I recently discovered that my ancestors were early members of the Seventh-day Baptist Church, which was organized in the New World in 1671.
I was talking with someone recently about adversity and they responded by saying
“Courage, fortitude and perseverance are the rule… [Despite criticism] You have the privilege of carrying on.”
Martin Luther King approached adversity this way. And so did Pardon Davis.
In 1854, Pardon was jailed in Louisiana for helping fugitive slaves. In September he wrote a letter to his former church in Berlin, Wisconsin outlining the circumstances of his arrest.
According to Pardon, as he left the house of a friend, he was
“met by a slave-hunter and his dogs. He immediately drew a revolver, threatening to fire at me is I stirred or made a noise. Others came, and I was marched off to a constable’s office. The whole town was soon assembled, and the procession marched to the school-house, where I was informed by the magistrate, that I had been charged with aiding slaves to escape from their masters. After a brief examination, in which many witnesses were soon sworn, all of whom had seen me talking with, or know of hiring negroes on Sundays or evenings, though this is a common practice for the people of this country; but the difference is, I am from the North. Written passes were found in my possession resembling my hand-writing — ink and paper like mine. With this kind of evidence I was committed to jail, no one daring to speak on my behalf but a petty lawyer from Mississippi.
The citizens of Waterproof, fearing the evidence not sufficient to condemn me, formed themselves into a mob, threatening if I got clear that Lynch law should be called upon. Some said, Hang him; others Shoot him; and some said, Give him a thousand lashes on the bare back. A native of Ireland was arraigned on a similar charge; but three days given him to procure counsel. His trial goes off this morning. If he is cleared, he will be obliged to leave the country.
The cause of my being arrested, as stated by Mr. Perkins, the negro hunter, is: A man in Mississippi having discovered a trail of runaways, sent for him to come with his dogs and catch them. He went, and caught them, after running them thirty or forty miles. Upon overtaking them, they all ran up the fence to get away from the dogs. He asked them who they belonged to. They gave him a fictitious name, at the same time, presenting passes which be read; but being a villain at heart, Perkins took them down one at a time and set his dogs on them. The negroes, after being torn in a shocking manner, promised he if he would desist they would tell the truth. The dogs being taken off, the negroes confessed: “We belong to Mr. Dunkin of Louisiana, and the overseer, Huggins, whipped us nearly every night, because, being new hands, we could not pick cotton enough. We stood this as long as we could and ran away.
We went to Mr. Davis’s wood yard, and told him our complaint. He let us hide in the wood, and carried us bread and water until last Saturday night. He baked us some bread, gave one of us a pair of shoes, another a hat, another a shirt, a quilt for us to sleep under, some money, these passes, set us across the river in a canoe, one at a time, and told us to go towards sunrise.” But getting entangled in the swamp, they were overtaken. Each negro, after being torn by the dogs the same way, confessed the same.
I was conducted on the 20th to this place, through a heavy rain, where I was loaded with irons, my feet being put in iron stocks, my hands coupled together with iron handcuffs, closely fitted, with chain about three inches long. My handcuffs were taken off hits morning to eat my breakfast, and have not been replaced; so I improve my time by writing to you. In this condition, I await my trial. The Court sits the first Monday in October; but unless things look a little more favorable, I shall try to have it adjourned. My attorney, Thomas Farres, examined the papers and the testimony of the witnesses yesterday, and remarked, that if it was for murder, or grand larceny, there might be hope; but as it is, it is doubtful.
Sabbath morning, September 23 – My heart years to be with you, but I cannot. On examining my heart, I find a sort of cold indifference pervading the whole soul. I fear my heart is not right in the sight of God. I read my Bible, yet it is with an abstract mind. My thoughts seem to be all bent on getting away from this place; for I cannot fear that I have done anything worthy of imprisonment. My attorney says it will be a hard case, on account of prejudice existing against abolitionists here; if convicted, that I will not get off with seven years’ imprisonment, he thinks.
And now, after hearing what I have written, I ask my brethren and sisters, in the fear of God, if a man should come to you, presenting a lacerated back, exposed to the rays of a southern summers’ sun for want of a shirt, feet bleeding from having been torn by snags and briars, hungry and faith, whose crime was that he failed, after staining every nerve, to perform the labor appointed him — I ask, would you— could you– turn him away without assisting him? No brethren, I think I know you too well – I think you would hand him a loaf of bread, part of some of your surplus clothing, or if you had no surplus, buy some, as I did — help them across the river, point them to the star of Liberty, and bid them God speed. But either of these — even to give a piece of bread — subjects you to prosecution, the penalty of which is not less than four nor more than seven years in the State Prison.
If I could go on the plantation near where I lived, and at night, when the cotton was weighed, out of two hundred, not less than twelve are whipped every night—O! could you hear the shrieks, cries, groans, prayers — yes, if you could see the victim on his knees praying with all the earnestness a man is capable of, to that brutal overseer, and promising to strain every nerve on the morrow to pick more cotton – it is enough to melt the heart of any one. Who can look on such scenes as these, and not be moved? Brethren, i cannot. And now what more can I say? Have I done wrong? Have I done more than any man ought to do? Dear brethren, I leave you to judge. and I am willing to be governed by your decision. I wait with the greatest anxiety to hear from you, to know whether I shall receive your sympathies and prayers, or whether I have done wrong, and am considered a heathen. If the former, I can bear my affliction with fortitude; but if the latter, I feel my life hangs by a slender thread that my days are numbered. In the mean time, brethren pray for me. Sisters, remember me in your prayers.
I would prefer the grave to slavery. Not all the gold in California could procure of me five years of slavery. I may get rid of these chains, but this depends on the skill of my attorney, or neglect of my opponents. I must cease, for the last paper in my possession is nearly covered over. And now, brethren, when you meet to pray for heathen lands, remember, 0! remember our own country. Watch over the declining steps of my parents; its the greatest boon I can ask, for I fear that this intelligence will bring the gray hairs of my loving father and affectionate mother near the grave. Comfort them with the thought that we may meet in heaven, and all be free.
I await with the greatest anxiety to hear. My love to you all. Pardon Davis
Appended to this copy of Pardon’s letter was a follow-up note from the woman who had submitted it for publication.
I would further add, that he had his trial and was sentenced twenty years in the State Prison of Louisiana, and is now at Baton Rouge serving out his time. His brother has been South endeavoring to obtain a reprieve, but could not. He carried a petition signed by his friends, and others signed by the members of the Legislature and Senate of Wisconsin, (the State of which he was a resident,) also a private letter from the Governor of Wisconsin to the Governor of Louisiana; but it was all of no avail – his answer was No. Some of the members of the Legislature of Louisiana spoke to the governor in his behalf, being somewhat acquainted with the brother that carried the petitions. But he said his honor as a Governor forbade his pardoning an abolitionist who had been meddling with their “free institutions,” for such they call the institution of Slavery. Mr. Davis saw some of the victims of their “free institutions” (slaves) sold. He saw the tears of the mother for her child; he saw two fugitives who had been shot, and thus recaptured. All the regret expressed by the by-standers was that such a “likely nigger” should die, for he was worth $1500. He was allowed to see his brother every day while there, but his brother was not permitted to furnish him light, that he might read evenings, nor send him the Sabbath Recorder, nor deliver some apples sent by his brother’s wife &c. They did, however, allow some books which were sent him, and also a little pocket money, and some additional clothing. Pardon had not received a word of news from home, though many letters had been sent. Some were in the Post-office; others had gone to the dead letter office on account of carelessness of the keepers. The only time allowed him to read is Sunday; and he is obliged to attend Catholic worship part of the day. Emma J. Coe (7)
More next time… [LM]