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

Redeeming the slave

The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton (Chapter II)


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.

My new style of life; redeeming the slave; our first runaways and how we passed them «underground.»

The house we lived in was well-adapted for our purpose, owing to its isolated position. Our nearest neighbor lived three miles away and the little town of Hampton, whence we got our supplies, was also three miles distant. The weather was quite warm; however, it agreed with me, and I was in splendid health and condition. Dressed in a plain linen costume with a broad-brimmed straw hat on my head I daily roamed about the country, soon making the acquaintance of a number of plantation slaves, who, seeing that I took an interest in them, were always glad to talk to me; they used to bring me presents of bits of «possum» and «coon,» two animals which the Negroes are very fond of, but neither Miss Dean nor I could touch the meat.

I sometimes visited the slaves’ quarters on the plantations and always was heartily welcomed. But I was obliged to pay my visits very secretly, for, if the owners of the slaves or the ordinary white folks in the neighborhood had discovered that I was visiting the quarters, my motives would at once have been suspected. (Though the Negroes whose acquaintance we had made never hinted at the subject, I felt pretty sure that they all guessed why we had taken up our abode in their midst.)

Three months passed, and during the whole of that period the work at our station had gone on smoothly. Sometimes in one week we would have two or three fugitives; on other occasions several days would pass without a single runaway arriving. Whatever the case, they always came after dark to the back of the house and the first thing we did was to give them a good meal, then put them in the barn for the night. Next day we fed them well, and, as soon as it was dark, we supplied them with a packet of provisions and they started off for the next station, walking all night and hiding in the woods during the day. (If, as sometimes happened, the fugitive was a woman who was too tired to go on after only one night’s rest, we kept her till she felt able to continue her journey.)

The runaways were of all sorts: old men and young men, old women and girls, and sometimes a woman with a baby in her arms. Some of the fugitives were in good condition and decently clothed, others were gaunt and ragged, having come long distances and having been many days on the road. Some had come even from the extreme South of Florida. Many were scarred with the marks of the lash, some bore marks of the branding iron, and others had open or half-healed wounds on their bodies. But all the poor creatures who passed through our hands were intensely grateful to us, and we often heard their stories, which were in many cases most pitiful. I need not enter further into details of our management of the station, but I will give you a short account of one of the cases which came under our notice.

One night Miss Dean and I were sitting as usual in the parlor, chatting and sewing. The lamps had been lit, the curtains had been drawn and everything was quiet and snug. There had been no arrivals for upwards of a week, and Miss Dean had just said: «I wonder if anyone will come tonight.» Then, suddenly, we heard a low tapping at one of the windows.

I ran to the door and opened it, and, as I did, a girl staggered up to the threshold, then fell fainting at my feet. I called to Miss Dean, who, with Martha, at once came to my assistance. We carried the girl into the parlor and laid her on the sofa.

She was a very light-colored quadroon, with a pretty face and long, wavy, dark brown hair, which was flowing in disorder over her shoulders. Her age appeared to be about sixteen, but her figure was fully developed, the rounded contours of her bosom showing plainly under her thin bodice. (Females of her race soon mature.) She was evidently not a field slave, as her hands did not show signs of hard work, and her clothes were of good material, though they were draggled and torn to rags. She was wearing a neat pair of shoes, but they, as well as her stockings, were covered with mud. We soon brought her round, and she opened her great brown eyes which had a hunted look in them, while her face wore an expression of pain and weariness. We gave her a bowl of soup, and some bread and meat, which she ate ravenously, telling us that she had had nothing for twenty-four hours.

Because the girl was so weak and ill, we did not send her to the barn. Instead, as soon as she had finished her supper, I took her upstairs to the spare room, telling her to undress and go to bed. She looked bashfully at me, but after a moment’s hesitation took off her frock and petticoats. She wore no drawers, and I noticed immediately that the back of her chemise was plentifully stained with spots of dried blood. I knew what that meant! Going up to the girl, I raised her chemise and looked at her bottom. The whole surface was covered with livid weals, and the skin was cut in a great many places.

I soon got her to tell me why she had been so severely whipped. It was the old story. She belonged to a planter, a married man with young children, who lived about twenty-five miles away. She was one of his wife’s maids. Her master had taken a fancy to her and had ordered her to be in his dressing room at a certain hour one evening. She was a virgin, and she disobeyed the order. Next day she was sent with a note to one of the overseers who took her to the shed used as a place of punishment. He then informed her that her master had sent her to be whipped for disobedience.

She was stretched over the whipping block. Her wrists and ankles were held by two male slaves. Then the overseer laid bare her bottom and whipped her with a hickory switch till the blood trickled down her thighs. She then was allowed to go, being told that if she did not obey her master she would find herself on the whipping block again.

But she was a plucky girl, and she determined not to surrender her maidenhead. So she ran away that night, sore and bleeding as she was, and made her way for twenty-five miles through the woods and byways until she reached our house. She had heard that we were kind to slaves, and she thought that we would hide her from her master.

We did hide her, keeping her for a week. Then we sent her on to the next station along with a man who happened to arrive just at the right time.

Now I will return to my own story, and that of Miss Dean, for our fates at this period became linked together even more closely than they had been.

Time passed and everything continued to go on quietly. Miss Dean was still full of enthusiasm for the work, but I had got rather sick of it. The stories of cruelty I constantly was hearing and the sights which I sometimes saw made my heart ache. Moreover I was tired of the loneliness of my life. I wanted some companions with whom I could laugh and chatter freely and frivolously. Though Miss Dean was always sweet and amiable, her conversation was not of a light sort.

Occasionally, too, a feeling of fear would come over me: we might be found out. I did not feel so brave as formerly. I dreaded being put in jail and having my hair cut. And I did not like the idea of the hard labor and the scanty fare.

However, so far, I had had no cause for alarm. We had come to be well known by the people in the neighborhood, but no one suspected that the two quiet women living by themselves in the lonely house were engaged in unlawful practices. There had never been an instance known of an «underground station» being run by women.

The ordinary white people—and by that expression I mean the white folks who did not own slaves—were always civil to us whenever we had anything to do with them. Many of them were very rough-looking fellows, and there were some lazy loafers. But there were also a number of respectable, hard-working men with wives and families. Strange to say, all these whites, though not one of them owned a Negro, were staunch upholders of slavery. They sold us venison, wild turkeys, and fish, all of which were welcome additions to our usual homely fare.

View online : I am chased by a bull in the country (Chapter III)

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