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  --  NEW EXPERIENCES--HOME IN THE NORTH.   Table of Contents

Veney, Bethany
The Narrative of Bethany Veney, slave woman



For a while after my coming North, I was able to hear occasionally from the old home; but, after the trouble over John Brown, followed as it was by the war for Secession, all communication was at an end.

In the mean time, I made acquaintance among both white and colored people, who were interested in my history and glad to help me.

I had been here only about three months, when my little Joe sickened and died; and this was a great affliction to me.

After this, Mr. Adams removed his family to Worcester, Mass.; and I went with them. From business considerations, his stay there was shortened; and he returned to Providence. I liked the friends I had made in Worcester, and decided to cast in my lot with them. I had joined the Park Street Methodist Church, and was treated with such kind consideration by the brothers and sisters there that I was at home with them; and, as I could find all the work I was able to do, I was very comfortable in many ways.

When at last the war was over, my wish to go back revived.

I had saved some money; and, as soon as it was deemed safe by my friends, I undertook the journey. I purchased my

tickets, taking me to Culpepper Court House, via railroad; and all passed off well. Arriving there, I found the stage would not leave for Luray for four hours. I really did not see how I could wait so long. I, however, went over to the stable, and, seeing a colored man there grooming the horses, I asked him how things were getting on down there. He saw I was a stranger; and, as one in haste to impart good news, he quickly answered: "Oh, all's free here now. De colored peoples has free times 'bout here now, de war's ober." His face and eyes fairly shone with delight. I turned into a store near by, and bought a large watermelon, and asked him to come and eat it with me, by way of celebrating "de free times." As we ate, we saw an old colored man and woman coming along the road; and, when they reached us, I said: "O aunty, you look happy. How are the times going with you?" She repeated: "How's times? Why, de ole man an' me just dun got married las' night, an' we're takin' our weddin' journey." They ate watermelon with us, and we all laughed together over the new times, that made it possible for this woman, whose many children had enriched her master's treasury, lo! these many years, now to realize in any degree the sanctity of a marriage relation and a wedding journey.

I did not wait for the stage to take me on my journey, for I was too eager to reach the end. I engaged a colored boy to take my satchel, to whom I was proud to pay one dollar in advance; and we started on foot for the top of the mountain, over which my course lay. Remaining there over night, I pursued my way on the next day, reaching Luray before night. The country everywhere had been laid waste by the soldiers of both armies; but, as there had been no battle fought in the immediate neighborhood, things were not so

much changed as I had expected. I found my daughter Charlotte grown to womanhood, married, and had one child. My old masters, Kibbler, Prince, and McCoy, expressed pleasure at seeing me, and had many questions to ask of people and things at the North. My dear, kind old mistress, Miss Lucy, had been paralyzed; and her face was drawn on one side, which greatly changed her. She was delighted with a pair of cloth shoes that I carried to her.

After visiting about for six or seven weeks, I turned my face again to the North, my daughter, her husband and child, coming with me.

Three times since I have made the same journey, bringing back with me, from time to time, in all sixteen of my relatives, and have encountered many interesting incidents. I have always found some one--sometimes a policeman, and sometimes a simple woman or boy--ready and willing to help me in every emergency, when I had need. I have great reason to speak well of my fellow-men, and to be most thankful to the overruling Providence that brought me up out of the "house of bondage."

I forget the exact date, but one day I was busy with my work at home, when a message came to me from Mrs. Warner, asking me to come to her. I went at once; and, on being shown into her presence, I found her engaged in conversation with my old master, David McCoy,--he who had taken Jerry away from me, and afterwards had sent me to Richmond to be sold. But all was changed now. He was not even Master McCoy. He was Mr. McKay. He put out his hand, and said, "How d'ye?" not exactly, perhaps, as a reconstructed man, but as one who had at least learned something from the "logic of events" of the difference in our relations to each other. After a friendly interchange of

inquiry, he invited me to call on him at the Waverly House, where he was stopping. Accordingly, the next day I inquired at the Waverly House office for Mr. McKay, of Virginia, and a servant showed me to his room. He welcomed me very cordially this time; and after a long talk, and I arose to come away, I asked him to dine with me the next day. He expressed much satisfaction, and at the appointed hour made his appearance. I prepared such a dinner as I thought he would enjoy, and was glad to find I had not been mistaken in my selections.

On rising to go, he turned to me, and said: "Aunt Betty, when you came down South, you wore a nice pair of kid gloves, with fur round their wrists. Can you tell me where you bought them, and what they cost?" I told him I would gladly go with him and try to find such; but, as Dr. Warner gave mine to me, I did not know their price. So together we looked through the different stores, and at last succeeded in finding a pair that suited him; and I had the pleasure of paying for them, and then presenting them to him, as a remembrance of his visit to the North, as well as of me. I never saw him again, for it was not long after that he died. My old master, David Kibbler, died also. Jerry Kibbler, my good Methodist friend and class-leader, came to Worcester, and spent several days, boarding with my friend, Mrs. Stearns, during the time, because I could not then make him comfortable in my own home. I took him to Providence to see Mr. Adams, who showed him much attention; and he returned home with a very warm appreciation of New England hospitality, as well as of Northern thrift and energy, and regretted that the South had been so long blind to her own interests.


My life in the North, as in the South, has been full of experiences, both sad and joyful.

Sixteen years ago this winter, I was sent for to the dying bed of Mrs. Adams. A twelvemonth is scarcely passed since I was again called to assist in the care of Mr. Adams, as he lingered week after week, only half-conscious of life, and then passed away. His recognition of my poor service gladdens me now, for I can never express the satisfaction it gave me to minister to his wants. For I was a stranger, and he took me in: I had fallen amongst thieves, and he had rescued me.

I have spoken of the kindness of my Methodist brothers and sisters. To tell the half of it would be impossible. One thing, however, I must not omit. It is this: on going to Sterling, last summer, to camp-meeting, I found on the spot where I had been accustomed to pitch my tent a nice wooden building, waiting for my occupation. The surprise was so great to me, I am afraid I did not express the gratitude I really felt; and this is only one of the many ways in which I have tasted the loving-kindness of my friends, and found it, like that of the infinite Father, "oh, how free!"

I am now, at seventy-four years of age, the owner and occupant of a small house at 21 Tufts Street, Worcester, Mass. My daughter and family are near me, in an adjoining house, also owned by me. I have three grandchildren living.

My back is not so straight nor so strong, my sight is not so clear, nor my limbs so nimble as they once were; but I am still ready and glad to do whatsoever my hand findeth to do, waiting only for the call to "come up higher."

Bethany Veney .

Worcester, Mass. , 1889.

Superintendent Of Home For Little Wanderers, Boston, Mass .

Two hundred years of human bondage! From generation to generation the vast system of tyranny, oppressing every faculty of mind and capability of moral nature, transmitting its baneful influence from parent to child, and then, by its injustice, dishonesty, and utter disregard of all the most sacred relationships of life, stifling the earliest instincts and smothering the first breathings of the innate personality which distinguishes the race created in God's image, the wonder of wonders is that there was anything left of the nobility of a true manhood and womanhood in a single member of the oppressed and ravished race at the end of two hundred years. Whatever happened at the Fall of Adam and Eve, the strength of brain and heart that could withstand such treatment and retain in itself the fibre and life of noble aspirations, strength to stand for justice, truth, virtue, and courage of conviction, must have had something left in it both God-like and sublime. Such characters there were all through the South.

Betty Veney was one of them. The story of her life speaks nobly for herself, sublimely for human nature, grandly for her race. Amid dishonesty she was honest, amid injustice she had the soul of honor, amid corruption she was pure, amid persecutions dauntless and patient. I see her industrious, beautiful, heroically suffering life, against the white man's lecherous greed, against slavery's oppression, as a natural development amid rank and noxious weeds fed and watered by the grace of God, as lilies are which lie in virgin purity on the bosom of fetid waters in dank swamps.


We can never undo the past wrong; but wherever a colored hand, worn out with honest labor, which has never been required, is stretched out palm up in the midst of Christian plenty, its silent appeal is more pathetic than any language. It seems to come from the body of the race, to bear in its lines the sad story, not of one person, but of the millions buried and forgotten in their unmarked graves. It would be the simplest act of justice to pension all the remaining slaves. The cotton-fields and rice-swamps of the South would seem then to be yielding the peaceable fruits of righteousness. It would then appear to all mankind that our religion had awakened our seared Christian conscience to the sense of the wrongs done this people.

Dear Aunt Betty! Her race is nearly run. Her sun goes down the sky. How broad the chart from horizon to horizon! Long years of trouble, toil, self-sacrifice, and suffering! May thy sunset be the sun-rising of a cloudless day, where justice shall compensate thee and thine, and thy independent free spirit, equal to the angels', enjoy forever the freedom of the sons of God!Your former pastor and wife, V. A. and Elizabeth Cooper .


For twenty-five years, I have been acquainted with the subject of the foregoing pages. I know her to be a woman of strict integrity of character, good judgment, full of sympathy, and ever ready to do all in her power to relieve the sick and suffering. Born in slavery, and freed from her master by the kindness of a friend, she has yet more whereof to glory in that she has been freed from the bondage of sin, and made an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. If I am ever so happy as to get to heaven, I shall feel myself honored if I can have a seat so near the throne as Betty Veney.Rev. Erastus Spaulding .
Millbury , Feb. 5, 1889.

  --  NEW EXPERIENCES--HOME IN THE NORTH.   Table of Contents