DICK JENNINGS the slave-speculator, was one of the few Northern men, who go to the South and throw aside their honest mode of obtaining a living and resort to trading in human beings. A more repulsive-looking person could scarcely be found in any community of bad looking men. Tall, lean and lank, with high cheek-bones, face much pitted with the small-pox, gray eyes with red eyebrows, and sandy whiskers, he indeed stood alone without mate or fellow in looks. Jennings prided himself upon what he called his goodness of heat, and was always speaking of his humanity. As many of the slaves whom he intended taking to the New Orleans market had been raised in Richmond, and had relations there, he determined to leave the city early in the morning, so as not to witness any of the scenes so common on the departure of a slave-gang to the far South. In this, he was most successful; for not even Isabella, who had called at the prison several times to see her mother and sister, was aware of the time that they were to leave.
The slave-trader started at early dawn, and was beyond the confines of the city long before the citizens were out of their beds. As a slave regards a life on the sugar, cotton, or rice plantation as even worse than death, they are ever on the watch for an opportunity to escape. The trader, aware of this, secures his victims in chains before he sets out on his journey. On this occasion, Jennings had the men chained in pairs, while the women were allowed to go unfastened, but were closely watched.
After a march of eight days, the company arrived on the banks of the Ohio River, where they took a steamer for the place of their destination. Jennings had already advertised in the New Orleans papers, that he would be there with a prime lot of able-bodied slaves, men and women, fit for field-service, with a few extra ones calculated for house-servants,--all between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five years; but like most men who make a business of speculating in human beings, he often bought many who were far advanced in years, and would try to pass them off for five or six years younger than they were. Few persons can arrive at anything approaching the real age of the negro, by mere observation, unless they are well acquainted with the race. Therefore, the slave-trader frequently carried out the deception with perfect impunity.
After the steamer had left the wharf and was fairly out on the bosom of the broad Mississippi, the speculator called his servant Pompey to him; and instructed him as to getting the negroes ready for market. Among the forty slaves that the trader had on this occasion, were some whose appearance indicated that they had seen some years and had gone through considerable service. Their gray hair and whiskers at once pronounced them to be above the ages set down in the trader's advertisement. Pompey had long been with Jennings, and understood his business well, and if he did not take delight in the discharge of his duty, he did it at least with a degree of alacrity, so that he might receive the approbation of his master.
Pomp, as he was usually called by the trader, was of real negro blood, and would often say, when alluding to himself, "Dis nigger am no counterfeit, he is de ginuine artikle. Dis chile is none of your haf-and-haf, dere is no bogus about him."
Pompey was of low stature, round face, and, like most of his race, had a set of teeth, which, for whiteness and beauty, could not be surpassed; his eyes were large, lips thick, and hair short and woolly. Pompey had been with Jennings so long, and had seen so much of buying and selling of his fellow-creatures, that he appeared perfectly indifferent to the heart-rending scenes which daily occurred in his presence. Such is the force of habit:--
"Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, That to be hated, needs but to be seen; But seen too oft, familiar with its face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace."
It was on the second day of the steamer's voyage, that Pompey selected five of the oldest slaves, took them into a room by themselves, and commenced preparing them for the market.
"Now," said he, addressing himself to the company, "I is de chap dat is to get you ready for de Orleans market, so dat you will bring marser a good price. How old is you?" addressing himself to a man not less than forty.
"If I live to see next sweet-potato-digging time, I shall be either forty or forty-five, I don't know which."
"Dat may be," replied Pompey; "but now you is only thirty years old,-- dat's what marser says you is to be."
"I know I is more den dat," responded the man.
"I can't help nuffin' about dat," returned Pompey; "but when you get into de market and any one ax you how old you is, and you tell um you is forty or forty-five, marser will tie you up and cut you all to pieces. But if you tell um dat you is only thirty, den he won't. Now remember dat you is thirty years old and no more."
"Well den, I guess I will only be thirty when dey ax me."
"What's your name?" said Pompey, addressing himself to another.
"Oh! Uncle Jim, is it?" "Yes."
"Den you must have all them gray whiskers shaved off, and all dem gray hairs plucked out of your head." This was all said by Pompey in a manner which showed that he knew what he was about.
"How old is you?" asked Pompey of a tall, strong-looking man. "What's your name?"
"I am twenty-nine years old, and my name is Tobias, but they calls me Toby."
"Well, Toby, or Mr. Tobias, if dat will suit you better, you are now twenty-three years old; dat's all,--do you understand dat?"
"Yes," replied Toby.
Pompey now gave them all to understand how old they were to be when asked by persons who were likely to purchase, and then went and reported to his master that the old boys were all right.
"Be sure," said Jennings, "that the niggers don't forget what you have taught them, for our luck this time in the market depends upon their appearance. If any of them have so many gray hairs that you cannot pluck them out, take the blacking and brush, and go at them."