Isaac T. Hopper
L. Maria Child
Part 1 out of 6
ISAAC T. HOPPER
A True Life
L. MARIA CHILD
[Illustration: Isaac T. Hopper]
Thine was a soul with sympathy imbued,
Broad as the earth, and as the heavens sublime;
Thy godlike object, steadfastly pursued,
To save thy race from misery and crime.
HANNAH ATTMORE HOPPER,
WIDOW OF THE LATE
ISAAC T. HOPPER,
THIS VOLUME IS RESPECTFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED, BY HER
GRATEFUL AND ATTACHED FRIEND,
L. MARIA CHILD.
This biography differs from most works of the kind, in embracing
fragments of so many lives. Friend Hopper lived almost entirely for
others; and it is a striking illustration of the fact, that I have found
it impossible to write his biography without having it consist largely
of the adventures of other people.
I have not recounted his many good deeds for the mere purpose of
eulogizing an honored friend. I have taken pleasure in preserving them
in this form, because I cherish a hope that they may fall like good seed
into many hearts, and bring forth future harvests in the great field of
Most of the strictly personal anecdotes fell from his lips in familiar
and playful conversation with his sister, or his grand-children, or his
intimate friends, and I noted them down at the time, without his
knowledge. In this way I caught them in a much more fresh and natural
form, than I could have done if he had been conscious of the process.
The narratives and anecdotes of fugitive slaves, which form such a
prominent portion of the book, were originally written by Friend Hopper
himself, and published in newspapers, under the title of "Tales of
Oppression." I have re-modelled them all; partly because I wished to
present them in a more concise form, and partly because the principal
actor could be spoken of more freely by a third person, than he could
speak of himself. Moreover, he had a more dramatic way of _telling_ a
story than he had of _writing_ it; and I have tried to embody his
unwritten style as nearly as I could remember it. Where-ever incidents
or expressions have been added to the published narratives, I have done
it from recollection.
The facts, which were continually occurring within Friend Hopper's
personal knowledge, corroborate the pictures of slavery drawn by Mrs.
Stowe. Her descriptions are no more fictitious, than the narratives
written by Friend Hopper. She has taken living characters and facts of
every-day occurrence, and combined them in a connected story, radiant
with the light of genius, and warm with the glow of feeling. But is a
landscape any the less real, because there is sunshine on it, to bring
out every tint, and make every dew-drop sparkle?
Who that reads the account here given of Daniel Benson, and William
Anderson, can doubt that slaves are capable of as high moral excellence,
as has ever been ascribed to them in any work of fiction? Who that reads
Zeke, and the Quick Witted Slave, can pronounce them a stupid race,
unfit for freedom? Who that reads the adventures of the Slave Mother,
and of poor Manuel, a perpetual mourner for his enslaved children, can
say that the bonds of nature are less strong with them, than with their
more fortunate white brethren? Who can question the horrible tyranny
under which they suffer, after reading The Tender Mercies of a
Slaveholder, and the suicide of Romaine?
Friend Hopper labored zealously for many, many years; and thousands have
applied their best energies of head and heart to the same great work;
yet the slave-power in this country is as strong as ever--nay, stronger.
Its car rolls on in triumph, and priests and politicians outdo each
other in zeal to draw it along, over its prostrate victims. But, lo!
from under its crushing wheels, up rises the bleeding spectre of Uncle
Tom, and all the world turns to look at him! Verily, the slave-power is
strong; but God and truth are stronger.
Allusions to his Parents.
Anecdotes of Childhood.
Allusions to Sarah his Wife.
Allusions to Joseph Whitall.
Anecdotes of Apprenticeship.
His Religious Experience.
Tales of Oppression and Anecdotes of Colored People.
Anecdotes of Prisoners and of Vicious Characters in Philadelphia.
His Love of Fun.
Allusions to his Private Life and Domestic Character.
Anecdotes connected with Quakers.
Schism in the Society of Friends.
Anecdotes connected with his Visit to England and Ireland.
Anti-Slavery Experiences in New-York.
His Attachment to the Principles and Usages of Friends.
Disowned by the Society of Friends in New-York.
His Connection with the Prison Association of New-York.
His Illness, Death, and Funeral.
Anecdote of his Grandmother's Courage.
His Childish Roguery.
His Contest with British Soldiers.
His Violent Temper.
Conscientiousness in Boyhood.
Tricks at School.
Going to Mill.
Going to Market.
Anecdote of General Washington.
Pelting the Swallows.
Anecdote of the Squirrel and her young ones.
The Pet Squirrel.
The Pet Crow.
Encounter with a Black Snake.
Old Mingo the African.
Boyish Love for Sarah Tatum.
His Mother's parting advice when he leaves Home.
Mischievous Trick at the Cider Barrel.
He nearly harpoons his Uncle.
He nearly kills a Fellow Apprentice.
Adventure with a young Woman.
His first Slave Case.
His Youthful Love for Sarah Tatum.
His early Religious Experience.
Letter from Joseph Whitall.
He marries Sarah Tatum.
His interest in Colored People.
A Child Kidnapped.
The Slave Hunter.
Pierce Butler's Ben.
The Quick-Witted Slave.
The United States Bond.
The tender mercies of a Slaveholder.
The Foreign Slave.
The New-Jersey Slave.
A Slave Hunter Defeated.
The Slave Mother.
Colonel Ridgeley's Slave.
The Disguised Slaveholder.
The Slave of Dr. Rich.
His Knowledge of Law.
Mutual Confidence between him and the Colored People.
Mercy to Kidnappers.
Richard Allen, the Colored Bishop.
The Colored Guests at his Table.
Kane the Colored Man fined for Blasphemy.
The Musical Boy.
The Uncomplimentary Invitation.
Theft from Necessity.
The Umbrella Girl.
The two young Offenders.
His courageous intercourse with violent Prisoners.
Not thoroughly Baptized.
The puzzled Dutchman.
Hint to an Untidy Neighbor.
Resemblance to Napoleon.
The Dress, Manners, and Character of Sarah, his wife.
The Devil's Lane.
Jacob Lindley's Anecdotes.
Singular Clairvoyance of Arthur Howell, a Quaker Preacher.
Prophetic Presentiment of his Mother.
The aged Bondman emancipated.
A Presentiment of Treachery.
The Quaker who purchased a Stolen Horse.
Elias Hicks and the Schism in the Society of Friends.
Death of his Wife.
Death of his son Isaac.
Journey to Maryland, and Testimony against Slavery.
His marriage with Hannah Attmore.
Removes to New-York.
Matthew Carey's facetious Letter of Introduction.
Anecdotes of his visit to England and Ireland.
Anecdote of the Diseased Horse.
Visit to William Penn's Grave.
The Storm at Sea. Profane Language rebuked.
The Clergyman and his Books.
His Book-store in New-York.
The Mob in Pearl-Street.
Judge Chinn's Slave.
One of his sons mobbed at the South.
His Letter to the Mayor of Savannah.
His Phrenological Character.
His Unconsciousness of Distinctions in Society.
The Darg Case.
Letter from Dr. Moore.
Mrs. Burke's Slave.
Becomes Agent in the Anti-Slavery Office.
His youthful appearance.
Anecdotes showing his love of Fun.
His sense of Justice.
His Remarkable Memory.
His Costume and Personal Habits.
His Adherence to Quaker Usages.
Rights of Women.
Expressions of gratitude from Colored People.
His fund of Anecdotes and his Public Speaking.
Remarks of Judge Edmonds thereon.
His separation from the Society of Friends in New-York.
Visit to his Birth-place.
Visit from his Sister Sarah.
Visit to Boston.
Visit to Bucks County.
Prison Association in New-York.
Correspondence with Governor Young.
Preaching in Sing Sing Chapel.
Anecdotes of Dr. William Rogers.
Interesting Cases of Reformed Convicts.
Letter from Dr. Walter Channing.
Anecdotes of William Savery and James Lindley at the South.
Sonnet by William L. Garrison.
His sympathy with Colored People turned out of the Cars.
A Methodist Preacher from the South.
His Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Law.
His Domestic Character.
He attracts Children.
His Garden described in a Letter to L.M. Child.
Likenesses of him.
Letter concerning Joseph Whitall.
Letters concerning Sarah his wife.
Letter to his Daughter on his 80th Birth-day.
Allusions to Hannah, his wife.
Letter resigning the agency of the Prison Association.
His last Illness.
Letter from a Reformed Convict.
Resolutions passed by the Prison Association.
Resolutions passed by the Anti-Slavery Society.
Public Notices and Private Letters of Condolence.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched
When the ear heard me, then it blessed me: and when the eye saw me, it
gave witness to me:
Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him
that had none to help him.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused
the widow's heart to sing for joy. Job xxix. 10, 11, 12, 13.
LIFE OF ISAAC T. HOPPER
Isaac Tatem Hopper was born in Deptford Township, near Woodbury, West
New-Jersey, in the year 1771, on the third day of December, which
Quakers call the Twelfth Month. His grandfather belonged to that
denomination of Christians, but forfeited membership in the Society by
choosing a wife from another sect. His son Levi, the father of Isaac,
always attended their meetings, but never became a member.
A family of rigid Presbyterians, by the name of Tatem, resided in the
neighborhood. While their house was being built, they took shelter for a
few days, in a meeting-house that was little used, and dug a pit for a
temporary cellar, according to the custom of new settlers in the forest.
The country at that time was much infested with marauders; but Mrs.
Tatem was an Amazon in physical strength and courage. One night, when
her husband was absent, and she was alone in the depths of the woods
with three small children, she heard a noise, and looking out saw a
band of thieves stealing provisions from the cellar. They entered the
meeting-house soon after, and she had the presence of mind to call out,
"Hallo, Jack! Call Joe, and Harry, and Jim! Here's somebody coming." The
robbers, supposing she had a number of stout defenders at hand, thought
it prudent to escape as quickly as possible. The next day, her husband
being still absent, she resolved to move into the unfinished house, for
greater security. The door had neither lock nor latch, but she contrived
to fasten it in some fashion. At midnight, three men came and tried to
force it open; but every time they partially succeeded, she struck at
them with a broad axe. This mode of defence was kept up so vigorously,
that at last they were compelled to retreat.
She had a daughter, who was often at play with neighbor Hopper's
children; and when Levi was quite a small boy, it used to be said
playfully that little Rachel Tatem would be his wife, and they would
live together up by the great white oak; a remarkable tree at some
distance from the homestead. The children grew up much attached to each
other, and when Levi was twenty-two years old, the prophecy was
The young man had only his own strong hands and five or six hundred
acres of wild woodland. He grubbed up the trees and underbrush near the
big white oak, removed his father's hen-house to the cleared spot,
fitted it up comfortably for a temporary dwelling, and dug a cellar in
the declivity of a hill near by. To this humble abode he conducted his
young bride, and there his two first children were born. The second was
named Isaac Tatem Hopper, and is the subject of this memoir.
Rachel inherited her mother's energy and courage, and having married a
diligent and prudent man, their worldly circumstances gradually
improved, though their family rapidly increased, and they had nothing
but land and labor to rely upon. When Isaac was one year and a half old,
the family removed to a new log-house with three rooms on a floor,
neatly whitewashed. To these the bridal hen-house was appended for a
Isaac was early remarked as a very precocious child. He was always
peeping into everything, and inquiring about everything. He was only
eighteen months old, when the new log-house was built; but when he saw
them laying the foundation, his busy little mind began to query whether
the grass would grow under it; and straightway he ran to see whether
grass grew under the floor of the hen-house where he was born.
He was put to work on the farm as soon as he could handle a hoe; but
though he labored hard, he had plenty of time and strength left for all
manner of roguery. While he was a small fellow in petticoats, he ran
into a duck-pond to explore its depth. His mother pulled him out, and
said, "Isaac, if you ever go there again, I will make you come out
faster than you went in." He thought to himself, "Now I will prove
mother to be in the wrong; for I will go in as fast as I can, and surely
I can't come out any faster." So into the pond he went, as soon as the
words were out of her mouth.
A girl by the name of Polly assisted about the housework. She was
considered one of the family, and always ate at the same table,
according to the kindly custom of those primitive times. She always
called her mistress "Mammy," and served her until the day of her death;
a period of forty years. The children were much attached to this
faithful domestic; but nevertheless, Isaac could not forbear playing
tricks upon her whenever he had opportunity.--When he was five or six
years old, he went out one night to see her milk the cow. He had
observed that the animal kicked upon slight provocation; and when the
pail was nearly full, he broke a switch from a tree near by, slipped
round to the other side of the cow, and tickled her bag. She instantly
raised her heels, and over went Polly, milk-pail, stool, and all. Isaac
ran into the house, laughing with all his might, to tell how the cow had
kicked over Polly and the pail of milk. His mother went out immediately
to ascertain whether the girl was seriously injured.--"Oh, mammy, that
little rogue tickled the cow, and made her do it," exclaimed Polly.
Whereupon, Isaac had a spanking, and was sent to bed without his supper.
But so great was his love of fun, that as he lay there, wakeful and
hungry, he shouted with laughter all alone by himself, to think how
droll Polly looked when she rolled over with the pail of milk after her.
When he was seven or eight years old, his uncle's wife came one day to
the house on horseback. She was a fat, clumsy woman, and got on and off
her horse with difficulty. Isaac knew that all the family were absent;
but when he saw her come ambling along the road, he took a freak not to
tell her of it. He let down the bars for her; she rode up to the
horse-block with which every farm-house was then furnished, rolled off
her horse, and went into the house. She then discovered, for the first
time, that there was no one at home. After resting awhile, she mounted
to depart. But Isaac, as full of mischief as Puck, put the bars up, so
that she could not ride out. In vain she coaxed, scolded, and
threatened. Finding it was all to no purpose, she rode up to the block
and rolled off from her horse again.--Isaac, having the fear of her whip
before his eyes, ran and hid himself. She let down the bars for herself,
but before she could remount, the mischievous urchin had put the bars
up again and run away.--This was repeated several times; and the
exasperated visitor could never succeed in catching her tormentor. His
parents came home in the midst of the frolic, and he had a sound
whipping. He had calculated upon this result all the time, and the
uneasy feeling had done much to mar his sport; but on the whole, he
concluded such rare fun was well worth a flogging.
The boys at school were apt to neglect their lessons while they were
munching apples. In order to break up this disorderly habit, the master
made it a rule to take away every apple found upon them.--He placed such
forfeited articles upon his desk, with the agreement that any boy might
have them, who could succeed in abstracting them without being observed
by him. One day, when a large rosy-cheeked apple stood temptingly on the
desk, Isaac stepped up to have his pen mended. He stood very demurely at
first, but soon began to gaze earnestly out of the window, behind the
desk. The master inquired what he was looking at. He replied, "I am
watching a flock of ducks trying to swim on the ice. How queerly they
waddle and slide about!" "Ducks swim on ice!" exclaimed the
schoolmaster; and he turned to observe such an unusual spectacle. It was
only for an instant; but the apple meanwhile was transferred to the
pocket of his cunning pupil. He smiled as he gave him his pen, and
said, "Ah, you rogue, you are always full of mischief!"
The teacher was accustomed to cheer the monotony of his labors by a race
with the boys during play hours. There was a fine sloping lawn in front
of the school-house, terminating in a brook fringed with willows. The
declivity gave an impetus to the runners, and as they came among the
trees, their heads swiftly parted the long branches. Isaac tied a
brick-bat to one of the pendant boughs, and then invited the master to
run with him. He accepted the invitation, and got the start in the race.
As he darted through the trees, the brick merely grazed his hair. If it
had hit him, it might have cost him his life; though his mischievous
pupil had not reflected upon the possibility of such a result.
There was a bridge across the brook consisting of a single rail. One
day, Isaac sawed this nearly in two; and while the master was at play
with the boys, he took the opportunity to say something very
impertinent, for which he knew he should be chased. He ran toward the
brook, crossed the rail in safety, and instantly turned it over, so that
his pursuer would step upon it when the cut side was downward. It
immediately snapped under his pressure, and precipitated him into the
stream, while the young rogue stood by almost killing himself with
laughter. But this joke also came very near having a melancholy
termination; for the master was floated down several rods into deep
water, and with difficulty saved himself from drowning.
There was a creek not far from his father's house, where it was
customary to load sloops with wood. Upon one of these occasions, he
persuaded a party of boys to pry up a pile of wood and tip it into a
sloop, in a confused heap. Of course, it must all be taken out and
reloaded. When he saw how much labor this foolish trick had caused, he
felt some compunction; but the next temptation found the spirit of
mischief too strong to be resisted.
Coming home from his uncle's one evening, he stopped to amuse himself
with taking a gate off its hinges. When an old Quaker came out to see
who was meddling with his gate, Isaac fired a gun over his head, and
made him run into the house, as if an evil spirit were after him.
It was his delight to tie the boughs of trees together in narrow paths,
that people travelling in the dark, might hit their heads against them;
and to lay stones in the ruts of the road, when he knew that farmers
were going to market with eggs, in the darkness of morning twilight. If
any mischief was done for miles round, it was sure to be attributed to
Isaac Hopper. There was no malice in his fun; but he had such
superabounding life within him, that it _would_ overflow, even when he
knew that he must suffer for it. His boyish activity, strength, and
agility were proverbial. Long after he left his native village, the
neighbors used to tell with what astonishing rapidity he would descend
high trees, head foremost, clinging to the trunk with his feet.
The fearlessness and firmness of character, which he inherited from both
father and mother, manifested itself in many ways. He had a lamb, whose
horns were crooked, and had a tendency to turn in. His father had given
it to him for his own, on condition that he should keep the horns
carefully filed, so that they should not hurt the animal. He had a small
file on purpose, and took such excellent care of his pet, that it soon
became very much attached to him, and trotted about after him like a
dog. When he was about five or six years old, British soldiers came into
the neighborhood to seize provisions for the army, according to their
custom during our revolutionary war. They tied the feet of the tame
lamb, and threw it into the cart with other sheep and lambs. Isaac came
up to them in season to witness this operation, and his heart swelled
with indignation. He sprang into the cart, exclaiming, "That's _my_
lamb, and you shan't have it!" The men tried to push him aside; but he
pulled out a rusty jack-knife, which he had bought of a pedlar for
two-pence, and cut the rope that bound the poor lamb. A British officer
rode up, and seeing a little boy struggling so resolutely with the
soldiers, he inquired what was the matter. "They've stolen my lamb!"
exclaimed Isaac; "and they shan't have it. It's _my_ lamb!"
"_Is_ it your lamb, my brave little fellow?" said the officer. "Well,
they shan't have it. You'll make a fine soldier one of these days."
So Isaac lifted his lamb from the cart, and trudged off victorious. He
had always been a whig; and after this adventure, he became more decided
than ever in his politics. He often used to boast that he would rather
have a paper continental dollar, than a golden English guinea. The
family amused themselves by exciting his zeal, and Polly made him
believe he was such a famous whig, that the British would certainly
carry him off to prison. He generally thought he was fully capable of
defending himself; but when he saw four soldiers approaching the house
one day, he concluded the force was rather too strong for him, and
hastened to hide himself in the woods.
His temper partook of the general strength and vehemence of his
character. Having put a small quantity of gunpowder on the stove of the
school-house, it exploded, and did some injury to the master. One of the
boys, who was afraid of being suspected of the mischief, in order to
screen himself, cried out, "Isaac Hopper did it!"--and Isaac was
punished accordingly. Going home from school, he seized the informer as
they were passing through a wood, tied him up to a tree, and gave him a
tremendous thrashing. The boy threatened to tell of it; but he assured
him that he would certainly kill him if he did; so he never ventured to
In general, his conscience reproved him as soon as he had done anything
wrong, and he hastened to make atonement. A poor boy, who attended the
same school, usually brought a very scanty dinner. One day, the spirit
of mischief led Isaac to spoil the poor child's provisions by filling
his little pail with sand. When the boy opened it, all eagerness to eat
his dinner, the tears came into his eyes; for he was very hungry. This
touched Isaac's heart instantly. "Oh, never mind, Billy," said he. "I
did it for fun; but I'm sorry I did it.. Come, you shall have half of my
dinner." It proved a lucky joke for Billy; for from that day henceforth,
Isaac always helped him plentifully from his own stock of provisions.
Isaac and his elder brother were accustomed to set traps in the woods to
catch partridges. One day, when he was about six years old, he went to
look at the traps early in the morning, and finding his empty, he took a
plump partridge from his brother's trap, put it in his own, and carried
it home as his. When his brother examined the traps, he said he was sure
_he_ caught the bird, because there were feathers sticking to his trap;
but Isaac maintained that there were feathers sticking to his also.
After he went to bed, his conscience scorched him for what he had done.
As soon as he rose in the morning, he went to his mother and said, "What
shall I do? I have told a lie, and I feel dreadfully about it. That
_was_ Sam's partridge. I said I took it from my trap; and so I did; but
I put it in there first."
"My son, it is a wicked thing to tell a lie," replied his mother. "You
must go to Sam and confess, and give him the bird."
Accordingly, he went to his brother, and said, "Sam, here's your
partridge. I did take it out of my trap; but I put it in there first."
His brother gave him a talking, and then forgave him.
Being a very bright, manly boy, he was intrusted to carry grain several
miles to mill, when he was only eight years old. On one of these
occasions, he arrived just as another boy, who preceded him, had
alighted to open the gate. "Just let me drive in before you shut it,"
said Isaac, "and then I shall have no need to get down from my wagon."
The boy patiently held the gate for him to pass through; but, Isaac,
without stopping to thank him, whipped up his horse, arrived at the mill
post haste, and claimed the right to be first served, because he was the
first comer. When the other boy found he was compelled to wait, he
looked very much dissatisfied, but said nothing. Isaac chuckled over
his victory at first, but his natural sense of justice soon suggested
better thoughts. He asked himself whether he had done right thus to take
advantage of that obliging boy? The longer he reflected upon it, the
more uncomfortable he felt. At last, he went up to the stranger and said
frankly, "I did wrong to drive up to the mill so fast, and get my corn
ground, when you were the one who arrived first; especially as you were
so obliging as to hold the gate open for me to pass through. I was
thinking of nothing but fun when I did it. Here's sixpence to make up
for it." The boy was well pleased with the amend thus honorably offered,
and they parted right good friends.
At nine years old, he began to drive a wagon to Philadelphia, to sell
vegetables and other articles from his father's farm; which he did very
satisfactorily, with the assistance of a neighbor, who occupied the next
stall in the market. According to the fashion of the times, he wore a
broad-brimmed hat, and small-clothes with long stockings. Being
something of a dandy, he prided himself upon having his shoes very
clean, and his white dimity small clothes without spot or blemish. He
caught rabbits, and sold them, till he obtained money enough to purchase
brass buckles for his knees, and for the straps of his shoes. The first
time he made his appearance in the city with this new finery, he felt
his ambition concerning personal decoration completely satisfied. The
neatness of his dress, and his manly way of proceeding, attracted
attention, and induced his customers to call him "THE LITTLE GOVERNOR."
For several years, he was universally known in the market by that title.
Fortunately, his father had no wish to obtain undue advantage in the
sale of his produce; for had it been otherwise, his straight-forward
little son would have proved a poor agent in transacting his affairs.
One day, when a citizen inquired the price of a pair of chickens, he
answered, with the utmost simplicity, "My father told me to sell them
for fifty cents if I could; and if not, to take forty."
"Well done, my honest little fellow!" said the gentleman, smiling, "I
will give you whatever is the current price. I shall look out for you in
the market; and whenever I see you, I shall always try to trade with
you." And he kept his word.
When quite a small boy, he was sent some distance of an errand, and
arrived just as the family were about to sit down to supper. There were
several pies on the table, and they invited him to partake. The long
walk had whetted his appetite, and the pies looked exceedingly tempting;
but the shyness of childhood led him to say, "No, I thank you." When he
had delivered his message, he lingered, and lingered, hoping they would
ask him again. But the family were Quakers, and they understood yea to
mean yea, and nay to mean nay. They would have considered it a mere
worldly compliment to repeat the invitation; so they were silent. Isaac
started for home, much repenting of his bashfulness, and went nearly
half of the way revolving the subject in his mind. He then walked back
to the house, marched boldly into the supper-room, and said, "I told a
lie when I was here. I did want a piece of pie; but I thought to be sure
you would ask me again." This explicit avowal made them all smile, and
he was served with as much pie as he wished to eat.
The steadfastness of his whig principles led him to take a lively
interest in anecdotes concerning revolutionary heroes. His mother had a
brother in Philadelphia, who lived in a house formerly occupied by
William Penn, at the corner of Second Street and Norris Alley. This
uncle frequently cut and made garments for General Washington, Benjamin
Franklin, and other distinguished men. Nothing pleased Isaac better than
a visit to this city relative; and when there, his boyish mind was much
occupied with watching for the famous men, of whom he had heard so much
talk. Once, when General Washington came there to order some garments,
he followed him a long distance from the shop. The General had observed
his wonder and veneration, and was amused by it. Coming to a corner of
the street, he turned round suddenly, touched his hat, and made a very
low bow. This playful condescension so completely confused his juvenile
admirer, that he stood blushing and bewildered for an instant, then
walked hastily away, without remembering to return the salutation. The
tenderness of spirit often manifested by him, was very remarkable in
such a resolute and mischievous boy. There was an old unoccupied barn in
the neighborhood, a favorite resort of swallows in the Spring-time. When
he was about ten years old, he invited a number of boys to meet him the
next Sunday morning, to go and pelt the swallows. They set off on this
expedition with anticipations of a fine frolic; but before they had gone
far, Isaac began to feel a strong conviction that he was doing wrong. He
told his companions he thought it was very cruel sport to torment and
kill poor little innocent birds; especially as they might destroy
mothers, and then the little ones would be left to starve. There was a
Quaker meeting-house about a mile and a half distant, and he proposed
that they should all go there, and leave the swallows in peace. But the
boys only laughed at him, and ran off shouting, "Come on! Come on!" He
looked after them sorrowfully for some minutes, reproaching himself for
the suffering he had caused the poor birds. He then walked off to
meeting alone; and his faithfulness to the light within him was followed
by a sweet peacefulness and serenity of soul. The impression made by
this incident, and the state of mind he enjoyed while in meeting, was
one of the earliest influences that drew him into the Society of
Friends.--When he returned home, he heard that one of the boys had
broken his arm while stoning the swallows, and had been writhing with
pain, while he had been enjoying the consolations of an approving
At an early age, he was noted for being a sure shot, with bow and arrow,
or with gun. A pair of king-birds built in his father's orchard, and it
was desirable to get rid of them, because they destroy honey-bees. Isaac
watched for an opportunity, and one day when the birds flew away in
quest of food for their young, he transfixed them both at once with his
arrow. At first, he was much delighted with this exploit; but his
compassionate heart soon became troubled about the orphan little ones,
whom he pictured to himself as anxiously expecting the parents that
would never return to feed them again. This feeling gained such strength
within him, that he early relinquished the practice of shooting, though
he found keen excitement in the pursuit, and was not a little proud of
Once, when he had entrapped a pair of partridges, he put them in a box,
intending to keep them there. But he soon began to query with himself
whether creatures accustomed to fly must not necessarily be very
miserable shut up in such a limited space. He accordingly opened the
door. One of the partridges immediately walked out, but soon returned to
prison to invite his less ventursome mate. The box was removed a few
days after, but the birds remained about the garden for months, often
coming to the door-step to pick up crumbs that were thrown to them. When
the mating-season returned the next year, they retired to the woods.
From earliest childhood he evinced great fondness for animals, and
watched with lively interest all the little creatures of the woods and
fields. He was familiar with all their haunts, and they gave names to
the localities of his neighborhood. There was Turkey Causeway, where
wild turkies abounded; and Rabbit Swamp, where troops of timid little
rabbits had their hiding places; and Squirrel Grove, where many
squirrels laid in their harvest of acorns for the winter; and Panther
Bridge, where his grandfather had killed a panther.
Once, when his father and the workmen had been cutting down a quantity
of timber, Isaac discovered a squirrel's nest in a hole of one of the
trees that had fallen. It contained four new-born little ones, their
eyes not yet opened. He was greatly tempted to carry them home, but they
were so young that they needed their mother's milk. So after examining
them, he put them back in the nest, and with his usual busy helpfulness
went to assist in stripping bark from the trees. When he went home from
his work, toward evening, he felt curious to see how the mother squirrel
would behave when she returned and found her home was gone. He
accordingly hid himself in a bush to watch her proceedings. About dusk,
she came running along the stone wall with a nut in her mouth, and went
with all speed to the old familiar tree. Finding nothing but a stump
remaining there, she dropped the nut and looked around in evident
dismay. She went smelling all about the ground, then mounted the stump
to take a survey of the country. She raised herself on her hind legs and
snuffed the air, with an appearance of great perplexity and distress.
She ran round the stump several times, occasionally raising herself on
her hind legs, and peering about in every direction, to discover what
had become of her young family. At last, she jumped on the prostrate
trunk of the tree, and ran along till she came to the hole where her
babies were concealed. What the manner of their meeting was nobody can
tell; but doubtless the mother's heart beat violently when she
discovered her lost treasures all safe on the warm little bed of moss
she had so carefully prepared for them. After staying a few minutes to
give them their supper, she came out, and scampered off through the
bushes. In about fifteen minutes, she returned and took one of the young
ones in her mouth, and carried it quickly to a hole in another tree,
three or four hundred yards off, and then came back and took the others,
one by one, till she had conveyed them all to their new home. The
intelligent instinct manifested by this little quadruped excited great
interest in Isaac's observing mind. When he drove the cows to pasture,
he always went by that tree, to see how the young family were getting
along. In a short time, they were running all over the tree with their
careful mother, eating acorns under the shady boughs, entirely
unconscious of the perils through which they had passed in infancy.
Some time after, Isaac traded with another boy for a squirrel taken from
the nest before its eyes were open. He made a bed of moss for it, and
fed it very tenderly. At first, he was afraid it would not live; but it
seemed healthy, though it never grew so large as other squirrels. He did
not put it in a cage; for he said to himself that a creature made to
frisk about in the green woods could not be happy shut up in a box. This
pretty little animal became so much attached to her kind-hearted
protector, that she would run about after him, and come like a kitten
whenever he called her. While he was gone to school, she frequently ran
off to the woods and played with wild squirrels on a tree that grew
near his path homeward. Sometimes she took a nap in a large knot-hole,
or, if the weather was very warm, made a cool bed of leaves across a
crotch of the boughs, and slept there. When Isaac passed under the tree,
on his way from school, he used to call "Bun! Bun! Bun!" If she was
there, she would come to him immediately, run up on his shoulder, and so
ride home to get her supper.
It seemed as if animals were in some way aware of his kindly feelings,
and disposed to return his confidence; for on several occasions they
formed singular intimacies with him. When he was six or seven years old,
he spied a crow's nest in a high tree, and, according to his usual
custom, he climbed up to make discoveries. He found that it contained
two eggs, and he watched the crow's movements until her young ones were
hatched and ready to fly. Then he took them home. One was accidentally
killed a few days after, but he reared the other, and named it Cupid.
The bird became so very tame, that it would feed from his hand, perch on
his shoulder, or his hat, and go everywhere with him. It frequently
followed him for miles, when he went to mill or market. He was never put
into a cage, but flew in and out of the house, just as he pleased. If
Isaac called "Cu! Cu!" he would hear him, even if he were up in the
highest tree, would croak a friendly answer, and come down directly. If
Isaac winked one eye, the crow would do the same. If he winked his other
eye, the crow also winked with his other eye. Once when Cupid was on his
shoulder, he pointed to a snake lying in the road, and said "Cu!
Cu!"--The sagacious bird pounced on the head of the snake and killed him
instantly; then flew back to his friend's shoulder, cawing with all his
might, as if delighted with his exploit. If a stranger tried to take
him, he would fly away, screaming with terror. Sometimes Isaac covered
him with a handkerchief and placed him on a stranger's shoulder; but as
soon as he discovered where he was, he seemed frightened almost to
death. He usually chose to sleep on the roof of a shed, directly under
Isaac's bed-room window. One night he heard him cawing very loud, and
the next morning he said to his father, "I heard Cupid talking in his
sleep last night." His father inquired whether he had seen him since;
and when Isaac answered, "No," he said, "Then I am afraid the owls have
taken him." The poor bird did not make his appearance again; and a few
days after, his bones and feathers were found on a stump, not far from
the house. This was a great sorrow for Isaac. It tried his young heart
almost like the loss of a brother.
His intimacy with animals was of a very pleasant nature, except on one
occasion, when he thrust his arm into a hollow tree, in search of
squirrels, and pulled out a large black snake. He was so terrified, that
he tumbled headlong from the tree, and it was difficult to tell which
ran away fastest, he or the snake. This incident inspired the bold boy
with fear, which he vainly tried to overcome during the remainder of his
life. There was a thicket of underbrush between his father's farm and
the village of Woodbury. Once, when he was sent of an errand to the
village, he was seized with such a dread of snakes, that before entering
among the bushes, he placed his basket on an old rail, knelt down and
prayed earnestly that he might pass through without encountering a
snake. When he rose up and attempted to take his basket, he perceived a
large black snake lying close beside the rail. It may well be believed
that he went through the thicket too fast to allow any grass to grow
under his feet.
When he drove the cows to and from pasture, he often met an old colored
man named Mingo. His sympathizing heart was attracted toward him,
because he had heard the neighbors say he was stolen from Africa when he
was a little boy. One day, he asked Mingo what part of the world he came
from; and the poor old man told how he was playing with other children
among the bushes, on the coast of Africa, when white men pounced upon
them suddenly and dragged them off to a ship. He held fast hold of the
thorny bushes, which tore his hands dreadfully in the struggle. The old
man wept like a child, when he told how he was frightened and distressed
at being thus hurried away from father, mother, brothers and sisters,
and sold into slavery, in a distant land, where he could never see or
hear from them again. This painful story made a very deep impression
upon Isaac's mind; and, though he was then only nine years old, he made
a solemn vow to himself that he would be the friend of oppressed
Africans during his whole life.
He was as precocious in love, as in other matters. Not far from his
home, lived a prosperous and highly respectable Quaker family, named
Tatum. There were several sons, but only one daughter; a handsome child,
with clear, fair complexion, blue eyes, and a profusion of brown
curly hair. She was Isaac's cousin, twice removed; for their
great-grandfathers were half-brothers. When he was only eight years old,
and she was not yet five, he made up his mind that little Sarah Tatum
was his wife. He used to walk a mile and a half every day, on purpose to
escort her to school. When they rambled through the woods, in search of
berries, it was his delight to sit beside her on some old stump, and
twist her glossy brown ringlets over his fingers. A lovely picture they
must have made in the green, leafy frame-work of the woods--that fair,
blue-eyed girl, and the handsome, vigorous boy! When he was fourteen
years old, he wrote to her his first love-letter. The village
schoolmaster taught for very low wages, and was not remarkably
well-qualified for his task; as was generally the case at that early
period. Isaac's labor was needed on the farm all the summer;
consequently, he was able to attend school only three months during the
winter. He was, therefore, so little acquainted with the forms of
letter-writing, that he put Sarah's name inside the letter, and his own
on the outside. She, being an only daughter, and a great pet in her
family, had better opportunities for education. She told her young lover
that was not the correct way to write a letter, and instructed him how
to proceed in future. From that time, they corresponded constantly.
Isaac likewise formed a very strong friendship with his cousin Joseph
Whitall, who was his schoolmate, and about his own age. They shared
together all their joys and troubles, and were companions in all boyish
enterprises. Thus was a happy though laborious childhood passed in the
seclusion of the woods, in the midst of home influences and rustic
occupations. His parents had no leisure to bestow on intellectual
culture; for they had a numerous family of children, and it required
about all their time to feed and clothe them respectably. But they were
worthy, kind-hearted people, whose moral precepts were sustained by
their upright example. His father was a quiet man, but exceedingly firm
and energetic. When he had made up his mind to do a thing, no earthly
power could turn him from his purpose; especially if any question of
conscience were involved therein. During the revolutionary war, he
faithfully maintained his testimony against the shedding of blood, and
suffered considerably for refusing to pay military taxes. Isaac's mother
was noted for her fearless character, and blunt directness of speech.
She was educated in the Presbyterian faith, and this was a source of
some discordant feeling between her and her husband. The preaching of
her favorite ministers seemed to him harsh and rigid, while she regarded
Quaker exhortations as insipid and formal. But as time passed on, her
religious views assimilated more and more with his; and about
twenty-four years after their marriage, she joined the Society of
Friends, and frequently spoke at their meetings. She was a spiritual
minded woman, always ready to sympathise with the afflicted, and
peculiarly kind to animals. They were both extremely hospitable and
benevolent to the poor. On Sunday evenings, they convened all the family
to listen to the Scriptures and other religious books.--In his journal
Isaac alludes to this custom, and says: "My mind was often solemnized by
these opportunities, and I resolved to live more consistently with the
principles of christian sobriety."
When he was sixteen years old, it became a question to what business he
should devote himself.--There was a prospect of obtaining a situation
for him in a store at Philadelphia; and for that purpose it was deemed
expedient that he should take up his abode for a while with his maternal
uncle, whose house he had been so fond of visiting in early boyhood. He
did not succeed in obtaining the situation he expected, but remained in
the city on the look-out for some suitable employment. Meanwhile, he was
very helpful to his uncle, who, finding him diligent and skillful, tried
to induce him to learn his trade.--It was an occupation ill-adapted to
his vigorous body and active mind; but he was not of a temperament to
fold his hands and wait till something "turned up;" and as his uncle was
doing a prosperous business, he concluded to accept his proposition.
About the same time, his beloved cousin, Joseph Whitall, was sent to
Trenton to study law. This was rather a severe trial to Isaac's
feelings. Not that he envied his superior advantages; but he had sad
forebodings that separation would interrupt their friendship, and that
such a different career would be very likely to prevent its renewal.
They parted with mutual regret, and did not meet again for several
When Isaac bade adieu to the paternal roof, his mother looked after him
thoughtfully, and remarked to one of his sisters, "Isaac is no common
boy.--He will do something great, either for good or evil." She called
him back and said, "My son, you are now going forth to make your own way
in the world. Always remember that you are as good as any other person;
but remember also that you are no better." With this farewell
injunction, he departed for Philadelphia, where he soon acquired the
character of a faithful and industrious apprentice.
But his boyish love of fun was still strong within him, and he was the
torment of all his fellow apprentices. One of them, named William
Roberts, proposed that they should go together into the cellar to steal
a pitcher of cider. Isaac pulled the spile, and while William was
drawing the liquor, he took an unobserved opportunity to hide it. When
the pitcher was full, he pretended to look all around for it, without
being able to find it. At last, he told his unsuspecting comrade that he
must thrust his finger into the hole and keep it there, while he went to
get another spile. William waited and waited for him to return, but when
an hour or more had elapsed, his patience was exhausted, and he began to
Halloo!--The noise, instead of bringing Isaac to his assistance, brought
the mistress of the house, who caught the culprit at the cider-barrel,
and gave him a severe scolding, to the infinite gratification of his
Once, when the family were all going away, his uncle left the house in
charge of him and another apprentice, telling them to defend themselves
if any robbers came. Having a mind to try the courage of the lads, he
returned soon after, and attempted to force a window in the back part of
the house, which opened upon a narrow alley inclosed by a high fence. As
soon as Isaac heard the noise, he seized an old harpoon that was about
the premises, and told his companion to open the window the instant he
gave the signal. His orders were obeyed, and he flung the harpoon with
such force, that it passed through his uncle's vest and coat, and nailed
him tight to the fence. When he told the story, he used to say he never
afterward deemed it necessary to advise Isaac to defend himself.
Among the apprentices was one much older and stouter than the others. He
was very proud of his physical strength, and delighted to play the
tyrant over those who were younger and weaker than himself. When Isaac
saw him knocking them about, he felt an almost irresistible temptation
to fight; but his uncle was a severe man, likely to be much incensed by
quarrels among his apprentices. He knew, moreover, that a battle between
him and Samson would be very unequal; so he restrained his indignation
as well as he could. But one day, when the big bully knocked him down,
without the slightest provocation, he exclaimed, in great wrath, "If you
ever do that again, I'll kill you. Mind what I say. I tell you I'll kill
Samson snapped his fingers and laughed, and the next day he knocked him
down again. Isaac armed himself with a heavy window-bar, and when the
apprentices were summoned to breakfast, he laid wait behind a door, and
levelled a blow at the tyrant, as he passed through. He fell, without
uttering a single cry. When the family sat down to breakfast, Mr. Tatem
said, "Where is Samson?"
His nephew coolly replied, "I've killed him."
"Killed him!" exclaimed the uncle. "What do you mean?"
"I told him I would kill him if he ever knocked me down again," rejoined
Isaac; "and I _have_ killed him."
They rushed out in the utmost consternation, and found the young man
entirely senseless. A physician was summoned, and for some time they
feared he was really dead. The means employed to restore him were at
last successful; but it was long before he recovered from the effects of
the blow. When Isaac saw him so pale and helpless, a terrible remorse
filled his soul. He shuddered to think how nearly he had committed
murder, in one rash moment of unbridled rage. This awful incident made
such a solemn and deep impression on him, that from that time he began
to make strong and earnest efforts to control the natural impetuosity of
his temper; and he finally attained to a remarkable degree of
self-control. Weary hours of debility brought wiser thoughts to Samson
also; and when he recovered his strength, he never again misused it by
abusing his companions.
In those days, Isaac did not profess to be a Quaker. He used the
customary language of the world, and liked to display his
well-proportioned figure in neat and fashionable clothing. The young
women of his acquaintance, it is said, looked upon him with rather
favorable eyes; but his thoughts never wandered from Sarah Tatum for a
single day. Once, when he had a new suit of clothes, and stylish boots,
the tops turned down with red, a young man of his acquaintance invited
him to go home with him on Saturday evening and spend Sunday. He
accepted the invitation, and set out well pleased with the expedition.
The young man had a sister, who took it into her head that the visit was
intended as an especial compliment to herself. The brother was called
out somewhere in the neighborhood, and as soon as she found herself
alone with their guest, she began to specify, in rather significant
terms, what she should require of a man who wished to marry her.--Her
remarks made Isaac rather fidgetty; but he replied, in general terms,
that he thought her ideas on the subject were very correct. "I suppose
you think my father will give me considerable money," said she; "but
that is a mistake. Whoever takes me must take me for myself alone."
The young man tried to stammer out that he did not come on any such
errand; but his wits were bewildered by this unexpected siege, and he
could not frame a suitable reply. She mistook his confusion for the
natural timidity of love, and went on to express the high opinion she
entertained of him. Isaac looked wistfully at the door, in hopes her
brother would come to his rescue. But no relief came from that quarter,
and fearing he should find himself engaged to be married without his own
consent, he caught up his hat and rushed out. It was raining fast, but
he splashed through mud and water, without stopping to choose his steps.
Crossing the yard in this desperate haste, he encountered the brother,
who called out, "Where are you going?"
"I'm going home," he replied.
"Going home!" exclaimed his astonished friend, "Why it is raining hard;
and you came to stay all night. What does possess you, Isaac? Come back!
Come back, I say!"
"I won't come back!" shouted Isaac, from the distance. "I'm going home."
And home he went.--His new clothes were well spattered, and his red-top
boots loaded with mud; but though he prided himself on keeping his
apparel in neat condition, he thought he had got off cheaply on this
Soon after he went to reside in Philadelphia, a sea captain by the name
of Cox came to his uncle's on a visit. As the captain was one day
passing through Norris Alley, he met a young colored man, named Joe,
whose master he had known in Bermuda. He at once accused him of being a
runaway slave, and ordered him to go to the house with him. Joe called
him his old friend, and seemed much pleased at the meeting. He said he
had been sent from Bermuda to New-York in a vessel, which he named; he
had obtained permission to go a few miles into the country, to see his
sister, and while he was gone, the vessel unfortunately sailed; he
called upon the consignee and asked what he had better do under the
circumstances, and he told him that his captain had left directions for
him to go to Philadelphia and take passage home by the first vessel.
Captain Cox was entirely satisfied with this account. He said there was
a vessel then in port, which would sail for Bermuda in a few days, and
told Joe he had better go and stay with him at Mr. Tatem's house, while
he made inquiries about it.
When Isaac entered the kitchen that evening, he found Joe sitting there,
in a very disconsolate attitude; and watching him closely he observed
tears now and then trickling down his dark cheeks. He thought of poor
old Mingo, whose pitiful story had so much interested him in boyhood,
and caused him to form a resolution to be the friend of Africans.--The
more he pondered on the subject, the more he doubted whether Joe was so
much pleased to meet his "old friend," as he had pretended to be. He
took him aside and said, "Tell me truly how the case stands with you. I
will be your friend; and come what will, you may feel certain that I
will never betray you." Joe gave him an earnest look of distress and
scrutiny, which his young benefactor never forgot. Again he assured him,
most solemnly, that he might trust him. Then Joe ventured to acknowledge
that he was a fugitive slave, and had great dread of being returned into
bondage. He said his master let him out to work on board a ship going to
New-York. He had a great desire for freedom, and when the vessel arrived
at its destined port, he made his escape, and travelled to Philadelphia,
in hopes of finding some one willing to protect him. Unluckily, the very
day he entered the City of Brotherly Love he met his old acquaintance
Captain Cox; and on the spur of the moment he had invented the best
story he could.
Isaac was then a mere lad, and he had been in Philadelphia too short a
time to form many acquaintances; but he imagined what his own feelings
would be if he were in poor Joe's situation, and he determined to
contrive some way or other to assist him. He consulted with a prudent
and benevolent neighbor, who told him that a Quaker by the name of John
Stapler, in Buck's County, was a good friend to colored people, and the
fugitive had better be sent to him. Accordingly, a letter was written to
Friend Stapler, and given to Joe, with instructions how to proceed.
Meanwhile, Captain Cox brought tidings that he had secured a passage to
Bermuda. Joe thanked him, and went on board the vessel, as he was
ordered. But a day or two after, he obtained permission to go to Mr.
Tatem's house to procure some clothes he had left there. It was nearly
sunset when he left the ship and started on the route, which Isaac had
very distinctly explained to him. When the sun disappeared, the bright
moon came forth.--By her friendly light, he travelled on with a hopeful
heart until the dawn of day, when he arrived at Friend Stapler's house
and delivered the letter. He was received with great kindness, and a
situation was procured for him in the neighborhood, where he spent the
remainder of his life comfortably, with "none to molest or make him
This was the first opportunity Isaac had of carrying into effect his
early resolution to befriend the oppressed Africans.
While the experiences of life were thus deepening and strengthening his
character, the fair child, Sarah Tatum, was emerging into womanhood. She
was a great belle in her neighborhood, admired by the young men for her
comely person, and by the old for her good sense and discreet manners.
He had many competitors for her favor. Once, when he went to invite her
to ride to Quarterly Meeting, he found three Quaker beaux already there,
with horses and sleighs for the same purpose. But though some of her
admirers abounded in worldly goods, her mind never swerved from the love
of her childhood. The bright affectionate school-boy, who delighted to
sit with her under the shady trees, and twist her shining curls over his
fingers, retained his hold upon her heart as long as its pulses
Her father at first felt some uneasiness, lest his daughter should marry
out of the Society of Friends. But Isaac had been for some time
seriously impressed with the principles they professed, and when he
assured the good old gentleman that he would never take Sarah out of the
Society, of which she was born a member, he was perfectly satisfied to
receive him as a son-in-law.
At that period, there were several remarkable individuals among Quaker
preachers in that part of the country, and their meetings were unusually
lively and spirit-stirring. One of them, named Nicholas Waln, was
educated in the Society of Friends, but in early life seems to have
cared little about their principles. He was then an ambitious,
money-loving man, remarkably successful in worldly affairs. But the
principles inculcated in childhood probably remained latent within him;
for when he was rapidly acquiring wealth and distinction by the practice
of law, he suddenly relinquished it, from conscientious motives. This
change of feeling is said to have been owing to the following incident.
He had charge of an important case, where a large amount of property was
at stake. In the progress of the cause, he became more and more aware
that right was not on the side of his client; but to desert him in the
midst was incompatible with his ideas of honor as a lawyer. This
produced a conflict within him, which he could not immediately settle to
his own satisfaction. A friend, who met him after the case was decided,
inquired what was the result. He replied, "I did the best I could for my
client. I have gained the cause for him, and have thereby defrauded an
honest man of his just dues." He seemed sad and thoughtful, and would
never after plead a cause at the bar. He dismissed his students, and
returned to his clients all the money he had received for unfinished
cases. For some time afterward, he appeared to take no interest in
anything but his own religious state of feeling. He eventually became a
preacher, very popular among Friends, and much admired by others.--His
sermons were usually short, and very impressive. A contemporary thus
describes the effect of his preaching: "The whole assembly seemed to be
baptized together, and so covered with solemnity, that when the meeting
broke up, no one wished to enter into conversation with another." He was
particularly zealous against a paid ministry, and not unfrequently
quoted the text, "Put me in the priest's office, I pray thee, that I may
eat a piece of bread." One of his most memorable discourses began with
these words: "The lawyers, the priests, and the doctors, these are the
deceivers of men." He was so highly esteemed, that when he entered the
court-house, as he occasionally did, to aid the poor or the oppressed in
some way, it was not uncommon for judges and lawyers to rise
spontaneously in token of respect.--Isaac had great veneration for his
character, and was much edified by his ministry.
Mary Ridgeway, a small, plain, uneducated woman, was likewise remarkably
persuasive and penetrating in her style of preaching, which appeared to
Isaac like pure inspiration. Her exhortations took deep hold of his
youthful feelings, and strongly influenced him to a religious life.
But more powerful than all other agencies was the preaching of William
Savery. He was a tanner by trade; remarked by all who knew him as a man
who "walked humbly with his God." One night, a quantity of hides were
stolen from his tannery, and he had reason to believe that the thief was
a quarrelsome, drunken neighbor, whom I will call John Smith. The next
week, the following advertisement appeared in the County newspaper:
"Whoever stole a lot of hides on the fifth of the present month, is
hereby informed that the owner has a sincere wish to be his friend. If
poverty tempted him to this false step, the owner will keep the whole
transaction secret, and will gladly put him in the way of obtaining
money by means more likely to bring him peace of mind." This singular
advertisement attracted considerable attention; but the culprit alone
knew whence the benevolent offer came. When he read it, his heart melted
within him, and he was filled with contrition for what he had done. A
few nights afterward, as the tanner's family were about retiring to
rest, they heard a timid knock, and when the door was opened, there
stood John Smith with a load of hides on his shoulder. Without looking
up, he said, "I have brought these back, Mr. Savery. Where shall I put
them?" "Wait till I can light a lantern, and I will go to the barn with
thee," he replied.--"Then perhaps thou wilt come in and tell me how this
happened. We will see what can be done for thee." As soon as they were
gone out, his wife prepared some hot coffee, and placed pies and meat on
the table. When they returned from the barn, she said "Neighbor Smith,
I thought some hot supper would be good for thee." He turned his back
toward her and did not speak. After leaning against the fire-place in
silence for a moment, he said, in a choked voice, "It is the first time
I ever stole anything, and I have felt very bad about it. I don't know
how it is. I am sure I didn't think once that I should ever come to be
what I am. But I took to drinking, and then to quarrelling. Since I
began to go down hill, everybody gives me a kick. You are the first man
who has ever offered me a helping hand. My wife is sickly, and my
children are starving. You have sent them many a meal, God bless you!
and yet I stole the hides from you, meaning to sell them the first
chance I could get. But I tell you the truth when I say it is the first
time I was ever a thief."
"Let it be the last, my friend," replied William Savery. "The secret
shall remain between ourselves. Thou art still young, and it is in thy
power to make up for lost time. Promise me that thou wilt not drink any
intoxicating liquor for a year, and I will employ thee to-morrow at good
wages. Perhaps we may find some employment for thy family also. The
little boy can at least pick up stones.--But eat a bit now, and drink
some hot coffee. Perhaps it will keep thee from craving anything
stronger to-night. Doubtless, thou wilt find it hard to abstain at
first; but keep up a brave heart, for the sake of thy wife and children,
and it will soon become easy. When thou hast need of coffee, tell Mary,
and she will always give it to thee."
The poor fellow tried to eat and drink, but the food seemed to choke
him. After an ineffectual effort to compose his excited feelings, he
bowed his head on the table, and wept like a child. After a while, he
ate and drank with good appetite; and his host parted with him for the
night with this kindly exhortation; "Try to do well, John; and thou wilt
always find a friend in me."
He entered into his employ the next day, and remained with him many
years, a sober, honest, and faithful man. The secret of the theft was
kept between them; but after John's death, William Savery sometimes told
the story, to prove that evil might be overcome with good.
This practical preacher of righteousness was likewise a great preacher
orally; if greatness is to be measured by the effect produced on the
souls of others. Through his ministry, the celebrated Mrs. Fry was first
excited to a lively interest in religion. When he visited England in
1798, she was Elizabeth Gurney, a lively girl of eighteen, rather fond
of dress and company. Her sister, alluding to the first sermon they
heard from William Savery, writes thus: "His voice and manner were
arresting, and we all liked the sound. Elizabeth became a good deal
agitated, and I saw her begin to weep. The next morning, when she took
breakfast with him at her uncle's, he preached to her after breakfast,
and prophesied of the high and important calling she would be led into."
Elizabeth herself made the following record of it in her journal; "In
hearing William Savery preach, he seemed to me to overflow with true
religion; to be humble, and yet a man of great abilities. Having been
gay and disbelieving, only a few years ago, makes him better acquainted
with the heart of one in the same condition. We had much serious
conversation. What he said, and what I felt was like a refreshing shower
falling upon earth that had been dried up for ages."
This good and gifted man often preached in Philadelphia; not only at
stated seasons, on the first and fifth day of the week, but at evening
meetings also, where the Spirit is said to have descended upon him and
his hearers in such copious measure that they were reminded of the
gathering of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Isaac was at an
impressible age, and on those occasions his thirsty soul drank eagerly
from the fountain of living water. He never forgot those refreshing
meetings. To the end of his days, whenever anything reminded him of
William Savery, he would utter a warm eulogium on his deep
spirituality, his tender benevolence, his cheerful, genial temper, and
the simple dignity of his deportment.
Isaac was about twenty-two years old, when he was received as a member
of the Society of Friends. It was probably the pleasantest period of his
existence. Love and religion, the two deepest and brightest experiences
of human life, met together, and flowed into his earnest soul in one
full stream. He felt perfectly satisfied that he had found the one true
religion. The plain mode of worship suited the simplicity of his
character, while the principles inculcated were peculiarly well
calculated to curb the violence of his temper, and to place his strong
will under the restraint of conscience. Duties toward God and his fellow
men stood forth plainly revealed to him in the light that shone so
clearly in his awakened soul. Late in life, he often used to refer to
this early religious experience as a sweet season of peace and joy. He
said it seemed as if the very air were fragrant, and the sunlight more
glorious than it had ever been before. The plain Quaker meeting-house in
the quiet fields of Woodbury was to him indeed a house of prayer, though
its silent worship was often undisturbed by a single uttered word.
Blended with those spiritual experiences was the fair vision of his
beloved Sarah, who always attended meeting, serene in her maiden beauty.
The joy of renovated friendship also awaited him there, in that quaint
old gathering place of simple worshippers. When he parted from his dear
cousin, Joseph Whitall, they were both young men of good moral
characters, but not seriously thoughtful concerning religion. Years
elapsed, and each knew not whither the other was travelling in spiritual
experiences. But one day, when Isaac went to meeting as usual, and was
tying his horse in the shed, a young man in the plain costume of the
Friends came to tie his horse also. A glance showed that it was Joseph
Whitall, the companion of his boyhood and youth. For an instant, they
stood surprised and silent, looking at each other's dress; for until
then neither of them was aware that the other had become a Quaker. Tears
started to their eyes, and they embraced each other. They had long and
precious interviews afterward, in which they talked over the
circumstances that had inclined them to reflect on serious subjects, and
the reasons which induced them to consider the Society of Friends as the
best existing representative of Christianity.
The gravity of their characters at this period, may be inferred from the
following letter, written in 1794:
"While I sat in retirement this evening, thou wert brought fresh
into my remembrance, with a warm desire for thy welfare and
preservation. Wherefore, be encouraged to press forward and
persevere in the high and holy way wherein thou hast measurably,
through mercy, begun to tread. From our childhood I have had an
affectionate regard for thee, which hath been abundantly increased;
and, in the covenant of life I have felt thee near. May we, my
beloved friend, now in the spring time of life, in the morning of
our days, with full purpose of heart cleave unto the Lord. May we
seek Him for our portion and our inheritance; that He may be
pleased, in his wonderful loving kindness, to be our counsellor and
director; that, in times of trouble and commotion, we may have a
safe hiding-place, an unfailing refuge. I often feel the want of a
greater dependance, a more steadfast leaning, upon that Divine Arm
of power, which ever hath been, and still is, the true support of
the righteous. Yet, I am sometimes favored to hope that in the
Lord's time an advancement will be known, and a more full
establishment in the most holy faith. 'For then shall we know, if
we follow on to know the Lord, that His going forth is prepared as
the morning, and He will come unto us as the rain, as the latter
and the former rain upon the earth.' May we, from time to time, be
favored to feel his animating presence, to comfort and strengthen
our enfeebled minds, that so we may patiently abide in our
allotments, and look forward with a cheering hope, that, whatever
trials and besetments may await us, they may tend to our further
refinement, and more close union in the heavenly covenant. And when
the end comes, may we be found among those who through many
tribulations have washed their garments white in the blood of the
Lamb, and be found worthy to stand with him upon Mount Zion.
"So wisheth and prayeth thy affectionate friend,
The letters which passed between him and his betrothed partake of the
same sedate character; but through the unimpassioned Quaker style gleams
the steady warmth of sincere affection. There is something pleasant in
the simplicity with which he usually closed his epistles to her: "I am,
dear Sally, thy real friend, Isaac."
They were married on the eighteenth of the Ninth Month, [September,]
1795; he being nearly twenty-four years of age, and she about three
years younger. The worldly comforts which a kind Providence bestowed on
Isaac and his bride, were freely imparted to others. The resolution
formed after listening to the history of old Mingo's wrongs was pretty
severely tested by a residence in Philadelphia. There were numerous
kidnappers prowling about the city, and many outrages were committed,
which would not have been tolerated for a moment toward any but a
despised race. Pennsylvania being on the frontier of the slave states,
runaways were often passing through; and the laws on that subject were
little understood, and less attended to. If a colored man was arrested
as a fugitive slave, and discharged for want of proof, the magistrate
received no fee; but if he was adjudged a slave, and surrendered to his
claimant, the magistrate received from five to twenty dollars for his
trouble; of course, there was a natural tendency to make the most of
evidence in favor of slavery.
Under these circumstances, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was
frequently called upon to protect the rights of colored people. Isaac T.
Hopper became an active and leading member of this association. He was
likewise one of the overseers of a school for colored children,
established by Anthony Benezet; and it was his constant practice, for
several years, to teach two or three nights every week, in a school for
colored adults, established by a society of young men. In process of
time, he became known to everybody in Philadelphia as the friend and
legal adviser of colored people upon all emergencies. The shrewdness,
courage, and zeal, with which he fulfilled this mission will be seen in
the course of the following narratives, which I have selected from a
vast number of similar character, in which he was the principal agent.
In 1797, a wealthy gentleman from Virginia went to spend the winter in
Philadelphia, accompanied by his wife and daughter. He had a slave named
Charles Webster, whom he took with him as coachman and waiter. When they
had been in the city a few weeks, Charles called upon Isaac T. Hopper,
and inquired whether he had become free in consequence of his master's
bringing him into Pennsylvania. It was explained to him, that if he
remained there six months, with his master's knowledge and consent, he
would then be a free man, according to the laws of Pennsylvania. The
slave was quite disheartened by this information; for he supposed his
owner was well acquainted with the law, and would therefore be careful
to take him home before that term expired.
"I am resolved never to return to Virginia," said he. "Where can I go to
Friend Hopper told him his master might be ignorant of the law, or
forgetful of it. He advised him to remain with the family until he saw
them making preparations to return. If the prescribed six months expired
meanwhile, he would be a free man. If not, there would be time enough to
consult what had better be done. "It is desirable to obtain thy liberty
in a legal way, if possible," said he; "for otherwise thou wilt be
constantly liable to be arrested, and may never again have such a good
opportunity to escape from bondage."
Charles hesitated, but finally concluded to accept this prudent advice.
The time seemed very long to the poor fellow; for he was in a continual
panic lest his master should take him back to Virginia; but he did his
appointed tasks faithfully, and none of the family suspected what was
passing in his mind.
The long-counted six months expired at last; and that very day, his
master said, "Charles, grease the carriage-wheels, and have all things
in readiness; for I intend to start for home to-morrow."
The servant appeared to be well pleased with this prospect, and put the
carriage and harness in good order. As soon as that job was completed,
he went to Friend Hopper and told him the news. When assured that he was
now a free man, according to law, he could hardly be made to believe it.
He was all of a tremor with anxiety, and it seemed almost impossible to
convince him that he was out of danger. He was instructed to return to
his master till next morning, and to send word by one of the hotel
servants in case he should be arrested meanwhile.
The next morning, he again called upon Friend Hopper, who accompanied
him to the office of William Lewis, a highly respectable lawyer, who
would never take any fee for his services on such occasions. When Mr.
Lewis heard the particulars of the case, he wrote a polite note to the
Virginian, informing him that his former slave was now free, according
to the laws of Pennsylvania; and cautioning him against any attempt to
take him away, contrary to his own inclination.
The lawyer advised Friend Hopper to call upon the master and have some
preparatory conversation with him, before Charles was sent to deliver
the note. He was then, only twenty-six years of age, and he felt
somewhat embarrassed at the idea of calling upon a wealthy and
distinguished stranger, who was said to be rather imperious and
irritable. However, after a little reflection, he concluded it was his
duty, and accordingly he did it.
When the Southerner was informed that his servant was free, and that a
lawyer had been consulted on the subject, he was extremely angry, and
used very contemptuous language concerning people who tampered with
gentlemen's servants. The young Quaker replied, "If thy son were a slave
in Algiers, thou wouldst thank me for tampering with _him_ to procure
his liberty. But in the present case, I am not obnoxious to the charge
thou hast brought; for thy servant came of his own accord to consult me,
I merely made him acquainted with his legal rights; and I intend to see
that he is protected in them."
When Charles delivered the lawyers note, and his master saw that he no
longer had any legal power over him, he proposed to hire him to drive
the carriage home. But Charles was very well aware that Virginia would
be a very dangerous place for him, and he positively refused. The
incensed Southerner then claimed his servant's clothes as his property,
and ordered him to strip instantly. Charles did as he was ordered, and
proceeded to walk out of the room naked. Astonished to find him willing
to leave the house in that condition, he seized him violently, thrust
him back into the room, and ordered him to dress himself. When he had
assumed his garments, he walked off; and the master and servant never
Charles was shrewd and intelligent, and conducted himself in such a
manner as to gain respect. He married an industrious, economical woman,
who served in the family of Chief Justice Tilghman. In process of time,
he built a neat two-story house, where they brought up reputably a
family of fourteen children, who obtained quite a good education at the
school established by Anthony Benezet.
Ben was born a slave in Virginia. When he was about sixteen years old,
his mind became excited on the subject of slavery. He could not
reconcile it with the justice and goodness of the Creator, that one man
should be born to toil for another without wages, to be driven about,
and treated like a beast of the field. The older he grew, the more
heavily did these considerations press upon him. At last, when he was
about twenty-five years old, he resolved to gain his liberty, if
possible. He left his master, and after encountering many difficulties,
arrived in Philadelphia, where he let himself on board a vessel and went
several voyages. When he was thirty years of age, he married, and was
employed as a coachman by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the
Declaration of Independence. He lived with him two years; and when he
left, Dr. Rush gave him a paper certifying that he was a free man,
honest, sober, and capable.
In 1799, his master came to Philadelphia, and arrested him as his
fugitive slave. Ben had an extraordinary degree of intelligence and
tact. When his master brought him before a magistrate, and demanded the
usual certificate to authorize him to take his human chattel back to
Virginia, Ben neither admitted nor denied that he was a slave. He merely
showed the certificate of Dr. Rush, and requested that Isaac T. Hopper
might be informed of his situation. Joseph Bird, the justice before whom
the case was brought, detested slavery, and was a sincere friend to the
colored people. He committed Ben to prison until morning, and despatched
a note to Isaac T. Hopper informing him of the circumstance, and
requesting him to call upon Dr. Rush. When the doctor was questioned, he
said he knew nothing about Ben's early history; he lived with him two
years, and was _then_ a free man.
When Friend Hopper went to the prison, he found Ben in a state of great
anxiety and distress. He admitted that he was the slave of the man who
claimed him, and that he saw no way of escape open for him. His friend
told him not to be discouraged, and promised to exert himself to the
utmost in his behalf. The constable who had arrested him, sympathized
with the poor victim of oppression, and promised to do what he could for
him. Finding him in such a humane mood, Friend Hopper urged him to bring
Ben to the magistrate's office a short time _before_ the hour appointed
for the trial. He did so, and found Friend Hopper already there,
watching the clock. The moment the hand pointed to nine, he remarked
that the hour, of which the claimant had been apprized, had already
arrived; no evidence had been brought that the man was a slave; on the
contrary, Dr. Rush's certificate was strong presumptive evidence of his
being a freeman; he therefore demanded that the prisoner should be
discharged. Justice Bird, having no desire to throw obstacles in the
way, promptly told Ben he was at liberty, and he lost no time in
profiting by the information. Just as he passed out of the door, he saw
his master coming, and ran full speed. He had sufficient presence of
mind to take a zigzag course, and running through a house occupied by
colored people, he succeeded in eluding pursuit.
When Friend Hopper went home, he found him at his house. He tried to
impress upon his mind the peril he would incur by remaining in
Philadelphia, and advised him by all means to go to sea. But his wife
was strongly attached to him, and so unwilling to consent to this plan,
that he concluded to run the risk of staying with her. He remained
concealed about a week, and then returned to the house he had previously
occupied. They lived in the second story, and there was a shed under
their bed-room window. Ben placed a ladder under the window, to be ready
for escape; but it was so short, that it did not reach the roof of the
shed by five or six feet. His wife was an industrious, orderly woman,
and kept their rooms as neat as a bee-hive. The only thing which marred
their happiness was the continual dread that man-hunters might pounce
upon them, in some unguarded hour, and separate them forever. About a
fortnight after his arrest, they were sitting together in the dusk of
the evening, when the door was suddenly burst open, and his master
rushed in with a constable. Ben sprang out of the window, down the
ladder, and made his escape. His master and the constable followed; but
as soon as they were on the ladder, Ben's wife cut the cord that held
it, and they tumbled heels over head upon the shed. This bruised them
some, and frightened them still more. They scrambled upon their feet,
cursing at a round rate.
Ben arrived safely at the house of Isaac T. Hopper, who induced him to
quit the city immediately, and go to sea. His first voyage was to the
East Indies. While he was gone, Friend Hopper negotiated with the
master, who, finding there was little chance of regaining his slave,
agreed to manumit him for one hundred and fifty dollars. As soon as Ben
returned, he repaid from his wages the sum which had been advanced for
his ransom. His wife's health was greatly impaired by the fear and
anxiety she had endured on his account. She became a prey to melancholy,
and never recovered her former cheerfulness.
The person who assumed this name was called Notly, when he was a slave
in Maryland. He was compelled to labor very hard, was scantily supplied
with food and clothing, and lodged in a little ricketty hut, through
which the cold winds of winter whistled freely. He was of a very
religious turn of mind, and often, when alone in his little cabin at
midnight, he prayed earnestly to God to release him from his
In the year 1800, he found a favorable opportunity to escape from his
unfeeling master, and made his way to Philadelphia, where he procured
employment in a lumber-yard, under the name of John Smith. He was so
diligent and faithful, that he soon gained the good-will and confidence
of his employers. He married a worthy, industrious woman, with whom he
lived happily. By their united earnings they were enabled to purchase a
small house, where they enjoyed more comfort than many wealthy people,
and were much respected by neighbors and acquaintances.
Unfortunately, he confided his story to a colored man, who, for the sake
of reward, informed his master where he was to be found. Accordingly, he
came to Philadelphia, arrested him, and carried him before a magistrate.
Having brought forward satisfactory evidence that he was a slave, an
order was granted to carry him back to Maryland. Isaac T. Hopper was
present at this decision, and was afflicted by it beyond measure. John's
employers pitied his condition, and sympathized with his afflicted wife
and children. They offered to pay a large sum for his ransom; but his
savage master refused to release him on any terms. This sober,
industrious man, guiltless of any crime, was hand-cuffed and had his
arms tied behind him with a rope, to which another rope was appended,
for his master to hold. While they were fastening his fetters, he spoke
a few affectionate words to his weeping wife. "Take good care of the
children," said he; "and don't let them forget their poor father. If you
are industrious and frugal, I hope you will be enabled to keep them at
school, till they are old enough to be placed at service in respectable
families. Never allow them to be idle; for that will lead them into bad
ways. And now don't forget my advice; for it is most likely you will
never see me again."
Then addressing his children, he said, "You will have no father to take
care of you now. Mind what your mother tells you, and be very careful
not to do anything to grieve her. Be industrious and faithful in
whatever you are set about; and never play in the streets with naughty
They all wept bitterly while he thus talked to them; but he restrained
his sobs, though it was evident his heart was well nigh breaking. Isaac
T. Hopper was present at this distressing scene, and suffered almost as
acutely as the poor slave himself. In the midst of his parting words,
his master seized the rope, mounted his horse, snapped his whip, and set
off, driving poor John before him. This was done in a Christian country,
and there was no law to protect the victim.
John was conveyed to Washington and offered for sale to speculators,
who were buying up gangs for the Southern market. The sight of dejected
and brutified slaves, chained together in coffles, was too common at the
seat of our republican government to attract attention; but the
barbarity of John's master was so conspicuous, that even there he was
rebuked for his excessive cruelty. These expressions of sympathy were
quite unexpected to the poor slave, and they kindled a faint hope of
escape, which had been smouldering in his breast. Manacled as he was, he
contrived to trip up his master, and leaving him prostrate on the
ground, he ran for the woods. He was soon beyond the reach of his
tyrant, and might have escaped easily if a company had not immediately
formed to pursue him. They chased him from the shelter of the bushes to
a swamp, where he was hunted like a fox, till night with friendly
darkness overshadowed him. While his enemies were sleeping, he
cautiously made his way by the light of the stars, to the house of an
old acquaintance, who hastened to take off his fetters, and give him a
Thus refreshed, he hastened to bid his colored friend farewell, and with
fear and trembling set off for Philadelphia. He had several rivers to
cross, and he thought likely men would be stationed on the bridges to
arrest him. Therefore, he hid himself in the deepest recesses of the
woods in the day-time, and travelled only in the night. He suffered much
with hunger and fatigue, but arrived home at last, to the great
astonishment and joy of his family. He well knew that these precious
moments of affectionate greeting were highly dangerous; for his own roof
could afford no shelter from pursuers armed with the power of a wicked
law. He accordingly hastened to Isaac T. Hopper for advice and
The yellow fever was then raging in Philadelphia, and the children had
all been carried into the country by their mother. Business made it
necessary for Friend Hopper to be in the city during the day-time, and a
colored domestic remained with him to take charge of the house. This
woman was alone when the fugitive arrived; but she showed him to an
upper chamber secured by a strong fastening. He had been there but a
short time, when his master came with two constables and proceeded to
search the house. When they found a room with the door bolted, they
demanded entrance; and receiving no answer, they began to consult
together how to gain admittance. At this crisis, the master of the house
came home, and received information of what was going on up-stairs. He
hastened thither, and ordered the intruders to quit his house instantly.
One of the constables said, "This gentleman's slave is here; and if you
don't deliver him up immediately, we will get a warrant to search the
"Quit my premises," replied Friend Hopper. "The mayor dare not grant a
warrant to search my house."
The men withdrew in no very good humor, and a message soon came from the
mayor requesting to see Isaac T. Hopper. He obeyed the summons, and the
magistrate said to him, "This gentleman informs me that his slave is in
your house. Is it so?"
The wary Friend replied, "Thou hast just told me that this man _says_ he
is. Dost thou not believe him?"
"But I wish to know from yourself whether he is in your house or not,"
rejoined the magistrate.
"If the mayor reflects a little, I think he will see that he has no
right to ask such a question; and that I am not bound to answer it,"
replied Friend Hopper. "If he is in my house, and if this man can prove
it, I am liable to a heavy penalty; and no man is bound to inform
against himself. These people have not behaved so civilly, that I feel
myself under any especial obligations of courtesy toward them. Hast thou
any further business with me?"
"Did you say I dared not grant a warrant to search your house?" asked
He answered, "Indeed I did say so; and I now repeat it. I mean no
disrespect to anybody in authority; but neither thou nor any other
magistrate would dare to grant a warrant to search my house. I am a man
of established reputation. I am not a suspicious character."
The mayor smiled, as he replied, "I don't know about that, Mr. Hopper.
In the present case, I am inclined to think you are a _very_ suspicious
character." And so they parted.
The master resorted to various stratagems to recapture his victim. He
dressed himself in Quaker costume and went to his house. The once happy
home was desolate now; and the anxious wife sat weeping, with her little
ones clinging to her in childish sympathy. The visitor professed to be
very friendly to her husband, and desirous to ascertain where he could
be found, in order to render him advice and assistance in eluding the
vigilance of his master. The wife prudently declined giving any
information, but referred him to Isaac T. Hopper, as the most suitable
person to consult in the case. Finding that he could not gain his object
by deception, he forgot to sustain the quiet character he had assumed,
but gave vent to his anger in a great deal of violent and profane
language. He went off, finally, swearing that in spite of them all he
would have his slave again, if he was to be found on the face of the
John Smith remained under the protection of Friend Isaac about a week.
Spies were seen lurking round the house for several days; but they
disappeared at last. Supposing this was only a trick to put them off
their guard, a colored man was employed to run out of the house after
dark. The enemies who were lying in ambush, rushed out and laid violent
hands upon him. They released him as soon as they discovered their
mistake; but the next day Friend Hopper had them arrested, and compelled
them to enter into bonds for their good behavior. On the following
evening the same man was employed to run out again; and this time he was
not interrupted. The third evening, John Smith himself ventured forth
from his hiding-place, and arrived safely in New-Jersey.
He let himself to a worthy farmer, and soon gained the confidence and
good will of all the family. He ate at the same table with them, and sat
with them on Sunday afternoons, listening to their reading of the
Scriptures and other religious books. This system of equality did not
diminish the modesty of his deportment, but rather tended to increase
his habitual humility.
He remained there several months, during which time he never dared to
visit his family, though only eight miles distant from them. This was a
great source of unhappiness; for he was naturally affectionate, and was
strongly attached to his wife and children. At length, he ventured to
hire a small house in a very secluded situation, not far from the
village of Haddonfield: and once more he gathered his family around him.
But his domestic comfort was constantly disturbed by fear of
men-stealers. While at his work in the day-time, he sometimes started at
the mere rustling of a leaf; and in the night time, he often woke up in
agony from terrifying dreams.
The false friend, who betrayed him to his cruel master, likewise
suffered greatly from fear. When he heard that John had again escaped,
he was exceedingly alarmed for his own safety. He dreamed that his
abused friend came with a knife in one hand and a torch in the other,
threatening to murder him and burn the house. These ideas took such hold
of his imagination, that he often started up in bed and screamed aloud.
But John was too sincerely religious to cherish a revengeful spirit. The
wrong done to him was as great as one mortal could inflict upon another;
but he had learned the divine precept not to render evil for evil.
The event proved that John's uneasiness was too well founded. A few
months after his family rejoined him, Isaac T. Hopper heard that his
master had arrived in Philadelphia, and was going to New-Jersey to
arrest him. He immediately apprised him of his danger; and the tidings
were received with feelings of desperation amounting to phrensy. He
loaded his gun and determined to defend himself. Very early the next
morning, he saw his master with two men coming up the narrow lane that
led to his house. He stationed himself in the door-way, leveled his gun,
and called out, "I will shoot the first man that crosses that fence!"
They were alarmed, and turned back to procure assistance. John seized
that opportunity to quit his retreat. He hastened to Philadelphia, and
informed Isaac T. Hopper what had happened. His friend represented to
him the unchristian character of such violent measures, and advised him
not to bring remorse on his soul by the shedding of blood. The poor
hunted fugitive seemed to be convinced, though it was a hard lesson to
learn in his circumstances. Again he resolved to fly for safety; and his
friend advised him to go to Boston. A vessel from that place was then
lying in the Delaware, and the merchant who had charge of her, pitying
his forlorn situation, offered him a passage free of expense. Kindness
bestowed on him was always like good seed dropped into a rich soil. He
was so obliging and diligent during the voyage, that he more than
compensated the captain for his passage. He arrived safely in Boston,
where his certificates of good character soon enabled him to procure
employment. Not long after, he sent for his wife, who sold what little
property they had in Philadelphia, and took her children to their new
When John left New-Jersey, he assumed the name of Thomas Cooper, by
which he was ever afterward known. He had early in life manifested a
religious turn of mind; and this was probably increased by his continual
perils and narrow escapes. He mourned over every indication of
dishonesty, profanity, or dissipation, among people of his own color;
and this feeling grew upon him, until he felt as if it were a duty to
devote his life to missionary labors. He became a popular preacher among
the Methodists, and visited some of the West India Islands in that
capacity. His Christian example and fervid exhortations, warm from the
heart, are said to have produced a powerful effect on his untutored
hearers. After his return, he concluded to go to Africa as a missionary.
For that purpose, he took shipping with his family for London, where he
was received with much kindness by many persons to whom he took letters
of introduction. His children were placed at a good school by a
benevolent member of the Society of Friends; and from various quarters
he received the most gratifying testimonials of respect and sympathy.
But what was of more value than all else to the poor harassed fugitive,
was the fact that he now, for the first time in his life, felt entirely
safe from the fangs of the oppressor.
He remained in London about a year and a half. During that time he
compiled a hymn book which his friends published with his portrait in
front. He preached with great acceptance to large congregations: several
thousand persons assembled to hear his farewell sermon on the eve of his
departure for Africa. He sailed for Sierra Leone, in the latter part of
1818, and was greeted there with much cordiality; for his fame had
preceded him. All classes flocked to hear him preach, and his labors
were highly useful. After several years spent in the discharge of
religious duties, he died of the fever which so often proves fatal to
strangers in Africa. His wife returned with her children to end her days
A CHILD KIDNAPPED.
In the year 1801, a Captain Dana engaged passage in a Philadelphia
schooner bound to Charleston, South Carolina. The day he expected to
sail, he called at the house of a colored woman, and told her he had a
good suit of clothes, too small for his own son, but about the right
size for her little boy. He proposed to take the child home to try the
garments, and if they fitted him he would make him a present of them.
The mother was much gratified by these friendly professions, and dressed
the boy up as well as she could to accompany the captain, who gave him
a piece of gingerbread, took him by the hand, and led him away. Instead
of going to his lodgings, as he had promised, he proceeded directly to
the schooner, and left the boy in care of the captain: saying that he
himself would come on board while the vessel was on the way down the
river. As they were about to sail, a sudden storm came on. The wind
raged so violently, that the ship dragged her anchor, and they were
obliged to haul to at a wharf in the district of Southwark. A
respectable man, who lived in the neighborhood, was standing on the
wharf at the time, and hearing a child crying very bitterly on board the
vessel, he asked the colored cook whose child that was, and why he was
in such distress. He replied that a passenger by the name of Dana
brought him on board, and that the boy said he stole him from his
A note was immediately despatched to Isaac T. Hopper, who, being away
from home, did not receive it till ten o'clock at night. The moment he
read it, he called for a constable, and proceeded directly to the
schooner. In answer to his inquiries, the captain declared that all the
hands had gone on shore, and that he was entirely alone in the vessel.
Friend Hopper called for a light, and asked him to open the forecastle,
that they might ascertain whether any person were there. He peremptorily
refused; saying that his word ought to be sufficient to satisfy them.
Friend Hopper took up an axe that was lying on the deck, and declared
that he would break the door, unless it was opened immediately. In this
dilemma, the captain, with great reluctance, unlocked the forecastle;
and there they found the cook and the boy. The constable took them all
in custody, and they proceeded to the mayor's. The rain fell in
torrents, and it was extremely dark; for in those days, there were no
lamps in that part of the city. They went stumbling over cellar doors,
and wading through gutters, till they arrived in Front street, where Mr.
Inskeep, the mayor, lived. It was past midnight, but when a servant
informed him that Isaac T. Hopper had been ringing at the door, and
wished to see him, he ordered him to be shown up into his chamber. After
apologizing for the unseasonableness of the hour, he briefly stated the
urgency of the case, and asked for a verbal order to put the captain and
cook in prison to await their trial the next morning. The magistrate
replied, "It is a matter of too much importance to be disposed of in
that way. I will come down and hear the case." A large hickory log,
which had been covered with ashes in the parlor fire-place, was raked
open, and they soon had a blazing fire to dry their wet garments, and
take off the chill of a cold March storm. The magistrate was surprised
to find that the captain was an old acquaintance; and he expressed much
regret at meeting him under such unpleasant circumstances. After some
investigation into the affair, he was required to appear for trial the
next morning, under penalty of forfeiting three thousand dollars. The
cook was committed to prison, as a witness; and the colored boy was sent
home with Isaac T. Hopper, who agreed to produce him at the time
Very early the next morning, he sent a messenger to inform the mother
that her child was in safety; but she was off in search of him, and was
not to be found. On the way to the mayor's office, they met her in the
street, half distracted. As soon as she perceived her child, she cried
out, "My son! My son!" threw her arms round him, and sobbed aloud. She
kissed him again and again, saying, "Oh my child, I thought I had lost
When they all arrived at the mayor's office, at the hour appointed for
trial, the captain protested that he had no knowledge of anything wrong
in the business, having merely taken care of the boy at the request of a
passenger. When he was required to appear at the next court to answer to
the charge of kidnapping, he became alarmed, and told where Captain Dana
could be arrested. His directions were followed, and the delinquent was
seized and taken to Isaac T. Hopper's house. He was in a towering
passion, protesting his innocence, and threatening vengeance against
everybody who should attempt to detain him. Badly as Friend Hopper
thought of the man, he almost wished he had escaped, when he discovered
that he had a wife and children to suffer for his misdoings. His tender
heart would not allow him to be present at the trial, lest his wife
should be there in distress. She did not appear, however, and Captain
Dana made a full confession, alleging poverty as an excuse. He was an
educated man, and had previously sustained a fair reputation. He was
liberated on bail for fifteen hundred dollars, which was forfeited; but
the judgments were never enforced against his securities.
Wagelma was a lively intelligent colored boy of ten years old, whom his
mother had bound as an apprentice to a Frenchman in Philadelphia. This
man being about to take his family to Baltimore, in the summer of 1801,
with the intention of going thence to France, put his apprentice on
board a Newcastle packet bound to Baltimore, without having the consent
of the boy or his mother, as the laws of Pennsylvania required. The
mother did not even know of his intended departure, till she heard that
her child was on board the ship. Fears that he might be sold into
slavery, either in Baltimore or the West Indies, seized upon her mind;
and even if that dreadful fate did not await him, there was great
probability that she would never see him again.
In her distress she called upon Isaac T. Hopper, immediately after
sunrise. He hastened to the wharf, where the Newcastle packet generally
lay, but had the mortification to find that she had already started, and
that a gentle breeze was wafting her down the stream. He mounted a fleet
horse, and in twenty minutes arrived at Gloucester Point, three miles
below the city. The ferry at that place was kept by a highly respectable
widow, with whom he had been long acquainted. He briefly stated the case
to her, and she at once ordered one of her ferrymen to put him on board
the Newcastle packet, which was in sight, and near the Jersey shore.
They made all speed, for there was not a moment to lose.
When they came along-side the packet, the captain, supposing him to be a
passenger for Baltimore, ordered the sailors to assist him on board.
When his business was made known, he was told that the Frenchman was in
the cabin. He sought him out, and stated that the laws of Pennsylvania
did not allow apprentices to be carried out of the state without certain
preliminaries, to which he had not attended. The Frenchman had six or
eight friends with him, and as he was going out of the country, he put
the laws at defiance. Meanwhile, the vessel was gliding down the river,
carrying friend Hopper to Newcastle. He summoned the captain, and
requested him to put the colored boy into the ferry-boat, which was
alongside ready to receive him. He was not disposed to interfere; but
when Friend Hopper drew a volume from his pocket and read to him the
laws applicable to the case, he became alarmed, and said the boy must be
given up. Whereupon, Friend Hopper directed the child to go on deck,
which he was ready enough to do; and the ferryman soon helped him on
board the boat.
The Frenchman and his friends were very noisy and violent. They
attempted to throw Friend Hopper overboard; and there were so many of
them, that they seemed likely to succeed in their efforts. But he seized
one of them fast by the coat; resolved to have company in the water, if
he were compelled to take a plunge. They struck his hand with their
canes, and pulled the coat from his grasp. Then he seized hold of
another; and so the struggle continued for some minutes. The ferryman,
who was watching the conflict, contrived to bring his boat into a
favorable position; and Friend Hopper suddenly let go the Frenchman's
coat, and tumbled in.
When he returned to Philadelphia with the boy, he found the mother
waiting at his house, in a state of intense anxiety. The meeting between
mother and son was joyful indeed; and Wagelma made them all laugh by his
animated description of his friend's encounter with the Frenchmen,
accompanied by a lively imitation of their gesticulations. In witnessing
the happiness he had imparted, their benefactor found more than
sufficient compensation for all the difficulties he had encountered.
Slavery having been abolished by a gradual process in Pennsylvania,
there were many individuals who still remained in bondage at the period
of which I write. Among them was James Poovey, slave to a blacksmith in
Pennsylvania. He had learned his master's trade, and being an athletic
man, was very valuable. During several winters, he attended an evening
school for the free instruction of colored people. He made very slow
progress in learning, but by means of unremitting industry and
application, he was at last able to accomplish the desire of his heart,
which was to read the New Testament for himself.
The fact that colored men born a few years later than himself were free,
by the act of gradual emancipation, while he was compelled to remain in
bondage, had long been a source of uneasiness; and increase of knowledge
by no means increased his contentment. Having come to the conclusion
that slavery was utterly unjust, he resolved not to submit to it any
longer. In the year 1802, when he was about thirty-three years of age,
he took occasion to inform his master that he could read the New
Testament. When he observed that he was glad to hear it, James replied,
"But in the course of my reading I have discovered that it would be a
sin for me to serve you as a slave any longer".
"Aye?" said his master. "Pray tell me how you made that discovery."
"Why, the New Testament says we must do as we would be done by," replied
James. "Now if I submit to let you do by _me_, as you would not be
willing I should do by _you_, I am as bad as you are. If you will give
me a paper that will secure my freedom at the end of seven years, I will
serve you faithfully during that time; but I cannot consent to be a
slave any longer."
His master refused to consent to this proposition. James then asked
permission to go to sea till he could earn money enough to buy his
freedom; but this proposal was likewise promptly rejected.
"You will get nothing by trying to keep me in slavery," said James; "for
I am determined to be free. I shall never make you another offer."
He walked off, and his master applied for a warrant to arrest him, and
commit him to prison, as a disobedient and refractory slave. When he had
been in jail a month, he called to see him, and inquired whether he were
ready to return home and go to work.
"I _am_ at home," replied James. "I expect to end my days here. I never
will serve you again as a slave, or pay you one single cent. What do you
come here for? There is no use in your coming."
The master was greatly provoked by this conduct, and requested the
inspectors to have him put in the cells and kept on short allowance,
till he learned to submit. Isaac T. Hopper was one of the board; and as
the question was concerning a colored man, they referred it to him.
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