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The Slave Experience: Responses to Enslavement
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Original Documents Responses to Enslavement

Courtesy of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, Documenting the American South
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In the account of his life as a slave, William Grimes describes how for days, perhaps longer, he feigned illness and refused food, hoping that his inability to work would convince his abusive master to sell him to a new owner.

One morning after he had given me such a severe pounding concerning the umbrella, and I was determined not to stay with him long, but to get away from him as soon as possible; he ordered me to fetch up my horse and saddle him, and put the other horse to the chaise, in order to go out to Bonaventure. I did so, and whilst I was gone I tried to invent some project, to make him believe me unwell. The next morning I pretended to be sick. He asked me what the matter was with me. I told him I had a pain in my side. He then said to Miss A--, go and weigh out a pound of salts for him. She did so. He then came to me with the salts in a cup, and said, do you see this sir? Do you see this? By Gad, you shall take every bit of this. He then mixed up a slight dose and gave it to me, which I took. He then sent for a doctor, who came and felt my pulse, and then said it would be well enough to put

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a blister plaister on my side. He accordingly went-home, spread a very large plaister, and sent it over, which my master caused to be put on my side, which drew a large blister there. All this I bore without being sick, or unwell in the least. There was a man who had been to him repeatedly, to see if he would sell me. He always refused, saying, no, I did not buy him to sell, and I will be damned if I do sell him, I bought him for my own use. I saw that he knew I was determined to get a new master, and he was the more determined to keep me. At length I refused to eat any thing at all. He would often ask me why I would not eat. I answered him that I could not, I was very weak and unwell. Still he invented every method he could, to induce me to eat, often setting victuals by my bed side &c. At length, one day he wanted me to go and fetch a load of wood: he said, come, make haste and get your dinner ready, I want you to be a clever fellow, and eat your dinner, then to take the horse and cart, and go out and fetch in a load of wood. The dinner was soon ready: he cut off some meat and other victuals, and gave me before he eat himself, saying, here now take this, be a clever fellow; eat it, and go and fetch a load of wood. I told him I did not want it. He says take it sir, and eat it. I replied, I thank you sir, I don't want it. Got tam your soul; you dont want it ha ... , you dont want it do you? He then took up a chair and came towards me, threatning to kill me. His wife being afraid he would, called to him in order to prevent him; saying, do not kill him, do not strike him with that chair. He set it down and called to Frankee, fetch me a rope God dam you, fetch me a rope. I will bind him fast, send him to jail, and let him have Moses law. (which is thirty-nine lashes on the naked back) She fetched the rope, and he bound me, and was on the point of having me taken to jail; when I dreading the whipping I knew I should be obliged to take if I went there, finally consented to eat my victuals, and behave myself well. I then eat the victuals, which relished exceedingly well. Then I went to the woods, and fetched home a load of wood. After that I again refused to eat any thing at all, but pretended to be sick all the time. I also told Frankee, to tell my master, that I was subject to such turns every spring, and I should not live through this. She told him, which frightened him very much, thinking he should lose me. (which would grieve him as much as it would to lose a fine horse of the same value.) He then again tried to make me eat by the

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same means, often leaving victuals by my bed side at night, or order Frankee to do it. He would then enquire of her if I had eaten any thing yet. She replied, no, sir, I have not seen him eat any thing since last Friday noon. I had his horse to water every day; and as I went out of, or across the yard, where I knew he would see me, I would pretend to be so weak that I could scarcely go. I would stagger along, to make him think that I should fall every moment. He one time called his wife to the window, saying, Missess, Missess, by Gad come here, do you see him? He is almost gone, by Gad I shall lose him; see how he staggers. By Gad he has not eat a mouthfull now for these three weeks. I must lose him by Gad; do you see that? I would however have it understood, that during all this time, I did not go without victuals. I sometimes could steal a little provision, and after driving my master to his plantation, I could sometimes run into the potatoe house, where I could find a few of them, which I ate raw. At other times I could find a bone, not quite stripped clean, which together with what I stole, made me a comfortable subsistance; or as much so, as the slaves generally receive. I was determined not to eat any thing in his sight, or to his knowledge, in order to make him think he must either sell me or lose me. One morning he sent me to eat my breakfast, I told him I did not want any. He said, go along and get your breakfast. I went, and returned. When I came back, he asked me if I had eaten my breakfast. I told him, no, sir, I thank you, I did not wish for any. You did not, did you? Gad dam you, you are sick, are you? You may die and be damned, by Gad: you may die and be damned: your coffin shall not cost me a quarter of a dollar, by Gad: you shall be buried on your face, by Gad: you may die and be damned.

Which of us is most likely to receive that part of this blessing which is to take effect in the next life, I will not say. However being determined to change my situation if possible, I went to one Major Lewis, a free black man, and very cunning. I gave him money, to go to my master, and run me down, and endeavour to convince him that I was really sick, and should never be good for any thing. In a few days from this, my master came down in the kitchen and says, boy get up, there boy, (holding it out in his hand,) there is the very money I gave for you: I have got my money again, and you may go and be damned and don't you never step into my house again; if you do I will split your dam brains out. I then went to my new

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master's, Mr. Oliver Sturges, who came from Fairfield, Connecticut. He bought me to drive his carriage.

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