A Short Excerpt from

Chapter One: Life on the Plantation

Betsey was awoken by the sound of Susan’s voice, “Get up sleepy head!” Susan playfully pulled the pillow out from under Betsey’s head and yanked the bed sheet back. The young slave girl responded groggily, “Give me a minute” as she rubbed her eyes. “Daddy’s taking us into town today, I just can’t wait. Do you think he will let us see the ships again?”

Betsey sat up, “You know he will. He lets you do anything you want.” Susan smiled, “Of course, I am his only daughter. Now get ready, I don’t want him to leave without us.” Susan skipped out of the room as Betsey finished the slow process of waking up.

The room itself was both rustic and grand. The oak boards that covered the walls and ran across the floor came from trees felled not far away by Betsey’s father and the other slaves on the Bryant’s White Oak Plantation. While the walls and floor were of simple but fashionable design, the adornments of the room were elegant and possibly gaudy. Overly elaborate wooden designs weaved their way through the legs and drawers of the dresser, nightstand, and the young girl’s bed. It made a stark contrast with the simple sheet laid out on the floor next to the finely carved bed.

The former belonged to the plantation owner’s daughter, Susan. The latter was the humble (and often uncomfortable) sleeping arrangement provided for Betsey, Susan’s attending slave and best friend. Despite their vastly different conditions at birth, the two seemed destined to be best friends. Their ties ran so deep they had even been born on the same day, eleven years ago, and just a few minutes apart. When Betsey turned four Master James Allen decided it would be best for her to move into Susan’s room to attend to her and keep her company. Betsey’s father did not object and ever since she had shared Susan’s room— or at least the rough oak floor.

Both girls were filled with the energy and excitement of youth. Susan, a blond haired pixie that flittered about, with a short attention span and an unceasing tongue, rarely slowed down to rest. Betsey, her sandy haired and darker skinned companion, was much more wily and thoughtful, but no less energetic. Together they rambled through her father’s fields, explored the outskirts of the local swamps, and generally caused trouble for the household’s slaves. They acted with a childlike and benevolent mischievousness that permitted them to get away with things other children would surely be punished for. Everyone on the plantation thrilled at hearing of Susan and Betsey’s misadventures and hijacks. Most of all Master Allen found their tales delightfully enjoyable and often laughed heartily at their stories.

Today was another opportunity for Master Allen to enjoy the girls company and their interesting yarns. It was Monday, the day Susan’s father went into town. He usually brought Susan and Betsey along. Monday trips to town had been a tradition since Susan was four years old. It gave Susan something to look forward to each weak, a change of pace from the isolated and slow moving plantation life.

“Come on Betsey, get moving! Seriously, I am going to be so mad if daddy leaves without us.” Sue grabbed Betsey’s clothes from the small austere dresser in the corner and threw them at her.

“Calm down Sue,” Betsey grabbed her clothes and stepped behind an ornamental partition to get dressed. “He wouldn’t leave without you, and you know it.”

“Stop talking and get dressed. I don’t want to wait much longer.” Susan ran out of the room and down the hall to her father’s study. Betsey stepped out from behind the partition dressed in her simple and rather plain adornments- much different from the clothes Sue wore on special days like this. Betsey’s shoes were a little tight and well worn from much use; her shirt was weathered and its colors had faded significantly; and her pants were nothing more than sown together sackcloth.

Betsey had grown used to Susan’s erratic behavior. One moment Susan was her best friend, sharing the joys of childhood, the next Susan was a diminutive tyrant, bossing Betsey around with impunity. It was at those times, when Susan exercised harsh control over Betsey, not as a friend, but as a slave, that Betsey remembered her position in life. She was a slave, although Susan was often very nice to her and treated her as an equal; such was a privilege, and not a right. The reality was harsh, Betsey was born a slave; she would live as a slave; and she would die as a slave. However, Betsey preferred not to think of such troubling things. It was nice to put them out of her mind until matters forced her to deal with them. For now, she was Susan’s best friend and that was good enough.

To be continued at a later date…

  1. Teresa says:

    This reminds me of Fredrick Douglas’ similar accounts of being loaned out to fill a similar role to a boy named “Tommy” in Baltimore…kind of protector, play-mate, bodyguard, au paire…

    Well done.

  2. “This reminds me of Fredrick Douglas’ similar accounts…”

    It was quite common for black and white children to play together in a manner that is surprising to us considering way we would expect in a slave owning society. However, this only lasted until the black children were old enough (somewhere between 6 and 12) to be put to work somewhere on the plantation. Some black children (especially those who might have been fathered by the master himself) could remain in the role of playmate and personal servant to the master’s children even longer.

    These relationships as recounted by both the master’s children (in their autobiographies) and the slaves (in slave narratives) were complicated and layered relationships. Sometimes the children would break the law and teach their slave playmate how to read. Often the bonds of friendship ran quite deep, but there was always a pervading sense of tyrannical authority.

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