Sue carpenter was a southern belle. Born in the min 1840’s, she was raised to be a good, god-fearing woman. When she came of age, she married a fine, upstanding gentleman who owned a fine plantation near the coast of Georgia with many slaves. Life, it seemed was set for this young woman.
Of course, those accursed Yankees had to cause a ruckus with their ideas of ‘abolition’ so the south split off and Sue’s husband joined the southern cause and promptly got himself killed early in the war.
Widowed at such a young age would be tough for anybody, but she had her servants and her wealth and was able to keep everything running smoothly.
But there are needs that a woman can’t take care of herself and as the weeks turned to months, Sue became to more and more crave the company of a man, any man.
Now the pickings around at the time were pretty slim. Most of the eligible men had joined to fight in the cause, all that was left was either too old or too young. All that were left were loads and loads of black slaves.
The very thought kept Sue from action for many weeks. But the need kept on growing and eventually she had to act. She knew all of the slaves in the house and the grounds, she couldn’t bring herself to lay with any of them. There was only one thing to do. She took aside Alfred, her longest-serving slave who she had known for all her life and told him to go to the market and buy her someone young and fit.
Alfred duly showed up with a fine young man by the name of Jonah. After looking him over, Sue said that he would do and laid out to Alfred what was going to happen next.
That evening when the rest of the house was asleep, Alfred was to watch until the light in Sue’s room was extinguished. He was then to send in the washed and cleaned Jonah. There was to be no talking, no holding. This was only about sex, about filling a need.
That night Sue extinguished the light in her room and waited. She heard the door open and footsteps approach the bed. A large man came into the bed beside her and held her in his arms. There was no talking, barely a noise as he made love and then, when he was finished he left her as silently as he had come.
The next day Sue looked around the rest of the household to see if anyone noticed the previous nights escapade but no one seemed any different. Only Alfred’s face seemed in a bit more sullen and Jonah had a stupid happy grin. She half thought about beating him, but that might have let the cat out of the bag.
For a week, every night, Sue would get a visit and eventually her urges started to subside, only to be replaced with self loathing. What had she done? A respectable lady, sleeping with a coloured man, what would her husband have thought? Or her family? Or anybody else she knew? This has to never get out. She knew that Alfred could be trusted. But Jonah, he was an unknown. Going around with that smile on his face, she couldn’t sell him, he might speak to someone. She called in Alfred and told him that Jonah was not to be sold, but he had to be gotten rid of.
That evening after one more night together, Sue watched from her window as Alfred led Jonah out of the farm-yard, carrying a musket and a shovel between them, Jonah still wearing that stupid smile. Sue waited and waited until in the distance there was a faint shot and another half an hour later Alfred returned, alone.
For the next month things were almost back to normal. But eventually, the urges returned, stronger than ever. Against her own conscience, Sue sent Alfred again to the market, there was another week of nightly visits and eventually Alfred took this new one on a long walk into the wilds.
All in all this happened fourteen times. Each one took its toll on Sue’s sanity, she became more irritable and bitter, resenting her compulsion to kill a man, even a coloured man, to protect her reputation.
Eventually the south duly lost the war and stories came of Yankee soldiers travelling through the south, freeing slaves and stealing the homes of decent white folks. Sue, by that time was so depressed that she almost would welcome them and had taken to spending most of her time in bed waiting what was to come.
Sue was awaked late one morning by the sound of a commotion from outside. She went to the window and looked out. She could see a group of Yankee soldiers arrayed in the farmyard. One of them, the officer was talking to Alfred. Behind him was some of the other slaves and a group of 14 black men that Sue barely recognised.
Sue got dressed quickly and uncertainly came out the door into the farmyard. She came to the first man, unmistakably Jonah, and asked him what was going on.
“Well, Miss Sue” Said the young man, “Your boy Alfred has been explaining to these here Yankees how you saved us all” Sue could barely keep herself standing as Jonah continued “He’s telling them how you sent him to find us after we escaped then fed us for a week before bringing us the shack in the hills. Yes Miss! You were a real life saver; I don’t know what we can do to thank you.”
Sue had barely time to register what had been said when the officer came over and stuck out his hand for Sue “Mrs Carpenter. It would be an honour to shake your hand. Alfred here has just been telling us how you have been able to save all of these poor men from unspeakable cruelty. You are a shining example of the courageous spirit of the American woman. I must admit that when I first saw your fine house, I thought about using it for our quarters. But after hearing your courageous story, I will not allow that to happen. Your house, lands and all its contents will remain in your hands. Except the slaves of course, but I’m sure you are just as anxious to end at pretense as we are. I will also report to my commanders in Washington to ensure that you get adequate recognition for what you have done.”
The officer and his soldiers then left followed shortly by most of the plantation workers, leaving Alfred and a very confused Sue. Alfred came over to Sue his head bowed “Miss Sue. I have known you my entire life, and I love you. When you told me what you wanted to do with those other men, I just could not let that happen. So I took them in, told them that you wanted to rescue them and made sure they were well fed and taken care of. Then when you wanted them gone I just took them to an old shack I knew where they’d be safe. They didn’t do nothing Miss they didn’t deserve to die. You see, every night you thought it was one of those men, It was me Miss!”
The news of Sue’s heroism, helping escaped slaves, made it to Washington and from there around the country and the world. She became a figure of hatred for some and hope for other. But she never told what had really happened. How her tale of heroism was really that of a simple slave, desperate to be with the woman he loved.