Zebediah " Rooster " Quick 1849-1956 A Story of a Man.......Part I of 3


Rooster Quick, at the wise old age of 107, passed this day to the other side and to the glory of His Lord, August 25, 1956, calmly, while shucking field peas from his garden to toss into his old battered stew pot bubbling on the fire filled with of one of his specialties, road kill possum. His last words were, " Damn it, now ma' possum is a gonna burn. " He had maintained his garden, in one form or another, since being rewarded his own 5 acres in November 1865 for " Loyalty and undying service to his country, The Confederate States of America, during The War Against Northern Aggression. Of course, in the North, the rest of the world and at all times since, it has been known commonly as The American Civil War.

When the war broke out in at Fort Sumpter in South Carolina, Rooster Quick was just 11 years old. His master, a wealthy cotton farmer, loaded his family and their belongings onto 3 wagons, left his regal 12 bedroom home on a large plantation of 620 acres outside of Ringgold, Georgia, and fled to New Orleans. He had purchased an old freighter that would take them all to England and safety. Early after the fighting started in South Carolina, Squire Elmo Corcoran told his wife that he had had a vision that the war would end badly for the South and especially for the wealthy. There was no conversation, his decision was set in stone. This is one time when his miserly actions with a dollar would prove fatal and not end making him more money.The ship, old and leaky, encountered a devastating storm rounding the Florida Keys and the ship went down. All on board were lost, except Zebediah, including his mother and all 6 of his siblings.

He survived for 10 days clinging to a piece of the ship's wreckage. He had grabbed a bottle of his master's bonded whiskey from the fancy mahogany trunk as the Squire had entrusted with the key and that is what saved him. At the 4 TH day, stranded on the rough seas, he had drained the bottle of expensive elixir for the liquid he needed to survive. He broke the bottle on the edge of his piece of the ship that held him afloat and used the neck of the broken bottle and some pieces of material torn from his shirt to fashion a crude fishing line with a shiny lure. Rooster's quick thinking, and his patience as he waited for 2 hours, allowed him to finally land a small, slow moving, sea turtle. He used his handy jackknife to butcher the poor animal, but the results were that the blood and flesh would keep him alive. Most all of the days it had continued to rain, off and on. He would let the rain soak up his shirt and then he would squeeze the sweet water down his throat for some temporary relief of his thirst. The skies continued to be ominous, gray and dark, as if another hurricane would surely push him further out to sea. Luckily the currents kept moving  his path towards the north and possible land. One morning, he had awakened after getting some rare sleep, to calm waters and a beautiful golden and purple sunrise. His piece of that old ship had turned his ordeal into one of joy. On the horizon, he finally saw land. He used the turtle shell as a crude paddle and after a few hours he found himself washed up on the white sands of a heavily forested and palm covered, green island. Rooster, at that very moment, gave thanks to the Lord and promised in a prayer, proclaiming it out loud and at the top of his lungs, that he would spend the rest of his life helping others that were not as fortunate as he was. He felt like he was the wealthiest 11 year old slave boy in all of America. It made no difference to him about the North or the South. The only thing that mattered while here on earth was God's children. These were part of the many " truthisms " ( as his she called them ) that his mother, who had not been much older than he was now when Rooster was born, was adamant that he learn and practice forever. His father, his master, the Squire Elmo Corcoran, had allowed his mother to work in the big house and when young Zebediah was just 5 years old. Even at that young age he took to the heavy work as if he were much older, when he started helping in the kitchen. His mother often repeated that he was a " natcherl borned cook " and that he would always have a full belly if he continued to learn and worked hard, but mostly paid attention to all that she would show him 'bout them cookin' pots.

Rooster crawled clumsily up on the sandy beach to the edge of the forest. It seemed strange that he could now use his legs again. His shoes were lost when the ship wrecked, he was glad there were no rocks on this part of the beach. He had gotten sunburned being out on the sea for so long, for he had light skin like all of his brothers and sisters. His mother often told him that his being lighter skinned than that of most slaves would prove to be a life long benefit. Her having very dark skin was not an issue when Squire Corcoran took a liking to her at only 10 years old. He brought her up to the big house to work, which was better than picking cotton in the hot fields sun up to sundown. He allowed her to wear clean clothes without holes or mended collars. She did have to endure his coming into her bed almost every night, sometimes drunk and his breath smelling badly from too much whiskey. She endured the abuse, but for her the blessing were her wonderful 7 children that God had given her.

Now he must find fresh water and food. The fact that there may be someone who would find him was not on his mind. Rooster knew if he was found that he would be enslaved again, but this time he would probably be beaten for nothing, and made to work harder than he had ever experienced. It was unlikely that anyone would allow him to cook as he had done on the plantation in the big house, even though he had learned as much as he could from his mother. The secret that no one knew on the plantation was that Squire Corcoran's only daughter, Rowena, had secretly taught Rooster to read and write. When no one was around he would read the cookery books from the library, and she had given him an old tattered, worn bible that he kept safe in a loose wall board in the kitchen. Many of the books were very old and quite interesting. He suddenly realized that all of the books and his bible were left behind when they fled to New Orleans and would probably become, lost, stolen or be looted by Yankee soldiers. They would probably use them for firewood and that thought caused Rooster pain.

He decided that he would sharpen a strong, straight stick and with some vines attach his knife as a crude spear point. For defense against unknown animals, but mostly to hunt for food. He was determined to be cooking on the island. He had already seen some wild herbs growing at the edge of the beach. Some of the trees had fruit on them. The mangoes he knew about, but there were others he had to taste as he explored the island. He put his hand in his pocket and felt for his steel and flint he always carried as making a fire should be the first order. Then there is the issue of getting fresh water. He must find clear water to drink. He had his turtle shell and the sun out on the sea had baked out most of the flesh, what was left he had scraped out with his knife. It would be a good vessel to hold water when it rained, if need be. Speaking of the sea, he would love to have that turtle now so he could cook it, possible with some herbs. Maybe he could wade out to the shallows in an inlet to spear a fish. He was sure there were shellfish too, like the clams and oysters he had gathered for his mother when the Squire and all of the family, including the slaves, would go to the summer house on the Georgia coast. Food he was not worried about on this island. The main worry for him was making a shelter that shielded him from the elements and would be a good hiding place should he see a boat and there white folks on it, because if he was discovered, he knew his fate for sure. Perhaps a fishing boat with Negroes or some Cuban fisherman would be his best salvation. No more thoughts about that, he needed to gather dry branches for a fire, fashion himself a strong shelter and get some food. It would be dark in 2 hours or so. Fire, shelter and mangoes for today it would be.

He heard the putt-putt of a small boat as he awoke, when it was barely light out, in his carefully constructed branch and palm house. It had been about three weeks by his count and this was the first boat he had seen. They anchored just off his place on the beach and paddled ashore in a small skiff. There were 2 men and they were speaking Spanish. Rooster's heart was beating very fast now and he was scared he would be discovered. He had fashioned a safe place to stay, he had found fresh water and the fruits, wild forest fowl along with the fish he had been able to catch kept him fed somewhat. He had seen wild pigs but as yet had not been able to catch one. The men beached their little boat, climbed onto the sand while retrieving axes, lengths of rope and 3 canvas water sacks from the boat. It seemed they were there for wood to fuel their little fishing vessel and for fresh water. He moved from his shelter to a thicket so he could see them better. he then realized that these men were Negroes too. He thought to himself, " Should I reveal myself? Will they help me get home? Where was home?". At that point, Rooster Quick made the decision to hail these two men, counting on the chance that they will see his plight and assist him in getting back to Ringgold, Georgia. Somehow he knew that that was the best thing to do and that his fate lies where he was born, whether it turns out to be a life long lived or if he dies before his time. He stopped for a minute, noticing that his heart was now beating normally, closed his eyes and said a prayer honoring his mother and his lost siblings. He did not have a family any longer, but he had his resolve and his mother's strong words of encouragement. He also had his promise that he made when the Lord showed him the way to that little island and saved him, since He had spared him so far, that he would always be a tool for others to benefit and be helped as well as he was able.

Editors Note- This three part series is the compilation of several interviews with Mr. Zebediah Rooster Quick at his humble home in the tranquil wooded surroundings of the north Georgia sleepy town of Ringgold. All of this was compiled in the latter part of 1955. Mr. Quick had led an extraordinary life and my editor and I at the Vanguard, our college newspaper, of The North Georgia State College and University located in Dahlonega, Georgia, felt that our readers would appreciate the success story of a former slave who lived to the grand old age of 107. This man spent his life in service to others and no matter what his color he was a truly unique citizen of our in our times and of our wonderful state of Georgia. I am proud to pass on this small page taken from his large tome of life to our readers.

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