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An Account of the Whippings, Rapes, and Violences that Preceded the Civil War in America

A most awful flagellation

The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton (Chapter XVI)


All the versions of this article:

Jean de Villiot, The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton : The Story of A Woman’s Part in The Struggle to Free The Slaves, An Account of the Whippings, Rapes, and Violences that Preceded the Civil War in America, With Curious Anthropological Observations on the Radical Diversities In the Conformation of the Female Bottom and the Way Different Women endure Chastisement, Ed. Charles Carrington, London, Paris, 1899.

After four months; the «spirit of unrest»; my sympathies are with the North; an escaped Negress is taken and flogged; a most awful flagellation; «paddling» described; a blistered bottom.

I will now pass over a period of four months. During that time, events had been marching rapidly and stirring things had happened.

The slave States had seceded from the Union.

Jeff Davis had been elected president of the Southern Confederacy.

Fort Sumter had been taken, and the war had begun.

All those events are matters of history, so I need not enter into details of them. I will confine myself to relating the things which were connected with Woodlands and with my own fortunes.

The work on the plantation was carried on as usual, notwithstanding the very unsettled state of affairs. But there was a spirit of unrest among all the field hands, and they were inclined to be insubordinate. Randolph and his four overseers always went about armed with revolvers, and whippings were of more frequent occurrence than ever.

The overseers in all cases inflicted the punishments, the male slaves being tied to the whipping post and cowhided while the females were stretched upon a branch and either switched or paddled. By these severe means, discipline so far had been thoroughly maintained.

The house-women, of course, rarely became very troublesome. But Randolph would stand no nonsense. He became stricter with them than before, and, whenever a woman or a girl had misbehaved in the least, Dinah and another stalwart woman named Milly were sent for and the offender was taken «up» and prepared for punishment. Then, in a few seconds, she would be squealing, writhing, kicking up her heels and promising amendment, while Randolph, wielding the switch with vigorous arm, striped her bottom with red weals. In some cases of grave misconduct, he would even draw blood. This treatment reduced to order all who were inclined to be unruly, and they soon returned to their ordinary behavior.

For some time past, business in the State had been almost at a standstill. Therefore Randolph could not dispose of his cotton, which had accumulated in the sheds which were full to overflowing. He was a rich man, but most of his income was derived from the sale of his cotton, and, now that there was no market for it —while, at the same time, the great expenses in keeping up the plantation were going on—he became very much pressed for ready money. However, he thought that it would only be a temporary inconvenience, for he was quite convinced that the South eventually would prove victorious in the war.

My sympathies, of course, were with the Northerners, and I wished them speedy success. But I dared not express my sentiments. I really don’t know what Randolph would have done to me if I had said what I thought.

Meanwhile, he rarely left the plantation and he never gave any dinner parties. All his friends either had left the State or had joined the Confederate Army. He would have done so himself except that he was too old to go as a private soldier and he was unable to get a commission as an officer, owing to his having no knowledge of military affairs. But he had been elected member of Congress for the Southern Confederacy.

Since he would not leave Woodlands, my lover was obliged to fall back exclusively upon my company, and he seemed glad to have it. He seemed also to appreciate it. His manner became a little more tender, he did not speak to me so coarsely—as he often had been in the habit of doing—and he treated me with less indecency.

But with his slaves, both outdoor and indoor, he was more strict than ever. Since the breaking out of the war, several of the field hands had run away and had managed to get clear off, although the «underground stations» had been closed. Randolph had offered two-hundred dollars reward for the capture of each runaway, but not one of them had been brought back. These losses had vexed him very much, the runaways having been some of his strongest and finest young men and women, each of whom was worth from fifteen-hundred to two-thousand dollars.

So far none of the house women had run away, but at last one of them did. One morning when Randolph and I were at breakfast, Dinah came in and told her master that one of the women named Sophie, who had been out the previous night, had not returned to the house, and that some other girls reported that she had taken away some of her clothes. Sophie was one of the kitchen-maids, a fine, big, healthy mulatto woman, twenty-six years of age and worth about eighteen-hundred dollars. There was no doubt that she had run Way, so Randolph at once wrote out copies of advertisements, describing the woman and offering the large reward of four-hundred dollars to anyone bringing her back to Woodlands or lodging her in a jail. He sent the advertisement to all the local newspapers, and he also ordered bills to be printed and posted up in various places.

Several days passed. The advertisements appeared in the papers and the bills were stuck up all about the neighborhood. But nothing was heard of the runaway. However, since all the white loafers were eager to secure the large reward, Randolph had high hopes that the woman would be caught sooner or later. And she was.

About five o’clock one evening, a couple of rough-looking white men drove up to the house in a ramshackle wagon, bringing with them the runaway, whom they had found concealed in the slave quarter of a plantation twenty miles from Woodlands. The woman, whose wrists were tied together with a piece of rope, evidently had not suffered any privations during the time she had been absent. Her frock was clean and she was in good condition bodily, although her face was looking very doleful, for she knew that there was a severe whipping awaiting her.

The men who had hunted her down received the four-hundred dollars bounty and drove off in their wagon, while Sophie was taken away to the servants’ quarters. After she had been given something to eat, she was locked up in a small bedroom by herself for the night.

Randolph was very much pleased at having got the woman back, consequently he was in a very good humor all through the evening. So, when we were in the drawing room after dinner, I ventured to ask him what he intended to do to Sophie.

«Never you mind, Dolly,» he replied, smiling. «It’s no business of yours. I’ve not quite made up my mind what I shall do to her, but anyhow, I tend to make the hussy smart tomorrow, and, if you like, you can see the punishment.»

I asked no more questions, and he told me to come and sit on his knee. I did so Then, as a matter of course, the usual toyings took place, and, in a very short time, I found myself «impaled» as I sat on his lap. Afterwards we talked about the war and I had carefully to conceal my real opinions. In due course we went to bed.

Next morning at breakfast, my hero told me that he had determined to make an example of Sophie. Therefore he intended to whip her with the paddle. The punishment would be meted out in the hall, before all the other women in the house.

I was sorry for Sophie—(I always was sorry when a woman was whipped)—but I dared not say a word. In fact, if I had said anything, it only would have irritated Randolph and made him harder on the women. Moreover, it would have brought his wrath upon me.

When he had finished his breakfast and had smoked a cigar, he left the room to make preparations for the punishment. In about twenty minutes he came back and said: «Everything is ready now. You can come out to the hall if you would like to see a paddling.»

I had seen many women switched. I had seen some whipped with the strap, and I had seen several spanked. But I had never seen one paddled, and I was rather curious as to how the punishment was inflicted.

Thus, I followed Randolph to the hall. I was sorry for the woman, as I have before said, but my curiosity overcame my pity. I had grown somewhat callous.

In the middle of the long, wide hall was a machine which I never had seen before, though I had heard of it. It was the whipping bench—a long, low, curved wooden structure about two feet broad, supported on four legs, each of which war furnished with buckled straps. On the floor beside the bench was the paddle, a round, flat piece of wood an eighth of an inch thick and eight inches in diameter, fixed to a handle two and a half feet long. It was very much dreaded by all the female slaves, for it caused great pain, bruising the flesh and blistering the skin so that, after a paddling, the sufferer’s bottom remained sore and tender longer than after a switching or a strapping.

All the women and grown-up girls in the house were present. They were twenty-one in number, ten of them in a row at one side of the bench and ten at the other, while Dinah stood by herself.

Randolph ordered Dinah and Milly—a strong black woman whom I have mentioned before—to go for the culprit. They went, returning in a couple of minutes with Sophie, who, the moment she caught sight of the preparations for her paddling, burst into tears and hung back in such a fashion that the two women had to drag her up to the bench.

Sophie was not a bad-looking woman for a mulatto, and, on ordinary occasions, her yellow-tinted complexion was clear. But, at that moment, fear had turned her face a sort of dull-grey color. «Oh, Massa, Massa!» she cried, stretching out her arms appealingly, with the tears running down her cheeks. «Don’t paddle me! Whip me with de switch or de strap, but don’t, oh don’t paddle me!»

«Put her on the bench,» said Randolph.

Sophie, in a spasm of fear, threw herself upon the floor. Dinah and Milly lifted her up. Then she began to struggle and kick. But, in spite of her resistance, the two women soon had her stretched at full length on the bench, with her wrists and ankles securely fastened with the straps.

Dinah now stripped her, and, since her head and feet were lower than the middle of her body, which was raised by the curve of the bench, the part of her person to be operated upon was thrown well up. She would have had a good figure except that her bottom was out of all proportion. It was too big. But nevertheless it was fairly-well shaped, with well-rounded cheeks meeting each other closely. Her thighs were large, too, and she had a sturdy pair of legs. Her skin was smooth and of a clear yellow tint.

Randolph took up the paddle and, standing at the culprit’s left side, said: «Now you bitch, I’ll make your fat bottom smart. You’ve cost me four-hundred dollars, and I intend to take the value out of your yellow hide.»

He raised the paddle high in the air over the trembling, crying woman, who, in dread of the coming stroke, drew in the cheeks of her bottom till the division between them looked like a fine line.

Down came the paddle with great force. There was a resounding «smack» on the upper part of the right cheek of her bottom. She gave a convulsive start and gasped for breath. Then she uttered a long, shrill squeal, and, at the same instant, a great, red, blister-like patch, the exact size and shape of the blade of the paddle, sprang up on her yellow skin.

The second stroke fell on the left cheek, and again the loud sounding «smack» was followed by a shriek. Another round patch showed red on her skin.

Randolph went on paddling with great severity, laying the strokes alternately on the right and on the left side of her bottom and striking a fresh place each time. Sophie screamed and writhed, twisting herself about in agony and jerking her tortured bottom from side to side on the bench as far as the straps binding her would allow, at one moment arching her loins and at the next instant flattening herself down with a shriek as the paddle smacked horribly on the flesh.

She wriggled and squirmed. She cried and screamed. She pleaded and prayed for mercy.

But Randolph was pitiless. He gave her several more strokes, then finished up by applying two extra-hard smacks, one to the upper part of each thigh, extracting from her louder shrieks and making her writhe more convulsively.

It had been a most severe punishment. Sophie’s bottom had become a dark purple color, the cheeks were quite swollen and the skin had a puffy appearance.

Randolph now threw down the paddle and told Dinah to release the woman. As soon as she was unstrapped, Sophie rolled off the bench and lay crying loudly. While she was being paddled, the other women had looked on in silence, the majority of them showing no signs of emotion, but some of the younger girls having tears in their eyes. They had all, with few exceptions, seen each other at various times receive a whipping, and everyone of them, without exception, had been whipped herself more or less frequently.

Randolph now told Dinah and Milly to take Sophie away and attend to her. They lifted the sufferer up, and, putting their arms round her—(she could hardly put one foot before the other)—led her wailing out of the hall, where they bathed her blistered bottom with cold water. Randolph then ordered a couple of the women to take the bench and the paddle back to the shed where they were kept. The other women and girls were sent to their work, and I was left alone with him in the hall.

Being well aware that whipping a woman always excited him, I felt pretty sure that I was going to be poked. I was not wrong. Putting his arm around my waist, he led me into the drawing room and made me lean over the high end of the sofa. Then he turned up my petticoats, let down my drawers and gave me a strong rogering from behind. He then went out, and I went up to my room to make myself tidy, for I was in rather a dishevelled state after his vigorous onslaught.

When I had removed all traces of what had occurred, I rang for Rosa and sent her to see how Sophie was getting on. When she came back she said: «Dinah is bathin’ Sophie’s bottom with cold water. It looks drefful sore an’ it’s swelled up twice its size. I’se never seen such a bottom as dat woman’s got. She won’t be able to do no work for three or four days. I’se never had de paddle, an’ I hopes I never shall. It’s far wuss dan de switch.»

I sent Rosa away and went into the garden, where I sat till Randolph came back to lunch. In the afternoon we went for a long ride together.

View online : Endeavors to stop the whipping of women (Chapter XVII)

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