Solange’s Story

My name is Solange. I’m a slave living and working on a sugar plantation in Jamaica owned by an unmarried Englishman who moved to the island a year ago with his widowed sister. I was dark so I worked in the field. Only the fair-skinned slaves worked in the great house.

I remember the first time the new master came to introduce himself to the slaves, he looked very regal as he on his horse with his light brown hair and piercing blue eyes.

As he explained how things were going to be now that he was in charge, I noticed that his eyes lingered on me. The previous Master never looked at me like that and I was glad. He was a cruel and heartless man. He worked us like dogs–from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. He was always coming around to check on us. If he thought that one of the slaves was moving too slow, he would have him whipped.

There was a buxom slave named Sabe. The former Master had his eye on her. He would signal to her and she would follow him to one of the cabins and mate with her. She had three pickney for him. He never whipped her. Sometimes, I think she would have preferred that to the mating. One good thing came out of it, though. Since her pickney with him were light-skinned, they wouldn’t work in the sugar field with her but up at the big house.

We were all happy when the old Master left, especially Sabe but we soon began to wonder what the new Master would be like. Would he be as bad or worse? Sabe and some other slaves prayed that he would be better. It looked like their prayers were answered.

The new Master turned out to be a good man. He treated us well. We worked ten hours a day instead of twelve like before and during harvest time, we worked twelve hours instead of the 16 hours the old Master used to have us working. We were given about an hour for breakfast and a one hour break for lunch. We got Saturday afternoons off too when before we only got Sundays off. And there were no more whippings. The old Master had reduced our customary annual three-day Christmas holiday to two days but the new Master made it three days again. So, life for us on the plantation was better now. And it was about to improve for me.

One afternoon, the Master rode up on his horse. This time, he asked one of the other slaves to fetch me. I stopped what I was doing, wiped my brow with my sleeve and went over to him.

“What is your name?” he asked me.

“Solange.”

“Solange I don’t want you working in the fields any more.”

“No, Master?”

“No. The Mistress is in need of a lady’s maid and I have chosen you.”

“Me, Master?” I couldn’t believe it. “But, Master, I don’t know anyting about being a lady’s maid.” I thought to myself that I was too dark to be a lady’s maid but I didn’t say that.

“Don’t worry. The mistress will groom you.”

I didn’t object after that. It felt unreal, though. I was going to leave the toil of picking sugar cane and to live in the big house and take care of the Mistress. Why me? I wondered. Surely he could have chosen one of the house slaves to be the lady’s maid. Then, I remembered the lingering looks he gave me. Maybe that was why.

Before he rode away, he said to me, “Wait here after you’ve finished your work. I shall send the carriage for you before dusk.”

“Yes, Master.” I went back to my work. Some of the other slaves were looking at me. One of the women asked me, “how come he chose you. What about dem light skinned slaves in de big house?”

“Yeah. What about Clara or June? They so light, they could pass for white.”

“Ya’ll don’t know a ting,” Percy spoke up. “Didn’t ya’ll see how the Master was lookin’ at Solange? He has other reasons for havin’ her wait on the Mistress.”

“Ya mean—?”

“Yeh. He plan to get to know Solange bettah.”

Other slaves shook their heads. “Well, it ain’t none of we business what the Master be up to,” Miss Grace muttered. “Best keep quiet and do de work.”

After that the matter was dropped and soon it was dusk. Work was over. The rest of the slaves shuffled off while I waited for the carriage. It came and I climbed in and away I went to the big house, anxious and nervous. As the horse clipclopped down the endless path leading to the house, I prayed to the Lord to help me to be a good lady’s maid to the Mistress.

The Master met me at the entrance. “Elijah will show you to your room where you can wash up and then, he will take you to the Mistress.”

“Yes, Master.” I made a quick short curtsy before I followed Elijah to a very small room with a bed, a small table; two low stools; an earthen jar for holding water; a few smaller ones; a pail; an iron pot and calabashes. I was tired from working in the field but I had to go to the Mistress. I washed my face and cleaned myself up as best as I could then, I followed Elijah to her private apartment in the right wing. In the left wing were the servants’ apartments and offices.

The Mistress waved Elijah away and told me to come closer. I did and she sat there, looking me over. “You’re a lot darker than I expected but that’s of little consequence and I trust my brother’s judgment. It was he who recommended you to me. Do you have any children, Solange?”

“No, Mistress.”

“Good. That means I will have a monopoly on you.” She then set about telling me what my responsibilities were.

I was to take care of her clothes, her meals, basically I waited on her hand and foot. She wasn’t demanding, though. She treated me kindly. She said that she was a Christian and told me about God. Sometimes, she would read the Bible to me while I mended her dress or as I shelled peas or corn. She read the psalms which I liked very much and the Gospels. Jesus sounded so good and kind. He promised that “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” I believed that one day Jesus who had the power to heal leprosy, raise the dead and perform many miracles, would free me and the other slaves.

Living in the house meant that I saw more of the Master. Sometimes, I would be coming out of the eating room and step into the entrance hall just as he is coming up the steps leading to the portico. He would smile and tell me good-morning or good-afternoon, depending on the time of day it was. Or I would pass him in the hallway on my way to or from the Mistress’ apartment and we would exchange smiles and greetings. Once I came across him sleeping in the hammock on the wide wrap-around verandah. I was very quiet because I didn’t want to wake him. I stood there for a few minutes watching him before I continued on my way to the kitchen.

The field slaves were right about the Master. Several times, I caught him watching me. Whenever we saw each other, we not only exchanged smiles and greetings, but lingering looks. The attraction was mutual. Months went by and still nothing came of it. Then, one night after the Mistress had gone to bed, he came to my room. I had just taken off my dress and was wearing just my chemise and drawers.

After closing the door behind him, he walked over to me. My bosom started heaving as my breath quickened. I could see the desire in his eyes as he looked at me. “I tried to stay away,” he murmured. “but I couldn’t.”

He pulled me against him and kissed me. I kissed him back as if to quiet the hunger raging inside me. We kissed and clawed at each other like animals in heat. Then, he drew back, panting. Both of us got undressed very quickly. When we were naked, he backed me over to the bed and pushed me down on top. He got on top of me and entered me. I cried out because of the pain which soon went away. The bed creaked and protested as he thrust against me. After he was done, he rolled onto his back, breathing heavily. I lay there, trying to catch my breath.

After that night, he came regularly to my room. He came at night when everyone in the house was sleeping but one afternoon, when I was making up the Mistress’s bed, he appeared at the door and told me to come to his room after I was done. I went to his room. The door was closed. I knocked. “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Solange, Master.”

“Come in.”

I went in.”

“Lock the door.”

I locked the door. Sunlight was streaming into the room through the windows. It was a grand room and the first time I had ever been inside it. A four poster bed sat in the middle and there he was lying on it, stark naked and looking at me. My body immediately reacted.

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“Come and lie with me,” he invited me.

“But, Master, the Mistress–“

“She won’t be back for a while,” he said.

The Mistress had gone into town and had taken Clara with her. On the plantation, I was the Mistress’s maid but off, it was Clara because she was a Mulatto. I didn’t mind. Whenever the Mistress was away, I had some free time for myself. This afternoon, it looked like I was going to spend some of it with the Master.

I stripped and then climbed into the bed with him. This bed didn’t make any noises like mine, but we did–grunting and moaning as we copulated. After we were finished, I got up and got dressed and left once I made sure that the coast was clear. The last thing I wanted was to be caught coming out of the Master’s bedroom. I was soon to find out that the Mistress knew about our dalliances.

“I received news this morning,” she said.

“Good news, Mistress?”

“Yes. Miss Cordelia will be arriving in a fortnight.”

“Miss Cordelia, Mistress?”

“Yes. The Master’s fiancee.”

I almost dropped the dish I was holding. I managed to set it carefully down on the table.

The Mistress looked at me squarely. “I know it must be a shock for you, Solange but you must know that nothing can come from your relationship with my brother. As the owner of a plantation and a white man, he will take a white woman of gentry to be his wife. The wedding will take place here on the plantation. I will remain here until she has settled in and then I will return to England. Clara will be the new Mistress’s maid. I have been training her. I think she would do rather well.”

“What’s gon become of me, Mistress?”

“Don’t worry, Solange. You won’t not be sent back to work in the sugar cane fields. Instead, you will remain here in the house and do the cooking, cleaning and other chores.”

I was in a daze for the rest of the day and that night when the Master came to my room, I confronted him about his engagement.

“I promise, Solange that it won’t change anything between you and me,” he said. “I will still come to your bed.”

“But, you gon’ be married.” I was very distressed about that because I had fallen in love with him.”

“All she’ll have is my name,” Solange. My heart belongs to you.” Then, he cupped my face between his hands and began to kiss me passionately and unable to help myself, I responded.

Our dalliances continued even after Miss Cordelia came to the plantation and they wedded. She was a very pretty woman with dark brown hair and green eyes and the smallest waist I’ve ever seen. I remained the former Mistress’s lady maid until she returned to England. I was very sorry to see her go. She left me her Bible, saying, “Perhaps, one of these days you will be able to read it.”

After she was done, my life was filled with drudgery, sorrow and the longing for freedom. It was hard seeing the Master with his wife even though, he came to me in the same room I occupied when his sister was there. I didn’t get pregnant because we were always careful but the last time we were together, he came inside me and now I’m three months along. The new Mistress hasn’t had any children as yet but I keep expecting to hear the dreadful news at any moment.

The day I gave birth to a beautiful, fair-skinned boy was the day slavery was abolished. I praised the Lord Jesus for freeing us like He said He would. After plantations folded up, including the one I was on, the Master and his wife returned to England. The night before they left, he came to my room. “Come to England with us,” he urged.

“What am I gon do dere?” I asked him.

“You can take care of the house like you were doing here.”

“You mean cook and clean and so on?”

“Yes.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I can’t come.”

“Why not?” he demanded.

“Your wife no gon want me and our pickney there in England. And I na gon feel comfortable dere. I gon stay hey when I belong.”

“You belong with me, Solange,” he insisted. “I won’t leave without you.”

“You belong with yer wife and I belong here.”

“I love you,” he moaned, resting his head against my forehead, his arms wrapped around my shoulders, holding me close.

“I love you too,” I whispered, my eyes brimming with tears.

It broke my heart to part with him but I was being sensible and realistic. There was no place for me in his life in England. I belonged there on the island. We made love for the last time and bade each other a very emotional goodbye and then he was gone–out of my life for good.

Now that we were free, the other slaves and I found new ways to make a living such as forming our own villages and communities; growing our own crops and selling them at the nearest markets. We grew ginger, bananas and sugar cane among many other crops. 

I was taught how to read by another former slave and I thought of the Mistress when I was able to read the Bible which she had given to me. I thought of her often. She would be pleased to know that I became a Christian like her.

I think about the Master every single day. For as long as I live, I will always love him and cherish those times we spent together. When I look at our son, Robert, I see him. I never married. In my heart, I was the Master’s and I will be his until the day I die. Every night I pray for him and dream that Robert, he and I would be together as a family in Heaven.

Source: Pilot Guides; Jamaica Great Houses; Encyclopedia; National Museums Liverpool; The Victorian Web; Wikipedia; Scholar; Januka; Jamaica Gleaner; Jamaica Observer

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