The Freetown Settlement was flourishing. The settlement had begun four years earlier when Abolitionists Omer and Beetie Porter had deeded the majority of their land holdings to former slaves serving their plantation.
The Porters had been the exception to the slave owner rule. They had never split up families. They had treated the people that worked their lands with respect.
Freetown had taken not time to become a self sufficient community. Small farms and artisan trades flourished.
African Methodists provided teachers and preachers for the new community. A school and a church were being built.
Thanksgiving in Freetown 1869 had been planned to be the time of dedication and celebration. The Porters were to be honored as the first citizens of Freetown. The church and the school were to be dedicated.
Free colored people would be coming to Freetown for the week. They would stay in family homes. People would share common meals.
Men would work together during the day to put finishing touches on the church and school. They would move in all the furniture artisans had built.
People would eat from the produce of their gardens. They would eat barbecue, smoked meats, fried chicken, home made bread, chocolate and sweet potato pie until everybody would go to sleep under the nearest shade tree.
By mid summer 1869, some whites angry over the people of Freetown’s success were plotting how to burn the new church and school. They hired vigilantes from the Southern Cross to do their dirty work.
The closer the fall came in 1869, the more the Freetown Community grew uneasy about what some of their good white friends had begun to tell them. Word had gotten out of the planned treachery.
Some in the community advocated calling off the celebration. They could just be thankful for their success without drawing undo attention to themselves in hopes they would be left alone.
Others advocating living like responsibly free people that protect themselves as the Constitution of the United States of America provided for. Every slave family kept guns in the house. It was the American privilege.
The African Methodist influence called upon former supporters to strategize the community’s response. They sent for a team of free colored men that had fought in the war. These veterans would call upon the indigenous peoples that had lived on the rivers of the Appalachian Rim to help. The Keokee were so stealthy no one ever knew they were present. Together, they would ensure the dedication and celebration would take place without incident.
Vigilantes were discovered 20 miles south of Freetown. They were apprehended and held until the day of the dedication. A special place would be reserved for them.
Hundreds of Free Colored People from 40 miles in every direction had come to share in the festivities of food, dedication and celebration. When people came to the dedication of the church, it could only hold about 150 people. The Porters sat in the middle of all the people gathered.
Everybody was surprised to see white men sitting on the bench set aside for special prayers. Keokee sat behind them as all began to worship together. A photographer was on hand to take pictures as well as artists to draw what they saw.
When the AME Bishop Lancaster stood for the prayer of dedication, he thanked God for the Porters, the Freetown People and their magnificent work. He went on to thank the good white brothers that had traveled so far to share the special day.
For some reason, he looked intensely at them. The closing words of his prayer while looking at them said, “May God bless you as you return to your lands to share with your friends what good things God has done.”
They all acknowledged his gaze and his words in unison saying, “Amen!”
When he had finished, he said to the people, “I close today with words from our President. He went on record on the 5th of October saying, ‘Today, we honor our God, the fine people of Freetown, and the direction of President Ulysses S. Grant. He has declared on the 5th day of October this year that on this day, the 18th of November 1869, be observed as a day of thanksgiving and of praise and of prayer to almighty God, the creator and the ruler of the universe; and I do further recommend to all the people of the United States to assemble on that day in their accustomed places of public worship and to unite in the homage and praise due to the bountiful Father of All Mercies and in fervent prayer for the continuance of the manifold blessings he has vouchsafed to us as a people . “