Read CHAPTER XXXI of Twenty-Two Years a Slave‚ and Forty Years a Freeman, free online book, by Austin Steward, on


I was now seriously meditating a return to Rochester. My purpose in going to Canada, has already been made known to the reader, as well as some of the disappointments I met, and some of the trials and difficulties I had to encounter.

Now, after laboring, and suffering persecution for about five years, my way was comparatively clear; still I wished to leave the Province and return to the States, in which prospect my family greatly rejoiced. Doubtless most persons in the position I then occupied, would have chosen to remain; but for several reasons, I did not.

Notwithstanding I had been during my youth, a poor, friendless, and illiterate slave, I had, through the mercy of God and the kindness of friends, not only obtained my freedom, but I had by the industry and perseverance of a few years, acquired a tolerable English education, established a profitable business, built for myself a good and extensive business reputation, and had laid the foundation for increasing wealth and entire independence.

Indeed, so far as a competency is concerned, I possessed that when I left Rochester. My house and land was paid for; my store also, and the goods it contained were free from debt; beside, I had several hundred dollars in the bank for future use, nor do I boast, when I say that the comfort and happiness of myself and family, required no further exertion on my part to better our worldly condition. We were living in one of the best countries on the earth, surrounded by friends, good and intelligent society, and some of the noblest specimens of Christian philanthropy in the world. My wife and children, had not only been accustomed to the comforts, if not the luxuries of life, but also to associate with persons of refinement and cultivation; and although they had willingly accompanied me to Canada, where they had experienced little less than care, labor and sorrow, it cannot be thought very strange that they should desire to return. We were colored people to be sure, and were too often made to feel the weight of that cruel prejudice, which small minds with a perverted education, know so well how to heap upon the best endeavors of our oppressed race. Yet truth and justice to my friends, compel me to say, that after a short acquaintance, I have usually been treated with all that kindness and confidence, which should exist between man and man.

At my house of entertainment in Canada, it was not uncommon for gentlemen of my former acquaintances, to stop for a friendly chat; merchants, journeying through our settlement, after goods, would frequently call, with their money, watches, and other valuables, carefully concealed about their persons; but when they learned our name, and had become acquainted a little, they would not only freely expose their wealth, but often place all their money and valuables in my hands, for safe keeping; nor was their confidence ever misplaced to my knowledge.

Another thing: when I went to Wilberforce, I supposed that the colonists would purchase the whole township of Bidulph, and pay for it, which might have been done, had they been fortunate enough to put forward better men. Then when we had a sufficient number of inhabitants, we could have sent a member to Parliament, one of our own race, to represent the interests of our colony. In all this we were disappointed. The Canada Company, in their unjust judgment of a whole people, by one dishonest man, had stopped the sale of lands to colored persons, which of course, put an end to the emigration of respectable and intelligent colored men to that place; nor was there any prospect of a favorable change. Moreover, the persecutions which gave rise to the colony, had in a great measure ceased; anti-slavery truth was taking effect on the minds of the people, and God was raising up many a friend for the poor slave, to plead with eloquent speech and tears, the cause of the dumb and down-trodden.

These, with other considerations, influenced me in my decision to leave Canada. As soon, however, as my intentions were made known, I was importuned on all sides, by persons both in and out of the settlement, to remain awhile longer, at least. This will be seen by a reference to the appendix.

After due deliberation, I concluded to send my family to the States, and remain myself, until my year should terminate, for which I had been elected township clerk. In accordance with this determination, I made preparation to take my family to Port Stanley, forty miles distant. But what a contrast was there between our leaving Rochester, five years before, and our removing from the colony! Then, we had five two-horse wagon loads of goods and furniture, and seven in family; now, our possessions were only a few articles, in a one-horse wagon, with an addition of two members to our household! The settlers collected about us, to take an affectionate leave of my wife and children; but tears and sobs, prevented an utterance of more than a “God bless you,” and a few like expressions. The scene was indeed an affecting one: all the weary days of our labor; all the trials and difficulties we had passed; all the sweet communion we had enjoyed in our religious and social meetings; all the acts of neighborly kindness, seemed now to be indelibly impressed on every memory, and we felt that a mutual regard and friendship had bound us closer to each other, in the endearing bonds of Christian brotherhood bonds not to be broken by the adverse scenes incident to frail human life.

Arrived at Port Stanley, we were kindly entertained by a Mr. White, a fugitive slave from Virginia, who owned a snug little farm on the bank of Kettle Creek, and who appeared to be in a good and prosperous condition. Being detained there, waiting for a boat, on which I was anxious to see my family comfortably situated before I left them, I was aroused at an early hour on the second morning of our stay, by a loud rapping at the door; and hearing myself inquired for, I dressed myself immediately, and followed Mr. White into the sitting room, where I saw two strange men, armed with bludgeons! I soon learned, however, that one of them was the under-sheriff, who had come to arrest me for a debt of about forty dollars, and the other armed man had come to assist him, I assured them I was ready to accompany them back to London, which I was obliged to do, a prisoner, leaving my family among comparative strangers. The debt had become due to a man who had worked for us in the building of a saw-mill. I arranged the matter without going to jail, but before I could return to Port Stanley, my family, kindly assisted by Mr. White, had departed for Buffalo. The weather was cold and the lake very rough, but they safely arrived in Rochester, after a journey of three days. During their passage up the lake my oldest daughter took a severe cold, from which she never recovered.

I returned to the colony to attend to the duties of my office, and to close my business with the colony, preparatory to joining my family, who were now settled in Rochester, but in very different circumstances from those in which they had left it. I had deposited quite a sum of money in the Rochester Bank; but our continual expenditures at Wilberforce, in my journeyings for the benefit of the colony, and in the transacting of business pertaining to its interests, had left not one dollar for the support of my family, or to give me another start in business. Nevertheless, I felt willing to submit the case to Him who had known the purity of my intentions, and who had hitherto “led me through scenes dark and drear,” believing he would not forsake me now, in this time of need.

Consoling myself with these reflections, I renewed my endeavors to do my best, leaving the event with my God.