THE EXODUS OF THE 37 BLACKS FROM VA. TO BURLINGTON IN 1849.
(by John G. Wilson)
From: Folklore and Legends
Submitted by: Sharon M. Kouns
Ironton Register, Thursday, March 05, 1896
For the Register.
In the fall of 1849, 37 slaves were set free, and moved to just above our town of Burlington on the farm purchased from Isaac Frampton. They were owned by James Twyman and were manumitted by him in his will, in the county of Madison, Virginia.
The farm purchased for them was about 640 acres, hill and bottom land, with one large frame house and several small tenant houses on it. There were 20 males and 17 females. Some of them were old men and woman, who had given the best part of there lives in toil for their master, in the accursed bond of slavery. Their bowed forms, hard callused hands told all too plainly what they had undergone. The best part of their lives had been given for some one else. When the news was brought by the servants from the big house to the quarters, that “Ole Marse” had set them free and that they were to be taken to Ohio, where a home and land was provided for them, a home in reality, they could hardly believe it; the news was too good. The mothers looked upon their children and thought, can it be that these sons and daughters of mine will be free and not have to toil as I have done without recompense, without hope? “Glory to our heavenly Master, it is too good to be true,” but true it was, and before long they were on their way to the promised land big and little, old and young, carrying with them, like the Israelites of old, their little belongings which they cherished as from their old “Virginny home.”
Their journey was made in fear and dread; fear that something might happen to prevent their reaching the haven of rest; dread that some shrewd, lawyer might pick out some flaw in the papers and that they would be remanded back to await the tedious motions of the law’s delay. But nothing intervened to stop them, and bye and bye, they came to the banks of the Ohio river, the barrier to freedom which they had long known of, but had never seen before. One of them informed me, that he thought it was the sea, and their wonderment was great as they looked upon the mighty river for the first time in their lives, and thought how was it possible for anyone who ran away to ever get across its swollen stream; and like the children of Israel, at the Red Sea, where and how they are to get across the mighty flood. My informant also says, that at this time, a steamboat came along, and the wonderment grew and they could not see enough of it. It was something; they had never heard of in their inland home, a moving house propelled by some invisible power belching forth great clouds of smoke and steam and moving through the water as a thing of life. And many days after they had reached their home, on the banks of the beautiful Ohio, did they clasp their children close, as one of those monsters, breathing fire and smoke, went rushing by with the rapidity of the wind and it was many days before they got accustomed to them.
I was about eleven years old when they came, and as my father was a friend to the poor black man, having left Virginia on account of slavery, they came to him for advice and counsel which he freely gave them, and employed them in various ways. I used to go up to see them and hear them recount their tales of slave life and sing their weird songs, and hymns which had a touch of pathos which brought tears to my eyes, as “Swing low, sweet Chariot,” The Resurrection Day, Behold Zion, when the Bridegroom Comes &c. They also had a hymn of which I will give one verse and the chorus, which for pathos and a trust in the heavenly master is hard to be excelled. We leave the reader to judge.
But Jesus sees me when I fall,
And Jesus hears me when I call,
But nobody knows the trouble I see,
The trouble I see, but God.
Nobody knows the trouble I see
The trouble I see, the trouble I see,
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
The trouble I see, but God.
It was this unwavering faith and trust in the Lord which enabled them to endure the horrors of slavery so long and these hymns lightened the burden.
Most all of the old men and women have passed away, with the exception of uncle Walker Fry, who is known almost to everyone in the county. Also the mother of W. T. Smith, who has been bedridden for six years, but whose faith and trust in her Redeemer would put to blush the most hardened sinner in the land. The younger ones born and reared in freedom are abreast with any, and are becoming educated, fitted to fill any position to which they may be called. The teachers inform me that most of them are easily controlled and learn rapidly. The curse of caste is being eliminated from the whites, and before another century it will be entirely gone.