Old Relationships, Part 8

What of the slaves who served the McHattons faithfully for years? Cuba and Spain had outlawed slavery long before the Mchattons arrived. Zell and Martha were free once the McHattons arrived in Mexico. The McHattons then moved to Cuba and purchased the sugar plantation that became their home. Zell and Martha were free in Cuba, as they were in Mexico. At the Cuba plantation, the family encountered bandits, a violent uprising by Chinese “coolies,” a hurricane and the more mundane hard work necessary to start a plantation in a strange country. Through all those adventures, Zell was right there, bravely defending the family.

James and Eliza tried to teach Zell to read and write. But, he resisted. Yet, Zell learned to speak Spanish better than James or Eliza. He became their interpreter. When Zell became a young man, Eliza noticed he was looking at women differently. She suggested he open a bank account, if he wanted to marry. She wanted to help Zell safeguard the money he had accumulated. Zell married and started a family. After some ten years in Cuba, James and Eliza returned to the United States. They came to miss the company of others who they could understand better and they missed their “fatherland.”

But, Zell stayed in Cuba with his family. Eliza and James helped him reach an agreed contract with the new owners of the plantation. Zell sent the McHattons letters every year, always written by one of the Spanish workers at the old plantation. He relayed news of the neighborhood and the plantation. And, he always signed his letters “Your devoted and faithful slave (esclavo).” Even then, the common expression was “Your devoted and faithful servant (serviento).” Eliza assumed the word “servant” did not express enough for Zell.

Zell died a few years later. Eliza was not shy in her book. She insisted he was no slave, but their faithful friend.

In the U.S., the McHattons helped Martha apply her accumulated savings to buy a house in Virginia, close enough for the McHattons, then living in New York, to visit Martha every year. Eliza would say after Martha’s passing that she was no slave but a companion who was a tender, faithful soul. And, she was their last connection to a long ago way of life.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 187, 189.

Be Safe.

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