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Clotel; or, The President's Daughter
William Wells Brown
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Chapter 14. A Free Woman Reduced To Slavery
ALTHESA found in Henry Morton a kind and affectionate husband; and his efforts to
purchase her mother, although unsuccessful, had doubly endeared him to her. Having
from the commencement resolved not to hold slaves, or rather not to own any, they were
compelled to hire servants for their own use. Five years had passed away, and their
happiness was increased by two lovely daughters. Mrs. Morton was seated, one bright
afternoon, busily engaged with her needle, and near her sat Salome, a servant that she had
just taken into her employ. The woman was perfectly white; so much so, that Mrs.
Morton had expressed her apprehensions to her husband, when the woman first came,
that she was not born a slave. The mistress watched the servant, as the latter sat sewing
upon some coarse work, and saw the large silent tear in her eye. This caused an
uneasiness to the mistress, and she said, "Salome, don't you like your situation here?"
"Oh yes, madam," answered the woman in a quick tone, and then tried to force a smile.
"Why is it that you often look sad, and with tears in your eyes?" The mistress saw that
she had touched a tender chord, and continued, "I am your friend; tell me your sorrow,
and, if I can, I will help you."
As the last sentence was escaping the lips of the mistress, the slave woman put her check
apron to her face and wept. Mrs. Morton saw plainly that there was cause for this
expression of grief, and pressed the woman more closely. "Hear me, then," said the
woman calming herself: "I will tell you why I sometimes weep. I was born in Germany,
on the banks of the Rhine. Ten years ago my father came to this country, bringing with
him my mother and myself. He was poor, and I, wishing to assist all I could, obtained a
situation as nurse to a lady in this city. My father got employment as a labourer on the
wharf, among the steamboats; but he was soon taken ill with the yellow fever, and died.
My mother then got a situation for herself, while I remained with my first employer.
When the hot season came on, my master, with his wife, left New Orleans until the hot
season was over, and took me with them. They stopped at a town on the banks of the
Mississippi river, and said they should remain there some weeks. One day they went out
for a ride, and they had not been one more than half an hour, when two men came into
the room and told me that they had bought me, and that I was their slave. I was bound
and taken to prison, and that night put on a steamboat and taken up the Yazoo river, and
set to work on a farm. I was forced to take up with a Negro, and by him had three
children. A year since my master's daughter was married, and I was given to her. She
came with her husband to this city, and I have ever since been hired out."
"Unhappy woman," whispered Althesa, "why did you not tell me this before?" "I was
afraid," replied Salome, "for I was once severely flogged for telling a stranger that I was
not born a slave." On Mr. Morton's return home, his wife communicated to him the story
which the slave woman had told her an hour before, and begged that something might be
done to rescue her from the situation she was then in. In Louisiana as well as many others
of the slave states, great obstacles are thrown in the way of persons who have been
wrongfully reduced to slavery regaining their freedom. A person claiming to be free must
prove his right to his liberty. This, it will be seen, throws the burden of proof upon the
slave, who, in all probability, finds it out of his power to procure such evidence. And if
any free person shall attempt to aid a freeman in re-gaining his freedom, he is compelled