An American Immigration Story – By Ancel K Houchen

I was born in the British West Indies in the year of 1798, and as far back as I can remember, I worked in the sugarcane fields of the Rose Hall plantation. Of those days the sharpest memories are of being surrounded by walls of cane, working with blistered and calloused hands and the wretched sun making my back feel like it was covered with burning tar. Shade never stayed long enough and mosquitoes never seemed to go away. Everything and everyone smelled like burnt sugarcane, so when darkness came for me, I welcomed it.

After that night, I never spent another day in the cane fields again. I was given a new purpose. I enjoyed more freedom and power than anyone, even my former masters, could imagine. I took what I wanted without fear of reprisal. Obeah people came to worship me and bring fat offerings in exchange for my knowledge. But then like a thunderclap the Baptist War started, and although it was short and sweet, when it was over it created more followers of the “Bleeding God”.

These people were not like the Obeahs who brazenly walked with the earthbound spirits. The bleeders gathered like sheep in abandoned barns and empty fields at night, burning candles and chanting songs that stung my ears and eyes like wasps. And as their numbers grew, they began to seek me out. They harassed me with pointed sticks and scalded me with bewitched river water. Hatred and pain drove me from my home beneath the hills and so I began my own “Baptist War” against the bleeders. I sent many of them screaming to their god but it seemed that for every one I took, two would take his place.

The island had become too small for me. If I were to survive, I would have to leave. The only way off was by ship and I had to move under the cover of darkness so I travelled to Port Royal and studied the movement of ships from a safe distance.

I had heard of great the cities of America, like Boston, Philadelphia and New York and decided to go see them. I noticed that ships sailed to and from America on a weekly basis a few of them were slave ships.

I knew the conditions on a slave ship would suit my needs, but I had to act quickly. For the past few months, rumor was spreading that William of England was going to abolish slavery, so I suspected that the next slave ship in port might be the last.

My escape turned out to be easier than I could have imagined. I simply left my hiding place, walked along the bay of Port Royal, and allowed myself to be caught and shackled along with other escaped and shanghaied slaves. When asked for my name, it was Wilfred at the time, I pretended to be deaf and dumb, rather than open my mouth and expose what lies beneath. So since they didn’t know what to call me they decided to call me Moses, since they found me near the water. They thought it was a way of making a good Christian joke. I agreed, although for an altogether different reason, and I kept the name even to this very day.

I, along with three hundred and twenty slaves, were chained together and led down into the ships hold. It was a long dark chamber that smelled like shit and seawater. I lay on my back and slept to a chorus of wailing, weeping and unanswered prayers. Slaves were fed once a day with moldy bread and brackish water. They were scrawny, sickly and hallow cheeked which left me with only meagerest of pickings. Those who died, mostly from dehydration or by more direct means, were unchained and thrown overboard. Dead slaves were a regular part of the business so no eyebrows were raised even when it was becoming obvious that many of the dead were those shackled closest to me.

When we were still several miles outside of New York harbor, I feigned my own death, I was just skin and bones by then which made looking dead much easier, and swam away after they tossed me over the side. That was a long time ago, and I have not set foot of a ship since, I prefer taking the subway, but there are certain things that followed me from that boat ride that will never leave, the sounds of the dying and the never ending hunger.

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