Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Former Slave, William Webb, In Detroit

 Found on Documenting The American South website:

The History of William Webb Composed By Himself is a fascinating account of a person who was born a slave in 1836 and met his future wife in Detroit, published in 1873:

William Webb in the South:

    ... I was living in Georgia. The master I belonged to moved to Mississippi. My father said to his children, I am going to part from all of you, I have heard so much about Mississippi; I shall not go with you... .

Old master's son married a girl from Kentucky, and he took me with him to Kentucky. We moved with an ox team. We were five weeks on the road, from Mississippi to Kentucky, Warren County, between Bowling Green and Shaker Town. master took a notion to move back to Mississippi. I was sorry to go back, for where I lived was better than where I came from.

Then I returned to my old master, who was waiting until my time was up to return to Kentucky. He told me he was very happy to see me, and made me a present of five dollars in silver, and told me to go around and see my friends, and bid them good-bye. He made preparations to start to Grey's County Kentucky. I went round and saw my mother, and my brothers and sisters.

William Webb in Michigan and beyond:

The next morning I went harvesting for another man, and I worked for him about two weeks. Then I went to a hotel to work, and I stayed there till fall, and I left there and came to Detroit, and I went out Fort street west, five miles, and chopped wood all winter. The cemetery* is on the spot where I chopped wood. While I was out there a riot occurred in the city, and a great many colored people were fleeing out in the country where I was... .  [*Note:  At one point in my 20's I lived near Woodmere cemetery which is on Fort Street]

I left and came back to Detroit. There was a man named Mr. Warsaw, who kept a boarding-house on Cass street, between Jefferson avenue and Larned street, and I went to board with him. I began to study what I had heard when I was at the Quaker's, about being born again and serving the Lord and wishing to do to others as I would be done by, and I studied the matter over very close.

I commenced whitewashing* around the city again. I whitewashed till harvest time. I started out among the farmers when harvest began, and it came into my mind to go back to that same Quaker again.  [*Note: I did not find John Brown mentioned in Mr. Webb's narrative; however, John Brown met at the house of a Mr. William Webb, "one of Detroit's more successful whitewashers", on Congress Street in Detroit to plan his raid on Harper's Ferry.  There was a William Webb, b. 1817 in Virginia (race not identified in the 1860 census) who also lived in Detroit who may have been the person who plotted with John Brown]

...being in her company a few more evenings, and we met from time to time, until finally we were engaged to be married. I took the notion to go out to the Eastern States and through Canada. I took the train to Toronto, and from there to Montreal, and took the train and went from there to Pond City, Vermont. When I was on the way to Vermont, I inquired whether there were any colored people living there. They told me that no colored people lived in the city.

Then I wrote back to Detroit to the lady I was engaged to marry, for I was anxious to hear from her, and received an answer in seven days from the time I had written.

I went from there to Albany in the State of New York, and took the train from there to Niagara Fall(s), and looked at all the things worth seeing there, and then took the cars for Detroit. I arrived here safe, without a day's sickness while I was gone, and went back to my old boarding-house on Cass street. I sat down and studied over all my travels, and I saw the lady I was engaged to marry, and we were much rejoiced to meet one another.

I was married on the 20th October, 1867, and lived on the corner of Cass and Larned streets.

I carried on my business in the city, and in the course of another year the Lord blessed us with a daughter. I thought my calculations about raising up a son were broken up, although I am very well pleased with my daughter. She is seven months old, and has hardly had a day's sickness. I recalled to my mind the time when my wife went down home to Toronto, Canada, to see her mother, and being a man that was in the habit of always coming home as soon as my work was done, both before and since I was married, my wife being gone, the evenings seemed so long and lonesome, and having heard so much about what good times the people were having at balls, tea parties and festivals, I thought I would go out and see for myself what was going on.

Ending on this religious note:

Many will ask the reason why I have not been to school, but I will leave that question and answer it at soms future day, if it is the Lord's will. I trust I have laid up riches in heaven, if I am only humble in the Lord's grace, though a man ought to do all the good he can in this world, and after he has done that, it is but a small thing in the sight of God. Then shall the dust return to the earth, and the Spirit shall return unto God who gave it. For God shall bring every thing to judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.

No comments: