Since I posted the story about the life of Isaac Johnson and his struggles as a child sold by his own father into slavery. I thought that I would also give some history, in brief concerning The Coffle Gangs. Mr. Johnson speaks of slaves being taken to to the slave sale by the 100’s from one season to the next. These slaves were coffled together, as described by Isaac and were known as “The Coffle Gangs.”
- The stock soon began to arrive, there was a negro with a couple of brood mares, then came Jim and Peter, then two males, then three women, then about the first of April John Madinglay made his appearance with a group of twenty, making thirty slaves all told. There were also brought onto the farm, farming utensils, mules, ten horses, thirty head of cattle, one hundred hogs and fifty sheep. He owned one thousand acres of land, but most of it was covered with brush or bushes. He raised the usual farm products and when these did not require attention we were set to work clearing the land. He had agents out in the country buying slaves and fowarding them to the farm, and soon there were one hundred and twenty slaves on the farm. After harvesting, the surplus negroes were sent to the Southern markets at Grand Gulf, Jackson and Vicksburg, at each of which places he had slave pens.The time of the removal was kept secret from the slaves, and about ten o’clock the night before, twelve men were sent into the cabins and these hand-cuffed the males. In the morning these were brought out by twos and fastened to a chain about forty or fifty feet long. The women and children not able to walk were packed into wagons and the line of march commenced, the chained men first, the women able to walk next, and the wagons brought up the rear. A beautiful sight for a country that boasts of its freedom! How the boasted Southern chivalry must have delighted in such sights, delighted in them so greatly they were ready to go to war to preserve the “sacred institution” of human slavery! I have tasted its sacredness and felt that its Divinity is devilish. The line of march was to Nashville where they were placed aboard of boats and taken to the different slave pens. The pens were divided into groups, women in one, men in another, girls and young boys by themselves. Here the buyers came and examined the stock, feeling of them as men do horses, looking into their mouths and eyes and asked questions as to sickness. Then the sales commenced and were held from November till about the first of March, during which time the agents were scouring the country, picking up new stock and forwarding the same to the market. After the first of March, if there were any unsold, they were taken back to the stock farm to work during the summer and shipped with the next lot ready for market.
The Coffle Gang, In Historical Artwork
Song of The Coffle Gang
This song is said to be sung by Slaves, as they are chained in gangs,
when parting from friends for the far off South—children taken from
parents, husbands from wives, and brothers from sisters.
See these poor souls from Africa,
See wives and husbands sold apart,
O, gracious Lord? when shall it be,
Dear Lord! dear Lord! when Slavery’ll cease,
Said to be written by a Slave.