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Newsletter 12 - The Courageous Tale of John Little and his Wife's Fight to Freedom

Good morning, afternoon and evening, family,

Welcome to Newsletter No 12; We are back to text today; if you didn’t check out my audio experiment, you can do so by clicking the button below:

This week, I'll share a breathtaking piece of American and Canadian History. The story takes place in the 1800s and is worthy of being turned into a movie; in fact, the story of John Little and his wife's bid for freedom is like a mixture of films Django, Emancipation and 12 years a slave. Still, though traumatic, it never reads like a tale of sorrow; instead, it is a triumphant story of love and determination overcoming overwhelming odds.

Before you read on, please be aware that this story contains graphic language and violence and, as such, might be a traumatic read, so if you are not in a good place, you may want to skip this and return to it another time.

For those of you still here, please enjoy the story of Mr & Mrs Little.

John Little was born into slavery in North Carolina around 1815. Separated at a young age from his family, Little was sold several times to different captors. Each captor was more brutal than the last, subjecting Little to whippings, starvation, and hard labour on plantations in Tennessee and Mississippi, eventually falling into the hands of a man he described as a “Ni**er Breaker.”

This demon of a man determined to destroy the spirit of Little ordered that he be given 500 lashes of the whip.

In the words of John Little:

How many they put on, I don't know, but I know that from the small of my back to the calves of my legs, they took the skin clear off, as you would skin beef. That's what they gave me that day—the next day, I had to have some more. One of the slaves then washed me with salt and water to take out the soreness. This almost put me into a fit. It brought the pain all back—the abominable scoundrel knew it would.

But despite facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles, John Little refused to give up hope and continued to pursue his dream of living a good life. He had a vision and resilience that would not die, and so determined to be free, John escaped.

Over the next few years, John Little spent his time in the wilderness and evaded slave catchers for two years before being caught and ending up in jail. But freedom is not easily surrendered, and John once again risked his life to escape with another inmate.

After being betrayed, he fell into slavery again, and it was while captive on a plantation in Tennessee that he met and married his wife.

In 1841, John and his wife faced the threat of separation and hatched a bold plan to secure their freedom permanently. But before the pair could put the plan into action, they were betrayed by an enslaved person trying to win favour with their master. John's wife was taken out into the woods and cruelly whipped and beaten in an attempt to reveal the escape plan and give up her husband's location. But not only did this remarkable woman refuse to give up her husband, but she also found a way to escape into the woods, where John could find her and carry her on his back to freedom.

John fearing for their lives, carried his weakened wife for miles. The pair endured severe hardship in the wilderness for more than six months. The couple evaded slave catchers, bounty hunters and wild animals while managing hunger, cold, and fatigue.

The Littles trekked over 1000km before finally reaching Chicago. There they boarded a train that took them to Detroit, where they crossed to Canada's free soil by ferry.

They settled in a rural area near Chatham-Kent in Ontario and bought a farm with the money they earned as labourers. They lived there for many years as free citizens.

One of the things that stands out about their story is the bond between the couple. John and his wife worked together as partners in every aspect of their lives, including building up their farm and fighting for their freedom; in an interview, John talks about the early days of building up their farm:

In the next winter we went to clearing again. My wife worked right along with me: I did not realise it then, for we were raised slaves, the women accustomed to work, and undoubtedly the same spirit comes with us here: I did not realise it then; but now I see that she was a brave woman.

John Little became a respected leader in his community and an active participant in the anti-slavery movement. He gave speeches at public meetings and wrote letters to newspapers denouncing slavery and urging other fugitives to join him in Canada.

He also shared his story with interviewers collecting oral histories of formerly enslaved people. His testimony is one of the most detailed and vivid accounts of slave life and escapes ever recorded.

John Little died in 1899 at the age of 84. His wife had passed away earlier in 1888. They were buried together in Maple Leaf Cemetery near Chatham-Kent.

The story of John Little is incredible. What I shared with you here is just the tip of the iceberg, and you don't have to take my word for it because I've liberated a copy of the couple's narratives from a dusty Academic corner of the internet. I've digitised, reformatted, and made it available for you to download and read.

Reading about what the Littles went through in their own words is illuminating; John's words burn through the page, and you can feel his pain, anger, and tenacity in every line. The same goes for his wife, who shares her gut-wrenching testimony.

Please read it, and when you have, share it. Share all my content so that these once-hidden stories can be liberated and enjoyed by all.

To access the PDF version of Mr & Mrs Little’s narrative, use the download button below, or if that doesn’t work, send me an email requesting it, and I will get it over to you as soon as possible.

If you have gotten this far, I’d like to ask you to come with me a little further and consider joining my membership site. The stories I share are freely available but are not free to create; they cost me time, money and a huge emotional investment to pull them together, so if you enjoy my work, check out my membership platform and join me on my journey through black history.

Until next week, stay strong, stay wise, and remember Black History is World History.



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