In my last posted episode, Frederick and several of his
friends had planned to escape their bondage by stealing a canoe from one of
their masters, a Mr. William Hambleton, and paddle up the Chesapeake Bay and a
canal to the Delaware River to reach the free state of Pennsylvania. This was
to occur on the Saturday before Easter.
According to plan, Frederick went to work as
usual that Saturday morning.While
spreading manure, he felt a “sudden presentiment, which flashed upon me like
lightning in a dark night.”Turning
instantly to Sandy Jenkins, working next to him, he said, “Sandy, we are
betrayed.”Sandy replied, “Man, dat is strange; but I
feel just as you do.”Frederick said no more.When the horn sounded for breakfast—which, in
his anxiety, he could not even think about—he started for the house.As he came near to it, he looked down the
long lane to the gate and saw four white men on horseback, leading two black
men, lashed.Charles Roberts and Henry
Bailey had been dragged over from the Hambleton farm, down the St. Michael’s
road.Seeing them, Frederick knew that it was “all over…. We are
surely betrayed.”William Hambleton, who
seldom moved his horse above a walk, galloped up the lane, rolling dust behind
him.Reining his horse—and his anger—he
asked, with his usual circumspection, where Freeland was.Frederick
directed him to the barn (McFeely 53).
Mr. Hambleton, without
dismounting, rode up to the barn with extraordinary speed.In a few moments, he and Mr. Freeland
returned to the house.By this time, the
three constables rode up, and in great haste dismounted, tied their horses, and
met Master William and Mr. Hambleton returning from the barn; and after talking
awhile, they all walked up to the kitchen door.There was no one in the kitchen but myself and John.Henry and Sandy were up at the barn.Mr. Freeland put his head in at the door, and
called me by name, saying, there were some gentlemen at the door who wished to
see me.I stepped to the door, and inquired
what they wanted.They at once seized
me, and, without giving me any satisfaction, tied me—lashing my hands closely
In a few moments, they
succeeded in typing John.They then
turned to Henry, who had by this time returned, and commanded him to cross his
hands.“I won’t!” said Henry, in a firm
tone.… “Won’t you?” said Tom Graham,
the constable.“No, I won’t!” said Henry,
in a still stronger tone.With this, two
of the constables pulled out their shining pistols, and swore, by their
Creator, that they would make him cross his hands or kill him.Each cocked his pistol, and, with fingers on
the trigger, walked up to Henry, saying, at the same time, if he did not cross
his hands, they would blow his damned heart out.“Shoot me, shoot me!” said Henry; “you can’t
kill me but once.Shoot, shoot,--and be
damned!I won’t be tied!” This he said in a tone of loud defiance;
and at the same time, with a motion as quick as lightning, he with one single
stroke dashed the pistols from the hand of each constable.As he did this, all hands fell upon him, and,
after beating him some time, they finally overpowered him, and got him tied.
During the scuffle, I
managed, I know not how, to get my pass out, and, without being discovered, put
it into the fire.We were all now tied;
and just as we were to leave for Easton
jail, Betsy Freeland, mother of William Freeland, came to the door with her
hands full of biscuits, and divided them between Henry and John.She then delivered herself of a speech, to
the following effect:--addressing herself to me, she said, “You devil!You yellow devil!It was
you that put it into the heads of Henry and John to run away.But for you, you long-legged mulatto devil!
Henry nor John would never have thought of such a thing.”I made no reply, and was immediately hurried
off towards St. Michael’s.Just a moment
previous to the scuffle with Henry, Mr. Hambleton suggested the propriety of
making a search for the protections which he had understood Frederick had written for himself and the
rest.But, just at the moment he was
about carrying his proposal into effect, his aid was needed in helping to tie
Henry; and the excitement attending the scuffle caused them either to forget,
or to deem it unsafe, under the circumstances, to search.…
When we got about half
way to St. Michael’s while the constables having us in charge were looking
ahead, Henry inquired of me what he should do with his pass.I told him to eat it with his biscuit, and
own nothing: and we passed the word around, “Own nothing,”and “Own
nothing!” said we all.Our confidence in each other was unshaken (Douglass
of the Life of Frederick Douglass.New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.Print.
McFeely, William S.Frederick Douglass.New
York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.Print.
Conrad Richter’s “The Fields” is the second novel of ”The
Awakening Land” trilogy, which chronicles changing frontier life in southern Ohio beginning after the
American Revolution and lengthening into the Nineteenth Century.Sayward Luckett Wheeler, the novel’s main
character -- instinctively wise, competent, emotionally balanced – faces now different
challenges.Long gone from her life are
her father Worth, the inveterate hunter; her mother Jary, buried so long ago;
and two sisters: the child Sulie, taken away by Indians, and the devious Achsa,
living in the EnglishLakes area with her
sister Genny’s husband Louie Scurrah. Of
Sayward’s siblings only Genny and Wyitt remain.
During the time period of “The Fields,” which begins just
statehood is declared in 1803, Sayward -- married to the learned recluse
Portius Wheeler at the conclusion of “The Trees” -- gives birth to eight
children.The novel concerns itself with
Sayward’s experiences as a mother, wife, homemaker, and land owner. It reveals several important experiences of
three of Sayward’s older children. It
exposes several of Portius’s not always commendable peculiarities. It chronicles the transition of the fledgling river
settlement close to Sayward’s property from mostly a trading post establishment
to a recognizable, successful town.
Specific events mark the transition.Statehood is declared.A township is created, necessitating the
listing of property and acreage for taxing purposes.A large community hunt is undertaken to drive
wild life out of the woods.A community
meeting house is built on a parcel of Sayward’s property. A grain mill is built on the river.A school for boys is constructed.The town of Tateville is created.A locally built keel boat is launched.Toil, self-sacrifice, selfishness, disillusionment,
tragedy, and self-discovery companion these events.
What engaged me most – not to ignore the novel’s feel of
authenticity and depth of knowledge about frontier life at that time in that
locality – was the author’s superb use of subjective narration to reveal at
certain crisis moments his primary characters’ thoughts and emotions.Here are several examples.
Sayward’s fourth child and first daughter Sulie – so bright
and engaging, walks on ashes outside the house to impress her brothers.Her dress catches on fire.
If she got to be a
hundred years old, Sayward told herself, never without her voice breaking could
she tell a stranger how it went with their little Sulie that day.How she lay in her bed looking up at them
with blackened rims where her eyelashes ought to be.How one minute she had been in this world
light and free, and the next the gates of the other world were open and she had
to pass through.Already she was where
her own mammy couldn’t reach her.She
couldn’t even touch grease to that scorched young flesh without Sulie screaming
so they could hear her over at the Covenhovens.
All the time in her
mind she could see that little body when she first started to walk.Back and forwards Sulie’s small red dress
used to go, her little red arms out to balance.She’d never get a weary.She
could go it all day, wraggling and wriggling, skipping and jumping, going
hoppity-hoppity, nodding and bobbing, in and out, from one side to
another.Did that little mite know, she
wondered?Did something tell her she had
only a short while in this world, and that’s why she was always on the go,
making up for it, cutting one dido after another?
Sayward’s brother Wyitt decides to surrender to his desire
to become a full-time hunter.Savoring
his participation in the big community hunt to rid the woods of wildlife, he
determines he must leave the area, strike out independently.
No, never could he go
back to corn-hoeing after today.Those
black moose they told about and the hairy and naked wild bulls over the big
river!He would have to see them and
trail them and get them in his sights.Likewise the tiger cat, the striped prairie deer that outran the wind
and the big horns that some called mountain rams.… He would send home his share of today’s
meat…He would pick up his traps from
his line and go.But never would he stop
in at Sayward’s, for if he did, he might stay.
.. Oh, never would he
go back to Sayward and Portius now, and yet he hated running off without saying
something.Sayward had raised him, you
might say.He had fought her plenty and
called her names, but most times it turned out she was right.Maybe she was right that those who followed
the woods never amounted to much.A
farmer could stay in one place and gather plunder, she claimed, but a hunter
had to keep following the game.… He
knowed she was right.He had knowed it a
long time.He had tried to break his
self of it.He’d knock the wildness out
of him, he said, if it was the last thing he did.He had done his dangdest to kill the
ever-hunter in him, but it wouldn’t stay killed.
… They [his nephews]
were harder to leave than his full sister, for he took to them, and they to
him. Especially Resolve, that tyke was different from his Uncle Wyitt as
daylight to night time.For a little
feller he was steady as could be.He
could even read and write where Wyitt couldn’t sign his own name.He was his uncle’s favor-rite.Wyitt wished he had asked him to write
something on a piece of paper so he could take it with him.Then some time he sat alone at night in some
far woods or prairie, he could take out that paper.It would make him see Resolve plain as if
standing here, screwing up his mouth and making pothooks and curleycues with
his goosefeather pen while around him his smaller brothers watched and admired.
Sayward’s second-born son Guerdon is willful, selfish, and, sometimes,
Guerdon wished he had
him another mammy.Oh, once he liked his
mam good enough, but she’d changed.She’d gone back on him.He
couldn’t make her out any more.
First she stood a slab
bench with a gourd of soft soap by the run, and all had to scrub their heads
and hands like they were pewter plates.Then she hung up a haw comb, and every time before you came in to eat,
you have to hackle your hair with it.Oh, she was bound you’d be somebody around here.She put these puncheons down in the cabin
just so she’d had a floor to scour, he believed.Now she talked of getting lime from Maytown
and making her boys whitewash the logs.
Her ways were so “cam”
you figured she was easy-going, but that’s where she fooled you.The day wasn’t long enough for the things she
studied out to do to get you along in the world.
Sayward assigns Guerdon and his younger brother Kinzie to
mill corn.The sweat mill standing in the chimney corner … was the devil’s own contraption and turned
hard as a four-horse wagon.A day’s
grinding seemed a month long, and no Sabbaths.
While Sayward is away helping nurse a neighbor, the two boys
take the corn they have been assigned to mill to the new grain mill at the
river.They spend the entire day
listening to stories told by patrons before returning home with a large sack of
well-grounded flour.Sayward switches
them.In bed that night, Guerdon is
No, he wanted for
forget his mam.He didn’t care if he
never thought of her again.
Later in the novel Guerdon is bit on a finger by a
rattlesnake.He cuts off the upper
portion of his finger.Neighbors gather
inside Sayward’s cabin to offer suggestions and witness the snakebite’s outcome.Sayward tends Guerdon as she sees fit.
Guerdon believed he
felt a mite better.It had worse things
in this world than to lay here with nothing to do but have folks talk and worry
over you.He couldn’t get over how good
his mam had been to him.She was so
“cam” most times you thought she took you for granted and didn’t give a whoop
for you any more.But let something real
like this or stone blindness or black plague come along and you found out how
much she liked you.Why, she’d chop off
her own finger if it would help him any, he could tell.It gave him a feeling for her like old times.
I did not enjoy “The Fields” as much as I did “The Trees,”
the first novel of Richter’s trilogy; although I am happy that I read it.“The Fields,” I felt, lacked its
predecessor’s dramatic edge.Conflicts
seemed a bit less daunting, less consequential.I look forward to reading the third novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
“The Town,” which, I expect, will focus on the consequences of a major human
failing committed by Portius in “The Fields,” a failing I chose not to reveal
in this review.
close companions “began to see that they too must seek a way out of
bondage.They started using the
dangerous word ‘escape.’ There were many arguments about the wisdom of trying
to run away, to escape, particularly when they began talking with others about
it” (McFeely 51).
At times we were
almost disposed to give up, and try to content ourselves with our wretched lot;
at others, we were firm and unbending in our determination to go.Whenever we suggested any plan, there was
shrinking—the odds were fearful.Our
path was beset with the greatest obstacles.… We knew nothing about Canada.Our knowledge of the north did not extend farther
than New York; and to go there, and be forever harassed with the frightful
liability of being returned to slavery—with the certainty of being treated
tenfold worse than before—the thought was truly a horrible one … [W]hen we
permitted ourselves to survey the road [to freedom], we were frequently appalled.Upon either side we saw grim death, assuming the most horrid
shapes.Now it was starvation, causing
us to eat our own flesh; --now we were contending with the waves, and were
drowned;--now we were overtaken, and torn to pieces by the fangs of the
terrible bloodhound.We were stung by
scorpions, chased by wild beasts, bitten by snakes, and finally, after having
nearly reached the desired spot,--after swimming rivers, encountering wild
beasts, sleeping in the woods, suffering hunger and nakedness,--we were
overtaken by our pursuers, and, in our resistance, we were shot dead upon the
spot (Douglass 92-93)!
did know much more than his fellow conspirators about how to proceed.He knew that they had to go northward on the
Chesapeake; he had noticed in Baltimore
that boats went up the bay and, he had learned, through a canal that crossed to
the Delaware River.Up the Delaware River was Pennsylvania, where there was no
slavery.To the east of the Chesapeake and the Delaware River were Maryland
and the state of Delaware,
slave-holding states that they had to avoid.Using Frederick’s
knowledge, they agreed on a plan of escape.
They would travel most of the way, seventy or eighty miles,
by water.None of them knew how to sail,
so they decided they would steal William Hambleton’s large oyster-gathering
canoe the night previous to Easter Sunday and row their way northward close to
the Eastern Shore’s many-fingered coast, always within swimming distance should
their canoe capsize.
We were less liable to
be suspected as runaways; we hoped to be regarded as fishermen; whereas, if we
should take the land route, we should be subjected to interruptions of almost
every kind.Any one having a white face,
and being so disposed, could stop us, and subject us to examination.
The week before our
intended start, I wrote several protections, one for each of us.As well as I can remember, they were in the
following words, to wit:--
“This is to certify
that I, the undersigned, have given the bearer, my servant, full liberty to go
and spend the Easter holidays.Written
with mine own hand, &c., 1836.
Near St. Michael’s, in
Talbot County, Maryland”
We were not going to Baltimore; but, in going up the bay, we went toward Baltimore, and these
protections were only intended to protect us while on the bay (Douglass
Near the town of North Point,
which Frederick understood was on the canal that
linked Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River, they planned to abandon the canoe
and by foot, unseen, reach Pennsylvania.
Unlike the others, Sandy Jenkins was influenced by
superstition.One morning he told Frederick, “I dreamed, last
night, that I was roused from sleep, by strange noises, like the voices of a
swarm of angry birds that caused a roar as they passed.… I saw you, Frederick, in the claws of a
huge bird, surrounded by a large number of birds, of all colors and sizes.These were all picking at you, while you,
with your arms, seemed to be trying to protect your eyes.”Sandy told Frederick to take his dream
as a warning.
Sandydropped out of the conspiracy (it is not
clear if he ever intended to leave his wife and accompany the others), but
Frederick and his companions would not be dissuaded.On Friday, April 1, 1836, their food and
clothes bundled tightly, the band slept what they deeply hoped would be their
last night in bondage (McFeely 52).
of the Life of Frederick Douglass.New York, Penguin Books USA inc., 1968.Print.
McFeely, William S.Frederick Douglass.New
York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.Print.