African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Priscilla Jane Thompson, "Freedom at McNealy's" (1900)


ALL around old Chattanooga,
   War had left his wasteful trace;
And the rebels, quelled and baffled,
   Freed, reluctantly their slaves.

On his spacious, cool, veranda—
   Stood McNealy, gaunt and tall,
With bowed head, and long arms folded,
   Pond'ring on his blacks, enthralled.

Years and years, he'd been their master,
   Harsh and stern his reign had been;
Many an undeserving lashing,
   He had rudely given them.

All his life he'd been a despot;
   Ruling all with iron hand;
Never till this deadly conflict,
   Had he e'er brooked one command.

But his lately rich plantation,
   Sacked by Union men he see:
And the bitter dregs stands waiting:
   He must set his bondmen free.

From their work, they come together,
   At their master's last command,
And at length, well-nigh two hundred
   Fore the large veranda stand.

Oh! that motley crowd before him,
   Speaks the wrong one man has done;
For his constant, dire oppression,
   Can be seen on every one.

Men of middle age all palsied,
   By hard work and sorrow's pain;
Blighted youths and orphaned infants;
   All had felt his cruel reign.

There were women fair who knew him,
   To be more of brute than man;
There were children clinging to them,
   Through whose veins his own blood ran.

Widowed hearts in swarthy bosoms,
   Ever bled in patient pain,
O'er their loved ones, sold before them,
   To increase McNealy's gain.

All of this preys on McNealy,
   As before his slaves he stands;
And his low'ring, dogged, expression,
   Speaks the power that's left his hands.

And, with quivering voice and husky,
   Tells he that each one is free;
Tells them of his heavy losses,
   Meanly seeking sympathy.

And the soft hearts of his vassals,
   Melts, as only Ethiopes' can;
As with brimming eyes and kind words,
   Each one grasps his tyrant's hands.

One by one, they've all departed;
   Man and woman, boy and girl;
Void of learning, inexperienced,
   Launched upon the crafty world.

But one cabin is not empty,
   Two old souls are kneeling there;
In the throes of desolation,
   They have sought their Lord in prayer.

They have never tasted freedom,
   And their youthful hopes are fled;
Now, the freedom they are seeking,
   Is with Jesus and the dead.

Poor aunt Jude and uncle Simon!
   Freedom brings to them no cheer;
They have served McNealy's fam'ly—
   For three score, or more of years.

Steep and rough, the road they've traveled,
   Many were their heart felt groans—
Yet they cleave unto their tyrant,
   For his lash, is all they've known.

Like a bird of long confinement,
   Cleaves unto his open cage,
These two wretched slaves, benighted,
   Clave to bondage, in their age.

And they sought McNealy humbly,
   With their hearts filled to the brim;
Told him, all their days remaining,
   They would gladly give to him.

And McNealy, pleased and flattered,
   With no feeling of remorse,
Takes them back into his service,
   As you would a faithful horse.

Published in Ethiope Lays, 1900

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