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A Fine Example

Excerpt from a fascinating letter written by Abraham Lincoln to Miss Mary Speed. He was telling her about a trip on the Steam Boat Lebanon.


Bloomington, Illinois Sept. 27th. 1841


By the way, a fine example was presented on board the boat for contemplating the effect of condition upon human happiness. A gentleman had purchased twelve negroes in different parts of Kentucky and was taking them to a farm in the South. They were chained six and six together. A small iron clevis was around the left wrist of each, and this fastened to the main chain by a shorter one at a convenient distance from, the others; so that the negroes were strung together precisely like so many fish upon a trot-line. In this condition they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends, their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them, from their wives and children, and going into perpetual slavery where the lash of the master is proverbially more ruthless and unrelenting than any other where; and yet amid all these distressing circumstances, as we would think them, they were the most cheerful and apparantly happy creatures on board. One, whose offence for which he had been sold was an over-fondness for his wife, played the fiddle almost continually; and the others danced, sung, cracked jokes, and played various games with cards from day to day. How true it is that “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” or in other words, that He renders the worst of human conditions tolerable, while He permits the best, to be nothing better than tolerable.

A man had been sold for the sin of loving his wife too much... he had a chain around his wrist and still played the fiddle. Stolen from their homes, tortured, chained together, they still danced. I have immense respect for the resilience and bravery displayed in their gratitude for life in such a form. True kings. A story of Black history certain feudal lords don't want you to know.


Full text of the letter available at Dickinson.edu

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