For instance, there’s the complete text of an 1895 memoir titled “The New Man: Twenty-nine Years a Slave, Twenty-nine Years a Free Man,” by Henry Clay Bruce.
What follows is a recollection unlike anything you might’ve seen in “Roots”… or even “Mandingo.” I’ll have more to say about H.C. Bruce and his autobiography at a later date. For now, just let your mind paint a picture of this:
HENRY CLAY BRUCE: I am reminded of a fight I once witnessed between a slave and his master. They were both recognized bullies. The master was a farmer, whose name I shall call Mr. W., who lived about three miles from Brunswick, Missouri. He had, by marriage I think, gained possession of a slave named Armstead.
Soon after arriving at his new home his master and he had some words; his master ordered him to “shut up,” which he refused to do. The master struck him and he returned the blow. Then Mr. W. said, “Well, sir, if that is your game I am your man, and I tell you right now, if you lick me I’ll take it as my share, and that will end it, but if I lick you, then you are to stand and receive twenty lashes.”
They were out in an open field near the public road, where there was nothing to interfere. I was on a wagon in the road, about forty yards distant. Then commenced the prettiest fist and skull fight I ever witnessed, lasting, it seemed, a full half hour; both went down several times; they clinched once or twice, and had the field for a ring, and might have occupied more of it than they did, but they confined themselves to about one fourth of an acre.
Of course Armstead had my Sympathy throughout, because I wanted to see whether Mr. W. would keep his word. They were both bloody and also muddy, but grit to the backbone. Finally my man went down and could not come to time, and cried out, “Enough.” There was a creek near by, and they both went to it to wash.
I left, but was informed that the agreement was carried out, except that Mr. W. gave his whipped man but six light strokes over his vest. Could he have done less? But I have been informed that these men got along well afterwards without fighting, and lived together as master and slave until the war.