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Clotelle: A Tale of the Southern States By William Wells Brown Characters: 14948

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Besides Agnes, whom Mr. Wilson had purchased from the slave-trader, Jennings, he kept a number of house-servants. The chief one of these was Sam, who must be regarded as second only to the parson himself. If a dinner-party was in contemplation, or any company was to be invited, after all the arrangements had been talked over by the minister and his daughter. Sam was sure to be consulted on, the subject by "Miss Georgy," as Miss Wilson was called by all the servants. If furniture, crockery, or anything was to be purchased, Sam felt that he had been slighted if his opinion was not asked. As to the marketing, he did it all. He sat at the head of the servants' table in the kitchen, and was master of the ceremonies. A single look from him was enough to silence any conversation or noise among the servants in the kitchen or in any other part of the premises.

There is in the Southern States a great amount of prejudice in regard to color, even among the negroes themselves. The nearer the negro or mulatto approaches to the white, the more he seems to feel his superiority over those of a darker hue. This is no doubt the result of the prejudice that exists on the part of the whites against both the mulattoes and the blacks.

Sam was originally from Kentucky, and through the instrumentality of one of his young masters, whom he had to take to school, he had learned to read so as to be well understood, and, owing to that fact, was considered a prodigy, not only among his own master's slaves, but also among those of the town who knew him. Sam had a great wish to follow in the footsteps of his master and be a poet, and was therefore often heard singing doggerels of his own composition.

But there was one drawback to Sam, and that was his color. He was one of the blackest of his race. This he evidently regarded as a great misfortune; but he endeavored to make up for it in dress. Mr. Wilson kept his house servants well dressed, and as for Sam, he was seldom seen except in a ruffled shirt. Indeed, the washerwoman feared him more than any one else in the house.

Agnes had been inaugurated chief of the kitchen department, and had a general supervision of the household affairs. Alfred, the coachman, Peter, and Hetty made up the remainder of the house-servants. Besides these, Mr. Wilson owned eight slaves who were masons. These worked in the city. Being mechanics, they were let out to greater advantage than to keep them on the farm.

Every Sunday evening, Mr. Wilson's servants, including the bricklayers, assembled in the kitchen, where the events of the week were fully discussed and commented upon. It was on a Sunday evening, in the month of June, that there was a party at Mr. Wilson's house, and, according to custom in the Southern States, the ladies had their maidservants with them. Tea had been served in "the house," and the servants, including the strangers, had taken their seats at the table in the kitchen. Sam, being a "single gentleman," was unusually attentive to the ladies on this occasion. He seldom let a day pass without spending an hour or two in combing and brushing his "har." He had an idea that fresh butter was better for his hair than any other kind of grease, and therefore on churning days half a pound of butter had always to be taken out before it was salted. When he wished to appear to great advantage, he would grease his face to make it "shiny." Therefore, on the evening of the party, when all the servants were at the table, Sam cut a big figure. There he sat, with his wool well combed and buttered, face nicely greased, and his ruffles extending five or six inches from his bosom. The parson in his drawing-room did not make a more imposing appearance than did his servant on this occasion.

"I is bin had my fortune tole last Sunday night," said Sam, while helping one of the girls.

"Indeed!" cried half a dozen voices.

"Yes," continued he; "Aunt Winny tole me I's to hab de prettiest yallah gal in de town, and dat I's to be free!"

All eyes were immediately turned toward Sally Johnson, who was seated near Sam.

"I 'specs I see somebody blush at dat remark," said Alfred.

"Pass dem pancakes an' 'lasses up dis way, Mr. Alf, and none ob your sinuwashuns here," rejoined Sam.

"Dat reminds me," said-Agnes, "dat Dorcas Simpson is gwine to git married."

"Who to, I want to know?" inquired Peter.

"To one of Mr. Darby's field-hands," answered Agnes.

"I should tink dat gal wouldn't frow herseff away in dat ar way," said Sally; "She's good lookin' 'nough to git a house-servant, and not hab to put up wid a field-nigger."

"Yes," said Sam, "dat's a werry unsensible remark ob yourn, Miss Sally. I admires your judgment werry much, I 'sures you. Dar's plenty ob susceptible an' well-dressed house-serbants dat a gal ob her looks can git widout takin' up wid dem common darkies."

The evening's entertainment concluded by Sam relating a little of his own experience while with his first master, in old Kentucky. This master was a doctor, and had a large practice among his neighbors, doctoring both masters and slaves. When Sam was about fifteen years old, his master set him to grinding up ointment and making pills. As the young student grew older and became more practised in his profession, his services were of more importance to the doctor. The physician having a good business, and a large number of his patients being slaves,-the most of whom had to call on the doctor when ill,-he put Sam to bleeding, pulling teeth, and administering medicine to the slaves. Sam soon acquired the name among the slaves of the "Black Doctor." With this appellation he was delighted; and no regular physician could have put on more airs than did the black doctor when his services were required. In bleeding, he must have more bandages, and would rub and smack the arm more than the doctor would have thought of.

Sam was once seen taking out a tooth for one of his patients, and nothing appeared more amusing. He got the poor fellow down on his back, and then getting astride of his chest, he applied the turnkeys and pulled away for dear life. Unfortunately, he had got hold of the wrong tooth, and the poor man screamed as loud as he could; but it was to no purpose, for Sam had him fast, and after a pretty severe tussle out came the sound grinder. The young doctor now saw his mistake, but consoled himself with the thought that as the wrong tooth was out of the way, there was more room to get at the right one.

Bleeding and a dose of calomel were always considered indispensable by the "old boss," and as a matter of course, Sam followed in his footsteps.

On one occasion the old doctor was ill himself, so as to be unable to attend to his patients. A slave, with pass in hand, called to receive medical advice, and the master told Sam to examine him and see what he wanted. This delighted him beyond measure, for although he had been acting his part in the way of giving out medicine as the master ordered it, he had never been called upon by the latter to examine a patient, and this seemed to convince him after all that he was no sham doctor. As might have been expected, he cut a rare figure in his first examination. Placing himself directly opposite his patient, and folding his arms across his breast, looking very knowingly, he began,-

"What's de matter wid you?"

"I is sick."

"Where is you sick?"

"Here," replied the man, putting his hand upon h

is stomach.

"Put out your tongue," continued the doctor.

The man ran out his tongue at full length.

"Let me feel your pulse;" at the same time taking his patient's hand in his, and placing his fingers upon his pulse, he said,-

"Ah! your case is a bad one; ef I don't do something for you, and dat pretty quick, you'll be a gone coons and dat's sartin."

At this the man appeared frightened, and inquired what was the matter with him, in answer to which Sam said,

"I done told dat your case is a bad one, and dat's enuff."

On Sam's returning to his master's bedside, the latter said,

"Well, Sam, what do you think is the matter with him?"

"His stomach is out ob order, sar," he replied.

"What do you think had better be done for him?"

"I tink I'd better bleed him and gib him a dose ob calomel," returned Sam.

So, to the latter's gratification, the master let him have his own way.

On one occasion, when making pills and ointment, Sam made a great mistake. He got the preparations for both mixed together, so that he could not legitimately make either. But fearing that if he threw the stuff away, his master would flog him, and being afraid to inform his superior of the mistake, he resolved to make the whole batch of pill and ointment stuff into pills. He well knew that the powder over the pills would hide the inside, and the fact that most persons shut their eyes when taking such medicine led the young doctor to feel that all would be right in the end. Therefore Sam made his pills, boxed them up, put on the labels, and placed them in a conspicuous position on one of the shelves.

Sam felt a degree of anxiety about his pills, however. It was a strange mixture, and he was not certain whether it would kill or cure; but he was willing that it should be tried. At last the young doctor had his vanity gratified. Col. Tallen, one of Dr. Saxondale's patients, drove up one morning, and Sam as usual ran out to the gate to hold the colonel's horse.

"Call your master," said the colonel; "I will not get out."

The doctor was soon beside the carriage, and inquired about the health of his patient. After a little consultation, the doctor returned to his office, took down a box of Sam's new pills, and returned to the carriage.

"Take two of these every morning and night," said the doctor, "and if you don't feel relieved, double the dose."

"Good gracious," exclaimed Sam in an undertone, when he heard his master tell the colonel how to take the pills.

It was several days before Sam could learn the result of his new medicine. One afternoon, about a fortnight after the colonel's visit Sam saw his master's patient riding up to the gate on horseback. The doctor happened to be in the yard, and met the colonel and said,-

"How are you now?"

"I am entirely recovered," replied the patient. "Those pills of yours put me on my feet the next day."

"I knew they would," rejoined the doctor.

Sam was near enough to hear the conversation, and was delighted beyond description. The negro immediately ran into the kitchen, amongst his companions, and commenced dancing.

"What de matter wid you?" inquired the cook.

"I is de greatest doctor in dis country," replied Sam. "Ef you ever get sick, call on me. No matter what ails you, I is de man dat can cure you in no time. If you do hab de backache, de rheumaties, de headache, de coller morbus, fits, er any ting else, Sam is de gentleman dat can put you on your feet wid his pills."

For a long time after, Sam did little else than boast of his skill as a doctor.

We have said that the black doctor was full of wit and good sense. Indeed, in that respect, he had scarcely an equal in the neighborhood. Although his master resided some little distance out of the city, Sam was always the first man in all the negro balls and parties in town. When his master could give him a pass, he went, and when he did not give him one, he would steal away after his master had retired, and run the risk of being taken up by the night-watch. Of course, the master never knew anything of the absence of the servant at night without permission. As the negroes at these parties tried to excel each other in the way of dress, Sam was often at a loss to make that appearance that his heart desired, but his ready wit ever helped him in this. When his master had retired to bed at night, it was the duty of Sam to put out the lights, and take out with him his master's clothes and boots, and leave them in the office until morning, and then black the boots, brush the clothes, and return them to his master's room.

Having resolved to attend a dress-ball one night, without his master's permission, and being perplexed for suitable garments, Sam determined to take his master's. So, dressing himself in the doctor's clothes even to his boots and hat, off the negro started for the city. Being well acquainted with the usual walk of the patrols he found no difficulty in keeping out of their way. As might have been expected, Sam was the great gun with the ladies that night.

The next morning, Sam was back home long before his master's time for rising, and the clothes were put in their accustomed place. For a long time Sam had no difficulty in attiring himself for parties; but the old proverb that "It is a long lane that has no turning," was verified in the negro's case. One stormy night, when the rain was descending in torrents, the doctor heard a rap at his door. It was customary with him, when called up at night to visit a patient, to ring for Sam. But this time, the servant was nowhere to be found. The doctor struck a light and looked for clothes; they too, were gone.-It was twelve o'clock, and the doctor's clothes, hat, boots, and even his watch, were nowhere to be found. Here was a pretty dilemma for a doctor to be in. It was some time before the physician could fit himself out so as to mike the visit. At last, however, he started with one of the farm-horses, for Sam had taken the doctor's best saddle-horse. The doctor felt sure that the negro had robbed him, and was on his way to Canada; but in this he was mistaken. Sam had gone to the city to attend a ball, and had decked himself out in his master's best suit. The physician returned before morning, and again retired to bed but with little hope of sleep, for his thoughts were with his servant and horse. At six o'clock, in walked Sam with his master's clothes, and the boots neatly blacked. The watch was placed on the shelf, and the hat in its place. Sam had not met any of the servants, and was therefore entirely ignorant of what had occurred during his absence.

"What have you been about, sir, and where was you last night when I was called?" said the doctor.

"I don't know, sir. I 'spose I was asleep," replied Sam.

But the doctor was not to be so easily satisfied, after having been put to so much trouble in hunting up another suit without the aid of Sam. After breakfast, Sam was taken into the barn, tied up, and severely flogged with the cat, which brought from him the truth concerning his absence the previous night. This forever put an end to his fine appearance at the negro parties. Had not the doctor been one of the most indulgent of masters, he would not have escaped with merely a severe whipping.

As a matter of course, Sam had to relate to his companions that evening in Mr. Wilson's kitchen all his adventures as a physician while with his old master.

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