I knew my wife would be watched pretty closely, and it would be impossible for her to bring me food, so we both foraged around at night, picking up what we could and returning to our nest before daylight. We knew also, that just now there would be a great hue and cry after us, and big rewards would be offered for our capture. We were only forty-five miles from Fredericksburg, and it was known where I came from, so we had to be continually on the alert to guard against surprises. Many long hours did Banks and I talk and plan about what we would do, and where our next move should be made. A fugitive slave had everything against him, the laws of the United States, big rewards offered for his capture, and no knowledge of the country he was to pass through. He had no compass to guide him in his long, weary journey for freedom, and was forced to shun every human face. Well might he despair of ever reaching the goal, for, like the Arab, every man’s hand was against him and there were very few good Samaritans to help the unfortunate on his way until he got further north. Where he might have met kindness and encouragement of a practical nature, he would fear and tremble to ask it. So often did hypocrisy clothe itself in the garments of benevolence, and self-interest be the governing motive, that he would find too late that his confidence had been treacherously betrayed. I mention these few facts so my readers will understand the difficulties of our situation and the many unknown perils we would have to face. I was very fortunate in having Banks for a companion, we mutually cheered each other in those hours of gloom and despair. I would say to him, “Now, Banks, you know I would rather be shot dead than meet the man that bought me, for you know how we both promised we would go freely with him, but when I thought of my birthright, I made up my mind to fool him and try and get away. You know I was born free and was sold by those people, when before God and man they had no right to do so. I’ve made up my mind to be either a free man or a dead one. I will not go back to my chains again.”
– from Sunshine and Shadow of Slave Life. Reminiscences as told by Isaac D. Williams to “Tege”
Isaac Williams was the son of a freed father. He grew up on a Virginia estate that included five large farms–the smallest of which counted 500 acres–and, according to Williams, housed 760 slaves. Williams’s status as a free black fell into jeopardy when the estate was forfeited by its mistress over financial troubles.
This was originally published by the Evening News Printing and Binding House in East Saginaw, Michigan, 1885.