“From the perspective of slaveholders and other free whites, the freedom to enslave was an economic freedom.”—Caitlin Rosenthal, Accounting for Slavery, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018.
Two Rivers is the novel I wanted to read that head-on illustrates long-held myths born of enslavers and perpetuated by their legacy and sympathizers—so I wrote it. These old myths continue following African Americans century after century. Speaking of myths, after nearly twenty years of pushing one of them aside, an influence that remains prominent in my memory are the words a university creative writing classmate spoke to me,
“Your presentation has a poor premise and makes no sense. How can a slave plan an escape? Don’t you know everyone knows slaves couldn’t think?” To have experienced this question in the twenty-first century causes me to ask, how many more harbor such myths of laziness, low morals, savagery, low mental ability, and worse, attributed to African Americans?
Early in the twenty-first century, rice plantations in the Low Country of South Carolina became a fascination for me, a person from the hills of the Piedmont region. Time spent researching and visiting former rice plantations in Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, and Georgetown Counties dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, resulted in giving South Carolina Low Country roots to the protagonist in my novel, First Dark, set in 1863-1882. My on-the-ground and on-the-river research led to the discovery of a particular abandoned rice farm from long ago in Colleton County that was brought to life again in First Dark. The fields of that ancient rice farm and certain characters from First Dark live again with new inmates in Two Rivers.
Recent new insights came my way in books like Caitlin Rosenthal’s Accounting for Slavery that have caused me to more closely examine the “why” behind some of the day-to-day interactions between enslavers and the enslaved or the consequences that landed on the backs of the enslaved. (See the bibliography for other references.) The varying policies and practices of enslavers demonstrate they were not a monolith; no more than were the responses to their policies and practices by the enslaved. To illustrate some wrongdoing, I have employed characters exploiting slave-based securities instruments and more. On full display in another case, is the psychological and physical trauma suffered by an enslaved man when his enslaver kidnapped the man’s wife for long-term sexual pleasure.
Two Rivers opens a window into the lives of Americans—black and white—living day-to-day in 1854-1855 on the same rice farm, struggling to benefit their families, hoping to realize the secret dreams each carried. I hope Two Rivers starts some retrospection, realization, and reason leading to the overdue death of long-held myths from America’s past.
22 December 2022
Mérida, Yucatán, México