October 24, 1851: Dear Ana . . .

Ciarah Clark, guest writer

October 24, 1851


Dear Ana,

Finally, we’re on our way to freedom. Ceci fell asleep, so I’ll write in my new journal before bed. So much has happened. I must pour it out to someone; I could talk to Isaac, but he already knows what’s happened. I’ve named my journal Ana, after the lady that gave it to me.

Isaac, Ceci, and I escaped the plantation two nights ago. The plantation was terrible, but I feel ungrateful saying that because others had it worse than we. Isaac and I were fortunate to have permission to marry, and Mrs. Adams was kind to teach me reading and writing. I never had to see my husband sold. Although we were “working sunup to sundown six days a week and having food sometimes not suitable for an animal to eat”, (Slave) that’s no different from other slaves.    Isaac’s considered escaping since Cecilia was born 5 years ago. I was about 14 when he first mentioned it — we’d been married only a year. We didn’t want to raise our baby as a slave, so we decided to leave once she was older.

We managed to escape by hiding in a wagon full of sacks of potatoes. It was kind of Charlie, a stable boy, to take us in his wagon to the next town — if found out, he could be severely punished. Following Charlie’s directions, we walked alongside a river in the woods till we saw a small yellow house. That’s where Miss Ana gave us a good meal, a hot bath, new clothes, and a makeshift bed. Obadiah and Ruth, escaping a South Carolina tobacco plantation, joined us a few hours later. And that’s where we are now.



October 25, 1851


Dear Ana,

We made it to the house of Miss Molly McGuire. We stayed up late getting acquainted: her family moved to America from Ireland as immigrants due to the potato famine. Two years ago, they joined the gold rush and struck rich. Her father died in the San Francisco fire earlier this year. Countless buildings and homes are gone; “more damage was done at this one than all of the preceding ones.” (Early) Miss Molly and her mother sold the mine and moved in with her uncle in Virginia.


I found it easy to tell Miss Molly about my feelings, and mentioned that sometimes I feel so dreadfully alone and like a burden to the group. She gave me a Bible and showed me her favorite chapter, Psalms 23. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. She also gave me a copy of Moby Dick, a book that was published only last week. I’m excited to read it.



October 26, 1851


Dear Ana,

I’m nervous about this next leg of our journey; until now we’ve had someone transport us, but for the next three days we’ll travel on our own. I’d tell Isaac of my fears, but I’d hate to bother him.

My biggest fear is bounty hunters. Miss Molly told her uncle, Mr. Thomas McGuire, a group of them was seen in town, questioning folks and barging into their homes.

We must leave. Mr. McGuire will take us in his wagon to a secluded part of the road; from there we’ll walk north until we come to a cave.



October 29, 1851


I’m the world’s worst mother! Who loses their own child? Isaac must be so displeased with me. Ruth tells me not to worry, but what else shall I do? Ceci will die in the woods and it’s my fault. It’s too dangerous to go back; we can only pray. I keep reading the bible Miss Molly gave me, but I’m not finding the same comfort in it that I used to.

Two nights ago, she wished to sleep a short distance from me, rather than right next to me like usual. Later, we thought we heard men coming near and panicked. In the rush, I lost track of her and have not seen her since. Isaac has been short-tempered since the incident. I must’ve let him down.



October 30, 1851


It’s not safe for us to leave the cave yet; we’ll wait until the bounty hunters leave. Ceci’s been missing three days. I’m a terrible mother — if Ceci dies it’s all my fault.

Last night I talked with Ruth. For the first time I had someone to share my thoughts and feelings with. I told her I felt responsible for Ceci’s disappearance and like a burden to the group. Could I have done something to prevent Ceci from going missing? Yes.

I used to think of Ruth as shy . . . turns out she’s quite talkative once she gets going. Her father and older brother were sold when she was seven. Her mother died two years after Ruth married Obadiah. Her overseer was harsh and whipped slaves for amusement. “There were days I fainted from loss of blood,” she told me. One can see raised scars underneath her dress. Once Obadiah accidentally broke a window, and his overseer grabbed a glass shard and stuck him with it. He now has a jagged scar on his forehead.

I set down my quilt I was working on and confessed that I felt like a terrible wife, mother, woman, and human in general. “I let my daughter, husband, and myself down. I’ve messed up, and now I’ll never be worth anything much.”

Ana, what Ruth said next turned around my way of thinking. “If you step on a dime and scuff it up, it’s still worth it’s full ten cents. Just because life throws things at you, don’t mean you’re worth any less. You’re still the beautiful Miriam you’ve always been. Your mistakes don’t define you — they shape you a little is all and help you grow, if you learn from them.” It was certainly a lot to think about. I’d never thought of it that way before, and it was so strange to me to think that maybe my mistakes really don’t define me.



October 31, 1851


Oh, praise God! God is so good! My prayers have been answered! Ceci came back to me!

Early this morning we left the cave and traveled in a hidden compartment in Mr. Carter’s carriage until we came to a fork in the road. Isaac, Obadiah, Ruth and I stepped out and went one way while Mr. Carter continued driving down the main road. Before he left he gave us our instructions: follow the river until we came to an old spring house, then cross the river and follow the Drinking Gourd (a group of stars pointing north) till we come to a white house with green shutters. If the windows were open and showing blue curtains, it would be safe for us to knock on the door. We hadn’t been following the river for long when we heard footsteps. We paused and heard them coming closer. It was Ceci! I cried and carried her for the rest of the day, giving her what little water and food I had.



November 3, 1851


I feel as if my journal entry’s are competing each other for the most severe change in mood. Last time I wrote to you, Ana, I was crying with joy. But now I fear I shall never smile again.

I was so happy to have found Ceci that I did not mind the cold and heavy rain. I even took off my shawl to wrap her in. Eventually we reached the spring house and had to cross the river. Because of all the rain, it was much higher than normal, but it didn’t seem too dangerous.

Ceci clung to my back as Isaac helped me to the other side. The current was strong. At one point I slipped, but I managed to regain my footing. I was relieved once we finally made it. Holding my breath, I waited for Obadiah and Ruth.

Then, it happened.

Halfway across the river, Ruth fell backwards while Obadiah held on to an overhanging tree branch. She was pulled under. We heard a single, terrified, blood-chilling shriek, then only the sound of the rushing water. It happened so quickly, and none of us could swim. We felt so helpless.

We stumbled numbly into the white house with green shutters late last night. I was too tired to write in my journal, so I decided to write to you this morning.

I keep thinking about the night Ruth drowned . . . her screams still ring in my ears.



November 4, 1851


Today marks the last leg of our journey. We’ll go northwest and follow railroad tracks until we see a wagon on the other side of a fence, marking the southern border to Pennsylvania. Once we cross that fence we’ll be free.

Since Ruth drowned I’ve felt especially lonely. The one person I could call a good friend is dead. Who can I talk to, Ana?

It’s an odd feeling. I feel drained and depressed, yet exhilarated about reaching freedom.



November 9, 1851


Ceci couldn’t contain herself when she saw the wagon that would take us to freedom; she squirmed out of my arms and ran to it. Isaac, Obadiah and I took our time, since our shoes were torn and our feet were sore.

Out of nowhere men and dogs jumped out of the foliage. One man grabbed my arms, and three pinned down Obadiah; a dog attacked Isaac, tearing his left leg. The wagon left with Ceci. We’re back at the plantation, where it began and where it ends. How discouraging. We were so close — and now all hope is gone. Mr. Adams will make an example of us in the morning.

Later this evening, something clicked. None of these awful things that happened were my fault. Even if they were, they haven’t affected my worth and value in God’s eyes. I’ve achieved peace with myself and recognized my worth. I wouldn’t’ve been able to do that without you, Ana. Thank you.

Obadiah shall be beaten, but will live, since he’s a valuable blacksmith. He’ll try to escape again, and hopes to give this journal to you, Ceci.

My dear Cecilia. I don’t know how much of me you remember. Perhaps none at all. You didn’t get the chance to know me, but that’s alright. I want you to know I love you very much and hope you’ve reached freedom and happiness. I’m sorry we couldn’t’ve reached it together.





May 7, 1866

Cecilia wiped the chalkboard, retrieved a stack of her students’ papers, and turned to close the school for the day. Then she saw him, standing in the doorway.

“Pardon me, are you Mrs. Cecilia Freedman?” The older man carried a small stack of books in one hand and what looked like a folded quilt in the other. He wore a green felt hat, and there was a jagged scar across his forehead.

“Er, yes sir . . . can I help you?” She smoothed her hair, hoping she looked presentable after a long day of teaching.

The man smiled. His skin was the color of coffee with no milk. His trousers looked as if he had worn the same pair his whole life, with wrinkles and stains all over. His rough shirt almost seemed to be made out of a potato sack. “I’m an old friend of your mother’s.”

“But . . . my mother . . . she-she’s not here . . . ”

“I know.” He sauntered to the nearest desk and set down the books and quilt. “She wanted me to give these to you, if I found you.”

Cecilia sorted through the books. A bible, with a bookmark at Psalms 23. A copy of Moby Dick. Last was a book the size of her hand. She picked it up. “What is this?”

The stranger’s smile grew. “Oh, that’s another old friend of your mother’s. Probably her closest friend of all.”

Cecilia opened the book and began reading the scrawling handwriting. “Dear Ana . . . ”




Works Cited

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Lloyd, J.D. The Gold Rush. Greenhaven Press, 2002.

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