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Trial of Margaret Garner

February 13, 1856 — In court, final day of the Margaret Garner trial, Cincinnati OH


I am only sorry that I was not in when Col. Chambers said what he did say about me, and about my giving a knife to the poor woman who had just gone out. I returned to town only yesterday or I should have been here during every day of this trial. When I came here and saw that poor fugitive, took her toil-hardened hand, and read in her face deep suffering and an ardent longing for freedom, I could not help bid her be of good cheer. I told her a thousand hearts were aching for her, and they were glad that one child of hers was safe with the angels. Her only reply was a look of deep despair — of anguish such as no word can speak.

I thought then that the spirit she manifested was the same with that of our ancestors to whom we had erected the monument at Bunker Hill — that spirit that would rather let us go back to slavery.

The faded faces of the negro children tell too plainly to what degradation female slaves submit. Rather than give her little daughter to that life, she killed it. If in her deep maternal love she felt the impulse to send her child back to God, to save it from coming woe, who shall say she had no right to do so? That desire had its root in the deepest and holiest feelings of our nature — implanted alike in black and white by our common Father. With my own teeth would I tear open my veins, and let the earth drink my blood, rather than wear the chains of slavery. How then could I blame her for wishing her child to find freedom with God and the angels, where no chains are?

I know not whether this Commissioner has little children, else I would appeal to him to know how he would like to have them torn from him; but I feel that he will not disregard the Book which says, “Thou shalt not deliver until his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best.”



Source: Who Speaks for Margaret Garner? ed. Mark Reinhardt (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press) 2010, pp. 110-112.