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Becoming Americans

by

Donald Batchelor


 

Chapter One



There was growing nostalgia for a king in England by 1658. Oliver Cromwell and his fervent Republican forces had beheaded their king five years earlier, shocking the world and horrifying those subjects who saw King Charles as the anointed of God, His temporal representation as Head of the Church of England. But, those who overthrew King Charles had no need for an intermediary with God, and acknowledged no fealty to the ruler they called a despot. By 1658, the Republicans ruled England with the iron fist of a god who was colder and less colorful than the god of their dead king.

Discontented advocates of a monarchy fled the harsh Commonwealth, mostly to Virginia. The vast new land welcomed them; she needed workers. England's jails and asylums were culled for settlers for that distant void of civilization. Prodigal sons and daughters were sent to her. Infectious "fevers of immigration" were created in whole communities by printed flyers boasting of easy and assured riches in the New World. England's exploding population was vented. Virginia took all she could get—and she devoured the great majority.




"Look closely at those four people standing nearest to you."

The captain of the Deliverance offered a chilling welcome to the fifty apprehensive passengers who stood on deck as the one-hundred ton ship from Bristol sailed out of land's view, into the Atlantic Ocean.

"Look closely and with love," he said. "For they will be dead within a year."

Seven weeks later, the captain called the remaining forty-one passengers together again as they sailed past Cape Henry, into the Chesapeake Bay, only hours before docking in James Town. They gathered in clumps of new relationships. Thirteen-year-old Richard Williams stood by his master’s family.

"For some few of you the promise of great fortune will prove true. None need fear our Lord Protector, Cromwell, here. The Governor, his Council, and the Burgesses will, for the most part, leave you be. You'll not starve—if you're willing to open up an oyster or shoot a goose or reach to fetch a peach. Some do starve because they're unwilling to do that little for themselves. Probably the savages will not kill you, for we've killed most of them with our guns and diseases. What will kill the most of you is stupidity and ignorance. Remember that you are not in England! Don't let the climate kill you—you do not know this heat of summer, nor the sharp, cold winds of winter. Don't let the abundance kill you. An overabundance of milk and honey is as deadly as the lack, thereof. Listen to the seasoned settlers and take precautions. Because four of five who left Bristol will be dead within a year."

Richard shifted his weight with the rolling deck and narrowed his eyes. The wind and his sweat made him shiver. He looked at those around him. The sobering words of the captain had ended the celebration and stale beer. Every face reflected terror.

Richard knew that many settlers died—his Uncle Edward had told him that—but no one had suggested these large numbers! His uncle had deliberately misled him! He looked back to the others on board and pondered how he differed from them. Which of them would die? And why? He reached for his rabbit's foot.

Richard wasn’t the youngest of the immigrants, and not the only one among them orphaned by Cromwell’s revolution. Nor was he the only one unwanted back home in England. In these seven weeks at sea he'd heard the others’ stories and complaints; that they'd been stolen from their families, or picked up from the streets where they'd been sleeping, or on the roads as they traveled. The Protector was transporting prisoners and prostitutes with beggars and wanderers. Some of the poorest died aboard the ship, sick when they signed up. Others were sick, now, and would likely die. Richard had avoided them. He didn't like sick people. They were bad luck.

He clutched the rabbit's foot in his left hand. It was as good a rabbit's foot as you could get—a left hind foot, cut off by a cross-eyed old woman. That was one advantage he had.

All sails were lowered as the Deliverance was anchored and secured by a James Town wharf. A great, dark forest encircled the distance. Heavy aromas filled the air, and the damp heat made breathing difficult. The English ship was harbored by the edge of a wilderness of unknown savagery and peril. Fear of being swallowed by the open, endless ocean was now the fear of storied beasts and wild men of the forest.

The city of James Town was a stockaded village, on the up-river end of an almost-island. The masts of other ships could be seen through the woods, riding where they berthed on the back side of the peninsula. For the fortnight that the ship lay anchored by James Town, Richard stood at the rail, hungrily watching the comings and goings. His master, Francis Harper, would let none of his party—except his own family—venture ashore. Richard longed to stand on land again, and his curiosity about the hustling village they called a "town" was enticing, but his impatience with Harper's edict was tempered by relief. There was plenty new to see right here.

Within his sight, life and people seemed familiar. Two men rolled a hogshead up a ramp. Smoke rose from chimneys. A small boy chased his dog down the dusty highway by the river. People went about their business as though unaware of any oddities or danger. As if theirs were natural, normal lives. So strange, to Richard.

Richard studied the planters who came on board—survivors—searching them for clues, something they all held in common that had protected them. Richard determined not to be among the first year's dead. He would learn the enemy. He'd find the secret.

He concentrated on studying those frightened souls on board the ship and felt sorry for the folks being examined by boarding planters. He was thankful for his great advantage over those less lucky: they, like Richard, were to be indentured servants, but unlike them, Richard had known and approved his master before leaving England. Although his Uncle Edward made the arrangements with Francis Harper in advance, he'd explained the details to Richard and had taken him to meet his master and the family.

Francis Harper stood over six feet tall, and his wife was a robust woman. Their son, Edward Harper, was thirteen years old, just Richard's age, and their daughter, Evelyn, was two years younger. The family took to Richard, and the boys were soon trading strategies for dealing with the New World savages.

Richard's Uncle Edward had bargained for him with some leverage, since Edward Williams was the tobacco merchant in Bristol with whom Francis Harper would be dealing in the years to come. By providing transportation to Virginia for the family and for Richard, plus three additional servants, Harper would be given headrights to four hundred acres of land—fifty acres per person arriving in the colony. In return for transportation costs and support, Richard and the others who signed indentures were Harper's for the number of years contracted. Richard's indenture obliged him to Harper until his twenty-first birthday. Other boys his age, according to the custom of the country, might have to work until their twenty-fourth year under less favorable conditions. Both men were satisfied with the deal. Harper had a young, energetic servant and friend for his son—possibly a husband for his daughter—and Edward was rid of a nephew who was becoming troublesome, unruly, and unnecessary in a household with three sons of his own. He’d housed and fed the boy for the ten years since the father was killed fighting for the king. That was enough family loyalty, he thought. Richard was glad to be rid of them all and off to a great adventure.

Planters came onboard to examine those men and women who were for sale. Their indentures—whether forced or voluntary—were with the captain, or with a merchant who specialized in the sale of servants. Those bought might be beaten, sold, or loved. Richard made note of this advantage. He had Francis Harper and a healthy Mistress Harper. He had a new friend, Edward Harper, who rarely treated him as a servant. The daughter, Evelyn was a quiet, sickly little girl whom he could take or leave alone. He'd come to know the three other servants in the household and liked them well enough: a whore, a thief, and a "Robin Hayseed" from Devonshire.

The mid-September sun was hot. Hotter, even, than he'd known in July back home in Bristol; and the days were longer than they were at home. But, this wasn't England, the captain had said.

Richard looked from those passengers he felt would surely die, to the rough-hewn, seasoned planters, and back. He shaded his eyes and searched for clues.

An old, balding woman cried and prayed as yet another planter examined and rejected her. Richard had long since learned that tears were useless, but he wondered if maybe he should pray more often. Most of the old people were praying constantly. But God had never done him any particular favors and Richard didn't expect God to change His attitude now. Certainly, the planters who came on board to buy servants didn't seem to be particularly godly people. They were sinfully dark from the sun—many of them as dark as the occasional Indian he saw from the ship. These men swore more profanely than he'd ever heard, and many of them came onboard drunk, obviously examining the women for more than work potential. The secret to survival was in these planters. The captain had said, "listen to the seasoned settlers and take precautions." That was the thing.

After the fortnight's berth in James Town for loading and unloading, the Deliverance weighed anchor and sailed back down the broad James River, into Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake. She headed north, following closely the western shore, then up the York River to stop briefly at plantation wharves for delivery of tools and clothing ordered by the planters from their factors in Bristol. On the fourth day Richard and his temporary family stood, spellbound, as the Deliverance neared the shore.

A narrow spit of pine trees curved out and paralleled the shore, creating a small harbor. Waving marsh grasses and rigid reeds stood near the headland, where a fresh stream emptied into the little bay. A narrow, sandy beach fell from the low embankment that faced the harbor opening. Ancient oak trees near the shore leaned over, undercut by lapping waves. Pine saplings were grown thick among the charred stumps of a burned-out hardwood forest.

Harper's party was silent as the anchor splashed. Mistress Harper tugged at the skirt of her husband's doublet and looked skyward. She knelt and clasped her hands beneath her chin. The others did the same as Harper led the prayers of thanksgiving. Richard's prayers were long and earnest. He was determined to survive.

Hogsheads of tools and iron pots and clothes were loaded aboard the small boat for ferrying ashore. Francis Harper gave the orders, now, and Richard was reassured by the firmness of the commands his master issued. He made a brief, silent prayer of thanks that a man of vigor and control led their group of eight.

Richard climbed into the first boat with Harper and Edward. Harper and a sailor rowed the fifty yards to shore as the boys trailed their hands in the water and searched the shoreline for wild savages.

Suddenly, Edward screamed. Richard knew they'd been attacked!

"What is it, Boy?" Harper dropped the oar and reached for his son.

Edward held a hand to his face, searching for the source of his pain. He continued yelling as Richard turned back, looking to the ship for help.

The sailor laughed and dropped his oar as the boat drifted to the little beach.

Anger replaced the fear in Harper's eyes as he whipped around.

"What is it, Man? What's happened?" he demanded of the sailor.

"A jelly fish got your boy, that's all. Thought it was a savage, did you? Well, that's the first of your New World varmints, and its neither the last nor the worst!" The sailor chuckled as he sloshed onto the beach, pulling the boat.

"Come along here, Boy," he said to Edward, and took the boy aside as Richard and Francis Harper began to unload the boat, rolling a cask to higher ground. The sailor spat tobacco onto the red welts that striped Edward's lower arm.

"That's one lesson you've learned early and, I'll wager, you've learned well. These warm waters are ripe with jellyfishes this time of year. So be careful if you choose to bathe. They'll strike you where it really hurts." The sailor laughed again and Edward held his arm behind his back, now embarrassed by his scream.

Mistress Harper and Evelyn followed in the next boat, and in a few more trips, eight new Virginians were landed with their worldly goods.

For that day and the next, the Deliverance tugged at her anchor in the harbor Francis Harper had named Pine Haven. The captain waited while Harper and his awkward crew began work on temporary housing.

Billy Forrest had been a thief. His thirty years of life on the streets of Bristol were no training for survival in this wilderness. He could deftly slip away the valuables that hid among a well-dressed person's clothes. He'd even sold a baby he found lying on a wharf with its dead mother. For this he was nearly hanged, but for common law plea of the "rite of clergy": he could read a page from the Bible. That childhood knowledge was the only good thing he'd acquired from a priest who'd also given him the pox. Billy Forrest's hands had never touched an ax.

James Barnes—"Robin Hayseed"—was a man come to his reward. Richard marveled at the easy, toothless grin that could cover James’s face. He was older, even, than Billy Forrest, but his thirty-five years of farming were what Harper had paid for. Barnes's family had always been farmers. His older brother had inherited the small farm that supported the whole family until the past year. Now, his brother's children—and his brother's new wife's children—could manage all the work alone. James Barnes was eager to start clearing land.

Mary Bishop was terrified and overwhelmed. She’d only recently moved to Bristol from London, and had never seen a farm before she took that trip. Her hard twenty-five years had left a toll of scars on her face, and a constant aching in her abdomen. That ache remained from horrors done her by the constable who finally released her to an agent searching servants for the colonies.

Harper directed them all to work immediately, setting up a tent, unpacking the iron pots from their casks and building a good fire. Mistress Harper, Evelyn, and Mary cleared a path to the creek and began carrying water. Harper took the boys and searched for a site to build their temporary home.

Early the next morning, before the sun had cleared the spit of pines, Evelyn ran, screaming, to her father as he stood pondering the woods.

"Strangers!"

A small ketch sailed into Pine Haven and the group gathered, waiting to see who'd come.

"Welcome! Welcome!" hailed the white man in the boat, waiving both his arms. Sitting tall behind him was a nearly naked, very dark, old man whose white hair was tied into a knot above one ear. The other side of his head was shaven but for one long braid that fell to his shoulder. A fringed piece of soft leather looped over a belt and covered his lap. A tobacco pouch and a clay pipe hung around his neck.

The planter jumped too eagerly from his boat, but sloshed unconcernedly to Harper with his arms outstretched.

"It's a good day, it is! My name is Brinson Barnes. I'm your neighbor to the north," he said. "I'd heard that someone was coming for this seat of land." He embraced Harper, slapping him on the back.

"Barnes? Francis Harper's my name. Barnes. Yes, they told me in James Town that I was bordered by one Brinson Barnes."

Francis Harper was not accustomed to such boisterous greetings, and was slow to recover.

"My wife, Barnes," he said, then introduced his son and daughter.

"Madam," Barnes said, and bowed low with sweeping gestures of his hat. "A handsome family and a strong and honest-looking bunch of servants. You're doing England a service, Harper."

The boys were intrigued by Barnes, but were fascinated by the Indian who stood by the boat. Barnes saw that most of the newcomers were staring at his Indian, and turned around.

"Opeechcot, come," he said to the man.

The old savage came forward slowly, giving these new white people time to watch him move; to study his face and demeanor. He'd been watching theirs.

"Opeechcot is a friend. He's been a valuable friend to me, and I know he will be to you. He's the last of his race in these parts. His tribe, the Pamunkey, are diminished now, and they live by the Sapony Swamp at the head of the Piankatank River. This land by the Bay was his boyhood home. He works for me, now, to stay on his old land."

Evelyn hid behind her mother, who instinctively reached back to shield and comfort her child.

"Opee…" Harper ventured.

"Opeechcot," Barnes coached, and Harper said the name correctly.

"Opeechcot, welcome to Pine Haven," he said. "I have heard encouraging things of your people. They are much respected by Governor Berkeley." He quickly glanced to Barnes for a reaction to the mention of the old Governor. In these days of Puritan spies, it was foolish for him to be speaking with respect of the staunch Royalist. But Barnes's eyes sparkled and he stood taller at the mention of Governor Berkeley.

"I welcome your friendship, Barnes," Harper said. " And yours," he said to the Indian.

"There is not much time," Opeechcot said.

Francis looked to Barnes.

"No good," Opeechcot said, and nodded to the tent.

"He's concerned about your comfort and safety in the tent," Barnes said.

"Thank you, Opeechcot, but we've begun searching for materials for our first hut…." Francis was interrupted as the savage reached out and grabbed Richard and Edward by an arm. Both young men gasped as if they'd been shot.

"Come," Opeechcot said.

The boys looked to Mr. Harper who looked to Mr. Barnes. Barnes smiled.

"Bring ax," Opeechcot said, and started pulling the boys towards the woods.

"Mamma!" Evelyn screamed, "where is he taking Edward?"

"It's fine, Mistress Harper," Barnes said as the Indian disappeared into the woods with the boys.

"We're about to sail, Mr. Harper." A sailor walked up from the beach carrying a small cask. "The captain says that now your neighbor's here, you've no need for us to waste another night. He sent you this cask of wine and his prayers."

"Thank him, again, for me, Leeds. And my prayers are for you and the rest of the ship."

The sailor ran back to his boat and rowed out to the ship.

As Harper and Barnes discussed the immediate plans for building, and the location for privies and water supplies, the settlers watched their link with their old world head into the Bay, then north, behind the land. Evelyn quietly sniffled as she and her mother cleared the area where their hut would be.

For the rest of the day the boys chopped down small trees that Opeechcot directed them to, as if the saplings had been pre-selected. Mistress Harper—with Evelyn and Mary Bishop—cut long hickory and willow branches, and piled them by the stacks of rushes that Billy Forrest and James Barnes had collected. Harper dug holes for poles the boys had cut. Five-foot poles, each with a forked crotch at the top, were planted in the corners of a large rectangle Harper had drawn in the dirt. In the middle of both short sides of the rectangle he dug a hole and placed a longer, ten-foot crotched pole. Then long, straight poles were supported on the forked posts, and a roofing grid was tied to these, using grapevine as rope. Vertical stakes were lashed along the sides and, by nightfall, the framed building stood waiting for its walls to be woven with the willow branches and hickory strips, then to be plastered with mud. The roof would be thatched with rushes gathered from the marsh.

"Brinson Barnes?" James Barnes interrupted his superiors' conversation when he returned with an armful of rushes. "Excuse me, Sir, but the young master told me your name is Brinson Barnes. Forgive my boldness, Sir, but I've a kinsman in this country by the name of Brinson Barnes."

The planter looked at the man, searching for features he might identify.

"Who is your father, then, Man?" he asked the servant.

"Nathaniel Barnes, Sir, the son of Roger Barnes of Dorset."

"Old Roger Barnes! With the flaming hair and freckles? I remember him well from when I was a child! Welcome, Cousin, to Virginia!" He turned back to Harper. "You've the grandson of a fine man working for you, Harper. I hope he does well by our name."

"So far, so good," Harper said. "The test is yet to come."

"Aye, it is indeed. And what is your name, Cousin?"

"James, Sir."

"James Barnes. Like our uncle. Well, James, you must come to visit your cousins if your master will allow the time. How are your father and grandfather?"

"Both dead, Sir."

"Well, do your name honor, James, as did your father and your grandfather back at home."

"I'll try, Sir, thank you." James Barnes returned to the marsh, his face covered by the grin.

They sat back from a blazing fire that night and ate a stew that Mistress Harper made with a deer that Opeechcot had killed, and with the yams and carrots Barnes brought. They ate apples he had grown and listened to him talk of the sweet life they were to have. But the captain's words still echoed in their ears, and they knew in their hearts that life couldn't be as wondrously bountiful as Barnes made it sound. Still, they asked no questions that might bring depressing answers.

He told them of their other neighbors, all miles away, and he told young Richard Williams that his uncle, Mister John Williams, was a well-known and respected planter in nearby Lancaster County, and that he'd see that word got to that gentleman of his young kinsman here in Gloucester County.

Though there had been mention made in Bristol of another uncle, it was thought by all that he was dead. In any case, Richard had no need for a new uncle, having just escaped from one.

Conversation slowed, everyone exhausted by the full day, and each dreaming of a new and happy life.

Opeechcot sat by his own fire near the water. The boys heard him mumbling, and turned their attention away from the men's conversation about the next day's chores. As Mistress Harper collected the wooden spoons and trenchers for washing, the boys took their cue. Edward stuck a thin pole through the holes in the two long staves of a bucket. Richard grabbed the other end, and they lifted the five-gallon pail off the ground. They made it swing around in circles, over their heads, then down near the ground to slam clods of dirt, or to slap twigs into the air. As they stumbled to the water's edge, they listened to the Indian. They didn't understand the words—they weren't sure if the man were speaking words—but he was communicating with someone or something. He made a series of sounds and then waited. Next, a brief sound came that seemed like a response to something, and then silence until the conversation was continued. The boys made the sign of the cross and spat over their shoulders. This was a whole new world of unknown evil.

They filled the bucket at the shore and were carrying it back to Mistress Harper and Mary, when they felt movement in the wooden tub—a scratching, scurrying beneath the water. They dropped the pole and let the bucket fall, each yelping in surprise, though Edward tried to control himself this time. Opeechcot watched and came to their side. The boys stood away, still not comfortable with the strange man who'd said almost nothing to them during the day, but knew exactly what they needed and exactly where to find it.

The Indian held a burning pine knot to see the startled faces of the boys, then looked into the bucket. Their eyes widened at what they saw. Two creatures scampered about the wooden container. Their hard, oval bodies had several arms on each side. Some of the arms had dangerous-looking scissors-like parts that grabbed for anything. The Indian scowled at the boys and grunted in a way they easily interpreted as disgust. With the sharp stick he'd been using to roast his venison, he speared the two creatures in the bucket and withdrew them.

"Get water for women. Come to me," he said, and went back to his fire.

The boys said nothing. They ran to the shore, then to Edward's mother, then back to Opeechcot, leaving the men sitting by the fire smoking their clay pipes and drinking apple brandy Barnes had brought.

"English say 'crab,'" Opeechcot said to the boys. He held the two speared animals over the fire.

"I've seen crabs," Richard said. "But they weren't anything like these monsters."

"Always speak with respect. He can save your life," Opeechcot said, looking at the roasting crabs.

He pulled them from the fire and held them out to cool.

"My people have many tales of how the crab spirit saved our people. Carrying us on his broad back. Giving us a claw, then growing him another."

He deftly pulled a large claw from the body of the crab. A clump of moist white meat was clinging to the end.

"Eat," he said, and handed it to Edward.

He pulled out a similar claw from the smaller crab and handed it to Richard in long, fleshless fingers.

"Eat."

Both boys hesitated, tasted the meat tentatively, then eagerly, "More!" Richard said, and Edward, "Another!"

The old man grunted and showed them how to crack the claws to get the meat inside. They were still excited about the discovery when Harper called and said to prepare for bed. Tomorrow the first hut must be finished, two more started, and then the real work could begin. Francis Harper and Brinson Barnes had arrived at a plan.

Land must be cleared of thick forest before spring planting time. Tobacco needed sun and space to thrive. Harper was lucky, in that a section of about four acres of good land was going to be easy to clear. A lightening fire had destroyed most of the large hardwoods some four years earlier. The pine saplings would be easy to clear out, so he'd have a ready-made field for his first crop. But that just gave him a head start, Harper figured. If he could get by with little work, then by extra effort he could be a step ahead.

So, in the days ahead, Harper worked himself and his men and boys to their limits. A tankard of beer got them to the woods again each morning, sleep still in their eyes. The pine thicket was cleared first. Lengths of the straight trunks were kept to make a stockade for the guinea fowl Barnes promised to sell—Francis had to insist on paying for the birds—and for a puppy that he'd promised Evelyn.

Days began before the early dawn. Richard would awaken inside his hut and hear Mistress Harper stealthily collecting dew to bathe her face and neck. It was a vanity she practiced despite the desperate need for sleep she shared with the exhausted men. It's that spirit that makes us English, Richard would remind himself and he'd stretch his aching muscles and roll over on the skins and mattress of pine boughs. He'd force open the fists that were cracked and bleeding from worn blisters. The broad ax took painful time to harden hands and muscles.

All too soon, clearing of the pine thicket was a sweet memory to the boys, as they chopped at the enormous oaks and hickories to be felled. Barnes found them at this work on his next trip and convinced Harper of an easier way.

Tobacco needed space and sun to thrive, but it wasn't necessary that every tree be removed at once. Almost as effective for planting a profitable crop of tobacco, was to kill the trees by girdling them with deep gashes cut into and around the trunk. The leaves soon fell and permitted sunshine through bared limbs. When the whole tree was dead and dry, it was a simple matter to burn it down, or at least to burn it through until it fell. That was the way the Indians felled trees, whether to make a canoe or to clear land for their corn.

Mistress Harper brought up another subject that night, as a chilling breeze blew dark clouds from the north. Fall and winter were the time for clearing land, she knew, but another pressing job demanded time. A more permanent home was badly needed, she said. The hut leaked, and the sandy soil didn't make good mud for plastering the walls.

Harper turned to Brinson Barnes for advice.

The huge logs they'd burned were no loss. Barnes had seasoned logs for building at his plantation, he said. So many trees were felled in Virginia that everyone had their choice of wood for building. Barnes, like many others, would instruct his men at clearing-time to save the tallest, or the straightest, or the rarest trees for himself. The rest were burned in fires that, with those of other planters, lit the horizon in winter months. He'd let Harper have his choice, and Harper might or might not replace them. When the harvest season ended, Barnes's men—one of them a sawyer—could split Harper's weatherboards and cut him lumber for a fee. Barnes, like most masters, let his servants work for themselves when things were slow. The sawyer would be free in two more years and would need what he could accumulate to begin an independent life. Harper would have James Barnes would go back with his kinsman when Brinson returned. James would assist in the sawing and learn something of the use of construction tools. But now, Brinson had guinea fowl and Evelyn's puppy.

When Brinson presented the fowl and a small cask of soap and a cake made by Mistress Barnes he extended an invitation for Mistress Harper to visit them as soon as possible. The men had knowledge and ideas to share, but a woman's store of knowledge was just as essential for the well-being of her isolated group. As Mistress Harper stirred her huge pot of stew, she announced a decision.

"Evelyn and I will accept the kind invitation of neighbor Barnes and his goodwife," Mistress Harper said. "Husband," Mistress Harper interrupted his protest. "There be food enough here for to last you several days. If you want variety, shoot a bird or dig some clams. If my husband and my son can work so hard from the start, I will set the example about a woman's responsibilities. We talked of it in Bristol. There be much for me to learn from his lady, like the proper way to cook their corn and queer vegetables." She held up a gourd-shaped squash. "I can learn what are the medicines I might expect to find in the forest, and what I might grow in my garden."

"What a grand surprise! Delighted! My wife will be delighted. She's not had female company since…was it Easter? I must send Opeechcot ahead to let her know!"

Brinson Barnes was gleeful at the prospect for his wife, and Mistress Harper was both flattered and amused. She couldn't imagine such excitement over the arrival of a stranger, although she'd begun to feel a sense of isolation, herself, in just the two weeks they'd been here. She felt there was much more she ought to be doing, but she didn't know what it was. And, though Opeechcot tried to tell her things, she had a hard time understanding him, and she couldn't help but be afraid of the nearly naked savage. She worried about Evelyn looking at his body.

Barnes was pleased but somewhat taken aback by the immediate acceptance of his invitation. The ketch was fully loaded from his previous stop across the Bay in Accomack and had no room for passengers. Mistress Harper must needs be taken by canoe to his plantation. That was no problem, Harper assured him, since one of the men or boys must learn the way in order to fetch the ladies back.

She and Evelyn packed a few things for themselves, and Mistress Harper pointedly chose her finest roll of yellow satin ribbon and a paper of new pins to take to Mistress Barnes for her kindness.

After sunrise, when everyone had finished a mug of beer and a large piece of fresh bread, Mistress Harper took her latticed sewing basket from the ground, and Richard carried her small chest to the canoe. James Barnes would replace Opeechcot in the ketch to receive a first lesson from his settled kinsman, and Richard Williams would row with Opeechcot in the canoe that carried Mistress Harper and Evelyn.

It was a brilliant, crisp morning in early fall. A heavy dew had weighted down the grasses, and the ladies skirts were damp and dragging when they reached the shore. Evelyn was particularly chatty, and Richard considered the possibility of having to listen to her for a lifetime; he knew that their coupling was an unspoken part of the deal with Harper and his Uncle Edward. Evelyn was singing, and Mistress Harper good-naturedly admonished her, "'Sing before seven, cry before eleven.'"

The ketch kept close to shore. A perfect, gentle breeze allowed the luxury of clear sailing, yet the Indian and the boy could keep pace in the sleek pirogue.

Evelyn pestered her mother to be allowed to see the ribbon again. The yellow was her favorite, and she hated parting with the ribbon, even if it were to be a gift. Her mother finally relented and passed back the sewing basket.

There was no time for thought or reaction when Evelyn screamed and stood in the canoe, jumping violently and tossing the basket and its contents into the air. A fat snake fell from her lap into the water.

"Sit!" commanded Opeechcot, but it was too late. Evelyn and her mother fell from the rocking pirogue into the water and within seconds were pulled beneath the surface. Opeechcot dived in after them and stayed underneath for minutes, long enough for Richard to believe that he'd been left alone. He poked the water with a paddle, hoping someone would grab onto it, but all was calm except for his own thrashing. Suddenly, Opeechcot burst through the surface of the water holding Evelyn by her hair. He pulled her up and over to the boat, then with the help of Richard, eased her face-down into the hollowed log. They rowed for the nearby shore and placed her on the wet sand. Opeechcot lifted the girl aloft by her feet, and she immediately vomited and started crying. Evelyn was alive, but there was no sign of Mistress Harper.

Brinson Barnes saw the commotion and tacked around to their location to wade ashore.

"My God, my God," in a lone monotone, was all that he could say. The rest were quiet, save for the sobbing girl.

Richard could hear the captain's words: "Four or five of you will be dead within a year." He looked from the dark forest to the clear sky and the blue Bay. Sunlight was a different color in the fall. This would be a beautiful day back in Bristol.



Chapter Two



For two days, all activity halted in the settlement. Guilt dominated the grief: Francis Harper's, that he had let his wife go without him, that he had brought her to this land; Edward's, that he had not insisted on accompanying his mother—though he soon accepted that he would have been no help since he couldn't swim, either; and Richard's, for being helpless when, had he been able to swim, he might have saved the gentle woman. The captain had said, "Take precautions."

Evelyn was consumed by guilt. Only she knew that she'd lost the shell with a hole in it, a sure amulet to protect against drowning. For the rest of that day she was hysterical until, finally, Opeechcot brought a dark brew he had concocted that calmed her and let her sleep. When she awoke, her mind centered on the snake and she would periodically scream at her memory of the surprise coiled up in the sewing basket. Any touch upon her skin would bring another scream, and when not recoiling from the horror, now, of serpents, she would remember her mother and sob, "I killed her. I killed my mother!"

Brinson Barnes returned to his plantation, as planned, with his kinsman and came again the next day with his wife. They brought with them a white hen and her six chicks, which Mistress Barnes hoped would distract the girl. Mistress Barnes tried to soothe Evelyn and to be of comfort to Francis and Edward. But Francis showed a stoic face and, after two days, he told Forrest and the boys to resume the work that must be done. Edward worked in silence, though he confessed to Richard that he thought he'd cried the last tears he would ever shed. He said nothing of the mixed feeling he held towards his sister. It was the moment of her unreasoning hysteria that had killed his mother. Now the girl seemed locked in that moment, and a part of Edward wondered if that weren't justice.

But life for the rest of them had to go on and, indeed, Harper told his children, if their mother's death was to have a meaning it must be the force for them to push ahead and prosper.

He was unrelenting to his crew during the next weeks. Evelyn was a constant distraction for him at first, for she seldom relented from her self-torture. Mary Bishop, his only female servant, proved to be of little use. She'd been saved from a life of crime and degradation by authorities that'd picked her up a final time and ordered her to Virginia, but she knew nothing of housekeeping, and had no exposure to the kindness that might have helped poor Evelyn. Brinson agreed to exchange her for a seasoned female servant of his own who was well trained, but who had only two years remaining of her service. Mary still had her full five years ahead and she was strong and healthy, if not too bright.

Drusilla, the new woman, was both capable and demanding. The boys and the men soon found that any moments spared for rest were not spent within sight of Drusilla. She always had tasks that needed doing.

Unhappily, though, she was of little help to Evelyn, except to keep the child sedated by the dark brew she, too, knew how to make.

Opeechcot, alone, could distract the girl. Saving the child's life had given him a sense of protective proprietorship. With the permission of Barnes and Harper he built a hogan near the settlement, and when not busy with the men or boys, he'd be seen smoking tobacco with Evelyn. She would sit by his fire smoking from his long clay pipe, then pass it back. They never spoke, though he would end their sessions by fingering her blonde hair then, placing his hand upon her head, would mumble some strange words. These times would calm her for some hours, and then Drusilla would have to give the child her drink.

Their daily menu changed when Drusilla came. She made it clear to Francis that, if he expected to maintain the pace of work he was demanding of his crew—if he expected, even, to survive the winter—he'd best worry more about their food supplies and housing, and less about clearing more land than he could handle with a limit of strong arms. She spared no words, since she knew that he needed her right now more than he needed the men.

The pine thicket that was cleared, he could consider a gift from God, she said. That, and the two acres of oaks the boys had girdled, would grow more tobacco than they could tend. Killing trees should be done in the dark of the moon, anyway. He'd best be concentrating on getting the house built before winter.

Harper knew, immediately, that she was right, and he redirected energies and priorities. He instructed Billy Forrest to see that a short, temporary pier was built into Pine Haven. A pier waist-high would be enough, just past the small, breaking waves where a low shallop could tie up and unload the building supplies he'd bring back. Then he set off with Opeechcot, knowing that his son and daughter and Richard and Billy would be provided for by Drusilla.

Billy and the boys worked diligently—their pace had been established. A series of locust poles was pounded into the soft sand to extend thirty feet into the water at high tide. These were connected and braced with a floor on top that they constructed of split oak boards. The work was completed in four days, then Drusilla let them rest.

That night they feasted better than they'd ever eaten in their lives. Even Evelyn had come out of her stupor to participate. All afternoon Drusilla had made the child sit by the open fire and turn the iron spit that speared the chunk of venison left from Opeechcot's last kill, four days ago. When that was done, Drusilla skewered several birds that she’d trapped and cleaned and Evelyn turned the spit, watching the birds roast and drip juices. Sitting over hot coals by the fire, a large pot on legs held a boiling broth of dried corn and herbs, while in a covered saucepan a simmering secret awaited the end of their meal. Drusilla had the boys bring her baskets of the oysters they had stepped around in the water, and when the time came to eat their meal, she brushed away a dying pile of coals that lay beside the fire and uncovered a shallow hole she'd dug and lined with seaweed, covered with the oysters, then covered again with seaweed, finally covering all of that with hot coals.

They ate till they could eat no more, laughing and talking, occasionally one or all would fall silent, remembering Mistress Harper, then resume the eating and laughing. When they were finished, Drusilla placed two pieces of bread on the trenchers each two of them shared, and lifted the top off of the saucepan. The aroma was like nothing they'd known. The new hen had contributed the egg, but Drusilla had collected the hickory nuts and she'd found the honey in the tulip tree. Evelyn started crying, then stopped, smiling with anticipation. Drusilla ladled her sweet sauce over the bread, and there was silence.

The next noon, as Billy, Edward, and Richard sat on their new pier chewing on the remnants of the venison and talking over and over the last night's meal, Brinson Barnes's boat rounded the spit of land and sailed into Pine Haven towing the canoe with Opeechcot riding proudly. The boat sat very low in the water, and the three of them knew there was work ahead.

The sail was lowered and the boat drifted to the pier. Billy caught the line and secured the boat. Francis stepped onto the pier and vigorously shifted his weight, checking the pier's strength. He smiled, pleased with their work, and told them so. James Barnes had returned with the mass of weatherboards he'd split, and greeted his friends as if it had been much longer than the six weeks since they'd seen each other last. They were surprised at how healthy he looked—though he'd gotten dark—and he admitted to the same surprise at their appearances. After a few tankards of beer, they returned to unload the boat.

Brinson Barnes had remained at his plantation, allowing Francis Harper the use of his boat in gathering supplies. Harper wanted to be swift in returning the boat, so he and his crew worked hard and quickly to unload the timber and to stack it in a convenient location. His first instruction was for them to cover the seasoned wood and prevent it from getting wet.

Harper and Opeechcot retired early that evening and, by the time the others were awake, Francis and the Indian were gone. Opeechcot was directing him to a plantation on the Piankatank River where there was a source of brick.

Late the next night, Francis and Opeechcot sailed back into Pine Haven, guided by the light of Drusilla's constant fire. A full moon lit the little pier and the two men secured the boat themselves, as Harper shouted to awaken everybody. Drusilla joined the line of men who passed the bricks one to the other into a neat pile on the high shore. Evelyn cracked nuts for them to eat while they worked, and filled and refilled their tankards with beer.

As the sun rose from the Bay, making the water glisten and waking shore birds to rustle in the marsh, the boat was emptied and Harper announced to Edward and Richard that they would go with him back up the Piankatank for the second load. The old Indian could rest. He promised the boys that if they reached the plantation on the Piankatank, and could load the boat this afternoon, they'd have the entire next day, Saturday, for play and sleep. On Sunday, they would go to church. Harper was concerned that there'd been no funeral service for his wife, and he was beginning to worry that the authorities might become troublesome over the fact that none of them had attended church to date.

The late October breeze invigorated them, and they followed the instructions of Harper in handling the small craft. Edward was experienced with sailing since his childhood, so Harper allowed himself an occasional nap until they approached the plantation of Cade Ware.

The land was not so flat here, and the boys could see gentle hills rising in the distance. Huge oaks and walnuts and hickories edged the river. Pigs crunched on the nuts, and cattle grazed on grassy slopes. This was even richer land than where Harper had settled and they were no longer surprised that this land, though further away from the civilization at James Town, had been claimed earlier.

There was activity and prosperity along the river. Edward and Richard could see men harvesting Indian corn in nearby fields. All the fields were dotted with burned-out stumps. More cattle grazed by the river. From the woods they heard the sound of more rooting hogs. A black man was cutting flax, and there came—faint at first, then stronger—the smell of cured tobacco. Then they saw the chimneys of the planter's manor and out-buildings.

Cade Ware was a prosperous planter and it was evident. The main house was almost thirty feet in width and sat on a brick foundation. Brick chimneys stood at either end. The cooking chimney covered almost the entire width of the house, then was recessed from the building by nearly a foot when it reached the ceiling level. The other chimney was not so wide, but was enclosed, for heat, within the house. Windows made of leaded, diamond panes of glass were on either side of the heavy door, and tiny, shuttered windows in the rear and by the chimneys were made of scraped sections of horn, allowing some light into the house. Both boys knew the house they were to build wouldn't be so grand, but it was a goal to be aimed at for one day. Smaller houses for the many servants sat away from Ware's house. Those were particularly interesting to Harper.

Francis Harper's needs had changed since the death of his wife. He wanted better than a hut for his daughter, but he didn't need so fine a home as he'd hoped to build for his wife. Not yet. A sturdy framed house of about twenty feet would be more than adequate for him, his son and daughter, and his female servant. James Barnes, Billy Forrest, and Richard could then share the hut alone. With some repairs, and the addition of a lathe and plaster chimney to the hut, they'd be sufficiently prepared for winter.

With the permission of Mister Ware, he studied the construction of the houses he would copy. It was a simple plan, but one that could be completed with the men and materials he now had assembled, guided by the carpenter Mr. Ware had found for him. There was a moment of confusion and near-violence when the carpenter insisted on readjusting the price he'd charge, but Harper was in a bind, and he knew how fortunate he was to find a carpenter at all. The man this carpenter was contracted to had died, suddenly, of the flux, now making him available for Harper.

As Harper finalized his agreement with Coke, the carpenter, the boys were fed by Mistress Ware. They ate by the great fireplace where a young girl was turning a pig on a spit. They ate molasses over corn pone, and large slices of pie made from dried peaches, and drank mug after mug of fresh cow's milk. As the boys ate and looked about the room of cooking utensils and chests and tables and chairs, and tapped their feet on the first wooden floor they'd seen in months, the girl was eyeing them, particularly Richard. She was only nine or ten years old, but had a penetrating stare that he found unsettling.

"You're not from here, are you?" she asked them.

"No, we're from Gloucester County," Edward said.

"That's not what I mean," she said. "You weren't born here, were you?"

"No, of course not, " Richard said. "We were born in England."

"Well, I was born here. In this house. Before it was Lancaster County, even," the little girl said grandly. "But I'm not from here right now, either. I live in Lower Norfolk County."

"Where's that?" Richard asked.

She looked at him as if he'd asked her where the moon was, then she laughed and jumped up, wiping her sweating hands on her apron.

"Grandmother! Grandmother! They don't even know where Lower Norfolk is!" She ran from the room to tell Mistress Ware the news of their ignorance.

"Children!" Richard said with disgust, and took another gulp of milk. He was glad that Evelyn wasn't such a foolish child. Even though this girl was a pretty little thing, she'd be a nuisance to be around.

The child soon returned with reddened, downcast eyes that showed she'd been rebuked.

"My grandmother says that I must apologize to you for being inhospitable. So there. I have." She sat again by the fire and turned the spit, refusing to look at them.

"Let me assure you, little girl, that we paid absolutely no attention to your prattling," Richard said as they rose from the table.

"So true," Edward said. "But, please thank your grandmother for her hospitality."

"Boys!" Edward's father stepped into the room. "It's time for work," he said, and they followed him out into the late October sun. A chilling wind blew from the river, and the realization struck them again that winter was approaching.

"This is what our new home will look like, Son," Harper said, and indicated the nearest of the servants' houses. It was a sturdy frame building covered with weatherboards. There was a roof of weatherboards and the windows were of oiled paper.

"We'll have a real wood floor, though," he said, and pointing to this one of bricks set into sand.

Harper was kneeling to show the boys how these sills were built on cedar pillars instead of on a brick foundation, when he fell over, unconscious.

"Poppa!" Edward cried, then, "Richard, go get help."

Richard ran to the house for Mistress Ware, but she was gone. The little girl ran back with him and found Harper on the ground by the corner of the servant's house.

"Stretch him out and raise his feet," she said to Edward.

He stared at her.

"Stretch him out and raise his feet, I said!" She was commanding. "And you go to the dairy and get my grandmother." She pointed to a building far off from the house, and Richard obeyed at once.

Mistress Ware came running back and instructed two servants and the boys to carry Harper to the house. They laid him on her bed. She held her hand to his forehead and reached to lift his eyelids when Harper opened them and looked up, startled when he realized where he was. He began to apologize, but Mistress Ware paid no attention.

"You've no fever of any kind, I think," she said. She looked at him severely.

"When did you last eat?" she demanded.

Harper looked puzzled, then embarrassed.

"I really don't remember," he said. "There's been so much work to do, and when I'm not…. Since Mistress Harper died…may she rest in peace…my Evelyn…" his voice trailed off.

"Anne, bring me a bowl of that stew," she said to her granddaughter.

"Mistress Ware…" Francis began to protest.

"Harper," she interrupted. "You have work to do and tremendous responsibilities. The lives of children and other adults are in your hands. You cannot bring people to this unforgiving land and abandon your responsibilities."

"But, Mistress Ware…" he began, shocked at her attitude.

"If you do not attend to the most basic care of yourself, you neglect the rudder of the ship. Your enterprise will perish and God will hold you responsible." She was merciless with the silence that she let fall.

Anne handed her grandmother a bowl of the steaming stew that always simmered by the fire, added to and taken from each day. Harper sipped from the large wooden spoon held to his mouth, then took the spoon himself and ate.

"Boys, you can find plenty to occupy yourselves with today. Edward, there's no need to worry about your father. He will lie abed today and eat," Mistress Ware said. "Anne, do your duty to our guests. Show them the horses. Show them our crops. Pick a melon."

The three young people went outside. The girl led the way.

"Well, since you are new and don't know anything, I guess it doesn't matter where we start," she said.

"Then we don't need your help, little girl," Richard said. "We'll find it all ourselves."

"Good idea," Edward said. "Let's go this way."

The boys turned and followed the path that ran by the river, going in the direction where the smell of tobacco came the strongest. The girl began to follow them but stopped, then stamped her slippered feet.

The narrow road led to an open shed uphill from the river and a separate dock. Beneath the shed was a large machine holding a hogshead into which a large screw was pressing dried tobacco.

The pleasant, dusky aroma brought smiles to the boys. They asked one of the men if they could taste a chew. This was the famous new variety that was being grown in the sandy loam found in certain parts of Lancaster and Gloucester counties. They even called it "sweet-scented" to distinguish it from the common "oronoco." Richard had tasted the sweet-scented only once before. It was rare and expensive, and he'd stolen that pinch from a drunken gentleman he'd found sleeping under a shed on the Bristol docks.

Oronoco tobacco, itself, was less than forty years old. John Rolfe, the husband of Pocahontas, had developed the variety; an immediate and huge success. It had been compared with the highest quality tobacco produced in the Spanish colonies, and was named for a river in their lands. Even the Indians abandoned their harsh weed and turned to the British oronoco. Small planters were commonly called "oronookes." This new sweet-scented would make a man wealthy, but since the quality of tobacco was largely determined by the soil, sweet-scented seed planted in less than ideal soil grew no better than the rest.

The boys watched the men layer the bundles of tobacco into a cask, then screw pressure to the contents of the hogshead until it was filled and weighing nearly six hundred pounds. Then the men rolled the hogshead against the one wall for protection. A row of nine hogsheads lined the wall and the boys could see that there'd be several more. Each of these hogsheads represented almost two acres of tobacco—light, mild, sweet-scented tobacco. They marveled at the wealth. No wonder Mister Ware had such a fine house and furnishings.

By the time the header was placed on the last huge cask, the sun was gone and the boys were hungry again.

That night Edward and Mr. Harper were to sleep in the big house, while Richard shared one of the servants' quarters. But, after eating dinner, Edward rejoined his friend in the smaller house. Only three men shared this cabin, so it was where visiting slaves and servants slept when their masters came to visit or to conduct business with Mister Ware.

The three men were garrulous and entertained the boys with stories that kept them wide-eyed through most of the night. The treat of smoking fine tobacco and of drinking punch made with rum and limes brought from the Indies reassured them that life in America would be rich and adventurous, not just the toil and shocks they'd experienced so far.

The men talked of their voyages to America, each one making the other’s sound trivial. A sunburned, straw-haired man, speaking with an accent that Richard figured must have come from near Scotland, told of having been arrested by Republican troops when he toasted the health of the exiled King Charles II. His ship was loaded with women that the Lord Protector's men had seized in raids on brothels. They were being sent to Barbados where women were in great demand as breeders. With the constant threat from Dutch and French ships, the island needed to increase its white population for the militia. So, with these women, his voyage was not all bad, the man admitted, despite the storms that blew the ship off course and forced the crew and passengers to eat rats and boiled leather.

One of the storytellers laughed with scorn at such an easy trip. His ship had taken the quicker, more direct route to Virginia, but had been caught in a great storm within sight of Cape Henry and was blown back out to sea. A mast was broken, some of the sails ripped away, and their rigging lost. After four weeks of drifting, in which most of the crew and all but eight of the passengers died from disease or starvation—one pregnant woman had offered five pounds sterling for one half of a rat, but was refused and let to die—the ship limped into Bermuda. From there the man was sent to Virginia.

The other man declared that his adventure was more perilous than theirs. He had run off from his wife and signed up aboard a ship that was loaded down with youngsters who had been trepanned—stolen from their families or abducted on the streets. That was now so common that it was given a new name—kidnapping. The ship sailed from London and had, in fact, cleared Gravesend. While he was rejoicing in his freedom among the crying children, a ship from Cromwell's navy had approached with some lord crying out, "I demand my son! Return my son!" The ship was stopped in the water and the gentleman came on board to retrieve his child, accompanied by the runaway’s wife who believed him stolen, too. It was another year before the man could escape again, this time for good.

The laughter faded when the men began their tales of dark forces and evil spirits. A black cat had sucked the life from a baby's breath in Isle of Wight County. A woman—no more than five miles from this plantation—had poisoned her husband and run off with a servant. A black servant who'd escaped to the Sapony Swamp was placing curses on every white man whose name she could remember. And, there was the cursed James Town-weed that drove men mad.

Edward told them of the mysterious appearance of the snake in his mother's sewing basket, and that her body had disappeared. He told them about his sister's sudden madness. The three men looked at each other knowingly and nodded.

"The Devil's work, no doubt. No doubt. And even now—look at you—you've no shell or hollowed stone about your neck to ward against drowning!"

"Listen, boys," one of the men said. "These woods are full of spirits known only to the red men who once lived here. These Indians know their sorcery, mind you, so be mightily careful not to let any of your personal effects fall into their hands. Be sure you burn any eyelashes that might fall out. They'll do some awesome harm with an eyelash."

"They don't need the spirits to do their evil," the oldest among the men said.

And then, for the first time, Richard and Edward heard of the massacres of 1622 and 1644.

On Good Friday morning of the year 1622, while everyone was at work or planning for the celebration of Easter, the Indians turned on those who were their friends. All over the colony—and at the same time of day—white men, women and children were butchered.

"Savages rose from the tables where they were guests, some of them, and killed friends with their own weapons! Women and children slaughtered in their homes. Men in their fields! More than three hundred of us!"

"And again in '44. They killed even more in '44, though there were many more of us here by then," the old man said.

How long had they been planning it? How had they spread the word?

"They can spread word amongst themselves, all by some secret means. Infernal schemers! Don't you boys ever forget what happened in '22 and '44. And don't be mindless of their evil spirits."

Suspicions about Opeechcot returned to the boys. Had he been one of the killers?

"Sunday night will be the night. All them evil spirits will be let loose by the Devil," reminded his friend.

"Halloween!" Both boys spoke at once and, so, clasped each other's little finger with his own.

"I say chimney, you say smoke, then our wishes will not be broke," Richard recited. Then, "bow." To which Edward replied, "arrow."

"All Hallows Eve, my boys, and there'll be a bonfire and drinking and singing like you've never seen!" the oldest said.


 

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