Chunky had his plans all made up before he enlisted with David. He wanted to become a doctor, and the war could be his steppingstone right into medical school. When he was not practicing or playing in the company band, he volunteered to work in the hospital. His giant statue in size and character was a blessing to all he worked with. His handle-bar-moustache was always supported by his big broad smile. Somehow, he was able to find some good everywhere.
He gave exceptional care to the wounded men. Chunky had earned the doctors’ trust and respect through the many hours he had worked directly together with them. There were 24 men of Company D wounded and 7 killed. Chunky was acquainted with all but two of them.
War does not take all the victims with a gun. Hunger, disease, lack of clean drinking water, and infections kill more soldiers than bullets. Chunky was one of the men who foraged for corn at the time when men and animals were destitute of food at the encampment of Stafford Court House.
Chunky remembered a sad case of a soldier who, in great desperation for food, asked permission to eat corn from the mess the teamster was about feeding to his team. The man ate so ravenously of the raw whole corn that in three hours, he died from the effects. Chunky also remembered an incident of men in a half-starved condition eating meat taken from the head of an animal, which had many days before been killed for food. Just the skeleton of the carcass was left.
While Chunky was around the hospital, assisting in the care of 1500 wounded, he strolled out back of the barn. He wholly unexpected found his friend John lying under a shelter of a few boards which had one end laid on a fence. It was alongside the barn. He was thrilled to see Chunky, and his case was pitiable enough. He had been wounded in the chest. And a great profusion of blood had saturated his clothes, pocketbook, and all.
John requested that Chunky send his money home. There were $60 in bills so covered with blood that they required soaking and washing. He laid them out on the boards, with some pieces of garments, also, to dry. Sergeant John Seiple died of his wounds. He was in the ward of the barn and died near where Chunky was in attendance. He suffered intensely from lockjaw, and when Chunky saw that he could not live, he thought death was preferable as he witnessed him breathing his last. Chunky wrote his family a short letter. And along with John’s life savings, this was all that went back to his home.
When Chunky was not on duty playing in the band, Dr. Neff was teaching him nursing in the 9th Corps hospital. Chunky told the men often, “I carried Dr. Neff’s instrument case in and out of battle, —carried it out more rapidly than I carried it in. I did it successfully, however, by making good use of my legs.”
Dr. Neffo felt that Chunky needed to learn all he could from him, so he could become a good doctor someday. Combat surgeons learn very fast about human suffering during the war. Chunky witnessed and helped assist holding men during too many amputations of arms and legs. The remains were stacked like cordwood outside the hospital barn. No one would shake their hand or kick them anymore.
During a heavy rainstorm, Chunky spent a night of the most awful heart strain that he had ever experienced. A young soldier lay under the eaves of the barn during a torrent of rain with, but slight covering, surrounded by hundreds of others. His cries for help were indeed the most heart-rending one could listen to. His shrieks became unendurable. Chunky hunted about to learn from what direction the calling came and finally found him under some boards which had been hastily laid up for shelter.
Chunky asked him where he was wounded, and the man could not tell, except that he had significant pain between his shoulders. With great care, he removed his shirt to ascertain the location and character of the soldier’s wound. By the dim light of an old lantern, he succeeded in finding a battle injury between the shoulder-blades.
It had the shape of the incision that is precisely that of a bayonet. From the size of the hole, the weapon must have pierced deeply into his body. The man died shortly after. His silence was a deafening reminder that life can end in an instant.
Cherries were ripe and very plentiful in this place, and the boys did not object to “pick cherries.” Chunky and a couple of men took a walk through the trees staining their fingers red with the juice of the fruit. As sweet as the cherries were to the tongue, the red color was not so pleasing to the eyes. It reminded them of something else red all over their hands. No one said anything, but they all knew what each other was thinking.
Later that afternoon, Chaplin Melick came in camp with a great loaf of bread about seven by sixteen inches. He had also scavenged three pounds of fresh butter. Chunky asked him where he got them, and he said he bought them. The men wondered, where did he get the money, for they knew he had none. He answered that he borrowed it. They never found out how he came by it, but of course, they had their own opinions. Still, they never believed that any member of their mess would take anything and not pay for it or at least promise to pay.
Chunky told the men, “Let me state right here, that was the best bread and butter that I ever ate.”
The Chaplin told the men, “I believe two-thirds of the boys would re-enlist.”
He did not know if he would go home at all. He said that he thought, “the matter of the war could have been settled by peace measures.” But now he believed the South did not want peace.
Dr. Neff playfully said, “The Chaplin is all right, but he is a Democrat.”
“Yes,” said the Chaplin, “but I am not a Copperhead.”
In the 1860s, the Copperheads comprised a vocal faction of Democrats in the Northern United States of the Union. They opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. Republicans started calling the anti-war Democrats “Copperheads,” likening them to the venomous snake. Those Democrats accepted the label, reinterpreting the copper “head” as the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from Liberty Head large cent coins and proudly wore as badges. Democratic supporters of the war, by contrast, were called War Democrats.
By following the wishes of Chaplin Melick, the men built a temporary enclosure of logs and pine boughs around a tent, for a chapel service. They fitted it up in good style and called it “Chapel Grove.”
They held their first meeting in the new church, May 29, 1863. On the evening of the 31st, General O. O. Howard attended the meeting, and he made an address which greatly encouraged all present. The company band played, and Chunky sang an old hymn. His voice was loud and heard by all listening as something of beauty in the middle of a really big ugly.
After this, Chunky met with the Chaplin, and he was very anxious to know how he was getting along. As the water in the canteen had given out and Chunky was very thirsty, he told him that, “water was scarce and hard to get, and I thought a great big drink of beer would be a good help to move a fellow along.”
He was thinking of his father Jonah’s excellent and fresh German brewed beer back home. But instead of agreeing with him, Chunky lost the friendship of the Chaplin as he turned his back and walked away, mumbling something to himself.
One evening an incident arose over the Chaplin’s refusal to take a social glass with the officers, who, along with him, had been invited to the Colonel’s tent. As the drinks were served, a custom that was popular among the officers, the Chaplin refused to accept the hospitality extended. After that, he was invited to take a glass of water. But this he also declined. His reasons for declining were sufficient, but provoked resentment. No one wanted to argue among themselves, it was hard enough fighting the enemy. They all agreed that the invitation was an act of courtesy, and the refusal was also proper.
At this time, the regiment was still on the south side of the Rappahannock. The crossing was at the United States Ford. Chunky assisted in carrying the wounded. A hefty rain fell toward the evening soaking everyone.
He was all day of the 6th on the road with the ambulance loaded with wounded. They arrived at Brooks Station Hospital, and he remained with them that night. The hospital joined the band tent. Chunky changed his rolls between nurse and band member as quick as duty called.
The removal of the wounded from the battlefield began on the 4th, a temporary hospital having been established in a brick house on the left side of the road from Chancellorsville House to United States Ford. On May 17, Sunday, on this day, it was reported that Stonewall Jackson died last Sunday. The intelligence reached us through Dr. Jenkins from a neighbouring regiment. The doctor was a brother-in-law of the deceased.
There was a man in the Company who thought he was sick. The rest of the Company thought he was playing off ill and was trying to get into the hospital off duty. He was a regular out-and-out hospital bum. He reported to the doctors, was examined, and came back to the Company with a gun and a cartridge box ready to fight. The doctors had treated him with Blue Mass, which was a dose of milk sugar, rose oil, honey, and one grain of mercury. This concoction guaranteed a sure-fire case of the “back yard trots.” This treatment was enough to cure up any man in short order.
Chunky chuckled to himself, “well, the fellow got a great send-off, and made himself scarce in a hurry. Near as I can tell, he was cured.”
Comrade Hess was struck by a minie ball above the knee. The ball went straight through, carrying the bone away with it, and splitting the bone as it crashed through it. He was lying in a little tent and unconcerned and without pain.
When Chunky found him, he said, “Well, you must go to the hospital, to the Operating table, to have your wound examined.”
Chunky had hoped the ball had gone around the bone, but it looked terrible. The holes were opposite each other. Comrade Hess was afraid to go to the- table for fear the surgeon would take off his leg, perhaps unnecessarily, so he wanted Chunky to speak to the surgeon about it. He cheerfully agreed to do so.
The doctor gave him the heartiest assurance that he would do no wrong to the patient. After placing the man under chloroform, he ran his little finger into the wound. Taking a pair of pincers from his vest pocket, he pulled out a splintered bone several inches long. Showing that the bone was severely fractured, and in fact, carried clear away. Chunky took a long piece of the bone and showed it to Mr. Hess to show him that the amputation of the limb was an absolute necessity. He seemed to be satisfied, and the operation was performed.
About this time, Chunky saw the actions of a man that he could not understand. The soldier had his gun on his shoulder, the line of battle could not stop him; the provost marshal could not stop him. Chunky saw a cavalryman strike at him with his saber, which barely missed his head. It being warded off by the gun barrel on which the blow was struck. But this thing, in the shape of a man, did not wink or dodge. But marched through the guard as if there was nothing in his line of retreat. And for all Chunky knew he was still retreating instead of going to the hospital. What happened to this soldier was as old as war itself.
The ancient Greeks called it “Divine Madness.” During the Civil War, it was called “Soldiers heart.”
Comrade William Taylor was wounded early on in the battle, and he lay for two days on the field. He usually carried a horn and played with Chunky in the band, but that day he carried a gun. He was picked up the third day by the ambulance corps and taken to the barn used by the Eleventh Corps for a hospital. Dr. Neff had loaned out Chunky to help them with removing the wounded men from the field.
After the Chief Surgeon looked over William, he thought there was little or no hope for him. So, the patient was left in the corner of the barn, alone, to wait for what comes next. He was just left there to die. That is where Chunky found him with a B-Flat horn case for a pillow, and his overcoat folded and placed under his head. A blanket was thrown over him.
But in the meantime, he had lost his coat out from under his head. And his blanket had slopped from him. Blood was running from the wound and from his eyes and nose. His lips were so swollen he could not speak. But he was conscious. Conscious enough to recognize Chunky’s voice. By prying open his mouth with a spoon, Chunky fed him some soup. It was the first food this soldier had taken since he entered the battle four days before.
Chunky went to the Chief Surgeon, told him of his friend William, and that it had been supposed he would die. Chunky was very boisterous, and he was talking louder as he said, “But he did not die! And he ought to have medical attention now.”
The Chief Surgeon went with him and looked at William and added, “…that is a fascinating case. He is a bright, strong fellow. Maybe he can pull through,” or a word to that effect.
Chunky was not too sure what he had said. The Chief surgeon did not seem to be interested in anything Chunky said.
All his life, Chunky quickly made lifetime friends, out of anyone that took the time to meet and talk with him. His massive size and big handle-bar-moustache made him look like a formattable character. But when he greeted all, with that contagious big grin, you were glad to know he was on your side.
Jonah, Chunky’s papa, had always taught him, “do not to take advantage of your size, of body, but use your strength of mind.”
From the time he was young, his papa had told him that his size could intimate anyone, but he felt it was better to have a sound educated mind. Chunky was just trying to communicate with the Chief surgeon on his level, but he would not let him.
The poor fellow had been lying there on the field, without food, drink, or shelter. It had rained, and the cavity in his head was half full of water. Dr. Neff afterward told Chunky that probably the rain had saved his life, as it kept down the inflammation.
Chunky calmly and very quietly asked the Chief Surgeon, “Sir, what should I do with this man?”
He replied, “Put him wherever you can.” That meant a great deal, or it meant nothing, as every flat space was full.
Chunky got a stretcher and another soldier to help move him to a large tent going up about one hundred yards away. He remarked to his comrade, “I suppose that is an officers’ tent, but the Chief Surgeon says we shall put you wherever we can.”
They took the man right in and lay him down. Chunky thought to himself, “He is too badly hurt for them to throw him out, if they protest, we will tell them our orders.”
But the protest did not come from the officers in the tent. The Chief Surgeon could be heard, back at the barn, yelling at the top of his longs, “just were in the heck do you think you are going with that man.”
Chunky stopped dead where he stood. The outraged doctor ran up to him and got right into his face, well at least up to his chest. The two men took a long stare at each other, anticipating their next move.
It came from Chunky, “Sir,” he said, “Sir, I enjoy working with you because there is so much, I can learn from you, that will help me become a good doctor someday.”
The Chief Surgeon shouted back at him, “You will never be able to do what you want. And you certainly cannot ever be a real doctor. They will never let you into my medical school because you are BLACK.”
Yes, Chunky was born, Charles Washington “Chunky” Godfreed, a black man whose parents were both freed slaves.
Time stood still for both men. The Chief surgeon was not too sure if he was about to get punched. But all Chunky was thinking about was the stories his papa, Jonah, had told him long ago about when Jonah was a slave. He always told Chunky that he could be whatever he wanted to be because he was born a free man. Then he flashed back to a memory from his childhood.
Jonah as a slave
It was the longest day and the shortest night in June. That day was particularly hot and long. All who endured it yearned for the cooler night-time. But the darkness did not always promise a good rest. Because of a long and wet spring that year, the bugs this time of season were in command of the night air.
A fire was kept going all day, and the smell of meat cooking over an open pit had been teasing everyone around for miles. The meal was served, and all who enjoyed it were found to be too full, to do, too much of anything. So, they all gathered around the fire pit to hide from the bugs in the smoke. Chunky made sure his father, Jonah, had a seat with a pillow on it, and he placed him in the warmest spot, next to the fire. Most of the adults drifted away, leaving the children camped out around the heat. Just a few hours ago, they were all too hot. Now the night air had a little chill, so they grabbed their blankets and set as close to the fire as they could without getting burnt. They had to keep rolling around like a pig on a spit, to keep all sides warm but not toast their fanny.
It was a voice heard from under a blanket that first broke the silence. This was what they all did in the summer next to the fire. They talked. They talked and listened to each other. They always had an interest in what someone else had done or experienced that day. This was a curiosity about someone they loved, their family. And you could share your feelings openly, without fear of being shamed. This was indeed a safe circle around the warm fire.
Jonah was asked again, “Tell us, what do you remember about slavery times.”
It took some time before he would let himself answer. His heart grew very heavy just thinking about that, far back time. “That ain’t far back enough,” as far as Jonah was concerned, he thought to himself.
With a very gruff voice, he shouted at the blanket person, and he growled, “The highest bidder gets you. He’ll carry you to his plantation.”
He snapped back and pointed with his finger as if to show how far away that was. Jonah said sharply, “Today I’s a freed man, can do what I wants.”
Jonah hit on his pipe, gave a little spit, and continued, “Back then they’d, put another on up there, Me highest bid.”
He pretended to be counting money when he told those listening to him so intensely, “whichever one bid, gives the most, he carries you to his plant, that the white, in the South.”
As the flames from the fire begin to die down a little, he mumbled to himself. No one understood what he said, and after a while, he repeated himself. It got really quiet, and it seemed like even the crickets and frogs were giving the storyteller 100% of their attention.
You could feel the pain in Jonah’s voice as he quietly spoke. “And they went to mistreating the the colored. Getting children by the colored women. And all such as that, gett’in da colored.”
For someone that usually kept his thoughts to himself, this sudden eagerness to talk was out of character for him. The family had tried in the past to get Jonah to share his life experiences as a slave with them. They only knew him as a freed man. He never talked about it before.
“Now I tell you when slavery…” he paused long enough to reach inside his shirt for some more tobacco, “…way back in slavery time, I was a good size boy then. That’s when me young.”
Jonah stretched out his arm and held his hand so high, then raised it a little. “Well my old master, he bought one, two horses, and Jonah. Now he took us all down to da farm, I recollect all of that. I was a big, big boy then. A good big boy. I’s remember my old master place. I’s remember he was a speculator. I’s remembers it, me was good big boy then.”
Then he stopped and gave great care to his corn cob pipe as he emptied and loaded it with fresh weed. The two of them were great friends, and they gave each other comfort and conversation when nobody else was around. They now held a captive audience that eagerly waited for what he had to say next.
“He had a big old shed, dar. And he, and he had cotton all in that shed, and we boys would all go up and play in that shed every day.” Jonah could see that they were quietly listening to him with great respect for the story he was telling.
“And he had wagon, every, everyday he’d load up all them wagon and take all that cotton and go off, go off far. Now you see, that, that was in slavery time. I recollect just as well, and he’d bring back whole lot the colored people. The overseer, Black Adam say, master was speculator. And he sell them to all these people round this country. Him name just Adam, but we calls him Black Adam cuse he mean to other colored folks.”
Jonah wiggled his southern end on his seat as to resemble movement. “I recall that my old, my old papa was his wagoner.” He pretended to grab the reins and drive the wagon. He even made a snap sound as he showed how the whip was used.
“I used to go, he used to carry me with him all the time. Used to haul cotton, carry cotton in that wagon.” He tried to take a puff, it was out, so he relit it. And took a big spit. “They’d carry cotton over here and weigh it up at a place they call uh, forgot that place name now. Carry cotton there and weigh it. I’s remember he used to be, he used to always work.”
Flexing his muscles to get a laugh from his sober audience, he proudly proclaimed, “I was good, big boy at the time, and master had a oxen, had a old, had a oxen, had a old oxen name Steamboat. That how come papa was his wagoner. And I’d ride old Steamboat, ride old Steamboat, drive the rest of them. My britches soaked with Steamboat sweating on me. Ride him, till I get tired and get down, then walk side of them.”
“Well, old Steamboat get tired, and just set down. Overseer Black Adam says get that whip, get on that, get this whip and get on it. As soon as Steamboat heard that whip he gave out a big snort from the rear end and started off on his own in the direction of the barn with wagon, cotton, papa.”
Jonah found someplace, especially deep in his heart, and come up with a belly shaker of a laugh that was contagious to everyone. It continued until it was apparent Jonah was out of breath. Then again, very quietly, he said, “Papa die when I’s young.”
The fire snapped a spark of life, and he watched the ambers float up to the heavens. “That, that was in slavery time, that was old slavery time, it was. And I remembers. I can tell you some more bout slavery time.”
The children used one word to give their approval of the oral history lesson. They all responded as if they were in church together, with a moan of, “more.” After relighting the pipe, but not taking a toke,
Jonah smiled, showing he had no teeth left, he said “And was an old log jailhouse. And all around I recollect one time, we all was looking at it. And they, and they brought in, had hounds. And they brought them hound in and brought three colored with them hound, runaway colored, you know, caught in the wood.”
After taking a hit off his pipe Jonah continued “And they, right, right across, right at the creek there, they take them colored and put them on, and put them on a log lay them down and fasten them. And whup em. You hear them boys hollering and praying on them logs. And there was a colored whup them. He gets whup his self if not do bad enough. Then they take them out down there and put them in jail. No one, no tell, what take place with them colored after. I don’t know, to tell you the truth when I think of it today, I don’t know how I’m living. None, none of the rest of them that I know of is living. I’m the oldest one that I know that’s living.”
Jonah glanced up at the night sky and said “But, still, I’m thankful to the Lord. Now, if, uh, if the overseer wanted send me, he never say, you could get a horse and ride. You walk, you know, you walk. And you be barefooted and collapse. That didn’t make no difference. You wasn’t no more than a dog to some of them in them days. You wasn’t treated as good as they treat dogs now. But still I didn’t like to talk about it. Because it makes, makes people feel bad you know. Uh, I, I could say a whole lot I don’t like to say. And I won’t say a whole lot more.”
The silence of the audience was interrupted by a question from Chunky, “Well, was your father a songster like you, papa?”
Jonah had been taught by his papa to play many different instruments. He passed on this love of music to his son Chunky. And even as an older man, Jonah’s voice was always heard like an angel in church or out singing in the field. “Papa, your grand-pap, played nothing but old hymns, da hymns, papa was regular church man.”
The old man remembered his younger days and said “When I’s young, I didn’t, just hollered reels, just fiddled and reel, you know, all the time, my singing. Everywhere you hears me you hear me singing a song, a reel. And out in the field that’s what I’d do. Hollering, singing reels.” One of the youngest listeners spoke very softly, “And what was it you sang about, Jonah, the cotton?” He replied, “About uh, little Joe. Little Joe, my Sam told me to pick a little cotton, the boy says don’t for the seeds all rotten. My Sam told me to pick a little cotton. My boy says don’t, the seeds all rotten. Get out of the way, old Dan Tucker. Come too late to get your supper. That’s all I remembers bout dat one.”
“I do remember,” he paused, “Well I’ll tell you, uh, things come to me in spells, you know. I remember things, uh, more when I’m laying down than I do when I’m standing or when I’m walking around. Well, I belonged to, uh, master, when I was a slave. My mama belonged to master, but, uh, we, uh, was all slave children.”
Jonah shared some more memories of his youth with his listeners “Now in my boy days, why, uh, boys lived quite different from the way they live now. But boys wasn’t as mean as they are now either. Boys lived too, they had a good time. The masters da, didn’t treat them bad. And they was always satisfied. They never wore no shoes until they was twelve or thirteen year. And now people put on shoes on babies you know, when they’re two year, when they month old. I be, I don’t know how old they are. Put shoes on babies. Just as soon as you see them out in the street they got shoes on. I told a woman the other day, I said, I never had no shoes till I was thirteen years old.”
She say, “Well but you bruise your feet all up, and stump your toes.”
I say, “Yes, many time I’ve stump my toes, and blood run out them. That didn’t make them buy me no shoes.”
“And back then, I been worn a dress like a woman till I was, I believe ten, twelve, thirteen-year-old,”
A question could be heard, coming from under a blanket, from someone with a feminine voice that was thought to be fast asleep, “So you wore a dress, Jonah?
He answered, “Yes. I didn’t wear no pants, and, of curse didn’t make boys’ pants. Boys wore dresses. Now only womens wearing the dresses, and the boys wearing the pants.”
Jonah pointed to the person lying under the blanket and said to her, “Colored people didn’t have no beds when they was slaves. We always slept on the floor, pallet here, and a pallet there. Just like, uh, lot of, uh, wild people, we didn’t, we didn’t know nothing. Didn’t allow you to look at no book. And then there was some free born colored people, why they had a little education, but there was very few of them, where we was.”
The more Jonah spoke to his audience, the more he thought of memories to share with them. “And they all had uh, what you call, I might call it now, uh, jail centers, was just the same as we was in jail. Now I couldn’t go from here across the street, or I couldn’t go through nobody’s house without I have a note, or something from my master. And if I had that pass, that was what we call a pass, if I had that pass, I could go wherever he sent me. And I’d have to be back, you know, when uh. Whoever he sent me to, they, they’d give me another pass and I’d bring that back so as to show how long I’d been gone. We couldn’t go out and stay a hour or two hours, must be something like they send you.”
Some of the children were having a hard time believing what they heard. Yet they were eager to hear what Jonah has to say next “But I couldn’t just walk away like the people does now, you know. It was what they call, we were slaves. We belonged to people. They’d sell us like they sell horses and cows and hogs and all like that. Have a auction bench, and they’d put you on, up on the bench and bid on you just same as you bidding on cattle you know.”
The pain from years ago was very present in his voice when Jonah said “Selling women, selling men. All that. Then if they had any bad ones, they’d sell them to the Black Traders, what they called, the Black Traders. And they’d ship them down south and sell them down south. But, uh, otherwise if you was a good, good person they wouldn’t sell you. But if you was bad and mean, they want to beat you and knock you around, they’d sell you what to the, what was call the Black Trader. They’d have a regular, have a sale every month, you know, at the courthouse. And then they’d sell you, and get two hundred-dollar, hundred dollar, five hundred dollar.”
Jonah stared at the ground, kicked at the dirt under his feet and said “Oh, they had a terrible time. Husbands, wives, families, all violently separated, torn apart. Sold to different place, probably never to meet again. Colored people that’s free ought to be awful thankful. When I was in slavery you can’t never do what you want. Now that I’s freed man I can tell me what to do, nobody else. Now in these times you-all here can do what’s ever you want. You can choose which way you go down dat road.” Jonah smiled at them with that toothless grin again.
The children witness his big smile melt into a very long sad face. He took a deep breath and began again, “If I thought, had any idea, that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away. Because you’re nothing but a dog. You’re not a thing but a dog. Night never comed out, you had nothing to do. Time to cut tabacca, if they want you to cut all night long out in the field, you cut. And if they want you to hang all night long, you hang, hang tabacca. It didn’t matter about your tired, being tired. You’re afraid to say you’re tired. They just say, well work.”
Jonah drifted off into a private memory, and by the dim light of the fading fire, you could see his eyes water. After a long pause, Jonah took a deep breath and gave out a long sigh. He used his pipe once again as a pointer and motioned up to the heavens. “When papa died it left us small children just to live on whatever people choose to, uh, give us. I was, I was bound out for a dollar a month. And my mama used to collect the money. Children wasn’t, couldn’t spend money when I come along. In, in, in fact when I come along, young men, young men couldn’t spend no money until they was twenty-one year old. And then you was twenty-one, why then you could spend your money. But if you wasn’t twenty-one, you couldn’t spend no money.”
Jonah kept on speaking but got a little quiet when he said “And my mama, she bound us out for a dollar a month, and we stay there maybe a couple of year. And, she’d come over and collect the money every month. And a dollar was worth more then, than ten dollars is now. And I, and the men used to work for one dollar a month, twelve dollars a year. Used to hire that a way. And, uh, now you can’t get a man for, five dollars a month. You paying a man now five dollars a month, he don’t want to work for it.”
There was a long pause. Finally, someone broke the silence, “You’re not getting tired, are you Jonah?” When he did not answer right away, all who were still awake assumed the answer was yes.
But after taking a long breath and looking around at who was still up, Jonah began again. “I was thinking about oh, now you know how we served the Lord when I come along, a boy? We would go to somebody’s house. And uh, well we didn’t have no houses likes they got now, you know. We had these what they call log cabin. And they have one, old colored man maybe one would be there, maybe he’d be as old as I am. And he’d be the preacher. Not as old as I am now, but, he’d be the preacher, and then we all sit down and listen at him talk about the Lord. Well, he’d say, well I wonder, uh, sometimes you say I wonder if we’ll ever be free. Well, some of them would say, well, we going to go ask the Lord to free us.”
Jonah folded his hands together, closed his eyes, and began to pray, “Our father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. Give us this day our daily bread. Just like in that day. Deliver us not only from temptation but deliver us from sinning or and forever dying. Oh, calling on our God this night.” Jonah opened his eyes and raised his hands to the sky, “Whereas old time days. Calling down on all of you this night. Calling on you holy, holy, days. Oh a, Lord have mercy. Your mercy keeps us going. Sometime up. Sometime we are down Lord. Oh, Lord. Prophet give me. We are poor, tore down. Oh Lord King, help us round and round about way this evening for Jesus. Oh, Lord, have mercy. Your mercy give us strength. Oh, calling on our Lord God this night. Oh, Lord up there in heaven. Oh, Lord. Take us there oh Lord. We don’t want to wear these chains. Oh, what you need, put it in the trust of the same God of Israel.”
Jonah braced himself with his hands on his knees and stood up slowly. He looked around for some more wood to put on the fire. Large sparks hurled themselves skyward when he tossed on more fuel and brought the fire back to life. The light from the flames lit up the faces of the listeners, and to his surprise, all eyes were open.
Almost at once, two children asked the same curious question. “Just how old are you, Jonah?”
He had a great big toothless smile when he answered them, “I really don’t know. I born in slavery. Now I can’t tell you my own age. Hmm? You know why I say, I don’t really like to talk about it. I don’t know my own age, but I was born in slavery. I didn’t born free. I born in the old slavery. That’s the time I come up.”
Jonah relit his pipe. He took a big puff and blew out a perfect white smoke ring. Then poked his finger right through the center of it as he began to finish his storytelling. “I was born in that, uh, born in Africa. And come to the United States. You see that was in slavery time. They sold the colored people. They sold the colored people. And they bringing them from the Africa. And they brought me from Africa. I was a boy child.”
All the captive colored people on a slave ship had a horrible time. Jonah experienced this, not only as a slave but also as a small motherless child chained to adults that were fighting for food and water. They kept the men and women separated on the slave ship. Jonah had to fight for survival as a small child chained to men that wanted to kill him for his rations.
He spoke with a real fear in his voice, “The colored folks want to throw me off the boat coming from Africa. Them other coloreds say,”
“Throw him overboard!”
I was in cuffs. Just a sprout boy child chained in cuffs.
They all shout, that the Black traders, “throw him overboard, let the damn whale swallow him like he done Jonah.”
“Hadn’t have been, the colored one want to throw me off, hadn’t have been for the Captain of the boat. Captain of the boat was a white man, but the colored is the one wants to throw me off the boat. The colored, the colored people always did hate me from a child. Bringing me from Africa, the colored want to throw me off the boat. They say,”
“Throw him overboard, cuss. Throw him overboard. Let the, cuss, let the cuss just go feed the whale.”
Another puff, another smoke ring, and he continued, “They bring us from Africa, Liberia Africa, where I was brought from. And put in the United States. Me know, the southern people bought colored folks, put you up on a block and sell you, bid you off. The highest bidder gets you. Highest bidder gets you. And they got to mistreating them so.”
Jonah told how he came to America “Oh. I was in, in uh, when they went to New Orleans, that’s where they sold the people. The man that raised me, he buy me. The man raised me buy me. They would try to put you up on the block to sell you. He was master Jake. The man was master Jake. He name me Jonah that’s the name I go in now. Jonah. He name me. Jonah cuse them coloreds want to toss me to that whale. I got my last name some time ago, later.”
Word count: 6984