Christian Slavery – Letter III

Re-lie-zionFrom American Scenes, and Christian Slavery
by Ebenezer Davies

Part -> 1

Letter III

Here we are (thought I) in New Orleans–the metropolis of a great slave country,–a town in which exist many depots for the disposal of human beings,–the very city where, a few months ago, poor Pauline was sacrificed as the victim of lust and cruelty! Unhappy girl! What a tragedy! On the 1st of August last, I told the horrid tale to my emancipated people in Berbice. Here it is, as extracted from the _Essex_ (United States) _Transcript_. Read it, if you please; and then you will have a notion of the feelings with which I contemplated a city rendered infamous by such a transaction.

“Many of our readers have probably seen a paragraph stating that a young slave girl was recently hanged at New Orleans for the crime of striking and abusing her mistress. The religious press of the north has not, so far as we are aware, made any comments upon this execution. It is too busy pulling the mote out of the eye of the heathen, to notice the beam in our nominal Christianity at home. Yet this case, viewed in all its aspects, is an atrocity which has (God be thanked) no parallel in heathen lands. It is a hideous offshoot of American Republicanism and American Christianity!

It seems that Pauline–a young and beautiful girl–attracted the admiration of her master, and being (to use the words of the law) his “chattel personal to all intents and purposes whatsoever,” became the victim of his lust. So wretched is the condition of the slave woman, that even the brutal and licentious regard of her master is looked upon as the highest exaltation of which her lot is susceptible. The slave girl in this instance evidently so regarded it; and as a natural consequence, in her new condition, triumphed over and insulted her mistress,–in other words, repaid in some degree the scorn and abuse with which her mistress had made her painfully familiar. The laws of the Christian State of Mississippi inflict the punishment of death upon the slave who lifts his or her hand against a white person.

Pauline was accused of beating her mistress,–tried, found guilty, and condemned to die! But it was discovered on the trial that she was in a condition to become a mother, and her execution was delayed until the birth of the child. She was conveyed to the prison cell. There, for many weary months, uncheered by the voice of kindness, alone, hopeless, desolate, she waited for the advent of the new and quickening life within her, which was to be the signal of her own miserable death. And the bells there called to mass and prayer-meeting, and Methodists sang, and Baptists immersed, and Presbyterians sprinkled, and young mothers smiled through tears upon their new-born children,–and maidens and matrons of that great city sat in their cool verandahs, and talked of love, and household joys, and domestic happiness; while, all that dreary time, the poor slave girl lay on the scanty straw of her dungeon, waiting–with what agony the great and pitying God of the white and black only knows–for the birth of the child of her adulterous master. Horrible!

Was ever what George Sand justly terms ‘the great martyrdom of maternity’–that fearful trial which love alone converts into joy unspeakable–endured under such conditions? What was her substitute for the kind voices and gentle soothings of affection? The harsh grating of her prison lock,–the mockings and taunts of unfeeling and brutal keepers! What, with the poor Pauline, took the place of the hopes and joyful anticipations which support and solace the white mother, and make her couch of torture happy with sweet dreams?

The prospect of seeing the child of her sorrow, of feeling its lips upon her bosom, of hearing its feeble cry–alone, unvisited of its unnatural father; and then in a few days–just when the mother’s affections are strongest, and the first smile of her infant compensates for the pangs of the past–the scaffold and the hangman! Think of the last terrible scene,–the tearing of the infant from her arms, the death-march to the gallows, the rope around her delicate neck, and her long and dreadful struggles, (for, attenuated and worn by physical suffering and mental sorrow, her slight frame had not sufficient weight left to produce the dislocation of her neck on the falling of the drop,) swinging there alive for nearly half an hour–a spectacle for fiends in the shape of humanity! Mothers of New England! such are the fruits of slavery.

Oh! in the name of the blessed God, teach your children to hate it, and to pity its victims. Petty politicians and empty-headed Congress debators are vastly concerned, lest the ‘honour of the country’ should be compromised in the matter of the Oregon Boundary. Fools! One such horrible atrocity as this murder of poor Pauline ‘compromises’ us too deeply to warrant any further display of their patriotism. It would compromise Paradise itself! An intelligent and philanthropic European gentleman, who was in New Orleans at the time of the execution, in a letter to a friend in this vicinity, after detailing the circumstances of the revolting affair, exclaims, ‘God of goodness! God of justice! There must be a future state to redress the wrongs of this. I am almost tempted to say–there must be a future state, or no God!'”

While on our way to get the remainder of our baggage from the ship, we came upon a street in which a long row, or rather several rows, of black and coloured people were exposed in the open air (and under a smiling sun) for sale! There must have been from 70 to 100, all young people, varying from 15 to 30 years of age. All (both men and women) were well dressed, to set them off to the best advantage, as is always the case at these sales. Several of the coloured girls–evidently the daughters of white men–had their sewing-work with them, as evidence of their skill in that department.

The whole were arranged under a kind of verandah, having a foot-bench (about six inches high) to stand upon, and their backs resting against the wall. None were in any way tied or chained; but two white men (“soul-drivers,” I suppose) were sauntering about in front of them, each with a cigar in his mouth, a whip under his arm, and his hands in his pockets, looking out for purchasers. In its external aspect, the exhibition was not altogether unlike what I have sometimes seen in England, when some wandering Italian has ranged against a wall his bronzed figures of distinguished men,–Shakspeare, Napoleon, Wellington, Nelson, &c.

It was between twelve and one in the day; but there was no crowd, not even a single boy or girl looking on,–so common and every-day was the character of the scene. As we moved along in front of this sable row, one of the white attendants (though my wife had hold of my arm) said to me, with all the _nonchalance_ of a Smithfield cattle-drover, “Looking out for a few niggers this morning?” Never did I feel my manhood so insulted. My indignation burned for expression. But I endeavoured to affect indifference, and answered in a don’t-care sort of tone, “No, I am not particularly in want of any to-da–.”

I could scarcely finish the sentence. Emotion choked my utterance. I passed on, gazing at the troop of degraded human beings, till my eyes became so filled with tears that I was compelled to turn my face another way. Though I anticipated such scenes, and had tried to prepare my mind for them, yet (now that they were actually before me) I was completely overcome, and was obliged to seek a place to sit down while I composed my feelings. With what sentiments my companion beheld the scene, I will leave you to conjecture!

[…]

I would have said, “Gentlemen, see there! and blush for your fellow-citizens. See there! and never again talk of American liberty. See there! and lift up your voices like so many trumpets against this enormity. See there! and in the face of persecution, poverty, imprisonment, and (if needs be) even death itself, bear your faithful testimony, and cease not until this foul stain be wiped away from your national escutcheon. Dr. S—-, to-morrow morning let this be your text,–‘Where is Abel, thy brother?’ Dr. II—-, let your discourse be founded on Exod. xxi. 16: ‘And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.’ You, the Rev. Mr. C—-, let your gay and wealthy congregation be edified with a solemn and impressive sermon on Is. lviii. 6: ‘Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?’ And you, the Rev. Mr. H—-, let your hearers have a full and faithful exposition of that law which is ‘fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'”

Part -> 3 – Letter VI

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