This story was inspired by the ideas of Gunfighter of The View from Here.
Josiah Bell: 18 year old, heir of "Tall Cotton", a slave holding plantation in Prince William County, Virginia, circa 1774.
William Bell: 16 year old hot-head, supporter of the patriot case as the revolution looms large.
Jesse: A 19 year old slave, sent to be the personal body attendant Josiah, that, when the time came, he would have someone to "load his musket".
Prince William County , Virginia .... at the very northern end of what would later become the Confederacy.
The Conflict: The looming fight for "independence" while some people were still held like cattle all around.
[Must tell you, this has launched me into developing a novel based on this short vignette--so know there'll be more to come. Thanks GF!]
THE ROAD HOME
Several minutes had passed since the carriage had dropped from view. In its wake, the dust still lingered in the air. Seemingly transfixed, the porch occupants had stood staring at the buggy’s retreat. Then, as if on cue, each member returned to their own occupations. All except Josiah and Jesse, who were both absorbed in their own meditations.
Josiah Bell, joint heir one day to Bell Plantation, continued to chew on the Continental Congress news that their guest had been imparting to his father and other family members over tea. Although no one wanted to say it aloud, a fight for independence was now being called for, if only in innuendos and subtext. Everyone kept saying “reconciliation” measures were all that was being sought. But each and every act the Congress followed, seemed to be taking the colonies a step closer to a call for independence.
Jesse stepped to the side of his young master, just enough to be able to see the field to the right of the road. With no breeze, the dust hung suspended over the road allowing an unobstructed view of the tobacco field. Although it was a ways off, he could see heads bobbing up and down as they worked their way through the rows, weeding and tending the young plants. Finally he spotted the bright red kerchief wrapped around his sister’s head. He watched as she stood, arched her back, and tried to relieve her aches, if even for a brief moment. He felt helpless. Master Bell had decided he would belong to his oldest son. That had taken Jesse out of the field, and put to any task his young master gave him.
The quiet revelry was broken as Willie came stomping out from the house, directing his steps across the porch toward his father, and his remarks to anyone who would listen.
“Steps, measures, all these women do in Congress is talk. It’s time to act. Why do they want to reconcile? We’re making money for the blighters. Why not make it for ourselves? It’s clear King and country could give a crack for the colonies, no more than what we represent in guineas, pounds and shillings.”
His father and brother shot glances between them. Such talk was heretical, and outside of the farmhouse, dangerous.
“Willie,” Josiah took the conversation, seeing his father turn scarlet right through his hairline, “you’ve been told not to spout your mind. Give it a rest. Why do you think we have the Congress? You’ve never fought, little brother, I have. And the men that have don’t want to go it again.”
“Bells have been fighting for eons big brother. Our name means armor bearer for Heaven’s Sake!” proclaimed Willie.
“William, you’ll not be loose with your talk in the presence of your mother,” Josiah Senior‘s voice boomed across the porch.
Willie looked quickly toward his mother and bowed his head. She was still directing the clean up of the tea and had paid little attention to what her son had said. But on hearing her husband’s voice, she had instinctively looked up. As her son nodded toward her, she smiled faintly, nodded back, and then turned back to the task at hand.
“Down south, battling the French and Indians, they gave the slaves their freedom if they’d fight. That’s how important this thing is, and you’re saying ‘keep quiet’ and ‘hush about it’ won’t change a thing. King George has as much said he could do as he pleased with the colonies. Where’s the trust in him when you know he could care a lick?” protested Willie.
Jesse’s attention perked up. Had Master William said slaves were freed in the south, just for fighting the war along side their masters? If his master Josiah was to fight for independence from the Crown, would Jesse be able to fight for his own freedom? He quickly stepped to the side of his master and caught sight of the red kerchief. Could he win freedom for his sister too?
The conversation continued between father and sons. The dust had long settled on the road, and the sun had dropped low enough to lose its intense heat. Camden, the work foreman, had mounted his horse to ride out to the field and see to the field hands. Jesse’s eyes followed the horse and rider. He could hear the droning of the men’s voices. This was not his native tongue, and it took more effort than he could muster to understand all that was being said. So he lapsed into his own thoughts, dreams of a possible day of freedom. Was it true? Was young Master William telling the truth? For the first time in ten years, a spark of hope flickered in Jesse’s weary heart.
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