Read CHAPTER I of The Life and Adventures of Nat Love Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick", free online book, by Nat Love, on ReadCentral.com.

Slavery days. The old plantation. My early foraging. The stolen demijohn. My first drink. The curse of slavery.

In an old log cabin, on my Master’s plantation in Davidson County in Tennessee in June, 1854, I first saw the light of day. The exact date of my birth I never knew, because in those days no count was kept of such trivial matters as the birth of a slave baby. They were born and died and the account was balanced in the gains and losses of the Master’s chattels, and one more or less did not matter much one way or another. My father and mother were owned by Robert Love, an extensive planter and the owner of many slaves. He was in his way and in comparison with many other slave owners of those days a kind and indulgent Master.

My father was a sort of foreman of the slaves on the plantation, and my mother presided over the kitchen at the big house and my Master’s table, and among her other duties were to milk the cows and run the loom, weaving clothing for the other slaves. This left her scant time to look after me, so I early acquired the habit of looking out for myself. The other members of father’s family were my sister Sally, about eight years old, and my brother Jordan, about five. My sister Sally was supposed to look after me when my mother was otherwise occupied; but between my sister’s duties of helping mother and chasing the flies from Master’s table, I received very little looking after from any of the family, therefore necessity compelled me at an early age to look after myself and rustle my own grub. My earliest recollections are of pushing a chair in front of me and toddling from one to the other of my Master’s family to get a mouthful to eat like a pet dog, and later on as I became older, making raids on the garden to satisfy my hunger, much to the damage of the young onions, watermelons, turnips, sweet potatoes, and other things I could find to eat. We had to use much caution during these raids on the garden, because we well knew what we would catch if someone caught us, but much practice made us experts in escaping undetected.

One day when Master and the family went to town mother decided to make some wine of which she was very fond, accordingly she gathered some grapes and after pressing them she made some fairly good wine. This she placed in a demijohn, and this for better security she hid in the garden, as she thought unknown to anyone, but my brother, sister and myself had been watching the process with considerable curiosity, which finally reached such a pitch that there was nothing to it; we must sample a liquid that looked so good. So Jordan went to the hay loft from where a good view could be obtained all around, while myself and Sally busied ourselves in the vineyard. Presently Mother thinking all secure left the house with the demijohn and proceeded to hide it. Jordan, from the hay loft, noted that mother never left the garden until she returned to the house, empty handed, but he was unable to see the exact hiding place.

It was several days later while passing through the garden that we ran across the lost demijohn. It did not take us long to discover that its contents suited our tastes. Sally and Jordan dragged it into a sweet corn patch, where we were safe from observation. An oyster can was secured to serve as a glass and the way we attacked that wine was a caution to the Temperance Workers. And I can assure you we enjoyed ourselves for a while, but for how long I am unable to tell exactly. Mother soon missed us but being very busy she could not look for us until evening, when she started out to look us up, after searching and calling in vain. She decided to take the dogs to help find us. With their aid we were soon located, lying in the sweet corn, “dead drunk,” while the demijohn quite empty, bottom side up, stared at mother with a reproachful stare, and the oyster can which had served up and took me to the house, and let Sally and Jordan lie in near by, bearing mute witness against us. Mother picked me up and took me to the house, and let Sally and Jordan lie in the sweet corn all night, to dwell on the events. Immediately preceding our return to consciousness is a painful subject to me as it was exceedingly painful then. I was most feverish the next day with a head on my shoulders several sizes larger than the one I was used to wearing. Sally and Jordan were enjoying about the same health as myself, but the state of our health did not exempt us from mother’s wrath. We all received a good sound old-fashioned thrashing. A fitting prelude to my first “drunk.”

I suppose I acquired the taste for strong drink on this occasion; be that as it may, the fact remains that I could out-drink any man I ever met in the cattle country. I could drink large quantities of the fiery stuff they called whiskey on the range without it affecting me in any way, but I have never been downright drunk since that time in the sweet corn patch. Our plantation was situated in the heart of the black belt of the south, and on the plantations all around us were thousands of slaves, all engaged in garnering the dollars that kept up the so-called aristocracy of the south, and many of the proud old families owe their standing and wealth to the toil and sweat of the black man’s brow, where if they had to pay the regular rate of wages to hire laborers to cultivate their large estates, their wealth would not have amounted to a third of what it was. Wealth was created, commerce carried on, cities built, and the new world well started on the career that has led to its present greatness and standing in the world of nations. All this was accomplished by the sweat of the black man’s brow. By black man I do not mean to say only the black men, but the black woman and black child all helped to make the proud south what it was, the boast of every white man and woman, with a drop of southern blood in their veins, and what did the black man get in return? His keep and care you say? Ye gods and little fishes! Is there a man living today who would be willing to do the work performed by the slaves of that time for the same returns, his care and keep? No, my friends, we did it because we were forced to do it by the dominant race. We had as task masters, in many instances, perfect devils in human form, men who delighted in torturing the black human beings, over whom chance and the accident of birth had placed them. I have seen men beaten to the ground with the butts of the long whips carried by these brutal overseers, and for no other reason than that they could not raise to their shoulders a load sufficient for four men to carry. I have seen the long, cruel lash curl around the shoulders of women who refused to comply with the licentious wishes of the men who owned them, body and soul did I say soul? No, they did not own their soul; that belonged to God alone, and many are the souls that have returned to him who gave them, rather than submit to the desires of their masters, desires to which submission was worse than death. I have seen the snake-like lash draw blood from the tender limbs of mere babies, hardly more than able to toddle, their only offense being that their skin was black. And young as I was my blood often boiled as I witnessed these cruel sights, knowing that they were allowed by the laws of the land in which I was born. I used to think it was not the country’s fault, but the fault of the men who made the laws. Of all the curses of this fair land, the greatest curse of all was the slave auction block of the south, where human flesh was bought and sold. Husbands were torn from their wives, the baby from its mother’s breast, and the most sacred commands of God were violated under the guise of modern law, or the law of the land, which for more than two hundred years has boasted of its freedom, and the freedom of its people.

Some of the slaves, like us, had kind and indulgent masters. These were lucky indeed, as their lot was somewhat improved over their less fortunate brothers, but even their lot was the same as that of the horse or cow of the present day. They were never allowed to get anything in the nature of education, as smart negroes were not in much demand at that time, and the reason was too apparent, education meant the death of the institution of slavery in this country, and so the slave owners took good care that their slaves got none of it.

Go and see the play of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and you will see the black man’s life as I saw it when a child. And Harriett Beecher Stowe, the black man’s Saviour, well deserves the sacred shrine she holds, along with the great Lincoln, in the black man’s heart.