Storyline taken from Runaway to Freedom, by Barbara Smucker
Part One: The Promise
Let me tell you the story of how I came to be free in this great Land of Peace.
I was once a slave in the deep dark land of Sinful Misery where a cruel Master of Bitterness ruled us poor sinners. It had not always been that way. When I was a young girl, I was living with my mammy at the No-Chain plantation in Lesser Sin. We knew we had things better off than other folks. The Master there didn’t beat us and we had our own little house together.
I felt safe with my mammy there, though she did have to work in the Master’s house every day. She was a tall, proud woman, my mammy. One day she said to me, “Julie child, I have heard folks say there is a place where slaves are free. It is called Peace Land, but don’t you tell anyone. Just remember what I say.”
I did remember it. I sang it to myself in sleep and whispered it in the fields when I was sent out to grow selfishness crops, because the Master said I was big enough to do my share then. Mammy cried about it. “You are just a child still,” she said. But it was the day that the slave traders from deep in Sinful Misery came that I saw she was afraid.
“Master No-Chain is selling us all off,” she said, “and we might be pulled apart, child. Don’t you forget what I told you about Peace Land. Someday we will meet there.”
I was afraid, but what could I do when the cruel taskmaster pointed his whip at me and said, “Get in that cart, or else—!” I learned later his name was Bitterness, and it fit him well. We never were a bit peaceful when he was in sight.
Others from the No-Chain plantation were taken, but not my mammy. I felt frozen and so alone. Then it was that I saw the chains that were circling the legs of the men. We had thought we would never be chained. But there was proud, angry George separated from his wife and children. And young Ben and gentle Adam stood quietly as they were locked in beside him. It was all due to the hateful selfishness.
Other children smaller than I were whimpering. I held their small dirty hands as the wagon jolted forward and we rolled onto the road. Bitterness rode on behind us, cracking his whip above the men who walked in back. I’d like to forget that journey. It was misery all right. The sun beat down and we got so thirsty, and then swamp waters nearly sucked us down. I was the one that gave George a hand when he was sinking in the muck. Once a man was kind to us and gave us a drink. He had a free boy with him, but Bitterness called him a lying holiness prig. I wondered if had something to do with that Peace Land somehow.
Then we came to the Hate-Good plantation. Master Hate-Good sat in front of a very fine house. It was much finer than Master No-Chain’s had been. Bitterness seemed to be a bit afraid of him, for he took off his hat and walked up respectful-like. But Master Hate-Good only said curtly, “Is that all you could get? Take them around to the slave quarters.” He didn’t care about us one bit!
I don’t know how I would have made it in the next weeks without Lisa. She just looked like a pile of rags when I stood uncertainly in the no-friend hut for girls. Lisa was a cripple and her face was hard and twisted in pain. But she talked to me, and showed me how to get along. We dipped our food from a pot. We slept on ragged blankets. And we worked all day in the fields of hate under the whip of Master Bitterness. It was horrible.
Scowling bent-up Lisa became my friend. She told me the first night how she had once tried to run away and how the taskmaster had caught her and nearly beaten her to death. She thought she was going to die. I shivered then, and thought again of my mammy. I wouldn’t ever forget. I couldn’t lose hope.
Everyone was too tired to talk much at night, and the whip kept us quiet during the day. Bitterness was especially glad to crack the backs of the weak and the old. I tried to help Lisa and shield her from his cruel eyes, for she was weaker than I and couldn’t pick so much of the hateful fluff.
Then one day Master Hate-Good himself came into the fields with a fine gentleman. “This good man has come all the way from Peace Land to study rare birds around here,” he announced proudly to the taskmaster. “He wants several slaves to help him.”
Bitterness didn’t seem one bit impressed, and as I watched in the hushed excitement, he struck me with the whip. I was ducking in fright when the fine man took him by the arm and marched across to where George and the other men were working. Fear and eagerness tingled through me. Here was a man from Peace Land itself!
It was only in the darkness of the night that we talked about the stranger. Some of the girls said they’d heard about Peace Land. Lisa told us about her preacher daddy and the Star of Truth. “If you follow it, it will lead you to Peace Land,” she told us.
“Don’t talk about such things,” a tall girl said fiercely. “You’ll get in big trouble if you try to go there!” She looked hard at Lisa’s bent back and marched away.
“It is a cold, cruel place where nothing can grow,” another said in a fearful whisper. “I’m afraid.” We were afraid, too. But as Lisa and I lay huddled together, we pledged to help each other escape some night before the hateful harvest was over.
It was Sunday the next day. A day to beat our rags and try to rest. But no one really rested on Hate-Good plantation. I was swinging my beating stick when George called me aside. He was tense and excited when he said that he had been out bird-hunting with Master Good the day before. “He hasn’t come to collect rare birds,” he told me. “He has come to free slaves. You and Lisa meet me tonight when you hear the call of the whip-poor-will. We’re having a secret meeting and Master Good will tell you about it.”
So it was that a small group of us were in the would-do-right that dark night, listening to the ring of the stranger’s words. “Slavery in sin is great evil and cannot be tolerated. I have come to liberate the captives and free those that are bound. It will take great determination and courage, which not everyone has. You will have to leave all and flee through many dangers to reach Peace Land. I am here to show you the way and help you, but it is for you to choose to take this risk for liberty.”
Master Good was a bit hard to understand, but we knew one thing. The escape to Peace Land would be dangerous and difficult. As I listened then, I didn’t know how bad it would be. But I wanted to be free.
“It will be hard on the way, and hard once you get to Peace Land,” Master Good said soberly. “But the promise is that you will be free. Do you want to go?” As he looked steadily at each of us, I felt my head lift. Though it might be hard, I would tell him how I felt.
“I’m afraid, but I don’t want to be beaten by old Bitterness one more time. No animal is meant to be treated like I am,” I told him. “I promised my mammy that I would go to Peace Land if I got the chance, and I mean to join her there.”
Lisa spoke next, and I remember well the quiet confidence of her words: “I know I’m not meant to be a slave. My daddy said I was meant to be free like the people of light, and I believe him.”
Adam’s quiet voice spoke then, “Yes, before I met you, Master Good, I thought it was just no use to hope. Everywhere we would be slaves. But now I mean to get to the Peace Land, whatever it takes.”
Master Good smiled. “I like the courage of those words. George has also said he will go, but Ben has not decided.”
I looked at dark Ben. He was a young slave who was big and strong, but I could see the fears still bound him inside. Would he make his escape with us, or was he like the many other slaves on Hate-Good’s plantation? They were too scared or too dulled to care about the promise of freedom. I knew I had made up my mind and I couldn’t wait for our chance to escape.