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In Their Own Words

February 28, 1839

Fanny Kemble Diary Entry on Wanting to Leave Plantation

On St. Simons Island, Fanny Kemble Butler was now desperate to leave her husband’s plantation because of the misery due to slavery that she witnessed daily, as evidenced by this entry in her journal:

“I cannot give way to the bitter impatience I feel at my present position, and come back to the North without leaving my babies, and though I suppose their stay will not in any case be much prolonged in these regions of swamp and slavery, I must, for their sakes, remain where they are, and learn this dreary lesson of human suffering to the end… .

“This morning I had a visit from two of the [slave] women, Charlotte and Judy, who came to me for help and advice for a complaint, which it really seems to me every other woman on the estate is cursed with, and which is a direct result of the conditions of their existence … . As soon as these poor things had departed with such comfort as I could give them, and the bandages they especially begged for, three other sable graces introduced themselves, Edie, Louisa, and Diana … .Having dismissed here [Edie] and Diana with the sugar and rice they came to beg, I detained Louisa, whom I had never seen but in the presence of her old grandmother, whose version of the poor child’s escape to, and hiding in the woods, I had a desire to compare with the heroine’s own story.

“She told it very simply, and it was most pathetic. She had not finished her task one day, when she said she felt ill, and unable to do so, and had been severely flogged by driver Bran, in whose ‘gang’ she then was. The next day, in spite of this encouragement to lab, she had again been unable to complete her appointed work; and Bran having told her that he’d tie her up and flog her if she did not get it done, she had left the field and run into the swamp.

“‘Tie you up, Louisa!’ said I; ‘what is that?’

“She then described to me that they were fastened up by their wrists to a beam or a branch of a tree, their feet barely touching the ground, so as to allow them no purchase for resistance or evasion of the lash, their clothes turned over their heads, and their back scored with a leather thong, either by the driver himself, or, if he pleases to inflict their punishment by deputy, any of the men he may choose to summon to the office; it might be father, brother, husband, or lover, if the overseer so ordered it. I turned sick, and my blood curdled listening to these details from the slender young slip of a lassie, with her poor piteous face and murmuring, pleading voice.

“… I am getting perfectly savage over all these doings … and really think I should consider my own throat and those of my children well cut if some night the people were to take it into their heads to clear off scores in that fashion… .”

Source: John A. Scott, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Frances Anne Kemble (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), pp. 214-216.