Big Mo Turner sat erect mounted on his chestnut horse under a large oak tree atop a small hill. The overseer and former slave watched slaves picking cotton on the Colonel’s North Carolina plantation. Big Mo - wearing an old wide-brimmed hat, gray cotton shirt and faded blue Army pants and brown leather boots – occasionally swatted away a horsefly as he leaned forward in his saddle, his white assistant overseer also on his horse by his side.
Big Mo was Nat Turner’s son, the Nat Turner that led the largest slave revolt in American history, just 34 years earlier. Defeat was everywhere in the air as General Sherman and his army relentlessly chased was Gen. Joseph Johnston and his army northward. Confederate Generals Lee recently surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and President Jefferson Davis was on the run.
Joshua, a black teenager, ran from the Big House to Big Mo and handed him a note. Big Mo read the note, then carefully folded the note and the tucked it into his cotton shirt pocket. He turned to his white assistant. Big Mo pointed to the field and told his assistant to order everybody to gather at the Big House.
“The Colonel wants to speak to everyone,” Young Joshua said, expectantly looking up to Big Mo.
“Well,” Big Mo said looking down at Joshua from his horse.
“Is that all you have to say?” Young Joshua asked.
“There ain’t nothin’ else to say,” Big Mo replied.
“Gen’ral Lee and Gen’ral Johnston surrendered,” Young Joshua said. “And Jeff Davis is on the run. The war is over. We free.”
Big Mo looked down at Joshusa for a moment. “Oh yeah. We are far from the promised land. We are just a gett’n started.”
“I’m glad slavery is dead,” said the assistant overseer. “Our peculiar institution ain’t never made no sense to me. Why would anyone want to work for nuth’in anyways? You have to force someone to do so. And for the white people who didn’t own slaves ain’t they poor nuf anyways without having to compete against rich people who do not have to pay their workers.
“Any person with spirit has to have their spirit shattered. And any one that is docile becomes more docile. And free whites no longer want to do the work slaves do. The whole system is brutal and inhumane and lacks sense. Go to Ohio for instance. No man is too proud to do a job, And look at their economy – the way they live compared to the way we live.”
“I reckon,” Big Mo said.
The assistant overseer tipped his hat to Big Mo and then rode his horse to the Cotton field.
“You ain’t gonna stay here with the Colonel is you?” Joshua said. “You Moses. I thought you supposed to lead us to the promised land. That’s what the preacher says the Bible say.”
“Well, that Moses is a different Moses,” Big Mo said.
“What are you gonna do?” Joshua asked.
“What’s right for me,” Big Mo said.
The field hands walked passed Big Mo and Joshua toward the plantation house.
“Everyone is gathering at the big house,” a field hand said. “The Colonel has something to say.”
“I will take my own sweet time,’ Joshua said. “I free now. “What is freedom if you can’t choose to take your sweet time, hurry or not go at all?”
“Are you strong? Big Mo said. “If you not strong, can you become strong? If the answers to both questions are no, then ain’t never a gonna be truly free. If you already strong, you are already free.”
The slaves returning from the cotton field sang:
Wade in the water,
Wade in the water children,
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water.
The Colonel - dressed in a handmade suit and white gloves – stood in the shadows of the porch, concealing his face. He announced that they were now free. They could stay at the plantation if they wanted or leave. He said he could not pay anyone now but he would feed and clothe those who stayed and would pay them when he was able.
Afterward, the Colonel asked Big Mo to join him in his study in the Big House for a drink. When Big Mo entered his study, the Colonel was sitting at his desk with his back to Big Mo. When the Colonelturned, his face and hands were badly disfigured by fire. He limped to the cherry wood table in his office and poured two glass tumblers full of apple brandy, handing one to Big Mo . “Cheers.’the Colonel said. “Can’t feel my hands. Damn fires.”
He asked Big Mo to remain at the plantation and to continue to run it. Big Mo would receive a piece of land. The Colonel recalled their service together in the Confederate Army. He thanked Big Mo for saving his life at the Battle of the Wilderness. If Big Mo had not carried him from the fight, he would have burned to death in the fire. The Colonel had been shot in the leg and could not stand.
The Colonel said that he owned slaves as his daddy and granddaddy did. They were good hard working family men – Christians. He asked Big Mo if owning slaves was wrong. Big Mo answered his question with a question. “Would you trade places with me? If you answer yes, then you are a fool. If no, then I think you understand.”
“Life is strange,” Big Mo said. “Slavery is filled with contradictions that make no sense. You see I have two arms, two legs, two eyes, nose and a mouth just like you. We are not much different. Yet you are considered a man and I property.
“You may be the only friend I have. Yet you have kept me in chains until now. And I fought in a war to keep myself in chains through my own freedom is what I most wanted.”
Big Mo said he has other plans. He wanted to search for his mother and siblings in Southampton, Virginia. He dressed in his Confederate uniform for protection.
“Mo, have you ever heard of the Myth of Sisyphus,” asked the Colonel.
“Can’t say I have,” Big Mo said.
“Well, Sisyphus was the mythical king of the Thebans,” the Colonel said. “He was infamous for his cleverness and trickery.
“At the end of his life, the Greek gods sent Death to take him to the underworld,” the Colonel said. “When Death came with his manacles, Sisyphus asked him to show him how the manacles worked. After Death put the manacles on himself, Sisyphus took away his key and kept Death as his prisoner.
“After that no one could die. An angry Ares, the god of war, demanded Zeus, the king of the gods, do something. So Zeus sent his son Hermes, the messenger god, to free Death. Hermes freed Death and led Sisyphus to the underworld. The gods punished Sisyphus by making him roll a heavy stone up a mountain every day to watch it roll down again.
“The next day he again would have to roll the stone up the mountain and so on throughout eternity. He was condemned to live a meaningless afterlife in punishment for his living a meaningless life.
“Sometimes I think I’m Sisyphus. I spent my life trying to build this plantation from swampland, enduring the ups and down of the weather and changing economy. Then the war comes. I barely survive the war, only to come to my plantation destroyed by the union army. And I do not do this for myself. My plantation is like a ship at sea. Everyone on that ship is dependant upon that ship for sustenance. So my family, my workers and all my slaves and all of their families are dependent upon this plantation.”
“Do you know what I think?” asked Big Mo.
“What do you think?” asked the Colonel.
“Sisyphus must be happy,” Big Mo said.
“What do you mean,” asked the Colonel.
“Life is a rebellion against fate,” Big Mo said. “And rebellion gives life meaning.”
The Colonel handed Big Mo money for his journey. “Not much, but it is all I have,” he said. “Good luck Mo. Fortune favors the brave.”
Joshua, a teenager without family, wanted to join Big Mo on his journey to Southampton. “Where are we going, Big Mo?” he asked.
“You look like you are leaving,” Joshua said. “I want to go whicha.”
“I am leaving,” Big Mo said. “But not with you.”
“I didn’t invite you,” Big Mo said.
“I can help you,” said Joshua.
“Don’t need no help,” Big Mo said. “I travel light.
“I will help you.”
“It may be dangerous,” Big Mo said. “I move faster on my own.”
“I will help you.”
“Okay then meet me in two hours at Liberty Road.”
“Where are we going?”
“Land of the Pharaohs,” Big Mo said.
When Joshua arrived at Liberty Road, Big Mo is not there. Two old black men sitting on a porch in homemade wood rocking chairs told Joshua Big Mo left an hour ago. Joshua ran to catch up.
Big Mo and Joshua came to the small town of Golgotha, a town in the midst of a local election. A flyer of the local Sheriff Flay announcing his re-election campaign was displayed in the store window.
Two black Union soldiers, a sergeant and a private, stood on the stone sidewalk in front of the stor. The private bated Big Mo and asked him for which side he fought. The sergeant, however, restrained the younger man.
“Don’t mess with a guy like that. That man is a survivor. And dangerous.”
“I faced tough men in battle.”
“Your pride will kill you some day. Don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble will find you sure enough anyways.”
Big Mo and Joshua enter the town’s general store. A timid white clerk with thick glasses and hunched shoulders stood behind the counter.
Big Mo gathered butter, sugar, eggs, buttermilk, salt, pepper, flour and cornmeal.
The clerk cleared his throat and said in an overly loud voice: “We don’t serve no niggah’s here.”
Big Mo stared him down as Joshua fidgeted. “We ain’t no niggahs. You must be mistaken. Look at my uniform.”
The clerk in fear looks timidly at the ground. “I see. Well that will be three dollars and twenty cents then.”
Rose-fingered dawn rose with the sun behind the tree line. Mist veiled the brook carrying the cold mountain water to the sea. After Big Mo finished reading his newspaper the North Star, he fed it into the fire. Big Mo cooked trout and cornbread in two pans on the campfire.
“All you really need to cook trout is salt, pepper and oil and a hot fire,” Big Mo said.
If you cook the fish too long, it becomes to rubbery; too short and its raw. If you cook it just right it is tender, flaky and flavorful. Life is like cooking. Timing is everythin’.
“And the mos’ satisfying pleasures in life are often times the mos’ simple pleasures. The trees, the river, the food and the smell of the fire – life gets no better than this. It’s ready. Eat up.”
“Ain’t you gonna say grace before eatin’,” Joshua asks.
“You can say it for yourself if you want,” Big Mo said.
“Don’t you believe in God?” Joshua asks.
“Four days a week, yes,” Big Mo said. “Three days no.”
“Why don’t you believe in God all the time?’ Joshua asks.
“Because you can’t prove He exists,” Big Mo said.
“The preacher says ‘who could create all this beauty but God?’” Joshua said. “That is proof that God exists.”
“Why can’t nature have created nature?” Big Mo said.
“Without God there would be no morality,” Joshua said.
“Why is that?” Big Mo said.
“Ain’t you afraid of being cast into the fiery pit of hell?”
“If God exists, don’t you think He would want you to believe in Him because He exists and not because you are scared not to believe?”
“Well, then why do you believe in God for four days,” Joshua asked.
“Well, because you can’t prove God doesn’t exist,” Big Mo said.
“You are a strange man,” Joshua said.
“No, I think for myself,” Big Mo said. “I am my own man. I think people are strange when they don’t have the confidence to believe in themselves.”
Later, after they finished breakfast, Big Mo poured water on the fire.
“Where did you learn to read?” Joshua asks.
“From my daddy,” Big Mo said.
“How did your daddy know how to read?” Joshua asked.
“He was a negro preacher,” Big Mo said.
“Who taught him how to read?
“He taught himself how to read,” Big Mo said.
“That’s a miracle,” Joshua said.
“So they said,” Big Mo said.
Later that evening, two local white men - an older man and a younger man.- appeared at their camp.
“Hey boy, what are you two doin,’ camping in our woods and eating fish from our river,” the older man said.
“This is God’s country,” Big Mo said. “It ain’t your fish.”
“You are niggah,” the older man said. “Show some respect. You can’t talk to me like that. You know the rules.”
“We don’ want any trouble,” Big Mo said. “Push on ol’ man.”
The older man pointed his shotgun at Big Mo. “Boy, get down on the ground.” He turns to the younger man whose grinning. “Tie them up.”
When the younger man bended down to tie Big Mo. Big Mo knocked him to the ground and put a knife to his throat.
“Now lower your shotgun or your young friend is a dead man,” Big Mo said. “Now throw it over there on the grass.”
“Don’t harm my son,” the older man said.
The old man throws his gun away. Big Mo then rushed him, knocking him to the ground. He then slit his throat. “The first shall be last,” Big Mo told him as he killed him.
The younger man tried to run away. Big Mo tackled him. Big Mo then he held a knife to his throat.
“Have mercy,” the young man said.
“Too late,” Big Mo said. “You should have thought of that before.”
Before Big Mo kills him, he said. “And the last shall be first.”
Big Mo limped toward Joshua. “Damn, I turned my ankle,” he said.
“Oh, Lordy,” Joshua said. “God is going to punish us now.”
“Boy, wipe those thoughts from you mind,” Big Mo said. First, there ain’t no God. Second, if there is a God, He does not live down here on earth. Do not think so hard. Just do.
“Now give me a hand,” Big Mo said. “The white folks do live here on earth and the sheriff will certainly punish us.”
“We done wrong Big Mo,”Joshua said.
“What wrong did we do?” Big Mo said. “We were just defending ourselves. What real choice did we have? We chose life. Nothin wrong with that. Even insects understand that.”
“Damn, I’ve never met a man like you before Big Mo,” Joshua said.
“I’m just a man like every other man,” Big Mo said. “We are in great danger. We need to be smart now.”
“You the boss,” Joshua said.
“You are damn right,” Big Mo said. “So do everything I say.”
“Those white folks deserved what they got,” Joshua said.
“No one deserves it and we all have it coming to us,” Big Mo said. “Now let’s get rid of these bodies.”
Big Mo turned to Joshua. “I did not make this world,” Big Mo said. “ I just deal with it as it is.”
They tied large stones to the bodies and threw them into the river. They camprf for a couple days until Big Mo could walk again. When Big Mo and Joshua set out again, they eere stopprf by Sheriff Flay who was looking for the two missing locals. Sheriff Flay had a “hunch” that Big Mo and Joshua had something to do with the disappearance.
“Sometimes we are all that stand between order and anarchy,” Sheriff Flay told his deputies. “God may determine what is right and wrong. But it still must be enforced by man with all his imperfections here on earth.”
“If not for the sovereign, it would be a war of all against all,” said Flay said. “Life for all would solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Freedom requires restraint for there is no freedom without law.
“Without restraints man is nothing but a beast,” Flay said. “If you throw money into the mix, man is the very worst of the beasts.”
Sheriff Flay threatened to torture Big Mo. Big Mo coolly replied that if he tortures him he better kill him. When Big Mo takes off his shirt, Sheriff Flay notices his powerful build and askrf him about his scars.
Big Mo tells him about his war scars. When Sheriff Flay asks him about bite scars, Big Mo said he got them fighting a gator. When Flay asked him what happened, Big Mo showed Flay his knife and said “I killed him.”
Flay said “out of respect to your service to the cause, I will not harm you.” He, however, tried to whip a confession from Joshua who remained silent.
Flay turned to his deputy. “Mersault, take care of him.”
“You did good,” Big Mo tells Joshua. “I will teach you how to survive and see the world as it really is. Innocence is a luxury for the sheltered. For us it can me only death. There is no God or at least one that hears our cries. The world is indifferent to your struggles. Safety lies only in yourself.
"If there is any rule to this world, it is the rule of self preservation,” Big Mo said. “Man is a beast. And even a fox caught in the trap will gnaw off its own leg to survive.”
Big Mo carried Joshua to a rough cabin at the edge of the woods. A black woman about the age of 30 answers the door. Her name is Diotima. Big Mo told her that the boy was hurt and asked for her help. She opened the door and helped carry Joshua to her own bed.
“Aren’t you gonna ask who we are?” asked Big Mo.
“Do you need my help?.” Diotima asked.
“Yes,” Big Mo said.
“Then I do not need to know,” she said.
“Are you afraid of the law?” Big Mo asked.
“There are higher laws,” she replied.
The next morning, Big Mo thanked her and began to leave. Diotima asked him where he was going. Big Mo replied “I ain’t got no blood ties to the boy. He ain’t no kin of mine.”
“You don’t need no blood ties to be bound to another,” Diotima replied: “He’s your friend and he looks up to you. You can’t abandon him. You have a duty to him.”
“I am in a hurry to get to home to find my ma, brother and sister,” Big Mo said. “And we do not really have friends in life.”
“You have waited 35 years to see them,” Diotima said. “Whether you wait now or not, ain’t gonna make no difference. Your family is either there or not there.”
“Life is a solitary journey,” Big Mo said. “Who can you really count on anyways? In the end, your life is only your own.”
“I’m sorry life has treated you with a rough hand,” she said. “But we all have to endure our share of unfairness.”
“I don’t feel sorry for myself,” Big Mo said. “So don’t feel sorry for me either.”
“It is up to each person to make this a better world,” she said. “Hope sometimes is all we have. A man without hope does not belong to the future. You can’t leave the boy. The boy needs you now. I speak the truth.”
“There is no truth, only truths,” he said.
“Don’t confuse solitude with freedom. You are a stranger – unto others and even unto yourself. No man is an island, entirely unto himself.” Diotima said. “ We all need each other. The boy can’t be used as some means for your escape. He is a person just like you.”
“I can’t afford self delusions,” Big Mo said. “I see the world as it is. We are only as strong as ourselves. We don’t need others if we are strong. And I know of no man stronger than me.”
“We all are born and then die,” Diotima said. “So in a sense life is futile. We must do something between our birth and death to make our lives meaningful. We must therefore at least make our own life mean something. We must at the very least leave this world a better place than we found it.”
Diotima picked flowers and herbs in her garden. When Joshua walked into the garden, Diotima smiled.
“Well, look at you,” Diotima said. “You are a strong young man.”
“Yes, ma’m,” Joshua said.
“Do you like flowers Joshua?” Diotima asked.
“No,” Joshua said. “Flowers are for girls.”
“Are they?” Diotima said. She smiled. “Smell this.”
Joshua smelled the flower.
“Don’t they smell good?” she said. “Don’t they look good?”
“Yes, Ma’m,” Joshua said.
“Then you do like flowers,” Diotima said. “It is not unmanly to like beautiful things. It is quite natural to love the things made by God.”
“Yes ma’m,” Joshua said.
“You see I grew these flowers from seeds,” Diotima said. “ I planted the seed in the soil. I watered the plants. I weeded the garden.”
“Yes, ma’m,” Joshua said.
“You see flowers are miracles,” Diotima said, bending down and smelling. “Any one in search of miracles need not look any further than a flower. If you watch carefully, you will see that God is always teaching us something.”
“Can I ask you something?” Joshua said.
“Of course,” Joanna said.
“Are you negro?” he asked.
“Why do you ask?” she said.
“Because you look negro and you don’t look negro,” he said.
“Does it matter?” she asked.
“I ‘spose it doesn’t,” he said.
“I am from everywhere and I am from nowhere,” she said. “I am black. I am white. I am American Indian. I am one of God’s children. That’s what is important. We all are.”
“Yes, ma’m,” he said.
“The most important thing is that you judge all people as individuals,” she said. “Because all people are individuals, each with their own characters and peculiarities.”
“Well, I judge no one,” Joshua said. “Because I am no one.”
“Don’t ever say that, Joshua,” Diotoma said. “There will always be plenty of people who will try to make you feel like a nobody. If you listen to them, you will be a nobody. And you will have nobody to blame but yourself.”
“Thank you for giving us shelter,” Big Mo said. “Diotima, you are a beacon of light in a dark world. Here is payment.”
“I didn’t do it for payment,” Diotima said.
“That is all the more reason for accepting my gratitude,” Big Mo said.
“No keep it,” Diotima said. “You may need it.”
“No, please take it,” Big Mo said. “You need it.”
“Your gratitude is payment enough,” she said. “I won’t take your money. I just wanted to help because it was the right thing to do.
“God always provides,” she said. “Ask and ye shall receive.”
After Joshua recovered, Big Mo and Joshua set out for Southampton County. When they crossed into Southampton County, they came upon a dried head of one of the black men on a post. He was killed in the Southampton Insurrection 34 year ago. It was a large head with a large scar from his right eye to his chin.The sign said Blackhead Signpost Road.
Big Mo looks up to the head and tears stream down his cheeks. “So they killed you too,” he said to the head. “I thought you were the one man they couldn’t kill.”
“Will … Will . . . I thought they could never kill you,” Big Mo said.
Later, Big Mo told Joshua that General Will was one of the leaders of the Southampton Insurrection. Big Mo also told Joshua that Big Mo was the son of Nat Turner, the leader of the largest slave revolt in the history of the United States.
“My father led the army, but Will and Hark did the killing,” Big Mo told Joshua. “In a revolution, someone has to do the killing.
“And they did it was axes,” he said. “Men, women and children. even infants. It was terrible. You can see the fear in the eyes of the men you knew all your life. You could their last breath as life ebbed from the eyes. Perhaps there is an afterlife after all. Only they know for certain.
“One moment they are alive like you and me. Then they are dead – no more alive than a fallen tree or piece of meat. There is nothing good about killing another person.
“By the time the revolt was put down, we killed nearly 60 local men, women and children. My father was caught a month later. Those that had been captured, including my father, were tried and hung. They made a purse from his skin and kept on of his hands as a souvenir.
“Hundreds of innocent blacks, slaves and freemen, were murdered by vigilantes in the bloodbath that followed. Because I was a child at the time, I was shipped out of state and sold again as a slave.”
Night was falling and it began to rain. Big Mo and Joshua sought shelter at a rough cabin in the woods. Big Mo knocked on the door. A black woman about 50 answered the door.
When the woman answered the door, her guys grew big with surprise. “Oh my God. Mo is that you? Is that really you?”
“Delilah,” Big Mo replied. “Yes. It’s me. And I’m home.”
Delilah became angry. “God damn you.” She slapped his face. “Your daddy killed my daddy and brother.”
“They made their own choice,” Big Mo said.
“Your father mislead them,” she said. “He had no special powers.”
“They were men, free to decide for themselves,” he said.
She then turned her back. “You and the boy can stay here until the rain passes. Then you must move on.”
That night Big Mo dreamed. It was the final battle of the insurrection. Nat Turner was in the center like the Great King. Will was by his side, captured musket in hand. The last time he saw Will through the smoke and haze he was firing the musket.
The white militia men began their attack. Smoke was all around. Bullets whizzed all around. People were getting shot all around. The black rebels were greatly outnumbered. A few were drunk on apple brandy. As the militia men closed all around, the black army broke and ran.
“God, have you forsaken us?” Nat Turner said as those around him were shot.
Big Mo stood among the few who stood at their position. Surrounded he and the dozen who held their positions surrendered.
The dead and dying lay in the grass.
In the morning, Big Mo took an empty bucket of water to the spring and then brought back.
When he returned, Delilah was starting a fire in the stove. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You and the boy can stay here as long as you want. Do you want some coffee?”
“What happened to Momma?” Big Mo asked.
“Gone,” Delilah said.
“Dead?” Big Mo said.
“Did I say that? Delilah said.
“Then what?” Big Mo asked.
“Gone,” she said. After your daddy was captured, they tortured Cherry. By the time they were finished there was no skin left on her back. Finally, she showed them papers your father left with her.” “Afterwards, she disappeared with your brother and sister. They said they were transported out of state and sold in Mississippi.”
Big Mo and Joshua were at the Giles Reese farm. Big Mo was sitting amongst scattered logs in what was a rough cabin.
“This is where I grew up,” Big Mo said. “Used to hunt coons and possums here with my lil’ brother.”
“Noth’in left,” Joshua said.
“Jus’ ghosts,” Big Mo said. “And memories.”
“My daddy once baptized a white man in the river. He was a troubled but good man: an overseer on one of the plantations.
“When my daddy baptized him in the river all the people turned out. The black folk were there to cheer. The white folk were there to jeer.
Big Mo and Joshua were at a pond. Water oaks and cypresses grew from the water and the banks. Lily pads floated in the water. Flies buzzed.
“This is where it all started,” Big Mo said. “When my daddy arrived, General Hark and Nelson the conjurer were roasting a pig. Will the Executioner was sitting on his haunches. His ax was at his side. Henry, Sam and Jack were drinking apple brandy. All seemed like just yesterday. There was so much hope. All seemed possible.”
It is August 21, 1831, Cabin Pond, Virginia. Nat Turner, 31, a small charismatic man arrives.
“The preacher is here,” said Nelson the conjurer.
“Brother Nat,” Hark said.
The men embraced.
Nat then embraced Nelson, Henry and Sam.
“All is ready,” Nat said. “Judgment Day is here.”
“God is with us,” Nelson said. “Since God is with us, who can stand against us? I can see the future. I see success.”
“Who are you?” Nat said to Will.
“I am Will,” he said.
“He is a good man, Nat,” Hark said.
“How come you are here?” Nat asked Will.
“My life is worth no more than everyone else’s,” Will said. “I’m here to win our freedom or die.”
“Well, it is now time,” Nat said. “God has ordered us.”
“Amen, preacher,” Henry said.
“With God on our side, we cannot lose,” Nelson said.
“There is only seven of us,” Jack said. “This makes no sense. It will only lead to our deaths. And bring the full wrath of the white folk upon our heads. And how are we to murder innocent women and children?”
“More will join,” Hark said. “We must believe in ourselves. If the white folk treat us like animals we do not have to behave like men. This is a life and death struggles and our odds are long enough already.
“The militia is out of town. We will strike quickly without warning, “ Nat said. “Others will join us. We will be in Jerusalem before they can organize.“
“How do you know?” Jack said.
“The way has been prepared,” Nat said. “The hand of the Lord is upon us. God will strengthen us. Are you questioning God? Did not the Lord say ‘Seek ye the kingdom of heaven and all things shall be added unto you.’ We shall slay our oppressors with their own weapons.”
“Don’t be afraid though briers and thorns are all around you and scorpions surround you.
“Jehovah commanded ‘The end is upon you and I will unleash my anger against you. I will judge you according to your conduct and I will repay you for all your detestable practices.
“I saw a vision of white spirits and black spirits in the fight to the death,” Nat said. “We must have faith. If we lose confidence in God and ourselves we are as good as dead.”
“Believe in the prophet,” Nelson said. “He sees the future. He controls the clouds. God speaks directly to him. God has commanded the prophet to lead his people in a great battle against slavery.”
“Didn’t you see the signs: the solar eclipse? Today, the sun turned green.”
“Believe in the prophet,” Henry repeated. “You do not need to reason. All you have to do is believe.”
“I sees what I sees,” Will said. “I hears what I hears. I touches what I touches. I believes in nothing else. You may control clouds. You may walk on water. I ain’t gonna believe in nothin’ I can’t see myself.
“I ain’t gonna believe in no God at leas’ here on earth,” he said. “On earth, we must take our own life in our own hands. You see mah ax? That’s what I believe in.
“I will win my freedom or die,” he said. “When I die I ‘spect no pearly gates; no singin’ angels. When I die, I ‘spect only death.
“While I live I want to breath free air,” he said. “I want to work when I want to work. I want to res’ when I want to res. And I want to enjoy the fruits of my own labor.”
“I want to judge for myself what is right and wrong,” he said. “I don’ want no one tellin’ me what is right and what is wrong.”
“White man starves you then whips you for steal’in his food. He sends you to the field ‘fore the sun rises and then sends you home to your rough cabin after dark.
“He sells your chil’ren the same as his cows, pigs and chickens. He treats his mules better than you.”
“God commands it,” Sam said. “I’m tired of waiting for someone to free us. Let’s free ourselves through our own courage. A slave who says yes to everything consents to his own suffering. Let my people go.”
“There is nothin’ we can do about it now anyways,” Henry said. “The die has been cast. Our fate is our fate.”
“Let the preachers pray and the philosophers think,” Hark said. “We are in the Land of the Pharaohs. All roads lead to death. I choose to die fighting for our freedom rather than to live in slavery.
“Whatever they can do, they cannot take away our right to choose. By fighting, I choose life.”
“A better day is coming,” Nat said.
The men began to sing together:
When Israel was in Egypt’s land:
Let my people go,
Oppress’d so hard they could not stand,
Let my People go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.
“We met Nat and the rebels in the yard of the Travis farm,” Big Mo said. “It was the farm where Nat worked. It was 2 a.m. and all was quiet. We proceeded to the cider press where all drank except Nat.”
“Now, it is time to make good all your valiant boasts,” Nat said. Nat and Will looked at each other in the eyes. Will raised his ax and then laughed. Nat looked away.
Hark lifted the ladder and set it against the chimney. Nat climbed the ladder to a second story window. He opened the window and silently entered the house. He opened the front door and let us in.
“The work is now open to you,” Nat said to Will.
The men went to the master bedroom. Nat lifted his hatchet and hit his master Joseph Travis in the head with his hatchet, wounding him.
“Sally!” Travis called to his wife. Will moved Nat aside and killed Travis with his ax then killed Sally.
The rebels then killed the overseer and Sally’s son Putnam. Jack said he was too sick to continue. The rebels forced him to get up and follow them.
“Can’t we let him be?” Sam asked.
“Show no pity,” Hark said. “We must be strong.”
The men took all the weapons and horses. After they left, the men remembered that they forgot to kill the infant. Will and Henry returned to the house and killed the baby.
The rebels killed Sal Francis and then killed Piety Reese and her son William at their farm. They then killed Elizabeth Turner, her friend Mrs. Newsome and the overseer Hartwood Peebles. By the next day, they had killed 60 men, women and children.
Many slaves voluntarily joined the insurgency. Some that did not join were taken at gunpoint. They were also joined by free blacks. One slave who refused to join had his ankles cut so he could not walk.
“Davy, does not want to come,” Sam said.
“If he does not come, kill him” Nat said.
“We are already outnumbered,” Hark said. “We need every man we can get. It’s power versus power. And we are not only fighting for your lives we are fighting for the freedom of our people.”
By the time, the rebels reached the Whitehead Plantation, there were 15 men, nine on horseback. When they reached the plantation, Richard, a young Methodist preacher was in the field with his slaves.
“You, come here,” Nat said.
The insurgents surrounded him. They began to chant “Kill him! Kill him!”
“Please,” Richard cried. “Why do you want to kill me?
“Ýe hypocrite,” Nat said.
Will began to chop Richard to pieces.
“Please,” Richard cried.
Will dragged Caty Whitehead, Richard’s mother from the house. “I don’t want to live since you murdered all my children,” she told Will.
She looked into the eyes of Old Hubbard her servant.
Will then cut her head off with his ax, her blood spattered all over his face and arms. Her adult daughter Margaret screamed and in a panic runs in terror toward the woods.
Will looks at Nat and nods at him. Nat chased her down. He began to beat her with his blunt sword. He then picked up a wood fence post. He starts to beat her head with the heavy post. Her bloods and hair spatters all over his arm and face.
Old Hubbard, the family servant, said, there was no one left. In fact, he hid Harriett Whitehead and thereby saved her life. After the rebels left, Old Hubbard hid Harriett in the swamp.
At the Waller homestead, Waller’s wife and two daughters and a group of school children were slaughtered. Waller survived by hiding in the weeds. One child survived by hiding in the chimney.
Sam stood alone weeping while other rebels drank apple brandy. When Nat saw him, he ordered him to get on his horse.
“We must be strong,” Nat said.
The rebels killed John Barrow in hand to hand combat. They wrapped him in a quilt and left tobacco on his chest in respect for his valor.
“I’m sorry such a man had to die,” Nat said.
At one homestead, Nat held his men back. “Those people think themselves no better than negroes,” he said.
At the rebel army came upon new plantations and farm, many of them had been abandoned by their owners who now heard about the rebellion. When they came upon the Harris farm, only the slaves were there. By now, we had more than 40 men.
“You don’t stand a chance,” on slave Aaron told Nat. “If you knew how many armed white folks were at Norfolk you would have thought twice about attacking them.”
“Do you want us to kill you?” Will asked.
“We are not afraid of you,” Aaron said. “Violence does not equal strength. A man of peace is more powerful than a man of war. Your tyranny is not any better than the tyranny you are trying to replace.”
“You should die many deaths,” Will said.
“Let them be,” Nat said.
At the Parker Plantation, the rebels and militia clashed. The fighting was inconclusive and several rebels were wounded. The rebels retreated after the militia was reinforced.
The rebels tried to march on Jerusalem, the county seat. But some of their numbers had deserted; others were too drunk to fight. In addition, some of their muskets were rusty and did not fire.
Meantime, the whites had organized and called for help. Reinforcements were arriving from Richmond, Norfolk and North Carolina.
Once they saw the bridges were well guarded, the rebels turned back.
The rebels camped that night at the Ridley Plantation. By dawn, half the rebels had deserted.
“What do you think will happen tomorrow?” asked Mo.
“We are all go’in to die,” Will said.
Before marching out, the survivors sang their death song:
Michael row de boat ashore, Hallelujah,
I wonder where my mudder deh there,
See my mudder in de rock gwine home,
On de rock gwine home in Jesus’s name,
Michael row a music boat.
Gabriel blow de trumpet horn . . . .
In the morning, Nat and the rebels moved to the Blount plantation to recruit more men. To their surprise, both the owners and their slaves fought back.
Hark was shot and badly wounded and captured. Another rebel was killed and a third captured.
After the rebel force retreated, they were attacked by the Greensville cavalry who attacked and dispersed their forces.
The revolution was over. Nat, Hark, and Sam were caught, tried and hung. Jack and Big Mo were caught, tried and sold out of state as a slave.
Will was killed in the fighting. Henry was caught by vigilantes and summarily executed.
When they returned to the Delilah’s cabin, it was nightfall. A a dozen white men arrested Big Mo and took him to the jail in Jerusalem.
“Are you Moses Turner?” asked the sheriff.
“That’d be me,” Big Mo said.
“You are wanted in North Carolina for murder,” the sheriff said.
Young Joshua escaped into the woods. He then returned to Golgotha and sought the help of Diotima.
“Give me your worst,” Big Mo told Magistrate Judge Hawthorne. “You can’t do anything to me that hasn’t been done to me before.”
“Castrate him,” Magistrate Judge Hawthorne ordered. “He’s an animal. And so he shall be treated like an animal.”
“What about my rights?” Big Mo said.
“Here in this room behind these closed doors you have no rights but the rights I grant you,” Magistrate Judge Hawthorne said.
“He’s already been castrated,” the guard said.
“Do you see this skull,” Magistrate Judge Hawthorne asked Big Mo. He handed him a skull that looked as much as a ram as a man. “This is the head of your Daddy.
“After we hung him, we skinned him, made grease of his flesh and his skin into a leather purse.
“Give him such a beating that he will never come back,” Magistrate Judge Hawthornes said.
The sheriff of Southampton County tried to deliver Big Mo to Sheriff Flay chained to the back of a wagon. But Big Mo escaped killing the driver and the guard. The driver was found with a broken neck. The guard had his throat cut.
Sheriff Flay found Bog Mo and Joshua at Diotima’s cabin. The sheriff tried to arrest them but they refused to surrender.
Sheriff Flay had a dozen men surround the cabin.
Big Mo, Diotima and Joshua armed with rifles held out for five days.
“We’ve got to break out tonight,” Big Mo said. “We’re almost out of food, water and bullets. If we are captured, we are as good as dead.”
“There is no moon tonight,” Diotima said.
“Jus’ follow me,” Big Mo said. “We’ll head for the woods and then cut to the river.
If we get separated make for the river.”
A gun fight broke out. They ran toward the river but Diotima was shot in the back and was bleeding badly.
“Let me be,” Diotima told them. “Go on. I’m dying anyways. I’m slowing you down.”
By the time Sheriff Flay and his men found Diotima the sun had risen.
“Kill her,” Flay shouted.
“She’s a woman,” Mersault said.
“She’s a niggah,” Flay said. “Finish her off.”
“You can kill me but you can never destroy me,” Diotima said.
Diotima closed her eyes. Mersault stuck his the barrel of his revolver into the back of her head. A crack of gun fire echoed across the valley. Mersault fell dead. The pistol fells in front of Diotima. She picks up the gun.
Flay ducked behind a tree and his remaining men laid on the ground.
“Big Mo, I know that’s you, “ Flay said. “Surrender. You and the boy have no chance.”
Flay motioned his men to move forward toward the river. Another crack. Another one of Flay’s men fell dead.
Another man ran toward the trees. Another crack. He was hit in the shoulder.
Another man runs. Another crack. This time Big Mo misses.
Flay shoots Big Mo as he fired, wounding him badly in the torso. Flay ducked behind the tree. He turns and sees Diotima with her pistol aimed at his head. “Oh, Lord,” he said.
Diotima shoots him in the head, killing him. She then dies.
Flay’s men rushed Big Mo. Big Mo shoots one man dead. The rest of the men dive for cover.
Big Mo is mortally wounded. “You need to run,” he rasps.
“I can’t leave you,” Joshua said.
“I’m a dead man,” Big Mo said. “Now go.”
By the time, the remaining deputies reached Big Mo, he was dead.
Meanwhile, Joshua escaped across the river and turned north.
Mark Kodama is a trial attorney and former newspaper reporter who lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two sons. He is currently working on Las Vegas Tales, a work of philosophy, sugar-coated with meter and rhyme and told through stories. His short stories and poems have been published in anthologies, on-line magazines and on-line blogs.