Chapter 24

6th August 1838

Dearest Mama, I was so glad to receive your most recent letter and parcel but have managed to delay myself in replying almost a full two weeks as I knew you would want to hear of the recent celebrations on the island.

Thank you for sending gifts for the baby and for including my own christening gown! It is so beautiful and delicate, intricate in detail and of the finest cloth. I must confess that after I unwrapped it and ran my calloused hands across the lace frills and pearl buttons I began to weep. Such was the contrast between my rough skin and dirty fingernails to the pale ivory silk that I was fearful of ruining the garment simply by holding it in my hand. Such an item seems entirely out of place in our simple home yet as a physical connection to the family I have lost it is a treasured possession and this child, when he or she comes, shall wear it as we give thanks to God for their arrival.  Mary says it should not be long now, another month or so perhaps. She will act as my midwife when the time comes and I know I shall feel reassured by her presence, but oh how I wish you could be here beside me. In truth Mama, I am scared, and there is no one in the world whose comfort I long for more than yours.

Jacob has been attentive and delightful, lying alongside me each night and staring at my belly as it has grown larger, speaking of who this child might become and what great things they could do. He has no small ambitions for his offspring! He is overjoyed that his son or daughter will truly be born free, not only because he is a free man but because emancipation has come to Jamaica at last. Oh these have been sweet and joyful days indeed.

A great sense of anticipation had been building for many weeks towards the day of declaration itself. Hope and possibility were almost tangible among the Negro population as they shared a glance with one another, nodding and smiling as they silently celebrated that which they had longed for over a great many years, eager to taste all which had been denied them so long. Pastor Philippo, who as you know has worked tirelessly in pursuit of freedom for the slave population, made plans for us to mark the occasion together as a church, and so on the late afternoon of the last day in July we made the long walk to Spanish Town to join a vigil at his church that would last through the night. I daresay that walking so many miles in the heat of summer in my current condition would not be recommended by any physician, but I am no longer a delicate gentlewoman but rather one who has grown hardy by much toil and sweat and I should not have missed this night for anything. However by the time we reached Spanish Town I was overcome with weariness and so begged a little corner of Pastor’s garden in which to rest in the shadow of the great mango tree.

By the time the service began hundreds of people had packed into the church with many more craning their necks at every door and window, eager to hear each word and join with the hymns and prayers. The atmosphere began as jubilant with praises and proclamations being raised to the heavens. The singing was such as I have never heard before, deep, rich and full, words and syllables saturated with joy and lament, each person carrying with them their pain and sorrow for all that had been taken from them, before giving shouts of joy for what awaited them with the dawn of a new day. I confess that I cannot give an account of each moment as my body gave in to tiredness and I slept a while, leaning on Jacob’s shoulder as a sweet chorus of song lulled me to sleep. I roused at some point late into the night. The gentle glow of light from hundreds of candles and lanterns gave rise to dancing shadows as a soft breeze made its way through the sanctuary. No one spoke a word and yet the silence was a great testimony of sorrow. I looked up to Jacob’s face as the muted amber light caught the tears falling down his cheeks. In that moment, as people were together as one in grief and dignity, I experienced a holiness like no other and as all around me stood I felt compelled to kneel and confess my sins and those of my forefathers. In my mind I thought of those sweet souls who had populated our home in the hills of St. Andrew, of how ill-treated they had been over so many years, and all at the hands my own family. The face of Papa swam in my mind as my conflicted heart shed tears both for him and all that he had done. I saw his face before me, one moment laughing with joy at our table as we sat together and told stories and tall tales, and in another the look of scorn and anger contorted his features so that he was no longer my sweet Papa but the tyrant master, cruel and unyielding, the man experienced by my own dear husband. My sorrow felt in some way selfish or self-indulgent in that moment, and I know it does not compare with that of the many around me, but it was mine to carry and I laid it down at the feet of our Lord trusting that his arms are wide enough to take all our burdens from us no matter who we are or where we have come from.

Eventually the pale light of dawn began to wash the sky with the golden hue of sunlight and slowly each lantern was extinguished as we rose to greet the day. There was a great deal of chatter and embracing as we each filled our bellies with breakfast and our hearts with anticipation of the morning’s events. The time came for us to walk to the town square and we formed a mighty procession for the short stroll from the church. As well as those from the congregation we were joined by a great many school children and their teachers, so that together we filled the road to either side, before and behind. What a great sight it all was as thousands gathered before the steps of Government House. Every inch of the small square was full of bodies swarming together as an excited mass of humanity. Soldiers on horseback sat above us looking out over the crowd, their bold red uniforms in great contrast to the white stone buildings on each side, their buttons burnished to gleam in the morning sun. Expectation echoed between the walls of the square as people poured in from each corner eager to find a space to stand, hungry for the words they thought might never come. I was looking around at the sight, turning where I stood to capture it all in my mind, when a great hush fell over us. A number of men appeared between the grand stone columns of the portico before the Governor, Sir Lionel Smith, made his way from among them to the top of the steps and cleared his throat. If he was ensuring he had everyone’s attention he need not have worried. I believe that as one the assembly held their breath so as not to miss one letter of that which was to be spoken. His voice was strong and clear, the surrounding buildings providing the perfect amphitheatre for such an occasion, as he began to read the proclamation.

I looked at Jacob, his face as proud and noble as that of any gentleman I have ever met, his shoulders back and chin held high. I miss you Mama with all my heart, but I would not have been anywhere else in the world for that moment. I so wish you could have been here to see it. The jubilation that erupted in the moments following the proclamation would have rivalled any celebration anywhere I should say. People embraced, danced and sang, raising their hands to the heavens in praise. We remained in the square for quite some time, greeting one another and basking in the joy of the day, before Pastor Phillippo led us back to the church yard. The mood of the morning followed us along the road but as we approached the church grounds a quietness settled upon the crowd as we gathered beneath the tamarind tree for a final act of commemoration. A hole had been dug – a grave in fact – and with great solemnity a set of shackles were placed therein to mark the death of slavery. It was a profound and extraordinary moment. I looked to the face of the man burying those shackles in the earth and his face wore a myriad of expressions. Sadness gave way to a release of anger as he threw shovelfuls of soil with more and more urgency, working his way to quite a lather, before at last standing back with satisfied triumph. The pastor dismissed us with a prayer and blessing, urging us to give our whole, free selves to the glory of God and the betterment of ourselves and our fellow man. We gathered together with our friends from the village and made our merry way back home where the celebrations continued throughout the day. For me, my celebration came in slumber as my body ached from the many miles walked and the largely sleepless night, and so as I lay my head down to rest in the late hours of the afternoon I drifted to sleep with the sounds of a people rejoicing.

I know how much you will be delighted by this report yet I wonder if you will be able to share this sentiment with any around you? Papa will certainly not wish to hear a word of it. How is he? Does he keep well? Does he know of my condition? Your lack of greetings from him in any of your letters tells me that he has not yet forgiven me or made any peace with the circumstances of our parting. I often replay our final conversation in my mind. Does he truly consider himself to no longer have a daughter? Would the knowledge of his first expected grandchild soften his heart towards me, even a little? Have you told him Mama, or dare you not speak my name? Oh to entertain that thought brings me such sorrow! I shall write as soon as the child is here and you will decide what to tell him. Oh I do hope and pray that this little one shall someday meet their grandfather, that they might laugh and play together.

Pray for me dearest Mama, as I pray for you. The next time I write it will be with the most joyful news.

Until that time I remain your devoted daughter, 

Molly

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