Today I’m delighted to return to Fiction Friday, which has been on a brief hiatus as my new website went live. I promised more of the story of Sarah, Jeremiah and Dorie, as told through Sarah’s letters to Amasa Miller in 1853, so I’m delighted to bring you the next installment.
If you’re new to my blog, or you haven’t kept up with these entries and want to start from the beginning, it’s easy. Just click on Fiction Friday under categories on my blog page, then scroll down to March 21st to find the first in this series taken from my novel Endless Chain. At that point the posts will be in reverse order and you should scroll up to view the next one.
Sarah’s letters comprise the historical section of Endless Chain, which is woven through the novel, and so far we’ve seen two of them, in four installments.
My previous posts have introduced you to the various covers Endless Chain has worn. From this point on, let’s look at scenery of the lovely Shenandoah Valley, where Endless Chain and all the novels in my Shenandoah Album series take place. This photo is of the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.
Without further comment, here is the beginning of Sarah’s third letter.
June 1, 1853
My dear Amasa,
Your recent letters were even more welcome than the rain that will bring life to Jeremiah’s newly planted corn fields. Upon his return from town Jeremiah presented me with three, a treasure beyond price. I will not allow myself to savor all at once and have only read the first.
Now I am almost frightened to open the others, since the news from Lynchburg is growing sadder. I pray for your father in his last days and for you, as you do his work at the forge and care for him. Calvin Stone is a good man, and the fact that he is not afraid to die affirms what I know of him, that his heart is pure and his life led without shame. How many can say the same?
I almost smile when I think how little I once had to report. In my letters I told you of birds nesting in my favorite tree, of the black bear with twin cubs who regularly visited our apple orchard, of people from the church who asked to be remembered to you. Now there is so much to tell, I will leave the smaller things for you to imagine. Suffice it to say that the weather has been kind since the storm that brought Dorie to us, and despite our guest and our worries we have accomplished much.
In my last letter I told you that Dorie seldom spoke. This has changed, and we now know much about her life. Oh, Amasa, it is all so very sad. I will tell it quickly and know you will understand the things I have no wish to put on paper.
Dorie was born in Augusta County to the cook for a wealthy family with land and many enslaved persons to do the work. Her mother was regarded as an asset, and Henry Beaumont, who claimed ownership to her, treated her as well as a person in such circumstances might expect to be treated. Dorie is probably almost twenty years old, and although she does not know her father’s name, she does know he was one of many guests in the Beaumont home.
Dorie was brought up as a maid and companion to the Beaumont’s youngest daughter Bertha, and although the law forbade the family to educate her, she was present in the schoolroom where Bertha’s tutor, a Maryland woman with abolitionist sympathies, made certain to teach Dorie, as well. In this, Dorie and I have a bond. Both of us were educated above our lot in life. Me by an educated mother, Dorie by the sympathetic and secretive tutor.
The Beaumont family expected Dorie to remain at Bertha’s side forever, intending to present her as a gift to their daughter upon her marriage to a local attorney and landowner. Instead Dorie fell in love with a free man named Silas Green, who hired his services as a carpenter and came to the Beaumont estate to oversee the building of a new barn. When he asked for Dorie’s hand in marriage and for the right to buy her from them, the Beaumonts were outraged and ordered him off their property.
Weeks later Silas and Dorie married secretly (as slaves are often forced to) and without clergy. Dorie believed if she promised to remain Bertha’s maid, eventually she could persuade the Beaumonts to allow her to marry Silas and purchase her freedom.
As you might guess, Dorie found herself with child, and when Henry Beaumont discovered all that had transpired, he locked her in the smokehouse with no food and little water. When she was finally set free she learned that Silas had disappeared.
Dorie is certain her husband was murdered. Others who saw a band of men riding toward his cabin on the night Dorie was imprisoned have told her there is no reason to hope. After the men’s departure Silas’s cabin was gone, burned to the ground and most probably he with it. As punishment Dorie was sent to live above the wash house and toil in the yard over the boiling kettle while she waited to give birth.
Dorie’s child was born five months later, a girl she named Marie. When Marie was two she was plucked from Dorie’s arms and sold with others from the Beaumont estate to a tobacco plantation in Maryland. So that they no longer were forced to witness her despair, Dorie’s services were loaned to a family in Harrisonburg with the promise that if there were good reports of her year there, she would next be sent to Staunton to serve Bertha and her husband.
Instead Dorie bided her time until the new family believed she had grown both docile and obedient, then on the darkest night of the month, she ran away.
The conclusion of this letter, but not of all the letters, will be next week’s Fiction Friday post. Let me know if you’re enjoying the story so far. It’s difficult to imagine a time when slavery was so acceptable to so many, isn’t it?