Frances Anne Kemble was born in London, England, on November 27, 1809, the first
"I was born on the 27th of November, 1809, in Newman Street, Oxford Road, the third child of my parents, whose eldest, Philip, named after my uncle, died in infancy. The second, John Mitchell, lived to distinguish himself as a scholar, devoting his life to the study of his own language and the history of his country."
"My mother was the daughter of Captain Decamp, an officer in one of the armies that revolutionary France sent to invade republican Switzerland. He married the daughter of a farmer from the neighborhood of Berne. From my grandmother's home you could see the great Jungfrau range of the Alps, and I sometimes wonder whether it is her blood in my veins that so loves and longs for those supremely beautiful mountains.
Not long after his marriage my grandfather went to Vienna, where, on the anniversary of the birth of the great Empress-King, my mother was born, and named, after her, Maria Theresa. In Vienna, Captain Decamp made the acquaintance of a young English nobleman, Lord Monson (afterwards the Earl of Essex), who, with an enthusiasm more friendly than wise, eagerly urged the accomplished Frenchman to come and settle in London, where his talents as a draughtsman and musician, which were much above those of a mere amateur, combined with the protection of such friends as he could not fail to find, would easily enable him to maintain himself and his young wife and child. . . . From my grandfather's first arrival in London, his chest had suffered from the climate; the instrument he taught was the flute, and it was not long before decided disease of the lungs rendered that industry impossible. He endeavored to supply its place by giving French and drawing lessons; and so struggled on, under the dark London sky, and in the damp, foggy, smoky atmosphere, while the poor foreign wife bore and nursed four children. . . . After six years spent in a bitter struggle with disease and difficulties of every kind, my grandfather, still a young man, died of consumption, leaving a widow and five little children, of whom the eldest, my mother, not yet in her teens, became from that time the bread-winner and sole support.
I was about five years old, and it was determined that I should be sent to
Gainsborough portrait of Sarah Siddons
the care of my father's sister, Mrs. [Frances Kemble] Twiss, who kept a school at Bath, and who was my godmother. . . . Camden Place, Bath, was one of the lofty terraces built on the charming slopes that surround the site of the Aquæ Solis of the Romans, and here my aunt Twiss kept a girls' school, which participated in the favor which every thing belonging to, or even remotely associated with, Mrs. Siddons received from the public. It was a decidedly "fashionable establishment for the education of young ladies," managed by my aunt, her husband, and her three daughters.
Mrs. Twiss was, like every member of my father's family, at one time on the stage, but left it very soon, to marry the grim-visaged, gaunt-figured, kind-hearted gentleman and profound scholar whose name she at this time bore, and who, I have heard it said, once nourished a hopeless passion for Mrs. Siddons. Mrs. Twiss bore a soft and mitigated likeness to her celebrated sister; she had great sweetness of voice and countenance, and a graceful, refined, feminine manner, that gave her great advantages in her intercourse with and influence over the young women whose training she undertook. Mr. Twiss was a very learned man . . He devoted himself, with extreme assiduity, to the education of his daughters, giving them the unusual advantage of a thorough classic training, and making of two of them learned women . . . These ladies were what so few of their sex ever are, really well informed; they knew much, and they knew it all thoroughly; they were excellent Latin scholars and mathematicians, had read immensely and at the same time systematically, had prodigious memories stored with various and well-classed knowledge, and, above all, were mistresses of the English language, and spoke and wrote it with perfect purity—an accomplishment out of fashion now, it appears to me, but of the advantage of which I retain a delightful impression in my memory of subsequent intercourse with those excellent and capitally educated women.
Frances Kemble Twiss
. . . What profit I made under these kind and affectionate kinsfolk I know not; little, I rather think, ostensibly; perhaps some beneath the surface, not very manifest either to them or myself at the time; but painstaking love sows more harvests than it wots of, wherever or whenever (or if never) it reaps them. . .
My aunt Dall was my mother's sister, and had lived with us, I believe, ever since I was born. Her name was Adelaide, but the my little brother conveniently shortened it and made it Dall, by which title she was called by us, and known to all our friends, and beloved by all who ever spoke or heard it. Her story was as sad a one as could well be; yet to my thinking she was one of the happiest persons I have ever known, as well as one of the best. She was my mother's second sister, and as her picture, taken when she was twenty, shows (and it was corroborated by her appearance till upward of fifty), she was extremely pretty. Obliged, as all the rest of her family were, to earn her own bread, and naturally adopting the means of doing so that they did, she went upon the stage; but I can not conceive that her nature can ever have had any affinity with her occupation. She had a robust and rather prosaic common-sense, opposed to any thing exaggerated or sentimental, which gave her an excellent judgment of character and conduct, a strong genial vein of humor which very often made her repartees witty as well as wise, and a sunny sweetness of temper and soundness of moral nature that made her as good as she was easy and delightful to live with. . . . She had found employment in her profession under the kindly protection of Mr. Stephen Kemble, my father's brother,
who lived for many years at Durham, and was the manager of the theatre there, and, according to the fashion of that time, traveled with his company, at stated seasons, to Newcastle, Sunderland, and other places, which formed a sort of theatrical circuit in the northern counties, throughout which he was well known and generally respected.
. . . Adelaide Decamp came and lived with us, and was the good angel of our home. . . . Without any home but my father's house, without means of subsistence but the small pittance which he was able to give her, in most grateful acknowledgment of her unremitting care of us, without any joys or hopes but those of others, without pleasure in the present or expectation in the future, apparently without memory of the past, she spent her whole life in the service of my parents and their children, and lived and moved and had her being in a serene, unclouded, unvarying atmosphere of cheerful, self-forgetful content that was heroic in its absolute unconsciousness. She is the only person I can think of who appeared to me to have fulfilled Wordsworth's conception of "Those blessed ones who do God's will and know it not."
I have never seen either man or woman like her, in her humble excellence, and I am thankful that, knowing what the circumstances of her whole life were, she yet seems to me the happiest human being I have known. She died, as she had lived, in the service of others.
. . . It was determined that I should be sent to school in France. . . . And so to Boulogne I went, to a school kept by a rather sallow and grim, but still vivacious old Madame Faudier, with the assistance of her daughter, Mademoiselle Flore, a bouncing, blooming beauty of a discreet age . . What I learned here except French (which I could not help learning), I know not. I was taught music, dancing, and Italian . . .
The experiments tried upon the minds and souls of children by those who undertake to train them, are certainly among the most mysterious of Heaven-permitted evils. The coarse and cruel handling of these wonderfully complex and delicate machines by ignorant servants, ignorant teachers, and ignorant parents, fills one with pity and with amazement that the results of such processes should not be even more disastrous than they are. . . . The only agreeable impression I retain of my school-days at Boulogne is that of the long half-holiday walks we were allowed to indulge in. Not the two-and-two, dull, dreary, daily procession round the ramparts, but the disbanded freedom of the sunny afternoon, spent in gathering wild-flowers along the pretty, secluded valley of the Liane, through which no iron road then bore its thundering freight. Or, better still, clambering, straying, playing hide-and-seek, or sitting telling and hearing fairy tales among the great carved blocks of stone, which lay, in ignominious purposelessness, around the site on the high, grassy cliff . . . Best of all, however, was the distant wandering, far out along the sandy dunes, to what used to be called "La Gárenne;" I suppose because of the wild rabbits that haunted it, who—hunted and rummaged from their burrows in the hillocks of coarse grass by a pitiless pack of school-girls—must surely have wondered after our departure, when they came together stealthily, with twitching noses, ears, and tails, what manner of fiendish visitation had suddenly come and gone, scaring their peaceful settlement on the silent, solitary sea-shore.
. . . My mother always had a detestation of London, which I have cordially
inherited. The dense, heavy atmosphere, compounded of smoke and fog, painfully affected her breathing and oppressed her spirits; and the deafening clangor of its ceaseless uproar irritated her nerves and distressed her in a manner which I invariably experience whenever I am compelled to pass any time in that huge Hubbub. She perpetually yearned for the fresh air and the quiet of the country. Occupied as my father was, however, this was an impossible luxury; and my poor mother escaped as far as her circumstances would allow from London, and towards the country . .
Our happy Weybridge summers had but one incident of any importance for me—my catching the small-pox, which I had very severely. A slight eruption from which my sister suffered was at first pronounced by our village Æsculapius to be chicken-pox, but presently assumed the more serious aspect of varioloid. My sister, like the rest of us, had been carefully vaccinated; but the fact was then by no means so generally understood as it now is, that the power of the vaccine dies out of the system by degrees, and requires renewing to insure safety. My mother, having lost her faith in vaccination, thought that a natural attack of varioloid was the best preservative from small-pox, and my sister having had her seasoning so mildly and without any bad result but a small scar on her long nose, I was sent for from London, where I was, with the hope that I should take the same light form of the malady from her; but the difference of our age and constitution was not taken into consideration, and I caught the disease, indeed, but as nearly as possible died of it, and have remained disfigured by it all my life.
I was but little over sixteen, and had returned from school a very pretty-looking girl, with fine eyes, teeth, and hair, a clear, vivid complexion, and rather good features. The small-pox did not affect my three advantages first named, but, besides marking my face very perceptibly, it rendered my complexion thick and muddy and my features heavy and coarse, leaving me so moderate a share of good looks as quite to warrant my mother's satisfaction in saying, when I went on the stage, "Well, my dear, they can't say we have brought you out to exhibit your beauty." Plain I certainly was, but I by no means always looked so; and so great was the variation in my appearance at different times, that my comical old friend, Mrs. Fitzhugh, once exclaimed, "Fanny Kemble, you are the ugliest and the handsomest woman in London!" And I am sure, if a collection were made of the numerous portraits that have been taken of me, nobody would ever guess any two of them to be likenesses of the same person.Fanny frequently stayed with her uncle John Phillip Kemble's widow at Heath Farm in
At this time I was promoted to the dignity of a bedroom "to myself," which I was able to make into a small study, the privacy of which I enjoyed immensely, as well as the window opening above our suburban bit of garden, and the sloping meadows beyond it. The following letters, written at this time to my friend Miss S——, describe the interests and occupations of my life. It was in the May of 1827. I was between sixteen and seventeen, which will naturally account for the characteristics of these epistles.
Bayswater, May, 1827.
I fear you will think me forgetful and unkind in not having answered your last letter; but if you do, you are mistaken—nor ungrateful, which my silence, after the kind interest you have taken in me and mine, seems to be. But when I tell you that besides the many things that have occupied my mind connected with the present situation of our affairs, my hands have been full of work nearly as dismal as my thoughts—mourning—you will easily understand and excuse the delay. Do not be alarmed; the person for whom we are in black has been so little known to me since my childhood, was so old and infirm, and so entirely cheerful, resigned, and even desirous of leaving this world, that few, even of those who knew and loved him better than I did, could, without selfishness, lament his release. Mr. Twiss, the father of my cousin Horace, is dead lately; and it is of him that I speak. He has unfortunately left three daughters, who, though doing well for themselves in the world, will now feel a sad void in the circle of their home affections and interests.
And now, dear H——, for myself, or ourselves, rather; for, as you may well suppose, my whole thoughts are taken up with our circumstances.
I believe in my last I told you pretty nearly all I knew, or indeed any of us knew, of our affairs; the matter is now much clearer, and not a whit pleasanter.
It seems that my father, as proprietor of Covent Garden Theater, in
consequence of this lawsuit and the debts which encumber the concern, is liable at any time to be called upon for twenty-seven thousand pounds; which, for a man who can not raise five thousand, is not a pleasant predicament. On the other hand, Mr. Harris, our adversary, and joint proprietor with my father, is also liable to enormous demands, if the debts should be insisted upon at present. The creditors have declared that they are entirely satisfied that my father, and Messrs. Forbes and Willett, the other partners, have done every thing with respect to them which honorable men could do, and offer to wait till some compromise can be made with Mr. Harris, who, it is thought, will be willing to enter into any arrangement rather than be irretrievably ruined, as we all must be unless some agreement takes place between the proprietors. In the meantime, the lawyers have advised our party to appeal from the decision of the Vice-Chancellor. Amid all this perplexity and trouble, we have had the satisfaction of hearing that John and Henry are both doing well; we received a letter from the latter a short time ago, full of affection and kindness to us all. I wish you could have seen my father's countenance as he read it, and with what fondness and almost gratitude he kissed dear Henry's name, while the tears were standing in his eyes. I can not help thinking sometimes that my father deserved a less hard and toilsome existence.
Covent Garden Theater
He has resolved that, come what may, he will keep those boys at their respective schools, if he can by any means compass it; and if (which I fear is the case) he finds Bury St. Edmunds too expensive, we shall remove to Westminster, in order that Henry's education may not suffer from our circumstances. Last Thursday was my father's benefit, and a very indifferent one, which I think is rather hard, considering that he really
slaves night and day, and every night and every day, in that theater. Cecilia Siddons and I have opened a poetical correspondence; she writes very prettily indeed. Perhaps, had she not had such a bad subject as myself to treat of, I might have said more of her verses. You will be sorry to hear that not only my poor mother's health, but what is almost as precious, her good spirits, have been dreadfully affected by all her anxiety; indeed, her nerves have been so utterly deranged that she has been alternately deaf and blind, and sometimes both, for the last fortnight. Thank Heaven she is now recovering!
In 1828, Harriet Siddons, Scottish actress who was the widow of Fanny's cousin Henry (son of Sarah Siddons) invited Fanny to visit her in Edinburgh, Scotland:
Mrs. Henry Siddons obtained my mother's consent that I should go to
Edinburgh to pay her a visit, which began by being of indeterminate length, and prolonged itself for a year—the happiest of my life, as I often, while it lasted, thought it would prove; and now that my years are over I know to have been so. . . . She was not regularly handsome, but of a sweet and most engaging countenance; her figure was very pretty, her voice exquisite, and her whole manner, air, and deportment graceful, attractive, and charming. Men, women, and children not only loved her, but inevitably fell in love with her, and the fascination which she exercised over every one that came in contact with her invariably deepened into profound esteem and confidence in those who had the good fortune to share her intimacy. . . . She was a Miss Murray, and came of good Scottish blood, her great-grandfather having at one time been private secretary to the Young Pretender. She married Mrs. Siddons's youngest son, Harry, the only one of my aunt's children who adopted her own profession, and who, himself an indifferent actor, undertook the management of the Edinburgh theater, fell into ill-health, and died, leaving his lovely young widow with four children to the care of her brother, William Murray, who succeeded him in the government of the theater, of which his sister and himself became joint proprietors.
Mrs. Henry Siddons
Edinburgh at that time was still the small but important capital of Scotland, instead of what railroads and modern progress have reduced it to, merely the largest town. . . . Edinburgh was a brilliant and peculiarly intellectual center of society with a strongly marked national character, and the theater held a distinguished place among its recreations . . .
Among Mrs. Harry Siddons's intimate friends and associates were the
remarkable brothers George and Andrew Combe; the former a lawyer by profession, but known to the literary and scientific world of Europe and America as the Apostle of Phrenology, and the author of a work entitled "The Constitution of Man," and other writings, whose considerable merit and value appear to me more or less impaired by the craniological theory which he made the foundation of all his works, and which to my mind diminished the general utility of his publications for those readers who are not prepared to accept it as the solution of all the mysteries of human existence. Indeed, his life was devoted to the dissemination of this new philosophy of human nature which, Combe believed, if once generally accepted, would prove the clew to every difficulty, and the panacea for every evil existing in modern civilization. Political and social, religious and civil, mental and moral government, according to him, hinged upon the study and knowledge of the different organs of the human brain, and he labored incessantly to elucidate and illustrate this subject, upon which he thought the salvation of the world depended.
For a number of years I enjoyed the privilege of his friendship, and I have had innumerable opportunities of hearing his system explained by himself; but as I was never able to get beyond a certain point of belief in it, it was agreed on all hands that my brain was deficient in the organ of causality,i.e., in the capacity of logical reasoning, and that therefore it was not in my power to perceive the force of his arguments or the truth of his system, even when illustrated by his repeated demonstrations.
I am bound to say that my cousin Cecilia Siddons Combe had quite as much trouble with her household, her lady's-maids were quite as inefficient, her housemaids quite as careless, and her cooks quite as fiery-tempered and unsober as those of "ordinary Christians," in spite of Mr. Combe's observation and manipulation of their bumps previous to engaging them.
. . . On one occasion Mr. Combe was consulted by Prince Albert with regard to the royal children, and was desired to examine their heads. He did not, of course, repeat any of the opinions he had given upon the young princes' "developments," but said they were very nice children, and likely to be capitally educated, for, he added (though shaking his head over cousinly intermarriages among royal personages), Prince Albert was well acquainted with the writings of Gall and Spurzheim, and his own work on "The Constitution of Man." Prince Albert seems to have known something of every thing that was worthy of a Wiseman's knowledge.
In spite of my inability to accept his science of human nature, Mr. Combe was always a most kind and condescending friend to me. He was a man of singular integrity, uprightness, and purity of mind and character, and of great justice and impartiality of judgment; he was extremely benevolent and humane, and one of the most reasonable human beings I have ever known. From first to last my intercourse with him was always delightful and profitable to me. . . Dr. Combe was Mrs. Harry Siddons's medical adviser, most trusted friend, and general counselor.
. . . My happy year in Edinburgh ended, I returned to London, to our house in James Street, Buckingham Gate, where I found my parents much burdened with care and anxiety about the affairs of the theater, which were rapidly falling into irretrievable embarrassment. My father toiled incessantly, but the tide of ill-success and losing fortune had set steadily against him, and the attempt to stem it became daily harder and more hopeless. I used sometimes to hear some of the sorrowful details of this dreary struggle, and I well remember the indignation and terror I experienced when one day my father said at dinner, "I have had a new experience to-day: I have been arrested for the first time in my life." I believe my father was never personally in debt during all his life; he said he never had been up to that day, and I am very sure he never was afterward. Through all the severe labor of his professional life, and his strenuous exertions to maintain his family and educate my brothers like gentlemen, and my sister and myself with every advantage, he never incurred the misery of falling into debt, but paid his way as he went along, with difficulty, no doubt, but still steadily and successfully, "owing no man any thing."
About this time I began to be aware of the ominous distresses and disturbances connected with the affairs of the theater, that were to continue and increase until the miserable subject became literally the sauce to our daily bread; embittering my father's life with incessant care and harassing vexation; and of the haunting apprehension of that ruin which threatened us for years, and which his most strenuous efforts only delayed, without averting it.
The proprietors were engaged in a lawsuit with each other, and finally one of them threw the whole concern into chancery; and for years that dreary chancery suit seemed to envelop us in an atmosphere of palpitating suspense or stagnant uncertainty, and to enter as an inevitable element into every hope, fear, expectation, resolution, event, or action of our lives.
How unutterably heart-sick I became of the very sound of its name, and how well I remember the expression on my father's careworn face one day, as he turned back from the door, out of which he was going to his daily drudgery at the theater, to say to my aunt, who had reproached him with the loss of a button from his rather shabby coat, "Ah, Dall, my dear, you see it is my chancery suit!"
St. James Street, February, 1828. My Dearest Harriet, I have this instant received your letter, and, contrary to John's wise rule of never answering an epistle till three days after he receives it, I sit down to write, to talk, to be with you. . . . In my last letter want of time and room prevented my enlarging on my hint about the stage, but as far as my own determination goes at present, I think it is the course that I shall most likely pursue.
You know that independence of mind and body seems to me the great desideratum of life; I am not patient of restraint or submissive to authority, and my head and heart are engrossed with the idea of exercising and developing the literary talent which I think I possess. This is meat, drink, and sleep to me; my world, in which I live, and have my happiness; and, moreover, I hope, by means of fame (the prize for which I pray). To a certain degree it may be my means of procuring benefits of a more substantial nature, which I am by no means inclined to estimate at less than their worth.
I do not think I am fit to marry, to make an obedient wife or affectionate mother; my imagination is paramount with me, and would disqualify me, I think, for the every-day, matter-of-fact cares and duties of the mistress of a household and the head of a family. I think I should be unhappy and the cause of unhappiness to others if I were to marry. I cannot swear I shall never fall in love, but if I do I will fall out of it again, for I do not think I shall ever so far lose sight of my best interest and happiness as to enter into a relation for which I feel so unfit.
Now, if I do not marry, what is to become of me in the event of anything happening to my father? His property is almost all gone; I doubt if we shall ever receive one pound from it. Is it likely that, supposing I were willing to undergo the drudgery of writing for my bread, I could live by my wits and the produce of my brain; or is such an existence desirable? Perhaps I might attain to the literary dignity of being the lioness of a season, asked to dinner parties "because I am so clever;" perhaps my writing faculty might become a useful auxiliary to some other less precarious dependence; but to write to eat--to live, in short--that seems to me to earn hard money after a very hard fashion.
The stage is a profession that people who have a talent for it make lucrative, and which honorable conduct may make respectable; one which would place me at once beyond the fear of want, and that is closely allied in its nature to my beloved literary pursuits.
If I should (as my father and mother seem to think not unlikely) change my mind with respect to marrying, the stage need be no bar to that, and if I continue to write, the stage might both help me in and derive assistance from my exercise of the pursuit of dramatic authorship. And the mere mechanical labor of writing costs me so little, that the union of the two occupations does not seem to me a difficulty. My father said the other day, "There is a fine fortune to be made by any young woman, of even decent talent, on the stage now." A fine fortune is a fine thing; to be sure, there remains a rather material question to settle, that of "even decent talent."
. . . Nature has certainly not been as favorable to me as might have been wished, if I am to embrace a calling where personal beauty, if not indispensable, is so great an advantage. But if the informing spirit be mine, it shall go hard if, with a face and voice as obedient to my emotions as mine are, I do not in some measure make up for the want of good looks. My father is now proprietor and manager of the theatre, and those certainly are favorable circumstances for my entering on a career which is one of great labor and some exposure, at the best, to a woman, and where a young girl cannot be too prudent herself, nor her protectors too careful of her. I hope I have not taken up this notion hastily, and I have no fear of looking only on the bright side of the picture, for ours is a house where that is very seldom seen. Good-by; God bless you! I shall be very anxious to hear from you; I sent you a note with my play, telling you I had just got up from the measles; but as my note has not reached you, I tell you so again. I am quite well, however, now, and shall not give them to you by signing myself Yours most affectionately, FANNY.Due to the financial trouble of the theatre, Fanny Kemble made her theatrical debut as Juliet at age 19.
It was in the autumn of 1829, my father being then absent on a professional tour in Ireland, that my mother, coming in from walking one day, threw herself into a chair and burst into tears. She had been evidently much depressed for some time past, and I was alarmed at her distress, of which I begged her to tell me the cause. "Oh, it has come at last," she answered; "our property is to be sold. I have seen that fine building all covered with placards and bills of sale; the theater must be closed, and I know not how many hundred poor people will be turned adrift without employment!"
I believed the theater employed regularly seven hundred persons in all its different departments, without reckoning the great number of what were called supernumeraries, who were hired by the night at Christmas, Easter, and on all occasions of any specially showy spectacle. Seized with a sort of terror, like the Lady of Shallott, that "the curse had come upon me," I comforted my mother with expressions of pity and affection, and, as soon as I left her, wrote a most urgent entreaty to my father that he would allow me to act for myself, and seek employment as a governess, so as to relieve him at once at least of the burden of my maintenance. I brought this letter to my mother, and begged her permission to send it, to which she consented; but, as I afterward learned, she wrote by the same post to my father, requesting him not to give a positive answer to my letter until his return to town.
The next day she asked me whether I seriously thought I had any real talent for the stage. My school-day triumphs in Racine's "Andromaque" were far enough behind me, and I could only answer, with as much perplexity as good faith, that I had not the slightest idea whether I had or not. She begged me to learn some part and say it to her, that she might form some opinion of my power, and I chose Shakespeare's Portia, then, as now, my ideal of a perfect woman—the wise, witty woman, loving with all her soul and submitting with all her heart to a man whom everybody but herself (who was the best judge) would have judged her inferior; the laughter-loving, light-hearted, true-hearted, deep-hearted woman, full of keen perception, of active efficiency, of wisdom prompted by love, of tenderest unselfishness, of generous magnanimity; noble, simple, humble, pure; true, dutiful, religious, and full of fun; delightful above all others, the woman of women.
Fanny Kemble as Portia
Having learned it by heart, I recited Portia to my mother, whose only comment was, "I wish you would study Juliet for me." Study to me then, as unfortunately long afterward, simply meant to learn by heart, which I did again, and repeated my lesson to my mother, who again heard me without any observation whatever. Meantime my father returned to town and I stood up before them both, and with indescribable trepidation repeated my first lesson in tragedy. They neither of them said anything beyond "Very well,—very nice, my dear," with many kisses and caresses, from which I escaped to sit down on the stairs half-way between the drawing-room and my bedroom, and get rid of the repressed nervous fear I had struggled with while reciting, in floods of tears.
A few days after this my father told me he wished to take me to the theater with him to try whether my voice was of sufficient strength to fill the building; so thither I went. That strange-looking place, the stage, with its racks of pasteboard and canvas—streets, forests, banqueting-halls, and dungeons—drawn apart on either side, was empty and silent; not a soul was stirring in the indistinct recesses of its mysterious depths, which seemed to stretch indefinitely behind me. In front, the great amphitheater, equally empty and silent, wrapped in its gray holland covers, would have been absolutely dark but for a long, sharp, thin shaft of light that darted here and there from some height and distance far above me, and alighted in a sudden, vivid spot of brightness on the stage. Set down in the midst of twilight space, as it were, with only my father's voice coming to me from where he stood hardly distinguishable in the gloom, in those poetical utterances of pathetic passion I was seized with the spirit of the thing; my voice resounded through the great vault above and before me, and, completely carried away by the inspiration of the wonderful play, I acted
Juliet as I do not believe I ever acted it again, for I had no visible Romeo, and no audience to thwart my imagination . . .
Fanny as Juliet
And so three weeks from that time I was brought out, and it was a "great success." Three weeks was not much time for preparation of any sort for such an experiment, but I had no more, to become acquainted with my fellow actors and actresses, not one of whom I had ever spoken with or seen—off the stage—before; to learn all the technical business, as it is called, of the stage; how to carry myself toward the audience, which was not—but was to be—before me; how to concert my movements with the movements of those I was acting with, so as not to impede or intercept their efforts, while giving the greatest effect of which I was capable to my own.On October 26, 1829, Fanny Kemble first appeared on the stage; her popularity enabled her father to recoup some of his financial losses. She played all the principal women's roles of the time, including Shakespeare's Portia and and Beatrice. James Sheridan Knowles wrote the role of Julia in "The Hunchback" especially for her.
Sir Thomas Lawrence, meeting my father accidentally in the street one day,
stopped him and spoke with great feeling of his sympathy for us all in my approaching trial, and begged permission to come and see my mother and become acquainted with me, which he accordingly did; and from that time till his death, which occurred but a few months later, he was unwearied in acts of friendly and affectionate kindness to me. . . . I had been sitting to him for some time previously for a pencil sketch, which he gave my mother; it was his last work, and certainly the most beautiful of his drawings. He had appointed a day for beginning a full-length, life-size portrait of me as Juliet, and we had seen him only a week before his death, and, in the interval, received a note from him, merely saying he was rather indisposed. His death, which was quite unexpected, created a very great public sensation, and there was something sufficiently mysterious about its circumstances to give rise to a report that he had committed suicide. The shock of this event was terrible to me . . .
Engraving from the drawing by Thomas Lawrence
When I saw the shop-windows full of Lawrence's sketch of me, and knew myself the subject of almost daily newspaper notices; when plates and saucers were brought to me with small figures of me as Juliet and Belvidera on them; and finally, when gentlemen showed me lovely buff-colored neck-handkerchiefs which they had bought, and which had, as I thought, pretty lilac-colored flowers all over them, which proved on nearer inspection to be minute copies of Lawrence's head of me, I not unnaturally, in the fullness of my inexperience, believed in my own success.
Staffordshire figure of Fanny
|Briggs portrait of Fanny and her aunt|
My life now became settled in its new shape. I acted regularly three times a
week; I had no rehearsals, since "Romeo and Juliet" went on during the whole season, and so my mornings were still my own. I always dined in the middle of the day (and invariably on a mutton-chop, so that I might have been a Harrow boy, for diet); I was taken by my aunt early to the theater, and there in my dressing-room sat through the entire play, when I was not on the stage, with some piece of tapestry or needlework, with which, during the intervals of my tragic sorrows, I busied my fingers; my thoughts being occupied with the events of my next scene and the various effects it demanded. When I was called for the stage, my aunt came with me, carrying my train, that it might not sweep the dirty floor behind the scenes; and after spreading it out and adjusting its folds carefully, as I went on, she remained at the side scene till I came off again, then gathered it on her arm, and, folding a shawl around me, escorted me back to my dressing-room and tapestry; and so my theatrical evenings were passed. My parents would not allow me to go into the green-room, where they thought my attention would be distracted from my business, and where I might occasionally meet with undesirable associates.
My salary was fixed at thirty guineas a week, and the Saturday after I came out I presented myself for the first and last time at the treasury of the theater to receive it, and carried it, clinking, with great triumph, to my mother, the first money I ever earned.
It would be difficult to imagine anything more radical than the change
which three weeks had made in the aspect of my whole life. From an insignificant school-girl, I had suddenly become an object of general public interest. I was a little lion in society, and the town talk of the day. Approbation, admiration, adulation, were showered upon me; every condition of my life had been altered, as by the wand of a fairy. Instead of the twenty pounds a year which my poor father squeezed out of his hard-earned income for my allowance, out of which I bought (alas, with how much difficulty, seeing how many other things I would buy!) my gloves and shoes, I now had an assured income, as long as my health and faculties were unimpaired, of at least a thousand a year; and the thirty guineas a week at Covent Garden, and much larger remuneration during provincial tours, forever forbade the sense of destitution productive of the ecstasy with which, only a short time before I came out, I had found wedged into the bottom of my money drawer in my desk a sovereign that I had overlooked, and so had sorrowfully concluded myself penniless till next allowance day. Instead of trudging long distances afoot through the muddy London streets, when the hire of a hackney-coach was matter of serious consideration, I had a comfortable and elegant carriage; I was allowed, at my own earnest request, to take riding lessons, and before long had a charming horse of my own, and was able to afford the delight of giving my father one, the use of which I hoped would help to invigorate and refresh him.
Fanny in 1830
The faded, threadbare, turned, and dyed frocks which were my habitual wear were exchanged for fashionably made dresses of fresh colors and fine texture, in which I appeared to myself transfigured. Our door was besieged with visitors, our evenings bespoken by innumerable invitations; social civilities and courtesies poured in upon us from every side in an incessant stream; I was sought and petted and caressed by persons of conventional and real distinction, and every night that I did not act I might, if my parents had thought it prudent to let me do so, have passed in all the gayety of the fashionable world and the great London season. So much cordiality, sympathy, interest, and apparent genuine good-will seemed to accompany all these flattering demonstrations, that it was impossible for me not to be touched and gratified,—perhaps, too, unduly elated. If I was spoiled and my head turned, I can only say I think it would have needed a strong head not to be so; but God knows how pitiful a preparation all this tinsel, sudden success, and popularity formed for the duties and trials of my after-life.
Thursday, June 23rd, 1831. — Quite unwell, and in bed all day. Mrs. Jameson came and sat with me some time. We talked of marriage, and a woman's chance of happiness in giving her life into another's keeping. I said I thought if one did not expect too much one might secure a reasonably fair amount of happiness, though of course the risk one ran was immense. I never shall forget the expression of her face; it was momentary, and passed away almost immediately, but it has haunted me ever since.Fanny Kemble first went to the United States in 1832, at the age of 23. The 30-day voyage was the first of the 18 trans-Atlantic crossings Kemble made in her lifetime.
When I first went to America, steam had not shortened the passage of that formidable barrier between world and world. A month, and not a week, was the shortest and most favorable voyage that could be looked for. Few men, and hardly any women, undertook it as a mere matter of pleasure or curiosity; and though affairs of importance, of course, drew people from one shore to the other, and the stream of emigration had already set steadily westward, American and European tourists had not begun to cross each other by thousands on the high seas in search of health or amusement.
I was leaving my mother, my brothers and sister, my friends and my country, for two years, and could only hear from them at monthly intervals. I was going to work very hard, in a distasteful vocation, among strangers, from whom I had no right to expect the invariable kindness and indulgence my own people had favored me with. My spirits were depressed by my father's troubled fortunes . . . The foreboding with which I left my own country was justified by the event. My dear aunt died, and I married, in America; and neither of us ever had a home again in England.She was 51 years old when the Civil War began.
Off Sandy Hook, Monday, September 5, 1832.
My dearest Harriet,
We are within three hours' sail of New York, having greeted the first corner of Long Island (the first land we saw) yesterday morning; but we are becalmed, and the sun shines so bright, and the air is so warm and breathless, that we seem to have every chance of lying here for the next—Heaven knows how long! In point of time, you see, our voyage has been very prosperous, and I am surprised that we have made such good progress, for the weather has been squally, with constant head-winds. I do not think we have had, in all, six days of fair wind, so that we have no reason whatever to complain of our advance, having come thus far in thirty-two days.
You bade me write to you by ships passing us, but though we have encountered several bound eastward, we only hailed them without lying to; notwithstanding which, about a fortnight ago, on hearing that a vessel was about to pass us, I wrote you a scrawl, which none but you could have made out (so the fishes won't profit much by it), and a kind fellow-passenger undertook to throw it from our ship to the other as it passed us. She came alongside very rapidly, and though he flung with great force and good aim, the distance was too great, and my poor little missive fell into the black sea within twenty feet of its destination. I could not help crying to think that those words from my heart, that would have gladdened yours, should go down into that cold, inky water.... I pray to God that we may return to England, but I am possessed with a dread that I never shall....
The cholera had been in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York; the latter town was almost deserted, and the people flying in numbers from the others. This was rather bad news to us, who were going thither to find audiences (if possible not few, whether fit or not), but it was awful to such as were going back to their homes and families. I looked at the anxious faces gathered round our informer, and thought how the poor hearts were flying, in terrible anticipation of the worst, to the nests where they had left their dear ones, and eagerly counting every precious head in the homes over which so black a cloud of doom had gathered in their absence.... My father, though a bad sailor, and suffering occasionally a good deal, has, upon the whole, borne the voyage well. Poor dear Dall has been the greatest wretch on board; she has been perfectly miserable the whole time. It has made me very unhappy, for she has come away from those she loves very dearly on my account, and I cannot but feel sad to see that most excellent creature now, in what should be the quiet time of her life, leaving home and all its accustomed ways, habits, and comforts, to come wandering to the ends of the earth after me....
New York, America, Wednesday, September 5, 1832.
Here we really are, and perhaps you, who are not here, will believe it more readily than I who am, and to whom it seems an impossible kind of dream from which I must surely presently wake. We made New York harbor Monday night at sunset, and cast anchor at twelve o'clock off Staten Island, where we lay till yesterday morning at half-past nine, when a steamboat came alongside to take the passengers to shore. A thick fog covered the shores, and the rain poured in torrents; but had the weather been more favorable, I should have seen nothing of our approach to the city, for I was crying bitterly. The town, as we drove through it from the landing, struck me as foreign in its appearance—continental, I mean; trees are mixed very prettily with the houses, which are painted of various colors, and have green blinds on the outside, giving an idea of coolness and shade.
. . . The cholera has been very bad, but it is subsiding, and the people are returning to town. We shall begin our work in about ten days. . . .
The steward of our ship, a black—a very intelligent, obliging, respectable servant—came here the other morning to ask my father for an order, at the same time adding that it must be for the gallery, as people of color were not allowed to go into any other part of the theater. Qu'en dis-tu? The prejudice against these unfortunate people is, of course, incomprehensible to us. On board ship, after giving that same man some trouble, Dall poured him out a glass of wine, when we were having our dinner, whereupon the captain looked at her with utter amazement, and I thought some little contempt, and said, "Ah! one can tell by that that you are not an American;" which sort of thing makes one feel rather glad that one is not.
Mansion House, Philadelphia, October 10, 1832.
In spite of an often heavy heart, and my distaste for my present surroundings, I
have reason to be most grateful, and I trust I am so, for the benefits which we have already derived from a visit to this far world beyond the sea. The first and greatest of these is the wonderful improvement in my dear father's health. He looks full ten years younger than when last you saw him, and besides enjoying better spirits from the absence of the many cares and anxieties and vexations that weighed upon him daily in England, he says that he is conscious since he came away of a great increase of absolute muscular strength and vigor; and when he said this, I felt that my share of the unpleasant duty of coming hither was already amply repaid.... We have finished our first engagement at New York, which was for twelve nights, and have every reason to be satisfied with our financial, as well as professional, success. Living here is not as cheap as we had been led to expect, but our earnings are very considerable, and as we labor for these, it is matter of rejoicing that we labor so satisfactorily. Dall is very well, except the nuisance of a bad cold. I am very well, without exception ....
My father acts to-night for the first time, Hamlet; and I make my first appearance to-morrow in "Fazio." We shall act here for three weeks, and then return to New York for a month; after which we shall proceed to Boston . . . I like this place better than New York; it has an air of greater age. It has altogether a rather dull, sober, mellow hue, which is more agreeable than the glaring newness of New York. There are one or two fine public buildings, and the quantity of clean, cool-looking white marble which they use both for their public edifices and for the doorsteps of the private houses has a simple and sumptuous appearance, which is pleasant. It is electioneering time, and all last night the streets resounded with cheers and shouts, and shone with bonfires. The present President, Jackson, appears to be far from popular here, and though his own partisans are determined, of course, to re-elect him if possible, a violent struggle is likely to take place; and here already his opponent, Henry Clay, who is the leader of the aristocratic party in the United States, is said to have obtained the superiority over him.
...I acted here last night for the first time. Dall and my father say that I received my reception very ungraciously. I am sure I am very sorry, I did not mean to do so, but I really had not the heart or the face to smile and look as pleased and pleasant as I can at a parcel of strangers.... I was not well, or in spirits, and laboring under a severe cold, which I acquired on board the steamboat that brought down the Delaware....
It seems curious, if it is true, as we have been assured, that in this one State of Pennsylvania, eight thousand persons out of fifty who have the right of voting were all who in this last election exercised it; so that the much-vaunted privilege of universal suffrage does not seem to be highly prized where it is possessed. From all the opinions that I hear expressed upon the subject, it does not seem as though the system of election prevalent here works much better, or is much freer from abuses, than the well-vilified one which England has just been reforming. Bribery and corruption are familiar here as elsewhere, to those who have, and those who wish to have, power; and I have not yet heard a single American speak of our Radical reformers without uplifted hands at what they consider their folly in not "letting well alone," or, as they say, in substituting one set of abuses for another, as they declare we shall do if we adopt their vote by ballot system.
. . . Dall went into a Quaker's shop here the other day, when, after waiting upon her with the utmost attention and kindness, the master of the shop said, "And how doth Fanny? I was in hopes she might have wanted something; we should have great pleasure in attending upon her." Was not that nice? So to-day I went thither, and bought myself a lovely sober-colored gown. This place, as you know, is the headquarters of Quakerdom, and all the enchanting nosegays come from "a Philadelphia friend," the latter word dashed under, as if to indicate a member of the religious fraternity always called by that kindly title here....
Fanny met Pierce Butler, the young gentlemen who signed himself "a Philadelphia friend," shortly after she and and her father arrived in Philadelphia. He had a letter of introduction from an English friend of his, and paid a call on the Kembles at their hotel on October 13, the day after their Philadelphia debut. Born in 1806 into a wealthy and prominent family, Pierce was the grandson of Major Pierce Butler, an Irish officer in the British army who hadOctober 13, 1832 - Pierce Butler was a pretty-spoken, genteel youth enough; he
drank tea with us, and offered to ride with me. He is, it seems, a great fortune; consequently, I suppose, in spite of his inches, a great man.
|Major Pierce Butler|
October 16, 1832 - Just as I had finished dinner, a most beautiful, fragrant, and delicious nosegay was brought to me . . . He hath my most unbounded gratitude. Spent an ecstatic half hour, in arranging my flowers . . .
Thursday, Nov. 27th. This is my birthday—in England always one of the gloomiest days of this gloomy month; here my windows are all open, and the warm sun streaming in as it might on the finest of early September days with us. I am to-day three-and-twenty. Where is my life gone to? As the child said, "Where does the light go when the candle is out?" ... Since last I wrote to you I have been forty miles up the Hudson, and seen such noble waters and beautiful hills, such glory of color and magnificent breadth in the grand river and its autumn woods, as I cannot describe.
By now, Pierce Butler was traveling with the Kembles, and accompanied them to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Philadelphia. December 30, 1832. . . . At Laurel Hill we lunched. While Dall put up her hair, Butler and I ran down to the water side. The ice had melted from the river . . . The long icicles had not melted away, though the warm sun was shining brilliantly on them, and making the granite slab on which we stood sparkle like a pavement of diamonds.
Baltimore, January 2, 1833.
My dearest Harriet,
You are the first to whom I date this new year.... We arrived in this place on Monday, at half-past four, having left Philadelphia at six in the morning. We have just terminated a second engagement there very successfully. If the roads and carriages are bad, and the land-traveling altogether detestable, the speed, facility, and convenience of the steamboats, by which one may really be conveyed from one end to another of this world of vast waters, are very admirable. Vast waters indeed they are! We came down the Delaware on Monday, and sometimes it was six, sometimes thirteen miles wide, and never narrower than three or four miles at any part of it that we saw. So wide an expanse of fresh running water is in itself a fine object. We crossed the narrow neck of land between the Delaware and the Chesapeake on a railroad with one of Stephenson's engines....The railroad was full of knots and dots, and jolting and jumping and bumping and thumping places. The carriages we were in held twelve people very uncomfortably. Baltimore itself, as far as I have seen it, strikes me as a large, rambling, red-brick village on the outskirts of one of our manufacturing towns, Birmingham or Manchester. It covers an immense extent of ground, but there are great gaps and vacancies in the middle of the streets, patches of gravely ground, parcels of meadow and, and large vacant spaces—which will all, no doubt, be covered with buildings in good time, for it is growing daily and hourly—but which at present give it an untidy, unfinished, straggling appearance.
While my father and I were exploring about together yesterday, we came to a
print-shop, whose window exhibited an engraving of Reynolds's Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, and Lawrence's picture of my uncle John in Hamlet. We stopped before them, and my father looked with a good deal of emotion at these beautiful representations of his beautiful kindred, and it was a sort of sad surprise to meet them in this other world where we are wandering, aliens and strangers.
"Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse"
This is the newest-looking place we have yet visited, the youngest in appearance in this young world; and I have experienced to-day a disagreeable instance of its immature civilization, or at any rate its small proficiency in the elegancies of life. I wanted to ride, but although a horse was to be found, no such thing as a side-saddle could be procured at any livery-stable or saddler's in the town, so I have been obliged to give up my projected exercise. . .
In a week's time we are going on to Washington, where we shall find dear Washington Irving, whom I think I shall embrace, for England's sake as well as his own. We have letters to the President, to whom we are to be presented, and to his rival, Henry Clay, and to Daniel Webster, whom I care more to know than either of the others.
After a short stay in Washington we return here, and then back to Philadelphia and New York, till the 20th of February, after which we sail for Charleston. There has been, and still exists at present, a very considerable degree of political alarm and excitement in this country, owing to the threat of the South Carolinians to secede from the Union if the tariff is not annulled, and the country is in hourly expectation of being involved in a civil war. However, the prevailing opinion among the wise seems to be that the Northern States will be obliged to give up the tariff, as the only means of preserving the Union; and if matters come to a peaceable settlement, we shall proceed in February to Charleston; if not, South Carolina will have other things to think of besides plays and play-actors.
The summer we shall probably spend in Canada; the winter perhaps in Jamaica, to which place we have received a most pressing invitation from Lord Mulgrave. The end of the ensuing spring will, I trust in God, see us embarked once more for England....We are earning money very fast, and though I think we work too incessantly and too hard, yet, as every night we do not act is a certain loss of so much out of my father's pocket, I do not like to make many objections to it, although I think it is really not unlikely to be detrimental to his own health and strength....
|Robert E. Lee|
Arlington, Jany. 23rd. 1833
Mackay My Child
Your letter from Philadelphia arrived at Old Point the day before I left there on my peregrinations in the interior. . . . Lord Jack, picture me to yourself surrounded by my wife and child after an absence of a month, with so many accounts to settle with the one and to learn of the other. . .
Washington is allowed I believe by those better acquainted with it than I am, to be duller this winter than usual. There are a few parties but no one is decidedly the rage, nor considered a big Lion. Miss Fanny Kemble was the great attraction last week and drew to herself crowded houses and all hearts. She is a lady of great talent and surpasses any performer I ever saw. She is the niece of Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble and I should think not unworthy these brilliant connexions.
On the stage she is beautiful, In the ball room, for she frequents both, (I am told) she is next door to homely. Her eye is bright and teeth good, but off the stage I could not recognize her as the same being I had so admired the previous night.
She fell into ill odour the last day of her stay. It seems as is natural, that she is much prejudiced in favour of the English and in riding out with young Fulton who associates much with little attaches &c. and whom she took for an Englishman and spoke so plainly that he was obliged to tell her, he was an American. The story goes that she then, whether as a consequence of their previous conversation l know not, offered him $2 for the hire of his horse, (which she was then riding). Of course he refused to be considered in the light of a livery keeper and on their return the tale took wind. She was anonymously informed that if she appeared that night, she would be hissed. She did appear and it was attempted to hiss her off (I am told) but failed. The next morning according to a previous arrangement she left for Phila.
. . . Remember me to all Mackay and write soon, till then believe me.In February, Fanny met the novelist Catherine Sedgwick; she became friends with Catherine, her brother Charles Sedgwick, and his wife Elizabeth Dwight Sedgwick. The Sedgwick family had founded Lenox, Massachusetts. Elizabeth Sedgwick ran a girls' school and was involved with antislavery and women's rights advocates. Catherine Sedgwick wrote to Mrs. Frank Channing:
Yours, R. E. Lee.
New York, February 12, 1833. . . . We are just now in the full flush of excitementFanny and Pierce Butler continued to spend time together:
about Fanny Kemble. She is a most captivating creature, steeped to the very lips in genius. You will not see her till the middle of April. Do not, if you can bear unmixed tragedy, do not fail to see her Belvidera. I have never seen any woman on the stage to be compared with her, nor ever an actor that delighted me so much. She is most effective in a true woman's character, fearful, tender, and true. On the stage she is beautiful, far more than beautiful; her face is the mirror of her soul. I have been to see her: she is a quiet gentlewoman in her deportment.
Fanny Kemble as Belvidera
New York City. February 23, 1833. Discussing the difference between religion as felt by men and women, Butler agreed with me, that hardly one man out of five thousand held any distinct and definite religious belief. He said that religion was a sentiment, and that as regarded all creeds, there was no midway with them; that entire faith or utter disbelief were the only alternatives . . . I do not think that religion is only a sentiment. There are many reasons why women are more religious than men. Our minds are not generally naturally analytical . . . I believe, too, that women are more religious than men because they have warmer and deeper affections. . . .'Tis not only from our capacity of loving, but also from our capacity of suffering that our piety springs. Woman's physical existence, compared with that of man, is one of incessant endurance.Fanny made her Boston debut in April 1833 in Fazio, by Henry Hart Milman. Her performance resulted in an outbreak of “Kemble fever” in Boston. Banker Henry Lee, who became a friend, later remembered that, when Fanny Kemble performed, “us Harvard students . . . all went mad. As long as funds held out, there was a procession of us hastening breathless over the road to Boston” to see the young British actress. He also reported that “Every young girl who could sported Fanny Kemble curls.” She was copied and idolized by people everywhere. Her likeness appeared on plates, saucers, scarves, and other souvenirs. The theaters were packed every night of her performances.
Boston, Sunday, April 21, 1833.
Dear Mrs. Jameson,
There lies in my desk, and has lain, I am ashamed to say, for a long time now, an unanswered letter of yours, which smites my conscience every time I open that useful receptacle (desk, not conscience), where it has, I am sorry to say, many companions in its own predicament. My time is like running water, and the quickest, but the rapids of Niagara, that ever ran, I think; and every hour, as it flies away, is filled with so much that must be done, letting alone so much that I would wish to do, that I am fairly out of breath, and feel as if I were flying myself in a whirling high wind, and if ever I stop for a moment, shan't be surprised to find that I have gone crazy.
I think I should like to spend a few days entirely alone in a dark room, secluded from every sight and sound, for my senses are almost worn out, and my sense exhausted, with looking, hearing, feeling, going, doing, being, and suffering. Our work is incessant; we never remain a month in any one place, and we are scarce off our knees from putting things into drawers than we are down on them again to take them out and put them all back into trunks. My health has not suffered hitherto from this constant exertion, but I am occasionally oppressed with the dreadful unquietness of our life, and long for a few moments' rest of body and of mind.
This is our first visit to this place, and I am enchanted with it. As a town, it bears more resemblance to an English city than any we have yet seen; the houses are built more in our own fashion, and there is a beautiful walk called the Common, the features of which strongly resemble the view over the Green Park just by Constitution Hill. The people here take more kindly to us than they have done even elsewhere, and it is delightful to act to audiences who appear so pleasantly pleased with us....
Our plans for the summer are yet unsettled.... The hotel in which we are lodging here is immediately opposite the box-office, and it is a matter of some agreeable edification to me to see the crowds gathering round the doors for hours before they open, and then rushing in, to the imminent peril of life and limb, pushing and pommeling and belaboring one another like madmen. Some of the lower class of purchasers, inspired by the thrifty desire for gain said to be a New England characteristic, sell these tickets, which they buy at the box-office price, at an enormous advance, and smear their clothes with treacle and sugar and other abominations, to secure, from the fear of their contact of all decently-clad competitors, freer access to the box-keeper. To prevent, if possible, these malpractices, and secure, to ourselves and the managers of the theater any such surplus profit as may be honestly come by, the proprietors have determined to put the boxes up to auction and sell the tickets to the highest bidders. It was rather barbarous of me, I think, upon reflection, to stand at the window while all this riot was going on, laughing at the fun; for not a wretch found his way in that did not come out rubbing his back or his elbow, or showing some grievous damage done to his garments. The opposite window of my room looks out upon a churchyard and a burial-ground; the reflections suggested by the contrast between the two prospects are not otherwise than edifying.... Good-by; God bless you!
I am ever yours, most truly,
New York, Friday, May 24, 1833.
My dearest Harriet,
I received your last letter, dated the 22d March, a week ago, when I was in Boston, which we have left, after a stay of five weeks, to return here, where we arrived a few days ago. . . Boston is one of the pleasantest towns imaginable . . . This is "a brave new world," more ways than one, and we are every way bound to like it, for our labor has been most amply rewarded in its most important result, money; and the universal kindness which has everywhere met us ever since we first came to this country ought to repay us even for the pain and sorrow of leaving England.
We are to remain here about ten days longer, and then proceed to Philadelphia, where we shall stay a fortnight, and then we start for cool and Canada, taking the Hudson, Trenton Falls, and Niagara on our way; act in Montreal and Quebec for a short time. . .
I went to call on Dr. Channing with a Miss Sedgwick, a person of considerable
literary reputation here, and whose name and books you may perhaps have heard of. One of them, "Hope Leslie," is, I think, known in England. Though she is a good deal older than myself, I have formed a great friendship with her; she is excellent, as well as very clever and charming. She knows Dr. Channing intimately, and is a member of his church. . . . Dr. Channing was talking to me of Harriet Martineau's writings, and has sent me "Ella of Garvelock," recommending it highly as an interesting story, though he does not seem to think Miss Martineau's principles of political economy sufficiently sound to make her works as useful upon that subject, or to do all the good which she herself evidently hopes to produce by these tales....
William Ellery Channing
God bless you, dear friend! I am ever most truly yours,
F. A. K.
To Miss Fitzhugh.
Montreal, July 24, 1833.
My dearest Emily,
Within the last fortnight we have progressed, as we say in this country, over about nine hundred and fifty miles of land and water. We have gone up the Hudson, seen Trenton, the most beautiful, and Niagara, the most awful, of waterfalls.
As for Niagara, words cannot describe it, nor can any imagination, I think, suggest even an approximate idea of its terrible loveliness. I feel half crazy whenever I think of it. I went three times under the sheet of water; once I had a guide as far as the entrance, and twice I went under entirely alone. If you fancy the sea pouring down from the moon, you still have no idea of this glorious huge heap of tumbling waters. It is worth crossing the Atlantic to see it.... As I stood upon the brink of the abyss when I first saw it, the impulse to jump down seemed all but an irresistible necessity, and but for the strong arm that held mine fast I think I might very well have taken the same direction as the huge green glassy mountain of water that was pouring itself headlong into—what no eye can penetrate. It literally seemed as if everything was going down there, and one must go along with everything. The chasm into which the cataract falls is hidden by dense masses of snowy foam and spray, rising in an everlasting creation of cloud up into the sky, and vailing the frantic fury of the caldron below, where the waves churn and tread each other underfoot in the rocky abyss that receives them, in darkness which the sun's rays cannot penetrate nor the strongest wind for a moment disperse; a mystery, of which its thousand voices reveal nothing. It is nonsense writing about it—seeing and hearing are certainly, in this case, the only reasons for believing. I think it would be delightful to pass one's life by this wonderful creature's side, and quite pleasant to die and be buried in its bosom....The Kemble's trip to Niagara Falls included Fanny, her father, Aunt Dall, Pierce Butler and
|Portrait of Fanny by Thomas Sully|
Boston, April 16, 1834.
Dear Mrs. Jameson,
I may be in London in July, when I hope I shall find you there.... I am coming back to England, after all, and shall, I think, remain on the stage another year....
You will be sorry for me and for many when I tell you that our good, dear friend Dall is dangerously ill. I am writing at this moment by her bed.... This is the only trial of the kind I have ever undergone; God has hitherto been pleased to spare all those whom I love, and to grant them the enjoyment of strength and health. This is my first lonely watching by a sick-bed, and I feel deeply the sadness and awfulness of the office.... Now that I am beginning to know what care and sorrow really are, I look back upon my past life and see what reason I have to be thankful for the few and light trials with which I have been visited. My poor dear aunt's illness is giving us a professional respite, for which my faculties, physical and mental, are very grateful. They needed it sorely; I was almost worn out with work, and latterly with anxiety and bitter distress.
. . . In returning to England, two advantages, which I shall value much, will be obtained: a fortnight's rest during the passage, and, I hope, not quite such hard work when I resume my labors.... As for the hollowness and heartlessness of the world, by which one means really the people that one has to do with in it, I cannot say that I trouble my mind much about it. In their relations with me I commit every one to their own conscience; if they deal ill by me, they deal worse by themselves.... I hope you may be in London when we reach it. Farewell. I am ever yours truly, Fanny Kemble.Fanny later wrote in her memoirs:
Her last words to me, after a night of angelic endurance of restless fever and suffering, were, "Open the window; let in the blessed light."
New York, Thursday, April 24, 1834.
My dear Harriet,
Dear Dall has gone from us. She is dead; she died in my arms, and I closed her eyes.... I cannot attempt to speak of this now, I will give you all details in my next letter. It has been a dreadful shock, though it was not unexpected; but there is no preparation for the sense of desolation which oppresses me, and which is beyond words....
We shall probably be in England on the 10th of July.... The sole care of my father, who is deeply afflicted, and charge of everything, devolves entirely on me now.... We left Boston on Tuesday.... I act here to-night for the first time since I lost that dear and devoted friend, who was ever near at hand to think of everything for me, to care for me in every way. I have almost cried my eyes out daily for the last three months; but that is over now. I am working again, and go about my work feeling stunned and bewildered....
We have buried dear Dall in a lonely, lovely place in Mount Orban's Cemetery, where —— and I used to go and sit together last spring, in the early time of our intimacy. I wished her to lie there, for life and love and youth and death have their trysting-place at the grave.
"Signer of the Constitution of the U.S."
In 1768, he almost managed to elope with Betsy Izzard, an heiress whose deceased father had left her land and money; relatives separated the couple before they could be married. In 1771, Butler married Mary Middleton, the daughter of a wealthy South Carolina planter, merchant and slave trader. Shortly after their marriage, his wife inherited a large estate with hundreds of slaves. Pierce Butler sold his British army commission, and having resigned from the His Majesty's service, used the proceeds to purchase Hampton Point Plantation on St. Simons Island, Georgia. When the Revolutionary War began Pierce Butler owned 10,000 acres on which he operated rice plantations.
Motivated more by his personal property than by patriotism, he was elected to the South Carolina assembly in 1778, and the next year he served as adjutant general in the South Carolina militia.
When John Laurens arrived in South Carolina in early May 1779, he found his state in a crisis. A British expeditionary force from Savannah had marched into South Carolina for provisions and now threatened Charleston. Feeling abandoned by Congress and irritated that their pleas for reinforcements had been met with a plan to arm slaves, Governor John Rutledge and a majority of the council offered to surrender Charleston. Their offer was conditional, however, and depended on the city and state being declared neutral for the duration of the war. The British commander rejected the proposal, insisting that the city's inhabitants surrender as prisoners of war. The arrival of American reinforcements forced the redcoats to fall back. Though the crisis had been averted, the actions of Carolina leaders, who chose neutrality over arming slaves, showed the level of resistance to the idea Laurens's black regiment.
We are much disgusted here at Congress recommending us to arm our Slaves . . . It was received with great resentment, as a very dangerous and impolitic Step.Christopher Gadsen was the designer of what came to be known as "the Gadsden flag," with
a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the rattlesnake are the words "Dont tread on me". Gadsen designed it in 1775. In modern times, the Gadsden flag is a libertarian symbol, and has been associated with the Tea Party movement.
That summer, Laurens presented his plan formally to the House of Representatives; his written proposal emphasized the military expediency while downplaying the social ramifications. But the idea of large numbers of armed black men appalled the white legislators, and the plan was overwhelmingly rejected. Only a small group of the delegates gave him support; one of those supporters, Dr. David Ramsay, wrote that
The measure for embodying the negroes had about twelve votes; it was received with horror by the planters, who figured to themselves terrible consequences. . . . White Pride & Avarice are great obstacles in the way of Black Liberty.
The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.
A person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.
No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
Butler supported counting the full slave population in the states' totals for the purposes of Congressional apportionment. According to Malcolm Bell, Jr. in Major Butler's Legacy:
The first bone of contention had to do with the method to be used in determining a state's representation in Congress. Delegate Butler, who despite his monetary miseries of the moment, advocated wealth, or power as the only true measure. Wealth and power were synonymous to the Major.
. . . In the Major's mind, the fundamental purpose of the new nation should be the protection of property.The Southern pro-slavery delegates had to be satisfied with the compromise to count three-fifths of the slaves for representation; this gave the Southern whites (and states) representation out of proportion to their population, ensuring that the Southern planter elite would exert strong influence in national politics for decades.
|"Signing of the Constitution"|
Fanny and Pierce felt passionately about each other, and she was further disturbed by her Aunt Dall's death, as well as by financial pressures. The marriage had a rocky start.
I was married in Philadelphia on the 7th of June, 1834, to Mr. Pierce Butler, of
Portrait of Fanny as Mrs. Butler
Philadelphia, October 26th, 1834.
Dearest Mrs. Jameson,
However stoutly your incredulity may have held out hitherto against the various "authentic" reports of my marriage, I beg you will, upon receipt of this, immediately believe that I was married on the 7th of June last, and have now been a wife nearly five mortal months. You know that in leaving the stage I left nothing that I regretted; but the utter separation from my family consequent upon settling in this country, is a serious source of pain to me....
With regard to what you say, about the first year of one's marriage not being as happy as the second, I know not how that may be. I had pictured to myself no fairyland of enchantments within the mysterious precincts of matrimony; I expected from it rest, quiet, leisure to study, to think, and to work, and legitimate channels for the affections of my nature....
In the closest and dearest friendship, shades of character, and the precise depth and power of the various qualities of mind and heart, never approximate to such a degree, as to preclude all possibility of occasional misunderstandings. "Not e'en the nearest heart, and most our own, Knows half the reasons why we smile or sigh." It is impossible that it should be otherwise: for no two human beings were ever fashioned absolutely alike, even in their gross outward bodily form and lineaments, and how should the fine and infinite spirit admit of such similarity with another? But the broad and firm principles upon which all honorable and enduring sympathy is founded, the love of truth, the reverence for right, the abhorrence of all that is base and unworthy, admit of no difference or misunderstanding; and where these exist in the relations of two people united for life, it seems to me that love and happiness, as perfect as this imperfect existence affords, may be realized....
Pierce and Fanny Butler
What can I tell you of myself? My life, and all its occupations, are of a sober neutral tint. I am busy preparing my Journal for the press. I read but little, and that of old-fashioned kinds. I have never read much, and am disgracefully ignorant: I am looking forward with delight to hours of quiet study, and the mental hoards in store for me. I am busy preparing to leave town; I am at present, and have been ever since my marriage, staying in the house of my brother-in-law, and feel not a little anxious to be in a home of my own. But painters, and carpenters, and upholsterers are dirty divinities of a lower order, not to be moved, or hastened, by human invocations (or even imprecations), and we must e'en bide their time. I please myself much in the fancying of furniture, and fitting up of the house; and I look forward to a garden, green-house, and dairy, among my future interests, to each of which I intend to addict myself zealously.
My pets are a horse, a bird, and a black squirrel, and I do not see exactly what more a reasonable woman could desire. Human companionship, indeed, at present, I have not much of; but as like will to like, I do not despair of attracting towards me, by-and-by, some of my own kind, with whom I may enjoy pleasant intercourse; but you can form no idea—none—none—of the intellectual dearth and drought in which I am existing at present.
I care nothing for politics here, ... though I wish this great Republic well. But what are the rulers and guides of the people doing in England? I see the abolition of the Peerage has been suggested, but, I presume, as a bad joke.... If I were a man in England, I should like to devote my life to the cause of national progress, carried on through party politics and public legislation; and if I was not a Christian, I think, every now and then, I should like to shoot Brougham.... You speak of coming to this country: but I do not think you would like it; though you are much respected, admired, and loved here.
I have not met Miss Martineau yet, but I am afraid she is not likely to like me much. I admire her genius greatly, but have an inveterate tendency to worship at all the crumbling shrines, which she and her employers seem intent upon pulling down; and I think I should be an object of much superior contempt to that enlightened and clever female Radical and Utilitarian.
. . . I am just now seeing a great deal of Edward Trelawney; he traveled with us
last summer when we went to Niagara, and professing a great regard for me, told me, upon reading your "notice" of me, that he felt much inclined to write to you and solicit your acquaintance....Good-bye, and God bless you; write to me when the spirit prompts you, and believe me always
Yours very truly,
F. A. B.
Butler Place—or as I then called it, "The Farm," preferring that homely, and far more appropriate, though less distinctive appellation, to the rather pretentious title, which neither the extent of the property nor size and style of the house warranted—was not then our own, and we inhabited it by the kind allowance of an old relation to whom it belonged, in consequence of my decided preference for a country to a town residence.. . . It was amply sufficient, however, for my desires: but not being mine, all my busy visions of gardening and green-house improvement, etc., had to be indefinitely postponed. Subsequently, I took great interest and pleasure in endeavoring to improve and beautify the ground round the house; I made flower-beds and laid out gravel-walks, and left an abiding mark of my sojourn there in a double row of two hundred trees, planted along the side of the place, bordered by the high-road; many of which, from my and my assistants' combined ignorance, died, or came to no good growth. But those that survived our unskillful operations still form a screen of shade to the grounds, and protect them in some measure from the dust and glare of the highway.
Cultivating my garden was not possible. My first attempt at cultivating my neighbors' good-will was a ludicrous and lamentable failure. I offered to teach the little children of my gardener and farmer, and as many of the village children as liked to join them, to read and write; but found my benevolent proposal excited nothing but a sort of contemptuous amazement. There was the village school, where they received instruction for which they were obliged and willing to pay, to which they were accustomed to go, which answered all their purposes, fulfilled all their desires, and where the small students made their exits and their entrances without bob or bow, pulling of forelock, or any other superstitious observance of civilized courtesy: my gratuitous education was sniffed at alike by parents and progeny, and of course the whole idea upon which I had proffered it was mistaken and misplaced, and may have appeared to them to imply an impertinent undervaluing of a system with which they were perfectly satisfied; of the conditions of which, however, I was entirely ignorant then. These people and their children wanted nothing that I could give them. The "ladies" liked the make of my gowns, and would have borrowed them for patterns with pleasure, and this was all they desired or required from me.
On the first 4th of July I spent there, being alone at the place, I organized (British fashion) a feast and rejoicing, such as I thought should mark the birthday of American Independence, and the expulsion of the tyrannical English from the land. I had a table set under the trees, and a dinner spread for thirty-two guests, to which number the people on the two farms, with children and servants, amounted. Beer and wine were liberally provided, and fireworks, for due honoring of the evening; and though I did not take "the head of the table" (which would have been a usurpation), or make speeches on the "expulsion of the British," I did my best to give my visitors "a good time"; but succeeded only in imposing upon them a dinner and afternoon of uncomfortable constraint, from which the juniors of the party alone seemed happily free. Neither the wine nor beer were touched, and I found they were rather objects of moral reprobation than of material comfort to my Quaker farmer and his family, who were all absolute temperance people; he, indeed, was sorely disinclined to join at all in the "festive occasion," objecting to me repeatedly that it was a "shame and a pity to waste such a fine day for work in doing nothing"; and so, with rather a doleful conviction that my hospitality was as little acceptable to my neighbors as my teaching, I bade my guests farewell, and never repeated the experiment of a 4th of July Celebration dinner at Butler Place.
Branchtown. May 27, 1835. My Dearest Harriet. . . This place is not ours, and during the life of old Miss Butler [Pierce's aunt, Frances Butler, the executor of Major Butler's estate], not belong to us . . . The absolute absence of all taste in matters of ornamental cultivation is lamentably evident in the country dwelling of rich and poor alike, as far as I have seen in this neighborhood. . . . Straight, ungraveled paths, straight rows of trees, straight strips of coarse grass, straight box borders, dividing straight narrow flower-beds . . .On May 28, 1835, Fanny gave birth to their first child, Sarah "Sally" Butler.
The following month, she published the first volume of her memoirs, entitled Journal of America. She had signed the contract before her marriage, intending for it to provide money for her Aunt Dall. After her aunt's death, Pierce Butler objected to her writing as well as publication, but they were unable to break off the contract. Their quarrels over passages intensified the disharmony in their union. Although the book was commercially successful, it was also widely panned and parodied for the author's criticism of American society and individuals. Pierce Butler later wrote:
Mrs. Butler was engaged in preparing her "Journal" for the press. I was much averse to the publication of that work: it was the private diary of a young woman, and contained much that was unfit for the public eye; but it was sold to the publishers previous to our marriage, and they would not relinquish their contract.
I found it necessary, for her own sake, that many things should be omitted, and accordingly I read the manuscript and proof sheets. Any curtailment greatly irritated her; she opposed the slightest alteration after it was copied for the printer; and as she objected so vehemently to it, I struck out as little as possible, and indeed passed over many parts that I would certainly otherwise have erased. Every sentence, and even word, that I wished to omit or alter, was stoutly defended, and my suggestions made her very angry. At length she declared she would not submit to further curtailment in her composition, but would leave me.
This occurred in November, 1834, less than six months after our marriage, while we were residing temporarily with my brother. She packed up her clothes and other things . . . about 6 o'clock in the evening, when I happened to be out of the way, she left the house alone. I went into her room shortly afterward, discovered that she was gone, and found the following note on her table. This farewell is somewhat girlish and romantic; but she had rather passed the age of girlhood at this time, having completed her twenty-fifth year.
"I believe I do not owe a cent in the City; if, however, there should be any claims which I have forgotten, the enclosed twenty dollars must answer them fully, therefore any demands that may be made upon you in my name are unjust. If I send a porter for my things, perhaps you will be so good as to let him have them; and if you will be at the further trouble of sending my poor little bird down to Rose Sully, you will much oblige, Fanny."
I could do nothing, for I knew not where to go in search of her. Between nine and ten o'clock, however, she came back, went into her room, threw herself on the bed, and lay there all night without undressing. She did not speak to me nor I to her; I had suffered great anxiety while she was out of the house, and I was at once so much pained by her wilfulness and so much relieved by her return, as to be well content to allow her to remain undisturbed. She slept; the next morning she seemed to be in a better state of feeling; I then spoke to her, and anger having subsided, I prevailed on her to be friends with me again. At first she would not tell me where she had gone, but after a day or two she stated, that having resolved to return to England, she left the house to seek a public hotel: she wished to find one that she remembered to have passed, somewhere in North Second or Third street, which was far from our residence, and where, as she thought, it would not occur to me to look for her: at the time she was not well acquainted with the streets of Philadelphia, and after walking for about three hours, without finding the hotel, she returned for the night, intending, however, to start off again the next morning.Later that year, Fanny wrote to Harriet:
Branchtown. October 31, 1835. My Dearest Harriet. . . I cannot believe that women were intended to suffer as much as they do, and be as helpless as they are, in child-bearing . . . The mere item of tight stays, tight garters, tight shoes, tight waist-bands, tight arm-holes, and tight bodices - of which we are accustomed to think little or nothing, and under the bad effects of which most young women's figures are suffered to attain their growth - must have a tendency to injure irreparably the compressed parts, to impede circulation and respiration, and in many ways which we are not aware of, as well as by the more obvious evils which they have been proved to produce, destroy the health of the system, affect disastrously all its functions, and must aggravate the pains and perils of child-bearing. . . . Tight-lacing, want of exercise, and a perpertual inhaling of over-heated atmosphere . . . When one thinks of the tragical consequences of all this folly, one is tempted to wish that the legislature would interfere in these matters, and prevent the desperate injury which is thus done to the race. . . . The Americans have little or no regard for the laws of health . . .
Dear Mrs. Jameson,
I have not written to you since I received a most interesting and delightful letter of yours from Saxe-Weimar, containing an account of your stay in Goethe's house. . . . I think it will please you to hear that I am well and happy, and that my whole state of life and being has assumed a placid, tranquil, serene, and even course, which, after the violent excitements of my last few years, is both agreeable and wholesome. I should think, ever since my coming out on the stage, I must have lived pretty much at the rate of three years in every one—I mean in point of physical exertion and exhaustion.
The season of my repose is, however, arrived, and it seems almost difficult to imagine that, after beginning life in such a tumult of action and excitement, the remainder of my years is lying stretched before me, like a level, peaceful landscape, through which I shall saunter leisurely towards my grave. This is the pleasant probable future: God only knows what changes and chances may sweep across the smiling prospect, but at present, according to the calculations of mere human foresight, none are likely to arise.
As I write these words, I do bethink me of one quarter from which our present prosperous and peaceful existence might receive a shock—the South. The family into which I have married are large slaveholders; our present and future fortune depend greatly upon extensive plantations in Georgia. But the experience of every day, besides our faith in the great justice of God, forbids dependence on the duration of the mighty abuse by which one race of men is held in abject physical and mental slavery by another. As for me, though the toilsome earning of my daily bread were to be my lot again to-morrow, I should rejoice with unspeakable thankfulness that we had not to answer for what I consider so grievous a sin against humanity.. . . The power of opinion is working silently and strongly in the hearts of men; the majority of people in the North of this country are opposed to the theory of slavery, though they tolerate its practice in the South: and though the natural selfishness with which men cling to their interests is only at present increasing the vigilance of the planters in guarding their property and securing their prey, it is a property which is crumbling under their feet, and a prey which is escaping from their grasp; and perhaps, before many years are gone by, the black population of the South will be free, and we comparatively poor people—Amen! with all my heart....
I had hoped to revisit England before the winter, ... but this cannot be, and I shall certainly not see England this year, if ever again.... I think women in England are gradually being done justice to, and many sources of goodness, usefulness, and happiness, that have hitherto been sealed, are opened to them now, by a truer and more generous public feeling, and more enlightened views of education.
I saw a good deal of Harriet Martineau, and liked her very much indeed, in spite of her radicalism. She is gone to the South, where I think she cannot fail to do some good, if only in giving another impulse to the stone that already topples on the brink—I mean in that miserable matter of slavery.
Yours very truly,
F. A. B.
Branchtown, December 2d, 1835.
Dearest Dorothy [Wilson - companion of Harriet], I was at first a little disappointed that my baby was not a man-child, for the lot of woman is seldom happy, owing principally, I think, to the many serious mistakes which have obtained universal sway in female education. I do not believe that the just Creator intended one part of his creatures to lead the sort of lives that many women do.... In this country the difficulty of giving a girl a good education is even greater, I am afraid, than with us, in some respects. I do not think even accomplishments are well taught here; at least, they seem to me for the most part very flimsy, frivolous, and superficial, poor alike both in quality and quantity. More solid acquirements do not abound among my female acquaintance either, and the species of ignorance one encounters occasionally is so absolute and profound as to be almost amusing, and quite curious; while there is, also, quite enough native shrewdness, worldly acuteness, and smattering of shallow superficial reading, to produce a result which is worthless and vulgar to a pitiable degree. Of course there are exceptions to this narrowness and aridity of intellectual culture, but either they are really rare exceptions, or I have been especially unfortunate....
My dear Dorothy, this letter was begun three months ago; I mislaid it, and in the vanity of my imagination, believed that I had finished and sent it; and lo! yesterday it turns up—a fragment of which the Post Office is still innocent: and after all, 'tis a nonsense letter, to send galloping the wild world over after you. It seems hardly worth while to put the poor empty creature to the trouble of being sea-sick, and going so far. However, I know it will not be wholly worthless to you if it brings you word of my health and happiness, both of which are as good as any reasonable human mortal can expect....
Kiss dear Harriet for me, and believe me,
Very affectionately yours,
F. A. B.
Branchtown, Wednesday, October 5th, 1836
My Dearest Harriet,
It is a great disappointment to me that I am not going to the South this winter. There is no house, it seems, on the plantation but a small cottage, inhabited by the overseer, where the two gentlemen proprietors can be accommodated, but where there is no room for me, my baby, and her nurse, without unhousing the poor overseer and his family altogether. The nearest town to the estate, Brunswick, is fifteen miles off, and a wretched hole, where I am assured it will be impossible to obtain a decent lodging for me, so that it has been determined to leave me and baby behind, and the owner will go with his brother, but without us, on his expedition to Negroland.
As far as the child is concerned, I am well satisfied ... but I would undergo much myself to be able to go among those people. I know that my hands would be in a great measure tied. I certainly could not free them, nor could I even pay them for their labor, or try to instruct them, even to the poor degree of teaching them to read. But mere personal influence has a great efficiency; moral revolutions of the world have been wrought by those who neither wrote books nor read them; the Divinest Power was that of One Character, One Example; that Character and Example which we profess to call our Rule of life. The power of individual personal qualities is really the great power, for good or evil, of the world; and it is upon this ground that I feel convinced that, in spite of all the cunningly devised laws by which the negroes are walled up in a mental and moral prison, from which there is apparently no issue, the personal character and daily influence of a few Christian men and women living among them would put an end to slavery, more speedily and effectually than any other means whatever.
You do not know how profoundly this subject interests me, and engrosses my thoughts: it is not alone the cause of humanity that so powerfully affects my mind; it is, above all, the deep responsibility in which we are involved, and which makes it a matter of such vital paramount importance to me.... It seems to me that we are possessed of power and opportunity to do a great work; how can I not feel the keenest anxiety as to the use we make of this talent which God has entrusted us with? We dispose of the physical, mental, and moral condition of some hundreds of our fellow-creatures. How can I bear to think that this great occasion of doing good, of dealing justly, of setting a noble example to others, may be wasted or neglected by us? How can I bear to think that the day will come, as come it surely must, when we shall say: We once had it in our power to lift this burden from four hundred heads and hearts, and stirred no finger to do it; but carelessly and indolently, or selfishly and cowardly, turned our back upon so great a duty and so great a privilege. I cannot utter what I feel upon this subject, but I pray to God to pour His light into our hearts, and enable us to do that which is right.
In every point of view, I feel that we ought to embrace the cause of these poor people. They will be free assuredly, and that before many years; why not make friends of them instead of deadly enemies? Why not give them at once the wages of their labor? Is it to be supposed that a man will work more for fear of the lash than he will for the sake of an adequate reward? As a matter of policy, and to escape personal violence, or the destruction of one's property, it were well not to urge them—ignorant, savage, and slavish, as they are—into rebellion. As a mere matter of worldly interest, it would be wise to make it worth their while to work with zeal and energy for hire, instead of listlessly dragging their reluctant limbs under a driver's whip. Oh, how I wish I was a man! How I wish I owned these slaves! instead of being supported (disgracefully, as it seems to me) by their unpaid labor....
I have been spending a month with my friends, the Sedgwicks, in a beautiful hilly region in the State of Massachusetts; and I never looked abroad upon the woods and valleys and lakes and mountains without thinking how great a privilege it was to live in the midst of such beautiful things. I felt this the more strongly, perhaps, because the country in my own neighborhood here is by no means so varied and interesting.
....If I am not allowed to go to the South this winter, it is just possible that I may spend three months in England.
Good-bye, my dearest H——.
I am ever yours,
F. A. B.
It was decided that I should return to England, and remain during my temporary widowhood with my own family in London. I sailed at the beginning of November, and reached England, after a frightfully stormy passage of eight and twenty days. I and my child's nurse were the only women on board the packet, and there were very few male passengers. The weather was dreadful; we had violent contrary winds almost the whole time, and one terrific gale that lasted nearly four days; during which time I and my poor little child and her nurse were prisoners in the cabin, where we had not even the consolation of daylight, the skylights being all closely covered to protect us from the sea, which broke all over the decks. I begged so hard one day to have the covering removed, and a ray of daylight admitted, if only for five minutes, that I was indulged, and had reason to repent it; the sea almost instantly broke the windows and poured down upon us like Niagara, and I was thankful to be covered up again as quick as possible in dry darkness.
. . . At the height of the storm, in the middle of a night which my faithful friend and servant, Margery O'Brien, passed in prayer, without once rising from her knees, the frightful uproar of the elements and the delirious plunging and rearing of the convulsed ship convinced me that we should inevitably be lost. As the vessel reeled under a tremendous shock, the conviction of our impending destruction became so intense in my mind, that my imagination suddenly presented to me the death-vision, so to speak, of my whole existence. This kind of phenomenon has been experienced and recorded by persons who have gone through the process of drowning, and afterwards recovered; or have otherwise been in imminent peril of their lives, and have left curious and highly interesting accounts of their sensations. I should find it impossible adequately to describe the vividness with which my whole past life presented itself to my perception; not as a procession of events, filling a succession of years, but as a whole—a total—suddenly held up to me as in a mirror, indescribably awful, combined with the simultaneous acute and almost despairing sense of loss, of waste, so to speak, by which it was accompanied. This instantaneous, involuntary retrospect was followed by a keen and rapid survey of the religious belief in which I had been trained, and which then seemed to me my only important concern....The tension, physical and mental, of the very short space of time in which these processes took place, gave way to a complete exhaustion, in which, strangely enough, I found the sort of satisfaction that a child does in crooning itself to sleep, in singing, one after another, every song I could call to memory; and my repertory was a very numerous one, composed of English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, French, German, Italian, and Spanish specimens, which I "chanted loudly, chanted lowly," sitting on the floor, through the rest of the night, till the day broke, and my sense of danger passed away, but not the recollection of the never-to-be-forgotten experience it had brought to me.
. . . I returned to my home and family, and stayed with them in London all the time of my visit to England, which, from unforeseen circumstances, was prolonged far beyond what had originally been intended. I returned to the intercourse of all my former friends and acquaintance, and to the London society of the day, which was full of delightful interest for me, after the solitary and completely unsocial life I had been leading for the two previous years.
. . . My father resided then in Park Place, St. James's, in a house which has since become part of the Park Hotel; we have always had a tending towards that particular street, which undoubtedly is one of the best situated in London: quiet in itself, not being a thoroughfare, shut in by the pleasant houses that look into the Green Park below Arlington Street, and yet close to St. James's Street, and all the gay busyness of the West End, Pall Mall, and Piccadilly. While we were living at No. 10 Park Place, my cousin, Horace Twiss, was our opposite neighbor, at No. 5, which became my own residence some years afterwards; and, since then, my sister had her London abode for several years at No. 9. The street seems always a sort of home to me, full of images and memories of members of my family and their intimates who visited us there.While in London, Fanny wrote to Pierce:
Tuesday, June 2, 1837 London. My dearest husband: You ask me if this separation has not strengthened our affection and our value for each other? If it has endeared me to you I ought to be grateful to it, and I think that it has led me to reflect upon some passages of our intercourse with self-condemnation, and a desire to discharge my duty to you more faithfully, than I may hitherto have done.
Yet do not now mistake me: you ask me in your last, how I like my independence, and whether I remember how vehemently and frequently I objected to your control over my actions: I remember this well, and part of my regret in contemplating the past arises from the manner of my resistance, not the fact itself.
Whether one person can or ought to exercise control over another, I think is a question your own justice and good sense would answer at once. Neither my absence from you, nor my earnest desire to be again with you, can make me admit that the blessed and happy relationship, in which we stand to each other, is any thing but perfect companionship, perfect friendship, perfect love. For the existence of these, justice must also exist; and there is no justice in the theory, that one rational creature is to be subservient to another; nor can there be any high or holy feeling where there is not freedom and independence. Why, the great God who made us has not trammelled our free will, and shall we claim of each other that which the Omnipotent has refrained from demanding? But, dear Pierce, upon what ground should you exercise this control over me ? Is it because having full power to withhold the gift, I freely gave myself to you, to add as much by my fellowship as I could to your happiness? Is it because you are better than myself? I am sure you will not say so, whatever I may think. Is it because you are more enlightened, more intellectual? You know that is not so, for your opportunities have not been the same. Is it because you are stronger in body?
Now, I know that I might as well spare writing ail this, for your mind is much the same as my own upon this matter, as your whole conduct to me has proved. If, indeed, you do not admit and respect the rights of your wife, how comes it that she is at this moment an independent agent, having been so for upwards of six months, with the precious charge of your darling child, and the free and generous use of your means. I am sure, dearest Pierce, I ought to be little anxious to argue the point, possessed as I am of every real advantage which your admission of it could bestow on me; but for this, that I would rather hear you acknowledge a principle of truth, than enjoy the utmost indulgence that your affection could bestow upon me.Pierce traveled to London to escort his family back to America. He was due to be back in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a session of the state's Constitutional Convention.
Liverpool, Friday, September 8th, 1837.
My Dear Lady Dacre,
My time in England is growing painfully short, for the watch says half-past eleven, and at two o'clock I shall be on board the ship. . . . My parting with my poor mother was calmer than I had ventured to anticipate, and I thank Heaven that I was not obliged to leave England without seeing her once more. I have heard from my sister, who had just received the news of my sudden departure from England when she wrote. She was bitterly disappointed; but yet I think this unexpected parting without seeing each other again is perhaps well. Our last leave-taking, when she started with my father for Carlsbad, was quite cheerful, because we looked soon to meet again. We have been spared those exceedingly painful moments of clinging to what we are condemned to lose, and in the midst of novelty and variety she will miss me far less than had I left her lonely, in the home where we have been together for the past year.
Philadelphia, Sunday, October 29th, 1837.
My Dearest Harriet,
We landed in New York, ten days ago, i.e., on Friday, the 20th October . . . Our passage was of thirty-seven days, stormy as well as tedious, and I was so ill that I did not leave my bed six times during the crossing; the consequence was, that on landing I looked more like a ghost than a living creature, and was so reduced in strength as hardly to be able to stand, so we remained in New York a few days, till I was able to travel.... Our fellow-passengers, the women, I mean, were rather vulgar, commonplace people, with whom I should not have had much sympathy, had I been well. As it was, I saw but little of them, and may consider that one of the counterbalancing advantages of having suffered so much. . . . I am every day now expecting to be fetched to Harrisburg.... A woman should be her husband's friend, his best and dearest friend, as he should be hers: but friendship is a relation of equality, in which the same perfect respect for each other's liberty is exercised on both sides; and that sort of marriage, if it exists at all anywhere, is, I suspect, very uncommon everywhere. Moreover, I am not sure that marriage ever is, can be, or ought to be, such an equality; for even "When two men ride on one horse," you know, etc. In the relation of friendship there is perfect freedom, and an undoubted claim on each side to be neither dependent on, nor controlled by, each other's will. In the relation of marriage this is impossible; and therefore certainly marriage is not friendship.... A woman should, I think, love her husband better than anything on earth except her own soul; which, I think, a man should respect above everything on earth but his own soul: and there, my dear, is a very pretty puzzle for you, which a good many people have failed to solve. It is, indeed, a pretty difficult problem; and perhaps you have chosen, if not the wiser and better, at any rate the easier and safer part.God bless you, dear friend.Ever affectionately yours, F. A. B.
|Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens|
Threatened with Disenfranchisement,
To the People of Pennsylvania
When you have taken from an individual his right to vote, you have made the government, in regard to him, a mere despotism; and you have taken a step towards making it a despotism for all.Despite the massive effort put into the appeal, the white voters of Pennsylvania ratified the new state constitution on October 9, 1838. African Americans would not regain the right to vote in Pennsylvania until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, following the Civil War.
Philadelphia, February 6th, 1838.
My Dearest Harriet,
It surely is wisdom most difficult of attainment, to form a correct estimate of things or people while we are under their immediate influence: the just value of character, the precise importance of events, or the true estimate of joy and sorrow, while one is subject to their action and pressure. I suppose, with my quick and excitable feelings, I shall never attain even so much of this moral power of comparison and just appreciation as others may; but it cannot be easy to anybody.... The medical mode of treatment in this country appears to me frightfully severe, and I should think, with subjects as delicate as average American men and women, it might occasionally be fatal.
I have a violent prejudice against bleeding, and would rather take ten doses of physic, and fast ten days, than lose two ounces of my blood. Of course, in extreme cases, extreme remedies must be resorted to; but this seems to be the usual system of treatment here, and I distrust medical systems, and cannot but think that it might be safer to reduce the quality rather than the quantity of the vital fluid. Abstinence, and vegetable and mineral matters of divers kinds, seem to me natural remedies enough; but the merciless effusion of blood, because it is inflamed, rather reminds me of my school-day cutting and gashing of my chilblains, in order to obtain immediate relief from their irritation....
Sarah's scarlet fever has been followed by the enlargement of one of the tonsils, which grew to such a size as to threaten suffocation, and the physician decided that it must be removed. This was done by means of a small double-barreled silver tube, through the two pipes of which a wire is passed, coming out in a loop at the other end of the instrument. This wire being passed round the tonsil, is tightened, so as to destroy its vitality in the course of four and twenty hours, during which the tube remains projecting from the patient's mouth, causing some pain and extreme inconvenience.
The mode usually resorted to with adults (for this, it seems, is a frequent operation here), is cutting the tonsil off at once; but as hemorrhage sometimes results from this, which can only be stopped by cauterizing the throat, that was not to be thought of with so young a patient.... At the end of the twenty-four hours, the instrument is removed, the diseased part being effectually killed by the previous tightening of the wire. It is then left to rot off in the mouth, which it does in the course of a few days, infecting the breath most horribly, and, I should think, injuring the health by that means....
At the same time, I was attacked with a violent sore throat, perhaps a small beginning of scarlet fever of my own, and which seized, one after another, upon all our household, and for which I had a hundred leeches at once applied to my throat, which, without reducing me very much, enraged me beyond expression. No less than seven of us were ill in the house. We are now, however, thank God, all well....
I cannot obtain from our physician any explanation whatever of the cause of this swelling of the tonsils, so common here; and when, demurring about the removal of my child's, I inquired into their functions, I received just as little satisfaction. He told me that they were not ascertained, and that all that was known was, that removing them did not affect the breathing, speaking, or swallowing—with which I had to be satisfied. This uncertainty seems to me a reason against the operation; cutting away a part of the body whose functions are not ascertained, seems to me rather venturesome; but of course the baby couldn't be allowed to choke, and so we submitted to the inevitable. The disease and the remedy are common here, and may be in England, though I never heard of them before. Pray, if you know anything about either, write me what, as I cannot rest satisfied without more information....Early in 1838, Fanny wrote a note to Pierce:
God bless you, dear.
Always affectionately yours,
F. A. B.
Since my marriage with you my life has been one long incessant privation, which was all very well when you were kind to me; as, however I will never be subjected to rudeness and ill manners from anyone, without doing that which is within my power to avoid it, I must beg you now that you will take proper means for my leaving you, and you were the only thing that kept me in this country.
. . . If you will take my advice in casting aside your own regard for appearances and consult only your own comfort and happiness, you will make some arrangements by which in future to be freed from it altogether.Their second daughter, Frances Anne "Fan" Butler was born on May 28, 1838, exactly three years after the birth of their first.
Philadelphia. July 23, 1838. My Dear Mrs. Jameson . . . The friends of good
order, in this excellent city of brotherly love, have been burning down a large new building erected for purposes of free discussion, because Abolition meetings were being held in it.
Burning of Pennyslvania Hall, 1838
Philadelphia, Tuesday, November 13th, 1838.
The sad news of my poor mother's death, my dear Mrs. Jameson, reached me while I was staying up at Lenox, among those whom my good fortune has raised up in this strange country to fill for me the place of the kindred and friends from whom I am so widely sundered....
That the winter in Georgia, whither we are going immediately, may be beneficial to the invalid member of our party, is the only pleasant anticipation with which I set my face towards a part of the country where the whole manner of existence is repugnant to my feelings, and where the common comforts of life are so little known, that we are obliged to ship a freight of necessary articles of food, for our use while we are on the plantation.
There were two plantations: Butler Island in the estuary of the Altamaha River near what was then the busy port of Darien, and Hampton Plantation on the northwest corner of St. Simons Island, about 15 miles (by boat) eastward. Butler Island was a swamp which had been turned into a vast rice paddy surrounded by dikes, so that at high tide it was at a lower level than the surrounding water. Fanny found this flat featureless spot quite depressing.
Major Pierce Butler had turned Hampton into thriving cotton fields. He had made a fortune by being one of the first to produce the long-staple Sea Island cotton which commanded premium prices through the early years of the century. Aaron Burr, who took refuge at Hampton after the duel in which he killed Alexander Hamilton, wrote delightedly: "cream and butter; turkeys, fowls, kids, pigs, geese and mutton: fish, of course, in abundance. Of figs, peaches, and melons there are yet a few. Oranges and pomegranates just being to be eatable."
By Fanny's time the textile mills of England were turning to short-staple cotton from the mainland. The plantation, which had been run with precision in the Major's time was badly run down after nearly 20 nears of absentee management. The old house was deteriorating and the gardens were overgrown.
I purpose, while I reside here, keeping a sort of journal . . . In taking my first
walk on the island, I directed my steps towards the rice mill, a large building on the banks of the river, within a few yards of the house we occupy.. . . Now, on this estate alone, there are three threshing mills—one worked by steam, one by the tide, and one by horses . . .
I might fill my letters to you with accounts received from others, but as I am aware of the risk which I run in so doing, I shall furnish you with no details but those which come under my own immediate observation.
. . . Immediately opposite to this building is a small shed, which they call the cook's shop, and where the daily allowance of rice and corn grits of the people is boiled and distributed to them by an old woman, whose special business this is. There are four settlements or villages (or, as the negroes call them, camps) on the island, consisting of from ten to twenty houses, and to each settlement is annexed a cook's shop with capacious cauldrons, and the oldest wife of the settlement for officiating priestess.
Pursuing my walk along the river's bank, upon an artificial dyke, sufficiently high and broad to protect the fields from inundation by the ordinary rising of the tide—for the whole island is below high water mark—I passed the blacksmith's and cooper's shops. At the first all the common iron implements of husbandry or household use for the estate are made, and at the latter all the rice barrels necessary for the crop, besides tubs and buckets large and small for the use of the people, and cedar tubs of noble dimensions and exceedingly neat workmanship, for our own household purposes. The fragrance of these when they are first made, as well as their ample size, renders them preferable as dressing-room furniture, in my opinion, to all the china foot-tubs that ever came out of Staffordshire.
After this I got out of the vicinity of the settlement, and pursued my way along a narrow dyke—the river on one hand, and on the other a slimy, poisonous-looking swamp, all rattling with sedges of enormous height, in which one might lose one's way as effectually as in a forest of oaks. Beyond this, the low rice-fields, all clothed in their rugged stubble, divided by dykes into monotonous squares, a species of prospect by no means beautiful to the mere lover of the picturesque. The only thing that I met with to attract my attention was a most beautiful species of ivy, the leaf longer and more graceful than that of the common English creeper, glittering with the highest varnish, delicately veined, and of a rich brown green, growing in profuse garlands from branch to branch of some stunted evergreen bushes which border the dyke, and which the people call salt-water bush.
My walks are rather circumscribed, inasmuch as the dykes are the only promenades. On all sides of these lie either the marshy rice-fields, the brimming river, or the swampy patches of yet unreclaimed forest, where the huge cypress trees and exquisite evergreen undergrowth spring up from a stagnant sweltering pool, that effectually forbids the foot of the explorer. As I skirted one of these thickets to-day, I stood still to admire the beauty of the shrubbery. Every shade of green, every variety of form, every degree of varnish, and all in full leaf and beauty in the very depth of winter. The stunted dark-coloured oak; the magnolia bay (like our own culinary and fragrant bay), which grows to a very great size; the wild myrtle, a beautiful and profuse shrub, rising to a height of six, eight, and ten feet, and branching on all sides in luxuriant tufted fullness; most beautiful of all, that pride of the South, the magnolia grandiflora, whose lustrous dark green perfect foliage would alone render it an object of admiration, without the queenly blossom whose colour, size, and perfume are unrivalled in the whole vegetable kingdom. This last magnificent creature grows to the size of a forest tree in these swamps, but seldom adorns a high or dry soil, or suffers itself to be successfully transplanted. Under all these the spiked palmetto forms an impenetrable covert, and from glittering graceful branch to branch hang garlands of evergreen creepers, on which the mocking-birds are swinging and singing even now; while I, bethinking me of the pinching cold that is at this hour tyrannising over your region, look round on this strange scene—on these green woods, this unfettered river, and sunny sky—and feel very much like one in another planet from yourself.
The profusion of birds here is one thing that strikes me as curious, coming from the vicinity of Philadelphia, where even the robin redbreast, held sacred by the humanity of all other Christian people, is not safe from the gunning prowess of the unlicensed sportsmen of your free country. The negroes (of course) are not allowed the use of fire-arms, and their very simply constructed traps do not do much havoc among the feathered hordes that haunt their rice-fields. Their case is rather a hard one, as partridges, snipes, and the most delicious wild ducks abound here, and their allowance of rice and Indian meal would not be the worse for such additions. No day passes that I do not, in the course of my walk, put up a number of the land birds, and startle from among the gigantic sedges the long-necked water-fowl by dozens. It arouses the killing propensity in me most dreadfully, and I really entertain serious thoughts of learning to use a gun, for the mere pleasure of destroying these pretty birds as they whirr from their secret coverts close beside my path. How strong an instinct of animal humanity this is, and how strange if one be more strange than another. Reflection rebukes it almost instantaneously, and yet for the life of me I cannot help wishing I had a fowling-piece whenever I put up a covey of these creatures; though I suppose, if one were brought bleeding and maimed to me, I should begin to cry, and be very pathetic, after the fashion of Jacques. However, one must live, you know; and here our living consists very mainly of wild ducks, wild geese, wild turkeys, and venison.
. . . I must inform you of a curious conversation which took place between my little girl and the woman who performs for us the offices of chambermaid here—of course one of Mr. Butler's slaves. What suggested it to the child, or whence indeed she gathered her information, I know not; but children are made of eyes and ears, and nothing, however minute, escapes their microscopic observation. She suddenly began addressing this woman. 'Mary, some persons are free and some are not (the woman made no reply). I am a free person (of a little more than three years old). I say, I am a free person, Mary—do you know that?' 'Yes, missis.' 'Some persons are free and some are not—do you know that, Mary?' 'Yes, missis, here,' was the reply; 'I know it is so here, in this world.' Here my child's white nurse, my dear Margery, who had hitherto been silent, interfered, saying, 'Oh, then you think it will not always be so?' 'Me hope not, missis.' I am afraid, E——, this woman actually imagines that there will be no slaves in Heaven; isn't that preposterous now? when by the account of most of the Southerners slavery itself must be Heaven, or something uncommonly like it. Oh, if you could imagine how this title 'Missis,' addressed to me and to my children, shocks all my feelings! Several times I have exclaimed, 'For God's sake do not call me that!' and only been awakened, by the stupid amazement of the poor creatures I was addressing, to the perfect uselessness of my thus expostulating with them; once or twice indeed I have done more—I have explained to them, and they appeared to comprehend me well, that I had no ownership over them, for that I held such ownership sinful, and that, though I was the wife of the man who pretends to own them, I was in truth no more their mistress than they were mine. Some of them I know understood me, more of them did not.
Our servants—those who have been selected to wait upon us in the house—consist of a man, who is quite a tolerable cook (I believe this is a natural gift with them, as with Frenchmen); a dairywoman, who churns for us; a laundrywoman; her daughter, our housemaid, the aforesaid Mary; and two young lads of from fifteen to twenty, who wait upon us in the capacity of footmen. As, however, the latter are perfectly filthy in their persons and clothes—their faces, hands, and naked feet being literally encrusted with dirt—their attendance at our meals is not, as you may suppose, particularly agreeable to me, and I dispense with it as often as possible. Mary, too, is so intolerably offensive in her person that it is impossible to endure her proximity, and the consequence is that, amongst Mr. ——'s slaves, I wait upon myself more than I have ever done in my life before. About this same personal offensiveness, the Southerners you know insist that it is inherent with the race, and it is one of their most cogent reasons for keeping them as slaves. But as this very disagreeable peculiarity does not prevent Southern women from hanging their infants at the breasts of negresses, nor almost every planter's wife and daughter from having one or more little pet blacks sleeping like puppy dogs in their very bedchamber, nor almost every planter from admitting one or several of his female slaves to the still closer intimacy of his bed—it seems to me that this objection to doing them right is not very valid. I cannot imagine that they would smell much worse if they were free . . However this may be, I must tell you that this potent reason for enslaving a whole race of people is no more potent with me than most of the others adduced to support the system, inasmuch as, from observation and some experience, I am strongly inclined to believe that peculiar ignorance of the laws of health and the habits of decent cleanliness are the real and only causes of this disagreeable characteristic of the race—thorough ablutions and change of linen, when tried, having been perfectly successful in removing all such objections; and if ever you have come into anything like neighbourly proximity with a low Irishman or woman, I think you will allow that the same causes produce very nearly the same effects. The stench in an Irish, Scotch, Italian, or French hovel are quite as intolerable as any I ever found in our negro houses, and the filth and vermin which abound about the clothes and persons of the lower peasantry of any of those countries as abominable as the same conditions in the black population of the United States. A total absence of self-respect begets these hateful physical results, and in proportion as moral influences are remote, physical evils will abound. Well-being, freedom, and industry induce self-respect, self-respect induces cleanliness and personal attention, so that slavery is answerable for all the evils that exhibit themselves where it exists—from lying, thieving, and adultery, to dirty houses, ragged clothes, and foul smells.
. . . The slaves on this plantation are divided into field hands and mechanics or artisans. The former, the great majority, are the more stupid and brutish of the tribe; the others, who are regularly taught their trades, are not only exceedingly expert at them, but exhibit a greater general activity of intellect, which must necessarily result from even a partial degree of cultivation. There are here a gang (for that is the honourable term) of coopers, of blacksmiths, of bricklayers, of carpenters—all well acquainted with their peculiar trades. The latter constructed the wash-hand stands, clothes presses, sofas, tables, &c, with which our house is furnished, and they are very neat pieces of workmanship—neither veneered or polished indeed, nor of very costly materials, but of the white pine wood planed as smooth as marble—a species of furniture not very luxurious perhaps, but all the better adapted therefore to the house itself, which is certainly rather more devoid of the conveniences and adornments of modern existence than anything I ever took up my abode in before. It consists of three small rooms, and three still smaller, which would be more appropriately designated as closets, a wooden recess by way of pantry, and a kitchen detached from the dwelling—a mere wooden outhouse, with no floor but the bare earth, and for furniture a congregation of filthy negroes, who lounge in and out of it like hungry hounds at all hours of the day and night, picking up such scraps of food as they can find about, which they discuss squatting down upon their hams, in which interesting position and occupation I generally find a number of them whenever I have sufficient hardihood to venture within those precincts, the sight of which and its tenants is enough to slacken the appetite of the hungriest hunter that ever lost all nice regards in the mere animal desire for food.
Of our three apartments, one is our sitting, eating, and living room, and is sixteen feet by fifteen. The walls are plastered indeed, but neither painted nor papered; it is divided from our bed-room (a similarly elegant and comfortable chamber) by a dingy wooden partition covered all over with hooks, pegs, and nails, to which hats, caps, keys, &c. &c., are suspended in graceful irregularity. . . . The third room, a chamber with sloping ceiling, immediately over our sitting-room and under the roof, is appropriated to the nurse and my two babies. Of the closets, one is Mr. —— the overseer's bed-room, the other his office or place of business; and the third, adjoining our bed-room, and opening immediately out of doors, is Mr. Butler's dressing room and cabinet d'affaires, where he gives audiences to the negroes, redresses grievances, distributes red woollen caps (a singular gratification to a slave), shaves himself, and performs the other offices of his toilet. Such being our abode, I think you will allow there is little danger of my being dazzled by the luxurious splendours of a Southern slave residence. Our sole mode of summoning our attendants is by a packthread bell-rope suspended in the sitting-room. From the bed-rooms we have to raise the windows and our voices, and bring them by power of lungs, or help ourselves—which, I thank God, was never yet a hardship to me.
. . . I walked down the settlement towards the infirmary or hospital, calling in at one or two of the houses along the row. These cabins consist of one room about twelve feet by fifteen, with a couple of closets smaller and closer than the state-rooms of a ship, divided off from the main room and each other by rough wooden partitions in which the inhabitants sleep. They have almost all of them a rude bedstead, with the grey moss of the forests for mattress, and filthy, pestilential-looking blankets, for covering. Two families (sometimes eight and ten in number) reside in one of these huts, which are mere wooden frames pinned, as it were, to the earth by a brick chimney outside, whose enormous aperture within pours down a flood of air, but little counteracted by the miserable spark of fire, which hardly sends an attenuated thread of lingering smoke up its huge throat. A wide ditch runs immediately at the back of these dwellings, which is filled and emptied daily by the tide. Attached to each hovel is a small scrap of ground for a garden, which, however, is for the most part untended and uncultivated. Such of these dwellings as I visited to-day were filthy and wretched in the extreme, and exhibited that most deplorable consequence of ignorance and an abject condition, the inability of the inhabitants to secure and improve even such pitiful comfort as might yet be achieved by them. Instead of the order, neatness, and ingenuity which might convert even these miserable hovels into tolerable residences, there was the careless, reckless, filthy indolence which even the brutes do not exhibit in their lairs and nests, and which seemed incapable of applying to the uses of existence the few miserable means of comfort yet within their reach. Firewood and shavings lay littered about the floors, while the half-naked children were cowering round two or three smouldering cinders. The moss with which the chinks and crannies of their ill-protecting dwellings might have been stuffed, was trailing in dirt and dust about the ground, while the back-door of the huts, opening upon a most unsightly ditch, was left wide open for the fowls and ducks, which they are allowed to raise, to travel in and out, increasing the filth of the cabin, by what they brought and left in every direction. In the midst of the floor, or squatting round the cold hearth, would be four or five little children from four to ten years old, the latter all with babies in their arms, the care of the infants being taken from the mothers (who are driven a-field as soon as they recover from child labour), and devolved upon these poor little nurses, as they are called, whose business it is to watch the infant, and carry it to its mother whenever it may require nourishment. To these hardly human little beings, I addressed my remonstrances about the filth, cold, and unnecessary wretchedness of their room, bidding the elder boys and girls kindle up the fire, sweep the floor, and expel the poultry. For a long time my very words seemed unintelligible to them, till when I began to sweep and make up the fire, &c., they first fell to laughing, and then imitating me. The encrustations of dirt on their hands, feet, and faces, were my next object of attack, and the stupid negro practice (by the bye, but a short time since nearly universal in enlightened Europe), of keeping the babies with their feet bare, and their heads, already well capped by nature with their woolly hair, wrapped in half-a-dozen hot filthy coverings.
Thus I travelled down the 'street,' in every dwelling endeavouring to awaken a new perception, that of cleanliness, sighing, as I went, over the futility of my own exertions, for how can slaves be improved? . . . Thought I, let what can be done; for it may be, that, the two being incompatible, improvement may yet expel slavery—and so it might, and surely would, if, instead of beginning at the end, I could but begin at the beginning of my task. If the mind and soul were awakened, instead of mere physical good attempted, the physical good would result, and the great curse vanish away; but my hands are tied fast, and this corner of the work is all that I may do. Yet it cannot be but, from my words and actions, some revelations should reach these poor people; and going in and out amongst them perpetually, I shall teach, and they learn involuntarily a thousand things of deepest import. They must learn, and who can tell the fruit of that knowledge alone, that there are beings in the world, even with skins of a different colour from their own, who have sympathy for their misfortunes, love for their virtues, and respect for their common nature—but oh! my heart is full almost to bursting, as I walk among these most poor creatures. . .
At the upper end of the row of houses, and nearest to our overseer's residence, is the hut of the head driver. Let me explain, by the way, his office. The negroes, as I before told you, are divided into troops or gangs, as they are called; at the head of each gang is a driver, who stands over them, whip in hand, while they perform their daily task, who renders an account of each individual slave and his work every evening to the overseer, and receives from him directions for their next day's tasks. Each driver is allowed to inflict a dozen lashes upon any refractory slave in the field, and at the time of the offence; they may not, however, extend the chastisement, and if it is found ineffectual, their remedy lies in reporting the unmanageable individual either to the head driver or the overseer; the former of whom has power to inflict three dozen lashes at his own discretion, and the latter as many as he himself sees fit, within the number of fifty; which limit, however, I must tell you, is an arbitrary one on this plantation, appointed by the founder of the estate, Major Butler, Mr. Butler's grandfather, many of whose regulations, indeed I believe most of them, are still observed in the government of the plantation. Limits of this sort, however, to the power of either driver, head driver, or overseer, may or may not exist elsewhere; they are, to a certain degree, a check upon the power of these individuals; but in the absence of the master, the overseer may confine himself within the limit or not, as he chooses—and as for the master himself, where is his limit? He may, if he likes, flog a slave to death, for the laws which pretend that he may not are a mere pretence—inasmuch as the testimony of a black is never taken against a white; and upon this plantation of ours, and a thousand more, the overseer is the only white man, so whence should come the testimony to any crime of his?
With regard to the oft-repeated statement, that it is not the owner's interest to destroy his human property, it answers nothing—the instances in which men, to gratify the immediate impulse of passion, sacrifice not only their eternal, but their evident, palpable, positive worldly interest, are infinite. Nothing is commoner than for a man under the transient influence of anger to disregard his worldly advantage; and the black slave, whose preservation is indeed supposed to be his owner's interest, may be, will be, and is occasionally sacrificed to the blind impulse of passion.
To return to our head driver, or, as he is familiarly called, head man, Frank—he is second in authority only to the overseer, and exercises rule alike over the drivers and the gangs, in the absence of the sovereign white man from the estate, which happens whenever Mr. O—— visits the other two plantations at Woodville and St. Simons. He is sole master and governor of the island, appoints the work, pronounces punishments, gives permission to the men to leave the island (without it they never may do so), and exercises all functions of undisputed mastery over his fellow slaves, for you will observe that all this while he is just as much a slave as any of the rest. Trustworthy, upright, intelligent, he may be flogged to-morrow if Mr. O—— or Mr. —— so please it, and sold the next day like a cart horse, at the will of the latter. Besides his various other responsibilities, he has the key of all the stores, and gives out the people's rations weekly; nor is it only the people's provisions that are put under his charge—meat, which is only given out to them occasionally, and provisions for the use of the family are also entrusted to his care. . . . When I see that man, who keeps himself a good deal aloof from the rest, in his leisure hours looking, with a countenance of deep thought, as I did to-day, over the broad river, which is to him as a prison wall, to the fields and forest beyond, not one inch or branch of which his utmost industry can conquer as his own, or acquire and leave an independent heritage to his children, I marvel what the thoughts of such a man may be.
. . . I had a conversation that interested me a good deal, during my walk to-day, with my peculiar slave Jack. This lad, whom Mr. Butler has appointed to attend me in my roamings about the island, and rowing expeditions on the river, is the son of the last head driver, a man of very extraordinary intelligence and faithfulness—such, at least, is the account given of him by his employers (in the burial-ground of the negroes is a stone dedicated to his memory, a mark of distinction accorded by his masters, which his son never failed to point out to me, when we passed that way). Jack appears to inherit his quickness of apprehension; his questions, like those of an intelligent child, are absolutely inexhaustible; his curiosity about all things beyond this island, the prison-house of his existence, is perfectly intense; his countenance is very pleasing, mild, and not otherwise than thoughtful; he is, in common with the rest of them, a stupendous flatterer, and, like the rest of them, also seems devoid of physical and moral courage. To-day, in the midst of his torrent of enquiries about places and things, I suddenly asked him if he would like to be free. A gleam of light absolutely shot over his whole countenance, like the vivid and instantaneous lightning—he stammered, hesitated, became excessively confused, and at length replied—'Free, missis? what for me wish to be free? Oh! no, missis, me no wish to be free, if massa only let we keep pig.' The fear of offending, by uttering that forbidden wish—the dread of admitting, by its expression, the slightest discontent with his present situation—the desire to conciliate my favour, even at the expense of strangling the intense natural longing that absolutely glowed in his every feature—it was a sad spectacle, and I repented my question. As for the pitiful request which he reiterated several times adding, 'No, missis, me no want to be free—me work till me die for missis and massa,' with increased emphasis; it amounted only to this, that the negroes once were, but no longer are, permitted to keep pigs. The increase of filth and foul smells, consequent upon their being raised, is, of course, very great; and, moreover, Mr. —— told me, when I preferred poor Jack's request to him, that their allowance was no more than would suffice their own necessity, and that they had not the means of feeding the animals. With a little good management they might very easily obtain them, however; their little 'kail-yard' alone would suffice to it, and the pork and bacon would prove a most welcome addition to their farinaceous diet. You perceive at once (or if you could have seen the boy's face, you would have perceived at once), that his situation was no mystery to him, that his value to Mr. ——, and, as he supposed, to me, was perfectly well known to him, and that he comprehended immediately that his expressing even the desire to be free, might be construed by me into an offence, and sought by eager protestations of his delighted acquiescence in slavery, to conceal his soul's natural yearning, lest I should resent it. 'T was a sad passage between us, and sent me home full of the most painful thoughts. I told Mr. ——, with much indignation, of poor Harriet's flogging, and represented that if the people were to be chastised for anything they said to me, I must leave the place, as I could not but hear their complaints, and endeavour, by all my miserable limited means, to better their condition while I was here. He said he would ask Mr. O—— about it, assuring me, at the same time, that it was impossible to believe a single word any of these people said. At dinner, accordingly, the enquiry was made as to the cause of her punishment, and Mr. O—— then said it was not at all for what she had told me, that he had flogged her, but for having answered him impertinently, that he had ordered her into the field, whereupon she had said she was ill and could not work, that he retorted he knew better, and bade her get up and go to work; she replied, 'Very well, I'll go, but I shall just come back again!' meaning, that when in the field, she would be unable to work, and obliged, to return to the hospital. 'For this reply,' Mr. O—— said, 'I gave her a good lashing; it was her business to have gone into the field without answering me, and then we should have soon seen whether she could work or not; I gave it to Chloe too, for some such impudence.' I give you the words of the conversation, which was prolonged to a great length, the overseer complaining of sham sicknesses of the slaves, and detailing the most disgusting struggle which is going on the whole time, on the one hand to inflict, and on the other, to evade oppression and injustice. With this sauce I ate my dinner, and truly it tasted bitter.
. . . Among our visitors from St. Simons to-day was Hannah's mother (it seems to me that there is not a girl of sixteen on the plantations but has children, nor a woman of thirty but has grandchildren). Old House Molly, as she is called, from the circumstance of her having been one of the slaves employed in domestic offices during Major ——'s residence on the island, is one of the oldest and most respected slaves on the estate, and was introduced to me by Mr. —— with especial marks of attention and regard; she absolutely embraced him, and seemed unable sufficiently to express her ecstacy at seeing him again. Her dress, like that of her daughter, and all the servants who have at any time been employed about the family, bore witness to a far more improved taste than the half savage adornment of the other poor blacks, and upon my observing to her how agreeable her neat and cleanly appearance was to me, she replied, that her old master (Major ——) was extremely particular in this respect, and that in his time all the house servants were obliged to be very nice and careful about their persons.
She named to me all her children, an immense tribe . . . It has occurred to me that whereas the increase of this ill-fated race is frequently adduced as a proof of their good treatment and well being, it really and truly is no such thing, and springs from quite other causes than the peace and plenty which a rapidly increasing population are supposed to indicate. If you will reflect for a moment upon the overgrown families of the half-starved Irish peasantry and English manufacturers, you will agree with me that these prolific shoots by no means necessarily spring from a rich or healthy soil.
Peace and plenty are certainly causes of human increase, and so is recklessness; and this, I take it, is the impulse in the instance of the English manufacturer, the Irish peasant, and the negro slave. Indeed here it is more than recklessness, for there are certain indirect premiums held out to obey the early commandment of replenishing the earth, which do not fail to have their full effect. In the first place, none of the cares, those noble cares, that holy thoughtfulness which lifts the human above the brute parent, are ever incurred here by either father or mother. The relation indeed resembles, as far as circumstances can possibly make it do so, the short-lived connection between the animal and its young. The father, having neither authority, power, responsibility, or charge in his children, is of course, as among brutes, the least attached to his offspring; the mother, by the natural law which renders the infant dependent on her for its first year's nourishment, is more so; but as neither of them is bound to educate or to support their children, all the unspeakable tenderness and solemnity, all the rational, and all the spiritual grace and glory of the connection is lost, and it becomes mere breeding, bearing, suckling, and there an end. But it is not only the absence of the conditions which God has affixed to the relation, which tends to encourage the reckless increase of the race; they enjoy, by means of numerous children, certain positive advantages. In the first place, every woman who is pregnant, as soon as she chooses to make the fact known to the overseer, is relieved of a certain portion of her work in the field, which lightening of labour continues, of course, as long as she is so burthened. On the birth of a child certain additions of clothing and an additional weekly ration are bestowed on the family; and these matters, small as they may seem, act as powerful inducements to creatures who have none of the restraining influences actuating them which belong to the parental relation among all other people, whether civilised or savage. Moreover, they have all of them a most distinct and perfect knowledge of their value to their owners as property; and a woman thinks, and not much amiss, that the more frequently she adds to the number of her master's live stock by bringing new slaves into the world, the more claims she will have upon his consideration and goodwill. . . .
Between eleven o'clock and noon, the people were taking their first meal in the day . . .How do you think Berkshire county farmers would relish labouring hard all day upon two meals of Indian corn or hominy? Such is the regulation on this plantation, however, and I beg you to bear in mind that the negroes on Mr. ——'s estate, are generally considered well off. They go to the fields at daybreak, carrying with them their allowance of food for the day, which towards noon, and not till then, they eat, cooking it over a fire, which they kindle as best they can, where they are working. Their second meal in the day is at night, after their labour is over, having worked, at the very least, six hours without intermission of rest or refreshment since their noon-day meal (properly so called, for 'tis meal, and nothing else). Those that I passed to-day, sitting on their doorsteps, or on the ground round them eating, were the people employed at the mill and threshing-floor. As these are near to the settlement, they had time to get their food from the cook-shop. Chairs, tables, plates, knives, forks, they had none; they sat, as I before said, on the earth or doorsteps, and ate either out of their little cedar tubs, or an iron pot, some few with broken iron spoons, more with pieces of wood, and all the children with their fingers. A more complete sample of savage feeding, I never beheld. At one of the doors I saw three young girls standing, who might be between sixteen and seventeen years old; they had evidently done eatings and were rudely playing and romping with each other, laughing and shouting like wild things. I went into the house, and such another spectacle of filthy disorder I never beheld. I then addressed the girls most solemnly, showing them that they were wasting in idle riot the time in which they might be rendering their abode decent, and told them that it was a shame for any woman to live in so dirty a place, and so beastly a condition. They said they had seen buckree (white) women's houses just as dirty, and they could not be expected to be cleaner than white women. I then told them that the only difference between themselves and buckree women was, that the latter were generally better informed, and, for that reason alone, it was more disgraceful to them to be disorderly and dirty. They seemed to listen to me attentively, and one of them exclaimed, with great satisfaction, that they saw I made no difference between them and white girls, and that they never had been so treated before. I do not know anything which strikes me as a more melancholy illustration of the degradation of these people, than the animal nature of their recreations in their short seasons of respite from labour. You see them, boys and girls, from the youngest age to seventeen and eighteen, rolling, tumbling, kicking, and wallowing in the dust, regardless alike of decency, and incapable of any more rational amusement; or, lolling, with half-closed eyes, like so many cats and dogs, against a wall, or upon a bank in the sun, dozing away their short leisure hour, until called to resume their labours in the field or the mill. After this description of the meals of our labourers, you will, perhaps, be curious to know how it fares with our house servants in this respect. Precisely in the same manner, as far as regards allowance, with the exception of what is left from our table, but, if possible, with even less comfort, in one respect, inasmuch as no time whatever is set apart for their meals, which they snatch at any hour, and in any way that they can—generally, however, standing, or squatting on their hams round the kitchen fire. They have no sleeping-rooms in the house, but when their work is over, retire, like the rest, to their hovels, the discomfort of which has to them all the addition of comparison with our mode of living. Now, in all establishments whatever, of course some disparity exists between the comforts of the drawing-room and best bed-rooms, and the servant's hall and attics, but here it is no longer a matter of degree. The young woman who performs the office of lady's-maid, and the lads who wait upon us at table, have neither table to feed at nor chair to sit down upon themselves. The boys sleep at night on the hearth by the kitchen fire, and the women upon a rough board bedstead, strewed with a little tree moss. All this shows how very torpid the sense of justice is apt to lie in the breasts of those who have it not awakened by the peremptory demands of others.
In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live. I received a visit this morning from some of the Darien people. Among them was a most interesting young person, from whose acquaintance, if I have any opportunity of cultivating it, I promise myself much pleasure. The ladies that I have seen since I crossed the southern line, have all seemed to me extremely sickly in their appearance—delicate in the refined term, but unfortunately sickly in the truer one. They are languid in their deportment and speech, and seem to give themselves up, without an effort to counteract it, to the enervating effect of their warm climate. It is undoubtedly a most relaxing and unhealthy one, and therefore requires the more imperatively to be met by energetic and invigorating habits both of body and mind. Of these, however, the southern ladies appear to have, at present, no very positive idea.In 1802, Roswell King became the manager of Major Butler's island plantations in Georgia.
|Roswell King, Sr.|
According to Kemble's journal, Roswell King, Jr. was reported to have fathered at least one and probably more mixed-race children by enslaved women on the plantations. Bran, a mulatto slave said to be King's son, was a driver (supervisor) of other slaves on the plantation. Fanny identified others as Renty, the twins Ben and Daphne, and Jem Valiant, whose mothers were the slave women Betty, Minda, and Judy, respectively. Under Georgia law, children took the status of their mother.
Mr. Butler has been much gratified to-day by the arrival of Mr. King, Jr., who, with his father, for nineteen years was the sole manager of these estates, and discharged his laborious task with great ability and fidelity towards his employers. How far he understood his duties to the slaves, or whether indeed an overseer can, in the nature of things, acknowledge any duty to them, is another question. He is a remarkable man and is much respected for his integrity and honourable dealing by everybody here. His activity and energy are wonderful, and the mere fact of his having charge of for nineteen years, and personally governing, without any assistance whatever, seven hundred people scattered over three large tracts of land, at a considerable distance from each other, certainly bespeaks efficiency and energy of a very uncommon order. The character I had heard of him from Mr. Butler had excited a great deal of interest in me, and I was very glad of this opportunity of seeing a man who, for so many years, had been sovereign over the poor people here. I met him walking on the banks with Mr. ——, as I returned from my own ramble, during which nothing occurred or appeared to interest me—except, by the by, my unexpectedly coming quite close to one of those magnificent scarlet birds which abound here, and which dart across your path, like a winged flame. Nothing can surpass the beauty of their plumage, and their voice is excellently melodious—they are lovely.
. . . After dinner I had a most interesting conversation with Mr. King. Among other subjects, he gave me a lively and curious description of the Yeomanry of Georgia—more properly termed pine-landers. Have you visions now of well-to-do farmers with comfortable homesteads, decent habits, industrious, intelligent, cheerful, and thrifty? Such, however, is not the Yeomanry of Georgia. Labour being here the especial portion of slaves, it is thenceforth degraded, and considered unworthy of all but slaves. No white man, therefore, of any class puts hand to work of any kind soever. This is an exceedingly dignified way of proving their gentility, for the lazy planters who prefer an idle life of semi-starvation and barbarism to the degradation of doing anything themselves; but the effect on the poorer whites of the country is terrible. I speak now of the scattered white population, who, too poor to possess land or slaves, and having no means of living in the towns, squat (most appropriately is it so termed) either on other men's land or government districts—always here swamp or pine barren—and claim masterdom over the place they invade, till ejected by the rightful proprietors. These wretched creatures will not, for they are whites (and labour belongs to blacks and slaves alone here), labour for their own subsistence. They are hardly protected from the weather by the rude shelters they frame for themselves in the midst of these dreary woods. Their food is chiefly supplied by shooting the wild fowl and venison, and stealing from the cultivated patches of the plantations nearest at hand. Their clothes hang about them in filthy tatters, and the combined squalor and fierceness of their appearance is really frightful.
This population is the direct growth of slavery. The planters are loud in their execrations of these miserable vagabonds; yet they do not see that, so long as labour is considered the disgraceful portion of slaves, these free men will hold it nobler to starve or steal than till the earth with none but the despised blacks for fellow-labourers. The blacks themselves—such is the infinite power of custom—acquiesce in this notion, and, as I have told you, consider it the lowest degradation in a white to use any exertion. I wonder, considering the burthens they have seen me lift, the digging, the planting, the rowing, and the walking I do, that they do not utterly contemn me, and indeed they seem lost in amazement at it. . .
He went on to speak of several of the slaves on this estate, as persons quite remarkable for their fidelity and intelligence, instancing old Molly, Ned the engineer, who has the superintendence of the steam-engine in the rice-mill, and head-man Frank, of whom indeed, he wound up the eulogium by saying, he had quite the principles of a white man—which I thought most equivocal praise, but he did not intend it as such. As I was complaining to Mr. —— of the terribly neglected condition of the dykes, which are in some parts so overgrown with gigantic briars that 'tis really impossible to walk over them, and the trench on one hand, and river on the other, afford one extremely disagreeable alternatives. Mr. K—— cautioned me to be particularly on my guard not to step on the thorns of the orange tree. These, indeed, are formidable spikes, and he assured me, were peculiarly poisonous to the flesh. Some of the most painful and tedious wounds he had ever seen, he said, were incurred by the negroes running these large green thorns into their feet.
|Swaim's Panacea Bottle|
Statement of a cure performed by Swaim's Panacea on a negro, belonging to the estate of the late Pierce Butler, Esq. of Philadelphia.
By Roswell King, Jr. Agent for the estate of Pierce Butler Esq. Butler's Island, near Darien, Georgia, May 26, 1824.
John, an African, was purchased in 1803, aged about 16 years. In 1806, he became afflicted with several large deep ulcers on his wrists, arms and neck; he lingered in this way tor a long time, until he became unable to do any work. He was then placed in the hospital, where he remained from 1812 until May, 1823, where every possible means were used for his relief without the desired effect: on the contrary, he became worse; he had deep ulcers on both wrists, which extended to his elbows and shoulders, from thence to his neck and face, and had destroyed his right eye, and nearly the use of his arms; besides one on the hip, which extended over the most part of his back.
. . . The poor fellow suffered beyond description until 1823, when Swaim's Panacea uas recommended. John was a fair subject to test its virtues. At this time the ulcers were worse than ever, and all hopes of his recovery were abandoned. He began the use of the Panacea, and when he had used only three bottles, his ulcers were nearly all healed.
I directed him to take the fourth bottle, which made a perfect cure of him; since then, his health has been very good, he has much improved in flesh, and is now able to do his work. I show him to persons who visit the estate, that the use of this invaluable medicine may be diffused for the benefit of those who suffer.Fanny's journal continued:
Mr. Butler was called out this evening to listen to a complaint of over work, from a gang of pregnant women. I did not stay to listen to the details of their petition, for I am unable to command myself on such occasions, and Mr. —— seemed positively degraded in my eyes, as he stood enforcing upon these women the necessity of their fulfilling their appointed tasks. How honorable he would have appeared to me begrimed with the sweat and soil of the coarsest manual labour, to what he then seemed, setting forth to these wretched, ignorant women, as a duty, their unpaid exacted labour! I turned away in bitter disgust. I hope this sojourn among Mr. ——'s slaves may not lessen my respect for him, but I fear it; for the details of slave holding are so unmanly, letting alone every other consideration, that I know not how anyone, with the spirit of a man, can condescend to them.
. . . Mr. —— has received another letter from Parson S—— upon the subject of more church building in Darien. It seems that there has been a very general panic in this part of the slave states lately, occasioned by some injudicious missionary preaching, which was pronounced to be of a decidedly abolitionist tendency. The offensive preachers, after sowing, God only knows what seed in this tremendous soil, where one grain of knowledge may spring up a gigantic upas tree to the prosperity of its most unfortunate possessors, were summarily and ignominiously expulsed; and now some short sighted, uncomfortable Christians in these parts, among others this said Parson S——, are possessed with the notion that something had better be done to supply the want created by the cessation of these dangerous exhortations, to which the negroes have listened, it seems, with complacency. Parson S—— seems to think that, having driven out two preachers, it might be well to build one church where, at any rate, the negroes might be exhorted in a safe and salutary manner . . .
I was looking over this morning, with a most indescribable mixture of feelings, a pamphlet published in the south upon the subject of the religious instruction of the slaves; and the difficulty of the task undertaken by these reconcilers of God and Mammon really seems to me nothing short of piteous. 'We must give our involuntary servants,' (they seldom call them slaves, for it is an ugly word in an American mouth, you know,) 'Christian enlightenment,' say they; and where shall they begin? 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also unto them?' No—but, 'Servants, obey your masters;' and there, I think, they naturally come to a full stop. This pamphlet forcibly suggested to me the necessity for a slave church catechism, and also, indeed, if it were possible, a slave Bible. If these heaven-blinded negro enlighteners persist in their pernicious plan of making Christians of their cattle, something of the sort must be done, or they will infallibly cut their own throats with this two-edged sword of truth, to which they should in no wise have laid their hand, and would not, doubtless, but that it is now thrust at them so threateningly that they have no choice. Again and again, how much I do pity them!
We have, as a sort of under nursemaid and assistant . . . a young woman named Psyche, but commonly called Sack, not a very graceful abbreviation of the divine heathen appellation: she cannot be much over twenty, has a very pretty figure, a graceful gentle deportment, and a face which, but for its colour (she is a dingy mulatto), would be pretty, and is extremely pleasing, from the perfect sweetness of its expression; she is always serious, not to say sad and silent, and has altogether an air of melancholy and timidity, that has frequently struck me very much, and would have made me think some special anxiety or sorrow must occasion it, but that God knows the whole condition of these wretched people naturally produces such a deportment, and there is no necessity to seek for special or peculiar causes to account for it. . . . I have observed this pathetic expression of countenance in them, a mixture of sadness and fear, the involuntary exhibition of the two feelings, which I suppose must be the predominant experience of their whole lives, regret and apprehension, not the less heavy, either of them, for being, in some degree, vague and indefinite—a sense of incalculable past loss and injury, and a dread of incalculable future loss and injury. I have never questioned Psyche as to her sadness, because, in the first place, as I tell you, it appears to me most natural, and is observable in all the slaves, whose superior natural or acquired intelligence allows of their filling situations of trust or service about the house and family; and, though I cannot and will not refuse to hear any and every tale of suffering which these unfortunates bring to me, I am anxious to spare both myself and them the pain of vain appeals to me for redress and help, which, alas! it is too often utterly out of my power to give them. It is useless, and indeed worse than useless, that they should see my impotent indignation and unavailing pity, and hear expressions of compassion for them, and horror at their condition, which might only prove incentives to a hopeless resistance on their part to a system, under the hideous weight of whose oppression any individual or partial revolt must be annihilated and ground into the dust.
Therefore, as I tell you, I asked Psyche no questions, but, to my great astonishment, the other day M—— asked me if I knew to whom Psyche belonged, as the poor woman had enquired of her with much hesitation and anguish if she could tell her who owned her and her children. She has two nice little children under six years old, whom she keeps as clean and tidy, and who are sad and as silent, as herself. My astonishment at this question was, as you will readily believe, not small, and I forthwith sought out Psyche for an explanation. She was thrown into extreme perturbation at finding that her question had been referred to me, and it was some time before I could sufficiently reassure her to be able to comprehend, in the midst of her reiterated entreaties for pardon, and hopes that she had not offended me, that she did not know herself who owned her. She was, at one time, the property of Mr. K——, the former overseer, of whom I have already spoken to you, and who has just been paying Mr. —— a visit. He, like several of his predecessors in the management, has contrived to make a fortune upon it (though it yearly decreases in value to the owners, but this is the inevitable course of things in the southern states), and has purchased a plantation of his own in Alabama, I believe, or one of the south-western states. Whether she still belonged to Mr. K—— or not she did not know, and entreated me if she did to endeavour to persuade Mr. —— to buy her. Now, you must know that this poor woman is the wife of one of Mr. B——'s slaves, a fine, intelligent, active, excellent young man, whose whole family are among some of the very best specimens of character and capacity on the estate. I was so astonished at the (to me) extraordinary state of things revealed by poor Sack's petition, that I could only tell her that I had supposed all the negroes on the plantation were Mr. ——'s property, but that I would certainly enquire, and find out for her if I could to whom she belonged, and if I could, endeavour to get Mr. —— to purchase her, if she really was not his.. . . I did not see Mr. —— until the evening; but in the meantime, meeting Mr. O——, the overseer, with whom, as I believe I have already told you, we are living here, I asked him about Psyche, and who was her proprietor, when to my infinite surprise he told me that he had bought her and her children from Mr. K——, who had offered them to him, saying that they would be rather troublesome to him than otherwise down where he was going; 'and so,' said Mr. O——, 'as I had no objection to investing a little money that way, I bought them.' With a heart much lightened I flew to tell poor Psyche the news, so that at any rate she might be relieved from the dread of any immediate separation from her husband. You can imagine better than I can tell you what her sensations were; but she still renewed her prayer that I would, if possible, induce Mr. —— to purchase her, and I promised to do so.
Early the next morning, while I was still dressing, I was suddenly startled by hearing voices in loud tones in Mr. Butler's dressing-room, which adjoins my bed-room, and the noise increasing until there was an absolute cry of despair uttered by some man. I could restrain myself no longer, but opened the door of communication, and saw Joe, the young man, poor Psyche's husband, raving almost in a state of frenzy, and in a voice broken with sobs and almost inarticulate with passion, reiterating his determination never to leave this plantation, never to go to Alabama, never to leave his old father and mother, his poor wife and children, and dashing his hat, which he was wringing like a cloth in his hands, upon the ground, he declared he would kill himself if he was compelled to follow Mr. K——. I glanced from the poor wretch to Mr. ——, who was standing, leaning against a table with his arms folded, occasionally uttering a few words of counsel to his slave to be quiet and not fret, and not make a fuss about what there was no help for. I retreated immediately from the horrid scene, breathless with surprise and dismay, and stood for some time in my own room, with my heart and temples throbbing to such a degree that I could hardly support myself. As soon as I recovered myself I again sought Mr. O——, and enquired of him if he knew the cause of poor Joe's distress. He then told me that Mr. ——, who is highly pleased with Mr. K——'s past administration of his property, wished, on his departure for his newly-acquired slave plantation, to give him some token of his satisfaction, and had made him a present of the man Joe, who had just received the intelligence that he was to go down to Alabama with his new owner the next day, leaving father, mother, wife, and children behind. You will not wonder that the man required a little judicious soothing under such circumstances, and you will also, I hope, admire the humanity of the sale of his wife and children by the owner who was going to take him to Alabama, because they would be incumbrances rather than otherwise down there. If Mr. K—— did not do this after he knew that the man was his, then Mr. —— gave him to be carried down to the South after his wife and children were sold to remain in Georgia. I do not know which was the real transaction, for I have not had the heart to ask; but you will easily imagine which of the two cases I prefer believing.
When I saw Mr. —— after this most wretched story became known to me in all its details, I appealed to him for his own soul's sake not to commit so great a cruelty. Poor Joe's agony while remonstrating with his master was hardly greater than mine while arguing with him upon this bitter piece of inhumanity—how I cried, and how I adjured, and how all my sense of justice and of mercy and of pity for the poor wretch, and of wretchedness at finding myself implicated in such a state of things, broke in torrents of words from my lips and tears from my eyes! God knows such a sorrow at seeing anyone I belonged to commit such an act was indeed a new and terrible experience to me, and it seemed to me that I was imploring Mr. —— to save himself, more than to spare these wretches. He gave me no answer whatever, and I have since thought that the intemperate vehemence of my entreaties and expostulations perhaps deserved that he should leave me as he did without one single word of reply; and miserable enough I remained. Towards evening, as I was sitting alone, my children having gone to bed, Mr. O—— came into the room. I had but one subject in my mind; I had not been able to eat for it. I could hardly sit still for the nervous distress which every thought of these poor people filled me with. As he sat down looking over some accounts, I said to him, 'Have you seen Joe this afternoon, Mr. O——?' (I give you our conversation as it took place.) 'Yes, ma'am; he is a great deal happier than he was this morning.' 'Why, how is that?' asked I eagerly. 'Oh, he is not going to Alabama. Mr. K—— heard that he had kicked up a fuss about it (being in despair at being torn from one's wife and children is called kicking up a fuss; this is a sample of overseer appreciation of human feelings), and said that if the fellow wasn't willing to go with him, he did not wish to be bothered with any niggers down there who were to be troublesome, so he might stay behind.' 'And does Psyche know this?' 'Yes, ma'am, I suppose so.' I drew a long breath; and whereas my needle had stumbled through the stuff I was sewing for an hour before, as if my fingers could not guide it, the regularity and rapidity of its evolutions were now quite edifying.
The man was for the present safe, and I remained silently pondering his deliverance and the whole proceeding, and the conduct of everyone engaged in it, and above all Mr. ——'s share in the transaction, and I think for the first time almost a sense of horrible personal responsibility and implication took hold of my mind, and I felt the weight of an unimagined guilt upon my conscience; and yet God knows this feeling of self-condemnation is very gratuitous on my part, since when I married Mr. —— I knew nothing of these dreadful possessions of his, and even if I had, I should have been much puzzled to have formed any idea of the state of things in which I now find myself plunged, together with those whose well-doing is as vital to me almost as my own.
With these agreeable reflections I went to bed. Mr. —— said not a word to me upon the subject of these poor people all the next day, and in the meantime I became very impatient of this reserve on his part, because I was dying to prefer my request that he would purchase Psyche and her children, and so prevent any future separation between her and her husband, as I supposed he would not again attempt to make a present of Joe, at least to anyone who did not wish to be bothered with his wife and children. In the evening I was again with Mr. O—— alone in the strange bare wooden-walled sort of shanty which is our sitting-room, and revolving in my mind the means of rescuing Psyche from her miserable suspense, a long chain of all my possessions, in the shape of bracelets, necklaces, brooches, ear-rings, &c., wound in glittering procession through my brain, with many hypothetical calculations of the value of each separate ornament, and the very doubtful probability of the amount of the whole being equal to the price of this poor creature and her children; and then the great power and privilege I had foregone of earning money by my own labour occurred to me; and I think, for the first time in my life, my past profession assumed an aspect that arrested my thoughts most seriously.
For the last four years of my life that preceded my marriage, I literally coined money; and never until this moment, I think, did I reflect on the great means of good, to myself and others, that I so gladly agreed to give up for ever, for a maintenance by the unpaid labour of slaves—people toiling not only unpaid, but under the bitter conditions the bare contemplation of which was then wringing my heart.
You will not wonder that, when in the midst of such cogitations I suddenly accosted Mr. O——, it was to this effect. 'Mr. O——, I have a particular favour to beg of you. Promise me that you will never sell Psyche and her children without first letting me know of your intention to do so, and giving me the option of buying them.' Mr. O—— is aremarkably deliberate man, and squints, so that, when he has taken a little time in directing his eyes to you, you are still unpleasantly unaware of any result in which you are concerned; he laid down a book he was reading, and directed his head and one of his eyes towards me and answered, 'Dear me, ma'am, I am very sorry—I have sold them.' My work fell down on the ground, and my mouth opened wide, but I could utter no sound, I was so dismayed and surprised; and he deliberately proceeded: 'I didn't know, ma'am, you see, at all, that you entertained any idea of making an investment of that nature; for I'm sure, if I had, I would willingly have sold the woman to you; but I sold her and her children this morning to Mr. ——.' . . . He had bought these poor creatures, and so, I trust, secured them from any such misery in future. I jumped up and left Mr. O—— still speaking, and ran to find Mr. ——, to thank him for what he had done . . .
Jack and I betook ourselves to the river, and succeeded in securing some immense cat-fish, of which, to tell you the truth, I am most horribly afraid when I have caught them. The dexterity necessary for taking them off the hook so as to avoid the spikes on their backs, and the spikes on each side of their gills, the former having to be pressed down, and the two others pressed up, before you can get any purchase on the slimy beast (for it is smooth skinned and without scales, to add to the difficulty)—these conditions, I say, make the catching of cat-fish questionable sport. Then too, they hiss, and spit, and swear at one, and are altogether devilish in their aspect and demeanour; nor are they good for food, except, as Jack with much humility said this morning, for coloured folks—'Good for coloured folks, missis; me 'spect not good enough for white people.' That 'spect, meaning expect, has sometimes a possible meaning of suspect, which would give the sentence in which it occurs a very humorous turn, and I always take the benefit of that interpretation. After exhausting the charms of our occupation, finding that cat-fish were likely to be our principal haul, I left the river and went my rounds to the hospitals. On my way I encountered two batches of small black fry, Hannah's children and poor Psyche's children, looking really as neat and tidy as children of the bettermost class of artisans among ourselves. These people are so quick and so imitative that it would be the easiest thing in the world to improve their physical condition by appealing to their emulative propensities. . . .
In the afternoon I rowed with Mr. —— to another island in the broad waters of the Altamaha, called Tunno's Island, to return the visit of a certain Dr. John Champney Tunno, the proprietor of the island, named after him, as our rice swamp is after Major Butler. I here saw growing in the open air the most beautiful gardinias I ever beheld . .
In the course of our visit a discussion arose as to the credibility of any negro assertion, though, indeed, that could hardly be called a discussion that was simply a chorus of assenting opinions. No negro was to be believed on any occasion or any subject. No doubt they are habitual liars, for they are slaves, but there are some thrice honourable exceptions who, being slaves, are yet not liars; and certainly the vice results much more from the circumstances in which they are placed than from any natural tendency to untruth in their case. The truth is that they are always considered as false and deceitful, and it is very seldom that any special investigation of the facts of any particular case is resorted to in their behalf. They are always prejudged on their supposed general characteristics, and never judged after the fact on the merit of any special instance. . .
On my return from the river I had a long and painful conversation with Mr. —— upon the subject of the flogging which had been inflicted on the wretched Teresa. These discussions are terrible: they throw me into perfect agonies of distress for the slaves, whose position is utterly hopeless; for myself, whose intervention in their behalf sometimes seems to me worse than useless; for Mr. ——, whose share in this horrible system fills me by turns with indignation and pity.
But, after all, what can he do? how can he help it all? Moreover, born and bred in America, how should he care or wish to help it? and of course he does not; and I am in despair that he does not: et voilà, it is a happy and hopeful plight for us both. He maintained that there had been neither hardship nor injustice in the case of Teresa's flogging; and that, moreover, she had not been flogged at all for complaining to me, but simply because her allotted task was not done at the appointed time. Of course this was the result of her having come to appeal to me, instead of going to her labour; and as she knew perfectly well the penalty she was incurring, he maintained that there was neither hardship nor injustice in the case; the whole thing was a regularly established law, with which all the slaves were perfectly well acquainted; and this case was no exception whatever. The circumstance of my being on the island could not of course be allowed to overthrow the whole system of discipline established to secure the labour and obedience of the slaves; and if they chose to try experiments as to that fact, they and I must take the consequences.
At the end of the day, the driver of the gang to which Teresa belongs reported her work not done, and Mr. O—— ordered him to give her the usual number of stripes; which order the driver of course obeyed, without knowing how Teresa had employed her time instead of hoeing. But Mr. O—— knew well enough, for the wretched woman told me that she had herself told him she should appeal to me about her weakness and suffering and inability to do the work exacted from her. He did not, however, think proper to exceed in her punishment the usual number of stripes allotted to the non-performance of the appointed daily task, and Mr. —— pronounced the whole transaction perfectly satisfactory and en règle. The common drivers are limited in their powers of chastisement, not being allowed to administer more than a certain number of lashes to their fellow slaves. Head man Frank, as he is called, has alone the privilege of exceeding this limit; and the overseer's latitude of infliction is only curtailed by the necessity of avoiding injury to life or limb. The master's irresponsible power has no such bound.
When I was thus silenced on the particular case under discussion, I resorted in my distress and indignation to the abstract question, as I never can refrain from doing; and to Mr. ——'s assertion of the justice of poor Teresa's punishment, I retorted the manifest injustice of unpaid and enforced labour; the brutal inhumanity of allowing a man to strip and lash a woman, the mother of ten children; to exact from her toil which was to maintain in luxury two idle young men, the owners of the plantation. I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man. Mr. —— said he thought it was disagreeable, and left me to my reflections with that concession. My letter has been interrupted for the last three days; by nothing special, however. . . .
Mr. —— has been anxious for a little while past that we should go down to St. Simon's, the cotton plantation. We shall suffer less from the heat, which I am beginning to find oppressive on this swamp island; and he himself wished to visit that part of his property, whither he had not yet been since our arrival in Georgia. So the day before yesterday he departed to make the necessary arrangements for our removal thither; and my time in the meanwhile has been taken up in fitting him out for his departure. . .
In the evening, Mr. ——'s departure left me to the pleasures of an uninterrupted tête-à-tête with his crosseyed overseer, and I endeavoured, as I generally do, to atone by my conversibleness and civility for the additional trouble which, no doubt, all my outlandish ways and notions are causing the worthy man. So suggestive (to use the new-fangled jargon about books) a woman as myself is, I suspect, an intolerable nuisance in these parts; and poor Mr. O—— cannot very well desire Mr. —— to send me away, however much he may wish that he would; so that figuratively, as well as literally, I fear the worthy master me voit d'un mauvais oeil, as the French say.
I asked him several questions about some of the slaves who had managed to learn to read, and by what means they had been able to do so. As teaching them is strictly prohibited by the laws, they who instructed them, and such of them as acquired the knowledge, must have been not a little determined and persevering. This was my view of the case, of course, and of course it was not the overseer's. I asked him if many of Mr. ——'s slaves could read. He said 'No; very few, he was happy to say, but those few were just so many too many.' 'Why, had he observed any insubordination in those who did?' . . . No; he had no special complaint to bring against the lettered members of his subject community, but he spoke by anticipation.
Every step they take towards intelligence and enlightenment lessens the probability of their acquiescing in their condition. Their condition is not to be changed—ergo, they had better not learn to read; a very succinct and satisfactory argument as far as it goes, no doubt, and one to which I had not a word to reply, at any rate, to Mr. O——, as I did not feel called upon to discuss the abstract justice or equity of the matter with him; indeed he, to a certain degree, gave up that part of the position, starting with 'I don't say whether it's right or wrong;' and in all conversations that I have had with the southerners upon these subjects, whether out of civility to what may be supposed to be an Englishwoman's prejudices, or a forlorn respect to their own convictions, the question of the fundamental wrong of slavery is generally admitted, or at any rate certainly never denied.
. . . Mr. O—— went on to condemn and utterly denounce all the preaching and teaching and moral instruction upon religious subjects, which people in the south, pressed upon by northern opinion, are endeavouring to give their slaves. The kinder and the more cowardly masters are anxious to evade the charge of keeping their negroes in brutish ignorance, and so they crumble what they suppose and hope may prove a little harmless, religious enlightenment, which, mixed up with much religious authority on the subject of submission and fidelity to masters, they trust their slaves may swallow without its doing them any harm—i.e., that they may be better Christians and better slaves—and so, indeed, no doubt they are; but it is a very dangerous experiment, and from Mr. O——'s point of view I quite agree with him. The letting out of water, or the letting in of light, in infinitesimal quantities, is not always easy. The half-wicked of the earth are the leaks through which wickedness is eventually swamped; compromises forerun absolute surrender in most matters, and fools and cowards are, in such cases, the instruments of Providence for their own defeat. Mr. O—— stated unequivocally his opinion that free labour would be more profitable on the plantations than the work of slaves, which, being compulsory, was of the worst possible quality and the smallest possible quantity; then the charge of them before and after they are able to work is onerous, the cost of feeding and clothing them very considerable, and upon the whole he, a southern overseer, pronounced himself decidedly in favour of free labour, upon grounds of expediency. Having at the beginning of our conversation declined discussing the moral aspect of slavery, evidently not thinking that position tenable, I thought I had every right to consider Mr. ——'s slave-driver a decided abolitionist. . . .
I was assailed by a small gang of children, clamouring for the indulgence of some meat, which they besought me to give them. Animal food is only allowed to certain of the harder working men, hedgers and ditchers, and to them only occasionally, and in very moderate rations. My small cannibals clamoured round me for flesh, as if I had had a butcher's cart in my pocket, till I began to laugh and then to run, and away they came, like a pack of little black wolves, at my heels, shrieking, 'Missis, you gib me piece meat, missis, you gib me meat,' till I got home.
At the door I found another petitioner, a young woman named Maria, who brought a fine child in her arms, and demanded a present of a piece of flannel. Upon my asking her who her husband was, she replied, without much hesitation, that she did not possess any such appendage. I gave another look at her bonny baby, and went into the house to get the flannel for her. I afterwards heard from Mr. —— that she and two other girls of her age, about seventeen, were the only instances on the island of women with illegitimate children.
After I had been in the house a little while, I was summoned out again to receive the petition of certain poor women in the family-way to have their work lightened. I was, of course, obliged to tell them that I could not interfere in the matter, that their master was away, and that, when he came back, they must present their request to him: they said they had already begged 'massa,' and he had refused, and theythought, perhaps, if 'missis' begged 'massa' for them, he would lighten their task. Poor 'missis,' poor 'massa,' poor woman, that I am to have such prayers addressed to me! I had to tell them, that if they had already spoken to their master, I was afraid my doing so would be of no use, but that when he came back I would try; so, choking with crying, I turned away from them, and re-entered the house, to the chorus of 'Oh, thank you, missis! God bless you, missis!'
. . . Yesterday afternoon I received a visit from the wife of our neighbour Dr. Tunno. As usual, she exclaimed at my good fortune in having a white woman with my children when she saw Margery, and, as usual, went on to expatiate on the utter impossibility of finding a trustworthy nurse anywhere in the South, to whom your children could be safely confided for a day or even an hour; as usual too, the causes of this unworthiness or incapacity for a confidential servant's occupation were ignored, and the fact laid to the natural defects of the negro race. I am sick and weary of this cruel and ignorant folly. . .
On Sunday morning I went over to Darien to church. Our people's church was closed, the minister having gone to officiate elsewhere. With laudable liberality I walked into the opposite church of a different, not to say opposite sect: here I heard a sermon, the opening of which will, probably, edify you as it did me, viz., that if a man was just in all his dealings he was apt to think he did all that could be required of him,—and no wide mistake either one might suppose.
But is it not wonderful how such words can be spoken here, with the most absolute unconsciousness of their tremendous bearing upon the existence of every slaveholder who hears them? Certainly the use that is second nature has made the awful injustice in the daily practice of which these people live, a thing of which they are as little aware as you or I of the atmospheric air that we inhale each time we breathe. The bulk of the congregation in this church was white. The negroes are, of course, not allowed to mix with their masters in the house of God, and there is no special place set apart for them. Occasionally one or two are to be seen in the corners of the singing gallery, but any more open pollution by them of their owners' church could not be tolerated. Mr. ——'s people have petitioned very vehemently that he would build a church for them on the island. I doubt, however, his allowing them such a luxury as a place of worship all to themselves. Such a privilege might not be well thought of by the neighbouring planters; indeed, it is almost what one might call a whity-brown idea, dangerous, demoralising, inflammatory, incendiary. I should not wonder if I should be suspected of being the chief corner-stone of it, and yet I am not: it is an old hope and entreaty of these poor people, which am afraid they are not destined to see fulfilled.
. . . On my return to the house I found a terrible disturbance in consequence of the disappearance from under cook John's safe keeping, of a ham Mr. ——- had committed to his charge. There was no doubt whatever that the unfortunate culinary slave had made away in some inscrutable manner with the joint intended for our table: the very lies he told about it were so curiously shallow, child-like, and transparent, that while they confirmed the fact of his theft quite as much if not more than an absolute confession would have done, they provoked at once my pity and my irrepressible mirth to a most painful degree. Mr. —— was in a state of towering anger and indignation, and besides a flogging sentenced the unhappy cook to degradation from his high and dignified position (and, alas! all its sweets of comparatively easy labour and good living from the remains of our table) to the hard toil, coarse scanty fare, and despised position of a common field hand. I suppose some punishment was inevitably necessary in such a plain case of deliberate theft as this, but, nevertheless, my whole soul revolts at the injustice of visiting upon these poor wretches a moral darkness which all possible means are taken to increase and perpetuate.
In speaking of this and the whole circumstance of John's trespass to Mr. —— in the evening, I observed that the ignorance of these poor people ought to screen them from punishment. He replied, that they knew well enough what was right and wrong. I asked how they could be expected to know it? He replied, by the means of Cooper London, and the religious instruction he gave them. So that, after all, the appeal is to be made against themselves to that moral and religious instruction which is withheld from them, and which, if they obtain it at all, is the result of their own unaided and unencouraged exertion.
The more I hear, and see, and learn, and ponder the whole of this system of slavery, the more impossible I find it to conceive how its practisers and upholders are to justify their deeds before the tribunal of their own conscience or God's law. It is too dreadful to have those whom we love accomplices to this wickedness; it is too intolerable to find myself an involuntary accomplice to it.
I had a conversation the next morning with Abraham, cook John's brother, upon the subject of his brother's theft; and only think of the slave saying that 'this action had brought disgrace upon the family.' Does not that sound very like the very best sort of free pride, the pride of character, the honourable pride of honesty, integrity, and fidelity? But this was not all, for this same Abraham, a clever carpenter and much valued hand on the estate, went on, in answer to my questions, to tell me such a story that I declare to you I felt as if I could have howled with helpless indignation and grief when he departed and went to resume his work. His grandfather had been an old slave in Darien, extremely clever as a carpenter, and so highly valued for his skill and good character that his master allowed him to purchase his liberty by money which he earned by working for himself at odd times, when his task work was over. I asked Abraham what sum his grandfather paid for his freedom: he said he did not know, but he supposed a large one, because of his being a 'skilled carpenter,' and so a peculiarly valuable chattel. I presume, from what I remember Major M—— and Dr. H—— saying on the subject of the market value of negroes in Charleston and Savannah, that such a man in the prime of life would have been worth from 1,500 to 2,000 dollars. However, whatever the man paid for his ransom, by his grandson's account, fourteen years after he became free, when he died, he had again amassed money to the amount of 700 dollars, which he left among his wife and children, the former being a slave on Major ——'s estate, where the latter remained by virtue of that fact slaves also. So this man not only bought his own freedom at a cost of at least 1,000 dollars, but left a little fortune of 700 more at his death: and then we are told of the universal idleness, thriftlessness, incorrigible sloth, and brutish incapacity of this inferior race of creatures, whose only fitting and Heaven-appointed condition is that of beasts of burthen to the whites. . . .
Our arrival at St. Simon's . . . We came down yesterday afternoon, and I was thankful enough of the fifteen miles' row to rest in, from the labour of leave-taking, with which the whole morning was taken up, and which, combined with packing and preparing all our own personalities and those of the children, was no sinecure. At every moment one or other of the poor people rushed in upon me to bid me good-bye; many of their farewells were grotesque enough, some were pathetic, and all of them made me very sad. Poor people! how little I have done, how little I can do for them. I had a long talk with that interesting and excellent man, Cooper London, who made an earnest petition that I would send him from the North a lot of Bibles and Prayer Books; certainly the science of reading must be much more common among the negroes than I supposed, or London must look to a marvellously increased spread of the same hereafter. There is, however, considerable reticence upon this point, or else the poor slaves must consider the mere possession of the holy books as good for salvation and as effectual for spiritual assistance to those who cannot as to those who can comprehend them. Since the news of our departure has spread, I have had repeated eager entreaties for presents of Bibles and Prayer Books, and to my demurrer of 'But you can't read; can you?' have generally received for answer a reluctant acknowledgement of ignorance, which, however, did not always convince me of the fact. In my farewell conversation with London I found it impossible to get him to tell me how he had learned to read: the penalties for teaching them are very severe, heavy fines, increasing in amount for the first and second offence, and imprisonment for the third. Such a man as London is certainly aware that to teach the slaves to read is an illegal act, and he may have been unwilling to betray whoever had been his preceptor even to my knowledge; at any rate, I got no answers from him but 'Well, missis, me learn; well, missis, me try,' and finally, 'Well, missis, me 'spose Heaven help me;' to which I could only reply, that I knew Heaven was helpful, but very hardly to the tune of teaching folks their letters. I got no satisfaction. . . .
The whole day, till quite late in the afternoon, the house was surrounded by a crowd of our poor dependents, waiting to catch a glimpse of Mr. ——, myself, or the children; and until, from sheer weariness, I was obliged to shut the doors, an incessant stream poured in and out, whose various modes of salutation, greeting, and welcome were more grotesque and pathetic at the same time than anything you can imagine. . . .I observed, among the numerous groups that we passed or met, a much larger proportion of mulattoes than at the rice-island; upon asking Mr. —— why this was so, he said that there no white person could land without his or the overseer's permission, whereas on St. Simon's, which is a large island containing several plantations belonging to different owners, of course the number of whites, both residing on and visiting the place, was much greater, and the opportunity for intercourse between the blacks and whites much more frequent. While we were still on this subject, a horrid-looking filthy woman met us with a little child in her arms, a very light mulatto, whose extraordinary resemblance to Driver Bran (one of the officials, who had been duly presented to me on my arrival, and who was himself a mulatto) struck me directly. I pointed it out to Mr. ——, who merely answered, 'Very likely his child.' 'And,' said I, 'did you never remark that Driver Bran is the exact image of Mr. K——?' 'Very likely his brother,' was the reply: all which rather unpleasant state of relationships seemed accepted as such a complete matter of course, that I felt rather uncomfortable, and said no more about who was like who, but came to certain conclusions in my own mind as to a young lad who had been among our morning visitors, and whose extremely light colour and straight handsome features and striking resemblance to Mr. K——, had suggested suspicions of a rather unpleasant nature to me, and whose sole-acknowledged parent was a very black negress of the name of Minda. I have no doubt at all, now, that he is another son of Mr. Roswll King, Mr. Butler's paragon overseer.
. . . I find the people here much more inclined to talk than those on the rice-island. . . . The poor old women, of whom there are so many turned out to grass here, and of whom I have spoken to you before, though they are past work, are by no means past gossip, and the stories they have to tell of the former government of the estate under old Massa K—— are certainly pretty tremendous illustrations of the merits of slavery as a moral institution. This man, the father of the late owner, Mr. Roswell King, was Major Butler's agent in the management of this property; and a more cruel and unscrupulous one as regards the slaves themselves, whatever he may have been in his dealings with the master, I should think it would be difficult to find, even among the cruel and unscrupulous class to which he belonged. In a conversation with old 'House Molly,' as she is called, to distinguish her from all other Mollies on the estate, she having had the honour of being a servant in Major ——'s house for many years, I asked her if the relation between men and women who are what they call married, i.e., who have agreed to live together as man and wife (the only species of marriage formerly allowed on the estate, I believe now London may read the Marriage Service to them), was considered binding by the people themselves and by the overseer. She said 'not much, formerly,' and that the people couldn't be expected to have much regard to such an engagement, utterly ignored as it was by Mr. K——, whose invariable rule, if he heard of any disagreement between a man and woman calling themselves married, was immediately to bestow them in 'marriage' on other parties, whether they chose it or not, by which summary process the slightest 'incompatibility of temper' received the relief of a divorce more rapid and easy than even Germany could afford, and the estate lost nothing by any prolongation of celibacy on either side. Of course, the misery consequent upon such arbitrary destruction of voluntary and imposition of involuntary ties was nothing to Mr. King.
. . . I have had a most painful conversation with Mr. Butler, who has declined receiving any of the people's petitions through me. Whether he is wearied with the number of these prayers and supplications which he would escape but for me, as they probably would not venture to come so incessantly to him, and I of course feel bound to bring every one confided to me to him; or whether he has been annoyed at the number of pitiful and horrible stories of misery and oppression under the former rule of Mr. K——, which have come to my knowledge since I have been here, and the grief and indignation caused, but which cannot by any means always be done away with, though their expression may be silenced by his angry exclamations of 'Why do you listen to such stuff?' or 'Why do you believe such trash; don't you know the niggers are all d——d liars?' &c. I do not know; but he desired me this morning to bring him no more complaints or requests of any sort, as the people had hitherto had no such advocate, and had done very well without, and I was only kept in an incessant state of excitement with all the falsehoods they 'found they could make me believe.' How well they have done without my advocacy, the conditions which I see with my own eyes even more than their pitiful petitions demonstrate; it is indeed true, that the sufferings of those who come to me for redress, and still more the injustice done to the great majority who cannot, have filled my heart with bitterness and indignation that have overflowed my lips, till, I suppose, —— is weary of hearing what he has never heard before, the voice of passionate expostulation, and importunate pleading against wrongs that he will not even acknowledge, and for creatures whose common humanity with his own I half think he does not believe;—but I must return to the North, for my condition would be almost worse than theirs—condemned to hear and see so much wretchedness, not only without the means of alleviating it, but without permission even to represent it for alleviation—this is no place for me, since I was not born among slaves, and cannot bear to live among them.
Perhaps after all what he says is true: when I am gone they will fall back into the desperate uncomplaining habit of suffering, from which my coming among them, willing to hear and ready to help, has tempted them; he says that bringing their complaints to me, and the sight of my credulous commiseration, only tend to make them discontented and idle, and brings renewed chastisement upon them; and that so, instead of really befriending them, I am only preparing more suffering for them whenever I leave the place, and they can no more cry to me for help. . . .
The spring is fast coming on; and we shall, I suppose, soon leave Georgia. How new and sad a chapter of my life this winter here has been!
. . . This morning I had a visit from two of the women, Charlotte and Judy, who came to me for help and advice for a complaint, which it really seems to me every other woman on the estate is cursed with, and which is a direct result of the conditions of their existence; the practice of sending women to labour in the fields in the third week after their confinement is a specific for causing this infirmity, and I know no specific for curing it under these circumstances. . . . Louisa said she had been severely flogged by Driver Bran, in whose 'gang' she then was. The next day, in spite of this encouragement to labour, she had again been unable to complete her appointed work; and Bran having told her that he'd tie her up and flog her if she did not get it done, she had left the field and run into the swamp. 'Tie you up, Louisa!' said I, 'what is that?' She then described to me that they were fastened up by their wrists to a beam or a branch of a tree, their feet barely touching the ground, so as to allow them no purchase for resistance or evasion of the lash, their clothes turned over their heads, and their backs scored with a leather thong, either by the driver himself, or if he pleases to inflict their punishment by deputy, any of the men he may choose to summon to the office; it might be father, brother, husband, or lover, if the overseer so ordered it. I turned sick, and my blood curdled listening to these details from the slender young slip of a lassie, with her poor piteous face and murmuring pleading voice. 'Oh,' said I, 'Louisa; but the rattlesnakes, the dreadful rattlesnakes in the swamps; were you not afraid of those horrible creatures?' 'Oh, missis,' said the poor child, 'me no tink of dem, me forget all 'bout dem for de fretting.' 'Why did you come home at last?' 'Oh, missis, me starve with hunger, me most dead with hunger before me come back.' . . . I have not felt well, and have been much depressed for some days past. I think I should die if I had to live here.
. . . I went to the house of the overseer to see his wife, a tidy, decent, kind-hearted, little woman, who seems to me to do her duty by the poor people she lives among, as well as her limited intelligence and still more limited freedom allow. The house her husband lives in is the former residence of Major ——, which was the great mansion of the estate. It is now in a most ruinous and tottering condition, and they inhabit but a few rooms in it; the others are gradually mouldering to pieces, and the whole edifice will, I should think, hardly stand long enough to be carried away by the river, which in its yearly inroads on the bank on which it stands has already approached within a perilous proximity to the old dilapidated planter's palace. Old Molly, of whom I have often before spoken to you, who lived here in the days of the prosperity and grandeur of 'Hampton,' still clings to the relics of her old master's former magnificence and with a pride worthy of old Caleb of Ravenswood showed me through the dismantled decaying rooms and over the remains of the dairy, displaying a capacious fish-box or well, where, in the good old days, the master's supply was kept in fresh salt water till required for table. Her prideful lamentations over the departure of all this quondam glory were ludicrous and pathetic; but while listening with some amusement to the jumble of grotesque descriptions through which her impression of the immeasurable grandeur and nobility of the house she served was the predominant feature, I could not help contrasting the present state of the estate with that which she described, and wondering why it should have become, as it undoubtedly must have done, so infinitely less productive a property than in the old Major's time. . . Mrs. G—— told me that within the memory of many of the slaves now living on the plantation, a grove of orange trees had spread its fragrance and beauty between the house and the river. Not a vestige remains of them. The earth that bore them was gradually undermined, slipped, and sank down into the devouring flood, and when she saw the astonished incredulity of my look she led me to the ragged and broken bank, and there, immediately below it and just covered by the turbid waters of the in-rushing tide, were the heads of the poor drowned orange trees, swaying like black twigs in the briny flood which had not yet dislodged all of them from their hold upon the soil which had gone down beneath the water wearing its garland of bridal blossom.
As I looked at those trees a wild wish rose in my heart that the river and the sea would swallow up and melt in their salt waves the whole of this accursed property of ours. I am afraid the horror of slavery with which I came down to the south, the general theoretic abhorrence of an Englishwoman for it, has gained, through the intensity it has acquired, a morbid character of mere desire to be delivered from my own share in it. I think so much of these wretches that I see, that I can hardly remember any others, and my zeal for the general emancipation of the slave, has almost narrowed itself to this most painful desire that I and mine were freed from the responsibility of our share in this huge misery . . .
The mulatto woman, Sally, accosted me again to-day, and begged that she might be put to some other than field labour. Supposing she felt herself unequal to it, I asked her some questions, but the principal reason she urged for her promotion to some less laborious kind of work was, that hoeing in the field was so hard to her on 'account of her colour,' and she therefore petitions to be allowed to learn a trade. I was much puzzled at this reason for her petition, but was presently made to understand that being a mulatto, she considered field labour a degradation; her white bastardy appearing to her a title to consideration in my eyes. The degradation of these people is very complete, for they have accepted the contempt of their masters to that degree that they profess, and really seem to feel it for themselves, and the faintest admixture of white blood in their black veins appears at once, by common consent of their own race, to raise them in the scale of humanity. I had not much sympathy for this petition. The woman's father had been a white man who was employed for some purpose on the estate. In speaking upon this subject to Mrs. G——, she said that, as far as her observation went, the lower class of white men in the south lived with coloured women precisely as they would at the north with women of their own race; the outcry that one hears against amalgamation appears therefore to be something educated and acquired, rather than intuitive. I cannot perceive in observing my children, that they exhibit the slightest repugnance or dislike to these swarthy dependents of theirs, which they surely would do if, as is so often pretended, there is an inherent, irreconcilable repulsion on the part of the white towards the negro race. All the southern children that I have seen seem to have a special fondness for these good-natured childish human beings, whose mental condition is kin in its simplicity and proneness to impulsive emotion to their own, and I can detect in them no trace of the abhorrence and contempt for their dusky skins which all questions of treating them with common justice is so apt to elicit from American men and women.
. . . My visit to my neighbour Mr. Couper, which pleased and interested me veryJohn Couper (1759-1850) was known as the patriarch of St. Simons Island planters in the early 1800s. After emigrating to the area just before the Revolution, Couper became a prosperous merchant before establishing his Cannon's Point plantation at the north end of St. Simons in 1794. With his wife Rebecca, he gained fame for his hospitality, progressive management, and agricultural expertise. His two chefs were renowned across the South for the quality of their French cuisine. He was one of the few who kept his most of his family's fortune in the area. He donated land to build the St. Simons Island lighthouse.
much. He is an old Glasgow man, who has been settled here many years. It is curious how many of the people round this neighbourhood have Scotch names; it seems strange to find them thus gathered in the vicinity of a new Darien; but those in our immediate neighbourhood seem to have found it a far less fatal region than their countrymen did its namesake of the Isthmus.
|St. Simons Island lighthouse|
Couper represented Glynn County at Georgia's Constitutional Convention. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson asked the American consul in Marseilles to send 200 olive tress to Couper. Some of these Cannon Point olive trees survived into the 20th century. Visitors such as Aaron Burr noted Couper's legendary humor and generosity. He spent his later years with his son, James Hamilton Couper, until his death in 1850 at the age 91.
Mr. Couper's house is a roomy, comfortable, handsomely laid out mansion, to which he received me with very cordial kindness, and where I spent part of a very pleasant morning, talking with him, hearing all he could tell me of the former history of Mr. ——'s plantation. His description of its former master, old Major Butler, and of his agent and overseer Mr. King, and of that gentleman's worthy son and successor the late overseer, interested me very much; of the two latter functionaries his account was terrible, and much what I had supposed any impartial account of them would be; because, let the propensity to lying of the poor wretched slaves be what it will, they could not invent, with a common consent, the things that they one and all tell me with reference to the manner in which they have been treated by the man who has just left the estate, and his father, who for the last nineteen years have been sole sovereigns of their bodies and souls. The crops have satisfied the demands of the owners, who, living in Philadelphia, have been perfectly contented to receive a large income from their estate without apparently caring how it was earned. The stories that the poor people tell me of the cruel tyranny under which they have lived are not complaints, for they are of things past and gone, and very often, horridly as they shock and affect me, they themselves seem hardly more than half conscious of the misery their condition exhibits to me, and they speak of things which I shudder to hear of, almost as if they had been matters of course with them.
Old Mr. C—— spoke with extreme kindness of his own people, and had evidently bestowed much humane and benevolent pains upon endeavours to better their condition. I asked him if he did not think the soil and climate of this part of Georgia admirably suited to the cultivation of the mulberry and the rearing of the silk-worm; for it has appeared to me that hereafter, silk may be made one of the most profitable products of this whole region: he said that that had long been his opinion, and he had at one time had it much at heart to try the experiment, and had proposed to Major —— to join him in it, on a scale large enough to test it satisfactorily; but he said Mr. K—— opposed the scheme so persistently that of course it was impossible to carry it out, as his agency and cooperation were indispensable; and that in like manner he had suggested sowing turnip crops, and planting peach trees for the benefit and use of the people on the Hampton estate, experiments which he had tried with excellent success on his own; but all these plans for the amelioration and progress of the people's physical condition had been obstructed and finally put entirely aside by old Mr. K—— and his son, who, as Mr. C—— said, appeared to give satisfaction to their employers, so it was not his business to find fault with them; he said, however, that the whole condition and treatment of the slaves had changed from the time of Major ——'s death, and that he thought it providential for the poor people that Mr. K—— should have left the estate, and the young gentleman, the present owner, come down to look after the people.
. . . After my return home, I had my usual evening reception, and, among other pleasant incidents of plantation life, heard the following agreeable anecdote from a woman named Sophy, who came to beg for some rice. In asking her about her husband and children, she said she had never had any husband, that she had had two children by a white man of the name of Walker, who was employed at the mill on the rice island; she was in the hospital after the birth of the second child she bore this man, and at the same time two women, Judy and Sylla, of whose children Mr. K—— was the father, were recovering from their confinements. It was not a month since any of them had been delivered, when Mrs. K—— came to the hospital, had them all three severely flogged, a process which she personally superintended, and then sent them to Five Pound—the swamp Botany Bay of the plantation, of which I have told you—with further orders to the drivers to flog them every day for a week.. . . Sophy went on to say that Isaac was her son by driver Morris, who had forced her while she was in her miserable exile at Five Pound.
Almost beyond my patience with this string of detestable details, I exclaimed—foolishly enough, heaven knows—'Ah, but don't you know, did nobody ever tell or teach any of you, that it is a sin to live with men who are not your husbands?' . . . What could the poor creature answer but what she did, seizing me at the same time vehemently by the wrist: 'Oh yes, missis, we know—we know all about dat well enough; but we do anything to get our poor flesh some rest from de whip; when he made me follow him into de bush, what use me tell him no? he have strength to make me.' I have written down the woman's words; I wish I could write down the voice and look of abject misery with which they were spoken. Now, you will observe that the story was not told to me as a complaint; it was a thing long past and over, of which she only spoke in the natural course of accounting for her children to me. I make no comment; what need, or can I add, to such stories? But how is such a state of things to endure?—and again, how is it to end?
While I was pondering, as it seemed to me, at the very bottom of the Slough of Despond, on this miserable creature's story, another woman came in (Tema), carrying in her arms a child the image of the mulatto Bran; she came to beg for flannel. I asked her who was her husband. She said she was not married. Her child is the child of bricklayer Temple, who has a wife at the rice island. . . . These are the conditions which can only be known to one who lives among them; flagrant acts of cruelty may be rare, but this ineffable state of utter degradation, this really beastly existence, is the normal condition of these men and women, and of that no one seems to take heed, nor have I ever heard it described so as to form any adequate conception of it, till I found myself plunged into it;—where and how is one to begin the cleansing of this horrid pestilential immondezzio of an existence?
. . . I have been delighted, surprised, and the very least perplexed, by the sudden petition on the part of our young waiter, Aleck, that I will teach him to read. He is a very intelligent lad of about sixteen, and preferred his request with an urgent humility that was very touching. I told him I would think about it. I mean to do it. I will do it,—and yet, it is simply breaking the laws of the government under which I am living.
Unrighteous laws are made to be broken,—perhaps,—but then, you see, I am a woman, and Mr. —— stands between me and the penalty. If I were a man, I would do that and many a thing besides, and doubtless should be shot some fine day from behind a tree by some good neighbour, who would do the community a service by quietly getting rid of a mischievous incendiary . . .In such a case no questions would be asked, and my lessons would come to a speedy and silent end; but teaching slaves to read is a fineable offence, and I am feme couverte, and my fines must be paid by my legal owner, and the first offence of the sort is heavily fined, and the second more heavily fined, and for the third, one is sent to prison. What a pity it is I can't begin with Aleck's third lesson, because going to prison can't be done by proxy, and that penalty would light upon the right shoulders!
I certainly intend to teach Aleck to read. I certainly won't tell Mr. —— anything about it. I'll leave him to find it out, as slaves, and servants and children, and all oppressed, and ignorant, and uneducated and unprincipled people do; then, if he forbids me I can stop—perhaps before then the lad may have learnt his letters. I begin to perceive one most admirable circumstance in this slavery: you are absolute on your own plantation. No slaves' testimony avails against you, and no white testimony exists but such as you choose to admit. Some owners have a fancy for maiming their slaves, some brand them, some pull out their teeth, some shoot them a little here and there (all details gathered from advertisements of runaway slaves in southern papers); now they do all this on their plantations, where nobody comes to see, and I'll teach Aleck to read, for nobody is here to see, at least nobody whose seeing I mind; and I'll teach every other creature that wants to learn.
I haven't much more than a week to remain in this blessed purgatory, in that last week perhaps I may teach the boy enough to go on alone when I am gone.
. . . Riding home . . I was stopped by one of our multitudinous Jennies, with a request for some meat, and that I would help her with some clothes for Ben and Daphne, of whom she had the sole charge; these are two extremely pretty and interesting-looking mulatto children, whose resemblance to Mr. K—— had induced me to ask Mr. ——, when first I saw them, if he did not think they must be his children? He said they were certainly like him, but Mr. K—— did not acknowledge the relationship. I asked Jenny who their mother was. 'Minda.' 'Who their father?' 'Mr. K——.' 'What! old Mr. K——?' 'No, Mr. R. K——.' 'Who told you so?' 'Minda, who ought to know.' 'Mr. K—— denies it.' 'That's because he never has looked upon them, nor done a thing for them.' 'Well, but he acknowledged Renty as his son, why should he deny these?' 'Because old master was here then, when Renty was born, and he made Betty tell all about it, and Mr. K—— had to own it; but nobody knows anything about this, and so he denies it'—with which information I rode home. . . .
Island. The gentleman to whom it belongs lives, I believe, habitually in Paris; but Captain F—— resides on it, and, I suppose, is the real overseer of the plantation.. . . The negro huts on several of the plantations that we passed through were the most miserable human habitations I ever beheld. The wretched hovels at St. Annie's, on the Hampton estate, that had seemed to me the ne plus ultra of misery, were really palaces to some of the dirty, desolate, dilapidated dog kennels which we passed to-day, and out of which the negroes poured like black ants at our approach, and stood to gaze at us as we drove by. The planters' residences we passed were only three. It makes one ponder seriously when one thinks of the mere handful of white people on this island. In the midst of this large population of slaves, how absolutely helpless they would be if the blacks were to become restive! They could be destroyed to a man before human help could reach them from the main, or the tidings even of what was going on be carried across the surrounding waters.
. . . After dinner I walked up and down before the house for a long while with Mrs. F——, and had a most interesting conversation with her about the negroes and all the details of their condition. She is a kind-hearted, intelligent woman; but though she seemed to me to acquiesce, as a matter of inevitable necessity, in the social system in the midst of which she was born and lives, she did not appear to me, by several things she said, to be by any means in love with it. She gave me a very sad character of Mr. K——, confirming by her general description of him the impression produced by all the details I have received from our own people. As for any care for the moral or religious training of the slaves, that, she said, was a matter that never troubled his thoughts; indeed, his only notion upon the subject of religion, she said, was, that it was something not bad for white women and children.
. . . Aleck's first reading lesson took place at the same time that I gave Sally hers this morning. It was the first time he had had leisure to come, and it went off most successfully. He seems to me by no means stupid. I am very sorry he did not ask me to do this before; however, if he can master his alphabet before I go, he may, if chance favour him with the occasional sight of a book, help himself on by degrees. Perhaps he will have the good inspiration to apply to Cooper London for assistance; I am much mistaken if that worthy does not contrive that Heaven shall help Aleck, as it formerly did him—in the matter of reading.
. . . The other day, Psyche asked me if her mother and brothers might be allowed to come and see her when we are gone away. I asked her some questions about them, and she told me that one of her brothers, who belonged to Mr. K——, was hired by that gentleman to a Mr. G—— of Darien, and that, upon the latter desiring to purchase him, Mr. K—— had sold the man without apprising him or any one member of his family that he had done so—a humane proceeding that makes one's blood boil when one hears of it. He had owned the man ever since he was a boy. Psyche urged me very much to obtain an order permitting her to see her mother and brothers. I will try and obtain it for her, but there seems generally a great objection to the visits of slaves from neighbouring plantations, and, I have no doubt, not without sufficient reason. The more I see of this frightful and perilous social system, the more I feel that those who live in the midst of it must make their whole existence one constant precaution against danger of some sort or other. . . .
In considering the whole condition of the people on this plantation, it appears to me that the principal hardships fall to the lot of the women; that is, the principal physical hardships. The very young members of the community are of course idle and neglected; the very very old, idle and neglected too; the middle-aged men do not appear to me over-worked, and lead a mere animal existence, in itself not peculiarly cruel or distressing, but involving a constant element of fear and uncertainty, and the trifling evils of unrequited labour, ignorance the most profound, (to which they are condemned by law); and the unutterable injustice which precludes them from all the merits and all the benefits of voluntary exertion, and the progress that results from it. If they are absolutely unconscious of these evils, then they are not very ill-off brutes, always barring the chance of being given or sold away from their mates or their young—processes which even brutes do not always relish.
I am very much struck with the vein of melancholy, which assumes almost a poetical tone in some of the things they say. Did I tell you of that poor old decrepid creature Dorcas, who came to beg some sugar of me the other day? saying as she took up my watch from the table and looked at it, 'Ah? I need not look at this, I have almost done with time!' Was not that striking from such a poor old ignorant crone?
. . . In the evening, I had a visit from Mr. C—— and Mr. B——, who officiates to-morrow at our small island church. The conversation I had with these gentlemen was sad enough. They seem good and kind and amiable men, and I have no doubt are conscientious in their capacity of slaveholders; but to one who has lived outside this dreadful atmosphere, the whole tone of their discourse has a morally muffled sound, which one must hear to be able to conceive.
Mr. B—— told me that the people on this plantation not going to church was the result of a positive order from Mr. K——, who had peremptorily forbidden their doing so, and of course to have infringed that order would have been to incur severe corporal chastisement. Bishop B——, it seems, had advised that there should be periodical preaching on the plantations, which, said Mr. B——, would have obviated any necessity for the people of different estates congregating at any given point at stated times, which might perhaps be objectionable, and at the same time would meet the reproach which was now beginning to be directed towards the southern planters as a class, of neglecting the eternal interest of their dependents.
But Mr. K—— had equally objected to this. He seems to have held religious teaching a mighty dangerous thing—and how right he was! I have met with conventional cowardice of various shades and shapes in various societies that I have lived in; but anything like the pervading timidity of tone which I find here on all subjects, but above all on that of the condition of the slaves, I have never dreamed of.
Truly slavery begets slavery, and the perpetual state of suspicion and apprehension of the slaveholders is a very handsome offset, to say the least of it, against the fetters and the lash of the slaves. Poor people, one and all, but especially poor oppressors of the oppressed! The attitude of these men is really pitiable; they profess (perhaps some of them strive to do so indeed) to consult the best interests of their slaves, and yet shrink back terrified from the approach of the slightest intellectual or moral improvement which might modify their degraded and miserable existence. I do pity these deplorable servants of two masters more than any human beings I have ever seen—more than their own slaves a thousand times!
. . . We paid a long visit to Mr. C——. It is extremely interesting to me to talk with him about the negroes; he has spent so much of his life among them, has managed them so humanely, and apparently so successfully, that his experience is worthy of all attention. And yet it seems to me that it is impossible, or rather, perhaps, for those very reasons it is impossible, for him ever to contemplate them in any condition but that of slavery. He thinks them very like the Irish, and instanced their subserviency, their flattering, their lying, and pilfering, as traits common to the character of both peoples.
But I cannot persuade myself that in both cases, and certainly in that of the negroes, these qualities are not in great measure the result of their condition. He says that he considers the extremely low diet of the negroes one reason for the absence of crimes of a savage nature among them; most of them do not touch meat the year round. But in this respect they certainly do not resemble the Irish, who contrive upon about as low a national diet as civilisation is acquainted with, to commit the bloodiest and most frequent outrages with which civilisation has to deal.
His statement that it is impossible to bribe the negroes to work on their own account with any steadiness may be generally true, but admits of quite exceptions enough to throw doubt upon its being natural supineness in the race rather than the inevitable consequence of denying them the entire right to labour for their own profit. Their laziness seems to me the necessary result of their primary wants being supplied, and all progress denied them. Of course, if the natural spur to exertion, necessity, is removed, you do away with the will to work of a vast proportion of all who do work in the world. It is the law of progress that a man's necessities grow with his exertions to satisfy them, and labour and improvement thus continually act and react upon each other to raise the scale of desire and achievement; and I do not believe that, in the majority of instances among any people on the face of the earth, the will to labour for small indulgences would survive the loss of freedom and the security of food enough to exist upon. Mr. —— said that he had offered a bribe of twenty dollars apiece, and the use of a pair of oxen, for the clearing of a certain piece of land, to the men on his estate, and found the offer quite ineffectual to procure the desired result; the land was subsequently cleared as usual task work under the lash. Now, certainly, we have among Mr. ——'s people instances of men who have made very considerable sums of money by boat-building in their leisure hours, and the instances of almost life-long persevering stringent labour by which slaves have at length purchased their own freedom and that of their wives and children, are on record in numbers sufficient to prove that they are capable of severe sustained effort of the most patient and heroic kind for that great object, liberty. For my own part, I know no people who doat upon labour for its own sake; and it seems to me quite natural to any absolutely ignorant and nearly brutish man, if you say to him, 'No effort of your own can make you free, but no absence of effort shall starve you,' to decline to work for anything less than mastery over his whole life, and to take up with his mess of porridge as the alternative. . . . It must not be forgotten that on the estate of this wise and kind master a formidable conspiracy was organised among his slaves.
. . . I once heard a conversation between Mr. O—— and Mr. K——, the two overseers of the plantation on which I was living, upon the question of taking slaves, servants, necessary attendants, into the northern states; Mr. O—— urged the danger of their being 'got hold of,' i.e., set free by the abolitionists, to which Mr. K—— very pertinently replied, 'Oh, stuff and nonsense, I take care when my wife goes north with the children, to send Lucy with her; her children are down here, and I defy all the abolitionists in creation to get her to stay north.' Mr. K—— was an extremely wise man.Although she shared her journal with her abolitionist friends, Fanny Kemble did not publish her account until 1863. The Butler marriage continued to be troubled; in May 1839, Pierce appealed to Elizabeth Sedgwick for assistance in dealing with Fanny, writing:
Five or six times she has packed up all her clothes to leave me. Twice she has taken her jewels to Philadelphia and sold them in order to obtain money to travel. . . . I have never doubted the continuance and strength of her love for me and she should never have doubted mine. I know that our feelings are as strong as when we first loved but cemented and made holy by the birth of our two daughters. . . Her life is passed in bitter misery, in constant tears and heartbreaking sobs . . . Alas! poor Fanny, the bitterness and misery are of her own creating, and mar my happiness as effectually as her own . . . She is undermining her health by this constant gloom and weeping, her nerves are very materially affected already and the tone of her mind is sickly and unnatural . . . The difficult is within herself, it is inherent . . . Unless she can be made sensible of this, and summon resolution to overcome this morbid state of feeling, she will be miserable for life . . . If we are not happy together, less happy should we be apart.On the evening of May 28, their daughters' joint birthday, Fanny left a note on the table by Pierce's bed:
I now request once and for all to be allowed to return to my own country, and such friends as remain to me there. God knows how bitter a life mine has been to me for some time past. I cannot endure it any longer and will not. You can never repair the injury you have done in marrying me, though you seem to think that your having done so is sufficient compensation for all the privation which I feel, though they are imperceptible to you. I will not remain here to be your housekeeper, your children's nurse, or what yet you make of me that is still more degrading and revolting.
Your mind is positively and greatly diseased and you yourself have been the cause of all that appearance of indifference in your husband which you now believe to be the original source of all your unhappiness. . . . Pierce has suffered deeply, intensely, though too reserved to show it . . . You know the power he has of concealing his feeling, and his inclination to do so. . . . My poor dear Fanny, my precious, almost idolized friend, do let me persuade you that your mind is diseased . . .Fanny promised to try to alter and restrain her feelings, but Pierce responded:
You should not say you will endeavour to overcome your morbid state of mind, but you should say "I will do it," and like a drunkard who dashes forever from his lips the bitter cup that has brought wretchedness on himself and family, you should summon strong resolution, and never again allow yourself to fall into that state in which reason leaves his seat . . . .
It is singular that the fate of your unfortunate mother does not act as a warning and that the sad example that she gave you has not been shunned.
. . . Never doubt the strength and continuance of my affection for you . . . It is true you have it in your power to make me unhappy . . . but you cannot make me cease to love you. . . . If I cannot have happiness in my home, it is nowhere for me. I may not be happy with you; I cannot be happy without you.Later that year, taking a holiday in Massachusetts, Fanny wrote to her friend Harriet:
Lenox, September 30th, 1839.
And so, dearest Harriet, Cecilia writes you that my head is enlarged, my
benevolence and causality increased, and that Mr. Combe thinks me much improved. Truly, it were a pity if I were the reverse, for it was more than two years since he had seen me; but though I heartily wish this might be the case, I honestly confess to you that I do not feel as if my mental and moral progress, during the last two years, has been sufficient to push out any visible augmentation of the "bumps" of my skull in any direction.
Your saucy suggestion as to my having conciliated his good opinion by exhibiting a greater degree of faith in phrenology is, unluckily, not borne out by the facts; for, instead of more, I have a little less faith in it; and that, perversely enough, from the very circumstance of the more favorable opinion thus expressed with regard to my own "development." In the first instance, both Mr. Combe and Cecilia expressed a good deal of surprise to some of my friends here, at their high estimate of my brain.... Having very evidently never themselves perceived any sufficient grounds for such an exalted esteem.
Moreover, Mr. Combe wrote a letter to Lucretia Mott (the celebrated
Quakeress, who is a good friend of mine), when he heard that she had made my acquaintance, cautioning her against falling into the mistake which all my American friends committed, of "exaggerating my reasoning powers." This was all well and good, and only amused me as rather funny; some of my American friends being tolerably shrewd folk, and upon the whole, no bad judges of brains.
Lucretia Coffin Mott
But then the next thing that happens is, that I see the Combes myself for a short, hurried, and most confused five minutes, during which, even if Mr. Combe's judgment were entirelyin his eyes, he had no leisure for exercising it on me; and yet he now states (for Cecy is only his echo in this matter) that my disposition is much improved, and my reasoning powers much increased; and it is but two years since I was in his house, and this moral and mental progress, visible to the naked eye, on my thickly hair-roofed cranium, has taken place since then;—if so, so much the better for me, and I have made better use of my time than I imagined!
To tell you the truth, dear Harriet, I have not thought about phrenology, one way or the other, but I have thought this phrenological verdict about myself nonsense.
. . . It has been a real distress to me not to see more of Mr. Combe and Cecilia. I have always had the highest regard for him, for his kind, humane heart, and benevolent, liberal, enlightened mind. Cecy, too, during my short visit to her in Scotland, appeared to me a far more lovable person than during my previous intercourse with her: and as kinsfolk and countryfolk, without any consideration for personal liking, I feel annoyed at not being able to offer them any kindness or hospitality. But we literally seem to be running round each other; they are now at Hartford, in Connecticut, not fifty miles away from here, where they intend staying some weeks, and will probably not be in Philadelphia until we have departed for the South. When I saw them in New York, they were both looking extremely well; Cecilia fat, and cheerful, and apparently very happy, in spite of her "incidents of American travel." ...
The heat of the summer while we remained at Butler Place was something quite indescribable, and hardly varied at all for several weeks, either night or day, from between 90 and 100 degrees. People sat up all night at their windows in town; and as for me, more than once, in sheer desperation, after trying to sleep on a cane sofa under the piazza, I wandered about more than half the night, on the gravel walks of the garden, bare-footed,—et dans le simple appareil d'une beauté qu'on vient d'arracher au sommeil. We tried to sleep upon everything in vain,—Indian matting was as hot as woolen blankets. At last I laid a piece of oilcloth on my bed, without even as much as a sheet over it, and though I could not sleep, obtained as much relief from the heat as to be able to lie still. It was terrible!...
I have an earnest desire to return to Europe in the autumn—not to stay in England, unless my father should be there, but to go to him, wherever he may be, and to spend a little time with my sister.... All this, however, lies far ahead, and God knows what at present invisible prospects may reveal and develop themselves on the surface of the future, as a nearer light falls on it....
My youngest child's accomplishments are hitherto unaccompanied by a syllable of speech or utterance, and the idea sometimes occurs to me whether a child of mine could have enough genius to be dumb.
Good-bye, my dearest Harriet.
Ever affectionately yours,
F. A. B.
Philadelphia, Friday, December 14th, 1839.
We have shut up our house in the country, and are at present staying in Philadelphia, at my brother-in-law's; but we are expecting every day to start for the plantation in Georgia, where I hope we are to find what is yet lacking to us in health and strength.
I look forward with some dismay now to this expedition, in the middle of winter, with two young children, traveling by not very safe railroads and perhaps less safe steamboats, through that half-savage country, and along that coast only some months ago the scene of fearful shipwreck.... I have already written you word of our last residence there, of the small island in the Altamaha and below its level—the waters being only kept out by dykes, which protect the rice-marshes, of which the plantation is composed, from being submerged. The sole inhabitants, you know, are the negroes, who cultivate the place, and the overseer who manages them.... As early as March the heat becomes intense, and by the beginning of April it is no longer safe for white people to remain there, owing to the miasma which exhales from the rice-fields....
We shall find, no doubt, our former animal friends, from the fleas up to the alligators: the first, swarming in the filthy negroes' huts; the last, expatiating in the muddy waters of the Altamaha. I trust they will none of them have forgotten us. Did I tell you before of those charming creatures, the moccasin snakes, which, I have just been informed, abound in every part of the southern plantations? Rattlesnakes I know by sight: but the moccasin creature, though I may have seen him, I do not feel acquainted, or at any rate familiar, with. Our nearest civilized town, you know, is Savannah, and that is sixty miles off. I cannot say that the expedition is in any way charming to me, but the alternative is remaining alone here; and, as it is possible to live on the plantation with the children, I am going. Margery, of course, comes with me . . . Did I tell you, my dear Irishwoman, that we had no potatoes on the plantation, and that Indian meal holds the place of wheaten flour, bread baked of the latter being utterly unknown?... Do not be surprised if I dwell upon these small items of privation, even now that I am about to go among those people the amelioration of whose condition I have considered as one of my special duties. With regard to this, however, I have, alas! no longer the faintest shadow of hope....
Yours most truly,
F. A. B
Philadelphia, January 15th, 1840.
My last to you was dated the fourteenth of December, and it is now the tenth of January, a whole month...I am annoyed by the interruption which all this ice and snow causes in my daily rides. My horse is rough-shod, and I persist in going out on him two or three times a week, but not without some peril, and severe inconvenience from the cold, which not only cuts my face to pieces, but chaps my skin from head to foot, through my riding-dress and all my warm under-clothing. I do not much regret our prolonged sojourn in the North, on my children's account, who, being both hearty and active creatures, thrive better in this bracing climate than in the relaxing temperature of the South....
Dear Harriet, I have nothing to tell you; my life externally is nothing; and who can tell the inward history of their bosom—that internal life, which is often so strangely unlike the other?
Suppose I inform you that I have just come home from a ride of an hour and a half; that I went out of the city by Broad Street, and returned by Islington Lane and the Ridge Road—how much the wiser will you be? that the roads were frozen as hard as iron, and here and there so sheeted with ice that I had great difficulty in preventing my horse from slipping and falling down with me, and, being quite alone, without even a servant, I wondered what I should do if he did. I have a capital horse, whom I have christened Forester, after the hero of my play, and who grins with delight, like a dog, when I talk to him and pat him. He is a bright bay, with black legs and mane, tall and large, and built like a hunter, with high courage and good temper. I have had him four years, and do not like to think what would become of me if anything were to happen to him. It would be necessary that I should commit suicide, for his fellow is not to be found in "these United States."
Dearest Harriet, we hope to come over to England next September; and if your sister will invite me, I will come and see you some time before I re-cross the Atlantic. I am very anxious about my father, and still more anxious about my sister, and feel heart-weary for the sight of some of my own people, places, and things; and so. Fate prospering, to speak heathen, I shall go home once more in the autumn of this present 1840: till when, dearest Harriet, God bless you! and after then, and always,
I am ever your affectionate,
F. A. B.
[My dear horse, having been sold to a livery-stable keeper, I repurchased him by the publication of a small volume of poems, which thus proved themselves to me excellent verses. The gallant animal broke his hip-joint by slipping in a striding gallop over some wet planks, and I had to have him shot. His face—I mean the anguish in it after the accident—is among the tragical visions in my memory.]
Philadelphia, February 9th, 1840.
Dear Mrs. Jameson,
John Butler and his brother have just started for Georgia, leaving his wife and myself in forlorn widowhood, which, (the providence of railroads and steamboats allowing) is not to last more than three months. I have been staying nearly three months in their house in town, expecting every day to depart for the plantation; but we have procrastinated to such good effect that the Chesapeake Bay is now unnavigable, being choked up with ice, and the other route involving seventy miles of night traveling on the worst road in the United States(think what that means!), it has been judged expedient that the children and myself should remain behind. I am about, therefore, to return with them to the Farm, where I shall pass the remainder of the winter,—how, think you? . . . How quiet I shall be! I think perhaps I may die some day, without so much as being aware of it; and if so, beg to record myself in good season, before that imperceptible event,
Yours very truly,
F. A. B.
Butler Place, February 16th, 1840.
I have just been looking over a letter of yours, dearest Harriet . . . In the hill-country of Berkshire, Massachusetts, where I generally spend some part of the summer among my friends the Sedgwicks, there is a line of scenery, forming part of the Green Mountain range, which runs up into the State of Vermont, and there becomes a noble brotherhood of mountains, though in the vicinity of Stockbridge and Lenox, where I summer, but few of them deserve a more exalted title than hill. They are clothed with a various forest of oak, beech, chestnut, maple, and fir; and down their sides run wild streams, and in the valleys between them lie exquisite lakes. Upon the whole, it is the most picturesque scenery I have ever seen; particularly in the neighborhood of a small town called Salisbury, thirty miles from Lenox. . .
A week ago John Butler and Pierce left Philadelphia for the South; and yesterday I received a letter giving a most deplorable account of their progress, if progress it could be called, which consisted in going nine miles in four hours, and then returning to Washington, whence they had started, the road being found utterly impassable. Streams swollen with the winter snows and spring rains, with their bridges all broken up by the ice or swept away by the water, intersect these delightful ways; and one of these, which could not admit of fording, turned them back, to try their fate in a steamboat, through the ice with which the Chesapeake is blocked up. This dismal account has in some measure reconciled me to having been left behind with the children; they have neither of them been as well as usual this winter, and the season is now so far advanced, our intended departure being delayed from day to day for three months, that, besides encountering a severe and perilous journey, we should have arrived in Georgia to find the weather almost oppressively hot, and, if we did wisely, to return again, at the end of a fortnight, to the North.
I have come back to Butler Place with the bairns, and have resumed the
monotonous tenor of my life, which this temporary residence in town had interrupted, not altogether agreeably; and here I shall pass the rest of the winter, teaching S—— to read, and sliding through my days in a state of external quietude, which is not always as nearly allied to content as it might seem to (ought to) be....When the children's bed-time comes, and their little feet and voices are still, the spirit of the house seems to have fallen asleep. I send my servants to bed, for nobody here keeps late hours (ten o'clock being considered late), and, in spite of assiduous practicing, reading, and answering of letters, my evenings are sad in their absolute solitude, and I am glad when ten o'clock comes, the hour for my retiring, which I could often find in my heart to anticipate....
Fanny's daughters, Fan and Sally
Events are so lacking in my present existence, that I am longing for the spring as I never did before—for the sight of leaves and flowers, and the song of birds, and the daily development of the great natural pageant of the year. I am grateful to God for nothing more than the abundant beauty with which He has adorned His creation. The pleasure I derive from its contemplation has survived many others, and should I live long, will, I think, outlive all that I am now capable of....
Ever affectionately yours,
F. A. B.
Butler Place, March 12th, 1840.
We never can imagine what will happen to us, precisely as it does happen to us; and overlook in anticipation, not only minute mitigations, but small stings of aggravation, quite incalculable till they are experienced....
You ask me how I have replaced Margery. Why, in many respects, if indeed not in all, very indifferently; but I could not help myself. Her leaving me was a matter of positive necessity, and some things tend to reconcile me to her loss. I believe she would have made Sally a Catholic. The child's imagination had certainly received a very strong impression from her; and soon after her departure, as I was hearing S—— her prayers, she begged me to let her repeat that prayer to "the blessed Virgin," which her nurse had taught her. I consider this a direct breach of faith on the part of Margery, who had once before undertaken similar instructions in spite of distinct directions to interfere in no way with the child's religious training.
The proselytizing spirit of her religion was, I suppose, stronger than her conscience, or rather, was the predominant element in it, as it is in all very devout Catholics; and the opportunity of impressing my little girl with what she considered vital truth, not to be neglected; and upon this ground alone I am satisfied that it is better she should have left me, for though it would not mortally grieve me if hereafter my child were conscientiously to embrace Romanism, I have no desire that she should be educated in what I consider erroneous views upon the most momentous of all subjects.
I have been more than once assured, on good authority, that it is by no means an infrequent practice of the Roman Catholic Irish women employed as nurses in American families, to carry their employers' babies to their own churches and have them baptized, of course without consent or even knowledge of their parents. The secret baptism is duly registered, and the child thus smuggled into the pope's fold, never, if possible, entirely lost sight of by the priest who administered the regenerating sacrament to it. The saving of souls is an irresistible motive, especially when the saving of one's own is much facilitated by the process.
The woman I have in Margery's place is an Irish Protestant, a very good and conscientious girl, but most wofully ignorant, and one who murders our luckless mother-tongue after a fashion that almost maddens me. However, as with some cultivation, education, reading, reflection, and that desire to do what is best that a mother alone can feel for her own child, I cannot but be conscious of my own inability in all points to discharge this great duty, the inability of my nursery-maid does not astonish or dismay me. The remedy for the nurse's deficiencies must be in me, and the remedy for mine in God, to whose guidance I commit myself and my darlings....
Margery was very anxious to remain with me as my maid; but we have reduced our establishment, and I have no longer any maid of my own, therefore I could not keep her...
Good-bye, dearest Harriet.
I am ever affectionately yours,
F. A. B.
Butler Place, March 25th, 1840.
My dear T——,
I have been reading with infinite interest the case of the Amistad; but
understand, from Mrs. Charles Sedgwick, that there is to be an appeal upon the matter. As, however, the result will, I presume, be the same, the more publicity the affair obtains, the more it and all kindred subjects are discussed, spoken of, thought on, and written about, the better for us unfortunate slaveholders.
negroes, fresh from Africa, from Havannah to Guamapah, Port Principe, to the plantation of one of the passengers. The captain and three of the crew were murdered by the negroes. Two planters were spared to navigate the vessel back to Africa. Forced to steer east all day, these white men steered west and north all night; and after two months, coming near New London, the schooner was captured by the United States schoonerWashington, and carried into port, where a trial was held by the Circuit Court at Hertford, transferred to the District Court, and sent by appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The District Court decreed that one man, not of the recent importation, should, by the treaty of 1795 with Spain, be restored to his master; the rest, delivered to the President of the United States, to be by him transported to their homes in Africa.
Before the case could come before the United States Supreme Court, the
President (Mr. Van Buren), upon the requisition of the Spanish minister, had the negroes conveyed, by the United States schooner Grampus, back to Havannah and to slavery, under the treaty of 1795.
Martin Van Buren
The case created an immense excitement among the friends and foes of slavery. The point made by the counsel for the negroes being that they were not slaves, but free Africans, freshly brought to Cuba, contrary to the latest enacted laws of Spain. The schooner Amistad started on her voyage to Africa in June, 1839, reached New London in August, and was sent back in January, 1840.]
Butler Place, October 7th, 1840.
Dearest Harriet, My own plans, which I thought so thoroughly settled a short time ago, have again become extremely indefinite. It is now considered inexpedient that I should travel on the Continent, though there is no objection to my remaining in England until my father's return, which I understand is expected soon after Easter. As, however, my motive in leaving America is to be with my father and sister, I have no idea of going to London to remain there three months, without any expectation of seeing them. This consideration would incline me to put off my visit to England till the spring, but it is not yet determined who, or whether any of us, will go to Georgia for the winter. My being taken thither is entirely uncertain; but should the contrary be decided upon, I might perhaps come to England immediately, as I would rather pass the winter in London, among my friends, if I am to spend it alone, than here, where the severe weather suspends all out-of-door exercise, interests, and occupations, and where the absolute solitude is a terrible trial to my nerves and spirits.
At present, however, I have not a notion what will be determined about it, but as soon as I have any positive idea upon the subject I will let you know.
We returned from Massachusetts a few days ago, and I find a profusion of flowers and almost summer heat here, though the golden showers that every now and then flicker from the trees, and the rustling sound of fallen leaves, and the autumnal smell of mignonette, and other "fall" flowers, whisper of the coming winter; still all here at present is bright and sweet, with that peculiar combination of softness and brilliancy which belongs to the autumn in this part of America. It is the pleasantest season of the year here, and indescribably beautiful....
Butler Place, October 26th, 1840.
I beg you will not stop short, as in your last letter, received the day before yesterday, dearest Harriet, with "but I will not overwhelm you with questions:" it is particularly agreeable to me to have specific questions to answer in the letters I receive from you, and I hope you perceive that I do religiously reply to anything in the shape of a query. It is pleasant to me to know upon what particular points of my doing, being, and suffering you desire to be enlightened; because although I know everything I write to you interests you, I like to be able to satisfy even a few of those "I wonders" that are perpetually rising up in our imaginations with respect to those we love and who are absent from us.
You ask me if I ever write any journal, or anything else now. The time that I passed in the South was so crowded with daily and hourly occupations that, though I kept a regular journal, it was hastily written, and received constant additional notes of things that occurred, and that I wished to remember, inserted in a very irregular fashion in it.... I think I should like to carry this journal down to Georgia with me this winter; to revise, correct, and add whatever my second experience might furnish to the chronicle.
It has been suggested to me that such an account of a Southern plantation might be worth publishing; but I think such a publication would be a breach of confidence, an advantage taken on my part of the situation of trust, which I held on the estate. As my condemnation of the whole system is unequivocal, and all my illustrations of its evils must be drawn from our own plantation, I do not think I have a right to exhibit the interior management and economy of that property to the world at large, as a sample of Southern slavery, especially as I did not go thither with any such purpose.
This winter I think I shall mention my desire upon the subject before going to the South, and of course any such publication must then depend on the acquiescence of the owners of the estate. I am sure that no book of mine on the subject could be of as much use to the poor people on Butler's Island as my residence among them; and I should, therefore, be very unwilling to do anything that was likely to interfere with that: although I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and evils of this frightful institution. And the testimony of a planter's wife, whose experience has all been gathered from estates where the slaves are universally admitted to be well treated, should carry with it some authority. So I am occupying myself, from time to time, as my leisure allows, in making a fair copy of my Georgia Journal.
. . . I have come to the conclusion that no words of mine could be powerful enough to dispel the clouds of prejudice which early habits of thought, and the general opinion of society upon this subject have gathered round the minds of the people I live among. I do not know whether they ever think or read about it, and my arguments, though founded in this case on pretty sound reason, are apt to degenerate into passionate appeals, the violence of which is not calculated to do much good in the way of producing convictions in the minds of others....
Even if the property were mine, I could exercise no power over it; nor could our children, after our death, do anything for those wretched slaves, under the present laws of Georgia. All that any one could do, would be to refrain from using the income derived from the estates, and return it to the rightful owners—that is, the earners of it. Had I such a property, I think I would put my slaves at once quietly upon the footing of free laborers, paying them wages, and making them pay me rent and take care of themselves. Of course I should be shot by my next neighbor (against whom no verdict would be found except "Serve her right!") in the first week of my experiment; but if I wasn't, I think, reckoning only the meanest profit to be derived from the measure, I should double the income of the estate in less than three years....I am more than ever satisfied that God and Mammon would be equally propitiated by emancipation.
You ask me whether I take any interest in the Presidential election. Yes, though I have not room left for my reasons—and I have some, besides that best woman's reason, sympathy with the politics of the man I belong to. The party coming into power are, I believe, at heart less democratic than the other; and while the natural advantages of this wonderful country remain unexhausted (and they are apparently inexhaustible), I am sure the Republican Government is by far the best for the people themselves, besides thinking it the best in the abstract, as you know I do.
God bless you, my dearest Harriet.
I am ever yours most affectionately,
F. A. B.
The question of my spending the winter in Georgia was finally determined by Mr. John Butler's decided opposition to my doing so. He was part proprietor of the plantation, and positively stipulated that I should not again be taken thither, considering my presence there as a mere source of distress to myself, annoyance to others, and danger to the property.
I question the validity of the latter objection, but not at all that of the two first; and am sure that, upon the whole, his opposition to my residence among his slaves was not only justifiable but perfectly reasonable.In December 1840, a letter informed Fanny that her father was seriously ill, and the family, including Pierce Butler, immediately left for England.
It being now settled that I was not to return to the plantation, my thoughts had hardly reverted to the prospect of a winter in England when I received the news of my father's return from the Continent, and dangerous illness in London; so that, I was told, unless I could go to him immediately, there was but little probability of my ever seeing him again. . . . The news that met me on my arrival was that my father was at the point of death, that he would not probably survive twenty-four hours, and that it was altogether inexpedient that he should see me, as, if he recognized me, which was doubtful, my unexpected appearance, it having been impossible to prepare him for it, might only be the means of causing him a violent and perhaps painful shock of nervous agitation. This terrible verdict, pronounced by three of the most eminent medical men of the day, Bright, Liston, and Wilson, was a dreadful close to all the anxious days and hours of the sea voyage, during which I had hoped and prayed to be again permitted to embrace my father. But in my deep distress, I could not help remembering that, after all, his physicians, able as they were, had not the keys of life and death. And so it proved: my father made an almost miraculous rally, recovered, and survived the sentence pronounced against him for many years.
Not many days after our arrival, his improved condition admitted of his being told of my return, and allowed to see me. Cadaverous is the only word that describes the appearance to which acute suffering and subsequent prostration had reduced him; he looked, indeed, like one returned from the dead, and, in his joy at seeing me again, declared that I had restored him to life, and that my arrival, though he had not known of it, had called him back to existence—a sympathetic theory of convalescence, to which I do not think his doctors gave in their adhesion.
We now took up our abode in London; first at the Clarendon Hotel, and afterwards in Clarges Street, Piccadilly, where my father, as soon as he could be moved, came to reside with us, and where my sister joined us on her return from Italy. My friend Miss S——, coming from Ireland to stay with me soon after my arrival in England, added to my happiness in finding myself once more with my own family, and in my own country.
Harley Street, Tuesday, April 12th, 1842.
Dearest Harriet....Your boots have been sent safe and sound, my dear, and are in the custody of a person who, I verily believe, thinks me incapable of taking care of anything in the world, and has the same amount of confidence in my understanding that a friend of mine (a clergyman of the Church of England) expressed in his mother's honesty, "I wouldn't trust her with a bad sixpence round the corner." However, your boots, as I said, are safe, and will reach your hands (or feet, I should rather say) in due course of time, I have no doubt.
I have had two letters from America lately, the last of them containing much news about the movements of the abolitionists, in which its writer takes great interest. Among other things, she mentions that an address had been published to the slaves, by Gerrit Smith, exhorting them to run away, to use all means to do so, to do so at any risk, and also by all means and at any risk to learn to read. By all means, he advises them, in no case to use violence, or carry off property of their masters' (except indeed themselves, whom their masters account very valuable property). I should have told you that Gerrit Smith himself was a large slave-holder, that he has given up all his property, renounced his home in the South (where, indeed, if he was to venture to set foot, he would be murdered in less than an hour). He lives at the North, in comparative poverty and privation, having given up his wealth for conscience' sake. I saw him once at Lucretia Mott's. He was a man of remarkable appearance, with an extremely sweet and noble countenance. He is one of the "confessors" in the martyr-age of America.
Harley Street, Friday, April 22nd, 1842.
My dear T——,
I am amused with your description of Dickens, because it tallies so completely
with the first impression he made upon me the only time I ever met him before he went to America.... I admire and love the man exceedingly, for he has a deep warm heart, a noble sympathy with and respect for human nature, and great intellectual gifts wherewith to make these fine moral ones fruitful for the delight and consolation and improvement of his fellow-beings.
. . . I am anxious to close this letter before I go out, and shall only add, in replying to your next question of whether I ever feel any desire to return to the stage, Never.... My very nature seems to me dramatic. I cannot speak without gesticulating and making faces, any more than an Italian can; I am fond, moreover, of the excitement of acting, personating interesting characters in interesting situations, giving vivid expression to vivid emotion, realizing in my own person noble and beautiful imaginary beings, and uttering the poetry of Shakespeare. But the stage is not only this, but much more that is not this; and that much more is not only by no means equally agreeable, but positively odious to me, and always was.
Good-by. God bless you and yours.
Believe me always yours most truly,
Harley Street, October 2nd, 1842.
My dear T——,
I think your observations upon my projected journey to Georgia are taken from an entirely mistaken point of view. I am utterly unconscious of entertaining any inimical feeling towards America or the Americans; on the contrary, I am distinctly conscious of the highest admiration for your institutions, and an affectionate regard for the northern part of your country (where those institutions can alone be said to be put in practice) that is second only to the love and reverence I bear to my own country. This being the case, I cannot think that anything I write about America can, with any sort of propriety, be characterized as "the lashings of a foe."
With regard to Dickens, I do not know exactly what proceedings of his you refer to as exhibiting want of taste or want of temper towards your country-people.... But small counterweights may surely be allowed to such admirable qualities of both head and heart as he possesses. He sent me, on his return to England, a printed circular, which was distributed among all his literary acquaintances and friends, and which set forth his views with regard to the question of international copyright; but except this, I know of nothing that he has publicly put forth upon the matter. His "Notes" upon America come out, I believe, immediately; and I shall be extremely curious to see them, and sorry if they are unfavorable, because his popularity as a writer is immense, and whatever he publishes will be sure of a wide circulation. Moreover, as it is very well known that, before going to America, he was strongly prepossessed in favor of its institutions, manners, and people, any disparaging remarks he may make upon them will naturally have proportionate weight, as the deliberate result of experience and observation. M—— told me, after dining with Dickens immediately on his return, that one thing that had disgusted him was the almost universal want of conscience upon money matters in America; and the levity, occasionally approaching to something like self-satisfaction, for their "sharpness," which he had repeated occasions of observing, in your people when speaking of the present disgraceful condition of their finances and deservedly degraded state of their national credit.... But I do hope (because I have a friend's and not a "foe's" heart towards your country) that Dickens will not write unfavorably about it, for his opinion will influence public opinion in England, and deserves to do so.
Harley Street, Friday, October 23rd, 1842.
My dear Lady Dacre, Do not be anxious about my happiness, my dear friend, but pray for me, that I maybe enabled to do what is right under all circumstances; and then it cannot fail to be well with me, whether to outward observation I am what the world calls happy or not.
Give my affectionate love to Lord Dacre, and thank him for all his goodness to me and mine. I send my blessing to the girls. I have written to B——. God bless you all, my kind friends, and make life and its vicissitudes minister to your happiness hereafter.
You will hear of me, dear Granny, for the girls will write to me, and I shall answer them, and you will remember, whenever you think of me, how gratefully and affectionately I must
Ever remain yours,
[Our departure for America was indefinitely postponed, and the American nurse I had brought to England with my children left me and returned home alone.]Having left Pierce after another quarrel, she wrote to him:
London, December 1842
In consequence of your refusing to be reconciled to me, or live with me, upon any but impossible terms, I came to my sister's house, in order to recover a little from the dreadful state of nervous excitement into which I had been thrown by your treatment of me, and your rejection of all my attempts to restore, if not the happiness, at least the peace and tranquillity of our lives.
I have now recovered my composure; and having been here for several days without receiving any communication whatever from you, presume that it is your determined resolution that we should separate, and, accordingly, must now consider what my situation is likely to be, and how best to make arrangements for the future.
Before doing so, however, let me remind you that, within the last ten days, I have made repeated and ineffectual appeals to your affection, your compassion, your justice and your humanity. I have entreated your pardon for any and all my past offences, as humbly as it becomes one who has undoubt- edly often been in fault to do. I now do so again. I have offered you every assurance which a fallible human being may dare to offer of my desire and purpose of fulfilling my duty better. I now do so again, in the hope that, tendering you all of repentance for the past and resolution for the future, that one rational creature should to another, you may be induced to reflect upon your own share in the wreck of our peace, and perhaps perceive that the further claim you have made upon me is such as your conscience should no more al- low you to offer than mine will permit me to accept.
In the event, however, of your still adhering to this proposition, which I still unequivocally refuse, it remains to make some arrangement for my future existence. My sister leaves town on Monday. I shall not remain in her house after her departure. Perhaps, as you have undertaken the management of your own household, you might choose to make such arrangements as, by enabling us to live entirely separate, would also restore me to my children, from whom I have in nowise deserved to be parted, whose loss is unutterably grievous to me, and who must suffer in many ways from my absence. In proposing this arrangement to you, namely, an entirely separate establishment, though in the same house, I must explain the motives that lead me to suggest this plan.
You have apparently lost all affection and regard for me, and have attained such a state of indifference towards me, that you can see me, meet me, and speak to me as you would to one of your servants, or a common acquaintance, while in every essential of intimate intercourse, affection, confidence, kindness, we are utterly estranged, and have as little in common, whether of sentiment or interest, as two people who had never seen each other till yesterday. This state of things appears perfectly agreeable, or at least endurable to you; it is not so to me. I told you so the other day; I now repeat it, together with my reasons for not being able to endure it, which I also laid before you the other day.
Having loved you well enough to give you my life, when it was best worth giving, having made you the centre of all my hopes of earthly happiness, having never loved any human being as I have loved you, you can never be to me like any other human being, and it is utterly impossible that I should ever regard you with indifference. My whole existence having once had you for its sole object, and all its thoughts, hopes, affections, and passions having, in their full harvest, been yours, as you well know they were, it is utterly impossible that I should forget this— that I should forget that you were once my lover, and are my husband, and the father of my children.
Such love as mine has been for you, might, in evil hearts and by evil means, be
turned to hatred; but, be sure, it never can become indifference in any one, nor in me can it as certainly ever become hatred. I cannot behold you without emotion; my heart still answers to your voice, my blood in my veins to your footsteps; and if this emotion is to be one of perpetual pain, sudden, violent, intense, almost intolerable pain, judge how little I am endowed by nature with a temperament fit to endure so severe and incessant a trial.
. . . I have told you this already; I appealed to your humanity, when, after a prolonged season of this species of mental torture, I found myself, from a combination of moral and physical causes, so nearly deprived of my senses as to be upon the point of destroying myself. I entreated you to save me from the horrible state of nervous malady into which this very kind of intercourse with you had thrown me. God knows your answer was hardly that of a man, much less of a friend or husband. . .
However, it is to avoid paroxysms of excitement . . . that I propose an entire separation from you, if you still refuse me an entire reconciliation. I dare not expose myself to influences which I have not strength to resist; and if my intercourse with you is not to be one of kindness and cordiality, I cannot attempt to make it, what on my part it can never be, one of indifference and careless estrangement. . . .
If you will not consent that I should return to live under the same roof with my children upon these terms, I have but one alternative left — to hire a lodging, if possible, in the same house with my father, if not, as near to him as possible, and take up my abode either with, or close to him. It will be indispensably necessary that I should get a servant, as I have no human being to do anything for me; and though, while in your house, I could dispense with a maid, and have done so at your desire, I cannot, alone as I now am, do without one. These necessary expenses of my maintenance of course you will provide for, as you do not, I presume, anticipate my becoming a burden to any of the members of my own family, nor indeed should I for a moment consent to do so.. This, then, is the last proposal I have to make; and should I not receive an answer from you before Monday, I shall conclude that it is the one you wish me to adopt, and shall act accordingly.Pierce Butler wrote in a statement years later:
Her declarations on this matter of equal rights were so perversely frequent and so emphatic, that there appeared to be no hope of reconciling our differences, notwithstanding the strong mutual feeling which still existed. She had established for her own peculiar use a set of intractable notions which put domestic peace at defiance, and overthrew in the household all discipline and subordination, except those of her own making; and without being willing to abandon any one of these notions, she nevertheless expected me to live with her upon her own terms. She had declared in language most unequivocal that she considered it 'her duty not to submit her conduct to the government of any other human being, yet she claimed me as her husband . . .
I had suffered too many trials to be willing to incur the almost certain risk of again going through what had so frequently happened, namely, a quarrel, a separation, and a reconciliation, — and again a quarrel ; and if this last appeal did not find an immediate response on my part, it arose from the conviction that I ought not to rely, as I had too often done before, entirely on these eloquent protestations; and on love, passionate, indeed, at times, but unyielding and without concession.
. . . I waited in the hope that some influence would lead her to perceive her error; and that our next reconciliation, which I longed for no less earnestly than herself, might be more enduring, when it did happen, than our former ones.
In naming the conditions in her letter upon which she was willing to live with her family, she proposes, first, to live with me upon her own terms — mine she "unequivocally refuses:" second, if her terms do not suit me — she proposes "to live entirely separate," and to have " an entirely separate establishment, though in the same house:" and her third and last proposal — in case I will not consent to either of her others — is, " to hire a lodging, if possible, in the same " house with her father; if not, as near him as possible, " and take up her abode either with, or close to him." And she adds, " this then is the last proposal I have "to make; and should I not receive an answer from " you before Monday, I shall conclude that it is the one "you wish me to adopt, and shall act accordingly."
She did not wait, however, to receive an answer from me to her various suggestions, but, deciding the question for herself, came to live in my house the very day after she wrote me this letter. Her return to her family was in this wise: I had lived in this new abode for about a week, during which time Mrs. Butler lived with her sister, when late one night, just at twelve o'clock, there was a loud knocking at the front door; the servants were all in bed; I was the only person up, and I answered the summons to the door myself: it was Mrs. Butler come back again. . . . As she had not given me the least intimation of an intention to return to her family, except upon the terms named in her letter, which as yet I had not replied to, her visit at such an unusual hour was entirely unlooked for, no arrangements had been made for her coming, and the servants had to be called out of bed to prepare a room for her.
After this midnight return, we continued to live in the same house, but for some time entirely separate, even at our meals, and maintaining distinct establishments, which the size of the house enabled me to do. When we received invitations to the houses of our friends, our answers were returned separately; and, when accepted, we did not go together. This was soon remarked; it gave painful concern to our friends, led them to a knowledge of the way in which we lived, and finally brought about their interposition.
It may be asked, if on these occasions I never appealed to Mr. Kemble to exercise some influence over his daughter, and to endeavour to set her right? I did not. Mr. Kemble is a man of mild and gentle disposition, and in no way calculated to control the very opposite nature of his daughter. Moreover, I knew he would be very unwilling to interfere between us, and consequently never referred our difficulties to him.
Those friends who did interpose proved themselves kind, judicious, and what is above all, just. . . . Could she have had the advice in October, 1843, in Philadelphia, of those who counselled her in London, her conduct at that time, and subsequently, would doubtless have been widely different from what it has been.
. . . One of the most marked features in Mrs. Butler's character is an entire self-reliance in matters of opinion; it is so unmeasured as to produce a conviction of her own infallibility; it causes her to adhere obstinately to her own views on every subject; and it has led her into much of the error of her life.
As her last letter brought us somewhat nearer to the point that we both appeared desirous to reach, and as it was useless, if not absurd, to contend longer about this point of '' conscience," I sought an interview with Mrs. Butler, hoping to effect more by conversation than by again writing. This interview did not result, however, so satisfactorily as I had been led to hope, and we parted without accomplishing a reconciliation. Soon after, I received the following letter from her:
"I do not know whether you had any intention or desire of being reconciled to me just now. It has occurred to me since you left me, that perhaps you had, and that some concession on my part would have induced you to do so. As I am aware that it is my duty to endeavour by all means to be reconciled to you if possible, I am willing to make every exertion for that purpose. You seemed to expect some promise from me with regard to the future; but those who have failed as signally as I have done in the past, can surely hardly dare to promise for the future. One thing, however, I can promise, which is to endeavour heartily to do my duty better henceforward than I have done it hitherto. More than til is, I dare not say ; for I know myself most fallible, and can hardly hope to escape temptation; if this can satisfy you, pray accept it. I am most unwilling that pride, or any other evil thing should prevent my using every endeavour to conciliate you, and I am aware that I have been so often in fault towards you, that though I may not have much hope for the future, I have much regret for the past."
I could ask nothing more than this: it was all I had ever desired or expected, and more than she had ever offered before. I returned the following brief reply:
"I am quite satisfied with the promises you have made me; and if you will adhere to them— to the spirit of them rather than to the letter— our reunion will be happy and lasting."
Our reconciliation took place immediately: and we again lived together on happy terms, for her promises were kept both in the spirit of them and to the letter. This better state of things between us was brought about in the month of February, 1843; and we continued to live together on good terms after this, maintaining every relation of husband and wife, for the remainder of our stay in England, while we crossed the Atlantic, and for a short time after our return to the United States, which was in May, 1843.In January 1843, Fanny's sister, Adelaide Kemble married Edward Sartoris, a wealthy politician, and
Upper Grosvenor Street, April 17th, 1843.
My Dear T——,
As for people's comments on me or my actions, I have not lived on the stage to be cowardly as well as bold; and being decidedly bold, "I thank God," as Audrey might say, that I am not cowardly, which is my only answer to the suggestion of "people saying," etc. For a year and a half past I have been perfectly wretched at our protracted stay in Europe, and as often as possible have protested against our prolonged sojourn here, and all the consequences involved in it. This being the case, "people" attributing our remaining here to me troubles me but little, particularly as I foresaw from the first that that must inevitably be the result of our doing so. . . Although our return to America will be made under circumstances of every possible annoyance and anxiety, it gives me heartfelt pleasure to think I shall soon see all my good friends there again, among whom you and yours are first in my regard....
Butler Place is to be let, if possible, and at any rate we are certainly not to go back to it; whereat my poor little Sally cries bitterly, and I feel a tightening at the heart, to think that the only place which I have known as a home in America is not what I am to return to....
April 15th 1843.
My dearest Hariet,
Immediately after breakfast on Saturday I went down on my knees and packed till Emily came to walk with me, and packed after I came in till it was time to go shopping and visiting.... Sunday morning I packed instead of going to church, and, in fact, packed the blessed livelong day, with an interval of rest derived from an interminable visit from Frederick Byng (alias Poodle).
Yesterday my father and Victoire (my aunt), and Adelaide and Edward (who, to my infinite joy, came home on Saturday), dined with us. My father was better, I think, than the last evening we were with him, though, of course, a good deal out of spirits. Victoire was pretty well, but quite surprised and mortified at hearing that I would not suffer her to pack my things, for fear of its fatiguing her; and told me how she had been turning in her mind her best way of contriving to be here packing all day, and home in Charlotte Street in time to give my father his dinner. She is Dall's own sister! Yesterday I completed, with Emily's assistance (which nearly drove me mad), the packing of the great huge chest of books, boxes, etc., and she and I walked together, but it was bitter cold and ungenial, regular beasterly wind.....
I dread our sea-voyage for myself, for all sorts of physical reasons; morally, I dare say I shall benefit from a season of absolute quiet and the absence of all excitement. The chicks are well; they are to go down to Liverpool on Saturday, in order to be out of the way, for we leave this house on Monday, and their departure will facilitate the verifying of inventories and all the intolerable confusion of our last hours. Mrs. Cooper, as well as Miss Hall, will go with them to Liverpool, and I have requested that, instead of staying in the town, they may go down to Crosby Beach, six miles from it, and wait there for our arrival. This is all my history. I am in one perpetual bustle, and I thank Heaven for it; I have no leisure to think or to feel....
Halifax Wharf, Wednesday, May 17th, 1843.
My dear Friend,
When I tell you that yesterday, for the first time, I was able to put pen to paper, or even to hold up my head, and that even after the small exertion of writing a few lines to my father I was so exhausted as to faint away, you will judge of the state of weakness to which this dreadful process of crossing the Atlantic reduces your very robustious grandchild. It is now the 17th of May, and we have been at sea thirteen days, and we are making rapid way along the coast of Nova Scotia, and shall touch at Halifax in less than an hour. There we remain, to land mails and passengers, about six hours; and in thirty-six more, wind and weather favoring us across the Bay of Fundy, we shall be in Boston. In fifteen days! Think of it, my dearest Granny! when thirty used to be considered a rapid and prosperous voyage.
. . . My kind friend, I do not want courage, I assure you; and God will doubtless give me sufficient strength for my need: but you can hardly imagine how deplorably sad I feel; how poor, who lately was so rich; how lonely, who lately was surrounded by so many friends. I know all that remains to me, and how the treasure of love I have left behind will be kept, I believe, in many kind hearts for me till I return to claim it. But the fact is I am quite exhausted, body and mind, and incapable of writing, or even thinking, with half the energy I hope to gather from the first inch of dry land I step upon. Like Antæus, I look for strength from my mother, the Earth, and doubt not to be brave again when once I am on shore.
Philadelphia, Tuesday, May 23rd, 1843.
My dearest Hal,
We landed in Boston on Friday morning at six o'clock, and almost before I had drawn my first breath of Yankee air Elizabeth Sedgwick and Kate had thrown their arms round me.
You will want to know of our seafaring; and mine truly was miserable, as it always is, and perhaps even more wretched than ever before. I lay in a fever for ten days, without being able to swallow anything but two glasses of calves'-foot jelly and oceans of iced water. At the end of this time I began to get a little better; though, as I had neither food, nor sleep, nor any relief from positive sea-sickness, I was in a deplorable state of weakness. I just contrived to crawl out of my berth two days before we reached Halifax, where I was cheered, and saddened too, by the sight of well-known English faces. I had just finished letters to my father, E——, and Lady Dacre, for the Hibernia, which was to touch there the next morning on her way home, and was sitting disconsolate with my head in my hands, in a small cabin on deck, to which I had been carried up from below as soon as I was well enough to bear being removed from my own, when Mr. Cunard, the originator of this Atlantic Steam Mail-packet enterprise, whom I had met in London, came in, and with many words of kindness and good cheer, carried me up to his house in Halifax, where I rested for an hour, and where I saw Major S——, an uncle of my dear B——, and where we talked over English friends and acquaintances and places, and whence I returned to the ship for our two days' more misery, with a bunch of exquisite flowers, born English subjects, which are now withering in my letter-box among my most precious farewell words of friends.
The children bore the voyage as well as could be expected; sick one half hour, and stuffing the next; little Fan pervading the ship from stem to stern, like Ariel, and generally presiding at the officers' mess in undismayed she-loneliness.
.... While in Boston I made a pilgrimage to dear Dall's grave: a bitter and a sad
few minutes I spent, lying upon that ground beneath which she lay, and from which her example seemed to me to rise in all the brightness of its perfect lovingness and self-denial. The oftener I think of her, the more admirable her life appears to me. She was undoubtedly gifted by nature with a temperament of rare healthfulness and vigor, which, combined with the absence of imagination and nervous excitability, contributed much to her uniform cheerfulness, courage, and placidity of temper; but her self-forgetfulness was most uncommon, her inexhaustible kindliness and devotedness to every creature that came within her comfortable and consolatory influence was "twice-blessed," and from her grave her lovely virtues seemed to call to me to get up and be of good cheer, and strive to forget myself, even as perfectly as she had done.... How bitter and dark a thing life is to some of God's poor creatures!
Mount Auburn Cemetery
I have told you now all I have to tell of myself, and being weary in spirit and in body, will bid you farewell, and go and try to get some sleep. God bless you, my beloved friend; I am very sad, but far from out of courage. Give dear Dorothy my affectionate love.Pierce Butler, in spite of his wealth, was cash poor at this time; when the family returned to the United States, he leased out Butler Place. The family moved into a boarding house in Philadelphia. After visiting Fanny, Catherine Sedgwick wrote to a friend:
I am ever yours,
Lenox, February, 1844. I had had several letters from Fanny K. I am very much struck with the progress of her mind in the last four years. It seems to me that the intimate intercourse with the brilliant accomplishment, the wit, and the instruction of London has wrought her genius up to the highest polish of which genius is susceptible, while her bitter experience, falling on religious principle, has matured the best parts of her character. Her eloquence in conversation is marvelous; we sat up sometimes till one, and to the last the vigor of her expressions, and the flow of rich, fresh thoughts delighted me.Fanny wrote to Anna Jameson:
Philadelphia, Wednesday, May 15th, 1844.
Dear Mrs. Jameson,
My last letter to you was pretty nearly filled with dismal private affairs, and now, Heaven knows, all residents in Philadelphia have a gloomy story to tell of public ones. We have had fearful riots here last week between the low American population and the imported population from Ireland, who have also taken the opportunity of the present anarchy and confusion to indulge in violent exhibitions of their own special home-brewed feud of Protestant against Catholic. A few nights ago there was a general mob-crusade against the Roman Catholic churches, several of which, as well as various private dwellings, were burnt to the ground. The city was lighted from river to river with the glare of these conflagrations—this city of "brotherly love;" whole streets looking like pandemonium avenues of brass and copper in the lurid reflected light. Your people have lost little of their agreeable combined facetiousness and ferocity, as I think you will allow when I tell you that, while a large Catholic church was burning, the Orange party caused a band of music to play "Boyne Water;" and when the cross fell from above the porch of the building, these same Christian folk gave three cheers. "Where," I suppose you exclaim, "were the civil authorities and military force?" All on the ground of action, compelled to be idle spectators of these outrages, because they had no warrant to act, and could not shoot down the Sovereign People, even while committing them, without the Sovereign People's leave.
. . . As, however, by a very wholesome law, the city pays for all damages committed by public violence upon property, the whole population of the town will be taxed for the spree of these lively gentry; and under the pressure of this salutary arrangement the whole militia turned out, all the decent citizens organized themselves into patrols and policemen, and by the time the riot had raged three days, and the city had incurred a heavy debt for burnt and pillaged property, a stop was put to the disorder. Cannon were planted round all the remaining Catholic churches to protect them; the streets were lined with soldiers; every householder was out on guard in his particular district during the night, and by dint of effectual but, unfortunately, rather tardy measures order has been restored.
My own affairs are far from flourishing, and I am heartily glad to have anything else to speak of, little cheerful as the anything else may be....
I hope all is well with you. Geraldine is almost a woman now, I suppose. I think of you much oftener than I write to you, and am
Philadelphia, Sunday, June 9th, 1844.
My dear Lady Dacre,
I am sure you will be sorry to hear of the accident which has befallen my poor little Fan. She fell last week over the bannisters of the stairs, and broke her arm. The fracture was fortunately a simple one of the smaller bone of the arm, which, I suppose, in a little body of that sort, can hardly be much more than gristle. She is doing well, and, as she appears to have escaped all injury to the head, which was my first horrible apprehension, I have every reason to be thankful that the visitation has not been more severe. The accident occasioned me a violent nervous shock. I am now far from well myself, and I am pursued with debilitating feverish tendencies, which I vainly endeavor to get rid of....
My circumstances do not afford any great variety of cheerful topics for correspondence, and the past and the future are either painful or utterly uncertain.
. . . An American wrote to me the other day: "As for our calling ourselves a great people, I think we are a people who, with the greatest possible advantages, have made the least possible use of them; and if anything can teach these people what greatness is, it must be adversity."
Farewell, and God bless you, my dear Lady Dacre.
Believe me ever yours,
Philadelphia, July 14th, 1844.
My dearest Hal,
I am told that the newspapers in England have been filled with the severest comments upon the late outbreaks of popular disorder in this city of "brotherly love." About a month ago the town was lighted from one end to the other with the burning of Catholic churches; and now, within the last week, the outrages have recommenced with more fury than ever, because, for a wonder, the militia actually did fire upon the mob, who, unused to any such demonstration of being in earnest on their part, had possessed themselves of cannon and fire-arms, and would have exterminated the small body of militia which could be gathered together at the first outbreak of the riot, but which is now backed by a very considerable force of regular troops.
The disturbance is not in the city proper, but in a sort of suburb not subject to the municipal jurisdiction of Philadelphia, but having a mayor and civil officers of its own. The cause assigned for all these outrages is fear and hatred of the Roman Catholic Irish; and there is no doubt an intensely bitter feeling between them and the low native population of the cities; added to which, the Irish themselves do not fail to bring over their home feud, and the old Orange spirit of bloody persecution joins itself to the dread of Popery, which is becoming quite a strong feeling among the American lower classes.
. . . Now Philadelphia flares from river to river with the burning of Roman Catholic churches, and the Catholics are shot down in the streets and their houses pillaged in broad daylight.
The arrest of several of the ringleaders of the mob, and the arrival of large numbers of regular troops, have produced a temporary lull in the city; but the spirit of lawless violence has been permitted to grow and strengthen itself in these people for some time past now; and of course, as they were allowed, unchecked and unpunished, to set fire to the property of the negroes, and to murder them without anybody caring what befell the persons or property of "damned niggers," the same turbulent spirit is now breaking out in other directions, where it is rather less agreeable to the respectable portion of the community, but where they will now find considerable difficulty in checking it; and, of course, if it is to choose its own objects of outrage and abuse, the respectable portion of the community may some day be disagreeably surprised by having to take their turn with the poor Roman Catholic Irish and the poor American negroes. The whole is a lamentable chapter of human weakness and wickedness, that would cast shame and scorn upon republican institutions, if it were not that Christianity itself is liable to the same condemnation, judged by some of its apparent results.
... I walk before breakfast with the children, i.e. from seven till eight. Three times a week I take them to the market to buy fruit and flowers, an errand that I like as well as they do. The other three mornings we walk in the square opposite this house. After breakfast they leave me for the morning, which they now pass with their governess or nurse.
. . . Almost all the people I know are out of town now, and I do not see a human creature; the heat is intense and the air foul and stifling, and we are gasping for breath and withering away in this city atmosphere....In October 1843, Fanny discovered letters that she believed proved her husband's infidelity and affairs for the past several years. Admitting nothing, Pierce was angry that she had read his private letters. Fanny wrote him a note:
God bless you, dear Hal.
I am ever yours,
Friday, 27th October, 1843. In consequence of your infidelity towards me, and your ill treatment of me, I have come to the determination to be separated from you. I have consulted Mr. Gerhard upon the subject, and must refer you to him as my counsel, in which capacity, as he has declined visiting me here (since I have consulted him professionally), without your knowledge and consent, I wish to know if you have any objection to my receiving him here. FannyFanny retained Theodore Sedgwick as legal counsel, and in November, she asked Pierce for
The Sedgwicks had by now turned against Pierce Butler; as he later wrote:
One of the four members of this family, who, as I have said, came to Philadelphia at this crisis to mix themselves up in my domestic disquietudes, was Mrs. Charles Sedgwick. She came uninvited: I received her, however, as usual. But I soon found her man ner towards me changed, and after she had been with us a day or two, I received from her the following extraordinary letter:
"Sunday, A. M., Nov. 5, 1843. You have been kind to me, and I have been a true friend to you, but you must be aware that we stand no longer upon the same footing as formerly; that I regard you as having deliberately and deeply injured the dearest friend that I have upon earth out of my own family; and that my sympathy with her is that of a woman, as well as of a friend.
You must recollect your having told me the last spring, that you had never sinned against Fanny in any way. The declaration appeared to me at the time to imply an incredible degree of self-delusion: what must I think of it now ?
Can I respect your truth, or sin against my own, by appearing to regard you as formerly? I have no feeling of unkindness towards you, nothing to prevent my exchanging the common salutations of civility with you, nothing to prevent my praying God, as I have already done many times, to bring you back to him; but there can no longer be friendship, or even the appearance of it, between us.
Under these circumstaiices I am aware that I ought not without permission to seat myself at the same meals with you; and if you prefer that I should not do so, you must tell me this, and I will go to the public table.
E. B. S."
When I received this strange and impudent communication, I perceived that Mrs. Sedgwick had caught the infection from the "diseased mind" of her "almost idolized friend," but I immediately wrote the following reply:
Nov. 5, 1843. As my kind feelings towards you are not changed, you are as welcome at my table now as you were ever welcome in my house . . That your sympathy should be strong for your friend is but natural, and though it turns you against me, it cannot mislead me so far as to alter the smallest feeling of regard that I ever felt for you.
Misguided herself, she has misled you. Without sense, discretion, or judgment to direct and control an impetuous disposition, an unquiet temper, and a never satisfied mind, she rushes into errors which time can never repair; gives way to feelings of temporary animosity against me, and believing herself to be an unhappy woman, she strongly engages the sympathy of her friends for wrongs which are imaginary, and for injuries which are self-inflicted. This state of feeling soon changes, and her mind for a time becomes better regulated; but the impression, that in her moments of phrensy, she has given others, unfortunately remains.
It is thus she injures both herself and me. God, who has withheld reason from her, alone can endow her with it now ; and without his aid she must walk in error as she has ever done.
To you, perhaps, the truth will one day appear; you will know her better than you do at present, your affection for her will not always blind you as it does now, and when you rightly perceive her failings, and her unhappy weaknesses, your sympathy may be of more service to her than it can be now, when, like herself, you are under the influence of feelings engendered in error, and which for the time obscure the reason. Be sure you will one day think very differently ; and when that day dawns upon you, you may rely upon my regard for you being unchanged.
For the monstrous wrong she does me, I freely forgive her. It can never create one feeling of anger or hatred against her: I think of her with the deepest commisseration, and weep; — oh ! how I weep when she knows it not — that a heart so warm and true as hers, should be warped by a head so weak.
. . . You have told me that there can no longer be friendship, or even the appearance of it, between us. This then may be the last communication that will pass between us, and I wish to tell you that your three kind letters to me last summer were received as kindly as they were written; and although I did not reply to them, I was not the less thankful and grateful.Pierce believed that Theodore Sedgwick, as Fanny's legal counsel, was trying to find evidence of Pierce's adultery.
However, in 1844, another scandal emerged: on April 15, 1844, James Schott of Bladensburg, Maryland challenged Butler to a duel. Schott alleged that Butler had had a sexual affair with his wife:
At that very time, when she and the Sedgwicks were circulating the accusation with the utmost positiveness, they were perfectly conscious that they were without evidence, and that it rested exclusively upon angry invectives and suspicions. But as they wished them to be true, they probably believed their surmises, and supposed it would be possible to ferret out proof of them; the more so as there were not wanting persons who, to ingratiate themselves with Mrs. Butler, promised to procure the desired evidence. The first attempt of this sort which came to my knowledge was made by endeavouring to enlist against me one of my domestic servants, the nurse of my children. She was visited in the nursery one morning by Mrs. Charles Sedgwick, who dexterously strove to lead her into talking injuriously of me, and to commit her into saying that my life in London had been dissipated, and that I had ill treated my wife; all of which being fresh news to the nurse, she could neither confirm, nor converse about. Failing in that, she asked the nurse if I had never made any sort of an attempt upon her own virtue, which so enraged the woman, that giving her inquisitor an indignant rebuff, she immediately came to inform me of this dirty course of conduct.
Early in March last, I had occasion to proceed to New York in company with Mr. Pierce Butler, upon business which required our personal attention in that city. Mrs. Schott desired me to take her with me, that she might go to the opera. I agreed to do so; and to make the jaunt more agreeable to her, I invited her two sisters, married ladies, to join the party; and one of them accepted the invitation, and went with us.
Mr. Pierce Butler, at that time, I regarded as my friend, and had entire confidence in him. Some circumstances of conduct, indeed, on his part and on that of Mrs. S. had previously occurred, to which I might have taken, and, to a certain extent, did take exception; but as I did not conceive Mr. B. capable of any base intentions, or Mrs. S. of any conduct unbecoming a lady and a wife, I easily brought myself to view them as thoughtless imprudences, and therefore passed them over, — though not without remonstrating with Mrs. S. on the subject. All former circumstances, however, had been forgotten; and I proceeded to New York without suspicion.
Here the refusal of Mrs. S., while in a public hotel, to occupy the same room with me, and her insisting, contrary to my wishes and in spite of my remonstrances, upon having a separate chamber, — to which she removed her baggage, without my knowledge, the morning after our arrival, — which chamber was apart from her sisters and my own,— were the first circumstances that created a painful impression on my mind . .
It was on the night of Saturday, March 9th 1844 at midnight, that a circumstance occurred, to which I have no desire to give publicity, nor to say one word more of it, than that it was of a character to justify — in fact, to render imperatively necessary, — all the steps which I took in consequence of it.
What was sufficiently painful in the circumstance, became still more so from its happening in a public hotel, where I could not take such steps as I desired to take, without giving a scandalous notoriety to the affair, and involving — or rather connecting — in the disgrace of it, a member of the party who had no implication in it, and who was a lady under my protection as my guest. These considerations, and her entreaties and tears, not only prevented my taking any violent steps, and induced me to delay seeking satisfaction for the wrong I had received, until I could return to Philadelphia; but were the cause of my allowing Mr. Butler to keep up the appearance of still being a member of the party, so long as we continued at the hotel.
This was, undoubtedly, a weakness on my part; and Mr. B., with the knavish craft natural to his character, has taken advantage of it, in his letter accepting my challenge, as an argument to prove that he could not have done me any wrong, or that I did not then think it one. . . . But I must here again say, that I was in a public hotel with my party, where the slightest act, — and certainly the expulsion of Mr. B. from the party, — would have produced a shameful explosion; that I was myself desirous to avoid this; and that the lady alluded to, implored me, out of regard to her and our respective families, — and wrung from me a promise not to expose them in New York, — to do nothing, and to submit to Mr. B's remaining, in appearance, a member of the party, as if nothing had happened, until we left New York.
Nobody knows better than Mr. B. the true state of the case, — that I distinctly told him on Sunday, the day after the occurrence, that "nothing but my promise to the lady in question, protected him from my just indignation while in New York." And that no doubt should remain as to to the course I intended to pursue, I wrote and caused to be delivered to him, on Monday, the 11th, a note, of which the following is a copy— formally expressing the intention, on paper, which I had before distinctly declared to him in words:
Pierce Butler, Esq. Astor House, March 11, 1844.
Sit, I scarcely deem it necessary to say to you, that, on our return to Philadelphia, all intercourse between us must cease, and that your visits to my family must be discontinued. I trust that the time may yet come when I shall be able, without compromising others, to vindicate my own honor. Your obedient servant, (Signed) JAMES SCHOTT, Jr.
. . . Upon the same day, I returned to Philadelphia, with Mrs. S, and the lady, her companion; and on Wednesday, the 13th, 1 addressed Mrs. S. the following note, which will perhaps explain itself; or, at all events, will indicate some of the feelings by which I was agitated, as well on account of what had happened, as of the frame and temper of mind exhibited by Mrs. S. under circumstances to me so overpoweringly afflictive:
"Having weighed every adverse consideration that could influence me in our difficulties, having balanced how far I ought to protect your character and prevent the exposure of my own degradation, and reflected on what is due to my injured feelings, and the satisfaction my wounded honor calls for, I have decided that the breach between us is beyond all reparation.
"A separation, therefore, is inevitable, and, of course, my injuries must be made known to your family, if not laid open to the world. Had you made a confession of your guilt, had you displayed the slightest penitence or remorse, had you admitted what I saw with my own eyes, I would have forgiven you — not that anything could restore my lost affection for you; but I should then have cherished some hope of reclaiming you.
"But after tbe effrontery you have shown, I am convinced that you have fallen so far from your original purity as to be beyond recovery; and therefore, you have forfeited all claim to my protection. As there is a just God in Heaven, whatever calamities may ensue, whatever blood may be shed, it rests on your soul. (Signed) JAMES SCHOTT, Jr." Philadelphia, March 13, 1844.
Three days afterwards, I intercepted a letter written by Mrs. S, and addressed to her sister, the lady who had been with us at New York. The following is a true copy of a paragraph which I extracted from it:
"Perhaps it would be better for Mr. B. to send the letter to-night,— BUT I DO NOT ADVISE YOU, YOU CAN BEST JUDGE : — he appears calm, and resolved; HE IS NOT VIOLENT. I ONLY HOPE IT MAY BE SUICIDE HE HAS DETERMINED ON; BUT I THINK A DUEL WILL BE THE CONSEQUENCE."
I need not comment upon this paragraph — the kind of spirit it indicated — the hope it expressed — nor upon the effect it produced upon me. I might have hesitated — I had hesitated — in taking the steps which I felt that my own honor required; because with all the wrongs I had suffered, I could not but think painfully of the consequences these steps would bring upon her. This intercepted letter put an end to my hesitation, and I waited immediately upon Mr. Dallas, as legal counsel; and, at my request, he that night drew up the articles of separation.
. . . I now think it necessary to disclose those which I instituted in relation to Mr. Butler. His friends have professed to think it very strange that I should suffer so long a period to elapse after the occurrence at New York, before making a demand upon him for satisfaction, other than that contained in my letter to him at the Astor House of March the 11th. . . .
On April 4th, Mrs. Schott went before the Mayor of Philadelphia, and by the following affidavit, accusing me of acts of jealousy and outrage, first gave publicity to an affair which, even for her own sake, I had sought to conceal, and arraigned me before the bar of the public as a jealous, brutal husband, from whom she was obliged to appeal to the laws to protect her life.
Commonwealth, vs. James Schott, Jr. Ellen Willing Schott, being duly sworn says — I was married to James Schott, Jr., in the month of October, 1839. . . . The first occasion on which Mr. Schott used towards me personal violence was in the summer of 1841, either at the end of the month of June or the beginning of July, at Germantown, where we were staying for the benefit of my child's health, who had been ill for a long time, and whose life I was then beginning to despair of. I was in the habit of having the baby brought during the day into my own chamber, it being larger and more airy apartment than the one in which the infant and nurse slept. Upon this occasion I wished Mr. Schott to rise that the room might be made ready to receive the visit of Dr. Betton. Upon my urging him to do so, he became violent, and drawing from under his bolster a loaded pocket pistol, which he always had under his pillow at night, he presented it at my breast and threatened to shoot me if I teased him any longer.
The baby died on the 15th July. . . . From that time he has been in the habit of frequenting the Clubs. His usual custom was to remain till about two o'clock in the morning, very frequently he did so till daylight; and on some occasions he has not returned till late on the following day. This mode of life had the worst possible effect upon his temper. He was most violent and abusive in his language to me, swearing at me for the most trivial causes. He was so unjust and unreasonable as to cause me much uneasiness. During all this time until May 1843, it was my habit to watch for him at night till his return, being always anxious while he was absent, and thinking if any thing would induce him to reform his hours, it would be witnessing the great uneasiness they caused me. One night when he returned home near daylight, on my remonstrating with him on the lateness of the hour and pleading with him to change his habits, he a second time, presented a pistol and threatened to fire at me. This took place in my bed chamber. Last summer we went to Brighton: I there accidentally made the acquaintance of a gentleman. I had only conversed with him three times, and then always in company with another lady, when one night I was suddenly awakened from my sleep at 3 o'clock by Mr. Schott, who was standing over me with a light in his hand. He insulted me then in the grossest manner, insisting that the gentleman to whom I have alluded had been in my chamber, using the coarsest language and threatening to put me to death. So much was I shocked by this outrage that I shrunk from referring to it on the succeeding day. Mr. Schott was equally silent in regard to it, and it was not until six weeks after our return to Philadelphia that he alluded to it — asking me —"What do you think of my jealous fit at New Brighton." He then said, that at the time he had been near putting me to death.
. . . On the night of Wednesday, 6th of March, in New York, Mr. Schott threatened to put me to death; and on Tuesday night, 12th of March, in Philadelphia, held a six-barrelled pistol at me, and again said he would put me to death. It was on that night that he said, " I will separate from you now; for if I do not now, you will separate from me at some future time, and then you will crush me." On the same night he drew my wedding ring from my finger by force and violence, and took it away from me s declaring that he considered our marriage dissolved. The first intimation given to my family of my domestic misery, was in the spring of 1843, by my maid, who went to see Dr. Peace, without my knowledge, and told him of the state of suffering in which I then was, — saying that if something were not done, she feared my mind would be affected. Dr. Peace insisted on knowing from me the cause, and I then, for the first time, spoke of my unhappiness. One instance of violent temper it may be well for me to mention. We were going to the theatre, last October, — Mr. Schott was after the time, and became impatient at my hurrying him — he was exceedingly angry while we were walking — swore he would put me in the gutter, and used such gross and improper language, that I refused to accompany him further, and returned home. These exhibitions of temper were occurring frequently — often daily.
All of the abovementioned incidents that took place subsequently to last October, were made known at the time to my sisters, Mrs. Ridgway and Mrs. Peace. In October I seriously thought of separating from him, and consulted Dr. Peace to that effect. I was most anxious to do so, but was dissuaded by my sisters and Dr. Peace from taking this step.
On the night of Tuesday, 2nd of April, my father came to Mr. Schott's house, and offered me an asylum in his own, and I am now living in his family and under his protection. I have reason to apprehend, and do apprehend, that Mr. Schott may offer me personal violence, if an opportunity for doing so should occur. There is no cause that I am aware of, for the course of conduct which Mr. Schott has pursued towards me, but his irritable and bad temper. There never was the slightest grounds for any of the accusations which he has made against me, or for any of the suspicions which he has professed to entertain. ELLEN WILLING SCHOTT. Sworn and subscribed before me this 4th day of April, 1844.
. . . I have no inclination to comment upon this unfortunate paper . . .but I cannot but recommend attention to the fact that, having returned from New York on the 11th of March, Mrs. S. had continued voluntarily to reside in my house with me (for I was in it whenever I chose to be) from that period up to the 2nd of April — (a period of three weeks,) although she testifies to one act of outrage, alleged to have been committed by me on the 12th of March, and swears that she apprehended further violence . . .
These steps taken by Mrs. S., left me no alternative but to pursue my original determination; and as the charges made against me in the affidavit exposed me to immediate arrest, (and to be arrested at such a moment would, I well knew, afford an additional ground for the calumnies which were now unsparingly heaped upon me,) . . . I, the next morning, at 3 o'clock, (Friday, April 5th) left the city; and that very evening de spatched a friend with a letter covering a challenge, which I requested him immediately to deliver to Mr. Butler.. . .That fall, Pierce Butler demanded that Fanny sign a written contract in order to remain under his roof and have access to the children. According to Fanny, the American Kemble written by their great-granddaughter, Fanny Kemble Wister:
Being about to reside in Mr. Butler’s house, I promise to observe the following conditions while living under his roof: I will give up all acquaintances and intercourse of whatever kind, whether by word or letter with every member of the Sedgwick family, and hereafter I will treat them in every respect as entire strangers and as if I had never known them. I will not keep up an acquaintance with any person of whom Mr. Butler may disapprove. I will observe an entire abstinence from all reference to the past. Neither will I mention to any person any circumstance which may occur in Mr. Butler’s house of family. I will neither write nor speak of Mr. Butler to anyone while I remain under his roof. I will also conform to the arrangement of his house as I shall find them on entering it, and I promise, if I find myself unable to fulfill any of the aforesaid conditions, immediately to give notice to Mr. Butler of my inability to do so and to leave his house . . . I [Pierce Butler] require also that Mrs. Butler shall not speak of me. Neither will I mention her name to anyone, and communication that I may have to make to her shall be made in writing and shall be addressed to herself. Under no circumstances will I allow the intervention of a third person in any matter between us after she enters my family.
In the autumn of 1845 I returned to England, and resided with my father in Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, until I went to Italy and joined my sister at Rome; a plan for my returning with my father to America having been entertained and abandoned in the mean time.
The days were not yet, either in England or America, when a married woman could claim or hold, independently, money which she either earned or inherited. How infinite a relief from bitter injustice and hardship has been the legislation that has enabled women to hold and own independently property left to them by kindred or friends, or earned by their own industry and exertions. I think, however, the excellent law-makers of the United States must have been intent upon atoning for all the injustice of the previous centuries of English legislation with regard to women's property, when they framed the laws which, I am told, obtain in some of the States, by which women may not only hold bequests left to them, and earnings gained by them, entirely independent of their husbands; but being thus generously secured in their own rights, are still allowed to demand their maintenance, and the payment of their debts, by the men they are married to. This seems to me beyond all right and reason—the compensation of one gross injustice by another, a process almost womanly in its enthusiastic unfairness. It must be retrospective amends for incalculable former wrongs, I suppose.
After my return to England, I resumed the exercise of my theatrical profession; the less distasteful occupation of giving public readings, which I adopted subsequently, was not then open to me. My father was giving readings from Shakespeare, and it was impossible for me to thrust my sickle into a field he was reaping so successfully. I therefore returned to the stage; under what disadvantageously altered circumstances it is needless to say.
A stout, middle-aged, not particularly good-looking woman, such as I then was,
is not a very attractive representative of Juliet or Julia; nor had I, in the retirement of nine years of private life, improved by study or experience my talent for acting, such as it was. I had hardly entered the theatre during all those years, and my thoughts had as seldom reverted to anything connected with my former occupation. While losing, therefore, the few personal qualifications (of which the principal one was youth) I ever possessed for the younger heroines of the drama, I had gained none but age as a representative of its weightier female personages—Lady Macbeth, Queen Katherine, etc.
Fanny as "Julia", early in her career
Thus, even less well fitted than when first I came out for the work I was again undertaking, I had the additional disadvantage of being an extremely incompetent woman of business; and having now to make my own bargains in the market of public exhibition, I did so with total want of knowledge and experience to guide me in my dealings with the persons from whom I had to seek employment.
I found it difficult to obtain an engagement in London; but Mr. Knowles, of the Manchester Theatre, very liberally offered me such terms as I was thankful to accept; and I there made my first appearance on my return to the stage.
Among the various changes which I had to encounter in doing so, one that might appear trivial enough occasioned me no little annoyance. The inevitable rouge, rendered really indispensable by the ghastly effect of the gaslight illumination of the stage, had always been one of its minor disagreeables to me; but I now found that, in addition to rouged cheeks, my fair theatrical contemporaries—fair though they might be—literally whitewashed their necks, shoulders, arms, and hands; a practice which I found it impossible to adopt; and in spite of my zealous friend Henry Greville's rather indignant expostulation, to the effect that what so beautiful a woman as Madame Grisi condescended to do, for the improvement of her natural charms, was not to be disdained by a person so comparatively ugly, I steadily refused to make a whited sepulchre of that description of myself, and continued to confront the public with my own skin, looking, probably, like a gypsy, or, when in proximity with any feminine coadjutor, like a bronze figure arm-in-arm with a plaster-of-Paris cast.
I entered into an arrangement with my cousin, Charles Mason, to become my agent, and make my engagements for me, undertaking the necessary correspondence with the managers who employed me, and looking after my money transactions with them for me. I stood greatly in need of some such assistance, being quite incompetent to the management of any business, and ignorant of all the usual modes of proceeding in theatrical affairs, to a degree that rendered it highly probable that my interests would suffer severely from my ignorance. My cousin, however, only rendered me this service for a very short time, as he left England for America soon after he undertook it; after which I reverted to my former condition of comparative helplessness, making my contracts with my employers as well as I could, and protecting myself from loss, and keeping out of troublesome complications and disputes, by the light of what natural reason and rectitude I possessed; always making my engagements by the night, and thus limiting any possible loss I might sustain or inflict upon my employers, to my salary and their receipts, for one performance. I also reduced my written transactions to the very fewest and briefest communications possible, with my various theatrical correspondents, and have more than once had occasion to observe that precision, conciseness, and a rigid adherence to mere statements of terms, times, and purely indispensable details of business, were not the distinguishing features of the letters of most of the men of business with whom I corresponded.]In 1847, Kemble returned to the stage; following her father's example after his retirement, she appeared with much success as a Shakespearean reader rather than acting in plays.
In 1848, Pierce's brother, John Butler, died from dysentery during the Mexican War. Pierce Butler inherited his share of the estate.
On April 7, 1848, Pierce Butler filed for divorce. The suit claimed that
The respondent, did, in violation of her matrimonial obligations, on the 11th of September, 1845, wilfully, maliciously, and without reasonable cause, desert and absent herself from him and his habitation, and since that time has continuously persisted in such desertion and absence.
In the summer of 1848 I returned to America, where my great good fortune in the success of my public readings soon enabled me to realize my long-cherished hope of purchasing a small cottage and a few acres of land in the beautiful and beloved neighborhood of Lenox.
Fanny's home in Lenox, Massachusetts
Having succeeded in obtaining the prayer of my petition — a decree of divorce from the bond of matrimony — I would willingly allow the matter to rest; but the opinion of those friends on whose judgment I most rely is so opposed to such a course, that I am induced to print this review of facts. My friends require it of me. It is not intended as a publication: and I have taken every possible precautionary step against its being so perverted by others. My object is not to assail or to depreciate; it is merely self- vindication; a right belonging to every one, and a duty which we owe not less to ourselves, than to our friends, our kindred, and our children. As this Statement was originally intended for the use of my counsel, and as I relied mainly upon it to secure a successful issue of my suit, I have inserted nothing not susceptible of legal proof. In printing it, some portions are forborne, as they were not necessary to my own vindication.
One reason, and perhaps the fundamental one, for the ill success which attended my marriage, will readily be found in the peculiar views which were entertained by Mrs. Butler on the subject of marriage, and her unwillingness to abide by the express and incul- cated obligations of that contract.
She held that marriage should be companionship on equal terms — partnership, in which, if both partners agree, it is well; but if they do not, neither is bound to yield — and that at no time has one partner a right to control the other.
. . . Another source of our difficulties will be found in the structure of Mrs. Butler's mind. There are two strongly marked features in her character — great energy of will, and a decided preference for her own judgment and opinions over those of every other person. Hence arose that sense of imagined oppression of which she so constantly complained, and which led her to offer a perverse opposition, not only on points of importance, but on matters comparatively insignificant, and to exhibit nonconformity and an unyielding spirit in every thing.
One painful subject of difference between us, was that of negro slavery. Although we resided in Pennsylvania, where slavery does not exist, the greater part of my property lies in the State of Georgia, and consists of plantations and negroes. Mrs. Butler, after our marriage, not before, declared herself to be in principle an abolitionist, and her opinions were frequently expressed in a violent and offensive manner; this was grievous enough to bear; however, I seldom opposed or combatted them; but when it came to the point of publishing her sentiments, I offered the most unqualified opposition to it.
. . . Mrs. Butler's opinions and views in regard to the marriage contract and negro slavery were either not formed or not expressed before she became my wife; a knowledge of them, or either of them, as they were afterwards exhibited, must have proved an insuperable bar to our union. . . .
Having thus directed attention to some of Mrs. Butler's mental peculiarities, I will now show the results and consequences of her acting upon them. . . .
On the first day of January, 1835, we went to our country seat, where, in May of that year, our first child was born. During the period that Mrs. Butler was in expectation of becoming a mother, she manifested habitual discontent, frequently expressing regret at having married me, and a desire for release from an union which appeared already to have become distasteful and irksome to her; and she was constantly wishing to return to her native country.
I looked upon these expressions as merely perverse fancies, to be dispelled by the birth of her child; and I sometimes assured her that if she continued in the same mind after that event, I would not oppose her wishes, supposing that I should hear no more about it. It did not, however, turn out as I had expected, for after her child was born she was as strongly bent upon going away as before. The following letter, in which she evinces a desire to abandon her infant, was written in 1835, about three months after its birth:
"I must claim the fulfilment of a promise you often reiterated to me during my pregnancy, that I should be allowed to return to England, after the birth of my child. I am weary of my useless existence; my superintendence in your house is nominal; you have never allowed it to be otherwise; you will suffer no inconvenience from its cessation. . . . Under these circumstances I must again beg that you will perform your promise of sending me to England when my child was born. If you procure a healthy nurse for the baby she will not suffer; and, provided she is fed, she will not fret after me. Had I died when she was born you must have taken this measure, and my parting from her now will be to her as though she had never known me, and to me far less miserable than at any future time. I must beg you will take measures for my going away; and have only to regret that I am not other than I am, perhaps I might have been happier myself, and possessed qualities more acceptable to you than those with which nature and education have endowed me. Fanny."
It is scarcely necessary to say that I did not "take measures for her going away," but rather sought by kindness and by every means in my power, to promote a feeling of greater contentment. . .
Her morbid discontent became so great, and was so continually expressed, that a mere narration of it, and of its effects, would scarcely be credited: indeed, but for the existence of some of her own letters, written at the time, and constantly referring to her state of mind, I should be unable to convey any idea of it without risking my own credibility.
I will therefore insert her letters, contenting myself with remarking, that no causes whatever existed for the state of feeling they delineate, except such as were self-created and imaginary.
. . . I deny the justness of the charge of rudeness which is brought against me in the letters: it may well be believed that a man's disposition, and, consequently, his manners, would not be entirely unruffled when his spirits were so depressed and harrassed as mine were by such conduct; and, if Mrs. Butler's incessant fault-finding and dissatisfaction with every thing around her, made me, at times, irritable, I can only say, it would not have been so if she had rendered my fireside cheerful and peaceful; but I do not think I can justly be charged with any sort of rudeness towards her at any time. . . .
In 1838, I went, for the second time to visit my property and to attend to my affairs in Georgia, and I was accompanied by Mrs. Butler and my two children; it was her first and only visit to the south.
We passed the winter on my plantations, and for a time the entire change of scene and manner of life had the eflfect of dispelling some of her discontent; but it was only for a time, for the winter did not pass without much trouble between us, and a full share of the domestic unhappiness which her conduct brought upon me. More than once she renewed her desire to leave her family and to return to England; and on one occasion she was apparently so fixed in this resolve, that for a time I gave up all hope of being able to dissuade her from it. On this occasion she actually left her children for three days, and probably would have done so entirely, had there been any means of her getting away; but, fortunately, no steamboat left Darien — the nearest town — during this time; and before there was an opportunity to get away I succeeded in inducing her to return to her children. . .
In May 1839, her determination to abandon her home seemed so firmly fixed, that I was reluctantly compelled to appeal to others, which I had never yet done; my domestic troubles, great as they were, had happily never been mentioned to any one; but now there seemed no way to prevent so painful and scandalous a catastrophe, but by invoking the intercession of friends.
Hitherto, whenever she talked of leaving me, I had diverted her purpose by soothing kindness, forbearance, gentleness, and by offering no apparent opposition to her wishes, but begging her to defer her intention until she could reflect on it more calmly, or to leave it for some other occasion. In this way I succeeded in changing her intention; but now I tried every thing in vain ; and, as a last resort, I was forced to make known to others the nature and extent of my domestic unhappiness. I did not unburden myself to my own family, because I knew their sympathies would naturally be awakened for me, and their feelings might as naturally be enlisted against her. I will here remark, that I have never, not even up to the time I am now writing, detailed to my own family the history of my domestic misery; they first became aware that difficulties existed, when these were made known to the society in which we lived, and not till then; it was Mrs. Butler herself who first openly spoke of them, not only to her friends, but to my kindred, whose impressions have all been received from her. As I had failed in all my efforts to change her purpose, and as she was resolved upon an immediate departure, there was no time to write to England, to seek from her family and friends there the assistance I needed; and I applied to those in this country in whom she most confided. . . .
May 31, 1839. My dear Mrs. Sedgwick, Yourself and your husband are the only persons to whom I dare speak of my misery, and open my domestic sorrows and trials. I know that your regard for me and mine is sincere, and I know that my affection for you is true. To you then alone can I turn, and from you alone can I hope for comfort. . . .
Think what I have suffered; for five years have I pent up in my breast and concealed from all a sorrow that destroyed almost all happiness. My own family are as little aware of it as persons who never heard our name. They think, as all who know me, that my life is passing quietly and smoothly, and that no cares but ill health have troubled me; even my servants do not know that from the day I entered the church to swear love, faith, and constancy to one alone, that my life has been a tumult; I have concealed it from all, and now for the first time do I make known to any one that unhappiness which it has been the object — almost the sole object,— of my life for five years to avert. I have done all that deep love for a wife, the strongest affection for my children, and an earnest desire to secure peace and happiness for myself and them have dictated, but all has failed; and now I am forced to seek the aid of you, my distant friends, to avert domestic misery and calamity, which would wreck the happiness of four persons for life. You know our history as well almost as ourselves; that it was deep, true, free, and well tried love which caused us to marry ; no selfish feeling, no thought of interest, indeed, no thought or feeling but that our mutual happiness and our fates were linked together, ever lodged in our breasts.
And so it is still. At least it is so with me, and I think also with her. I have never doubted the continuance and strength of her love for me, and she should never have doubted mine. I know that our feelings are as strong as when first we loved, but cemented and made holy by the birth of our two children. And yet her life is passed in bitter misery, in constant tears, and heart breaking sobs. . .
With all but me she is rational at all times; her care and management of our children are admirable; we have never once disagreed about them. But she will not live in peace or quiet with me. It seems as if her spirit became troubled by my presence and would never settle down, but like a boiling spring which rises out of the earth it is always troubled and agitated ; and most uneasy is it when we are most together and alone. . . .Five or six times she has packed up all her clothes to leave me. Twice she has taken her jewels to Philadelphia and sold them in order to obtain money to travel; and I have had the mortification of going to buy them back, once being obliged to pay a considerable sum to enable me to get them again. . . .
At breakfast on Monday morning she asked me when the next steam packet would sail for England; I said the Great Western was advertised for June 13th; she then told me that she had fully made up her mind to return to England, and go on the stage to support herself; and if I would not take means to send her back, she would write to engage her own passage: as I refused to take any steps about it, I presume she has done it herself, for she sent a letter to the post office, which she did not show me, and which I am inclined to think was to make inquiries about a passage. The day after this was Tuesday, 28th, the birthday of both our children; their two cousins came to pass the day with them, and Fanny seemed happy all day: I hoped she had given up her strange purpose, but I was mistaken; at night I was left to sleep alone, and a note was left on a table in the bedroom. . .
Alas! poor Fanny, the bitterness and misery are of her own creating, and mar my happiness as effectually as her own. God knows how earnestly I have striven to make her happy, and how readily I would now do any thing in the world to secure it; for I should also be sure of happiness myself. But the difficulty is with herself, it is inherent ; and unless she can be made sensible of this, and summon resolution to overcome this morbid state of feeling, she will be miserable for life. . . . I have copied the note, because her own words will convey to you a more correct knowledge of the unhappy state of her mind than all I can write. When I instance the condition of other women, as compared with hers, women who have much to depress them, but yet bear up against all their troubles and show a cheerful spirit, she can always find circumstances in their lot which serve to lighten their condition, and alleviate their sufferings, so as to enable them better to overcome their troubles; and generally concludes by making out her situation the hardest and most unsupportable and unmitigated of all her sex. This constant dejection and gloom, if not broken down and dispelled, will become after a time a mere habit; and imagined misery will be ever present . .
It is not an easy matter to talk with persons who are irrational and take wrong views of a case, and she talks of a separation as if we were two persons who had entered into partnership to carry on some small retail business, and not the great business of life — the lives not only of ourselves but of our children. . . .
With every means of happiness given to us, it is worse than foolish, it is sinful, wantonly to cast it aside. I think that I have done every thing in my power to render Fanny's situation comfortable, happy, and contented; I cannot, it is true, live in England, to enable her to be always with her family and friends there, but I have once afforded her an opportunity of visiting them, and passing nine months with them; and I look forward to going there again. If, however, she cannot be happy away from them, if a home, a husband and children, are less to her than former friends, and do not compensate for what she has given up, why there is nothing to be done . . .
There is no one whose words would have any weight with her but yours and Mr. Sedgwick's; her affection for you is very great, and she has so great an admiration of your character and understanding, that she would feel there must be truth in what you would tell her respecting herself and her situation. Besides she sees in you, and it is what we often speak of, the attainment of perfect and rational happiness in married life. . .
I know not where to turn but to you our friends. How this present trouble will end I cannot see: heretofore there has been more passion and violence, at times, when she talked of leaving her home; and I have had to bring her back to reason and to her natural feelings by gentle kindness and soothing affection, begging her not to desert me and her children. . . . But now it is different, as you will perceive by the tone of her note. She seems resolved to part, and asked me if I would allow her either of the children.
I know not what to do. There is no one in this country to whom I would mention a word of this but yourselves. I have thought it right, therefore, indeed I felt bound to lay open every thing to you ; for if she does leave me, her nearest friends ought to know under what circumstances she does so. . . . I know you will be pained by this letter; but if you can afford any aid — and it is because I believe you can that I write — I also know that you will rejoice, and not mind sharing with me my griefs. If any change should take place, I will write to you. Your sincere friend, Pierce Butler.
. . . In May, 1843, Mrs. Butler's conduct, which since our reconciliation in London had enabled us to live together on comfortable terms, soon relapsed into its old waywardness and irregularity. She totally disregarded what she had promised at the time of our reconciliation in England: "Compliance with your wishes, and obedience to your will, in every respect in which they do not interfere with the dictates of my conscience, I am ''most ready and willing to promise you." She exhibited now, as formerly, strange perverseness of action and determined opposition to my wishes. . . .
In October 1843 I received a visit from Mr. Theodore Sedgwick. He came to my chamber, where at the time I was confined to my bed by illness. . . . At the time I expressed my perfect willingness to talk to him, Mr. Sedgwick, about my affairs, as he stood in the light of a mutual friend. He wished me, he said, so to consider him, and distinctly represented himself, not as Mrs. Butler's legal assistant, but as a friend to both parties, with the sole desire of doing good to both. Mrs. Butler's present aversion to me, I then said, seemed so bitter, and her intention of separating from me so fixed, that I should put no obstacle in her way nor did I wish her to live with me in violence to her feelings; but, I added, no necessity whatever existed for the interference of lawyers, as I would make an arrangement to secure her a perfectly independent residence, such as she desired; and that he, our mutual friend, should communicate its details to her. I offered two thousand five hundred dollars a year for her support; and as we were then at lodgings, she could have apartments distinct from mine, though under the same roof, and thus be able to maintain a constant intercourse with her children, with which I should not interfere: nor indeed should I interfere with her in any way, while she conformed to three conditions deemed by me indispensable, namely, not to go on the stage — not to advocate in print the abolition cause — and not to publish any writings dis- approved by me: — as either of these three acts would annul the arrangement.
Some days subsequently I received the following from Mr. Sedgwick:
"New Fork, November 6, 1843. My dear Butler, " In our conversation on Sunday before last you stated to me that you would not be a party to any formal separation with Mrs. Butler. But that if she determined to live apart from you, you would interpose no obstacle to her so doing. That you would pay her monthly or quarterly for her separate use one-third of your income, not to be less for the present (and until you had ascertained exactly the amount of your income) than twenty-five hundred dollars; that she might reside either at the same place you reside in or in another that she preferred ; and that she might have free intercourse with her children at often and as constantly as she pleased, as much so in short as at 99 present. The only terms you attached to this offer, were that she was not to go on the stage, not to publish anything of which you disapproved, and not to avow herself an abolitionist; that either of these things would alone put an end to all intercourse with the chil dren and all dependence on you. In the event of this being handed to you Mrs. Butler will have determined to accept the proposition, and I have then to say that she desires the payments to be made to me; that I will receive them, and that she wishes the first monthly or quarterly payment to be made at once, and hereafter in advance, as this I suppose must be a matter of indifference to you. I am very truly yours, Theodore Sedgwick.
The following was my reply:
Philadelphia. Nov. 8, 1843. My dear Sedgwick, Your letter dated the 6th instant has been handed to me, and as you advise me, I receive it as a formal and deliberate declaration on the part of my wife that it is her wish and intention to live apart from me, to be separated from me. As I do not desire her to live with me against her inclination, I shall offer no opposition to her resolution. You recapitulate the subject of a conversation between us on Sunday, 29th of October last. It is correct except in one particular, and in that you have misapprehended me, that she might reside either at the same place you reside in, or in any other that she preferred, and that she might have free intercourse with her children as often and as constantly as she pleased . . It must be obvious to you that this could not be so, after she withdraws herself from my family, and ceases to be a member of it.. . . I no longer consider her as forming part of my family. I should not prevent the children from going to see her, nor should I object to her coming into my house to see them; but how can she 'reside at the same place I reside in,' and be separated from me? . . It is plain that she could not live in my house . . This house is public, and it is only in my own apartments that I have control; she can, no doubt, engage other apartments here, and so live here if she like; but when I go into a house of my own, my arrangements will be made without any reference to her, and I shall take the entire direction of my family, as I was obliged to do at one time in England, when she left my house. . . I offered one-third of my income for her separate use; but of course that was meant for her entire support. She could not expect to receive this proportion, and live at the same time in my house. . .
It is with reluctance that I introduce the names of other persons into this statement, but the share they voluntarily took in my domestic troubles renders it unavoidable. At this unhappy period no less than four members of the Sedgwick family hastened to Philadelphia, officiously and oflfensively to intermeddle with my private concerns, and their conduct formed so strong a contrast to what it always had been at prior periods, that I am forced to speak of it without reserve. Their professions of friendship, and my unabated reliance on them up to this time, render their subsequent change and treachery towards me the more glaring, and I think their behaviour justifies all I say of them.
. . . On November 21, 1843, I made the first monthly payment of two hundred and eight dollars to Mr. Theodore Sedgwick on Mrs. Butler's account, according to the arrangement in our respective letters of November 6 and 8. From that time Mrs. Butler assumed the separate occupation of her own apartments, and though under the same roof I never saw any thing of her. My children went freely at all hours from my rooms into hers. We had lived in this way for two months, when I was told that Mrs. Butler spoke to others of the arrangement as a merely temporary one: saying that she intended suing for a divorce on the allegation of adultery, which, if successful would assign to her the custody of my children; that the requisite testimony only was wanting, and she expected soon to command it, as her friends were making such inquiries into my mode of life as would lead them to procure it. . . . I feared nothing in the shape of evidence; and I knew that no law could invade my house and deprive me of my children, while I continued to protect and cherish them as a faithful and aflfectionate guardian. But I was also apprized that Mr. Theodore Sedgwick was one of the peering and prying inquisitors in pursuit of evidence . . . After many years of patient trial, I had slowly and finally exhausted the cup of hope, and had reached the conviction that to live with her without degradation, perpetual strife, and wretchedness, was an impossibility: she was absolutely impracticable: kindness did not win, forbearance did not conciliate, and control was defied. . . . . Leagued with confederates, whose double-dealing I had detected, she and they spread abroad imputations against me as de- famatory as they were unfounded: not only was the slang of infidelity pertinaciously reiterated, but in their zeal to injure they did not scruple to accuse me of conduct of even a more serious character, and to soil their own lips with calumnies so gross that I cannot here even allude to them. . . . During this vile persecution, for it was really nothing less, and when society fairly rang with my monstrosities of conduct, I remained perfectly quiet; I did nothing ; spoke to no one on the subject, not even to my relatives or most intimate friends; and, indeed, made no attempt to stem the current of slander setting so steadily and strongly against me. This course was, perhaps, not a prudent one; for by my silence and their calumnious loquacity my character was certainly injured, and my social position seriously affected. . . .Other than brief visitations, Fanny was not reunited with her daughters until each came of age at 21. As her father was ill, she returned to England to look after him, and continued to perform readings to support herself. She also took on the care of Harry, her younger brother Henry's illegitimate son.
In 1853, she stayed in Italy with Adelaide's family, where she met the abolitionist family of Francis Shaw, including their son, Robert Gould Shaw.
Fanny's father, Charles Kemble, died in November 1854. Her brother Henry had been
|John Kemble, on his deathbead, 1857|
Philadelphian Sidney George Fisher, who also owned a plantation in Maryland, wrote in his diary:
It is a dreadful affair, however, selling these hereditary Negroes. . . . Families will not be separated, that is to say, husbands and wives, parents and young children. But brothers and sisters of mature age, parents and children of mature age, all other relations and the ties of home and long association will be violently severed. It will be a hard thing for Butler to witness and it is a monstrous thing to do.
Yet it is done every day in the South. It is one among the many frightful consequences of slavery and contradicts our civilization, our Christianity, or Republicanism. Can such a system endure, is it consistent with humanity, with moral progress? These are difficult questions, and still more difficult is it to say, what can be done? The Negroes of the South must be slaves or the South will be Africanized. Slavery is better for them and for us than such a result.
|Sidney George Fisher|
Pierce Butler had the impending slave sale advertised continuously in The Savannah Republican, The Savannah Daily Morning News, and in contemporary newspapers throughout the southeastern states. The auction was managed by Joseph Bryan, Savannah's largest slave-dealer. The advertisement that Bryan published in The Savannah Republican began on February 8 and ran daily, except on Sundays, through March 3, the last date of the slave sale. His advertisement in The Savannah Republican on February 8, 1859 reads:
FOR SALE. LONG COTTON AND RICE NEGROES.A Gang of 460 Negroes,
accustomed to the culture of Rice and Provisions; among whom are a number of good mechanics, and house servants. Will be sold on the 2d and 3d of March next, at Savannah, by JOSEPH BRYAN. Terms of Sale—One-third cash; remainder by bond, bearing interest from day of sale, payable in two equal annual instalments, to be secured by mortgage on the negroes, and approved personal security, or for approved city acceptance on Savannah or Charleston. Purchasers paying for papers. The Negroes will be sold in families, and can be seen on the premises of JOSEPH BRYAN, In Savannah, three days prior to the day of sale, when catalogues will be furnished. *** The Charleston Courier, (daily and tri-weekly;) Christian Index, Macon, Ga; Albany Patriot, Augusta Constitutionalist, Mobile Register, New Orleans Picayune, Memphis Appeal, Vicksburg Southern, and Richmond Whig, will publish till day of sale and send bills to this office.
For several days before the sale every hotel in Savannah was crowded with negro speculators from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, who had been attracted hither by the prospects of making good bargains. Nothing was heard for days, in the bar-rooms and public rooms, but talk of the great sale . .
The slaves remained at the race-course, some of them for more than a week and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly visited by speculators.
The Negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments. All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur, and in some instances with good-natured cheerfulness—where the slave liked the appearance of the proposed buyer, and fancied that he might prove a kind "mas'r."Doesticks recorded the facts of the sale, and his observations of the emotional impact on the men, women, and children (including thirty babies), who were sold for a sum of $303,850.
Among the stories Doesticks described was that of a young, enslaved man, Jeffrey, twenty-three years old, who pleaded with his purchaser to also buy Dorcas, his beloved:
"I loves Dorcas, young mas'r; I loves her well an' true; she says she loves me, and I know she does; de good Lord knows I loves her better than I loves any on in de wide world - never can love another woman half so well. Please buy Dorcas, mas'r. We're be good sarvants to you long as we live. We're be married right soon, young mas'r, and de chillum will be healthy and strong, mas'r and dey'll be good sarvants, too. Please buy Dorcas, young mas'r. We loves each other a heap—do, really, true, mas'r."Realizing that his love alone would not impress his new "mas'r," Jeffrey tried to appeal to his purchaser's business sense by "marketing" his own prospective bride, in a desperate hope that they might be together:
"Young mas'r, Dorcas prime woman—A1 woman, sa. Tall gal, sir; long arms, strong, healthy, and can do a heap of work in a day. She is one of de best rice hands on de whole plantation; worth $1,200 easy, mas'r and fus rate bargain at that."Jeffrey's new owner considered purchasing Dorcas until he realized that she was to be sold in a family of four, and could not be purchased independently. When Jeffrey's entreaties came to nothing and Dorcas was bought by someone else, he walked away and grieved, consoled in silence by a circle of his enslaved friends. Jeffrey and Dorcas were separated, ironically, because Pierce Butler had required that, to the extent possible, the enslaved be sold in "families."
The expression on the faces of all who stepped on the block was always theThe two-day sale netted $303,850, equivalent to approximately $6,700,00 in today's dollars. Pierce Butler, once again wealthy, made a trip to southern Europe before returning home to Philadephia.
same, and told of more anguish than it is in the power of words to express. Blighted homes, crushed hopes and broken hearts was the sad story to be read in all the anxious faces. Some of them regarded the sale with perfect indifference, never making a motion save to turn from one side to the other at the word of the dapper Mr. Bryan, that all the crowd might have a fair view of their proportions, and then, when the sale was accomplished, stepped down from the block without caring to cast even a look at the buyer, who now held all their happiness in his hands.
Historical Marker in Georgia
|Sarah Butler Wister|
On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to declare its secession. Fanny Kemble and their daughter Sarah Butler Wister were pro-North; Pierce Butler and their daughter Fan Butler were pro-South. Pierce and Fan Butler planned a trip south; although Fan was uneasy about it, Pierce reassured her in a letter written in January 1861:
If there was any such apprehension of danger in going to Georgia, I would not take you there. I am very sorry that you have a feeling of aversion and fear about going, but you may rely upon it that it will all vanish as soon as we reach Savannah, and you receive the warm welcome of the friends you made there.
I do not believe there will be civil war, or any fighting at all.
. . . I feel compelled to go; my sympathies are entirely with the South; all the trouble has been caused by the bad faith and bad conduct of the people of the North, who have violated their duty to the Union and the Constitution. . . .
My dearest Fanny, your love, devotion and loyalty are not lost on me, and you may be sure I would not take them unnecessarily. Therefore, if I cannot comply with your wishes to postpone our going to Georgia, it is because there is a necessity for my presence there . . . I am certain you will not regreat having accompanied me.
|Attack on Fort Sumter|
Sarah received a letter from Fan in Georgia on April 27, and wrote in her diary:
She thinks that the taking of Ft. Sumter will put an end to the hostilities as the North will see that the South is in earnest, & is so very unwilling to fight itself!!! She will open her eyes a little when she arrives here & finds every man of her acquaintance enlisted.
. . . What fools these Southerners are to talk of courage when there's not one in hundreds has one grain of moral courage or even understands the term.
Lenox, Massachusetts. September 15, 1861
Our daily talk is of fights and flights, weapons and wounds. The stars and stripes flaunt their gay colours from every farm roof among these peaceful hills, and give a sort of gala effect to the quiet New England villages . . . that would be pretty and pleasing but for the grievous suggestions they awake of bitter civil war, or the cruel interruption of an unparalleled national prosperity, of impending danger and insecurity, of heavy immediate taxation, of probably loss of property . . .
Mr. Butler is a state prisoner . . . He was arrested a month ago on a charge of high treason, and my children left me the beginning of last week to visit him in a fortress, at the entrance of the Bay of New York, to which they obtained access only by a special order from the President, and where they were only permitted to see Mr. Butler in the presence of one of the officers of the fort. . . . The charge against him is that he acted as an agent for the Southerners in a vist he paid to Georgia this spring, having received large sums of money for purchase and transmission of arms. ... I think it probably that, if it is not proved, Mr. Butler will still be detained till the conclusion of the war, as he is not likely to accept any oath of allegiance tendered to him by this government.
. . . Of the ultimate success of the North, I have not a shadow of a doubt. I hope to God that neither England nor any other power from the other side of water will meddle in the matter . . . With the clearing away of this storm, slavery will be swept from among the acknowledged institutions of America, . . .Early in 1862, Fanny received a letter from Henry Greville, an English aristocrat:
We see nothing in this contest but a struggle for dominion on one side & independence on the other & it is needless to say that if we could feel interest in such uninteresting people our sympathy must be with the weaker party.
As to abolition of slavery, it is certainly beside the question and that it has been resorted to now is merely an imaginary help on the conduct of the war and from no other higher motive . . .Fanny responded:
I have not one grain of propagandism in my whole composition and do not believe in talking thoughtless people into thinking ones, or thinking ones out of the convictions they have taken the trouble of making for themselves.
I have certain points of faith which are to my soul what vital air is to my lungs. Among these are belief in the ultimate triumph of truth & light for which the Lord does fight, and rejoice with all my heart that I have lived to see the beginning of the process which I should have died believing was to come of the destruction of slavery in America and the salvation of this great country from the iniquity & misery of such a system.
When I used to walk on the shore of the Altamaha River three & twenty years ago . . . I used to wonder how & when the dreadful system of human depredation in the midst of which I was living was to end. . . . I little thought to live to see the day when Northern ships would ride along that coast . . . bringing freedom to the land of bondage . . . One thing is certain, it has arise all over the South and however slow its progress may be it will assuredly shine more and more until the proper day of universal freedom.
|Robert Gould Shaw|
St. Simons Island, Ga. Tuesday, June 9, 1863. My Dearest Annie, We arrived at the southern point of this island at six this morning. I went ashore to report to Colonel [James] Montgomery, and was ordered to proceed with my regiment to a place called "Pike's Bluff," on the inner coast of the island, and encamp. We came up here in another steamer, the "Sentinel," as the "De Molay" is too large for the inner waters,—and took possession to-day of a plantation formerly owned by Mr. Gould. We have a very nice camping-ground for the regiment, and I have my quarters in "the house"; very pleasantly situated, and surrounded by fine large trees.
The island is beautiful, as far as I have seen it. You would be enchanted with the scenery here; the foliage is wonderfully thick, and the trees covered with hanging moss, making beautiful avenues wherever there is a road or path; it is more like the tropics than anything I have seen.
Mr. King's plantation, where I first went ashore, must have been a beautiful place, and well kept. It is entirely neglected now, of course; and as the growth is very rapid, two years' neglect almost covers all traces of former care.
. . . June 13th.—To-day I rode over to Pierce Butler's plantation. It is an immense place, and parts of it very beautiful. The house is small, and badly built, like almost all I have seen here. There are about ten of his slaves left there, all of them sixty or seventy years old. He sold three hundred slaves about three years ago. I talked with some, whose children and grandchildren were sold then, and though they said that was a "weeping day," they maintained that "Massa Butler was a good massa," and they would give anything to see him again.
When I told them I had known Miss Fanny, they looked very much pleased, and one named John wanted me to tell her I had seen him. They said all the house-servants had been taken inland by the overseer at the beginning of the war; and they asked if we couldn't get their children back to the island again. These were all born and bred on the place, and even selling away their families could not entirely efface their love for their master. Isn't it horrible to think of a man being able to treat such faithful creatures in such a manner?
. . . I forgot to tell you that the negroes at Mr. Butler's remembered Mrs. Kemble very well, and said she was a very fine lady. They hadn't seen her since the young ladies were very small, they said. My visit there was very interesting and touching.
A deserted homestead is always a sad sight, but here in the South we must look a little deeper than the surface, and then we see that every such overgrown plantation, and empty house, is a harbinger of freedom to the slaves, and every lover of his country, even if he have no feeling for the slaves themselves, should rejoice.
|Illustration of the Battle of Fort Wagner|
My dear Mrs. Kemble: At last you have unburdened your great generous heart and have done us more good by your eloquent letters than all the writers who have argued with or railed against your confounded old John Bulls since the Rebellion burst forth.
You don't know, — as we are not aware until some generous recognition of our true positions melts us, — in what a state of tension we are existing. Truly our lives have grown haggard with excitement; every family you know, as well as thousands you do not, has sent forth its sons to the war, and in almost every family is a vacant chair and a portrait upon the wall, of the husband or the darling son gone forever.
In my own family, my only brother left six children and their mother to lead his regiment, and with him went my wife's brother Edward, and Charles Dabney, whom you know. They were besieged in Washington, North Carolina . . I had the ghastly honor of hearing his death hawked about the streets by the newsboys; but a merciful Providence at last rescued them and they are safe at home once more, their hour of service over.
Two of my brothers-in-law are still in service, one of my four nephews, Henry
Higginson, Major of Cavalry, is just off his bed, having recovered from two sabre cuts on his head, and had a ball extracted from his backbone, which the rebels fired at him as he lay on the ground. His brother James came back from Berlin, where he had been studying, was taken prisoner at the same battle, where he was leading his company, and has lain in Libby Prison since the 17th of June.
Frank Higginson, a young senior from Harvard, was the oldest officer but one
in Bob Shaw's regiment after the bloody assault on Fort Wagner. Cabot Russell, my cousin, one of my brother Frank's sergeants, later a captain in Shaw's regiment, was wounded or killed at the same assault, for we cannot learn of his fate from the rebels into whose hands he fell.
Wendell Holmes, another cousin, has been wounded three times and has risen by 'death and promotion' from lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel. James Lowell, another delicate little lamb, was severely wounded at Ball's Bluflf and killed at Malvern Hill, a Christian martyr; his brother Charles commands our Second Cavalry and will command our army if the war lasts long. Their sister, a delicate frail young girl, has been for nearly two years a nurse in a Washington hospital, and their mother spends her days at the Sanitary Commission, as do many of our matrons and young girls.
. . . This very day I have written two letters to express my vain sympathy with the fathers of two young soldiers, who, after struggling against malaria and exposure and wounds, have fallen, one in an attack on the rifle pits of Fort Wagner and the other killed by the murderous host at Vicksburg.
In one of our Massachusetts regiments there are but half a dozen of the forty officers who composed the roster at first, and as I have acted as a sort of military midwife, presiding at their birth, and have held frequent intercourse with them and their families, have known their motives and their wealth of mind and heart and attainments, I have felt their deaths keenly, knowing how costly was the sacrifice. Of course they are not lost, thrown away, for they have, with hardly an exception, so discharged their duties as to have fulfilled the hopes of their families and their country, leaving bright examples, if no heirs begotten of the body.
It is maddening, then, to read some of the English denunciations of our army, to learn that these young heroes are the scum of the earth.
. . . The whole population of New England and of the North are more sternly resolved every day, in spite of love of life and consequent affliction, to prosecute the war till slavery is extinguished, undismayed by increasing taxes and enormous contributions to Sanitary Commissions, Soldiers' Funds of a hundred varieties, undiscouraged by the repeated failure of our generals . . . And our hour of victory seems to have arrived — Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Gettysburg have been followed this week by Knoxville, which cuts the railroad from West to East, and to-day Morris Island, which assures us Charleston; and our news from Tennessee and North Carolina assures us of two more free states ; and every southern journal confirms the stories of the great numbers of dissensions and defections throughout the South. . .
England, from selfish stupidity, has lost her best friend and ally, from aristocratic outweighing moral and intellectual sympathies — her present commercial loves blinding her to future gains — has repudiated her anti-slavery philanthropy, with which she deluged us for so many years, has feebly kept her international faith, and has so equally disgusted North and South, not by her neutrality, but by her selfishness . . .
You know well the Shaws, and perhaps you know what a lovely, manly, modest young soldier Bob Shaw was. I spent an hour with him on board the steamer — the hour before he sailed. I was the last to shake hands with him, and I carried his farewell to his mother. His ready acceptance of a command so questionable in the eyes of many, with all its additional dangers, the simplicity of his manner, his unconscious heroism, his almost immediate death, — all combined to wring the heart more than the loss of others who fall in the common course of their career.Fanny replied:
My dear Harry Lee — by which friendly and affectionate title I address you,
the rather that I have forgotten your present military dignity and think the above will always designate you most pleasantly to your friends. I have to thank you for a most interesting letter, as painful, alas, as it is interesting, containing a sad catalogue of names associated to me with pleasant friendly memories, and which henceforward will call up heroic and pathetic memories of your great national agony whenever I hear their sound.
Fanny Kemble in middle age
You are right, my dear Sir, in saying that I love and honor Massachusetts, and hold, as I have ever held, the New England States to be the very pith and marrow, heart and brain of the great empire of which they form a part. I need not tell you that I have followed with my fervent prayers every turn of the momentous struggle in which your country is now engaged; and tho' the price of precious life at which your national regeneration is being bought has wrung my heart with the deepest sympathy, I have believed the costly sacrifice to betoken the inestimable value of what it is to win for you; nor am I alone among English people in so thinking and feeling.
Therefore, I feel grieved and troubled that men like yourself should speak of England as you do. The people of England have never for an instant gone with the wrong side of your national quarrel; the government of England has acted, in my opinion, with the utmost fairness and consistency towards you. A portion of our press, especially the ablest paper we have, — The Times — have done the devil's service to the best of their ability in the matter, and our aristocracy has done according to the natural law of its existence, and sympathised with those whose social status it could best comprehend. Nor must you forget that in the conduct of the war and in such political action as the pseudo government of the South has exercised, great bravery and great ability have been shown, courage and capacity worthy of the best cause. I, who abhor their cause, have admired their conduct of it, and for persons as ignorant as the mass of upper-class English people are of everything concerning your country and her present tribulations, you should not wonder that there has been an utter confusion of the motives of the struggle.
Do not, I entreat you, add one grain of bitterness to the ill will which mutual ignorance alone can prolong between Englishmen and Americans, and above all, do not make it appear that the latter allow the contemptuous ignorance and indifference of a mere caste to outweigh the zeal and honest sympathy of the nation . . . . Meantime God bless your cause and give you in the regeneration of your noble country the only adequate compensation for all your losses and all your griefs.
|Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation|
It was not, however, until after the War of Secession broke out, while residing in England, and hearing daily and hourly the condition of the slaves discussed, in a spirit of entire sympathy with their owners, that nothing but the most absolute ignorance could excuse, that I determined to publish my record of my own observations on a Southern plantation. At the time of my doing so, party feeling on the subject of the American war was extremely violent in England, and the people among whom I lived were all Southern sympathizers. I believe I was suspected of being employed to "advocate" the Northern cause (an honor of which I was as little worthy as their cause was in need of such an advocate); and my friend, Lady ——, told me she had repeatedly heard it asserted that my journal was not a genuine record of my own experiences and observation, but "cooked up" (to use the expression applied to it) to serve the purpose of party special pleading. This, as she said, she was able to contradict upon her own authority, having heard me read the manuscripts many years before at her grandmother's, Lady Dacre's. . .
The republication of this book in America had not been contemplated by me; my purpose and my desire being to make the facts it contained known in England. In the United States, by the year 1862, abundant miserable testimony of the same nature needed no confirmation of mine. My friend, Mr. John Forbes, of Boston, however, requested me to let him have it republished in America, and I very gladly consented to do so.
|Advertisement for Fanny's book|
Fanny and Fan were in London when the Confederacy surrendered in April 1865; they returned to the United States as soon as they could.
|Edward Morris Davis|
Dr. Wister was here this morning & mentioned that Pierce Butler is living at the smaller of the two houses on his estate up the York Road near Branchtown. The house stands very near the road. The windows were not bowed because of Mr. Lincoln's death. He is known to sympathize with the South, but he is also known to be very quiet on the subject, even in private conversation. A number of laboring men, a few days ago, determined to attack his house. Mr. Morris Davis, a noted abolitionist who lives in the neighborhood, happened to hear of it. He went among them & had influence enough to keep them quietFollowing the war, Pierce Butler returned to the Georgia plantations with his daughter Fan. He found former slaves living there and arranged that they would work for him as share-croppers. Fan would later publish her account of her time on the plantation:
On March 22, 1866, my father and myself left the North. The Southern railroads were many of them destroyed for miles, not having been rebuilt since the war, and it was very questionable how we were to get as far as Savannah, a matter we did accomplish however, in a week's time, after the following adventures, of which I find an account in my letters written at the time.
April 12, 1866. Dearest Sarah, I have relapsed into barbarism total! How I do wish you could see me; you would be so disgusted. Well, I know now what the necessaries of life mean, and am surprised to find how few they are, and how many things we consider absolutely necessary which are really luxuries.
When I wrote last I was waiting in Savannah for the arrival of some things the overseer had taken from the Island, which I wished to look over before I made any further purchases for the house. When they came, however, they looked more like the possessions of an Irish emigrant than anything else; the house linen fortunately was in pretty good order, but the rest I fancy had furnished the overseer's house in the country ever since the war; the silver never reappeared. So I began my purchases with twelve common wooden chairs, four washstands, four bedsteads, four large tubs, two bureaux, two large tables and four smaller ones, some china, and one common lounge, my one luxury - and this finished the list. Thus supplied, my maid and I started last Saturday morning for the Island; halfway down we stuck fast on a sand-bar in the river, where we remained six hours, very hot and devoured by sand-flies, till the tide came in again and floated us off, which pleasant little episode brought us to Darien at 1 A.M.
My father was there, however, to meet us with our own boat, and as it was bright moonlight we got off with all our things, and were rowed across to the island by four of our old negroes.
I wish I could give you any idea of the house. The floors were bare, of course, many of the panes were out of the windows, and the plaster in many places was off the walls, while one table and two old chairs constituted the furniture. It was pretty desolate, and my father looked at me in some anxiety to see how it would affect me, and seemed greatly relieved when I burst out laughing. My bed was soon unpacked and made, my tub filled, my basin and pitcher mounted on a barrel, and I settled for the rest of the night.
The next morning I and my little German maid, who fortunately takes everything very cheerily, went to work, and together we made things quite comfortable; unpacked our tables and chairs, put up some curtains (made out of some white muslin I had brought down for petticoats) edged with pink calico, covered the tables with two bright-coloured covers I found in the trunk of house linen, had the windows mended, hung up my picture of General Lee (which had been sent to me the day before I left Philadelphia) over the mantelpiece, and put my writing things and nicknacks on the table, so that when my father and Mr. J - came in they looked round in perfect astonishment, and quite rewarded me by their praise.
Our kitchen arrangements would amuse you. I have one large pot, one frying-pan, one tin saucepan, and this is all; and yet you would be astonished to see how much our cook accomplishes with these three utensils, and the things don't taste very much alike. Yesterday one of the negroes shot and gave me a magnificent wild turkey, which we roasted on one stick set up between two others before the fire, and capital it was. The broiling is done on two old pieces of iron laid over the ashes. Our food consists of corn and rice bread, rice, and fish caught fresh every morning out of the river, oysters, turtle soup, and occasionally a wild turkey or duck. Other meat, as yet, it is impossible to get.
Is it not all strange and funny? I feel like Robinson Crusoe with three hundred men Fridays. Then my desert really blooms like the rose. On the acre of ground enclosed about the house are a superb magnolia tree, covered with its queenly flowers, roses running wild in every direction; orange, fig, and peach trees now in blossom, give promise of fruit later on, while every tree and bush is alive with red-birds, mocking-birds, blackbirds, and jays, so as I sit on the piazza the air comes to me laden with sweet smells and sweet sounds of all descriptions.
There are some drawbacks; fleas, sandflies, and mosquitoes remind us that we are not quite in Heaven, and I agree with my laundry woman, Phillis, who upon my maid's remonstrating with her for taking all day to wash a few towels, replied, 'Dat's true, Miss Louisa, but de fleas jist have no principle, and day bites me so all de time, I jist have to stop to scratch.'
The negroes seem perfectly happy at getting back to the old place and having us there, and I have been deeply touched by many instances of devotion on their part. On Sunday morning, after their church, having nothing to do, they all came to see me, and I must have shaken hands with nearly four hundred. They were full of their troubles and sufferings up the country during the war, and the invariable winding up was, 'Tank the Lord, missus, we's back, and sees you and massa again.' I said to about twenty strong men, 'Well, you know you are free and your own masters now,' when they broke out with, 'No, missus, we belong to you; we be yours as long as we lib.'
Nearly all who have lived through the terrible suffering of these past four years have come back, as well as many of those who were sold seven years ago. Their good character was so well known throughout the State that people were very anxious to hire them and induce them to remain in the 'up country,' and told them all sorts of stories to keep them, among others that my father was dead, but all in vain. One old man said, 'If massa be dead den, I'll go back to the old place and mourn for him.' So they not only refused good wages, but in many cases spent all they had to get back, a fact that speaks louder than words as to their feeling for their old master and former treatment.
Our overseer, who was responsible for all our property, has little or nothing to give us back, while everything that was left in charge of the negroes has been taken care of and given back to us without the hope or wish of reward. One old man has guarded the stock so well from both Southern and Northern marauders, that he has now ninety odd sheep and thirty cows under his care. Unfortunately they are on a pine tract some twelve miles away up the river, and as we have no means of transporting them we cannot get them until next year.
One old couple came up yesterday from St. Simon's, Uncle John and Mum Peggy, with five dollars in silver half-dollars tied up in a bag, which they said a Yankee captain had given them the second year of the war for some chickens, and this money these two old people had kept through all their want and suffering for three years because it had been paid for fowls belonging to us. I wonder whether white servants would be so faithful or honest! My father was much moved at this act of faithfulness, and intends to have something made out of the silver to commemorate the event, having returned them the same amount in other money.
One of the great difficulties of this new state of things is, what is to be done with the old people who are too old, and the children who are too young, to work? One Northern General said to a planter, in answer to this question, 'Well, I suppose they must die,' which, indeed, seems the only thing for them to do. To-day Mr. J - tells me my father has agreed to support the children for three years, and the old people till they die, that is, feed and clothe them. Fortunately, as we have some property at the North we are able to do this, but most of the planters are utterly ruined and have no money to buy food for their own families, so on their plantations I do not see what else is to become of the negroes who cannot work except to die.
Hampton Point: July 9, 1866.
Dearest Sarah, I did not expect to write to you again from my desert island. Aber ich bin als noch hier, rapidly approaching the pulpy gelatinous state. Three times have I settled upon a day for leaving, and three times have I put it off; the truth is, I am very busy, very useful, and very happy.
Then I am anxious about leaving my father, for fear the unusual exposure to this Southern sun may make him ill; and with no doctor, no nurse, no medicine, and no proper food nearer than Savannah, it would be a serious thing to be ill here.
I am just learning to be an experienced cook and doctress, for the negroes come to me with every sort of complaint to be treated, and I prescribe for all, pills and poultices being my favourite remedies. I was rather nervous about it at first, but have grown bolder since I find what good results always follow my doses. Faith certainly has a great deal to do with it, and that is unbounded on the part of my patients, who would swallow a red-hot poker if I ordered it.
The other day an old woman of over eighty came for a dose, so I prescribed a small one of castor oil, which pleased her so much she returned the next day to have it repeated, and again a third time, on which I remonstrated and said, 'No, Mum Charlotte, you are too old to be dosing yourself so.' To which she replied, 'Den, dear missus, do give me some for put on outside, for ain't you me mudder?'
We are living directly on the Point, in the house formerly occupied by the overseer, a much pleasanter and prettier situation, I think, than the Hill House, in which you lived when you were here. Of course it is all very rough and overgrown now, but with the pretty water view across which you look to the wide stretch of broad green salt marsh, which at sunset turns the most wonderful gold bronze colour, and the magnolia, orange, and superb live oak trees around and near the house, it might, by a little judicious clearing and pruning, be made quite lovely, and if I am here next winter, as I suppose I shall be, I shall try my hand at a little landscape-gardening. The fishing is grand, and we have fresh fish for breakfast, dinner, and tea. Our fisherman, one of our old slaves, is a great character, and quite as enthusiastic about fishing as I am. I have been out once or twice with him, but not for deep-sea fishing yet, which however I hope to do soon, as he brings in the most magnificent bass, and blue fish weighing twenty and thirty pounds. The other day when we were out it began to thunder, and he said, 'Dere missus, go home. No use to fish more. De fish mind de voice of de Lord better den we poor mortals, and when it sunders dey go right down to de bottom of de sea.'
. . . I have been very fortunate in my weather, for although the days are terribly hot, there is always a pleasant sea-breeze, and the evenings and nights are delightfully cool. In fact I have suffered much less from the heat here than I usually do near Philadelphia in summer. The great trouble is that I cannot walk at all on account of the snakes, of which I live in terror. The daytime is too hot for them, and they take their walks abroad in the cool of the evening. . . Last evening I was sauntering up the road, when about a quarter of a mile from the house I saw something moving very slowly across the path. At first I thought it was a cat, crouching as they do just before they spring, but in a moment more I saw it was a huge rattlesnake, as large round as my arm and quite six feet long. Two little birds were hovering over him, fluttering lower and lower every moment, fascinated by his evil eye and forked tongue which kept darting
in and out. He was much too busy to notice me, so after looking at him for one moment I flew back to the house, shrieking with all my might, 'Pierce! John! Alex! William!' Hearing my voice they all rushed out, and, armed with sticks, axes, and spades, we proceeded to look for the monster, who however had crawled into the thick bushes when we had reached the spot, and although we could hear him rattle violently when we struck the bushes, the negroes could not see him, and were afraid to go into the thick undergrowth after him, so he still lives to walk abroad, and I - to stay at home.
Mr. James Hamilton Cooper died last week, and was buried at the little church on the island here yesterday. The whole thing was sad in the extreme, and a fit illustration of this people and country. Three years ago he was smitten with paralysis, the result of grief at the loss of his son, loss of his property, and the ruin of all his hopes and prospects; since which his life has been one
of great suffering, until a few days ago, when death released him. Hearing from his son of his death, and the time fixed for his funeral, my father and I drove down in the old mule cart, our only conveyance, nine miles to the church. Here a most terrible scene of desolation met us. The steps of the church were broken down, so we had to walk up a plank to get in; the roof was fallen in, so that the sun streamed down on our heads; while the seats were all cut up and marked with the names of Northern soldiers, who had been quartered there during the war. The graveyard was so overgrown with weeds and bushes, and tangled with cobweb like grey moss, that we had difficulty in making our way through to the freshly dug grave. In about half an hour the funeral party arrived. The coffin was in a cart drawn by one miserable horse, and was followed by the Cooper family on foot, having come this way from the landing, two miles off. From the cart to the grave the coffin was carried by four old family negroes, faithful to the end.
Standing there I said to myself, 'Some day justice will be done, and the Truth shall be heard above the political din of slander and lies, and the Northern people shall see things as they are, and not through the dark veil of envy, hatred, and malice.' Good-bye. I sail on the 21st for the North.
St. Simon's Island: June 23, 1867.
Dearest Sarah , We are, I am afraid, going to have terrible trouble by-and-by with the negroes, and I see nothing but gloomy prospects for us ahead. The unlimited power that the war has put into the hands of the present Government at Washington seems to have turned the heads of the party now in office, and they don't know where to stop. The whole South is settled and quiet, and the people too ruined and crushed to do anything against the Government, even if they felt so inclined, and all are returning to their former peaceful pursuits, trying to rebuild their fortunes, and thinking of nothing else. Yet the treatment we receive from the Government becomes more and more severe every day, the last act being to divide the whole South into five military districts, putting each under the command of a United States General, doing away with all civil courts and law. Even D - , who you know is a Northern republican, says it is most unjustifiable, not being in any way authorised by the existing state of things, which he confesses he finds very different from what he expected before he came. If they would frankly say they intend to keep us down, it would be fairer than making a presence of readmitting us to equal rights, and then trumping up stories of violence to give a show of justice to treating us as the conquered foes of the most despotic Government on earth, and by exciting the negroes to every kind of insolent lawlessness, to goad the people into acts of rebellion and resistance.
. . . The question of negro voting was introduced and passed in Congress as an amendment to the constitution, but in order to become a law a majority of two-thirds of the State Legislatures must ratify it, and so to them it was submitted, and rejected by all the Northern States with two exceptions, where the number of negro voters would be so small as to be harmless. Our Legislatures are not allowed to meet, but this law, which the North has rejected, is to be forced upon us, whose very heart it pierces and prosperity it kills.
Meanwhile, in order to prepare the negroes to vote properly, stump speakers from the North are going all through the South, holding political meetings for the negroes saying things like this to them: 'My friends, you will have your rights, won't you?' ('Yes,' from the negroes.) 'Shall I not go back to Massachusetts and tell your brothers there that you are going to ride in the street cars with white ladies if you please?' ('Yes, yes,' from the crowd.) 'That if you pay your money to go to the theatre you will sit where you please, in the best boxes if you like?' ('Yes,' and applause.) This I copy verbatim from a speech made at Richmond the other day, since which there have been two serious negro riots there, and the General commanding had to call out the military to suppress them.
. . . Do you wonder we are frightened? . . Forced to work, they improve and are useful; left to themselves they become idle and useless, and never improve. Hard ethnological facts for the abolitionists to swallow, but facts nevertheless.
It seems foolish to fill my letter to you with such matters, but all this comes home to us with such vital force that it is hard to write, or speak, or think of anything else, and the one subject that Southerners discuss whenever they meet is, 'What is to become of us?'
In August of 1867 my father died, and as soon after as I was able I went down to the South to carry on his work, and to look after the negroes, who loved him so dearly and to whom he was so much attached. My brother-in-law went with me, and we reached Butler's Island in November. The people were indeed like sheep without a shepherd, and seemed dazed.
|Liverpool Hazzard, |
photographed in the 20th century
A man of strongly marked character with some good qualities and many faults. He led a very unsatisfactory life & threw away great advantages. He was handsome, clever, most gentlemanlike in his manners, but uneducated, obstinate, prejudiced & passionate.After Pierce’s death in 1867, Fanny lived at the Butler Place farm. In 1869 she wrote in a letter to a friend:
Philapdelphia. January 26, 1869. I had a letter from Fan to-day from the plantation, written in rather a depressed state of spirits. The old leaven of personal attachment which survived for a short while among the negroes after their emancipation, or perhaps the natural timidity of absolute ignorance which possessed and paralyzed them at first, is rapidly passing away, and they are asserting their natural and divine right to cultivate happiness ( that is, idleness) instead of cotton and rice at any price, and Fan, who overestimated the strentgth of their old superstitions, is beginning to despond very much. For my part, the result seems to me the only one to have been rationally expected, and I have no hope whatever that as long as one man, once a planter, and one man, once a slave, survives, any successful cultivation of the southern estates be achieved. . . . It is unlucky, no doubt, for the present holders of southern property, but then the world has laws, and I do not know that the planters of the southern states were sufficiently meritorious folks to have earned a mircles, especially a very immoral one for their heirs.In Major Butler's Legacy, Malcolm Bell writes that:
In early 1870 there appeared in Darien a young English cleric Frances Butler
had met in New York the year before. He was the Reverend James Wentworth Leigh, known to friends as "Jimbo," a name acquired at Cambridge from having performed in blackface as "Jimboli" in a school minstrel show. He was there with others from England and Philadelphia at Frances's invitation. . . . He described his first impression of Frances . . . "Here a fair queen resided amongst her sable subjects and entertained strangers with royal grace. Her name was Miss Fanny Butler, daughter of Mrs. Fanny Kemble, who married a Southern Planter." . . .
James Wentworth Leigh
The Reverend Mr. Leigh was a popular fellow, athletic and social, with a devotion to sports, theatricals, and conviviality. He was said to have had but little interest in intellectual matters and, his profession notwithstanding, had no "special bent for preaching or for the welfare of other people's souls." He was cheerful, but lacked humor . . .Frances Butler married James Leigh in June 1871 in England.
In the autumn of 1872 Fanny went with the Wister family to Rome for vacation. During a
Portrait by John Singer Sargent
Mrs. Kemble told me last evening the history of her brother Henry's engagement to Miss T. Henry Kemble was a young ensign in a marching regiment, very handsome (“beautiful”) said Mrs K., but very luxurious and selfish, and without a penny to his name. Miss T. was a dull, plain, common-place girl, only daughter of the Master of King’s Coll., Cambridge, who had a handsome private fortune (£ 4000 a year). She was very much in love with H.K., and was of that slow, sober, dutiful nature that an impression once made upon her, was made for ever. Her father disapproved strongly (and justly) of the engagement and informed her that if she married young K. he would not leave her a penny of his money. It was only in her money that H. was interested; he wanted a rich wife who would enable him to live at his ease and pursue his pleasures. Miss T. was in much tribulation and she asked Mrs K. what she would advise her to do— Henry K. having taken the ground that if she would hold on and marry him the old Doctor would after a while relent and they should get the money. (It was in this belief that he was holding on to her.) Mrs K. advised the young girl by no means to marry her brother. “If your father does relent and you are well off, he will make you a kindly enough husband, so long as all goes well. But if he should not, and you were to be poor, your lot would be miserable. Then my brother would be a very uncomfortable companion— then he would visit upon you his disappointment and discontent.”
Good Friday,April 3, 1874.
My Dearest Harriet, The plantation is not doing well; the difficulty of obtaining steady labor–such as the raising of any crops, but more than any other rice crops, demand–is becoming so great, as to make it almost doubtful whether the proprietors of such estates must not give up the attempt altogether. The negroes are gradually leaving the estates, buying morsels of land for themselves, where they knock up miserable shanties, and do a day's work or a job here and there and now and then, but entirely decline the settled working by contract for the whole agricultural season, which they have accepted for the last year or two since the war.
One of the planters in the neighborhood of Butler's Island is employing Chinese laborers, and Fan writes thus about them:
"Mr. B— has brought his Chinamen over to thresh out some seed rice at our mill, and I went down to see them yesterday. They certainly are not a pretty race, and, to me, are far more repulsive than the negroes; they have such low, cunning, ignoble countenances. Nevertheless, I should not be sorry to see about a hundred of them on this place, working, for work they will, and do."Frances gave birth to a daughter, Alice Leigh, in 1874. She later gave birth to two sons who died in infancy; each was named Pierce Butler Leigh. The Leighs tried to operate the plantations with free labor, but were unable to make a profit. Leaving Georgia in 1877, they moved permanently to England.
Fanny wrote in her memoirs:
In 1874, when the Civil War had washed out slavery with the blood of free men, the prejudice engendered by it governed them still to the following degree. Going to the theater in Philadelphia one night, I desired my servant, a perfectly respectable and decorous colored man, to go into the house and see the performance. This, however, he did not succeed in doing, being informed at all the entrance doors that persons of color were not admitted to any part of the theater. At this same time, more than half the State legislature of South Carolina were blacks. Moreover, at this same time, colored children were not received into the public schools of Philadelphia, though colored citizens were eligible, and in some cases acted as members of the board of management of these very schools. I talked of this outrageous inconsistent prejudice with some of my friends; among others, the editor of a popular paper. They were all loud in their condemnation of the state of things, but strongly of opinion that to move at all in the matter would be highly inopportune and injudicious. Time, they said, would settle all these questions; and, without doubt, it will. Charles Sumner, who thought Time could afford to have his elbow jogged about them, had just gone to his grave, leaving, unfortunately, incomplete his bill of rights in behalf of the colored citizens of the United States. My servant was a citizen of the United States, having a vote, when he was turned from the theater door as a person of color; and negroes had been elected as Members of Congress at that very time. Strangely enough, Philadelphia, once the seat of enthusiastic and self-devoted Quaker abolitionism, the home of that noble and admirable woman, Lucretia Mott, who stood heroically in its vanguard, is now one of the strongholds of the most illiberal prejudice against the blacks.
Philadelphia. February 14, 1874. My Beloved Harriet, I have only come as far as 1832 in my Memoirs . . . I have no mental vigour, and not physical energy left. Looking over my letters, and copying portions of them, affords me a certain amount of quiet amusement and occupation daily. Letters which could have revived any distressing associations were all destroyed when first I received the box containing my whole correspondence with you . . . I still find details that sadden me . . .
Philadelphia. March 9, 1874. My Dearest Harriet, I have never been able to believe in any return of prosperity for any part of the southern country till the whole generation of former planters and slaves had died out. There must be almost a new heaven and a new earth throughout the whole of that land before it can recover from the leprosy in which it has been steeped for nearly a hundred years. Its moral, social, and political condition is now one of such corruption that decay and dissolution must, I believe, do their utmost work of destruction before the first vital breath of resurrection or renewed life can stir there. Of course, I hoped, but never quite believed, in the success of the first experiment of freedom, thought all my instinctive and rational faith in God's laws and government was against such expectation.
|Nellie Grant and Algernon Sartoris|
Poor little Nellie Grant sits speechless on the sofa, understanding neither head nor tail of such high discourse and exciting one’s compassion for her incongruous lot in life. She is as sweet and amiable (and almost as pretty) as she is uncultivated.
She is illiterate, lovely, painted, pathetic, and separated from a drunken idiot of a husband. The Sartorises don't like her much, but they like her more, I suppose, than they do their disreputable "Algie." Whenever I see her there is something rather touching and tragic . .In 1877, Fanny Kemble left the United States for the last time, returning to England to be near Frances Leigh and her family. During this period, she was a prominent and popular figure in London society. She published additional memoirs: Records of a Girlhood (1878); Records of Later Life (1882); Far Away and Long Ago (1889); and Further Records (1891). She also published Notes on Some of Shakespeare's Plays (1882).
In Records of a Girlhood, she wrote:
A few years ago I received from a friend to whom they had been addressed a collection of my own letters, written during a period of forty years, and amounting to thousands—a history of my life.
The passion for universal history (i.e. any and every body's story) nowadays seems to render any thing in the shape of personal recollections good enough to be printed and read; and as the public appetite for gossip appears to be insatiable, and is not unlikely some time or other to be gratified at my expense, I have thought that my own gossip about myself may be as acceptable to it as gossip about me written by another.
I have come to the garrulous time of life—to the remembering days, which only by a little precede the forgetting ones. I have much leisure, and feel sure that it will amuse me to write my own reminiscences; perhaps reading them may amuse others who have no more to do than I have. To the idle, then, I offer these lightest of leaves gathered in the idle end of autumn days, which have succeeded years of labor often severe and sad enough, though its ostensible purpose was only that of affording recreation to the public.Records of Later Life, covering the years of her troubled marriage, her separation from Butler and their two daughters and return to the London stage, and her eventual divorce, was not published until 1881, 14 years after Butler's death, and led to a break between Kemble and her younger daughter, Fan. Fan protested:
You have said over and over again that you thought people most unjustified in writing personal reminiscences of others which would be painful to their relations and friends. .. Does being their mother give you the right to wound and distress them? . . . I have never lost in the least degree the feeling of bitterness I have always felt about the publication of your first southern book. . . . Nothing would ever induce me to have it in the house.In 1883, Fan published her own book, Ten Years on a Georgian Plantation Since the
War, describing her life and observations while living on the Georgia plantation. It was prefaced by a long poem titled Brothers Again, written by her nephew, Owen "Dan" Wister.
The year after the war between the North and the South, I went to the South with my father to look after our property in Georgia and see what could be done with it. The whole country had of course undergone a complete revolution. The changes that a four years' war must bring about in any country would alone have been enough to give a different aspect to everything; but at the South, besides the changes brought about by the war, our slaves had been freed; the white population was conquered, ruined, and disheartened, unable for the moment to see anything but ruin before as well as behind, too wedded to the fancied prosperity of the old system to believe in any possible success under the new. And even had the people desired to begin at once to rebuild their fortunes, it would have been in most cases impossible, for in many families the young men had perished in the war, and the old men, if not too old for the labour and effort it required to set the machinery of peace going again, were beggared, and had not even money enough to buy food for themselves and their families, let alone their negroes, to whom they now had to pay wages as well as feed them.
Besides this, the South was still treated as a conquered country. The white people were disfranchised, the local government in the hands of either military men or Northern adventurers, the latter of whom, with no desire to promote either the good of the country or people, but only to advance their own private ends, encouraged the negroes in all their foolish and extravagant ideas of freedom, set them against their old masters, filled their minds with false hopes, and pandered to their worst passions, in order to secure for themselves some political office which they hoped to obtain through the negro vote.
Into this state of things we came from the North, and I was often asked at the time, and have been since, to write some account of my own personal experience of the condition of the South immediately after the war, and during the following five years. But I never felt inclined to do so until now, when, in reading over a quantity of old letters written at the time, I find so much in them that is interesting, illustrative of the times and people, that I have determined to copy some of my accounts and descriptions, which may interest some persons now, and my children hereafter.
Soon everything will be so changed, and the old traits of the negro slave have so entirely vanished, as to make stories about them sound like tales of a lost race; and also because even now, so little is really known of the state of things politically at the South.
. . . Dear old Uncle John came up to me, and taking my hands in his, said, 'God bless you, missus, my dear missus.' My father, who was standing near, put his arm round the old man's shoulders, and said, 'You have seen five generations of us now, John, haven't you?' 'Yes, massa,' said John, 'Miss Sarah's little boy be de fifth; bless de Lord.' Both Major D - and Mr. G - spoke of this afterwards, saying 'How fond your father is of the people.' 'Yes,' said I, 'this is a relationship
you Northern people can't understand, and will soon destroy.' . . .
I felt sure then, and still think, the pure negro incapable of advancement to any degree that would enable him to cope with the white race intellectually, morally, or even physically.
My white maid took infinite pains to show them the best, quickest, as well as simplest way of doing the house-work, absolutely taking their breath away by the way she worked herself, but without much effect, as the instant her back was turned they went back to their old lazy, slipshod ways of doing things. Her efforts to make them tidy in their dress were very amusing, and one morning, finding my young housemaid working with her sunbonnet on, I said, 'Why do you keep your bonnet on, Christine?' Upon which, without any reply, she pulled the said bonnet down over her eyes, and my maid informed me she had come to work in the morning without brushing her hair, so for punishment had to wear her sun-bonnet. The women showed a strong inclination to give up wearing their pretty, picturesque head handkerchiefs, 'because white people didn't,' but I was very strict about the house servants never coming without one on, for their black woolly heads did look too ugly without their usual covering, which in itself was so handsome, and gave them so much style, and in some cases beauty. . . .
Among other subjects connected with our rice plantations was one which interested us all very much at that time - the question of introducing Chinese labour on our plantations in the place of negro labour, which just then seemed to have become hopelessly unmanageable.
There seemed to be a general move in this direction all through the Southern States, and I have no doubt was only prevented by the want of means of the planters, which, as far as I personally am concerned, I am glad was the case. Just then, however, we were all very keen about it, and it sounded very easy, the Pacific Railway having opened a way for them to reach us. One agent actually came for orders, and I, with the others, engaged some seventy to try the experiment with, first on General's Island. I confess I felt a little nervous about the result, but agreed with my neighbours in not being willing to see half my property uncultivated and going to ruin for want of labour. It was not only that negro labour could no longer be depended upon, but they seemed to be dying out so fast, that soon there would be but few left to work.
This new labour would of course have sealed their doom, and in a few years none would have been left. I wrote about it at the time: -
"Poor people! it seems impossible to arouse them to any good ambition, their one idea and desire being - not to work. Their newspaper in Charlestown, edited by a negro, published an article the other day on the prospect, and said it would be the best thing that could happen to the negroes if the Chinese did come, as then they too could get them as servants, and no longer have to work even for themselves. I confess I am utterly unable to understand them, and what God's will is concerning them, unless He intended they should be slaves. This may shock you; but why in their own country have they no past history, no monuments, no literature, never advance or improve, and here, now that they are free, are going steadily backwards, morally, intellectually, and physically. I see it on my own place, where, in spite of school and ministers, and every inducement offered them to improve their condition, they are steadily going downwards, working less and worse every year, until, from having come to them with my heart full of affection and pity for them, I am fast growing weary and disgusted."
. . . Having just returned from another visit to the South, after an absence of six years, I cannot refrain from adding a few words with regard to the condition of the negroes now and formerly, and their own manner of speaking of their condition as slaves.
The question whether slavery is or is not a moral wrong I do not wish or intend to discuss; but in urging the injustice of requiring labour from people to whom no wages were paid, which was formerly one of the charges brought against the masters, it seems strange that wages were always thought of as mere money payments, and the fact that the negroes were fed, clothed, and housed at their masters' expense was never taken into account as wages, although often taking more money out of the owner's pocket than if the ordinary labourers' wages had been paid in hard money.
Besides these items, a doctor's services were furnished, one being paid a certain yearly salary for visiting the plantation, three times a week I think it was, and of course all medicines were given to them free of charge. They were, besides, allowed to raise poultry to sell, and chickens, eggs, and the pretty baskets they used to make often brought the industrious ones in a nice little income of their own. At Christmas all the head men received a present of money, some being as high as ten pounds, and every deserving negro was similarly rewarded.
Her nephew, Algernon Sartoris, continued to trouble his family: The Sheboygan City News, in Wisconsin wrote in 1891:
Algernon Sartoris is very near his end somewhere in France, from delirium tremens, vulgarly know as snakes, also jim-jams. He owns much land in this state especially about Green Bay and some in this county ... Why the Genl. then President Grant, ever permitted it is a mystery. Not long before the wedding, Sartoris stopped at the Beekman House here for some weeks. The writers sat as his left at table. Taking him all in all, he was the blackest sheep we ever met ... The family home was one of the most beautiful in England, it is said. Algernon proved anything but a nice husband but the family did all they could for Nellie and the two or three children. For several years he has been at home very little..While living in a hotel in Europe in 1893, Algernon Sartoris died of pneumonia at age 42. When word reached the United States, newspapers reported the story of his death with no mercy for the man who had abused their favorite daughter. The St. Louis Republic wrote:
The death of Algernon Sartoris, the husband of Nellie Grant, at Capri, Italy, created no other feeling here than of complacency. Sartoris was one of the most unpopular men who ever came to this country, and he probably left more enemies when he returned to Europe than any foreigner before or since that time.Fanny Kemble lived the last years of her life in London with the Leigh family. When she died on January 15, 1893 at the age of 84, Fan Leigh was in the United States. Her longtime maid, Ellen Brianzoni, and granddaughter, Alice Leigh, were with her. Ellen wrote:
My dear mistress passed away peacefully on Sunday night as I was putting her to bed about half past eleven . . . She was tired of life and longed to go, even I cannot wish for her back, but oh, and it was so sudden, she could not have suffered.
I stood by your mother's grave this morning - a soft, kind, balmy day, wth your brother-in-law and tall pale handsome Alice, and a few of those of her friends who have survived her . . . The number is inevitably small - for of her generation she is the last . . . She was laid in the same earth as her father . . .
She went when she could, at last, without a pang. She was very touching in her infirmity all these last months--and yet with her wonderful air of smouldering embers under ashes, she leaves a great image--a great memory.Fanny's grandson, Dan Wister, later wrote:
In thinking over Aunt Adelaide, I'm struck with the difference between Pierce Butler & Edward Sartoris. Both those tremendous sisters must have been very hard to live with at times - but butler failed where Sartoris succeeded.
I was brought up to revere my Grandfather, He did indeed make both his daughters adore him; that's a cardinal point in his favor when it comes to the Day of Judgment.
Only since I have been past middle life have I gradually made out that on the whole he couldn't have been a good person, while Fanny Kemble, poor tempetous spirit, swinging restlessly between dark & light, was noble & magnanimous.
Butler was cold. Never forgave. That's the root of the trouble. Well. All dead & gone.
Molly’s life of service to the community and devotion to family was cut tragically short at the young age of 43. On the afternoon of August 24, 1913, Molly called her five children into her room at the family’s summer house in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, and told them that she was going to have a baby. According to Fanny, none of Molly’s children even knew that she was pregnant. That evening, Molly died from complications during the delivery of her sixth child, Sarah Butler Wister. Dan had to break the news to his children, most of whom were too young to fully understand what death means. Frances Kemble Wister later wrote:
"We all sat down on a big rock, and Dadda said, ‘I have a message for you from your mother. It is goodbye.’ In one voice, we all said, ‘Goodbye?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘she is dead. You have a little sister.’ Then he burst into sobs. We all howled, with tears streaming down our faces; it was minutes before we could speak"Dan Wister became a well-known writer; his most famous work, written under the name Own Wister, was the 1902 novel The Virginian. It is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel and was reprinted fourteen times in eight months. The book was dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt.
|Dr. Owen Jones Wister|
Your particular heroes, the Charleston aristocrats, offer as melancholy an example as I know of people whose whole life for generations has been warped by their own wilful perversity. . . . The South Carolina aristocrats, the Charleston aristocrats and their kinsfolk in the up-country (let me repeat that I am of their blood, that my ancestors before they came to Georgia were members of these very South Carolina families of whom you write) have never made good their pretensions.
They were no more to blame then the rest of the country for the colonial slave trade but when the rest of the country awoke they shut their eyes tight to the horrors, they insisted the slave trade be kept, and succeeded in keeping it open for 25 years after the Revolution and they went into succession, partly to re-open it.
They drank, and dueled and made speeches but they contributed very, very, little toward anything Americans are now proud of. . . . I think it was really an ignoble life.
South Carolina and Mississippi are very much alike. Their two great men of the deified past were Calhoun and Jefferson Davis and I confess I unable to see how any conscienceless financier of the present day is worse than these two slave owners who spent their years trying to feed their thirst for personal power by leading their followers to the destruction of the Union.
. . . Reconstruction was a mistake as it carried out, and there is very much to reprobate in in what was done by Sumner and Seward and their followers.
But the blame attached to them is nothing compared to the blame attaching to the Southerners for forty years preceding the Civil War and for the years immediately succeeding it.
There never was a war, so far as I know, where it can be honestly said that right was wholly on one side, and wrong wholly on the other.
Even the courage and prowess the South Carolina aristocrats was shown only at the expense of their country and only in an effort to tear in sunder their own flag.
. . . As for Reconstruction, they brought the punishment absolutely on themselves and are in my judgment not entitled to one particle of sympathy. The North blundered, but the blunders were in trying to do right in impossible circumstances, which the South had itself created, and which the South was solely responsible.
Sarah Butler Wister died in 1908 while living at the Butler Place farm in Pennsylvania where she had been born. Frances Butler Leigh died in England in 1910.
|Celia Davis in 1915|
Butler Place, consisting of 83 acres, was sold in 1916 for $800,000. In 1925, Butler Place was torn down to make room for 500 rowhouses.
Dan Wister was the last Butler descendant to inherit the plantations acquired by Major Butler. In 1920, he sold the plantations. In 1938 he died at his summer home in Rhode Island, the same home where his wife had died in 1913.
Fanny Kemble’s Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation was published in 1961 as part of the Civil War centennial commemoration. It remains in print today, and continues to be read in high schools and colleges by teachers and students of African-American history, women’s studies, and theater.
|Butler Island Plantation|
players there, among them Babe Ruth. A historical marker in front of the property reads:
In 1987, Malcolm Bell, Jr. published Major Butler's Legacy, the story of five generations of the family and the times they lived in. He acknowledged the valuable assistance of Frances Kemble Wister Stokes, a granddaughter of Sarah Butler Wister. Fanny Kember Wister edited Fanny, the American Kemble, from the journals of her great-grandmother. She was also the author of That I May Tell You, a history of her family.Pierce Butler and his daughter, Frances, who shared his interest in the South, returned to Butler Island in 1866 and worked to rehabilitate the plantations. Pierce died in 1867, but Frances continued for several years to manage the island acreage. She wrote a book Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation, an interesting and valuable account of life in this region during Reconstruction. Owen Wister, famous author of The Virginian, and other novels, was the son of Sarah Butler, sister of Frances. He often visited Butler Island Plantation.