THE LAW AND ITS VICTIM
THE death of Dr. Morton, on the third day of his illness, came like a shock upon his wife and daughters. The corpse had scarcely been committed to its mother earth before new and unforeseen difficulties appeared to them. By the laws of the Slave States, the children follow the condition of their mother. If the mother is free, the children are free; if a slave, the children are slaves. Being unacquainted with the Southern code, and no one presuming that Marion had any negro blood in her veins, Dr. Morton had not given the subject a single thought. The woman whom he loved and regarded as his wife was, after all, nothing more than a slave by the laws of the State. What would have been his feelings had he known that at his death his wife and children would be considered as his property? Yet such was the case. Like most men of means at that time, Dr. Morton was deeply engaged in speculation, and though generally considered wealthy, was very much involved in his business affairs.
After the disease with which Dr. Morton had so suddenly died had to some extent subsided, Mr. James Morton, a brother of the deceased, went to New Orleans to settle up the estate. On his arrival there, he was pleased with and felt proud of his nieces, and invited them to return with him to Vermont, little dreaming that his brother had married a slave, and that his widow and daughters would be claimed as such. The girls themselves had never heard that their mother had been a slave, and therefore knew nothing of the danger hanging over their heads.
An inventory of the property of the deceased was made out by Mr. Morton, and placed in the hands of the creditors. These preliminaries being arranged, the ladies, with their relative, concluded to leave the city and reside for a few days on the banks of Lake Ponchartrain, where they could enjoy a fresh air that the city did not afford. As they were about taking the cars, however, an officer arrested the whole party--the ladies as slaves, and the gentleman upon the charge of attempting to conceal the property of his deceased brother. Mr. Morton was overwhelmed with horror at the idea of his nieces being claimed as slaves, and asked for time, that he might save them from such a fate. He even offered to mortgage his little farm in Vermont for the amount which young slave-women of their ages would fetch. But the creditors pleaded that they were an "extra article," and would sell for more than common slaves, and must therefore be sold at auction.
The uncle was therefore compelled to give them up to the officers of the law, and they were separated from him. Jane, the oldest of the girls, as we have before mentioned, was very handsome, bearing a close resemblance to her cousin Clotelle. Alreka, though not as handsome as her sister, was nevertheless a beautiful girl, and both had all the accomplishments that wealth and station could procure.
Though only in her fifteen year, Alreka had become strongly attached to Volney Lapie, a young Frenchman, a student in her father's office. This attachment was reciprocated, although the poverty of the young man and the extreme youth of the girl had caused their feelings to be kept from the young lady's parents.
The day of sale came, and Mr. Morton attended, with the hope that either the magnanimity of the creditors or his own little farm in Vermont might save his nieces from the fate that awaited them. His hope, however, was in vain. The feelings of all present seemed to be lost in the general wish to become the possessor of the young ladies, who stood trembling, blushing, and weeping as the numerous throng gazed at them, or as the intended purchaser examined the graceful proportions of their fair and beautiful frames. Neither the presence of the uncle nor young Lapie could at all lessen the gross language of the officers, or stay the rude hands of those who wishes to examine the property thus offered for sale. After a fierce contest between the bidders, the girls were sold, one for two thousand three hundred, and the other for two thousand three hundred and fifty dollars. Had these girls been bought for servants only, they would in all probability have brought not more than nine hundred or a thousand dollars each. Here were two beautiful young girls, accustomed to the fondest indulgence, surrounded by all the refinements of life, and with the timidity and gentleness which such a life would naturally produce, bartered away like cattle in the markets of Smithfield or New York.
The mother, who was also to have been sold, happily followed her husband to the grave, and was spared the pangs of a broken heart.
The purchaser of the young ladies left the market in triumph, and the uncle, with a heavy heart, started for his New England home, with no earthly prospect of ever beholding his nieces again.
The seizure of the young ladies as slaves was the result of the administrator's having found among Dr. Morton's papers the bill-of-sale of Marion which he had taken when he purchased her. He had doubtless intended to liberate her when he married her, but had neglected from time to time to have the proper papers made out. Sad was the result of this negligence.