First Person Narratives

views updated


Excerpt from A Journey of Travels into the Arkansas Territory (1819)


Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859), author of A Journey of Travels Into the Arkansas Territory, emigrated from England to Philadelphia in 1808. He took up the study of plants and went on to become one of America's foremost botanists; he also was a respected ornithologist and an early expert on paleontology. Between 1809 and 1835, he went on three major expeditions to pursue his scientific interests. On the second (1818–1820), his route took him down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Arkansas River, and then up the Arkansas into Colorado. The Arkansas River region was relatively unknown at that time and much of this journal describes this particular trip. Most of his observations pertain to the region's plant and animal life, geology, and geography. In this selection, Nuttall is in the present-day state of Arkansas.

chapter viii.

Pass several inconsiderable rivulets, and obtain sight of the Tomahawk mountain and the Gascon hills—Mulberry creek—that of Vache Grasse.—Lee's creek—prairies—Sugarloaf mountain.—Arrive at the garrison of Belle Point—a change in the vegetation—The Maclura or Bow-wood—The garrison—Cedar prairie—Rare plants.

20th.] This morning I left Mr. Webber's, in a perogue with two French boatmen, in order to proceed to the garrison, about 120 miles distant by water. We proceeded nearly to Charbonniere creek, 24 miles from the place of departure. Ten miles from Webber's we passed the outlet of Piney creek, so called from the pine-hills by which it is bordered. Eight miles further we came to Rocky creek, opposite to the outlet of which, a ledge of rocks nearly traverses the Arkansa, and presents a considerable obstruction in the navigation at a low stage of water. The current even at this time broke with a considerable noise.

21st.] About six miles above Rocky creek we passed the Charbonniere, so called from the occurrence of coal in its vicinity; we also observed the outlet of Spadrie creek, on the borders of which there are considerable tracts of fertile land, well supplied with springs, and occupied by the Cherokees. The rocks which occasionally border the river, of very inconsiderable elevation, are composed of slaty sandstone, dipping about 25 degrees, sometimes towards the north-west, and at others to the south-east, or in opposite directions, and also exhibiting indications of coal. The Charbonniere rock, in particular, about 50 feet high, presents beds of a slaty sandstone, with a dip of scarcely 20 degrees, and inclined in opposite directions so as to form a basin, in which there are indications of coal. A lofty blue ridge appears to the south, called by the French hunters the Cassetete or Tomahawk mountain, and about eight miles from hence enters the creek of the same name, beyond which we proceeded eight miles of a 12 mile bend, making a journey of about 28 miles in the course of the day, and encamped in view of another lofty ridge of mountains. We saw, as we proceeded, no less than 13 deer and a bear.

22d.] Four miles from Allmand creek the Cassetete mountain appears very distinct, and somewhat resembles the Magazine; being a long ridge abrupt at either end. Another range also was visible at a considerable distance, called the Gascon hills. We were detained awhile by a thunder-storm, but proceeded, notwithstanding, about 30 miles, and encamped on an island just below the outlet of Mulberry creek, on the banks of which, before the arrival of the Cherokees, there was a considerable settlement on a body of excellent land. It now constitutes the Cherokee line of demarkation, and they made free to occupy the deserted cabins and improvements of the whites without any compensation received either from them or the government. The bend, which we continued this morning, of 12 miles extent, is surrounded on the right hand side with an amphitheatre of lofty cliffs, 3 to 400 feet high, having a highly romantic and picturesque appearance. Nearly continuing to Mulberry creek, a fine stretch of about eight miles opens to view, affording an ample prospect of the river; its rich alluvions were now clothed in youthful verdure, and backed in the distance by bluish and empurpled hills. The beauty of the scenery was also enlivened by the melody of innumerable birds, and the gentle humming of the wild bees, feeding on the early blooming willows, which in the same manner line the picturesque banks of the Ohio. The Arkansa, in its general appearance throughout this day's voyage, bears, indeed, a considerable resemblance to that river. It is equally, diversified with islands, and obstructed in its course by gravelly rapids; two of them which we passed today, could not have a collective fall of less than 10 or 12 feet each.

The sandstone beds still present very little dip, and by contrary inclinations produce the appearance of basins or circumscribed vallies.

23d.] Two miles above Mulberry creek we passed two islands nearly opposite to each other, and a settlement of three or four families situated along the left bank of the river, on a handsome rising ground, flanked by a continued ridge of low hills. The dawn of morning was again ushered in by the songs of thousands of birds, re-echoing through the woods, and seeking shelter from the extensive plains, which every where now border the alluvion.

We proceeded about 32 miles, and experienced a scorching sun from noon till night, when at length the sky became obscured by clouds portentous of thunder. My thermometer when exposed to the sun rose to 100 degrees. Nearly opposite Vache Grasse creek we passed a rapid, over which there is scarcely more than 12 inches water, in the lowest stage. No hills now appear on either hand, and a little distance in the prairie, near Vache Grasse, stands the last habitation of the whites to be met with on the banks of the Arkansa, except those of the garrison.

Not far from Lee's creek, Perpillon of the French hunters, a low ridge again comes up to the border of the river, in which is discoverable the first calcareous rock on ascending the Arkansa. From hence also the prairies or grassy plains begin to be prevalent, and the trees to decrease in number and magnitude. Contiguous to our encampment commenced a prairie of seven miles in length, and continuing within a mile of the garrison. The river, now presenting long and romantic views, was almost exclusively bordered with groves of cotton-wood, at this season extremely beautiful, resembling so many vistas clad in the softest and most vivid verdure, and crowded with innumerable birds, but of species common to the rest of the United States.

24th.] This morning we passed the hills of Lee's creek, which for a short distance border the Arkansa; and about noon arrived at the garrison, which comes into view at the distance of about four miles, agreeably terminating a stretch of the river. Rising, as it were, out of the alluvial forest, is seen from hence, at the distance of 35 miles, a conic mountain nearly as blue as the sky, and known by the French hunters under the name of Point de Sucre, or the sugar loaf.

I met with politeness from major Bradford the commander of the garrison, but was disagreeably surprised to be given to understand, that I could not have permission to proceed any higher up the river without a special credential from the secretary of state, authorizing me to hold that intercourse with the natives, which I might deem necessary in further pursuing my journey. It appeared to me, however, sufficiently obvious, that the governor of the territory must be empowered to permit an intercourse, civil and commercial, with the Indians, and liberty to travel through their country by their concurrence. And, indeed, all difficulty was removed by a reference to the recent regulations, which empowered the commanders of the garrisons optionally to permit such intercourse; and I am happy to add, that this measure, which referred me to the hospitality of the major, was, apparently, as gratifying to him as to myself.

At the benevolent request of the commander, and agreeably to my intentions of exploring the natural history of the territory, I resolved to spend a few weeks at the garrison, and make it the depot of my collections. It is with a satisfaction, clouded by melancholy, that I now call to mind the agreeable hours I spent at this station, while accompanied by the friendly aid and kind participation of Dr. Russel, whose memory I have faintly endeavoured to commemorate in the specific name of a beautiful species of Monarda. But relentless death, whose ever-withering hand delights to pluck the fairest flowers, added, in the fleeting space of a few short days, another early trophy to his mortal garland; and Russel, the only hope of a fond and widowed mother, the last of his name and family, now sleeps obscurely in unhallowed earth! Gentle Reader, forgive this tribute of sympathy to the recollection of one, whom fully to know was surely to esteem, as a gentleman, an accomplished scholar, and a sincere admirer of the simple beauties of the field of nature.

27th.] Yesterday I took a walk of about five miles up the banks of the Pottoe, and found my labour well repayed by the discovery of several new or undescribed plants. In this direction the surface of the ground is gently broken or undulated, and thinly scattered with trees, resembling almost in this respect a cultivated park. The whole expanse of forest, hill, and dale, was now richly enamelled with a profusion of beautiful and curious flowers; among the most conspicuous was the charming Daisy of America, of a delicate lilac colour, and altogether corresponding in general aspect with the European species; intermingled, appears a new species of Collinsia, a large-flowered Tradescantia, various species of Phlox, the Verbena aubletia, and the esculent Scilla. From a low hill, the neighbouring prairie appeared circumscribed by forests, but the mountains of the Pottoe were not visible. The soil, even throughout the uplands, appeared nearly as fertile as the alluvions, and affords a most productive pasture to the cattle.

On the 28th, a slow rise in the river was perceptible, produced by the Canadian, or similar branches, and communicating a chocolate-red colour to the stream.

In the course of the day, I walked over the hills bordering the Pottoe, about six miles, in order to see some trees of the yellow-wood (Maclura), but they were scarcely yet in leaf, and showed no indications of producing bloom. Some of them were as much as 12 inches in diameter, with a crooked and spreading trunk, 50 or 60 feet high. Its wood dies yellow, and scarcely differs from the Fustick of the West Indies. From appearances, those few insulated trees of the Pottoe, are on the utmost limit of their northern range, and, though old and decayed, do not appear to be succeeded by others, or to produce any perfect fruit. The day was so warm, that at 9 o'clock in the evening, the thermometer still stood at 75 degrees.

The soil, wherever there is the slightest depression, is of a superior quality, and thickly covered with vegetable earth. The trees appear scattered as if planted by art, affording an unobstructed range for the hunter, equal to that of a planted park.

On the 29th, I took an agreeable walk into the adjoining prairie, which is about two miles wide and seven long. I found it equally undulated with the surrounding woodland, and could perceive no reason for the absence of trees, except the annual conflagration. A ridge of considerable elevation divides it about the centre, from whence the hills of the Pottoe, the Cavaniol, and the Sugar-loaf, at the distance of about 30 miles, appear partly enveloped in the mists of the horizon. Like an immense meadow, the expanse was now covered with a luxuriant herbage, and beautifully decorated with flowers, amongst which I was pleased to see the Painted Cup of the eastern states, accompanied by occasional clusters of a white flowered Dodecatheon or American primrose. The numerous rounded elevations which chequer this verdant plain, are so many partial attempts at shrubby and arborescent vegetation, which nature has repeatedly made, and which have only been subdued by the reiterated operation of annual burning, employed by the natives, for the purpose of hunting with more facility, and of affording a tender pasturage for the game.

May 1st.] The river still continued rising, and also red and turbid from an admixture of the clay of the salt formation.

The garrison, consisting of two block-houses, and lines of cabins or barracks for the accommodation of 70 men whom it contains, is agreeably situated at the junction of the Pottoe, on a rising ground of about 50 feet elevation, and surrounded by alluvial and up-lands of unusual fertility. The view is more commanding and picturesque, than any other spot of equal elevation on the banks of the Arkansa. The meanders of the river to the eastward, backed by the hills of Lee's creek, are visible for more than six miles. The basis of the fort is a dark-coloured slaty micaceous sandstone, the lamina of which, nearly horizontal, and occasionally traversed by calcareous illinitions, are about four to six inches in thickness, and denudated for some hundreds of yards by the washing of the current, which, in an elevated stage, roars and foams with great velocity. About three or four miles up the Pottoe, this rock is underlayed by a bituminous stateclay, indicative of coal, beneath which, no doubt, would be found calcareous rock; neither this nor the sandstone, however, present any organic remains.

3d.] To-day, accompanied by Doctor Russel, and another gentleman of the fort, I rode to Cedar prairie, lying about 10 miles south-east of the garrison, and presenting an irregular or undulating surface. I here found a second species of that interesting plant, which my venerable friend, William Bartram, called Ixia caelestina, the flowers of this species are also of a beautiful blue, and white at the base. The whole plain was, in places, enlivened with the Sysirinchium anceps, producing flowers of an uncommon magnitude; amidst this assemblage it was not easy to lose sight of the azure larkspur, whose flowers are of the brightest ultramarine; in the depressions also grew the ochroleucous Baptisia loaded with papilionaceous flowers, nearly as large as those of the garden pea.

From this prairie, and more particularly from a hill which partly traverses it, the mountains of the Pottoe appeared quite distinct, the Sugar-loaf on the east, and the Cavaniol, about three miles apart, on the west side of the river; the latter is to all appearance much the highest, and presents a tabular summit. The extensive and verdant meadow, in every direction appeared picturesquely bounded by woody hills of different degrees of elevation and distance, and lacked nothing but human occupation to reclaim it from barren solitude, and cast over it the air of rural cheerfulness and abundance.

7th.] The Pottoe and the Arkansa were now at their utmost elevation, and their waters of a pale or milky colour, in consequence of being swelled by the northern streams. The sand-bars and beaches were entirely submerged, and the river still also continued augmenting on the 8th.

On the 9th, I again rode out to Cedar prairie, accompanied by the Doctor, and one of the soldiers, whose intention was to hunt. Several deer were discovered, but all too shy to be approached. We spent the night about the centre of the first portion of the prairie, which is divided into two parts by the intersection of a small wooded rivulet; and though the evening was mild and delightfully tranquil, the swarms of musquetoes, augmented since the recent freshet, would not permit us to sleep.

It is truly remarkable how greatly the sound of objects, becomes absorbed in these extensive woodless plains. No echo answers the voice, and its tones die away in boundless and enfeebled undulations. Even game will sometimes remain undispersed at the report of the gun. Encamping near a small brook, we were favoured by the usual music of frogs, and among them heard a species which almost exactly imitated the lowing of a calf. Just as night commenced, the cheerless howling of a distant wolf accosted our ears amidst the tranquil solitude, and the whole night we were serenaded with the vociferations of the two species of whip-poor-will.

The dawn of a cloudy day, after to us a wakeful night, was ushered in by the melodious chorus of many thousands of birds, agreeably dispersing the solemnity of the ambiguous twilight.

Amongst other objects of nature, my attention was momentarily arrested by the curious appearance of certain conic hillocks, about three feet high, generally situated in denudated places, and covered over with minute pebbles; these on closer examination proved to be the habitations of swarms of large red ants, who entered and came out by one or two common apertures.

On the wooded margin of the prairie, the doctor and myself were gratified by the discovery of a very elegant plant, which constitutes a new genus allied reciprocally to Phacelia and Hydrophyllum.

Excerpt of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845)

Source: Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2004.


Frederick Douglass's Narrative is perhaps the most famous slave narrative in American history. Born on a Maryland plantation, Douglass (c. 1817–1895) escaped from slavery in 1838. He moved first to Boston and eventually settled in Rochester, New York. He was one of many former slaves who toured the North before the Civil War telling personal stories about the harsh injustices of slavery and sought to educate white audiences about the realities of the institution. Douglass published his narrative in 1845, the same year that he began a speaking tour in Britain. He returned to the United States in 1847, settled in Rochester, and established a newspaper called The North Star. Throughout his life, Douglass worked tirelessly for the political rights of blacks. In 1889 he was appointed United States Minister to Haiti.

Douglass's personal story graphically relates the violence and cruelty of slavery on southern plantations. In this excerpt, he describes how overseers and masters viciously whipped slaves for the most minor of infractions. Douglass also portrays the physical privations that slaves suffered, including lack of food, clothing, and sleep that were the norm on many plantations. Equally important, he documents slavery's psychological violence, showing how bondage obliterated the slave's identity as a human being. Douglass, who knew neither his birth date nor his father's identity and was separated from his mother, was therefore deprived of normal familial bonds. His master viewed his slaves as nothing more than property.

At the end of this excerpt, Douglass counters these examples of inhumanity with the image of slaves singing. He observes that the slaves were human beings with complex emotions, despite the conditions under which they lived. Douglass tells the story as he does and includes certain details in order to convince his audience that slavery is an immoral institution.

chapter i.

I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen years old.

My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather.

My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me. My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of those times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master's farms, near Lee's Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

Called thus suddenly away, she left me without the slightest intimation of who my father was. The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slave-holder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.

I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remark that such slaves invariably suffer greater hardships, and have more to contend with, than others. They are, in the first place, a constant offence to their mistress. She is ever disposed to find fault with them; they can seldom do any thing to please her; she is never better pleased than when she sees them under the lash, especially when she suspects her husband of showing to his mulatto children favors which he withholds from his black slaves. The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife; and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so; for, unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to his naked back; and if he lisp one word of disapproval, it is set down to his parental partiality, and only makes a bad matter worse, both for himself and the slave whom he would protect and defend.

Every year brings with it multitudes of this class of slaves. It was doubtless in consequence of a knowledge of this fact, that one great statesman of the south predicted the downfall of slavery by the inevitable laws of population. Whether this prophecy is ever fulfilled or not, it is nevertheless plain that a very different-looking class of people are springing up at the south, and are now held in slavery, from those originally brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase will do no other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right. If the lineal descendants of Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved, it is certain that slavery at the south must soon become unscriptural; for thousands are ushered into the world, annually, who, like myself, owe their existence to white fathers, and those fathers most frequently their own masters.

I have had two masters. My first master's name was Anthony. I do not remember his first name. He was generally called Captain Anthony—a title which, I presume, he acquired by sailing a craft on the Chesapeake Bay. He was not considered a rich slaveholder. He owned two or three farms, and about thirty slaves. His farms and slaves were under the care of an overseer. The overseer's name was Plummer. Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster. He always went armed with a cowskin and a heavy cudgel. I have known him to cut and slash the women's heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself. Master, however, was not a humane slaveholder. It required extraordinary barbarity on the part of an overseer to affect him. He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.

This occurrence took place very soon after I went to live with my old master, and under the following circumstances. Aunt Hester went out one night, —where or for what I do not know, —and happened to be absent when my master desired her presence.

He had ordered her not to go out evenings, and warned her that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man, who was paying attention to her belonging to Colonel Lloyd. The young man's name was Ned Roberts, generally called Lloyd's Ned. Why master was so careful of her, may be safely left to conjecture. She was a woman of noble form, and of graceful proportions, having very few equals, and fewer superiors, in personal appearance, among the colored or white women of our neighborhood.

Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out, but had been found in company with Lloyd's Ned; which circumstance, I found, From what he said while whipping her, was the chief offence. Had he been a man of pure morals himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting the innocence of my aunt; but those who knew him will not suspect him of any such virtue. Before he commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked. He then told her to cross her hands, calling her at the same time a d - - b - - h. After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes. He then said to her, "Now, you d - - d b - - h, I'll learn you how to disobey my orders!" and after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heartrending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till long after the bloody transaction was over. I expected it would be my turn next. It was all new to me. I had never seen any thing like it before. I had always lived with my grandmother on the outskirts of the plantation, where she was put to raise the children of the younger women. I had therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation.

chapter ii

My master's family consisted of two sons, Andrew and Richard; one daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld. They lived in one house, upon the home plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. My master was Colonel Lloyd's clerk and superintendent. He was what might be called the overseer of the overseers. I spent two years of childhood on this plantation in my old master's family. It was here that I witnessed the bloody transaction recorded in the first chapter; and as I received my first impressions of slavery on this plantation, I will give some description of it, and of slavery as it there existed. The plantation is about twelve miles north of Easton, in Talbot county, and is situated on the border of Miles River. The principal products raised upon it were tobacco, corn, and wheat. These were raised in great abundance; so that, with the products of this and the other farms belonging to him, he was able to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop, in carrying them to market at Baltimore. This sloop was named Sally Lloyd, in honor of one of the colonel's daughters. My master's son-in-law, Captain Auld, was master of the vessel; she was otherwise manned by the colonel's own slaves. Their names were Peter, Isaac, Rich, and Jake. These were esteemed very highly by the other slaves, and looked upon as the privileged ones of the plantation; for it was no small affair, in the eyes of the slaves, to be allowed to see Baltimore.

Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundred slaves on his home plantation, and owned a large number more on the neighboring farms belonging to him. The names of the farms nearest to the home plantation were Wye Town and New Design. "Wye Town" was under the overseership of a man named Noah Willis. New Design was under the overseership of a Mr. Townsend. The overseers of these, and all the rest of the farms, numbering over twenty, received advice and direction from the managers of the home plantation. This was the great business place. It was the seat of government for the whole twenty farms. All disputes among the overseers were settled here. If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining.

Here, too, the slaves of all the other farms received their monthly allowance of food, and their yearly clothing. The men and women slaves received, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork, or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel of corn meal. Their yearly clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers, like the shirts, one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter, made of coarse negro cloth, one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes; the whole of which could not have cost more than seven dollars. The allowance of the slave children was given to their mothers, or the old women having the care of them. The children unable to work in the field had neither shoes, stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to them; their clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per year. When these failed them, they went naked until the next allowance-day. Children from seven to ten years old, of both sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year.

There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be considered such, and none but the men and women had these. This, however, is not considered a very great privation. They find less difficulty from the want of beds, than from the want of time to sleep; for when their day's work in the field is done, the most of them having their washing, mending, and cooking to do, and having few or none of the ordinary facilities for doing either of these, very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed,—the cold, damp floor,—each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets; and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver's horn. At the sound of this, all must rise, and be off to the field. There must be no halting; every one must be at his or her post; and woe betides them who hear not this morning summons to the field; for if they are not awakened by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense of feeling: no age nor sex finds any favor. Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the field at the sound of the horn.

Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother's release. He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity. Added to his cruelty, he was a profane swearer. It was enough to chill the blood and stiffen the hair of an ordinary man to hear him talk. Scarce a sentence escaped him but that was commenced or concluded by some horrid oath. The field was the place to witness his cruelty and profanity. His presence made it both the field of blood and of blasphemy. From the rising till the going down of the sun, he was cursing, raving, cutting, and slashing among the slaves of the field, in the most frightful manner. His career was short. He died very soon after I went to Colonel Lloyd's; and he died as he lived, uttering, with his dying groans, bitter curses and horrid oaths. His death was regarded by the slaves as the result of a merciful providence.

Mr. Severe's place was filled by a Mr. Hopkins. He was a very different man. He was less cruel, less profane, and made less noise, than Mr. Severe. His course was characterized by no extraordinary demonstrations of cruelty. He whipped, but seemed to take no pleasure in it. He was called by the slaves a good overseer.

The home plantation of Colonel Lloyd wore the appearance of a country village. All the mechanical operations for all the farms were performed here. The shoemaking and mending, the blacksmithing, cartwrighting, coopering, weaving, and grain-grinding, were all performed by the slaves on the home plantation. The whole place wore a business-like aspect very unlike the neighboring farms. The number of houses, too, conspired to give it advantage over the neighboring farms. It was called by the slaves the Great House Farm. Few privileges were esteemed higher, by the slaves of the out-farms, than that of being selected to do errands at the Great House Farm. It was associated in their minds with greatness. A representative could not be prouder of his election to a seat in the American Congress, than a slave on one of the outfarms would be of his election to do errands at the Great House Farm. They regarded it as evidence of great confidence reposed in them by their overseers; and it was on this account, as well as a constant desire to be out of the field from under the driver's lash, that they esteemed it a high privilege, one worth careful living for. He was called the smartest and most trusty fellow, who had this honor conferred upon him the most frequently. The competitors for this office sought as diligently to please their overseers, as the office-seekers in the political parties seek to please and deceive the people. The same traits of character might be seen in Colonel Lloyd's slaves, as are seen in the slaves of the political parties.

The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose and sing as they went along, consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up, came out—if not in the word, in the sound;—and as frequently in the one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone. Into all of their songs they would manage to weave something of the Great House Farm. Especially would they do this, when leaving home. They would then sing most exultingly the following words:—

"I am going away to the Great House Farm! O, yea!
O, yea! O!"

This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.

I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because "there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."

I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.

Excerpt of Incidents in the Life of a Slave-Girl (1861)

Source: Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of A Slave-Girl (1861). West Berlin, NJ: Townsend Press, 2004.


Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) was born in Edenton, North Carolina. Her Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which recounts her experiences as a slave in the South and as a fugitive slave in the North, is the most comprehensive female slave narrative. Jacobs wrote the autobiography anonymously and, in the book, her narrator calls herself Linda Brent. Jacobs first ran away in 1835 and hid for seven years in a crawl space in her grandmother's home in Edonton, North Carolina. In 1842, she escaped to New York, where she eventually joined Frederick Douglass's circle and helped fugitive and freed slaves. After the Civil War, she established a school for freed blacks in Alexandria, Virginia. Despite the social mores of her time, in her book Jacobs described her master's sexual abuse of her and the relationship she had with a white man on a neighboring plantation. The relationship with the white neighbor produced two children, whom she joined in New York at the time of her escape.

In the first chapter, Jacobs' narrator describes the reaction of local plantation owners and overseers to the 1831 Nat Turner rebellion, when Turner led sixty fellow slaves in a uprising in which fifty-five whites were killed. In retaliation, whites searched the slaves' homes, destroying property and stealing whatever they wanted. The chapter also reveals the stratification of Southern white society. The landless whites are illiterate and oppressed; in contrast, Brent, a slave, can read and receives some protection from a white slaveholder. The second chapter recounts the racial prejudice Brent experienced in the North as a domestic servant for a white family. In her book, Jacobs shows the ways her life in the North differs from and yet is similar to her life in the South.


Fear of Insurrection.

Not far from this time Nat Turner's insurrection broke out; and the news threw our town into great commotion. Strange that they should be alarmed, when their slaves were so "contented and happy"! But so it was.

It was always the custom to have a muster every year. On that occasion every white man shouldered his musket. The citizens and the so-called country gentlemen wore military uniforms. The poor whites took their places in the ranks in every-day dress, some without shoes, some without hats. This grand occasion had already passed; and when the slaves were told there was to be another muster, they were surprised and rejoiced. Poor creatures! They thought it was going to be a holiday. I was informed of the true state of affairs, and imparted it to the few I could trust. Most gladly would I have proclaimed it to every slave; but I dared not. All could not be relied on. Mighty is the power of the torturing lash.

By sunrise, people were pouring in from every quarter within twenty miles of the town. I knew the houses were to be searched; and I expected it would be done by country bullies and the poor whites. I knew nothing annoyed them so much as to see colored people living in comfort and respectability; so I made arrangements for them with especial care. I arranged every thing in my grandmother's house as neatly as possible. I put white quilts on the beds, and decorated some of the rooms with flowers. When all was arranged, I sat down at the window to watch. Far as my eye could reach, it rested on a motley crowd of soldiers. Drums and fifes were discoursing martial music. The men were divided into companies of sixteen, each headed by a captain. Orders were given, and the wild scouts rushed in every direction, wherever a colored face was to be found.

It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of their own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little brief authority, and show their subserviency to the slaveholders; not reflecting that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept themselves in poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation. Those who never witnessed such scenes can hardly believe what I know was inflicted at this time on innocent men, women, and children, against whom there was not the slightest ground for suspicion. Colored people and slaves who lived in remote parts of the town suffered in an especial manner. In some cases the searchers scattered powder and shot among their clothes, and then sent other parties to find them, and bring them forward as proof that they were plotting insurrection. Every where men, women, and children were whipped till the blood stood in puddles at their feet. Some received five hundred lashes; others were tied hands and feet, and tortured with a bucking paddle, which blisters the skin terribly. The dwellings of the colored people, unless they happened to be protected by some influential white person, who was nigh at hand, were robbed of clothing and every thing else the marauders thought worth carrying away. All day long these unfeeling wretches went round, like a troop of demons, terrifying and tormenting the helpless. At night, they formed themselves into patrol bands, and went wherever they chose among the colored people, acting out their brutal will. Many women hid themselves in woods and swamps, to keep out of their way. If any of the husbands or fathers told of these outrages, they were tied up to the public whipping post, and cruelly scourged for telling lies about white men. The consternation was universal. No two people that had the slightest tinge of color in their faces dared to be seen talking together.

I entertained no positive fears about our household, because we were in the midst of white families who would protect us. We were ready to receive the soldiers whenever they came. It was not long before we heard the tramp of feet and the sound of voices. The door was rudely pushed open; and in they tumbled, like a pack of hungry wolves. They snatched at every thing within their reach. Every box, trunk, closet, and corner underwent a thorough examination. A box in one of the drawers containing some silver change was eagerly pounced upon. When I stepped forward to take it from them, one of the soldiers turned and said angrily, "What d'ye foller us fur? D'ye s'pose white folks is come to steal?"

I replied, "You have come to search; but you have searched that box, and I will take it, if you please."

At that moment I saw a white gentleman who was friendly to us; and I called to him, and asked him to have the goodness to come in and stay till the search was over. He readily complied. His entrance into the house brought in the captain of the company, whose business it was to guard the outside of the house, and see that none of the inmates left it. This officer was Mr. Litch, the wealthy slaveholder whom I mentioned, in the account of neighboring planters, as being notorious for his cruelty. He felt above soiling his hands with the search. He merely gave orders; and, if a bit of writing was discovered, it was carried to him by his ignorant followers, who were unable to read.

My grandmother had a large trunk of bedding and table cloths. When that was opened, there was a great shout of surprise; and one exclaimed, "Where'd the damned niggers git all dis sheet an' table clarf?"

My grandmother, emboldened by the presence of our white protector, said, "You may be sure we didn't pilfer 'em from your houses."

"Look here, mammy," said a grim-looking fellow without any coat, "you seem to feel mighty gran' 'cause you got all them 'ere fixens. White folks oughter have 'em all."

His remarks were interrupted by a chorus of voices shouting, "We's got 'em! We's got 'em! Dis 'ere yaller gal's got letters!"

There was a general rush for the supposed letter, which, upon examination, proved to be some verses written to me by a friend. In packing away my things, I had overlooked them. When their captain informed them of their contents, they seemed much disappointed. He inquired of me who wrote them.

I told him it was one of my friends. "Can you read them?" he asked. When I told him I could, he swore, and raved, and tore the paper into bits. "Bring me all your letters!" said he, in a commanding tone. I told him I had none. "Don't be afraid," he continued, in an insinuating way. "Bring them all to me. Nobody shall do you any harm." Seeing I did not move to obey him, his pleasant tone changed to oaths and threats. "Who writes to you? half free niggers?" inquired he. I replied, "O, no; most of my letters are from white people. Some request me to burn them after they are read, and some I destroy without reading."

An exclamation of surprise from some of the company put a stop to our conversation. Some silver spoons which ornamented an old-fashioned buffet had just been discovered. My grandmother was in the habit of preserving fruit for many ladies in the town, and of preparing suppers for parties; consequently she had many jars of preserves. The closet that contained these was next invaded, and the contents tasted. One of them, who was helping himself freely, tapped his neighbor on the shoulder, and said, "Wal done! Don't wonder de niggers want to kill all de white folks, when dey live on 'sarves" [meaning preserves]. I stretched out my hand to take the jar, saying, "You were not sent here to search for sweetmeats."

"And what were we sent for?" said the captain, bristling up to me. I evaded the question.

The search of the house was completed, and nothing found to condemn us. They next proceeded to the garden, and knocked about every bush and vine, with no better success. The captain called his men together, and, after a short consultation, the order to march was given. As they passed out of the gate, the captain turned back, and pronounced a malediction on the house. He said it ought to be burned to the ground, and each of its inmates receive thirty-nine lashes. We came out of this affair very fortunately; not losing any thing except some wearing apparel.

Towards evening the turbulence increased. The soldiers, stimulated by drink, committed still greater cruelties. Shrieks and shouts continually rent the air. Not daring to go to the door, I peeped under the window curtain. I saw a mob dragging along a number of colored people, each white man, with his musket upraised, threatening instant death if they did not stop their shrieks. Among the prisoners was a respectable old colored minister. They had found a few parcels of shot in his house, which his wife had for years used to balance her scales. For this they were going to shoot him on Court House Green. What a spectacle was that for a civilized country! A rabble, staggering under intoxication, assuming to be the administrators of justice!

The better class of the community exerted their influence to save the innocent, persecuted people; and in several instances they succeeded, by keeping them shut up in jail till the excitement abated. At last the white citizens found that their own property was not safe from the lawless rabble they had summoned to protect them. They rallied the drunken swarm, drove them back into the country, and set a guard over the town.

The next day, the town patrols were commissioned to search colored people that lived out of the city; and the most shocking outrages were committed with perfect impunity. Every day for a fortnight, if I looked out, I saw horsemen with some poor panting negro tied to their saddles, and compelled by the lash to keep up with their speed, till they arrived at the jail yard. Those who had been whipped too unmercifully to walk were washed with brine, tossed into a cart, and carried to jail. One black man, who had not fortitude to endure scourging, promised to give information about the conspiracy. But it turned out that he knew nothing at all. He had not even heard the name of Nat Turner. The poor fellow had, however, made up a story, which augmented his own sufferings and those of the colored people.

The day patrol continued for some weeks, and at sundown a night guard was substituted. Nothing at all was proved against the colored people, bond or free. The wrath of the slaveholders was somewhat appeased by the capture of Nat Turner. The imprisoned were released. The slaves were sent to their masters, and the free were permitted to return to their ravaged homes. Visiting was strictly forbidden on the plantations. The slaves begged the privilege of again meeting at their little church in the woods, with their burying ground around it. It was built by the colored people, and they had no higher happiness than to meet there and sing hymns together, and pour out their hearts in spontaneous prayer. Their request was denied, and the church was demolished. They were permitted to attend the white churches, a certain portion of the galleries being appropriated to their use. There, when every body else had partaken of the communion, and the benediction had been pronounced, the minister said, "Come down, now, my colored friends." They obeyed the summons, and partook of the bread and wine, in commemoration of the meek and lowly Jesus, who said, "God is your Father, and all ye are brethren."


Prejudice Against Color.

It was a relief to my mind to see preparations for leaving the city. We went to Albany in the steamboat Knickerbocker. When the gong sounded for tea, Mrs. Bruce said, "Linda, it is late, and you and baby had better come to the table with me." I replied, "I know it is time baby had her supper, but I had rather not go with you, if you please. I am afraid of being insulted." "O no, not if you are with me," she said. I saw several white nurses go with their ladies, and I ventured to do the same. We were at the extreme end of the table. I was no sooner seated, than a gruff voice said, "Get up! You know you are not allowed to sit here." I looked up, and, to my astonishment and indignation, saw that the speaker was a colored man. If his office required him to enforce the bylaws of the boat, he might, at least, have done it politely. I replied, "I shall not get up, unless the captain comes and takes me up." No cup of tea was offered me, but Mrs. Bruce handed me hers and called for another. I looked to see whether the other nurses were treated in a similar manner. They were all properly waited on.

Next morning, when we stopped at Troy for breakfast, every body was making a rush for the table. Mrs. Bruce said, "Take my arm, Linda, and we'll go in together." The landlord heard her, and said, "Madam, will you allow your nurse and baby to take breakfast with my family?" I knew this was to be attributed to my complexion; but he spoke courteously, and therefore I did not mind it.

At Saratoga we found the United States Hotel crowded, and Mr. Bruce took one of the cottages belonging to the hotel. I had thought, with gladness, of going to the quiet of the country, where I should meet few people, but here I found myself in the midst of a swarm of Southerners. I looked round me with fear and trembling, dreading to see some one who would recognize me. I was rejoiced to find that we were to stay but a short time.

We soon returned to New York, to make arrangements for spending the remainder of the summer at Rockaway. While the laundress was putting the clothes in order, I took an opportunity to go over to Brooklyn to see Ellen. I met her going to a grocery store, and the first words she said, were, "O, mother, don't go to Mrs. Hobbs's. Her brother, Mr. Thorne, has come from the south, and may be he'll tell where you are." I accepted the warning. I told her I was going away with Mrs. Bruce the next day, and would try to see her when I came back.

Being in servitude to the Anglo-Saxon race, I was not put into a "Jim Crow car," on our way to Rockaway, neither was I invited to ride through the streets on the top of trunks in a truck; but every where I found the same manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people. We reached Rockaway before dark, and put up at the Pavilion—a large hotel, beautifully situated by the sea-side—a great resort of the fashionable world. Thirty or forty nurses were there, of a great variety of nations. Some of the ladies had colored waiting-maids and coachmen, but I was the only nurse tinged with the blood of Africa. When the tea bell rang, I took little Mary and followed the other nurses. Supper was served in a long hall. A young man, who had the ordering of things, took the circuit of the table two or three times, and finally pointed me to a seat at the lower end of it. As there was but one chair, I sat down and took the child in my lap. Whereupon the young man came to me and said, in the blandest manner possible, "Will you please to seat the little girl in the chair, and stand behind it and feed her? After they have done, you will be shown to the kitchen, where you will have a good supper."

This was the climax! I found it hard to preserve my self-control, when I looked round, and saw women who were nurses, as I was, and only one shade lighter in complexion, eyeing me with a defiant look, as if my presence were a contamination. However, I said nothing. I quietly took the child in my arms, went to our room, and refused to go to the table again. Mr. Bruce ordered meals to be sent to the room for little Mary and I. This answered for a few days; but the waiters of the establishment were white, and they soon began to complain, saying they were not hired to wait on negroes. The landlord requested Mr. Bruce to send me down to my meals, because his servants rebelled against bringing them up, and the colored servants of other boarders were dissatisfied because all were not treated alike.

My answer was that the colored servants ought to be dissatisfied with themselves, for not having too much self-respect to submit to such treatment; that there was no difference in the price of board for colored and white servants, and there was no justification for difference of treatment. I staid a month after this, and finding I was resolved to stand up for my rights, they concluded to treat me well. Let every colored man and woman do this, and eventually we shall cease to be trampled under foot by our oppressors.

A Slave's Letter to His Former Master (1865)


The antagonistic antebellum relationships between masters and slaves did not disappear with emancipation. Though whites could no longer claim blacks as "property," many landowners hoped that the freedpeople would continue to work for them as wage-earning employees. Working out the exact nature of the new relationships prompted tensions on both sides, as new expectations and old demands repeatedly clashed.

This letter from Jourdon Anderson to his former master in Tennessee dramatically conveyed the new framework of free labor negotiations. Anderson, who apparently had fled to Nashville and then to Ohio during the war, responded to Colonel P.H. Anderson's offer of employment on his farm. The letter documents serious hostilities between the two men, which had culminated with the colonel's shooting at his slave. Nevertheless, the former master's pressing need for farm workers forced him to offer a pledge of fair treatment if his former slave would return.

Jourdon Anderson clearly enjoyed relating his new good fortune to the man who had earlier threatened his life. He gladly detailed his high wages, the educational opportunities available to his children, and the respect displayed towards he and his wife, who others now addressed as "Mrs. Anderson." He expected to be assured of at least these conditions before he would return to Tennessee. Most boldly, he also argued that in order to "have faith in your promises in the future," the colonel would have to pay him back wages for his thirty-two years of slavery, a sum totalling several thousand dollars. These conditions made any agreement between the two unlikely, a result probably intended by the former slave, who relished his life outside the South.

For most, however, there were limits to the bargaining power that Jourdon Anderson had so shrewdly displayed in his letter. While he and his family enjoyed bright prospects in Ohio, most remaining in the South had to accept a far less satisfying situation in order to support themselves. Still, the passing of slavery gave freedpeople the basic right to select the employer offering the best terms.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, Big
Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday-School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free-papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshall-General of the Department at Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly—and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S.—Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson

Southern Women Make Do During the Blockade (1888)

Source: Hague, Parthenia A. A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War. Bedford, MA: Applewood Press, 1995.


The Union blockade of Southern ports caused shortages of vital household goods. In these excerpts from her 1888 book A Blockaded Family, Parthenia Hague describes how families in the Confederacy dealt with some of them. Hague lived on a plantation in Alabama during the Civil War.

The obtaining of salt became extremely difficult when the war had cut off our supply. This was true especially in regions remote from the sea-coast and border States, such as the interior of Alabama and Georgia. Here again we were obliged to have recourse to whatever expedient ingenuity suggested. All the brine left in troughs and barrels, where pork had been salted down, was carefully dipped up, boiled down, and converted into salt again. In some cases the salty soil under old smoke-houses was dug up and placed in hoppers, which resembled backwoods ash-hoppers, make for leaching ashes in the process of soap-manufacture. Water was then poured upon the soil, the brine which percolated through the hopper was boiled down to the proper point, poured into vessels, and set in the sun, which by evaporation completed the rude process. Though never of immaculate whiteness, the salt which resulted from these methods served well enough for all our purposes and we accepted it without complaining.

Before the war there were in the South but few cotton mills. These were kept running night and day, as soon as the Confederate army was organized, and we were ourselves prevented by the blockade from purchasing clothing from the factories at the North, or clothing from France or England. The cotton which grew in the immediate vicinity of the mills kept them well supplied with raw material. Yet notwithstanding the great push of the cotton mills, they proved totally inadequate, after the war began, to our vast need for clothing of every kind. Every household now became a miniature factory in itself, with its cotton, cards, spinning-wheels, warping frames, looms, and so on. Wherever one went, the hum of the spinning wheel and the clang of the batten of the loom was borne on the ear.

Great trouble was experienced, in the beginning to find dyes with which to color our stuffs; but in the course of time, both at the old mills and at smaller experimental factories, which were run entirely by hand, barks, leaves, roots, and berries were found containing coloring properties. I was well acquainted with a gentleman in southwestern Georgia who owned a small cotton mill, and who, when he wanted coloring substances, used to send his wagons to the woods and freight them with a shrub known as myrtle, that grew teeming in low moist places near his mill. This myrtle yielded a nice gray for woolen goods.

That the slaves might be well clad, the owners kept, according to the number of slaves owned, a number of Negro women carding and spinning, and had looms running all the time. Now and then a planter would be so fortunate as to secure a bale or more of white sheeting and osnaburgs from the cotton mills, in exchange for farm products, which would be quite a lift, and give a little breathing-spell from the almost incessant whirr, hum, and clang of the spinning wheel and loom….

One of our most difficult tasks was to find a good substitute for coffee. This palatable drink, if not a real necessary of life, is almost indespensable to the enjoyment of a good meal, and some Southerners took it three times a day. Coffee soon rose to thirty dollars per pound; from that it went to sixty and seventy dollars per pound. Good workmen received thirty dollars per day; so it took two days' hard labor to buy one pound of coffee, and scarcely any could be had even at that fabulous price. Some imagined themselves much better in health for the absence of coffee, and wondered why they had ever used it at all, and declared it good for nothing any way; but "Sour grapes" would be the reply for such as they. Others saved a few handfuls of coffee, and used it on very important occasions, and then only as an extract, so to speak, for flavoring substitutes for coffee.

There were those who planted long rows of the okra plant on the borders of their cotton or corn fields, and cultivated this with the corn and cotton. The seeds of this, when mature and nicely browned, came nearer in flavor to the real coffee than any other substitute I now remember. Yam potatoes used to be peeled, sliced thin, cut into small squares, dried and then parched brown; they were thought to be next best to okra for coffee. Browned wheat, meal, and burnt corn made passable beverages; even meal-bran was browned and used for coffee if other substitutes were not obtainable.

We had several substitutes for tea which were equally as palatable, and, I fancy, more wholesome, than much that it snow sold for tea. Prominent among these substitutes were raspberry leaves. Many during the blockade planted and cultivated the raspberry-vine all around their garden palings, as much for tea as the berries for jam or pies; these leaves were considered the best substitute for tea. The leaves of the blackberry bush, huckleberry leaves, and the leaves of the holly-tree when dried in the shade, also made a palatable tea….

In place of kerosene for lights, the oil of cotton seed and ground peas, together with the oil of compressed lard, was used, and served well the need of the times. For lights we had also to fall back on moulding candles, which had long years lain obsolete. When beeswax was plentiful it was mixed with tallow for moulding candles. Long rows of candles so moulded would be hung on the lower limbs of widespreading oaks, where, sheltered by the dense foliage from the direct rays of the sun, they would remain suspended day and night until they were bleached as white as the sperm candles we had been wont to buy, and almost as transparent as wax candles.

A Female Nurse at the Frontlines (1889)

Source: Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice. My Story of the War (1889). New York: Arno Press, 1972.


The author of this account, Mary A. Livermore (1820–1905), spent most of her adult life in Chicago, where she worked with her husband, a Universalist clergyman, on the magazine The New Covenant. She was a Chicago-area founder of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) and served as a national director of that organization. After the war, she put her energies into the women's suffrage movement.

In this excerpt of Livermore's Civil War memoir, she describes another formidable woman: Mary Ann Ball Bickerdyke (1817–1901), a woman formally trained as a nurse, who was known affectionately as Mother Bickerdyke. She served with the USSC in nineteen battles in the war's western theater. Her contributions were so valuable that General William Tecumseh Sherman specifically requested her for his corps. At the war's end, she rode at the head of her corps in the Grand Review in Washington. After the war, she worked to secure pensions for wounded soldiers. In 1886, she was awarded her own pension.

Among the hundreds of women who devoted a part or the whole of the years of the war to the care of the sick and wounded of the army, "Mother Bickerdyke" stands pre-eminent. Others were as heroic and consecrated as she, as unwearied in labors, and as unselfish and self-sacrificing. But she was unique in method, extraordinary in executive ability, enthusiastic in devotion, and indomitable in will. After her plans were formed, and her purposes matured, she carried them through triumphantly, in the teeth of the most formidable opposition. She gave herself to the rank and file of the army,—the private soldiers,—for whom she had unbounded tenderness, and developed almost limitless resources of help and comfort.

To them she was strength and sweetness; and for them she exercised sound, practical sense, a ready wit, and a rare intelligence, that made her a power in the hospital, or on the field. There was no peril she would not dare for a sick and wounded man, no official red tape of formality for which she cared more than for a common tow string, if it interfered with her in her work of relief. To their honor be it said, the "boys" reciprocated her affection most heartily. "That homely figure, clad in calico, wrapped in a shawl, and surmounted with a 'Shaker' bonnet, is more to this army than the Madonna to a Catholic!" said an officer, pointing to Mother Bickerdyke, as she emerged from the Sanitary Commission head-quarters, in Memphis, laden with an assortment of supplies. Every soldier saluted her as she passed; and those who were at leisure relieved her of her burden, and bore it to its destination. To the entire army of the West she was emphatically "Mother Bickerdyke." Nor have the soldiers forgotten her in her poverty and old age. They remember her to-day in many a tender letter, and send her many a small donation to eke out her scanty and irregular income….

[Bickerdyke] was living in Galesburg, Ill., and was a member of Rev. Dr. Edward Beecher's church when the war of the rebellion broke out. Hardly had the troops reached Cairo, when, from the sudden change in their habits, their own imprudence, and the ignorance of their commanders on all sanitary points, sickness broke out among them. At the suggestion of the ladies of Galesburg, who had organized to do something for the country—they hardly knew what at that time—Mrs. Bickerdyke went down among them. Her well-known skill as a nurse, the fertility of her resources, her burning patriotism, and her possession of that rare combination of qualities which we call "common sense," had always enabled her to face any emergency.

There was at that time little order, system, or discipline anywhere. In company with Mary Safford, then living in Cairo, she commenced an immediate systematic work in the camp and regimental hospitals at Cairo and Bird's Point. In the face of obstacles of every kind, she succeeded in working a great change for the better in the condition of the sick. The influence of her energetic, resolute, and systematic spirit was felt everywhere; and the loyal people of Cairo gladly aided her in her voluntary and unpaid labors. A room was hired for her, and a cooking-stove set up for her especial use. She improvised a sick-diet kitchen, and carried thence to the sick in the hospitals the food she had prepared for them. The first assortment of delicacies for the sick sent to Cairo by the Chicago Sanitary Commission, were given to her for distribution. Almost all the hospital supplies sent from the local societies of Chicago or Illinois, were, for a time, given to her trustworthy care.

After the battle of Belmont she was appointed matron of the large post hospital at Cairo, which was filled with the wounded. She found time, however, to work for, and to visit daily, every other hospital in the town. The surgeon who appointed her was skillful and competent, but given to drunkenness; and he had little sympathy with his patients. He had filled all the positions in the hospitals with surgeons and officers of his sort, and bacchanalian carousals in the "doctor's room" were of frequent occurrence. In twenty-four hours Mother Bickerdyke and he were at swords' points. She denounced him to his face; and, when the garments and delicacies sent her for the use of the sick and wounded disappeared mysteriously, she charged their theft upon him and his subordinates.

He ordered her out of his hospital, and threatened to put her out if she did not hasten her departure. She replied that "she should stay as long as the men needed her—that if he put her out of one door she should come in at another; and if he barred all the doors against her, she should come in at the windows, and that the patients would help her in. When anybody left it would be he, and not she," she assured him, "as she had already lodged complaints against him at headquarters." "Conscience makes cowards of us all"; and he did not proceed to expel her, as he might have done, and probably would, if his cause had been just.

But though she was let alone, this was not the case with her supplies for the sick and wounded—they were stolen continually. She caught a ward-master dressed in the shirt, slippers, and socks that had been sent her, and, seizing him by the collar, in his own ward, she disrobed him sans ceremony before the patients. Leaving him nude save his pantaloons, she uttered this parting injunction: "Now, you rascal, let's see what you'll steal next!" To ascertain who were the thieves of the food she prepared, she resorted to a somewhat dangerous ruse. Purchasing a quantity of tartar emetic at a drug store, she mixed it with some stewed peaches that she had openly cooked in the kitchen, telling Tom, the cook, that "she wanted to leave them on the kitchen table over night to cool." Then she went to her own room to await results.

She did not wait long. Soon the sounds of suffering from the terribly sick thieves reached her ears, when, like a Nemesis, she stalked in among them. There they were, cooks, table-waiters, stewards, ward-masters,—all save some of the surgeons—suffering terribly from the emetic, but more from the apprehension that they were poisoned. "Peaches don't seem to agree with you, eh?" she said, looking on the pale, retching, groaning fellows with a sardonic smile. "Well, let me tell you that you will have a worse time than this if you keep on stealing! You may eat something seasoned with ratsbane one of these nights." …

After the battle of Donelson, Mother Bickerdyke went from Cairo in the first hospital boat, and assisted in the removal of the wounded to Cairo, St. Louis, and Louisville, and in nursing those too badly wounded to be moved. The Sanitary Commission had established a depot of stores at Cairo, and on these she was allowed to make drafts ad libitum: for she was as famous for her economical use of sanitary stores as she had been before the war for her notable housewifery. The hospital boats at that time were poorly equipped for the sad work of transporting the wounded. But this thoughtful woman, who made five of the terrible trips from the battle-field of Donelson to the hospital, put on board the boat with which she was connected, before it started from Cairo, an abundance of necessaries. There was hardly a want expressed for which she could not furnish some sort of relief.

On the way to the battle-field, she systematized matters perfectly. The beds were ready for the occupants, tea, coffee, soup and gruel, milk punch and ice water were prepared in large quantities, under her supervision, and sometimes by her own hand. When the wounded were brought on board,—mangled almost out of human shape; the frozen ground from which they had been cut adhering to them; chilled with the intense cold in which some had lain for twenty-four hours; faint with loss of blood, physical agony, and lack of nourishment; racked with a terrible five-mile ride over frozen roads, in ambulances, or common Tennessee farm wagons, without springs; burning with fever; raving in delirium, or in the faintness of death,—Mother Bickerdyke's boat was in readiness for them.

"I never saw anybody like her," said a volunteer surgeon who came on the boat with her. "There was really nothing for us surgeons to do but dress wounds and administer medicines. She drew out clean shirts or drawers from some corner, whenever they were needed. Nourishment was ready for every man as soon as he was brought on board. Every one was sponged from blood and the frozen mire of the battle-field, as far as his condition allowed. His blood-stiffened, and sometimes horribly filthy uniform, was exchanged for soft and clean hospital garments. Incessant cries of 'Mother! Mother! Mother!' rang through the boat, in every note of beseeching and anguish. And to every man she turned with a heavenly tenderness, as if he were indeed her son. She moved about with a decisive air, and gave directions in such decided, clarion tones as to ensure prompt obedience. We all had an impression that she held a commission from the Secretary of War, or at least from the Governor of Illinois. To every surgeon who was superior, she held herself subordinate, and was as good at obeying as at commanding." And yet, at that time, she held no position whatever, and was receiving no compensation for her services; not even the beggarly pittance of thirteen dollars per month allowed by government to army nurses.

At last it was believed that all the wounded had been removed from the field, and the relief parties discontinued their work. Looking from his tent at midnight, an officer observed a faint light flitting hither and thither on the abandoned battle-field, and, after puzzling over it for some time, sent his servant to ascertain the cause. It was Mother Bickerdyke, with a lantern, still groping among the dead. Stooping down, and turning their cold faces towards her, she scrutinized them searchingly, uneasy lest some might be left to die uncared for. She could not rest while she thought any were overlooked who were yet living….

After the wounded of Donelson were cared for, Mrs. Bickerdyke left the hospitals, and went back into the army. There was great sickness among our troops at Savannah, Tenn. She had already achieved such a reputation for devotion to the men, for executive ability, and versatility of talent, that the spirits of the sick and wounded revived at the very sound of her voice, and at the sight of her motherly face. While busy here, the battle of Shiloh occurred, nine miles distant by the river, but only six in a direct line. There had been little provision made for the terrible needs of the battle-field in advance of the conflict. The battle occurred unexpectedly, and was a surprise to our men,—who nearly suffered defeat,—and again there was utter destitution and incredible suffering. Three days after the battle, the boats of the Sanitary Commission arrived at the Landing, laden with every species of relief,—condensed food, stimulants, clothing, bedding, medicines, chloroform, surgical instruments, and carefully selected volunteer nurses and surgeons. They were on the ground some days in advance of the government boats.

Here Mother Bickerdyke was found, carrying system, order, and relief wherever she went. One of the surgeons went to the rear with a wounded man, and found her wrapped in the gray overcoat of a rebel officer, for she had disposed of her blanket shawl to some poor fellow who needed it. She was wearing a soft slouch hat, having lost her inevitable Shaker bonnet. Her kettles had been set up, the fire kindled underneath, and she was dispensing hot soup, tea, crackers, panado, whiskey and water, and other refreshments, to the shivering, fainting, wounded men.

"Where did you get these articles?" he inquired; "and under whose authority are you at work?"

She paid no heed to his interrogatories, and, indeed, did not hear them, so completely absorbed was she in her work of compassion. Watching her with admiration for her skill, administrative ability, and intelligence,—for she not only fed the wounded men, but temporarily dressed their wounds in some cases,—he approached her again:

"Madam, you seem to combine in yourself a sickdiet kitchen and a medical staff. May I inquire under whose authority you are working?"

Without pausing in her work, she answered him, "I have received my authority from the Lord God Almighty; have you anything that ranks higher than that?" The truth was, she held no position whatever at that time. She was only a "volunteer nurse," having received no appointment, and being attached to no corps of relief.

The Chicago boat took down over one hundred boxes of sanitary stores, on which she was allowed to draw. But they were only as a drop in the bucket among the twelve thousand wounded, lying in extemporized hospitals in and around Savannah. Other consignments of sanitary goods were made to her from Chicago and Springfield, Ill. The agents of the St. Louis and Cincinnati Commissions gave to her freely, when she made requisition on them. When every other resource failed, Mother Bickerdyke would take an ambulance, and one of her detailed soldiers as driver, and go out foraging. Never returned she empty-handed. The contrabands were her friends and allies; and she always came back with eggs, milk, butter, and fowls, which were the main objects of her quest. These foraging expeditions sometimes placed her in great peril; but she scorned any thought of danger where the welfare of the boys was concerned.

Excerpt from My Life by Geronimo (1906)

Source: Geronimo and Barret, S. M. Geronimo: His Own Story (1906). New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970.


Geronimo (1829–1909) was a chief, later war chief, of the Chiricahua Apaches of southern Arizona. After evading the Mexican Army and 5,000 U.S. soldiers for 18 months as one of the last holdouts for Indian independence, he surrendered his band of 144, including 101 women and children in 1886. Most subsequently died in Florida, where they were imprisoned at Fort Marion. The children were forcibly removed to the Indian School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Geronimo was later brought to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, effectively a prisoner of war until his death in 1909.

In 1906, with permission from President Theodore Roosevelt, he dictated his autobiography to S. M. Barret, an educator who lived near Fort Sill. In the portions reproduced here, Geronimo speaks of the massacre of "Kaskiyeh," in 1858, in which his mother, wife, and children were killed by Mexicans. He also describes his first contacts with the United States and his efforts to keep his people alive and his tribe intact.

About the time of the massacre of "Kaskiyeh" (1858) we heard that some white men were measuring land to the south of us. In company with a number of other warriors, I went to visit them. We could not understand them very well, for we had no interpreter, but we made a treaty with them by shaking hands and promising to be brothers. Then we made our camp near their camp, and they came to trade with us. We gave them buckskin, blankets, and ponies in exchange for shirts and provisions. We also brought them game, for which they gave us some money. We did not know the value of this money, but we kept it and later learned from the Navajo Indians that it was very valuable.

Every day they measured land with curious instruments and put down marks which we could not understand. They were good men, and we were sorry when they had gone on into the west. They were not soldiers. These were the first white men I ever saw.

About ten years later some more white men came. These were all warriors. They made their camp on the Gila River south of Hot Springs. At first they were friendly and we did not dislike them, but they were not as good as those who came first.

After about a year some trouble arose between them and the Indians, and I took the warpath as a warrior, not as a chief. I had not been wronged, but some of my people had been, and I fought with my tribe; for the soldiers and not the Indians were at fault.

Not long after this some of the officers of the United States troops invited our leaders to hold a conference at Apache Pass (Fort Bowie). Just before noon the Indians were shown into a tent and told that they would be given something to eat. When in the tent they were attacked by soldiers. Our chief, Mangus-Colorado, and several other warriors, by cutting through the tent, escaped; but most of the warriors were killed or captured. Among the Bedonkohe Apaches killed at this time were Sanza, Kladetahe, Niyokahe, and Gopi. After this treachery the Indians went back to the mountains and left the fort entirely alone. I do not think that the agent had anything to do with planning this, for he had always treated us well. I believe it was entirely planned by the soldiers.

From the very first the soldiers sent out to our western country, and the officers in charge of them, did not hesitate to wrong the Indians. They never explained to the Government when an Indian was wronged, but always reported the misdeeds of the Indians. Much that was done by mean white men was reported at Washington as the deeds of my people.

The Indians always tried to live peaceably with the white soldiers and settlers. One day during the time that the soldiers were stationed at Apache Pass I made a treaty with the post. This was done by shaking hands and promising to be brothers. Cochise and Mangus-Colorado did likewise. I do not know the name of the officer in command, but this was the first regiment that ever came to Apache Pass. This treaty was made about a year before we were attacked in a tent, as above related. In a few days after the attack at Apache Pass we organized in the mountains and returned to fight the soldiers. There were two tribes—the Bedonkohe and the Chokonen Apaches, both commanded by Cochise. After a few days' skirmishing we attacked a freight train that was coming in with supplies for the Fort. We killed some of the men and captured the others. These prisoners our chief offered to trade for the Indians whom the soldiers had captured at the massacre in the tent. This the officers refused, so we killed our prisoners, disbanded, and went into hiding in the mountains. Of those who took part in this affair I am the only one now living.

In a few days troops were sent out to search for us, but as we were disbanded, it was, of course, impossible for them to locate any hostile camp. During the time they were searching for us many of our warriors (who were thought by the soldiers to be peaceable Indians) talked to the officers and men, advising them where they might find the camp they sought, and while they searched we watched them from our hiding places and laughed at their failures.

After this trouble all of the Indians agreed not to be friendly with the white men any more. There was no general engagement, but a long struggle followed. Sometimes we attacked the white men—sometimes they attacked us. First a few Indians would be killed and then a few soldiers. I think the killing was about equal on each side. The number killed in these troubles did not amount to much, but this treachery on the part of the soldiers had angered the Indians and revived memories of other wrongs, so that we never again trusted the United States troops.

Perhaps the greatest wrong ever done to the Indians was the treatment received by our tribe from the United States troops about 1863. The chief of our tribe, Mangus-Colorado, went to make a treaty of peace for our people with the white settlement at Apache Tejo, New Mexico. It had been reported to us that the white men in this settlement were more friendly and more reliable than those in Arizona, that they would live up to their treaties and would not wrong the Indians.

Mangus-Colorado, with three other warriors, went to Apache Tejo and held a council with these citizens and soldiers. They told him that if he would come with his tribe and live near them, they would issue to him, from the Government, blankets, flour, provisions, beef, and all manner of supplies. Our chief promised to return to Apache Tejo within two weeks. When he came back to our settlement he assembled the whole tribe in council. I did not believe that the people at Apache Tejo would do as they said and therefore I opposed the plan, but it was decided that with part of the tribe Mangus-Colorado should return to Apache Tejo and receive an issue of rations and supplies. If they were as represented, and if these white men would keep the treaty faithfully, the remainder of the tribe would join him and we would make our permanent home at Apache Tejo. I was to remain in charge of that portion of the tribe which stayed in Arizona. We gave almost all of our arms and ammunition to the party going to Apache Tejo, so that in case there should be treachery they would be prepared for any surprise. Mangus-Colorado and about half of our people went to New Mexico, happy that now they had found white men who would be kind to them, and with whom they could live in peace and plenty.

No word ever came to us from them. From other sources, however, we heard that they had been treacherously captured and slain. In this dilemma we did not know just exactly what to do, but fearing that the troops who had captured them would attack us, we retreated into the mountains near Apache Pass.

During the weeks that followed the departure of our people we had been in suspense, and failing to provide more supplies, had exhausted all of our store of provisions. This was another reason for moving camp. On this retreat, while passing through the mountains, we discovered four men with a herd of cattle. Two of the men were in front in a buggy and two were behind on horse-back. We killed all four, but did not scalp them; they were not warriors. We drove the cattle back into the mountains, made a camp, and began to kill the cattle and pack the meat.

Before we had finished this work we were surprised and attacked by United States troops, who killed in all seven Indians—one warrior, three women, and three children. The Government troops were mounted and so were we, but we were poorly armed, having given most of our weapons to the division of our tribe that had gone to Apache Tejo, so we fought mainly with spears, bows, and arrows. At first I had a spear, a bow, and a few arrows; but in a short time my spear and all my arrows were gone. Once I was surrounded, but by dodging from side to side of my horse as he ran I escaped. It was necessary during this fight for many of the warriors to leave their horses and escape on foot. But my horse was trained to come at call, and as soon as I reached a safe place, if not too closely pursued, I would call him to me. During this fight we scattered in all directions and two days later reassembled at our appointed place of rendezvous, about fifty miles from the scene of this battle.

About ten days later the same United States troops attacked our new camp at sunrise. The fight lasted all day, but our arrows and spears were all gone before ten o'clock, and for the remainder of the day we had only rocks and clubs with which to fight. We could do little damage with these weapons, and at night we moved our camp about four miles back into the mountains where it would be hard for the cavalry to follow us. The next day our scouts, who had been left behind to observe the movements of the soldiers, returned, saying that the troops had gone back toward San Carlos Reservation.

A few days after this we were again attacked by another company of United States troops. Just before this fight we had been joined by a band of Chokonen Indians under Cochise, who took command of both divisions. We were repulsed, and decided to disband.

After we had disbanded our tribe the Bedonkohe Apaches reassembled near their old camp vainly waiting for the return of Mangus-Colorado and our kinsmen. No tidings came save that they had all been treacherously slain. Then a council was held, and as it was believed that Mangus-Colorado was dead, I was elected Tribal Chief.

For a long time we had no trouble with anyone. It was more than a year after I had been made Tribal Chief that United States troops surprised and attacked our camp. They killed seven children, five women, and four warriors, captured all our supplies, blankets, horses, and clothing, and destroyed our tepees. We had nothing left; winter was beginning, and it was the coldest winter I ever knew. After the soldiers withdrew I took three warriors and trailed them. Their trail led back toward San Carlos.

While returning from trailing the Government troops we saw two men, a Mexican and a white man, and shot them off their horses. With these two horses we returned and moved our camp. My people were suffering much and it was deemed advisable to go where we could get more provisions. Game was scarce in our range then, and since I had been Tribal Chief I had not asked for rations from the Government, nor did I care to do so, but we did not wish to starve.

We had heard that Chief Victoria of the Chihenne (Oje Caliente) Apaches was holding a council with the white men near Hot Springs in New Mexico, and that he had plenty of provisions. We had always been on friendly terms with this tribe, and Victoria was especially kind to my people. With the help of the two horses we had captured, to carry our sick with us, we went to Hot Springs. We easily found Victoria and his band, and they gave us supplies for the winter. We stayed with them for about a year, and during this stay we had perfect peace. We had not the least trouble with Mexicans, white men, or Indians. When we had stayed as long as we should, and had again accumulated some supplies, we decided to leave Victoria's band. When I told him that we were going to leave he said that we should have a feast and dance before we separated.

The festivities were held about two miles above Hot Springs, and lasted for four days. There were about four hundred Indians at this celebration. I do not think we ever spent a more pleasant time than upon this occasion. No one ever treated our tribe more kindly than Victoria and his band. We are still proud to say that he and his people were our friends.

When I went to Apache Pass (Fort Bowie) I found General Howard in command, and made a treaty with him. This treaty lasted until long after General Howard had left our country. He always kept his word with us and treated us as brothers. We never had so good a friend among the United States officers as General Howard. We could have lived forever at peace with him. If there is any pure, honest white man in the United States army, that man is General Howard. All the Indians respect him, and even to this day frequently talk of the happy times when General Howard was in command of our Post. After he went away he placed an agent at Apache Pass who issued to us from the Government clothing, rations, and supplies, as General Howard directed. When beef was issued to the Indians I got twelve steers for my tribe, and Cochise got twelve steers for his tribe. Rations were issued about once a month, but if we ran out we only had to ask and we were supplied. Now, as prisoners of war in this Reservation, we do not get such good rations.

Excerpt from My Army Life (1910)

Source: Carrington, Frances C. My Army Life and the Fort Phil. Kearney Massacre, with an Account of the Celebration of "Wyoming Opened." Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.


Fort Phil Kearny was built near present-day Story, Wyoming in 1866 to protect travelers on the Bozeman Trail from attacks by the Sioux. In the first six months of its existence, it was attacked repeatedly by the Sioux, who surrounded the compound with the so-called "Circle of Death." After more than 150 soldiers were killed, the fort was abandoned under the terms of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Frances Carrington was the second wife of Colonel Henry B. Carrington, who oversaw the construction of Fort Phil Kearny. Her memoir, published about forty years after the fort was abandoned, gives a revealing account of the privations and dangers of life in the northern Wyoming encampment. Though under constant attack from both the elements and the Sioux, Mrs. Carrington makes it clear she worked hard to achieve and maintain basic standards of housekeeping and domestic order.

chapter xiii.

Domesticities and New Friendships.

The residents of Fort Phil. Kearney were not troubled with ennui. While the men were busy in their departments of labor, the ladies were no less occupied in their accustomed activities. "Baking, brewing, stewing, and sewing" was the alliterative expression of the daily routine. With little fresh meat other than juiceless wild game, buffalo, elk, deer, or mountain sheep, and no vegetables, canned stuffs were in immediate and constant requisition. Once, indeed, Mr. Bozeman sent a few sacks of potatoes from his ranch in Montana to headquarters, as precious as grain in the sacks of Israels sons in Egypt; but these were doled out in small quantities to officers families, while the remainder, the major part, was sent to the hospital for men afflicted or threatened with scurvy.

The preparation of edible from canned fruits, meats, and vegetables taxed all ingenuity to evolve some product, independent of mere stewing, for successful results. Calico, flannel, and linsey woolsey, procured from the sutlers store, with gray army blankets as material for little boys overcoats, composed the staple goods required, and ladies garments, evolved after the "hit or miss" style, came in due time without the aid of sewing machines, of which none were at the post. Our buffalo boots were of a pattern emanating from or necessitated by our frontier locality, a counterpart of the leggings worn by the men, except that theirs did not have the shoe attachment. They were made by the company shoemakers of harness leather, to which was attached buffalo skin, with the hair inside, reaching almost to the knee and fastened on the outside with leather straps and brass buttons. The brass buttons were not for ornament, but a necessity in lieu of any other available kind. Nothing could exceed them in comfort, as a means adapted to an end.

There were hours when one could sit down composedly for a bit of sewing in a comfortable chair, with additional pleasure in the possession of a table sufficiently large for the double duty of dining and work table. With the few books I had carried with me for companionship distributed about, there was just a bit of homelikeness in tent life. My cooking experiments were never a great success, especially in the attempt at making pies, though I tried to emulate the ladies of larger experience in the effort. The cook-stove rested upon boards somewhat inclined, which was fatal to pie-making, which I did attempt a few times from canned fruit only to find in due time well developed crusts minus the fruit, which had oozed out gradually during the process, still in evidence of my good intentions, and to be eaten with as much philosophy as one could command with a straight face, disguising laughter, or tears.

Through the kind consideration of Mrs. Carrington, a large double bedstead was made by the carpenters, a luxury indeed, with mattress stuffed with dried grass, army blankets, and a large gay-colored shawl for counterpane, and surely no four-poster of mahogany, with valences of richest texture and downy pillows, and, for that matter, no Chippendale table, with these furniture accessories, could have been more prized during my life at the fort, as a demonstration of the simple life theory in every detail, whether enforced or otherwise.

Often, while reading or sewing quietly by myself, I would be startled by a rustling at my tent door, but fears were soon allayed when I discovered the beautiful head of Mrs. Hortons pet antelope protruding within. Its large, melting eyes would look at me appealingly, and, with sufficient encouragement, it would approach for the accustomed caress and favorite bite to eat.

Of the little children at the fort there were four boys, and many pleasant hours were spent in my tent with Jimmy Carrington, my little favorite, whose loving disposition made him a welcome guest. No picknickers of the pine woods ever enjoyed a repast so much as we did, after our simple preparations, involving a trip to the sutlers store, where cans of sugar were obtained, each with a mysterious-looking little bottle of lemon essence deposited therein, from which we produced lemonade, and this, together with ginger-snaps and nuts, made a "dainty dish fit for a King," never mind about the birds. After the repast was the song. He possessed a remarkably sweet voice, and together we sang familiar Sunday School hymns his mother had taught him, one of which I especially recall, "There is a light in the window for me," and his sweet childish tones sang the words deeply into my heart.

Sunday evening singing at headquarters was a feature of the day. Neither was Sunday morning service neglected, for, though no chapel had as yet been erected, each new building in turn was utilized for the service. With a fine string band to accompany the voices, and sometimes additional instruments, the presence of God was felt and recognized in this impromptu worship. Several of the band were German Catholics and good singers. On one occasion especial pains had been taken by the Colonel to make the music an attractive specialty to interest the men. The chaplain, Rev. David White, was a devout Methodist, of good heart and excellent in teaching the soldiers children at the fort, for there were several, but very unsophisticated in general society matters. On one occasion, when great care had secured the rendition of "Te Deum Laudamus," in which the band took part, he very solemnly asked the Colonel, "Isnt that a Catholic tune?" and upon answer by the Colonel, "Why, that is one of the oldest and most glorious hymns of the Church all over Christendon," he expressed surprise, but thought himself that "it seemed to be quite religious, but it was new to him."

With a coterie of five ladies at the post, each had four places to visit, and the most was made of it in comparing notes upon the important matters of cooking, sewing, and our various steps of advancement in the different arts, quite independently of prevailing fashions of dress in the States, and yet this did not signify entire emancipation, for the problem was still a little perplexing in the evolution of new ideas, while mutual helpfulness simplified all our efforts. There was often an all-round social dance, games of cards, the "authors game," and other contrivances for recreation and amusement, in addition to the receptions at headquarters, which were spirited and congenial, and, with a band having the deserved reputation of being the finest in the army, their choice music was no small feature in the cheer on the frontier.

About this article

First Person Narratives

Updated About content Print Article