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    CHAPTER XII.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XIV.

Brown, Josephine
Biography of an American Bondman



"Where'er a single human breast,
Is crushed by pain and grief,
There I would ever be a guest,
And sweetly give relief."

The kind and benevolent Quakers would gladly have given their fugitive guest a home during the remainder of the cold weather, but they were afraid of his being sought after and traced to their house by the man-hunters. After being supplied with clothes and some food, Mr. Brown again started on his journey towards Canada. Although assured by his friends that he could travel with a degree of safety in the day, the fugitive felt that the night was the best time for him, and therefore hid in the woods during the day, and journeyed when others were asleep. Soon after, he arrived at Cleveland, on the banks of Lake Erie. The mind can scarcely picture one in a more forlorn condition than was William Wells Brown on reaching Cleveland. Besides having had nothing to eat for the forty-eight preceding hours, and travelling through the woods and marshes, and over the frozen roads, he had worn out his shoes and clothes, so that he made a sad appearance. The lake was partly frozen, so that vessels did not run, and all hope of crossing to Canada was at an end. Wearied by his long journey on foot, Mr. Brown did not feel himself able to go on by the

way of Buffalo or Detroit, and he at once resolved to hunt up quarters, and remain in Cleveland until the opening of navigation on the lakes. With this determination, he visited every dwelling, until he found a man who offered to keep him if he would work for his board. Here he sawed wood, and performed all the labor required of him, for a shelter from the inclemency of the winter weather.

While working at this place, the fugitive found an opportunity to saw a cord of wood for another family, for which he received the sum of twenty-five cents. With one half of this money, he purchased a spelling book, and with the other he bought candy, with which he hired his employer's little boys to teach him to read.

Some weeks after, Mr. Brown obtained a situation at the Mansion House, kept by Mr. E.M. Segar. But on all occasions, he held on to his spelling-book, keeping it in his bosom, so that it might be handy. In this manner was the foundation laid for an education which has enabled him to be of use to his race.

While at Cleveland, Mr. Brown saw, for the first time, an anti-slavery paper. It was the Genius of Universal Emancipation, edited by Benjamin Lundy.

Instead of going to Canada, on the opening of navigation in the spring, he got a situation on board the steamer "Detroit" Here he worked during the season of 1834. But the fugitive was destined to undergo more hardships, for at the close of navigation, the captain ran away with the money, and Mr. Brown, with others, had to go without his pay. Added to this, he

had married during the autumn, and had taken upon himself the duties and responsibilities of a husband.

Thus defrauded of the avails of his nine months' labor, the fugitive went in search of employment for the winter. The following extract from an article written by Mr. Brown will give some idea of the success he met with: -- "In the autumn of 1834, having been cheated out of the previous summer's earnings by the captain of the steamer in which I had been employed running away with the money, I was, like the rest of the men, left without any means of support during the winter, and therefore had to seek employment in the neighboring towns. I went to the town of Monroe, in the State of Michigan, and while going through the streets, looking for work, I passed the door of the only barber in the town, whose shop appeared to be filled with persons waiting to be shaved. As there was but one man at work, and as I had, while employed on the steamer, occasionally shaved a gentleman, who could not perform that office himself, it occurred to me that I might get employment here as a journeyman barber. I therefore made immediate application for work, but the barber told me he did not need a hand. However, I was not to be put off so easily, and after making several offers to work cheap, I frankly told him that if he would not employ me, I would get a room near to him, and set up an opposition establishment. This threat made no impression on the barber, and as I was leaving, one of the men who were waiting to be shaved said, `If you want a room in which to commence business, I have one on the opposite side of

the street.' This man followed me out, we went over, and I looked at the room. He strongly urged me to set up, at the same time promising to give me his influence. I took the room, purchased an old table and two chairs, got a pole with a red stripe painted around it, and the next day opened, with a sign over the door, -- 'Fashionable Hair-Dresser from New York -- Emperor of the West.' I need not add that my enterprise was very annoying to the 'shop over the way;' especially my sign, which happened to be the most extensive part of the concern. Of course, I had to tell all who came in that my neighbor on the opposite side did not keep clean towels, that his razors were dull, and, above all, that he had never been to New York to see the fashions. Neither had I! In a few weeks, I had the entire business of the town, to the great discomfiuture of the other barber.

"At this time, money matters in the Western States were in a sad condition. Any person who could raise a small amount of money was permitted to establish a bank, and allowed to issue notes for four times the sum raised. This being the case, many persons borrowed money merely long enough to exhibit to the Bank Inspectors, then the borrowed money was returned, and the bank left without a dollar in its vaults, if, indeed, it had a vault about its premises. The result was, that banks were started all over the Western States, and the country flooded with worthless paper. These were known as `wild-cat banks.' Silver coin being very scarce, and the banks not being allowed to issued notes for a smaller amount than one dollar, several

persons put out notes from six to seventy-five cents in value. These were called `ship-plasters.' The `shin-plaster' was in the shape of a promissory notes, made payable on demand. I have often seen persons with a large rolls of these bills, the whole not amounting to more than five dollars. Some weeks after I have commenced business on my `own hook,' I was one evening very much crowded with visitors, and while they were talking over the events of the day, one of them said to me, -- `Emperor, you seem to be doing a thriving business; you should do as other men of business, issue your shin-plasters.' This, of course, as it was intended, created a laugh; but with me it was no laughing matter, for from that moment, I began to think seriously of becoming a banker. I accordingly went, a few days, after, to a printer, and he, wishing to get a job of printing, urged me to put out my notes, and showed me some specimens of engravings that he had just received from Detroit. My head being already filled with the idea of a bank, I needed but little persuasion to set the thing finally afloat. Before I left the printer, my notes were partly in type, and I studying how I should keep the public from counterfeiting them.

"The next day, my `shin-plasters' were handed to me, the whole amount being, twenty dollars and, after being duly signed, were ready for circulation. At first, my notes did not take well; they were too new, and viewed with a suspicious eye. But, through the assistance of my customers, and a good deal of exertion on my own part, my bills were soon in circulation;

and nearly all the money received in return for them was spent in fitting up and decorating my shop. Few bankers get through this world without their difficulties, and I was not to be an exception. A short time after my money had been out, a party of young men, either wishing to pull down my vanity, or to try the soundness of my bank, determined to gives it `a run.' After collecting together a number of my bills, they came, one at a time, to demand other money for them; and I, not being aware of what was going on, was taken by surprise. As I was sitting at my table, strapping some new razors I had just got with the avails of my `shin-plasters,' one of the men entered and said, Emperor, you will oblige me if you will give me some other money for these notes of yours.' I immediately cashed the notes with some of the most worthless of the 'wild-cat' money that I had on hand, but which was a lawful tender. The young man had scarcely left when a second appeared, with a similar amount, and demanded payment. These were paid, and soon a third came, with his roll of notes. I paid these with an air of triumph, though I had but half a dollar left. I now began to think seriously what I should do, or how I should act, provided another demand should be made. While I was thus engaged in thought, I saw a fourth man crossing the street, with a handful of notes, evidently my `shin-plasters.' I instantaneously shut the door, and, looking out of the window, said, I have closed business for the day; come to-morrow and I will see you.' On looking across the street, I saw my rival standing in his shop door, grinning
and clapping his hands at my apparent downfall. I was completely `done Brown ' for the day. However, I was not to be `used up' in this way; so I escaped by then back door, and went in search of my friend who had first suggested to me the idea of issuing notes. I found him, and told him of the difficulty I was in, and wished him to point out the way by which I could extricate myself. He laughed heartily, and then said, `You must do as all bankers do in this part of the country.' I inquired how they did, and he said, `When your notes are brought to you, you must redeem them, and then send them out and get other money for them, and with the latter you can keep cashing your own shin-plasters.' This was a new idea to me. I immediately commenced putting in circulation the notes which I had just redeemed, and my efforts were crowned with so much success, that before I slept that night, my `shin-plasters' were again in circulation, and my bank once more on a sound basis."

The next spring, Mr. Brown again found employment on the lake, and from this time until the winter of 1843, he held a lucrative situation on one of the lake steamboats. Having felt the iron of slavery in his own soul, the self-emancipated slaves was always trying to help his fellow-fugitives, many of whom passed over Lake Erie, while escaping from the Southern States to Canada. In one year alone, he assisted sixty fugitives in crossing to the British Queen's dominions. Many of these escapes were attended with much interest. On one occasion, a fugitive had been hid away in the house of a noted Abolitionist in Cleveland for ten days, while

his master was in town, and watching every steamboat and vessel that left the port. Several officers were also on the watch, guarding the house of the Abolitionist every night. The slave was a young and valuable man, of twenty-two years of age, and very black. The friends of the slave had almost despaired of getting him away from his hiding-place, when Mr. Brown was called in, and consulted as to the best course to be taken. He at once inquired if a painter could be found who would paint the fugitive white. In an hour, by Mr. Brown's directions, the black man was as white, and with as rosy cheeks, as any of the Anglo-Saxon race, and disguised in the dress of a woman, with a thick veil over her face. As the steamer's bell was tolling for the passengers to come on board, a tall lady, dressed in deep mourning, and leaning on the arm of a gentleman of more than ordinary height, was seen entering the ladies' cabin of the steamer "North America," who took her place with the other ladies. Soon the steamer left the wharf, and the slave-catcher and his officers, who had been watching the boat since her arrival, went away, satisfied that their slave had not escaped by the "North America," and returned to guard the house of the Abolitionist. After the boat had got out of port and fairly on her way to Buffalo, Mr. Brown showed the tall lady to her state-room. The next morning, the fugitive dressed in his plantation suit, snapped his fingers as the stars and stripes, bade his native land farewell, crossed the Niagara river, and took up his abode on the soil of Canada, where the American bondman its free.

    CHAPTER XII.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XIV.