and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed
his master, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very
wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of
as the fruit of abolition.
Hearing the word
in this connection very often, I set about learning
what it meant. The dictionary afforded me little
or no help. I found it was “the act of abolishing;”
but then I did not know what was to be abolished.
Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask any
one about its meaning, for I was satisfied that it
was something they wanted me to know very little about.
After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers,
containing an account of the number of petitions from
the north, praying for the abolition of slavery in
the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between
the States. From this time I understood the words
drew near when that word was spoken, expecting to hear
something of importance to myself and fellow-slaves.
The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went
one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing
two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked,
and helped them. When we had finished, one of
them came to me and asked me if I were a slave.
I told him I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave
for life?” I told him that I was. The good
Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement.
He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a
little fellow as myself should be a slave for life.
He said it was a shame to hold me. They both
advised me to run away to the north; that I should
find friends there, and that I should be free.
I pretended not to be interested in what they said,
and treated them as if I did not understand them;
for I feared they might be treacherous. White
men have been known to encourage slaves to escape,
and then, to get the reward, catch them and return
them to their masters. I was afraid that these
seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless
remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved
to run away. I looked forward to a time at which
it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young
to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished
to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to
write my own pass. I consoled myself with the
hope that I should one day find a good chance.
Meanwhile, I would learn to write.
The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested
to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard,
and frequently seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing,
and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write
on the timber the name of that part of the ship for
which it was intended. When a piece of timber
was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked
thus—“L.” When a piece
was for the starboard side, it would be marked thus—“S.”
A piece for the larboard side forward, would be marked
thus—“L. F.” When
a piece was for starboard side forward, it would be
marked thus—“S. F.”