It is to be regretted that, owing to circumstances, the account of these persons has not been fully preserved. Could justice be done them, probably their narratives would not be surpassed in interest by any other in the history of fugitives. In 1857, when these remarkable travelers came under the notice of the Vigilance Committee, as Slavery seemed likely to last for generations, and there was but little expectation that these records would ever have the historical value which they now possess, care was not always taken to prepare and preserve them. Besides, the cases coming under the notice of the Committee, were so numerous and so interesting, that it seemed almost impossible to do them anything like justice. In many instances the rapt attention paid by friends, when listening to the sad recitals of such passengers, would unavoidably consume so much time that but little opportunity was afforded to make any record of them. Particularly was this the case with regard to the above-mentioned individuals. The story of each was so long and sad, that a member of the Committee in attempting to write it out, found that the two narratives would take volumes. That all traces, of these heroes might not be lost, a mere fragment is all that was preserved.
The original names of these adventurers, were Joseph Grant and John Speaks. Between two and three years before escaping, they were sold from Maryland to John B. Campbell a negro trader, living in Baltimore, and thence to Campbell’s brother, another trader in New Orleans, and subsequently to Daniel McBeans and Mr. Henry, of Harrison county, Mississippi.
Though both had to pass through nearly the same trial, and belonged to the same masters, this recital must be confined chiefly to the incidents in the career of Joseph. He was about twenty-seven years of age, well made, quite black, intelligent and self-possessed in his manner.
He was owned in Maryland by Mrs. Mary Gibson, who resided at St. Michael’s on the Eastern Shore. She was a nice woman he said, but her property was under mortgage and had to be sold, and he was in danger of sharing the same fate.
Joseph was a married man, and spoke tenderly of his wife. She “promised” him when he was sold that she would “never marry,” and earnestly entreated him, if he “ever met with the luck, to come and see her.” She was unaware perhaps at that time of the great distance that was to divide them; his feelings on being thus sundered need not be stated. However, he had scarcely been in Mississippi three weeks, ere his desire to return to his wife, and the place of his nativity constrained him to attempt to return; accordingly he set off, crossing a lake eighty miles wide in a small boat, he reached Kent Island. There he was captured by the watchman on the Island, who with pistols, dirk and cutlass in hand, threatened if he resisted that death would be his instant doom. Of course he was returned to his master.