Friday, December 8, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Exploited
 
In June 1872 Douglass’s house in Rochester burned to the ground.  Subsequently, he moved his wife to and established a permanent residence in the nation’s capital, where he would edit another newspaper, the New National Era.  Not only had Douglass expected that his race be rewarded for its part in electing the President but he himself expected some sort of consideration.  He had wanted the postmastership at Rochester but had not received it.  Now he would be in Washington.  Soon Grant would be up for re-election and would need him again to garner the Negro vote.  Douglass fully expected a political appointment as compensation.
 
What he received was an invitation to be a secretary to a commission appointed to visit Santo Domingo.  The commission would assess how local people felt about a proposed treaty that would annex Santo Domingo to the United States.  Douglass sailed and dined with commissioners, one a former senator, another the president of Cornell University.  When letters from President Grant and the Secretary of State were delivered to the Dominican officials, Douglass discovered that his name was not mentioned.  His presence was purely honorary.  He had no official duties.  When the omission returned to Washington, Grant invited the members to a dinner party at the White House.  Douglass was not invited.  He had unwittingly served Grant’s political purposes.  Douglass’s trip to Santo Domingo had been designed to embarrass Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an old abolitionist friend of Douglass’s.  Sumner had successfully fought passage of the treaty of annexation in the Senate mainly because Grant saw the annexation as an opportunity to relocate countless Southern blacks there, away from a smoldering South.  Additionally, some in the administration, which historians would describe as one to the most corrupt of the century, saw annexation as an opportunity to make money on real estate transactions.
 
The entire affair was a major embarrassment to Douglass.  A good many black leaders were insulted and spoke openly against Grant’s re-election.  The Democratic candidate in 1872 was newspaper publisher Horace Greely, who had been in the past a friend of the Negro.  Yet, rather than recognize that Grant was not a committed friend of his race, Douglass swallowed his damaged pride and supported the President.  As he saw it, the Republican Party “is the deck.  All else is the sea” (Bontemps 258).  He rationalized his treatment by insisting that Congress had provided for only three commissioners to Santo Domingo.  As for his snub at the White House, Douglass would say, “Where is a Democrat President who ever invited a colored man to his table” (Bontemps 259)?
 
Douglass assumed that turning the other cheek and working hard for Grant’s re-election would make the President grateful.   Surely then Douglass would receive the reward he so apparently needed.  The Negro vote went to Grant as a block and Greely was defeated.  In Washington, Douglass continued to publish his newspaper, which he would eventually abandon, and waited for his appointment.
 
He received instead an invitation to become president of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, a bank that had been charted by Congress in 1865 to protect and build the newly earned savings of laboring blacks in the reconstructed South, savings that eventually, hopefully, would enable them to invest in houses, farms, or businesses.  At first, the bank did serve the interests of hard-working black citizens.  Trustees of the bank, however, began to use the money that had accumulated to invest in speculative ventures, and when Douglass was approached, the bank was in trouble and in need of someone who could restore confidence in the insolvent institution.
 
Douglass only knew what the bank had stood for.  Restoring confidence was his sole duty, as he saw it.  Once again, his desire for position “overwhelmed his good sense.”  There had been “enough gossip around Washington to make him highly skeptical, had he chosen to be. … As president, he seems to have devoted all of his attention to reassuring the depositors; there is no evidence of his exercising daily supervision over the loan portfolio” (McFeely 284).
 
Depositors in the South had become nervous.
 
Some of them wondered why they had experienced difficulties when attempting to withdraw money.  At his shiny new desk Douglass drafted a telegram to each branch.  All was well with the Freedman’s Bank, he wanted them to know, and all deposits were secure.  Let patience prevail.  All would be well.
 
To the Senate Committee on Finance he also directed a communication.  Public confidence was the ingredient needed.  Given that, the bank could continue, he thought.  He advised that certain branches be closed to reduce expenses.  Then he settled back to wait for the results.
 
The reaction from the people was good.  Negroes took his word for gospel and confidently waited for the bank to settle its affairs.  Those who knew more about such matters were less sure, however.  Presently Douglass learned with dismay that many of the trustees of the Bank had withdrawn their own money and deposited it elsewhere.  Aroused like a lion in a trap, Douglass hurriedly called the group together and insisted on an explanation.  The bank was hopelessly insolvent, and Douglass lamented, “I have married a corpse” (Bontemps 266).
 
The bank was closed and, eventually, depositors were repaid less than fifty cents on the dollar.
 
Douglass became the target of withering criticism and denunciation. 
 
Though his own connections with the enterprise were completely aired during the controversy and all evidence brought forward to show that he had been unaware of the true condition of the bank when he accepted the presidency, had in fact lost about $1,000 of his own money in it, the resentment of those who had lost deposits did not fade readily, and Douglass was as near disgrace as he had ever been.
 
So it was back to the lecture platform and the old and weary ordeal of trains that did not run on schedule, poorly ventilated and badly lighted halls, and women with crying babies in the front seats.  Though it continued to provide him with a comfortable income, lecturing had completely lost its appeal (Bontemps 266-267).
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Getting the Vote
 
The Freedman’s Bureau was created in the United States war department by an act of Congress March 3, 1865, to last one year, but was continued until 1872 by later acts.  It was established partly to prevent Southerners from re-establishing some form of slavery, partly to provide relief to needy blacks and whites in the conquered South, and partly to take charge of lands confiscated in the South during the war.  “At the head of the bureau was a commissioner, Gen. O. O. Howard, and under him in each southern state was an assistant commissioner with a corps of local superintendents, agents and inspectors.  The officials had the broadest possible authority in all matters that concerned the Negroes” (Britannica 731).
 
Douglass’s son Charles had sent Douglass a letter in July 1867 that informed him that the Johnson Administration was considering naming Douglass Commissioner of the Freedom’s Bureau.  Would he be interested in taking the position?  Yes, he would!  A black man at the head of such a powerful government agency created, presumably, to benefit the Negro in the South-what a giant symbolic stride toward racial equality that would be!  Then there was the salary of $3,000 a year.  But Douglass felt uneasy about the offer.  He replied that he would take time to consider it before deciding.
 
What immediately disturbed him about the offer was the unfavorable reference to the incumbent.  Douglass happened to know something about General Oliver Otis Howard.  He knew as did every other informed Negro that the General’s record and reputation were unblemished.  Negroes as well as whites held him in the highest esteem.  Even his enemies in government acknowledged that he was a “very good sort of man.”  Why would Andrew Johnson want to removed the blameless General Howard and replace him with a Negro?  Certainly not for any good reason, Douglass thought.  He had never been convinced by any of Johnson’s assertions that he meant well toward Negroes (Bontemps 252).
 
Two weeks later Douglass rejected the offer, stating that he “could not accept office with my present views of duty.”  In a letter to a newspaper he said that he did not want to be a part of any attempt to remove the General and he did not wish to “place himself under any obligation to keep the peace with Andrew Johnson” (Bontemps 253).
 
Andrew Johnson “was clever enough to see the advantages of putting a gullible or flatterable black man in charge-nominally-while he undermined a government program designed to assist black people.  Douglass was flatterable, but not always gullible.  In his tough mind, he knew that Johnson would not give him, or any other black man, the job if doing so meant giving him also the power that should go with it” (McFeely 261).
 
Soon the main reason for Johnson’s job offer became known to all.  “The plan to replace Howard by a prominent Negro was part of a larger scheme to get rid of (Radical Republican) Secretary of War Stanton.  Radicals could not safely oppose the highest appointment ever offered a Negro in government, and this circumstance was counted on to muffle their protests against the Stanton ouster’ (Bontemps 253), which Johnson soon after attempted.  Subsequently, the House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings against the President.
 
Ottilia Assing (See “Ottilia Assing and Slavery in the Territories” post, May 28, 2017) watched the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson during the spring of 1868 and savored every moment of it, until the Senate’s vote to remove the President from office fell one vote short.  She knew, however, that the Republican Party would nominate Ulysses S. Grant as their Presidential candidate and that he would most certainly win the election in November.  Her friends, “real radicals,” had persuaded her that Grant could be trusted to work diligently for the cause of racial equality.
 
Douglass campaigned rigorously for the former general and against his Democratic opponent, Horatio Seymour.  He argued simply that the Democrats had favored the rebellion and now opposed suffrage for the Negro.  The Republicans had opposed the rebellion and favored the latter.  Grant, in the election, received 450,000 Negro votes.  He received only 300,000 more votes than Seymour in the entire election.  Douglass believed that the Republican Party owed his race a commitment to Negro suffrage.  In 1869 Congress “proposed a constitution amendment to the effect that neither the national government nor any state should be permitted to deny the ballot to a man because of his race or color” (Bontemps 254).  Douglass, of course, urged its adoption during his unrelenting lecture tours.  On March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment received the number of state ratifications required to put it into the Constitution, and many in the nation rejoiced.  The President wrote of its passage as “The most important ever that has occurred since the nation came into life” (Bontemps 255).  Its work done, the American Anti-Slavery Society called its final meeting.  All that had been fought for for so many years now seemed won.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 9, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1960. Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Andrew Johnson's Resistance
 
In his speeches Douglass “contended that all loyal Unionists, white and black, needed the black vote to protect the nation.  He and other radicals … held that leaving the freed men without the ballot would leave them in the absolute power of the old master class.  … Douglass was persuaded that his people, with the vote, could not only protect themselves but rise to a new level.  And in granting the vote to their black brothers, white Americans too would rise” (McFeely 24246).  “Without the elective franchise,” Douglass warned, “the Negro will still be practically a slave.  Individual ownership has been abolished, but if we restore the Southern States without this measure, we shall establish an ownership of the blacks by the community among whom they live” (McFeely 246).  The next one hundred years demonstrated how prophetic these words would be.
 
In February 1866 Douglass was the spokesman of a delegation of prominent black citizens that made a call upon the President.  They wanted to know specifically how Andrew Johnson stood on the Freedman’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Bill, and the proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, all measures in Congress that would shape dramatically the reconstruction of the South and the future of the Negro.
 
The President was prepared for the little group.  Douglass and his companions had scarcely indicated the burden of their visit when Johnson began making a speech to them.  According to Douglass it lasted more than three quarters of an hour, and when it was finished, the President announced that the interview was over.  He would hear no replies (Bontemps 248).
 
To Douglass’s suggestion that black people should be given the vote “with which to save ourselves,” Johnson, with “suppressed anger,” had replied that he had already risked too much politically for black people and that the would not now be “arraigned by some who can get up handsomely-rounded periods.”  He supposed that he would play the part of Moses, with the Thirteenth Amendment, in leading slaves out of bondage, but poor whites and poor blacks had always been enemies.  If they were “thrown together at the ballot box” a race war would result.  Johnson favored black emigration, a concept that Douglass had fought all his life.
 
A representative of the Radical Republicans in Congress caught up with the delegation as it left the White House and invited the colored men to meet some Congressmen in the anteroom of the House of Representatives.  But Douglass discovered that he and his Negro friends were not precisely in step with the men in Congress who seemed to favor their cause.  The Radical Republicans, the Negroes felt, pushed Negro suffrage as a way of punishing the South and of retaining for themselves the control of government.  Their attempts to keep whites from voting in the South were similarly motivated, but these sentiments were not shared by Negroes, who are on record as favoring the enfranchisement of former Confederates at this time (Bontemps 249).
 
The delegates decided to put in print a rebuttal of what the President had said to them.  Douglass was chosen to do the writing.  He, and they, made three points with their critical remarks.
 
One, the hostility that existed between poor whites and blacks was indeed real, but had been caused during slavery by the master class’s manipulation of poor whites.  “Those masters secured their ascendency over both the poor whites and blacks by putting enmity between them.  They divided both to conquer each” (Bontemps 250).  Poor whites had always been employed as slave catchers, slave drivers and overseers.  Now that slavery was abolished, why should legislation be adopted that supported the slavemaster viewpoint?
 
Two, it was unjust to give the power of the vote to one class and deny it to the other class.  To do so would be to perpetuate the hostility.  Without the vote, the black man was powerless.  “Men are whipped oftenest who are whipped easiest” (Bontemps 250), Douglass wrote.
 
Three, Negroes had labored to help develop the nation and had died to defend it.  They were not strangers or aliens to be sent away on ships.  They were Americans as deserving as any white man of full citizenship.
 
Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill and Congress overrode the veto to make it law.  Three months later Congress passed a second Freemen’s Bureau Bill and continued thereafter to direct the reconstruction of the South, repeatedly overriding Johnson’s vetoes.  During 1867 Douglass remained busy lecturing for fees of from fifty to one hundred dollars a night, traveling as far west at Pittsburgh, Louisville, and St. Louis, stating his support of Negro enfranchisement and his opposition to the President’s policies.  To his great surprise, in July he received a letter from his son Charles, in Washington, that the Johnson Administration was considering Douglass as Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau!  Would he be interested in taking the position?
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
by Stephen Ambrose
 
This non-fiction work is superb.  Reading it many years ago motivated me to read informative historical novels like A.B. Guthrie’s excellent narratives set in the Yellowstone, Montana, Idaho areas.  Having reread a large section of “Undaunted Courage” this past year, I offer this book review, which cannot do justice to the work’s many qualities.
 
I was enthralled with the book’s six maps.  I referred to all of them frequently to make clear to me the time-progression, geographical location sequence of events that are such an important component of the telling of the Lewis and Clark Expedition accomplishment.  If I were younger and had the financial resources to indulge myself, I might be tempted to follow the route the Corps of Discovery took from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Clatsop, Oregon, and back, taking numerous pictures and maintaining a daily diary.
 
“Undaunted courage” describes best the greatest attributes of the two captains and their exceedingly well-disciplined, resolute men.  Delving into the unknown stirs some element of fear in any person.  Imagine yourself signing onto an expedition that intends to take you more than a year into diverse land not previously explored, boats to be poled up the Missouri River, portages to be undertaken because there had to be – if not falls – rapids too violent to ride, mountains to cross over passes not yet known, overland transport between the end of the Missouri River and some unknown tributary of the Columbia River the difficulty and duration of which you would learn only when you had to deal with it.  And what of the lack of food, the prospect of starvation, especially in the mountains, after you have left the bison-filled plains east of the Continental Divide?  And what of the Indians?  Your expedition – though heavily armed -- will be vastly outnumbered by any tribe it encounters.  If any tribe wishes to exterminate you, it can.  You must pray that you captains have the skill to prevent this.  Pray that each tribe’s human universal avarice is satiated sufficiently to receive from it tolerance of your temporary presence.   Finally, will you be able to stand the rigors of your daily labor, which will require you to consume 6,000 calories of food.  Will you succumb to dysentery, influenza, sexually transmitted diseases caught from intercourse with native?  Lewis or Clark would be your doctor.  The remedies to be used would be whatever they are able to concoct.
 
There are particular scenes in this book that rival in excitement and wonder the best scenes written by a skilled novelist.  Here is one example. 
 
Lewis and Clark needed to find the Shoshones just east of the Continental Divide.  The Shoshones, they had been told, had many horses -- horses the expedition needed to cross the Rocky Mountains to find the Columbia River, horses Lewis and Clark hoped to obtain through barter.  They had reached the three forks that become in western Montana the Missouri River.  They had chosen to follow the most westerly fork – the Jefferson River – hoping to encounter friendly Shoshones.  They had been unsuccessful.  Game had become scarce.  Lewis divided the expedition into two groups, both of which headed west overland.  Eventually, Lewis sighted an adolescent brave on a horse from a distance of several miles.  Lewis hailed him, but the brave fled.  I will allow Stephen Ambrose to narrate the rest.
 
On Tuesday morning, August 13, 1805, Lewis set out early, headed west on a plain, heavily and recently used Indian trail that fell down a long, descending valley. …
 
At nine miles, Lewis saw two Indian women, a man, and some dogs. When he  had arrived within half a mile of them, he ordered Drouillard and the two privates to halt, unslung his pack and rifle and put them on the ground, unfurled a flag, and advanced alone at a steady pace toward the Indians.  He hailed them, using a word he believed meant “white man,” but actually meant “stranger” or “enemy.”  The man hurried away.
Lewis’s men rejoined him.
 
After less than a mile, topping a rise, they came on three Indian women, one a twelve-year-old, one a teen, and the third elderly, only thirty yards away.  At first sight, Lewis laid down his rifle and advanced on the group.  The teen ran off, but the old woman and the child remained.  Seeing no chance of escape, they sat on the ground and held their heads down; to Lewis it looked as though they had reconciled themselves to die.
 
He approached and took the elderly woman by the hand, raised her up, said,“tab-ba-bone,” and rolled up his shirtsleeve to show her his white skin.  … Drouillard and the privates joined him.  From their packs he gave the woman some beads, a few moccasin awls, a few mirrors, and some paint.  His skin and the gifts, and his friendly attitude were enough to calm her down.
 
Through Drouillard’s sign language, he asked her to call the teen back, fearing that otherwise the girl might alarm the main body of Shoshones.  The old woman did as asked, and the teen reappeared.  Lewis gave her some trinkets and painted the “tawny cheeks” of the women with some vermillion.  When the Indians were composed, Lewis told them, through Drouillard, that he “wished them to conduct us to their camp that we were anxious to become acquainted with the chiefs and warriors of their nation.”  They did as requested, and the group set off, the Indians leading.
 
After two miles, the long-anticipated and eagerly sought contact took place.  Sixty warriors, mounted on excellent horses and armed for war with bows and arrows plus three inferior rifles, came on at full speed.  When they saw Lewis’s party, they halted.
 
… The Indians were overwhelmingly superior.  It would have been the work of only a moment for them to overwhelm Lewis’s party. 
 
But rather than assuming a defensive position, Lewis laid down his rifle, picked up his flag, told his party to stay in place, and, following the old woman who was guiding, advanced slowly toward he knew not what.
 
A man Lewis assumed was the chief rode in the lead.  He halted to speak to the old woman.  She told him that these were white men “and exultingly showed the presents which had been given.”  This broke the tension. 
 
The chief advanced.  Saying “ah-hi-e, ah-hi-e,” which Lewis later learned meant, “I am pleased, I am much rejoiced,” the chief put his left arm over Lewis’s right shoulder and applied his left cheek to Lewis’s right cheek,  continuing “to frequently vociferate the word ah-hi-e.”
 
This first meeting between Shoshones and Americans went better than Lewis could have dared to hope.  He had been exceedingly lucky.  The war party had ridden out in response to the alarm given by the man who had fled earlier that day.  The Shoshones expected to find Blackfeet and might have attacked without pause save for the old woman.  Had Lewis not met her, and had she not responded so positively to his appeals and gifts, there might well have been a firefight.
 
There is great irony in this incident.  Ambrose criticizes Lewis for not having Sacagawea accompany the party.  She was one of two young Shoshone girls that had been captured by a Hidatsa raiding party four years earlier at the Three Forks.  A French Canadian trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, won the two girls from their captors in a bet.  Both girls became Charbonneau’s wives.  Lewis had signed Charbonneau on as a member of the expedition because of the girls’ knowledge of the Shoshone language.  Sacagawea, turned fifteen, was the wife chosen to accompany him.  Why had Lewis decided not to include Sacagawea in his scouting party?  Ambrose wrote:
 
The captains shared a hubris, that they could handle Indians.  They believed they needed Sacagawea’s interpreting ability only to trade for horses, not to establish contact.   it would seem that the captains allowed their self-confidence, and perhaps their male chauvinism, to override their common sense.
 
The great irony is that the chief who in friendship placed his cheek against Lewis’s cheek happened to be Sacagawea’s brother.
 
If you enjoy American history and have not read it, “Undaunted Courage” should be at the top of you “To Read” list.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 43-45
 
“The town of Concord lies between two hills,” Daniel Bliss said, pointing at his drawn map. “The Concord River, which is little more than a stream, runs between them. The town has two bridges, one to the north, here, the other to the south, here.” De Berniere and Browne examined his markings. “At various places, in houses and in the woods, they’ve hidden four brass field pieces and ten iron cannon. I’ve marked their locations with X's.”
     It was precisely what the General had instructed them to obtain. De Berniere would duplicate the map. His would be the only map the General would see.
     “They have collected a wide assortment of arms and equipment,” Bliss stated. “I have made a list.” He handed De Berniere the paper.
     The ensign read the column of words: cartridge boxes, harnesses, spades, pickaxes, billhooks, iron pots, wooden mess bowls, cartridge paper, powder, musket balls, flints, flour, dried fish, salt, and rice. He would copy this as well.
     “Also, Colonel Barrett has a magazine of powder and cartridges hidden at his farm.”
     “Where?” Captain Browne asked.
     “Here on the map. I have written his name and circled it. His farm is about two miles beyond the North Bridge.”
     Leaning over the table, De Berniere found the name, and the road that led to it.
 
 
     At dawn Daniel Bliss, exhibiting a stoic countenance, readied himself for departure. As promised, the two officers would accompany him, the enlisted man having volunteered to leave ahead of them to scout the way.
     “Twould be fittin' not t'be seen with you. I’d be movin' 'bout with naught someone suspectin'. Might see somethin' needin' t'be known.”
     “Wait for us, a mile east of the town,” the dark officer had answered, the fleshy, sour-faced officer-in-charge having deigned not to respond.
     Frost lay upon the road. Footprints and hoof indentations marked the predawn passing. Sunlight had begun to streak. Roof tops steamed.
     Two townspeople, pausing at the door of Ephraim Jones’s Tavern, marked them. Amos Johnson and Elisha Carter were out for an early morning toddy. Raucous laughter. Upon seeing them, hateful faces. Too early for them to do him any damage, Bliss decided. They would be well toward Lexington before Jones and Carter could alert Major Buttrick, should they be so uncharacteristically motivated.
     Having taken the road east of the mill pond, they passed the burial ground on the hill. Near Reuben Brown's house Charity Fuller was carrying water, her breath visible in the crisp air. The young maid turned her head once.
     They passed the road to Waltham, the tightness inside his chest caused, he believed, by his fear but also because of what he was leaving.
     “The ground is open here,” the younger officer, De Berniere, said to him, as they approached Meriam's Corner.
     “From here to Lexington it isn't,” Bliss said. “The road in places is very narrow. It surmounts two major hills and passes stands of hardwood and pine.”
     Later, “Stone walls. Too many stone walls.”
     “We like to mark our property lines,” he explained.
     They stopped, repeatedly. Each time Ensign De Berniere had sketched. “These delays increase the likelihood of my capture,” Bliss had complained after the third stop.
     “A well aimed pistol shot will remedy that!” Captain Browne had boasted. The young officer’s eyes had flitted toward his superior and had lingered, briefly. The enlisted man, ten feet behind the Captain, out of the dark officer’s vision, had smirked.
     Three pistol shots against how many, ten muskets? What sort of fool had General Gage sent? The other one, De Berniere, excessively pleased with himself, had seemed competent.
     “Bad ground here,” Bliss heard the officer say to Browne at the top of Brooks Hill. The Captain nodded, flicked a speck of bark off the front of his coat.
     When the King's Foot marched this way -- Bliss could not phrase the event as a question -- who would lead them? The best, he would have assumed two days earlier, had he had special reason then to consider.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 39-43
 
     Howe was ecstatic.
     The cage had been unlocked, the door opened; once more, like the trained bear on a short chain, he was walking “the grounds of the fair.”
     They had crossed the River, he and his “keepers” assigned again to spy! Splendid “grounds” they were, made more so by the mid-morning, late-winter sun, the sound of hungry gulls, the sweep of ocean air!
     God Almighty, how much he hated what he had left: during Browne’s absence the half-witted mutter of barrack mates; the preying nastiness of the Sergeant, his brass-tipped, jabbing cane; the foul, grubby scrubbings of latrine benches and mess hall floors; the interminable inspections during which he had stood resentfully alert, obedient, expecting indiscriminate abuse. Then, after the Captain had returned, the purchasing of his fancy food, the polishing of his boots and brass, the washing and ironing of his precious garments, the exercising and grooming of his bay colt. His special duties completed, right-wheels on the Common, drill after drill and standing and waiting, waiting and standing, more marching and more standing and waiting. How he hated this life! How he rejoiced in his reprieve!
     During their meeting with General Gage, Browne and De Berniere had requested his service. According to De Berniere the General had taken an interest in him. Who in the King’s army would have suspicioned that?!
     They had a different destination. Concord. They would be seeing different people. He would be speaking to them.     Each man recognized the rebel’s attentiveness, his sudden decisiveness. Each man would be carrying a pistol. Benefiting from experience, appreciating De Berniere’s abilities, confident of his own, Howe was excited and expectant.
 
 
     He was tested outside Concord.
     They had been instructed to spend the night at the house of a prominent Tory, Daniel Bliss. Their most difficult moment, De Berniere had warned, would be their inquiry of where the Tory resided. They were strangers. Their manner of intercourse with the citizenry, Howe notwithstanding, would attract attention. Requesting directions to the house of a known Loyalist was, of itself, sufficient cause for arrest. Whom they asked, therefore, and where they asked were singularly important. Their having come upon a young maiden, a servant girl in Howe’s opinion, harvesting mushrooms by the road, the first building of the town some fifty rods away, De Berniere ordered Howe to proceed.
     Exhibiting not a shard of suspicion, the girl identified Daniel Bliss’s house. Fifteen minutes later, enjoying a glass of port in their host’s drawing room, tracing the grooves of his chair’s intricately carved arm rests, Howe was enjoying De Berniere’s description of the two officers’ Marlborough escape.
     Yes, Daniel Bliss responded, he did know Henry Barnes. He did appreciate the Tory gentleman’s valor and his allegiance to Crown and country. He hoped that they would not suffer here a similar experience; but, he confessed, he, too, was watched, although he had not been threatened. Their stay (Did they not agree?) should be brief. As soon as they had enjoyed a second glass, he would show them his map.
     A noisy commotion at the front door interrupted their conversation. The girl to whom Howe had spoken, eyes large, face flushed, hurried into the room.
     The four men stared. Abruptly, De Berniere stood. Bliss's servant, having followed the girl into the room, reached to grasp her right forearm, hesitated, removed his hand. Lips quivering, she attempted to speak. Cradling her face, she sobbed.
     “Mary, dear, what has happened that disturbs you so?” Bliss gathered her against his chest.
     Seeing her kneeling by the roadway, Howe had judged her to be no more than fifteen, the same age as his sister Milliscent the week he had enlisted. A poor farmer’s employable daughter. “Oh yes,” the girl had said to him. “Mr. Bliss lives in the two-story house t’the left o' the road. You'll see bricks by his chimney, which's t’be repaired, I believe.” A simple, trusting child. Having smiled at him, she had returned wholeheartedly to her task. “We have been fortunate,” De Berniere had said after they had traveled a hundred yards.
     Leaning forward, Howe listened.
     Her mistress had wanted … men had scolded her! Two men from a house across from where she ... “If I don’t leave town, they said they'd tar an' feather me!” she exclaimed, amid sobs. “They said I did direct Tories in their road!”
     Bliss comforted her. Her “mistake” was but a trifle. “They would never do such a thing. Not for you to worry, my dear.” Their anger was directed at him! With fatherly assurance he escorted her to his front door. “Go to your mistress but say nothing of this,” Howe heard Bliss say. “Let us hope today she’ll be less unpleasant.”
     Having returned, Bliss identified the two men. His old enemy, the mechanic, Joseph Hosmer, was one of them. It had been Hosmer’s house that the girl had spoken of. Months ago Hosmer had denounced him, had belittled him, after Bliss had spoken his mind at the Meeting House. Likely, Hosmer and his companion were alerting one of the militia captains, if not Major Buttrick himself. However, Bliss would challenge them, bluff them. The British soldiers were business associates, he would say, English traders who had journeyed to Concord to speak to him for the very first time. How could Hosmer, or anyone he might bring to the house, know otherwise?
     They heard a resounding knock on the front door.
     Bliss directed Howe and the two officers into a large kitchen. Leaving them, he walked into the vestibule. Staring at a meandering crack in the plastered ceiling, Howe heard the opening and the closing of the large front door. Bliss swiftly returned.
     “I have been handed a message.” With squinting eyes he read it. Looking up, he said, “If I attempt to leave, I am to die.” His expression indicated quiet disbelief. “I find this difficult to countenance.” His lips moved across the tops of his teeth.
     “You must leave with us!” Captain Brown revealed his pistol.
     “Be assured that we will protect you,” De Berniere answered.
     Turning away, Daniel Bliss stared across the kitchen, at cooking utensils dangling from iron hooks.
     No. Stay, where you have the right, Howe thought. Defeat them! Stay and fight!
     Their message made no sense. Why would they not want him to leave? Because of what he knew? He could pass everything he knew on to them! Without stepping outside his house! Their message, their nastiness, what they had done to the servant girl, all of it angered him. He hated bullying. Whatever you thought about somebody, by right you ought to leave him alone! You didn't just … threaten his life!
     “In truth, I’m in greater danger if I stay. This moment has been long in coming.” Eyes tearing, Daniel Bliss sought their advice.
     “Go with us,” Browne insisted.
     “The Committee of Safety knows I have misused them.”
     “I regret that our presence has forced this,” De Berniere declared.
     Stay, Howe had wanted to say. But the man now standing before him was not the defiant Tory that moments ago had thought to play-act. His leaving seemed suddenly the right choice.
     “There are so few of us.” Bliss expelled a lengthy breath. “I may not see this house again.” His voice quavered. “Alas, we give up everything.
     This man, holding fast to his beliefs, was called a traitor. Because of what he had bravely chosen, because of what his enemies believed, he would lose everything he had the right to own!
     Howe wanted to say something. Because of his station -- and because instinct was telling him that something about his thinking was wrong -- he didn’t.
     He wondered. What of the rebel? Was he bullied? So he said. Wasn’t his rebelness a standing up to the bully also? In so doing wasn't he choosing a future, too, and wouldn't he also suffer? Howe thought about his musing of the day before, of being “released” from the bear cage at the country fair. Forced to return to his own cage, the rebel farmer had balked! Better to fight and suffer and hope to prosper than to give up and definitely suffer. Here he was, John Howe, a stable boy from England, servant to an officer with a limited brain, doing exciting work for the King. He had seen what these rebels were about and he had seen what this prosperous Tory countryman was about and he knew everything he needed to know about the King's men!
     Who were the bullies?
     Howe hadn’t chosen this work, but he loved it.
     Wrongnesses. Actions. Outcomes.
     His misfortune had been that he had chosen to be a redcoat soldier. If he wanted to change that, what in fact would he gain and how might he suffer if he tried? The thought agitated him. The “poltroon” provincial was Howe's opponent, true, but not without exception his mortal enemy, so he had the mind to believe.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 37-39
 
     It had been the cruelest day of Henry De Berniere’s young life.
     He and Browne had walked sixteen miles in the teeth of a blizzard. They had had but the preamble of sanctuary before they had been forced back into the storm. Having no other recourse to evade arrest, they had traveled half the distance back to Weston not daring, except for one brief detour, to stop.
     Not one rider had passed them.
 They had run from Henry Barnes’s house, found the Sudbury Road, and hurried on until, thoroughly spent, they had turned into a wood near a causeway to devour the apple-jack merchant’s bread rolls. Back on the road, not having gone twenty rods, they had been challenged by an elderly man who had rushed out at them from a white-shrouded house.
     “What do you think will become of you now?!” he had shouted.
     They had deigned not to answer. Or inquire.
     De Berniere knew all he needed to know. While they had been eating in the wood, Marlborough militiamen had ridden past. Having gone this far, would they not ride to the Sudbury causeway to lie in wait? The image of a crouching cat -- eyes iridescent, chin on paws, haunches tensed -- appended his thoughts.
     A prayer? However dire their circumstance he would not, like the Sunday psalm singer, implore divine intercession. He had seen in the hovels and the taverns of his father’s parish enough of the meanness of life not to countenance a benevolent Father. Man made his own way, cunningly, stupidly, reaping apposite consequences. He, De Berniere, had acted rashly. Nothing else but happenstance, utter coincidence -- their stopping in the wood to eat -- could rescue them.
     Kinetic indefatigability brought them finally to the stretch of road that De Berniere feared most. Approaching the dreaded causeway, he saw appearing out of the darkness four tightly grouped horsemen. First would come pistol shots, immediately thereafter, searing pain.
     The distance between De Berniere and Browne and the horsemen shortened. Thirty feet … twenty … ten …
     Moving to De Berniere and Browne’s left and right, the riders passed.
 
 
     Very late that evening the two soldiers entered Isaac Jones's Golden Ball Tavern.
     “All the way back!” His arms folded across his chest, Jones wagged his head. “Nit ‘n’grit! I say. Amazing luck!” The two men were pulling off each other’s clothing. “You must tell me all, once you’ve rested!”
     De Berniere’s friend disappeared behind the closing door. Friend he was, as was this room, the very room in which he had agonized about the pitfalls that he had predicted had been awaiting them.
     Anxieties verified. Safety achieved. He could now be charitable. Browne seemed even the most valued of companions. In this room all that was animate and all that was not merited his approval. Soon he would lie upon the left side of their bed, wrap himself in many blankets, and sleep, hours later to awake analytical and confident.
     They had been valiant! He would detail their intrepid endeavors. If his service were not immediately rewarded, it would be remembered. The door to promotion would remain open. Worthy officer that he was, he would analyze his mistakes, most of which, given their circumstances, had been unavoidable. (He sensed that he had already begun) He would examine them all tomorrow, allow his sharp mind to draw conclusions. Tomorrow, he would begin anew.
     “To walk thirty-two miles in a snow storm, in one day!” the innkeeper had marveled.
     Just so.
     Using pitchers provided by Jones, they bathed. Attired in borrowed robes, they savored hot mulled Madeira wine. Ensconced in woolen blankets, they drifted into a lengthy sleep.