|Beautiful Belmont, Part 14 -- Sam Alexander Escapes.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 13 -- The Wheeling Slave Auction: Selling Mose and Sam.
Mr. Copeland instructed the guard to take Mose and Sam to the Thomas Swan and guard them there until that boat, then lying at the Wheeling dock, should start down the river at ten o'clock that night. He was going to his plantation with them. He directed Mose to say farewell to his mother. The parting was most painful. Mose, like his mother, suffered silently. He gave her a long embrace, kissed her lips, and as if unable to endure the pain, was gone. Sam kissed her cheek and warmly clasped her hand; then also turned away.
James Van Pelt and I trotted along after them down to the wharf and onto the lower deck of the boat (for we wanted to see the boat) where we soon left them and returned to the markethouse. I noticed when we turned the corner on the way to the boat, the eyes of Lucinda and her mother were following them with a last, fond look. When we came back the bailiff, who was a kindhearted man, had, at their request, taken them to their former home on 16th Street, to remain together until mother and daughter should separate forever.
The Thomas Swan dropped away from the dock promptly at ten o'clock and steamed down and diagonally across the river to the Ohio shore, a little below West Wheeling, to take on coal. After doing so she made for the channel a little above "Boggs Island" and was about one-third the breadth of the river from the west shore. Mose and Sam were on the lower deck. Sam was washing in a bucket, and apparently for this purpose, had taken off all his clothing except a pair of linen pants and thin muslin shirt. He completed his bath by washing his feet; then, stepping to the west side of the boat, threw the contents into the river. Setting the bucket down, he turned a swift, sweeping glance at Mose, then upon the deck hands, and with a wave of the hand said, "Good-bye, boys," and plunged headlong, as far out as he could jump, into the river.
Sam went completely under the water and that was the last seen of him by those on the boat. The alarm was immediately given, but it took some time to inform the captain and get the news to Mr. Copeland, who had retired for the night. In the meantime the boat had proceeded some distance from where the plunge was made, and the night was quite dark. The deck hands had already lowered a skiff to the water by the time Copeland and the captain came down. "Two of you strike out for the shore and see if you can intercept him," said the captain. "I can't spare much time, so don't be long. He is either drowned or will get to the shore about the time you do, and will be so exhausted you can easily capture him."
"Can he swim?" the captain asked Copeland. "I do not know, sir, I have just bought him." Turning to Mose, Copeland asked, "Can he swim." "I don't know, sir," was the reply; "I never saw him swim before, and he never said."
"I don't think these men can see thirty feet ahead of them on the water after they get beyond the light of this boat," remarked the captain. "There's a heavy storm gathering, so their chances of seeing him aren't going to improve. And his chances aren't very good, either; unless he's an expert swimmer, he's a dead man. The river is very full, and it is some distance to the Ohio shore. The current will drag him downstream. If he makes it at all, he probably won't reach shore until a little below Bellaire. I could stop at Bellaire for a few minutes, but there is no United States marshal there, and you can't expect the citizens there to do anything for you; in fact, they're more likely to help your slave escape than to help you capture him. But, there is a deputy marshal at Wheeling."
"If they don't discover him I shall not bother further," said Copeland. "The truth is, his purchase has given me much concern since I made it today. I was foolish to buy him; I did it more out of sentiment than from good business judgment. I have a good set of slaves now, and they all seem to respect me, and I've had no trouble with them. But, I've been thinking if I take this fellow down there he may demoralize the whole force with this notion of liberty."
After three-quarters of an hour's fruitless search, the skiff returned and reported nothing of Sam, and the Thomas Swan resumed her journey down the Ohio River, not even stopping at Bellaire. Soon from its deck, the Negro roustabouts began to sing one of the popular river songs of the day:
"Don't you go 'way from the Thomas Swan,
It seemed like a strange choice to sing over the possibly lifeless body of poor Sam. The song soon changed to one with a more plaintive mood:
"Way down upon the Suwanee River,
They sang it clear through, and at its close, Mose turned uneasily from his meditative mood in the hard seat on the corn sacks. He was probably thinking of his dear old mother and warmhearted sister, now possibly languishing in the slave pen in Wheeling, with no hope, no future.
On Sunday morning -- the day after the events at the Wheeling market -- I started for Sunday school by way of the Gow cemetery. That was my shortcut to the Methodist Sabbath School in Martinsville, which we attended. As I approached the top of the hill in this cemetery, from a dense cluster of blackberry vines and alder bushes the head and eyes of Sam Alexander suddenly appeared -- not twenty feet away. "Aren't you one of the boys I saw at the Wheeling market, and who followed us down to the boat?" he asked, eagerly. "I am," I replied. "Do you know a man by the name of Campbell, who was there yesterday? He told me if I could get free to come up here somewhere -- that there was a person here who could help me escape. He said the person lived in a large house near the log schoolhouse on the hill back of Martinsville. He told me the man's name, but I have forgotten it." "Was it Van Pelt?" I asked. "That is it," Sam replied. "Well then," I said, "you have come to the right place; that is Mr. Van Pelt's not six hundred yards from here, and that is the log schoolhouse. I go to school there."
"Can you help me," asked Sam. "Can you tell Campbell or Van Pelt that I am here -- and no one else?" "I think it best for us to go down to Van Pelt's orchard, just back of the house," I said. "I will bring Campbell to you in the alder bushes there. We can slip along this briery fence and not be seen except when we cross the road, and I'll watch out for that." "God bless you," Sam replied.
When Sam extricated himself from the briers he presented a sorry site. He had nothing on but a thin shirt and a pair of light pants. He was hatless and in his bare feet, which were scratched and bleeding. His eyes were watching in every direction and he listened intently at times, as if trying to detect any distant sounds.
"How did you get here?" I asked, as we slipped along in stooped positions wherever the weeds and briers were low. "I jumped off the boat below Wheeling -- and swam to the Ohio shore. I am a good swimmer. I walked along the shore in the water so they could not follow me with the bloodhounds, until I got to a little run at the lower end of the town. I walked up it in the water until it was taking me too near the town, when I struck out for the top of this hill, where I saw this house and log schoolhouse, hoping this must be the place."
When I got Sam to a large bunch of alders in the lower end of the orchard, I said: "Now, you see that woods on the west side of us -- which comes close up to this orchard. That is a large woods and extends unbroken down across Buckeye Run to Glen's Run. If you then go clear up Glen's Run to its headwaters, you'll be near Cope's mill. If I do not get Campbell for you I will come back and tell you, but if anything should happen, you take this woods, and go up Glen's Run to the mill. That is Joshua Cope's -- the person who bought Aunt Tilda. He will take care of you. I think he's a stop on the 'Underground Railroad.'" "Is that where Aunt Tilda is?" asked Sam. "No," I said, "she is staying with Lucinda in Wheeling until they take Lucinda down the river on the boat."
As I was leaving to find Copeland, I saw Jacob Van Pelt walking in his yard. He asked me if I was going to Sabbath school. I told him I was, and asked if Campbell was about. "He has just gone to the barn to turn the horses out to pasture," Van Pelt replied. I went to the barn and found Campbell. I told him of Sam's escape, and that he was hungry and nearly naked. We went toward the house and he told me to remain standing where I was until he talked with Mr. Van Pelt about the horses for a moment. I figured he wanted to talk to me Mr. Van Pelt about Sam, not horses, but I didn't say anything. I knew that Jacob Van Pelt was said to be an "Abolitionist," and it had been whispered about that his house was the first station from the Virginia shore.
I had also heard that the second stop on the "Underground Railroad" was the home of Joel Wood in Martinsville. I also knew Mr. Wood, who was a wealthy, kind, friendly gentleman. He had played a major role in shaping the social values and conduct of our neighborhood, and I do not see how we could have gotten along without him. Wood was very fond of singing, and he contributed his time to teach singing at the schools in that area; he also frequently helped with the spelling contests in that whole section of the state. Being quite genial, the young folks loved Mr. Wood and his equally friendly wife and family. As a result, his house was a favorite place where persons from the country as well as town often met on most happy social occasions.
Mr. Van Pelt soon came to me and, taking me to the front of the house, in a kindly manner -- but one meant to impress me that he was taking me into his confidence -- told me I had better say nothing to anyone, not even my parents, about having brought the Negro Sam to his orchard, as it was a crime against the United States to help slaves to escape. My father and he were friends, both members of the same church, and for a moment I thought his suggestion strange, but when I remembered our father was a Democrat, I replied: "I shall say nothing about it, Mr. Van Pelt, to anyone. I know my father is a Democrat, but I'd help that man to escape and get his freedom even if my own father was trying to catch him, after what I saw in the market."
He looked at me a moment longer, and then slowly said: "Your father is an honest, good man. I am satisfied he despises slavery in his heart. He will not be a Democrat much longer; but I think it best you say nothing to anyone of this. And now its past time for you to be at Sabbath school; I hear the first bell ringing."
I went down the road wondering what would become of Sam. I also couldn't believe that either the Democrats or Whigs in our neighborhood would ever give aid to capture a fugitive slave. On the contrary, I knew many of them aided in their escape. I personally knew of two such instances, one of which involved my own father. One bitterly cold winter night, just the previous winter, a fugitive had crossed the Ohio River on the ice -- when the river froze over -- and ended up at our home just after dark, asking for something to eat. Father questioned him closely and found he was heading for Canada. Father gave him plenty to eat, furnished him with warm clothing, and then conducted him through the woods to Joshua Cope's.
When father asked Mr. Cope to aid the man, Cope had looked father hard in the face for a few seconds and said: "Robert, is thee trying to get me into trouble? Thee is a Democrat. The Democrats are in favor of slavery and now have charge of the government. It is a grave criminal offense under our present Fugitive Slave Law to aid in the escape of a slave. Thee knows it is a very heavy fine and a long term of years in the penitentiary. Thee knows more than this. Thee knows this law makes bloodhounds of Thee and me to help recapture this man. Thee knows if the man claiming to be the owner of this boy were to come along here after he leaves this house, and orders Thee and me to go with him to aid in his capture and return to slavery, that under the Fugitive Slave Law we would have to go instantly, or incur fine and imprisonment, even though we had to leave the deathbed of a wife or child. Robert, thy Democratic laws are terrible."
Father had been warming himself next to Mr. Cope's fireplace. He turned to face Mr. Cope, and said: "It is true I am a Democrat, and fully aware of the law you speak of. But there is a higher law governing me in these duties to my fellow man, and to which I owe a greater fealty than to my party, or to that law. I will not refuse to aid a fellow sufferer to gain his freedom." "Then, Robert," said Cope, "Thee is in the wrong party."
"I know of no organized party now opposing slavery, with which either you or I could vote," said father. "I am at heart deeply opposed to this inhuman system of slavery, Joshua. There are at present other political and economic issues presented in the platforms of both the Whig and Democratic parties, but when the question of slavery is squarely presented, I shall unhesitatingly vote against it. Now, Joshua, I have done my duty to this man. I will leave you to do yours. So I bid you good night." "One moment, Robert. I know Thee to be a good neighbor and an honest man. Thee has seen fit to trust me, I think I can trust Thee. I will take care of this fugitive."
On another occasion a black fugitive applied at the dwelling of our neighbor, Joseph Blackford, for food and instructions -- as to depots on the Underground Railroad -- and cordially received both. The fugitive was directed to the house of Isaac Vickers, further on, but the unfortunate slave was subsequently recaptured on the road to Mt. Pleasant, through his own carelessness. (The Blackford family members were Democrats, but their humane instincts outweighed party devotion. Two of them subsequently becme ministers, one becoming a missionary, and one a physician and mayor of Martins Ferry, Ohio.)
As for Sam, he was dressed up in an entirely different suit of clothes and taken on horseback by Campbell to Tom Pointer's. Pointer was a black man who lived in the log tenement house on our father's farm on Buckeye Run. This was done to break the trail. Tom Pointer had been a mulatto slave in Virginia, whose master had freed him when Tom was quite young, and he had become a part of our neighborhood many years before. At this time, Tom was about forty years old and was a strong, active, intelligent, and cautious person whose name had been associated with many a "runaway."
The ceiling to Tom's cabin was of boards, closely nailed together. While there apparently was no attic or access to it, yet, in reality, there was a small attic space. When Campbell and Sam arrived at Tom's, both riding the same horse, Sam remained mounted while Campbell alighted and talked to Tom. Tom drew a short ladder from under the porch, and going into the house, placed it up against one of the boards in the ceiling near the side and lifted it up. The board was four feet long, extending from one ceiling joist to the other. He placed the ladder in the opening thus formed and rested the other end on the floor. Then Tom went out with Campbell and had a short talk with Sam. Sam got off the horse and onto Campbell's back without touching the ground and was carried to the ladder. After Sam had climbed up the ladder into the attic, Mrs. Pointer then washed the ladder and rounds with scalding water and dusted it with cayenne pepper.
After conversing in a whisper for a while, Campbell told Tom he would be back to "report the outlook" on Tuesday night, and would then see him about "the other matter." Campbell returned by way of an old deserted log cabin on the Van Pelt farm. This cabin was on a point of land formed by the junction of a little spring rivulet that runs down from the Van Pelt orchard back of the schoolhouse, and joins with Buckeye Run. It was called the Clark cabin, since it had been occupied for a time by Adam Clark, a wounded veteran of the Mexican War. Jacob Van Pelt had built it for Clark and had given him a home in it free of charge. The cabin was back of Martins Ferry, Ohio, about two miles -- in a straight line -- from the Ohio River but over three miles distant by road. The cabin had a space above the main floor, which was approached by a ladder from the outside.
Clark was the Mexican War hero of our particular neighborhood, even though he was not the only returned soldier we had in it. Captain Andrew Grubb, of Bridgeport, and Mike Grubb, of Martinsville, had been his army companions; but Adam was our local hero. In parrying a thrust from a Mexican spear, the tendons of his left hand had been severed in such a way as to cause the fingers and thumb to touch each other in an extended and stiffened manner. At an entertainment given at the Van Pelt schoolhouse, which all the neighborhood attended, among other things of interest exhibited by the traveling showman was a vessel of water charged with electricity from a galvanic battery. In this water the exhibitor placed a half dollar which anyone could have, provided he lifted it out with his naked hand. Of course, all failed, as the hand would double up into a clenched fist as soon as inserted. Adam Clark placed his left hand in and drew out the coin amid the cheers of the audience. The showman placed another half dollar in the vessel and gave the water a double electric charge, but Clark again took it out and placed it in his pocket with a smile. The showman then examined Clark's hand, and subsequently barred him from participating after that. This left hand had saved Clark's life in the Mexican War, for he caught the blow aimed directly at his neck with it, and with the other shot the Mexican dead with a pistol.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 15 -- Lucinda Taylor's Escape.
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)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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