The Branded Hand
by: John Greenleaf Whittier
Captain Jonathan Walker, of Harwich, Mass., was solicited by several
fugitive slaves at Pensacola, Florida, to carry them in his vessel to
the British West Indies. Although well aware of the great hazard of the
enterprise he attempted to comply with the request, but was seized at
sea by an American vessel, consigned to the authorities at Key West, and
thence sent back to Pensacola, where, after a long and rigorous
confinement in prison, he was tried and sentenced to be branded on his
right hand with the letters "S.S." (slave-stealer) and amerced in a
WELCOME home again, brave seaman! with thy
thoughtful brow and gray,
And the old heroic spirit of our earlier, better day;
With that front of calm endurance, on whose
steady nerve in vain
Pressed the iron of the prison, smote the fiery
shafts of pain.
Is the tyrant's brand upon thee? Did the brutal
To make God's truth thy falsehood, His holiest
work thy shame?
When, all blood-quenched, from the torture the
iron was withdrawn,
How laughed their evil angel the baffled fools to
They change to wrong the duty which God hath
On the great heart of humanity, too legible for
They, the loathsome moral lepers, blotched from
footsole up to crown,
Give to shame what God hath given unto honor
Why, that brand is highest honor! than its traces
Upon old armorial hatchments was a prouder blazon
And thy unborn generations, as they tread our
Shall tell with pride the story of their father's
As the Templar home was welcome, bearing back-
from Syrian wars
The scars of Arab lances and of Paynim scimitars,
The pallor of the prison, and the shackle's crimson span,
So we meet thee, so we greet thee, truest friend of
God and man.
He suffered for the ransom of the dear Redeemer's grave,
Thou for His living presence in the bound and
He for a soil no longer by the feet of angels trod,
Thou for the true Shechinah, the present home of God.
For, while the jurist, sitting with the slave-whip
o'er him swung,
From the tortured truths of freedom the lie of
And the solemn priest to Moloch, on each God-
Broke the bondman's heart for bread, poured the
bondman's blood for wine;
While the multitude in blindness to a far-off Saviour
And spurned, the while, the temple where a present
Thou beheld'st Him in the task-field, in the prison
And thy mercy to the bondman, it was mercy unto Him!
In thy lone and long night-watches, sky above and
Thou didst learn a higher wisdom than the babbling
God's stars and silence taught thee, as His angels
That the one sole sacred thing beneath the cope of
heaven is Man!
That he who treads profanely on the scrolls of law
In the depth of God's great goodness may find
mercy in his need;
But woe to him who crushes the soul with chain
And herds with lower natures the awful form of God!
Then lift that manly right-hand, bold ploughman
of the wave!
Its branded palm shall prophesy, "Salvation to
Hold up its fire-wrought language, that whoso
reads may feel
His heart swell strong within him, his sinews
change to steel.
Hold it up before our sunshine, up against our
Ho! men of Massachusetts, for the love of God,
Take it henceforth for your standard, like the
Bruce's heart of yore,
In the dark strife closing round ye, let that hand
be seen before!
And the masters of the slave-land shall tremble at
When it points its finger Southward along the
Can the craft of State avail them? Can a Christless
In the van of Freedom's onset, the coming of that
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