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In Cleveland, Mr. Redfield engaged in his chosen profession -- portrait painting. He gave in his letter to the church, and was enrolled as a local preacher. Now and then, he preached as called upon by the pastor, and during the following winter assisted in a protracted meeting. His labors were owned of God in the conversion of souls.
By invitation he supplied the pulpit of the Seaman’s Bethel one Sunday in the absence of the stated preacher. When the hour came he found the house full. He resolved to do his whole duty. While speaking against gambling, swearing, horse racing and drunkenness, one cried out from the congregation, “Do you mean me? Do you mean me?” He instantly replied, “If that is your case, I certainly mean you.” When the services closed the deacon who had invited him to preach said to him, “That was a very sad mistake, and you have done us a great wrong.” And then, as if to spare his feelings, he excused the matter thus:
Our minister, I don’t think is quite right. He knows they will do these things of which you spoke, but he never reproves them, or speaks against such conduct, and they are all bound up in him. Sometimes I think he does not go far enough, but you went entirely too far. And besides this, many of these are rough sailors and they will not bear reproof.
Shocked at this, Mr. Redfield turned away with a thankful heart that he was not more closely identified with such a state of things, and resolved that what work he did for the Lord should be faithfully done.
Soon after this his pastor asked him for his views on the slavery question. The answer was, “I am an abolitionist from head to foot.” “Then,” asked he, “would you be willing to give us a lecture on the subject? Our hands are tied by a vote of the conference which forbids the preachers meddling with the question; yet the colonizationists make it a point to create all the prejudice against us they can, until some people think we are the vilest disorganizers in the land. I am not allowed to speak for the poor dumb slave under pain of conference penalties. And it does seem that those who dare should be permitted to speak the sentiments of the antislavery part of the church. There are a number of strong abolitionists in the city who would be glad to stand by any one who dares to take a firm stand; but they have not the courage to take a stand themselves unless some one takes the lead and meets the brunt of the opposition, which is sure to come, when an antislavery society is started.”
Mr. Redfield promised the preacher to lecture, feeling glad that he had nothing too good to sacrifice in such a cause.
The appointment for the lecture was made. When the time came, a mob had collected, nailed up the doors of the building in which the lecture was to be given, and were waiting for the lecturer himself. He felt it was no compromise of right or conscience to avoid an infuriated mob, when by no possibility could he get a hearing.
His quiet retirement aroused the better element of society, who were not prepared to surrender the right of free speech in a free state to a mob. A demand was therefore made that the house be opened, and Mr. Redfield given an opportunity to present the views of the abolitionists. The plea was made that the colonizationists had free opportunity to misrepresent the abolitionists, and it was no more than right that the latter have an opportunity to reply. Another appointment was then made.
Before the time came round, Mr. Redfield had the opportunity to prepare himself more perfectly for the occasion. The opposition to the first meeting created a deeper and wider interest to hear him. It also aroused him to see more clearly the terrible sinfulness of the slavery feeling in this country, and to make the stronger effort against it.
Mr. Redfield’s lecture gave a synopsis of the slave codes in each State; the attempts of humanitarians in these states to ameliorate the condition of the slaves; and the facts recited in the preambles of the bills presented in the different legislatures for this purpose. These referred to the taking of the lives of slaves; robbing female slaves of their virtue; and the overworking and starving of field hands. He then called attention to the extent and the manner in which these laws were disobeyed, and the advantage that masters took of their legal powers. He read extracts from Southern papers to illustrate the foregoing, one of which was as follows:
“RAN AWAY FROM THE SUBSCRIBER.
“My slave, Sally, who, without doubt, is lurking about the plantation of Mr._____, in Georgia, as I sold her husband to that gentleman about eighteen months ago. She has been very sullen ever since. She will try to pass herself off as a white woman, as she is very white and beautiful spoken, and very capable of putting on the airs of a white lady. Fearing she might run away I took the pains to mark her by knocking out two of her front teeth and branding her on the buttocks with the letter S. She is likewise much scarred with the whip on her neck and shoulders. Her legs are torn by the dogs, done in catching her fifteen months ago. Her left thumb has the mark of a rifle ball where I shot her before she would surrender.”
This was followed by recitals of cruelty, bloodcurdling to read at the present day.
Mr. Redfield’s audience was large and many present were members of the mob which gathered at the time of the other appointment. He observed before he was through that the opposition began to yield, and the mob spirit to quiet down. He had expected that an attack would be made upon him before he was through, but all remained quiet.
He finished the lecture with a picture in which the actors were reversed. The scene was in Algeria. The slaves were Americans. The same scenes were enacted as read from the Southern advertisements. He then appealed to their sense of justice and honor. He finished by representing himself as hazarding his reputation and life by pleading for those supposed Americans in Algeria, and asking his audience if now they thought him worthy of tar and feathers and other maltreatment. He waited for the mob to make a demonstration, inviting them to do so if they thought it right, but all remained quiet. He then said: “If you think the cause is worthy of support, we will form an antislavery society.” Nearly all present were then enrolled as members. This was the first organization of the kind made in the city.
Soon after the lecture and the organization of the society, he was called upon to put his principles in practice. Cleveland was a point on the underground railroad where many fugitives from slavery took their departure from the United States, where they were unsafe, to the Dominion of Canada where they would be safe. It was a criminal act, according to the law of the land, to harbor or assist a fugitive slave.
One Sunday evening he observed in the congregation at church a tall, straight, well-built and genteel appearing man, who, with hymnbook in hand, took part in the worship. The hue of his skin and the wavy ringlets of his hair showed him to be one of the despised race which the law of the land and the unwritten creed of some of the churches had declared had no rights that white men were bound to respect.
Shortly after nightfall the same manly form came to Mr. Redfield’s lodgings, and in great agitation said: “O sir, save me! I am in great trouble! Will you help me?”
“I will, if I can,” answered Mr. Redfield, “but tell me first what is the matter.”
O sir,” said the stranger, “I am a slave. A large reward has been offered for me; and I learn that there is a man in the city looking for me to take me back into slavery.”
“Come in,” said Mr. Redfield, “and you will be perfectly safe. My windows are all shut, fastened and blinded, and I will fasten the door.”
“But what if they break in?” the fugitive asked.
“I will do the best I can at all cost to defend you?’ replied Mr. Redfield; “sit down and tell me your story. Why did you run away? Were you badly treated?”
“Oh, no!” he answered. “In the first place, I belonged to a man who died some years ago. His widow married again, and before the legal heirs could put in their claim to their portion of the estate my new master desired to sell me. Of all this I knew nothing until one day while I was working in the tanyard cleaning out a vat ( I had been hired out to a tanner, for I was a tanner by trade,) shoveling out the old bark and singing a Methodist hymn as I worked, I thought I heard a voice saying, “You are sold.” I straightened up and looked around, but saw no one. I went on with my work again, still singing a favorite hymn. The same voice came again, “You are sold.” I sprang out of the vat and looked for the author of the dreadful sound, but in vain. I went to work again, determined to banish my fears. But the same voice said again, “You are sold.” I looked again, and at a distance I saw my master in company with a stranger walking leisurely around the tanyard. I knew then that voice was correct. The thought, I will be torn and forever separated from my wife and child, now rushed upon me, and with it a sense of the wrong about to be perpetrated on us. I instantly resolved: “I will die first.” I kept an eye out, and went on with my work. They gradually drew nearer and nearer until they stood at my back. As I lifted a shovelful of bark one of them asked, “Shall I not help you lift it out?” Instinctively knew that this meant to tie my hands while I was holding them up. Blind to all consequences, and with the nerve of a madman, I sprang out of the vat and raised my shovel in self-defense. Instantly they both drew pistols, and bade me surrender or die. I cared not a fig for death, I was so aroused by the sense of the wrong they were doing me. But the thought came, “It is no use to contend; they have the law on their side and can do what they please with me. I must submit like my Saviour. I must resist not, but endure for his sake. It was my conscience and not my fear that subdued me. It told me to look to the future and t o God for the settlement of my troubles. I then let them tie my hands behind me with a long rope. They then gave a loud whistle which was answered by a man coming to us, to whom they gave me in charge. He took hold of the rope and commanded me to walk on. He took me to a place by the roadside where there were about fifty more slaves, tied together, preparatory to being taken down the river to be sold again. When we had got away from the two men I asked the one who had me in charge to let me go and see my wife and child before I was separated from them forever.
“No,” said he, with a terrible oath, you shall not. Your wife would make a fuss, and you will feel a great deal worse. You had better make up your mind never to see them again.”
“Oh, I was so heavy with grief that my feet seemed to slump into the ground at every step. Suddenly, with all my might I gave a wrench to the rope, and so loosed my hands, and, being much stronger than he, I pulled him right up to me, and then said, “I shall go and see my family before we are parted forever.” When he saw I had him in my power, with another oath, he said, “Well, you may go, but it will be the worse for you.”
While thus narrating his story, this noble specimen of man would falter, choke, and struggle with the grief which was yet rending his heart. Then again he would nerve himself to continue the narration.
“Finally,” said he, “we reached the cabin of my family, and as soon as my wife saw me, with a shriek she fell upon the floor, and my poor heart seemed to break worse than before. As I was compelled to hasten, I picked up a few articles of clothing, tied them up in a bundle, and kissed my wife and boy for the last time. Oh! how my brain reeled as I turned to leave them, forever. I felt that sense of my feet sinking into the earth again, at every step, as I walked away. I was now hurried back to the coffle of slaves, and was soon bound by one of my wrists to the chain, which ran the whole length of the gang. The driver being in a hurry urged us on, to the top of our speed. My rough old shoes that I wore in the tannery soon so galled my feet that the blood ran out at every step. We reached the river that night and were taken into a tavern at the landing. We were all put up in the garret, which was made like a jail, with grated windows, for the accommodation of slave-traders.
“Soon the whole gang were asleep. Some cried themselves to sleep, some were sullen and apparently careless as to what became of them, for the last tie had been broken and the last hope had fled. Others were so gross and stupid that they fell asleep from want of energy and life to keep them awake; like beasts when out of reach of the lash, they were at rest. It was raining hard without, and the patter upon the roof and the splashing upon the ground, made it difficult to hear other sounds. When I thought all were sound asleep, I walked carefully around the room. I put my hand upon a rope, which I found to be a clothes-line, for the family used the garret to dry clothes in when not in other use. I went to a window, and with an old jack-knife which I had to use about the tanyard, I dug out of the wall one end of an iron bar, and that made a place just large enough for me to squeeze through. I then fastened one end of the clothes line to another bar, threw out my little bundle of clothing, carefully climbed out, and ventured my weight upon that frail rope. I heard one of the strands break, and expected to fall to the ground the next moment; but it held me until I reached the end. I had not reached the ground by a number of feet, when, as I hung there, I saw a door open and some one passing in. For a moment all my fears were aroused, thinking I was discovered. But they did not see me in the darkness, and I only saw them by the light of the open door. The rain was still pouring down. I now let go my hold and dropped to the ground. I carefully felt around until I found my bundle, and then made my way to a stream of water near by, and waded it a long distance, that the hounds might be unable to follow me. The stream led me in the direction from whence I came. I followed it until about daybreak, and then hid in the woods until night, when I started again for home. The succeeding morning I came in sight of my little home again. From fear of frightening my dear wife, and arousing some slaves who slept in part of the cabin , I went cautiously to a little window, and in a low tone of voice, called:
With a scream she cried out, “O my God! that’s my Thomas! O Thomas! Thomas! the patrol will kill you!”
“I said, “Hush! Liza, keep still, and we will manage some way.”
“I went into the cabin and climbed up into the little garret through a hole over a door between the two rooms. My wife put up a box on to the door casing to hide a part of the hole through which I had passed. When it was fairly daylight, the patrol, who had heard of my escape, came to the cabin and asked Liza if I had got back. She answered, “No! I have not seen him since he left with the slave trader.” This was literally true, for it was dark when I came.
“The patrol kept such a close watch that I dared not go out anywhere. So I concluded to change my place of concealment, and started in the night for my mother’s, some four miles away, where she was owned. Lest I should startle her, I went to her window, and in a low voice, asked, ‘Aunt, is uncle at home?’ She knew my voice, and knew I had run away, and that the patrol was after me. She cried out, ‘Oh! it is my poor boy, Tommy! O Tommy! Tommy! the patrol will kill you!’ She let me into the cabin, and we took up a board of the floor, and I laid down on the ground, and she put the board back again. Here I could stay until the patrol would pass on to the next beat, and then I would come out and stretch myself.
“My wife’s and mother’s cabins were watched closely. I changed my hiding place from under the floor to the garret, which was reached by a ladder. As my mother could have my boy with her without suspicion, I had the mournful consolation of caressing him often.
“I resolved at last that I would come North as soon as I could with safety; but so closely was I watched, that I was compelled to hide under the floor and in the garret, at mother’s, for thirteen months. By this time I was so completely bleached out, and my skin was so fair, that after mother got me some women’s clothes, I was able boldly to take the stage as a white woman and make my escape without detection. When I had reached a section where I was not known, I got out and went into the woods and put on my men’s clothing. I then traveled nights and slept daytimes until I reached a free state. I lived on corn, fruits and such other things as I could help myself to. After a long time I found myself in this state.
“I now felt so badly about my wife and child that at last I ventured to get a white man to write to my master for me, that if he would allow me to live with my family I would go back and give him my labors for the rest of my life. He wrote me in reply that he would have me any way and he would do as he pleased. When this hope failed I resolved to go myself and by some means bring my wife and child away. So I turned my face toward the land of bondage again. I traveled nights and slept daytimes in the woods, until I came in sight once more of my little cabin. When I got inside I found my little one was dead and buried. My heart was nearly broken again. With my wife I started again for the land of freedom. We passed the patrol and entered the woods. It was night; but my poor wife had become so nervous and broken by the long struggle with her wrongs that the least unusual sound or the breaking of a twig would cause her to cry out, ‘The patrol is coming! the patrol is coming!’ I carried her in my arms until I s aw I must give up the effort, as her fears would be our betrayal, and we should both be taken back to bondage. I was obliged to let her return, while I turned my steps toward the North again. And now they have got track of me, and are in the city after me.”
Mr. Redfield had the privilege of learning that this suffering man landed safely in Canada, where colored people had equal rights with white people. He knew he was making himself liable to church proscription by aiding such suffering followers of Jesus, but he told the authorities that he should stand for God and humanity. The laws of the state would have sent him to the state’s prison for ten years, and made him pay a fine of five hundred dollars for sheltering and aiding that poor man if his offense had been known; but to use his own words, “What had I to do with protecting my own freedom and rights when there stood my suffering Jesus in the person of this poor outcast. I seemed to hear his voice ringing in my ears, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.” Yes, and I would have done it again if I had known that I certainly would have had to suffer both the imprisonment and the fine.”
Mr. Redfield lived during the period of the great antislavery conflict in this country. All the different phases of it passed before him. The Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he was a member, and within whose pale he performed nearly all his ministerial labor, and which he loved as he loved his life, he saw hesitate and cringe before the slave power, and at last become an agent of persecution against such as could not refrain from lifting up their voices against the gigantic wrong. His sensitive soul listened with horror to the accounts of proscription against such men as Orange Scott, Cyrus Prindle, Luther Lee and others of its most devoted ministers. He lived to see a combination formed in the General conference of that body, in 1860,11Rev. William Hosmer, in the “Northern independent,” editorial that prevented the redressing of the grievances that resulted in the organization of the Free Methodist Church, and that also prevented the change of the general rule on slavery until 1864, when there were no more slaves within the bounds of the United States.
He did not live to see that change of the rule. If he had, the act coming at such a time, would have appeared so ungracious to him that it could have afforded him no pleasure. If he had lived several quadrennials longer, he might have been gratified by witnessing the adoption of a resolution by the General conference of that body, removing a censure passed upon Orange Scott, by the General conference of 1836, for taking part in an antislavery meeting in the city of Cincinnati, during the session of that conference. Orange Scott had passed into the eternal world, however, long before this relief to his memory.
It is hardly possible for the present generation, though little more than a quarter of a century has since passed by, to conceive of a state of society in this country such as has been illustrated in this chapter; but many there are who have outlived the generation in which these cruelties were perpetrated, and who, vividly recalling those exciting times, will testify that the picture is in no wise overdrawn.
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