The heat on the ship baked the backs of his eyelids when he blinked. Ward never meant to follow through with indentured servitude once he got to the New World. Not before he boarded the tumbling core of the ship. It was a way to get out of England, to work his way into a different class. Perhaps to make his name.
But, two weeks of continuous movement, of constant retching, of sleepless fury, broke the most determined mind. As the ship entered the calmer waters of Charleston Harbor, he glimpsed the familiar spires of a steeple or two, pieces of jolly old England replicated anew.
The ship slammed into land with a force that jarred his teeth inside his skull. Outside, on the dock, his owner would be waiting to claim his pound of flesh, his two years of ceaseless labor. Breathing in the rancid moisture that hung in the air, he wondered how he would stand two years of wading in a rice paddy, two years of mucking out horse shit, two years of beheading tufts of cotton. He was an educated man, but he still imagined the glee his owner would find in grinding him below his place.
Know your place, and stay in it. He could hear the snarled words bounce over the lapping water.
The coils of chain wrapped around his soul, crushing him under two years of weight. Would he even live through two years of mosquitoes and New World diseases, of simmering unrest, of insults?
His eyes lit on the silty, opaque harbor, a foreign greenish-brown that stank of salt and sulfur. When he crashed into it, he did not realize he had jumped. It was only when he was flailing through the thickness of it, fighting to swim away from the side of the ship, that someone shouted, “Arrest that man!”
This post is part of the series Jailhouse Rock, set in and around the Old Charleston Jail. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to read the first installment. And, if you’re ever in Charleston, do not miss the Old Jail.