Page images
PDF
EPUB

6

."

who, in their journey through life, are always ready for a fight or a frolic, and don't care the toss of a copper which. “Well, gentlemen,' says I, being called upon for a toast, and being in a slave-holding state, in order to avoid giving offence, and running the risk of being Lynched, it may be necessary to premise that I am neither an abolitionist nor a colonisationist, but simply Colonel Crockett of Tennessee, now bound for Texas.' When they heard my name, they gave three cheers for Colonel Crockett; and silence being restored, I continued : Now, gentlemen, I will offer you a toast, hoping, after what I have stated, that it will give offence to no one present; but should I be mistaken, I must imitate the old Roman, and take the responsibility. I offer, gentlemen, “ the abolition of slavery:" Let the work first begin in the two houses of Congress. They drank the toast in a style that satisfied me, that the little magician might as well go to a pigsty for wool, as to beat round in that part for voters ; they were all either for Judge White or Old Tippecanoe. The thimble conjuror having asked the bar-keeper how much was to pay, was told there were sixteen smallers, which amounted to one dollar, and he immediately laid down the blunt in one of Biddle's notes.

After setting my face against gambling, Thimblerig was obliged to break off conjuring for want of customers, and call it half a day. He came and entered into conversation with me, and I found him a good-natured, intelligent fellow, with a keen eye for the main chance. belonged to that numerous class, that it is perfectly safe to trust as far as a tailor can sling a bull by the tail-but no further. He told me that he had been brought up a gentleman ; that is to say, he was not instructed in any useful pursuit by which he could obtain a livelihood, so that when he found he had to depend upon himself for the necessaries of life, he began to suspect that Dame Nature would have conferred a particular favour, if she had consigned him to the care of any one else.

He

Idleness being the mother of all mischief, he had soon taken to very indifferent courses for a livelihood : in short, he commenced the profession of swindler at Natchez. Here he remained till Judge Lynch began his practice in that quarter. This drove him to his shifts in the steam-boats on the river. I asked him to give me an account of Natchez, and his adventures there, and I would put it in the book I intended to write, when he gave me the following, which betrays that his feelings were still somewhat irritated at being obliged to give them leg-bail when Judge Lynch made his appearance. I give it in his own words :

Natchez is a land of fevers, alligators, niggers, and cotton bales: where the sun shines with force sufficient to melt the diamond, and the word ice is expunged from the dictionary, for its definition cannot be comprehended by the natives ; where to refuse grog before breakfast would degrade you below the brute creation ; where the evergreen and majestic magnolia-tree, with its superb flower, unknown to the northern climes, and its fragrance unsurpassed, calls forth the admiration of every beholder; and the dark moss hangs in festoons from the forest trees, like the drapery of a funeral pall; where bears, the size of young jackasses, are fondled in lieu of pet dogs; and knives, the length of a barber's pole, usurp the place of toothpicks ; where the filth of the town is carried off by buzzards, and the inhabitants are carried off by fevers; and where nigger women are knocked down by the auctioneer. Such is Natchez.

“The town is divided into two parts, as distinct in character as they are in appearance.

Natchez on the hill

, situated upon a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi,

a pretty little town, with streets regularly laid out, and ornamented with divers handsome public buildings. Natchez under the hill—where, O where, shall I find words suitable to describe the peculiarities of that unholy spot ? An odd affair occurred while I was last there, continued Thimblerig. A steam-boat stopped at the landing, and one of the hands went ashore under the hill to purchase provisions, and the adroit citizens of that delectable retreat, contrived to rob him of all his money. The captain of the boat, a determined fellow, went ashore in the hope of persuading them to refund but that wouldn't do. Without further ceremony, assisted by his crew and passengers, some three or four hundred in number, he made fast an immense cable to the frame tenement where the theft had been perpetrated, and allowed fifteen minutes for the money to be forthcoming; vowing, if it was not produced within that time, to put steam to his boat, and drag the house into the river. The money was instantly produced.

'I witnessed a sight during my stay there, continued the thimble conjuror, that almost froze my blood with horror, and will serve as a specimen of the customs of the far south. A planter of the name of Foster, connected with the best families of the state, unprovoked, in cold blood murdered his young and beautiful wife, a few months after marriage. He beat her deliberately to death in a walk adjoining his dwelling, carried the body to the hut of one of his slaves, washed the dirt from her person, and, assisted by his negroes, buried her upon his plantation. Suspicion was awakened, the body disinterred, and the villain's guilt established. He fled, was overtaken, and secured in prison. His trial was, by some device of the law, delayed until the third term of the court. At length it came on; and so clear and indisputable was the evidence, that not a doubt was entertained of the result; when, by an oversight on the part of the sheriff, who neglected swearing into office his deputy who summoned the jurors, the trial was abruptly discontinued, and all proceedings against Foster were suspended, or rather ended.

“There exists, throughout the extreme south, bodies of men who style themselves Lynchers.

When an individual escapes punishment by some technicality of the law, or perpetrates an offence not recognised in courts of justice, they seize him, and inflict such chastisement as they conceive adequate to the offence. They

usually act at night, and disguise their persons. This society at Natchez embraces all the lawyers, physicians, and principal merchants of the place. Foster, whom all good men loathed as a monster unfit to live, was called into court, and formally dismissed. But the Lynchers were at hand. The moment he stepped from the court-house, he was knocked down, his arms bound behind him, bis eyes bandaged, and in this condition was marched to the rear of the town, where a deep ravine afforded a fit place for his punishment. His clothes were torn from his back, his head partially scalped : they next bound him to a tree; each Lyncher was supplied with a cow-skin whip, and they took turns at the flogging, until the flesh hung in ribbons from his body. A quantity of heated tar was then poured over his head, and made to cover every part of his person : they finally showered a sack of feathers on him ; and in this horrid guise, with no other apparel than a miserable pair of trousers, with a drummer at his heels, he was paraded through the principal streets at mid-day. No disguise was assumed hy the Lynchers; the very lawyers employed upon his trial took part in his punishment.

"Owing to long confinement his gait had become cramped, and his movements were very faltering. By the time the procession reached the most public part of the town, Foster fell down from exhaustion, and was allowed to lie there for a time, without exciting the sympathies of any one-an object of universal detestation. The blood oozing from his stripes had become mixed with the feathers and tar, and rendered his aspect still more horrible and loathsome. Finding him unable to proceed further, a common dray was brought, and with his back to the horse's tail, the drummer standing over him playing the rogue's march, he was reconducted to prison, the only place at which he would be received. A guard was placed outside of the jail, to give notice to the body of Lynchers when Foster might attempt to escape, for they had determined on branding him on the forehead, and cutting his ears off. At two o'clock in the

VOL. XVI.

H

6

morning of the second subsequent day, two horsemen with a led-horse stopped at the prison, and Foster was with difficulty placed astride. The Lynchers wished to secure him ; he put spurs to his beast, and passed them. As he rode by, they fired at him ; a ball struck his hat, which was thrown to the ground, and he escaped; but if ever found within the limits of the state, will be shot down as if a price were set on his head.

Sights of this kind, continued Thimblerig,' are by no means infrequent. I once saw a gambler, a sort of friend of mine, by the way, detected cheating at faro, at a time when the bets were running pretty high. They flogged him almost to death, added the tar and feathers, and placed him aboard a dug-out, a sort of canoe, at twelve at night ; and with no other instruments of navigation than a bottle of whisky and a paddle, set him adrift in the Mississippi. He has never been heard of since, and the presumption is, that he either died of his wounds, or was run down in the night by a steamer. And this is what we call Lynching in Natchez.

Thimblerig had also been at Vicksburg in his time, and entertained as little liking for that place as he did for Natchez. He had luckily made his escape a short time before the recent clearing out of the sleight-of-hand gentry; and he reckoned some time would elapse before he would pay them another visit. He said they must become more civilised first. All the time he was talking to me, he was seated on a chest, and playing mechanically with his pea and thimbles, as if he were afraid that he would lose the sleight, unless he kept his hand in constant practice. Nothing of any consequence occurred in our passage down the river, and I arrived at Natchitoches in perfect health, and in good spirits.

« PreviousContinue »