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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER III. SEPARATION OF FAMILIES.
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“What must the difference be,” said Dr. Worthington, with startling energy, “between Isabel and her servants! To her it is loss of position, fortune, the fair hopes of life, perhaps even health; for she must inevitably break down under the unaccustomed labor and privations she will have to undergo. But to them it is merely a change of masters”!

“Yes, for the neighbors won’t allow any of the families to be separated.”

“Of course not. We read of such things in novels sometimes. But I have yet to see it in real life, except in rare cases, or where the slave has been guilty of some misdemeanor, or crime, for which, in the North, he would have been imprisoned, perhaps for life.”—Cabin and Parlor, by J. Thornton Randolph, p. 39.

“But they’re going to sell us all to Georgia, I say. How are we to escape that?”

“Spec dare some mistake in dat,” replied Uncle Peter, stoutly. “I nebber knew of sich a ting in dese parts, ‘cept where some niggar’d been berry bad.”—Ibid.

By such graphic touches as the above does Mr. Thornton Randolph represent to us the patriarchal stability and security of the slave population in the Old Dominion. Such a thing as a slave being sold out of the state has never been heard of by Dr. Worthington, except in rare cases for some crime; and old Uncle Peter never heard of such a thing in his life.

Are these representations true?

The worst abuse of the system of slavery is its outrage upon the family; and, as the writer views the subject, it is one which is more notorious and undeniable than any other.

Yet it is upon this point that the most stringent and earnest denial has been made to the representations of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” either indirectly, as by the romance-writer above, or more directly in the assertions of newspapers, both at the North and at the South. When made at the North, they indicate, to say the least, very great ignorance of the subject; when made at the South, they certainly do very great injustice to the general character of the Southerner for truth and honesty. All sections of country have faults peculiar to themselves. The fault of the South, as a general thing, has not been cowardly evasion and deception. It was with utter surprise that the author read the following sentences in an article in Fraser’s Magazine, professing to come from a South Carolinian.

Mrs. Stowe’s favorite illustration of the master’s power to the injury of the slave is the separation of families. We are told of infants of ten months old being sold from the arms of their mothers, and of men whose habit it is to raise children to sell away from their mother as soon as they are old enough to be separated. Were our views of this feature of slavery derived from Mrs. Stowe’s book, we should regard the families of slaves as utterly unsettled and vagrant.

And again:

We feel confident that, if statistics could be had to throw light upon this subject, we should find that there is less separation of families among the negroes than occurs with almost any other class of persons.

As the author of the article, however, is evidently a man of honor, and expresses many most noble and praiseworthy sentiments, it cannot be supposed that these statements were put forth with any view to misrepresent or to deceive. They are only to be regarded as evidences of the facility with which a sanguine mind often overlooks the most glaring facts that make against a favorite idea or theory, or which are unfavorable in their bearings on one’s own country or family. Thus the citizens of some place notoriously unhealthy will come to believe, and assert, with the utmost sincerity, that there is actually less sickness in their town than any other of its size in the known world. Thus parents often think their children perfectly immaculate in just those particulars in which others see them to be most faulty. This solution of the phenomena is a natural and amiable one, and enables us to retain our respect for our Southern brethren.

There is another circumstance, also, to be taken into account, in reading such assertions as these. It is evident, from the pamphlet in question, that the writer is one of the few who regard the possession of absolute irresponsible power as the highest of motives to moderation and temperance in its use. Such men are commonly associated in friendship and family connection with others of similar views, and are very apt to fall into the error of judging others by themselves, and thinking that a thing may do for all the world because it operates well in their immediate circle. Also it cannot but be a fact that the various circumstances which from infancy conspire to degrade and depress the negro in the eyes of a Southern-born man,—the constant habit of speaking of them, and hearing them spoken of, and seeing them advertised, as mere articles of property, often in connection with horses, mules, fodder, swine, &c., as they are almost daily in every Southern paper,—must tend, even in the best-constituted minds, to produce a certain obtuseness with regard to the interests, sufferings and affections, of such as do not particularly belong to himself, 134which will peculiarly unfit him for estimating their condition. The author has often been singularly struck with this fact, in the letters of Southern friends; in which, upon one page, they will make some assertion regarding the condition of Southern negroes, and then go on, and in other connections state facts which apparently contradict them all. We can all be aware how this familiarity would operate with ourselves. Were we called upon to state how often our neighbors’ cows were separated from their calves, or how often their household furniture and other effects are scattered and dispersed by executor’s sales, we should be inclined to say that it was not a misfortune of very common occurrence.

But let us open two South Carolina papers, published in the very state where this gentleman is residing, and read the advertisements FOR ONE WEEK. The author has slightly abridged them.
Fairfield District.
R. W. Murray and wife and     }      
others     }      
v.     }     In Equity.
William Wright and wife     }      
and others.     }      

In pursuance of an Order of the Court of Equity made in the above case at July Term, 1852, I will sell at public outcry, to the highest bidder, before the Court House in Winnsboro, on the first Monday in January next,

belonging to the estate of Micajah Mobley, deceased, late of Fairfield District.

These Negroes consist chiefly of young boys and girls, and are said to be very likely.

Terms of Sale, &c.
W. R. Robertson,
C. E. F. D.
Commisioner's Office,     }
Winnsboro, Nov. 30, 1852.     }
Dec. 2 42 x4.

Will be sold at public outcry, to the highest bidder, on Tuesday, the 21st day of December next, at the late residence of Mrs. M. P. Rabb, deceased, all of the personal estate of said deceased, consisting in part of about

2,000 Bushels of Corn.

25,000 pounds of Fodder.

Wheat—Cotton Seed.

Horses, Mules, Cattle, Hogs, Sheep.

There will, in all probability, be sold at the same time and place several likely Young Negroes.

The Terms of Sale will be—all sums under Twenty-five Dollars, Cash. All sums of Twenty-five Dollars and over, twelve months’ credit, with interest from day of Sale, secured by note and two approved sureties.
William S. Rabb,
Nov. 11. 39 x2
Fairfield District.
James E. Caldwell,     }      
Admr., with the Will     }      
annexed, of Jacob Gibson,     }      
deceased,     }     In Equity.
v.     }      
Jason D. Gibson     }      
and others.     }      

In pursuance of the order of sale made in the above case, I will sell at public outcry, to the highest bidder, before the Court House in Winnsboro, on the first Monday in January next, and the day following, the following real and personal estate of Jacob Gibson, deceased, late of Fairfield District, to wit:

The Plantation on which the testator lived at the time of his death, containing 661 Acres, more or less, lying on the waters of Wateree Creek, and bounded by lands of Samuel Johnston, Theodore S. DuBose, Edward P. Mobley, and B. R. Cockrell. This plantation will be sold in two separate tracts, plats of which will be exhibited on the day of sale:

consisting of Wagoners, Blacksmiths, Cooks, House Servants, &c.
W. R. Robertson,
C. E. F. D.
Commissioner’s Office,     }
Winnsboro, 29th Nov. 1852.     }

On the first Monday in January next I will sell, before the Court House in Columbia, 50 of as Likely Negroes as have ever been exposed to public sale, belonging to the estate of A. P. Vinson, deceased. The Negroes have been well cared for, and well managed in every respect. Persons wishing to purchase will not, it is confidently believed, have a better opportunity to supply themselves.
J. H. Adams,
Nov. 18 40 x3

Will be sold on the 15th December next, at the late residence of Samuel Moore, deceased, in York District, all the personal property of said deceased, consisting of:

a quantity of Cotton and Corn, Horses and Mules, Farming Tools, Household and Kitchen Furniture, with many other articles.
Samuel E. Moore,
Nov. 18 40 x4t.

Will be sold at public outcry, to the highest bidder, on Tuesday, the 14th day of December next, at the late residence of Robert W. Durham, deceased, in Fairfield District, all of the personal estate of said deceased: consisting in part as follows:

About 3,000 Bushels of Corn. A large quantity of Fodder.

135Wheat, Oats, Cow Peas, Rye, Cotton Seed, Horses, Mules, Cattle, Hogs, Sheep.
C. H. Durham,
Nov. 23.

By virtue of sundry executions to me directed, I will sell at Fairfield Court House, on the first Monday, and the day following, in December next, within the legal hours of sale, to the highest bidder, for cash, the following property. Purchasers to pay for titles:

2 Negroes, levied upon as the property of Allen R. Crankfield, at the suit of Alexander Brodie, et al.

2 Horses and 1 Jennet, levied upon as the property of Allen R. Crankfield, at the suit of Alexander Brodie.

2 Mules, levied upon as the property of Allen R. Crankfield, at the suit of Temperance E. Miller and J. W. Miller.

1 pair of Cart Wheels, levied upon as the property of Allen R. Crankfield, at the suit of Temperance E. Miller and J. W. Miller.

1 Chest of Drawers, levied upon as the property of Allen R. Crankfield, at the suit of Temperance E. Miller and J. W. Miller.

1 Bedstead, levied upon as the property of Allen R. Crankfield, at the suit of Temperance E. Miller and J. W. Miller.

1 Negro, levied upon as the property of R. J. Gladney, at the suit of James Camak.

1 Negro, levied upon as the property of Geo. McCormick, at the suit of W. M. Phifer.

1 Riding Saddle, to be sold under an assignment of G. W. Boulware to J. B. Mickle, in the case of Geo. Murphy, Jr., v. G. W. Boulware.
R. E. Ellison,
S. F. D.
Sheriff’s Office,     }
Nov. 19 1852.     }
Nov. 20 37 ?xtf      
John A. Crumpton,     }      
and others,     }     In Equity.
v.     }      
Zachariah C. Crumpton.     }      

In pursuance of the Decretal order made in this case, I will sell at public outcry to the highest bidder, before the Court House door in Winnsboro, on the first Monday in December next, three separate tracts or parcels of land, belonging to the estate of Zachariah Crumpton, deceased.

I will also sell, at the same time and place, five or six likely Young Negroes, sold as the property of the said Zachariah Crumpton, deceased, by virtue of the authority aforesaid.

The Terms of sale are as follows, &c. &c.
W. R. Robetson,
C. E. F. D.
Commissioner’s Office,     }
Winnsboro, Nov. 8, 1852.     }
Nov. 11 30 x3      

The undersigned, as Administrator of the Estate of Col. T. Randell, deceased, will sell, on Monday the 20th December next, all the personal property belonging to said estate, consisting of

Terms of sale, &c. &c.
Samuel J. Randell.
Sep. 2 29 x16

The Tri-weekly South Carolinian, published at Columbia, S. C., has this motto:

“Be just and fear not; let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy Country’s, thy God’s, AND Truth’s.”

In the number dated December 23d, 1852, is found a “Reply of the Women of Virginia to the Women of England,” containing this sentiment:

Believe us, we deeply, prayerfully, study God’s holy word; we are fully persuaded that our institutions are in accordance with it.

After which, in other columns, come the ten advertisements following:

By virtue of sundry writs of fieri facias, to me directed, will be sold before the Court House in Columbia, within the legal hours, on the first Monday and Tuesday in January next,

Seventy-four acres of Land, more or less, in Richland District, bounded on the north and east by Lorick’s, and on the south and west by Thomas Trapp.

Also, Ten Head of Cattle, Twenty-five Head of Hogs, and Two Hundred Bushels of Corn, levied on as the property of M. A. Wilson, at the suit of Samuel Gardner v. M. A. Wilson.

Seven Negroes, named Grace, Frances, Edmund, Charlotte, Emuline, Thomas and Charles, levied on as the property of Bartholomew Turnipseed, at the suit of A. F. Dubard, J. S. Lever, Bank of the State and others, v. B. Turnipseed.

450 acres of Land, more or less, in Richland District, bounded on the north, &c. &c.

On Monday, the (7th) seventh day of February next, I will sell at Auction, without reserve, at the Plantation, near Linden, all the Horses, Mules, Wagons, Farming Utensils, Corn, Fodder, &c.

And on the following Monday (14th), the fourteenth day of February next, at the Court House, at Linden, in Marengo County, Alabama, I will sell at public auction, without reserve, to the highest bidder,

belonging to the Estate of the late John Robinson, of South Carolina.

Among the Negroes are four valuable Carpenters, and a very superior Blacksmith.

By permission of Peter Wylie, Esq., Ordinary for Chester District, I will sell, at public auction, before the Court House, in Chesterville, on the first Monday in February next,

belonging to the Estate of F. W. Davie.
W. D. DeSaussure, Executor.
Dec. 23. 56 ?tds.

Will be sold, at our store, on Thursday, the 6th day of January next, all the Household and Kitchen 136Furniture, belonging to the Estate of B. L. McLaughlin, deceased, consisting in part of

Hair Seat Chairs, Sofas and Rockers. Piano, Mahogany Dining, Tea, and Card Tables; Carpets, Rugs, Andirons, Fenders, Shovel and Tongs, Mantel Ornaments, Clocks, Side Board, Bureaus, Mahogany Bedsteads, Feather Beds and Mattresses, Wash Stands, Curtains, fine Cordial Stand, Glassware, Crockery, and a great variety of articles for family use.

Terms cash.

A Negro Man, named Leonard, belonging to same.

Terms, &c.

At same time, a quantity of New Brick, belonging to Estate of A. S. Johnstone, deceased.
Dec. 21. 53 ?tds.

On Thursday, December 30, at 11 o’clock, will be sold at the Court House in Columbia,

It is seldom such an opportunity occurs us now offers. Among them are only four beyond 45 years old, and none above 50. There are twenty-five prime young men, between sixteen and thirty; forty of the most likely young women, and as fine a set of children as can be shown!!
Terms, &c.
Dec. 18, ‘52.

Will be sold, on Monday, the 3d January next, at the Court House, at 10 o’clock,

22 LIKELY NEGROES, the larger number of which are young and desirable. Among them are Field Hands, Hostlers and Carriage Drivers, House Servants, &c., and of the following ages: Robinson 40, Elsey 34, Yanaky 13, Sylla 11, Anikee 8, Robinson 6, Candy 3, Infant 9, Thomas 35, Die 38, Amey 18, Eldridge 13, Charles 6, Sarah 60, Baket 50, Mary 18, Betty 16, Guy 12, Tilla 9, Lydia 24, Rachel 4, Scipio 2.

The above Negroes are sold for the purpose of making some other investment of the proceeds; the sale will, therefore, be positive.

Terms.—A credit of one, two, and three years, for notes payable at either of the Banks, with two or more approved endorsers, with interest from date. Purchasers to pay for papers.
Dec 8 43

? Black River Watchman will copy the above, and forward bill to the auctioneers for payment.

Poor little Scip!

A LIKELY GIRL, about seventeen years old (raised in the up-country), a good Nurse and House Servant, can wash and iron, and do plain cooking, and is warranted sound and healthy. She may be seen at our office, where she will remain until sold.
Allen & Phillips,
Auctioneers & Com. Agents.
Dec. 15, ‘49.

The subscriber, having located in Columbia, offers for sale his Plantation in St. Matthew’s Parish, six miles from the Railroad, containing 1,500 acres, now in a high state of cultivation, with Dwelling House and all necessary Out-buildings.

50 Likely Negroes, with provisions, &c.

The terms will be accommodating. Persons desirous to purchase can call upon the subscriber in Columbia, or on his son at the Plantation.
Dec. 6 41.
T. J. Goodwyn.

A LIKELY NEGRO BOY, about twenty-one years old, a good wagoner and field hand. Apply at this office.
Dec. 20 52.

Now, it is scarcely possible that a person who has been accustomed to see such advertisements from boyhood, and to pass them over with as much indifference as we pass over advertisements of sofas and chairs for sale, could possibly receive the shock from them which one wholly unaccustomed to such a mode of considering and disposing of human beings would receive. They make no impression upon him. His own family servants, and those of his friends, are not in the market, and he does not realize that any are. Under the advertisements, a hundred such scenes as those described in “Uncle Tom” may have been acting in his very vicinity. When Mr. Dickens drew pictures of the want and wretchedness of London life, perhaps a similar incredulity might have been expressed within the silken curtains of many a brilliant parlor. They had never seen such things, and they had always lived in London. But, for all that, the writings of Dickens awoke in noble and aristocratic bosoms the sense of a common humanity with the lowly, and led them to feel how much misery might exist in their immediate vicinity, of which they were entirely unaware. They have never accused him as a libeller of his country, though he did make manifest much of the suffering, sorrow and abuse, which were in it. The author is led earnestly to entreat that the writer of this very paper would examine the “statistics” of the American internal slave-trade; that he would look over the exchange files of some newspaper, and, for a month or two, endeavor to keep some inventory of the number of human beings, with hearts, hopes and affections, like his own, who are constantly subjected to all the uncertainties and mutations of property relation. The writer is sure that he could not do it long without a generous desire being excited in his bosom to become, not an apologist for, but a reformer of, these institutions of his country.

137These papers of South Carolina are not exceptional ones; they may be matched by hundreds of papers from any other state.

Let the reader now stop one minute, and look over again these two weeks’ advertisements. This is not novel-writing—this is fact. See these human beings tumbled promiscuously out before the public with horses, mules, second-hand buggies, cotton-seed, bedsteads, &c. &c.; and Christian ladies, in the same newspaper, saying that they prayerfully study God’s word, and believe their institutions have his sanction! Does he suppose that here, in these two weeks, there have been no scenes of suffering? Imagine the distress of these families—the nights of anxiety of these mothers and children, wives and husbands, when these sales are about to take place! Imagine the scenes of the sales! A young lady, a friend of the writer, who spent a winter in Carolina, described to her the sale of a woman and her children. When the little girl, seven years of age, was put on the block, she fell into spasms with fear and excitement. She was taken off—recovered and put back—the spasms came back—three times the experiment was tried, and at last the sale of the child was deferred!

See also the following, from Dr. Elwood Harvey, editor of a western paper, to the Pennsylvania Freeman, Dec. 25, 1846.

We attended a sale of land and other property, near Petersburg, Virginia, and unexpectedly saw slaves sold at public auction. The slaves were told they would not be sold, and were collected in front of the quarters, gazing on the assembled multitude. The land being sold, the auctioneer’s loud voice was heard, “Bring up the niggers!” A shade of astonishment and affright passed over their faces, as they stared first at each other, and then at the crowd of purchasers, whose attention was now directed to them. When the horrible truth was revealed to their minds that they were to be sold, and nearest relations and friends parted forever, the effect was indescribably agonizing. Women snatched up their babes, and ran screaming into the huts. Children hid behind the huts and trees, and the men stood in mute despair. The auctioneer stood on the portico of the house, and the “men and boys” were ranging in the yard for inspection. It was announced that no warranty of soundness was given, and purchasers must examine for themselves. A few old men were sold at prices from thirteen to twenty-five dollars, and it was painful to see old men, bowed with years of toil and suffering, stand up to be the jest of brutal tyrants, and to hear them tell their disease and worthlessness, fearing that they would be bought by traders for the southern market.

A white boy, about fifteen years old, was placed on the stand. His hair was brown and straight, his skin exactly the same hue as other white persons and no discernible trace of negro features in his countenance.

Some vulgar jests were passed on his color, and two hundred dollars was bid for him; but the audience said “that it was not enough to begin on for such a likely young nigger.” Several remarked that they “would not have him as a gift.” Some said a white nigger was more trouble than he was worth. One man said it was wrong to sell white people. I asked him if it was more wrong than to sell black people. He made no reply. Before he was sold, his mother rushed from the house upon the portico, crying, in frantic grief, “My son, O! my boy, they will take away my dear—” Here her voice was lost, as she was rudely pushed back and the door closed. The sale was not for a moment interrupted, and none of the crowd appeared to be in the least affected by the scene. The poor boy, afraid to cry before so many strangers, who showed no signs of sympathy or pity, trembled, and wiped the tears from his cheeks with his sleeves. He was sold for about two hundred and fifty dollars. During the sale, the quarters resounded with cries and lamentations that made my heart ache. A woman was next called by name. She gave her infant one wild embrace before leaving it with an old woman, and hastened mechanically to obey the call; but stopped, threw her arms aloft, screamed and was unable to move.

One of my companions touched my shoulder and said, “Come, let us leave here; I can bear no more.” We left the ground. The man who drove our carriage from Petersburg had two sons who belonged to the estate—small boys. He obtained a promise that they should not be sold. He was asked if they were his only children; he answered, “All that’s left of eight.” Three others had been sold to the south, and he would never see or hear from them again.

As Northern people do not see such things, they should hear of them often enough to keep them awake to the sufferings of the victims of their indifference.

Such are the common incidents, not the admitted cruelties, of an institution which people have brought themselves to feel is in accordance with God’s word!

Suppose it be conceded now that “the family relation is protected, as far as possible.” The question still arises, How far is it possible? Advertisements of sales to the number of those we have quoted, more or less, appear from week to week in the same papers, in the same neighborhood; and professional traders make it their business to attend them, and buy up victims. Now, if the inhabitants of a given neighborhood charge themselves with the care to see that no families are separated in this whirl of auctioneering, one would fancy that they could have very little else to do. It is a fact, and a most honorable one to our common human nature, that the distress and anguish of these poor, helpless creatures does often raise up for them friends among the generous-hearted. Southern men often go to the extent of their ............
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