Old Virginia is charming in a way, but the signs of humanity are everywhere. I’d spent a vacation in this area on my thirtieth birthday; it’s much different now. These days’ people live in widespread communities of a few thousand. The forests, rivers and meadows surrounding the enclaves team with animals and plants. The Virginians lived on vast tracts of land just to support a few hundred people. I only saw domesticated animals and farms. It’s not fair to compare past-time to our time, after all their sustenance depends on organic materials.
My musing halted when, “Buzzy to heel,” roared from the porch above our resting place. A handsome 6’ 2” man strode down the steps. Buzzy jumped to his heel before Jefferson’s feet settled on the ground.
“Let’s take a walk, fella. This could be a momentous day. James Monroe and Robert Livingston are bringing a document from our old friend, but potential enemy, France. How I wish Spain could have resisted Bonaparte’s pressure. I’d feel much better dealing with her. We could have turned her to our way of thinking, but France is strong and wants power. We’re at a crossroads, Buzzy. If Napoleon refuses to let us warehouse and export goods through New Orleans, he’ll strangle our country’s economy and force us into a treaty with the British. I cannot abide that if we are to remain the empire of liberty.”
He kept his thoughts to himself while patrolling his plantation. Jefferson was cordial to his workers and often asked about children or the health of a loved one, even using names. His workers liked him as far as I could tell. Our path through lush fields of grain ended at a road. Jefferson paused and then turned right. We had gone a few paces when he stopped and reversed direction. Buzzy sat on his haunches and watched him walk away. I can’t read my merge partner’s mind, but I’d bet I know what he was thinking—make up your mind.
“Come on fella,” Jefferson said with a smile. Our new direction led to the great house along a road bordered by six one-room homes and several workshops. Small black children in tattered clothes played near the houses under the watchful eyes of a few older children—they looked to be ten or so. I saw no adults or adolescents until a large, decently dressed black man approached from one of the shops.
“Master Thomas, may I speak?”
“Yes, Joseph. What do you want to say?”
“Master, your cook’s son tried to run away last night. I stopped him, but I thought you should know,” Joseph said hesitantly.
“Well done, Joseph. Do you know why Michael did this? Has he been mistreated by an overseer?” Jefferson asked obviously concerned.
“No, master, nothing likes that and he’s a good boy. The fool eyed a young kitchen girl when he delivered vegetables to your sickly neighbor, Miss Rush, and wanted to court the girl.”
“I can’t let this go unpunished,” Jefferson said calmly, “but, I don’t want to lose his labor either. Give him one lash this night, in front of as many as you can assemble. I want it made clear that I won’t tolerate runaways. Find him a good match among my slaves. That should temper his ardor.”
“Yes, master,” Joseph said respectfully and then bowed deeply.
“Do not bow to me Joseph; I’m no English lord!” Jefferson said indignantly.
I was flabbergasted—nothing in my study of the Brito-Franco culture referred to slaves. Indentured servants were common, but they earned their freedom at the end of their contract. I had assumed the AmerCan culture would have the same standards. Jefferson kept slaves. I had read his eloquent declaration about the inalienable right of man to be free of oppression. How could he justify his own slaves? It’s one more way in which humanity changed since the Eruption and why we are a different species, homo pacificus.
“Buzzy! Leave that chicken alone, to heel.” I had been lost in my own thoughts until the dog barked at the bird. “We best be afoot, fella. Our guests will arrive soon. I’m most anxious to see what they bring me.”