A brave escape to freedom.
She wiped a hand across her sweaty brow and arched her back. Seven months pregnant, she was feeling the strain of working in the cotton fields. This was her first child and she had a new respect for what her mother must have gone through. The landowners didn't care; all they wanted was a day's work from every slave. They were property; not looked at as humans with the same feelings and pain as their owners.
She looked up toward heaven and wondered at the fairness of life. Women were expected to work in the field up until a month before they gave birth. On this plantation, they were allowed a month to recuperate. After that, the old women would care for the child, she would be allowed to nurse it only three times a day. She wondered about her decision to bear a child. If they were lucky, the family would remain together. If not, the child could be taken from them by the age of three. They would have nothing to say about it. Sam would be expected to work extra hours during her last month of pregnancy to make up for her lack of work.
Startled out of her daydream, she saw the overseer walking toward her. If he detected that she was wasting time, there would be trouble. She once again bent down and continued working. She looked up when she saw the overseer had stopped.
“How are you doing today, Alice?”
“Jest fine sir, ain't got nothin' to complain about.”
“Good, good, that's what we like, a strong black woman who knows how to work hard.”
“Yes sir,” she replied, never stopping her task.
The overseer continued on his way and she let out a sign of relief.
That evening, they were sitting at the kitchen table, the glow of the oil lantern their only light. I'm just a country boy, Alice.” Sam said to her. “Born and raised on this plantation. Ain't never seen nothin' of the world out there. Seen my Daddy and Mama work themselves to death right out there in them fields. I would give anything if it could be different for our child.”
“I know Sam. Was thinking the same today.”
“Alice, there is a network of Quakers who help slaves reach freedom in Canada. A couple of the slaves are planning on going; they've asked if we want to go. They would wait until about a month after the baby was born. It would be hard. If we were caught, I don't know what would happen. All I can think of is freedom for us and our child. A chance to live life the way God intended.”
“I want to leave Sam, I do. I'm afraid but we'll go. We'll find our way to freedom and a new life. We've both watched our parents die young, never tasting anything but the dirt on this ole' plantation. It would kill me to see our child raised like that.”
Secret meetings took place to plan the escape. Caution was taken to make sure that only the few of them going would know about it, afraid that they would be found out. The child, a boy, had been born. He was healthy and robust. They would be ready to leave in just a few weeks. There was fear in their hearts but freedom on their minds.
They picked a night when there was a dark moon. Dressed in their warmest clothes with only one change in their bags, along with some food, and what medicine they could find, they were ready to go. To avoid discovery they would not go as a group, but individually. Anyone not arriving on time would be left behind.
“I'm fearful Sam.”
“I know, but you have to trust in the Lord to see us through.” He grabbed her hand and they went into the silent and dark night, ever so slowly approaching the woods and the safety of trees.
Once in the woods, a man approached. They feared capture, but he put a finger to his mouth cautioning them to be quiet. He motioned for them to follow him, so they did. After walking for about an hour, they finally came to a wagon and horses where all of the escapees were gathered. They were put in the back of the wagon and covered with straw. Alice was fearful that the baby would cry and give them away, but he was a little angel and never uttered a sound. They rumbled along the road, not sure of the time. Shortly before sunrise the wagon stopped and they held their breath wondering what was happening.
They were uncovered and found themselves in a large barn. They climbed into the loft behind stacks of hay and found blankets lying where they were told to rest. A kindly gentleman came and asked if they needed anything. He told them a warm meal would be coming soon. They had never been treated so kindly by white folks before. Sam told Alice they were Quakers.
For several weeks they were taken from station to station but always treated with the utmost respect; something they were not used to. There were a few close calls but they never got caught. The last day they were taken on a boat and told this was the final stage of the trip. They would soon be in Canada and freedom.
Friends of color welcomed them into their home. In time, with help from the community, they were able to build a small cabin of their own. They often thought back on the decision they had made to escape and thanked God that they had the courage to seek the freedom they and their child deserved.They prayed for those courageous Quakers who risked punishment by reaching out and helping the slaves. Freedom was finally theirs.