Author Topic: Hillbilly Views: One Day, It Snowed in March  (Read 1230 times)

Offline Lion

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Hillbilly Views: One Day, It Snowed in March
« on: April 13, 2010, 02:03:21 pm »

Friday, April 9, 2010

One Day, It Snowed in March

Sunday, March 3 ,1861, was a cold rainy day in the mountains of western Virginia. The clouds in the sky were an inky dark gray, the perfect color to signal snow as the day wound to a close and nightfall came. There was a restlessness moving through the slave quarters of the Howard plantation. The ghostly ones, the all but invisible house slaves, had slipped out to bring troubling news to their counterparts in the shacks that served as shelter. The Old Man was drinking heavily and swearing almost continuously. Tomorrow Abraham Lincoln would be inaugurated President of the United States. Change was no longer just a whisper in the breeze…..the Old Man felt that it was a roaring shout that would result in huge changes to his Southern way of life.

As night came and the now began to fall, the Old Man sank into a drunken stupor and finally into a drunken sleep The house slaves finished their work, then one by one slipped away to the quarters to whisper urgently with their friends and relatives. The Old Man had been muttering threats all afternoon. If that “damn Yankee” fool became President, it wouldn’t be long before those “damned abolitionists” took over and freed the slaves and if those “nigrahs” were going to be freed, he’d be damned if he’d feed and clothe any “nigrah.”

By midnight, all the black folks on the plantation had gathered to discuss the now very real possibility that they would all be kicked off the plantation. Where would they go? Who would take them in? Would they be treated as runaways? Would the Old Man sell them South away from family and all they knew? Winter was sliding away but spring had not yet come to the mountains, just look at all the snow that was piling up. How would they survive? Margaret was especially worried. She had four little ones, 7, 5, 4,3, and another one on the way. If she had to carry the three year old, baby George, Lewis and William could hold Belle’s hand . She knew exactly where she would go but it was at least 20 miles away and she did not know if the children would walk that far and stay warm. Late into the night, she gathered as much warm clothing as she could find. The other women asked her, where would she go, could her husband come and get her and the children? How far away did he live? What were they going to do?

William Henry had whispered to her in the night….his “owner” was really his father and had tried so hard to buy Margaret and the children but Old Man Howard would not deal. Then William Henry had whispered the directions to the mountain where he lived and made her memorize the directions. She knew she could find the way, she just had to find a way to keep her babies warm. She talked to one of the younger men…did he know a way to get a message to William Henry? Finally, she had a promise, her friend would slip over to the next plantation and pass the word and someone else would pass the word until it got to William Henry. He didn’t know how long it would take but he would do his best. She worked through the night…she’d walk every step of the way if she had to but she had to carry food and warm clothes….to keep her babies safe.

Slipping and sliding through the night, from farm to plantation, across the mountains and through the valleys, the message traveled more than the twenty road miles between the two Virginia mountain communities. Before daylight the next morning, William Henry left his loft bed in the main cabin of the isolated farm on top of the Little River Mountain . He dressed quickly and grabbed a warm coat. The livestock must be fed, the cows milked, and other early morning chores completed. He stomped down the narrow path to the barn. He was surprised to find the latch on the barn door open. Looking around the side of the building, he looked for tracks…saw nothing out of the ordinary and then cautiously opened the door, entered the barn and hung his kerosene lantern on the nail by the feed room. There was someone hiding in the barn, he could smell the difference in the air!

A whispered voice came from the hay loft. “William Henry? That you?” He recognized the voice as a being from a neighboring farm…from a Quaker owned farm on the other side of the mountain. It was a black man who had lived at the nearby farm for many years….who had studied beside him in the night when the Quaker lady had taught them both to read and write. “Yep, it’s me Oscar. Something wrong?”

As the other man climbed down from the loft, “Got a message for you. A fellow came last night from up the road. ” The two men looked at each other eye to eye. “Said to tell you…Old Man Hoawrd…is fixing to put your family out! He’s drunk, cussing and swarping cause Lincoln is president. The word is he’s putting all the people out…with just the clothes on their back… papers…nothing.”

The blue gray eyes darkened and flashed with fire. The neighbor man grabbed the bucket, “I’ll milk the cows and feed your stock fore I go back to the Meetin’ House. Haven’t heard of any slavecatchers around lately …with this snow….they’d be easy to track and once I get back over the mountain, I’m safe.”

William Henry headed back to the main cabin and went in. The older man by the fire knew something was wrong. The lighter gray eyes met the darker flashing ones…square on.”What’s going on?”

“Word’s come…..bad word…..old Howard is putting everybody off his place…says he’s not gonna feed or clothe nobody..”

The man with the light eyes slammed his tin cup on the plankboard table. His eyes flashed with anger “He wouldn’t sell her to me and he wouldn’t sell the children and now the son of a bitch is throwing them out! You get the wagon ready and go get them…don’t waste time, GO!”

William Henry set out on Webbs Mill Road headed toward Christiansburgh. That was the way be had whispered to Margaret …if she ever got free to walk on that road. He had knelt by the fireplace and taught her the letters so she would know. Thoughts raced through his mind…he had piled enough straw in the back of the wagon to keep them warm and to hide them from prying eyes. His grandmother had handed him warm blankets to put In the straw and put warm bricks in the bottom too. She was old and didn’t say much but the message was clear…go get those children and bring them home! The mules plodded along the road. The sun was trying to come up but the wind was still swirling the snow about. He had been on the road for nearly an hour and had was more then half way there when he spotted a small group of people ahead. There seemed to be a woman there who walked like Margaret..could it be her?

Margaret was cold and her youngest boy was heavy but she knew she dared not stop walking. Her younger brother held the hands of the little children and walked in his sister’s footsteps. They could not be caught on the road, they had no pass…but they had been lucky so far. There had been no other people on the road. Coming down the next hill was a wagon pulled by two mules. The man driving th wagon was black. Surely he would not harm them. Maybe he would help them but…he was headed the wrong way! They could not go back to Christiansburgh…they had to go the other way…but wait! The wagon was stopping and the man was climbing down! Would he help them? Then Margaret recognized the man driving….it couldn’t be! But it was!

“Woman, get up in this wagon. Give me the children! There are warm bricks and blankets in the middle of the hay. Boy, get up in this wagon and get warm!” William Henry grabbed his family and loaded them in the wagon, snugly hidden in the straw. “We’re going back up the mountain as soon as I turn this wagon around.”

And, they did.

Offline Mastrmynd

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Re: Hillbilly Views: One Day, It Snowed in March
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2010, 02:35:36 pm »

good stuff.
i enjoyed reading this.

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