"A very pleasant evening, Miss."
I stopped, looked at him, and said:
"It is a very pleasant evening; had you not better walk on and enjoy it?"
He bowed low, and answered:
"I beg your pardon, madam. I was mistaken."
"Pardon for what, sir? It is a very pleasant evening; please to pass on."
He did, and I walked till I was tired, thinking of all the sacrifices I had made to be my husband's housekeeper and keep myself in woman's sphere, and here was the outcome! I was degrading him from his position of bread-winner. If it was my duty to keep his house, it must be his to find me a house to keep, and this life must end. I would go with him to the poorest cabin, but he must be the head of the matrimonial firm. He should not be my business assistant. I would not be captain with him for lieutenant. How to extricate myself I did not see, but extricated I would be.
We needed a servant. A Kentucky "gentleman," full six feet three, with broad shoulders and heavy black whiskers, came to say: "I have a woman I can let you have! A good cook, good washah and ionah, fust rate housekeepah! I'll let you have ah for two hundred dollahs a yeah; but I'll tell you honest, you'll have to hosswhipah youahself about twice a week, for that wife of youahs could nevah do anything with ah."
While he talked I looked. His suit was of the finest black broadcloth, satin vest, a pompous display of chain, seals, studs and rings, his beaver on the back of his head, his thumbs in the arms of his vest, and feet spread like the Collossus of Rhodes.
This new use for Pennsylvania muscle seemed to strike my husband as infinitely amusing, for he burst out laughing, and informed the "gentleman" that he did not follow the profession of whipping women, and must decline his offer. But I wanted to be back on free soil, out of an atmosphere which killed all manhood, and furnished women-whippers as a substitute for men.
During the late spring and early summer, my letters from home spoke often of mother's failing health, and in July one came from her saying her disease had been pronounced cancer, and bidding me come to her. The same mail brought a letter from Dr. Joseph Gazzam, telling me she was certainly on her death-bed, and adding: "Let nothing prevent your coming to your mother at once."
I was hurt by this call. Was I such a monster that this old family friend thought it necessary to urge me to go to my dying mother? Stunned and stupified with grief, I packed my trunk.
My husband came in at noon, and I handed him the letters. He read them and expressed surprise and sorrow, and I told him to hurry to the wharf and see when the first boat started. He thought I should not go until I heard again. It might not be so bad. Then, after reflecting, said, why go at all, if there was no hope? Of what use could I be? If there was hope, he would agree to my going, but as there was none, he must object. In fact, he did not see how I could think of leaving him with those goods on his hands. How could I be so ready to drop all and not think of the consequences, for what could he do with that stock of dry goods. My mother pretended to be a Christian, but would take me away from my duty. I, too, read the Bible, but paid little heed to its teachings. He brought that book and read all of Paul's directions to wives, but rested his case on Ephesians, v, 22: "Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church; therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."
While he continued his comments, I buried my head in pillows, saying, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?"
Milton epitomized Paul when he made Eve say to Adam, "Be God thy law, thou mine;" but was that the mind and will of God? Had he transferred his claim to the obedience of half the human family? Was every husband God to his wife? Would wives appear in the general judgment at all, or if they did, would they hand in a schedule of marital commands?
If the passage meant anything it meant this: One might as well try to be, and not to be, at the same time, as own allegiance to God and the same allegiance to man. I was either God's subject or I was not. If I was not, I owed him no obedience. Christ as head of the church was her absolute lawgiver, and thus saith the Lord, was all she dare demand. Was I to obey my husband in that way? If so, I had no business with the moral law or any other law, save his commands. Christian England had taken this view, and enacted that a wife should not be punished for any crime committed by command, or in presence of her husband, "because, being altogether subject to him, she had no will of her own;" but this position was soon abandoned, and this passage stamped as spurious. Every Christian church had so stamped it, for all encouraged wives to join their communion with or without the consent of their husbands. Thousands of female martyrs had sealed their testimony with their blood, opposing the authority of their husbands, and had been honored by the church. As for me, I must take that passage alone for my Bible, or expunge it.
Then and there I cast it from me forever, as being no part of divine law, and thus unconsciously took the first step in breaking through a faith in plenary inspiration.
I next turned to the book in general for guidance: "Wives, obey your husbands;" "Children obey your parents;" "Honor thy father and thy mother." What a labyrinth of irreconcilable contradictions! God, in nature, spoke with no uncertain sound, "Go home to your mother," and my choice was made while my husband talked.
I said that if he did not see about a boat I would. When he told me that he had a legal right to detain me, and would exercise it, I assured him the attempt would be as dangerous as useless, for I was going to Pittsburg.
He went out, promising to engage my passage, but staid so long that I went to the wharf, where respectable women were not seen alone, saw a boat with a flag out for Pittsburg, engaged a berth, and so left Louisville.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.—AGE, 24, 25.
Mother was suffering when I reached her, as I had not dreamed of. After a consultation, Drs. Gazzam and Fahnestock thought she could not live more than four weeks; but Spear said she might linger three months. This blanched the cheek of each one. Three months of such unremitting pain, steadily on the increase, was appalling; but mother faced the prospect without a murmur, willing to bear by God's grace what He should inflict, and to wait His good time for deliverance. I was filled with self-reproach, for I should have been with her months before.
In a few days my mother-in-law and one of her daughters came to see how long I proposed to stay, why I had left James with the goods, and when I would go and take charge of them. They had had a letter from him, and he was in great trouble. She was gentle and grave—inquired minutely about our nursing, but thought it expensive—dwelt at length on the folly of spending time and money in caring for the sick when recovery was impossible. Mother could not see them, and they were offended, for they proposed helping to take care of her, that I might return to my duty.
Some time after the visit of my mother-in-law, her son-in-law—who was a class-leader and a man of prominence in the community—came with solemn aspect, took my hand, sighed, and said:
"I heard you had left James with the goods." Here he sighed again, wagged his head, and added:
"But I couldn't believe it!" and without another word turned and walked away.
They chose to regard mother's illness as a personal grievance. "The way of the transgressor is hard;" and she, having sinned against the saints, must bear her iniquity, and thus suffer the just reward of her deeds.
I had frequent letters from my husband, and he was waiting on the wharf, watching every boat for my appearance. I told him before leaving Louisville, that I never would return—never again would try to live in a slave State, and advised him to sell the goods at auction, and with the money start a sawmill up the Allegheny river, and I would go to him. This advice he resented. At length he grew tired waiting, and came for me. It is neither possible nor necessary here to describe the trouble which ensued, but I would not nor did not leave mother, and she at last remembered the protection to which she was entitled by the city government.
With all mother's courage, her moans were heartbreaking. No opiate then known could bring one half-hour of any sleep in which they ceased, and in her waking hours the burden of her woe found vent in a low refrain:
"My Father! is it not enough?"
Our principal care was to guard her from noise. The click of a knife or spoon on a plate or cup in the adjoining room, sent a thrill of pain to her nerve centres. Only two friends were gentle enough to aid Elizabeth and me in nursing her, as she murmured, constantly: "If my husband were only here!"
She could bear no voice in reading save Gabriel Adams' and my own. I read to her comforting passages of Scripture, and said prayers which carried her soul up to the throne, and fell back on mine in showers of dust and ashes. A great black atheism had fallen on me. There was no justice on earth, no mercy in heaven.
Her house was in Pittsburg, on Sixth street, a little cottage built for her father and mother when they were alone. It stood back in a yard, and rough men in passing stepped lightly—children went elsewhere with their sports—friends tapped on the gate, and we went out to answer inquiries and receive supplies—prayers were offered for her in churches, societies and families. The house was a shrine consecrated by suffering and sorrow.
The third month passed, and still she lingered. For seven weeks she took no nourishment but half a cup of milk, two parts water, per day. Then her appetite returned and her agony increased, but still with no lament save: "My Father! Is it not enough?"
In the sixth month, January 17th, 1840, relief came. As I knelt for her last words, she said: "Elizabeth?"
I replied, "She is here, dear mother, what of her?"
Summoning strength she said:
"Let no one separate you!" then looked up and said, "It is enough," and breathed no more.
As her spirit rose, it broke the cloud, and the divine presence fell upon me. The room, the world was full of peace. She had been caught up out of the storm; and "he who endureth unto the end shall be saved."
By her request, I and a dear friend, Martha Campbell, prepared her body for burial, and we wrapped her in a linen winding-sheet, as the body of Christ was buried—no flowers, no decorations; only stern, solemn Death.
On the last day of father's life he had said to her, "Mary you are human, and must have faults, but whatever they are I never have seen them."
She had been his widow seventeen years, and by her desire we opened his grave and laid her body to mingle its dust with his, who had been her only love in the life that now is, and with whom she expected to spend an eternity.
"LABOR—SERVICE OR ACT."—AGE, 25.
Mother's will left everything to trustees, for the use of Elizabeth and myself. She had wished my husband to join her in a suit for the recovery of father's city property, and he refused, but signed a deed with me conveying my interest to her. This claim she also willed to her trustees for my use. He felt himself wronged and became angry, but had one remedy. Being the owner of my person and services, he had a right to wages for the time spent in nursing mother, and would file his claim against her executors.
I do not know why I should have been so utterly overwhelmed by this proposal to execute a law passed by Christian legislators for the government of Christian people—a law which had never been questioned by any nation, or state, or church, and was in full force all over the world. Why should the discovery of its existence curdle my blood, stop my heart-beats, and send a rush of burning shame from forehead to finger-tip? Why should I have blushed that my husband was a law-abiding citizen of the freest country in the world? Why blame him for acting in harmony with the canons of every Christian church—aye, of that one of which I was a member, and proud of its history as a bulwark of civil liberty? Was it any fault of his that "all that she (the wife) can acquire by her labor-service or act during coverture, belongs to her husband?" Certainly not. Yet that law made me shrink and think of mother's warning, given so long ago. But marriage was a life-contract, and God required me to keep it to the end, and said, "When thou passeth through the fire I will be with thee, and the floods shall not overflow thee." I could not bear to have a bill sent to mother's executors for my wages, but I could compromise, and I did.
He returned to Louisville, sold the goods, went on a trading-boat, and joined Samuel in Little Rock. While he was there Samuel died—died a Presbyterian, and left this message for me:
"Tell sister Jane I will meet her in heaven."
This my husband transmitted to me, and was deeply grieved and much softened by his brother's death.
Rev. Isaiah Niblock, of Butler, Pa., a distant relative and very near friend, asked me to take charge of the Butler Seminary and become his guest. My salary would be twenty-five dollars a month, and this was munificent. Elizabeth went to Pittsburg to school, and I to Butler, where my success was complete and I very happy. Among my pupils were two daughters of my old patron, Judge Braden. One of these, little Nannie, was full of pleasant surprises, and "brought down the house" during examination, by reciting a country girl's account of her presentation at court, in which occurs this stanza:
"And there the King and I were standing Face and face together; I said, 'How is your Majesty? It's mighty pleasant weather!'"
By Nannie's way of giving the lines, they were so fixed on my memory as to be often mingled with solemn reveries in after years.
Petitions were presented in the Pennsylvania Legislature for the abolition of capital punishment. Senator Sullivan, chairman of the committee to which they were referred, wrote to Mr. Niblock for the scripture view. He was ill and requested me to answer, which I did, and Mr. Sullivan drew liberally from my arguments in his report against granting the petitions. The report was attacked, and I defended it in several letters published in a Butler paper—anonymously—and this was my first appearance in print, except a short letter published by George D. Prentiss, in the Louisville Journal, of which I remember nothing, save the strangeness of seeing my thoughts in print.
SWISSVALE.—AGE, 26, 27.
In April, 1842, my husband took possession of the old home in the valley, and we went there to live. There were large possibilities in the old house, and we soon had a pleasant residence. I had the furniture mother left me, and a small income from her estate. The farm I named "Swissvale," and such is the name thereof. When the Pennsylvania railroad was built it ran through it, but not in sight of the house, and the station was called for the homestead.
In the summer of '42 I began to write stories and rhymes, under the nom de plume of "Jennie Deans," for The Dollar Newspaper and Neal's Saturday Gazette, both of Philadelphia. Reece C. Fleeson published an anti-slavery weekly in Pittsburg, The Spirit of Liberty, and for this I wrote abolition articles and essays on woman's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. My productions were praised, and my husband was provoked that I did not use my own name. If I were not ashamed of my articles, why not sign them? He had not given up the idea that I should preach. Indeed, he held me accountable for most of the evils in the world, on the ground that I could overthrow them if I would.
Elizabeth was married in June, and went to Ohio. In the autumn, my husband's mother and the boys came to live with us, to which I made no objection, for "honor thy father and mother" was spoken as much to him as to me. Maybe I had some spiritual pride in seeing that she turned from her converted daughters, who were wealthy and lived near, to make a home with unregenerate me. She liked my housekeeping, and "grandmother," as I always called her, with her white 'kerchiefs and caps, sitting by the fireplace plying her knitting-needles, became my special pride.
My husband had converted the Louisville goods into one panther, one deer, two bears, and a roll of "wildcat" money. It was not very good stock with which to begin life on a farm, but the monotony was relieved by a hooking, kicking cow, and a horse which broke wagons to splinters.
Tom, the panther, was domiciled in the corner made by the old stone chimney and the log wall of the house, close to the path which led to the garden. The bears were chained in the meadow behind the house and Billy, the deer, ranged at will. Tom and the bears ate pigs and poultry so fast that we gave up trying to raise any, while Billy's visits to the garden did not improve the vegetables. I tried to establish some control over Tom, as a substitute for the fear he felt for his master, who was not always within call, and who insisted that Tom could be tamed so as to serve the place of a watchdog. Tom had been quite obedient for Tom, and my terror for him had abated.
I was interested in the heathen of India, and was president of a society which met in Pittsburg. Coming home from a meeting, I was thrown out of a buggy and so badly hurt that I was kept in bed six weeks. When I began to go out on crutches, I started to go to the garden, and forgot Tom until I heard him growl. He lay flat, with his nose on his paws, his tail on the ground straight as a ramrod, save a few inches at the tip, which wagged slowly, his eyes green and fiery, and I not three feet from his head, and just in reach, even if his chain held; but I had seen it break in one of those springs which he was now preparing to make. There was no help near! He would spring for my head and shoulders. If these were out of his way, he could not hold me by my dress which, was a thin muslin wrapper. He was not likely to leap until something moved, and might lie there sometime. I had heard that a panther will not jump under the gaze of a human eye, so I looked steadily into his, while I talked to him.
"Tom! Tom! Down sir," and so tried to recall his knowledge of me.
Fortunately my feet were a little in advance of my crutches, and while I looked and talked, holding my body motionless, I was planting my crutches and throwing my weight on my well foot. I heard the girl coming out of the house and knew the time had come. With all my strength I swung myself backward as he made the leap. His hot breath rushed into my face, his fiery eyes glared close to mine, but his chain was too short. Then I knew I had no mission for taming panthers. From the first I had feared that he would kill some child, and it was impossible to prevent them trooping to see him. After my own narrow escape I protested so strongly against keeping him, that my husband consented to sell him to a menagerie; but those which came were supplied with panthers, and, although he was a splendid specimen, full nine feet long, no sale was found for him.
That adventure supplied memory with a picture, which for long years breathed and never was absent. If it was not before me it was in some corner, and I knew Tom was crouched to spring on me; his fiery eyes glared, the tip of his tail wagged, and he was waiting, only waiting for me to move. Often when I woke at night, he was on my bed or in a corner of the room. He was hidden in fence corners and behind bushes on the roadside, and Mary's little lamb was never half so faithful as my phantom panther.
My husband could not understand the fear I felt, nor realize the danger of keeping him. He enjoyed his own mastery over him, and with a box on the side of the head he made Tom whine and crouch like a spaniel. I have often wondered that in all the accounts I have ever read of lights with wild animals, no one ever planted a good fist-blow under the ear of his four-legged antagonist, and so stretch it out stiff to await his leisure in disposing of it.
WILLOWS BY THE WATER-COURSES.—AGE, 27.
Pennsylvania customs made it unmanly for a man or boy to aid any woman, even mother or wife, in any hard work with which farms abounded at that time. Dairy work, candle and sausage making were done by women, and any innovation was met with sneers. I stubbornly refused to yield altogether to a time-honored code, which required women to perform outdoor drudgery, often while men sat in the house, and soon had the sympathy of our own boys; for it was often impossible to obtain any domestic help, though Pittsburg "charitable" people supported hundreds of women in idleness who might have had homes and wages in farmhouses.
Much of the natural beauty of Swissvale had been destroyed by pioneer improvements, which I sought in some degree to replace. I loved the woods, and with my little grubbing-hoe transplanted many wild and beautiful things. This my mother-in-law did not approve, as her love for the beautiful was satisfied by a flower border in the garden. One day she said:
"James, I would not have that willow in that corner. The roots will get into the race. It is the real basket willow, and if you cut it into stubs and stick them in the swamp, you can sell enough willow to buy all your baskets."
"Grandmother, you forget that is my tree; I want it to drape that bare knoll. The roots will run below the bed of the race. The boys can get plenty of stubs at Flemming's."
She only replied by a "humph!" and next day I discovered my tree had been sawed into pieces and planted in the swamp. Words would not restore it, and I wasted none; but next morning rose early, and, hatchet in hand, went to the parent tree, climbed on a fence and cut off a limb, which I dragged home, feeling glad that anything had brought me a walk on such a glorious morning. I planted the main stock in that corner, then put about a hundred twigs in the swamp for basket willow. In a few days my second tree disappeared, and I brought another, for a tree there was indispensable, and I hoped to make my husband see as I did, and thought I had won his consent to willows. So I went up and down the race and runs, putting in twigs, and thinking of the "willows by the watercourses," and Israel's lament:
"By Babel's streams we sat and wept When Zion we thought on, In midst thereof we hanged our harps The willow trees upon."
I was banished from my Zion, never permitted to hear the teachings of my old pastor, for which my soul panted as the thirsty hart for the water brooks, and in my Babylon I wanted willows. Some of my plantings were permitted to remain, and Swissvale is now noted for its magnificent willows; but that main tree was chopped up and burned. In its stead I planted a young chestnut, where it still stands, a thing of beauty and joy to the boys.
THE WATERS GROW DEEP.—AGE, 29.
The plans for my conversion seemed to be aided by our coming to the farm, as I fitted up the "prophet's chamber" to entertain my husband's friends in his house. There were two preachers in the circuit. The eldest, a plain, blunt man, began on his first visit to pelt me with problems about "man-made ministers" and Calvinism. I replied by citing the election of Abraham, Jacob, and the entire Jewish nation, and by quoting the 8th chapter of Romans, until he seemed to despair and came no more, for they could not accept my hospitality while I refused their religion. The other circuit rider was young, handsome and zealous, and was doing a great work in converting young girls. On his first visit I thought him rude. On his second, he inquired at table:
"Is this the place where they put onions into everything?"
I replied that we used none in tea or coffee. When I joined him and my husband in the parlor, he waved his hand around the room to point out its decorations and said:
"Brother James tells me that this is all your work. It is quite wonderful, and now, sister, what a pity it is that you will not turn your attention to religion. You seem to do everything so well."
He motioned as if to lay his hand on my shoulder. I drew back and said:
"Excuse me, sir, but I am not your sister; and as for your religion you remind me with it of Doctor Jaynes and his hair tonic."
"How so, sister?"
"Again pardon, but I am not your sister. Doctor Jaynes uses a large part of his column to persuade us that it is good to have good hair. No one disputes that, and he should prove that his tonic will bring good hair. So you talk of the importance of religion. No one disputes this, and it is your business to prove that the nostrum you peddle is religion. I say it is not. It is a system of will worship. Religion is obedience to God's law. You teach people that they can, and do, obey this law perfectly, while they do not know it. Your church has no bibles in her pews, few in her families, and these unread. Preachers and all, not one in twenty can repeat the ten commandments. You are blind leaders of the blind, and must all fall into the ditch, destroyed for lack of knowledge!"
That week he proposed to abandon the Swissvale meeting-house, and build one in Wilkinsburg, giving as a reason the impossibility of keeping up a congregation with me on the farm.
Next Conference sent Rev. Henderson as presiding elder, who brought in a new era. He slept in the "prophet's chamber," admired my pretty rooms, and said nothing about my getting religion. The circuit preacher was of the same mind, an earnest, modest, young man, wrestling with English grammar, who on his first visit sought my help about adverbs, while my mother-in-law looked on in evident displeasure.
To her this was the dawn of that new day, in which the Methodist church rivals all others in her institutions of learning. The good time of inspiration was slipping away. What wonder that she clutched it as Jacob did his angel? There in that house she had for long years been an oracle to inspired men, and now to see God's Spirit displaced by Kirkham's grammar was rank infidelity. The Wilkinsburg meeting-house was being built, and that one which had been to her all that the temple ever was to Solomon, would be left to the owls and bats—her Zion desolate. Those walls, made sacred by visions of glory and shouts of triumph, would crumble to ruin in the clinging silence. How could she but think that the influence was evil which could bring such result?
The new building was consecrated with much ceremony. The two Hendersons staid with, us, and on Sabbath morning consulted me as to the best way of taking up subscriptions. Mother-in-law looked on till she could bear it no longer, and said:
"Brother Henderson, if you mean to be in time for love feast, you must not stay fooling there."
Both men sprang to their feet, hurried away and never returned.
General Conference at its session in Baltimore, in 1840, passed the "Black Gag" law, which forbade colored members of the church to give testimony in church-trials against white members, in any state where they were forbidden to testily in courts. Four members of the Pittsburg Conference voted for it, and when my husband returned from the dedication, I learned that three of them had figured prominently in the exercises, and he had refused to commune on account of their ministrations.
Everything went smoothly for ten days, when my husband came to our room, where I sat writing, threw himself on the bed and poured out such a torrent of accusations as I had not dreamed possible, and of which I refrain from giving any adequate description. I looked up and saw that he was livid with rage. His words appeared the ravings of a mad man, yet there was method in them, and no crime in the calendar with which they did not charge me. Butter money was not accounted for, pickles and preserves missing, things about the house were going to destruction, the country was full of falsehoods and I had told them all. It was all a blur of sound and fury, but in it stood out these words:
"You ruined Samuel, and now you are trying to ruin the boys and those two fool preachers. People know it, too, and I am ashamed to show my face for the talk."
When he seemed to have finished, I asked:
"How long since you learned my real character?"
This spurred him to new wrath, and he exclaimed:
"There now, that's the next of it. You will go and tell that I've abused you. It's not me. I never suspected your honesty, but my mother, yes, my poor old mother. I would not care, if you could only behave yourself before my mother!"
I sat leaning my elbows on my table with my head in my hands, and the words "ruined Samuel" became a refrain. I thought of the danger out of which I had plucked him while in Louisville, of the force with which I had grappled him with hooks of steel, as he hung on the outer edge of that precipice of dissipation, while I clung to the Almighty Arm for help. I thought of the tears and solemnity with which this man had given to me the dying message of that rescued brother. Earth seemed to be passing away, and to leave no standing room. I was teaching school in the abandoned meeting-house. It was noon recess and I must hurry or be late. I passed into the hall and out of the house, with the thought "I cross his threshold now for the last time;" but I must remain near and finish my school, when I would be present to meet those monstrous charges before the world. My reveries did not interfere with my school duties, and when they were over I sat in the old meeting-house or walked its one aisle, with the quiet dead lying all around me, thinking of that good fight which I should fight, ere I finished my course, and lay down to rest as they did. But the sun went down, the long twilight drew on the coming night, and I was homeless. Where should I go?
I thought of the Burkhammers, whose little son lay among the dead beside me. I had tended him in his last illness and prepared his body for burial. They were German tenants of Judge Wilkins and to reach their house I must pass through the dark valley over which now lay a new pall. There were lights in the house as I passed, and Tom rattled his chain and gave forth one of those shrieks which pierced the air for a mile. I was glad to know that he was not loose, and that it was only my phantom which crouched in every available place, ready to spring. The bears bellowed a response to his shriek, but I did not hasten. The stream, so loud and angry on that night of my first entrance into this vale of tears, was now low, and sang a lullaby of angelic music as I crossed it on stepping stones. On the hillside it was almost as dark as that night when Father Olever stopped and felt for the bank with his whip.
The Burkhammers asked no questions, and I went to sleep without giving any account of my strange visit, but about midnight I awoke myself and the whole family by my sobs. They gathered around my bed, and I must tell. What I said I do not know, but the old man interrupted me with:
"Oh tamm Jim. You stay here mit us. My old woman und me, we has blenty. We dakes care of you. Nopody never said nodding bad about you. Everypody likes you, caus you is bleasant mit everypody."
As he talked he drew his sleeve across his eyes, while his wife and daughter comforted me. I would board there and finish my school, then go to Butler and take the seminary, or a place in the common school.
I saw no one as I passed my late home next morning. In school the first exercise was bible, reading verse about with the pupils. The xxv (25) chapter of Matthew came in order, and while reading its account of the final judgment, I saw as by a revelation why this trouble had been sent to me, and a great flood of light seemed thrown across my path before me.
Christ's little ones were sick and in prison, and I had not visited them! Old Martha, standing before her judges, rose up to upbraid me! I was to have followed the Lamb, and had been making butter to add to an estate larger now than the owner could use. No wonder she thought I stole the money. I, who had failed to rebuke man-stealing, might steal anything. That meeting-house which I had been helping to build by entertaining its builders and aiding them about subscriptions, it and they were a part of a great man-thieving machine. I had been false to every principle of justice; had been decorating parlors when I should have been tearing down prisons! I, helping Black Gagites build a church!
"When thou a thief didst see Thou join'st with him in sin."'
Thinking, reaching out for the path to that bastile which I must attack, I went on with my school duties until my husband walked in and asked why I had not been at home. I was worn with intense strain, and at the word home, burst into a passion of tears. I told the pupils to take their books, and leave, there would be no more school, and I could hear them go around on tip-toe and whisper. Twice a pair of little arms were thrown around me, and the sound of the retreating footsteps died away when my husband laid his hand all trembling on my head. I threw it off and begged him to go away, his presence would kill me. He would not go, and I went out into the woods. He followed, and said he had never charged me with an evil thought, much less an action, was the most loving of husbands and the most injured in that I had thought he had found fault with me. He might have spoken a hasty word, but was it right to lay it up against him? I still begged him to leave—that I should die if he did not. He went, and I crossed the fields to the house of Thomas Dickson, thinking that from it I could get to the city by the river road and fly any where.
Mrs. Dickson made me go to bed, as I was able to go no where else, and here my husband's brother-in-law found me. He had come as peace-maker, and could not think what it all meant; some angry words of James about his mother, who would now go back to live with him. The Dicksons joined him with entreaties. If my husband had injured me, he was very, very sorry, was quite overwhelmed with grief for the pain he had cost me. Then they brought down the lever of scripture and conscience: "If thy brother offend thee seventy times seven," and I yielded.
My husband came and I went home with him that evening, expecting that my mother-in-law was installed in her new home on the hill; but she met and kissed me at the door, and I did not care. Nothing could add to the shudder of going into the house, and she seemed so grieved and frightened that my heart was touched, and I was sorry for her that we had ever met.
MY NAME APPEARS IN PRINT.—AGE, 29.
It was the third morning after my return, that my head would not leave the pillow. Dr. Carothers came and blistered me from head to feet, and for three weeks I saw no one but my attendants and my phantom panther. He never left me. There was one corner of the room in which he stayed most, and sometimes there was not room for his tail to wag, and then he moved forward where I could not see his head. This troubled me, for then I could not hold him with my eyes. At night they were two balls of green fire; but they had always been, only when I was well I could turn my head away, now I could not move it. I knew most of the time it was a shadow from my brain, but was glad to hear Tom's chain rattle and feel sure it was not his very self.
They nursed me carefully, and I lay thinking of the "little ones sick and in prison." Old Martha came and plead with me. I saw Liza and Maria under the lash for the crime of chastity, and myself the accomplice of their brutal masters. I pictured one of them a member of the M.E. Church, appealing to that church for redress and spurned under the "Black Gag," and I? why I had been helping men who voted for it to build a meeting-house! What was Peter's denial compared to mine?
The case arranged itself in my mind. I had writing materials brought, and there, with my head fast on the pillow, I wrote a hexameter rhyme half a column long, arraigning by name those Black Gag preachers, painting the scene, and holding them responsible. I signed my initials, and sent it to Mr. Fleeson, with a note telling him to give my name if it was inquired for.
Our "Spirit" did not come that week; but soon my husband came to my room with a copy of "The Pittsburg Gazette," in which was an editorial and letter full of pious horror and denunciation of that article, and giving my name as the author; so that we knew Mr. Fleeson had published the name in full. This was my first appearance in print over my own signature, and while I was shocked, my husband was delighted, even though he knew a libel suit was threatened. I soon went to Pittsburg, saw William Elder and John A. Wills, the only anti-slavery lawyers in the city. They said the article was actionable, for it had brought those men into contempt. Elder added: "They are badly hurt, or they would not cry out so loud."
Both tendered their gratuitous services for my defense. In a civil suit we could prove the truth of the charge, and they could get nothing, for my husband owned no property—everything belonged to his mother—and my trustees could not be held for my misdeeds. Their action would doubtless be criminal, and I would probably be imprisoned. I went home and wrote a reply to the Gazette, which it refused to publish, but it appeared in the Spirit. I reiterated, urged and intensified my charges against these false priests, until they were dumb about their injuries and libel suit, but of that original article I never could get a copy. Every one had been sold and resold, and read to rags, before I knew it was in print.
I continued to write for the "Spirit," but still there did not seem to be anything I could do for the slave. As soon as I was able to be about the house, I fell into my old round of drudgery, but with hope and pride shut out of it. Once my burden pressed so that I could not sleep, and rose at early dawn, and sat looking over the meadow, seeing nothing but a dense, white fog. I leaned back, closed my eyes and thought how like it was to my own life. When I looked again, oh, the vision of glory which, met my sight!
The rising sun had sent, through an opening in the woods, a shaft of light, which centred on a hickory tree that stood alone in the meadow, and was then in the perfection of its golden autumn glory. It dripped with moisture, blazed and shimmered. The high lights were diamond tipped, and between them and the deepest shadow was every tint of orange and yellow, mingled and blended in those inimitable lines of natural foliage. Over it, through it, and around it, rolled the white fog, in great masses, caressing the earth and hanging from the zenith, like the veil of the temple of the Most High. All around lay the dark woods, framing in the vision like serried ranks encompassing a throne, to which great clouds rolled, then lifted and scudded away, like couriers coming for orders and hastening to obey them.
John's New Jerusalem never was so grand! No square corners and forbidding walls. The gates were not made of several solid pearls, but of millions of pearletts, strung on threads of love, offering no barriers through which any soul might not pass. My Patmos had been visited and I could dwell in it, work and wait; but I would live in it, not lie in a tomb, and once more I took hold of life.
I organized a society at which we read, had refreshments and danced—yea, broke church rules and practiced promiscuous dancing minus promiscuous kissing. Of course this was wicked. I roamed the woods, brought wild flowers and planted them, set out berry bushes, and collected a large variety of roses and lilies.
MEXICAN WAR.—AGE, 30-32.
James G. Birney was the presidential candidate of the "Liberty Party" in 1844, as he had been in '40. During the campaign I wrote under my initials for The Spirit of Liberty, and exposing the weak part of an argument soon came to be my recognized forte. For using my initials I had two reasons—my dislike and dread of publicity and the fear of embarrassing the Liberty Party with the sex question. Abolitionists were men of sharp angles. Organizing them was like binding crooked sticks in a bundle, and one of the questions which divided them was the right of women to take any prominent part in public affairs.
In that campaign, the great Whig argument against the election of Polk was, that it would bring on a war with Mexico for the extension of slavery, and when the war came, Whigs and Liberty Party men vied with each other in their cry of "Our Country, right or wrong!" and rushed into the army over every barrier set up by their late arguments. The nation was seized by a military madness, and in the furore, the cause of the slave went to the wall, and The Spirit of Liberty was discontinued. Its predecessor, The Christian Witness, had failed under the successive management of William Burleigh, Dr. Elder, and Rev. Edward Smith, three giants in those days, and there seemed no hope that any anti-slavery paper could be supported in Pittsburg, while all anti-slavery matter was carefully excluded from both religious and secular press. It was a dark day for the slave, and it was difficult to see hope for a brighter. To me, it seemed that all was lost, unless some one were especially called to speak that truth, which alone could make the people free, but certainly I could not be the messenger.
For years there had ran through my head the words, "Open thy mouth for the dumb, plead the cause of the poor and needy." The streams sang them, the winds shrieked them, and now a trumpet sounded them, but the words could not mean more than talking in private. I would not, could not, believe they meant more, for the Bible in which I read them bid me be silent. My husband wanted me to lecture as did Abbey Kelley, but I thought this would surely be wrong. The church had silenced me so effectuately, that even now all my sense of the great need of words could not induce me to attempt it; but if I could "plead the cause" through the press, I must write. Even this was dreadful, as I must use my own name, for my articles would certainly be libelous. If I wrote at all, I must throw myself headlong into the great political maelstrom, and would of course be swallowed up like a fishing-boat in the great Norway horror which decorated our school geographies; for no woman had ever done such a thing, and I could never again hold up my head under the burden of shame and disgrace which would be heaped upon me. But what matter? I had no children to dishonor; all save one who had ever loved me were dead, and she no longer needed me, and if the Lord wanted some one to throw into that gulf, no one could be better spared than I.
The Pittsburg Commercial Journal was the leading Whig paper of western Pennsylvania, Robert M. Riddle, its editor and proprietor. His mother was a member of our church, and I thought somewhere in his veins must stir anti-slavery blood. So I wrote a letter to the Journal, which appeared with an editorial disclaimer, "but the fair writer should have a hearing." This letter was followed by another, and they continued to appear once or twice a week during several months.
I do not remember whom I attacked first, but from first to last my articles were as direct and personal as Nathan's reproof to David. Of slavery in the abstract I knew nothing. There was no abstraction in tying Martha to a whipping-post and scourging her for mourning the loss of her children. The old Kentucky saint who bore the torture of lash and brine all that bright Sabbath day, rather than "curse Jesus," knew nothing of the abstraction of slavery, or the finespun theories of politeness which covered the most revolting crimes with pretty words. This great nation was engaged in the pusillanimous work of beating poor little Mexico—a giant whipping a cripple. Every man who went to the war, or induced others to go, I held as the principal in the whole list of crimes of which slavery was the synonym. Each one seemed to stand before me, his innermost soul laid bare, and his idiosyncrasy I was sure to strike with sarcasm, ridicule solemn denunciations, old truths from Bible and history and the opinions of good men. I had a reckless abandon, for had I not thrown myself into the breach to die there, and would I not sell my life at its full value?
My style I caught from my crude, rural surroundings, and was familiar to the unlearned, and I was not surprised to find the letters eagerly read. The Journal announced them the day before publication, the newsboys cried them, and papers called attention to them, some by daring to indorse, but more by abusing Mr. Riddle for publishing such unpatriotic and "incendiary rant." In quoting the strong points, a venal press was constrained to "scatter the living coals of truth." The name was held to be a nom de plume, for in print it looked so unlike the common pronunciation of that of one of the oldest families in the county that it was not recognized. Moreover, it must be a disguise adopted by some man. Wiseacres, said one of the county judges. No western Pennsylvania woman had ever broken out of woman's sphere. All lived in the very centre of that sacred enclosure, making fires by which, husbands, brothers and sons sat reading the news; each one knowing that she had a soul, because the preacher who made his bread and butter by saving it had been careful to inform her of its existence as preliminary to her knowledge of the indispensable nature of his services.
But the men whom I ridiculed and attacked knew the hand which, held the mirror up to nature, and also knew they had a legal remedy, and that to their fines and imprisonment I was as indifferent as to their opinions. One of these, Hon. Gabriel Adams, had taken me by the hand at father's funeral, led me to a stranger and introduced me as:
"The child I told you of, but eight years old, her father's nurse and comforter."
He had smoothed my hair and told me not to cry; God would bless me for being a good child. He was a member of the session when I joined church; his voice in prayer had soothed mother's hard journey through the dark valley; and now, as mayor of the city, had ordered its illumination in honor of the battle of Buena Vista, and this, too, on Saturday evening, when the unholy glorification extended into the Sabbath. Measured by the standards of his profession as an elder in the church, whose highest judicatory had pronounced slavery and Christianity incompatible; no one was more valuable than he, and of none was I so unsparing, yet as I wrote, the letter was blistered with tears; but his oft repeated comment was:
"Jane is right," and he went out of his way to take my hand and say, "You were right."
Samuel Black, a son of my pastor, dropped his place as leader of the Pittsburg bar and rushed to the war. My comments were thought severe, even for me, yet the first intimation I had that I had not been cast aside as a monster, came from his sister, who sent me a message that her father, her husband and herself, approved my criticism. Samuel returned with a colonel's commission, and one day I was about to pass him without recognition, where he stood on the pavement talking to two other lawyers, when he stepped before me and held out his hand. I drew back, and he said: "Is it possible you will not take my hand?"
I looked at it, then into his manly, handsome face, and answered:
"There is blood on it; the blood of women and children slain at their own altars, on their own hearthstones, that you might spread the glorious American institution of woman-whipping and baby-stealing."
"Oh," he exclaimed, "This is too bad! I swear to you I never killed a woman or a child."
"Then you did not fight in Mexico, did not help to bombard Buena Vista."
His friends joined him, and insisted that I did the Colonel great wrong, when he looked squarely into my face and, holding out his hand, said:
"For sake of the old church, for sake of the old man, for sake of the old times, give me your hand."
I laid it in his, and hurried away, unable to speak, for he was the most eloquent man in Pennsylvania. He fell at last at the head of his regiment, while fighting in the battle of Fair Oaks, for that freedom he had betrayed in Mexico.
When Kossuth was on his starring tour in this country, he used to create wild enthusiasm by "Your own late glorious struggle with Mexico;" but when he reached that climax in his Pittsburg speech a dead silence fell upon the vast, cheering audience.
The social ostracism I had expected when I stepped into the political arena, proved to be Bunyan lions. Instead of shame there came such a crop of glory that I thought of pulling down my barns and building greater, that I might have where to store my new goods. Among the press notices copied by the Journal was this:
"The Pittsburg Commercial Journal has a new contributor who signs her name 'Jane G. Swisshelm,' dips her pen in liquid gold, and sands her paper with the down from butterflies' wings."
This troubled me, because it seemed as though I had been working for praise; still the pretty compliment gratified me.
Paul fought with beasts at Ephesus, as a part of his training for that "good fight" with principalities and powers and iniquity in high places, and I think that Tom and the bears helped to prepare me for a long conflict with the southern tiger. I had early come to think that Tom would kill some of the children who trooped to see him, and that I should be responsible as I alone saw the danger. This danger I sought to avert, but how to dispose of the beautiful creature I could not conjecture. There was usually a loaded gun in the house, but I was almost as much afraid of it as of Tom. All our neighbors were delighted with him and loath to have him killed. I had once tried to poison a cat but failed, and I would not torture Tom. I wanted Dr. Palmer to give me a dose for him, but he declined. I tried in vain to get some one to shoot him. Then I thought of striking the great beast on the head with a hatchet, while he had hold of some domestic animal. The plan seemed feasible, but I kept my own council and my hatchet, and practiced with it until I could hit a mark, and thought I could bury the sharp blade in Tom's skull.
One day, all the men were in the meadow making hay, and I alone getting dinner. John McKelvey came with his great dog, Watch. He went up into the meadow, and Watch staid in the kitchen. I started to go to the garden for parsley, and found Tom crouched to spring on a cow. He made the leap, came short of the cow, which ran away bellowing with terror, and Tom had but touched the ground when Watch sprang upon him. It was a sight for an amphitheatre. The two great creatures rolled in a struggle, which I knew must be fatal to Watch, but thought he could engage Tom's attention until I got my hatchet. I ran back for it, took the dinner-horn and blew a blast that would bring one man, and I did not want a thousand. Then I ran back to the scene of conflict, horn in one hand, hatchet in the other, and lo! no conflict was there. No Tom! no dog! nothing but the torn and bloody ground. Horror of horrors, there was a broken chain! Tom loose! Tom free! Now some one would be murdered. I turned to look, and there on a log not a rod from me, he stood with head erect and tail drooping, his white throat, jaws and broken chain dripping with blood, and with my first thankfulness that he had not escaped, came admiration for the splendid sight: the bold, sweeping curves and graceful motion as he turned his head to listen. Then I learned panthers went by sound, not scent. I blew another blast on the horn and went toward him, for I must not lose sight of him. If he attacked me, could I defend myself with the hatchet? When they found me I would be horrible to look upon, and it would kill Elizabeth. Will my peas burn? The flies will get into that pitcher of cream. If I am killed, they will forget to put parsley in the soup. Tom changed his weight from one fore-claw to the other, and gnashed his teeth. "Here, the king and I are standing face and face together; King Tom, how is your majesty, it's mighty pleasant weather."
So ran my thoughts in the intense strain of that waiting. It must be full ten minutes before Tom's master could get to the house after that first blast, and if he did not hear that, must be too late; but Tom kept his place and my husband rushed by me, carrying the pitchfork with which he had been at work, and I saw no more until Tom was in his cage. Watch had dragged himself to his master's feet to die, and I went into the house and finished getting dinner, more than ever afraid of Tom and more than ever at a loss to know how to get rid of him. Yet he still lived and rattled his chain by the garden path, but it was a year before our next adventure.
One summer morning at sunrise I was shocked out of sleep by shrieks and shouts and scurrying feet. I sprang out of bed and rushed into the hall in time to see Tom dash out of it into the dining-room, mother-in-law and the girl disappearing up stairs and the two hired men through the barn door. My husband soon followed Tom, who had taken refuge under a large heavy falling-leaf table, and seemed inclined to stay there. This time his collar was broken and feeling the advantage he paid no heed to the hand or voice of his quandom master. He would not move, but growled defiance, and the table protected him from a blow under the ear, so his late master became utterly nonplussed. If the cage were there, the great beast would probably go into it, but how get it there? The wealth of India would not have induced one of those men to come out of that barn, or one of those women to come down those stairs.
Something must be done, and I proposed to hold Tom while my husband brought the cage. He hesitated. I was not in good fighting trim, for my hair which was long and heavy had fallen loose, but preparation could avail nothing. The only hope lay in perfect coolness and a steady gaze. I knelt and took hold of Tom by the back of the neck, talked to him and thought that cage was long in coming. He shifted his weight and seemed about to get up. This meant escape, and I held him hard, commanding him to "lie down, sir." He blinked at me, seemed quite indifferent and altogether comfortable. By and by, the man who had ceased to be master returned without the cage, utterly demoralized; and was here without a weapon, without a plan. I resigned my place and told him I would bring a rope. This I intended to do, and also my hatchet.
I had but gotten half way to the front door when there was a scuffle, the loud voice of my husband, shrieks up stairs, rattling of furniture and crashing of glass, and when I got back to the room I saw the tip of Tom's tail disappearing. He had gone through the window and taken the sash with him. He ran into his cage, and that was his last taste of liberty; but he lived a year after, chained in a corn crib. Every evening in the gloaming he would pace back and forth, raise his kingly head, utter his piercing shriek, then stop and hark for a response; walk again, shriek and listen, while the bears would bellow an answer.
The bears, too, were often exciting and interesting. Once I rescued a toddling child when running towards "big bear," and not more than two feet from where he stood waiting with hungry eyes. At another time, they both broke loose, on a bitter cold day when I was alone in the house. I defended myself with fire, meeting them at every door and window with a hickory brand. I wondered as they went round and round the house, if they would stop in the chimney corner, and make the acquaintance of Tom; but they took no notice of him, and after they had eaten several buckets of porridge, they concluded there was nothing in the house they wanted, so became good natured and went and climbed a tree.
Such schoolmasters must have imparted a flavor of savagery to my Mexican war letters, which attracted readers as they did visitors.
RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN.
After mother's death, I prosecuted to a successful issue a suit for the recovery of the house in which I was born. It stood on Water street, near Market, and our lawyer, Walter Lowrie, afterwards supreme judge, was to have given us possession of the property on the 1st of July, 1845, which would add eight hundred dollars a year to the income of my sister and myself. But on the 10th of April, the great fire swept away the building and left a lot bearing ground rent. Property rose and we had a good offer for the lease. Every one was willing to sell, but the purchasers concluded that both our husbands must sign the deed. To this no objection was made, and we met, in William Shinn's office, when my husband refused to sign unless my share of the purchase money were paid to him.
Mother's will was sacred to me. The money he proposed to put in improvements on the Swissvale mills. These, in case of his death before his mother, would go to his brothers. I had not even a dower right in the estate, and already the proceeds of my labor and income from my separate estate were put upon it. I refused to give him the money, and on my way alone from the lawyer's office it occurred to me that all the advances made by humanity had been through the pressure of injustice, and that the screws had been turned on me that I might do something to right the great wrong which forbade a married woman to own property. So, instead of spending my strength quarreling with the hand, I would strike for the heart of that great tyranny.
I borrowed books from Judge Wilkins, took legal advice from Colonel Black, studied the laws under which I lived, and began a series of letters in the Journal on the subject of a married woman's right to hold property. I said nothing of my own affairs and confined myself to general principles, until a man in East Liberty furnished me an illustration, and with it I made the cheeks of men burn with anger and shame.
The case was that of a young German merchant who married the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Her father gave her a handsome outfit in clothes and furniture. She became ill soon after marriage, her sister took her place as housekeeper and nursed her till she died, after bequeathing the clothes and furniture to the sister; but the sorrowing husband held fast to the property and proposed to turn it into money. The father wanted it as souvenirs of his lost child, and tried to purchase of him, but the husband raised the price until purchase was impossible, when he advertised the goods for sale at vendue. The father was an old citizen, highly respected, and so great contempt and indignation was felt, that at the vendue no one would bid against him, so the husband's father came forward and ran up the price of the articles. When her riding dress, hat and whip were held up, there was a general cry of shame. The incident came just in time for my purpose, so I turned every man's scorn against himself, said to them:
"Gentlemen, these are your laws! Your English ancestors made them! Your fathers brought them across the water and planted them here, where they flourish like a green bay tree. You robbed that wife of her right to devise her own property—that husband is simply your agent."
Lucretia Mott and Mary A. Grew, of Philadelphia, labored assiduously for the same object, and in the session of '47 and '48, the legislature of Pennsylvania secured to married women the right to hold property.
Soon after the passage of the bill, William A. Stokes said to me: "We hold you responsible for that law, and I tell you now, you will live to rue the day when you opened such a Pandora's box in your native state, and cast such an apple of discord into every family in it."
His standing as a lawyer entitled his opinion to respect, and as he went on to explain the impossibility of reconciling that statute with, the general tenor of law and precedent, I was gravely apprehensive. The public mind was not prepared for so great a change; there had been no general demand for it; lawyers did not know what to do with it, and judges shook their heads. Indeed, there was so much doubt and opposition that I feared a repeal, until some months after Col. Kane came to me and said:
"There is a young lawyer from Steubenville named Stanton who would like to be introduced to you."
I was in a gracious mood and consented to receive the young lawyer named Stanton. As he came into the room and advanced toward me, immediately I felt myself in the presence of a master mind, of a soul born to command. When introduced he gravely took my hand, and said:
"I called to congratulate you upon the passage of your bill. It is a change I have long desired to see."
We sat and talked on the subject some time, and my fears vanished into thin air. If this man had taken that law into favor it would surely stand, and as he predicted be "improved and enlarged." I have never been so forcibly impressed by any stranger. His compactness of body and soul, the clear outlines of face and figure, the terseness of his sentences, and firmness yet tenderness of his voice, were most striking; and as he passed down the long room after taking leave my thought was:
"Mr. Stanton you have started for some definite point in life, some high goal, and you will reach it."
This was prophetic, for he walked into the War Department of this nation at a time when it is probable no other man in it, could have done the work there which freedom demanded in her hour of peril, for this young man was none other than Edwin M. Stanton, the Ajax of the great Rebellion.
THE PITTSBURG SATURDAY VISITER.
After the war, abolitionists began to gather their scattered forces and wanted a Liberty Party organ. To meet this want, Charles P. Shiras started the Albatross in the fall of '47. He was the "Iron City Poet," author of "Dimes and Dollars" and "Owe no Man a Dollar." He was of an old and influential family, had considerable private fortune, was courted and flattered, but laid himself and gifts on the altar of Liberty. His paper was devoted to the cause of the slave and of the free laborer, and started with bright prospects. He and Mr. Fleeson urged me to become a regular contributor, but Mr. Riddle objected, and the Journal had five hundred readers for every one the Albatross could hope. In the one I reached the ninety and nine unconverted, while in the other I must talk principally to those who were rooted and grounded in the faith. So I continued my connection with the Journal until I met James McMasters, a prominent abolitionist, who said sorrowfully: "Well, the last number of the Albatross will be issued on Thursday."
"Is it possible?"
"Possible and true! That is the end of its first quarter, and Shiras gives it up. In fact we all do. No use trying to support an abolition paper here."
While he spoke a thought struck me like a lightning flash, and he had but finished speaking, when I replied:
"I have a great notion to start a paper myself."
He was surprised, but caught at the idea, and said:
"I wish you would. You can make it go if anybody can, and we'll do all we can to help you."
I did not wait to reply, but hurried after my husband, who had passed on, soon overtook and told him the fate of the Albatross. For this he was sorry, for he always voted a straight abolition ticket. I repeated to him what I had said to Mr. McMasters, when he said:
"Nonsense!" then reflected a little, and added, "Well, I do not know after all but it would be a good idea. Riddle makes lots of money out of your letters."
When we had talked about five minutes, he turned to attend to business and I went to the Journal office. I found Mr. Riddle in his sanctum, and told him the Albatross was dead; the Liberty Party without an organ, and that I was going to start the Pittsburg Saturday Visitor; the first copy must be issued Saturday week, so that abolitionists would not have time to be discouraged, and that I wanted him to print my paper.
He had pushed his chair back from his desk, and sat regarding me in utter amazement while I stated the case, then said:
"What do you mean? Are you insane? What does your husband say?"
I said my husband approved, the matter was all arranged, I would use my own estate, and if I lost it, it was nobody's affair.
He begged me to take time to think, to send my husband to him, to consult my friends. Told me my project was ruinous, that I would lose every dollar I put into it, and begged, entreated me to take time; but all to no purpose, when a bright idea came to him.
"You would have to furnish a desk for yourself, you see there is but one in this room, and there is no other place for you. You could not conduct a paper and stay at home, but must spend a good deal of time here!"
Then I suddenly saw the appalling prospect thus politely presented. I had never heard of any woman save Mary Kingston working in an office. Her father, a prominent lawyer, had employed her as his clerk, when his office was in their dwelling, and the situation was remarkable and very painful; and here was I, looking not more than twenty, proposing to come into the office of the handsome stranger who sat bending over his desk that he might not see me blush for the unwomanly intent.
Mr. Riddle was esteemed one of the most elegant and polished gentlemen in the city, with fine physique and fascinating manners. He was a man of the world, and his prominence had caused his name to become the target for many an evil report in the bitter personal conflicts of political life. I looked the facts squarely in the face and thought:
"I have been publicly asserting the right of woman to earn a living as book-keepers, clerks, sales-women, and now shall I shrink for fear of a danger any one must meet in doing as I advised? This is my Red Sea. It can be no more terrible than the one which confronted Israel. Duty lies on the other side, and I am going over! 'Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.' The crimson waves of scandal, the white foam of gossip, shall part before me and heap themselves up as walls on either hand."
So rapidly did this reflection pass through my mind, or so absorbed was I with it, that there had been no awkward pause when I replied:
"I will get a desk, shall be sorry to be in your way, but there is plenty of room and I can be quiet."
He seemed greatly relieved, and said cheerfully:
"Oh yes, there is plenty of room, I can have my desk moved forward and take down the shutters, when there will be plenty of light. Heretofore you have been Jove thundering from a cloud, but if you will come down to dwell with mortals we must make a place for you."
Taking down the shutters meant exposing the whole interior of the room to view, from a very public street; and after he had exhausted every plea for time to get ready, he engaged to have the first copy of the Visiter printed on the day I had set. He objected to my way of spelling the word, but finding I had Johnson for authority, would arrange the heading to suit. I was in a state of exaltation all forenoon, and when I met my husband at dinner, the reaction had set in, and I proposed to countermand the order, when he said emphatically:
"You will do no such thing. The campaign is coming, you have said you will start a paper, and now if you do not, I will."
The coming advent was announced, but I had no arrangements for securing either advertisements or subscribers. Josiah King, now proprietor of the Pittsburg Gazette and James H. McClelland called at the Journal office and subscribed, and with these two supporters, the Pittsburg Saturday Visiter, entered life. The mechanical difficulty of getting out the first number proved to be so great that the forms were not on the press at 3 P.M. By five the streets were so blocked by a waiting crowd, that vehicles went around by other ways, and it was six o'clock, Jan. 20th, 1848, when the first copy was sold at the counter. I was in the editorial room all afternoon, correcting proof to the last moment, and when there was nothing more I could do, was detained by the crowd around the doors until it was after eleven.
Editors and reporters were gathered in the sanctum, and Mr. Riddle stood by his desk pointing out errors to some one who should have prevented them, when I had my wraps on ready to start. Mr. Fleeson, then a clerk on the Journal, stepped out, hat in hand, and bowing to the proprietor, said:
"Mr. Riddle, it is your privilege to see Mrs. Swisshelm to her lodgings, but as you seem to decline, I hope you will commission me."
Mr. Fleeson was a small man and Mr. Riddle had drawn himself to his full height and stood looking down at him, saying:
"I want it distinctly understood that Mrs. Swisshelm's relations in this office are purely those of business. If she requires anything of any man in it, she will command him and her orders shall be obeyed. She has not ordered my attendance, but has kept her servant here all the evening to see her to her friend's house, and this should be sufficient notice to any gentleman that she does not want him."
During the ten years we used the same editorial-room. Mr. Riddle was often absent on the days I must be there, and always secured plenty of light by setting away the shutters when I entered. He generally made it necessary for me to go to his house and settle accounts, and never found it convenient to offer his escort to any place unless accompanied by his wife.
The Visiter was three years old when he turned one day, examined me critically, and exclaimed:
"Why do you wear those hideous caps? You seem to have good hair. Mrs. Riddle says she knows you have, and she and some ladies were wondering only yesterday, why you do make yourself such a fright."
The offending cap was a net scarf tied under the chin, and I said, "You know I am subject to quinsy, and this cap protects my tonsils."
He turned away with a sigh, and did not suspect that my tonsils had no such protection outside the office, where I must meet a great many gentlemen and make it apparent that what I wanted of them was votes! votes!! Votes for the women sold on the auction block, scourged for chastity, robbed of their children, and that admiration was no part of my object.
Any attempt to aid business by any feminine attraction was to my mind revolting in the extreme, and certain to bring final defeat. In nothing has the church of Rome shown more wisdom than in the costume of her female missionaries. When a woman starts out in the world on a mission, secular or religious, she should leave her feminine charms at home. Had I made capital of my prettiness, I should have closed the doors of public employment to women for many a year, by the very means which now makes them weak, underpaid competitors in the great workshop of the world.
One day Mr. Riddle said:
"I wish you had been here yesterday. Robert Watson called. He wanted to congratulate us on the relations we have for so long maintained. We have never spoken of it, but you must have known the risk of coming here. He has seen it, says he has watched you closely, and you are an exception to all known law, or the harbinger of a new era in human progress."
Robert Watson was a retired lawyer of large wealth, who watched the world from his study, and philosophized about its doings; and when Mr. Riddle had given me this conclusion, the subject was never again referred to in our years of bargaining, buying and selling, paying and receipting.
RECEPTION OF THE VISITER.
While preparing matter for the first number of the Visiter, I had time to think that so far as any organization was concerned, I stood alone. I could not work with Garrison on the ground that the Constitution was pro-slavery, for I had abandoned that in 1832, when our church split on it and I went with the New School, who held that it was then anti-slavery. The Covenanters, before it was adopted, denounced it as a "Covenant with death and an agreement with hell." I had long ago become familiar with the arguments on that side, and I concluded they were fallacious, and could not go back to them even for a welcome into the abolition ranks.
The political action wing of the anti-slavery party had given formal notice that no woman need apply for a place among them. True, there was a large minority who dissented from this action, but there was division enough, without my furnishing a cause for contention. So I took pains to make it understood that I belonged to no party. I was fighting slavery on the frontier plan of Indian warfare, where every man is Captain-lieutenants, all the corporals and privates of his company. I was like the Israelites in the days when there was no king, and "every man did that which, was right in his own eyes."
It seemed good unto me to support James G. Birney, for President, and to promulgate the principles of the platform on which he stood in the last election. This I would do, and no man had the right or power to stop me. My paper was a six column weekly, with a small Roman letter head, my motto, "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward," the names of my candidates at the head of the editorial column and the platform inserted as standing matter.
It was quite an insignificant looking sheet, but no sooner did the American eagle catch sight of it, than he swooned and fell off his perch. Democratic roosters straightened out their necks and ran screaming with terror. Whig coons scampered up trees and barked furiously. The world was falling and every one had "heard it, saw it, and felt it."
It appeared that on some inauspicious morning each one of three-fourths of the secular editors from Maine to Georgia had gone to his office suspecting nothing, when from some corner of his exchange list there sprang upon him such a horror as he had little thought to see.
A woman had started a political paper! A woman! Could he believe his eyes? A woman! Instantly he sprang to his feet and clutched his pantaloons, shouted to the assistant editor, when he, too, read and grasped frantically at his cassimeres, called to the reporters and pressmen and typos and devils, who all rushed in, heard the news, seized their nether garments and joined the general chorus, "My breeches! oh, my breeches!" Here was a woman resolved to steal their pantaloons, their trousers, and when these were gone they might cry "Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?" The imminence of the peril called for prompt action, and with one accord they shouted, "On to the breach, in defense of our breeches! Repel the invader or fill the trenches with our noble dead."
"That woman shall not have my pantaloons," cried the editor of the big city daily; "nor my pantaloons" said the editor of the dignified weekly; "nor my pantaloons," said he who issued manifestos but once a month; "nor mine," "nor mine," "nor mine," chimed in the small fry of the country towns.
Even the religious press could not get past the tailor shop, and "pantaloons" was the watchword all along the line. George D. Prentiss took up the cry, and gave the world a two-third column leader on it, stating explicitly, "She is a man all but the pantaloons." I wrote to him asking a copy of the article, but received no answer, when I replied in rhyme to suit his case:
Perhaps you have been busy Horsewhipping Sal or Lizzie, Stealing some poor man's baby, Selling its mother, may-be. You say—and you are witty— That I—and, tis a pity— Of manhood lack but dress; But you lack manliness, A body clean and new, A soul within it, too. Nature must change her plan Ere you can be a man.
This turned the tide of battle. One editor said, "Brother George, beware of sister Jane." Another, "Prentiss has found his match." He made no reply, and it was not long until I thought the pantaloon argument was dropped forever.
There was, however, a bright side to the reception of the Visiter. Horace Greeley gave it respectful recognition, so did N.P. Willis and Gen. Morris in the Home Journal. Henry Peterson's Saturday Evening Post, Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's and Sargeant's magazines, and the anti-slavery papers, one and all, gave it pleasant greeting, while there were other editors who did not, in view of this innovation, forget that they were American gentlemen.
There were some saucy notices from "John Smith," editor of The Great West, a large literary sheet published in Cincinnati. After John and I had pelted each other with paragraphs, a private letter told me that she, who had then won a large reputation as John Smith, was Celia, who afterwards became my very dear friend until the end of her lovely life, and who died the widow of another dear friend, Wm. H. Burleigh.
In the second number of the Visiter, James H. McClelland, as secretary of the county convention, published its report and contributed an able article, thus recognizing it as the much needed county organ of the Liberty Party.
MY CROOKED TELESCOPE.
In the autumn of 1847, Dr. Robert Mitchell, of Indiana, Pa., was tried in Pittsburg, in the United States Court, before Judge Grier, for the crime of harboring fugitive slaves. In an old cabin ten miles from Indiana, on one of the doctor's farms, some colored men had taken refuge and worked as harvest hands in the neighborhood. To it came the sheriff at midnight with a posse, and after as desperate a resistance as unarmed men could make, two were captured. On one of these was found a note:
"Kill a sheep and give Jerry the half. ROB'T MITCHELL."
The name of the man who had the note was Jerry. It was addressed to a farmer who kept sheep for the doctor, so it was conclusive evidence of the act charged, and the only defense possible was want of knowledge. There was no proof that Dr. Mitchell knew Jerry to be a slave, none, surely, that he knew him to be the property of plaintiff, who was bound to give notice of ownership before he could be entitled to damages from defendant.
This defense Judge Grier overruled, by deciding that no notice was required, the law presumed a guilty knowledge on the part of defendant.
Under this ruling Dr. Mitchell was fined $5,000 and the costs, which were $5,000 additional. His homestead and a magnificent tract of pine land lying on the northern slope of the Alleghenies, were sold by the sheriff of Indiana county to pay the penalty of this act of Christian charity; but the Dr. said earnestly, "I'll do it again, if they take every dollar I have."
This ruling was alarming, for under it, it was unsafe either to sell or give food or lodging to a stranger. The alarm was general, and even pro-slavery men regretted that this necessary act of justice should fall so heavily on so good and gentle a man. There was much unfavorable comment, but all in private, for the Pittsburg press quailed before Judge Grier, and libel laws were the weapon with which he most loved to defend the dignity of the bench. One editor he had kept in jail three months and ruined his business. Col. Hiram Kane was a brilliant writer, a poet and pungent paragraphist, and had at one time criticised some of Judge Grier's decisions, when by a libel suit the Judge had broken up his business and kept him in jail eighteen months. Public sentiment was on Kane's side, and he had an ovation on his release, when he became city editor of the Journal.
There was disappointment that I had not criticised Judge Grier's course in the first number of the Visiter, but this was part of my plan. In the second number I stated that there had been for a long time a great legal luminary visible in the Pennsylvania heavens, which had suddenly disappeared. I had been searching for him for several weeks with the best telescopes in the city, and had about given him up as a lost star, when I bethought me of Paddy, who had heated his gun-barrel and bent it around a tree so that he might be able to shoot around corners. Paddy's idea was so excellent that I had adopted it and made a crooked telescope, by which I had found that luminary almost sixty degrees below our moral horizon. From this I proceeded to the merits of the case.
Judge Grier and Dr. Mitchell were both elders in the Presbyterian church. The Judge administered to men the eucharist oath to follow Christ, then usurped the law-making power of the United States to punish them for obeying one of the plainest precepts of the Master.
The article seemed to throw him into a furious passion. He threatened to sue Mr. Riddle for having the Visiter printed and sold in his office, and, as for me, I was to suffer all the pains and penalties which law and public scorn could inflict. He demanded a satisfactory retraction and apology as the least atonement he could accept for the insult. These Mr. Riddle promised in my name, and I did not hesitate to make the promise good.
My next article was headed "An Apology," and in it I stated the circumstances which had called it out, and the pleasant prospect of my being sent to Mount Airy (our county jail) in case this, my apology, was not satisfactory. I should of course do my best to satisfy his honor, but in case of failure, should take comfort in the fact that the Mount would make a good observatory. From that height I should be able to use my telescope much better than in my present valley of humiliation. Indeed, the mere prospect had so improved my glass, that I had caught a new view of our sunken star, and to-day, this dispenser of justice, this gentleman with the high sense of honor, was a criminal under sentence of death by the divine law. "He who stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death."
Judge Grier had helped a gang of thieves to steal Jerry, whose ancestors had been stolen in Africa. The original thief sold all he could sell—the title of a thief—and as the stream cannot rise above the fountain, Jerry's master held the same title to him that any man would to Judge Grier's horse, provided he had stolen it. The purchaser of a stolen horse acquired no title in him, and the purchaser of a stolen man acquired no title in him. The man who helped another steal a horse, was a horse thief, and the man who helped another steal a man, was a man thief, condemned to death by divine law. Jerry, after having been once stolen, had recovered possession of himself, and his master and other thieves had re-stolen him! Judge Grier, with full knowledge of this fact, had prostituted law for the benefit of the thieves.
Nothing more was heard of a libel suit. Two years after, James McMasters was sued for harboring a fugitive; was to be tried before Grier, and spoke to his lawyer about summoning the editor of the Visiter. The attorney exclaimed:
"Oh bring her, by all means! No matter what she knows, or whether she knows anything; bring her into court, and I'll win the case for you. Grier is more afraid of her than of the devil."
The editor was summoned, gave testimony, and found Judge Grier a most courteous and considerate gentleman, with no signs of fear. The case hung on the question of notice. The Judge reversed his former decision, and those who were apt to feed beggars, breathed more freely.
A case was tried for the remanding of a slave, and lawyer Snowden appeared for the master. The Visiter sketched the lawyer as his client's dog, Towser; a dog of the blood-hound breed, with a brand new brass collar, running with his nose to the ground, while his owner clapped his hands and shouted: "Seek him, seek him Towser!"