Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


Frederick Douglass, in My Bondage and My Freedom (1855),* describes an event in which an enslaved teenage girl was beaten to death for falling asleep while attending to the enslaver's baby. In this vignette, the baby's sleep is so valuable to the enslaver Mrs. Hicks and the enslaved girl's so insignificant that the latter faced death for failing to remain diligently protective of the baby's rest. Kunnel Pen'leton's disregard for Becky and her child highlights the hypocritical ways in which enslavers treated their own familial ties and those of the ones they enslaved in vastly different ways.  

"As an evidence of the reckless disregard of human life where the life is that of a slave I may state the notorious fact, that the wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, who lived but a short distance from Col. Lloyd’s, with her own hands murdered my wife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age—mutilating her person in a most shocking manner. The atrocious woman, in the paroxysm of her wrath, not content with murdering her victim, literally mangled her face, and broke her breast bone. Wild, however, and infuriated as she was, she took the precaution to cause the slave-girl to be buried; but the facts of the case coming abroad, very speedily led to the disinterment of the remains of the murdered slave-girl. A coroner’s jury was assembled, who decided that the girl had come to her death by severe beating. It was ascertained that the offense for which this girl was thus hurried out of the world, was this: she had been set that night, and several preceding nights, to mind Mrs. Hicks’s baby, and having fallen into a sound sleep, the baby cried, waking Mrs. Hicks, but not the slave-girl. Mrs. Hicks, becoming infuriated at the girl’s tardiness, after calling several times, jumped from her bed and seized a piece of fire-wood from the fireplace; and then, as she lay fast asleep, she deliberately pounded in her skull and breast-bone, and thus ended her life. I will not say that this most horrid murder produced no sensation in the community. It did produce a sensation; but, incredible to tell, the moral sense of the community was blunted too entirely by the ordinary nature of slavery horrors, to bring the murderess to punishment. A warrant was issued for her arrest, but, for some reason or other, that warrant was never served. Thus did Mrs. Hicks not only escape condign punishment, but even the pain and mortification of being arraigned before a court of justice" (98).


This page has tags:

This page is referenced by: