Restive Souls (sneak peek)
NOTE: The novel Restive Souls is about 3/4 complete. This is just a short sample from the opening chapters of the novel. It is very rough. Meaning unedited, even by me. It is subject to drastic changes. This sneak peek will be available for an extremely limited time, after which it will only be available by password (for copyright reasons). If you’d like to offer your comments about it, feel free to contact me here. Thanks for reading!
Copyright © 2021 by Charles Bastille.
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Part 1: Carolina Rising
My name is Emmet Bolo. I am a historian by trade. Many of the history lessons I provide derive from the souls of the dead. As such, I am honored to be able to channel some of the most important figures in the Carolina Union’s distinguished history. Why the dead come to me with their stories I can’t say, but be assured that the tales they tell are true; nothing I have ever reported has been refuted by evidence.
As such, I don’t tell stories. I teach them.
Do you want to know why the Carolina Union became the world’s greatest power? Let me teach you through stories.
We will begin with the tale of John Honeyman.
Who would have ever considered the possibility that this great nation’s beginnings were hoisted by the shoulders of a reluctant double-dealing spy, a man who should have been but a historical interlude? He, along with a Haitian maroon who held the double agent in such thrall that he was able to convince Honeyman to trick George Washington into crossing the Delaware against heavily fortified defenses on that ill-fated night that ended the Colonial Rebellion almost as soon as it began?
Such is the curiously small but epic tale of two minor characters who bring legend to the ancestral workings of one of earth’s great nations, and who became legends themselves.
Honeyman’s Tale (1776-77)
George Washington looked me over as if I was a broadened slab of my own butchery. His eyes scanned my feet, my legs, continuing to my head, then, for good measure, scanned back down again.
“What’s this now?” he said, looking at the letter I had handed him, which he had read thoroughly just moments ago.
“A letter sir, from General Wolfe.”
“Yes yes, an odd conveyance this is, is it not?” He flipped it around as if looking for more. “And rather old.”
“I’m sorry sir?”
“This letter. You have kept it on your person all this time?”
“Indeed, sir.” For occasions such as this, I dared not say out loud.
“Hmmph. Well, be it not for me to challenge its legitimacy. You’re Irish, I suppose.”
“Aye, sir, but Scottish too, if I may.”
Washington’s eyebrows arched up.
“You see, sir, I was born in Armagh, in Ireland, but of Scottish parents.”
Washington motioned for me to sit, and I did. He sat behind his wide desk and looked at me. “What is your manner of distaste in the Crown? Do you prefer sly chicanery? Or are you one with a preference to a direct blow to the head?”
“Aye, sir, I will prefer either as it suits you. A blow to the head after a bit of chicanery might suit us all, sir.”
Washington smiled at that. “A weaver and a butcher and a cattleman. An interesting mix of trade craft you have, Scott Irish.”
“Aye, sir, the life of the Irish under the Crown requires it just so.”
“May I ask you, what brought you into the service of bodyguard for General Wolfe?”
I told Washington of my Atlantic crossing onboard the English frigate Boyrie 18 years previously. It was a dark and stormy night, the kind promoted by great literature, and a young unsteady colonel was trying to negotiate a set of stairs on the deck I was guarding. We were not far from our destination off the banks of the great St. Lawrence. The colonel was quite drunk, but of course I left that portion of the story outside of General Washington’s hearing of the events. “Not stairs, so much, sir,” I said to Washington, “as a poorly reinforced ladder leading to the quarterdeck, from which the colonel was descending. The rough seas tossed him nearly overboard, sir, but I caught him, and he swore to me he’d never forget.”
“Saved him from the frothy jowls of our frigid Atlantic, did you?” smiled Washington.
“Aye, sir, the storm nearly had him” I tried to say humbly, although in truth it had led to a career. I still remember the colonel’s blanketed eyes and heavy eyelids. His breath could have lit a kerosene candle, and I remain in surprise that he did, indeed remember me not just in perpetuity, but even the next day.
“Him and many others,” said Washington. “But of course, one cannot become a bodyguard and remain so without warrant,” said Washington. “Favors returned or not. These are not positions for which mistakes can be endured, are they Scott Irish?”
Washington nodded, then scooted back on his chair and placed his feet, protected by thick boots dried with mud, upon his desk.
“I need a spy, Scott Irish,” he eventually said, three interviews later, “and your previous loyalty to the crown would serve us well for that.” I was beginning to think he thought of my name as Scott Irish. The name is Honeyman, I wanted to say. John Honeyman. I remained silent.
“I’ve had some background research done on you.”
“Quite. And you’ll do. Would you like to hear my proposal?”
“Aye, sir. Any proposal from your office shall in turn equate to a task accomplished, sir, if you please.”
“Very good, Honeyman. Do you know of Griggstown?”
“I’m afraid I do not, sir.”
“Well you soon shall. You are married, no?”
“Aye sir, to a fine lass, the name of Mary.”
“And I trust that for the cause of the Colonies you can still wear Tory clothes?”
A spy in Griggstown? Wherever that was. What an interesting scenario, I thought, this was becoming.
“Plying your trade, Mr. Honeyman, trading with the foul men of the crown, building your trust through your trade craft?”
“Aye, sir, that I can do.”
“Your years in the Crown’s military will serve you well in that regard. You shall settle in Somerset County with your good wife and good nature, and will report to us occasionally. I do apologize if this seems less the adventure to you than the high seas, but I assure you that in time, your patience shall find its reward.”
“I am most humbly honored,” I said, bowing.
Mary was a Covenanter like me. Our opposition to the Crown was genuine. It is true that I provided some fine years in service to the Crown but that was a trajectory led not by loyalty to England but to the Colonel I had saved on the deck of the Boyrie those years ago, to the man who became a general, a brave one at that, a man who I admired with unwavering tenacity.
My first loyalty as a Covenanter was to the church of Scotland, which was no friend to the Crown and its episcopal authority.
In those early years, I witnessed General Wolfe take battle against the French with steadfast courage. His accomplishments during the Siege of Louisbourg led to his forward change of rank. With his ascending fortune, so went mine. We were twins of character, with the only differences being he with ambition, me with no more longings than a fire stoking the coals in my belly for any adventure I could find.
General Wolfe met an unkind fate. I was an oarsman on a small boat navigating a channel of the St. Lawrence during one of the battles that would eventually drive the French out of Quebec. Ahead of us was Fort Levi under the purple dawn of morning. I gasped as a cannonball sheared the top off the head of the officer just in front of me sitting next to the general. I don’t know what became of my manners towards the dead; perhaps it is war that allows for such savage response, but I exclaimed, as I looked at the poor lad’s remains dripping across my lap, “He had more brains than an ox,” to which the General, a most kind soul, laughed, he too apparently overtaken by the horror of the moment.
We set ashore, cannonball and musket blasts all around. We made haste for a tall embankment that had been constructed by a team under great fire before our arrival. The number of bodies strewn across our way informed me that the effort was a brave one, one not counted during the lives of the lost souls who had somehow stacked broken masonry fallen from previous fighting – just enough for us to cower under a steady barrage. Reinforcements arrived quickly, so numbers gave us confidence to move out, slogging through mud and bodies and blood, through thickets made from a forest pollarded and shorn through battle.
That was when my man was hit. I do not have a way to express the remorse I felt at that moment, my shame, even, as General Wolfe’s bodyguard. He took a musket blast directly to the chest. From where, to this day I do not know. A pelting rain had begun to blow at a nearly horizontal angle. The visibility was poor.
I spent several years in a despondent state as a refugee from guilt, trying mightily to earn sufficient enough wages to tilt my chin a smidgen, just enough to keep it from its desired place on my chest as I walked forlornly through the streets of towns that were learning how to govern and keep themselves a party to commerce whilst surrounded by barbarians.
I made my way south. I wanted no quarter with savages, neither their trade nor their godless ways. Savages were unavoidable in the environs of Quebec and other portions of the northern colonies. I set for the grander settlements that had established a greater order over the wild men of the feathers and animal skins and bloody tomahawks.
A few years before meeting General Washington in 1775, I settled in Philadelphia. There, I mustered the desire to send my grief to the gallows. I met Mary Henry, an Irish lass from Coleraine near Londonderry. Her hair was a red fireball of tightly wound interlocking waves, her face lit by fireworks made from dozens of charming light red spots. She was what you would describe as a full woman, neither tall nor short, eloquent despite a shortened education, her lips a smoldering thin stretch of pink that curled a smile finely upwards into sets of three narrow dimples on each end. Her green eyes were lucent. Whenever I looked into them, they seemed to offer an opportunity to explore a side of human nature I was not accustomed to.
When I courted her, she began to bestow upon me the most profane compliments, such that I dare not repeat, but one. “You have the person of a gladiator,” she said to me in her Irish tongue, one thicker even than my own here in these colonies of adventure, as we danced closely together after a long night amongst local folk who were drunkenly blind to our physical indiscretion. She whispered into my ear such alarming words that I laughed as she pressed her hips against mine, forcing me to say with wild abandon, “I have no choice now but to ask for your hand in marriage.” As I said that she kissed me wildly on the lips, sending me into a vision of a thousand children scattering about our wooden floors, their knees collecting splinters from heavily worn floorboards made rugged by their rambunctiousness.
After our wedding we moved ourselves and our few belongings as General Washington asked to Somerset, where our lust for each other nearly drove us into poverty. After creating a nest of those rambunctious children, I eventually found my way out of Mary’s bed into the streets of Griggstown, into the hands of British traders and savages looking to steal their way into my trade. Oh, how crafty they were, in such ways I can barely describe. This seemed suitable considering my assignment.
Griggstown was a Colonial town. I was to play the part of a Tory, but quietly against the whisperings of a chosen few that Washington trusted to my determinations.
There was one particularly mischievous fellow. He was not descended from the local savages, but instead had found his way onto the northern reaches of the continent by way of New Orleans from the slave islands south of Florida. His name was Guillaume Diderot.
He called himself a cimarrone. He told tall tales of his escape as a slave from those southern islands, where he claimed to have learned many skills and several languages. He certainly spoke English well enough, with an interesting accent I would be challenged to precisely describe. One might sense it as French, but there was a lingering, unfamiliar cadence to its shortened affect.
Diderot was a thin reed of a man with skin the color one might expect when encountering the offspring of a savage and an African colonial slave. He wore at all times an elongated red kerchief that stretched beyond the back of his head and held braids of hair that fell nearly to the shoulder.
He bore two loop rings in each ear. The rings hung from wide wooden coin-like objects trapped within a shocking, gaping hole bored into each earlobe. It was an appalling site at first glance. My first thought was that perhaps a demon from Beelzebub himself had alighted into my stall, which I filled each morning with salted meats and blankets crafted the European way.
The streets of Griggstown, both of them, I hasten to add, were busy with merchants like me. There was a blacksmith noisily grinding at a storefront just behind me, a haberdashery and tailor at another storefront, and a medicine filler from London whose mixtures were suspect, according to local conversation. His shop across the dirty street from where I set up my stall was a masoned box of filth.
There were only two other storefronts in the settlement. One of those was occupied by a lawman who could never be found. The other was occupied by a cooper making casks and barrels. Other stalls were occupied by two other weavers, one other butcher, a cobbler, and Guillaume Diderot, a purveyor of everything, it seemed. There were savages who sometimes visited for the purposes of fur trading, but I bore no interest in them.
When Diderot first visited my stall, I tried to ignore him, but he was insistent in his countenance. “An impressive display,” he said to me when I finally turned away from my work with a sigh.
“Yes, it requires considerable upkeep,” I replied in a way I hoped he’d understand as a busy protestation against engagement.
“Blanceurpéen, you have not sold a thing since you dropped your first cask of salt pork into the back of your stall,” he laughed. “What’s to clean up, huh? I think maybe you simply do not like a cimarrone like me, no?”
This was when I noticed his ghastly earrings. I wished to fall to my knees and query the Lord on who sent this demon, but instead I put my hands on the counter of my stall and leaned forward. “It’s a constant effort to keep the flies and such away,” I said.
“Wait!” The cimarrone ran off before I was given a chance to say anything further.
He returned with a large cup of black pepper. “You dump this on top of your barrels, non? No more chasing flies, mon frère.”
“Pepper? Where did you find such copious amounts of pepper?” I asked incredulously. “I have searched all of Somerset for pepper.”
He extended his hand. “Guillaume Diderot, at your service.” I reluctantly took it. For he had pepper.
“John Honeyman,” I said. “What do you want for the pepper?”
“Ah, non. That is a gift.” He smiled widely. “A welcoming to this small part of the world, non?”
“Oui,” said I. “Merci,” I bowed.
“Ah, a man of dignity. You should visit the wildlands of Florida, mon frère. A bow like that might undo your head.”
He then began to tell me of some of his adventures.
Diderot had escaped a sugar plantation in Saint-Domingue, the French portion of Hispaniola where he had been enslaved. The work was arduous to such an extent that to describe them would humble the cruelest London prison.
I had little regard or interest in the work or lives of slaves until this moment. There were many slaves in the northern colonies, this I knew. The coastland counties of New Hampshire were so populated with Africans that they outnumbered Europeans. The counties surrounding Somerset were also teeming with them.
Still, I had experienced little chance to encounter slaves or slavers. I was myself a workingman, a cattleman, a butcher, a weaver, not in any particular order, only in the order that it suited me during any one moment. I had some dexterity in my skill set, but I was not wealthy. I therefore could not consider the purchase of a slave. As Diderot spoke, it became upon me that I could not consider such a venture were it to chance upon me.
Diderot escaped the tortured fields of the sprawling sugar plantation to Cap-Français, a thriving city on the north of the Hispaniola island. There, he met a man named Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, a highly educated gen de couleur who directed Diderot to a covert education camp in Cap-Français. The camp was quite successful I’d say, because Diderot’s intelligence was highly refined. His language skills in English and French were more capable than my own. Diderot stayed there for some time, learning as much as any fine European university education could offer, he insisted.
One day, the camp’s leader, a Saint-Domingue woman named François Alain, was scavenging for supplies when she was accosted by several members of gendarmes representing northern gens de couleur plantation owners.
“Mon frère,” Diderot said to me, “these gens de couleur, they were the worst of all people in Saint-Domingue. Some, such as Chavannes, they agitated for abolition, non? But then we had those bloody gendarmes. Should they not have known better? You see, the gens de couleur were people born of French slave owners and their slave concubine. They considered themselves quite superior to the slave with pure African blood. C’était une abonimation. Alas, one never knew what they might do. They may help you, non? Or they may assault you and extinguish a hundred dreams. Mais oui, that is what they did, my friend. They took poor François to parish authorities, where she was hammered to death in a public spectacle.” He shook his head at this, wiped his mouth, looking at me with wide eyes. “They extinguished a hundred dreams. That was her number of students.”
“Hammered?” I asked. “As in, with a hammer?”
“Oui, what else?”
“Good God, and a woman.”
“A woman, and a woman of great culture, empathy, and understanding.”
“And then what brought you here?”
“Ah, not here. To Florida, where I navigated through city streets full of the demonic overlords from España.” Diderot leaned in towards me and whispered, “Do you know, Monsieur Honeyman, that the devils from France appear as true angels when standing astride the demons from España?” He nodded his head forcefully. “C’est vrai, mon frère. C’est vrai.”
He described the horrors of Spanish slavers in Florida with such gruesome detail that I found myself leaning against the counter of my stall praying that I would not wretch before my storyteller’s eyes. He also described an interesting people he called Seminole. “These were my people, mon frère, in many ways. You see, I too was descended from a First Settler and a slave, but of course I had to win my freedom through escape. I do believe something treasured happens when the blending of a people occurs. These Seminole, ah, a beautiful people, my friend. A mixture of freed slaves from your Eastern Coasts, or sometimes from the slave islands, and the First Settlers of this land.”
“Savages?” I looked around, frightened, as if I might be soon impaled by one of their cursed arrows as I spoke.
“Non, non, non, my friend. First Settlers, they are traders first. You see this here in the north, non?”
I shook my head. “I, well I can’t say. I have had little reason to barter with such folk.”
Diderot looked at me as if I had announced that I was a ghost. Then he waved his hand at my stall. “This does explain such a quiet presence you have, does it not, Monsieur Honeyman?”
I looked around. There wasn’t a savage to be seen among the few people milling about other stalls. I was not missing their business since there were none. I shrugged.
“Ah no matter. Tomorrow, you shall meet Jacob Longfish. You will like him. You will see. May I sample a bit of your salt beef or pork?”
I retrieved some beef for him. He nibbled on it. “Outstanding, mon frère. Jacob Longfish will happily establish trading business with you.”
I came to know Diderot well. My initial presumptions regarding his character had not been generous, but I grew fond of the man and became an admirer of his panache, as well of what I perceived as a legitimacy to his air. His descriptions regarding the nature of slavery appalled me. In my ignorance I had perhaps perceived the slaver’s relationship to the slave as akin to a landowner’s relationship to his servant. It was nothing of the sort. After Diderot’s abysmal reports, slavers became, in my estimation, universally evil descendants of the same sectors of God’s universe that gave birth to Beelzebub’s legion of demons and murderers.
When I met the savage Jacob Longfish (known also by his Mohawk name Kentsio’shon:a’kserakwé:kon), my pre-ordained opinion was again pleasantly corrected. He was very nearly a man of the cloth, so imbued was he with the Christian faith, which he told me was acquired during his frequent bouts with the French not a hundred miles further north, where he met some success trading with an English settlement. He was a Mohawk who lived among his fellow savages in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which had allied itself with the British during the wars between Britain and France. This alliance was now extended to the current troubles in the Colonies.
Griggstown had become a difficult venture for Longfish because it was a rebel stronghold whose residents held incendiary views towards Iroquois. Longfish evaded the problem easily enough by feigning Algonquin lineage, as Algonquins were aligned with the French. Few colonial settlers could discern the difference.
Diderot, Longfish and I began to drink every morning together before our respective stall duties. Longfish risked a stall location despite the potential for discovery regarding his tribal affiliation. Once I saw Diderot and Longfish engaged with one another, I realized that Diderot, rather than mercantilism, was the attraction for Longfish. Our morning drinks were always the same, a strong tea concoction created by Longfish that provided a welcome boost to my morning that far outshone any coffee or English teas. The concoction seemed to keep me awake long after I needed it, and when I arrived home to Mary in the evening, instead of collapsing exhausted from my workday, I was still full of enough energy to potentially sire several more rambunctious children.
One morning we three men were gathered along a tree line just outside of the settlement, enjoying Longfish’s hot brew, when Diderot presented some alarming news about General Washington. “He is said to be on the run, mon frère. He has lost New York to the British and he is making his way across this very province as we speak, his troops in disarray, it is said.”
I presumed he was seeking a reaction from me, as I had never explained my loyalties, either those assigned by General Washington, or otherwise. These loyalties I found troublingly in flux, given rumored promises that the British were offering full emancipation to slaves in return for their efforts against the rebels. I had become, in the course of knowing my two new darker skinned friends, a committed abolitionist, and even a sympathizer to the savages who inhabited the forests.
“I trust to say that your mouths shall not deliver the words your ears are about to hear.” I looked at both men. They nodded. “I am Irish. If I could claim this fine land for Ireland, tis what I would do. Alas, wee Ireland is not a naval power, and shall not be. I am therefore the wicket of the larger door that opens before me. Whether that door is opened by Haudenosaunee or Britain or a new nation carved out of these current troubles, matters not a whit to me, as long as I can continue my tradecraft.”
Longfish nodded at that, his square deerskin hat, pierced by dozens of small feathers, seemingly moving in different directions as he did so. “I claim this land for the Haudenosaunee, but it is a broken claim, as this land is lost. Whether under the feet of colonial rebels or the British crown, it shall remain under the unfortunate direction of the people of bloodless skin.”
“Oui,” agreed Diderot, lifting his cup into the air and drinking. “Then I propose we bind our loyalties to one another, friends.”
“I shall drink fondly to that,” I said. Longfish concurred, and the three of us clinked our cups together.
The next day I was greeted at my stall by a tall Algonquin, as Diderot later informed me, who passed a parchment bound with a gilded seal shaped like a star which said, “Com.-in-chief”. After I dismissed the Algonquin, Diderot skittered to my stall. “Shall I follow him, mon ami?” I shook my head and carefully opened the parchment. I was being summoned to General Washington’s confines at Summerseat, across the Delaware from Trenton, which was falling into the hands of the Crown.
Like many in this new Jersey colony, I was a man torn between two purposes. There was my distaste for the crown, but in recent weeks I had grown an even greater distaste for slavery. Most Griggstown citizens were firmly in the rebel camp, but many maintained a romantic notion towards their British roots. There was little interest in the subject of slavery for anyone but the most avowed political activists, who generally seemed opposed unless they had mercantile interests that could directly benefit from free hands.
“Monsieur Diderot,” I said formally to him, even though by now, as our relationship grew, I was most often calling him anything but, “What do you think of this British promise to free the slaves? Is it the ruse I suspect it to be?”
“Ah, yes my friend isn’t that the question of our ages? We must presume so, must we not? But there are movements afoot, Monsieur Honeyman,” he said, returning the favor of formality. “I mustn’t say of what these are, for to tell you endangers your person and your fine family. Alors, you seem capable of putting yourself in enough danger of your own accord, non?”
“Oui,” I smiled. “But why even trust me with that little information. I am holding here in my hands a letter from the Colonial Commander in Chief himself. You put yourself at great risk comporting yourself in any way with the likes of me.”
“The likes of you? Monsieur Honeyman, I believe I know your person better than you yourself. I shall tell you with confidence that you will listen to your General Washington, and proceed to do precisely the opposite of his next request.” He shook his head. “This is not a command from one friend to another, or a demand, or any such thing. This is a prediction that I know to be true as well as I know the ways the blossoms hanging from the cherry trees of Mount Vernon will be blackened by the flames of war.”
I smiled at that. “Well I am fairly certain I have no idea what plans he has of me.”
“But plans. A sealed parchment from the Colonial Commander sent behind enemy lines. Yes there are plans. Of that we are certain. Your General is a man of risk-taking aptitude.”
“It seems to be in the blood of every general,” I said, thinking of my friend Wolfe. “And our Algonquin friend, who risked each feather on his head to deliver this,” I added, waving the parchment.
“Curious the general could not find a Haudenosaunee to traitor his cause for a princely sum,” said Diderot.
“Washington is a master sleuth in the arts of espionage. He plays the game well. I suspect he simply could not find someone trustworthy.”
“Someone like yourself, non?”
“I have not said I intend to betray the General.” I knew there was little Diderot could do to impede any assignment General Washington had in mind short of killing me, and I didn’t believe he would do that.
“Of course not.” Diderot walked back to his stall, seemingly knowing more of my plans than I.
I had never shared with Diderot that Washington was providing a healthy stipend for my activities here in Griggstown, but I suspected he knew. The quiet of my stall said as much. Diderot was a clever man, aware of the most infinitesimal details surrounding his presence.
I applied part of that stipend to purchase the use of a horse to make use of a skill I learned during the war with the French. I would ride quickly to a place called Summerseat, using roads delineated by Washington himself on a second parchment and map that arrived hours later, brought to my wife’s hands by a small boy, she said, not ten years old.
“He was a scruffy lad, I say,” she said. “Full of dust and such turmoil in his eyes for a wee young lad. I felt for the boy, I did.”
“Shall I search for the missing food stuffs you provided him while enraptured with your empathy, my dear, or shall you just declare them out now for me and save me the trouble?” I kissed her lovely forehead, my lips dodging wild red curls.
She smiled. “A small baked loaf tis all, Mr. Honeyman.”
“Well that’s a fine thing then,” I said, and it was.
I made a decision that at the time seemed inconsequential aside from the routine risk of discovery that I had already become accustomed to. I decided to bring Diderot. To this day I am not certain what my mind was contemplating on such a choice.
In one sense I was discovering within myself a sense of loyalty towards those I admired. It became that my frame of political reference was driven much more by that loyalty than towards polity. Whether the world is crumbling around you, or whether good fortune has coalesced, neither matter, I reckoned, more than with whom you surrounded yourself as such events transpired. The mischievous Diderot was honorable to his core, but there was more to the man that I was eager to understand that his accompaniment on my journey was likely to provide.
Besides, he had experience with hard travel. A reliable companion seemed like a good course of action.
He was a good horseman, as it turned out, and there were only two treacherous ravines near the summits of each of two small hillocks during the day long ride. We drove the horses hard, often at a two-beat pace, with occasional gallops to honor General Washington’s request for haste.
It was by now early December. The Delaware would be a wretched force if the bridge General Washington’s map promised was not in service.
Hessians, the German mercenary forces employed by the Crown to enact enhanced orders of viciousness without the Crown’s signature, had not yet taken firm positions around Trenton. If by chance General Washington’s assurances regarding a horse worthy bridge were mistaken, my mission was doomed. I was glad to have Diderot as my riding companion, even though he would need to ride discreetly during our approach to Summerseat.
There was no bridge.
Upon my first view of the mighty Delaware, I was able to understand why. The waterway was an angry wet rope of icy surges sweeping and swelling against its shores. The river was far too wide for a bridge made under the duress of military maneuver.
Diderot pointed to a break in the tree line along the shore. “Boats,” he said.
“Several,” I nodded, cold fog pushing out of my mouth as I spoke, forgetting about General Washington’s clear deception. Men were milling about. Colonial rebels, of that I had no doubt.
Before we could proceed with a plan, I heard branches breaking behind me, and I felt as if I had fallen to ambush. A man appeared out of the woodlands, into the break of trees Diderot and I were standing, pointing a musket as several more men followed behind.
“What say you?” said the man with the musket. He wore a disheveled long coat. His face was nearly hidden by streaks of long greasy hair covering what looked like a face darkened by the need for a shave.
“We are cattlers who have strayed some,” I said. “The river has taken us by surprise, as we had not expected it for several miles forward.” I nodded in the direction of the loud rushing coil of water.
“Cattle rustlers no doubt,” said the rebel. He pushed his musket hard into my gut, which I seized with both hands as I fell to my knees in pain. He nodded to the boats, and his men pulled me up by my elbows and dragged me towards the water. I looked behind for Diderot, but he was miraculously gone, as if consumed by the forest. Two men seemed to be giving chase.
They brought me to a boat, pushing me roughly into one. “How many have you stolen?” the man with the musket asked as his men pushed out into the water.
My eyes continued to search for Diderot, but the two men who had run for him returned without him.
“Penalties for stealing cattle are not to be trifled with, Tory. If the Commander himself had not ordered your live capture, I would kill you here, vermin.”
“The Commander said nothing about a good knock about,” said one of the men on the boat, and with that, all went dark.
I awoke in a neatly appointed bedroom.
It was cold in the room, but I was under a thick pile of heavy blankets. A woman covered in a woolen scarlet cape and wearing a white kerchief on her head was sitting in a chair and knitting.
“Oh,” she said when she saw that I was looking at her. The back of my head hurt too much to offer a response. She gathered her belongings and stood up. “I will send for the General presently,” she said, scurrying out the door.
A few moments later General Washington entered the room flanked by two armed men. He motioned for them to leave, then closed the heavy wooden door behind him. “I believe this door is sufficient for privacy.” he said softly, “I do say, I can barely push it closed myself from all its weight. But I shall speak silently to avoid the curious wolves that hound premises such as this.”
He dragged the chair formerly occupied by the knitter towards me and sat down. “Well, that was a job so well done you nearly had me convinced of your Tory treachery,” he laughed quietly. “Where in God’s name did you find that peculiar companion I’ve heard spoken of?”
I was out of sorts, and had as my most fervent desire that of taking leave post haste. Instead I said, “A fellow cattle hand I met while extricating Tory cattle from their lairs,” I moaned.
“I do say I must apologize for that blow to the head. I believe I owe Corporal Lansing a dozen lashes and a week’s disbarment from the garrison’s alcohol supply.”
“I believe I am quite alright, thank you, General.”
“Think nothing of it, it is I who must be of thanks, Scott Irish. I do say, there isn’t a soul here who doesn’t believe our story.”
“I want to consider that a welcome manifestation,” I said, testing the back of my sore head for blood.
When I looked at my fingertips, they were clean. I had felt a thick bandage in the back. I was pleased that it did not feel damp in any way.
“She’s a fine nurse that one,” said Washington.
“That woman who was seated in the chair you are in now, sir?”
“Indeed. Mary Beecher is her name. A fine young lady. Well then on to our mission. I hesitate to ask. Are you prepared for additional adventures?”
“Aye, sir, that is my raison d’etre.”
General Washington offered a sly smile. “A phrase in a language not well regarded in Trenton of late.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Our modest army is becoming more modest by the day, I am afraid to report. It suffers from attrition due to sickness, poor morale, and desertion. Not to mention an approaching expiration of service time. We have been in full retreat across all the New Jersey province. We have lost New York, Honeyman, and I dare say I do not have, at this moment, a plan for retrieving her. My best few men were veterans of the line wars between the New Jersey and York provinces. I lost many of these during the battle for New York, I’m afraid. Many of the others have quit the fight.”
“Dare I ask what your plan is for taking back the York?”
General Washington shook his head. “It will be of remarkable fortune if we can hold Philadelphia, as things stand. My current plan requires some steadfast work with an iron spine from none other than yourself, Scott Irish, and I do pray to the heavens you are up to a most difficult task.”
“I am honored that you would even consider me useful in such a regard, sir.”
“We need a victory, Honeyman. Any kind will do, methinks. My plan is to take Trenton, and to be certain the rest of the colonies become aware of our victory such that renewed enlistment begins to repair our ranks.”
“It does not look to be a well-fortified town as of this point, General.”
“Indeed, but it will be soon full of Hessians. My reports indicate that there are two of these mangy hired Huns of particular interest to us. One of the name von Donop. The garrison commander is an outrageous fellow last name of Rahl. A blowhard, according to the spying winds of Trenton.” Washington chuckled lightly when he said, “If it appears that my espionage forces are more substantial than regular army, Honeyman, trust my words, the appearance is not misleading.”
“Perhaps I should suit up with a musket, sir.”
“Indeed not. Your value is on the street wearing Tory garb.”
“Very well, sir.”
“Very good. I shall tell you now of the challenge that awaits you. You must gain acquaintance with Rahl to learn of his plans for fortifications and defense. Surely he will have such, as Trenton is a gateway to eventually finding our way back to New York. It could also serve as a worthy fort, in time. Mind you, he will not blindly offer a merchant his battle plans, but by observation, you should deduce much. You simply need to be have enough trust to walk about Trenton without being accosted.
“He will need cattle and meats, things you can provide. I suggest you offer him a kindly bargain. He need not know the bargain has been financed by his enemy.”
“And as such, I can rustle cattle within his own allies’ temporary boundaries.”
“No no, Mr. Honeyman, that will not do. The small ranchers in this region have suffered enough. We shall pay them a fair price out of Colonial funds, which are meager, but sufficient for this cause. As it is, our ranchers will not delight in providing livestock, even at a price.”
“Well how much beef does a Hessian eat, sir? Surely we don’t require a herd. A few bullocks ought to be sufficient, oughtn’t they?”
“Indeed but as you know, each has great value in distressed times as these. The trick will be offering these good folks cash for their livestock without their reducing your head to musket char. Local residents are mostly quite eager to rid Trenton of the Hessian and Crown presence, and you, my dear fellow, qualify as such, as the back of your head will attest.”
I considered Diderot useful for such a task, but I did not share that opinion with the general. “If I may, sir, I do not believe it wise to attempt to curry favor outside the boundaries of Trenton proper.”
“Trenton itself does have strong sympathies to the Crown. So in that sense you will find great safety. What do you propose?”
“I shall rustle up some cattle as I suggested, but surreptitiously deliver packets of monies to those who suffer losses.”
“Interesting. And under what guise shall these payments be made?”
“Unknown, sir. I will need to consider how to establish details such as those.”
“Fine, I’ll leave such details in your hands, Mr. Honeyman. We will need this task accomplished by the time the Christmas night falls, if at all possible. Can you manage?”
“Aye I can, sir.”
“I suspected as much. Good man. As for my precise plans past Christmas night, these will depend on many factors, including signals I receive from you. As of now, your mending is of most importance. I shall keep two guards at your door. In the next day you will be sent to the brig, which lies in the basement of this fine estate. There will be a small fire that evening an hour past nightfall which will command the attention of your guards. I will then personally open the gates to your brig, and you will make haste with your escape.”
“Will not you be a suspect in my escape sir?”
“Perhaps so,” the general smiled. “Perhaps so. Fortunate for my position within this great and formidable army, am I not?” I detected a hint of sarcasm that for the first time suggested that Washington was fearful towards the future of his nascent rebellion.
General Washington’s plan went further afield. He was mindful to inform me that his espionage officers had secured the services of a “Rubenesque young lady” named Betsy Ross, who had developed a discreet, and, in the general’s words, “somewhat naughty” relationship with Rahl’s immediate superior, Carl von Donop.
Rahl, according to Washington, was a fair tactician, but von Donop was a dangerously skilled strategic thinker who had a much more intensely loyal command of local Hessian forces. How Washington was able to secure such detailed information on his enemy combatants was a mystery to me.
Washington wanted von Donop away from Trenton, and the young Miss Ross was, again in Washington’s words, to be a “lure servant” for the Colonial forces, with the intent of sequestering von Donop in rolls of comforting blankets, pillows, and Miss Ross herself in Mount Holly, where von Donop was quartering while General Washington enacted his battle plans, the details of which he did not share.
“If von Donop is in Trenton in direct refute to Miss Ross’s charms,” he advised me, “there is a bridge along Pennington Road. There you must plant a British flag on the northwest side of the bridge to inform me of von Donop’s presence, for that will alter our strategies after the holidays have passed. After you have done that, or not, you must secure your own safety and hasten to return to Griggstown and your fine family.”
The next day I was indeed confined to a brig, which was in truth a wine cellar barred by a door heavier than that of the whole of my home in Griggstown. The door was secured by a large iron latch across its exterior. The basement wall’s windows were too narrow through which any human could crawl, not even the nimblest child. Sadly, the wine had been removed to another space.
A tall wire of a man escorted me, his face, filled with the pockets of a long ago pox, finished by an extended pointed jaw that remonstrated throughout the escort, saying in effect, that it was only by Washington’s direct orders that I was not being transported in several separate pieces. He shoved me into the cellar, slid the latch shut, and grumbled away.
There is not much to say about my short stay there, other than to mention the room’s dank air. I did not feel like a prisoner because I knew my stay was to be shortened by General Washington’s contrivance. The rebel guards overseeing me, with their dark, sullen demeanors, could not reorient my mood, which was boiling with the possibility of some adventure.
When the fire struck that evening, it did not seem small. A full building, perhaps a small cottage associated with Summerseat, was ablaze. I was not chained in my room in any way. I could see the dark of night flickering, which meant that my stay here was about to end. Washington appeared in a timely fashion, appearing hurried. He motioned me to make haste, telling me to head into the opposite direction of the fire. Pointing to a knoll that lie a few hundred feet in front of what I would discover later to be a forested glen, he handed me a small, lit torch fired by kerosene. There, a horse would be waiting for me, hitched to a tree.
I nodded, took the torch, and ran off as instructed into a light, cold late November rain.
I was confident that General Washington would prevent pursuers, but there were always scouts on patrol, not to mention the danger of savages. My escape to the horse was a rapid one. From there, I would need to find a “Beetie’s Ferry” or some such. It was difficult to discern his words, or even what that meant, but I hoped it meant that there was a ferry with which I could cross the Delaware for my return to Trenton.
By great fortune I found the horse almost precisely as my torch became extinguished by a strengthening rain. It was frightfully cold. I needed shelter, as my garb was not sufficient to protect me. Tied to the horse’s saddle, much to my surprise, was a duffel bag with a pole protruding from its side and another bag bound to the pole.
I quickly unbundled the package, surely a gift from Washington. There was a sack of coins that I had no time to count, so I stuffed them into a buttoned pocket of a large cape that appeared from the unraveling of the prize. The cape had a hood sewn in hurriedly as if someone knew of the inclement weather I’d be facing. I swept the cape over me as I mounted the horse, which seemed cooperative in nature. I eased myself slowly into the saddle and gently led the horse past the knoll along a stretch of trees I hoped represented a Delaware tributary or creek.
My entire being resisted attempting to ride a horse at all in these conditions. One slip on a rock in this darkness would buckle the poor beast, but I had no choice, so we moved slowly. The horse seemed aware of the danger, too, as it faced each step gingerly.
I reached into the pocket I had used as my temporary coin repository and found a piece of thick paper with a badly drawn map pointing to “Beattie’s Ferry – one eight piece, Com -in Chief Geo Wash”. I took that to mean that I was to locate a ferry serviced by a proprietor named Beattie and offer him one of the coins in my bag, from which I extracted a piece. The darkness of the air blocked formal identification, but it felt like a Spanish dollar. I slipped that and the note into one of the front pockets of my breeches and continued the slow ride, praying to the heavens I was riding properly to the ferry in question.
Dawn was breaking before I found it. I must have looked quite a sight to the well-dressed man who answered the door I pounded upon with perhaps unnecessary authority. He wore a frock cape over a distinguished white undergarment adorned with the kind of neck and sleeve ruffles one would find on a wealthy man. He wore the hat of a ferryman, however, a round item with a square bill at its front. He was extremely tall, at least half a foot taller than the top of my head, and I was a rather tall man myself, two inches beyond six feet. He had seen many days.
“Tis early,” he said in a Cockney accent.
“Aye it is,” I said, too bedraggled for a quarrel of any kind.
“And where do you be going?”
“Just across the river, to Trenton.”
“And you will be bringing the horse.”
I nodded, “Indeed,” somehow ably resisting my urge to query why I’d leave my horse behind.
“How do you propose to pay? You do not appear as a monied man.”
Surely on that note, he was making an honest observation. My face must have looked the fright, my clothes heavy with rain and the splatter of mud.
“I have an eight piece and a note from the Commander.”
I nodded with a shiver.
“Good, God, man, come inside immediately, and out from that squalor.”
As I did so, the tall, aged man instructed me to remove my cape. I removed my bag from the cape before handing it to him. He placed it over a round wooden table in front of a burning fireplace. “Shan’t take long to dry,” he said. “The general and I are old foes.”
“I see,” I said warily.
“The bloke has trounced me severely at whist. But at our last meeting, he sustained heavy losses, for which he still owes me several shillings.” The man was smiling widely, proud, I believe, that he had played cards with the commander of rebel forces.
He continued, “I knew old George from his first visits to Morristown, before even he settled in at Mount Vernon. Any bloke who is a friend of his has already paid his fare across that treacherous beast some call a river, I say.”
“Well I greatly appreciate your generosity.” I pulled the Spanish dollar from my pocket and handed him the note along with it. “Let us consider the General’s whist debt paid, then.”
“Fair enough, my friend. The name is Beattie. George Beattie.” He extended his hand, which I took.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Beattie. And so is my horse, I am certain.”
“You hail from the Eire, judging from your talk.”
“Aye, born of Eire, but a Scotsman by parentage. The general calls me Scott Irish, as opposed to my true name John Honeyman.”
“Well Mr. Honeyman, we shall see to it that both the Scotsman and the Irishman within your person has a safe journey across the water.”
I nodded in thanks, which was profound after a shivering evening of cold rain and uncertain steps.
Beattie provided a much needed breakfast of warm salt pork, a bowl of hot oats, and a most desperately appreciated mug of strong coffee before we set out to the ferry.
The ferry was a flat bottom pontoon that could have held a coach as well as a couple horses, I thought. It held steady against the flowing waters as we crossed. There were thin shards of long ice that occasioned against the boat, but the journey was quickly accomplished without incident.
I thanked Beattie, feeling a great outpouring of relief as he turned away back to his lodge.
I needed to return to Griggstown to report to my wife and seek out Diderot, whom I was confident had escaped our earlier encounters with rebels. I wished for confirmation of that fact, but found myself shaken and somewhat ill from the ceaseless anxieties to which I normally felt great attachment.
I spied an inn given the name by signage of Bread and Crosses, hoping for lodging. I could afford this one day of quiet solitude, along with its subsequent night of less fitful sleep. The inn looked much like a large wood frame farmhouse with a surprisingly large porch supported by three thick beams.
When I entered the inn, I observed two men drinking mugs of ale. I nodded to them and sat down at a table. The place smelled of the pine woods that seemed to be the bulk of everything, from the walls to the somewhat unsteady table at which I sat. The floor consisted of dirt pummeled by years of footfall that gave way to a wood floor nearest the counter where the proprietor most likely spent his time overseeing his establishment.
There was soon a man emerging from a doorway behind the counter, a round little bald man without a hat of any kind. His breeches were as old as he was, a man beyond middle age but not yet bent with arthritis. If he was half as tall as I, it was barely so.
He wore a strange brown shirt with a square collar that wrapped around his neck fastened by one button in front. It was not the clothing one might find on a modern man. It caused me to wonder about his origin. He approached me, holding a small hammer of some sort. “The work is never done in a place as this,” he said in a Welsh accent. “Would you like something to drink? To eat? It is a beef stew today, a fine one, made by my sister Agnes.”
“Thank you, sir. I am seeking lodging for the evening. Have you anything here, or perhaps an awareness of some house that does?”
“Ah a Scotsman from Ireland. Dylan Shale is my name. And how soon from now did you arrive here across the Atlantic?” he smiled, while chewing something.
“Honeyman. John Honeyman. Quite some time ago, Mr. Shale. Very astute observation regarding my accent.”
“I am fond of travelers. One must be to maintain a proprietorship such as this, of course. I happen to have one room. You will be glad of it I am sure.” I was sure he noticed the condition of my cape, which had dried well within Beattie’s confines, but looked the part of a well-traveled overcoat.
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “Quite.”
It was at that moment that Diderot, in an appearance of mathematical implausibility, appeared inside the Bread and Crosses in a run, hastily approaching the counter in an apparent search for someone. I jumped out of my chair, which alerted the proprietor. “Diderot!” I exclaimed.
When he saw me, he glanced quickly at the proprietor and gleefully smiled. “Monsieur Honeyman, Monsieur Shale! I am so glad to see both of you!”
I looked at the proprietor, who returned my gaze. He approached Diderot. “Is something wrong, Guillaume? You look rather harried.”
“Alors, they have found me Monsieur Shale.”
“They? Who are they?” returned Shale.
“Slave hunters.” Diderot’s head was quite nearly bouncing around on his head as if on a spring while he looked this way and that. “They have claimed me, and they give chase.”
“Where are these men?” I asked.
“They will be here presently,” said Diderot. “I am certain they saw me enter the premises. I have been running a Greek marathon in my attempt to escape their clutches but I’m afraid I have been unable to fully succeed.”
“Have you a weapon?” I asked the proprietor.
“Indeed, two. But my friend, you will not quickly enough discover how to use such a weapon if these men are near.”
“I am a former infantry man. I am prepared. Lock your doors, and please show me these weapons. I assure you I will not attempt anything untoward.”
Shale nodded and motioned for the two ale drinkers to leave. “Now! Please,” he admonished. The two men grumbled and left their mugs on the table. Shale quickly bolted the door. “Come with me.” Diderot and I followed him to a room behind the counter that looked to be a small bookkeeping area. He pushed open a small door near the floor. The door was not tall enough for a child to crawl through. It was a heavy wooden door, several inches thick, unlocked, but with a long wood bar across with a latch where a lock could have been fastened.
Shale quickly pulled out two strange looking muskets. He handed one to Diderot and one to myself. “I am too wee for this kind of fight.”
Diderot looked at the weapon handed to him, as I looked at the one handed to me. “But what is it? I have never seen such a thing,” said Diderot.
The thing was light. I moved my arm up and down as I looked at Shale.
“Tis a breech loading flintlock. And yes, tis lighter, Mr. Honeyman. Three pounds lighter at the very least, I say. Experimental in nature. ‘Use at your own risk,’” said the man who sold me these weapons. He claimed he received them from a fellow named Ferguson all the way from Scotland. Perhaps from your own county, Mr. Honeyman.”
I shook my head. “An unfamiliar name.”
He pulled several carbine balls out of the small doorway and handed some to us. He then quickly demonstrated how to load the peculiar weapon, which had a device under the trigger that Shale pulled down and rotated. Shale called the device a breech plug, which was an elongated piece of rounded, threaded metal governed by a handle under the rifle’s trigger that guided the plug either out of the bottom of the rifle or back up.
I heard a loud pounding on the door of his proprietorship, but he ignored it as he calmly turned the metal once to align it with the barrel, pushed a marble of lead into the top of the rifle through a newly revealed hole at the top, then poured a spot of gunpowder on top of the ball. He then re-aligned the metal device to its original position. “You are now ready to deposit some lead into a slave hunter’s posterior region, or anywhere else you see fit to aim,” he smiled.
“Be sure to prime the weapon like so,” he said, pressing a small piece of metal near the trigger. “The shot itself is a standard issue six one five carbine. So you will have no problem acquiring suitable ammunition.” He presented a ball to my eyes more closely. It indeed looked to be just over a half inch size musket ball, like any standard musket shot.
It was a remarkable display, but I had no confidence such a contraption would work. I had only fired muskets that loaded through the front of a barrel.
He motioned to Diderot as the pounding continued.
Diderot caught on quickly, easily loading his weapon. “Good God in the mighty heavens above, I could take several slave traders nearly at once with this beautiful piece,” he said.
The pounding became more pronounced, quickening in its pace.
“Take cover at the counter. It shall hold a musket volley,” said Shale. “Let them break the door down to the floor if must be, then finish them. How many have they?”
“I couldn’t say,” said Diderot. “Not less than two.”
“If it be three,” said Shale, “I shall throw a distraction towards a direction away from your fire. If it be more, may God have mercy on our souls.”
As the three of us took cover behind the counter, I suspected there would be no more than two opponents. I was aware that some towns had set up militias for the single purpose of rounding up escaped slaves, but such would not be the case on the periphery of Trenton, province of New Jersey. Diderot was facing a bounty hunt, nothing more, although I was not about to trivialize his predicament.
My heart sunk as I realized that Diderot was being sought on behalf of an illegitimate hunt. He had been a free man during his travels north from Florida, and there could be no possibility of his Haitian overlords sending pursuit across such distances.
The pounding on the door abated. If the hunters were not local citizens, they would have no awareness regarding the loyalties among the patrons of the inn. If achieving their objective required substantial collateral damage upon such an important public institution as a drinking and rest establishment, there could be extracted a woeful price from nearby residents.
“The windows,” I whispered. The inn, like most buildings of this nature, had windows large enough for a man to crawl through if he could break them cleanly.
Shale shook his head. “I think not. They cannot know of my rifle’s disposition.” Colonists were required to possess a weapon for the purposes of militia duty, so the bounty hunters had to assume the owner of this inn would be in possession of one. Most were in possession of a front loading Brown Bess or similar flintlock. They were not as easily loaded as the weapons currently in our possession, but could nevertheless stifle any heart within 100 feet, perhaps further away if the gunner had sufficient aim.
“Diderot, we need to put a halt to the activity of these men. Who are they?”
He looked at me pleadingly. “They represent gens de couleur, mon frère, attempting to ensnare me for what must be an impressive mint of coin.”
“If they have come this far for this purpose, indeed,” I said.
“Ah, they are not Caribe. These men live among us here in the province. I believe they are Tuscaroras. Probably paid by wampum. The Tuscaroras prefer the shell over the shilling.”
“What if I simply offer them a higher price for your head,” I smiled.
Diderot touched his head with both hands. “It is a good head. Worth every shilling and every shell you can muster.”
“General Washington provided me with a bounty of my own for some work he’d like me to perform. I believe I can spare a few eight pieces.”
“They are likely to take it, then hunt you down later for the rest of what you possess as spoils. The forest speaks of frustrations with the Crown among some within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, especially the Oneida and Tuscaroras. You will not be able to impersonate a Tory and simultaneously negotiate with rebel sympathizers.”
I looked at him. “There is a split within the confederacy?”
“Not yet. There are leaves shaking, and branches rattling, and some snapping enough to fall to the earth, but the forest does not yet burn.”
“But you can’t know the loyalties of these men.”
“Aye,” he said, mimicking me, “I can. Their loyalty is to money, and their bounty, I am certain.”
“If their loyalties are leaning towards the colony’s rebel cause, then my note from Washington should prevail upon them to collect their newly improved bounty from my person.”
“You are quite insistent on this, Monsieur Honeyman. This is I see, but you cannot play both sides at once,” responded Diderot.
“I have fought. I know the trials of war. But I am not a killer. If lives can be spared, including those of your pursuers, I prefer that to death.”
Diderot nodded at that. “A good soul you are, Mr. Honeyman. How do you propose to deliver your proposal to our blood thirsty friends?”
“I shall walk out the door. My arm will be outstretched, my hand carrying this fine shooting instrument safely angled with my fingers far from the trigger.”
“They may covet the weapon,” said Shale. “It’s a rare item, an experiment of sorts.”
“Do you suggest you are not certain it works?” I asked, alarmed.
“It shall work as advertised and as I first reported to you, which is, we shan’t know until it is tried. She has never been fired, sir. But it comes of a place of high regard.”
I sighed. “I shall step out without the weapon. Mr. Shale, you will have to help Monsieur Diderot keep cover of me with this weapon in case of trouble.”
“Aye,” sighed Shale, taking my rifle.
I stood from behind the counter and dusted myself off.
“Mr. Honeyman,” said Diderot, “I cannot ask you to take such a chance for my sake.”
I turned to face him. “If I thought you could step out that door without being shot immediately, I would prefer that course of action. But damn slavers, Diderot, damn them to hell. I have a sore temptation to hasten their trip to Hades. And if they were in truth slavers, I think I would do precisely that. But these are bounty men. I shall let God judge the whole of their works, and offer them now a chance to avoid that descent to Hell’s gate.”
I began for the door.
“Merci, Monsieur Honeyman. Be careful,” Diderot said as I unlatched the door.
I stepped outside.
I held a few Spanish dollars in my hands and made an announcement, perhaps, I thought at the time, to the nearby trees. “I have your slave,” I yelled into the wind. “I wish to purchase his services.”
The winter sun was reaching its noontime peak. I heard wind whistling through pinecones, the conversations of songbirds, a lone hawk above. I waited several moments before adding in as loud a voice as I could muster, “What say you?”
I heard a loud report from a musket just one second before a sound of shattering, splintering wood behind me. I cursed loudly, then made haste for the interior of the building. Shale threw the breech loader to me.
As I caught it with one hand, I turned to see one man racing toward me with a musket pointing my way. I knew he couldn’t shoot whilst running so I bent to one knee and fired, catching him badly in his gut, spinning him to his left as one of his hands seemingly tried to prevent searing flesh from absorbing the lead. I prayed I remembered how to load the contraption as I pulled a lead ball from my breeches pocket. My hand felt for the strange mechanism at the bottom of the gun. I pulled it down, then around as Shale had demonstrated.
The finely made machine made a beautiful sound of connection that told me the threading of the breech was complete, at which point I loaded the ball into the top of the cylinder with my thumb, added gunpowder from my pocket, and quickly returned the mechanism to its prior position. I was unable to study the mechanism, but I had the strong sense that I was holding the future of warfare in my hands. The act of threading the cylinder holding the lead ball was instantaneous, nothing more than the turn of the strange metal device at the gun’s bottom. With a front loading musket, I would just now be perhaps beginning to stuff the end of the barrel with musket shot, and, if I was fortunate, reaching the breech with the ramrod, but now, I was priming the gun for another shot.
The wounded man was in no condition to pick up his weapon, which he had dropped, much less fire it. I stepped backwards towards the door of the inn, crouching, my weapon aimed forward. I felt a surge of triumph, as if I had found a method for flying through air. There was no further gunfire. I thought that perhaps the other man, who I was now certain existed, was observing.
I eyed the edge of the forest, looking for any kind of movement, maintaining awareness of bird flight in case predatory fowl had taken interest in our case. But there was only silence and stillness, other than the bleeding, groaning man thirty feet away. By now, he was on the ground, but reaching for his musket. I fired towards his hand, not to rip it to shreds, but to announce my displeasure. The lead ball splattered the dirt next to the man’s gun, and I quickly reloaded, amazed at how quickly I was able to accomplish the feat on the second try.
The injured man was likewise amazed. He watched me as I completed the rearming process. I pointed the weapon at him. “That was an intentional miss. I aim now for your head, bounty hunter. Take your weapon, and throw it in my direction.”
“I can barely move,” he said in well spoken, youthful English. His hair was redder than blood, tied in a ponytail. His small derby hat was off to the side laying as if being worn by the ground. There was one feather in the hat. He wore what looked like a black dress, which was covered by a layer of black fur. Under the dress was a pair of brown fur trousers.
Upon looking at the man’s face, I could see he was barely a man at all. More of a boy, I thought, not a whisker to be shaved in this year or next. I cursed at such a sight.
A moving target is a difficult one, so I ran to the boy, grabbed his gun, and ran back to the inn’s doorway. I was grateful for the silence, but it only strengthened my desire to determine the whereabouts of the second hunter. But now, I felt strongly that I was presented with another problem. I needed to save the boy.
“Monsieur Diderot,” I called out. “I need your assistance.”
Diderot approached the doorway.
“The gun, it worked, non?”
“Aye it did, my friend, but that is a boy laying on the ground. I shot a boy.” As I said that, my throat was caught by my emotions and I nearly broke into a sob. With difficulty I said, “Can you cover me while I attempt to drag him forth?”
“To the inn?” Diderot questioned, not happily.
“To the inn.”
Diderot replied in words or language I did not understand. He shook his head, then said, “Go. I shall shoot anything that moves.”
I ran to the boy, who was building a widening pool of blood from the wound in his gut. “I’m sorry, this is going to hurt,” I said, as I pulled the lad by his hands and dragged him screaming wretchedly to the doorway. There were three steps to the porch. Those would hurt the most, but I ignored his pleas and pulled him up into the inn without further incident.
Shale ran to him and looked at his wound. “He suffers gravely, Mr. Honeyman. I have bandages and alcohol that perhaps may help.”
I nodded. Shale ran to his gun room and returned quickly.
Meanwhile, the mystery of the second gunman remained.
Diderot kept watch near the doorway. After Shale completed the task of bandaging his noisy patient, I bent down at the lad, who was laying now on the inn’s lone long table along the wall. I was only able to peer at the boy with great difficulty. “Who is your financier?” I asked calmly, my voice shaking, my throat parched from the effects of battle and the grief of nearly killing a boy who was most likely not more than 14 or 15 years old.
“You have bandaged my wound. Why? That is not the way.” His words were a consecution of hoarse words connected by gaps of wheezing groans.
“It is our way. It is the Christian way. Who has sent you forth?” I despised every moment of this interrogation.
“I am a fur trader. My father was killed by your Christian ways. As was my mother. Our entire village burned by the smoking balls of your…” He interrupted himself to spit on the floor, “…Christian ways.”
I looked at Shale. “Cannon fire?”
“I needed no recompense to kill a bloodless Christian, but I accepted the offer.”
I looked at the man keeping watch at the door. I didn’t know how else to respond aside than accepting the description of colonials, so I said, “He is not bloodless. He carries darker tones. Your story makes no sense, boy.”
“I am no boy!” the lad exclaimed angrily, wincing in pain. “Ugh.” I could tell that his anger was tightening his stomach muscles. He could not afford to do that in his condition. I realized that I needed to withdraw my line of questioning. “I am a man of Sca-ru-re-ah-ga, and my blood rituals are complete.”
“Water,” I said to Shale upon listening to the lad struggle those last words through a constricted throat. I very nearly imagined any water he consumed to pour out of the hole in his gut, were it not for the bandages.
Shale nodded and tilted the boy’s head to a large glass jug. “He’s had copious amounts,” he said.
I took the jug and lifted the boy’s head to help him drink more. “There are ruthless souls among my people,” I said as the boy finished. “And there are those among us who are not. I do not want to finish this dispute with the death of your companion.” I looked over at Diderot. “But it seems an unavoidable consequence.”
I walked away to Diderot.
“I heard it all,” said Diderot quietly. “I sense confusion on the part of the boy.”
“Indeed. Do you believe the lad got a good look at you within his pursuit?”
“I was aware of their pursuit at the sound of gunfire, mon frere. They never acquired a good look, methinks.”
I swept my hand quickly through the hair that poured out of the back of Diderot’s red kerchief. “But surely this is not the stuff of the European settler they were on the prowl for.”
“Perhaps I am identified through my clothing,” he said, pointing to canvas trousers that extended to his ankles. His vest was a thicker canvas, possibly of hemp or flax, with dark triangular patterns rimmed by beads or shells. The patterns were interrupted by two vertical rows of thin angled bones stitched together down the middle of the vest, which he must have fit over his head, as I saw no fastening mechanism. Under the vest was a dark undergarment. The ensemble was distinctly not of Europe.
“As I told the boy, his comment regarding motive makes no sense.”
“None at all, monsieur. There has been no movement outside, not even a significant flock of birds.” Sometimes in these parts, flocks of birds would darken the skies such that it seemed nightfall had descended, but this day exposed an eerie quiet, as if the birds themselves were hesitant to interrupt this dispute among humans.
“Do you think the other fellow has fled?”
“I do not. A strong Sca-ru-re-ah-ga will rest and watch and wait for days to land his quarry.”
“If we leave here, we expose poor Mr. Shale.”
Diderot nodded and whispered, “I have a cruel notion, one you will not cheer, but I believe it only cruel in thought, not deed. I suspect these two are very close. Perhaps even blood brothers.”
“You are going to suggest we bring the boy to the porch.”
“Yes. The three of us shall leave the building and deposit the young fool outside the home.”
“These Sca-ru, they are too clever to fall for that ruse, Diderot. Are they not?”
“If his partner is blood, he will take the chance of our hiding in the forest, hoping we are simply making our own escape.”
“It may be all we have as a plan,” I said.
“I believe so.”
“I will not be able to watch this boy suffer. If our plan is to work, his companion will need to arrive quickly to his aid.”
“Aye,” smiled Diderot. “And I believe he will.”
I reluctantly instructed Shale to wrap a bandage around the poor lad’s mouth to the back of his head, and we carried him to the porch. Diderot watched, knowing that I needed to prevent the boy from expressing any words to his companion as he was being rescued.
“Your companion will be here soon,” I said to the boy.
Shale secured the inn door’s thumb latch. The three of us marched off, Diderot and I carrying our Ferguson Rifles (the name Diderot was giving our exotic weaponry). I fully expected the report of a musket at this moment, as did Diderot. We flanked the small man Shale on either side, sweeping our weapons from side to side as we pointed them forward. The trees from which the boy’s companion could be hiding were in range of only an expert musketeer.
In an experience surely designed to test one’s nerves, I found myself badly wanting to randomly shoot into the forest preemptively, or to reconsider the hazardous plan. The boy was writhing and trying to push words out through his mouth, which was tightly roped with Shale’s bandage.
I turned around and yelled at the young Tuscarora. “Confound it lad, stop moving. Your wound shall not heal!” The others waited for me. I turned back and we continued our march towards the tree line, which was not so much a tree line as it was a resumption of the forest that surrounded the inn, nestled as it was within a small break in the forest along a creek. My assumption was that the original builder of the inn, possibly Shale, cleared the area of trees, as I had noticed upon carrying the boy an enormous pile of firewood at the far end of the porch.
By the time we reached the wooded perimeter I turned around and noticed the underaged would-be bounty hunter kicking his feet against the wood deck of the inn and screaming. I suspected he thought this would serve as a warning to his companion to stay away, but I was convinced it would accomplish an opposite effect.
The three of us crouched and waited for about ten minutes as the boy continued through muffled screams to flail with his feet. When his assault began to weaken, we saw what I can only describe as a human shaped streak of lightning aim at the inn’s deck. I glanced at Diderot whose eyes remained fixed on the target. I had never seen a human run at that speed. “He is like a deer,” I said quietly.
The man was dressed almost identically as the injured youth on the deck.
“Now what?” asked Diderot.
“My initial thought was to provide him some ounces of lead ball, but Good God Diderot, from this distance, he looks just like the boy.”
“Aye,” said Shale. “Makes me squeamish to consider an attack.”
“Well fortunate for you,” said Diderot, “that you are not carrying a weapon.”
I waved my hand palm down. I threw my weapon down to the ground. “Either am I,” I said as I watched the second figure helping the young Tuscarora, who was pointing in our direction. His companion was not responding to that, only holding the boy’s head, and talking to him.
“I am going to go speak to them,” I said.
Diderot again spoke in an unfamiliar tongue before replying, “Bring your gun, Honeyman. Heroes carry weapons.”
I nodded. I knew it would be a grave error to approach unarmed. I picked up the Jameson and eased out of the cover, knowing Diderot would be watching closely. Broken branches under foot never sounded louder to me than they did as I neared the two Tuscarora.
I was struggling with the words to use as my feet brought me closer to the inn. I needn’t have bothered with any consideration for words, however, for as soon as the man tending to the wounded boy saw me, he leaped off the deck and charged me with a long bladed weapon, nearly instantaneously achieving the same gallop that had brought him to the inn moments ago. As he ran to me, I could hear him screaming, “you shot my brother, you bloodless devil!”
I had no choice but bend to a knee and fire. I would be no match for a Tuscarora with a knife such as he carried. I aimed for the right leg, but the man was running fast. Worse, he was purposely avoiding the run along a straight line, knowing it would hamper my aim. I couldn’t do it. I could not shoot the man. The boy. His face was as young as his companion’s. As fearful and simultaneously strong-willed as I currently felt, as inured to the energy of our situation, I was nevertheless able to discern such great youth in my opponent that a shot against him seemed to be an unfair burden to the cause of righteousness.
I braced for his onslaught, holding my gun outright with both hands to hopefully catch the angry youth by the neck or chest. His run would surely knock me down, which would put me at an immediate disadvantage. I knew that any hope he might spare me was a fruitless one. As his racing body prepared to meet mine, I used all my energy to thrust the gun upwards. I caught his chin with the length of my rifle, which sent me reeling backwards, but he, too, lost his momentum. Somehow, as my body flew backwards, I was able to hold onto the gun. My posterior sent me on a slide along the ground as if I was sledding across an icy pond.
The young man recovered quickly, charging me again, but he was upended by a tackle from Diderot, who had him quickly on his back, a sawtooth knife inches from his neck.
I walked toward the man, shot a round next to him that kicked up a small storm of dirt, grass, and rock, then quickly reloaded for demonstrative effect. I brought the rifle close to his head and aimed. He relaxed. “Do you want to save your brother, or let him die, and you with him?” I asked.
“We are proud to die for our nation,” he said.
“Perhaps you should offer your acting skills to a London Theater Company. You are no more interested in your nation as I am. You have come to collect a bounty on a head that will not be made available to you.”
“That be my head,” said Diderot.
“No, the man we pursue is of the sickly skin, like his,” he said, looking at me. “But it is not he. He wears your clothes.” He looked at Diderot. “He has your red headpiece. He…” the boy seemed confused.
“Black hair like mine?”
“It is said.”
“It is said?” Diderot delivered a kick to the young man’s side, “you reckless fools don’t know who you are hunting?” He kicked him again, this time harder.
“Guillaume,” I pleaded. “Please. Stop.”
“A lesson, monsieur Honeyman, that needs to be provided to a youth such as he. Perhaps when he becomes a real man, he shall not accept such a task as this with such little regard to detail.”
I understood Diderot’s frustration. He was, after all, the scheme’s target. There was, however, clearly more to the story to be had. I was determined to find it. “The harder lessons can wait,” I said. I looked at the youth. It was my first observation of either of the two Tuscarora during which I detected some fear begin to etch some facial contours. “We need to get your, umm, brother, we need to clean his wound again. Perhaps find someone in town who can clear out the lead.”
“No, they will kill us. We are not friends to British loyalists.” It occurred to me that they were twins. They wore different paints on their face, so I hadn’t initially noticed. They were not mere brothers. Their bond was even deeper.
“I shall see to it that nobody harms either of you. I will find a doctor who will be quiet about this affair.” I shook my pocket. “Money talks,” I smiled.
He shook his head violently, but his eyes bore a plea. He did not wish for his brother to perish.
“You want your brother to live. I have no doubt about this. I am gravely sorry I shot him. It was a misunderstanding we must learn more of. Can you agree with that much when you observe your target?” I glanced at Diderot.
“We were supposed to kill him. Not capture. It was no bounty. It was a revenge slaying. He was… supposed to be…”
“Yes. He wears strange clothes. But this one has a dark skin, like the laborers the white people put to death in the fields.” He studied Diderot. “But not as dark. Hmmm. Perhaps he is our man.”
“Stand up. We are going to help your brother, even if it is done by the barrel of this gun.”
He did so, brushing dust and particles out of the fine fur of his pants.
As we walked to the inn, the other lad watched our every step. He was clearly in much pain, but he was trying mightily to hide his distress.
“Kanatsoyh,” said the unwounded twin. “We must do what these men say.”
Kanatsoyh groaned. “So they can provide us the white man’s instructions on how to die?” He spat on the deck floor next to him. Kanatsoyh was going to be the most difficult of the two, I could see. Luckily, he was the wounded one.
Kanatsoyh’s brother spoke in his native tongue. He was insistent. He was argumentative. He was clearly at least convinced of the logic of my proposal to find treatment for his brother’s wound.
If our physical battle had been as long lasting as the debate over Kanatsoyh’s survival, the lot of us would have been wounded throughout every inch of our beings. Finally, Kanatsoyh succumbed to the relentless pressure of his brother and I, and agreed to the arrival of a doctor.
Shale knew of a doctor but was uncertain of what his status would be. “A flimflammer he may be, Mr. Honeyman. Many are these abouts.”
“Surely in Trenton there is one reliable soul,” I said.
“Aye they are but at war. Either the British or the rebels have taken the best of the lot throughout the province.”
“Perhaps you can think of a woman with a knack for dressing?” I said with a smile, somewhat proud of my pun.
Shale smiled, too. “Aye, that had not occurred to me. A Missus Elbert, not far up the road from here. She be hasty with the needle, but she’ll do.”
“A needle is most likely what we need. Have you a horse?”
“Aye in back, I have a stall.”
At that, Shale gathered a few things from his gun room and left. “You blokes don’t burn the facilities down to the ground while I be gone.”
He returned quickly with a woman dressed in a long cape gown and white kerchief. She was a tall woman, almost to her middle years. Gladys Elbert had been a midwife to many, and had dressed wounded soldiers who had quartered in her father’s home in Ontario more than a dozen years prior.
When she removed Shale’s dressing, she shook her head. “This boy is badly injured. I am sorry. I don’t have the skills required. I can try to stave off infection. That is all I can do until a proper doctor is consulted.”
“He’s not dead yet. Is that not a hopeful sign?”
“These musket balls are evil fruits of the devil himself. Just looking, I believe his colon is badly damaged. I just don’t know. I am so sorry. I mended wounds in battle, but it was blindly done, sir. With little regard for success, I was a last resort to a quartered portion of a regiment of screaming men who only asked me to provide them with improved odds or sometimes a few more minutes of this life.”
She looked at me with a pained expression. “It was like trying to sew together the edges of paper that had been soaked in blood for several hours.”
I nodded gravely. “Do the best you can. I appreciate all of your help.”
She spent some time tending to Kanatsoyh, who, in and out of consciousness, was no longer focused on acting as the purveyor of threats. His twin brother, whose name turned out to be Sacareesa, reached a point of accommodation that allowed him to take tea with us.
He tried to describe the target of their bounty hunt.
The battle with the men represented by the young lad sitting at Shale’s table had obscured the nature of Shale’s loyalties regarding the rebellion. It occurred to me that the inn was a repository of some danger, regardless of our shared experience. The demarcation of loyalties within this colonial dispute had no formal boundaries, but there was an unexplainably stronger sense of loyalty towards the crown on the Jersey side of the Delaware than in Pennsylvania, which was a cauldron of anti-crown sentiment.
That meant nothing once an individual was encountered, for, as such, often a man’s loyalty depended on his surrounding circle, or a nearby pocket full of money.
When Sacareesa was finally convinced of the worthiness of producing the paper containing a picture of the bounty target, loyalties soon became more in focus.
“Why that could be anybody,” declared Shale.
“That is an almost impossibly bad caricature,” I agreed.
“That is my hat, however,” laughed Diderot.
The picture was a badly drawn rendition of the bounty funder’s quarry. The face was barely recognizable as a human face. The flaw wasn’t in regard to inaccuracy, but in the artist’s capabilities.
The paper upon which it was drawn contained three drawings: one of the badly drawn face, and another of an equally poorly drawn set of clothing worn by an alleged man, although to discern human form by observing the drawing took some effort. Only the hat bore resemblance to a thing that might exist in life. As represented in the third drawing, it did bear an uncanny resemblance to Diderot’s headpiece, including the black hair protruding from its back side.
“Who provided this to you?” I asked Sacareesa.
“A ferryman on the other side of the river,” he answered. “He tells of a cattle rustler who has stalked his fence line during the length of the last harvest.”
Diderot looked away.
“And did this cattle rustler succeed in pilfering some of the ferryman’s stock?”
“Well yes, why else would the ferryman want the thief dead?”
“Indeed. Diderot what do you think of this?” I hadn’t suspected Diderot of cattle thievery, but now I was quite certain of it.
“Before you answer,” Shale said. “May I propose that Monsieur Diderot describe some of the events that led him to this fine establishment, and to our grand Delaware basin.”
“Aye,” I said. “I know the story well, but it behooves Mr. Diderot to tell his story to his would be assassins.”
Diderot retold the story he had given me, with a few additional embellishments, historical background, and acts of heroism, including the act of leading a small slave revolt on what he referred to as the “buttocks end” of Georgia.
“As you know,” he told his former tormenters, “or, perhaps you do not, the Florida peninsula was at one time, and only a short time ago, a place where slaves who were fortunate enough to escape captivity were allowed to roam free. These slaves, they arrived mostly from Georgia. And the Carolinas, I’d say.”
“Where are these places?”
Diderot explained the geography he was referring to, then continued. “Just south of these wretched provinces, and truly, these places were and continue to be outposts of hell, existed a more civilized outpost named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. This was a bastion against any attempt by the British to wander into Florida and spread their diseases.
“The mortal enemy of the British, the Spanish, promised any escaping slaves full manumission if they joined the Catholic church.” The Tuscarora twins did not know what manumission and some other terms were, but Diderot was careful to explain these as well.
“At Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, a substantial fort was built. Protected by a most powerful and vigilant army of ex slaves, all happily converted to Catholicism. The small army they built was formidable.” Diderot spoke the word “formidable” as if he were French. “The English attacked this fort furiously, and, alas, took the fort from the defending former slaves after a riotous conflict that became known as La Bataille des Têtes Coupées, or in English, The Battle of the Severed Heads. The English, to broaden their appeal to Beelzebub, I suspect, lined the fort in a great circle with the severed heads of children captured from the town that provided support to de Mose.
“Alors, this act of intimidation had a profoundly opposite effect, my friend. Those same former slaves, now excruciatingly aggrieved, with the help of brave Yamasee warriors, staged a momentous counterattack and forced the leader of the British forces, the disgraceful General James Oglethorpe, along with his soldiers, all the way back into Georgia, where he remains today.
“Now we must address an interesting paradox. The British of the southern provinces are a harsher breed of pale than their northern counterparts. You will find few abolitionists in those parts. The majority of abolitionists reside in the northern provinces.”
“Why so?” asked Sacareesa.
“Vast, labor intensive fields of arable land that is most conveniently harvested with unpaid labor.”
“There is such here.”
“Not in the same abundance. And the crops most loved by slavers are labor intensive. Sugar. Cotton. Crops not so easily grown in the slavers’ home countries. Now, to continue, Oglethorpe himself, who claimed opposition to slavery, held a plantation in South Carolina full of whips and blood. Yes, he was in possession of many slaves. His public opposition to slavery had its motives in fear. Fear mostly of the great slave populations in the lower Carolinas. Fear of the local tribal nations his kind were attempting to displace.”
I knew of Oglethorpe. His was a well-known name within the British services. I had to dispute my friend’s analysis. “As I understand Oglethorpe, Guillaume, he became close friends with Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw tribe. This enabled him to build Savannah on the great river. He is well regarded in many quarters for his egalitarian agrarian philosophies that favored the limitation of landowner acreage, and for his opposition to slavery.”
“A lie. Perpetuated by British propaganda. He held Tomochichi’s family as ransom for the Savannah land, mon frere. As for his egalitarianism, what is Georgia now? It is becoming a land of sprawling cotton plantations brought in by none other than Oglethorpe himself.
“Ha! Those seeds. Did you know they were a gift? He was given a gift of seeds, Monsieur Honeyman, and those seeds have become death harvests.
“As for his alleged opposition to slavery, Monsieur please help me understand something. If one proclaims formal opposition to slavery, whilst operating a slave camp, does that not metamorphosize such opposition into a lie?
“Ah, perhaps someday you shall learn more of this truth, Monsieur Honeyman.” He returned his attention to Sacareesa.
“Meanwhile, de Mose had become an important waypoint for freed slaves. However, when the British handed Florida to Spain in the ‘60s, the fort was abandoned. The British belief is that the freedmen who resided in the city supporting the de Mose, 3,000 of them or so, escaped to the caribe, but that has never been so.
“No, instead, they hid among the mangroves and swamps of the Florida jungle, often interbreeding with people much like yourselves, young Sacareesa. Someday, I reckon, a great nation of Seminole will arise from those swamps. I, too, carry blood such as yours.”
“You are of the land of the slave and of the nations?”
“You are like a mongrel dog!” laughed Sacareesa. He looked back at his brother to see if he was listening. He appeared to be, for a slight smile creased his face as he lay with squinting, tired eyes.
“I am the best of both worlds,” struck back Diderot.
Touché, I thought.
“You do seem like a learned man,” said the young Tuscarora.
“He’s fairly intelligent for a mongrel,” I smiled. Sacareesa appeared unimpressed with the comment.
“Your story inspires me to learn the ways of the world, since it appears to encroach so upon our people.”
“You have an impressive grasp of the English language,” said Diderot. “How did that come upon you?”
“My brother and I were raised by a white wolf,” was all Sacareesa would say.
“You are aware of the torture fields in Hampshire?”
“The slaves on plantations in South Georgia observe a far grimmer fate. Oglethorpe and his ilk established rice plantations along the Savannah river belt.” He went into great detail regarding the conditions in these fields, such that I nearly wretched.
Diderot spoke of his associations with what he called Seminole in the sawgrass waters of Florida, a combination of Muscogee and refugees from other lands, mostly escaped or newly freed slaves.
The Seminole called themselves Simanó-li, “but I do believe that word itself is derived from the Spanish word, cimarrón,” said Diderot, which was translated in English to “runaway” by some, to “maroon” by others.
Diderot leaned closely towards Sacareesa. “The land they live in today is known as Pahokee, the land of grassy water. It is a wild territory, my friend. Think of a river, 60 miles wide, maybe hundreds of miles long, and you have the land known as Pahokee. Filled with long, quick reptiles that can leap out of the waters and snap your head off as you drift along on your flatboat. They have long jaws like this, filled with teeth that would fancy any bow maker.” Diderot stretched his hands out.
“How do these Seminole live in such a land?” asked Sacareesa.
“With great respect for their surroundings. And fortunately, the reptile, in addition to its fearsome ways, becomes a delectable meat under the fire.” Sacareesa smiled at that.
Diderot explained that as the Seminole continued to encroach northward, just beyond the Pahokee, raiding parties would emerge from their settlements to attack British outposts in Georgia. Diderot began living among them when he encountered one such settlement. One raid became something much larger, on a newly formed plantation “far south of where any British fool should have allowed himself to consider. I am uncertain how the plot of land was acquired, but it is safe to say historians will never learn of the owner’s fate.
“The raiding party brought spare weapons to distribute to slaves. The plantation’s building was burned down. The slaves – I estimated approximately twenty individuals, escaped. They joined our settlements, as did the escaped slaves of several more plantations during the course of my last two years in the area. Alas, I did not partake in the raids and revolts that led to their freedom, but I was told great, heroic stories of their adventures.”
“Why did you not participate in additional raids?” asked Sacareesa.
“There were, in those raids, acts of cruelty, young Sacareesa, that I could not abide by.”
Sacareesa looked at me when he said, “I have seen such acts of cruelty. Ask my brother if vengeance is cruel.”
“I believe there is a better way, young Sacareesa,” said Diderot. “Tit for tat violence becomes an endless war of attrition.”
“And what is that better way?”
“We all here share one common enemy. It is not British, it is not Creek, nor Seminole, nor Tuscarora, nor Cherokee. Nor Mohawk, nor Scot, nor Frenchman, not Irish, not even Spanish or Hessian. I am at war with a much more easily identifiable foe.”
Sacareesa stared intently. “Who?”
Participants in the slave trade could be found in all peoples within the continent. This included First Settlers. Before Europeans arrived, the form of slavery among the First Settlers consisted of captured warriors from other tribes.
There was, however, no chattel slavery until Europeans introduced it.
Some First Settler tribes seized upon the concept quickly, but it never became the basis of economic growth that took hold in European colonies.
Sacareesa knew much of slavery. His own grandmother witnessed three of her sisters taken prisoner and sent to slave colonies by Europeans. He was able to recount multiple stories of European atrocities regarding the Tuscarora. “And they are dishonest traders,” he said, as if to add mild sentiment to the larger abysmal history.
“We lived in the land your people call the Carolina,” he said as he glared at me. “My kin protected the great Neyuherú·kę, a fort containing walls that soared 300 feet.”
I found that a preposterous claim, but I was not interested in a bout over the boy’s pride.
He then told us of the devastation wrought by the battle over the great fort. Hundreds of men, women, and children were burned to death by a “white devil named Moore”. Yamasee, Apalachee, Catawba, and Cherokee all participated in the attack against the fort, according to Sacareesa. Those who survived, more than 400, were taken and sold as slaves.
“The Yamasee, Apalachee, Catawba, the Cherokee. And the European. They are my enemies, Mr. Diderot. I know nothing about politics, nor this slavery.”
“You are the very product of slavery,” I said. “Even your anger is born through the womb of slavery. If you spend your life determined to avenge, you shall die unhappy. If you move forward against slavery in all its forms, you shall have peace.”
“How so? How do I defeat such a foe?”
I leaned back in my chair. “I have been contemplating that question myself. I believe the answer lies with this rumor Monsieur Diderot has discovered. If there is truth to it.”
“Which rumor is that Mr. Diderot?” asked Shale. “Do tell.”
“It is spoken,” said Diderot, “that the British have intent on freeing the slaves if they defeat the rebels. Alors, I cannot speak to its veracity. But consider the strategic implications of a British victory in the war with their colonies.
“What, in fact, will be the spoils of their victory? An ungovernable expanse. Half of their subjects in these lands shall be violently opposed to their every rule and regulation. They face hostile tribes from countless positions. They must reckon with overwhelming logistical challenges upon the numerous rebellions that are certain to ignite even after the war’s theoretical conclusion.
“The Haudenosaunee are already siding with the British.”
I was about to object to this statement, but he put a hand up. “I know your thoughts here, Mr. Honeyman. But a small splinter does not drive a wedge with enough force to break a great tree. The Tuscarora and Oneida leaning towards the rebels is a soft one, for now. It is largely a gamble, as well.
“Every living soul within the Haudenosaunee confederacy would prefer all of you Europeans just return to the home from whence you came,” he said, looking at me. He lifted his hands and slapped them on the table. “Alors, that will not occur. So the objective then becomes, upon whom shall we place our bets?
“The Mohawk, the Seneca, the Onondaga, the Cayuga. These all follow the great leader Thayendanegea, who has bound his hands to the European continent with both masterful diplomacy and the art of the gamble in spoken words and deeds. The Tuscarora and Oneida have some doubts, but they are nothing more than hedged bets. There is no true sentiment urging upon their thoughts.
“And, afoot, there is strong word, passed through the trees, the grasses, the rivers, to all the slaves of these northern quadrants of the colonies. About whom to turn against when opportunity arises. There are small bands of free slaves in the Hampshire who are prepared to do battle against the British after the rebellion collapses, with one objective only.”
“And that is?” I asked.
“Seize as many key ports as possible.”
“A noble, but impossible goal,” I responded.
“Who, Mr. Honeyman, works these ports? Not your folk, I assure you.”
“Your ambition takes me by some surprise, Monsieur Diderot.”
“As mine,” said Shale. “And you be a risky lad, I should say, whispering these thoughts amongst those whose loyalties you cannot be well certain of. A friend of Washington himself sits before you.”
“War is a tapestry of risk, Mr. Shale. We risk our lives with the musket and sword, and sometimes our mouth. And in truth, perhaps I consider Mr. Honeyman to be a friend of humanity more so than to any particular general.”
In that, Diderot had evaluated me well. Shale’s point was nevertheless well appointed. I was not the only risk factor here. Within the confines of the room Diderot was expounding upon his wishes for a British victory were two Tuscarora and a man of unknown loyalties in Shale.
Diderot was a charismatic man. I had drastically underestimated him upon our first meeting. Upon our first encounter, I had nearly considered him something of a fool. He had now captivated young Sacareesa to the point where I began to suspect that the boy would follow Diderot into the sea if Diderot so led him.
Of my own loyalties, I felt uncertainty, but I would allow no harm to ever come to Diderot under my watch without a fight, such was my fondness for the man. Shale, Gladys Elbert, the midwife, and Sacareesa’s twin brother Kanatsoyh were also of unknown sentiment. I assumed the midwife was listening to the entirety of the conversation as she tended and watched Kanatsoyh.
“I am not a party to either side in this foolish political skirmish over politics,” I said.
“Aye,” said Shale. “Slavery is a noble fight. Could be that Welshmen are enslaved, naught for the Africans. I cannot therefore say, why, praise thee, Lord, that Africans have arrived to carry the chains in my place.”
Apparently, the silence was too much for Gladys to bear, for she sauntered over wearily to sit down. “The boy is at peace now, but I cannot say how well he be.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
“I shall remain here with him until he either succumbs or turns for the better, if that please you.”
“I have a wee bit of coin here to help with your household in return for this favor,” I acknowledged.
She nodded. “I shan’t be too proud,” she smiled, holding out her hand. I dropped several eight pieces into her hands. “Tis too much sir,” she said, looking at it.
“It comes courtesy of the fledgling colonial government,” I smiled.
“I thank you, sir. And if I may be so forward as to say I overheard much of your discussion.”
“Aye,” I said.
“The Lord knows of no greater sins than war and slavery. I cannot say which order he would proclaim these sins to be. But sir, I am a Quaker. Our only quarrel is with war itself. Life in Trenton be hard since the war began. Frequent, ghastly skirmishes and raids upon the town itself. New York, it be forbidden to us for trade now that the British have taken her.”
“That should have substantial impact on your merchants,” I said.
“Yes, sir, very much. But many here, the wealthiest, they rely on slaves to increase their profits during these difficult times. I cannot abide in that, sir. Even those without great wealth will own as many as three slaves. It is an abhorrent practice here in Trenton. Mr. William Thomas, he owns a tannery and a textile house. They are all staffed with slaves”
At that, Diderot neared Gladys by dragging his chair closer to her.
“And why should he own these things?” asked Diderot. “Mr. Honeyman, we must see to it that the slaves who tend to the work of making these establishments successful are ceded ownership.”
I laughed softly. “Perhaps your Moravia Congregation will seize these, as well, Mr. Diderot, if the British find favor in this war.”
Diderot slammed his hand on the table, startling poor Gladys nearly out of her seat. “Oui!”
“There are others,” she said. “I do not believe they shall care which side wins this war. Their commitment is to their property and the right to human chattel. But Mr. Potts. Mr. Stacey Potts. He be a Quaker, as well, and he is a good man. Perhaps the wealthiest man in all Trenton. He proves you do not need a slave to be productive,” she harrumphed. “And you leave him be.”
At that, she rose from the table and returned to her patient, who lay silently, possibly, I thought, finally asleep.
“And now,” I declared to Sacareesa, “let us revisit the purpose of your efforts against us.” I was determined to observe Diderot throughout the next phase of this discussion. “You say a ferryman has funded this bounty in pursuit of a cattle thief.”
Sacareesa nodded gently, as if beginning to feel some guilt over his proposed actions.
“I presume that this ferryman is named Beattie.”
“I…” Sacareesa stuttered. “Yes. How can you know this?”
“There are three ferries within a fair distance to Trenton. I took a guess based on our current proximity to the three, he being the closest.”
“Monsieur Diderot, did you relieve Mr. Beattie of some head of cattle?” I asked with a sly smile.
“Oui, monsieur, with the intent of relieving him of his ferry business, as well.”
“That will make river crossings quite a devil’s feast,” said Shale.
“Non, monsieur, I will replace his ferry service with my own. I have established a relationship with a local congregation to merge our church resources to begin the business at rates that will sink his, if you don’t object to the use of a pun.”
“A congregation, you say. I am sure I do not understand the meaning,” I said.
“I was of the Catholic faith in my earliest Christian incarnation, as you know, Monsieur Honeyman. However, shortly after my arrival along the environs of the great Delaware river, I changed my allegiances to the Moravian church.
“Our congregation is well endowed, as of now, but the war could change matters. I am considered an unofficial deacon of our congregation.”
I laughed. “I was aware of none of this.”
“Where be this congregation?” asked Shale. “I have only seen you in these parts through your cattle trading and… oh my. It be not cattle trading.” At that he chuckled.
“The congregation is here in Trenton,” answered Diderot.
“Not only are you ambitious,” I said to Diderot. “You are quite mad. I can’t imagine how you could involve a church’s finances in a ferry operation. And what of your time in Griggstown? Are you a phantom deacon of this local congregation, Diderot? Because your time is not spent here, it is in Griggstown. I have observed this with my own eyes.”
“Longfish represents most of my interests here in Trenton.”
“Good God, man,” I said. “Most of your interests? What does that even mean, dare I ask?”
“As a deacon of the church with responsibilities towards finances, I grow tired of reaching my hand out for the congregation to drop the occasional pence into our coffers.
“What I have proposed, and what has been accepted, is a more comprehensive arrangement. We shall meet the needs of the community in ways beyond what most think God has in mind, with his approval, I pray.”
I shook my head, astonished at the lunacy of his intent.
“Our congregation will have political power of great significance after this hideous war is over, Monsieur Honeyman. Freed slaves are eager to join the congregation. They will bring the labor and, how shall I say it, the muscle? Muscle that represents the guardianship one would expect of any militia, to protect church grounds and church interests.”
“Is that not simply another form of servitude?”
“Oh no, monsieur. They will run the plantation top to bottom, and retain all income from their efforts, minus a tithe of ten percent to the church coffers generally.”
I scooted nearer to him. “This is all very fascinating. I dare say, the European members of your Moravian church will not be aware at all of what has hit them. But forgive me for saying that it all seems the notions of a wild eyed young dreamer, not a man who has learned his lessons throughs the teachings of life’s toils.”
“Perhaps they are both, non?”
“I love the idea,” said Shale. “Nobody gets it all. And the congregation would own the land? What of housing?”
“Tsk, tsk, Mr. Shale, I have not yet considered every detail. I suspect whatever form of governance becomes established over these financial businesses will take care of such details.”
“Your grandiose scheme doesn’t explain cattle thievery,” I challenged.
“Beattie worked a ferry for another for some time further north,” said Diderot. “He was responsible for sending many a Lenape across the river to then be burned in their villages at the hands of the Penn family that possesses ownership of the Pennsylvania province.”
I was aware of the chicanery behind the Penn family’s theft of Lenape lands some 40 years ago. Apparently, Sacareesa shared my awareness, although most likely on a more visceral level. He said, “That conniving trickster. I know some of this history. The confederation refused to provide assistance to the Lenape. I remember being told of this as a child. It was not of malice that these decisions were made.”
I shook my head. “The Haudenosaunee Confederation is strong, yet not a match for the many guns that are pointed their way, especially if they help a small tribe such as the Lenape.”
“It saddens me,” said Sacareesa. “I know what it means to be driven from one’s land.”
I understood now the boy’s anger. This land theft was all he had known, all the generations before him had known. When they moved, they were forced later to move again.
“Our congregation will be inclusive of everyone who wishes to participate,” said Diderot. “It will reflect some harsh reality, and not proffer any change to it. But it shall in the end be the final home for many disparate people.” Diderot looked at me. “Even Europeans, monsieur.”
I nodded. It all seemed quite fanciful, as if dreamt by a child with grand ideas.
Sacareesa took the piece of paper representing Beattie’s bounty, tore it to pieces, then stood up to throw it into the inn’s fireplace.
“This would be a grand moment to start a fire,” said Shale. “Tis getting a chill.”
“One more thing,” said Diderot. “About this cattle thievery, as you call it.”
“Yes, monsieur?” I said.
“These activities brought upon me another idea. Longfish has been representing the congregation regarding what we call plats, which are a means to insure property. Let me provide an example.
“If a cattleman owns 100 head of cattle, he shall pay the congregation a very small monthly fee on each head. If a head of cattle is stolen or meets an untimely death, the congregation compensates the cattleman directly for his loss. The monthly proceeds all go directly to the church. It is easy money, non?”
“Tis if you can con enough poor blokes to buy your schemes,” said Shale.
“Well, Mr. Diderot, your mind does percolate,” I said.
I stood up to walk over to Gladys Elbert, who had fallen asleep in a chair next to the boy swaddled in a think bundle of blankets on the floor. I bent down to look at Kanatsoyh, who much to my surprise revealed a small smile.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
His voice was raspy when he said, “I think I am feeling better. I wish for that you were not such a good aim with that weapon of yours.”
“Aye,” I said. I walked to a sink, wrung out a cloth, and dabbed the poor lad’s sweating forehead. “Had I been a bit more familiar with my target I would not have shot.”
“But then I would have had to kill you,” he groaned with slightly more smile.
“Where have you to stay for your recuperation?” I asked.
“We commiserate with the trees and the wind, and when the spirit allows, a floor within a home of some good soul.”
I nodded at this. “Those days are over for now. I will find a house here in Trenton to lease if I can, and you shall both stay there. If it please you.”
“It will never please me to stay under the roof of a white man, Mr. Honeyman, but I shall paint your skin a darker color with my eyes and resist the urge to kill you in your sleep.”
I patted the boy’s shoulder gently. “That’s the spirit,” I said, and walked away.
“How is he?” asked Sacareesa upon my return to the table.
I glanced over to the boy, who looked at me with a frightful cunning, I thought. “Full of venom,” I said, “so I believe he is on the mend.”
“I heard you offer your home to us,” said Sacareesa. “Do the English frequently quarter with their enemy?”
“As Monsieur Diderot has stated, there is one enemy in this land. If only a few more individuals could have that same vision. I will have no quarter with that enemy, or those who enable it.”
“Will we start an army?” he asked. It was a youthful question that reminded me that he was, indeed, a boy with the bravery of a man.
“The grandest,” said Diderot. “The grandest this land has ever seen.”
I was true to my word. I found a cottage where two of Trenton’s streets, one known as Princeton and the other Queen (some said Queen’s), met at an intersect shaped like a Y. The building was a small clapboard made of long boards of riven oak. The two boys made themselves a room for sleep across a narrow hall from the room I would rest in.
Kanatsoyh was still bedridden. The midwife, Mrs. Elbert, became a frequent visitor during the next several days as Sacareesa busied himself with accoutrements for his lodging, making it clear to me that the twins would make their own way as soon as Kanatsoyh was well enough to move about.
When Sacareesa was introduced to Jacob Longfish, who had announced his transfer out of Griggstown to shelter under the safety of British Crown sympathizers, there was formed an immediate alliance.
Longfish took an immediate interest in the boy, discussing with him the intricacies of negotiation among the cattle ranchers within the environs in such a way that they could begin the process of merchandising the potential loss of cattle. I considered the scheme a strange venture, but I had no interest in discouragement.
The domestic nature of my new residency created within me a desperate longing for Mary, one I could not quench with anything but drink, a substitute I could not consider during these embattled times. My best hope for managing her absence was to remain busy. General Washington had been very clear in his instructions that I was to take residence in Trenton alone, without my family. That the Christmas holiday was approaching made the separation from my wife especially onerous.
Diderot had returned to Trenton on the day after our encounter with the Tuscarora. After a week of the two brothers and I firmly established within our residence, and Kanatsoyh on the march towards a happy mend, Diderot returned with a knock on the door that produced tremors throughout the home’s walls.
“Mr. Honeyman, I come to you with news that carried potential for tragedy that I am happy to report has been averted.”
I invited him into the small home. His feet were light in their moccasins as they carried him across the wood floor.
“Several villagers came upon your home. Apparently, news travels fast along the Delaware’s reaches and tributaries.”
“Dear God, Mary?”
“Alors, she is safe. The villagers were led by a young fellow, an 18 year old man, one Abraham Baird, barely a man past the months worn by the Tuscarora twins, Mr. Honeyman. Such a thing!”
“Aye, I am aware of the lad. He wears his rebel clothes with much pride alongside his fanaticism.”
“The crowd wanted to burn her out of the house, but Baird was able to persuade them down and her out of the house without further incident, upon which she produced a letter from your Commander in Chief, General Washington.”
“Indeed, I left such a letter with her when I left, for I was taken with considerable worry for her when I took leave.”
“They call you a traitor, and Washington’s letter did not disavow them of that notion. I remember the words.”
“As do I,” I smiled. “The wife and children of the notorious Tory are to be under formal protection, but no such order shall apply to Honeyman himself.”
“Yes, yes, monsieur that is precisely what was said. I was there. I feared much worse than what transpired, for I was prepared to lay down my life to protect your family.”
I grasped Diderot’s forearm and shoulder. “That is good of you and I am hardly surprised, Mr. Diderot. Hardly surprised at all. Now. Is she safe?”
“The ruffians shan’t return methinks. She invited Baird himself into the house, and then others, too, to search the premises for your whereabouts, and they to a man declined. I believe they were quite satisfied with the general’s letter.”
“That is a great relief. I desperately miss my wife and children, Mr. Diderot. I cannot fathom the grief of losing them to the more cowardly aspects of war. I thank you for looking after them.”
“I became concerned immediately upon my return to Griggstown. The town was festering with excited talk of your traitorous activities.”
“How did they come upon such conclusions?”
“Word traveled along the river streams that you were captured by General Washington and performed a daring escape, setting a portion of the fort ablaze as you fled.”
“Ah, the rumors of war. How the story changes so quickly. Well, the most daring aspect of the escape was my acceptance from General Washington of a fine horse. It awaits me at the Worthington stall. How I wish I could ride the beast to Mary now and embrace her.” I shook my head. “You know, Guillaume, when I began this adventure, I was so absolutely certain of its merit. And now, I have discovered that a different fate awaits the general, one I take into consideration with much regret and sadness.”
“That I cannot. But do be prepared for a British victory, should Washington attack Trenton. How goes Longfish’s workings with your cattle scheme?”
Diderot shook his head. “I am unsure of that answer, monsieur. I have not had occasion to speak to the rascal in these past days.”
“Sacareesa has set upon assisting him. He has been strangely quiet about the activities. I think he has yet to find it in himself to truly trust me.”
“You are a spy for two sides of the war, Mr. Honeyman. You cannot be trusted to start a fire,” laughed Diderot.
“Aye, a fair point.”
“But for the larger war, I am confident the young Sacareesa has found some trust. It behooves him to tread quietly in his pursuit of British loyalists and their cattle, and to speak little of it to you about his transactions, what there may be.”
I nodded at this. There was an obvious logic regarding quiet sensibility to our efforts.
Diderot helped me considerably with my preparations to meet the Hessian commander. Although I had not provided him information regarding the specific nature of who or where I would be engaging at General Washington’s behest, I was able to inform him that the service of the Hessian garrison on behalf of “we” loyalists was of paramount nature.
Diderot, none to my surprise, stole some cattle from those to whom he had sold insurance plats. Under normal circumstances these would have been considered highly suspicious circumstances. However, area cattlemen had been under siege with a rash of thefts long before Diderot began his venture, and were thankful for Diderot’s insurance program.
Diderot’s congregation was able to finance the purchase of new cattle with the monthly fees it was collecting, and pocket a small profit. He received considerable help from Longfish and Kanatsoyh. With Diderot’s stolen cattle I was able to offer butchered meat to the Hessian commander Johan Rahl, and over the two weeks before Christmas develop a formal relationship with the man.
I was introduced to Rahl by a Hessian named Schmidt, who had been an eager customer for my finely salted meats. The meats were enhanced by the various peppers Diderot seemed to specialize in acquiring (for we had some time ago established a trading partnership by which I provided a simple butchery service in return for spice).
Although most of the Germans seemed to prefer the least spicey of the meats, they did seem to greatly enjoy subtle peppering.
The true breakthrough in relations with the Hessians, however, came, through no surprise to me now, through Diderot. He had managed to instigate a minor slave uprising on a small cattle ranch some few miles up the Delaware, perchance along the river itself. The slaves, led by Sacareesa, were able to arm themselves and secure the compound.
The landowners, known for their harsh behaviors, engendered little sympathy from neighboring farms and ranches. They were sent north, to a Haudenosaunee tribe of unknown specificity, never to be heard from again.
Diderot claimed the land for his Moravian congregation, whereupon several congregants joined the slaves on the property along the river to build an ingenious pit to hold ice gathered from the Delaware. The pit, shaped like an octagon, was dug eighteen feet deep into the earth, with a width of thirteen feet at its fullest. This allowed me to store fresh pork, a favorite of the Hessians. Whereas they displayed appreciation for the salted meats I had procured, they were almost frightfully ecstatic over the fresh pork cuts I began to deliver to the garrison.
It was during a discussion regarding my deliveries that General Washington’s plans became a topic between myself and Rahl.
Rahl carried a wide girth, not muscular but not obese. Rather, I would say he was well filled, held together with large, thick bones and bulky tendons that seemed independently alive as his arms and hands gestured. He was slightly taller than the average man, but thicker. His cheeks were finely shaped crescents that hinted at athleticism, but he had entered his middle years with a puffy, mottled face that signified too much drink.
His grey eyes bore the strain of many battles. He had served as a mercenary during efforts to restore the Stuart line to the British crown. He had also served Count Orlov during one of Russia’s wars with the Ottomans before arriving in the colonies to command a brigade of 1,200 Hessians under General Phillip Leopold von Heister.
I thought the British use of foreign mercenaries to be a dastardly method for obtaining advantage, but of course I was silent on this.
Rahl was boisterous and crude of language. My discussions with him were difficult because he his mastery of English was nil, and mine with German. Often, a translator would join us for our discussions.
“Where stood you on the Stuart ascension?” asked Rahl early in our dealings, he perhaps assuming my Scot heritage would incline me towards an opinion.
“I find kingmaking politics even more distasteful than parliamentary politics, Herr Rahl.” Rahl acknowledged my comment with a crooked smile and a drink from his large mug of warm beer.
Upon my third delivery of fresh pork portions, I casually mentioned to Rahl that the ice pit, which was now in truth a house of ice, for Diderot had quickly managed to assemble a team to build a covered structure over the pit, might be endangered by General Washington’s imminent attack.
“What say you?” asked Rahl between slurps of wine (apparently the garrison had consumed its beer rations for the month). The wine left a thick red line above his upper lip that he hadn’t bothered wiping with his sleeve.
“I have it on authority that Washington plans an attack on Trenton this very eve of Christmas.”
“Outlandish! A mockery of Christ himself. He shall never!” Rahl exclaimed before another gulp found its way through his gullet.
“Aye, Herr Rahl, and hence the brilliance of his strategy, to keep your garrison asleep of his plans and to strike you unawares. I have this,” and I offered him the slip of paper that had allowed me passage across the Delaware at the general’s behest.
“Good God, you are a spy,” he chortled “And a good one, I suspect. Good enough for me to suspect your intentions.”
“My loyalties,” I lied, “have always rested with the Crown.” I went into detail regarding my devotion and loyalty to General Wolfe, as well as my witness to his demise. I showed him the same paper I had shown Washington.
“I have seen many battles in this new world,” he said. “One on Nassau, which gave your British the port in New York. It was a grueling battle, Honeyman. Many lives lost. The Dutch among the loyalists were brave, but with few battle skills. We trained them quickly to deliver harsh, shocking blows against the colonial rebels under cover of no uniform. Murders within the city at night, sometimes entire families stricken, if they be with the rebel cause. A gruesome tactic, but necessary.
“Washington employed brilliant tactics that I am still not fully understanding during his escape to Manhattan with nary one soldier lost, his supplies intact. Quite remarkable, given his dire circumstance.
“It was when General Howe landed troops in Westchester that I next witnessed Washington’s cunning ways. We were attempting to cut off Washington’s escape route, as he was in full retreat. His spies forecast this maneuver to Washington, allowing him to take the high ground in a small town that I believe was called the Plains of White. We were only able to drive him from that hill with a level of nearly unacceptable attrition.
“This leaves me in a peculiar position. Do I consider as truth the word of a meat seller who carries personal messages from Washington himself? Or do I allow my men to enjoy their Christmas holiday with the spirits our Lord has so endowed us?” With that, he hoisted his drink and consumed another large quantity.
“I dare say if you do not heed my warnings, given to you as a man of faith and a man of the Crown, you shall require the services of a regiment to do nothing more than bury bodies.”
In truth, I had no knowledge of a Christmas Eve attack by Washington upon Trenton. Also, in truth, my desire was not so much to see General Washington’s troops defeated at Trenton, as to balance conditions such that a fair fight be had.
What I did know was that General Washington considered his situation dire, and that he was a man endowed with an extreme gift toward clever thinking. Rahl acknowledged my assessment when he said, “It does make for the sounds of an approach he might consider. His situation grows increasingly desperate. The colonial forces are weakening mightily. Nearly unmanageable attrition. Service time, as I understand it, is expiring for many of his weary enlistees. Soldiers with expiring terms will return home, their will to fight extinguished. To make matters worse, the rebels cannot consider conscription in a war such as this.”
His assessment was accurate. Losing the port of New York was a devastating blow to the rebellion, as the port now provided safe cover for British naval vessels and reinforcements. General Washington had been in full retreat across New York, then the Province of New Jersey, with Hessian troops giving chase throughout both territories.
Washington had told me to plant the British flag no later than Christmas. I was firmly convinced that his reasoning behind this time was that he hoped to surprise his enemy with a Christmas attack, perhaps on the eve, but certainly no later than the day itself.
At great risk I had converted my opinion into unassailable fact for the gregarious Hessian commander, who was barely able to take a breath without drink. Observing Rahl’s habits gave me an understanding why his commander von Donop was an important piece of General Washington’s puzzle. Left to only Rahl’s command, the Hessian garrison could fall to the rebels. I had no doubt that Johann Rahl’s military background was excellent, but I was equally certain that his best days were behind him.
“And you, good fellow,” said Rahl. “You shall remain here with us on Christmas Day, assuming we survive until that day.”
And there it was, his distrust of me in full view.
“Aye,” I said, happily acting as if I was accepting an invitation to a dance. “I am happy to help with building fortifications.”
“We shall establish a series of redoubts near the northern fork.” He showed me the crude map of Trenton his troops were referencing. He was proposing a redoubt precisely at the fork of two roads where Washington wished me to plant a British flag if von Donop was occupied with Betsy Ross. This would render von Donop’s presence immaterial. If General Washington’s scouts spotted the redoubt upon looking for the flag, he would know the Hessians were prepared for the attack. This would not do.
“Redoubts this close to Washington’s march will need to be camouflaged. We must make it appear as though he is taking the garrison by surprise.”
“Ah! Well put, lad. I shall do one better. We will build the redoubts behind Petty’s Run. They will approach that creek in full confidence that they have taken us without warning.”
Petty’s Run was a creek that ran west to east just south of the fork in the road. There were two bridges, one on King Street, and the other on Queen Street, which covered the creek. They were well designed as ambush hideouts.
“We must, however, fortify River Road with redoubts, as it runs along the Delaware, with only the Lossberg regiment for defense along that one road.” Rahl’s regiment, I learned later, would take positions along Petty’s Run, while a regiment led by a man named Knyphausen would maintain a rear position behind Rahl.
I found it unusual that he would share his defense plans with me. I was beginning to think that there was some aspect of my personality that prompted military men to share their tactics. That, and he was slightly drunk.
I was a military man, of course. I had spent years with one of the best military minds in the British forces. I was by nature inquisitive concerning strategy and tactics.
Rahl may have been somewhat too overindulgent with his drink, but the 1,200 troops under him were some of the most well trained soldiers I had yet seen. Their highly regimented daily routines were accomplished with precision.
My only substantial tasks as we prepared for General Washington’s advance into Trenton was to procure a goodly portion of meats for the men and to help build redoubts around the city.
This was a challenge because the small town, which consisted of approximately one hundred homes and the two main thoroughfares of King and Queen Street, was subjected to numerous small rebellion raids, which terrorized the townsfolk, and left many of Rahl’s men with sleepless nights.
But we persevered. The ground was soft enough to allow us to create three substantial redoubts, each featuring a deep pit surrounded on the interior by some of the sharpest wood stakes I had ever seen, with points fine enough to act as a stitcher’s needle.
As Christmas approached, word came to Rahl that Von Donop seemed disinterested in the Trenton garrison. He was spending more time south, just under the elbow of the Delaware. I had not yet been introduced to the man. I needed to convince Rahl the importance of both men being present in Trenton, but Rahl was already aware of certain dalliances on the part of von Donop with “a Yankee Fräulein”, in Rahl’s words.
I had not heard the word “Yankee” since my days with Wolfe when he referred to colonist troops during the wars against the French and the Indians. I had only to guess what Fräulein was in reference to. “And where is this lass?” I asked him.
“He risks his rendezvous with the woman in the womb of the rebellion?” I had understood Betsy Ross to be living in Mount Holly, so this news was peculiar.
Rahl smiled, “He has character.”
“He needs to be here, not there, come Christmas. Washington himself will lead the charge. If you capture him, the rebellion is over.”
Rahl smiled and nodded at this. “I’ll send word. I am not at all certain he’ll give priority to this garrison over his carnal tendencies.”
Good God, I thought, one of the Hessian commanders is a lush, and the other is ruled by the fall of his breeches.
Sometimes, as I watched the Hessians place the final stakes to the redoubt at River Road, I very nearly expected Diderot to make an appearance and build a redoubt himself, just to demonstrate his versatility at all trades.
Diderot was meanwhile building his team of mischief makers. I do not believe the English language quite yet provides a word for the services he and his men were performing. They collected monies from cattlemen, established a ferry to compete with Beattie, sold ice from the icehouse, all while spreading word among slaves to be prepared to move on the Port of Philadelphia.
If my allegiances were fuzzy, Diderot’s most certainly were not. Diderot considered the likes of General Washington nothing but a small player in the grand scheme of ending slavery. In Diderot’s mind, Washington, von Donop, and Rahl were pawns in the greater game, and nothing more. When Washington’s ill-fated crossing of the Delaware was complete, nobody at that time knew that the eve of slavery’s end was upon us.