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John Fee
John Fee
John Fee was a Methodist minister from Kentucky. His father was a prosperous slave-holding farmer. In Fee's diary, he chronicles the conflicts he had with his father over slavery. This entry describes how he tried to free a slave named Julett to save her from being sold and separated from her family:

Intelligence came to me that my brother had advised my father to sell the woman referred to, for the reason that there were more women in the family than were needed.

      I said to my wife: "I cannot redeem all slaves, nor even all in my father's family, but the labors of Julett and her husband contributed in part to the purchase of the land I yet own in Indiana, and to sell those lands and redeem her will be in some measure returning to her and her husband what they have toiled for." My wife said: "Do what you think is right." I took my horse, rode twenty-five miles to my father's house and spent the night. In the morning of the next day I sought an opportunity when my father was alone, and having learned that he would sell, asked what he would take for Julett. He fixed his price. I said: "Will you sell her to me if I bring to you the money?" He said yes. I immediately rode to Germantown and borrowed the requisite amount of money by mortgaging my remaining tract of land for the payment. Whilst there I executed a bill of sale, so that without delay my father could sign it, before he even returned from the field at noon. I tendered to him the money and the bill of sale. He signed the bill of sale, and took the money. I immediately went to "Add," the husband of Julett, and told him I had bought Julett and should immediately secure by law her freedom. I said to him: "I would gladly redeem you but I have not the means." He replied: "I am glad you can free her; I can take care of myself better than she can." I went to the house, wrote a perpetual pass for the woman, gave it to her, and said, "You are a free woman; be in bondage to no man." Tears of gratitude ran down her sable cheeks. I then told her that at the first county court day I would take her to the clerk's office, where her height could be taken and she be otherwise described, and a record of her freedom made. This was just before the amendment to the State Constitution that forbade emancipation in the State. At noon my father came in and told my mother of the transaction. My mother was displeased, -- did not want to spare the woman from certain work for which she was fitted. My father came to me and requested that I cancel the contract and give up the bill of sale. I said to him, "Here is my horse, and I have a house and lot in Lewis County; I will give them to you if you so desire; but to sell a human being I may not." He became very angry and went to the freed woman and said to her, "When you leave this house never put your foot on my farm again, for I do not intend to have a free nigger on my farm." The woman, the wife and mother, came to me and said, "Master says if I leave here I shall never come back again; I cannot leave my children; I would rather go back into slavery." I said, I have done what I regarded as my duty. To now put you back into slavery, I cannot. We must simply abide the consequences. The woman was in deep distress and helpless as a child. Although I had my horse and was ready to ride, I felt I could not leave the helpless one until a way of relief should open. After a time Julett came to me and said, "As long as mistress shall live I can stand it; I would rather stay." I said, "You are a free woman and must make your own decision. If my father will furnish to you a home, and clothe and feed you, and you shall choose as a free woman to stay, all well; but to sell you back into slavery, I cannot." To this proposition to furnish a home to the freed woman my father agreed. There was now a home for the freed woman, and this with her husband and children and grand-children.

      That day of agony was over and eventide had come. I spent the night. The next morning just as I was about starting back to my home, my father said to me, "Julett is here on my premises, and I will sell her before sundown if I can." I turned to him and said, "Father, I am now that woman's only guardian. Her husband cannot protect her, -- I only can. I must do as I would be done by; and though it is hard for me to now say to you what I intended to say, yet if you sell that woman, I will prosecute you for so doing, as sure as you are a man." I saw the peril of the defenseless woman. I would gladly have cast from me the cup of a further contest, but I saw that to leave her, though now a free woman, was not the end of obligation. I felt forcibly the applicability of the words, "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently, and cursed be he that keepeth back the sword from blood." Jer. 48:10. I mounted my horse and rode twelve miles  where I could get legal counsel, -- counsel on which I could rely. I found that if I left the woman on my father's premises without any public record of her having been sold, the fact of her being then on his premises would be regarded as "prima facie" evidence that she was his property and that he could sell her. I also found that in as much as he had sold her to me, I could, by law, compel him to do that which was just and right, -- make a record of the fact of sale. I rode back twelve miles, told my father what was his legal obligation, and asked him to conform to it. He said he would not. I then said to him, "It will be a hard trial for me to arraign my father in a civil court, for neglect of justice to a helpless woman, and also for a plain violation of law; but I will do so, as sure as you are a man, if you do not make the required record of sale." After hesitancy and delay he made the record. These were hours of distress to me, to my father, to my mother, and to the ransomed woman; but the only way to ultimate peace, was to hold on rigidly to the right; though in so doing I had, in the Gospel sense, to leave father, mother, brother, sisters, houses, lands, -- all, for Christ's sake. I was conscious that no other motive impelled me.

From the Autobiography of John Fee

(C) This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching, and personal use
as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Call number F459.B4 F2 1891 (Davis Library, UNC-CH)

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Ezekial Clay

One morning in 1861, Ann Clay, wife of pro-Union Kentucky legislator Brutus Junius Clay, found her stepson's bed empty but for this note stating that he had gone to join the Confederate army:

September 24, 1861

B.J. Clay and family,

I leave for the army tonight. I do it for I believe I am doing right. I go of my own free will. If it turns out I do wrong I beg forgiveness.

Goodbye to you all. You will hear from me soon.

E.F. Clay (Zeke)

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Ann Clay

After reading the note above, Ann wrote the following letter to her husband.

Bourbon, Wednesday night

My Dear Husband:

I feel that the only relief to my sad feeling tonight will be to write you. I suppose you have received Mr. Scott's letter saying Zeke had gone off last night to join the secession army. On Monday Aunt Holloway, Cyrus Miller, and Jimmy Miller came here, the two former on their way to Illinois. Yesterday Dudley, Zeke and Jimmy went to town and to see Judge Bedford, came back, sat through supper and then went to the office. At bedtime Jimmy came in the house. I asked him where Zeke was. Said he would be in in a few moments, and as it was bed time they were soon asked to their beds upstairs, and Zeke did not make his appearance. The morning Isham went around for him to come to his breakfast. Said he was not there, he had slept in his bed and he expected he had gone coon hunting this morning. Jimmy said yes that Judge had asked him to go hunting with him this morning but that Zeke remarked he could not leave him, so we ate our breakfast and concluded he had gone hunting, and directly after breakfast we went to town as Aunt Holloway wanted to see the Hickmans and some friends before she left today for Illinois, and I thought no more of Zeke till I went to the depot and Scott told me he had gone last night. I remarked that I did not believe it, but if he had, he had disgraced himself. He told me Judge Bedford and Wash Clay had gone with Zeke and that Volney Bedford knew all about it. I felt so provoked I determined to come by there and give him a piece of my mind. I remarked to Mr. Bedford that I had heard he knew of it, but I did not believe it, that if he was a friend, as I supposed he was, that he would have sent me word so that I could have written to you. He looked confused and evaded it. I asked him the second time if he knew anything about it. He remarked Judge had not confided in him and he supposed I knew as much about it as he did. I told him I felt that he and all that had gone ith him had disgraced themselves and that I hoped that they would be arrested and kept in jail, which speech I was severely reproved for. I told them I hoped they that had induced a boy to take sides against a father who had left everything in his charge whilst he was away striving and exerting himself to do all he could for his state would suffer for it. Cousin Margaret Bedford was there and I never heard anything so violent as she and Volney Bedford were against every one who were in favor of these camps and said no one had brought on the trouble here but them and they had destroyed the neutrality of the State, etc. etc. I told them I only regretted we had not had 10 times as many all the time and then we would be better provided for the traitors. So I left them making a more violent speech. I believe they are all violent secessionists and I do not wish to see anything more of them. Last week in town I heard that Zeke had joined a secession company and they had promised him some office. I told him of it and he denied it and said he would die or find out who told me, so I concluded there was no use in troubling you with it ... and I did not believe it till I came home this evening and Cash had found a note in his room, directed to you and the family....

Zeke rode his brown mare, took a comfort and blankets off his bed, your Sharp's rifle and a few shirts. Ever since you wrote to me about his having his guns ready, he has been busy making cartridges and I gave him the credit of making them for you, but Cash tells me he did not leave a load of powder on the place. He will go to town in the morning to get some, do not be uneasy about us at home. I do not feel afraid and do not suppose I will be troubled. Sidney and Mr. Hawkins both have offered to stay or attend to anything that is necessary.... I have been very particular about the doors and have always had the windows down as I did not consider the shutters secure. James Miller lied to us and knew all about it, and Mr. Bedford thought he was going with them. Aunt Holloway was hurried off by the troubles in Ky. Mrs. Deingham went to Frankfort today so I suppose Mrs. Tubman came. Do try and get to see them.... Cash is about well. My love to you, Ma and Sally

Yrs. devotedly

Ann M. Clay


Voices from the Century Before: The Odyssey of a 19th Century Kentucky Family
Edited by Mary Clay Berry
Arcade Publishing, New York, 1997

 

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