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Filing Cabinet - Underground Railroad

George Johnson

        I arrived in St. Catharines about two hours ago. [1855, 4, 17.]

        I was raised near Harper's Ferry. I was used as well as the people about there are used. My master used to pray in his family with the house servants, morning and evening. I attended these services until I was eighteen, when I was put out on the farm, and lived in a cabin. We were well supplied with food. We went to work at sunrise, and quit work between sundown and dark. Some were sold from my master's farm, and many from the neighborhood. If a man did any thing out of the way, he was in more danger of being sold than of being whipped. The slaves were always afraid of being sold South. The Southern masters were believed to be much worse than those about us. I had a great wish for liberty when I was a boy. I always had it in my head to clear. But I had a wife and children. However, my wife died last year ofcholera, and then I determined not to remain in that country.

        When my old master died, I fell to his son. I had no difficulty with him, but was influenced merely by a love of liberty. I felt disagreeably about leaving my friends,--but I knew I might have to leave them by going South. There was a fellow-servant of mine named Thomas. My master gave him a letter one day, to carry to a soul-driver. Thomas got a man to read it, who told him he was sold. Thomas then got a free man to carry the letter. They handcuffed--, the free man, and put him in jail. Thomas, when he saw them take the free man, dodged into the bush. He came to us. We made up a purse, and sent him on his way. Next day, the man who had carried the letter, sent for his friends and got out. The master denied to us that he intended to sell Thomas. He did not get the money for him. Thomas afterward wrote a letter from Toronto to his friend.

        I prepared myself by getting cakes, etc., and on a Saturday night in March, I and two comrades started off together. They were younger than I. . . . . We travelled by night and slept by day until we reached Pittsburg. When we had got through the town, I left the two boys, and told them not to leave while I went back to a grocery for food. When I returned, they were gone,--I do not know their fate. I stopped in that neighborhood two nights, trying to find them--I did not dare to inquire for them. The second night, I made up my mind to ask after them, but my heart failed me. I am of opinion that they got to Canada, as they knew the route. At length I was obliged to come off without them.

        I think that slavery is not the best condition for the blacks. Whipping and slashing are bad enough, but selling children from their mothers and husbands from their wives is worse. At one time I wanted to marry a young woman, not on the same farm. I was then sent to Alabama, to one of my masters's sons for two years. When the girl died, I was sent for to come back. I liked the work, the tending of cotton, better than the work on the farm in Virginia,--but there was so much whipping in Alabama, that I was glad to get back. One man there, on another farm, was tied up and received five hundred and fifty lashes for striking the overseer. His back was awfully cut up. His wife took care of him. Two months after, I saw him lying on his face, unable to turn over or help himself. The master seemed ashamed of this, and told the man that if he got well, he might go where he liked. My master told me he said so, and the man told me so himself. Whether he ever got well, I do not know: the time when I saw him, was just before I went back to Virginia.

A North-Side View of Slavery, the Refugee:  or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada, Related by Themselves with an Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada, Benjamin Drew (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1856)

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