A good deal of interest was felt at the time when the Confederate officers, prisoners on board the “Maple Leaf,” captured that steamer, and made their escape to Currituck, in North Carolina. A correspondent furnishes the following instances of heroism connected with the affair, the hero of which is “a poor old man bowed down with age and poverty.”
The writer says:
“A few days after their escape, a squad of Federal cavalry, in scouring the country to arrest them, came upon the subject of this notice–Dempsey Kight by name– in the highway. A small tin bucket, which the old fisherman was carrying in his hand, attracted their attention. They halted, and asked him if he had not been feeding the escaped rebel officers. Too proud to utter a falsehood, he unhesitatingly answered to the affirmative. Whereupon they demanded of him to reveal the place of their concealment, and with threats and blows sought to wrest it from him. But the principle of honor was too strong in the old man’s bosom, and to all their impotunities he yielded not–their brutality he could not resist. They swore they would have the secret, or that he should die. With this intention, they hurried him aboard a gun-boat, and again tendered him the alternatives of death or of compliance with their wishes. He answered that he was convinced that they intended to hang him, but that he was resolved to die before he “would tell where those officers were.” Immediately they suspended him by the neck until life was nearly extinct. They then cut him down, and after reviving him, they repeated the same question, and received the same answer. Again his body hung in the air, and when his life was far more spent than before, they again unloosed the halter, receiving, as before, the same firm denial. Exasperated to fury, they told him that this was his only chance, and that they would not cut him down again. Sustained in this hour of sore trial by his sense of honor, which was stronger than his fear of death, the old man replied that he was convinced of his approaching end, yet he deemed death preferable to dishonor, and that he was ready to meet his fate. Again, and for the third time, his aged frame quivered in the agonies of death, and when he had ceased to struggle, they once more released him. Applying powerful stimulants, they succeeded in restoring him, when, with a determination worthy of the elder Brutus, he drew forth a knife, and attempted, by cutting his own throat, to free himself from his persecutors. By violence they forced his knife from him, when, by a mighty effort, he dashed the fiends aside, and plunged into the boiling surf to drown himself. With boat-hooks they fished him up, and baffled by his unyielding will, they permitted him to go ashore. This is a true statement of this infamous transaction. Dempsey Kight still lives, and plies his humble calling as a fisherman, and that he is one of God’s noblemen none will gainsay.”
Originally posted 2008-11-13 17:05:33.