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Rather Die Than Go Back

August 29, 1855 — Civil Court, Philadelphia PA


My name is Jane — Jane Johnson; I was the slave of Mr. Wheeler of Washington; he bought me and my two children, about two years ago, of Mr. Cornelius Crew, of Richmond, Va.; my youngest child is between six and seven years old, the other between ten and eleven; I have one other child only, and he is in Richmond; I have not seen him for about two years; never expect to see him again; Mr. Wheeler brought me and my two children to Philadelphia, on the way to Nicaragua, to wait on his wife; I didn’t want to go without my two children, and he consented to take them; we came to Philadelphia by the cars; stopped at Mr. Sully’s, Mr. Wheeler’s father-in-law, a few moments; then went to the steamboat for New York at 2 o’clock, but were too late; we went into Bloodgood’s Hotel; Mr. Wheeler went to dinner; Mr. Wheeler had told me in Washington to have nothing to say to colored persons, and if any of them spoke to me, to say I was a free woman traveling with a minister; we staid at Bloodgood’s till 5 o’clock; Mr. Wheeler kept his eye on me all the time except when he was at dinner; he left his dinner to come and see if I was safe, and then went back again; while he was at dinner, I saw a colored woman and told her I was a slave woman, that my master had told me not to speak to colored people, and that if any of them spoke to me to say that I was free; but I am not free; but I want to be free; she said: “poor thing, I pity you;” after that I saw a colored man and said the same thing to him, he said he would telegraph to New York, and two men would meet me at 9 o’clock and take me with them; after that we went on board the boat, Mr. Wheeler sat beside me on the deck; I saw a colored gentleman come on board, he beckoned to me; I nodded my head, and could not go; Mr. Wheeler was beside me and I was afraid; a white gentleman then came and said to Mr. Wheeler, “I want to speak to your servant, and tell her of her rights;” Mr. Wheeler rose and said, “If you have anything to say, say it to me — she knows her rights;” the white gentleman asked me if I wanted to be free; I said “I do, but I belong to this gentleman and I can’t have it;” he replied, “Yes, you can, come with us, you are as free as your master, if you want your freedom come now; if you go back to Washington you may never get it;” I rose to go, Mr. Wheeler spoke, and said, “I will give you your freedom,” but he had never promised it before, and I knew he would never give it to me; the white gentleman held out his hand and I went toward him; I was ready for the word before it was given me; I took the children by the hands, who both cried, for they were frightened, but both stopped when they got on shore; a colored man carried the little one, I led the other by the hand. We walked down the street till we got to a hack; nobody forced me away; nobody pulled me, and nobody led me; I went away of my own free will; I always wished to be free and meant to be free when I came North; I hardly expected it in Philadelphia, but I thought I should get free in New York; I have been comfortable and happy since I left Mr. Wheeler, and so are the children; I don’t want to go back; I could have gone in Philadelphia if I had wanted to; I could go now; but I had rather die than go back. I wish to make this statement before a magistrate, because I understand that Mr. Williamson is in prison on my account, and I hope the truth may be of benefit to him.

JANE [her X mark.] JOHNSON.



Source: The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narrative, Letters, &C. Narrating The Hardships, Hair-Breadth Escapes and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts For Freedom, as Related By Themselves and Others, or Witnessed by the Author, by William Still (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872), pp. 94-95.