The Sugar Tree
It was a chilly afternoon in November, 1822. A large group of children had assembled under a rather gnarled looking tree deep in the forest. They had gathered there in fear of their lives, knowing that this special tree would provide shelter. For they were lacking faith in almost everything this early in their young lives. Born as the children of the free blacks living deep in the forests of Kentucky, these innocent children were easy targets for the slave traders who needed the young ones to serve the plantations of the south.
13-year-old Mariah sat under the Sugar Tree with her friends, wondering when the slave traders would leave and they could return to their families in the village. They didn’t want to go back early, while the slave traders were still there, so they had to be patient. They needed to avoid the slave traders. Some of Mariah’s friends had been taken already. She had mourned for them, knowing that they wouldn’t come back. All of the children knew that. If someone was taken, they wouldn’t return.
After waiting for quite a while, Mariah decided to go out and look around. As she approached the village and rounded the corner, she froze. This was a huge mistake, for the slave traders were delaying themselves as much as possible. They were waiting so if the children came back, they could capture and trade them at the slave market the next day. Mariah was rounded up like an animal. The traders tried to get her to reveal where the rest of the children were hiding. Being the smartest girl in the village, Mariah knew the dangers that would befall her friends. She told them that all the other children had been taken by slave traders at the start of the week. It wasn’t difficult to get emotional. Mariah cried real tears of fear but feigned them to be tears of desperation to see her friends again. The traders were immediately convinced that the little girl in such a state was telling them the truth. It would be a waste of time to wait in the village when nobody else was to return there.
They tied Mariah up and put her in the back of their cart which was harnessed to a black horse with a white star on its forehead. She made a small seat out of straw and hay which was in the back as she figured that they were travelling a long way. They arrived at the slave market early the next morning. Mariah was chained to a group of other 13-year-old girls. They had all been taken from their camps as free blacks and were to be sold into slavery.
The group of girls had to wait for a long time to be called up. Mariah got to know the other girl’s names. The girl at the front’s name was Minnie, the skinny girl behind her Adeline, the next one with cropped hair Electra, then Mariah and then a shorter girl who introduced herself as Daphne. They were all called up to stand in the entrance to the ring. Then, they were called up into the ring one by one while people shouted out different amounts of money. This was an auction like Mariah had never been to before, for the products for sale were people. Minnie, the first girl, sold for a reasonable sum because she looked strong and healthy. Adeline sold for a lesser amount because she was a little on the skinny side. Electra was sold for a vast amount because she was very tall and was of a strong build. Mariah thought she would be sold for next to nothing but she wasn’t, because the plantation manager that was doing the highest bidding needed two girls who were not so strong but could manage the household. The other spot went to Daphne, because she was also of a slighter build.
Daphne accompanied Mariah to the plantation on the back of a cart not unlike the one that took Mariah to the slave auctions. The girls huddled together, not knowing what to expect. They cried together and then, sometime through the night, they must have drifted off to sleep together. They awoke early in the morning, before dawn, still on the cart. By the time the chill was leaving the morning air, the convoy of new slaves had arrived at the plantation.
Old Tom, also a negro, kept a special eye out for the two young girls. They were treated fairly well but missed their families and villages immensely. Together Daphne and Mariah worked side-by-side in the house and soon became the best of friends. Only after the girls became very close did Daphne reveal that her entire village had been destroyed. Most of the inhabitants had not been as lucky as her. Instead of being enslaved, the others had been killed. Were she ever to be given back her freedom, she would have nowhere to go.
To get away from their everyday, the two girls started to daydream together. They dreamt of being released to return to Mariah’s village together. They had become so close that Mariah felt Daphne would be treated as her sister. Mariah told Daphne about the safety of the Sugar Tree. They made up stories of the two of them sitting under The Sugar Tree where Mariah would talk and reminisce about all the good times the village children had spent in the shade of the Sugar Tree long before the slave traders came. Daphne would either just listen or tell stories about the village she came from. From the stories that they told each other, Mariah and Daphne kept their spirits high.
There was no release. The girls grew into young women. They both married fellow slaves and they were both fortunate to be able to have families on the plantation. Slavery became all they knew of freedom. Their children gave them grandchildren, but still they were enslaved. Years came and went.
1863 and a man named Lincoln changed all that. The President declared that all slaves were to be free men and women again. As they had dreamt of all those years earlier, the two grandmothers moved their extended families back to Mariah’s old village. Many of the other children sold as slaves also returned, much older and much wiser. For many weeks there were celebrations under the old Sugar Tree.
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