One Book, One Chicago Fall 2010
Characters and Communities
Florens – Born into slavery in the Province of Maryland (ca. 1674) and sold to Jacob Vaark at the age of 8, Florens is approximately 16 years old when she begins her “confession” to an unnamed blacksmith in the year 1690. The first chapter, and every other chapter thereafter (beginning on pages 3, 42, 79, 119, 159 and 184) are written from her point of view, addressing the blacksmith.
Jacob Vaark – A free white man, born in England to a mother who died in childbirth, disowned by his Dutch father, and raised in a Protestant orphanage, Vaark first comes to the New World as an agent of The Dutch West India Company trading fur and lumber, but turns to farming (and, later, the rum trade) after he inherits 120 acres of land in the Northeast from an uncle. The second chapter (beginning on page 10) is written from his point of view in 1682, eight years prior to the other chapters.
Lina – A Native American woman, raised by European colonists after her childhood village is wiped out by smallpox. At the age of 14, Lina, who is technically free but has no substantial legal rights in the colonial governments, and no tribe to return to, becomes the first servant on Vaark’s new farm; her labor and memory of Native American farming techniques are crucial in making the farm productive. The fourth chapter (beginning on page 50) is written from her point of view in 1690.
Rebekka – A free white woman, born (ca. 1660) the only daughter to a family of eight in a one-room garret in filthy, crowded, lower-class London during the contentious days of the English Restoration, Rebekka would have survived the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London before coming to the New World at the age of 16 to become the wife of Jacob Vaark. The sixth chapter (beginning on page 84) is written from her point of view in 1690.
Sorrow – A foundling, washed ashore from a shipwreck, discovered by a sawyer, named by his wife, and raised as a servant, Sorrow is only 11 years old when she is given to Jacob Vaark because she is pregnant. This first child is born premature, and does not survive. Curly-haired, grey-eyed and described as “mongrelized” by the sawyer who sells her, Sorrow is most likely multiracial. Mistrusted and ostracized by Lina, she contributes little to the farm over the years, and keeps many secrets to herself. She is stricken with smallpox when the blacksmith is working at the farm, and is nursed back to health by his folk remedies. She is pregnant again when Vaark and Rebekka contract the pox; the eighth chapter (beginning on page 137) is told from her point of view at this time.
Willard and Scully – Two white male servants indentured (in a legal arrangement comparable to wage slavery) to a nearby landowner and lent regularly to the Vaark farm as day labor in exchange for livestock grazing rights. Willard Bond, in his late 20s, should have been released from servitude at 21, but has had his debt “extended” repeatedly after one assault and occasional escape attempts. Scully is 22 and has been indentured since being orphaned at the age of 12; he still hopes to earn his freedom and buy a horse. The two men live, work and sleep together as a pair. The 10th chapter (beginning on page 168) is told from their mutual perspective.
“A minha mãe” – Literally “my mother” in Portuguese, “a minha mãe” is the mother of Florens, born in a West African village and taken into chattel slavery after a war with a rival village. She is taken to Barbados, where she is purchased by the Portuguese Catholic Senhor D’Ortega to work on his tobacco plantation in the Province of Maryland. The final chapter (beginning on page 190) is told from her perspective, addressing Florens.
Senhor D’Ortega – An aristocratic Portugese tobacco planter and slave dealer who owns and resides upon Jublio, the plantation in Maryland where Florens is conceived and born into slavery. D’Ortega, the third son of a Portuguese aristocrat, did not expect to inherit wealth or property, so instead went to Portugese-controlled Angola to make his fortune in the slave trade. He soon established Jublio in Maryland, a proprietary colony established in 1632 as a refuge for British Catholics, who had been persecuted throughout the English Reformation. It is D’Ortega who sells Florens to Jacob Vaark in order to settle a debt.
The Anabaptists – A community of religious Baptist Separatists established about seven miles from the Vaark farm, including a deacon who has dealings with the Vaarks, and the landowner who lends out Willard and Scully. The Anabaptists (meaning “twice baptized”) practice the faith-based baptism of adults. Considered radical and heretical to the Catholic and Protestant tradition of infant baptism, Baptists were widely persecuted throughout Western Europe at the time, while Separatists included a wide range of religious dissidents who advocated a full separation from the Church of England and continued independence from the Roman Catholic Church.