Love Unbound

Fay Mitchell

The concept of love and happiness was tenuous indeed for the enslaved, who by law could not marry, and even if families were established, wives, husbands and children could be sold to distant points at any time. Still, the need for love, companionship and children often transcends situations and conditions. From slave narratives available digitally at DocSouth, part of the UNC-Chapel Hill Documenting the American South project, we find these testimonials to the power of love.

Friday Jones

I was a young man, near grown, when the stars fell. I then belonged to Col. Tignal Jones, of Wake Co, N.C[.] who had married my young mistress, Emily Hye. I might say that we slaves were under a cloud; we could not see clearly what the duty of a man was at that time, that is, we could not by law, but through the mysteries of God we could.

I wanted a wife, so I went to Col. Jones and told him I wanted to marry. I had been going to see my girl, three miles from home, for three years. 'Twas a pretty hard pill, but mustering up the courage I said, "Master, I want to get married." I told him who and where my girl was. He answered quick and short, "If you have a wife there, I'll sell you to a trader; I want you to have a wife at home, sir, I'll buy you a wife." When he said this, my reply to him was, "Go buy her, sir." I felt very sad, she had troubled me for three long years.

There was a man in my neighborhood by the name of Sandy Hye, who hired hands as fast as he could get them to send them to the gold mines, which was about 200 miles away. I got Hye to hire me without saying anything to Col. Jones. I wanted to go; I did not want to go to a trader, neither did I intend to have a woman I did not want. Rye succeeded in sending me to the gold mines. I went there and never did a days work, and in three weeks time I was back, and wouldn't agree to return any more. That same year I was out of Col. Jones' service and I went to my wife's master, Dr. Rogers, and told him what I wanted. He and his wife were both willing for me to have her, but did not know that Col. Jones was opposed to it. That same year, 1834, we went together, like a goose and gander--no wedding--and we are together yet as man and wife. She has been the mother of eleven children, of which we have raised all but two.

I had pleasure with my wife and little ones for about four years, when my troubles commenced. Col. Jones was a white Southern man who believed in parting slaves and sending them where he pleased. He had four men--I was the youngest--and he parted all of them. I was out of his employ for four years, working for the Government of North Carolina, after which I fell back in his hands, working on his farm and on the Raleigh & Gaston R. R. He set out to part my wife and I, as he had threathened to do. I could not suit him, I could not get along with him; he was always abusing me and threathening to sell me; he aggrivated me and tried my very soul. I was raised poor and hard as any slave, but the Lord had elevated me and made me feel that I was more of a man. I had all the craves for a wife and children, and I feel to day that God gave me that woman to take care of her, for fifty-two or fifty-three years tells mighty well about us. Col. Jones rebuked me on one occasion--I was dressing my wife finer than he was his wife. I answered, him, "Master, that is my money; I work for it. If I don't give it to my wife and children, what am I to do with it?" The troubles between he and I still increased, and on one occasion, when I got home in the morning from my wife's house, we met and had words[.] I replied, "Sir, I love my wife--you love yours; if you don't want me to go to see my wife, just send me as far away as you can, by land or water, for I am going at the risk of my life." He jumped and struck at me and we had a regular warfare that day.

Lunsford Lane 

Perceiving that I was getting along so well, I began, slave as I was, to think about taking a wife. So I fixed my mind upon Miss Lucy Williams, a slave of Thomas Devereaux, Esq., an eminent lawyer in the place; but failed in my undertaking. Then I thought I never would marry; but at the end of two or three years my resolution began to slide away, till finding I could not keep it longer I set out once more in pursuit of a wife. So I fell in with her to whom I am now united, Miss MARTHA CURTIS, and the bargain between us was completed. I next went to her master, Mr. Boylan, and asked him, according to the custom, if I might "marry his woman." His reply was, "Yes, if you will behave yourself." I told him I would. "And make her behave herself?" To this I also assented; and then proceeded to ask the approbation of my master, which was granted. So in May, 1828, I was bound as fast in wedlock as a slave can be. God may at any time sunder that band in a freeman; either master may do the same at pleasure in a slave. The bond is not recognized in law. But in my case it has never been broken; and now it cannot be, except by a higher power.

When we had been married nine months and one day, we were blessed with a son, and two years afterwards with a daughter. My wife also passed from the hands of Mr. Boylan, into those of Mr. BENJAMIN B. SMITH, a merchant, a member and class-leader in the Methodist church, and in much repute for his deep piety and devotion to religion. But grace (of course) had not wrought in the same manner upon the heart of Mr. Smith, as nature had done upon that of Mr. Boylan, who made no religious profession. This latter gentleman used to give my wife, who was a favorite slave, (her mother nursed every one of his own children,) sufficient food and clothing to render her comfortable, so that I had to spend for her but little, except to procure such small articles of extra comfort as I was prompted to from time to time. Indeed Mr. Boylan was regarded as a very kind master to all the slaves about him; that is, to his house servants; nor did he personally inflict much cruelty, if any, upon his field hands. The overseer on his nearest plantation (I know but little about the rest) was a very cruel man; in one instance, as it was said among the slaves, he whipped a man to death; but of course denied that the man died in consequence of the whipping. Still it was the choice of my wife to pass into the hands of Mr. Smith, as she had become attached to him in consequence of belonging to the same church, and receiving his religious instruction and counsel as her class-leader, and in consequence of the peculiar devotedness to the cause of religion for which he was noted, and which he always seemed to manifest.-- But when she became his slave, he withheld both from her and her children, the needful food and clothing, while he exacted from them to the uttermost all the labor they were able to perform. Almost every article of clothing worn either by my wife or children, especially every article of much value, I had to purchase; while the food he furnished the family amounted to less than a meal a day, and that of the coarser kind. I have no remembrance that he ever gave us a blanket or any other article of bedding, although it is considered a rule at the South that the master shall furnish each of his slaves with one blanket a year. So that, both as to food and clothing, I had in fact to support both my wife and the children, while he claimed them as his property, and received all their labor.

Rev. Thomas Jones

About this time I began to feel very lonely. I wanted a friend to whom I could tell my story of sorrows, of unsatisfied longing, of new and fondly cherished plans. I wanted a companion whom I could love with all my warm affections, who should love me in return with a true and fervent heart, of whom I might think when toiling for a selfish, unfeeling master, who shall dwell fondly on my memory when we were separated during the severe labors of the day, and with whom I might enjoy the blessed happiness of social endearments after the work of each day was over. My heart yearned to have a home, if it was only the wretched home of the unprotected slave, to have a wife to love me and to love. It seems to me that no one can have such fondness of love and such intensity of desire for home and home affections, as the poor slave. Despised and trampled upon by a cruel race of unfeeling men, the bondman must die in the prime of his wretched life, if he finds no refuge in a dear home, where love and sympathy shall meet him from hearts made sacred to him by his own irrepressible affection and tenderness for them. And so I sought to love and win a true heart in return. I did this, too, with the full knowledge of the desperate agony that the slave husband and father is exposed to. Had I not seen this in the anguish of my own parents? Yea, I saw it in every public auction, where men and women and children were brought upon the block, examined, and bought. I saw it on such occasions, in the hopeless agony depicted on the countenance of husband and wife there separated to meet no more in this cruel world; and in the screams of wild despair and useless entreaty which the mother, then deprived of her darling child, sent forth. I heard the doom which stares every slave parent in the face each waking and sleeping hour of an unhappy life. And yet I sought to become a husband and a father, because I felt that I could live no longer unloved and unloving. I was married to Lucilla Smith, the slave to Mrs. Moore. We called it and we considered it a true marriage, although we knew well that marriage was not permitted to the slaves as a sacred right of the loving heart. Lucilla was seventeen years old when we were married. I loved her with all my heart, and she gave me a return for my affection with which I was contented. Oh, God of love thou knowest what happy hours we have passed in each other's society in our poor cabin! When we knelt in prayer, we never forgot to ask God to save us from the misery of cruel separation, while life and love were our portion. Oh, how we have talked of this dreadful fate, and wept in mingling sorrow, as we thought of our desolation, if we should be parted and doomed to live on weary years, away from each other's dear presence! We had three dear little babes. Our fondness for our precious children increased the current feeling of love for each other, which filled our hearts. They were bright, precious things, those little babes; at least so they seemed to us. Lucilla and I were never tired of planning to improve their condition, as far as might be done for slaves. We prayed with new fervency to our Father in Heaven to protect our precious babes. Lucilla was very proud of me, because I could read and write, and she often spoke of my teaching our dear little ones, and then she would say, with tears, "Who knows, Thomas, but that they may yet be free and happy?" Lucilla was a valuable slave to her mistress. She was a seamstress, and very expert at her needle; I had a constant dread that Mrs. Moore, her mistress, would be in want of money, and sell my dear wife. We constantly dreaded a final separation. Our affection for each other was very strong, and this made us always apprehensive of a cruel parting. These fears were well founded as our sorrowing hearts too soon learned. A few years of very pure and constant happiness for slaves, passed away, and we were parted to meet but once again till we meet in eternity. Mrs. Moore left Wilmington, and moved to Newbern. She carried with her my beloved Lucilla and my three children, Annie, four years old; Lizzie, two and a half years; and our sweet little babe, Charlie. She remained there eighteen months, and oh, how lonely and dreary and desponding were those months of lonely life to my crushed heart! My dear wife and my precious children were seventy-four miles distant from me, carried away from me in utter scorn of my beseeching words. I was tempted to put an end to my wretched life. I thought of my dear family by day and by night.


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