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  --  UNCLE STEPHEN JORDON.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XVI.

Albert, Octavia V. Rogers
The House of Bondage



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 ---

shall show these counterfeit free papers and get off all right.' Sure enough, I took those papers and stowed them away in a secret place in my cabin, together with my mother's picture and my own picture, which was taken when we belonged to Mr. Jordon, my first old master, together with some old passes, books, and papers. But one day, I don't know why, he suspected me. One of our slaves ran away, and the overseer was hunting for him. The overseer hunted every-where for him. While hunting for that runaway he went and searched my cabin; finally he found my papers. When I found out that the overseer had found my papers and turned them over to my master I just made up my mind that I certainly would be killed. I tell you, child, the very thought makes my blood chill even now. It seemed like the news had gone out like wild-fire through the quarters that passes, free papers, and books had been found in 'poor Stephen's house,' and that old master was going to kill him. I had no sooner reached the big gate where I had gone to put up my mules in the stable than I heard the overseer cry out:

"Ah, Stephen! your master is waiting for

you at the big house; never mind about your mules, but go right out to the house, where he will make an eternal settlement with you.'

"'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

glad I was to get off so easy. I remained on that place only two days after that, and then a Mr. Valsin, that kept a big store, bought me to work in his store.

"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

the time that General Butler captured New Orleans slaves were running into the Union line from all around our neighborhood. So one day Mr. Valsin says to me,

"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

the woods to make for the Union line. The moon was shining like day. After we had traveled till about four o'clock in the morning, the way through the woods being rather rough, we took the public road next to the river. We suddenly came where the levee made a short and sudden bend. The water in the river was up to the bank, and on the other side was a very high fence. In that yard were several bad dogs. While here, all at once before us we heard about a dozen men on horseback. They came right on us, and cried out,'Halt! halt!' Several jumped the fence and made for the woods, while the dogs almost devoured them; but twenty-five of us were captured by this band. We hoped that they were advanced guards of Union soldiers, but instead of that they proved to be 'Cadien patrollers watching out for runaways. I tell you, child, we were in a bad fix. We were all handcuffed, two by two, and a chain was passed between us linking all the handcuffs, and we were marched back to our master. Mr. Valsin was so mad he wanted to kill us all. He then charged me with planning for all who had previously run away. Some mercy was to be shown to the
others, but I was the educated one; I was the one that had planned all this devilment, as he called it, and I was to be killed as an example for all the rest. For this I was sent away out to New Iberia, where I was placed in jail preparatory to my execution. Then the Yankees were coming so fast they decided to send me to Opelousas jail, where I was finally to suffer death for conspiring and assisting slaves to escape. While in this jail I waited every day for the time when I was to be hung until I was pronounced dead. The scaffold was built just outside the jail, and next day at twelve o'clock. I was to die on that scaffold. But that very night, by some means or other that I've never been fully able to understand, I was bought by a man that lived in Texas. He, with the jailer, woke me up and took me out, and I was that very night shipped off to Texas, where I remained until the war was over and peace was declared. My Texas master, Mr. Maxwell, treated me very kindly, and when the war was over he told me that I was my own free man, and could go or stay just as I thought best. As he was a very clever kind of a man I contracted with him and worked
for him one year, after which I returned to the city of New Orleans, where I was reunited to my mother and my present wife, whom I married at Mr. Valsin's. My other wife had married, as I had also done during the long years of our enforced and hopeless separation. The children I had with her are now grown and have entered upon the active duties of life. Since that I have accumulated property and have done some good, I hope, in the world, and am now enjoying a happy and contented old age.

"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

the other day of her relatives whom she had left in West Virginia years before the war; another of her relatives in South Carolina, whom they had found by advertising in that column. So I have heard of others, whose relatives had been left in Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and, in fact, in every Southern and other States, that thus have been restored to each other. I tell you, these reunions must be seasons of great joy. I don't suppose there's any thing like it except the glorious reunion in our Father's house when life and its cares are all over!"

  --  UNCLE STEPHEN JORDON.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XVI.