Our World, or, The Slaveholders Daughter
F. Colburn Adams
Part 5 out of 12
about 'nigger law.' The point, thus far, you see, gentlemen, I've
settled. Now then!" Mr. Scranton rests his elbow on the table, makes
many legal gesticulations with his finger; he, however, disclaims
all and every connection with the legal body, inasmuch as its
members have sunk very much in the scale of character, and will
require a deal of purifying ere he can call them brothers; but he
knows a thing or two of constitutional law, and thus proceeds:
"'Tain't a whit of matter about the woman, barring the dockerment's
all right. You only want to prove that Marston bought her, that's
all! As for the young scraps, why--supposing they are his-that won't
make a bit of difference; they are property for all that, subject to
legal restraints. Your claim will be valid against it. You may have
to play nicely over some intricate legal points. But, remember,
nigger law is wonderfully elastic; it requires superhuman wisdom to
unravel its social and political intricacies, and when I view it
through the horoscope of an indefinite future it makes my very head
ache. You may, however, let your claim revert to another, and
traverse the case until such time as you can procure reliable proof
to convict." Mr. Scranton asserts this as the force of his legal and
constitutional acumen. He addresses himself to a mercantile-looking
gentleman who sits at the opposite side of the table, attentively
listening. He is one of several of Marston's creditors, who sit at
the table; they have attached certain property, and having some
doubts of overthrowing Marston's plea of freedom, which he has
intimated his intention to enter, have called in the valuable aid of
Romescos. That indomitable individual, however, has more interests
than one to serve, and is playing his cards with great "diplomatic
skill." Indeed, he often remarks that his wonderful diplomatic skill
would have been a great acquisition to the federal government,
inasmuch as it would have facilitated all its Southern American
The point in question at present, and which they must get over, in
order to prove the property, is made more difficult by the doubt in
which the origin of Clotilda has always been involved. Many are the
surmises about her parentage-many are the assertions that she is not
of negro extraction--she has no one feature indicating it--but no one
can positively assert where she came from; in a word, no one dare!
Hence is constituted the ground for fearing the issue of Marston's
notice of freedom.
"Well! I'll own it puzzles my cunnin'; there's a way to get round
it-there is-but deuced if 'tain't too much for my noddle," Romescos
interposes, taking a little more whiskey, and seeming quite
indifferent about the whole affair. "Suppose-Marston-comes-forward!
yes, and brings somebody to swear as a kind a' sideways? That'll be
a poser in asserting their freedom; it'll saddle you creditors with
the burden of proof. There'll be the rub; and ye can't plead a right
to enjoin the schedule he files in bankruptcy unless ye show how
they were purchased by him. Perchance on some legal uncertainty it
might be done,--by your producing proof that he had made an
admission, anterior to the levy, of their being purchased by him,"
Romescos continues, very wisely appealing to his learned and
constitutional friend, Mr. Scranton, who yields his assent by adding
that the remarks are very legal, and contain truths worth
considering, inasmuch as they involve great principles of popular
government. "I think our worthy friend has a clear idea of the
points," Mr. Scranton concludes.
"One word more, gentlemen: a bit of advice what's worth a right
smart price to ye all"--here he parenthesises by saying he has great
sympathy for creditors in distress--"and ye must profit by it, for
yer own interests. As the case now stands, it's a game for lawyers
to play and get fat at. And, seein' how Marston's feelins are up in
a sort of tender way, he feels strong about savin' them young 'uns;
and ye, nor all the gentlemen of the lower place, can't make 'em
property, if he plays his game right;--he knows how to! ye'll only
make a fuss over the brutes, while the lawyers bag all the game
worth a dollar. Never see'd a nigger yet what raised a legal squall,
that didn't get used up in law leakins; lawyers are sainted pocket
masters! But--that kind a' stuff!--it takes a mighty deal of
cross-cornered swearing to turn it into property. The only way ye
can drive the peg in so the lawyers won't get hold on't, is by
sellin' out to old Graspum-Norman, I mean--he does up such business
as fine as a fiddle. Make the best strike with him ye can--he's as
tough as a knot on nigger trade!--and, if there's any making
property out on 'em, he's just the tinker to do it."
They shake their heads doubtingly, as if questioning the policy of
the advice. Mr. Scranton, however, to whom all looked with great
solicitation, speaks up, and affirms the advice to be the wiser
course, as a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
"Oh, yes!" says Romescos, significantly, "you'll be safe then, and
free from responsibility; Graspum's a great fellow to buy risks;
but, seeing how he's not popular with juries, he may want to play
behind the scenes, continue to prosecute the case in the name of the
creditors,--that's all! Curious work, this making property out of
doubtful women. Sell out to them what understands the curious of the
things, clear yerselfs of the perplexin' risks--ye won't bag a bit of
the game, you won't. Saddle it on Norman; he knows the philosophy of
nigger trade, and can swim through a sea of legal perplexities in
nigger cases." Mr. Romescos never gave more serious advice in his
life; he finishes his whiskey, adjusts his hat slouchingly on his
head, bids them good night; and, in return for their thanks, assures
them that they are welcome. He withdraws; Mr. Scranton, after a
time, gets very muddled; so much so, that, when daylight appears, he
finds, to his utter astonishment, he has enjoyed a sweet sleep on
the floor, some of his quizzical friends having disfigured his face
very much after the fashion of a clown's. He modestly, and
mechanically, picks up his lethargic body, views his constitutional
self in the glass, and is much horrified, much disgusted with those
who perpetrated the freak.
THEY ARE ALL GOING TO BE SOLD.
SLOWLY we pass through the precious scenes, hoping our readers will
indulge us with their patience.
Five days have passed since Clotilda's departure; her absence is
creating alarm. No one knows anything of her! a general search is
instituted, but the searchers search in vain. Maxwell has eluded
suspicion-Franconia no one for a moment suspects. Colonel
M'Carstrow-his mind, for the time, absorbed in the charms of his
young bride-gives little attention to the matter. He only knows that
he has signed a bond for fifteen hundred dollars, to indemnify the
sheriff, or creditors, in the event of loss; he reconciles himself
with the belief that she has been enticed into some of the
neighbouring bright houses, from which he can regain her in the
course of time. M'Carstrow knows little of Clotilda's real
character; and thus the matter rests a time.
The sheriff,--important gentleman of an important office,--will give
himself no concern about the matter: the plaintiff's attorney
acknowledged the deed of release, which is quite enough for him.
Graspum, a perfect savan where human property was to be judged, had
decided that her square inches of human vitality were worth strong
fifteen hundred; that was all desirable for the sheriff-it would
leave margin enough to cover the cost. But M'Carstrow, when given
the bond, knew enough of nigger law to demand the insertion of a
clause leaving it subject to the question of property, which is to
be decided by the court. A high court this, where freemen sit
assembled to administer curious justice. What constitutional
inconsistencies hover over the monstrous judicial dignity of this
court,--this court having jurisdiction over the monetary value of
beings moulded after God's own image! It forms a happy jurisprudence
for those who view it for their selfish ends; it gains freedom
tyranny's license, gives birth to strange incongruities, clashing
between the right of property in man and all the viler passions of
our nature. It holds forth a jurisprudence that turns men into
hounds of hell, devouring one another, and dragging human nature
down into the very filth of earth.
Marston's troubles keep increasing. All the preliminaries of law
necessary to a sale of the undisputed property have been gone
through; the day of its disposal has arrived. The children, Annette
and Nicholas, have remained in a cell, suffering under its malarious
atmosphere, anxiously awaiting their fate. Marston has had them
taught to read,--contrary to a generous law of a generous land,--and
at intervals they sit together pondering over little books he has
What are such little books to them? the unbending avarice of human
nature, fostered by slavery's power, is grappling at their
existence. There is no sympathy for them; it is crushed out by the
law which makes them chattels. Oh, no! sympathy, generosity, human
affections, have little to do with the transactions of slave
dealing; that belongs to commerce,--commerce has an unbending rule to
maintain while money is to be made by a legalised traffic.
We must invite the reader to accompany us to the county gaol, on the
morning of sale.
The "gang"-Marston's slaves-have been ordered to prepare themselves
for the market; the yard resounds with their jargon. Some are
arranging their little clothing, washing, "brightening up" their
faces to make the property show off in the market. Others are
preparing homony for breakfast; children, in ragged garments, are
toddling, running, playing, and sporting about the brick pavement;
the smallest are crouched at the feet of their mothers, as if
sharing the gloom or nonchalance of their feeling. Men are gathering
together the remnants of some cherished memento of the old
plantation; they had many a happy day upon it. Women view as things
of great worth the little trinkets with which good master, in former
days, rewarded their energy. They recall each happy association of
the cabin. Husbands, or such as should be husbands, look upon their
wives with solicitude; they feel it is to be the last day they will
meet together on earth. They may meet in heaven; there is no slavery
there. Mothers look upon their children only to feel the pangs of
sorrow more keenly; they know and feel that their offspring are born
for the market, not for the enjoyment of their affections. They may
be torn from them, and sold like sheep in the shambles. Happy, free
country! How fair, how beautiful the picture of constitutional
rights! how in keeping with every-day scenes of southern life!
"I'ze gwine to be sold; you're gwint to be sold; we're all gwine to
be sold. Wonder what mas'r's gwine t'buy dis child," says Aunt
Rachel, arranging her best dress, making her face "shine just so."
Aunt Rachel endeavours to suit her feelings to the occasion, trims
her bandana about her head with exquisite taste, and lets the
bright-coloured points hang about her ears in great profusion.
"Da'h 's a right smart heap o' dollar in dis old nigger, yet!-if
mas'r what gwine t'buy 'em know how't fotch um out; Mas'r must do
da'h clean ting wid dis child," Rachel says, as if exulting over the
value of her own person. She brushes and brushes, views and reviews
herself in a piece of mirror-several are waiting to borrow it-thinks
she is just right for market, asks herself what's the use of
fretting? It's a free country, with boundless hospitality-of the
southern stamp,--and why not submit to all freedom's dealings? Aunt
Rachel is something of a philosopher.
"Aunte! da' would'nt gin much fo'h yer old pack a' bones if mas'r
what gwine to buy ye know'd ye like I. Ye' h'ant da property what
bring long price wid Buckra," replies Dandy, who views Aunt Rachel
rather suspiciously, seems inclined to relieve her conceit, and has
taken very good care that his own dimensions are trimmed up to the
"Dis nigger would'nt swop h'r carcas fo'h yourn. Dat she don't,"
"Reckon how ye wouldn't, ah!" Dandy's face fills with indignation.
"Buckra what sting ye back wid de lash 'll buy ye old bag a' bones
fo'h down south; and when 'e get ye down da' he make ye fo'h a corn
grinder." Dandy is somewhat inflated with his rank among the
domestics; he is none of yer common niggers, has never associated
with black, field niggers, which he views as quite too common for
his aristocratic notions, has on his very best looks, his hair
combed with extraordinary care, his shirt collar dangerously
standing above his ears. He feels something better than nigger blood
in his composition, knows the ins and outs of nigger philosophy; he
knows it to be the very best kind of philosophy for a "nigger" to
put on a good appearance at the shambles. A dandy nigger is not
plantation stock,--hence he has "trimmed up," and hopes to find a
purchaser in want of his specific kind of property; it will save him
from that field-life so much dreaded.
The property, in all its varied shades, comes rolling out from all
manner of places in and about the gaol, filling the yard. It is a
momentous occasion, the most momentous of their life-time. And yet
many seem indifferent about its consequences. They speak of the old
plantation, jeer each other about the value of themselves, offer
bets on the price they will bring, assert a superiority over each
other, and boast of belonging to some particular grade of the
property. Harry--we mean Harry the preacher--is busy getting his wife
and children ready for market. He evinces great affection for his
little ones, has helped his wife to arrange their apparel with so
much care. The uninitiated might imagine them going to church
instead of the man shambles. Indeed, so earnest are many good
divines in the promotion of slavery, that it would not be unbecoming
to form a connection between the southern church and the southern
man shambles. The material aid they now give each other for the
purpose of keeping up the man trade would be much facilitated.
However, there is a chance of Harry being sold to a brother divine,
who by way of serving his good Lord and righteous master, may let
him out to preach, after the old way. Harry will then be serving his
brother in brotherly faith; that is, he will be his brother's
property, very profitable, strong in the faith with his dear divine
brother, to whom he will pay large tribute for the right to serve
the same God.
Harry's emotions-he has been struggling to suppress them-have got
beyond his control; tears will now and then show themselves and
course down his cheeks. "Never mind, my good folks! it is something
to know that Jesus still guards us; still watches over us." He
speaks encouragingly to them. "The scourge of earth is man's wrongs,
the deathspring of injustice. We are made bearers of the burden; but
that very burden will be our passport into a brighter, a juster
world. Let us meekly bear it. Cheer up! arm yourselves with the
spirit of the Lord; it will give you fortitude to live out the long
journey of slave life. How we shall feel when, in heaven, we are
brought face to face with master, before the Lord Judge. Our rights
and his wrongs will then weigh in the balance of heavenly justice."
With these remarks, Harry counsels them to join him in prayer. He
kneels on the brick pavement of the yard, clasps his hands together
as they gather around him kneeling devotedly. Fervently he offers up
a prayer,--he invokes the God of heaven to look down upon them, to
bestow his mercy upon master, to incline his ways in the paths of
good; and to protect these, his unfortunate children, and guide them
through their separate wayfaring. The ardour, grotesqueness, and
devotion of this poor forlorn group, are painfully touching. How it
presents the portrait of an oppressed race! how sunk is the nature
that has thus degraded it! Under the painful burden of their sorrow
they yet manifest the purity of simple goodness. "Oh! Father in
heaven, hast thou thus ordained it to be so?" breaks forth from
Harry's lips, as the criminals, moved by the affecting picture,
gather upon the veranda, and stand attentive listeners. Their
attention seems rivetted to his words; the more vicious, as he looks
through grated bars upon them, whispers words of respect.
Harry has scarcely concluded his prayer when the sheriff,
accompanied by several brokers (slave-dealers), comes rushing
through the transept into the yard. The sheriff is not rude; he
approaches Harry, tells him he is a good boy, has no objection to
his praying, and hopes a good master will buy him. He will do all he
can to further his interests, having heard a deal about his talents.
He says this with good-natured measure, and proceeds to take a
cursory view of the felons. While he is thus proceeding, the
gentlemen of trade who accompanied him are putting "the property"
through a series of examinations.
"Property like this ye don't start up every day," says one. "Best
I'ze seen come from that ar' district. Give ye plenty corn, down
there, don't they, boys?" enjoins another, walking among them, and
every moment bringing the end of a small whip which he holds in his
right hand about their legs. This, the gentleman remarks, is merely
for the purpose-one of the phrases of the very honourable trade-of
testing their nimbleness.
"Well!" replies a tall, lithe dealer, whose figure would seem to
have been moulded for chasing hogs through the swamp, "There's some
good bits among it; but it won't stand prime, as a lot!" The
gentleman, who seems to have a nicely balanced mind for judging the
human nature value of such things, is not quite sure that they have
been bacon fed. He continues his learned remarks. "Ye'h han't had
full tuck out, I reckon, boys?" he inquires of them, deliberately
examining the mouths and nostrils of several. The gentleman is very
cool in this little matter of trade; it is an essential element of
southern democracy; some say, nothing more!
"Yes, Boss!" replies Enoch, one of the negroes; "Mas'r ollers good
t' e niggers, gin him bacon free times a week-sometimes mo' den
dat." Several voices chime in to affirm what Enoch says.
"Ah, very good. Few planters in that district give their negroes
bacon; and an all corn-fed nigger won't last two years on a sugar
plantation," remarks one of the gentlemen dealers, as he smokes his
cigar with great nonchalance.
While these quaint appendancies of the trade are proceeding,
Romescos and Graspum make their appearance. They have come to
forestall opinion, to make a few side-winded remarks. They are ready
to enter upon the disgusting business of examining property more
carefully, more scrupulously, more in private. The honourable
sheriff again joins the party. He orders that every accommodation be
afforded the gentlemen in their examinations of the property. Men,
women, and children-sorrowing property-are made to stand erect; to
gesticulate their arms; to expand their chests, to jump about like
jackals, and to perform sundry antics pleasing to the gentlemen
lookers-on. This is all very free, very democratic, very gentlemanly
in the way of trade,--very necessary to test the ingredient of the
valuable square inches of the property. What matters all this! the
honourable sheriff holds it no dishonour; modest gentlemen never
blush at it; the coarse dealer makes it his study,--he trades in
human nature; the happy democrat thinks it should have a
co-fellowship with southern hospitality-so long and loudly boasted.
Those little necessary displays over, the honourable sheriff invites
his distinguished friends to "have a cigar round;" having satisfied
their taste in gymnastarising the property. Romescos, however,
thinks he has not quite satisfied his feelings; he is very dogged on
nigger flesh. The other gentlemen may smoke their cigars; Mr.
Romescos thinks he will enjoy the exercise of his skill in testing
the tenacity of negroes' chests; which he does by administering
heavy blows, which make them groan out now and then. Groans,
however, don't amount to much; they are only nigger groans. Again
Mr. Romescos applies the full force of his hands upon their ears;
then he will just pull them systematically. "Nice property!" he
says, telling the forbearing creatures not to mind the pain.
Messrs. Graspum and Romescos will make a close inspection of a few
pieces. Here, several men and women are led into a basement cell,
under the veranda, and stript most rudely. No discrimination is
permitted. Happy freedom! What a boon is liberty! Mr. Romescos views
their nice firm bodies, and their ebony black skins, with great
skill and precaution; his object is to prove the disposition of the
articles,--strong evidence being absence of scars. He lays his bony
fingers on their left shoulders-they being compelled to stand in a
recumbent position-tracing their bodies to the hips and thighs. Here
the process ends. Mr. Romescos has satisfied his very nice judgment
on the solidity of the human-flesh-property-he has put their bodies
through other disgusting inspections-they belong to the trade-which
cannot be told here; but he finds clean skins, very smooth, without
scars or cuts, or dangerous diseases. He laughs exultingly, orders
the people to stow themselves in their clothes again, and relights
his cigar. "If it 'ant a tall lot!" he whispers to Graspum, and
gives him a significant touch with his elbow. "Bright-smooth as a
leather ninepence; han't had a lash-Marston was a fool, or his
niggers are angels, rather black, though-couldn't start up a scar on
their flesh. A little trimmin' down-it wants it, you see!-to make it
show off; must have it-eh! Graspum, old feller? It only wants a
little, though, and them dandy niggers, and that slap-up preacher,
will bring a smart price fixed up. Great institution! The preacher's
got knowin'; can discourse like a college-made deacon, and can
convert a whole plantation with his nigger eloquence. A nigger
preacher with Bible knowin, when it's smart, is right valuable when
ye want to keep the pious of a plantation straight. And then! when
the preacher 'ant got a notion a' runnin away in him." Romescos
crooks his finger upon Graspum's arm, whispers cautiously in his
"There 'll be a sharp bidding for some of it; they 'll run up some
on the preacher. He 'll be a capital investment,--pay more than
thirty per cent. insinuates another gentleman-a small inquisitive
looking dealer in articles of the nigger line. When a planter's got
a big gang a' niggers, and is just fool enough to keep such a thing
for the special purpose of making pious valuable in 'um," Mr.
Romescos rejoins, shrugging his shoulders, rubbing his little hawk's
eyes, and looking seriously indifferent. Romescos gives wonderful
evidence of his "first best cunning propensities;" and here he
fancies he has pronounced an opinion that will be taken as profound.
He affects heedlessness of everything, is quite disinterested, and,
thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, assumes an air of dignity
that would not unbecome my Lord Chief Justice.
"Let us see them two bits of disputed property,--where are they?"
inquires Graspum, turning half round, and addressing himself to the
"In the close cells," is the quick reply,--"through the narrow vault,
up the stone passage, and on the right, in the arched cell."
The gaoler-good, honest-hearted man-leads the way, through a chilly
vault, up the narrow passage, to the left wing of the building. The
air is pestiferous; warm and diseased, it fans us as we approach.
The gaoler puts his face to the grating, and in a guttural voice,
says, "You're wanted, young uns." They understand the summons; they
come forward as if released from torture to enjoy the pure air of
heaven. Confinement, dreary and damp, has worn deep into their
Annette speaks feebly, looks pale and sickly. Her flaxen curls still
dangle prettily upon her shoulders. She expected her mother; that
mother has not come. The picture seems strange; she looks childishly
and vacantly round,--at the dealers, at Graspum, at the sheriff, at
the familiar faces of the old plantation people. She recognizes
Harry, and would fain leap into his arms. Nicholas, less moved by
what is going on around him, hangs reluctantly behind, holding by
the skirt of Annette's frock. He has lost that vivacity and pertness
so characteristic on the plantation. Happy picture of freedom's
love! Happy picture of immortalised injustice! Happy picture of
everything that is unhappy! How modest is the boast that we live to
be free; and that in our virtuous freedom a child's mother has been
sold for losing her mind: a faithful divine, strong with love for
his fellow divines, is to be sold for his faith; the child-the
daughter of the democrat-they say, will be sold from her democratic
father. The death-stinging enemy Washington and Jefferson sought to
slaughter-to lay ever dead at their feet, has risen to life again.
Annette's mother has fled to escape its poison. We must pause! we
must not discourse thus in our day, when the sordid web of trade is
being drawn over the land by King Cotton.
The children, like all such doubtful stock, are considered very
fancy, very choice of their kind. It must be dressed in style to
suit nice eyes at the shambles.
"Well! ye'r right interesting looking," says the sheriff--Messrs.
Graspum and Co. look upon them with great concern, now and then
interrupting with some observations upon their pedigree,--taking them
by the arms, and again rumpling their hair by rubbing his hands over
their heads. "Fix it up, trim; we must put them up along with the
rest to-day. It 'll make Marston--I pity the poor fellow--show his
hand on the question of their freedom. Mr. sheriff, being
sufficiently secured against harm, is quite indifferent about the
latent phases of the suit. He remarks, with great legal logic--we
mean legal slave logic--that Marston must object to the sale when the
children are on the stand. It is very pretty kind a' property, very
like Marston--will be as handsome as pictures when they grow up," he
says, ordering it put back to be got ready.
"Why didn't my mother come?" the child whimpers, dewy tears
decorating her eyes. "Why won't she come back and take me to the
plantation again? I want her to come back; I've waited so long." As
she turns to follow the gaoler--Nicholas still holds her by the skirt
of her frock--her flaxen curls again wave to and fro upon her
shoulders, adding beauty to her childlike simplicity. "You'll grow
to be something, one of these days, won't ye, little dear?" says the
gaoler, taking her by the hand. She replies in those silent and
touching arguments of the soul; she raises her soft blue eyes, and
heaven fills them with tears, which she lifts her tiny hands to wipe
Nicholas tremblingly-he cannot understand the strange
movement-follows them through the vault; he looks up submissively,
and with instinctive sympathy commences a loud blubbering. "You're
going to be sold, little uns! but, don't roar about it; there's no
use in that," says the gaoler, inclining to sympathy.
Nicholas does'nt comprehend it; he looks up to Annette, plaintively,
and, forgetting his own tears, says, in a whisper, "Don't cry,
Annette; they 'll let us go and see mother, and mother will be so
kind to us-."
"It does seem a pity to sell ye, young 'uns; ye'r such nice
'uns,--have so much interestin' in yer little skins!" interrupts the
gaoler, suddenly. The man of keys could unfold a strange history of
misery, suffering, and death, if fear of popular opinion,
illustrated in popular liberty, did not seal his lips. He admits the
present to be
We are narrating a scene related to us by the very gaoler we here
describe, and as nearly as possible in his own language. rather an
uncommon case, says it makes a body feel kind a' unhinged about the
heart, which heart, however rocky at times, will have its own way
when little children are sorrowing. "And then, to know their
parents! that's what tells deeper on a body's feeling,--it makes a
body look into the hereafter." The man of keys and shackles would be
a father, if the law did but let him. There is a monster power over
him, a power he dreads-it is the power of unbending democracy, moved
alone by fretful painstakers of their own freedom.
"Poor little things! ye 'r most white, yes!-suddenly changing-just
as white as white need be. Property's property, though, all over the
world. What's sanctioned by the constitution, and protected by the
spirit and wisdom of Congress, must be right, and maintained," the
gaoler concludes. His heart is at war with his head; but the head
has the power, and he must protect the rights of an unrighteous
system. They have arrived at a flight of steps, up which they
ascend, and are soon lost in its windings. They are going to be
dressed for the market.
The sheriff is in the yard, awaiting the preparation of the
property. Even he-iron-hearted, they say-gives them a look of
generous solicitude, as they pass out. He really feels there is a
point, no less in the scale of slave dealing, beyond which there is
something so repugnant that hell itself might frown upon it. "It's a
phase too hard, touches a body's conscience," he says, not observing
Romescos at his elbow.
"Conscience!" interrupts Romescos, his eyes flashing like meteors of
red fire, "the article don't belong to the philosophy of our
business. Establish conscience-let us, gentlemen, give way to our
feelins, and trade in nigger property 'd be deader than Chatham's
statue, what was pulled through our streets by the neck. The great
obstacle, however, is only this-it is profitable in its way!"
Romescos cautiously attempts to shield this, but it will not do.
The gaoler, protruding his head from a second-story window, like a
mop in a rain storm, enquires if it is requisite to dress the
children in their very best shine. It is evident he merely views
them as two bales of merchandise.
The sheriff, angrily, says, "Yes! I told you that already. Make them
look as bright as two new pins." His honour has been contemplating
how they will be mere pins in the market,--pins to bolt the doors of
justice, pins to play men into Congress, pins to play men out of
Congress, pins to play a President into the White House.
An old negress, one of the plantation nurses, is called into
service. She commences the process of preparing them for market.
They are nicely washed, dressed in clean clothes; they shine out as
bright and white as anybody's children. Their heads look so sleek,
their hair is so nicely combed, so nicely parted, so nicely curled.
The old slave loves them,--she loved their father. Her skill has been
lavished upon them,--they look as choice and interesting as the human
property of any democratic gentleman can be expected to do. Let us
be patriotic, let us be law-loving, patient law-abiding citizens,
loving that law of our free country which puts them under the
man-vender's hammer,--say our peace-abiding neighbours.
The gaoler has not been long in getting Annette and Nicholas ready.
He brings them forward, so neatly and prettily dressed: he places
them among the "gang." But they are disputed property: hence all
that ingenuity which the system engenders for the advancement of
dealers is brought into use to defeat the attempt to assert their
freedom. Romescos declares it no difficult matter to do this: he has
the deadly weapon in his possession; he can work (shuffle) the debt
into Graspum's hands, and he can supply the proof to convict. By
this very desirable arrangement the thing may be made nicely
No sooner has Aunt Rachel seen the children in their neat and
familiar attire, than her feelings bound with joy,--she cannot longer
restrain them. She has watched Marston's moral delinquencies with
suspicion; but she loves the children none the less. And with honest
negro nature she runs to them, clasps them to her bosom, fondles
them, and kisses them like a fond mother. The happy associations of
the past, contrasted with their present unhappy condition, unbind
the fountain of her solicitude,--she pours it upon them, warm and
fervent. "Gwine t' sell ye, too! Mas'r, poor old Mas'r, would'nt
sell ye, no how! that he don't. But poor old Boss hab 'e trouble
now, God bless 'em," she says, again pressing Annette to her bosom,
nearer and nearer, with fondest, simplest, holiest affection.
Looking intently in the child's face, she laughs with the bounding
joy of her soul; then she smooths its hair with her brawny black
hands: they contrast strangely with the pure carnatic of the child's
"Lor! good Lor, Mas'r Buckra," aunt Rachel exclaims, "if eber de
Lor' smote 'e vengence on yeh, 't'll be fo' sellin' de likes o'
dese. Old Mas'r tinks much on 'em, fo' true. Gwine t' sell dem what
Mas'r be so fond on? Hard tellin' what Buckra don't sell win i'
makes money on him. Neber mind, children; de Lor' aint so unsartin
as white man. He,--da'h good Mas'r yonder in the clouds,--save ye yet;
he'll make white man gin ye back when de day o' judgment come." Aunt
Rachel has an instinctive knowledge of the errors, accidents, and
delays which have brought about this sad event,--she becomes absorbed
in their cares, as she loses sight of her own trouble.
All ready for the market, they are chained together in pairs, men
and women, as if the wrongs they bore had made them untrustworthy.
Romescos, ever employed in his favourite trade, is busily engaged
chaining up-assorting the pairs! One by one they quietly submit to
the proceeding, until he reaches Harry. That minister-of-the-gospel
piece of property thinks,--that is, is foolish enough to think,--his
nigger religion a sufficient guarantee against any inert propensity
to run away. "Now, good master, save my hands from irons, and my
heart from pain. Trust me, let me go unbound; my old Master trust me
wid 'is life-"
"Halloo!" says Romescos, quickly interrupting, and beginning to
bristle with rage; "preach about old Master here you'll get the
tinglers, I reckon. Put 'em on-not a grunt-or you'll get thirty
more-yes, a collar on yer neck." Holding a heavy stick over the poor
victim's head, for several minutes with one hand, he rubs the other,
clenched, several times across his nose. Graspum interposes by
reminding the minister that it is for his interest to be very
careful how he makes any reply to white gentlemen.
"Why, massa, I'ze the minister on de plantation. My old master
wouldn't sell-wouldn't do so wid me. Master knows I love God, am
honest and peaceable. Why chain the honest? why chain the peaceable?
why chain the innocent? They need no fetters, no poisoning shackles.
The guilty only fear the hand of retribution," says Harry, a curl of
contempt on his lip. He takes a step backwards as Romescos holds the
heavy irons before him.
"You don't come nigger preacher over this ar' child; 't'ant what's
crack'd up to be. I larns niggers to preach different tunes. Don't
spoil prime stock for such nonsense-"
"Master Sheriff will stand answerable for me," interrupts Harry,
turning to that honourable functionary, and claiming his protection.
That gentleman says it is rather out of his line to interfere.
"Not a preacher trick, I say again-Romescos evinces signs of
increasing temper-ya' black theologin. Preachers can't put on such
dignity when they'r property." Preachers of colour must be doubly
humbled: they must be humble before God, humbled before King Cotton,
humbled before the king dealer, who will sell them for their
dollars' worth. Harry must do the bidding of his king master; his
monkey tricks won't shine with such a philosopher as Romescos. The
man of bones, blood, and flesh, can tell him to sell a nigger
preacher to his brother of the ministry, and make it very
profitable. He assures Harry, while holding the shackles in his
hands, that he may put on just as much of the preacher as he can
get, when he gets to the shambles, and hears the fives and tens
bidding on his black hide.
Harry must submit; he does it with pain and reluctance. He is
chained to his wife-a favour suggested by the sheriff-with whom he
can walk the streets of a free country,--but they must be bound in
freedom's iron fellowship. The iron shackle clasps his wrist; the
lock ticks as Romescos turns the key: it vibrates to his very heart.
With a sigh he says, "Ours is a life of sorrow, streaming its dark
way along a dangerous path. It will ebb into the bright and
beautiful of heaven; that heaven wherein we put our trust-where our
hopes are strengthened. O! come the day when we shall be borne to
the realms of joy-joy celestial! There no unholy shade of
birth-unholy only to man-shall doom us; the colour of our skin will
not there be our misfortune-"
"What!" quickly interrupts Romescos, "what's that?" The property
minister, thus circumstanced, must not show belligerent feelings.
Romescos simply, but very skilfully, draws his club; measures him an
unamiable blow on the head, fells him to the ground. The poor wretch
struggles a few moments, raises his manacled hands to his face as
his wife falls weeping upon his shuddering body. She supplicates
mercy at the hands of the ruffian-the ruffian torturer. "Quietly,
mas'r; my man 'ill go wid me," says the woman, interposing her hand
to prevent a second blow.
Harry opens his eyes imploringly, casts a look of pity upon the man
standing over him. Romescos is in the attitude of dealing him
another blow. The wretch stays his hand. "Do with me as you please,
master; you are over me. My hope will be my protector when your
pleasure will have its reward."
A second thought has struck Romescos; the nigger isn't so bad, after
all. "Well, reckon how nobody won't have no objection to ya'r
thinking just as ya'v mind to; but ya' can't talk ya'r own way, nor
ya' can't have ya'r own way with this child. A nigger what puts on
parson airs-if it is a progressive age nigger-musn't put on fast
notions to a white gentleman of my standing! If he does, we just
take 'em out on him by the process of a small quantity of first-
rate knockin down," says Romescos, amiably lending him a hand to get
up. Graspum and the honourable sheriff are measuredly pacing up and
down the yard, talking over affairs of state, and the singular
purity of their own southern democracy-that democracy which will
surely elect the next President. Stepping aside in one of his
sallies, Graspum, in a half whisper, reminds Romescos that, now the
nigger has shown symptoms of disobedience, he had better prove the
safety of the shackles. "Right! right! all right!" the man of chains
responds; he had forgot this very necessary piece of amusement. He
places both hands upon the shackles; grasps them firmly; places his
left foot against Harry's stomach; and then, uttering a fierce
imprecation, makes his victim pull with might and main while he
braces against him with full power. The victim, groaning under the
pain, begs for mercy. Mercy was not made for him. Freedom and mercy,
in this our land of greatness, have been betrayed.
Harry, made willing property, is now placed by the side of his wife,
as four small children--the youngest not more than two years
old--cling at the skirts of her gown. The children are scarcely old
enough to chain; their strong affections for poor chained mother and
father are quite enough to guarantee against their running away.
Romescos, in his ample kindness, will allow them to toddle their way
to market. They are not dangerous property;--they have their
feelings, and will go to market to be sold, without running away.
The gang is ready. The gaoler, nearly out of breath, congratulates
himself upon the manner of dispatching business at his
establishment. Romescos will put them through a few evolutions
before marching in the street; so, placing himself at their right,
and the gaoler at their left flank, they are made to march and
counter-march several times round the yard. This done, the generous
gaoler invites the gentlemen into his office: he has a good glass of
whiskey waiting their superior tastes.
The ward gates are opened; the great gate is withdrawn; the
property, linked in iron fellowship,--the gentlemen having taken
their whiskey,--are all ready for the word, march! This significant
admonition the sheriff gives, and the property sets off in solemn
procession, like wanderers bound on a pilgrimage. Tramp, tramp,
tramp, their footsteps fall in dull tones as they sally forth, in
broken file, through the long aisles. Romescos is in high glee,--his
feelings bound with exultation, he marches along, twirling a stick
over his head. They are soon in the street, where he invites them to
strike up a lively song--"Jim crack corn, and I don't care, fo'h
Mas'r's gone away!" he shouts; and several strike up, the rest
joining in the old plantation chorus--"Away! away! away! Mas'r's
gone away." Thus, with jingling chorus and seemingly joyous hearts,
they march down to the man-market. The two children, Annette and
Nicholas, trail behind, in charge of the sheriff, whose better
feelings seem to be troubling him very much. Every now and then, as
they walk by his side, he casts a serious look at Annette, as if
conscience, speaking in deep pulsations, said it wasn't just right
to sell such an interesting little creature. Onward they marched,
his head and heart warring the while. "There's something about it
that does'nt seem to come just right in a fellow's feelins," keeps
working itself in his mind, until at length he mutters the words. It
is the natural will to do good, struggling against the privileges
which a government gives ungovernable men to do wrong.
LET US FOLLOW POOR HUMAN NATURE TO THE MAN SHAMBLES.
GENTLEMEN dealers in want of human property,--planters in want of a
few prime people,--brokers who have large transactions in such
articles,--and factors who, being rather sensitive of their dignity,
give to others the negotiation of their business,--are assembled in
and around the mart, a covered shed, somewhat resembling those used
by railroad companies for the storing of coarse merchandise.
Marston's negroes are to be sold. Suspicious circumstances are
connected with his sudden decline: rumour has sounded her
seven-tongued symbols upon it, and loud are the speculations. The
cholera has made mighty ravages; but the cholera could not have done
all. Graspum has grasped the plantation, quietly and adroitly, but
he has not raised the veil of mystery that hangs over the process.
There must be long explanations before the obdurate creditors are
The irons have been removed from the property, who are crouched
round the stand-an elevated platform-in a forlorn group, where
sundry customers can scrutinize their proportions. Being little or
no fancy among it, the fast young gentlemen of the town, finding
nothing worthy their attention and taste, make a few cursory
observations, and slowly swagger out of the ring. The children are
wonderfully attractive and promising; they are generally admired by
the customers, who view them with suspicious glances. Annette's
clean white skin and fine features are remarkably promising,--much
valued as articles of merchandise,--and will, in time, pay good
interest. Her youth, however, saves her from present sacrifice,--it
thwarts that spirited competition which older property of the same
quality produces when about to be knocked down under the hammer of
It is a great day, a day of tribulation, with the once happy people
of Marston's plantation. No prayer is offered up for them, their
souls being only embodied in their market value. Prayers are not
known at the man shambles, though the hammer of the vender seals
with death the lives of many. No gentleman in modest black cares
aught for such death. The dealer will not pay the service fee! Good
master is no longer their protector; his familiar face, so buoyant
with joy and affection, has passed from them. No more will that
strong attachment manifest itself in their greetings. Fathers will
be fathers no longer-it is unlawful. Mothers cannot longer clasp
their children in their arms with warm affections. Children will no
longer cling around their mothers,--no longer fondle in that bosom
where once they toyed and joyed.
The articles murmur among themselves, cast longing glances at each
other, meet the gaze of their purchasers, with pain and distrust
brooding over their countenances. They would seem to trace the
character-cruel or gentle-of each in his look.
Was it that God ordained one man thus to doom another? No! the very
thought repulsed the plea. He never made one man's life to be sorrow
and fear-to be the basest object, upon which blighting strife for
gold fills the passions of tyrants. He never made man to be a dealer
in his own kind. He never made man after his own image to imprecate
the wrath of heaven by blackening earth with his foul deeds. He
never made man to blacken this fair portion of earth with storms of
contention, nor to overthrow the principles that gave it greatness.
He never made man to fill the cup that makes the grim oppressor
fierce in his triumphs over right.
Come reader-come with us: let us look around the pale of these
common man shambles. Here a venerable father sits, a bale of
merchandise, moved with the quick pulsation of human senses. He
looks around him as the storm of resentment seems ready to burst
forth: his wrinkled brow and haggard face in vain ask for sympathy.
A little further on, and a mother leans over her child,--tremblingly
draws it to her side; presses it nearer and nearer to her bosom.
Near her, feeding a child with crumbs of bread, is a coarse negro,
whose rough exterior covers a good heart. He gives a glance of hate
and scorn at those who are soon to tear from him his nearest and
dearest. A gloomy ring of sullen faces encircle us: hope, fear, and
contempt are pictured in each countenance. Anxious to know its doom,
the pent-up soul burns madly within their breasts; no tears can
quench the fire-freedom only can extinguish it. But, what are such
things? mere trifles when the soul loves only gold. What are they to
men who buy such human trifles? who buy and sell mankind, with
feelings as unmoved as the virgin heart that knows no guilt?
Various are the remarks made by those who are taking a cursory view
of the people; very learned in nigger nature are many; their sayings
evince great profoundness. A question seems to be the separating of
wenches from their young 'uns. This is soon settled. Graspum, who
has made his appearance, and is very quaintly and slowly making his
apprehensions known, informs the doubting spectators that Romescos,
being well skilled, will do that little affair right up for a mere
trifle. It takes him to bring the nonsense out of nigger wenches.
This statement being quite satisfactory, the gentlemen purchasers
are at rest on that point.
The hour of sale has arrived,--the crier rings his bell, the
purchasers crowd up to the stand, the motley group of negroes take
the alarm, and seem inclined to close in towards a centre as the
vender mounts the stand. The bell, with the sharp clanking sound,
rings their funeral knell; they startle, as with terror; they listen
with subdued anxiety; they wait the result in painful suspense. How
little we would recognise the picture from abroad. The vender, an
amiable gentleman dressed in modest black, and whose cheerful
countenance, graced with the blandest smile, betokens the antipodes
of his inhuman traffic, holding his hat in his left hand, and a long
paper in his right, makes an obsequious bow to those who have
honoured him with their company. He views them for a few moments,
smiles, casts his eye over the paper again,--it sets forth age and
quality--and then at his marketable people. The invoice is complete;
the goods correspond exactly. The texture and quality have been
appraised by good judges. Being specified, he commences reading the
summons and writs, and concludes with other preliminaries of the
"Now, gentlemen," says Mr. Forshou--for such is his name--as he
adjusts his hat, lays the document on the desk at his right hand,
pulls up the point of his shirt-collar, sets his neatly-trimmed
whiskers a point forward, and smooths his well-oiled hair:
"We-will-proceed-with-the-sale-of this lot of negroes, according to
the directions of the sheriff of the county. And if no restrictions
are imposed, gentlemen can make their selection of old or young to
suit their choice or necessities! Gentlemen, however, will be
expected to pay for separating." Mr. Forshou, by way of
interpolation, reminds his friends that, seeing many of his very
best customers present, he expects sharp and healthy bids. He will
further remind them (smiling and fretting his hands, as if to show
the number of diamond rings he can afford to wear), that the
property has been well raised, is well known, and ranges from the
brightest and most interesting, to the commonest black field hand.
"Yes, gentlemen," he adds, "by the fortune of this unfortunate sale
we can accommodate you with anything in the line of negro property.
We can sell you a Church and a preacher-a dance-house and a
fiddler-a cook and an oyster-shop. Anything! All sold for no fault;
and warranted as sound as a roach. The honourable sheriff will gives
titles-that functionary being present signifies his willingness-and
every man purchasing is expected to have his shiners ready, so that
he can plunk down cash in ten days. I need not recount the
circumstances under which this property is offered for sale; it is
enough to say that it is offered; but, let me say, gentlemen, to
enlarge upon it would be painful to my feelings. I will merely read
the schedule, and, after selling the people, put up the oxen, mules,
and farming utensils." Mr. Forshou, with easy contentment, takes up
the list and reads at the top of his voice. The names of heads of
families are announced one by one; they answer the call promptly. He
continues till he reaches Annette and Nicholas, and here he pauses
for a few moments, turning from the paper to them, as if he one
minute saw them on the paper and the next on the floor. "Here,
gentlemen," he ejaculates, in a half guttural voice-something he
could not account for touched his conscience at the moment-holding
the paper nearer his eye-glass, "there is two bits of property
bordering on the sublime. It dazzles-seems almost too interesting to
sell. It makes a feller's heart feel as if it warn't stuck in the
right place." Mr. Forshou casts another irresistible look at the
children; his countenance changes; he says he is very sensitive, and
shows it in his blushes. He might have saved his blushes for the
benefit of the State. The State is careful of its blushes; it has
none to sell-none to bestow on a child's sorrow!
Annette returns his somewhat touching manifestation of remorse with
a childlike smile.
"Well! I reckon how folks is gettin' tenderish, now a' days. Who'd
thought the major had such touchy kind a' feelins? Anything wrong
just about yer goggler?" interrupts Romescos, giving the vender a
quizzical look, and a "half-way wink." Then, setting his slouch hat
on an extra poise, he contorts his face into a dozen grimaces. "Keep
conscience down, and strike up trade," he says, very coolly, drawing
a large piece of tobacco from his breast-pocket and filling his
mouth to its utmost capacity.
"Feelings are over all things," responds the sheriff, who stands by,
and will speak for the vender, who is less accustomed to speaking
for himself. "Feelings bring up recollections of things one never
thought of before,--of the happiest days of our happiest home.
'Tain't much, no, nothing at all, to sell regular black and coloured
property; but there's a sort of cross-grained mythology about the
business when it comes to selling such clear grain as this."
The vender relieves the honourable sheriff from all further display
of sympathy, by saying that he feels the truth of all the honourable
and learned gentleman has said, "which has 'most made the inward
virtue of his heart come right up." He leans over the desk, extends
his hand, helps himself to a generous piece of Romescos' tobacco.
Romescos rejoins in a subdued voice-"He thinks a man what loves
dimes like the major cannot be modest in nigger business, because
modesty ain't trade commodity. It cannot be; the man who thinks of
such nonsense should sell out-should go north and join the humane
society. Folks are all saints, he feels sure, down north yander;
wouldn't sell nigger property;--they only send south right smart
preachers to keep up the dignity of the institution; to do the
peculiar religion of the very peculiar institution. No objection to
that; nor hain't no objection to their feelin' bad about the poor
niggers, so long as they like our cash and take our cotton. That's
where the pin's drove in; while it hangs they wouldn't be bad
friends with us for the world."
"You may, Mr. Romescos, suspend your remarks," says the vender,
looking indignant, as he thrusts his right hand into his bosom, and
attempts a word of introduction.
Romescos must have his last word; he never says die while he has a
word at hand. "The major's love must be credited, gentlemen; he's a
modest auctioneer,--a gentleman what don't feel just right when white
property's for sale," he whispers, sarcastically.
Another pause, then a hearty laughing, and the man commences to sell
his people. He has uttered but a few words, when Marston's attorney,
stepping into the centre of the ring, and near the vender, draws a
paper from his pocket, and commences reading in a loud tone. It is a
copy of the notice he had previously served on the sheriff, setting
forth in legal phraseology the freedom of the children, "And
therfo'h this is t' stay proceedings until further orders from the
honourable Court of Common Pleas," is audible at the conclusion. The
company are not much surprised. There is not much to be surprised
at, when slave law and common law come in contact. With Marston's
sudden decline and unfathomable connection with Graspum, there is
nothing left to make the reading of the notice interesting.
"You hear this, gentlemen?" says the vender, biting his lips: "the
sale of this very interesting portion of this very interesting
property is objected to by the attorney for the defendant at law.
They must, therefore, be remanded to the custody of the sheriff, to
await the decision of court." That court of strange judgments! The
sheriff, that wonderful medium of slaveocratic power, comes forward,
muttering a word of consolation; he will take them away. He passes
them over to an attendant, who conducts them to their dark chilly
"All right!" says Graspum, moving aside to let the children pass
out. "No more than might have been expected; it's no use, though.
Marston will settle that little affair in a very quiet way." He
gives the man-vender a look of approval; the very celebrated Mr.
Graspum has self-confidence enough for "six folks what don't deal
in niggers." A bystander touching him on the arm, he gives his head
a cunning shake, crooks his finger on his red nose. "Just a thing of
that kind," he whispers, making some very delicate legal
gesticulations with the fore-finger of his right hand in the palm of
his left; then, with great gravity, he discusses some very nice
points of nigger law. He is heard to say it will only be a waste of
time, and make some profitable rascality for the lawyers. He could
have settled the whole on't in seven minutes. "Better give them up
honourably, and let them be sold with the rest. Property's property
all over the world; and we must abide by the laws, or what's the
good of the constitution? To feel bad about one's own folly! The
idea of taking advantage of it at this late hour won't hold good in
law. How contemptibly silly! men feeling fatherly after they have
made property of their own children! Poor, conscientious fools, how
they whine at times, never thinking how they would let their
womanish feelings cheat their creditors. There's no honour in that."
"Gentlemen!" interrupts the vender, "we have had enough discussion,
moral, legal, and otherwise. We will now have some selling."
The honourable sheriff desires to say a word or two upon points not
yet advanced. "The sheriff! the sheriff!" is exclaimed by several
voices. He speaks, having first adjusted his spectacles, and
relieved himself of three troublesome coughs. "The institution-I
mean, gentlemen, the peculiar institution-must be preserved; we
cannot, must not, violate statutes to accommodate good-feeling
people. My friend Graspum is right, bob and sinker; we'd get
ourselves into an everlasting snarl, if we did. I am done!" The
sheriff withdraws his spectacles, places them very carefully in a
little case, wipes his mouth modestly, and walks away humming an
"Now, gentlemen," says the vender, bristling with renewed animation
"seeing how you've all recovered from a small shock of conscience,
we will commence the sale."
Aunt Rachel is now placed upon the stand. Her huge person, cleanly
appearance-Auntie has got her bandana tied with exquisite knot-and
very motherly countenance excite general admiration, as on an
elevated stand she looms up before her audience. Mr. Forshou, the
very gentlemanly vender, taking up the paper, proceeds to describe
Aunt Rachel's qualities, according to the style and manner of a
celebrated race-horse. Auntie doesn't like this,--her dignity is
touched; she honours him with an angry frown. Then she appeals to
the amiable gentleman; "come, mas'r, sell 'um quick; don' hab no
nonsense wid dis child! Sell 'um to some mas'r what make I
housekeeper. Old mas'r,--good old Boss,--know I fus' rate at dat. Let
'um done gone, mas'r, fo'h soon." Rachel is decidedly opposed to
long drawn-out humbuggery.
The bids now commence; Rachel, in mute anxiety, tremblingly watches
the lips they fall from.
"Give you a first best title to this ar' old critter, gentlemen!"
says the vender, affecting much dignity, as he holds up his baton of
the trade in flesh. "Anybody wanting a good old mother on a
plantation where little niggers are raised will find the thing in
the old institution before you. The value is not so much in the size
of her, as in her glorious disposition." Aunt Rachel makes three or
four turns, like a peacock on a pedestal, to amuse her admirers.
Again, Mr. Wormlock intimates, in a tone that the vender may hear,
that she has some grit, for he sees it in her demeanour, which is
assuming the tragic. Her eyes, as she turns, rest upon the crispy
face of Romescos. She views him for a few moments-she fears he will
become her purchaser. Her lip curls with contempt, as she turns from
his gaze and recognises an old acquaintance, whom she at once
singles out, accosts and invites beseechingly to be her purchaser,
"to save her from dat man!" She points to Romescos.
Her friend shakes his head unwillingly. Fearing he may become an
object of derision, he will not come forward. Poor old slave!
faithful from her childhood up, she has reached an age where few
find it profitable to listen to her supplications. The black veil of
slavery has shut out the past good of her life,--all her faithfulness
has gone for nothing; she has passed into that channel where only
the man-dealer seeks her for the few dollars worth of labour left in
a once powerful body. Oh! valuable remnant of a life, how soon it
may be exhausted-forgotten!
Bidders have some doubts about the amount of labour she can yet
perform; and, after much manifest hesitancy, she is knocked down to
Romescos for the sum of two hundred and seventy dollars. "There!
'tain't a bad price for ye, nohow!" says the vender, laconically.
"Get down, old woman." Rachel moves to the steps, and is received by
Romescos, who, taking his purchase by the arm, very mechanically
sets it on one side. "Come, Auntie, we'll make a corn-cracker a'
you, until such time as we can put yer old bones in trim to send
south. Generousness, ye see, made me gin more nor ye war' worth-not
much work in ye when ye take it on the square;--but a feller what
understands the trimmin' a' niggers like I can do ye up young, and
put an honest face on while he's cheatin' some green chap with yer
old bones." Romescos, very clever in his profession, is not quite
sure that his newly-purchased property will "stay put." He turns
about suddenly, approaches Rachel-crouched in a corner-mumbling over
some incomprehensible jargon, evidently very much disturbed in her
feelings, saying, "I kind a' think I see devil in yer eye, old
woman." Rachel turns her head aside, but makes no answer. Mr.
Romescos will make everything certain; so, drawing a cord, similar
to a small sized clothes line, from his pocket, she holds up her
hands at his bidding: he winds it several times round her wrists,
then ties it securely. "The property's all safe now," he whispers,
and returns to attend the bidding arrangements.
One by one-mothers, fathers, and single property, old and young, as
may be-are put upon the stand; sold for the various uses of manifest
democracy. Harry,--the thinking property, whose sense-keeping has
betrayed the philosophy of profound democracy,--is a preacher, and,
by the value of his theological capacity, attracts more than
ordinary attention. But his life has been a failure,--a mere
experiment in divinity struggling with the sensitive power of model
democracy. He now seems impatient to know that doom to which the
freedom of an enlightened age has consigned him. One minute some
cheering hope of his getting a good master presents itself in a
familiar face; then it turns away, and with it vanishes his hope.
Another comes forward, but it is merely to view his fine
Harry has feelings, and is strongly inclined to cling to the opinion
that those who know his character and talents, will be inclined to
purchase. Will they save him from the cruelties of ordinary
"Now for the preacher!"-Mr. Forshou touches his hat, politely.
"Gentlemen purchasing, and wanting a church can be accommodated with
that article to-morrow. Come, boy, mount up here!" The preaching
article draws his steps reluctantly, gets up, and there stands,--a
black divine: anybody may look at him, anybody may examine him,
anybody may kick him; anybody may buy him, body, soul, and theology.
How pleasing, how charmingly liberal, is the democracy that grants
the sweet privilege of doing all these things! Harry has a few
simple requests to make, which his black sense might have told him
the democracy could not grant. He requests (referring to his
position as a minister of the gospel) that good master-the
vender-will sell him with his poor old woman, and that he do not
separate him from his dear children. In support of his appeal he
sets forth, in language that would be impressive were it from white
lips, that he wants to teach his little ones in the ways of the
Lord. "Do, mas'r! try sell us so we live together, where my heart
can feel and my eyes see my children," he concludes, pointing to his
children (living emblems of an oppressed race), who, with his
hapless wife, are brought forward and placed on the stand at his
feet. Harry (the vender pausing a moment) reaches out his hand (that
hand so feared and yet so harmless), and affectionately places it on
the head of his youngest child; then, taking it up, he places it in
the arms of his wife,--perhaps not long to be so,--who stands
trembling and sobbing at his side. Behold how picturesque is the
fruit of democracy! Three small children, clinging round the skirts
of a mother's garment, casting sly peeps at purchasers as if they
had an instinctive knowledge of their fate. They must be sold for
the satisfaction of sundry debts held by sundry democratic
creditors. How we affect to scorn the tyranny of Russia, because of
her serfdom! Would to God there were truth and virtue in the scorn!
Mr. Forshou, the very sensitive and gentlemanly vender-he has
dropped the title of honourable, which was given him on account of
his having been a member of the State Senate-takes Harry by the
right hand, and leads him round, where, at the front of the tribune,
customers may have a much better opportunity of seeing for
"Yes! he's a swell-a right good fellow." Mr. Forshou turns to his
schedule, glancing his eye up and down. "I see; it's put down here
in the invoice: a minister-warranted sound in every respect. It does
seem to me, gentlemen, that here 's a right smart chance for a
planter who 'tends to the pious of his niggers, giving them a little
preaching once in a while. Now, let the generous move; shake your
dimes; let us turn a point, and see what can be done in the way of
selling the lot,--preacher, wife, and family. The boy, Harry, is a
preacher by nature; has by some unknown process tumbled into the
profession. He's a methodist, I reckon! But there's choice field
property in him; and his wife, one of the primest wenches in the
gang, never says die when there's plenty of cotton to pick. As for
the young uns, they are pure stock. You must remember, gentlemen,
preachers are not in the market every day; and when one's to be got
that'll preach the right stripe, there's no knowing the value of
"We don't want so much of this," interrupts a voice in the crowd.
"Rather anxious to buy the feller," Mr. Forshou replies, affecting
much indifference. He will say a few words more. "Think the matter
over, upon strict principles of political economy, and you'll find,
gentlemen, he's just the article for big planters. I am happy to see
the calm and serene faces of three of my friends of the clergy
present; will they not take an interest for a fellow-worker in a
righteous cause?" The vender smiles, seems inclined to jocularity,
to which the gentlemen in black are unwilling to submit. They have
not been moving among dealers, and examining a piece of property
here and there, with any sinecure motive. They view the vender's
remarks as exceedingly offensive, return a look of indignation, and
slowly, as if with wounded piety, walk away. The gentlemen in black
are most sensitive when any comparison is made between them and a
black brother. How horible shocked they seem, as, with white
neckerchiefs so modest, they look back as they merge from the mart
into the street!
It is a question whether these sensitive divines were shocked at the
affectation and cold indifference manifested by legitimate dealers,
or at the vender's very impertinent remarks. We will not charge
aught against our brethren of the clergy: no, we will leave the
question open to the reader. We love them as good men who might
labour for a better cause; we will leave them valiant defenders of
southern chivalry, southern generosity, southern affability, and
southern injustice. To be offended at so small an affair as selling
a brother clergyman,--to make the insinuation that they are not
humane, cause of insult,--is, indeed, the very essence of absurdity.
The vender makes a few side-motions with his thumbs, winks to
several of his customers, and gives a significant nod, as the
gentlemen in black pass out of the insulting establishment. "Well,
gentlemen, I'm sorry if I've offended anybody; but there's a
deep-rooted principle in what I've said, nor do I think it christian
for the clergy to clear out in that shape. However, God bless 'em;
let 'em go on their way rejoicing. Here's the boy-he turns and puts
his hand kindly on Harry's shoulder-and his wench, and his young
uns,--a minister and family, put down in the invoice as genuine
prime. Our worthy sheriff's a good judge of deacons-the sheriff-high
functionary-acknowledges the compliment by respectfully nodding-and
my opinion is that the boy'll make a good bishop yet: he only wants
an apron and a fair showing." He touches Harry under the chin,
laughing heartily the while.
"Yes, master," replies Harry-he has little of the negro
accent-quieting his feelings; "what I larn is all from the Bible,
while master slept. Sell my old woman and little ones with me; my
heart is in their welfare-"
"Don't trifle with the poor fellow's feelings; put him up and sell
him to the best advantage. There's nobody here that wants a preacher
and family. It's only depreciating the value of the property to sell
it in the lot," says Graspum, in a firm voice. He has been standing
as unmoved as a stoic, seeing nothing but property in the wretch of
a clergyman, whose natural affections, pictured in his imploring
looks, might have touched some tender chord of his feelings.
After several attempts, it is found impossible to sell the minister
and his family in one lot. Hence, by the force of necessity, his
agonising beseechings pouring forth, he is put up like other single
bales of merchandise, and sold to Mr. M'Fadden, of A--district. The
minister brought eleven hundred dollars, ready money down! The
purchaser is a well-known planter; he has worked his way up in the
world, is a rigid disciplinarian, measuring the square inches of
labour in his property, and adapting the best process of bringing it
"He's all I want," says M'Fadden, making a move outward, and edging
his way through the crowd.
"A moment with my poor old woman, master, if you please?" says
Harry, turning round to his wife.
"None of your black humbugging; there's wives enough on my place,
and a parson can have his choice out of fifty," returns M'Fadden,
dragging him along by the arm. The scene that here ensues is
harrowing in the extreme. The cries and sobs of children,--the
solicitude and affection of his poor wife, as she throws her arms
about her husband's neck,--his falling tears of sorrow, as one by one
he snatches up his children and kisses them,--are painfully touching.
It is the purest, simplest, holiest of love, gushing forth from
nature's fountain. It were well if we could but cherish its heavenly
worth. That woman, the degraded of a despised race, her arms round a
fond husband's neck, struggling with death-like grasp, and imploring
them not to take him from her. The men who have made him
merchandise,--who have trodden his race in the dust,--look on unmoved
as the unfeeling purchaser drags him from the embrace of all that is
near and dear to him on earth. Here, in this boasted freest country
the sun shines on-where freedom was bequeathed by our brave
forefathers,--where the complex tyranny of an old world was
overthrown,--such scenes violate no law. When will the glorious, the
happy day of their death come? When shall the land be free?
M'Fadden, having paid the price of his clergyman, drags him to the
door. "Once more, master," mutters the victim, looking back with
fear and hope pictured on his imploring face. M'Fadden has no
patience with such useless implorings, and orders him to move along.
"I will see them once more!" the man exclaims, "I will! Good bye!
may Heaven bless you on earth, my little ones!-God will protect us
when we meet again!" The tears course down his cheeks.
"None of that ar' kind of nonsense! Shut down yer tear-trap," says
M'Fadden, calling an attendant, and, drawing a pair of irons from
his pocket, placing them about Harry's hands. Mr. M'Fadden's
property shows signs of being somewhat belligerent: to obviate any
further nonsense, and to make short work of the thing, Mr. M'Fadden
calls in aid, throws his property on the ground, ties its legs with
a piece of rope, places it upon a drag, and orders it to be conveyed
to the depot, from whence it will be despatched by rail for a new
This little ceremony over, the wife and children (Romescos and
M'Fadden, not very good friends, were competitors for the preacher
property) are put up and sold to Romescos. That skilful and very
adroit gentleman is engaged to do the exciting business of
separating, which he is progressing with very coolly and cleverly.
The whole scene closes with selling the animal property and farming
utensils. Happy Christian brothers are they who would spread the
wings of their Christianity over such scenes!
A FATHER'S TRIALS.
IF modern Christianity, as improved in our southern world-we mean
our world of slavery-had blushes, it might improve the use of them
were we to recount in detail the many painful incidents which the
improved and very christianly process of separating husbands from
wives, parents from children, brothers from sisters, and friends
from all the ties and associations the heart, gives birth to.
Negroes have tender sympathies, strong loves. Reader, we will save
your feelings,--we will not recount them; our aim is not to excite
undue feeling, but to relate every-day scenes.
Days and weeks pass on drearily with Marston. Unhappy, forlorn,
driven to the last extremity by obdurate creditors, he waits the
tardy process of the law. He seldom appears in public; for those who
professed to be his best friends have become his coldest
acquaintances. But he has two friends left,--friends whose pure
friendship is like sweetest dew-drops: they are Franconia and Daddy
Bob. The rusty old servant is faithful, full of benevolence,
gratitude, and unshaken fidelity; the other is the generous woman,
in whose bosom beat the tender impulses of a noble soul. Those
impulses have been moved to action in defence of the innocent; they
never can be defeated. Bob is poor, abject, and old with toil. He
cares not to be free,--he wants mas'r free. But there yet remains
some value in Bob; and he has secreted himself, in hopes of escaping
the man-dealer, and sharing his earnings in the support of old
mas'r. Franconia is differently situated; yet she can only take
advantage of circumstances which yet depend upon the caprice of a
subtle-minded husband. Over both these friends of the unfortunate,
slavery has stretched its giant arms, confusing the social system,
uprooting the integrity of men, weakening respect for law, violating
the best precepts of nature, substituting passion for principle,
confounding reason, and enslaving public opinion.
Under the above disorganising state of the social compact, the
children, known to be Marston's, are pursued as property belonging
to the bankrupt estate. When the law has made it such, it must be
sold in satisfaction of Marston's debts.
Seven months have passed since they were shut up in a felon's cell.
They have been visited by Marston; he has been kind to them,--kind as
a father could be under such circumstances. Franconia has not
forgotten them: she sends many little things to lighten the gloom of
their confinement; but society closes her lips, and will frown upon
any disclosure she may make of their parentage. Were she to disclose
it to Colonel M'Carstrow, the effect would be doubtful: it might add
to the suspicious circumstances already excited against her
unfortunate uncle. The paramount question-whether they are hereafter
to be chattel slaves, or human beings with inalienable rights-must
be submitted to the decision of a judicial tribunal. It is by no
means an uncommon case, but very full of interest. It will merely be
interesting-not as involving any new question of law, nor presenting
new phases of southern jurisprudence-in showing what very notorious
dealers in human kind, and lawyers of great legal ability, can
morally and legally perform. It will show how great men figure in
the arena of legal degradation, how they unravel the mystery of
Graspum, professedly uninterested, has purchased the claims, and
will pursue the payment in the name of the original plaintiffs. With
Romescos's cunning aid, of course the trial will be a perfect farce,
the only exception being that the very profound Mr. Graspum will
exhibit a degree of great sincerity on his part.
The sessions are sitting; the day for the trial of this important
case has arrived; the little dingy court-room is early crowded to
excess, but there is not much expression of anxiety. Men speak
lightly of the issue, as if some simple game were to be played. The
judge, a grave-looking gentleman of no ordinary mien, in whose full
countenance sternness is predominant in the well-displayed
estimation in which he holds his important self, walks measuredly
into court-the lacqueys of the law crying "Court! court!" to which
he bows-and takes his seat upon an elevated tribune. There is great
solemnity preserved at the opening: the sheriff, with well-ordained
costume and sword, sits at his honour's left, his deputy on the
right, and the very honourable clerk of the court just below, where
there can be no impediment during the process of feeding "the Court"
on very legal points of "nigger law." In truth, the solemnity of
this court, to those unacquainted with the tenor of legal
proceedings at the south, might have been misconstrued for something
more in keeping with justice.
The legal gentlemen, most modest of face, are seated round the bar-a
semicircular railing dividing their dignity from the common
spectator-waiting the reading of the docket. The clerk takes his
time about that, and seems a great favourite with the spectators,
who applaud his rising. He reads, the sheriff crying "order! order!"
while the judge learnedly examines his notes. Some consultation
takes place between several of the attorneys, which is interlarded
with remarks from the judge, who, with seeming satisfaction to all
parties, orders the case of B. C. R. K. Marston's writ of replevin
to be called and proceeded with. "As there are three fi fas," says
the junior attorney for the defendants, a very lean strippling of
the law, just working his way up in the world, "I object to the
manner of procedure; the case only involves a question of law, and
should be submitted to the special decision of the Court. It is not
a matter for a jury to decide upon," he concludes. The judge has
listened to his remarks, objections, and disclaimers, with marked
attention; nevertheless, he is compelled to overrule them, and order
the case to proceed. Upon this it is agreed among the
attorneys-happy fellows, always ready to agree or disagree-that a
decision taken upon one fi fa shall be held as establishing a
decision for all the cases at issue.
The children are now brought into Court, and seated near one of the
attorneys. Marston stands, almost motionless, a few steps back,
gazing upon them as intently and solicitously as if the issue were
life or death. Deacon Rosebrook, his good lady, and Franconia, have
been summoned as witnesses, and sit by the side of each other on a
bench within the bar. We hear a voice here and there among the crowd
of spectators expressing sympathy for the children; others say they
are only "niggers," and can't be aught else, if it be proved that
Marston bought the mother. And there is Mr. Scranton! He is well
seated among the gentlemen of the legal profession, for whom he has
a strong fellow feeling. He sits, unmoved, in his wonted moodiness;
now and then he gives the children a sly look of commiseration, as
if the screws of his feelings were unloosing. They-the little
property-look so interesting, so innocent, so worthy of being
something more than merchandise in a land of liberty, that Mr.
Scranton's heart has become irresistibly softened. It gets a few
degrees above Mr. Scranton's constitutional scruples. "Painful
affair this! What do you think of it, Mr. Scranton?" enquires a
member of the profession, touching his arm.
"It is the fruit of Marston's weakness, you see!-don't feel just
straight, I reckon. Didn't understand the philosophy of the law,
neither; and finds himself pinched up by a sort of humanity that
won't pass for a legal tender in business-"
"Ah! we cannot always look into the future," interrupts the
Mr. Scranton holds that whatever is constitutional must be right and
abidable; that one's feelings never should joggle our better
understanding when these little curiosities come in the way. He
admits, however, that they are strange attendants coming up once in
a while, like the fluctuations of an occult science. With him, the
constitution gives an indisputable right to overlook every outrage
upon natural law; and, while it exists in full force, though it may
strip one half the human race of rights, he has no right to complain
so long as it does not interfere with him. It strikes Mr. Scranton
that people who differ with him in opinion must have been educated
under the teaching of a bad philosophy. Great governments, he holds,
often nurture the greatest errors. It matters not how much they feel
their magnitude; often, the more they do, the least inclined are
they to correct them. Others fear the constitutional structure so
much, that they stand trembling lest the slightest correction totter
it to the ground. Great governments, too, are most likely to stand
on small points when these errors are pointed out. Mr. Scranton
declares, with great emphasis, that all these things are most
legally true, perfectly natural: they follow in man as well as
With all due deference to Mr. Scranton's opinion, so much demanded
among his admiring neighbours, it must be said that he never could
bring his mind to understand the difference between natural
philosophy and his own constitutional scruples, and was very apt to
commit himself in argument, forgetting that the evil was in the
fruits of a bad system, bringing disgrace upon his countrymen,
corrupting the moral foundation of society, spreading vice around
the domestic fireside, and giving to base-minded men power to
speculate in the foulness of their own crimes.
The case is opened by the attorney for the plaintiff, who makes a
great many direct and indirect remarks, and then calls witnesses.
"Marco Graspum!" the clerk exclaims. That gentleman comes forward,
takes his place, calmly, upon the witnesses' stand. At first he
affects to know but little; then suddenly remembers that he has
heard Marston call their mothers property. Further, he has heard
him, while extolling their qualities, state the purchase to have
been made of one Silenus, a trader.
"He stated-be sure now!-to you, that he purchased them of one
Silenus, a trader?" interpolates the judge, raising his glasses, and
advancing his ear, with his hand raised at its side.
Yes, yer honour!" "Please observe this testimony," rejoins the
attorney, quickly. He bows; says that is enough. The opposing
attorney has no question to put on cross-examination: he knows
Graspum too well. Being quite at home with the gentlemen of the
legal profession, they know his cool nonchalance never can be shaken
upon a point of testimony.
"Any questions to put?" asks the legal opponent, with an air of
"No, nothing," is the reply.
His brother of special pleas smiles, gives a cunning glance at
Graspum, and wipes his face with a very white handkerchief. He is
conscious of the character of his man; it saves all further trouble.
"When we know who we have to deal with, we know how to deal," he
mutters, as he sits down.
Graspum retires from the stand, and takes his seat among the
witnesses. "We will now call Anthony Romescos," says the attorney. A
few minutes' pause, and that individual rolls out in all his
independence, takes his place on the stand. He goes through a long
series of questioning and cross-questioning, answers for which he
seems to have well studied.
The whole amounts to nothing more than a corroboration of Graspum's
testimony. He has heard Marston call their mothers property: once,
he thinks, but would hesitate before pledging his honour, that
Marston offered to him the woman Clotilda. Yes; it was her!
Considerable excitement is now apparent; the auditory whisper among
themselves, attorneys put their heads together, turn and turn over
the leaves of their statutes. His honour, the Court, looks wiser
still. Marston trembles and turns pale; his soul is pinioned between
hope and fear. Romescos has told something more than he knows, and
continues, at random, recounting a dozen or more irrelevant things.
The court, at length, deems it necessary to stop his voluntary
testimony, orders that he only answer such questions as are put to
"There's no harm in a feller tellin' what he knows, eh! judge?"
returns Romescos, dropping a quid of tobacco at his side, bowing
sarcastically to the judge, and drawing his face into a comical
Mr. Romescos is told that he can stand aside. At this seemingly
acceptable announcement, he bristles his crispy red hair with his
fingers, shrugs his shoulders, winks at two or three of the jurymen,
pats Graspum on the shoulder as he passes him, and takes his seat.
"We will close the case here, but reserve the right of introducing
further testimony, if necessary," says the learned and very
The defence here rises, and states the means by which his client
intends to prove the freedom of the children; and concludes by
calling over the names of the witnesses. Franconia! Franconia! we
hear that name called; it sounds high above the others, and falls
upon our ear most mournfully. Franconia, that sweet creature of
grace and delicacy, brought into a court where the scales of
injustice are made to serve iniquity!
Franconia's reserve and modesty put legal gentlemen's gallantry to
the test. One looks over the pages of his reports, another casts a
sly look as she sweeps by to take that place the basest of men has
just left. The interested spectators stretch their persons
anxiously, to get a look at the two pretty children, honourable and
legal gentlemen are straining their ability to reduce to property.
There stands the blushing woman, calm and beautiful, a virtuous
rebuke to curious spectators, mercenary slave dealers, the very
learned gentlemen of the bar, and his enthroned honour, the Court!
She will give testimony that makes nature frown at its own
degradation. Not far from Franconia sits the very constitutional Mr.
Scranton, casting side glances now and then. Our philosopher
certainly thinks, though he will not admit it, the chivalry is
overtaxing itself; there was no occasion for compelling so fair a
creature to come into court, and hear base testimony before a base
crowd,--to aid a base law in securing base ends. And then, just think
and blush, ye who have blushes to spare.
"Will the learned gentleman proceed with the examination of this
witness?" says his honour, who, pen in hand, has been waiting
several minutes to take down her testimony. Court and audience,
without knowing why, have come to an unconscious pause.
"Will the witness state to the court in what relation she stands to
the gentleman who defends title freedom of the children,--Mr. Hugh
Marston?" says the attorney, addressing his bland words to
Franconia, somewhat nervously.
"He--he--he--is my--," she mutters, and stops. Her face turns pale; then
suddenly changes to glowing crimson. She rests her left hand on the
rail, while the judge, as if suddenly moved by a generous impulse,
suggests that the attorney pause a moment, until the deputy provides
a chair for the lady. She is quiet again. Calmly and modestly, as
her soft, meaning eyes wander over the scene before her, compelled
to encounter its piercing gaze, the crystal tears leave their wet
courses on her blushing cheeks. Her feelings are too delicate, too
sensitive, to withstand the sharp and deadly poison of liberty's
framework of black laws. She sees her uncle, so kind, so fond of her
and her absent brother; her eye meets his in kindred sympathy,
imagination wings its way through recollections of the past, draws
forth its pleasures with touching sensations, and fills the cup too
full. That cup is the fountain of the soul, from which trouble draws
its draughts. She watches her uncle as he turns toward the children;
she knows they are his; she feels how much he loves them.
The attorney--the man of duty--is somewhat affected. "I have a duty to
perform," he says, looking at the court, at the witness, at the
children, at the very red-faced clerk, at the opposing counsel, and
anything within the precincts of the court-room. We see his lips
move; he hesitates, makes slight gesticulations, turns and turns a
volume of Blackstone with his hands, and mutters something we cannot
understand. The devil is doing battle with his heart-a heart bound
with the iron strings of the black law. At length, in broken
accents, we catch the following remarks, which the learned gentleman
thinks it necessary to make in order to save his gallantry:--"I am
sorry--extremely sorry, to see the witness, a lady so touchingly
sensitive, somewhat affected; but, nevertheless" (the gentleman bows
to the judge, and says the Court will understand his position!) "it
is one of those cases which the demands of the profession at times
find us engaged in. As such we are bound, morally, let me say, as
well as legally, to protect the interests of our clients. In doing
so, we are often compelled to encounter those delicate
irregularities to which the laws governing our peculiar institutions
are liable. I may say that they are so interwoven with our peculiar
institution, that to act in accordance with our duty makes it a
painful task to our feelings. We--I may appeal to the court for
corroboration--can scarcely pursue an analysation of these cases
without pain; I may say, remorse of conscience." Mr. Petterwester,
for such is his name, is evidently touched with that sense of shame
which the disclosures of the black system bring upon his profession.
This is aided by the fascinating appearance of the witness on the
stand. It is irresistible because it is at variance with those legal
proceedings, those horrors of southern jurisprudence, which he is
pressing for the benefit of his clients. Again he attempts to put
another question, but is seized with a tremor; he blushes, is
nervous and confused, casts a doubting look at the judge. That
functionary is indeed very grave--unmoved. The responsibility of the
peculiar institution sorely hardened the war of heart against head
that was waging among the learned gentlemen; but the institution
must be preserved, for its political power works wonders, and its
legal power is wondrously curious. "Please tell the court and jury
what you know about the relation in which these children stand to
the gentleman who asserts their freedom, dear madam? We will not
trouble you with questions; make a statement," says Mr.
Petterwester, with great sincerity of manner. Indeed, Mr.
Petterwester has been highly spoken of among the very oldest, most
respectable, and best kind of female society, for his gallantry.
The brother opposite, a small gentleman, with an exceedingly
studious countenance, dressed in shining black, and a profusion of
glossy hair falling upon his shoulders, rises with great legal
calmness, and objects to the manner of procedure, describing it as
contrary to the well-established rules of the bar. The court
interpolates a few remarks, and then intimates that it very
seriously thinks gentlemen better waive the points,--better come to
an understanding to let the lady make her statements! Courtesy
entitles her, as a lady, to every respect and consideration. The
gentlemen, having whispered a few words together, bow assent to the
high functionary's intimation.
Franconia proceeds. She asserts that Hugh Marston (pointing to him)
is her uncle; that she knows little or nothing of his business
affairs, cannot tell why her brother left the country so suddenly;
she knew Clotilda and Ellen Juvarna, mothers of the children. They
never were considered among the property of the plantation. Her
short story is told in touching tones. The learned and gallant
attorney, esteeming it indispensable, puts a question or two as to
whether anything was ever said about selling them in consequence of
certain jealousies. Before the brother can object, she answers them
evasively, and the testimony amounts to just no testimony at all.
The court, bowing respectfully, informs the lady she can get down
from the stand.
The next witness called is Mrs. Rosebrook. This good and benevolent
lady is more resolute and determined. The gentlemen of the bar find
her quite clever enough for them. Approaching the stand with a firm
step, she takes her place as if determined upon rescuing the
children. Her answers come rather faster than is compatible with the
dignity of the learned gentlemen of the bar. She knows Marston,
knows Franconia, knows the old plantation, has spent many happy
hours upon it, is sorry to see the old proprietor reduced to this
state of things. She knows the two children,--dear creatures,--has
always had a kindly feeling for them; knew their poor mothers, has
befriended them since Marston's troubles began. She always-her
large, loving eyes glowing with the kindness of her soul-heard
Marston say they were just as free as people could be, and they
should be free, too! Some people did'nt look at the moral obligation
of the thing. Here, the good lady, blushing, draws the veil over her
face. There is something more she would like to disclose if modesty
did not forbid.
"Nothing direct in such testimony, your honour will perceive!" says
Mr. Petterwester, directing himself to the judge.
"Is there any question with regard to the father of the children?"
enquires his honour, again placing his hand to his ear and leaning
forward inquisitively. His honour suddenly forgot himself.
"Ah, ha'h, he-em! The question, so buried under a mountain of
complexity, requires very nice legal discrimination to define it
properly. However, we must be governed by distinct pleadings, and I
think that, in this case, this specific question is not material;
nor do my brother colleagues of the Bench think it would be
advisable to establish such questions, lest they affect the moral
purity of the atmosphere we live in."
"If your honour will permit it, I may say it will only be necessary
in this case to establish the fact of property existing in the
mothers. That will settle the whole question; fathers, as you are
aware, not being embraced in the law regulating this species of
property;" the learned gentleman instructs the court.
His honour, rejoining with a few very grave and very legal remarks,
says they look very much alike, and are of one mother. He is a
little undecided, however, takes another good stare at them, and
then adds his glasses, that the affinity may be more clear. Turning
again to his book, he examines his pages, vacantly. A legal wag, who
has been watching the trial for mere amusement, whispering in the
ear of his brother, insinuates that the presiding functionary is
meditating some problem of speculation, and has forgotten the point
"No!" interrupts Mr. Petterwester, "your honour is curiously
labouring under an error; they have two mothers, both of the same
tenour in life--that is"--Mr. Petterwester corrects himself--"embodying
the same questions of property. The issue of the case now on is
taken as final over the rest."
"Ah! bless me, now-I-rather-see-into it. The clerk will hand me
Cobb's Georgia Reports. A late case, curiously serious, there
recorded, may lead me to gather a parallel. Believe me, gentlemen,
my feelings are not so dead-his honour addresses himself to the bar
in general--that I cannot perceive it to be one of those very
delicate necessities of our law which so embarrasses the gallantry
of the profession at times--"
"Yes! yer honour," the attorney for the defence suddenly interrupts,
"and which renders it no less a disgrace to drag ladies of high rank
into a court of this kind--."
His honour can assure the learned gentleman that this court has very
high functions, and can administer justice equal to anything this
side of divine power,--his honour interrupts, indignantly.
"The court misunderstood the counsel,--he had no reference to the
unquestioned high authority of the tribunal; it was only the
character of the trials brought before it. When, notwithstanding our
boasts of chivalry, delicate ladies are dragged before it in this
manner, they must not only endure the painful tenour of the
evidence, but submit to the insolence of men who would plunder
nature of its right--"
"I shall claim the protection of the court against such
unprofessional imputations," his brother of the opposite interrupts,
rising and affecting an air of indignation. The court, quite
bewildered, turns a listening ear to his remarks--"Hopes the learned
gentlemen will not disgrace themselves."
Order! order! order! demands the sheriff, making a flourish with his
sword. The spectators, rising on tip-toe, express their anxiety to
have the case proceed. They whisper, shake their heads, and are
heard to say that it will be utterly useless to attempt anything
against the testimony of Graspum and Romescos. Mr. Graspum, in the
fulness of his slavish and impudent pedantry, feeling secure in the
possession of his victims, sits within the bar, seeming to feel his
position elevated a few degrees above his highness the judge.
"I do hope the interposition of this Court will not be necessary in
this case. Gentlemen of the learned profession should settle those
differences more like gentlemen," says his honour, looking down upon
his minions with a frown of contempt.
"The matter is one entirely of a professional nature, yer honour!"
responds the scion of the law, quickly, first addressing himself to
the judge, and then to the jury. "If the testimony we have already
adduced--direct as it is--be not sufficient to establish the existence
of property in these children" (Romescos has just whispered
something in his ear) "we will produce other testimony of the most
conclusive character. However, we will yield all further
cross-questioning the ladies; and I now suggest that they be
relieved from the painful position of appearing before this court
Mrs. Rosebrook descends from the stand amidst murmurs and applause.
Some amount of legal tact now ensues; the attorney for the
prosecution displays an earnestness amounting to personal interest.
Here the counsel for the defence steps forward, whispers to the
clerk, and gives notice that he shall call witnesses to impeach the
characters of Graspum and Romescos. These two high dignitaries,
sitting together, express the utmost surprise at such an
insinuation. The character of neither is sacred material, nor will
it stand even in a southern atmosphere. They have been pronounced
legally impure many years ago.
Just at this juncture there is quite an excitement in the
court-room. Romescos, like a disfigured statue, rises from among his
legal friends and addresses the court on the independent principle.
"Well now, Squire, if ya'r goin' to play that ar' lawyer game on a
feller what don't understand the dodge, I'll just put a settler
on't; I'll put a settler on't what ya' won't get over. My word's my
honour; didn't come into this establishment to do swarin' cos I
wanted to; seein' how, when a feller's summoned by the Boss Squire,
he's got to walk up and tell the truth and nothin' shorter. I knows
ya' don't feel right about it; and it kind a hurts a feller's
feelins to make property of such nice young uns, especially when one
knows how nice they've been brought up. This aint the thing, though;
'taint the way to get along in the world; and seein' I'm a man of
honour, and wouldn't do a crooked thing nohow-"
His honour the Sheriff, being somewhat impressed with the fact that
Mr. Romescos is rather transgressing the rules of the court,
interposes. His defence of his honour cannot longer be tolerated;
and yet, very much after the fashion of great outlaws, who, when
arraigned for their crimes, think themselves very badly used men,
Romescos has the most exalted opinion of himself; never for a moment
entertains a doubt of his own integrity.
He reaches over the bar; places his lips to the attorney's ear; is
about to whisper something. That gentleman quickly draws back, as if
his presence were repulsive. Not the least offended, Romescos winks
significantly, crooks the fore-finger of his right hand, and
says-"something that'll put the stopper on." The legal gentleman
seems reconciled; listens attentively to the important information.
"All right! nothing more is needed," he says, rising from his seat,
and asking permission to introduce proof which will render it quite
unnecessary to proceed with anything that may have for its object
the impeachment of the witnesses.
The attorney for the defence objects to this mode of procedure; and
the judge, having sustained the objections, orders the counsel to
proceed with his witnesses. Several persons, said to be of very high
standing, are now called. They successively depose that they would
not believe Romescos nor Graspum upon oath; notwithstanding, both
may be very honourable and respectable gentlemen. Thus invalidating
the testimony of these high functionaries of the peculiar
institution, the gentleman of the prosecution has an opportunity of
producing his conclusive proof. Romescos has been seen passing him a
very suspicious-looking document.
All attention is now directed to the children; they sit pensively,
unconscious of the dread fate hanging over them. "What can this
testimony be?" rings in whispers about the court-room. Some deep
intrigue is going on; it is some unforeseen movement of the
slave-dealers, not comprehended by the spectators. Can the bonÉ-fide
creditors be implicated? Even Mr. Scranton feels that his knowledge
of the philosophy of slave power is completely at fault.
"Now, your honour, and gentlemen of the jury," says the gentleman of
the prosecution, "I am fully aware of the painful suspense in which
this case has kept the court, the jury, and the very respectable
persons I see assembled; but, notwithstanding the respectability and
well-known position of my clients and witnesses, the defence in this
case has succeeded in expunging the testimony, and compelling us to
bring forward such proof as cannot be impeached." Here the legal
gentleman draws from his pocket a stained and coloured paper,
saying, "Will the gentlemen of the jury be kind enough to minutely
examine that instrument." He passes it to the foreman.
"What is the purport of the instrument?" his honour enquires.
"The bill of sale, your honour."
Foreman has examined it satisfactorily; passes it to several of his
fellows. All are satisfied. He returns it to the learned gentleman.
That very important and chivalrous individual throws it upon the
table with great self-confidence.
His honour would like to scan over its details. It is passed to the
little fat clerk, and by that gentleman to his honour. "Very,
singularly strong!" his honour says, giving his head a very wise
"When the court gets through," says the advocate for the defence,
rising and placing his hand on the clerk's desk.
"The gentleman can examine," replies the court, passing it coldly to
the Sheriff, who politely forwards it.
He turns it and turns it; reads it slowly; examines the dates
minutely. "How did the prosecution come in possession of this
His brother of the law objects, "That's not an admissible question.
If the defence will institute an action against the parties for
unlawfully procuring it, we will take great pleasure in showing our
hands. It may be, however, well to say, that Mr. Marston and Mr.
Graspum have always been on the most friendly terms; but the former
gentleman forgot to take care of this very essential document," he
continues, taking it from the hand of his professional brother, and
turning toward the spectators, his countenance glowing with
exultation. The pride of his ambition is served. The profession has
honourably sustained itself through the wonderful abilities of this
learned brother, who, holding the paper in his hand, awaits the
gracious applause of the assembled spectators. There is some
applause, some murmuring, much whispering.
The court, in coldly measured words, hopes the audience will evince
no excitement pro or con.
Some persons declare the bill of sale a forgery,--that Romescos has
tried that very same trick twice before. Others say it matters but
little on that score,--that all the law in the country won't restrain
Graspum; if he sets at it in good earnest he can turn any sort of
people into property. A third whispers that the present order of
things must be changed, or nobody's children will be safe. Legal
gentlemen, not interested in the suit, shake their heads, and
successively whisper, "The prosecution never came by that bill of
sale honestly." Creditors, not parties to this suit, and brokers who
now and then do something in the trade of human beings, say, "If
this be the way Marston's going to play the dodge with his property,
we will see if there be not some more under the same shaded
"Will the counsel for the defence permit his client to inspect this
instrument?" says the learned gentleman, passing it across the
Marston's face flushes with shame; he is overcome; he extends his
trembling hand and takes the fatal document. It is, to him, his
children's death-warrant. A cloud of darkness overshadows his hopes;
he would question the signature, but the signer, Silenus, is
dead,--as dead as the justice of the law by which the children are
being tried. And there is the bond attached to it! Again the thought
flashed through his mind, that he had sold Ellen Juvarna to Elder
Pemberton Praiseworthy. However much he might struggle to save his
children-however much a father's obligations might force themselves
upon him-however much he might acknowledge them the offspring of his
own body, they were property in the law-property in the hands of
Graspum; and, with the forethought of that honourable gentleman
opposed to him--as it evidently was--his efforts and pleadings would
not only prove futile, but tend to expose Lorenzo's crime.
"The philosophy of the thing is coming out, just as I
said-precisely," ejaculates Mr. Scranton, raising his methodical
eyes, and whispering to a legal gentleman who sits at his right.
"Serious philosophy, that embraces and sanctions the sale of such
lovely children,--making property of one's children against his
wishes! I'm a great Southern rights man, but this is shaving the
intermixture a little too close," rejoins the other, casting a
solicitous look at Marston, who has been intently and nervously
examining the bill of sale.
"Any objections to make to it?" says the learned gentleman, bowing
politely and extending his hand, as he concludes by inquiring how it
happened, in the face of such an array of evidence, that he sold the
girl, Ellen Juvarna?
"No objection, none!" is Marston's quick response. His head droops;
he wipes the tears from his eyes; he leaves the court in silence,
amid murmurs from the crowd. The female witnesses left before him;
it was well they did so.
That this is the original bill of sale, from one Silenus to Hugh
Marston, has been fully established. However painful the issue,
nothing remained but to give the case to the jury. All is silent for
several minutes. The judge has rarely sat upon a case of this kind.
He sits unnerved, the pen in his hand refusing to write as his
thoughts wander into the wondrous vortex of the future of slavery.
But the spell has passed; his face shades with pallor as slowly he
rises to address the jury. He has but few words to say; they fall
like death-knells on the ears of his listeners. Some touching words
escape his hesitating lips; but duty, enforced by the iron rod of
slave power, demands him to sustain the laws of the land. He sets
forth the undisputed evidence contained in the bill of sale, the
unmistakeable bond, the singular and very high-handed attempt to
conceal it from the honest creditors, and the necessity of jurymen
restraining their sympathies for the children while performing a
duty to the laws of the land. Having thus made his brief address, he
sits down; the sheriff shoulders his tip-staff, and the august
twelve, with papers provided, are marched into the jury-room, as the
court orders that the case of Dunton v. Higgins be called.
Five minutes have intervened; the clerk calling the case s
interrupted by a knocking at the jury-room door; he stops his
reading, the door is opened, and the sheriff conducts his twelve
gentlemen back to their seats. Not a whisper is heard; the stillness
of the tomb reigns over this high judicial scene. The sheriff
receives a packet of papers from the foreman's hands, and passes
them to the clerk.
"Gentlemen of the jury will please stand up," says that very amiable
functionary. "Have you agreed on your verdict?" The foreman bows
"Guilty or not guilty, gentlemen?"
"Guilty," says the former, in tones like church-yard wailings:
"Guilty. I suppose that's the style we must render the verdict in?"
The foreman is at a loss to know what style of verdict is necessary.
"Yes," returns the clerk, bowing; and the gentlemen of the jury well
complimented by the judge, are discharged until to-morrow. The
attorney for the defence made a noble, generous, and touching appeal
to the fatherly twelve; but his appeal fell like dull mist before
the majesty of slavery. Guilty! O heavens, that ever the innocent
should be made guilty of being born of a mother! That a mother-that
name so holy-should be stained with the crime of bearing her child
to criminal life!
Two children, fair and beautiful, are judged by a jury of
twelve-perhaps all good and kind fathers, free and enlightened
citizens of a free and happy republic-guilty of the crime of being
born of a slave mother. Can this inquiring jury, this thinking
twelve, feel as fathers only can feel when their children are on the
precipice of danger? Could they but break over that seeming
invulnerable power of slavery which crushes humanity, freezes up the
souls of men, and makes the lives of millions but a blight of
misery, and behold with the honesty of the heart what a picture of
misery their voice "Guilty!" spreads before these unfortunate
children, how changed would be the result!
A judge, endeared to his own children by the kindest affections,
feels no compunction of conscience while administering the law which
denies a father his own children-which commands those children to be
sold with the beasts of the field! Mark the slender cord upon which
the fate of these unfortunates turns; mark the suffering through
which they must pass.
The hand on the clock's pale face marks four. His honour reminds
gentlemen of the bar that it is time to adjourn court. Court is
accordingly adjourned. The crowd disperse in silence. Gentlemen of
the legal profession are satisfied the majesty of the law has been
Hence the guilty children, scions of rights-loving democracy, like
two pieces of valuable merchandise judicially decreed upon, are led
back to prison, where they will await sale. Annette has caught the
sound of "Guilty!"-she mutters it while being taken home from the
court, in the arms of an old slave. May heaven forgive the guilt we
inherit from a mother, in this our land of freedom!
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