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As the Winds Blew Past
I wrote this piece keeping in mind the conditions of race relations in this country.
My ancestors on my father’s side were slaves that belonged to a family with the name Cheatham in Arkansas. I myself was born a free black in Illinois in 1810, but lived in Louisiana as a slave most my life. My name is Isaac and I have recreated the memories of what I had encountered in Louisiana, with the purpose to show the reader all aspects of slavery as candidly as possible. While I lived in Louisiana as an enslaved man, I have always been deeply captivated by the nature of the winds. I saw them gently brush through the sighing trees, and blow past the rich, and the powerful. The same winds rushed by the most poor and unfortunate souls, void of prejudice. For, it is not the nature of winds to discriminate. The gust of wind rustled the cotton as it drifted north, and carried our dreams of freedom with it. I did not know when it would return, or if it would return at all. It was ironic to me that in a country where it so boldly defined itself with the shibboleth, “Home of the brave, land of the free,” that the institution of slavery could thrive so. I learned how to read and write when I finally found freedom, because I realized that only the educated are free. I felt that it is my duty to put my experiences in writing. While a slave, I learned that none but the birds who glide the wind to fly are truly free. Surely one of the most trying times of my life happened sometime around the November, of 1859. I was forty-nine at that time. My story starts at the Flint plantation in the Orleans parish of old Louisiana.
It was getting dark out, and Louise started heating the pots with shriveled pork and beans. All of us gathered around the big pot in the middle and held our bowls, as we stood in line. George and Phillip were tearing loaves of bread and passing the pieces around. After a long day of toil on the cotton fields, we finally had a moment of rest and peace, before the raging Louisiana sun would beat down on our backs once again. A cool breeze of calm washed over all of us, the reason of which was unknown to me. We began to talk. Many slaves laughed, joked and gossiped. Merry making like this did not occur often. I began to get lost in the depths of my mind, and gazed in to the reddish cloud freckled skies. I was actually born in Astoria, Illinois in 1802, but we moved to a nearby town. I began to reminisce when my family lived in Cahokia, Illinois as free blacks. I didn’t have many doting memories of my parents, simply because I didn’t have much memory of them to begin with. All I knew of my parents were that they were both slaves and my father’s name was Matthew, and my mother’s, Caroline. My father always used to give me advice on how to live my life honestly and properly. I do not recall everything he said to me, but then again I lack many memories of my parents. I then remembered of that silent, chilly October night when I was snatched from my home, and taken in to slavery at the age of just fourteen. It felt like ages ago. I had forgotten everything other than the skills needed as a slave; I had forgotten what it was to be a free man.
A raging pain suddenly shrouded my right cheek, and snapped me right back to harsh reality. “Be quiet, all of you.” Master Flint thundered. “Eat, and go to your beds. You, Isaac, you better fix that damn cart tomorrow.”
A violent squall rushed our laughter and momentary happiness as far from us as possible. A feeling of solemnity set in. He stomped off in to the distance with red dust flying behind him. We cleaned the bottom of our bowls, and headed to our cabins, to rest and prepare for another day of toil.
The sun’s rays infiltrated my eyelids in an almost taunting manner, to lure me out of my bed. I woke to a sharp cracking noise resounding far and near. I could identify that sound all too well. I lifted myself from out of the cot with no will to leave the somewhat comfort that my cabin provided me with. I bathed and readied myself for the drudgeries of the day, knowing full well that there was nothing I could do to aid that ill-fated soul out there. After every crack, a dreadful scream followed suit, almost like some demented music. After the bloody hour had ended, I stepped outside. I saw Moses. I could see the blood dripping down from his forehead and the lacerations on his back as he crawled off in a painful and most demoralizing manner. This was the life of an enslaved man, a man cheated out of his once God-given and constitutional rights and civil liberties. However terrible the things I had seen were, I never once lost the feeling that one day, I could walk the streets as my own man. One day the winds of change would wash upon us. One day, those who had sinned against us would be judged under the mighty eyes of god.
Louise grimaced and shook her head. “When will they learn?” She slowly opened the jar of flour and applied it on to his raw back.
He winced sharply, and quickly gasped as the cold flour was rubbed on to his bloody wounds. This had become a daily occurrence. The rancid smell of blood always lingering in the air, the terrible conditions, and the endless days of plowing the fields, shucking corn, and picking cotton had become a typical daily lifestyle for us. The master himself very rarely actually came out to monitor us. He hired slave patrollers to harass us. Most of them were heavyset, burly, and had brains the size, less than or equal to that of a chickens. We called them paddy rollers for short, or sometimes just paddies. We picked the cotton mostly in August, while the corn picking season was in April or early May. The days blurred together, in their similarity. I still couldn’t entirely adjust my eyes to see this affliction on such a regular basis.
My first master however was a different story. Before any of this, I served a kindly old widow, by the name of Hemmings, who treated us slaves as human beings. She was an upright, decent woman. She gave us food, bibles, and as much freedom, a slave could possibly attain. She was a completely different brand of the white man. She treated us as she would treat her own children, and read us the bible and taught us of god. Good people like her, gave me hope that one day things would change. She gave me hope that one day I could live my life as a free man not bound by chains, and dirty looks. To me, both of them were the same. In all truth, she was one of the best friends I ever had.
Ms. Hemmings used to tell us stories of her husband, Arnold Hemmings. “He was a good soldier, and an even better man.” She would always tell me. That is all I really knew of her husband.
She used to tell me that I was a very intelligent child. I remember Ms. Hemmings used to tell us that we would not be always slaves. It made me happy to think that I would be free some day or other. I could go to school, and I wouldn’t have to work on a field from dawn to dusk.
She used to sneaks books to my cabin, so the other slaves couldn’t see. As long as Ms. Hemmings lived, she used to teach me to read and write, at least a little. I learned the basics of English literature before she passed away. I still remember when she would invite me, and teach me things like, the alphabet and proper punctuation. In 1830, the state of Louisiana passed a law that made it illegal to teach slaves to read and write. She risked a lot by teaching me, but still did it, regardless of the laws against it. Those good days like all good things came to an end the day she took her last breath. I was the age of twenty four, when she passed. Every time we passed her grave, we would bow down in respect. The truth was that she gave me freedom, when she taught us how to read and write. She gave me the freedom to express myself. Shortly after, I was sold to her grandson Elijah Flint. Elijah had inherited her home and her plantation, or so he said. The plantation spanned a grand five hundred acres. It was in Ms. Hemmings’ family for generations. The moment, Elijah Flint took over, was when everything changed, for the better, or for the worse, I did not know.
I remember, a few days later, heading out of my cabin, and witnessing something horrifying. At first, I could only make out in the vast distance, a white man gesturing erratically to a black man. I could not make out what was happening at the moment. This naturally spiked my interest immensely. I did not know who either character was, or what they were discussing. Then as swift as the north winds, I heard a deafening gunshot echo throughout the plantation. I saw flocks of birds fleeing as fast as their wings could take them, and I could only look on with jealousy. It must have been a paddy roller that had spotted a runaway. As soon as the man turned and left, I ran as quickly as I could to see who that unfortunate soul was. When I got close enough, the man lying on the ground was much too familiar to me. I had seen him loading the wagon, the other day. I didn’t bother to ask him who he was. I wished I had. I saw a face lifelessly staring in to the sky, almost as if he was looking for something. I told Louise, and Phillip, about him and the rest of the slaves soon found out and came to see. They arranged the funeral, and began to tell the others to start digging a grave. I did not attend. It was not that I did not care for the man, but that I knew his would not be the last grave. I can still picture the man’s face, even today. What I found peculiar is that when I looked in to the man’s eyes, I did not see fear. I saw hope in the purest form.
The purpose of my story is to recreate my experiences as a slave. My purpose is not to portray to my readers that white men are demons, but to make the reader aware that there are demons among them. The truth of the matter was and still is today, that there are good in all men, just more in some than others. One fateful day, when the master was away for a trip, I and some of the other slaves went to fish in a nearby lake on the land of the plantation. We sometime went to the lake to catch fish for dinner. We readied our bait and other various materials, and pushed off our canoes. It was just me and George on ours. We stayed for a lengthy time. Our bucket was nearly full by noon.
By then, all the other slaves had returned to their cabins. “It’s gettin’ late, George. We need to be getting back now.” I said to him with a tone of mild urgency. “Just one more, pa.” he pleaded.
I saw no reason for five minutes more. George coiled back, and cast the rod forward. The line went taut in a matter of mere seconds. He aggressively pulled the fishing rod back. His hands were trembling. His face displayed strain. His knuckles turned red from his steady grip. George edged closer and closer to the edge of the boat every second. The line eventually got so strained, you’d think it would snap. The boat creaked and groaned. He leaned over the side, trying to regain control of the, what I could only assume an incredibly large fish. While I was watching in awe, a huge splash snapped me back to what was happening. George had fallen overboard. It took about two seconds to register exactly the sequence of events. As I frantically tried to grab his hand, my mind blanked out. He was far out in the middle. He was thrashing desperately, and his headed bobbed up and down in the water. I did not know how to swim. I felt helpless. The oar fell from my hands. I couldn’t get close. My eyes fluttered close while I was trying my hardest to keep them open. My body seemed to become heavier and heavier as I swayed and my body thudded on the bottom of the boat. I was struggling to keep my eyes open. Everything I saw was blurry and unclear. I suddenly saw a figure dash head-first in to the lake. I fought to regain consciousness and control of my body. I could see George still refusing to give in. I shook my head, and managed to stand up. What I saw stunned me. I felt the wind meet me with a tender embrace. An old friend had come again, accompanied with the wind; I knew that change was coming, and I knew it was coming soon. I saw, with my own two eyes, the figure grab tightly on George’s collar, and pull him on to shore. The blurry figure I saw was a white man. After I finally got to shore after paddling with my hands, George was taking off his shirt to dry. By then, the man was already gone. He was a fairly new paddy by the name of Hanson, David Hanson.
The Fourth of July was quickly approaching. We were usually allowed a day off on Sunday, and on occasional holidays. This was usually a time of festivities in the Flint household. It was an incredibly difficult day for many of us. White slave owners would celebrate their freedom from Britain. We would watch on, as they gloriously celebrated the day that America won the freedom that the country so valiantly fought for. What I found fascinating, was that not one family member of Flint, not one paddy roller, and not even one of many guests at the plantation spoke of the negligent irony that was the boasting of freedom and independence that partook on the Fourth of July. The day before the Fourth was a Sunday. We had two free days, one Sunday, and one on Monday. It was that Sunday, when we had learnt that Mrs. Flint’s pearl necklace had been missing. Mrs. Flint of course, immediately blamed us and accused whoever she could see, for stealing her precious necklace.
Sometime near noon, a paddy called us all to the center, and told us to listen to master Flint. “Listen here. Shut up back there. Now, I want to know which one of y’all stole the damn necklace. Which one of y’all had been snooping your noses where it don’t belong? If you return it now, you’ll only be whipped fifteen times. If you make the ill-advised decision to wait, or sell it, you’ll be tried in a slave court. If I happen to find it in your possession, by god, I’ll shoot you on the very spot you stand. Work hard tomorrow.”
That night, I went to go visit Sarah. She was a good friend of ours. Sarah served as the house servant to the Flints. Sally, Louise, Phillip, George, and I would go to Sarah’s cabin to converse freely and enjoy each other’s company. We held occasions like this every other Sunday.
She would talk about nearly anything that came in to her mind. “Say, Louise, you think that Abe Lincoln is gonna get anything done. I heard he wasn’t even an option down in the South. I saw this newspaper about him on master’s desk. Isaac, can you make heads and tails out of it. You can read, right? Can you go get it? It’s in my drawer.”
I curtly nodded, and looked through the drawers searching for the paper in question. I pulled the one on the far right, top corner out, by mistake. I was rummaging through the contents, when something caught my eye. I leaned closer, to see what it was. In the dim candle light, I found several, brilliant white pearls, hidden under stacks of fabric. I looked behind my back, to see what looked like a heated argument. They were all preoccupied and absorbed in to the conversation. I knew what I had to do. This did not belong to her. I scooped the necklace in my hands and hastily stuffed it in to my pockets, before anyone noticed.
I called out, “It’s getting late, and I should go to sleep. Master said that he needed me to load the wagon early.” I did not hesitate, one second.
I walked out, comprehending what I had done, and if it was the right thing to do. The funny thing was that I didn’t think twice when I took it. We shouldn’t diminish ourselves to petty thieves, in our fight against tyranny.
The next day I put the necklace outside his doorstep. He tried to interrogate the slaves, to find who stole it, but he got nowhere. I can remember a lot of things extremely well, but there is one moment, that would be seared in to my mind for a very long time. It was the manner in which Sarah looked at me, when Flint held up the necklace for us all to see. It was a look of pure loathing, disgust, and betrayal. It was a look I had never seen before, and it was a look I had no wish to see anytime soon.
Very rarely there would be incredible displays of humanity in a time that was just the opposite. Sometime, maybe we could see Flint help up a fallen elderly slave, or give us a free day off. Flint’s daughter or one of his two sons might sneak us an extra loaf of bread. His children were good natured, handsome young men and women. They would come to talk to us whenever they could, and we would always enjoy it. The question remained, was it enough? Were these small acts of kindness, enough to wipe away the horrors of slavery? His wife however, was a much different situation. If she even saw any one of her children even remotely close to us “lower beings”, she would yell and shout and make a commotion till the sun went down. His wife was petty and shew, and as ugly on the inside as she was on the outside. She made him miserable with her tantrums, and would argue with him constantly. Whatever good that remained in Flint’s heart would disappear more and more every day. There was a rumor, that before his first wife died of disease, Elijah Flint was an approachable man with a jovial temperament. We didn’t get to see that aspect of him too much. The more elderly slaves told me that his first wife was a wonderful creature. She always would sport a beautiful smile, and could light up a room with her presence.
We could not dwell too long on the tragedies that we encountered. There was no time. Our lives comprised of doing the same thing autonomously for days, months and years. Every couple of months we would see a new face. We would see new ones arrive and old ones disappear. There were mothers separated from their children, and children separated from their mothers. The wrong pieces of the puzzle were forced together. The slave traders did not see families, but saw “products” for selling and purchasing. They cared little about our kindred bonds, and tore families apart by selling us just for some extra spending money. This affected us much more than it affected them. To the slave traders, it was just a job, but to us, to us it was our lives. When asked to define what they think slavery is, most of the slave traders described it as the responsible power over an unfortunate, heathen-like people.
Phillip was a young man on the plantation, a slave. Phillip’s mother and his father were both sold off, when he was just the tender age of four. He had a brother and sister too. Six years later, when he was ten, his sister was sold to a slave holder in Tennessee. His brother died of Cholera the year just after his sister was sold off. Ever since he was left by himself, Louise had raised him as her own son. Unlike me, Louise was born in to slavery on the same plantation. Her mother and Ms. Hemmings were very close and very dear friends, and for a long time. Louise’s mother died while giving birth to her. She told Hemmings her final wish, in the few moments she had left on this world. Her dying wish was that her daughter never be sold. She honored that wish, and even put it in her will, that Louise would never leave the plantation, and she never did.
There was a young man by the name of Davis who used to live there. He was close to the age of thirty, I reckon. He was sold to a man from South Carolina in 1855. Davis worked as what they called a “jobbing slave”. He and some other slaves were taken by their masters into nearby towns and ports, transporting finished produce to the dockside and collecting goods from the arriving ships. Some even worked day and night on the railroad tracks. They worked on whatever task they were given, by the men and women who paid their owners for their work. It was much more grueling work. I was lucky enough to just pick cotton, rather than moving boxes off and on ships. Those slaves would load and unload ships from dusk to dawn, and payment would go to their masters. The only motivation slaves had to keep on working, was the fear of losing their lives.
I was too young to enjoy the taste of freedom, when I had the opportunity to. Before I could understand the beauty of freedom, it was snatched away from me. The very same day, I was snatched from my family too. Not a day went by on that plantation, when I didn’t think of the life my parent were leading, or for all I knew, led. How was their life without me? Could they feel my sorrow from hundreds of miles away, or had they slowly forgotten about me over the years? The questions burned a fire in my heart that never died out and fueled me forward. They allowed me to push through all the times I felt lost, all the scrapes and bruises, and all the heartache I had felt. Those questions allowed me to endure, for I had something to live for.
The life of a slave was grim indeed, but from time to time, a wonderful thing would happen. A slave would earn their freedom. When a slave became too old or too weak to work, Flint would grant them their freedom. There used to be a slave by the name of Henry at the plantation. Henry passed away last year at the age of sixty-five. Henry, when on his death bed, begged Flint to give him his freedom before he died, “I want to die free, master.” Flint replied, “You are going to die soon, what good will your freedom do you now?” “But master, I want to die my own man.” He said. Flint said to him, “you are free.” “But write it master, I want to see it on paper.” Seeing no reason why not, Flint wrote on paper that he was free. Henry held it in his bony quivering hands. He looked at it with a weak smile and cried, “Oh how beautiful, how beautiful it is. Thank the lord, for I am free at last. Massa, May I trouble you for one more wish?” “Yes, name it.” “I would like to be buried with this paper.” Flint agreed to do so.
Henry did not know how to read, but I reckon he knew in his heart he would die free, and that was enough. Soon after, he fell in to a deep lumber and would wake to a better place. There on the bed he laid, with the paper clenched close to his heart, and a single tear on his cheek. He was buried with the paper in his hands. He could roam the fields of heaven free at last. He was free of sorrow and all things evil.
Not all my time on the Flint plantation was woeful and miserable. There were many times on free days, when all of us would just sing and dance, or get together and tell stories. We stretched cowhide over old cheese-boxes and made tambourines. We made musical instruments, and did something the elders taught us, called "patting juba." Both Phillip and George made their own instruments with old broom straws and cow bones. We clapped our hands rhythmically, and sung in melodic harmony. Not anyone of us was louder than the other, not softer. We sung of the beauty of freedom, and we sung of Hope. However horrible our day was or even our week, our pains and our worries would wash away in the beauty of song. Merry making of this fashion was also significant to us, spiritually. Our music was how we could summon the strength to overcome. Master Flint didn’t mind our music making and many times even encouraged it. He said, he enjoyed how it sounded. There was one night, and I did not know if he was drunk or not, but he started to sing along and clap with us! He just walked in to the circle sat down and copied what we were doing. We started laughing and told stories. Some of us stood up and started dancing around the fire, while the food was cooking. The crackling fire seemed to emanate happiness into the obsidian dark night. That evening was made things much different for all of us. After that day, Flint began to treat us much kinder than he did before. It gave us reason to believe for a brighter future ahead of us. The gulf winds embraced us in a comforting familiar manner. When we looked forward, we no longer saw darkness like we did before. At the very end, we saw a sparkle of light.
The months blew past, and December was approaching. It was the best time of the year. Even in Louisiana, it became chilly. It was a time when spirits were high, and the mood was jolly. We never really could enjoy rich, tasty foods, like fine meats, butter, eggs, and sugar. Though, Flint allowed us extra rations of excellent food at Christmas. The holiday represented an opportunity for us to eat our fill of the most delightful food our side of the Mississippi. Most slaveholders enjoyed a feast of this magnitude year round. We, of course were not given that luxury. At Christmas time, we dined on a variety of meats, such as roast chicken and ham. We also would enjoy other traditional delicacies such as squash, greens beans, and baked okra among many other delectable items. Louise and some of the other women baked fruit cakes and made pies, for after supper. Louise would make the most delightful fruit cake I had ever tasted. On Christmas Eve, we would enjoy each other’s company. We would hold hands and say grace. I did not think of how horrible my life was at moments like that. That year, Flint joined us in holding hands and saying grace. I would thank the blessings that led me to these people, and that led me to a master who was willing to sit and eat with his slaves. Every time, around Christmas, the whole plantation would be lit with candles, and decorated. The dining room was adorned with flickering candles and stockings. Outside, the men would gather around a barrel of cider to celebrate the joyous holiday, while the women prepared dinner. As usual, John tried to sneak a bottle of whisky by the rest of us. By the end of that night, he was passed out in the middle of Flint’s lawn, arms and legs spread out. It was a merry Christmas that year indeed.
Moments such as those, would make me look at Flint, and not see a cruel cold brute, but a victim himself. See, I saw something, just last year that made me see everything clear, something that no one but me saw. It was common knowledge, that Ms. Hemmings put in her will that the plantation be transferred to the ownership of her grandson, in the event of her death. It was also common knowledge that Robert Flint, Elijah’s brother was outraged at her decision. It had been close to ten years. What nobody else knew, was that last summer Robert Flint came to Elijah’s house. The reason Robert had come, was because he wanted to discuss selling the plantation and slaves, and giving half of the profit to him. It was a sultry August night, with gentle breezes caressing my face, smelling distinctly of the gulf. While I was walking my daily rounds, I overheard loud shouting and the sound of objects shattering. I, unable to contain my curiosity, looked in through the large window in the back. There in the dining room, I saw Robert Flint yelling loudly at his brother. He kept pushing Elijah back further and further, till his back was against the wall. Elijah did not push back, and attempted to defend himself. In a singular, fluid motion, Robert doubled backed and flung his fist with might, straight in to Elijah’s jaw. Elijah did not hit back. Instead, he held his arms out as a sign of submission.
From outside, I could make out some of the words that were being said, although they were a little muffled. Before he walked out of the door, he angrily barked, “I’ll be back, and when I do, you better sign the damn contract.” I remembered one thing clearly, that stood out from everything else I had experienced so far in that place. Just a second after the door slammed shut, Flint slumped in to the nearest chair, and held his head in his arms, as if, if he closed his eyes long enough, his problems would disappear. He couldn’t sell the plantation. It was all he had left in this world. He picked up a broom and swept up the shards from the broken vase himself. Mrs. Flint and the children had gone to her mother’s for the week. He sat down at the table and solemnly ate his dinner and retired to his chambers. It was just a little past midnight. I quietly hurried back to my cabin, and snuck in to my bed, so no one would be the wiser. I could hardly sleep that full moon night.
What I had seen did not make much sense. He was hit by Robert, just like the paddies would hit us if we took too long a break. He was miserable and diminished. His wife did not care for him, and only married him for his fortune, he was being robbed of his property by his own brother, and he had no one to help or listen to him. He was being oppressed by his brother and neglected by his wife.
We speak so much of freedom, but never stopped to think, what freedom really is. It was in every slaves mind, that freedom would give us unparalleled joy. Elijah Flint was free, but he was not joyful. He was just like us, in the truest sense, with his majestic house and plantation just serving as a guise. Flint was struggling against bonds himself. Elijah Flint really wasn’t that bad man, and at least he was not as terrifying as his brother. If he did not live in the south, he would have never become a slave owner. Who he was, was forced upon him, by the nature of his birthplace. It were the small twists of fate that spelled the difference between a poor man or a rich man, black or white, free or enslaved. These small insignificant changes in detail can change a man’s ideology, his perspective, and even who he truly is. The unexpected truth is that nobody is truly free. Nobody is truly free from greed. Nobody is truly free from anger. Some are just freer than the rest of us. While the white man does not appear to be enslaved, they are bonded in the truest, most formidable shackles, all so are all of us.
Ever since that night last year, I never looked at Elijah Flint, and saw the same man I used. I looked at him, and it was a completely different man. This was a man capable of emotion, capable of compassion, but molded in to something he was not, by a number of factors.
Our anger and our grief were not directed at Flint, but the system that constantly put us at the mercy of the white man, deemed a higher being. The institution of slavery was an evil that had managed to evade god’s eye. Something had to be done. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America once said "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." Men like John Brown, sacrificed their lives for the freedom of millions of bondsmen. He stood steadfast in the face of demons, and fought for what in his heart he believed was just. He raided Harper’s Ferry, in Virginia in hopes to liberate those put in bonds by the very government that promised “that all men are created equal & independent. He fought so others would know freedom. He was a white man. He did not need to concern himself with the status of black men, but chose to, simply because it was the right thing to do, and he was hung for it. All of this suffering, this cruel and unusual punishment, this disregard for human life, what was the reason for all of this? The color of their skin was white, and ours, dark. I spent many years, blaming myself, and thinking, “Why is my skin different? I didn’t choose to the color of my skin. What made me look different than a white man? Who or what decides which people have darker skin, and which ones light? It always fascinated me, how something so minuscule could have such an effect on so many people’s lives. The shading of one’s skin would determine the fate of millions.
I had to stop any further unjust crimes against the African people, my people. It was my duty. Who do they think they are? Pure rage began to corrupt my mind. My legs were dragging me, to where or why, I did not know. I wasn’t even thinking straight, or at all for that matter. I was marching towards Flint’s grand house. I was unsure of what the future had in store for me. I still did not lose my visions that one day, my brothers and my sisters would be able to run free. Were we not humans, with dreams and aspirations? Did we not also have the opportunity to be more than another man’s property? This was not what we wanted. This will was force upon us, simply because we looked different. Our skin was of a different complexion. We came from a strange faraway land. I walked faster and faster as these thoughts bounced off of the walls inside my skull, troubling me, and strengthening my crimson streaked anger further and further. I did not know what I was going to do, but all I knew, was that something had to be done, by someone. Why not me?
An abrupt tug haltered my steady stride. “No, Isaac, you will surely get beaten dead.” George begged. “There is nothing you can do. Just go back to your cabin, Isaac. The paddies will whip you dead, before you can say a word.”
A cool breeze of reality washed over my mind and some sense managed to penetrate my thick skull. I couldn’t do this. I cared for my brothers and sisters deeply, but I could not end my life just like that. My father’s words still twirled around my head, causing me great tribulation. Slaves were seen as livestock in the eyes of the slave masters, expendable property. Should I selflessly stand for the good of my people? Is it worth it to sacrifice my life for a hopeless cause? Will I end up like Nat Turner? These thoughts twirled inside my paining head not much contrary to a whirlwind. My heart paced faster and faster. I could protest and stand up for the dignity and the rights of blacks, although it really wouldn’t cause any change. If I stood for what was right, for what was morally right, then my people would suffer less. That is of course, if old Flint didn’t shoot me between the eyes first, which he most definitely would. If that really did happen, I would be in such a situation where I would not be able to help anyone. I slowly trudged back to my cabin, trying to organize my chaotic thoughts. I began to forget about this whole matter, although the dilemma was still etched in to my mind. These thoughts were not going to go away anytime soon.
However beaten up, confused, or scared, I was, I never lost sight of the potential beauty that surrounded me. Every morning, before I continued on to the weary drudgeries of the day, I would just sit in an old rocking chair by the window. While I would sit, I would contemplate about many things. It was perhaps the only instant of my life that truly belonged to me, and nobody else. I would look out my window and just gaze for long times at a time. I could see old, lush sycamore trees with Spanish moss adorning almost every branch. I could see sparrows perching on the branches singing their sweet morning songs. In a place where slavery could thrive, how there be so much beauty? Anytime I had time to think, I did. I would sit on my rocking chair, and just think about the world around me. I would think of all those men and women who make the world a better place. I always heard stories of men who dedicated their lives to the bettering of others. Those men were in government. Men like Abraham Lincoln, and other Republicans wanted to see to it, that slavery would be no more. One of my dreams was to be like them. I wanted to go to a place every day, where I could make a difference. Many of the white gentlemen that visited the plantation would speak either very nervously or very strongly about President Lincoln. They would say, “There is going to be a war, I tell you. That man is a tyrant!” I didn’t understand what they were talking about till much later. I have to say, if I ever found the gentleman that had uttered that phrase, I would slap him upside his head.
About a month later, I came face to face with the devil himself. It was near midnight when I woke to howling winds, beating upon the walls of my wooden cabin. There was a furious pounding standing out among the noise of the violent winds. I gradually dragged myself to the door, see who was inquiring at such a late hour. I prepared myself for whom or what awaited me on the other side.
I swung the door open, and on the other side, stood Josiah Hill. He was perhaps the harshest and most terrifying slave patroller, with a towering frame of seven feet “So, I heard from some of my friends, that you were going to set us whites straight, old boy. Come and do it.” He boomed in a deep, drunken, southern drawl while sporting an evil grin.
He was a heavy-set man with an air of swaggering superiority. One hand was on his belt buckle, his fingers stretching, and the other gripping a bottle. I knew what hell was in store for me. I knew all too well. If I tried to run he would shoot me faster than gods own thunder. If I attempted to fight him, he would pummel me till tomorrow’s dawn. There was no possible way out of this situation, where I could emerge unharmed or even just alive. It was over for me, or so I thought. I began to close my eyes and prayed to the God above. I clinched my eyes shut, muttered words of forgiveness, and looked to the heavens for redemption. I heard the sound of a glass bottle shattering. I listened to the sounds of glass fractals bouncing on the wood. I opened my eyes to see the unconscious body of Josiah Hill. He was lying among sharp shards of green tinted glass. He must have had too much to drink, and had passed out. This was a blessing unsurmountable to any amount of gold, for me. In the morning, he would forget that he ever knew about what he was going to do, or that he suspected me in the first place. I quickly formulated a plan to drag him to the patroller’s cabin, while most of the other paddy rollers were gone for the day. The patroller’s cabin was an area made for the patrollers to rest in. I grabbed on to his collar and dragged his weighty body across the grass and to the cabin. I quietly and quickly propped him up against the wall. The sun slowly ascended and shone its morning light where there was none. I quietly slinked off in to the rescinding night, back to my home. The next morning would spell either my inevitable death or my triumph.
The rooster’s call beckoned me to my fate. I readied myself to work a full day’s work in the fields. In the distance, I could see Flint, his eagle like eyes scanning the plantation for a victim of his wrath. His eyes settled on me. I held my breath, and my heart pounded against my chest. I looked around. Thank god, I didn’t see Hill. It was strange, because he was supposed to be there. When I asked master Flint, where was he just gave a simple nod, and said, “Mr. Hill is indisposed of for the time being.” I let out a long sigh of relief. Something still dwindled in my mind afterwards. I could have sworn I saw him blink. When I later thought about it, it seemed a little ridiculous. I then decided I probably imagined it. The wind was rustling the cotton. It seemed to resemble a wave of brilliant pearls coming to wash my mind of its worries. I was safe. As my troubles blew along with the southern wind, far away to some distant land, I let out a long sleepy sigh. It was a stressful week for me. Many of them were, at the plantation.
That night I received a full night’s sleep. I slept soundly, for I was clear of all my troubles. I woke up that morning a new man, as the Louisiana sun blessed me with its light. It was a new day. My life there on the plantation was a fair balance of good days and bad ones. There were somedays that were eventful, and some where we would just work on the fields, getting lost in our thoughts. Some slaves would imagine what they would do with their freedom, and some were content with the life they were leading. I of course was not. I knew in my heart, that I was destined for more. I never once gave up hope that I would emerge on the other side of the Ohio River, one day. That day, I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and no man could have dominion over me or my actions. I could finally be my own man. The prospect of running far away from slavery was always in our minds. I would just look at hours at all of the slaves. Every time I did, I would see the same familiar glow on every face. No matter the age, no matter what gender, I could see the same basic yearning to escape their troubles and all their strife, to a land where they would be treated with respect, and a place where they would not be under the overruling dominion of a tyrant.
Master Flint was not some frighteningly dreadful tyrant. He was a nice man at heart, but not a saint. Most of the time, he would treat us like old friends. The slave patrollers were the ones who were truly malicious and callous, and so were the slave traders that would occasionally visit. They would stop by to see which one of us they wanted to pawn off next. The only reason Elijah Flint might have used excessive force or be unkind to us, would most probably be to keep up the appearances of a southern white slave owner, and please paddies and traders that would sometimes roam around the wide-open acres. We would be very careful to watch how we acted in front of them, for their sole purpose of looking at us, was to find their next victim. They would point out the smallest mistake, and with little to no justification to lash us twenty times.
The holiday break was over, and we had arrived to a new year. With the New Year came a new set of trials and a new perspective of life. I learned to not become overwhelmed by my emotions. I was a new man that year. From what I overheard from men and women coming off and on the plantation that first week back, the tension between the North and the South was at its highest. Tensions were rising, and the country seemed to be split in two. The Southern states seemed to disagree with the North on nearly every major decision. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry did nothing to soothe it, and in fact, created even more fierce debate. There were even talks of secession from The United States of America. The times were changing, and they were changing fast.
The issue of secession was a new topic of fierce argument, even among the slaves. Some would argue that it was foolish for the South to secede. Without regulations from the United States, who knew what would happen? Slavery was a moral and ethical issue that was heavily criticized by abolitionists in the Northern states of America. There was one abolitionist in particular that all slaves hoped to meet. She was a woman named Harriet Tubman, but we called her the Moses of Maryland. She would sneak slaves in to the North, and in to freedom. The underground rail road was a passage of secret routes and safe houses, she used to smuggle slaves in to any of the free states or Canada. The safe houses were the homes of abolitionists and allies to the abolitionist cause. They would allow the slaves to stay in their homes temporarily. They would house them, feed them, and even supply them with warmer clothing, until they were ready to continue onward. Oh, how we wished that we could meet her. If only I knew then, the thing I sought after the most was so near.
I remember one day in particular, from my life on that plantation. I remember this day as if it was yesterday. The date was the 18th of January. I remember this day vividly, partly because it was snowing that day. This was the first time I had ever seen snow. I could hardly believe my eyes, as snow began to fall from the heaven above. In all my years in Louisiana, I had never seen anything like it. I attempted to hold it in my hands, but quickly drew back my hands and exclaimed loudly. I felt a tingling sensation reverberate all throughout out my arm. I looked at this strange substance with a sense of wonderment. I never felt coldness to this degree before. The snow was only one reason I remembered January 18, 1860. That was the day I was granted my freedom, after thirty-six years of servitude on that same old plantation.
As The Louisiana sun began to fade, so did my life as a slave. They sky displayed streaks of purple and orange, like paint on a canvas. I was sitting on the old rocking chair, staring at that old sycamore tree. There was a rapid knocking on the door. I closed my eyes, preparing for the worst. If it was Hill on the other side, I was a dead man. I grasped the knob and pulled bracing myself for what was to come. It was Flint. I greeted him. “Good afternoon, master. What is it that I need to do?” “It’s not what you can do for me, but I can do for you, Isaac.” he replied. “You have served my grandmother and myself loyally. I thank you for that deeply. You and the other slaves have become like a family to me, a family truer to me than my own. I have decided to sell the plantation. I have no need for this big of a parcel of land, and I have no need for the services of a slave.” He took my hand, and placed a paper in to my palms, and closed my finger in to a fist around it. “Isaac Flint, I, Elijah Flint, grant you your freedom. You are free. God bless you.” And just like that he shook my hand and walked away. Tears cascaded down my cheeks. For the first time in year, they were tears of joy. No longer was I Isaac Flint. I was a free man. I spent years on that old rocking chair dreaming of how sweet this moment would be. Never in my dreams, did I imagine looking down on a paper that read, “Isaac Flint is a free man.” No dream of mine captured its true sweetness.
My narrative has finally reached its end. Slavery is an institution that changed the lives of millions, from the Red River of Louisiana to the mountains of Tennessee. I had toiled away for years on that old plantation. It was finally time to move on. I packed my clothes in a carpet bag, and set my sight on the horizon. Now, my readers can believe me or not, but I swear, I never once looked back. I had my sights set on Cahokia, Illinois. After thirty-six years I was coming home at last. I caught the last train going to Illinois. Not in all the years of my life that I spent there, did I ever lose hope. I knew that one day everything would change, for better or for worse. The train passed by the Ohio River, which I could see just faintly in the distance. I travelled by carriage the rest of the way, from the train station. There, my family home still stood. I soon after found out from the neighbors that both my parents had passed away ten years ago, just months apart. I was depressed, of course when I heard the news, but I knew they were happy. I lived my life how I wanted to, from there that moment on. I was free, at last.
I vowed to live a noble life, and therefore dedicated my life to the cause of abolition. It was my duty as a black man to free my fellow brothers and sisters. That is also the reason, when the Civil War eventually came to be, I knew what the right thing to do was. I enlisted in the Union army of the United States of America. It was my moral obligation and civic duty to my country and my people. Men and women like John Brown and Harriet Tubman both risked their lives for the greater good, for what was right under the eyes of god. My freedom would mean nothing, if I would have to live my life in bliss, as others would slowly die working on the fields. It was not in my blood to live in bliss. I was meant for something. I knew in my heart, that if I would die, I would die, not only free, but fighting for the rights of others. This to me was worth dying a thousand deaths. When the recruiting officer asked me, “Why do you want to fight in the Union army? You’re a free man now. You are not obligated to fight.” I answered, “But I am, sir.” He asked, “Why?” I just simply answered, “I want to fight for freedom.” “Good answer.”