By Diana Harker Luehm
Thanks to Pat Lassen for help with the dialect!
Copyright secured in 2008/All rights are reserved
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
503 Berea Street
St. Louis, Michigan 48880
Harriet Newland – wife of Shields and very pretty slave woman (thirty) based on
Harriet Newby, wife of Dangerfield Newby
Shields Newland – fugitive slave based on Dangerfield Newby and Shields Green and John Anthony Copeland, Jr., three African-American revolutionaries who fought in the Harper‘s Ferry raid to free the slaves (late thirties or early forties)
Mattie Newland – teenage (15) daughter of Harriet
Clara Rogers – free black woman and friend to Harriet (35-50)
John Brown – 59-year-old abolitionist
Watson Brown – young son of John Brown (early twenties)
Annie Brown – 16-year-old daughter of John Brown
Owen Brown – middle-aged son of John Brown (35) and the most skeptical of John‘s
A large baby doll wrapped in rough receiving blankets to represent Baby Shields
This play has one major set with the stage divided down the middle with one half always in the dark while the other side is lit to illuminate the scene. On stage right there is a basic slave cabin with a crude bed on a frame, a hearth, a small table with mismatched and very crude chairs. Spices, ceramic bowls, and such should be on the shelf for cooking. The floor should just be a dirt floor, and the walls are made of rough-hewn boards. The cabin should also have a ladder that leads to a loft where Mattie sleeps. A small window should be upstage with a door or egress close to it. On the other side, there is the farmhouse that the Browns rented. It is larger and furnished slightly better, but once again the furniture should be basic and look like things they would have in the mid-nineteenth century. This side should also have a large attic with a ladder leading to it, although the audience should not be able to see into the room. (You could use a scrim for the attics so that the audience can only see into them when needed.) This half also needs to have a larger window with a curtain and a front door. Most of the play goes back and forth between these two locations with the Newland family in their cabin and the Brown family in the farmhouse until Shields Newland shows up on the other side and becomes one of the men involved in the Harper‘s Ferry raid.
Other makeshift sets that should be set up in front of a curtain either carried in or rolled in for short scene include the following: a bench to represent a train station, a campfire in a wooded area, and a mobile set to represent a jail cell.
thScene I – Newland cabin, late evening of the 4 of July, 1859
Shields, Harriet, and Mattie Newland enter their cabin. Harriet is carrying Baby Shields
and a basket. Mattie is carrying a dish. They put the basket and dish on the shelf.
Shields: Hoo, wee! Dat has got to be de bes‘ hog-roastin‘, corn-huskin‘, apple-throwin‘
party I‘s ever been to in my life. Dese Virginians sho‘ does know how t‘ have a fine
He dances around the room while saying or singing:
Massa‘s [slaves] is slick and fat,
Oh! Oh! Oh!
Shine just like a new beaver hat
Oh! Oh! Oh!
Jones‘s [slaves] is lean and poor
Oh! Oh! Oh!
Don‘t know where dey get deir corn
Oh! Oh! Oh! (Goodman 47)
Harriet: Shields, hush down; you wake de baby.
Harriet lays the baby down.
Harriet: Mattie, you best get to bed right away.
Mattie: Dat‘s what I‘s doing as long as I don‘ hafta fall asleep t‘ Shield‘s lullaby.
Shields: Never mind me, Mattie. I‘s hushin‘ down; otherwise yo‘ mamma‘s gonna be
Harriet walks over to Mattie and kisses her goodnight.
Harriet: Sleep, chile, sleep. An‘ while you do, dream o‘ someone ‗sides Toby. I sees
you two lookin‘ at each other today and talkin‘. He‘s no good.
Shields: Massa says Toby‘s nothin‘ but trouble.
Mattie: I likes him.
Harriet: But he be no good. Stay away, I tell you, iffen you knows what‘s good for you.
Shields: A better beau come along soon.
Mattie climbs up the ladder to the loft while saying the next line. The audience should
not be able to see in the loft because of a scrim.
Harriet: Sleep, chile.
Shields : Night, Mattie.
Harriet (turning to Shields): You sho‘ is happy.
Shields: Yeah, I be. Don‘ wan‘ tonight t‘ end. I never had times like dis in de bullwhip
days o‘ de Mississippi. Matter o‘ fact, I ain‘t had dis much fun since I‘s on dat South
Carolina plantation when I‘s a li‘l chile.
Harriet: Well, I don‘ know ‗bout dat. I‘s never seed de world like you has.
Shields: What‘s wrong, Sugar?
Harriet: Nothin‘. (with a sarcastic tone) I don‘ wanna spoil yo‘ fun.
Shields: You won‘ do dat. Tell me what you‘s thinkin‘.
Harriet: You‘s feeling so good, it rubs me wrong.
Shields: What? A man can‘t be happy, even after de bes‘ party ever?
Harriet: Dat‘s zackly what‘s botherin‘ me. You likes dat party too much.
Shields: You has a good time too.
Harriet: Well . . .
Shields: Of course you does.
Harriet (walking away): Dat‘s not de point.
Shields leads her over to the table and pulls out a chair for her, pushes her up to the table, and takes his own seat.
Shields: Now, my fine gal, tell me ‗zackly what‘s botherin‘ you.
Harriet: You asks; here it be. Sho‘ I has a good time; I don‘ deny dat. But don‘ it bother you dey makes us celebrate deir liberty from tyrants on dis fourth o‘ July when dey is
tyrants to us ever‘ day o‘ our lives? It‘s like de white preacher dat Massa hires who keep tellin‘ us it‘s wrong fo‘ us t‘ steal an‘ yet dey steals; dey steals from us ever‘ day.
Shields: You‘s right. You‘s absolutely right.
Harriet: Den how can you be so happy?
Shields: ‗Cause I‘s had it a whole lot worse.
Harriet: Pickin‘ cotton?
Shields: You has no idea how bad ‗twas. Pickin‘ cotton from sunup to sundown is exhaustin‘, scorchin‘ work. Yo‘ hands gets cut from pickin‘ too much. And de overseer think dat iffen he not crackin‘ his whip, he not doin‘ his job. At de end o‘ de work day, de overseer weighs our cotton. Den we‘s punished iffen we didn‘t pick ‗nough, but iffen more den usual, dey raised our quota fo‘ de rest o‘ de days. An‘ dey fed us outta a trough, just like we‘s pigs. I could go on and on ‗bout it, but I won‘ ‗cause it won‘ help us one bit. Said too much already.
Harriet: Dey treats slaves like dere oxen.
Shields: (putting his hands over hers on the table) You‘s right.
Harriet: Even de best massas.
Shields: True. Dere‘s no denyin‘ it ‗cause even when a masssa treats us good it‘s ‗cause he‘s hopin‘ we be a hard-workin‘ slave.
Harriet (getting up and moving away from the table): I can‘t stand it.
Shields (following her): Harriet, listen to me. Sure slavery do its bes‘ to make us miserable; but we can‘t give in to dat kind o‘ thinkin‘. Been sold three times, and I seed lotsa massas and many slaves. Dis is de best I has ever had it, so I‘s determined to make
de best o‘ it.
Harriet: Well, I allus been right here, so I has nothin‘ to compare it to.
Shields: De one control we has over our lives is choosin‘ not t‘ be miserable.
Harriet: Is I miserable?
Shields (takes her hands) : No, I wasn‘t sayin‘ you; I wouldn‘ jump de broom wid a miserable gal. But iffen you thinks ‗bout it, dere be lots o‘ folks, both slaves an‘ massas, who be miserable an‘ unhappy ever‘ day o‘ deir lives.
Harriet: True. Massa‘s daughter Violet has it all, but she‘s ‗bout as miserable as anybody ever wuz.
Shields: Dere you go, an‘ just feelin‘ grateful fo‘ what you has kin make someone feel real good.
Harriet: I has you, Mattie, Baby Shields, an‘ lots o‘ friends.
Shields: Dere you go. Dat‘s de main reason why I be so happy. I loves ya, Sugar. Ever‘ day I wishes t‘ be free, but I feels so grateful dat I‘s not workin‘ in de cotton fields widout a fambly, an‘ parties, an‘ Christmas.
Harriet: It‘s not dat we‘s give up de idea o‘ bein‘ free, right?
Shields: ‗Zackly. An‘ ‗member, Clara and her husban‘ Ted is free, but deir lives ain‘t easy.
Harriet: I understan‘s what you is sayin‘, but I‘s never gonna quit hopin‘ to be free.
Shields: An‘ you never should. I wants it too. I thinks constantly about runnin‘ ‗way, and
dat would be fine, t‘ be free, but now I wants even more.
Shields: (stands up) I wants my fambly wid me, of course. (looks back at her) Dat‘s de most important thing. (walks away as reminiscing) But more dan dat, I wants freedom not just fo‘ us but fo‘ all our brothers an‘ sisters. I kin never stop thinkin‘ ‗bout my brothers and sisters in bondage workin‘ in dose cotton fields. We was chained together while marchin‘ south an‘ worked so hard dat even de strongest die in ‗bout five or six harvest seasons. I wants freedom (looks at Harriet) fo‘ us, but a day don‘ go by when I don‘ (looks at audience) think o‘ dem. My hope has to be bigger dan jus‘ us.
Harriet: (walks to him) Dat‘s what I loves ‗bout you. I never thinks ‗bout others who has it worse dan us. You is allus challengin‘ me t‘ think o‘ more dan me and mine, talkin‘ some sense int‘ me.
Shields: I be yo‘ husban‘, an‘ that‘s what we do fo‘ each other – lift each other up.
Harriet: But right now we needs t‘ get some sleep. De horn blows early.
Shields: You be right.
Harriet takes his hands and leads him towards their bed.
Harriet: I thinks we has some time for a li‘l more fun.
Shields: Hoo Wee! Does I have lots t‘ be grateful fo‘!
They crawl in bed.
Harriet: We both do.
Scene II – Campfire – (This scene is played in front of a curtain half drawn across ththe stage and covering part of the set of the Brown’s house) – July 4
Owen: (carrying in more firewood) Father, I was thinking that we need to get to Harper‘s
Ferry as soon as we can.
John: (sitting) That so?
Owen: (standing) Father, I don‘t mean to be disrespectful, but we must stop walking our horses up the hills (Du Bois 18)
John: But my old mare gets so tired, and she gives me a faithful ride the rest of the time.
Owen: She‘s stronger than you think. We need to get there, to prepare for the raid.
John: Things will work out.
Owen: (getting on knees and stacking the wood) How many men do we have for the raid so far?
John: As few as thirteen, as many as twenty. There‘ll be more. As time gets closer, things will work out, Son. Anyway, give me a dozen respectable, highly-principled men and I could stand off a small army of slaveholding ruffians.
Owen: (standing) A dozen, even two dozen, is not enough.
John: Owen, you‘re forgetting the number of men with Gideon was a mere three hundred.
Owen (walking and turning away from frustration): But twenty men is not 300, and the men need to be properly trained by a West Point graduate, someone who knows tactical maneuvers.
John (standing up): No, we need commitment to the cause more than a large, highly-trained army.
Owen: (louder) We need both!
John (softer): We won‘t need the numbers because the slaves themselves will be the new
recruits. And no one will fight harder than they to end slavery.
Owen: And what is the plan for this raid?
John: (moving to the stump and sitting down and rolling his eyes) Similar to what we did in Kansas when we helped the Jim Daniels family escape to Canada. That worked out. Don‘t worry. This plan will be like that one but much bigger since we will first confiscate all those weapons in the arsenal.
Owen: But that‘s my point. (leaning towards John) They‘re not the same. That was small
scale, just one family who asked for your help.
John: Owen, where is your faith? Things will work out miraculously. I can never forget that battle at Black Jack Spring. Fred began to feel nervous because we were very much outnumbered, so he decided to ride the fastest horse around the enemy‘s camp, screaming at the top of his voice, ―Come on, boys! We‘ve got them surrounded! We‘ve cut off their communications!‖ (Angley 89). Twenty-three men surrendered to nine.
Owen: Yes, I‘ve heard the story.
John: While we were holding those prisoners, some of them told me that they saw a small anti-slavery army coming towards them.
Owen: But every time I think of how they gunned down Fred later that year I get angry.
John: Feeling angry is normal for a season.
Owen: I miss Fred.
John: (getting up to put his arm on Owen‘s shoulder for consolation) So do I, but he is
with the Lord. We‘ll see Fred again.
Owen (forcefully): Father, we‘re all going to end up like Fred if we don‘t plan this raid
John: (getting up to get his bed roll) Son, you don‘t have to be involved in the raid if you are having doubts.
Owen: Of course I do; I won‘t let you storm the arsenal alone. But we need to plan it better.
John gets up to get his bedroll.
John (opening up his bedroll): It‘s late. We need to sleep right now.
Owen: You‘re right, it‘s almost 10:00 o‘clock. Maybe we could discuss it later.
thScene III – Newland cabin – late afternoon – July 7
Harriet is peeling potatoes on the stage left side of the table when Mattie enters.
Harriet: Why isn‘t you workin‘?
Mattie: Violet say I kin leave ‗cause I does a good job. (walks to nearest chair and puts
hands on it) Momma, I be so mad.
Harriet: (putting down the potato and peeler) What‘s wrong, Mattie?
Mattie: (imitating her walk) I hates Miss Violet wid her beautiful dresses an‘ her golden hair. I‘d like t‘ take scissors t‘ dem.
Harriet: (stands up and walks to Mattie) Mattie! You keep talkin‘ like dat and you‘s
gonna end up in Massa‘s pocket.
Mattie: He‘s not gonna sell me. You be his cook, an‘ a good one, too.
Harriet: Dat won‘ keep you safe. You‘s gotta bow down t‘ de white folks. How many times does I has to tell you?
Mattie: (turning away) More than I wanna hear.
Harriet: (spins Mattie around until facing each other) You can‘t let yo‘self be jealous o‘
someone like dat. Why, she‘s (steps downstage) so high and mighty dere‘s no point in even (looks at Mattie) thinkin‘ ‗bout it!
Mattie: (going to Harriet) But she don‘ deserve anythin‘ she gots, Momma. She buy clothes, take music lessons, ride horses, and go t‘ parties. But it‘s never enough!
Harriet: Violet‘s a spoiled chile; anyone kin see dat.
Mattie: Iffen I had just some of dat, I‘d be happy. It ain‘t fair.
Harriet: (goes to table on the stage left side and peels potatoes as standing) ‗Cording t‘
white folks it is.
Mattie: (moving to the stage right chair and putting her hands on it) Violet ‗minds me all
de time dat she be pretty. Momma, ain‘t I pretty?
Harriet: You be pretty, but not like dat. You doesn‘t look like one of dose fragile porcelain dolls on her shelf. Dere‘s ‗nother kind o‘ pretty dat comes from bein‘ strong and good. An‘ who‘s to say dat kind of pretty is not better?
Mattie: (plopping down on the bed) I hates it dat people thinks white is pretty an‘ black ain‘t.
Harriet: (walking towards Mattie as she goes to the other side of the table) Dey‘s wrong.
Do ya hear me?
Mattie: An‘ she‘s mean too.
Harriet: (starting to cut potatoes) Well, dat don‘t ‗commend her none. Now do it?
Mattie: No, but she get away wid it.
Harriet: What happened? Somethin‘ besides her usual?
Mattie: She has some o‘ her friends over fo‘ tea. She tell me, ‗fore dey gets dere, dat while I serve dem, she wants me t‘ brag ‗bout what a kind missus she is, goin‘ on an‘ on ‗bout it.
Harriet: (not looking up) Why?
Mattie: (moves to mother‘s side) She done somebody bad an‘ she want me t‘ help fix her good name.
Harriet: So she tells you what t‘ say?
Mattie: Yes, all lies. (walks downstage a little as she shows her frustration) I don‘t enjoy
it none. Some o‘ it is humiliatin‘.
Harriet: What is it?
Mattie: I‘s not repeating lies agin. Anyways, de reason I agrees to it is ‗cause she promises me somethin‘.
Mattie: (walks over to stage left side of the table and sits down on stage left chair) One o‘
her relations give her a fancy dress, dat be much too big fo‘ her. An‘ she shows it to me, den she asks me iffen I wants it. She lets me put it on. It is a li‘l too big, but I knows you
kin stitch it up.
Harriet (surprised): Dat‘s right nice.
Mattie: You hasn‘t heared it all yet. I says I wants it, an‘ she say dat it is gonna be my reward fo‘ saying all dose nice sayin‘s.
Harriet: (going to get a pont on the shelf for the potatoes) Oh, I sees. She never gives it t‘ ya?
Harriet: Must o‘ forgot.
Mattie: (follows her) No, she never. She never was gonna give me dat dress.
Harriet: (moving back to table with pot) How does you know?
Harriet begins cutting forcefully and throwing the potatoes already chopped into the pot.
Mattie: At de tea, I done as she say in front o‘ her friends – five o‘ dem (moves in a
mocking way again) dressed up an‘ discussin‘ all deir parties an‘ beaus. Later when dey
gets up to go, Violet runs an‘ gets a package, wrapped in pretty paper wid ribbons, an‘ she hands de biggest o‘ de girls de package an‘ say it fo‘ her birthday.
Harriet: (cutting more potatoes with even more force) Don‘ you tell me!
Mattie: I has to. When de girl open it, I can not believe my eyes. She give her de dress she promise me!
Harriet: A dirty trick.
Mattie: After smiling real big to me, she says t‘ her friend Leah, ―I thoughts o‘ you when I gots dis dress ‗cause it got a thick waist, just like you.‖
Harriet: (cutting with more force) So she hurts two people.
Mattie: Her friend Leah ain‘t likin‘ de dress as much den, but she takes it wid her.
Harriet: What‘d you do after dey left?
Mattie: (takes a couple of steps forward) I gives Violet a haughty look, den washes . . . (de dishes).
Harriet (interrupting harshly): No, Mattie, you never! (moves towards her and knocks her back with force) You‘s not even suppose ―to look a white person straight in [de] face‖ (Douglass 24).
Mattie: Yes, I does, and she seed it, too. I wants dat dress so much.