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  HIGH COTTON

       BY PJ DUNN                 Chapter 1, West Africa, May, 1855.

       Twelve-year-old Manni helped his mother, Mala, as she was stripping bark from a eucalyptus tree, then winding the fibers into strands that she would later weave into flat sheets for Manni and his brother to use as sleeping mats. It was a very hot and humid day in the West African Empire of Yoruba. Manni’s younger brother, Jalani, was playing with some of the other younger children, next to the riverbank.  Manni called to Jalani to get away from the riverbank, it was very dangerous. Just last week, one of  Jalani and Manni’s friends was attacked and killed by a crocodile. Danger was always lurking somewhere in the bush of Nigeria or as  Manni realized, next to the riverbank, waiting its opportunity to create havoc for the villagers.

            Manni was quite a seasoned hunter. As he did many mornings, Manni would wake just at dawn and leave before Mala and Jalani awoke. He would go upriver, where the waters were shallow and were  a safe place to cross to the other side. In the shallow water, Manni didn’t have to worry about hippos hiding. Hippos were very aggressive and very deadly. He also didn’t have to be concerned about an attack from deadly pirhanas. In the shallow water a school of pirhanas was easy to see, and simply beating on the surface of the water would frighten the school away and since the water was moving, the chances of walking up on wildlife was slim. Once across, Manni would move stealthily up the river a short distance, to a favorite watering hole of the local wildlife. The pool of water was about 100 feet across, and had some very deep holes next to the bank and shear rock sides. There was however, a rather shallow beach-like area where the animals would come to get water. Manni hid himself among some high grass and brush close to the water’s edge. This morning, Manni was in for a special surprise. A small herd of gazelle wandered up to the watering hole. A large male ventured over near where Manni was hiding. He readied his spear and at the right moment he thrust the sharp point of the spear into the side of the gazelle. The commotion frightened the rest of the herd and they ran. The male tried to run also but didn’t go far. Manni gave chase, caught up with the gazelle, pulled his knife from his side and finished the kill. Manni made his way back to the village with his prize gazelle. This would provide food for the family for several days.

      The rainy season was beginning in West Africa and Manni’s family would try to shelter themselves from the rain, just as most animals would do. Mala and the boys remained inside their hut, playing, and singing, assured that the dangers of the forest were far away.

       But, today, danger would come from an unusual source. Manni heard a commotion. People were screaming and running as Yoruba warriors stormed the village, rounding up all who appeared to be in good health and physically able to work. The young men, and the young women, were especially valuable to the Yoruba King. They would bring a good price with the Dutch slave traders. The warriors took Manni and Jalani, but their mother was too old and was left at the village. About twenty people were herded together; their hands tied, and then tied in a chain formation as they were taken toward the boats moored at the riverbank. Many of the villagers knew what was happening and the uncertainty of their future as slaves was terrifying.

      The captors were ruthless, and to them the villagers were simply captured prey, animals being taken to the market. Loaded into the boats, the villagers were taken down river, about eighty miles, to Lagos, a seaport where slave traders anxiously awaited their arrival. The trip was nine hours of pure torture. No food, no water, no stops to care for personal needs, beatings with whips for those who would cause trouble, and abuse occurred constantly. The younger of the females were not molested because that would then damage the goods and reduce the price the King could receive. The more mature women, however were subjected to horrible abuse.  Small children and babies would not survive. The crack of the bullwhip was a reminder. They were now enslaved, and subject to the will of others.

      Upon their arrival at Lagos, Manni and Jalani could see the large ships anchored in the harbor. A sight they had never seen.  About eight other boats were also docked ready to sell their slaves. There were men on the docks watching as the people were removed from the boats.  Manni was amazed to see so many with white skin. The only other white skin he had seen was a missionary who came to the village. The slave traders immediately began an attempt to buy those they perceived as prime slave material.  Manni realized they were nothing but a product being sold for money.

      One of the buyers stood out from the others. He was a Dutchman with long black curly hair and an almost clean appearance. His speech and mannerisms were father-like as he took part in the bidding for the twenty slaves. Manni thought he looked kind, but that was all a facade. Hannibal was his name and he was known by the other slave traders as one of the most brutal of all. Two others stood with Hannibal, as he surveyed the new crop of potential slaves. He walked over to several young males and females grouped together, in an attempt to comfort each other and hoping the buyers would ignore them. Hannibal pulled one young female from the group. Holding her by her hair at arms length he looked her over. He then shoved her toward the other two men who began to strip her clothing and left her standing in front of all, naked. Hannibal turned back to her, looked once again, and pushed her away. She was rejected.

      Hannibal reached out to the same group, taking a male, then pushing him toward the other two men, who immediately stripped him. The men then began to make gross comments, bringing laughter from the buyers huddled around. Hannibal moved him to the side with the slaves he wished to purchase. Hannibal looked at a woman standing alone. She was probably 18 or 19 years old, and was holding a small child. He knew the child would never survive the journey to America. Hannibal signaled to one of his men and pointed to the baby. The man grabbed the child from the mother and amid her screams and protests, drew a knife and slaughtered the child. There was no use wasting time, space or food on one would not survive anyway. The two men then pulled the woman over behind some crates, where she was beaten and abused. and then left her lying on the ground. The woman began to crawl out from behind the crates. Manni, Jalani, and another man, helped the woman up and quickly surrounded her by the other men and women in the group of 50 or more that Hannibal had selected.

       Manni saw Hannibal reach out his hand to one of the warrior captors, and then they were all herded toward one of the large ships next to the dock. They were led up the gangway to the deck of the ship called the Albatross. There they were stripped naked and forced down some steps into a dark, damp, area in the hold of the ship. The space had only four feet of head space, and most of the captives could not stand upright.  Manni and the other men and older mature women were placed in one compartment and the young women were placed in another, for their safety. The smell was horrible. The heat was almost unbearable. The only light came from three small openings near the ceiling of the compartment. Manni could see to the outside through these openings. Inside the compartment, Manni saw there were others already there.  Manni and Jalani looked for a place where they could sit on the floor. Scared and hungry, the boys huddled in a small corner space. The compartment was very crowded. There was only room to sit and not to lie down.  Manni discovered five wooden barrels near the door opening of the compartment. These barrels contained the only water source for all the captives. A short while later,  Manni heard a noise and the door to the compartment opened and two men came in, each carrying a wooden bucket. There was a stirring among the slaves as the two men pushed and kicked their way over to where the barrels stood. No one moved, as the men poured the contents of the buckets onto the floor. They turned to walk to the door, but still no one moved. They only looked intently at what the men had poured in the floor. When the men reached the door, the slaves all converged on the food the men had poured out.  Manni realized he and Jalani had to push their way through the mass of people to get the food they needed. Therefore, they joined in scratching and fighting for just a morsel of food. When the food was gone, the boys made their way through the people back to the corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2, Tamar, June, 1855

       A few moments later, a woman crawled up to Manni and Jalani. In the dim light she stayed there on her hands and knees, staring at them. When she finally spoke, it was a dialect the boys didn’t understand. She appeared very frustrated. A man sitting nearby leaned over and spoke, “she wishes to thank you for saving her life.” Manni and Jalani could not speak, but just looked at her. The man nearby spoke again, “she may regret you saving her, if she ends up in a Jamaican seasoning camp.”  “What is a Jamaican seasoning camp?” Jalani asked. “Shhh. Be quiet Jalani.” Manni said. The woman spoke again and the man listened, then he spoke. “She says her name is Tamar. Her baby is now dead and she doesn’t know where her husband is. She wants to know your names. My name is Autu.” “We are Manni and Jalani.” Manni told Autu. Everything was quiet.Tamar began to lie down, as much as possible, curling into a ball, and placing her arms and head across the laps of the boys. Then she began to cry, and cried for a long time. Manni rubbed her hair as she lay there, but that wasn’t much comfort. Tamar tried to stay near the boys. She tried to comfort them, and would try to grasp handfuls of food to give to the boys when the food was poured on the floor. 

      Manni and Jalani could sense the motion and knew the ship was no longer moored to the dock. They could barely see out the three small openings. They could no longer see the masts of other ships or any structures on the dock. They were underway.  Manni and Jalani could not imagine where they might be going. The only way to determine day and night was light coming through the three small openings above. Manni tried to keep count of the days they were in this horrible place. Several days after leaving Lagos, three of the slaves in the compartment became violently ill and subsequently died. That seemed to be a regular occurrence.

      Occasionally, someone would come into the compartment and take three or four of the slaves to the deck above where they would perform menial tasks such as mopping, sweeping, and just general cleaning. If they performed well, they would receive extra food and be taken back up to the deck again. Poor performance would get the slave beatings, or whippings. Sometimes those taken to the deck did not return. Manni heard some of the men say those that did not return were shark food. Manni and Jalani had never seen a shark, but the stories they had heard were terrifying.

      One day, a man came to take three slaves to the deck. Manni was chosen. It had been over a week since Manni had seen the outside or sunlight except through the three small openings. When he emerged from the compartment, the sun was so bright; he had to shade his eyes. The ocean breeze was wonderful. He was given clothes to put on, and instructed as to what to do. Manni was assigned the task of cleaning the floors in the Captain’s cabin. Captain Hannibal expected perfection. Manni was instructed well and began his task. He worked hard, and was doing a good job. He was busily scrubbing the floor on his hands and knees, when Captain Hannibal came in. He was yelling loudly at a man who followed him through the door. Not at all the father-like man Manni first saw on the dock several weeks ago.  Manni came to realize the man Hannibal was yelling at was the Captain’s cabin boy.  Manni did not know what a cabin boy was. He pretended not to listen to their argument, but he hung on every word. Manni learned that the work he was doing was what the cabin boy should have been doing and instead of doing his job himself, the cabin boy had Manni brought in to do it. He could then go to entertain himself drinking and gambling with the other crewmembers.

      “Maybe this slave boy here should have your job,” the Captain said. “You are of no use to me. Go to the Mate and he will reassign you to another job.” The man left the cabin. Captain Hannibal looked at Manni, “Do you think you could handle the job of keeping my quarters clean and orderly?” the Captain barked. Manni could not believe what he just heard. But, what about Jalani? He couldn’t leave him in that hell hole.  Manni responded to Captain Hannibal, “Yes sir. I know I could perform the job. But I have a younger brother, who is still in the hold of the ship with the other slaves.” The Captain leered at Manni, “You mean you would go back to the hold with the other slaves, if your brother has to stay there?”  Manni started to reply, but the Captain spoke up. “What is your name?”  “My name is Manni and my brother is Jalani,” Manni replied. “Where did you learn to speak this language so well, Manni?” The Captain asked. “A missionary came to our village when I was nine years old, and he taught my brother and me.”  Manni said. Everything was quiet for a long moment. “I will have your brother taken to the Mate and instruct him to find your brother a job to do, if you will become my cabin boy.” the Captain offered. How could Manni refuse?  The Captain reached back on his desk, picked up a stocking cap, and he tossed it to Manni. “Now you will look more like a sailor.”

       Manni and Jalani were given their own quarters. The boys had never had a space to call their own and though the beds were simple rope hammocks, the boys were thrilled.The food was not great but much better than the food in the hold. They were given free reign of the ship to go where they wished.  Jalani was assigned the job of  barrelman or lookout. The lookout was sometimes called a barrel man, because the crow’s nest structure looked similar to a barrel. Jalani spent most of his day in the crow’s nest, high above the deck of the ship. Even though he was high above the deck, and the sea winds were blowing, the other crewmembers could hear him sing the songs of his native land. They enjoyed listening to his soothing voice every day.  Manni worked hard and was very diligent in his duties as cabin boy. The Captain was well pleased with his choice. Early one morning, Manni heard the Captain telling the mate, Silas, to bring up two women from the hold. Some help was needed in the Galley. Manni did not know how the Captain would react, but he spoke up anyway. “Captain Hannibal, sir.” “Yes Manni, what is it?” the Captain responded. “In the hold, sir, is a woman, Tamar. She is a good woman and would make a good helper in the galley.” “Now, what would make you say that, Manni? Just how would you know?” the Captain asked. Manni explained to the Captain, who she was, and about her baby being killed, then she was abused. The Captain stood silently for a moment and spoke to the mate, “Bring her up, Manni is a good judge of character. We will see how she does.” Tamar was brought up to the deck. She was still naked, and some of the crew made remarks to her because she was a beautiful lady. Manni hurriedly found some clothing to cover her, and make her more comfortable. She was taken to the galley along with another woman, named Kiki. Though the galley was hot, long hours, and the work hard, Tamar was very thankful to Manni for his help. She always tried to do special favors for Manni and Jalani.

      Manni and Jalani had a talent of entertaining. When the missionary visited their village, he taught the boys to beat out a rhythm and dance and to sing songs of the missionary’s homeland, which oddly enough was Holland. It was the same as the Captain.

      Late one evening, the boys had completed their work for the day and they were in their quarters. Tamar was with them. They were tapping out their rhythm and singing songs of Holland, when the Captain and the Mate happened to walk by. Stopping at the door, the Captain listened for a few moments. He opened the door, and Manni, Tamar, and Jalani immediately stopped singing. “Please do not stop,” the Captain said. “It has been many years since I have heard the songs of my homeland.”  Manni, again, saw the father-like figure he had seen on the dock that day. The facade has fallen away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3, The Atlantic Ocean, June, 1855.

       The ship had been on the journey for about a month, and had weathered storms and rough seas. Captain Hannibal developed an unusually close relationship with Manni and Jalani, and even with Tamar. This had never happened before and he tried to deny it even existed. The first week in June, the skies became more ominous, the seas rougher than had been experienced since leaving the coast of Africa.  Manni and Jalani became very frightened, but they knew that Captain Hannibal was a well seasoned and experienced sailor and he would guide the ship through this storm also.  Jalani went to the main mast and climbed to the Crow’s nest to get a better look at the storm.  Manni busied himself cleaning in the Captain’s cabin, trying to keep his mind off of the approaching storm. Tamar came by worried about the storm, but Manni assured her that Captain Hannibal would take care of them and they would weather the storm.  A while later, the Captain came into the cabin and taking a look around asked Manni, “where is Jalani?”   Manni turned to look at the Captain and replied, “He was going up on the deck to get a better look at the storm.”  The Captain tensed, turned and ran from the cabin. Manni and Tamar followed him, thinking Jalani was in trouble for going onto the deck. When they exited onto the deck the wind was unbelievably strong and the rain felt like being pelted with rocks.  Manni stayed next to the door, Tamar inside, as the Captain ran, fighting the strong winds and rain, to find Jalani. When he reached the main mast, he could hardly see. He tried to look up to see the crow’s nest, but the wind driven rain was limiting his view. The Captain began to climb the main mast, calling out to Jalani, struggling harder against the wind and the driving rain. The Captain looked up. The crow’s nest was gone.  He cried out loudly, “Jalani.”

      The storm raged through the night, but the next morning, the clouds were clearing and the sun rose above the horizon. The Captain called for the Mate to come to his cabin. He instructed the Mate to take care of the cleanup and to get the ship back on course. He closed the door and remained in the cabin for several days, not even allowing Manni to enter, and refused all food. The Captain stayed in the cabin alone. He asked the First Mate to bring him several bottles of rum. He had to somehow ease the pain he felt.  Manni would sit on the deck, looking up to where the crow’s nest should be, and thinking of Jalani. The Mate had some of the slaves in the hold to gather the bodies of those who had drowned during the storm, and throw them overboard. In addition to Jalani, two other crewmembers had also perished in the storm.

     Tamar would stand outside the door to the Captain’s quarters, talking to him, singing to him, but he never responded to her. Several days passed, and the Captain emerged from the cabin, never mentioning Jalani to Manni. Tamar was outside the door, when he came out, and the Captain, never saying a word, hugged her. 

      The ship was back on course and should arrive at it’s destination within a week. Several of the Albatross’ crew members worked to rebuild and install a new crow’s nest and a lookout was assigned to keep watch. The ship was entering an area of the ocean known for the presence of pirates. Lookouts were posted around the clock. Three days passed and in the late afternoon the lookout, or barrelman, called out in a loud voice. “Land ho!” He had seen land on the horizon. Many of the crew ran up on deck to try to spot the land ahead. It was a beautiful sight after being on the ocean for almost two months.

       Manni looked closely until he finally spotted what he thought was land. Then loudly and almost in a panicked state, the lookout yelled, “ship to the starboard, ship to the starboard side.”  The Captain and the Mate quickly came to the deck. Looking off to the right, several miles to the north, they could see a schooner similar to the type sometimes used by Pirates. The Mate climbed up to the crow’s nest, but even with a spyglass, he could not identify the ship.

      In the center of the slave ship was a large cannon on a turret. The Captain ordered, “man the gun,” and had the crew to turn the cannon so that it was facing to the North, just as a precautionary measure.  A schooner could travel much faster than the larger cargo ships and it wasn’t long until it was close enough for the Mate to identify the ship. She was flying a Union Jack. She was a friendly British vessel and not a pirate ship. Tensions eased on the deck of the ship.

       The Captain and the Mate walked toward the bow of the ship to view the land in the distance.  Manni walked with them, listening to their conversation. It appeared that the land was the island of Puerto Rico, but the Albatross was scheduled to dock in Jamaica.  Manni had heard of the horrors of Jamaican seasoning camps, where arriving slaves destined to go to South America, were ’trained.’ The training consisted of several months of degradation, starvation, and physical and sexual abuse in an attempt to break the spirit of the slave, much like breaking a horse. They were conditioned to perform duties and tasks without question or hesitation. Half of the slaves sent to these camps did not survive. Slaves going to North America were not subjected to this ’seasoning.’  Manni did not know where these slaves were going, or where he would be going.  “Is Jamaica where we are going?” Manni asked the Captain. There was a very long pause. Manni felt as if his heart was pounding in his throat. His heart was pounding so hard he could see his clothing move. Finally the Captain spoke, “No Manni, we are going to the Americas, North America. We are going to a place called Charleston, in the Carolinas. You will see in the next few days.”  Manni felt a relief sweep over him. 

      The Albatross docked at Port Royal, Jamaica, to replenish supplies and for a short break from almost two months at sea. The crew was anxious to visit the local pubs and to associate with the local women. The Captain left the ship with the first group of the crewmembers. It wasn’t long before they found a bar and began to indulge in Jamaican brew. Many of the bar patrons were slave traders, ready to purchase slaves to fill their seasoning camps. Captain Hannibal was approached by buyers, wishing to purchase the slaves he had just brought from Lagos. The Captain at first refused, telling the buyers his cargo was bound for North America, but finally relented and agreed to sell ten of his slaves to the Jamaican buyers. When the Captain returned to the ship he instructed the Mate to allow the buyers, who would arrive the next morning to select ten slaves from a group the Mate would select for them to choose from. The Captain retired to his cabin to sleep and recover from a night of Jamaican rum and women.

      The buyers arrived at mid-morning and began to view the group offered to them and began to select the candidates they wanted for their seasoning camp. One of the buyer’s attention was drawn to Manni and he was forced into the group selected. The Mate objected. The buyers threatened the Mate and he allowed them to take Manni along with the other nine selected. After leaving the ship, the ten slaves were loaded into a wagon and headed for the Jamaican countryside and the seasoning camp.

      Early that afternoon Captain Hannibal woke from his sleep and made his way up to the bridge, expecting to find Manni there with the Helmsman. When he discovered Manni was not there, he began searching the ship. The Boatswain approached the Captain and told him of seeing Manni among the slaves taken by the Jamaican buyers. The Captain was furious and taking three of the sailors with him left the ship to search for Manni. It seemed that everyone in Port Royal knew the location of the seasoning camp, so it was not too difficult for them to find it. Confronting the director of the camp, Colonel Gomez, the Captain demanded Manni be returned to him. Gomez refused, at which point, the Captain and the three sailors all drew pistols aiming at the Colonel’s head. Gomez led the Captain and his men to the enclosure where the ten slaves were beginning their processing into the seasoning camp. The door was unlocked and the men entered. Captain Hannibal immediately saw Manni, on his knees in the middle of the yard. He did not have on a shirt and the Captain could see the red stripes and the whelps from the whip. “He is a twelve year old child,” the Captain yelled angrily. He rushed toward the Negro holding the whip, ripped it from his hand, and began swinging the whip at Gomez and the two Negroes in the yard. “All of you,” the Captain said to the nine slaves, “make your way back to the ship….Now!” One of the sailors went to Manni, picked him up and started toward the ship.

      Once back at the ship, Captain Hannibal gave orders to the anchor detail, “weigh anchor, come ten degrees aport,” The call came back,“anchors aweigh, Captain.” 

  “All hands on deck, bear a hand, free the breast line.” the Captain continued to order. Eventually the ship was underway. The Captain ordered the Boatswain to have Tamar go to care for Manni and sent the barrelman to the crow’s nest to watch. He feared the slave buyers might attempt to pursue them. All was well until the next morning. As the sun came over the horizon, the lookout called out loudly, “schooner approaching the stern.” The Captain came to the wheelhouse, and watched the schooner until it was close enough to identify. The ship was gaining ground rapidly. There was no identifying flag or pennant visible, which led the Captain to believe this, was either a pirate ship, or the slave traders. “Come about,” he ordered. “Man the gun. Prepare to engage.” The cannon was loaded as the ship turned, and the elevation was set. “Ready to fire, sir.” “Stand fast.” the Captain replied. The schooner was not equipped with any big guns, and a slave trading ship usually was not armed with a cannon. The schooner was now within range. “Fire when ready.” the order came. All of the crew was tense. They had only fired the cannon in practice, but never fired at another ship. Manni would not stay in his quarters, but went to the wheelhouse and stood next to the Helmsman. Suddenly, an ear-splitting, boom from the gun shook the ship, and heavy smoke from the exploding powder filled the air. From their vantage point  Manni and the Helmsman could clearly see as the projectile from the cannon fell just short of the schooner. “Ready the gun,” the Captain ordered. “Fire when ready.” The gunnery crew adjusted the elevation slightly.  Another loud boom, and heavy smoke billowed from the cannon. The projectile struck the schooner. “Direct hit,” the Helmsman called out. The entire crew was quiet.  Manni watched as the schooner slowed rapidly. He saw the mast of the mainsail fall to the starboard side. The Captain ordered the Helmsman to continue to circle, and the crewmen to reload the cannon. “Prepare to fire,” the Captain ordered. “Fire at will.”

      A third loud boom rocked the ship and smoke billowed from the barrel of the big gun. “Direct hit,” the Helmsman called out.  Manni could see smoke and fire on the deck of the schooner. The Helmsman then called out, “ white flag, sir. They are surrendering.”  “Come about, and prepare to take on survivors.” the Captain said. There was a twelve man crew on the ship, and four perished. The other eight were taken aboard the Albatross. The schooner was scuttled, and the crew of the Albatross watched her as she went down. Disarmed, the prisoners were forced to remain in a group at the stern of the ship. The Captain issued the order to set course to Jamaica. It took only one day to get in the vicinity of Jamaica. The eight men were placed in a dinghy and lowered to the water. Captain Hannibal called out to the Helmsman, “set course for North America.”