Up from Slavery: An Autobiography HTML version

A Slave Among Slaves
I was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia. I am not quite sure of the
exact place or exact date of my birth, but at any rate I suspect I must have been born
somewhere and at some time. As nearly as I have been able to learn, I was born near a
cross-roads post-office called Hale's Ford, and the year was 1858 or 1859. I do not know
the month or the day. The earliest impressions I can now recall are of the plantation and
the slave quarters--the latter being the part of the plantation where the slaves had their
My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging
surroundings. This was so, however, not because my owners were especially cruel, for
they were not, as compared with many others. I was born in a typical log cabin, about
fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and
sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free.
Of my ancestry I know almost nothing. In the slave quarters, and even later, I heard
whispered conversations among the coloured people of the tortures which the slaves,
including, no doubt, my ancestors on my mother's side, suffered in the middle passage of
the slave ship while being conveyed from Africa to America. I have been unsuccessful in
securing any information that would throw any accurate light upon the history of my
family beyond my mother. She, I remember, had a half-brother and a half-sister. In the
days of slavery not very much attention was given to family history and family records--
that is, black family records. My mother, I suppose, attracted the attention of a purchaser
who was afterward my owner and hers. Her addition to the slave family attracted about as
much attention as the purchase of a new horse or cow. Of my father I know even less
than of my mother. I do not even know his name. I have heard reports to the effect that he
was a white man who lived on one of the near-by plantations. Whoever he was, I never
heard of his taking the least interest in me or providing in any way for my rearing. But I
do not find especial fault with him. He was simply another unfortunate victim of the
institution which the Nation unhappily had engrafted upon it at that time.
The cabin was not only our living-place, but was also used as the kitchen for the
plantation. My mother was the plantation cook. The cabin was without glass windows; it
had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter.
There was a door to the cabin--that is, something that was called a door--but the uncertain
hinges by which it was hung, and the large cracks in it, to say nothing of the fact that it
was too small, made the room a very uncomfortable one. In addition to these openings
there was, in the lower right-hand corner of the room, the "cat-hole," --a contrivance
which almost every mansion or cabin in Virginia possessed during the ante-bellum
period. The "cat-hole" was a square opening, about seven by eight inches, provided for
the purpose of letting the cat pass in and out of the house at will during the night. In the
case of our particular cabin I could never understand the necessity for this convenience,
since there were at least a half-dozen other places in the cabin that would have
accommodated the cats. There was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being