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In Their Own Words

March 04, 1839

Fanny Kemble Journal Entry on Hardships of Female Slaves

On St. Simons Island, Fanny Kemble Butler wrote of her continuing dismay at how at the conditions faced by the female slaves of her husband:

“I have had an uninterrupted stream of women and children flowing in the whole morning to say ‘Ha de, missis?’ Among others, a poor woman called Mile, who could hardly stand for pain and swelling in her limbs; she had had fifteen children and two miscarriages; nine of her children had died; for the last three years she had become almost a cripple with chronic rheumatism, yet she is driven every day to work in the field… .

“Another of my visitors had a still more dismal story to tell; her name was Die; she had had sixteen children, fourteen of whom were dead; she had had four miscarriages: one had been caused with falling down with a very heavy burden on her head, and one from having her arms strained up to to be lashed. I asked her what she meant by having her arms tied up. She said their hands were first tied together, sometimes by the wrists, and sometimes, which was worse, by the thumbs, and they were then drawn up to a tree or post, so as almost to swing off the ground, and then their clothes rolled round their waist, and a man with a cowhide stands and stripes them. I give you the woman’s words. She did not speak of this as of anything strange, unusual, or especially horrid and abominable; and when I said: ‘Did they do that to you when you were with child?’ she simply replied: ‘Yes, missis.’ And to all this I listen – I, an Englishwoman, the wife of the man who owns these wretches, and I cannot say: ‘That thing shall not be done again; the cruel shame and villainy shall never be known here again.’ …

“I went out to try and walk off some of the weight of horror and depression which I am beginning to feel daily more and more, surrounded by all this misery and degradation that I can neither help nor hinder… .”

Source: John A. Scott (ed.), Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Frances Anne Kemble (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), pp. 240-241.