"I DISCOVERED THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MYSELF
AND MY MASTER'S WHITE CHILDREN"
Lunsford Lane, who grew up on a plantation near Raleigh, North Carolina,
manufactured pipes and tobacco and succeeded in saving enough money to buy his
own freedom and purchase his wife and seven children. Here, he describes his
experiences as a slave child.
My father was a slave to a near neighbor. The apartment where I was born
and where I spent my childhood and youth was called "the kitchen," situated
some fifteen or twenty rods from the "great house." Here the house servants
lodged and lived, and here the meals were prepared for the people in the
My infancy was spent upon the floor, in a rough cradle, or sometimes in
my mother's arms. My early boyhood in playing with the other boys and girls,
colored and white, in the yard, and occasionally doing such little matters of
labor as one of so young years could. I knew no difference between myself and
the white children; nor did they seem to know any in turn. Sometimes my
master would come out and give a biscuit to me, and another to one of his own
white boys; but I did not perceive the difference between us. I had no
brothers or sisters, but there were other colored families living in the same
kitchen, and the children playing in the same yard with me and my mother.....
When I began to work, I discovered the difference between myself and my
master's white children. They began to order me about, and were told to do so
by my master and mistress. I found, too, that they had learned to read, while
I was not permitted to have a book in my hand. To be in possession of
anything written or printed, was regarded as an offence. And then there was
the fear that I might be sold away from those who were dear to me, and
conveyed to the far South. I had learned that being a slave I was subject to
the worst (to us) of all calamities; and I knew of others in similar
situations to myself, thus sold away. My friends were not numerous; but in
proportion as they were few they were dear; and the thought that I might be
separated from them forever, was like that of having the heart wrenched from
its socket; while the idea of being conveyed to the far South, seemed
infinitely worse than the terrors of death.
Source: The Narrative of Lunsford Lane (Boston, 1842).