The railroad gets stronger and more and more people are escaping to the North and beyond to Canada. I have to be careful because there are spies everywhere. Mr. and Mrs. Williamson and their two children have left us and gone to New York. Some say that Mr. Williamson must now be regarded as a traitor because he has gone to join the enemy of the South. Their house was burned to the ground yesterday and a sign placed where it had once stood that read ‘here once lived a man who is no more’. There is growing tension all around and Papa says that we may soon have to move somewhere safer as he does not trust what is happening all around us. Mama wants us to go to Papa’s cousin in France. Papa has refused, he is the Church Minister for this area and he feels he cannot desert the people that need his Pastoral care. There is talk between my parents of a move to the west region of Virginia. This idea has not been dismissed and indeed a move may take place very soon. It is not too far from Papa’s parishioners and I hear an area not so severe, not so ponderous, in its decrees.
I have tried to write regularly in my journal for many months but with very little success. For some peculiar reason it has pressed strongly upon my heart to do so now. I hold no delusions of grandeur with regard my writing skills for I know that I am not much of a writer. Mama says my talking skills far outweigh my writing skills but I feel, as I am now nearly eighteen years of age I should try and act more to my age. So it is settled, I, Mary Laurelle Laboufe will try and write in this journal on regular occasions or as time permits. Who knows maybe one day someone will read it and be inspired?
February 4th 1860
Last night was an adventure that ended well but could have been so disastrous. It is with a thankful heart to God that I write. For last night we had to hide in a cave from the murderous Night-riders. They came with flaming torches and ferocious dogs in search of the family we were helping to flee to the North. The dogs were so wild. I truly believe that the Night-riders purposely starve those poor creatures to make them more deadly and menacing so as to serve their evil purpose. I will write more of this event later as too many things are happening here in the South. There seems to be an undercurrent of unrest. I dare not write what everyone is saying for fear that if I do it might make it come true. Despite this unsettling feeling things are still happening as normal. Today we all shall be in attendance at the Melton’s home to dine and I dare say there will be some dancing. The women, I am sure, will adorn themselves with beautiful ball gowns and the men, as usual, will be handsomely turned out. If there is one thing that cannot be denied about the South it is our ability to hold a function and try to outshine each other. It has been said and is indeed a well-known fact that we Southern bells are well versed with glamour and cordiality for such functions.
Although I have not written for a long time I do have a good excuse. Something has happened. I was married. My husband is Charles Ellington Jameson. He is a very prestigious lawyer and from a fine Southern family. He has a twin brother called Rupert who is equally just as handsome and a very much sought after beau. I love Charles so much. I am just so happy. Our courtship was very brief. Charles had just returned from Europe when we met at the Spring Festival Ball. Some say I must be careful, as it has all happened so fast. They say, his family though rich, appears somewhat strange and secretive but I feel fine. Charles’ family has received me with much love and taken to me as one of their children. For this I am happy and that is what matters.
Everything is happening so quickly all around us now. No one can ignore the tension all around. Men are either secretly or openly volunteering for service in the army. Will there be a war? Will these issues not be resolved in an amicable fashion?
I still love him. I know this will last forever. People think that because I am young I don’t know true love. I do. Charles is so caring and gentle, so patient and so very kind. He treats people with respect and I have never heard him say an unkind word to anyone.
We are to travel soon and I don’t know if I will write much while we are away.
December 4th 1860
Things are strange.
The inevitable has happened.
Preparations are being made for the possibility of war. The South intends withdrawal from the Union, by doing so war is sure to be declared.
South Carolina has seceded. They have removed themselves from the Union. They are no longer part of the United States of America. I heard from a reliable source that Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas are soon to follow. What is to become of Unity? Surely from time immemorial strength has been found in unity.
America cannot be divided and remain strong.
Charles has traveled on a secret mission. I suspect to spy for the South but I have no evidence for my claim.
I still help as much as I can with the railroad. For some reason even though I have shared many secrets with Charles I have not shared this one. I don’t know what holds me back. I have never told a soul what my family does as I have always been made to believe that the person that can betray you is one that is close to you, the one you confide in unwisely.
March 4th 1861
Abraham Lincoln, our new President, was inaugurated today. He is against secession. Will a resolution occur soon? I pray so. For the rumors are very strong here, we hear that more States are preparing to leave the Union. A lot of promises have been made but Papa says that not many of them will be fulfilled.
War is upon us. An attack on Fort Sumter yesterday has caused the declaration of war. Now what we have feared most is upon us. The men of the South are delirious. They have longed to go out and fight. They have relentlessly called for war! Now they are determined to go and defeat their brothers in the North. Defeat their brothers—these are truly sad words. Papa told me of a most peculiar discussion that arose in the Great Hall not many days ago. It was during a debate that brother would not fight brother; the North would not fight the South. He said that a drunken man stood up and referred to Cain killing his brother Abel in the Bible, he justified the need for brother to rise up against brother. A quiet man pointed out that even though this event did occur, God was angered by it. The drunken man then asked if this was the case why God allowed it to happen. To which the quiet man replied that God gave man free will to do the right thing and even when men did wrong He did not take the free will away. It was the duty of man to learn from mistakes made and not repeat them for if the mistake was repeated then nothing was learned. I fear that not much has been learned and again a mistake is about to be repeated.
After only one month of fighting much casualty has been suffered, mainly by the South. Spirits are high but numbers are not so high. I hear what is being said and I pray that this will not be a long war. Charles has gone on another mission. He says we are safe here, as the fighting will not come this far west of Virginia. Is this ignorance on his part or does he know more than he tells?
In April past, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina seceded. They joined the Confederacy. Most of us here in the west region of Virginia do not wish to secede like the rest of Virginia. We want to remain a part of the Union. Talks are underway to make it so and in a few days it is said that we will be known as West Virginia.
On a piece of paper dated 1862
War changes many things. Where there was light is replaced with darkness. Where there was once hope is replaced with hopelessness. Yet the South still fights on. Many have died, many have been lost in what they call missing in action. These men are not dead. They just do not know where they are. This war is tearing everything apart.
Part of a letter dated 1863
I am glad that you and your family are safe and well. We have heard so much about the devastation the war has caused. Dear cousin our prayers are with you all. Here in Italy we are frantic to hear some news of our loved ones back home. It was such an enchantment to receive your letter, though it contained much sad news regarding the many deaths of people we both knew. I was so sad to hear about you and Charles, pray tell me dear one, how has Charles changed? You do not state how. Is this a lovers tiff? You know he loves you so.
Charles has destroyed most of my journals. I only have this one, and a few pieces of the pages I managed to salvage from my old diary. Why has he done this? What possessed him to do this?
Yesterday he gave me a lecture in the presence of his brother Rupert and Rupert’s dinner guest from Mississippi, on how Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and America were built on the backs of slave labor. Rupert then tried to justify the evil. He said that the White man’s only fault, if it could even be called a fault, was to take advantage of a system that was already established. For if the Africans were not already divided and the stronger people not themselves taking the weaker ones as slaves, if they had not gone about themselves raiding neighboring villages and capturing people to use as slaves then the White man would not have been able to take advantage of the situation. Rupert said that no one could have exploited a situation if that situation did not exist in the first instance. He coldly added that the White men just went a step further and transported the slaves to America instead of another African village. I was appalled at his casual justification and pointed out that if White people saw that things were done wrongly in Africa in the first instance they should have tried to correct them not exploit the situation. I know I should have said nothing but I could not keep quiet. I dare say I spoke out most passionately against slavery, something a Southern lady does not do. In the heat of the moment I shouted out that slavery was an evil that existed among men from time in memorial and was fuelled by hate and a lack of love and that the White men had failed God in Africa by showing evil when they should have shown love. The men laughed at me and called me naive. Charles immediately asked his mother to take me out of the room, he excused my behavior by saying I had consumed too much wine and needed to sober myself up and recollect my thoughts. He said I had recently read an article written by a known female activist and misunderstood the madness she had written. He told them that my young mind could not comprehend such delicate and sophisticated matters. As soon as Rupert and the other guest left I was severely chastised by Charles and ordered to stay in my room for two days. I was warned never to talk about such matters again in a public forum. I would have argued my point some more but I saw something in his eyes that told me not to cross him so I said nothing.
April 10th 1863
I read that Abraham Lincoln was to do great deeds soon. There is great fear and anger here in the South regarding the Emancipation Proclamation. I have followed everything secretly. I pretend that I cannot understand everything these men suited in their military regalia say at the dinner table but I do. They treat their horses as more intelligent than us women, heaven forbid that we should have an opinion of any sort that is not related to ribbons, bonnets or dresses. I have learned the fine art of smiling and saying pretty nothings, but my heart burns at the injustice that I see all around me.
Mama warned me today to keep my guard up. There are spies everywhere. I have not written for a few days because it seems that Charles is always watching me. He seems happy then unhappy, more of the latter whenever he visits with his father.
Piece of paper dated 1863 (month not indicated)
We have just been informed that Moses and Colonel Montgomery had success in their mission. We are all excited at their success but we all have to pretend that we are not. This war has made us all great actors, Papa, Mama and I. We smile when we want to cry and cry when our hearts are euphoric.
In a dark pool in a dark room would you pull out more darkness or would you look for that speck of light with all your might? And once you find it, retrieve it and place it on a stand so that everyone in the dark would uphold that speck. And that speck would be a sight to behold. What a sight! One of overwhelming magnificence! Revered and treasured. A sight to be beheld! Enjoyed and cherished by the beholder.
Is there an end? The loss is severe. These men were once children, these children once loved. Now all that remains is a name and date on a letter. Many mothers have received such letters. Some mothers have heard the name of their loved one read from a list by Mr. Thomas, the Post Master. I have heard so many anguished cries from people with broken hearts. This war, as all wars, has claimed so much. Will this war be forgotten? Never!
I have to be so careful. This war has done so much to so many. It has turned trust into suspicion and love to hate. Recently I have been in reflection of a sermon Papa once gave. It was about 1st Samuel chapter 8. Where, the people asked for a king. They rejected God as their King and asked for a human king. The prophet Samuel warned them that the king would take their sons and make them work for him. The king would appoint their sons to fight in his wars. Papa called it a prophetic vision. Many were angered at his words. Completely unperturbed Papa spoke of John Newton who lived in England nearly one hundred years ago. He told them that John Newton penned the song ‘Amazing Grace’ in 1772 and that it is said to be based upon the words of King David in the Bible, written in First Chronicles chapter 17 verses 16-17. Papa informed them that many believed it was penned after John Newton realized the error of the Slave Trade. Despite a few embarrassed looks and coughs no one said anything. Papa then read these words from a book,
I am a man albeit Black!
I am a man albeit White!
We are men!
I am a man that is Black!
You are a man that is White!
We are men!
This I thought would cause an outrage for sure but I dare say I don’t think the people possessed the wherewithal to understand such potent words. They readily understand ‘hate’ but cannot seem to fathom ‘love’.
I am with child and as such it should be a time of great joy but I am filled with such unbearable tribulation. When we first were married I had heard it said that something was a little strange and secretive about Charles’ family. I chose to ignore the rumors and followed my heart. Today I have learned of something from Charles’ mother that has shocked me to my very soul. My husband, Charles Ellington Jameson and his brother Rupert are half Black! As a result of my confronting my husband I have been told that I will be confined to my rooms during the last four months before I have my child. I write this with trembling hands. The hate I saw in Charles’ eyes scared me so. His strange family fooled everyone for many years. His father’s wife, the woman that Charles calls Mama, could not bear children. His father forced himself on one of the young house servants several times until she was with child. She had twins. They took the children and sold the mother to another plantation. They raised the boys, Charles and Rupert, as White, but even worse they raised them to hate Black people. To abhor their own people! This is the secret that was kept so dear to him and his family but now I am to have our first child, Charles’ mother thought it best to tell me in case my baby looks Black or Mulatto. She was in such a flustered manner as she revealed to me a particular conversation. She said that she had overheard Rupert and his father discuss my unborn child and say that if the baby does not look White then they will kill it and Charles and I could try again for a White baby. My merciful God forbid that I allow this to happen. God forbid!
April 15th 1865
It is a sad day. Abraham Lincoln was shot yesterday while he watched a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theater in Washington. He died this morning. America has lost a great man. History will remember all he did. I do not think that his ‘true’ light will ever be extinguished. I think he will be remembered for a long time. There is a question that begs to be answered. What will happen now to the freedom of slaves in the South?
On a piece of paper barely attached to the journal dated 1865
I am writing this journal because I want my family to be one that is remembered for many things, one being love. I was born in 1842 and named Mary Laurelle Leboufe and I was part of the Underground Railroad. That is all I am willing to write for now about my activities but as soon as I get my unborn child safely to Europe where the bounty my husband’s family has placed on my head cannot be redeemed then I will be safe to write more. I just want people to know that there are many of us who abhorred the trade of slaves and have helped to free them. It has cost me a life built on a lie but I am glad because when you have looked into the eyes of people you love and seen visions of hell like I have you ask yourself many questions. I want the people that come after me to know the complete truth. For there are many hateful lies that have already been told about so many of us that tried to help. This journal that I have written and protected and the many more that I hope to write, will reveal the many secrets that for now have to remain hidden and untold, to protect those that I love.
The war is over. At last the war is over. I am escaping my terror to—
Julius tried to read the word written nearly one hundred years ago. “Did she escape? What happened to her and her baby?” He asked himself. With a pounding heart, he tried desperately to see if the next word after terror was ‘to-day’ or ‘to-morrow’. The rest of the word and those that followed were too faded to read. It seemed strange that the words written prior were legible and yet these words were not. It was as if someone had pressed a ‘pause’ button and no matter how hard he tried, he could move no further. After several futile attempts, frustration crept in. He placed the journal on the table next to his bed, curled up and went to sleep.
“Julius! Julius it is time. Come we must get ready for our long journey to America. Julius wake up it is time.” Antonio picked up the journal as Julius slowly rolled over then stretched. “I will go and pack this safely in my luggage. One day your children will read this so I must keep it safe like my Papa kept it safe, no?”
“Si Papa,” Julius said as he climbed out of his bed and excitedly rushed to get ready.
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