Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One Owner's Thoughts on His Runaway

William Moody Pratt was a Baptist minister from Lexington, Kentucky, who kept an extensive diary that spanned much of the 19th century. From 1838 to 1891, he noted happenings of national, state, and personal importance. Pratt was also a slaveholder. On April 2, 1865, he woke to find that his slave cook Lucinda had fled. The way he describes that morning and what he found, makes one think that Lucinda had probably thought long and hard about whether to stay, where there was some sense of security, or to runaway, in attempt to experience true freedom. 

Pratt wrote:
"Last night our servant woman left while we were asleep - & we found the kitchen in the morning swept, garnished, & Empty - & wife Mary & myself went about to work to get breakfast – About two weeks before, our cook Lucinda rece’d a letter from Camp Nelson, written by some white man for her husband, Henry, & telling [her] that she was free, & to Either price herself to me, or to somebody Else in town, or to come there, when provision was made for them –she sent the letter for me to read.  I went into the kitchen to talk to her upon the subject, & told her she could leave or stay just as she pleased.  I offered to give her $2 per week if she would stay, & that she might have four days in the week to work for herself – She said she had rather stay with us, that we had always used her well, & that she was satisfied she could not do as well any where else as with us.  I told her, I would be glad for her to stay if she felt contented & would do as she always had & not to be running about to consult with the free negroes – I suppose, however, She was persuaded to leave – I found the kitchen cleaned up – the bread raised & put ready for baking & kindling at hand to make a fire – I hope she & her daughter will do well – they have been faithful servants & I believe it would have been for their interest to have stayed with us."

What owners thought was best for their charges, and what the slaves thought was best, were often not the same thing. Obviously, Lucinda knew she was free by the fact that her husband Henry was a soldier at Camp Nelson. A month before Pratt's diary entry, provisions had been made to free families of United States Colored Troops soldiers by General John M. Palmer's General Order No. 10

Pratt explained in the entry that Lucinda had told him she would stay on, but the desire for freedom must have outweighed any doubts she had about being able to provide for herself and her daughter. It is interesting that Pratt also mentioned that he did not wish for her "to be running about to consult with the free negroes." As he hints, perhaps it was they that finally persuaded her to leave.  And, although he wished Lucinda and her daughter well, he could not help but think that they would have been better off in his paternal care than on their own. The end of slavery taught masters that it was not for them to continue to make decisions for others. I am sure that was a difficult reality for owners to process.

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