John Brown quote about life during slavery

John Brown portrait

“Betty Moore had three daughters. The eldest was married to one Burrell Williams, who acted as Betty’s overseer. The second was the wife of one James Davis; and the third was unmarried, when I first began to notice the persons about us. At last the third got married to one Billy Bell, and then I experienced my first serious tribulation.

        According to the will left by old Moore, the slave-property was to be equally divided amongst the mother and the three daughters, when the youngest married. About a month after this event, it began to be talked about that the distribution was soon going to take place. I remember well the grief this caused us to feel, and how the women and the men used to whisper to one another when they thought nobody was by, and meet at night, or get together in the field when they had an opportunity, to talk about what was coming. They would speculate, too, on the prospects they had of being separated; to whose lot they and their children were likely to fall, and whether the husbands would go with their wives. The women who had young children cried very much. My mother did, and took to kissing us a good deal oftener. This uneasiness increased as the time wore on, for though we did not know when the great trouble would fall upon us, we all knew it would come, and were looking forward to it with very sorrowful hearts. At last, one afternoon, James Davis, the husband of Betty’s second daughter, rode into the yard. This man had a dreadful name for cruelty. He was the terror of his own negroes, as well as of his neighbour’s. When we young ones saw him, we ran away and hid ourselves. In the evening orders came to the negroes, at their quarters, to be up at the big house by nine the next morning. Then we knew our great trouble was come.

        It was a bright, sun-shiny morning, in the autumn season, at about the commencement of tobacco-cutting time. At the appointed hour, nearly the whole of us had congregated in the great yard, under the big sycamore tree. A fourth part of the negroes on the estate, had been kept back by Betty Moore, as her share, her husband’s will giving her the right of making a selection. Besides these, she had taken my brother Silas and my sister Lucy, whom she reserved on behalf of her eldest daughter, the wife of Burrell Williams. They were fine, strong children, and it was arranged they should remain with Betty till she died, and then revert to Burrell Williams. All who were there stood together, facing the Executors, or Committee as they were called, who sat on chairs under the same sycamore tree I have spoken of. Burrell Williams, James Davis, and Billy Bell, held themselves aloof, and did not in any manner interfere with the proceedings of the Committee, who told us off into three lots, each lot consisting of about twenty-five or thirty, as near as I can recollect. As there was a good deal of difference in the value of the slaves, individually, some being stronger than others, or more likely, the allotments were regulated so as to equalize the value of each division. For instance, my brother Silas and my sister Lucy, who belonged rightly to the gang of which I and my mother and other members of the family formed a part, were replaced by two of my cousin Annikie’s children, a boy and a girl; the first called Henry, the other mason, who were weak and sickly. When the lots had been told off, the names of the men, women, and children composing them were written on three slips of paper, and these were put into a hat. Burrell Williams then came forward and drew. James Davis followed, and Billy Bell came last. The lot in which I and my mother were, was drawn by James Davis. Each slip was then signed by the Committee, and the lot turned over to the new owner.

        By about two o’clock, the business was concluded, and we were permitted to have the rest of the day to ourselves. It was a heart-rending scene when we all got together again, there was so much crying and wailing. I really thought my mother would have died of grief at being obliged to leave her two children, her mother, and her relations behind. But it was of no use lamenting, and as we were to start early next morning, the few things we had were put together that night, and we completed our preparations for parting for life by kissing one another over and over again, and saying good bye till some of us little ones fell asleep.”

– John Brown

John Brown quote about life during slavery sources: John Brown, fl. 1854 and Louis Alexis Chamerovzow, Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Now in England / Documenting the American South, University Library at the University of North Carolina