This is a draft of the first chapter of Sally’s Story.
In January, 1838, a wealthy politician bought 18 year old Sally, and her daughter, to be his concubine. Sally bore him several children, and saw him through some major scandals. He died a few months before the end of the Civil War, but Sally remained on his plantation for the rest of her life. This is Sally’s story.
The central characters are real people. I have his diary, excerpts from his letters, his biography – written by a distinguished historian – and the benefit of excellent academic work on the antebellum South. I’m using “critical fabulation” to create a popular novel of an almost undocumented slice of American life. It’s a mystery to me why I feel called to write this story, but I do. I mean, a white guy writing about an enslaved woman’s life 180 years ago? What could possibly go wrong?
If not everything, I guess I’ll find out. Feedback welcome in the comments. They’re moderated, and if you don’t want your comment published just say so.
“Pack up, Sally. You’ve been sold. New master’s getting you this morning.” Edinboro, the head house servant, paused to make sure Sally heard him. “You’ll be gone in an hour. Get moving.”
Sally looked up from her sewing. “What about Louisa?”
Edinboro shrugged. “She didn’t say.”
Sally put her work down and stood up. “Then I’ll go find out.”
Edinboro drew himself up to his full height, an inch more than Sally, and said, “Wait here. Mistress is busy. I’ll ask.”
Sally, stared into his eyes, unblinking, jaw set. “The hell you will. I’ll hear it from her.”
She brushed past him as he sputtered. This time of the mornng mistress would be in the parlor, taking coffee.
She gave a quick curtsy and a tentative smile. “Ma’am.”
Mistress put her cup and saucer on a side table before looking at Sally. A small, tidy woman, with a good figure, she was only a few years older than Sally. Not for the first time Sally thought she was too young to be a widow.
When she looked up her face was an expressionless mask. Sally’s smile faded.
“What is it Sally? You are to gather your things. You’re going to a new home. Your master has a train to catch, so no dawdling.”
Sally opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. She gathered herself and finally, in a croak, said, “Louisa?”
“Yes, Louisa is going with you.”
“Thank the Lord. But, mistress. . . .”
“Sally, I have no time for your questions. You are leaving in the hour. Bring your work basket to Harriet and dress warmly. I’m sorry to sell you, but the banking crisis forced my hand. Now go.”
Her mind racing, Sally curtsied mechanically, and left without a word. An hour! She could bundle up her few belongings and Louisa, but she would never be able to walk four blocks to see Jimmy. She’d leave word that she’d said goodbye. The train ride likely meant she’d never see him again.
Tears started to well up as she stumbled across the yard to the quarters, a row of low rooms next to the stable. But she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and squeezed them back. Time enough for tears later.
Sally gathered her belongings, the ones she wasn’t wearing. One skirt, one blouse, one pair of cotton stockings, a white apron, a heavy shawl, a threadbare handkerchief, a fabric belt, some needles and thread, and a battered hairbrush.
Louisa already had most of her clothes on to keep warm. Sally bundled their belongings into a blanket that she could hold under one arm while she held Louisa with the other.
Keeping one ear cocked for an arriving carriage, she started down the row of small, low rooms to say her goodbyes.
“No, I don’t know where I’m off to, but if it means a train ride, it must be a ways.”
“Lord knows if I’ll ever come back to Columbia. I hope so. I like the city.”
“Please, Betty, tell Jimmy I said farewell. He is the sweetest man, and I’m sorry I don’t have time for a proper parting.”
Betty winked and smiled, almost enough to hide the sadness around her eyes. “I’ll see what I can do, Sally. He is a sweet and handsome man.”
“Oh, Betty, if you’re trying to make me jealous, well, you are.” But then she heard the clicking of carriage wheels on the cobblestone drive of the big house.
“That must be him, Betty. I got to go.”
Betty wrapped her arms around Sally and Louisa, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll miss you. I hope your new folks are kindly.”
“Thank you, Betty. I’ll miss you something fierce. Take care of yourself and try not to forget me. Now I must fly.”
Sally hurried into the big house through the back door. As she stepped into the main hall she saw, at the far end, missus smiling up at a well dressed man.
As she walked towards them, she prayed, her heart pounding, “Please Lord, let him be kind to me and Louisa.”
Sally tried to step lightly, but the sound of her wooden-soled brogues on the plank floor sounded like thunder. Halfway to the front door mistress looked back at her, and said brightly, “Jim, here’s your girl now. Must you go so soon?”
“Indeed. The train waits for no man.”
Sally blanched at the sound of his voice. She knew this man. He had taken her before. Now he would own her.
James Hammond turned to the girl with a contented smile. He nodded as he savored her dismay. Sally was a long coveted prize. And now she was his, to use as he pleased.
If the missus questioned why a wealthy and vigorous man would buy a beautiful young woman, she gave no sign. “God speed, Mr. Hammond,” she said. Without a further word she turned away and walked back into the drawing room.