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NEW ORLEANS. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 2.
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“Though every body eried ‘Shame!’ and ‘Shocking!’ yet every body visited them,”—miss Edgeworth.
When we arrived at the extreme south-west point of our journey, it was amusing to recur to the warnings of our kind friends about its inconveniences and dangers. We had brought away tokens of the hospitality of Charleston, in the shape of a large basket of provision which had been prepared, on the supposition that we should find little that we could eat on the road. There was wine, tea, and cocoa; cases of French preserved meat, crackers (biscuits), and gingerbread. All these good things, except the wine and crackers, we found it expedient to leave behind, from place to place. There was no use in determining beforehand to eat them at any particular meal: when it came to the point, we always found hunger or, disgust so much more bearable than the shame of being ungracious to entertainers who were doing their best for us, that we could never bring ourselves to produce our stores. We took what was set before us, and found ourselves, at length, alive and well at New Orleans.
At Mobile I met some relatives who kindly urged my taking possession of their house at New Orleans, during my stay of ten days. I was thankful for the arrangement, as the weather was becoming hot, and we could secure more leisure and repose in a house of our own than in a boarding-house, or as the guests of a family. With the house, we were, of course, to have the services of my friend's slaves. He told me something of their history. He had tried all ways to obtain good service, and could not succeed. He had attempted wages, treating his people like free servants, &c. and all in vain. His present plan was promising them freedom and an establishment in a free State after a short term of years, in case of good desert. He offered to take care of the money they earned, during their leisure hours, and to pay them interest upon it; but they preferred keeping it in their own hands. One of them sewed up 150 dollars in her bed: she fell ill, and the person who nursed her is supposed to have got at the money; for when the poor slave recovered, her earnings were gone.
We left Mobile for New Orleans on the 24th of April. The portion of forest which we crossed in going down from Mobile to the coast was the most beautiful I had seen. There was fresh grass under foot, and the woods were splendid with myrtles, magnolias, and many shrubs whose blossoms were new to me, and their names unknown. We had plenty of time to look about us; for the back which carried the four passengers whom the stage would not contain broke down every half hour, and the stage company had to stop till it could proceed. We had an excellent dinner in the gallery of a log-house in the midst of the forest, where we were plentifully supplied with excellent claret. There had been showers all day, with intervals of sunshine, but towards sunset the settled gloom of the sky fore-boded a night of storm. I was on the watch for the first sight of the Gulf of Mexico. I traced the line where the forest retires to give place to the marsh, and the whole scene assumes a sudden air of desolation. At this moment the thunder burst, sheets of lightning glared over the boiling sea, and the rain poured down in floods. Our umbrellas were found to be broken, of course; and we had to run along the pier to the steam-boat in such a rain as I was never before exposed to: but it was well worth while getting wet for such a first sight of the Gulf of Mexico, it soon grew dark; and before morning we were in Lake Pontchartrain; so that this stormy view of the Gulf was the only one we had.
We amused ourselves in die morning with tracing the dim shores of the State of Mississippi to the north, and of Louisiana to the west. About nine o'clock we arrived in sight of the long piers which stretch out from the swamp into the lake, the mud-craft, the canoes, with blacks fishing for crabs; the baths, and the large Washington hotel, with its galleries and green blinds, built for coolness, where gentlemen from New Orleans go to eat fish and bathe. Next we saw the train of railroad cars waiting for us; and without the loss of a moment's time we were whirled away to the city,—five miles in a quarter of an hour. I have expressed elsewhere* my admiration of the swamp through which our road lay,—an admiration which faded as we traversed the lower faubourg, and died away in the Champs Elysées. Before ten o'clock we were breaking the seals of our English letters in the drawing-room of our temporary home.
When we had satisfied ourselves with home news, unpacked, dressed, and lunched, we took our seats by the window, in the intervals of visits from callers. All was very new, very foreign in its aspect. Many of the ladies in the streets wore caps or veils instead of bonnets; the negroes who passed shouted their very peculiar kind of French; and every thing seemed to tell us that we had plunged into the dog-days. I never knew before how impressions of heat can be conveyed through the eye. The intensity of glare and shadow in the streets, and the many evidences that the fear of heat is the prevailing idea of the place, affect the imagination even more than the scorching power of the sun does the bodily frame.
I was presented with a pamphlet written by a physician, which denies the unhealthiness of New Orleans as strenuously as some of its inhabitants deny its immorality. To me it appears that everything depends on what is understood by Morals and Health. As to the morals of the city, I have elsewhere stated the principal facts on which my unfavourable judgment is founded* . In regard to another department of morals, the honourable fact of the generous charity of New Orleans to strangers should be stated. Great numbers of sick and destitute foreigners are perpetually thrown upon the mercy of the inhabitants; and that mercy is unbounded. I have reason to believe that the sick are not merely nursed and cured, but provided with funds before departing. When I visited the hospital, it contained 250 patients, not above 50 of whom were Americans. As to the health of the place, I believe the average is good among that portion of the population which can afford to remove northwards for the hot months: but very low if the total white population be included, The pamphlet which I read argues that though the fever is very destructive during a portion of the year, mortality from other discuses is much below the common average; that tire variations of temperature are slight, though frequent; and that the average of children and old persons is high. All this may be true; but a place must be called peculiarly unhealthy whose inhabitants are compelled, on pain of death, to remove for three or four months of every year. Instead of arguing against such a fact as this, many citizens are hoping and striving to put an end to the necessity of such a removal. They hone, by means of draining and paving, to render their city habitable all the year round. Plans of drainage are under consideration, and I saw some importations of paving stones. The friends of the New Orleans people can hardly wish them a greater good than the success of such attempts: for the perpetual shitting about which they are subjected to by the dread of the fever is a serious evil to sober families of an industrious, domestic turn. It is very injurious ous to the minds of children, and to the habits of young people, and a great hardship to the aged. I was struck with a remark which fell from a lady about her children's exercise in the open air. She said that she always took them out when the wind blew from over the lake, and kept them at home in warm weather when it blew from any other quarter, as it then only made them. “more languid” to go out. This did not tend to confirm the doctrine of the pamphlet; but I was not surprised at the remark when I looked abroad over the neighbouring country from the top of the hospital. Thence I saw the marsh which was given to Lafayette, and which he sold, not long before his death to a London firm, who sold it again. On this marsh, most of which was under water, the city of New Orleans was begun. A strip of buildings was carried to the river bank, where the city spread. In the midst of the flooded lots of ground stood the gas-works: surrounded by stagnant ponds lay the Catholic cemetery. The very churches of the city seemed to spring up out of the water. The blossomy beauties of the swamp could not be seen at this height, and all looked hideously desolate in the glaring sun. The view from the turret of the Cotton-press is much more advantageous. It commands many windings of the majestic river, and the point where it seems to lose itself in the distant forest; while below appears everything that is dry in all the landscape,—the shipping, the Levee, the busy streets of the city, and the shady avenues of the suburbs.
The ladies of New Orleans walk more than their countrywomen of other cities, from the streets being in such bad order as to make walking the safest means of locomotion. The streets are not very mumerous; they are well distinguished, and lie at right angles, and their names are clearly printed up; so that, strangers find no difficulty in going about, except when a fall of rain has made the crossings impassable. The heat is far less oppressive in the streets than in the open country, as there is generally a shady side. We were never kept within doors by the heat, though summer weather had fairly set in before our arrival. We made calls, and went shopping and sight-seeing, much as we do in London; and moreover, walked to dinner visits, to the theatre, and to church, while the sun was blazing as if he had drawn that part of the world some millions of miles nearer to himself than that in which we had been accustomed to live. It is in, vain to attempt describing what the moonlight is like. We walked under the long rows of Pride-of-India trees on the Remparts, amidst the picturesque low dwellings of the Quadroons, and almost felt the glow of the moonlight, so warm, so golden, so soft as I never saw it elsewhere. We were never tired of watching the lightning from our balcony, flashing through the first shades of twilight, and keeping the whole heaven in night-long conflagration. The mosquitoes were a great and perpetual plague, except while we were asleep. We found our mosquito curtains a sufficient protection at night: but we had to be on the watch against these malicious insects all day, and wage war against them during the whole evening. Many ladies are accustomed, during the summer months, to get after breakfast into a large sack of muslin tied round the throat, with smaller sacks for the arms, and to sit thus at work or book, fanning themselves to protect their faces. Other sit all the morning on the bed, within their mosquito curtains. I were gloves and prunella boots all day long: but hands and feet were stung through all the defences I could devise. After a while the sting of the mosquito erases to irritate more than the English gnat-sting; but to strangers the suffering is serious; to those of feverish habit, sometimes dangerous.
Sunday is the busiest day of the week to the stranger in New Orleans. There is first the negro market to be seen at five o'clock. We missed this sight as the mornings were foggy, and it was accounted unsafe to go out in the early damp. Then there is the cathedral to be attended, a place which the European gladly visits, as the only one in the United States where all men meet together as brethren. As he goes, the streets are noisy with traffic. Some of those who keep the Sunday sit at their doors or windows, reading the newspapers, or chatting with their acquaintance. Merchants are seen hastening to the counting-house or the wharf, or busy in the stores, Others are streaming into the church doors. There are groups about the cathedral gates, the blacks and the whites parting company as if they had not been worshipping side by side. Within the edifice there is no separation. Some few persons may be in pews; but kneeling on the pavement may be seen a multitude, of every shade of complexion, from the fair Scotchwoman or German to the jet-black pure African. The Spanish eye flashes from beneath the veil; the French creole countenance, painted high, is surmounted by the neat cap or the showy bonnet; while between them may be thrust a grey-headed mulatto, following with his stupid eyes the evolutions of the priest; or the devout negro woman telling her beads,—a string of berries,—as if her life depended on her task. During the preaching, the multitude of anxious faces, thus various in tint and expression, turned up towards the pulpit, afforded one of those few spectacles which are apt to haunt the whole future life of the observer like a dream. Several Protestants spoke to me of the Catholic religion as being a great blessing to the ignorant negro,—viewing a ritual religion as a safe resting-place between barbarism and truth. Nothing that I saw disposed me to agree with them. I saw among Catholics of this class only the most abject worship of things without meaning, and no comprehension whatever of symbols. I was persuaded that if a ritual religion be ever a good it is so in the case of the most not the least, enlightened: of those who accept the ritual as symbolical, and not of those who pay it literal worship. I could not but think that if the undisguised story of Jesus were presented to these last, as it was to the fishermen of Galilee, and the peasants on the reedy banks of Jordan, they would embrace a Christianity, in comparison with which their present religion is an unintelligible and ineffectual mythology. But such a primitive Christianity they, as slaves, never will and never can have as its whole spirit is destructive of slavery.
Half a year before my visit to New Orleans, a great commotion had been raised in the city against a Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev. Joel Parker, on account of some expressions which he had been reported to have used, while on a visit in New England, respecting the morals of New Orleans, and especially the desecration of the Sunday. Some meddlesome person had called a public meeting, to consider what should be done with the Rev. Joel Parker, for having employed his constitutional freedom of speech in declaring what almost everybody knew or believed to be true. Many gentlemen of the city were vexed at this encroachment upon the liberty of the citizen, and at the ridicule which such apparent sensitiveness about reputation would bring upon their society; and they determined to be present at the meeting, and support the pastor's rights. Matters were proceeding fast towards a condemnation of the accused, and sentence of banishment, when these gentlemen demanded that he should be heard in his own defence,—a guarantee for his personal safety being first passed by the meeting. This was agree to, and Mr. Parker appeared on the hustings. Unfortunately, he missed the opportunity,—a particularly favourable one,—of making a moral impressing which would never have been lost. A full declaration of what he had said, the grounds of it, and his right to say it, would have turned the emotions of the assemblage, already softened in his favour, towards himself and the right. As it was, he did nothing wrong; except in as far as that he did nothing very right: but there was a want of judgment and taste in his address which was much to be regretted. He was allowed to go free for the time; but the newspaper reported all the charges against him, suppressed his replies, and lauded the citizens for not having pulled the offender to pieces: and Mr. Parker's congregation were called upon, on the ground of the resolutions passed at the public meeting to banish their pastor. They refused, and appealed to all the citizens to protect them from such oppression as was threatened. No further steps were taken, I believe, against the pastor and his people: his church flourished under this little gust of persecution; and when I was there, a handsome new edifice was rising up to accommodate the increased number of his congregation. I wished to hear this gentleman; and was glad to find that his flock met, while the building was going on, in the vestry of the new church; a spacious crypt, which was crowed when he preached, I had not expected much from his preaching, and was therefore taken by surprise by the exceeding beauty of his discourse;—beauty, by the style, of spirit. The lofty and tender earnestness of both his sentiments and manner put the observer off his watch about the composition of the sermon. I was surprised to perceive in conversation afterwards tokens that Mr. Parker was not a highly educated man. I was raised by the lofty tone of his preaching far abouve all critical vigilance.
I had much opportunity of seeing in the United States what is the operation of persecution on strong and virtuous minds; and I trust the lesson of eucouragement will never be lost. As it is certain that the progression of the race must be carried on through persecution of some kind and degree,—as it is clear that the superior spirits to whom the race owes its advancement must, by their very act of anticipation, get out of the circle of general intelligence and sympathy, and be thus subject to the trials of spiritual solitude and social enmity,—since thus it has ever been, and thus, by the laws of human nature, it must ever be,—it is heart-cheering and soul-staying to perceive that the effects of persecution may be and often are, more blessed than those of other kinds of discipline. Many quail under the apprehension of persecution; some are soured by it; but some pass through the suffering, the bitter suffering of popular hatred, with a strength which intermits less and less; and come out of it with new capacities for enjoyment, with affections which can no longer be cheeked by want of sympathy, and with an object in life which can never be overthrown. Mr. Parker's case was not one of any high or permanent character: though, as far as his trial went, it seemed to have given calmness and vigour to his mind. (I judge from his manner of speaking of the affair to me.) The Abolitionists are the persons I have had, and always shall have, chiefly in view in speaking of the effects of persecution. They often reminded me of the remark, that you may know a philanthropist in the street by his face. The life, light, and gentleness of their countenances, the cheerful earnestness of their speech, and the gaiety of their manners, were enough to assure the unprejudiced foreign observer of the integrity of their cause, and the blessedness of their pilgrim lives.
The afternoon or evening Sunday walk in New Orleans run not fail to convince the stranger of the truth of the sayings of Mr. Parker, for which he afterwards was subjected to so fierce a retribution. Whatever may be thought of the duty or expediency of a strict observance of the Sunday, no one can contend that in this city the observance is strict. In the market there is traffic in meat and vegetables, and the groups of foreigners make a Babel of the place with their loud talk in many tongues. The men are smoking outside their houses; the girls, with broad coloured ribbons streaming from the ends of their long braids of hair, are walking or flirting; while veiled ladies are stealing through the streets, or the graceful Quadroon women are taking their evening airing on the Levée. The river is crowded with shipping, to the hulls of which the walkers look up from a distance, the river being above the level of the neighbouring streets. It rushes along through the busy region, seeming to be touched with mercy, or to disdain its power of mischief. It might overwhelm in an instant the swarming inhabitants of the boundless level: it looks as if it could scarcely avoid doing so; yet it rolls on within its banks so steadily, that the citizens forget their insecurity. Its breadth is not striking to the eye; yet when one begins to calculate, the magnitude of the stream becomes apparent. A steam-boat carries down six vessels at once; two on each side, and two behind; and this duster of seven vessels looks somewhat in the proportion of a constellation in the sky. From the Levée, the cathedral looks well, fronting the river, standing in the middle of a square, and presenting an appearance of great antiquity, hastened, no doubt, by the moisture of the atmosphere in which it stands.
The Levée continues to be crowded long after the sun has set. The quivering summer lightning plays over the heads of the merry multitude, who are conversing in all the tongues, and gay in all the costumes of the world.
Another bright scene is on the road to the lake, on a fine afternoon. This road winds for five miles through the swamp, and is bordered by cypress, flowering reeds, fleurs-de-lis of every colour, palmetto, and a hundred aquatic shrubs new to the eye of the stranger. The grey moss common in damp situations floats in streamers from the branches. Snakes abound, and coil about the negroes who are seen pushing their canoes through the rank vegetation, or towing their rafts, laden with wood, along the sluggish bayou. There is a small settlement, wholly French in its character, where the ancient dwellings, painted red, and with broad eaves, look highly picturesque in the green landscape. The winding white road is thronged with carriages, driven at a very rapid rate, and full of families of children, or gay parties of young people, or a company of smoking merchants, going to the lake to drink or to bathe. Many go merely as we did,—for the sake of the drive, and of breathing the cool air of the lake, while enjoying a glass of iced lemonade or sangarce.
It was along this road that Madame Lalaurie escaped from the hands of her exasperated countrymen, about five years ago. The remembrance or tradition of that day will always be fresh in New Orleans. In England the story is little if at all known. I was requested on the spot not to publish it as exhibiting a fair specimen of slave-holding in New Orleans: and no one could suppose it to be so: but it is a revelation of what, may happen in a slave-holding country, and can happen nowhere else. Even on the mildest supposition that the case admits of,—that Madame Lalaurie was insane, there remains the fact that the insanity could have taken such a direction, and perpetrated such deeds nowhere but in a slave country.
There is, as every one knows, a mutual jealousy between the French and American Creoles* in Louisiana. Till lately the French Creoles have carried every thing their own way, from their superior numbers. I believe that even yet no American expects to got a verdict, on any evidence, from a jury of French Creoles. Madame Lalaurie enjoyed a long impunity, from this circumstance. She was a French Creole, and her third husband, M. Lalaurie, was. I believe, a Frenchman. He was many years younger than his lady, and had nothing to do with the management of her property; so that he has been in no degree mixed up with her affairs and disgraces. It had been long observed that Madame Lalaurie's slaves looked singularly haggard and wretched, except the coachman, whose appearance was sleek and comfortable enough. Two daughters by a former marriage, who lived with her, were also thought to be spiritless and unhappy-looking. But the lady was so graceful and accomplished, so charming in her manners, and so hospitable, that no one ventured openly to question her perfect goodness. If a murmur of doubt began among the Americans, the French resented it. If the French had occasional suspicions, they concealed them for the credit of their faction. “She was very pleasant to whites,” I was told; and sometimes to blacks; but so broadly so as to excite suspicions of hypocrisy. When she had a dinner party at homo, she would hand the remains of her glass of wine to the emaciated negro behind her chair, with a smooth audible whisper, “Here, my friend, take this: it will do you good.” At length, rumours spread which induced a friend of mine, an eminent lawyer, to send her a hint about the law which ordains that slaves who can be proved to have been cruelly treated shall be taken from the owner, and sold in the market for the benefit of the State. My friend, being of the American party, did not appear in the matter himself, but sent a young French crcole, who was studying law with him. The young man returned full of indignation against all who could suspect this amiable woman of doing anything wrong. He was confident that she could not harm a fly, or give pain to any human being.
Soon after this, a lady living in a house which joined the premises of Madame Lalaurie, was going up stairs, when she heard a piercing shriek from the next court-yard. She looked out, and saw a little negro girl, apparently about eight years old, flying across the yard towards the house, and Madame Lalaurie pursuing her, cowhide in hand. The lady saw the poor child run from story to story, her mistress following, till both came out upon the top of the house. Seeing the child about to spring over, the witness put her hands before her eyes; but she heard the fall, and saw the child taken up, her body bending, and limbs hanging, as if every bone was broken. The lady watched for many hours; and at night she saw the body brought out a shallow hole dug by torch-light in the corner of the yard, and the corpse covered over, No secret was made of what had been seen. Inquiry was instituted, and illegal cruelty proved in the case of nine slaves, who were forfeited according to law. It afterwards came out that this woman induced some family connexions of her own to purchase these slaves., and sell them again to her, conveying them back to her premises in the night. She must have desired to have them for purposes of torture; for she could not lot them be seen in a neighbour-hood where they were known.
During all this time, she docs not appear to have lost caste, though it appears that she beat her daughters as often as they attempted in her absence to convey food to her miserable victims. She always knew of such attempts by means of the sleek coachman, who was her spy. It was necessary to have a spy, to preserve her life from the vengeance of her household: so she pampered this obsequious negro, and at length owed her escape to him.
She kept her cook chained within eight yards of the fireplace, where sumptuous dinners were cooked in the most sultry season. It is a pity that some of the admiring guests whom she assembled round her hospitable table could not see through the floor, and be made aware at what a cost they were entertained One morning, the cook declared that they had better all be burned together than lead such, a life; and she set the house on fire. The alarm spread over the city: the gallant French Creoles all ran to the aid of their accomplished friend, and the fire was presently extinguished. Many, whose curiosity had been roused about the domestic proceedings of the lady, seized the opportunity of entering those parts of the premises from which the whole world had been hitherto carefully excluded. They perceived that as often as they approached a particular outhouse, the lady became excessively uneasy lest some property in an opposite direction should be burned. When the fire was extinguished, they made bold to break open this outhouse. A horrible sight met their eyes. Of the nine slaves, the skeletons of two were afterwards found poked into the ground; the other seven could scarcely be recognised as human. Their faces had the wildness of famine, and their bones were coming through the skin. They were chained and tied in constrained postures; some on their knees, some with their hands above their heads. They had iron collars with spikes which kept their heads in one position. The cowhide, stiff with blood, hung against the wall; and there was a step-ladder on which this fiend stood while flogging her victims, in order to lay on the lashes with more effect. Every morning, it was her first employment after breakfast to lock herself in with her captives, and flog them till her strength failed.
Amidst shouts and groans, the sufferers were brought out into the air and light. Food was given them,—with too much haste; for two of them died in the course of the day. The rest, maimed and helpless, are pensioners of the city.
The rage of the crowd, especially of the French Creoles, was excessive The lady shut herself up in the house, with her trembling daughters, while the street was filled, from end to end, with a yelling crowd of gentlemen. She consulted her coachman as to what she had best do. He advised that she should have her coach to the door after dinner, and appear to go forth for her afternoon drive, as usual; escaping or returning, according to the aspect of affairs. It is not told whether she ate her dinner that day, or prevailed on her remaining slaves to wait upon her. The carriage appeared at the door; she was ready, and stepped into it. Her assurance seems to have paralyzed the crowd. The moment the door was shut, they appeared to repent having allowed her to enter, and they tried to upset the carriage,—to hold the horses,—to make a snatch at the lady. But the coachman laid about him with his whip, made the horses plunge, and drove off. He took the road to the lake, where he could not be intercepted, as it winds through the swamp. He outstripped the crowd, galloped to the lake, bribed the master of a schooner which was lying there to put off instantly with the lady to Mobile. She escaped to France, and took up her abode in Paris under a feigned name; but not for long. Late one evening, a party of gentlemen called on her, and told her she was Madame Lalaurie, and that she had better be off. She fled that night, and is supposed to be now skulking about in some French province, under a false name.
The New Orleans mob met the carriage returning from the lake. What became of the coachman I do not know. The carriage was broken to pieces, and thrown into the swamp, and the horses stabbed, and left dead upon the road. The house was gutted,—the two poor girls having just time to escape from a window. They arc now living, in great poverty, in one of the faubourgs. The piano, tables, and chairs were burned before the house. The feather-beds were ripped up, and the feathers emptied into the street, where they afforded a delicate footing for sonic days. The house stands, and is meant to stand, in its ruined state. It was the strange sight of its gaping windows and empty walls, in the midst of a busy street, which excited my wonder, and was the cause of my being told the story, the first time. I gathered other particulars afterwards from eye-witnesses.
The crowd at first intended to proceed to the examination of other premises, whose proprietors were under suspicion of cruelty to their slaves; but the shouts of triumph which went up from the whose population of the city showed that this would not be safe. Fearing a general rising, the gentlemen organized themselves into a patrol, to watch the city, night and day, till the commotion should have subsided. They sent circulars to all proprietors suspected of cruelty, warning them that the eyes of the city were upon them. This is the only benefit the negroes have derived from the exposure. In reply to inquiries, I was told that it was very possible that cruelties like those of Madame Lalaurie might be incessantly in course of perpetration. It may be doubted whether any more such people exist: but if they do, there is nothing to prevent their following her example with impunity, as long as they can manage to preserve that secrecy which was put an end to by accident in her case.
I could never get out of the way of the horrors of slavery in this region. Under one form or another, they met me in every house, in every street,—everywhere but in the intelligence pages of newspapers, where I might read on in perfect security of exemption from the subject. In the advertizing columns, there were offers of reward for runaways, restored dead or alive; and notices of the capture of a fugitive with so many brands on his limbs and shoulders, and so many scars on his back. But from the other half of the newspaper, the existence of slavery could be discovered only by inference. What I saw elsewhere was, however, dreadful enough. In one house the girl who waited on me with singular officiousness, was so white, with blue eyes and light hair, that it never occurred to me that she could be a slave. Her mistress told me afterwards that this girl of fourteen was such a depraved hussey that she must be sold. I exclaimed involuntarily, but was referred to the long heel, in proof of the child's being of negro extraction. She had the long heel, sure enough. Her mistress stold me that it is very wrong to plead in behalf of slavery; that families are rarely separated; and gave me, as no unfair example of the dealings of masters, this girl's domestic history.
The family had consisted of father, mot her, and four children; this girl being the eldest, and the youngest an infant at the breast. The father was first sold separately; and then the rest of the family were purchased in the market by the husband of my friend,—the mother being represented to be a good cook and house servant. She proved to be both; but of so violent a temper that it was necessary to keep her own children out of her way when she had a knife in her hand, lest she should murder them. The anxiety of watching such a temper was not to be borne, and the woman was sold with her infant. Here was the second division of this family. The behaviour of the eldest girl was so outrageously profligate, that she was about to be disposed of also. And vet she was only a fair illustration of the results of the education by circumstance that slaves receive. When detected in some infamous practices, this young creature put on an air of prudery, and declared that it gave her great pain to be thought immodest: that so far from her being what she was thought, she had no wish to have any other lover than her master. Her master vas so enraged at this,—being a domestic Northern man, and not a planter,—that he tied her to the whipping-post, and flogged her severely with his own hands. The story of this dispersed and wretched family has nothing singular in it. With slight variations, it may be found repeated in every Southern settlement the traveller visits.
Just about the time that this was happening, a family in the neighbourhood was poisoned by a slave. I think one died, and the others had a narrow escape. The poisoner was sold in the market, as the proprietor could not afford to lose his human property by the law taking its course.
About the same time, the cashier of a bank in New Orleans sent one of his slaves out of the way, in order to be undisturbed in the violence which he meditated against the negro's attached wife. The negro understood the case, but dared not refuse to go whore he was bid. Me returned unexpectedly soon, however; found his home occupied, and stabbed the defiler of it. The cashier was the stronger man: and in spite of his wound, he so maltreated the negro that he expired on the barrow on which he was being conveyed to goal. Nothing ensued on account of this affair; though, when the cashier was some time after found to be a defaulter, he absconded.
I would fain know what has become of a mulatto child in whom I became much interested at New Orleans. Ailsic was eight years old, perfectly beautiful, and one of the most promising children I ever saw. She was quick, obedient, and affectionate, to a touching degree. She had a kind master and mistress. Her mistress's health was delicate; and the child would watch her countenance wistfully, in the constant hope of saving her trouble. She would look very grave if the lady went up stairs with a languid step, take hold of her gown, and timidly ask. “What, an't ye well?” I used to observe her helping to dress her mistress's hair, her little hands trembling with eagerness, her eye following every glance of the eye which ever looked tenderly upon her. Her master declared he did not know what to make of the child, she looked so scared, and trembled so if she was spoken to: and she was indeed the most sensitive of children. As she stood at the corner of the dinner-table to fan away the flies, she was a picture from which it was difficult to turn away. Her little yellow headdress suited well with her clear brown complexion and large soft black eyes: nothing that she could at all understand of the conversation escaped her, while she never intermitted her waving of the huge brush of peacocks' feathers. Her face was then composed in its intelligence, for she stood by her mistress's elbow: a station where she seemed to think no harm could befal her. Alas! she has lost her kind mistress. Amidst the many sad thoughts which thronged into my mind when I heard of the death of this lady, one of the wisest and best of American women. I own that some of my earliest regrets were for little Ailsic; and when I think of her sensibility, her beauty, and the dreadful circumstances of her parentage, as told me by her mistress, I am almost in despair about her future lot; for what can her master, with all his goodness, do for the forlorn little creature's protection? None but a virtuous mistress can fully protect a female slave.—and that too seldom.
Ailsic was born on an estate in Tennessee. Her father is a white gentleman, not belonging to the family; her mother the family cook. The cook's black husband cherished such a deadly hatred against this poor child, as to be for ever threatening her life: and she was thought to be in such danger from his axe, that she was sent down the river to be taken into the family where I saw her, What a cruel world.—what a hard human life, must Ailsic find that she is born into!
Such facts, occurring at every step, put the stranger on the watch for every revelation of the feelings of the masters about the relation of the two races. Some minute circumstances surprised me in this connexion. At the American theatre in New Orleans, one of the characters in the play which my party attended was a slave, one of whose speeches was, “I have no business to think and feel.”
At a dinner party. where three negroes were waiting, and where Ailsic stood fanning, a gentleman of very high official rank told a facetious story, at which every body laughed heartily.—(being. indeed, quite unable to help it. the manner of the narrator was so droll.—except a gentleman next me, who had once been a slave-trader. The senator told us of a couple from the Green Island, Pat and Nancy, who had settled on the Mississippi, and in course of time (to use the language of the region) “acquired six children and nine negroes.” Pat had a mind to better his fortunes and to go unincumbered higher up the river; and he therefore explained his plans to Nancy, finishing with,” and so, my darlin, I'll lave you; but I'll do inv best by you: I'll have you the six dear, nate, pretty little childer, and I'll take the nine nasty dirty negroes.” While every other American at the table laughed without control, I saw my neighbour, the former slave-trader, glance up at the negroes who were in attendance, and use a strong effort not to laugh.
The stranger has great difficulty in satisfying himself as to the bounds of the unconsciousness oppression which he finds urged as the exculpatory plea of the slave-holder, while he mourns over it as the great hindrance in the way of social reformation. It has been seen that an audience at the theatre will quietly receive a hit which would subject the author to punishment if he were an Abolitionist. When I listened to the stories told by ladies to each other, in their morning calls, showing the cleverness of their slaves. I often saw that they could not but be as fully convinced as I was that their slaves were as altogether human as themselves. I heard so many anecdotes,—somewhat of the character of the following,—that I began to suspect that one use of slaves is to furnish topics for the amusement of their owners.
Sam was sadly apt to get drunk, and had been often reproved by his muster on that account, One day his master found him intoxicated, and cried out, “What drunk again, Sam? I scolded you for being drunk last night: and here you are drunk again.” “No. massa. same drunk, massa: same drunk.”
But enough of this dark side of the social picture, I find myself dwelling long upon it, and frequently recurring to it, because all other subjects shrink into insignificance beside it: but these others must not be forgotten.
The gay visiting season at New Orleans was over before we arrived: but: we were in several parties. The division between the American and French factions is visible even in the drawing-room. The French complain that the Americans will not speak French.—will not meet their neighbours even half way in accommodation of speech. The Americans ridicule the toilette practices of the French ladies.—their liberal use of rouge and pearl powder. If the French ladies do thus beautify themselves. they do it with great art, I could not be quite sure of the fact in any one instance: while I am disposed to bel eve it from the clumsy imitation of the art which I saw in the countenance of an American rival or two. I witnessed with strong disgust the efforts of a voting lady from Philadelphia to make herself as French as possible by these disagreeable means. She was under twenty, and would have been rather pretty if she had given herself a fair chance: but her coarsely-painted eyebrows, daubed cheeks, and powdered throat inspired a disgust which she must be singularly unwise not to have anticipated. If this were a singles case, it would not be worth mentioning; but I was told by a resident that it is a common practice for young ladies to paint both white and red, under the idea of accommodating themselves to the French manners of the place. They bad better do it by practicing the French language. Than by copying the French toilette. New Orleans is the only place in the United States where I am aware of having seen a particle of rouge.
Large parties are much alike everywhere; and they leave no very distinct impression. Except for the mixture of languages, and the ample provision of ices, fans, and ventilators, the drawing-room, assemblages of New Orleans bear a strong resemblance to the routs and dinner parties of a country town in England. Our pleasantest days in the great Southern city were those which we spent quietly in the homes of intimate acquaintances. I vividly remember one which I was told was a true Louisiana day. We ladies carried our work-bags, and issued forth by eleven o'clock, calling by the way for a friend,— Ailsic's mistress. The house we were to visit was a small shaded dwelling, with glass doors opening into a pretty garden. In a cool parlour we sat at work, talking of things solemn and trivial of affairs native and foreign, till dinner, which was at two. We were then joined by the gentlemen. We left the dinner-table eartly, and the gentlemen trundled rocking-chairs and low stools into the garden, where we sat in the shade all the afternoon, The ladies working, the gentlemen singing Irish Melodies, telling good native stories and throwing us all into such a merry mood. That we positively refused the siesta, which we were urged to take, and forgot what a retribution we might expect from the mosquitoes for sitting so long under the trees. After tea we got to the piano, and were reminded. at last, by the darkness, of the number of hours which this delightful Louisiana visit had consumed. We all walked home together through the quiet streets, the summer lightning quivering through the thick trees, in singular contrast with the steady moonlight.
We should have liked to spend every day thus with friends who always made us forget that we were far from home; but a traveller's duty is to see every variety of society which comes within his reach. I was sought by some, and met accidentally with other persons who were on the eve of departure for Texas. Attempts were made to induce me to go myself; and also to convince me of the eligibility of the country as a place of settlement for British emigrants, in the hope that the arrival of a cargo of settlers form England might afford to the Texans a plea of countenance form the British Government. The subject of Texas is now so well understood that there is no occasion to enlarge upon the state of the question as it was two years and a half ago; and besides, if I were to give a precise account of the conversations between myself and the friends of the Texan aggression, my story would not be believed. The folly and romance of some of the agents employed, and the villany which people out of every admission extorted from the advocates of the scheme, would make my readers as astonished as I was myself, that any attempts should be made in the neighbourhood of the scene to gain the sympathy of strangers who were at all above the rank of knaves and fools. Suflice it that one class of advocates told me that I should be perfectly safe there, as the inhabitants were chiefly persons who could fight bravely against the Mexicans, from having nothing to lose, and from their having been compelled to leave the United States, by their too free use of arms; while the opposite species of agent enlarged, not only on the beauty of the sunsets, and the greenness of the savannahs, but on the delightful security of living under the same laws as the people of the United States, and amidst a condition of morals kept perfectly pure by Colonel Austin's practice of baying every person whom he conceived to have offended whipped at the cart's tail;—the fact being carefully concealed that Colonel Austin was at that time, and had been for two years, in gaol in the Mexican capital.
Our friends indulged us in what they knew to be our favourite pleasure,—in country drives. There can be no great choice of drives in the neighbourhood of a city which stands in a swamp; but such place as were attainable we reached. One was a rope-walk, 1200 feet long, under a roof. It looked picturesque, like every other rope-walk that I ever saw: but what struck me most about it was the sudden and profound repose we plunged into from the bustle of the city. The cottages of the Negroes were embowered in green, and the whole place had a tropical air, with its thickets of fig and catalpa, and its rows of Pride-of-India trees. This last tree looks to my eye like a shrub which has received mistaken orders to grow into a tree. Its fragrance is its great charm. The mixture of its lilac flowers with its green leaves impairs the effect of the foliage, as far as colour is concerned; and the foliage is besides not massy enough. A single sprig of it is beautiful and probably its fragrance propitiates the eyes of those who plant it, for I found it considered a beautiful tree. The dark shades of these thickets are enlivened by a profusion of roses; and the air fanned by myriads of insects wings. How the Negroes make friendship with the tribes of insects which drive the white man to forego the blessing of natural shade. I could never understand; but the black never looks more contented than when he shrouds himself in rauk vegetation, and lives in a concert of insect chirping, droning, and trumpeting.
We were taken to the Battle-ground, the native soil of General Jackson's political growth. Seeing the Battle-ground was all very well; but my delight was in the drive to it. With the Mississippi on the right hand, and on the left gardens of roses which bewildered the imagination. I really believed at the time that I saw more roses that morning than during the whole course of my life before. Gardens are so rare in America, from want of leisure, and deficiency of labour, that when they do occur, they are a precious luxury to the traveler, especially when they are in their spring beauty. In the neighbourhood of Mobile, my relative, who has a true English love of gardening, had introduced the practice; and I there saw villas and cottages surrounded with a luxuriant growth of Cherokee roses, honeysuckles, and myrtles, while groves of orange trees appeared in the background: but not even these equaled what I saw, this warm 4th of May, on our way to the Battle-ground. One villa, built by an Englishman, was obstinately inappropriate to the scene and climate;—red brick, without gallery, or even caves or porch,—the mere sight of it was scorching;. All the rest were an entertainment to the eye as they stood, white and cool, amidst their flowering magnolias, and their blossoming alleys, hedges, and thickets of roses. In returning, we alighted at one of these delicious retreats, and wandered about, losing each other among the thorns, the ceringas, and the wilderness of shrubs. We met in a grotto, under the summer-house, cool with a greenish light and veiled at its entrance with a tracery of creepers. There we lingered, amidst singing or silent dreaming. There seemed to be too little that was real about the place for ordinary voices to be heard speaking about ordinary things.
The river was rising, as we were told in a tone of congratulation. The eddies would be filled, and our voyage expedited. The canes in the sugar grounds were showing themselves above the soil; young sprouts that one might almost see grow. A negro was feed to gather flowers for us, and he filled the carriage with magnolia, honeysuckle, and roses, grinning the while at our pleasure, and at his own good luck in falling in with us.
The Battle-ground is rather more than four miles from the city. We were shown the ditch and the swamp by which the field of action was bounded on two sides, and some remains of the breast-work of earth which was thrown up. There has been great exaggeration about the cotton-bags, of which there were only a few in a line with the earthen defence, instead of an entire breast-work, as has been supposed in all the jokes and all the admiration which have been expended on the expedient. It was a deadly battle-field. It makes the spectator shudder to see the wide open space, the unsheltered level, over which the British soldiers were compelled to inarch to certain destruction. Never was greater bravery shown by soldiers; and never, perhaps, was bravery more abused by the unskilfulness of leaders. The result proves this. The British killed were nearly 3000: the Americans had six killed, and seven wounded. By all accounts, General Jackson showed consummate ability throughout the whole brief campaign; and the British leaders an imbecility no less remarkable.
I was shown a house on a plantation where, twelve days before the battle, the son of the proprietor was quietly dining at one o'clock, when a slave ran in, and told him that some men in red coats were in the yard. The young man instantly comprehended that the British had captured the American scouts. He bolted through the window, and into a canoe, and crossed the river amidst a shower of balls, seized a horse, and galloped to the city. The troops, dispersed on different points, were collected by drum and bell; and, between two o'clock and eleven at night, the city was made ready to abide the enemy's approach. It is still incomprehensible to the Americans why the British, who actually did throw a party over the river, did not all step ashore on the opposite side of the Mississippi, and quietly march the lour miles up to the city, and into it. It could have offered no defence; nor was there any impediment by the way.
The head-quarters of both generals are very conspicuous on the plain. Sir Edward Pakenham and a party of his officers were spied by the Americans, standing in the balcony of the house they inhabited. A gunner was ordered to take aim at them. Seeing the importance of the shot, he was flurried, and struck the river, a mile off. He was ordered to retire. He knew that this was the crisis of his professional fate, and implored that he might be granted one more chance. He then hit the pillar which supported the balcony, immediately under the feet of the group of officers, who hurried pell-mell into the house.
After eleven days of housekeeping in New Orleans, we were obliged to depart, having been fortunate enough to secure berths in a capital boat which started northwards on the 6th of May. The slaves in our temporary abode had served us intelligently and well. Wishing to see what they could do, we did not give any orders about our table. We were rarely at home at dinner; but our breakfasts and occasional dinners were more luxurious than if we had provided for ourselves. Excellent coffee, French bread, radishes, and strawberries at breakfast; and at dinner, broth, fowls, beef-steak, with peas, young asparagus, salad, new potatoes, and spinach, all well cooked; claret at dinner, and coffee worthy of Paris after it,—this was the kind of provision with which we were favoured. Every thing was done to make us cool. The beds were literally as hard as the floor. We had a bath of the coldest water prepared morning and night: all the doors and windows were kept open, and the curtains drawn, to establish draughts and keep out the sun. There was ice in the water jug; ice on the lump of butter; ice in the wine glass; and ice cream for dessert.
Abroad, all was, as in every other American city, hospitality and gaiety. I had rather dreaded the visit to New Orleans, and went more from a sense of duty than from inclination. A friendship that I formed there, though already eclipsed by death, left me no feeling but rejoicing that I had gone: and I also learned much that was useful in helping me to interpret some things which met my observation both previously and subsequently. But my strongest impression of New Orleans is, that while it affords an instructive study, and yields some enjoyment to a stranger, it is the last place in which men are gathered together where one who prizes his Humanity would wish to live.
“Society in America,” vol. ii., p. 179.
“Society in America.” Vol. ii., p 326.
Creole means native. French and American Creoles are natives of French and American extraction.