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The Underground Railroad eBook

William Still
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,197 pages of information about The Underground Railroad.

At the time he was doing most for humanity in rescuing bondsmen from Slavery, Slave-laws were actually being the most rigidly executed.  To show mercy, in any sense, to man or woman, who might be caught assisting a poor Slave to flee from the prison-house, was a matter not to be thought of in Virginia.  This was perfectly well understood by Captain F.; indeed he did not hesitate to say, that his hazardous operations might any day result in the “sacrifice” of his life.  But on this point he seemed to give himself no more concern than he would have done to know which way the wind would blow the next day.  He had his own convictions about dying and the future, and he declared, that he had “no fear of death,” however it might come.  Still, he was not disposed to be reckless or needlessly to imperil his life, or the lives of those he undertook to aid.  Nor was he averse to receiving compensation for his services.  In Richmond, Norfolk, Petersburg, and other places where he traded, many slaves were fully awake to their condition.  The great slave sales were the agencies that served to awaken a large number.  Then the various mechanical trades were necessarily given to the Slaves, for the master had no taste for “greasy, northern mechanics.”  Then, again, the stores had to be supplied with porters, draymen, etc., from the slave population.  In the hearts of many of the more intelligent amongst the slaves, the men, as mechanics, etc., the women, as dress-makers, chamber-maids, etc., notwithstanding all the opposition and hard laws, the spirit of Freedom was steadily burning.  Many of the slaves were half brothers, and sisters, cousins, nephews, and nieces to their owners, and of course “blood would tell.”

It was only necessary for the fact to be made known to a single reliable and intelligent slave, that a man with a boat running North had the love of Freedom for all mankind in his bosom to make that man an object of the greatest interest.  If an angel had appeared amongst them doubtless his presence would not have inspired greater anxiety and hope than did the presence of Captain F. The class most anxious to obtain freedom could generally manage to acquire some means which they would willingly offer to captains or conductors in the South for such assistance as was indispensable to their escape.  Many of the slaves learned if they could manage to cross Mason and Dixon’s line, even though they might be utterly destitute and penniless, that they would then receive aid and protection from the Vigilance Committee.  Here it may be well to state that, whilst the Committee gladly received and aided all who might come or be brought to them, they never employed agents or captains to go into the South with a view of enticing or running off slaves.  So when captains operated, they did so with the full understanding that they alone were responsible for any failures attending their movements.

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