Twenty-eight

Woodford Double Oaked Bourbon

Ham and Cheese w/ Deli Ham, Deli Pickles, Peppercorn Mayo, Lettuce, Swiss and Cheddar on Toasted Marble Rye

I’m at the New Penny, sitting at the bar. Pretty much just like sitting at the Old Penny only there’s a feeling of roominess now, which is because the new place is roomier. At least the servers can maneuver without having to dodge and weave around their oblivious clientele. I’m here looking for Rafe; I haven’t seen him in weeks and I feel bogged down, sinking deeper into my research, feeling like I’m putting off more active involvement, confrontation, but, truth be told, since the house almost fell on me I have little desire to go back under and end up looking like the Wicked Witch of the East. West? Whatever.

I considered for a moment asking Mark to go under to confirm my sighting of the camera jammed into the pillar, but I couldn’t do that. Maybe the house wouldn’t fall on him, maybe the spirits are saving that particular death for me, but I can’t chance asking Mark to go under to find out.

The Big Guy served me my drink, a Woodford Double Oaked Bourbon. I asked BG if he’d seen Rafe, and he said that he hadn’t seen him since the move. They transferred his few belongings from the old place into a room upstairs that they saved for him, but his bedroll hadn’t been used and his other stuff was just where they left it. I took a sip of my drink and looked it up on my cell phone.

I had a Woodford Reserve in one of my earlier visits; it’s a good bourbon but not all that special. It’s difficult to remember what the regular reserve tasted like, but I have the impression that this is better, or at least a notch above in complexity. The Internet tells me that this is the regular reserve that has been put into a second cask and given more aging time, hence the name “double casked.” After I read that, it tasted more oaky (oakier?) to me, which makes sense but just might be because I’m susceptible to suggestion. But after a second sip I find it too damn sweet, like almost all bourbons these days. It’s like they’re making them for children, and there I go sounding like a geezer. I’ve worked my way through almost all the brown liquors, the scotches and the bourbons on my list of 69 drinks and am now facing a bunch of clear spirits, in particular the tequilas, and I don’t like tequila. And a bunch of odd-ball liquors. But I’m up to the task.

I knocked back the bourbon, paid and asked BG to tell Rafe I was looking for him if he saw him. BG nodded, but his expression said that he wouldn’t hold out much hope if he were me. Not for the first time I wondered why Rafe had been a fairly large, and inexplicable part of my life a few weeks back and now he had completely disappeared. Was he making a point? As usual, I’m at sea, over my head, in deep water, you pick whatever cliché fits.

It’s late afternoon; I trudged up the hill and stopped at the foot of the Ashburn School property and scanned the grounds, looking for Rafe. He wasn’t in evidence, but I could see Betty wielding her shears among some sort of vine I couldn’t put a name to. I hiked up Queen Street and came around behind the big yellow house to where she was working.

She lowered her shears and said, “I don’t know where he is.”

This took me aback. “How did you know what I was going to ask?”

“I saw you looking up the hill, then you came around the house. Last time I saw you, I pointed you in Rafe’s direction. Later on he mentioned he had gone to your house and talked to you. Now you’re back here looking like you’ve got a question, so I figured that was the one you were going to ask. Elementary, my dear Watson.” She gave me a smile to lessen the sting of my being so easy to read.

“Any tips on where I might find him?”

“You should probably just keep going about your business. When he wants to be found, you’ll find him. Or more likely that he’ll find you. When there’s a reason for it.” She studied the vine she was trimming, lifted the clippers and snipped off about an eighth of an inch of leaf. This tiny adjustment appeared to satisfy her sense of order and design. She moved a foot to the right and began more significant trimming. She wasn’t dismissing me, but I could tell she didn’t have any more information that she was going to add. Betty seemed to be one of those people who knew things, lots of things, more things than those around her who were supposed to be in the know. But she wasn’t going to just sling her knowledge around, she was going to parse it out when and where needed. All in good time, I thought. I heard those words in my mind, in her voice. She smiled at me again, like she knew what I was thinking. I said goodbye and walked the block up the hill to my house.

I spent the afternoon paging through the entire 1850 census, the part that listed all the slaves in Orange County (my county). Except they weren’t named, just listed as numbers under the names of their owners. Fine, it would be nice to have their names, but it was the owners I was more interested in. I was looking to see if Lemuel Lynch, the silversmith who I believe owned the original two rooms of my house that were moved onto my yard from the Ashburn School, owned slaves. If he did, this might help me figure out why there’s at least one slave, Ada, the little girl, buried under my house. I came up with nothing on Lemuel, but there was a Thomas Lynch that had five slaves, two females and three males. Thomas could be either Lemuel’s brother, who was a Presbyterian minister, or his adult son. (Could a minister own slaves? Yet one more thing to look up.) Ok, I stopped to look it up.

Could a Presbyterian minister own slaves? It turns out they sure could, and in fact there were churches that owned slaves and paid for their ministers and church upkeep by selling the slaves or renting them out for extended periods of time. Christians are able to justify any behavior by poring over the Bible and finding backup for their beliefs, no matter how outdated and/or wrong. I won’t bore you with these justifications, but the Presbyterian Church was perfectly happy with the concept of buying, owning and selling human beings. And not just in the South, in the North the Church condoned slavery as an unconditional right.

The subject of Presbyterian ministers reminded me of Robert Ashburn, the man who owned, with his wife, the Ashburn School. Robert owned 11 slaves. And John Berry, the builder who constructed the addition to the Ashburn School and hauled the original two rooms off to become my house, owned 43 slaves. And this is the man who I thought was enlightened (and praised him as such to Professor Aiden at the library) because he freed some of the men who worked for him who had learned their trades well. Professor Aiden slapped me down for that; I deserved it.

Combing through the slave census is dispiriting, yet one more concrete block in the terrifying edifice of enslavement in this country. All the famous founders of my little town – Nash, Webb, Strayhorn, et al – can be found on these pages, accounting for hundreds and hundreds of slaves. Anyone who wants to look up 1850 slave owners (check out your own family) can do so by Googling “United States Slave Census 1850” and figuring it out from there. (It’s not easy; if you are determined to do this and can’t manage it, send me a comment and your email and I’ll reply with detailed instructions.)

After I finished searching these pages I was ready to tuck into a bottle of mid-level scotch and watch TV with Sherry while trying to forget the horrors of the 19thcentury.

In the middle of the night it caught back up with me, and I found myself lying awake at 3 AM staring at the ceiling, seeing visions of men and women in chains and hearing the snap of the whip. After thrashing around for a half an hour I gave up, put on my robe and went downstairs. I had a feeling this was not wise and I would come to regret it.

It wasn’t, and I did.

Here’s a portion of the page in the slave census where I found Thomas Lynch’s name.

Slave inhabitants Thos Lynch

 

 

 

 

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