
- The Last of Eliza
- Sale to Edwin Epps
long sleep, sometime in the afternoon I awoke,
refreshed, but very sore and stiff. Sally
came in and talked with me, while John cooked
me some dinner. Sally was in great
trouble, as well as myself, one of her children
being ill, and she feared it could not survive.
Dinner over, after walking about the quarters for a
while, visiting Sally's cabin and looking at
the sick child, I strolled into the madam's garden.
Though it was a season of the year when the voices
of the birds are silent, and the trees are stripped
of their summer glories in more frigid climes, yet
the whole variety of roses were then blooming there,
the long, luxuriant vines creeping over the frames.
The crimson and golden fruit hung half hidden amidst
the younger and older blossoms of the peach, the
orange, the plum, and the pomegranate; for, in that
region of almost perpetual warmth, the leaves are
falling and the buds bursting into bloom the whole
I indulged the most grateful feelings towards Master
and Mistress Ford, and wishing in some manner
to repay their kindness, commenced trimming the
vines, and afterwards weeding out the grass from
among the orange and pomegranate trees. The
latter grows eight or ten feet high, and its fruit,
though larger, is similar in appearance to the
jelly-flower. It has a luscious flavor of the
strawberry. Oranges, peaches, plums, and most
other fruits are indigenous to the rich, warm soil
of Avoyelles; but the apple, the most common of them
all in colder latitudes, is rarely to be seen.
Mistress Ford came out presently, saying it was
praise-worthy in me, but I was not in a condition to
labor, and might rest myself at the quarters until
master should go down to Bayou Boeuf, which would
not be that day, and it might not be the next.
I said to her - to be sure, I felt bad, and was
stiff and that my foot pained me, the stubs and
thorns having so torn it; but thought such exercise
would not hurt me, and that it was a great pleasure
to work for so good a mistress. Thereupon she
returned to the great house, and for three days I
was diligent in the garden,
cleaning the walks, weeding the flower beds, and
pulling up the rank grass beneath the jessamine
vines, which the gentle and generous hand of my
protectress had taught to clamber along the walls.
The fourth morning, having become recruited and
refreshed, Master Ford ordered me to make
ready to accompany him to the bayou. There was
but one saddle horse at the opening, all the others
with the mules having been sent down to the
plantation. I said I could walk, and bidding
Sally and John good-bye, left the
opening, trotting along by the horse's side.
That little paradise in the Great Pine Woods was the
oasis in the desert, towards which my heart turned
lovingly, during many years of bondage. I went
forth from it now with regret and sorrow, not so
overwhelming, however, as if it had then been given
me to know that I should never return to it again.
Master Ford urged me to take his place
occasionally on the horse, to rest me; but I said
no, I was not tired, and it was better for me to
walk than him. He said many kind and cheering
things to me on on the way, riding slowly, in order
that I might keep pace with him. The goodness
of God was manifest, he declared, in my miraculous
escape from the swamp. As Daniel came
forth unharmed from the den of lions, and as
Jonah had been preserved in the whale's belly,
even so had I been delivered from evil by the
Almighty. He interrogated me in regard to the
various fears and emotions I had experienced during
and night, and if I had felt, at any time, a desire
to pray. I felt forsaken of the whole world, I
answered him, and was praying mentally all the
while. At such times, said he, the heart of
man turns instinctively toward his Maker. In
prosperity, and when there is nothing injure or make
him afraid, he remembers Him not, and is ready to
defy Him; but place him in the midst of dangers, cut
him off from human aid, let the grave open before
him - then it is, in the time of his tribulation,
that the scoffer and unbelieving man turns to God
for help, feeling there is no other hope, or refuge,
or safety, save in his protecting arm.
So did that benignant man speak to me of this life and
of the life hereafter; of the goodness and power of
God, and of the vanity of earthly things, as we
journeyed along the solitary road towards Bayou
When within some five miles of the plantation, we
discovered a horseman at a distance, galloping
towards us. As he came near I saw that it was
Tibeats! He looked at me a moment, but
did not address me, and turning about, rode along
side by side with Ford. I trotted
silently at their horses' heels, listing to their
conversation. Ford informed him of my
arrival in the Pine Woods three days before, of the
sad plight I was in, and of the difficulties and
dangers I had encountered.
"Well," exclaimed Tibeats, omitting his usual
oaths in the presence of Ford, "I never saw
before. I'll bet him against a hundred
dollars, he'll beat any nigger in Louisiana. I
offered John David Cheney twenty-five dollars
to catch him, dead or alive, but he outran his dogs
in a fair race. Them Cheney dogs ain't
much, after all. Dunwoodie's hounds would have
had him down before he touched the palmettoes.
Somehow the dogs got off the track, and we had to
give up the hunt. We rode the horses as far as
we could, and then kept on foot till the water was
three feet deep. The boys said he was drowned,
sure. I allow I wanted a shot at him mightily.
Ever since, I have been riding up and down the
bayou, but had'nt much ope of catching him -
thought he was dead, sartin. Oh, he's a
cuss to run - that nigger is!"
In this way Tibeats ran on, describing his
search in the swamp, the wonderful speed with which
I had fled before the hounds, and when he had
finished, Master Ford responded by saying, I
had always been a willing and faithful boy with him;
that he was sorry we had such trouble; that,
according to Platt's story, he had been
inhumanly treated, and that he, Tibeats, was
himself in fault. Using hatchets and
broad-axes upon slaves was shameful, and should not
be allowed, he remarked. "This is no way of
dealing with them, when first brought into the
country. It will have a pernicious influence,
and set them all running away. The swamps will
be full of them. A little kindness would be
far more effectual in restraining them, and
rendering them obedient, than the use of such deadly
weapons. Every planter on the bayou
should frown upon such inhumanity. It is for
the interest of all to do so. It is evident
enough, Mr. Tibeats, that you and Platt
cannot live together. You dislike him, and
would not hesitate to kill him, and knowing it, he
will run from your again through fear of his life.
Now, Tibeats, you must sell him, or hire him
out, at least. Unless you do so, I shall take
measures to get him out of your possession."
In this spirit Ford addressed him the remainder
of the distance. I opened not my mouth.
On reaching the plantation they entered the great
house, while I repaired to Eliza's cabin.
The slaves were astonished to find me there, on
returning from the field, supposing I was drowned.
That night, again, they gathered about the cabin to
listen to the story of my adventure. They took
it for granted I would be whipped, and that it would
be severe, the well-known penalty of running away
being five hundred lashes.
"Poor fellow," said Eliza, taking me by the
hand, "it would have been better for you if you had
drowned. You have a cruel master, and he will
kill you yet, I am afraid."
Lawson suggested that it might be, overseer
Chapin would be appointed to inflict the
punishment, in which case it would not be severe,
whereupon Mary, Rachel, Bristol, and others
hoped it would be Master Ford, and then it
would be no whipping at all. They all pitied
me and tried to console me, and were sad in view of
the castigation that awaited me, except Kentucky
John. There were no bounds to his
he filled the cabin with cachinnations, holding his
sides to prevent an explosion, and the cause of his
noisy mirth was the idea of my outstripping the
hounds. Somehow, he looked at the subject in a
comical light. "I know'd dey would'nt
cotch him, when he run cross de plantation. O,
de lor', did'nt Platt pick his feet right up,
tho', hey? When dem dogs got whar he was, he
was'nt dar - haw, haw, haw! O, de lor'
a' mity!" - and then Kentucky John
relapsed into another of his boisterous fits.
Early the next morning, Tibeats left the
plantation. In the course of the forenoon,
while sauntering about the gin-house, a tall,
good-looking man came to me, and inquired if I was
Tibeats' boy, that youthful appellation being
applied indiscriminately to slaves even though they
may have passed the number of three score years and
ten. I took off my hat, and answered that I
"How would you like to work for me?" he inquired.
"On, I would like to, very much," said I, inspired with
a sudden hope of getting away from Tibeats.
"You worked under Myers at Peter Tanner's,
I replied I had, adding some complimentary remarks that
Myers had made concerning me.
"Well, boy," said he, "I have hired you of your master
to work for me in the "Big Cane Brake." thirty-eight
miles from here, down on Red River."
This man was Mr. Eldret, who lived below Ford's,
on the same side of the bayou. I accompanied
him to his plantation, and in the morning started
with his slave Sam, and a wagon-load of
provisions, drawn by four mules, for the Big
Cane, Eldred and Myers having preceded us
on horseback. This Sam was a native of
Charleston, where he had a mother, brother and
sisters. He "allowed" - a common word among
both black and white - that Tibeats was a
mean man, and hoped, as I most earnestly did also,
that his master would buy me.
We proceeded down the south shore of the bayou,
crossing it at Carey's plantation; from
thence to Huff Power, passing which, we came
upon the Bayou Rouge road, which runs towards Red
River. After passing through Bayou Rouge
Swamp, and just at sunset, turning from the highway,
we struck off into the "Big Cane Brake." We
followed an unbeaten track, scarcely wide enough to
admit the wagon. The cane, such as are used
for fishing-rods, were as thick as they could stand.
A person could not be seen through them the distance
of a rod. The paths of wild beast run through
them in various directions - the bear and the
American tiger abounding in these brakes, and
wherever there is a basin of stagnant water, it is
full of alligators.
We kept on our lonely course though the "Big Cane"
several miles, when we entered a clearing, known as
"Sutton's Field." Many years before, a
man by the name of Sutton had penetrated the
wilderness of cane to this solitary place.
Tradition has it,
that he fled thither, a fugitive, not from service,
but from justice. Here he lived alone -
recluse and hermit of the swamp - with his own hands
planting the seed and gathering in the harvest.
One day a band of Indians stole upon his solitude,
and after a bloody battle, overpowered and massacred
him. For miles the country round, in the
slaves' quarters, and on the plazzas of
"great houses," where white children listen to
superstitious tales, the story goes, that that spot
in the heart of the "Big Cane," is a haunted place.
For more than a quarter of a century, human voices
had rarely, if ever, disturbed the silence of the
clearing. Rank and noxious weeds had
overspread the once cultivated field - serpents
sunned themselves on the doorway of the crumbling
cabin. It was indeed a dreary picture of
Passing "Sutton's Field" we followed a new-cut
road two miles farther, which brought us to its
termination. We had now reached the wild lands
of Mr. Eldret, where he contemplated clearing
up an extensive plantation. We went to work
next morning with our cane-knives, and cleared a
sufficient space to allow the erection of two cabins
- one for Myers and Eldret, the other
for Sam, myself, and the slaves that were to
join us. We were now in the midst of trees to
join us. We were now in the midst of trees of
enormous growth, whose wide-spreading branches
almost shut out the light of the sun, while the
space between the trunks was an impervious mass of
cane, with here and there an occasional palmetto.
The bay and the sycamore, the oak and the cypress,
reach a growth unparalleled, in those fertile
lowlands bordering the Red River. From every
tree, moreover, hang long, large masses of moss,
presenting to the eye unaccustomed to them, a
striking and singular appearance. This moss,
in large quantities, is sent north, and there used
for manufacturing purposes.
We cut down oaks, split them into rails, and with these
erected temporary cabins. We covered the roofs with
the broad palmetto leaf, an excellent substitute for
shingles, as long as they last.
The greatest annoyance I met with here were small
flies, gnats and mosquitoes. They swarmed the
air. They penetrated the porches of the ear,
the nose, the eyes, the mouth. They sucked
themselves beneath the skin. It was impossible
to brush or beat them off. It seemed, indeed,
as if they would devour us - carry us away
piecemeal, in their small tormenting mouths.
A lonelier spot, or one more disagreeable, than the
centre of the "Big Cane Brake," it would be
difficult to conceive; yet to me it was a paradise,
in comparison with any other place in the company of
Master Tibeats. I labored hard, an
oft-times was weary and fatigued, yet I could lie
down at night in peace, and arise in the morning
In the course of a fortnight, four black girls came
down from Eldret's plantation - Charlotte,
Fanny, Cresia and Nelly. They were
all large and stout. Axes were put into their
hands, and they were sent.
out with Sam and myself to cut trees.
They were excellent choppers, the largest oak or
sycamore standing but a brief season before their
heavy and well-directed blows. At piling logs,
they were equal to any man. There are
lumberwomen as well as lumbermen in the forests of
the South. In fact, in the region of the Bayou
Boeuf they perform their share of all the labor
required on the plantation. They plough, drag,
drive team, clear wild lands, work on the highway,
and so forth. Some planters, owning large
cotton and sugar plantations, have none other than
the labor of slave women. Such an one is
Jim Burns, who lives on the north shore of the
bayou, opposite the plantation of John
On our arrival in the brake, Eldret promised me, if
I worked well, I might go up to visit my friends at
Ford's in four weeks. On Saturday night
of the fifth week, I reminded him of his promise,
when he told me I had done so well, that I might go.
I had set my heart upon it, and Eldret's
announcement thrilled me with pleasure. I was
to return in time to commence the labors of the day
on Tuesday morning.
While indulging the pleasant anticipation of so soon
meeting my old friends again, suddenly the hateful
form of Tibeats appeared among us. He
inquired how Myers and Platt got along
together, and was told, very well, and that Platt
was going up to Ford's plantation in the
morning on a visit.
sneered Tibeats; "it isn't worth while - the nigger will get
unsteady. He can't go."
But Eldret insisted I had worked faithfully -
that he had given me his promise,and that, under the
circumstances, I ought no to be disappointed.
They then, it being about dark, entered one cabin
and I the other. I could not give up the idea
of going; it was a sore disappointment. Before
morning I resolved, if Eldret made no
objection, to leave at all hazards. At
daylight I was at his door, with my blanket rolled
up into a bundle, and hanging on a stick over my
shoulder, waiting for a pass. Tibeats
came out presently in one of his disagreeable moods,
washed his face, and going to a stump near by, sat
down upon it, apparently busily thinking with
himself. After standing there a long time,
impelled by a sudden impulse of impatience, I
"Are you going without a pass?" he cried out to
"Yes, master, I thought I would," I answered
"How do you think you'll get there?" demanded he.
"Don't know," was all the reply I made him.
"You'd be taken and sent to jail, where you ought to be
before you got half-way there," he added, passing
into the cabin as he said it. He came out soon
with the pass in his hand, and calling me a "d--d
nigger that deserved a hundred lashes," threw it on
the ground. I picked it up, and hurried away
A slave caught off his master's plantation without a
pass, may be seized and whipped by any white man.
whom he meets. The one I now received was
dated, and read as follows:
"Platt has permission to go to Ford's
plantation, on Bayou Boeuf, and return by Tuesday
JOHN M. TIBEATS."
This is the usual form. On the way, a great
many demanded it, read it, and passed on.
Those having the air and appearance of gentlemen,
whose dress indicated the possession of wealth,
frequently took no notice of me whatever; but a
shabby fellow, an unmistakable loafer, never failed
to hail me, and to scrutinize and examine me in the
most thorough manner. Catching runaways is
sometimes a money-making business. If, after
advertising, no owner appears, they may be sold to
the highest bidder; and certain fees are allowed the
finder for his services, at all events, even if
reclaimed. "A man white," therefore, - a name
applied to the species loafer - considers it a
god-send to meet an unknown negro without a pass.
There are no inns along the highways in that portion of
the State where I sojourned. I was wholly
destitute of money, neither did I carry any
provisions, on my journey from the Big Cane to Bayou
Boeuf; nevertheless, with his pass in his hand, a
slave need never suffer from hunger or from thirst.
It is only necessary to present it to the master or
overseer of a plantation, and state his wants, when
he will be sent round to the kitchen and provided
with food or shelter, as the case may require.
The traveler stops at
any house and calls for a meal with as much freedom
as if it was a public tavern. It is the
general custom of the country. Whenever their
faults may be, it is certain the inhabitants along
Red River, and around the bayous in the interior of
Louisiana are not wanting in hospitality.
I arrived at Ford's plantation towards the close
of the afternoon, passing the evening in Eliza's
cabin, with Lawson, Rachel, and others of my
acquaintance. When we left Washington Eliza's
form was round and plump. She stood erect, and
in her silks and jewels, presented a picture of
graceful strength and elegance. Now she was
but a thin shadow of her former self. Her face
had become ghastly haggard, and the once straight
and active form was bowed down, as if bearing the
weight of a hundred years. Crouching on her
cabin floor, and clad in the coarse garments of a
slave, old Elisha Berry would not have
recognized the mother of his child. I never
saw her afterwards. Having become useless in
the cotton-field, she was bartered for a trifle, to
some man residing in the vicinity of Peter
Compton's. Grief had gnawed remorselessly
at her heart, until her strength was gone; and for
that, her last master, it is said, lashed and abused
her most unmercifully.. But he could not whip
back the departed vigor of her youth, nor straighten
up that bended body to its full height, such as it
was when her children were around her, and the light
of freedom was shining on her path.
I learned the particulars relative to her departure
from this world, from some of Compton's
slaves, who had come over Red River to the bayou, to
assist young Madam Tanner during the "busy
season." She became at length, they said,
utterly helpless, for several weeks lying on the
ground floor in a dilapidated cabin, dependent upon
the mercy of her fellow thralls for an occasional
drop of water, and a morsel of food. Her
master did not "knock her on the head," as is
sometimes done to put a suffering animal out of
misery, but left her unprovided for, and
unprotected, to linger through a life of pain and
wretchedness to its natural close. When the
hands returned from the field one night they found
her dead! During the day, the Angle of the
Lord, who moveth invisibly over all the earth,
gathering in his harvest of departing souls, had
silently entered the cabin of the dying woman, and
taken her from thence. She was free at
Next day, rolling up my blanket, I started on my return
to the Big Cane. After traveling five miles,
at a place called Huff Power, the ever-present
Tibeats met me in the road. He inquired
why I was going back so soon, and when informed I
was anxious to return by the time I was directed, he
said I need go no farther than the next plantation,
as he had that day sold me to Edwin Epps.
We walked down into the yard, where we met the
latter gentleman, who examined me, and asked me the
usual questions propounded by purchasers.
Having been duly delivered over, I was ordered to
the quarters, and at the same
time directed to make a hoe and axe handle for
I was now no longer the property of Tibeats -
his dog, his brute, dreading his wrath and cruelty
day and night; and whoever or whatever my new master
might prove to be, I could not, certainly, regret
the change. So it was good news when the sale
was announced, and with a sigh of relief I sat down
for the first time in my new abode.
Tibeats soon after disappeared from that section
of the country. Once afterwards, and only
once, I caught a glimpse of him. It was many
miles from Bayou Boeuf. He was seated in the
doorway of a log groggery. I was passing, in a
drove of slaves, through St. Mary's parish.
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