TEXT

From Log Cabin to the Pulpit, or, Fifteen Years in Slavery

This text is an excerpt from the self-published slave narrative of William H. Robinson.
Author
Reverend William H. Robinson
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 1, 2 and 4.

 There were four classes of men who made their living on the blood of the negro. The first class is the master proper. He feels himself too honorable to drive the slave from two or three o’clock in the morning until nine or ten at night, therefore he sees the necessity of the second class, so he hires a poor white man as overseer, to do this dirty work. 

The overseer had the authority, if the slave - man, woman or child - failed to do his task, to tie him up and whip him, but not to exceed one hundred and fifty lashes. If the crime demanded more than that he must get special authority from the master. The punishment, as will he shown further on, was very high for trivial offenses.  

Sometimes the task was too heavy for the negro and he could not complete it, and would rise up in his manhood and would not be whipped. Then his only alternative was to run away, and this usually was the first thought in his mind. The third man raised blood hounds and trained them to hunt nothing but negroes. He made his living by catching runaway negroes, receiving the paltry sum of three dollars per head. The fourth man is the negro trader, who made a perpetual business of buying and selling negroes, as men do cattle in this country. He would buy up eight, ten or twenty, as the case might be, and locate them at some central point until he had from three to five hundred. Then he would have a long chain and handcuff them on either side of the chain and march them to Richmond, Virginia, which was the central slave market of the south, owned and conducted by the Lees and known as Lee’s negro trader’s pen, and when there they would auction them off to the highest bidder.  

 The prosperity of the poor whites, with but few exceptions, depended upon the amount of brutality that be showed towards the negro. His word was not valued as highly as that of the negro if it was not in favor with that of his employer. He lived in no better homes, and many of them not as good as the negro quarters. I need not say that they had but little or no aspirations, save that of raising blood hounds to catch the slaves with when they ran away. They were usually very illiterate, many of them had no education at all; they had no association only among themselves and the negroes. Their wives were glad to do the drudgery for that class of whites who would not own slaves. There were no free school systems, and they had not aspirations enough to pay for schooling their children. When they went before their employer they put their hats under their arms, as any negro would do, and usually were as afraid of him as the negro was of the overseer. They dressed as hideously as they possibly could in order to strike terror to the hearts of the negroes; they wore broad brimmed slouch hats, their pants down in their boots and a long blacksnake whip across their shoulders; they trained their voices to be as harsh as possible. Their very appearance would cause one to shiver. Their living was not as good as that of the average negro, for the slaves were industrious and would work by the light of the moon to earn a few pennies, while the overseer was lazy and seemed to be satisfied with most any kind of fare. 

Source
This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/robinson/robinson.html.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What are the four types of men that Robinson wrote about?
    Answer
    The four types are "slave master," "overseer," "slave catcher," and "slave trader."
  2. Question
    How did these four types prove to be obstacles for enslaved people in their path to obtain freedom or citizenship?
    Answer
    The "slave master" buys enslaved people and hires an overseer who terrorizes them. The "slave catcher" chases and captures enslaved people escaping to freedom, and "slave traders" buy and sell (captured) enslaved people, continuing the cycle.
  3. Question
    Do you see contemporary parallels to any of the four types of men Robinson wrote about? What are they?
    Answer
    Answers will vary. Students may compare "slave catchers" to bounty hunters who chase escaped prisoners.
  4. Question
    According to the text, how did impoverished white people behave similarly to black people in this society?
    Answer
    They put their hats under their arms when greeting wealthier white people and their employers, they worked jobs consisting primarily of manual labor for other white people. As Robinson wrote, “Their wives were glad to do the drudgery for that class of whites who would not own slaves." They also tended to live in the same level of impoverished homes as black people, showed fear towards wealthier white people or their employers, etc.
  5. Question
    In what ways were impoverished white people similar to wealthier white people?
    Answer
    Answers may vary, but primarily, they displayed brutality towards blacks.
  6. Question
    What is the reasoning Robinson gave to explain why impoverished white people behaved like their employers regarding their treatment of black people?
    Answer
    Robinson wrote, “The prosperity of the poor whites, with but few exceptions, depended upon the amount of brutality that be showed towards the negro. His word was not valued as highly as that of the negro if it was not in favor with that of his employer.” To receive any support from the dominant class, impoverished white people needed to adopt their ideology.
  7. Question
    What does this say about whiteness as a concept?
    Answer
    Answers will vary. It was a concept sustained through self-gain and self-sustainment, impoverished whites were rewarded with a sense of social security and gratification by having someone (i.e., black people) to look down upon.
  8. Question
    Why do you think impoverished white people would continue to serve wealthier whites, but still be treated as unequal?
    Answer
    Answers may vary and include “[t]he prosperity of the poor whites … depended upon the amount of brutality that be showed towards the negro,” or [they] “usually were as afraid of him as the negro was of the overseer.”
Reveal Answers