Tuesday, April 26, 2016

1859 Article: A Logical Solution

This story is from the Covington Journal of October 29, 1859.

This little anecdote has no real direct war connection but does discuss a key issue of the time, and after I read it, I thought it was worth sharing. 

A Kentuckian in an Easy Fix

Col. H., returning from a Northern tour, encountered on his way to Cincinnati, a large number of Quakers, of both sexes, returning from an abolition celebration at Cleveland, Ohio. As the cars moved on he became engaged in conversation with one of the Friends, and in its course the subject of slavery naturally arose. The conversation increased in warmth and interested, and enlisted the attention of everyone present - the Quakers asserting their utmost horror of slavery, and the Southerner maintaining with equal feeling its justice and humanity. Stopping finally at a way station, a new passenger entered - a large, fine-looking mulatto woman, holding a baby in her arms.

Looking around to find a seat, and observing a vacant one occupied in part by Col. H., she proceeded to seat herself. The Colonel, with a characteristic courtesy, made way for the ample display of crinoline. A few moments elapsed, when the dark-skinned Venus turned suddenly to the Colonel and inquired:

"Mister, did you see any yellar trunk put aboard this train?"

"Well, really, madam," rejoined the Kentuckian, "there are so many yellow trunks that I am unable to say whether the one to which you allude was put aboard or not."

This did not suffice our heroine. In a moment or two, the colonel having declined an invitation to go out and look for her "yeller trunk," she arose suddenly and extending the infant African in her arms in the direction of our friend, exclaimed:

"Mister, will you hold this 'ere babe of mine while I  go and see after that 'ere yellar trunk?"

The colonel assuring her, with inaffable grace and dignity, that he would only be too happy to oblige her, proceeded to dandle in his arms the sooty off-spring of my lady. By this time mirth pervaded every countenance, and ineffectual efforts to suppress a general titter told of the amusement the picture afforded. Moments fled - the whistle sounded - but Venus did not make her appearance. Matters seemed coming to a crisis. At least one of the broadbrims, inspired by a benevolent comprehension of the burden the Kentuckian's politeness seemed about to entail upon him; perhaps not unwilling to add to the slightest malicious and excusable merriment of his anti-Southern associates, crept up to the seats occupied by the subject of this anecdote, send whispered, in a tone audible to all:

"Friend, art thou not afraid that she will leave it with thee?"

"Leave it with me, my dear sir," rejoined Col. H., turning around so that he could be distinctly heard by all persons and dropping his voice to a loud whisper: 

"Why, that is just what I should like. It's worth three hundred dollars in Kentucky!"

The few Southerners present shouted with laughter, and the discomfiture of the disciples of Brotherly Love and sly fun (sic) was delightful to behold.


As I read this at first, I did not think it would be a fit for this blog, but the punchline (for lack of a better term) - one perhaps I should have anticipated - convinced me otherwise. Even if this story is not literally 100% true, the Colonel's attitude it describes struck me as noteworthy. He obviously believed in slavery and that this young person was merely another piece of property to buy and sell. 

The stereotype of a "Southern Gentleman," with "characteristic courtesy" and "grace and dignity" comes through quite clearly in his character. Had the author included a physical description of the man wearing a fine suit and top hat, or perhaps well-groomed facial hair, it would have been a perfect fit.

"Kentucky Gentleman" Decanter by Barton Brands"

Also interesting was the various terms the author used to describe the mother - "mulatto," "heroine," "Venus," as well as and how the story portrayed her accent, but not the Colonel's. 

I did learn that a crinoline is a piece of women's clothing, worn under a dress or skirt to make it wider (and thus requiring understanding from a seatmate on a train.)

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