Slave

The Christian Slave

We venture to extract another of Mr. Todd's Simple Sketches, so charmingly are they described.

The sun had set, and I began to be anxious to find a place of rest for the night, after a day's ride under a sultry sun. I was travelling in South Carolina, and was now not far from a branch of the Cooper river. The country here is a dead level, and its surface is covered with thinly scattered pines. I came to an old church--it stood solitary; not a house in sight: it was built of wood, and much decayed. The breezes of evening were gently sighing through the tops of the long-leaved pines which stood near; while still nearer stood several large live-oaks, which spread out their aged arms, as if to shelter what was sacred. On their limbs hung, in graceful folds, the long grey moss, as if a mantle of mourning, waving over a few decayed tombs at the east side of the church. These oaks give the place a very sombre and awful appearance; they seemed to stand as silent mourners over the dust of generations that had sunk into the grave, and waiting in solemn expectation that others would soon come and lie beneath their shade in the long sleep of death. The time of day, and the sacredness of the spot, were so congenial to my own feelings, that I involuntarily stopped my horse.

My curiosity was now excited by seeing a very aged negro standing and gazing steadily on a small decaying tomb. He seemed to be intent, and did not observe me; his woolly locks were whitened by age; his countenance was manly, though it bore the marks of sorrow; he was leaning on his smooth-worn staff, the companion of many years. I was somewhat surprised on seeing this aged African silently meditating among the vestiges of the dead, and accordingly roused him from his reverie. He started at first, but his confidence was soon gained. There is a spring in the bosom of every Christian, which throws a joy into his heart whenever he meets a fellow-christian during his pilgrimage here below. I found the old negro to be an eminent Christian, and we were soon acquainted. I inquired what motive induced him, at that hour of the day, to visit these tombs. Instead of answering my question directly he gave me the following account of himself, in broken language:--

About sixty years ago, this negro was living under his paternal roof in Africa. He was the son of a chief of a small tribe, the pride of his parents, and the delight of his countrymen; none could more dexterously throw the dart; none more skilfully guide the fragile canoe over the bosom of the deep. He was not far from twenty years of age, when, on a fair summer's morn, he went in his little canoe to spend the day in fishing. About noon he paddled his bark to the shore, and, under the shade of a beautiful palmetto-tree, he reclined till the heat of noon-day should be passed. He was young, healthy, and active; he knew none whom he dreaded; he was a stranger to fear, and he dreamed only of security, as he slept under the shade of his own native tree. Thus, while our sky is encircled with the bow of happiness, we forget that it may soon be overspread with darkness. When this African awoke, he found his hands bound behind him, his feet fettered, and himself surrounded by several white men, who were conveying him on board of their ship;--it was a slave-ship. The vessel had her cargo completed, and was ready to sail. As they were unfurling the sails, the son of Africa, with many others of his countrymen, for the last time cast his eyes upon his native shores. Futurity was dark,--was uncertain,--was despair. His bosom thrilled with anguish, as he threw his last farewell look over the plains of his native country. There was his native spot where his had lived, there the home of his infancy and childhood, there the place where he had inhaled his earliest breath--and to tear him from these, seemed like breaking the very strings of his heart.

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After a melancholy passage, during which the African was forced to wear double the irons to receive double the number of lashes, that any of his companions received, on account of his refractory spirit, he was at length landed and sold to a planter in the place where he now resides. There is nothing new, nothing novel or interesting, that ever takes place in the life of a slave--describe one day, and you write the history of a slave. The sun, indeed, continues to roll over him; but it sheds upon him no new joys, no new prospects, no new hopes. So it was with the subject of this narrative. His master was naturally a man of a very humane disposition; but his overseers were often little else than compounds of vice and cruelty. In this situation the negro lost all his natural independence and bravery. He often attempted to run away, but was as often taken and punished. Having no cultivated mind to which he could look for consolation--knowing of no change that was ever to take place in his situation,--he settled down in gloominess. Often would he send a silent sigh for the home of his youth; but his path shewed but few marks of happiness, and few rays of hope for futurity were drawn by fancy's hand. Sunk in despondency and vice, he was little above the brutes around him.

In this situation he was accidentally met by the good minister of the parish, who addressed him as a rational and immortal being, and pressed upon him the first principles of religion. This was a new subject; for he had never before looked beyond the narrow bounds before him, nor had he ever dreamed of a world beyond this. After a long conversation on this subject, the minister made him promise that he would now "attend to his soul."

The clergyman could not, for many months after this, obtain an interview with his new pupil, who most carefully shunned him. But though afraid to meet his minister, he still felt an arrow of conviction in his heart. Wherever he went, whether asleep or awake, to use his own words, his promise, "me take care of soul, stick close to him," He now began in earnest to seek "the one thing needful". By the kindness of his master he learned to read his Testament, and to inquire more about Jesus. He was now very desirous to see his minister; and before a convenient opportunity occurred, he was in such distress of mind as actually to attempt two several times to kill himself. His minister visited him, conversed and prayed with him.

"Oh," he would say, "God never think such poor negro, he no love so much sinner, he no before ever see such bad heart!" The mercy of Christ, and his compassion towards sinners, were explained to him, and his soul was filled with "joy and peace in believing," He now rejoiced and thanked God that he was brought from his native shores, as he had a fairer country, and purer enjoyments presented to his view, after the scenes of this transitory world shall be over. He now became more industrious and more faithful. By uncommon industry he raised money sufficient to purchase his own freedom. He next bought the liberty of his wife, and had nearly completed paying for that of his only daughter, when she was liberated by the hand of death. His wife soon followed her, and left this world a perfect void to the husband and father. His every tie that bound him to earth was now broken. Having no earthly enjoyment, he now placed his affections on heaven above. It is easy for the Christian to make rapid progress in holiness when not fettered by worldly cares.

It was now dark, and I must leave my new acquaintance. I left him with his face wet with tears, still standing beside the tomb--the tomb of his old minister! This good man had been his faithful and constant guide, and though his ashes had been slumbering for years, the negro had not yet forgotten how to weep at their urn. I could not but admire the wonderful dealings of God, in order to bring men to himself. Happy minister! who hast been the instrument of covering a multitude of sins! Happy negro! his is not this world. Though no sculptured marble may tell the traveller where he may shortly lie--though he never trod the thorny road of ambition or power--though the trumpet of fame never blew the echo of his name through a gaping world--still those eyes, which will soon be closed in death, may hereafter awake, to behold, undaunted, a world in flames, and these heavens fleeing away.