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Filing Cabinet - Underground Railroad

Fugitive Slave Narratives
Samuel W. Johnson

Arrival from the "Daily Dispatch" Office

            “Sam” was doing Slave labor at the office of the Richmond “Daily Dispatch,” as a carrier of that throughly pro-slavery sheet.  “Sam” had possessed himself somehow of a knowledge of ready and writing a little, and for the news of the day he had quite an itching ear.  Also with regard to his freedom he was quite solicitous.  Being of an ambitious turn of mind, he hired his time, for which he paid his master $175 per annum in regular quarterly payments.  Besides paying this amount, he had to find himself in board, clothing, and pay doctor’s expenses.  He had had more than one owner in his life.  The last one, however, he spoke of thus:  “His name is James B. Foster, of Richmond, a very hard man.  He owns three more Slaves besides myself.”  In escaping, “Sam” was obliged to leave his wife who was owned by Christian Bourdon.  His attachment to her, judging from his frequent warm expressions of affection was very strong. But, as strong as it was, he felt that he could not consent to remain in slavery any longer.  “Sam” had luckily come across a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and in perusing it, all his notions with regard to “Masters and Servants,” soon underwent an entire change, and he began to cast his eyes around him to see how he might get his freedom.  One who was thoroughly awake as he was to the idea of being free, with a fair share of courage, could now and then meet with the opportunity to escape by the steamers or the schooners coming North.  Thus Samuel found the way open and on one of the steamers came to Philadelphia.  On arriving, he was put at once in charge of the Committee.  While in their hands he seemed filled with astonishment at his own achievements and such spontaneous expressions as naturally flowed from his heart thrilled and amazed his new found friends and abundant satisfaction was afforded, that Samuel Washington Johnson would do not\discredit to his fugitive comrades in Canada.  So the Committee gladly aided him on his journey.
            After arriving in Canada, Samuel wrote frequently and intelligently.  The subjoined letter to his wife shows how deeply he was attached to her, and at the same time, what his views were of Slavery.  The member of the Committee to whom it was sent with the request, that it should be forwarded to her, did not meet with the opportunity of doing so.  A copy of it was preserved with other Underground Rail Road documents.


My Dear Wife

I now embrace this golden opportunity of writing a few Lines to inform youthat I am well at present enjoying good health and hope that these few lines may find you well also.  My dearest wife I have Left you and now I am in a foreign land about fourteen hundred miles from you but though my wife my thoughts are upon you all the time.   My dearest Frances I hope you will remember me now gust as same as you did when I was there with you because my mind are with you night and day the Love that I bear for you in my breast is greater than I thought it was if I had thought I had so much Love for you I don’t think I could ever could Left being I have escape I and has fled into a land for freedom I can but stop and look over my past Life and say what a fool  I was for staying in bondage as Long.  My dear wife I don’t want you to get married before you send me some letters because I never shall get married until I see you again.  My mind don’t deceive and it appears to me as if I shall see you again at my time of writing this letter I am destitute of money I have not got in no business yet but when I do get into business I shall write you and also remember you.  Tell my Mother and Brother and all enquiring friends that I am now safe in free state   I can’t tell where I am at present but Direct your Letters to Mr. William Still in Philadelphia and I will get them.  Answer this as soon as you can if you please for if you write the same day you receive it it will take a fortnight to reach me.  No more to relate at present but still remain your affectionate husband.  Mr. Still please defore this piece out if you please

                                                Samuel Washington Johnson

Whether Samuel every met with the opportunity of communicating with his wife, the writer cannot say.  But of all the trials which Slaves had to endure, the separations of husbands and wives were the most difficult to bear up under.  Although feeling keenly the loss of his wife, Samuel’s breast swelled with the thought of freedom, as will be seen from the letter which he wrote immediately after landing in Canada.

                                                St. Catharine, Upper Canada West

Mr. William Still:

I am now in safety.  I arrived at home safe on the 11th inst at 12 o’clock M. So I hope that you will not take it upon yourself to inform me something of that letter I left at your house that night when I left there and write me word how you are and how is your wife. I wish you may excuse this letter for I am so full that I cannot express my mind at all.  I am only got $1.50 and I feel as if I had an independent fortune but I don’t want you to think that I am going to be idle because I am on free ground and I shall always work though I am not got nothing to do at present.  Direct your letter to the post office as soon as possible.
                                                Samuel W. Johnson

The Underground Railroad, A record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c.,  William Still, 1879, pp. 158-160.

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