The following account if from the book, “Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, and Interviews, and Autobiographies,” edited by John W. Blassingame. It is published by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 70893. It is in paperback and not expensive at all.
On page 467 in the section Newspaper and Magazine Interviews, 1864‑1938.
It has frequently been represented by the friends and admirers of Robert E. Lee, late an officer in the rebel army, that, although a slaveholder, his treatment of his chattels was invariably kind and humane. The subjoined statement, taken from the lips of one of his former slaves, indicates the real character of the man:
"My name is Wesley Norris; I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis; after the death of Mr. Custis, Gen. Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Custis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C. years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to 'lay it on well,' an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover.
Mr. Norris’ account though descriptive doesn’t really express what is was like to have salt or brine put in your open wounds. Being a victim he probably would not like to describe his own behavior. I am not exactly an expert on torture and its psychological impact on its victims. The following historical record gives a very accurate description.
An Eye Witness Account of a Slave Whipping Using Salt
“This white man was whipping him and the blood was all over this nigger and he was saying "o, master, o, master, I pray you not to hit me any more. Oh, Lordy, oh, Lordy, has mercy on me. Master, please has mercy on me, please has mercy." But this man wouldn't stop a minute and spits tobacco juice and cuss him and then starts in whipping him again. This nigger was jumping around on the ground all tied up, just like a chicken when you chops his head off when this man was whipping him and when the white folks would stop awhile this nigger would lay there and roll from side to side and beg for mercy.This is quoted on page 147 in the book, “An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865.” It is an account of whipping by a white women remembering a childhood experience. The primary reference is Am. Slave, Supp., Ser. 2, IV, 1120-21, (Mollie Dawson). This book in the same section has the description of whippings and its use in slave life. The author Randolph B. Campbell is a professor at the University of North Texas. The book is published by the Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 70893 and is available in paperback.
I runs off a good piece when this white folks started whipping him and stopped and looks back at him, I was so scared that I just stood there and watched him till he quit. Then he tells some of the slaves to wash him off and put salt in the cut places and he stood there to watch them to see that they did. He was chewing his tobacco, spitting and cussing that nigger and when they gets him washed off and puts salt in the raw places he sure did scream and groan.
But when he groaned they just keeping putting the salt in to the wounds on his poor old beat up body.
The first thing that I know my father was patting me on the back and said, "Honey, you better run along home now," and I sure did and I didn't go back over there any more. That was the only slave I ever saw get a whipping.”
I enclose this text to let the reader know what it would be like to be whipped and then have salt put in the wound. Whipping is painful enough. Imagine the burning of salt in an open raw wound, it must have been like the fires of hell.