Albert, Octavia V. Rogers
|CHAPTER XVI. -- UNCLE CEPHAS'S STORY.|
Lizzie Beaufort would rather die than live a wicked life--Her brother Cato runs away, hides in the swamps, and finally makes his way to freedom by the aid of the Under ground Railroad--Cato becomes a soldier, senator, and congressman--How Uncle Cephas learned to read, bought himself, and became a rich and honored citizen.
MY interest in, and conversations with, Aunt Charlotte, Aunt Sallie, Uncle John "Goodwin, Uncle Stephen, and the other characters represented in this story led me to interview many other people that could give me any additional facts and incidents about the colored people, in freedom as well as in slavery.
Uncle Cephas, who used to live in Tennessee before the war, and who came to Louisiana at the close of the late war of the rebellion, told me many things which I am sure would interest any one. He told me a very pathetic story of a colored girl, eighteen years old, whose master had bought her in South Carolina and brought her to Tennessee. Her name was
When he saw that he could not persuade her by any means he determined to sell her. She was sold to a negro trader, who brought her out to Mississippi.
Uncle Cephas told me also the story of Lizzie's brother, Cato, who made his way from the rice-fields of South Carolina to Canada about ten years before the war.
Uncle Cephas got the facts from Lizzie's own lips.
He said: "Lizzie told me all about it herself. Cato ran away and was gone over two months before they knew what had become of him. It took him all that time dodging in the swamps until he could make his way through the free States into Canada. But after he got to Canada he wrote back to a friendly white man that lived in the neighborhood, who told Lizzie and her mother all about it. The white man was from the North, and was very friendly to us colored people, but he had to be mighty careful about showing it, because all the white people suspicioned him, because they said he was a Northern man. He was the one that helped Cato to make his escape. It was good that he was not-found out, for they certainly would have killed him. He bargained with a ship-master to take Cato from Charleston to Boston. Cato was packed in a box and shipped for a box of cabbage. He was packed in the box with cabbage-leaves all around him, to make the box appear as a box of cabbage sure enough. The white man was an agent of what was then known as the Underground
"The Lord was with Cato, however, and he reached Canada in safety. He fell in among good people there, and was soon doing well. He soon got a good education and plenty of property. When the war broke out he came back to Boston, joined the Union army, and came South and fought in some of the hardest battles of the war. A cousin of mine, who used to know Lizzie in Tennessee, met her near Vicksburg two years ago, and she told him that Cato was then living there, and was one of the greatest leaders of his race in Mississippi. He had been sheriff of his county, had been a senator, and had served his State in Congress and in several other stations of honor and trust."
"But," said I, "Uncle Cephas, you speak very properly for one that was a slave. You must have got an education notwithstanding
"Ah, my child," said he, "my life has been an eventful one. It is true that slaves were not permitted to learn how to read; but I was determined to learn if it was any way possible to do so. You see I was not born free, but my master and his wife died when I was only five years old. They were old people, and had no children; so they left me and all my relatives free in their will. Notwithstanding that, however, the will was contested in court and found defective, and we were all sold to satisfy claims against the estate. Mother was sold to a man that lived in Alabama, brother Jerry to one that lived in North Carolina, and sister Rachel to a negro trader that sold her to a family in Florida. I was sold to Judge S--in Tennessee. He was one of the most heartless men that ever lived. I can't begin to tell you of his meanness. I suppose if I had lived with him till the emancipation I would never have amounted to anything, but, as the Lord would have it, he got broke by his senseless extravagance and was sold out at sheriff sale, and in that sale I was bought by Parson Winslow,
"Why, madam, that word went through me like lightning. I had saved some money for that very purpose, but never dared propose the matter to the parson. (We never called him anything but parson. He wouldn't let us call him any thing else.) So as soon as he made the proposition I gladly accepted the offer.
"But,' said I, 'parson, I'll never be able to pay you for myself, my wife, and my children. How can I?' 'Well,' said he, 'pay me twenty-five
"All the years I was at the parson's I was never without a book or paper about me. His children used to teach me on the sly when they came to see Dinah. Dinah was the cook, and a mighty good one she was too. After I was free I just made good for lost time and learned all I could, so that when the war came on I was a pretty good scholar. I was not satisfied to see myself free and make no efforts to help others of my race. Having such a good trade and a plenty of work I made plenty of money and saved it. Dinah, too, was a very smart woman. So by her help and the help of our two boys we could always lay our hands on several hundred dollars in hard cash.
With that I bought poor slaves, I can scarcely tell you how many. I would buy them and then give them time to pay me. When they worked and paid me what I paid for them I would give them their free papers. Let's see, I did that for Jim Sanders, who was a very smart man, and who after the war became Secretary of State in his adopted State; for Frank Shorter, who became a member of Congress, and a number of others. These, however, were exceptionally brilliant men, and lost no time in pushing themselves right to the front. Jim, I believe, is still a senator, and has been in one branch or another of the Legislature of his State for the last twenty years. Of course I can't help from calling them Jim and Frank, I know them so well. Jim lives in Louisiana, and Frank lives in South Carolina. In fact, every one I helped in that way proved to be of the best metal. Nearly all of them were active in the reconstruction of their States, were in the constitutional conventions, the legislatures, etc.; and but for the suppression of negro majorities in the South I suppose many of them would still be felt as great political agencies in this country. Several of
It would have done you good to have heard