A woman who was about to be sold away from her two children because she "wouldn’t be whipped" killed her children and herself on the eve of the pending separation.  Another woman threatened to commit suicide because she had been whipped severely; after climbing down into a well, she refused to let herself be drawn up until the master promised not to whip her again. One master warned his overseer not to attempt to whip a slave called Henry Halfacre. When he tried, Henry knocked him unconscious. He was sold but "they sneaked him back again when the overseer was changed." In one case an overseer was killed in an unpremeditated group project, according to a Franklin, Tennessee ex-slave who at that time was old enough to be a regular field hand:

I remember during slavery a bunch of slaves were piling leaves up and burning them, and the old overseer was standing with his back to the big fire with a big whip in his hand. Don’t you know they knocked him over in that fire and burned that old white man to death! Nobody never did know what happened to him; they just burnt him up.

     An old man who realized that resistance of any kind failed to fit into the usual picture of slavery, added a statement which throws some light on how the runaway slaves managed to exist.

It is a remarkable thing to tell you, some
people can’t see it, but I am going to tell
you, you can believe it or not but it’s the
truth; some colored people at that [time]
wouldn’t be whipped by masters. They would run away and hide in the woods, come home at nights and get something to eat and out he would go again. Them times they called them "runaway niggers". Some of them stayed away until after the war was over.

     These people who preferred danger, death or severe punishment to conditions on the plantation are mentioned much too seldom by writers dealing with the slave regime. It would seem that they comprised a larger element in the slave population than is usually supposed.


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August 2000