From: http://clipart-library.com/clipart/750778.htm; Angry Group Cliparts #2767452 (License: Personal Use)
We hear a lot these days about polarization and bully tactics and violence aimed by one group of people at another.
But it isn’t the first time our country experienced this madness. And I can sum up the most extreme historical example of it in three words: “The Civil War.” And yes, it shows up in my Saint Maggie series. So the next few blogs will provide examples of 1860s tensions.
My central character, the good-hearted Maggie, embraces the command to love God and love neighbor. Maggie’s closest friends are people of color, Nate and Emily Johnson. She has adopted an old Irishman, James O’Reilly, as a grandfather. And there are rumors that Maggie, husband Eli, and Nate and Emily have something to do with the Underground Railroad. Plus, Eli produces a penny weekly called The Gazette, in which he makes his own opinions known.
All this makes for some angry people opposing Maggie, hubby, and friends’ generosity, kindness, and suspected civil disobedience.
Dealing with rowdies and extremists at any point in time is difficult and dangerous. And yet, Maggie and her family refuse to back down. Sometimes, to evade confrontations, they will seek a haven, but this too may turn out to be unsafe. A case in point is found in the series’ second book, Walk by Faith.
Set in 1863, the novel opens with Maggie’s boarding house being burned to the ground because of her suspected connections with the Underground Railroad. The family seeks shelter in her brother Samuel’s mansion outside of Blaineton. Things do not improve, though, partly because Samuel hired Nate Johnson to work at his carriage factory and had the audacity to place Nate, a man of color, over two younger white men. The predictable outrage ensued over that.
One evening a gang of rowdies converge upon the Beatty mansion to express their displeasure with Samuel, his family, and friends.
It starts when John, the Beatty’s butler, appears at dinner with this report: “Some ruffians have arrived at our door. They want to speak with you. I fear there may be trouble.”
Once they determine that trouble indeed is at their door, Maggie and her sister-in-law Abigail escort the other women ,Grandpa O’Reilly, and the children to the woods, where they hide.
Meanwhile Sam, Carson, Eli, John the butler, a couple of stable hands, and Nate (even though he was told to hide) go outside to deal with the visitors.
Note: The rowdies’ conversation with the family is not included in this public space. I try to avoid using certain words in general, but sometimes substituting other, milder terms in my novels is not authentic of the time.
After letting the men rant, Samuel finally responds. But the confrontation almost ends in violence.
Here's the excerpt:
Samuel remained calm. “You might wish to amend your statement, for I am, sir, one who loves the human race, all of it.”
“He [meaning Nate Johnson] ain’t no human!”
Sam was growing tired of these bullies. “Look, just what do you want?”
The first man, who appeared to be the leader, leaned forward in his saddle. “Obvious, isn’t it? We want to burn your house.”
Samuel stiffened his back. “That is pure foolishness. You? Burn my house? Look at the lot of you! You come to me in the dark. You’re wearing hats and masks so I cannot tell who you are. If you were real men, you would show me your faces. You would be proud to let me know who you are. But it is obvious to me and my friends that you are not men at all, but cowards.
“Pray, tell me what is so all-fired threatening about a colored man that you must burn down my house? If you were truly confident fellows, you would not feel threatened by him.” He indicated Nate. “Now this gentleman is a man. He has braved insults to work beside men of paler skin. He has borne the brunt of two beatings. He has never once tried to hide who he is, nor has he threatened anyone even though a group of men – most likely you – ruthlessly beat him.
“My advice, therefore, is to go home this instant. Go crawl under that rock from which you came, for you are not men but worms and as such deserve to live in the dirt.”
“You’re really asking for it,” the leader hissed.
Samuel drew the revolver out from under his jacket. “Do not tempt me to violence, sir.”
“Nor should you tempt me,” a female voice interjected. Brandishing another pistol, Abigail stepped over the threshold and onto the portico.
Eli could hear the stable hands in the hallway. Things were going to get ugly any second. His mouth dried up. He wondered whether he should throw himself between the two parties. Such heroics most likely would get him killed, and he couldn’t do that to Maggie. But what alternative did he have? Being part of a battle on the Beatty’s front yard was anathema to him.
“Why don’t you just try and stop us?” the leader said.
Samuel cocked the pistol. “As you wish. Who would like to die first?”
Abigail cocked her revolver, as well.
But a rifle shot abruptly cracked the air. And Sheriff Miller, accompanied by his deputy, galloped out of the pitch dark. “Now just hold on!” Miller barked. “No one’s burning anything! Put down your weapons.” He nodded at Abigail and added in a softer tone, “That includes you, too, ma’am.” She lowered her revolver. Satisfied, Miller turned his attention to the men on horseback. “I don’t know who you are, but rest assured I will find out. You’re the same ones who burned the houses on Second Street and beat Mr. Johnson. Now stand down.”
Saved by good ol’ Sheriff Miller! But this won’t be the first time Maggie and her family face violent opposition.
Not by a long shot.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder