The Religious Life of The Negro Slave, [Third Paper].
IN all instances which I remember to have noticed with reference to such fact, I have found among the religious slaves of the South traces, more or less distinct, of a blending of superstition and fetichism, modifying their impressions of Christianity. These traces become; much more definite and tangible in proportion as the direct line of the slaves descent can be traced backward, to the pure African stock, and diminish rapidly as the mulatto element prevails. I have selected the subjects of the sketches in this paper as illustrations of the different forms which this element of the slaves religious life assumes. And as these subjects were aged negroes, and possessed of a full share of the intelligence common to their class; and as, moreover, they had enjoyed from early youth the usual advantages of religious culture, they may be considered as presenting the fairest illustrations of this peculiarity.
When Sarah first became a member of our family she was about forty-five years old, and was, as she declared, "done past bein foolish." She stood high in her own estimation, and-was proud of possessing a superabundance of "real white-folks sense." She had very little charity for the follies of "dem young niggers;" and none at all for "de no count ways" of some of the other servants in the family. "Whatever else she was, she was always serious, earnest, and above "bein triflin." These traits are worthy of notice, because they show that, however they may in some lights appear, yet Sarahs "mazes" were to her very serious realities.
Indeed the history of her life had had a direct tendency to make her sober and thoughtful. Much of it had been a life not only of unrequited toil and hardship, but one of toils endured and hardships experienced almost wholly among strangers. She was a "hired" servant, her master being too poor to keep her at home, and depending upon the "hire" of herself and children for his own support. Her experience of life was not an unusual one among slaves, who often, reared almost in luxury by an indulgent mistress, become at that mistresss death the property of some one of the children or heirs of the estate, who by his idleness and dissipation is reduced to poverty, and even destitution. As the son of her "ole missus" Sarah had some respect for her master; but for his dissipation, and shiftlessness, and neglect of his family, she had no small measure of contempt. And a few months spent after her mistresss death in her new home had so disgusted her that she demanded to be hired out, that she might be "bringin in somefin to keep up de family." So hired out she was, often amidst the brutal and driving "white trash," who kept her in rags and hunger, while her hire was paid yearly to her master — and expended, not for the family, but in the indulgence of his whisky-drinking and petty-gambling propensities. Thus for fifteen years had Sarah — now become "old Sarah," and thus entitled to the universal cognomen of "Auntie" — been drinking, in the bitterness of her life-experiences, those draughts of sorrow which had produced in their effects the matured growth and ripened sedateness of her character.
It was a bright day in her calendar and in ours when she first came to live with us. It was at the close of the Christmas holidays, the season for all yearly "hirings." I had never seen Sarah, but had heard of her good qualities, and had taken a long lease of her on the strength of her reputation. The last day of the Chrismas had come, and with it was to come our acquisition. "We were in great expectancy, and were discussing probabilities and possibilities concerning her, when the door opened, and, with a low courtesy, she stood before us.
"Your sarvant, massa; your sarvant, missus." Then a pause, and the hands meekly folded before her. She was as black as ebony, very short, very angular; dressed in yellow stripes, and with an enormous head-handkerchief and heavy plantation shoes. Altogether she was not imposing, but her countenance was expressive of energy, and she looked smart, good, amiable, and cheerful, and we were satisfied. Little did we then conceive of even the half of the qualities and virtues which were enshrined in that wiry, hardened form, and which were at our sole disposal by reason of the fifty dollars to be annually paid her drunken master. "What we especially wish our readers to understand from our introduction of Sarah thus is that she was not, and from the circumstances could not have been, a romantic or sentimental creature, full of
817fancies and vagaries, and artfully seeking to impose her visions and dreams upon more simple and credulous people. Such a physiological embodiment as hers never developed much fancy, and such a life-history of toils and hardening processes would have effectually eliminated any tendencies to cultivate the romantic, had her nature been by any possibility receptive. Her face was altogether honest, with its deeply-marked lines of suffering; and her whole expression clearly evinced those plain, practical, sensible qualities which had gained her so good a reputation.
And yet she was given to what she called her "Mazes." Of these she had, to our knowledge, three distinct attacks during a period of two years, and then they passed away with her "conversion." Those who are learned in psychological analysis, and in spiritual manifestations, may define symptomatically their characteristics, and explain them with technical theological accuracy. I shall only give the facts as they at the time awakened my astonishment by their suddenness, and by the wholly inexplicable manner in which they came and departed.
Maze Number One was a night scene, and was altogether frightful and even appalling. It occurred at midnight; and to understand the suddenness and startling character of the incident, as far as it affected ourselves, one must first understand something of that part of Southern domestic economy which relates to servants "quarters." These are at some little distance from the mansion of the white family, and to them the house-servants are expected to retire after the labors of the day are concluded. They are the negroes home-sanctuaries, and afford them greater or less opportunities for retirement and the performance of their own immediate domestic avocations. Here is garnered their humble wealth, consisting in part of a rough bedstead, and a bed filled with refuse chicken-feathers. This latter article forms no small item in the inventory of the slaves personal property; and if not composed of merchantable live-feathers, is generally so full of a certain unfeathered life that its banishment from the mansion is dictated by a thoughtful regard for the undisturbed comfort of the white family. Aunt Sarah, in her domestic tastes, formed no exception to the customs of her race, and was generally found after dark in her cabin; unless, perhaps, there were cases of sickness, when she would sleep upon a blanket on the floor by the bed of the patient to whom she was ministering.
It was also the usual summer custom in the country village where we were living to sleep with unbolted doors and open windows, wholly unapprehensive of burglars and all night-walking gentry. This feature of Arcadian simplicity was rendered tolerable by the vigilance of the neighborhood patrol, composed of slave-owning white citizens. These were formed into regular companies; and in squads of half a dozen or more, under the command of a captain, performed in regular course their weekly services, arresting and whipping all such perambulating darkeys as, without "passes" from their owners, were sky-larking and chicken-stealing around the neighborhood. Not having the fear of "mazes" before our eyes, we had never experienced the necessity of being more careful with our doors than were our neighbors, until Maze Number One taught us greater caution.
This occurred, as we have said, at midnight. We were slumbering in all the serene and blissful obliviousness which "tired Natures sweet restorer" sheds down upon innocent mortals, when we were startled from our slumbers by the most dismal shrieks and howls which ever made night hideous: short, quick, hound-like yelpings, subsiding into the deepest, hollowest, most agonizing groans ever vented by tortured humanity. Before I could tear myself from the hold of my terror-stricken wife the door was burst open, and in rushed Aunt Sarah with the wildest horror depicted upon her countenance. I had never before seen her without her head-dress, and if each individual hair was not on end the tight twists of tangled wool certainly were "like quills upon the fretful porcupine." Her eyes, expanded and glassy, seemed wildly starting from their sockets; and her hands were spread out before her as if deprecating the approach of some fearful vision. There was, moreover, perceptible in the moonlight a peculiarly pallid, lifeless hue cast over her bloodless countenance, not exactly a paleness, but a lustreless, wooden-like appearance, appalling and even sickening to witness. After standing thus a moment with arms extended, and every muscle strained to a statue-like rigidity, she suddenly uttered a shriek, and turning slowly around fell prone upon the floor; arms still outspread, and eyes retaining their glassy, wild, vacant expression. Then succeeded most dreadful groans, the intervals between which were filled with desponding, heart-rending ejaculations.
"O Lord, I'm damned! O master, I'm in hell! O Jesus, do save me! I'm in hell! I'M IN HELL! O Jesus, do save me!"
And this with a depth of energy and hoarseness of utterance the very embodiment of woe. I shall never forget that nights spectacle, nor the unavailing efforts to rouse the poor creature from her seeming trance, and convince her that she was still upon earth. "Oh, my sins! O Jesus, I'm in hell! O master, I'm damned!" were all the responses which the most assiduous kindness could wring from her. And thus for half an hour she continued, bathed in a cold sweat, and with pulse scarcely perceptible, until at last her agony ceased from utter prostration. Then, in a half-bewildered state, she rose and went to her cabin, leaving impressed upon our minds in vivid imagery a scene so full of horror and utter abjectness that the morning dawned before we again lost consciousness in slumber.
The next morning Sarah came as usual to bring us fresh water, and perform her accustomed services of attendance upon her mistress. In reply to the questions concerning her night
818adventure she quickly said she was "in a maze," and seemed to consider the event rather creditable than deplorable. Her appearance gave no index of any unusual emotion having shaken her; and she manifested no regret for the occurrence, nor ever intimated that she dreaded a renewal of her vision. She was simply "in a maze, missus," leaving the impression upon our minds that though mazes might be very mysterious to us, yet she was perfectly familiar with all such little coincidences. This was Maze Number One, and in its character assimilated to the marvelous and horrible.
Maze Number Two was nipped in the bud, and became simply ridiculous. This occurred nearly a year afterward, and when we had removed to another locality. During this interval Sarah had given no indication of any special spiritualistic tendencies. By the utmost cheer-fulness of disposition and unselfish devotion to our interests she had deeply ingratiated herself in the affections of her new master and mistress. To the children she had become a second mother, and the little ones preferred her society and ministrations to those of their own mother, who, being an invalid, had been obliged to relinquish them almost wholly to their sable attendant. Indeed, we had so long since ceased to regard that "maze" as any thing else but a fearful vision of the past, that, when referring to it, we were more than ever puzzled to account for its singular phenomena. So quiet! so sensible! so undemonstrative! how had good old Sarah ever been the subject of such a vagary? And as if more thoroughly to confuse all our reasonings upon the subject, this second maze came in broad daylight. It was then no somnambulistic feat, growing out of disordered digestion or incipient dyspepsia. The physical theorists upon the subject were nonplused. It was only what old Sarah had termed it — "a maze;" and so far it was but some unknown, undescribed spiritualistic manifestation, called into activity by something like an overwhelming conviction of her innate and persistent wickedness. And then this second maze certainly was unlike the first; but inasmuch as it never fully developed itself, it could not be rigidly analyzed and classed as a perfected phenomenon. Still, as Sarah called this also a "maze," it must, in her opinion at least, have belonged to a category similar to that of the former. As before, we shall give but the facts, leaving the more philosophical among our readers to locate and classify them as they may deem most satisfactory to themselves.
This maze occurred on Sunday morning. Sarah as usual had performed her weekly-tasks, and as Sunday was a day of cheerful rest with her, we were the more surprised at the gloom and despondency which were plainly evinced during the early morning. It was Sarahs special pride upon important occasions to join the younger house-girls who waited in the dining-room, and at such times to confine her personal services at the table to master and mistress. Every Sunday was a kind of holiday, and, dressed in her best for the occasion, she had, as usual, this morning placed herself at mistresss chair, as a special servant. During the breakfast she seemed unusually serious, and before its completion suddenly left the table and retired to her own cabin. Some two hours afterward, as the family were about leaving for church, Sarah was summoned that she might receive from her mistress the keys, which conveyed the formal surrender of house, store-rooms, children, and premises in general into her faithful guardianship. But no Sarah was to be found. Her bell was loudly rung, and her name called by officious little darkeys in every key-note of piping childhood, still there was no response: what could it mean? was she sick? or had she herself gone to church in some sudden, unannounced, and unpermitted manner?
Supposing the former of these possibilities the probable one, I started for Sarahs cabin, and entered the door upon my mission of investigation. A glance was sufficient. She stood erect in her cabin, the same rigidity of feature, the same staring, glassy eyes and bloodless countenance — she was again in a "maze;" but not of that utterly wretched and demoniacal kind which had characterized her former night-vision. She seemed utterly regardless of my presence, and would not reply to my inquiries, and not until I had taken hold of her, and turned her completely round, rather suddenly, did she manifest any appreciation of my attentions. The whirl which I had given her had brought her right-about-face full fronting the door of her cabin. This opened into the yard, beyond which was a larger yard opening into a beautiful oak grove of several acres. This grove was at times a favorite resort of Sarahs, and she frequently spent an hour or more with our little babe in; her arms, walking, meditating, and singing religious hymns to her protege.
Whether the sudden confronting of this shady retreat awakened peculiar religious associations and remembrances no one can tell; but the sight of it seemed to have a very moving effect upon Sarah. Gazing forward with a far-reaching, glaring vision, she commenced, slowly raising her hands and bringing the palms gently together, ejaculating, "O Jesus! O Jesus! O Jesus!" the repetitions increasing in quickness with each utterance. When she had thus reached the climax of rapidity in her ejaculations, she suddenly clapped her hands above her head with great violence, and with a loud shout of "O Jesus!" and a high leap from the door-step of the cabin, she broke for the grove, hands clapping and shouts meanwhile continuing.
Anticipating some such episode, I had placed myself a short distance from her cabin, so that she could pass through the gate but by coming within my reach; and I thought I had better arrest her. My first pass caught her turban, which most faithlessly gave way and exposed her mass of peculiar head-tangles, usually so carefully covered. The second gathered the
819wool itself, which furnished one of the finest holds possible for retaining an escaping fugitive. After two or three desperate leaps, made with maddened energy, the poor creature finding herself firmly held, dropped suddenly upon her knees, and lifted up her voice in most dismal and far-reaching howlings.
By this time the whole household were gathered upon the back gallery of the mansion, and were looking on in excited wonder. It was, too, the hour for church, and along the sidewalk, in front of the residence, the worshipers were pouring toward the sanctuary. I began to find myself in a quandary. Should I hold on or let go? If the latter, the poor creature might rush maniac-like to the woods and inflict upon herself injury. If I continued, in full view of the passers-by, I, a preacher, would evidently be slandered, and charged with cruelty, and raising an uproar, and committing a serious violation of the Sabbath to the great annoyance of sober-minded church-going citizens. And yet I must do something. Old Sarah was shouting like a maniac.
I had heard of the influence of cold water in hysterical cases, and it suddenly occurred to me that I had better try its virtues in this instance. Calling upon my man-servant, who was wonderingly viewing the scene, I quickly had a bucket of water, fresh from the adjoining well, placed upon the ground before me.
Now commenced the Hydropathic treatment of the mazes; and a more perfect cure was never, probably, more ridiculously effected.
With my right hand firmly entwined in her entangled wool-twists, and the bucket of water resting before her upon the ground, and with her face, which from her low stature was, when kneeling, but about a foot above the bucket, slightly bent over it, I commenced, with my left hand hollowed into an extemporized scoop, my application.
"O Jesus!" shouted old Sarah, with mouth fully extended. And ker-swash went a handful of water into the opened orifice.
"O Jesus!" Again ker-swash went the water as soon as her mouth was opened. And so on at each howling ejaculation. This was continued until the first bucket of water was exhausted, and the patient had become evidently sobered by the process. Her muscles had relaxed their rigidity, her iris had contracted to its natural dimensions, and I had sufficient assurance from the general quiet and composed condition of the patient that the diagnosis had been correct, and the subject was in a fair way of recovery. While the second bucket of water was being brought there was a partial return of the paroxysms. But this was accompanied by an evident exercise of the reflective faculties, and so far the symptoms were additionally favorable. Sarah had evidently returned from her state of rapt ecstasy, and was conscious of earthly relations and impressions. She now commenced a new order of shoutings, and addressed to her earthly rather than heavenly master.
"Oh, master! is you a preacher?"
Ker-swash, as before, went the tranquilizing fluid into the suddenly opened orifice.
"Oh, massa! is you a preacher?"
No answer; but the steadily-impelled fluid went into every opening and crevice of her now relaxed countenance, and wherever else the laws of gravity gave it entrance.
"Oh, is you a preacher, massa?"
Water as before, and thus on until the second bucket was exhausted. At the approach of the third bucket the patient wholly subsided. A glance at her face was sufficient to convince the most skeptical that the raging demon of her fancy was exorcised. She was calm, placid, and meek-eyed as she had ever been when the troubling spirit was not upon her.
"My dear massa, dont go for trow dat water in my face. What am de matter?"
"Why, Sarah, you are dangerously sick, and I am trying to cure you. Do you know what you have been doing?"
"No, massa; I only knows dat I had a maze, an when I comes to I all wet wid de water."
"Well, if you feel better, go change your dress, and go in to your mistress."
"Yes, massa, I be dere drectly."
And sure enough, with her face much brighter for the washing it had received, and beaming with smiles and joyfulness, and in the glories of a clean dress and towering turban, Sarah soon presented herself for inspection.
This was Maze Number Two, and the reflections to which the incidents gave rise were much more satisfactory to me than those which grew out of the occurrences of the former maze. I was now satisfied that these states were in some way produced by Sarahs peculiar views of her sinfulness. Though she could give no intelligible account of her feelings, nor of their antecedents, and could show no logical connection between her thoughts, ideas, or emotions, and the transcendental state into which she was thrown, yet the attempted escape to the grove, and the appeal to massas being a "preacher," showed conclusively that she herself connected the facts of her condition with the expression in some form of religious susceptibility.
But my doubts and uncertainties were never fully at rest until after Maze Number Three. This was wholly satisfactory.
This final exhibition of Sarahs peculiar form of religious sensibility occurred during the following summer, and about a twelvemonth from the second manifestation. In the interval much pains had been taken by Aunt Sarahs mistress to instruct her fully in the true nature of repentance, conviction, and the method of pardon through an atoning Saviour. These lessons had not been without their effect, doubtless, though we could hardly call the effects perceptible. Sarah once or twice intimated pretty plainly that "white folks was different from cullud pussons," and didnt seem to like a religion much that was not at all in the line of her emotions. I think, too, that she was very much affected
820about the time of the last maze, by attendance at a camp-meeting, where she seemed to enjoy herself intensely. Any how, it was not long after this camp-meeting that Maze Number Three occurred.
This happened in the early part of a beautiful summer evening. My wife and I were sitting by an open window, enjoying the exquisite loveliness of our surroundings. The moonlight slept quietly and in checkered patches upon the lawn before us; the mocking-birds were nestling in the trees above us; the roses, jasmines, and myrtle-blooms were making the air almost sickening with the wealth of their fragrance. Suddenly, from the fields beyond the lawn, came up a loud, prolonged shout of rejoicing: "O Jesus! O glory! O Jesus! O glory!" accompanied by a clapping of hands, a wild, hysterical laugh, and "Bress de good Lord Jesus." "Ise happy!" "Hallelujah!" and then a sudden burst of singing:
"I want to go where Jesua gone,
An play pon de golden harp,
An play pon de golden harp,
An play pon de golden harp;
I want to go where Jesus gone,
An play pon de golden harp."
"Oh, tressed Jesus! Hallelujah!"
Aunt Sarah was again in a maze.
Soon we saw her approaching. She came slowly up the hill, and across the lawn, talking to herself, but without any of the violent actions which had before characterized her mazes. She was talking to herself, but quite audibly:
"Sins all gone, bress de Lord! Left um down dere under dat tree. Amen! bress de Lord! Took emself right outn emself. Nebber go back no more — no, bress de Lord!" And here, catching sight of her mistress at the window: "Oh, missus, I done got forgibness, I so full ob glory. De dear Lord Jesus, missus. I got de forgibness."
"Have you had a maze, Sarah?"
"Yes, missus, but de maze all gone now. Seen de Lord Jesus, down under dat chainy-berry tree. Done got forgibness for all my sins! Glory be to Jesus, missus! I got de forgibness."
And so it afterward seemed in fact. Sarah had no more "mazes." From that night she walked meekly, humbly, and happily, in the light of her newly-found pardon. A few weeks afterward I received her into the church, and during the after-years that she remained with us she was a happy, devoted Christian. That vision seen in her prayerful vigils, under the china-tree, had shed a never-failing light into her heart, bringing a quiet and assuring peace to her before-time troubled spirit. I used often afterward to contrast her air of deep, placid repose, with the horrible, appalling spectacle of her first maze-agony; and, in the exercise of a faith far less unreserved than her own, it was not difficult to believe that she had heard and proved the promise of the "Blessed Jesus" invitation: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
And yet he was an old and creditable member of the church. How old he was, no one, not even himself, could tell. He professed to remember incidents of the invasion of South Carolina by the British; but he was, notwithstanding, very vigorous and active, and was far from considering himself among the superannuated. He had been all through his long life an attendant upon the preaching of the Gospel, and during the greater part of it he had continued a member of the church. He was also possessed of an ordinary share of intelligence;
and it was a matter of some interest to examine minutely his character, and see how largely the moral and spiritual elements had become developed, during his life-long attendance upon the Gospel ministry. During the four years in which he was a member of my church and family, I had an opportunity to learn the full measure of his spiritual attainments; and though I have no expectation that I can do justice to his sense of the moral, the religious, and the supernatural, yet as his was a peculiar character, and as the peculiarities, so far as affected by his religious knowledge, resolved themselves into distinct elements, we can perhaps best describe them under their appropriate heads.
And, first, his Religious Attainments.
The manifestation of the strictly religious element in Elihus character was limited to his peculiar observance of the Sabbath. For this, the preparation commenced on the Saturday evening previous. The first duty, and one which was paramount to all other duties in Elihus theology, was the providing liberally for his own inner-man. Not that he did not sympathize with the supposed wants of others, but that he did, with an intensity peculiar to himself, appreciate most heartily the joys of a "big feed," whenever he had sufficient leisure to accomplish it. One could, however, pardon this weakness, in consideration of the benevolent charity which he extended even to the brutes around him, to whom he was always most liberal. He often boasted that "nothin never went hongry whar he was," and as a rule of practice his own performances were its fullest confirmation. So that it was nothing inconsistent with Elihus Sunday anticipations that he should, on the Saturday night previous, make his unfailing purchases of such luxuries as seemed to him worthy of being devoured on such a serious occasion.
After the breakfast — which he always cooked
821himself, and which joint operation of cooking and eating occupied seldom less than three hours — Elihu having ceased from his task of inward furnishing, next proceeded to the question of outward adorning, in which department he was also a man of extensive resources. He possessed in common with most of his race a strong passion for accumulation. In his case the passion was most largely developed in the department of old clothes; and his long experience in life had enabled him to make a most surprising collection. During the week-days, this collection was safely tumbled away in a large deal chest securely padlocked, and I doubt if it was ever fully ventilated except upon the Sabbath occasions. But on Sunday morning the treasure-house was opened, and the various garments were studiously arranged upon an old clothes-line, which in preparation for the ceremony had been previously extended across the centre of his cabin. The arranging of the articles having been satisfactorily completed, Elihu would place himself in a meditative attitude, and survey the effect with regard to its general impression. If this was satisfactory, an old candle-box — his usual seat — was placed before the motley assortment, and the question of the selection for the daily service was carefully considered. When this was decided there was a shaving process to be accomplished, and Elihu was soon attired for the performance of his devotions.
Nothing could exceed the devoutness and dignity with which, when thus suitably adorned, Elihu emerged from his cabin with stately hat, white neckcloth, and fantastic cane; and slowly, almost grandly, proceeded to church. On other days the middle of the road came most natural; on Sundays, he conscientiously kept on the sidewalk. On week-days, if a stray dog passed near him, the unlucky cur was always greeted with a kick; on Sunday he would pause at the crossing for the same cur to pass before him. So sedate, and formal, and dignified was he, that to see him you would think earthly passion seldom ruffled the smoothness of his sanctity. And so when in church. Whose head so erect in praise, or whose knees so pliant in prayer as Elihus? Who attended more scrupulously to the singing, or more devoutly to the sermon? Who in a more devoted manner deposited so regularly the dime upon the table when contributions were solicited? And though he never prayed nor exhorted, yet in all forms and appearances he was as punctilious as a Pharisee.
And this, as far as I could ever learn, was the sum total of Elihus religion. He was for four years in my service, and I never heard from his cabin the voice of prayer or any sound of devotion. He was in religion an intense formalist, and his character in this particular is the more worthy of notice, because so rare among his emotional and demonstrative people.
I can not, therefore, say more about the strictly religious clement of Elihus character, because there was not much of this element to speak of. And perhaps I can not better express the cause of my inability to do this than by quoting one of his own wise aphorisms, repeated to me when I had once expressed surprise that he had so soon dispatched his allowance at noonday. "Massa, de short horse soon curried."
As for his morals, they were not creditable to a church-member who had received so much religious instruction, and who professed such devout sanctity upon the Sabbath. As a husband, he was not above the reproach of incontinency; and I had reason to suspect his liberal appropriation of the contents of my corn-crib to supply his own exhausted exchequer. His conscience was, however, fully shielded from any remorseful twinges by a peculiar theory of the meum and tuum which he upon one occasion expounded for my especial benefit.
Among the most annoying pests of the Southern communities are the keepers of the "doggeries," or petty stores, for the public retailing of sundry groceries in general, and the private or clandestine vending, by barter or sale, of miserable poisonous whisky. This latter "grocery," under the provincial cognomen of "corn-juice," "red-eye," and "tangle-leg," although vended in direct defiance of the statute made and provided, is by far the most heavy article of traffic, and is purchased by the negroes not so often for cash as for corn, cotton, and such other plantation products as they can successfully steal from their masters. These articles are accumulated in large quantities in the lofts and other out-of-the-way places of the doggery," and when the location is in the midst of a large planting community, and afar from competitors, it is not unusual for the proprietors of these whisky shanties to lay the foundation of considerable fortunes.
Among the sufferers by such illicit traffic was our neighbor, Squire H — — , and so largely had he suffered from the purloining by his own negroes that the subject had become one of public notoriety. Wishing to sound Elihu upon the facts of the rumors, and learn something of their character and extent, I one day introduced the matter to his notice by the following questions:
"Do you know Squire H —— s negroes?"
"Yes, massa, I knows some of dem inconsiderably. I finds my wife in dat neighborhood."
"What kind of boys are they, Elihu? Do yon consider them honest?"
"Well, massa, dat am a hard question. Niggers qualities varies. I specs some on um only jess ornary."
"What have you heard about their stealing the wheat from the gin-house (cotton-gin)?"
"Well, massa, ports is variss, but ports is oncertain; sometime de dogs barks when de coon aint dar."
"But Squire H —— is very liberal to his negroes. I shouldnt think they would steal from their own master."
Now this was purposely touching upon very sensitive ground. Elihu carried the key to my
822own corn-crib, and I was quite certain, from the frequent and sudden diminution of the pile within, that some of it went to pay for the increase of his extensive wardrobe. He didnt flinch, however, but was only a shade more thoughtful as he replied,
"Well, Sah, dere is niggers wat steals, and dere is niggers wat dont call dat stealin."
"What do you mean? Because it is their own masters?"
"Nigger take wat nigger raises." Elihu had thus his own theory of morals, and, unlike some other moralists, his practice conformed rigidly to his theory. How he extended his doctrine to the corn, which, as the crib rapidly failed when it ought not, I was obliged to purchase, and that "nigger" didnt raise, I never ascertained; for though doubtless he could by varying the principle have adjusted the theory, yet I found no modification, of his practice.
Should the inference seem unavoidable that Elihus religious profession was all a sham, and that he was an unworthy member of the church, I must solicit for him a little charity. The reader does not yet fully understand Elihu. He had his peculiar views of religion, and his faith sought rather to manifest itself, not in the department of everyday morality, but soared into the loftier region of the supernatural. Elihus religion was a power; it defended him from evil spirits, and enabled him to perform gifts of healing, and in these departments he sedulously cultivated it.
Passing by his cabin door soon after he had become a member of my colored family, I observed that over the door had been nailed an inverted horse-shoe. Now as Elihus special department was the stable, and as he was moreover, noted for his great skill as an hostler, I at first imagined that it was a professional sign, denoting that the occupant within was desirous of performing for his friends some specific achievements in farriery. On questioning him, however, I found that, instead of being placed as an insignia of his art, the horse-shoe was rather a charm against certain magical arts performed by certain supernatural agencies denominated witches.
"What is that over your door, Elihu?"
"Dat fur witches, massa."
"Witches, massa. Nebber sleep, no how, widout horse-shoe to keep out de witches."
"What are witches, Elihu?"
Massa nebber hear tell of Mars Suttles horses?"
Now "Mars Suttle" was a very prominent member of a church to which I preached in an adjoining neighborhood. He was in some respects a gentleman of unusual native talents, and as I often enjoyed his hospitality when in his vicinity, Elihu considered that he was quoting weighty authority.
"What of Squire Suttles horses?"
"Witches ride dem lass winter almos to deff."
"Who says it was done by witches?"
"Mars Suttle catch urn heself. He too smart for em any how. Dey no ride his horses nex time."
Why, what do you mean? I dont understand you. What do you mean by catching witches?"
"Kill de man dat witch em. Mars Suttle know for to fetch em for sure."
"How did he doit?"
"Druv de nail right trew him, massa. So de man die, an de witches nebber come no more."
"A nail through him?"
"Sartain, massa. Cut him outn de paper, an nail him gin de plank in de barn, an dat man die for sartain an for sure. Mars Suttle know how to fetch em dat time. Dis nigger no fool nudder. Go ask Mars Suttle."
The amount of all which story was — as I afterward learned from one of Squire Suttles neighbors — that the Squire had two sources of anxiety — the one a superstitious weakness, and the other a couple of rollicking dare-devil sons, who roamed the country round in uproarious frolicking, while all the time the father supposed them in bed and quietly sleeping. In these midnight frolics the Squires carriage-horses were made to suffer, and he having more than once in the early morning found his stable-door carefully locked, the key in the house, and the horses within the stable covered with sweat and dust, and with every indication of hard night-driving, conceived the idea that a neighbor, with whom he was not upon good terms, had maliciously delivered them over to be worried to death by witches, whose night-riding was not upon broomsticks, as of old, but upon the Squires identical carriage-horses. To test the question of witch-working the sufferer had employed an infallible though somewhat dangerous ordeal. This was to cut out of paper an image, more or less accurate, of the person possessing the witch-working power, and pierce the image with a sharp nail through the region where the heart was supposed to be located, nailing it thus to the wall of the building frequented by the witches, and lo! in a short time, the witch-worker, if guilty, would begin to pine away, and would gradually die, and the witches be released from further service. This the Squire had done secretly, and the wicked neighbor suspected had, sure enough, died, and the Squires horses were no more night-ridden.
All these things Elihu had learned from the servants in the Squires family, and, being a mortal enemy to witch-workers, he had exulted greatly in the Squires triumph. Hence his Mars Suttle know how to fetch em dat time, an dis nigger no fool nudder."
From the fact that "Mars Suttles" theory of witches corresponded so exactly with that of Elihu I inferred that they had both been taught by the same kind of teacher. The Squire had learned it probably when a child from his negro nurse, and Elihu imbibed it as a necessary part of his native superstition.
Another phase of his super-sensuous conception of religion was the supposed power which its possessor received to perform certain miraculous cures both upon animals and fellow-mortals.
My first realization of this new method of the application of religion to the successful achieving of results in practical life was Elihus success with one of my horses.
I had obtained from Virginia a thorough-bred mare, which I had set apart for my own especial use as a saddle-horse. During the overland journey the mare had become quite emaciated, and was, upon its arrival, delivered over to Elihu, with a request that he would do what he could in the way of recuperating and developing the valuable animal. For several weeks all his exertions seemed ineffectual. This was the more remarkable as his skill as an hostler was in that whole region unparalleled. Suddenly, however, a marked improvement became evident, and Elihu, who had been suffering deep mortification from his previous failure, became correspondingly jubilant.
"Foun de hars (hails) at lass, massa," said he one morning, as I was expressing my gratification at the visible improvement of the animal. "Hab im seal-fat in tree week longer."
"Found what?" said I, in real astonishment.
"De bars, massa: tort Id git drections pon dat mission."
"What hairs and what mission? I dont understand you."
Elihu here scratched the wool behind his right car in a very mysterious manner, and seemed disposed to throw no more light upon my darkened intelligence. By dint of much questioning I at last drew out of him this information: that he had for a time sought in vain for certain specific hairs, growing under the fore-shoulder of the animal, which hairs, if plucked, secundum artem, held between the thumb and forefinger in a certain manner, chopped fine, and mixed with the horses food, would result in the rapid fattening of the animal. To find these hairs needed a kind of spiritual direction, which for a time he had been unable to obtain. He had all the time been pulling the wrong hails, as was evident from the horses unchanged condition. But now the fattening process had commenced, showing that he had received "right drections pon dat mission."
But it was not until some months after this event that I was fully enlightened as to the extent of Elihus gifts of working, as manifested in another direction and upon a loftier theatre. He also exercised the gifts of healing, for the relief of human infirmities.
It was nearly nine oclock in the evening. I was reading in my bedroom, in momentary expectation of the "nine o'clock drum-beat," the signal for all wandering darkeys to hurry home, and also for the setting of the vigilant night-patrol to guard the surrounding neighborhood. Suddenly Elihu, unannounced, stood before me, dressed in a dignified suit and looking profoundly important. He was evidently bound upon some errand. Drawing himself up to his full height, and extending his hand imperatively:
"Pass, massa; please, Sir?"
"Pass! for what?"
"Sent for, Sir, drectly. Muss go to Mars John Hewitts."
"John Hewitts! why, it is at least five miles. What are you going there for this time of night?"
Obleeged to go, Sir. Crissey got her palate down."
"Palate down, Sir. Mars Hewitt say come drectly. Pass, if you please, Sir."
"What does he want you for?"
"I pulls up de palate, Sah."
"How pull it up?"
"Well, I gits drections, Sah, an - pulls up de palate."
"Well, how do you pull it up?"
"Finds de har, Sah, up here" (placing his forefinger upon the apex of his skull), an pulls de palate up."
"How do you know which hairs to pull?"
At first no reply, but a mysterious scratching back of the ear. Upon the question being repeated, and after a pause —
"Well, I knows, Sir, but I cant splanicate. I does it offen, Sir."
"Whose palate did you ever pull up?"
"Sent for, by de white folks, Sir, all roun de country."
This I afterward ascertained was true. Elihu was widely known as possessing the mysterious gift. Of course "the pass" was given, and he departed upon his healing mission.
After this I ceased to judge of Elihus religion as I did of that of more ordinary mortals. He was outwardly, on Sundays and at all meetings, a rigid moralist, and as such he was beyond the reach of church-discipline. His peculiar view of the spiritual and the supernatural rendered hopelessly impossible any other faith than that by which he was enabled to perform successfully his works of sublime mystery.
This sense of authority doubtless grew out of the fact that her business was to take care of, raise, and "tend pon" massas children, receiving them at their birth, and having the
824almost exclusive care of them until well grown, and as it is but a short step from governing the children to governing the parents, Maria considered herself at liberty to take that responsibility, especially with her mistress.
"Now, missus" — she would say, whenever the mother extended to the younger children any unusual indulgence — "now, missus, you jess gwine to ruing dat chile. I knows you is. I wants dat chile brot up in de ammunition ob de Lord, but you gwine to done ruing dat chile, notwithstandin accordin."
Sometimes she would say, "Missus, dat not de way to raise de chile. You sponsible fore God for dat chile, missus. Spose you dress um so fine de debbil make urn proud, den how you gwine sarcumvent dat possibility? Missus, I wants dat chile raised cordin to de gos-pill"
From this conspicuous anxiety that suitable religious impressions and gospel training should be secured for "de precious offsprings," it must not be inferred that the white family were destitute of the graces and practice of piety. The family was a Christian household. It was only Marias intensified religious disposition which gave her anxieties this direction. This also assumed other forms of development. She had become, from long habit, accustomed to refer every incident and event in her own private history to the Lord, inviting his particular attention for good or for evil upon all around her, as they chanced to he her friends or enemies. Such familiarity argued either a very high degree of spiritual attainments, or else an utter want of reverence for the Deity. Which it was, let every man judge according to the light which is in him.
The wealth of Marias affections was about equally divided between the children and a cherished brood of chickens, her own special property. These chickens being in more danger than the children, were daily placed by Maria under the immediate guardianship of the Deity himself, lest they should be by profane and evil-minded persons stolen and devoured. This committal of her personal property to the care of a special Providence was made at frequent intervals, while she was performing her accustomed duties, perhaps rocking the child to sleep — Maria singing her requests to the Deity in the form of an improvised lullaby. Here again it will be noticed that Marias method of "committing her ways unto the Lord" savored either of great devoutness or of great irreverence.
One thing soon manifested itself. With all her professed devotion Maria had nothing of that gentle, forgiving spirit toward her enemies which we are taught to consider a legitimate fruit of the Gospel. This at first led me to doubt whether Maria was a very intelligent Christian, so far as regarded the spirit of her profession; and I became after a time fully convinced that her Christianity was more persistent and offensive than meek, patient, and orthodox.
At the time of which I now speak an Irishman named Dan was employed by Marias master as gardener; and he, with his family, occupied the "gardeners house," not far from Marias cabin. Now Dan and his family were Catholics, and they had persuaded Maria and others of the colored servants to attend Mass, and witness their imposing forms of worship. All this pleased Maria sensibly, until, unfortunately for the Catholic profession, an afflictive event occurred which conclusively convinced Maria that all Catholics were a set of hypocrites and impostors. This event was to Maria one of great importance. In fact, some one stole her chickens.
Maria referred her sorrows, feelings, and wishes during this afflictive bereavement, as all expected she would, to a tribunal no less important than that of the Omnipotent Deity. But her original manner of doing this struck me — a comparative stranger to her methods — as something quite unusual in Christian practice and experience. However, her peculiar method did not long remain a novelty; it became a daily exercise, and continued so as long as her sorrows continued poignant. This peculiar manner of recounting her sorrows to the Deity was exhibited under the form of a daily chant. And I am obliged in all truthfulness to mention also that Maria did, in addition, what a Christian should not have done; that is, she invoked, through the same medium, the infliction of direful punishment upon the supposed offender.
Nothing could convince Maria that these offenders were any others than her former friends — the gardeners family, though there was not a shadow of evidence to justify her suspicions. It was very fortunate for them, however, innocent if they were, that Marias petitions were not availing. During the continuance of these feelings of bereavement and of injury, we would have at least once a day a scene something like the following:
We would be sitting upon the veranda quietly smoking, or reading, or chatting, as the inclination prompted, when suddenly would rise upon the profound stillness of the scene a strong, high-keyed, nasal plaint, indignant and doleful, half chant, half recitative, and most profoundly earnest:
"Oh-h-h-h, Jesus! Oh-h-h-h, Jesus!
An dey make long prayers,
An dey sing long psalms,
But dey steal my chick-ins, Lord:
Oh-h-h, Jesus! Oh-h-h, Jesus!"
Then, as an interlude, would follow a continuous humming sound, as if gathering up her feelings into metrical shape; and again would the plaint burst forth:
"An dey go to church,
An dey make long prayers,
An dey make dere long con-fessions;
But deyll all be damned In dat drefful day;
For dey steal my chick-ins, Lord:
Oh-h-h, Jesus! Oh-h-h, Jesus!
"Soon, Lord, come down,
In de burnin fire,
Wid de brimstone hot,
An make dem mazed;
For all dere lies,
An dere poc-a-sies;
For dey steal my chick-ing, Lord:
Oh-h-h, Jesus! Oh-h-h, Jesus!"
This I learned at the time was not the only occasion of Marias peculiar method of anathematizing. Whenever displeased by any event, or the victim of any arrangement which offended against her own wishes imposed upon her peculiar hardship, the Lord, the family, and the neighbors were all sure to hear of it, at short intervals, and until she had soothed her own feelings by the violence of her chants and recitations.
How far all this was a legitimate Christian exercise others and not ourselves can decide. Evidently Maria herself considered it such. She prided herself upon her religion, and thus "tole de Lord all her flictions," just as naturally as others resorted for the same purpose to their closets in daily supplication.
Is Fetichism a natural product of the Africans intellectual and spiritual organization? Can it ever be eliminated by education, or wholly eradicated by the Gospel?