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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER XI. select INCIDENTS OF LAWFUL TRADE.
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In this chapter of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were recorded some of the most highly-wrought and touching incidents of the slave-trade. It will be well to authenticate a few of them.

One of the first sketches presented to view is an account of the separation of a very old, decrepit negro woman from her young son, by a sheriff’s sale. The writer is sorry to say that not the slightest credit for invention is due to her in this incident. She found it, almost exactly as it stands, in the published journal of a young Southerner, related as a scene to which he was eye-witness. The only circumstance which she has omitted in the narrative was one of additional inhumanity and painfulness which he had delineated. He represents the boy as being bought by a planter, who fettered his hands, and tied a rope round his neck which he attached to the neck of his horse, thus compelling the child to trot by his side. This incident alone was suppressed by the author.

Another scene of fraud and cruelty, in the same chapter, is described as perpetrated by a Kentucky slave-master, who sells a woman to a trader, and induces her to go with him by the deceitful assertion that she is to be taken down the river a short distance, to work at the same hotel with her husband. This was an instance which occurred under the writer’s own observation, some years since, when she was going down the Ohio river. The woman was very respectable both in appearance and dress. The writer recalls her image now with distinctness, attired with great neatness in a white wrapper, her clothing and hair all arranged with evident care, and having with her a prettily-dressed boy about seven years of age. She had also a hair trunk of clothing, which showed that she had been carefully and respectably brought up. It will be seen, in perusing the account, that the incident is somewhat altered to suit the purpose of the story, the woman being there represented as carrying with her a young infant.

The custom of unceremoniously separating the infant from its mother, when the latter is about to be taken from a Northern to a Southern market, is a matter of every-day notoriety in the trade. It is not done occasionally and sometimes, but always, whenever there is occasion for it; and the mother’s agonies are no more regarded than those of a cow when her calf is separated from her.

The reason of this is, that the care and raising of children is no part of the intention or provision of a Southern plantation. They are a trouble; they detract from the value of the mother as a field-hand, and it is more expensive to raise them than to buy them ready raised; they are therefore left behind in the making up of a coffle. Not longer ago than last summer, the writer was conversing with Thomas Strother, a slave minister of the gospel in St. Louis, for whose emancipation she was making some effort. He incidentally mentioned to her a scene which he had witnessed but a short time before, in which a young woman of his acquaintance came to him almost in a state of distraction, telling him that she had been sold to go South with a trader, and leave behind her a nursing infant.

In Lewis Clark’s narrative he mentions that a master in his neighborhood sold a woman and child to a trader, with the charge that he should not sell the child from its mother. The man, however, traded off the child in the very next town, in payment of his tavern-bill.

The following testimony is from a gentleman who writes from New Orleans to the National Era.

This writer says:

While at Robinson, or Tyree Springs, twenty miles from Nashville, on the borders of Kentucky and Tennessee, my hostess said to me, one day, “Yonder comes a gang of slaves, chained.” I went to the road-side and viewed them. For the better answering my purpose of observation, I stopped the white man in front, who was at his ease in a one-horse wagon, and asked him if those slaves were for sale. I counted them and observed their position. They were divided by three one-horse wagons, each containing a man-merchant, so arranged as to command the whole gang. Some were unchained; sixty were chained in two companies, thirty in each, the right hand of one to the left hand of the other opposite one, making fifteen each side of a large ox-chain, to which every hand was fastened, and necessarily compelled to hold up,—men and women promiscuously, and about in equal proportions,—all young people. No children here, except a few in a wagon behind, which were the only children in the four gangs. I said to a respectable mulatto woman in the house, “Is it true that the negro-traders take mothers from their babies?” “Massa, it is true; for here, last week, such a girl [naming her], who lives about a mile off, was taken after dinner,—knew nothing of it in the morning,—sold, put into the gang, and her baby given away to a neighbor. She was a stout young woman, and brought a good price.”

48Nor is the pitiful lie to be regarded which says that these unhappy mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, do not feel when the most sacred ties are thus severed. Every day and hour bears living witness of the falsehood of this slander, the more false because spoken of a race peculiarly affectionate, and strong, vivacious and vehement, in the expression of their feelings.

The case which the writer supposed of the woman’s throwing herself overboard is not by any means a singular one. Witness the following recent fact, which appeared under the head of

The editorial correspondent of the Oneida (N. Y.) Telegraph, writing from a steamer on the Mississippi river, gives the following sad story:

“At Louisville, a gentleman took passage, having with him a family of blacks,—husband, wife and children. The master was bound for Memphis, Tenn., at which place he intended to take all except the man ashore. The latter was handcuffed, and although his master said nothing of his intention, the negro made up his mind, from appearances, as well as from the remarks of those around him, that he was destined for the Southern market. We reached Memphis during the night, and whilst within sight of the town, just before landing, the negro caused his wife to divide their things, as though resigned to the intended separation, and then, taking a moment when his master’s back was turned, ran forward and jumped into the river. Of course he sank, and his master was several hundred dollars poorer than a moment before. That was all; at least, scarcely any one mentioned it the next morning. I was obliged to get my information from the deck hands, and did not hear a remark concerning it in the cabin. In justice to the master, I should say, that after the occurrence he disclaimed any intention to separate them. Appearances, however, are quite against him, if I have been rightly informed. This sad affair needs no comment. It is an argument, however, that I might have used to-day, with some effect, whilst talking with a highly-intelligent Southerner of the evils of slavery. He had been reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and spoke of it as a novel, which, like other romances, was well calculated to excite the sympathies, by the recital of heart-touching incidents which never had an existence, except in the imagination of the writer.”

Instances have occurred where mothers, whose children were about to be sold from them, have, in their desperation, murdered their own offspring, to save them from this worst kind of orphanage. A case of this kind has been recently tried in the United States, and was alluded to, a week or two ago, by Mr. Giddings, in his speech on the floor of Congress.

An American gentleman from Italy, complaining of the effect of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on the Italian mind, states that images of fathers dragged from their families to be sold into slavery, and of babes torn from the breasts of weeping mothers, are constantly presented before the minds of the people as scenes of every-day life in America. The author can only say, sorrowfully, that it is only the truth which is thus presented.

These things are, every day, part and parcel of one of the most thriving trades that is carried on in America. The only difference between us and foreign nations is, that we have got used to it, and they have not. The thing has been done, and done again, day after day, and year after year, reported and lamented over in every variety of way; but it is going on this day with more briskness than ever before, and such scenes as we have described are enacted oftener............
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