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My mother Alice was a spiritual, loving and kind woman who did her best to protect us and keep us safe from harm. She would always make us laugh even though there was not much to laugh about, she would make sure we were clothed and fed every day despite the hardship and all I wanted was to be like her and only wished to be half the woman she was. We lived in a small house about three miles away from where my parents worked at Smith’s homestead where my father worked in the corn fields and my mother worked in the house as a maid. Every morning even before the sun, both of my parents had already left for work, raising money in order to purchase their own children so that we would not be sold off. However, this was never meant to be.
My parents had only two children Joshua my elder brother, and me and they instilled in us right spirituality and taught us to rely on God in all circumstances. Spirituality it was indispensable to us, and it was a way to help us cope with the harsh realities of slavery. At a tender age, I learnt that having the black skin color was highly prejudicial and that life for us ‘Negroes’ as they called us was quite different from that of the white people. I knew my place in society. Without even getting to know my brother well and enjoy my childhood with him, he was taken from us, and I was never to see him again.
My grandmother would often pass by when she left for work and spend most of the nights at home with us. At sixty years old, one would think a woman of her age should not be working. She worked at the Darrel homestead as a house cleaner but had few duties, as her mistress adored her. She would come and tell me how her father, my excellent grandfather came to America; not by choice. “You’re great grandpa, was taken! Snatched away from his home and his family,” she would always start and narrate of his unfortunate adventures while being brought by sea into America from his homeland in Africa. He was paraded at a public slave auction where he was sold for six hundred dollars to a cruel white man who made the next five years of his life quite miserable not to mention that he did not understand a word of English. Eventually, he was sold off to a different homestead to a much nicer people who treated him a little better where he met my great grandmother and bore the family we had. I always enjoyed her company, and she always sang me a song of freedom and believed that one day, we will be free.
As I grew older, the reality of slavery continued to reveal itself as I began to experience it firsthand. My mother’s mistress Mrs. Smith ordered that I am brought to her one morning, and my mother told me that I should behave, no matter what cruel words they might say or what they may try to do, I should remain silent and only speak when spoken to. I was terribly scared without knowing what would happen, but my mother kept me calm and said, “no matter what happens, God will always be with you.” We left unusually early and arrived at the beautiful house before sunrise, and we had to wait in the cow shed before being invited. After four hours of waiting, the mistress summoned me as my mother went about her chores. Four white women sat in the living room, with exceptionally fancy dresses and immediately began discussing what use I could be to them. Little did I know that I would never see my family again, and I was sold to one of the women, Mrs. Herald for 750 dollars. I was only ten years old.
We left almost immediately after the bargain as my eyes started tearing up. I was enraged, confused and above all hurt, as I was not given enough time to say goodbye to my mother who screamed and wailed as I left. I could only imagine how helpless she felt at the time. My new home was far, and I was welcomed with cold stares and cold words, and I was ordered to immediately get to work without having enough time to rest. Later in the day, I met two other workers in the homestead, Peter a sixteen year old who worked at the stables and Mary who did most of the housework and was to make sure that I did my duties well.
Life at the Heralds was unbearable. There was hardly any food left for slaves and we got used to working on empty stomachs most of the time, I grew slimmed. Our masters punished us for any mistakes made during our course of duty no matter how large or small. One afternoon, Peter was quite hungry decided to take some corn for his master’s field; unfortunately, he was caught before he even had a chance to eat them. We were all summoned, including Mrs. Herald and other workers in the field to watch what would happen to anyone who tried to disobey his master. Peter was ordered to take off his clothes, and his master whipped him while naked thoroughly for almost an hour until he began to tire. We all watched in horror except Mrs. Herald who seemed not to be bothered by the poor boy’s yells and groans which clearly showed that he was in serious pain. She barely winced at the sight of blood all over his body.
After around five years with the Herald’s, I got word that my mother had passed away due to illness. Mrs. Herald refused to let me travel to where she was to be laid to rest despite the much I tried to plead with her, and all I could do was cry myself to sleep. Being extremely unhappy, I became very distracted at work that my mistress constantly yelled and flogged me for my mistakes.
Life became more difficult as I grew older, with the master constantly reminding his female slaves that we were his property and took advantage of us, as the law did not prohibit it. Many knew our plight, and how we suffered in silence at the mercy of our masters, but nothing could be done. Even at a young age, I longed for freedom, but would it ever come? I had so many doubts and freedom seemed so farfetched. I constantly thought of my mother who was born and died as a slave. I tried to be happy, but I did my best, surrounded myself who understood what we were going through, and kept my grandmother’s hope of freedom alive.