I Am Rachel—Elaine Bonow
I am Rachel
My name is Rachel McGlesson Brooks. I thought I should write down my history for you children before I die. I learned to write when you children were learning to write because I didn’t want to be illiterate and most importantly, being able to read and write has helped me survive all these years especially after your daddy died.
I hope dear ones that this will help explain why you are how you are and how you should you never be ashamed of your heritage but be proud that we have all survived in pretty good condition.
Here we are today at the start of a new century, one I never thought I’d see much less be sitting here in my own house sipping my own whiskey that I made writing on a table under the light of a good kerosene lamp warmed by the fire in a hearth that doesn’t smoke and stain everything with soot.
As far back as I can remember I’ve had to work. The first plantation that I remember belonged to master Settle here at Gainsboro. My mammy Mariah and probably her mammy were brought to the land of the free from Africa as well as my father Willie.
None of this I really know for sure, I can only speculate about their hard lives and the constant days of hard labor it took in order to tame this unknown territory. I do know that they, just like we do now, lived when all people, whites and blacks toiled together. The only difference was that the masters could rest while my forefathers had to keep working until being allowed moments of sleep as the word relaxing didn’t exist.
I figure my grandparents or the generation before must have walked in from the seacoast. Like I said, I was separated from my mother when I was all of fifteen. They must have walked south into the Eden that we now call Tennessee. I heard tales that a man named Daniel Boone was the first white man to hunt this lush farm full of every kind of game: elk, deer, turkeys, beaver and geese like the Indians did before they arrived.
The land, riddled with rivers teeming with fish, provided a rich farmland and a perfect climate full of unspoiled swaths of trees and wild flowers that the Cherokee and Chickasaw had for centuries used for hunting and gathering in God’s own larder.
This land was settled by the white man greedy for a better life, who discovered that in this fertility he could grow corn and cotton and tobacco and easily survive off of raising big fat cattle rich with meat and milk, fueled by sour mash whiskey.
As this valley was planted and re-planted more workers were needed and those workers were slaves, a commodity that was plentiful in America and could be easily replenished.
At first everyone worked together getting the land plowed, the crops planted and harvested, animals killed and smoked for the cold winters. Sheep had to be sheared and the wool carded and spun to be woven for clothes. By the time my mammy and pappy were pressed into slavery the white settlers had more time and money to build fine houses and import luxuries like silk and fine wool to be sewn into fine clothes for their large families.
My mammy was, so I’ve been told, was one of the best seamstresses in Jackson County and her sewing ability and physical beauty made it possible for her to escape the harsher existence of her fellow slaves.
Around the time I was born us slaves saw a change in their status as more wealth poured into the county. When once slaves were valued as a commodity worth protecting we were now suspect. Some didn’t want us to have personal freedoms like traveling, or hunting or just gathering.
There were rumors of Quaker folk wanting to free the slaves, forming meetings and causing a stir but this anti-slavery antic was quickly put down. Buy that time, my mammy and I were sold to Mrs. McGlasson for a huge sum of seven hundred and eight dollars. We worked for her until I was sold when I was just fifteen to a man who would become my man and the father of all you children.
Richard Preston Brooks, your father, we all call Dick Brooks, was such a powerful creature. You all know this as he has been in your lives since you were born until the day he died almost twenty years ago. He was handsome as the devil and as bad as old Satan himself.
I was just a girl of fifteen, a girl on the verge of womanhood that New Year’s Day sixty years ago when Master Dick Brooks took me for his own. His wife Miz Mary was a good god-fearing woman and had already borne him ten children in all, but she was plum worn out. Ever since they married way back in 1823 she had been pregnant every few years or so whether she liked it or not.
Like all of the women we had a hard life. Work around the farm was a tremendous responsibility and Gainsboro was just a village. Some of you have moved to Nashville and know how different it is there. You have stores. You can buy soap already made. You have paved roads and fine clothes. Your children go to school and have nice leather shoes not glorified moccasins. Your world is as different from how I was raised as my mother’s was from her African ancestors.
Miz Mary took me into the house when Master Dick brought me home but as soon as I was showing that I was with child, that would be your oldest brother Lud, she couldn’t put up with him and me being together.
I was still a girl. Even though I knew about the birds and bees, I was raised on the farm, I just didn’t know what to expect with this turn of events. Master Dick decided that I should have my own place and set me up in this house here. Oh at first it was just a little hut but he soon fixed it up to be comfortable for me and my growing brood. Donnie, you were next you came into this world a year later. Vernie, you were the last for a couple of years.
Times in our beautiful green Eden were changing fast. Gainsboro was now a port city close to the mighty Cumberland and steamships plied it’s curves carrying our best goods, tobacco and whiskey, to the world or at least as far away as New Orleans.
The most unbelievable thing happened in the sixties. Now they call it the Civil War. Our lands were run over by all types of wildness. Dick protected all of us, his white children and his mulatto children, from the bands of cutthroats that invaded our little county. He joined the Rebels and became a Colonel and didn’t get killed so I would say all of us were lucky.
The Sixties were also lucky for me because during the turmoil Kizzie, Booker, Lizzie and Mollie were born. We were all happy in our little home. I took in extra work by being a seamstress like my mammy before me so we were pretty well off. After the war Dick enlarged the house so it became what you see today.
Again things changed with the coming of the railroad and the end of slavery. Life was confusing at times but I sure enjoyed being a free woman. Well, I was not free in a sense. I had a whole bunch of children, a man who was here but not here. A well respected man whom the town of Gainsboro had elected Judge and at times sheriff. Dick was a man who stayed close to his wife and his first family but also loyal to all our children and me.
He was everything to me and I am proud to say that he picked me and stuck with me. We had the last three of you children Matthew, Lena and Albert and then he died in 1881. It’s funny how Miss Mary died that same year. He left the bulk of his property to be split up between his six remaining children by Miss Mary and left me this land and house providing that I put aside a part of this place for a Brook’s cemetery.
Here is where he is buried and that way I will always have him close to me. Well, that’s all I have to say right now. I wish you all a very Merry New Year. I am so blessed to be able to be here in this great country in the place of my birth surrounded by all of my children and grandchildren. I do think 1900 will be a wonderful year.