The Journey

Daniel looks up to the heavens. Tears overflow and he is overcome by a whirlwind of emotions. He cries out to God with thanks and praise, his heart is joyful. For once again he is reunited with his precious family, his wife Anna, his son Jesse, and Rebecca his daughter. They had been torn away from him through violent force, under the cruel hand of slavery. He wept all that day and night. Alone in his cabin, his mind replayed the day’s events, his broad back layered with deep scars from the many whippings he had endured, but physical pain could not compare with the mental anguish and emotional scarring of seeing his beloved one’s separated from him by evil men who thought not of his people as human, but as property to be bought and sold. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, Daniel falls asleep. Periodically waking, his mind is restless, the faces of his beloved haunt his dreams. The screams, the tears, the many sorrows, are vivid in his memory and seared upon his mind and soul, like hot iron on flesh. Sprawled on the floor, as dawn arises, his eyes open. He has awakened to his nightmare, his heart is heavy, his inner depths boil over with fury, his spirit is filled with vengeance; in the fields he toils furiously, his eyes wide and lit with the fuel of sorrow and anger, the sun beats down on him but he cares not, his only thoughts are the thoughts of a man possessed with the hope of finding his family and being together once more. His brethren in bondage look at him and see his fire, for they know the very same pain he is suffering, a suffering not unbeknownst to them, a deep pain that the eyes can’t hide and words can’t utter. The elder ones with gray hair, wrinkled faces and steely eyes have seen this many a time before, they look on at the young man and they know his plight and his desolation, but their many years of trauma do not allow them to shed tears, instead they wail in silence. They too know the pain of loss, forever separated from their children and grandchildren, permanently traumatized by the cruel and unjust ways of slavery; the faces they could never forget, the memories they were forced to repress in order to make it through the days and nights without ending their own lives. In their congregation, is a mixture of fear, anger, resolve, fury, love, and torment. An unholy matrimony of harsh reality and unrelenting hope. One of the elders whose name was Celia, slowly walks over to him, she places her hand on his face as her cloudy and weary eyes look up at him, her rough and withered hands tell the tale of her life. He sees what the years of hardship have done to her. He asks her for a prayer and kneels down before her. With her right hand on the crown of his head she looks up to the sky and closes her eyes as if in a trance. She begins to pray, her voice a whisper and her cadence steady. Daniel rises to his feet. With a long gaze, Celia looks at him once more, and without another utterance walks away. In the darkness of night the warrior spirit within him is awakened, he reflects on the prayer of blessings and protection bestowed upon him from the elder.

He commences to think of a plan of escape, he knows that if he is captured he will be brutally tortured or killed, but he is unmoved by fear, and he is strengthened in his resolve. Up all night he thinks and rethinks his plan and strategy, foreseeing the many perils he will have to face to accomplish his mission. Many months would pass and still he remained dedicated to his goals; he worked in the fields as usual, and did nothing to arouse suspicion of his intentions. As oft as he could, Daniel would listen intently to any news from incoming slaves of other plantations to see if he could find any news about his family. Weeks later he came upon information of the utmost importance: a party of abolitionists had stormed the plantation of his wife’s slave master and had led an insurrection among the slaves. Many were freed and led through safe passage where they were connected with the underground railroad. Some were recaptured and brutally beaten, killed or sold off to other slave owners throughout the region. Upon hearing this news, his heart started pounding, every beat seemingly faster than the other, his thoughts raced and his mind wondered about the fate of his family. Had they made it up North? Were they captured at the hands of the vile and hated bounty hunters? These profound questions weighed heavily on Daniel’s heart and mind. He held out hope that his family had made it, because only a handful of slaves had been recaptured. Another few days had gone by and after deep soul searching he decided to flee North in hopes of locating his beloved family. Everything was in God’s hands now. At nightfall, Daniel gathered the food he had been saving for his journey, he was able to fashion a small knife that he also took. The time had come to make his escape. Silently, he said a short prayer and went out into the night. Moving with stealth and purpose, he breached the treacherous borders of the plantation, remembering every step he had formulated in his plan. He knew he would need a head start over the hunting posse of bounty hunters, and dogs that were sure to come. Through the woods he picked up the pace running with vigor and all out determination, his bare feet pounding the ground and legs that started to feel like they were on fire. His large bodily frame causing him to sweat profusely and breathe more deeply than he ever had. But he kept going. Running for hours, he stopped to take a short rest, sitting down with his back against a tree he looked up into the night sky, the moon was full and the stars were bright. foggy-mist-forest-trees-42263.jpeg

After his short rest he continued running, and as dawn approached, he needed somewhere to hide. Daniel had run for several miles through the night, and by now he was certain slave catchers were already searching for him. It was in the year 1840, Halifax County, Virginia. Walking for another three miles, he came upon a house and barn where he would shelter for the day, and continue his journey North at nightfall. Looking around very cautiously, he approached the barn making sure not to be seen, he entered and made his way to the back of the barn to a corner where he could rest and replenish his tired body. He opened his satchel, which was made of sackcloth and ate a small portion of the food he brought along. While eating he reflects on his escape and the journey ahead. Suddenly he hears voices coming from outside the barn, he stays still and remains quiet. By now it was nearing dusk and it was almost time for him to be on his way; the voices he heard seemed to be fainting, so Daniel crouched to the front of the barn and peeked out of one of the broken planks of wood that left a small space between them. Peering around as much as he could, he spotted an old man with a broad hat, leaning on a front pillar of the house not too far from the barn. The man seemed to be doing nothing more than smoking a pipe. Dusk had finally come. Daniel cracked open the doors of the barn, and just as he had when he first escaped his captors on the plantation, moved with stealth and caution. He moved around to the right flank of the barn and stayed close to it, his back rubbing up against the splintered and weathered wood. He peers around the back of the barn and sees nothing, before moving another step, he also listens intently. Heart beating fast and adrenaline rushing through his blood, he dashes out of the clearing and back into the dense woodland. He slows down and begins to pace himself, for he knows the journey North will be long and he will need his strength. Daniel continues pressing forward; every step, every breath, every beat of the heart, invigorated with extreme determination and purpose. In the moonlight he walks, hearing the crackling noises of the forest and seeing the glowing eyes of its inhabitants, his senses are heightened, and his thinking is focused. The faces of Anna, Jesse, and Rebecca are vivid in his memory, every now and then he stops briefly to listen for the sounds of men and dogs that may be on his trail. Born in 1807, to parents Thomas and Rose Holloway, whose last names were given to them by their slave master J.L. Holloway, a brutal and tyrannical man; Daniel despised Holloway and the harsh realities of being enslaved. He witnessed his father and other slaves being whipped in front of him as a young boy, and he heard the whispers of Holloway’s penchant for young slave girls, who he would bring into the big house. Daniel was put to work in the cotton and tobacco fields with his mother and father at the age of five. On the plantation was a detested overseer named Henley, who would carry out various tasks, many including the use of the bullwhip. Two years before Daniel’s birth, his mother bore a stillborn child. Even in death he was given a name; she named him, Levi. Daniel continues on his path to reunification and freedom.

He is tired now, and he is extremely thirsty. Pressing forward, he holds out hope of finding a source of water and quenching his thirst. Again he paces himself to conserve his energy, and has faith that he will soon find water. Up ahead he sees a giant oak tree in the moonlight, as he approaches the massive tree, the sound of gentle waters can be heard, his heart fills with excitement. Moving past the oak tree the sounds of water became louder, it was hard for Daniel to see the creek ahead of him because of the darkness of night, but by ear the creek was about fifty feet in front of him. As he comes closer, he can see the water of the creek in the moonlight. At first he rushes toward the creek in his euphoria, but then resigns himself to cautious approach lest there be anyone else nearby. The creek was adjacent to a small clearing of trees. Daniel sprinted across the clearing and back into the cover of trees that bordered the creek, looking around with all awareness, he cups his hands into the cool water and and replenishes his thirst. He also washed himself in the water to cool his body. He takes a quick rest as he sits on the bank of the creek, the tall grass acting as a cover and concealing him from sight. He looks up at the night sky, and contemplates his escape and the journey thus far. In his heart he says a prayer of gratitude. Sitting with his sackcloth satchel strapped across his chest, he opens it and eats the last portion of the food he had been saving. After resting, he crosses over the shallow creek to the other side, his feet feeling the cool flow of the water. Looking up once again, he locates the drinking gourd, a group of stars which point to the North Star, his guide North, and to freedom. Daniel continues on traveling through the woods in the dark of night, he must make it North, he must not fail in his quest for reunification and freedom. One foot in front of the other as he marches on, sweat coming down from his head, and his clothes ripped; it begins to rain. The sounds of raindrops falling on the leaves and branches of trees, and onto the floor of the woodland, liven up the quiet and still night. Rain will not deter him, but the rising of the morning sun draws nigh, he must find shelter.

Continuing to walk, he suddenly fell into a gully which had dead trees strewn about, and thick brush at the bottom. Luckily he had not been hurt in his tumble, one of the several dead trees was rotten making the bark soft, but firm enough to withstand his weight without totally breaking. Daniel got up slowly, shifting his weight to the side of the gully as to not topple over. He made his way down slowly, not being able to see just how deep the bottom of the gully was. With the first light of dawn now appearing, he weighs his options and decides the brush and dead trees will provide a good cover throughout the day. Being a strong man, organizing the the dead trees and using their branches in congruence with the thick brush at the bottom of the gully was an easy task. Using his small knife, he cut just enough of the brush to make a soft place to lie down and rest. Remembering the old spirituals and songs of encouragement, he sings quietly to himself and uplifts his spirit. Deep in the woods, he is well hidden and at peace. Daniel eventually falls asleep, hours later he awakes from his slumber. He sits up and peers through the covering of trees and brush, the sunlight is bright. He is hungry and has no food left in his satchel, so he must scavenge for food and nourishment. He debates within himself whether to leave the safety of his hiding place or scavenge for food. He chooses the latter, knowing that he needs the light of day to be able to find the food he needs. With much apprehension, and heightened awareness, he sets off on his quest for much needed nourishment. He climbs out of the gully and immediately spots a few acorns which he gathers and places in his satchel, a few yards away he sees more acorns and gathers them. Moving northward, he hopes to find more than just a handful of acorns. Without the help of the North Star to guide him, Daniel relies on the moss that grow only on the north side of tree trunks to be his guide. He stumbles upon a patch of blackberries, immediately eating some of them and saving the rest, he then finds dandelions and wild onions. Cheerfulness fills his heart as he continues his search, inspired by what he has found so far, Daniel is eager to find more.

Satchel slung across his body, he continues on. In his eagerness he nearly misses the vines of the muscadine tree , which yield sweet and ripe muscadine grapes. He fills his stomach to contentment. Suddenly Daniel hears a rustling sound in the distance behind him, he quickly hides behind a tree. He looks and sees a man running on the other side of the woods to his right, he appears to be also an escaped slave. He shouts out to the man and the man stops and slowly turns his head. Daniel approached him slowly and asked him what his name was, he said his name was Big John, and that he had escaped a tobacco plantation just days ago. Daniel introduced himself, and told the man he also had recently escaped his captivity. Big John said he had been planning his escape for some time, and had been in contact with the good people of the underground railroad, he told Daniel that he was on his way to a station (safe house), and that he would then connect with a conductor (guide), and make his way North. He also told Daniel he should travel with him to the station and accompany him on his journey with the conductor. Daniel briefly contemplated Big John’s proposition, and decided to accompany him. Being that is was broad daylight, Daniel was apprehensive about traveling, but Big John reassured him and told him that they would be okay, and that four eyes were better than two.  He also said that they could be at the station by nightfall. They continued North and maintained awareness of their surroundings, like Daniel, Big John had also endured the tortures of slavery. John was a skilled carpenter and blacksmith, and because of this, he was considered highly valuable by his slave master, who would hire him out to other plantation owners and slave masters, to be used for his skill and expertise. He was given more leeway, and many a time worked without supervision due to the years of trust he gained from slave masters and overseers. Oftentimes, he was sent unsupervised to dry goods and hardware stores for supplies. It was this trust that he used, to plan and execute his escape. Big John was an only child, and his parents had long died. Being seen as a man of brawn and skill, his slave master tried many times to have him breed (impregnate), several of the enslaved women of the plantation. But due to a higher power, or perhaps John maybe being sterile, he never did produce any children. Slave owners encouraged the bearing of children between slaves, because they were considered property to be bought and sold, and added value to a slave owner’s estate. Furthermore, they were seen as extra servants and field hands, to be worked from an early age, up until old age or death. Many times handed down from a deceased slave owner, to the slave owner’s children’s, children. This infuriated John to no end, and drove him to escape at all costs. Walking for another several miles and tired, Daniel and Big John had come upon a house in a clearing, the men knocked on the door and were welcomed in. They had made it in just as the sun was setting, they were greeted by a fit looking, well dressed, older white gentleman. He sported a black frock coat, high straight collar white shirt, black necktie, double breasted black vest, black trousers and finely polished black lace up boots. His name was Samuel H. Levingston, a physician by trade and staunch abolitionist, who detested slavery of any kind. He was a stern looking man with a somewhat weathered face, a graying head of hair, steely eyes, and a fully gray large beard. Right away, Dr. Levingston examined the two men for injuries, and general health. After their examination he fed them and gave them a change of clothes. The three men then discussed the prior journey and the journey ahead.

With the details of the journey ahead thoroughly planned and discussed, Daniel and Big John were instructed by Dr. Levingston to go down into the cellar below the floor of the house, and stay there silently until he called for them in the morning. Finally Daniel would have a good night’s rest. Morning had come, and both men were rested, and up early to face the forthcoming journey ahead. While waiting for Levingston’s call, the men quietly talked about their hopes and dreams, and what they would do once they gained their freedom. Suddenly they heard Dr. Levingston’s voice, it was time to go. Today he would be their conductor (guide), and transport them to the next station (safe house). A covered horse drawn wagon had been prepared for the trip. Inside of the wagon were several bales of hay which the men were instructed to hide under. For good measure, and extra protection from prying eyes, sacks of potatoes were added to the bales of hay. Levingston and his cargo set off for the station which would be approximately forty miles in distance. Their stationmaster (host), had already been informed of their pending arrival and was prepared to accept his cargo. With horse and wagon, they traveled through a secret path that only Dr. Levingston knew, to the main road. Once on the main road, travel was much easier; as instructed, Daniel and Big John were quiet and still. The bales of hay and sacks of potatoes on top of them did not bother them in the least, for they were focused on freedom and very appreciative of the help from Dr. Levingston. By the evening they had neared their destination. Along the way, the horses were watered and rested, and the two men were allowed to briefly get fresh air, food, and water. Levingston also replenished himself. Traveling by lantern in the darkness of night, the three men had arrived at their destination. The good doctor introduced them to the new stationmaster who would be assisting them in the next phase of their journey. His name was William Marshall. William and his wife Amy Marshall, welcomed Daniel and John into their home. Dr. Samuel Levingston, would also stay the night and return home in the morning. William was a mild mannered man, who’s anti slavery conviction as a Quaker, ran deep. His wife Amy, was a gracious woman and staunch supporter of her husband. William was also a pastor to a small congregation of loyal followers, his church sat adjacent to his house. It was under the floor boards of the church, that Daniel and John would be housed for the night. They would remain there for the next day until nightfall. Once again the men prepared for travel. Once more they would be traveling by horse drawn wagon, this time the wagon would have a secret compartment, covered with hay and an assortment of dry goods for extra concealment. The men positioned themselves in the secret compartment at the bottom of the wagon and prepared for another journey northward. It was not William Marshall that would escort the two men, but instead a loyal and trusted younger man, who’s name was kept anonymous for reasons of a personal matter, and from the possible infiltration of the underground railroad, by pro slavery sympathizers and slave owners alike.

By now the men were close to the Virginia, Maryland border, and would cross over into the state of Maryland in a matter of a few miles. The two men in the secret compartment lie still in quiet reflection, each thinking of the prospect of being a free man, and one day seeing all of their people free and treated equally. Riding through the night, they had made it across the border into Maryland, and were on their way to a safe house located in Bethesda, Maryland, Montgomery County. The morning light had arrived as the men pressed on towards their destination. The young conductor knew his route very well, he had transported several escaped slaves across the border without ever once being caught. He was familiar with all the hiding places, and routes of escape in the event he was suspected or had to flee within a moment’s notice. The three men had arrived in Bethesda at their appointed destination. They were once again introduced to a new stationmaster. This gentleman’s name was James T. Wrigley, a burly  man with an even tempered demeanor. Wrigley was a gunsmith by trade, and an avid gun enthusiast. He was once a believer in the institution of slavery, but had a change of heart and perspective, while listening to the fiery sermons of a local anti slavery minister. Wrigley then became an important asset in the fight for freedom, as he was a stationmaster that had hidden hundreds of slaves on their way up North. Daniel and Big John were introduced to Mr. Wrigley, and were promptly warmly welcomed and fed. The three men talked for a while, before Wrigley went out into his work shed, to start his day’s work. As was customary, Daniel and Big John were well hidden and were able to rest after their long journey. Suddenly Mr. James Wrigley, came down into the cellar and awakened Daniel; it was news about his wife and children. Wrigley told Daniel that he had just received news that his family had made it to New York, he told him that they were safe and awaiting his arrival. Before Wrigley could talk any further, Daniel fell to the floor and wept. He was overcome by emotion and thankful that Anna, Jesse, and Rebecca had made it. After Daniel recovered from his wave of emotions, Mr. Wrigley told him that his wife Anna had fell seriously ill during the trip North, and was currently being taken care of by free men and women in New York City. He said that according to his contacts in New York City, she had been running a high temperature and they were not sure if she would make it. Upon hearing this devastating news, Daniel fell silent and said nothing more for the rest of the day. By now, Big John was awake and already upstairs when Mr. Wrigley broke the news to Daniel. All that day he gave words of encouragement, and told Daniel to stay strong, he told him that they were now more than just friends, but brothers in blood and in struggle. The darkness was approaching, and Daniel was eager to be on his way, they were connected with another conductor and rode through the night.

They arrived in Baltimore, before the light of dawn. Once in Baltimore, the men met their new stationmaster, this time a middle aged woman named Sarah Hampton. She had already been sent word of the condition of Daniel’s wife, and she and other local abolitionists made the decision to expedite the trip North to New York City, by train. The plan was to have a well dressed white man play the role of slave owner. He would be a wealthy white gentleman, being accompanied by his two loyal servants. He could also play a slave trader, looking to sell two well built and healthy male slaves for a high price. An older white gentleman was selected for this role. He was a distinguished looking man, and spoke well. His name was Thomas Wilkerson. The dawn had arrived, and Ms. Hampton prepared the two men for their journey on the train. She instructed them on what to say if asked certain questions, and not to deviate from the plan that was laid out for them and Mr. Wilkerson. With Mr. Wilkerson dressed, and ready for his role, the men set off for the railway. The three men arrived at the railway, and boarded the train. Daniel and Big John carried Mr. Wilkerson’s luggage, and pretended to be his slaves. They kept their heads down and eyes low. Once on the train, Mr. Wilkerson was greeted warmly by the other passengers, while Daniel and John were mocked and stared at. Several white men made remarks to Mr. Wilkerson, about how well behaved his servants were. Others marveled at the size of the burly men, some even offering money for an immediate purchase. Of course this angered the three men to no end, but their cover had to remain intact. One man in particular, was persistent, and grabbed the wrist of Mr. Wilkerson. Wilkerson then subdued the man and told him that he would have none of his aggression, he also firmly stated that his slaves were not for purchase. During the brief ruckus, several people turned and looked to see what was going on. Daniel then swore that one of the faces that he saw, was that of a well known slave trader. Instantly he became afraid of being spotted. He then told Big John and Wilkerson, about what he saw. John then too, became apprehensive, but Mr. Wilkerson calmed the two men and told them to remain quiet and keep their faces low. For the rest of the trip, everything was quiet.

By evening they had arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they would stay the night. The next day, the men connected with a stagecoach that had been already rented by the men and women who contributed financial to the cause of abolition. These men and women were called shareholders. The train ride had spared the three men valuable time, but the railway did not connect all the way to New York City. It would be a three day ride by stagecoach, with several stop overs. Being in the state of Pennsylvania, a free state, was somewhat reassuring to the men, but all Daniel could think about, was his ailing wife and his two precious children. After a three day trek, the men had finally reached their destination, New York City. Both Daniel and John thanked Mr. Wilkerson profusely for his service and sacrifice. The men were overcome with emotion. Daniel’s wife was being taken care of in a place called, The Five Points. Before he could get upstairs to greet his family, Daniel’s children rushed down to hug their father, who they thought they would never see again. Daniel dropped on bent knee, holding his children tight and looked up into the heavens to thank God for seeing him through his journey. He then went into the humble abode, and greeted all that were there. He then went upstairs, to see his beautiful wife. He entered the room to see his wife sitting up and smiling, he rushed over to her, and kissed and embraced her. They both wept in each others arms. He asked her how she was feeling, and she told him that though still weak, she would be okay. The children came upstairs and the whole family embraced. Anna told Daniel of her escape with the children, and Daniel told Anna, of his escape, and his new found friend and brother Big John.  John was then introduced to Daniel’s wife and children. Months would pass. Daniel and Big John, would find work on the docks in Manhattan. Even though it was a free state, New York City was rife with discrimination and anti black sentiment. Big John had found a wife, and also settled in The Five Points. Anna was working as a seamstress and by now had fully recovered from her illness. Jesse and Rebecca were growing up as free children and were healthy. As years passed, Daniel and his wife became dismayed with life in New York City, the living was hard and the discrimination unbearable. One day, they made the decision to pack up and set off on another journey, they would be heading North. They were going to a place called, Ontario, Canada.

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