CHAPTER XV

THE ARREST

 

IT was late in the evening when the coach arrived at Richmond, and Isabella once more alighted in her native city. She had intended to seek lodgings somewhere in the outskirts of the town, but the lateness of the hour compelled her to stop at one of the principal hotels for the night. She had scarcely entered the inn before she recognized among the numerous black servants one to whom she was well known, and her only hope was that her disguise would keep her from being discovered. The imperturbable calm and entire forgetfulness of self which induced Isabella to visit a place from which she could scarcely hope to escape, to attempt the rescue of a beloved child, demonstrate that over-willingness of woman to carry out the promptings of the finer feelings of the heart. True to woman's nature, she had risked her own liberty for another's. She remained in the hotel during the night, and the next morning, under the plea of illness, took her breakfast alone.

That day the fugitive slave paid a visit to the suburbs of the town, and once more beheld the cottage in which she had spent so many happy hours. It was winter, and the clematis and passion-flower were not there; but there were the same walks her feet had so often pressed, and the same trees which had so often shaded her as she passed through the garden at the back of the house. Old remembrances rushed upon her memory and caused her to shed tears freely. Isabella was now in her native town, and near her daughter; but how could she communicate with her? how could she see her? To have made herself known would have been a suicidal act; betrayal would have followed, and she arrested. Three days passed away, and still she remained in the hotel at which she had first put up, and yet she got no tidings of her child.

Unfortunately for Isabella, a disturbance had just broken out among the slave population in the State of Virginia, and all strangers were treated with suspicion.

The insurrection to which we now refer was headed by a full-blooded negro, who had been born and brought up a slave. He had heard the crack of the driver's whip, and seen the warm blood streaming from the negro's body. He had witnessed the separation of parents from children, and was made aware, by too many proofs, that the slave could expect no justice from the hands of the slave-owner. The name of this man was Nat Turner. He was a preacher amongst the negroes, distinguished for his eloquence, respected by the whites, loved and venerated by the negroes. On the discovery of the plan for the outbreak, Turner fled to the swamps, followed by those who had joined in the insurrection.

Here the revolted negroes numbered some hundreds, and for a time bade defiance to their oppressors. The Dismal Swamps cover many thousand acres of wild land, and a dense forest, with wild animals and insects such as are unknown in any other part of Virginia. Here runaway negroes usually seek a hiding-place, and some have been known to reside here for years. The revolters were joined by one of these. He was a large, tall, full-blooded negro, with a stern and savage countenance; the marks on his face showed that he was from one of the barbarous tribes in Africa, and claimed that country as his native land. His only covering was a girdle around his loins, made of skins of wild beasts which he had killed. His only token of authority among those that he led was a pair of epaulettes, made of the tail of a fox, and tied to his shoulder by a cord. Brought from the coast of Africa, when only fifteen years of age, to the island of Cuba, he was smuggled from thence into Virginia. He had been two years in the swamps, and considered it his future home. He had met a negro woman, who was also a runaway, and, after the fashion of his native land, had gone through the process of oiling her, as the marriage ceremony. They had built a cave on a rising mound in the swamp, and this was their home. This man's name was Picquilo. His only weapon was a sword made from a scythe which he had stolen from a neighboring plantation. His dress, his character, his manners, and his mode of fighting were all in keeping with the early training he had received in the land of his birth. He moved about with the activity of a cat, and neither the thickness of the trees nor the depth of the water could stop him. He was a bold, turbulent spirit; and, from motives of revenge, he imbrued his hands in the blood of all the whites he could meet. Hunger, thirst, and loss of sleep, he seemed made to endure, as if by peculiarity of constitution. His air was fierce, his step oblique, his look sanguinary.

Such was the character of one of the negroes in the Southampton Insurrection. All negroes were arrested who were found beyond their master's threshold, and all white strangers were looked upon with suspicion.

Such was the position in which Isabella found affairs when she returned to Virginia in search of her child. Had not the slave-owners been watchful of strangers, owing to the outbreak, the fugitive could not have escaped the vigilance of the police; for advertisements announcing her escape, and offering a large reward for her arrest, had been received in the city previous to her arrival, and officers were therefore on the lookout for her.

It was on the third day after her arrival in Richmond, as the quadroon was seated in her room at the hotel, still in the disguise of a gentleman, that two of the city officers entered the apartment and informed her that they were authorized to examine all strangers, to assure the authorities that they were not in league with the revolted negroes.

With trembling heart the fugitive handed the key of her trunk to the officers. To their surprise they found nothing but female apparel in the trunk, which raised their curiosity, and caused a further investigation that resulted in the arrest of Isabella as a fugitive slave. She was immediately conveyed to prison, there to await the orders of her master.

For many days, uncheered by the voice of kindness, alone, hopeless, desolate, she waited for the time to arrive when the chains should be placed on her limbs, and she returned to her inhuman and unfeeling owner.

The arrest of the fugitive was announced in all the newspapers, but created little or no sensation. The inhabitants were too much engaged in putting down the revolt among the slaves; and, although all the odds were against the insurgents, the whites found it no easy matter, with all their caution. Every day brought news of fresh outbreaks. Without scruple and without pity, the whites massacred all blacks found beyond the limits of their owners' plantations. The negroes, in return, set fire to houses, and put to death those who attempted to escape from the flames. Thus carnage was added to carnage, and the blood of the whites flowed to avenge the blood of the blacks.

These were the ravages of slavery. No graves were dug for the negroes, but their bodies became food for dogs and vultures; and their bones, partly calcined by the sun, remained scattered about, as if to mark the mournful fury of servitude and lust of power. When the slaves were subdued, except a few in the swamps, bloodhounds were employed to hunt out the remaining revolters.

 

 

 


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