Chapter 22

3rd December 1835

Dearest Mama,

The arrival of your letter and package was the sweetest moment in a long and tiresome few months. Despite having grown up in the heat of the island I confess that my current circumstances are considerably less comfortable on baking hot day. Does the sun seem so very distant to you? I was so glad to read that you are well despite the challenges snow and ice have brought to you. I recall how, as a small girl, you would sit me upon your lap and try to describe to me what such inclement weather was like. Such was your gift as a storyteller I confess it all sounded rather thrilling. The notion of being able to skate upon a frozen lake seemed to me the most adventurous and mystical of pastimes. However now as an adult, knowing that you are in that cold grey climate without your daughter, it sounds like the most miserable place on earth. Yet I should endure it gladly to be with you once again. I suppose it shall be a long time still before that is possible.

Is there much talk in Scotland of what goes on here? What is the feeling toward emancipation? In some ways the situation here has become worse, if you would believe that possible. The planters and overseers have responded to the prospect of freedom for their slaves with a good degree of harshness. It is widely reported among the Negros that beatings have increased in number and severity. I am so very glad that Jacob is now a free man. He always held himself with such dignity, even before, but now there is a look on his face through the toil and sweat, an expression of satisfaction, knowing that he works only for himself and his own household. I am so proud to call him my husband. I do not think I should ever have felt that way towards Robert. All of his wealth and status was handed to him through birth. What I have now most people would consider as nothing in comparison, but it brings me great joy knowing that whatever we have shall be earned by ourselves alone.

How is Papa? Has his heart softened towards me at all? I experience a great conflict within me when I think of him. I love him so dearly in spite of our great differences and yet the more I live among those who have spent their whole lives under the yolk of enslavement the more my sense of shame grows. Will you tell him how much I miss seeing his face and hearing his laugh? My heart aches to write of him knowing that he thinks ill of me. I cannot erase from my memory the look upon his face when we parted. How I wish it were an altogether different scene in my mind. And yet I cannot think I was wrong to act as I did. The Bible counsels me to respect my parents, yet how can I obey such a command when in every other way it sets me against God?

I thought of you on Sunday past – in truth I think of you daily, indeed most every hour – as we attended church and sang your favourite hymn, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun”. I confess to being so overcome by emotion I could scarcely make it through the first verse. When we arrived at verse four it was Jacob’s turn to lose his voice. You will, of course, recall the lines that read:

Blessings abound where’ere he reigns

The prisoner leaps to lose his chains

The weary find eternal rest

And all the sons of want are blest.

It was scarcely noticed that he was not singing, such was the swell of other voices around those words. I believe there were equal parts delight and longing in the rendition. Freedom is a most precious commodity and there are many here still waiting to bask in its light.

For ourselves, we have indeed been much blessed these past months, although it has been a wearying journey. Pastor Phillippo, being a man of great wisdom and foresight, has begun to set up so called free villages for those slaves who have already gained their freedom and, I believe, in anticipation of the greater emancipation to come. Freed persons will need a place to live and land to farm in order to keep themselves and yet they will not be at liberty to do so, as the balance of power lies with those who do not wish the Negro to succeed in any way. The landowners would never sell to a former slave and so our friend the minister has himself begun to buy parcels of land in order for them to be divided up and given to those who wish to begin a new life for themselves. I believe he makes the arrangement through a third party, so as not to arouse suspicion. Being so well-known on the island as a great ally of the enslaved, there are many who would not do business with him. To look at him he has all the appearance of a kindly grandfather, yet there is a sharpness of mind and such a desire for what is just, that he shall employ all manner of cunning and guile in the pursuit of what he believes is right.  

The first of these free villages has recently been established on a piece of green and fertile farming land in the hills of the parish of St.Catherine, about ten miles outside Spanish Town. We are part of this new dwelling, known as Sligoville, and have endured many weeks of building, digging and planting afresh in order to establish a permanent home here. There are many months of labour ahead to ensure a harvest will be successful. For now Jacob is working every hour, both here and in assisting others to build their houses. Come the day’s end he has barely the energy to eat some simple food before falling into a deep sleep of exhaustion. We are sorry to now live further away from the Pastor and his church, however he assured me of his plans to start a small congregation right here in Sligoville as soon as he is able. In the meantime we shall walk the ten miles when we are able in order to join them in worship. In due course I hope we shall set up a small school here where I can teach the children to read and write, thereby increasing my usefulness. There is a small piece of land at the end of the village which would be perfect in my opinion, however it may be settled for some other purpose.

A number of the freed slaves among whom we live still hold me with suspicion but I have made one dear friend for which I give God thanks. Mary Jacobs is an older woman, gentle in nature yet strong as an ox. She came from a plantation in St. Thomas having weathered many a beating and decades of toil and strife. In spite of it all she has a peaceful spirit and generous heart, taking me into her confidence almost the moment we met. She has become the matriarch of this new community and her friendship will, I am certain, make the way for further acceptance of me over time. For now I have much to keep me occupied in the work of ensuring we have enough to eat and in keeping our small and humble home as clean and tidy as is possible. I confess that I did not fully appreciate what effort it took to keep our grand house looking as perfect as it always was. The dry dust of the earth lifts with any small breath of wind and settles itself upon any surface it finds. I can only imagine the daily task it was for Beatrice and the others to sweep the floors and wipe the surfaces in order for all of our fine clothing to remain unspoiled. At least I can count my blessings in that my new home has no polished wood on which to gather dust and my clothing ceased to be fine many weeks ago. I have tried to set one of my three dresses aside for church, however as we have no wardrobe or such a place to it keep it, it is a challenge to keep it good. I am quite certain that, were I to find myself once again in any respectable company they should scarcely recognise me, and if they did would look on me with such withering pity I’m sure. But I shan’t worry, as that seems a most unlikely occurrence.

Jacob has just returned, wearied from his day of work and yet sits with me attentively, asking about my day, concerned for my wellbeing. He asks of you, and of Papa, which is a kindness I cannot fathom. His heart is good and true, he makes me smile every day and we declare our love for one another each night before we fall asleep. There are times we cling to each other, as if to a rock in a storm, certain only of the bond between us.  Do keep us in your prayers Mama, as you remain in mine. We need strength and courage in these days in order to keep strong and healthy as well as fed and watered. A great deal of sickness runs among many of the former slaves. Their bodies being weakened by years of hardship and not enough sustenance they become easy prey to whatever fever or disease finds them. I do hope that we shall not succumb. I long to live into such a time when true freedom rules in this land. I believe those days are coming, if we stand together. I know that you long for that too. We are one in heart and spirit although separated by oceans.

Write to me as soon as you are able and know that where written words take such time to travel, my love and prayers are with you always.



2 thoughts on “Chapter 22

  1. Hi Tara

    Hope you are well. Just wondering how many chapters there are in the book as I am collating them and plan to read once I have them all.




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