Andre and Jermain stood silently, awaiting their fates. Both had been good, strong, and loyal workers, but today they knew their time under Master James was over. Andre, the older and stronger of the two, held his younger brother close to him. They thought of there mom and sister, who they would be leaving, most likely forever. Jermain was only 18, or assumed he was 18 given what he knew, which wasn’t much. Andre was three years older.
Jermain wore his fear on his sleeve as they went to the highest bidder. A fat white man named Andrew, or Master Andrew, to the two boys. Andre took one last look at Master James, remembering times when his master had shown mercy upon Andre and his brother. Though Jermain didn’t know it, they were leaving one of the nicer slave owners in the state of Virginia.
They had heard Master Andrew’s plantation was only 150 miles south of Maryland. That fact meant nothing to Jermain, who had very little knowledge of freedom or how to get it. But Andre knew a lot more. He had snuck out of the plantation a few times to see what was around. He had found another, much larger, plantation only a few miles away. He had spoken with them and heard rumors of freedom and the underground railroad. But at that time Andre would never run. He had to take care of his mother and his siblings. But now that it was just him and his brother, the thought reawoke in his mind.
Many hours later, Andre and Jermain found themselves on Master Andrew’s land. After being shown where they would be sleeping, they were immediately put to work. Jermain, though it was normally a woman's job, was put in the house to clean and cook. Andre was told to help process the cotton using the cotton gin.
Andre had never seen a machine like it in his life, as Master James had never grown cotton. After looking at it with great confusion for a few moments, he was yelled at by the person watching over him and told to get to work. Three other slaves were doing the same work, so he looked at them hoping to figure out what to do. He shoved a ton of cotton into the machine and started turning the wheel. And for a brief moment, it was working. Andre felt like a genius for a whole 15 seconds, until the machine jammed.
Frightened, he tried to play it off like nothing happened and pretended to do the work. But his overviewer was no fool. He snapped at Andre asking what happened. After seeing that Andre had broken the cotton gin, he marched Andre off into the middle of the plantation. After only being on the plantation for 30 minutes, Andre was about to get whipped. He was tied up to a post and given a few moments of silence before the beating began.
*crack!* The whip nailed Andre in the back. He cried out in pain. The beating continued until Andre had 10 slashes on his back. When the overviewer left, the women rushed to Andre to help. It took Andre a few hours of healing before he could move again. His brother had been in and out checking on him, but still doing his work so he wouldn’t suffer a similar fate.
That night, Andre told Jermain they were running away. Andre had heard rumors of the underground railroad in the North that could get them to Canada. They would only need to go 150 miles to get to Maryland. Jermain was very sceptical, but deep in his heart, he knew he wouldn’t be able to live like this forever. So that night, they packed up what little stuff they had, and followed the North Star. There was no one to say goodbye to, no good memories or ties to anything they were leaving. Not even a glance back to see what they would never see again. Just going forward, occasionally looking at the stars to be sure they were going the right way.
It was the middle of the night. No one knew they had left yet, but someone would by morning. But Andre wasn’t thinking about that yet. He wasn’t thinking about where they would sleep, what they would eat, or how they would avoid their master who was sure to come for them.
After walking for about three hours Jermain asked Andre what the plan was. Andre stopped. He had no plan. No ideas of what was to come, or how to survive. So over the next hour, they talked a plan out.
“150 miles,” Jermain said. “How far is that?”
“I dun know,” replied Andre, “But if we be walkin’ from sundown til the sun rise, should be bout a week's walk.”
“I was able to snag some food for the trip, but only bout three days worth. We ain’t got no water or place to sleep. Dre we needed to plan this out more! You ain’t got no idea what you got us into,” exclaimed Jermain, who was starting to realize they might not survive.
“Ya know Dre,” Jermain continued, “If we turned back now no one would know we was gone. We could take a week or two to plan something before we set out.”
“NO,” Andre snapped back. “We are NOT heading back. There is no way in hell I’m headed back to that old place. We wasn’t meant for this Jermain. We was meant to be better than this. I’m tired of working for the white man. I’ve heard the stories of freedom in the amazin place called Canadia. I’ve heard of safety in Maryland. Free negroes walking aroun’, just like you and be, brother. I need that. We need that. So we gonna get it or die tryin’.”
Jermain walked in silence, still processing what his brother had told him. Jermain was inspired by his brothers knowledge and wanted to continue. Though they didn’t have much of a plan, they had hope and faith. They had God on their side, and to them, that was all that they needed.
Through a thick forest of trees they continued. Before long, the sun had started to pierce through the trees to their right. The beauty of the sun illuminated the previously pitch black forest. “We need to rest somewhere out of site,” said Andre. Jermain noded in agreement. “Bet them trees could hold our weight? They lookin strong nough for me,”
“Yeah we could climb up one to sleep in,” Jermain said. They found two taller trees and started to climb. The leaves were still damp with the morning dew and birds fluttered away as they went into the upper branches. Jermain and Andre were able to find some branches good enough for sleeping in, and closed their eyes.
Andre was asleep within minutes. After the rough 24 hours he had been through, resting felt like heaven. But Jermain laid awake for a while, still processing what was going on. Just yesterday he had been with his momma and family, everyone he had come to know and love in his life.. Now it was just him and Andre, making a mad dash for freedom. Jermain was still understanding what it meant, to be free. Working and obeying his master was all he knew. He couldn’t even fathom anything different from working. Jermain had felt it was his duty in life to work for the white man, and so he did for as long as he could remember. And he planned to until the day he died. The Virginia summer sun had risen fully and started to beat down upon him. His fears swirled with other thoughts of hunger and dehydration until he eventually fell asleep.
Thinking they fell asleep around 7 am, Andre had realized he slept far longer than he had intended to when he awoke to the setting sun in front of him. He sprang up and out of the tree to go wake Jermain, but he had been up for hours. Jermain had shown great survival skills and built himself a knife out of a stone he found, and caught them a fish out of a nearby stream. Andre’s face lit up with joy as he realized how smart his brother had been. Andre immediately rushed to the stream to drink the water. He never thought water would taste so good in his life. Andre and Jermain each grabbed a fish and ate it raw. They would rather run the chance of getting sick than start a fire and get them caught.
They located what they thought was the North Star, and continued on. Filled with energy and hope from the rest, food, and water, they walked at a brisk pace as if they could see freedom now.
Wolves howled in the distance along with owls and other night creatures. After a few hours, they came across a small village. Everything was dark, as everyone seemed to be asleep. Though they knew it was dangerous, Andre and Jermain very carefully walked into the village, not knowing what to expect. They knew they had to go in, but just didn’t know why. It was as if God himself was telling them to take the risk. So take the risk they did, as they precariously strolled through the village. They heard light sounds and movements, though they assumed them to be the wind or dogs.
Out of nowhere, a voice whispered from behind them “Don’t make a sound. Follow me and you will be safe. I had heard of two runaways from a place a few miles south of here, and I know a runaway nigger when I see one. Just come with me and you might see the light of day one more time.”
Andre and Jermain froze for a second, and slowly turned around to address who in the world was speaking to them. “Y-yes sir,” Jermain was able to stutter out. A small, middle aged white man stand before them. Jermain could see that Andre trusted this man for some reason, so they followed him into his house. Once they were inside, the extended silence was broken.
“Don’t be afraid. You two are safe now. I’m one of the few abolitionists who live in the south and I want to help,” the man stated. It all made sense now, to Andre at least. He understood that this old man was an ally not an enemy, and he was in fact the one man that they needed. Jermain still had very little idea as to what was going on, but he saw the confidence in his brother and used that to find confidence in himself.
“Tomorrow morning, I am making a trip to Maryland to drop off some cargo. I’ll feed you and let you sleep tonight, but you two will be traveling in crates in the back of my carriage tomorrow,” the man continued. He walked over the pantry to grab some food. He pulled out two amazing peaches. “Here. Eat this. You will need all of your strength to get through this. I will take you into Maryland, but you two will be on your own after that. Most of the people in the north will be willing to help, but there are still a few who won’t, so be careful. Once y’all are in the North, you’ll have to walk about a day or so to get to Baltimore. There you will be able to find someone to take you to Syracuse. From Syracuse, someone will be able to take you to the St. Lawrence River. If you can get across then you will be free men in the country of Canada.”
Andre nodded his head to show he understood. “You two are very lucky that I found you. I got a room with no window you two can rest in until morning,” the man said. Andre and Jermain followed the man into a well hidden room behind a bookcase. They walked in to find 3 mattresses and a dresser in an otherwise empty room. They laid down and went to sleep.
At right around dawn the man walked in with two crates and a few maps in his hand. “Do you know how to read a map?” the man asked Andre. He nodded his head. “Good. Once you get to the cities I stated, these are the maps with the locations of the safe houses. I have sent letters letting them know to expect your arrival. Now you have to get into these crates and we’ll take y’all up north.”
“Thank you for everything sir. Might I be honored with the name of who is helping us so much?” Andre asked.
“My name is Mr. Peaty. I hope one day slavery is abolished in this country, but until then, I do what I can to help current slaves,” the man said.
“Thank you Mr. Peaty,” both Andre and Jermain said, almost in unity. They climbed in the crates. They were extremely uncomfortable, but if it meant freedom, then it was worth it. Once they were sealed in, the crates got loaded up, and they were off to Maryland. Not to long after, the carriage stopped. Someone unloaded all the crates except for Andre’s and Jermain’s. The carriage continued moving again, but this time for just a couple minutes, then stopped. Andre and Jermain’s crates were pried open by Mr. Peaty. They found themselves in a big empty building.
“Baltimore is that way,” Mr. Peaty said after the crate was opened. Andre and Jermain sat up and stretched out. Mr Peaty continued “No need to hide during the day cuz Maryland if full of black, but keep your heads low in case your old master but up fliers looking for ya. Good luck you two. I packed y’all a couple a bags with some food in it. Should be nuf for the trip to Baltimore, bout a day or so. Now go and don’t look back. The south and slavery is behind your. Your fight for freedom continues.”
Andre and Jermain thanked Mr. Peaty for everything he had done, and then left on there way to Baltimore, and never looked back. By the end of the day, Andre and Jermain found themselves in a small village, that had a surprisingly high amount of blacks just walking around, minding there own business. They were free blacks while Andre and Jermain could still be brought back. They found a kind looking fellow and asked if they could spend the night. The man gladly accepted.
In the morning, the man showed them the way to Baltimore and said they were almost there. After eating some of the snack pack Mr. Peaty had made them, Andre and Jermain continued on. In about two hours, they were in Baltimore.
Andre followed the map to a grand house and knocked on the door. A tall white man appeared and said “Welcome Jermain and Andre. We have been expecting you.”
Relieved, Andre and Jermain walked into the house to find a full lunch and were told to eat. “My name is Matthew McMillin. I’ll be able to take you to the St. Lawrence River,” the man said. “I have a train ride up there and you two will be able to rest in the storage car. It’ll be a few days trip and I will be sure to provide you with food and water.”
Andre’s face lit up. “B-but Mr. Peaty said we’d be able to get to Syracuse and then to the river,” he stammered out.
“Ah yes,” Mr. McMillan said. “But the train goes on past Syracuse all the way up, so I figured why take the extra step? Would this not be easier, or would you prefer I drop you off in Syracuse?”
“No sir, this is so much better,” Andre replied, realizing that he was almost guaranteed freedom at this point. “Thank you so much for everything. I don’ think you understand how much this mean to my brother and me. Ya see we didn’t know much when we left, and we been blest by God to have found people as helpful as you and Mr. Peaty, so thank ya so much. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Mr. McMillin directed them into a room. “We will be catching the train in a few hours,” he said. “We will be leaving in a few hours. Just stay here and relax, and talk it out. I understand you two have been through a lot but the hardship is almost over.”
Jermain and Andre sat down on a couch. The couch cushions felt like clouds from heaven. They sat there silently for a few minutes before Jermain untied his tongue. “Freedom. What’s the firs thing you gonna do when your free, huh Dre?”
“Imma pray and thank God. Then imma find us a nice community with a church,” Andre replied.
“Imma find me a job and first. I wanna work for some money that I can keep ya feel? Then imma find me some beautiful white women.”
Andre laughed. Him and his brother talked and talked like they used to at the old plantation before they left for the train station. Once the train came, they got the the storage car. It had some hay bales that were perfect for laying in. It was a three day long train ride on which Jermain and Andre talked the entire time, only stopping to eat and sleep. Once the train was at their stop, Mr McMillin fetched them from the storage cart. Andre and Jermain had no idea how to swim, but knew God would carry them across that river.
They dove in and one way or another, Jermain and Andre made it across the river.
Jermain and Andre stood as new men. Free Men.