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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 29. My Watch Lost and Visit to Canada


MOTHER'S maiden name was Melinda Light. Her mother died when she was quite young. She and father were married when she was about nineteen years old. She took one of her youngest brothers to live with her, and she acted more the part of a mother than a sister to him. She sent him to school and gave him a good education. His name was Allen Light and he was thoroughly qualified to officiate in the capacity of a pedagogue. He taught a number of terms, prudently saved his wages and bought father's little farm, before we left the state of Yew York. He married a young woman, who had some capital of her own, before we came away, and they settled on father's old place, and lived there when we came to Michigan. For this uncle I did some of my first working out, mostly picking up stone; he gave me a shilling a day. I worked for him until I had, what I thought was quite a purse of money and I brought some of it to Michigan.

As father lived in a hired house I had my own time, during my vacations when I was not going to school. One man was quite displeased with me, because I refused to work for him for sixpence a day. Another man for whom I did work in haying, and spread hay after two or three mowers and raked after, never paid me anything. I supposed he would give me eighteen cents or two shillings a day. I worked for him four days; he was a rich man at that time. I wanted father to ask him for it for me, but he said if the man wasn't a mind to pay it let him go.

Thirty years afterward, when I was there, I met the same man; he was riding a horse down a hill as we were going up. I asked my cousin who he was and when he told me I remembered the work I had done for him. I inquired, of my cousin, about his circumstances; he said that he used to be a rich man, but that he had lost his property and was poor. I am sure, I didn't feel much like sympathizing with him.

Uncle Allen wrote to mother very often after she came to Michigan. He told her how much he missed her, that she had been a mother to him. He said the doors of the house, as he turned them on their hinges, seemed to mourn her absence. It was this brother and his family that we wanted to see the most. We heard from him often and learned that he had been successful in business. He bought two farms, joining the one he bought of father, and one about a mile off and paid for them, they were farms which father and mother knew very well. We learned, from others, that he was a wealthy, prominent and influential man, in that old country. Fickle fortune had smiled on him and he had taken what she offered to give. In the fall we were going to see them. The war of the rebellion had commenced, 1861, when we got ready to go and see them.

Some three or four years before this I hired three or four colored men, who came from Canada, to work for me. The right name of one of them, I think I never knew, it was necessary for him to keep it to himself. Campbell and Obadiah were the names of the other two.

The people of the United States, both North and South, were very much excited, at that time, upon the subject of slavery. The Government had passed a law, in favor of the South, thundering forth its penalties against any one who should aid or harbor, feed or employ one who was a fugitive slave. That law required northern men to turn out when notified, leave their business, help to hunt and chase the fugitive down, capture him and help to put on his fetters. So it was not for me to know the name of the one, who had been recently a slave.

Campbell had a considerable confidence in me and told me a little of the history of the escaped slave, (some things I knew already); that when he ran away, from the land of bondage, he was guided in his flight by the north star. The slave had heard of Canada and knew if he could reach that country he would own himself and be a free man. If he ever had a family his wife and children would be his, and would not be owned by any one else. They would belong to himself and not another. To gain his freedom he traveled mostly nights. When he came to a creek or river, if he couldn't find a bridge or boat, he either swam or waded across. While on his journey he subsisted on fruit or grain, anything he could get hold of. When he saw it was coming light, in the morning, he would select him a place a little way from the road, if he happened to be in one, in a swamp or woods, or any place that offered him a hiding spot, and there spend the day sleeping or watching. When everything was quiet in the eve- fling he would come out of his hiding place, set his face toward the north and hurry on. He was trying to leave his master as fast as possible, and every night he was making the distance greater between them. Sometimes, when he reached the road, he would stop and listen to see if he could hear the sound of horses' hoofs, or men approaching him, or the shrill yelp of the blood hounds, that might have discovered his whereabouts or been on his tracks. If he heard nothing to alarm him he hastened on. Sometimes he was bare-footed and bare-headed, with no one to pity him, or know the anguish of his heart, but his Creator.

When night had spread her mantle over him, and the innumerable stars appeared, sprinkled over the vault of heaven, millions of miles away, all joined together to shower down upon the poor fugitive slave their rays of light. The faithful old north star, with its light beckoned him on to freedom until he got among friends and was safely taken, by the under-ground railroad, into Canada.

So I knew these colored men, while working for me, had some fear that one of them, at least, might be arrested and taken back into slavery. They didn't feel safe in working so far from Canada. But I am sure if I had heard of his master's approach, or his agent's, I should have conducted him, or the three, six miles, through the woods, to Detroit River, procured a boat and sent them across to Canada, regretting the existence of the "Fugitive Slave Law," and obeying a higher law.

As I have said I hired these three, from Canada, to help me through my haying and harvesting. I also gave them some other jobs. I relate this circumstance as it comes in connection with mother's visit to the East and what I said to my uncle there.

The names of two of these men were Campbell and Obadiah, as I have already stated, and these were all the names I ever knew for them. Campbell was an oldish man, and I found him to be very much of a man, trusty, ingenious and faithful in everything he did for me. Obadiah was a young man. He told me his parents died when he was young, that he had a sister younger than himself and a brother still younger. He said that he wanted to keep them together and provide them a home. This young woman kept house for my three workmen. She frequently came down to our house and helped Mrs. Nowlin. She seemed to be very nice and smart and had access to our house.

After I had finished my haying and harvesting they moved back to what, I think, was styled the "Reservation" in Canada, near Windsor. A short time after they were gone I missed my watch. It was kept hanging up in my room. It had unaccountably disappeared and seemed to be gone. I made up my mind, after all of my kindness to the colored people, that the girl had taken my watch and given it to her brother, Obadiah, or that at least he knew something about it, and that they had carried it to Canada. I wanted my watch and hated to lose it; what made it seem worse was its being taken from me under such circumstances. I made up my mind that I could contrive to get it again.

I went out to Dearborn, saw the Deputy-Sheriff of Wayne County, Daniel D. Tompkins, told him the circumstances and what my suspicions were, and my plan, and asked him if he would go with me to Canada. He said he would. I told him that I would come out with my team, he and I would go to Canada and decoy Obadiah across the river, have the papers ready and arrest him in Detroit. I had made up my mind that he had the watch or knew its whereabouts. I thought he would be glad to give it up in order to get out of the scrape, and all I wanted was, somehow, to get my watch.

Accordingly, in the morning I took my team and we started, went to Detroit, drove down to the wharf and waited for the large ferry boat to come to her wharf. Mr. Tompkins was a shrewd man. He thought that he would cross on the little ferry boat, that was then in, and see what he could learn on the other side, and got aboard and went over. While I was waiting I spoke to a mulatto and asked him if he was acquainted in Canada, and what they called the reservation back of Windsor, three or four miles. I told him I wanted to find a man by the name of Campbell. (I thought I should be able to find Campbell as he was the oldest man and he would be able to tell me where Obadiah was.) The mulatto asked me what his given name was. I told him I didn't know, I always called him Campbell. He said there were two men by the name of Campbell there; they were brothers and one of them was a preacher. I told him I thought one of them was the man I wanted to see. He stepped back by the corner of a saloon and commenced talking with another colored man privately; soon another one joined them, and there were three. I noticed them, as they cast sly glances at me, and I thought they were making some remarks about me, or my rig. I had a large team hitched to a covered carriage, double-seated. I led my horses on to the ferry boat, and when it started, two of the colored men stepped aboard. We went across to Canada, I led my horses on to the wharf and found my comrade there waiting for me. I asked him if he had found out where they lived; he said not. We got into the carriage and started for the reservation, being sure that no one knew anything about our business but ourselves, however, I thought, from what I had seen, that things appeared rather suspicious.

We drove up the river road. There was another road running back farther from the river, into the country, which also led to the reservation. We drove along a pretty good jog for a mile or two, and who should we meet but the old man Campbell! He seemed very glad to see me, and came right up to shake hands with me. He wondered how I came to be in Canada, and inquired very particularly about the health of my family. I asked him where Obadiah was, told him I wanted to see him. He pointed across the road and said, that he came down with him and stopped there to get an ax helve. Said he would run in and tell him, that I had come, and in a minute out they came; Obadiah laughing and looking wonderfully pleased to see me. Of course I had to appear friendly, although I didn't feel very well pleased. I supposed that I would have to wear two faces that day; but I was spared the disagreeable task. I told Campbell and Obadiah, that I had come over to see them, that I had a little job on hand which I wanted to have done and that if they would go to Detroit with me I would tell them about it. They said they would go and I told them to get into the carriage. They said they could walk, they were afraid of soiling it; I told them to tumble in and I would take them to Windsor in a few minutes.

While we were talking up came a colored man on horseback, his horse upon the jump, breathing as if he had rode him fast. He spoke to Campbell and took him one side and talked with him. Then Campbell stepped back to me laughing and told me what the man said. He said: "Heaps of colored people" thought I was a "Kentuckian;" they said, I looked like one and that my team and carriage looked like a Kentucky rig. The man would not believe but that I was one, and thought that I had come to get a colored woman, who had been a slave in Kentucky; and he said, that there was a great excitement among the colored people about it.

I learned something of the circumstance; that woman had been a slave in Kentucky. Her master thought a great deal of her, treated her with much kindness, in fact made quite a lady of her and gave her liberties and privileges, which thousands of other slaves never enjoyed. But she made up her mind, that she wouldn't be the property of any one; her life should be her own. She ran away to Canada to gain her liberty. When she arrived there, she didn't find everything as pleasant as she had expected and expressed a willingness to return to her master and slavery, in the land of bondage. Through a secret agent, her master had learned where she was. He made a bargain with the preacher, Campbell, to get her back. He was to have quite a sum of money if he succeeded in persuading her to return to her master.

The colored people had found it out and every man of them branded the preacher Campbell, as a traitor and enemy to his race. They were watching him and the colored woman, and were determined, that no one who had gained their liberty should ever be subjected to slavery again, if they could prevent it.

Campbell and Obadiah got into the carriage. By this time we had convinced the first trooper, that I actually was a Michigan man (for he saw for himself, that I had no woman) and we started back toward Windsor. We shortly after met another horseman following up; when he met us he turned with us. They had alarmed all of the colored people on the road and nearly every man had volunteered for duty. They told us that some men had gone on the other road, on horse back, to cut us off in case we turned that way.

I began to make up my mind that, sure enough some how or other, we had raised quite an excitement among the colored people. We were attended by quite a cortege. 'I'hey seemed to be paving a good deal of attention to a couple of Michigan men. We had attendants on foot and on horse back, before and behind, and we were quietly making our way toward Windsor. If persons, who did not know us, and knew nothing of the affair or circumstance, had stood in the main street in Windsor, opposite the ferry, and seen us come in, attended by our retinue, they might have thought, that I, a Michigan farmer, had the King of the Sandwich Islands accompanied by some great Mogul, that I was their driver and that the Deputy Sheriff, of Wayne County, Michigan, was their footman.

When we came up opposite the ferry, the crowd of colored men was so great, we had to stop and give an account of ourselves. They had raised the alarm in Detroit and she had furnished her quota of colored men for the emergency. The excitement had helped the ferry business a little.

We found ourselves surrounded by a large concourse of people. I told them, that I did not know anything about the woman nor of Kentucky. Some of them wouldn't believe but what there was actually a woman in the carriage and they had to step up and look in and examine it, in order to satisfy themselves. Luckily, some of those who came across from Detroit knew me and knew that I was no Southerner.

Campbell was my main spokesman. He was a very sensible man and more than an average talker. He said: "Why gemman, I know this man well; he libs in Dearbu'n. I worked for him heaps of times, often been to his house. We're goin to Detroit wid him to see 'bout a job."

One colored man, more suspicious than the rest, crowded his way through up to the carriage, opened the door, took Obadiah by the arm and told him to get out, that he wouldn't let him go across; he said he was a young man and it was dangerous for him to go over. Obadiah said that he knew "Misser Nowlin fust rate," that he had worked for him and that he had more work for him to do and he must go over. Other men, who knew me, reasoned the case with them, and the' finally concluded it was a false alarm, closed the carriage door and we were permitted to drive on to the ferry. We soon crossed back to Detroit; to what some of the colored people considered so dangerous a place for their race.

I had Campbell hold the horses while my friend, Mr. Tompkins, and I consulted together concerning Obadiah. I told my friend, that I hadn't been able to detect any guilt in Obadiah from the first to the last. I thought if he had been guilty he would have been alarmed, and have allowed himself to have been taken out of the carriage in Windsor, and would not have crossed the river with us. Mr. Tompkins had made up his mind to the same thing. I stepped back to them and said, that I had consulted with my friend and changed my mind, that I wouldn't do anything about the job then. I have no doubt, they thought the colored people had raised such an excitement it had discouraged me and cheated them out of a job. (It is seen that the job I wished done just then, was to get my watch, and I had thought that Obadiah was the one who could help me accomplish it.) I told them, some other time when I had work I would employ them, and I did employ Campbell a number of times after that. I gave them money to get them some dinner and to pay their passage back, as I had paid it over. I left them feeling first rate; they never knew the object of my visit. They must have thought that I treated them with a great deal of respect.

When I reached home at night my pocket book was a little lighter, my trip had cost me something. I told my folks that if they had made out in Canada, that I was a southern man and that I was after that woman, it would have been doubtful about my ever getting home and that it would have taken three hundred Michigan troops to have gotten us out of Windsor, dead or alive. But I do say to exonerate those colored people from all suspicion, in the affair, that, some time after, the watch was found, nicely wrapped up in a piece of cloth and in a bureau drawer, where it had been laid away carefully and forgotten.


 


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