Behind the Scenes
Girlhood and its Sorrows.
I MUST pass rapidly over the stirring events of my early life. When I was about fourteen
years old I went to live with my master's eldest son, a Presbyterian minister. His salary was small,
and he was burdened with a helpless wife, a girl that he had married in the humble walks of life.
She was morbidity sensitive, and imagined that I regarded her with contemptuous feelings because
she was of poor parentage. I was their only servant, and a gracious loan at that. They were not
able to buy me, so my old master sought to
32render them assistance by allowing them the benefit of my services. From the very first I did the
work of three servants, and yet I was scolded and regarded with distrust. The years passed slowly,
and I continued to serve them, and at the same time grew into strong, healthy womanhood. I was
nearly eighteen when we removed from Virginia to Hillsboro', North Carolina, where young Mr.
Burwell took charge of a church. The salary was small, and we still had to practise the closest
economy. Mr. Bingham, a hard, cruel man, the village schoolmaster, was a member of my young
master's church, and he was a frequent visitor to the parsonage. She whom I called mistress
seemed to be desirous to wreak vengeance on me for something, and Bingham became her ready
tool. During this time my master was unusually kind to me; he was naturally a good-hearted man,
but was influenced by his wife. It was Saturday evening, and while I was bending over the bed,
watching the baby
33that I had just hushed into slumber, Mr. Bingham came to the door and asked me to go with him
to his study. Wondering what he meant by his strange request, I followed him, and when we had
entered the study he closed the door, and in his blunt way remarked: "Lizzie, I am going to flog
you." I was thunderstruck, and tried to think if I had been remiss in anything. I could not recollect
of doing anything to deserve punishment, and with surprise exclaimed: "Whip me, Mr. Bingham!
"No matter," he replied, "I am going to whip you, so take down your dress this instant."
Recollect, I was eighteen years of age, was a woman fully developed, and yet this man coolly
bade me take down my dress. I drew myself up proudly, firmly, and said: "No, Mr. Bingham, I
shall not take down my dress before you. Moreover, you shall not whip me unless you prove the
stronger. Nobody has a right to whip me but my own master, and nobody shall do so if I can
My words seemed to exasperate him. He seized a rope, caught me roughly, and tried to tie
me. I resisted with all my strength, but he was the stronger of the two, and after a hard struggle
succeeded in binding my hands and tearing my dress from my back. Then he picked up a rawhide,
and began to ply it freely over my shoulders. With steady hand and practised eye he would raise
the instrument of torture, nerve himself for a blow, and with fearful force the rawhide descended
upon the quivering flesh. It cut the skin, raised great welts, and the warm blood trickled down my
back. Oh God! I can feel the torture now--the terrible, excruciating agony of those
moments. I did not scream; I was too proud to let my tormentor know what I was suffering. I
closed my lips firmly, that not even a groan might escape from them, and I stood like a statue
while the keen lash cut deep into my flesh. As soon as I was released, stunned with pain, bruised
and bleeding, I went home and
35rushed into the presence of the pastor and his wife, wildly exclaiming: "Master Robert, why did
you let Mr. Bingham flog me? What have I done that I should be so punished?"
"Go away," he gruffly answered, "do not bother me."
I would not be put off thus. "What
I done? I
know why I have been
I saw his cheeks flush with anger, but I did not move. He rose to his feet, and on my refusing
to go without an explanation, seized a chair, struck me, and felled me to the floor. I rose,
bewildered, almost dead with pain, crept to my room, dressed my bruised arms and back as best I
could, and then lay down, but not to sleep. No, I could not sleep, for I was suffering mental as
well as bodily torture. My spirit rebelled against the unjustness that had been inflicted upon me,
and though I tried to smother my anger and to forgive those who had been so cruel to me, it was
impossible. The next morning I was more
36calm, and I believe that I could then have for given everything for the sake of one kind word. But
the kind word was not proffered, and it may be possible that I grew somewhat wayward and
sullen. Though I had faults, I know now, as I felt the, harshness was the poorest inducement for
the correction of them. It seems that Mr. Bingham had pledged himself to Mrs. Burwell to subdue
what he called my "stubborn pride." On Friday following the Saturday on which I was so savagely
beaten, Mr. Bingham again directed me to come to his study. I went, but with the determination
to offer resistance should be attempt to flow me again. On entering the room I found him
prepared with a new rope and a new cowhide. I told him that I was ready to die, but that he could
not conquer me. In struggling with him I bit his finger severely, when he seized a heavy stick and
beat me with it in a shameful manner. Again I went home sore and bleeding, but with pride as
37strong and defiant as ever. The following Thursday Mr. Bingham again tried to conquer me, but
in vain. We struggled, and he struck me many savage blows. As I stood bleeding before him,
nearly exhausted with his efforts, he burst into tears, and declared that it would be a sin to beat
me any more. My suffering at last subdued his hard heart; he asked my forgiveness, and
afterwards was an altered man. He was never known to strike one of his servants from that day
forward. Mr. Burwell, he who preached the love of Heaven, who glorified the precepts and
examples of Christ, who expounded the holy scriptures Sabbath after Sabbath from the pulpit,
when Mr. Bingham refused to whip me any more, was urged by his wife to punish me himself.
One morning he went to the wood-pile, took an oak broom, out the handle off, and with this
heavy handle attempted to conquer me. I fought him, but he proved the strongest. At the sight of
my bleeding or, his wife fell
38upon her knees and begged him to desist. My distress even touched her cold, jealous heart. I was
so badly bruised that I was unable to leave my bed for five days. I will not dwell upon the bitter
anguish of these hours, for even the thought of them now makes me shudder. The Rev. Mr.
Burwell was not yet satisfied. He resolved to make another attempt to subdue my proud,
rebellious spirit--made the attempt and again failed, when he told me, with an air of
penitence, that he should never strike me another blow; and faithfully he kept his word. These
revolting scenes created a great sensation at the time, were the talk of the town and
neighborhood, and I flatter myself that the actions of those who had conspired against me were
not viewed in a light to reflect much credit upon them.
The savage efforts to subdue my pride were not the only things that brought me suffering and
deep mortification during my residence at Hillsboro'. I was regarded as fair-looking for
39one of my race, and for four years a white man -- I spare the world his name -- had
base designs upon me. I do not care to dwell upon this subject, for it is one that is fraught with
pain. Suffice it to say, that he persecuted me for four years, and I--I--became a
mother. The child of which he was the father was the only child that I ever brought into the world.
If my poor boy ever suffered any humiliating pangs on account of birth, he could not blame his
mother, for God knows that she did not wish to give him life; he must blame the edicts of that
society which deemed it no crime to undermine the virtue of girls in my then position.
Among the old letters preserved by my mother I find the following, written by myself while at
Hillsboro'. In this connection I desire to state that Rev. Robert Burwell is now living
(*) March, 1868
at Charlotte, North Carolina--
', April 10, 1838.
"My Dear Mother
-- I have been intending
to write to you for a long time, but numerous things have prevented, and for that reason you
must excuse me.
"I thought very hard of you for not writing to me, but hope that you will answer this letter as
soon as you receive it, and tell me how you like Mansfield, and if you have seen any of my old
acquaintances, or if you yet know any of the brick-house people who I think so much of. I want
to hear of the family at home very much, Indeed. I really believe you and all the family have
forgotten me, if not I certainly should have heard from some of you since you left Boyton, if it
was only a line; nevertheless I love you all very dearly, and shall, although I may never see you
again, nor do I ever expect to. Miss Anna is going to Petersburgh next winter, but she says that
she does not intend to take me; what reason she has for leaving me I cannot tell. I have often
wished that I lived where I knew I never could see you, for then I
41would not have my hopes raised, and to be disappointed in this manner; however, it is said that a
bad beginning makes a good ending, but I hardly expect to see that happy day at this place. Give
my love to all the family, both white and black. I was very much obliged to you for the presents
you sent me last summer, though it is quite late in the day to be thanking for them. Tell Aunt Bella
that I was very much obliged to her for her present; I have been so particular with it that I have
only worn it once.
"There have been six weddings since October; the most respectable one was about a fortnight
ago; I was asked to be the first attendant, but, as usual with all my expectations, I was
disappointed, for on the wedding-day I felt more like being locked up in a three-cornered box than
attending a wedding. About a week before Christmas I was bridesmaid for Ann Nash; when the
night came I was in quite a trouble;