"Every Person at the South in whose ancestry can be detected a trace, however faint, of negro blood, is assumed to be a slave, in all places and cases where he cannot produce white testimony to the contrary. It is disgraceful enough to us in Massachusetts a disgrace which we have merited by our voluntary union, in Church and State, with slaveholders, but which, we fervently hope, will be shaken off by the next Legislature) that we allow the possibility, by evidence, of proving a man a slave; and that we consent on the testimony of trumpery documents, which, whether forged or genuine, are alike contrary to justice, to refasten upon a human being the oppressor’s chain which his skill or courage has thrown off. Even this, we say, is a shame to a people who call themselves civilized and Christian. But in the South, where tyranny is the rule and justice the exception a practice more infamous prevails, and every colored person who finds himself among strangers is called upon to rebut, by particular testimony, the general assumption above mentioned, and to bring evidence, the evidence of white men, be it remembered that he is not a slave.
One great security of slavery is the prima facie case generally made out against the fugitive by his complexion. In the slaveholding States, by every colored person, but pre-eminently by every fugitive slave, the old Roman maxim is realized to be true, that the stranger is the enemy. Any white person is authorized, alike by law and usage, to stop any unknown colored person, and require him to give an account of himself the question being of course, ‘Who do you belong to?’—Of course, therefore, the person who bears in his face the certificate of this subjugation, visible almost as far as his figure is visible, must find the greatest difficulty in making his way through this barbarous region to a Christian country.
Slavery itself, however, provides for a portion of the enslaved a remedy to remove this first difficulty from their path. The longer slavery lasts, the more numerous become the cases in which the children and grandchildren of the slaveholder himself (these two relationships being sometimes united in one individual) are reckoned among his slaves. Where, for a series of generations, the master, and his sons, and his and their male guests and the overseer, and any white man who happens or contrives to find any slave girl alone, have had supreme power over the bodies of female slaves, of course, great numbers of slaves will be born and grow up in whom the suspicious feature of colored skin is scarcely, if at all, perceptible, and who of course, will be less likely to be stopped and questioned as slaves. Especially will this immunity exist where a master has slave-issue by his own mulatto or quadroon daughter, since here the features as well as the complexion will be transmitted, thus giving better opportunity for the person in question (in the common phraseology of fugitive slave advertisements) ‘to be generally mistaken for white’!
In the case of these children or grandchildren (or both) of the slaveholders, especially those in whom blue eyes and light hair, nearly straight, combine with a fair complexion, it becomes necessary to take special precautions against the prima facie evidence of ‘high caste,’ and a chance of their passage unsuspected, (as William Craft’s wife did,) even though the midst of slaveholders. We find in the Charleston Mercury the following ingenious method—entirely new to us—of meeting this difficulty:—
$100 REWARD.—Ran away from me, on the 2d of September, 1857, my slave JOHN. He is 17 years old, 5 feet 8 inches high, slender and awkward, long narrow face, sharp chin, mouth small, lips thick, and not well closed; he has blue eyes, sandy hair, and inclined to curl only; his complexion so fair as to be generally mistaken for white. He has S L on one side, and V E on the other side of his face, pricked in with India ink; he said he would remove these letters, which will leave scores of scares on his face.
I will give $20 to have him lodge in any safe confinement, $30 for delivery to me at Gillisonville, and $50 for proof to convict any responsible person for harboring him; and any information respecting him will be thankfully received. WM. YOUMANS. Gillsonville, S.C., Oct. 8, 1857.
The idea of Mr. William Youmans, of Gillisonville, (Beaufort District) S.C., seems to have been to have the nose of this white young man perform the part of the letter A, and thus to have him bear across his face the conspicuous and indelible inscription SLAVE. And since the animated clay thus deliberately stamped as a vessel of dishonor and incautiously declared his intention of destroying the portions of his skin thus disfigured, Mr. Youmans reveals the depth of his stratagem, and announces to the kidnapping public of his native State, that whenever these letters are removed, sores or permanent scars will tell, with equal plainness, the story of the original inscription.
Is Mr. William Youmans more brutal, more degraded, than the majority of his brother slaveholders in South Caroline? Is he, on the other hand, a man of good reputation, eminent respectability, well-known piety, good and regular membership in some evangelical church? How can we tell? His conduct towards this slave (told by himself over his own signature in the public papers, without the slightest fear, or cause for fear, that it will be discreditable to him in the eyes of his neighbors) gives us not the slightest clue to a true answer to these questions. Even if we had not been well assured before, both by the essential nature of slavery and by documentary evidence showing its customary usages, that a church member may, just as freely as another man, own what slave property he pleases, mark it as he pleases to show the ownership, use it as he pleases to make the ownership profitable, and mar it whenever it pleases him so to exercise his authority—the case of Deacon John Netherland of Tennessee might give us these assurances.
This man on some suspicion, which afterwards proved to be unfounded, subjected an aged negro, of respectable character, to such intolerable and long continued torments using a handsaw as the instrument of correction, that the neighbors and the owner of the building interfered for the relief of their own ears from his screams; and the sheriff and jailer afterwards interfered, for the same reason, when a similar discipline was commenced in another place. The Rev. Samuel Sawyer, minister of the church in which Col. Netherland was deacon, esteeming this treatment to be cruelty and feeling some official responsibility in the matter, undertook to inflict church censure on the deacon, and to have this cruelty formally discountenanced by the church. To his surprise, the church discountenanced him instead of deacon Netherland, told him to mind his own business, and by way of helping him to do so, discharged him from the pastoral office.”
~From Anti-slavery bugle. (New-Lisbon, Ohio), 21 Aug. 1858. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.