The Incredible Journey of Thomas Johnson
Copyright© 2017 – Nicholas Hall
"The behavior of an individual is therefore determined
not by his racial affiliation, but by the character of his ancestry
and his cultural environment."
Chapman and the End of the War
I waited until the next morning, after the boys left for school and the men to work in the fields, to make my move to Chapman's residence. What few things I had fit easily into my duffle, even with the addition of the clothing I'd received from Jefferson. Packing the geode I'd found just prior to my departure for this time and place, I couldn't help but marvel at how the crystals in the interior of the stone sparkled with the least bit of light striking it! The rose, faded yellow, light pinks, slightly blues, and deepening purples flickering forth as the light struck the pointed and clustered spiral crystals seemed to speak volumes to me, warming not only my hand as I held it, but into the dark recesses of my mind! Wrapping the geode in a clean handkerchief, I gently placed it in my duffle, there to be secure from all others until I chose to display it!
The bedroom I was to occupy on the second floor of Chapman's house was spacious according to nineteenth century standards, but somewhat smaller by twenty-first century. The canopied bed was large and a couple of bounces on it proved to quite comfortable; a two-drawer clothes armoire, a dressing table located in front of a mirror attached to the wall, a four-drawer dressing, and a writing desk with a chair completed the furniture in the room. The room was heated by a small potbelly parlor stove with a full coal shuttle near it. French doors, opening up out onto the railed balcony I'd seen from below when first arriving at Chapman's farm, were appointed with light curtains for fair weather use, heavy curtains to be pulled during the colder seasons, and large storm shutters attached outside which could be closed either during storms or to help stave off winter's cold.
Facing toward the balcony, off to my right was another bedroom with a closed, connecting door to mine. To my left, a wall concealing not only the stairs used to access the second floor, but another bedroom. I turned, walked through my bedroom door into the hall, and observed what I assumed were the closed doors of three more bedrooms. If Benjie occupied one and Chapman the other, it now left three for overnight guests. As I would later learn, Chapman's bedroom was located in the rear right corner of the upper floor above his study and connected to it by a private staircase.
I emptied my duffle bag, except for the geode and my billfold containing my driver's license and other identification, into the dresser and decided I needed to purchase more clothing with my first paycheck. I just couldn't very well continue to use Jefferson's, although he hadn't complained to this point. Besides, I think he rather enjoys watching me change into a different pair of pants, since he always had to check the crotch with some gentle fondling once had them on to "make sure they fit right." Satisfied with my accommodations, after putting my duffle in the armoire, I walked back down the stairs to join Chapman in his study.
Sitting across the desk from Chapman when I entered was Hannibal and the two of them seemed intently engaged in a discussion concerning the hiring of additional help for spring planting, with Hannibal strongly suggesting they hire at least two more than in the past. Invited to join them, I pulled up a chair to listen. It was more of a discussion between two friends, not an owner and an employee or, considering the time, place, and cultural environment, a white man and a colored man. There was no talking down to Hannibal as one would find throughout the south (I thought), but a refreshing, invigorating planning session and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was now more than just hopeful I'd arrived at a place where slavery was not utilized or accepted.
In addition to the permanent four hired men living in the bunkhouse, Chapman was clinging to the hopes of only having to hire an additional four, while Hannibal was countering with his desire to hire six.
Finally, Hannibal played his ace card: "Mr. Chapman," he began, "if yo sho' enouf goin' buy that four hundred acres of bottom land and put Jacque and his missus there in that house, then we needs more help."
Even with my limited knowledge of the operation and farming in general, I had to agree with Hannibal and when Chapman asked my opinion, I said so!
"With my limited knowledge, Mr. Chapman," I said cautiously. "If what Hannibal says is true, then those additional four hundred acres will require more help here, with the proviso they also will help Jacque with the additional ground. It might be a wise investment with better return since the work should be done sooner and more efficiently."
Chapman seemed to think a moment and then agreed. The opportunity to purchase the four hundred acres of rich, black bottom land along the Des Moines River was adjacent to property he already owned and would make a fine addition to his farm. There was a house on the property and Chapman was proposing to let Jacque and his wife occupy it. In doing so, he'd make certain the property was not only productive, but Jacque's presence would ensure additional security as well!
The conversation was quickly winding down as Chapman gave Hannibal a seed order they'd put together before I joined them.
"I think," Chapman said carefully, "there may be a higher demand for grain and livestock, including hogs, so we may want to make certain our pastures are well fenced and the hay ground harvested regularly."
Hannibal nodded his approval and understanding and left.
"Are you moved in?" Chapman questioned hopefully.
I assured him I was and ready to go to work.
Pointing across the hall, through the open study door to an open door leading to a smaller room, he said, "I've used that room as a waiting room in the past, but I'll have it re-appointed into an office for you. It puts you close enough to my study and gives you access to my account books and also to monitor who comes and goes. It should be ready within a couple of days. I'm certain we have a desk, chairs, and other things needed for your work around the homestead. If not, we'll get them from Keokuk. Speaking of which, when you go, pick up some clothes for yourself."
Seeing the look of concern on my face, he continued, "Don't worry about the money, I pay for almost all of the work clothing my permanent employees, the Doucets and the four extra full-time men."
The issue of clothing settled, we spent the better part of an hour with him familiarizing me with his account books and reviewing the paper work on his various land holdings and investments. All of these items were kept in a locked room behind his desk, with the key on a chain in his pocket. A quick glimpse into the room indicated not only was there shelving and filing cabinets for his records, but a rather large iron safe tucked into one corner. If his books, and I have no doubt they were, were correct, Mr. Chapman was a very wealthy man and a shrewd investor to boot!
We finished and he announced, "I've told Jefferson to hitch up the buggy and Celeste to pack a lunch for us and we'll take a fast tour of my property."
Before days end, I'd traveled most of his property accessible by road, including the tenets lands, pastures, hay ground, and the fields being prepared for planting. We detoured to a piece of property he held on the Des Moines river and the small wharf he'd constructed to ship or access the occasional boat traveling upstream to Des Moines or downstream toward Keokuk and the Mississippi River.
Our lunch stop was at the very site near Rock Creek where I'd first made my appearance and where Jefferson and I stopped when I was trying to see if I left anything there in the process. After our lunch, our final destination was a "quarry" as he referred to it, located on a higher ridge of ground north and a little west of the farmstead. The quarry was, in reality, an open pit coal mine. The men mined or "quarried" the coal, hauled it back to the main farm where is used for heat and for cooking. Once carted to the houses, it's stored in a large roof-covered "bin" up behind the house for easy access. It was not the anthracite coal such as found in Kentucky and other states, but a bituminous or softer coal. Even so, it provided heat and was better that wood, Chapman thought.
The buggy was comfortable for travel, to a point, but Chapman's bulk did occupy more than the average amount of the seat, so our close proximity allowed us to not only discuss the various pieces of property in these holdings but gave me an opportunity to learn a great deal more about my new employer. Chapman was born in 1800 somewhere in New York State and began traveling; Tennessee, Virginia, the coastal states, down into the deep south of Louisiana and Mississippi.
It was while traveling throughout Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana and the other southern slave holding states, he witnessed not only the benevolence of some slave owners, but the cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment of human beings!
"I thought then and firmly believe now," he stated emphatically, "it is morally wrong to `own' another person! A human being is not a piece of property to bought and sold like a farm wagon or treated worse than one would treat a horse!"
I thought it was rather dichotomous of him to speak so, since he certainly was not adverse to spending fair coin for a night or two with a prepubescent girl, but he reassured me he only "rented" their services for his pleasure, rather than "owning" them. Sort of convoluted thinking I thought, but who am I to criticize? The whole damned world can be convoluted at times, I thought! More than once I'd read or heard of some ultra conservative or religious fanatic carryon about how shameful and sinful male or female prostitution was while they had their cock buried as deep as they could shove it in some boy's ass, fucking away like bunnies!
Traveling around the country as he did, he took advantage of every opportunity to turn a dollar. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold! I gathered, although he did very, very well in his land speculation and investment ventures, he had considerable wealth at his disposal to start with – unusual for a young man in his twenties. I didn't press the issue and he offered nothing in way of a clue. Perhaps it was best I didn't know where his money came from. I also gathered he was as handy with a pistol as I was with a knife, so perhaps that had something to do with his success.
Chapman finally ended up in the Iowa part of Wisconsin Territory, settled for a time in Keokuk, and scoured the area seeking investments or purchasing opportunities. Land ownership in this part of the Territory, known as "the Half-Breed Tract" was a bit murky to say the least because of some questionable land purchases, treaty violations, and other chicanery.
In his pursuit of property or investments, he chanced upon his future father-in-law and his youngest child, a thirteen-year-old daughter, about a year before the Panic of 1837. Chapman was smitten with the girl and strained at the groin in want, lusting to dive into her knickers, mount her, and spill his seed! It was not to be, since her father and older siblings (all boys) guarded her carefully. That changed radically when her father went bankrupt and the farm was going to be offered at auction to cover the notes owed. Chapman filled the breech (literally), proposing to purchase the debt and the land, in return for not only the property but marriage to the now fourteen year old daughter!
The marriage and the transactions were completed and after he finished pumping the hand of the bankers and the invited guests at the wedding, he proceeded to pump his fat cock up his young bride's virginal vagina.
"I pumped her full," he confided, "as regularly as I could, at least when I was home."
Chapman remodeled the main house, as it currently stands, added the breezeway, built the house the Doucet's now live in, and moved his in-laws, including the brothers, into it. He named his father-in-law as farm manager, leaving him free to travel engaging in his land speculation ventures and investments. He also began expanding his property holdings in the area, consolidating smaller pieces of property with his.
"I noticed," I questioned, "you have all people of color working here. Is that a result of your father-in-law or you?"
"That was my decision," he replied. "There was a small population of free colored living in the area, farming, and the like, but just across the Des Moines River in Missouri. It was a slave state at the time and still, or should I say `was,' until recently. There were always some colored people escaping by crossing the river. I tried to give them refuge and then move them away from here. I began hiring people of color, since there was already the small population here, when my brothers-in-law began leaving the farm. For the runaway slaves, it was a perfect cover! I'd arrange papers for them to carry just in case they were questioned. They were good employees and loyal. I really couldn't ask for anything more! Of course, some of the local gentry looked down their noses at me, but what the hell; it was and is my land and home! Once in a while we'd have a bit of trouble in the area, but I was usually able to put a stop to it and avoid further incursions on to my land!"
I wasn't about to ask how he put a stop to "further incursions" and he didn't volunteer, but I was willing to bet a dollar to a donut, it involved using his pistol or any other "encouraging" methods to bring a halt to any nonsense!
Chapman started heading down south again seeking investment opportunities or land for sale that could be bought on the cheap or at least reasonably. He happened upon High Oaks Plantation outside of New Orleans and purchased it. The old gentleman who owned it was frail and had no heirs. Hannibal Doucet, a free man of color, and his family lived and worked there. High Oaks also had a white overseer who Chapman fired!
"I didn't like the way he treated people and I was going to have none of that on my property," he advised.
Hannibal Doucet was placed in charge until Chapman could arrange for a white "overseer" who was covertly anti-slavery, but could work with the local white plantation owners and business community. Chapman made regular trips down to High Oaks, especially in the winter, leaving just before freeze-up here and returning with the spring thaw. While down there in 1849, his wife died of cholera back in Iowa (as it was now called since becoming a state). When Hannibal's first wife died, Chapman brought Celeste to High Oaks to help out with the female members of the staff and supervise the kitchen and health care.
"When did the move up here happen?" I asked.
"In 1859, before all of the nonsense began, listening to all of the talk concerning secession depending on who was elected President in 1860, I had a feeling things weren't going to remain peaceful for very long. I was offered a nice price for High Oaks, in gold mind you, so I took it!"
The Doucets, Celeste, and young Benjamin, along with all of the other colored employees, were offered the chance to go north to Iowa with him. The only ones to accept were the Doucets, Celeste (along with Benjie), and the four permanent full-time employees now working at the farm. He made certain everyone had their manumission papers, loaded them on a steamship (paddle wheeler), and headed north. It was stressful, he claimed, since there were those in the south and in the north, if given the chance, would "steal" colored people and sell them back as slaves even if they were free!
A sudden clap of thunder interrupted our conversation and a quick glance to the west gave us a clear view of a spring thunderstorm brewing. The front edge of it portended a heavy rain heading our way and soon! Fortunately for us, we weren't far from the farmstead so he flicked the reins and we headed home.
The Doucet mem and the hired men were hightailing it in from the fields as well. We all merged in the farm yard at the same time. As we were unhitching teams and moving equipment into shelter, a rider galloped up, waving a piece of newsprint, shouting to get our attention.
"What's up?" Chapman shouted.
The rider reined up, held up the paper, and answered, "The War's over; Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox yesterday!"
Chapman looked at me, winked, and shouted, "Thank God Almighty, the War is done!"
His announcement was greeted with shouts of joy and "halleluiahs" from all of the men standing there! Chapman gave the man a coin and the man took off, riding elsewhere to deliver the news. No sooner had he exited the yards when the rain came down in torrents. We all scurried getting things put away and under shelter. As we did, I expressed my concern the boys weren't home from school as yet and my misgivings about their travel in such a deluge. I was assured, by Jefferson and again by Jacque, the boys wouldn't come home until it'd be safe to do so. Never-the-less, I still worried!
To be continued.
Thank you for reading "The Incredible Journey of Thomas Johnson" – Chapter Nine
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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