Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVI.: TIME MAKES ALL THINGS EVEN. - The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882
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CHAPTER XVI.: “TIME MAKES ALL THINGS EVEN.” - Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882 
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882, written by himself; with an Introduction by the Right Hon. John Bright, ed. John Lobb (London: Christian Age Office, 1882).
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“TIME MAKES ALL THINGS EVEN.”
Return to the “old master”—A last interview—Capt. Auld’s admission “had I been in your place, I should have done as you did”—Speech at Easton—The old gaol there—Invited to a sail in the revenue cutter Guthrie—Hon. J. L. Thomas—Visit to the old plantation—Home of Col. Lloyd—Kind reception and attentions—Familiar scenes—Old memories—Burial-ground—Hospitality—Gracious reception from Mrs. Buchanan—A little girl’s floral gift—A promise of a “good time coming”—Speech at Harper’s Ferry, Decoration day, 1881—Storer College—Hon. A. J. Hunter.
THE leading incidents to which it is my purpose to call attention and make prominent in the present chapter, will, I think, address the imagination of the reader with peculiar and poetic force, and might well enough be dramatized for the stage They certainly afford another striking illustration of the trite saying, that “truth is stranger than fiction.”
The first of these events occurred four years ago, when, after a period of more than forty years, I visited and had an interview with Captain Thomas Auld, at St. Michaels, Talbot County, Maryland. It will be remembered by those who have followed the thread of my story, that St. Michaels was at one time the place of my home, and the scene of some of my saddest experiences of slave life; and that I left there, or, rather, was compelled to leave there, because it was believed that I had written passes for several slaves to enable them to escape from slavery, and that prominent slaveholders in that neighbourhood had, for this alleged offence, threatened to shoot me on sight, and to prevent the execution of this threat, my master had sent me to Baltimore.
My return, therefore, to this place, in peace, among the same people, was strange enough of itself, but that I should, when there, be formally invited by Capt. Thomas Auld, then over eighty years old, to come to the side of his dying bed, evidently with a view to a friendly talk over our past relations, was a fact still more strange, and one which, until its occurrence, I could never have thought possible. To me, Capt. Auld had sustained the relation of master—a relation which I had held in extremest abhorrence, and which for forty years, I had denounced in all bitterness of spirit and fierceness of speech. He had struck down my personality, had subjected me to his will, made property of my body and soul, reduced me to a chattel, hired me out to a noted slave-breaker to be worked like a beast and flogged into submission; he had taken my hard earnings, sent me to prison, offered me for sale, broken up my Sunday-school, forbidden me to teach my fellow slaves to read on pain of nine and thirty lashes on my bare back; he had sold my body to his brother Hugh, had pocketed the price of my flesh and blood without any apparent disturbance of his conscience. I, on my part, had travelled through the length and breath of this country and of England, holding up this conduct of his, in common with that of other slaveholders, to the reprobation of all men who would listen to my words. I had made his name and his deeds familiar to the world by my writings in four different languages, yet here we were after four decades once more face to face—he on his bed, aged and tremulous, drawing near the sunset of life, and I, his former slave, United States Marshalof the District of Columbia, holding his hand and in friendly conversation with him, in a sort of final settlement of past differences, preparatory to his stepping into his grave, where all distinctions are at an end, and where the great and small, the slave and his master, are reduced to the same level. Had I been asked in the days of slavery to visit this man, I should have regarded the invitation as one to put fetters on my ankles and handcuffs on my wrists. It would have been an invitation to the auction-block and the slave whip. I had no business with this man under the old régime but to keep out of his way. But now that slavery was destroyed, and the slave and the master stood upon equal ground, I was not only willing to meet him, but was very glad to do so. The conditions were favourable for remembrance of all his good deeds, and generous extenuation of all his evil ones. He was to me no longer a slaveholder either in fact or in spirit, and I regarded him as I did myself, a victim of the circumstances of birth, education, law, and custom.
Our courses had been determined for us, not by us, We had both been flung, by powers that did not ask our consent, upon a mighty current of life, which we could neither resist nor control. By this current he was a master, and I a slave; but now our lives were verging towards a point where differences disappear, where even the constancy of hate breaks down, where the clouds of pride, passion, and selfishness vanish before the brightness of infinite light. At such a time, and in such a place, when a man is about closing his eyes on this world and ready to step into the eternal unknown, no word of reproach or bitterness should reach him or fall from his lips; and on this occasion there was to this rule no transgression on either side.
As this visit to Capt. Auld had been made the subject of mirth by heartless triflers, and regretted as a weakening of my life-long testimony against slavery, by serious-minded men, and as the report of it, published in the papers immediately after it occurred, was in some respects defective and coloured, it may be proper to state exactly what was said and done at this interview.
It should in the first place be understood that I did not go to St. Michaels upon Capt. Auld’s invitation, but upon that of my coloured friend, Charles Caldwell; but when once there, Capt. Auld sent Mr. Green, a man in constant attendance upon him during his sickness, to tell me he would be very glad to see me, and wished me to accompany Green to his house, with which request I complied. On reaching the house I was met by Mr. Wm. H. Bruff, a son-in-law of Capt. Auld, and Mrs. Louisa Bruff, his daughter, and was conducted by them immediately to the bed-room of Capt. Auld. We addressed each other simultaneously, he calling me “Marshal Douglass,” and I, as I had always called him, “Captain Auld.” Hearing myself called by him “Marshal Douglass,” I instantly broke up the formal nature of the meeting by saying, “not Marshal but Frederick to you as formerly.” We shook hands cordially, and in the act of of doing so, he, having been long stricken with palsy, shed tears as men thus afflicted will do when excited by any deep emotion. The sight of him, the changes which time had wrought in him, his tremulous hands constantly in motion, and all the circumstances of his condition affected me deeply, and for a time choked my voice and made me speechless. We both, however, got the better of our feelings, and conversed freely about the past.
Though broken by age and palsy, the mind of Capt. Auld was remarkably clear and strong. After he had become composed I asked him what he thought of my conduct in running away and going to the North. He hesitated a moment as if to properly formulate his reply, and said: “Frederick, I always knew you were too smart to be a slave, and had I been in your place I should have done as you did.” I said, “Capt. Auld, I am glad to hear you say this. I did not run away from you, but from slavery; it was not that I loved Cæsar less, but Rome more.” I told him I had made a mistake in my narrative, a copy of which I had sent him, in attributing to him ungrateful and cruel treatment of my grandmother; that I had done so on the supposition that in the division of the property of my old master. Mr. Aaron Anthony, my grandmother had fallen to him, and that he had left her in her old age, when she could be no longer of service to him, to pick up her living in solitude with none to help her, or in other words had turned her out to die like an old horse. “Ah!” he said, “that was a mistake, I never owned your grandmother; she in the division of the slaves was awarded to my brother-in-law, Andrew Anthony; but,” he added quickly, “I brought her down here and took care of her as long as she lived.” The fact is, that after writing my narrative describing the condition of my grandmother, Captain Auld’s attention being thus called to it, he rescued her from her destitution. I told him that this mistake of mine was corrected as soon as I discovered it, and that I had at no time any wish to do him injustice; that I regarded both of us as victims of a system. “Oh, I never liked slavery,” he said, “and I meant to emancipate all of my slaves when they reached the age of twenty-five years.” I told him I had always been curious to know how old I was, that it had been a serious trouble to me not to know when was my birthday. He said he could not tell me that, but he thought I was born in February, 1818. This date made me one year younger than I had supposed myself from what was told me by Mistress Lucretia, Captain Auld’s former wife, when I left Lloyd’s for Baltimore in the Spring of 1825; she having then said that I was eight, going on nine. I know that it was in the year 1825 that I went to Baltimore, because it was in that year that Mr. James Beacham built a large frigate at the foot of Alliceana Street, for one of the South American Governments. Judging from this, and from certain events which transpired at Colonel Lloyd’s, such as a boy, without any knowledge of books, under eight years old, would hardly take cognizance of, I am led to believe that Mrs. Lucretia was nearer right as to my age than her husband.
Before I left his bedside, Captain Auld spoke with a cheerful confidence of the great change that awaited him, and felt himself about to depart in peace. Seeing his extreme weakness I did not protract my visit. The whole interview did not last more than twenty minutes, and we parted to meet no more. His death was soon after announced in the papers, and the fact that he had once owned me as a slave was cited as rendering that event noteworthy.
It may not, perhaps, be quite artistic to speak in this connection of another incident of something of the same nature as that which I have just narrated, and yet it quite naturally finds place here; and that is, my visit to the town of Easton, county seat of Talbot County, two years later, to deliver an address in the Court House, for the benefit of some association in that place. This visit was made interesting to me, by the fact that forty-five years before, I had, in company with Henry and John Harris, been dragged to Easton behind horses, with my hands tied, put in gaol, and offered for sale, for the offence of intending to run away from slavery.
It may easily be seen that this visit, after this lapse of time, brought with it feelings and reflections such as only unusual circumstances can awaken. There stood the old gaol, with its whitewashed walls and iron gratings, as when in my youth I heard its heavy locks and bolts clank behind me.
Strange too, Mr. Joseph Graham, who was then Sheriff of the County, and who locked me in this gloomy place, was still living, though verging towards eighty, and was one of the gentlemen who now gave me a warm and friendly welcome, and was among my hearers when I delivered my address at the Court House. There too in the same old place stood Solomon Law’s Tavern, where once the slave traders were wont to congregate, and where I now took up my abode and was treated with a hospitality and consideration undreamed of as possible by me in the olden time.
When one has advanced far in the journey of life, when he has seen and travelled over much of this great world, and has had many and strange experiences of shadow and sunshine, when long distances of time and space have come between him and his point of departure, it is natural that his thoughts should return to the place of his beginning, and that he should be seized with a strong desire to revisit the scenes of his early recollection, and live over in memory the incidents of his childhood. At least, such for several years had been my thoughts and feelings in respect to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation on Wye River, Talbot County, Maryland; for I had never been there since I left it, when eight years old, in 1825.
While slavery continued, of course this very natural desire could not be safely gratified; for my presence among slaves was dangerous to the public peace, and could not more be tolerated than could a wolf among sheep, or fire in a magazine. But now that the results of the war had changed all this, I had for several years determined to return to my old home upon the first opportunity. Speaking of this desire of mine last winter, to the Hon. John L. Thomas, the efficient collector at the port of Baltimore, and a leading Republican of the State of Maryland, he urged me very much to go, and added that he often took a trip to the eastern shore in his revenue cutter “Guthrie”—otherwise known in time of war as the “Ewing”—and would be much pleased to have me accompany him on one of these trips. I expressed some doubt as to how such a visit would be received by the present Col. Edward Lloyd, now proprietor of the old place, and grandson of Governor Ed. Lloyd whom I remembered. Mr. Thomas promptly assured me that from his own knowledge I need have no trouble on that score. Mr. Lloyd was a liberal minded gentleman, and he had no doubt would take a visit from me very kindly. I was very glad to accept the offer. The opportunity for the trip, however, did not occur till the 12th of June, and on that day, in company with Messrs. Thomas, Thompson, and Chamberlain, on board the cutter, we started for the contemplated visit. In four hours after leaving Baltimore, we were anchored in the river off the Lloyd estate, and from the deck of our vessel I saw once more the stately chimneys of the grand old mansion which I had last seen from the deck of the “Sallie Lloyd” when a boy. I left there as a slave, and returned as a freeman. I left there unknown to the outside world, and returned well known; I left there on a freight boat and returned on a revenue cutter; I left on a vessel belonging to Col. Edward Lloyd, and returned on one belonging to the United States.
As soon as we had come to anchor, Mr. Thomas despatched a note to Col. Edward Lloyd, announcing my presence on board his Cutter, and inviting him to meet me, informing him it was my desire, if agreeable to him, to revisit my old home. In response to this note, Mr. Howard Lloyd, a son of Col. Lloyd, a young gentleman of very pleasant address, came on board the cutter, and was introduced to the several gentlemen and myself.
He told us that his father was gone to Easton on business, expressed his regret at his absence, hoped he would return before we should leave, and in the meantime received us cordially and invited us ashore, escorted us over the grounds, and gave us as hearty a welcome as we could have wished. I hope I shall be pard oned for speaking of this incident with much complacency. It was one which could happen to but few men, and only once in the life time of any. The span of human life is too short for the repetition of events which occur at the distance of fifty years. That I was deeply moved, and greatly affected by it, can be easily imagined. Here I was, being welcomed and escorted by the great grandson of Colonel Edward Lloyd—a gentlemen I had known well fifty-six years before, and whose form and features were as vividly depicted on my memory as if I had seen him but yesterday. He was a gentleman of the olden time, elegant in his apparel, dignified in his deportment, a man of few words and of weighty presence; and I can easily conceive that no Governor of the State of Maryland ever commanded a larger measure of respect than did this great-grandfather of the young gentleman now before me. In company with Mr. Howard was his little brother Decosa, a bright boy of eight or nine years, disclosing his aristocratic descent in the lineaments of his face, and in all his modest and graceful movements. As I looked at him I could not help the reflections naturally arising from having seen so many generations of the same family on the same estate. I had seen the elder Lloyd, and was now walking around with the youngest member of that name. In respect to the place itself, I was most agreeably surprised to find that time had dealt so gently with it, and that in all its appointments it was so little changed from what it was when I left it, and from what I have elsewhere described it. Very little was missing except the squads of little black children which were once seen in all directions, and the great number of slaves on its fields. Col. Lloyd’s estate comprised twenty-seven thousand acres, and the home-farm seven thousand. In my boyhood sixty men were employed in cultivating the home-farm alone. Now, by the aid of machinery, the work is accomplished by ten men. I found the buildings, which gave it the appearance of a village, nearly all standing, and I was astonished to find that I had carried their appearance and location so accurately in my mind during so many years. There was the long quarter, the quarter on the hill, the dwelling-house of my old master, Aaron Anthony; the overseer’s house, once occupied by William Sevier, Austin Gore, James Hopkins, and other overseers. In connection with my old master’s house was the kitchen where Aunt Katy presided, and where my head had received many a thump from her unfriendly hand. I looked into this kitchen with peculiar interest, and remembered that it was there I last saw my mother. I went round to the window at which Miss Lucretia used to sit with her sewing, and at which I used to sing when hungry, a signal which she well understood, and to which she readily responded with bread. The little closet in which I slept in a bag had been taken into the room; the dirt floor, too, had disappeared under plank. But upon the whole, the house is very much as it was in the olden time. Not far from it was the stable formerly in charge of old Barney. The storehouse at the end of it, of which my master carried the keys, had been removed. The large carriage house, too, which in my boy’s days contained two or three fine coaches, several phaetons, gigs, and a large sleigh—for the latter there was seldom any use—was gone. This carriage house was of much interest to me, because Col. Lloyd sometimes allowed his servants the use of it for festal occasions, and in it there was at such times music and dancing. With these two exceptions, the houses of the estate remained. There was the shoemaker’s shop, where Uncle Abe made and mended shoes; and there the blacksmith’s shop, where Uncle Tony hammered iron, and the weekly closing of which first taught me to distinguish Sundays from other days. The old barn, too, was there—time-worn, to be sure, but still in good condition—a place of wonderful interest to me in my childhood, for there I often repaired to listen to the chatter and watch the flight of swallows among its lofty beams, and under its ample roof. Time had wrought some changes in the trees and foliage. The Lombardy poplars, in the branches of which the red-winged blackbirds used to congregate and sing, and whose music awakened in my young heart sensations and aspirations deep and undefinable, were gone; but the oaks and elms where young Daniel—the uncle of the present Edward Lloyd—used to divide with me his cakes and biscuits, were there as umbrageous and beautiful as ever. I expressed a wish to Mr. Howard to be shown into the family burial ground, and thither we made our way. It is a remarkable spot—the resting place for all the deceased Lloyds for two hundred years, for the family have been in possession of the estate since the settlement of the Maryland colony.
The tombs there reminded one of what may be seen in the grounds of moss-covered churches in England. The very names of those who sleep within the oldest of them are crumbled away and become undecipherable. Everything about it is impressive, and suggestive of the transient character of human life and glory. No one could stand under its weeping willows, amidst its creeping ivy and myrtle, and look through its sombre shadows, without a feeling of unusual solemnity. The first interment I ever witnessed was in this place. It was the great-great-grandmother, brought from Annapolis in a mahogany coffin, and quietly, without ceremony, deposited in this ground.
While here, Mr. Howard gathered for me a bouquet of flowers and evergreens from the different graves around us, and which I carefully brought to my home for preservation.
Notable among the tombs were those of Admiral Buchanan, who commanded the “Merrimac” in the action at Hampton Roads with the “Monitor,” March 8, 1862, and that of General Winter of the Confederate army, both sons-in-law of the elder Lloyd. There was also pointed out to me the grave of a Massachusetts man, a Mr. Page, a teacher in the family, whom I had often seen and wondered what he could be thinking about as he silently paced up and down the garden walks, always alone, for he associated neither with Captain Anthony, Mr. McDermot, nor the overseers. He seemed to be one by himself. I believe he belonged to some place near Greenfield, Massachusetts, and members of his family will perhaps learn for the first time, from these lines, the place of his burial; for I have had intimation that they knew little about him after he once left home.
We then visited the garden, still kept in fine condition, but not as in the days of the elder Lloyd, for then it was tended constantly by Mr. McDermot, a scientific gardener, and four experienced hands, and formed, perhaps, the most beautiful feature of the place. From this we were invited to what was called by the slaves the Great House—the mansion of the Lloyd’s, and were helped to chairs upon its stately veranda, where we could have a full view of its garden, with its broad walks, hedged with box and adorned with fruit trees and flowers of almost every variety. A more tranquil and tranquilizing scene I have seldom met in this or any other country.
We were soon invited from this delightful outlook into the large dining room, with its old-fashioned furniture, its mahogany sideboard, its cut-glass-chandeliers, decanters, tumblers, and wine glasses, and cordially invited to refresh ourselves with wine of most exeellent quality.
To say that our reception was every way gratifying is but a feeble expression of the feeling of each and all of us.
Leaving the Great House, my presence became known to the coloured people, some of whom were children of those I had known when a boy. They all seemed delighted to see me, and were pleased when I called over the names of many of the old servants, and pointed out the cabin where Dr. Copper, an old slave, used to teach us with a hickory stick in hand, to say the “Lords Prayer.” After spending a little time with these, we bade good-bye to Mr. Howard Lloyd, with many thanks for his kind attentions, and steamed away to St. Michael’s, a place of which I have already spoken.
The next part of this memorable trip took us to the home of Mrs. Buchanan, the widow of Admiral Buchanan, one of the two only living daughters of old Governor Lloyd, and here my reception was as kindly as that received at the Great House, where I had often seen her when a slender young lady of eighteen. She is now about seventy-four years old, but marvellously well preserved. She invited me to a seat by her side, introduced me to her grand-children; conversed with me as freely and with as little embarrassment as if I had been an old acquaintance and occupied an equal station with the most aristocratic of the Caucasian race. I saw in her much of the quiet dignity as well as the features of her father. I spent an hour or so in conversation with Mrs. Buchanan, and when I left, a beautiful little grand-daughter of hers, with a pleasant smile on her face, handed me a bouquet of many-coloured flowers. I never accepted such a gift with a sweeter sentiment of gratitude than from the hand of this lovely child. It told me many things, and among them that a new dispensation of justice, kindness, and human brotherhood was dawning not only in the North, but in the South; that the war, and the slavery that caused the war, were things of the past, and that the rising generation are turning their eyes from the sunset of decayed institutions to the grand possibilities of a glorious future.
The next, and last noteworthy incident in my experience, and one which further and strikingly illustrates the idea with which this chapter sets out, is my visit to Harper’s Ferry, on the 30th of May, this year, and my address on John Brown, delivered in that place before Storer College, an Institution established for the education of the children of those whom John Brown endeavoured to liberate. It is only a little more than twenty years ago when the subject of my discourse—as will be seen elsewhere in this volume—made a raid upon Harper’s Ferry; when its people, and we may say the whole nation, were filled with astonishment, horror, and indignation at the mention of his name; when the Government of the United States co-operated with the State of Virginia in efforts to arrest and bring to capital punishment all persons in any way connected with John Brown and his enterprise; when United States Marshals visited Rochester and elsewhere in search of me, with a view to my apprehension and execution, for my supposed complicity with Brown; when many prominent citizens of the North were compelled to leave the country to avoid arrest, and men were mobbed, even in Boston, for daring to speak a word in vindication or extenuation of what was considered Brown’s stupendous crime; and yet here I was, after two decades, upon the very soil he had stained with blood, among the very people he had startled and outraged, and who, a few years ago, would have hanged me upon the first tree, in open daylight, allowed to deliver an address, not merely defending John Brown, but extolling him as a hero and martyr to the cause of liberty, and doing it with scarcely a murmur of disapprobation. I confess that as I looked out upon the scene before me and the towering heights around me, and remembered the bloody drama there enacted; saw the log house in the distance where John Brown collected his men, saw the little engine house where the brave old Puritan fortified himself against a dozen companies of Virginia Militia, and the place where he was finally captured by United States troops under Col. Robert E. Lee, I was a little shocked at my own boldness in attempting to deliver an address in such presence, and of the character advertised in advance of my coming. But there was no cause of apprehension. The people of Harper’s Ferry have made wondrous progress in their ideas of freedom of thought and speech. The abolition of slavery has not merely emancipated the negro, but liberated the whites; taken the lock from their tongues, and the fetters from their press. On the platform from which I spoke, sat the Hon. Andrew J. Hunter, the prosecuting attorney for the State of Virginia, who conducted the cause of the State against John Brown, that consigned him to the gallows. This man, now well-stricken in years, greeted me cordially, and in conversation with me after the address, bore testimony to the manliness and courage of John Brown, and though he still disapproved of the raid made by him upon Harper’s Ferry, he commended me for my address, and gave me a pressing invitation to visit Charlestown, where he lives, and offered to give me some facts which might prove interesting to me, as to the sayings and conduct of Captain Brown while in prison and on trial, up to the time of his execution. I regret that my engagements and duties were such that I could not then and there accept his invitation, for I could not doubt the sincerity with which it was given, or fail to see the value of compliance. Mr. Hunter not only congratulated me upon my speech, but at parting, gave me a friendly grip, and added that if Robert E. Lee were alive and present, he knew he would give me his hand also.
This man’s presence added much to the interest of the occasion by his frequent interruptions, approving and condemning my sentiments as they were uttered. I only regret that he did not undertake a formal reply to my speech, but this, though invited, he declined to do. It would have given me an opportunity of fortifying certain positions in my address which were perhaps insufficiently defended. Upon the whole, taking the visit to Capt. Auld, to Easton with its old gaol, to the home of my old master at Col. Lloyd’s, and this visit to Harper’s Ferry, with all their associations, they fulfil the expectation created at the beginning of this chapter.