A pious slave.

Frederick Law Olmstead. 1854.

In this brief account, Olmstead encounters a slave on the road as he continues his journey through the South. The passage does not manage to conceal a perspective of condescension, even though we expect Olmstead to be sympathetic to slaves and scornful or patronizing toward Southern whites. He seems more interested in the dialogue and the oddity of religious views than in the slave as a human being. Despite the pathetic deference and sense of inferiority the slave reveals even in this short account, he has evidently received some religious instruction. The powerful idea of faith sustaining the believer in the sufferings experienced in this life, and of the immediate, direct presence of God is an important and traditional motif of religious experience.


Soon I met a very ragged old negro, of whom I asked the way, and at what house within twelve miles I had better stop. He advised me to go to one more than twelve miles distant.

"I suppose," said I, "I can stop at any house along the road here, can't I? They'll all take in travelers?"

"Yes, sir, if you'll take rough fare, such as travelers has to, sometimes. They're all dam'd rascals along tis road, for ten or twelve miles, and you'll git nothin' but rough fare. But I say, massa, rough fare's good enough for dis world; ain't it, massa? Dis world ain't nothing'; dis is hell, dis is, I calls it; hell to what's a comin' "arter, ha! ha! Ef you's prepared? you says. I don't look much's if I was prepared, does I? nor talk like it, nuther. De Lord he cum to me in my cabin in de night time, in de year "45."


"De Lord! massa, de bressed Lord! He cum to me in de night time, in de year '45, and he says to me, says he, 'I'll spare you yet five year longer, old boy!' So when '50 cum round I thought my time had cum, sure; but as I didn't die, I reckon de Lord has 'cepted of me, and I 'specs I shall be saved, dough I don't look much like it, ha! ha! ho! ho! de Lord am my rock, and he shall not prewail over me. I will lie down in green pastures and take up my bed in hell, yet will not his mercy circumwent me. Got some tobaccy, master?"