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Veney, Bethany
The Narrative of Bethany Veney, slave woman



Several months passed, and I became a mother.

My dear white lady, in your pleasant home made joyous by the tender love of husband and children all your own, you can never understand the slave mother's emotions as she clasps her new-born child, and knows that a master's word can at any moment take it from her embrace; and when, as was mine, that child is a girl, and from her own experience she sees its almost certain doom is to minister to the unbridled lust of the slave-owner, and feels that the law holds over her no protecting arm, it is not strange that, rude and uncultured as I was, I felt all this, and would have been glad if we could have died together there and then.

Master Kibbler was still hard and cruel, and I was in constant trouble. Miss Lucy was kind as ever, and it grieved her to see me unhappy. At last, she told me that perhaps, if I should have some other home and some other master, I should not be so wretched, and, if I chose, I might look about and see what I could do. I soon heard that John Prince, at Luray, was wanting to buy a woman. Miss Lucy told me, if it was agreeable to me, I might go to him and work for a fortnight, and if at the end of that time he wanted me, and I chose to stay, she would arrange terms with him; but, if I did not want to stay, not to believe anything that any one might tell me, but come back at once to her.


At the end of two weeks, Master John said he was going over to have a talk with Miss Lucy; and did I think, if he should conclude to buy me, that I should steal from him? I answered that, if I worked for him, I ought to expect him to give me enough to eat, and then I should have no need to steal. "You wouldn't want me to go over yonder, into the garden of another man, and steal his chickens, when I am working for you, would you, Master John? I expect, of course, you will give me enough to eat and to wear, and then I shall have no reason to steal from anybody." He seemed satisfied and pleased, and bargained with Miss Lucy, both for me and my little girl. Both master and Mrs. Prince were kind and pleasant to me, and my little Charlotte played with the little Princes, and had a good time. I worked very hard, but I was strong and well, and willing to work; and for several years there was little to interrupt this state of things.

At last, I can't say how long, I was told that John O'Neile, the jailer, had brought me; and he soon took me to his home, which was in one part of the jail. He, however, was not the real purchaser. This was David McCoy, the same who had grabbed Jerry on that fatal morning; and he had bought me with the idea of taking me to Richmond, thinking he could make a speculation on me. I was well known in all the parts around as a faithful, hard-working woman, when well treated, but ugly and wilful, if abused beyond a certain point. McCoy had bought me away from my child; and now, he thought, he could sell me, if carried to Richmond, at a good advantage. I did not think so; and I determined, if possible, to disappoint him.

The night after being taken in charge by John O'Neile, as soon as I was sure everybody was asleep, I got up and

crawled out of the house, and went to my old Methodist friend, Jerry Kibbler. I knew the way into his back door; and, though I presumed he would be asleep, I was sure he would willingly get up and hear what I had to say. I was not mistaken. He heard my voice inquiring for him, and in a very few minutes dressed himself, and came out, and in his pleasant, kind manner said: "Aunt Betty, what is the matter? What can I do for you?" I told him McCoy had bought me, away from my child, and was going to send me to Richmond. I couldn't go there. Wouldn't he buy me? I saw he felt very badly; but what , he said, could he do with me? He didn't believe in buying slaves,--and, finally, he hadn't "money enough to do it." I begged so hard that he said he would see what he could do, and I went back to the jail. Mrs. O'Neile had discovered my absence, and was on the watch for me. The next day, she told me I was to start for Richmond the day after, and it was no use for me to make a fuss, so I might as well bring my mind to it first as last.

The day was almost gone, and I had had no word from Mr. Jerry. As it was growing dark, I saw a colored man whom I knew, and I managed to make him see, through the jail windows, that I wanted to speak with him. I induced him to find Master Jerry; but he came back with word from him that he had seen both O'Neile and McCoy, and could make no kind of an arrangement with them. He had not come to me, because he felt so sorry for me, and had waited, in the hope that some one else would tell me. So there seemed nothing else before me; and when, on the next morning, Mrs. O'Neile told me to make myself ready for the journey, I tried to be submissive, and dressed myself in a new calico dress that Miss Lucy had given me long before.


I had never in my life felt so sad and so completely forsaken. I thought my heart was really breaking. Mr. O'Neile called me; and, as I passed out of the door, I heard Jackoline, the jailer's daughter, singing in a loud, clear voice,--

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."

I can never forget the impression these words and the music and the tones of Jackoline's voice made upon me. It seemed to me as if they all came directly out of heaven. It was my Saviour speaking directly to me. Was not I passing the deep waters? What rivers of woe could be sorer than these through which I was passing? Would not this righteous, omnipotent hand uphold me and help me? Yes, here was His word for it. I would trust it; and I was comforted.

We mounted the stage, and were off for Charlotteville, where we stopped over night, and took the cars next morning for Richmond.

Arrived in Richmond, we were again shut up in jail, all around which was a very high fence, so high that no communication with the outside world was possible. I say we, for there was a young slave girl whom McCoy had taken with me to the Richmond market. The next day, as the hour for the auction drew near, Jailer O'Neile came to us, with a man, whom he told to take us along to the dressmaker and to charge her to "fix us up fine." This dressmaker was a most disagreeable woman, whose business it was to array such poor creatures as we in the gaudiest and most striking attire conceivable, that, when placed upon the auction stand, we should attract the attention of all present, if not in one

way, why, in another. She put a white muslin apron on me, and a large cape, with great pink bows on each shoulder, and a similar rig also on Eliza. Thus equipped, we were led through a crowd of rude men and boys to the place of sale, which was a large open space on a prominent square, under cover.

I had been told by an old negro woman certain tricks that I could resort to, when placed upon the stand, that would be likely to hinder my sale; and when the doctor, who was employed to examine the slaves on such occasions, told me to let him see my tongue, he found it coated and feverish, and, turning from me with a shiver of disgust, said he was obliged to admit that at that moment I was in a very bilious condition. One after another of the crowd felt of my limbs, asked me all manner of questions, to which I replied in the ugliest manner I dared; and when the auctioneer raised his hammer, and cried, "How much do I hear for this woman?" The bids were so low I was ordered down from the stand, and Eliza was called up in my place. Poor thing! there were many eager bids for her; for, for such as she, the demands of slavery were insatiable.