River Run slaves

By Valérie Gay-Corajoud

At the very beginning of episode 2 of season 4: An unalterable oath, we find Jamie and Claire on the boat that takes them to Cross Creek, and more precisely to River Run, the home of Jocasta.
At the end of the previous episode, Steven Bonnet had robbed them in the worst way, killing their friend Lesley at the same time.

In addition to all the gemstones from Geillis Duncan's treasure, which were their only material possessions, Bonnet also stole the covenant Jamie offered Claire for their marriage, the one made with the Lallybroch key (note that in the version of Diana Gabaldon, it is the other alliance that is subtilised to him, the one in gold, of his marriage with Frank).
When they finally get to River Run, 'King's House,' as little Ian points out, they no longer have a penny in their pocket. Again, Jamie lost everything. Again he carries the weight of this responsibility for his whole family.

The family, which has always been its most solid pillar ... it presents itself there, however, in the person of this aunt who has managed to make her property grow and who seems to have settled in the neighboring community. Jocasta Cameron, née MacKenzie, sister of her beloved mother who symbolizes a past that is no more, lost roots, an abandoned country.

In short, in this meeting, there is much more at stake for Jamie than it seems at first sight.
The infinite tenderness for this aunt, whom he knows so little, is immediately palpable. When he goes to meet him, there is nothing left of the angry man, the bitter man, or even the leader, the winner, or the father or the lover. There’s only this little boy who somehow finds his mother who disappeared too soon.
It’s important never to forget, because of this woman who represents all of this, Jamie can endure everything, forgive everything. She is beyond judgment for him, as are mothers for their young children.
For Claire, it's different. Jocasta will have to prove herself and show that she is more than a simple reminder of her husband's past. She is on her reserve, as she had been at the very beginning of the series, with members of the MacKenzie clan. As for Ian, the rest of him, who has endured despite the traumas that have followed in his life for several months, allows him to approach this great-aunt with disarming simplicity. A tense bouquet of flowers, a tender smile, and there he is already running after his dog.

Finally, after this moving reunion, everyone turns their back on the river and heads for the domain. The Fraser, Jocasta and Ulysses, his slave master of the house. And already, the presence and deference of this dominated but imposing man sets the tone for what awaits us at River Run

Hardly crossed the door, suddenly, the Fraser are no longer in the great outdoors, are no longer in unknown territory, or at sea, or even on the way to their destiny. At River Run, it's like an enclosed space with its own rules. It is a microcosm that carries with it all the dysfunctions of colonization. It’s like a magnifying glass that comes to rest on the unbearable.
And what struck me from the start is how it doesn't impact people the same way.
For Claire, it is immediately unbearable. Slavery, she feels all its cogs because she knows the story from its beginning to its end. She had time to understand it, to study it, to judge it and to look at it. When she crosses the slaves, in the fields and in the house, it is not just individuals deprived of their liberty that she crosses, but all the symbol that they take with them. What she crosses paths with is Slavery.

She reacts like a 20th century woman, who knows, but after the fact. That's why she asks Phaedre and Mary to call him by his first name. She does not realize immediately that this is simply forbidden, even dangerous.
And again, she feels the weight of the heavy tribute that is hers, to be the depositary of the history to come

Because she knows how many years it will take to end this barbarism. She knows what all of these people are going to have to go through. And this knowledge, once again, is not enough.
Fortunately, Jamie is there. He understands in a single glance, in a single tone of voice, in a single silence.
To him, she can confide and express her indignation. Above all, she knows he will support her, as he did with Bold in Jamaica.
Jamie, who, there is no doubt, does not endorse slavery either, does not react as strongly as Claire.
First of all, he's a clan leader. He learned to put his personal feelings before the public interest. Now here, obviously, he's going to have to be the one who appeases. As a late strategist, he is used to not rushing into fights as complex as this one. And then, in a way, Claire carries her indignation for both of them, allowing him to keep his cool and make relationships possible. In addition, once again, under the charm of his aunt and struggling with the emotions that it arouses in him, he cannot face everything, at the risk ultimately, of losing everything.

He even went so far as to imagine accepting to be the heir and master of River Run, as his aunt suggested without consulting him, in order to change things from the inside. And that's what makes the difference with Claire. He does not know how phenomenal and relentless outside forces will be to prevent it.

What he does not yet understand Jamie, or what he still refuses to understand, is that slavery is one of the pillars that enabled the British to colonize this country. On the one hand, they massacred the natives, on the other, they brought in slaves, and finally, populated the lands of settlers by subjecting them to laws, taxes and obligations. Even the simple will of an immigrant, even if he were the future owner of the house and the lands of River Run, has no chance of prevailing over this organized operation. Claire, she knows, is her cross.
And yet, even if we feel doubtful when faced with her husband's proposal, she agrees with half a word. After all, didn't they try to abort the battle of Culloden? How could she break the mad hope of the man she loves today?

As for Jocasta, it is difficult in this first contact to know exactly what she thinks of slavery. What is certain is that she uses it to make her land grow, to run her house, to replace her failing eyes (and a little more than that, in Diana Gabaldon's version). Even if she seems to be a rather benevolent slave owner, she is nonetheless a slave owner!

Could she have done otherwise?
All the scenes that will follow, starting with the one on the porch, will show us how complex the situations are and that there is quite a variation in the way of considering slavery as soon as one is confronted with it. .
From the cruel and almost animal attitude of foreman Burns to that of pragmatic lieutenant Wolf and Farquard Campbell, who see in slavery only a support for business and political levers, passing by the neighbors howling in packs so to execute the young Rufus ... The posture of Jocasta seems infinitely more human, even if it appears intolerable to us, spectators of the 21st century.
What is quite confusing is this duality which she sometimes suggests.

The first time, on the porch, She suggests that some of her slaves are like friends. Certainly, Claire has the right reaction and in a sense, she is our spokesperson by responding to Jocasta the first thing that comes to mind: 'They have no choice'.

But, in view of what will follow, especially with Rufus, we realize that with regard to the predominant attitude, Jocasta has, indeed, much more attention towards his slaves than the majority of people around him. By living in this way, she has certainly lost sight of all the horror that the possession and monetization of human beings suggests.
Jocasta seems to be a woman of character. She is the sole manager of this large estate, despite her blindness. Yet, on several occasions, we can glimpse what she had to go through in order to thrive in a world ruled by men.
For example, when she told her nephew that he had done well to put Lieutenant Wolf in his place:
'You did well to speak frankly. It is a privilege that I would like to enjoy, but in some cases, we have to be careful, especially when the unsolicited advice of a woman is anything but welcome' .
In this one sentence, we understand more precisely all the obstacles that she had to overcome and the obligation that had to be hers to overcome her personal objections, to survive and impose herself.

Then, she appoints Jamie as the successor of her domain (when she is neither old nor sick) and immediately gives her the reins. We feel that in this, she needs to put River Run away from raptors, including obviously Lieutenant Wolf, who does not even try to hide his desire to appropriate it, leaves, for that to marry (and later, Brianna).

It is quite easy to conclude that she could never have built River Run alone. She did it with her husband and inherited it. But she realizes that in these macho times, a woman, no matter how strong, cannot resist male domination for very long.
Besides, when Jamie announces his intention to free all the slaves, it is not Jocasta who explains to him that it is impossible, it is his lawyer, Farquard Campbell to whom she gives the floor. He is imperative about it, even threatening: 'Others have tried to change things, he said to Jamie. And we have never heard of them again'. 'You can't cash in on freedom'! Jamie replied, to which Campbell replied: 'The assembly can do it, and it does it!'
There is no clearer threat.
This is where we understand that on this particular subject, Jocasta never had a choice and that, even if she is the owner of her domain, she will only remain so if she follows the rules imposed .

This is confirmed when the crowd blinded by hatred demands Rufus in order to hang him. She never gives her opinion on this barbarism! Her only fear is to see her house burn down and her legitimacy questioned. She never stops sailing from her nephew to the crowd, terrified and lost, without finally making any decision.

She knows better than anyone here that if she no longer has River Run, she will be nobody. Whatever she says, whatever her pleas, she has no power over anything.
The only people keeping their cool during this poignant moment are Ulysses and Jamie. Both of them, for different reasons, know that this young boy is lost and that there is no force at this moment that can save him, not even Claire's fierce will. What matters is his soul. What matters is his dignity.
Finally, Rufus' body is dragged on the ground to the gallows, without these barbarian monsters worrying about whether he is still alive, because what matters to them is not his life or his death ... Rufus for them does not even exist. No, what matters is that they keep their power and their supremacy. It is with these people that Jocasta must live. They are his neighbors, his fellow citizens, and perhaps even for some, his friends.
And while the body of the unfortunate man is hoisted by the force of his arms ... the camera lingers on the people who attend the hanging, on the porch of the house finally spared.

Jamie, Claire and Ian, overwhelmed and angry. Ulysses, Phaedre and Mary, overwhelmed, but resigned, Jocasta overwhelmed, but relieved, and Wolf and Campbell, expressionless and dehumanized.
Slavery here is a magnifying glass that allows you to see the soul of the people who are confronted with it. Diana Gabaldon, once again, illustrated it wonderfully.