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

The Brave Men and Women of the «Underground Railway»

The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton (Preface)


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.

To: The Brave Men and Women of the «Underground Railway»

The most heroic episodes in the history of the American people are bound up with the efforts to destroy the system of slavery which was the worst of many bad legacies bequeathed the Republic of the United States by the British Government. Happily, by Ordinance of Congress in 1787—the same year in which the Constitution was adopted—slavery was abolished or forbidden in the vast northwestern territory out of which so many great states since have been carved. Then, by the Compromise of 1820, a certain line was fixed beyond which current slave empires would not be permitted to extend. However, the odious institution of slaveholding still persisted in the South, and, while most politicians were trying to put off the «irrepressible conflict,» as Seward called it, private help was being given by benevolent people all over the northern states to those slaves who were both brave and daring enough to attempt escape. Indeed, some persons, who were so interested in the abolitionist movement that they willingly risked their own freedom to help their unfortunate, dark-skinned fellow-humans gain theirs, organized what since has gone down in history as the «underground railroad.»

The «underground railroad» was a network of farms and houses in which escaping slaves were given refuge as they moved northward. At each «station,» the fugitive slave would be fed and sheltered, attended to medically when possible, and advised of the route to the next «station.» Then he would be sent on his way, the precarious path having been made somewhat less thorny because of the benevolent care of the sympathizer who tended the «station.» Professor Wilbur H. Siebert, in a work of great patience, has collected the names of about 3,200 Americans who were engaged in the good work of helping these poor creatures escape, and, in the roll of the world’s worthies, there can be few more honored names.

To help a Negro escape from his master was, it must be remembered, a most perilous undertaking. Many states affixed severe penalties to aiding or abetting a runaway. Men who were caught in the enterprise were beaten, imprisoned and sometimes even killed. Women, meanwhile, were ruthlessly stripped and whipped; their persons were exposed to the lustful eyes of lascivious men, and, on many of them, other violences of a far more intimate nature were perpetrated. These ardent southern gentlemen who captured them were, after all, men in a sexual sense also, and few men can witness the chastisement and skin-warming of lovely women without feeling promptings of a passionate nature.

In The Memoirs of Dolly Morton, the true adventures of the brave women of the «underground railway» are related with a candor and a graphic beauty rarely encountered in any literature.

We see beautiful women stripped bare under a Southern sun; we hear their cries and pleadings for mercy as, one by one, their robes and petticoats are torn off or tucked up, their drawers unfastened and rolled down; our eyes are shocked at the sight of the white, well-developed hemispheres laid bare and blushing to our gaze, only to receive the cruel lash— the hemispheres which had never been bared since mother whipped them across her knees, never been rudely handled save in the legitimate caresses of the conjugal bed. Sorry are we, but little can we do: let he that goeth down to war count well the cost thereof. The hairbreadth escapes and the singular adventures are of themselves strange reading, but, when we remember that these adventures were undergone for the highest human ends, interest is merged in admiration for the heroism which could sacrifice so much in the cause of humanity.

The chief of this «underground» system was one Levi Coffin, who was said personally to have helped to freedom over three thousand slaves. The distinguished names of Theodore Parker, Fred Douglass, John Brown, Marshall Giddings, Gerrit Smith and others all are associated with this most romantic of narratives in the history of the century. And, for adventure, the exploits of the emancipators cannot be equalled. Calvin Fairbanks conducted a whole slave family in a load of straw. James W. Torrence, who exported grain and feathers to Canada, packed runaways inside his crates. Abram Allen had a large three-seated wagon made for the express purpose of carrying fugitives; he called it «Liberator»; it had a mechanism with a bell to record the number of miles traveled. Hannah Marsh took garden produce to the markets of Philadelphia and secured slaves among her carrots and pumpkins. Giddings, a member of Congress, reserved a bedroom in his house in Ohio expressly for runaway slaves. An attic over Garrison’s office in Boston was used for the same purpose.

Though heavy penalties were enforced in the cases of those who aided fugitives, and though the work was dangerous and might ruin a man who engaged in it, nothing could stop the so dedicated abolitionists who so nobly strove to make poor men free. The reader who peruses Dolly Morton will realize more fully what slavery meant, and how much self-denial was needed to press onward the cause of emancipation.

Paris, France.

View online : How I made the acquaintance of Dolly Morton (Introduction)

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