Frances always knew when the dawn came. The sun would creep into her room like a bad memory that she couldn’t escape or ignore. Her cabin was down by the river and close to the cotton fields that she worked in all day. The cabin had a wooden floor, a bed, washing pot and rocking chair. Since Frances had always been a good slave, she had one of the better cabins on this North Carolinian plantation. Her rags of clothes were thrown over the old rocking chair, dirty and smelly with sweat. Sometimes she was so tired after working in the fields that she didn’t have time to wash her clothes and hang them out to dry. Her thoughts were stopped when she heard the rooster crow and Master James scream, “Time to go to work.” But something was different about this day; Frances knew that she had to get out. Master James and the cruel institution of slavery may have taken her freedom, but it wasn’t going to take her life.
Frances was sour with disappointment and pain from working from sun up until sun down every day of her life, for nothing. Frances was tired of the whippings and rape. Ever since she was a little girl and snatched from her mother’s arms, she dreamt of freedom. She knew that today would be a turning point.
Frances also felt like it could be done, because her and her friend Tom and been talking about following the drinking gourd to the north. Tom said the drinking gourd is something in the sky that looks like a bunch of stars all together. Frances remembered that Tom said if you follow the drinking gourd you would find freedom. Tom also said that if someone follows it to the north they would meet some people up there called Quakers. The Quakers were good people who wanted to help free the slaves. Then suddenly France’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard the door slam and Master James yelled, “Damn it Frances. You were supposed to be on the field an hour ago. If you pull this again I’ll have you whipped until you bleed.”
Then Frances said, shaking with fear, “I’s sorry Masta James,” She ran out of the cabin and into the field, trying to escape his whip and words. Before Frances knew it, it was noon. Her back was filled with pain. The sun was beaming down on hr like a cruel punishment; it's heat was relentless. When Frances looked down at the cotton she was picking there was blood everywhere, from the thorns in the cotton. As she felt the pain, she lifted her fingers up to her lips to numb the pain and stop the bleeding. Then she felt someone grab her hand with force. Suddenly, Tom was standing before her.
“Frances, what is you doin’? Don’t be stickin yo finger in yo mouth.” Tom looked nervous as he bent over, looking out for the overseer. Tom had reason to be scared. Last week Tom got the worst whipping anyone on the plantation had ever seen. Master James whipped Tom because he tried to steal an extra biscuit for his brother Jimmy. Jimmy was sick, because Master James hit him on the head with a brick, for trying to escape. But just because Jimmy tried to escape and failed was not going to stop Tom, he knew that tonight was the night.
“Frances,” he said in a silent voice. “Tonight we’s goin to get our freedom and escape in a boat to da North. We’s will wade in da water, til we’s reach freedom.”
“I’s know Tom. But I’s scared. Look at what happened to yo brotha Jimmy, when he tried to escape. Jimmy’s gonna be messed up for da rest of his life. He can’t even talk right.”
Then Tom said with anger, “Look Frances! You’s either in or you’s out. It’s freedom or death and if I’s was you’s I’s be thinkin bout this before you’s meet me tonight. Cause you’s either get freedom or death. So if you’s come wit me, you’s have to put you fears aside. There’s no time to be scared. You come wit me tonight or you stay here and die.”
“Okay, Okay Tom I’s be there.”
After their talk Tom disappeared into the cotton fields. Then the day seemed to pass quickly. Before Frances knew it, she was looking at the bright yellowish brown sun that looked like a giant peach in the sky. As she saw the sun set she knew that things would never be the same. With every passing minute fear gripped her. She had been here for nineteen years and she was not going to waste a day more. If she didn’t leave now, who knows what would happen, she could be sold off to another plantation, whipped or raped by Master James again. Tom was right; it was freedom or death.
These thoughts took her to dinner where she had a pickled pig’s foot that was spoiled, some slop and old greens. The food they fed the slaves was always the worst and many times not enough. Maybe that’s the reason Frances was always so sick and skinny. While getting dinner, she stole a knife in case she ran into any trouble that night. Once she took the knife, she tucked it into the back of her corset and prayed that it might save her.
With her plate in hand, Frances left the cabin and decided to go down by the river to eat and clear her head. As the sun was setting she looked up at the Spanish moss tree overhead. This tree by the river was Frances’s favorite spot to sit and eat. Since the sun had just begun to set, there was still some light blinding her. Luckily, the leaves from the Spanish moss tree provided her with shade. But nothing could shade or shield her from her fear of escaping. All the other times in Frances’s life when she came to this tree she would think freedom, and how wonderful freedom would be. These thoughts took her to dinner, when Frances finished dinner she got up from under the tree and walked back to the cabin, where she could wait until total darkness surrounded the land. Once she was back in the cabin she was very careful about being quiet, because she knew that Master James would be coming around soon to make sure that she was sleeping. Master James did random night checks, ever since Jimmy tried to escape. To make sure that Master James did not suspect anything, she packed her things in her closet and blew out her candle.
After Frances was all packed she crept back into bed fully clothed and covered her self, this way she was prepared for Master James when he peaked in and yelled, “Frances you in there?” Frances replied, “Yes, Masta James.”
When Master James left, this was Frances’s cue to go down by the river and meet Tom. To make sure the coast was clear she looked outside and didn’t see a soul. When Frances knew it was safe, she said a little prayer, “Oh Lord. Please help me escape to da north. I’s can’t be a slave no mo, and if I’s fail please let me into heaven so I’s can see my momma.” With nervousness and fear in her heart Frances made a run for it. Frances knew that she had a long journey ahead of her and the cotton fields were thick and lurking with all the creatures of the night. As Frances ran through the fields she completely forgot about how far she had already run, because her fear was so strong that it was almost like a drug that carried her. But soon Frances was so far into the dense fields that she had to stop and catch her breath. When she stopped her heart was pounding with fear and fatigue. As she reached down to tie her shoe and catch her breath a big snake slithered across the ground and Frances jumped back and screamed. Somehow she had to calm herself down, and then she realized that her scream might have awakened Master James. With this thought Frances panicked. Frances knew that she was lost and Master James was right around the corner. Frances knew that the only way she would make it was to calm her self down. Then she remembered what Tom had told her to do if she got lost. She remembered what Tom had told her to do is she got lost. She remembered that he said, “Follow The Drinking Gourd,” it is in the sky and looks like da gourd that we’s drink out of in da water well, Masta calls it da little dipper.” With this thought Frances looked up and saw the six stars, which formed something that looked like the gourd they drank out of every day. However, Frances could not spend a lot of time examining the gourd; she knew she had no time to waste. With this thought she started to run and anytime she got lost she looked up at the sky and followed the drinking gourd. Then all of a sudden while she was running, she heard the dogs barking and knew that Master James was now on her trail. Frances knew that Master James must have discovered that Tom and she were gone. These thoughts made Frances run even faster and she had to force the horrible thoughts out of her head. Frances kept thinking about what would happen if she and Tom got caught. If we do, she thought, we will surely face death. Then she thought what if Tom has already been caught and when I get to the river no one will be there to meet me. But Frances put the thoughts aside and trusted in God.
Now with every step Frances was getting closer and closer. Every time she took a stride she would have to use her arms to push the cotton stems out of her way. The further she ran the fainter the dog’s barks became and the closer Frances was to freedom. Before Frances knew it, she was close to the river and she could see a boat with a little light. Tom must be inside the boat waiting for her. Now freedom was within Frances’s reach and she knew that she had to only run a short distance and a new life might await her up north. As Frances ran each step was like poetry in motion. With every step she broke the chains of slavery. With every step she could say f--- you Master James for taking my freedom, family and innocence, but know Master James would not be able to touch Frances. These thoughts drove Frances to run faster and faster, before Frances knew it she was in the clear and out of the cotton fields.
As soon as she left the fields, she saw a tall dark figure in the boat. When he put his hand in the air and held the candle up to his face she knew it was Tom. So without hesitation, Frances ran up to the boat almost out of breath and yelled, “Tom we made it.”
But, Tom’s dead body dropped to the ground right in front of the boat and Master James appeared standing in the boat, in the place where Tom was supposed to be.
Frances screamed out in terror, “No! No! Tom you can’t be dead. Masta James what hav you’s done?”
Masta James screamed out, “Frances you dumb wench! Did you really think you could get away with this? I own you and you will be with me until the day you die. You are nothing but a slave and I am your God,” he said with great contempt.
As Tom’s body lay on the shore bleeding, Master James moved closer to Frances and as Frances trembled with fear. He got close enough to grab one of her long curly mulatto locks of her. Then he grabbed her face and forced her closer and tried to seduce her.
“Okay Masta James,” when Frances said this she moved in closer and showed her bosom to entice Masta James even more. Frances said, “Why don’t we’s jump in the boat?” Without any hesitation Master James jumped into the boat and started kissing her bosom. When Master James tried to undo Frances’ dress, Frances pulled the knife from the back of her old dirty corset and stabbed Master James repeatedly.
Master James screamed out in horror, “Frances, No!” as he clutched his chest and gasped for air, he faded away into the dark realm of death.
Once his body was completely limp, Frances pushed him overboard, screaming and cursing at his dead body, she yelled, “I’s hope you’s rot in hell. You’s taken everything from me…everything! Now it’s my turn. Through your death I’s will live and have freedom.” Frances watched with relief as his body sank to the bottom of the river. However, Frances’ heart was still heavy from Tom being killed. Moreover, she was still in shock from having to see two dead people, one she had killed herself.
Frances was still scared; she had no idea about the hardships that awaited her up north. To calm her self down, she said a little prayer, “Oh! Lord, please let me leave dis North Carolinian plantation safely. Please forgive me for not being here in time to help Tom. Maybe if I’s was here, I’s could hav helped him fight off Masta James. Lord please let Tom in to heaven and lead me to da north safely. Amen.” After this prayer and not knowing what lay ahead, Frances paddled out of the North Carolina plantation and headed north. Even though she did not know what the future held, one thing Frances knew for she was it was freedom or death, and she had chosen freedom!
Publication Date: 06-20-2011
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To my beloved Mother who taught me to follow my passion.