Translation:The White Terror in Texas/c3

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The White Terror in Texas and my escape  (1862)  by Jean-Charles Houzeau, translated from French by Wikisource

Matamoros (Mexico), 12 April 1862.

I spoke of my departure from Texas, without giving you the reasons. On Thursday, February 13 in the evening, I was informed by a reliable source that a Vigilance Committee was planning to conduct a raid of my home. One could assume its design to be that of seizing me, and possibly hanging me without further proceedings to one of the trees in my garden. My situation had become most critical. The empathy which I had recently displayed toward the last free negroes had betrayed my otherwise apparent neutrality. Not knowing my precise opinions, the Committee could easily guess them. I was a man from Europe, raised far away from the corrupting sphere where slavery rules; I cultivated intelligence, I honored justice, I was living an independent existence. In such conditions I had to be "abolitionist at heart".

Countries with the rule of law have no idea of these occult, reckless, passionate powers, against which there are neither resistance nor appeal. The planters′ government has unbridled them, instructing them to strike; and the Vigilantes strike in the dark. This is a new inquisition, which settles in post offices, spying on the moves of citizens, who digs in their documents and incriminates even their thoughts. It is an inquisition whose members are both judges and executioners. They serve their orders in the dark, as if they were ashamed of their deeds. They break doors at midnight, strangle the victim prior to interrogating him and, pistol at the belt, hunting knife in hand, line up quietly around the accused, hidden under the mysterious and sinister cape of the black-robed penitents. On these occasions, any resistance or representation or consideration is futile. I therefore resolved to save our government the trouble of claiming compensation for my person, and with the help of a friend I began to make preparations for my departure.

My flight being decided, I wanted at least that it be useful to the cause of freedom. I knew that the Unionist Society of San Antonio had sought for some time to submit a memorandum to the president of the United States and his cabinet. Many travelers had already carried away copies through Castroville and Eagle Pass, but afraid of the dangers of the enterprise, they had destroyed on the road the papers for which they were responsible. I offered to take a new copy of the brief, resolved to not relinquish it whatever might happen. This was gladly accepted, and I was informed of the delivery in middle of the night of the precious manuscript, written in small print on peel paper, then sewn into a canvas cartridge of the caliber of my rifle.

I spent the evening writing my letters, and sorting my documents. I could take neither a book nor a notebook. I was reduced to burning a large number of documents that I collected during my four years of stay in Texas. There was not a bundle of papers that did not enclose some sheet where there was, implicitly or explicitly, a condemnation of slavery. The issue had pervaded everything - be it about courts, industry, economics, trade, agriculture, anthropology. I did not have the time to reread. After an attempt to sort, which convinced me of the futility of the enterprise, I threw the bundles in the fireplace without opening them.

The flame of the auto da fe was still bright when the dogs sounded and announced the approach of visitors. Under cover of the night, citizens whose names I am not even writing the initials brought me the precious manuscript, signed courageously by one of them. That one explained to me the purpose of the brief and had me read it. After informing the government of Washington of the forces of the Unionist Party in the western Texas, after exposing the failure of the planters′ efforts to effect the mass uprising, an uprising which by the way will always be lacking in weapons, food and ammunition, the memo moves on to the consideration of the future of slaves. An immediate and absolute liberation, as well as a mass transport abroad, are also impractical measures, while fatal to the interests of the country and to the Negroes. We must first stop slavery at its source, by stating that any future child is born free. You can then divide the enslaved population into classes, and raise those gradually to their freedom, in proportion to the individuals′ abilities, and the aptitude that they show for regulated life. The first level of emancipation would give the servant the right to choose his master for the year, in unpaid work. Later the worker could get a growing pledge, then he would rent by the month, and finally, would be entirely free to discuss the terms of engagement and salary. This enrollment system seems perfectly suited to the agricultural lands in the southern United States. It is a transition both happy for the servant and acceptable for the master. I will return to this highly practical project which perhaps solves one of the biggest problems of our time.

The thesis proposes ultimately the immediate division of Texas into two states, of which the one to the west of the Colorado river would be declared free. There are, in fact, in that part of the country, a very small number of slaves, and the climate, far from being dangerous for white people, is reputed one of the safest in America.

After this conference, and the exchange of cordial wishes which concluded it, I proceeded to my final preparations for departure. By the intervention of a friend, I committed a Mexican who lives in Calaveras near San Antonio to have me as a carter for a trip to Brownsville. I paid him three hundred francs for this kindness. According to the agreement, I went Friday, February 14 to the rendezvous, where I was to take charge of the ox-trailer which was entrusted to my care.

The night which I spent alone in waiting was the harshest of the winter. A norther began blowing shortly after sunset, and lasted until daybreak with unusual violence. I had no shelter, and caution forbade me to light a fire. I warmed myself with difficulty by huddling against the flank of my horse, which, enduring like me the rigor of the elements, stood still and without grazing for the whole night.

The next day the oxcarts arrived one after another. We finished in the wood the preparations for our exodus, and on the 16th took place our final departure.

The train that Alejandro Vidal drove consisted of three carts loaded with cotton balls. Crescencio Rodriguez, Felix Casanova and Carlos Uso (spell it ad libitum) led the teams. I had six oxen to handle. Mounted on a docile horse which obeyed at the sole movement of the feet, I was carrying with both hands a gigantic whip, touching my oxen, exciting them to work, calling them by their familiar names. My companions relieved me, I must say, of most of the physical work. They went in the morning in search of the oxen, removed and put on the hindrances, harnessed and unharnessed when there were no witnesses. I learned, however, to place the animals under the yoke and handle them by the horns.

I was dressed in the exact attire of the Mexican cart driver: a lilac wide-brimmed felt hat, a yellow flannel coat (called a leva), and red-and-white-striped calico trousers.

We had before us the virgin prairie, cut off from its groves of tall oaks, then covered with dried leaves. On the 17th we crossed the Rio Medina, the bed of which is deeply embedded in a clay bank, cut by the current as by a punch. We had to use a busy road to go down these shores, which elsewhere are a vertical drop of twenty to twenty-five metres. It was furthermore agreed to march, when possible, by side roads, often pretending to get lost. This way, we avoided most encounters and the surveillance that was exercised along the roads.

The grass was scarce and scorched. A five-months long absolute drought, coupled with the rigors of the last norther, had destroyed the grass down to the roots. We had ten pairs of oxen to feed. For several days we had to fell large trees, so that these animals eat of the parasite Tillandsia (Tillandsia usneoides), which stifles the oaks in its masses, hanging from their branches like festoons.

On the 24th, while at midday rest, below the picturesque Rocky Mountain, we were joined by a transport of troops on their way to Brownsville. The caravan consisted of the officers′ coaches with women and children, many supply wagons, and other wagons on which were traveling the new recruits. Officers on horseback approached us and made ​​us go through a lengthy interrogation, to which Rodriguez, our English interpreter, replied outright. They then held a short consultation, and apparently satisfied with our peaceful nature, they soon left. The sound of a few rifle shots soon taught us how this detachment dealt with the farmers′ livestock. Southern troops never lack fresh meat: they shoot down young oxen, even under the eyes of the settlers. It is, they say, a sacrifice that individuals owe to the country.

The small ridge of the Rocky (in Mexican La Rochetta) separates the San Antonio river basin from that of the Nueces river. Thinly scattered oaks crown its rounded peaks. Sandstone formations then succeed to marl, and the country changes its appearance completely. In the Nueces basin truly begins the evergreens area. To the post oak (Quercus obtusiloba), which has only deciduous leaves, succeed in great masses the live oak (Quercus virens) and the Carya with oblong fruit (Carya oliviformis). Grass, however, remained very scarce. The oxen began to stall with fatigue; we had to abandon several. We were hoping to find water in the small ravine of the Wedee, but there remained nothing but mud. The herds had forsakened these arid places, where our teams had to go fifty-four hours without water. The tillandsia had also stopped garnishing the trees. At each stage, we lit bonfires, and armed with wooden forks, we passed over the flame the succulent leaves of nopal cactus which we cut in the surrounding bushes. The fire having destroyed the needles on these leaves, the oxen threw themselves eagerly on this food of a new kind, which had at least the merit of refreshing their burning palates.

We had to cross the Rio de las Nueces, or River of Nuts, the banks of which are quite steep. It was decided that we would cross bravely the town of Oakville. We knew that local influential people were body and soul in favor of the extension of slavery. In a recent meeting, the residents of this small town had decreed that they would oppose the export of cotton passing through their community, but we also knew that party leaders had reprimanded them strongly on this point. Indeed, cotton dodging the blockade by way of Mexico, is paid in ammunition, of which the South is in great need.

It is on the 24th in the morning that we entered the town of Oakville. Some people came to us unarmed and of friendly disposition. The issue of cotton was absorbing them fully; it kept them from wondering about the carters themselves. While trying to justify the resolutions of their meeting, they declared that they submitted themselves to the views of their party, and that they did not intend to obstruct our passing. "Your cotton, they told us upon ending the conversation, will fall into the hands of the Yankees, that′s for sure, but then that′s your business, so go ahead!"

We crossed indeed. Any roadwork would make accessible to heavier cars the steep banks of the river, which are lightly altered in some points by the repeated passage of the carts. My talents as a cart driver ended up lacking. I had hitched at the rear a pair of oxen, who, being dragged along, were holding back the cart in fast descents. I was late in giving them the signal of marching, and the chain that tied them to the vehicle broke at the start. My leading oxen, too weak for holding back, on a slope of twelve or fifteen per cent, the weight that they led after them, sped up, and all I could do to avoid a catastrophe was to lead them through the trees that lined the way. The cart was soon stopped by the oaks, my carters companions came to my aid. Half a day was necessary to repair the damage, replace the load in place, and shape with an ax yokes of green wood, to replace those that had broken.

On the 27th, we halted above the Barbon ravine. We had arrived there after nightfall, and the darkness not allowing us to properly select the location of the camp, we had left the wagons among the bushes. Around midnight, Rodriguez, who was on guard, woke us all up and showed us the horses worried, agitated, raising their head, blowing strongly, fleeing in turn in different directions. It was obvious that these animals perceived in the brush something strange, and that an attack from several sides was imminent. The poor Mexicans who live in these desert and wild places, scarcely subsist by hunting mustang horses and from the plunder of wagons. They shed their clothes, crawl on their belly between the bushes, and when they manage to surprise the travelers asleep, kill them with a knife and then take ownership of the loot.

We did not know how many enemies we would be dealing with. But our rifles and revolvers gave us thirty-seven rounds of ammunition before reloading them; that was enough to finish the fight. We positioned ourselves side by side under one of the carts. The horses, increasingly spooked, were making strong efforts to break their ties; then suddenly they subsided. The enemy, seeing our preparations, had retired without revealing himself. We saw the next day the track of one of the marauders behind the bush that was next to the bivouac fire, five of six metres from the position we had taken.

The following days we crossed several travelers who depicted to us a disturbing picture of the state of affairs on the Rio Grande. The civil war was still going in Matamoros; no one had permission to cross the river. Caravajal, helped by the aid of any kind that the secessionist authorities had him get from Brownsville, put the city to fire and sword. Restoring slavery in Northern Mexico was his goal, to which most inhabitants were opposed. For three months, Matamoros endured an obstinate siege by the alledged general, who in Europe would be called a brigand chief. If the passage of the river was closed to me by the unrest in Mexico, my position on the Texas bank could become very dangerous.

These fears were partly dissipated, on March 3 in the evening, when we were on the other side of San Fernando. Our bivouac fire guided to our camp a young American man riding a mule. This was the mail carrier, who alone in the desert, without changing mount, without renewing his provisions, went once a month from Corpus Christi to Laredo. We questioned him eagerly; we asked him about the new policies. Sitting with us around a blazing fire, sharing our frugal supper, he brought us abreast of the latest events. He told us that in all the counties opposed to the mass uprising, the government required citizens to deliver up their arms. But he also told us the final fall of Caravajal. After having burnt half of the city of Matamoros, after coming to Hidalgo Square, where the church is located, the adventurer — who has already caused so much misery in his country — had been repelled by fresh troops from Monterey (24 February 1862). The vanquished were on the run, and peace as well as liberty seemed reborn in the mistreated city of Matamoros and the state of Tamaulipas. I′ll reveal later this episode of the unholy struggle, the undertaking of "extension and perpetuation of slavery."

On March 6, we entered the moors (arenal) along the coast to the south of the bay of Aransas. Their appearance reminds in some aspects that of the Campine. For six or seven days′ journey, the traveler crosses a sandy plain, cut with salt marshes, with only rushes and tough grasses for vegetation. A strong wind that comes from the sea during the day and from inland at night, raises a penetrating dust. Here and there stand ranges of dunes crowned by isolated yuccas.

In the morning, at sunrise, the plain often offers special effects of mirage. Objects on the horizon are two images, both straight: the silhouette of the dunes, by splitting, crowns the first ridge of a second one. But in a few minutes the top image vanishes. It disappears in stages, leaving above the lower image some detached blocks that shift right or left. They look at times like crenels that crown the old fortresses, and at other times like a chain of shooting skirmishers, moving singly or in groups, on the top of nearby hills.

The water is brackish, and the bottom of some dried marsh is covered with a layer of salt, white as snow. Elsewhere, the ground, still half damp, but sprinkled with a layer of dust, engulfs the unwary who ventures on this "trembling earth." Mustang horses hunters know these places; they pursue the wild animals in these directions, forcing them to pass through the mire, and while the horse is struggling in the mud, where it sinks up to its belly, the hunter comes and seizes it.

We were soon to meet a band of Mexicans, who were engaged in the hunting of wild cows and bulls. One of them, of extreme skill, rarely missed his target. His laso was a three-ended rope, consisting of three leather straps. One of the ends was a noose. Taking with one hand this knot and the opposite end of the cord, the vaquero would spin it over his head like a sling. He then let go of the knot which was flung as a stone to the bull′s head, while the other end of the laso remaining in the rider′s hand was soon strongly tied to the pommel of the saddle.[1]

A bull simply caught at the nose would manage to escape, but when one of the horns was engaged in the knot, the capture was assured. We saw in succession reduce many of these wild animals that have never known a master. Our skilled vaquero then proceeded to grab a larger and stronger bull, which seemed ready to do battle. Aided by his companions also on horseback, he led him to the edge of a saltwater lagoon and, galloping at his side on the sandy beach, proceeded to throw him the dreaded knot. The animal, dodging in time, retracing his steps, presenting his horns, pierced through several times the line of riders. In the end however, the adroitness of the Mexican triumphed. The laso launched and hit the goal. The rope was immediately wound round the pommel of the saddle. But by a terrible shock, the bull in fury knocked to the dust the horse and his rider. Seeing then his enemies on the ground, he turned, and with flashing eyes, arched neck, low and menacing horns, he rushed on them to disembowel. The vaquero was slow to get up. We could see him, a leg committed under his knocked-over mount, spurring with the other, with all his might, the injured or frightened horse. His efforts seemed useless: the bull was about to get him. With the quickness and the hunter′s cool, the Mexican brought his hand to his hip, grabbed his revolver, cocked it, aimed it and hit the bull in the forehead.

It is amid these exercises and of these dangers that the few inhabitants of the arenal spend an otherwise miserable life. Their huts made of branches are open to the wind, their gardens are hardly worthy of the name, in stony ground, swept by frequent bursts. Do not ask of this half-savage race businesses that require attendance. At times, families gather at a party or dance (baile). To the sound of bagpipes or a violin, we then see, waltz these scantily clad red women, with a cigar in the mouth, the forehead adorned with some artificial flowers, and hair braids falling on their back.

On the other side of the arenal, the grass does not take long to reappear, followed by bushes and tall trees. In a plain interspersed with a series of curtains of mesquite trees, separated by narrow clearings that all looked alike, we had to search for, early on March 15, some oxen that had strayed. Each of us took a different direction. After an hour of searching I went back to the camp, where Vidal and Rodriguez had already returned, the latter with the oxen. We waited for Casanova for getting on our way. An hour passed yet, and we did not see him return. We called for him by repeated cries, which were lost unanswered in the immensity. The morning fog had formed a veil of clouds that shrouded the sun, there was no wind to remind the traveler the direction of his steps. It was obvious that our companion, after having strayed from the wagons, got lost in the bushes ; going from clearing to clearing, deceived by the detours he had made while looking for the oxen, his sight always limited by curtains of shrubs, he had taken a wrong direction. Felix was only twenty years old, he was still inexperienced in the great voyages on the prairie; he found himself without food, without the means to light a fire, and soon he was frightened by his situation, — alone, on foot, without resources, in the wide open of the prairie. Whichever direction he should walk, it would take him days, weeks perhaps, to encounter, by virtue of chance, some travelers or dwellings. The nearest habitation was six leagues away, but he no longer knew its direction. The plain was not only vast and deserted, but it was absolutely devoid of water. He walked with a firm step and spirit, but how long would he keep his strength? Such a situation would have shaken stronger and more mature minds than his.

In the meantime we had lit a big brush fire, the smoke of which rose vertically into the air. We made two platoon firing at five minute intervals, then saddling the horses and distributing directions, we went in search of our unfortunate companion. I was asked to explore the West. I beat the plain on that side, all day, up to about four leagues from our camp. Clearings and bushes followed one another with depressing uniformity, and despite all my attention I was not myself without some concern of sharing the fate of Felix. I was crisscrossing the pristine countryside, calling out with all my strength, firing my revolver at intervals. For ten hours I searched through groves without dismounting; For the whole day I had but Mexican pilone,[2] cast into a cup of water. The stars had appeared in the sky when I got back to the camp… and Felix was not there. The howling of wolves, which for the whole night set about to cry out all together, seemed to add new dangers or at least new anxieties to the situation of our unfortunate companion.

The next day we led the carts to a short distance ahead, after leaving a very visible sign nailed to a tree, in place of the bivouac that we were leaving. As soon as the march ended, we continued our search of the previous day. This time they were successful. It was Rodriguez, in charge of the area to the East, who had the good fortune of encountering his young friend and of saving him from an almost certain death. He caught sight of him bravely walking due south, or as he says, "to Brownsville."[3] He was panting, weak, with haggard eyes, the ideas in disarray. For forty hours, he had not had any water, because in his eagerness to find the oxen, he had left the camp without eating or drinking. On the first day he had had nothing. Toward evening, worn out with fatigue, bathed in sweat, prey to extreme agitation, he had tried, he says, eating the leaves of the nopal, like our animals had, and he had found them refreshing. After a sleepless night, he saw, at daybreak, a great pita placed before him as a helping hand. The flowers were not blooming yet. The fleshy stem whence come the buttons gave him, according to his words, an excellent lunch.[4] Some care and a day of rest returned to our comrade health, vigor, joy, and we no longer thought of but to pursuing our way.

On the 17th, as we were bivouacking around the time of sunset, three horsemen appeared in the distance, and immediately turned toward us. One of them was a lieutenant in the Confederate Army. We had to undergo yet another quite rigorous questioning, of which, however, we came out to our advantage. Promoting the export of cotton had become the motto of the South, all those who were involved in such an enterprise deserved encouragement and respect. It was enough that the carters had a serious appearance. The duties that one would see me perform, the clothes which I was wearing and that I have described, my heavily tanned complexion, my sun-browned hands, and including my familiarity with the Mexican language,[5] all combined to avoid suspicion. The lieutenant did not seem to doubt for a moment of my qualities, and he probably would not have believed his eyes, if he had removed from my shotgun, along with the brief to the cabinet of Washington, a passport and letters of introduction from a member of the Academy of Sciences of Belgium.

After a review of our cargo, and some of these words of bravado that seem to characterize, in any country, the profession of arms, our guests took leave of us. The next day we reached huge lagoons formed by the flooding of the Rio Grande. The vegetation took on a new look. The woods became dense, thick, crossed by vines. The nopal cactus, which does not grow around San Antonio but to knee height, surpassed here the size of a man. Its large branches, light as clippings, all flattened in one direction, looked like cardboard trees which you would use on stage. In open areas, pita, which is dwarf in San Antonio, grew up to three metres high. Everything was covered in greenery; lizards, snakes, turtles, abounded along the way.

On March 19 at last, the thirty-sixth day of this pilgrimage, we encamped in the afternoon three kilometres away from Brownsville. A thick wood (brenial) still separated us from the end of our trip, we could only cross it by following the public road. Vidal went alone on horseback to town to investigate. A number of people had begun to leave the country due to harassment or dangers to which they were exposed. Travellers were suspected of seeking to escape the mass uprising. All those who did not have good reasons for going to Mexico, who could not find sponsors or friends among the eight companies of volunteers stationed in Brownsville, were considered traitors, and placed under arrest until further inquiry. A man was in jail for reasons that will appear very childish in Europe, as he had said: "If one day I get married, I do not see why I should not marry a black woman or any woman of a different color."

The weekly express from Corpus Christi and San Antonio reported in advance the arrival of fugitives or disgruntled. Carriages were stopped, horses were seized, and travelers had then to answer for their intentions. Four residents of Goliad, who wanted to leave until the end of the troubles, and whom the express had preceded, fought a regular battle to the sentries who barred their passage, and only two of them succeeded, by throwing their horses to swim, in reaching the other bank of the Rio Grande. The military authorities had hanged a man suspected of carrying a verbal message.

All things considered, it seemed even more dangerous to avoid the city than going through it. Merchants, courriers, workers, passed the river without hindrance. Vidal gave me my plan of campaign, and drew me a diagram of the streets where I would have to walk. Our camp, located in a well chosen location, did not receive a single visitor, and the night passed without warning. In the morning, as soon as broad daylight, I went in turn, by foot, my cart driver′s whip on the shoulder, determined to comply with all instructions from the Mexican.

After a walk of a quarter of an hour, I passed a few ranches, and I discovered the town. It consists of some brick houses, others made of wood, aligned on both sides of wide streets which are planted, reminiscent of the new districts of New Orleans. Some churches, shops, the justice of the peace, offer here and there more massive constructions. Despite the early hour, the people were at their business, as everywhere in the cities of the South. Thanks to the drawing by Vidal, I walked through the town without having to speak to anyone. I arrived at the dock, went down the uneven bank of the Rio Grande, and entered without a word the nacelle of a ferryman.

I had barely sat down when the boatman took the oars, and I felt the boat float. I turned my head; the ripples already separated me from the Texas shore. The passage was silent and seemed long, although the river, then very low, was not more than fifty metres at the water line. I stepped ashore on the other side, I drew from my pocket the coin that I had prepared, and passing the Mexican soldiers, who reminded me of Masaniello′s companions in the La muette de Portici opera, I engaged on foot the short stretch of virgin prairie between the Brownsville ferry from the northern houses of Matamoros. I felt free, except for that, satisfied of having kept my word, proud of having preserved for thirty-five day of risk the paper that was entrusted to me, and whom others, in similar circumstances, had had the weakness of destroying. I saw, in a distant daydream, my family, my country, which I had sometimes doubted seeing again. In Europe, our political exiles put themselves in safety by an escape of twenty-four hours or at most a week. I had spent thirty-five days, unsure of my life, defiant in the stratagems that I had had to resort to, worried about the final fate that awaited me in Brownsville. I was breathing deeply; I nervously pressed my foot on the land where I was free, where the slave is free, where society has flaws no doubt, but is pure of the excesses that have made the South odious and criminal. I believe that a cry of satisfaction left my chest. I threw in the dust on the road the cart driver′s whip which I still held in my hand, and walked into the Mexican city.

I walked a while randomly. Buildings half destroyed, burned roofs, walls riddled with bullets and shelling were visible everywhere as witnesses of the recent troubles. But all I was noticing at that moment was the pink laurel blossoms, the date trees which raised their palms above the houses, orange trees laden with fruit, peach trees in their spring finery, olive trees, fig, mulberry with red and black berries. Everything seemed nature, abundance, peace, pastoral happiness. Passing in front of an open house, I heard a mulatto speak French. I did not doubt that he was a refugee from Louisiana, and I told him about my position. Mr. Lamobilière and his wife — a white — who belong to a known and opulent family of Donaldsonville, immediately welcomed me with an amenity of which I will never lose the memory. They appealed to my needs first. I procured other garments, and I removed the thick layer of dust that covered my body, and soon i was looking from street to street for the American consulate.

Belgium has no consul in Matamoros: the harbor has only a fleeting importance, due to the events of the war. In my case personally, judging from my previous experience, I would have found probably less of a welcome from a consul of my country… who would have advised me to return to take up arms in the mass uprising.[6]

The Consul of the United States, Mr. Pierce, not only greeted me with all the indications of interest, but he took care of settling me and soon treated me as a friend. It is his messenger who will take this letter to Tampico, for the next departure of the British ship. Thanks to him, I finally reopen my correspondence with Europe, receive letters from my country of which I have learned nothing for an entire year. Thanks to him and the publicity of the Revue, I come to protest, as an eyewitness, against violence, injustice, cruelty, which are committed in the Confederate States, and of which I have cited only a few examples among thousands; I come to protest against this unholy, pagan, criminal attempt, "of the extension and the perpetuity of servitude."

As both a spectator and party involved in the scenes of that revolution, may I hope that my feeble voice, this time at least, be heard? What was not given to me for speaking with authority from the top of a heeded tribune? I would address all the generous hearts of men in all countries who profess ideas of justice, and the great nations which, for half a century, have committed to significant sacrifices in order to stop the slave trade.

I would tell them:

The question is no longer a question of color, it is no longer the prejudice of the skin. For fifty years the trafficking has been legally abolished, the introduction of African negroes was nothing but an infiltration fraud. The current generation of slaves is essentially an American one; it is no longer a class of pure blacks: the crossbreedings have diluted it. Mulattoes besides are preferred over the Negroes because they generally show more intelligence and skill. The masters foster alliances, and often they raise without mystery, in the middle of their farm, their own slave and mixed-blood children, along with their free and legitimate children.

As of now, perhaps half of the slaves are of mixed race, and we count among their ranks some so white that it is no longer possible to distinguish them from Anglo-Saxons. And so is being frankly discussed the putting in servitude of all the whites who own no land. A slavery society, once consolidated on a despotic basis, the worker without capital, the proletarian, whatever his origin, will just have to get under the yoke.

And what are the attractions powerful enough to attach to this system, despite public disapproval, the feudal class of the United States? There are two. One is the immense benefit that is derived from manual labor, applied to agriculture, when you use a staff whose needs you systematically limit. In winter-free countries, the slave is dressed cheaply, he is fed of the products of the field, he is housed in wooden cabins. Other needs are considered only for the record. In order to restrict them more surely still, the law which forbids to teach them to read was reinstated, with a new rigor. A venerable lady was convicted severely for showing the alphabet to two small mulatto girls. A deed of charity, a good deed which would be honored any other country, and rewarded by the esteem of generous hearts, leads here to prison and to the avowed hatred of the ruling class.

The second attraction that lies in the possession of slaves is the exercise of the droit de seigneur over women. All are likely not consenting. There are some whose delicacy of feelings and purity of character do not yield to the alledged qualities of the noblest lady of an estate. What do they not presume, one would say, of this violation of personal freedom? But they are slaves; the master, at any time, has the right to bind them to a tree and strip them of their clothes. He has the right, the perfectly legal right to apply to them the stirrup leathers, without being accountable to anyone of his reasons. He has the right, if the resistance is stubborn, and if his weak victim, driven by the courage of despair, wears him out to the point of making it a futile struggle, he has the right to call for the sheriff and his deputies…

Public opinion had banished these barbaric customs without removing them from the law. The popular sentiment protected female slaves of the United States, as long as the planters found, in the freedom of debate, a counterweightto their requirements. But now the tide has burst its banks, and the servitude is no longer confined to such conscription of labor which was explained by the circumstances of climate and population, and that the patriarchal conduct of the master was, for a time, to tolerate. Possession of man by man develops in its final consequences. It deploys the cynicism of impiety.

Shall we see, in mid nineteenth century, in the most active country and once the freeest of the universe, shall we see the triumph of such a system?

And, still speaking to the same audience, I would add :

Do not assume that the interest of humanity alone is at stake. The development of modern slavery does affect you by closer ties. Suppose the planters confirmed in their power. A ship out of your ports fails on their shores, on a stormy night. Your shipwrecked sailors will be seized by the merchants of human flesh. Are they not proletarians without resources? If the law itself, if the force of treaties, condemned this barbaric conduct, renewed by the Manchurians and the Japanese, do you not know how difficult it is for an isolated captive to give any sign of life from deep in those immense countrysides? Have no doubt that the unfortunate castaway become a slave at least for a time, by the all-powerful reason that one could "make money" of his person.

Your emigrants, should they get to encounter setbacks, will also be declared "whites without resources," and as such will be sold for the benefit of the public treasury, at the court auction, to the highest and last bidder. They will be sold, together with their wives, their children, like these freed Negroes that I saw put back in slavery. The new arrivals will be seized at the receiving dock, and if they do not have in their suitcase the means of acquiring a farm and become planters, the best they can expect is a simple put in temporary rental.

Everything therefore brings together your duty of humanity, the part that an enlightened mind plays in the movement of civilization, and finally the interest of your country itself; everything comes together to protest with a firm voice, and which can cross the Atlantic, against this pagan conspiracy. The times of Athens and Rome will not return. Besides, they would require in the free class another patriotism and other virtues. Before acquiring the right to hold helots, the cotton grower should match the courage and selflessness of the Spartan. Even supposing that he constitute an elite race, wouldn′t his duty be to take the weak by the hand and to support him, to call for the ignorant and educate him?

But it is precisely against the Christian idea that the slave master protests. He does not justify slavery as a temporary way of working, as a local requirement of the climate. He proclaims his right a divine right; he states its social form as final, perfect, which he undertakes to expand to the whole United States, and to Mexico, who rejected it.

Challenging the ideas of his century, trampling the teachings of the religion, he braves all with audacity, because he is wealthy. He claims to satisfy more at ease still, his greed and his passions. The demon that drags him has been the loss of stronger powers and more talented too. Each one has already named it: it is the demon of vanity.

J.-C. Houzeau.

  1. This knob is crowned for this purpose with a very strong dowel with a head.
  2. Corn, after a semiroasting, similar to that of coffee, but less thorough, is crushed or ground. You then mix to this meal some raw sugar and a bit of crushed cinnamon. This powder, dissolved in water, forms an mixture both nutritious and refreshing. However, when you have a fire going, it is better to boil it. The soup that is thus obtained is atolle de pilone.
  3. We were then one hundred and ten kilometres from the city.
  4. I had the curiosity to taste that raw stalk (quiote de pita), I found its bitter sap unbearable.
  5. Spanish language of the New World.
  6. See above the letter that our consul in New Orleans sent to me under date of October 6, 1861.