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The Lick of the Black Snake
The Plight of Fannie Woods, an Eyewitness Account
The following is excerpted from the account of William H. Robinson, probably concerning events occurring in 1861.
“At the end of three weeks the gang of three hundred and fifty was made up and we were chained and started for Richmond, Virginia. In this gang was a woman named Fannie Woods. She had two children, the oldest about eight years, the other a nursing baby. She was not handcuffed as the others were, but tied above the elbow so she could lift the nursing baby in her arms. She led the older one by the hand. The first half of the day the little boy kept up pretty well; after that he became a hindrance in the march. [The daily march was fifteen hours. Even at a crawl this is 10 miles longer than the 18-mile daily march of a Roman Legion.] The trader came back several times and ordered her to keep up. She told him she was doing the best she could. He threatened each time to whip her if she did not keep up, and finally he ordered a negro, a strong muscular man six feet in height, who went along to give us water and help drive, to untie her, made her give the baby to another woman, then ordered her to take off her waist. They buckled a strap around each wrist and strapped her to a large pine tree less than ten feet from the rest of us, and with the black snake whip [favored over cowhide by overseers in the Wilmington area] the colored man was made to hit her fifty lashes on her bare back. The blood ran down as water but she never uttered a sound. She was ordered to put on her waist. They retired her and told her to see if they could keep up.
“After a few miles farther they sold the little boy she was leading to a man along the way. I heard the wails of the mother and the mourning of the other slaves on account of her sorrow, and heard the gruff voice of the trader as he ordered them to shut up. We marched until nine or ten o’clock, when we came to a boarding house that was kept especially for the accommodation of negro traders. This was a large log house of one room, about eighteen by twenty feet [That’s 350 people in a fast food joint, or ten times comfortable.], with staples driven in all around the room and handcuffs attached to chains about four feet long. They would handcuff two or three slaves to each chain. In the summer they had nothing but the bare floor to lie upon; in the winter straw was put on the floor. There was a very large fireplace in the room.
“We stopped at the boarding house. This was our first night’s stop after leaving Wilmington. The keeper of the boarding house tried to buy Fannie Wood’s baby, but there was a disagreement regarding the price. About five next morning we started on. When we had gone about a half mile a colored boy came running down the road with a message from his master, and we were halted until his master came bringing a colored woman with him, and he bought the baby out of Fannie Wood’s arms. As the colored woman was ordered to take it away I heard Fannie woods cry, ‘Oh God, I would rather hear the clods fall on the coffin lid of my child than to hear its cries because it is taken from me.’ She said, ‘good bye, child.’ We were ordered to move on, and could hear the crying of the child in the distance as it was borne away by the other woman, and I could hear the deep sobs of a broken hearted mother…
“We marched all day, and the second and third nights we stopped at the same kind of place as the first night. They were buying and selling all along the way, so when we reached Richmond about ten o’clock the fourth night, there were about four hundred and fifty of us, footsore, hungry and broken hearted…
“…The next morning…After our toilets were completed we were ordered into a little ten by twelve room; we went in, ten or twelve at once. There were five or six ladies in the gang I went in with. The traders, forgetting the sadness of their own mothers and sisters, paid no respect to us, but compelled each one of us to undress, so as to see if we were sound and healthy. I heard Fannie Woods as she pleaded to be exempt from this exposure. They gave her to understand that they would have her hit one hundred lashes if she did not get her clothes off at once. She still refused, and when they tried to take them off by force, fought them until they finally left them alone.”
Nothing else is known of the fate of Fannie Woods.
Also, note the paramilitary nature of slave trading.
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