Moses Grandy

Moses Grandy was born a slave in Camden County, North Carolina, in 1786. He was his mother's youngest child. At least eight of his brothers and sisters were sold by his master, Billy Grandy, to other slave-owners. Moses was retained but hired out to other masters.

Moses eventually married a slave owned by Enoch Sawyer. However, one day, Sawyer sold her to a slave-dealer and he never saw her again. In 1833 Grandy eventually escaped from the South. With the help of the American Anti-Slavery Society he published his autobiography, Life of a Slave, in 1843.

Primary Sources

(1) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

I was born in Camden County, North Carolina. Slaves seldom know exactly how old they are: neither they nor their masters set down the time of a birth; the slaves, because they are not allowed to write or read; and the masters, because they only care to know what slaves belong to them.

The master, Billy Grandy, whose slave I was born, was a hard-drinking man: he sold away many slaves. I remember four sisters and four brothers; my mother had more children, but they were dead or sold away before I can remember. I was the youngest. I remember well my mother often hid us all in the woods, to prevent master selling us. When we wanted water, she sought for it in any hole or puddle formed by falling trees or otherwise: it was often full of tadpoles and insects: she strained it, and gave it round to each of us in the hollow of her hand. For food, she gathered berries in the woods, got potatoes, raw corn, etc.

After a time the master would send word to her to come in, promising, he would not sell us. But at length persons came who agreed to give the prices he set on us. His wife, with much to be done, prevailed on him not to sell me; but he sold my brother, who was a little boy. My mother, frantic with grief, resisted their taking her child away: she was beaten and held down : she fainted; and when she came to herself, her boy was gone. She made much outcry, for which the master tied her up to a peach tree in the yard, and flogged her.

Another of my brothers was sold to Mr. Tyler, Dewan's Neck, Pasquotank County; this man very much ill-treated many coloured boys. One very cold day he sent my brother out, naked and hungry, to find a yoke of steers: the boy returned without finding them, when his master flogged him, and sent him out again; a white lady who lived near, gave him food, and advised him to try again: he did so, but it seems again without success. He piled up a heap of leaves, and laid himself down in them, and died there. He was found through a flock of turkey buzzards hovering over him; these birds had pulled his eyes out.

(2) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

The first who hired me was Mr. Kemp, who used me pretty well; he gave me plenty to eat and sufficient clothing.

The next was old Jemmy Coates, a severe man. Because I could not learn his way of hilling corn, he flogged me naked with a severe whip made of a very tough sapling; this lapped round me at each stroke, the point of it at last entered my belly and broke off; leaving an inch and a-half outside. I was not aware of it until on going to work again it hurt my side very much, when on looking down I saw it sticking, out of my body: I pulled it out and the blood spouted after it. The wound festered, and discharged very much at the time, and hurt me for years after.

In being hired out, sometimes the slave gets a good home, and sometimes a bad one: when he gets a good one, he dreads to see January come; when he has a bad one, the year seems five times as long as it is.

I was next with Mr. Enoch Sawyer of Camden County: my business was to keep ferry, and do other odd work. It was cruel living; we had not near enough of either victuals or clothes; I was half-starved for half my time. I have often ground the husks of Indian corn over again in a hand-mill, for the chance of getting something to eat out of it, which the former grinding had left. In severe frosts, I was compelled to go into the fields and woods to work, with my naked feet cracked and bleeding from extreme cold: to warm them, I used to rouse an ox or hog, and stand on the place where it had lain. I was at that place three years, and very long years they seemed to me. The trick by which he kept me so long was this: -- the Court House was but a mile off; on hiring day, he prevented me from going till he went himself and bid for me. On the last occasion, he was detained for a little while by other business, so I ran as quickly as I could, and got hired before he came up.

Mr. George Furley was my next master; he employed me as a car-boy in the Dismal swamp; I had to drive lumber. I had plenty to eat and plenty of clothes. I was so overjoyed at the change, that I then thought I would not have left the place to go to heaven.

Next year I was hired by Mr. John Micheau of the same county, who married my young mistress, one of the daughters of Mr. Grandy, and sister to my present owner. This master gave us very few clothes, and but little to eat; I was almost naked. One day he came into the field, and asked why no more work was done. The older people were afraid of him; so I said that the reason was, we were so hungry, we could not work. He went home and told the mistress to give us plenty to eat, and at dinner time we had plenty. We came out shouting for joy, and went to work with delight. From that time, we had food enough, and he soon found that he had a great deal more work done. The field was quite alive with the people striving who should do most.

(3) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

It was some time after this, that I married a slave belonging to Enoch Sawyer, who had been so hard a master to me. I left her at home, (that is, at his house,) one Thursday morning, when we had been married about eight months. She was well, and seemed likely to be so: we were nicely getting together our little necessaries. On the Friday, as I was at work as usual with the boats, I heard a noise behind me, on the road which ran by the side of the canal: I turned to look, and saw a gang of slaves coming. When they came up to me, one of them cried out, "Moses, my dear!" I wondered who among them should know me, and found it was my wife. She cried out to me, "I am gone." I was struck with consternation. Mr. Rogerson was with them, on his horse, armed with pistols. I said to him, "for God's sake, have you bought my wife?" He said he had; when I asked him what she had done; he said she had done nothing, but that her master wanted money.

He drew out a pistol, and said that if I went near the waggon on which she was, he would shoot me. I asked for leave to shake hands with her, which he refused, but said I might stand at a distance and talk with her. My heart was so full, that I could say very little. I asked leave to give her a dram: he told Mr. Burgess, the man who was with him, to get down and carry it to her. I gave her the little money I had in my pocket, and bid her farewell. I have never seen or heard of her from that day to this. I loved her as I loved my life.

(4) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

MacPherson was an overseer where slaves were employed in cutting canals. The labour there is very severe. The ground is often very boggy: the negroes are up to the middle or much deeper in mud and water, cutting away roots and baling out mud: if they can keep their heads above water, they work on. They lodge in huts, or as they are called camps, made of shingles or boards. They lie down in the mud which has adhered to them, making a great fire to dry themselves, and keep off the cold. No bedding whatever is allowed them; it is only by work done over his task, that any of them can get a blanket. They are paid nothing except for this overwork. Their masters come once a month to receive the money for their labour: then perhaps some few very good masters will give them two dollars each, some others one dollar, some a pound of tobacco, and some nothing at all. The food is more abundant than that of field slaves; indeed it is the best allowance in America: it consists of a peck of meal, and six pounds of pork per week; the pork is commonly not good, it is damaged, and is bought as cheap as possible at auctions.

(5) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

MacPherson gave the same task to each slave; of course the weak ones often failed to do it. I have often seen him tie up persons and flog them in the morning, only because they were unable to get the previous day's task done: after they were flogged, pork or beef brine was put on their bleeding backs, to increase the pain; he sitting by resting himself, and seeing it done. After being thus flogged and pickled, the sufferers often remained tied up all day, the feet just touching the ground, the legs tied, and pieces of wood put between the legs. All the motion allowed was a slight turn of the neck. Thus exposed and helpless, the yellow flies and mosquitoes in great numbers would settle on the bleeding and smarting back, and put the sufferer to extreme torture. This continued all day, for they were not taken down till night.

In flogging, MacPherson would sometimes tie the slave's shirt over his head, that he might not flinch when the blow was coming: sometimes he would increase his misery, by blustering and calling out that he was coming to flog again, which he did or did not, as happened. I have seen him flog slaves with his own hands, till their entrails were visible; and I have seen the sufferers dead when they were taken down. He never was called to account in any way for it.

It is not uncommon for flies to blow the sores made by flogging. In that case, we get a strong weed growing in those parts, called the Oak of Jerusalem; we boil it at night, and wash the sores with the liquor, which is extremely bitter: on this, the creepers or maggots come out. To relieve them in some degree after severe flogging, their fellow-slaves rub their backs with part of their little allowance of fat meat.

(6) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

When my mother became old, she was sent to live in a little lonely log-hut in the woods. Aged and worn out slaves, whether men or women, are commonly so treated. No care is taken of them, except, perhaps, that a little ground is cleared about the hut, on which the old slave, if able, may raise a little corn. As far as the owner is concerned, they live or die as it happens; is is just the same thing as turning out an old horse. Their children or other near relations, if living in the neighbourhood, take it by turns to go at night, with a supply saved out of their own scanty allowance of food, as well as to cut wood and fetch water for them: this is done entirely through t he good feelings of the slaves, and not through the masters' taking care that it is done. On these night-visits, the aged inmate of the hut is often found crying, on account of sufferings from disease or extreme weakness, or from want of food and water in the course of the day: many a time, when I have drawn near to my mother's hut, I have heard her grieving and crying on these accounts: she was old and blind too, and so unable to help herself. She was not treated worse than others: it is the general practice. Some few good masters do not treat their old slaves so: they employ them in doing light jobs about the house and garden.

(7) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

Before I close this narrative, I ought to express my grateful thanks to the many friends in the Northern States, who have encouraged and assisted me: I shall never forget to speak of their kindness, and to pray for their prosperity. I am delighted to say, that not only to myself, but to very many other coloured persons, they have lent a benevolent helping hand. Last year, gentlemen whom I know bought no less than ten families from slavery, and this year they are pursuing the same good work. But for these numerous and heavy claims on their means and their kindness, I should have had no need to appeal to the generosity of the British public; they would gladly have helped me to redeem all my children and relations.

(8) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

When I first went to the Northern States, which is about ten years ago, although I was free as to the law, I was made to feel severely the difference between persons of different colours. No black man was admitted to the same seats in churches with the whites, nor to the inside of public conveyances, nor into street coaches or cabs: we had to be content with the decks of steam-boats in all weathers, night and day, - not even our wives or children being allowed to go below, however it might rain, or snow, or freeze; in various other ways, we were treated as though we were of a race of men below the whites.

But the abolitionists boldly stood up for us, and through them things are much changed for the better. Now, we may sit in any part of many places of worship, and are even asked into the pews of respectable white families; many public conveyances now make no distinction between white and black. We begin to feel that we are really on the same footing as our fellow citizens. They see we can and do conduct ourselves with propriety, and they are now admitting us in many cases to the same standing with themselves.

During the struggles which have procured for us this justice from our fellow-citizens, we have been in the habit of looking in public places for some well-known abolitionists, and if none that we knew were there, we addressed any person dressed as a Quaker; these classes always took our part against ill usage, and we have to thank them for many a contest in our behalf. We were greatly delighted by the zealous efforts and powerful eloquence in our cause of George Thompson, who came from our English friends to aid our suffering brethren. He was hated and mobbed by bad men amongst the whites; they put his life in great danger, and threatened destruction to all who sheltered him. We prayed for him, and did all we could to defend him. The Lord preserved him, and thankful were we when he escaped from our country with his life.

At that time, and ever since, we have had a host of American friends, who have laboured for the cause night and day; they have nobly stood up for the rights and honour of the coloured man; but they did so at first in the midst of scorn and danger. Now, thank God, the case is very different Mr. William Lloyd Garrison, who was hunted for his life by a mob in the streets of Boston has lately been chairman of a large meeting in favour of abolition, held in Fanueil Hall, the celebrated public hall of Boston, called "the Cradle of Liberty."

(9) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

I am glad to say also, that numbers of my coloured brethren now escape from slavery; some by purchasing their freedom, others by quitting, through many dangers and hardships, the land of bondage. The latter suffer many privations in their attempts to reach the free states. They hide themselves during the day in the woods and swamps; at night they travel, crossing rivers by swimming, or by boats they may chance to meet with, and passing over hills and meadows which they do not know; in these dangerous journeys they are guided by the north-star, for they only know that the land of freedom is in the north. They subsist on such wild fruit as they can gather, and as they are often very long on their way, they reach the free states almost like skeletons. On their arrival, they have no friends but such as pity those who have been in bondage, the number of which, I am happy to say, is increasing; but if they can meet with a man in a broad-brimmed hat and Quaker coat, they speak to him without fear-relying on him as a friend. At each place the escaped slave inquires for an abolitionist or a Quaker, and these friends of the coloured man help them on their journey northwards, until they are out of the reach of danger.

(10) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

Our untiring friends, the abolitionists, once obtained a law that no coloured person should be seized as a slave within the free states; this law would have been of great service to us, by ridding us of all anxiety about our freedom while we remained there; but I am sorry to say, that it has lately been repealed, and that now, as before, any coloured person who is said to be a slave, may be seized in the free states and carried away, no matter how long he may have resided there, as also may his children and their children, although they all may have been born there. I hope this law will soon be altered again.

At present, many escaped slaves are forwarded by their friends to Canada where, under British rule, they are quite safe. There is a body of ten thousand of them in Upper Canada; they are known for their good order, and loyalty to the British government; during the late troubles, they could always be relied on for the defence of the British possessions, against the lawless Americans who attempted to invade them.

As to the settlement of Liberia on the coast of Africa, the free coloured people of America do not willingly go to it. America is their home: if their forefathers lived in Africa, they themselves know nothing of that country None but free coloured people are taken there: if they would take slaves, they might have plenty of colonists. Slaves will go any where for freedom.

We look very much to Great Britain and Ireland for help. Whenever we hear of the British or Irish people doing good to black men, we are delighted, and run to tell each other the news. Our kind friends, the abolitionists, are very much encouraged when they hear of meetings and speeches in England in our cause. The first of August, the day when the slaves in the West Indies were made free, is always kept as a day of rejoicing by the American coloured free people.

I do hope and believe that the cause of freedom to the blacks is becoming stronger and stronger every day. I pray for the time to come when freedom shall be established all over the world. Then will men love as brethren; they will delight to do good to one another; and they will thankfully worship the Father of all.