The Hyperlinked Ballad of Jarm Logue

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Jarm.jpg


Working on my book, I've been looking at the story of Jarm Logue (what an awesome name.) Logue was born in Tennessee to his enslaved mother Cherry, and the brother of Cherry's owner David Logue. Cherry was born into freedom, but kidnapped with a group of other black children and sold South. Jarm was raised a slave and endeavored to escape North after his owner, drunk with fury, subjected him to the following brutal assault. A forewarning, the following description is disturbing:


Blazing with alcohol and Hell within, he picked up the long wedge, and swore the boy should swallow it. As if to compel him to do so, he ordered Jarm to open his mouth. Jarm instinctively demurred to the absurd proposition, but Manasseth was inflexible. So soon as Jarm hesitated, his enemy struck him a blow on the side of the head, with his fist, which brought him to the ground. 

The brute, with increased passion, leaped on him, and held him down--and in that condition charged the boy to open his mouth, on peril of his life--at the same time pressing the wood against his lips and teeth. Jarm, fearing he would break in all his teeth, opened his jaws, and the wretch immediately crowded the wedge in until it reached the roof of his mouth, before he could stop it with his teeth. He began to pound it in with his heavy fist. Not withstanding Jarm held on with his teeth, the wedge driven into the roof of his mouth, and mangled it frightfully. The blood flowed down his throat, and profusely from his mouth. 




So soon as Jarm found his teeth were likely all to be broken, and that there was no hope of sympathy from the intoxicated wretch, he obeyed the instincts of nature, and by a sudden and powerful effort, he seized the wedge and the hand that held it, and turning his head at the same time, delivered his mouth from the instrument, and turned it towards the ground--resolved, if he was to be murdered, he not be murdered in that way. The heartless man then commenced punching the boy with the sharp end of the wedge, on his head and mouth, making bloody gashes--Jarm dodging, as well as be could, to avoid the blows... 

This experience was valuable to Jarm, for it revealed to him his positions and relations to slavery, which he ever afterwards remembered with perfect distinctness. He was now about fourteen years of age, of excellent strength and health, and saw there was no other way for him, but to bear his trials with all possible discretion --and if an opportunity occurred to escape, to embrace it at whatever peril--but if doomed to remain a slave, to die struggling with his tyrant, when driven to the last extremity. To this resolution he was always obedient--ever mindful of the occasion that induced him to make it.

Logue did escape, and renaming himself Jermain Wesley Lougen, becoming a celebrated abolitionist, and stationmaster for the Syracuse Underground Railroad. He suffered a speech impediment for the rest of his life, but he was still one of the great anti-slavery exhorters of his day. In 1851 he led the famed "Jerry Rescue" in Syracuse, New York:

Leaders of the local Abolition movement, including Underground Railroad Stationmaster Jermain Loguen and others, had organized a local committee to thwart enforcement of the recently adopted Fugitive Slave Law. The previous May, then Secretary of State Daniel Webster repeated his previous criticism of the Abolitionists and their promise to thwart the law. Webster proclaimed from a balcony facing Syracuse City Hall that the law "will be executed in all the great cities - here in Syracuse - in the midst of the next Anti-Slavery Convention, if the occasion shall arise." 

And so it did. Around noon on October 1, federal marshals from Rochester, Auburn, Syracuse, and Canandaigua, accompanied by the local police, arrested a man who called himself Jerry. also known as William Henry. Jerry was working as a barrel maker, and was arrested at his workplace. He was originally told the charge was theft until after he was in manacles. On being informed that he was being arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law, he put up substantial resistance, but was subdued. Word of the arrest quickly reached the Convention, then in session at a nearby church. 

There are reports that the wife of Commissioner Sabine, who would hear the case, had already leaked plans of the arrest. By pre-arranged signal, church bells began ringing, and a crowd gathered at Sabine's office, where Jerry had been taken for arraignment. An immediate effort to free the prisoner was unsuccessful, and though he escaped to the street in irons, he was rapidly recaptured. 

The arraignment was put off until evening and relocated to a larger room. A large crowd gathered in the street, this time equipped for a more serious rescue attempt. With a battering ram the door was broken in and despite pistol shots out the window by one of the deputy marshals, it became clear that the crowd was too large and determined to be resisted. The prisoner was surrendered, and one deputy marshal broke his arm jumping from a window to escape the crowd. The injured prisoner was hidden in the city for several days in the home of a local butcher know for his anti-abolitionist sentiments, and later taken in a wagon to Oswego, where he crossed Lake Ontario into Canada.

Jarm Logue was later indicted for his participation. As a language geek, I just have to excerpt this denouncement of Webster published by the Liberty Party:

WHEREAS, Daniel Webster, That base and infamous enemy of the human race, did in a speech of which he delivered himself, in Syracuse last Spring, exultingly and insultingly predict that fugitive slaves would yet be taken away from Syracuse and even from anti-slavery conventions in Syracuse, and whereas the attempt to fulfill this prediction was delayed until the first day of October, 1851, when the Liberty party of the State of New York were holding their annual convention in Syracuse; and whereas the attempt was defeated by the mighty uprising of 2,500 brave men, before whom the half-dozen kidnappers were 'as tow', therefore, 

Resolved, That we rejoice that the City of Syracuse- the anti-slavery city of Syracuse- the city of anti-slavery conventions, our beloved and glorious city of Syracuse- still remains undisgraced by the fulfillment of the satanic prediction of the satanic Daniel Webster.


 In 1860 Jarm Logue recieved the following letter from the wife of his owner:

To Jarm:

I now take my pen to write you a few lines, to let you know how well we all are. I am a cripple, but I am still able to get about. The rest of the family are all well. Cherry is as well as Common. I write you these lines to let you the situation we are in--partly in consequence of your running away and stealing Old Rock, our fine mare. Though we got the mare back, she never was worth much after you took here, and as I now stand in need of some funds, I have determined to sell you, and I have had an offer for you, but did not see fit to take it. 

If you will send me one thousand dollars, and pay for the old mare, I will give up all claim I have to you. Write to me as soon as you get these lines, and let me know if you will accept my proposition. In consequence of your running away we had to sell Abe and Ann and twelve acres of land; and I want you to send me the money, that I may be able to redeem the land that you was the cause of our selling, and on receipt of the above-named sum of money, I will send you your bill of sale.

If you do not comply with my request, I will sell you to some one else, and you may rest assured that the time is not far distant when things will be changed with you. Write to me as soon as you get these lines. Direct your letter to Bigbyville, Maury County, Tennessee. You had better comply with my request.

I understand that you are a preacher. As the Southern people are so bad, you had better come and preach to your old acquaintances. I would like to know if you read your Bible. If so, can you not tell what will become of the thief if he does not repent? And if the the blind lead the blind, what will the consequence be? I deem it unnecessary to say much more at present. A word to the wise is sufficient. You know where the liar has his part. You that we  reared you as we reared our own children; that you was never abused, and that shortly before you ran away, when your master asked if you would like to be sold, you said you would not leave him to go with anybody.

Sarah Logue.

Jarm Logue, now J.W. Wesley Loguen, subsequently replied:

MRS. SARAH LOGUE:

Yours of the 20th of February is duly received, and I thank you for it. It is a longtime since I heard from my poor old mother, and I am glad to know she is yet alive, and as you say, "as well as common." What that means I don't know. I wish you had said more about her. You are a woman; but had you a woman's heart you could never have insulted a brother by telling him you sold his only remaining brother and sister, because he put himself beyond your power to convert him into money. 

You sold my brother and sister, ABE and ANN, and 12 acres of land, you say, because I run away. Now you have the unutterable meanness to ask me to return and be your miserable chattel, or in lieu thereof send you $1,000 to enable you to redeem the land, but not to redeem my poor brother and sister! If I were to send you money it would be to get my brother and sister, and not that you should get land. You say you are a cripple, and doubtless you say it to stir my pity, for you know I was susceptible in that direction. I do pity you from the bottom of my heart. 

Nevertheless I am indignant beyond the power of words to express, that you should be so sunken and cruel as to tear the hearts I love so much all in pieces; that you should be willing to impale and crucify us out of all compassion for your poor foot or leg. Wretched woman! Be it known to you that I value my freedom, to say nothing of my mother, brothers and sisters, more than your whole body; more, indeed, than my own life; more than all the lives of all the slaveholders and tyrants under Heaven. 

You say you have offers to buy me, and that you shall sell me if I do not send you $1,000, and in the same breath and almost in the same sentence, you say, "you know we raised you as we did our own children." Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping-post? Did you raise them to be drove off in a coffle in chains? Where are my poor bleeding brothers and sisters? Can you tell? 

Who was it that sent them off into sugar and cotton fields, to be kicked, and cuffed, and whipped, and to groan and die; and where no kin can hear their groans, or attend and sympathize at their dying bed, or follow in their funeral? Wretched woman! Do you say you did not do it? Then I reply, your husband did, and you approved the deed--and the very letter you sent me shows that your heart approves it all. Shame on you. 

But, by the way, where is your husband? You don't speak of him. I infer, therefore, that he is dead; that he has gone to his great account, with all his sins against my poor family upon his head. Poor man! gone to meet the spirits of my poor, outraged and murdered people, in a world where Liberty and Justice are MASTERS. 

But you say I am a thief, because I took the old mare along with me. Have you got to learn that I had a better right to the old mare, as you called her, than MANASSETH LOGUE had to me? Is it a greater sin for me to steal his horse, than it was for him to rob my mother's cradle and steal me? If he and you infer that I forfeit all my rights to you, shall not I infer that you forfeit all your rights to me? 

Have you got to learn that human rights are mutual and reciprocal, and if you take my liberty and life, you forfeit me your own liberty and life? Before God and High Heaven, is there a law for one man which is not law for every other man? If you or any other speculator on my body and rights, wish to know how I regard my rights, they need but come here and lay their hands on me to enslave me. 

Did you think to terrify me by, presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to Slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with unutterable scorn and contempt. The proposition is an outrage and an insult. I will not budge one hair's breadth. I will not breath a shorter breath, even to save me from your persecutions. I stand among a free people, who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights, and the rights of mankind; and if your emissaries and venders come here to re-inslave me, and escape the unshrinking vigor of my own right arm, I trust my strong and brave friends, in this City and State, will be my rescuers and avengers. 

Yours, &c., 
J. W. Loguen.

"The unshrinking vigor of my right arm." Lovely. 

One thing worth noting is that this is, among other things, a family dispute. Jarm's "owner" was his uncle. He is addressing his aunt, and she is addressing her nephew. Uppermost among the the American slave society's great crimes is that it wrecked the natural organizational structure of humans--the family. It gave profit motive to destroying and perverting the family, to making war upon the family. And it only ceased this war at gunpoint.

More on war thoughts tomorrow. I would to know if Jarm ever saw his mother again.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2012/10/the-hyperlinked-ballad-of-jarm-logue/263425/