Chapter XXII: New Orleans

The season is the holidays, it is evening, and the night is beautiful. The moon, which in Louisiana is always an object of impressive interest, even to the slave as well as those of enlightened and scientific intelligence, the influence of whose soft and mellow light seems ever like the enchanting effect of some invisible being, to impart inspiration—now being shed from the crescent of the first day of the last quarter, appeared more interesting and charming than ever.
Though the cannon at the old fort in the Lower Faubourg had fired the significant warning, admonishing the slaves as well as free blacks to limit their movements, still there were passing to and fro with seeming indifference negroes, both free and slaves, as well as the whites and creole quadroons, fearlessly along the public highways, in seeming defiance of the established usage of negro limitation.
This was the evening of the day of Maid digras, and from long established and time-honored custom, the celebration which commenced in the morning was now being consummated by games, shows, exhibitions, theatrical performances, festivals, masquerade balls, and numerous entertainments and gatherings in the evening. It was on this account that the negroes had been allowed such unlimited privileges this evening.
Nor were they remiss to the utmost extent of its advantages.
5The city which always at this season of the year is lively, and Chartier street gay and fashionable, at this time appeared more lively, gay and fashionable than usual. This fashionable thoroughfare, the pride of the city, was thronged with people, presenting complexions of every shade and color. Now could be seen and realized the expressive description in the popular song of the vocalist Cargill:
' I suppose you've heard how New Orleans
Is famed for wealth and beauty ;
There's girls of every hue, it seems,
From snowy white to sooty.'
10The extensive shops and fancy stores presented the presence behind their counters as saleswomen in attendance of numerous females, black, white, mulatto and quadroon, politely bowing, courtesying, and rubbing their hands,—in accents of broken English inviting to purchase all who enter the threshold, or even look in at the door:
' Wat fa you want someting? Walk in, sire, I vill sell you one nice present fa one young lady.'
And so with many who stood or sat along the streets and at the store doors. Courtesying and smiling they give the civil banter:
' Come, sire, I sell you one pretty ting.'
The fancy stores and toy shops on this occasion were crowded seemingly to their greatest capacity. Here might be seen the fashionable young white lady of French or American extraction, and there the handsome, and frequently beautiful maiden of African origin, mulatto, quadroon, or sterling black, all fondly interchanging civilities, and receiving some memento or keepsake from the hand of an acquaintance. Many lively jests and impressive flings of delicate civility noted the greetings of the passers-by. Freedom seemed as though for once enshielded by her sacred robes and crowned with cap and wand in hand, to go forth untrammeled through the highways of the town. Along the private streets, sitting under the verandas, in the doors with half closed jalousies, or promenading unconcernedly the public ways, mournfully i humming in solace or chanting in lively glee, could be seen and heard many a creole, male or female, black, white or mixed race, sometimes in reverential praise of—
15Father, Son and Holy Ghost—
Madonna, and the Heavenly Host!
in sentimental reflection on some pleasant social relations, or the sad reminiscence of ill-treatment or loss by death of some loved one, or worse than death, the relentless and insatiable demands of slavery. In the distance, on the levee or in the harbor among the steamers, the songs of the boatmen were incessant. Every few hours landing, loading and unloading, the glee of these men of sorrow was touchingly appropriate and impressive. Men of sorrow they are in reality ; for if there be a class of men anywhere to be found, whose sentiments of song and words of lament are made to reach the sympathies of others, the black slave-boatmen on the Mississippi river is that class. Placed in positions the most favorable to witness the pleasures enjoyed by others, the tendency is only to augment their own wretchedness.
Fastened by the unyielding links of the iron cable of despotism, reconciling themselves to a life-long misery, they are seemingly contented by soothing their sorrows with songs and sentiments of apparently cheerful, but in reality wailing lamentations. The most attracting lament of the evening was sung to words, a stanza of which is presented in pathos of delicate tenderness, which is but a spray from the stream which gushed out in insuppressible jets from the agitated fountains of their souls, as if in unison with the restless current of the great river upon which they were compelled to toil, their troubled waters could not be quieted. In the capacity of leader, as is their custom, one poor fellow in pitiful tones lead off the song of the evening:
' Way down upon the Mobile river,
20Close to Mobile bay ;
There's where my thoughts is running ever,
All through the livelong day :
There I've a good and fond old mother,
Though she is a slave ;
25There I've a sister and a brother,
Lying in their peaceful graves.
Then in chorus joined the whole company—
' O, could I somehow a'nother,
Drive these tears away;
30When I think about my poor old mother.
Down upon the Mobile bay.'
Standing in the midst of and contemplating such scenes as these, it was, that Henry determined to finish his mission in the city and leave it by the earliest conveyance over Pontchartrain for Alabama—Mobile being the point at which he aimed. Swiftly as the current of the fleeting Mississippi was time passing by, and many states lay in expanse before him, all of which, by the admonishing impulses of the dearest relations, he was compelled to pass over as a messenger of light and destruction.
Light, of necessity, had to be imparted to the darkened region of the obscure intellects of the slaves, to arouse them from their benighted condition to one of moral responsibility, to make them sensible that liberty was legitimately and essentially theirs, without which there was no distinction between them and the brute. Following as a necessary consequence would be the destruction of oppression and ignorance.
Alone and friendless, without a home, a fugitive from slavery, a child of misfortune and outcast upon the world, floating on the cold surface of chance, now in the midst of a great city of opulence, surrounded by the most despotic restrictions upon his race, with renewed determination Henry declared that nothing short of an unforeseen Providence should impede his progress in the spread of secret organization among the slaves. So aroused, he immediately started for a house in the Lower Faubourg.
35'My frien', who yeh lokin' foh?' kindly enquired a cautious black man, standing concealed in the shrubbery near the door of a low, tile-covered house standing back in the yard.
'A friend,' replied Henry.
'Wat's 'is name?' continued the man.
'I do not rightly know.'
'Would yeh know it ef yeh heahed it, my fren'?'
40'I think I would.'
'Is it Seth?'
'That's the very name!' said Henry.
'Wat yeh want wid 'm, my fren'?'
'I want to see him.'
45'I spose yeh do, fren'; but dat ain' answer my questin' yet. Wat yeh want wid 'im?'
'I would rather see him, then I'll be better able to answer.'
'My fren',' replied the man, meaningly, 'ah see da is something in yeh; come in!' giving a significant cough before placing his finger on the latch-string.
On entering, from the number and arrangement of the seats, there was evidence of an anticipated gathering ; but the evening being that of the Maid di gras, there was nothing very remarkable in this. Out from another room came a sharp, observing, shrewd little dark brown-skin woman, called in that community a griffe. Bowing, sidling and courtesying, she smilingly came forward.
' Wat brotha dis, Seth?' enquired she.
50' Ah don'o,' carelessly replied he with a signal of caution, which was not required in her case.
' Ah!' exclaimed Henry ; ' this is Mr. Seth! I'm glad to see you.'
After a little conversation, in which freely participated Mrs. Seth, who evidently was deservingly the leading spirit of the evening, they soon become reconciled to the character and mission of their unexpected and self-invited guest.
' Phebe, go tell 'em,' said Seth ; when lightly tripping away she entered the door of the other room, which after a few moments' delay was partially opened, and by a singular and peculiar signal, Seth and the stranger were invited in. Here sat in one of the most secret and romantic-looking rooms, a party of fifteen, the representatives of the heads of that many plantations, who that night had gathered for the portentious purpose of a final decision on the hour to strike the first blow. On entering, Henry stood a little in check.
'Trus' 'em!' said Seth; 'yeh fine 'em da right saut uh boys—true to dey own color! Da come from fifteen diffent plantation.'
55'They're the men for me!' replied Henry, looking around the room; 'is the house all safe?'
'Yes, brotha, all safe an' soun', an' a big dog in da yahd, so dat no one can come neah widout ouah knowin' it.'
'First, then, to prayer, and next to seclusion,' said Henry, looking at Seth to lead in prayer.
'Brotha, gib us a wud a' prah,' said Seth to Henry, as the party on their knees bowed low their heads to the floor.
'I am not fit, brother, for a spiritual leader my warfare is not Heavenly, but earthly; I have not to do with angels, but with men; not with righteousness, but wickedness. Call upon some brother who has more of the grace of God than I. If I ever were a Christian, slavery has made me a sinner; if I had been an angel, it would have made me a devil ! I feel more like cursing than praying—may God forgive me! Pray for me, brethren!'
60' Brotha Kits, gib us wud a prah, my brotha !' said Seth to an athletic, powerful black man.
' Its not fah ouah many wuds, noah long prah—ouah 'pinion uh ouah self, nah sich like, dat Dou anseh us ; but de 'cerity ob ouah hahts an ouah 'tentions. Bless de young man dat come 'mong us ; make 'im fit fah 'is day, time, an' genration! Dou knows, Laud, dat fah wat we 'semble; anseh dis ouah 'tition, an' gib us token ob Dine 'probation !' petitioned Kits, slapping his hand at the conclusion down upon and splitting open a pine table before him.
' Amen' responded the gathering.
' Let da wud run an' be glorify !' exclaimed Nathan Seth.
The splitting of the table was regarded as omenous, but of doubtful signification, the major part considering it as rather unfavorable. Making no delay, lest a dispondency ensue through fear and superstition, Henry at once entered into seclusion, completing an organization.
65' God sen' yeh had come along dis way befo'!' exclaimed Phebe Seth.
' God grant 'e had!' responded Nathan.
' My Laud ! I feels like a Sampson ! ah feels like gwine up to take de city meh-self'!'' cried out Kits, standing erect in the floor, with fists clenched, muscles braced, eyes shut, and head thrown back.
' Yes, yes ! exclaimed Phebe ; ' blessed be God, brotha Kits, da King is in da camp!'
' Powah, powah!' responded Seth; 'da King is heah !'
70' Praise 'Is name !' shouted Phebe clapping and rubbing her hands ; ' fah wat I feels an' da knowledge I has receive dis night! I been all my days in darkness till now! I feels we shall be a people yit! Thang' God! thang God!' when she skipped over the floor from side to side, keeping time with a tune sung to the words—
' We'll honor our Lord and Master;
We'll honor our Lord and King ;
We'll honor our Lord and Master,
And bow at His command !
75O ! brothers, did you hear the news ?
Lovely Jesus is coming !
If ever I get to the house of the Lord,
I'll never come back any more.'
' It's good to be heah !' shouted Seth.
80' Ah ! dat it is, brotha Seth !' responded Kits. ' Da Laud is nigh, dat 'e is ! 'e promise whahsomeveh two-three 'semble, to be in da mids' an' dat to bless 'em, an' 'is promise not in vain, case 'e heah to-night!'[2]
At the moment which Phebe took her seat, nearly exhausted with exercise, a loud rap at the door, preceded by the signal for the evening, alarmed the party.
' Come in, brotha Tib—come quick, if yeh comin!' bade Seth, in a low voice hastily, as he partially opened the door, peeping out into the other room.
'O, pshaw!' exclaimed Phebe, as he and her husband yet whispered ; ' I wish he stay away. I sho nobody want 'im ! he all'as half drunk anyhow. Good ev'nin', brotha Tib. How yeh been sense we see yeh early paut da night ?'
'Reasable, sistah—reasable, thang God. Well, what yeh all 'cided on ? I say dis night now au neveh !' said Tib, evidently bent on mischief.
85'Foolishness, foolishness!' replied Phebe; ' it make me mad see people make fool uh demself! I wish 'e stay home an' not botheh heah!'
' Ah, 'spose I got right to speak as well as da rest on yeh ! Yeh all ain' dat high yit to keep body fom talkin', ah 'spose. Betta wait tell yeh git free fo' ye 'temp' scrow oveh people dat way ! I kin go out yeh house !' retorted the mischievous man, determined on distracting their plans.
' Nobody odeh yeh out, but I like see people have sense, specially befo' strangehs! an' know how behave demself!'
' I is gwine out yeh house,' grufflly replied the man.
' My friend,' said Henry, ' listen a moment to me. You are not yet ready for a strike ; you not yet ready to do anything effective. You have barely taken the first step in the matter, and—'
90' Strangeh !' interrupted the distracter; ' ah don'o yeh name, yeh strangeh to me— I see yeh talk bout' step;' how many step man got take fo' 'e kin walk ? I likes to know dat! Tell me that fus, den yeh may ax me what yeh choose !'
' You must have all the necessary means, my brother,' persuasively resumed Henry, ' for the accomplishment of your ends. Intelligence among yourself on everything pertaining to your designs and project. You must know what, how, and when to do. Have all the instrumentalities necessary for an effective effort before making the attempt. Without this, you will fail, utterly fail!'
' Den ef we got wait all dat time, we neveh be free !' gruffly replied he. ' I goes in foh dis night ! I say dis night! Who goes—'
' Shet yo' big mouth ! Sit down ! Now make a fool o' yo'self !' exclaimed several voices with impatience, which evidently only tended to increase the mischief.
' Dis night, dis night au neveh !' boisterously yelled the now infuriated man at the top of his voice; ' now's da time !' when he commenced shuffling about over the floor, stamping and singing at the top of his voice—
95' Come all my brethren, let us take a rest,
While the moon shines bright and clear;
Old master died and left us all at last,
And has gone at the bar to appear !
Old master's dead and lying in his grave ;
100And our blood will now cease to flow ;
He will no more tramp on the neck of the slave,
For he's gone where slave-holders go !
Hang up the shovel and the hoe—o—o—o !
I don't care whether I work or no !
105Old master's gone to the slave-holders rest—
He's gone where they all ought to go!'
pointing down and concluding with an expression which indicated anything, but a religious feeling.
' Shame so it is dat he's lowed to do so ! I wish I was man foh 'im, I'd make 'im fly !' said Phebe much alarmed, as she heard the great dog in the yard, which had been so trained as to know the family visitors, whining and manifesting an uneasiness unusual with him. On going to the back door, a person suddenly retreated into the shrubbery, jumping the fence, and disappearing.
Soon, however, there was an angry low heavy growling of the dog, with suppressed efforts to bark, apparently prevented by fear on the part of the animal. This was succeeded by cracking in the bushes, dull heavy footsteps, cautious whispering, and stillness.
110' Hush ! Listen !' admonished Phebe; ' what is dat ? wy dont Tyger bark ? I dont understan' it ? Seth, go out and see, will you ? Wy dont some you men make dat fool stop? I wish I was man, I'd break 'is neck, so I would !' during which the betrayer was shuffling, dancing, and singing at such a pitch as to attract attention from without.
Seth seizing him from behind by a firm grasp of the collar with both hands, Tib sprang forward, slipping easily out of it, leaving the overcoat suspended in his assailant's hands, displaying studded around his waist a formidable array of deathly weapons, when rushing out of the front door, he in terrible accents exclaimed:—
' Insurrection ! Insurrection ! Death to every white!'
With a sudden spring of their rattles, the gens d'armes, who in cloisters had surrounded the house, and by constant menacing gestures with their maces kept the great dog, which stood back in a corner, in a snarling position in fear, arrested the miscreant, taking him directly to the old fort calaboose. In the midst of the confusion which necessarily ensued, Henry, Seth, and Phebe, Kits and fellow-leaders from the fifteen plantations, immediately fled, all having passes for the day and evening, which fully protected them in any part of the city away from the scene of disturbance.
Intelligence soon reached all parts of the city, that an extensive plot for rebellion of the slaves had been timely detected. The place was at once thrown into a state of intense excitement, the military called into requisition, dragoons flying in every direction, cannon from the old fort sending forth hourly through the night, thundering peals to give assurance of their sufficiency, and the infantry on duty traversing the streets, stimulating with martial air with voluntary vocalists, who readily joined in chorus to the memorable citing words in the Southern States, of—
115' Go tell Jack Coleman,
The Negroes are arising !'
Alarm and consternation succeeded pleasure and repose, sleep for the time seemed to have departed from the eyes of the inhabitants, men, women, and children ran every direction through the streets, seeming determined if they were to be massacred, that it should be done in the open highways rather than secretly in their own houses. The commotion thus continued till the morning, meanwhile editors, journalists, reporters, and correspondents, all were busily on the alert, digesting such information as would form an item of news for the press, or a standing reminiscence for historical reference in the future.
To Chapter XXIII

Textual Notes

1first] 59; last 61
1last] 59; first 61
2indifference] 59; seeming indifference, negroes, 61
2slaves] 59; slave 61
3Maid] 59; Mar 61
6'] 59; not in 61
10attendance] 59; in attendance, of 61
10hands] 59; hinds 61
10enter] 59; entered 61
10look] 59; looked 61
11someting] 59; somet'ing 61
11present] 59; presant 61
11lady] 59; ladee 61
12give] 59; gave 61
12:] 59; ; 61
14fashionable] 59; fashionable comely young 61
14enshielded] 59; enshrouded 61
14half closed] 59; half-closed 61
14i] 59; not in 61
14white] 59; black, white, or 61
17ill-treatment] 59; of ill-treatment, or 61
17levee] 59; the levee, or 61
17is] 59; not in 61
17only] 59; only is to 61
18which] 59; that 61
18jets] 59; juts 61
18song] 59; songs 61
20bay] 59; Bay 61
21is] 59; are 61
26.] 59; .' 61
30.] 59; , 61
31bay] 59; Bay 61
32f and] 59; t of and[,] contemplating suc 61
32lay] 59; lie 61
33Following] 59; Following, as 61
33necessary] 59; necessry 61
33consequence] 59; necessry consequence, 61
34and] 59; , an 61
34organization] 59; organizations 61
35lokin] 59; lookin 61
35foh] 59; for 61
35enquired] 59; inquired 61
37Wat] 59; Wats 61
37s '] 59; not in 61
39heahed] 59; heared 61
39fren] 59; frien 61
43m] 59; im 61
43fren] 59; frien 61
45fren] 59; frien 61
45yet] 59; yit 61
47fren] 59; frien 61
47,] 59; ; 61
47ah] 59; I 61
47something] 59; somethin' 61
48Maid] 59; Mar 61
49enquired] 59; inquired 61
50Ah] 59; I 61
52Mrs] 59; Mr 61
52become] 59; became 61
53away] 59; tripping away, she 61
53delay] 59; moments' delay, was 61
54uh] 59; uv 61
54dey] 59; der 61
54from] 59; f'om 61
54plantation] 59; plantations 61
56yahd] 59; yard 61
56neah] 59; nigh 61
56ouah] 59; our 61
58wud] 59; word 61
58prah] 59; prar 61
59leader] 59; spiritual leader; my 61
59I] 59; not in 61
59ever] 59; ever I were 61
59an angel] 59; a saint 61
60,] 59; not in 61
60wud] 59; word 61
60prah] 59; prar 61
61Its] 59; It's 61
61fah ouah] 59; for our 61
61wuds] 59; words 61
61noah] 59; not 61
61prah] 59; prar 61
61ouah] 59; our 61
61uh ouah] 59; uv our 61
61nah] 59; nor 61
61,] 59; ' 61
61;] 59; :[or ;] 61
61ouah hahts] 59; our hearts 61
61ouah] 59; not in 61
61'tentions.] 59; an' our 'tentions. 61
61fah] 59; for 61
61,] 59; not in 61
61fah] 59; for 61
61ouah] 59; our 61
62'] 59; !' 61
63da wud] 59; de word 61
64omenous] 59; ominous 61
64ensue] 59; ensued 61
65along] 59; 'long 61
67ah] 59; I 61
67up] 59; not in 61
67meh-self'!''] 59; mesef!' 61
67in] 59; on 61
68!] 59; !' 61
68da] 59; de 61
68da] 59; de 61
69Powah] 59; Poweh 61
69powah] 59; poweh 61
69;] 59; : 61
69heah] 59; hear 61
70Is] 59; is 61
70Phebe] 59; shouted Phebe, clapping 61
70fah] 59; for 61
70darkness] 59; daukness 61
70'] 59; , 61
70!] 59; , 61
70thang] 59; God, thang' God!' 61
71;] 59; , 61
75O !] 59; Oh 61
79heah] 59; here 61
80!] 59; , 61
80!'] 59; ;' 61
80Da] 59; De 61
80!] 59; . 61
80e] 59; E 61
80whahsomeveh] 59; dat wharsomeveh 61
80,] 59; ' 61
80da] 59; de 61
80'] 59; not in 61
80promise] 59; promise is not 61
80in] 59; not in 61
80e heah] 59; E here 61
81which] 59; when 61
82,] 59; not in 61
82if] 59; ef 61
82!'] 59; ,' 61
82voice] 59; low voice, hastily, 61
83whispered ;] 59; lingered. 61
83I] 59; I'm sho, 61
83sho] 59; I'm sho, nobody 61
83'] 59; not in 61
83all'as] 59; allas 61
83drunk] 59; half drunk, anyhow. 61
83ev'nin',] 59; evenin, 61
83yeh] 59; see yeh, early 61
83da] 59; de 61
84sistah] 59; sisteh 61
84night] 59; dis night, now 61
84au] 59; or 61
85replied] 59; exclaimed 61
85;] 59; , 61
85mad] 59; mad to see 61
85uh] 59; uv 61
85an] 59; , 61
85an'] 59; home, 'an not 61
85botheh heah] 59; bother here 61
86Ah, '] 59; I 61
86da] 59; de 61
86!] 59; . 61
86fom] 59; from 61
86', ah] 59; ,' I 61
86ye] 59; yeh 61
87odeh] 59; o'deh 61
87specially] 59; pecially 61
87how] 59; to 61
88grufflly] 59; gruffly 61
89you] 59; strike; you're not 61
90;] 59; , 61
90ah] 59; not in 61
90yeh] 59; you 61
90'e] 59; he 61
90that] 59; dat 61
90yeh] 59; ye 61
91.] 59; ! 61
91,] 59; not in 61
91!'] 59; .' 61
92foh] 59; for 61
94au] 59; or 61
94da] 59; de 61
103hoe—o—o—o] 59; hoe-o-o 61
107,] 59; not in 61
108foh] 59; for 61
108Phebe] 59; said Phebe, much 61
110Listen] 59; Lis'en 61
110what] 59; w'at 61
110dont Tyger] 59; don't Tiger 61
110dont] 59; don't 61
110dont] 59; don't 61
110was] 59; was a man, 61
111seizing] 59; seized 61
111,] 59; ; 61
111,] 59; not in 61
111he] 59; not in 61
111accents] 59; accents he exclaimed:— 61
113cloisters] 59; clusters 61
113,] 59; not in 61
113,] 59; not in 61
114sending] 59; sent 61
114traversing] 59; traversed 61
114with] 59; and 61
114in] 59; in a chorus 61
114citing] 59; exciting 61
116arising] 59; a-rising 61
117ran] 59; ran in every 61
117,] 59; ; 61

Note: From " 'It's good to be here!' shouted Seth" to "Yeh all ain' dat high yit," the 61 broadside employs double rather than single quotes, likely the result of the compositors running out of single-quote types.