Isaac Mason

Isaac Mason

Isaac Mason was born a slave in George Town, Maryland on 14th May, 1822. His mother was the property of Hannah Woodland and worked as her house servant. Isaac's father was a freeman and worked as one of Woodland's overseers.

In 1837 Woodland died and Isaac became the property of a Dr. Hyde. When he reached the age of twenty-five he discovered he was about to be sold to a slave-trader in New Orleans. Isaac ran away and eventually reached Philadelphia where he found work as a hod carrier.

Isaac married but after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act he was nearly captured and taken back to Maryland. With help from the Underground Railroad, Isaac and his wife managed to move to Canada. Isaac Mason published his autobiography, Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave, in1893.

Primary Sources

(1) Isaac Mason, Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave (1893)

My mother was, unfortunately, numbered in the family of slavedom, belonging to one Mrs. Hannah Woodland, and according to the institution of slave law, I legally, or illegally, became her property. Though my father was a free man still he had no claim to me. My mother's name was Sophia Thompson, and she served in the capacity of house servant. She was the mother of five children, four sons and one daughter, of whom I was the first born. My father, Zekiel Thompson, most of his time served as a farm hand on one of the farms owned by my mistress. Whether from his activity and knowledge of farm work or as an inducement to remain near his wife, I do not know, but he was permitted to hold the position of overseer of the work and farm hands.

(2) Isaac Mason, Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave (1893)

My mistress, Mrs. H. Woodland, was a widow - her husband being a sea captain and lost at sea before I was born or had any knowledge of him. They were both natives of Scotland. He owned two farms, and at his death his wife became the owner of both, carrying on business until the time of her death. The principal products of the farms were corn, wheat and oats.

(3) Isaac Mason, Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave (1893)

Accordingly, when between five and six years of age, I was assigned to the duties of housework, to wait on my mistress and to run errands. When she went out driving I had to accompany her in the capacity of a page, to open the gates and to take down guard fences for her to drive through. That I might be found at night as well as by day my sleeping apartment was in her chamber on a truckbed, which was during the day time snugly concealed under her bedstead and drawn out at night for the reposing place of Isaac's weary body while he dreamed of days yet to come. I remained in this distinguished position until I was about fifteen years old, when a change in common with all slave life had to he made either for the better or for the worse.

(4) When his owner, Hannah Woodland died, Isaac became the property of a Dr. Hyde.

My work at this place consisted in cooking, washing, sweeping, taking care of the horses, attending to the garden, which contained about half an acre of land, and milking two cows. The good training of my former mistress had very materially fitted me for the varied duties of this house. By hard work early and late I could accomplish my daily tasks.

One Friday morning, after being there about four weeks, I well remember the day, I was busy at work on my hand-irons. My mistress came out and wanted to know what I had been doing all the morning. I turned round and looked at her, and saw that her face was awfully red; there was something wrong but I could not divine it. She hurriedly went out of the room where I was, into the back room, and got her cowhide; without the least ceremony she lit on me - the same as a hungry hawk on an innocent chicken. Her descent upon me was so sudden that I did not know what to do. I begged, I entreated her to stop; but she grew worse and worse. The blows came faster and faster, and every one brought the blood streaming from my head and back till I was covered from head to foot. Being a large, fleshy woman, she at last became fatigued and exhausted, and had to quit her inhuman chastisement. I was so unmercifully beaten that I was unfit for work that day.

Next morning I could not stand up I was so weak and exhausted from loss of blood. My eyes and head were completely swollen, and for a few days I had to remain a poor sufferer - the victim of a woman's spite and hatred for a poor despised race. What I had done to deserve all this treatment I knew not. Here I was, no one to care for me, no one to console me.

Whenever I did anything that was considered wrong after that I had to go to the cellar, where I was stripped naked, my hands tied to a beam over head, and my feet to a post, and then I was whipped by master till the blood ran down to my heels. This he continued to do every week, for my mistress would always find something to complain of, and he had to be the servant of her will and passion for human blood. At last he became disgusted with himself and ceased the cruel treatment. I heard him tell her one day - after he had got through inflicting the corporal punishment - that he would not do it any more to gratify her.

(5) Isaac Mason, Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave (1893)

In the year 1845 I had done so well for my master, or at least he thought so - and I knew I had - that just before Christmas he told me to take the other man that was with me and shell out one hundred bushels of corn, and the same of wheat and put them on board the sloop General Washington, to be taken to Baltimore. On the following Tuesday, after this was done, he gave me a new suit of clothes, and at ten o'clock we went on board the sloop and sailed for Baltimore to dispose of the corn and wheat.

We arrived there the next morning, which was Wednesday. Mr. Mansfield went ashore and proceeded up town to see some friend of his, and left me at the vessel. Not receiving any orders from him I thought I would like to see something of the city; so off I started alone. While passing up Pratt Street I saw two men standing on the sidewalk. They were not standing close together. I could not very well pass around them, and to proceed I had to go between them, which I attempted to do. They soon stopped and severely beat me for so doing.

When they got through my clothes were all full of blood that flowed from my own body. I was ignorant, yes, completely ignorant of their law, forbidding a negro from passing between two or more white men or women who were walking or standing on the sidewalk, and that he or she must take the street to give place to their superiors. By the time they got through inflicting their punishment I had learned something of the penalty of the crime.

With my painful bruises and blood-stained garments I found my way back to the sloop to await the return of Mr. Mansfield. When he saw my unfortunate condition and had heard my pitiful story he became quite indignant over it. He tried to obtain redress by offering a reward to discover the parties that had done the deed. To his astonishment, he was politely informed that his reward would do no good, as negroes are not allowed to pass between white men when they are standing talking. This is one of the methods they took to teach negroes their manners to white people.

(6) Isaac Mason, Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave (1893)

In the evening my master's son came to me, looking sad, and appeared anxious to say something. I was then working in the barn, and it was a convenient place for a kind of private interview, for no one at the house could see us. He informed me that his Uncle Wallace had that day urged his father to sell me to him, promising to give his boy, George, who was twenty-two years old, and $300 into the bargain. His father, after a little persuasion, had agreed to do so, though he did not want to part with me till after the second day of January next.

At that time the papers were to be made out and signed. I gained further information from him concerning my future destiny - arranged by those ungenerous slave-holders. His uncle, H. Wallace, had a nephew living in New Orleans, a slave owner; he had a supply about once a year, and the time having arrived for a batch to be sent on I found I was to form one of the number, January being the month allotted for the transportation.

By their unjust treatment they had forced me to form plans to make my escape from slavery. To New Orleans I did not intend to go if I could prevent it. These tidings caused me to devise means to put into execution an immediate flight. Whatever I was to do must be done at once. Christmas was drawing near, and New Year's was soon to follow; if alive, then my fate would be determined, and Wallace and Will had to decide that. Mr. Mansfield had put me out of his reach by making the bargain to sell.

(7) After escaping from slavery Isaac Mason moved to Philadelphia where he became a hod carrier. He married but was forced to leave after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act.

I went to Philadelphia where I thought safety would be best secured. I worked there as a hod carrier. I had not been long settled before the Fugitive Slave Law came into full force. One day while climbing the ladder with a hod of bricks on my shoulder, I looked down at the passers by, which was not an uncommon thing to do, and who should I see but the son of the man Wallace. His business was soon found out and made known. He was searching for his runaway slaves, of whom I was one. I was advised to make my way into Massachusetts, and that without much delay. "O the terror and curse of Slavery!" We sold what we could, and what we could not dispose of had to be given away.

I had a letter of recommendation given to me, which I was to present to a Mr. Gibbs, of New York City, on my arrival there, enroute for Boston. He was a worker in the Underground Railroad scheme, and was a colored man. We left Philadelphia by boat, and had a pleasant sail to New York.