Friday, July 18, 2014

American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses

Book: American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses
Author:  Weld, Theodore Dwight; Angelina Grimke and Sarah Grimke
Edition: eBook from the web site Documenting the American South
Read: July 2014

261 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

Written in 1839, it predates the Civil War by 20+ years. It lays out how slavery works, with its brutality. It was a tool to remove many of the Northern myths about the gentleness of Southern slavery. This was done through eye witness accounts, excerpting legal documents, newspaper articles, and advertisements.


The first thing which struck me about this book was how pedantic it is. There is nothing fancy with it. Weld and the Grimke sisters collected accounts from eye-witnesses, newspapers and legal proceedings. Then categorized them. So the results does not lend me to a natural interest.

But the result is a real eye opener.  As individual testimonies you can argue that this was an isolated incident. But when you look at the large number of accounts, spread over 20 years throughout the South-even the more northern South, the picture painted is one of depravity. Not only to the pain and suffering inflicted on the slaves but to the resulting loss of humanity to the citizens of the South.

Weld starts the book with a series of testimonials about the fierce and brutal treatment of the slaves. He starts with the whippings endured for the smallest infractions, being tied to a post or hung over a beam to be stretched while whipped. These were the mild treatments. He describes how one lady invented a torment where a person would be forced to stand on one leg-the other tied to her and a noose around her head for over an hour. There is more, lots more, but you get the idea.

Then there were the work houses which today would be more described as torture chambers. These would be places where a slave-owner could take a slave to and have them disciplined. In most cases the disciplining would include the torments above, but more severe.

The work hours would be from before sunrise to well after sunset. A slave would need to eat before going to the fields. They may be able to have a break or two in the fields before coming back to their hut. Any clothes or repairs or firewood which was needed got to be done during their "off" hours. This included sleeping. A slave owner would do a calculation on how much work vs feed vs time in the field could they get out of the slave before they would die. As long as he got his money's worth out of the slave, he was OK with slaves dying, even as much turn over as having to get a new slave every three or four years.

Slave families were not a consideration, only what money could a slave holder get for the slave. Consequently, children were orphaned regularly when a mother or father was sold. Pregnant women would be worked until almost they gave birth. A new mother would be given two weeks off before returning to the fields, with their new babies being layened by the side of the field. No special account was given to their needs.

Weld addressed the concerns that these were isolated cases or actions only committed by lower class people. But he showed how judges, mayors, governors and congressmen all took part. Religion or gender did not lessen the ferocity of the brutality. Nor did location-brutality was the norm even in the northern part of the South.

The legal system did not protect the slaves as the slaves had no rights.  Our dog has more protection against abuse and death than the slaves had. 

Blacks in the North were not safe either. Repeated stories of being snatched from a Northern town only to be a slave in the South were relayed. Even those who had papers and were free-born were not safe.  Justice in the South for a black was non-existent, so a black had no right to appeal to the law. Even when prominent Northerners vouched for the black, the black was not let go.

One of the more damning sections happens at the last. Weld talks about the effect of slavery on the slave holders. He shows that the amount of lawlessness in the South is highly out of proportion to what it is in comparative Northern states. But it is not only the amount, but the corruptness of the law in the South has suffered. While he does not say outright, but the inference is there, slavery degrades the owners as well as the slaves. It brings down the culture to own another person.

So is this book only an interesting piece of history? To me there was several take aways from it:
  • The book brought into sharp focus that slavery in America was not just a matter of not paying someone and denying their freedom. But it was cruel and barbaric, probably something along the scope of the Nazi's in Germany. The only thing was the Nazi's were organized while the South did not have that theme of common focus.
  • The question would be is slavery ever humane? I cannot answer that. In the Bible, the Jews had a system where slavery was not perpetual, and had limits, sort of like an indentured serverant. But I do not think the Jews ever put it into practice.
  • Is there systems in place today which are similar? I do not know of anything in America, except for an occasional sweat house. But there is slavery still practiced around the world.
  • Last, and maybe more personal, anytime which we wrong another, we also degrade ourselves. This is a biblical theme. It just is not really talked about. This may be the main effect of liberalism today. Not that I think that capitalism with its disregard for morals in its rush for money does better. We are consumed with wrong-doing. We will be reaping the effect of that soon.


A word of explanation on why I gave this a four stars. It is not a well written book. It is hard reading and very dated. But it is a book which causes one to sharpen their image of the American past, particularly pre-Civil War. It also makes one understand a bit more of some parts of the South today. This book was written in 1839 as an anti-slavery tact, 13 years before Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. It is said it was the most influential abolitionist book behind Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I found this book through a note from Susan Monk Kidd in her book The Invention of Wings. In Kidd's book she noted that the Angelina and Sarah Grimke were from her home town and she did not know about it. From there, she found an American Anti-Slavery Society tract called American Slavery: As It Is.  Having previously read Fredrick Douglas' autobiography earlier, I was wondering how this book matched up and how Kidd's book matched with American Slavery. If anything, Douglas' book is rather tame compared to Weld's account.

This is not light reading. As one person said, she could not rate the book because it is not entertainment reading. She is right, it was an indictment in 1839 about the whole slavery system. As such, it is 250+ pages of painful reading of one atrocity after another done to Negros both slaves and free.

I will say I had a tendency to skip some paragraphs as there is a lot of repetition of similar acts of torture. But this book was written to document how slavery had inflicted evil on the South. Not only on negros, but on white. The writings show that the people of the South considered the negros as sub-human. They would inflict punishments on them that not even their animals would have been subject to. Not only are the negros degraded, but so is the whole culture. This book indirectly shows how the whites resorted to a leve of brutality which we more associate with barbarians than the refined culture of the South.

As a book, it is repetitive. It relies on people's accounts rather than the authors narrative to get their points across. As a propaganda tool, an instructional instrument, it opened my eyes to how truly barbaric the treatment of slaves in the South was. This is a must read for anybody who wants to understand the nature of slavery. Warning, this is a very graphic book, even for our times.

Book References:
  • Picture of slavery in the United States, George Bourne

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: READER, you are empannelled as a juror to try a plain case and bring in an honest verdict.  
  • Last Line:  If, when in passion, they seize those who are on their own level, and dash them under their feet, with what a crushing vengeance will they leap upon those who are always under their feet? 
Table of Contents:
Twenty-seven hundred thousand free born citizens of the U. S. in slavery,
7: Tender mercies of slaveholders, 8: Abominations of slavery, 9: Character of the testimony, 9-10.
102; North Carolina slavery, 11; Methodist preaching slavedriver, Galloway, 12: Women at child-birth, 12: Slaves at labor, 12: Clothing of slaves, 13; Allowance of provisions, 13; Slave-fetters, 13; Cruelties to slaves, 13, 14, 15, Burying a slave alive, 15; Licentiousness of Slaveholders, 15, 16; Rev. Thomas P. Hunt, with his "hands tied," 16; Preachers cringe to slavery, 15; Nakedness of slaves, 16; Slave-huts, 16; Means of subsistence for slaves, 16, 17; Slaves' prayer, 17.
17; Labor of the slaves, 18; Tasks, 18; Whipping posts, 18; Food, 18 Houses, 19; Clothing, 19; Punishments, 19, 20; Scenes of horror, 20; Constables, savage and brutal, 20; Patrols, 20; Cruelties at night, 20, 21; Paddle-torturing, 20; Cat-hauling, 21; Branding with hot iron, 21; Murder with impunity, 21; Iron collars, yokes, clogs, and bells, 21.
NARRATIVE OF SARAH M. GRIMKE, 22; Barbarous Treatment of slaves, 22; Converted slave, 22; Professor of religion, near death, tortured his slave for visiting his companion, 33; Counterpart of James Williams' description of Larrimore's wife, 23; Head of runaway slave on a pole, 23; Governor of North Carolina left his sick slave to perish, 23; Cruelty to Women slaves, 34; Christian slave a martyr for Jesus, 24.
25; Twenty-seven slaves whipped, 26.
26; Harris whipped a girl to death, 26; Captain of the U. S. Navy murdered his boy, was tried and acquitted, 26; Overseer burnt a slave, 26; Cruelties to slaves, 26.
28-31; Suffering from hunger, 28; Rations in the U. S. Army, &c, 32; Prison rations, 33-34; Testimony, 34, 35. LABOR, 35; Slaves are overworked, 35; Witnesses, 35, 36; Henry Clay, 37; Child-bearing prevented, 37; Dr. Channing, 38; Sacrifice of a set of hands every seven years, 38; Testimony, 39: Laws of Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia, 39. CLOTHING, 40; Witnesses, 40, 41; Advertisements, 41; Testimony, 41; Field-hands, 41; Nudity of slaves, 42; John Randolph's legacy to Essex and Hetty, 42. DWELLINGS, 42; Witnesses, 43; Slaves are wretchedly sheltered and lodged, 43. TREATMENT OF THE SICK, 44.
45; Woman delivered of a dead chiid, being whipped, 46; Slaves shot by Hilton, 46; Cruelties to slaves, 46; Whipping post, 46; Assaults, and maimings, 46, 47; Murders, 47; Puryear, "the Devil," 47; Overseers always armed, 44; Licentiousness of Overseers, 47; "Bend your backs," 47; Mrs. H., a Presbyterian, desirous to cut Arthur Tappan's throat, 47; Clothing, Huts, and Herding of slaves, 47; Iron yokes with prongs, 47; Marriage unknown among slaves, 46; Presbyterian minister at Huntsville, 47; Concubinage in Preacher's house, 47; Slavery, the great wrong, 47.
48, 49; Slave's life, 48, 49.
49; Nakedness of slaves, 49; Traffic in slaves, 49.
50; Long, a professor of religion killed three men, 50; Salt water applied to wounds to keep them from putrefaction, 50.
50; Acts of cruelty, 50.
51; Woman with a child chained to her neck, 51; Amalgamation, and mulatto children, 51.
51; Rev. Conrad Speece influenced Alexander Nelson when dying not to emancipate his slaves, 52; George Bourne opposed slavery in 1810, 52.
52; House-servants, 52; Slave-driving female professors of religion at Charleston, S. C., 53; Whipping women and prayer in the same room, 53; Tread-mills, 53; Slaveholding religion, 54; Slave-driving mistress prayed for the divine blessing upon her whipping of an aged woman, 54; Girl killed with impunity, 54; Jewish law, 54; Barbarities, 54; Medical attendance upon slaves, 55; Young man beaten to epilepsy and insanity, 55; Mistresses flog their slaves, 55; Blood-bought luxuries, 55; Borrowing of slaves, 55; Meals of slaves, 55; All comfort of slaves disregarded, 56; Severance of companion lovers, 56; Separation of parents and children, 56; Slave espionage, 57; Sufferings of slaves, 57; Horrors of slavery indescribable, 56.
57; Colonization Society, 60; Emancipation Society of North Carolina, 60; Kentucky, 61.
62-72; Floggings, 62; Witnesses and Testimony, 62, 63.
69; Droves of slaves, 70.
70; Slaves like Stock without a shelter, 71; "Six pound paddle," 71.
TORTURES OF SLAVES. Iron collars, chains, fetters, and hand-cuffs,
72-76: Advertisements for fugitive slaves, 73: Testimony, 74, 75: Iron head-frame, 76: Chain coffles, 76; Droves of 'human cattle,' 76: Washington, the National slave market, 76: Testimony of James K. Paulding, Secretary of the Navy; Literary fraud and pretended prophecy by Mr. Paulding, 77. Brandings, Maimings, and Gun-shot wounds, 77: Witnesses and Testimony, 77-82: Mr. Sevier, senator of the U. S. 79: Judge Hitchcock, of Mobile, 79: Commendable fidelity to truth in the advertisements of slaveholders, 82: Thomas Aylethorpe cut off a slave's ear, and sent it to Lewis Tappan, 93: Advertisemants for runaway slaves with their teeth mutilated, 83, 84; Excessive cruelty to slaves, 85: Slaves burned alive, 86: Mr. Turner, a slave-butcher, 87: Slaves roasted and flogged, 87: Cruelties common, 88: Fugitive slaves, 88: Slaves forced to eat tobacco worms, 88: Baptist Christians escaping from slavery, 88; Christian whipped for praying, 88: James K. Paulding's testimony, 89: Slave driven to death, 89: Coroner's inquest on Harney's murdered female slave, 89: Man-stealing encouraged by law, 90: Trial for a murdered slave, 90: Female slave whipped to death, and during the torture delivered of a dead infant, 90: Slaves murdered, 90, 91, 92: Slave driven to death, 92: Slaves killed with impunity, 93: George, a slave, chopped piece-meal, and burnt by Lilburn Lewis, 92; Retributive justice in the awful death of Lilburn Lewis, 94: Trial of Isham Lewis, a slave murderer, 94.
94; Plantations, 94; Overscers, 95; No appeal from Overseers to Masters, 95.
95; Nudity of slaves  WORK, 95; Cotton-picking, 96; Mothers of slaves, 96; Presbyterian minister killed his slave, 96; Methodist colored preacher hung, 96; Licentiousness, 97; Slave-traffic, 97; Night in a Slaveholder's house, 97; Twelve slaves murdered, 97; Slave driving Baptist preachers, 97; Hunting of runaways slaves, 97; Amalgamation, 97. TESTIMONY OF REUBEN C. MACY, AND RICHARD MACY, 98. Whipping of slaves, 98, 99. Testimony of Eleazer Powel, 99; Overseer of Hinds Stuart, shot a slave for opposing the torture of his female companion, 100. TESTIMONY OF REV. WILLIAM SCALES, 100. Three slaves murdered with impunity, 100; Separation of lovers, parents, and children, 101.
TESTIMONY OF JOS. IDE, 101. Mrs. T. a Presbyterian kind woman-killer, 101; Female slave whipped to death, 101; Food, 101; Nakedness of slaves, 101; Old man flogged after praying for his tyrant, 101; Slave-huts not as comfortable as pig-sties, 101.
101. Texas, 102; Suit for the value of slave 'property,' 102; Anson Jones, Ambassador from Texas, 102; No trial or punishment for the murder of slaves, 102; Slave-hunting in Texas, 102; Suffering drives the slaves to despair and suicide, 102.
TESTIMONY OF PHIL'N BLISS, 102. Ignorance of northern citizens respecting slavery, 102, Betting upon crops, 103; Extent and cruelty of the punishment of slaves, 103; Slaveholders excuse their cruelties by the example of Preachers, and professors of religion, and Northern citizens, 104; Novel torture, eulogized by a professor of religion, 104; Whips as common as the plough, 104; Ladies use cowhides, with shovel and tongs, 104. TESTIMONY OF REV. WM. A. CHAPIN, 105. Slave-labor, 105; Starvation of slaves, 105; Slaves lacerated, without clothing, and without food, 105.
TESTIMONY OF T. M. MACY, 105. Cotton plantations on St. Simon's Island, 105; Cultivntion of rice, 106; No time for relaxation, 106; Sabbath a nominal rest, 106; Clothing, 106; Flogging, 106.
106. Slave cabins, 106; Food, 106; Whipping every day, 106; Treatment of slaves as brutes, 106; Slave-boys fight for slaveholder's amusement 107; Amalgamation common, 107.
TESTIMONY OF A CLERGYMAN, 107. Natchez, 107; 'Lie down," for whipping, 107; Slave-hunting, 108, 'Ball and chain' men, 108; Whipping at the same time, on three plantations, 108; Hours of Labor, 108; Christians slave- hunting, 108; Many runaway slaves annually shot, 108; Slaves in the stocks, 108; Slave-branding, 108. CONDITION OF SLAVES, 108. Slavery is unmixed cruelty, 108; Fear the only motive of slaves, 109; Pain is the means, not the end of slave-driving, 109; Characters of Slave drivers and Overseers, brutal, sensual, and violent, 109; Ownership of human beings utterly destroys their comfort, 109.
I. Such cruelties are incredible,
110. Slaves deemed to be working animals, or merchandize; and called 'Stock,' 'Increase,' 'Breeders,' 'Drivers,' 'Property,' 'Human cattle,' 110; Testimony of Thomas Jefferson, 110; Slaves worse treated than quadrupeds, 111, 112; Contrast between the usage of slaves and animals, 112; Testimony, 112; Northern incredulity discreditable to consistency, 112; Religious persecutions, 113; Recent 'Lynchings,' and Riots, in the United States, 113; Many outrageous Felonies perpetrated with impunity, 113; Large faith of the objectors who 'can't believe,' 114; 'Doe faces,' and 'Dough faces,' 114; Slave-drivers acknowledge their own enormities, 114; Slave plantations in Alabama. Louisiana, and Mississippi, second only to hell,' 114; Legislature of North Carolina, 115; Incredulity discreditable to intelligence, 115; Abuse of power in the state, and churches, 115; Legal restraints, 116; American slaveholders possess absolute power, 116; Slaves deprived of the safeguards of law, 116; Mutual aversion between the oppressor and the slave, 116; Cruelty the product of arbitrary power, 117; Testimony of Thomas Jefferson, 117; Judge Tucker, 117; Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina, and Georgia, 117; General William H. Harrison, 117; President Edwards, 118; Montesquieu, 118; Wilber force, 118; Whitbread, 118; Characters, 118, 121.
OBJECTION II.--"Slaveholders protest that they treat their slaves well."
121 Not testimony but opinion, 122; 'Good treatment' of slaves,' 123; Novel form of cruelty, 125.
OBJECTION III.--"Slaveholders are proverbial for their kindness, and generosity,
125; Hospitality and benevolence contrasted, 125, 126; Slaveholders in Congress, respecting Texas and Hayti, 126; 'Fictitious kindness and hospitality,' 128.
OBJECTION IV.--"Northern visitors at the south testify that the slaves are not cruelly treated,"
128. Testimony, 128, 129; 'Gubner poisened,' 129; Field-hands, 130; Parlor slaves, 130; Chief Justice Durell, 131.
OBJECTION V.--"It is for the interest of the masters to treat their slaves well,"
132; Testimony, 133. Rev. J. N Maffitt, 134; Masters interest to treat cruelly the great body of the slaves, 134, 138; Various classes of slaves, 135, 136; Hired slaves, 136; Advertisements, 136, 137.
OBJECTION VI:--"Slaves multiply; a proof that they are not inhumanly treated, and are in a comfortable condition,
139. Testimony, 139; Martin VanBuren, 139; Foreign slave trade, 139; 'Beware of Kidnappers,' 140; 'Citizens sold as slaves,' 141; Kidnapping at New Orleans, 141; Slave breeders, 142.
OBJECTION VII.--"Public opinion is a protection to the slave,
143” Decision of the Supreme Court of North and South Carolina, 143; 'Protection of slaves,' 143; Mischievous effects of 'public opinion' concerning slavery, 144; Laws of different states, 144; Heart of slaveholders, 145; Reasons for enacting the laws concerning cruelties to slaves, 147; 'Moderate correction,' 148; Hypocrisy and malignity of slave laws, 148; Testimony of slaves excluded, 149; Capital crimes for slaves, 149; 'Slaveholding brutality,' worse than that of Caligula, 149; Public opinion destroys fundamental rights, 150; Character of slaveholders' advertisements, 152; Public opinion is diabolical, 152, 154; Brutal indecency, 154; Murder of slaves by law, 155, 156; Judge Lawless, 157; Slave-hunting, 159, 160; Health of slaves, 161; Acclimation of slaves, 162; Liberty of Slaves 162; Kidnapping of free citizens, 162; Law of Louisiana, 163; FRIENDS', memorial, 164; Domestic slavery, 164; Advertisements, 164, 167; Childhood, old age, 167; Inhumanity, 169; Butchering dead slaves, 169; South Carolina Medical college, 169; Charleston Medical Infirmary, 172; Advertisements, 172, 173; Slave murders, 173; John Randolph, 173; Charleston slave auctions, 174; 'Never lose a day's work,' 174; Stocks, 175; Slave-breeding, 175; Lynch law, 175; Slaves murdered, 176; Slavery among Christians, 176, 180; Licentiousness encouraged by preachers, 180; 'Fine old preacher who dealt in slaves,' 180; Cruelty to slaves by professors of religion, 181; Slave-breeding, 182; Daniel O'Connel, and Andrew Stevenson, 182; Virginia a negro raising menagerie, 182 Legislature of Virginia, 182; Colonization Society, 183; Inter-state slave traffic, 184; Battles in Congress, 184; Duelling, 185; Cock-fighting, 186; Horse-racing, 186; Ignorance of slaveholders, 187; 'Slave-holding civiltzation, and morality,' 188; Arkansas, 188; Slave driving ruffians, 189, 190; Missouri, 191; Alabama, 192; Butcheries in Mississippi, 194; Louisiana, 198; Tennessee, 200; Fatal Affray in Columbia, 201; Presentment of the Grand Jury of Shelby County, 202; Testimony of Bishop Smith of Kentucky, 204, 206.
ATLANTIC SLAVEHOLDING REGION, 206. Georgia, 206; North Carolina, 209; Trading with Negroes, 209; Conclusion, 210.

    • Wikipedia-Author
    • Wikipedia-Book
    • GoodReads-Book
    • Documenting the American South
    •  PBS America Experience video
    •  Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson's monograph entitled Southern Slavery As It Was 
      • The monograph argues that slavery was not done right in the South and tries to defend the institution of slavery from a Biblical point of view.
      • Lew Wallace in Ben Hur depicts a type of Jewish slavery which was different than Weld's. It shows Ben Hur as a benevolent master whose servants love him and his family. Could this ever be a reality?
    •  Reprint of slaves dancing