Lara Lee’s Poison Garden


Editor’s Notes:

When “Black News” commissioned its writers to come with a story that depicted pre-civil war history in north Georgia, the writer/storyteller Sinclere Lee wrote a trilogy entitled ‘Lara Lee’s Poison Garden.’ Lee, is one of the more prolific writers of our time, and his mastery of prose and historical fiction leaves him in a class by himself.  It’s a story about a five-year old slave girl named Lara Lee who experience the cruelty of slavery at a young aged when her mother dies in an accident on the way to New Orleans to be delivered to another plantation. Twelve years later, Lara returns to the Lee Plantation as Rebecca Lee; a Femme Fatale who in the face death sets right the cruelty of the Lee Plantation and the evil, Massa Lee.


By Sinclere Lee:

The work on the plantation was terrifyingly brutal.  The sexual exploitation was without mercy or an end. The ripping away of all dignity of the slave made it all possible and their acceptance of this way of life made it all right.  While life in 1840, America was Hell on Earth for the 6 to 7 million African slaves, but in north Georgia it was pure Hell, however, there were moments of family and solitary relief from their miserable lives that brought some relief.  Some relief came when Lara Lee and Momma went foraging for food in the forest to make a meal for her, Momma and the Massa.

Lara Lee spotted a patch of mushrooms in the underbrush near the stream that ran through the Lee Plantation.  Before she could gather the brown looking treats, she heard momma yell at a loud voice, “Lara Lee don’t touch them mushrooms ‘cause they’ll kill you,” Momma said.  “They’re called ‘Death Caps’ mushrooms, and they’ll kill you dead as a Nigger hanging from a tree.

“Remember, Lara Lee some mushrooms are poison, and will kill you ‘fore you can get to the outhouse to shit.” Momma began to tell Lara the story about how her uncle went picking mushrooms and gathering a mess of ‘Death Caps’ and gave them to Massa Lee’s son.  Nobody knows if Momma’s uncle poisoned Massa Lee’s son he confessed on the count of the beating or it was an accident, but they hung uncle anyway.

The ‘Death Cap’ mushroom is found throughout the South and closely resembles edible straw mushrooms.  Its heat-stable and the poison withstand cooking temperature, but when eaten, the mushrooms quickly damage cells throughout the body.  Within 6 to 12 hours after eating the ‘Death Cap,’ violent abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea appear, causing rapid loss of fluid from the tissues and intense thirst.  Signs of severe involvement of the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system soon follow, including a decrease in urinary output and a lowering of blood sugar.  This condition leads to coma and death within 48-hours.  The most horrific of the ending of life known to man.

“Momma how do you know what mushrooms is the good one and the bad one?” Lara asked.

“Back long time ago when the Creek Nation had this land, there was a Creek chieftain ‘Blue Sky’ of the Red Sticks tribe.  Chief Blue Sky used to take run-away slave into his tribe, and he raised lots of slave children.  He would teach them the ways of the Indian, and over time, long since the white man took their land and moved the Creek Nation far west…”

Momma continued to tell Lara about the time when her grand-pappy was caught by a Creek war party, and brought back to their camp and raised for many years until white solders attacked the Red Sticks and grand pappy was brought back to the plantation.  He taught his family all the things the Red Sticks taught him. Lara listen, and wanted to hear more about the Creek Nation.

Lara looked like her momma somewhat, who had a deep brown hue, but Lara could pass for white — her kind was called mulatto.  Mulatto is a term used to refer to persons born of one white parent and one Black parent or to persons born of a mulatto parent or parents. Although she was considered a slave by most white southerners, being of the Massa’s blood made her royalty among slaves.

During the time period of slavery in America the white slave owners would have sex with their Black female slaves, and the result often was children being born.  Many slave owners did not help their mixed blooded mulatto children; they labeled these children Black and let their Black mothers raise them.

These white looking children were considered slaves just like their mothers.  The one-drop blood rule that Southern whites followed said, that if you have one drop of black blood in you then you are Black, no matter how much white blood and genetics you have in you.

“Lara Lee pick up the baskets, we got to get back to the Big House… hurry child we got to go ‘fore it get too late,” Mamma said while gathering all the plains they had foraged for that day.  They had gathered, some wild Asparagus, Cattails, and some Dandelion for soup, Kelp and plenty, plenty Curled Dock because can eat it cooked or raw.

Lara notice that Momma had put some of the Death Cap mushrooms in a separate basket from the ones safe to eat, and wrapped them up as to hide them from view.  After gathering all their belongings, they headed back to the Big House.  Less than five hundred yards separated the Big House from the wooded area where Lara and her mother were foraging for food.  Because there were so many toxic plains in the wooded area where they were foraging for food, some on the plantation called it the Poison Garden.

The main entrance to this Big House or antebellum mansion included a line of eight huge pillars, and a balcony that ran along the whole outside edge of the house to offer shade and a sitting area.  Evenly spaced large windows, and big center entrances at the front and rear of the house to add to the box like style of the mansion.  The Big House also included grand gardens with geometrically cut bushes to compliment the symmetry of the house.

The interior of this mansion was just as extravagant as the outside.  Common features included enormous foyers, sweeping open stairways, ballrooms, grand dining rooms, and intricate design work.  The design work included intricate shapes and patterns made from plaster used to adorn walls and furniture.  It was also used to create wood and floor designs.

When Lara and Momma got to the front of the Big House, there was a buggy pulled by two horses parked that Momma didn’t recognized.  They made their way to the back of the mansion, and entered a small door that led to the basement, the only entrance for slave.  In the basement were stairs the led to a hallway that let to the kitchen.

Ol’ Joe was in the kitchen when Lara and Momma open the door… “Hey y’all, did y’all ‘nough vittles for supper?”

“Yeah, I think so, I hope so,” Momma answered Ol’ Joe.  “We got some wild Asparagus, Cattails, and some Dandelion for soup, Kelp and plenty, plenty Curled Dock… we got a lot of mushrooms for soup.” Momma said as began the separate the harvest they had gathered.

Ol’ Joe was cutting the heads off the five big Catfish, and taking plows and pulling off the skin.   Ol’ Joe cut the Catfish into smaller pieces to grilled on the wooden stove. He turned as he saw that Momma was headed to the dining room to ask Massa Lee how many for supper.

“Where you going woman… you can’t bother Massa Lee when he’s talking business,” Ol’ Joe told Momma with the authority of the head plantation Nigger.   Ol’ Joe was like many slave overseers who help the master keep control of the other slaves.  The other slaves hated him more than they hated the master.   Ol’, Joe was particularly harmful in that he often killed unruly slaves and rape young slave girls as young as 10-years old.  Lara was safe because she was only five.

When Ol’ Joe left the kitchen, Momma walked towards where she heard the master’s voice, it was coming from the foyer— he was taking to the two men whose buggy was in front of the Big House.  She slowed her creep when she heard Massa Lee talk about the delivery of two breeding pairs to New Orleans.  Momma was surprise to hear the Massa talk of selling her and Lara off to a plantation in New Orleans.  She caught herself to still herself because she was besides herself with pain anger.  As she continued to listen, Massa Lee began talking about the trip his two drivers were to take to Natchez Mississippi.

“The trip usually take about seven-hours to get to Natchez,  and my man Ol’ Joe will go alone to keep them Niggers in line.  Its will be ten Niggers in all, what we call a breeding pair… two heifers and eight bucks.” Massa Lee made his money as a breeder.   Some women breeders were able to avoid field or other arduous labor as the result of bearing children.   A ‘breeder’ always fared better than the majority of female slaves.  Slaves considered rewards for motherhood a customary right and acted proactively to secure them from owners.

And there were repercussions for barrenness.  Young women who had not demonstrated fertility faced the possibility of separation from family as well as additional labor, as the story of Lara’s Momma, who had given out of breeding utility.

While breeding humans was objectionable to most slave masters, the money was good and the driving force for Massa Lee was money.  He kept mentioning that he was getting two thousand for each of the eight bucks and four thousand each for the two heifers.

I’m sending the li’ girl, he explained to the two slave buyers, so her Momma won’t make a big fuss when they’re separated.   “Remember, the lil’ girl is to coming back with Ol’ Joe.” Massa Lee has his final message for the two buyers before they sat for supper.

“When they get to Natchez, my two drivers will come back to the plantation, Ol’ Joe’s gonna take the Delta Queen nonstop to New Orleans so to meet y’all there, and remember the girl comes back with Ol’ Joe.”  He barked at the men with the interest and concern of a father.

When Momma got back to the kitchen, she could barely compose herself with her constant crying.  Yet, she continued to prepare the supper for Massa Lee and his two visitors.  Ol’ Joe came back to the kitchen with some cured pork for supper for supper.  Momma started making the soup from mushrooms and potatoes.  Everything was ready to serve but the soup and it was supposed to be served first.  When Ol’ Joe left the kitchen to set the plates for serving, Momma went to the basket where she hid the Death Cap mushrooms, unwrapped them and put the poison in the mushroom soup.

Ol’ Joe came back to the kitchen and asked for the fires course, which was the soup and baked bread.  He too the soup and bread to Massa Lee and the two slave buyers, but before they could eat the soup, Ol’ Joe came back to the dinning room with a plate fill with the Catfish.  After seeing the Catfish and fried potatoes, all three men at the table passed up the soup and went straight for the fish and potatoes. Next, came squash and cured pork with baked chicken.  The poison soup was place to the side of the table uneaten by the three men. After the men finished their supper, they went to the parlor for drinks while Ol’ Joe cleaned up the table.

“Joe, take the rest of the food to the two drivers… they gonna next some food for the long drive to Natchez.  Take the mushroom soup and everything we didn’t eat, and you can have some of the soup too… we didn’t touch it.” Massa Lee said as he joined his guest in the parlor.  The two drivers were eager to get the food and they ate every bit — the soup too.

Later on that night, Ol’ Joe entered Lara Lee’s room, Momma was sitting on the side of the bed crying wondering if the Death Cap mushroom was gonna do the massa in for his dirty trick to sell from her Lara Lee.

“Momma it’s time to go… I know you know the wagon is waiting,” Ol’ Joe said.  The wagon was twenty feet long, and with one inch thick bars around the top and sides that made the wagon look like a giant cage.  She had packed her things with Lara’s and hoped at some point in their travel to escape to freedom.

“Lara, Lara wake up Momma need you to wake up ‘cause we got to go,” Lara woke up from her sleep with a thresh and a yawn. “Wake up honey, we got to go… that waiting for us.”
When they got the wagon, there were eight men and one other woman crammed in this tight space with very little room to move.  Ol’ Joe went in front of the wagon to talk to the two drivers who were complaining about stomach pains.

“Y’all alright?”

‘Yeah! But, it was something we ate.” One of the drivers said in pain and holding his stomach.

“Well, lets go, we got a long ride to go.” Ol’ Joe said and joined the other slaves in the wagon.  Each slave was chained from hand to feet, and Lara say in Momma’s lap. The wagon jerked a few time and slowly tuned into a roll.

The wagon ticked up speed and started swerving from one side of the road to the other while picking up speed.  “What the hell is going on with that driver?” Ol’ Joe said and standing up to check on the passengers.  Then the wagon veered off the road and down an embankment.  The were screams of help, cries of pain… the wagon was tangled mess of bodies wrapped in the inch thick bars that made it a death trap if an accident like this would occur.

First, there was dead silence, and Ol’ Joe made his was to the top of the embankment, and started running back to the plantation in the dead of night.  He was dead tired when he reached the plantation to tell Massa Lee about the accident.

When Ol’ Joe and Massa Lee returned to scene of the accident, everything was dead still when Massa Lee instructed Ol’ Joe go see if he could find Lara Lee.  He claimed back up the embankment with the child in his arms and handed her to Massa Lee.

“Massa Lee, you want me go see if I can see if some mo’ Niggers still alive?” “No! Fuck them Niggers, and go see if you can saves my horses!”




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