Tim and the Highway Robbery
May 21, 1777.
Yonkers, New York.
The rain was starting again as Tim walked around to the back of the store hoping to find his little sister. She had turned fifteen a few days before and he finally had the silk ribbon he promised her. Earlier that day she told him she would be helping Bessie, who cooked for the storekeeper.
“Sadie?” he said quietly as he opened the door. He did not want to disturb anyone doing business in the storefront. He listened for an answer, spoke her name again, and waited. “That’s odd,” he thought. “It’s mid-afternoon. At least Bessie ought to be here.”
“Anyone home?” Tim asked as he walked into the dimly lit room, hearing the rough plank floorboards creak beneath his feet. He was feeling uneasy. He would do occasional work for the storekeeper, hauling goods to and from the city, but that gave him no right to snoop around.
The first thing Tim noticed was a pair of feet. There was a man lying by the base of the massive fireplace. “God bless me,” whispered Tim, and this was said with deep sincerity. No one would want to take chances when spirits might hover in the presence of death. And this man certainly did look dead. Tim had never seen a dead man before, except when laid out for a wake. But he had seen dead animals, and they would always have an awkward look to them. And this man had that look.
“You all right?” asked Tim as he crouched and shook the man’s shoulder. The body was not yet stiff and it rolled, exposing his half opened eyes to light coming from the window.
Tim jumped to his feet. His breath came in shallow gasps. He could feel his hair standing up and a cold sweat forming on the back of his neck. Forcing his eyes off the corpse, he noticed a poker on the floor. Maybe that’s what he was killed with? he wondered as he crouched to pick it up for a closer look. It was cold and heavy. It could have easily killed with a single blow.
“What is this?” shouted the storekeeper behind him, sounding more angry than startled. Tim spun around, holding the poker as a weapon.
“He’s dead!” said Tim.
“Dead?” the storekeeper asked. “Did you killed him, then?” He was a young man named Nat Pellis.
“No, I didn’t!”
“Who is he?”
“Put the poker away!” ordered Nat, who had taken a step forward to have a better look at the dead man’s face.
“I’d just come here looking for Sadie,” said Tim as he took two steps to put the poker back where it belonged by the fireplace.
“We will have to find the watchman,” said Nat in a stern voice that suggested he was about to deliver a murderer to the proper authorities. He had a good voice for this, and his thick black eyebrows framed an expression of cold command that could bring silence to a crowded room.
“I…I...could go fetch him for you.”
“No no, Tim Euston, I’d think it best if we went together.”
“But... who will stay with the body?”
“The body can take care of itself. We won’t be long, will we?”
“No, we won’t,” agreed Tim, and he started imagining what would happen once they found the watchman. Nat Pellis – a merchant, the heir to property – would say he had caught a seventeen year old apprentice with the murder weapon in his hands. Tim could deny it but the watchman would feel obliged to accept Nat’s word. Tim would find himself in jail with no means of proving his innocence. And why would the watchman want to do otherwise? The whole town would be reassured. An unsolved murder would leave people looking over their shoulders and afraid to go out. So long as somebody had been charged and jailed they all could rest easy. And it may as well be Tim Euston in jail, a boy who had no father to protect him – a boy who was rumored to be involved with rebel spies and saboteurs.
“But I really ought to go to the justice of the peace!” insisted Tim. “He needs to know about this!”
“The justice of the peace will find out about it when the watchman makes his report,” said Nat as he stepped towards Tim.
The backdoor opened and Bessie came in, carrying a basket. “Good afternoon, sir,” she said, nodding to her employer. She stepped between them, sat her basket on the table, turned to the fireplace and gasped, “What? What’s he... who’s he?”
“Perhaps you should not be here,” said Nat in a fatherly tone as he took her arm and guided her away from the body. Tim took the opportunity to creep to the door. Nat heard the latch click. He turned quickly but it was too late. Tim was through the door and running down the garden path.
“Tim! Come back!” Nat roared, racing out after him. He looked back and forth and saw Tim leap over the fence. It would be pointless to go after him. He would only catch up if Tim stumbled, and splashing through all the puddles would ruin his suit.
“Why’d he go running off like that?” asked Bessie as she followed him out.
“Why do you think?” muttered Nat.
. . . . .
Tim followed a pathway that wound through apple orchards and towards the creek. He kept up a fast pace, coming to a bridge that led to the mansion. Colonel Philipse, the justice of the peace was a wealthy and powerful man. If Tim could give his side of the story first there was a chance he could stay out of jail. Nat Pellis was obviously convinced that Tim was guilty and he would twist everything to suit his conviction. Tim needed to do the twisting first.
As he ran up to the large and imposing house, Tim wondered whether he should go to the front door, since he had important news. Or maybe he should go to the backdoor because he was a lowly carpenter’s apprentice. His decision was made for him by the appearance of the man himself – an extraordinarily fat man waddling slowly around the side of the house, his right hand gripping a cane. With him was his steward.
“If it please ye, sir!” gasped Tim as he stopped well short of the men, pulling off his hat and bowing low.
“What is it?” asked the steward, sounding angry.
“There’s been a killing, sir!”
“A killing! And… and he’s a spy,” lied Tim, almost in a whisper. “A rebel spy! And he calls himself... Adam Frye.”
“Adam Frye?” asked Philipse.
“Oh… ah… no!” stammered Tim. He was wondering why he felt that he needed to tell a lie. “No, not the Adam Frye from hereabouts. It’s another one… with the same name. He was pointed out to me once, down in the city. I don’t know for sure but... but that’s what I was told about him. And I’m sure it’s him too! And he’s there now, lying dead… in front of the fireplace at the Pellis store. I just went there looking for my sister, and there he was, and...”
“And you say he’s been killed?” asked Philipse.
“Well… I don’t know, but… but he sure looks dead, and… there’s blood under his head and… and the poker was lying on the floor right next to him. So maybe…”
“Did Nat Pellis send you here?”
“Nat… Mister Pellis… he wasn’t there. Then he came in when I was about to leave and come here to tell you. For I felt you should know. But Nat… he was out, but… but I saw another man there, just as I came in – another one – not the dead one. He was at the door that goes into the front – into the store. He just stuck his head in and then pulled it back... and… and he had guilt on his face and… but… but Adam Fry… the one on the floor – he’s probably a rebel spy. That’s what I’ve been told about him.”
“Why do you think him to be a rebel spy?”
“Because that’s what I was told.”
“Told by whom?”
“Well… it’s a fellow who calls himself Jock. He’s a drunkard – a sailor – in the city. He’s off to sea now, but he was always wanting me to buy him a drink but I’ve never bought him nothing. He just said the man’s a rebel spy, and that he calls himself Adam Frye.”
“Adam Frye the rebel spy, eh?” said Philipse with a nod.
“I don’t know! I was just told that! I’ve never seen him before, except that once but… but… but he was still alive and his last words were… Sam Baker!”
“Sam Baker?” asked Philipse as his eyes grew wide.
“He said ‘Sam Baker’ and he pointed, like… like he was telling me who did it to him.”
“Did he now?”
“You said he was dead when you came in,” said the steward.
“Well… ah… not at first. But he was sure looking dead when I left to come here. He made noises like… But maybe he’s not dead yet and... The fellow named Jock, he… he… he said that Adam Frye works with a man called Sam Baker! He did! Yes… I believe… he… he did say that! I should have come and told you back then but… but I didn’t believe him, for he’s just a drunkard and a sailor.”
“Ah yes, well… well, boy,” nodded Philipse who looked like he was thinking. “And you say you got a good look at his face? The other man, the one who’d ‘stuck his head in and pulled it back.’ ”
“Well… I don’t know who it was but… but… I did get a good look.”
“Well well well,” Philipse said with a smile.
“And then Nat came, through the back, just after the man left. I think he left. He went back into the store. I didn’t follow him. I didn’t know what to do! There was blood! But… but I suppose maybe Nat got a look at him too, maybe.”
“You suppose so?
“So you don’t know for sure,” said the steward, “whether the man on the floor is dead?”
“No, I… I suppose not,” said Tim with a shrug.
“Well well well!” said Philipse, “Have the wagon brought around. I’d like to go talk to Nat, and perhaps this Adam Frye as well.”
“He’s… he’s not much to look at,” said Tim. “I mean…”
“I don’t suppose you’d be either,” chuckled Philipse. “Not in his state, whether he’s dead or alive still. But you’ll have to keep your eyes open, won’t you, in the days to come? In case you spot the other fellow.”
“Because if he is Sam Baker, and you’re able to call for help, and we’re able to get our hands on him…”
“I’ll watch for him! I will!”
“You’re still out and about on your wagon?”
“No, they’d only wanted me until the ice was off the river. It’s cheaper to ship by boat now. My master was hauling by wagon until the ice was off and the boatmen were more willing to go out. Because before, what with great blocks of ice a-flowing down…”
“Of course, of course.
“But still, around here, I’m coming and going and…”
“I think we’ll have to get you back on a wagon again. Get you out and about and seeing faces. I can’t tell you how important this could be. Sam Baker’s the worst of them. The absolute worst!”
Frederick Philipse III (1720 – 1786) is a historical character, and he was extraordinarily fat. After he fled to England in 1783 his land was confiscated, most going to tenant farmers. Philipse Manor Hall is now a museum.
Back to my wicked ways.
Tim ought to have been feeling pleased with himself as he drove the wagon along the road that led from New York City back up to King’s Bridge. Only the day before he had faced a false accusation of murder – as serious a mess of trouble as could be imagined. But he had got himself out by his own courage and cleverness – by his own artful invention.
Tim’s quick decision to go straight to Colonel Philipse with news that would please him had worked as well as could be hoped for. When they got back at the Pellis store, Philipse had been in high spirits, gloating over the corpse like a hunter over his prize. Tim retold his made-up version of events, expecting that Nat Pellis would not want to contradict him when Philipse was so pleased. Nat just said that he had stepped out after a stranger had asked for some cream of tartar. He had told him he had none in stock but could go find him some, and the man had said he would be back in an hour.
But, wondered Tim, the colonel must now be wondering what a pair of spies were doing in the Pellis store. And he’ll now have reason to wonder about Nat. And Nat will have good reason to be furious at me. But I had to do what I did. I could have been accused and hanged! And I wasn’t, and all’s turned out well. As well as could ever be hoped. And here I am, out driving a team again.
“Tim Euston!” called a voice, startling him. He turned to see a young man running to catch up. He had just driven passed him. “Gimme a ride!” the man called.
“Dan Eliot! You’re looking tired!” laughed
Tim as he pulled back on the reins. Dan was a friend who had been ordered to work on a nearby farm after being convicted of battery. It had been a drunken brawl and the loser’s father had persuaded the justice to lay charges. Dan was a sailor and had been expecting to be pressed into the British Navy but, though it was late in May, he was still on land.
“Oh tired right out, I am!” groaned Dan. He sounded drunk, which was odd. He had sworn he would never get drunk again, out of fear of the trouble he might get himself into. “So good to see you!” he panted as he climbed onto the wagon. He stunk of rum.
“How long have you been walking?”
“Since Simon Hull’s!”
“That’s only a mile!”
“Ooo, but I’d walked so many miles before that! And I’ve so many more to go!”
“It might do you good...”
“Too much good!” groaned Dan. He pulled off his hat, scratched his curly blond hair and let out another sigh. He was eighteen and Tim was seventeen but hard work had made them both look older. “I’ve been down to the city delivering this and back up to Yonkers delivering that. Ten miles this way and twenty miles that way! I’ve worn holes through my soles!”
“You were in Yonkers yesterday?”
“I was, and back to my wicked ways, I was, as well,” he said with a malicious grin. “And then I was into the city again – walking the whole distance! Spent the night at Simon’s”
“Simon’s? How is the old fellow?”
“Drunker than me! And it’s the worse for him too! He was losing money at cards, he was, and I’ve been on a winning streak. For two days now! Making easy money, I’ve been. Playing cards and drinking good rum – up to no good in so many ways. Doing dirty deeds, I’ve been – in the eyes of some. But take a look at what I’ve got as reward for my wickedness!” As Dan said this he opened up the canvas sack he carried and pulled out a small pocket pistol. He cocked it and held it up to Tim’s nose. “Your money or your life, if you please!” he said, mimicking an upper class Englishman.
“Where did you get that?” asked Tim as he stared cross-eyed down the barrel.
“Off of old Simon! Won them cards! A pair of them! And he got them from Alvin Wyre. You know Alvin Wyre? And here’s the mate to it. Lovely, aren’t they? I reckon they’d cost four pounds new – four for each of them maybe! A fortune! Look at them! A nice pair, wouldn’t you say?”
“Did he tell you where Alvin stole them from?”
“From a redcoat officer probably,” shrugged Dan. “And when he saw them in my hands he looked – he looked so sad! Teach him to drink and gamble, won’t it?”
“Now it’s taught you that you’ll profit from drinking and gambling.”
“So it has, so it has,” sighed Dan in mock sorrow. “And it’ll be the ruin of me, it will. From this day on it’ll…”
“What are you going to do with them?”
“Sell them. I’ll likely get two pounds for the pair. Don’t you think? At least! Imagine that. It would take me a dozen weeks at sea to earn two pounds! And I’m an able seaman!”
“And it’ll likely earn you a dozen years at hard labor when the redcoats catch you with them.”
“Ah, but there’d be no justice in that – no justice!” said Dan, now mimicking the lofty tone of a lawyer in court. “And I am no thief! Nor is the man who stole them – seized them! Weren’t they taken from a British officer and doesn’t that make them the lawful spoils of war?”
“Maybe,” said Tim quietly. He was wondering what Dan had been up to in Yonkers the day before. And what did he mean by “dirty deeds”? Had he been involved with the killing?
“Nay nay, Laddy,” said Dan, now mimicking a Scottish preacher. “Common thievery ‘tis and defiance of the written word of the Lord!”
“Well, it is,” said Tim, sounding like his mind was on something else.
“But no!” said Dan, going back to his lawyer’s voice. “The redcoats are the invaders of an independent nation, they are! Are they not? Hath not the Declaration of Independence made us a free and sovereign nation, and is not the State of New York free and independent, and has it not been invaded by a foreign army? Yea, we’re at war against the hoards that have come to enslave us all! And that my friend – that is what makes all that is seized from them the lawful spoils of war! Does it not?”
“Well…” said Tim as he eyed Dan with suspicion, “not according to the generals who call for looters to be hanged.”
“Bah! Only for the soldier who steals from an innocent civilian. Were I to be charged for this, it’d be a defiance of the ancient laws! Laws since time immemorial! The natural law! Whoever took these fine pistols did so by right of plunder, he did, and when Simon Hull lawfully gambled them away to me, I then became their just and rightful owner. You cannot deny that, can you?”
“The privateers would not deny it,” shrugged Tim.
“Of course they’d not. Because it’s the truth. Isn’t it?”
“But did Simon say they were seized by a licensed privateer, or by a soldier sworn into a lawful army?”
“Pish! That don’t matter! Half the plundering is done by the women – the camp followers – after the battle. They strip the corpses naked to make work easier for the vultures.”
“But do you really think it’s safe to try to sell them down in the city?”
“Safe enough,” said Dan with a shrug. “Well… I might take them across to Jersey when we go join up. There I can sell them out in the open – auction them off to the highest bidder – and likely get more for them too.”
“Maybe. But you don’t fight battles with little pocket pistols, do you?”
“And on that matter,” said Dan as he pointed his finger at Tim. “Just when are the two of us going to be going? We should be in Morristown now – training for battle! Ready and able to fight for our freedom! To fight for the sacred cause of liberty! I… I fear the war will be over before we get a chance to fight!”
“I suppose it might,” sighed Tim.
“How long has it been now? Didn’t Sam Baker tell us to wait a month and then he’d take us over? It’s been near two months already! Two months! We should have been over there and sworn in by now – soldiers in arms – serving under General Washington – ready to march into battle and fight for our liberty!”
“Well… Sam must have his reasons,” said Tim. He and Dan had provided a service to the notorious rebel spy. They had then told him they wanted to join the army and fight, and Sam had advised them to wait another month. He would take them across to New Jersey, vouch for their honesty and reliability, and get them in with a good sergeant. But now Tim was wondering if Dan really was honest and reliable. What had he meant by “wicked ways” and “easy money”. Dan Eliot was what people called an “excitable boy”. What had this born troublemaker been up to?
“I don’t see why we’re still being kept waiting,” grumbled Dan. “I figure we should go across ourselves. How do we ever make it into an elite unit with next to no time for proper training? It ain’t enough to be studying a manual of arms and paying an old man to drill us. He’s likely forgotten half he ever knew.”
“And how do we ever gain promotion to corporal and then to sergeant without being in amongst the better sort of soldiers that get the best chances to demonstrate their courage? I wanna fight! I wanna bag me a redcoat and mount his head on a wall!”
“Well, here’s a couple of redcoats now,” said Tim quietly as he looked up the road, “so you’d best be quiet or they’ll be bagging you.”
How old was an “old man.” Detailed census information was not collected at this time, in either America or England, but life expectancy would not have changed a lot between then and seventy-five years later when numbers are available. A twenty-year-old white man or woman had even odds of making it to sixty. Half of men who made it that far survived to age seventy-five, and women to seventy-seven. During the 1770s small pox would have worsened the odds, but not a lot. Likely about one in thirty was over sixty-five, compared with one in five today. While there were fewer elderly, they would have been far more visible, often sitting on benches in front of a house, doing handy work.
In 1777, one day of semi-skilled labor by a healthy young man would usually earn him room and board plus twelve English pence (or a quarter of a Spanish dollar, or half an American Continental dollar.) It would take him at least forty days of scrimping and saving to buy an ordinary pistol. It fired one shot, and without a lot of practice it would take a half a minute to reload. A used pistol would cost less, especially if it tended to misfire. A hundred years later, twenty days of labor – half that – could buy a new Colt .45 six-shooter, and one more day would earn enough for thirty bullets. Today, saving for a similar pistol requires less than a week.
A pair of live prisoners.
With all their talking, Tim and Dan had failed to notice a wagon stopped in the road. It was the sort of location where the British occupiers would often set up a temporary checkpoint. With so many smugglers, deserters and rebel spies, constant vigilance was a necessity. Or so they claimed. The locals hated all the delays and demands and wondered whether the checkpoints served any use other than to remind everyone of who was in charge.
The two soldiers were looking frustrated about something and the rain clouds above them only darkened their stern expressions. Tim reined in his team and brought the wagon to a stop. He smiled, pulled off his hat and brushed back his straw colored hair, trying to look humble. He started to speak but then just smiled again, looking innocent with his freckles and dimples.
“What you got in there, boy?” asked the taller of the soldiers as he peered into the wagon. It was loaded with casks, bags and crates.
“Just some stock for folks up at Yonkers. I’ve come from the city.” As he said this, Tim was pulling out his traveling papers. One was a passport written in fancy handwriting and signed by Colonel Philipse, saying that Tim Euston had permission to take a wagon and team to New York City and back again. Another showed that his master had paid for a permit to allow him to cross at King’s Bridge at the north end of Manhattan Island. All travellers needed these and justices of the peace could charge a shilling – a day’s pay for an ordinary man – for the few minutes it took to write one up and attach a wax seal to make it official.
While the soldier read through both letters Dan was looking around. There were no other soldiers with them, which was odd. Only these two and they were not much bigger than Tim and himself. And there was not one other person in sight – just a wagonload of hay going the other direction, and it was at least a half a mile away.
The soldier handed the papers back, but he was still giving Tim a look of suspicion. “Well then,” he said slowly with another glance at the load, “maybe we’ll need to take a look at…”
“Stand off, boys!” roared Dan as he rose with a pistol in each hand. “Put your hands up where I can see them or I’ll… I’ll…” He was about to lose his balance and fall when Tim caught hold of his leg to steady him. His obviously drunken state made the soldiers all the more fearful for their lives and they held their hands high as they could.
“Easy now,” said the shorter soldier. “We’ll not defy you.”
“Indeed ye had better not!” growled Dan. “I aim to shoot me a few more redcoats before the war’s over, and this might be my last chance before your generals beg for terms and you all get shipped back home to where you came from. Two balls – two redcoats! But I’d reckon you’re worth more as prisoners, eh? Prisoners of the American Army? What do you say to that?”
“Aye aye, worth much much more as prisoners – good for exchange!” said the taller soldier with a frantic smile. He had heard stories of rebel soldiers who were half crazed with blood lust from spending too much time hunting in the wilderness.
“Indeed much better, much better,” nodded Dan, who was quickly sobering up. He had made no plans for the taking of prisoners and now wondered what he would do with them. “We’ll… we’ll… Tim! You lead their wagon down yonder into the woods,” he said, pointing a pistol to a narrow road that led to the shore of the Hudson River. “And you two! You’ll be walking ahead of us, won’t you be? All nice and obedient-like.”
As Dan said this he hopped down from the wagon, almost stumbling and falling. He caught his balance and swung around, grinning savagely – trying to keep the soldiers afraid of him. He hardly needed to make the extra effort. The two were white with terror – their eyes wide and their legs and hands trembling. A crazed drunkard with two pistols talking wildly about taking prisoners and bagging redcoats – it was reason to anticipate an untimely death.
“Now now, sir,” begged the smaller of them. “I’ve got coins here in my pocket – right here! And you can take the horses too, eh? They’ll sell for…”
“Quiet! Down the road like I says!” ordered Dan as he waved the pistols back and forth. The soldiers obediently started off, their hands straight up and fingers spread wide. Both were glancing back and forth, hoping other British soldiers might be on the road, but there was no one in sight. Even the wagonload of hay had crossed the far hill. “Not too fast and not too slow,” snarled Dan. “We want a pair of live prisoners, don’t we now? Ha! Though it hardly matters, eh? Live or dead?”
Tim was following behind, leading the team of horses that pulled the half empty army wagon. His hands were shaking as much as the soldiers’. The road curved downhill into the dense woodland that rose from the river’s edge. And what about my wagon? he wondered. Will it get stolen while I’m stealing this one?
“Halt!” ordered Dan. “Now Tim, you tie the team up to that branch there and you run yourself back. Go get a boat and meet us back here, by the river.”
“Yes sir,” said Tim, but right away he wondered why he was calling Dan “sir” when he might just as well have called him a crazy suicidal fool.
“Now be quick,” called Dan. “We don’t want to be keeping these poor boys a-waiting, do we?”
“Ah… no,” replied Tim as he tied the reins. He turned and ran back up the trail. Out on the road his team stood patiently waiting. By now a pair of women carrying baskets had come along but they continued past, arguing about something and paying no attention. Another wagon was following along but its driver looked half asleep. Tim hopped on the wagon, gave the reins a shake, and continued on his way.
Get a boat? Tim asked himself as he grew more frustrated. From where? And what about the patrols that are always out on the river and along the shore? This is suicide! But… but if we can do it – if we can get them across! That’d make up for a lot, wouldn’t it? It’d raise eyebrows!
There would be boats by the dock at Yonkers, where Tim lived. There was always at least one or two, though they would be chained to posts with large padlocks. Boats were not just left around for the taking. But Tim had once seen the local ferryman, old Clay Boodle, lock up his boat and hide the key above a timber of a storage shed, below the eaves.
Maybe the key’s there now, Tim wondered. If I could find that key I could unlock the boat and get back to Dan in no time, so long as I’m not stopped by a British patrol boat. But that’d likely not happen.
And I won’t be stealing it either, Tim reassured himself. I’ll be seizing it. And I’ll be acting in support of the cause of liberty and in the defense of my nation. And… and after we get the prisoners across, we can leave the boat where somebody can find it. We could leave a note. And we wouldn’t have to because ‘Clay Boodle, Yonkers’ is carved into the front of it. He’d surely get it back within a day or two. It’ll all work out splendidly! We’ll just wait ‘til after dark and cross the river, and we’d just have a quick walk to Morristown. And what a fine first impression we’ll make,” thought Tim, his eyes gleaming. What’ll they think when we walk into town with two redcoat prisoners-of-war? Not yet sworn in and already taking prisoners! How many recruits could boast of that? Why… it seems almost too easy?
This story is set in May of 1777, in the third year of the War for Independence. It had begun just over two years before in Massachusetts. The British Army – the regulars – had tried to suppress a colonial assembly that had been stockpiling military equipment and supplies. Local militia firing rifles drove them back and surrounded Boston. News spread fast and throughout New England, revolutionary committees took control of local government. Two months later 1500 patriot militia fought 2500 British regulars at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Though the Americans were driven from the hill, almost half the British were killed or wounded – a number that surprised British commanders. The rebellion spread and by May of 1776 not one British soldier remained in arms in the thirteen colonies. The Americans felt they could now persuade their king to return things to the way they had been before he had started to try impose new taxes. Only a small minority dreamed of full independence with a government of the people.
For years, the colonists in North America and the Caribbean had been protesting efforts to impose new taxes and stricter controls. For over a century they had been largely left to rule themselves and the only taxes paid to England had been customs duties that had usually been evaded. The Americans insisted they should pay no new taxes without the right to vote for their own members of Parliament. It was an era of protest with demands for political and legal reform heard throughout Europe, with rebellion in Corsica and riots in Madrid, Ireland and London.
A Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Delegates elected by assemblies insisted they were loyal and issued their demands in the king’s name. In 1776 the mood changed and in July, they voted to declare their independence. A regular army, called the Continental Army, with George Washington as commander, grew to 23,000 men, but their enthusiasm was not matched by either their equipment or their training. King George sent a force of 32,000 that landed at the mouth of the wide Hudson River. Its goal was to split the new country in half, destroying the people’s will to resist. His Majesty’s Army in North America, under the command of Major General William Howe, went on to defeat the Americans in five battles out of six, capturing Staten Island, Long Island, Manhattan Island and all of New Jersey. 3,600 Americans were killed, 4,000 taken prisoner, and thousands more simply gave up and walked home.
Fear and despair was alleviated in late December when Washington scored a surprise victory at Trenton in northern New Jersey. The good news carried on through the winter with the British suffering heavy losses in many small actions. The dream of liberty was renewed and, as spring’s sunshine warmed the land, the American patriots were rebuilding their armies and preparing to take on the red-coated invaders.
You’re better off caught.
Tim was worried by the look of the sky. Dark clouds were building in the northwest as he drove the wagon to King’s Bridge. But why should that matter? he then asked himself. Won’t we just be less easy to see under the cover of rain? It’ll be a safer crossing over!
At an army base by the bridge he could see soldiers being drilled on the grass of a lush spring meadow. The rows and columns of red and white uniforms moved mechanically to the call of a sergeant and to the rhythm marked by fife and drum. When the sun peaked out from behind a cloud, their coats were bold as blood. Tim could see sunbeams reflecting off of fixed bayonets and an image came to his mind of one of them stuck through his stomach. He looked away.
At the bridge a few wagons formed a line, waiting to cross. Tim could see guards taking quick looks at papers. No one was being searched.
Tim’s turn came. One soldier examined his papers while another climbed into the box of the wagon to poke around. Why me? Tim wondered, expecting them to start opening casks, crates and sacks to look for contraband. But then the man climbed back off again. No order was given for a search and Tim was allowed to cross.
Past his greatest obstacle, Tim drove the horses hard to cover the last four miles home to the village of Yonkers. First he had to stop at the Pellis store and unload. Strangely, Nat came out to help and seemed almost cheerful. Nothing had to be raised to the attic by rope and pulley so it did not take long, but still it seemed to take forever.
Tim’s next stop was the stable kept by the blacksmith. The man was at home next door eating his supper. His wife told Tim to put the horses in their stalls and to feed and water them. It took a while, taking off harnessing, hanging it on hooks, pushing the wagon into its place, getting the feed.
Once all was done, Tim headed for the town dock, not even thinking about stopping at home for his supper. He could not have forced himself to eat anyway, not with his stomach tied in such a knot. It was not far to the dock though, along the main street and then a short ways down a side street.
A talkative neighbor asked Tim how the ride had gone and he stopped, thinking that to rush by would raise her suspicions.
“A…a good trip d… down,” he stuttered. “The… city’s busy as always. S.. soldiers ev…everywhere.” It was not working. She was looking at him as if she feared for the state of his mind. He would have been better off giving her a one word answer and keeping on going. “Good-day to th… thee. G… got to be home,” he said with an imbecilic smile and turned to continue on. But now he faced his sister Sadie, and she looked as worried as the neighbor.
“What’s the matter with you?” she asked as Tim rushed past. She ran to catch up.
“Nothing!” he said, increasing his pace.
“Tim, wait!” she said, and again broke into a run.
“I’m busy!” he whispered. “I can’t talk now!”
“No, of course not,” she agreed, as if she already knew why.
“It doesn’t concern you!”
“Then it’s best that I not know, isn’t it?”
“Then get on home!” Tim ordered.
“But I was going this way!”
“Good!” he said as he pressed on. When he turned in the direction of the town dock she kept following. “What are you doing?”
“Bessie’s moved down here,” Sadie lied.
“She has not!”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
“We? I’m not going to Bessie’s,” muttered Tim while keeping his eyes ahead.
“You don’t need to be telling me all about what you’re doing,” she huffed. With her freckles she looked a lot like her brother. “It’s not my concern. And what I don’t need to know I don’t need to hear about.”
“Good!” he said as they came to the dock. There was only one boat sitting out tonight but it was the right one – the one Tim could probably get unchained. “Now get yourself off to Bessie’s.”
“There’s no rush, Brother. What’d you come here for anyway?”
“I told you! I can’t tell you! Now will you take yourself away so I can get to work?”
“Go ahead with your ‘work’! I was just on my way anyway,” said Sadie, sounding highly offended. She turned and walked back up the road. Tim watched her go. She looked back, her eyebrows arched with resentment. It was the same expression he was wearing and it made the two of them look even more alike. She went around the side of a house and Tim suspected she would stay hidden and then peek out to watch. There was nothing he could do about it. She was as stubborn as she was nosy.
Tim crouched to take a look under the upside-down boat. The oars were there, tucked under the seats. To be careful, he turned and walked a few steps along the path that followed the river. He stopped, turned back and looked around. There was still no one in sight. Everybody was eating supper. A light rain was starting to fall. That was good. It would keep them inside.
Tim went to where he hoped to find the key. The shed was built of roughly squared timbers. Its exterior had been plastered and whitewashed but most had since fallen off. On top of one of the exposed timbers, under the eves, was a chink wide enough hide a key. Tim took another look around, trying to appear calm and unconcerned. Still, no one was in sight. He nonchalantly reached up and felt for it. It was there. A short key that would likely fit the fat padlock that secured the boat to a post.
Tim walked slowly over to the boat and looked around one last time. All was quiet except for the chirping of a blackbird and the distant barking of dogs. He took hold of the lock, inserted the key and turned it slowly. He pulled and the lock slid open, as nicely as could be hoped for. After another glance around, he gathered the chain and placed it neatly on the ground.
It was not large, twenty feet long and six wide. Tim would have to flip it over and push it down the bank and into the water, but he was sure he could get it in. After another glance back, he went to the side of the boat, lifted it with all his strength and rolled it over.
Now Tim had to move fast. He rushed around and began pushing. It slid slowly across the sticky river mud.
“That’s as far as you’re going!” shouted Clay Boodle as he came out from behind the shed, pointing a long gun. It was a lightweight fowling piece and was likely loaded with birdshot. But up close like this it could kill.
“I… I was…” stammered Tim as he held his hands in a pleading way. “I was just going to borrow it! It’s necessary…”
“Necessary? Necessary is it?” growled Boodle. “Indeed it is. Necessary for my livelihood, it is! Now get along down the road! You can tell the colonel how ‘necessary’ my boat is to you.”
“But... but it’s not for me,” Tim whispered, sounding like he was letting him in on a secret. “It’s… it’s for the… the cause!”
“The cause?” Boodle asked quietly.
“It’s in support of the Continental Army.” Tim said these words slowly and with deep conviction. He had never heard that Clay Boodle was a secret supporter of the army that had been created by the revolutionary Continental Congress and that was commanded by George Washington. But, if he was, then he might be willing to permit the use of his boat.
“Oh, for the Continentals, is it?” whispered Boodle with his brows raised high. “Well well well, boy. Why didn’t you say so?”
“I can’t explain now but you’ll have your boat back within a day or two. I would have gone to you directly but I was not sure whether you’d be willing to loan it out, and we need it badly.”
“Ah, of course you weren’t sure,” nodded Boodle, though he still kept the musket pointed and his finger on the trigger. “And what business is it that so urgently requires a boat?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say,” whispered Tim as he glanced to the side. “At least not yet.”
“Not at liberty to say? Or perhaps you’ve just not invented your story yet!” said Boodle, his voice rising as he spoke.
“No no no! It’s true! It’s in support of the great cause!”
“The ‘great cause’, is it? Yea it is, and isn’t that why I’ve been hearing about you, Tim Euston. Too much about you! Caught in Nat Pellis’s kitchen with the murder weapon in your hands, I’ve heard! Yea, and that on top of the rumors about you’re being mixed up with the… the ‘great cause’ as you call it. And I heard that you’d run off from your master and went and tried to join up in their army of rebels. Didn’t you? Indeed, last fall it was, and I heard about it the day after. Word gets around. And I’m told they wouldn’t take you, for being too short. And lucky it was that you were too short, for if you had been taken in – well! Then what? Then you’d likely be in jail now, wouldn’t you be? Or dead? Or maybe you’d be off in the hills somewhere with the rest of them, hiding away and sick with hunger and disease. That’s the reward that all the young fools have been getting for their… enthusiasm! Five battles fought and five battles lost! That’s what your Continental Army has achieved. Eh? Isn’t it?”
“But… but we won at Harlem, and then at Trenton and Princeton, and then...”
“Won? Ha! Those weren’t battles! Those were skirmishes and ambushes! And your Mr. Washington won’t be finding his enemy sleeping again, not after those bits of treachery. The rebellion’s a lost cause boy, and you’re lucky to have been turned down by their army of fools. And if now you’re aiding and abetting them again… well, you’re better off caught. And you’re a fool for doing it, you are! A fool! ‘Tis a crime against man and God to raise rebellion! A crime against man and God!”
“No buts!” Boodle growled, looking like he wanted an excuse to pull the trigger. Over the years he had built himself a reputation as a dedicated participant when the local militia came out for training.
Maybe, thought Tim. I should try make a run for it. After all, Boodle likely wouldn’t shoot me, and he’s getting old and likely isn’t too fast on his feet.
“What’s this?” asked another voice as a hand grabbed hold of Tim’s collar. “Out a-hunting tonight, eh? Out a-hunting boys now?”
Tim could turn his head far enough to see. It was Horace Davis, the tailor. He was actually more of a farmer than a tailor, with forty acres not far from town. He did his tailoring during the slow times, on rainy days and through the winter. But though he had nimble fingers he was still bigger, stronger and likely faster than Tim. Tim had waited too long and the option of running was no longer available.
“Caught him about to make off with my boat, I did,” said Boodle. “Had the lock opened and the chain off, and he had it turned over and he was a-pushing her in – a-pushing with all his strength, he was! Almost had her off and away!”
“Caught again for the second day in a row, from what I’ve heard. Isn’t that so?”
“Indeed, the second time in two days,” nodded Boodle as they started to walk up the street, dragging Tim along. “If I hadn’t come out the door when I did, he’d be rowing away now with a smile on his face.”
“No smiles on your face now, though,” said Horace to Tim as he gave him a shaking. He was enjoying himself.
Tim said nothing and kept his eyes on the ground, suspecting that trying to explain would only earn him a slap across the back of his head. What’ll happen to me now? he wondered. If I’m convicted, I could be hanged. Well, likely not. I’d likely be given the option of joining the redcoats and then be transferred to serve on some sugar island in the tropics – and there to die from the sleeping sickness like so many have.
What were the battles that Tim and Clay Boodle spoke of? On August 22, 1776 the British came ashore on Long Island and attacked Continental forces on the Brooklyn Heights. The Americans had reason to feel confident. The British had been forced out of Boston, the fortress of Ticonderoga had been seized, and a naval attack on Charleston had been driven back. But on this day the defenders would try to hold onto an island, without control of the waters that surrounded it. William Howe, the British commander, had learned at Bunker Hill that defeating the Americans would be no easy task. On Long Island he was better prepared and more cautious. His forces outnumbered the enemy two to one and, as well, he had got lucky, managing to sneak around behind the Americans during the night to attack from both sides. After hard fighting the Continental forces were driven back and cornered, but then Washington got some luck of his own. A favorable wind was followed by heavy fog and he was able to evacuate his army across to Manhattan Island.
Nineteen days later the British rowed across the East River, defeating Washington again and forcing the Continental Army to withdraw from New York City. This was a major blow. It was the new nation’s second largest city and it took up a full square mile on the southern tip of the island. When the British advanced north the Americans were able to drive them back at Harlem Heights, and though it was a small victory it provided a big boost to morale.
Washington had to protect the strategic Hudson River. Two forts, one on each side, would be ready to bombard British ships coming upstream. Fort Washington was on the highest hill at the north end of the island, and Fort Lee was directly across in New Jersey. With a third of his army Washington crossed over to the mainland at King’s Bridge but was defeated again on October 28 at White Plains, only ten miles north of Yonkers. Losses were small though and he managed to cross the Hudson into New Jersey. But now things went from bad to worse – a lot worse. On November 16, Fort Washington was attacked from all sides and twenty-eight hundred soldiers were taken prisoner – one fifth of the entire army.
On November 20 the British followed them into New Jersey and quickly captured Fort Lee. Washington made a fast retreat south. His tired and ragged army barely managed to make it to safety across the Delaware River and into Pennsylvania. The war seemed all but over and Major General William Howe felt comfortable enough to call it quits for the winter.
But Washington was not ready to quit. On December 25 he crossed back over the Delaware to attack the Hessian forces at Trenton. (Called Hessians because many came from the region of Germany called Hesse.) They were said to be the best soldiers in the world, but they had been celebrating Christmas with heavy drinking and had posted few guards. Washington surprised them and captured nine hundred prisoners with all their arms.
The British were shocked to hear the news and rushed south, but on a small road Washington was marching north, sneaking around them. On January third, the army scored another victory at Princeton. Over the days and weeks that followed, news of these victories spread across the land and patriots who had been despairing found themselves rejoicing. Hope continued to grow with many small victories in northern New Jersey and by spring the revolutionary forces were getting the new recruits they needed to press on.
In the meantime the British held complete control of Staten Island and Manhattan Island, and as well they had partial control over areas called neutral grounds. These included the no man’s land that ran north of King’s Bridge and up to the mouth of the Croton River. Yonkers was at the south end of this neutral ground and its residents had to consider the risks they faced with the coming of fighting season – the season when roads were dry and nights were warm enough for soldiers to sleep out in the field.
Two steps ahead of the game.
On the wooded shoreline of Manhattan Island the rain was falling in fine droplets. Dan Eliot sat leaning against a tree, a pistol in each hand, trying to look like he was on the brink of a violent act. His two prisoners sat cross-legged on wet grass, trying to look harmless.
“Did you take your place in the line of battle last fall?” asked the taller one. He was bigger than Dan but now he looked almost comical with a humble smile spread across a wide face. He was assuming his captor was a Continental soldier. The army was young and poor and most of its men still had no uniform. The official uniform called for a brown coat with cuffs, collar and lapels in a color that represented the regiment. But hardly anyone had that. Some wore the uniform of their local militia. The rest wore the everyday clothing they had on when they joined, along with whatever could be found since.
Dan said nothing and stared back through half closed eyes, his lips on the brink of a sneer. With his curly blonde hair tied in a queue, pudgy cheeks and squinty eyes, he was particularly good at looking menacing. He wore his work clothes, which were ragged and patched. His knee length breeches were held up by a rope, his feet were bare, his shirt was a mass of stains and his black felt hat showed the white markings of dried sweat. He was what every British gentleman would imagine when he read a description of an American soldier. Officers would often read stories in the popular papers to their troops, and these included descriptions that poked fun at the rabble of rebellious provincials who foolishly dreamed of defeating a professional army.
“We might have taken a shot at each other last fall,” joked the shorter of the prisoners. He had an irritating habit of sniffing and scratching.
“Indeed,” said the taller one with a smile, “we both were there for the action. Look sharp now! Hold your fire! Be quick! Be still! Hurry up! Wait now!” They were both hoping the officious-looking frontiersman would be less likely to pull the triggers if he could start thinking of the two of them as fellow soldiers rather than sworn enemies.
“Did you hear about the murder,” asked the taller one. “Up in Yonkers it was, just yesterday. They’re saying it was a rebel spy. Or at least that’s what the boy who found his body is saying. Or the boy who was caught in the act of murder I should say – the weapon in his hands! That’s what the storekeeper is saying. A carpenter’s apprentice he is – he’s the one who’s saying the man’s a rebel spy. He ran off from the store to tell the justice of the peace. And the grocer, he still figures the boy’s a murderer. But the justice of the peace – the squire of the county – he believed all that the boy had to say. Just because he went to him first with good news, the grocer say, good news because he says he saw the face of the notorious Sam Baker! A-peeking out from the storefront, he’s saying. And the old fellow must like good news as much as the rest of us. And they’re saying the boy’s not as thick as some say he is, though everybody calls him Tim Useless.”
At this Dan felt his stomach twist into a knot. “Tim Useless” was Tim Euston. It was the nickname given him by his master’s eldest son because Tim was useless for carpentry because he was forever making mistakes with measurements. Dan wanted to ask questions but he could not. To maintain his authority he had to maintain his stern expression. By saying nothing he told them they had no power over him. But what, Dan wondered, was Tim doing at the scene of what might have been a murder? And who is this dead spy? Is it Sam Baker, himself? It could be! Nobody in Yonkers knows what Sam Baker looks like. Nobody who’d admit it. And why did Tim run straight off to inform the most prominent and powerful tory on the neutral ground? Frederick Philipse is as much a tory as any tory in the New York colony. And why didn’t Tim say anything about this?
“Are you from around here originally?” asked the shorter one. “You sound like a New England boy, eh? Just a bit?” Dan said nothing and the soldier wondered whether saying this had been a mistake.
“I am that,” Dan said slowly and with a nod. “Massachusetts.” He said this last word in a threatening tone. Englishmen believed that most the hardcores came from in or around the infamous city of Boston. Back in old England it was widely agreed that most Americans were loyal subjects of the king – simple sorts who had been bullied into silence by fanatical rebels. And most of these fanatics were descendants of the puritans zealots who had settled New England.
“Myself,” said the taller one, “I hale from the colony of Nova Scotia. Robby Lewis’s my name. There’s a whole slew of us Lewises up there – fishermen and farmers we are, for the most part – depending on the season, eh?”
“And you’re not in the navy?” asked Dan, sounding like he did not really care.
“I might have been, had the choice been left up to me. I was ordered by my grandfather to join the army – join the king’s regulars. The same ones that you rebels chased out of Boston, a year ago last March. And we owe you a thanks, because merchants like my granddad have done a good trade since they’ve been there, keeping them fed and all, eh? Good times for grandpa, it’s been.”
“So then why are you in the regulars and not in some loyalist regiment?”
“Well…I suppose that’s where I’d rather be,” said Robby as he rolled his eyes, “for I’ve been the butt of many a poor joke about ‘colonial boys.’ They think we’re all ignorant peasants. Or so they seem to, to hear them talk. But my grandfather decided that I was more of an East Sussex man than a colonial boy so it was the king’s Forty-Forth Regiment of Foot for me. They recruit out of East Sussex, supposedly. And that’s where all the Lewises come from, originally. So my grandfather offered me up to them and they were glad to have me.”
“But you were born over here?”
“Me and my father too, we were born in Nova Scotia. He’s dead now, of a fever. I barely remember him. I remember him lifting me high and calling me ‘my little man,’ and then I remember him a-coughing and spitting into a pot. That’s about all. My mother was his second cousin and they married when she was only sixteen. She says I’m no better than he was.”
“Ha!” laughed Dan. “Well, if your mother says it then it must be true.” But right away he straightened his face, realizing this could be taken as a sign of weakness. A smile could encourage the two. They might think he was letting down his guard, and that would make them more likely to attempt an escape. Dan’s pistols were not even loaded. The prisoners, of course, did not know that. But even if they had been loaded, the weather would surely have dampened the powder. Powder can be kept dry if you wrap dry cloth round the pan, but not in a weapon that sits open to damp air, ready to fire. Dan knew that once the two soldiers concluded that the weather must have had its effect, they could decide the odds were in their favor and inform him that he was their prisoner. Dan might be strong but he was no match for two regulars.
“Well… yes,” shrugged Robby. “I suppose she’s right.”
“So you took the king’s shilling then?” asked Dan, trying to recapture his surly tone.
“Well, I had to join, for otherwise I’d have been cut out of Grandfather’s will and cast from the family. With my father dead there’s only him for us now. And it was hard to refuse the wise old man’s advice when my own mother was on his side – the whole blessed family was – all a-shaming me and a-calling me down. Calling me a coward, some were!”
“Well then,” said Dan, “it sounds like you had your punishment coming.”
“Well,” shrugged Robby, “in their eyes I was deserving of it. But I’d prefer to think that I’ve been made to suffer for what I believed in. There are freedom loving men to be found everywhere, aren’t there? Wherever you find true Englishmen! And all I did was to associate myself with those who wanted to do more than moan and groan. Or maybe to tar and feather a man who’s too willing to bow to a tax collector. We never actually did anything, not to speak of, but we were plotting. And that sort of plotting would be an honorable task in the eyes of a New Englander, wouldn’t it be?”
“I suppose it would be,” shrugged Dan.
“We were as angry as any by all the outrages,” said Robby, sounding like he meant it and pointing his finger as he talked. “All those new taxes and all their devices for tightening the royal grip – to rule over our trade and to deny us our ancient liberties! Or at least most of us were. Grandpa was angry too. He was, until they signed the Declaration and protest turned into rebellion.”
“Most all of you were?”
“Indeed, indeed! We’ve as much reason as anybody to think…”
“So then why,” interrupted Dan, “did the colony of Nova Scotia never send delegates to the Continental Congress and lend its name to the protests?”
“Oh… I don’t know. There was talk about it but it never came to anything. And there’s this preacher there, who’s been a-firing everybody up with religion. There were too many men who were too busy saving their souls and not enough trying to save their liberties.”
“Ah yes, the ‘new light.’ It’s still got you going,” nodded Dan.
“But I figure we’ll still come around, soon enough, though… well… I imagine we will. I haven’t been back home for a long while now, so I can’t say what people are thinking there. And we’re isolated too, aren’t we? You could never march your Continental Army up to help us out, could you? It’s like we’re on an island. And it’s the same with Quebec. The Royal Navy can sail up the wide Saint Laurence as easy as it would the English Channel. We’re no better off than the isles of the Caribbean Sea. And you know it’s upon the islands of New York harbor that you’ve so many tories. Wherever you’re within spitting distance of the Fleet.”
“Whoever rules the seas will rule the islands. It’s the truth.”
“I suppose they will.”
“So here I am – a rebel in a red coat. Doing penance is what my mother would call it. She keeps sending me letters all full of religion. You should see them! All about my great sins and my great need to repent before it’s too late. I sometimes wonder if one of my sisters were to die, whether my mother might forget to mention it.”
“P.S.” joked the other prisoner, “our youngest passed away last month, God spare her soul.”
“And you’re from Nova Scotia too?” asked Dan.
“No no, I’m a Payter from East Sussex – jolly old England. East Sussex born and bred, and I don’t need to lie about it,” he said with a smile to Robby. “Yea, Oliver Payter’s my name, though most call me ‘Olly’.”
“But he’s for liberty too, he is,” insisted Robby. “He’s not here fighting for the love of the ruling class and their anointed king, no he’s not. He’s just a soldier of fortune, out for adventure and profit.”
“I am that. Truly I am. I’ve been doing my duty, but not for my love of George of Hanover, and not out of any allegiance to the great families that rule over county and parish. Us Payters have been for reform since the days of Cromwell, we have. Good east-country boys. There’s Payters who fought and died – fought against King Charles and his papists, we did! And there’s a lot of good men back home who sympathize with your demands and protests. Or… well… at least there were, before your Declaration.”
“They’re not anymore?” asked Dan.
“Well, our reformers felt a bit betrayed by it. We were all pushing for reform, all together – brothers all. And now it seems like you’ve abandoned us on our own. But… I don’t know. Like Robby here, I’ve been away from home. We only hear the opinions of our fellow soldiers now, and they’ll not tend to speak in favor of the enemy.”
“Not when an officer might be listening,” nodded Dan.
“What news we get to hear usually comes from a chaplain,” said Robby, “to keep us awake through the sermon.”
“So how did you hear the news from way up in Yonkers?” asked Dan, who now felt the two of them were likely telling the truth. There were a lot of deserters from the regulars and many were joining the Continental Army. They would usually be put together in units that did a lot of digging and cutting wood. The officers were reluctant to trust them, since they had already demonstrated their willingness to betray the oath they had sworn when they entered the British Army.
“We’re working, across the bridge. Beyond Yonkers, at a farm.”
“Ah yes, that’s where I’ve seen you,” said Dan. “Out on the road I’ve seen you. What you doing up there?”
“Digging a well.”
“Ooo, that’s a pleasant task.”
“It pays well enough though. We’re averaging a shilling a day for each of us. We’re paid by the foot with a bonus coming when we hit water.”
“A shilling a day?” asked Dan. “Good enough! You’re doing better than me. How’d you find work like that?”
“There’s a fellow with the commissary that’s comes and goes around here. Alvin Wyre’s his name.”
“Alvin!” laughed Dan. “I know him. A jolly fellow. He’s the one that had my pistols before the fellow I got them from.”
“He does a little trading on his own account,” said Robby with a knowing smile. “And not necessarily the legal kind.”
“The profitable kind then,” nodded Dan. “That’s what I need to do more of. I cut and saw wood, and I hoe the fields and for that I’m getting my room and board and no more. Except for whatever I can earn on my own by cutting extra firewood and selling it myself. I’m permitted to do that. But still, it ain’t no shilling a day.”
“I thought you were a soldier,” said Robby.
“No no, not yet. I’m ready and willing to fight but as of now I’m just convict labor. I got drunk and got in a fight. I won it fare and square but the boy was a sore loser and his father was even sorer! He got me charged and convicted for battery. I was told I’d be serving for the Royal Navy, but so far they’ve no need for me. Or maybe they don’t trust me. So, I’ve been rented out to a farmer. But not for long though. Me and Tim are going to join up, and you two are to be offered up as a gift.”
“So you’re one of us then, you might say,” chuckled Olly. “Sworn to serve the king, you are. And you’re just as ready as we are to desert.”
“I am that,” nodded Dan. “Only it’s not quite the same though, is it?”
“No, not at all” said Robby. “Now you don’t need to be aiming those pistols. We’re not about to make a run for it.”
“If we do make a run for it,” said Olly, “it’ll be to race you to the river and fight you for the boat.”
“To enlist with the Continentals?” asked Dan.
“And we wouldn’t be the first ones to do it either,” said Robby with a nod. “There’s plenty that have deserted to go join the rebels. The patriots, I should say. Though we hear your George Washington is loath to put us malcontents in with you good colonial boys. Infect his troops with their bad attitude, he figures. And I suppose he’s right about most of them.”
“You’re both wanting to stay here in America?”
“Stay here and live free!” said Olly with a nod. “And why not? What have I got to go back to in old England? Or Robby up in Nova Scotia? You live better over here, you do, the ordinary folks. A man just has to open his eyes and look around to tell. The houses are bigger and the cattle are fatter and everybody looks better fed and better dressed. And sooner or later there’s going to be peace talks and a general amnesty. That’s what they’re saying. The generals are talking tough but word has it that our Sir Billy – our Major General William Howe – is going to be the generous general in the end. They say he was only sent here because he loves you all so much. They say he even used to go and visit your Benjamin Franklin at his townhouse in old London town – part of his circle of admirers, he was.”
“I’ve heard that,” nodded Dan.
“But we’re figuring,” said Robby, “that if a man is thinking of staying and settling, then he’ll be two steps ahead of the game if he joins your army first. I figure we need to get to know a few people. And why? Because that way we’ll get to find out where a man’s best off going to settle, and what kind of business or trade to get into. And we’re told that they’ll grant a hundred acres of good land to every recruit, plus they’ll pay an eighty-dollar bounty upon enlistment. That’s what the talk is. Though some say that’ll only be paid at the end of the war. And they’re saying too that men of property, to avoid being drafted, are paying up to twenty pounds for somebody to sign up in his place and serve as his substitute.”
“So you two boys,” asked Dan, “have already been making plans to desert over to us?”
“Us and plenty more of us! There’s no work over in England. Seems like half the privates in the army are weavers who couldn’t find work weaving. If peace comes, King George won’t know what to do with us all.”
“Ah, but you’d best keep pointing those pistols at us,” joked Olly, “for then if we’re caught on our way across the river, then those pistols will spare us a charge of being absent without leave. And that’ll save us a few strokes of the lash, won’t it? That’s what you get, and they tell me the lash really stings.”
“Indeed, I’d best keep them pointed,” said Dan, trying to sound angry again, “for how do I know you ain’t just a-trying to sweet talk me and get me off my guard?”
“Well, I suppose you don’t know!” laughed Olly. “We could take you back as a rebel spy, couldn’t we? And those pistols would be all the proof they’d need to hang you. And we’d likely collect a reward too!”
“We would,” said Robby with a smile, “and we could use the money to get us across the river and off to join up with the Continentals!”
The conversation went on like this until the dimming of evening light started them wondering what had happened to Tim. Dan had gradually grown to believe that Robby and Olly were sincere in their desire to desert and immigrate. And that meant it was just the honesty and sincerity of Tim Euston that Dan might want to question now, what with Tim’s reluctance to mention his involvement with a killing that might be a murder.
They kept talking as they walked back to the wagon. Though it was raining again they were warm with enthusiasm, and before parting they agreed they would all go across and join up together in the same regiment. Dan and Tim would no longer have prisoners of war to show off, but they would get credit for bringing in two deserters who were eager to serve.
“Well,” said Olly. “I’m hoping your friend hasn’t got himself into trouble. Folks must be nervous in Yonkers, what with talk of a murderer on the loose.”
“They must,” agreed Dan.
“And with nobody in jail yet,” said Olly with a grin, “the women must be afraid of every shadow.”
“Half the men too,” said Robby. “You suppose your friend might have been caught up in the hysteria?”
“Oh… likely not,” shrugged Dan. “Now have I gotten you boys into trouble, keeping you out so late?”
“No no no,” said Robby, “nobody saw us, likely. We’ll just say we were kept waiting to load.”
“Now Dan,” asked Olly, “are you going to try walking across the bridge with those pistols?”
“Well, it’s either that or I leave them here.”
“I’m to use them to go and fight with, aren’t I?” said Dan as he straightened his shoulders. “So I’ve got to be willing to lay my life on the line, sooner or later.”
“Well, why don’t you take one of our little sacks of flour here and bury them down inside? I got a needle and I can sew the sack back up just like new.”
“You can spare me a sack full of flour?”
“Oh surely. Things get stolen off wagons now and then. We can’t keep our eyes on them all the time, eh? They’ll understand. They might make us pay for it but…”
“I’ll pay you for it.”
“No no no! You get us across the river,” said Robby, “and vouch for our good intentions. Then you won’t owe us anything.”
“I’ll do that just as soon as Tim finds a boat,” said Dan, shaking his head. “We should have seen him rowing past. I wonder what kept him?”
The word “tory” comes from the Irish, toraidhe, which means pursuer. It was a term for an Irish bandit until the 1680s, when English reformers started to apply it to supporters of the king.
The sugar islands Tim was thinking about were the Caribbean Islands whose staple crop was sugar cane. This was a highly profitable crop and import duties made it an important source of government revenue.
The dollar Robby referred to was the “Continental dollar” issued by the Continental Congress. At this time it traded for about one English shilling, a half-day’s pay for an ordinary worker.
The wickedness foretold of.
Sadie Euston stayed back and watched the two men march her brother up the street. What was he wanting to steal a boat for? she wondered as she followed, well behind them.
Old folk of the town, sitting on benches in front of houses, pointed and laughed. They could see Tim slouched over as Horace Davis held him by the collar. Clay Boodle walked alongside in a stiff, angry posture, one hand in a fist and the other gripping his fowling piece.
“What you got there?” called a man with grey whiskers. “Out a-hunting, have you been?”
“And a good day’s hunting it was!” Boodle called back with a smile as he lifted his weapon in triumph.
“Bagged a big one, looks like,” said another man.
“Not too big,” called a third from further along.
“’Twill be a fine hide to mount upon his wall,” called Horace. Laughter at this was heard all the way along the street.
Sadie wondered whether she should try catch up. But what for? she wondered. Is there anything I could possibly do or say? Still, she could not allow herself to walk away. It was embarrassing though, to be seen like this – even to be following at a distance. She went between two houses and cut through a meadow to come to the bridge that crossed the creek. She could see them, already past the bridge and up to the Philipse mansion. They were going around to the back, looking like they were delivering a carcass to the kitchen.
Once they were out of sight she crept slowly, hoping to get in close without being noticed. She went around the side of the mansion. It looked like no one was about. She went through a gate and crept along the path through the flower garden, past yellow tulips and blue irises, crouching with her head turned sideways to watch out for anyone who might be there. She made it to where stables and other outbuildings surrounded a square yard.
And there they were, with Tim standing between them. They looked like they were waiting for someone. Clay had set the butt of his fowling piece on his toe and leaned his weight on it, looking like a bored sentry at his post. Horace still had his hand on Tim’s collar but was allowing him to stand straight. Tim’s lower lip stuck out and he stared at the ground.
Then, from behind Sadie, came an explosion of furious barking! She shrieked, thinking she was about to be attacked and killed. A pair of mastiff hounds was in front of a kennel and they charged out to the end of their chains. They had allowed the men to pass without a growl, but the sight of Sadie, creeping along in so sneaky a posture, had raised their suspicions and ignited their fury.
“Ah-ha!” called Clay Boodle. “And here comes his partner-in-crime, eh?”
“No no!” gasped Sadie in a high-pitched plea. “I was only…”
“Another Euston, up to no good? Yea forsooth and we’ve all heard about the two of ye – the one instigating the other. Well then, maybe you should stay around and find out what happens to boys who are up to no good. See what might be in store for the girls who aid and abet them.”
“I… I just wondered what had happened,” insisted Sadie. “Is… is there anything wrong?”
“Wrong? Wrong she asks! Indeed there is something wrong! There’s plenty wrong, if you call the attempted theft of valuable property ‘something wrong’.”
“Theft of property?” asked the steward as he came to them.
“Yea, thievery ‘tis,” nodded Boodle. “Grand theft it is, and no less! Grand theft! And this here young scoundrel had the lock picked, the chain off, and my boat pushed halfway down and into the water. ‘Twas my livelihood that he was taking from me, and without a thought about any but himself. And then, once I confronted him, he did not even deny the malice of his intentions – not for a moment! Nay, he boldly admitted that… admitted that…”
“His intention to commit a crime?” asked the steward, helping him finish his sentence. “Well Tim Euston. I’m seeing a lot of you these days, aren’t I? And I’ve heard what the storekeeper, Nat Pellis, has had to say, I have. Indeed I have. So then boy, what have you to say for yourself this time?”
Tim hung his head and said nothing, knowing that to admit the same thing as he had told to Clay Boodle could get him hung for a spy. He had to come up with a story.
“He tells me,” said Boodle in a low voice, “that he was planning on rowing it down to the city and selling it. He was thinking he could get himself enough to have himself bound to a ship’s carpenter.”
Tim looked up at him, just for a moment, and looked back down. Boodle was lying to protect him from the far more serious charge.
“Well well, boy,” said the steward as he shook his head. “Does theft now seem a small offence on the day after a murder? Is that it? And here you’ve been apprenticed to a good carpenter – here in a fine town. But not good enough for you though, is it? Not up to your expectations? You’re not willing to earn an honest wage and take what’s been offered to you – generously offered to you? Not enough for your ambitions, is it? Eh? Is that it, boy?”
Tim kept his eyes on the ground, hoping the man would think him too ashamed to speak. “No, I suppose it wasn’t,” Tim finally said, so quietly he could barely be heard.
“No, he supposes it wasn’t,” sighed Boodle, shaking his head, “and ain’t this just in keeping with the spirit of the times we live in. When rebellion is all about us and when men rise up in defiance of their betters, then what sort of an example does that leave for poor stupid boys like this? Here he’s got it into his head that he can up and run off from his rightful master and steal my boat. And for what? To get himself more money, working somewhere down the river. Selling himself to the highest bidder!”
“Indeed,” nodded the steward, “it’s a sorry pass we’ve come to. The boy hears all the talk about rebel militias and rebel armies and then a rebel ‘Continental Congress.’ And from that, he conceives the notion that he can rebel against his master and against law and order – against all that stands in support of peace and security and godliness!”
“Tis the anarchy that was predicted,” said Boodle, shaking his head. “Yea, that is what it is. Murder and mayhem! Lawlessness and anarchy! And weren’t there a hundred sermons preached?”
“Weren’t there a thousand?” nodded the steward.
“Indeed, as wise men have said and written so many times – with rebellion will come a breakdown of all order. They’ve said that crime will abound and that we’ll soon have the rebel armies splitting into factions and fighting each other. Yea, and along with it a thousand errant boys, like this one here, will be out a-stealing and a-killing for their own profit – like we see here today! And perhaps yesterday, eh? How is it you were there at the scene of the crime? Was it a mere coincidence? Yea forsooth, ‘tis the wickedness foretold of – lawlessness and anarchy – the scourge of democracy!”
“Are you listening to this, boy?” asked the steward, as he gave a light slap to the side of Tim’s head. “Do you see what you’ve come to be a part of? Eh? Do you now?”
Sadie only heard this as she crept away. This sermonizing would likely go on and on, and she did not want to listen to it. She had received the same message enough times from her own master and mistress, for she lived in a tory household where only one opinion was allowed a voice.
“What’s he got himself mixed up with now?” asked a woman as Sadie made it onto the road.
“Ah… oh … he’s just…”
“Trying to steal Clay Boodle’s boat, is it?” asked another. “Now ain’t that a shameful thing...”
“Indeed yes, ‘tis a most shameful thing,” nodded Sadie as she continued on. She did not want to stay for this either. The woman would be airing her opinions and suspicions before other neighbors for as long as they would stay and listen. Everybody in the town would soon know, what with all of the clever remarks Clay Boodle and Horace Davis has shared with the town as they had led poor Tim up the street.
. . . . .
“He’s in jail?” asked Abby Euston when Sadie was back home. Both she and her mother served the same household.
“They’re saying he tried to steal a boat so he could sell it down in the city,” said Sadie. She had overheard what Tim had said to Clay Boodle, about the boat being needed by the army, but she could not tell their mother about that. Their mistress was there and listening. The Walkers were a family that was firm in its loyalty to the king, and Sadie could expect no sympathy. So Sadie only told them the story invented by Clay Boodle.
“What are they going to do with him?” asked Matilda Walker. She sounded angry and she could hardly be blamed for it. As servants, Abby and Sadie were members of the Walker household. The reputation that Tim was gaining for himself would reflect upon his sister and mother, and that in turn would taint the family who had taken them in. And this was not the start of it either. Rumors had been going around. People said the fatherless Eustons were rebels.
Abby had brought her two children from Boston four years before and many suspected they had brought with them the rebellious spirit that had infected so many in the infamous colony of Massachusetts. But Matilda Walker had another problem. She had always liked to keep her hands busy and she had spent too much time in the kitchen. Working alongside Sadie and Abby, she had grown fond of them – and Tim as well, who was often over to visit. She had even encouraged Tim and Sadie to practice their playing and singing so they could entertain her guests. She would even pay for instruction and coax Tim’s master to give him time off work to allow him to improve his talents. But Matilda’s generosity was not a sentiment shared by her husband. He had heard the rumors and was already wanting to throw them out onto the street. And now Tim Euston had been arrested for trying to steal a boat. It was not going to help matters.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do with him,” said Sadie, “but I’d imagine they’ll put him in the jail for now, it being a felony.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” sighed Abby. Stories would make it to the Philipse mansion and from there would go to British high command. Tim would certainly be interrogated. Anyone who tried to steal a boat was potentially a smuggler of illegal weapons or deserting soldiers. The thought of it – of what methods they might use to extract information – it terrified her. Sadie and Matilda could see it in her eyes. Abby held one hand to her cheek and she shook her head slightly, looking exhausted. She was not very old but with all her teeth gone she looked old. From a distance with her cap tied on, you would assume it covered hair that was already grey.
“I think we should get him some food,” said Sadie. “And I’ll have to be there right away, before they lock him in and go home. Though I suppose I could hook it onto a stick and poke it through the bars.”
“No no, girl!” ordered Matilda. “You can’t go in the jail yard.”
“No ma’am,” said Sadie. It was hardly a jail yard, or even a jail. There was a rough picket fence surrounding a little hut that was as much a community storage shed as it was a jail. In the fall it would likely be full of sacks of grain, and there would be no room for drunkards or thieves.
“Get the leftovers,” sighed Matilda. “I’ll get it to him.” She stood much taller than either of them – taller even than her husband. “And give him the meat too – there’s not much. And a blanket.” This was generous but Matilda had always been kind to them. Besides, Tim would soon be punished severely enough.
How would Tim be punished? If he was willing to swear his allegiance to the king, he might be sent off to sea. By spring the British Navy would need more sailors, especially if France joined the conflict. Rumors from Paris said the King of France had already made the decision. Tim would likely go to sea but not as a carpenter’s apprentice. He would be a common seaman, trained to work up on the masts. The captains preferred small wiry types for this, and they would need to have spares to replace those who were lost to disease and in battle. French admirals liked to use chain shot. This device was a cannonball made up of two halves of a thick iron shell. Each half was attached by a short length of chain. When fired at an enemy ship the two halves would spread out, pulling the chain tight. When it hit rope it tore right through. Dozens of ropes held the ship’s rigging in place to allow sails to be raised and turned. Canvas and heavy wooden timbers would come crashing onto the deck, taking sailors with them. As well, when ropes broke, the captain lost control of the ship, making it an easy target for enemy cannons that could be brought close and turned towards the hull. Whether a ship surrendered or managed to get away, there would always be dead sailors to be cast off the side. And Tim Euston could soon be one of them.
Tim could refuse this option, and many American prisoners of war and captured American privateers did. But then his prospects would be worse. As a thief he would not be eligible for a prisoner exchange. It is thought that about eight thousand Americans died of hunger and disease in prisons operated by the British, mainly in and around New York City. This would equal the eight thousand American soldiers who died while in service of the army or one of the state militias. When compared with the total population of two-and-a-half-million, it makes the War for Independence as deadly as the Civil War.
They’ll call you cowards.
When Dan walked into Yonkers next morning it was still cloudy and humid. The mud on the road was sticky and made his shoes heavy. I ought to have carried them, he thought.
In town he went directly to the house of John Gainer, the carpenter who employed Tim. While he was stopping in front to scrape the mud off his shoes, another one of John’s apprentices came out, saw him and said, “You hear what happened to Tim?”
“In the jailhouse!” grinned the boy. “Caught trying to steal a boat – Clay Boodle’s. Caught red-handed they’re saying. Quick marched up the street at gunpoint!”
“Well… what’d he want with a boat?”
“They’re saying he meant to sell it in the city and get himself bound to a ship’s carpenter.”
“The thieving devil!” laughed Dan.
“And the day before, Nat Pellis caught him at the scene of a murder – the weapon in his hands, he’s saying!”
“In his hands?”
“And then Tim ran to the colonel and told him who the dead man was! He said he’s a rebel spy!”
“Tim went to Colonel Philipse?”
“He did, but they’re saying that Nat figures he made it up and that Tim’s the murderer himself.”
“Why’s he think that?” asked Dan.
“Don’t know. ‘Cause he was there. And there’s been rumors about Tim. They say he’s been up to no good, eh? Suspicious activities! Him and his sister both, they say!”
“And now they’re figuring Tim’s likely to be a-going to sea anyways, only not to learn the ship’s carpenter’s trade. They’re saying he’ll be a-swabbing the deck and a-climbing the rigging.”
“Or cannon drill by the hour!” laughed Dan. “Yea, that may well be. Sailor Tim. Silly fellow, eh?”
“Always was a bit odd,” said the boy as he continued on his way.
Dan turned and walked in the other direction. “In jail?” he muttered, shaking his head. “Well, bless my cursed luck!” Dan’s hopes for advancement in the army had rested upon Tim. It was Tim Euston who was on closer terms with Sam Baker. He and Tim had helped Baker, and Baker was willing to help them, but mostly Tim. And other than Sam, neither of them knew anyone who was high up in the army. Dan had only met Sam once. He had only helped him on one day. That was all. But Sam had confided in Tim and placed his trust in him. And if an ordinary sort like me, thought Dan, wants to be more than just another pair of hands to be given a shovel, then it’ll have to be with Sam Baker’s introduction. It’ll have to be Sam who vouches for me, and he’ll have to rely on Tim’s advice. Tim will have to say that I’ll be willing to do my duty, whenever and wherever. I’ll need to be thought of as the kind of soldier who will get the task done and the goal accomplished. And it’ll have to be Sam Baker who says that Dan Eliot would be a good man for special operations, like going out on horseback to scout out the enemy, or risking capture to go burn a bridge, or going on a raid to capture prisoners and provisions. “I’ve got to get Tim out of jail,” muttered Dan as he shook his head, “for my time as a soldier might not be long and I don’t want to spend it at the digging of trenches.”
“Who are you talking to?” asked a girl’s voice. It was Sadie. She had been working in the garden.
“What’s happened to Tim?” asked Dan as he came over to her.
“I don’t know!” huffed Sadie as she went to the gate to come out onto the street. “Yesterday he came into town saying that he had to get something done and saying that he couldn’t tell me anything about it. He said it wasn’t my concern. Acting right uppity, he was! So I followed him down to the dock. He told me to go home but I stayed and I got to see him try steal a boat. And then I got to see Clay Boodle come out of hiding, a-pointing his fouling piece – ready to pepper Tim’s hide. And then I got to see Tim escorted up the street like a common thief – Horace Davis’ hand upon his collar – old folks laughing at him! And now he sits in the jailhouse.”
“And this after Nat Pellis claims he caught him red handed at the scene of a murder. It’s got the whole town talking! He had Colonel Philipse fooled for a while but not anymore.”
“Well what was he doing there anyways?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me,” she said, sounding like it was Dan’s fault.
“I don’t know nothing! I talked to him yesterday and he didn’t tell me nothing about it! All I know is what I’ve heard from redcoat regulars!”
“Well… ah… we were…” Dan said quietly, glancing back and forth to make sure no one was close enough to hear, “we’d captured two redcoats and we were going to take them across the river.”
“Indeed we did!”
“Me and Tim. Redcoat regulars they were, and still are. I had to turn them loose.
“You captured regulars and then turned them loose?”
“Yea indeed, and ‘twas me and Tim! You’ll never believe it! They were ready and willing to desert! They’re as eager as we are to get themselves across the river and over to join the Continentals and fight for liberty!”
“Were they?” asked Sadie, sounding doubtful.
“For sure they were! And still are! We talked a long time, we did, while waiting for Tim to fetch the boat.”
“Is that what…”
“But Tim never showed up so I released them. But they’re saying they’re still wanting to go along with us…”
“And you believed them?”
“Well,” said Dan as he stepped back. Sadie was almost nose to nose with him. “Without Tim and the boat I didn’t have much choice, did I? What with all the mist and drizzle my pistols likely couldn’t have fired anyway.”
“Indeed, pistols! Two nice little pocket pistols they are! I won them at cards! Worth four pounds! Maybe more! Likely more! Best luck I’d…”
“At cards?” asked Sadie, again stepping forward and forcing Dan back.
“From old Simon, it was.”
“He got them from Alvin Wyre. He’s a trader…”
“I know who he is. Always flirting, he is.”
“And always dealing,” chuckled Dan.
“So you just decided to place your trust in redcoat…”
“They could have taken me prisoner! They could have grabbed me and taken me in for a reward! My pistols would have been useless, even if they had been loaded. And neither of them tried nothing. But what they did keep doing was asking about opportunities here in America. And they even gave me a sack of flour to hide the pistols in so I could smuggle them across the king’s bridge. They could have taken me in and got a reward and…”
“They might yet!”
“Well… they haven’t yet!”
“And what are we going to do about Tim?”
“Well… ah… is he still in the jailhouse here?”
“He was still there an hour ago. I went into the jail yard and talked to him through the window.”
“Into the yard? You didn’t get caught?”
“No! And I wouldn’t have cared if I had. All I’d ever get would be a caning.”
“Well… that’d be bad enough.”
“And how are we going to get him out? They’re saying he’ll likely be sent to sea with the navy. Or to one of the sugar islands!”
“Well… ah… I guess if they haven’t taken him to the city yet… well… then they’ll likely not be taking him today. We… we could go out and see Robby and Olly.”
“The redcoat prisoners.”
“What kind of stupid…”
“They want to go across to Morristown and join up! They’re for the cause of liberty and they always have been. They want to stay here to be Americans and to live free.”
“And you believe them?”
“Yes I do!”
Dan and Sadie went out to look for Robby and Olly at the farm where they said they had found work. Another hired laborer pointed the way to the new well. Dan could see Olly turning a crank to lift a pail of mud out of the hole. Around him was lumber, cut and ready. They would fit together each section of the cribbing and put it in place as they went deeper.
“Robby must be down at the bottom digging,” said Dan to Sadie.
“Or hidden in the bushes with the other redcoats and ready to come...”
“Olly boy!” called Dan. “You don’t look so fancy now, do you?” Instead of his uniform, Olly wore a dirty shirt and breeches with a ragged straw hat. His feet were bare and muddy.
“Oh, and it does feel so good,” he said smiling. “Dan’s here!” he called down the hole to Robby. “And it looks like he’s brought his wife!”
“Only in my dreams,” said Dan to Sadie with a sweet smile. Sadie rolled her eyes in disgust.
“Haul me up!” called Robby. After the bucket was emptied, Olly lowered it back into the well. Robby was raised sitting on top of the bucket.
“Well,” said Dan, “I found out what happened to Tim and the boat. He got caught trying to steal it, and now he’s sitting in jail.”
“Well, it isn’t much of a jail. Good enough for drunks and lunatics. Just in town, here.”
“Is there a guard?” asked Robby.
“One of the town’s watchmen lives next door,” said Sadie.
“This is Tim’s sister, Sadie,” said Dan. “Even prettier than Tim, wouldn’t you say?”
“That still doesn’t say much for me,” said Sadie dryly.
“I am honored to meet you, Maid Sadie,” said Robby with a bow. “We only just got to meet your brother briefly, before Dan here led us away at gunpoint.”
“So I heard.”
“He had us shaking in our boots too,” said Olly with a grin. “A right crazed in the head frontiersman he looked to be – one of the sorts who was always a-creeping around and shooting at us from behind the bushes – all last fall. I’m still waking up at night hearing the sound of balls whizzing past, fired by one of your riflemen.”
“If they missed you,” joked Dan, “then it must be that you were meant for a better purpose.”
“Fortunately for me!” laughed Olly.
“Ah, but you’ll be safe in the arms of the Continental Army soon,” said Dan. “We’ll be granting you refuge, and we’ll maybe even teach you how to shoot a rifle, yourself.”
At this Robby and Olly gave a nervous look to Sadie and then back to Dan.
“Oh, worry ye not, my boys!” said Dan. “Sadie’s as firm a patriot as ever there was. She’s been reading all the seditious books and she even memorizes the stirring passages. Her and Tim both! They could recite sedition all the day long, they could! Recite some Tom Paine for us,” he said to Sadie. “Something from Common Sense.” She frowned and looked away.
“You ever read Common Sense?” Dan asked the others.
“Well, as a matter of fact, we’ve…”
“Tim and Sadie Euston could recite half of it to you by heart, they could,” said Dan with a nod. “It’s like they figure Tom Paine to be a prophet of the Almighty, it is, almost! Go on! Recite us some…”
“That’s not necessary,” said Robby with a sympathetic smile. “We got hold of a copy ourselves and we’ve been reading it.”
“Have you?” asked Sadie, as her eyes lit up.
“And the two of them play and sing together too,” said Dan. “Tim on his fiddle and her on hers! Oh, and you should hear them sing. Like a pair of doves they are.”
“Now that I’d like to hear,” said Olly. “Only we’ll leave off Tim.”
“Let’s get back to pressing matters,” said Robby, as a courtesy to Sadie. “I’m impatient to be crossing over and heading for Morristown.”
“We all are,” agreed Olly, “just as soon as we get some better luck at the stealing of boats.”
“The seizing of boats,” corrected Dan. “What we do is in rightful defense of a sovereign nation.”
“How will you break him out?” asked Sadie.
“Well…” said Robby, but he said nothing more. They all remained silent.
“What’s it like?” asked Olly.
“You could pry the doors open with a good big crowbar,” said Sadie. “You’d only have to feed the neighbor’s dogs until they’re too lazy to bark. It’s been done before.”
“And we’ve got my two pistols,” bragged Dan.
“Is it right in town?” asked Robby.
“Right in the middle.”
“It’d be risky. The town must be jumpy, what with a murderer on the loose.”
“And Tim being a suspect,” chuckled Dan.
“Tim is?” asked Robby.
“Oh yes. It was Tim that the storekeeper caught at the scene of the crime.”
“So then it was Tim,” asked Olly, “who went to the justice of the peace and said that he was a rebel spy?”
“It was,” said Dan. “I just learned it all now, from Sadie.”
“Well well,” sighed Robby.
“But we still ought to get him out,” said Dan.
“Ah… well,” said Olly, sounding reluctant. “It’ll be risky.”
“You can’t just leave him there!” insisted Sadie. “He got caught trying to help the two of you desert! How will it look over in Morristown when word gets out that you left one of your own behind when you could have gone back for him? They’ll call you cowards and they’ll laugh at you!”
“Ah… well…” shrugged Olly as he looked down at his muddy feet.
“He had to go to Colonel Philipse,” said Sadie, “for the storekeeper was accusing him of being the killer! Who’d have taken the word of an apprentice over a storekeeper? And especially with all the rumors about his suspicious activities! Tim’s as true to the cause as any you’ll find!”
“We do need him,” said Dan. “He’s the one who’s in good with higher-ups in the army. And if we want to fight we may as well be ready to start risking our necks now as later. We’ve got to show them what we’ve got to offer. And now we’ve got an opportunity, don’t we? What do you think? Show them what we’re made of?”
“Indeed we ought to,” said Robby with a nod.
“You’re just lucky,” said Sadie, “that Tim wasn’t taken down to the city already. They don’t leave them here in Yonkers for long.”
“Well then,” said Olly with a confident smile, “I suspect they’ve left Tim too long already, for they’ll be a-losing him tonight! Won’t they be?”
“Or they’ll be gaining three more,” teased Sadie.
“Four more,” laughed Dan, “for you’ll be helping us, girl. We’ll be needing you to keep feeding the dogs.”
“What’ll we do if the dogs start barking?” asked Olly.
“But you’ll be there in your lovely uniforms,” joked Sadie, “so you could grab Dan and tell him he’s under arrest and go collect a reward.”
“Aye aye, there’s an idea!” said Robby. “Why don’t we just put on our uniforms and go get him? We say we’ve orders to take him to the city. We’ll say there’s a call out for all the convict labor they can get their hands on. And if the watchman asks to see a written order then we could say we were told to make haste. We’ll tell him that he’ll have to answer to our colonel if we come back empty handed.”
“We ought to go get him right away then,” nodded Dan. “He’ll likely still be there until tomorrow, but who knows?”
“We’ve our uniforms right here,” said Olly, pointing to a pair of knapsacks.
“Indeed, and nothing to hold us back then,” said Robby with a smile. “It’ll be easy as stealing a boat.”
What was a caning? A caning was a severe spanking inflicted with a cane. This was a stick about a yard long and no thicker than a man’s thumb. It was not necessarily less painful than a whipping with a whip made of rope or leather. Caning was for children under sixteen – a boy on his bare buttocks and a girl through her shift – a light linen under-dress. An adult was whipped on the back. An adult woman would be whipped through her shift, unless guilty of prostitution, blasphemy or another particularly vile crime.
Whether a harsh sentence was imposed would often depend on local tradition and the disposition of the judge. There was little consistency in the severity of either a caning or a whipping. The intensity of pain, the humiliation and the degree of any scarring varied greatly with the individual. After thirty or forty lashes, numbness would usually set in and the pain would decline. A particularly proud and determined man or woman would often endure a large number of lashes without collapsing or crying out.
Very few people at this time would have thought of caning or whipping as unjust or immoral, so long as the number of strokes was not great. A common sentence for a minor offense, like slander or trespass, would be ten shillings or ten strokes of the lash. A shilling was a good day’s pay, so very often an ordinary sort would opt for the whipping.
If you want to fit in.
“Such a pair of dandies,” chuckled Dan as he shook his head. “I have never seen the like of it, I am sure.” He was watching Robby and Olly help each other with their rollers. The three of them were in a barn to wash up. They had been clean in five minutes but dressing seemed to take forever. A “roller” was a bandage swath worn around the neck. It had to be wrapped almost tight enough to cut off the flow of blood and was so stiff it forced the soldier to maintain an erect stance.
“You try being less than dandified,” said Robby, “and you’ll be made to regret it.” He was trying to make a joke out of it but Dan could hear the resentment in his voice.
“Oh yes,” said Olly, “you’ve got to make sure that you’re as clean and presentable as any in the line or the sergeant will call you forward and use you for demonstration purposes. And if the sergeant doesn’t give the business his full attention then he’ll hear about it from the lieutenant. Appearances are a serious business in the regulars.”
“Ah, but our mothers and aunties are all so proud to see us in our uniforms,” said Robby who now stood straight and tall. “And when they see you on parade, marching up and down! Oh, their faces beam, they do.”
“And the girls too – all a-giggling and a-sighing,” nodded Olly with a wink. “They’ll all be thinking you so fine and handsome. You should see the way they behave back in old England.”
“Oh they’re like that here too,” said Dan as he shook his head. “Here as much as anywhere, I’d suspect. But especially since there’s been battles fought. Now that they’re all scared for their lives, they’re a-falling in love with soldiers faster than ever. And it’s especially the better dressed soldiers – as if they’re more capable of protecting them.”
“Truly? There are well dressed soldiers here?” joked Robby.
“Some of our militias come out in fine uniforms. You should have seen the...”
“Now you remember, Dan Eliot,” interrupted Olly as he pointed a finger. “You too will be wanting yourself a nice suit of clothes, once you’re in the army. With all your schooling you’ll surely be an officer before too very long. Now I am, of course, assuming you’ll be demonstrating courage in battle to round out your qualifications. But that won’t be enough, no no. Schooling and courage under fire is both needed – and still that won’t be enough. What they’ll want, is to see you dressing the part of a gentleman. And why not? It’s just human nature to want the better sort to be better dressed, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is,” said Dan. “I’ll just have to figure out where I’ll find the money to buy the clothes.”
“Oh it’s easy,” said Robby. “You wait ‘till the next battle and after you win you stay behind, find a corpse your size and strip him.”
“You make it sound easy,” snorted Dan. “Now we’d better be getting going while Tim’s still…”
“Your clothes will determine how far you’ll go towards your goal.”
“And you’ve got it easy, compared to some,” said Olly, “It’ll be way cheaper to get yourself qualified for promotion in your army than it would in the king’s regulars. The purchase price of a commission in the British Army is… well it’s a lot.”
“So I’ve heard,” shrugged Dan. “No, an officer’s commission in this land doesn’t require proof of family wealth and...”
“But truly, is it like that in every colony, and every regiment too?”
“Well I don’t know,” said Dan. “At the start of the war the ones who got commissions were those who’d already been an officer in the militia. That or in another army. The redcoats, some of them, or a foreign army. And, of course, it helped to have friends in the state assembly. But they’re saying now that there’s going to be more promoting from the ranks.”
“And at no cost?” asked Olly.
“Well, you can’t say it costs nothing, for your father has already paid for your education, hasn’t he? But now that there’s been a few battles then they’ll surely be offering promotions as reward for… for feats of exceptional courage. I suppose you could call that the paying of a heavy price.”
“Or the placing of a heavy bet,” said Olly. “It’s the fallen heroes who’ve paid the heavy price.”
“In the Continentals,” said Dan, “it costs what it takes to make yourself worthy of the promotion, and that’s still a lot.”
“Well, it should cost a lot… of something,” shrugged Olly. “But in the English regulars… well! You’ll see seventeen-year-old captains shouting out orders while thirty-seven-year-old sergeants try not to laugh!”
“And it isn’t just the experience they lack,” said Robby, “it’s often the basic aptitude. There’s some who were just never meant to be a soldier and they end up commanding soldiers. Forced into the army, they are, by fathers – and mothers too. Forced in and then promoted by purchase – when their true calling was to be a priest or a physician. But enough talk. Let’s be off after poor Tim.”
“How’s your hand writing?” Olly asked Dan.
“Oh… tolerably good.”
“An officer needs to wield a pen a good deal more often than a sword, and his writing ought to be as elegant as his clothing. And too, he has to be well versed in his social graces.”
“Oh, them I’ve been schooled in,” said Dan as he rolled his eyes heavenwards. “We learned all about them back at Boston Latin. The schoolmaster had a book called The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior and he drilled us on them like they were the Law of Moses. He liked to make us copy them out for punishment. ‘Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.’ ”
“Well,” chuckled Robby, “no wonder you can sound well schooled when you choose to. You aren’t at all the nasty little beggar we first took you for.”
“So there you have it, then,” said Olly. “You’ll be ready and fit to take up your commission, just as soon as you’ve lasted through a battle or two without soiling your breeches. You’ve just got to hope that a redcoat sniper has created an opening for you, by killing your ensign.”
“And don’t forget,” said Robby, “to have your fancy new clothes ready in advance.”
“Yes yes yes,” agreed Olly. “And you won’t have to dress the part just when in uniform. It’ll be when in your civilian attire too. And that’ll cost you a few pounds, but still, it’ll be way cheaper than a commission in the regulars.”
“What does a commission cost?” asked Dan.
“Well, it depends on the regiment and on the posting,” said Robby. “The official rate to start yourself out as an ensign is four hundred pounds.”
“Four hundred!” said Dan, shaking his head.
“Though what you’ll actually pay,” said Robby, “can be quite a bit more, or less, depending upon the… well, on the supply and demand. And the list says it’ll be five hundred if you want to rise to lieutenant, though you’ll get your four hundred back when you sell your ensign’s commission to the next one to come along with an offer to purchase. Now you used to pay that much at least, back before the war, but since your riflemen have been creating so many vacancies, they say the price has been driven well down. And they say that out upon the sugar islands you could buy yourself in for even less – much less.”
“Oh but the heat and wetness there fouls the air awfully,” said Olly, “so you’ll run a severe risk of dying from some sort of tropical fever. And even if you don’t, you’ll be commanding conscripts and convicts and their vileness of temperament will foul the morale of everyone – including you. And your wife, too, if you’ve got one, and if she ain’t dead of a fever too.”
“Well, I don’t know that it’s as bad as they say,” sighed Robby. “Some think the islands a wonderful place. Some talk of how there’s never a cold draught and the sun shines forever. I don’t know who to believe.”
“Well,” said Dan as they started back down the lane, “they say you’re always taking a gamble when you choose your trade.”
“Indeed, always a gamble,” shrugged Olly, “though with better odds for the better sort of man.”
“But four hundred pounds for a good posting,” said Dan. “I was at sea for six months and I only saved four pounds and that’s more than most of us put aside. Though they say that, with the war, a sailor’s wages are two or three times that now, if you survive to collect them. And I could have made myself another one or two had I spent every spare hour at handiwork – knitting socks or carving spoons. So… that means that if I sailed every summer and if I spent every winter chopping wood, then I’d maybe save eight or ten pounds in a year. Maybe fourteen while the war lasts. And at that rate I could be an ensign in only… what? Forty years?”
“No no,” said Olly, “you’d rise to able seaman and then to boatswain, or maybe even to shipmaster, since you’ve got your schooling. Then you’d be trading on your own account. You’d have your four hundred in only… well, likely in ten years if you don’t spend half of it on women and rum. But faster still if you were to go a-privateering and have yourself some luck.”
“I’m still considering privateering.”
“But you’d need more than just the purchase price of your commission,” said Robby. “If you’re not born into a military family then you’ll likely have to make a substantial gift to the colonel to get yourself a referral, though it might not be quite so much now. And you’ll need a hundred or two to get yourself an adequate horse and a handsome sword and a spare uniform and all the rest. Now once you’ve got your commission you’ll earn an income of seventy pounds a year but they’ll take a lot off for expenses and taxes, and then you’ve got your mess bills. You’ve got to maintain the standards of a gentleman or you’ll be all but shunned by your fellow officers.”
“Now don’t go using the word ‘gentleman’ too loosely,” said Dan with a smile. “For some in this land it’s come to mean something less than flattering.”
“Has it?” laughed Robby. “Well good for ye then! But truly, if you’re an officer and you’re not spending your inheritance, you’ll have to be plundering the enemy or taking bribes or getting mixed up in some other corruption. You’ve either to be rich or resourceful, as they say.”
“There are some officers who live on their income,” said Olly, “Robby’s cousin, for example. He’s got a cousin who’s a lieutenant in our regiment. But it’s not much of a life for him. He’d be happier were he a sergeant, I’m sure.”
“So then why,” asked Dan, “would any ordinary man ever want to be an officer in the regulars?”
“Oh… ambition… pride.”
“Foolish pride is what it is,” said Robby. “Some are just not satisfied with what hath been accorded unto them by the Almighty.”
“But four hundred pounds,” said Dan, “just to be an ensign. What a system – rewarding you for your parent’s wealth rather than your own ability! But I suppose that’ll be why we’ll end up driving all you redcoats back into the sea – because we’ll have promoted our officers on merit. And you’ll lose the war for lack of merit.”
“No no no, there’s still plenty of merit,” said Olly. “Merit just doesn’t happen to be what they’re handing out most promotions for, at least not in the infantry. But the officers have their pride and they’re still willing to make an effort to educate themselves and to do their best. Usually they are. Some even spend a year of two in one of the military schools in France, though they’re as much schools for training gentlemen as they are for training military officers.”
“But you’ll likely win the war nonetheless,” shrugged Robby. “That’s what older and wiser men are saying. They say that so long as enough of you’re determined to keep up the fight, year after year, then eventually the taxpayers of old England will buckle under the strain. And they’re saying they’re a-buckling already. You’ll win the war for liberty, and only because we’ll lose the war for funding.”
“Now now boy, say not that,” joked Olly. “Both you and I have got to be saying ‘we’ will win the war for liberty. Once we’re across the river, the two of us have got to start getting used to saying ‘we’, before we forget to say it when we’re over at Morristown.”
“And maybe” chuckled Robby, “we should start by addressing Dan as ‘sir’.”
“Well sir, we could give it a try,” said Olly as he came to attention and gave Dan a salute.
“If it please ye, sir,” joked Robby with a bow and a tone of deference. “But I would think we’ll need to be keeping our distance from you, sir – you being a known associate of those who murder rebel spies and inform on them to a tory justice of the peace.”
“Ah yes,” laughed Dan. “Tim Euston, a friend to a rebel spymaster or maybe the murderer of a rebel spy – a patriot or perhaps an informer to a prominent tory. But… fear ye not, boys. The rumors are wrong, for Sadie and I know that Tim’s honest to the patriot cause and surely our best of friends.”
“Indeed he surely is,” said Olly. “Now no more talk. Let us pick up our pace and hope all goes well.”
“Oh I’m sure it will,” said Robby, “so long as Tim hasn’t sent a message to his friend, Colonel Philipse!” They all laughed at this but grew solemn as they gave it more thought.
What was an ensign? The order of military rank was: private, corporal, sergeant, ensign, lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, general. A sergeant commanded a squad, a captain a company and a colonel a regiment. Once the fighting started these groups were usually reorganized into platoons and battalions. An ensign was sometimes called cornet or second lieutenant. A cadet was a boy in training to become an ensign.
As the lowest ranking commissioned officer, an ensign would have authority over sergeants much older and far more experienced than himself. Unlike a sergeant, an ensign would always have to be well educated. This would allow him to study manuals and legal codes, and to examine accounts and records. Ideally, an ensign would have been brought up to be a gentleman, giving him more of a stake in the established order.
“Gentleman” was never a legally defined term but everyone knew what it meant. Gentlemen looked, talked and dressed like members of the gentry. The gentry’s clothing was expensive and in the current year’s style. They studied literature, law and foreign languages, and had to be willing to spend heavily on the entertaining of those who shared their rank in society. Gentlemen made up the leadership of church, armed forces, courts and all other levels of government.
Whether rich or poor, it was a rare person who did not accept a division of society into lower, middle and upper classes. In practice, about 50% were regarded as lower, 45% as middle and 5% upper. This allocation of political responsibility was, however, much less clear in America, especially New England, where many advocated a leveling of social hierarchy. Still, most believed that some sort of structure had been ordained by God and was necessary for peace, security and prosperity.
Looking for a jailhouse.
By the time Robby and Olly were into town the midday heat was burden enough to take their minds off the threat of getting caught and hanged. Sweat was dripping from their brows and stinging their eyes. The uniforms imposed upon British soldiers were never comfortable and even with the coat off the tight fitting costumes were a torment.
Dan had walked faster and was already through town by the time they arrived. There were people in the street but it was still quiet for Yonkers. The summer before twice as many had resided there. Those who remained were wondering whether they would come to regret their courage. There was sure to be more fighting. Control of the Hudson River was seen as necessary by both armies. It was a wide and deep river with tidal currents flowing far inland. If the British invaders could sail back and forth without fear of bombardment from fortresses atop the cliffs and hills, they would be able to supply a chain of garrisons – all the way to Albany, one hundred and sixty miles inland. They believed that they would gain the support of the majority of residents, who were still loyal to the king but had been scared into silence by rebels. Control could be maintained over the whole region and the thirteen colonies would be split in two, preventing army troops from rushing to where they were needed – to wherever the British might choose to invade by sea.
“Now remember,” said Robby to Olly, “we’re tired, we’re hot, and we just want to get the prisoner delivered and ourselves home in time for supper. As long as that’s how we look and talk, then we’ll not be suspected of anything. If we start smiling and being extra courteous then we’re asking for a noose round our neck.”
“Keep your advice to yourself, soldier-boy,” sneered Olly, showing how well he could play his part.
Robby looked to a woman in a white bonnet and an apron covered in stains. “We’re looking for the jailhouse,” he called.
“That would be it right over there,” she said, pointing as she continued past. The structure was small, looking more like a farmer’s granary. It had one door on the ground level and an outside stairway that led to a second door under the peak of the roof. The lower door was bolted securely. Prisoners got in and out by being lowered into the cell through a trap door. In the fenced-in yard, a pair of goats nibbled on the spring grass. There were houses on both sides of the lot and two men sat on a bench in front of the further one. An old dog lay at their feet. Robby and Olly walked towards them.
“Where would we find the watchman on duty?” Robby asked, sounding tired and impatient.
“That would be me,” said the smaller of the two.
“You’ve got a prisoner?”
“We do have one, just next door,” he said, pointing to the jail with the stem of his pipe.
“We’ve orders to take him down to the city.”
“Well do you now?” he said, smiling with sincere relief. “Well and that is a blessing for me, then.” With the sun out and clouds showing signs of dryer weather to come, farmers would be cutting grass and stacking hay. Almost every man in Yonkers farmed, even if he has a busy trade. Transporting a prisoner to New York City would require a full day. The watchman would be reimbursed for the cost of a horse and wagon, but watchmen were volunteers and a good day wasted would be money lost.
“The army’s transporting any and all prisoners now?” asked Clay Boodle, who sat next to the watchman on the bench.
“It seems so,” sighed Robby. “Anything to be of service.” He sounded like he felt it was more than the watchmen of Yonkers deserved.
“Building goodwill,” said Olly with a shrug.
“Ah yes,” said the watchman as he got up, “so that we’ll decide to start paying our taxes. Well you know, some of us were willing to pay them all along, if only the Sons of Liberty had allowed…”
“Good to hear it! Now we’re needing to make haste.”
“Oh, don’t you worry now, boys,” nodded the watchman. “I’ll have the young miscreant out for you in two wags of a dog’s tail. This fellow here,” he said pointing, “was the intended victim of the crime – our town ferryman, Clay Boodle.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Robby with a nod.
“Caught him in the act, I did,” Boodle bragged. “I knew he was up to no good when I saw him coming along the street, his little sister tagging along and him trying to get rid of her. I got my old fowling piece out and snuck up on him. Like a-hunting rabbit, it was.”
Robby only nodded, as if he did not want to waste time. The watchman had gone in the door and was back already with a key.
“You’ve got your orders with you?” asked Boodle, sounding suspicious.
“On paper?” asked Robby. “Didn’t give us one. Captain Cooper just told us to go get him, and it’s always best when you don’t ask any questions, eh?” said Robby with his brows raised.
“The soldier’s life!” laughed the watchman. “I remember it well. Hurry up and wait! Don’t ask questions or you might get the answer you didn’t want. Indeed, I remember it well. Follow me, boys,” he said and started to the jail.
Robby took a brief glance back at Boodle. He looked displeased. As they walked away, following the watchman, Robby was expecting to hear him say something – to demand some evidence of authority. He was so sure of it he felt a tingling in his scalp, like he used to feel when he was a boy and the schoolmaster was about to hit him over the head with a stick. His muscles were tightening, his neck hurt and he was sweating out of every pore. Boodle could cause them serious problems, but so far no words had been spoken. No call of “Just hold on there!”
“He’s not too big a boy,” said the watchman as he opened the gate. The two goats came to them, hoping to be fed something better than grass. The children often brought them treats from a garden. “You’ll have no great trouble with him. I’ve a length of rope if you want, to tie a leash to his leg so you don’t end up a-chasing him down the road.”
“We’d thank you for that,” said Olly. “I remember last fall, a prisoner bolted from his guard and escaped. He tried to catch up but the boy outran him and got clean away. Earned his guard a hundred lashes, that did.”
“Oh dear! That’s a heavy price to pay for not running fast enough.”
“But he didn’t even have his hand on the boy’s collar,” said Robby, sounding like he felt no pity for the guard.
“Well,” said the watchman, “this one we got here is a short one, but sometimes the short ones will run like a rabbit, eh? And he’s reason to run. There’s been rumors about him and his suspicious activities. Some say he’s as vile a rebel as any. And just yesterday, he was caught stealing a boat and the day before he was caught at the scene of a murder. He ran to the justice of the peace and told him it was a rebel spy. The old gentleman believed him but there’s some who aren’t so sure. But… nobody’s got any better idea of who the killer might be. But whatever may come of it, there’s more than one who won’t be sorry to see Tim Euston tried and convicted.” The watchman was saying this as he climbed the stairs to the second floor. Inside, they saw a trap door with a very large padlock. The watchman crouched to unlock it and pull it open. The cell was dark and a bad smell rose out of it. He took hold of a rope that hung from a pulley over the trapdoor.
“Tim Euston!” he called down the hole.
“What?” replied Tim, sounding like he had just been woken up.
“Up and on your way, my boy!” the watchman called in a teasing voice. “The redcoats have come for thee. The hour of judgment in drawing nigh!”
Judgment? Tim repeated to himself, expecting the worst. He had not even considered the possibility that anyone might try help him escape.
Using a winch with a large crank, the rope was lowered into the cell. On the end was a stick. Tim put it between his legs, held on tight and, with a loud squeaking, the watchman cranked him up. When his head came through the hole he saw the faces of Robby and Olly. He knew immediately that they were up to something, and he was sure Dan was somehow involved. Tim’s eyes grew wide with hope, but then he remembered the watchman and quickly looked away. Robby froze. He realized that Tim might have betrayed them and he turned to the side, praying the man had not noticed.
“Pull him over,” said the watchman. Olly took hold of the rope, pulled Tim away from the hole and helped him off.
“There you go, boys. Yours to keep,” said the watchman. It was only then that Robby let go of his breath. The man must have had his eyes on the winch and not on Tim. All was still going as they had hoped. Now, they only needed to make it past the suspicious Clay Boodle.
“And a piece of rope?” asked Olly.
“Ah yes, a leash for the dog,” chuckled the watchman and he went for the short length of twine that was hanging from a wooden peg. He tied one end around Tim’s ankle in a firm double knot and handed the other end to Olly who wound it round his fist.
“Duly delivered into your worthy hands,” joked the watchman as he held the door for them to leave. Robby went out first, keeping his eyes lowered as he backed down the steps. On the ground he glanced up and down the street, expecting to see Boodle with other men – to see a row of accusing eyes. But there was only a boy pushing a wheelbarrow and beyond him a stray pig sniffing around for something to eat. Perhaps Boodle had been called away on business. Either that or he was rounding up enough men to take on the suspicious looking soldiers.
“Well, I do thank ye for taking him off my hands,” sighed the watchman. “Or I thank your superiors, eh? Whoever gave the order.”
“Always of service,” said Robby. Again he was trying to act bored and impatient but this time his voice had not come out as intended. His words were anxious and afraid. The watchman gave him a curious look but said nothing.
“We wish you a good day,” said Olly and they turned to walk south towards the edge of town, first slowly and then faster. All three could feel their hands shaking. This was a major offence. They could hang for it, alone. They kept going, waiting for a shout – waiting for the sound of running feet.
A dog barked furiously at them from where he was tied up close to a house. He could sense something was wrong – that they were up to no good. But still, no one called out.
Once out of town they picked up the pace, praying that their plot was going to succeed. But even if it did, questions would be asked. Word would eventually get back to their superiors. But by then, with luck, they would be across the Hudson and on their way to Morristown.
Delivered to the enemy.
“Not too fast now,” whispered Olly as they walked along. It was a rainy spring and they carefully avoiding ruts filled with water. While they were in town a bank of dark clouds had been building in the west. It had now caught up to them and the wind carried spits of rain.
“Don’t look back,” said Robby. “They might be following and for sure they’ll see the fear in your eyes. And that’ll be enough to inspire them to act, won’t it?”
“Just like running from a dog,” said Olly. “You run from a dog and the dog will come after you.”
“Indeed,” said Robby, “they’ll not want to interfere with us so long as they think we act under orders. But if we betray our fear they’ll know what’s what and they’ll know how to earn themselves some of the king’s silver.”
“When can we look back?” asked Tim.
“Wait wait,” said Olly. “Tim, you could look back. They’ll not expect a cool look in your eyes.”
“Of course,” laughed Tim and he glanced back. “No one! Not a soul!”
“Well, thanks be!” gasped Robby in relief. “I thought we were done for! I thought they were there for sure! I could feel their breath on my neck! That old Clay Boodle looked ready to… ready to raise a hue and cry and lead the whole town after us and...”
“So what are we going to do?” asked Tim.
“Well… I don’t know,” said Robby with a shrug. “Back in Yonkers they’ll be thinking that you’re going down to the city to stay. That’s where they’re taking all who’ve been charged with major crimes. So you’ll have to keep yourself well clear of Yonkers. Dan went ahead of us and through town. Maybe he’ll think of something.”
“But what if he doesn’t?”
“Go hide in the woods, I guess, and hope it doesn’t rain.” As Robby said this a fresh gust of wind brought a few more drops. They turned to take a look at the clouds. Rain was coming for sure.
“Maybe there’s an empty shed somewhere,” suggested Olly.
“No,” said Tim, shaking his head, “not that I know of. Not unused.”
“Doesn’t Dan live around here?”
“Yes, but there’s dogs outside and the house is full of women. If one of them sees me and goes to town and talks, then I’m found out. I could… I could go hide in the cowshed behind where my sister lives. I could follow the woodland over there and circle back towards town and then wait ‘till dark. The garden backs out onto a pasture and there’s woods beyond. And the dog there knows me and won’t bark. I could get myself inside and when she comes out to milk the cows, I could get her to bring me some food.”
“Now you’re assuming you can make it there,” said Robby. “That old Clay Boodle – he might smell you coming.”
“He might,” shrugged Tim, but as he said this they heard someone whistle from down a narrow lane. In behind some trees they could see someone half hidden behind branches.
“Over here!” he called with a wave of an arm. It was Dan Eliot.
First they looked back to see who was on the road. It was empty, except for a wagon that was far in the distance. The woman on the road must have gone down a pathway. Keeping their pace slow, they followed the lane. If the man on the wagon could see them then they would have to hope he had not been talking to Clay Boodle.
“All went as planned?” asked Dan with a grin, once they were into the woods and hidden from sight.
“As well as could be hoped for,” said Olly.
“But we’d best be getting a boat as soon as we can,” said Robby.
“And that’s easier said than done,” muttered Tim.
“But since we’re all together,” joked Dan, “we could grab Clay Boodle and take him as prisoner.”
“We could dress him in Robby’s uniform,” laughed Olly. “Robby won’t be needing it anymore!”
“Wait wait!” said Dan, sounding like he had just realized something very important. “Before we cross over, we should try to grab the next pair of redcoats who passes by. There’s sure to be one or two coming along. There always is.”
“Maybe we ought to just get ourselves across the river,” said Tim, sounding more mature.
“No no no!” insisted Dan. “Since we’re going anyways, we may as well take a boatload. And I want to go back for my pistols. They’re at home. They’re worth too much to leave behind.”
“We’ll need a crowbar if we’re going to pry the chain off a boat,” said Robby. “We’re not likely to find a boat left for the taking. There’s too many thieves and deserters about these days.”
“And murderers, if we can believe Nat Pellis,” joked Dan with a wink at Tim. “But with my pistols we could fight them off! I could be home and be back here again with pistols and a crowbar in no more than a half hour. Not even that! And meanwhile the three of you could keep an eye on the road for redcoats. You could lure a couple of them down here with a promise of a bottle of rum, and then say you’re waiting for me to bring it. We could break the news to them once I’m back and I pull out a pistol instead of a bottle.”
“No, wait,” said Olly, with his hands up as if in amazement. “I know what’s better than redcoat prisoners – and easier to carry too. There’s those three crates of cartridge boxes in the storehouse, isn’t there? Didn’t your cousin tell us of how they’re so short of good ones in the rebel army?”
“Aye aye, he did,” said Robby.
“They’re short of cartridge boxes?” asked Tim.
“Oh, indeed yes,” agreed Robby, nodding his head. “We’ve been told your army is having to make do with shoddy goods. My cousin – he’s a lieutenant – he says half the time they aren’t using cartridges at all – still using powder horns and taking forever to reload. But when you do use cartridges then you’ve got to protect them from getting wet or getting broken open, so you need a good strong cartridge box with a thick leather flap – a good wide one too. You’ll need it for when there’s heavy rain, like we’re probably going to be getting tonight.”
“Can’t they just make cartridge boxes?” asked Tim.
“I suppose they would if they could. There’s been a scarcity of good leather and the Continentals are always short of money, aren’t they? Cousin says they’ve been trying to use painted canvas instead of leather but the paint cracks and then the rain gets through. And often they don’t have proper shoulder straps either. They’ve been tying them on with rope and that makes for slower reloading because the thing flops around.”
“But how could there be a shortage of leather here?” asked Tim. “There’s cattle everywhere!”
“Well, you’ve too many tories and not enough whigs, I suppose,” said Robby with a sympathetic smile. “Or maybe your whig farmers are only patriotic until it comes time to go to market. More hard money in the hands of George Washington would solve most all of your problems.”
“Well!” huffed Tim, but he could say no more. It was embarrassing to think of it. Everybody had heard of how poorly equipped the army was.
“But just wait,” bragged Olly, “until the generals over in Morristown see us bringing in three crates of them. Three hundred of the best quality – the finest English leather – fashioned by London craftsmen. Why, when they see them, their eyes will light up like… like boys at a Christmas feast.”
“Where are they now?” asked Dan.
“Sitting in the storehouse. It’s a plain little building, but what’s inside of it is worth a king’s ransom.”
“If only we could take it all,” laughed Robby. “But pound for pound, it’s those cartridge boxes that hold the greatest value.”
“How could we get them out?” asked Dan.
“A wagon,” joked Robby. “We’ll just have to hope no one notices us driving off.”
“And we’ll have to hope,” said Olly, “that no one notices us loading them, and no one notices us going out the gate.”
“Tim could get a wagon,” said Dan. “That’d be the easy part.”
“Steal a wagon from Clay Boodle?” asked Robby.
“No no! He’s been driving a team down to the city. His master’s a carpenter but there’s been more money in firewood, so he’s been hauling it. And other stuff too. His master’s got more boys than ever and they’re spending all their time a-cutting and a-sawing and a-hauling. Tim drives it to the city. The guards at the king’s bridge see him coming and going all the time.”
“But there’s one problem” said Olly. “Tim’s supposed to be in the city awaiting trial.”
“He is,” agreed Dan, as the smile faded from his face.
They all went silent, but then Robby said, “He could be tried and released, couldn’t he? The jails are full to overflowing. And you’re a convicted prisoner, aren’t you?” he said as he gave Dan a friendly shove. “You’re a convict and you’re out and about like a free man.”
“But everybody saw me get tried and convicted” said Dan. “The courtroom was packed!”
“But,” said Robby, “a justice of the peace will often deal with a small offence on his own. ‘Out of sessions’ they call it. When the prisoner is willing to admit to his crime and beg for pity.”
“But stealing a boat’s no small offence,” said Tim.
“It’s a small offence,” said Robby, “if a New York City justice of the peace says it’s small. If there’s too many for court day they’ll thin out the docket. He’d just have to make a deliberate error in his estimation of the true value of the boat. If it’s a leaky old tub then it’s only a misdemeanor. And Clay Boodle won’t protest. He’d never go and argue about the value of his boat – making extra work for them. If he’s got any sense at all, then he’ll be always trying to keep them happy. He’s surely hauling goods for the army. And he’ll have his ferry license to think of too.”
“You’re right,” nodded Dan. “He’s not likely to complain.”
“Tim,” said Robby, “you’ll just need to hide in that cowshed for a day or two and then walk into town looking greatly relieved to be back again. You can say you begged forgiveness and was convicted and then ordered to go home and wait until somebody comes for you.”
“You’d be convict labor,” said Dan with a grin, “just like me.”
“For sure, the truth will come out,” said Robby, “but if we hurry we’ll already have the goods and be over at Morristown, showing them off to George Washington himself.”
“That’s assuming we ever get our hands on them,” said Tim.
“It’ll be getting them past the gate that’ll be the problem,” said Olly. “If only we could forge a letter of requisition.”
“Why couldn’t we do that?” asked Dan.
“Well… they come written up on good paper and they’re in nice longhand and they’re sealed with red wax. And when we see one, we hope to recognize the handwriting. You can’t take any chances, not with thieves and spies and saboteurs out and about – sneaking and scheming.”
“They’re the devils, ain’t they? Especially the ones who kill spies in general stores,” laughed Dan as he gave Tim a slap on the shoulder.
“Maybe it’s all too risky,” said Tim. He took a quick look at Dan and then turned away.
“But let’s not give up so fast,” said Robby. “There must be a way.”
“If you went in to see the commissary,” said Olly to Robby, “and he wasn’t there and nobody else was about, then maybe you could write a requisition and put a seal on it.”
“No no,” sighed Robby, shaking his head. “Anybody at all could walk in while I’m doing it. And I’d be sitting there with a pen in my hand and a stupid grin on my face.”
“That wouldn’t strike them as odd,” joked Olly. “You’ve always got a stupid grin on…”
“But down in the city,” said Dan, “you can buy paper with a red seal – from a scrivener. And the stationers sell them too. Tim could pick one up the next time he’s there.”
“But they’ve got to have the right seal,” said Robby. “And the handwriting has to be nice and elegant.”
“It ought to be but it doesn’t have to be,” said Olly, “for if it’s one of us two who’s there at the storehouse to receive it, and… well… a boy can always make a mistake when he’s in a rush, can’t he? And anyways, the letter will be staying with us and we’d be giving Tim a pass to get by the guards at the gate. And they likely won’t be wondering anyway. They won’t know that it’s anything important in the crates. They aren’t marked. It could be biscuits or whatever. And even if they do get suspicious and start asking questions, then Tim can say he’d just been sent to make a pickup and delivery, and he doesn’t know any more. And when they come for us, we’ll have a decent looking letter of requisition to point to. We’d only get punished for carelessness – only a whipping for a misfeasance. The true thief would be whoever gave Tim the forged letter, and they’d never find out – not unless one of us broke down and confessed.”
“Or sold out the others for the easy profit!” laughed Dan.
“Whipped for carelessness?” muttered Robby. “I won’t look forward to that. Three hundred cartridge boxes add up to a lot of carelessness. We could hang for that kind of carelessness.”
“What? You’re not scared, are you?” teased Olly.
“No, I’m just…”
“Ready to turn and run already?”
“I just think that…”
“Poor boy,” said Olly quietly to the others. “It was his mother – always kept him near. And now he’s…”
“I am not scared! And I’d like to see you try…”
“I’m ready to risk all,” bragged Olly as he thrust out his chest.
“And I am as much as you and more so!” sneered Robby. “You can go get your stationer’s seal, Tim my man! Whichever of us is closest to the door when the wagon arrives will be the one who risks his skin.”
“Good boys,” grinned Dan. “So then, I suppose Tim will just have to wait until he’s sent with a load, and then he’ll get the letter written.”
“No, I won’t have to wait. It could be either my master or the grocer who wants me to make a trip. I’ll just tell each that the other’s said he needed a shipment, and ask if they’ve got anything to add to the load.”
“Good idea,” said Robby to Tim. “And the quicker the better. And you should bring the piece of paper straight to me. It’ll have to be written up nice and properly – worded the right way.”
“Either of us would know how it’s to be written,” said Olly. “And either of us could write it in a nice hand.”
“Naw, you write like a blacksmith,” said Robby. “I’ll do the writing.”
“Or maybe I should,” said Dan. “I had the best penmanship in Boston Latin. Or near to it.”
“No no no,” said Tim, shaking his head. “It’d be my sister who can write it like an English gentleman. You should see it – better than most gentlemen.”
“A girl?” asked Olly. “I thought she was a kitchen maid.”
“No no,” said Dan, “there ain’t nothing common about Tim and Sadie Euston. They were bred up for quality, they were, originally. You should hear them playing their fiddles – performing before family and guests – the both of them singing and playing too.”
“You’re both trained as musicians?” asked Olly.
“The two of them started out as quality but then their father…” Dan stopped, seeing the look in Tim’s eyes.
“We fell upon hard times,” said Tim. “My father never married my mother. He was a merchant and a gentleman but… he already had a wife. He’d often spend an evening with us. But mom told everybody stories about a legitimate father who had died at sea before Sadie was born. It’s what she told us for years. Our schooling was paid for and we did well enough but… well… but now we all have to work for a living.”
“Well, that explains it then,” said Olly with a smile to Tim, “I’d been thinking that you spoke rather well for a woodcutter.”
“And they’ve kept up with their learning,” said Dan. “That’s the amazing thing. They can work all day – her a-scouring her pots and him a-swinging his axe – and then at night you’ll find them together in the cowshed, practicing their music or reading to each other. Always from Tom Paine – the foreign agitator that the two of them worship like a god! Reading and memorizing they’ll be, almost every night. They never rest!”
“We’re given time off work to practice our music,” said Tim, sounding apologetic.
“Aye aye,” nodded Dan, “and his sister – she’ll even practice her penmanship for the pleasure of it. Folks have been paying her to write letters for them – even those who can write themselves but want it done up nice for an important letter.”
“That is true,” said Tim, “and the master lets her keep half the money for herself.”
“But,” said Robby as he shook his head, “I doubt that she’s better than me.”
“Well well!” chuckled Olly. “We’ll just have to have ourselves a competition then, what do you say? He or she with the best hand will get to write a fraudulent letter of requisition to be delivered unto the enemy!”
The shortage of cartridge boxes was as severe as they say. It was a leather pouch containing a block of wood drilled with holes, one for each cartridge. It hung from a belt that went over an infantry soldier’s left shoulder. In battle, he could reach back with his right hand and pull one out. The cartridge was a piece of rolled paper that held a load of powder and a ball.
Muskets (usually called firelocks) were single shot muzzle-loaders. They were fired by a flintlock – a device that caused a stone to scrape against a cup shaped frizzen producing a shower of sparks igniting the gunpowder on the priming pan. Like a fuse, the powder burned down the touchhole and ignited the powder in the barrel. The burning of gunpowder released more oxygen than it consumed causing an extremely rapid buildup of gasses that blasted the ball out of the barrel.
To load his musket a soldier took a cartridge from his box, opened the pan of the flintlock mechanism, bit off the end of the cartridge that held the ball, and kept it in his mouth while he poured a small amount of powder onto the pan and closed it. This kept the powder in place while he turned the musket muzzle upright to pour in the rest of the powder. The ball, still wrapped in paper, went in next. He pulled the ramrod from its place under the barrel and rammed it all down.