James River Tobacco Plantation, 1838
The sharp cry of a newborn followed by hushed whispers and scurrying feet was all that Thomas James could remember of the exact moment that his daughter Sarah was born. He had been holding back tears when Imari placed the tiny infant in his arms, the baby seemed so fragile and so much smaller than any of her brothers. She was merely whimpering now but he focused on looking into her beautiful face, so much like her mothers, that he tuned out the sharp voices coming from just the other side of the bedroom door.
It wasn’t until he felt the slaves hand on his arm, then the look on Imari’s face that he realized that something was terribly wrong. Clara had not yet called for him like she usually did after each baby, both to chastise him for his role in putting her through the childbirth, and to coo over the babies. The slave’s eyes told him everything, her voice barely audible.
“It was complications. She just lost too much blood. We tried Mastuh.” Imari had said. To Thomas, it was the end of life as he knew it. Clara had been his voice of reason, his friend, his beautiful wife and childhood sweetheart. His confidant. He couldn’t imagine life without her. He numbly placed the child into Imari’s arms and left the house to get away from the noise. He calmly began to smoke his pipe and shed the tears that now flowed freely down his face.
He didn’t know how he was going to make it without her; and yet, he had to go on. He had seven children now and a plantation to run and business to see to. His sons needed their education and discipline, as well as training with the horses and livestock, and he would soon have to teach Thomas William, his oldest son and namesake, all the business of running the plantation. Thomas was only twelve, but it was never too early to learn how to run the business.
Luckily, Imari had seen to the needs of the baby without him having to worry, having recently given birth to her own daughter, so he immediately buried himself with these worries and pushed his pain aside.
That was a month ago. The funeral was short; it was so cold and the ground was too hard to even dig the grave. Clara had been placed just off of the wood shed in a coffin of wet pine, covered in the snow until the ground thawed enough for digging a proper burial plot in the spring. It pained Thomas to think about it; so he didn’t. He immersed himself back into the business of running the plantation and seeing to the needs and castigations of his slaves, as well as the upbringing of his sons.
He barely noticed his new daughter at all at first. Until one day, Imari interrupted his daily Bible reading to his sons and placed Sarah in his arms.
“Mastah, I’m sorruh, but your daughter, she be needin her pa right now.” and she had walked away, leaving the bright eyed Sarah to look curiously into her papa’s eyes. That was all it took; the eyes, so much like her mothers, forming the connection he needed to drag him from his stupor. Sarah became his whole world after that moment.
When she wasn’t with Imari and Liberty, she was in a basket at her father’s feet, or playing with bobbles and toys under his desk. She was immediately wrapped around her father’s finger, as well as her brothers, and stationed in their hearts. There was almost nothing she could do that would upset anyone, particularly her father. Almost.
Sarah was only four years old the first time her father had to discipline her. She had been playing with Liberty on the floor of the busy kitchen and the two were playing a game of catch with a ball of rags.
The throws were becoming increasingly sporadic and out of control and the girls giggles, while entertaining, were irritating the kitchen slaves.
Caroline, a big robust slave with no patience for children, was just pulling a hot bread pudding from the oven when a missed toss sent the ball sailing across the kitchen, into the pudding, splattering the big round woman with burning liquid and startling her so that the pudding was then dropped, splashing the poor slave, the walls, the floors and sizzling into the belly of the oven.
When Sarah's father learned of the ruined pudding, his favorite, he had to forbid her from being in the kitchen, as well as discipline her for her defiance. Because he could not bear to spank his own daughter, she had been sent to bed without any supper; a punishment that turned out all the better for her as each of her brothers, feeling sorry for her, had each snuck food into the bedrooms that night. She was full of cold ham, biscuits with honey, a handful of fried potatoes, and molasses cookies by the time her father came to her that evening with a glass of warm milk and a piece of bread. He finished explaining to her the necessities of rules and why she was being punished when he offered her the food as a token of his pleasure at her obedience when she proclaimed
"Oh but papa, I can’t eat that!" He beamed briefly at her presumed adherence to her punishment, but quickly frowned as she went on
"I'm so full already with what Will and Libby and the boys brought me from their suppers. You go 'head an eat that papa; yous be needin sumpin for yoself’."
Though he knew he could not keep her from the clutches of Imari, her only known mother, whom she adored and had taken all of his children under her careful watch and he certainly could not part her from the company of Liberty, with whom she would have shared a bed if he had allowed. No, he couldn’t help their current circumstances, but the law being the law and slaves being slaves, he would have to do something about his daughters unlikely ‘kinship’ with his slaves and the mannerisms that she was picking up on.
His first thought was boarding school, but the thought of sending Sarah away nearly broke his heart and he just couldn’t dream of it. But it was in that moment that Thomas decided what his daughter needed was a proper tutor and "white" teacher and the sooner the better. If he couldn’t send her to boarding school, he would bring one to her. (end chapter)
Okay, so that is the introduction. Hopefully it gives enough background without having to back too far, and just so much that you know the setting and hopefully some of the characters. The rest of the story will be about Sarah adjusting to her 'prim and proper' tutor, her friendship with Libby and some of the trouble that that cause, her relationship with her father. At some point, Sarah will realize what slavery actually means and that she does not adhere to that way of life. Her quest at that point will be to help Libby seek freedom via the underground railroad (after her mother, Imari's untimely and suspicious death) and together the two young girls (probably at around the age 13 mark) run away to go North, to Canada. While traveling the U G railroad with the help of abolitionists and allies I was thinking that it would be neat for them to meet the actual Harriet Tubman and other real people who are often associated with the "Freedom Train." May even change the name of the novel to Freedom Train, though the rough title is Liberty.
You can let me know what you think if you want. Good and bad, all feedback is welcome.