Thursday, October 27, 2016

Waking Writer has posted on its website an interview of me conducted a month ago. Click  
Harold Titus 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Betrayal
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 together. …

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 95-97).

Works cited:

Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative 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.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Review
"The Fields"
by Conrad Richter
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 English Lakes 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 before Ohio’s 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, disobedient. 
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 resentful.
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.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Frederick Douglass -- Escape Plan
Frederick’s 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)!
Frederick 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 to Baltimore, and spend the Easter holidays.  Written with mine own hand, &c., 1836.
William Hambleton,
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 93-94).
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.
Sandy dropped 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).
Works cited:
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative 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.