Tidewater Region of Virginia, 1830
Her defiant dignity stood out even in this horrible circumstance. She was beautiful, standing tall, majestically arrogant in spite of such indecent exposure. It was obvious she wasn’t like the others in the line. He could see it, but more than that, he sensed it. Each of the women’s shoulders slumped, their heads hung low, humiliation and defeat apparent over every inch of them.
Some tried to cover their nakedness with their chained hands to no avail. No one cared about their shame. They were not afforded the privilege of pride or decency. To most of the spectators, they were not human but stock animals on parade for the highest bidder; assembled for inspection to be purchased for whatever the buyer desired.
Dear Lord, when will this end? How long must my people suffer this shame and bondage? He prayed silently, holding his anger in check, pushing down the urge to lash out. He noticed her head was held high and her stance impudent even in shackles.
No one at the auction took pity on these women being sold like prime cattle . . . no one but him and God. His heart always ached at the sight of their uncovered bodies shiny with oil, pulled with chains and fettered in leg irons linking them all together.Waiting to hear from God, Bo stood in the back as he always did, out of sight of the others eager to make their purchases.
Some of the patrons poked and prodded the merchandise, ignoring their cries of discomfort and whimpers of shame and fear. One woman made no sound. Her eyes were fixed in a hostile stare at nothing in particular, her full lips tight.
Montgomery Dale, a wealthy farmer from outside Richmond, wanted to see her teeth. “Open up!” he commanded. After all, good skin, teeth, and a pink tongue meant you’d be getting a healthy slave. She didn’t open her mouth.
“You heard me, you stupid wench, open up!” Her jaw visibly tightened.
Harvey Price moved over to her and struck her hard enough to rock her back. “You heard him! Open your mouth!” He took his hands and tried to pry her lips and jaw apart. She still resisted. He hit her a second time, trying again to open her jaws when, in an instant, she bit down on his fingers. He yelled and snatched his hands away.
“You bit me!” His fist slammed into her head. She did not open her mouth but her eyes shut tight from the blow. She bent over, groaning, and buckled to her knees.
“Never mind, I don’t want a slave I have to beat to death to make mind. Waste of good money.” Montgomery waved his hand as he walked away.
“I warned you, you troublesome . . .” Harvey punched her in the face once more. She grunted from the pain and crumbled to the wooden platform. “Joe, get over here and loose her! Take her to the tobacco barn! I’m gonna teach this wench a lesson she’ll never forget when she comes to. She won’t bite nobody else when I’m done with her.”
A thin, tall black man came from the rear of the stage holding a giant key. “Shame ya has ta whoop her, Mistah Harvey, she sho a good lookin’ healthy one. Pretty as kin be an’ got a good strong body. Shame ta scar up such a fine lookin’ one. Dat’ll bring down her worth, won’ it?”
“Don’t ask me no stupid questions, boy! Do as I say before I whip your black hide too!”
“Yessah, Massah Harvey, anythin’ ya says, Massah Harvey.”
Harvey grumbled, “Ain’t nobody gonna buy her actin’ like a stubborn mule. A good lashin’s what she needs to teach her not to bite white folks.”
Bo felt the strong stirring of his spirit. It was a forceful urging and he knew why. He made his way swiftly toward the front. Marshall Craig was watching him, his dislike for Bo apparent. Their farms were adjacent. Bo knew the man hated him, hated his being a free Negro and property owner, but there was nothingMarshall could do about it.Afree black man productively working the land was an insult to a struggling white farmer. Marshall Craig opposed Mister Maitland and everything the man and his family represented. He despised all God-fearing men like Maitland, especially those who spoke out against slavery.
Ten years ago Jordan Maitland died, leaving instructions for his thirty-five slaves to be freed and a parcel of land given to Bo Peace. Bo continually produced abundant crops and maintained healthy farm stock on the flourishing farm he owned. He lived on this land with other freed slaves, working and living in agrarian prosperity. It was an industrious community of free blacks. Craig despised the idea of blacks running a farm on their own. He particularly disliked Bo, the man he considered the leader of the out-of-place coloreds.
Bo stepped up to Harvey. “I’ll buy her, Mister Price, sir,” he said quietly.
Harvey snapped his head around and looked at Bo. He knew this educated freed slave all too well. He talked too proper and was too blasted proud. Harvey didn’t like Bo Peace but he didn’t care about likes or dislikes, politics, humanity, or religion. All he was concerned with was making a profit. To him this black man’s money was as good as anybody’s. “You sure you want this one?” he asked.
“Yes sir, that one.”
Harvey glanced at Joe then back at Bo. “Now I know she’s mighty good to look at, boy, but you sure you want this here hard-to-tame wench?”
“Yes sir; how much you asking for her?”
“Let me see now . . . Seein’ she’s a strong healthy one with a breedin’ history . . .” He rubbed his chin, which showed a week’s worth of stubble, and his grin sported a missing front tooth. “I’ll sell her to you for nine hundred fifty dollars.” His grin widened. “She’s awful fetchin’, you know.”
“Nine hundred fifty?” Bo knew a white man would pay less for a disobedient slave. That amount would take almost all he had to spend. He’d been hoping to purchase two slaves.
“That’s my price. She’s young and look at those hips . . . wide . . . made to have a passel of picaninnies. Valuable stock, she is and has a goodly caboose too, probably keep you warm and satisfied many a cold winter night to come. Shoot, appealin’ as she is, I was tempted to try her out myself.” Harvey watched closely for Bo’s reaction.
Bo kept his face emotionless. “Nine hundred fifty then is agreed.”
Harvey slapped his back. “Good enough, glad to get this troublesome one off my hands. Joe, help get this ornery critter outta here and onto his wagon.”
Bo handed Joe the two blankets he was carrying. Joe covered the woman even before unlocking her shackles. Bo observed all the women, sorry he couldn’t buy every one of them. He dropped his head, not wanting his eyes to meet their pleading faces.
“Now look here, boy, you already see she’s hardheaded, so no bringin’ her back complainin’.” Harvey snorted as he lit his pipe. “It’s a deal that won’t be bartered away for no reason, ya hear?”
Aaron Philpot stepped up. “That’s too much money, Bo. He’s cheating you.”
Harvey puffed smoke in Philpot’s face and growled. “Shut up and mind your own business.”
“Nine hundred fifty dollars in these parts for a hard-totame slave is robbery and you know it,” Philpot insisted.
“Listen up you treacherous blabbermouth good doer, it’s what I’m chargin’ and what he’s payin’. So git outta here causin’ trouble!”
“I’m satisfied, Mister Philpot. It’s as it should be.” Bo took hold of part of the limp, wrapped body Joe was carrying down the steps.