Gordon (slave)

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Gordon, scourged back, colored slide 2.png
Antique colored slide of Gordon during his 1863 medical examination
Other names Peter
Known for Pivotal figure in exposing the brutality of slavery

Gordon or Peter was a slave on a Washington, Louisiana plantation[1] who made his escape from bondage in March 1863. In order to foil the scent of the bloodhounds who were chasing him, he took onions from his plantation, which he carried in his pockets. After crossing each creek or swamp, he rubbed his body freely with these onions in order to throw the dogs off his scent. He fled over 80 miles (130 km) over the course of ten days before reaching Union soldiers who were stationed in Baton Rouge.[2]

Upon arrival at the Union camp, Gordon underwent a medical examination which revealed severe keloid scars from several whippings. During the examination, Gordon is quoted as saying "Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer."[3] The carte de visite images showing Gordon's scars were frequently used by abolitionists, giving Northerners visual evidence of the brutality of slavery. A more detailed summary of the image includes the above and adds the following "My master was not present. I don't remember the whipping. I was two moths in bed sore from the whipping and my sense began to come - I was sort of crazy. I tried to shoot everybody. They said so, I did not know. I did not know that I had attempted to shoot everyone; they told me so. I burned up all my clothes; but I don't remember that. I never was this way (crazy) before. I don't know what make me come that way (crazy). My master come after I was whipped; saw me in bed; he discharged the overseer. They told me I attempted to shoot my wife the first one; I did not shoot any one; I did not harm any one. My master's Capt. JOHN LYON, cotton planter, on Atchafalya, near Washington, LA. Whipped two months before Christmas. The very works of poor PETER taken as he sat for this picture."[4]

Gordon served the Union troops as a guide, and on one expedition was taken prisoner by the rebels, who, infuriated beyond measure, tied him up and beat him, leaving him for dead. He survived, however, and once more made his escape to Union lines. Gordon soon afterwards enlisted in a Colored Troops Civil War unit, and was said to have fought bravely in the Union assault on Port Hudson in May 1863, the first time that African-American soldiers played a leading role in an assault.[5]

The Atlantic's editor-in-chief James Bennet noted "Part of the incredible power of this image I think is the dignity of that man. He's posing. His expression is almost indifferent. I just find that remarkable. He's basically saying, 'This is a fact.'"[6]


Gordon in 1863 after his escape from slavery
Upon arrival at Union camp 
Medical examination photo 
Medical examination photo 
In uniform 
Harper's Weekly 1863 article 
Title Page of an 1863 anti-slavery book 



  1. ^ http://historylink101.com/bw/American_Image/slides/4-j-IMG_1583.html
  2. ^ Harper's Weekly, July 4, 1863, p. 429.
  3. ^ Scars of Slavery, National Archives.
  4. ^ http://historylink101.com/bw/American_Image/slides/4-j-IMG_1583.html
  5. ^ Shumard, Civil War Trust.
  6. ^ Norris 2011, NPR.


Further reading[edit]