Lehigh University
The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
Previous Issue Next Issue
Previous Page Next Page
0 matches

Text for Page 101 [07-12-1862]

                         A Negro Crew.
more, must have felt Phoebus�s arrows penetrate its
leafy covering and have considered his shell an in-
cumbrance.  He seemed restless, and his back,
broad as a buckler or as a targe,� agitated the
shady water.  I thought of the luscious food therein
contained and sighed, for shall I not. in all proba-
bility, be far away, when that turtle is killed and
eaten?  A melancholy reflection !
   The tide was out, forbidding the near approach of
the heavy boat on that shallow shore, hence the
captain and myself ere carried aboard on the backs
of the boatmen, just as European travelers used to
be at Boulogne, by sturdy French fishwomen.  A
jolly-looking negress (wife, I think, to one of our
crew), with her three-months old baby being simi-
larly transported, the men bent to their oars, and
the voyage began.  We had a row of about two and
a half hours before us, our goal being a certain
locality, not directly across.
  The rowers were all young men, athletic fellows
of average nigritude and negro physiognomy.  (I
may remark, incidentally, that a recent inquiry
originated by Gen. Hunter, for eight negroes of un-
mixed African descent, resulted in the total failure
of the discovery of even one � so much for practical
Southern amalgamation.)  Stripped to their shirts,
and wearing dark-blue military trowsers turned up
at the mid-leg, with wide brimmed, felt, regimental
hats on, or nothing but their crisply-curling wool
shielding them from the burning rays of the sun,
they formed a more efficient boat�s crew than an
equal number of white men could have been at that
temperature.  All of them pulled well, with the
prospect of a day�s holiday, for they had belonged to
the island and were bound on an authorized visit to
wives, children, kinsfolk or friends.
    Capt. Trowbridge, among his many other excel-
ent social qualities, likes singing.  Capt. Trow-
bridge is a decided favorite with his men, though I
suppose he drills them more persistently than any
officer of his regiment, being zealous, above all
things, that it shall live through the prejudice and
derision opposing it, to become a great and recog-
nizable success.  So that when he expressed a desire
for a song, his sable crew, after sundry exhibitions
of shyness (necessitating some persuasion and the
jocular application of a pint of sea-water upon the
wool of the chief vocalist, received with grinning
teeth and immense delight by all the party), pres-
ently complied, obliging us with a hymn or two,
and songs with refrains, as much in excess of the
matter as the �tooral looral� familiar to the early
years of the hero of �Great Expectations.�  Many
of these were hardly distinguishable to one unused
to their dialect; one, however, I noted down as
worthy of preservation, both from its subject and
origin.  It was composed and secretly sung, so the
negroes told us, while they were at work on the
rebel forts Beauregard and Walker, in vague but
positive anticipation of the emancipation which they
believed would accrue to them on the advent of the
�Yankees.�  I give it in all its roughness.  The
refrain applies to the assumed number of slaves who
would avail themselves of the opportunity to obtain
their freedom.  Verses two and three specify the
ordinary rations given to negroes on the plantations,
a peck of corn per week and a pint of salt per
month.  (The latter ceased on the beginning of the
war.)  Vere one is the crude expression of a simi-
lar, inevitable thought to that forming the chorus of
Whittier�s �Tybee� song, published in the Atlantic
Monthly.  The tune, evidently improvised, is
monotonous, but pleasing.

                      No more driver�s horn for me!
                         No more driver�s horn;
                      No more driver�s horn for me!
                               Many tousand go.

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
                      No more peck of corn for me!
                          No more peck of corn;
                      No more peck of corn for me!
                               Many tousand go.

                      No more pint of salt for me!
                          No more pint of sal;
                      No more pint of salf for me!
                                Many tousand go.

                      No more massa call for me!
                          No more massa call;
                      No more massa call for me!
                                Many tousand go.

                      No more driver�s lash for me!
                           No more driver�s lash;
                      No more driver�s lash for me!
                                Many tousand go.

                      No more Bible kept from me!
                           No more Bible kept;
                      No more Bible kept from me!
                                 Many tousand go.

                      No more driver�s horn for me!
                         No more driver�s horn;
                      No more driver�s horn for me!
                               Many tousand go.

   This song, sung in concert by eight voices, its
roughly-pathetic utterances rising and falling as
we sped over the leaping waves, amid the breeze and
sunlight, was very effective; I found it touching
from its simplicity.
   We talked of course.  The negroes� testimony as
to their ex-owner�s behavior on the beginning of
hostilities at Hilton Head was amusing: �Massa
stood de shot fust rate,� said one, �but when it
come to trowin� hot shot and dem rotten shell, he
say, �Where my hoss, Pompey?��  Another de-
clared that some of the poor whites had advised his
remaining when the Yankees arrived saying that
they would certainly set him free � the first instance
of their not being as bitter secessionists as the
wealthier traitors I have heard of.  By the way, I
wonder whether it ever occurred to the minds of
these chivalrons, blue-blooded descendants of the
Cavalier and Hugenot that lying for the purpose of
abusing the credulity of a poor, ignorant slave was
a mean, contemptible business?  Clergymen did
it.  Everywhere the negroes were told that they
would be sold away to Cuba � that the Yankees
were such an impoverished, mean, miserable set,
that they would not fail to enrich themselves by
that means � that they could not carry on the war
without doing it.  It had the desired effect, too, in
hundreds of instances.  I am sorry to say that, on
our soldiers, by way of brutal joke, revived this
story, triumphing on the apprehensions excited
   During our voyage the negress sat alternately
laughing at all that transpired and nursing the soft-
skinned, wooly-headed little piccaniny in her arms.
Once she laid it on the seat beside her, where it slept
quite tranquilly under the burning kiss of the sun.
though one might have supposed its infantile brains
would have fried within its skull, as Cervantes sug-
gests of Don Quixote�s, in his helmet.  Close beside
it was a rifled musket, brought by Capt. Trowbridge,
as the chance at another shot at a stray porpoise, whose oil
might be useful to his regiment.  I looked at the gun and
baby, thought of an apostrophe of Micheleta� to the
�holy bayonets of France,� and speculated whether
the redemption of the one subject of contemplation would
indeed come out of the other.  Within sixty miles of
this very locality I had once seen such a mother and
such a child exposed for sale upon the auction-block;
let the readers of THE TRIBUNE judge which was the
pleasanter spectacle.
   St. Helena, in due time.  Not a precipitous, bar-
ren rock like its godfather on the other side of the
Atlantic, but a green, level shore, fringed with um-
brageous trees.  A lonely boat-house thatched with               
Loading content ...