The Freedman's Story (Continued)

An escaped slave tells his story—including his account of his violent showdown with slave-catchers in Pennsylvania

Some amusing incidents occurred, however, which it may be well to relate in this connection. The next morning, after stopping at the tavern, we took the cars and rode to Homerville, where, after waiting an hour, as our landlord of the night previous had directed us, we took stage. Being the first applicants for tickets, we secured inside seats, and, from the number of us, we took up all of the places inside; but, another traveller coming, I tendered him mine, and rode with the driver. The passenger thanked me; but the driver, a churl, and the most prejudiced person I ever came in contact with, would never wait after a stop until I could get on, but would drive away, and leave me to swing, climb, or cling on to the stage as best I could. Our traveller, at last noticing his behavior, told him promptly not to be so fast, but let all passengers get on, which had the effect to restrain him a little.

At Big Eddy we took the cars. Directly opposite me sat a gentleman, who, on learning that I was for Rochester, said he was going there too, and afterwards proved an agreeable travelling-companion.

A newsboy came in with papers, some of which the passengers bought. Upon opening them, they read of the fight at Christiana.

"O, see here!" said my neighbor; "great excitement at Christiana; a--a statesman killed, and his son and nephew badly wounded."

After reading, the passengers began to exchange opinions on the case. Some said they would like to catch Parker, and get the thousand dollars reward offered by the State; but the man opposite to me said, "Parker must be a powerful man."

I thought to myself, "If you could tell what I can, you could judge about that."

Pinckney and Johnson became alarmed, and wanted to leave the cars at the next stopping-place; but I told them there was no danger. I then asked particularly about Christiana, where it was, on what railroad, and other questions, to all of which I received correct replies. One of the men became so much attached to me, that, when we would go to an eating-saloon, he would

pay for both. At Jefferson we thought of leaving the cars, and taking the boat; but they told us to keep on the cars, and we would get to Rochester by nine o'clock the next night.

We left Jefferson about four o'clock in the morning, and arrived at Rochester at nine the same morning. Just before reaching Rochester, when in conversation with my travelling friend, I ventured to ask what would be done with Parker, should he be taken.

"I do not know," he replied; "but the laws of Pennsylvania would not hang him,-- they might imprison him. But it would be different, very different, should they get him into Maryland. The people in all the Slave States are so prejudiced against colored people, that they never give them justice. But I don't believe they will get Parker. I think he is in Canada by this time; at least, I hope so,--for I believe he did right, and, had I been in his place, I would have done as he did. Any good citizen will say the same. I believe Parker to be a brave man; and all you colored people should look at it as we white people look at our brave men, and do as we do. You see Parker was not fighting for a country, nor for praise. He was fighting for freedom: he only wanted liberty, as other men do. You colored people should protect him, and remember him as long as you live. We are coming near our parting-place, and I do not know if we shall ever meet again. I shall be in Rochester some two or three days before I return home; and I would like to have your company back."

I told him it would be some time before we returned.

The cars then stopped, when he bade me good by. As strange as it may appear, he did not ask me my name; and I was afraid to inquire his, from fear he would.

On leaving the cars, after walking two or three squares, we overtook a colored man, who conducted us to the house of--a friend of mine. He welcomed me at once, as we were acquainted before, took me up stairs to wash and comb, and prepare, as he said, for company.

As I was combing, a lady came up and said, "Which of you is Mr. Parker?"

"I am," said I,--"what there is left of me."

She gave me her hand, and said, "And this is William Parker!"

She appeared to be so excited that she could not say what she wished to. We were told we would not get much rest, and we did not; for visitors were constantly coming. One gentleman was surprised that we got away from the cars, as spies were all about, and there were two thousand dollars reward for the party.

We left at eight o'clock that evening, in a carriage, for the boat, bound for Kingston in Canada. As we went on board, the bell was ringing. After walking about a little, a friend pointed out to me the officers on the "hunt" for us; and just as the boat pushed off from the wharf, some of our friends on shore called me by name. Our pursuers looked very much like fools, as they were. I told one of the gentlemen on shore to write to Kline that I was in Canada. Ten dollars were generously contributed by the Rochester friends for our expenses; and altogether their kindness was heartfelt, and was most gratefully appreciated by us.

Once on the boat, and fairly out at sea towards the land of liberty, my mind became calm, and my spirits very much depressed at thought of my wife and children. Before, I had little time to think much about them, my mind being on my journey. Now I became silent and abstracted. Although fond of company, no one was company for me now.

We landed at Kingston on the 21st of September, at six o'clock in the morning, and walked around for a long time, without meeting any one we had ever known. At last, however, I saw a colored man I knew in Maryland. He at first pretended to have no knowledge of me, but finally recognized me. I made known our distressed condition,

when he said he was not going home then, but, if we would have breakfast, he would pay for it. How different the treatment received from this man--himself an exile for the sake of liberty, and in its full enjoyment on free soil--and the self-sacrificing spirit of our Rochester colored brother, who made haste to welcome us to his ample home,--the well-earned reward of his faithful labors!

On Monday evening, the 23d, we started for Toronto, where we arrived safely the next day. Directly after landing, we heard that Governor Johnston, of Pennsylvania, had made a demand on the Governor of Canada for me, under the Extradition Treaty. Pinckney and Johnson advised me to go to the country, and remain where I should not be known; but I refused. I intended to see what they would do with me. Going at once to the Government House, I entered the first office I came to. The official requested me to be seated. The following is the substance of the conversation between us, as near as I can remember. I told him I had heard that Governor Johnston, of Pennsylvania, had requested his government to send me back. At this he came forward, held forth his hand, and said, "Is this William Parker?"

I took his hand, and assured him I was the man. When he started to come, I thought he was intending to seize me, and I prepared myself to knock him down. His genial, sympathetic manner it was that convinced me he meant well.

He made me sit down, and said, "Yes, they want you back again. Will you go?"

"I will not be taken back alive," said I. "I ran away from my master to be free,--I have run from the United States to be free. I am now going to stop running."

"Are you a fugitive from labor?" he asked.

I told him I was.

"Why," he answered, "they say you are a fugitive from justice." He then asked me where my master lived.

I told him, "In Anne Arundel County, Maryland."

"Is there such a county in Maryland?" he asked.

"There is," I answered.

He took down a map, examined it, and said, "You are right."

I then told him the name of the farm, and my master's name. Further questions bearing upon the country towns near, the nearest river, etc., followed, all of which I answered to his satisfaction.

"How does it happen," he then asked, "that you lived in Pennsylvania so long, and no person knew you were a fugitive from labor?"

"I do not get other people to keep my secrets, sir," I replied. "My brother and family only knew that I had been a slave."

He then assured me that I would not, in his opinion, have to go back. Many coming in at this time on business, I was told to call again at three o'clock, which I did. The person in the office, a clerk, told me to take no further trouble about it, until that day four weeks. "But you are as free a man as I am," said he. When I told the news to Pinckney and Johnson, they were greatly relieved in mind.

I ate breakfast with the greatest relish, got a letter written to a friend in Chester County for my wife, and set about arrangements to settle at or near Toronto.

We tried hard to get work, but the task was difficult. I think three weeks elapsed before we got work that could be called work. Sometimes we would secure a small job, worth two or three shillings, and sometimes a smaller one; worth not more than one shilling; and these not oftener than once or twice in a week. We became greatly discouraged; and, to add to my misery, I was constantly hearing some alarming report about my wife and children. Sometimes they had carried her back into slavery,--sometimes the children, and sometimes the entire party. Then there would come a contradiction. I was soon so completely worn down by my fears for them, that I thought, my heart

would break. To add to my disquietude, no answer came to my letters, although I went to the office regularly every day. At last I got a letter with the glad news that my wife and children were safe, and would be sent to Canada. I told the person reading for me to stop, and tell them to send her "right now,"--I could not wait to hear the rest of the letter.

Two months from the day I landed in Toronto, my wife arrived, but without the children. She had had a very bad time. Twice they had her in custody; and, a third time, her young master came after her, which obliged her to flee before day, so that the children had to remain behind for the time. I was so glad to see her that I forgot about the children.

The day my wife came, I had nothing but the clothes on my back, and was in debt for my board, without any work to depend upon. My situation was truly distressing. I took the resolution, and went to a store where I made known my circumstances to the proprietor, offering to work for him to pay for some necessaries. He readily consented, and I supplied myself with bedding, meal, and flour. As I had selected a place before, we went that evening about two miles into the country, and settled ourselves for the winter.

When in Kingston, I had heard of the Buxton settlement, and of the Revds. Dr. Willis and Mr. King, the agents. My informant, after stating all the particulars, induced me to think it was a desirable place; and having quite a little sum of money due to me in the States, I wrote for it, and waited until May. It not being sent, I called upon Dr. Willis, who treated me kindly. I proposed to settle in Elgin, if he would loan means for the first instalment. He said he would see about it, and I should call again. On my second visit, he agreed to assist me, and proposed that I should get another man to go on a lot with me.

Abraham Johnson and I arranged to settle together, and, with Dr. Willis's letter to Mr. King on our behalf, I embarked with my family on a schooner for the West. After five days' sailing, we reached Windsor. Not having the means to take us to Chatham, I called upon Henry Bibb, and laid my case before him. He took us in, treated us with great politeness, and afterwards took me with him to Detroit, where, after an introduction to some friends, a purse of five dollars was made up. I divided the money among my companions, and started them for Chatham, but was obliged to stay at Windsor and Detroit two days longer.

While stopping at Windsor, I went again to Detroit, with two or three friends, when, at one of the steamboats just landed, some officers arrested three fugitives, on pretence of being horse thieves. I was satisfied they were slaves, and said so, when Henry Bibb went to the telegraph office and learned through a message that they were. In the crowd and excitement, the sheriff threatened to imprison me for my interference. I felt indignant, and told him to do so, whereupon he opened the door. About this time there was more excitement, and then a man slipped into the jail, unseen by the officers, opened the gate, and the three prisoners went out, and made their escape to Windsor. I stopped through that night in Detroit, and started the next day for Chatham, where I found my family snugly provided for at a boarding-house kept by Mr. Younge.

Chatham was a thriving town at that time, and the genuine liberty enjoyed by its numerous colored residents pleased me greatly; but our destination was Buxton, and thither we went on the following day. We arrived there in the evening, and I called immediately upon Mr. King, and presented Dr. Willis's letter. He received me very politely, and said that, after I should feel rested, I could go out and select a lot. He also kindly offered to give me meal and pork for my family, until I could get work.

In due time, Johnson and I each chose a fifty-acre lot; for although when in Toronto we agreed with Dr. Willis to take one lot between us, when

we saw the land we thought we could pay for two lots. I got the money in a little time, and paid the Doctor back. I built a house, and we moved into it that same fall, and in it I live yet.

When I first settled in Buxton, the white settlers in the vicinity were much opposed to colored people. Their prejudices were very strong; but the spread of intelligence and religion in the community has wrought a great change in them. Prejudice is fast being uprooted; indeed, they do not appear like the same people that they were. In a short time I hope the foul spirit will depart entirely.

I have now to bring my narrative to a close; and in so doing I would return thanks to Almighty God for the many mercies and favors he has bestowed upon me, and especially for delivering me out of the hands of slaveholders, and placing me in a land of liberty, where I can worship God under my own vine and fig-tree, with none to molest or make me afraid. I am also particularly thankful to my old friends and neighbors in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to the friends in Norristown, Quakertown, Rochester, and Detroit, and to Dr. Willis of Toronto, for their disinterested benevolence and kindness to me and my family. When hunted, they sheltered me; when hungry and naked, they clothed and fed me; and when a stranger in a strange land, they aided and encouraged me. May the Lord in his great mercy remember and bless them, as they remembered and blessed me.

The events following the riot at Christiana and my escape have become matters of history, and can only be spoken of as such. The failure of Gorsuch in his attempt; his death, and the terrible wounds of his son; the discomfiture and final rout of his crestfallen associates in crime; and their subsequent attempt at revenge by a merciless raid through Lancaster County, arresting every one unfortunate enough to have a dark skin,--is all to be found in the printed account of the trial of Castner Hanway and others for treason. It is true that some of the things which did occur are spoken of but slightly, there being good and valid reasons why they were passed over thus at that time in these cases, many of which might be interesting to place here, and which I certainly should do, did not the same reasons still exist in full force for keeping silent. I shall be compelled to let them pass just as they are recorded.

But one event, in which there seems no reason to observe silence, I will introduce in this place. I allude to the escape of George Williams, one of our men, and the very one who had the letters brought up from Philadelphia by Mr. Samuel Williams. George lay in prison with the others who had been arrested by Kline, but was rendered more uneasy by the number of rascals who daily visited that place for the purpose of identifying, if possible, some of its many inmates as slaves. One day the lawyer previously alluded to, whose chief business seemed to be negro-catching, came with another man, who had employed him for that purpose, and, stopping in front of the cell wherein George and old Ezekiel Thompson were confined, cried out, "That's him!" At which the man exclaimed, "It is, by God! that is him!"

These ejaculations, as a matter of course, brought George and Ezekiel, who were lying down, to their feet,--the first frightened and uneasy, the latter stern and resolute. Some mysterious conversation then took place between the two, which resulted in George lying down and covering himself with Ezekiel's blanket. In the mean time off sped the man and lawyer to obtain the key, open the cell, and institute a more complete inspection. They returned in high glee, but to their surprise saw only the old man standing at the door, his grim visage anything but inviting. They inserted the key, click went the lock, back shot the bolt, open flew the door, but old Ezekiel stood there firm, his eyes flashing fire, his brawny hands flourishing a stout oak stool furnished him to rest on by friends of whom I

have so often spoken, and crying out in the most unmistakable manner, every word leaving a deep impression on his visitors, "The first man that puts his head inside of this cell I will split to pieces."

The men leaped back, but soon recovered their self-possession; and the lawyer said,--"Do you know who I am? I am the lawyer who has charge of this whole matter, you impudent nigger. I will come in whenever I choose."

The old man, if possible looking more stern and savage than before, replied, "I don't care who you are; but if you or any other nigger-catcher steps inside of my cell-door I will beat out his brains."

It is needless to say more. The old man's fixed look, clenched teeth, and bony frame had their effect. The man and the lawyer left, growling as they went, that, if there was rope to be had, that old Indian nigger should certainly hang.

This was but the beginning of poor George's troubles. His friends were at work; but all went wrong, and his fate seemed sealed. He stood charged with treason, murder, and riot, and there appeared no way to relieve him. When discharged by the United States Court for the first crime, he was taken to Lancaster to meet the second and third. There, too, the man and the lawyer followed, taking with them that infamous wretch, Kline. The Devil seemed to favor all they undertook; and when Ezekiel was at last discharged, with some thirty more, from all that had been so unjustly brought against him, and for which he had lain in the damp prison for more than three months, these rascals lodged a warrant in the Lancaster jail, and at midnight Kline and the man who claimed to be George's owner arrested him as a fugitive from labor, whilst the lawyer returned to Philadelphia to prepare the case for trial, and to await the arrival of his shameless partners in guilt. This seemed the climax of George's misfortunes. He was hurried into a wagon, ready at the door, and, fearing a rescue, was driven at a killing pace to the town of Parkesburg, where they were compelled to stop for the night, their horses being completely used up. This was in the month of January, and the coldest night that had been known for many years. On their route, these wretches, who had George handcuffed and tied in the wagon, indulged deeply in bad whiskey, with which they were plentifully supplied, and by the time they reached the public-house their fury was at its height. 'T is said there is honor among thieves, but villains of the sort I am now speaking of seem to possess none. Each fears the other. When in the bar-room, Kline said to the other,--"Sir, you can go to sleep. I will watch this nigger."

"No," replied the other, "I will do that business myself. You don't fool me, sir."

To which Kline replied, "Take something, sir?"--and down went more whiskey.

Things went on in this way awhile, until Kline drew a chair to the stove, and, overcome by the heat and liquor, was soon sleeping soundly, and, I suppose, dreaming of the profits which were sure to arise from the job. The other walked about till the barkeeper went to bed, leaving the hostler to attend in his place, and he also, somehow or other, soon fell asleep. Then he walked up to George, who was lying on a bench, apparently as soundly asleep as any of them, and, saying to himself, "The damn nigger is asleep,--I'll just take a little rest myself,"--he suited the action to the word. Spreading himself out on two chairs, in a few moments he was snoring at a fearful rate. Rum, the devil, and fatigue, combined, had completely prostrated George's foes. It was now his time for action; and, true to the hope of being free, the last to leave the poor, hunted, toil-worn bondsman's heart, he opened first one eye, then the other, and carefully examined things around. Then he rose slowly, and, keeping step to the deep-drawn snores of the miserable, debased wretch who claimed him, he stealthily crawled towards the door, when, to his consternation, he

found the eye of the hostler on him. He paused, knowing his fate hung by a single hair. It was only necessary for the man to speak, and he would be shot instantly dead; for both Kline and his brother ruffian slept pistol in hand. As I said, George stopped, and, in the softest manner in which it was possible for him to speak, whispered, "A drink of water, if you please, sir." The man replied not, but, pointing his finger to the door again, closed his eyes, and was apparently lost in slumber.

I have already said it was cold; and, in addition, snow and ice covered the ground. There could not possibly be a worse night. George shivered as he stepped forth into the keen night air. He took one look at the clouds above, and then at the ice-clad ground below. He trembled; but freedom beckoned, and on he sped. He knew where he was,--the place was familiar. On, on, he pressed, nor paused till fifteen miles lay between him and his drunken claimant; then he stopped at the house of a tried friend to have his handcuffs removed; but, with their united efforts, one side only could be got off, and the poor fellow, not daring to rest, continued his journey, forty odd miles, to Philadelphia, with the other on. Frozen, stiff, and sore, he arrived there on the following day, and every care was extended to him by his old friends. He was nursed and attended by the late Dr. James, Joshua Gould Bias, one of the faithful few, whose labors for the oppressed will never be forgotten, and whose heart, purse, and hand were always open to the poor, flying slave. God has blessed him, and his reward is obtained.

I shall here take leave of George, only saying, that he recovered and went to the land of freedom, to be safe under the protection of British law. Of the wretches he left in the tavern, much might be said; but it is enough to know that they awoke to find him gone, and to pour their curses and blasphemy on each other. They swore most frightfully; and the disappointed Southerner threatened to blow out the brains of Kline, who turned his wrath on the hostler, declaring he should be taken and held responsible for the loss. This so raised the ire of that worthy, that, seizing an iron bar that was used to fasten the door, he drove the whole party from the house, swearing they were damned kidnappers, and ought to be all sent after old Gorsuch, and that he would raise the whole township on them if they said one word more. This had the desired effect. They left, not to pursue poor George, but to avoid pursuit; for these worthless man-stealers knew the released men brought up from Philadelphia and discharged at Lancaster were all in the neighborhood, and that nothing would please these brave fellows--who had patiently and heroically suffered for long and weary months in a felon's cell for the cause of human freedom--more than to get a sight at them; and Kline, he knew this well,--particularly old Ezekiel Thompson, who had sworn by his heart's blood, that, if he could only get hold of that Marshal Kline, he should kill him and go to the gallows in peace. In fact, he said the only thing he had to feel sorry about was, that he did not do it when he threatened to, whilst the scoundrel stood talking to Hanway; and but for Castner Hanway he would have done it, anyhow. Much more I could say; but short stories are read, while long ones are like the sermons we go to sleep under.

(Read Part I.)

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