The prescribed penalties for assisting in the escape of fugitive slaves were severe. By the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act, as it was called, any one convicted of that offense, besides a liability for one thousand dollars damages recoverable in a civil action, was subject to a five-hundred-dollars fine and imprisonment in a penitentiary for one year. As the writer has not “done time” for participation in certain transactions dating back to his earlier days, in which the legal rights of slave-owners were indifferently respected, he thinks it advisable to be somewhat reserved in his recital of personal experiences when taking the public into his confidence. The Fugitive Slave Law—and for that fact we should give “most hearty thanks”—is about as dead as any statute can be, but as in the case of a snake that has been killed, it may be the wiser course not to trifle with its fangs. Therefore, instead of telling my own story in the first person singular, I offer as a substitute the confession of one John Smith, whose existence no one will presume to dispute. Here is his statement:
“There was an old barn on my father’s farm. It was almost a ruin. One end of the roof had fallen in, pretty much all the windows were gone, and there was a general air of dilapidation about the place. A dwelling-house, to which it was an appendage, had been burned and not rebuilt, and the barn had been left to fight a battle with the elements and other foes in pretty much its own way.
“Not that it was wholly abandoned. There was one mow that was kept pretty well supplied with grass, and there were two or three horse stalls that were in tolerable order, although but rarely used. There were a number of excellent hiding-places about the old rookery. In the basement all sorts of rubbish, including unused vehicles and machinery, had been stored away, and so wedged and packed was it that it would have taken hours to uncover man or beast seeking concealment there.
“One of the curious features of the situation was that the building was in sight of none of the roads in the neighborhood, while less than a hundred feet from it was a strip of woods in which the removal of the larger trees had stimulated a sturdy and densely matted undergrowth that was penetrable only by means of paths that had been made by the cattle. It was what was called a ‘woods pasture.’ With this cover for his movements any one could approach or leave the old barn with little danger of discovery.
“Naturally enough, such a ramshackle was in ill-repute. There were tales about it in the neighborhood. Some children had gone there to play on one occasion, and had been badly frightened by a big—as big as a half-bushel, they asserted—black face that was seen to be watching them. They fled from the premises in great alarm, and for a time there was talk of an investigation by their friends. The incident,