The Life of John Thompson

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When reading the narratives of slaves each one is different. John Thompson was born into slavery and overcame challenging circumstances he had to face to obtain freedom. His narrative gives the most brutal account of slave beatings by their masters I have read to date. His writing is also poetical at times and really keeps the reader interested. Thompson perused education by learning to read and write from one of the master’s sons. His faith in God helped him to remain positive and he attributes overcoming hard circumstances he had to face to God.

In the first chapter of his narrative John Thompson starts by telling the audience he was born on the Wagar plantation in the year of 1812 and in the state of Maryland. Thompson was one of seven children all from the same parents and he recalls his mom and dad working in the fields. Mrs. Wagar had four sons and two daughters. He remembers that all of the sons were farmers and had plenty of salves to work the land.

One part of the narrative I enjoyed takes place in chapter one when he records the first act of slavery he recalls and that is of his sister being sold at the auction block. He and his mother traveled six miles to the place where his sister was being sold and his mother begged them to let her see her daughter and the guards permitted him and his mother access to see his sister. The point in this chapter that stood out to me was when Thompson said, “the first thing that saluted my ears, was the rattling of the chains upon the limbs of the poor victims. It seemed to me to be a hell upon earth” (pg. 14). He was describing what it was like to hear the slaves being sold bound by shackles and seeing them on the frail bodies of the people. The guard allowed them to eat a meal together because he could see how much despair they were in. Thompson’s writing in this chapter of the book is just beautiful. He captures such detail such as the sun setting and the guard shedding tears at the sight of this family knowing the girl is fixing to be separated from her family. His sister tells his mother not to be sad for they are separated by body but not by soul. He includes a poem at the end of this chapter that I am not sure if he wrote or was a common one in his community but it relates to the emotion one would be feeling after losing a loved one.

Thompson continues the book by including life on the plantation with the Wagar family. In chapter two, he begins telling what the slaves were rationed. For food the slaves were given a peck of corn (equivalent to eight dry quarts), two dozen herrings (fish), and four pounds of meat. If you had children under the age of eight you had to provide for them out of the food others were given in your family. In the winter they were granted one shirt, pants, and a jacket without lining and a pair of shoes and stockings. In the summer one shirt and one pair of pants made of coarse linen were provided. Women were granted four weeks of leisure time after giving birth to a child but then they had to return to field work. Since the baby was still nursing they would have to take the baby with them to the field and take breaks from working to nurse. The Methodist religion was practiced by the slaves but not approved of by the masters so Mr. Wager hired a fiddler to lead the slaves to dancing hoping to break their spirit in God. Thompson recalled that many slaves did fall into the deception and the ones who didn’t were subject to beating.

Thompson spends the large portion of chapter three talking about the cruelty of Mr. Wager. Whipping slaves was more of a sport for Mr. Wager than a punishment for wrong doing. He would often whip slave for no reason, or would have a husband beat his wife or parents beat their children. Thompson recalls his mother sobbing any time she had to nurse one of her children after a beating and that is she was caught showing this amount of emotion she herself would have been beaten. He...
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