So far as I knew, there was a universal expectation that the city would be occupied by rebel troops that night. As this was in harmony with the general tenor of my anticipations for a quarter of a century, I readily shared in the popular opinion, and for once was with the majority.
Among the groups who stood in the streets were many contrabands, and their faces were pitiful to see. One scantily-clad woman, holding a ragged infant, and with two frightened, ragged children clinging to her skirts, stood literally quaking. Her black face had turned gray with terror, and she came to me and asked:
“Oh! Missus! does ye tink dey will get in?”
Suddenly my eyes were opened, like those of the prophet’s servant when he saw the horses and chariots of fire, and I replied:
“No! never! They will come no nearer than they now are! You can go home and rest in peace, for you are just as safe from them as if you were in heaven!”
She was greatly comforted; but a gentleman said, as she moved away:
“I wish I could share your opinion; but what is to hinder their coming in?”
“God is to hinder! He has appointed us to rescue these people. They are collected here in thousands, and the prayers of centuries are to be answered now!”
I myself went home feeling all the confidence I spoke, and wondering I could have been so stupid as to doubt. Our Government and people were very imperfect, but had developed a sublime patriotism—made an almost miraculous growth in good. Ten righteous men would have saved Sodom. We had ten thousand; and I must think there are few histories of supernatural interference in the affairs of the Jews more difficult to account for, on merely natural grounds, than the preservation of Washington in that crisis.
December 6th, 1865, the fiftieth anniversary of my birth, found me in Washington, at work in the Quarter-Master’s office, on a salary of sixty dollars a month, without any provision for support in old age; and so great a sufferer as never to have a night of rest unbroken by severe pain, but with my interest in a country rescued from the odium of Southern slavery, and a faint light breaking of the day which is yet to abolish that of the West.
In the summer of ’66, Dr. King, of Pittsburg, came to know what I would take for my interest in ten acres of the Swissvale estate, which he had purchased. My deed had presented a barrier to the sale of a portion of it, and he was in trouble:
I consulted Secretary Stanton, who said:
“Your title to that property is good against the world!”
It had become valuable and the idea of its ownership was alarming! I had made up my mind to poverty, had been discharged from the Quarter-Master’s office by special order of President Johnson, “for speaking disrespectfully of the President of the United States!”—Washington Star—was the first person dismissed by Mr. Johnson; was without visible means of support, could not suddenly adjust my thought to anything so foreign to all my plans as coming into possession of a valuable estate, and said: