The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

71.
Narrative of Tom Wilson

The desire of the British (and European) reform public for firsthand accounts of the peculiar institution was satisfied in several ways, and newspapers did their part by printing fugitive slave narratives. Tom Wilson's short autobiography was but one of many that first appeared in the British press. Wilson arrived at Liverpool from New Orleans during late January 1858. On 13 February 1858, he was taken to the office of the Liverpool Albion, where he told his life's story, which was recorded "as the narrative fell from his lips." He also informed the Albion staff that he was looking for a position as a fireman aboard a coastal steamer. After Albion reporters made inquiries and were convinced that Wilson's narrative was substantially accurate, it was printed in the 20 February issue and then reprinted in several London newspapers. Blassingame, Slave Testimony, 338-40; 1, 28 February 1858; BB, 4 March 1858.

My name is Tom Wilson. I arrived here in a ship called the Metropolis, Captain Foster. I am slave-born. I have been under slave bondage ever since I was born. I am now forty-five years old. I belonged to Mr. Henry Fastman, of New York, cotton-presser. I was under him for the space of seven years. Before then I belonged to Colonel Barr, of Woodford, Mississippi. There I had a wife and three children, besides having had another child, which died. I was sold by auction by Major Baird's auctioneer 1 for 2,500 dollars, and was taken down to New Orleans, away from my wife and children, and I haven't seen them since. Shortly after I got there Mr. Fastman's overseer, Burks, commenced to ill-use me. I didn't understand tying the cotton; it was new to me, and I was awkward; so I was flogged. They used to tie me down across a cotton bale and give me 200 or 300 with a leather strap. I am marked with the whip from the ankle bone to the crown of my head. Some years before I was sold from Mississippi, the overseer there, because I resisted punishment once, cut my right arm across the muscle, and then had it stitched up. He did that, as he said, to weaken me, because I was too strong in the arm. About a year and a half after I had been in New Orleans I ran into the woods. I was followed by Burks and a pack of bloodhounds into the Baddenrush swamp. 2 The dogs soon caught me; they tore my legs and body with their teeth. Here are the marks yet. (As he spoke he turned up his trousers legging and exposed formidable seams extending up the calf and above the knee joint.) Burks (he continued) rode up to me with his gun and shot me in the hip with 14 buck shot, which can be seen and exam-

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