Albert, Octavia V. Rogers
|CHAPTER XV. -- COUNTERFEIT FREE PAPERS.|
The overseer searches Uncle Stephen's cabin and finds his counterfeit free papers--His master about to kill him, but finally determines to sell him--Uncle Stephen's new master--His break for freedom and capture--His sentence to be hanged, and his freedom finally.
"UNCLE STEPHEN, what did you do with the wife your master gave you?"
"Well, we stayed in the same cabin together, not as husband and wife, but as son and mother, she was so much older than I; and I used to write out passes and slip them to her husband that lived on a neighboring plantation, so he could come and see her. But I tell you, child, things got to be so tight that I could not get to see my wife as often as I wanted; so I made up my mind to run away. There was an old free negro that lived near our place; I got him to let me see his free papers. I tell you, child, I took those free papers and copied every word of them. 'Now,' said I, 'I shall run away, and if I am caught I ---
"Ah, Stephen! your master is waiting for
"'There now,' said I, 'I am gone.' As I stepped on the porch of the big house I saw old master sitting in his dining-room with a table before him. On the table were all of my letters, old passes, free papers, newspapers, books, and other papers, and by the side of these old master had a fearful-looking dagger and two army revolvers.
"'Ah,' said he, 'you are the one that gives passes to my niggers and makes free papers for those who run away.' And he swore at me.
"I tried to answer, but he was in such a rage he would hear nothing. I thought he would kill me every minute. Finally he said:
"'Who taught you how to write? I did not know you were educated. Here you are, better educated than any white man around here. An educated nigger is a dangerous thing, and the best place for him is six feet under the ground, buried face foremost. Ah, sir, your end is come, and you will not have use for papers, books, and pens any longer.'
"I tell you, madam, I just made up my mind that my time had come and I would surely die. At last old master quieted a little, and I said:
"Master, I was raised in the house, and Master Jordon's children taught me how to read and write. But, said I, "I never wrote a free paper for anybody in my life. True, I wrote those counterfeit free papers and put the name Sam in it, calling myself by that false name so that I might run away, because I could not get to see my old wife and children that live on Mr. Francois's place, but, master, I declare I never wrote free papers for any body in my life.'
"Of course I had written out the passes for the other slaves, but, although I knew it was a sin, to save myself I had to say that I just wrote the passes for pastime. How that man did not kill me I can't imagine, excepting that God would not let him. So he says to me:
"Your old master, Jordon, is to blame for this crime, and he ought to pay for it. That's the reason he is broke and don't own a dollar to-day; but you can't stay here to spoil all my niggers; you can't stay here another week.'
"I tell you, child, you can't imagine how
"Mr. Valsin, my new master, seemed to be ever so well pleased with me. His store was in a thick settlement about fifteen miles up the Mississippi River above my last master's plantation. I did all the work around the store, and, as I was good at figuring and could read and write, he had me to weigh out things and to wait on many of the customers whenever he needed me. I liked him very well, and I took great interest in his business. Mr. Valsin had a fair-sized plantation in connection with his store, and owned about fifty head of slaves. Generally he was a good man, but when angry he was of a very violent temper. That is where I was living about the time that the late civil war began and when New Orleans fell into the hands of the Union soldiers. But being about twenty miles from where my wife was living, and not being able to see or hear from her for several years, I finally had to give up the hope of ever seeing her again, and so I took up with another woman that lived on our place. About
"Well, Stephen, I suppose you will do likesome of the other niggers, and run away from me.'
"No, indeed,' said I, 'I shall never leave you. Those Yankees are too bad, I hear.'
"That's so, he said; 'you will do much better to stay with me and run off with us to Texas before they get here.'
"Of course I liked Mr. Valsin well enough, but I rather be free than be with him, or be the slave of anybody else. So his word about going to Texas rather sunk deep into me, because I was praying for the Yankees to come up our way just as soon as possible. I dreaded going to Texas, because I feared that I would never get free. The same thought was in the mind of every one of the slaves on our place. So two nights before we were to leave for Texas all the slaves on our place had a secret meeting at midnight, when we decided to leave to meet the Yankees. Sure enough, about one o'clock that night every one of us took through
"But I tell you, child, I was fortunate to find my mother, my wife, and my children. So many who were separated by slavery were never reunited again in this world, and will never meet again until they enter the eternal world."
"That's very true," said I; "but, Uncle Stephen, haven't you heard of that wonderful column in the South-western Christian Advocate called the 'Lost Friends' Column?' By means of an advertisement in that column I have heard of friends and relatives that long had been separated being brought together. Why, I suppose my husband could tell you of several hundreds of such cases. One told me