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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 13 -- The Wheeling Slave Auction: Selling Mose and Sam.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 12 -- The Wheeling Slave Auction: Bidding For Lucinda Taylor.

"Mose" was next placed upon the platform, and the auctioneer began crying him off. Again the bidding became spirited between the two Southerners. Maxwell examined his teeth, eyes, and chest, felt the muscles of his arms and legs, took measures around the chest, waist, and calf of the leg and then his height. He asked Mose a few questions, which Mose answered in a respectful manner. Mose was finally sold to Mr. Copeland for nine hundred dollars. Mr. Cope made no bid on this, nor the sale that followed.

It was heartrending to note the agony depicted on the faces of these slaves. Here were mother and two children who had always lived together, and from their appearance and manner had evidently been raised by a refined and humane master. There seemed to be a warm and tender feeling between them. Each had been purchased by different owners and were about to be separated forever.

While Mose was being auctioned off, there was a long and earnest conersation between Lucinda and the mulatto, Sam, conducted in whispers, during which I noticed they both scrutinized me and my friend very closely. Maxwell was so occupied in the sale of Mose he did not notice them.

"Remove the shackles from Sam and send him up here," said the auctioneer from the platform. It was done, and Sam stepped up. His conduct surprised every observer. He walked with the dignity and bearing of a prince, conscious of his royal birth and annoyed at having to endure such a personal indignity and wrong -- something which he could not for the moment avoid. His complexion was as white as those in the audience. His hair was long and black, and few would have judged him even a mulatto. He had an Anglo-Saxon head, face, and nose, while his thin lips half hid a fine set of white teeth. His forehead was broad, square, and full, and his large, dark eyes reflected intelligence and purpose. He stood six feet three inches tall, and was powerfully built, with muscular arms and legs and broad chest. His appearance was commanding, even imposing.

As he looked down on the bystanders that morning with an air of half rebuke and half contempt, it produced a sense of uneasiness in all. Everyone could feel the approaching storm, viewed by some as the cause of liberty and others as retribution knocking at the door. The minds of all in that audience were awakened by that look, and each was reminded of his or her view of that future storm. As for me, I longed to be a man. I wanted to fight this monster, now that I had found it, but I did not know how.

The bidding for Sam was participated in by a number of gentlemen, among whom was Hughey Nichols, the owner of the ferry at Martinsville. Sam was subjected to the same rough examination by Maxwell; but when, after catching him by the shoulders and giving him a rough shake, he caught Sam by the chin, forced his head back and attempted to insert his fingers in his mouth, Sam quickly pushed Maxwell from him. "What do you mean by this insolence?" said Maxwell.

In calm, deliberate, and cultivated language came the reply: "I mean just this: I am a man. My mouth is my own. God made it for me. I will not permit you nor any other man to place your fingers in it -- unless you want to lose them." The two men were glaring at each other while this was being said, and the face of Maxwell was red with ill-concealed passion.

"I never heard such impertinence from a nigger! When I get you in Mississippi I'll take that pride out of you. A good application of the 'cat-o'-nine-tails' and a little pepper and salt in the wounds -- and a couple weeks of half rations will make a better 'nigger' of you," said Maxwell. "If you buy me, sir, you will regret the day I became your slave," replied Sam. There was something in Sam's look as he uttered this last sentence, which Maxwell did not like, for he showed little desire to own Sam thereafter. Sam ultimately was sold to Mr. Copeland for $500.

The "cat-o'-nine-tails" -- the words of which were usually run together and pronounced as one -- was a slavedriver's whip made for whipping the bare backs of slaves. It usually consisted of a wooden handle about eighteen inches long and one and one-half inches thick, which was covered with thick, tough leather, and loaded at the butt-end with a round ball of lead a little thicker than the handle, to be used as a weapon. A light blow from this would break the skull of a man. The leather ran on down the handle to the other end and, ordinarily, eighteen inches beyond. This eighteen inches of projecting leather was cut lengthwise into nine round strips, each about the thickness of an ordinary lead pencil; hence it was called the "cat-o'-nine-tails." A lick from one of these applied with force on the naked back was sure to cut deeply, leaving the portions struck in a raw and lacerated condition -- and oozing blood. Punishment was measured by the number of lashes administered, owing to the offence or brutality of the slavedriver. To increase the pain, salt, and sometimes salt and pepper, were placed on these wunds.

"Well, gentlemen, I now deliver the property. You will step up, pay the money, and get your bills of sales," said the constable. While this was being done on one side of the crowd, a different scene was being enacted on the other. Lucinda had thrown her arms around the neck of her mother, hugging her and expressing her grief with heartrending sobs. "Will I ever see you again," she cried. Aunt Tilda looked upon her child with anguish and love, caressing and smoothing down her glossy black hair. "Hush," she said, "Hush, my dear child, there is a God. Remember the song your father taught you: 'God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.'"

The words and touch of her mother's hands seemed to soothe Lucinda. She gave her mother one more embrace and a long kiss and then turned and threw her arms around the neck of her brother. He was visibly affected. She finally drew herself gently from him and stood erect with a new resolution. Her eyes fell on Sam, who had watched all with unspeakable suffering, mingled with love and admiration. Sam saw her tender look, and stepping up kissed her full in the mouth. While this brought a blush to both, she did not resent it, and Sam seemed more a man for having done it. He appeared to be oblivious to all other surroundings.

"Well, if that don't beat the devil!" cried Maxwell, who saw what Sam had done. "You nigger, fooling with my girl in that way! I'll let you kiss my whip!" He started for Sam, who was some distance off. Sam braced himself for the encounter. His right arm was shackled to the guard, so Sam turned to defend himself with his left. Meantime, Copeland stepped squarely between them and, facing Maxwell, said, "You'll not touch that boy while he is my property! You may be brutal to your own property, but you shall not be to mine." "If you say I am brutal to my property, you're a ...."

"Stop right there," interrupted Copeland, for he had drawn his Colt revolver, and pointed it straight at the face of Maxwell, who was not more than five feet away. "I know what you are going to say. If the lie crosses those lips of yours, I'll send a bullet through your head. I know you, Maxwell. You know I know you. You are a disgrace to the slaveholders of the South. It is men like you who are bringing disgrace on the whole system, and who will ultimately destroy it. Now, sir, watch what you say, or someone will die here today."

The revolver seemed to cool Maxwell off, but when Copeland ended, he coolly said, "A fine 'Abolition' speech, that, Mr. Copeland, but all I shall say now is, you and I will meet again further down the river." "That meeting will be quite as acceptable to me as to you, and I think I shall be prepared for it," said Copeland. I noticed the latter kept his eye on Maxwell until they parted, but his look was fearless and apparently unconcerned. Copeland noticed the handcuffs on Sam and ordered them taken off.

Maxwell then said, "Who can I get to take charge of this girl until next Thursday evening? I am going in the country for a lot of 'niggers' I have bought there and expect to be back in several days to take them and this girl down the river on the Buckeye State, starting from the wharf at nine o'clock that evening. I want her brought to the boat before that time," said Maxwell.

"I can take charge of her for you, sir; I have done something in that line before." To my astonishment the speaker was John Campbell, the hired man of our neighbor, Jacob Van Pelt. He had driven me and my friend, Mr. Van Pelt's son, to market that morning. Campbell was always an enigma in the neighborhood. No one knew where he came from, and he seemed disposed to talk little about his past. It was rumored at one time he had fled from Maryland to avoid punishment for assisting slaves to escape to Canada, but this rumor was confined to our particular neighborhood, and if there ever had been anything in it, it had gradually died out. He was a tall, bony, athletic man, with quick and decisive movements.

"Where are you from, sir?" said Maxwell. "From Wheeling, sir," said Campbell. (He had formerly lived in Wheeling two months.) Maxwell hesitated as he played with his watch charm. "Where will you keep her?" "At my aunt's here in the city," was Campbell's reply. At that point the constable interrupted. "Here is our city bailiff, who can take care of her for you," said the constable, presenting an aged-looking gentleman. "He can put her in the 'nigger pen' (a kind if miserable jail lockup for disorderly Negroes) if you desire it, but I presume there will be no necessity for this, as he can get her former master, who lives not far from the jail on 16th Street, to keep her. She will have to go there any way to get her clothes."

"I think it better for the bailiff to take her," said Maxwell. "It will be more appropriate and safer. I'll pay you whatever is reasonable for your trouble, sir. You can keep her to suit yourself, but have her at the boat, mind you, before nine o'clock. I will hold you responsible for her."

Maxwell started to leave, but abruptly turned back. "Stop just a moment," he said. "I want my bloodhound to get a scent of that girl. Here, Saffo, where is that dog?" A large, savage-looking, gray-colored dog made his appearance from under the auction block. "There, trot that girl out there a piece 'til I can get him on her track." Lucinda was made to walk out from the crowd some ten steps. Maxwell then trailed the dog on her tracks, taking him up to her and making him smell her. With this he turned and walked away, the dog following him.

A bloodhound is a most remarkable animal. Once placed upon the track of a person it will never leave it, no matter if it is mixed with a thousand others. They will track a fugitive through a densely populated city with unerring certainty many hours after the trail was laid. The great trouble lies in getting them to understand which track it is they are to follow. They will ordinarily follow the scent or track they first strike, or are placed upon. Much confusion is often experienced, not from lack of scent in the dog, but from lack of judgment in the owner starting them right. In this case Maxwell understood his business. Bloodhounds also were as fierce as they were unerring, and woe to the defenseless fugitives overtaken by them.

"Thee can go with thy daughter and stay with her until next Fourth Day [Wednesday] afternoon if thee desires," said Joshua Cope to Aunt Tilda. "I will be down to market with a load in the afternoon, and take thee over to Ohio late in the evening, where thee can have a home among friends and be no longer a slave. The law does not permit slavery in Ohio." She gave him a grateful look and thanked him for his kindness. Lucinda caught his arms, and looking up into his face, said, "God will bless you for this, I know He will."

"Oh, my child, my suffering is that we could do nothing for Thee." He turned and went away.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 14 -- Sam Alexander Escapes.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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