Jolly and the Baby Moses

Cast bronze, 2005
14" x 21" x 21"

Jolly positioned himself beside the bed, visibly shaking as he held the hot wet towels, a bottle of rum and a small glass for his mistress. The spindly wheels in the half-cart that carried his body creaked and bounced from the weight of his trembling torso. You see, when he was much younger, he worked in the lumberyards where his father and grandfather worked clearing the woodlands for Europeans to settle. Jolly, as he was called, was way too young to be given such tasks as working the steam-powered saw. The floors and boards were coated with slime and debris from wet bark, that seemed to be everywhere. While reaching for a lever to stop the saw, he slipped and fell into the pathway of a huge log that pushed his body toward the turning blade and severed his legs slightly below his groin. He was very fortunate to have a father who acted quickly and a grandmother who was well versed in the healing arts using herbal medicines.

Here we see Jolly awaiting the arrival of a child that his mistress is delivering. In the past, Jolly served as a companion to his mistress, sleeping at the foot of her bed, thus keeping her feet warm on cold winter nights. Many times, Jolly was in the room while Missy undressed and while she and the master made love. This they did frequently, because they did not regard him as a human being. Rather, they thought of him as a pet, as if he were a dog or a cat.

One day the slave master left for a year-long trip to buy slaves. This did not set well with his wife. But her loneliness and her welfare were not important to him. To some degree, she was also treated disrespectfully. One evening, Missy discovered nervous movements by Jolly when she was undressing. Upon noticing this, she approached him and placed her hand below his navel where his legs were severed. There she discovered that Jolly possessed a penis with this fondling, Jolly began to cry, mainly because of embarrassment. Missy, in her loneliness, discovered a new game with Jolly. She would undress slowly, moving close to Jolly as she removed her corset, attempting to entice him with her body. Jolly became accustomed to the games, and even began to enjoy them.

As months passed on, Missy discovered she was pregnant. The delivery became quite dramatic. Jolly's mother took part in the delivery of the child, and now we see Jolly anxiously waiting for the outcome of the event. Finally the baby arrived, crying loudly as Jolly looked back and forth to his mother's face and Missy's face. His fear and his trembling were so severe that one wheel of his cart bent inward causing him to drop the bottle of liquor that was used to kill Missy's pain and to cleanse the hands of his mother. Missy's arm jutted toward Jolly with both an open palm and an accusatory finger. Jolly was unsure whether it was a gesture of love or one that could have him hung by the neck. As the baby was pulled from between Missy's legs, Jolly's mother snipped the umbilical cord in two with her teeth. The cord fell downward and then bounced up as if it were a snake climbing up its own body, forming a loop that resembled a hangman's noose. Jolly saw this as a terrible omen. As his open hand raised to his mouth, his eyes rolled back and he fell from his now three-wheeled cart.

The slave community, which was generally very wise in these matters, discovered at once that the baby had Negro blood. News had reached the plantation that Ole Massa was on his way home. Missy fearing for her life, paid the Irish overseer to perform the common practice of destroying unwanted mixed-blood babies by feeding them to the hogs or taking them to the fields and leaving them. The overseer chose to take the baby miles from the plantation and abandon the small man-child in an unused cotton field. When the Master arrived, Missy greeted him with loving arms, and all was well in their household.

Jolly's conscience and terrible dreams drove him to search for the child, which he rightly suspected had been taken to the old cotton field, where he discovered the baby lying very quietly, with eyes half shut. Jolly nursed him on mare's milk that he had brought along. He remained there for two days, caring for the child and fashioning a small reed boat. Jolly remembered the Bible stories from the Old Testament that Ole Massa had read to him. And he decided he would send his son downriver where he hoped someone from the town would find the boy and care for him. The events fit the story of Moses so well that Jolly named the little boy Moses.