Monday, June 18, 2012

Fidelity of a Contraband -- Story of a Refugee Family

A Union man named Smith has resided about six miles from Fayetteville, Arkansas, the owner of a tract of six hundred acres of land, with comfortable dwelling, stock, &c.  Obnoxious to the secessionists, his property was plundered by their foraging and other parties during the winter, his place being about a mile from McCulloch’s headquarters.  The family consisted of Mr. Smith, his wife and child, his mother-in-law, and also a brother-in-law, James Watkins and wife, married less than a year ago.  Besides these, Charley, the slave of Mr. Smith.

Upon the news of the approach of Curtis’ forces to Springfield, the secessionists began pursuing all the Union men to hang them, and Smith and Watkins fled, hoping to make their way to some of the Federal camps.  The women thus left, in fear of outrage and torture on their husbands’ account – if not death – left their home on the night of the 8th of February, with Charley as their guide and protector, leaving the aged mother and the child, who were unable to move.  On foot they wended their way, sleeping what they did sleep in the open air, upon such straw or litter as Charley could gather for them, and covered by the single blanket which he carried, and subsisting upon the food which he carried in a pair of saddlebags.  He would have been seized as marketable property belonging to a Union man, and the women regard their own jeopardy as something more than that of their lives.  If met or caught by the secessionists.  They traveled, he thinks, about eight miles the first day, (the women being feeble and one of them in a delicate situation,) fording creeks and avoiding the traveled roads.  On one occasion crossing a creek upon a log, one of the ladies fell in, and was with difficulty extracted by Charley, who as he said, “cooned it on de log,” so that his mistress got hold of him, and when she reached the bank he pulled her out.

Thus for nearly a week, foot-sore and with short and painful journeys, having no shelter and not seeing a fire, subsisting on the scant provisions which Charley carried, they slowly made their way until they met the advance guard of the Federal forces at Mudtown.  Here the ladies were at once cared for by the Colonel, while Charley was taken some miles on horseback to “Mister Sigell,” who examined him at great length, comparing his stories with his own maps of the country.  He was satisfied of Charley’s truthfulness, and gave him a pass for himself and the two ladies.

From this point conveyance was given them to Springfield and to Rolla, and they arrived in St. Louis on Friday night by rail – the faithful Charley still their servant, protector and friend.  He exhibited the various passes furnished him.  He speaks of them with the utmost affection.  I brought dem children up,” said he, though not more than thirty seven years old himself.

Whether Messrs. Smith and Hopkins made their escape or not, the ladies do not know. – One of them fled from his house in his shirt sleeves, and no intelligence has been received from them.

Charley is a preacher, he says, and seems intelligent for his condition, and many in his bearing.  His wife, belonging to another master, was sold off into Louisiana some months ago, when they began to push the slaves off from that section in consequence of the troubles.

Charley is anxious now to get into Illinois, where he can find work to support these two ladies.  Says he is stout and has a good trade – “can lay brick or rock or work on de farm, and airn enough to keep them.”  They are staying at the Refugee Home, on Elm street.  Charley’s narrative is artless and exceedingly interesting.  Speaking of Mr. Smith, in answer to a question, he said, “He was a good master, but I don’t know whether he is alive or dead now.”  The noble friendship and almost heroic devotion of this slave to that family deserves the respect of all right minded persons, though he manifested not the least consciousness of any special merit. – {St. Louis Democrat.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 15, 1862, p. 2

No comments: