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

A young girl’s humiliating experiences

The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton (Chapter I)


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.

A young girl’s humiliating experiences, death of my father; how I made Miss Ruth Dean’s acquaintance and what came of it; helping to free the slaves.

My name is Dolly Morton, I am just twenty-six years of age and I was born in Philadelphia, where my father was a clerk in a bank. I was his only child and my mother died when I was two years old, so I have no remembrance of her. My father’s salary was small, but he gave me as good an education as his means would allow, his intention being that I should gain my living as a school teacher.

He was a silent, stern, reserved man, who perhaps may have been fond of me in his way: but he never showed any outward sign of affection, and he always kept me under strict discipline. Whenever I committed a fault, he would lay me across his knees, turn up my short petticoats, take down my drawers and spank me soundly with a broad piece of leather. I was a plump, soft, thin-skinned girl who felt pain acutely, and I used to shriek and kick up my heels and beg for mercy —which however, I never received, for he would calmly go on spanking me till my poor little bottom was as red as fire and I was hoarse with screaming. Then when the punishment was over and my trembling fingers had buttoned up my drawers, I would slink away with smarting bottom and streaming eyes ° our old servant who had been my nurse, and she would sympathize with me and comfort me till the smart of the spanking had passed off.

Our life was a rather lonely one; we had no relatives, my father did not care for society of any sort and I had very few girl friends of my own age; but I was strong and healthy, my disposition was cheerful and, fortunately, I was fond of reading, so, though I often felt very dull, I was not absolutely unhappy as a child.

And so the years rolled on, quietly and uneventfully. My childhood passed, I was eighteen years of age and had grown to my full height of five feet, four inches; my figure was well rounded, and I was quite a woman in appearance. I had begun to chafe at the monotony and repression of my life, and was sometimes very willful and disobedient. But I always suffered on such occasions, for my father still continued to treat me as a child, taking me across his knees and spanking me whenever I offended him. Moreover, he informed me that he would spank me every time I misbehaved until I was twenty years old. This was very humiliating to a girl of my age, especially since I had become rather romantic and had begun to think of sweethearts. But I never dreamed of resisting my father’s authority, so I took my spankings —which, I must confess, were sometimes well deserved—with as much fortitude as I could muster up.

But a change in my life was soon to come. My father was seized with an attack of pneumonia, to which he succumbed after a few days’ illness.

I was stunned at first by the suddenness of the blow, but I cannot say that I felt much grief at my loss. My father had never made a companion of me, and, whenever I had tried to interest him in my little affairs, he had invariably shown himself utterly unsympathetic. However I had not much time to think over the past; my position r s it was at that moment had to be faced, and a most unfortunate one it was.

My father had died in debt, and the creditors were pressing for payment. I had no money, so the furniture of the house was sold by auction, and, when everything had been settled, I found myself without a cent, homeless and quite alone in the world.

I lived for a month with my old nurse. She would have kept me with her always, had she been able but she had her own living to make, so she was obliged to go into service again. Then I would have been compelled to seek shelter in the poor house had it not been for the kindness of a lady who, hearing of my friendless and forlorn condition, took me into her house.

Her name was Miss Ruth Dean, and she was at that period thirty years of age. She belonged to the Quaker sect, or, as she called it, «The Society of Friends.» She was a virgin, she had no lovers, she was her own mistress and she lived in a large house about two miles from the city. She was well off and she made good use of her money, spending most of it in charity. Her time was chiefly occupied in philanthropic work of all sorts, and she was always ready to give a helping hand to anyone who needed a start in Me.

But, before proceeding, I must give you a physical description of Miss Ruth Dean. She was a tall, slender, delicately formed woman with large, earnest-looking brown eyes; her hair also was brown; it was long and soft and she always wore it in plain bands. She had a lovely clear complexion, but there was no color in her cheeks, though she was in perfect health and was capable of going through a great amount of fatigue. She was a pretty woman, but there was always a rather prim expression on her face, and she rarely laughed, though she was not the least morose.

Miss Dean was as good a woman as ever lived, and she was the best friend I ever had. From the first she treated me as a guest and was most kind to me. I had a prettily furnished bed-sitting room of my own, and the servants, all of whom were devoted to their mistress, always treated me with respect.

Miss Dean had a number of correspondents in all parts of the States, and now my education proved useful to me, for I was able to help my benefactress in answering her letters. She, finding that I was sharp and intelligent, appointed me her secretary, giving me a small salary for pocket money, and also supplying me with clothes. I was very comfortable and never had been so happy in all my life. There were no cross looks, no sharp scoldings, and, above all, no horrid spankings.

As time passed Miss Dean became like an elder sister to me. I likewise grew very fond of her. She admired my face and figure, and always liked to see me nicely dressed, so she gave me lace-trimmed petticoats, drawers and chemises, and also several pretty frocks, though she herself was content with the plainest of underlinen and she always wore the Quaker costume, a plain bodice with a straight-cut skirt of drab, dove-colored material.

As a matter of course, Miss Dean hated the institution of slavery and was an ardent member of the abolitionist party. She supplied funds to and was in constant communication with «Friends» in the Southern States who were in charge of «underground stations,» and she frequently received into her house escaped slaves of both sexes whom she kept till they got employment. She could harbor the fugitives openly because Pennsylvania was a free state.

I need not enter into the details of my life for two years, as nothing eventful happened. I was contented and happy, I had the society of young people of my own age and I had plenty of innocent amusements. Miss Dean, being a Quakeress, did not patronize places of public amusement of any sort herself, nor would she allow me to go to one; neither did she approve of dancing: but she frequently gave quiet parties, and I often was invited to other houses. I was popular with members of my own sex and had several admirers among the other sex but, since I did not care for any one of them, I remained quite heart-whole.

At the time of which I am speaking, the friction between the North and the South was becoming very great, and there were mutterings of the storm which was soon to break—though few people thought that things would end in a long and bloody civil war. Towards the close of the year, the North was startled by the execution, or, as we called it, the murder of the great abolitionist, John Brown, at Harper’s Ferry. Miss Dean was particularly shocked and distressed at the news, for she had known John Brown personally and she believed that he had been quite right in getting up the insurrection which cost him his life. Any act, she averred, was justifiable that had for its object the emancipation of the slaves, and she declared that she would not hesitate to do the same thing herself if she thought that it would forward the cause.

As the weeks passed, she became restless. She was not satisfied with merely sending money to the South. She wanted to do something personally to help the slaves, and finally she made up her mind to go South and take charge of an «underground station.»

She told me one afternoon what she intended to do, and she became quite enthusiastic about it, «Oh!» she exclaimed. «I am longing to begin the work of rescue. I am sure that I could manage a ’station’ better than any man. Men are suspected and constantly watched by the white loafers, but no one would suspect a woman of running a ’station,’ so, if I live quietly and take all necessary precautions, I am not likely to be found out.»

My sympathies had always been with the slaves, and now Miss Dean’s enthusiasm moved me greatly. I at once made up my mind to go with her, and I told her of my determination.

At first she would not hear of my doing such a thing; she pointed out the risks of the undertaking and remarked that we might possibly be found out, in which case we should be condemned to a long term of imprisonment. «Not that I am afraid of imprisonment,» she added, getting up from her seat and pacing up and down the room, her pale cheeks flushing, her soft eyes sparkling. «But for you, Dolly, it would be dreadful. You are a young, tender girl, and you could not bear—as I could—the hard work and coarse fare. Besides, they would cut off all your pretty hair. I have heard that the hair of female prisoners is cut in Southern jails. No, my dear, I can’t let you go with me. If I did, and anything were to happen to you, I should never forgive myself.»

«I am not afraid of the work,» I said, «and you have just as pretty hair as I have. If you choose to risk yours, I am ready to risk mine. Do you think, after all you have done for me, that I will let you go alone? I will not be left behind. Where you go, I go, and I will take my chance with you.»

I saw that she was much touched by my fidelity, but still she tried her utmost to dissuade me from going South with her. However, I was firm in my resolve to accompany her, so I met all her arguments and I wound up by saying that «two heads are better than one,» and that I could be of great assistance to her.

So, at last, she consented to let me go with her. The point being settled, she kissed me, then sitting down, she wrote to «Friends» in various parts of the South, asking them to let her know a place where a new «underground station» might advantageously be established. We then went to dinner, and, when it was over, we spent the evening talking over our plans and settling to the best of our ability what we should do.

In a few days’ time, Miss Dean received answers from all her correspondents. They mentioned several places where an «underground station» might be set up. We discussed the advantages of the various sites, and, after a long deliberation, we determined to go to a place in Virginia, right in the middle of the slave states.

The house which had been recommended to be used as a «station» was situated near the small town of Hampton, on the James River thirty-five miles from Richmond, the capital of the state. Miss Dean at once wrote to a local house-agent, telling him to take the house for her and to have it furnished as soon as possible for the reception of two ladies who wished to spend some time in Virginia.

Presently she received a letter from the agent, saying that he had taken the house for her and that it would be furnished and ready for occupation in a fortnight’s time. I need hardly tell you that the agent had not the slightest idea that the house was going to be used as an «underground station.»

The following day we began leisurely to make preparations for our departure, and Miss Dean decided to take only one servant, a trustworthy, middle-aged white woman named Martha. She was a Quakeress like her mistress, in whose service she had been for five years. She knew why we were going to Virginia and was quite willing to accompany us.

The other servants were left behind in charge of the house in Philadelphia. Miss Dean thought it would be safer not to let anyone in the city know the exact spot to which we were going, or what we intended to do, so she merely let it be known that we were going for a trip to the South.

A fortnight passed, and one fine morning at the beginning of May we drove quietly to the Railway Depot and took our tickets for Richmond. On arriving we stayed at a hotel for a couple of days in order to get some stores we wanted. Then, on the third morning at half-past eleven, we left the city in a two-horse buggy driven by a Negro coachman, who deposited the three of us with our trunks at the house after a long but pleasant drive through a pretty country.

The agent to whom Miss Dean had written was waiting to receive us, with a couple of Negro boys to carry in our baggage. He showed us the house, which we found to be in good repair and plainly but comfortably furnished. Everything was in perfect readiness-supplies laid in, wood chopped and the fire in the kitchen lighted.

The house was very secluded. It was situated at the end of a lane about a quarter of a mile from the main road. It was a wooden structure of one story with a veranda back and front. It contained a parlor, a kitchen and four bedrooms. In the rear there was a barn, near which grew two hickory trees. The whole place was surrounded by a high, rail fence.

When we had completed the inspection of our new home, the agent bade us goodbye and took his departure, accompanied by the two Negro boys. Martha bustled about the kitchen, while Miss Dean and I unpacked our things in our respective bedrooms. In a short time tea was ready and we sat down in the parlor to a good meal of ham and eggs, fried chicken and hot cakes.

The parlor was a good-sized room with rather a low ceiling crossed by heavy beams. There were two bow windows with latticed panes, and on the sills were pots of sweet-smelling flowers. On one side of the room was a massive sideboard of polished mahogany, and there was an old-fashioned oval mirror with an ebony frame over the mantelpiece. These two bits of old furniture evidently belonged to the house, and they contrasted strangely with the bright colored carpet and other modern furniture of the room.

When we had finished our meal, Miss Dean wrote to the «Friends» in charge of the «underground stations» north and south of us, with which we were to be in communication. The station south of ours was thirty miles distant, and from it we would receive fugitives, whom we would pass on to the station north for us, which was twenty miles away. Then we had a short chat, but, since we were feeling tired after our journey, we soon went to bed. I got up bright and early next morning, feeling in high spirits, and, as soon as I had had my bath and dressed, I peered into Miss Dean’s room. Finding that she was fast asleep, I did not disturb her. Instead, going quietly downstairs, I left the house and went for a morning walk along the tree-bornered road, and down lanes flanked with hedges of bright-flowered shrubs of species quite unknown to me.

I rambled about in all directions for an hour without meeting a single white person, though I came across several colored people of both sexes who stared curiously at me, noticing that I was a stranger. When I got back to the house, I found Miss Dean waiting for me in the parlor, and, in a short time, Martha brought in breakfast, to which I did full justice, for my walk had given me a good appetite.

We soon were settled down comfortably, and our new and risky life had begun. But neither of us had any forebodings of evil. Miss Dean was always cheerful, and I was quite charmed with the novelty of the whole affair. We stored supplies of bacon, flour and coffee in the cellar of the house and we hid a couple of mattresses and blankets under the floor of the barn in readiness for the fugitives who might arrive at any moment from the station south of ours.

View online : Redeeming the slave (Chapter II)

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