Aether and Ashes
J E Beau
John Edgar Beau was born a slave in the state of North Carolina in 1853. The son of a house slave and a white plantation owner, J.E. was treated as a commodity by his master, who had the boy marginally educated in reading and writing. As a young man, he was responsible for learning how to run a household, and was under the care of an older House Slave named Amos.
When the American Civil war broke out in 1861, J.E. was 8 years old and had grown into a strong young man. His master often took the boy to bare-knuckle boxing matches where he competed against other slaves around his age. He was a quick study and learned endurance and determination as a result of those matches.
These constant physical struggles and his limited education soon had him desirous of a better life. Working in secret, he began to strengthen his reading skills, eventually stealing books from his master’s library to expand his knowledge. Additionally, his Master decided to teach the boy to fire a rifle and a pistol, after he suffered a terrible horse back riding injury that left him bed-ridden.
With these new skills in place, the young man was poised to undertake the life as a freeman. In 1864, at age 11, he escaped from his plantation, hours after his mother was beaten to death for hording food during a time of shortage.
The young man made his way North, crossing the wilderness and dodging Confederate patrols on the lookout for escaped slaves. When he reached
Washington County in North Carolina in early April of that year, J.E. was taken in by the Union garrison, where his hard work and cheerful nature quickly earned him a place among the men in the garrison. His attempt at freedom was threatened soon after his arrival however, as a large confederate force, attacked the garrison on April 17th. The ensuing battle saw J.E. carrying cannon balls and powder, to the gun emplacements in the fort, as well as manning the line, despite his young age.
When the garrison was forced to surrender, J.E. was captured along with the other defenders of the fort when they surrendered on April 20. It was at this time, that fate intervened. because he was black, JE was in a difficult position.
The garrison commander had told the confederate commander that the slave had been captured by another federal unit and had been provided to them to act as a slave to the federal troops. This comment fundamentally saved J.E., who realizing what was happening played the role of a stupid slave.
The Confederate commander, gave J.E. a choice, serve as his body man, or be executed as a negro combatant. J.E. made the obvious choice, and three days later, he had cut the confederate commander’s throat, freed the Union prisoners and escaped along with the prisoners to the North.
He enlisted into the Union army, where he was recruited as a spy to infiltrate the Confederacy. Despite the obvious disadvantages caused by his skin color, J.E. was able to report back to Union headquarters, providing information on troop movement and strengths and even managing to recruit a small spy ring comprised of slaves working across the southern states.
In 1865, after the war ended, J.E. decided to depart the service, as he was not offered any sort of long term position with the Army, and instead moved to New York City, where he took the occasional job as a bouncer at the various brothels and bars.
He eventually came to the attention of Joseph William Howard, a wealthy man looking for a personal assistant that could also act as a bodyguard. J.W. hired J.E. and the two became good friends until J.W.‘s death from advanced old age in late 1879. They lived in Paris for the last 3 years of J.W.’s life.