Thursday, December 19, 2013


Conducted by Michael Brookes

Guest Authors Revisited - Harold Titus

I first interviewed Harold Titus back in May. I recently caught up with him to see what he's been up to since. You can find out more below:
What has changed in your life since we last spoke?
Nothing really has changed much in my life since we spoke last May. Most of my reading has been directed toward expanding my knowledge of the English settlements at Roanoke (North Carolina) during the 1580s. I did, however, begin a blog site ( Once a month I write two blog entries: one about actual people who appear in my Revolutionary War novel "Crossing the River" and the other about information I've discovered that places the Roanoke settlements story in a broader historical context. I also include book reviews I have written and excerpts from "Crossing the River."

Have you learnt any new wisdom?
What has transpired since May has only reinforced my realization that the best reward a writer receives for his efforts is self-satisfaction, derived from knowing that he has stretched himself in producing the final product and that discriminating readers have appreciated it.

What are you working on at the moment?
I haven't begun writing my novel about Roanoke, so I don't know if I have become a better writer. I do know that the book I hope to begin writing soon will be quite a challenge. I want to focus particularly on the Native American inhabitants and juxtapose their culture with that of the English. I want to make observations about man's nature that is true of all beings at any specific time. One of my main characters will be a young Algonquian woman experiencing the need to break out of her confining, stagnant culture to learn certain things that are not known by her people and to find ways not yet discovered by them to be creative. Because so little is known about individual Algonquians along North Carolina's Outer Banks that English leaders mention in their reports, I must fictionalize their individual histories, family backgrounds, and character traits to make them living human beings with whom readers may identify yet remain historically responsible.

Tell us about your latest release and how we can find out more.
I'm guessing that this project will take at least two years to complete. Maybe more. I don't know how much longer I will be able to continue the current subject matter of my blog site. At some point in time I will probably write about difficulties I have encountered with the current project. I might include excerpts of the writing.

Crossing the River is available from Amazon

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


"Don't You Go Get Yourself Killed,"

Pages 260-262

     Upon hearing the crash of musketry, Elisha Jones had hastily left his cellar, where he and his family had told Bible stories and played improvised games. Through his second story bedroom window he had a clear sight of the redcoat retreat. The wounded were beginning to pass before him. Determined to bring down one or two, he eased his musket’s long barrel out the window.
     His first mark approached. A ball had torn into the soldier’s left thigh. The redcoat was hopping, using his musket as a crutch. He stopped. Grimacing, he doubled over, surrounded his wound with his hands.
     Holding his breath, Jones touched his musket’s trigger.
     A heavy blow jarred the weapon from his grasp. It clattered on the floorboards.
     “Don't you go get yourself killed, y'old fool!” his wife hissed.
     She stood indomitably before him.
     Her conduct astonished him. He stared at her a full ten seconds. Blood thumped at the base of his throat.
     He thought to retrieve the musket; he stooped to grasp it; stepping over it, she jarred his head with her right leg. Anger radiated. After he had straightened, had thoroughly looked at her, his anger subsided. “All right,” he said gruffly.
     He walked toward the bedroom door.
     “Where are you going?” she questioned.
     “T'the shed! I want t'watch 'em!” he said resentfully.
     “You'll do nothing more?”
     Standing by the side of the shed, he watched two soldiers, close together, hobble past. They hadn’t gotten nearly enough! How he wanted his musket!
     Another stopped in front of the house. Leaning on his musket barrel, the regular raised his bloody shoe.
     “Get along with you, lobsterback!” Jones shouted.
     The soldier located him. He steadied himself.
     Jones returned the soldier's hateful stare. “They should'a shot you dead!”
     Raising his musket waist high, the soldier fired. Jones saw the brilliant flash, heard simultaneously a heavy thump. A coarse substance showered his hair and coat.
     The soldier turned. Using the musket to support his weight, he left.
     Staring at the hole in his shed, three feet to the right of and three inches above his head, Jones scowled.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


"Follow the River"
by James Alexander Thom

I chose to read "Follow the River" by James Alexander Thom not so much to be entertained and inspired by the story of Mary Ingles’s escape in 1755 from Indian captivity and her torturous return from the Ohio River to her family’s frontier settlement west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had read about her ordeal, it being a true story, years ago. I wanted to see how Thom dealt with what I anticipated would be two major difficulties: description of her surroundings and portrayal of her thoughts and emotions. Being that Mary was isolated so much and that she was forced to trek through wild, diverse terrain, I recognized that surmounting these difficulties would be a substantial achievement.

Thom explains at the end of the book that he traveled Mary Ingles’s route home as part of his research. Not surprisingly, his description of her surroundings is genuine, readily believable. Included in much of his description is sharp sensory imagery, derived, I am certain, from close personal observation.

"Thunder grumbled, lightning flickered on the horizon, and as the clouds climbed, a blast of damp air shivered the surface of the river and turned the leaves of the forest white side up. Soon the thunderheads dominated the whole sky above the river; they came gliding across, their undersides lowering and dragging gray veils of rain under them. Birds and insects fell silent."

Equally impressive is Thom’s ability to describe Mary’s physical suffering, so necessary to evoke reader identification and empathy. In this passage near the end of the novel Mary is scaling a steep incline between two immense, vertical pillars of rock.

"She hung there for a moment, saw a leafless dogwood sapling two feet above her head. She got her numb left hand up to it and around it, forced the fingers to close, and pulled herself, panting and squinting, a little further up, her naked abdomen and thighs scraping over snow and rock and frozen soil, her cold-petrified toes trying awkwardly to gain traction."

Thom’s ability to narrate Mary’s thoughts and emotions is equally vital to the success of the novel. One aspect of her thought processes is her wavering allegiance to God. How could a benevolent, omnipresent Lord countenance the horrors she had witnessed and the miseries she daily endured? I appreciated especially these thoughts, which follow her successful ascent of the steep incline partially described above.

"She lay with her face against the frozen dirt and had her say with God.
Lord, I’ll thank’ee never to give me another day like this if I grow to be eighty.
No one deserves a day like this.
This is the most terrible day I’ve had in a hell of terrible days and I’m no’ grateful for it.
Now give me the strength to make my way across and down this devil’s scarp. Do that and then maybe I can make peace with’ee."

The detail of Mary’s ordeal makes the novel fascinating. Adding considerably to the tension of Mary’s situation is the presence of her companion, an unstable, middle-aged Dutch woman who becomes homicidal. Each chapter presents a specific conflict that is a component of Mary’s overall battle to survive and reach her destination. The story never loses momentum.

At appropriate places Thom’s narration touches the reader’s emotions. I was especially moved by Mary’s leaving-taking of her infant child, born during Mary’s early captivity.

"Her hot tears were dropping on the baby’s forehead and would awaken it; little frowns were disturbing its face and its little beak of an upper lip sucked in the soft red lower lip. Mary couldn’t stop herself. She kissed the little mouth and then, with anguish that would surely kill her, she rose to her feet and stumbled, tearblinded, to the edge of the camp, her lungs quaking for release, her throat clamped to hold down the awful wail of despair that was trying to erupt."

"Follow the River" deserves high praise.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Unknown Patriot Prevails

What amazes me almost as much as the incredible events of Eliphalet Downer’s life after the Battles of Lexington and Concord is that few Americans know anything about him. How much more could a man give of himself to the cause of freedom and independence during the American Revolution than this surgeon and sailor?

At the end of my last blog, Downer, surgeon on the privateer “Alliance,” operating one of the ship’s cannons during a fierce engagement, is wounded by grape shot. The battle between the “Alliance” and the 28-gun British frigate lasts seven and a half hours. The “Alliance” loses both of its masts. The ship surrenders after it has fired its last round.

We can imagine Downer’s agony while being transported to Portsea Prison, adjacent to Portsmouth, not far from Forten Prison, where he had been previously incarcerated. Kept in “the black hole,” Downer recuperates enough to help dig with a jack knife a forty foot tunnel under one of the prison walls. During the prisoners’ subsequent escape attempt, Downer, rather stout, becomes wedged in a section of the tunnel. More dirt is removed, he is freed, and the men flee across the outer grounds. Some of the fugitives are discovered and returned to “the black hole.” But not Downer. Helped by Reverend Thomas Wren and a Mr. William Downer (I have found no information that indicates that he and Eliphalet were related), our hero is transported again to France.

A respected Hollywood actor needs to play Reverend Wren in my imagery film. Wren deserves much face-time and praise.

Fifty-four years old, Reverend Wren had been the Presbyterian minister in Portsmouth for twenty-two years. He was an uninspiring preacher but was esteemed by the community for living “an exemplary life of charming simplicity and piety.” The personal responsibility he took for distributing charitable money and encouraging the poor mattered greatly.

Through press reports, the business of the Portsmouth dockyard, and his personal contacts Wren was cognizant of pro-American sentiment both locally and in Parliament. News of the destruction of East India tea in Boston Harbor in 1773, the clash of arms at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in 1775, and America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 reached Portsmouth citizens almost as quickly as it did the citizens of London.

American prisoners usually passed through Portsmouth on their way to Forten and Portsea Prisons. The residents of Portsmouth knew quite a lot about the prisons. In his sermons Reverend Wren spoke frequently about the prisoners’ plight. He attended their confinement hearings. He solicited contributions from local friends and organizations. He received donations from pro-American sympathizers throughout the country. He made frequent visits across the harbor to Forten where he visited the sailors, providing them support and assistance: money, even provisions delivered to inmates confined in the special punishment compound.

By 1777, Americans working from France were providing assistance. In October 1777, Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend and member of Parliament to ask that he distribute money to needy American captives. Franklin was told of the work of “a very worthy man,” the Reverend Thomas Wren.

Information of Reverend Wren’s charitable work reached the citizens of Boston with this notice printed October 5, 1778, in the Boston newspaper, The Independent Ledger and the American Advertizer.

“America ought to know the kindness that has been shown to her Sons in captivity in England, by the Rev'd Mr. Thomas Wren, a dissenting minister at Portsmouth. He had no small influence in procuring a subscription for their relief
at a time when they were treated with great severity. This subscription amounted to upwards of 4000 £ Sterling; and he was appointed one of the distributors of this bounty, in cloaths and other necessaries to the sufferers. Such humanity and generosity as they have experienced from this good man, and others of the same spirit, cannot be mentioned here with indifferance. They deserve particular honor and applause.

He has sent over a List of the New-England prisoners at Forton, near Portsmouth; your publishing it in your paper may further his humans views by giving relief to the minds of some of their anxious friends. Since the alliance with France, and the prospect of establishing our Independence, all our prisoners in England have been treated with lenity.”

Attempted escapes from Forten became common. Records show that 536 attempts were made during the course of the war. Prison fugitives were hampered by lack of local knowledge of safe routes, suitable clothing, food, and money. Other hazards included hostile residents eager to receive the £5 bounty paid for each prisoner returned. Notwithstanding, pro-American citizens helped. This became obvious to the authorities, who ordered investigations, which failed to identify specific culprits. It appears that the investigations were not diligent. Otherwise, the assistance rendered by Reverend Wren and his associates should have been uncovered. Wren’s High Street Chapel appears to have been one of the sanctuaries for fugitives who had made it across Portsmouth Harbor prior to their being transported to London and then to the continent.

Eliphalet Downer’s sole letter to his wife Mary was probably written in France after his second escape. He complains of the cruel and inhuman treatment of the American prisoners confined in the Forten Prison, and adds: "It is a little better since they have heard of the surrender of Burgoyne." He informs her that he had received a severe wound while directing the operations of a gun pointed out of a cabin window. "A grape-shot broke my arm so badly that the bone projected beyond the flesh but it is better now," he writes.

Downer’s 1777 deposition and others were the cause of correspondence between Benjamin Franklin and Silas Dean and Lord Viscount Stormont in Paris. In a message dated April 3, 1778, the American representatives warned the King’s court that America was aware of the barbarous treatment of her captured sailors and that if corrective actions were not taken, the Court should expect severe reprisals. “For the sake of humanity it is to be wished that men would endeavor to alleviate as much as possible the unavoidable miseries attending a state of war. … Compelling men by chains, stripes and famine to fight against their friends and relations is a new mode of barbarity, which your nation alone has the honor of inventing; and the sending American prisoners of war to Africa and Asia, remote from all probability of exchange, and where they can scarce hope to hear from their families, even if the unwholesomeness of the climate does not put a speedy end to their lives, is a manner of treating captives that you can justify by no other precedent or custom except that of the black savages of Guinea."

This message elicited the following response: “The King's ambassador receives no letters from rebels, except when they come to ask for mercy."

Every movie must end. Eliphalet Downer joins John Paul Jones on the "Bon Homme Richard." After experiencing several adventures he returns to Massachusetts. He applies for a pension, which is denied on the grounds "that as a surgeon he had no right to be in command of a gun. His services were welcome, but only within the limits of prescribed regulations. Outside of them all, militant risks were exclusively his own."

On July 9, 1779, Dr. Downer is commissioned Surgeon-General of the "Penobscot expedition," which ascends the Kennebec River but is overcome by superior British and Indian forces. His service lasts three months. He loses his surgical instruments, which the Massachusetts Legislature pays for -- fifteen dollars.

Afterward, he retires to private life, with a soldier's portion of the Marietta Reserve in Ohio and a peck-basket full of Continental money.

Fade out.

Father, Do Me No More Favors!


To appreciate better England’s attempt to establish a colony in North America in 1585, a student of history should know certain facts about the difficulties that Queen Elizabeth faced when in 1558 she became Queen, difficulties that she would continue to have during her lengthy reign.

Most of Elizabeth’s initial difficulties were caused by her father, Henry VIII. This blog entry explains how.

Throughout Henry VIII’s reign France was England’s enemy. Henry invaded France three times wanting to regain territory that had once belonged to England. He also wanted to be France’s King. Not surprisingly, France was hostile to Elizabeth when she became Queen.

Until the late 1520s Spain was more Henry’s ally than his enemy. Near the beginning of his reign (1509) Henry married Spain’s Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I. He stayed on good terms with their successor, King Charles (also the Holy Roman Emperor) for ten years, siding with him several times during Charles’s ongoing conflict with France. The relationship soured when Henry sought permission from the Pope to have his marriage annulled. Catherine, who was Charles’s aunt, had not borne Henry a male heir. Thwarted mostly by Charles, in 1533 Henry removed himself from Papal authority by declaring himself the head of the Church of England. A special English court declared the marriage null and void. Prior to the court's decision, Henry married the independent-minded Anne Boleyn, the sister of one of Henry’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting. Crowned queen-consort June 1, 1533, Anne gave birth to Elizabeth September 7. Henry ordered Anne Boleyn beheaded three years later. He married thereafter Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward, who became King in 1547. By separating his kingdom from the Catholic Church and having his marriage to Catherine voided, Henry gave Elizabeth’s nemesis King Philip II (Charles’s successor) every motivation to convert her or replace her with a Catholic monarch.

Henry also created problems for Elizabeth in Scotland. They would plague Elizabeth her entire reign. Henry’s father (Henry VII) had established peace with that Catholic nation by marrying his daughter Margaret to King James IV in 1503. James V, a devout Catholic, crowned King in 1513, maintained a close relationship with France. He married the French king’s daughter Madeleine (January 1537) and, after Madeleine’s death, Mary of Guise of the powerful House of Guise (June 1538). His and Mary’s only surviving child was Mary, born in 1542. She would become Mary, Queen of Scots, and claimant of the English throne.

The death of James’s mother (Margaret Tudor – Henry VIII’s sister) removed any remaining incentive for England and Scotland to remain at peace. When Henry had broken with the Roman Catholic Church, he had asked James to do the same. James had refused. Henry wanted to unite the two kingdoms. Warfare ensued. A small Scottish army met and defeated a similar-sized English army in August 1542 near the Scottish border. In November a larger Scottish army was beaten decisively on the English side of the Anglo-Scottish border. James died December 15 of a fever, six days after his daughter’s birth.

Henry proposed a marriage between his young son Edward and the infant Mary. The regent of Scotland reluctantly agreed. The Treaty of Greenwich was signed July 1, 1543. It stipulated that at the age of ten Mary would marry Edward. Mary would move to England where Henry would oversee her upbringing. The two countries would remain legally separated. If Edward and Mary had no children, the union between the two countries would dissolve. The Treaty was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland in December. Seeking to force the marriage, Henry invaded Scotland. In May 1544 the Earl of Hertford raided and burned Edinburgh. Warfare ended in 1546 without a definite resolution. Henry died January 28, 1547.

In 1548 an agreement was reached between Scotland’s regent and France’s King Henry II regarding Mary. She would marry the Dauphin Francis sometime in the future. Mary was subsequently taken to France by her mother, Mary of Guise, to spend the next 13 years at the French court. Years later, Mary, Queen of Scots, would become the focal point of plots to remove or assassinate Elizabeth. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Knife, Spatula, and Skillet, Page 238

     The keeper had bolted the entrance to his jail.
     “Your name, sir?” Pitcairn asked.
     “Ephraim Jones.”
     “Ye have denied entrance to my soldiers. I demand that your man remove the bolt.”
     “This jail is private property! You don’t have the right!”
     Pitcairn studied him. The man was in his fifties, stolid, his mouth stubbornly set. His eyes showed no fear.
     Pitcairn turned to the nearest grenadier, who was holding a heavy axe. “Break it down,” he ordered. “A jail house is not private propairty,” he said.
     The man shrugged. He stepped in front of the door. A second grenadier pushed him aside.
     “What are ye hiding?” Pitcairn demanded, inside the jail.
     “Nothin' that concerns you!”
     “Then let this concairn you! Pitcairn pushed the barrel end of his pistol against the jailer’s nostrils. “Show me what ye’ve concealed!”
     For ten seconds, the jailer resisted.
     Three twenty-four pound cannon balls were carried to the millpond. Ephraim Jones was escorted to the center of the Common.
     Surrounded by redcoats, he asked, “Am I under arrest?”
     Pitcairn scrutinized him. An amusing thought occurred to him. “Ye be an innkeeper, also, I’m told.”
     The man's face revealed nothing.
     With the seriousness befitting a magistrate, Pitcairn declared, “Ye have acted treasonously, Innkeeper Jones. Ye are my prisoner. As His Majesty’s representative, I orrder ye now t’prepare me breakfast. If ye comply, if ye prepare me thick ham and sausage, I will parole ye.”
     Ephraim Jones squinted.
     “Think judiciously, innkeeper. Your release depends upon your talent with knife, spatula, and skillet!”


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review

"Dancing at the Rascal Fair"

by Ivan Doig


Ivan Doig’s “Dancing at the Rascal Fair” did not win me over until I had read the first third of the book. I found the account of two young Scotsmen, Angus McCaskill and Rob Barclay, emigrating to America in 1889, traveling to Montana, locating Rob’s enterprising uncle, Lucas Barclay, and establishing homesteads in high country just east of the Continental Divide mildly interesting. Reading about the people of the region and their ways of living was useful. Doig’s dialogue is crisp and unique to each character. He is visually expressive. His phraseology of thought and emotion is excellent. His characters are the antithesis of being stereotype.

Here are examples of Doig’s expressive skills.

About the news of the death of Rob Barclay’s father received in a letter: “As much sadness as paper can absorb was in that letter.”

About Angus’s wife’s reluctance to learn how to saddle a horse: “Beside the big gingerbread-colored horse, Adair was a small pillar of reluctance.”

About Angus and Adair’s unhappy marriage: “When a marriage begins to come apart, the stain spreads into whatever it can find.”

Doig is indeed an excellent writer. What seemed lacking initially was story excitement, compelling conflict, too much introspection by the novel’s first person narrator, Angus. But when Angus meets Anna Ramsay and falls instantly in love with her, causing the first major rift in Angus and Rob’s friendship, my attitude changed.

Angus and Rob’s deteriorating relationship is the backbone of the novel. Rob is ambitious, optimistic, socially engaging, and persuasive. Angus, ambitious enough, is educated, practical, rather cautious, and cognizant of other people’s feelings. Rob has a selfish side. Angus is introspective and principled. Angus explains three-fourths of the way through the novel how he and Rob are broadly different. “He sees life as something you put in your pocket as you please. I never find it fits that easily.” Rob wants to decide things for both of them and expects to have his way. Angus resents being manipulated. Being friends, they are able early on to banter away most of the friction this produces. Rob invests heavily in raising and grazing sheep. Angus does on a much smaller scale, and he becomes the school master of the local creek-land homestead children.

On the other side of a butte and beside a different creek is another school house. Angus makes a courtesy call on the school house and meets its school mistress, Anna Ramsay. He is entirely smitten by her. She is attracted to him. Soon they make love. He proposes. She delays her answer until the end of summer. She and her family, needing money, are to accompany Isaac Reese (a neighbor) to build railroad crossings and plow fireguard strips along the Great Northern Railway. Not long after the Ramsay family’s departure, Rob persuades Angus to ride with him by wagon to the nearest railroad station to pick up a Montgomery Ward cream separator that Rob has supposedly ordered. The separator turns out to be Adair Barclay, Rob’s 19 year old sister, whom Rob has brought from Scotland to Montana for Angus to marry. Angus is incensed. Rob has interfered in his personal life and he has placed his sister in an extremely awkward, vulnerable position. Angus has to tell Adair that he is engaged. At the end of the summer Anna tells him that she intends to marry Isaac Reese. Angus is emotionally destroyed.

A month later Angus marries Adair. He is convinced he cannot live any longer by himself. He is also afraid that his desire for Anna will stay with him the rest of his life. Adair knows she is second-best and that Anna will always be in his thoughts.

Adair has great difficulty adapting to the bigness, harshness, and loneliness of Montana life. She resists its challenges. She miscarries twice. She tells Angus that she wants to go back to Scotland to “visit.” Angus recognizes her purpose. He narrates: “By invoking Scotland, Adair was saying that our marriage need not be a lasting barrier keeping me from Anna.” Angus has treated her with great consideration. He wants her to stay, all the while wanting Anna more. But then Adair becomes pregnant again and gives birth to a son, Varick. This event keeps her from leaving.

Years pass. The breech in Angus’s friendship with Rob widens. Rob complains to Angus about his obsession with Anna. Angus tells him not to interfere. Rob pressures Angus to join him in a “land locator” partnership. For a fee they would lead prospective settlers to dry land (the only land still available) and mark the boundaries of their future homesteads knowing all the while how foolish these settlers would be to file claims. Adair tells Angus that she “doesn’t know if she can stay, after Varick is grown and gone.” Believing he must finance his, Adair’s, and Varick’s separate futures, Angus agrees to the partnership. After two summers of land locator work, his conscience bearing heavily on him, weary of the resentment his clients direct at him, Angus quits. To make up for the lost income, he agrees to partner with Rob in raising more sheep, which will graze and be sheered on Indian reservation land.

Angus drives their combined sheep herds onto the reservation land and sets up a sheering camp. Anna and her two children pass through the camp headed north. Her husband, Isaac Reese, is building roads for the national park, and she and the children are going to visit him. Angus persuades Anna to spend the night in the camp. He then persuades her to join him to witness alone the arrival of dawn. She does so. Rob arrives late to camp, learns that Angus and she were alone together and assumes incorrectly that the two had made love. Rob accuses Angus. Angus tells him, “Rob, don’t ever give me any more guff about something that’s none of your business.” Rob tells Varick about Angus and Anna’s supposed intercourse. Varick, in his late teens, rejects his father and moves into the nearby town. Angus beats Rob to within an inch of his life.

104 pages of the book remain. Angus and Rob’s relationship deteriorates further and Angus’s relationships with Adair and Varick evolve. Enough said.

How does the ambitious, risk-taking person deal with disappointment and defeat? Is such a person able to accept less so as not to be destroyed? What separates the person who can and the person who cannot? Can such a person adapt and experience happiness? Ivan Doig has Lucas Barclay, Rob Barclay, Angus McCaskill, and Adair Barclay McCaskill answer these questions. This book was not an easy read but definitely worthwhile. Although I very much wanted to, I could not quite rate this novel five stars.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Dr. Eliphalet Downer (played by Matt Damon in my imaginary movie) is holding a pistol as the sailors of two British sloops heavy with rum and sugar are taken aboard the “Yankee,” the privateer on which Downer has served four months as ship’s surgeon. The privateer has captured eight prize ships but not two during a single voyage. The second action had been especially lively. Downer had manned a cannon out of the window closest to his surgeon’s quarters. Watching the prisoners come aboard, Downer recognizes that they outnumber considerably the privateer’s crew, too many of whom are to sail the sloops back to a friendly port. He realizes that those crewmembers who remain aboard the “Yankee” must maintain constant vigilance.

Two hours later, while cleaning his surgical instruments, Downer hears shouts above his quarters. Two or three shots are fired. Heavy feet resound on the deck above. Minutes later he is arrested by two of the prisoners that he had an hour before examined.

Cut to the arrival of the “Mars,” a British prison ship, at Gosport, England, near the British naval base at Portsmouth. It is October 13, 1777. Downer and three Massachusetts seamen are removed from the prison ship and locked inside a filthy cell of Forten Prison, originally a privately owned naval hospital but now a cruel prisoner of war facility. “Expect t’be rottin’ yer bones here, mates!” one of the ship’s guards taunts. “Y’be dead in three months!”

The guard’s declaration is merited. The conditions of life here for prisoners are abominable, as indicated by Downer’s deposition printed later that year in the radical Worcester, Massachusetts, newspaper, The American Spy.

“That after he was made prisoner he and his countrymen were closely confined, yet assured that on their arrival in port they should be set at liberty, and these assurances were repeated in the most solemn manner; instead of which, on their approach to land they were in hot weather of August, shut up in a small cabin, the windows of which were spiked down and no air admitted insomuch that they were all in danger of suffocation from the excessive heat. Three or four days after their arrival in the River Thames they were relieved from this situation in middle of the night hurried on board a tender and sent down to Sheerness, where the deponent was put into the “Ardent,” and there falling sick of a violent fever, in consequence of such treatment and languishing in that situation for some time, he was removed, still sick to the “ Mars,” and notwithstanding repeated petitions to be suffered to be sent to prison on shore, he was detained until, having the appearance of mortification in his legs he was sent to Hester Hospital [at Forten], from whence, after recovering his health, he had the good fortune to make his escape. [We must assume that this deposition was taken while Downer was in hiding after his escape] While on board those ships he was informed and believes that many of his countrymen, after experiencing even worse treatment than he, were sent to the west Indies, and many of those taken at Quebec were sent to the coasts of Africa as soldiers."

A biographical sketch of Eliphalet Downer -- taken in part from the Biographical Encyclopedia of Massachusetts, from "Brookline in the Revolutionary War," published by the Brookline Historical Society, and from original letters furnished by his descendants – indicates that soon after his arrival at Forten Prison, Downer was made a hospital assistant. That changed circumstance must have made Downer’s escape less daunting. Unfortunately, this sketch provides no details of his escape. We will leave its depiction to the imagination of our imaginary screen writer and film director.

We will permit the screen writer also to portray how Downer’s wife, Mary, was affected by the news of his capture. She had not yet received a letter from him, would in fact receive only one during his three year absence. Added to her anxiety was the daily burden of feeding her family. The half-pay order that Downer had left with her was worthless. Obtaining necessary food for three sons and one daughter was a daily ordeal. Frequently, Elizabeth did not know where their next meal would come from. The boys helped, catching pigeons in nets, scooping smelts out of brooks, and receiving payment for raising strawberries for the officers sick in Boston hospitals.

We see Downer carrying his bag of instruments onto the privateer “Alliance,” anchored in a French port. “We’ll be cruisin’ the Channel,” its captain has informed him. “Suspect we’ll be needin’ yer sawin’ and yer fightin’. In a year we expect t’be sailin’ home.”

Having captured 18 prize ships, the men of the “Alliance” at last set sail to cross the Atlantic. Two days west of the Azores the privateer is challenged by a 28-gun frigate. The “Alliance” is unable to flee. It must engage. Four hours into the battle, Downer, manning a cannon pointed outside the window next to his quarters, is driven to the floor by a fusillade of grapeshot. Downer cries out in agony. He stares at his right arm. The humerus bone of his right arm has broken through his coat sleeve.

Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth took special notice of Walter Raleigh in 1582 when she summoned Arthur Grey, Lord Deputy of Ireland, and Raleigh to appear before her Privy Council to be interrogated.  A captain of English troops in Ireland, Raleigh had sent critical messages about Grey’s job performance quelling rebellion to Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to the Queen.  Responding, Grey had accused Raleigh of making misrepresentations and fomenting plots.  “I neigher like his carriage nor his company,” Grey had written Walsingham.  Eloquent, persuasive, Raleigh presented himself before the Queen and her councilors far better than his superior.  Not wanting to go back to Ireland, Raleigh thereafter sought and was permitted to stay on at the Royal Court. 
Raleigh was 30 years old.  Eighteen years older than Raleigh, Elizabeth was taken by his masculinity, intellect, self-confidence, and charm.  Highly intelligent herself, erudite, fiercely independent, craving male adoration, she demanded his daily presence eager to debate his opinions, appreciate his wit, welcome his brass dismissal of rivals’ criticism, and bask in his declarations of courtly love. 
Throughout her lengthy reign Elizabeth thrived on masculine flattery.  She reveled in the artificial rituals of manly courtship.  She was not a beautiful woman; but her personality, according to biographer Alison Weir, was compelling, charismatic.  She charmed the opposite sex by utilizing her wit, vivacity, and expressive eyes.  She was far more at ease with men than women, whom she regarded as rivals.  It pleased her to believe that those who flattered her were really in love with her.  “As the years went by, she took more and more extreme measures to recapture her lost youth, but her chivalrous courtiers continued to reassure her that she was the fairest lady at court, a fiction her inordinate vanity allowed her to swallow” (Weir 229).
Raleigh was nearly six feet tall (a good eight inches taller than the average male).  He was dark haired with a lighter, neatly-trimmed beard and moustache.  He had piercing light brown eyes.  He was handsome, graceful, and very bold.  He had a charming Devonshire accent.  She teased him about it, calling him “Water,” not “Walter.” 
Raleigh was born in Devon in 1552, the youngest of five children.  His father was of the lower gentry.  Raleigh was a distant relative of Francis Drake (by way of his father’s first marriage) and the half brother of Humphrey Gilbert (by way of his mother’s first marriage).  Raleigh attended Oxford and the Inns of Court.  He was boisterous with friends and was often in trouble for brawling and playing practical jokes.  One of his roommates recalled him as being "riotous, lascivious, and incontinent."   He was bright, ambitious, and energetic.  He was inquisitive; he was a free-thinker.  He had a wide range of interests and possessed many talents.  He believed he could attain greatness.  He interrupted his studies in 1569 to join the Huguenots in France to fight against Catholic tyranny.  He may have been in Paris August 25, 1572, to experience the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.  Raised listening to the exciting tales of Devonshire seafarers, fired by the idea of global exploration, he participated in Humphrey Gilbert’s first attempt (1578) to found an English colony in North America.  Three of the seven ships that Gilbert commanded deserted; foul weather kept three others in port.  Raleigh’s ship left port and was gone for nearly six months, sailing probably as far as the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of Africa), its crew and captain intent on practicing piracy.  
Mostly because of the recommendation of his mother’s aunt, Katherine "Kat" Ashley (who had served as governess and confidante to Elizabeth before she became Queen), in 1580 Raleigh secured a position at the royal court.  He became one of the Esquires of the Body Extraordinary, a group of personable young courtiers who performed for Elizabeth ceremonial duties.  Exhibiting a volatile temper, almost immediately he fought two duels and was imprisoned.  Needing to remove him from the contentious environment of the Court, Raleigh’s allies persuaded the Queen’s advisors to assign him to officer English soldiers in Ireland.  This entailed engaging Papal troops sent to a Catholic fort at Smerwick, County Kerry.  Accepting Lord Grey’s pledge of clemency after a three day siege, the Pope’s troops surrendered.  The fort's women were thereupon hanged, its priests tortured and executed, and all of the soldiers stabbed.  Much of this was done under Raleigh’s supervision.  Raleigh remained in Ireland until early 1582, when he and Deputy Lord Grey were summoned to appear before the Queen.
It had become nearly impossible for a courtier who lacked a noble pedigree to establish himself at Court.  England’s nobility had become even more resistant to social class upward mobility.  Expanded trade with European countries had enabled English merchants and the lesser gentry to become rich and powerful.  The influence of older landed families had begun to wane.  Peers were no longer automatically filling the highest levels of government.  The nobility, reacting, strived to redefine upper class status.  Gentlemen, henceforth, were to be defined by how money was made, not solely by wealth.  Great emphasis was placed on education and correct behavior.  “Nobility is a way of living, a sharing of tastes, a mastering of social graces” (Miller 138).  The nobility demanded enforcement of laws that defined the clothing styles allowed each class.  They and rich merchants strived to outdo each other, each wearing fine and costly garments.  The rise to prominence of a son of the lower gentry or mercantile class was fought against vehemently.
Moreover, competition to win favor at Court, regardless of a man’s pedigree, was fierce.  “The nearer one was to the Queen, … the greater the reward, which included court and government posts, knighthood, peerages (very rare), monopolies on goods, annuities, pensions, wardships and loans” (Weir 254).  Few openings for young candidates existed.  Success ultimately depended on winning Elizabeth’s approval.  Striving to do so was exceedingly costly. It required a massive outlay of funds to create a competitive visual image.  Many lost their fortunes; others had to sell off manor lands to pay their London debts.  If a young man was so fortunate as to be admitted into Elizabeth’s circle, he now had to worry about maintaining his advantage.  He could easily be supplanted.  Fashion at Court was all important, a public statement.  A courtier had to compete in the display of outlandish attire.  He also had to compete in dancing, writing poetry, and exhibiting accomplishments that revealed a fluency in many languages.  Elizabeth had created an exceedingly high bar.  Raleigh surmounted it handsomely.
In Elizabeth’s eyes Raleigh was fearless, daring, and overpoweringly virile.  He wooed her, sending her notes of endearment, playing skillfully the unrequited lover.  He traveled with her from palace residence to palace residence as well as on progresses throughout the kingdom.  Using a diamond ring Raleigh carved a message on a stained-glass window that read “Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.”  She carved a witty response: “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.”  One of his poems, written in 1588 read in part:
            Those eyes which set my fancy on a fire,
            Those crisped hairs which hold my heart in chains,
            Those dainty hands which conquered my desire,
            That wit which on my thought does hold the reins!
            Those eyes for clearness do the stars surpass,
            Those hairs obscure the brightness of the sun,
            Those hands more white than every ivory was,
            That wit even to the skies hath glory won.
Elizabeth provided him a substantial income.  She bestowed on him two leases from All Souls College, Oxford.  He received the authority to charge every vintner in the country one pound a year to retail wines.  Import wine permits had to be obtained initially from him.  Later, he was given large and very profitable grants involving the export of woolens.  In late 1582 or early 1583 he was given a commodious house on the Thames River.  He used his income to dress lavishly, like a prince.  His clothes glittered with rubies, diamonds and pearls.  His footwear was adorned with jewels.  All the vessels at his table were of silver with his own code of arms.  His bed was draped with a green velvet spread bordered with silver lace.  His four posts were garnished with white feather plumes.  His rivals, and most of the nobility, hated him.  Raleigh was denounced as a manipulator, a fraud, a deceiver.  They made cutting jibes about his low birth.  Raleigh disdained their contempt, wearing it as a badge of honor.  Elizabeth reveled in it, even encouraged it.  Fearful of his effect on the Queen, many Privy Council members viewed him as an enemy. 
Profiting from Elizabeth’s favoritism, Raleigh pursued his objectives.  After his half-brother’s death at sea in 1583, Raleigh wanted Gilbert’s colonial patent transferred to him.  Elizabeth obliged.  Raleigh’s enterprises at Roanoke were about to begin.
Sources Cited:
Miller, Lee.  Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000.  Print.
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Grand Music, Pages 224-226

Accepting pleasure without celebration, disappointment without complaint, Amos Barrett, like a twig in a pond, drifted.
     Not a planner, he was an accepting doer. His beliefs were his neighbors’ beliefs. A corporal in Captain Brown’s company, he had not dwelt on the prospect of life and death combat but he had thought that some day it might happen.
     His day had begun at 3:00 a.m. when the Concord alarm bell had roused him from his bed. Standing in front of Wright Tavern, he had watched the arrival of fellow militiamen and an admixture of old men and adolescent boys. The arrival of an entire company from Lincoln an hour before dawn had surprised him. Other companies from towns to the east and north would also be arriving, his sergeant had thereafter boasted, Colonel Barrett -- Amos’s uncle -- having sent messengers off to Stow, Acton, Sudbury, and Bedford. Just about every town had raised its own minuteman company. It occurred to Amos that these companies were now doing what their name signified.
     After a shouting Reuben Brown had ridden in from Lexington, Amos had thought briefly about dying -- days, he realized, before his twenty-third birthday! It had been a passing thought, shunted aside by what he had really wanted to think about, firing at strutting lobsterbacks. Therefore, he had willingly joined his company, one of four that Major Buttrick had sent off toward Lexington, Buttrick’s thinking, Amos’s as well, that it was better to confront the enemy firsthand to know straight off what had to be done.
     They had marched proudly past Meriam’s Corner and over the little bridge that spanned Mill Brook. We’ve never drilled or paraded here before, he thought. Always by the millpond. Always the same drills.
 This was a new experience. It would have a different ending. He felt strangely affected.
 He seemed to be seeing and hearing as never before.
 He knew it wasn’t because he was afraid. Or overly excited. He was just, … extremely alert! Like a hunted animal, he supposed. Strange, he thought, that he had conjured up that comparison, being that he and his company were doing the hunting.
     A mile and a half out of Concord Major Buttrick’s lead company halted. “They’re comin’!” Daniel Fuller shouted. The entire column stopped. Not seeing the regulars, listening intently, Amos heard blue jays. Trying to locate them, he saw behind leafing tree limbs the ridge top of a barn. “Stand ready!” Amos’s captain, David Brown, shouted.
     Seconds later Brown rode to the front of the column. Doing what the men in front of him were doing, Amos stepped off the road. There they were, the terrible redcoats. Coming over a rise. What struck him most was the shine of their bayonets. Too bad we don’t have any of those, he thought.
     He watched Major Buttrick, at the head of the column, talking with his captains and lieutenants. What was the matter with him? The regulars were getting closer. There were an awful lot of them. Hadn’t Buttrick seen that? Amos looked fleetingly at the pine wood thirty rods to his right.
     The front part of the redcoat column was swallowing up space! Buttrick and his captains were still palavering. “Damnation!” Was Buttrick planning to bid them “Good morrow”? Share with them a dish of tea? If they get within thirty rods of me, I’ll load my musket, orders be hanged, and head off for those trees!
     But the Major’s conference was breaking up. Amos’s captain turned his horse about. Twenty seconds later, facing the company, Brown shouted, “We’re going back! Look alive! We'll be showin' those damn Redcoats how well farmers march!”
     The fifers and drummers, at the rear on the march going out, stepped off. Amos marched smartly to their music. The rhythmic sound of the many shoes pleased him. A different music started up behind him. The British fife and drum corps was answering. He strained to recognize what their musicians were playing but could not. He grinned. Whatever it was, the mixture of tunes sounded good. Grand music they marched to, he thought, oblivious of the comic spectacle Buttrick’s militia and the British column exhibited.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Book Review

Cress Delahanty

by Jessamyn West

“Cress Delahanty” by Jessamyn West is one of those rare books that causes me to celebrate life. Mrs. West is a masterful writer. I read this book in the 1980s when I was teaching fourteen-year-olds and loved it. Now, having a granddaughter of that age, after reading it a second time, I revere it.

The reader experiences the growth toward emotional maturity of Crescent Delahanty from age 12 to 16 in the late 1930s and early 1940s. She and her parents live on a citrus ranch near Santa Ana, California. Not particularly attractive physically but highly observant and introspective, she is an only child awkwardly seeking social standing and peer approval. As she grows older, she learns indelible lessons about people and life that her supportive, usually perceptive parents frequently sense she is experiencing and strive to guide her through. These lessons are revealed through vignettes, selected occurrences that do not preach, do not explain, do not dramatize. We experience what Cress sees, hears, thinks, and feels. We adults, drawing on our own experiences, are permitted to infer what Cress has discovered for the first time. This is a coming-of-age novel in the best sense. No stereotypes here. Each experience is intelligently selected and sparsely, cleanly, and sometimes humorously narrated.

I will provide one example.

Late during her thirteenth year Cress is invited to stay over the weekend at the house of a classmate, Ina Wallenius. Ina wants to be Cress’s friend. Cress doesn’t particularly want to go. Cress had reached [precariously] the upper level of her high school’s social structure and Ina was at a lower level “reaching upward. A visit could put Ina up where she was, or just as easily put Cress down where Ina was.” Ina is somewhat peculiar in appearance and conduct. She lives with her father in a neighborhood of small houses built on a hill amid oil derricks. “A ratty little town,” Ina apologizes as the two girls get off the school bus to begin the weekend.

They enter Ina’s house. To Cress’s great surprise, the rooms are immaculate. Every household item is precisely placed. “Half a lemon rested in the exact center of a saucer, and the saucer had been placed in the exact middle of the window sill. The chairs, ranged around the set table, were all pushed under it a uniform distance.”

Cress meets Mr. Wallenius, who greets her and goes off to wash for dinner, which his daughter has carefully prepared. Before they eat, he asks Cress to read a chapter from the Bible, a daily occurrence in his house. He has selected a chapter that contained words that, elsewhere, “it would be very wrong for her to whisper or even think about.” The father asks Cress, “Did you understand what you read?” Not wanting to be tested, she answers that she hadn’t. Mr. Wallenius seems pleased.

He asks Cress, “Have you ever been kissed?” Knowing he doesn’t mean family kisses, she answers, ”No.” He tells her she is big enough. “I guess it goes more by age than size,” Cress responds.

Mr. Wallenius invites Cress to take a little walk with him while Ina washes the dishes. Feeling uncomfortable, Cress answers, “I wouldn’t feel right, not helping.” Mr. Wallenius says, “Washing them alone is a little punishment I planned for Ina. A little reminder. Isn’t that true, Ina?”

They go outside. The father warns Cress about rattlesnakes. He is carrying a long stick, tells her how he has killed a few. They come upon one of the sump holes in the neighborhood. Mr. Wallanius goes into the bushes and comes out with a live gopher snake balanced on his stick. “With a gentle movement, Mr. Wallenius laid, rather than threw, the soft, brown, harmless thing in the sump hole. Ignoring Cress’s pleas to spare the snake, he watches it fight to survive. “Sink—swim; sink—swim. … Up—down; in—out,” he repeats. “It’s dying!” Cress protests. She breaks away from him, flees down the hill, and walks the long distance home.

Her parents ask her why she has come back. “Homesick” is her answer. Does she want a bedtime snack? The chapter ends this way: “It sounded good, but Cress was silent. She sat down in her father’s chair and nodded yes to him, because suddenly she was too tired to speak even so small and easy a word.” Ina and her father and this experience are not referred to thereafter in the book.

I admire Jessamyn West’s ability to provide sensory detail in her narration almost as much as I do her selection and portrayal of her subject matter. She is not pretentious in her word selection; instead she is simple, direct and, most importantly, exact. Here are two examples:

“Mrs. Delahanty stood in front of the fireplace, close to the fire until her calves began to scorch, then on the edge of the hearth until they cooled.”

“It was only the smell of the oil—which was taste as much as smell—the sight of an occasional sump hole at the end of a side street, and the sound of the pumps that reminded Cress where she was. The sound of the pumps filled the air, deep, rhythmical, as if the hills themselves breathed; or as if deep in the wells some kind of heart shook the earth with so strong a beat that Cress could feel it in the soles of her feet.”

“Cress Delahanty” is not a novel that teenagers would especially enjoy, in my opinion. Oh, but what a pleasure it is for parents and grandparents to read! I can imagine them finishing each chapter thinking, “Yes, this is how it is” or “I can believe this. Such a good person being made stronger. Mankind needs strong, sensitive people.”    

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Get Me Matt Damon!

Brookline, Massachusetts, physician/militiaman Eliphalet Downer’s exploits during the Revolutionary War could easily be made into an action/adventure summer movie. I see Matt Damon (using his Boston accent) playing the swashbuckling Downer, who makes one brief appearance in my novel, “Crossing the River.”

Downer, turned 31 April 4, 1775, is described by two historical sources as a man that fits the actor’s physical makeup. Francis S. Drake in his History of Roxbury describes Downer as a “skillful surgeon” and a “hard, rough man.” General William Heath in his Memoirs remembered Downer as “an active, energetic man.”

Early in my imagined movie, theater-goers would witness Downer (1744-1806) escaping death three times. The time: mid-afternoon, April 19, 1775. The place: Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts. The circumstance: militiamen from various towns including Brookline fighting scattered redcoats hand-to-hand on the town’s broad plain below the Meeting House as one thousand plus British regulars retreat from Concord to the sanctuary of Bunker and Breeds Hills and the guns of the man-of-war “Somerset,” anchored between Charlestown and Boston.

We see Downer, eager to participate, running past a two-story house. Two soldiers appear at one corner of the building. They see him, hurry after him. Downer turns. One of the soldiers falls, shot from behind by an unseen militiaman. Downer raises his musket, fires. The second redcoat falls, moves his right arm, lies still. Downer hurries off, toward the broad field, where squads of soldiers, separating from the British column, are attacking militiamen arrayed loosely and provocatively in different locations.

Massachusetts Provincial General Heath and Doctor Joseph Warren, on horses, appear fifty yards to Downer’s left. Downer is not aware of their presence. Here is how I narrate the beginning of Downer’s next close encounter with death.


Across the expansive plain below the Menotomy meeting house militiamen by the hundreds had refused to give ground. Having galloped through their groups to inspire valor, Heath, followed by Doctor Joseph Warren, had stopped his horse repeatedly to behold and exhort.

Squads of regulars had repeatedly left the column to drive back their slayers. Riding past his warriors, Heath had shouted, “Fire! Stay your ground! Reload! Fire!”

One encounter had thrilled him. He would learn afterward that the American had been the physician-turned-militiaman, Eliphalet Downer. Five cursing regulars had caught Downer and four compatriots crossing an uncontested section of the plain.

“You, damned rebel! Do you dare face?!” the nearest had challenged.

“I dare face!” Downer had shouted.

Standing forty feet apart, they had hastily fired. Thereafter, they had fought.

Downer had parried his attacker’s bayonet thrusts with the barrel of his musket. One early stab had cut into the fabric of his coat. A goner, Heath had concluded.


Forty heart-throbbing seconds later, Downer prevails, in quick succession striking a blow to the redcoat’s neck and right shoulder with the stock of his musket, seizing the soldier’s weapon, and stabbing the regular with the weapon’s bayonet. We have a close-up of Heath and Warren’s expressions of amazement. Fired upon, the two men ride off. Pan to where the death duel has taken place. The soldier lies motionless. Downer has left.

The scene shifts to the interior of a barn. We see a wounded soldier lying on bloodied, scattered hay. Downer enters the barn to prime the dead redcoat’s confiscated musket, his own weapon broken and discarded. Downer sees the soldier, hesitates. He goes to him.

“I’m a doctor,” Downer whispers. “May I dress your wound?”

The soldier looks at him, rolls suddenly toward his musket, seizes it. “Damn yer!” he rages. “I’ll dress yer wound for yer!” Downer steps back, his musket without ball and powder. The soldier, managing to sit, aims. Powder explodes. The soldier crumples, lies still. A militiaman appears from behind Downer. “A close one, that, eh, Doc?”

The two men stare at each other while the sounds of battle become manifest.

Fade to an indoor scene, Downer’s home in Brookline. We see his wife, and his three sons and one daughter, between the ages of two and eight. Downer is telling them of his experiences and what he has learned of the day’s outcome. He predicts accurately that war with England has begun. He declares his intention to serve the province’s cause as a surgeon tending the wounded and sick.

We experience the fighting (the Battle of Bunker Hill) at the top of Breeds Hill. We see Doctor Warren standing fast. Short of ammunition, the militiamen begin to vacate their position. Warren is one of the last to leave. A British officer calls out to him. Warren, recognizing the man, smiles. He is shot in the face, from another direction. We see then militiamen fleeing across Charlestown Neck. The wounded are being helped by comrades. Many stop. We see Downer moving from location to location tending to the most needy.

We see the date March 17, 1776 on the theater screen. Long lines of soldiers are being loaded on transport boats. The British evacuation of Boston has begun. Downer and his three sons watch from a vantage point on Beacon Hill. A man (played by Ben Affleck) approaches. “Doctor, I be askin’ the need of your service!” the man declares. “You’ve heard, I conjecture, the word ‘privateer’?”

“A ship t’be fitted with several cannon t’prey on British vessels?”

“Just so. We capture their crew, take them and their ship back to Boston, share the profits after we sell the ship’s valuables. A dangerous endeavor, surgeon. I’m the owner of the Yankee, the first privateer, I believe, t’be sailin’ out of Boston. I’ll be needin’ the service of a man such as youself, I hear. A fightin’ man and a damn good doctor. Will y’be joinin’ me?”

The boys look quizzically at their father. “Give me time to think about it,” Downer responds.

Fade to a scene on a long dock. The privateer waits for Downer to come aboard. Downer embraces his children, then his wife. She is crying.

“Mary, we’ve been over this. I must serve my country, as best I can. We must all sacrifice. I promise you I’ll return.”

Fade out.

"We Will Live and Die Together"

The following scene, which I may include in a forthcoming novel about the conflict caused by English attempts to establish settlements at Roanoke in the 1580s, sets up an interesting side-note to Humphrey Gilbert’s botched attempt to found an English colony off the coast of Maine.
Gilbert and his crew sensed how close to Sable Island’s rocks the Squirrel, riding the crests of turbulent waves, had come.  If he dared to put out to sea, how many days or weeks would it be before he could return?  On this island roamed wild pigs and cattle, set ashore by Portuguese explorers.   He had to replenish his food supply.  The alternative was to return to the Queen in disgrace!  The Newfoundland fishermen had warned him about Sable Island, about how in bad weather too many ships had been dashed against its rocks.  "Approach it in the best of conditions."  Well, he had done the opposite.
Slanting rain pelted him.  He turned his face away from its force.  Minutes passed.  Sailors were staring at him, turning their faces when he attempted eye contact.  He would wait a bit longer!
If the fog lifted, he could then be certain.  If not, …   The waiting was intolerable!   He stared, at drifting, amorphous shapes.
A ferocious blast of wind drove him off his feet.  He careened down the slippery starboard deck, his right leg striking stanchions.  Adjusting painfully to the roll of the ship, gripping a foremast spar, he stood.  The boards beneath his feet trembled.  Fear constricted his throat.
"Admiral!  Here!"
Gilbert hesitated, then followed the beckoning sailor to a cluster of four seamen just aft of broadside.  There!  The fog had opened.  Gilbert's largest ship, the Delight, was coming apart on dark rocks.  And in the water . . . the ship's crew: heads, flailing arms.  Miraculously, a boat in the water, just beyond, in one eye-blink, capsized.  Churning bodies, disappearing.  Gone!
For an hour Gilbert’s two ships maintained their positions.  Then he ordered their departure.  All one hundred of the Delight’s crew had perished.  Numbed with guilt, he retired to his cabin.
There were sixteen survivors.  During Gilbert's seventeen day lay-over at Newfoundland, his carpenters had built a pinnace (a small sailing ship used frequently to transport people from ship to shore).  The Delight had towed the pinnace behind her to Sable Island.  The sixteen sailors boarded her.  They headed northward, attempting to steer with one oar.  On the seventh day of their ordeal they reached the shoreline of southern Newfoundland, where they ate wild peas and berries.  When a French ship discovered them, four had died.  The remaining twelve were transported across the Atlantic to a Spanish port near the French border.  They crossed over into France that night, and they eventually returned to England.
Richard Hakylut’s The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation includes an account of their survival by the master mariner of the Delight, Richard Clarke.  Here is my summary, aided by excerpts from his account.
Some of the Delight’s company in the water were able to swim.  They recovered the pinnace and hauled out of the water others afloat, including Clarke.   Eventually, sixteen men occupied the boat.  Expecting death, they were determined to “prolong their liues as long as it pleased God.”  They anticipated “euery moment of an houre when the Sea would eate them vp, the boate being so little and so many men in her, and so foule weather.”  For two days and two nights their boat went where the ocean directed them, “God pleased to allow their boat to live in the sea.”
A master named Hedley proposed to Clarke that it might “please God that some of vs may come to the land if our boate were not ouerladen. Let vs make sixteene lots, and those foure that haue the foure shortest lots we will cast ouerboord preseruing the Master among vs all. I replied vnto him, saying, no we will liue and die together.”  Hedley asked Clarke if his memory of their location was good.  Clarke answered that he knew how far off land they were (“but threescore leagues from the lande”) and hoped to come to land within two or three days.  This put them all “in comfort.”
“Thus we continued the third and fourth day without any sustenance, saue onely the weedes that swamme in the Sea, and salt water to drinke.”  On the fifth day Hedley and another man died.  During all of the five days and nights “we saw the Sunne but once and the Starre but one night, it was so foule weather.”  All were very weak.  Doubting that they would ever reach land, they wished to die.
“I promised them that the seuenth day they should come to shore, or els they should cast me ouer boord.”  At 11 a.m. on the seventh day they sighted land (southern Newfoundland), and at 3 p.m. they reached shore.  All during the seven days and nights the wind had “kept continually South.  If the wind had in the meanetime shifted vpon any other point, wee had neuer come to land: we were no sooner come to the land, but the wind came cleane contrary at North within halfe an houre after our arriuall.”
“But we were so weake that one could scarcely helpe another of vs out of the boate, yet with much adoe being come all on shore we kneeled downe ypon our knees and gaue God praise that he had dealt so mercifully with vs. Afterwards those which were strongest holpe their fellowes vnto a fresh brooke, where we satisfied our selues with water and berries very well.”
The area abounded with berries.  They spied a little wood consisting of pine, spruce, fir, and birch.  They made a little house with boughs inside which they spent the night.  The next morning Clarke “deuided the company three and three to goe euery way to see what foode they could find to sustaine thenselues, and appointed them to meete there all againe at noone with such foode as they could get.”  They found great stores of peas “as good as any wee haue in England: a man would thinke they had bene sowed there.”  They rested there three days and three nights, eating berries and peas.  Afterward, they rowed their boat along the shore five days, putting on land “when we were hungry or a thirst.”   
They “came to a very goodly riuer that ranne farre vp into the Countrey and saw very goodly growen trees of all sortes.”  There they happened upon a French Basque whaling vessel, which took them across the Atlantic Ocean to the Spanish harbor, The Passage.  “The Master of the shippe was our great friend.    When the visitors came aboord, as it is the order in Spaine, they demanding what we were, he sayd we were poore fishermen that had cast away our ship in Newfound land and so the visitors inquired no more of the matter at that time.”  Had he told the truth, Clarke and his men would have been put to death.
That night their friend put them on land “and bad vs shift for our selues.”  They were ten or twelve miles from the French border.  They walked that night into France and “came into England toward the end of the yeere 1583.”
You may read a brief biographical account of Richard Clarke by the historian David B. Quinn by accessing