Musings on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl–Part 2

 

Part 1

Young Mr. Flint is about to get married.  Linda writes,

I knew that the young wives of slaveholders often thought their authority and importance would be best established and maintained by cruelty; and what I had heard of young Mrs. Flint gave me no reason to expect that her rule over them would be less severe than that of the master and overseer.

Truly, the colored race are the most cheerful and forgiving people on the face of the earth.  That their masters sleep in safety is owing to their superabundance of heart; and yet they look upon their sufferings with less pity than they would bestow on those of a horse or a dog.

The wife of old Dr. Flint is an example of someone who goes through the motions of piety, but has a hard heart.  Even though Linda was in no way at fault for the attentions of her master, Mrs. Flint has been jealous of her, sometimes going into Linda’s room as she slept, suspecting Linda’s baby belongs to Dr. Flint, and having murderous thoughts toward her.

In fact, to Mrs. Flint, Linda’s pregnancy is proof that Linda has been sleeping with Dr. Flint, and she refuses to believe otherwise–even though the baby’s father is actually Mr. Sands.  She threatens to kill Linda.

We must always check our jealousy, whether it has no basis in fact or we actually find our love in bed with someone else, lest it lead us into violent, sinful thoughts and deeds, and bar us from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, we read that Linda dreads the day’s dinner party.  She is to wait on Dr. Flint and his wife along with the other guests.  Mrs. Flint has not been to the plantation since Linda moved there, and Linda has not seen her face-to-face for five years; she

had no wish to see her now.  She was a praying woman, and, doubtless, considered my present position a special answer to her prayers.  Nothing could please her better than to see me humbled and trampled upon.  I was just where she would have me–in the power of a hard, unprincipled master.

She did not speak to me when she took her seat at table; but her satisfied, triumphant smile, when I handed her plate, was more eloquent than words.

The old doctor was not so quiet in his demonstrations.  He ordered me here and there, and spoke with peculiar emphasis when he said ‘your mistress.’

I was drilled like a disgraced soldier.  When all was over, and the last key turned, I sought my pillow, thankful that God had appointed a season of rest for the weary.

You see how jealousy–and believing it to be justified, even when it’s not–causes ugly self-righteousness.

Mrs. Flint believes she has the proof that Linda has been sleeping with Dr. Flint, and lords it over her with great smugness; since the truth is quite different, she looks like a spiteful, vindictive shrew instead.

When Linda is forced to be servile to her, handing her a plate of food, Mrs. Flint shows that she considers it her due, that Linda deserves all she’s gotten, that Linda has been just terrible to her.

But Mrs. Flint has judged without true knowledge, without even trying to find out the truth.  She is unapologetic for it.  And that is true ugliness.

The wife of young Mr. Flint soon shows her colors.  When the monthly slave rations of meat are handed out, a faithful, very old slave hobbles up to get his;

the mistress said he was too old to have any allowance; that when ni****s were too old to work, they ought to be fed on grass.  Poor old man!  He suffered much before he found rest in the grave.

Yet Scarlett O’Hara said that no one would treat their slaves the way the abolitionists and Northerners had represented…..

Young Mrs. Flint and Linda get along very well for a week.  Then old Mrs. Flint comes over and has a long conference with young Mrs. Flint.  Linda is allowed to leave the plantation “on one condition,” but old Mrs. Flint doesn’t want her to leave it at all.

“If she had trusted me, as I deserved to be trusted by her, she would have had no fears of my accepting that condition.”

Jealousy clouds our eyes and distorts our reason so that even the innocent seem guilty; it leads us to commit sinful offenses against others.

Young and old Mrs. Flint and old Dr. Flint decide to bring Linda’s children to her; Linda sees right through this, and knows the real reason is not to get her family back together, but to break them all in to “abject submission to our lot as slaves.”

A friend of Linda’s family visits the plantation, and innocently mentions to her that the children are coming; Linda writes that this information “nerved me to immediate action.”

In the middle of the night, Linda runs off.  Her children are with her grandmother.  She soon finds refuge in the home of a woman who owns slaves but is kind to them.  Hidden away in a little attic, Linda can see Dr. Flint going to his office each day.

Thus far I had outwitted him, and I triumphed over it.  Who can blame slaves for being cunning?  They are constantly compelled to resort to it.  It is the only weapon of the weak and oppressed against the strength of their tyrants.

However, in revenge, Dr. Flint thrusts her brother William, her aunt and her two children into jail, swearing that her grandmother will never see them again until Linda is returned.  Linda wants to go to them, get them freed, but William sends her a note begging her to stay put.

One day, Linda hears Dr. Flint and the constable in the house, and is terrified when her door opens.  But it’s just her benefactress, telling her that Dr. Flint borrowed $500 to go to New York to find her.  So for the moment, she is safe.

After Dr. Flint has spent quite a bit of money going on a wild goose chase to find Linda, and on jail costs for Linda’s brother and children, he decides to accept the offer of a slave trader–who is actually there on behalf of Mr. Sands, Linda’s lover.  But Dr. Flint doesn’t know that Mr. Sands is involved.  The slave trader then rushes to sell them to Mr. Sands, safely out of Dr. Flint’s hands.

Linda’s friends and relatives help her hide in various places, out of Dr. Flint’s hands, for months.  Nobody else has any idea where she is, and she’s so well hidden that everyone thinks she’s long gone to the Free States.

She acknowledges that many slaves have had even rougher treatment than she did: cruelly overworked, branded, beaten, bruised, whipped, heel-strings cut, chained to a log while working, torn by bloodhounds.

Still, from street conversations she overhears from her hiding place underneath a roof, Dr. Flint is considered even by white people to be a “d**ned brute.”

Dr. Flint goes off to New York again to find Linda, comes back empty-handed, and when her little boy Benny asks if he found his mommy, threatens to cut off his head.

It’s terrible when someone is so used to raging and using his temper to control people that he (or she) will even scream at a child he thinks is somehow offending him.

Months and seasons pass, yet Linda still stays in her tiny hiding place, barely able to move, exposed to much of the weather, because no chance for safe escape has yet come.  She gets very sick, and then her grandmother “broke down under the weight of anxiety and toil.”

Her grandmother is very popular in the neighborhood with the white women because of her baking business; now these women attend on her needs during her illness.  Not to be outdone, old Mrs. Flint goes to see her as well, and makes a big show of being so condescending.

Linda’s son has just been badly bitten by a dog, and his wounds sewn up.  When Mrs. Flint is informed of why Benny is lame, she says,

“I’m glad of it.  I wish he had killed him.  It would be good news to send to his mother. Her day will come.  The dogs will grab her yet.”

Can you imagine such words from someone who claims to be Christian?  and all because she imagined Linda to have designs on her husband, when the truth was she did not?

Linda finally gets some good news: Her grandmother recovers.

Linda’s lover–whom she hasn’t spoken to in a few years–is elected to Congress as the local Whig candidate, despite Dr. Flint’s attempts to turn voters against him.  Linda finds a way to get his attention and plead with him to free her children.  He promises to do so, and to look for a way to buy her as well.

Linda has been living scrunched up in this tiny part of her grandmother’s house for several years now.  She arranges for two letters written by her to be carried up to and mailed from New York, to Dr. Flint and her grandmother.  She claims to be living at a certain address in Boston.  Her grandmother knows about the ruse.

Dr. Flint goes to her grandmother with the letter addressed to her, and reads it to her–only it’s not Linda’s letter.  It’s actually a fake letter he wrote, saying that Linda regrets running away and wants to return.  Dr. Flint wants to send Linda’s uncle to find her, but he doesn’t want to go.

Dr. Flint prefers not to go, either, since the laws in Massachusetts make it a difficult place to retrieve a runaway slave.  He writes to the mayor of Boston, but gets no response.

Meanwhile, after almost 5 years of living cramped in that tiny dark hole between the slanted roof and the inside wall, Linda is in danger of becoming permanently crippled.  So she begins going down to the storeroom for a few hours every morning.

She passes over the years so quickly in her writing, but imagine how long and grueling they must have been for her!  She can only hear her children’s voices, not see them or cuddle them or kiss them goodnight.

In her hiding place, she is so cramped she can barely move, has to stay in bed, and is exposed to heat and cold.  She suffers illness because of this, and now is in danger of losing the use of her limbs permanently.

Yet her friends and family still have found no way for her to safely escape.

Linda’s former lover, Mr. Sands–after she’s been in the hiding place for several years–has now gotten married to somebody else.  I wonder if it broke her heart, but she says nothing about this.

Instead, she wonders if he’ll still keep his promise to free her children, especially now that her brother William, his servant, has gotten his freedom while they traveled up north.

William soon writes to his family that Mr. Sands always treated him kindly, but he always wanted to be free.  Mr. Sands is a bit miffed, though not bitter or resentful, since he planned to set him free in five years anyway.  But William knew plans could change, and wanted to take his chance while he could.

Linda records a longer note for Mr. Sands, including good wishes, God’s blessings for his kindness, begging forgiveness, etc.  William’s own record of the note says, “Sir–I have left you, not to return; when I have got settled, I will give you further satisfaction.  No longer yours, John S. Jacobs [his real name].”  I especially love how he signs it.

Dr. Flint’s family heard about this, of course, and laughed.

Mrs. Flint made her usual manifestations of Christian feeling, by saying, “I’m glad of it.  I hope he’ll never get him again.  I like to see people paid back in their own coin.

“I reckon Linda’s children will have to pay for it.  I should be glad to see them in the speculator’s hands again, for I’m tired of seeing those little ni—rs march about the streets.”

Such a spiteful woman–I hope she plagued Dr. Flint’s heart out.

Mrs. Flint’s spite and vengeance know no bounds: She decides to tell the new Mrs. Sands who is the father of Linda’s children (thereby stirring up trouble and jealousy in the Sands household as well as her own).

She also wants to tell her “what an artful devil I was; that I had made a great deal of trouble in her family; that when Mr. Sands was at the north, she didn’t doubt I had followed him in disguise, and persuaded William to run away.”

It’s a clear case of the bully claiming to be the victim and engaging in a little character assassination.

Mr. Sands beats her to it, however.  He and his wife meet little Benny in the street, he tells her he’s the father of Benny and Ellen and that the mother is dead, and now she wants to see them.

She and her sister want to adopt the children, but Linda is so scarred by slavery that she trusts neither of them; she fears that they would eventually sell the children if they fell on hard times.

Linda sends a message through her grandmother to Mr. Sands that she is not dead and wants them freed; he says they are indeed free, but they’d be better off in the north, because Dr. Flint is saying they still belong to his young daughter, who was not old enough to consent to the sale.

So they send Ellen to live with Mr. Sands’ relatives in Long Island, and go to school, with Benny going to the North with his uncle soon after.  Mrs. Flint, of course, is not happy.

To be continued….

 

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