Plot To Bring Cuba Into the United States to Support Slavery
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt
CONCLUDING EPSIODE: NATCHEZ MISSISSIPPI
Continued From Home Page
“Why don’t you make some of your new Lukumi responsible for sorting and storing?” Yerby suggests.
“That is a good idea, Señor Frank,” Pedro agrees,“but how does one accomplish this?”
“Its called a ‘division of labor’,” Yerby says. “Put one of your Lukumi initiates in charge.”
Pedro tells Harry that he plans to appoint a foreman for sorting and storing the tobacco. “My foreman will keep accurate accounts for the auctions and pay the Lukumi fairly,” Pedro promises.
Harry is not happy, this is not the reason that he gave Pedro the run of his plantation. But, biding his time, Harry accepts Pedro’s decision. “You must guarantee that the new man will not interfere with my profits,” Harry insists. Pedro agrees.
Pedro’s first foreman orders the others around, but refuses to work himself. Pedro replaces him. Pedro’s next foreman ‘loses’ a Lukumi delivery of el supremo cigars from the docks before it can be inventoried and stored. Pedro replaces him, as well. The third appointee takes the responsibilities of being a tobacco foreman, seriously. After awhile, he is able to sort and store whatever tobacco shipments arrive at the Key West without any supervision from Pedro or Harry.
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“Senor Frank, I have been thinking about Carlota, recently,” Pedro announces one day. “A heaviness weighs on my soul.”
“Carlota took her chances trying to find you,” Yerby replies.
“I want to go to Natchez and see Señor Pary,” Pedro announces.
“Why do you want to go see him?” Yerby asks.
“I sacrificed Carlota to save him,” Pedro said. “Someone or something is calling me to Mississippi. Besides I want to know whether or not the sacrifice was worth it.”
Yerby sees the torment on Pedro’s face and hears the pain in his voice. “I should not have left her,” Pedro says. “I am not as wise as my uncle. Carlota made me strong. I wanted to lead the rebellion, but it was really Carlota who gave me the strength. Carlota made me want to be a free man. I deserted her when she needed me most. The longer I stay here, the more ashamed I feel.”
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“If Carlota had obeyed you,” Yerby rationalizes, “she would be alive today.”
“If I had stayed with her or allowed her to stay with me,” Pedro replies, “then she would be alive today.” Both knew that each was partly right, but both were absolutely wrong. Harry is not happy about Pedro leaving Key West. “Who will run the business while you are away?” he complains.
“Don’t worry, senor,” Pedro replies. “Your foreman knows what to do and he can deliver whatever you sell.”
“How long will you be gone?” Harry asks.
“As long as it takes,” Pedro answers.
“You will need a letter,” Harry decides. “Possibly several letters.”
“What kind of letters, senor?”
“Letters for the steamer captain, sheriffs and the paddy rollers.” Mississippi’s paddy rollers were particularly vicious slave catchers. Any fugitive slave caught by the paddy rollers was fortunate not to be maimed or killed. A letter of introduction would be of little use if Pedro was picked up by Mississppi paddy rollers. Few of those ‘peckerwoods’ could read. “I would wear shabby clothes, if I were you,” Harry warns Pedro.“And it will be best if you act humble-like; Mississippi folks are real touchy when it comes to uppity darkies. But as long as you act quiet and humble-like, you shouldn’t have any problems reaching Pary’s Moonrise Plantation.”
“I’ll go with him,” Yerby says.
Linton provides three letters. Each say the exact same thing.
“To Whom It May Concern:
Pedro and Frank are free Negroes from Cuba. They bear a message of commercial importance to Mr. Ross Pary, at Moonrise Plantation, outside Natchez, Mississippi on behalf of Harry Linton, of Key West Plantation where Pedro and Frank are current residents.
[signed]Harry Linton, Key West Plantation
Key West, Florida”
On the day of their departure, Pedro blesses his Lukumi initiates and Harry escorts them to the steamer bound for New Orleans. The trip from Key West is uneventful. By the time Pedro disembarks in New Orleans, his heart is light. He can hardly control his
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anticipation. Yerby locates a riverboat leaving New Orleans and making a scheduled stop at Natchez. However, the riverboat captain puts the two blacks ashore some distance from Natchez at the location set up to sell and trade slaves. From there, Pedro and Yerby make a harrowing, weeklong journey that should have taken a couple of days on foot to Moonrise plantation. Before his journey ends, Pedro will have reason to thank Harry for his letters.
Blacks in Mississippi were the most downtrodden, oppressed and dehumanized people Pedro had ever seen. White people purposely conspired to treat blacks worse than animals. Whites branded a black behaving with any dignity as ‘uppity’ and there was no worse offense in Mississippi than being an ‘uppity’ darkie. At a minimum, ‘uppity’ darkies were subjected to a sharp reprimand, a kick or a slap. In other instances, being uppity could result in a ‘mild’ lashing, one that would draw blood and leave scars, but would not interfere with the blacks ability to work. Some uppity blacks got themselves hung. Blacks were expected to shuffle and grin continuously. They said ‘suh’ at the beginning and end of each sentence and displayed only the humblest of attitudes. To a white Mississippian, a darkie could never be too humble.
“Sheriff, my friend Pedro and I thank you for your accommodations,” Yerby says. He decides to greet the sheriff respectively when he opens the door to their cell. Sheriff Buck Wilson arrested Pedro and Yerby as soon as they disembarkd from the river boat.
“Well, nigger, if you keep talkin’ lak that, I might just keep you here another night jus so I can learn you some manners! We don’t take to uppity darkies ‘round here.” Even if they did have papers that looked real enough, Buck Wilson didn’t like funny-acting, foreign darkies coming into his town without notice. He’s already had several inquiries from the slave market. The big buck could fetch over a thousand dollars and Wilson could get a fat finder’s fee. ‘Even if he could’t speak English,’ Wilson told himself. ‘the ‘nigger breaker’ would learn him to speak English soon enough.” And the other one spoke English too damn good for Buck Wilson’s liking. Wilson sends out telegraphs.
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“Two foreign darkies are on the way with a message for Mr. Ross Pary at Moonrise,” the message reads. On their way, another sheriff also detains them to teach Yerby some manners. A third sheriff allows them to go their way. Fortunately Pedro and Yerby do not run into any paddy rollers, but their journey is punctuated with stares, abusive language and threats of physical violence from every white person they meet. Pedro’s inability to speak English allows him to ignore the white folk’s threats. When pressed, Pedro shows Harry Linton’s letter and mumbles “Moonrise.” Actually Pedro learned some English in Key West’s ‘Black Quarter’ when teaching Harry’s slaves about the Orishas, but he hides what he knows. Yerby is not as fortunate. Whites are insulted by Yerby’s speech and his manner. He sticks out in Mississippi. Everytime Yerby opens his mouth, he attracts attention. Yerby has to forget about a “victim’s guilt” and learn about a “victim’s survival.” Yerby undergoes an attitude adjustment. Yerby learns not to look directly at white people and to mimic typical ‘uncle tom” or, more appropriately, ‘Uncle Frank’
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behavior. Yerby learns not to behave like an uppity darkie and the verbal insults and occasional kicks become less frequent. Before long, Yerby slips into the role of a happy darkie and ‘shuffles along’ as if he had lived in Mississippi all his life. After seven days, in this posture and with this attitude, Yerby and Pedro pass through the gates of Moonrise Plantation and walk straight up to Ross Pary’s manor house.
“Señor Ross!” Pedro laughs, “I found you! It was a journey of a formidable distance and of an immensity of trouble; but now I have found you.”
“Yes, yes, Pedro,” Pary replies. The master of Moonrise plantation gives his visitors a cold, hard stare, his manner is stiff and he wears a tight smile reflecting distain tinged with annoyance at the unwelcomed interruption. “I heard that you were coming to Moonrise.”
“You heard that I was coming?” Pedro replies. “But how?”
“In Mississippi, we have our ways. But welcome to my home where you will, of course, be my guest.”
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“I knew you would not forget me,” Pedro says. “I …”
“Yes, yes Pedro,” Pary cuts him off. “I am afraid you mustn’t babble on. My Spanish is not as good as it once was. Tell me, why did you come to Natchez? You have a message for me from Harry Linton? I hope it is not about Cathy.”
“I want to stay here with you, señor,” Pedro replies. “I saved your life, I feel responsible for you. Possibly, you could make me your body servant and pay me whatever you believe is fair. I trust you.” Pedro feels better than he has in months, just seeing Ross Pary. “I trust you, señor.”
“I thank you for your trust,” Pary says as sincerely as any womanizing, social climber who wants to break into the upper level of Mississippi’s planter class can be. Pedro may have saved his life, Pary tells himself, but what else were darkies good for!
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oss Pary’s brother, Tom, Tom’s wife, Jennie, and their sister, Annis, all live at Moonrise. They all hate Pedro. “That darkie puts on airs,” Jennie complains to Tom. “When I ask him to do something, all he says is ‘No entiendo —I don’t understand’.”
“Always pretending that he can’t speak English,” Annis chimes in.
“He speaks English alright,” Jennie says. “My gal says he speaks English just fine down in the slave quarters.”
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“That foreign darkie is a menace,” Tom tells his brother. “A free nigger and a hoo-doo man to boot. He is giving the slave darkies ideas that ain’t good. He’s more than a nuisance; he’s dangerous!”
“Oh, Pedro’s all right,” Ross replies. “Have I told you how he saved my life in Cuba?”
“Yes, several times.” Tom is bored with the story. “Ross, you need to lay down the rules.
He can’t just go wandering about anywhere he wants. It looks bad. It looks like we owe him something.”
“I do owe him something,” Ross says. “I owe him my life.”
“Some folks might not think we should let some uppity Cuban darkie walk all over us, threatening our women and acting like he’s the master, even if he did save your life.” Tom couldn’t understand why his brother would risk his successful business and his social standing on account of a darkie.
“I know you are a decent person, Ross,” Tom says. “You have a good heart. Let me do what’s necessary.You won’t have to be involved. But you better let me take Pedro down a peg now or else these other darkies might get ideas.”
“Just give him a little time,” Ross replies. “He’ll adjust. He hasn’t been in any trouble, has he?”
“No, not yet,” Tom answers, “but it’s just a matter of time.”
Once again, Pedro is restless. Pedro can’t relax or take a break. From the first time Yerby met Pedro in Guanabocao, the Cuban has been restless.
“Frank,” Pedro announces decisively, “I’m going to put together a band of Lukumi right here in Mississippi.”
Yerby’s face twists into a worried look. He thought this might happen. It’s not a good idea for a black man to be restless in Mississippi. Pedro came and went as he pleased. He interacted with all the slaves on Moonrise and even visited plantations in adjoining counties, teaching slaves about the Orishas. The slaves had responded. Many of them still remembered their old gods. And if they remembered the old gods, Pedro reasoned, they could learn the Lukumi way.
“I’m going to have a Kari Ocha to protect my initiates,” Pedro confides to Yerby. “Papa Legba loves me and the mighty lord of the roadway will protect me and my initiates.”
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Yerby urges Pedro to return to Florida before it is too late. “If you believe that Papa Legba chose you to be his priest,” Yerby asks, “why did you desert your first congregation in Key West? They needed you then and they need you now!” Yerby shakes his head. “This is not the time or place for new Lukumi initiates.”
“But señor Yerby, why do you want me to leave when so much needs to be done here?” Pedro asks.
“What do you think you can do here?” Yerby asks. “Isn ’t your neck hurting just a little bit with all this bowing and scraping?”
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“You, my friend, have been doing most of the shuffling, grinning and ‘yawsuh’-ing and ‘nawsuh’-ing,” Pedro smiles. “Besides, what does it matter whether I accept this treatment as long as I know who I am and I serve Papa Legba?”
“And do you know who you really are on the inside?” Yerby asks.
Pedro pauses to think. But being an honest person he quickly gives an honest answer. “Not really, but I believe I have a purpose here, Carlota’s purpose. Carlota gave her life for some reason. I’m in Mississippi to find out why.” Pedro is earnest. “Besides,” he continues smiling slyly, “I have met someone and I think I am in love.”
“What,” Yerby exclaims. This is not good.
“I’m in love with Bessie,” Pedro says.
“… of Fineterre plantation?”
This is really not good, Yerby shudders. This is not good, at all!
Bessie is the personal maid of Morgan Britanny, mistress of Finiterre. From the moment he first saw her, Pedro knew that Bessie was the reason he had come to Mississippi. Bessie was mulatto-born and blessed with a unique beauty. From her African roots came her sensuously-thin body and a graceful walk that reminded Pedro of the tall grass blowing in the savannah in front of Cuba’s mountains. From her white parent, Bessie inherited pale green eyes, fine features and a shock of thick reddish-brown hair, which, when she allows it, tumbles mischievously about her face. Few, however. ever see Bessie’s hair; she keeps it tied up in a bright yellow bandana. Bessie’s beauty is tinged with a strange wildness, like an orphaned animal who must figure out things on her own, just like Pedro. Bessie’s attitude alternates between resentment and longing. She can never decide whether she despises white folks for their evil ways or hates them because they do not accept her as one of them. Pedro describes her in simpler terms.
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“Bessie has the soul of a Lukumi priestess, but the mind of a spoiled child,” he tells Yerby. Bessie’s personal power keeps her in trouble with her mistress, Morgan Brittany. The day Pedro finds Bessie nursing a bloody left hand that is covered with a towel is the day that he decides to form a Lukumi cult in Mississippi. Bessie had been savagely assaulted by her mistress.
“See what she did to me.” Bessie cried. Removing the towel from her injured hand, Bessie showed Pedro a jagged, nasty-looking wound just below the knuckles. The tendons around the wound had been severed and her ring finger hung down at an awkward angle. “She stuck the scissors through my hand because she said that I done her hair wrong. Then she had butler throw me down the stairs because I screamed.”
Pedro went out and found some Spanish moss and some other herbs and wrapped them around Bessie’s terribly injured hand. He remained with her, nursing her wounded hand and battered body for two weeks.
After Bessie recuperated Pedro continued to visits Finiterre. “That woman has a special place,” Bessie told him, “where she chains slaves up. Then she beats and cuts them.”
“Show me,” he said quietly.
Bessie took Pedro up to a secret attic. In the pale candlelight, she showed Pedro the globs of dried blood covering the floor. On one wall hung several kinds of whips. Some were long with leaded tips; others were short and thin. There was a custom-made crop, a thin flexible metal rod encased in leather. The crop could cut through skin with the slightest flick of the wrist. On a side table were other implements, knives, picks and saws., Manacles, leg irons and chains were fixed onto the opposite wall secured by heavy metal plates and great iron fastenings. “Just last month,” Bessie told Pedro as he went about examining the chamber of horrors, “she whipped old Lucas to death. Come with me and I’ll show you where she buried him.” Bessie took Pedro back downstairs. Out behind the barn, Bessie pointed to a rounded mound of freshly dug dirt. “That’s where he’s buried.” Hot tears flooded down Bessie’s cheeks. Lucas was the only family she had ever known. “Missus Morgan would kill more of us, but Marse Lance won’t allow it. So to spite Marse Lance, she started taking up with your Marse Ross. That woman is purely evil.”
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“Your mistress offends the Orishas,” Pedro declares solemnly. “Papa Legba will have his revenge.”
Bessie is Pedro’s first Lukumi initiate. Bessie brings three others. They have been meeting for several months. “How many initiated Lukumi do you have now?” Yerby asks. Pedro is no Babaluaye, but Yerby is surprised by the number of slaves who have responded to his call.
“We have thirteen, now,” Pedro replies.
Pedro selects an ideal location for his initiates to worship the Orishas, undisturbed by patrolling patty rollers. His meetingplace is deep in the swampy runoff from the Mississippi River, on an accidental knoll that widens out into a large flat area. The knoll poking up from the murky swamp on a very gentle slope is surrounded by murky waters on all sides. At night during a full moon the knoll glows an eerie white. The air is heavy with the sickly-sweet smell of wild orchids and the scent of Spanish moss that curtains off the thick groves of decaying cypress and magnolia trees.. So overgrown is the area, with watery trees and foilage, that even at high noon the sunlight never directly shines upon the water. The area, infested with cottonmouths, water moccasins and alligators, is a perfect meeting ground for Pedro’s little band of Lukumi.
“Why don’t you come to our next meeting?” Pedro asks Yerby.
“I’ll think about it,” Yerby replies, searching for a way to decline the invitation without insulting Pedro. He decides to tell the truth.“All that blood and other nasty tasting stuff, makes me gag. I prefer bread and wine,” Yerby says. “Did you know that I’m a Catholic?”
“You can always come as a witness,” Pedro says. “The Orishas will be happy with your presence, as long as you are respectful and offer gifts.”
“If I come,”Yerby says solemnly, “I will certainly bring the Orishas a gift ___ especially Papa Legba.”
On a night of the full moon, Pedro beats his drums calling his initiates to feed the Orishas at their secret meeting place. The beating drums unnerve the white folks. Paddy rollers scour both sides of Mississippi with lanterns and blood hounds trying to find the nocturnal drummer, but they search in vain. Pedro conducts his Lukumi rituals with impunity. The initiates wear white robes that shimmer in the pale moonlight. Yerby decides to accept Pedro’s invitation; he counts as many as thirty initiates crossing over two flat bridges, barely visible during the day and absolutely invisible at night. An area marked by a circle is set off for the gods. Inside the circle various symbols and signs mark the way up to a wooden altar. Upon the altar are gifts for Papa Legba and the other Orishas. A feast ___ cooked foods brought in pails and fruits and vegetables in straw sacks ___ is prepared according to Pedro’s instructions for the Orishas. He places the food upon the wooden altar. Next to the food, Pedro places dishes of herbs and incense as well as bottles of whiskey and wine. The Orishas are pleased.
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While his Lukumi pass the time in quiet conversation, joking and passing around plantation gossip, Pedro prepares Omiero, the exotic drink of the gods. After awhile the Orishas began to make their presence known. Pedro draws symbols on the ground and invites the gods to eat and drink. Then he lightes two cigars and puts them each in separate ceramic plates. Next Pedro sacrifices a chicken, a lamb and a goat. Blood is sprinkled about. The gods eat and drink their full. Then initiates are invited to share Omiero, wine and whiskey mixed with blood. The gods accept two more Lukumi initiates.
Pedro is now ready to perform the secret rituals known to the Lukumi from the time the gods walked the earth. He taps into the source of Lukumi power, casting spells and controlling the minds of the unbelievers present. Only after the initiates are exhausted does Pedro end with the Kari Ocha. Then he sends everyone back to their plantations where they arrive as invisible spirits unseen by either the black slaves or their white masters.
Only Bessie remains on the sacred grounds. She and Pedro engage in another, more familiar ritual, practiced by men and women from the beginning of time. This ritual has passionate and ecstatic sounds. Over a period of months, Bessie and Pedro have explored the mysteries of physical desire. With Bessie, Pedro is no longer restless. Papa Legba brought them together to explore, enjoy and nurture the tender feelings each has for the other even before their bodies explode in erotic convulsions. Pedro makes love to Bessie
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as if she were his three-string guitar. Expertly and lovingly, coaxing the sweetest sounds from her lips. Their union culminates in such moments of ecstacy that the lovers lose all sense of reality believing they are the only two humans beings in the world. Too late, they learn that they are quite mistaken and that Papa Legba, always the Trickster, fools even his favorites.
Sometimes the person you love is the one that harms you most. This is exactly what
Bessie does to Pedro. Actually Pedro is the architect of his own undoing. He makes the mistake of telling Bessie about the Orisha, Ayagunda, the god of gunpowder. “Ayagunda demanded gunpowder at our last Lukumi meeting,” Pedro confides to Bessie after a session of passionate lovemaking. He turns to look into her eyes. “Guess what happened?”
“What?” Bessie replies lanquidly. Her last organism was cataclysmic.
“Two initiates donated a rifle and a pistol to the gods.” Pedro replies.“They are very fine guns, good quality, practically new.”
“You’re a black man with guns!” Bessie almost shouts, “God almighty, God almighty!”
Bessie’s hate blinds her when love should have opened her eyes. “God is preparing to wreak vengeance on the white man for all the wrong he has done,” Bessie tells anyone who will listen. “And it’s going to begin right here in Mississippi with a black man with guns!”
Bessie’s imagination is simply overwhelmed by the idea of a black man with guns. She did not know what to make of it. In the end, Bessie made much more of it than she should have. This physically-abused plantation-bred, mulatto daughter of a black slave and some white vagrant could not know, nor could she be expected to know, that there was more to fighting whites than having guns.
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“When we get enough guns for every slave in the county,” Bessie preaches, “there is nuthin’ these white folks gonna do to us anymore.” Some of the slaves listened and believed her. “When we black folks have guns, all the whites gonna run away,” Bessie told them.
Pedro knew this kind of talk was dangerous, but there was nothing he could do. Bessie would not keep quiet about ‘black men with guns.’ She didn’t understand that white folks were born to kill. They kill for the pure pleasure of killing. The white folks religion is about killing; their secret societies are about killing. The white folks wouldn’t fear black men with guns; they’d welcome it. Not only did the white men of Natchez have more guns, better guns and lots of bullets but they had the skill and practice needed to kill any black man with a gun. Blacks are good at singing and dancing and praying; blacks are good at emptying white folks chamber pots. Blacks are not good at shooting guns. Blacks with guns are more likely to kill each other than a white man.
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Papa Legba catches Pedro not paying attention. At the next full moon, Lukumi initiates bring more guns, rifles and even cutlasses, machetes and clubs. Of course, the weapons are stolen from their masters. On plantations in two counties, white men discover their guns are missing. And they know that a rash of missing guns can only mean that the darkies are up to something.
The Natchez’s Civic Club is buzzing. Anything and everything happening in Natchez was discussed at the Natchez Civic Club. This is where the good old boys, the leading planters, merchants and politicians, get together.
“We don’t want to tip them off that we know something is going on,” one member advises. “We’ll let them make the first move, but let’s get ready.”
“Well, I know one thing,” another planter says. “Any blubber-lipped, burr-headed coon who looks at me sideways is gonna get his bubble-eyes blowed out the back of his head.” The planter shows off a pair of Colt revolvers.“Just see what happens if they try to put their hands on these.” The speaker looks about the room until he spies a waiter.“Hey you, boy,” the planter calls out.
“Me, suh?” the waiter quails.
“You, nigger!” the planter shouts. The drunk white man is more belligerent than normal. “Get your black ass over here!”
The waiter shuffles over to the planter’s table. But just before he gets there, a leg shoots out and the waiter goes sprawling to the floor. The room erupts in laughter. The black man’s eyes are frozen wide in fear.
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“If this darkie even twitches the wrong way, I’m gonna spill his brains all over this floor,” the planter boasts backing up his threat by pulling out one of his revolvers and pointing it at the black man’s head.
“Just calm down, Charlie,” another planter says . “We get your point. Let’s not make a mess. I don’t want to leave the club while they take God knows how long to clean up after some dead darkie.”
Morgan Brittany doesn’t even know about the missing guns, but she suspects something is happening. Her slaves are acting funny. They weren’t talking back or refusing to work or acting defiant, but there was something in their attitude. Something seemed different and ominous. Its just the excuse she needs to go into town and visit Ross Pary.
“Every time your darkie, Pedro visits my gal, Bessie,” Morgan complains, “she becomes even more difficult than before.” Morgan’s unexpected visits are becoming more frequent and more annoying. Lance Brittany is Pary’s best friend. Pary hates being with Morgan. But as John Quitman’s niece, Morgan would destroy not only him but also his family, if Pary didn’t satisfy her whims.
“What’s Bessie been saying, Morgan?” Pary asks. He tries to sound interested.
“Lately she’s been talking in riddles about freedom and white people running away.”
“She’s just afraid of you,” Pary observes. “You know how frightened you have made your slaves.” Pary smiles thinking about the attic Morgan calls her “play room.” She treating me like one of her slaves, he concludes and he resents it.
“Why are you laughing?” Morgan asks.
“I remember when you first arrived at Fineterre from up North,” Pary lies. “You were a real Connecticut Yankee telling everyone how you would free the slaves if you could.”
Morgan eyes smoulder confirming the bloody secret that she has shared with him. “That was before I learned about the diversions provided by your ‘Southern way of life’.” Morgan’s eyes narrow into slits the evil oozing from her soul. “Anyhow, Ross,” her breath quickens, “I want you to keep your darkie away from Bessie.”
“Okay, I‘ll tell Pedro that he is no longer welcome at Finiterre. Wallace!” Pary calls out for his personal servant. An old black man shuffles into Pary’s sitting room. “Wallace, go out to Moonrise and fetch Pedro. Bring him back to here, at once. Do you hear me?”
“Yes suh,” the servant replies.
“And Wallace,” Pary continues.
“Please see that Mrs. Brittany gets back to Finiterre, safely.”
“You needn’t bother,Wallace,” Morgan snaps. Then she gives Pary a strange look. “If you don’t want me here, Ross, all you need do is tell me to leave. Anyway, I have other matters that I must attend to.”
Despite the look in her eyes, a look that said, “I’m going to make you pay for that,” Pary is happy to see Morgan leave. Her insistance on coming to his office, whenever she pleases, is becoming embarrassing. Lance sponsored Pary’s membership in the Natchez Civic Club as well as his membership in the Knights of the Golden Circle. Pary doesn’t know who is more of a problem, Morgan or Pedro. Though he can’t do anything about Morgan, but he can sure put Pedro in his place. Pary has to agree with Tom. Pedro has been taking far too many liberties. The darkie should know better. He’s going to stop visiting Bessie and he’s going to start behaving himself, Pary promises, or I’m going to let Tom tan his hide until he wishes he had kept his black ass in Cuba.
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In all of Mississippi, Bessie could not have chosen a worse Negro to rave about black men with guns than Ross Pary’s man, Wallace. But when Pary sends Wallace to Moonrise for Pedro, that’s exactly what happens. “Gal, where’s Pedro?” Wallace spits out at Bessie, glaring at her for being away from Finiterre. The old servant can’t wait to tell Morgan Brittany where Bessie has been spending her time.Whenever Morgan visits Pary, Bessie spends the afternoon with Pedro. Wallace is scandalized to find Bessie lounging about Pedro’s cabin in broad daylight.
“Pedro’s here ’round abouts,” Bessie replies.“What you want him for?”
“Ain’t no business of yours,” Wallace snaps, “but if you must know, Marse Pary wants to see him right quick. So if you know where he’s at, you better tell me before you get in more trouble than you already in.”
“Trouble? What you mean trouble?” Bessie teases. “I does what I pleases when Miss Morgan ain’t around. And pretty soon she ain’t never going to be around, no more.”
“What you talking about, gal?” Wallace sneers.“You better get them foolish notions out your head before your Mizzus lays a whip to your sassy black hide.”
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“I ain ’t scared of her no more,” Bessie says with a toss of her head and a quiet laugh. “Pretty soon she ain’t gonna be able to whip me and nobody else, neither. Soon black men gonna have guns and they ain’t gonna stand for white folks beating up on their women folk.”
“I done asked you, what are you talking about girl?” Wallace says. “You talking crazy and crazy talk like that could get you and that darkie, Pedro, strung up real quick.”
“Well, you heard what I said, you old shuffling darkie,” Bessie spits out. “You just wait and see. One day we is going to be free!”
Bessie frightened Wallace with her talk of freedom. Telling Wallace that he would be free was telling Wallace that he would be responsible for feeding, clothing and housing himself. Nothing frightened Wallace more than the idea of not being able to serve ‘Marse Pary.’ There wasn’t a darkie in Natchez who didn’t want to be Marse Pary’s darkie. And there wasn’t a darkie in Natchez who had a finer reputation among the better class of whites folks than Wallace. Not only has Wallace served the planters all his life. Wallace was one of the few darkies, the whites allowed to preach the Gospels. The idea of black men with guns, freeing darkies and running off the good white folks was not only against the law, it was against God’s word.
The more Bessie talked, the angrier Wallace became. He had never heard such foolishness. Wallace had been privy to many of the planters’ discussions and knew some of Mississippi’s first families by name. Wallace knew the price of cotton on the European market and the cost of silk from China. Wallace heard white men discuss information that Bessie could not have imagined existed. Bessie may have had the heart of a warrior, but
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to Wallace, she was as dumb as a door knob. This cotton picker thinks she’s got the brains to beat these white folks, Wallace laughs to himself. Only thing these darkies are gonna do is get a bunch of people killed. And before I let this Bessie and her Cuban nigger ruin my life, I’ll see them both swinging from a tree. “You tell Pedro that Marse Pary wants to see him, right now,” Wallace tells Bessie. “And then, if I was you, I’d take my black behind back to Finiterre where it belongs.”
Wallace knows exactly what he has to do. He has to tell Marse Pary about the whole plot. But suddenly fear reaches out and grabs Wallace’s guts. Somebody might think it was me, Wallace, Marse Pary’s man, who was behind this trouble, Wallace tells himself. Some of these white folks is mighty mean. Wallace decides that he needs to distance himself from the whole affair. Then he thinks about Cobb. He and Cobb share the same way of thinking. Cobb is Judge Smith’s butler. Cobb is always looking for news to tell his master. ‘I’ll tell Cobb.’ Wallace chuckles. Cobb never tells the judge where he gets his information. ‘Cobb will take all the credit and he’ll leave me out of the whole mess,’ Wallace snickers to himself.
But Wallace is not as clever as he thinks. Cobb not only tells the judge about the plot, but tells the judge that Wallace is the source of his information. Judge Smith summons Wallace to his court. “Now, boy,” says the judge, towering over Ross Pary’s quavering manservant from behind his great courthouse desk, “what did this gal tell you about a nigger uprising?”
With trembling knees and beating heart, Wallace tells Judge Smith everything Bessie told
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him. “Your Honor, suh, the darkies been talking to this hoo-doo man from Cuba who done told them to go steal guns from their masters. And the hoo-doo man told them once
the blacks have guns, the whites will run away.”
“Whites will run away!!!”Judge Smith explodes. “This hoo-doo man gonna put a hex on us white men so that we just run away from a bunch of liver-lipped, burr-headed jungle bunnies?”
“Yes suh,”Wallace mumbles. “I come and passed the word as soon as I heard, suh.”
“That’s a good start, boy,” the Judge says sternly, “but you’d better come clean and tell me all you know, or I’ll have you beaten bloody.”
“No suh,”Wallace wails.“You don’t have to beat Wallace. One thing I always know is that Marse Pary will take care of old Wallace. Master Pary loves Wallace as much as Wallace loves Master Pary. I could never betray Marse Pary and Marse Pary would never betray me. Judge, you can trust Wallace.”
“I hope so,” Judge Smith says, “__ for your sake!”
Judge Smith keeps Wallace in jail for a week. He and the Natchez Civic Club discuss how they will handle the situation. They decide that within two weeks all the slaves involved in the plot need to be identified and hung. The Natchez Civic Club agrees to raise a fund to indemnify any planters who lose slaves.
“Ross Pary ought to pay the fund,” one of the planters says. “He’s the one who brought that Cuban hoo-doo man here.”
“Pary didn’t bring that Cuban darkie to Natchez,” Lance Brittany says. “That darkie came of his own accord. Besides, how would it look after all Ross went through in Cuba for him to be ruined by those of us who stayed home?” There is a lot of grumbling among the planters, but, in the end, they decide that Pary would be treated the same as the rest. If he lost any slaves in the uprising, he would also be compensated. “But not for that Pedro darkie,” Judge Smith decides. “That nigger’s gonna swing and that’s that.”
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“Let’s invite the darkies with guns to a shoot out,” another planter suggests. “Every sporting white man within three counties will participate. We could raise money for the fund by charging a fee for every dead nigger. The boys won’t mind.”
The Natchez Civic Club finalizes their plans. Judge Smith brings Wallace out of his cell and back into his court. “Nigger, we want to know the next time those darkies with guns meet.”
“Well, sir,”Wallace cries, “I don’t rightly know when they meet. I don’t know nothing more than what I already done told your Honor.”
“Wallace,” Judge Smith shouts at the cringing slave, “if you don’t get me the information about these darkies with guns, I’m going to have every inch of flesh beaten off your black hide. Do you heah me, boy?”
“Yes suh,” Wallace wails. “I will certainly find out when they’s gonna meet next.”
“And Wallace,” Judge Smith says, “make sure it’s within the next two weeks.”
“Yes suh, Your Honor,” Wallace replies as he bows low.
“We can’t be waiting around on you darkies, do you hear me boy?” Judge Smith thunders.
“Yes suh,”Wallace quails. “Wallace is your nigger awright. Wallace won’t let you down. Naw suh. Wallace’s your nigger, Judge suh!”
Frank Yerby confronts Pedro. “We need to leave Mississippi, now.”
“I can’t leave, now,” Pedro replies.
“Right now,” Yerby warns Pedro, “is the time to bid Mississippi, adios, otherwise you will die here.”
“But, señor,” Pedro replies,“what do I do about Bessie?”
“Pedro, my brother, we have very little time left to us. We must leave Mississippi,” Yerby
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“Yes,” Pedro says, “I know Wallace spent many days in Judge Smith’s jail. The judge wants Wallace to get Lukumi to reveal themselves within two weeks.”
“So understand this, my friend,” Yerby says. “We need to get out of Natchez, as quickly as possible. We need to leave Natchez now!”
“That’s not the problem, señor,” Pedro says.“The problem is Bessie! Something needs to be done about what she is saying. She won’t listen to me. She only wants to talk about the number of guns black men have. I am afraid it is only a matter of time before the whites will be on us, Papa Legba protect us.”
“You need to give her the choice of running away with you now, or you must leave her,” Yerby says. “In any case, it’s her choice.”
“Her choice? Leave her? Leave her like I left Carlota?”
Yerby knows that neither Bessie nor Pedro have a choice; they are doomed.
“I cannot leave her,” Pedro replies, “I will not leave her. Don’t you understand that I love her?”
“I don’t know how you’re going to do it,” Yerby says, “but there will be a boat going down to New Orleans in five days. I have booked passage for you, Bessie and myself. I will be on that boat.” Yerby takes a gamble. “I’m going to let Wallace know that two Saturdays from now, blacks with guns will gather at the meeting ground. By then everyone should have been warned to run away. And we should be safely downriver on our way back to Florida.”
“What do I tell Bessie?” Pedro asks.
“That, my friend is up to you,” Yerby replies.
Surprisingly, on the scheduled day, Pedro nearly meets Yerby on the New Orleans riverboat. Pedro actually convinces Bessie to run away with him on that very night. “But,” Bessie says, “we must warn all the black men with guns.”
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Pedro agrees. He signals his Lukumi to meet at their sacred grounds. However, when they assemble together, instead of telling them to run for their lives, Bessie tells them of her plan to attack Finiterre and kill Morgan Brittany. “After I have burned that bitch’s house down, then I will leave,” Bessie promises. “After that, Pedro, I’ll go wherever you want me to.”
Judge Smith sends paddy rollers to Adams, Jefferson and Franklin counties. He summons the Knights of the Golden Circle, the secret society that will soon become the army of the confederacy. For now, the knights live to kill darkies. Over a hundred well armed white men, cold-blooded killers, arrive in Natchez to answer Judge Smith’s call. They are intent on hanging the darkies with guns.
Bessie and Pedro lead their Lukumi initates in an attack on Finiterre. But Ross Pary, along with George and Henry Metcalf, lead a group of knights to intercept them. They shoot ten blacks dead and hang the others including the wounded. Once all of Pedro’s initiates are dead, Ross Pary and the Metcalf brothers hang Pedro and Bessie, together. The white men who invaded Cuba are relieved that it is all over. But the instant Pedro jerks into the air, Papa Legba appears and whispers in his ear. Pedro smiles.