Cotton Machine Used for Punishing Runaways, South Carolina, 1830s

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Image Reference

Moses Roper, A narrative of the adventures and escape of Moses Roper from American slavery (London, 1837), p. 51 (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library). 2nd ed. (London, 1838; reprinted Negro Universities Press, 1970), p. 53.

A machine used for packing cotton used as an instrument of punishment. Roper had attempted yet another escape and among the "instruments of torture" applied to him was the "cotton screw": "This is a machine used for packing and pressing cotton. By it, he hung me up by the hands at letter a, a horse moving round the screw e* (*This screw is sometimes moved round by hand, when there is a handle on it. The screw is made with wood, a large tree cut down, and carved in the shape of a screw), and carrying it up and down, and pressing the block e into the box d, into which the cotton is put . . . . I was carried up ten feet from the ground, when Mr. Gooch . . . let me rest for five minutes, then carried me round again, after which, he let me down and put me into the box d and shut me down in it for about ten minutes . . ." (pp. 51-52). Born enslaved in North Carolina around 1815, Roper made a number of escape attempts before, around 1834, he was able to escape completely, and in 1835 made his way to England where he developed contacts with members of the British Anti-Slavery Society (see, Moses Roper, in C. Peter Ripley, et al.,eds., The Black Abolitionist Papers: Vol. 1 (University of North Carolina Press, 1992).