Chapter 21

17th March 1835

Dearest Mama

How wonderful it was to receive a letter from you at last. I am sure Pastor Phillippo had begun to dread the very sight me as each time I would eagerly ask for any word from you and he would have to disappoint me. Only last week he threw up his hands in exasperation, exclaiming, “My dear lady, the moment I hear from your mother I shall ride over to you myself and deliver the good news. If I do not call, you can be assured that no letter has yet arrived!” I fear from this outburst that I had begun to make a nuisance of myself, but only from an aching heart and deep, deep longing to know you are well. Oh I have missed you. I can hear your sweet voice in each sentence and have read your letter aloud at least twenty times already. I am certain I could recite it by heart.

Your words paint such a vivid picture of Scotland for me! Even after all you had told me in the stories at bed time and around the dining table, hearing about it now is like learning afresh. I cannot imagine what it is to be cold and although you spent a good number of years there before coming to Jamaica, I believe from your writing that your body had entirely forgotten the sensation. How miserable you must be to need so many blankets simply to sleep. The house in Edinburgh sounds very grand – I do so hope I shall see it someday. In the meantime I must make do with your descriptions, of which I shall plead for more. I shall be glad to read your description of every minute detail from the corner of the room in which you sit. I should be delighted to read of your cutlery, the patterns upon your china teacups, the drapes by the window, any number of everyday items which one would not normally share in a letter, I will devour with eager anticipation as they allow me to inhabit the place where you are. My mind shall take me there when my body cannot.  

How is Papa? Dare I ask – does he speak of me? Am I forgiven? You write that he is eager to establish himself in society – making amends for my actions I have no doubt. I cannot say that I regret my choice, even with all that has transpired, except that I am separated from you both.

Oh Mama there is so much to tell you I almost do not know where to begin. The first weeks without you were the most difficult of my life. I love Jacob with all my heart and was glad to have realised that fact before it was too late, yet I wondered at the sensation of having a heart so full and desolately empty at the same time. I cried every night for a month longing for you to be there to smooth my hair and sing your lullabies to me once more. Yet each day made me a little stronger as I had no choice but to embrace the life I have chosen and make the very best of it, however hard it may be. Jacob spoke to Pastor Phillippo about marrying us so that we might truly be together. I knew this would be important to you, and being under the protection of a minister I wished to honour his good name also. I do not want my actions to have further consequence for those I love and respect. And so it was that one Wednesday afternoon, with only a couple of witnesses from the congregation, we stood in the Baptist church and made our vows before God. It could not have been a more different occasion than the one planned for last October. I had no special gown and wore a simple gathering of wild flowers arranged in my hair. None of society were there to see it, there was no music and no banquet to follow – and none of that bothered me one bit. I was only deeply sad not to be on the arm of my father, nor to have your face smiling back at me as I took my vows. But as I looked into Jacob’s eyes and made my promises I knew you would be proud and that gave me great comfort. We were proclaimed to be man and wife and walked out of the sheltered stillness of the chapel to go about the business of making a life together.

We have been shown great kindness by the pastor in finding a small plot on which to make a home. Jacob got to work at once in building a suitable dwelling for us and digging out a patch of land where we might grow fruit and vegetables to sustain ourselves as well as some to sell. He has taught me all he knows about tending the land so that I might take that role while he hires himself to a local carpenter. He has great skill with his hands and learns quickly, but the rate of pay for a freed slave is still a pittance. I hope that I am as good a gardener as he is or we may go hungry – only time will tell. I know that I am diligent in my planting and watering, keeping a keen eye on every green shoot that comes through the soil, but this is not the light-hearted joy of maintaining a beautiful bed of flowers but rather the desperate need to fill our bellies.

Our home is simple and sparse yet full of love. The few items I brought in my trunk have helped lend a delicate and feminine touch to a dark and dreary interior, and the trunk itself serves as a small table or extra chair should anyone come to call, which they seldom do. I wish I had packed more books for I miss their companionship of an evening, but I am now so weary at the end of the day that I often fall asleep within the first few pages

Being far from the city and now in the most humble of circumstances I have largely been spared the prying eyes and tittle tattle gossip of those who would glory over this fall from grace, as I’m sure they would have it. However I am still quite the curiosity where we are, finding myself not to be entirely accepted by any group of people, experiencing glances of suspicion from the Negros and thinly disguised looks of derision from the white population. Jacob and I keep our own counsel and there is very little time for idling. However news has reached my ears of the new engagement of Robert McKay, a piece of information shared between two ladies in a dramatic and overly-stated whisper which I believe was solely for my benefit, given the comments that followed.

“I am so delighted he has found a good match this time, much more suited in standing and temperament. Miss Lucy Jones will prove a worthy choice I am sure.”

I do not know the young lady of which they spoke but I can only hope she has made her choice of husband willingly and freely, or if not that she shall enjoy the fruit of their wealth that it might bring her much satisfaction and joy. That choice was not for me but perhaps it shall be perfectly adequate for another. I am sorry for Father that he could not have a more compliant daughter. At times he seemed to delight in my strength of spirit which I believe must have reminded him of himself. I am certain he did not anticipate the ways in which passing on that particular trait would have such a sting in the tail. Poor Papa. Will you tell him I have written? Will you read this letter to him as I have read yours to Jacob? Perhaps that is not wise, now that I review it. There is much here that would only serve to keep his anger and disappointment alive. Perhaps it is best to tell him I am well, that I am loved and that I am sorry. Oh you will know what to do for the best sweet Mama. I shall leave it in your hands.

Have you received word from Pastor Knibb? It seems he arrived back to Jamaica at the same time you were departing. I have heard from Rev Phillippo that he received a mighty and overwhelming welcome from his congregation who came to meet him at the harbour as he sailed into Rio Bueno and accompanied him by road to Falmouth. Despite finding his chapel in ruins he held services which were overflowing with thankful participants. The local press, as you can well imagine, have been less than pleased by his return and rail against him and the other abolitionists with the same venom as before. There is still much work to be done in this new era. Slaves are free and yet they are not, at least not in any way that you or I understand the word. My social standing, being what it is now, I shall have very little opportunity or influence to assist in the continued struggle, but if I might be an encouragement in any way to Pastors Knibb, Phillippo or their friends I shall surely do it.

Will you write to me as soon as you are able? It is an insufferable amount of time to wait for ships to cross the ocean with news. Knowing that these words shall not reach you for many weeks is a torture for one who, not so very long ago, could wander to the next room and merrily chat a while, passing time with conversation of such little consequence. If I knew how precious those talks would become I should have stayed for hours, discussing every detail of life and drinking in your voice and wisdom with each and every word. Tell me all you can in your letters – I am eager to know more of Edinburgh and our home there. Nothing shall be too mundane for me to read if it has been written by your hand.

Oh I must finish these pages to send them to you, knowing the sooner I do then your reply shall come all the faster. Yet I am loathe to lay down my pen for as I write it is as if I keep your company, despite the fact that we are separated by so many miles. Rest assured I hold your close in my heart each and every day.

Your loving daughter,

Molly

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