The following is a preview of the first chapter of Genesis of Martyrs: Don’t Tread on Me ~ Saga 1. Happy Reading!
“Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of…” Stephen Hopkins
Heavy cloud cover, a minimal moon and a strong wind blowing toward shore are God-sent. Five jittery sailors descend quickly by rope, hand-over-hand onto a longboat that violently rocks atop frigid and chopping waves. The escape has begun, and each sailor is besieged with conflicting emotions. Should they succeed, they can start a new life freed from brutality each has suffered since mustering into the Royal Navy. If caught, the punishment will be extreme. Each has witnessed horrors other deserters have suffered.
The stockiest and strongest of the five, Roger Boyd who is the last man down the rope, releases another rope that has tethered the craft adjacent to the ship. The rowboat, riding rolling waves, separates quickly from the man-of-war. Roger lowers himself at the back of the boat. The other seamen are positioned with oars at the ready. Roger barks, “Row!”
The oarsmen, in unison, rock their bodies forward and back as the oars are lifted into the water followed by pulling the wooden blunt-end poles through the surf. The wind, blowing from the east, propels the craft rapidly and forces the sailors to alter the course in a more northwestern direction. It is necessary to slip around the tip of an outlying peninsula to enter the bay. Making land on the peninsula is not a viable option. The five men could easily be trapped and caught by search details the navy will surely dispatch.
Glancing over his shoulder, Roger is thrilled seeing how swiftly they separate from the HMS Lark. He hastily offers a silent prayer, “Lord, thank you for providing us this opportunity. Please continue to look after us. Help us! I will ever be grateful. Amen.”
He focuses on the four oarsmen. How lucky these four and he are to have been assigned to ship’s watch the same night. Each had been duped to enlistment in the Royal Navy in a similar fashion, and all were ready to escape the servitude. Because of their common desire, Roger easily encouraged each to join him.
Rapidly the dinghy approaches the tip of the peninsula. The sound of splashing waves breaking against rock outcroppings intensifies with the nearness of shore. Roger’s ears, neck and hands burn from a freezing chill from the wind attacking his skin that is soaked by a constant salt water spray. He notes ice saturates the beards of the four oarsmen. He touches his own beard. It is also infested with crystals. Further exploration reveals icing of his brows and hair. Having spent the past winter off the coast of Nova Scotia he is not surprised. He looks forward to a life not spent on the deck of a ship, not subjected to the elements from unrelenting storms.
The small boat slams into a sand bar. The craft is hung-up on the sand. Roger jumps into the knee-deep water, places both hands on the top of the stern and pushes the boat that resists his efforts. A large swale of sea water slams into Roger’s back and lifts the craft off the sand bar. Still grasping the top of the stern and briefly being drug through water that immerses him, he pulls himself back onto the boat. Now the chill to his totally soaked body adds to his discomfort. He is freezing.
Typically his body would be protected by the tar saturated clothing Roger and nearly every other sailor wears. Such treatment provides a degree of water resistance but does little once the clothing is immersed. Because of their tar-coated clothing, sailors are referred to in a derogatory custom as Jack-Tar.
The darkness of the night provides limited visibility. Now the course of the craft is dictated by the waves. Eventually it will reach shore.
Roger is shivering yet still scans the darkness in front of the boat. He is aware that the bay and harbor has numerous islands that must be avoided. Of specific concern is one island. That island is Castle William which contains a large military fort. It’s been a little over four hours since starting the escape, and Castle William becomes faintly visible a few hundred yards to the south. The craft successfully passes by without being detected.
The southeastern horizon begins to glow from a rising sun while the boat rides a large whitecap and slams on the rocky beach jolting all five sailors. Boston, accented by numerous steeples, is now visible lying about four miles to the north. Each man rapidly dismounts the craft and race up a slope to a large stand of trees. Reaching the trees they quickly huddle.
“Where to now?” Stevens, one of the other sailors, asks while staring at Roger.
“Daylight will make it easy for a search party to find us,” Roger responds. “We need to get as far away from the longboat as possible and find somewhere to hide. I’m sure Commodore Knowles will do all he can to catch us.”
“And the thirty who escaped the other ship from our fleet two nights ago,” another sailor named Walker offers.
Roger laughs. He remembers yesterday’s rumors that spread on the Lark. Such a large number of deserters… no one was sure from which ship. He had feared there would be tighter security that would hinder his own attempt to escape. “To think,” Roger states. “Knowles brought us to Boston to find more men to crew his ships. He will need to find many more than the thirty-five of us who have deserted for him to be up to strength. Considering all of the ships in the fleet, does anyone know how many have been lost the past year from smallpox?”
“Just on the Lark it was more than the thirty-five. Why else would we have been pressed to such inhuman hours of duty and little time for sleep?” Stevens asks.
Each man nods knowing the question asked is rhetorical.
“Alright… Boston over there,” Roger points with his index finger. “I understand it is filled with mariners, and we should be able to mesh in. We look no different than any other sailor. We made land on the proper side of town. According to a letter I received from my older brother, Boston sits on a peninsula with the only dry land access by a narrow strip called the Neck on the south side…. this side of town. In Boston we’ll find Wilbur. That’s my brother. He’ll help us.”
“How long has it been since you’ve seen him?” asks Williamson who is another of the escaped sailors.
“Five years come next May. To cover the cost of the trip here he signed a four year indentured servant contract with a ship captain. The captain sold the contract to a carpenter in Boston named Ross. According to the only letter Wilbur ever sent me, his contract would be completed on November fifth of this year, seventeen and forty-seven. That would have been eleven or twelve days ago. The way everything has happened, I believe travel here under a servitude contract would have been a better way than being a slave in His Majesty’s Navy.”
“Aye…” Black, the fourth of the escaped seamen states “…were you pressed, or why did you join?”
“I was a fool. I happened to visit a pub on the Portsmouth waterfront. Lieutenant Wood happened to be seated there when I walked in.”
“Our Lieutenant Wood from the Lark?” Black asks.
“The same bloody bastard. He offered to buy me a drink. He seemed like a jolly enough chap. He kept buying rum, and I drank it. Eventually, after he filled my brain with how wonderful life as a navy sailor is, he tossed a Pound Sterling on the table as advance wage.”
The others laugh. Their enlistments had been similar.
“By the time my hangover was over I was on the Lark as it sailed into open sea.”
The heavy wind and saturated clothing accentuates Roger’s discomfort. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m freezing. Our standing still makes it worst. Let’s get going.”
“I’m with you,” Stevenson agrees. “Commodore Knowles has to be in a rage by now. Marines have probably been dispatched to find us. I’d rather kill myself than let them catch me.”
Each captain from all the ships of the fleet and one lieutenant, Lieutenant Wood from the Lark, has boarded the HMS Canterbury. They stand in wait shivering from the chill of the wind on the open deck. Each is impatient wondering how long the commodore will make them wait. Lieutenant Wood fears the wrath he expects. He was the Officer of the Watch last night on the Lark. While he played a game of chess with the Master of the Watch, each sailor of his watch abandoned ship.
The door to the captain’s cabin opens, and the commodore’s personal servant appears. He addresses the assembly, “Gentlemen… Commodore Knowles will see you now.”
Each files into the cabin which quickly becomes crowded. The commodore is standing behind his desk dressed with his leather body armor vest and powdered wig. His eyes seem to penetrate each officer before focusing on one captain of which he addresses. “The mutiny on your ship was not good. When we finish here, I want to talk privately with you.” He shakes his head before muttering, “Thirty men lost.”
He turns his focus to Lieutenant Wood.
“Lieutenant…” he barks. “Come forward!”
Lieutenant Wood moves directly in front of the desk. He stands erectly at attention, but all can see his body is shaking.
“Last night, I understand you were the Officer of the Watch on His Majesty’s Ship the Lark?”
“Aye Sir, I was.”
“Would you explain what you and your Master of the Watch were doing when the ship’s watch deserted?”
Sweat is rolling down the lieutenant’s forehead, and his body’s shaking has become more pronounced. “We… we…”
“We were what?” the commodore screams.
“We were playing a game of chess, sir.”
The room fills with laughter, and the commodore cracks a smile. The lieutenant doesn’t answer.
“I asked you, and I expect an answer. Which of you won?” the commodore screams again.
“No one sir. It was a stalemate.”
Commodore Knowles turns his attention to the whole room and comments. “Not only do I have an officer who neglects his duty, but he allows a petty officer to be his equal in a game of chess. The lieutenant allows a glorified sailor to be his equal. Never again is this to happen. Every man you command must fear you. They must fear you more than any enemy they will ever face in conflict. They must fear you more than they fear death.” He refocuses on the lieutenant. “Since you seem to enjoy the company of sailors, would you be more comfortable as a sailor?”
“You don’t want to become a deckhand?”
“You don’t want to be a gunner?”
“What am I to do with you? Tell me what I should do with you.”
“Sir…” The lieutenant’s voice quivers. “I would like another chance to prove myself.”
“You do?” The commodore slowly allows his stern glare to evaporate as he displays a smile. “I’ll give you a chance. You lost five men. You will replace them immediately with at least ten. Upon return to the Lark, you will assemble your marines and lead them into Boston. When you return, bring back a minimum of ten replacements… more if possible. Do you understand your orders?”
“Aye sir, I do.”
“Excellent. Now move to the back of the cabin.”
The lieutenant quickly relocates behind the other officers. He is relieved to know he has a chance for redemption.
Commodore Knowles again focuses his attention to the other officers in the room. “Gentlemen… as I see it we have a situation, and there is a solution to remedy the situation. The solution is impressment. Boston is the largest port in the American colonies. It is home of expansive maritime operations. Because we are nearing the end of November, most of Boston’s ships have returned to port and will not sail again until winter is over. Their sailors are in the town of Boston, so I expect our press gangs to find sufficient replacements to man all of our ships to sail to the West Indies.”
He pauses, and to assure he has everyone’s attention slaps his hand on his desk top prior to continuing.
“I must remind you that impressment created a very sensitive political condition in Boston about two years ago. It became very ugly. A press gang from our ship the Wager entered a ship captain’s home. His crew was quartered in the house, and the sailors resisted resulting in a brawl. Our press gang beat two of the sailors to death. There were two problems with the impressment operation. First… the two men killed had fought in the successful victory against the French at Louisbourg. This is the victory that established British rule throughout Acadia. Although we had a writ issued by the Bay Colony Court to conduct the impressment operation, the writ excluded pressing of any man who fought for the Crown during King George’s War.”
He pauses and continues. “Second… two men of our press gang were detained by the other sailors, and they were brought to trial in a Boston court. Most of the members of the Court supported harsh punishment, hanging from the gallows, but the Superior Justice opted to defer jurisdiction authority to the Crown. To this day the Crown has yet to respond. This has created a strong anti-impressment sentiment held by much of the townspeople. Oh…” He pauses. “There was a third problem. The press gang failed to bring back a single sailor.”
He slams his fist on his desk and shouts, “Failure to succeed on an impressment operation is not acceptable.”
The room is silent for about a minute as the commodore stares each officer down.
“Now gentlemen… upon leaving, each of you shall return to your ships and reposition them into Boston Harbor. Once positioned, each of your ship’s flatboats shall be used to send out impressment gangs. You will sweep the harbor and bring back sufficient men of whatever description and nationality to allow the fleet to sail to the Indies with adequate crews. You will cover the wharfs and the streets adjacent to the wharfs. In my opinion we no longer need a writ from the Massachusetts Bay Colony Court to conduct further impressment operations. William Shirley is the governor of the colony. I’ve come to know him well. He led the ground forces that captured Louisbourg…. mostly a force of Boston area militia. I will handle any objections Shirley might have. Now should, by chance, your press gangs come upon any of the thirty-five deserters, you will make an example of them. Bring them back to your ships and hang them from the foremast. Let them rot there where you crew will see. You have your orders.
“Oh…” he fixes his eyes on Lieutenant Wood standing at the back of the room. “Lieutenant, my personal servant will accompany you and your press gang. He will report to me concerning your performance.”
With his body still immersed in clothing saturated from icing seawater, Rodger walks briskly leading the other four deserters. His feet throb from the extreme cold, especially his toes, making every step painful. The five are crossing the Boston Neck. The roadway is rutted from wagon wheels that marred a muddy surface of the built up causeway. The harbor waves pound the side of the raised surface to the right, and a mucky marsh lay against it to the left. Roger glances out into the harbor. He points and speaks, “Look!”
Under full sail Commodore Knowles’ entire fleet is sailing into Boston Harbor. Roger knows it won’t be long until the ships are anchored and landing parties are swarming the town, probably in search for the five of them. “We need to hurry, find a place to hide,” Roger says.
“Someplace warm,” responds Black as he chuckles, “and something to eat. I’m hungry.”
They trudge forward and pass through the open Town Gate. Roger notices Boston’s gallows which are constructed adjacent to the road, and he thinks, “If I’m caught, might I be hanged from there?” The bay has receded away from the causeway giving way to developed land of the town. Although in the distance some substantial buildings are visible… steeples of churches, a few multistory masonry structures and substantial houses dotting hillsides… they are passing small, mostly wooden houses, that are little more than shacks. Smoke is rising from chimneys of nearly every building and quickly being pushed by the wind to the west.
After passing by a few shacks, Roger eyes a small masonry hut with a small chimney expelling smoke. The hut has no windows and appears to him similar to a smokery back in England. He points to it and says, “Let’s check that out. If I’m correct, we can warm up and may find some meat to eat.”
The men reach the hut. The door is not locked and each man quickly enters. Although the air inside is engulfed by smoke emitted from a small hard-wood fueled fire in a stone-lined pit dug into the earthen floor, the space provides the warmth each man needs. Parts of hog, beef and deer carcasses are hung on hooks suspended from the roof timbers.
Black takes a knife from a sheath attached to his waist, cuts a strip of meat from a carcass, stabs the strip with the knife and kneels down holding the meat over the fire to cook. Immediately the other four men do the same. Although the smoke filled room is causing each man’s eyes to tear, all enjoy the warmth as it thaws their frozen bodies. With the aroma of the cooking meat, each anticipates the upcoming meal.
The door swings open, and Roger looks to see a thin boy of very light complexion standing at the doorway. He carries firewood in his arms to replenish the fuel in the fire pit.
“What are you men doing?” the boy asks.
“We were freezing and are very hungry,” Roger answers. “We’ve only cut a few small strips of meat.”
The boy eyes each of the men. “You’re all Jack-Tars. Doesn’t your captain have a place for you to stay and eat for the winter?”
Roger looks at his companions and says, “This lad appears to have the upper hand. He’s caught us enjoying the warmth of his smokery and cooking a bit of his meat. I think we should level with him. What do you think?”
The other four nod in agreement.
Roger looks into the boy’s eyes and says, “We all were forced into the Royal Navy, and last night we were fortunate enough to escape from our ship. Our fate is in your hands. We beseech you to keep our whereabouts a secret. I will forever be indebted to you if you do.”
The boy enters the smokery and closes the door behind him. He smiles and replies, “It’s only a small amount of meat. I’ll keep this a secret, but you won’t be able to stay here. My master won’t like it.”
“Your master?” Roger asks. “Are you a servant?”
“No. I’m an apprentice to a cordwainer. I’m learning to make shoes.”
“I am impressed. Let me introduce myself to you. I’m Roger Boyd,” Roger points to the other four men and says, “These fine gentlemen are Misters Stevens, Walker, Williamson and Black. And you are?”
“Well Ebenezer. How old are you, and when did you start as an apprentice?”
“Almost eleven years, and I started apprenticeship when nine.”
“I assume you know your way around Boston quite well. You know many of its people. Don’t you?”
“Do you happen to know a carpenter known as Ross?”
Ebenezer’s eyes twinkle as he answers. “I do. My master let me make a complete pair of shoes for Mister Ross. They are the first pair I did everything on.”
“So Mister Ross wears shoes you made?”
“No. He had them made for a man who completed his indentured servitude. Mister Ross is providing him a suit of clothing including shoes. I’m to deliver the shoes this evening.”
Roger finds it hard to contain his emotions. “Would the man who is receiving these shoes happen to be Wilbur Boyd?”
“He is. Do you know him?”
“Wilbur is my brother. Can you direct me to him?”
“Come with me when I deliver the shoes.”
Wilbur has just completed his breakfast, and he glances across the table noting Daniel Ross is finishing his tea. A young woman approaches Wilbur from the rear.
She asks Wilbur, “Are you finished?”
Wilbur smiles as he gazes into the woman’s eyes. “Yes Martha, I am.”
She smiles and winks as she reaches to remove the plate and cup that rests on the wood plank table in front of him. She intentionally allows her body to brush against Wilbur. She glances at Daniel and asks, “Are you finished too daddy?”
“I am,” Daniel replies. He doesn’t let on he has noticed an increasing flirtation between his daughter and Wilbur. He reaches for a cane leaning against his chair back and stands up. To Wilbur he says, “We better get going.”
“Yes sir,” Wilbur replies. He stands up and grabs a coat hung from a peg adjacent to the door and puts it on. As Wilbur grabs the carrying handle of a wooden box filled with an assortment of hand tools, Daniel also slips on a coat.
“You both have a good day,” Martha offers. “When should I expect you home?”
“Probably a few hours before candlelight,” Daniel replies. “It won’t take a full day to finish this job.” He looks at Wilbur and asks, “What do you think?”
“Besides,” Daniel adds, “we need to be home when Wilbur’s shoes arrive, so he can put them on to see that they fit properly. See you later darling.” He opens the door and walks out.
As Wilbur follows him he says to Martha as he pulls the door shut, “You have a wonderful day.”
Wilbur watches Daniel walk with a pronounced limp requiring use of a cane to help support him. A few weeks back Daniel fell from a ladder damaging his ankle, and to Wilbur’s amazement the man has continued to work every day since the fall. Wilbur quickly catches up and is walking by Daniel’s side headed north on Belcher Lane. Their gait is slow. Daniel can’t move any faster, so it will probably take the greater part of an hour to reach their destination.
Daniel smiles at Wilbur and states, “Another day partner.”
A large grin covers Wilbur’s face as he responds, “I still find it hard to believe you’ve made me a partner. I was just hoping you would employ me once my servitude was over.”
“You’ve earned it. Your work has become as good as… possibly better… than mine. All of our customers like you and have grown to respect you. You are always willing to give the extra effort to make the job successful.” Daniel chuckles and continues, “Besides, I was told to make you a partner, or I would regret it.”
“Who told you that?”
“Martha.” Daniel yields a hearty laugh.
Wilbur is stunned as he comments, “Martha. She really told you that?”
“She did, and it would be my peril not to listen to her. Ever since her mother died she has taken care of the household. Never has she complained, and she always has a pleasant personality. She has asked for very little, so if I weren’t to comply with something she asks for, I have to consider the affect it would have on her…. and me.”
Wilbur laughs. “I’ll have to thank her.”
“I’ll tell you how to thank her.” Daniel provides another hearty laugh.
“I’m aware of the feelings I believe you both have for each other. I see it every day…. the flirting… the incidental touching. Am I wrong?”
Wilbur is surprised. “No sir.”
“Then,” Daniel says as he chuckles, “why don’t you ask me for her hand?”
Both men abruptly stop walking, face each other and look directly into the other’s eyes.
Wilbur’s voice quivers as he asks, “May I have your permission to wed your daughter?”
“Yes Wilbur. I don’t think I could find a more suitable son-in-law.”
“Thank you sir. You’ll never regret it. I’ll ask Martha to wed me once we get home.”
“Then we need to get moving. The quicker we finish the job is the quicker you will be able to ask her.”
The two men proceed along the waterfront and are passing a house situated adjacent a malt house operated by Samuel Adams. The door opens on the front of the house. A man appears and calls out, “Daniel hold up. I have something for you.”
The man disappears for a few seconds, reappears carrying a small cloth sack and approaches Daniel and Wilbur. He looks at Daniel and greets him, “Morning to you Daniel.”
“Good morning Deacon,” Daniel replies as he shakes his hand.
The man then addresses Wilbur as he shakes his hand. “And a good morning to you Wilbur.”
“Good morning sir.” Wilbur feels high esteem knowing such an important man remembers his name. There have been very few occasions Wilbur has been able to be in the presence of Deacon Samuel Adams.
“It’s been about two years, but if my word is no good, I should rot in hell,” Deacon Adams says. He reaches out and hands the sack he carries to Daniel. “I believe thirty-seven pounds is correct.”
“It is,” Daniel responds. “I know it has been hard on you. If there are others pressing you, I can wait.”
“No. I’ve sold some of my properties, and you’ve waited long enough.”
“Well, thank you.”
“No. I thank you for trusting in me.” The Deacon turns his attention to Wilbur. “I’ve heard Daniel here has made you a partner. Congratulations. I’ve heard nothing but good about you, and I’m sure you’ll be an asset to his business.” An expression of concern shows on his face. “I wish I could say the same about my new partner.”
“Are you talking about young Samuel?” Daniel asks.
“I am. For years I’ve provided him every opportunity, but he’s always let each opportunity slip away. He’s intelligent enough, but he fails to understand what is necessary to be successful. I sent him to Harvard College. I hoped he might use the education to join the ministry of the church. If not that, possibly practice law. He even continued his education and received a masters, but all he seems to want to do is get into philosophical arguments about government. A few years back I provided him a thousand pound loan to start his own business. He quickly squandered it all. Earlier this year I called favors of friends on the Town Meeting. They elected Sam as a clerk of the Boston Market, however Sam has never applies himself to the job. I’m at wits end, so now that he’s a partner in the malt business, I’ll let him run the business. Maybe he can be a successful maltster. I hope so, but if he doesn’t change, he could drive this business into bankruptcy.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your dilemma,” Daniel comments. “I pray Sam will find his way.” Daniel pauses and changes the subject. “Wilbur and I need to get over to Hutchinson’s. Today we’ll finish construction of his carriage house, and…” Daniel laughs. “Wilbur can’t wait to get home, so he can ask my daughter to wed him.”
“I’m sure she’ll say yes,” the Deacon says while chuckling. “Don’t let me hold the two of you up any longer.” He shakes both men’s hands and retreats back to his house.
Wilber and Daniel continue their walk skirting past Fort Hill and the South Battery. Wilber says, “I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“The thirty-seven pounds the Deacon gave to you. What happened?”
“About eight… nine years ago, Boston had a major currency problem. The Deacon and a large number of Whigs formed a land bank. They issued paper script backed by the value of land assets they owned. Even though the paper currency eliminated the town’s financial crisis, many of our colony’s top government officials objected to the use of paper currency. The biggest opponent was Thomas Hutchinson….”
Wilbur interrupts, “The same Thomas Hutchinson we’re building the carriage house for?”
“The same. Anyway, following the capture of Louisbourg, the Crown distributed almost two hundred thousand pounds in coin to the Massachusetts Bay Colony…. spoils of war. We no longer had a currency problem, and the British Parliament made paper script illegal. The Deacon and the other Whigs who backed the paper currency had to buy it back with silver or gold. Each had been wealthy men, and now most of them have been forced into debtor’s court and bankruptcy. Deacon Adams has paid back many of these men, and he has avoided being dragged to court. I believe I’m one of the last who hung onto the script. Some may still be waiting.”
The men continue to walk. Both sides of the street are lined with houses, shops and other establishments. Most are built one against the next. Narrow streets intersect, but as they cross the intersection of King Street, a wide street that leads to Long Wharf, they hear someone yell, “Halt!”
Both men look toward the wharf from where the scream came from. More than a dozen men race toward them. Two have cutlasses drawn and the others carry muskets. The men encircle Wilbur and Daniel.
One of the men carrying a cutlass speaks as he points at Wilbur. “You will come with us.”
Wilbur asked, “Why?”
“You have just joined the Royal Navy. I suggest you not try to resist. You will not succeed, and any resistance will result in a brutal beating.”
“I’m not a sailor. I’m a carpenter on my way to work. If you look at the box I’m carrying, you’ll see my tools.”
Daniel adds, “We are building a carriage house for Thomas Hutchinson who is the Speaker of the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He will be irate about this.”
The man with the cutlass replies, “It makes no difference to me. My orders, issued by Commodore Knowles, are to impress all I can. I am not to consider any distinctions other than those we impress are of sound physical stature.” He looks ay Wilbur and states, “You are definitely fit.” He then points at Daniel and says, “You are crippled and free to go on your way. Now!”
Daniel reluctantly walks through the ring of men as he addresses Wilbur. “I’ll do what I can to have you released.”
The man with the cutlass says to Wilbur, “Don’t count on it. Come with us.”
Daniel watches as the press gang leads Wilbur toward the waterfront. He watches as they disappear from view. Daniel is distraught with mental shock, but decides to continue on to Hutchinson’s home. Maybe as the Speaker of the General Court, Thomas will be able to have Wilbur released from impressment. He also decides he will visit Deacon Adams following his meeting with Hutchinson. Adams has connections with many men of influence in Boston. Someone has to help. Daniel is also bothered by the pain his daughter will suffer. He knows she will be devastated.
Crossing the bridge over Mill Creek to the town’s North End he views another press gang gathering men. Bells housed in the many steeples of the town begin to ring. Daniel knows full-well the bells signal a general alarm summoning townspeople to assemble. He knows hundreds, if not thousands, from town will assemble at Dock Square adjacent to Faneuil Hall. He expects the gathering will be unruly fueled by memories of the HMS Wager impressment debacle two years earlier.
Hutchinson’s mansion is in view, and Daniel sees Hutchinson’s carriage hitched to a horse standing on the street next to a gateway fronting the stone stairs leading up to the massive three story masonry building. He realizes the man will be leaving soon. Daniel, even though painful to do so, increases his gait.
Hutchinson emerges from the house and quickly races down the steps.
Daniel cries out, “Thomas, wait!” He watches as the man climbs onto the carriage. The horse pulls the wheeled vehicle forward toward Daniel, and comes to a stop next to him.
The door to the carriage swings open, and the man inside addresses Daniel. “I don’t know why the bells are sounding, but I need to get to the Town House to find out. You’re alone this morning. Where is Wilbur?”
“While walking over here, a navy press gang abducted him.”
Thomas’ face expresses anger as he replies, “Those bloody bastards. Get in and ride with me. I want to hear all the details.”
Daniel climbs in, and while riding to the Town House, he fully explains what has happened. He asks for Hutchinson’s help. Hutchinson assures him he will do everything he can to get Wilbur released.
As the carriage approaches the Town House, they encounter an angry mob of more than three hundred men, carrying cutlasses and clubs, rushing toward the waterfront.
“This matter may rapidly become ugly,” Thomas mutters.
Lieutenant Wood, along with two other impressment officers, Commodore Knowles’ personal servant and the Boston Sheriff, is being shoved forward by an irate mob of men. He has been stripped of his cutlass, and the marines he led were set free by the mob upon surrender of their weapons. When setting them free, the instructions provided by the mob, “You are free to return to your ship or stay and become a citizen of Boston. It’s your choice.”
Entering the square containing the Town House, Lieutenant Wood stumbles as he is shoved forward and falls onto the crushed oyster shell pavement. When he tries to break his fall, the palm of one hand is punctured by the sharp edge of a shell. He is kicked in his torso by one of the mob who shouts, “Back on your feet!”
He scrambles to his feet and notices blood dripping from his hand. He raises his palm to be seen by the man who kicked him and screams, “You bloody bastard!”
In response the man slams the end of a club into the midsection of the lieutenant. He laughs and says, “When we finish with you, you’ll wish that little bit of blood is all that happens to you.”
The mob halts their prisoners in front of public stocks located at the edge of the square. The sheriff is dragged to and forcibly locked into the timber structure. With his head and arms uncomfortably restricted, he listens to ridicule coming from the mob. Much of the ridicule comes from the mouths of men he has known for years. He thinks, “I was only performing my duty as sheriff. These idiots know that. The law allows impressment, and an officer of the Crown ordered me to help.”
With the sheriff secured in the stocks, the other prisoners are pushed and shoved toward the Town House. The mob filling the square now numbers more than four thousand. Doors to the seat of the province’s government have been locked, and the governor and other officials have taken refuge inside.
As the crowd continues to grow another group of men enters the square, dragging by ropes, a longboat from a ship. Someone cries out, “This boat won’t take pressed Bostonians to navy ships.”
The crowd roars its approval as the craft is set to fire.
Now the mob is screaming demanding entry into the Town House. The doors remain locked. A barrage of stones and bricks are thrown and pepper the building. Soon every pane of glass on the first floor breaks. Some of the mob batter down the door and gain entry. The few militia officers defending the building quickly withdraw up the stairs to the second floor.
Lieutenant Wood and the other three prisoners are shoved and dragged into the building. The men of the mob who have entered the Town House and assembled on the first floor start chanting, “Shirley… Shirley… Shirley…”
It becomes evening before Governor Shirley descends the stairs stopping on the third tread. The chanting ceases. Shirley recognizes, even in a room that is dimly lit from candlelight, a number of men he knows well. He sees the three naval officers and Knowles’ servant who are now bound by rope at their wrists.
He forces a smile as he addresses the mob. “Many here this evening know me well as I too know you. Many of you served under me when we defeated the French and captured Louisbourg. I have sincere respect for you. You fought with bravery, and helped bury the hundreds of our heroes who didn’t return to Boston. I believe you know me to be an honorable man, and I promise I will do all that I can to remedy our situation.” He scans the men standing below him. How are they accepting him?
“I know the navy commodore quite well, and I will reason with him. The Crown and Parliament have made impressment legal….”
He is interrupted as the room erupts in protest. He raises both arms, and the protests cease. “I’ll continue. The impressments that occurred today are wrong. Tradesmen and others for which the law does not condone have been pressed. I see you have brought prisoners from the press teams. I ask that you turn them over to me. If I can return them to Commodore Knowles, it may help in negotiation for the release of the men who have been impressed.”
“And it may not,” one in the mob bellows. “What assurance do we have that he will not sail off with these four and all he has pressed?”
“Aye,” another hollers. “Two years ago press sailors from the Wager killed two men who also fought with you at Lousibourg, and they have not been brought to justice. Do you think we can trust the navy to allow justice for what has happened today?”
Another reinforces the concern. “What about the Wager? When will we see justice?”
Shirley raises his arms again to quiet the crowd. “We are British citizens even though we reside an ocean away. As British we must wait for direction from the Crown. I expect a decision will come, and I expect the culprits to be returned to us to pay for their transgressions.”
“How long must we wait?”
“I cannot answer. With the ocean… even if the decision were made today, it would probably be spring before we hear. November is passing us by, and the harbor will soon close until the spring thaw.”
The room is silent. Shirley decides to try to wrap up. “Are there any other questions?”
A few men rumble, but no one asks a question.
“Fine,” Shirley says. “If you release your prisoners to me, I will do as I promise.”
Reluctantly the mob allows the four prisoners to climb the stairs with Shirley.
A single candle placed on the table top and embers glowing in the fireplace provide the only illumination. Deacon Samuel Adams is seated, his quill in hand, reading what he has written. Satisfied with his words, he dips the quill into an inkwell and signs the document, “Amicus”.
He feels a gust of chilly wind as the door opens. He looks up and sees his son enter and close the door behind him.
“You’re home late again Sam,” the Deacon says. “What kept you this late?”
“I was at the square and Town House most of the afternoon and evening watching protests against impressment. Following that I had a few ales along with discussions about impressment.”
“You didn’t do anything stupid during the protests? Anything that may come to haunt you.”
“No. I watched what happened. I was able to slip into the Town House. I stood at the back of the room as Shirley tried to calm the crowd. The man was able to initially calm those who made it into the Town House. Later, there were thousands, many who were not able to hear what Shirley said, and many became inebriated as the night wore on. I guess Shirley received word he might be in danger. I understand he, and many other government officials, rowed out to Castle William for their own protection.”
“It is. A man with such a noble military background deserted his duties as governor out of fear for his wellbeing.”
The Deacon laughs. “So your ale fueled discussions about impressment… did you solve the problem?”
“No. Not unless we demand freedom from England.”
“That would be a bit extreme. I doubt if the King would grant it.”
“I’m positive you are correct,” Sam answers to his father. “I see you’ve been writing again. What’s the message today?”
“Earlier this evening I received a visit from Daniel Ross.”
“What did he want?”
“He asked for help. Wilbur Boyd was pressed this morning….”
“By the navy?” Sam interrupts.
“Yes, and Daniel has asked me to help gain Wilbur’s release. I will talk to those who may be able to help, but I decided it was time for Amicus to make a statement.”
Sam looks at the parchment on the table and asks, “May I read it?”
The Deacon slides the document across the table. Sam leans over and reads it. He is amazed by the radical and well thought out argument his father has written. It focuses on many hardships the colony has constantly suffered, the criminal aspects of impressment and finally… how the government officials of the province and town constantly fail to properly present to the Crown the truth of the damages incurred in Boston.
Sam points at the parchment and exclaims, “This is powerful.”
“I need to pen a second copy before I retire for the night. Do me a favor. First thing in the morning, take one copy to Ellis Huske to place in this coming Monday’s Boston Weekly Post-Boy. Ask him to also print enough broadsides and post them throughout town. Then take the second copy to Daniel Fowle. You’ll find him at the Rogers and Fowle printing shop on Queen Street. He publishes The American Magazine and distributes it in Philadelphia, New-York, New Haven and Newport as well as… I’m sure you know, here in Boston. I can trust both of these men to keep my identity secret.”
“I will do so,” Sam says as he realizes the repercussions his father might face should authorities discover he is Amicus.
Over the past few days William Shirley has been rowed from Castle William out to the HMS Canterbury a number of times. His negotiations with Commodore Knowles have been difficult. He has used every argument he could think of to have the forty-six pressed victims released. On the last visit, the stance taken by Knowles was extreme. He stated that unless his three officers and his personal servant were returned, his fleet would turn its guns on the town of Boston.
Today as Shirley climbs the rope ladder to the deck, he hopes the man will be more willing to negotiate an acceptable solution. Unlike what happened on other trips to the Canterbury, he is not subject to a long wait on deck. He is immediately ushered into Knowles’ cabin.
“Good morning Charles,” Shirley says as he approaches Knowles. He extends his hand and is surprised when Knowles accepts a handshake.
“Good morning William. I’ve thought hard and long about our prior conversations. I understand you need to be able to show to the people of Boston a win. Otherwise they may scream to the Crown for replacing you as Governor. To that end I’m prepared to make a concession.”
Shirley is surprised. “What concession do you propose?”
“I need sailors. We’ve lost too many, but my fleet can function if we release the men who are tradesmen. We keep all who are sailors.” The commodore flashes a smile. “That is, you need to send back my officers and personal servant. May I assume this is agreeable?”
Shirley is relieved. “Yes Charles. I’m agreeable.”
The commodore pulls a bottle of rum and two glasses from a drawer. He fills both glasses and hands one to Shirley. “Let there be no hard feelings between us.”
“Aye,” Shirley says as he touches his glass to the one held by the commodore.
With a wool blanket draped over his shoulders, Roger Boyd sits gazing out a window into the harbor. He watches in horror as the Royal Navy, under full sail is leaving for open sea. Tears fill his eyes. His brother is on board one of those ships. He thinks of the irony. He was able to escape, but now Wilbur will be subject to the hell of the life as a navy sailor.
He finds it hard to believe how well Daniel and his daughter have accepted him. They treat him as though he were family. Martha has gone out of her way to nurse him. Daniel has been suffering from a bad cold that has infected his chest. The cold is a result of the freezing water he experienced during his escape from the Lark. Rather than being nursed, Roger feels he should be despised. After all, he is one of the deserters that spurred the press gangs.
As Roger watches the ships diminish in size, he is startled hearing Martha emit a loud shriek from the next room. Fearing she may have hurt herself, he jumps to his feet and races through the doorway. He is elated by what he sees. Martha and Wilbur are locked in a passionate embrace. Wilbur is not on one of the ship.