6 months ago

Atw June Web Final

June 2015

Pasquotank County Slave

Pasquotank County Slave Who Escaped From Slavery, Through the Great Dismal Swamp by Wanda E. Hunt McLean Several years ago Professor Kate Clifford Larson, the historian who authored the book Bound for the Promised Land- Harriet Tubman- Portrait of an American Hero, sent me an article on a former slave who escaped from Pasquotank County in 1862 when he was fourteen years old. The article was published in the Lewiston (Massachusetts) Journal Illustrated Magazine, April 16, 1921, and the article is important because it reads like a slave narrative, and documents a slave’s escape through the Great Dismal Swamp. John H. Nichols crossed the Dismal Swamp without chart or compass, reaching the lines of the Federal Troops in Deep Creek, Virginia. He was in the swamp for three days and three nights. Nichols was born in Pasquotank close to the Great Dismal Swamp. His master was Dempsey Richardson and he took on the Richardson name as a slave on his plantation. He formerly belonged to Ivory Richardson, but when Ivory died all of his slaves passed on to his son Dempsey. There were around thirty slaves in all living in twelve to fifteen very small, two room cabins. His father, Jim Hinton, was sold to a nearby plantation and saw him often on Sundays or in the evenings. His mother was dead and the only other relatives he had were two uncles who lived several miles away. Around 1862 Nichols and other slaves on the plantation found out that a war between the North and South was taking place, but they had no idea what it was about. They were told by white people that the Yankees were coming to take the slaves down to Cuba to work in the sugar plantations. Nichols said his owner was a nice man, but the “farm boss” (overseer) whipped him badly once. The slaves were whipped with either a hickory stick or raw hide whip. The slaves worked from “sun to sun” and had the evenings for amusement if not too tired. Nichols often hired himself out to earn a little money. He found out that he was worth $600 because he was a young man, and someone tried to buy him once but his master would not let him go. The Richardson plantation raised raised wheat, corn, and potatoes. Slaves on the plantation finally learned that Union soldiers were on the other side of the Great Dismal Swamp, and it was whispered around among the slaves that they had a chance to escape. Nichols’ father was one of the planners organizing an escape through the swamp. He knew a black man in the vicinity who was familiar with the swamp and agreed to guide a party of slaves thru the swamp for $300, which was a lot of money for slaves. The money was raised, and it was passed over to the man who turned out to be a traitor! All was kept quiet until all of the plans were complete and the time came to escape. “It was a dark night and we were assembled on the edge of the swamp. We were to start at midnight and follow a lumberman’s trail until the following morning. Many slaves gathered for the plunge into the swamp but our guide was not there according to promise.” Continued next page Wall Cabinets, Back Countertop with Cabintets, Hostess Station and Register Station w/ dropbox safe Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia, by David Edward Cronin, 1888 22 Albemarle Tradewinds June 2015

Pasquotank County Slave Who Escaped From Slavery, Through the Great Dismal Swamp by Wanda E. Hunt McLean Continued It was agreed upon that the group would try to go anyway once they decided that the man ran off with their money. Nichols’ father agreed to lead them through the swamp. The traitor told Nichols’ master what was going on, and all the white men in the vicinity armed themselves and started out on the groups’ trail. The group of slaves had a start of several hours into the swamp. “We were following an old canal (Dismal Swamp Canal) that had been used to bring lumber out of the swamp and the first night was easy traveling.” By morning the white men were up on the slaves, the trail was growing worse, and the slaves were unarmed. Most of the slaves decided to go back as opposed to being shot, but the boldest plunged deeper into the swamp. There were seven in all and Nichols and his father were two of them. They lost track of each other, and Nichols eventually found that he was alone. “It was a terrible experience for a boy of my age. All trace of a road was lost and I was compelled to crawl on my hands and knees in order to get thru the tangled jungle.” Nichols took a hoe cake with him and that helped him keep up his strength. At night he was so tired that he could actually sleep a little. “I could hear the hissing of the snakes and vipers were around me and I could hear them although too dark to see them. I saw a few wild cats but these kept shy of me. Perhaps what terrified me the most than all else was the fear of ghosts. The Negro slaves had been kept in ignorance and were very superstitious. They all believed in ghosts good and bad and I as a boy had been taught to believe in them.” To make a long, wonderful and historical story short, Nichols made it to the Union Troops in Virginia. Other men with his group slowly staggered in, but not his father. The troops put them to work and they became “contraband” doing menial jobs for the troops. Nichols finally met up with one of his uncles and he told Nichols that his father made it through the swamp to Norfolk, and his father wanted him to come to Norfolk to see him. They never saw each other again because Nichols was afraid to leave the protection of the Union Troops. Nichols became a resident of Lewiston, Mass for over sixty years. He and his wife had thirteen children and they were able to educate them all. He was over eighty years old when he died in the 1930’s, and Lewiston declared that at the time of his death that Nichols was the first African American resident of Lewiston, Mass. People reading this story might know of the Richardson and Hinton families and stories passed downed by former slaves and the white families who owned these slaves. If you know any of these stories please share them with us at TradeWinds Magazine. SodoKu Live the Dream! Classic 43’ Houseboat. Great beach home. 910-368-7145 Located on Outer Banks Free 24 hour news at Thank you Virginia Pilot for your news feed. Albemarle Tradewinds June 2015 23