The Incredible Journey of Thomas Johnson
Copyright© 2017 – Nicholas Hall
"And I have asked to be where no storms come,
where the green swell is in the heaven's dumb,
and out of the swing of the sea."
(Gerald Manley Hopkins)
Seeking Safe Harbor
I rose quickly at Jefferson's urging tone, trying to disentangle myself from the two naked boys using me as pillows and for warmth! I thought nothing, at the time, of my own nakedness since Jefferson was just as familiar with me as I was of him, my stiff sword sticking out and up, bobbing as I reached for my pants and a shirt. As I slipped into my shirt and pulled my pants up over my prod, he licked his lips in longing! It'd just have to wait for a more apropos time and place!
Pulling on my boots, I reached into my night stand and retrieved the revolver Chapman had purchased for me and slipped into my pants pocket, just in case! I resolved then and there to purchase or make a holster for it since it pointed uncomfortably toward my own more tender and much more valuable weapon! I accompanied Jefferson from my room and down the stairs to the front porch. During this entire time, other than when he woke me, Jefferson uttered not a word why I had to "come quick!"
In the half-light of the pre-dawn, I looked out into the open farm-yard in front of the house. Assembled there, standing, waiting quietly, except for the occasional odd "snort" or stamp of a foot of an animal, were several wagons containing people; men, women and children. Additionally, there were a number of men astride mules, often with a second critter in tow acting as pack horse (or mule in this case).
As Jefferson and I stood on the front porch, Gabriel and Jacque rode up on mules, dismounted, tied their animals up the hitching post, and joined us.
"Who are these people?" I asked.
"Many are people who worked for Mr. Chapman before, during planting and harvest season," Gabriel responded. "There are also some folk," he continued tilting his head about trying to see, "who came up with us from High Oaks when Mr. Chapman came north."
With his remarks, I felt two warm, boy bodies press up behind me. My exit from the bed was not as quiet as I'd hoped. I put my arms around each of the boys, one on my left and the other on my right as I tried to estimate the size of the gathering. A quick count, and very quick I might add, gave me a rough count of fifty to seventy people altogether.
"When did they start arriving?" I inquired of Jefferson.
"I `pose," he responded, "about an hour or more ago. Absalom stopped the first group of wagons and rode up here to let me know what was `bout to happen before riding back. He's still down there by Gabriel's house."
I leaned over, pulled the little boys close to me and said, "Go wake up Momma Doucet, Hannibal, and anyone else in the house; go the bunkhouse and let the rest of the men know we have company and to get dressed and help."
"How about Poppa Chapman?" Benjie asked.
"Wait until you've wakened everyone else; he needs his rest. After you wake him, harness up Goliath to the cart and tell Hiram, his wife, and daughters to come; we will need them to help feed, cook, and get things situated!"
After the boys scooted away on their appointed task, I stepped forward to greet the crowd, Jefferson, Gabriel, and Jacque joined me. I raised my hand in greeting;
"Welcome to Chapman's Farm; for those of you who have been here before, welcome home. For those of you new to our farm, welcome to our home! I'm Thomas Jeansonne, Mr. Chapman's bookkeeper and assistant. Hannibal and Madam Doucet will be joining us in just a few minutes. In the meantime, is there someone among you who would like to speak for you?"
An elderly gentleman, carrying himself with ease and dignity, climbed down from a wagon with a woman and a large group of children aboard, and walked slowly toward me.
"That's the Reverend Joseph Miller," Jacque said softly. "He married me and Leticia and Gabriel and Sarah. He comes by about once a month during good weather and holds a church service for us."
It struck me, at the mention of church, this was Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865. Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. It took little imagination to understand why these people were assembled here. They were frightened, confused, and needed a place or someone where they could seek sanctuary and calm their fears after losing their beloved President- the man who set them free!
I stepped forward, extended my hand; "Welcome Pastor and Happy Easter!"
He smiled a warm, relaxed smile in return as he responded, "Happy Easter to you Mr. Jeansonne; may our Lord's blessing come to you and this house on the day He arose so many years ago!"
The Reverend Miller greeted Jacque, Gabriel, and Jefferson, adding with a pat on the cheek and a hand on Jefferson's shoulder, "Remember, Jefferson, God loves all his children and don't let anyone tell you any differently!"
"Yes suh, I do," Jefferson answered with a deep smile and admiration for this preacher!
"What brings you to our home?" I asked the preacher.
It didn't take him long to explain after the word of Lincoln's assassination, people in his small congregation began coming to him, asking what to do. His conclusion was they all should come to Mr. Chapman's! As they traveled, his little band encountered others set on the same destination. Their goal was to be with the man who'd led them from slavery, set them free, and hired them off and on to work for him. It was here, at Chapman's Farm they knew they'd feel safe and secure in the times of trouble!
These people traveled from many places, over many miles, with all they had in the world loaded in their wagons or packed on mules. Single men, who would've been here in a week or so to help plant; families, whose men folk worked for Chapman before during harvest, and others, totally unacquainted with Chapman, but trusted others to lead them to a safe harbor!
"Besides," Reverend Miller added, "they heard there was a new man working for Chapman; a man who had the `sight' and could help them!"
Oh, great, how everyone' going to believe I'm a "conjure" man!
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hannibal, Celeste, and the rest of the household hustling up to join me. The three men in the bunkhouse were running to catch up and join them. I was about to step up on one of the wagons to address the crowd, when I heard Chapman walk up behind me. I wouldn't have needed to hear him because once he came into view, there were smiles and collective sighs of relief from the crowd. It was clear they loved the man and were convinced no harm could come to them if he were there!
Turning, I said, "I was about to welcome them; would you rather do it"
"No, go ahead! When you're done, I may say a few words and then greet those I know individually and meet the newcomers!"
I stood on the seat of the nearest wagon, raised my hand again, signaling I'd speak, and said simply, "Welcome home! Mr. Chapman and I, along with Hannibal and Madame Doucet, welcome you. You probably noticed, on your way in here, the army has a platoon bivouacked near the river. Captain Randolph commands the force and reassured me and Mr. Chapman they will be there to defend us and others from any outside nonsense!"
"Hannibal and Madame Doucet will help us get organized and settled in. After you've done that, about an hour after sunrise, I'm going to ask Reverend Miller if he would hold an Easter Service for us here on the front lawn to celebrate His Rising and your safe passage!"
Mr. Chapman stepped up when I finished and said, in a loud, clear, happy toned voice, "My home is your home, as it has always been! You are free to come and go and work here, when it's available, and live here for as long as you wish, if you so desire. Mr. Jeansonne acts on my behalf in the general operation of Chapman Farm and Hannibal acts as the foreman. I'm so glad to see you again and look forward to getting acquainted with those who are new to our family!"
I nodded to Hannibal and Celeste, they smiled in return and nodded their heads. Reverend Miller grinned his appreciation and left to join his wagon. I thought it'd be chaos, but it was evident these people had done this before. With little discussion from either Hannibal or Celeste, the single men moved into the bunkhouse, those who had tents put them up in the grassy area east of the lane and house, and the air was filled with excited and happy chattering of people who knew what to do and where to do it! Those who were new to the group, asked others.
I motioned Celeste toward me and when she came closer, I asked, "Will we be able to feed all of these people a breakfast after church service?"
She smiled and reassured me it was already in the works since the Davis' family arrived a few minutes ago and they were already at work in the kitchen.
"The womenfolk will help as soon as they get their families settled in," she added.
Chapman, wandered around, shaking hands, hugging old friends, and generally spread the calm and happiness he felt among the people. I wished I was that confident, but I did know we'd have to feed and house them longer than just a couple of days. The confusion, unrest, and violence would continue for a long time and we had to be ready for it! Chapman's Farm would just have to be these people's fortress against the hate and bigotry that would prevail throughout the land! Southern sympathizers and others who spoke ill of Lincoln, here in the north, would be subjected to physical assault and verbal degradation and I wanted to keep it away from here!
I was certainly happy Chapman took out more money than he really needed since we'd need it especially since Reverend Miller asked where he might find housing for the ten youngsters, ages six through eleven, while everyone was encamped here.
"They'll have be in Mr. Chapman's house," I responded and spotting Jubal walking toward the barn, hailed him over.
"Jubal, please take the children Reverend Miller has with him to Mr. Chapman's house and put them in those two spare bedrooms across the hall from mine. Put the girls in one and the boys in another. You'll have to prepare some straw pallet beds until we can find or make some regular beds for them."
Jubal left with Reverend Miller help him get the children situated. As the people worked to settle in, I contemplated what we were going to do in the long haul with all of them. I knew I had to devise some sort of plan and put some organization behind it! Chapman was busy visiting and welcoming as the host so I knew the solution and follow-through would be up to me. That's basically what he had Hannibal and me for!
Benjie, Henri, and Antoine, after unhitching Goliath and putting him in the corral, joined me on the porch. I thanked them for their quick action in notifying the Davis'. Since I had nothing more for them to do immediately, I assured them just being available to act as my messengers was fine; Antoine would stay close to Mr. Chapman in case he needed anything. They scampered off in search of friends, new and old, and adventure!
Walking through the breezeway to the Doucet kitchen to check on breakfast, I heard the "jingle, jangle" of metal coming down the lane, accompanied by the pounding of horse's hoofs. Captain Randolph and a squad of soldiers drew not only my attention, as they entered the farm yard, but the attention of everyone else! All movement, all activity, every conversation came to an immediate halt! I could feel the apprehension pervasive in the air the people were feeling as they watched a detachment of Union Mounted Infantry rein up at the pump and watering trough!
Although I really couldn't hear it, I felt the collective sigh of relieve and assurance as I stepped out to greet Captain Randolph. Chapman, alerted by Antoine, joined me from one of the gatherings of people.
"Everything okay, Mr. Jeansonne?" the Captain asked as he dismounted. "One of my sentries reported a great deal of activity on the roads; all heading this way!"
I assured him all was just fine and explained why the people gathered here.
"Once camps are set up and we have our church service, Madame Doucet and the rest of the ladies will be serving an Easter Morning Breakfast you and your men are welcome as our guests and friends!"
Captain Randolph extended his thanks, but also his regrets since they had more territory to cover yet this morning, but accepted my offer to return later in the day, around three in the afternoon, when I planned on meeting with Mr. Chapman, Reverend Miller, Hannibal, Celeste, and others to discuss plans for moving forward with our little settlement.
There was something I'd noticed when I first Captain Randolph; for some reason he felt familiar, comfortable to be around. His voice, his mannerisms, and the way he carried himself gave off an aura of familial comfort and recognition, although he gave no indication of having a family or being from the area! On top of it, he was an intelligent, caring individual. I learned, before he left, he was a graduate of West Point and an engineer, but once his enlistment was up, he'd decided to leave the army.
The Reverend Miller gathered a small group of men and women, along with several of his juvenile charges, on Chapman's front porch and, with a deep profoundly bass singing voice, projecting out to the grounds surrounding the house, began singing "We Shall Gather by the River" and his little choir joined in. In no time, he had the entire population of our camp gathered in front of the porch, sans those working in the kitchen fixing our breakfast.
One song led to another, all accapella, all those moving deep Negro spirituals that move you, gather your soul into a bundle, and send your heart's love out to others, thankful for the day, for great friends, good fellowship, and the day! Their songs described their feelings for God's Love for all his children, be they black or white or different in any way! The service and pastor's remarks took little more than forty-five minutes, but gave all of us peace and hope!
Tables were quickly set up (planks on saw horses) and loaded with pots and kettles of scrambled eggs, sliced ham and bacon, porridge (oatmeal), grits, fresh bread with butter, honey, and jam, coffee, and fresh cold milk. The meal was delightful and just what the group needed to set the tone in order to settle nerves, bring us all together, and give them confidence all would be well at Chapman's Farm and Corners!
After breakfast, I headed to my office to organize my thoughts and agenda for the afternoon meeting. I failed to take notice of the time and when Benjie and Henri brought me a sandwich and a cup of coffee for lunch, I was quite surprised! I'd missed lunch and they took it upon themselves to make certain I wouldn't go hungry. I was coming to the conclusion those two boys were just as fond of me as I was for them! How could I ever return to my own time and leave these two lovely boys behind?
We gathered in Mr. Chapman's study/office at the appointed hour to begin our planning meeting. Captain Randolph, First Lieutenant James Andrew, Corporal Eddy Smith (aide to Captain Randolph), along with Reverend Miller and a half-dozen of the men who'd arrived the night before, joined Mr. Chapman, Celeste, Hannibal, and me.
I opened our meeting by summarizing our situation; we had ground to be worked and planted on the home place, the four hundred acres Mr. Chapman had recently purchased, and the possibility of some new ventures, now there were more people available to participate, if they were willing. Jacque would need help in getting the new ground and buildings ready for planting and habitation. This would involve fixing up the main house, the hired man's house, and building a new bunk house for permanent and seasonal farm hands. I estimated this would take one family and probably four to five others, much like the main farm.
The five hundred acres of timbered ridge property Mr. Chapman just purchased had not only timber on it, but a nice coal vein running through it. Mr. Chapman thought, and I agreed, this coal vein could be worked with little effort since it was close to the surface and would be quite profitable if we could find the workers. More so, if some of those here now wanted to work a surface mine and one of the farms in off season, it would be even better.
I also thought, with the growing population in the area and the need for more protein (meat), we could expand our beef and swine herds.
"I think there'll be a growth in slaughter houses to process the animals and with changes coming in shipping by the railroads, there is every likelihood fresh meat products will be able to shipped to large cities and arrive fairly fresh and ready for market."
"If," I added quizzically, "some of the young people Reverend Miller brought with him find a family among us willing to add them to their family and with the number of young children our new arrivals have, and all decide to stay here, we will need a larger school, more wells, and homes for folks to live in."
Chapman entered the conversation at this point, saying, "For every family that chooses to live in what I call `Chapman's Corner,' I'll donate one three acre parcel down near the school. We will help with building a small home, provide what employment we can, paying a decent wage as well, provide education for the children, and have some sort of community water source."
"Hell," he said pointing at me, "Mr. Jeansonne is in the middle of providing a water system for the main house and the Doucet's and a hot water shower house for anyone that want's to use it!"
The perked Captain Randolph's interest and he volunteered to not only help plat out a small village but assist with the water projects. He claimed he'd be delighted to use his engineering degree to do so. Personally, I would welcome his assistance since I was beginning to think I'd bitten off more than I could chew!
"In fact," he continued, "if Lt. Andrew wants to help out, I'll assign him to Chapman's Corner to act as an advisor and liaison to my platoon!"
Lt. Andrew enthusiastically nodded his agreement. I thought he figured anything would be better than army life as far as he was concerned!
Everyone seemed in agreement with our plans and my suggestions and as I was about to suggest Hannibal organize the work groups, Gabriel came to the door of the study and motioned Hannibal over. They visited just a short time and Hannibal came to me.
"Mr. Jeansonne," he said, "you and Mr. Chapman better come with me. Our two tenants are waiting outside and the news is not good!"
To be continued.
Thank you for reading "The Incredible Journey of Thomas Johnson" – Chapter Fifteen.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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