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‘The Instruments of Torture’
The Harrowing Youth Of Moses Roper
Moses Roper wrote his memoir without emotion, more like a litany of facts than a lively narrative. I shall try and summarize it as dryly as he wrote it.
In 1816, ‘the year without a summer’, Moses Roper was born to Mister Roper the Planter, and the half-white slave of Mrs. Roper. It was a common fear among slaves that their babies would come out white, and be killed by the mistress of the plantation. Moses was not only born white, but came out ‘looking very much like Mister Roper’ as well. Mrs. Roper came with a ‘club stick’ and a ‘knife’ to erase her husband’s sin. When she raised the knife to stab Moses his grandmother caught the blade and saved him. This grandmother—maternal or paternal is not known—would come to Moses’ aid in later years as well.
At 12 or 13 years Moses was sold to a ‘negro trader’ named Hodge, who took him ‘several hundred’ miles away to Kershaw County South Carolina. Moses was purchased by a cotton planter named Mister Gooch, who beat him severely almost every day. Mister Gooch gave Moses to his son-in-law Mister Hammans, a planter with but two slaves.
Moses had been a domestic servant and was not yet a man. When the cotton came in he was unable to keep up with the two men he worked with in the fields. The next 18 months of Moses’ life consisted of being punished for being unable to keep up with adult field hands, of running away at least six times, and of being punished for running away. The following are some of the torments he endured at the hands of his various handlers at age 13 and 14:
1. To be beaten with a rope as he worked bare-chested in the hot summer sun.
2. He was whipped 100 times on at least three occasions when he was caught escaping.
3. Mrs. Hammans regularly tied Moses up naked and whipped him for her pleasure.
4. Moses was chained by the neck to Mister Gooch’s two-wheeled carriage and made to run along besides it for 15 miles.
5. Mister Gooch beat him regularly, and severely.
6. Moses was whipped 50 times and weighted with a 25-pound chain around his neck while he worked in the field.
7. Moses was hog tied and flogged with 500 lashes.
8. Moses was chained to the damp earth in a log pen at night with a 40lb chain.
9. Moses was tied to a wheelbarrow and made to drag a horse’s feed around in it, thereby being a slave to a horse, and was then beaten after the day’s work, and tied back in the log pen.
10. Moses was beaten for an entire day in the field while he worked.
11. Moses was tied to a female slave with the 40-pound log chain for a week, and they were both flogged when they fell behind the unchained slaves.
12. Moses enjoyed a period of three months when he was beaten regularly, but not severely.
13. The wife of a jailer used to suffocate Moses by locking him in an underground box when her husband was not around.
14. Moses was hauled to the top of a horse-powered cotton screw by his tied hands and swung around the machine, his feet dangling ten feet from the ground. After about an hour of this he was packed into a wooden box.
15. Gooch used tar and a torch to burn off Moses’ hair and weighted him with a 50-pound chain.
16. Gooch put Moses' fingers and toes into a vice and squeezed them until the fingernails and toenails popped out.
Unable to break Moses from running Gooch sold him. Moses escaped again. At 18 years of age, and by all appearances white, Moses was now adept at passing himself off as an escaped white slave [who were typically held as property only until age 21], which got him sympathy from many of the whites who did not own slaves, and may well have been slaves in their youth. Finally, in 1835 he reached Liverpool England and freedom, where he wrote a book, and lectured in more than 2,000 villages and towns. Moses Roper eventually married and moved to Canada.
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