Anna and Ethan Allen Andrews The tale of "old Anna"

Excerpts from Slavery and the Domestic Slave-Trade in the United States (1836) by Ethan Allen Andrews

Containing letters to the Executive Committee of the American Union for the Relief and Improvement of the Colored Race in Boston, MA.

Letter XVII.

Washington, July 21, 1835

. . . A poor woman is now residing in this city, who, together with her two children, was, some years since, separated from her husband, and brought to this place, in order to be shipped for Georgia. In her distraction at being separated from her husband, she leaped from an upper window, and falling upon the pavement, her limbs were broken in a shocking matter. She is a helpless cripple, but in her affliction she has applied to the great Physician, who heals the maladies of the soul, and is now waiting in the confident hope, that she shall meet again her dear children "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." . . .

Letter XIX.

Washington, July 23, 1835

. . . This evening I have seen old Anna, the unfortunate slave mentioned under the date of the 21st instant, as having thrown herself from an upper window, many years since, while distracted at being violently separated from her husband. She was born near Bladensburgh. Her "old master," as she calls him, in whose family she was born, and of whom she speaks with great respect, became involved in debt, and the sheriff was about to seize his property. Finding he could no longer retain his slaves, he consented to sell Anna to her husband's master, for she was now married to a slave upon a neighboring plantation, and was the mother of two little girls. In her new situation, Anna was treated unkindly, and was compelled to work very hard, both in the house and in the field. Her new master soon died, but her circumstances were not improved at his death; and when she had been in this family about a year, their affairs also became much involved in consequence of the improvidence of her young master, who was very extravagant in his expences, and dissipated in his habits, or, as old Anna expresses it in her dialect, he was "very rapid." It now became necessary that this family, in its turn, should dispose of a part of their few slaves to pay their pressing debts, and it was determined that Anna, who had been last purchased, should be sold with her children. Anna is so ignorant, and so many years of sorrow have now passed over her, since the occurrences, that she cannot tell the ages of her little girls. She only says, "the youngest was about so high, and the oldest about so much higher," raising her crippled arms, as if to show us their height by putting her feeble hands once more upon their heads. From her description, their ages might have been three and six years.

When Anna heard that she was to be sold to a man from Georgia, she "went," as she says, "upon her knees to her young master, and begged him that she and her children might not be separated from her husband and their father." Vice seems not yet fully to have hardened his heart, for it is plain from Anna's simple narrative, that he was moved by her appeal, and "swore," as she says, "a great oath, that they should not be separated." He did not, however, find it convenient to adhere to his promise, and soon after, her husband was one day sent away to work at a remote part of the plantation, and "the man from Georgia," as she calls her purchaser, came in the meantime to her master's house. And now she was ordered to take her children, and go immediately with her new owner. She says "she was dreadfully frightened, and did not know what to do," when they took her by force and compelled her to go. She does not remember anything distinctly which followed, and has only a recollection of a dreadful state of terror and affright, in which she seems to have been deprived of the use of her reason, and to have become frantic with grief and apprehension. During this state she was brought to Washington, and was placed, with a great number of others, in the upper room of a three-story house in F. street. During the night, she threw herself from the window, and fell upon the pavement. Her arms were broken and dislocated, and her lower limbs and back dreadfully injured. Her master, perceiving that she could never be of any use to him, left her lying in the garret to which she had been carried, and taking her little girls and his other slaves, departed with them to Georgia.

It was then winter, and poor Anna's sufferings were extreme, not only from broken limbs and bruises, but from cold. She was alone, without fire, with no one to help her, and was totally unable to help herself. Sometimes she suffered greatly from thirst occasioned by fever, and often from cold, when the blanket which covered her would slip from her, and she could not replace it, so that when the physician came to see her in the morning—for a physician sometimes visited her—he would find her, as she says, "more dead than alive."

Her bones were either not set in a proper manner, or did not remain so, and one of the bones of her left arm has protruded two or three inches below the wrist, and is only kept from pushing its way through, by means of the integuments. The wrist of the other hand also is nearly useless. When she was able to leave her bed, the man at whose house she had been left, claimed her as his slave, alleging that her Georgia master had given her to him, and she was therefore compelled to remain at Washington, where her husband also came to live, some time after her recovery.

Since Anna has lived at Washington, she has had four children, two only of whom are now living—a son and a daughter. Her husband continues a slave, but is allowed one dollar and fifty cents a week from his wages, for the support of himself and family. She says she has never learned to "read book," but, since her afflictions, she hopes that she has become a child of God. For some time, she could not bear to think of seeing the family, who by selling her had occasioned all her affliction; but when she thought so, she says she was unhappy, and at length "she had a heart to pray that she might forgive them, and that God would forgive them, and then she was happy." At length she saw her old mistress, who reproached her very much for having been unwilling to go to Georgia!

After some years, the man at whose house she had been left, claiming her children also, and took them away, but Anna applied to the Attorney for the District, who obtained "free papers" for her and her children.

She has never heard from her little girls, who were carried to Georgia, and does not expect to know anything about them in this world. She says "she has done mourning about them, but always prays for them, and expects to meet them up there." She now blesses God for all her afflictions, because they have been, as she hopes, the means of her conversion; and she seems especially grateful that her life was so remarkably preserved, at a time when she had not learned to be submissive to the will of God. She prizes greatly her religious privileges, and particularly her class meetings, which are the more valuable to her from her inability to read.