After Bondage and War -
A Very Personal Synopsis
I have traveled back in time with my partner, Joan Austin, to the spring and summer of 1865. Like invisible ghosts or silent spirits, we have lived there within the minds of our characters for a year - watching, observing, and feeling that time and its affect on our lives. The experience has gone so far beyond empathy, it has approached sympathy.
I have been Josiah Ashford and struggled with him through my early life as a slave in Missouri and Savannah Oaks plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. I have fallen in love and shared tender moments with my sweet wife Josena in our slave cabin. Joan and I have learned what it means to love Josena and the heart-wrenching pain and sadness when she is taken away. I have learned the skills necessary to make a living as a furniture cabinet maker to benefit my later life as a freedman. I have studied, learned and persevered, knowing someday my life would be better and I could make life better for others.
I have watched Marcus Taylor grow up in Savannah, Georgia as a privileged dilettante, restless to make his own wealth and build his own dynasty. Joan helped me to understand his sweetheart, Rebecca Stanley from Charleston who desired a grand life full of refinement and social graces. We were deeply saddened to watch Marcus slowly - dishonest and disloyal act-by-act - destroy Rebecca's life. I hated him for his treatment of Josiah and his other human property, but was gratified when he ultimately got his comeuppance.
I grew up in Baltimore as David Wexley and sailed the Atlantic coast in topsail schooners as a merchant marine. I wrote in my journal, sharing my experiences and sad lonely thoughts privately within myself. I was impassioned for social justice and charged naively into war with my young friends to fight cruel injustice and authority. I saw and felt what the world would be like with no God to watch over it as I saw so many die, so fast, and for so long. I learned my friend died on the bridge in Antietam while I was fighting elsewhere in the field. I was critically wounded in the Wilderness and lived through hell on earth in an outdoor sewer of a prison in Georgia. I held my friend in my arms and watched him draw his last breath and leave this earthly life.
I watched Josiah and David meet at the waterfront in Natchez and throw their fortunes together to travel on foot hundreds of miles across Mississippi and Alabama looking for Josena. I stood beside them in the yard of the Drish Plantation in Tuscaloosa as we learned the shocking truths there. I rode along with them on horseback and suffered and cried along with David at the aftermath of Shiloh in Tennessee.
I joined Josiah and David as they settled their lives in Ohio. I was proud of what Josiah had accomplished and become as a distinguished and admired citizen of his community and his region. I was happy for him as his second chance for love and a family brought him the fulfillment of his life.
I worked alongside David as he made his way in his new life and won the friendship of his community. When his last chance for love and a family was taken away, I drank with him in the taverns as his life spiraled toward self-destruction. I watched his loving friend Josiah try to save him before he decided to leave and go west on his own.
I watched them part for the last time and watched one die tragically while the other ended his life in loving peace. I lived with them as free men and learned about man's nature and life's purpose and that all of life is about hope as its conclusion and finality.
It was an experience I will never forget.