Read Twelve Years a Slave book online by Solomon Northup

Read Twelve Years a Slave book online by Solomon Northup

Over I went to Tanner’s, joyfully enough. He had heard of my late difficulties—in fact, I ascertained the flogging of Tibeats was soon blazoned far and wide. This affair, together with my rafting experiment, had rendered me somewhat notorious. More than once I heard it said that Platt Ford, now Platt Tibeats—a slave’s name changes with his change of master—was “a devil of a nigger.” But I was destined to make a still further noise, as will presently be seen, throughout the little world of Bayou Boeuf.

Peter Tanner endeavored to impress upon me the idea that he was quite severe, though I could perceive there was a vein of good humor in the old fellow, after all.

“You’re the nigger,” he said to me on my arrival —”You’re the nigger that flogged your master, eh? You’re the nigger that kicks, and holds carpenter Tibeats by the leg, and wallops him, are ye? I’d like to see you hold me by the leg—I should. You’re a ‘portant character—you’re a great nigger—very remarkable nigger, ain’t ye? I’d lash you—I’d take the tantrums out of ye. Jest take hold of my leg, if you please. None of your pranks here, my boy, remember that. Now go to work, you kickin’ rascal,” concluded Peter Tanner, unable to suppress a half-comical grin at his own wit and sarcasm.

After listening to this salutation, I was taken charge of by Myers and labored under his direction for a month, to his and my own satisfaction.

Like William Ford, his brother-in-law, Tanner was in the habit of reading the Bible to his slaves on the Sabbath, but in a somewhat different spirit. He was an impressive commentator on the New Testament. The first Sunday after my coming to the plantation, he called them together, and began to read the twelfth chapter of Luke. When he came to the 47th verse, he looked deliberately around him, and continued— “And that servant which knew his lord’s will,”—here he paused, looking around more deliberately than before, and again proceeded—”which knew his lord’s will, andprepared not himself”—here was another pause—”prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

“D’ye hear that?” demanded Peter, emphatically. “Stripes,” he repeated, slowly and distinctly, taking off his spectacles, preparatory to making a few remarks.

“That nigger that don’t take care—that don’t obey his lord—that’s his master—d’ye see?—that ‘erenigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now, ‘many’ signifies a great many—forty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty lashes. That’s Scripter!” and so Peter continued to elucidate the subject for a great length of time, much to the edification of his sable audience.

At the conclusion of the exercises, calling up three of his slaves, Warner, Will and Major or, he cried out to me—

“Here, Platt, you held Tibeats by the legs; now I’ll see if you can hold these rascals in the same way, till I get back from meetin’.”

Thereupon he ordered them to the stocks—a common thing on plantations in the Red River country. The stocks are formed of two planks, the lower one made fast at the ends to two short posts, driven firmly into the ground. At regular distances half circles are cut in the upper edge. The other plank is fastened to one of the posts by a hinge, so that it can be opened or shut down, in the same manner as the blade of a pocket-knife is shut or opened. In the lower edge of the upper plank corresponding half circles are also cut, so that when they close, a row of holes is formed large enough to admit a negro’s leg above the ankle, but not large enough to enable him to draw out his foot. The other end of the upper plank, opposite the hinge, is fastened to its post by lock and key. The slave is made to sit upon the ground, when the uppermost prank is elevated, his legs, just above the ankles, placed in the sub-half circles, and shutting it down again, and locking it, he is held secure and fast. Very often the neck instead of the ankle is enclosed. In this manner they are held during the operation of whipping.

Warner, Will and Major, according to Tanner’s account of them, were melon-stealing, Sabbath breaking niggers, and not approving of such wickedness, he felt it his duty to put them in the stocks. Handing me the key, himself, Myers, Mistress Tanner and the children entered the carriage and drove away to church at Cheneyville. When they were gone, the boys begged me to let them out. I felt sorry to see them sitting on the hot ground, and remembered my own sufferings in the sun. Upon their promise to return to the stocks at any moment they were required to do so, I consented to release them. Grateful for the lenity shown them, and in order in some measure to repay it, they could do no less, of course, than pilot me to the melon-patch. Shortly before Tanner’s return, they were in the stocks again. Finally he drove up, and looking at the boys, said, with a chuckle,—

“Aha! ye havn’t been strolling about much to-day, any way. I’ll teach you what’s what. I’ll tire ye of eating water-melons on the Lord’s day, ye Sabbath-breaking niggers.”

Peter Tanner prided himself upon his strict religious observances he was a deacon in the church.

But I have now reached a point in the progress of my narrative, when it becomes necessary to turn away from these light descriptions, to the more grave and weighty matter of the second battle with Master Tibeats, and the flight through the great Pacoudrie Swamp.

Chapter 10

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