The chill had a tangible edge to it in the rough Boston winter. It crept down Molly’s spine, as she pulled her fur coat more closely around her. It had been several years since Sam had first told her about the abolitionists. Since then, when Sam had first returned to Harvard they had kept in touch by letter, and he informed her upon everything the abolitionists said.
Finally, Sam had graduated, but soon afterward when Sam returned home, he started up a heated argument about how he did not want to run the plantation. Sam said it was because he had fallen in love with Boston, and though that was probably true, Molly knew it was because she knew her brother would have nothing to do with owning slaves. He did not stay long, two days later, he couldn’t take the constant quarreling any longer and took off back to Boston, where he said he had gotten a job in accounting.
Molly had waited several weeks for her father to calm down from the situation, and then asked if she could go up to Boston to visit Sam. She had told him that she would try to persuade him to change his mind and come back (though that was not at all what she planned to do). It had taken some time, but when Sam had shone up for the winter holidays, Molly believed her father would say yes. After a very long conversation, her father had said that she could go with Sam to Boston for two weeks in January. Though it turned out to be much longer than that.
They had arrived a few days earlier, and the first thing Sam did was give Molly the grand tour of Boston. He took her to the public gardens and Faneuil hall and the Charles river. All the while telling her the history of each of the places they went. Now, on their third day there, Sam was taking Molly to a meeting held by the abolitionists, which Molly had highly anticipated.
As the speaker walked onto the podium, Sam leaned over to Molly from his seat and whispered, “that is Barry Collins, he always gives the first speech. He’s the owner of this warehouse we are in, and he started this particular congregation.”
“I see,” replied Molly.
“Thank you all for coming,” said Mr. Collins in a spirited baritone voice. “First of all, I would like to announce that word has reached me that Mr. Hogan has just successfully conducted a group of slaves on the underground railroad and is just now returning. The letter I received said that he should arrive back in a week or so.”
“What is the underground railroad?” Molly asked her brother.
“The underground railroad is a group of people who lead slaves north from their plantations to freedom.”
“Oh,” said Molly. She was about to ask more when Mr. Collins began to speak again.
He spoke of slavery and said many things about why it was wrong and that it should be abolished as soon as possible. His voice rang out from the podium like a roar from a lion. He was a very good speaker. The points he made were followed by enthusiastic applause.
The meeting went on for several more hours and Molly listened intently all the while. After the meeting was over, everyone had stood up to leave. Sam lead Molly through the crowd towards the podium, his cane making a tap-tapping sound on the cold stone floor of the low roofed warehouse.
“Sam, where are we going?” asked Molly.
“There’s a friend of mine that I want you to meet,” answered Sam
When they reached the podium, most of the people had filed out, except for two figures: one was Mr. Collins, the other was a lady that Molly did not recognize. The two of them were talking.
“Excuse me,” Sam said.
The people who were talking looked up. “Oh, hello Sam!” said the lady.
“Hello Diana, how have you been?”
“I have been quite well thank you, who is this?” said Diana, indicating Molly.
“This is my sister, Molly. She is visiting with me from our home in South Carolina. Molly, this is Diana, she is a good friend of mine.”
“You’re Molly? Well it is wonderful to finally meet you, Sam has told me so much about you.”
“It is nice to meet you as well,” said Molly, who was about to point out to her brother that he had not mentioned Diana in any of his letters, but then, knowing her brother thought better of it.
“Diana, I was wondering if you wished to join Molly and me for dinner tonight?” asked Sam.
“You know I would love to, but I am attending a dinner meeting with Robert Crawford, the wealthy abolitionist that funds most of our conventions. You could come if you would like. Robert knows you Sam, he would be delighted!”
“That sounds interesting,” said Molly, “may we go Sam?”
“Of course, it sounds quite intriguing. We’ll be there,” confirmed Sam.
“Alright, see you there then. It starts at six. Sam, you have been to Mr. Crawford’s house before have you not? You remember how to get there, right?”
“See you later then, good bye.”
“Good bye,” said Sam and Molly simultaneously. Sam stood there for a moment, looking a bit hazy eyed, dreamy. Molly rolled her eyes dramatically, “come on,” she told her brother before walking toward the door.
Sam and Molly arrived at five fifty in the evening at Robert Crawford’s house. It was cold and grey outside. The clouds hung low over the city like a wet blanket, and the two of them couldn’t wait to get inside.
“What is Mr. Crawford’s profession? How did he come into all of his money?” asked Molly after a butler with very rosy cheeks had ushered them inside.
“No one really knows, although there are are plenty of rumors, none of them at all probable though,” replied Sam as he sat himself down in a chair in the lobby where everybody was waiting. Diana arrived a few minutes later and the three of them began talking. Diana seemed particularly interested in how two people, who for their whole lives had been told that slavery was good, were now against it.
“I do not know why I have never asked you this before Sam,” said Diana, “it is really quite peculiar, in a good way mind you.”
Before they could respond, there was an announcement that everybody should start entering the dining hall. Soon afterward, a man with a large brown beard walked in and sat down, gesturing to butlers with silver platters to come and serve his guests.
Their dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes, and fillet of cod was served steaming hot and smelled delicious. Molly was about to take a bite of the fish when she had an idea. “Sam, I have been thinking, every moment that I am in the company of abolitionists, I just feel so angry about what Father is doing, having slaves and all. And I want to do something about it. It makes me want to conduct the underground railroad and free our father’s slaves, especially Tess, our old nurse, remember?”
Sam choked on a mouthful of mashed potatoes, “what has gotten into you Molly, do you ever think before you speak? Do you not realize what that could do to us? Once our parents found out it was us, they would never forgive us, I want to end slavery too, but I am not sure that I am ready to completely betray our family to do it.”
“But it is what’s right.”
“What, betraying out parents?”
“No, giving other human beings the chance to live as such.”
Those words stroke a chord within Sam. That was what abolition was all about, right? But could a cause, even as important as this one, be worth severing family connections? Sam was already not really on speaking terms with his father, but for Molly’s sake. Molly can make her own decisions though, thought Sam. Finally, he said, “I do see your point Molly, yet still, I don’t know the underground railroad well enough to find the safe houses and such.”
“I am sure that Mr. Crawford could help you with that.”
“I suppose, but you do realize that you would have to sever your connections to our family. I already have, but you are due back in a week or so, the railroad takes much longer than that.”
Molly was silent for for a moment, then she said, “ I suppose it might be difficult, but I never liked our stepmother that much. And my whole life I have felt that Father was my caretaker, but he was never really warm to me, if I run off, he’ll assume that I am staying with you and working at a factory.”
“Is that a yes?”
When the group was done with dinner they went out to the sitting room, and socialized. The men pouring brandy from crystal decanters and lighting up thick brown cigars imported from many different locations. Few of them American. While the women complimented each others clothing and gossiped. Molly and Sam approached Mr. Crawford and asked him about the organization of a route from their plantation to Canada, and he was only too happy to help.
A little more than three weeks later, Molly and Sam were ready. They went down with another conductor, David Thomson, a former escaped slave himself who knew the routes better than anybody. Sam, due to his bad leg, would be taking a group of ten slaves in a carriage. Whereas Molly and David would take another group of fifteen on foot. Taking the slaves who worked in the house would be to difficult to get past the guards, seeing as there quarters were a mere stone’s throw away from the mansion. Instead, they were to bring all twenty-five of the tobacco workers who lived on the east most slave quarters.
Then, when all were informed and ready, they set off in the light of the full moon. Molly felt guilty that she could not bring Monica, but the house servants had an easier life than the field workers, she had heard her father say so herself. And Molly felt hopeful that one day all slaves would be free, a practice as evil as slavery could not last forever.
The dirt road in front of them seemed regal almost, with the moonlight bathing it. As they set off both Molly and Sam looked back, not knowing if they’d ever see the house. As they started there way to Canada, they felt that they were shedding an old history, a history of naïvete. And they felt stronger because of it.