Tag Archives: Black History Month
Harriett Tubman

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 24

Woman-Whipping – Part Three

But the Southern mistress was a domestic devil with horns and claws; selfish, insolent, accustomed to be waited on for everything. She grew up with the instinct of tyranny–to punish violently the least neglect or disobedience in her servants. The variable temper of girlhood, not ugly unless thwarted, became in the “Southern matron” a chronic fury. She was her own “overseer,” and, like that out-door functionary, had her own scepter, which she did not bear in vain.

The raw-hide lay upon the shelf within easy reach, and her arm was vigorous with exercise. The breaking of a plate, the spilling of a cup, the misplacing of a pin in her dress, or any other misadventure in the chapter of accidents, was promptly illustrated with numerous cuts. The lash well laid on the shoulders of a black femme-de-chambre, or screaming child, was an agreeable titillation of the nervous sensibilities of the languid creole; a headache, or a heartache, transferred itself through the medium of the rawhide to the back of Phillis or Araminta.

They no doubt whipped sometimes, like Mr. Squeers, for the mere fun of the thing. It is an exquisite pleasure to a cowardly nature to have some creature to torment; and there is this nemesis about cruelty that it engenders an appetite which, like that for alcoholic stimulents, for ever demands increased indulgence. It was the vindictive woman’s nature in the South that protracted and gave added ferocity to the rebellion. These woman-whipping wives and mothers it was who hounded on the masculine chivalry to the work of exterminating the “accursed Yankees,” and thus made their own punishment so much sorer than it need have been.

The mention of these amiable Southern characteristics cannot fail to recall that highly suggestive scene of the Malebolge, with the illustration of Gustave Doré, in which the tempters and destroyers of women are seen scourged with whips, in the hands of demons; especially when we remember that the whipping of slave women to make them consent to their own dishonor, was one of the usages of the patriarchal chivalry.

There is not a scene in which the imaginings of Dante have been better seconded by the pencil of the great French artist: the flying wretches hurrying in opposite directions, as the crowds in the Jubilee year trampled each other, going and returning across the St. Angelo Bridge; among them the bat-winged fiends with whips, lashing right and left! In the throng are female figures: women who in life tortured and corrupted other women. What terror in face an attitude! How desperately they grapple with the rocks to lift themselves out of reach of the scourge! And these two demons in the foreground! What an absolute idealization of muscular ferocity! Every sinewy line in their cantour displays the force of a fallen demi-god; their very tails curl with delight in their ministry of vengeance.

Ahi; come facen levar le berze,
Alle prime percosse, e gia hessuno,
Le second aspettava ne le terze!

Ah! how they make them skip! There is Legree and Tom Gordon, and Madame de Schlangenbad, from Louisiana, and Mrs. Crawley (neè Sharp) from South Carolina, squirming under the torture! A very instructive, if not agreeable exhibition!

But this fury in celestial Southern bosoms was merely institutional. Dip the gentlest nature into the element of irresponsible power, and it becomes in time covered over with a foul incrustation of cruelty. Those beastly Roman ladies of Juvenal’s time, who could order a slave woman to be whipped to death without condescending to give any other reason than their sic volo, sic jubeo, were not naturally worse than others.

Take any Roman or Southern girl of ten years of age, put a whip in her hands, and a helpless slave child at her mercy; let her see nothing but brutality to inferiors all around her, and by the time she is ready to be married, she can hold up her thumb to the standing gladiator in the arena, or beg her lover to bring her back from Bull Run a ring from the bones of some Yankee soldier. It is a publicly known private fact, illustrative of the influence of slavery on the female character, that when a certain Northern clergyman applied to her father for the hand of a celebrated Maryland heiress, the reply was, “You are quite welcome to her! but I think it only fair to tell you that if I were going to storm hell, I should put her in the advance.”

Previously: An Essay on Woman Whipping — Part 2
Next: An Essay on Woman Whipping — Part 4

This is part of a multi-part series published to celebrate Black History Month in 2012. The list of published posts can be found at Book Directory: Scenes In The Life Of Harriet Tubman. Use the Stay In Touch box below to recieve e-mail notifications about new posts.

Learn how to gain Access to the Accessible Archives databases.


Harriet Tubman in her Scout Garb

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 23

Woman-Whipping – Part Two

A recent Southern paper (the Virginia Advertiser) finds a providential provision for the enslavement of the negro race in the thickness of their skulls, enabling them to bear without injury the blows inflicted in sudden rage by their masters; a suggestive confession, by the way, of the influence of slavery on the tempers of the slaveholders. The whole race must be prepared, it seems, for blows on the head with whatever weapon came to hand! But admitting the thickness of the skulls, it appears from an incident in the preceding pages, as well as from other known instances, that the inventive genius of the slave-whipping chivalry contrived to baffle the humane designs of Providence–a negro skull well padded with wool might bear without injury the blow of a boot-jack or a hammer, and yet prove insufficient to resist the impact of a musket-ball or a ten-pound weight.

It is of no avail to plate a vessel with six inches of iron, if she is to be pounded with bolts that can mash an eight-inch armor. Apparently, Divine Providence stopped short of the necessary security for the predestined slave race. It should have arranged for a progressive thickening of the negro cranium to meet the increase of violence on the part of the master; until at length slavery might be encountered with a difficulty like that which besets naval gunnery, viz., what would be the result if an infrangible African skull should be beaten by an irresistable Caucasian club?

But even this Virginia laudator temporis acti, this melancholy mourner at the tomb of defunct slavery, does not allege any such Providential thickening of the negro cuticle as to amount to a satisfactory anæsthesis against whipping. It has never been proven that a Virginia paddle or a Georgia raw-hide well applied did not make the blood spirt as freely through a black skin as through a white one; nor has any Southern savant of the Nott and Gliddon school shown that there was not the same relative delicacy of organization in the slave woman as in the free. A black woman was, relatively to the black man, the more delicate subject for the whip; something more sensitive to the shame of stripping, more liable to terror, and of rather softer fiber; so that the lash went deeper both into soul and sense than in the case of her sable brother.

And this fact made the black woman a very suitable subject for the whip in the hands of the Southern lady. To succeed in slave-whipping as in any other fine art, the Horatian canon must be regarded, which requires us to take a subject suited to our strength. It would have been unreasonable, in ordinary cases, to expect a “dark-eyed daughter of the South” to flog handsomely a stalwart negro man; she sometimes did it, after he had been well tied up. But the slave girl was exactly suited to her flagellating capacities. A good many women, North as well as South, manifest a tendency to become tyrants in their own households, and love to bully their servants. But this is an evil of a mitigated nature in Northern society. The stupidest “help” in the kitchen knows she is safe from any other lash than her mistress’ tongue, and is commonly an adept at the business of answering back again.

Previously: An Essay on Woman Whipping — Part 1
Next: An Essay on Woman Whipping — Part 3

This is part of a multi-part series published to celebrate Black History Month in 2012. The list of published posts can be found at Book Directory: Scenes In The Life Of Harriet Tubman. Use the Stay In Touch box below to recieve e-mail notifications about new posts.

Learn how to gain Access to the Accessible Archives databases.

Harriet, in her costume as scout, was furnished by the kindness of Mr. J. C. Darby.

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 22

Woman-Whipping — Ethically and Esthetically Considered

By S. M. Hopkins,
Professor in the Auburn Theological Seminary

The subject of the preceding memoir appears to have retained all her life a feeling recollection of the effects of the whip in the hands of her youthful mistress. Considering the vigor and frequency of the application, this is not strange. Infinite cuffs and thwacks, more or less, pass into oblivion; but a flogging with a raw-hide is not easily forgotten. A slave’s experience of the whip, however, was not confined to his or to her early days. A slave race must be controlled by fear and pain; and the discipline, it was naturally thought, could not begin too early. From childhood to old age they were liable to stripes, for any reason or for no reason. If the slave was guilty of no fault, he might be whipped, as appears from the preceding narrative, merely to impress him with a salutary sense of the master’s right and disposition to whip.

A Northern man, born and bred under the influences of freedom and the protection of law, and made acquainted with slavery in its old palmy days, can never forget his sensations at his first sight of a slave-whipping. The utmost he has ever seen in the way of corporal punishment has been the switching of some obstreperous child by competent authority; a discipline administered with prudence and moderation; drawing no blood and leaving no scar. He now sees an adult person stripped to the skin, his arms tied at their utmost stretch above his head, or across some object which binds him into a posture the best adapted to feel the full force of each blow. The instrument of suffering is not a birch twig or a ferule, but a twisted raw-hide, or heavy “black snake;” either of them highly effective weapons in the hands of a stout executioner.

Our Northern novice stands horror-stricken and paralyzed for a moment; but at the second or third blow, and the piteous scream of Oh Lord! Massa! which follows, he digs his fingers into his ears, and rushes to the furthest corner of his tent or dwelling, to escape the scene. Even if he could have endured the sight and sound a while longer, he dared not. The horror in his face, and perhaps the irrepressible word or act of interference was too sure to bring upon himself the vengeance due to a “d–d Abolitionist.” The little knot of Southern  habituès look on with critical inspection, squirting tobacco-juice, with their hands in their pockets.

If the subject is a woman, the interest rises higher, and the crowd would be greater. There is a refinement of cruelty in the whipping of a woman which used to stimulate agreeably the dull sensibilities of a Southern mob. A dish of torture had to be peppered very high to please the palates of those epicures in brutality. The helplessness and terror of the victim, the exposure of her person, the opportunity for coarse jests at her expense, all combined to make it a scene of rare enjoyment.

How the “chivalric” mind can endure the loss of such gratifications it is difficult to conceive. The Romans were weaned from crucifixions and gladiatorial combats very gradually. The process of ameliorating criminal law and humanizing public sentiment went on for more than two centuries. It was full four hundred years after the epoch of our redemption when the monk Telemachus threw himself between the hired swordsmen, whom a Christian audience was applauding, and laid down his own life to wind up the spectacle. But the bloody morsel has been snatched from the mouths of the “chivalry” at one clutch. No wonder their mortification vents itself in weeping and wailing, and knashing of teeth, and in such miscellaneous atrocities as their “Ku-Klux-Klans” can venture to inflict on helpless freedmen and radicals.

Continued in Part 2

Previously: Appendix II
Next: An Essay on Woman Whipping — Part 2

This is part of a multi-part series published to celebrate Black History Month in 2012. The list of published posts can be found at Book Directory: Scenes In The Life Of Harriet Tubman. Use the Stay In Touch box below to recieve e-mail notifications about new posts.

Learn how to gain Access to the Accessible Archives databases.

Harriet Tubman

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 21

Appendix II

It has been mentioned that Harriet never asks anything for herself, but whenever her people were in trouble, or she felt impelled to go South to guide to freedom friend or brother, or father and mother, if she had not time to work for the money, she was persistent till she got it from somebody.

When she received one of her intimations that the old people were in trouble, and it was time for her to go to them, she asked the Lord where she should go for the money. She was in some way, as she supposed, directed to the office of a certain gentleman in New York. When she left the house of her friends to go there, she said, “I’m gwine to Mr.–‘s office, an’ I ain’t gwine to lebe there, an’ I ain’t gwine to eat or drink till I git enough money to take me down after the ole people.”

She went into this gentleman’s office.

What do you want, Harriet?” was the first greeting.

I want some money, sir.”

You do? How much do you want?”

I want twenty dollars, sir.–

“Twenty dollars? Who told you to come here for twenty dollars?”

“De Lord tole me, sir.”

“Well, I guess the Lord’s mistaken this time.”

“I guess he isn’t, sir. Anyhow I’m gwine to sit here till I git it.”

So she sat down and went to sleep. All the morning and all the afternoon she sat there still, sleeping and rousing up–sometimes finding the office full of gentlemen–sometimes finding herself alone. Many fugitives were passing through New York at that time, and those who came in supposed that she was one of them, tired out and resting.

Sometimes she would be roused up with the words, “Come, Harriet, you had better go. There’s no money for you here.” “No, sir. I’m not gwine till I git my twenty dollars.”

She does not know all that happened, for deep sleep fell upon her; but probably her story was whispered about, and she roused at last to find herself the happy possessor of sixty dollars, which had been raised among those who came into the office. She went on her way rejoicing, to bring her old parents from the land of bondage. She found that her father was to be tried the next Monday, for helping off slaves; so, as she says, she “removed his trial to a higher court,” and hurried him off to Canada.

One more little incident, which, it is hoped, may not be offensive to the young lady to whom it alludes, may be mentioned here, showing Harriet’s extreme delicacy in asking anything for herself.

Last winter (’67 and ’68), as we all know, the snow was very deep for months, and Harriet and the old people were completely snowed-in in their little home. The old man was laid up with rheumatism, and Harriet could not leave home for a long time to procure supplies of corn, if she could have made her way into the city. At length, stern necessity compelled her to plunge through the drifts to the city, and she appeared at the house of one of her firm and fast friends, and was directed to the room of one of the young ladies.

She began to walk up and down, as she always does when in trouble. At length she said, “Miss Annie?” “What, Harriet?” A long pause; then again, “Miss Annie?” “Well, what is it, Harriet?” This was repeated four times, when the young lady, looking up, saw her eyes filled with tears. She then insisted on knowing what she wanted. And with a great effort, she said, “Miss Annie, could you lend me a quarter till Monday? I never asked it before,” Kind friends immediately supplied all the wants of the family, but on Monday Harriet appeared with the quarter she had borrowed.

But though so timid for herself, she is bold enough when the wants of her race are concerned. Even now, while friends are trying to raise the means to publish this little book for her, she is going around with the greatest zeal and interest to raise a subscription for her Freedmen’s Fair.

She called on Hon. Wm. H. Seward, the other day, for a subscription to this object. He said, “Harriet, you have worked for others long enough. It is time you should think of yourself. If you ask for a donation for yourself, I will give it to you; but I will not help you to rob yourself for others.”

Harriet’s charity for all the human race is unbounded. It embraces even the slaveholder–it sympathizes even with Jeff. Davis, and rejoices at his departure to other lands, with some prospect of peace for the future. She says, “I tink dar’s many a slaveholder ‘ll git to Heaven. Dey don’t know no better. Dey acts up to de light dey hab. You take dat sweet little child (pointing to a  lonely baby)–‘pears more like an angel dan anyting else–take her down dere, let her nebber know nothing ’bout niggers but they was made to be whipped, an’ she ‘ll grow up to use the whip on ’em jus’ like de rest. No, Missus, its because dey don’t know no better.”

May God give the people to whom the story of this woman shall come, a like charity, so that through their kindness the last days of her stormy and troubled life may be calm and peaceful.

Previously: Appendix I
Next: An Essay on Woman Whipping

This is part of a multi-part series published to celebrate Black History Month in 2012. The list of published posts can be found at Book Directory: Scenes In The Life Of Harriet Tubman. Use the Stay In Touch box below to recieve e-mail notifications about new posts.

Learn how to gain Access to the Accessible Archives databases.

Harriet Tubman at her home in Auburn, New York (1911)

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 20

Appendix I

A few circumstances having come out in conversation with Harriet, they are added here, as they may be of interest to the reader.

On asking Harriet particularly as to the age of her mother, she answered, “Well, I’ll tell you, Missis. Twenty-three years ago, in Maryland, I paid a lawyer $5 to look up the will of my mother’s first master. He looked back sixty years, and said it was time to give up. I told him to go back furder. He went back sixty-five years, and there he found the will–giving the girl Ritty to his grand-daughter (Mary Patterson), to serve her and her offspring till she was forty-five years of age”.

This grand-daughter died soon after, unmarried; and as there was no provision for Ritty, in case of her death, she was actually emancipated at that time. But no one informed her of the fact, and she and her dear children remained in bondage till emancipated by the courage and determination of this heroic daughter and sister. The old woman must then, it seems, be ninety-eight years of age, and the old man has probably numbered as many years. And yet these old people, living out beyond the toll-gate, on the South Street road, Auburn, come in every Sunday–more than a mile–to the Central Church. To be sure, deep slumbers settle down upon them as soon as they are seated, which continue undisturbed till the congregation is dismissed; but they have done their best, and who can doubt that they receive a blessing. Immediately after this they go to class-meeting at the Methodist Church. Then they wait for a third service, and after that start out home again.

On asking Harriet where they got anything to eat on Sunday, she said, in her quiet way, “Oh! de ole folks nebber eats anyting on Sunday, Missis! We nebber has no food to get for dem on Sunday. Dey always fasts; and dey nebber eats anyting on Fridays. Good Friday, an’ five Fridays hand gwine from Good Friday, my fader nebber eats or drinks, all day–fasting for de five bleeding wounds ob Jesus. All the oder Fridays ob de year he nebber eats till de sun goes down; den he takes a little tea an’ a piece ob bread.” “But is he a Roman Catholic, Harriet?” “Oh no, Misses; he does it for conscience; we was taught to do so down South. He says if he denies himself for the sufferings of his Lord an’ Master, Jesus will sustain him.”
Previously: Fugitive Slave Rescue in Troy — Part 3
Next: Appendix II

This is part of a multi-part series published to celebrate Black History Month in 2012. The list of published posts can be found at Book Directory: Scenes In The Life Of Harriet Tubman. Use the Stay In Touch box below to recieve e-mail notifications about new posts.

Learn how to gain Access to the Accessible Archives databases.

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