Journal of Dr GFW
Tuesday, 13 May, 1828
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Orange County Court House, Virginia
Domestic happiness has here found a pleasant abode. Both man and wife are agreeable, cheerful, and lively. She presided at the table adding sweetness to the repast. This man's companion appears the most mild and amiable female I have seen in traveling and, added to these qualities of the mind, she is possessed of all the other points of attraction... youth and beauty. everything here indicated contentment. Such a place makes the traveler wish for his own domestic fireside if he has one and, if not, causes him to long for the possession of such earthly happiness.
To me it appears evident that people could do much better here if they would. They do not move than half cultivate the land. Almost every plantation exhibits the poorest cultivation imaginable. You will see some farms well fenced and that is all. The proceeds of the land, the way it is cultivated, is not as valuable as the enclosure. We sometimes would travel ten miles and not see a human being, and then a few wretched slaves would present themselves either plowing, hoeing, chopping, or getting out Flax. Sometimes we observed a large plantation all cleared and apparently worn out and by close viewing probably a few cattle and sheep could be observed picking a scanty morsel of some vegetable. Several times today we saw large numbers of the poorest hogs I ever beheld, perished most certainly. The inhabitants in this State must be at least fifty years behind their Northern Brethren in agriculture improvement. The Black people are surely degraded and abused. Saw some sold. It is shocking to a person unaccustomed to such scenes. It is not Religiously right. It is not just. But how can it be made Better? I see no way an d less prospect. Public opinion in the slaveholding States must first sit against it. No other power can arrest it, but from every symptom I could observe, it will be hundreds of years before this will take place. They are permitted to marry. But where are the joys of this Heavenly union, entirely dependent on the will of the master, he has no control of himself or his destiny. Subject to the caprice of him who has paid his price, and disregards the tender ties of consanguinity, Husband may be sold from his wife and wife from her husband and children from both, and that too with as little feeling of sympathy as I would sell my horse. Where is there a feeling and reflecting individual who can view such scenes with indifference? I am sorry I am forced to believe there are too many such in all the slaveholding States, and this indifference probably is the consequence of being brought under the institution of slavery and familiar with al these things from the earliest recollection.
We left the pleasant Locust Grove and still more pleasant family at five o'clock this morning. The country and road was much better for the eleven miles we rode this morning, which brings us to Orange Court House where we fed and took breakfast at a good house kept by one Porter. This is a very pleasant little village situated near the ex-President's residence, James Madison, who was President of the United States in the last war with Great Britain and run from Washington and let the enemy take possession of the town and burn the Capital. He lives only six miles from this place, said to be a very fine, sociable man and have a very amiable wife, but our anxiety to get further South prevented us from paying him a visit.
There are in this place three Lawyers and the same number of Physicians, and no Priest or Meeting House. We were told that here was a good vacancy for a well-accomplished School teacher who would be able to teach the Languages and prepare students for College. The Landlord is a pleasant gentleman and fond of the Turf and spoke much of fleet horses and their Genealogy. He wanted to talk more about the blood of horses in ten minutes than I ever thought of it in all my life. He would run back with the breed of these noble animals ten generations with as much clarity as I could the alphabet. indeed it seemed to animate him to speak of horses. Horses and how to charge a good round Bill I don't think he ever forgot.
From Orange Court House we drove fifteen miles to an Inn kept by one Sheshler, a moderately poor place for convenience. Here we were much amused by a gentleman horse driver from Ohio who well understood the science of praising horses. During our short stay the conversation turned on the subject of currencies of the different States. He said in different sections of a state different numbers of shillings made a dollar. In the North part, eight Shillings made one Dollar; in the South part, seven and sixpence made one Dollar; and in the east, Six Shillings. And he declared it was a fact and such was the currency and appeared to be serious in his averments, and he could not or would not be convinced to the contrary. I guess he must be an intelligent fellow and a close observer, for he declared, in order to give his ideas the greater force, he had lived in the State Twenty-eight years and it had always been so. And that they had no weights or Measures of standard nature, ... and so we left him in full possession of all his acquired knowledge.
We here saw white, grand gentlemen, riding and half-white slaves attending as waiters. They used them with great severity when probably some may have been their offsprings. Are not such ideas enough to chill the blood and call aloud for condemnation.
Here are Peaches and Cherries, the last nearly ripe, which to us, used to a Northern climate appeared soon, as it is now only the 13th day of May and in New York they are but just out of bloom. But avails the beauty or bounty of Nature, exhibited in her productions amid the institution of Slavery.
We made but a short stop with the intelligent gentleman from Ohio and from here we set our compass for Louisa Court House and during the time we encountered a severe storm of rain which in spite of our cloaks drenched us to the skin. This was the first rain of consequence since we left the Susquehannah. The country through which we passed today was more level and more fertile, presenting at the same time an agreeable variety of undulations. When contrasted with the steep, rough hills over which we had been traveling for the last few days, was really delightful. Large fields of wheat were passed today all in full bloom, waving in the warm and gentle breeze of a Southern climate, and the Heavens above or the clouds sailing on the wind, by obscuring at times and in places the rays of the sun, caused them to appear as if endowed with animation and one portion of the field to be in full chase after that just before. It is pleasant to see a good field of grain in gentle wind and warm sun occasionally obscured by flying clouds. But Slavery again forces itself on the mind and all its horrors come into full view. Here we see extensive fields planted with corn, now just requiring the plow and hoe, and for these rich lords of the soil and in large fields we see Blacks hard at labour, both male and female, and not the vistage of a clear white man to be seen at work. An overseer with his instrument of torture in his hand, is walking about with all the apparent importance and pride of the usurper of the people's liberty. At such pictures, who does not blush to call himself a man. Boasting of patriotism and liberty and at the same moment depriving thousands of that liberty of which we can proudly boast. But does the love of freedom teach us to be tyrants. If it does not, and most certainly it should not nor will it if we indulge it properly and view it correctly, then why do we so unjustly deprive other of it. Does the color make a difference? Most assuredly it does not and ought not. And nothing but the color and way they are born can be assigned for the continuance of slavery. But suppose we view it in a different light and say they cannot be freed here and left among us. This I believe would be impossible, but because it would be improper to grant them freedom and liberty, does it follow as a necessary consequence that we cannot use them well? Must we deprive them of every enjoyment and drive them worse than we do our beasts, and expose them to more hardships, with deficiency of nourishment, and force them to clothe their children from their own labour done in the night and in violating the Sabbath. For such treatment it appears to me there can be no justifiable excuse. Again, where is the justice or feeling when Mulattoes are held in servile bondage, particularly when they are the joint offspring of Master and Slave. I must say I can see none. No shame or remorse observable, yet I think that still secret voice, not felt but heard, must create some compunction and corrode all self-satisfaction. Yet individuals who have thus acted and are thus acting, move in the high sphere of life and fill places of honour in every department of society. Such I now believe to be the fact, degrading and despicable as such connection is in itself, and should be treated with neglect, scorn,and contempt. Where is the frown of public indignation? I confess I have not been able to discover any. I want to say to them, you can make a plausible excuse for slavery as it now exists and your opinions are respected. For this illicit practice with slaves you can offer no palliation to such crimes, no sophistry however ingeniously done can shelter you from a Righteous condemnation: For such base, unprincipled connections, even your own self-approbation must be horrid. If it was not for this one circumstance you would never use as a slave part of your own flesh and blood. With what care do you use every means to hide the fact from public knowledge that you are the father of a Mulatto Slave. You well know that if the fact was notorious, public sentiment would soon pronounce the merited sentence. And you are conscious of the severity as well as the justice of such a condemnatory sentence. And in order to conceal the fact you treat as a slave your own children.
My reflections during the day have been on various subjects. Sometimes pondering on Slavery, endeavoring to find a just excuse for its continuance and if it must be, to see if it could not be made more agreeable and humane. Though my opinions have, in short, been stated above, my acquaintance with the institutions of slavery are too recent, consequently imperfect, to speak with correctness. And a more thorough knowledge may change my present views in some particulars connected with it, yet I now feel quite confident that the illicit correspondence evidently carried on between slave and slave holder cannot be changed.
Leaving the contemplation of the disagreeable subject of slavery, the mind naturally turns back to scenes of youth, home, and friends in a land where we have no circumstances at present of this nature to molest our happiness or disturb domestic felicity. And so I hope they will forever remain. Looking in retrospection always will never do for any individual just seeking for a location wherein to commence and make his theater of action and acquire standing and reputation for himself with none to assist or means to back him, who all he has is a few scattering Dollars confined in a small pocket of his waistcoat. no, it will never do to mourn for things past and gone and spend the powers of mind in pondering over that which is irremediable. look aloof in the hour of despondency and endeavor to penetrate your future destiny, for plans of action in the sphere you are intending to accomplish. Mark out the proper course of conduct which it may be necessary to follow in order to gain your intended aim. Think of means in your possession, how far they are calculated to aid you in your undertaking, and how you are to get more when these are gone. And, if you mind well your ability and manage accordingly, how long it probably will be before you can realize a support from your occupation; and how long before a probably income over and above expenditures may be calculated on. But mind in all these calculations to view both sides of the picture and make good allowances for reverses. Finally, adopt an honest, upright, and sociable course of conduct and not meddle with that which does not concern you as a private individual or as a citizen of the government under which you live. And adopt this as your Motto, "Don't give up the ship," for I believe old Shakespeare somewhere said, "A man was never ruined until he was hung." If you have been unfortunate either by birth or your own conduct in life, mourning and weeping until you close your eyes in death will never remedy the consequences. In this case it is well to think of our aberrations and see the causes which have led us on to ruin and then use our faculties in marking out a course which will carry us clear from such sad effects in the future and form an unalterable resolution to follow the path that will shun that or similar precipice. If you are poor by inheritance, study the cause of this poverty as far as you can, and act in a way that is calculated to remedy the defect and do not pine away your life in inactivity.