Thursday, July 20, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Criticism of Abraham Lincoln
 
“We must … reach the slaveholder’s conscience through his fear of personal danger.  We must make him feel that there is death in the air around him, that there is death in the pot before him, that there is death all around him.  … I believe in agitation.  … The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter, is to make a few dead slave catchers.”  Douglass called for all methods that would eliminate slavery, including war.  A year after John Brown’s hanging, Douglass was but one of many that used Brown’s martyrdom to advance their cause.  Yet, much racial hatred persisted in the North.  In December, for example, an anti-slavery lecture in Boston conducted by Douglass and Wendell Phillips was interrupted by chair-throwing demonstrators who resented the idea that a war might be fought to benefit the Negro.
 
Despite the considerable anti-Negro sentiment that existed, Douglass hoped that the election of a Republican President would accelerate the changes he demanded.  Abraham Lincoln was elected, but the war which followed, the war which ultimately liberated all slaves, was instigated by the South, not by the Republican President, who had sought to reach yet another compromise to preserve the Union.  Only when most of the Southern states seceded from the Union in the early months of 1861 did President Lincoln call for the raising of a large volunteer army to put down their rebellion.  Douglass insisted persistently and continuously that the war had to be one of emancipation.  Additionally, “Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves” (Bontemps 224).
 
Abraham Lincoln was aggravatingly slow in doing that.  Perhaps Douglass did not understand the President’s difficult position.  Lincoln needed to placate the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, for they had elected to remain in the Union.  And while popular sentiment in the North favored a forcible means of dealing with the Southern states that had seceded, that sentiment did not include the immediate liberation of slaves.  Following the surrender of the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, the President needed every source of support he could garner to wage what proved to be a seemingly unsuccessful, unending, and increasingly ghastly, unpopular war.  Anti-slavery advocates, including Frederick Douglass, could see only that Lincoln was not responding as they had wished.
 
“… not a slave should be left a slave in the returning footprints of the American army gone to put down their slave-holding rebellion.  Sound policy, not less that humanity, demands the instant liberation of every slave in the rebel states,” Douglass declared in a speech in Rochester June 16, 1861.  In a January speech the following year Douglass “vigorously objected to the Lincoln administration policy of returning runaway slaves to their master, and to the president’s rescinding of General John C. Fremont’s order emancipating slaves in Missouri.”  Lincoln was fighting the enemy with one hand!  “We are striking the guilty rebels with our soft, white hand, when we should be striking with the iron hand of the black man” (McFeely 212).
 
One month later the President began to show favorable signs of change.  Lincoln refused to stop the sentenced hanging of the captain, deemed a pirate, of a captured slave ship.  In the middle of March he signed a bill that ordered the army and navy not to return runaway slaves.  Afterwards, he signed into law a bill that outlawed slavery in the District of Columbia.  Encouraged, Douglass stated that the President as “tall and strong but he is not done growing.”
 
But in July, Douglass criticized Lincoln again for not making emancipation the aim of the war.  Americans, Douglass insisted, had “a right to hold Abraham Lincoln sternly responsible for any disaster or failure attending the suppression of this rebellion” (McFeely 214).  Lincoln, however, had already decided to espouse emancipation.  He had drafted a proclamation of emancipation that same month, and he presented it secretly to his cabinet on the 22nd.  Advised by his Secretary of State, William Seward, to delay its announcement until after a Union victory in the field, so that the announcement would not seem a desperate measure to counter persistent military failure, Lincoln kept his intention a secret until after the qualified Union victory at Antietam Creek in September.  At that time he announced that on January 1, 1863, he would issue a proclamation that would free slaves in the rebellious states.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Fear of Arrest
 
Douglass gave a lecture in Brooklyn and another in Philadelphia, raised a small sum of money, and then set out for Chambersburg.  Traveling with Shields Green, one of John Brown’s black supporters, Douglass entered the barbershop of Henry Watson and told the black man why he was in town.  Watson immediately set about making arrangements for a public lecture in Chambersburg, which would give Douglass a legitimate reason for being there.  He then directed Douglass and Green to the quarry at the edge of town, where Brown and his band of men were waiting.
 
They sat down on the rocks to talk, and Douglass soon discovered that Brown seemed to have forgotten his plans for establishing communities of fugitive slaves in the mountains.  … Now Brown was obsessed with the idea of taking the Harpers Ferry arsenal, which he viewed both as the emblem of the military power of a government he had learned to hate and as a source of arms with which to wage war against the slaveholders protected by that power.  Suddenly Douglass saw the whole enterprise in a different light: he was convinced it was doomed.
 
When, later in the day, Douglass met the pathetically small group of brave but, he now thought, deluded men who were determined to follow their leader’s bidding, he was still more dismayed.  … Douglass told Brown that he was “going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in he would not get out alive.”  Douglass saw no safety in Brown’s plan to protect himself by taking civilian hostages: “Virginia,” he later claimed to have declared, “would blow him and his hostages sky-high, rather than he should hold Harpers Ferry an hour.”
 
Undaunted, Brown continued for two days his attempts to persuade Douglass to join his force, saying, “I want you for a special purpose.  … When I strike, the bees will begin to swarm, and I want you to help hive them.”  Brown’s likening a rising of human beings to a swarm of stinging bees, with Douglass as the queen bee who could control them, must have made the whole enterprise seem mad. 
 
Douglas said no to Brown’s final plea that he join him, and left. 
 
On October 16, 1859, leading an army of twenty-two, Brown moved on Harpers Ferry; with expert reconnoitering and extraordinary nerve, they did manage to seize the arsenal.  Shields Green and Jeremiah Sanderson, another of Brown’s black soldiers, were sent out to rally the slaves in the region to the revolt.  As the two left on their futile assignment, they saw Robert E. Lee’s detachment of marines surrounding the arsenal.  Sanderson said to Green that they had better keep going; they could do nothing now to save Brown, but Green went back into the arsenal, saying he “must go down to de ole man.”  The rebels were all either captured or, like Green, killed (McFeely 196-197).
 
The Philadelphia newspapers of October 18 were full of the news of Brown’s raid.  That night Frederick Douglass delivered a lecture at National Hall.  The following morning he received a “very elegantly written note” from Amanda Auld Sears, Thomas and Lucretia Auld’s daughter.  She was now the wife of John Sears, a Philadelphia coal merchant.  She had heard Douglass speak the night before and wished to meet with him.
 
Choosing, whether conscious or not, to ignore the storm over one of the most sensational events in the nation’s history, an event in which he knew he was implicated, Douglass went to Sears’s office in response to the invitation.  Presumably, Amanda Sears had given Douglass her husband’s business address, but at first Sears resisted talking to Douglass at all; when he relented, he remained distant, saying that he greatly resented the attacks Douglass had made on the father-in-law, Thomas Auld, in his books.  Only reluctantly did he at length permit Douglass to call on his wife.  When the slave went to visit the mistress, he was dismayed to find the Sears’s parlor full of people, curious about the caller.  Douglass had been afraid that he might not recognize Amanda as a grown woman, but he did so immediately, and the two fell into an intimate conversation.  Amanda ignored Douglass’s years-old hortatory attacks on her father, referring instead to his affectionate recollection of her mother, Lucretia Anthony Auld, in the Narrative.  Forthrightly, she told him that she agreed with him that slavery was a wrong.  After more than two decades Douglass was pulled back into one of his families.  Years later he found out that soon after his reunion with Amanda, her father, Thomas Auld, learned of the visit and told her that she had been right to reach out and bring Frederick back (McFeely 198).
 
Almost immediately Douglass had to leave the city and go into hiding.  Amongst the papers taken from John Brown was a note written by Douglass dated December 7, 1857: “My dear Cpt. Brown, I am very busy at home.  Will you Please, come up with my son Fred and take a mouthful with me?”  The Philadelphia newspapers published the note but omitted “1857.”  Virginia’s governor, Henry Wise, subsequently demanded that President Buchanan assist in arresting Brown’s allies, included “Frederick Douglass, a negro man … charged with … inciting servile insurrection” (McFeely 198).  The note itself did not prove that Douglass was a part of Brown’s conspiracy, but Douglass had good reason to fear imminent arrest.  People in Philadelphia knew that he had brought money to Brown from the city, accompanied by Shields Green.  The authorities would soon know that as well.  Also, a fact that Douglass did not know, a teacher at Harpers Ferry knew that Brown had boasted that Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass knew of the insurrection.
 
Douglass received unanticipated help from a telegraph operator.  James Hern received a message from Washington ordering the sheriff of Philadelphia County to arrest Douglass.  Not only did the anti-slavery telegraph operator delay the delivery of the message three hours but he went to the house where Douglass was staying to warn him personally.
 
Douglass was dispatched on a ferry to Camden, New Jersey, transferred to a steamer to New York, took a ferry across the Hudson River to Hoboken, and spent an anxious night at the boarding house where Otilla Assing lived.  The New York newspapers furiously reported the news of Brown’s insurrection and conspiracy.  Avoiding probable arrest at the train station in New York, Douglass, with Assing, borrowed a carriage and drove it to Paterson, New Jersey, when he boarded a train to Rochester.  The day after he reached home he stepped onto a boat for Canada.  In November he sailed for England.
 
He had planned a lecture tour of the British Isles before Brown’s capture.  Since he was already a fugitive in Canada, he decided to do the tour and remove himself further from the possibility of capture.  He stayed with Julia Griffiths Crofts and her clergyman husband of less than one year in Halifax well into January before he began his tour.
 
At first he did not mention John Brown specifically in his speeches.  Eventually, as a fair measure of popular opinion in the North turned to embrace Brown as a martyr in the cause to eradicate slavery, Douglass honored the man.  Slaveholders, Douglass insisted, were in insurrection against a nation awakened by Brown and anti-slavery crusaders.  Slavery was not guaranteed by the Constitution; it was a violation of the document.  Liberty must now rule the land, not slavery, Douglass declared.  Black people, free as well as enslaved, must be given back their plundered rights.
 
Upon receiving news of the unexpected death, March 13, 1860, of his daughter, Anna, Douglass booked passage to recross the Atlantic.  He was ashore at Portland, Maine, traveled to Montreal by train, and crossed Lake Ontario to reach Rochester, uncertain that he would remain free from arrest.  Northern politicians had, fortunately for Douglass, moved to curtail Southern insistence that those allied to John Brown be prosecuted.  They did not wish to support further protection by the federal government of slaveholders’ interests.  Douglass was now free to resume his abolitionist quest.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- John Brown's Schemes
 
In June 1855 Frederick Douglass was attending a meeting of the Radical Abolitionist Party in Syracuse when John Brown rose and appealed to the convention for “men and means to defend freedom in Kansas” (McFeely 187).  The delegates sent him on his way with sixty dollars.  Violence erupted the following spring.  Proslavery forces attacked free-soil settlers of Lawrence, Kansas.  Brown retaliated.  “At Pottawatomie, Kansas, in May 1856, after he and his band had dragged three proslavery men named Doyle, from their cabins, Brown shot the father in the head with a pistol while the two sons were hacked to death and their bodies mutilated with broadswords” (McFeely 188-189).
 
Later, Brown met with Douglass in Rochester on his way to Boston to raise additional money.  In confidence, Brown told Douglass of two schemes he had planned.  One he called the Subterranean Pass Way.  A corridor extending north from the Valley of Virginia through Pennsylvania and New York to Canada would be opened and guarded by men in frequently spaced stations.  Slaves would be moved in large numbers to freedom beyond the American border.  The other plan was his old dream of establishing a sanctuary for black runaways in the Alleghany Mountains.
 
In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison sternly criticized Brown for his killings and refused to participate in Brown’s money-for-guns campaign.  However, other influential New Englanders, who had abandoned their non-violent opposition to slavery, listened to hear what Brown now planned.  “In Kansas, where the fighting over slavery had been savage, there were few slaves.  Virginia, by contrast, was the state with the largest number of slaves, and these were the ones Brown pledged to lead in revolt.  The Bostonians listened with fascination; soon a cabal, known later as the Secret Six, began to form.  These eminently respectable divines, intellectuals, businessmen, and landed gentry were mesmerized by the fifty-six year old revolutionary and his grand design” (McFeely 190).  One of the six would be Gerrit Smith.
 
The cause of keeping slavery out of the territories, thereby insuring that the states eventually formed out of them would be free, was the one unifying bond of those who had founded a new political party.  The Republican Party nominated John C. Fremont for the Presidency in 1856 and failed to win the election, but they increased their agitation against the spread of slavery and increased their numbers.  They, and abolitionists like Douglass, who sought to restrict if not eradicate slavery by lawful means, were soon delivered a stunning blow.  On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, speaking for the nine justices of the Supreme Court, declared in Dred Scott v. Sanford that “a slave, an ex-slave, or a descendant of slaves could not be a citizen of the United States, and that Congress, being constitutionally required to protect property-including slaves-could not prohibit slavery in the territories” (McFeely 191).  According to the Court, everything that the Republican Party had struggled for and that abolitionists had demanded was constitutionally unlawful.  John Brown had an additional incentive to pursue his unlawful schemes; those who sympathized with him had more reason to listen to him.
 
Brown toured the North, talking of Kansas but searching for support for his projected war on Virginia slaveholders.  On the 28th of January, 1858, he was back in Rochester and would stay at Frederick Douglass’s house for three weeks.  He busied himself drafting a constitution for the separate state he planned to create for slaves in the Alleghany Mountains.  During spare moments he talked to Douglass about his general aims.  Several times he gathered the Douglass children around him and with the use of blocks he outlined his plan for guerilla warfare.  The unnamed state would need a commander-in-chief of the army, cabinet members, and a president.  “Even if Douglass thought the scheme farfetched, he may, in private, have liked to imagine himself as the president.  In any case, there is no evidence that he tried to block this boldest-yet plan to end slavery.  … Years later, he spoke proudly of having a copy [of the constitution] in Brown’s hand, perhaps the original, … written under his roof” (McFeely 192).
 
Near the end of March Brown and one of his sons journeyed to Chatham, Canada, to meet with black and white supporters and establish a rebel state in exile.  Brown hoped that prominent black leaders like Douglass and Harriet Tubman would attend and pledge their support of his scheme.  On May 8 before a gathering of thirty-five black men and twelve white men, Brown presented his constitution, proclaimed his provisional government, and named himself commander-in-chief.  Douglass and Tubman did not attend.  Only one man of any prominence did.  “Any black person would have realized that no matter who was at the actual head of the conspiracy-in this instance, Brown, of course-the ones most at risk would be those who were black” (McFeely 193).  Also absent were members of the Secret Six.
 
Those who met at Chatham pledged themselves to secrecy, but soon information about Brown’s planned venture in Virginia was circulating amongst blacks in Canada and the United States.  Brown’s military strategist, an Englishman named Hugh Forbes, ostensibly seeking funds for Brown, was sent to New York by Douglass to meet with Ottila Assing, who had agreed to introduce him to many of her liberal German friends.  Soon afterwards Assing discovered that instead of raising funds for Brown, the Englishman sought to extort funds for his own behalf.  He was prepared to expose Brown to the New York newspapers and did tell two anti-slavery U.S. Senators, Wilson of Massachusetts and Seward of New York, of Brown’s plans.
 
Brown’s target was the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, a picturesque town on the Potomac River well west of Washington and due south of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in what was then Virginia.  Arms seized at the arsenal would be given to the slaves, who, Brown was sure, would instantly rise to join his insurrection.  (There were less than 5,000 slave men in the immediate region, which was also inhabited by more than 100,000 white people)  … aware that if two senators knew their secret, half of Washington probably knew it, the Secret Six insisted that Brown go to Kansas,  He did so, and while in the area, made an attack on a proslavery community in Missouri to cloak the fact that his true target was still in Virginia.
 
The maneuver worked, Forbes disappeared from the scene, and though Brown remained a hunted man, the War Department, led by the extraordinarily inept John B. Floyd, dropped its guard.  In the spring of 1859, rejecting any further postponement, Brown secretly led his tiny band of followers to a farm near a quarry outside Chambersburg to prepare for the campaign to free the slaves.
 
 
The rumors that Brown would bring the drastic cure of an armed revolt were enticing.  … What the skeptical [black] Americans thought Brown lacked was any notion of how swift retribution had been in this country when slaves, like those who marched with Nat Turner, had revolted.  And did he understand how the nonslaveholding North felt about black people gaining power?  Black Americans had learned to be cautions.  Slave and free, they were exceedingly reluctant to risk bringing down upon themselves the lethal vengeance of white society by actively participating in an insurrection.  But that did not keep them, in the privacy of their own homes and meeting halls, from cheering Brown on.
 
At no point in the eleven years that he had know of Brown’s hopes for an insurrection did Douglass repudiate the plan; indeed, there is no evidence that he even counseled caution.  It was very much in character for Douglass to be flattered by Brown’s repeated insistence that as a leader of his people, he was crucial to the enterprise; curiosity at the very least compelled him to go and have a look for himself.  Early in the fall of 1859, John Brown, Jr., called on Douglass, and other black leaders in northern New York State and Canada, in the attempt to build a phalanx of antislavery support for the insurrection.  Brown, his son insisted, greatly needed Douglass’s help (McFeely 193-195).
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Historical Non-Fiction Book Review
Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas
R. Eli Pail, Editor
 
A friend of mine, knowing my interest in Native American life, loaned me this book.  She is an ancestor of Charles Wesley Allen, one of two white men responsible for garnering from Red Cloud his involvement in intertribal warfare on the Great Plains and present-day Montana and Wyoming up to the mid 1860s.  The editor’s lengthy introduction sets the historical context of his experiences, explains how the autobiography came into being, and relates the probable reasons why the Sioux Lakota chief chose not to recount his confrontations with Whites: his battles with the U.S. Army and his negotiations with the federal government.  
 
Although the introduction is informative, it is enough first to know where and when Red Cloud was born (1821, along Blue Creek, a tributary of the North Platte River in present day Garden County, Nebraska) and where and when he died (1909, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota). 
 
Living on the Pine Ridge Reservation during his later years, Red Cloud walked each day to the Pine Ridge post office to receive his mail and spend considerable time talking with old friends and associates, two of whom were Sam Deon, a white trader who had done business with Red Cloud on the plains for many years, and Charles Allen, former newspaperman and at that time Pine Ridge postmaster.  It was Allen who devised the plan to write an autobiography of the famous chief’s life.  Allen explained his plan in 1917.
 
The two [Red Cloud and Deon] used to put in two or three hours a day visiting on the bench by the post office, so I made arrangements with Mr. Deon to begin at the beginning and with questions and queries induced Red Cloud to go over his life from the beginning. … Immediately at the close of the conversation Mr. Deon would report [translate] to me, and I would take down all the facts as notes.  … This continued through the whole summer [of 1893] and up to late in the fall, practically six months in duration or until the finish.
 
Editor R. Eli Paul wrote: “No evidence exists that Red Cloud knew of Deon and Allen’s arrangement, nor is it know whether he would have cared.  After six months, Deon’s methodical probing may have aroused Red Cloud’s suspicions, hence the suspension of the old chief’s storytelling when it reached a more sensitive time in his life” – his dealings with the U.S. Army and the federal government.
 
Red Cloud told Deon that he had participated in 80 battles. The autobiography relates 21 experiences.  They are all interesting.  Particularly interesting to me were these three stories.
 
***
 
During the 1840s, Red Cloud, who had so rapidly risen in the estimation of his people, as a brave young man, had become one of the head warriors of his tribe; he had introduced the system of small war parties composed of from eight to twelve men whom he was always accorded the command by unanimous consent.  If fact, his bravery and sagacity had become so generally acknowledged that his name was synonymous with success.  Strongly supported by a large body of admiring adherents, yet secretly opposed by the envy and jealousy of rivals, his fame continued to increase …
 
In the spring of 1849, Red Cloud, in the flush and vigor of youth, being twenty-eight years of age, decided to take a party of twelve warriors on a foray against the Shoshone Indians.  After the party had traveled about one hundred miles, a discussion arose about whether they should continue their mission or return to their village.  The cause of the disaffection, Red Cloud discovered, was Black Eagle, a man who had long been one of his trustiest warriors, but who, having grown jealous of his leader’s popularity, sought to embarrass this undertaking by creating mutiny.  This he endeavored to do by telling his comrades that they were all lost among the mountains, that Red Cloud did not know where they were going, and that they were foolish to be dragged along day after day to a place where their enemies could so easily ambush them.
 
Having discovered Black Eagle’s intentions, Red Cloud had his party climb to the top of a mountain where visibility extended for many miles.  Addressing Black Eagle and three warriors that had taken Black Eagle’s side, pointing to the east, Red cloud said, “Do you see that high blue ridge away yonder?  At the foot of that mountain is our village; there is where the women are.  Go!  You cannot get lost.  You can go back over the same trail you came.  There is lots of game; get some of your party to kill it for you, and, when there is another party to go out, you had better stay at home and sent your women.”
 
Proceeding farther west, Red Cloud and his remaining followers eventually discovered a Shoshone village, killed and scalped two horse herders, and made off with a large section of horses.  As they returned home, they came upon Red Cloud’s brother, who told them that Black Eagle had spread news that Red Cloud’s party was scattered and lost in the Big Horn Mountains, and that they were probably all killed by the Shoshones.  Red Cloud and his men thereupon entered their village herding their captured horses, and Black Eagle was disgraced.
 
***    
 
In love with two women, Red Cloud had to choose whom to marry first.  Pretty Owl and Pine Leaf were their names, and the only matter for him [the autobiography is written in third person] to decide was, which of the two should be number one, for, while he could properly marry each of them, he could not marry both of them at once. 
 
… there was one grim and silent witness who stood aloof with jealous, scornful looks.  It was Pine Leaf.  Red Cloud had caught sight of her several times during the day’s festive marriage ceremony.  Realizing that she was not aware of either his feelings or his intentions [to marry her at a later time], he mentally resolved to seek her out at the first opportunity and acquaint her with his purpose, but the opportunity never came.  The next morning he discovered that Pine Leaf had hung herself.
 
***
 
A raid conducted by Red Cloud went awry after Gros Ventres tribesmen had warned an Arikara (Ree) village of the Sioux party’s near presence.  Dangerously exposed, Red Cloud escaped by boat. 
 
… the Arikaras needed conveyances to cross the Missouri and resorted to the “bull hide boat” …  It consisted of buffalo hides stretched tightly over a round framework of willow, not the most seaworthy of watercraft … in the editor’s words an unwieldy tub of fur. 
 
The Sioux from their hiding place watched the Ree village …Red Cloud and his party began getting nearer and nearer to the village.  The Rees had rounded up their horses in the early past of the evening, and they were standing quietly at the edge of the village, having become accustomed to being corralled nights.
 
The Sioux had decided to make a rush and stampede the herd and, if an opportunity presented itself, shoot a struggling Ree or two and escape with their booty.  Told by the Gros Ventres of the near proximity of the Sioux, the Ree villagers had set up an ambush.  Having charged, surrounded in front, at each side, and behind, the Sioux party received a volley of bullets and arrows.  As soon as they could … Red Cloud and a companion, who had led the charge, dismounted and sought refuge among the loose horses.  Soon the herd began to separate in small bunches. 
 
  Dodging along among the horses he [Red Cloud] drew his blanket over his head and face.  Wrapping it closely about him with his gun concealed beneath he stepped boldly out into the Ree village and began walking toward the river.  It was quite dark, but the lights shone from the tops of the lower buildings.  … He was passed once or twice but not accosted. …
 
Red Cloud’s only object had been to reach the river.  Once there he felt he could plunge in and swim to safety, but, when he descended the bank, he saw several canoes.  Cutting one of them loose he got into it.  He knew very little about managing the thing, but after a few awkward strokes he succeeded in getting out into the channel when it began to ride away from the Ree village.  … he drifted along down the swift current all that night. …
 
… He traveled nights without any interruption, but during the day he would stop to hunt and sleep and get views of the country to see if the coast was clear … Eventually he came upon a Missouri River Sioux village.  There was great rejoicing when he entered his own village, for it was supposed that he had been killed.
 
***
 
I enjoyed as much the details of native life that Deon and Allen were able to include.  For this reason alone, reading Red Cloud’s “autobiography” is worth any curious reader’s attention.  This book helps feel the need of readers like myself to know something about the lives of human beings over hundreds of years about which there is no or very little written record. Paperback and kindle versions are available for purchase on amazon.com.      


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter One, Pages 11-14
 
     If he had learned anything the past half-hour, maybe it was that staring at a dirty windowpane changed nothing.
     Well before they had been rowed across the river he had accepted the fact that their mission entailed risk. He had not expected immediate difficulties.
     The third son of a privileged family, Henry De Berniere, meticulous, resourceful, was not habituated to defeat. From his boyhood to his present situation, proceeding logically, methodically, he had achieved his ambitious goals with admirable constancy. Commissioned an ensign at nineteen, at twenty-one bored, disaffected, he had a month ago employed his particular talents to attempt to achieve that most difficult of martial accomplishments, career promotion.
     Before responding to General Gage's request for volunteer officers to map the roads to provincial military depositories, De Berniere had analyzed the risks. Paramount would be the difficulty of being what he was not, a colonial commoner. After he had submitted his request to serve, he had spent four days in the streets and taverns of Boston listening to the syntax and vocabulary of the populace. He had written down each night much of what he had heard. To demonstrate initiative during his interview with the Commanding General he had raised the speech difficulty and what he had done to try to surmount it. He had also presented a precisely drawn, detailed sketch of the roads and bridges of his parents’ parish, in Warwickshire. Analysis, preparation, performance. What he had not anticipated about his mission were, one, the limitations imposed upon him by his superiors and, two, capricious coincidence.
     He had been upset about the clothing that he, Captain Browne, and Browne’s man had been obliged to wear. They had begun this first day in virtually identical dress. Who in the commanding general’s service had made that decision? A quartermaster sergeant, he surmised.
     Then there was Captain Browne, De Berniere’s immediate superior. The man was dense, obtuse, fence post stupid! His performance this day had been appalling! Why had he been selected?!
     Several reasons, De Berniere supposed. One, a senior officer had to lead; two, Browne also wanted promotion; three, Browne, having spent several years garrisoned in Boston, “knew” the populace; and, four, very few senior officers, perhaps only he, had volunteered.
     De Berniere had not yet concluded his evaluation of Browne's servant, John Howe. Watching Howe arranging towels across the back of a chair preparatory to procuring hot water for their baths, De Berniere suspicioned that the servant was more percipient than his master.
     Howe spoke and behaved much like the Boston commoners that De Berniere had observed. He had not this day embarrassed himself. He had exhibited an alert mind and a readiness to act. Outside the Waltham tavern Howe had explained the behavior of the serving woman. With a rush of advice for which he had immediately, ingratiatingly apologized, Howe, stating the obvious, had recommended immediate haste.
     A teamster had overtaken them a mile or so down the road. De Berniere had persuaded the man to carry them. Almost immediately, he, and Howe, but not Browne, had recognized his blunder.
     The teamster's companion had instantly aroused De Berniere’s suspicion. The tense young man would not look at them. His body resisted the wagon’s jostle. His hair had been cropped, unnaturally, at the back. A deserter, De Berniere had concluded, a guileless simpleton spirited from the city by Sons of Liberty, driven westward by a teamster militiaman.
     Howe’s eyes had revealed the same conclusion.  Twice Howe had glanced at the “deserter,” then at the teamster, then at De Berniere, before De Berniere had nodded acknowledgment. Browne, jostled by the wagon's movement, had stared vacantly at wet fields.
     The teamster’s silence the first fifteen minutes of their journey had added weight to De Berniere’s supposition. A taciturn man voices a word or two in passing, De Berniere had reasoned. This man, maintaining his hard look at the road, schemes our arrest!
     “’Spect I could take you the entire way t’Worcester,” the driver had thereupon declared, confirming De Berniere’s judgment. “I do have business there. Might as well get it done t’day.”
     “Thank you, no,” De Berniere had declared, before Browne had been able to speak. They had reached the crest of a low hill. Seeing several distant buildings in the hollow beyond, concluding that they were approaching Weston, he had said, “We aim to be let out at the next tavern.”
     Thereafter, the wagon driver had watched the road. Answering Browne’s perplexed expression, De Berniere had nodded at the deserter. Browne’s subsequent furrowed brow had vexed him. Belatedly, Browne had answered, “Yes, the next tavern, please.”
     “Stop here, please,” De Berniere had said, sharply, when the wagon had closed to within twenty yards of the tavern.
     Offering no acknowledgment, the teamster had kept his horses moving. De Berniere had imagined the three of them having to jump from the wagon a mile or two down the road to hide in thicket and pine. But, no. The man had pulled his horses suddenly -- angrily, De Berniere had judged -- to a stop directly in front of the building.
     Captain Browne had displayed his stupidity again when they had seated themselves for refreshment.
     “May we have coffee?” Browne had asked the landlord, having been warned in Boston not to request tea.
     Straightening, the landlord had answered, “You may have what you please, either tea or coffee.” Staring at the man’s inquiring eyes, De Berniere had divined his message, that he was a Loyalist, that he recognized them to be soldiers, and that he wanted his presumption corroborated by their selection of tea.
     “Coffee. I said coffee!” Browne had answered.
     “Tea, actually,” De Berniere had corrected, witnessing immediately Browne's confusion, then resentment.
     De Berniere stepped away from the window. His window-staring had, in fact, benefited him. Analyzing the day’s events, he had drawn conclusions.
 He had isolated three difficulties. Foremost of these was Browne's impercipience. Somehow, subtly, De Berniere had to lead, without Browne knowing it.
     Another difficulty had been the landlord’s lack of cooperation. Two hours ago, having accompanied them to their room, the man had given Browne the names of safe taverns in Framingham and Worcester but nothing else. He either did not known where the Worcester military stores were hidden or he had chosen not to tell them. Being obtuse, Browne had not asked. Because the man had not wanted to talk, De Berniere, not wanting to prolong the landlord’s unprofitable stay, had chosen not to question him.
     Other than downstairs where he conducted business the landlord did not want to be seen with them. This had caused De Berniere to draw two inferences. The locals were vindictive toward anybody that harbored British spies. And any local with two eyes to see knew -- the third difficulty that he had isolated -- that they were indeed spies!
     He recalled the time before his eighteenth birthday when he had waded into the ocean to impress two female cousins. A strong undertow had carried him one hundred yards off shore. Thrashing against the current, he had feared that the shore was unreachable. It had taken him an hour to fight his way back.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter One -- Pages 8-11
 
 
The primary source for this scene is Neil R. Stout's article, "The Spies Who Went Out in the Cold," printed in the American Heritage Magazine, February 1972.  An additional source is Henry De Berniere's journal, "Narrative of Occurrences, 1775," parts of which were quoted in secondary  sources that I read.
 
     The black woman who labored amongst the tables took little notice of the three men standing near the front doorway until one of them, a blonde-haired, lean-bodied youth, separating himself, walked toward the kitchen. Widowed, gregarious, passionate, she appraised his physical attributes. Afterward, she regarded, less lasciviously, his traveling companions, who were taking chairs at a nearby table.
     One of them was two or three years older than the boy now in the kitchen. He was, perhaps, twenty-two, twenty-three, dark-featured, slightly built, angular-faced. She watched his eyes, his inquisitive eyes -- face devoid of expression -- study each customer while his companion, fifteen or twenty years his senior, spoke. When his eyes fastened upon her, feigning indifference, she looked away. Having collected empty tankards and dishes from a vacated table, she walked into the kitchen.
     When she returned, the dark one was speaking to the older one. She studied the man who now listened. Broad forehead, round eyes in close to a thin nose, large lips -- a face his mother had probably regretted -- his was a countenance quite different from the many that demanded each day her service. Using a wet cloth, snorting derision, she brushed pastry crumbs off the top of an empty table.
     When they spoke to her, telling her what they wanted, she knew they were British officers. The way they spoke, the way they moved their heads as they spoke, their gestures: all was too familiar. For six years she had worked in a Boston tavern off King Street, an establishment frequently attended by the scarlet-coated officers of His Majesty's foot.
     She had quit her job there and had left Boston during the first week of December. One of her current employers, Jonathan Brewer, had hired her the week before Christmas. Normally thick-skinned, she had had more than her fill of the arrogant, besotted British gentleman. One could not smile, banter, or laugh indefinitely when the jibes she parried revealed a bigoted nastiness. With their first words the two officers at the table had exposed themselves. The one with the broad forehead and thin nose she had previously seen.
     Angrily, she returned to the kitchen.
     Who was he? His name! She believed she knew his name. She glanced at the not pretty but rather handsome youth eating kidney pie at a little table pushed against the far wall. He was not an officer. More probably he was a servant of the man whose name escaped her. Enlisted men never ate in the same room with officers, one fact of many that she had involuntarily gleaned from her Boston patrons.
     “More ale for you, sir?” she asked.
     He glanced up at her, grinned, started again to chew.
     “So you like eating here in the kitchen t’eating with your friends? What's wrong with them now?” She laughed with good humor.
     “Oh, they be weary o' me. They want t'talk, I think, ‘bout me, private like. They be strangers here 'bout, surveyors, y' know. They hired me t'show ‘em about. Now I think they might be wantin’ t’give me the boot.” He shrugged, offered her a silly grin.
     “How do you weary them, boy? Do they not take t’funnin'? You have that look about you, seems to me.”
     A mischievous grin. “Tis true, ma'am. Tis true. They're a stiff bunch, all serious like. They'll have their maps out in front o' them in a minute, you'll see. You watch.”
     Well, she didn't resent him, despite his being a soldier -- he might have passed as a young apprentice had she not connected him. In truth, she fancied him, despite being four or five years his senior. But when had age mattered, she reminded herself, when the look of a light-hearted, well-featured man had stirred her?
     The one in the other room, the one she had recognized, his name was Browne. Such a common name. It had come to her, effortlessly, while she had been thinking of the boy. She had seen Browne five years ago. Browne had come to the Boston tavern often, right up until the time of the Massacre. His regiment had then left the city. During the past three months -- during her absence -- the regiment had evidently returned. From Canada. What was he doing here, dressed in his silly costume, the same costume this boy and the dark officer wore? Pretending to be surveyors, wearing brown clothing with red handkerchiefs tied around their necks, country people they were pretending to be!
     Standing in the passageway to the taproom, she saw that they had spread a map across the table. The dark officer was pointing a stiff forefinger at the center of it. Browne nodded. Oh yes, they were surveying. They were taking a lay of the land. They were spies, insulting her intelligence!
     Well, she would play with them a bit. She would let them fancy their success. When they left the tavern, she would tell her employer. He would send their description to the local militia, and that would be the end of Officer Browne! Good riddance. But not of the boy in the kitchen.
     Having served the two officers their food, she watched the blonde-haired servant finish his tankard of ale. Smiling across the kitchen at her, he placed the vessel noisily on the table. Straightening his legs, leaning backward, he sighed. She walked over to him.
     “The bigger one in the other room. The one with the thin nose. I know him.”
     His eyes flashed. “Oh, I don't think so. They be strangers to the county, like I said. They've not been here before.” He looked at her guilelessly.
     Oh, he was good, likable, convincing.
     “I know your Captain Browne from a Boston tavern where I worked, maybe five years ago. I know your errand. You mean to take a plan of the country for your General Gage, I think.”
     He moved his legs, then his upper body. He started to rise. Placing a hand on his left shoulder, she said, “I'll not betray you, not yet; rest easy. Let your friends enjoy their pie and ale. Once on the road, …”
     The young man stared at the pie crumbs on his dish. He shrugged, then grinned. Sitting, then lifting his tankard, he said, “I'll be havin’ some more ale. Bein’ that Captain Browne does pay for it.”

     “The young lad in the kitchen says you are surveyors,” she said as they stood to leave. Wanting him to recognize her, she stared at the older man.
     “Just so. A very fine country hereabouts,” Browne replied, as though he were answering a voice.
     She slammed his empty tankard upon the table. He stared at her, his startled eyes crowding the bridge of his nose.
     “It is a very fine country!” she exclaimed. “And we have very fine and brave men to fight for it!”
     He blinked, twice, several times more.
     “If you travel much farther you will find out that is true!”