From My Life in the South by Jacob Stroyer


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THE RUNAWAY SLAVES IN THE HOUSE. Instead of going into the woods, sometimes runaway slaves lived right around the 35 overseer's and master's houses for months. A slave, named Isom ran away from Thomas Clarkson, his master's son, who was the overseer. Mr. Clarkson was satisfied, as he said, that the unaccustomed runaway, whom he thought was in the woods could not stay from home long, but finding that he stayed longer than expected, Mr. Clarkson hired a slave hunter with his dogs to hunt him.

The hunter came early to the plantation and took breakfast with Mr. Clarkson on the day they began the hunt for the 40 runaway slave. While sitting at breakfast, Mr. Clarkson said to the hunter, "My father brought up that boy as a house servant, and petted him so that it takes all the salt in the country to cure him. Father has too much religion to keep his negroes straight; but I don't believe in that. I think a negro ought to be overhauled every little while to keep him in his place, and that is just the reason why I took the overseership on this plantation."

The Hunter. "Well, what caused your boy to run away, Mr. Clarkson?"

45 Mr. Clarkson. "Well, he ran away because I gave him an overhauling, to keep him in the place of a negro."

Mr. Clarkson's wife. "Well, Thomas, I told you the other day, before you did it, that I didn't see any need of your whipping Isom, because I thought he was a good boy."

Mr. Clarkson. "Yes, my dear, if South Carolina had many more such Presbyterians as you and father Boston (he meant old Mr. Clarkson), in a short time there would be no slaves in the state; then who would you have to work for you?"

50 (I wish to state a fact to my readers, that is, while there were cases of exceptions, as a general thing the Presbyterians were better masters than any other denominations among the slave holders in the South.)

Mrs. Clarkson. "Yes, Thomas, if you were such a Presbyterian as you charged father Boston and I with being, you could have saved yourself the trouble and money which it will cost to hunt him."

Mr. Clarkson. "Well, we will not discuss the matter of religion any further." (To the hunter.) "That boy has been away now 55 for several days since I whipped him. I thought that he would have returned home long before this time, as this is the first time he has ever ran away; but I rather conclude that he got with some experienced runaways. Now do you think that you can capture him without being hurt, or torn by your dogs."

Mrs. Clarkson. "That is just what I am afraid will be done to that boy."

The Hunter. "O, no fear of that, madam, I shall use care in hunting him. I have but one dog which is dangerous for tearing 60 runaway negroes; I will chain him here until I capture your boy."

The hunter blew his horn which gathered his dogs, chained the one he spoke of, then he and Mr. Clarkson started on a chase for the runaway slave, who was secreted in the house, and heard every word they had said about him.

After the hunter and Mr. Clarkson went off, Mrs. Clarkson went to her room (as a general thing the southern mistresses hardly ever knew what went on in their dining rooms and kitchens after meal hours), so Isom, the runaway slave, sat at the 65 same table [at which the hunter and Mr. Clarkson had just been sitting] and ate his breakfast.

After two or three days of vain search in the woods for the runaway slave, Mr. Clarkson asked some of the other negroes on the plantation, if they saw him, to tell him if he came home he would not whip him. Of course as a general thing, when they stayed in the woods until they were captured, they were whipped, but they were not when they came home themselves. One morning, after several days of fruitless search in the woods for the runaway slave by the overseer and the hunter, 70 while at breakfast, Isom came up to the door. As soon as Mr. Clarkson learned that the runaway was at the door, he got up from his breakfast and went out.

"Well, Isom," said Mr. Clarkson. "Well, Massa Thomas," said Isom. "Where have you been" said Mr. Clarkson. "I been in the woods, sir," answered Isom. Of course it would not have been well for him to have told Mr. Clarkson that he was hidden and fed right in the house, for it would have made it bad for the other negroes who were house servants, among whom he 75 had a brother and sister.

Mr. Clarkson. "Isom, did you get with some other runaways?" "Yes, sir," said Isom. Of course Isom's answer was in keeping with the belief of Mr. Clarkson that he got with some experienced runaway in the woods. "How many were with you?" asked Mr. Clarkson. "Two," answered Isom. "What are their names, and to whom do they belong?" asked Mr. Clarkson. "I don't know, sir," said Isom. "Didn't you ask their names?" said Mr. Clarkson. "No, sir," said Isom. "Can you describe them?" 80 asked Mr. Clarkson. "One is big like you, and the other was little like the man who was hunting me," said Isom. "Where did you see the hunter?" asked Mr. Clarkson. "In the woods, sir," said Isom. "Isom, do you want something to eat?" asked Mr. Clarkson. "Yes, sir," said Isom. He sent him around to the kitchen and told the cook to give him something to eat.

Mrs. Clarkson thought a great deal of Isom, so while he was in the kitchen eating, she went in and had a long talk with him about how he got along since he had been away, as they supposed.

85  As I have said, in general, when runaway slaves came home themselves, they were not whipped, but were either handcuffed or put in stocks, and locked up for two or three days.

While Isom was eating and talking with Mrs. Clarkson, Mr. Clarkson appeared at the kitchen door with a pistol in one hand and handcuffs in the other. Mrs. Clarkson said, "What are you going to do, Thomas?" "I want Isom as soon as he is through eating," said Mr. Clarkson. "You are not going to lock him up, are you Thomas?" said Mrs. Clarkson. Mrs. Clarkson's name 90 was Henrietta, but her pet name was Henie. Mr. Clarkson said, "Henie, I shan't hurt Isom."

Isom had a smooth, black, round face, full eyes, white teeth, and was a very beautiful negro. When he saw the pistol and handcuffs in Mr. Clarkson's hands, those large eyes of his were stretched so wide, one could see the white, like great sheets in them.

Mrs. Clarkson said, "Thomas, please don't lock up Isom; he won't run away again. You won't, will you Isom?" "No, mamma 95 massie Henie, I won't, said Isom. "Yes, Henie," said Mr. Clarkson, "he says so, but will he not?" "Thomas," said Mrs. Clarkson, "I will take the responsibility if you do as I ask you to; I will keep Isom around the house and will assure you that he will not run away."

Mr. Clarkson wanted to lock up Isom very much, but he knew what a strong will his wife had, and how hard it would be to get her right when she got wrong, hence he complied with her request. So Isom worked around the house for a long time. 100 The hunter was to rest a few days, and then resume his work, but Mr. Clarkson wrote to him that his services would be no longer needed, as the runaway slave whom he was employed to hunt had returned himself. I never learned whether the hunter got paid for what he did or not.

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