From John Hennessy:
This past week I came across a 1913 interview with a Fredericksburg-area slave. Her name was Fanny, and she was owned by Samuel Gordon and his wife Patsy Fitzhugh Gordon of Santee, just across the Spotsylvania line in Caroline County, about ten miles south of Fredericksburg. Gordon, the former owner of Kenmore, was a scion of Fredericksburg’s wealthiest families (he was worth nearly $200,000 in 1860). Fanny was one of at least 35 slaves he owned. Despite a number of clues in her narrative–including her postwar residence in Fredericksburg–at this point I have been unable to follow Fanny into freedom. I will continue to work on identifying her.
Fanny’s passage on the nexus between the war, Union army, and freedom is interesting on several levels. Hers is the only explanation we have from an individual slave of why she chose not to run away when the Union army came–out of concern for her children and, more importantly, because of her ultimate confidence in Union victory and the end of slavery. It’s clear evidence of a clearly thought strategy, one based on optimism and some careful calculation. Her statement belies the image of the passive, unthinking, loyal slave, and it is an important addition to a small-but-growing chorus of slaves’ voices available to us.
When the battle ended and I heard that the Union army had been defeated, I couldn’t believe it. My mistress said to me, “Yo’ know the Northern soldiers cain’ fight us hyar.”
But I said: “Ain’ God the captain? He started this war, and he’s right in front. He may stop in his career and let yo’ rest up a little bit now, but our Captain ain’ never been beaten. Soon He’ll start out ag’in, and yo’ll hear the bugle blow, and He’ll march on to victory. Where the Bible says, ‘Be not afraid; yo’ shall set under yo’ own vine and fig tree,’ that means us slaves, and I tell yo’ we ‘re goin’ to be a free people. You-all will be gittin’ yo’ pay sho’ for the way you’ve done treated us pore black folks. We been killed up like dogs, and the stripes you’ve laid on us hurt jus’ as bad as if our skin was white as snow. But I ain’ gwine to run away or from my children in the river as some slaves have, for I’m as certain this war will set us free as that I stand hyar.”
I tol’ her jus’ what I thought, and my mistress said, “Fanny, you is foolish,” and my master said, “You ain’t got no sense.”
And I said to my master, “When I was a young girl yo’ sold ninety-six people at one time to pay a debt.”
Then I sat down and cried, and the white people stood there and laughed at me. “Lord,” I said, “I’d rather be dead than have my children sold away from me.”
From Clifton Johnson, Battleground Adventures in the Civil War. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1915. Page 150. The book is available on Google Books.