Virginia, September 1708
The lone crackling log in the fireplace and the five dancing flames of the iron chandelier failed to remove the somber and chilly feeling the young man was experiencing that evening. Sitting stiffly at the table in the plank-walled, white-washed dining room, he occasionally forced a nervous nod to feign interest in what the large, round man in his mid-fifties was saying from the end of the table. Having finished a twenty-minute diatribe on England’s politics, the man was then going on about local matters when the eighteen-year-old was again reminded that starting the next day he would be alone with him for the next seven years, and was again covered by an anxiety much like he had experienced when bedded down in the ship’s belly during the nine-week voyage there, though not as strong as what he had experienced during the ocean storms.
“And I say that’s another reason to keep to ourselves the happenings on this plantation. They exaggerate and distort all if only for the attention they earn through the gossip,” the man growled before itching his chin’s stubble and then grinning to reveal several missing teeth. “I believe I’ve said that before, have I not; though, it does no harm and possibly some good to repeat it.” Pausing for a moment, he stared at his thin companion. “Move the hair from your eyes, stripling. I prefer to see them when talking to you.” After watching the young man brush his brown bangs to the side, the man said, “Ben, we won’t be harvesting Chalmers’ field tomorrow, instead I’ll send you to mine. I’ve business in Williamsburg and expect you’re almost capable now. I don’t expect to return before you finish hanging the bundles, so do be certain to hang them in the last curing barn. We don’t want to confuse mine with Chalmers’ do we?”
Replying with a nod, Ben realized his error and changed it to a shake of his head.
“That’s correct —we don’t. And I expect you to harvest most, if not all. It’s only forty acres... until I persuade that Huguenot LaValle across from it to sell his thirty. The man’s so proud of his land one would believe he has a hundred, the LaValle Hundred,” he huffed. “He’s cleared only six, six! Not near enough to feed and clothe his offspring, and it shall be years before he builds onto that shed he calls home, perhaps having to stack their bunks four high before then,” he huffed again.
A young barefoot Black woman in a stained calico robe tied at the waist by a cord entered the dining room with a wooden tray. Placing it on the table, she began clearing the three sets of pewter dishes.
“Ann, don’t distract us with such needless noise! It’s bad enough we must see you! We mustn’t be forced to hear you also!”
“Sorry, Master Philpot,” she whispered as she grabbed the last bowl from the table and gently placed it into another.
“You may nod your understanding! Next, you shall want to dine with us!”
“No, Master Philpot. My apologies, Master Philpot,” she whispered, bowing nervously before turning to leave.
“Again, I require only a bloody nod!” he growled.
“Yes, Master Philpot,” she said as she left.
He hissed to Ben, “It’s too stupid not to talk back! As He is my witness, one day I’ll fix it!”
With the sounds of shoes coming down the hall, both looked toward the entrance to watch a curly-haired woman no older than eighteen enter the room with a smock covering the front of her plain brown bodice and skirt.
Philpot forced a smile. “Ah, Margaret, we heard your shoes and expected Jeremiah.”
“M-my apologies, Master Philpot,” she whispered.
He struggled to pull his pocket watch from his tight-fitting waistcoat. “No reason to apologize, my dear.” Opening it and eyeing the time, his face showed his frustration. “If he wants to be in town before... before eleven, he must be on his way,” he said, confusing Ben, who didn’t expect the man to have cared.
“Is there anything more you require?”
Pressing the watch back into his waistcoat pocket, he asked, “It’s been two months, yes?”
“You’ve been with us two months now, yes?”
“I have,” she nodded.
“Then you know your duties well enough to make time to eat here, eat with us rather than in the kitchen with them, and I say starting tomorrow you shall share our table.”
“As you wish, Master Philpot,” she said, turning to leave just as a husky man in his mid-twenties wearing a long leather coat appeared at the dining room entrance. Moving out of Margaret’s way, he adjusted the waist of his breeches and then his eye patch with an eye painted on it that from a distance looked almost natural.
“Come in, Jeremiah. Come in, I say,” Philpot said, standing up from the table with Ben following.
“Master Philpot, Ben, I’ll be taking my leave.”
“Yes, it shall be an hour’s walk, and I do hope you don’t think poorly of me. I would have Ben drive you, but it would be at the minimum a two-hour journey there and back, not to mention the harnessing and then the stabling on his return. I say it’s far too inconvenient for him, more when considering he shall need his sleep for his first day alone tomorrow.”
“Still, as I said earlier, it’s best to go on a full stomach rather than an empty one,” Philpot forced a smile. “Now then, I hope you’re not leaving with that coat, the estate’s coat. I only gave it to you to protect your clothes in the field, and I say those new breeches fit you well, but then they should for the sterling I paid. But I didn’t give you that coat to take with you. It’s not part of the contract. The one before you used it, and this one shall use it after you. It’s a size too large, but he shall grow into it, I say. You can lay it over the chair if it pleases you.”
Jeremiah’s face reddened as he nodded. “Certainly,” he said, before taking it off and laying it over the chair to reveal his clean white shirt partially covered by a tan waistcoat that matched his breeches.
Philpot frowned when the one-eyed man offered his hand to Ben.
Catching himself and before Ben could take it, Jeremiah turned and offered it to Philpot.
Forcing yet another smile, Philpot shook it. “I say the faster you walk, the less chill to fight off, and I believe I’m doing you good by keeping the coat and having you reach the inn faster,” he laughed. “I say it was a pleasure having you here, and I’m confident you shall do well in South Carolina.”
“I thank you, Master Philpot. It was a pleasure working with... for you.”
“I’m sure it was, and more so when you’re leaving with a small fortune, yes? One no indentured would see at the end of a contract, so do keep it close.”
“Yes, I believe that’s true, and I will.”
“I wish you the best and may He be with you,” Ben said, shaking Jeremiah’s hand.
“And I, you,” Jeremiah nodded. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.”
“And the whip?” asked Philpot.
“Have you taken it?”
Jeremiah forced an awkward smile. “No, I’m certain that’s the plantation’s. I placed it on my bed, and I’ve given the watch, pistols, and sword to Ben.”
“Very good. Perhaps we shall cross paths in Williamsburg before you’re off on your short voyage. But if not, as the French bastards say, bon voyage.”
As the man left the room, Philpot remained standing as he whispered to Ben, “I shall be surprised if he finds South Carolina. He might go too far and have to learn Spanish, the idiot.”
Ben nodded, reluctantly.
Comfortably hidden in the woods of tall but slender longleaf pines, Robert and his shorter brother, Stuart, stood holding their oil lanterns while impatiently watching their bowlegged brother with his feet almost pointing out to the sides shovel the last of the loose dirt into what was recently an irregular rectangular hole. With the bugs buzzing through the dormant air, Robert swatted the back of his neck. “Harry, don’t make a mound. We don’t want someone believing there’s treasure there.”
Frustrated, Harry threw the spade to the ground and dropped to his knees to brush the fallen leaves impatiently over the filled hole. “I don’t see whys I’m to do all of ’er!”
Rolling his eyes, Robert walked over to pat down the dirt with his shoes. “Doing the last share isn’t doing all of it.”
“Depends on who’s doin’ the last, don’t it?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Still, we could’ve dropped ’im in the river and be done with ’im,” Harry said as he struggled to stand and brush the dirt from his knees.
Joining them to help pat down the dirt, Stuart said, “He wanted him buried.”
“Who’s to care? We could’ve said we did and still drop ’im in. But no matters, we did as we said. Good boys, we are… and now ’ow much gooder are we?”
“Almost ten,” Robert replied.
“Ten? That’s not what ’e said!”
“Ten each. Near what he said.”
“And what o’ the clothes? They should fit me and Stuart with some work,” he said, hobbling to a small pile of clothes lying near a flour sack. Picking through them, he held up a white blood-stained shirt. “This ’ere’s finished. Why put one in ’is chest?”
Stuart huffed. “As we said at the time, he heard your steps! They heard them in Williamsburg. If you had stayed with the horses, as we agreed, you would’ve profited by a clean shirt. We would’ve crept up on him, as agreed.”
“Would’ve crept up on ’im,” Harry repeated, poorly mimicking his brother. “Always my fault, is it? Look ’ere, ya ruined the waistcoat too, ya did. A waste o’ fine clothes!” He dropped the shirt and began impatiently going through the contents of the flour sack. “Would’ve ruined that long coat too if ’e was wearin’ ’er.” Shaking its contents onto the forest floor, he complained, “Bloody ’ell! I was ’opin’ ’e packed ’er.”
“Pack it all and we’ll be gone!” Robert demanded. “And he wants the patch.”
“The eye patch. The one you pocketed, and it escapes me why you would want it.”
“Why would ’e want it? ’As no value.”
“Perhaps to destroy it himself. Make certain there’s nothing to identify him.”
“Or as a memento,” Stuart added. “Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t concern ourselves with it... since it has no value.”
“Memento? Robert, Stuart ’ere learned ’im new word!” Harry laughed. “’E’ll be teachin’ at the college soon!”
England, May 17, 1715
For the last two hours with his back against the sideboard of the cart’s small bed, a stuffed sack on one side of him and his chubby eleven-year-old brother on the other, William had sat with his knees pulled in to give his two white-capped sisters across from him room to stretch their legs so their five-year-old sister bundled in a blanket could lie across their thighs. Though content that the youngest could sleep through the rough ride rather than have to bear the boredom of it, he still hoped the next bump or jolt would break or knock off one of the two solid wheels, and he expected his father who seemed intent on rolling over every rock in their path was hoping for the same thing. Then turning off the Roman-built stone road to take a shorter route separating fields of young maize, both the additional bumping of the cart staggering in and out of the deep tracks left in the dried mud the day before and the almost constant whine for tallow from the cart’s single axle added to his anxious state.
With the late morning’s gray sky threatening to soak them and the cool spring breeze picking up, no one spoke of what was to come. Even Oscar who seemed to have no concern for why they were going to where they were going and who had asked his parents one too many times how much further they had to go said nothing as he fought back against asking again, fearing his father would carry out his threat of making him walk behind them.
Wondering what his oldest sister was thinking, William looked across at her, and when she raised her fourteen-year-old head to return his look, her watery eyes caused a wave of guilt to splash over him. Turning his head to his brother, the boy whispered, “How much further would you say we have?”
William shrugged and shook his head.
He shrugged again.
If only to pacify the boy, he nodded and said, “Five sounds correct.”
“Five! At this pace, that’s another hour!” Oscar whispered.
Fifteen minutes later, Oscar whispered the same question and was again frustrated by the same reply.
With the long carts casually passing in both directions between the docked ships and the mostly limestone buildings, their heavy solid wheels thundering against the planks of the pier, the only ship showing any activity that Friday afternoon was a merchant ship, The Colonist. Belittled by the much larger navy ships moored on both ends and behind a day in loading its cargo because of the storm the day before, it rushed to fill its belly as the line of parked carts beside it slowly grew. The barefoot sailors in their off-white calico trousers, matching shirts, and red wool caps took a crate from the bed of the first cart in line, struggled and cursed their way up the gangway hugging the ship’s side, and once aboard, disappear behind the main deck’s wall. Seconds later, they descend a rope hanging from the end of the lowest yard of the stern’s mast to grab another crate.
Eight ships away, with the clouds darkening and the seagulls heckling them, the five did as their mother had asked and huddled together within a group of almost fifty people waiting near the opened double doors of a warehouse. It was their first time seeing ships up close, their first time being engulfed by a salty breeze that forced the three sisters to hold their cloaks closed, and their first time seeing sailors who stumbled in and out of what the siblings assumed was a tavern one block down.
When their parents entered the warehouse to mingle with the larger crowd inside, their five children separated themselves from the tight group, and the two youngest with no interest in their surroundings took advantage of hearing themselves speak by discussing the patterns of the fabric they hoped to find in the small textile village their parents planned to visit on their trip home.
Where Oscar was excited to be at the pier, still showing no concern for why they were there, William’s anxiety smothered any excitement he would have had with being there. With his bulging flour sack over his shoulder, he tried to distract himself from what was to come by listening in on his sisters’ discussion, but how they could be so passionate about fabric was beyond his understanding, and when his five-year-old sister screamed, “Brown is for boys!” and his ten-year-old sister replied, “It’s for anybody,” William looked at his brother, smirked and raised an eyebrow.
When Oscar replied with an eye roll, the ten-year-old caught it and asked, “And what do you two think?”
“My opinion is worth less than nothing. I’ve never had reason to give women’s clothes much thought,” William replied.
“Mine as well. I only wonder how Willy would look in them,” Oscar said through a grin. Turning to wander off, William grabbed him by the back of his jacket and pulled him back.
“Willy is pretty in a dress, a green dress!” the five-year-old shouted, causing the oldest sister who hadn’t said a word that morning to replace her gloom with a slight grin.
“William, how do you see me in a yellow dress with blue flowers,” their ten-year-old asked.
“With my eyes.”
The girl huffed. “No, how would I look?”
“As you do now, with your eyes,” he grinned, before again trying to grab Oscar, who was just out of reach. “Oscar, come back!”
“No, Willy! I only want to see the ships in the harbor. I’m not going far and not too long.”
Not understanding why the ships in the harbor would be more interesting than those moored to the pier, William shook his head, dropped his flour sack, and walked over to his brother. He was about to pull him back to his sisters when it occurred to him that doing as his brother wanted might distract his mind. “But only for a moment. We must return before mother and father, or you’ll sleep tonight with yet another growling stomach.”
“We will, and we’ll see better from there,” the boy said, pointing to a large space further down between two ships.
As Oscar ran along the raised walkway, dodging those in his path, William apologized to those he dodged as he ran after him, and his heart skipped a beat when his younger brother failed to look both ways before running across the pier, barely avoiding a cart whose driver let loose several loud expletives. “Our apologies,” William said to the man and then waited impatiently for the cart and two more to pass.
At the edge of the pier, in a large space between the stern of one ship and the bow of another, the two looked out at the ships floating in the harbor with their sails tucked into their yards, and as William expected, there was nothing in the harbor that interested them except for the two men rowing a small boat directly toward them.
With the breeze doing little to cool his anxious state, William unbuttoned his jacket and released the top three buttons of his shirt. Following him, Oscar released the straining buttons of his jacket that was a size too small, unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt to reveal his pudgy cleavage, and adjusted his breeches that were tight around the waist but ended two inches further below his knees than they should have.
As the small boat came closer, the brothers realized it was towing a thick rope, and when it reached the pier, they stepped to the side as a man from the boat climbed a ladder built into it, caught the thick rope thrown up to him and wrapped it around an iron mooring. After the sailor descended the ladder, the brothers watched them row back to a ship almost two hundred feet away. Curious with the rope stretching, they realized the ship lifting the small boat from the water was also pulling itself into the pier. Watching the ship creep closer, neither mentioned to the other they had expected the ships to sail into the pier, and after twenty minutes, when it was fifty feet from them, they heard muffled shouting from somewhere inside it, and as it pulled itself closer, recognized it as singing.
Come hang, come haul together,
Come, hang for finer weather,
Hang, boys, hang.
I’d hang a brutal mother,
I’d hang her and no other,
Hang, boy, hang.
I’d Hang to make things jolly,
I’d hang all wrong and folly,
Hang, boy, hang.
They call me hanging Johnnie,
They call me hanging Johnnie,
Hang, boy, hang.
The ship’s bow rising ten feet above them creaked against the pier, and when the singing stopped and Oscar’s foot stopped tapping along with it, William said, “Come. We’ll watch from the other side.” Expecting his brother to protest, Oscar only did when William grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to wait for two carts to pass.
From the walkway near the door of a red-bricked building, the two stood watching a sailor hang from the bow of the ship before dropping onto the pier. Catching a thick rope dropped to him, the man walked to where the stern of the ship would be when docked, and after wrapping it around a second mooring, several sailors near the stern braced themselves on the deck as they heaved on the rope to bring its hull against the pier.
With nothing more to interest him, Oscar grabbed the arm of William’s coat and pulled him down the walkway to sit across from The Colonist and watch the sailors unload crates from a long six-horse cart. The crates that clanged, William guessed, were cookware; those that clattered were wooden plates, and the few that jingled, he joked, were the King’s jewels. Oscar guessed that the lighter, silent ones were bundles of silk and the heavier ones were bars of gold wrapped in cloth so their clanging wouldn’t announce their precious presence.
“The crates would be much heavier than they are... and they would never send gold on a ship like that,” William said. “It only has four things on its side. This one wouldn’t be any challenge for pirates.”
Oscar’s grin accentuated his chubby cheeks. “Perhaps, or perhaps that’s what they’re hoping we believe. If I were them, that’s what I would do: put it in a ship that no one would suspect. And they’re called gunports.”
With the emptied cart rolling away, and the one behind it with a mountain of sacks taking its place, a man shouted from the ship, “Grab those hardtacks! Hurry now!”
The sailors formed a line at the cart to have the two men standing on its bed drop a bulging sack over their shoulders, causing them to shrink slightly, and it amused the brothers to watch the sailors struggle up the gangway, one hand balancing the sack while the other grabbed the railing of rope, and several times it seemed as if some would stumble back, knocking over those behind them, but none did.
When the sailors carried the last of the sacks onto the ship and the cart rolled away without another to replace it, the older brother’s heart began beating hard. And then a few seconds later it happened. A sailor at the bow of the ship yelled toward the waiting crowd, “ALL ABOARD WHO’S COMIN’ ABOARD!”
William couldn’t get to his feet.
His legs refused to move.
As his face went pale and he became dizzy, a hard tug on his shoulder knocked him onto his side.
“Come!” Oscar demanded, trying to pull his brother to his feet. “We have to leave or I’ll not eat tonight. Come!”
“ALL ABOARD WHO’S COMIN’ ABOARD!”
William forced himself out of his shock and to his feet, and with another tug from his brother, they ran to join their sisters.
They arrived just as their parents emerged with the waves of people leaving the warehouse to pool onto the pier, ignoring the blocked carts and the curses thrown from their drivers.
“The game has ended. We’ve received his message. Let’s be on our way home,” Oscar proclaimed to his family.
None seemed to hear the boy as all but the youngest focused their eyes on William, who was considering his brother’s words before his father distracted him by pulling back his youngest sister, who had turned to walk toward the blocked carts.
“No! I want to touch the horsey, the dark one there!” she protested as the man picked her up and stepped out of the way so William could take his teary-eyed mother’s offer of a hug.
She kissed his cheek, broke their hug, and wiped an eye. “N-now you make sure to... to listen to your master... and be safe.” Trembling as she released more tears, she added, “We’ll send letters.”
“I’ll do the same. I... I’ll send one soon after arriving.”
She kissed his cheek and hugged him again. “Remember, I love you... we all love you.”
“I love you too,” he said, fighting to control the pressure growing behind his eyes. Kissing her salty cheek before breaking his hold on her, he allowed her one last time to brush the wavy bangs from his eyes.
Forcing himself away from his mother, he faced his watery-eyed oldest sister, and after he hugged her and kissed her cheek, she whispered, “I hope you find what you’re seeking. Don’t forget about me... about us.”
With the lump in his throat making his voice lower, he said, “Alice, I can’t forget you,” and as he wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket, added, “This salty air is hard on the eyes, yes?”
“Know this, William, I’ll be thinking of you every sunset, hoping you’re safe and hoping too that you’ll return for a visit. Even when I’m married with a dozen children, I’ll always think of you as the sun goes down, wondering what has become of my big, brave brother with a heart bigger than his brain.”
Only able to reply with a nod, he turned to his ten-year-old sister, who hugged him tightly. “Goodbye, William. I’ll miss you very much. Please try to return when your contract ends.”
As she broke her hug, he kissed her cheek. “I’ll miss you too, and I’ll try... if only for a visit. And you... you would be pretty in yellow with blue flowers, though being prettier than you are seems impossible.”
Clearing his throat, he looked down at his youngest sister who was looking curiously up at him and giggled when he picked her up. “I must go now.”
“Be home tomorrow?”
“N-no, much later.”
“Two weeks?” she asked, holding up two fingers.
“Yes, I will be back then,” he lied.
“Bring me a horsey?” she whispered in his ear. “Don’t tell Father, and not a big one, but a small one.”
“I’ll bring you a pony.”
The child’s eyebrows tilted in and her voice rose. “No! Did you not hear me? I said a horsey! I want a small horsey! Bring me a small horsey... and don’t tell Father!”
“I’ll bring you back the best small horsey I can find,” he said, releasing a smile that slightly reduced the pressure behind his eyes.
Causing her to giggle again by kissing her cheek, he set her gently down and turned to his father. Offering out his trembling hand, he found his father’s grip to be much weaker than he expected.
“This is it, then. As your mother said, listen to your master and be safe. Watch the weather and do as the others do. They’ll know how to avoid the bad air,” the man said, releasing his son’s hand. “Do you have your paper close?”
William tapped the left pocket of his jacket. “In my pocket.”
His father pulled out a handkerchief, released a wet cough into it, and wiped his mouth. “Good. And watch your footing on the ship, and if there’s a storm, as there’s certain to be, perhaps as early as today, make certain you’re below.” The man cleared his throat. “You’ve escaped the mines, but I expect this new life will have its disappointments too and expect it will change you enough to make you almost unrecognizable when I see you again. The voyage itself may change you too, and I hope the change is for the better, though how much better you could be is beyond my understanding. You are a good son, a great son. One any father would be proud of.” Reaching out, he surprised William with a hug. “I will think of you always,” he whispered.
“And... and I, you,” William whispered back.
His father broke their hug. “You must be off. We’ll stay to give a last farewell when you’re settled in and on deck... to... to see you one last time.” Pausing to collect himself, he added, “That is if this sky doesn’t break and wash us into the sea.”
“I’ll see you then, but before I go, I want to give you this,” William said, holding out a small leather sack that jingled.
“What I saved over the last few years, five pounds six. I don’t see any use for it there, since they provide all.”
“No, you’ll need it. You’ve given much to the family and you’ll never be wealthy if you continue giving away your sterling.”
“I’m not looking for wealth. I’m looking for a life where I’m my man, where I own land, work for myself.”
His father swallowed and nodded. “And I’m more than certain you’ll have it.”
William reluctantly pushed the sack back into his pocket and the two shook hands again, both struggling to fight back tears.
“ALL ABOARD WHO’S COMIN’ ABOARD!”
An icy chill went through William when he looked across the pier at those heading to The Colonist, some carrying stuffed sacks slung over their shoulders while others balanced small crates on them. Realizing by their trousers he had overdressed for the occasion, he turned to Oscar, who had been shocked silent. “This is it.”
“No! No, it’s not! You’re not going through with it, Willy! You don’t have to!”
“It is, and I am, and I’ll write as often as I’m able.”
“Then... then I’ll never see a letter because you can’t write,” Oscar said while not understanding how it was possible that he could be sad, angry, and even frightened at the same time.
William forced a poor smile, one where his eyes contradicted it. “Perhaps I’ll learn between here and there, and if I can’t, I-I’ll find someone who can.”
Staring at his brother for a moment, Oscar spat on his trembling hand and offered it out. “Then... then swear it. Swear you’ll write... and swear you’ll send for me when you’re free from your contract.”
Having never thought about sending for him and at that moment believing it possible, William spat on his hand before shaking his brother’s. “I-I swear on it. I swear on both. I swear I’ll write and swear I’ll send for you.”
“Good. I’ll be expecting a letter soon and an invitation in seven years. That’s if I don’t take a contract myself before then,” the younger brother said, hoping to fight back his tears until after William left. “You should go. You don’t want to miss your ship.”
“True,” William nodded. “But you have to return my hand.”
After Oscar forced himself to release it, William wiped his hand on his breeches, picked up his stuffed flour sack, flung it over his shoulder, and said, “I’ll write... I’ll find someone to write for me when I’m settled.”
With wet eyes, no one said a word as they watched him cross the pier and walk toward the ship, consciously moving each of his reluctant legs.
“DON’T FORGET MY HORSEY… AND DON’T TELL FATHER!” his little sister screamed. Looking up at her mother looking down at her with a slight grin, she asked, “What?”
“ALL ABOARD WHO’S COMIN’ ABOARD!”
As his family watched William walk out of their lives, none noticed Oscar quietly release his tears as he walked off to mix in among several people moving along the walkway in The Colonist’s direction. Not able to take his wet eyes from his brother on the other side of the pier, he stepped into an alley across from the ship and watched him join the line of men climbing the gangway. On the deck, he presented his paper to a heavyset bearded sailor, and after the man examined it and handed it back, he disappeared into the ship.
In the dim and dank passengers’ quarters two levels down, William stood near several tight rows of bunks, each bed wide enough for two people. To his right, there were two long tables with built-in benches. Beyond that, there was what looked like a kitchen, and beyond that, cotton sacks taking up one half of the floor and piled so high that they touched the ceiling, and taking up the other half of the floor were barrels on their sides piled three high and held in place by ropes stretched from small iron hoops in the floor to others in the ceiling.
Walking over to the first bunk where a shorter man about ten years older was unfolding a coarse sheet, he asked, “Would you know where I would find the private quarters?”
“Told you that too, did they?” the man said without stopping what he was doing. “Me and me mate there were told the same thing, the same lie. Treated like royalty, my arse! We might even have a bedmate too! Best grab a bunk quick and pray you don’t have one... and pray too that that was their only lie.”
“Many thanks,” a confused William said as he stepped to the side to let a man pass.
Finding it difficult to believe the kindly agent had lied to him, he decided to wait for the last of the passengers to board before choosing his bedmate from among them, but then a minute later, it occurred to him that by waiting he might have to pick from the best of the worst, and he made his way to the bunk at the far end of the last row.
Virginia, May 17, 1715
Standing at a closed battened door while holding a wooden tray of only an empty pewter bowl and a spoon, she adjusted the clean smock covering her light-brown bodice and skirt, took a deep breath, and slowly released it before knocking.
“Who?” a woman groaned.
“It’s Becky with Beth’s meal.”
She opened the door and entered the room with its suffocating odor. “Good morning, Mistress Philpot.”
The women lying on top of the sheets of a small bed stretched out her legs from under her stained nightgown and moaned as she struggled to sit up against the headboard, revealing her long, matted curly brown hair and her pale, blotchy face that made her look ten years older than her twenty-five years. Placing a large doll beside her, she rasped, “Girl, only minutes ago Beth was telling me how hungry she is. Just look at her shrinking to nothing.”
Becky nodded and placed the tray on the child-sized desk beneath a small window. Pulling out its small chair, she turned it to face the bed, and not yet prepared that morning to look at the sickly woman without releasing a tear, she looked at the doll. “Would you like to sit on my lap, Beth?”
“What’s that you say, sugar?” the older woman asked the wooden doll. “You can answer for yourself. Fine, be timid, but you shall receive no sweets after!” Offering the doll to Becky, who took it as she would a child, the woman added, “Eat everything in your bowl, and perhaps I shall change my mind regarding those sweets.”
Becky sat on the chair, placed the doll on her lap, and then picking up the spoon from the empty bowl, she placed it to the doll’s lips. “You’re hungry this morning.”
As Becky dipped the spoon into the bowl for the doll’s second mouthful, Mistress Philpot said, “Girl, do not tell Charles, but I had the most wonderful dream last night, the most wonderful yet. Beth and I were in Alnwick... and Charles was here. With the sea between him and us, we were free to do as we wished, free to wander the fields. We supped on cheese and bread on Percy’s hill, and Beth told her silly jokes and made her silly voices. ’Twas wonderful, simply wonderful. And afterward, we rolled down the hill as if in barrels. Is that how ’twas, Beth? Swallow before you speak!” she scolded the doll. Then, looking up at the ceiling, she closed her eyes and cracked a smile. “She laughed so loud I can still hear it. She’s not laughed such as that for a long time. Warmed my heart.”
Becky laid the spoon in the bowl and nodded, “It does sound wonderful.”
“’Twas. ’Twas wonderful,” the woman giggled, continuing to close her eyes.
“Perhaps when you’re well, you could take Beth to your village for a period.”
Mistress Philpot opened her eyes and rasped, “Perhaps, but ’twould have to be after Charles passes. He would never let us out of his sight for more than a day. Much too jealous.”
The woman’s response startled Becky who would have expected her to say she had booked a passage on the next ship, planned to row herself there the next week, or even swim, but never that her husband wouldn’t allow it because of his jealousy.
Reaching into the pocket of her apron, she pulled out a cloth to wipe Beth’s mouth. “Th-that’s a good girl, Beth. I hope tonight your appetite is... is as strong,” she said as she stood to return the doll to the woman, who gently cradled it in her arms.
“Becky, before you leave, would you grab a doll from the dresser?”
Startled a second time with being addressed by her first name while being politely asked to do something, she stared down at the sickly woman.
“Well, girl, why do you wait?”
Becky bowed her head. “M-my apologies, Mistress.” Walking the few steps to the group of smaller dolls neatly organized on the dresser against the far wall, she asked, “Which would you like, Beth?” Picking one up, she turned to face the woman. “This one in a pink dress?”
“I concur,” the woman smiled at Beth. “The one in the yellow dress would be a nice change.”
Becky exchanged the doll for the one in yellow and handed it to the woman, who placed it between Beth’s wooden arms.
“Mistress Philpot, I’ll be back in a moment with your hot meal,” she said as she picked up the tray of clean dishes.
“Good and make sure ’tis you! That speechless Negro shall not be feeding me!”
“Understood,” she replied, not needing the hundredth-something reminder but accepting it as part of their morning routine. After she fed the doll, the women would remind her that the room was off limits to the slaves, and after returning to feed the woman, she would bathe her, brush her hair, put her in a clean nightgown, and try to convince her to take a brief walk outside, which the woman always refused. If there weren’t an accident to address, she wouldn’t see the woman again until the midday meal, when she would again feed the doll before the woman.
Leaving the room, Becky glanced through the hole in the seat of the wooden chair by the door. Expecting its bucket to need emptying, she was curious to find that it didn’t and hoped the woman hadn’t relieved herself in the bed again; though, there was no noticeable addition to the room’s constant pungent odor that she partly blamed on the pane of the fixed window blocking out the fresh air and later in the day raising the heat of the room by intensifying the sun’s afternoons rays.
The sun found an opening in the clouds and brightened the stone walls of the alley that offered him sanctuary from his father’s disapproving eyes.
With his bottom resting on the side of an empty whale-oil barrel and his feet resting on a broken crate, he only realized he was rolling himself back and forth when his need to squint brought on a yawn. After squeezing his eyes closed to force out what he hoped was the last of his tears and wiping them away with the sleeve of his jacket, he blew his nose into his sticky handkerchief, and with his mother out of view, tossed it over his shoulder. But he had to fight back more tears when William’s leaving reminded him of his last moments with his grandfather struggling from his deathbed to share a few words with the boy, but instead of being buried in the ground, never to be seen again, William would be sailed away, never to be seen again.
With the company of grief, anger, and fear all fighting for supremacy, Oscar promised himself that when William appeared on the deck, he would shout his love to him, not caring if his father heard it.
As the alley darkened and a few raindrops fell, the families inspecting The Colonist while waiting for their loved ones to appear on its deck for their final farewells offered him a better view of the ship when they disappeared to take shelter from what soon could be heavy rain.
A moment later, an overdressed couple crossed the mouth of the alley with a well-dressed Black woman following six feet behind as if pulled by an invisible rope. With the couple partially disappearing on the other side of the alley to talk with someone whom the boy couldn’t see, the Black woman stopped and Oscar’s jaw dropped. Besides her dark-brown complexion, which he considered more attractive than blotchy white skin, he was attracted to her high cheekbones and full lips, and when she looked at the red-eyed boy and offered a sympathetic smile, he was impressed by her large dark eyes. Forcing himself through his mix of emotions with losing his brother, he returned the smile and a second later caught a warm roll she had snuck from her large cloth-covered basket. Even prettier to him then, the boy mouthed his thanks as the invisible rope pulled her past the alley.
Struggling against following her to ask where she was from, how long she had been in London, and if she had any sisters as pretty as her but closer to his age, he only defeated the urge when he considered it might put her in trouble with the couple, or worse, him in trouble with his father for acting on yet another impulse.
Disappointed with her leaving, but having appreciated the momentary distraction, he took a small bite of the roll and forced it down his dry throat. Realizing then that he was hungry, he blamed it on his mother. She should have insisted he finish his morning meal as she normally would when someone didn’t, but then no one had finished theirs that morning, including his mother. Finding his throat too dry for the bread, he stuffed the roll into his pocket.
A few minutes later, three sailors rushing about the main deck of the ship caught the boy’s curiosity. Near the short wall of the deck, they raised a fourteen-foot beam with a long arm at its top, dropped it eight feet into the deck, and threaded a rope through a block at the end of its arm. As a sailor on deck separate two tangled loops of rope from its end, Oscar lost interest in it when he realized it was only a block and tackle pulley system.
A hired coach stopping beside the ship impressed the boy with its rare wheels of spokes. Watching the driver climb down, the man placed a set of three steps at its door before it opened and a redheaded young man about William’s age dressed in an expensive ensemble of an embroidered jacket, waistcoat, and breeches stepped out to help an older woman down. “Mother, I will be fine,” Oscar heard him say.
“I wish I was as certain,” the woman said, her voice cracking as she stretched out her arms begging for a hug, and as she received it, added, “The stress of waiting for your first letter could put me in the ground!”
Her son kissed her cheek and broke their hug. “I’ll write when I reach Virginia. It’ll take months before I arrive there and more for it to arrive here, but know it’s on its way.”
A long cart pulled by six horses stopped behind the coach, its cargo of barrels rumbling as they rolled about slightly. As several more carts rolled up behind the first, a sailor shouted at the coach, “MOVE IT ALONG!”
“That’s if you make it to Virginia!” the women sobbed as the driver removed a chest from the top of the carriage and placed it on the pier. “If you’re not wrecked before then!”
“Mother, look about. Do you truly believe they would load the ship if they didn’t expect to complete the voyage? Now return home and hug father for me.”
“I can’t bear to let you go!” she protested. “This is all too much for my heart!”
Her son took her hand and turned her toward the carriage door. “Mother, I can take care of myself.”
“MOVE ’ER OR WE’LL DROP ’ER OFF THE PIER!”
“Do be careful, my dear Philip!” the woman begged as he closed the door.
“ Always,” Philip assured her.
After the driver removed the steps and the coach pulled away, Oscar watched the young man struggle to pick up the chest and then struggle up the steep gangway, almost falling back twice before reaching the deck where a husky sailor seemed to scold him for being late. The sailor exaggerated a bow, pulled a paper from the young man’s pocket, examined it, refolded it, and placed it back into its pocket. When the young man offered the chest, the sailor refused it and pushed him along, and it took Oscar a moment to realize the sailor was being facetious when he yelled, “Ya’ll find yer quarters prepared as ya prefer, Yer ’ighness!”
Minutes later, two sailors stood on the barrels of the first cart and wrapped the lift’s large loops of rope around both ends of one, and with a shout, two men at the lift pulled in the rope. When the barrel rose above the deck’s wall, two men turned the lift to align it with something that Oscar couldn’t see behind the wall and lowered it into the ship. After a minute and with the repeated shout of “Clear,” the group pulled in the empty rope while turning the lift back to the cart.
Trying to come up with a faster way to load the ship, Oscar couldn’t and blamed it on the occasion, telling himself he would give it more thought on the long ride home when his mind would be clearer and in need of something to fight the boredom.
Growing impatient with waiting to see his brother, he watched crates, pallets of huge sacks, and barrels of wine, beer, water, rum, salted pork, and others that he failed to recognize the markings on being lifted onto the ship, and in the crew’s rush to load it, a rope slid off the end of a barrel. It fell, struck the side of the cart, and smashed against the pier where its many gallons of yellow liquid drained through the cracks between the planks.
Two hours later, after watching dozens of large crates being lifted aboard the ship, what appeared to be the last cart rolled up with a dozen of even larger crates that by the sounds escaping from them held live pigs, and with each crate of pigs hurriedly lifted onto the ship, they shook, swung, and turned so much that it seemed to the boy that a loop of rope could slip from them at any moment. Then, as the fifth was being lifted, one did. The crate fell five feet, slammed onto the back of the cart, and tumbled off to crack open an end, and to Oscar’s surprise, a dozen terrified, squealing piglets escaped the oversized crate.
The sight of the small animals skirting in all directions and the sailors throwing curses as they chased after them caused Oscar to laugh so hard he almost rolled off the barrel, but he stopped laughing when two piglets with their little legs a blur ran toward the alley.
The shock of seeing one crushed under the wheels of a passing cart was quickly replaced by the excitement of the other still running toward him. Jumping up from the barrel to grab it, it squealed as it scurried between his legs. Turning around and pulling the half-eaten roll from his pocket, the boy made several clicks with his tongue, and to his delight, the piglet stopped and turned around. It cautiously approached, sniffed the roll extended out to it, bit into it, and squealed when Oscar grabbed it.
Carrying it by its belly, he fed the baby pig the rest of the roll while walking to the fallen crate. Passing a stopped cart that was waiting for the commotion to clear, Oscar noticed a dark stain similar to a three-quarter moon on the small animal’s side, and when he tried to wipe it off, discovered it was permanent, like the birthmark one of his schoolmates had on his neck.
At the broken crate and hoping to share a few words with the sailor who joined him with a squealing piglet under his arm, Oscar said, “They’re difficult to catch.”
“They’re that,” the sailor nodded as he placed his piglet into the crate, and then using his foot to keep his captured piglet from escaping again, he said, “Slide in the wee ham if ya will. Ya have yourself a quiet one there.”
“He calmed down with a bread roll. I think he was more hungry than scared,” Oscar said as he bent down and pushed the animal in. “And I saw one get crushed by a cart.”
“Then that makes nine more to catch. Say, would ya be a good lad and keep the side closed til we catch ’em?”
With his brother somewhere on the other side of the hull, Oscar considered sneaking aboard while the sailors were distracted, but in the next moment decided against it since that would require sneaking off too. No, if he were to sneak aboard, he would do it for the journey.
Then a thought came to him.
“What say you, lad? Keep the side closed while we catch the rest of the wee buggers?”
Oscar pulled himself away from his thought. “I will,” he nodded. Then pointing to the alley, he lied to the man, “I saw two more running up there.”
“We need to catch those as well,” sighed the man before looking up at two sailors leaning against the deck’s short wall while enjoying the commotion. “You two, we got more up the alley there. Come help!”
The two men climbed over the wall of the deck, dropped onto the cart’s crates, and hopped down onto the pier, and with the three men running up the alley, Oscar looked about the pier. Everyone, including his family, was chasing after the squealing animals, some bumping into others like a Punch and Judy show, and with the few sailors left on the deck too enthralled by it to look down and notice him, he dropped to his hands and knees, and hoping the over-sized crate would hold his extra weight, pulled the side open enough to squeeze himself in and force the two piglets to the back. Forced to bring his knees up to his chest, he reached out to pull the broken side closed and noticed the pungent smell and the crate’s wet and sticky floor.
As the next sailor squeezed in a piglet and then stood there using his foot to keep the broken side closed, Oscar was questioning his latest impulsive act and wouldn’t have been too disappointed if the next sailor squeezing in a piglet had looked in to discover him.
Finally, with the side hammered into place and the eleven excited piglets unable to move about in the cramped space he could leave for them, the crate was lifted onto the ship with hardly any swinging and shaking.
As it was being lowered into the ship, he peered through the thin gaps between the boards and watched as he passed several cannons lining the hull. Passing through the next level, he saw what looked like a kitchen, and as he passed through the next, saw several men stacking crates. Then passing through a level where two men were stacking sacks, he was wondering how many levels there were when the crate struck the floor, causing a painful jolt to his lower back.
Not noticing the boy’s grunt, one of the two men stopped what he was doing to walk over to the crate, lift it slightly to remove the ropes, and shout, “CLEAR!” As the shout was repeated like an echo on each level, Oscar’s heart skipped a beat when the man dragged the crate across the floor to the others, but it calmed slightly when, like the other crates of piglets, the sailor left it unopened to help his mate secure the pile of sacks.
Twenty minutes later, with the last crate of piglets lowered and the sacks stacked and secured, the two sailors ignored the crates to climb the steep, narrow stairs while talking about the women they were leaving behind.
When the door of the hatch above the stairs closed with a bang and the double doors of the cargo hatches on the levels above slammed shut one after the other, Oscar’s fear of being caught was replaced by the excitement of being in the ship, and after forcing himself to wait several minutes to make sure the men weren’t returning, he struggled to hold back the piglets while kicking open the crate’s side. Blocking the excited piglets from escaping with him, he squirmed out through the waste, struggled to his feet, and moaned as he stretched his sore back.
After he kicked the side back into place, he let his curiosity take over. In the open space between the wall of barrels on one end of the ship and the wall of crates on the other that appeared at least thirty feet deep by the narrow passage built into it, a fenced-in section had been built for the piglets and much like their crates, it appeared far too large for the small animals, until Oscar realized they would grow during the voyage. Across from the pigsty were stacked sacks, stacked bales of hay, and a wide and deep stack of firewood reaching the six-foot ceiling, all secured by ropes stretching from floor to ceiling, and near his feet sat the gibbous-marked piglet looking calmly up at him as if asking, “What now? What’s the plan, and would you have another roll?”
Oscar picked up the piglet and tried to cradle the squirming animal in his arms. “You’re a persistent fellow. I think I’ll name you Gibbous. No, that’s too formal, like Kenneth. I know, I’ll name you Gibby,” he said and took the animal’s snort as approval.
Then it occurred to the boy that his parents would wonder where he was, and a second later, the guilt for causing their worry was smothered by the joy of missing their annual purchase of dress fabric, but the footsteps and voices nearing the stairs’ closed hatch cut that joy short.
Content with having the top bunk at the end of the last row to himself, William did as the passengers were told and sat waiting for the heavier cargo to be loaded aboard the ship before returning to the deck to see his family one last time.
Fifteen minutes later, a redheaded young man walking between the rows of bunks stopped to look at William, look at the older, scruffier man alone on the bunk across from him, and look at the old woman on the bunk below him. Placing his heavy trunk on the floor, he climbed the four-rung ladder to sit next to William where he introduced himself as Philip John Smith the Third. With William only able to offer a nod, his new bedmate joined him in watching a sailor guide the cargo through the large openings in both the ceiling and floor.
An hour later, when barrels marked Salted Pork were being lowered into the ship, Philip grinned and nudged William with his elbow. “That’s the gold they’re bringing across.”
Responding with only a nod, William experienced a moment of déjà vu before remembering what his brother had said during what he then believed was their last time together forever, and for the second time that day, the pressure grew behind his eyes.
“Not on this ship!” the old woman almost shouted from the bunk beneath them. “They use the navy for that!”
“And that’s what they want you to believe,” Philip replied, winking at William before his grin grew into a smile. “Pirates would never expect gold on this ship.”
“Because they’d never put it in ’er!”
“Exactly, and that’s more reason to do so. She’s smaller, faster, and much less suspect than a navy ship.”
“They’d never put it in ’er cause there ain’t no need for it in Virginia. They need sterlin’,” the woman said as she stood up to face them, revealing her medium, curly brown hair, her crow’s feet, pale complexion, and her bright orange petticoat and dress. “Everythin’ ’as to go through Britain, in and out, and that means payin’ with sterlin’. They might send gold to England for it, but not the other way. My son writes me they’re so lackin’ of sterlin’, they use those Spanish dollars... but Britain only takes sterlin’, and since everythin’ comes from Britain, they’re always short it.”
“I believe you’re correct,” Philip nodded with a smile that couldn’t be any larger. “The barrels are holding a fortune in sterling.”
“Not on this ship!” the older woman barked again. “They’d never send sterlin’ with this ship! She’d be too easy to...” Stopping herself short, she shook her head and returned to her bunk. “Why bother explainin’ somethin’ to a striplin’ that ’as to touch a flame to learn it burns!”