Read Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad Online

Authors: Judith Redline Coopey

Tags: #Brothers and Sisters, #Action & Adventure, #Underground Railroad, #Slavery, #General, #Fugitive Slaves, #Historical, #Quaker Abolitionists, #Fiction

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad
Judith Redline Coopey
Indi Pub Group (2010)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Brothers and Sisters, Action & Adventure, Underground Railroad, Slavery, General, Fugitive Slaves, Historical, Quaker Abolitionists, Fiction

Ann Redfield is destined to follow her brother Jesse through life - two years behind him - all the way.  Jesse is a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and Ann follows him there as well. Quakers filled with a conviction as hard as Pennsylvania limestone that slavery is an abomination to be resisted with any means available, the Redfield brother and sister lie, sneak, masquerade and defy their way past would-be enforcers of the hated Fugitive Slave Law.  Their activities inevitably lead to complicated relationships with other Quakers, pro-slavery neighbors and the fugitives themselves.  When Jesse returns from a run with a deadly fever, accompanied by a fugitive, Josiah, who is also sick and close to death, Ann nurses both back to health. But precious time is lost, and Josiah, too weak for winter travel, stays on at Redfield Farm where Ann becomes his teacher, friend and confidant.  When grave disappointment disrupts her life,  Ann turns to Josiah for comfort, and comfort leads to intimacy. The result, both poignant and inspiring, leads to a life-long devotion to one another and their cause. Author Judith Redline Coopey brings the Underground Railroad alive, giving us characters to remember -- both real and compassionate, and conflict to explore -- when belief in pacifism clashes with dedication to a cause where violence often rules the day.

About the Author

Judith Redline Coopey holds a BS degree from Penn State University and a Masters in Education from Arizona State University. She taught history for more than 20 years, is a genealogist, a world traveler and has written for a number of periodicals. She has another book forthcoming:  Waterproof, a Novel of the Johnstown Flood.  Look for it in May 2012.

Redfield Farm
 
A Novel of the Underground Railroad
Judith Redline Coopey
Chapter 1
 
1903 . . .
 

J
esse died today
. Right here on Redfield Farm, where we grew up. I’m glad it was here and not someplace out west, where they didn’t know him and there was no one to grieve. Worse yet, no one who knew him when he was young and on fire. I’ll probably follow him in about two years. Always did. Born there. Grew up there. Grew old there. Two years behind Jesse.

We’ll bury him in the Friends Graveyard at Spring Meadow. With Mama and Papa and Abby. He’ll be happy there with the rest of the Friends. And the silence. Jesse always did love the silence of Meeting. Said it moved him. Now he can have it forever.

He sure kicked up enough dust around here when we were young. Kept us on edge for most of our youth with his hatred of slavery. Don’t get me wrong. I hated it, too. But Jesse’s hate didn’t just smolder under his hat. He acted on it, from the time he was a boy.

. . . 1837
 

The first I knew of it was back in 1837, when I was nine and Jesse eleven. Redfield Farm sat, as it does now, on a hill overlooking Dunning’s Creek in Bedford County. The hill slopes gently, giving a wide view of the creek as it curves to the north. The field was pasture then. Cows crowded under the shade of the few trees, swishing flies in the afternoon heat. Jesse and I trotted barefoot down the hill, he with a fishing pole, I with a pail for picking berries.

“Ooooh, Jesse! There’s a snake!” I jumped as it slithered across the path.

“Don’t step on it,” was all he said. That’s how Jesse was. Unconcerned. He was ahead of me, strutting along, pole in his right hand, worms in his pocket, straw hat on his head.

I ran a few steps to catch up. It seemed I was always following a few steps behind Jesse. I spent my life there. “Why are you always so in a hurry?” I jumped to miss a cow pie.

“Don’t get much time to fish.”

That was true. Farming was a round-the-clock responsibility, not limited to adults. My brother was expected to put in a man’s work every day. This summer afternoon, when the hay was in and the corn was growing meant almost a vacation, with only the morning and evening chores to do. Jesse wasn’t one to miss an opportunity.

It was then I saw her. Well, I can’t say I really
saw
her—just a glimpse. That’s all I needed to know it was Pru Hartley, sneaking around, watching. Always watching. I didn’t know why I disliked her so. Maybe it was how she looked. Unhealthy. Scrawny. Pale. Maybe it was that sneakiness I couldn’t abide, or the promise of trouble that trailed after her. Whatever it was, her presence never failed to raise the bile in me.

“Jesse!” A loud whisper. He turned. I jerked my head toward the other bank and mouthed her name. Pru wouldn’t ever show herself if she thought she could get by unseen. Jesse nodded. We swung to the right, following the path along the creek.

“You gonna fish here?” I wanted to know. The blackberry bushes were farther downstream, near the woodlot, but I didn’t like to get too far separated from Jesse in case there were snakes. I didn’t like snakes. Still don’t. Anyway I didn’t want to run into Pru by myself. She had an annoying way of waiting until you got busy with something and then appearing suddenly, like a ghost.

“Not here,” Jesse replied. “Too much sun. Down in the woodlot, where it’s shady. Fish aren’t dumb. They find shade when it’s hot.”

I hopped up, pail in hand. “Come on, then. I can see those juicy blackberries from here.” I skipped along the creek bank, and stopped to pick a few black-eyed Susans to decorate my apron pocket. I liked the way they dressed up my plain brown dress and apron. Papa would have said it was vain, but I thought, since flowers were God’s creation, He must like fancy, just a little bit.

I was already in the blackberry patch at the edge of the woodlot, my first berries plinking noisily onto the bottom of the pail, when Jesse wandered past on the bank, looking for a place to drop his line. I lost track of him working to fill my pail, alert in case Pru tried to sneak up on me. When I did look up, Jesse was nowhere in sight. My pail was almost full, so I set it down near the path and started out to find him. Then, on second thought, I took the berries with me. No telling where Pru might be, but she’d steal your berries rather than pick her own. That was sure.

Then I saw Jesse, crouched, hiding behind a fallen tree, his abandoned fishing pole propped on a ‘Y’ shaped branch. His annoyed hand swat gave me notice to be quiet. I stopped and looked around for what made him hide. Stepping off the path, I crept up close.

“What is it?” I whispered

He pointed to a bend in the creek, all shaded, where the branches of a maple tree nearly touched the water. At first I didn’t see anything. Then I made out a man’s legs standing in the stream, the rest of him hidden behind the leaves. The legs were clothed in torn, ragged breeches, but the exposed skin was unmistakably black. I inhaled sharply. I’d never seen a black man before. As we watched from behind the log, the legs moved cautiously out from the shelter of the maple branches until a tall, dark-skinned Negro, dressed in rags, stood, clearly visible, not twenty yards away.

We watched in silence, wild eyed, our alert senses sharp. There were two of them—young, strong and full of caution. They moved along in the calf-deep water, looking around, making their way downstream, away from us, their backs glistening in the sun. We stayed hidden, barely breathing, for long minutes after they disappeared.

“Do you think they’re runaways?” I whispered.
“Of course they’re runaways.”
“Where are they going?”
“I don’t know. North. Away from slavery.” Jesse had a way about him, even then, like he knew everything.
“Where north?”
“Canada, probably. They don’t have slaves up there.”

“We don’t have slaves here, either. Why don’t they stay here?” My eyes scanned the bushes on the other side of the creek. Pru was hiding out somewhere over there. I wondered if she’d seen the Negroes.

Jesse was annoyed with my ignorance. “Too close to slave catchers. They might get caught.”
“Slave catchers?”
“People who hunt them down for a bounty.”
“Bounty?” Now I was really beyond my ken.
“Money. Their owners want them back, so they advertise and offer a reward. Slave catchers make a business of it.”

Across the creek I caught a glimpse of Pru, her white-blond head giving her away even behind a bush. My attention came back to Jesse. “That’s mean. How are those two going to get to Canada without getting caught?”

“People help them.”
“Which people?”
“People like us. Friends. Friends and others who think slavery is an abomination.”

I was amazed at his command of big words. Abomination. I’d heard it before—at Meeting—but I had only a vague idea of what it meant. I wouldn’t be confident enough to use it. But Jesse would. He’d stand up in Meeting—all eleven years of him—and talk, lecture, harangue Friends into the right path. Shake his finger at ’em. Get red in the face with righteous indignation.

We waited until the two Negroes were out of sight and hearing before we went back for Jesse’s fishing pole. He had a fish on his line. He unhooked it and dropped it into a net bag hanging from his back pocket.

“Get your berries,” he directed. “Let’s go.”

Eying Pru Hartley’s hiding place, I shouted, “Why don’t you come on out, Pru? We can see you over there!”

Jesse shushed me. He didn’t want her to come out. Didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t either, but it vexed me, the way she thought she could fool us.

I stepped along behind him, thoughtful on the walk home. It was still hot; the flies buzzed around our faces. Sweat trickled from under Jesse’s straw hat. My eyes darted to the bushes on the other side. I knew Pru was over there someplace. Watching. But this other thing was stronger on my mind.

“Jesse, who helps them? Which Friends, I mean.”
“Can’t say. Wouldn’t if I could,” he replied. “As few people as possible know. That way we don’t have to lie if anyone asks.”
“I’ve never seen a Negro before.”

“I have. In Bedford. Some free Negroes live there. And once, when I was there with Papa, I saw a slave catcher on his horse, leading a shackled Negro on foot. Made my blood boil, I can tell you.”

“Oh.” I pictured the man, stumbling along behind the horse. “That’s cruel.”
We came up to the back of the cabin, and Jesse took the fish around to Mother to cook for supper.
“Oh, Jesse, thee is a fine provider,” she smiled. “And Ann, thee, too!” she said, taking the pail of berries.

Jesse ran out, heading for the barn to find Papa. I took the berries to the spring to wash the dust off, all the while pondering the plight of slaves. A few minutes later I looked up to see Jesse on the back of Old Hand, one of the plow horses, behind our older brother, Ben. Looking important, Jesse barely acknowledged my wave as the two barefoot boys, legs spread wide over the horse’s middle, bumped out of the barnyard and up the road.

I returned to the cabin, where sister Mary set two loaves of bread on the windowsill to cool and little brother Nathaniel played with a cat in the dooryard.

“Mama?”
“Yes, Ann.”
“Why do people have slaves?”
“To do their work for them, child. Why do you ask?”
“Jesse and I saw two black men down by the creek. Jesse said they were runaway slaves.”

Mother’s face showed her concern. “It’s a sad practice,” was all she said. “Go get the churn so you and Rachel can take turns working it to butter.”

“Mama?”
“Hmm?”
Why’s Pru Hartley so nosy?”
“Who knows, dear? Maybe she’s not nosy. Just curious. Poor child. Doesn’t have anything. Now get that churn.”

I stepped obediently out the door to the springhouse and lugged the heavy churn for mother to fill with milk. Then we both wrestled the full churn out under the shade of a huge oak in the side yard, and I sat down on a bench to the hated job. It was long, boring, hard work. Even in the late afternoon the heat was oppressive, and the flies wouldn’t give me any peace. I counted the required thousand strokes and looked around for Rachel. Even then, at only seven years old, she was a dreamy, engaging child that I would have been tempted to call lazy were I not a properly brought up Quaker girl.

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