A. “No. I hired my time for twenty-two dollars a month.”
Q. “How could you make so much money?”
A. “I was a bricklayer
by trade, and ranked among the first in
As Harrison talked so intelligently, the member of the Committee who was examining him, was anxious to know how he came to be so knowing, the fact that he could read being very evident.
Harrison proceeded to explain how he was led to acquire the art both of reading and writing: “Slaves caught out of an evening without passes from their master or mistress, were invariably arrested, and if they were unable to raise money to buy themselves off, they were taken and locked up in a place known as the ‘cage,’ and in the morning the owner was notified, and after paying the fine the unfortunate prisoner had to go to meet his fate at the hands of his owner.”
Often he or she found himself or herself sentenced to take thirty-nine or more lashes before atonement could be made for the violated law, and the fine sustained by the enraged owner.
Harrison having strong aversion to both of the “wholesome regulations” of the peculiar institution above alluded to, saw that the only remedy that he could avail himself of was to learn to write his own passes. In possessing himself of this prize he knew that the law against slaves being taught, would have to be broken, nevertheless he was so anxious to succeed, that he was determined to run the risk. Consequently he grasped the boon with but very little difficulty or assistance. Valuing his prize highly, he improved more and more until he could write his own passes satisfactorily. The “cage” he denounced as a perfect “hog hole,” and added, “it was more than I could bear.”
He also spoke with equal warmth on the pass custom, “the idea of working hard all day and then being obliged to have a pass,” etc.,—his feelings sternly revolted against. Yet he uttered not a disrespectful word against the individual to whom he belonged. Once he had been sold, but for what was not noted on the record book.
His mother had been sold several times. His brother, William Henry Gary, escaped from Washington, D.C., when quite a youth. What became of him it was not for Harrison to tell, but he supposed that he had made his way to a free State, or Canada, and he hoped to find him. He had no knowledge of any other relatives.
In further conversation with him, relative to his being a single man, he said, that he had resolved not to entangle himself with a family until he had obtained his freedom.
He had found it pretty hard to meet his monthly hire, consequently he was on the look-out to better his condition as soon as a favorable opportunity might offer. Harrison’s mistress had a son named John James Ashley, who was then a minor. On arriving at majority, according to the will of this lad’s father, he was to have possession of Harrison as his portion. Harrison had no idea of having to work for his support—he thought that, if John could not take care of himself when he grew up to be a man, there was a place for all such in the poor-house.