In 1861, Comfort Servosse went off to the Civil War as a volunteer. This, in retrospect, was his first action as an idealistic “fool.” At age twenty-seven, he gave up a thriving Michigan law practice and a comfortable home. He considered it his duty to help fight against the wrong of slavery.
When the war ended, he was a colonel. He came back home to his wife Metta and daughter Lily. His war exertions had worn him out. Seeking a genial climate and not wanting to rebuild his law practice, he decided to move to the South and begin life afresh. Now that slavery was destroyed, the South was sure to flourish and become the pleasantest part of the country.
He bought the Warrington estate, a place Servosse had admired while stationed nearby. It was dilapidated, and the six hundred acres of land were worn out; but the price was cheap.
Located six miles from Verdenton, a small town, Warrington proved both a challenge and reward. The Servosses made extensive repairs. They found the countryside charming. The people seemed congenial. For Thanksgiving dinner, they invited six Northern girls who taught at a new blacks’ school. The country judge, Squire Hyman, paid a visit soon thereafter and gave friendly notice that local residents disapproved of the teachers. Colonel Servosse sarcastically replied that his dinner guests were his own affair. The Verdenton newspaper labeled him a fanatical Abolitionist.
Undaunted, Servosse established a Sunday school for the blacks. He also cut up most of his estate into ten-and twenty-acre plots to sell to blacks, so that they could become self-sufficient property owners. The Servosses hoped the foolish prejudice of the townspeople would pass.
One summer day, an outdoor political meeting took place. There was a debate over the right of blacks to testify in court. Servosse attended only out of curiosity, but the people saw him and forced him to speak. His ideas were not secret, but he had never before intruded them on anyone. Now he publicly told the Southerners to give political rights to literate, property-owning blacks before the nation lost its patience. It was a bold and unpopular opinion.
Riding home, he encountered old Jerry Hunt, a black, who warned him that some angry white men were planning to ambush and whip him because of his speech. Servosse turned the tables on the conspirators, one of whom was injured. He reached home safely.
The next day, three blacks were accused of murdering the injured man, Savage, although his body had not been found. They were indicted by Judge Hyman and threatened with lynching; but Servosse stood up and said that Savage was alive and at Warrington. The charges were dropped. Soon thereafter, Squire Hyman, more open-minded than his neighbors, called on Servosse to talk. He admitted that perhaps the North had not really been vindictive. The war had occurred because neither side had understood the other.
Such talk was useless, however, and Servosse’s speech had marked him as an Abolitionist and agitator. Blacks were beaten. After Servosse received an illiterate threatening letter, he bought arms and ammunition for his family and his black tenants and watched the town grow more hostile.
Christmas, 1866, came and went. At a black prayer meeting, the Servosses observed Jerry Hunt undergoing a mystical experience.
Meanwhile, the child Lily was growing and displaying marked intelligence. It seemed for the young girl that no local friendships, except with blacks, could ever be established.
Servosse lent support to the local Union League. He saw it as a training school in political responsibility for the freedmen. To his neighbors,...
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