Monday, September 30, 2013

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Four

The following is Chapter Four of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

Chapter Four - Mr. Whitman's Legacy

March 9, 1849
The news shook me to my very foundations. As I had assumed, Mr. Whitman's family had inherited most of his fortune. But to my surprise, that wonderful old man also left me five thousand dollars. Five thousand!

At first, I had feared that the Whitman heirs would contest my inheritance. My fears proved to be groundless. As far as they were concerned, the five thousand dollars was my reward for keeping the old man company. Besides, the five thousand was mere chicken feed in compare to what they had inherited.

My family received the news in a state of shock. Especially Papa. He knew what the inheritance meant - at last I had the means to make the trek for California and the gold fields without his support.

March 18, 1849
After nearly a week of preparation, I finally departed Cleveland for California. Or should I say . . . "we" left? Sister Alice had decided to join me at the last moment, upsetting the family even further. Since her rejection of Charles Maxwell, the family has made life miserable for her.

From the moment I had received my inheritance until our departure, my parents desperately tried to convince Alice and me to stay in Cleveland. I simply could not oblige them. It was not that I did not love them. I simply had to leave Cleveland. The desire to see other lands and dig for gold continued to grasp my soul. Mr. Whitman understood.

It is our first night on the road. Alice and I found shelter at a small tavern near the edge of Yellow Springs. Pleasant town. Although its citizens did not exactly make an effort to make our acquaintance, they did not seemed to mind the presence of two Negroes.

March 31, 1849
After nearly two weeks of travel, Alice and I have finally reached Cincinnati and the Ohio River. We decided to head straight for the riverfront and acquire about steamboat passage to St. Louis, instead of search for local lodgings.

I have never seen so much activity in one spot in my life! Cincinnati teemed with all sorts of characters - local riff-raff, stevedores, complacent-looking farmers, and well-dressed travelers on their way to heaven knows where. We even had our first glimpse of those rustic-looking creatures called mountain men, with their unruly beards, Indian clothings and tanned faces. Whores - especially those of the worst kind - teemed the levee, looking for new customers. But if there is one thing I will never forget about this city is the pigs! I forgot that Cincinnati was the pork capital of the nation. A person cannot walk one block without encountering the pink-skinned creatures.

Recalling that Cincinnati was a favorite hunting ground for slave catchers, I began to wonder if I would see any of their black merchandise. In the end, it was Alice who spotted the first of them - three black men chained together in a coffle. A tough-looking white man wearing a wide-brimmed hat, led them. The sight sent a chill down my spine and for the first time since leaving, I longed for the familiarity of my father's home.

Another sight temporarily erased any fears that the slave coffle had produced. Since Cinncinati happened to be one of the major ports along the Ohio River, river vessels of every kind filled the spaces by the river. Flatboats, keelboats (rarely used these days) and canoes. But the vessels that dominated the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, along with the Great Lakes were the towering steamboats. And they nearly filled the riverfront.

Both Alice and I were at a loss. It would take us forever to discover which boat was destined for St. Louis. Someone would have to remain with the wagon, while the other searched for a vessel. And I did not look forward to leaving Alice by herself. She was young, pretty, female and colored - the perfect target for any man, especially a white one who might be interested in carnal pleasures or slave hunter. Fortune eventually appeared in the form of one Reverend Abraham Miller of a local Baptist church for Negroes. He allowed us to keep our wagon inside his barn, until our departure. He also invited us to join his family for supper.

Meanwhile, Alice and I scoured the riverfront for passage to St. Louis. Thankfully, we managed to find one within an hour. The name of the steamboat was the ALBERT P. SIMPSON. It was a white, three-story vessel trimmed in dark-blue. Its smoke stacks were painted in the same color. A uniformed purser informed us that it was scheduled to depart Cincinnati tomorrow afternoon at two o'clock. That left us with less than twenty-four hours in the city. When I had informed Reverend Miller, he suggested that we spend the night at a local boardinghouse two blocks away from his church. Cinncinati turned out to be slightly more friendly than I had orginally assumed.

End of Chapter Four

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