A soldier gives the following sketch of the appearance and peculiarities of one of the slaves met with by his regiment while marching South:
“As I went into the yard I saw standing in the midst of the men an aged contraband, whose woolly pate was profusely mottled with gray, and a gray, woolly fringe around the base of his ebon face, gave him a most singular appearance. His enormous mouth, thick lips, and flattened nose of purely African stamp, and retreating forehead, very low in height, would convey an idea of almost idiotic intellect within. As I approached, his lower jaw slowly moved downwards, and then upwards, like the first movements of the arm of a ponderous steam engine, and then from the expansive reservoir of his throat came forth a sound, and he began to sing a hymn. There was not much melody in his music, but he seemed to enjoy it as well as an Ole Bull or Paganini would their own performance. He was dressed in the cast-off uniform, overcoat, and pants of some rebel soldier; and the coat half dropping from one shoulder, in a careless style, plainly indicated an innate ”cuffee.’ He finished his hymn, and some one asked him if he wouldn’t pray. The old man paused for a moment, and then said:
“‘De good book say dat when we worship God we mus do it wid de speret and de troof, and I doesn’t like for see sich tings treated lightly. Now, if ye’ll all be quiet, and not larf, and pay attention, I’ll do de bes I ken.’
“Having promised good behavior, the old man knelt down. As he was kneeling, some one asked him to pray for the war to close. He commenced his prayer with an eloquence of language and propriety of expression absolutely astonishing, and I could hardly believe that in that apparently demented cranium could be stored an intellect which displayed itself in a manner indicating that nature had given it a power and utterance far above many of those who were looking upon the possessor as they would on a monkey or parrot, or some other natural curiosity. There was an expression in his prayer which, in connection with the request to pray for the soldiers, was peculiarly noticeable. He prayed:
“‘O Massa Lord God A’mity! have mercy on all sogers, an eem’s gwine to war. O Lord! batter all dere big guns inter prowsheers, and dere swords inter prune hooks, and make peace come quick.’
“This expression seemed an isolated one in his prayer, as having less propriety of expression than any other one. At the close of his prayer, he was asked where his master was, and replied:
“‘O, he’s done gone dis four months; he wouldn’t jine Mr. Linkum’s company, so he had to leave, and go off way down souf.’
“‘ ‘Twould be a snug chance for him if he was at home here now–wouldn’t it?’ some one asked.
“‘Golly, massa, ‘deed ‘twould, I reckon,’ laughed the sable chattel. ‘He’d ben dead an buried up in de grave long time go, if he hadn’t run off.’
“He was asked if many soldiers came there, and replied that they come every day, in the morning, and that they had been there that morning on horseback. He was asked what they were, and replied,–
“‘Can’t tell, massa, ‘deed I can’t; some say’t dey’s sesessongers, but ‘pon my soul and body, massa, I can’t tell one from t’other–‘deed I can’t. But I’se on Mr. Linkum’s side–‘deed I is.’
“He was then asked to preach, and finally consented, and commenced, making for his subject the characters of Nicodemus and Hezekiah, and commenced in a manner displaying an astonishing depth of knowledge of Scripture history, and drawing logical deductions with a style of language and beauty of expression that need not be ashamed of as worthy the efforts of many an extemporaneous preacher in the most enlightened portions of civilized community in the free States.
“As I listened, I thought what, but for the accursed, soul-destroying influence of slavery, which binds its victims in shackles of ignorance, might not this man have been. Possessed of an intellect of uncommon wealth and vigor, though clothed in rags, and bound by the rankling shackles of an unjust oppression, which forbids it to wish even to rise to seek its own level among humanity, it breaks the bonds with the force which nature alone imparts, and rises, unaided by the acquirements of art, above the common herd around. To what eminence might it not have attained if cultivated and trained by the aids which the times now afford the free man?”
Originally posted 2009-05-05 14:52:32.