It lay at the head of the Falls of the Ohio, and the general government had lately expended large sums in building a canal around them. Henry Clay was in the zenith of his power, slavery held possession of the national resources, Louisville might count on favors, and she was to be Queen City of the West. There was an aspiring little place which fancied itself a rival, a little boat-landing, without natural advantages, called Cincinnati, where they killed hogs; but it was quite absurd to think of her competing with the great metropolis at the head of the canal.
I was quite surprised to find there were a good many houses and folks in Cincinnati; but our boat did not stop long, and we soon reached our Eldorado. Before we effected a landing at the crowded wharf, I fell to wondering if a Pittsburg drayman could take a Louisville dray, its load, its three horses and ragged driver, pile them on his dray, and with his one horse take them to their destination—and I thought he could.
Samuel met us, and as we went in a hack to the boarding place he had engaged. I wondered what had happened that so many men were off work in the middle of the forenoon. Who or what could they be, those fellows in shining black broadcloth, each with a stove-pipe hat on the side of his head, his thumbs in the armholes of a satin vest, displaying a wonderful glimmer of gold chain and diamond stud, balancing himself first on his heels and then on his toes, as he rolled a cigar from one side of his mouth to the other? How did they come to be standing around on corners and doorsteps by the hundred, like crows on a cornfield fence?
It was some time before I learned that this was the advance guard of a great army of woman-whippers, which stretched away back to the Atlantic, and around the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and that they were out on duty as a staring brigade, whose business it was to insult every woman who ventured on the street without a male protector, by a stare so lascivious as could not be imagined on American free soil. I learned that they all lived, in whole or in part, by the sale of their own children, and the labor of the mothers extorted by the lash. I came to know one hoary-haired veteran, whose entire support came from the natural increase and wages of nineteen women, one of whom, a girl of eighteen, lived with him in a fashionable boarding-house, waited on him at table, slept in his room, and of whose yearly wages one hundred and seventy-five dollars were credited on his board bill.
I learned that none of the shapely hands displayed on the black vests, had ever used other implement of toil than a pistol, bowie-knife or slave-whip; that any other tool would ruin the reputation of the owner of the taper digits; but they did not lose caste by horsewhipping the old mammys from whose bosoms they had drawn life in infancy.
Our boarding-house was on Walnut street, one block west of the theatre, and looked toward the river. On the opposite side of the street stood a two-story brick house, always closed except when a negress opened and dusted the rooms. I never saw sadness or sorrow until I saw that face; and it did not appear except about her work, or when she emerged from a side gate to call in two mulatto children, who sometimes came out on the pavement.