Self-Liberation of Parson Sykes
Enslavement in Southampton, County Virginia
A chronological review of the battles and obstacles facing Parson Sykes as
he researched how to prepare for the unknown.
The Self-Liberation of Parson Sykes is a documentary novel based on a true story and actual events and was drawn from a variety of sources, including published materials and family chronicles. The novel is the story of Parson Sykes, a curiously enslaved teenager in Virginia, historic self-liberation followed by his enlistment in the Union Army.
The story takes place in Southampton County, near the end of the American Civil War on the slave-holding Jacob Williams’ farm. During the 1831 Southampton Insurrection, the farm came under attack by Nat Turner and his insurgents, which still haunts Jacob. In the book, Parson and Jacob Williams are faced at opposite ends of the disputed points over the moral issue of slavery and secession, a political decision that led directly to war.
Enslavement in Southampton County
The prologue recounts Nat Turner’s rebellion and how it affected the community of Southhampton County, Virginia during the American Civil War.
Each chapter accomplishes two things. The first section describes the conditions on the ground and the key events that affected the war. The second section describes the details of Parson Sykes' work life in Cross Keys, Virginia. He and his family were monitored constantly.
In the book, Parson and Jacob Williams are faced at opposite ends of the disputed points over the moral issue of slavery and secession, a political decision that led directly to war.
The novel profiles Parson’s evolution from enslavement and self-liberation by running away from Jacob Williams’ farm. Before the Civil War started, Parson began discussing human rights and the political implications of the abolition of slavery with his two brothers. In December 1864, he planned to liberate himself by running away from Jacob Williams’ farm and following an eastward path along the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad to reach Norfolk Virginia, which was a Union-occupied city.
Parson's Heroic Self-Liberation
Parson’s emerging understanding of human rights helped him to envision a new future and life after emancipation. He found discarded railroad maps, abolition pamphlets, and sectional periodicals very helpful in planning his liberation quest. In his haven, he risked life and limb to guard and protect his collection of documents about freedom, abolitionists, resistance, and humanity.
Parson grasped the injustice of his enslavement and felt called to react against slavery for no other reason than to gain his freedom. He learned that enslaved African descendants had always desired freedom and self-liberation was his best method to gain it. From his hidden haven, he planned his heroic self-liberation.
Contraband at Fort Monroe Virginia
Parson committed to pursuing self-liberation and entered the Union Army to fight for freedom. He skillfully planned his self-liberation ordeal to reach Fort Monroe alive and fit for military service. He and his two brothers solidified their commitment to the call for self-liberation and to enter the fight for human rights.
Their ultimate aims were to achieve willful freedom, gain desired ends via self-determination, and create a means for improving their rock-bottom economic conditions live on in his descendants.
After several more encounters along the way, Union pickets and recruiters from the 1st Cavalry Regiment, United States Colored Troops stopped the three men near or at Camp Bower’s Hill. Upon reaching Norfolk and in the hands of Union troops, Parson had liberated himself from bondage. Next, they enlisted in the Union Army and steamed across the Chesapeake Bay to Fort Monroe.
The next book, Enlistment in the XXV Corps, narrates Parson’s ordeal through the pathway of contraband to USCT soldiers he took to gain his freedom. As Union armies moved into the Confederacy, thousands of slaves fled to their camps. Although some Union officers sent runaways back to their masters, others allowed them to remain with their troops, using them as a workforce and dubbing them “contraband of war.” Nonmilitary jobs contraband held were as carpenters, butchers, boatmen, orderlies, nurses, and as builders of fortifications and other military works.
About the Author
David J. Mason, the great-grandson of Parson Sykes, became interested in the history of the Sykes family early in life while attending family reunions and hearing stories of his mother’s ancestors from Southampton County, Virginia. The family descended from Louisa Williams Sykes, an enslaved African American matriarch who had lived on Jacob Williams’ farm in the nineteenth century. During the 1831 Southampton Insurrection, the farm came under attack by Nat Turner and his insurgents. Intrigued by what he heard at a family gathering, David researched and published the Self-Liberation of Parson Sykes. a documentary novel based on the true self-liberation story and actual events drawn from published materials and oral family chronicles. He holds a Master of Science degree in chemistry from Hampton University, a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Norfolk State University, and is a graduate of the United States Army War College.