Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedomby Louis Hughes
Louis Hughes was born in 1832 to a white plantation owner and black slave in Charlottesville, Virginia. His autobiography entitled Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom, published in 1897, documents the daily lives of southern slaves. Jack McGee (or McGehee), a cotton plantation owner in Pontotoc, Mississippi, purchased Hughes at a young age. As a young adult, Hughes later traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to work on the construction of McGee's second home. He tried multiple times to run away but failed. Late in the Civil War, Hughes and other McGee slaves were sent to labor at a salt works in Tombigbee, Alabama before they were sent back home near the end of the war as the Confederacy began to crumble. Hughes finally received liberation from slavery late in 1865, after the war had already finished, when the Union occupation forces finally began to secure northern Panola County, Mississippi. At first, Hughes was compelled to flee himself to Memphis before returning to Mississippi in a dramatic confrontation with his former masters.
The institution of human slavery, as it existed in this country, has long been dead; and, happily for all the sacred interests which it assailed, there is for it no resurrection. It may, therefore, be asked to what purpose is the story which follows, of the experiences of one person under that dead and accursed institution? To such question, if it be asked, it may be answered that the narrator presents his story in compliance with the suggestion of friends, and in the hope that it may add something of accurate information regarding the character and influence of an institution which for two hundred years dominated the country-exercising a potent but baneful influence in the formation of its social, civil and industrial structures, and which finally plunged it into the most stupendous civil war which the world has ever known.
Though Hughes discussed at length the mundane lives of slaves, he shed even mire light on slave families and the challenge of reuniting with loved ones after emancipation. As was common among slaves, Hughes never found his mother again. But in June 1865 Hughes was determined not to leave his wife and children behind. In the company of another newly freed slave and with the help of two Union soldiers, Hughes returned to Panola to bring his family to safety. Hughes recalled how the Union soldiers berated the southern whites who were trying to keep his family enslaved.
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