Category Archives: history

A Shithole Country

Let’s dispense with notions of race. Not as in “I don’t see color,” but as in “your color will not matter if I am a cop and holding a gun that I claim to’ve believed was a taser” and OOPS!

Can’t we just arrest these killers on the spot? Forget suspension with pay or firing them or forming a commission or building a case against the police unions. Let murderers be treated like murderers.

The slamming down and winking out of a Black man’s life is one damnation. The slow-walked consequences constitute a second damnation.

Everyone knows that if the murderer just down the road is acquitted not just one cheap-ass Dollar Store will burn, but all of Minneapolis.

Notions of race have changed. They are at once fluid and rigid. Italians used to be considered “colored,” Catholicism was outlawed. Jews, no matter their designated race, have never managed to get ahead of those who would hunt them down and exterminate them.

Exterminate is a word that intentionally calls to mind vermin, rats. And Jews. Don’t say “Jew” if you’re not Jewish. It too easily glides into insult. Listen to this or that white supremacist refer to 1/4 of the American populous as “the blacks.”

Why can’t we eradicate the haters? The bearded, insecure, gun-toting white men who by most counts seem hell-bent on destroying the America they claim to love? They carry illusion in one pocket, grievance in another, and make violent scapegoating their mission.

Let seditionists be tried for sedition! Charging an insurrectionist with trespass is a little like charging Rockwell Inc. with trespass when clouds of plutonium smoke from its bomb factory poisoned entire neighborhoods south of Denver.

But, the Colorado courts wondered, can the plaintiffs make out a case even for trespass when it’s so hard to quantify the harm? Even if the impossibility of quantifying the harm is because its magnitude is nearly unimaginable? (let me insert here that the half life of plutonium is 240,000 years and that a particle the size of the head of a pin, when breathed in, will kill).

But the residents near Rocky Flats knew. The ‘downwind scars’ from thyroid removal so prevalent as to earn that cute nickname, children dying of weird cancers, calves born deformed. It’s a little like how an entire zip code of Black people in Ohio knew they were descended from Thomas Jefferson for several generations in advance of DNA proof.

But I digress. One man yells, “This is the people’s house!” Then another. Then a chorus. I want to yell back, “And these are the people’s laws!”

Meanwhile, how is it possible that the biggest seditionist of them all is waltzing around, golfing, disrupting weddings, drinking Coke while calling for its boycott, and spouting the Big Lie, still?

Inversion of truth has a way of wearing people down. Tell me again why a Dollar Store should matter more than a Black man’s life? Tell me again why the tanks and armor and gas and shields and vests and guns and batons and more gas arrived in force instantly at a crowd protesting injustice but did not manage to show up at a full fledged riot at the Capitol. Or why the men who threatened to kidnap and kill the Governor of Michigan did not end up being convicted. Of anything.

We all remember Dylan Roof’s post-massacre cheeseburger or the near-high fives the police gave Kyle Rittenhouse.

The curfew is a catch-22 for Black people. Protest and you’ll be arrested NO MATTER HOW EGREGIOUS THE HARM you protest. So many catch-22’s for Black people and so many with lethal consequence. Stay in your car, you’ll be shot. Get out of your car, you’ll be shot.

All those who plea for Black obedience have not been paying attention. Half of the men on the Hill frame grievance along racial lines, with utter disregard for the facts, for the Constitution, for actual history. It’s truly sickening.

Vote Them Out, rings hollow when voting rights are being gutted. All those good guys swearing they’ll wait a hundred hours in line or those others saying they’ll risk arrest to bring water and pizza to voters, seem not to have read the part about the legislature now being empowered to overturn elections.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how many well-meaning allies show up with water or how many patriotic Black voters wait eons to exercise their constitutional right, the Georgia GOP can change the result. Poof! There goes Stacey Abrams’s strategy and hard work. The Republicans have enshrined into law what the Orange Menace tried to do in November with his pathetic election-tampering phone call.

They fired the guy who taped that illegal call, I don’t need to tell you.

Even with my pale and privleged ass, I’m really tired of this shit.

The through-line from slave patrollers to current policing is direct. They basically killed first, asked questions after.

There was so much extra-judicial killing of slaves in South Carolina that the Slave Code of 1740 tried to put in some limits. Imagine, even as the Assembly imposed one onerous restriction after another on the enslaved, they put the brakes on the slave patrollers. Why? Because they were costing the elite planters too much money, damaging their investments, etc.

An owner, of course, could kill one of his slaves for any reason at any time. Also, if a black person struck a white person, they would’ve been condemned to death, if not killed on the spot. But patrollers out for blood or maybe for bounties, had to be reigned in. The average healthy male African cost the equivalent of $18 to $26,000. The price of a very good used car.

White colonial governance pitted Natives against each other to help finish what small pox started. They also had no problem situating — there’s a word — various tribes further inland — west of the Edisto River, say — as long as said placements — there’s another word — didn’t occupy land where rice would grow. But wait! If a slave ran away, it was common for the aggrieved owner to hire a Native tracker to bring the enslaved back. No one knew the landscape better than the Natives! Here’s a musket!

But if not hiring a Chocktaw to find a runaway from Gambia, say, the fancy second sons from England and France might have captured a passel of the so-called red skins to sell as slaves to sugar planters in the West Indies. It didn’t pay to keep them around — Natives were too adept at melting into the scrub to make them a sound investment.

But, keeping at least one Indian on register was considered good sense, since it was believed that mixing Native with African blood would produce offspring better able to withstand winters.

For no rational reason that I’ve ever come across, Natives on the auction blocks in Barbados or Antigua fetched lower prices than Black captives. Perhaps it had to do with how theories on race were gaining traction — solidifying — theories that said that the black-skinned were particularly suited to hard labor and that their owners did them enormous favors by offering them such opportunities, etc.

Because I’m not Black or Jewish or Asian, I cannot begin to imagine what it is to receive the hate and the threats that are such common currency in this country. But I AM tired of it all. Hypocrisy, the violence, the fake patriotism, molasses-paced consequences, the unraveling of truth as something that should matter.

Let me end with one piece of good news and a prayer.

The good news: Fani Willis did not pursue felony charges against the young legislator who knocked on the door where Kemp and his cronies signed the voter suppression law.

The supplication: I pray that the Chauvin jury does the right thing. Please, please, convict the motherfucker. There’s been enough damage done.

* sorry I don’t have an attribution for the protest photo.

A really good ongoing critique of policing can be found here:

I recently learned about Rocky Flats by reading this really good memoir:

Names of the enslaved in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s will

In the spirit of ‘saying their names,’ the names of the enslaved “property” in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s estate are listed below. Black people were enumerated in testamentary documents along with furniture, horses and mules, jewelry and land, making clear their status as chattel.

[The names listed in bold on the list are names I’ve used in my novel (in its second edit now)].

It’s also worth noting that at the time of her marriage to Charles Pinckney (May 27, 1744), Eliza’s father included about two dozen enslaved people as part of her dowry. The record tells us that Quashee (aka John Williams) was a matter of dispute between Eliza’s father and her fiance. Both men wanted him and for good reason — he was literate and an extraordinarily skilled carpenter. Eliza’s husband-to-be won out and Quashee went on to oversee and help build the newlywed couple’s new home on East Bay.

To read more about the fascinating life of Quashee, who eventually became a free man and amassed a fair amount of property, including slaves and then vanished from the record (my theory being he became too successful for whites to tolerate), please see Andrea Feeser’s book, Red, White, and Black Makes Blue / Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life.

Also note: it’s a mistake to think that slaves named after days of the week were so-named out of a heartless, objectifying inattention on the part of auctioneers and owners, much like some names were based on slave trading ships (see recent post about Phillis Wheatley). In some African cultures it was common. For instance, Cudjoe (variants: Cuffy, Joe) means Monday; Quashee, Sunday.

Hercules – slave

· Abraham – slave

· Monday – slave

· Barack – slave

· Juno – slave

· Betty – slave

· Jim – slave

· Frank – slave

· Mary – slave

· Tyrah – slave

· Smart – slave

· Elsey – slave

· Serah – slave

· Solomon – slave

· Prince – slave

· Hanay – slave

· Rachel – slave

· Mary – slave

· Jacob – slave

· York – slave

· Fortune – slave

· Doll – slave

· Joe – slave

· York – slave

· Celia – slave

· Daphne – slave

· Joe – slave

· Cuffy – slave

· Susan – slave

· Lucy – slave

· Elsey – slave

· Milly – slave

· Peggy – slave

· Ned – slave

· Binah – slave

· Peggy – slave

· Rose – slave

· Juno – slave

· Joe – slave

· Henry – slave

· Jenny – slave

· Thomas – slave

· Jacob – slave

· Bella – slave

· Betty – slave

· Hercules – slave

· Nelly – slave

· Betsy – slave

· Pindar – slave

· Caty – slave

· Pendar – slave

· Juno Henry – slave

· Harry – slave

· Ann – slave

· Pendar – slave

· Grace – slave

· Johnny – slave

· Joshua – slave

· Tenah – slave

· Nathan – slave

· Jack – slave

· Stephen – slave

· Bess – slave

· Ceasar – slave

· Robin – slave

· Adam – slave

· Binah – slave

· Caty – slave

· Sue – slave

· Cudjoe – slave

· Doll – slave

· Hannah – slave

· Dublin – slave

· Charity – slave

· Lucy – slave

· Grace – slave

· Prince – slave

· Sarah – slave

· Frank – slave

· Harriett – slave

· Abraham – slave

· Raleigh – slave

· Celia – slave

· Coleman – slave

· Ishremael – slave

· Polly – slave

· Ishramel – slave

· Henry – slave

· Gibbe – slave

· Meene – slave

· Ellen – slave

· Bella – slave

· Maria – slave

· Gilbert – slave

Added by Lowcountry Africana · July 4, 2010

PS photo was taken at Boone Hall Plantation.

Bibliography — Historic Fiction, Colonial SC

Ashton, Susanna. I Belong to South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2012.

Blier, Suzanne Preston. The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1998. Print.

Brown, William Wells, et al. The Great Escapes. Barnes & Noble, 2007.

The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns. By Ken Burns, Geoffrey C. Ward, and David G. McCullough. Prod. Ric Burns. PBS, 1990.

Camp, Stephanie M. H. Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2004. Print.

Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan. Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life? University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Carney, Judith Ann. Black Rice. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Craton, Michael. Empire, Enslavement and Freedom in the Caribbean. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1997.

Douglass, Frederick, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Eaton, Clement. A History of the Old South. Macmillan, 1966.

Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Eglash, Ron. African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1999. Print.

Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Random House Large Print, 2007. Print.

Eyiogbe, Frank Baba. Babalawo, Santeria’s High Priests: Fathers of the Secret in AfroCuban Ifa. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2015. Print.

Farrow, Anne, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery. New York: Ballantine, 2005. Print.

Farrow, Anne. The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory. Print.

Feeser, Andrea. Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life. Print.*

Flint, India. Eco Colour. Allen & Unwin, 2008.

Fox, Tryphena Blanche Holder, and Wilma King. A Northern Woman in the Plantation South: Letters of Tryphena Blanche Holder Fox, 1856-1876. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1993. Print.*

Gates, Henry Louis. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers. New York: Basic Civitas, 2003. Print.

http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/henry-louis-gates-jr-lecture

Gillow, John. African Textiles. Chronicle Books, 2003.

Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.*

Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2008. Print.*

Haulman, Kate. The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.

Hart, Emma. Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-century British Atlantic World. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 2010. Print.*

Higginbottom Jr., A. Leon. In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. Print.

Hoffer, Peter Charles, Cry Liberty, The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739. Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.*

Hurmence, Belinda. Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty-seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves. Winston-Salem, NC: J.F. Blair, 1989. Print.*

Hurmence, Belinda. My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2013.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Barnes & Noble, 2005.

Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1984. Print.*

Kenslea, Timothy. The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in the Early Republic. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2006. Print.

Krebs, Laurie. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Indigo Planter. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.

Legrand, Catherine. Indigo, The Color that Changed the World, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print..

LeMaster, Michelle, and Bradford J. Wood. Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Era Histories. Print.

McCandless, Peter. Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

McCarthy, B. Eugene, and Thomas L. Doughton. From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2007. Print.

McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds. Oxford University Press, 1995.

McKay, Nellie Y. (editor). Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Jacobs. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. Print.

McKinley, Catherine E. Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.

Mueller, Pamela Bauer. Water to My Soul: The Story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Jekyll Island, GA: Pinata Pub., 2012. Print.

Mullin, Michael. Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831. ACLS History E-Book Project. 2004.

Myers, Amrita Chakrabarti. Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.

Nelson, Louis P. The Beauty of Holiness. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Northup, Solomon, and D. Wilson. Twelve Years a Slave Narrative of Solomon Northrup, Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River, in Louisiana. Auburn: Derby and Miller, 1853. Print.

Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, and Elise Pinckney. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Ed. Marvin R. Zahniser and Elise Pinckney. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 1997. Print.

Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.

Rhyne, Nancy, and Sue Alston. John Henry Rutledge: The Ghost of Hampton Plantation: A Parable. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Pub., 1997. Print.

Rhyne, Nancy. Tales of the South Carolina Low Country. John F Blair Pub, 1982.

“Rice Diversity – Educators’ Corner.” Rice Diversity, http://ricediversity.org/outreach/educatorscorner. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

Rivers, Larry Eugene. Slavery in Florida, Territorial Days to Emancipation. Florida: University Press, 2009.

Rogers, George C. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1969. Print.

Rucker, Walter C. The River Flows On. LSU Press, 2008.

Russell, Franklin. The Okefenokee Swamp. Time-Life Books, 1986.

Rutledge, Archibald. Home by the River. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941. Print.

Rutledge, Sarah. The Carolina Housewife. Columbia: U of South Carolina, 1979. Print.

Smith, Mark M. Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 2005. Print.

South Carolina Slave Narratives. S.I.: Native American Book, 2009. Print.

Stuart, Andrea. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.

Twitty, Michael W. The Cooking Gene. HarperCollins, 2018.

Vernon, Amelia Wallace. African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. 1993.

Walsh, Lorena S. From Calabar to Carter’s Grove. Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Williams, Frances Leigh. Plantation Patriot; a Biography of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.

Wood, Peter H. Black Majority; Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Knopf;, 1974. Print.

Wulf, Andrea. Founding Gardeners. Vintage, 2012.

Zacek, Natalie. Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Eliza Lucas – PhD Thesis

Fiction

Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks

Kindred, Octavia Butler

Sapphira and The Slave Girl, Willa Cather

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

The Good Lord Bird and Song Yet Sung, by James McBride

Beloved, Toni Morrison

Water to My Soul, Pamela Mueller

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill

Underground Airlines, Ben White

Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

Nostalgia, Dennis MacFarland

Plantation Patriot, Francis Leigh Williams

The Indigo Girl, Natasha Boyd* (have not read yet)

The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehesi Coates

Movies / TV

The Civil War (Ken Burns)

The Duchess

Amistad

John Adams – HBO series

Vanity Fair

Daughters of the Dust

Amazing Grace

Harriet

Twelve Years a Slave

Tours / Historic Sites

South Carolina:

Boone Hall Plantation

The Charleston Museum
Drayton Hall
Magnolia Plantation — both the enslaved cabin tour and the big house tour
Magnolia Cemetery
McLeod Plantation
Middleton Place
Aiken-Rhett House
Old Charleston Jail
Rebellion Farm : for a weekend of indigo dyeing in a pole barn with Sea Island Indigo
Stono Slave Rebellion Marker
Sullivan Island
Wappoo Plantation Marker

Massachusetts:

Faneuil Hall Middle Passage Ceremony, August 13, 2015
The Granary Burial Grounds (where John Hancock’s ‘servant’ Frank is buried, as well as Crispus Attucks)
Mt. Auburn Cemetery (burial sites of Harriet Jacobs and Mary Walker)
The Jackson Homestead
The Royall House and Slave Quarters (spent a night in the quarters with The Slave Dwelling Project)

New Hampshire:

Portsmouth African Burial Ground




Historic fiction selection

1) One novel does not belong, for at least three fairly obvious reasons

2) Two feature Frederick Douglass as a character

3) One makes Harriet Tubman a prominent character

4) Two books follow John Brown

5) Two take place during the Civil War

6) One makes Walt Whitman a primary character

7) One features larger-than-life slave catchers and takes place around the Chesapeake Bay

8) One novel goes to the Arctic and features balloon travel

9) One has a character who gives birth to her enslaver’s baby

10) Another has a main character who is his enslaver’s child

11) Two former enslaved characters travel to England

12) One freed slave sleeps with her female “employer” and becomes addicted to opium and is accused of murder

13) One story includes the beheading of Thomas Moore and stays close to the thoughts of Thomas Cromwell

14) One tracks a fugitive slave from South Carolina who escapes north and serves as scribe for the British during the Revolutionary War, earning her freedom

Rejected scenes from a novel

 

img_7066Sometimes constructing a story is like collage, where you add layer after layer, hoping that the whole picture somehow works.

img_1798Sometimes constructing a story is akin to piecing fabric — moving around existing components until a pleasing design emerges, then adhering them.

Right now, editing resembles lipo-suction. Sucking out the fat in service of a tighter sequencing of events is harder than I thought it would be.

In part, this is because I have ADD. Having my kind of focus means I can endlessly and with rapt attention go line by line and make significant improving edits. But to take in the whole? To understand how big chunks work or don’t work? This is challenging. It took me two weeks of hand-wringing to convince myself I could even do it!

Here’s the upshot: my manuscript is way too long. Industry standard for unpublished authors is 90,000 words (in the neighborhood of 200 pages). Mine clocks in at 310,000 and worse, sags throughout the entire middle. I wish it were as simple as excising the middle, but that won’t get me to my goal of a readable, compelling 200 page novel.

Things to consider:

  • they say to write the book you want to read. I like page turners (i.e. plot driven novels). Mine is character driven. Plot decidedly secondary (or absent?)
  • I have let the actual events of Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s life inform her narrative and it’s been suggested that to do so is to handicap myself (a small example: her two closest friends were named Mary. I let that stand, even though as a reader it would drive me nuts).
  • each scene demands that I ask, does this drive the story forward? Does this?

But! What if our standard idea of narrative progressing in an arc is not only limited, but based on an a masculine sensibility (and specifically, male sexuality) in ways that are limiting?

From Paris Review article discovered last night — Here’s critic Robert Scholes: “The archetype of all fiction is the sexual act … the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence and detumescence, of tension and resolution, of intensification to the point of climax and consummation.”think ‘arousal phase’ ”climax’.

Says author of Paris Review article, Jane Alison: “Well. This is not how I experience sex. Critic Susan Winnett says, “Meanings generated through dynamic relations of beginnings, middles, and ends in traditional narrative and traditional narratology never seem to accrue directly to the account of the woman.” And anyway, why should sex—this kind of sex!—be the archetype of fiction? Why should an art form as innovative as fiction have a single archetype at all?”

Food for thought. Having said that, without any explanation of setting or character, here are two deleted scenes. Make of them what you will. Both fall in the category of ‘too much back story for secondary characters.’

 

JAMES WHITTAKER

And so, it was on a windy morning in early December 1737, that a Barbadian Christian with something to hide parted with a half-Yoruban, half-Dutch temptress and pocketed the proceeds. As the buyer led his newly-acquired slave and her child down the tamarind-lined path, neither he nor the seller knew that Sally was with child — the cane grower’s child. But Sally knew, as women sometimes do.

Before the Barbadian cane grower even crossed the threshold back into his gracious abode, he was halfway to forgetting the whole unpleasant business. What relief! What shrewd calculation! Without even having made the decision to do so, his mind began to blur the outlines of his ugly (though thoroughly socially acceptable) transgression and its brief, tortured aftermath. Smudge. Smudge. How swift the gracious erasures performed by amnesia — how convenient the mechanism of blame!

He returned to the so-called seat of his empire and exhaled in relief. He patted the arms of his chair as if to say he was back, a man of society wholly in charge of his destiny, and perhaps also a man made generous by recent events.  Even though the well-timed disposal of Sally might’ve allowed him to forgo the lavish fete, he would not renege. Wasn’t he a man of his word? He was planning a menu when his wife entered the room.

“Is that vile thing gone at last?” But her husband had moved on.

“I’ll say 200’s the upper limit,” he answered, forgetting that he had yet to mention the gala out loud. “And let’s make it memorable, my pumpkin. How about a masked ball?”

The cane grower’s wife sat down, befuddled for a moment but not a jot longer. She was onto it! They would roast four pigs! There would be dancing! She leaned toward his desk and said in conspiratorial joy, “The date must correspond to a full moon — think of the light on the terrace! Oh and Mrs. Thorp just this week made mention of an orchestra worth the hire!”

He concurred. She glowed. When had they last been this united in thought? He said, “A full moon – indeed! Always the one with the grand idea, you! Imagine it shining on the bay… won’t our guests swoon with envy, my dear, and high time?”

The cane grower dunked his quill into the bottle of ink rather too hard. Dunk after hard dunk. No wonder the point had been dull on that awful morning – but no — he would not think on it. He would take down his wife’s every idea. Nothing like a little scare to humble a person into conciliatory attentiveness!

Surely Mrs. Whittaker wondered at his softened tone, his posture of consideration?  She said nothing more about Sally, which could have meant any number of things. Maybe the distraction worked. Four pigs!  Mrs. Thorp’s orchestra!  Then again, she might have thoroughly skunked him out, but in the interests of marital peace generally and a magnificent ball specifically, let the matter rest. If so, she was not quite as dim as her husband believed. Furthermore, she might be possessed of a larger spirit than he knew as well. Think on it: if his wife so freely abandoned what turned out to be a well-grounded suspicion in order to graciously leap into their shared future, without for a second demanding the consolation prize of being right, maybe she deserved his ministrations of care, not as decoy against his sin but as her rightful due. Had she always been more worthy of his esteem than he’d allowed? He committed to granting her a bit more warmth, a more frequent nodding alliance of opinion. Maybe a dance or two on the moonlit terrace come time?  For once, she impressed him.

You could say, therefore, that in addition to preparing and serving meals, bundling alfafa, sweeping the veranda and house entire, watering bromeliads, and increasing the inventory with a son, Sally granted the couple the gift of a much-needed renewal. The fact that it was one the couple could not have engineered on their own made it all the more remarkable. It was the mulatto’s disruptive guile (for he at last concluded it was not diminished capacity but guile, guile, guile) that had generated a significant new conjugal arrangement. One spouse rose up, the other slipped down, causing the two to arrive somewhere in the middle where approach one to the other was possible. Like everything else Sally gave, it was bestowed (taken) without their having to fork out a single letter of credit or clattering coin.

In two months time, when the orchestra tuned up on the terrace and the bay shimmered with moonlight, our sugar exporter on Barbados would hardly be able to recall the mulatto’s voice. In fact, he wouldn’t even really remember that the wench’s voice had been singularly arresting. And, because amnesia does not carefully discriminate in its sweep of erasure, he would also forget that he had given the slave his small Bible. He’d forget how, when he held out his precious Bible – the one given to him by his sister all those years ago — the impudent slattern had had the gall to refuse it. You’d think such an exchange would stick in a man’s mind, but it did not. Smudge. Smudge. The cane grower’s amnesia so thoroughly swiped at that morning in the pantry, in fact, that he would later wonder where the Bible had gotten off to, even going so far as to question another house slave about its disappearance.

GEORGE LUCAS

In conversation it never came out that Whittaker had placed an advert for the mulatto one week prior. And, just as the cane grower hoped, the Captain purchased the mulatto’s two year old son too, with nary a moment’s hesitation. All traces of the wench would be gone!

Perhaps the purchase of the boy could be supported by South Carolina’s ‘head system’– whereby land apportionments were meted out based on the number of persons in a household, even colored ones, and even two year olds, albeit at reduced count. Surely, the low cost of a toddling boy as compared with the land his head would facilitate surveying made it a shrewd transaction?

A shadowy notion of quid pro quo inserted itself just below the level of the Captain’s attention — not quite conscious enough to make him calculating, but present enough to render him a fool. By purchasing the Negress’s boy, he hoped to purchase the slave’s goodwill, for what exactly remained notional and to the extent any thought arose at all, it surely wasn’t about sexual congress. It did, however, occur to the Captain what a nice presentation the mulatto would make in one of Millie’s well-made frocks and wouldn’t it be pleasant to have the girl sing in the parlor after tea?  A refined use. An acceptable intercourse.

And so, on a gray morning in December of 1737, with the purchase of Sally and her two year old son, Noah, Captain George Lucas became for the first time in all his years a man governed by more than mere duty. He renamed his acquisition ‘Melody’ and anticipated with a certain glow the pleasure of hearing her voice again. He was doubly satisfied, for he’d come into possession of valuable military information at the inn the evening prior. Spain was preparing to invade Georgia. Antigua’s Governor would be grateful for the news.

Had the Captain stepped outside of himself for a moment, he would have traveled back to Antigua empty-handed and discussed moving to South Carolina with his wife. A pro forma exchange, but not without value. He might have recognized that it was foolish to risk conjugal peace based on a ditty about peas and rice.

Furthermore, he might’ve recognized the folly of trying to recapture a momentary rapture with a purchase. His nebulous desires were unworthy of his character for a host of reasons, but there was one more flaw in all of this, one which stained his person with the darkest blotch of all and it was this:  How on God’s green earth could a man expect rapture to flow from transactions in human flesh?