History of the Life of Peter Pointz
Photo: Courtesy of the Clyde First Methodist Church
When Peter Pointz died at the age of 81 in 1898, he had been a resident of Clyde, Ohio for nearly 40 years. A devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Pointz had lived quietly, working as a day laborer and white washer to support himself and his niece. Few in Sandusky County could have known the broken family relationships and chaotic life Peter Pointz endured to gain his freedom. At the time of his death, the “Clyde Enterprise” published his remarkable life story.
Clyde Enterprise March 31st, 1898
I was born in Bracken County, Kentucky, four miles south of Augusta on the twenty-second day of April 1817, in slavery. My father belonged to a man by the name of Smith, and another to Hugh Atwell. Both of these men were natives of Virginia and lived in Dover, Kentucky, at the time father and mother were married.
When the Atwells moved to Augusta father used to visit mother occasionally, but Smith got tired of this and told father that he must get another wife if Atwell intended to move all over the country. Smith had bought a black girl and soon after this father commenced to live with her as his wife. I can remember of seeing father once when I was about five years old; he came to see mother, and I never saw him after this until after I was twenty years old.
Hugh Atwell had a farm of two hundred acres, about one hundred which as cleared. He kept seven slaves – my mother and her four children and two others. I was always treated well; never was whipped and had good food and plenty of it. When I was bout twenty years old my mistress gave me a piece of ground to clear. I was to have the crops for clearing the land, but had to do the work on Sundays, holidays and nights. I often worked until midnight burning and clearing. The slaves all had an opportunity to attend church on Sunday, and many of them were members of the church. My mother was a member of the Baptist church. The slaves attended church at the same church with the white people, which is not the case in Southern states now.
When I was about twenty-nine years old the Atwells broke up farming and I was hired out by William Atwell, a son of Hugh Atwell, to work for the widow Goddard, who owned the best hotel in Maysville. My brother Sam had been working for her some time before I went there. I staid with her three years, working as a porter, bell boy, and tending the men’s rooms. The porters went to the river when the boats came in, and often got tips for carrying trunks and carpet sacks (carpet sacks were much used at this time) to the hotel. Twenty-five cents was the general price for carrying a trunk, and some of the boys would not accept anything less; my brother often threw away anything less than that to show his contempt. I made quite a bit of money in this way and saved it until I had about $340. $100 of this I put in the hands of a storekeeper by the name of General Collins, $170 in the hands of the steward of the hotel, who gave it to his wife to keep, and $70 I buried in the cellar under the hotel. Some time after the war I went back to Maysville on a visit and went into the cellar of the old hotel to look for the money I had buried, but the cellar bottom had been lowered two feet or more, and a new cement bottom put in and I could not identify the place. At the time I put the money in the hands of General Collins, the papers in the city commented on it saying that Peter Pointz had saved more money than any other black boy in the city. This made me a little cautious for fear the people would suspect me of keeping money to get away on, and I did not put any more money in his hands. The boys at the hotel talked among themselves that it was not best to let folks know that we were saving money.
By the fall of 1848, times began to get quite critical along the river. Many slaves were escaping to Canada by way of the Underground Railroad, and the blacks were watched very closely. Any one, white or black coming from the Ohio side of the river was regarded as a suspicious person unless his business was known, any slave seen talking with a stranger was immediately sold to one of the “_____ drivers” in the city and carried south. Sometime in the early part of the winter a black man named Jack learned in some way that a white man, an agent of the Underground Railroad, would be in town soon and would take any who wished to leave with him to Canada, and it would cost us nothing. Jack told me and a few others, who could keep a secret, and I told Mary Gross, private chambermaid to Mrs. Goddard, but cautioned her of the danger of telling anyone. We waited and watched for this white man, but for some reason he never came and I gave up the idea of going away until spring. In the meantime, however, I learned that Mary Gross had told of our plans, and this scared me so that I began at once to get my things in shape to leave. As I learned afterwards, it was very lucky that I did so, for Mr. Atwell had made arrangements to sell me as soon as the Christmas ball at the hotel was over with. They were making great preparations for this ball, and I could not well be spared until it was over with.
I got my money from General Collins without exciting any suspicion by telling him as soon as I could get away from the hotel I intended to go back home (that is, back to the farm) for a few days and there I could let the money out to some of the farmers and earn a little interest on it. When I got my money of Charlie Hawkins the steward, he gave me but $130. He said that was all his wife had returned, and he did not know where the rest was. Hawkins could not count, and I think he was honest, but his wife was not. The $70 in the cellar I had to leave, for I thought it dangerous to dig it up at that time.
Lewis Ford, a fellow who was going with me, made arrangements with a black man named Shell to take us across the river. Shell lived in Ripley, Ohio, but worked in Maysville. On Saturday night, the twenty-third of December, Ford and a girl who was running away with him who belonged to the cashier of the bank, Mary Gross and myself went to Beesley’s bottom about a mile or so from town, where Shell and his brother were to meet us with a skiff at nine o’clock. The river was high and the men did not come. Ford got frightened and took his girl back to the city, and she got in the house someway without being missed or heard. Mary and I staid there until two o’clock and then went back to get things in shape at the hotel. As soon as we got in the city, we saw Ford; he had found the Shells after taking his girl home, and everything was ready for us to leave. Under the circumstances it was impossible to take the other girl with us and there were only three of us. We paid Shell $80 for taking us across the river. He wanted $100, but we would not pay that, and would not have paid $80 but were afraid he would tell on us.
We got to Ripley about four o’clock in the morning and were brought out into the country about four miles to a man named Delaney. We were taken on horseback and got there just at dawn. I had $285 when I left Maysville, and Shell told me after I paid him the $80 not to let anyone know I had money or I would be charged everywhere I went. He did that to cover his own rascality.
The Delaneys were neither white nor black, but “light complected” people. We staid there all day Sunday and Sunday night he took us on horse back to a Mr. Voorhes. There were other runaway slaves here at Voorhes’, and Monday we all helped him strip tobacco. That night he took seventeen of us to the next place, and so on, traveling in the nigh on horses, we went from place to place until we got to Delaware, and from there we went a “foot-back” to Mt. Gilead. We got to Mt. Gilead January 7th, 1849, and staid there until in May of the following spring. We attended school there during the rest of the winter. I had never attended school before and could not figure or read much, but I could spell quite well. I had been through the elementary spelling book three times while living on the farm. I studied spelling, arithmetic, and reading, and got along very well in spelling and arithmetic, but not so well in reading. It was hard for me to read for I had to spell out all the words.
About the first of May we were taken in a buggy to Mansfield and put aboard the cars for Sandusky. It was the first time we had ever been on the cars, and I remember what a strange feeling I had when I looked out and saw how fast we were traveling. I had never heard of anything traveling that fast before. We staid in Sandusky about ten days until I got work on the “Sultana.” The boat sailed from Buffalo to Chicago, and had stopped at Sandusky on her way to Detroit. I was what was called a “silver man” and had about three hundred pieces of silver to tend to. Mary Gross went with me to Detroit and staid with the headwaiter’s wife until we made one trip, then I took her to Buffalo and she staid with my cousin until I went to Chicago with the boat. On the way back, from Chicago I married Mary Gross. Soon after we came to Sandusky, and Mary went into the service of Mrs. Bexton. I worked in the vicinity for farmers. This was during the time the cholera was so bad in Sandusky. I was taken sick with the cholera and came near dying. As soon as I got well I went to Oberlin and rented a house, then came back and got my wife. We lived in Oberlin until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law.
I was afraid for our safety then and we moved to Canada. I leased a farm about six or eight miles from Windsor from a Frenchman, and soon after began to correspond with my brother Sam who lived in Cincinnati in regard to securing my release from service of the Atwells. He came to see me at Windsor and we talked the matter over. He went to Maysville and bought my release for $150, secured the proper papers and sent them to me. I lived on this farm near Windsor until 1858 when I left my wife on account of her infidelity.
I then came to Cincinnati and worked there the whole of the summer of 1858, and learned the whitewash trade. The next year I went to work for a Col. Thomas Jones in Covington, Kentucky. I worked for him one year and then returned to Cincinnati.
I had a nephew in Louisville, Kentucky and went there to get him away. Times were very critical along the river, and I had to be very cautious about letting people know my business in Louisville. I told all who asked me on the boat, to avoid suspicion that I came from Covington. On the way down I got to talk with a black man on the boat who knew my nephew and I made arrangements with him to see my nephew and tell him to come to the boat. I though this would seem less suspicious than for me to go to him. When my nephew came, I was sitting in the back part of the boat pretending not to notice any one. When he came up and spoke to me I told him my business and my plans and asked him if he wanted to be free. He did not seem to care much about it and replied that he was making some money and that his mistress had promised him his freedom when her son was twenty-one years old. He told me he had a wife but that would not make any difference if he wanted to go. I did not like this remark and thought if he did not know the value of a wife he was not worth bringing away and then he did not seem to be very anxious to go so I gave him $5 and bid him farewell. My nephew was a worthless, shiftless fellow who did not know the value of freedom.
I returned to Cincinnati on the boat and the same year came to Clyde. This was in 1860, and I have lived in Clyde ever since. The house where I now live was built in 1863, but I did not begin to live in it until 1867, when my niece came to keep house for me. My niece died in 1885, and since then I have lived alone