Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Witness to a Kentucky Slave Coffle

In the Rev. John Rankin's Letters on American Slavery, published in 1836, he included in his footnotes a letter, written in 1824, from a fellow minister, James H. Dickey, that described the latter's eyewitness of slave coffle led by Bourbon County slave trader Edward Stone. It is as follows:

"In the summer of 1822, as I returned with my family from a visit to the Barrens of Kentucky, I witnessed a scene such as I never witnessed before, as such I hope never to witness again. Having passed through Paris, in Bourbon County, Kentucky, the sound of music, (beyond a little rising of ground) attracted my attention; I looked forward and saw the flag of my country waving. Supposing I was about to meet a military parade, I drove hastily to the side of the road; and having gained the top of the ascent, I discovered, I suppose, about forty black men, all chained together after the following manner: Each of them was handcuffed, and they were arranged in rank and file. A chain perhaps forty feet long, the size of a fifth-horse chain, was stretched between the two ranks, to which short chains were joined which connected with the handcuffs. Behind them were about thirty women, in double rank, the couples tied hand to hand. A solemn sadness sat on every countenance, and the dismal silence of the march of despair was interrupted only by the sound of two violins; yes, as if to add insult to injury, the foremost couple were furnished with a violin apiece, the second couple were ornamented with cockades, while near the center waved the Republican [United States] flag, carried by a hand, literally in chains."

In the letter Dickey expressed his indignation with the scene as disrespectful toward fellow men, an insult to Christianity, and an ironic use of the American flag. Dickey continued on his journey and then found a house for rest for the night. When he described the scene to the homeowner, she exclaimed: "'Ah, that is my brother.'" From this woman Dickey learned that the coffle was owned by Bourbon County slave trader Edward Stone and a man named Kinningham from Paris, Kentucky (also in Bourbon County). Stone's sister continued to tell Dickey a grisly detail that he related in the letter:

"a few days before he [Stone] had purchased a negro woman from Nicholas County; she refused to go with him; he attempted to compel her, but she defended herself. Without further ceremony, he stepped back, and by a blow on the side of her head with the butt of his whip brought her to the ground; he tied her and drove her off. I learned farther, that besides the drove I had seen, there were about thirty shut up in the Paris prison for safe keeping, to be added to the company, and that they were designed for the [New] Orleans market. And for this they are doomed for no other crime than that of a black skin and curled locks."

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