General Muster, Hotel Incidents, etc

(by John G. Wilson)
No. 5.
From: Folklore and Legends

Submitted by: Sharon M. Kouns

Ironton Register, Thursday, August 8, 1895

For the Register.

With what anticipation did we boys await the time of general muster day when the able-bodied citizens of Lawrence county were called together to go through with the military drill prescribed by the law.

General Fuller, of Rome, in chief command, resplendent in gold lace and shining epaulets , mounted, with drawn sword, giving command; then Colonel Andrew P. Kouns, also mounted; also Captain Carter with others I have forgotten. Then the drill with a medley of arms of all kinds, muskets, rifles, shotguns, &c., and the men out of step treading on the heels of those in front to be sworn at and then to swear at those behind. But then to hear the fife and drum pealing out Yankee Doodle and to think as Sam Slick says in his book – “The British whipped the world and we whipped the British,” was glory enough to balance all the worry and trouble they were going through. After the drill, then the dinner and such feasting as only our grandmothers knew how to provide.

John Carter, mentioned above, had a tame bear which he had raised and he would bring it to town for the boys to try their strength wrestling with it, the bear usually coming out victorious. The bear, however, grew so large and strong that he became dangerous, when Carter had him killed and sold the meat at quite a good price.

After the muster came the 4th of July celebration. I remember one in which the town did its best. They had a table about 50 feet long placed on the northwest side of the public square, under some beautiful maple trees, in front of Jas. H. Drury’s residence which had a double porch fronting the square, making a good place for the band and speakers. The Declaration of Independence was read and a speech from one of the lawyers; then the feast. The table fairly groaned with the good things of life. The colored folks were in their glory. An old man named Sam Bland, (whom the young men had made about half drunk and had filled a two bushel sack with the fragments of the feast for him) looked at the bag, then jumping as high as he could, said: “Burn my jacket eberlastin to a day, I wish 4th of July would come eber day.” The colored folks were in their glory on muster, 4th of July and “cote” week as they termed it. They were mostly employed at the different hotels and there was considerable rivalry as to which house was the best.

Aunt Tilda Johnson, mother of Gabe of your town, was head cook at Tom Clark’s Hotel and the autocrat of all the Russias was no more supreme then she was in her kitchen, and the way we used to flatter her in order to get a taste of the good things!

Phillip Linch, an old colored man who died in your town a few years ago, was employed at the same place, and was a great favorite with us boys. He was generous to a fault and would do anything to keep us from getting whipped. Our family boarded there until we had a house built, and I thought Uncle Phil was the best man living. Phil. was a shouting Methodist , at that time, and he wound up his prayer very uniquely, as follows: “Dog my cat by the land, Amen.” Poor old Phil, he is now in the land where trouble, sorrow, toil and fear are gone. For they, the colored folks, were in daily fear of the kidnappers and slave hunters who were constantly on the lookout for a chance to catch some poor runaway, or kidnap one if they thought they could but get him across the lines.

I remember when I was about 10 years old, that Bill Simmons and his gang came to my father’s store, in search of runaway slaves, and I thought as I looked at them (they were large fierce looking men armed to the teeth with pistols, knives &c., and had handcuffs tied to their saddles,) what a poor chance would the fleeing black man have, and my best wishes went out that the slave might reach Canada and be free. Their rude, boisterous, profane language, with breath redolent with bad whiskey and tobacco made them very offensive. The poor colored folks gave a long sigh of relief when they mounted their horses and went out in the country on their search. Simmons was the leader of a band of slave hunters and lived over in Virginia.

There was an underground railroad as it was termed which ran through or near by Burlington and many a poor slave was fed and piloted from one point to another by those who were posted having the North Star as their beacon of hope as they neared the promised land of freedom. They only traveled at night and the halting places were just far enough apart to consume the night, lying by in the day time.

I recollect of an incident related to several years ago by a prominent citizen in which he was an actor. He was out in the hills back of the town picking blackberries and was in quite a wild, lonely place, where rocks and undergrowth were very thick. There was no one near, when he heard close by the words, “Massa, Massa,” and looking around he saw at last a black face peering around a large rock. “I am hungry, Massa, most starved,” said the man. He motioned to the slave, for such he was, to go back into his hiding, and told him he would send him food, which he did. Also he had a guide sent by another citizen and was sent on his way rejoicing. At that time it was at the risk of one’s business and social standing to give any aid to a runaway, but thank God the days of slavery with all their dreadful horrors are banished forever.