Saturday, November 2, 2013

Powell by Eric Lanke

A little while ago, I made my novel, Columbia, available for download from this blog.

Columbia is the story of Theodore Lomax, a nineteen-year-old Union solider in the American Civil War, and as committed as any to the ideal of human freedom. After being assigned to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman, shortly after the general’s infamous March to the Sea, he willingly participates in the destruction of civilian property in Columbia, South Carolina, believing his acts are justified by Southern resistance to the Northern cause of emancipation. But when the destruction escalates into violence against the civilians themselves, he becomes disillusioned, and feels compelled to strike out in opposition to his own countrymen.

The novel is told from Lomax's point of view, but there are ten other supporting characters, each with a story of his or her own. "Powell" is one of these stories, centering on the character of Albert Powell, and describing his pre-war involvement with a small pro-slavery organization in his hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

There was a time when I thought these stories should alternate with the chapters in Columbia, presenting a richer but perhaps more tangled tapestry of the lives that painfully converge in the novel's climactic scenes. But Columbia is clearly a more coherent narrative without them. Still, they were valuable to me as an author, and I hope you find them useful and enjoyable as a reader.

Powell by Eric Lanke - $3

Clicking the "Add to Cart" button will take you through a short payment process and provide you with a PDF download of the story that you can read on your computer or tablet, or which you can print at your convenience. The story is about 20,800 words and the document is 68 pages long. Given its theme and historical setting, the work reflects the racism of the time, and includes episodes of violence and strong language.

Want a sample? Here's are the first thousand or so words.

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Albert Powell was a man who believed things happened for a reason. He hadn’t always felt that way. His entire youth and first few years of his young adulthood had seemed very much like one random event after the other. Like the chicken pox Powell nearly died from when he was eight, things seemed to come out of nowhere into his life, cause a great deal of pain and turmoil while they lingered, and then depart just as mysteriously as they arrived, leaving behind an inscrutable pattern of effects like the pockmarks that had permanently scarred his face. The awareness that events which appeared random while one was living through them could be connected into a clear pattern with the exercise of hindsight did not come to him until one dark night in the middle of his twentieth year.

It was shortly after the Reverend Thomas Hutchins came to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The church on Twelfth Street Powell attended had the autumn before lost its minister, a man of imposing bulk and reputation who had tragically postponed giving up the bottle for one year too many. The Reverend Hutchins had been chosen by the Council of Deacons in Boston to serve as the new shepherd of the Twelfth Street flock, which had evidently been left to wander aimlessly for the seven months between his predecessor’s death and his arrival.

Powell still remembered the excitement that foreshadowed Hutchins’s appearance in their community, especially among the young ladies of the congregation, who had heard through whatever currents carry such news that the Reverend possessed all three of the traits they held most desirable in a man—he was young, good-looking, and unmarried. And sure enough, when he arrived in mid-March he was exactly as advertised. A tall young man with a boyish mop of thick black hair and a twinkle in his eye that made one suspect he hadn’t learned everything he knew in the seminary.

His first sermon to the Twelfth Street congregation was also something Powell would not soon forget.

“Lastly, on this Sunday morning,” the Reverend Hutchins had said, “I want to talk about the latest news from Washington, the awful decision the Supreme Court has made against a man named Dred Scott. Some of you may still be unfamiliar with that name, although it has been in all the papers and is a matter, I fear, of the greatest urgency. If there are some among you who do not know who Dred Scott is, than I praise God and His wisdom for establishing this church so I may have the chance to enlighten you. As children of God we must be ever vigilant against the works of Satan in our human society. Listen closely as I speak of what may be the fallen angel’s latest accomplishment.”

Powell had certainly heard the name Dred Scott before, he had even read it in some of the newspapers the Reverend Hutchins had mentioned, and he had immediately known from the Reverend’s short introduction that he and Hutchins had two clearly different views on the matter. Work of the Devil? To Powell’s way of thinking, the decision against Dred Scott amounted to nothing more than a declaration for the natural order of things.

Nonetheless, Powell had sat and listened to the Reverend’s entire diatribe, both his description of the facts as well as his—and evidently God’s—opinions on what those facts meant for the future of the country. Dred Scott was a slave who had been taken by his master to live for a period of time in the free state of Illinois. Upon their return to slave-holding Missouri, Scott began to sue for his freedom, arguing that once in Illinois, a state in which the institution of slavery had been outlawed, he had no longer been a slave, and his master no longer had any right to take him anywhere against his will. The lawsuit had been filed a number of years ago at the local level, but had recently, through a series of appeals and countersuits, reached the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court had just issued its final ruling in the matter, and that ruling was not favorable to Scott and his supporters.

Slaves and their descendents, the Court had said, were not citizens, and therefore had no rights the Constitution was obliged to defend. Scott had still been a slave during the time he had spent in Illinois, and although Illinois certainly had the right to outlaw slavery within its borders, it did not have the right to deprive visiting slaveholders of their property.

Or so said the Supreme Court of the United States of America. The good Reverend Hutchins clearly had a different point of view, and he was determined to share it with his new parishioners.

“The Court’s argument,” Hutchins had said that Sunday morning, “is ridiculous in the extreme. It is based on faulty reasoning and cannot be the work of honest men dedicated to the betterment of all mankind. If the State of Illinois does not have the right to free the slaves that slaveholders bring onto its soil, then it does not have the ability to outlaw slavery within its borders. In the wake of this decision, what is to stop other slave owners from bringing their slaves into Illinois and perpetuating their unrighteous bondage on the supposedly free soil of that fine state? What is to stop ten, a hundred, a thousand slave owners from bringing a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand slaves into Illinois and turning that free state into a place where the passions of Satan reign supreme? And if they can do this to Illinois, what’s to stop them from doing it to every other free state in the Union? Even possibly here in New Hampshire itself?”

Powell had not fully seen the logic of Hutchins’s argument, nor the likelihood of the events he seemed to foretell. First of all, as Hutchins’s predecessor had often posed to him, did a state have the right to take a man’s mules away from him, simply because he brought them into its territory? Of course he didn’t. A man’s slaves, like his mules, belonged to him, and no one had the right to unjustly deprive him of his property, not even a lunatic state government that passes an incomprehensible law mandating that mules be treated as free and equal citizens. Secondly, Powell had a hard time imagining an army of slave owners bringing legions of slaves up to the rocky soil of New Hampshire to help them eke some sort of living out of the few select crops that could be raised between the cold, harsh winters. Powell knew those slaves were making a fortune for their owners, picking cotton and cutting tobacco in the long growing seasons that blanketed the South. Why would they willingly give all that up?

But Powell, like the rest of the congregation, did not interrupt the Reverend Hutchins’s sermon with any of these counter arguments. Powell knew there were plenty of his neighbors who certainly agreed with Hutchins’s perspective on this issue, just as he knew there were a few like him who did not. Listening to other church goers applaud Hutchins for his platitudes as the Reverend concluded his speech, Powell found himself sitting quietly in the back pew thinking of all the things he would say at that night’s meeting.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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