The Author commences Acquaintance with Adonah Ben Benjamin, a Jew.
AFTER I had taken this oath, the officers departed, and I was liberated. I was now more cautious in my rambles, avoided the notice of the Mussulmen in|habitants, and made more frequent vis|its to that part of the city, inhabited by Jews and foreigners. Refreshing myself with a glass of sherbet in an inferiour room, I was accosted by an old man, in mean attire, with a pack of handkerchiefs and some remnants of silk and muslins on his back. He asked me, if I was not the learned slave, and requested me to visit a sick son. I immediately resolved Page 190 to go with him; rejoicing that Providence, in my low estate, had left me the power to be charitable. We traversed several streets and stopped at the door of a house, which, in appearance, well suited my conductor. It had but two windows towards the street, and those were closed up with rough boards, the cracks of which were stuffed with rags and straw. My conductor looked very cautiously about, and then, taking a key from his pocket, opened the door. We passed a dark en|try, and, I confess, I shuddered, as the door closed upon me, reflecting that, per|haps, this man was employed to decoy me to some secret place, in order to assas|sinate me, by the direction of my supe|riours, who might wish to destroy me in this secret manner. But I had but little time for these gloomy reflections; for, opening another door, I was startled with a blaze of light, let into apartments splen|didly furnished. My conductor now as|sumed Page 191 an air of importance, requested me to repose myself on a silken couch, and retired. A young lady, who was veiled, of a graceful person and pleasing address, soon brought a plate of sweet|meats and a bottle of excellent wine. The old man soon reappeared; but, so changed in his habit and appearance, I could scarce recognize him. He was now arrayed in drawers of the finest lin|en, an embroidered vest, and loose gown of the richest Persian silk. He smiled at my surprise, shook me by the hand, and told me that he was a Jew; assuring me, that he was with his brethren under the protection of the Dey. The outward appearance of his house, and the mean|ness of his attire abroad were, he said, ne|cessary to avoid envy and suspicion. But come, said he, I know all about you; I can confide in you. Come refresh yourself with a glass of this wine;—nei|ther Moses nor your Messiah forbid the Page 192 use of it. We ate of the collation, drank our wine liberally; and then he in|troduced me to his son, whom I found labouring under a violent ague. I ad|ministered some sudorifics, and left direc|tion for the future treatment of my pa|tient. Upon my departure, the Jew put a zequin into my hand, and made me promise to visit his son again; request|ing me to seat myself in the place, he had found me, at the same hour, the next day but one afterwards; and, in passing through the dark entry, conjured me not to mention his domestic style of living. The name of this Jew was Adonah Ben Benjamin. I visited his son, according to appointment, and found him nearly re|stored to health. The father and son both expressed great gratitude; but the former told me he would not pay me for this visit in silver or gold, but with some|thing more valuable, by his advice. Come and see me sometimes; I know Page 193 this people well, and may render you more service than you expect. I after|wards visited this Jew frequently, and from him obtained much information. He told me, in much confidence, that soon after I was taken, a Jew and two Algerines made a tour of the United States, and sent home an accurate account of the American commerce; and that the Dey was so impressed with the idea of our wealth, that he would never permit the American slaves to be ransomed under a large premium, which must be accom|panied with the usual presents, as a pur|chase of peace, and an annual tribute. Expressing my anxiety to recover my freedom, he advised me to write to some of the American agents in Europe. I accordingly addressed a letter to William Carmichael, Esq charge des affairs from the United States at the court of Mad|rid, representing my deplorable circum|stances, and the miserable estate of my Page 194 fellow prisoners; praying the inter|ference of our government, stating the probable mode of access to the Dey, and enclosing a letter to my parents. This my friend, the Jew, promised to convey; but, as I never received any answer from Mr. Carmichael, and my letters never found the way to my friends, I conclude, from the known humanity of that gen|tleman, my letters miscarried.
Some time after, I heard that the Unit|ed States had made application, through Mr. I amb, for the redemption of their citizens, and I had hopes of liberty; in|tending, if that gentleman succeeded in his negotiations, to claim my right to be ransomed, as an American citizen, but his proposals were scouted with con|tempt. I have sometimes heard this gentleman censured for failing to accom|plish the object of his mission, but very unjustly; as I well remember that I, who was much interested in his success, never Page 195 blamed him at the time; and, I know, the ransom, he offered the Dey, was rid|iculed in the common coffee houses, as extremely pitiful. The few Algerines, I conversed with, affected to represent it as insulting. It was reported, that he was empowered to offer only two hun|dred dollars per head for each prisoner indiscriminately, when the common price was four thousand dollars per head for a captain of a vessel, and one thousand four hundred for a common fore mast sailor. When this unsuccessful attempt failed, the prisoners were treated with greater severity; doubtless with a design to af|fright the Americans into terms, more advantageous to the Dey.
Finding my hopes of release from the applications of my country to fade, I consulted the friendly Jew, who advised me to endeavour to pay my own ransom, which, he said, might be effected with my savings from my practice by the media|tion Page 196 of a rich Jew, his relation. I ac|cordingly put all my savings into Adonah Ben Benjamin's hands, which amounted to two hundred and eighty dollars, and resolved to add to it all I could procure. To this intent I hoarded up all I could obtain; denying myself the slender re|freshments of bathing and cooling liq|uors, to which I had been for some time accustomed. The benevolent Hebrew promising that, when I had attained the sum requisite, within two or three hun|dred dollars, he himself would advance the remainder, no miser was ever more engaged than I to increase my store. After a tedious interval, my prospects brightened surprisingly. Some fortunate operations, I performed, obtained me valuable presents; one to the amount of fifty dollars. My stock, in the Jew's hands, had increased to nine hundred dollars; and, to add to my good fortune, the Jew told me, in great confidence, that, Page 197 from the pleasing account of the United States, which I had given him, for I al|ways spake of the privileges of my native land with fervour, he was determined to remove with his family thither. He said he would make up the deficiency in my ransom, and send me home by the first European vessel, with letters to a Mr. Lopez, a Jew, who, he said, lived in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, to whom he had a recommendation from a relation, who had been in America. To Mr. Lo|pez he intended to consign his property. He accordingly procured his friend, whose name I did not then learn, to agree about my ransom. He concluded the contract at two thousand dollars. My friends in the hospital expressed sorrow at parting with me; and making me some pecunia|ry presents, I immediately added them to my stock, in the hands of the Jew. In order to lessen the price of my ransom, the contractor had told my master that Page 198 he was to advance the money, and take my word to remit it, upon my return to my friends. This story I confirmed. I went to the Jew's house, who honestly produced all my savings; we counted them together, and he added the remain|der, tying the money up in two large bags, We spent a happy hour, over a bottle of his best wine: I, in anticipating the pleas|ure my parents and friends, would receive in recovering their son, who was lost, and the Jew in framing plans of commerce in the United States, and in the enjoyment of his riches in a country, where no des|pot should force from him his honest gains; and, what added to my enjoyment, was the information that a vessel was to sail for Gibraitar in two days, in which, he assured me, he would procure me a passage. I returned to the hospital, ex|ulting in my happy prospects. I was quite beside myself with joy. I capered and danced as merrily, as my youthful ac|quaintance Page 199 at a husking. Sometimes I would be lost in thought, and then burst suddenly into loud laughter. The next day towards evening, I hasted to the house of my friend the Jew, to see if he had en|gaged my passage, and to gratify myself with conversing upon my native land. Being intimate in the family, I was en|trusted with a key of the front door. I opened it hastily, and passing the entry, knocked for admittance at the inner door, which was soon opened. But, instead of the accustomed splendour, all was gloo|my; the windows darkened, and the fam|ily in tears. Poor Adonah Ben Benja|min had, that morning, been struck with an apoplexy, and slept with his fathers. I soon retired as sincere a mourner as the nearest kindred. I had indeed more rea|son to mourn than I conceived; for, up|on applying to his son for his assistance in perfecting my freedom, which his good fa|ther had so happily begun, he professed Page 200 the utmost ignorance of the whole tranf|action; declared that he did not know the name of the agent, his father had employ|ed, and gave no credit to my account of the monies I had lodged with his father. I described the bags. He cooly answer|ed, that the God of his father Abraham had blessed his father Adonah with many such bags. I left him, distracted with my disappointment. Sometimes I deter|mined to relate the whole story to the di|rector of the hospital, and apply for legal redress to a cadi; but the specimen I had of an Algerine law suit deterred me. I had been so inadvertent, as to counte|nance the story that a Jew was to advance the whole sum for me. If I had been a Mussulman, I might have attested to my story; but a slave is never admitted as an evidence in Algiers, the West Indies, or the Southern States. The disappoint|ment of my hopes were soon known in the hospital, though the hand Adonah Page 201 Ben Benjamin had in the contract re|mained a secret. The artful Jew, who had contracted for my ransom, fearing he should have to advance the money him|self, spread a report that I was immensely rich in my own country. This coming to the ears of my master, he raised my ransom to six thousand dollars, which the wily Israelite declining to pay, the con|tract was dissolved. From my master I learned his name, and waited upon him, hoping to obtain some evidence of Ado|nah's having received my money, at least so far as to induce his son to restore it. But the Jew positively declared that Adonah never told him other, than that he was to advance the cash himself. Thus, from the brightest hopes of freedom, I was re|duced to despair; my money lost; and my ransom raised. I bless a merciful God that I was preserved from the des|perate folly of suicide. I never attempt|ed my life; but, when I lay down, I oft|en Page 202 hoped that I might never awake again, in this world of misery. I grew dejected and my flesh wasted. The physicians recommended a journey into the country, which my master approved; for, since the report of my wealth in my native land, he viewed my life as valuable to him, as he doubted not my friends would one day ransom me at an exorbitant premium.