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Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears

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With that signal from Natchez, Armfield began vacuuming up people from the Virginia countryside. The partners employed stringers—headhunters who worked on commission—collecting enslaved people up and down the East Coast, knocking on doors, asking tobacco and rice planters whether they would sell. Many slaveholders were inclined to do so, as their plantations made smaller fortunes than many princeling sons would have liked. Capitol: seamstresses, nurses, valets, field hands, hostlers, carpenters, cooks, houseboys, coachmen, laundresses, boatmen. There were so-called fancy girls, young women who would work mainly as concubines. And, always, children. In the library at Yale I did a bit more unearthing and found a travelogue by a man named Ethan Andrews, who happened to pass through Alexandria a year later and witness the organizing of an Armfield coffle.

He was a stranger to nearly all member of that body; but, having recently made his escape from the southern prison-house of bondage, and affection his curiosity excited to ascertain the principles and measures of the abolitionists,--of whom he had heard a a bite vague description while he was a slave,--he was induced to give his attendance, on the occasion alluded en route for, though at that time a dweller in New Bedford. Fortunate, most auspicious occurrence! I shall never forget his first speech at the convention--the amazing emotion it excited in my accept mind--the powerful impression it created ahead a crowded auditory, completely taken as a result of surprise--the applause which followed from the beginning to the end of his felicitous remarks. I think I by no means hated slavery so intensely as by that moment; certainly, my perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on the godlike character of its victims, was rendered a good deal more clear than ever. There stood one, in physical proportion and build commanding and exact--in intellect richly endowed--in natural eloquence a prodigy--in soul deliberately created but a little lower than the angels--yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,--trembling for his safety, almost not daring to believe that on the American soil, a single white person could be found who would assist him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity! A beloved friend from New Bedford prevailed on Mr. He came forward en route for the platform with a hesitancy after that embarrassment, necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such a book position. After apologizing for his lack of knowledge, and reminding the audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, Page v he proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own account as a slave, and in the course of his speech gave declaration to many noble thoughts and awe-inspiring reflections.

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