Testimony of Thomas Hedgebeth
I was born free, in Halifax Co. North Carolina, where I lived thirty-five
years. About ten years ago, I removed to Indiana. My father was
a farmer, half white, who ran through his farm. If a white man
there brings a great account, the white man would carry it against
the colored,-the law there does not favor colored people. I cannot
read or write. A free-born man in North Carolina is as much
oppressed, in one sense, as the slave: I was not allowed to go to school.
I recollect when I was a boy, a colored man came from Ohio, and
opened a school, but it was broken up. i was in the field ploughing
with my father,-he said he wished we could go and learn. I think
it an outrageous sin and shame, that a free colored man could not
be taught. My ignorance has a very injurious effect on my prospects
and success. I blame the State of North Carolina-the white people
of that State-for it. I am now engaged in a troublesome lawsuit,
about the title to my estate, which I would not have got into, had I
known how to read and write.
There were lots of slaves in the neighborhood where I was raised.
After I grew up to take notice of things, I found I was oppressed
as well as they. I thought it a sin then, for one man to hold another.
I never was allowed to visit among the slaves,-had I been caught
visiting them, I should have been fined: if a slave had visited me, he
would have been whipped. This prevented my having much
intercourse with them, except when I was hired to work by the masters.
The conversation among the slaves was, that they worked hard,
and got no benefit,-that the masters got it all. They knew but
little about the good of themselves,-they often grumbled about food
and clothlng,-that they had not enough. I never heard a colored
man grumbling about that here. They were generally religious,-
they believed in a just God, and thought the owners wrong in
punishing them in the way they were punished. A good many were so
ignorant that they did not know any better, than to suppose that they
were made for slavery, and the white men for freedom. Some,
however, would talk about freedom, and think they ought to be free.
I have often been insulted, abused, and imposed upon, and had
advantage taken of me by the whites in North Carolina, and could
not help myself.
When I was twenty-one, I went to vote, supposing it would be
allowed. The 'Squire, who held the box objected, and said no colored
man was allowed to vote. I felt very badly about it,-I felt cheap,
and I felt vexed: but I knew better than make an answer,-I would
have been knocked down certain. Unless I took off my hat, and made
a bow to a white man, when I met him, he would rip out an oath,-
"d-n you, you mulatto, ain't you got no politeness? do n't you
know enough to take off your hat to a white man?" On going into a
store, I was required to take off my hat.
I have seen slaves with whom I worked, nearly starved out, and
yet stripped and whipped; blood cut out of them. It makes my flesh
creep now to think of it-such gashes as I've seen cut in them.
After a whipping, they would often leave and take to the woods for a
month or two, and live by taking what they could find. I've often
heard it said that's the cause of colored people in the South being
dishonest, because they are brought up so as to be obliged to steal. But
I do not consider it dishonest-I always thought it right for a
slave to take and eat as much as he wanted where he labored.
At some places where I have worked, I have known that the
slaves had not a bite of meat given them. They had a pint of corn
meal unsifted, for a meal,-three pints a day. I have seen the white
ixien measure it and the cook bake it, and seen them eat: that was
all they had but water-they might have as much of that as they
wanted. This is no hearsay-I've seen it through the spring, and
on until crop time: three pints of meal a day and the bran and
nothing else. I heard them talk among themselves about having got
a chicken or something, and being whipped for it. They were a bad
looking set-some twenty of them-starved and without clothing
enough for decency. It ought to have been a disgrace to their master,
to see them about his house. If a man were to go through Canada so,
they'd stop him to know what he meant by it-whether it was
poverty or if he was crazy,-and they'd put a suit of clothes on him. I
have seen them working out in the hot sun in July or August without
hats-bareheaded. It was not from choice,-they could n't get hats.
I have seen families put on the block and sold, some one way,
some another way. I remember a family about two miles from me,
-a father and mother and three children. Their master died, and
they were sold. The father went one way, the mother another, with
one child, and the other two children another way. I saw the sale-
I was there-I went to buy hogs. The purchaser examined the
persons of the slaves to see if they were sound,-if they were "good
niggers." I was used to such things, but it made me feel bad to see it.
The oldest was about ten or eleven years. It was hard upon them
to be separated-they made lamentations about it. I never heard a
white man at a sale express a wish that a family might be sold
On removing to Indiana, the white people did not seem so hostile
altogether, nor want the colored people to knuckle quite so low. There
were more white people who were friendly than in North Carolina. I
was not allowed my vote nor my oath. There were more who wished
colored people to have their rights than in North Carolina,-I mean
there were abolitionists in Indiana.
I came here a year last spring, to escape the oppression of the
laws upon the colored men. After the fugitive slave bill was passed, a
man came into Indianapolis, and claimed John Freeman, a free colored
man, an industrious, respectable man, as his slave. He brought proofs
enough. Freedman was kept in jail several weeks,-but at last it turned
out that the slave sought, was not Freeman, but a colored man in
Canada, and F. was released. The danger of being taken as Freeman
was, and suffering from a different decision, worked on my mind. I
came away into Canada in consequence, as did many others. There
were colored people who could have testified to Freeman's being free
from his birth, but their oath would not be taken in Indiana.
In regard to Canada, I like the country, the soil, as well as any
country I ever saw. I like the laws, which leave a man as much
freedom as a man can have,-still there is prejudice here. The
colored people are trying to remove this by improving and educating
themselves, and by industry, to show that they are a people who
have minds, and that all they want is cultivating.
I do not know how many colored people are here-but last summer five hundred and twenty-five were counted leaving the four churches.