"Give me liberty or give me death!"
Capt. Price who became the last purchaser of William, was the owner of several steamers, and a partner in a firm in St. Louis, engaged in the business of purchasing and shipping produce to the Southern States. The young slave had been with the Prices scarcely three months, when the family resolved upon a visit to New Orleans, and it was settled that William should accompany them, as a servant. In due time, Capt. Price, with his wife and daughter, attended by their new chattel, set out on their journey, in one of the Captain's boats, the steamer "Chester." The boat, instead of returning to St. Louis, took in a cargo at New Orleans, for a Cincinnati, and the Captain and his family concluded to extend their visit to the latter place. It was the middle of December when the boat left New Orleans, with a large number of passengers and a heavy load of freight. The Prices had some fears about bringing the slave to the frontiers of the free States, and Mrs. Price sounded William, to see if he had any thoughts about freedom. As a matter of course, the young slave expressed a wish to return to St. Louis as soon as possible, and seemed to dislike the idea of going to a free State. Well pleased with his seeming indifference about liberty, and not being able
In due time, the boat arrived at the place of her destination, landed her passengers, and discharged her cargo. Twenty years ago, there was little or no anti-slavery feeling in the southern part of the State of Ohio. Few persons thought it wrong to catch a runaway slave and return him to his master, and a fugitive ran as much risk in attempting to escape through the Buckeye State, at that time, as he would in the adjoining State of Kentucky. William, however, had resolved to make the attempt, without any regard to consequences. In his published narrative he says:--"During the last night that I served in slavery, I did not close my eyes a single moment in sleep. When not thinking of the future, my mind dwelt on the past. The thought of a dear mother, and an affectionate sister and three brothers, yet living under the dominion of whips and scourges, caused me to shed many tears. If I could have been assured that they were dead, I should have felt satisfied. But I imagined I saw my mother in the cotton field, followed by the merciless task master. I thought of the probability of my sister and brothers being in the hands of negro-drivers or speculators, subjected to all the cruelties that the hateful institution allows them to inflict; and these thoughts made me feel very sad indeed."
At last the trying moment came. It was the first day of January, 1834, when, without a shilling in his pocket, and no friend to advise him, William quitted his master's boat, and, taking the North Star for his
'Behind I left the whips and chains,
Before me were sweet Freedom's plains.
While on my journey at night, and passing farms, I would seek a corn-crib, and supply myself with some of its contents. The next day, while buried in the forest, I would make a fire and roast my corn, and drink from the nearest stream. One night, while in search of corn, I came upon what I supposed to be a hill of potatoes, buried in the ground for want of a cellar. I obtained a sharp-pointed piece of wood, with which I dug away for more than an hour, and on gaining the hidden treasure, found it to be turnips. However, I did not dig for nothing. After supplying myself with about half-a-dozen of the turnips, I again a resumed my journey. This uncooked food was indeed a great luxury, and gave strength to my fatigued limbs. The weather was very cold,--so cold, that it drove me one night into a barn, where I laid in the hay until morning. A storm overtook me when about a week out. The rain fell in torrents, and froze as it came down. My clothes became stiff with ice. Here
"I'll be free! I'll be free! and none shall confine
With fetters and chains, this free spirit of mind;
From my youth have I vowed in my God to rely,
And, despite the oppressor, gain freedom or die!
Dreary were the hours that I spent while escaping from America's greatest evil."