“We cannot free our slaves if we would.” — Slaveholders.
MR. EDITOR, – How many endeavor to cover their sins, in holding slaves, under the pretext that “The laws of the state in which they reside, will not allow Manumission.” The following anecdote, related to me lately, by a person who could have no reason for wishing to deceive, and who had himself been a slave overseer, will throw some light on the subject:
While walking out, he observed an old, gray-headed negro, sitting on the bank of a river, and thus addressed him: “What are you doing, boy?” The old man replied, “Trying to catch fish, master.” “Whose boy are you?” “Squire Smith’s I used to be, but now I am free – my master gave me free.”
The person who told me of the circumstance, being impressed with the injustice of turning off an old servant, under the false pretense of making him free, and being himself acquainted with Sqr. Smith, who was an influential member of the Methodist Society in N.C., determined to speak to him on the subject.
He soon had an opportunity to do this: asking the Squire how it was that he could free his slaves, contrary to the law of the State, – “Oh,” said this Christian slaveholder, “when they are old and useless, we let them shift for themselves – they’re no good to us!” He continued to remonstrate with the Squire, showing the injustice of it, and with such faithfulness, that Squire Smith, notwithstanding he endeavored to evade the charge, felt his conscience smite him.
“Do you think that on a dying bed,” said his friend to him, “should you have your reason, you will approve of such conduct? Can you act in such a way to a fellow being, and yet consider yourself a Christian?”
The Squire begged that he would say no more about such an unpleasant subject, and very condescendingly invited him to ride out to his plantation with him.
Source: The Colored American, August 19, 1837
Photo: “Ex-slave with a long memory, Alabama” by Dorthea Lange in 1937 or 1938.