On April 12, 1861, the Southern Confederacy bombarded Fort Sumter off the South Carolina coast. This act of violence is what started the war between the North and the South: the Civil War. The North was industrialized. There were factories. Most of the wealth in the South was held in land and slaves and their labor. Southerners had to raise money quickly. Many plantation owners were forced to sell their slaves and livestock to pay off their debts in support of the war effort.
CHAPTER ONE Callie
April 22, 1861
Sunlight poured into Suse’s bedroom, making Callie feel even more weighed down with what the day was bringing. Callie wished she could have stopped the new day from rising. Morning was her favorite time of the day, but not this morning. The world was spinning and churning out of control around her.
The hurt inside her was deep as a well; she felt she was drowning. She wished she could open herself up to release what made her feel so numb and silent.
The crying and wailing of Callie’s stepmother, Mama Ruth, could be heard all the way to Mister Henry’s house from the Quarters. He had forbidden her to leave the cabin. Callie’s papa, Hampton, was with her and Little Charlie, who was only two years of age. Callie prayed her little brother was too young to truly know or remember what was happening this horrible day.
Mister Henry was selling the last of his able-bodied slaves to Mister Arnold Tweet, a Mississippi cotton farmer. This included Albert and John, and Callie’s stepbrother Joseph. He was fifteen and could handle a plow. Joseph may not have been a seasoned slave but he could do a man’s day. He was considered a man.
Yesterday, when Mister Henry announced his intentions to sell his slaves in order to raise money for the war that was coming, Mistress Catherine was nowhere to be found. Papa found no fault with her, though.
“Callie,” he said, taking his daughter’s hands into his. Papa only did this when he wanted her to understand the thing that was so impossible for her to understand: the intricate and peculiar family ties that bound master and slave together.
Mistress Catherine was wholly white. She was Papa’s half sister. They shared the same father but not the same mother. Hampton’s mother was a slave. The child had to follow the condition of the mother. Hampton never got to know and love his mother. She was taken away from him and sold shortly after he was born. And so, he was brought up right alongside his half sisters, Catherine and Eloise.
“We must not blame Mistress Catherine for being such a timid soul,” Papa explained, trying to soothe Callie. “Matters such as these were never in her spirit to conduct.” But Callie could not even look at her papa. He gently turned her face to his.
Then Papa reminded her, “Callie, you must remember, we have a kind mistress in Catherine. It is because of her that you and I are better off than so many other folk.” Callie knew he meant, better off than even Mama Ruth, Joseph, and Little Charlie, too. And this knowledge hurt her even more.
“We must abide as best as we can until there are better times,” he told her.
“For now, Callie, in your mistress, Catherine, we have some protection,” he explained, still holding her hand. “Try to understand.”
Callie could not keep her gaze on her papa’s face. He wanted her to look into his eyes so she would understand his heart. But Callie could not control the tears that filled her eyes and spilled down her face. Callie knew all too well what he meant but she had promised herself to refuse to try to understand. Papa brought her in close while she cried.
“I don’t know how I can live in this world without Joseph,” she whispered to Papa through her tears. And I don’t know how he is supposed to live in the world alone without us, his family.”
Papa tried explaining to her the way things worked in the world they lived in. But Callie could not make right sense of the things he told her. She often wondered how her mistress, Catherine, could have a brother in her papa, who was born a slave, and was promised to never be sold away, and when he became a certain age he was given his freedom. This promise was kept. It would happen for Callie because she was Hampton’s daughter. How could it be, she wondered, that Mister Henry could have the say in pulling Papa’s family apart?
• • •
Once, long ago, Callie asked her papa how he felt when he became free. He looked at her and smiled.
“It was wonderful and strange,” he said. “I felt like myself, only bigger inside. There was something that made me feel as if I was newly born. When your time comes, the star that shines for you will shine even brighter, my Callista,” he said, hugging her to his chest.
Her papa promised her when she received her freedom papers he would take some of the money he was saving to send her to school in the North.
“You have a questioning mind, Callie. You have opinions about everything. You want to know about the world around you. Your heart is strong and you need this strength to live in this kind of world,” he said. “Learn everything you can, so that you can bring that wisdom to others. You will make a good teacher.”
And yet, when Callie thought on these things she wondered how freedom would truly feel for her.
How will I be able to go to school in the North and leave those I love when they do not have their freedom? This freedom can never be true for Mama Ruth, Joseph, and Little Charlie. Mister Henry owns them outright. He has never made—nor will he ever make—such a promise to them. He has said so many times, and this day proves it.
Most every night before she went to sleep, Callie thought about slave property and ownership.
I wonder on wonders why the world has been made this way. If God made this world why is this not a good world for the slave? It doesn’t seem good to me.
My mother died before I could know her. At my birth, Papa says, something went wrong as she brought me into the world. But when Mister Henry finally allowed Mistress to send for the doctor, it was too late.
Sometimes in the secret of the night when things were quiet and still, Callie would let herself feel such hateful thoughts about Mister Henry.
“He robbed me of my mother,” she would cry. Then her anguish would turn toward Suse.
But when these times happened, rivers of sadness would pour over Callie because she knew her feelings were not right. It was not Suse’s fault, Callie knew, even though she took after Mister Henry too much for her liking.
Then Callie would think how this would hurt Mama Ruth.
I have a good mother in Mama Ruth, she would tell herself. She knew my mother, and sometimes tells me about her. Stories are all anyone can give to me. And I know I have to be satisfied with that until I can make my own.
If this is the world God has made, I wish God had made another. I do not like this one. It is not good, so why is it called the Good Book?
These thoughts were in Callie’s mind and her heart and she did not know how she would forget them. Daily she prayed that God would welcome her to heaven, even with her bad thoughts. I do not want to go to the other place for all the lost souls.
“I do not want to understand,” she finally told her papa as she had told herself so many times when she was alone in the night and no one was listening.
“This is no way to live. These laws are hateful and awful, and have such ugliness about them. We are a family. You, Mama Ruth, Joseph, Little Charlie, and I are a family,” she repeated. “It is wrong to break apart a family—to include some and leave out others.”
• • •
The night before the sale, Mister Henry ordered Callie to stay in the room of his daughter, Suse, until his business was complete the next morning. Suse was Callie’s responsibility. Besides helping in the kitchen and some housework, Callie had to tend to Suse. When Suse had need of her or when she was sick, Callie slept on a pallet on the floor next to Suse’s bed. But this night, Callie hardly slept.
The news had caused such a commotion, such a mess after Mister Henry announced his intentions. All day long Mister Henry’s announcement rang in Callie’s ears like an out-of-tune bell. And all day long she had plotted and planned what she would do when night fell and the house was settled and quiet.
The mess and commotion would only grow worse come the next morning when Mister Arnold Tweet arrived to collect his property.
Suse had fallen asleep hours ago. But Callie’s mind twisted and turned. Her heart pounded and ached. She lay on her floor bedding, fully dressed, waiting for the moment when there was no movement from the floorboards, letting her know that everyone in the Big House was asleep. The house was quiet.
Callie had already made up her mind.
She sprang from the floor. Even without a lit candle to guide her, she knew where to go. Walking through the darkness, Callie knew where to place her steps so that she missed the floorboards and the stairs that creaked. She knew how to push in on the door handle when she opened the door to Suse’s room so there was no noise. Callie had become practiced at this. Many times before this she had sneaked out of the Big House. Sometimes she would be with Suse, maybe to count the stars or wish on them. Sometimes Callie would go alone. And when she was alone she would speak her wish for freedom out loud to the night. Or she’d steal away to her cabin where her family slept, and she would sit and listen to the quietness and their breathing.
She hated those nights when it was demanded that she sleep in Suse’s room.
This time Callie was not counting stars or seeking the comfort of her family. Callie’s heart raced. She moved quickly through the night heading to the kitchen house, careful not to disturb Elsa, the cook, who slept there. Callie grabbed the bundle of food and supplies she had hidden in the kitchen earlier that day. She hoped there was enough for two. If not, Papa had taught them how to catch fish with their bare hands. Joseph was even better at fishing this way than Papa.
She headed to the old barn. Joseph was housed there with the two other men. The barn was not of much use anymore. Mister Henry had already sold most of the farm animals. What was left of them could all be kept in the smaller barn.
Callie had decided there was nothing left to do but for the two of them to run away together. She had heard stories of slaves who had escaped their masters, but she had never heard the outcome of their fate. Her only hope was that by sunup they would have gotten far enough away from Belle Hill Farm. Callie would not allow herself to think of all that she loved that she was leaving behind.
When things were settled, they would somehow get word to Papa and Mama Ruth to let them know they were safe and free.
There was only a sliver of a moon. Callie went to the side of the barn where the boards were slack. She wiggled the boards to loosen the nails until she had enough room to squeeze through.
It was dark and musty. The air was still and close. She could see no shapes, but she could hear someone whimper.
“Joseph,” Callie called. “It’s me, Callie,” she whispered across the darkness.
“Callie-girl? What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to set you free, Joseph. I can’t let him do this to you. I can’t let you be sold away from us. We can run away together.”
“Oh, Callie-girl,” Joseph said, trying to keep his sobs quiet. She could hear the chains rattling as he turned in her direction.
“Papa already tried, Callie. He came and talked to all of us earlier tonight,” Joseph admitted.
“Did Mama Ru . . . ?”
“No, Papa said she wanted to come but I asked him to keep her away from here.”
“Joseph, what are we going to do?”
“Unless you brought something that can break these chains, I’m going nowhere until morning.”
“Oh, Joseph,” she cried. And when she reached out to hug him she could feel that his face was wet from tears.
“Oh, Joseph, what can we do?” Callie sobbed. “What can we do?”
“You remember what Papa told us about our stars?” Callie nodded her head. “I’ll remember them, Callie-girl. Will you?”
“Yes, Joseph. I promise I will. I promise.”
Twelve-year-old Callie Wilcomb and her family are slaves, and the Civil War gives them hope that freedom may be on the horizon. On May 23, 1861, the State of Virginia ratified their vote to secede from the Union. In Virginia, a window was opened where the laws of the land no longer applied. Because of the Contraband Law, slaves no longer had to be returned to their owners, granting them a measure of protection and safety. With the possibility of Callie and her family escaping their bonds forever, Callie is eager to learn and become educated and hopes to teach others one day. Through hardship and loss—with love and strong family ties—Callie proves that freedom is in her stars.
- Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books |
- 192 pages |
- ISBN 9781481459815 |
- February 2017 |
- Grades 3 - 7