Chapter 0: Freedom from Slavery in Prison

The infamous Lumpkin Jail in Richmond where enslaved persons were auctioned. The Payne family would find more freedom from slavery in prison.

What Samuel Maddox really wanted was to sell his uncle’s former slaves. And for that reason, Kitty, Eliza Jane, Mary, and Arthur James went to prison. After the nighttime kidnapping, the speedy wagon journey got them over the Mason Dixon line, and from there, a day or two later, they stopped at the plantation of Kate and Fannie Withers. In their short time there, Eliza Jane could tell that Kate was sweet on Samuel but that Fannie, her older sister, had no use for either of them. The sisters were “bad friends” … so said Eliza Jane to Mary.

A few days after they reached the Maddox plantation and after the heartsick Mrs. Maddox refused to stay with Samuel, a servant from Fannie arrived, put the family in a wagon, and brought them to her home. It was, Eliza Jane, thought, rather like a kidnapping in broad daylight, except that Fannie gave them food and a comfortable room and didn’t hit anybody. Eliza Jane could not understand why they were there if Samuel or Mrs. Maddox owned them, but she felt safe in Fannie’s house.

And then night came. Each night since the kidnapping, Eliza Jane had startled awake to remembered terrors of the pounding door and the men storming into their sleeping place. But this night was worse—they heard noise at a back door just as Eliza Jane was settling in. This was no memory, no nightmare. Someone was trying to break in!

Except this time, Fannie herself went to the back door and opened it. The kids huddled near their mother and they all listened closely to the muffled conversation drifting up from downstairs.

“Why, Mr. Maddox, I should think it highly inappropriate for you to attempt to see my sister by sneaking in,” Fannie’s voice said in perfect melodic control.

“You know very well what I am doing,” Samuel murmured.

“No, Mr. Maddox, I do not. I assume you to be a gentleman, and thinking such, I find this behavior highly irregular.”

“You have taken my property, ma’am.”

“Mr. Maddox,” Fannie said with feigned surprise, “I should think one would not refer to a lady not betrothed or married to him as ‘his,’ and even after, I should think he ought not refer to her as property.”

They heard shuffling at the door. “You know very well I do not think of your sister as property. You have stolen my slaves, and I aim to recover them.”

They heard him step into the hardwood entryway. “You will stop right there,” Fannie said sharply. “You are trespassing in this house and there are plenty of shotguns here with people who know how to use them.”

“My slaves—”

“There is quite a misunderstanding, Mr. Maddox. Perhaps you are referring to the free people your mother manumitted and that you illegally kidnapped to bring back to Virginia. If so, then yes, they are here. They came willingly on a social call of their own accord and I offered them to stay the night.”

Eliza Jane sat frozen, feeling the rage emanating from Samuel Maddox, knowing how that rage translated to violence, knowing that the only thing between them and it was a small southern belle in the back entryway of her home.

“What is legal or illegal is to be worked out between my aunt and me. And in the meantime, the slaves are to remain at my plantation.”

Footsteps started toward the stairs.

“Now see here, Mr. Maddox. I have warned you already. You will not go further. The free people you are referring to are asleep. It will do no good to your cause to wake them now. If you wish to return in the morning with Mrs. Maddox and see if they are willing to go with her to her plantation, I shall not object.”

“She deeded that plantation to me.”

“In order to settle affairs over her slaves. She either owns the land or the right to free her servants as she has done. You may continue this with her tomorrow, but for now, you are leaving or I shall send for the sheriff who, as you know, is a dear friend of our family.”

Eliza Jane’s heart felt as though it might burst. She expected a stampede of footsteps and another spate of violence. Instead, she heard, “I will be back after first light. And I will trust you not to meddle in our affairs again.”

“Your insinuation is very unkind for a man purporting to want to be part of our family, Mr. Maddox. I will see you in the morning and trust that you will take more care in your thoughts about our family.”

And with that, Samuel Maddox shuffled out, and Fannie closed the door behind him.


But the night was not over yet. Fannie ordered her head house servant, Nelson, to fetch Sheriff William Walden. They were back within an hour, and Eliza Jane heard shuffling around downstairs, whispers, and then Fannie’s voice: “Kitty, could you come down and meet Sheriff Walden?”

Kitty rose from her small bed, looked at Eliza Jane, and said, “It’s gonna be ok. Miss Fannie is good people.”

Eliza Jane heard her mother descend the stairs and prayed earnestly that she would not be seized and separated from them. Then she heard voices.

“Kitty, dear, Sheriff Walden and I have been discussing your case. We must not let Samuel Maddox get hold of you again. He is likely to sell you to Alabama or Mississippi before you can make any claim against him,” said Fannie.

“Yes, ma’am, I reckon that’s true,” said Kitty.

“The safest place for you is the county prison,” said Sheriff Walden.

“The prison?” said Kitty.

“Yes, the prison. You will be under the watch of law enforcement. Mr. Maddox cannot reach you there and attempt to sell you, and Miss Withers said that she would work with Mrs. Maddox to get you a lawyer.”

“The prison,” Kitty murmured again. “It is better than going south.”

“We have the debtor’s room. It’s not like regular prison for the criminals. You and the children will be comfortable there and under protection. There is a small courtyard out back that children can play in after visiting hours.”

“I will call the children down,” said Kitty.

And that is how Eliza Jane, her mother, and siblings went to prison for eleven months while their cases worked their ways through the courts.

And Sheriff Walden was right–it wasn’t so bad. Except. Except for what Eliza Jane saw that opened her eyes to a world she hardly knew existed. She saw others who had been reclaimed from up north brought in, saw some of them whipped in the square.

Slave sales were held on the courthouse steps next door, and she saw husbands and wives sold separately and children sold separately from either parent. She saw the tears and the wounds and evaluation of black bodies as though they were cattle or horses, saw scars and worn down old black folks who had been ground down through hard labor. And she realized that nothing separated them from her except whatever it was that Mrs. Maddox had done. And if Samuel Maddox had his way, that is where they would be. She was no better or worse than these sufferers, and yet, a quirk of fate had made her life better temporarily at least.

Almost a year later, for reasons she didn’t quite understand, they were suddenly, finally, and definitely totally free. Once again, they headed back north and ultimately to the area where they had been at the time of their kidnapping.


After reading Chapter 0, teachers, parents, or learners may want to dive into more historical sources by visiting the Chapter 0 resource page. You can trace the Paynes’ journey back to Virginia on the Chapter 0 Activities page. Resources for all chapters can be found at the book’s resources page. Or keep reading by going to American Crucible.

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