The hundreds of thousands of old newspapers in the Library of Congress are a sort of time machine, a glass bottom boat if you will, from which we in our 160 years higher perch can look down on the face of history.
In the two stories below, a New York woman describes the horror of slavery and is forthwith told to leave within 48 hours.
1859 Edgefield SC — letter from a Northern lady of Oswego, NY
Re-Printed in the Edgefield, S.C. Advertiser, March 23, 1859
From the Oswego, NY Times.
The following is an extract from a private
letter, by a New York lady to her brother. She is spending the winter with an invalid daughter in South Carolina:
AIKEN, S. C., Feb. 2d, 1859.
My DEAR BROTHER:-We are in what is called the Pine Woods District, 120 miles
west of Charleston. Aiken is a small town of not more than 1000 inhabitants, and the dullest place I was ever in. All the work that is done in this country is done by the slaves, and they do just as little as they possibly can.
The houses are open and not half made, with the doors off the hinges, and the windows won’t shut; you could put your hand in the cracks all around the sashes. The whole country has the appearance of as lazy, shiftless, dirty, ignorant a set of beings it is possible to conceive of. They go lounging about the streets and stores all day, a moving heap of rags, dirt and ignorance, looking little better, and often knowing less, than the slaves-too proud to work, and too poor to
live-Mrs. Stowe’s description, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of the poor whites of the South, is in no way over-drawn, but often fails of a description of their destitution and ignorance. The slaves are of all colors and shades, from the most sooty black to a perfect white. There was a waiter at the Hotel at Charleston, who was as white as you or I, with blue eyes and sandy hair, and not the least-appearance of African blood that I could see. I thought him an Irishman, and my husband
thought him an American; but from our host, to our surprise, we found him to be a slave, the property of a planter a few miles south
Aiken is quite a resort for consumptives. It lies on high ground, and is surrounded by a yellow pine forest. The climate is mild and warm, the atmosphere pure and delightful. We have been out all the morning without cloaks or shawls. And I ought not to complain of a country that improves my daughter’s health; but, in spite of all my wishes, the hours hang heavily upon me. We have no company except the two young ladies from New York-the one sick and the other to take care of her,-and a gent from Ohio, also sick and a testy old bachelor, which is
worse than being sick. This monotonous life is occasionally broken
by a negro whipping. The other day, as I was walking down street, I saw quite a crowd of people, and soon beheld in their midst a large, tall negro, with his arms pinioned behind him, who had been driven twelve miles that morning by a white man: the man riding on a horse and driving him before him, using two long ropes as we use lines to drive our horses. The man said that the negro had started to run away, and he had caught him and brought him back. The negro said that he belonged to a man a few miles south and had only lost his way in the woods, and if they would let him, he would go right home. They flogged him, put him in the Calaboose, (a Negro prison,) and what has become of him since I do not know, but feel quite sure that they had the ropes on the wrong man, for the negro was much the smartest looking of the two.
Last Sunday, just after morning service, we heard a great noise in the street, and on looking out we saw a black man trying to get away from two white men. His face was cut and bleeding profusely. They tied his hands behind him, ripped his back bare, took him into their store, which is nearly opposite to our house, tied him down to the floor, and gave him fifty lashes in the course of the next half-hour, not, all at once. After eight or ten lashes lie groaned most piteously
at every stroke of the whip. And all the crime that we could learn that he had committed was to prevent the black nurse from taking a whistle which he had bought and given to his boy, and giving it to his master’s boy. The slave and nurse were quarreling about it when the master came home from church. He came into the kitchen, took a moulding-board and broke it over the slave’s head, then struck him a heavy blow with the roiling-pin. The slave rushed into the street and the noise began that attracted our attention. I have heard many censure the master for whipping his slave on Sunday, but not one that he was whipped so severely. While we-poor, craven wretches that we are-have to see and hear such things, and dare not a word-nor open our lips, in disapproval of it. I almost despise myself for being such a coward ; but we could not do the poor slaves any good but ourselves much harm; so we bite our lips, and keep silent before
folks; but in our own rooms, we feel as valiant, and crow as independently, as young roosters when they get upon their own dung hill.
And this is life in the South. Here is Southern chivalry, the aristocracy of America, the constituency of a Butler and a Brooks. but give me my Northern home, however humble. I would rather be almost anything (except a doughface) in the free North, than to be mistress of the best plantation in South Carolina.
Abolitionists in Aiken — March 23, 1859
SEE a letter which we publish this week, taken
from the Oswego (N. Y.) Times. It was written
by a lady in Aiken to her brother at the North,
and sent by him to the said newspaper for
publication. A resident of Aiken accidentally saw
it. Upon his making it known to the citizens
generally, considerable excitement prevailed. A
certain lady was suspected. A committee consisting.
of W. P. FINLEY, General J. I. WEAVER and
Dr. S. LANGLEY, waited on her immediately. She
confessed the authorship of the letter and was
forthwith requested to leave the place within forty
eight hours. She left the next day for the North.