Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar
Port Mara, St. Domingue, 1708
“Henri was suspicious of this late arrival, a slave called Thomas, the only other saltwater Negro on the ships crew besides himself and Marcel. Perhaps the master had planted him among them because he suspected their conspiracy, or perhaps Henri was just imagining those suspicions. Either way, they had to know where this new recruit stood, where his loyalties lay. They had only this night to put the final plans for their mutiny in place. There was no other choice but to discuss it in front of him.
Henri looked up and smiled at their newest member. “Why don’t you sit with us,” he invited, then, commanding the others, “make room for him.”
Marcel and the other men rearranged themselves so that Thomas could join them. When he was seated, they gathered in close around him so that he felt trapped, surrounded by the sour smell of their sweat.
Henri determined to test him and let his answers tell whether he would remain among them, alive, or come to some accidental demise.
“What do they call you?” He asked.
“Thomas.” The young man answered without saying more.
“And how long have you worked the mill, Thomas? You look as strong as a tree.”
They laughed together, Thomas joining them.
“I have been there three years now.”
“A long time for such work. I too have the experience, but many of our brothers would not survive three years of those conditions, yet you have thrived.”
“I have seen many die, in many different ways. The work is hard and dangerous, but it has made me strong.”
“We can see that, but how is it you were sent to the mill?”
Thomas hesitated and tried to see the faces around him in the dark before answering, “I was sent there for punishment.”
“We are all punished, no matter where we are sent!” A bitter voice called from the dark.
Henri put his hand up for quiet. “How is it that you have come to be here, aboard the master’s ship, Thomas?”
“The master sent for me this morning and they brought me here.”
Again, Thomas tried to see the faces around him as he thought over the question. “I don’t know. I’ve been told nothing.”
“Do you have skills? What work have you done?” One of them asked.
“I served in the stables for a few months, caring for the horses and serving the white woman, Liana, in what ever way she asked of me. This angered the boss, Firmin, and he sent me to the mill.”
Instantly perceiving the reason for Thomas’ punishment, Henri asked, “Do you know anything of ships?”
On hearing Thomas’ answer and based on his own experience, Henri thought he understood why Thomas had been sent to join the crew of Aventura. He asked, “What happened in the days before you were sent to us?”
Thomas answered without hesitation for the memory was fresh, “I killed a man, in a fight. Another slave. He stole my water skin. I didn’t mean to kill him, but we fought and he would not back down. One of us was bound to die.”
“And did you fight often at the mill?”
“I guess I did, but I never killed no one.”
“Did you win much?”
“Always.” He answered, a prideful grin spread across his face.
“Now I know why you are here and I know for certain you will join us. You must swear your loyalty tonight, for tomorrow you will be free. Do you swear?”
Thomas just stared in the dark, his mouth hanging opened in disbelief.
“Do you swear?” Henri repeated.
Thomas grinned conspiratorially and said, “I do.””