A Slaveholder's Diary

Fiction By LoriAnn // 3/24/2011

I wrote this for an American Literature class a while back. I was feeling guilty for not posting anything (I'll get back to Robin and Marian soon, I promise!!!)  so I thought I'd let you have this to enjoy. :)

 

 

Monday, First of August:
The first of the wheat harvest is nearly ready to bring in. The northern slave quarters had a fire in the nursery last night—no loss, but the building needs a new roof. Marcella asked to attend a “beneficial lecture for ladies” Saturday next. If nothing inopportune occurs, I’ll take her in to town when I take the stud for his shoeing.
 
 
Tuesday, Second of August:
Began work on the new nursery roof today. Fine weather—warm, but not as moist as it’s been these last weeks. One of the house slaves was abed with a fever this morning, but no others seem to be affected as of yet. Marcella asked me today how many slaves we owned. I told her five and seventy, but that was a year ago and I know that a few of the female slaves at the Farm have had children since the last count. She thanked me, but has been oddly subdued tonight. Perhaps that abolitionist sister of hers has written again? Reminder: discover source of disquiet tomorrow.
 
 
Wednesday, Third of August:
Two more slaves down with a fever. I have ordered them quarantined to slave quarters until healthy again. Determined Marcella’s cause of unrest at dinner—her sister Elizabeth has sent her a packet of letters with a piece by that Angelina Grimke woman. Piece of utter drivel, but Marcella has taken it to her tender heart. I asked her to give it to me to take care of, which she did, and I have locked it in my desk. I’ll burn it at first opportunity.
 
 
Thursday, Fourth of August:
News! Marcella has informed me that she is with child! This would help to explain her abnormal concern with what her sister sent, as she is not usually inclined to listen. What joy fills my heart! And yet, fear as well—Marcella is so delicate and small. I can only pray for a safe duration and arrival for the newest member of our family. If it is a boy, we shall call him after my father, Frederick; if it is a girl, we shall name her Alice, for Marcella’s grandmother.
 
 
Friday, Fifth of August:
Made a visit to the Farm today, to check on the tobacco crop and the new filly my foreman purchased a week ago Tuesday. All is well, and there are six more children since the last count of the slaves: four males and two females. One slave had twins—two male children. Marcella is to go to her lecture tomorrow, and I will take the new filly in for shoeing along with the stud.
 
 
Saturday, Sixth of August:
Marcella came home from her lecture very quiet. I at first put it down to fatigue, but when I pressed her, she admitted that the lecture had been abolitionary in nature! I’m afraid I became quite severe with her and ordered her not to return to such meetings again, or to have society with those whom she knows to be in sympathy with the movement. She agreed, but she also said something that made me quite nervous. “James,” she asked me, “What is the difference between my baby and the baby of one of the women on the Farm?” I had no answer for her, but hope to allay her fears soon. I will speak with the minister at church tomorrow.
 
 
Sunday, Seventh of August:
Spoke with the minister today. He pointed out to me Noah’s decree to his sinful son Cain that his descendents would be slaves, as well as the words of the Apostle Paul regarding slaves and masters. Much of what he said seemed right to my ears, but when I looked outside his office window, I saw the daughter of a parishioner playing in the dirt with her mother’s slave girl. I admit that there was a pang of doubt in my breast—what, besides skin color, paints a difference in these two girls? Much to think on.
 
 
(Here, there is a gap of nearly seven months in James’ journal, with a few sporadic entries at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the like. From these short, disconnected entries, one can piece together a few things about these missing months. First, that Marcella’s pregnancy seemed to be going well; and second, that the fever that began with the house slaves quickly spread to the rest of the slaves and then to the Farm as well, though James and Marcella and a few of their closest servants seemed to be immune. Also, James cannot completely rid himself of this notion that there may not be as much difference between white and slave as he had thought. We pick up the narrative on the seventeenth of February: the night that Marcella goes into labor—early.)
 
 
Friday, Seventeenth of February:
Marcella began her labor pains early this afternoon, and I sent one of the slaves to fetch the midwife quickly. The baby is early, Mrs. George tells me. She seems concerned, but I have no fear. Marcella is healthy and strong for her small size. She and our child will be well. I am assured of it.
 
 
Saturday, Eighteenth of February:
Marcella is still in labor. The fears that I have pushed back for so long—ever since she first told me that she was with child—grow ever stronger in my mind. I pace the parlor helplessly, hearing her groans from upstairs and utterly unable to do anything to aid her in her suffering. How I wish I could go to her! Surely this is far too long for a child to taking in coming. How could I bear to lose her?
 
 
Sunday, Nineteenth of February:
Peace at last. Alice Grace Marcella arrived near ten of the clock this morning, bright and pink as a rosebud and screaming fit to make my ears burst. Marcella is weak by happy, and she holds our daughter in her arms this very moment, as I sit at her desk and write this chronicle.
 
 
Monday, Nineteenth of February:
There has been a death in the slave quarters. One of the young female slaves had gone out to work this morning in the stable and was kicked in the stomach by the stud. She was with child and the trauma caused her to go into early labor. She died around noon, she and the child within. My mind can’t help but go over and over the events in my mind, the look on the woman’s face as she died. How is she any different than my own Marcella, who labored so long to bring Alice into the world? How is my sweet Alice any different than that unborn slave child—save for the tint of her skin? I find myself rereading that letter from Angelina Grimke—I never did burn it, for whatever reason. Why am I so tortured by something that my fellowmen seem to find so obvious and so within the laws of nature?
 
 
Tuesday, Twentieth of February:
Marcella is ill. Alice is still healthy, but Marcella is weak and feverish. I can only pray.
 
 
Sunday, Twenty-Sixth of February:
Sorrow cloaks my heart like a funeral pall. My dear, bright Marcella has passed on to glory, gathered in to the Lord’s arms like a long lost child. Baby Alice sleeps, completely unaware that she is now motherless. Marcella’s last whisper to me before she slipped away was, “Do not let her grow up among slaves.” One could take that to mean that she wanted to me to keep Alice away from the slave quarters, but I know the truth. Marcella has long hated what she calls “that peculiar institution”. She would have me free the slaves, and my heart cannot abide disregarding her last wish. Oh, Marcella—you were always my sweeter half, my conscience, my heart made visible! How shall I live without your pure heart keeping mine on the paths of righteousness?
 
 
Friday, Second of March:
It is done. I signed the last of the manumission papers today, and have arranged for safe passage north for all who desire it. Several of my former slaves are going to remain with me and Alice, to care for her and to help me run the Farm—but as paid workers, not as wrongly owned slaves. Angelina Grimke’s letter lies on my desk beneath a framed portrait of Marcella and my Bible, which is becoming more dog-eared every day. The neighbors will talk, I know. I will be a subject of mockery and pity in my community, and there will even perhaps be those who think I have done wrongly. But I know in my heart that this is right. I will not have my daughter grow up with her innocence smeared with the stains of slavery.
Marcella would be glad.

Comments

Touching. I went "Oh

Touching. I went "Oh no!" when you wrote that Marcella was sick.

Anna | Fri, 03/25/2011

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Aww

That is so sweet.  We had an excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin in my previous lit unit--this somehow reminds me of it.

Julie | Fri, 03/25/2011

Formerly Kestrel