My name is John Thomas White. I am not sure exactly where and when I was born. My parents were sold to another master when I was 3 years old, and Aunt Sally became my stepmother. She told me that I was named after General John Thomas who asserted Negroes to serve in the military. When I was 13 they sent me to Charleston to be a house servant. I have never gone to school and only the assistance of the pastor of our church gave me chance to know the world of books. Today I know that he could be punished because it was prohibited to teach Negroes reading or writing. Both us – my teacher and me, could be inflicted to the corporal punishment (twenty lashes)
I think I had good master. Captain Dobbin, and especial his wife, Lady Kathryn, were kind to me. I remember that I was punished only two times: when I broken the old porcelain plate and read my master’s newspaper. I remember this newspaper very exactly – there was an article about slave rebellion. They wrote that leader of the rebellion, Nat Turner, was executed in Virginia. Master called Nat “assassin” and many field hands were executed in these days.
Some my friends later escaped from slavery but I could not afford it because I had a family. My wife was housemaid, and we married in 1938. Also I was a house servant and had some privileges, my life was better than field hands. I was proud with my master’s wealth and he often gave me little gifts. One time he gave me two dollars! It was good money and I bought dress for my wife.
There were three house-slaves in master’s property. We did not have hard work but I never can sleep enough. When my master cannot fall asleep I should read him books from his library. He trusted me and even appointed me as a senior servant. But it made me an enemy in the eyes of his white steward – worthiest man who ever was born in the world. In the atmosphere of jalousie and bias I became to think about the fate of my people. I saw that the times were changed. I heard about abolitionists and slave escapades. I remember that in 1848 they captured 70 slaves who attempted to escape Washington, D.C. I heard about Frederick Douglass and other people fought for the rights of blacks. But when I had known that Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which requires the return of runaway slaves seeking sanctuary in the North I felt that justice died in this country. I wanted to help to my brothers but what we could do – we were weak and disjoined. It was true triumph for me when Anthony Burns was bought out of slavery! I felt pain when the Supreme Court stated that African Americans are not citizens. Country was on the threshold of changes. People separated to allies of abolitionists and followers of traditional way of life. I think that many slaves were satisfied with their life – they did not know another life.
When John Brown holds his anti-slavery convention my master was in Europe. I remember day when I knew that John Brown and his allies, including five African Americans, captured the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. He was executed for this raid but it was impossible thing – white leaded blacks to the rebellion for their freedom. It’s impossible, because I knew some Negroes who were slave owner. There were more than one hundred of free Negroes who owned slaves in Charleston.
Many of us thought it is only one possible way of life. We got a good house, good clothes and good food in the houses of our masters. When I told to other house slaves about the liberation they told “Man, you are mad. I do not need your liberation! Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this? I am house Negro and I am replete and satisfied. I treasure up my money and I earn more than stupid whites having no master to think about their future. You told that we couldn’t serve in the military? I do not want fight for others. If you want to die for your ideas you can do. Do not offer it for me.”
I was not rebel and I never was a seditious agitator. I just carried the word of God to my brothers. God created all men equal. There were no lords and slaves. Why people forgot about it?
But thunderstorm of the War interrupted my reflexion. In 1860 they pronounced the Initial Mobilization. One year later the Federal Fleet invaded Charleston and relieved Fort Sumter departs from New York. Civil rights and civil war – it was new way to emancipate my people.
And finally, this way brought my people to the success: the Great President Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. All slaves in rebellious states became free forever. I do not know the future of my country. I saw growing of new world. But I still see disparity of various races. I believe my grandson will live in the perfect society where people will be equal. I pray about this.
1. Goodell W. (1853) The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice: Its Distinctive Features Shown by Its Statutes, Judicial Decisions, and Illustrative Facts. EDUCATION PROHIBITED. CHAPTER VI. Retrieved on 11/06/2004 from web-site: http://www.dinsdoc.com/goodell-1-2-6.htm
2. Timeline of Abolition: Digital History (nd) retrieved on 11/07/2004 from web-site: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/daybyday/daybyday.cfm?db=abolition