Account of my Master Abdel Melic: de|scription of his House, Wife, Country House, and severe Treatment of his Slaves.
THE name of my master was Abdel Melic. He had been former|ly an officer in the Dey's troops, and, it was said, had rendered the Dey's father some important service in an insurrection, and was therefore highly respected; though at that time he had no publick employ|ment. He was an austere man; his nat|ural severity being probably encreased by his employment as a military officer. I Page 32 never saw the face of any other person in his family, except the male slaves. The houses of the Algerines are nearly all up|on the same model; consisting of a building towards the street of one or two stories, which is occupied by the master and male domes|tics, and which is connected by a gallery up|on the ground, if the house is of one story; if of two, the entrance is above stairs, to a building of nearly the same size behind, which has no windows or lattices at the side, but only looking into a garden, which is always surrounded by a high wall. In these back apartments 〈◊〉 women are lodged, both wives and slaves. My mas|ter had a wife, the daughter of a princi|pal officer in the Dey's court, and, to my surprise, had only one. I found it to be a vulgar errour, that the Algerines had gen|erally more. It is true they are allowed four by their law; but they generally find, as in our country, one lady sufficient for all the comforts of connubial life; and Page 33 never take another, except family alliance or barrenness renders it eligible or nec|essary. The more I became acquainted with their customs, the more was I struck with their great resemblance to the pa|triarchical manners, described in holy writ. Concubinage is allowed; but few respectable people practise it, except for the sake of heirs. With the Algerines the barrenness of a RACHEL is sometimes compensated to the husband, by the fertil|ity of a BILHAH. After I had lived in this town house about three weeks, dur|ing which time I was clothed after the fashion of the country, my master moved, with his whole family, to a country house on the river Saffran. Our journey, which was about twelve miles, was per|formed in the evening. Two carriages, resembling our travelling waggons, con|tained the women. Only the bodies of them were latticed, and furnished with cur|tains to cover them in the day time, which Page 34 were rolled up in the evening. Two slaves preceded the carriages. Abdel Melic followed on horseback, and I ac|companied a baggage waggon in the rear. When we arrived at the country house, the garden gates were thrown open, and the carriages with the women entered. The men were introduced to the front apartments. I found here several more slaves, equally ignorant and equally attentive and kind towards me, as those I had seen in the town. The next day, we were all set to work in digging for the foundation of a new wall, which was to enlarge our master's gardens. The weath|er was sultry. The soil below the surface was almost a quicksand. I, un|used to hard labour, found my strength soon exhausted. My fellow slaves, com|passionating my distress, were anxious, by changing places with me, to render my share of the labour less toilsome. As we had our stint for the whole party staked Page 35 out to us every morning, it was in the power of my kind fellow labourers to fa|vour me much. Often would they re|quest me, by signs, to repose myself in the shade, while they encouraged each other to perform my share of the task. After a while, our master came to inspect the work; and, conceiving that it did not progress as fast as he wished, he put an overseer over us, who, finding me not so active as the rest, first threatened and then struck me with his whip. This was the first disgraceful blow I had ever received. Judge you, my gallant, freeborn fellow citizens, you, who rejoice daily in our federal strength and independence, what were my sensations. I threw down my spade with disdain, and retired from my work, lowering indignation upon my in|sulting oppressor. Upon his lifting his whip to strike me again, I flew at him, collared him, and threw him on his back. Then, setting my foot on his breast, I Page 36 called upon my fellow slaves to assist me to bind the wretch, and to make one glo|rious effort for our freedom. But I called in vain. They could not com|prehend my language; and, if they could, I spoke to slaves, astonished at my pre|sumption, and dreading the consequences for me and themselves. After their first astonishment, they ran and took me gent|ly off from the overseer, and raised him with the greatest respect. No sooner was he upon his feet than, mad with rage, he took up a mattoc; and, with a violent blow upon my head, levelled me to the ground. I lay senseless, and was awak|ened from my stupor by the severe lashes of his whip, with which the dastardly wretch continued to beat me, until his strength failed. I was then left to the care of my fellow slaves, who could only wash my wounds with their tears. Com|plaint was immediately made to my mas|ter, and I was sent to work in a stone Page 37 quarry about two miles from the house. At first, I rejoiced in escaping the malice of this merciless overseer, but soon found I had made no advantageous exchange. I was surrounded by the most miserable objects. My fellow labourers had been put to this place, as a punishment for do|mestic crimes, or for their superiour strength, and all were obliged to labour equally hard. To break hard rocks with heavy mauls, to transport large stones upon our backs up the craggy sides of the quarry, were our common labours; and to drink water, which would have been delicious, if cold, and to eat black barley bread and onions, our daily fare; while the few hours, allotted to rest upon our flinty beds, were disturbed by the tormenting insects, or on my part by the more tor|menting dreams of the dainties of my fa|ther's house. There is a spring under a rock upon my father's farm, which we called the cold spring, from which we us|ed Page 38 to supply our family with water, and prided ourselves in presenting it as a re|freshing beverage, in summer, to our visit|ors. How often, after working beyond my strength, on a sultry African day, in that horrid quarry, have I dreamed of dipping my cup in that cold spring, and fancied the waters eluding my taste as I raised it to my lips. Being presented with a tumbler filled from this spring, af|ter my return, in a large, circle of friends, the agonies I had suffered came so forci|bly into my recollection, that I could not drink the water, but had the weakness to melt into tears.
How naturally did the emaciated prod|igal, in the scripture, think upon the bread in his father's house. Bountiful Father of the Universe, how are com|mon blessings of thy providence despised. When I ate of the bread of my father's house, and drank of his refreshing spring, no grateful return was made to him or Page 39 thee. It was amidst the parched sands and flinty rocks of Africa that thou taughtest me, that the bread was indeed pleasant, and the water sweet. Let those of our fellow citizens, who set at nought the rich blessings of our federal union, go like me to a land of slavery, and they will then learn how to appreciate the value of our free government.