After Slavery: Educator Resources

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1. A Wartime Encounter Between Two South Carolina Slaves

"A political discussion," 1869, sketch by William Ludwell Sheppard, <em>Harper's Weekly</em>, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A political discussion, 1869, sketch by William Ludwell Sheppard, Harper's Weekly, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Two: Freed Slaves Mobilize in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

The first document is from a memoir by the Boston-born James Robert Gilmore, who toured South Carolina in the period leading up to secession and published his Life in Dixie's Land, or South in Secession Time, under the pseudonym Edmund Kirke, in 1862. In this excerpt, Gilmore recalls (and renders 'in dialect') a wartime encounter that he witnessed between two slave teamsters (wagon drivers) outside of Georgetown, South Carolina. The slave Scipio had been assigned by his owner the task of transporting Gilmore, by wagon, into the South Carolina interior, and it was during their trek that they met up with Jim.

One other detail might help in reading the document transcription: the night prior to this incident, Scipio overheard a conversation between his owner and the visitor, Gilmore, in which the latter expressed his opposition to slavery. Awareness of his passenger's abolitionist leanings may have made it easier for Scipio to confide in Gilmore.

A Wartime Encounter Between Two South Carolina Slaves
Edmund Kirke, Life in Dixie's Land, or South in Secession Time 

..."Jim, this is Scip," I said, seeing the darkies took no notice of each other.
"How d'ye do, Scipio?" said Jim, extending his hand to him. A look of singular intelligence passed over the faces of the two negroes as their hands met; it vanished in an instant, and was so slight that none but a close observer would have detected it, but some words that Scip had previously let drop had put me on the alert, and I felt sure had a hidden significance.
[later, after Jim has departed]
"Scip, did you know Jim before?" I asked.
"Hab seed him afore, massa, but neber know'd him."
"How is it that you have lived in Georgetown five years, and have not known him?"
"I cud hab know'd him, massa, good many time, ef I'd liked, but darkies hab to be careful."
"Careful of what?"
"Careful ob who dey knows; good many bad niggas 'bout."
"P'shaw, Scip, you're 'coming de possum;' there isn't a better nigger than Jim in all South Carolina. I know him well."
"...Come, Scip, you've played this game long enough. Tell me, now, what that look you gave each other when you shook hands meant... If I should guess, 'twould be that it meant mischief."
"It don't mean mischief, sar," said the darky, with a tone and air that would not have disgraced a cabinet officer; "it meant only Right and Justice."
"It means that there is some secret understanding between you."
"I told you, massa," he replied. "dat de blacks am all freemasons. I gabe Jim de grip, and he know'd me..."
"Why did he call you Scipio? I called you Scip."
"Oh! de darkies all do dat. Nobody but de white folks call me Scip. I can't say no more, massa; I SHUD BREAK DE OATH EF I DID."

Source: Edmund Kirke, Life in Dixie's Land, or South in Secession Time (London, 1863), pp. 73-75


Questions to Consider

  1. Why might Jim insist on addressing Scipio by his full name, rather than the familiar form that Kirke uses?

  2. Kirke is trying to suggest that some sort of bond or relationship exists between these two slaves who, according to Scipio, have never in fact met. What can we tell from the document about the nature of this relationship? Does this have any significance beyond the personal ties between Jim and Scipio?

  3. In what ways did slavery restrict collective organization among blacks? How important were these restrictions to the maintenance of the slave system? How might those held in slavery attempt to overcome these constraints?

  4. What might Scipio mean when he remarks that there are a "good many bad niggas 'bout"? Is he referring to their honesty? Their propensity for violence?

  5. In responding to Kirke's questioning, Scipio asserts that "all the blacks" are freemasons. If this is the case, how might it affect their capacity to mobilize politically when the war ends?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Two