©

THE RIVER JORDAN
Screenplay by Dick Croy
Story by Henry Burke & Dick Croy

9413 Southgate Dr.
Cincinnati, OH 45241
(513) 600-4042
wordandimage@fuse.net

THE RIVER JORDAN

1

THE RIVER JORDAN
FADE IN:
EXT. DAY - FOREST
August, 1843. A narrow trail in virgin timber. RIAL
CREADLE, tall thin man in a dusty suit, rides one horse
and leads another loaded with textbooks and other wares.
He dismounts in a clearing, loosens one of the horse’s
shoes with a knife, then climbs back in the saddle.
EXT. DAY - OHIO RIVER TOBACCO PLANTATION
Twenty-some slaves labor in the fields. Creadle is
greeted at the big-house by EMILY HARRIS, a finelyfeatured woman, her four youngest children, and Buddy, a
male house slave, who takes the reins of both horses.
EMILY
How do, Mr. Creadle!
CREADLE
Evenin', Miz Harris. Wait'll you
see the textbooks I have for the
children. Do you suppose you
could have your blacksmith see to
my horse?
EMILY
Well of course. Run get the
master, Buddy.

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2

Creadle dismounts as the youngsters dance about.
CREADLE
Much obliged, Mizz Harris.
EMILY
They do so love it when you pay
us a visit, Mr. Creadle.
He hands books from the pack to each of the children.
EMILY
You've made good readers out of
all of them.
CREADLE
That's what makes all those long
hours in the saddle worthwhile.
SOLOMON HARRIS, a lean imposing man in his late 50s, six
feet tall with a hard, humorless face, strides around
the corner of the two-story manor house with Buddy.
HARRIS
How do, Mr. Creadle. I hear you
may have need of my blacksmith.
CREADLE
I do, sir. My single-footer's off
on his gait. His left front shoe's
come loose.
HARRIS
My house slave will see to it, Mr.
Creadle.
CREADLE
Thank you kindly, Mr. Harris, but
if you don’t mind, I'd prefer to
take Shawnee to your smith myself.
Kind of particular that way.
HARRIS
A man can't be too careful with
his horse, now can he? You know
(MORE)

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3
HARRIS
the way.
(to Buddy)
Tell Alfred to attend to it.
Then see that Mr. Creadle's
pack horse is watered.

The slave runs ahead. Creadle leads the horse past the
summer kitchen, spring house, privy, and granary to a
large horse barn with a blacksmith shop at one end.
INT. - BARN
Creadle passes riding, carriage and draft horses in
their stalls. ALFRED, 25, a muscular, handsome man,
waits for him at the forge. We don’t hear what Creadle
says as Alfred kneels to inspect the horse's shoe, then
looks up at him with an expression that passes from
uncertainty through fear to anger.
EXT. DAY - HARRIS PLANTATION - MONTAGE
A) Beneath the low sun of late afternoon, men, women and
children work wordlessly in the fields. Adults split
and cut tobacco stalks off at the ground. Children
carry armloads to adolescents who load them on wagons
hitched to mules to go to the drying sheds.
CAROLINE(V.O.)
Looking back, I guess that visit
of Rial Creadle's, summer of 1843,
is where this true story all began.
It was dangerous for a strong man,
with no one but himself to worry
about, to try to escape from
slavery. Bounty hunters, wild
animals and the kind of wilderness
folks nowadays can't even imagine
stood between runaway slaves and
Canada. But try talkin' “sense” to a
mother who’s learned her two oldest
boys are about to be sold down the
(MORE)

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CAROLINE (V.O. CONT’D)
river, where they’ll surely be
dead in a year or two. Tell that
to a woman with five more to worry
about besides. What would you do?

B) JEB PORTER, overseer, 40s, bearded, menacing-looking,
walks his horse around the field with a whip in his
hand and a shotgun in a sling next to his saddle.
C) Ten-year-old FANNY lugs a wooden bucket of water from
slave to slave between the rows of tobacco. She is
somber beyond her years, with vacant, haunting eyes.
D) Her brothers, HENRY, 12, and THORNTON, 14, load
bundles of stalks in a wagon. Henry is compact,
muscular; Thornton more lithe and graceful, with
finer features. The bantering between them is under
their breath since conversation is forbidden.
HENRY
Sure be glad when this day over.
THORNTON
Gonna drink that ol’ well dry.
Overseer don't allow us near
enough water breaks.
HENRY
Don't be talkin' about no water.
Tryin' not t' think about it.
THORNTON
Not thinkin' how good it'd taste
right now? Runnin' all cool and
wet down your dusty throat?
HENRY
Shut up, Thornton!
INT. DAY - DRYING SHED
A loaded wagon enters, driven by AUGUSTUS, 16, who

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5

resembles Alfred. Stalks from another wagon are being
hung to cure from poles running the width of the shed.
Jeb Porter enters bellowing.
PORTER
'Fore you niggers eat tonight, I
want ever' bit a this tobaccy
hung, you hear?
AUGUSTUS
Yass-suh.
Augustus's tone is obedient but not subservient; he
neither looks at Porter nor looks away. CAROLINE, 23, is
hanging stalks. Attractive, big-boned, she appears to be
either ill or extremely fatigued.
EXT. DAY – TOBACCO FIELD
RACHEL, 22, favors her lean brother Thornton. She picks
leaves with JANE, her mother, a pleasant-faced, heavyset woman in her 50's who walks with a slight limp. As
she stands amongst the tobacco plants, shielding her
eyes from the sun, weariness, strength and dignity are
all apparent in her face and bearing. Humor, a more
elusive element of her character, softens her features.
JANE
Henry! Time t' fix supper! Git
some kindlin' and start the fire!
HENRY AND THORNTON
THORNTON
You always get to make the fire.
HENRY
Cause I makes it the best.
THORNTON
(loud whisper)
No – 'cause you the baby! Mama’s
shadow.

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6

He kicks a clod of dirt and goes back to picking.
ANOTHER ANGLE
JANE
Fanny, fetch me some water for
the kettle, child.
FANNY
Yes, Mama.
EXT. DAY – PLANTATION WELL
Henry gulps water with a dipper from a bucket until he
has to stop to catch his breath. Fanny arrives with a
cast-iron kettle.
FANNY
You gonna puke drinkin' like
that.
Henry mimes throwing up into the water bucket. Fanny is
too tired to be either amused or disgusted.
FANNY
I need some a that for the kettle.
Again Henry pretends to throw up into the bucket (with a
rope attached for drawing water from the well).
FANNY
You spose t' be gatherin' kindlin'.
HENRY
You said I was gonna puke.
He repeats the routine but Fanny denies him a response.
EXT. DAY – CABIN
JOHN, a wizened, gray-haired slave in his 50s, washes up
from a tub in front of a rickety one-room cabin on Slave
Row. He is pleasantly surprised when Jane comes up.
JOHN
Howdy, gal. What be on your mind?

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7
JANE
Massa wantin' you up at the big
house.
JOHN
Got you some time for me first?
Massa Harris can wait a while.
JANE
Go talk that trash to Lizzie.
That's who you been seein' for
the kinda time you have in mind.

John chuckles as Jane limps away.
INT. DAY - DESKTOP
On the cluttered roll-top desk an advertising circular
for the Vaucluse Slave Auction and an open ledger.
Figures are being tallied with a pen of the period.
INT. - STUDY
Harris is interrupted by a KNOCK on the door.
HARRIS
Come in.
PORTER
(holding his hat)
You wanted me, Mr. Harris?
HARRIS
Joo-ly wa'n't the month it should
have been, Mr. Porter.
PORTER
It ain't from not tryin', Mr.
Harris. I got some a the laziest
niggers on God's green earth out
there. I –

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HARRIS
If slaves liked to work, I wouldn't
need an overseer, Mr. Porter – but
that's not why I called you. Close
the door....At the slave auction
next week I intend to sell Jane's
two oldest, if I can get a decent
price for 'em.
PORTER
But them's two a the best I got,
Mr. Harris!
HARRIS
I expect them to bring close to a
thousand dollars apiece.
PORTER
But you just told me we're not
gettin' enough work done as it is.
HARRIS
Which is exactly why we need the
money these two will bring, Mr.
Porter. I don't cotton to slave
breeding, and I don't like losin'
good field hands. But when my
overseer can't get me decent
profits outa my tobacco, I have
to cover expenses where I can.
PORTER
(sullenly)
Yes sir.
Now,
out,
need
real

HARRIS
I don't know how they find
but they generally do. You'll
to watch Alfred and Augustus
close the next few days.

PORTER
It's spyin' abolitionist scum tips
'em off.

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9
HARRIS
Whoever it is, you'd best sleep
light till the auction. I'll be
lookin' t' you if any of my
niggers swim the river.
PORTER
I'll see to it, Mr. Harris.

He turns and leaves, nearly bumping into John, hovering
hat in hand just outside the study door. When Porter
snarls at him, John speaks up immediately.
JOHN
Massa, Jane say you want ol' John.
HARRIS
Come in, come in – close the door
behind you.
John enters deferentially but without fear.
HARRIS
You been my faithful slave for a
long time, John. I want you to
be my eyes and ears for awhile.
Let me know if you see any a the
niggers actin' suspicious, you
understand?
JOHN
Yassuh, Massa.
EXT. DAY - LEAN-TO
Exposed to the elements but covered by a roof of sorts,
this is where cooking is done on Slave Row. Jane tends a
kettle of stew simmering over an open fire. Another
SLAVE WOMAN bakes corn pone in a crude sandstone oven.
SLAVE WOMAN
Sure is humid. Fog gonna be
thick tonight.

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Distracted, Jane doesn't appear to have heard; the woman
gives her a puzzled expression. When Henry drops an
armload of kindling next to the kettle, Jane jumps.
JANE
Now go pick greens with Fanny.
HENRY
You sure is jumpy today, Mama.
He darts away. Jane sighs, watching him run toward the
large kitchen garden the slaves share. Her expression is
both fond and troubled. Then her gaze takes in the...
EXT. - SLAVE CEMETERY
...focusing on one wooden cross in particular.
BACK TO JANE
Her face relaxes somewhat and her eyes soften.
EXT. DUSK - HANNAH - (FLASHBACK)
A summer evening like this. Jane's deceased mother, a
short heavyset woman, a bright cloth tied around her
head, sings stooping over tobacco plants she is
cultivating. Suddenly, as if aware of her daughter's
presence across the years, she stands, looks in Jane's
direction and gestures in the SLOW MOTION of dream
toward the wooded hills and setting sun across the Ohio
River. Although she is some distance away, we can HEAR
Hannah's DEEP WHISPER as if she were standing beside us:
HANNAH
Now, girl! Don't you be afraid.
BACK TO JANE
She gasps, totters, puts her hand over her heart.

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ANOTHER ANGLE
SLAVE WOMAN
Is you all right?
JANE
Just dizzy is all.
She goes shakily back to the kettle to serve the slaves
arriving to be fed. By the time her children come
through the line she's regained some composure.
ALFRED
I got the hunger, Mama!
JANE
You always hungry, boy, but you
never get no meat on them bones.
ALFRED
(affectionately)
Never you mind about that, Mama.
Just throw some a that stew on
my plate.
He walks with his stew and corn pone to the base of a
tree where the family will share their meal. Thornton
dances up, bowing exuberantly on a battered old fiddle.
ALFRED
Sit your skinny butt down and
eat! Don't feel like listenin'
to no jig tonight!
CAROLINE AND RACHEL
go through the food line. Jane says nothing when
Caroline avoids eye contact with her, but we can see her
concern. Rachel appears to be trying to cheer up her
older sister, without success until Caroline sees...
JAMES
...a good-looking young man approaching with Augustus.
Caroline and James sneak a fond look at each other, and

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Augustus guffaws and slaps James on his muscular bare
shoulder.
AUGUSTUS
Caroline got you makin' eyes like
a fool, James. She have you jumpin'
the broom with her any day now.
JAMES
(shaking him off)
You just sorry cause she's your
sister.
AUGUSTUS
(laughing)
Not cause I can't jump no broom
with her. That’s gonna be your
mis'ry.
This makes James' smile bigger. But it doesn't keep him
from trading good-natured punches with Augustus.
JAMES
Mis'ry? You don't know what you
sayin', 'Gustus.
AUGUSTUS
You the one – don't know my sister
like I do.
He gives James a look of pity. But James' expression
says clearly, "And you don't know her the way I do."
CAROLINE AND RACHEL
join Alfred, Fanny, Henry and Thornton – who obviously
idolizes his eldest brother – beneath the tree. Augustus
and James sit down nearby with their plates. There's an
obvious affection among her family that makes...
JANE'S
...eyes shine as she gazes at them while ladling out

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stew. Then some dark thought eclipses the expression.
EXT. DUSK - MOONSHINE STILL
in the woods. John looks up as three slaves – HERSHEL,
CALEB & CAESAR – approach stealthily through the trees.
JOHN
Evenin', gents.
(they respond)
Y'all come for some a Massa's
“liquid courage”?
HERSHEL
If that be moonshine, that's what
we here for.
JOHN
(handing them each a pint)
Courage what you need where you
goin', Hershel. And a whole lot
of it.
HERSHEL
Well then, guess I'll take a
little right here.
JOHN
Save that for tonight. Git on now
before Jeb Porter comes nosin'
‘round. Massa told him to keep
his eyes open till the auction.
CAESAR
How you know that?
JOHN
They say, drink too much moonshine,
you go blind. Guess Massa think he
drink enough with ol' John by now,
I be color blind.
They chuckle.

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CAESAR
Seems t' me, Massa be the one
most affected. His tongue must
get t' waggin'.
JOHN
You never heard that from me!
CAESAR
No, and I ain't gone blind yet
neither – Massa don't share his
moonshine with me. But I knows
you done help a lotta folks run.
JOHN
You best help yourself tonight,
Caesar. And that fam’ly – that's
who I scared for. Watch over
them, you hear?

John directs this to all three men, with a surprising
look of strength in his eyes, as well as concern.
INT. NIGHT - CABIN
Jane’s family talk quietly.
CAROLINE
But I don't wanna run, Mama!
They catch us sure, then Massa
be sellin’ us down the river.
JANE
You hush now, Caroline! Ain't
gonna get caught.
CAROLINE
Caught or eat up by snakes or
wild animals.
ALFRED
That's just what Massa say,
Caroline, t' keep folks from
runnin'.

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CAROLINE
There's wolves and bears and
painters in them woods, Alfred,
and you know it!
ALFRED
Ain't no animals gonna jump a
wagon full a people.
THORNTON
Bounty hunters sure enough will.
AUGUSTUS
Aw, you ain't scared too are
you, Thornton?
THORNTON
I ain't afraid. Just sayin'
what could happen.
JANE
I ain't gonna lie to y'all.
It's true we takin' a risk. But
we gonna be on the Underground
Railroad, all the way to Canada.
HENRY
A real railroad, Mama?

Alfred and Augustus laugh but Jane takes the question
seriously.
JANE
The Underground Railroad's people,
Henry. Black and white folks that
know slavery's wrong. They'll
hide us durin' the day and take
us from place t' place at night.
RACHEL
You best tell her, Caroline.
JANE
Tell me what?

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CAROLINE
I hangin' a baby, Mama!
JANE
(surprised, not shocked)
I knew you and James was up to
somethin'. How far along is you?
CAROLINE
About two months. Me and James
was gonna jump the broom. Now,
just like me, my baby’s never
gonna know its daddy.
JANE
No! Not like you, Caroline. Your
Baby’s gonna grow up free, girl.
If'n your James be the man you
think he is, he’ll find a way.
We’ll get word to him somehow.
CAROLINE
He ain't gonna find me if we’re
all split up down south. Where
we all be dead soon anyway. Why
can't we stay where we are, Mama? I
hear this ain't nothin' like them
cotton and sugar cane plantations.
JANE
Cause that's just where your
brothers are headed.
RACHEL
Massa's gonna sell 'em?
JANE
That's what John says.

The family shares a moment of stunned silence.
ALFRED
Only we ain't gonna be here. Rial
(MORE)

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ALFRED (CONT’D)
Cheadle told me everything's all
set – when he was here yesterday
to see Massa.
THORNTON
The man that sells Massa books? He
with the Underground Railroad?
ALFRED
He sure enough is. He says a boat
be ready t' take us across the
river tonight.
FANNY
What we gonna eat, Mama?

Jane lifts the corner of a folded sheet in a pile of
clean laundry to reveal a hidden cache of food.
JANE
Baked some cornbread for tonight.
Get food along the way.
CAROLINE
Can I say goodbye to James, Mama?
JANE
Go with her, Augustus. See he
don't make a fuss.
EXT. NIGHT - RIVERBANK
JOSEPHUS, a wiry middle-aged slave, pushes off from the
bank in a large rowboat in heavy fog.
INT. NIGHT - OVERSEER'S HOUSE
Jeb Porter lights an oil lamp and steps...
EXT. – CABIN

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...outside in the fog to make his nightly rounds.
EXT. NIGHT - JAMES'S FAMILY'S CABIN
Augustus, with Caroline huddled beside him, knocks
softly on the door, and James answers in surprise.
JAMES
What is it, Augustus?
AUGUSTUS
Tell him, Caroline.
CAROLINE
(sobbing)
We runnin', James.
JAMES
Runnin'? Across the river?
Caroline nods and Augustus doesn't answer.
JAMES
Why you never told me?
CAROLINE
I only just now found out!
James looks to his friend for an explanation.
AUGUSTUS
Massa fixin' t' sell Alfred and
me at the slave auction.
CAROLINE
Come with us, James!
Augustus grabs her arm to object.
JAMES
You know I can't leave my mama,
Caroline. She be dead within
the week if I go.

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19
CAROLINE
Baby, I’m carryin' your child!
JAMES
You what?

They hear Porter's footsteps and see his lamp through
the fog. James opens the door and they slip inside.
INT. - CABIN
James’s mother is lying on a pallet on the floor.
JAMES'S MOTHER
Who is it, James?
JAMES
Shhh, Mama!
They huddle together inside the cabin, lit by a pair of
candles. Porter's FOOTSTEPS stop before the cabin...but
then resume, fading into the distance.
JAMES
You...?
(mimes a swollen belly)
AUGUSTUS
You never told him?
CAROLINE
(choking through sobs)
I...was...goin' to.
James embraces Caroline and he’s crying silently too.
Augustus puts an arm on the shoulder of each.
AUGUSTUS
(urgently)
Caroline’s tellin' you like it is,
James. This all happened the last
day or two, and we dassn't tell a
(MORE)

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AUGUSTUS (CONT’D)
soul. I know you can't go with us
so I never said nothin'. But I swear
as your friend we’ll get word back
t' you when we’re safe in Canada.

Augustus turns his sister around to face him.
AUGUSTUS
Caroline, we gotta go.
JAMES
This is crazy, Augustus! Y'all be
caught for sure. Then whupped and
sent down-river. What’s gonna
happen to Caroline and my baby
then?
AUGUSTUS
No one’s gonna stop us, James, not
even you. Now turn loose of her!
James glares defiantly at Augustus, but then drops his
arms and looks longingly into his lover's eyes.
JAMES
I’ll see you again, Caroline. You
tell me where you is, and I’ll be
there soon as I can.
(to Augustus)
This safe, where you goin' with my
girl? You gonna take care of her?
AUGUSTUS
I promise, James. Underground
Railroad take good care of all
of us.
Augustus has to pull Caroline through the door.
EXT. NIGHT - JEB PORTER
makes his rounds through the fog, the oil lamp in front

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21

of him. He sees someone moving ahead.
PORTER
Who's that? Hold it right there!
When he gets closer he sees that it's...
JOHN
PORTER (O.S.)
What're you doin' out after dark?
JOHN
Just checkin' on the still. Massa
tell me t’ keep an eye on things.
ANOTHER ANGLE
PORTER
That don't give you no call t' be
out after dark. I could put some
stripes on yer black ass fer that.
JOHN
Yassuh, I ‘spect you could.
PORTER
Don't think just cuz you an'
Harris is 'drinkin' buddies'
you're anything but a nigger
t' me, boy!
JOHN
No suh, I don't think that for
a minute.
PORTER
Don't think you're somewhere I
cain't git to you.
JOHN
I don't think that neither.
PORTER
(grabbing him by the shirt)
And don't git smart with me, boy!

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22
JOHN
Oh, I the dumbest niggah on this
here plantation, Missuh Porter. I
don't get smart with nobody.
PORTER
You think yer a helluva lot
smarter than you are, old man.
Someone around here's got big
eyes and a damn big mouth, and
you know what I'm talkin' about.
JOHN
Yassuh, Missuh Porter – I don't
know what you're talkin' about.
PORTER
Talkin' about what's gonna happen
t' you if any a Harris's niggers
tries t' cross the river. If my
whip don't git you, an accident
will. You understand?
JOHN
Yassuh, I understands that alright.

Porter pushes him away with contempt and walks off. John
looks after him with serene indifference.
EXT. NIGHT - RIVER
Josephus is pulling toward shore, which he can barely
make out, looking over his shoulder. No one is there.
INT. NIGHT - JANE'S CABIN
Each of them has their own bundle as they prepare to go.
JANE
Once we git outside this door, I
don't wanta hear a sound outa no
(MORE)

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23
JANE (CONT’D)
one. Anyone got somethin' t' say?
(no one does)
We’re in the Lord's hands now.
Keep your mouth shut and do just
what folks tells us.

Alfred opens the door and they slip into the night.
EXT. NIGHT - MONTAGE
The family flees through the fog to the river.
EXT. NIGHT - DOG CAGES
Harris's dozen or so bloodhounds are restless.
EXT. NIGHT - RIVERBANK
Hershel, Caleb and Caesar pull the boat onto the bank.
CAESAR
No sign a Jane an' her fam’ly.
JOSEPHUS
They don't come soon, I’ll take
you three and come back for the
rest. Can't take ever'body at
once nohow.
HERSHEL
How you git us to the other side
in this fog, Josephus? Can't
hardly see nothin'.
JOSEPHUS
Don't have to see it. I know where
it is don't I?
CALEB
But how you know which way we goin'?

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24
JOSEPHUS
Current tell me. Y'all afraid,
I can take that fam’ly first.
OTHERS
No, no! We ready!

The family appear atop the bank and come sliding down to
the water's edge. Alfred helps his mother, unpleasantly
surprised to see the other slaves.
JANE
John never told me y'all be
goin' with us.
The three share a look.
HERSHEL
Y'all be goin' with us.
JANE
How we all gonna fit?
JOSEPHUS
Makin' two trips. Pray the Lord
no one be missin' you for awhile.
Suddenly we HEAR bloodhounds baying.
JANE
Git in, git in! They’re comin'!
JOSEPHUS
Hold on! You can't all go!
The panicky slaves ignore him and clamber aboard,
rocking the boat, many of them dropping their bundles.
Wading into the river, Caesar helps Jane and the younger
children aboard until everyone but him has squeezed into
the nearly swamped rowboat, then pushes it from shore.
CAESAR
Go on, Josephus, row! I'll hold
on best I can.

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25
JOSEPHUS
Damn fools! You all gonna drown!
JANE
No we ain't – we gonna make it
to the other side! Row! Y’all
bail with your hands! Like this!
Bail!

The foundering boat wallows into the swift current,
which pulls it downstream. All this time, the BAYING of
the dogs has gotten louder, and the SHOUTS of men can
now be heard. As the boat disappears in the fog...
RIVERBANK
...Harris, Porter and two loyal SLAVES slide down the
slippery clay bank to the water.
HARRIS
Come back here, you fool niggers
'fore you all drown!
Cursing, he fires his flintlock rifle into the fog.
THE ROWBOAT
taking on water, is nearly swamped when all aboard duck.
CAROLINE
Ohh, now we in trouble!
HERSHEL
Don't you worry none, Missy.
Massa wouldn't aim t' hit us
if’n he could see us. We worth
too much. Ain't that right,
Caesar?...Caesar?
CALEB
He ain’t here!

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26
HENRY
Maybe he gonna swim to the
other side.
HERSHEL
Caesar can't swim a lick.

Silence, broken by the scraping of oars and Josephus'
labored breathing as he pulls at the oars.
JANE
(bailing with cupped hands)
Bail, y'all!
JOSEPHUS
Don' be rockin' the boat!
JANE
Bail and don't rock the boat!
The passengers respond; Josephus strains at the oars.
AUGUSTUS
I think it's workin'! Don't you
Alfred?
ALFRED
Sure it's workin'! We lucky the
river be calm tonight.
JANE
Keep chuckin' that water!
RIVERBANK
HARRIS
Git the bloodhounds, Porter. We'll
take the ferry.
PORTER
(avoiding eye contact)
Yessir, Mr. Harris.
SLAVE #1
They won' git away, Massa.

THE RIVER JORDAN

27
HARRIS
I'm gonna sell the whole damn lot
of 'em at the auction. They won't
last long cuttin' cane down south.

ROWBOAT - LATER
FANNY
How wide is this river?
HENRY
Seem like we been on it for hours.
JOSEPHUS
Whole lot better'n bein' under it,
ain't it?
ALFRED
What you think, Josephus?
JOSEPHUS
Current say we nearly there. Hear
that sound?
We do, in fact, HEAR water lapping against the...
RIVERBANK
...on the Ohio side, coming into view through the fog.
ROWBOAT
JANE
(prayerfully to herself)
Praise the Lord!
A moment later, they run aground. Alfred climbs out to
steady the boat. Hershel and Augustus are right behind.
They pull it onto the bank and help Jane out. She drops
to her knees and bows her head for a moment of prayer,
then looks up at her children with shining eyes.
JANE
This here's free land, children!
(MORE)

THE RIVER JORDAN

28
JANE (CONT’D)
Let's say a prayer now for Caesar.
He give his life helpin' us cross.

They bow their heads. Then Jane stands and holds out her
hands to Josephus.
JANE
Bless you, Josephus! You done
save my fam’ly.
JOSEPHUS
I only done what’s right, Mizz
Jane.
Alfred and Augustus grip his hand warmly.
THORNTON
Why don' you ever run, Josephus?
JOSEPHUS
Oh, the Box Plantation ain't a
bad place t' live. Besides, who
be left t' row folks like you
across the river?
AUGUSTUS
(tousling Thornton's hair)
Guess you never thought a that.
JOSEPHUS
Y'all help me push this boat out.
I got t' git back for I's missed.
The men and boys jump to help.
EXT. NIGHT - FERRY
At Williamstown, VA, Harris, Porter and the two slaves,
on horses, and the bloodhounds arrive with enough
commotion to rouse the sleepy FERRYMAN from his cabin.
FERRYMAN
Guess I don't have t' ask what
brings you, Mr. Harris.

THE RIVER JORDAN

29
HARRIS
Just git us the other side a this
damn river and make it fast!

They crowd aboard. With a hook, the ferryman raises a
rope from the water and pulls them toward the Ohio side.
EXT. NIGHT - OHIO RIVERSIDE
HENRY
Is we safe now, Mama?
JANE
Shush, boy, you want bounty
hunters t' catch us? We in
danger till we all the way t'
Canada.
(to Hershel & Caleb)
What we do now?
CALEB
Spose t' be a man with a lantern
here t' meet us.
HERSHEL
Massa Putnam, abolitionist with the
Underground Railroad. Let's split
up – me an' Caleb go downstream,
y'all head north. Whoever runs
into Massa Putnam can fetch the rest.
ALFRED
Sounds good t' me, Mama.
JANE
Alright then. We follow you and
Augustus.
(to younger children)
Watch where you walk. Keep your
eyes open for snakes.
Jane and her family vanish into the fog. Hershel and
Caleb each take a swig of liquid courage.

THE RIVER JORDAN

30
HERSHEL
(toasting his friend)
For Caesar.

The fear in the men's eyes turns to sadness as they make
eye contact, then retreat into their own thoughts. They
pocket their flasks and head downriver.
THE FERRY
docks. Harris and the other riders disembark.
EXT. NIGHT – A FARM WAGON
pulled by two big draft horses. The DRIVER hunches his
shoulders in the fog. The horses are motionless except
for the flicking of their tails to ward off mosquitoes.
JANE'S FAMILY
still walks stealthily along the river. The SOUND of
FROGS and INSECTS. Then a gleam of light ahead.
HENRY
(whispering excitedly)
I see the light, Mama!
Alfred hoots softly. The light moves back and forth.
ALFRED
That be him!
Jane and her family are soon face to face with DAVID
PUTNAM, JR., a tall lean man, mid-20s. His eyes widen
when he sees the number, and youth, of the fugitives.
JANE
Two more downstream a ways.
PUTNAM
Well, we can't look for them now.
I'll send someone back later.
Take hands, and...bee...qui-et.

THE RIVER JORDAN

31

Putnam leads them single file through the fog to the
wagon, a quarter of a mile away.
PUTNAM
Women inside. First stop just
before daylight. They'll feed
you and hide you till dark.
Jane and her daughters clamber in beneath a heavy piece
of canvas. The driver gives the reins a shake and, with
the four brothers following on foot, they set off.
HERSHEL AND CALEB
are lost in the woods, feeling the moonshine. Caleb
takes one last swig and throws his empty flask away.
CALEB
Can’t see nothin’ in this damn
fog!
HERSHEL
No lantern, that’s for sure.
They pick their way through dense underbrush.
CALEB
Poor Caesar. He know what t’ do.
HERSHEL
Only one thing we can do - find
someplace t' hide before daylight.
CALEB
Massa Harris have his hounds out
by now, I reckon.
HERSHEL
I ‘spect he be at the ferry by now.
CALEB
Maybe the ferry not be runnin'.

THE RIVER JORDAN

32
HERSHEL
Huh! Massa Harris be across that
water if’n he and his hounds
have to swim. Count on that.

Unable to go forward, they descend the steep side of a
ravine.
HERSHEL
Keep your eye open for snakes
in these rocks.
CALEB
I been lookin' out for snakes
since we got off the boat.
They thrash about in briars, cursing and tearing their
clothes trying to get free.
THE PURSUERS
Are held to a slow pace by the fog.
PORTER
I thought sure we'd a crossed
their trail by now.
HARRIS
You better hope we cross it soon,
Mr. Porter.
SLAVE #1
Current not carry dem dis far,
Massa.
PORTER
Damn abolitionists might.
HARRIS
If they were here, Mr. Porter –
whether the river or the
abolitionists, or God himself
brought them – the dogs would
have told us.

THE RIVER JORDAN

33

The two slaves share a grin behind Porter's back.
JANE’S FAMILY
are out of the fog now, men and boys in front. The
narrow trail is overhung with dense vegetation, the
night full of the SOUNDS of INSECTS, TREE FROGS and an
occasional predator's SNARL. Henry and Thornton are
clearly scared, and Alfred and Augustus, each carrying a
heavy stick, are hyper-alert. Meanwhile, in...
THE WAGON
...the women aren't enjoying their hard bumpy ride
beneath the dusty canvas either.
CAROLINE (O.S.)
You’re on my leg, Rachel!
RACHEL (O.S.)
Well then move!
FANNY (O.S.)
I can't breathe in here, Mama!
BENEATH THE CANVAS
On her back, Jane rises to an elbow, lifting the canvas
away with her other arm.
JANE
This the last time I’m tellin'
you, girls! Your big gapes git us
caught, then what? We got a long
trip ahead, and we gonna be
quiet the whole time, you hear?
She returns to her back; as the canvas settles slowly
down on her face and body, she sighs deeply, losing
herself in memory.

THE RIVER JORDAN

34

INT. DAY - HARRIS'S STUDY (FLASHBACK)
Jane pleads with Harris, 15 years earlier. Her youthful
face, less haggard and careworn, has a raw beauty –
though at the moment it's distorted in pain.
JANE
Please, Massa, I beggin' you! Don't
take my man from me an' my fam’ly.
HARRIS
Now, Jane – you've been a loyal
slave. Don't destroy your position
here over this.
JANE
(sobbing, falling to knees)
Massa! I do anythin'! I thinkin'
of my fam’ly, Massa. They make
you better slaves if’n they has a
daddy!
HARRIS
The decision is final. Now –
His words are drowned out by Jane's wailing.
EXT. DAY - STEAMBOAT LANDING (FLASHBACK)
Justin, Jane's handsome husband, manacled and in legirons, is led up the gangplank of a sternwheeler by two
deckhands. He is shirtless, his back bloodied.
JANE AND CHILDREN (FLASHBACK)
Jane's three eldest (Alfred, 9; Caroline, 7; and Rachel,
6) stand beside her. Holding 1-year-old Augustus, she
cries quietly, an expression of desolation on her face.
Her children's emotions run the gamut from stoic
incomprehension (Alfred) to inconsolable grief (Rachel).

THE RIVER JORDAN

35

STEAMBOAT (FLASHBACK)
Two other male slaves, neither in chains, board behind
Justin, accompanied by a deckhand.
HARRIS (FLASHBACK)
seeing Jane and her children, breaks away in disgust
from a gaudily-dressed slave dealer to "comfort" her.
HARRIS
Slave dealers – scum of the earth.
I'm truly sorry it had to be this
way, Jane; he brought it on himself.
You and your children will be fine.
John will give you more pickaninnies
than Justin did.
Despite her anguish Jane gives Harris a look of
incredulity.
EXT. DAWN - HERSHEL AND CALEB
exhausted, hung over and scared, see the shape of...
A BUILDING
...loom up out of the fog.
ANOTHER ANGLE
The FAINT BAYING of Harris's HOUNDS sends the two of
them running for what proves to be a barn, where they
slip in through a door...
INT. - BARN
...scramble up the ladder to the hayloft, and bury
themselves in loose hay.

THE RIVER JORDAN

36

THE BLOODHOUNDS
bound over and around obstacles in their pursuit of the
fugitives.
THE RIDERS
keep up as best they can in the dense forest.
THE DOGS
barking and bellowing, leap frantically against the barn
door the fugitives entered.
INT. - FARMHOUSE
The Pendergast family of five is at the breakfast table.
MRS. P. and her teenage daughter remain at the table
while her husband and their two sons get up to
investigate. The elder SON, 16, grabs a shotgun from the
gun case. The younger one, 10 or so, is called back.
MOTHER
You stay here, Adam!
Father and son exit through the back door.
EXT. - BARN
One slave is mounted, the other holds the reins of the
horses. Harris and Porter are inside the barn, the door
closed to keep out the dogs. But they force it open and
surge inside.
INT. - BARN
Harris stands at the foot of the ladder, his shotgun
cocked and ready, looking up into the hayloft. He kicks
savagely at the barking dogs milling around him.

THE RIVER JORDAN

37

HAYLOFT - POV HARRIS
Stepping off the ladder, Porter shoulders his own gun.
PORTER
Come outa there, niggers, 'fore
I blow your heads off!
HAYLOFT - POV PORTER
Dawn light filters through cracks in the walls. Finally,
the two slaves emerge from the hay.
CALEB
Don't shoot!
INT. - BARN
Farmer and son duck in through a side door as...
LADDER
...Hershel and Caleb back down the ladder.
PORTER
(looking down from the loft)
Them two's the only ones up here,
Mr. Harris.
HARRIS
(to slaves)
Where's the rest of 'em? I want
an answer and I want it now!
PENDERGAST FATHER & SON
barge in from another part of the barn.
PENDERGAST
Hold on here! You can't just come
onto a man's property and start
threatenin' people at gunpoint! I
don't care what color their skin is.

THE RIVER JORDAN

38
HARRIS
The hell I can't! These is my
niggers!
SON
(pointing shotgun at Harris)
You heard my father! You're
trespassing, on private property!
HARRIS
Point that gun somewhere else if
you don't intend to use it.
PORTER (O.S.)
Do as he says, boy!

HAYLOFT
Porter's gun is aimed at the farmer's son. Hershel and
Caleb stand frozen on the ladder.
FARMER’S SON
glances at Porter, then returns his attention to Harris.
SON
I'll take the head off your
friend here first, Sir!
HARRIS
Don't shoot, Porter! You got
grit, son.
(to farmer)
I'll send my overseer for the
sheriff, Sir. No need for
someone to get hurt over a
couple a niggers.
(to fugitives)
Come on down here, you two!
They descend shakily.

THE RIVER JORDAN

39
HARRIS
Ride an' git the sheriff, Porter!
HERSHEL
You not gonna let him take us away
is you, Massa?
FARMER
I'm afraid that's up to the sheriff.
HARRIS
The Fugitive Slave Law's clear
enough about that.
(to fugitives)
One way or t'other, you're gonna
tell me where the others are and
how the hell you got across the
river. You'll save yourselves a
lotta mis'ry if you tell me now.
CALEB
We don't know where they is, Massa!
We done got separated.

EXT. DAWN - FARM
Jane’s family arrive at the Jewett Palmer Station on the
Underground Railroad.
PALMER
Where the hell you been? It's
nearly sunup.
DRIVER
Couldn't find 'em in the fog; we
was late gittin' started.
PALMER
Is this all? I thought there was
three more.
DRIVER
This was all David had with him.

THE RIVER JORDAN

40

The driver climbs down and pulls the canvas off Jane and
her daughters, and Henry, all four of them asleep. Jane
is wide awake and exhausted-looking.
JANE
Wake up y'all, we here.
They awake, first with protests then with fear as they
remember where they are.
EXT. - FARMHOUSE
MRS. PALMER, a middle-aged woman, emerges with a smile
and a wicker basket of food.
MRS. PALMER
You folks look exhausted. I'll
bet you're hungry too, and we
have a place all set up for you.
They enter the...
INT. - BARN
...where a blanket is spread on a layer of fresh straw.
Mrs. Palmer hands Jane the basket with a warm smile.
MRS. PALMER
It's not fancy, but it'll fill
you up.
JANE
Thankee kindly, Mizz.
MRS. PALMER
When you're through eating, Mr.
Palmer will be out t' hide you
'round the farm. You'll have all
day to sleep – looks like you
can use it.

THE RIVER JORDAN

41
JANE
Yes'm. My boys sure can – they
done walk all night.
THORNTON
'Cept for “Mama's shadow” – he
slept with the girls.
HENRY
Did not! Just restin'.
THORNTON
How many more nights we gonna
have to walk like that, Mama?
ALFRED
Lots more, Thornton, best git
used to it.
JANE
Don' rightly know, son.

She looks inquiringly to Mrs. Palmer.
MRS. PALMER
(sympathetically)
It'll probably be about three
weeks before you get to Canada.
HENRY
Three weeks?
No one else says anything, but it's obvious that they're
all disheartened by the information.
EXT. - FARM
Palmer closes the doors to the barn. He and the driver
lead the draft horses to a watering trough.
PALMER
You don't know what happened to
the others?

THE RIVER JORDAN

42
DRIVER
I overheard 'em talking. I think
one of 'em drowned.
PALMER
Nothing about the other two?
DRIVER
I figure they got lost.
HARRIS
Well, if Harris got 'em we'll
know soon enough.

EXT. DAY - WASHINGTON COUNTY COURTHOUSE
To ESTABLISH. Mid-19th Century street scene. Harris's
two slaves watch the bloodhounds and horses tied to a
hitching rail in front of the courthouse.
INT. - COURTHOUSE
Present along with spectators are Harris, Porter,
Pendergast, Hershel and Caleb, SHERIFF JESSE LORING, a
tough-looking, rangy man; David Putnam, Jr.; JUDGE BEN
COTTON, black-robed with intelligent, rather cold eyes;
a Bailiff and Court Recorder.
JUDGE COTTON
Do you wish to represent yourself
in this matter, Mr. Harris?
HARRIS
I do, your Honor.
JUDGE
And you're here in behalf of the
Washington County Anti-Slavery
Society, Mr. Putnam?
PUTNAM
I am, your Honor.

THE RIVER JORDAN

43
JUDGE
Will you please tell the Court
What happened, Sheriff?
SHERIFF
Well, your Honor, Mr. Porter rode
in about seven o'clock this
morning, says two of Mr. Harris's
runaway slaves – here present –
was out at the Pendergast farm. Mr.
Harris wanted to take 'em back
across the river; Mr. Pendergast
objected – claimed Mr. Harris
was trespassing. So Mr. Harris
sent his overseer in to get me.
We returned to the courthouse
with the fugitives.
JUDGE
Is that how you would describe
the incident, Mr. Pendergast?
PENDERGAST
Purt' near, your Honor. Though I
will add that the overseer drew
down on my son with his 10-gauge.

Some spectators speak out, drawing the Judge's stern
gaze.
JUDGE
Do you wish to press charges, Mr.
Pendergast?
PENDERGAST
I reckon not, your Honor.
JUDGE
Do you have papers, Mr. Harris,
documenting your ownership of
these slaves?
HARRIS
(handing them to the Bailiff)
Right here, your Honor.

THE RIVER JORDAN

44

The bailiff glances at the documents and passes them to
the Judge.
JUDGE
Which one of you is Hershel?
HERSHEL
That’s me, your Honor.
JUDGE
And you're Caleb?
CALEB
Yassuh.
JUDGE
(scanning the papers)
Everything seems in order here
for the return of Mr. Harris's
lawful property, under the
Fugitive Slave Act. Do you wish
to address the court in this
matter, Mr. Putnam?
PUTNAM
I certainly do, your Honor. This
odious piece of legislation is no
longer being enforced in a number
of northern states. I propose this
incident as a test case of whether
the free state of Ohio is going to
follow the moral lead of our
brethren states in the Union, or
continue to acquiesce in the
abominable practice of slavery.
JUDGE
That's for the state of Ohio to
decide, Mr. Putnam, not this court.
Under the federal statute, I hereby
issue a warrant for the arrest of
one Hershel and one Caleb – the
legal personal property of Solomon
Harris of Bull Creek, Virginia –
(MORE)

THE RIVER JORDAN

45
JUDGE (CONT’D)
and direct you, Sheriff, to return
the aforesaid slaves to their owner.
(pounding his gavel)
Next case.

There is agitation amongst the spectators...
FEMALE SPECTATOR
It's a moral outrage! A sin
against God!
MALE SPECTATOR
You heard the Judge – it's the
law, lady. Nigger's no different‘n
a man's cattle.
FEMALE SPECTATOR
Well, I....
HER COMPANION
You're a disgrace!
...but little emotion amongst the principals in the
case, all of whom appear to have expected this outcome.
EXT. DAY - JEWETT PALMER FARM
JULIUS DEMMING, an abolitionist farmer, rides in on a
well-lathered horse and is met by Palmer.
DEMMING
They caught two runaways from the
Harris Plantation out at Reno
this morning.
PALMER
What happened?
DEMMING
Judge Cotton turned 'em over to
Harris. Talk is, he'll be comin'
after the rest with a posse.

THE RIVER JORDAN

46
PALMER
Them slavers don't know when to
quit, do they Jul? Give your
horse a rest and come up to the
house for coffee.

Demming dismounts and walks to the house with Palmer. A
HIRED HAND, 20, leads his horse to the watering trough.
INT. - BARN
The wagon driver is sprawled on his back, asleep in the
hay, from which all traces of the fugitives' morning
meal have been removed.
EXT. DAY - PINE GROVE
Jane and Caroline are nearly invisible bedded down
beneath the overhanging boughs of the trees. Caroline is
sound asleep, but Jane stirs restlessly, her sleep
disturbed by a cough.
EXT. DAY - A THICKET
nearby conceals Rachel, Fanny and Henry. Henry’s asleep,
but his sisters lie on their backs, with Fanny nestled
against Rachel.
FANNY
What you spose Canada be like,
Rachel?
RACHEL
Cold for one thing. I hear tell
it snows there all the time in
the winter.
FANNY
Ohh, that be nice.
RACHEL
Nice and cold.

THE RIVER JORDAN

47
FANNY
Mama says we be free in Canada.
RACHEL
That's right.
FANNY
What that like – bein' free?
RACHEL
Means we live like white folks.
Nobody tells us what t' do.
FANNY
We can do anything we wants?
RACHEL
Anything.
FANNY
We can eats meat, an' wear fine
clothes, an' go t' church?
RACHEL
No one say we can't. No one tell
us we got t' work all the time –
who we got t' live with. Can't
sell us t' no one an' take us
from our fam'ly.

There is sadness on Rachel's face, while the look of
wonder on Fanny's as she daydreams next to her sister
says more than words could.
INT. DAY - OUTBUILDING
on the Harris Plantation. With their arms painfully
outstretched, their hands tied to rafters above them,
Hershel and Caleb are being flogged by Jeb Porter, while
Harris shouts questions at them after each blow.
HARRIS
Where'd they go?

THE RIVER JORDAN

48
HERSHEL
Don't know, Massa!
HARRIS
Which way they headed?
CALEB
Please, Massa, don't hit me no
more!
HARRIS
Who took you 'cross the river?

Neither answers the last question. When John enters,
sunlight streams through the open door onto the ravaged
backs of the slaves. He winces.
JOHN
Posse here, Massa, and your horse
is saddled.
HARRIS
That's enough for now!
(to John)
If you can't git any answers out
of 'em, let 'em hang here till I
get back.
He and Porter exit.
JOHN
I have you down soon as they gone.
Then he, too, leaves the...
EXT. - OUTBUILDING
...where a dozen or so riders sit astride their horses.
HARRIS
(to John)
Bring my horse up to the house.
Harris leaves the group for the big-house.

THE RIVER JORDAN

49
PORTER
Ready for some coon huntin',
boys?
VARIOUS RIDERS
Yeah! You damn right! Ready for
some a that re-ward too!

EXT. - BIG HOUSE
Harris is met on the porch by his wife, in whom we can
perceive both pride and (Southern) piety.
EMILY
How long will you be away, Mr.
Harris?
HARRIS
We're takin' provisions for three
days, Emily. But with any luck,
we'll be back tomorrow.
EMILY
I sure hope you find Jane. I don't
see how I can manage without her.
HARRIS
Well, I may let you keep her, but
her whole damn family's gonna
learn the price of ingratitude.
EMILY
Whatever do you mean?
HARRIS
Down the river – ever' last one.
These stupid, lazy niggers have to
learn not t' run off on me, Emily.
I'm tired of chasin' after 'em.
EMILY
Fiddlesticks. There haven't been
that many runaways. Most of them
like it here.

THE RIVER JORDAN

50
HARRIS
They don't have sense enough to –
Jane's kin in particular.
EMILY
If you're talking about her brother
again, Tom had good reason to flee.
HARRIS
He didn't have the right, Emily!
EMILY
No need to raise your voice, Mr.
Harris.

John arrives with Harris's horse.
EMILY
...I trust you'll leave the
drinking and carousing on the
Ohio side to your vigilantes.
Offended, Harris doesn't reply. John holds the highstrung bay stallion while Harris swings gracefully into
the saddle, then touches the brim of his hat.
HARRIS
Good-day, Emily.
(to John)
William's in charge while I'm
gone. See that Mizz Harris is
well taken care of.
JOHN
Yassuh, Massa, I'll see to it.
Harris canters down to the posse. Emily watches with an
expression of respect and affection...then catches John
watching her and goes inside.
THE POSSE
thunders off.

THE RIVER JORDAN

51

INT. - OUTBUILDING
Hershel is still on his feet, but Caleb's legs have
given way; he's hanging by his manacled hands from the
roof beam to which he and Hershel are secured. John
enters and speaks to one of the slaves who accompanied
Harris and Porter across the river earlier.
JOHN
Cut 'em down.
SLAVE #1
But Massa said –
JOHN
I said cut em loose!
When he does the slaves collapse on the dirt floor.
EXT. DAY - PALMER FARM
Palmer and Demming walk to Demming's horse at a hitching
post beside the watering trough.
PALMER
Tell David we're sorry to hear
about the two that got caught.
The eight here seem to be in
pretty good shape.
DEMMING
I'll let 'im know, Jewett.
PALMER
We'll move 'em on to the Markey
Station after dark.
DEMMING
You think Harris'll be out
lookin' for 'em tonight?
PALMER
My guess is, he'll stay in
(MORE)

THE RIVER JORDAN

52
PALMER (CONT’D)
town tonight – let his
posse have some fun first.
DEMMING
Well, if we can just keep the
damn bounty hunters off their
trail...
PALMER
Bounty hunters and some a my
neighbors. A few of them aren't
above kidnapping free Negroes
for the kind of reward Harris
is likely to offer.
DEMMING
(shaking head in disgust)
...Be seein' you, Jewett.

He rides off. Palmer waves and takes his hat off to wipe
sweat from his forehead, then dips his handkerchief in
the trough and wipes the back of his neck with it.
EXT. LATE AFTERNOON - MARIETTA LEVEE
The Posse rides in with a combination of arrogance and
country-boy-in-town anticipation of a night in town.
EXT. - LIVERY STABLE
The riders leave the horses with the OWNER and his SON.
OWNER
You boys be spendin' the night
with us?
HANDSOME RIDER
Only if my Creole honey locks me
out!
RIDER #2
Your honey? Yours and 5,000 other
guys'.

THE RIVER JORDAN

53
HANDSOME RIDER
Not when I'm in town!
OWNER
This all be on you, Mr. Harris?
HARRIS
Long as they don't tear up the
place.
OWNER'S SON
I hear you're after a woman this
time – woman and her seven kids.
HARRIS
That's right. We already caught
two others. One fool nigger
drowned tryin' t' swim across.
OWNER'S SON
He musta wanted his freedom real
bad.
HARRIS
Well you tell the good people of
Marietta I'm offerin' a $450
dollar reward for the return of
the lot of 'em. I figure folks
around here could use that kinda
money real bad too.
OWNER
Four hundred and fifty dollars?
OLDER RIDER
Why git 'em all riled up, Harris?
We'll be bringin' 'em in ourselves
this time t'morrah.
HARRIS
We'd better, if you want a share a
that reward, Mr. Seevers.
(to owner)
(MORE)

THE RIVER JORDAN

54
HARRIS (CONT’D)
Spread the word. I don't care
who finds 'em – long as you bring
'em back healthy.

EXT. LATE AFTERNOON - OHIO STREET
One group of riders, including Jeb Porter, head to...
EXT. - A SALOON
To ESTABLISH.
INT. - SALOON
...full of drinkers and card players, a Piano Player,
Bar Girls. The riders belly up to the bar.
EXT. LATE AFTERNOON - BROTHEL
Another group ogles the...
INSERT - POSTERS
...outside Big May's, which advertise: COME MEET OUR
BEAUTIFUL CREOLES! ALL THE WAY FROM NEW ORLEANS!
BACK TO RIDERS
who enter the...
INT. - BROTHEL
...ruled over by BIG MAY, a white woman who looks like
her name. Several prostitutes in shades of skin color
between white and cocoa, with and without customers.
HANDSOME RIDER
Where's my Orleanna?

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55
BIG MAY
(in a booming voice)
She's with a customer, Darlin',
but she'll be down in a few
minutes. She's missed you.
HANDSOME RIDER
(to his companions)
What'd I tell ya?
(to Big May)
I can wait. She'll be with me
the rest of the night.
BIG MAY
(deep belly laugh)
Long as you got the money, honey!

EXT. DUSK - INN - MONTAGE
Harris sits in front of the hotel and sips from his
flask. On the levee he sees:
A) Large and small stern- and side-wheelers being loaded
and unloaded, by white and free black stevedores and
heavily guarded slaves.
B) Canoes and steamboats moving up and down the Ohio.
C) Smoke from cooking fires even on this hot August day.
D) Riders, pedestrians, wagons and carriages passing by
on wooden sidewalks and in the dusty street.
E) JEB COURSEY, an old black man, shoveling horsedroppings from the street into a wagon pulled by a
team of mules.
F) Townspeople excitedly reading about the escape in The
Marietta Intelligencer. (THIS HISTORICAL ARTICLE
ACTUALLY EXISTS.)
INT. DAY - CAVE

THE RIVER JORDAN

56

Jane's three eldest sons are sprawled on deerskins.
ALFRED
Like t' freeze my ass off in
this damp hole.
AUGUSTUS
You rather be out in the fields,
slappin' black flies?
ALFRED
Rather be workin' out in the sun
than layin' here with this cold
creepin' into my bones.
THORNTON
That's because Jeb Porter don't
mess with you like he do the rest
of us. He half scared a you.
AUGUSTUS
Huh! Scared a Massa Harris more
like it. Alfred ain't about t'
whup Jeb Porter long as he and
that shotgun sharin' the same
horse. But if Jeb Porter be
shootin' Massa's best slave he
gonna have to answer to the man.
ALFRED
Don't have t' whup a man t' keep
him off your back. Work hard and
keep your mouth shut.
AUGUSTUS
You sound like you rather be back
across that river sure enough.
ALFRED
Mama takin' a big risk for you and
me, Augustus. 'Stead a just you and
me goin' down-river, could be the
whole fam'ly now.
THORNTON
Mama say we ain't goin' down-river.

THE RIVER JORDAN

57
AUGUSTUS
That’s right, Thornton – goin’
clean t' Canady. We free now and
gonna stay free!
ALFRED
Sure we is. But you heard what Mizz
Palmer say: three weeks before we
safe in Canady. That’s a long way
before we can start thinkin' about
bein' free and stayin' free. Best
we be worried some is the way I sees
it. We countin' on a whole lotta
people, includin' white folks we
know nothin' about, t' help us
along the way.
AUGUSTUS
They done right by us so far.
ALFRED
I be right relieved – so far.

A noise outside the cave makes all of them jump, then
lie there tensely waiting...but nothing happens.
ALFRED (cont’d)
Even when we gits there – place
we knows nothin' about – how long
folks be helpin' us then? Is hard
work gonna be enough t' care for
Mama and the fam'ly?
AUGUSTUS
You talk like we all just dependin'
on you. When we free, we on our
own – that’s what free means. We all
gonna do our share. Me, I’m gonna
find me a river like the one we done
cross, long as it's goin' somewhere
an' big enough t' float a steamboat
I can work on.
THORNTON
Why you like rivers so much?

THE RIVER JORDAN

58
AUGUSTUS
I done told you, Thornton – ‘cause
it’s always goin' somewhere. Now I
be free t' go along with it. Ain't
nothin' like a river for leavin' your
cares behind. That big paddlewheel
just choppin' ‘em up, choppin' ‘em
up – into little bitty pieces in
all that white water trailin' along
behind. What be your plans?
THORNTON
Ain't got no plans. Just tryin' to
do what y'all an' Mama say.
AUGUSTUS
That's the best thing you can do
right now, Thornton. You lucky you
a kid, you know that? Got purt'
near your whole life t' be free.
ALFRED
This all be just amongst the men of
the fam'ly, you hear? Don' be sayin'
none a this to Mama or Henry.
THORNTON
I won't.

EXT. DUSK - RAVINE
on the Palmer Farm. The hired hand jumps a stream and
climbs up the rocky bank, then kneels at the hidden
entrance to the cave where Jane's sons are hiding.
HIRED HAND
Ready fer some supper?
INT. - CAVE
AUGUSTUS
I been ready since them samwiches
you brung. Seem like yesterday,
but they was good.

THE RIVER JORDAN

59

EXT. - CAVE
HIRED HAND
Bring them skins with you.
INT. - CAVE
THORNTON
We buried our scraps like you said.
Nobody gonna know we was here.
EXT. – CAVE
The brothers crawl out, stand up and stretch.
ALFRED
That fresh air feels good.
AUGUSTUS
Food's what I’m needin', brother
– let's git movin'.
THORNTON
Where's Mama?
HIRED HAND
Boss is gittin' her and your
sisters. Follow me now – no one
puts a better meal in front of a
man than Mizz Palmer. Remember,
quiet as you can.
INT. NIGHT - SALOON
Attended by friendly bar girls, the riders play poker at
a round table in the crowded, smoke-filled room.
EXT. NIGHT - STREET SCENE
Under gas lamps, carousers weave and stumble down the
treacherous wooden sidewalks.

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60

INT. – BROTHEL
ORLEANNA'S gaudily decorated room. A beautiful Creole
woman, she lies in bed with the Handsome Rider, their
shoulders bare above the sheet covering them.
HANDSOME RIDER
Baby, gets better every time I
see you.
ORLEANNA
You should come more often.
HANDSOME RIDER
You're too damned expensive. If
we don't catch them slaves, I'll
be broke till next payday.
ORLEANNA
(her sultry manner cooling)
I wondered if that's why you here.
HANDSOME RIDER
Runaway slaves and you, Baby's,
the only things I come to Ohiah
for. Too many free niggers and
abolitionists over here.
ORLEANNA
Why you wanta be houndin' some
poor old woman and her kids? You
got nothin' better t' do?
HANDSOME RIDER
Sure, Honey, this is a lot better.
ORLEANNA
Better'n chasin' women and children
all over the countryside? That
sounds like a whole lotta fun t' me.
HANDSOME RIDER
What the hell do you care? You
ain't no slave.

THE RIVER JORDAN

61
ORLEANNA
Thank God for that.
HANDSOME RIDER
Well the one we're after is –
goddamn runaway slave. And them
"kids" as you call 'em are grown
men and women, some of 'em. They
belong to Solomon Harris.
ORLEANNA
Hey, Sugar, why you gettin' so
hot an' bothered?
HANDSOME RIDER
You're makin' a big fuss outa
somethin' you know nothin' about.
I sure didn't come here fer that.

Somewhat the same look of incredulous disgust on
Orleanna's face as on Jane's in response to Harris's
remark earlier about John replacing her husband.
INSERT - ORLEANNA'S EYES
don't match her bedroom manner and smile; there's anger
verging on hatred in them. But the Handsome Rider is
oblivious to it.
BACK TO SCENE
...I
Jus'
them
have

ORLEANNA
(suppressing her anger)
know what you come for, Sugar.
teasin' you is all. Get rid a
angry thoughts now, and let's
us some fun.

HANDSOME RIDER
...Yeah. That's more like it.
ORLEANNA
(having to work at it)
We gonna have us a little fun,
you and me.

THE RIVER JORDAN

62

She turns out the light and we...
DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. - WAGON – NIGHT
...with Jane and her daughters. Total darkness beneath
the canvas. The only indication that we've transitioned
from Orleanna's dark room is the SOUND of WAGONWHEELS on
the dirt road. Then a woman's hacking COUGH, and Jane
turns her head. Tears run down her cheeks.
CAROLINE (O.S.)
(sleepily but concerned)
You all right, Mama?
JANE
(hoarsely, wearily)
Just a cough. Go back t' sleep.
Her eyes reveal a bottomless sorrow.
INT. DAY - STABLE (FLASHBACK)
Jane, 20
OVERSEER
stallion
with her

years younger, is dragged by Harris's FORMER
into an empty stall, beside one occupied by a
that becomes wilder throughout Jane’s struggle
attacker, his hand clamped over her mouth.
FORMER OVERSEER
Quit fightin', you black bitch!
You been askin' fer this!

He slams her down in the straw and rips at her clothes.
Finally Jane pulls his hand away and screams for her
brother, TOM, a strong-looking man about 35.
JANE
Tom! Tom!
Tom rushes in with the pitchfork he's been using (straw
or hay still caught in the tines). He advances with it
but, afraid of hurting Jane, throws it aside and lunges
at the overseer, who pushes Jane away to defend himself.

THE RIVER JORDAN

63

The overseer is a wily fighter, but Tom's much the
stronger of the two and is beating him mercilessly,
until the would-be rapist grabs the pitchfork.
Feinting with it but unable to zero in on Tom, dodging
and ducking, he sees his chance when Tom slips in the
loose hay. The overseer rushes him with the pitchfork,
but Tom rolls away at the last moment, and the deadly
tines go through the side of the stall into one of the
stallion's legs. Screaming in pain and rage, the horse
smashes the side of the stall with one ferocious kick –
mangling Jane's leg.
INT. NIGHT - HANNAH'S CABIN (FLASHBACK)
Candles light the small, sparsely-furnished but clean
and orderly cabin. On her knees on the hard earthen
floor, Hannah kneels over Jane, lying on a pallet on the
floor, her broken leg bound up in a crude splint. Jane
sobs uncontrollably.
JANE
But why, Mama? When all he doin's
tryin' t' pull that man offa me?
HANNAH
Jane, Jane – I don't say it's
right, child! Lord knows it
ain't right. It's the way it is.
Tom lucky t' git away.
JANE
Lucky? How he swim all the way
across that river?
HANNAH
You been outen your head, gal. You
keeps sayin' Tom drowned hisself,
and I keeps tellin' you Josephus
done rowed him across. Be on his
way to Canada now, Lord willin'.
You rest yourself now. Tom say he
git word t' we when he safe.

THE RIVER JORDAN

64

Jane's tear-streaked face looking up at her mother...
DISSOLVES TO:
EXT. NIGHT - WAGON
Jane's 20-year-older face, tear-streaked, in the same
position.
INT. EARLY MORNING - RESTAURANT
Harris is finishing his breakfast when his disheveled
and hungover-looking overseer sits down at his table.
HARRIS
They all ready?
PORTER
Some of 'em may fall asleep in
the saddle, but they're ready.
Where we headed?
HARRIS
Place called Middleburg, north
of here. Severance farm.
PORTER
Abolitionist country all right.
HARRIS
Runaways was seen on the Severance
farm a month ago. Ours could be
that far by now.
INT. EARLY MORNING - LIVERY STABLE
Like a scene from Blazing Saddles minus the intestinal
gas. Hungover, surly, ill-kempt, this is not a happy
posse this morning as they eat, or avoid, the hard dry
cornbread Harris has provided for breakfast, while
saddling their horses.
RIDER #2
Is this all?

THE RIVER JORDAN

65
HANDSOME RIDER
I'll bet Harris feeds his hounds
better'n this.
OLDER RIDER
What's wrong, son? Your "honey"
go sour on ya?
RIDER #2
Hell yes, she did. He come
sneakin' in here about three
o'clock this morning.
HANDSOME RIDER
They're all niggers underneath.
OLDER RIDER
Coffee's coffee, I always say –
no matter how much cream you
put in.

EXT. MORNING - OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN
The posse take up the whole dirt street, approached by
Jeb Coursey, collecting horse manure in his wagon.
RIDER #3
Whee-ew! What the hell is that
smell?
RIDER #2
One dark night when the sky
was blue, down the alley the
shit wagon flew!
HARRIS
Get them damn mules outa the way!
Coursey pulls to the side of the road.
PORTER
Goddamn niggers this side a the
river think they can do anything
they please!

THE RIVER JORDAN

66

Coursey waits till they're past, then whips his mules.
EXT. MORNING - DAVID PUTNAM, JR.'S HOUSE
Putnam talks to Coursey on his front porch.
PUTNAM
Thanks, Jeb. We'll alert station
managers to the north that Harris
is on his way.
COURSEY
Sure hope he don't catch 'em.
PUTNAM
He won't, Jeb.
Putnam shakes his hand. Pride on the old man's face.
EXT. DAY - STAFFORD STATION
The Rev. JOSEPH MARKEY stands beside the spotted Indian
pony his son JONAS is on at their farm. Jonas is a goodlooking, deeply tanned young man of 17.
MARKEY
Tell Steel they seem to be in
good shape. The mother's comin'
down with a cold, is all. Then
ride on to the Severance farm
and let 'em know our passengers
should be there tomorrow morning.
He slaps the horse's flank, and Jonas canters out of the
farmyard to the road.
INT. DAY - TOBACCO DRYING SHED
on the Severance farm; the loft has been converted for
temporary use. ROSE and HOWARD NEALE, a fugitive slave
couple in their mid- to late 20s, share the cramped

THE RIVER JORDAN

67

quarters with their newborn daughter, who’s nursing at
the moment. WILHEMINA SEVERANCE, a German immigrant of
generous proportions in her 40s, picks up a tray with
two glasses and a pitcher.
WILHEMINA
You chust rest comfortable now.
Ve be back to check on you.
HOWARD
Thankee kindly, Mizz.
ROSE
Thank you, Ma'am.
HOWARD
No wonder she couldn't wait
till we gets t' Canada – she
too hungry.
ROSE
(after baby-talking daughter)
How long they let us stay?
HOWARD
Long as we needs to, I reckon.
ROSE
Her little face just look so
precious – don't it, Howard?
HOWARD
(caressing wife's face)
She gonna be beautiful as her mama.
EXT. DAY - THE POSSE
are hightailing it up the high road to Middleburg.
EXT. DAY - JONAS MARKEY
trots along on a narrow dirt road through a dense stand

THE RIVER JORDAN

68

of towering virgin hardwood.
EXT. DAY - SEVERANCE FARM
Markey rides in as the family and farmhands are heading
to the house for the noon meal.
FARMHAND
By God, he done it again – just
in time fer dinner!
JONAS
You think this ol' farmboy
can't tell time?
Jonas is greeted good-naturedly by all, met in the...
DINING ROOM
...by Wilhemina.
WILHEMINA
Jonas Markey! Chust in time for
wurst and apfelstrudel. Can I
get you a glass of cider?
JONAS
Thank you, Mizz Severance, that
would be welcome. It's hot out
there this morning.
He returns her hug then greets her daughter MATHILDA, a
shy teenager the spittin' image of her mother. With her
younger sister Gretchen, she’s serving a dozen people
seated at the long table, heavily laden with sweet corn
and fresh vegetables in addition to the German fare.
JONAS
How do, Mathilda.
MATHILDA
(blushing and smiling)
Sit down, Jonas. Gretchen, get
him a plate.

THE RIVER JORDAN

69

Jonas pulls a chair from the table, hangs his hat on the
back, and immediately takes part in the passing of
heaping plates. PHILIP SEVERANCE, a hard lean man with
the sharp eyes of a gun-fighter, is the last to enter
and be seated at the head of the table.
SEVERANCE
Howdy, Jonas. I expect you have
word from your father. We'll
speak of it after dinner.
At this, all bow their heads together.
SEVERANCE
Oh Lord, we thank Thee for the
bounty of Thy love and generosity.
May it give us strength to serve
Thee and do Thy work.
The silence is broken with the clamor of the meal.
EXT. DAY - THE POSSE
at a crossroads, with roads and trails heading off in
several directions. Harris raises his arm, and they all
rein in their horses. He spots...
EXT. - TRAIL SIGN - POV HARRIS
...with the names of towns and arrows pointing in
different directions, lying on the ground.
BACK TO POSSE
PORTER
I don't figure that just fell
over now, do you?
HARRIS
Anyone remember the way to
Middleburg?

THE RIVER JORDAN

70
OLDER RIDER
(pointing)
To the right, Harris. 'Fore long
your memory's gonna be as bad as
mine.
RIDER #2
He's right, Mr. Harris. ‘Bout
the road, I mean.

Harris isn't amused. He spurs his horse, and the posse
gallops up the road to Middleburg.
EXT. DAY - SEVERANCE FARM
Severance and young Markey sit in big wicker rocking
chairs on the wide front porch. Severance smokes a pipe.
A large hunting hound lies on the floor between them.
JONAS
When did the Underground
Railroad get its start, Mr.
Severance? Have you and my
father been in it from the
beginning?
SEVERANCE
Slaves have been runnin' off
ever since there was slavery,
Jonas, and there was always some
that helped 'em. Indians at first,
then other slaves and free blacks.
Folks like us get involved where
there's no black family or
community to hide runaways. Course
the name 'Underground Railroad'
didn't come along till the real
thing did, twenty years ago.
Suddenly the dog growls and stands.
JONAS (cont’d)
What's wrong with Ulysses?

THE RIVER JORDAN

71
SEVERANCE
(standing)
Riders – I expect it's Harris.
Tell Mathilda to warn that young
couple to keep their baby quiet –
and get my 10-gauge from the gun
cabinet.

THE POSSE
Harris reins his stallion into a trot, and the men
behind follow suit.
EXT. - FARMHOUSE - POV POSSE
Severance comes to the front of the porch, the now
ferocious dog at his side. The two make an imposing
presence. Jonas comes out and hands him the shotgun.
EXT. - FARMHOUSE – ANOTHER ANGLE
Mathilda darts out the back door and runs unobserved
toward the drying shed.
POSSE - POV SEVERANCE
stop at the gate of a white picket fence. around the
front lawn. Harris rides up to the gate. In his dusty
but well-tailored black suit, with steel-blue eyes and
the air of one used to being obeyed, he is a commanding
figure himself aside his lathered horse, looking around
at the farm.
HARRIS
...Seen any niggers about?
The tension is interrupted by Wilhemina bursting through
the screen door with a tray of glasses and pitcher.
WILHEMINA
Nein. Can I offer you and your
men some cool cider?

THE RIVER JORDAN

72
HARRIS
(coldly)
No thank you, Ma’am. I'm trackin'
some a my slaves that run off. I
hear you been hidin' runaways.
We'll be takin’ a look around.
SEVERANCE
(cocking the shotgun)
That won't be necessary.

At the sound or motion of the gun's being cocked, the
dog bounds off the porch, runs to the fence and leaps
against the gate, snarling and spooking the horses.
POSSE
The Severances and Markey enjoy a 5-second rodeo until
Harris and his men regain control of their horses.
SEVERANCE - POV POSSE
SEVERANCE
(aiming shotgun at Harris)
I'll say good day to you and
your vigilantes, Mr. Harris.
POSSE
HARRIS
We'll be leavin' for now, but
if I don't find them niggers
by nightfall, I'll be back. And
that goddamned dog'll be the
first thing I shoot!
He wheels his horse around, and the posse gallop back
down the road they just came up.
SEVERANCE
Better go for reinforcements,
Jonas.

THE RIVER JORDAN

73
JONAS
Yes sir, Mr. Severance.
SEVERANCE
Tell your pa he'd better not
move his passengers tonight,
unless it's just to get 'em
away from the house.
JONAS
I'll tell 'im.

He rides away at a gallop, beginning a...
EXT. – DAY - MONTAGE
...reminiscent of Paul Revere's ride. As the boy goes
from farm to farm, the abolitionists he alerts ride off
to enlist the help of others. Some of the homes are in
picturesque little villages.
EXT. DAY - MARKEY FARM
Joseph Markey casually surveys his surroundings and,
seeing no one, enters the...
INT. - DRYING SHED
...and climbs a ladder to the loft, where he quietly
raises a trapdoor and peers inside.
LOFT - POV MARKEY
Jane and her family are sprawled out sound asleep in
loosely-strewn hay all around the loft.
MARKEY - POV FUGITIVES
MARKEY
You folks best be up and about.
INT. - LOFT
Jane's family awaken, reluctantly, or with a start.

THE RIVER JORDAN

74
MARKEY
After supper we’ll scatter you
‘round the farm.
JANE
(hoarsely)
How soon we be on the road?
MARKEY
You're not goin' tonight. Harris
has a posse in the area.

This causes consternation among the runaways.
CAROLINE
I knew we shouldn't a run!
ALFRED
Shut your mouth, Car'line! He
ain't gonna find us.
MARKEY
Not if you'll do as we ask. The
Missus will have supper out in
a few minutes.
He lowers the trapdoor; one after another, family
members descend the ladder to a hidden chamber off the
drying shed. From their actions we surmise it's an
outhouse. Then supper is brought and passed around.
RACHEL
Sure glad we don't have to spend
the night in that damn wagon.
JANE
That wagon's gonna git us t' Canada.
AUGUSTUS
You can always git out an' walk.
CAROLINE
Well, I can't. An' all that
(MORE)

THE RIVER JORDAN

75
CAROLINE (CONT’D)
bouncin' around can't be doin'
my baby no good neither.
HENRY
Better'n growin' up a slave.
CAROLINE
Mind your mouth, Henry!
AUGUSTUS
Henry's right, Car'line!
JANE
Stop this feudin' and fussin'!

She's overcome by a fit of coughing.
ALFRED
Listen to Mama! We never gonna
git to Canady lessen we sticks
together. Sure this hard – hard
on ever'body. Walkin' or ridin'
all night, sleepin' all day, or
tryin' to. Massa Harris after us.
But we done cross the river, and
there ain't no turnin' back now.
Looka here –
(gesturing at food)
we got people helpin' us we don't
even know. Folks takin' a big risk
for we. Least we can do is act like
we grateful. Willin' t' do our part.
Alfred's speech restores temporary peace. His siblings
have the expressions of the justly censured.
EXT. - DUSK TO DARK - MONTAGE
On horseback and in conveyances of the period, some 2030 men converge on the Severance farm. Some are Quakers,
identifiable by their conservative manner and attire.

THE RIVER JORDAN

76

EXT. NIGHT - MARKEY FARM - MONTAGE
A) Jane and her daughters are led by Rev. Markey to a
small damp cave – provoking Jane's bad cough again.
B) Jonas takes her sons to a heavily wooded part of the
farm, where several large trees have fallen to create
a natural stronghold.
EXT. NIGHT - SEVERANCE FARM – MONTAGE
The abolitionists stay up all night, ready for trouble
but enjoying the male camaraderie around a bonfire,
partly for warmth, partly for illumination.
ABOLITIONIST #1
Pretty good turnout. I'd like t'
see Harris and them hired guns a
his take on this bunch.
SEVERANCE
Let's hope it don't come t' that.
ABOLITIONIST #2
Don't look t' me like he's even
gonna show up.
SEVERANCE
Even if he don't he's gonna have
t' figure, with all the men we
got here, that this is where the
passengers are.
ABOLITIONIST #1
How's your corn crop this year,
Severance?
SEVERANCE
Corn crop's good. Gettin' it to
market's the problem.
ABOLITIONIST #2
You mean that boiler explosion on
the Claire E?

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77
SEVERANCE
On the Claire E, the Ohio Belle,
the Pride of Coshocton....If a
body could build a boiler that
wouldn't blow up, he'd make
himself a rich man.
JONAS
You'll never catch me workin' on a
Muskingum River steamboat.

ANOTHER GROUP
includes WILLIAM STEEL, a Scottish immigrant with dark
hair and piercing blue eyes. He's the much respected
head of the abolitionist movement in southern Ohio.
ABOLITIONIST #3
Harris must be losin' his touch,
lettin’ a woman and a bunch a kids
get away from him.
ABOLITIONIST #4
I hope to hell they all get away
someday.
ABOLITIONIST #5
Well, the British have outlawed
slavery in their colonies. Maybe
the South will too.
ABOLITIONIST #4
You're dreamin'! Not when their
whole damn economy's based on
slavery. They'll have to be forced
t' do it.
ABOLITIONIST #6
Who the hell's gonna force 'em?
Slavery's like the plague: you're
never gonna wipe it out. The best
you can do is keep it from
spreadin'.

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78
STEEL
It is a plague – a moral one.
Slavery's near as bad for whites in
the South as it is for slaves. Poor
whites think it's beneath them to
work, and slaveholders become so
corrupted by it – sleeping with their
slaves and then buying and selling
their own children – that it's
undermining their whole society.
ABOLITIONIST #4
Slaveholders will never face that.
Not when all those black babies
they're fathering keep adding to
their net worth.

ANOTHER GROUP
which includes Severance, and which Steel joins later.
ABOLITIONIST #7
It's not just Harris they need t'
worry about. A woman would be
easy pickin's for a bounty
hunter, like that feller Kirby
on Blennerhassett Island. Or
Luther Brandon – I hear he's
been nosin' around.
ABOLITIONIST #8
Hell, it could be anyone. Four
hundred and fifty dollars is more
than some farmers around here make
in a year.
ABOLITIONIST #9
Did you know the land Harris's
plantation is on used to be owned
by George Washington?
ABOLITIONIST #8
Sure, old George was a slaver.

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79
ABOLITIONIST #9
He had slaves – that doesn't make
him a slaver.
ABOLITIONIST #7
Then what the hell does it make
him? Jefferson's another one.
Black descendants livin' right
here in Washington County.
ABOLITIONIST #8
Where does it say there in the
Declaration of Independence, "All
men created equal – unless the
color of their skin’s black"?
ABOLITIONIST #9
Times were different then.
SEVERANCE
Listen, two things that don't
change in the human race are greed
and inhumanity. That's why there's
laws and armies. Slavery's wrong
now and it was wrong then. But
people will be tryin' to enslave
one another, to get somethin' they
want and don't have, till hell
freezes over.
ABOLITIONIST #8
Amen.
There'll
Harris –
and when
stand up

SEVERANCE
always be people like
north and south alike –
no one's willing t'
to 'em, we're finished.

STEEL
The plague's got us.
SEVERANCE
That's right – the plague's got us.

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80

EXT. DAWN - HARRIS'S CAMPSITE
When Harris crawls from his bedroll, Jeb Porter is there
with a cup of steaming coffee. Most of the men are just
now getting up, but two or three are missing.
HARRIS
Where is everybody?
PORTER
Just huntin' us some meat fer
breakfast.
HARRIS
Goddamnit, I said no shootin'!
PORTER
You don't think the niggers is
somewhere nearby do you?
HARRIS
I don't know where they are, but
we sure as hell won't improve our
chances by lettin' 'em know we're
here! Which way did they go?
PORTER
(gesturing vaguely)
Over yonder...
HARRIS
(cursing, dumping his coffee)
Fan out and find those hunters! I
don't want a single shot fired!
EXT. MORNING - RIDGELINE
A Hunter takes aim at a...
SQUIRREL
...high in the boughs of a majestic white oak.
THE HUNTER

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81

squeezes the trigger of his flintlock rifle, and...
THE SQUIRREL
...plummets into a tangle of fallen timber in the bottom
of a draw – not twenty feet from...
HENRY
...who like his brothers has been awakened by the shot.
THE HUNTER
slides down the hillside toward them for his breakfast.
THE BROTHERS
hold an urgent whispered conference.
AUGUSTUS
I can take 'im!
ALFRED
No – there may be others!
HARRIS
appears on the ridge in time to see...
THE HUNTER
...sliding into the tree-strewn ravine after his prey.
THE BROTHERS
HENRY
Massa Harris!
HARRIS

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82
HARRIS
Did you fire that shot?

HUNTER
HUNTER
(stopping his descent)
...Who – me?...T’weren't me. I
heard one though.
HARRIS
HARRIS
Get the hell up here!
THE BROTHERS
anxiously await the outcome.
THE HUNTER
reluctantly leaving his squirrel behind, climbs back up
the heavily wooded slope as...
RIDGELINE
...the rest of the posse gather along the ridge. When
the hunter reaches the top, Harris grabs hold of his
rifle and sniffs the end of its barrel.
HARRIS
You done forfeited your share
of the reward.
He slams the gun back into the man's hands with a
withering look.
HARRIS (cont’d)
If there is one, now that we've
told them we're here.
(loudly to all)
You're bein' paid for just one
thing: to find my slaves and
take 'em back with us!

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83

THE BROTHERS
THORNTON
(mimicking Harris)
You done forfeited your share of
the reward.
AUGUSTUS
You done forfeited your chance to
find these runaways, Massa Harris.
All of them giggle maniacally after their close call.
EXT. DAY - VILLAGE
As the posse ride into Stafford, the village is quiet –
too quiet. Harris eyes each house suspiciously. Passing
the home of William Steel, he sees...
A CURTAIN – POV HARRIS
...move downstairs.
POSSE
HARRIS
We're being watched.
He reins his horse in, dismounts and knocks on the door.
It’s answered by Steel, weary from having been up all
night because of Harris. But you'd never know it.
STEEL
And what may I do for ye, Sir?
HARRIS
(taken aback by the greeting)
I am inquiring if you've seen
some runaway slaves wanderin'
these parts. I'm certain they're
in the area.

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84
STEEL
(affecting amazement)
You surely must be mistaken, Sir.
There are no such people hereabout.
I have never seen such a person.

Aware he’s being mocked, Harris gestures to his posse.
HARRIS
Then you won't mind if we search
your place.
STEEL
Not at all, Sir – but first you
must attend to a small detail.
HARRIS
And what might that be?
STEEL
I must ask you to walk across
the street...
(pointing)
EXT. - FUNERAL HOME
STEEL (cont'd, O.S.)
...to the funeral parlor and make
your final arrangements.
STEEL
STEEL (cont’d)
For when you search my home and
find no slaves here, you'll
require its services.
Harris glances around to see that...
EXT. - OTHER MEN
...well armed, have materialized between buildings on
both sides of the street.
HARRIS

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85

walks to his horse, mounts, and leads his men from town.
EXT. NIGHT - MARKEY FARM
Jonas walks to where Jane's sons hide and hoots softly
like an owl. The brothers appear from the fallen timber.
JONAS
Looks like Harris is headin'
back to Virginia.
ALFRED
He is?
JONAS
That's what our scouts say. So
we're gonna get you on to the
next station.
EXT. NIGHT - MARKEY BARNYARD
When Jonas and the brothers arrive from the woods,
they're met not only by their mother and sisters but the
Neale couple and their newborn as well.
MRS. MARKEY
Boys, I'd like you to meet the
Neales. They'll be traveling with
You – all the way to Canada if
mother and baby are up to it.
ROSE NEALE
Oh we be up to it!
MARKEY
We'll have supper for you
directly, then you have a lot of
miles to cover before daylight.
The fugitives greet one another. Mrs. Markey exits.
JANE
These folks be tellin' us all
about how their master done
treat his slaves.

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86
THORNTON
Where y'all from?
HOWARD NEALE
Plantation in Washington Bottom
Down-river from Parkersburg. We
taken Marster Neale's name. Helped
across the river by a slave woman
name of Aunt Jenny. Y'all hear
tell of Aunt Jenny?
HENRY
Sure! we heard of Aunt Jenny!
AUGUSTUS
Guess every slave along the river
knows about Aunt Jenny. She done
blow her horn for y'all?
ROSE
‘Deed she did.
waitin' for us
outa the boat.
cornfield till

NEALE
Marster Stone be
soon's we was
We hid in his
night.

HOWARD NEALE
That be three...four nights ago.
Just about lost count by now.
HENRY
Bet I knows who done row you
across! Josephus!
HOWARD NEALE
That's the man.

EXT. NIGHT - MARKEY FARM - LATER
The fugitives prepare to leave. Jane, her daughters, Ms.
Neale and her baby are in the wagon. Jonas is driving.
JANE
Thankee kindly – weuns'll never
forget what you done for us.

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87
MRS. MARKEY
We only did what was right, Jane.
MARKEY
We'll pray for you and your family
(to the Neales)
– and for you young folks too.
MRS. MARKEY
Thank the Lord your little one
will never know the burden of
slavery.
HOWARD NEALE
We thank the Lord, and we thank
the Underground Railroad, Mizz
Markey.
MARKEY
God bless all of you.

Jonas nods to Alfred and Augustus, and they pull the
canvas over the women. Then he shakes the reins, and the
big draft horses begin another night's journey.
EXT. NIGHT - WAGON
on the road. Alfred, armed with a pitchfork, and
Augustus, carrying a club, stride in front of the team
of horses. The moon is nearly full. In the distance a
FOX YELPS; WHIPPOORWILLS CALL mournfully to one another;
a nocturnal CHORUS of KATYDIDS, TREE CRICKETS and TREE
FROGS. The horses stop suddenly. Snorting, jerking their
heads, straining against the reins, threatening to bolt.
JONAS
holding the horses with one hand, pulls a single-shot...
INSERT - PISTOL
...from his pocket with the other and places it on the
footrest.

THE RIVER JORDAN

88

BACK TO SCENE
They peer into the dark to see what spooked the horses.
ALFRED
What you think it is, Jonas?
JONAS
(struggling to control horses)
I don't – there it is!
A WOLF OR LARGE DOG - POV FUGITIVES
staggers toward them on the road. A blood-curdling sound
between a GROWL and a GURGLE as if in great pain.
AUGUSTUS
Mad dog!
THORNTON
Maybe a wolf!
THE FUGITIVES
JONAS
Whatever it is, it’s rabid all
right.
ALFRED
Get in the wagon, you two!
Henry and Thornton don't need any coaxing.
JANE (O.S.)
Why we stoppin'?
HENRY AND THORNTON
Mad dog, Mama!
JANE (O.S.)
Mad dog?
ALFRED
It's all right, Mama! Y’all
(MORE)

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89
ALFRED (CONT’D)
stay in the wagon! Augustus, if he
charges, I’ll take him on with my
pitchfork. You know what t' do.
AUGUSTUS
I’ll be ready.

A moment later...
THE DOG
...charges.
ALFRED
meets it squarely with the tines of the pitchfork,
driving them into the suffering beast's neck and chest.
ANOTHER ANGLE
As soon as the drooling, snarling animal is immobilized,
Augustus rushes in with his club and beats it about the
head until its writhing body lies still at last.
ALFRED
That's enough – it's dead now.
The younger boys jump down and stand over the animal.
HENRY
What happen if'n he done bite
one a we?
AUGUSTUS
Then you go mad, just like him.
THORNTON
We have t’ kill Henry?
ALFRED
Best for Henry if'n we do kill
him, if he be mad.

THE RIVER JORDAN

90

HENRY
takes all this in and shudders.
ALFRED
It's all right now, Mama! Augustus
killed it! We ready, Jonas.
Jonas controls the horses, and they set off again.
INT. DAY - PRINT SHOP
A PRINTER – a middle-aged, ink-stained man wearing a
green eyeshade – takes a printed sheet off a printing
press of the period and holds up a copy of a...
INSERT - REWARD POSTER
...for Jane and her children, to show Harris. (THIS
POSTER ACTUALLY EXISTS.)
PRINTER (O.S.)
How's that look, Mr. Harris?
HARRIS
takes the poster from his hand and scans it critically.
HARRIS
...That'll do. I'll take 50 with
me, and I want another 50 put up
all over the county. Can you take
care a that?
PRINTER
Sure can.
HARRIS
Can you put 'em up where they'll
stay up?
PRINTER
Well, I can't hardly guarantee
(MORE)

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91
PRINTER (CONT’D)
that. But I'll try to keep 'em
away from the abolitionists.
HARRIS
I'll give you $40 if anyone
catches my niggers on account of
this poster.
PRINTER
You got yerself a deal, Mr. Harris.

INT. DAY - CELLAR
damp and musty-looking, beneath a barn owned by William
Horton, an abolitionist in Summerfield. Jane's family
and the Neales prepare for sleep. Jane's cough is worse.
RACHEL
This damp cellar be bad for your
cough, Mama.
JANE
We only be here for the day. Then
where Massa Horton say we headed?
HOWARD NEALE
To Guinea, Mizz Jane. Marster
Horton say no bounty hunters come
near Guinea.
CAROLINE
(watching Rose breast-feed)
I'm gonna have a baby.
ROSE
You is? Well good for you, girl!
CAROLINE
My boyfriend and me, we about t'
jump the broom. But he had t' stay
behind, care for his mama.

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92
ROSE
You’ll make it – you got your
fam'ly with you.
CAROLINE
What your baby's name?
ROSE
(smiling at her husband)
We don' know yet – still tryin'
t' think of one.
CAROLINE
What's it like – feedin' an' all?
ROSE
Oh, it's not like I thought it
be. I never felt somethin’ like
this before. I'm glad she not
grow up t' be a slave.

Caroline looks to see whether her mother has overheard.
JANE
Her look is not "I told you so" but a rare glimpse of
unguarded love and determination for the mother-to-be.
INT. DAY - GENERAL STORE
in the village of Carlisle. LUTHER BRANDON, a hulking
pro-slavery opportunist, is talking to the PROPRIETOR at
the counter, while another customer loiters nearby.
PROPRIETOR
There's a substantial reward,
Brandon, that's all I can tell
you. They crossed the river four
days ago, so if they're headin'
to Canada they could be around
here somewheres. I'd try over to
the Hortons' if I was you. You
know they’re nigger lovers.

THE RIVER JORDAN

93
BRANDON
I just might do that, Amos. And
if you're right, there might be a
piece a that reward in it for you.

Brandon winks at the other customer as he walks to the
door.
PROPRIETOR
Uh huh. Tecumseh mighta been a
Quaker too.
BRANDON
(guffawing, over his shoulder)
Shoot, Amos, you ain't a castin'
doubt on my good intentions are ya?
PROPRIETOR
(to customer)
Good intentions and good credit: two
things Luther Brandon wouldn't know
from the ass end of a copperhead.
EXT. DAY - FOREST - MONTAGE
Brandon rides to within a mile of the Horton farm, ties
his horse to a tree with enough slack in the reins for
it to graze, and hikes through the woods to a knoll
overlooking Horton's house and outbuildings. Sitting on
the ground, he takes out his pocket knife and begins to
whittle, keeping his eyes on the farm.
DISSOLVE TO:
INSERT - WHITTLED FIGURE
tells us Horton's been here a while, when he spots...
ROSE NEALE WITH HER BABY
...walk from the barn to the house and disappear inside.
BRANDON

THE RIVER JORDAN

94

Stands up.
BRANDON
Damned if I don't have half a
mind to give you a taste of that
reward after all, Amos!...Uh huh,
and that's how they got here.
FARM
Jonas Markey emerges from behind the barn in the wagon.
EXT. FOREST – DAY
Right after he leaves the Horton farm, Jonas hears a
HORSE'S WHINNY and spots...
BRANDON'S HORSE
...tethered well off the road in the woods.
JONAS
gets out to investigate and, recognizing the horse from
the initials J.B. on the saddle...
JONAS
(to himself)
...Luther Brandon!
...realizes at once why it is here. He removes the
saddle and bridle and turns the horse loose. It
immediately heads off toward Carlisle and home.
EXT. DUSK (EARLY) - THE ROAD
Brandon, his saddle and bridle thrown over his shoulder,
is limping home.
EXT. DUSK (LATE) - THE FERRY
in Williamstown, VA. As the posse disembarks, Harris
rides over to a mounted man waiting for him. The rider,

THE RIVER JORDAN

95

KIRBY, is a notorious bounty hunter from Blennerhassett
Island, in the Ohio River south of Marietta. We know
nothing of the man other than what we can read in his
face, whose expression is as cold as an executioner's.
EXT. NIGHT - HORTON FARM
The fugitives and another wagon set out on the night's
journey, beginning a...
INT./EXT. - DAY/NIGHT - MONTAGE
...which summarizes the next few days of their journey.
A) Arrival in Guinea, a community of free blacks. After
the fugitives have been hidden in a barn, a few
residents stop by to chat.
MALE RESIDENT #1
How do, folks. Welcome to Guinea.
ALFRED
Thank you, brother. We sure
enough glad t' be here.
MALE RESIDENT #2
You done passed the hard part. No
one catch you in Guinea. Nothin'
but free blacks here.
FEMALE RESIDENT
How you keep that baby quiet?
HOWARD NEALE
Laudanum – but we only had to
give it to her but once so far.
ROSE NEALE
(rocking baby in arms)
She been a li'l angel.

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96
THORNTON
There be any more bounty hunters
after us?
HENRY
Shoot, Thornton, what you worried
'bout. Alfred and Augustus take
care of anyone try to stop us now.
They put anyone try t' keep us
from Canady in the ground.
MALE RESIDENT #1
Don't say that, youngun! You be
safe in Canada if all you is is
a slave done run away. But if'n
you commits a crime they can
take you back.
MALE RESIDENT #2
Say nothin' of killin' a white man.
MALE RESIDENT #1
You be safe enough now you gotten
this far. The fuhther north you
get, the safer you be. Just be
mindin' what your conductors tells
you. You be seein' that blue
water sure enough.

B) Rain from Guinea to Barnesville, an Ohio community
founded by Quakers. The two big draft horses have to
struggle at times on the muddy road. The road's ruts
have liquefied to a soup of clay that sucks at their
hooves and the wheels of the wagon. At the foot of
Mt. Ephriam, the last big hill they'll have to climb,
Jane and her daughters get out and climb beside the
wagon. Even Aaron, their conductor, drives the horses
up the steep winding grade from the ground. Trees and
underbrush continually force the travelers back into
muck which in some places is halfway to the knees of
the smaller children. Alfred and Augustus have to
pull them out. Jane's cough is almost continual now.
C) After spending the day in a hayloft, the fugitives
travel by night to Freeport, in Harrison County.
Hidden in a small barn close to the woods, they see

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97

field hands harvesting sorghum and smell its sweet
juice from the boiling-sheds.
FANNY
(having just awakened)
What's that sweet smell, Mama?
JANE
Sorghum. They bilin' it in the
sheds over yonder.
HENRY
I sure would like some, Mama. You
reckon weuns could get us some?
ALFRED
Not on your life, boy. This ain't
Guinea.
AUGUSTUS
They like t' throw you in that
kettle before they feed a runaway
slave.
CAROLINE
Smell makin' me sick. Don't know
how much longer I can stand it.
JANE
You can stand it, girl. Lay up
close t' the barn side, put that
smell in place of it.
D) The fugitives travel that night, on foot and by wagon
with a false bottom beneath a load of hay, to Dover,
where they're put up over a store in the middle of
town. None of the younger children can sleep the next
day, sitting at windows to watch the goings-on of a
busy northern town from behind muslin curtains.
E) Next night they travel along the towpath beside the
Ohio and Erie Canal. When they pass barges tied up
for the night, the men give them a wide berth.
F) Near daybreak they arrive at a feed and grain mill
near Massillon. While the miller helps the women from

THE RIVER JORDAN

98

the wagon, his son diverts water from the millrace
above the waterwheel. Beneath the wheel, where the
falling water had concealed it, is the entrance to a
subterranean room, secure but with wet walls. Alfred
drapes his shirt over his mother's shoulders.
ALFRED
Wear this, Mama. Feel like it
be fixin' t' rain in here.
When the fugitives are inside the hidden chamber, the
stream is released over the millwheel. After the
miller's wife gives them breakfast and clean dry feed
sacks to ward off the dampness and chill, the
waterwheel lulls everyone but Jane and Rachel to
sleep.
RACHEL
You need your sleep, Mama. Why
you look so worried?
JANE
This all been too easy. How
slavery last so long if it be
this easy to excape?
G) That night the fugitives are taken by a free black
conductor to a farmhouse on the outskirts of Akron,
where they're put up for the day in the concealed
half of a double basement. The dirt-walled room is
sealed off by planks from a fruit cellar visited by
neighbors during the day, prompting anxiety in the
runaways. Jane's cough has become worse, often
accompanied by a fever and shivering spells.
Alfred fidgets and paces, then sits off by himself
with a tormented expression. His brothers and sisters
are rebuffed when they try to learn what's troubling
him. Jane and the rest of his siblings have fallen
asleep when Augustus sits down beside him.
ALFRED
Been thinkin' on our daddy. Funny,
but I ain't thought a that man...
don't know how long it's been.

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99
AUGUSTUS
(avoiding eye contact)
That right?
ALFRED
Feel shamed of myself, Augustus.
Somehow all these years I been
holdin' it ag'in our daddy that
he let hisself get sent down
river an' leave us all behind.
Like that make him less of a man.
Like it be shameful on his part.

Augustus says nothing though his eyes widen at
Alfred's confession.
ALFRED (cont'd)
I thought the world of that man.
But somehow I clean forgot about
all the good things. Just put him
outa my mind – like he never even
live almost.
Augustus gazes straight ahead without looking at
his brother.
ALFRED (cont'd)
How could a son do that, Augustus?
Course Mama never done talk about
him. You and me never did. I used
t' ride around on Pappy's shoulders
before you even born. World sure
look good from up there.I didn't
know nothin' about slavery. Just
know he the biggest, strongest man
on the place. Mama the softest. Not
like now. Not like she been since
seem like forever. Back then, two of
'em like a roof over my head. Then t'
see Pappy go up into that boat. I
didn't know what t' think. 'Cept he
musta done somethin' wrong an' got
whupped for it and sent away. And I
just...after that I just put him outa
my mind. I thought Mama did too.

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100

The brothers finally look each other in the eye.
Augustus nods, expressionless.
EXT. PREDAWN - OBERLIN
To ESTABLISH. A wagon rolls through dirt streets lined
with neat white houses with gardens and picket fences.
EXT. PREDAWN - HOUSE
The fugitives arrive at the clapboard house of ESTHER
WATTLES and her three teen-aged daughters: MABEL, 18;
ALICE, 16; and ELIZA, 12. They climb out of the crowded
wagon and are hurried into the house and up the stairs
to a large airy room.
MRS. WATTLES
You folks rest easy now. The
boat will be here for you
tonight. You'll be in Canada
before morning.
HENRY
This boat come just for weuns?
MABEL
No, bless your heart. It will be
carrying cargo too.
THORNTON
Glad this won't be just another
skiff like the last time. River
wanted in that boat somethin’
fierce. Had t' bail water the
whole time.
HENRY
Ain't never been on no steamship
before!
ALICE
You'll be on a steamship all
right, but where you'll board
we won't know till tonight.

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101
AUGUSTUS
What you mean, Missus?
MABEL
We often don't know till just
a few hours before you leave
which steamship you'll be on.
And that determines what port
you'll be taken to. The closest
is Lorain, just north of here.
ALICE
Cleveland’s to the east. There's
even a lighthouse there now.
ELIZA
Mama says more than 10,000
people live in Cleveland!

INT. DAY - HOUSE
The tension of getting through one last day before a
lifetime of freedom. It's not quite dark when the sound
of a wagon brings everyone to attention.
MRS. WATTLES
That can't be Robins Burrell
Already. It's not even dark yet!
MABEL
It must be, Mama. We'd best
hurry and get ‘em ready.
MRS. WATTLES
See who it is, Eliza
Eliza opens the door...
EXT. - HOUSE
...and runs out to greet a wagon as it draws up in
front. A short heavy-set man holds the reins. A saddled
riderless horse is tethered to the back.

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102
DRIVER
(seeing her confusion)
Burrell couldn't make it, Miss.
Where are the passengers? The
boat's early and the captain
says he won't wait.
ELIZA
Which ship is it, Sir?
DRIVER
Well, it's the uh, it's the
Bay City. Hurry up, get them
passengers out here!

The flustered girl runs back to the house.
INT. - HOUSE
ELIZA
The Bay City's in, Mama, and
the captain won't wait!
Her sisters lead the family out to the...
EXT. - WAGON
As Jane and her daughters hurry toward the back to climb
in, Mrs. Wattles exclaims:
MRS. WATTLES
Why, where's Mr. Burrell?
DRIVER
Couldn't come, Ma'am. He sent
me in his place. Now hurry an’
git them folks in the wagon!
MRS. WATTLES
But, but who are you, Sir?
Suddenly the heavy tarpaulin over the wagon is pulled
aside. Kirby, kneeling beneath the canvas, stands up in
the back of the wagon, holding a shotgun.

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103
KIRBY
Don't no one make a move!

At this, the driver jumps down from the wagon and levels
a rifle at the stunned group of people on the ground.
DRIVER
I got the mammy covered!
KIRBY
(climbing down)
Git in the wagon! Alla you!
JANE
(to her two eldest)
Best do as he says. Don't do
nothin' foolish. Help me up,
Alfred.
He hesitates a moment, his eyes burning with hatred into
the hard eyes of the bounty hunter.
KIRBY
We can take out you and your
brother, boy – with a barrel
left over for your mammy. Harris
wants her dead or alive.
Jane reaches for the wagon to pull herself aboard before
Alfred walks over to make a step for her with his hands.
KIRBY
That's right smart of you. The
rest of you go with her. We're
gonna take us a little trip to
Cleveland tonight. Magistrate's
expectin' us.
Augustus catches Alfred's eye as their sisters, Jane and
the Neales climb into the wagon. A look saying they're
not going to be stopped this close to their goal.
KIRBY
You're gonna have t' git closer
together than that! Everyone's
(MORE)

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104
KIRBY (CONT’D)
goin' in this wagon, if you have
to lay on top of each other.

Kirby unties the trailing horse from the wagon and
climbs into its saddle.
KIRBY
(to the driver)
Let's go! Git them hosses movin'!
The wagon starts off, the captives trying to make room
for one another in the crowded bed.
KIRBY
(riding behind the wagon)
I don't want a sound outa no one!
Like your mammy said, don't try
nothin' stupid cuz it'll git
someone kilt. Slavery's a helluva
lot better'n bein' dead ain't it?
Alfred finds Augustus's wrist in the tangle of bodies
and squeezes it. Ready, Brother, is the response he
reads in his brother's face.
EXT. NIGHT - BARN
A man slides open the large door for horses, wagons and
carriages to reveal...
INT. - BARN
...another man lying bound and gagged on the floor.
MAN
(removing gag)
What happened Burrell?
BURRELL
I don't know who they were but
they're after the runaways!
EXT. NIGHT - COUNTRYSIDE – MONTAGE
Fugitives and bounty hunters as night passes on the dirt

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105

road. They hear the SOUND of WATER FLOWING in a stream.
Alfred squeezes Augustus's muscular forearm and receives
an immediate response as they lock eyes.
DRIVER
Stream up ahead!
KIRBY
I hear it!
He reins his horse left of the wagon and passes
alongside, lowering the shotgun threateningly.
KIRBY
Just give me an excuse.
Alfred waits a moment before obliging. When Kirby
reaches the front of the wagon Alfred lunges across the
other passengers and vaults over the side behind the
horse and rider. Augustus doesn't have to think, only to
react. Kirby wastes a barrel on Alfred while Augustus
shoves the driver from his seat. He falls between the
wagon and horses as Augustus snatches up his rifle and
takes aim at Kirby. Realizing his mistake, Kirby swings
around with the shotgun to find himself dead to rights
...and drops the gun.
ALFRED
Don't shoot!
(to Kirby)
Get off the horse!
AUGUSTUS
I'm smarter than that, brother.
Kirby dismounts.
ALFRED
(to Howard Neale, in wagon)
See if he has a pistol!
KIRBY
No nigger's touchin' me!
Alfred slams the barrel of the shotgun he’s just picked
up against the side of Kirby's head, dropping him to his
knees.

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106
ALFRED
Just give me an excuse.

Spitting blood, Kirby glares at his adversary. Howard
Neale finds both a hidden pistol and a derringer.
EXT. NIGHT - WAGON
The bounty hunters walk in front of the wagon, with
Alfred driving. Augustus and Howard Neale on either
side, with shotgun and rifle. Hoofbeats announce the
arrival of Robins Burrell and half a dozen Lorain County
abolitionists.
BURRELL
Doesn't look like we were
needed, boys!
AUGUSTUS
Oh, you needed all right! We
don't know the way t' Canady!
HOWARD NEALE
And we sure don't know what to do
with this riffraff!
EXT. DAWN - LAKE ERIE
The fugitives are met at a jetty by JOSIAH HENSON, a
black man in his 60s and founder of Dawn, the selfsupporting black community where the families are
headed. The side-wheeler to take them across the lake
TOOTS a greeting.
HENSON
Welcome, travelers! You at the
end of yo long journey.
Coming out from under the
women are too overwhelmed
front of them to speak at
herself away to introduce

canvas, Jane and the other
by the sparkling blue lake in
first. Finally, Jane tears
her fellow passengers.

JANE
My name's Jane, Mister Henson,
and this be my fam’ly: Alfred
(MORE)

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107
JANE (CONT’D)
...Caroline...Rachel...Augustus
...Thornton...Henry...and Fanny.
HENSON
You have a beautiful family, Jane.
JANE
Thankee, Mr. Henson. This be Rose
and Howard Neale. Their child’s
named Freedom, cause she born on
the freedom trail.
HENSON
Good, Good! Just cross Lake Erie
y'all gonna be free, sure enough.
Git on board now, before some
bounty hunter come along and take
you-uns back. You'll see all a that
lake you want from the boat.

Alfred and Augustus each take one of Jane's arms and
help her up the gangplank.
EXT. - PILOTHOUSE
(SCOTTISH) CAPTAIN
(calling from window)
Welcome ye free souls! Ye be
on your way home now!
The gangplank is raised, mooring lines are cast off, the
side-wheel slices through the lake’s surface. As the
boat swings around into open water and a breeze washes
against her face...
JANE
...breathes a deep sigh, feeling the tears come. Her
knees buckle but Alfred catches her.
ALFRED
You all right, Mama?

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108
JANE
Tired, is all. Just help me
over there where I can rest.

Alfred and Augustus help her to a deck chair, and she
sinks into it, looks out over the...
BLUE WATER
The SOUND of THUNDER & RAIN (which makes no sense on
this bright day).
JANE
...and closes her eyes.
INT. NIGHT - HANNAH'S CABIN (FLASHBACK)
Hannah lies on a pallet on the floor, her wasted face
lit by a flickering candle. It's raining and...
RAIN
...is leaking through the roof in a number of places.
There is no emotion in...
HANNAH'S FACE
...only exhaustion; eyes weakly gaze into those of...
JANE
...kneeling on the dirt floor beside her mother, sobbing
quietly.
INT. - HANNAH’S CABIN - (FLASHBACK)
The wretchedness of Hannah's existence and passing – the
sparsely-furnished rickety cabin, the dirt floor, the
rain coming through everywhere – is readily apparent.
JANE
They done use you all up, Mama.

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109

HANNAH
JANE (cont’d, O.S.)
Did'nt leave nothin....Sucked you
dry, like some evil spider. They
done taken your life, Mama! What
right they have...what right?
Though Hannah's face is expressionless from fatigue, her
wet eyes seem to be in agreement with Jane's words. She
tries to speak but other than a faint quivering of her
lips, the effort is too great. Suddenly Jane utters a
loud mournful WAIL of intense anguish O.S. which...
EXT. - STEAMBOAT - JANE
...carries over to the steamboat, where her wail is ON
CAMERA.
JANE'S CHILDREN
crowd around her, but she waves them away weakly; she
wants to be left alone. Troubled, the children withdraw
to leave her crying silently.
INT. - PILOTHOUSE
Observing, the Captain calls to the children.
CAPTAIN
Who'd like to come help me pilot
this boat to Canada?
DECK - EXT.
The children look at one another quizzically.
RACHEL
Go on – Car'line and I keep an
eye on Mama.
The boys and Fanny eagerly climb to the pilothouse.

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110

INT. - PILOTHOUSE
CAPTAIN
Come on in. This may be your only
chance to pilot a steamboat.
(to Thornton)
Here, young feller, take the wheel.
That's right, just keep us headed
straight across the lake. Here’s
how I communicate with the engine
room.
(demonstrating)
Now then, see that man down there
talking to your mother?
HENSON ON DECK
CAPTAIN (O.S.)
That's Josiah Henson. He's helped
more than a hundred people like
yourselves escape from slavery.
PILOTHOUSE
CAPTAIN
A good many of 'em crossed the
lake on this very boat and stood
right here where you're standin'.
HENRY
Right here where I standin'?
CAPTAIN
The very spot, sonny. He was a
loyal slave tricked out of his
freedom by a dishonest owner.
Ran away like you folks and
started the Dawn settlement,
where you're headed now.
HENRY
What this "Dawn" be like?
EXT. DAY – DAWN COMMUNITY
A raw-looking community of escaped slaves living in
rough-hewn cabins, several under construction.

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111
CAPTAIN (V.O.)
It's a place where you and your
family can stay long enough to
find work and get an education.
Then move on, or buy your own
land if you want to.

As the fugitives arrive by wagon, a bell like those used
on plantations to summon slaves to work begins to ring.
The wagon is surrounded by Dawn residents, and Jane's
family and the Neales are joyously greeted.
ELDERLY WOMAN
Welcome to Dawn, sistah! We all
been hearin' 'bout yo excape for
purt near two weeks now.
YOUNGER MAN
Never heard of no woman and seven
chirren makin' it to Canada before.
ALFRED
(supporting his mother)
Mama, she got gumption all right.
AUGUSTUS
She the mama and the man in this
fam'ly!
JANE
(weakly)
Thank you, thank you – we just so
happy t' fin'ly be here. We could
never done it without the help of
so many fine people.
JOSIAH HENSON
We gonna take you to your very own
cabin now.
(to the Neales)
And y’all gonna share a nice big
new cabin with these fine folks
from Kentucky.

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112
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN
How do, Rose – my name Florence
and this here my husband Medford.
ROSE
How do, Ma'am. This be my husband
Howard –
MEDFORD
And that be Freedom! Done heard all
about her.

Florence and Medford lead the Neales away. Josiah takes
Jane and her family to their modest cabin.
INT. - CABIN
CAROLINE
Don't see no chinks in these walls.
ALFRED
Looks real solid-built all right.
HENSON
Cabins have to be built good up
here. Ol' man winter be somethin’
fierce when he gits the notion.
FANNY
Do it snow all the time?
HENSON
Not all the time, honey – just
seems that way.
INT./EXT. DAY/NIGHT - DAWN COMMUNITY - MONTAGE
Over several weeks, growing colder and more wintry.
A) Jane and her daughters fix up their cabin, with
Jane, despite her daughters' protests, trying to do
too much and ending up in bed. Once the cabin is
organized and tidy, Caroline and Rachel get to know
their neighbors and help out where they're needed.

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113

B) Alfred, Augustus and Thornton are kept busy cutting
firewood and delivering wood and coal to residents
and new arrivals.
C) Henry tags along after Josiah Henson, in his duties
as Dawn's Mr. Everything: greeting new arrivals and
assigning cabins and tasks; accepting donations of
food and clothing from church groups and distributing
them in the community; meeting with local Canadians
looking for domestic help and farm labor; leading
services on Sunday.
D) And there's still time for socializing and fun.
INT. NIGHT - DANCE HALL
A big open room where Dawn's residents are checking one
another out, in their most colorful attire. Josiah
addresses them from the front of the room.
HENSON
Good t' see so many happy faces
here tonight! Before we commences
with the fiddlin', some folks wants
to talk to you about goin’ back to
Africa.
He gestures for them to come forward, allowing us to see
the varied reactions to this announcement among...
THE AUDIENCE
...as two MEMBERS of the American Colonization Society –
white men who come across as a little too earnest or
glib – walk to the front of the room.
ACS MEMBER #1
Good evening!
(lackluster response)
ACS MEMBER #2
Gettin' cold out there!

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114
ACS MEMBER #1
Li-ber-i-a! Liberty! A new nation,
just 20 years old, for newly free
people. Think of it: a homeland
for freed slaves. The American
Colonization Society will give
you freedom papers and pay your
passage to West Africa if you
want to go.
BURLY MAN
This my homeland! What I know
about Africa? My fam'ly been gone
from Africa for 200 years.
ACS MEMBER #2
But isn't that where your roots
are? Understand, we're not
asking you to go. We're giving
you the opportunity.
BUXOM WOMAN
All I hear is two white men
tellin' me that now I fin'ly
free, I gots t' go back where
my ancestors dragged from their
homes and loved ones all those
years ago. Like all this be for
nothin'.
ANOTHER WOMAN
Amen, Sister!

A third person, a wiry black male, steps forward.
WIRY MAN
Hold on, brothers an' sisters! They
not sayin' we has t' leave. They
gonna pay our way if'n we wants to.
ACS MEMBER #2
And give you land and seed when
you get there too!

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115
BURLY MAN
Let's get on with the dancin'!
HENSON
Good idee! These folks be here
if'n you wants t' hear more. The
resta you put on dancin' shoes.

ROUND DANCE - MONTAGE
The meeting over, Augustus and Thornton with fiddles
join a percussionist and pianist in front and the ROUND
DANCING begins. The more rambunctious males break out
with partners to dance an Africanized version of the
Irish jig. To Jane's satisfaction all four of her elder
children find attractive partners. Augustus gives up his
fiddle to dance with the pretty young woman who's been
eying him. Although Jane's too sick to be here, she
wouldn't have missed it for anything. At some point, the
following exchange, while dancing, between Alfred and
RUTH, the young woman he ends up with:
ALFRED
You sure has pretty eyes, missy.
How long you been in Dawn?
RUTH
Long enough t' see you 'round
the place.
ALFRED
(pleased)
What’s your name?
RUTH
Ruth – like the Bible.
ALFRED
Not too familiar with the Good
Book myself. Couldn't let on
weuns could read. Don’t you want
t’ know my name?

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116
RUTH
Oh, I knows your name, Alfred.

He grins. Later, in a group listening to the ACS members
describing Liberia, Rachel finds herself beside the
young man who spoke up for them earlier.
ACS MEMBER #1
...It's a beautiful country –
just north of the equator.
Rivers, thick rain forests...
RACHEL
Good of you t' speak up.
WIRY MAN
They just tryin' t' be helpful.
No call t' treat 'em like they
foxes nosin' round the henhouse.
My name Beverly Wilson.
RACHEL
(laughing)
Beverly? That’s a girl's name!
WIRY MAN
Be glad t' show you that ain't
so.
RACHEL
I bets you would. Can you dance
sassy as you talk?
WIRY YOUNG MAN
(an "after you" gesture)
You tell me.
JANE
Augustus introduces the young woman who's been eying
him. Jane sits bundled up in a chair.
AUGUSTUS
Mama, this here Annie May.

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117
JANE
How do. Take someone special t’
git Augustus away from his fiddle.
Didn't have much time t' play
where weuns come from.
ANNIE MAY
He do play good, don't he. Nice
meetin' you, Ma'am.

CAROLINE
who is showing by now, also gains attention. A man about
Alfred's age sidles over next to her and, though he
smiles warmly, gives her swollen belly a covert glance.
CAROLINE
Don't have t' pretend you don't
notice.
MAN
Huh? Well, I – notice what,
sister?
CAROLINE
I can still dance, you know.
MAN
Well then, let's git to it.
CAROLINE
I hopes you can dance better'n
you lies.
JANE
has to be helped home early by Alfred and Augustus.
ALFRED
Le's git you home t' bed, Mama.
JANE
Hate t' take you away from them
gals a yours.

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118
AUGUSTUS
They can wait, Mama. We want you
t' git back on your feet again.

She gives each of her sons a loving look as they lift
her tenderly from the chair.
FADE OUT...
FADE IN:
INT. NIGHT - JANE'S CABIN
Fanny answers a knock on the door, to find Josiah and
CHARLOTTE HENSON standing there covered with snow.
FANNY
It snowin’!
She dashes outside without a coat. Breaking into her
cough with the cold air, Jane invites the couple in.
JANE
Come in, come in! Henry, put
some chairs by the fire. Fanny,
get in here and close that door!
Several of Jane's children are reading by fire- or
candlelight as the Hensons are seated.
HENSON
Sure good t' see your chirren
readin' like that.
JANE
Good they has books an' be
allowed t' read 'em.
CHARLOTTE
How they learn t' read, Jane?
JANE
Same way I learn – from Mizz
Harris when she reads t' her
chirren. When mine was young,
(MORE)

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119
JANE (CONT’D)
I have 'em with me up at the big
house and they learn what they
can.
HENSON
How you folks doin', now you been
here a while?
JANE
Weuns mighty fine. Wishin' t'
thankee for this here fine cabin.
HENSON
No call for that. Weuns come here,
we had nothin' a'tall. Want you
t’ be as comfortable as possible.
JANE
We be comfortable, that’s for
sure.

Her answer is cut short by another hacking cough,
prompting Josiah's frown of concern.
HENSON
We hear tell there’s a hard
winter comin', so I’d like if your
boys could come with us to New
Market in the mornin’ for supplies.
AUGUSTUS
Sure, we can go!
JANE
We grateful t' be of help.
CHARLOTTE
Gratitude be ours, Jane.
HENSON
Another thing: we want t' get
your younguns into school soon
as y'all settled in.

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120
JANE
Yassuh, be good they learn. They
wants to bad enough.
HENRY
I’s gonna be like you someday,
Josiah, an' help folks excape
from slavery like weuns did.

Josiah chuckles, pulling Henry – all but sitting in his
lap since the Hensons sat down – onto his knee.
HENSON
I specks you will, Henry. I
specks you will. Well, we don't
want t’ keep you folks up.
(rising with his wife)
Take care a that cough, Jane.
CHARLOTTE
Make sure your mama get her rest.
CAROLINE
We will, Mizz Henson.
RACHEL
We try. Hard t' keep Mama away
from her work.
JOSIAH
I know – sometime rest more
important. Remember, you free
now!
JANE
Hard t' git holt a that notion
sometime.
Nodding agreement, the Hensons leave. Having accompanied
them to the door, Jane, well bundled up, stands in the
open door for just a moment watching the...
SNOW
...covering everything in a thick white blanket.

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121

JANE
Her expression tells us she's experiencing an epiphany
of some kind. Her face relaxes into a look of calm
acceptance and fulfillment. She closes the door.
INT. NIGHT - CABIN
The family gets ready for bed, putting more wood on the
fire, blowing out all the candles but the one next to
Jane and the girls' pallet on a layer of straw on the
cabin's wood floor. Jane tucks in beside her daughters
under a pile of warm blankets and lies there a moment
before blowing out the...
CANDLE
...in SLOW MOTION. The flame struggles to stay lit but
finally succumbs. The SOUND of Jane's breath is
AMPLIFIED and SEGUES into the HOWL of the WIND. All is
dark for a moment, then...
EXT. - HANNAH
...as she appeared in Jane's vision, the night of their
escape, appears in gradually increasing light and into
sharper focus. But Hannah isn't moving; it is we who are
moving in SLOW MOTION – toward Hannah and her jubilant
smile and outstretched arms – in a paradisiacal setting.
As we draw nearer the light around her increases in
radiance.
WHITE OUT...
WHITE IN:
END CREDIT SEQUENCE
[At the director’s discretion, the following scenes may
be interspersed among END CREDITS. Alternatively, the
biographical information can be given as SUPERED TEXT or
in VOICE OVER, or eliminated altogether.]

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122

CAROLINE (V.O., ECHOING)
Oh, Mama...it's been such a long,
long time...
EXT. DAY - GRAVESTONE
CAROLINE (V.O., cont'd)
...and I still miss you. She’s
buried in a real cemetery in Dawn,
not like on the plantation – but I
guess you’re never ready to lose a
mama like mine.
INT. DAY - LIVING ROOM, ca 1880
Speaking to the CAMERA, Caroline sits on a couch with
her beautiful 27-year-old daughter, Jane. Caroline's
husband, a little older than she, sits in an armchair
gazing fondly at his wife and step-daughter.
CAROLINE
I named my baby girl Jane. Waited
around Dawn for James to show up,
knowing he ain't goin’ to, but for my
first born's sake – before a freeman
named Harry Pope came to Dawn looking
for his family.
(smiling at her husband)
He was about the best thing this
sojourner had ever seen. Since the
war between the states we been
livin’ here in Cleveland. Fanny too.
DISSOLVE TO:
INT. DAY - HOUSE
Fanny, 37, sews contentedly beside a window.
CAROLINE (V.O.)
Fanny lives just down the street.
Makin' a good living for herself
– doing what she wants to do.
DISSOLVE TO:

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123

EXT. DAY - RACETRACK
Alfred as a man in his late 40s, working a horse. A
younger outdoorsy-looking white woman with long red hair
drives up in a smart one-horse carriage to watch.
CAROLINE (V.O.)
Alfred lives in Toronto where he met
an Irish gal name of Eleanora and
married her. He trains horses for
folks, so good at it he has horses
and a stable all his own now.
DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. DAY - SEASHORE
A black family enjoys the water on a pristine beach,
1860 or so, in Liberia.
CAROLINE (V.O.)
Rachel married Beverly Wilson,
the man who stood up for the
folks full of news about Liberia.
She moved there with him too,
none of us have seen her since.
But she writes she likes it fine
and has a fam’ly now big as mine.
DISSOLVE TO:
INT. DAY - COLLEGE CLASSROOM
Augustus and Thornton, not much older than during
their escape, listen to a lecture with other college
students.
CAROLINE (V.O.)
Long before we moved to Cleveland,
Augustus and Thornton got hold of
forged freedom papers and went to
Oberlin where they worked on the
Underground Railroad while goin’
to school.
DISSOLVE TO:
INT. DAY - HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM

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124

Thornton, older now, is at the lectern in front of
attentive black and white students.
CAROLINE (V.O.)
Thornton’s a teacher now...
DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. DAY - SHIP-BUILDING YARD
In a suit, imposing but at ease, Augustus is the Man.
CAROLINE (V.O. cont'd)
...and Augustus is a businessman
with a big fancy house we visit
often as we can.
DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. DAY/NIGHT - CIVIL WAR SCENES - MONTAGE
A) Black Union soldiers strung out across the
landscape in a dusty march.
CAROLINE (V.O.)
Henry stayed in Dawn the longest,
working alongside Josiah Henson
till 1859 when he followed in his
brothers’ footsteps at the college.
B) The same, lying wearily on the ground at dusk.
CAROLINE (V.O. cont’d)
Four years we have him, till he
took very near the same trip we
all did to freedom, only Henry
went the other way.
C) Henry, about 30, in the group above, writing a
letter.
CAROLINE (V.O. cont’d)
In 1863 he joined the 27th
Colored Infantry Regiment of the
Union Army, killed God rest his
soul a year later in the Battle
(MORE)

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125
CAROLINE (V.O. CONT’D)
of Cold Harbor in Petersburg,
Virginia.

D) Henry and his regiment engaged in battle...and its
desolate aftermath.
CAROLINE (V.O. cont’d)
Alfred says Henry never should have
crossed back over that river but I
say somehow he was following in Mama's
footsteps. We always did call him
Mama's shadow.
FADE OUT
THE END

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