Category Archives: I AM BILL RICHMOND

Chapter 3- King of the Circle

Chapter 3


Missus Catherine told me to try writing about the things I like best so here I am writing about circling. Circling is the game we play together with all the boys who are around after church. Every Sunday after taking care of the horses and going to Church the Reverend lets us do whatever we want. Sometimes we go fishing. Sometimes we go in the woods and try to catch us some squirrels, but the thing I like most is when we play games. And the game I likes most is called circling. In circling, we all stand around in a circle and instead of using a name we all give ourselves numbers from one to the last number. So if there are eleven of us the last number is eleven. One time we had twenty two but that was when we had a lot of people visiting the Reverend from England. Somebody calls out two numbers and the two boys with those numbers go in the circle and try to throw the other boy out. When they call out your number you would go in the center of the circle and try to become king of the circle. To stay king you had to throw everybody else out. So when I get in the circle I call out numbers and that boy would step in the circle until I threw him out. Then I would just call out another number and the same thing would happen. I got so good at the game that nobody would call out my number. Sometimes a big kid would be playing and everyone would yell to call my number but if he did it he would be sorry. So one day I got this great idea and when I finally got in the circle I called out “seven and nine”. Nobody had ever called out two numbers before. I threw both boys out of the circle. So I called out “two four eight” and the three boys got thrown out of the circle. So I calls out “one three six seven ten eleven” and those boys tried to get me to lose but I was the one who was left standing and I was still king of the circle. So I call out “Everyone! And when everyone came at me I dove to the ground and everyone dove on top of me. Everyone in the pile of boys was laughing and shrieking. We had so much fun.

“Bill your story about circling is a little confusing but we can work on that. Let me ask you something. Do you know what the date is?” Catherine asked after reading his story.

“Well I believe it is Tuesday cause this all happened the day before yesterday.”

“No, that is the day and yes, it is Tuesday as you say. But every day that ever was has a date that no other day ever had or ever will have again. There is a year that is based on the sun and the earth. The year starts when it is cold just after we celebrate Christmas and then it keeps going through winter and then the spring and then the summer and then the fall and when it gets cold again we start a new year. This year is 1774 which means that it was seventeen hundred and seventy-four years since the Lord Jesus Christ was born and told us the Good News about our salvation.”

“Wow, seventeen hundred and seventy-four years!” said Bill in amazement. “That is sure a long time for us to know such an important thing. You would think that we could do some things better given that we know about the Lord Jesus for all this time.”

“Well Bill,” Catherine went on. “The point I was making is that every time you write something you should put the date on it. That way when someone reads it they will know exactly when you wrote it.”

“But why would anyone care about the day I became king of the circle?” Bill responded. “Maybe if I did something great like won a war or caught the biggest fish ever I could see putting the date on it. But I don’t see why the date matters that a boy won a game of circling.”

“Still it is a good habit. We never know what is going to matter to important people when they read about it. When Columbus first came to America I doubt that anyone then thought it was of any particular importance but now we all study about it and know that he came to America in 1492. He wrote about it and now we study it and know exactly where he was and when he was there. We know that his Royal Highness King George III became the King of England on September 22, 1761. Everyone likes to know when something happened.”

“But that is just what I mean.” Bill thought out loud. “When someone becomes King of England that is an important thing. But when a child becomes king of the circle what difference would it make if it was seventeen hundred and seventy-four years after the birth of Christ or a hundred thousand years after the birth of Christ. It is just a game after all.”

Catherine’s voice grew insistent. “Still, today is May 17, 1774. The year is divided into twelve months and May is the fifth month. It is my favorite month because everything seems to bloom around here in May. Every month has thirty days except for some reason some months have thirty-one and February, the second month, has either twenty-eight or twenty-nine days depending on the year. Some smart men set it up that way so that everything happens the same time of year. If they did it any different, Christmas might be in the summer and Easter might be in the winter and that would just make no sense. So today is May 17, 1774 and I think you should put the date on top of anything that you write. Otherwise nobody will ever know when you wrote it.”

“Well I still don’t see why anyone cares that I wrote about being king of the circle on May 17, 1774, but if you say I should put the date on it, I will do it because you say. It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

“Yes Bill,” Catherine said with a voice showing her little victory. “You do not know what will be important to people in the future. You will also learn that not everything makes sense. That you will learn for sure.”

Mother Seton, James Smithson, and Bill Richmond

Mother Seton, James Smithson and Bill Richmond

Mother Elizabeth Seton was America’s first saint, known for her tireless help to the poor women of America in the early 19th century. James Smithson was likely the bastard son of a British Duke who had never been to America yet bequeathed an enormous sum to fund an institution of knowledge there. Bill Richmond was born a slave and went on to live the life of a leading sports figure in 19th century England. What could they possibly have in common?

Bill Richmond was born a slave on Staten Island and was likely owned by the Reverend Richard Charlton, who happened to be the grandfather of Elizabeth Seton. He was taken to England by the Second Duke of Northumberland, who was a British General in the early part of the Revolutionary War. In England he likely met a young man his exact age, who was likely the bastard son of the First Duke of Northumberland, that young man being James Smithson. The ties between these three great world citizens has never been recorded.. I fictionalized them in my novel I AM BILL RICHMOND.

The Whoosit Club

Chapter 2




Frances Burrell was beyond excited to attend this particular meeting of the Whoosit Club. The Whoosit Club was a members only group of proper young ladies who one Sunday a month would meet at the Gentleman’s Club in Piccadilly. The Gentleman’s Club did not allow women to enter but for the afternoon of the first Sunday of every month when the ladies would have a speaker of interest. The selection committee prided itself on its choices from Prime Ministers to poets to artist to politicians. Some were quite famous but the real catches were the “up and coming but not yet famous” and it was quite prestigious for the speaker to be selected. The artists Thomas Gainsborough, Benjamin West, Joshua Reynolds and Angelika Kauffmann spoke there. As did notables including Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Edmund Burke. It was no secret that by the 1770’s Ladies of the Whoosit Club had a political cause that they supported, the worldwide elimination of slavery and its most ugly sister, the slave trade. Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton all spoke eloquently there about its elimination. Lord Mansfield spoke of his recent decision in the Somersett Case, which declared slavery “odious” and against British Law, and the effect the decision might have on slave owners in America in a talk he entitled “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

Frances preferred not to attend alone and often cajoled her older sister to accompany her. The interests of the sisters Burrell had grown to be quite diverse. As young children they were inseparable, often spending the entire day together working in their garden at Langley Park or on their horses riding off together for hours. As they grew older, when they would ride Isabella habitually would break into a gallop and Frances could not keep up and found herself alone in the countryside of County Dunham until Isabella would return with some hurtful remark about how unadventurous Frances was. Frances took to spending hours grooming her horse and would decline to ride with Isabella. Now that their father accepted a seat on Parliament and the sisters moved to London, attending the Whoosit Club was about all they did together.  Isabella preferred hearing from the swashbucklers; the soldiers and explorers who talked of their wild adventures. Frances liked the thinkers whether they be poets or playwrights or philosophers or preachers. She liked the world of ideas and the people who debated them. It was they, according to Frances, who really moved the world forward. By this time in 1774, Isabella’s thoughts were somewhere else, contemplating her future as spouse of the second son of the Duke of Northumberland, a wedding already set for the couple to take place in 1775.

On this particular Sunday, the guest was an American poet named Phillis Wheatley. It was not Wheatley’s poetry that Frances looked forward to discuss, as she had not read any. It was the fact that Phillis Wheatley was a living breathing slave, who as a girl from Senegambia had been kidnapped and sold and was now owned by the Wheatley family in Boston Massachusetts. Now here in London Phillis Wheatley was trying to fulfill the wishes of her mistress and drum up support for the potential sale of a book of her poems. She had a few things going for her. The London literati truly liked her work, though they were divided as to whether her naiveté was endearing or clumsy. But even more to her benefit was the politics of it all. The antislavery movement was fledgling; mostly a thought among some well to do that England had committed great sins in profiting from the slave trade and in establishing colonies in the Americas that were dependent on slavery. Led by the Quakers, there was a new awareness that it was time to end such abominations and Frances wanted to be part of that movement. Frances had never met a slave before, the institution being historically disfavored in England, and she wanted to see what a cultured slave looked like, although she would have been just as impressed to meet an illiterate working slave.

When the subject of a Whoosit Club meeting had to do with slavery, the meeting was run by the Quaker women who were an important part of the group. These ladies insisted that the meeting be run somewhat in the style of a Quaker meeting. The group would gather in silence and not a word was to be spoken until the leader commenced the gathering, which could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, which was an interminable time to sit quietly for poor Isabella who did not want to be there at all.  Phillis Wheatley sat facing the club members, sitting with Elizabeth Corman, the Quaker lady running this meeting. The members of the Whoosit Club used the silence to look over Phillis Wheatley, who was a little bit of a thing. She looked younger than her nineteen years and when the silence broke she told her story, explaining to the gathering of mostly wealthy women that she was saved from the toil that most slaves had to endure by her sheer luck. She happened to end up in the house of a Boston tea merchant who had an intelligent worldly daughter named Mary Wheatley who loved poetry and read it aloud whenever she could. As a young child Phillis Wheatley would hear the wondrous words of William Shakespeare and John Milton and would recite portions of their work aloud herself from memory. Secret, at first, but then openly, Mary taught the slave first to read and then to write and then to write poetry. By age sixteen Phillis had written much poetry in English and some in Latin to the amazement of many in Boston. She was encouraged by her mistress Susanna Wheatley to write poetry although when she attempted to sell her work many in Boston labelled her a fraud, arguing that it was impossible that a dark girl from Africa had the ability to write such things. “It must have been the mistress’s words”, so many would say that a trial was held in Boston and Phillis acquitted herself well with her poetry on demand. At the trial, John Hancock, the lead judge, requested a few lines about spring and Phillis Wheatley wrote:

In vain the feather’d warblers sing

In vain the gardens bloom

And on the bosom of the spring

Breathes out her sweet perfumes.


That was good enough for the eighteen gentlemen of Boston who signed off on her authorship although it was unclear if they adjudged that there was any value to her work.

Frances Burrell was mesmerized by this little woman. Seventeen years old herself, Frances too had dabbled in poetry but knew in her heart she lacked the finesse of the young slave girl. But her questions that day were not about poetry, they were about life.

“Where did you get the name Phillis Wheatley from?” Frances asked.

“Wheatley is the family name of those that own me now and they have owned me since I was but a child.” Phillis responded.

“What about Phillis?” Frances continued. “Is that a common name amongst your people?”

“Phillis was the name of a boat”, Phillis Wheatley continued. “It was the boat that brought me from Africa to America.” Phillis Wheatley said this so matter-of-factly that its significance was lost to many in the room.

“The boat that brought you from Africa to America?” Frances continued. “You mean that today you bear the name of the slave ship that took you from your native land to the colonies.” There were gasps from the ladies of the Whoosit Club

“That is correct m’lady”, Phillis said. “On that ship the woman to my left died at sea as did the child to my right. I told them that I would never forget them and I never have. Were I to write this book it will surely be dedicated to them and all the others of similar fate.”

“Yet your poetry is full of grace and love, not bitterness and hate. If it was me I would not be able to write what you do, that I can say for certain.”

“M’Lady”, Phillis engaged. “Here we sit in London England a long way from the suffering of so many. The fine things that surround us here may hide the blood that runs through them, and they are beautiful things nonetheless. I am thankful every day for my life and that I have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as you have. Whether I am free or a slave today would not have saved that woman or child. I am not here to save them or even to save myself, I am here to do what I was sent to do, which is to recite my poetry.”

An older woman in fine clothing spoke next. “Miss Wheatley, there are men among us in London who can bring your circumstance to the courts who will surely declare you to be free. No woman with a Christian soul such as yours was meant to be a slave. We have successfully petitioned our courts on behalf of others to acknowledge the value of a Christian soul. We stand ready to act on your behalf.”

“I thank you madam for the kind offer and thank you all for the chance for you to hear my poems. I am afraid I must return to my home at the soonest that I can. I received a message just today that my mistress Susanna Wheatley has taken ill and has asked for my return. I wish nothing more than to return to Boston forthwith.”

“Even if that means your return to slavery? How can this be?” Frances blurted.

“M’Lady”, Phillis Wheatley looked at Frances Burrell with a stare that she would never forget. “You and I are both quite young and many adventures await us. I do not fault you for the comforts you admire. Please do not fault me for the life I choose. I know hardships await and my fate will not be as yours. I have learned much in my youth and above it all I have learned that an easy life awaits no woman so I do not aspire to it. I am confident in my path.”

Frances did not know what to make of this woman. She could not stop thinking about Phillis Wheatley for days and weeks long after Phillis Wheatley took leave of England to return to Boston, her book never having been sold and some of her poems perhaps never having been written. Frances kept the book that was presented as a sample of the work. She could not know that Phillis Wheatley was soon a slave no more. Susanna Wheatley died before Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston and freed Phillis Wheatley by her will. Still Boston was not kind to the freed slave and it is true that Phillis Wheatley never did have an easy life. Back in London, Frances bored Isabella for days with her constant talk of Phillis Wheatley, poetry, slavery and freedom. Isabella put it out of her head and was relieved to learn that the next meeting of the Whoosit Club was to feature Lord Clive, the great soldier who was to share the tales of his adventures to India and such other places.

Chapter One- The Writing Lesson



Chapter 1


I am Bill a slave born in the house of the Most Reverend Richard Charlton and his wife old Mary and their daughter Catherine. I’ve heard tell that I am likely a child of the slave Mae a woman who I cannot recall having ever met. I’ve heard stories on who my father is, that for sure. Missus Catherine teaches me about the Lord and how to read and write. She told me to write something about myself to explain to her who I am but that is harder to do than I thought. I like to work hard for the Charltons so next to that I thought this would be easy but it’s not. Truth be told, I would rather go fishing with my friends or even tend to the farm.

Catherine interrupted Bill’s reading. “Bill if you call mum ‘Old Mary’ she’s never gonna like this. No woman likes to be told that she is old. Women are funny that way.”

“But you told me to write what is true and it is true that we call her old Mary, not disrespecting her or nothing but we do that so we know who we’re talking about. We call Old Mary ‘Old Mary’ and Young Mary ‘Mary’ or sometimes ‘Young Mary’. That is just how we do it so that is how I wrote it.”

“’Anything’…not ‘nothing’.” Catherine corrected Bill.  “Sometimes when you write you have to pick between telling the truth and not hurting someone’s feelings. But that’s what you have to learn. Well alright just keep going and we’ll fix it later.”

Bill continued his reading.

Missus Catherine told me that if I got stuck I should say something about my friends. I got a great friend named Richmond which is funny because we live here in Richmond although the British call it Staten Island. Maybe it isn’t so funny ‘cause lots of slaves who pass through here have names from the places they from. Just yesterday I met a boy named Orleans who said that was a big place like New York but that no slave child should ever want to see it. He said if they ever say they gonna take you to Orleans you just better run away. Better to be dead than to be in Orleans. That is what he said, but I don’t right know about that. Not that any place is so great for a slave I think, but I don’t get chained and I don’t get whipped like they do in Orleans. At least not so far but I’ve heard tell. I also am friends with Mary who I call young Mary cause she is much younger than old Mary. She is the child of Missus Catherine and gets to live in the big house of course since she be a Charlton. She plays all kinds of music on some struments they have at the big house and she teaches me some songs about the Lord. I been told that I can sing like a bird although to me I don’t sound like a bird. I think I sound more like the old working men I see on the farm every day. We sing other kinds of songs out there and they are not at all about the Lord. I don’t tell the Reverend about that cause he would just tell me that I’m gonna go to hell for that although we both know that he don’t mean it. Maybe one day I will be free and I will be a singer or a soldier instead of someones slave. I ain’t complaining though. According to Orleans some peoples got it worse, way worse.

“Well Bill, it is interesting and a good start given that it’s the first thing you ever wrote about yourself.” Catherine said.  “I see we have to work on your punctuation and spelling and some of your sentences but I think you’re doing very well explaining who you are.”

“Well thank you”, Bill replied. “I don’t know why you think I should be learning about all this stuff like punchiation but I do want to learn how to read real bad. They say a slave who knows how to read is a terror but I don’t get that at all. I see you reading all the time and you don’t seem to be a terror. How can me learning how to read be a bad thing?”

“Well let’s just say some folks are scared of their own shadow and those are the people who think what I’m doing here, teaching you to read and write is a bad thing.” Catherine responded. “Some white folks would want to send me to jail for this very lesson, but I don’t pay them any mind. Anyway, I think this is very good, very good indeed for a ten-year-old slave boy who is just learning to read and write. We will keep working on your skills and one day you’ll show people that even though you are someone’s slave you still have your thoughts and feelings to write about.”

“Well ain’t it true that one day I will be a free man? Down at the dock I hear the men talk about freedom all the time. And most of them are white folks who seem free to me. I just want to be as free as them to work for pay and buy me some nice things and have a boy child who knows who his mother and father are.”

“Well Bill”, Catherine said. “I don’t know what our future holds. It would not surprise me if one day you grew up to be a free man. And if that were to happen then you can say that you learned how to read and write and about the Lord from me, Catherine Bayley, daughter of the Right Reverend Richard Charlton and his wonderful wife Mary. While you are still a slave it might be best to keep such things to ourselves. But when you are free you can say that even though the Charltons kept some slaves that we were good people who tried to do the Lord’s work here on earth and that if we failed it was not because we did not try our best to serve the Lord. I want you to say it often and to write it down, because I know I won’t be on this earth for long and neither will mummy or the Reverend, and I don’t want us to go to Hell.”

Bill was always a bit afraid when Catherine started with her serious talk about hell. “I will do what I can Missus, but I am just a slave child”, Bill replied and then he added, “Missus Catherine, is it true what white folks say that I have no soul?”

“You sure are a boy with a lot of questions, aren’t you? I wouldn’t listen too much to what people say. Poppa says that most folks will lead you the wrong way. What do you think?”

Bill knew that if they were right and he had no soul then there was no hope. He would remain a slave all the days of his life. But if he did have a soul that meant that there was a God and if there was a God then anything was possible. The God that gave him a soul would see to it that he was free. Why else give a person a soul? “I don’t know nothing about how God works. I got me enough troubles figuring out people let alone figuring out God.”

“Anything”, said Catherine. “I don’t know anything about how God works. You can’t say nothing when you mean anything or you mess up the whole sentence.”

“Well it is true that I don’t know anything about nothing or nothing about anything”, Bill said cleverly. “I just don’t know why God would give me a soul and put me in a place where I can’t use it.”

“You sure can be clever Bill that is for sure. I don’t know where you get half the things you say.”

“What about the other half?”

“Yes that concerns me as well!”

When Bill’s lesson was over, he returned to his work. He especially liked taking care of the Charlton’s horses and would see to the needs of the animals from dawn to dusk. Even as a ten-year-old child, Bill would do the work of several grown men which was greatly appreciated by the aging Reverend, who insisted on calling him William, since much needed to be done. The Charltons not only ran the large Church and catered to the spiritual needs of their community, but they also had a little farm that provided for their sustenance. With the help of six slaves on the farm the Reverend was free to do God’s work knowing that his small family and the slaves would be fed and there would be plenty left should a widow or orphan or stranger find themselves in need. His wife was free to spread God’s love and the sickly Catherine was tasked to do God’s other work, which included marrying well and raising and teaching the slave children as well as her own daughter. Many thought Catherine favored Bill over her own child, young Mary, who loved Bill like an older brother. When teaching Bill how to read the bible, Catherine would say that she learned as much about God’s love from Bill as she did from the bible or her mother or father, quite a thing to say about a young slave boy. Catherine’s husband, the doctor Richard Bayley, made his best efforts to treat Catherine’s ailments, but the family knew that her constitution was weak and she was probably not long for the world. Catherine did not want for love for she was adored by all around her and she returned the same tenfold when and how she could. Catherine was again with child in early 1774 and the pregnancy was not going well stressing the entire family just as events around them were stressing all the institutions on Staten Island and all of British America.

By 1774, there was much talk of freedom and independence in the Colonies, even on Staten Island, which for the most part was loyal to Great Britain. The Charlton family was steadfastly loyal to the King and like many in Britain and America considered the talk of revolution to be the empty prattle of those who could not know how difficult it was to run anything. Bill would ask Catherine about independence, whether that meant that if the British were kicked out of America he would be free to have a life that he could choose for himself instead of a slave life chosen by his owners. “I am sorry to say”, she would tell him, “but the people around here I know who talk about freedom the most will never let go of their blacks. They would go to war and shed their last drop of blood rather than letting the blacks live free among them.”

Bill was quite disturbed by this talk. “Why should I be a slave my whole life?” he would ask. “What did I do wrong? It is not fair and it is against everything you taught me about being a Christian.”

Catherine would explain that the problem was that everyone had their own ideas about what it meant to be Christian. Bill remained uneasy and unconvinced. He may have been taught as a Christian and may have felt God’s love through Catherine and both Marys and The Reverend, but still he was a slave child. “What about England?” Bill asked Catherine. “I heard tell that they freed all their slaves there because they decided there that owning slaves was unchristian. Why is it that in England, people cannot own slaves but here their cousins can? If it is not a Christian thing to do there, why is it Christian here? If you and The Reverend and the Missus wanted to you could send me to England to be a free man, right? I think that would be the Christian thing to do.”

Catherine answered that she had thought about it but could not bring herself to let him go. “What would we do here without you, Bill? I think everything here would just fall apart and I myself would be heartbroken.” Bill understood the lesson; he was too valuable for them to let him go. Still he had to find his way out of America to freedom in England with the blessing of the Charltons. Bill’s thoughts in 1774 were not that of most ten year olds, but everyone who knew him knew that Bill was no ordinary ten-year-old. Like many others in America, the thought of his own freedom began to consume him.

Bill had heard several stories of how he came to live with the Charltons. There were no records of his birth or past so he had to make up his history from the stories he was told. The Reverend himself told Bill that as a baby he had been exchanged for a sack of potatoes in a deal with a hungry trader that benefited both sides. On the rare day when Bill was resting from being tired out from working the farm the Reverend might chide him, “C’mon William get up and show me you’re worth a sack of potatoes.” And instead of taking offense, Bill would get up and work to sheer exhaustion. He became fond of taking some of the potato sacks and fashioning shirts from them, shirts he alone would always wear. But Bill had reason to doubt the story that he was traded for a sack of potatoes as well as the stories told to many of the slaves he came to know.  He had heard from one of the older slaves that he came to live with the Charltons as a baby because he was a Charlton, son of a union between the Reverend and a slave named Mae who was sent away soon after his birth. Bill was told that Mae consented to the arrangement with the Reverend in the hope that with some Godly intervention she would bear a Moses who would free her people from their oppression. Bill did not put much credence in this tale of his creation either. For one thing, his skin was dark making the fair-skinned Reverend an unlikely father. He also knew he was not going to be doing much liberating as a slave on Staten Island. Bill figured that it was more likely that his creation resulted from a union between his mother and one of the muscular slaves that were working for the Charltons or a neighbor. As a slave, she could not marry or control her family but she could not be stopped from being human. Although it was never spoken of, it may have been that kind of behavior that got his mother in trouble with the Charltons and eventually lead to her removal from their household. There was one other story, also told to him by an older slave, which he could not discount despite his dark skin. According to this story, the Charltons did own a slave named Mae who was very hard working and of a happy sort. She sang like a bird, just like Bill.  Mae, being quite sturdy and attractive to men, was noticed by some of the locals who returned from the North and West as heroes for fighting in the British Army defeating the French and the Indians in the war which finally provided security to the British subjects of America. These hero soldiers were left to do that which they wanted especially in regard to the local slaves. One day, the story goes, they cornered Mae who punched and kicked and bit each and every one of them with a boundless relentless fury that still ended in her rape and pregnancy. Bill believed that this event did happen to his mother, whether or not it was the event that resulted in his creation. After all, in his ten years Bill had seen countless horrible things happen to slaves and he heard tales of even worse. It was not that Bill wanted to think about such a horror happening to his mother but it did explain to him his rage at so many things. It explained why he would get into so many fights, even with his friends, where his tempered rage would make him always the victor. Old Mary would warn him that such anger would not serve him well so she taught him to pray first before striking out in anger. “Pray that you do not hurt anyone. Pray that your anger does not overcome your goodness. Pray that the Lord protects you and takes care of your soul.”

“Soul?” Bill would think. “Maybe it’s true what those people say about me. Maybe it is true that I am just a well-trained animal. Maybe it’s true that I have no soul.” Still, before sleep every night all the Charltons would say their prayers and Bill too would say his; the prayers he would repeat every night of his life. “I pray that I have a soul. I pray that I have a soul.”