Category Archives: excerpts

Connections

In The Light, set in Trenton, New Jersey, I depicted the wild scene that greeted the arrival of news of Lexington and Concord. In terms that are nakedly inflammatory, the Committees of Safety transmitted the account from town to town, spreading it as quickly as horse and rider could bear it:

A tumult outside the shop caught both men’s attention then, as a small crowd surged past the door to the smithy.  Robert and Charles caught shouts from the crowd, “War!  War has begun!” and hurried out to hear what the cause of the ruckus might be.  At the head of the crowd was a rider, with dried foam crusting his horse’s flanks, attesting to a hard drive.

Hurrying to catch up, Robert asked a man rushing along at the periphery of the crowd, “What is this about?”

“He carries an account of a fierce and deadly battle between a militia of men in Lexington, near Boston, and a brigade of the British.  Blood has been spilled, and the war has begun!” The bell of the nearest church began to toll now, bringing more people into the streets to learn what had happened.

The rider was being directed to the home of the organizer of the local militia, the self-styled “Committee of Safety,” where he dismounted and carried his post within.  Milling about with the crowd that had gathered, Robert heard angry voices trading ever-wilder rumors.

The British had slaughtered a militia, bringing canon to bear against light arms.  No, they had caught the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in their deliberations, and begun hanging them on the spot for treason.  They had gone house to house in Lexington, looking for weapons and powder, and had killed all who gave any resistance.  A church in Concord was in flames, and the fellowship locked within.

Nothing seemed too outrageous to be passed along, from one person to the next, as they awaited the true contents of the missive.   Finally, the door opened, and the rider took a fresh horse someone had fetched for him, and rode off at a full gallop, leaving a small, persistent group of well-wishers and rumor-mongers who had streamed out behind him.

The local committeeman emerged now, and began reading from a sheet held in trembling fingers, his voice carried away by a fitful breeze.

“Received this morning, four o’clock and forwarded by the committee in Princeton, a letter addressed to various and sundry persons, including the delegates from Connecticut and Massachusetts now in Philadelphia, dated this Wednesday near ten of the clock, in Watertown.

“To all friends of American liberty be it known that this morning before break of day, a brigade of some one thousand to twelve hundred men under arms landed at Cambridge and marched to Lexington.  They there found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired with no provocation whatever, killing six men outright, and wounding four others.

“An express from Boston informs us that another brigade marches from there, supposed to be about another thousand men…  I have spoken with several persons who have seen the dead and wounded…  ‘Tis signed by one J. Palmer of the local Committee of Safety there.”

He lowered the page in his hand and bowed his head.   “May God grant mercy to their souls and receive them in their honor.”  Lifting his eyes to the crowd again, his manner changed suddenly now, and he roared, “To arms, men!  Prepare yourselves!  The war is begun and ‘tis only a matter of time before the King’s men are here as well.  If you have a weapon and will not use it—” his gaze fell upon Robert and Charles, marked as Quaker by their hats “—I beseech you to make it available to those  who will.  Likewise, if you have powder or bandages or other useful materials, come and speak with me to ensure that I know if it.”

He surveyed the crowd, taking their measure. “We must stand together now, as patriots all, lest the British find us unprepared, an easy target for their object of putting us down into abject servitude.  Now is the moment we have been preparing for; now is the time to set aside our factions and our bickering and to come together.   The King has made plain his intent—he means to crush us, to make the streets run red with our blood, that he may then squeeze us wholly dry with his taxes.  Will you have it?”

A ragged shout in answer rose from the crowd, “No!”

“He means to deny us the most basic rights of an Englishman, and yet demand that we enrich his treasury with the sweat of our brow.  Will you have it?”

He led the crowd this time, his fist shooting into the air as he shouted with them, “No!”

“He means to send his agents into every home, seek out every voice that dared question his tyranny and still it forever.  Will you have it?”

The crowd lifted fists into the air and roared back as one, “No!”

He roared back, “Then let us stop it!” His fist still raised, he marched down the steps of his home and led the crowd down the street toward the meeting-house where the militia had been gathering for the past months.  Robert and Charles split away from the crowd and started back to the smithy, somber and quiet.

Recently, I’ve discovered that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was active in the Revolution, serving on Philadelphia’s Committee of Correspondence, in Pennsylvania’s Convention, marching with Benedict Arnold to Montréal, and finally, accepting the duties of Barrack-Master General to the Continental Army (after having been dismissed from service for cussing out President Hancock and the Continental Congress). Quite a colorful character, my forebearer was.

Let’s go back to that first item in his list of service, though… I just found a transcription of the letters passing along the news from that fateful April day in Massachusetts, and immediately after it passed through the town of Trenton, as I wrote, its very next stop was in Philadelphia, where it was received, acknowledged, and sent on its way by four men… one of whom was my direct ancestor.

My novels have always been personal, focusing on the circumstances and experiences of regular individuals who lived through and took part in the events I depict. But this — this is bringing it right home.  Ooof.

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Excerpt from The Prize

This excerpt’s been on my Facebook Wall for a long time, but I wanted to make it more accessible to all.  If you haven’t already read The Prize, hopefully this will entice you do so in the near future.  Enjoy!

Caleb and Captain Mallett were just fitting the last of the shaped ribs into the first canoe when the sound of the village church bell pealed out faintly over the woods.

Straining to fit the cedar slat under the gunwale as it pulled the birch bark skin taut as a drumhead, Mallett grunted, “Must be that someone has had a house afire.”

Caleb, who stood on the side opposite, holding the clamp that secured the other end of the slat, scanned the horizon above the woods, and said, “I do not see any smoke.”

With a last push, Mallett forced the rib under the rim of the gunwale, where it snapped against the birch bark and held its position. As the men grinned at their accomplishment, the bell continued to peal furiously.

Mallett looked up and down the length of the canoe, nodding and grinning. “‘Tis a fine-looking craft,” he said. “We have only to seal the seams, and she’ll be ready for the lake. We will fit the last of the ribs into your canoe in a few days, once they have finished with the shaping.”

He frowned toward the village, where the bell was still persisting. “I see no smoke, either, and yet they continue to ring. Perhaps there has been an attack by the Indians… though these Abenaki do not seem to have an interest in such warlike acts, these are certainly dangerous times once again. Let us be off, to see what aid might be needed.”

Mallett did not bother to saddle his horse, but merely put the bit in the stallion’s mouth, and pulled himself up on its back. He called out to Caleb, “Here, you ride behind me. Louis is a strong horse, certainly a good deal stronger than his namesake on the throne in Versailles.” Both Mallett and the horse snorted, and Mallett added, “The horse is smarter, too.”

Caleb smiled and took Mallett’s proffered hand to clamber up behind the older man. Scowling now at the still-pealing bell, Mallett growled, “Hold tight, lad, we’re going to ride hard.” Since he did not want to slide over the horse’s rump and find himself suddenly sitting on the road, Caleb heeded Mallett’s advice, clamping his hands around the rider’s wiry sides. 

With a nod, Mallett snapped the reins, and kicked the horse into a smooth, speedy pace over the ground. By the time they pulled up before the blockhouse, where a crowd had gathered, the bell had stopped pealing, but MacGregor stood at the top of the steps, reading loudly from a broadside.

Captain Mallett and Caleb dismounted and Mallett tied up his horse before they joined the crowd, coming into earshot of the general store proprietor.

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

As he drew breath, the man beside Caleb whispered excitedly, “‘Tis a declaration of independence for the colonies from the Crown, passed by the Congress this week past!” Caleb’s eyebrows went up, and even Mallett seemed surprised, pursing his lips thoughtfully and nodding to himself.

“Such has been the patient sufferance of the Colonies, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”

MacGregor’s voice rang out clearly as he read through the long list of particular complaints against the King and Parliament, winding up to the conclusion.

“We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor!”

As MacGregor lowered the broadside, his forehead shining with sweat and his face red with exertion, a great cheer arose from the crowd assembled before the blockhouse. Someone began ringing the church bell again, and Caleb felt his throat becoming raw before he even realized that he was contributing to the din himself.

Looking around at the other people gathered, he saw men weeping openly and embracing, even those who had had long standing enmities between them. Mallett was smiling widely and nodding with a look of deep satisfaction on his face. 

He leaned close to Caleb and said into his ear, “‘Tis a fine, fine statement they’ve here published. Mark this moment well, lad, for you shall never see another so filled with import as this, so long as you live. I know that I have not, in my many years.”

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