The Lost Quilter

The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini

Book: The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jennifer Chiaverini
ever southward, Joanna heard stories as heartbreaking as her own: A man who had pleaded with his master not to sell off his wife only to find himself sold instead. A husband, wife, and six-year-old daughter from Maryland sold off to cover a widow’s debts. A mother whose three-year-old child had clung so tightly to her skirts as she was forced into the wagon that the traders had been obliged to buy him, too, only to sell him away from her at the next town. Two young brothers, about ten and twelve, who had no idea where they were from or why they had been parted from the only home they knew. A young field hand who had been afraid to join his brothers when they ran away upon hearing that they were to be sold; he would never know their fate, but it had to be better than his. “Should’ve gone with ’em,” he said glumly, squinting up at the sun. “Even if they dead, they free, more free than me.”
    “I ran away once,” said Joanna softly, and a few of her companions roused from their numb lethargy to peer curiously at her. “I made it all the way to Pennsylvania.”
    “That a free state,” said an older man with gray in his hair. “How you end up here?”
    Joanna dared not tell him about her son, the reason she had lingered too long, the reason she had been captured. “Bad luck,” she said instead. “Bad luck and slave catchers.”
    After many, many days, when Joanna had lost hope that she would ever know any life but the endless jostling in the crowded, fetid cage, with sun and rain beating down and hunger constantly gnawing at her belly, the wagon rolled into a city larger than any they had yet passed through. She overheard the traders mention Ryan’s Mart, and Chalmers and Queen Streets, but those places meant nothing to her. Throughout the long journey, the traders had never let any potential buyers inspect her, not even the most persistent. She assumed that was because she was not really for sale; Marse Chester’s brother owned her now. Now she wondered if the traders had been saving her to earn a higher profit in the city. But what did it matter where she was sold? One master was as bad as any other. And yet the thought of auction made her tremble. If the older Marse Chester were cut from the same cloth as his brother, Joanna was likely to be as miserable with him in South Carolina as she had been in Virginia, but how much more terrifying it would be to be sold at auction to a complete stranger, about whom nothing would be familiar.
    The sun was high overhead when the wagon came to a stop on a busy square—more buildings, more people and horses and carriages and wagons than Joanna had ever seen. Overwhelmed by the assault of heat and noise and unfamiliar odors, Joanna kept her eyes on the cobblestones, dizzy from hunger and thirst. One of the traders disappeared into a building lined with tallwhite columns, and after he returned, the slaves were herded indoors, into a brick building the younger trader called a barracoon. There the cuffs and chains that bound them were removed, but they were driven into cells, families and friends clutching one another so they would not be separated. Soon they were locked up again behind iron bars and stone walls, and at the sound of the door slamming shut, the youngest boy broke down in sobs. Wordlessly Joanna held him, rocked him in her lap, and stroked his head until he fell asleep.
    The next morning the slaves woke to the sound of the Georgia traders approaching, their voices full of confidence and humor. “Guess they slept well,” muttered the young field hand who constantly berated himself for not running off with his brothers.
    “Why wouldn’t they?” said the older, gray-haired man bitterly, pushing himself stiffly to his feet from where he had slept on the cold stone floor. “And us without a bite to eat. Serve them right if we faint dead away on the auction block and they can’t get a dime for us.”
    “Who want a gang of sickly slaves?” murmured

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