This unpublished novel (working title Sun) follows Hassi, a 15-year-old slave girl from a comfortable Charleston household to the hospital at Fort Moultrie for soldiers and their Seminole prisoners then south to the Georgia piney woods and into Florida in search of her Seminole warrior father.

The novel’s opening:

Fort Moultrie

Hassi crouches in an alley off Meeting Street awaiting the Seminole chiefs and famed warrior Osceola, prisoners now at Fort Moultrie. The warehouse slaves have told her the Indians will walk from the wharves to Meeting Street flanked by a guard of soldiers. To attend a play! She finds it curious Seminoles have interest in their enemies’ entertainments. She has never seen a play, has only read plays by the Englishman William Shakespeare from the leather-bound book in her master’s library. But she has waited more than an hour two blocks from the recently opened New Theatre, a marvel of stuccoed brick and high arched windows, stone columns that reach from a massive raised portico to the roof.

When the small procession at last reaches the alley, she sees little more than flashes of stripes and paisley, their long coats a blur of color, the bangles and beads sparkles in the glow of street lanterns. Plumes of feathers float behind them on the cold January breeze. The Indians make almost no sound, their steps muffled by the soldiers’ boots thudding on cobblestone. Hassi tries to imagine these men as spectators in the grand theatre, seated in a balcony or peering over the balustrade to the stage, possibly standing at the back wall stately and scowling. A month ago, the warehouse slave Faust delivered crates of cloth to the theatre and described for her the thousand cushioned seats and lavishly decorated ceiling dome, the majestic gaslight chandelier. How does one even imagine such splendor?

She would follow the Indians the last block to the theatre but fears to risk it. She is late and the night patrollers will be watching. So she turns away, ducking deeper into the alley to the next street and from there through dark lanes to the Water Street house, climbing the back stairs to her third floor bedroom. The house is quiet, the slaves, Juba and her daughter Sarah asleep in their quarters off the kitchen, the coachman William on his cot in the storeroom, the master in the bed he seldom leaves.

Hassi uncoils the thick braid from her neck, combs out kinks and brushes her long hair into a silky sheen. Bending for a leather satchel, she adds comb and brush to what she had packed that afternoon: work dresses, headscarves, sleeping gowns and an extra pair of shoes. Satisfied she has what she needs, she opens the drawer of the writing desk and reaches to the back, releasing the spring of the hidden compartment. Lifting out a cloth purse, she spreads its contents on the desk, pushing aside ten half-dollars, her master’s Christmas gifts to his slaves this last decade. The other objects are a small quartz stone, a wire ring sized for a woman’s finger, a folded square of vellum. The ring and stone had been her mother’s, token gifts from her Indian husband. Smoothed flat, the vellum page reveals a single scrawled word she has no need to see, its letters etched on her heart. Totekayehaka. Her father’s name. Should she carry these treasures with her? What if she never comes back? But, of course, she will come back. She is to be gone only days. What possible need would she have for them at Fort Moultrie?

 

Turpentine Farm

 

 

 

 

 

“Sam Jones Village in Florida” © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, number 41-72-10/89 (digital file# 9050045).