Chapter 24: My Time in America
As soon as we landed I made Inquiry for Mr Hofman, a German Tailor whom I knew in Liverpool. I found him in Front Street, the first Street you came to after leaving the river. I got into a German Boarding House soon after Landing. I got a Job in a Sugar Refinery about three weeks after I landed, at 25 dollars a month as a Mould Washer; but had not been long at Work before I heard rumours of being paid off. For it was talked about the Masters could not get any Money out of the Bank to pay Wages, on Account of the general depression and lack of confidence by the tarding community, for Banks were closing over the Country. Confidence did not return until the latter part of 1840.
When my month was up I got discharged along with other of the young hands. So now I had to consider what I should do. By all accounts there was little Prospect of getting employment if I stopped in the Place. So, having eight dollars left after paying my Board, I paid that money for a passage to Charleston on Board of a Schooner that was clearing out for that part. The Landlord gave me back a quarter Dollar after Paying my Board, so that was all I had to buy Bread with for a week's Voyage. But providentially there were two young Germans who helped me out wherein I lacked, so I got on very well.
When we got to Charleston I enquired for John Herbert, who kept a Store there, with whom I had worked when in Liverpool. He received me as a Brother and said "You stop with me until you get Work: I will make you quite welcome." And so he did. He got me a Place to drive a Biscuit Cart around Charleston, delivering orders to the German Stores there. This I did for a week, but then got discharged, not suiting, but got four dollars for my Week's work, which enabled me to pay a small debt I owed for getting my boots soled and heeled, and a small debt that I owed to one of those young men that I was a passenger with to Charleston.
As to getting work in Charleston there were only two openings for a stranger - either to get a job in the German Stores or go on to the City Guard. This was a Body of Men kept by the City who were drilled as Soldiers with Firearms. Their use was to keep down the Slaves if they should attempt a Rising. They numbered a 1000 men, whose pay was twenty dollars a month. All other employment but these two spheres was done by slaves. So I thought I had a poor look out, for I thought I was fit for neither Branch. In the meantime I made what observation I could about the Peculiar Institution [of slavery] but found it to throw a Gloom and Sadness over me, which no Situation that I might get would compensate me. As I was surrounded by Slaves and Slave dealing, I saw and heard a good deal. One German Storekeeper hard bye, I was told, bought a Slave Girl and by her had five or six Children who were considered by him as Slaves and treated accordingly. They were all Property, and would be turned into Money when he thought proper. No doubt this might be an extreme but by no means a Rare Case.
All the Slave masters had unlimited control over their Slaves, and could punish them and Whip them as they liked. They all had, I was told, a Cowhide by them with which To Punish the unruly. Such as would not punish them themselves could send them to what was called the Sugar house. This had formerly been a Sugar house but was now turned into a House of Correction for refractory Slaves. This kind of Property took a great deal of trouble and Expense to keep up. As I have already said the City Kept a thousand men at twenty dollars per man, and in the Suburbs each Householder had to provide a Man each in his turn to perambulate his District and search the Cottages round to see that the Slaves were all at home at the appointed hour, or know the reason why they were not at home. Mr Herbert, mine Host had to provide a Man while I was with him: so I offered my Services for that Duty. He was glad, for he cared not for the work.
Eleven O'clock at night, I think it was, we met at a certain Church Yard. From there we received our marching orders. One signed here, another there. Some had Guns, some Swords and some Sticks, and so we sallied forth on our important Business. As soon as we came to a Hut or Cottage, one of the Party would rattle at the door till some one came to answer. The Question would be "Are you all at home here?". "Yes". There was an Irishman of our Party who I thought was very troublesome. He would go into the House and would make the Young Women get up and shew themselves, and Teaze them. I don't know what kind of Rules were provided for this kind of search; but I know that it was lacking in Dignity.
I went to see the last sale that was made in the Open Street of Charleston of Slaves by Auction. It was before the Town Hall, where a Platform was raised of twelve feet by 6 or 7 feet, with an Auctioneer at each end. Four Slaves were passed on the the Platform. The first was a Mulatto, a Man about 30, described as a Carpenter and a good Workman. He was puffed up greatly, first by one Auctioneer, and then by another. Why there were two Men selling I don't know, except it be for a description of the Goods sold. The first knocked down for what I thought a good Price. The next lot was a Mulatto woman and a Baby about two years old. The last lot was a Girl about 8 or 9 year old Black. She put me in mind of Topsy. That was the last, I was told, that was to be sold in the Open Street. The next sales were to be in the Sugar House, for about this time a stir had been made among the Slave holders. There were general commotions with 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and other writings and antislavery speeches, so I suppose they were a little ashamed of selling Slaves so openly. Hence it was carried out in the Sugar house behind closed doors.