Boston King's Fugitive Passing: Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, and Tina Campt's Rhetoric of Resistance
Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge
It is by no means an agreeable task to write an account of my Life, yet my gratitude to Almighty GOD, who delivered my affliction, and looked upon me in my low estate, who delivered me from the hand of the oppressor, and established my goings, impels me to acknowledge his goodness: And the importunity of many respectable friends, whom I highly esteem, have induced me to set down, as they occurred to my memory, a few of the most striking incidents I have met with in my pilgrimage. I am well
... age. I am well aware of my inability for such an undertaking, having only a slight acquaintance with the language in which I write, and being obliged to snatch a few hours, now and then, from pursuits, which to me, perhaps are more profitable. However, such as it is, I present it to the Friends of Religion and Humanity, hoping that will be of some use to mankind. I was born in the Province of South Carolina, 28 miles from Charles-Town. 2 My father was stolen away from Africa when he was young. 3 I have reason to believe that he lived in the fear and love of God. He attended to that true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He left no opportunity of hearing the Gospel, and never omitted praying with his family every night. He likewise read to them, and to as many as were inclined to hear. On the Lord's Day, he rose very early, and met his family: After which he worked in the field till about three in the afternoon, and then went into the woods and read till sunset: The slaves being obliged to work or on the Lord's Day to procure such things as were not allowed by their masters. He was beloved by his master, and he had the charge of the Plantation as a driver for many years. In his old age he was employed as a mill-cutter. Those who knew him, say, that they never heard him swear an oath, but on the contrary, he reproved all who spoke improper words in his hearing. To the utmost of his power he endeavoured to make his family happy, and his death was a very great loss to us all. My mother was employed chiefly in attending upon those that were sick, having some knowledge of the virtue of herbs, which she learned from the Indians. She likewise had the care of making the people's 1 King's narrative conforms to many slave narrative conventions. "I was born," which begins the second paragraph, came to be an anticipated marker of the slave narrative. King's elaborate focus of discussion on his father in this paragraph is, however, unusual. Generally, slave narratives did not claim an intact patriarchal family structure. [page 106] clothes, and on these accounts was indulged with many privileges which the rest of the slaves were not. When I was six years old I waited in the house upon my master. In my 9th year I was put to mind the cattle. Here I learnt from my comrades the horrible sin of Swearing and Cursing. When 12 years old, it pleased GOD to alarm me by a remarkable dream. 4 At mid-day, when the cattle went under the shade of the trees, I dreamt that the world was on fire, and that I saw the supreme Judge descend on his great white Throne! I saw millions of millions of souls; some of whom ascended up to heaven; while others were rejected, and fell into the greatest confusion and despair. This dream made such an impression upon my mind, that I refrained from swearing and bad company, and from that time, acknowledged that there was a GOD; but how to serve GOD I knew not. Being obliged to travel in different parts of America with race-horses, I suffered many hardships. 5 Happening one time to lose a boot belonging to the Groom, he would not suffer me to have any shoes all that Winter, which was a great punishment to me. When 16 years old, I was bound apprentice to a trade. After being in the shop about two years, I had the charge of my master's tools, which being very good, were often used by the men, if I happened to be out of the way: When this was the case, or any of them were lost, or misplaced, my master beat me severely, striking me upon the head, or any other part without mercy. One time in the holy-days, my master and the men being from home, and the care of the house devolving upon me and the younger apprentices, the house was broke open, and robbed of many valuable articles, thro' the negligence of the apprentice who had then the charge of it. When I came in the evening, and saw what hade happened, my consternation was inconceivable, as all that we had in the world could not make good the loss. The week following, when the master came to town, I was beat in a most unmerciful manner, so that I was not able to do any thing for a fortnight. About eight months after, we were employed in building a store house, and nails were very dear at that time, it being in the American war, so that the work-men had their nails weighed out to them; on this account, they made the younger apprentices watch the nails while they were at dinner. It being my lot one day to take care of them, which I did till an apprentice returned to his work, and then I went to dine. In the mean time, he took away all the nails belonging to one of the journeymen, and he being of a very violent temper, accused me to the master with stealing of them. For this offence I was beat and tortured most cruelly, and was laid up three weeks before I was able to do any work. My proprietor, hearing of the usage I received, came to town, and severely reprimanded my master for beating me in such a manner, threatening him, that if he every heard the like again, he would 4 Virginia Lierson Brerton, in From Sin to Salvation: Stories of Women 's Conversions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), argues that American spiritual narratives of the first half of the nineteenth century follow a uniform pattern: "They typically opened with the convert's early life, went on to describe a period of increasing sense of sinfulness, climaxed with conversion proper, and concluded with an account of the fruits of the experiences-usually zealous conduct of evangelical activity" (14). The slave narrative grew, ideologically and formally, Brerton suggests, from the spiritual narrative tradition. Both spiritual and slave narratives follow a tripartite structure: before, epiphany/conversion or escape/freedom, and after. 5 The reiteration of hardships is another convention of slave narratives that echoes the trope of trials suffered by the sinner-convert in the spiritual narrative both before and, as a test of faith, after conversion as well. [page 107] take me away and put me to another master to finish my time, and make him pay for it. This had a good effect, and he gave much better to me, the two succeeding years, and I began to acquire a proper knowledge of my trade. My master being apprehensive that Charles-Town was in danger on account of the war, removed into the country, about 38 miles off. Here we built a large house for Mr. Waters, during which time the English took Charles-Town. 6 Having obtained leave one day to see my parents, who lived about 12 miles off, and it being late before I could go, I was obliged to borrow one of Mr. Waters's horses; but a servant of my masters, took the horse from me to go a little journey, and stayed two or three days longer than he expected the severest punishment, because the gentleman to whom the horse belonged was a very bad man, and knew not how to shew mercy. To escape his cruelty, I determined to go to Charles-Town, and throw myself into the hands of the English. They received me readily, and I began to feel the happiness of liberty, of which I knew nothing before, altho' I was much grieved at first, to be obliged to leave my friends, and reside among strangers. In this situation I was seized with the smallpox, and suffered great hardships; for all the Blacks affected with that disease, were ordered to be carried a mile from the camp, lest the solders should be infected, and disabled from marching. 7 This was a grievous circumstance to me and many others. We lay sometimes a whole day without any thing to eat or drink; but Providence sent a man, who belonged to the York volunteers whom I was acquainted with, to my relief. He brought me such things as I stood in need of; and by the blessing of the Lord I began to recover. By this time, the English left the place; but as I was unable to march with the army, I expected to be taken by the enemy. However, when they came, and understood that we were ill of the small-pox, they precipitately left us for fear of infection. Two days after, the wagons were sent to convey us to the English Army, and we were put into a little cottage, (being 25 in number) about a quarter of a mile from the Hospital. Being recovered, I marched with the army to Chamblem. 8 When we came to the headquarters, our regiment was 35 miles off. I stayed at the head-quarters three weeks, during which time our regiment had an engagement with the Americans, and the man who relieved me when I was ill of the small pox, was wounded in battle, and brought to the hospital. As soon as I heard of his misfortune, I went to see him, and tarried with him in the hospital six weeks, till he recovered; rejoicing that it was in my power to return him the kindness he had shewed it was in my power. From thence I went to a place about 35 miles off, where we stayed two months: at the expiration of which, an express 6 The British captured Charlestown, South Carolina, in May 1780.