“Blake: Huts of America”
By Martin Robison Delany
Excerpted from the chapter: “Fathers and Sons” in “Blake or The Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States;” (serialized in 1859 in "The Anglo-African Magazine;" 1861 and 1862 in the “Weekly Anglo African Magazine”).
Delany wrote "Blake: Huts of America" in the early 1850s and it was serialized in a newspaper as the Civil War began. It was his forceful reply to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s spectacularly influential book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which Delany correctly saw as the imaginings of a woman who had barely been below the Mason-Dixon Line. Ms. Stowe’s later writings about slavery would move more and more closely to Delany’s worldview as rendered in “Blake.”
“Blake” is about the factually-based, yet fictional wanderings of Henry, who sought to sow insurrection across the South. Delany drew from his experiences traveling at one time through Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. But this chapter from “Blake,” clearly is about a visit to Bolivar and Charles Town in a fictional guise. “Blake” mentions “Mud Fort,” the first name of Bolivar. The book’s numerous family surnames are Charles Town families and Worthington's Mill was a real place. Delany appears to have Henry come over from Virginia, perhaps the road from Hillsborough, VA (Route 671), and then take a ferry across the Shenandoah River to Harper’s Ferry. From 1830 through the 1850s, there was one there.
Henry’s movements suggest him walking to Charles Town to perhaps the old Winchester-Potomac RR Train Station, a line from Harper’s Ferry that was built in the 1830s. “Davenport’s,” “Washington’s” and “Briscoe's” plantations would have placed him first at the train station near Route 51, then moving west along Route 51, then southwest towards Middleway and Winchester along the Old Summit Road. - ED
Chapter "Fathers and Sons"
“From Washington taking a retrograde course purposely to avoid Maryland, where he learned they were already well advised and holding gatherings, the margin of Virginia was cut in this hasty passage, so as to reach more important points for communication. Stealing through the neighborhood and swimming the river, a place was reached called Mud Fort, some four miles distant from Harper's Ferry, situated on the Potomac . . .”
“Having lurked till evening in a thicket near by, Charleston (Charles Town – ED) was entered near the depot, just at the time when the last train was leaving for Washington (Winchester-Potomac going north to Harper’s Ferry, changing to the B&O railroad - ED). Though small, this place was one of the most difficult in which to promote his object, as the slaves were but comparatively few, difficult to be seen, and those about the depot were house servants, trained to be suspicious and mistrustful of strange blacks, and true and faithful to their masters. Still, he was not remiss in finding a friend and a place for the seclusion.
“This place was most admirably adapted for the gathering, being held up a run or little stream, in a bramble thicket on a marshy meadow of the old Brackenridge estate, but a few minutes walk from the town (On land of the development today called Breckenridge off Flowing Springs Road and adjacent to Security Hills – ED). This evening was that of a strict patrol watch, their headquarters for the night being in Worthington's old mills, from which ran the race, passing near which was the most convenient way to reach the place of gathering for the evening.
“While stealthily moving along in the dark, hearing a cracking in the weeds and a soft tramping of feet, Henry secreted himself in a thick, high growth of Jamestown weeds along the fence, when he slightly discerned a small body of men as if reconnoitering the neighborhood. Sensible of the precariousness of his condition, the fugitive lay as still as death, lest by dint he might be discovered, as much fear and apprehension then pervaded the community.
“Charleston (Charles Town), at best, was a hard place for a Negro, and under the circumstances, had he been discovered, no plea would have saved him. Breathlessly crouched beneath the foliage and thorns of the fetid weed, he was startled by a voice suddenly exclaiming:
‘Hallo there! who's that?’ which proved to be that of one of the patrol, the posse having just come down the bank of the race from the mill.
‘Sahvant, mausta!’ was the humble reply.
‘Who are you?’ further enquired the voice.
‘Zack Parker, sir.’
‘Is that you, old Zack?’
‘Yes, mausta - honner bright.’
‘Come, Zack, you must go with us! Don't you know that Negroes are not allowed to be out at night alone, these times? Come along!’ said Davy Hunter.
‘Honner bright, maus Davy - honner bright!’ continued the old black slave of Colonel Davenport, quietly walking beside them along the millrace, the water of which being both swift and deep. ‘Maus Davy, I got some mighty good rum here in dis flas' - you gentmen hab some? Mighty good! Mine I tells you, maus Davy - mighty good!’
‘Well, Zack, we don't care to take a little,’ replied Bob Flagg.
‘Honner bright, maus Bobby - honner bright!’ replied the old man.
Hunter raised the flask to his mouth, the others gathering around, each to take a draught in turn, when instantly a plunge in the water was heard, and the next moment old Zack Parker was swinging his hat in triumph on the opposite bank of the channel, exclaiming, ‘Honner bright, gentmen! Honner bright! Happy Jack an' no trouble!’ - the last part of the sentence being a cant phrase commonly in use in that part of the country, to indicate a feeling free from all cares.
In a rage the flask was thrown in the dark, and alighted near his feet upright in the tufts of grass, when the old man in turn seizing the vessel, exclaiming aloud, ‘Yo' heath, gentmen! Yo' good heath!’ Then turning it up to his mouth, the sound heard across the stream gave evidence of his enjoyment of the remainder of the contents. ‘Thank'e, gentmen - good night!’ when away went Zack to the disappointment and even amusement of the party.
Taking advantage of this incident, Henry, under a guide, found a place of seclusion, and a small number of good willing spirits ready for the counsel.
‘Mine, my chile!’ admonished old Aunt Lucy. ‘Mine hunny, how yeh go long case da all'as lookin' arter black folks.’
Taking the nearest course through Worthington's woods, he reached in good time that night the slave quarters of Captain Jack Briscoe and Major Brack Rutherford. The blacks here were united by the confidential leaders of Moore's people, and altogether they were rather a superior gathering of slaves to any yet met with in Virginia. His mission here soon being accomplished, he moved rapidly on to Slaughter's, Crane's and Washington's old plantations, where he caused a glimmer of light, which until then had never been thought of, much less seen, by them.
The night rounds of the patrol of the immediate neighborhood, caused a hurried retreat from Washington's -- the last place at which he stopped - and daybreak the next morning found him in near proximity to Winchester, when he sought and obtained a hiding place in the woods of General Bell.
The people here he found ripe and ready for anything that favored their redemption. Taylor's, Logan's, Whiting's and Tidball's plantations all had crops ready for the harvest.
‘An' is dis de young man,’ asked Uncle Talton, stooped with the age of eighty-nine years, ‘dat we hearn so much ob, dat's gwine all tru de country 'mong de black folks? Tang God a'mighty for wat I lib to see!’ and the old man straightened himself up to his greatest height, resting on his staff, and swinging himself around as if whirling on the heel as children sometimes do, exclaimed in the gladness of his heart and the buoyancy of his spirits at the prospect of freedom before him: ‘I don’t disagard none on 'em,’ referring to the whites.
‘We have only ‘regarded' them too long, father,’ replied Henry with a sigh of sorrow, when he looked upon the poor old time- and care-worn slave, whose only hope for freedom rested in his efforts.
‘I neber 'spected to see dis! God bless yeh, my son! May God long yeh life!’ continued the old man, the tears streaming down his cheeks.
‘Amen!’ sanctioned Uncle Ek.
‘God grant it!’ replied Uncle Duk . . . .”